Thursday 26 November 2015

On Stage: Wolf Alice at Bitterzoet Amsterdam

It's been quite a year for British band Wolf Alice. Their long awaited debut album My Love Is Cool was received very well and landed them a spot on Glastonbury and numerous other festivals and even got them a Mercury Price nomination. Within no time they outgrew the smaller stages and are now moving to the bigger clubs. Fortunately they were booked in Bitterzoet before that, so this is the last chance I get to see them in a small club.

Wolf Alice at Bitterzoet Amsterdam, November 24 2015

Needless to say the venue was sold out weeks before the show. In the meantime a new show was announced in February in the much bigger Paradiso. So everyone here tonight kind of feels lucky to be able to see this band on the rise in such a cosy environment. They kick it off in style with 'Your Loves Whore' and right from the start it's clear this band has spent many miles on the road. Every song sounds very convincing and the group is playing like a well oiled machine. The mix of grunge and electronic music works very well and sounds great tonight.

Wolf Alice is clearly able to write very good songs, since the album doesn't have a weak one on it. And so it already sounds like a greatest hits setlist. It does take a while though before the crowd gets wild. Singer Ellie Rowsell doesn't talk to crowd a lot, but bass player Theo Ellis is the one that will occasionally shout out or try to fire us up. But although everything sounds great, there isn't a real fire starting. A small pit is forming in front of the stage where people are dancing and jumping, but the band could have picked it up a notch to really make this room go wild. All the ingredients are there, but they just forget to light the explosive mix.

Maybe it's because they play the same setlist every night and are starting to run it like a routine by now. It's something you can forgive a young band like this, who want to play as good as possible and can't solely rely on experience. Of course they don't have that many songs to choose from anyway. Besides it's only a minor detail in an otherwise flawless show. Rowsell's voice is strong and clear and the sound mix is pretty good tonight. Before the encore Rowsell leaves the stage at the wrong side of the stage and probably spent the break in limbo. When she returns she's giggling about it and it's nice to see these young musicians still have a whole new world to discover. In the end we've seen a band who already is too big for such a stage and may even play the large venues and festival's main stages in a few years.

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01. Your Loves Whore
02. Freazy
03. Bros
04. You're a Germ
05. Lisbon
06. Silk
07. The Wonderwhy
08. Storms
09. 90 Mile Beach
10. Swallowtail
11. Fluffy
12. She
13. Moaning Lisa Smile
14. Blush
15. Giant Peach

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Tuesday 24 November 2015

On Stage: Speedfest at Klokgebouw Eindhoven

For the tenth time Eindhoven band Peter Pan Speedrock are organizing their Speedfest festival, that focuses on everything heavy. Things took an ugly turn last week with the Paris terrorist attacks that cast a dark shadow on the music scene and took away one of their headlining bands Eagles of Death Metal.

Speedfest at Klokgebouw Eindhoven, November 21 2015

The schedule was shuffled a bit to deal with the empty spot in the line-up and security was increased. It causes a bit of a delay when entering the festival which was announced by the organization days ahead of the festival, but the seemingly long line moves fast. We arrived a little later than planned anyway and unfortunately therefore have to miss some of the early bands.

Scorpion Child
We can still catch the last bit of Scorpion Child's show, a hardrock band from Austin, Texas who made the big step across the pond this year. Their retro style hardrock, on the heavy side of Led Zeppelin, is not a bad start of the day. Solid guitar riffs on heavy grooves support the howls of singer Aryn Jonathan Black. It definitely got us warmed up for what's more to come.

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Backyard Babies
A big skull, the logo of the band, is grinning at us from the back drop behind the Swedish Backyard Babies, but at the same time red LED lights are running around the amps on stage. This means it's time for some sleaze rock from this group that has been around since 1987. All these years pay off in a tight show that is a mix of hard rock and punk, but always with some tongue in cheek. Their sound reminds of Guns N' Roses a lot, but more importantly the band is playing very convincingly and with a lot of heart. They showcase all rock poses known to men and make use of small risers at the front of the stage to go through them. It results in a very entertaining show and positive vibes across the hall.

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Nick Oliveri's Mondo Generator
I was disappointed with Nick Oliveri's latest album and wasn't even planning on going to his performance today. Fortunately my friends wanted to go, so I find myself at a surprisingly tight show with lots of stoner. The former Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age bass player is going through his whole long music background and is playing a mix of stoner and metal. Of course the name "Mondo Generator" comes from the Kyuss era, but especially the stoner songs sound great, with heavy grooves, laid down by the three piece band, sounding very tight. Oliveri shows why he was so important for Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age in the earlier days.

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Unfortunately it leaves little time for Giuda who are about to wrap up their show. The Italian band play retro style glam rock in the style of T. Rex and The Sweet and are doing a good job at it. Both band and crowd are all fired up and singer Tenda's voice is strong. Hopefully next time I will be able to watch them longer.

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The Dictators NYC
Punk band The Dictators are regarded as the missing link between bands like MC5 and The Stooges and the later punk wave in the late seventies. They had a few line-up changes but still have some of the original members including front man Richard Manitoba, guitarist Ross Friedman. They went on a long hiatus halfway the seventies only to return beginning of the nineties. The band, solely relying on their old songs because of lack of new material, shows why they are still meaningful with an inspired performance that breaths their long history. Especially Manitoba, Friedman and bassist Dean Rispler, although grey and older, act like young dogs and show they still haven't lost their touch.

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One thing I like about this festival is the number of fresh hardrock bands like Crobot. The band from Pennsylvania has a typical retro hardrock sound with that heavy blues core. They went on tour with Motörhead a few months ago and by the sound of it will have won some new fans over. Singer Brandon Yeagley has an impressive voice and looks like a rabies dog now and then when he has his eyes spread wide open. It certainly rubs off on the crowd and it results in an energetic performance.

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Danko Jones
By the time Danko Jones take the stage, this festival is running at full speed and power now and you can leave it up to Danko Jones to put some more oil on the fire, especially on a festival like this. It is clear Danko Jones himself is feeling like a kid in a candy store, with so many great rock bands around, something he tells the crowd halfway the show. It makes their show even more explosive where bass player John Calabrese is firing up the crowd in his usual fashion with a never fading smile on his face.

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All fired up it is time for Refused to keep this party going and it's exactly what they are doing. The Swedish band became something of a cult name during their hiatus that started end of the nineties. I was expecting to find more people at their show, but maybe I've just overestimated their popularity. It doesn't matter since the band is still full of fire and is playing an inspired show. Singer Dennis Lyxzén is all over the place and the wild punk songs sound sharp and convincing. Always a band to share their political opinion Lyxzén briefly addresses the Paris attacks at the end of the show, with a well meant short speech. Hopefully they are now here to stay for many years to come.

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After their show is over, there's a moment of silence out of respect for the victims of the terrorist attacks. This is the spot Eagles of Death Metal was supposed to play and it's the only time today the Klokgebouw is absolutely quiet and isn't shaking from the heavy rock grooves. It's a well chosen moment and everyone honours the silence.

Peter Pan Speedrock
Organizers Peter Pan Speedrock are now playing themselves and moved up in the bill to fill up the empty spot. The large turn up for their performance, shows everyone is fine with this change in the line-up. Their no-nonsense straight on heavy rock, reminds of Motörhead sometimes with double bass grooves and blast beats. It's obvious it goes down well with the crowd, who shake their heads and down a few more beers.

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The Vintage Caravan
The festival is far from over after the show of the hosts and there are a few more bands still to come. We watch our last band of the day, The Vintage Caravan from Iceland. The band is playing classic style psychedelic rock inspired by the big bands from that era like Led Zeppelin, Rush and Cream. The band is doing a good job at it, playing heavy groovy jams with great sounding guitar solos. However sometimes the prog rock elements can make it a bit weary and unfortunately singer Óskar Logi Ágústsson's voice isn't really strong. Still it is a nice end to a heavy but satisfying day.

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Today showed that the terrorist attacks in Paris has left its marks in the music scene especially the rock scene. Personally I feel it affected me too, since music has always been my happy place. No matter how I feel, when I play a record, but especially when I go see a band play, I feel energized and happy again. The attacks in Paris violated that world and my happy place. But today Speedfest and all the wonderful people at the festival restored it in all its glory. It also showed that you can't rob us from our music, since it will always bounce back.

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Tuesday 17 November 2015

On Stage: Taxiwars at Bitterzoet Amsterdam

Of course Tom Barman is known for one of Belgium's finest bands dEUS, but he keeps himself busy with numerous other projects. We learned about his newest project Taxiwars at the Into The Great Wide Open Festival last September. Their performance there sure tasted like more so we headed to Bitterzoet to get more.

Taxiwars at Bitterzoet Amsterdam, November 13 2015

The cosy venue has filled up quite nicely and we're eager to see this band play. The combination of exciting jazz with Barman's lyrics and vocals are simply a great match. Indeed again the band is convincing and plays a fired up show with plenty to enjoy. Saxophone player Robin Verheyen is mostly playing his tenor sax. The one time he wants to play his soprano it doesn't cooperate and he decides to play part of the song on his tenor after all. It doesn't matter since Verheyen treats us to thrilling solo's that sometimes are crazy free jazz and other times are bop style pieces. But all of the time he knows how to keep it interesting.

Completing the combo are contra bass player Nicolas Thys and drum player Antoine Pierre, who play very catchy grooves, which make the songs hard to stand still to. It also enables Barman to embed his vocals into the groove, which works very well. It's wonderful to see how Barman is clearly enjoying making music in this band, judging from the big smile on his face and the freaky dance moves. When the band is playing solos, Barman moves to the stage to let them take the spotlights.

It's a delight to see top musicians like this make such exciting music together and have such a great time at it. Parts of the music is improvised on the spot which keeps them on their toes and gives them the opportunity to surprise each other. It's another example of how exciting and danceable jazz music can be.

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Monday 16 November 2015

On Stage: Sleaze Express at W2 Den Bosch

Once a year there's a great party called Sleazefest at the wonderful beach bar Timboektoe. It is a night full of sweaty rock 'n roll bands and lots of fun at the beach. The organizers of this event are Dutch band zZz who thought it was a good idea to have a small tour around the clubs with the same idea. I think it's an excellent idea, so I hopped on their Sleaze Express.

Sleaze Express at W2 Den Bosch, November 12 2015

For the rest the idea is quite simple: get two other bands to join them and have a great time. The Sleaze Express also stops at my home town, but that night I have another concert planned, so it was a good excuse to go to Den Bosch to meet up with one of my best friends who lives there. So I hop on a normal train to the city of Den Bosch and there we switch to the Sleaze Express after a little walk. It looks pretty quiet but starts to fill up by the time the first band takes the stage.

Green Hornet
From the north of the Netherlands comes the garage rock band Green Hornet, who have been around for quite a while and can be considered veterans. It's been awfully quiet for a while around them but recently they returned with a brand new album Never Enough that sounds great. On stage they prove to be a good live band. Their gritty songs have lots of rock 'n roll and are at their best when André Dodde makes his organ go nuts. The trio try to light a bit of a fire but that may be a bit to ambitious for this crowd at this time, that is still getting into the sleaze mood. But Green Hornet certainly got us warmed up and got me in the right mood!

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The Deaf
Leave it to this rock 'n roll band from The Hague to give the crowd the final push needed to tear the place down. Singer Frans van Soest, better known as Spike, mentions he's actually sick, but that doesn't show for a bit. Like always he's full of energy and doesn't rest until he gets the people at the front crazy. Keyboard player Maurizio Pinna is exploring every inch of the stage and is showing great acrobatic moves on his organ, while bass player Janneke Nijhuijs, aka Miss Fuzz, is rocking around her big bass. It finally catches on with everyone and there's even an attempt at a wall of death, that turns into a "fence of death" according to Spike, but it's the thought that counts.

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Apparently many people came to see The Deaf because some of them have left when zZz themselves take the stage. I think their groovy danceable tunes are brilliant and indeed they are the sleaziest of all three bands. Everyone that stayed around has put on their dancing shoes and the band ends this night in great style with dirty, sexy and sweaty dance tunes. Of course they play the excellent 'Juggernaut' off the latest record by the same title. I wonder if I will every hear them play all full glorious twenty minutes of that song.

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Unfortunately I have to jump off the Sleaze Express before it comes to a full stop, because I have to catch the normal train back home. I thought this night was a great success and hope their will be more of these to come in future editions.

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Tuesday 10 November 2015

On Stage: Alabama Shakes at Paradiso Amsterdam

Things moved really fast for Alabama Shakes, especially after releasing their first record Boys & Girls. The band played many gigs and the stages they play on have grown since then. From small clubs they can now take on the bigger clubs and also the big stages at festivals. Their second album Sound & Color is a brave change of direction that works very well. They bring soul singer Michael Kiwanuka as support with them so all the more reason to go check them out.

Alabama Shakes at Paradiso Amsterdam, November 7 2015

Ahead of the show I get an email with the advice to show up early because many people want to see Michael Kiwanuka and it may get crowded early. Indeed by the time the singer takes the stage the venue has already filled up considerably. I always find it wonderful to watch and listen to Kiwanuka. His voice is gentle and comforting but still strong. His band is standing close to him as if they try to make the space as tiny as possible. This works well and it turns the performance into an intimate one. The new songs sound promising and some of the old songs get new arrangements. I’m looking forward to hearing more new music by him.

From the first song on you can tell Alabama Shakes spent a lot of time on the road. Of course the wonderful Brittany Howard has an overwhelming appearance, but she has grown into a charismatic artist on top of it. Her incredible voice alone can carry all the songs, but she looks really comfortable on stage now, mostly with her guitar, knocking out solos with great ease. Sometimes she will put it away and move around the stage like a first class crooner. It suits her well and it makes the performance a lively one.

The band, extended with background singers and an additional keyboard player, are always on the background. Although they are not in the spotlight, you can hear they have become more tight and provide a sturdy foundation for Howard’s big voice. And that voice never fails to impress, even after having seen them a few times before. However the big difference with those other times are some of the new songs, where the band have chosen to do things differently. They could have done a similar second record, but this is so much better.

They have mixed in some R&B, garage rock, pop and more swing, really broadening their sound with it and Howard is using her voice in a more diverse way. Confidently they have put all songs of the new album on tonight’s setlist. Live it is even more clear how good songs like ‘Dunes’ and ‘Gimme All Your Love’ are, but especially the songs that really show the new direction like ‘This Feeling’, ‘Gemini’ and ‘Over My Head’ sound incredible, sometimes reminding me of D’Angelo. It proves Alabama Shakes are now a confident and established band and have chosen the right way. That way is only going up.

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01. Dunes
02. Future People
03. I Ain't The Same
04. Rise to the Sun
05. Heartbreaker
06. Boys & Girls
07. Guess Who
08. Miss You
09. Be Mine
10. The Greatest
11. Shoegaze
12. Hold On
13. This Feeling
14. You Ain't Alone
15. On Your Way
16. Always Alright
17. Don't Wanna Fight
18. Gemini
19. Joe
20. Sound & Color
21. Gimme All Your Love
22. Over My Head

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Monday 9 November 2015

On Stage: Foo Fighters at Ziggo Dome Amsterdam

It's been a few years since I saw Foo Fighters play live, especially in a venue. The last time they played a venue concert over here was in 2006 and only played a few times on festivals since then. Earlier this year their headline appearance got cancelled due to Dave Grohl’s unfortunate fall, breaking his leg. Needless to say I was really looking forward to their show at the Ziggo Dome.

Foo Fighters at Ziggo Dome Amsterdam, November 5 2015

We make sure that we arrive early at the venue to see Trombone Shorty aka Troy Andrews, who is the support act tonight. For some reason support acts always get bad sound and the mix is terrible for them tonight. The saxophones can hardly be heard and also the microphone of Andrews, sounds terrible. It's not his voice since he sounds great and his voice is powerful which reminds of Living Colour singer Corey Glover. The songs are swinging and rock hard, played with a lot of heart by the band, who do a good job warming up the crowd.

The Foo Fighters are off to a rough start tonight when the curtain with their logo that was hanging in front off the stage doesn't completely fall down at the beginning of ‘Everlong’ and is keeping Grohl and his throne obscured from most of us. While the rest of the band laugh their heads off, Grohl stops the song and jokes “Sometimes it's the fucked up things that make you remember a show for the rest of your life!". It's typical for Foo Fighters to fix setbacks when they happen and don't let it get them down. When Grohl breaks his leg? He asks his crew to build a throne and it turns into one of the eye catchers of the tour.

From then on the show takes off with high speed and hardly ever slows down. The setlist is a nice overview of their twenty year career and their biggest hits. Some oldies like ‘Breakout’ and an intimate version of ‘Big Me’ played by Grohl solo are treats for the fans of the first hour. Drummer Taylor Hawkins sometimes takes vocals as well, especially in the cover songs they play when the band is introduced and in Pink Floyd's 'In The Flesh'. He is also doing a small sing along with the crowd Freddy Mercury style. These small interruptions are not taking the tempo out of the show, but instead give it more dynamic, making the highs even higher.

And there are plenty of highs for the crowd to go crazy on. Small circle pits are forming and the atmosphere is a festive one with plenty of beer showers. This band knows how to energize the people like no one else can, by playing with so much heart, energy and pleasure that you simply cannot resist it. Grohl explains they never play encores since they don't want to waste any time. And so for the last time band and crowd give it all once more in ‘Best Of You’ for an explosive ending to an epic rock show.

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01. Everlong
02. Monkey Wrench
03. Learn to Fly
04. Something From Nothing
05. The Pretender
06. Big Me
07. Congregation
08. Walk
09. Eruption (Van Halen)/Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love (Van Halen)/ Tom Sawyer (Rush)/ Another One Bites The Dust (Queen)/ You Really Got Me (The Kinks)
10. Cold Day in the Sun
11. My Hero
12. Times Like These
13. Breakout
14. All My Life
15. These Days
16. Arlandria
17. White Limo
18. Skin and Bones
19. This Is a Call
20. In the Flesh?
21. Best of You

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Saturday 7 November 2015

On Stage: Editors at Heineken Music Hall Amsterdam

They could have easily filled up a bigger venue, but Editors chose to do three nights in a row at the Heineken Music Hall which can hold around 5,500 fans. Needless to say those nights sold out pretty quickly since with a new album the band is back in the spotlights again, as if they ever left. I think the previous album The Weight Of Your Love isn't a great album, definitely not their best and although In Dream is a lot better it still can't measure up to their first three longplayers. However watching them play live is always a treat so I made my way to the HMH at the other side of town.

Editors at Heineken Music Hall Amsterdam, November 4 2015

Of course I was really lucky to see the band play last month at the much smaller Paard van Troje venue in The Hague and there we got a little taste of what to expect. You know this band has no trouble playing a larger crowd that still is relatively small compared to the big festival crowds they are used to play by now. The HMH is actually a good place that can host bands that have outgrown the clubs, but at the same time is still small enough to give an intimate feeling.

It turns out the setlist tonight isn't much different from the one they played last month, except some songs have been shuffled around. That night already showed the group is well prepared for this tour and this is a very smooth running show, although Justin Lockey has been temporarily replaced with Nicholas Willes. Lockey is becoming a father and Willes already played with the band last year, still the band is in great shape. Their big hits are scattered around the set, with some slower songs in between them to create a dynamic show. Old songs 'All Sparks', 'Munich' and 'The Racing Rats' are always guaranteed crowd pleasers and since the last album 'Sugar' and 'Formaldehyde' are added to that. From the new album it seems 'Ocean of Night' and 'Marching Orders' go down well, although I think 'All The Kings' with its eighties synth hook, that also made it onto the setlist, is actually one of their better new songs. The acoustic solo performance of 'Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors' is a nice touch and a highlight of the show.

Fire and fireworks are the only real visual effects added to some of the songs. No big fancy screens and huge lighting shows did they bring with them. And who needs that when you have Tom Smith as your front man. Besides his amazing voice he's always so into the music, moving around stage in his awkward fashion. Sometimes he will walk to the front of the stage to bend over to the crowd, or he takes place behind his piano for the more intimate moments. Smith doesn't address the crowd a lot except for a quick thank you once and a while. It's clear there's not much room for spontaneity or improvisation. That's okay though because the band, who look like they are having a good time themselves, play a very tight well thought through show and give the people exactly what they came for. Instead of ending the show with the epic 'Papillon' the new song 'Marching Orders' is the set closer in the three song encore. I think 'Papillon' is a much better song, but it seems most fans have embraced the new song and this way it's a worthy end of the night.

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01. No Harm
02. Sugar
03. Life Is a Fear
04. Blood
05. An End Has a Start
06. Forgiveness
07. All Sparks
08. Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool
09. The Racing Rats
10. Formaldehyde
11. Salvation
12. Bones
13. A Ton of Love
14. Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
15. Bricks and Mortar
16. All the Kings
17. Nothing
18. Munich
19. Ocean of Night
20. Papillon
21. Marching Orders

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Wednesday 4 November 2015

Spinning: The Icarus Line - All Things Under Heaven

Influences like Iggy & The Stooges and Birthday Party are pointed out in The Icarus Line's music regularly, so you can expect some aggression and intensity, but they never sounded so angry as on their new LP All Things Under Heaven. That is a plus for a band that have been around for more than fifteen years, because it often means the music has not faded and the band still has plenty to say.

The group is hitting hard on their eighth album and starts that right away in the first song 'Ride Or Die', that has an ominous beginning with a fade-in and a dark humming voice, eventually bursting into explosive drums, raging guitars and a screaming organ. "Jesus, save us" you will hear, but that's not going to happen, since The Icarus Line take you onto a diabolical tour through a dark world. Once again it reminds of Nick Cave like in 'El Sereno', where you'll hear harmonies singing "in the black water" and shrieking guitars that could easily have been produced by the Australian. On 'Bedham Blue' Warren Ellis even collaborated, indeed, Cave's loyal companion in The Bad Seeds and Grinderman.

All the anger comes together in the title track 'All Things Under Heaven', where artist Joe Coleman is playing a kind of devil's advocate in a monologue. Supported by a dramatic sounding organ and what seems a beeping alarm clock, he's addressing the state of the world and how mother nature regulates population by means of diseases and other misery. He ends his plea with "the serial killer, the taker of human life is the’re the problem!". Those are heavy words, but it's clear they make you think about it. In 'Millenial Prayer' a series of sentences follows that start with "thou shall" complementary to the Ten Commandments. The nervous sax you can hear stops all of a sudden and the song ends with "who the fuck do you think you are? some kind of exception to reality?". The words hit you like a sledge hammer and all you can do is humbly bow your head.

All Things Under Heaven is an impressive record where singer Joe Cardamone is dealing with the demons in his life in an aggressive way, by boldly sending an even more devilish monster on them. He's staring the demons right in the eyes, swears at them and spits them in their face. It makes you want to play the record over and over again, as if the beast is hypnotizing you and you're under his control. When the album ends with 'Sleep Now' it's not a lullaby but leads you into a dark nightmare. There simply is no escape.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'All Things Under Heaven' on Spotify.

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