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The Ultimate Story of Free
by David Clayton and Todd K Smith
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“Thank God Free got the book about them they deserve: heavyweight (288 pages), with lots of illustrations, and well written by the dream team of Free expert David Clayton and US journalist Todd Smith. Including everything from hand-written lyrics to an illustrated discography all in classic black and white this great book evokes not only a band but also an era.” ~ Classic Rock
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Black Lodge Records
Sweden has always had its own unique rock ‘n’ roll pedigree. Like its diversified and eclectic musical culture, elements of traditional folk, dance, pop and blues intertwine in a tribal rhythmic beat. For nearly two decades, Stockholm-based Abramis Brama has pioneered a musical resurgence as the best in Swedish heavy rock. Built on a foundation that incorporates elements of Black Sabbath, Mountain and Deep Purple, they create music that is timeless. And, like their mentors November, they sing entirely in Swedish. Founding guitarist Peo Andersson, singer Ulf Torkelsson, drummer Fredrik “Trisse” Liefvendahl and bassist Mats Rydström create a striking force of electric blues with intense vocal prowess. Tusen År (A Thousand Years), the band’s seventh studio album maybe the groups finest effort yet with eight tracks that celebrate their love of ‘70s-era rock with modern aggression. The title track ‘Tusen År’, written in the early days of the album’s recording, captures the concept of the cover art with a dark, doomy main riff and lyrics referring to people of power enslaving the masses.
The album is incredibly strong ripe for success domestically and powerful enough to spread internationally. The captivating feature of the group’s music is their savory tribute to rock royalty while remaining deeply rooted in their treasured homeland. Opening track ‘Löpeld’ has a big, epic presence with a driving Zeppelin-like riff, surging rhythm and calculated solo that fans the lyrical embers of a shy maiden that turns into a ‘wildfire’ under moonlight. The dangers of feline continue in ‘Fel Kvinna’s (Wrong Woman), a quick-paced, groove rocker that ignites with intensity bolstered by a dense riff and throbbing bass-line telling the embarrassing tale of unfortunate bedfellows. Noodling around during practice, guitarist Andersson came up with a riff that reminded him of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’, only with 4/4 timing ‘thus creating Hav Av Lögner’ (Sea of Lies). In the verse, the guitar moves into a chugging riff which allows the drums to take off toward psychedelic heavy pop.
Other dimensions of the group’s interplay come in the wake of a boogie flare with a refreshing take on the blues like the straight up rock ‘n’ roller ‘Vem Är Du? (Who Are You?)’ with lyrics penned by Ulf and former singer, Christian Andersen. The fierce riffing and thick grooves radiate the song’s theme of the rat-race of everyday people. The idea of a melody and bassline intertwined was the structure for ‘Slutet Av Tunneln (The End of the Tunnel)’ The music gets heavier towards the mid-section with a volley of power chords and a dirty solo that eventually returns to an acoustic soliloquy. A pleasant surprise is the cover of Ashbury’s ‘Vengeance’ (Vägen Ut). A favorite of the band, who changed the lyrics to Swedish and made it their own. The disc closes with ‘Ta Mig Tillbaka (Take Me Back)’ a mysterious, heavy groover that combines many different textures and moods. The story follows one man’s journey from exploration to inner struggle. Brilliant in every way!
Website: Abramis Brama
As fans of The Watchers’ debut EP Sabbath Highway, we were super stoked to check out their new full length Black Abyss. Dude, we were not disappointed. This is a primo compilation of eight riff-rock monsters that mix the best of Ozzy, Sabbath, COC and Black Label Society. The Bay area four-piece nail down a killer retro doom record that has all the earmarks of classic ‘70s heavy! Formed in 2015 from members of Orchid (Carter Kennedy - drums), SpiralArms (Tim Narducci vocals, Cornbread - bass) and BlackGates (Von Epp - guitars) they forge a unique palette of dense grooves and power chugging guitars. Mixed by legendary producer Max Norman (Ozzy, Y&T), elements of the first two Ozzy records can clearly be heard in the stellar production. Even Ozzy’s vocal augmentation are applied to Narducci pipes. Title track ‘Black Abyss’ sets the course with an Iommi-like dirge, trembling rhythms and an eerie howl. The song runs through a landscape of haunting peaks and valleys but it’s the chugging force and guitar prowess of the last minute that really pushed the needle into the red.
The signature power-chords follow through to ‘Alien Lust’, a bombastic triumph in Sabbathian homage with demon-like wails (especially in the chorus) and piercing guitar solos. The hammering backend lays down a solid structure for the other members to work off of. The drumming in ‘Buzzard’ and ‘People of the Gun’ takes on a ritual tribal beat that fuses with the bass in a sonic groove. Standout track ‘Oklahoma Black Magic’ has all the makings of a classic as it weaves together a tale of booze, women and the devil’s dance. The riff is catchy, the chorus turns blood cold and the vocals shiver with delight. Von Epp’s guitar is crushing in ‘Starfire’ moving from heavy blues that verge on metal while Narducci screams about ‘Fire on the mountain’! The refrain of ‘Suffer Fool’ adds a beautiful nod to Chris Cornell/Soundgarden both in structure and vocal phrasing while closer ‘Seven Tenets’ repeats the chugging riffage of ‘Black Abyss’ and drives it like a jack hammer to the brain. Every track is a beast, well written and superbly produced.
Website: The Watchers, Ripple Music
Starry Eagle Eye
The Sign Records
Straight out of the gates with their second LP Starry Eagle Eye, Stockholm five-piece Svartanatt get serious about their place in rock history. Two years ago, the band released their self-titled, critically-praised, foray into stoner/retro rock. Their second effort explores a more classic sound picking up from 60´s music scene and moving through the roots of heavy rock in mid-Seventies, all with a modern touch. Opening track ‘Children of Revival’ paints the musical picture of Haight/Ashbury’s soundtrack with a garage riff that cascades into Lizzy-inspired twin leads. The MC5 runaway ‘Wrong Side of Town’ strikes with precision while unloading a frantic bust of proto-punk energy. Making a quick left turn, title track ‘Starry Eagle Eye’ is a nod to psychedelic suede with its groove center and layer guitar over an organ drenched backdrop. The record is seasoned with mature song craft and masterful musicianship. Jani Lehtinen’s vocals are unique and original as he combines guitar action with Felix Gåsste. Rhythm section Mattias Holmström (bass) and Daniel Heaster (drums) anchor the whole affair while keyboardist Martin Borgh keeps the band rooted in Purple-meets-Allman Brother haze.
Of the nine tracks, the second set toughens up with ‘Duffer’, a trippy organ-based number ending in a mind-blowing guitar jam. The catchy chorus and gradual build make it one the disc highlights. However, it’s ‘Wolf Blues’ that sells the package. The six-minute plus opus plays out like Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ or The Outlaws ‘Green Grass and High Tides’ with a darker undertone. The band whip up the last two minutes into a guitar storm of epic proportion while still maintaining the melody amongst the twin-guitar fury. Just as the sweat is starting to cool, ‘Hit Him Down’ leaps from the speakers with Detroit muscle and a Stooges attitude. Picked as the record single, the song has a power-chord ring, lyrical swagger, pounding piano and memorable hook in the chorus. Dipping back into their ‘60s archive comes the one-two punch of ‘The Lonesome Ranger’ with a garage vibe, prominent organ and cool hip-shaking rhythm. Subtle but potent. The band’s influences bubble to the surface in The Beatles-like ‘Universe of’ and more aggressive Sonic-inspired ‘Black Heart’ giving the proceedings a well-rounded luster.
Website: Svartanatt, The Sign Records
Carved in Rock
GMR Music (Sweden)
With Carved in Rock, we finally see the return of Neil Merryweather. It seems the Canadian singer, bassist and songwriter has been pulled out of retirement by famed Swedish guitarist Janne Stark (Overdrive, Locomotive Breath, Mountain of Power). Just to catch you up, Merryweather was a phenom from the sixties through the eighties. His impressive and eclectic career had him working with the who’s-who of 70s rock while recording with his own outfit Merryweather. Mama Lion proved to be his foray into hard rock, which became sharper and crisper in Heavy Cruiser then truly focused on solo albums, Space Rangers (1974), Kryptonite (1975) and Differences (1978). We last saw him working with Lita Ford on her debut Out for Blood (1983). Disillusioned with the music biz, Neil took a break from it until 2009. In 2015 he appeared on Janne Stark’s Mountain of Power III released by Grooveyard records. The two have continued their collaboration efforts on Carved in Rock which showcases the duos ability to craft some incredible ‘70s-inspired heavy rock.
To say the disc packs a punch is an understatement. We’re talking heaps upon MF heaps of Stark’s heavy riffiage with Merryweather’s signature growl. ‘Irma La Douce” breathes fire from the speakers with cosmic swirls of green haze. A sonic lick drives the song straight into the bass and vocals where Neil’s voice is a welcome ghost from the past. The singer’s clever lyrical rhymes meet somewhere between Kiss and Motörhead with “Hey liar, liar, your pants are on fire / you’re bubbling over with molten desire.” Then there’s the thrashing speed of ‘Rocker’s Lament’ where Starks rips away, his six strings on fire, while Neil growls “I am what I am / and I don’t give a damn / I’m just playing my fucking guitar.” There’s no hiding, you can hear the pain of a tortured soul having been dragged through 50 years in the music business. The nastiest guitar snarl on the disc must be ‘Give ‘Em Hell, Boy’ with its Aerosmith swagger and bump-n-grind bass riff followed by the stripper pole workout of 'Lay Your Body Down.’
Merryweather sings like a chanpion on ‘It Ain’t Pretty’, with the bass rattling the walls in a four-minute homage to classic James Gang/ZZ Top. His voice even sounds, at times, like Joe Walsh or Billy Gibbons matching the weight of the guitar, drum and bass in a power trio cyclone of pure bliss. Though the guts of the record are heavy, heavy, heavy there is still plenty of air to breathe. ‘I Believe’ has a nice ‘70s structure moving from verse to verse while ‘We Got to Own This Thing’ uses a cascading riff in a blues fame for bite and muscle. Stark find’s his own strut in the beefy ‘Love and War’ that borrows some lyrical grooves from Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’. The guitarist soars this each solo while still keeping it lean, mean and chunky. Our favorite songs change with each listen but ‘Babylon Sin City’ keeps rising to the top with its thumping guitar and frantic chorus. One can’t help think the song is dedicated to Neil’s adopted home, Las Vegas. Carved in Rock is honest, dedicated and blue-collar. It’s Sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll without fading… and these guys really mean it!
Website: Neil Merryweather, Janne Stark, Grooveyard Records
Kicking the year off right is the arrival of the anxiously awaiting Blackout. Norwegian quintet Audrey Horne (named after the fictional character from the ABC television series Twin Peaks) have released their sixth album since their formation in 2005. Promising to deliver the prototypical classic heavy rock album ala Van Halen, Kiss, Thin Lizzy they locked themselves away in a frosty studio until the snow melted from the shear polish and radiant heat of ten-glorious songs. Each track is melodically crafted with a hook chorus, juicy solo and thundering rhythm. The group also has the added advantage of singer Torkjell Rød/Toschie, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Steve Perry / Tommy Shaw / Kevin Cronin vocal delivery. An odd shift considering some of the members have previously played in black metal bands Enslaved and Gorgoroth which is part of the charm for these guys. Beginning with the six-minute advanced single ‘This Is War’ the band do everything right from the galloping bassline to the sophisticated guitar runs.
On the eve of the record’s January 2018 release a second single, ‘Audrevolution’ taunted a dedicated fan-base with its hypnotic dance beat and pulsating riffs. The track was instantly addictive and put the record on a rocket trajectory claiming high marks in the charts across Scandinavia and Germany. The sugar didn’t stop there. The album’s title track ‘Blackout’ is an arena anthem complete with a fist-in-the-air salute. ‘California’, ‘This One’ and ‘Rose Alley’ are stunning tributes to essential Thin Lizzy capturing not only the twin guitarmonies but a uniquely European bass/drum rhythm section. Vocalist Toschie makes his mark with the drinking song ‘Midnight Man’ singing solo over a minimal drum beat but once the guitars kick in its three minutes of shear ear candy. ‘Light Your Way’ is the band’s tribute to Deep Purple while ‘Naysayer’ is more Motörhead with a slick chorus. Get the bonus tracks ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘The End’ as they are a nice nod to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Testosterone-fueled heavy rock that’s absolutely gorgeous!
Website: Audrey Horne, Napalm Records
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