Yes! After what feels like an incredibly long wait, released this week, the debut album ‘A Broken State of Bliss’ from The Mercy House is here! The boys are back, and they are triumphant!
‘A Broken State of Bliss’ has been embraced by fans and was definitely worth the wait. Already sold out on Amazon and Zavvi only a day after release – it would seem that this was quite an anticipated album.
The Mercy House locked themselves away for the best part of 2011 and now we know why. ‘A Broken State of Bliss’ is an intricate work of musical wizardry that shows us just how talented these lads are.
Captivated by their raw energy, the album opens with ‘A Broken State of Bliss’ – an instrumental track with a haunting guitar melody amongst a back drop of dark and ominous tones, before breaking into ‘Greed’ the first song on the album. Greeted with a heavy, yet slow paced heavy metal swagger! I like the rhythm of the song and think it sets the tone perfectly for a taste of things to come.
‘My Disease’ is the next track. As I have come to learn with this album, you can’t settle into a track, as soon as you do, it changes. The drums lead us into this one, whilst the guitar work provides a perfect accent to the thunderous rhythm section.
I could make really boring comparisons about who these guys sound like, but then I wouldn’t be telling you anything new. However, what I will say is this. The Mercy House are reflective of now, and are very much their own band, with their own take on the rock and heavy metal sound. The song writing and composition of this album is of an incredibly high standard and like nothing I have ever experienced of a ‘debut’ album.
The next track ‘Blind’ is a lot more melodic and shows the expressions of the music a tad more, the drum accents, the hooks in the bass and guitar, not to mention the juicy as hell riffs. ‘Lead The Way’ shows the beauty and capability of Drew’s voice and tone; A surprise at every corner, this track has it’s heavy metal moments, one thing that grabs me about this album is the lyrics. Very cleverly written with a definite message. At around three quarters of the way through, the song builds to a very intense instrumental break where you can hear just how talented each musician is.
Every time I listen to this album, ‘The End‘ always stands out to me. I love the melody in the chorus and the tones in Drew’s voice. The guitar melody is simply beautiful, with the rhythm section bringing a heavier feel without distracting from the elegance of the track. About half way through, it switches from a delicious ballad into a much heavier hook and is almost brutal in comparison to the rest of the song. At around the 5 minute mark you can really hear a different and very appealing tone in Drew’s voice which is very pleasing to the good ol’ ears!
The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint and should definitely be played as a piece, from beginning to end as the band intended. Tracks like ‘Weight’ and ‘Unclean’ will have you head banging within seconds with their extreme face-melting power!
Another thing that has grabbed me about this album is the arrangements within the songs, the additional audio throughout the album that gives that extra punch, and helps to set the tone. The gun locking in ‘Hayt’ is the perfect example of this.
What more can I say? They have appeared from virtually nowhere and have released an album that will literally take your breath away. Embellished with pure hard rock and heavy metal, The Mercy House are clearly not taking any prisoners and going straight to the top. Mark my words!
‘A Broken State of Bliss’ - Really heavy, passion driven rock at it’s finest. This album is an essential must have!
When you think back to the seventies and the eighties, the start, so to speak, of the British Rock and Heavy Metal movements, Iron Claw wouldn’t be amongst the names of the bands that sprung to mind. However in the late 60’s, three teenagers, Jim Ronnie, Alex Wilson and Ian Mcdougall came together through a love of the music and formed Iron Claw.
Recently I chatted with guitarist Jim Ronnie about the beginning, how it all started, and the trials and tribulations of the past 40 years.
Jim tells me how it all started. “I was 15 years old. It was in 1969 at an open air concert in Dumfries where I first made contact with Alex Wilson (bass). He was managing a local rock band called Amplified Heat; they were playing at the gig. I approached the band after their set, and told them that I was a guitarist looking for a band. They suggested I talk to Alex, which I did, followed by a visit to his house the next day for some guitar playing. I must have impressed him as he offered me the job of guitarist in the band he was putting together. Alex knew the best local drummer available, Ian McDougall (also aged 15) and so Iron Claw was born.”
Iron Claw, in the very early stages, spanned from 1969 to 1974 which covered the band through their teens into their early twenties. Considering their age at the time and the songs they wrote, the quality of the writing was beyond their years. I asked Jim how they went about writing at that age, and if they found their new career daunting.
“Daunting? Hell no! It’s what I wanted to do and it was great fun. Besides, I’d been in a band before that. We were called 'Jonah’s Kingdom'. We played at local community centres and youth clubs, we had a wide range of material, from Cream and Hendrix to some pop and soul. Iron Claw was my first “real” band though. That’s when I got into exploring more obscure rock and blues, and started writing in earnest. Most of the material, if I remember correctly, came out of jamming with input from all the band members. It was very much a group effort. We always rehearsed hard though, and some of the arrangements got pretty complicated. I listen to some of the real early recordings and think “How the hell did we come up with that?” We recently decided to include the 1970 favourite 'Skullcrusher' into our live set. The problem was I couldn’t remember how to play it. Luckily there was a Norwegian guy who covered the song on Youtube so I got the chords from his video!”
“You ask if I was ever scared or struck with stage fright? No, is the simple answer to that. It’s a privilege to be able to take to the stage and play for people, it’s a great buzz when the audience warms to the music. If you are well rehearsed and therefore self-confident, then any nerves are only pre-gig excitement and that’s good!”
At a point in any music fan’s life, the love of music comes from somewhere. I asked Jim where his love of music started?
“I remember my first performance in front of strangers, I was 5 years old and took to entertaining the rest of the class with my song and dance routine! The teacher must have thought I was crazy as she took me on a tour of the school; I did a repeat performance for all of the other classes in turn! My first performance as a guitarist was age 12, at my cousin’s wedding. It went down a storm playing Shadows tunes and I was hooked!”
Jim discusses his guitar influences
“The influences of the band members are quite diverse. As a guitarist, surprisingly, I’ve taken my influences from other guitar players. This tends to happen to a greater extent during your formative playing years. I started playing at age 12 (1966) so my main influences come from the late 60’s and early 70’s. The usual list of great blues/ rock players such as Clapton, Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Gary Moore (met him), Tony Iommi (met him), Rory Gallagher (met him), Paul Kossoff, Page, Jeff Beck.....the list goes on.”
To have met musicians of such magnitude must have left a lasting impression. I wasn’t sure at what age Jim was when he met them, but investigated further and asked about the experience.
“It was 1969/70 when I met Tony Iommi, Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher. These were guys not much older than me, and weren’t anywhere near famous yet. None of them gave any advice as such, but they were all fantastic guitarists who impressed me greatly …especially Gary Moore. The original Skid Row was an amazing band. They were doing something very different from anyone else at the time and Gary, although only 17, was giving everyone a lesson in what a guitar could actually do. Astounding! These three guitar players, like all the greats, have their own signature sound and are instantly recognizable. That’s what you need to achieve as a guitarist rather than chasing someone else’s sound. That’s my measure of musical prowess.”
Iron Claw had the makings of success, the possibility to rise above and beyond. I asked Jim how it felt when the band disbanded for the first time?
“Financial pressures, and our inability to secure a record deal, were what lead ultimately to the band split. Bit of a shame really, but that’s the way it goes. People decided to go in different directions and the band was no more. We all thought that was the end of the Iron Claw story.....fast forward from 1974 to 2012 and we’re back again!”
Iron Claw have reformed due to Ripple Music; now their label taking an interest in their earlier recordings. Jim tells me how it felt to finally be signed to a record label and back in the running.
“I couldn’t believe it. 40 years of seeking and a recording contract turns up completely out of the blue without even pursuing it! I was aware of the music review blog site ‘The Ripple Effect’. They had given our 1970’s recordings a lot of support and were obviously fans of early Iron Claw. Because of their support I contacted them to inform them of our plans to reform. I had no idea that they were in the process of launching their own label and when they offered to sign us I was blown away.”
Last year in 2011, Iron Claw released ‘A Different Game’ which is their latest album, although they are working on a new album for this year. I wanted to know how difficult it was to piece together the past 40 years of material. Jim tells me how it all came together.
“Some of the songs were first recorded in 1970 but never released. Others were part of the band’s live set in the 1970’s. I brought some songs from earlier solo projects as did Alex and some songs were written recently specifically for this album. Between us we came up with 13 songs and reworked them all for this project.”
Since re-forming Iron Claw lost their previous vocalist Gordon Brown, however they have been blessed with new vocalist Gary Hair. Jim fills me in on what excites him about working with Gary and what Iron Claw fans have to look forward to in 2012.
“As most people already know, we’re now going forward with our new vocalist Gary Hair and it shouldn’t be long before we have some new material for folks to hear. Gary’s a great singer and we’re sure everyone will love his voice.”
“We’re in the studio recording and videoing our first track with Gary and have secured the services of fellow Ripple buddy Tony Reed (Stone Axe) to do the final mix and mastering of the song. Tony worked with us on the album ‘A Different Game’ and did a superb job. He’s keen to work with us again and we’re delighted to have him. Ripple Music have said that they would welcome a second album later this year, and that sounds like a great idea to us, so the chances are that you’ll be getting another Iron Claw album from us. Iron Claw are, and have always been, a live band. We need to get out there and rock a few venues. We’re really looking forward to that!”
“Thanks Chelle for the opportunity to talk about Iron Claw and thanks to everyone for the outstanding support given to us since we reformed and released our first recorded music in almost 40 years! It really does give you heart.”
It’s been great getting a little of the history behind Iron Claw and I am very much looking forward to finding out what comes next in the Iron Claw story, it will, without a doubt be something to remember and revel in. A big thanks to Jim for the chat, it has been a pleasure.
I have never known a band to be more determined than Dead City Ruins. On their last UK tour they booked most of the dates whilst here and did it all off their own backs through countless emails and phone calls to venues. They hit as many gigs as possible and definitely created a steadfast fan base for themselves.
Releasing their debut album ‘Midnight Killer’ in July, Dead City Ruins are set to take the music industry by storm. With an attitude and style of their own, they definitely leave a very incessant impression on everyone they seem to come into contact with.
‘Where You Gonna Run’ is the first track on the album. I think this song sums up Dead City Ruins; with killer guitar riffs, and bad ass beats. ‘Where You Gonna Run’ is a fast paced, high octane heavy rock track that is sure to get your heart racing. It glides into a slightly softer side half way through the song, where you can hear a more melodic guitar and softer tone to Jake’s vocals before it launches into a guitar solo reminiscent of the Guns ‘n’ Roses ‘Appetite’ days! It certainly has that quality about it.
‘Damn My Eyes’, the next track, has a great drum intro that I think sounds something like Matt Sorum’s on the opening of Slither. It then hits a slightly faster pace and continues to show just how much these boys can rock it! There is a great rhythm to this song that is built to keep you moving.
Next up is ‘Mai Lai Massacre’, starting with reverb and a very hefty bass line indeed, it has a much dirtier sound initially before the drums and guitar kick in. With this track, it is indeed Mick’s bass line that grabs me.
Title track ‘Midnight Killer’ opens with a great solo and most definitely has that ‘punch’ that I know a lot of you are looking for! This song is one of those that you can rock your ass off too. Drewsy on drums definitely keeps the beats coming hot and heavy. Tommy and Sean on guitar definitely know how to rip it up, while Jake is a great rock vocalist.
‘Blues’ up next. This track has been and I think will always be my favourite track from this record; it was my favourite song when I first saw them live last year, and still is. With a gentle, and very melodic guitar intro, with the odd hints of bass it leads into a very slow and quite seductive song. Jake definitely knows how to turn it on, whispering at times, but boy does he know how to belt it out as well. Just as you’re led to believe you know how the song will go, they turn it up to 11 and Tommy and Sean belt out fantastic guitar riffs as Mick pounds the bass, coming together with a really well written song, that leaves me reeling for more, and I am pretty sure you would be too!
‘Go to War’ and ‘Highway Girl’ and Fallen’ continue the album in the very rock and roll style that we have become accustomed to from these Aussie guys from Melbourne. All in all this album is a clear winner from a great rock band. Definitely an album worth having!
Yes, this is a great rock album from a fantastic band, I think at times it can feel a little repetitive by the end. No doubt each track is good, but I think maybe on the next album it would be nice to hear a little difference between tracks and maybe a ballad or two to really showcase just how talented Dead City Ruins are.
Rival Sons are an extraordinary, talented band of musicians. With their blues-infused brand of ROCK N' ROLL, they are unstoppable. When a band like this hits you, the way that Rival Sons do, they ignite a fire within. They fill me with an undeniable passion.
Mike, Scott, Robin and Jay have an immense talent. Each of them are individually amazing. Rival Sons are a band that you can completely immerse yourself in, feel every note, every chord, every lyric and beat. Music like this is an incredibly beautiful and touching occurrence, one that I hope continues for many years to come.
So when I was asked to interview Jay Buchanan, of course I had to. As the early evening approached in London, I was standing with Jay outside, in the car park behind the Forum; we did aim to sit on some kegs of beer, but ended up standing and it was still warm and sunny, a perfect way to spend an evening.
Tonight is the last night of the tour with Black Stone Cherry; after this, the guys head off to Germany to start a European headlining tour. I asked Jay what he thought the highlights were so far:
"It's been a great tour. They've all been highlights really. It's very much been a tour of meeting a lot of new people, sharing the bill with Black Stone Cherry, and getting to know their fans, and hopefully making new fans from them. We've been hitting some cities that we haven't hit before and it's all been fantastic."
Just before leaving the States, the guys finished recording their fourth record. Looking forward to the album, I wanted to find out how it went:
"Yeah, we kinda just finished it, and we did it in a few weeks. Three weeks, actually, it all kinda went by like a car crash. Right now, Vance Powell is mixing, so we haven't even really heard the tracks, we just went in, laid them down, and once again it was definitely a record full of first and second takes, just go - move onto the next song, make somethin' new."
Rival Sons constantly evolve with time. The difference between 'Before The Fire' and 'Pressure And Time' is obvious but you can hear differences between the ways each record was written and recorded. Being curious, I asked Jay what evolution we can expect between 'P&T' and the new record:
"I don't know, we're growing, in some way, I don't know exactly in which way that is, you know, every time you go in to make a record all it is is a snap shot of exactly where you are at that specific moment creatively. In another month, we'll be a different band, and that keeps happening. We could go in and make another record next week, and it would be different than what we did a couple of weeks back and so as far as this next record, I'd have to let you know once I hear it."
I asked if he would be happy once they get the album back and can listen to it:
"Yeah, on one hand, on the other hand I'm mortified, because I don't really listen to our music very much, you know, we play it every night, it's really like, well we'll see, we'll see how this next collection of songs goes. I think that maybe we stretched out definitely a lot more on this next record, beyond that, I really don't know."
Since both the new record and 'P&T' were turned around quite quickly, I asked Jay if they find it tough to write within that time frame; maybe it would be better to have more time, or if they write on the road to prepare.
"For me, I'm always writing, I probably have the bulk of our song writing responsibility, lyrics, melody and arrangement, and I also bring in complete songs for the band and so that makes my job a little bit different from everyone else's but, aside from that, we write very collaboratively, even when we are putting riffs together. Scott will bring in riffs, or Robin will, we'll have these different ideas, as far as difficulty, we specifically set out to make a record and put ourselves under those circumstances, so that we wouldn't have the luxury of second guessing ourselves, so that every time you hear the next track, you get hear it for the first time, and, you're hearing us hear it for the first time as well, so just to try and keep that energy going."
If you're familiar with Rival Sons you would know that their records have nothing but energy, through every track. I told Jay that I thought they had a great energy, definitely one that I feel drawn to:
"Thanks, we do what we can and I think that our big MO really for this band is to just try and produce the best music that we are capable of at this point, and this ethic of recording very quickly and writing very quickly and putting ourselves under the gun, is where we are at right now, that could change, you know. The world needs Radioheads and needs Pink Floyds and needs those long big thought-out records. I just think for us, we're still stretching our legs and finding out who we really are, so to attempt to make a big statement, or something along those lines, we're just not really keen on doing that yet."
One of the things that I adore about the guys is their insatiable hunger for music, the knowledge that they all have, between Robin, Scott, Mike and Jay, their range of influences is humongous, from Howlin' Wolf through rhythm n' blues, jazz to Pink Floyd and the prog side of things. Jay tells me of his influences on a vocal scale:
"There's too many to count, because it changes from week to week, you know, everyone from the Staple Singers, a big influence on me, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, I mean, so many, Eric Burden, Blind Willie Johnson, they each possess something different and so, I think that growing up, as far as like the tone of my voice or what I can do, I think you spend a lot time trying to shape who you are and shape your identity, somewhere along the line, you know a couple of years back, something just clicked and I stopped listening to myself, and stopped worrying about it and I just sing now."
Jay as a vocalist has such a huge range, not to mention an undeniable velvet tone to his voice. It can go from guiding you into an almost lullaby-like state, into a rock-induced frenzy on more uptempo tracks. I asked him if he'd had any vocal coaching:
"No, I am 100% self-taught vocally. I can't read music; I don't even know the circle of fifths. I've been playing guitar since I was nine years old and I don't know the names of any but three or four chords."
Just goes to show you don't always need to be trained or endure lessons. Passion for music is all it takes.
Rival Sons have really only stepped into the limelight over the past year or two that they have been signed with Earache Records. Earlier in the mix there was a possibility of a contract with EMI. Would they have been as successful if they would have signed with EMI?
"Well", Jay says, "Where EMI comes in - that part of the story was really before I got with these guys, you know they were slugging it out, trying to make things happen, and they kind of got turned away from EMI, and you know I came in and I sung the vocals on that first record, without even writing."
This was 'Before The Fire'? Jay replies: "Yeah 'Before The Fire', I just went in and sang, I've never done that in my life. I've always been a writer, that has always been my thing, but I knew - I listened to what they had and I thought 'wow'. So I'm gonna get in there and I'm not really gonna write?
"The record seemed like it was too good to just let it die, and so for me it took humility to go in there and go 'look, it's not just about me, this is a band, this is our band and we're going to try to make this work', so I set the ego aside and just said 'OK, let's get in there and let's do this'.
"But EMI had already fallen off with the band by then. So then, for a while we were on our own, and you know, you talk about things picking up over here the past couple of years, you realise it has really only been, one, year, it's been amazing, the response, and support that we have gotten from the UK audience is really amazing."
Although the band are chameleon-like, and constantly transforming and growing, I wondered if they still had a vision of where they might see themselves over the next few years.
"I don't know, I really don't, I wanna make a lot more records, I couldn't sit here and tell you how many records the band will end up making, or how long it will last, or what our sound is gonna be like, I know that right now, we're really hot on the heels of trying to do something with a sense of urgency and immediacy, and maybe we will take a different approach, a different recording approach in the future, you have four guys, with very, very different opinions, with very different, um, very different vibes and how they approach music, and I think that visceral nature is what, maybe sets us apart a little, you know."
I think collectively as a band and individually, the guys definitely stand out, and I would expect that in the coming years, more and more people will, hopefully, realise how special this band is. Not all will, you can't please everybody, but those of you out there who do, hold on, because this is going to be one hell of a journey, and personally, I am really looking forward to where Rival Sons will lead us in the future.
I said something to Jay about how much bigger I think they will become on a mass scale in time, and Jay laughed: "Well we're working towards somethin' you know, but like I said we have a huge opportunity right now, because of all the support we are receiving, and people have been so supportive."
People are stepping out in force at the moment, the band have their own street team, the 'Sleepwalkers' who are working really hard:
"Yeah, yeah, the street team is building, and the shows are getting bigger and bigger, and more and more crowded and the fan base gets, more into a fever pitch, and it's been fantastic. Where we go from here? We'll be releasing this next record probably in late August early September, I'd like to get back into the studio in December and record another record.
"When we set out, we wanted to record, like, two records a year. But when you're with a label, you know, they set things up in a certain time, you have to tour the record and for us, when you're not growing creatively and constantly producing, you get really, you get very bored, it becomes monotonous."
Playing live every night must help with the exploration of the music, having a jam on stage; you must discover new methods, melodies.
"I think that with the experimentation of the music, touring, of course because you're on stage every night; and we never do things exactly the same way every time, and that's not to say that we get up there and its free form and 'hey, whatever', there is always something a little bit different. We have a very energetic and frenetic drummer. Your drummer, he steers the ship, and so when he's gonna switch things up... and Robin, he has such a catalogue of his knowledge, he's really our secret weapon, our bass player, because he is so educated he can do anything! You know, he can improvise on anything, on a dime!" says Jay enthusiastically.
I think the reason why the band is so electric and exciting is due to the knowledge of music, talent and experience that RS have collectively:
"Yeah, it's good to hear that from you, with our live show we're definitely gonna get up on stage and fuck around for 45 minutes, and that is what people are going to watch. We're a train that could go off the rails at any moment, and, you know we poke and prod each other (makes prodding gesture) to maybe do something a little bit different, we're always throwing out kicks and throwing sand in each other's faces and there is that, and at the same time, we understand that we have to support each other, whip the horse and see how fast it will go."
It's refreshing to hear of a band that just constantly push the barriers and with Rival Sons the future is bright. The new record should be released (fingers crossed) in August/September 2012. I am filled with excitement at the prospect of the unknown, I'm looking forward to being educated, and hearing an album that I am sure will be refreshing and a pleasure to indulge in.
This has been a fantastic experience, and one that I won't soon forget. I think Rival Sons are a treasure to behold and I look forward to watching them grow in every aspect of the word over the coming years, for it will surely be, like tonight has been, very special.
All articles are © Michelle Nevill