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TENTH ELECTRIC : Unshakable.   (http://www.tenthelectric.com)

Tenth Electric offer a gritty blend of electronic rock with powerful lyrics and guitar riffs to deliver a message of empowerment, of hope and of mental wellbeing with influences ranging from Nothing But Thieves, to Imagine Dragons and Muse. This new EP, Unshakable, draws attention to the stigma surrounding mental health issues and conveys positive ways to combat this together. Whether it is focusing on the little things in life or taking a moment to breathe, Tenth Electric believes music is a gateway to breaking down barriers that so many of us face.  Pain doesn’t discriminate; none of us are okay all the time and we should not be afraid to talk about our issues and share the burdens. So, to the music itself. At first, I thought there were some 80’s traits to the opening song, “Remedy.”  But, as the song went on, I realised that this music was much more modern than that. Luke Mitchell’s vocals are simply glorious on “Turn On a Light.”  There’s a mix of both clean and distorted guitars, and the resulting sound is excellent. The rockier, “Just Breathe” motors along, while “Brighter” is delivered with great energy by the band. The belief in the band’s lyrics is there for all to hear, and maybe that’s why Mitchell’s vocals stand out. “Brighter” tells of “being there” for each other, and “looking forward” to  brighter days ahead. Only 4 tracks, but a quite exciting release.   9/10.

VIV NEVILLE : Christmas Instrumental Collection.   (www.vivneville.com)

Sadly, this album didn’t arrive in time for me to include it in the December NFN. Produced with Paul Worthington from Broadwater Studios Gateshead, this new, chilled back collection features five classic traditional Christmas Carols. Of the release, Viv says; “I love it at home when different members of the family get to the piano, everyone just sits back and listens or we sing along, hence this easy listening Instrumental collection.”  “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is the first song, and opens with a bright, piano sound. “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” begins with some ethereal vocals, that I really liked, and that return later in the track. Orchestral pads and simple keyboard phrases are perfect company for the piano melody. String interludes are a bright spot of “O Little town of Bethlehem,” while “Silent Night benefits from, what I believe to be, a glockenspiel. Finally, we have pipes and dampened strings, welcoming the sound of “We Three Kings.” As with the previous tracks, Viv’s piano playing is first class, while oboe and orchestral pads add substance to the overall sound. I think that Viv has hit the nail on the head about this being a collection to either listen or sing along to. Personally, I did the former and found it a very tranquil listen.   8/10.

CAUSE FOR REBELLION : The Emperor Is Naked: Live At The Meat Locker. (Thumper Punk Records).

Fast and furious, just as live punk ought to be, this album kicks off in style and doesn’t let up. Five tracks, the longest a mere 2:33 long and what it lacks in length it sure makes up for in energy. You sweat just listening to it, so it must have been a cauldron to be in. Ramones-like in speed, Sham 69 in guitar and backing vocal, Damned in lead vocal and drumming, this band don’t know the meaning of slumber, just occasionally pausing for breath before leaping back in.  The bass-driven riff of “Son Of Perdition” is excellent and shows that they’re not just playing as fast as possible, but doing so with style. Short but very energising, just like their songs. Best track: Son Of Perdition.   5/10.   Paul Ganney.

CASTING CROWNS : Only Jesus.   (Reunion/Beach Street : 02341022125)

Initially, I was never much of a Casting Crowns fan. But, in recent years, I’ve found albums like “A Live Worship Experience” and “The Very Next Thing” to be very good. After a long wait, I’ve finally manged to listen to this new release and, I’ve got to say that I’m pretty disappointed with it. Far too many songs sound the same and, musically, there’s little variation. Mark Hall has a great voice but his 80’s power ballads are just old hat. Lyrically, Casting Crowns have gone back to basics and centre their attentions on Jesus – meeting and living for Him. “The Bridge” tells of Jesus’ love being the bridge for you to cross, from your life of sin. The title track bounces along with a lovely break, featuring some very nice piano sounds. By the time I’d reached track 5, I was beginning to get that feeling of hearing the song before. “Even When You’re Running” has traits of The Script about it, and once I thought about it, I couldn’t shake the comparison. “Start Right Here” begins with a plucking banjo sound, and my ears pricked up, expecting something different in style. Sadly, the song just fades and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I feel really bad about this review, but subsequent listens just didn’t help.   5/10.

VARIOUS : Echoes Of Salvation.   (Meltdown Music)

Metal compilations can either be a best of or a pile of tracks the bands couldn’t sell otherwise. This sounds far more like the former as I’d expect from Meltdown, each track flying high in the quality stakes and showcasing just how many really good bands there are around at the moment. Some of these I’d met before and others were completely new. The opening “Sound Of The Saints” by Chaotic Resemblance kicks things off nicely: a great vocal over a very very solid band, riffing and rocking like their lives depended on it. Vamoosery follow and reminded me of a metalled Penetration (plus a fabulous guitar figure the Cult would have loved to have written). Four Star Revival made me think of Iron Maiden meets Judas Priest, with Crushing the Deceiver being more at the thrash end of the metal spectrum. Waiting for Ravens made me think of Nightwish (albeit with a male vocal) and was far too short, 2 Minute Mirror sat at the punkier end of metal (and at 1:45 sat within the name of the band well) and Blood Covenant were an interesting thrash/doom/symphonic crossover. P.J.Bostic had a really mesmerising riff, XIII Minutes had some very good rhythmic chops under an alternating guttural/sung vocal with a glorious guitar figure and Rifferspock occupy a Sum 41-style pop/rock field. Sardonyx are very Germanic in feel a la Krokus with a great crescendo build, Saving Darkness produce a Stiltskin-style wall of noise and Peter118 are a rapid rifferama which is almost punk. Ray LeGrand is anthemic/symphonic with a Helloween type of guitar, leaving R.A.I.D to close the album with their riff and rap that made me think of the Beastie Boys. With 15 tracks I’d love to review each one in detail but that would take too long to read, so you’d be better just getting the album and listen to it, pick your favourites and check out their other material. Best track: “Endure” by Ray LeGrand.   7/10. Paul Ganney.

HILLSONG YOUNG & FREE : III.   (Hillsong Music : 9320428329158)

This “arm” of the Hillsong Church offers up to the minute sounds for the youth of today. This is the third offering from the group and, due to my recent illness, I’ve only just got around to reviewing it. The style falls in to the electronic dance music category, although there are a number of quieter songs, too. The opening “Let Go” is fast and furious, and tells about being forgiven for sins and becoming alive in Jesus. I thought that “Just Jesus” became rather repetitive as the song went on, but things were to worsen. The lyrics to “First love” are fine, and focus on our Saviour, but the droning  music was very irritating.  Thankfully, things did improve and I soon found myself singing along to the chorus of “Jesus Loves me.” It was probably the one song that had a more middle of the road pop sound to it that pleased my ears. “Days Gone By” and “How Deep is The Love” also sounded good, and I soon replayed both songs. Pick of the bunch, for me, has to be “More of You.” This song is also delivered in a pop style, akin to the music of Ellie Goulding. I found the hi-energy sounds not to be to my liking, on the whole. Saying that, I thought that “Hindsight” was quite catchy.  As the name suggests, I’m sure that this music will suit those who fall into the bracket of being “Young & Free.” But, for an old chap like me, I can only rate the album as 6/10.

INNER WISH : Silent Faces.   (Limb Music)

This is a reissue of a 2004 album by a Greek metal band, possibly because it didn’t get the attention it deserved first time around. Overall they reminded me a lot of classic German metal, especially Helloween in their pomp (“Hold Me Tight”, “Dreadful Signs”, “Hold On” – this track having the best chorus on the album and also the clearest lyrics displaying their faith, holding a theme of having to make a choice): the riffs, the guitar sound, even the drumming makes me think so much of “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. It’s wonderful. The title track is more Axxis in style, albeit with a lower register vocal, and also reminded me in some parts of MSG particularly around the era of “Desert Song” (their best work too – it’s a good sign when a band reminds me of the best of other bands). The guitar work is exemplary, the solo on “Dancer Of The Storm” showing flashes of Blackmore, May and Schenker. They don’t do quiet songs, preferring to put their light and shade within the songs themselves, e.g. “Riding On The Wind” which also contains possibly the best solo on the album. Musically it’s very well constructed: “Set Me Free” has a really great instrumental section, even though it does seem to come crashing in as though lifted from a different take. However the way it blends back into the song at the end is delightful. There was so much to enjoy here, the best riff appearing on “Midnight Call”. If you missed this the first time around (as I did), it’s well worth checking out. Best track (difficult – there was too much to choose from): Dancer Of The Storm.   8/10.   Paul Ganney

NINE BEATS COLLECTIVE featuring BARRY TAYLOR : Wild World – Euro Mix.   (Plankton Records)

Here’s a song that first saw the light of day on Plankton Records’ “Nine Beats Collective” album in 2017. Due to its popularity with the media, the track has been re-mixed by Tony Bean. The change from the original, in my opinion, is that this version sounds much more radio friendly. “Use me to let the Kingdom’s fall” sings Barry. “Free me to lose my soul.” Both these song lyrics lean towards the theme of giving your life to Christ, especially in this wild world. Barry’s vocal quality is very individual but the overall song style reminded me of Simply Red or Joran Feliz. One minor moan is that production of the bridge rather buries Barry’s voice underneath the percussion. Apart from that, it’s a very good song.   9/10.

HOMEGROWN WORSHIP : Fit For a King.   (Resound Media).

Those of you who have been following the Homegrown Worship series online will have been treated to some excellent new songs, mainly written by Andy Baker. This second collection takes in 10 more, and contains a range of musical styles. “Psalm 16” has an excellent chorus, that races along, telling of a faithful God, full of blessings. The gentle title track is a simple worship number, while “Overflow” s one of those songs that you just want to sit back, close your eyes, and soak in God’s love. “Jehovah-Jireh took me back to the days of Steve Marriot’s Humble Pie. The song has a choppy sound, with some very nice keyboards included. “Spirit of God” and “Teach Us How to Pray” come over as being, almost, lullabies. Both tracks are very gentle on the ear, as well as bringing a closer sense of God to the proceedings. Finally, “No Other Place” goes all Matt Redman, and sings of being at God’s table. Despite numerous plays, I couldn’t shake the vision of Matt belting this out at some festival somewhere, leading the crowd in excited worship. The overall quality of these songs is very good and, hence, worth an 8/10.

BIO GENESIS : Black Widow.   (Roxx Records)

Opening with riffs that reminded me of both Metallica and Nightwish, I was already set for a heavy metal feast. It’s got rhythmic changes added to symphonic keyboard work and then prog-style synth solos. This is no “heads down here we go” stuff and as such is far more interesting to listen to. Yes, there are the 100mph guitar runs (“Flesh And Blood” especially) and a bit of solo noodling (but the riff trading between classic metal guitar and classic prog synth just kept hauling you back, especially in the title track). The vocal is a little rough but melodic rather than grunted and does sit well within the material, underpinned solidly by very accomplished drumming and bass work (stick your headphones on and listen to the bass drum work in “Human Equilibrium” for example). The gentler “Angel” (the single from the CD) sounded more Scandi-rock, bits making me think of Jerusalem with a 2018 sound, especially in the vocal phrasing and the closing track “Anti-Evolution” has a really good chord progression as the band demonstrate there’s more than one way to get between two points – it also has a lot of sudden stops, which must be very effective live. Lyrically clear about their faith, this is a band to watch. There are only five tracks on the album, but range from 5:20 to 7:54 in length, adding up to a very enjoyable half hour. This is a limited-edition CD, so get one before they sell out. Best track: Black Widow.   7/10   Paul Ganney.

CHRIS McCLARNEY : Breakthrough.   (Jesus Culture/Essential : 602557282672)

Recorded live at the Jesus Culture Church in Sacramento, this is Chris’ second solo album. He says that through the lyrics, he hopes that people will encounter the love of Jesus. There are 12 brand news songs of which found most to be mind- numbingly predictable. By that, I mean that I could sense the line of many lyrics, before they’d even been sung. Also, the overall sound is just like many other Jesus Culture releases. All too often, as on the opening “Hallelujah For the Cross,” the backing music is almost over-bearing. (A case of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink,) Each track is quite lengthy, and I found that songs like “At the Mention” and “Over and Over” just seem to melt into one. The former features Hollyn on vocals, as well as Chris, but the spontaneous worship sounds rehearsed. Hollyn appears again on the title track – a mid-paced number that did raise my hopes of finding something special to write about. That crown goes to “Worth It All.” A good song and lyrics that tell of when God saw our needs and rescued us from sin. Sadly, this won’t be an album that I’ll reach for again in a hurry.   4/10.

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