REVIEWS ROUND-UP: ft. Amaranthe – Blackberry Smoke – Bokassa – Shooting Daggers

When Swedish Europop-metalcore (they’re a difficult band to put a tag on considering how distinct their sound is!) sextet Amaranthe announced their arrival with 2011’s self-titled semi-classic album, it was hard to imagine them, as great as their first shot was, still being around thirteen years later.

The arrival of clean vocalist Nils Molin after a couple of albums of diminishing returns coincided with an upturn in quality on Helix (2018) – a momentum that continued into Manifest (2020). The Catalyst sees the arrival of a new harsh vocalist Mikael Sehlin and this seems to have pushed the band to complete the boomerang cycle and return to their best form. With noises coming early in the process from the Amaranthe camp declaring an embracing of uptempo and symphonic ideas, there is no little anticipation for their seventh album overall, and second for Nuclear Blast.

Right off the bat, it is clear that the energy and joy is coursing in spades once more through the Amaranthian veins as the title-track sees Elize Ryd’s distinctive vocals take us by the hand through a massive power metal-y chorus.

As the album unfolds, Amaranthe treat us to a constant barrage of their uptempo best – the title track backed up by “Damnation Flame”, “Breaking The Waves” and “Outer Dimensions”. We even get earnest, honest and reflectful in “Stay A Little While”, a sign-off of a cover of Roxette’s “Fading Like A Flower” that makes absolute sense, while “Insatiable” and “Re Vision” are the confident, brazen pop-meets-metal brags the band excels in, the latter with the requisite club anthem production effects.

Another thing that The Catalyst does is ensure everyone gets their share of the limelight – Molin and Sehlin feel integral and not just side-kicks, entwining throughout all the tracks, and main songwriter (and keys / guitar-smith) Olof Mörck even treats us to spiralling and wailing solos amongst the sonic walls as well as versatility of synths and electronica, throughout an album that feels like a catalyst to a second decade resurgence.

This is Amaranthe back to their very best.

8 / 10

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It’s easy to dismiss a new Blackberry Smoke album with a wave of the hand and the expectation that you know what you’re getting. I mean, this is their eighth time around the maypole… but when your swinging those big ole pants to “Hammer And The Nail”, crooning along to Zeppelin-tinged “Whatcha Know Good”, or getting on down to the blues rocking “Little Bit Crazy”, you know that Georgians have still got something that very few others have.

And darn them others, as when compared to their back catalogue, Be Right Here (3 Legged Records) stands tall.

Southern enough to keep a strong sense of identity, but without veering too far from rock roots to become country or whimsical, “Barefoot Angel” is a strong ballad to take us home, opener “Dig A Hole” funks and shuffles and gets your moves a movin’, “Be So Lucky” is a laid-back easy-listener, while “Like It Was Yesterday” is an open retro-rocker that is impossible not to tap the foot and nod the head to.

There is a glorious simplicity to Be Right Here, but simplicity in a good way – the songs do what they should and what you want them to, and are all the better for it. Be Right Here has more than just a little bit of what you fancy.

7 / 10

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Surfing the forward slash in Rock / Metal, and joining The Wildhearts in the perfect centre circle of the Venn diagram of Punk, Stoner, Hardcore, Rock n’ Roll and Metal, Norwegian trio (for recording purposes, currently a duo) Bokassa belie the song, album titles and general downer vibe of the lyrics and cover, to come out swinging with a mammoth set of banging tunes on their fourth, and quite possibly best, album.

“Straight Edgelord” is the pick of an unholy opening triumvirate that swings, big, hard and chunky, marrying swaggering stomping guitar crunch to anthems the beer-fuelled will be desperate to bellow in each-others faces. Bush-era Anthrax chugs married to Backyard Babies-esque choruses is quite the cocktail, and the Norwegian punks know how to mix it strong.

But it really is hard to pick out highlights as “Bradford Death Squad” lumbers, Aaron Beam of Red Fang adding a touch of spice, “Let’s Storm The Capitol” dances and spits out punky earworms, “Garden of Heathen”, embellished by the legendary Lou Koller, roars in your face. The hits keep hitting from top to bottom, as “Crush (All Heretics)” with its dark lumber finishes things off with a cool, bitter citrus twist.

There’s no doubt that this is an album that should reinvigorate the momentum Bokassa’s catalogue deserves. The dirtiness of the garage, the hooks of an abattoir, and the low-slung guitar swagger of the confident sleaze-rocker married to the downward punch of metal riffage… All Out Of Dreams (Indie Recordings) has everything you (and they?) need to start those night-time imaginations all over again.

8 / 10

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A cool hybrid of punk drenched in reverb-y shiny grungy tones, “Dare” is a wild-ride opener whose slicker sound really works with the aggressive bite of the song. “Not My Rival” bounces from Courtney Love tainted-honey-smile and snarled shouted hooks, and “Tunnel Vision” could have sat comfortably on Glow On, a fuzzy Nirvana-tinged shout-along: Shooting Daggers are showing there are multiple tricks and nothing pony about Love & Rage, their debut full-length on New Heavy Sounds.

Nine songs in twenty-minutes is the perfect capsule for the London-based, but internationally sourced, trio to get across everything in their arsenal – from “Smug” with its grindier, bouncing verse and dream-drawl chorus, to “Bad Seeds” with its driving rhythms, and encompassing the reflective “A Guilty Conscience Needs An Accuser”.

Whilst the roots of their music may reach back thirty years to the early nineties, the sound, fury and relevance is completely in the now as Love & Rage sees Shooting Daggers make a strong statement of intent and lay the foundations for undoubted future success.

The potential is real, and the next step will no doubt be a confident and powerful one.

7 / 10

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