Hugh Laurie – Let Them Talk – 3.5/5
There was an odd conflict in me when approaching this album. Apparent from the lack of blues on this blog, it's never really managed to pique my interest, incapable of really getting that image of B.B. King or John Lee Hooker; that slow soulful playing from an ageing black man out of my mind despite knowing of the versatility within the genre. And yet despite my preconceptions I also hold respect for the man whose career has hopped from the comical shores of 'A little bit of Fry and Laurie' and 'Blackadder' to the medical drama, 'House,' for which he is now probably best known, and knowing his proficiency at music on the side, I couldn't help but be intrigued to see if this couldn't be one of those rare cases of a decent actor making the successful transition into music.
With a strong disposition towards the sound that typified New Orleans; a southern drawling that his unconventional voice is strangely suited, with twanging guitar melodies and prominent piano lines, its tone is not as depressive as I was expecting, displaying quite concisely my lack of knowledge for the genre. It feels as though he's taken the grit from the scene but never preys on the dreariness for all too long, many tracks having a ragtime or upbeat dixieland jazzy tone to it, creating this bittersweet melody out of the strength of simply getting through the torture of life. It might seem odd to make a comparison to the Sludge Metal of Crowbar or Eyehategod – both from New Orleans as well – but ultimately the atmosphere of slowly wading through the hardships and coming out the other side stronger comes across in much the same way, if arriving at their destination via different paths.
With a whole host of musicians guest starring on this release to whom he defers to, the music sways from the simplistic 'man and his guitar' to the complex harmonies of the violins and saxophones, but it never loses its way; the instrumentation is no less integral to the music than the vocals and seamlessly they blend to create the resulting tone. There are times where you will find yourself reaching for the skip button; passages that overstay their welcome and the disjointed transition from Laurie's hybrid British/American accent to a guest vocalist ruining the flow of the album, but fortunately these come few and far between. Laurie's not made a blues fan of me yet, but that's not through a lack of capabilities. He is no weak link amongst his peers despite them having a lot more experience under their belt, and he manages to shake off his narcissistic 'House' persona for a genuinely heartfelt vocal performance that simply has to be heard to be believed.
Highlights: St. James Infirmary, Battle of Jericho, Swanee River
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D – Vampire Saga – 4/5
And so that compulsion to write up what music I happen to be listening to (and try to shorten my list of 'stuff I should write about at some point') has once again struck with this album by the strangely named band “D.” No, it makes no sense to me either but being a Japanese band that doesn't exactly register as a huge shock. Detailing the story of a Vampire who...well I'm assuming does vampiric things; it's all in Japanese but is nonetheless filled with a gothic sensibility that hides behind that hard rock/heavy metal form that typifies bands such as Dead End's last offering and Versailles, except without so much of the string quartet and keyboard work. Melodic Heavy Metal? Heavy Hard Rock? Well both sound pretty silly to me, but nonetheless this is the line they tread. With clean vocals dominating, he demonstrates an odd pop-like sensibility to his hooks that'll often have you humming along, tossing in soprano highs and deep growls to break everything up quite nicely, and perhaps whilst not the greatest at any particular style, transitions with such fluidity that it's hard not to be just a tad impressed.
In fact, that works as a decent summation of this entire release; it may not be the best around, but the diversity in the tracks is nothing short of staggering, and they're never less than good; you won't find yourself reaching to skip a track, and this is a major reason for my high opinion of it. There's a gentle acoustic melody in one of the slower paced tracks, a couple of theatrical offerings and a few twangy middle eastern riff thrown in that wouldn't sound out of place in an "Orphaned Land" album, but it never feels jarring, steadily transitioning in style as the release continues in a manner that almost asks to be called prog. And they aren't exactly shy of performing a plethora of guitars solo's either, with most tracks feeling 'unfinished' if he hadn't slapped his branding on there somewhere.
Speaking of solo's, the drummer too makes his mark with a track devoted to his own abilities and far from being one of those situations where it all seems to go on too long, it's over before you know it and suddenly makes you prick up your ears and realise that within the dense sound he's not been slouching (in fact he's often the most impressive part of the line-up). And thankfully the production feels impeccable; it's precise and clean without a sense of rawness needed for other offerings, but it never goes so far as to lose that punchiness, and for the most part every instrument can be clearly heard in the end result, the bass and drums in particular lending a sense of groove or aggression to shape the tracks with impressive clarity. The moments where everything gets a little too thick with their own lines that aren't perhaps in perfect harmony, creating a touch too much dissonance to the core rhythm of the track comes few and far between, and is a small price to pay for having a band without dead weight. There may not be any individual here that feels exceptional, but as a whole, both in capabilities and composition, they can't help but leave an impression, retarded name and all.
Highlights: Track 6, Track 8, Track 9, Desert Warrior, Track 13
Minstrelix – Rose Funeral of Tragedy (demo) – 3/5
Often when I write reviews I'm careful about how I word things so as to best adequately describe what I wish to convey, and sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it doesn't. There is an exception – though it'll be proof-read at a later date – where it comes out thick and fast like a metaphor I can't think of that wont sound silly, usually when I've had a couple of drinks (just enough to make me vocal) and then discover something that makes me want to be vocal. Very vocal. Owing them the interest from their impressive speed/power throwback with “Reflections,” they had worked a wonderful marriage of that odd school of Japanese metal where they're still trying to catch up the last twenty years; Power and Thrash are still “the new thing,” and with an American vocalist who didn't just sing the higher notes but instead displayed a gorgeous baritone that's rarely seen in music, it constituted an instant interest. Except now she's gone, and so has the drummer she rode in on.
It all starts out a little sinisterly; as if trying to be grandiose in its introductions but secretly hiding something, clearly the fact that they have a new male vocalist that ironically more often sounds like more of a woman than their last did. When he finally arrives – after much build up from the other musicians to try and compensate for his lack of manliness – the result is not as disappointing as I was preparing myself for. Whilst not as rich and full a sounding vocalist, he displays a similar range and manages to step into the boots of their last more impressively than I could have expected, but the problems are still yet to come. If the thin, powerless feel to his voice wasn't enough of an obstacle, it isn't long before he tries his chops at a blackened growl, which if 'Demoniac' has taught us nothing else, simply doesn't fit.
But lets focus on the positives for a little while; for all my apprehension at the new melodeath direction they've taken there is little that is to be said against the guitars and keyboard work; both have taken what they've learnt and upped the ante, working with the drums (which are still present at this point) supplying plenty of that upbeat classic speed to play their solos against one another in a furious neo-classical frenzy. The growls, too, when you become accustomed to the notion of their existence aren't particularly bad; monotonous perhaps, but as a means to separate the tone of particular passages show promise. This band stood out in my mind in no short part because of Lola, their previous vocalist, and if they can't find someone to adequately replace her (and perhaps the replacement will improve when he becomes more comfortable in his surroundings; I haven't given up hope on him yet), then my last hope for them will be that they become instrumental and give the guitars and keyboards all the attention they deserve. And so with bated breath I wait for the full-length, still a little unsure of what's to come.