By BRUCE DENNILL
Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls
Raoul & Black Friday: Say It Ain’t So
Elevation Worship: Here As In Heaven
The Horrors: Luminous
One of the few classic rock or heavy metal bands still bringing out new music who still embrace what it means to be rock stars as defined during the Seventies and Eighties, Iron Maiden made The Book Of Souls a double album – a rare beast indeed in the age of the digital single – and then toured it around the world in their own bespoke 747 aircraft. Musically, no concessions are made to either contemporary song structures and playlist guidelines or to the age of the band members, who are expected to maintain a frenetic energy level throughout songs that sometimes extend to 18 minutes (closer Empire Of The Clouds). It says a great deal for Maiden’s passion and staying power that they are still capable of delivering within this structure, and there are endless guitar riffs to enjoy in isolation from Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, as well Bruce Dickinson’s vocals, which are still forthright and powerful. It is, however, easy to lose focus on a particular song – or if you’re still listening to the same composition – during some of the longer tunes, ironically because of the consistency of the chugging power of the band. The Red And The Black develops slowly and enticingly with a couple of different licks in its extended intro. Death Or Glory is proudly old-fashioned and would have fitted into Maiden sets a decade or more ago, along with the similarly enjoyably retro The Man Of Sorrows. Ultimately, this is a treat for established fans, and fantastic value for money for listeners wanting more bang for their buck. But as impressive as it is in physical scope – there is slightly more than an hour-and-a-half of music here, and a huge set of album notes to match – it fails to match that scale with ingenuity (unless you count ignoring editing under that heading) in the songwriting.
A jazz-schooled blues guitarist, Raoul Roux is a technically gifted player with a heart-on-his-sleeve infatuation with his craft. The result is a completely genuine blues and blues rock feel throughout his debut album Say It Ain’t So. Tone, chord patterns and all the other genre specifics are as you’d expect them to be, allowing fans of that sound to wallow in it. Ironically, though, that loyalty to category does make large parts of the collection rather similar to listen to. What is different to many other projects in this part of the market is Roux’s lyrical approach, which takes in observations about South African locations (including Johannesburg) and our responses to these contexts rather than simply the clichéd traditional ideas. Going Home also breaks out of the mould, with a fine acoustic guitar-driven country feel. And U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is turned on its head, changed from a slow, melancholic ballad into a chugging barroom reflection. Both the players’ musicality and their enjoyment of what they do is occasionally indulged for its own sake, with Slide Instrumental (it does what it says on the tin) being the better of these interludes. This is strong stuff, short of only a mainstream hook or two to take it into a space where a wider audience might appreciate it.
Recording worship albums live is a well-established model now, helping to move the genre beyond well-meant but clichéd sentiments thanks to the energy and palpable passion generated in a concert environment. Still, though, it takes something special to emerge from yet another well-produced, slickly performed mega-church showpiece (sadly, the cynicism is warranted; worship music is an industry as well as a ministry). And happily, there are a number of strong contenders on a first spin through this collection. The title track kicks things off and has a booming low synth line that, in isolation, recalls Kraftwerk more than church music. It’s a slow builder, over eight minutes in length, which gets listeners warmed up for what is to come. Grace Like A Wave is beats-driven contemporary worship, energising and catchy (though parts of the electric drum track could have been reconsidered. Call Upon The Lord rounds off an excellent opening trio of tunes, a straightforward but muscular anthem. Most of the rest of Here As In Heaven is not in this league, but the sequencing means that a buzz is developed early on, raising enough interest to keep listeners involved.
While clearly still in thrall to The Cure and any number of Manchester bands (Doves, most particularly) have managed to update their sound somewhat with this collection, adding a couple of more modern electronic touches that move them closer to, say, Daft Punk than to their older influences. There’s still not much concession to chart-friendliness, with an average song running time of around five minutes and, in the case of opener Chasing Shadows, a three-minute instrumental intro. So Now You Know is more accessible than most of its neighbours, with any other songs, including the otherwise relatively poppy melody of Jealous Sun hijacked to an extent by a woozy keyboard line that obscures part of the chorus’s punch. Conversely, Falling Star seems almost like a direct effort to dip into the mainstream for a moment – and it’s effective, if not compelling. I See You is better, just as easy to like, and another direct link to the Manchester sound of the Nineties. Quite often elsewhere, there is less of a focus on songs and more of a emphasis on layering and effects as the desired sound takes precedence over melodies or hooks. Many of these facets, when considered together, suggest that Luminous may be an album best listened to in a live context where nobody’s in a rush and the mood is as important as the individual tracks – festivals, perhaps.