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[Review] Eagles Of Death Metal @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 28/07/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

When a band walks on stage and their intro song is “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you better strap yourself in and beware of those pelvic thrusts that really drive you insane!!! 

It’s a cold Friday night in the Steel City. Newcastle is one of those blue collar tough towns that like their rock n roll heavy, dirty and loud, so it is no surprise that there’s a line up around the corner to get into the new revamped King Street music venue, The Bandroom, to see American rockers, The Eagles Of Death Metal

The night starts off with The Southern River Band, hailing from Perth. The shirtless vocalist warms up the crowd regaling us with stories peppered with many expletives assuring us that he really is “a good singer”. The music is classic, true blue Aussie pub rock –  a’la Jet or Wolfmother. And for all the tongue in cheek lyrical bravado, these humble Aussie battlers really are talented, and the dude can sing. They’re tight. I’m impressed.  After a blistering 45 min set, they walk off the stage and I’m left wondering what is in the water in WA, because they certainly breed some amazing talent over there. The crowd is warmed up and ready for the main act. Let’s gooooooooo!!!!!

Richard O’Brien’s voice plays through the speakers … “listen closely…” as EODM enter the stage. They dance and camp it up, geeing up the audience, their stage outfits look a lot like Thrift Store Chic, there’s an abundance of handlebar moustaches and wigs and you just know that this is the prelude for an ‘interesting’ evening ahead. 

The crowd are singing along and doing the Time Warp dance with the band and the music fades out and EODM start their set with Got A Woman, followed by I Only Want You and Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!). Lead vocalist and guitarist, Jesse Hughes entertains the crowd with his camped up song introductions, sounding more like a Southern Baptist preacher, except hes not saving souls, rather, this rockstar is preaching sex n drugs n rock n roll, baby.  The crowd love it, they’re dancing, heads are bobbing, and everyone is singing along loudly. Hughes pauses to tell the crowd he was “SO high” as he arrived in town he was nervous that he wouldn’t be able to perform at that moment I see a flash of light in my peripheral vision, I turn my head and see a bunch of middle-aged bearded men passing the “peace pipe” around and the room is slowly filling with the fragrance of eau du sweet leaf. It all just seems appropriate for the vibe of this band – part rock n roll fantasy, part campy cosplay.

They continue by playing faves and classics such as Cherry Cola, Complexity, Silverlake and Heart On

Then, someone in the crowd is celebrating their 21st birthday and Hughes has the crowd singing Happy Birthday before continuing to playing Now Im a Fool, I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News), Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn) and I Love You All The Time. The set ends with a cover of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream which showcases an amazing lead guitar solo. After a brief break, the band return for an encore of I Like to Move in the Night and Speaking in Tongues. Its an 85+ minute set that is designed to entertain and keep the crowd bopping along. And it delivered! 

FINAL THOUGHTS –  EODM are masters at the 3 minute rock tune, perfect for an ADHD society that can’t hold a thought for longer than a tv commercial. The EODM show is like a teenage rock n roll dreamscape for every kid who ever sung into a hairbrush or played air guitar on a tennis racquet and dreamed of being famous, playing on a big stage to a roaring crowd. It’s all about fun from go to whoa! No grown-ups allowed here!

Personally, I feel like a bit of a snob as I long for some depth. Surely these guys, now in their 50’s, would have something important to say, some life stories to share. I get that this is their schtick and I’m not dissing it at all, but as a music fan, and someone who just experienced an almost 90min set, I don’t feel like I have any insight as to who these people are once they walk off the stage. Yes, I was entertained. Absolutely.  Yes, they are talented, and yes, there is definitely an audience for this style of rock music as the packed out crowded room suggests. But for me, there was something missing – a personal connection. Not everyone needs that from music and or musicians, but I realise that I do. It’s not a criticism against the band, but it was part of my experience at this show, that  I learned something about myself, and that can only be a good thing. 

Definitely go and check The Eagles Of Death Metal out if you are a fan of bands like The Darkness, Dandy Warhols, The Hives,The Vines, and The Rolling Stones.

EODM are currently on tour in Australia, check local gig guides for details. 

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[Review] Helmet @ Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle 20/04/2023

Review By Raelee Atkinson

Helmet have been described as the East Coast version of Seattle-based Soundgarden. They hit the scene at a time when music was changing and Grunge was on the cusp of being “the next big thing”. Formed by Page Hamilton in 1989, Oregon-born Hamilton was living in New York studying jazz, and wanted to form a band with then “unusual tunings” like drop D, and use jazz-influenced time signatures and harmonies. This all seems like the norm now, and we have Page Hamilton to thank for introducing us to these ideas. Helmet are considered to be alternative metal/post hardcore. They have that punk-y style of writing short 3 minute songs bursting full of energy and attitude with a grunge undertone. They have recorded and released eight full-length albums and been featured on several movie soundtracks, most notably The Crow and Judgement Night, a popular soundtrack with an unorthodox mash up of hard rock and rap, performing with Irish rappers, House Of Pain on the popular track, Just Another Victim.

This tour was originally due to happen back in May 2020 – well, covid put an immediate stop to that, and they are finally here, three years later. 

First night of the Australian tour, Helmet played at The Cambridge Hotel in my hometown, Newcastle.

Upon arriving at the Cambo, I was met with a sea of bald heads, grey beards and black t-shirts. Yep, looks like the right place and I thought, Helmet fans are loyal to the end, my next thought was, GenX is in the house, this should be an interesting night. All these middle-aged men were youngsters when they discovered this band and have continued to love them all this time. To me, that speaks volumes to the impact and influence of an artist or band, and Helmet was certainly influential in many ways. 

8PM doors opened and the room filled quickly, an impressive turn out for a “school night”, and everyone braced themselves for the show. No support band, it's all about Helmet tonight. Just after 9PM Helmet entered the stage and went straight into one of their popular songs from their 1992 Meantime album, Role Model, followed by Iron Head during which he flipped his middle finger for someone up the front taking photos, then by Give It, the crowd were warmed up and bouncing and nodding together. Then it was time for Rollo, up the front a fight broke out during Speechless, continuing through So Long, and while they played from the Dead To The World album, Drunk In The Afternoon, security finally dragged one guy out leaving the other guy to continue by punching someone else during the Strap It On opening track, Repetition, I chuckled to myself and remembered similar nights back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, back before moshpits became friendly and respectful and were more like a night at fight club. Then a guest guitarist came on to play on the Betty album track, Wilma's Rainbow

Nine songs deep and Hamilton had not spoken to the crowd, and when he finally did, it was to announce that upon arriving in Newcastle, he'd stepped in vomit, which is kind of the Newy version of having a bird poop on you, so he should consider it a good luck sign. Hamilton continued his repartee by describing the scent of the Cambridge as “what is that? butt?”. Then he introduced guest guitarist Chris Haskett, best known for playing in The Henry Rollins Band as an “old friend who he’d toured with way back in 1994, before you were born”. I wondered if Hamilton was joking, does he not know his fanbase? Surely he can see that we have all grown older with him. I scanned the crowd quickly and guessed that 99% of the audience were born between 1970 and 1985. After the brief chit-chat, where Hamilton also mentioned that they were working on a new album, it was back to the music and the band went straight into their 2010 album Seeing Eye Dog track,  Welcome To Algiers, followed by rocker Better, moving straight into FBLA II, then slow grunger Overrated, followed by Vaccination, and at last the much-loved massive hit, Unsung. I looked around and everyone was dancing, nodding and singing along. As the band finished, someone yelled out, “play it again” before Hamilton stopped to chat with the audience again. He introduced each member of the band and then drummer Kyle Stevenson led the band into I Know, followed by 2016’s Life Or Death, then Tic, and rounding the set out with the Betty album and The Crow soundtrack hit, MilqueToast.

Helmet walked off stage leaving a guitar playing a distorted feedback sounding note and the audience waited patiently for about 3 minutes and then Helmet reammerged to play the encore set of Sam Hell, Turned Out and ended the show with In The Meantime which had the whole audience singing along. Helmet left the stage as quietly and unassuming as they entered, and the show was over… just like that!

This tour was originally advertised as “30 Years, 30 Songs over 2 massive hours of unrelenting guitar rock nirvana”. Well, it's been tweaked a little since covid’s interruption, to 23 songs, but it's still a massive, unrelenting rock show of hits and much-loved songs, and clocks in at around one hour 45 mins. 

Helmet play a high octane set that chugs along mostly with tracks from the Meantime and Betty albums. It is a grunge-y, rock-y, kinda punk-y retrospective that takes the audience back to their heyday in the mid to late 1990’s. However, there's a whole chunk of their discography that gets surpassed with only one track from 2010 and two tracks from their last album, released in 2016 being added to the retro-strong playlist. This tour seems to be aimed at the OG fanbase and it is a great night out if you were around “back in the day” and want to re-live the “good ole times”. As long as you avoid that one angry drunk monkey, the crowd is mostly middle aged men and the odd wifey and they are all just there for the tunes and the memories. My brother and I enjoyed the show thoroughly and recommend checking out the Helmet tour to anyone who loves that 90s grunge rock sound.

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Kamelot – The Awakening

Kamelot are an International Symphonic Power Metal Band. I say International because Founding member Thomas Youngblood is an American, as is Bassist, Sean Tibbetts, then there is German Keyboardist, Oliver Palotai, German drummer Alex Landenburg and Swedish singer, Tommy Karevik. 

Kamelot formed in 1987 by guitarist / composer Youngblood, in Tampa, Florida, USA. There have been numerous member changes throughout the years, one of the most notable is singer/songwriter Roy Khan who was in the band from 1998-2011, referred by many as ”The Khan Era”. To this day, you would be hard pressed to find a KamFan who didn't have a soft spot for Roy Khan and the contribution and legacy that Khan left with Kamelot. So in 2011 when Khan suddenly quit the band, it was some huge shoes for the relatively unknown Swedish vocalist, Karevik to fill. Tommy Karevik joined Kamelot as a fully fledged member of the band in 2012 for their 12th album (10th studio), Silverthorn.  The Awakening is Kareviks fifth Kamelot album, (fourth studio album). His other band, Swedish prog metal outfit, Seventh Wonder, released a cracking album in June 2022, The Testament,  followed by some touring, so now, it's all systems go for The Awakening album release and World Tour, starting now, in Europe. 

The last album from Kamelot was 2018’s The Shadow Theory and then during covid-struck 2020, we got the live album, I AmThe Empire. So, it's been well over four years since we've heard new music from Youngblood and co. 

The Awakening opens with the now expected, orchestral instrumental intro track, Overture – Intro, which invariably leads right into a pounding fist-to-the-face power metal track, this time it is called The Great Divide. Midway through after a smoking lead guitar solo by Youngblood, Tommys beautiful voice breaks through to sing the bridge, “… come break my bones, don't leave me dying, sticks and stones won't have me crying, even if I fall, I will keep trying, you will see my wings unfold…” the vocal laying is stunning, this leads us into the chorus and key change until the songs end. Its Kamelot is all their glorious epicness and I just bought up all the tickets for this ride. Next up is the new single, Eventide, a power metal track complete with machine gun drums and beautifully heavy guitar riffing. It has a catchy chorus and I find myself humming and singing along,“Shine your light in Eventide, Companion til all hope has died, Until life and death will reunite, Your song shall guide me through, My house of pain”. Then it's time for the first single, One More Flag In The Ground.  An anthemic song designed for fist-punching the air, “I am a soldier, I'm marching into battle, I am a warrior and this is my creed, One More Flag In The Ground.” I can easily imagine that this song is well received live, enticing the audience to sing along loudly. It's also perfect for a sporting event. A rousing and relentless anthem. The fourth track is the second single, Opus Of The Night (Ghost Requiem). This is a kind of part two to the song Ghost Opera from the 2007 album with the same name. Where some fans were divided on whether or not they liked the first single, the second was well received by most who found its harkening back to a much loved album, a lovely piece of nostalgia. This track also features cello by Tina Guo. I love this song and I sing along to the chorus,  “Rise to the queen of the symphony, watch her step into the light, Surrender your heart to the melody, She’ll sing to you the Opus of the Night”. Right at the end, Tommys breath brings a lump to my throat. Midsummer's Eve begins with a piano and strings intro, again featuring cellist Tina Guo. It has a celtic feel to it, then Karevik’s stunning voice breaks through, “Still unkissed, maiden of mist, don't let your soul go to waste, come pain, come grief, come precious relief, memories fade in the dark …”. It's a beautiful, sweet, romantic ballad that pulls at the heartstrings. The piano, violin, cello and acoustic guitar give it a “stripped down, acoustic” feel , but this is a full production track, complete with orchestration. Tommy has a real knack for putting so much emotion into his vocals, and this song is a prime example of that.  Around the 2:45 – 3:25 mark, there's a beautiful cello solo by Tina Guo that Wednesday Addams would love. And then Tommy sings us through to the luscious end. Bloodmoon begins with strings and a disco beat drum, I'm having Saturday Night Fever flashbacks until Youngbloods crunching guitars come in and we are back in metal territory. There are some catchy melodies on this track, both vocal and guitar. “I am burning the letters I wrote in my mind, To silence the voices that haunt me”. The more I listen to this song, the more it grows on me. It's kind of funky. It's a vibe.  Nightsky begins with a futuristic sounding synth that bounces from left to right. I have immersive headphones on and this sounds so cool, then the drums and bass kick in with the choir and I'm transported into the dark of night. In the second verse, Tommy sings “Even in the small-all-all-est vibrations, I am there, the whisper in your veins, To run like the river..”. The way he sings that word  “smallest” is just delicious. Next is The Looking Glass, and we are deep in power metal land now. The drums are driving the song and the guitars and bass chug. The title makes me think of Alice In Wonderland and this song definitely feels like Alice just fell through the rabbit hole and into a metal gig. Alice is in the moshpit with the white rabbit and the mad hatter and then I realise we are at the pre chorus, and it's so catchy, as Karevik sings “I'm making my way through the shallows, I'm washing the ashes away”, Youngblood plays a fantastic little guitar riff over the top of his vocals and it's like earcandy, I need more so I go back and repeat that bit a few times. Yummy!. I really love the lyrics, too. “What if the heart was never broken, How can we stand up and walk, If we never learn how to fall, and what if the truth was left unspoken, There's a way for us all, To make peace with the pain”. Wow!  New Babylon opens with choral and symphonic bombass. The kind I love. I knew I was going to enjoy this track, but I wasn't prepared for just how much.  This song features the vocal stylings of Melissa Bonny of Ad Infinitum. Ad Infinitum have a new album due to be released on March 31st, and are currently touring Europe supporting Kamelot, so Bonny is performing this and other songs with Kamelot each night.  Kamelot loves to play with the beauty and the beast concept, by twisting it on its end and having harsh vocals performed by women contrasted with the sweetness of Tommys poppier vocal style.  Ms Bonny does a stirling job on this track. This is the masterpiece song of the album. It's HUGE! It's big and bombastic, in your face, chaotic  and unapologetic. It's exhausting just listening to it, so to follow it with the power ballad, Willow is perfect. This is Kareviks lane. He has the perfect voice for a ballad, singing with deep emotion,  “Thank you for your humble grace, So motherly the love you gave me, In your care I grew to be, The man I have become”. The final song on The Awakening with lyrics is My Pantheon (Forevermore). Tommys expressive voice leading the way to power and symphony. Heavy drums and guitars juxtapose piano. “Born into violence, Our tethered souls, Keep asking questions why…”. Bonny’s clean and harsh vocals feature on this track also. The album rounds out with another instrumental, Ephemera – Outro, which I'm sure will be the song Kamelot will use to exit the stage after their performance. It's a big orchestral and choral soundscape that would fit easily on a movie soundtrack.  

I'm a KamFan, I love both Khan and Karevik’s vocal styles, and their original bands, Conception and Seventh Wonder. I also love the drummer's other project, Cyhra with Jake E. I love Epica, Amaranthe, Arch Enemy, and Ad Infinitum – in fact, all the female fronted bands who have toured with Kamelot and vocalists who have shared the stage with them during particular songs. Everything about this band is my vibe, so I've been looking forward to hearing new music from Thomas Youngblood since before the pandemic. It has definitely been a lesson in patience.  I've been excitedly awaiting the release day of The Awakening all year. Counting down three singles that have been released and finally I am hearing the album in full from Intro to Outro. I have to admit this makes me so happy. I'm bubbling with joy at hearing this album.

As with all Kamelot albums, the listener is taken away on an epic soundscape, often otherworldly by design. The choral and symphonic orchestration brings a lush atmosphere to the overall sound of the album.  Thomas Youngblood is a gifted composer and he has a real talent for finding the right players to execute his music beautifully. The production is top notch, as we've come to expect, with Sasha Paeth once again at the helm doing an incredible job of bringing it all together perfectly. I'm not an engineer or drummer, but the mix on the drums is primo. I don't know if this is because of the style of newest member, drummer Alex Landenburg, or if it is just the way they wanted it mixed this time, either way, I love it. Sean Tibbetts bass and the drums hold the power metal together and Oliver Palotai’s keyboards and Thomas Youngbloods guitar riffs fill in the missing pieces to present us with a stunning symphony.

Tommy Karavik is an amazing singer/songwriter. I've enjoyed listening to his evolution as a member of Kamelot. With each album, he seems to be injecting more and more of himself into the Kamelot soundscape. His vocal gymnastics are beyond impressive. I really love how he has respectfully adopted some of the vocal “Khan-isms” that older fans originally gravitated to. The background vocals and layering are fantastic. With The Awakening, Tommy has pulled out all the stops to take the listener on the album's emotional journey and he does it with aplomb. 

Before I had even listened to the entire album, based just on the three singles alone, I was already rating this album as one of 2023’s highlights, and now, … I stand by it.  It was totally worth the wait! And now it's on high rotation in my home. The Awakening by Kamelot is available on all streaming platforms and good music stores, released on the 17th of March through Napalm Records. 

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[Review] Richard Marx @ NEX, Newcastle 01/03/2023

Back in 1987, when Saturday morning tv was filled with the latest music videos, a handsome young man appeared on the screen. He was the epitome of a late 1980s pop star with a flowing mane cut into a designer mullet and the voice of an angel. Young women’s hearts melted for this lad (including mine), but he was so much more than just another pretty face, he had real talent, too. Single after single reached the Top 10, and this success followed through into the 1990s (and beyond). Even grunge couldn’t dim this man’s star. And to this day, he is the only male artist to have written songs that have reached the number 1 position over the past 4 decades. A song of the year Grammy Award winner in 2004, Triple Platinum status, in excess of 30 Million in record sales, 26 Top 20 singles, 17 Top 10, 14 Number 1s, this man is a powerhouse. So when I woke up to the news that I was going to be attending his concert in Newcastle (my hometown) tonight, I was more than just a bit excited. What a way to start the month! 

Introducing Mr Richard Marx, an Adult Contemporary Pop-Rock American Singer / Songwriter / Musician / Producer. He has written and co-written hit songs for artists like Kenny Rogers, Nsync, Luther Vandross and our very own, Keith Urban, as well as a slew of chart-toppers of his own.

Arriving at the NEX complex in Newcastle, NSW, the line to enter was long due to this concert being sold out, but the staff did their best to get us all inside and seated quickly and efficiently for an 8pm sharp start. 

Right on time the support act entered the stage, acoustic guitar slung across his body. He introduced himself as Dandelion Head, otherwise known as J Blynn, an American, now Melbourne-based guitarist / singer / songwriter who was recently a featured artist on Rage. 

J is also Richard Marx’ guitarist. As Dandelion Head, he played a 5 song acoustic set including his latest song, Sad Eyes

Then it was a quick outfit change and he returned to the stage with a drummer, bass guitarist and Mr Richard Marx himself, in tow. Showtime!

The main event started with a video montage of Richards achievements, and then the band opened with a song from the latest album, Songwriter, titled Believe In Me, which led into Rush Street hit, Take This Heart, followed by Endless Summer Nights. At this point a lady from the audience approached the stage in front of Marx, holding a sign saying that it was her birthday and could she get a selfie with him. He obliged happily, also signing the album cover she handed him. He told the crowd that he got into the music business to get attention so please take photos and videos, upload them to you tube and social media, do whatever makes you happy, this is your night. Then he crooned the popular ballad, Angelia. Marx then introduced Same Heartbreak, Different Day, telling the audience that it is a special song to him as he co-wrote it with his second son, Lucas, it’s from the latest album and then Marx remained on stage while his band left. He explained that he had written a song for his 2014 album Now And Forever The Ballads that all 3 of his sons had individually told him that they liked, so he had asked them to play this song for this tour via a video recording. He spoke proudly of his talented sons and then a video of them playing When You Loved Me began while Marx accompanied on guitar and sang the song. Afterwards he stopped to take a sip of a strange lemon concoction drink and told another amusing story this time about Canadian singer Bryan Adams and this same drink which apparently is great for singers but also is used as a detox. The crowd laughed and next up were hit songs Too Late To Say Goodbye, which Richard suddenly added to the setlist on the fly – I guess he felt this audience was a Repeat Offender kinda crowd. Following that he played Hold On To The Nights, and Now and Forever. Richard stopped to chat with the crowd again, telling us how he had co-written one of Keith Urban’s popular songs and had worked with American Boy Band, Nsync in the early 2000s, which was the segway into him playing Long Hot Summer by Urban and This I Promise You by Nsync. The set closed out with Marx’ ode about the music industry, Don’t Mean Nothing.

The band left the stage and the crowd clapped and called for an encore. I mentally counted at least half a dozen more “hits” that were yet to be played so I waited for the band to return. First up was a song from the 2020 album, Limitless, accompanied by a video montage clip of Richard and his wife, Daisy Fuentes. The sweet and romantic Front Row Seat.  Marx introduced the popular chart topping, Hazard accompanied by the original video clip being played on the screen, moving seamlessly into Satisfied where the audience sang along loudly as Marx asked us to sing back to him. Should’ve Known Better got the crowd up and out of their seats and dancing in the aisle and singing along. Then it was time for the final song of the night, Marx sat at the keyboard and began to play Right Here Waiting, everyone was singing along with him, not wanting this night to end.

Richard Marx is an artist who knows and understands his fanbase. He’s here to promote his new album, Songwriter, released on September 30, 2022, but he also knows we’ve all come along to hear certain “hits” and he doesn’t disappoint. During the show, people in the audience yelled out thank yous, cheers and encouragement as Richard entertained, performing a cracking setlist made up of fan favourites from the 1987 debut Self Titled album right through to 1994s Paid Vacation and peppered the setlist with some newer content, engaging with the audience by telling funny anecdotes, using self-deprecating humour about ageing, and heartwarming stories about his family. His show included several video montages that included his family which added to the presentation while also telling the story of the songs. Marx spoke often during the show, regaleing the audience with stories and mentioning his Australian friends Keith Urban and John Farnham, and wishing his old friend well. Richard Marx fans are their fans, too and Marx is savvy enough to realise that and elicits the response he desired. Connection made. His main audience are fellow GenXers who have grown up, and older, with Marx, they “get” him. The whole vibe of the night felt different to most other shows I’ve attended. It was pretty low key, laid back, and relaxed, a safe space. Maybe that’s just Newcastle, maybe it was the 75/25 female to male ratio audience, but I believe that it also had a lot to do with Richard and his band.  And hearing these old songs again, it felt like a familiar place, a warm hug from my past, from a simpler time, come to revisit. 24 hours later and I’m still smiling at the new memories of last night, and getting to share this experience with my brother made it even more special to me. He loved the show, too.

Marx is the original Mr Nice Guy, he playfully accepted wolf whistles from the audience with good humour, obliged a fan with a selfie and autograph during the show, and encouraged everyone to have a good time, and to sing loudly with him. You go to a Richard Marx show to have a fun time and you get it – in spades, walking away at the end of the night with a big ole smile on your face. And it’s not just Marx that brings that joy, his band clearly love their job. They smile the whole time they are performing, it’s a contagious happiness.

The only real downside to the night was that it ended after about 2 hours of pure enjoyment and entertainment. It’s no wonder that this entire tour is sold out. I am definitely going to the concert the next time Richard Marx hits our shores again. 

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Delain – Dark Waters

DELAIN is a Dutch female-fronted symphonic metal band formed in 2002 and is the brainchild of former Within Temptation keyboardist, Martjin Westerholt. They have just recorded their seventh full length album. As a person who loves the Symphonic metal genre I've enjoyed the DELAIN albums in the past, Apocalypse and Chill (2020) being their standout for me.

In case you're not aware,  long story short … in February 2021 four members of the band left en masse, leaving only the original founding member, Martjin Westerholt. For the most part it seemed the split was amicable and done quietly and as classy as these situations allow.  There was some speculation as to why four members would just up and quit the band when they seemed to have finally hit their stride as a group, but most people simply figured it was just another casualty of covid and lockdowns.

In February 2021, Westerholt posted on the official DELAIN instagram account, “For the last year or so, the collaboration within the band ceased to work as well as it once had. Some of us were no longer happy with the current roles in the band. We all tried very hard to find a solution for over a year but sadly we are unable to find one. As a result we will all be going our own ways and pursuing our own endeavours”. You don't expect to hear from a band again once there's a mammoth split like that, but in June 2021, Martjin Westerholt made an announcement that DELAIN will be continuing with a new lineup and they were working on a new album.  Westerholt has brought back the original drummer and guitarist and added some new talent, most notably, new vocalist, Romanian born Italian resident, Diana Leah (Diana Orga). Leah, 32, was previously known as a Dance / Trance vocalist.  All of this considered, when I put the new DELAIN album on my list of albums I'd like to review, I did so out of curiosity. Not sure what to expect. 

On the 9th August 2022 The Quest And The Curse was released as the brand new single and music video for the brand new DELAIN, and introducing the brand new vocalist.  It was followed on November 29 by a second single, Beneath featuring singer Paolo Ribaldini. January 10th 2023 saw the third single released, Moth To A Flame. The new album, DARK WATERS, is finally released on Friday, so here’s my thoughts. 

Dark Waters begins with Hideaway Paradise, a rock tune with a pop sensibility that suits Diana's voice perfectly, it's a toe-tapper and great track to open the album, that easily leads into the epic symphonic bombass of The Quest and The Curse, with its catchy hooks that get you singing along and banging your head. The introduction of choral chanting and Diana's lilting vocals had me smiling, ahh, now this is more my vibe. Leading us straight into second single, Beneath, featuring vocals by Italian born Helsinki based, Paolo Ribaldini (Skiltron, Beast In Black, Rhapsody Of Fire) begins with an ocean soundscape setting the scene for the theme of the song then introducing crunching guitars and driving rhythm by the bass and drums. I particularly enjoy the background vocals on this track, which add to the atmosphere of the song. The last minute of the song is my favourite moment of the album. Mirror Of Night featuring Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie is a heavy power ballad complete with choir backing and a piano and vocal interlude leading to a big keychange taking us through to the song's end. The drama continues as Tainted Hearts starts with drums and a choral introduction before Diana enters the song with a Sharon den Adel-esque melodyline and vocal sound. The Cold is a classic symphonic metal track. Opening with a big, full sounding orchestra and choral chanting, leading into the distorted riffy guitars and heavy drum and bass rhythm, you can feel this is epic. This soundscape is bold and lush. Ending at a modest 4:37 I could have easily listened to another minute or so of that. Next up is latest single, Moth To A Flame, a song which Diana Leah says is “a song about being addicted to a situation or a person that you know is not that good for you but you keep going back to relive the excitement or pain of that time.” It starts with Leah singing acapella, the guitar riff sounds familiar and I suddenly have Separate Ways by Journey stuck in my head. This is a very approachable up-tempo track that is classic rock 101 with catchy hooks and rhythms that will have you humming and drumming along. An obvious choice for a single. Of Queen Of Shadow, Diana says “is about someone who is living stuck in the past and can't seem to break free of it.“ Orchestral synth leads the way to catchy guitar riffs and a heavy rock sound and then the song suddenly takes a wonderful turn and becomes a duet with Paolo Ribaldini. It's like honey to my ears, so I play it again. Then it's time for Invictus opening with heavy orchestration, choral chanting and guitar chug. Leah's voice comes in low and ominous “you're heading towards your own destruction…”, ooh so this is the “dark” part of the album. Well, no, not really, however, the song progresses into a heavy track with Paolo Ribaldini and Marko Hietala’s (ex-Nightwish, Tarot, Northern Kings) throaty rasp adding some masculine texture to the vocals which really makes this track quite delicious. The album closes out with Underland another atmospheric song with choir and synth orchestration. Nice clean pop-rock style vocals. There's a cool guitar hook and chuggy riff a’la Nightwish. It's a great way to round out the album and come full circle. The fade out at the end tho, sorry, not a fan.   

DELAIN has always had this interesting dichotomy of symphonic metal juxtaposed with other genres of metal and even elements of softer rock and pop. Unlike other, similar bands in the genre who tend to stick pretty close and true to the symphonic metal borderline, DELAIN seemed to enjoy mixing things up a bit on previous albums, and this is what set them apart and made them interesting. With Dark Waters, it seems that they are staying firmly within the boundaries this time. Dare I say, playing it a bit safe? The tracks lead into each other and create a soundscape atmosphere, which is great if you're going to listen to the album from go to woah. For the purists, they will approve of this move as this album feels like there is more cohesion compared to past ones. To the ones who enjoyed that “whoa, where'd that come from” aspect in the past, you may be disappointed. For fans of previous singer, Charlotte Wessels’ vocal style and tone, rest assured, DELAIN is in safe hands with Diana Leah, who holds her own and does a stellar job of stepping in as the new vocalist. While I listened to Dark Waters, there were times I forgot that there was a new singer, it feels like a pretty seamless change of players, and with the rejoining of the original guitarist and drummer, this feels more like a revamp than a total makeover. I'm pleasantly surprised at how much this album has grown on me. If you enjoy this genre of music, or are a fan of DELAIN’s previous work then I recommend you definitely check out DELAIN – Dark Waters available on all streaming platforms from Thursday 9th February and instore and online through NAPALM RECORDS.

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[Review] Halestorm @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 4/02/2023

It's been a while. Living over two hours north of Sydney, ongoing health issues and then covid restrictions combined to make my #giglife pretty much non-existent since 2019. Recently returning to review writing has given me the boost I needed to get back out amongst the living post pandemic. Halestorm and Theory (of a Deadman) live at the Enmore Theatre this weekend was my “return to normal life” concert. And what a gig! It was a Sold Out show in Sydney, the place was packed to the rafters and the crowd was hyped for a night of rock ‘n’ roll. The line to get into the Enmore Theatre ran down the street and around the corner in both directions.  As I waited for my friend to arrive, I people-watched and noted that it was an interesting demographic. From young kids possibly attending their first gig with their mum and or dad to older GenX and everything -and I mean everything- in-between. I determined that it's an intriguing and eclectic mixture of people who gravitate to and like Halestorm.

The Enmore Theatre finally opened its doors and the staff were well trained to get the crowd off the street and inside as quickly and as efficiently as possible. There was a big crowd at the merch table so it's obvious that music fans are more than happy to pay and support their favourite artists, that's an awesome thing to realise. Long Live Live Music!  My friend and I found a spot up the back near the sound and light techs, the general admission area was packed. 

It's showtime, and Canadian alt rockers Theory enter the stage. Apparently explaining the Of A Deadman part got tiresome to them so now it's just Theory, opened as the support act. It's a bit of a turnaround as Theory were the first band to take a young Halestorm on their first international tour with them as their support band, back in the day. Theory played a solid set of original and cover songs including fan favourites Rx (Medicate), Bad Girlfriend, new single Dinosaur and the Chris Isaac evergreen, Wicked Game. The sound mix had the drums vibrating through the floor and into your body which often made it difficult to clearly hear the vocals, but apart from that, it was an enjoyable set. The band were tight showing that they have been at this for a long time. Theory frontman, Tyler Connolly engaged and joked with the audience for about 45 minutes and warmed the crowd up for the main event.

Changeover was pretty quick, with a strange, somewhat eclectic selection of background music then after AC/DCs Hells Bells played over the speakers, the lights dimmed and American rockers Halestorm entered the stage to the welcoming cheers of the audience. Distorted guitar filled the room and the throaty scream from Lzzy Hale filled the theatre … “I'm Back From The Dead…” and we were off and running for a setlist filled with new and fan favourite tracks. It's exactly what I expected as Back From The Dead is the perfect song to open the set post-lockdown. Moving into Love Bites before playing new song, Wicked Ways to cheers from the audience. The crowd sang along with Lzzy to I Get Off followed by Brightside and current single, Mine from the Back From the Dead album (2022). The lights dimmed as the band exited and the stage crew brought a keyboard on stage. Lzzy returned, chatting with the audience as she began to play Break In, then moving into Dear Daughter, and Raise Your Horns. It was a short “acoustic” interlude where the audience sang along loudly, horns raised in the air and in lieu of a lighter, phone torches lit up. Joe Hottinger, guitarist, re-entered the stage once again as he played the opening riff to Familiar Taste of Poison, midway through, Bassist Josh Smith and Drummer Arejay Hale joined their bandmates building the intensity of the song until the end. 

Then it was time for Arejay’s drum solo. It was entertaining as always, and he elicited cheers and laughter as he brought on a set of oversized drumsticks and continued to play. It’s his schtick, he does it at every show and the crowd always seem to enjoy it as they did this time. 

Then Lzzy returns to the stage and asks, “Are you a Freak Like Me?” and the band burst into the song from the 2012 album A Strange Case Of… Flowing into 2018’s Back Vultures and rounding out the 75+_ minute set with the second single from the latest album, The Steeple

The lights went down, Halestorm exited the stage and the crowd began to cheer, chant and clap, imploring the band to return for an encore. They happily obliged, returning to play Here's To Us, Mayhem and I Miss The Misery. Picks and sticks were tossed into the crowd, the now obligatory band on stage with audience in the background pics were taken, someone handed them an Australian flag with the Halestorm logo on it, which they held up, thanking the Aussie fans for their patience and support during covid. 

The concert was everything that you would expect from a band of this calibre. Halestorm are one of the hardest working bands on the planet often playing in excess of 250 shows a year, they are professional and have perfected their particular style of show. Halestorm are a group who have kept that humble pub-band energy about them and they pull it off with aplomb. This was a short tour, in and out in three days, the three East Coast capital cities plus a couple of shows earlier in the week in NZ, then off to Japan. Lzzy mentioned during the concert that she was feeling tired and with their touring schedule, I’m not surprised, but she didn't show it. The band interacted with each other and with the crowd giving an energetic performance.

The intercommunication between Lzzy and Joe is almost cute as they vibe off each other with looks and smiles. Lzzy is multi-talented and as a frontwoman to a hard rock band, she is impressive and engaging. Some artists do outfit changes, Lzzy does guitar changes. As Gibson’s first female brand ambassador, with a stunning signature guitar, she is laying a path for young women in rock music. The #GuitarPorn at a Halestorm gig = #ChefsKiss. Joe Hottinger pulled out a couple of impressive lead guitar solos and Josh Smith's bass drove the rhythm with Arejays drumming.  At times the sound mix was way too bass forward for my liking. It was loud, but not painful or jarring. I’m probably being nit-picky, because quite honestly, I can't think of anything negative to say. 

At the end of the show they thanked and acknowledged their support act, Theory, and also acknowledged several fans in the front row who had followed them from city to city on this tour. If you've never seen Halesstorm perform live before, and you love a fun night out with a tight, entertaining pub-style rock band, then I highly recommend you do so next time they hit our sunny shores. 

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Xandria – The Wonders Still Awaiting

XANDRIA, are a chart-topping, German, female-fronted Symphonic Metal band formed by Guitarist / Keyboardist / Composer, Martin Heubaum in 1994. Throughout the years there have been various lineup changes, including five different singers. Ambre Vourvahis was announced as the latest singer to join XANDRIA in May 2022 when the band posted a music video of their new single, Reborn. Along with a new singer, Bassist Tim Schwarz, Drummer Dimitrios Gatsios and Guitarist Rob Klawonn were announced as the new and current lineup. The single’s title seems apt since the entire band except for one member has been replaced thus bringing a rebirth to the band.  

In September 2022 a second single and music video was released, You Will Never Be Our God featuring Primal Fear frontman, Ralf Scheepers. Then in November a third single and music video, Ghosts was released and the band announced that their eighth studio album, titled The Wonders Still Awaiting, was to be released – the first in six years – on 3rd February 2023 through Napalm Records. Shortly after, they released yet another music video for the title track, The Wonders Still Awaiting. On January 31st one more single and music video, this time for the opening track, Two Worlds, dropped, so if I am counting this correctly, of the thirteen tracks on the album, five of them are singles all with accompanying music videos. That’s ALOT of hype to live up to!

Lyrically, this album was inspired by the recent pandemic where questions regarding dystopian society and treating each other with respect were brought to our attention. This seems to be a common theme with many  bands who have already or are in the process of releasing new albums post-pandemic. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. It appears to me that the covid restrictions and lockdowns have had an impact on the general vibe of current music being released, especially the lyric themes, and it has brought a certain darkness to the energy of the music.

XANDRIA have gone all out on this album in order to create an epic, dark, heavy, cinematic sound. With the implementation of a 40-piece classical choir in The Bulgarian National Radio Children’s Choir, authentic Celtic instruments, Primal Fear frontman Ralf Scheepers, violin and cello performed by Subway For Sally’s Ally Storch, and orchestrations by Lukas Knobl, they are sparing no expense and they are leaving no stone unturned in presenting the biggest, boldest, most bombastic symphonic metal release of 2023. It’s early in the year, but XANDRIA have definitely thrown down the gauntlet with this album and it appears that Napalm are backing them to the hilt. I strongly suspect that this is going to be an interesting journey of discovery into the new XANDRIA ….

The Wonders Still Awaiting opens with the latest single, Two Worlds, an epic 7:09 minutes of symphonic proggy-ness with double-kick drums and driving guitar layered with a 40 piece choir and the soaring vocals of Ambre Vourvahis, with lyrics such as “Around every corner now, Orwell’s next dystopia, Is this world the closer one, Chosen over wonders? How can all these dreams prevail? It’s such a fragile hope, Cause a spark can give such light but also burn it all”.It asks the listener what kind of world do they want to live in and as an opening track, it’s definitely a statement. I’m intrigued to hear more.

Moving into Reborn Ambres vocals travel from melodic pop-rock to operatic and back while the choir sings sweetly behind her. It’s an anthem for a band ‘reborn’.

You Will Never Be Our God is a power metal track, the orchestration and choir are given a rest and the guitar, bass and drums drive the rhythm, featuring harsh vocals by Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear, this is where 80’s heavy metal meets Arch Enemy. This is a song about human rights.

Next is the album title track, The Wonders Still Awaiting. This gives me Nightwish (circa Anette Olzen) feels. Ambres voice soars, as she reminds us that there is still beauty in the world and not to give up on hope. The chorus tells us “Fly far away, Goodbye, until your last day, See the stars, Hear the melodies play, The notes that show us the way”.

Ghosts rockets along then around 3:36 the song suddenly slows and quiets for the bridge until 4:15 where unexpectedly, the angelic voice of Ambre suddenly turns demonic. “Ghosts actually started as a reminiscence to good old Swedish melodic death metal and with that archetypical guitar riff that you hear right in the beginning. And then we integrated it into our XANDRIA soundscape with lots of film score atmosphere and big choirs…”

Your Stories I’ll Remember is a sentimental and emotional power ballad. With the use of traditional Celtic instruments it gives it that “ye olde worlde” atmosphere while Vourvahis holds our hand and tells us, “All these moments I’ll remember, All the stories that you’ve shared with me, I will never get to hear your voice again, But they’ll stay,…”.

My Curse Is My Redemption starts softly, “I’m on my way, but still it stays, I’m walking in silence, For no-one to see, There’s nowhere to go from here…” as it builds into an epic cinematic track. Vourvahis’ vocals rock the song into the keychange while the choir gently backs her.

Illusion is Their Name pulsating double-kick drums drive this song about the powerful deceiving the world with their lies. “I have been holding the key, And I won’t give up my life anymore, To slavery of your kind, We have been waiting so long to be free, To finally see, The truth of this grand design…”  Ambre executes this with equal measure of death growl and melodic vocals.

Paradise brings some relief from the previous songs frenetic drumming and at a slower pace, has a melodic metal-pop sensibility with strong hooks.

Mirror Of Time is a song about hope and despair and everything in between. The tale is told with clean vocals layered with death growls, thumping drums, and intense orchestration. The last 1:40  Ambre builds to the end, her voice reaching higher and higher, layered with the screaming lead guitar solo.

Scars begins with a futuristic-synth sound that would be comfortable on an Ayreon track. Enter the strings – they build in intensity as guitars take over and the death growls blanket the melodic clean vocals. There is a rhythmic heaviness to the song as it ends with an intimate whisper, “It’s never enough” by Vourvahis. 

With chorale chanting punctuating the melody line The Maiden and the Child begins its aural assault as double-kick drums set the pace and the sweet vocals of Vourvahis commences. The death growls two-thirds of the way through, reintroduces the chanting again, along with Ambres vocal melody line building to the conclusion.

Asteria returns the listener to the prog metal influence with a whopping 9:08 mins of epicness.  This track evokes images of an ancient place with a Middle-Eastern violin and zither sound, it begins with chorale chanting and heavy orchestration. Ambre starts to sing, “I came from far away to save my soul..” and we are taken on this final journey of the album. Pulsating double-kick drums, distorted guitar, death growls, and chanting, this is a song that would fit comfortably on an Epica album. Vourvahis sings some of the vocals in Greek, lyrics written by her. It’s big, bold and epic. This track is the exclamation mark at the end of the album!

Ambre Vourvahis brings to XANDRIA an impressive vocal wealth from sweet pop, to gritty rock, to operatic highs and death metal growl lows. If you wondered why she was chosen to be the new lead vocalist, a listen to this album should give you a satisfactory answer. She has the ability to carry the listener on the journey with her, expressing the emotion of the song beautifully.

The Wonders Still Awaiting is an album interspersed with many influences, rich in different styles and genres while still staying within the boundaries of the Symphonic metal genre. It’s brash, bombastic and unapologetic. Often resembling a film score. With a live choir, orchestration by a Hollywood heavyweight, integrated with different instrumentation, coupled with guest appearances by respected artists, a lead vocalist who can sing clean, operatic and harsh vocals, a rhythm section that keeps a cracking pace, guitars and keys that colour and fill each track to tell the story of each song, I can imagine Martin Haubaum must be smiling because XANDRIA have their proof right here that they are indeed, Reborn. 

XANDRIA online:





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The Winery Dogs – III

Back in 2012, three rock music heavyweights formed a band. The Winery Dogs are Drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob, Sons Of Apollo), Bass guitarist Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, Steve Vai, David Lee Roth) and guitarist / vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big). They have released two albums, first the self titled The Winery Dogs (2013) featuring the tracks Elevate, Damaged, We Are One, Time Machine and I'm No Angel, followed by the second album, Hot Streak (2015) featuring the tracks, Hot Streak, Devil You Know and album opener, Oblivion. Hot Streak cemented their fanbase and in the years following, they toured heavily and released a live album, Dog Years – Live in Santiago' (2017). By 2019 all three 'Dogs' were working on their other creative projects and were ready to put The Winery Dogs project on the back-burner. Then in 2020 the world was stuck down with the covid19 pandemic. During lockdown, Richie Kotzen and Iron Maiden guitarist, Adrian Smith got together and wrote, recorded and released an amazing self-titled album and EP together (Smith/Kotzen) followed by a tour in 2021, and I started to think The Winery Dogs were over, but then I saw Mike Portnoy had posted a few pictures on his instagram, one of him on a plane “flying to California'' then what The Winery Dogs fans had been waiting for, a picture of Mike, Billy and Richie all together at Richies property in SoCal. Finally, a new Winery Dogs album was in the works. On December 9th, 2022, we got our first listen, with the release of the first single and album opener, Xanadu, then on January 6th 2023 the second single, Mad World dropped.  Both songs are classic Winery Dogs tunes. And this week, Friday February 3rd, which incidentally is Richie Kotzen's 53rd birthday, we will finally get to hear the new album in full! 

The third Winery Dogs album is simply called – III

III opens with the aforementioned Xanadu. Right out of the gates, it's a punchy rock track with classic Winery Dogs style matching rolling lead guitar and bass lines, Kotzens husky, bluesy vocals  are questioning life with tongue in cheek humour, “maybe I will, maybe I won't do, maybe I got too soft out here in Malibu, maybe I love, maybe I hate you, maybe you're too much of a bitch to live in Xanadu''. It's a strong opening track, Portnoy's drumming driving it relentlessly. The song ends with Portnoy tossing his drum sticks, which he says is not frustration but rather, him showing his satisfaction with the song. And rightfully so, it's a damn catchy song that winds its way through your brain and two hours later you're still humming it.

Next up is the current single, Mad World, a song that calls for human connection and societies' understanding. It starts out with a bluesy riff that has a '70s California blues-rock vibe then the chorus hits “we live in a mad mad world, get on the run, we gotta help each other, turn from a scar to a pearl, yeah we got the love, livin in a mad mad world, it's a mad man's world…”,…  “So get what you can, They've got your compromised, You wanna laugh and be dancing in the streets, But you're being fined, You've got to sacrifice, They make mistakes and we're the ones who pay…”

Listening to III, you get the distinct impression these songs were written during the pandemic. The main lyric themes seem to be questioning people and relationships. The Winery Dogs aren't about making political statements, but it's unavoidable that the cause and effect of the political climate during lockdowns has crept its way into their dialogue. III feels darker than previous albums because of this.

Portnoy notes, “I'd like our listeners to be transported in a way that they can experience what we are going through.  Our records are snapshots of life, and how we're living it”.  Kotzen says his approach to songwriting and recording is, “to be as true to the vision that's in my head, heart and soul and not try to think about 'how am I gonna do it live'.”

In Breakthrough, Kotzen sings,  “You're telling me I was your favourite, You made me feel like wasted time, I always thought you looked for angles, To put you over in your life, Now I see how cool you play it, And how you look the other way, I was so naive to think you'd ever stay, And now im having a Breakthrough, And now I know what I'm facing is the truth…” It's a song about realising the truth of a relationship. We've all been there!

Rise begins with a loud and chaotic-sounding riff that settles into the signature blues-rock sound, complete with Kotzen lead guitar interspersed. He boldly declares in the chorus, “They build you up, they pull you down, but I Rise, Rise, Rise …”… “Their bitter tongues spit and yell, judging the unwell, I come out unscathed”

 Stars opens with the line, “I've been in a condition of doubt, I don't know if I'm in or out” a song about a relationship being tested and it is followed by The Vengeance which starts with a chugging rhythm and builds up to a hard hitting chorus where Kotzen wails ” You don't break my boredom, you break my balls'' leading into a blistering lead guitar solo. In my opinion, this is the best lyric on the album and had me chuckling. Relationship woes continue with Gaslight, Richie Kotzen's voice proclaiming, “Right from the start you're bringing crazy, That's how you like to play, Twist up the mind and keep it hazy, Do what you wanna do but don't Gaslight me…”

Lorelei it's a slower bluesy track that is filled with emotion. This is the album ballad. I listen with my eyes closed as Richie soars into his head voice, it's so good that I had to replay it, and then the lead guitar solo that followed. WOW! This is what I was needing and it delivers – in spades.  With lyrics like  “Sugar coat my heart, Lead me from my woes, A siren story told, Oh Lorelei oh Lorelei, I'd rather die than go home…” I'm sold. It brings tears to my eyes. It's beautiful and heartfelt. 

III ends with a song of celebration and joy, The Red Wine, with the lyrics, “People let go of your burden, Rewrite your script and listen what we're saying, …. so come on everybody put your hands up and celebrate…”…”Your composure's fine, Just keep pouring the Red Wine, Three Dogs turning you loose tonight, You've been fortified and it's party time…”

III is everything we've come to expect from The Winery Dogs. Kotzens trademark laid-back, blues-rock plectrum-less picking style guitar playing, and husky, emotive vocals, Sheehan's rolling bass runs that compliment Kotzens guitar to perfection while keeping pace with Portnoy's distinctive punchy drum groove. III is full of ear-catching riffs, hooks and strong harmonies. It’ll have you shaking your booty and humming along, and the following day, that earworm will still be winding its way through your brain. The Winery Dogs are a tight trio who instinctively play off each other's own individual signature style and it blends beautifully on this album. The lyrical themes of life and relationships lend itself to be an album that is easily relatable to most people, with some smile-inducing lyrics that while punctuating the song's vibe, will also emit a chuckle from the listener.  There are some heavy rock moments on this album where I found myself nodding my head and pumping my fist in the air, but mostly this album stays in the California blues-rock lane that fans of The Winery Dogs love and appreciate.  III is a grower, it needs a few good listens to properly percolate. Given time, I'm sure this album will be a fan favourite. The songs on this album complement previous albums so lets hope we see The Winery Dogs touring in Australia soon. 

P.S. Happy Birthday Richie.






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