Friday, 21 February 2014

ALBUM REVIEW - H.E.A.T - "Tearing Down The Walls"

Exactly six years after their surprisingly excellent debut, Swedish sensations H.E.A.T are back with a fourth album that seems to be a massive “fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t play music for the sheer joy of it. Anyone who has seen them live will know that these lads bounce about like a hyperactive kid in a sugar factory, doing their best to transfer the smiles on their faces to the audience, and once again they’ve carried this attitude onto an album.

“Tearing Down The Walls” is absolutely stuffed full of first class AOR tracks, showing a band who really know how to put together a catchy tune. This may seem an obvious way to go about things, but there’s a hundred average AOR albums out there for every one that makes you play air guitar and sing along at embarrassing volume whilst walking your dog on the beach (like I did this morning).

Even on such a quality album there will be stand out tracks, and for me there’s a few. Lead single “A Shot At Redemption” is an absolute killer (and perfect single choice), that will blow many socks off live, as will the title track, which is a full on lighter waving anthem with a chorus that begs to be joined in with. I have to single out “We Will never Die” as well, as it would have fitted perfectly on the debut and will have you going “Woah woah!” by the second minute. I also love “Inferno”, a full on rock track that belts along like Usain Bolt with his arse on fire and has a cool, early TNT vibe about it. With that said, the tracks on offer are so pure in their AOR-ness (is that a word? Should be) that bits and pieces will constantly ring little bells in your mind, but as a whole they are pure H.E.A.T. Well, all except one…

Six tracks in, we get to “Mannequin Show”, a mid paced melodic chugger that totally, and I mean TOTALLY, steals the chorus tune from Britney “none more rock” Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again”. From the first time I heard it to the last it totally ruins the track for me, and is an unfortunate blot on an otherwise pristine album. In fairness, I played it to several other people without saying what I thought, and every single one spotted the similarity within ten seconds. Even the totally guitar free ballad “All The Nights” is preferable to hearing Britney in my head. In fairness, the ballad is actually pretty good anyway.

So full marks to H.E.A.T on completing four albums without fucking up. The sound on “Tearing Down The Walls” is excellent thanks to producer Tobias Lindell, and every single band member gets their chance to shine through the mix. Special mention must go to guitarist Eric Rivers for some inspiring and uplifting solos, and I suppose it goes without saying that vocalist Erik Gronwall doesn’t put a foot wrong with a powerful performance. An almost perfect mix of old school AOR and modern teen friendly rock, “Tearing Down The Walls” is as good as, if not better, than anything H.E.A.T have done before. Except for the Britney Spears one, obviously…

Monday, 17 February 2014


Some of you may remember that a couple of years I went a bit mental over Asia’s “XXX” album, a fantastic piece of work that resulted in much singing along and many embarrassing Google searches. It was, to be honest, an almost perfect album, full of pace and melody, the best , for me, since “Astra” way back in the Eighties. Understandably I’ve been waiting for the follow up with baited breath.

One of the problem’s I have had with Asia in the past is their propensity for releasing albums full of mid paced, samey songs. This is one of the reason’s I loved “XXX” so much, as it really rolled along and showcased varying speeds and styles. “Gravitas” does not do this, not even a tiny bit. Opening track “Valkyrie” will have you singing along, but only because John Wetton sings that very word over and over. Next is eight minutes of “Gravitas” that feels more like fifteen, with a dull two minute intro (to build gravitas, I suppose) and a nice opening riff that dissipates into five more minutes of mid paced averageness that threatens to be good but never quite makes it. It only wakes up at the end when we finally get a sweet guitar solo. The most interesting track is “I Would Die For You”, which rolls in at just over three minutes and has absolutely no flab on it anywhere.

“Gravitas” is a rather uninteresting album overall. If a few of these slow tracks, like “Russian Dolls” and “Nyctophobia” had been part of a pacier album then they would have been fine, but when the vast majority of an album is so unchanging and mediocre it does begin to grate. There’s no real flow to many of the tracks, no sense of urgency, none of the passion of “XXX”.  In short, “Gravitas” is boring. It’s not Prog-boring, as Asia have never really been a Prog band, it’s just dull in a generally dull way. I have a feeling this will be the biggest disappointment of the year for me, and that sucks. 

ALBUM REVIEW: MAGNUM – “Escape From The Shadow Garden”

You can’t keep a good band down, and like any other good band Magnum just won’t lie down and take it easy, perhaps with a nice cuppa and a biscuit. Nope, Bob Catley, Tony Clarkin et al are determined to plough on until we get bored of them, something that, thankfully, doesn’t look like happening anytime soon as they release this, their seventeenth studio album.

Much has already been said about the quality of “Escape From The Shadow Garden”, and I have to agree that, once again, this is a very solid offering from a band who have certainly changed their sound from the old days. Whereas the Magnum of old were a cross between melodic and prog rock, Magnum post 2000 are a more guitar driven beast, and never more so than on this album. It seems that Tony Clarkin has rediscovered the fact that he is in actual fact a lead guitarist, and as such he is at liberty to deliver big, fat riffs (Check out “Too Many Clowns” for evidence of this) and to rock out as much as he bloody wants. Bob Catley, too has changed, with age giving him a rock growl that wasn’t evident when he was telling us a bout storytellers and vigilantes. 

Whilst some bands throw out as little as they have to, it’s refreshing to hear an album these days that’s over an hour long, and even more refreshing that the quality is high throughout. I’m sure a crowd favourite on the upcoming tour will be “Midnight Angel”, a haunting song of over seven minutes that demands a singalong at the start. The aforementioned “Too Many Clowns” should also be a cracker live, as it’s a real rocker with an interesting honky tonk piano line that creeps in towards the end. It’s not all perfect, as a few tracks meander on without really trying to soar (“Don’t Fall Asleep” I’m looking at you), but in general this is certainly on par with the last album “On The 13th Day”.

So the Magnum machine keeps rolling on, and there’s not much here that won’t be devoured by eager fans. It’s heavier than you might expect, but this is in no way a bad thing, but there’s still plenty of the melody and poetry we are used to. I have to admit that I don’t expect Magnum to blow me away with a five “R” album these days, but “Escape From the Shadow Garden” shows a band that still have a lot of strength and a lot to give.

Official Website


Thursday, 6 February 2014


So yeah, it looks like we’re not getting a sequel to the excellent “Dredd” movie, but do we really need one when there’s a constant supply of first rate Dredd stories in the 2000AD and Megazine? Well, yes, I know we REALLY want another film regardless, but at least the chaps at head office have met us half way with this official sequel, carrying on a little while after the movie left off.

I suppose the first thing that has to be said is that this 32 page downloadable comic genuinely does the job well. It’s a tight, solid story concerning drugs,  psychics and the fact that Mega City One doesn’t let mutants in, meaning they have to be smuggled in by nasty people who aren’t likely to just let them go with a pat on the back and a sythi-banana. 

The script, by 2000AD stalwart Arthur Wyatt, is crisp and easy to follow, and long term artist Henry Flint produces some gritty visuals that suit the set up, as this is Mega City One not some shiny seventies dazzling city of the future. Judge Anderson, now part of the burgeoning “Psi Programme”, has gained some of the sass she is known for in the comics (where she first appeared back in 1980, three years after Dredd), whilst Dredd himself is his usual stony faced self, accepting of Anderson’s new fangled approach but still preferring to kick in doors and punch faces until a crime is solved. You know – the old fashioned way!

Overall, “Underbelly” is a successful attempt to flesh out the world of the film and even move it on a little. A good script and art make up for the fact that it’s rather short, but even then the length makes sure it’s tight and never outstays its welcome. 

I have reviewed this as a digital download, which you can get for under two quid, but it IS available as a one shot physical comic book as well. The thing is, it sold out in about four nanoseconds, which means that wankers on Ebay are asking silly money for it. The good news is there’s going to be another print one, so if you really want it on paper don’t go to the rip off merchants, okay? It should be available from 18th February so go to your local comic shop and put an order in.