ALBUM REVIEWS ROUND-UP: ft. No Devotion – Sumerlands – Smith, Kotzen – Snow Coats – Voyager


 

No Devotion – No Oblivion (Equal Vision)

With an understated class that is a prevalent trait that underpins the second album from No Devotion, a collective featuring Geoff Rickly (Thursday) and Lee Gaze and Stu Richardson (ex-lostprophets), ‘Starlings’ is the gentle breath of life that ushers the album in; lush swathes of synths underpinning an emotive and earnest chorus that could have been taken from the Deftones more reflective moments. Rickly sets a stall out espousing vulnerable confidence and exceptional quality from the outset, before second track ‘No Oblivion’ shows the other side of the bands arsenal with synth motifs dancing around guitars and quasi-industrial beats, and nods to Nine Inch Nails in one of the more abrasive tunes.

There is an elegance to the dream-pop and slick yet emotional alternative rock that shimmers over the eight tracks on No Oblivion (Equal Vision) – hints of eighties synth flicker over and underneath the poppy and dynamically excellent ‘The End of Longing’ and ‘A Sky Deep and Clear’ as well as the darker sparse and minimalist moments, such as the soundtrack-esque emotion of ‘Endless Desire’ (which is a pure retrospective pop song of the highest, if not the newest, order) and the subdued, but vocally expressive and impressive ‘Repeaters’. No Devotion regularly find beauty in the negative spaces and gorgeous pensive moments, such ‘Love Songs From Fascist Italy’, another standout track, at times calling to mind a passing shade of Snow Patrol and the less cynical, earlier highlights of 30 Seconds To Mars.

No Oblivion is a graceful, deep and rewarding listen. Before pressing play, we had little intention of covering it with a review. Halfway through the first listen there was no way it was doing anything other than heading up the next of our round-ups. Subsequent listens have only served to prove the initial response was the right one.

9 / 10

Sumerlands – Dreamkiller (Relapse Relapse)

We do like to find a segue and a link between the bands in a round-up, and the common theme taking us from No Devotion to the Pensylvanian heavy metal quintet featuring Artur Rizk (yes, he of producing Kreator, Power Trip and, oh, you’ve got Google… you do it) titled Sumerlands is not just that Dreamkiller is also their second album, but that it’s roots belong in the eighties yet the band have also found a credible way to take the feel and quality elements of the decade without slipping into the cheese. It’s a dangerous line to tread, but Sumerlands walk that tightrope with grace and ease.

Tobias Forge is casting envious looks at the shoulder-shrug of the slinky class of ‘Heavens Above’ – for a reference point, think Jake E. Lee era Ozzy, while elsewhere we’re treated to music akin to pre-Empire Queensryche, the vocal melodies of the classier elements of Joachim Cans, and the effortless cool of Visigoth, all with a sheen and shine that captures the period without dating itself, and sounding bright and vibrant, and in a way that further established Sumerlands as an act that’s doing something different and interesting. Meanwhile Rizk’s solos are exemplary – aiding an enhancing the tracks with chic embellishments.

Respectfully living in the past, while navigating a line that revels in the best of the elements – the song titles and lyrics, the melodies, the pace and gallop such as the title track – all without succumbing to the pitfalls of being overly cliche. There’s reverence without pastiche, relevance without relying on parody, and Dreamkiller is a sophisticated example of how to joyfully reference a musical past without being a slave to its crimson glory.

8 / 10

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days… And Nights (BMG)

Last years self-titled debut from the collaboration of Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith and the enigmatic Ritchie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big, The Winery Dogs) was a bit of a surprise hit, even for those of us who are fans of both six-stringers across their various releases. What wasn’t a surprise was the style – bluesy rock with earnest vocals and sensational leads, licks and solos; what was is both the quality of the songs – this was no 3K phone-in – and the group’s ability to transmit a laid-back jam vibe while still maintaining a hard rock energy.

Oh, and the prolific nature of their output is quite welcome indeed.

The Better Days… part of this hybrid release is a re-release of 2021’s second output, a limited edition four-track EP, that sees a slight pushing of the ante with the title track grooving the blues and opening things up, before ‘Got A Hold On Me’ lets the cats off the leash, driving hard rock with a bluesy rock edge, with a look over the shoulder at Deep Purple. ‘Hate and Love’ is slinky and lead-infused, while ‘Rise Again’ closes out the studio tracks with a slightly proggier technical number, and a cool twist on the theme as they duo still work their rocking blues, as Kotzen references his earlier Shrapnel releases with a bit of shredding alongside paying respect to Van Halen in both the licks and chorus.

 

Taking us down the back nine are five live tracks – we get ‘Hate And Love’ with a touch more live crunch and bite, and ‘Got A Hold…’ gets a working over, topped with a chuckling Smith telling us “This one’s about the perils of alcohol… but enjoy your beer, y’know what I mean!”, before live versions of three tracks from the debut, with focus given to two of the more epic and impressive tracks, the country-tinged ‘Scars’, and a nine-minute ruminative ‘You Don’t Know Me’, closing out with the straight-forward rocker ‘Running’.

 

By its nature, this was never going to be an essential offering, but it more than serves a purpose, giving fair exposure to the four tracks from the limited record store day vinyl EP, as well as showcasing the quality and depth of the live side of the band while celebrating their first run as a gigging entity, Better Days… And Nights proving once again that Smith/Kotzen has got your all your bluesy hard rocking needs covered.

7 / 10

 

STEVE TOVEY

 

VOYAGER – A Voyage Through Time (Season of Mist)

Speaking of live releases, A Voyage Through Time is the recording of a virtual performance and celebrates the anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The opening track ‘To the Morning Light’ is a strong track that reminds me of an anime theme song. It is uplifting and expansive. There is an emboldened forward movement in the track that gets you in the gut. A Voyage Through Time is very futuristic sounding – think progressive rock but with a futuristic tinge. It’s not quite space age lounge music from the sixties, but perhaps a twenty-first century updated version of it.

Listening to A Voyage Through Time, the production is of a caliber that it’s easy to forget it’s a live album. However, after every song, there is banter. There are loads of talking after each song. The banter reminds me of Flight of the Concords. It’s engaging, amusing, and fits easily and naturally with the music.

The music itself has shades of Devin Townsend, Dream Theater, and post-reforming Iron Maiden and the lyrics are deep and comprehensive. It’s not sing-a-longable, it’s more storytelling.

A Voyage Through Time is a solid live album that is both a pleasant experience and has a calming effect on the listener.

6 / 10

 

Snow Coats – If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny (Alcopop! Records).

 

Alternative pop / indie group Snow Coats releases an end of summer gem called If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny. The album is lighthearted and fun. If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny evokes sunsets on the beach with wind blowing through your hair. It’s the sound of Southern California beach life. It’s driving down Highway 1 with the top down. Snow Coats made an album that is happiness for the ears.

 

By far, my favourite song on the album is ‘Dinosaur’. It’s poppy and happy and uplifting. There is an innocence to the music and lyrics that is refreshing. Songwriter / guitarist Anouk van der Kemp along with twins Daan and Joost Ebbers (guitar and drums respectively), and bassist Frank Peters have perfected simplicity. There is an ease to listening and enjoying the music. My second favourite track is ‘Amber’. It’s like Anouk wrote it about and for me. I’m sure many other women will feel the same way. I’d love to just, “… quit my job and take a break. I might just find myself today. So, I’ll take all that I can take. I might just find myself today…” ‘Anyway’ is a pure earworm.

If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny by Snow Coats is a wonderful album that is effervescent and timeless. It’s a fun romp through a summer music landscape. It is a cheerful tome full of catchy pop hooks and heartfelt lyrics.

8 / 10

VICTORIA ANDERSON