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Music Review: Black Country Communion, Unsun, Bangtower, Viking Skull, Fireball Ministry, Angra

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We got a early autumn nor’easter heading our way to rid the trees of all the lovely colored leaves. Time to batten down the hatches while listening to some great metal.

CD Reviews

Black Country Communion: s/t

Take a couple of genuine Black Country folks and two guys that wished they were from there and mix with gusto. This is the super-group that to me at least blew the much-hyped Those Crooked Vultures out of the water. Despite the fact that TCV have an actual Led Zeppelin member in their number, BCC sounds more like genuine article. Then again BCC has the product of John Bonham’s loins behind the drum kit.

Jason Bonham channelling his father, Joe Bonamassa on guitar and vocals, with bass done by the ubiquitous Glenn “Voice of Rock” Hughes and Derek Sherinian of Dream Theater fame is quite a selection. Now this sort of release can be absolute self-indulgent rubbish, but this is nothing of the sort. Most often sounding like the missing link between Led Zeppelin and Whitesnake, this is quite something to behold. To some, this is what “heavy rock” means to them. It seeps with the bravado and power that made us get into all those bands in the first place.

There are no standout tracks on this CD or rather there is not one stinker, they are all that good. Please buy this album, so the band will be moved to stick together and do another one. BCC just can’t be a one-off, it needs to be a going concern. Nothing any of these guys have done in their careers rivals this release. They have touched this type of brilliance on occasion, but no where near as consistently as on this album. Expect this to be top of many best of the year lists at the end of the year.

Unsun: Clinic for Dolls

This release has an interesting distinction for me. It’s the first CD in a long time that I listened to back to back in the car (separated by a lecture I gave to high school students). I listened to the release in its entirety each way of the trip. Though I have never heard of this bunch, I am quite intrigued by the release. It eschews the symphonic nature of Within Temptation and Nightwish, from something a bit more basic heavy rock. They have managed to bring something different to the table and have avoided the clone tag.

There is, of course, a mixture of heavy stuff and more ethereal fare. The lead vocalist, Aya never seems out of her league no matter what she is singing whether it’s the “The Last Tear” or the rather heavy “Home”. She even manages to make her accented English an asset rather than something to mock. Their poppy sensibilities add a certain pleasant sheen to the whole affair.

Its rare to hear a band make a clear effort to take a different approach to a genre. This is a decent release by any measure, but I think it would be unfair to call it anything but rather good. Or as they put it “Why” would I be so mean?

Bangtower: Casting Shadows

When you first see the words “fretless bass” you might be forgiven for cringing in anticipation to some uber-bass workout. (Sorry to my bassist friends). However, that would be a most unfair assessment of this release. It’s a power prog album of epic proportions that while solely instrumental does not get pretentious or unlistenable to only the most dedicated.

This is merely like the instrumental songs you hear on many a power or progressive album but played rather well. Few groups can sustain a whole album of instrumentals without becoming rather boring. This band have no such problems. Then again the members of the band have words like “legendary” and guru attached to themselves. They do actually live up to their hype.

While maybe not the choice of everyone, this is a very pleasant and musically interesting outing. The band is made up of Percy Jones on bass, Neil Citron, and Walter Garces. You may not have heard the names but you certainly know stuff they have played on.

Viking Skull: Heavy Metal Thunder

This CD opens with “Beers Drugs and Bitches” which rather sets the tone for this biker rock extravaganza. This is a re-release of their first EP and their debut album plus a bonus 5 tracks. For a total of 20 tracks, this is certainly good on the value for money scale. The touring hogs that they are have consistently been out there getting themselves in front of crowds. Raging Speedhorn provided the backbone for the band.

If you have never heard of the band then this is a good way of getting up to speed. If you have known of the band, this a cheap way of getting all their older stuff than previously was not available in the US.

This is not the most sophisticated music in the world, better suited for a heavy night of drinking than relaxing at home mellowing out. If you like Black Label Society and their ilk, then it might reward you to seek this release out. Sometimes a bit of brain-dead party metal is in order. Viking Skull are that band.

Fireball Ministry: s/t

This bunch are a tiny bit more sophisticated than Viking Skull, but not much. They are a band for early on in the evening before everyone is off their head drunk. Think Judas Priest with a touch of Grand Funk Railroad mixed with a touch of Sabbath consumed rapidly. The guitars can only be described as swirly with psychedelic at times, but without the hippy attitude. There is even a sense of bands like the Quireboys as well.

FM are a band that are out of time. They could have existed any time in the last five decades and still fit in. Heavily influenced, recognizable touches, that seemingly blend into something new yet familiar. It’s hard not to enjoy this album any time. “Fallen Believers” is just the type of track that works so well on this album.

While this band ain’t exactly breaking any new ground sonically, they do what they do so well its infectious. Clever party rock with a flair that is not that common.

Angra: Aqua

This is a some great progry, power metal that at times borders on something that could have easily been released as a single back in the 80s. There is a strong hint of Asia in this band, no less on the track, “Spirit of the Air”. Of course the strings give a touch of ELO at their heaviest and least poppy.

Then, they go seriously Dream Theater on the track “Monster”. While the next track could have appeared on some of the most mainstream of the Kansas albums, well at least the intro-could. If you listen carefully there are touches of Marillion and even Genesis in this album. It really does explore the whole pallet that is progressive hard rock. That is why is such a rich release, which bears up nicely to repeated listens.

While this band clearly are inspired by the mighty Dream Theater, they have let other forms of progressive rock wash over their musical souls. “A Monster in Her Eyes” has that sophisticated power ballad feel to it that quite nicely balances some of the heavy music on this release.

Clearly Angra are evolving into something special and a creative force in their own right. The Brazilian power proggers have certainly returned for their hiatus with an excellent collection of songs. Never monotonous or boring, this is a solid power prog release from a talented band. The fact that in places the tracks are beautiful doesn’t exactly hurt matters either.

That is your lot, for this week, stay safe and rocking.

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