GOTUS Gotus (Frontiers) *****
Here is the self-titled debut for the Swiss super-group Gotus. Featuring members of Gotthard, Krokus and Storace, Gotus is just what the doctor ordered. In the doldrums of winter we really need something to lift us up and dammit, this combination of righteous riffage, soaring vocals and thundering rock rhythms will do it for you with room to spare.
A gathering of super-talented musicians with established track records doesn’t always make for great rock & roll, but in this case it does. Originally conceived as a live project by guitarist Mandy Meyer (Asia, Gotthard, Krokus) and drummer Pat Arby, the band regrouped in 2022 after the pandemic to consider their options. Deciding to become a proper band they recruited keyboardist Alain Guy, bassist Tony Castell (Krokus, Crystal Ball) and leather-lunged singer Ronnie Romero (Elegant Weapons, Lords Of Black, The Michael Schenker Group, Rainbow) and a powerhouse outfit was born.
It was the Krokus connection that initially grabbed my attention, a group thatplays similar blues-based beer drinking rock & roll style to AC/DC, and Gotus does not disappoint… this is the kind of hard rock that gets my mojo workin’. The album includes a couple of covers in When The Rain Comes (Katmandu) and Reason To Live (Gotthard) but they explore new frontiers with tracks like Beware Of The Fire and power balladry in Children Of The Night. When dealing with an unfamiliar band it helps to compare them to someone you already know; right from the first number this felt like Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Co-Conspirators… melodic, insistent, adventurous, rock & roll with real balls.
I was only previously aware of guitarist Mandy Meyer through his association with Asia, so to hear him playing this powerful knuckle-dragging style is a wonderful revelation. I’ve always dug Ronnie Romero as a singer, and the rhythm section has a primal energy that fits these songs beautifully. Gotus makes music with a real physical presence- this is great stuff.
HOT TRACKS: Fallen Angel, Take Me To The Mountain, Children Of The Night
FRAGMENTS OF CONCIOUSNESS Disconnected Souls (self-released) ****
Cinematic metal quintet Disconnected Souls have just released their first concept record Fragments Of Consciousness, a follow-up to their Warring Elements EP. To call this a challenging listen may be an understatement; there’s so much going on it’s hard to digest all at once. Heavy guitars and martial rhythms play against a surprising array of textures as the band takes us inside the mind. Clair Bannister of Powerplay Magazine calls this “Brave, bombastic and bloody brilliant.” Thumbs up to that!
Fragments Of Consciousness is the epitome of musical ambitiousness. “(This) was originally intended to be a double release, however we elected to split this in two to keep the momentum going after the success of Warring Elements” band leader Fletch says. “There’s a conceptual story being told across these albums. There’s a huge amount of variety, and we hope to define the genre of ‘Cinematic Metal’.” So much going on here as death metal rubs shoulders with techno/ hip-hop sounds and operatic drama, varying vocal styles from clean and delicate to a death metal growl, it might take you a few spins to get a handle on this. You’re bound to hear things in here that you really enjoy… and maybe a few things that piss you off.
From adventures in gothic fantasy realms to deadly club settings to a dystopian celebration of the world’s end, Fragments Of Consciousness is an intriguing take on the human experience. What that means, exactly, is up to each one of us to figure out. I almost bailed on this when I heard the growly vocals- not one of my favorite things- but after taking the album off I made the decision to see it through before passing judgement and I’m sure glad I did. FOC is a hard album to listen to in more ways than one, but it’s really… fucking… good.
HOT TRACKS: Dissonant Whispers, Petricore, Silence Of The Doves
RUNAWAY GIRL EP Evan Nicole Bell (independent) *****
Every now and then a disc comes along and smacks me upside the head; this is one of ‘em. Runaway Girl would appear to be the first time we’re hearing from this Baltimore based musician but I’d bet the rent it won’t be the last. This is an EP; just 4 songs, and two of those are remixes of the same song… but this is just way too damn cool.
Evan Nicole Bell is a songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. She gained an international fan base after her version of Albert King’s Crosscut Saw went viral on X (The Social Platform Formerly Known as Twitter). Her advanced finger-picking, electric guitar riffs and sultry voice are sheer bloody magic, to steal a phrase. She’s been compared to a combination of Tracy Chapman, BB King and Amy Winehouse, and that feels about right… maybe a bit of Sade too? She didn’t write Catfish blues of course, but the rest is her. She produced Runaway Girl and plays every instrument on the EP except drums. The sound is breezy, expressive, taut and exciting.
This disc is exceptionally well produced, and Bell delivers the goods to spare. Who knows what the music business is going to be like five years, but I’m willing to bet Evan Nicole Bell will still be making waves.
HOT TRACKS: ALL of ‘em; Burn, Catfish Blues, and both edits of Runaway Girl
LUTHER’S BLUES Bernard Allison (Ruf) *****++
Monster blues guitarist Bernard Allison pays tribute to his late father Luther (1939-1997) with this collection of songs he wrote. Over the 3 decades of his career Bernard has included his dad’s songs on his many albums, now Luther’s Blues gathers them all in a single package. Production is excellent, the musicianship inspiring- spine tingling.
Luther’s Blues consists of previously released tracks, remastered by Pauler Acoustics, and the sound is as phenomenal as the songs themselves. One of the pillars of Bernard’s career is to keep his father’s legacy alive, which he takes seriously. “I made a promise since day one- to myself and to my mom- that I’d always include at least one or two of dad’s songs on every album I record” Bernard says, and he’s delivered on that promise. BA’s style does differ from his father’s straight ahead style, more of a funk/ rock thing that certainly differs from the traditional blues he grew up around. It’s a direction Luther supported, telling his son to “play it how you feel it” rather than copying what came before.
For his own albums and so for Luther’s Blues, Bernard doesn’t necessarily go for the most well-known tunes… when putting together any new album he would go for “songs that were overlooked on dad’s albums and then put my own twist on them”. The result is a collection of songs that respect the past as the guitarist brings them into the future. The tracks here span Bernard’s 30 year career from Hang On, recorded in Paris in the summer of ’92 when the guitarist was in his mid-20’s, to a pair of cuts from 2022’s Highs & Lows which hit #1 on the Billboard blues chart that year. Serious, one of Luther’s songs included here, was first released by Allison Sr. in 1987… BA calls it “that special song that I perform every night” and believes it is his dad’s most popular song the world over.
Luther’s Blues isn’t the first album to pay tribute to the late bluesman’s greatness but it is surely the best… from the love between a son and father to some great songs to Bernard’s fierce musicianship, this just has so much that none of the others possibly could. This is truly GREAT guitar-driven blues, period.
HOT TRACKS: Love Is Free, Serious, Life’s A Bitch
THE LOVE YOU BLEED Danielle Nicole (Forty Below Records) ****+
Here’s a startlingly passionate new record from Kansas City, Missouri’s Danielle Nicole. The Love You Bleed can be seen as either rockin’ blues or blues powered rock & roll as Danielle lays her soul bare on these heartfelt tracks. Either way, you’re in for an exceptionally good time.
If I’m reading the press info correctly The Love You Bleed is Ms. Nicole’s 3rd solo record, after 2015’s Wolf Den and Cry No More, which hit #1 on the Billboard blues charts in 2018. Prior to that she recalls growing up listening to her dad play blues guitar with her mom singing in the group Little Eva & The Works. Danielle then went on to form the band Trampled Underfoot (a popular Midwest band) with her two brothers. Music would seem to be in the family blood, so she comes by her musical gifts naturally.
The Love You Bleed is powered by both fine songwriting and Danielle Nicole’s rich, soulful voice- a combination of blues and rock with gospel-sized passion. The band, a quartet, has a sort of easy swing about it that lets the songs breathe, a mid-70’s soul vibe that seems particularly delicious. We have Danielle on vocals and bass, Brandon Miller on guitars and Mandolin, Damon Parker on keyboards and Go-Go Ray on drums, with Steve Blacke adding some violin and cello. We have 12 songs of love, loss and perseverance that everyone can all relate to, the kind of record that can find its way to you and lift your spirits, like a good album should.
The Love You Bleed owes its terrific sonic qualities to Danielle (co-producer) and producer Tony Braunagel (Taj Mahal, Eric Burdon, Robert Cray) as well as mixer John Porter (BB King, Buddy Guy, Bryan Ferry), who really understand what the singer was after on her latest effort. With a Memphis blues feel and miles of heart, this is one you’re going to have a tough time getting out of the cd player… that’s the problem I’m currently wrestling with, and happily so.
HOT TRACKS: How Did We Get To Goodbye, Make Love, Fool’s Gold
I AM THE NIGHT EP Wizard Death (Wise Blood Records) ****
Heavy metal is in the blood for this family. Wizard Death is a father & son team that deals in epic riffs and dark fantasy fiction, with I Am The Night offering fast, maximum heaviosty, not unlike classic Iron Maiden.
Father Tim Kenefic has shredded in Assimilator, Throne, and several other heavy Indiana bands, and Wizard Death came about almost by accident. “I was dropping my kids off at school listening to Three Inches Of Blood” Tim recalls. “(My son Alex) said we should write songs like that. I was all about it, so started writing music with him that night. He was reading a ton of Harry Potter and Goosebumps books at the time, so we started writing songs about that stuff.” In other words, perfect fodder for your atypical metal album… er, EP. Of the creative process with his son, Tim says “Alex is the gatekeeper of cool. “He sings and hums ideas to me and I play them on guitar. If he likes it, we record it- if he doesn’t, we do another idea.”
Once the songs were demoed the elder Kenefic took them to his vocal coach, Kayla Dixon of Witch Mountain. I Am The Night features her searing vocals, and the disc was produced by founding Witch Mountain guitarist Rob Wrong, who mixed the tunes and added some guitar as well. “It was a pleasure to mix something that takes me back to my own roots of hearing power metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on the radio for the first time” Rob says. “I can only hope to be a part of whatever Wizard Death has in store for us humans in the future.”
My biggest complaint when it comes to I Am The Night; it’s only 3 songs- I want more.
HOT TRACK: Slay The Serpent