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Album Round-up: Blackberry Smoke, Papa Roach & Venom

Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.

Thursday, 19. February 2015  -  by  David Hayter

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Vintage sounds and age-old sentiments need not sound decrepit, Blackberry Smoke understand this intrinsically. The Atlanta quintet live and breathe in the moment, Holding All The Roses careens across the American south, telling their rollickingly robust outlaw tales and leaving a trail of broken bottles, battered bodies and shattered hearts in their wake. Guitarist and vocalist Charlie Starr has an incredible ability to deliver a well worn sentiment with fresh aplomb, giving rock ‘n’ roll standards a new wrinkle – he goes so far as to cheekily acknowledge that he exists in a world defined by rockstar tropes: “It’s like living in the words of a song”.

Blackberry Smoke’s brilliance is asserted in the very next line. Without taking their foot of the gas, Starr injects a layer of entirely believable regret by highlighting the inescapable tragedy of human nature: “I been running from my heart for too long…All I know is how to be gone”. Taken as a whole All The Roses offers a fearsome convergence of good times with bad consequences, the glossy-but-not-insincere production of Brendan O’Brien and a riotous tour de force of Southern guitar music. Guitars twang, careen, crass, strut and implode with swaggering assurance and, whether its soul, psych or bluegrass, Starr’s deceptively rich vocals more than hold their own.

Holding All The Roses is a deeply rewarding listen as rich in thoughtful compositional brilliance (“East Of Eden”) as it is in knee-slapping good times (“Rock and Roll Again”) and badass brutality (“Payback’s A Bitch”).


Papa Roach – F.E.A.R

Papa Roach wholeheartedly embrace brazen progression, while other Nu-Metal stars struggled to give up their suicidal tendencies, Roach developed a bigger, bolshier and, at times, glitzier rock centrism. F.E.A.R. is not a regression (“Skeleton” sounds like a strange hybrid of glam stomp, Bond theme gusto and solipsist angst), but the album does represent a lurch towards the synth driven sounds of the early 2000s. Frontman Jacoby Shaddix goes so far as to wheel one of his once abundant raps out of retirement to spruce up “Gravity”.

Nostalgic sidesteps aside; F.E.A.R. is another thoroughly professional masterclass in turning dissociation, ache and conscience into bombastic chart friendly rock music. Papa Roach have grown into confident showmen – a cocksure staple of the live scene who make bristling, satisfying, but ultimately unremarkable music. Great entertainment, adequate artistry; Roach justify their continued relevance with the unrelenting bigness of F.E.A.R.’s high-octane sound.


Venom – From The Very Depths

More accomplished than intriguing, From The Very Depths is clearly the work of a band with an inherent understanding of both their own heritage and more modern developments (a hefty dose of groove metal). Unfortunately, while Venom seem perfectly capable of serving up a bevy of chugging, thrashing, furrowing riffs and hell raising solos, they struggle to put them to any kind of intriguing purpose. Black metal has moved on, both morally and thematically, to the point where Kronos seems like a man out of time: croaking his way through tales of demon worship that sound tediously macho.

Kronos does strike a chord when Venom ape fellow legends of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal), Motorhead. “Long Hair Punks” ups the intensity to a frightful extent, creating a hailstorm of blood, bullets and, yes, venom, while rooting the songwriting in something reassuringly terrestrial. Indeed, Venom find considerable success by juxtaposing Motorhead’s demented pacing with Venom’s meat grinder grooves on “Grinding Teeth”. “Smoke” is another success story, where a classic head banger and a knottier vortex riff are set against one another either side of a pleasingly ambitious chorus.

From The Depths offers enough musicianship to satisfy the converted, but little to ensnare those who’ve moved on to newer, shinier alternatives.


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