Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard

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There are few bands that can do what Genesis did in their early days. They gave the 1970s a masterful piece of crafty songwriting and witty musicality in the form of incredible works art such as Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. They had very worthy solo artists like Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. And, they were served as a valuable piece of progressive rock. Now, to move ahead 30 to 40 years later, and modern progressive rock is back underground. However, that doesn’t mean anything. A new prog rock group was planting its roots to the ground in preparation to continue the lyrical expertice and other similar characteristics sprouting from Genesis. Come the year 2009, and after building up experience from their last few albums, Big Big Train has finally struck a rich sounding album that has worthy Genesis influences, The Underfall Yard, a new exciting entry for prog rock.

What makes The Underfall Yard so brilliant? Well, for one part, it is the way Big Big Train captures songwriting and musicality in a way almost mirrored to that of Genesis. Like them, Big Big Train and their vocalist, Dave Longdon, don’t seem to connect very well with the sexual energy contained in most mainstream albums. Instead, they also rely upon 19th and 20th century tales of England to decorate their music. From train conductors, flooding foundations, to Victorian engineers, the lyrics are epic, interesting, exciting, and act in similar methods to Peter Gabriel’s songwriting style in a positive, modern reinforcement. Not only are the lyrics ace, so are Longdon’s Gabriel-esque vocals. They represent an incredible resurrection of the original Genesis frontman. This is very difficult to beat. Finally, something else that is Genesis-inspired in The Underfall Yard is the musical structures. Take for example, songs like The Underfall Yard, Victorian Brickwork, and Evening Star sound very similar to famous early Genesis works such as Supper’s Ready, Watcher of the Skies, The Cinema Show, The Fountain of Salmacis, and Time Table. But that isn’t all of the pie to The Underfall Yard.

Big Big Train also tries to make themselves sound unique at the same time. The result is a profound, modern rendition of a prog rock journey that stretches well over an hour. By the way, it is a good hour. Examples include the classically-fused instrumental motifs expressed my guest musicians, such as Rich Evans, Dave Desmond, Jon Foyle, Nick Stones, and Jon Fruscott. At the same time, The Underfall Yard hasn’t lost a necessary rock attitude that still gives the band credibility towards their own music. In fact, the balance between these two impression is controlled mostly in a positive manner. This is cheers to ex-Spock’s Beard Nick D’Virgilio, Andy Poole, and Gregory Spawton, who have began to figure out the good way to creatively hold and express progressive rock. In a way, this also represents how unique Big Big Train is.

All in all, The Underfall Yard was a mostly positive result of past prog rock influences, daring modern pursuits, a plethora of musical talent, and the creative songwriting prowess. They built upon themselves in their previous albums, gained inspiration from a former prog rock titan, and executed a truly complex album as a result. Not just complex, but also noteworthy. Perhaps, the members of Genesis might be proud of these guys.

4.1/5

LIVE REVIEW: 15/08/13 – Ashes of Maybelle w/ Drowning Grace + Dead Inside + Easy Target

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After a delayed start of forty minutes, Stoke-On-Trent’s Easy Target (****) took to the stage and unleashed twenty five minutes’ worth of rifftastic punk rock. Though nearly all of the small crowd appear to be here for the heavier bands the night offers (an observation which can be inferred by the amount of hardcore and metalcore shirts on display), the band storm through their set to the applause of everybody in the room, and the crowd quickly swells up. Vocalist Steve McKinlay is similar to Black Flag’s ex-frontman Henry Rollins in his stage presence in that he is everywhere, and he delivers his lyrics whilst beaming at the crowd. The riffs provided by Josh Star and Jim Ball wouldn’t sound out of place on Led Zeppelin IV or even Gallows’ latest record. The drumming is incredibly tight too, meaning that the band’s performance is enjoyed by all. Easy Target are definitely one to check out and keep an eye on.

Whilst Dead Inside (****) don’t play a note-perfect set, the anger vocalist Dave Turner brings to the stage is unmatched. His lows are almost guttural and they work perfectly against the hardcore the rest of the band brings. The band courses through their set, featuring plenty of 2-step rhythms and beatdown sections played in incredibly low tunings, much to the adoration of the crowd who start moving as soon as the band begins. Featuring an array of material from their EP “Time’s Up” as well as some covers for good measure, Dead Inside are one of the most active bands in Nottingham’s hardcore scene and when they depart, the stage is absolutely covered in sweat.

Drowning Grace (****) have one of the most intense and visceral live shows that this reviewer has had the pleasure of witnessing. Though the set seems a little sloppy at times, the band’s combination of metalcore, deathcore and hardcore seems to be pleasing the crowd as they get plenty of movement and even some sing-alongs. However, it is vocalist Benjamin Cotton who truly makes the band’s performance what it is. He is everywhere – kicking doors open, throwing mic stands, climbing on the monitors, climbing on the tables, kicking the empty bottles and glasses around, getting in people’s faces and even throwing kicks in the pit. Really, the only weak point of the set is his vocals, which are always an incredibly high-pitched scream (much like Suicide Silence’s Mitch Lucker on The Cleansing) which renders his lyrics incomprehensible. Whether or not that’s down to tonight being the sixth day of the band’s eight day tour, I don’t know.

Ashes of Maybelle (*****) can be summed up by the following sentence: The night before the Nottingham show, vocalist Lyle broke his hand PUNCHING A MONITOR. The band’s ultra-violent live shows have garnered them a fairly large following around Nottingham. Though the band’s music seems to take influence from hardcore, deathcore and mathcore (imagine if The Chariot, The Dillinger Escape Plan and early Suicide Silence had a baby), they are incredibly tight. Despite it being an incredibly long night and everyone is tired, people are going crazy as usual, to the point where monitors are being strewn across the tiny stage. The crowd has swelled to its largest of the night, a fight nearly breaks out and there’s a guy in a horse mask hardcore dancing, all to the band’s bludgeoning in audio form. Each song is received to high praise and it is clear that Ashes of Maybelle have absolutely stolen the show.

LIVE REVIEW: 13/07/13 – Them Balloons w/ Proper English Gentlemen + Hunting Helen @ Stealth, Nottingham

For anyone familiar with the venue, Stealth is one of the best in Nottingham. It’s incredibly versatile – acoustic shows have a strong sense of atmosphere and community whilst hardcore shows like First Blood and Dead End Path can turn the floor into a flurry of spinkicks and stage dives at the drop of a hat.

Despite a late start, Sam Jones (****) plays a set slightly shorter than usual which consists of only a handful of songs. Even so, the young Nottinghamien brings so much energy to the stage to say it’s just him and a guitar. His fairly unique country/blues influenced acoustic tunes (think a cross between The Black Keys and Johnny Cash) have been earning him fans left, right and centre in the city and quite rightly so – Sam seems to be on top form tonight as he gives a note-perfect set.

The Silhouettes (***) follow Sam Jones and their half hour set proves that they’re definitely one to watch. “41” proves to be a definite highlight of their set, with a strong bassline throughout – much like a Suck It And See-era Arctic Monkeys. “Sierra Leone” is another highlight, as this time the band exchange groovy riffs in favour of a slower song with melancholic overtones. With plenty of banter in between songs, the only thing the band needs more of is variation and catchy hooks.

Hunting Helen (*****) have been on Nottingham’s circuit for less than a couple of years but have already gained quite a dedicated following, and drawing the biggest crowd of the night is testament to that fact. The band offer a mix of older material from their first EP “Dusk” as well as new singles recorded for LMC Records. Tonight they’re the middle ground between Sam Jones and The Silhouettes – an acoustic guitar backed by bass and drums. They open with fan favourite Gave Me Your Hand, an upbeat acoustic rock song with an incredibly memorable hook. Save Me follows and though it’s a much softer song with a greater sense of dynamics and harmonics between vocalist Ande Hunter and bass player Richard Fairholme, it’s still one of Hunting Helen’s best songs. The set is very fun overall and one thing is clear – Proper English Gentlemen will have quite the job following.

Though the crowd shrinks down to just a mere ten after Hunting Helen, Proper English Gentlemen (****) come across as a Your Favourite Worst Nightmare-era Arctic Monkeys, not that there’s anything wrong with that! The band prove themselves a competent unit with plenty of groovy riffs and basslines. The band are one of the more energetic tonight, with plenty of movement to keep their set interesting.

Them Balloons (****) take to the stage wrapped in black tuxedos and offer their loyal fans (the crowd swells up again) a half hours’ worth of upbeat pop rock in the vein of The Wombats. Their set flows well and the band seems to enjoy it.

New Tides of Man Record

Tides Of Man begin IndieGoGo campaign

Tides of Man have kicked up an Indiegogo campaign to fund their latest album entitled “Young and Courageous.” This will be the band’s first offering as an instrumental band as their former lead singer, Tilian Pearson, has left and since joined Dance Gavin Dance.

Support them with all your might here:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tides-of-man-is-making-a-new-record

The Lowest – The Lowest EP

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Europe’s hardcore scene is on top form right now, as many bands take influence from British bands such as TRC and Six Ft Ditch and choose to up the ante, resulting in far stronger releases. The Lowest are one such band. Hailing from Warsaw, listeners may be surprised when they discover the seven tracks presented here are the band’s first recordings.

Summing the band’s sound up proves to be quite the feat – The Lowest clearly take influence from the metallic hardcore sound popularised by US giants Trapped Under Ice and Expire, but listeners may relate the ambient arpeggios and the groovy riffs the band employs on album highlight “The Glass” with Brutality Will Prevail. The song begins with an ominous broken chord pattern with a creepy voice singing in a somber manner “We are the lowest, there is no hope for us/There’s no tomorrow, we break like glass.” before building up into a climax towards the end of the song with the introduction of gang chants.

Vocally, singer Bartek sounds similar to Frank Carter of ex-Gallows fame, and the second track “King of Pain” could be mistaken for a Grey Britain b-side. Bartek’s lyrics often revolve around the topics of war, self-loathing and even the apocalypse. His delivery of lines such as “Blood and sweat means nothing here, pain is worth shit/This world is a place I won’t miss” is absolutely furious, and he proves himself as one of the best upcoming vocalists in the EU scene. Production-wise as well, there are no flaws. The band utilizes a gritty bass tone similar to that of Punch which acts as the backbone to the songs and everything is perfectly placed. The production job here immediately puts them leagues above other bands in the genre.

Overall, the band’s debut EP has few flaws. It’s the perfect length and it plays on their influences incredibly well – often times it is too punky to be put alongside bands such as Trapped Under Ice or Nasty, and it’s too heavy to be put alongside Ceremony and Trash Talk. The Lowest have found a nice balance with enough diversity to keep each song memorable, and they are defintiely one band to keep on your radar.

4.5/5

Tracklist:

  1. Killing Time
  2. King of Pain
  3. Warmaker
  4. Graveyard
  5. Like Glass
  6. Onkalo
  7. Lowest