Paul Gambuccini recently claimed that “the rock era is over” but it would seem that the legions of fans and performers, young and old, that flocked to a sun-blasted Victoria Park in London for the second annual High Voltage Festival, didn’t receive that particular memo.  Sponsored (and probably curated by) Classic Rock Magazine, this celebration of all things Rock laughed in the face of such ludicrous claims with the a line-up that contained both established and up and coming bands — some of which, as you’ll find out later, have begun to write their own chapter in the Rock n Roll bible.

Saturday

Kicking off the weekend festivities early on Saturday, Finnish superstars The Von Hertzen Brothers (7) took to the Prog stage and delivered a high-energy, if slightly theatrical set.  Taking cues from Pop, Metal and eccentricities of Prog, this quintet were probably deserving of a higher slot on the bill as they definitely knew how to work the stage and the crowd. In their native Scandinavia they’d probably headline, but they clearly reveled in delivering their music to a UK audience. It went down well too,  the sheer infectious nature of their stage presence blowing away those initial Saturday morning cobwebs and any lingering skepticism.

Amplifier (8), probably the most aptly named band of the weekend, quickly followed on the same stage, arriving dressed in uniform suits and black ties stitched with their enigmatic Octopus emblem.  With only 30 minutes stage time, this Mancunian quartet had to cherry-pick the best songs from their last record, which clocks in at a mammoth 2 hours long. And they did just that, treating us to some of thickest riffs this side of Tool and trippy Hawkwind-like choruses about Space and Time and other dimensions.  In other words, they were brilliant.

Rival Sons (6) are currently big news in Rock circles.  Is their Led Zeppelin swagger a mere copy or is it a homage to their heroes? Are they just media hype (their new record ‘Pressure and Time’ looks set to steal the show at the Classic Rock Mag Awards later this year and they’re also in the running for best new band too) or are they the real deal? .  It was difficult to tell with their mid-afternoon Main Stage slot.   Their sound is undoubtedly classy, they’ve got the hooks and they know every trick in the book, but much of their output was lost in the wind (though I gather this was a common complaint of that particular stage) and they were, perhaps, over-awed by the occasion.  As it would transpire later, they were able to redress the balance.

Following a quick stop at the beer tent, a mammoth detonation of metallic proportions somewhere in the distance soon had us heading towards the Metal Hammer Stage, where Ravens Creed (7) set about pulverizing our brains into mush with a barrage of brutal riffs, pounding drums and devastating roars.  They were undoubtedly one of the heaviest bands of the weekend, yet there was something positive and heart-warming about their message even though it was difficult to decipher what they were on about!

With Thin Lizzy flogging their dead horse on the Main Stage, those with a bigger sense of adventure could be found with their jaws on the floor witnessing one of the finest bands they’re ever likely to encounter.  Triggerfinger  (10) barely warranted a footnote in the festival billing amidst heavyweights like Dream Theater, Slash or Judas Priest, but this suave, impeccably dressed Belgian trio delivered the set of the weekend in my view.  A spectacular 45 minute performance sealed with panache and passion and everything you could possibly wish for from a Rock n Roll band. Their tightly-performed, bluesy songs rock in all the right places and are not without a sense of self-deprecating humour, with their Guitarist/Frontman toying with the crowd during and between songs via witty stage banter and sharp dance-moves, adding to the fun.  While they’re definitely moving in their own direction, loose reference points would include Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion and Rory Gallacher.  However,  mere words simply cannot do these guys justice it should be your new lifetime ambition to witness this trio live.

Though it was tempting to see former Guns N Roses guitarist Slash over at the main stage, a flyer found on the ground soon pointed us in the direction of the small and unadvertised Ace Cafe Stage, where the God of Hell Fire himself Arthur Brown (9) performed an up-close, personal and high energy set.  Backed by a youthful and supremely talented band, Brown wowed a packed tent with his superb, falsetto voice, crazy energy and eccentric songs.  Following on from Triggerfinger this was another major and unexpected highlight.  To see a performer of this quality on such an intimate setting was nothing short of sensational and he would have given any band on the Prog Stage a run for their money.

The disappointment of not being able to see Electric Wizard, who were stuck in Norway following last week’s tragic events was soon tempered by the news that Rival Sons (9) were to stand in with an impromptu headline set on the Metal Hammer Stage.  And they took to it like ducks to water just as the sky began to darken, providing the perfect setting and atmosphere for The Sons to blow away any doubts and misconceptions from their earlier main stage set with an incendiary performance of the highest order.  Perhaps this was the moment when they finally arrived?  See the video below for hard evidence, believe the hype.

For those that missed Vessels spell-binding headline set on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury a few weeks ago, here’s a taster of what you missed with a particularly incendiary take of ‘Ornafives’ The rest of the show can be streamed here (for UK users only though).  Their latest album ‘Helioscope’ left a lasting impression on me and it’s pretty amazing to see how much they’ve come on as a band since the first time I saw them in 2007.  One of the tightest live units around these days.

There’s a nice back story to this record that involves Madam Trashy surviving Jack Endino’s acid-test and landing the former Nirvana producer to mix their debut record.  Cue the Kickstarter campaign to fund this excursion which ended up, to the bands astonishment, over-subscribed.  This Williamsburg trio are completely worth it, however. It’s difficult to put a finger on their modus operandi, their sound is eclectic and unique, yet alluringly familiar.  ‘Book of Dead’  instantly rocks, yet takes more than a customary spin to digest. Their compositions segue from light to dark, sometimes in the space of mere seconds. While, there’s a certain finesse to their compositions too, yet they’re not afraid to let loose (check the frenzied end of ‘In The Dark’ for hard evidence). Madam Trashy are clearly a band of many contrasts.

Instrumentally, this outfit are a powerful unit, there’s a precision to their music that reminds of Queens of the Stone Age or, perhaps, ‘Badmotorfinger’ era Soundgarden, honed through over a decade of playing together.  The guitars are cranked up, heavy as slab of marble and particularly satisfying, the bass work is skillful and surprisingly funky, while the syncopated drums take left-turns, hitting tricky time signatures when you least expect.  The interplay between all three can be mesmerising.  Indeed, ‘Subterfuge’ displays telepathy rarely witnessed since The Mars Volta’s ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’.

‘Tiny Hands’ is another definite highlight with its chunky riffs and anthemic chorus that soon gives way to a wandering guitar solo, that seems like it has a life of its own, over a muscular bass and drum exchange.  ‘In Sleep’ is irresistibly melodic and it’s simply a joy to behold to listen to a band like this in full flight on the Primus-like title track.  Only the final acoustic-led track ‘Building Song’ feels like a let down, simply because it seems superfluous against the quality of the preceding six tracks.

Still Madam Trashy has made a bold statement here, announcing that they’re a force to be reckoned in the rock world and we’re surely going to be hearing much more from them.  A band most definitely worth caring for.

I’m trying to work out if this track from London via Paris troupe Underground Railroad is a blatant rip-off of Radiohead’s ’15 Step’ or just a homaging nod to their heroes.  Listening through their new LP ‘White Night Stand’ I’m inclined to go for the latter, as there’s a bit of eclecticism about the record.  Besides it’s pleasing to see bands take influence from Radiohead’s edgier material, than pilfering their most obvious moments, such as the way with (shudder) Keane and to a lesser extent Muse.

‘White Night Stand’ is one of those records that opens up the more you listen and I’ve found that my own appreciation of it has risen from mild indifference to itching to listen to tracks such as the deadly infectious ‘ Black Widow’.  Like I said, UR are an eclectic bunch and this LP also incorporates elements of Krautrock (‘The Russian Doll’) ,No Wave  guitar pyrotechnics, steamy and languid Shoegaze textures (‘We Were Slumbering’) and razor-sharp electronics (‘Lucky Duck’) , while the press release mentions a Liars influence, hinting of their experimental tendencies.  ‘White Night Stand’ is out now on One Little Indian and certainly worth further investigation

The mysterious Magdalena Solis hail from Brussels, Belgium and take their name from a high priestess (read this incredible true story) of a 60’s Mexican Blood Cult who took part in several ritualistic murders and was imprisoned for life.  This trio drinks from the altar of obscure psychedelic cinema and the Komische movement of the 70’s using guitars, vintage organs, Moog synths and even cello and flutes to create a heavily textured and totally hypnagogic sound — one they call ‘Sun Cult Rock’.

Loose reference points include ‘Alpha Centauri’ era Tangerine Dream (see ‘Crown Your Whores And Burn Your Kings’) and early Pink Floyd on ‘Cities Crumbling Planets Growing’.  They also add Middle Eastern, Arabic and Oriental ingredients to their strange brew, bringing to mind current Psych-Rock favourites Grails, particularly on the rousing ‘Seven Boys and Seven Girls’. Along with the accompanying Pagan/Psych/Cult imagery (see below), it makes for a particularly sinister and nightmarish listening experience.


They meddle with an abundance of strange found sounds too, liberally peppering everything from eerie wind sounds to vague howls, spoken word/film excerpts to cult chants and weird oscillations to crystalline chimes throughout. There’s even a startling elephant shriek around the halfway mark, all of which further reinforces the feeling of a transcendental happening that revolves around ‘Hesperia’.  It’s difficult not to be swayed by the peculiarity of it all.

Of course, it’s all completely wonderful and tailor-made for those who prefer their music to be of the mind-altering variety. It’s available in limited edition CD-R from Dying For Bad Music or cassette through Berlin-based Klangverhaeltnisse Records.

Arcane Roots are a prog-inspired three-piece who are starting to gain a bit of momentum.  Zane Lowe has been playing them on BBC Radio 1 show (though that might be a death-knell going by this cringe-worthy interview he conducted with Grinderman).  Classic Prog recently likened the Surrey-based trio as an ‘Ultra melodic Mars Volta interrupted by a shouty Cockney fellow’.  Rock Sound have gone one better with an outrageously hyperbolic piece, where they claim Arcane Roots sound like no other band.

None of this matters of course, the only thing to care about is this track quite frankly rocks.  It’s explosive and hook-laden, mixing the best of Prog-Rock with an informed pop edge.  It’s the lead single from their mini-album ‘Left Fire’, which barely made a dent upon its original 2010 release.  Now, going with the video above, the band seem to have a bit of financial muscle behind them and look to be on the cusp of something big.  Just like the shout-along refrain in this featured track ‘this is the beginning of something’‘.  Catch this outfit at Sonisphere this Summer.

Necro Deathmort, the duo of AJ Cookson and Matthew Rozeik, are set to release their second album ‘Music of Bleak Origin’ through Newcastle-based Distraction Records.  Their sound contains a highly original combination of titanic drums, dirty/calibrated beats, inescapably heavy guitars and exploratory electronics —  Cinematic-Electronic-Doom-Prog perhaps?  It’s the sort of sinister and dangerous sound that makes the likes of The Prodigy sound particularly primary school.

Their label puts it better in fact :

Necro Deathmort follow their critically acclaimed debut album This Beat Is Necrotronic with this monolith: Music of Bleak Origin. Expect a soundtrack of crunchy fuzz, chambertronic buzz, dubstep squelch, walls of guitar wail, crashing chords, acidic bleeps and blips, creamy drone and subwoofer-baiting nihilistic doom. In an edition of 1000, it comes in a heavy-duty plastic sleeve with a seen-to-be-believed, double-sided 18-panel poster on wood free stock.

This record segues from the ethereal club ecstasy of ‘For Your Own Good’ to the disheveled, ‘Classics’-period Aphex Twin electronica of ‘Devastating Vector’, via the skull-crushing guitar-led sonic assaults of ‘In Binary’ and doomy devastation of ‘The Heat Death of Everything’.  It’s limited to just 1000 copies and is packaged with a heavy-duty plastic sleeve and contains a double-sided 18-panel H.P Lovecraft- style poster designed by Dominic Hailstone, who was responsible for the creepy creature effects on Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ video as well as working with Mogwai on ‘Batcat’.

On a side note, the Distraction lads are very passionate about the music they release and run a fantastic label. Despite investing a lot of time and money into their releases they often issue them for free in advance of pre-order’s, trusting the quality of the music and the record-buying public to order the records anyway.