ALBUM REVIEW: The Beasts – Still Here

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The Beasts
Still Here
Bang! Records / Rocket

A new album from the remaining members of the Beasts of Bourbon (under the name The Beasts) is a bittersweet thing in light of the passing of bassist Brian Hooper and more recently Spencer P. Jones. The name of the band and the album are self explanatory and though there’s enough to justify the band coming together to record new music and tour, there’s the unavoidable sense of a band operating on dwindling returns.

The album was recorded only a couple of weeks after their last gig with Hooper and is made up of songs formed from, in their words, sketchy ideas plus some jams and covers. Jones is there, but he only made it onto one track, the slow and swampy blues crawl of At The Hospital.

Things get off to a good start with the one/two punch of Perkins’ On My Back and Kim Salmon’s heavy grunge/garage-rock track Pearls Before Swine. Both possess the right amount of grit and sleaze, worthy additions to the Beasts’ canon of work. Warren Zevon’s My Shit’s Fucked Up gets a passable workout, as does Zappa’s The Torture Never Stops, which fares better with its loose and queasy sound.

It’s All Lies and Your Honour sound like half-baked ideas – one-riff jams that were fleshed out long enough to justify calling them songs. The flip-side to them is the shadowy drone and grind of Don’t Pull Me Over, a sign of the band’s willingness to still effectively explore the avant garde end of primal rock n roll, an inner city cousin to Springsteen’s Nebraska. 

What The Hell Was I Thinking sounds like a late-night Rolling Stones jam and gloriously so. Searing electric slide and acoustic guitars weave a drunken dance while Perkins laments his actions in his wonderful country howl and croon.

All in all Still Here is a flawed beast but I guess they always were weren’t they. That was, and remains, the band’s charm. A collective throwing together of ideas that works often and fails sometimes.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Hideous Sun Demon – Ssppuunnkk

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West Australian psych-punks Hideous Sun Demon have unleashed this new track on us, the psychotic swagger of ‘Ssppuunnkk’ which staggers across the speakers, drops to its knees and crawls deeper into a drug fever. Slashing guitar shreds sonic holes through the song,  above the pummelling rhythm section and Vincent Buchanan-Simpson ’s ferocious lead vocal.

Their album Fame Erotic Dream is out now.

NEW MUSIC: Magnus – Saints, Sedated

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Sydney trio Magnus know how to hit the metal, indulge the boogie, stoner rock vibe and stay perfectly on the wrong side of weird on this digital single ‘Saints, Sedated’. It hits a super solid pounding sprint home at the back end after digging into jazz metal noir and desert rock grooves.

The track features Lucius Borich (Cog) on drums, percussion, backing vocals and organ.

Magnus’ sophomore album is coming soon and has been engineered and mixed by Aria award winning Paul McKercher and mastered by Grammy award winning Brian Gardner (Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf).

LIVE REVIEW: Shihad @ Metro Theatre, Sydney

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Shihad, Young Lions, The Dead Love
Metro Theatre, Sydney
November 24th, 2018

Thirty years, damn… where did that time go. This writer recalls first seeing them open for The Angels in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990. Back then they were fresh-faced young lads, still in thrall to the thrash metal of Metallica and co and yet to embark on the ups and downs of their rock ’n’ roll career. Now of course they’re middle-aged statesman of Antipodean hard rock, a conduit between metal and melodic rock and most importantly, still performing as passionately and intensely as ever.

The Dead Love were up first, keeping things simple, rough and raw with their grunge punk that treads a nice line between unhinged rock and crossover melodic punk pop. At times their songs veered too close to catchy choruses of the anthemic hook kind but they know to ensure they keep enough throat shredding angst and anger in the mix to stop the songs sounding too cleaned up.

Young Lions on the other hand represent the worst of modern rock, when technology creeps in and bleaches out the rough edges and believable conviction in the music. In their frontman they have a singer who can certainly nail emo, hard rock and some cringeworthy rap moments but his self-belief was overcooked with over-the-top rock star moves and ventures into the audience. The music was generic alt-rock by numbers, Bono fronting Linkin Park, an Australian Idol facsimile of rock music.

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Shihad quite simply laid waste to what came before them. On a stage devoid of amplifiers and a sound that was blisteringly loud, heavy and perfectly balanced, they set about celebrating 30 years as a band with a set that began with Think You’re So Free from their most recent album FVEY and worked its way back, in chronological order to Factory from their debut Churn. 

It was a fascinating arc to experience as the four black-clad Kiwis accurately acknowledged their high-points and lesser successes. The General Electric (celebrating 20 years) supplied five songs, FVEY three, Shihad, Killjoy and Pacifier two apiece. The most commercial period spanned The General Electric and Pacifier albums and the near sold-out crowd were in full voice singing along to songs such as Comfort Me, Run and My Mind’s Sedate. As always Jon Toogood was the hype man and the tireless frontman, constantly inciting audience involvement with handclaps, sing-alongs, lit-up phones held aloft and unified jumping up and down. They’re all cliched rock moves but he does it well and all with his laconic, genial stage manner. 

As a band there are few that play tighter hard rock and honour the riff as diligently as Shihad, they’re a precision machine with a beating heart. In Toogood’s case, one that pumped blood in a stream down his arm as a result of frenetic guitar playing. Karl Kippenberger still works the stage, grinning at the audience like he’s bumping into old friends, Phil Knight is a study of six string wizardry while Tom Larkin is the glue and anchor that ties it all together. As they approached the tail end of the set things got darker with the magnificent thrum and throb of Deb’s Night Out, an absolutely brutal psych assault of You Again and the industrial tectonic riff of Factory from their debut album.

Shihad are essentially still doing what they’ve always done, entertaining their devoted fans with sensory overload at maximum volume. It’s fun, it’s life-affirming rock music and they’re still right at the top of their game, a claim that can be bestowed on very few bands after three decades of making music.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Mudhoney – Digital Garbage

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It’s hard to believe but Mudhoney are now in their 30th year of active service and on Digital Garbage, their 10th album, they show they’re still the kings of fuzzed-out punk and garage rock. Their disdain for everything fucked up about the world is still vital and biting and they don’t hold back one iota.

No topic is out of bounds as they rail against social media, the rich getting richer at everyone else’s expense, gun control, religion and environmental destruction. Mark Arm has sharpened his pencil with more scathing intent than he’s ever done before. “Fuck the planet, screw your children, get rich, you win,” he sings on Prosperity Gospel while on Paranoid Core he throws barbs of sarcastic truths at an unnamed Donald Trump and his supporters. Musically the band are as economical as ever but in addition to their trademark buzzsaw guitars and MC5, Stooges shakedowns, they also get dark and moody with an early Nick Cave feel on Night And Fog and there are strains of Neil Young in the chord progressions of Messiah’s Lament.

There’s plenty of humour at play too. Lines such as ‘turning water into wine is dismissed as a parlour trick, that’s insensitive to the struggles of alcoholics,” throw amusing shapes across the underlying messages on Digital Garbage. Few bands have remained so close to the sound and integrity of their music. Mudhoney are still out front of the pack, setting the benchmark with brutal and brilliant honesty.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Power Trip @ Bald Faced Stag, Sydney

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Power Trip, Flaming Wrekage, Shackles
Bald Faced Stag, Leichhardt NSW, Australia
September 22nd, 2018

As legends of the thrash scene such as Slayer, play farewell tours, attention starts to shift to who will lead the next wave of metal. On the back of their acclaimed Nightmare Logic album, Power Trip are widely considered the reigning princes of a new breed of thrash. Accordingly it was no surprise to see sold out signs at their debut Sydney show.

Locals Flaming Wrekage took to the task of opening the evening with vigour and enthusiasm. They’ve been carving out a niche for close to decade now and that experience showed in the balance of pure thrash and more melodic leanings, as they shifted between the two effortlessly. 

Shackles took things into a different level with songs that barely hit two minutes. Played at a lower speed they’d probably be standard length but such is the intensity and top gear approach by the band, they literally hurtle through rapid-fire grind-core riffs with a drummer that was more machine precision than human metronome. The death/punk vocal approach was a blistered blast of a growl that would have been more effective if it had been better placed in the mix.

If the night had been stepping up in quality with each act, it took a quantum leap forward when Power Trip hit the stage. The clarity and tightness of their playing was on display from the opening pummelling chug and their high velocity intensity. Looking at the band you could pinpoint the various influences of their sound, the hardcore punk of vocalist Riley Gale, the classic metal hinted at by bassist Chris Whetzel’s Judas Priest t-shirt, the 80s thrash vibe of lead guitarist Blake Ibanez. You get all that and more when Power Trip lay waste to a stage and by song two they’d incited a circle pit behind the flailing limbs and stray boots of surfing punters. Crowd favourite Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) got an early airing and was a high point of the night, Gale leaning out into the throng, grinning maniacally and leading the anthemic and macabre chorus before making an appeal for weed to help ease the pain of a rolled ankle the previous night in Brisbane.

Divine Apprehension, from their recent retrospective release, was pure thrash chug with wailing cyber solos. Rhythm guitarist Nicky Stewart eyed off the crowed with a menacing raised fist, bared teeth and theatrical intensity when he wasn’t laying down slabs of artillery riffs, the solid base between the rhythm section and Ibanez’s pyrotechnics. Returning for the encore and one final round of chaos, they pulled out Crossbreaker from their debut album before leaving the heaving masses satiated and promising to return to Australia sooner rather than later. Power Trip had prevailed, cementing themselves as the new bastions of hybridised metal.

 Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

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They were one of the heavyweights of the 90s metal/grunge scene, successfully blending melodic, down-tuned riffs and harmonies with crunching distortion and classic rock elements. Of course theirs is a tale of tragedy with the drug issues and subsequent death of singer Layne Staley curtailing them for a decade, but it is also one of resurrection, determination and integrity. 

Recruiting vocalist William DuVall 12 years ago, they’ve churned out three accomplished albums that have built on the band’s legacy. The latest, Rainier Fog takes the revitalised feel of their comeback album Black Gives Way To Blue and improves on the middling The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, with rewarding results.

Leading the pack is first single The One You Know with its serrated riff and headbanging call to arms. Jerry Cantrell and DuVall’s vocal harmonies are instantly recognisable as the song opens into a soaring, ‘eyes on the horizon’ type chorus. The title track, a reference to weather in Seattle and a tribute to the scene they grew out of, is another gem. Less metal and more of a churning punk feel, it springs from the speakers with a surging glam rush. Red Giant sounds like an outtake from the Dirt album while Maybe showcases their ability to blend acoustic guitars and sweeter melodies without losing the weight of their sound. Never Fade is the only real misfire in that it tries to blend the sound of Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots on an average song. 

Alice In Chains are still bound to their past but they’ve found a way to maintain relevance, grace and swagger with each new album they release and remain a benchmark in the world of hard rock.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Earthless – Black Heaven

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The trio, renowned for their epic psych rock and metal instrumentals that can reach the 20 minute mark, are back with a new album that turns that reputation on its head by way of shorter songs and most noticeably, the addition of vocals.

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell steps up the mic on Black Heaven and it’s a move that shifts the dynamic of the band. His singing gives those songs shape and structure that previously was subsumed by Earthless’ improvisational approach. Once you acclimatise to the change it makes sense and feels like a refresh of the band’s sound. It’s them trying something different and for the most part it works well.

Opener Gifted By The Wind is a dead ringer for Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil with Mitchell’s voice sitting somewhere between the howl of Ozzy and Comet’s On Fire’s Ethan Miller. Electric Flame settles into an insistent Blue Cheer chug – metal boogie of the most contagious kind. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton nail their Krautrock meets 70s rock precision and groove, anchoring the songs with gravitas yet also pushing and pulling them in constantly inventive directions. The title track sends a not-too-subtle nod to Led Zeppelin albeit in overdrive with spiralling riffs barely hanging on as the song accelerates into the stratosphere. In contrast, Sudden End goes for an epic lumber and sway with long, held notes. This is Earthless going out on a limb and impressively incorporating new sounds without abandoning their cosmic interstellar roots. 

Chris Familton