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The return of Scandinavian Rock: Our interviews with The Hellacopters and Gluecifer.
UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS
Rise Above Records
For their fifth long player, UK psych rockers Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats clean house. Gone are brothers Yotam (guitar) and Itamar Rubinger (drums). Dean Millar (bass) had left a couple years before. A new rhythm section was built using bassist Justin Smith and drummer Jon Rice while rhythm guitarist Vaughn Stokes remains from the 2015 lineup. The only constant is creator, producer, vocalist/guitarist Kevin Starrs, and really it’s his originality that gives the band their magic spell. Painting imagery of the macabre, horror and lurking death makes for a bit of fun in their elemental metal. Borrowing from Sabbath, Alice Cooper and the Stooges with feedback, fuzz and echoed voices, the band crafted an original and haunting sound. Not to be overlooked are their layered Beatlesque harmonies, heavy with melody, and pop hooks. Grabbing attention straightway from Wasteland is Scorpion-like ‘Shockwave City’ with its chugging riffs and urgent rhythm boost under the chilling vocals “As I walk through the fire / I turn my eyes to see…” the rest is left to your imagination.
Wasteland follows the band’s ten-year old architecture keeping the production raw, muddy and noisy. The ominous title track ‘Wasteland’ weaves an acoustic cinematic soundscape that mid-track moves into a tripped-out psych freak-out. A bit of keyboards (both piano and organ) add textured to the group’s overall metallic assault. The eerie cathedral-like hum introduces opening track “I See through You”, which is soon over powered by a blanket of wooly fuzz. The song gets a little lost in the feedback but eventually, the melody surfaces in a Detroit-styled biker riff. Most of the songs run past the five-minute mark and match the album’s title with Mad Max imagery. There is the turbo-charged ‘Blood Runner’, the slow eight-minute grinder ‘No Return’ and massive ‘Exodus’ where the guitar reigns supreme. Open chord tuning benefits ‘Stranger Tonight’ as it cuts through with a sharp edge and punk attack. Odd track ‘Bedouin’ actually introduces horns (or what sounds like horns), a first for the band, proving they may be growing up and moving into a more sophisticated tier.
Website: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
THE VINTAGE CARAVAN
Gateways, the fourth album from this Icelandic trio should put to rest the rumors that the group are just a one trick pony riding on the coattails of guitar phenom Óskar Logi Ágústsson. They still embrace their blues foundation but have fully developed their song writing to such a degree that it’s now a tempered furnace to their original sound. Case in point, “Set Your Sights” the record’s first track, explodes with dry electric blues setting off a static lightning fray that leaves the speakers smoking for hours. Founding bassist Alexander Örn Númason is front and center on runaway single “Reflections” using a killer groove to maximize the group’s hook sitting perfectly alongside the masterful guitar work and especially the piercing solo. New-ish drummer Stefán Ari Stefánsson (since 2015) makes his mark on piledriving “All This Time” and the blistering “Reset” landing somewhere between Sabbath and In Rock-era Purple. Where the band really branch out is in the psychedelic “Nebula” using a nice echo on the vocals and a Yes / Pink Floyd melodic lace through a landscape of acoustic guitar before a mid-song tempo change moving it into Rush Territory.
Of the key features on Gateways, the vocal and the guitar work are exceptional. Ágústsson continues to carry the show but is more integrated with Númason and Stefánsson however, he has really upped his game. “The Way” is wonderfully crafted not only with a standout riff but in the context of heavy melodies. The vocals are ripe with emotion yet polished and refined. The gorgeous build in “On the Run” is one of the record’s highlights where the texture and feel are stretched out past the 6-minute mark allowing for the full development of this dark yet beautiful song. Mixing genres and even musical eras has tracks like “Hidden Streams” moving from a retro seventies vibe into modern metal riffing while still leaving an opening for a rich vocal. Stunning! The record closes with the hymn-filled “Farewell” soaked in cathedral organ and eventually overwhelmed by a muddy blues groove. All three musician rise to the occasion making the song a landmark bookend from the monster hook and soloing to the snarling bass and powerful drumming. Yet, it’s not quite over as they bleed out with the epic stoner jam “Tune Out”, an acid journey that we may never come back from.
Website: The Vintage Caravan
Every once in a while, a record comes along that more than exceeds expectations. Lucifer II does just that! Led by Berliner vocalist Johanna Sadonis with drummer (and husband) Nicke Andersson (Hellacopters, Entombed), the two have reconstructed the foundation of the group with improved song writing, playing and production. After leaving The Oath in 2013, Sadonis formed the first incarnation of Lucifer with Cathedral guitarist Garry Jennings. The debut sparked international attention with the single “Anubis” followed by heavy touring. Adding Saturn guitarist Robin Tidebrink to the live lineup gave the band a thicker sound. By 2016 Sadonis had moved to Stockholm and began writing with Andersson, a seasoned song writer and producer, who helped sculpt the new Lucifer sound into a move groove ’70 rock vibe. Think Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac. “California Sun” introduces Lucifer II with a majestic riff and thunderous beat. Sadonis’ voice is intoxicating conjuring up the spirit of 1973 with a haunting allure that’s both seductive and dangerous.
Not to be overlooked is the “California Sun” B-side where the band covers Scorpions deep track “Evening Wind” doing sincere justice to the original. Though the song is a non-LP track, its magic showcases the depth of the new lineup. Heavy ballad “Dreamer” is the record’s showstopper building from an acoustic intro and bass beat to a majestic open chord swell reminiscent of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” on steroids. The video sells the song as a leather-clad, maiden-in-the-forest, graveyard masterpiece. “Before the Sun” captures an early Rainbow groove with a Renaissance tale and Blackmore-like riff. Celebrating their Sabbath roots “Faux Pharaoh”, “Reaper on Your Heels”, “Aton” and “Eyes in the Sky” play to the darkness of the band’s name while “Phoenix’ and Stones cover “Dancing with Mr. D” shine with a polished melodic sex appeal. The band’s use of piano and organ in just the right spots authenticated their retro ‘70s direction. For their live lineup they’ve brought in the talents of guitarist Martin Nordin (Dead Lord) and Austrian bass player Alexander Mayr.
Our Norwegian friends Lonely Kamel have released their fifth long player in Death’s-Head Hawkmoth. Four years in the making has given the band plenty of time to let their ideas ferment and mature into a ripe pungent stew. From the intro ‘gong’ and relentless doom dirge of ‘Fascist Bastard”, the band are cocked with unrepented aggression, social commentary and seething feedback all wrapped in an addictive melody. The seven-minute opener accentuates the band’s brand of rock ‘n’ roll with a scorching three minute guitar solo that moves from progressive to psychedelic while still maintaining the song’s core foundation. With a mere seven tracks, Lonely Kamel go for quality over quantity. Three of the tracks zoom past the seven-minute mark allowing the songs to breathe. “Inside” is the record Lo-Fi masterpiece rumbling along with hints of Fu Manchu in the tailpipes. A guitar solo ushers in the hypnotic texture with drums and bass setting a mind-numbing groove. “The Day I’m Gone” is a throwback to the band’s blues roots where elements of Free’s Fire and Water can be heard.
Clutch-like “Psychedelic Warfare” is master-crafted with lethal doses of old school heavy rock and modern metal fighting for dominance. The growl of vocalist Thomas Brenna is tamed by the psychedelic echo in “Moving On” where two minutes of chugging bass and steady kick drum give the record a slight pause before the previously mentioned “Inside” does some serious damage to the eardrum. Summing up the established vibe comes “More Weed Less Hate” (great-shirt slogan) adding a little more Detroit muscle to their riff rock akin to Motörhead’s finer moments. Midway through, the tempo changes to a staccato boogie as the guitar takes the lead while a layered lap steel and soulful backings vocals sends us down the bayou. A guzzle down the gullet kicks off “Inebriated” and its biographical tale of excess into “sweet bourbon dream” and “damn crusty loveless mornings”. A drinking man’s barroom medley has the band grinding away to a thunderous procession and atomic riff dragging a load of reverberation. “Three sheets to the wind I’m getting wasted!”
Website: Lonely Kamel
Sony Music, Headbangr
Mustasch promised us last summer they would deliver their hardest hitting album yet with this new release. After multiple spins over the past month, we must concur, Silent Killer is ONE explosive hard rocker which, at times, rivals the mighty Metallica. The record marks the band’s eleventh long player since crashing the gate of the new millennium. What makes the disc so extraordinary is the sonic production and the songs themselves. There was speculation that Silent Killer would be recorded at Willie Adler’s (Lamb of God guitarist) home studio, but after Mustasch lead man Ralf Gyllenhammer and guitarist David Johannesson visited the Texas location, they opted to do the record back home in Sweden. The long, cold, winter nights yielded 10 masterpieces with ‘Winners’, ‘Lawbreaker’ and ‘Burn’ leading the charge. The biggest surprise was the inclusion of ‘Fire’ featuring ex-Turbonegro singer Hank von Helvete who hasn’t recorded in seven years. The result is a dynamic slash and burn metallic juggernaut ripe with blood, spit and attitude. A welcomed return for the Norwegian frontman.
Album opener ‘Givin’ teases with an acoustic intro then, with the cock of a pistol, fires a blaze of riffs and a hammering chorus straight into the brain. The rush makes perfect sense of the album’s cover art. Long-time bassist Stam Johansson and drummer Robban Bäck pack on the muscle in head-bangin’ standards ‘The Answer’, ‘Barrage’ and ‘Grave Digger’ all of which grind out serious Pantera meets Metallica level grit. Categorically ‘Winners’ takes the lead as a thrashy Slayer-like anthem hissing forth a deluge of stinging lyrics boasting that the band has returned to take back their crown. The rapid-fire riffs and double kick bass solidifies the group’s “new” tougher direction in two and a half minutes of speed metal fury. Title track ‘Silent Killer’ is a more complicated beast with its layered guitar and heart-pounding bass. All the signature Mustasch elements are in place including a paused refrain between verse and chorus. Video hit ‘Libertà’ is getting massive views as it lays down an old school hard rock soundtrack while the band take to the skies with the Swedish air force in a thrilling “Top Gun”-like montage. All killer no filler!
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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