Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Steven Wilson - Cormorant

Two very different albums today. One pop and one hard to pinpoint extreme metal. Yet both are beautiful in their own right so herewith some of my thoughts.

Steven Wilson - To The Bone
Steven Wilson announced his next album to be pop, so I got scared. Following the man fo rmany years in different bands, I knew he mixed pop in before. My favorite albums of him are probably Stupid Dream by Porcupine Tree and The Raven solo. Actually many of his projects are great and some things are always guaranteed. Steven Wilson writes great songs, the sound is benchmark level and his lyrics tend towards the dark and morbid at times. For this album I heard some music in advance tracks and I must say that did not make me more comfortable. Permanating did not make my metal heart tick any faster while refuge was nice, but very calm. Yet after several positive indications from friends and raving reviews all around I got over my fears and bought what I found turns out to be a good album. For me The Raven and Hand.Cannot.Erase were from another level, but here we get another collection of Steven Wilson quality songs. OK there are a few misses to me in Song of I, The Same Asylum as Before (what voice is that?) and the before mentioned Permanting. Leaves us with eight very strong popsongs, making an interesting album. The great side-effect of this album is that Steven Wilson now became a household name. Performing live on BBC and ZDF should open a whole new audience to this man of class. So far the results are album chart positions 2 in Germany, 3 in the UK and 4 in Holland. Not bad for a king of Prog. I might have to decide fast now if I would like to see him live next March, cause venues shall grow with him. An album much better than feared and a promotion of Prog in many English newspapers. So we have to thank the man again. Maybe not his best album, but definitely a boost for our music in general.

Cormorant - Diaspora
And now for something completely different; Cormorant. Why have I missed this band before?!? Every now and then you get an album at hand which completely blows you off your socks. Well Diaspora is such an album. Thanks to the Angry Metal Guy I read about them and decided to listen the two available bandcamp songs. Well that resulted in a quick purchase and since the album arrived begin this week it hardly has left my CD player. Cormorant are from the Bay Area,.yet the only heavy style they do not play is Thrash Metal. On their FB page they decsribe their music as Progressive Black/Death Metal. And yes these styles are there, but there is more. During the tracks Preserved in Ash ,Sentinel and The Devourer I hear Black, Death, but also signs of heavy Doom and Heavy Metal. Closer Migration is their Prog metal Epic song lasting 26 minutes. With four songs in 60 minutes Cormorant have plenty of time to swap around the extreme styles, with an ear for calmer intermezzo's when asked for. So the vocals move accordingly from brutal and harsh to clean. Those who believe the instumental atmosphere building part in Migration too long, probably also complained about the guitars at sea during Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner some thirty years ago.  While searching for more information on this band I learned this is their fourth release. Maybe the fact that they are independent did not grant them the exposure they deserve. Yet at Lords of Metal all three previous albums are reviewed and highly appreciated. Ranked smartly under different metal as labelling is hard to impossible. Further while independent they might be, the cover is amongst the most beautiful this year with a Jheronimus Bosch alike painting. Resuming this is one album that should be heard by anyone into any of the musical styles mentioned above. This could have been the technical extreme band around the dinner break at PPE, which blows half the audience away (and is too heavy for the other half). For me there was little time to waste and I ordered album 2 and 3 now as well. How nice to discover new favorites with a back catalogue to dive into as a bonus. One of the candidates for album of the year to me, let's see how the next months work on this one.    

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Marillion - Misplaced Childhood

Misplaced Childhood the special edition and I bought it again. This might seem somewhat unnecessary as I bought the LP in 1985, the CD in the nineties, the videoclips on DVD and a few live versions by either Fish or Marillion on DVD thereafter. Disk 1 contains a remastered version, but I must admit that to my installation and ears this is not a huge extra. But then came disk 2 and 3 and I was convinced I wanted to get this. An integral version of their Vredenburg show in 1985. So let me go back in time and explain.

It is the early eighties and metal is booming on the radio and at home with Hans and me laying the foundations of fast metal collections. In The Hague those days you had some metal shops in the centre, but the most complete LP store would be Kees at the border of the city. Bicycle rides to Kees turned into pilgrimages, where apart from new discoveries, new albums from the big names also erratic appearing Aardschok and Kerrang could be purchased. Kerrang in those days was still a good magazine, putting us on track of many new bands. Turned out that Marillion would appear rather often in interviews or live reviews from the Marquee. Now they were compared with Genesis and I knew nothing of the Gabriel years, so wondering why a band compared with Abacab, Mama and the likes would get so much attention in Kerrang. Yet when Script for a Jester's Tear was released I decided to give it a try. I did not go to Kees, but to the store whose name I forgot across the street from Headphones (Super something I believe). In those days you would get a headphone on and listen on a bench in the store. I remember still very well when he firts put on Side 2 and Garden Party hit me. Studying the beautiful Mark Wilkinson cover, Chelsea Monday and Forgotten Sons followed and my life changed forever. I did not know that I had discoverd Neo-Prog there and then, but I loved this album. Soon hereafter I got the Market Square heroes EP as well.

That summer of 83 Marillion would open Parkpop in my hometown on their first tour outside the UK. Amongst maximum a hundred fans I stood up front with Magchiel and was amazed. Until the day of today he still remembers how the sign above the stage misspelled Marrilion and I recal the power of the band on stage being much heavier than on LP. Fugazi was the next album and Marillion returned to Holland for a show at Pinkpop. With Dio and Marillion that day it would be the only Pinkpop I ever attended ( a festival selling out big time soon hereafter). Highlight of the day was Incubus and amongst our friends the fanbase was growing quickly. That autumn they made a clubtour and hit Paradiso supporting the Real to Reel album. During that show there was a calm intermezzo, which we did not know nor fully get. Later on we understood they played Side 1 from Misplaced Childhood.

Comes 1985 and Misplaced Childhood is released. Kayleigh became a modest single (later on much bigger in polls due to heavy voting fanclubs) and Holland was graced with their first ever appearance in Vredenburg. They still return every now and then to Vredenburg, but I am sure it would never get as good as that very day in 1985. Support came from then unknown Pendragon, soon to become other Neo-Prog heroes of mine. Well what happened during that show can now be heard on disk 2 and 3. One of the best shows I ever attended. As we were all around twenty at the time, we still went upfront during shows. That day I believe we were with ten and the next day we could see our faces on the picture in national newspaper NRC. The article was the usual slagging of Marillion, talking about Dinosaurs and the shit by someone who just does not love good music. Yet the picture of Fish standing over the crowd showed our happy smiling faces. As I studied in Rotterdam those days I passed the NRC that week, asking if I could buy an original of the picture. I could, but against the cost of I believe 30 guilders. Well given beer prices at the time and my student budget, this just would not fly. A pity as today I would have proudly hanged it on the wall of my home office next to the artwork of Mark Wilkinson. Only later we learn what we appereciate in time, so I hope the beers tasted well. But at least I now have top quality recordings of one of the more amazing shows I ever witnessed.

Then there are still two diks to come. Disk 4 gives us Singles, B-sides and alternative versions. Nice but owned already. Further we get demo takes of the Misplaced Childhood album. If you know an album so through and through these demos funnily sound wrong at times. The endresult of the album turned out to be the perfect version, or did I hear it just too often? Disk 5 gives us a DVD. I still have to hear sound surround mixed by Steven Wilson, but I saw the interview. This is only for real fans as six man speak about the album, the recording and the period in time. I quite liked it, but my god one has  to pay attention when Fish is speaking without subtitles. The DVD closes with some Video Clips which I already have on DVD. Finally all is packed in a beautifull artwork package, including half a book with background information I still need to read. Maybe only for fans, but at least those who attended that tour, have something to look out for in a release from Utrecht. Definitely the band at their best period ever. The Childhood just never ends it seems, and I love it.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Gorguts, Havok, Fallujah, Revocation & Venom Prison - Baroeg Rotterdam, 16 August 2017

Four headliners touring Europe bringing one support. This being on a Wednesday in the midst of Festival Season, no trains running between The Hague and Rotterdam and Baroeg having their limited opening hours. Yet de Baroeg filled up well as the reputation of these four different bands all attracted their own fans.  I was personally most looking forward to Revocation, while I also own and appreciate last albums by Havok and Fallujah. Gorguts would close the evening tonight, but were unknown to me. Openers were young Welsh band Venom Prison. Starting at 18:00 on a weekday is always a challenge, so slowly people came in throughout their set. They also were the only band not allowed to use the bigger drumkit at the back, reducing the space on stage for the five of them dramatically. This was especially a pity as their wild moving female vocalist would deserve more than the two square meters she had available now. Musically OK, their songs did not really stick in my head at first listen. Still they warmed us up well enough for the four headliners and this was good as tonight Revocation would be the first in line.

Last year I saw Revocation in Patronaat and even following up the mighty Beyond Creation they knew how to impress the audience. Well tonight it was even much better. Being Baroeg one is close to the stage always and their dual assaults came over us with power. Dual assaults refer to the guitar parts and the vocals. It all seemed so easy on stage, while listening closer the riffs, breaks and solo's are just amazing. They played several songs from recent album Great is our Sin and from Headless I remember Scorched Earth Policy. Did not really matter what they played, only problem was that with this full evening their set was limited to 40 minutes only. From what I heard afterwards they won over many new fans. Now let's see if they can come back headlining giving us a one hour set next time. Band of the day to me and by the reactions during the evening I was not the only one. For Fallujah the hard task to follow this up. Well they managed OK doing so. Their musical style is different going to Deathcore territories. This being supported by one amazingly tight band. I thought I recognized some songs or parts of them, but this show held two problems to me. First the sound was not as clean as needed for such a technical band. Second the vocalist was a tat too monotonous in my ears, where again the sound did not help a lot. Still I enjoyed myself big time by just watching guitars and bass dancing around the necks with ease and giving us one impressive base. Definitely going to see them again if back in Holland, but hoping for a better sound.

After another nice break on the terrace this pleasant summer evening, one needed to go back in time to see Havok. This band plays thrash metal. Earlier this year they headlined a mainly thash metal package in 013, tonight they were the one waving the thrash flag with pride and how well they did. Vocalist/guitarist David Sanchez decided to play in a dress tonight for visual effetcs, while many attention again did go to bassist Nick Schendzielos. Without ignoring the rest of the band, what an animal on bass this is. At the end the green lights came out of his bass again and he must have lost some four kilo's sweat in 40 minutes. Again a show that could have gone on so much longer for me. And also again much better than last time as I was now closer to the stage feeling the thrash. They also managed to create the largest pit of the night as it was at it's peak of fullnes now. Many highlights this set held, but one special mention for Hang 'Em High. The line "the enemy is not coming from overseas" never looked as apt as these days. Topshow by a great band. I said it before this year, missing the big four (on purpose) live is no issue, with so many great thrash bands touring and releasing better albums than said big four. Closer of the evening were Gorguts. While they exist almost 30 years I managed to know nothing of their work. This gave the opportunity to enter the show in the blank and see what was comming. Well a bulldozer was coming over us. What a heavy band this was. Technical in their grooves, but the word that stuck was heavy. A good band, while I did not get their album as the vocals were a bit onesided to me. Staying with the vocalist he was a remarkable gentleman. No swearing, fucks or whatever, but thanking us for the wonderfull evening of metal we had. I thought his presentation quite refreshing in that sense.

So short after 22:30 it was all over and I could drive home, by lack of trains. This driving meant no beers and a very clear memory of what great bands we had. This package deserves to sell out the remainder of the tour, as there simply is something for everyone into extreme and technical music. Not one disappointment and in Revocation even an out of league performance. Very good way to spend my Wednesday night I now consider if Patronaat becomes an option tomorrow for a similar package.        

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Alcatraz Metal Festival - Kortrijk, 11-12 August 2017

Alcatraz is one of the many European Metal Festivals, filling the line-up mainly with heroes from our past. This is a wise decision as old bands are good for some nostalgic banging for my generation and can teach the younger generations a thing or two on how to put up a great show. Hans and Mary were planning to attend the Friday and Saturday already and with Tiago on camp, me home alone the choice of joining was rather easy. While I am writing this the Sunday is still underway, but we skipped today. This because Mary has to work, the main acts (Korn, Amon Amarth, Trivium) are not my favorites and the ones I woud love to see (Raven, UFO and Enslaved) shall pass or just passed Holland already. Reality also taught me that I should go in advance training next year if I want to survive three days in a row. The weather turned out to be Ok over the two days with only a few light rains, plus a sunburned neck. Traffic was poor around Antwerp, taking us more than twice as much for the way down, as for the return. Only the crew from media partner Rockmuzine drove down early in two hours, while for others four hours plus was the norm. The hotel in the centre was nice and the walking distance to the venue acceptable.

Our late arrival made me miss Dyscordia and Evil Invaders, both bands I would have liked to see. On the main Prison stage Fortuna announced the arrival of Pretty Maids. This was the first band I was curious about as I have their selftitled EP and the album Red, Hot and Heavy. Completely loosing track of them since, I did not know what to expect and I was surprised positively. Although this hard rock is old-school, they brought it well. Especially the songs I knew were fine and in spite of technical problems and a shortened set the festival kicked of in style. Next on were Hell on the Swamp stage. In the former Circus Renz tent this was what I expected to be the highlight of the day. Again Hell gave us the show we came to know from them. The surprise is gone now, but the efects and the show for a band their size remains remarkable. The music is also above average and this was all I hoped from them. Well maybe skipping my personal favorite "Save Us from those who Would Save Us"was missed due to the short set. Yet all was there and I thought I saw the best show of the day. Turned out I was wrong. First we had next band Krokus on the main stage. In the early eighties I actually received a fanpackage from the Dutch Krokus Fanclub after buying some of their LP's. Playing those again last week, they seemed somewhat outdated. Unfortunately live they also seemed no powerhouse either. Not helped by adding several cliche covers (American Woman, Rockin'in the Free World) this was for me the only disappointment of the weekend.

Hereafter things should become better with Denner/Shermann and they did. This band is called after the guitar tandem of Mercyful Fate. The set unsurprisingly was a mix of new work from the band and some Fate covers. This was one comforting show of pure eighties Heavy Metal. The stars of the band seemed somewhat modest, which gave the vocalist and bassist the chance to be very present on stage. Good show and proving the Swamp stage was the place to be on Friday. This preferred stage was even more confirmed when Ghost hit the Prison Stage. Seeing some 80% of the people under twenty years wearing a Ghost T-shirt their presence made commercial sense. Musically I thought them rather simple and sounding like Depeche Mode at times. For us the signal to enter the Presidio bar, where we could even indulge in some of those famous Belgium beers. Being cheered up by Video Clips from the eighties this was one party place. Unfortunately we found the next morning that mixing some Cinay's with the common Maes beers resulted in some fitness issues. For now it was the perfect bridge to what was to be the closing band of the day: Dirkschneider. Now I did see them in Tilburg last year and quite liked their show of old Accept songs. Tonight they had 40 minutes less to play (still leaving 90) and what I did not expect happened, best gig of the weekend. Helped by the perfect timing of the first day after not a full day, everyone was fit, filled up and ready for a party. Seeing a tent full with a few thousand fans jumping and shouting along classic Accept songs was a blast. Highlights to me Princess of the Dawn, Fast as a Shark and yes Balls to the Wall. Before they started we thought maybecalling it a day halfway (as they played until 01:30). Well none of that as we loved to see every minute of it. Great closer of a succesfull first day.

Waking up the next morning the Cinay's of the day before, made us decide to take it easy skipping the first bands. Pity I missed Sweet Savage as a result, but the decision was a good one. Also some rain would occasionally fall this day, the pitch was muddy at spots and the end would be at 01:00 again. Entering we heard some notes of post metal from Monkey3. We needed to move on as Death Angel was next on the Prison stage. I am not their biggest fan, but always love them live and again they were good. Best newer song Thrown to the Wolves and old favorite Seemingly Endless Time were in the set again and just another solid performance. High on Fire got only ten minutes from me, good band, not so good vocals. And then came Last in Line. Now Dio was the band I probably saw playing most in the mid eighties. This band called after the second album holds original Dio members Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice. Awkwardly the announcer spoke of famous musicians including Jimmy Bain. The band kicked of and it took me two minutes to see this would be good. Stand up and Shout followed by Straight Through the Heart. Vocalist Andrew Freeman seemed to be very smart. Staying far from trying to clone the best vocalist ever he put his own style in and was singing very good. Helped by a perfect setlist this was one highlight of the day. Last in Line did release an album Heavy Crown last year and The Devil in Me plus Starmaker fitted very welll in this set. In december there shall be a controversial Dio returns tour where we can watch a hologram of Dio sing. I shall pass for that and wait for Last in Line to return to Holland, as this was brilliant.

Skipping Brant Bjork for food, The next highlight was waiting for us at the Prison stage straight hereafter. Iced Earth gave us one of their epic metal blastswhich was as good as expected. I do not own a lot of their albums, but was pleased that my favorite the Dark Saga was well presented with I Died for You, The Hunter and Vengeance is Mine. Closing with Watching Over Me this made me guarantee to go see them again when on tour with a full set. Stu Brock proved to be the most metal vocalist of the day. In advance I would look at the trio Death Angel/Last in Line/Iced Earth as my favorites of the day with Saxon. So the next bands I shall only commnet on shortly. Obituary, very good set, but awful silences inbetween songs downing the atmosphere all the time.Testament solid performance filled with some classics Into the Pit, Over the Wall, Practice What You Preach. Sleep unknown to me, but defintely a good show with slow and heavy doom, sludge, stoner. I was never a big Venom fan in the eighties and today did not convince me otherwise. What was extremely extreme in 83 is now a lot softer on the ears, but vocals still have lots of space for improving. Abbath managed even to convince Hans that Black Metal can sound interesting and understand why I expanded there. What we saw sounded very good.

And then it was up to Saxon to close the festival for us. Just releasing a box with later albums, it came as no surprise that we got several title tracks from not that old LP's. But Saxon knows how to build a set, so soon we would be entering the list of top class NWOBHM classics. And the Bands Played On, Heavy Metal Thunder, Princess of the Night, Crusader and well you name them. Saxon ruled over Alcatraz and was after Dirkschneider the night before another great closer of the evening. For us at the same time the closure of the festival and what great days we had. No idea how many people were at the site (5-10,000?) but it was full at shows but never overly crowded. Bars and toilets were perfect, food not that special (Vega was good) and the bandmerch looked what limited. Strong candidate for returning for us, so let's wait for band announcements next year.