Category Archives: Doom Metal

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

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Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the title given to the third studio release from Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that was formed in the minds of Leif Edling (Candlemass) and Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Soen) before becoming a reality in 2012. Their sophomore album, ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ was released in 2015 and, quite rightly, it garnered much critical acclaim. If the world was beginning to take notice of Avatarium, this record catapulted the quintet into the full glare of the heavy metal spotlight.

But much has changed in the world of Avatarium since the releae of ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. The band is now a sextet of sorts, but the back story is much more complicated than a simple addition to the ranks. Leif Edling has now stepped away from the bass but remains involved and can claim the song writing credits to six of the eight tracks on ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Into the vacated bass slot therefore, comes Mats Rydström and he is joined by fellow newbie and organ player Rickard Nielsson who has replaced keyboardist Carl Westholm. The rest of the band remains the same however, with co-founder Marcus Jidell on guitars, Jennie-Anne Smith behind the microphone and Lars Sköld on the drums.

Given the comings and goings behind the scenes, it could have been easy for Avatarium to take their eye off the ball and deliver a new album that wasn’t up to the standard of their last. But to think in such a way would be a mistake and would be to do the members of Avatarium a huge disservice. When you have musicians of the calibre of Jidell, Smith and Edling, you’re almost certainly not going to get anything substandard. If anything, ‘Hurricanes And Halos’, which features a bigger song-writing contribution from the handsome couple of Jidell and Smith, is another confident step up for this band.

When I reviewed ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’, I remarked that it generally takes a lot for me to get excited about an album that has one foot firmly planted in the realm of doom. Well, that statement remains true but Avatarium prove once again that they one of the few bands that can manage this feat. There’s something about this band that speaks to me.

This becomes even more unfathomable in many ways when I add in to the equation that Avatarium are also heavily steeped in 1970s nostalgia as well as seemingly professing an admiration for blues, classic rock and an occasional dalliance with psychedelia. If I take a look at my personal music collection, I have a hard job finding very much that fits within any of these genres. And yet, I love Avatarium. And I love ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Go figure.

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In trying to do just that and figure out why I have such a connection with this band, I have hit upon many possibilities.

Firstly, there is the raw honesty and genuine depth found within the compositions themselves. You get the distinct impression as you listen, that nothing has been left at the door with these guys – it is all or nothing. When Jennie-Anne sings, she sings with such passion and richness that you can’t help but listen, rapt as she delivers her gritty monologues with finesse and such resonance. This is most definitely Jennie-Anne Smith’s best performance so far and at times, she threatens to steal the show entirely, such as within the chorus of the opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’ as one of many examples.

With lesser musicians behind her, that might have easily happened. But not in Avatarium. In Marcus Jidell for example, Avatarium are blessed with one of the very best guitarists that I know of. I must have said all this a hundred times over the years, so once more couldn’t hurt. His style is not to belt out lightning fast lead runs or to show off with fancy gimmicks. Instead, he has a grace and elegance that means that he can convey an emotion or a thought with one carefully crafted note or a series of well thought-out chords.

As demonstrated in the aforementioned heady opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’, Marcus has not forgotten how to rock out either. The song begins with a strong 70s doomy riff that gets things off to a bold and striking start. The Hammond organ of the equally impressive Nielsson joins the party briefly before becoming an integral part of the grand chorus and later, offers an indulgent but entirely fitting lead solo.

‘The Starless Sleep’ is another superb track, one that underlines the doom credentials of Avatarium as well as underlining the strength of the oft-unsung rhythm section. Skold’s drumming is precise but has a loose, carefree feel to it, whilst bassist Mats Rydström delivers a really satisfying low-end rumble to inject gravitas to the music.

The stripped back and darkly textured ‘Road To Jerusalem’ is the perfect song to act as contrast to the higher-octane opening tracks. It also showcases the beautifully organic and honest production to ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. This is not an album to be smothered in clever, modern effects or polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, in keeping with the music itself, producer Marcus Jidell alongside David Castillo (mixing – Katatonia, Opeth) and Jens Bogren (mastering – Soilwork, Sepultura) have created a living, breathing, colourful beast that loses none of the music’s potency along the way.

The icing on the cake with ‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the surprising amount of variety on offer. Already I’ve described the full-on power and the more subtle sides of Avatarium, but there’s more to uncover along the way.

‘Medusa Child’ is a thoroughly engrossing piece of music that begins in commanding and heavy fashion. The hooky chorus then comes out of nowhere, at an almost complete right-angle to the more aggressive and potent music that surrounds it. And then, at the half-way mark, it morphs again. An eerie child’s voice sings the chorus lyrics whilst underneath, the band veers into almost ambient, post-rock territory as a quiet, subtle melody begins to build into a rousing finale, almost threatening to implode as it does so.

‘Hurricanes and Halos’ is as far as I can tell, as much an exercise in creating interesting and multi-faceted soundscapes as it is about crafting intelligent doom-infused rock music. This point is proven eloquently via the brooding ‘When Breath Turns To Air’ with its exquisite and melodic fragility. But it is then hammered home by the closing title track which is quite different in construction and tone, but is equally poignant and captivating.

For me, it is the perfect way to end the record, a record that has impressed and moved me in equal measure right from the off. I can think of no other band in the modern era who does this kind of thing better than Avatarium. That in itself should speak volumes about just how good it is. I doubt I’ll hear a more compelling doom-infused rock album all year.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch – Album Review

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Artist: Ancient Ascendant

Album Title: Raise The Torch

Label: Spinefarm Records / Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 21 April 2017

When the legendary Dan Swanö is quoted as saying that Ancient Ascendant are ‘one of the best brutal bands to come out of Britain, well, ever’, I don’t really have any choice but to investigate further. Who am I to ignore a ringing endorsement like this from such an important name within extreme metal circles?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve have given this album a go if it hadn’t been for Swanö’s interjection, so I have yet another reason to be indebted musically to the legendary Swede.

‘Raise The Torch’ is the third album from the UK extreme metallers and the first to cross my path. And the first thing that strikes me is just how different this sounds. It is no exaggeration to describe the output of Ancient Ascendant as a blend of death metal, black metal, classic metal, hard rock, thrash metal and prog. There’s even a faint echo of a few other things in the melting pot too. The way I’m describing this, you must be thinking ‘oh, that sounds like it could be messy’.

And you’re right, the result could sound messy, disjointed and lacking cohesion. And yet it doesn’t. This is a rip-roaring album that works pretty much from start to finish, where the enjoyment levels are cranked up to the max, accentuated by a strong production courtesy of Ritual Sound and Swanö himself (Unisound).  I’ve become pretty hooked on this record if I’m honest.

The black and death metal genres, by their very nature are usually associated with the darker side of life but whilst these elements play a big part in the Ancient Ascendant sound, the music here frequently comes across as being quite upbeat and infectious. Yes, there are sections that are extreme and intense and in no way can ‘Raise The Torch’ be considered ‘happy’. However, the venom is tempered all the while by huge grooves, large slabs of melody, interesting song structures or simply an almost intangible vibrancy that permeates the album.

The juxtaposition of various, competing ideas in turn then creates something of a progressive vibe. Whether this was by accident or design, it matters not because to my mind, the end result is all that matters. Each of the nine compositions has a strong identity at its core but within that, Ancient Ascendant afford themselves the space to experiment. And this experimentation, although not overdone, makes the listening experience exciting and rather exhilarating. I’m struggling to think of another band currently on the scene who has anything significant in common with Ancient Ascendant, something that can only be positive.

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Credit: Haste Malaise Photography

On to the music itself in more detail and ‘Raising The Torch’ kicks things off with an atmospheric instrumental that is elegant and refined. It has a sinister edge that’s pure black metal intro fodder but it is also quite beautiful and cinematic in scope.

After one minute and 31 seconds, ‘Our Way’ enters the fray to kick things off properly. It starts with a frosty guitar line, very old school black/death in tone before exploding thanks to some frenetic drumming from Dave Moulding and faster-paced riffing from guitarists Alex Butler and Nariman Poushin. At this point, vocalist Alex Butler delivers a deep, guttural death growl which shakes the earth. The pace slackens slightly to be replaced by a groovy and melodic riff that has burrowed right under my skin. The fact that it is overlaid by a much higher-pitched, raspy and thoroughly caustic black metal scream, only enhances its overall impact. There’s a nice moment of respite where the bass of Alan Webb comes through nicely in the mix before the track gallops to a close via some expressive and exuberant lead guitar work. Dare I begin to call this ‘nasty, feel good music’?

‘Scaling The Gods’ comes out of the traps like a scolded rat, full of energy and intent. Again, whilst it has extreme metal tendencies, there’s a playful edge to much of it, particularly when the guitars go all classic hard rock on us in the mid-section, complete with hand-clapping if my ears aren’t deceiving me.

The doom metal references loom large within ‘Unearth’ as the pace is slowed slightly, fed by twisted, vaguely discordant riffs before being replaced by a truckload of groove interspersed with moments of black metal malevolence or extreme death metal brutality.

For me, ‘Foreign Skies’ is the absolute high point within this excellent record. It begins in very chilled fashion, delivering delicate atmospheric melodies with gorgeous clean guitars and some stunning bass work. The heaviness comes in out of nowhere like a slap in the face. The guitars chug with menace one minute and then inject black metal voracity the next whilst the vocals are venomous either in black or death mode. However, the music retains its melodic edge wonderfully, occasionally reverting to the quieter intro melody to create variety and keep the listener fully engaged. The groove-laden chug at the mid-point is marvellous as is the ensuing riff which is equally groovy but more expansive and brimming with cheekiness. This is the kind of music that’ll have you grinning like a loon, trust me.

‘Grasping The Torch’ is thoroughly infectious thanks to yet more solid and commanding riffing. Out of nowhere the heaviness departs to be replaced by an all-too-brief jazz-tinged progressive interlude that calls to mind the likes of Opeth. However, just as quickly, this is eclipsed by one of the most thunderous sections anywhere on the record as the song powers to a conclusion. Naturally, as is the Ancient Ascendant way, the conclusion is reached via a few ubiquitous twists and turns fuelled by a large helping of daring do in the process.

If ‘The Great Curve’ doesn’t get you banging your head from the outset then the conclusion must be that you’re deaf, whilst it is left to ‘To The Cold’ to see ‘Raise The Torch’ to its conclusion, which it does with the kind of panache and uniqueness that is a hallmark of this album. Frequent shifts in tempo and a demonstrable classic heavy metal vibe supplement the more extreme elements. And the outro delivers a wonderfully dramatic and epic-sounding conclusion, just as it should.

To conclude, ‘Raise The Torch’ is a fabulous record. The music is hugely engaging and memorable but what I like most about it is that these guys clearly enjoyed making this music, they are assured and accomplished in what they are doing and it shows. Nothing is off limits for Ancient Ascendant and ‘Raising The Torch’ is all the stronger for it. What a record!

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

In the absence of a new track to bring you, check out ‘Driven By The Dark’, from the EP ‘Into The Dark’:

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow – Album Review

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Artist: Shores Of Null

Album Title: Black Drapes For Tomorrow

Label: Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 14 April 2017

If you are someone who prefers the darker and more melancholy side of life, then Shores of Null might be right up your street. The Rome-based quintet were formed in 2013 and received much critical acclaim for their debut album, ‘Quiescence’, released in 2014, an album that sought to blend Gothic elements with doom and black metal.

And now, after some hard work in the promotional arena, the band have returned with their sophomore release, ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’. Stylistically, it broadly follows a similar path in that the eleven tracks offer a miserable listening experience where darkness pervades just about every facet of the blackened and Gothic-tinged doom metal. Take yourself off to a room with no windows with this record and you’ll all but forget the fact that spring is in full swing and instead be convinced that you’re mired in the depths of winter.

The output on ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ is well-crafted, slick and it is clear that much effort has been put into this record by the five musicians. As such, it is an album that will almost certainly see their stock rise further, pleasing existing fans and gaining a few more besides.

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Photo: Francesco Corti (francescocorti.net) Post-production: Diletta F. (Eba Art)

However, my opinion of it is, reluctantly, a little different. And you know how I hate to be negative in my reviews.

There are some very nice moments to be heard, such as the title track which delivers some gorgeous clean vocal melodies, wrapped up in an emotive composition blending controlled aggression with a palpable sense of sorrow. Other highlights include ‘Tide Against Us’ with its powerfully melodic intent and vocal delivery that sounds scarily like Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes in places. ‘House Of Cries’ has some commendable aspects too, most notably the frequent changes in tempo and intensity.

These aside though, I cannot shake the feeling that ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ lacks a certain killer instinct. The music is perfectly nice. It does create a bleak soundscape, aided by a perfectly decent production job courtesy of Marco Mastrobuono at Kick Recording Studio. But the minute I press stop or the moment the album ends, I struggle to remember anything about it.

For me, the melodies are not consistently strong enough for it to be a truly memorable affair. The aggression is not consistently intense enough to have the desired impact. And the blend of clean vocals and growls don’t help the situation. Normally I’m a big fan of the dual vocal approach but here, it feels like the band are unsure of exactly which direction they wish to travel. Do they want to be considered an extreme metal band or are they instead aiming at the realms of dark atmospheric metal? They could, of course, go for both and more besides but it’s that killer instinct issue again – ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ meanders its way to a conclusion without hammering home anything to really get my pulse racing or that truly captures my imagination and attention.

For me, whilst the music is not at all bad per se, that’s not enough on its own. I want it to be better than ‘not bad’. I want my interest to be piqued more often than it is. Whether that’s by creating sophisticated and poignant melodies or by bludgeoning me around the head with extremity, it doesn’t matter. But the sad fact is that there’s more than a whiff of ‘nondescript’ about proceedings, at least that’s my interpretation anyway.

My conclusion, rather sadly, is that I doubt I shall ever listen to ‘Black Drapes For Tomorrow’ in full ever again. I might dip in to listen to a couple of the stronger compositions but there aren’t enough of these to ensure I sit through the whole thing again. Sorry guys, maybe next time eh?

The Score Of Much Metal: 6.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 23 March 2017

As you can see from the title of this post, I’ve gone through a bit of a re-branding with these regular news reports. They will still focus on news about albums in the pipeline, so keep expecting updates on new releases, big album announcements, new tracks, studio reports etc.

However, I wanted something a bit more snappy as a title and also something that wasn’t so restrictive as there may be times when I need to write about something that doesn’t involve a new album.

If you’ve not checked out any of the previous posts in this series, entitled ‘Anticipated music in 2017 – an update…’, they can be found via the links at the bottom of this page.

Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Release date: 28 April 2017

16729381_10155037235405439_4788700761726639376_nI brought you news a week or two back about a new album from Lonely Robot, the brainchild of John Mitchell of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame. Well, I can now bring you a new track from the forthcoming sophomore release ‘The Big Dream’.

As you might expect, Mitchell’s recognisable guitar playing and vocals are all over this energetic and dynamic progressive rock track that features plenty of melodic hooks to get you coming back for repeated listens. From what can be gleaned from ‘Everglow’, there is unlikely to be a massive sea-change from the debut but that’s a good thing in my opinion. This sounds big, bold and continues with those grand cinematic overtones.

This is just the kind of song to get me extremely excited for the upcoming album.

Lost In Thought – TBC
Release date: TBC

This has got to be one of my most highly anticipated albums of 2017 right here, the sophomore release from the re-formed and rejuvenated UK progressive metal band, Lost In thought. Their debut, ‘Opus Arise’ was a cracking body of progressive metal and is a more than solid foundation upon which to build.

Over the past few weeks and months, the band have been releasing snippets of the recording process and everything I have heard from these suggests that the anticipation for a long-overdue follow-up has not been misplaced. It remains to be seen exactly how the all-new line-up will fare and how new vocalist Deane Lazenby fits in having recently replaced Nate Loosemore behind the mic but that’s all part of the excitement for me.

And whilst we wait for more, here is a selection of recent updates to get you salivating at the prospect of what threatens to be another quality progressive metal album during 2017.

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CyHra – TBC
Release date: TBC

Now this is some news that came out of nowhere and was broken to the world by my old mate and died-in-the-wool metalhead Carl Begai of BWBK. I have been a fan of Amaranthe since the very beginning and I’ve enjoyed each album they have released, even when the music has veered dangerously close to cheesy pop territory. Vocalist Jake E. is one of the reasons for my enjoyment as he has a great voice. So when he left the band, I was very disappointed.

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Similarly, I have also been a fan of In Flames for nearly 20 years. Admitedly, I much prefer their earlier output to the more latter-day incarnation, with guitarist Jesper Stromblad playing an integral part in that with his distinctive playing and input into the song writing.

Therefore, news of these two artists coming together in a brand new project get me very intrigued and a little bit excited. The new band, CyHra, which also features Peter Iwers (ex-In Flames) and Alex Landerburg (Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody), will have fans of old In Flames salivating for obvious reasons, although the band have distanced themselves from being an old In Flames clone right at the outset. Regardless though of what they actually sound like, the debut album will attract a great deal of attention and I’m very excited to hear the finished article.

Ghost Bath – Starmourner
Release date: 21 April 2017

1000x1000Ghost Bath were a new find for me last year. Until that point, I’d never checked out the American quintet. To be honest, I’d barely even heard their name before. But then the band suddenly found themselves on the books of Nuclear Blast and the whole world seemingly took more notice, including me.

In my review of ‘Moonlover’, I described Ghost Bath as appealing to those ‘with a penchant for music that juxtaposes dark and depressing black metal with elegant and soaring shoegaze-like melodies. Call it ‘blackgaze’ if you will’, later concluding that the album delivered ‘a sophisticated blend of aggression, beauty and raw emotion.’

And now, here we have a brand new track from the forthcoming studio album, ‘Ambrosial’ to tide us over until the record is released. Early impressions from me are mixed, but I’ll give it time and judge the material in the context of the entire album. Here’s the track – see what you think…

Novembers Doom – Hamartia
Release date: 14 April 2017

16194898_10154785044620926_4893612019868184461_nNovembers Doom are one of those bands that I think I should really like but end up passing by. I always try to like the American dark/doomsters and I have a couple of their albums in my collection. But I’ve never been much of a fan.

Album number ten is on the horizon and once again, I’m dutifully checking out their new material in the hope that it will finally click with me. And you know what? I really like this track entitled ‘Zephyr’; it is dark and depressive, but it has a really rich tone and an understated melodic chorus that gets under the skin quite quickly. If the new album offers this standard throughout, it might finally be the album that I’ve been waiting for from Novembers Doom.

Previous updates:

11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017