New Music Through Old Ears: Royal Flying Plant Dragon

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from garage rock duo Royal Blood, a mellowed Robert Plant, guitar noodlers DragonForce and prog rock supergroup Flying Colors.

New Album by a New Artist

Royal Blood: Royal Blood

Formed in Worthing, England in 2013, Royal Blood is made up of singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher.

Lazy reviewers will inevitably compare the duo to the White Stripes or Black Keys, by virtue of the fact that they’re all two piece bands with garage rock and blues influences.

After releasing first single Out of the Black in November 2013, Royal Blood announced that they would be supporting the Arctic Monkeys on their upcoming tour. After playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals to rave reviews, hype around Royal Blood exploded, led by self-appointed curators of British popular culture the NME.

Less than a year after getting together, Royal Blood have released their self-titled debut album — ten songs of melodic, shambolic blues-rock.

Kicking off with the cracking first single Out of the Black, Royal Blood make the most of their bass and drum combo, often sounding more like a four or five piece band than a duo.

In the tradition of bass players like Cliff Burton and John Entwistle, Mike Kerr plays his instrument more like a traditional guitar, bringing an impressive level of melody to an album that in lesser hands could be little more than a thumping drone.

In the final reckoning, the toughest thing about Royal Blood is probably drawing a comparison that doesn’t involve the aforementioned duos; for better or worse, this album sounds a hell of a lot like The White Stripes.

Best tracks: Figure it Out, Out of the Black, Little Monster

Sample lyric: ‘I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it.’ (Out of the Black)

Verdict: 8/10 — a worthy debut by an artist to watch, particularly if you like the White Stripes.

New Album by an Old Artist

Robert Plant: Lullaby and… THE CEASELESS ROAR

Along with Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, Robert Plant is widely regarded as one of the best lead singers to ever front a band.

After forming seminal metal band Led Zeppelin back in 1968, Plant went on to lead the band to the heights of musical invention and rock ‘n roll excess, coming to an abrupt halt with the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980.

After the breakup of Zeppelin, Plant briefly studied teaching in the Steiner school style, but returned to music with the release of the 1982 album Pictures at Eleven. Over the next few years Plant continued to record and tour, often playing to sold out stadia, but releasing underwhelming albums that refused to live up to the Led Zeppelin legacy.

Fortunately, the shortlived 1984 project The Honeydrippers, with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, led to a détente in relations between Plant and Page, leading to each guest-starring on the other’s solo album and the pair performing together on stage at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert.

Almost a full ten years later, the duo recorded No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Despite the terrible name, the album was an eclectic collection of reworked Zeppelin classics mixed with new Middle Eastern influenced songs. That was back in 1994.

Twenty years on and Plant is still singing, his lion’s mane of hair seemingly untouched by the ravages of age (unlike Brian May and Jimmy Page who should really invest in some Just for Men or get a damn haircut).

Lullaby and… THE CEASELESS ROAR showcases a man comfortable with his own talents and the importance of his legacy, doing what he loves most; making music.

In terms of sonic approach, Lullaby and… THE CEASELESS ROAR continues down the path started on No Quarter and continued with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand – well written, slightly esoteric rock/folk songs with mystical, sometimes incomprehensible lyrics. It’s not Led Zeppelin, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Angus and Julia Stone

Best tracks: Rainbow, Turn it Up

Sample lyric: ‘My hands shall not tremble, my feet shall not falter.’ (Rainbow)

Verdict: 7/10 — A richly produced album driven by a fantastic voice, but slightly lacking in something hard to define.

Album I Expect to Suck

DragonForce: Maximum Overload

It would be fair to say that DragonForce owe a debt of gratitude to video games — Guitar Hero in particular.

Formed in London in 1999, their track Through the Fire and Flames was one of the toughest challenges on Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which in turn drove the 2006 album Inhuman Rampage to sell over half a million units around the world.

Treading in the speed-metal footsteps of bands like Motorhead and Anthrax, DragonForce stick to the simple adage that faster is better and there is no such thing as too much power riffing.

Over the years, the band have shed members like Spinal Tap, with only guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman remaining from the original lineup.

Despite the frequent lineup changes, new album Maximum Overload sounds exactly like every other DragonForce album — speed metal with far more attention payed to riffs than lyrics or song structure.

First single, The Game features Matt Heafy of fellow speed-metallers Trivium, and is pretty representative of the entire album. The final track is an almost unrecognisable cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, taking away any of the pathos that the song once contained and replacing it with generic if ultra-fast guitar noodling. They also rock a keytar, which is pretty funny in 2014.

While I am an aficionado of most styles of heavy music, I must admit that speed metal leaves me cold. An occasional Anthrax or Slayer track is okay in context, but for me the songs just tend to blend into one another.

As Metallica showed with the Black album, there is a lot more to heavy metal than just playing fast.

Best tracks: Nope

Sample lyric: ‘Restless we ride through the depths of all hell, triumph in agony, death will prevail.’ (Three Hammers)

Verdict: 3/10 — the perfect album for people who start the day with Red Bull.

Ch-check It Out…

Flying Colours: Second Nature

The label ‘supergroup’ is thrown around with wild abandon these days, but Flying Colours may actually fit the bill.

Made up of Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, Spock’s Beard keyboardist Neal Morse and a couple of other slightly less famous blokes, Flying Colours is a band with a rich musical history — but are they any good now?

That really depends on how you feel about prog rock.

Taking in elements of jazz and classical music and fusing them with psychedelic rock, prog developed in the late sixties and early seventies. Often marked by virutuoso musicianship combined with mystical lyrics, Prog Rock bands eschew the traditional verse/chorus/verse song structure in favour of longer songs and more experimentation.

Following on from their self-titled debut album, released in 2012, Flying Colours have released Second Nature, a proudly progressive effort that opens with the 12 minute opus Open Up Your Eyes. This is followed by a bunch of five minute plus songs and a three-part, 11 minute closer called Cosmic Symphony.

There is no doubt that the musicians on this album are accomplished players, but anyone who is a fan of restraint may be better to look elsewhere.

As with most prog rock the album takes a few listens to get into, revealing complex layers of production and lyrical subtleties that aren’t obvious on first pass.

It occurs to me halfway through the second listen that this album would appeal to my brother Richard, who is a longtime fan of seventies prog-rock, albino guitarists and songs about dragons (probably). If this sounds like you, then you’re in good company.

Best tracks: Mask Machine, The Fury of My Love, Bombs Away   

Sample lyric: ‘Stuck in the headroom, dropping the distance.’ (Bombs Away)

Verdict: 7/10 — an interesting album for fans of Seventies-style experimentation.

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