Priestess – Prior to the Fire – 4/5
I wasn’t actually going to bother listening to this release, their debut a disappointment with a few catchy hooks, a lot of filler and a severe lack of anything of real substance; the entire album felt designed to be so mind-numbingly simplistic that a monkey could immediately find the chugging beats and tap along to the catchy chorus lines. But with their follow up, watch my jaw hit the floor. Whilst they haven’t lost their abilities for hooks, that isn’t the only thing in their arsenal now; the guitars have gone from simple providers of hooks to supplying a never ending supply of riffs and time signatures, almost as readily comparable baroness as their past efforts.
The bass can be heard working away in the back, albeit doing little of note beyond supplying the bottom end, and the drums feel more creative than ever before, if perhaps not as prominent in the end result as I’d have liked. The vocals are as melodic as ever, not conventionally toned but altogether aggressive without ever losing any clarity. Varied in pitch throughout, he also manages to differentiate between levels of aggression, intentionally forcing the words during the more intense chorus lines which remain as memorable as ever before.
But as I hinted at earlier, for me this has all remained for the most part on par, seeing a touch of improvement from before, but the guitar work is what has astounded me. The chords feel more varied, and more often do the two guitar lines weave in and out of one another, relenting to allow the vocals to do what’s needed. Its all been increased in tempo, the slow thumping of the drums as the guitars weave back and forth before hitting that final crescendo, and the solo’s have improved beyond belief as well, providing classic rock solos that would do Blackmore (Deep Purple) proud.
The production isn’t terrible, but altogether feels a little too clean; this isn’t some sci-fi themed sterile piece strived for, and stoner should have plenty of dirt and grit in the works – a bit of ‘fuzziness’ to it all – but this comes off as just a little too neat. I had almost passed this band off as another ‘Guitar Hero Superstar,’ garnering fans through their rise in popularity through the game rather than through their abilities as musicians, but here they prove there’s more to them than I first thought. Touché Priestess.
Highlight: Ladykiller, The Firebird, The Gem, Trapped in Space and Time
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Sofa King Killer – Midnight Magic – 3.5/5
I’ve always considered that in order to be a ‘perfect’ sludge band, rather than be the most original (the genre has been consistent for a number of years, but not perhaps the most inventive) you must satisfy two conditions. You need to have a big loud bass, creating a thick tone that envelops you in a wall of sound, and you need to have a certain insatiable groove that keeps you hooked. With a strong southern rock twang about them, some of the grooves that are presented in this album go up there amongst the best; aggressive, yet simple and often mid-paced magic.
Sadly, whilst the grooves are insatiable, they are the main stand-out in this album. The bass is prominent but altogether clouded in the back, and whilst he does his duties in thickening the tone, at no point does he truly create a barrage of bass the music could have desperately used. The drumming is basic, and often seems to struggle to find creative means to perform, abusing the cymbals all too often, he is left in the back, and without a bite he feels all too harmless. The vocals have a hoarse yell to them, but as with the drums, feel too far back in the production to deliver their impact.
The result of all this is that the album becomes very guitar orientated, and whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the riffs are nicely varied throughout and never really falter – it results in the whole piece becoming a blur. Too easily does the album pass you by without you realising; there isn’t enough of a change in the tone to snap your attention back into focus. Instead you get a piece that is consistently good, with little standing out as being good or bad. They have stayed well within their comfort zone for this debut effort.
You can enter the album at any point and find a bass-laden southern groove to nod your head to in appreciation, with layers of mid-tempo guitar rhythms galore; it’s certainly a fine short-term fix, but ultimately lacking that long term appeal. The entire release is like a lion without its fangs, slowly strutting its stuff before kicking into action; the vocals will howl at you, and this kitten has some powerful claws, but it’s lacking that bite needed to finish it off. Altogether it’s a promising debut from an artist struggling to find their feet, and hopefully they’ll get the opportunity to prove they can distinguish themselves from the pack.
Brainstorm – Soul Temptation – 4/5
I’ve been pondering this album for the best part of a week now, deliberating what rating to give it, questioning its originality and style, etc, etc, and you know what I came up with? Absolutely nothing. No adequate way of explaining it, no comparisons to make, and since it desperately deserves mention I am now writing all of this is one go. No breaks, no stops, welcome to my 10 minute review of this unknown German Power metal classic!
No, its not the most original piece ever devised, and sounds like standard power metal all the way through, so why the high score? It’s quite simple really; balance. Everything is balanced perfectly; the vocalist is able to go into these Kiske (Helloween) like high pitched screams, but displaying excellent breadth of tone he doesn’t limit himself to a copycat gimmick; the drumming does his fair share of blasting away but never fails to break things up; and the guitars are mixed so the bass has plenty of presence, whilst the guitars can play riffs that seamlessly go from latter-era Blind Guardian-esque thick melody to ballsier ‘Accept’ style pin-your-balls-to-the-wall Heavy Metal crunch, to pick up the pace for a passage that wouldn’t feel out of place in most American Power Metal.
And if you think that all would sound confusing, you’d be wrong. Despite being a weird blend of every style under the sun, it always has a sense of melodic power to it, resulting in some truly anthemic sing-a-long chorus moments, emotional ballads and furious guitar solo duels that aren’t simply exercises in neo-classical wankery. With occasional interplay from backing vocals, you’d think they would end it all here, but instead go on to add an almost oriental-folk-like slant in the three part progressive epic “Trinity of Lust,” and even a cover of the pop song ‘Amarillo.’
What makes this album a cut above the others that aren’t perhaps the most original in their conception is that everything feels sliced together in such a way as to incorporate some of the best elements from across the entire genre without ever becoming incoherent. From the soaring highs to the emotional lows, the soft caressing melodies to the hard edged roars, not a toe is stepped out of bounds and the result makes for perfect music for the indecisive listener. Why choose what flavour of PM to listen to when you can have them all?
Highlights: Highs Without Lows, The Leading, Shiva’s Tears, To The Head
To-Mera – Earthbound – 3.5/5
I suppose it should be pertinent to open with pointing out I’m a fan of To-Mera, and have been for quite some time. Excited to receive my copy of the EP, eagerly I put it on and listened, and it was a disappointment. The musicians were still there but something felt missing, it wasn’t quite there, and now that it’s assimilated into the system better I realized their sound had changed, but I’m not yet sure as to whether its for better or worse. It’s still To-Mera; the elements that made them unique to begin with haven’t departed, but they’ve certainly changed.
My biggest gripe would be the lack of that hard-edged ‘thrashy’ element, like that opening riff for 'blood,' it all seems to have vanished, and in return we are treated to an altogether more melodic variation. This is largely down to the lead guitars which have sported a far more ‘twangy’ and jazzy tone, allowing the bass to carry the track whilst he plays around this main line, contributing his distinctly fusion style solos; a fact that whilst I miss one, still enjoy the other, and ultimately wish he had delivered upon more. The vocalist has also chosen to stretch beyond the normal tone to suit this alteration on their old style, which whilst not always panning out, more often than not proves exceptional, demonstrating her improving versatility, which is only a matter to be applauded.
Both the Keyboardist and the drummer maintain their high degree of expertise, but in this new ‘melodic’ setting, feel as though they aren’t given their share of the spotlight. The drums are often in the back playing simplistic beats when it could be doing so much more, and the basic chords offered by the keyboards whilst acceptable in some bands in creating a mood, are only really given a jazzy solo in ‘Earthbound’ to show off, displaying an almost complete absence of that occasional ‘classical’ inspiration. The bassist is perhaps the only member to have really outdone himself here, the latest addition to the line-up with a lot to prove, and by combining his thick toned riffs with an odd ‘simple technicality’ – technical riffs that somehow are made to be simplistic and catchy - he does so with flying colours.
Everything ultimately feels simpler than before, with a far more prominent jazz feel coming to forefront, just slightly overshadowing some of the other elements, and whilst this new evolution of their sound is not large enough to mistake them for another band, certain elements that worked well before simply feel missed. This EP managed to grow on me once I became accustomed to this change, and it’s certainly not necessarily a bad thing, provided they remember their origins. With baited breath I await what the next instalment will bring to the table.
Highlight: Arcane Solace
Loudness – The Everlasting – 3.5/5
I laughed when I found out Loudness had released a new album. I thought they’d packed it in years ago, but as it turns out they have yet to take an appreciable break and are here with their 22nd album! (and I’m not including EPs, Live Albums or Compilations in that). One of the founders of the initial wave of Heavy Metal in Japan, and still retaining all but the drummer from that original 1980 line-up (who unfortunately died just last year after a long battle with liver cancer), imagine my surprise when not only do I discover all this, but to top it off they still know how to make good old-fashioned Heavy Metal.
In fact, at times it feels as though they haven’t grown up at all; that somehow they’re still in this bubble still in the 80s, that simpler time before there was more than one genre to classify anyway, and all that mattered was that it was loud you played it and easy to bang your head to it. And that’s where the bass kicks in; carrying much of the rhythm, it may be horribly simplistic by many standards but it was never going for technicality anyway. With plenty of old school groove in its thick warming tone, it forms the unlikely heart of the band. Complemented by no shortage of solos that lie somewhere between Malmsteem’s neo-classical shredding abilities and Schenker’s desire for melody, the guitars are simple yet effective.
The vocals have a shrill rough and ready attitude that fits perfectly with the music, assuming you can get accustomed to his relatively thick Japanese accent, and whilst the drums manage to keep up neither feel as though on top form. This is a very guitar driven piece, and that only carries it so far. Given its simplistic nature, there simply aren’t enough hooks, and many of the tracks begin to bleed together by the end. It needs more cliché catchy chorus lines, more crazy drum fills, more electric guitar riffs working with the bassist, rather copying each other. Where this happens (such as in ‘Flame of Rock’) the result is more memorable than many of the others.
This is by no means their best work – that is still in their past – but how many decent bands still manage to make music the old way and do it well? Not only that, but they do manage to vary their style a little from track to track (any Loudness fan will tell you they never really settled into a ‘niche’ as other bands have, and always seem to be slowly evolving), with the almost gothic title track, ballad in ‘life goes on’ and the anthemic ‘Let it Rock,’ even though it isn’t as good as the best of the 80s, it’s still pretty damn good. Well count me gobsmacked.
Highlights: Flame of Rock, Let it Rock Desperate Religion
Biomechanical – Cannibalised – 4.5/5
An album I picked up before the blog was established, I was quickly impressed and so naturally sought other opinions on this. It was upon reading various reviews that I realised it was poorly received by many, and its only looking back on it now that I can’t help but be a little confused. Amongst the major criticism’s was that it ‘wasn’t emotional’ and that ‘it was too quick,’ both of which strike me as rather counter intuitive. If I wanted emotional music I wouldn’t be looking at thrash, and unless I’m very much mistaken, one of the main points of the genre – neglecting for the time being the technicality aspect – was to be quick, aggressive and energetic: something this album delivers by the bucket load.
In fact, this album only ever relents from its awe-inspiring mechanical rage to go into epic synth-filled theatrical performances, lulling you into a false sense of security, only to come crashing down on you moments later, flurrying past in a blur of notes and screams pummelling you into submission. And then it’ll ease up again just so it can do it all over again. Producing something truly original in this genre is something which – for all intents and purposes – seems to have died a couple of decades ago, and so the fact that I fail to find an adequate comparison stands as a testament to its replay value.
The talents of the musicians rests more on their proficiency at their instruments than their compositional ability, which for the most part is fairly standard thrash, mixed up in such a manner so as to feel like all the riffs from an exodus album have been cut into a 5 minute track, and then sped up a bit for good measure. Naturally this leads to a disjointed feeling to many of the tracks, and it is this coherency issue that constitutes the major drawback. Notable mention to the prominently heard bassist Adrian Lambert who provides most of the blistering rhythms presented feels in order, an ex-Dragonforce member who has shed his cheese-like skin to prove he can not only play quicker than his former band but sound good doing it.
No, this isn’t the most emotional piece of music conceived. In the wake of death metal it isn’t the most aggressive, technical or unique piece either. It breaks no boundaries (though arguably pushes a few) and the variety of styles within it is constrained to the one genre, but this doesn’t matter. The bass work comes out to kick your teeth in and doesn’t stop to ask for directions as the vocals mechanically howl into the night sky as loud as they can to be heard over the sound of the guitars systematically melting your face off. This is some high tempo technical thrash with some theatrical epic synth work thrown in that simply overflows with energy, and that's fine by me.
Highlights: Fallen in Fear, Cannibalised, Consumed
Angel of Disease – Hypercube – 3.5/5
And so with this review I intend to do things a little differently. My style has been stagnating – a matter I have tried to correct in the past – and ultimately they end up formulaic. So in this review you won’t see so much dissection of instruments, nor any ‘technical’ jargon. If the album is dressed up with unnecessary instrumentation like a cheap whore on payday, I’ll tell you precisely that. So now, onto the actual music; that little bit of land between Russia and Turkey – otherwise known as Georgia – is hardly the sort of place you’d think of for progressive death metal. In fact, its not the place you’d think of for anything, and yet this band fulfil both criteria, making them something of a novelty. But here’s the kicker its not actually bad.
Now don’t get me wrong, its not going to be remembered as some classic underground release, nor is it likely to top your ‘favourites’ list, but what it does deliver is some solid music with none of that ‘look how fast I can play’ wankery that all too often comes along for the ride. The speed varies enough to keep my ears perked and those bone crunching addictive riffs get hammered out hard enough and to keep me coming back for more. With plenty of bass and a drummer that knows how to actually drum without just resorting to blast beats every fucking second of every song, you’d think everything would be awesome right? Not quite.
There are some moments that simply make you sit back and wonder just what were they thinking? The times where the guitars do nothing but play the most basic of chords, the drumming is barely heard and the vocals just seem hold the same note for as long as he can; or even worse – he actually sings cleanly. Ugh, I’m all for variety but this just feels completely out of place more often than not, and it’s not mind blowing even at its best. There’s also the issue of the production; it is particularly of note on the drumming that they’ve been robbed of their vivacity, and are lacking any form bite. They’re there, and they’re interesting to listen to but there’s nothing more to them. I like eating tuna sandwiches but I have no compulsion to yell ‘fuck yeah’ throw the horns and start banging my head about it. Same issue here.
So what we’re left with is a strong release full of variation between the quiet, the death/doom and the old school thrashier variety of handling things, executed with some success. Sometimes it feels mediocre and bland, and sometimes the melodies will manage to take hold and force your attention, resulting in something of a hit-or-miss affair. Despite this, ultimately the good outweighs the bad, and whilst there are still kinks to be worked out compositionally, they are capable musicians and the result is an enjoyable listen.
Without Face – Astronomicon – 4/5
Perhaps it was due to worry about that daunting ‘gothic’ in their genre description, or perhaps the fear of discovering something to tarnish Julie Kiss’ (To-Mera) reputation that led to this album being left untouched for years since I first discovered that they existed. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad I finally got around to giving this album a whirl as the result is not what I expected; the description of ‘Progressive Gothic Metal’ fitting, but rather than a mesh of the two styles you can readily extract what elements have been taken. Combining the foreboding atmospheric mood, deep doom-like bass tones and alternating ‘beauty and the beast’ vocals from gothic metal with all the technical proficiency, melody and epic compositional song structures – complete with time signatures – from progressive, they have formed a ‘best of both’ styles.
In a true break from most gothic metal bands, each musician is not only proficient at their instrument but show no fears in demonstrating that; the drumming constantly flurrying about adding a constant variation to the beats, allowing for the complex song structure to seamlessly flow throughout the tracks length. The bass makes a notable appearance, performing the main rhythm allowing for the rest of the instrumentation to weave around his base melodies. In particular it is the guitar work that succeeds in doing this, adding ‘fills’ more than a continuous riff, his varied playing never feels complex for the sake of it, adding an assortment of short solos that whilst unspectacular in themselves, serves to accent the atmosphere created.
In fact, it is the solos emerging from the keyboards that are the most impressive; complex and yet with a dissonant melody to them, mixed up with piano work on the slower passages, they are his moment to shine and they come fairly frequently. The finale in this line up proves no slack either, if providing more variety than any spell binding performance from either musician. Julie Kiss sounds somewhat unenthused and apathetic about the material, performing aptly but without emotional conviction, sharing the lead with the male vocalist. With a venomous bark, rather more rabid in tone than blackened, in addition to a cleaner voice that lacks any of the operatic qualities of his counterpart, alone they may well feel weak but combined it is the variety of tones as they interweave within each others melodies.
Compositionally it feels varied enough to sustain its relatively short length (~44mins) and capable of remaining interesting even after multiple listens, if perhaps lacking a certain memorability of other artists, a ‘catchy’ aspect that isn’t quite there. Listening through this album, you can clearly see the similarities between them and To-Mera whom Kiss would go on to form – not to suggest they are clones of one another – but despite the similarities, the atmosphere is ultimately different, darker in tone, almost as though a Tacere/To-Mera collaboration effort. Nonetheless, To-Mera fans should not wait as long as I did to take dive into this proof of the virtues of the genre.
Highlights: In the Garden, Talamasca
Canteloube – Chants D’Auvergne (Veronique Gens) – 3.5/5
Taking folk songs native to the Auvergne region of France, Canteloube reworked them for operatic symphonies, and in doing so created this altogether unique style; with many of the orchestral multi-layered complexities, fluttering flutes, violins, and trumpets, soprano vocals (delivered superbly by Veronique Gens, singing in the native Auvergnian tongue), as well as more traditional folk instrumentation such as the subtle backing of bagpipes in ‘Malurous…,’ and has managed to create something upbeat and vibrant, boisterous in its delivery, yet somehow capable of slowing things down enough as if to drift by like a gentle wind. Interestingly, Cantaloube is a composer who wrote these melodies and then seemingly disappeared, only serving to increase how unique the tone is here.
The folk passages never feel overwhelmed by instrumentation; the many layers utilized in a subtle manner to accent the main melody rather than detract from it. The atmosphere succeeds in very naturally providing a beautiful delicate tone that altogether feels ‘alive,’ not just with its almost nature-like reminiscent warm tones, but everything simply succeeds in fleeting with definite life and energy, whether boisterous, folk-dance in tone or barren and depressive the orchestra succeeds in performing the marvelous compositions that accent the original folk tone marvelously.
But I would be foolish to believe that this piece would be half as successful without the sublime work from the soprano prowess of Veronique Gens. More attuned to Baroque style than the latter romantic-era of operatic music, and actually from the Auvergne region in France which this piece is based, she lends an impressively powerful performance. During the slower, more delicate passages the intensity of her voice feels so carefully confined; the manner in which she transitions between pitches feels perfectly natural, capable of both rapid transitions and slower, drawn out notes. Even the use of vibrato feels as though it has been carefully orchestrated in such a manner to produce a vocal marvel that remains distinctly classical, but with the embodiment of the folk spirit.
Sadly this is not the complete piece (indeed the complete work in its entirety is very long), but has not fallen into the trap that has plagued other releases whereby tracks have been cut short so as to fit more on. This despicable practice is gladly nowhere to be seen here, and is instead followed on by his ‘Chants D’Auvergne Vol. 2,’ with Ms. Gens once more reprising her role for the position. Despite this, it showcases an impressive collection from a forgotten operatic classic work, delivered in style that many a classical music fan may find interest in.
Highlights: Bailero (The Good Shephard [Approximately]), Le Delaissado (Deserted), Malurous Qu’o Uno Fenno (Unfortunate is He Who Has a Wife)
Sanctifier – Awaked by Impurity Rites – 3.5/5
The Mexicans have slowly garnered a reputation for a small but consistent Death Metal scene, and Sanctifier do nothing to prove otherwise; adding old school sensibilities to modern production values proves to present us with some excellent music that – whilst not breaking any boundaries – remains consistent. With lore deep in Lovecraftian mythos that presents itself in the lyrics, this topic feels ripe for such a genre to exploit and it is perhaps unfortunate that there is little within the music itself to emphasise this influence.
The drums powerful and capable of keeping time despite the many changes in tempo, and whilst perform little in the way of fills, don’t simply resort to blast beats at all times, and are capable of some variation; sometimes lost too far in the back, they fail to contribute as much as they could to the proceedings. The vocals stray almost entirely within his lower register, with a hoarse growl that feels as though it has more bite than other artists; whilst capable he feels all too monotonous, throwing in a few high pitched growls here and there but for the most part doing little to add variety to the proceedings.
It is the guitars draw most of the attention, the combination of deep chord-based chugging riffs maintaining a steady rhythm that whilst not complex in itself, varies in pace and style frequently enough to avoid feeling stagnant, whilst sadly, the bass remains relegated to the back. In addition, the lead has no qualms about producing a high speed solo, often contrasting with the deep backing with an array of high-pitched tones, providing the main highlight of the outfit.
The production is warm, and whilst is still feels aggressive it is without that raw, guttural edge of older albums, resulting in a piece that feels melodic without the negative connotations of ‘watering down’ their sound. Sadly the stumbling block is lastability; despite being only 30 mins long, already in this short space of time many of the tracks begin to feel similar, and there isn’t enough variety in the manner the tracks unfold. The same style of high tempo chords alternate with slower tempo sections, the solo’s are always ‘shredded’ at high pace, the vocals don’t change enough and so on. Despite these issues, it isn’t actually a bad album. They have simply revived an older style that worked, and whilst it shouldn’t be remembered in place of the original article, would make a worthy addition to any death metal fan’s collection.
Fjoergyn – Jahreszeiten – 5/5
Going in already a fan, I had always noted that they always had an odd sense of something different about their folk/Viking combination; a willing to somehow dabble with neo-folk and more bombastic moonsorrow-like epic bombastic passages. It is my delight to discover that here they really play on that, going beyond their past efforts to produce an avant-garde and progressive piece that will relentlessly transform for disquieted folk/doom, to epic bombastic aggression, to neo-folk violin-heavy passages to a blackened fury, but throughout all these rapid changes, amidst the crushingly heavy guitars and delicate acoustic passages, comes the unbelievably addictive melodies.
The vocals vary beautifully from that ‘clean-growl’ utilised before, here feeling icy and rawer than ever before, still singing entirely in German. He dominates the top layer of this album, constantly changing between clean whispers, yells, and growls with an almost limitless versatility lending itself to the manner in which the tracks progress throughout their length. The guitar work also manages to live up to their past efforts, the bass making a notable contribution, heard providing the backing for the other guitars. Whilst the rhythm spends most of its time providing an aggressive crunch in the form of chords, it is the lead that excels here; so much more than simple riffs, the frequently clean, almost sprucy or jazzy tone meandering melodically throughout the course of the album, providing any number of interstitial layers and additional draw.
The drums are raw and with plenty of bite, aggressively attacking, fighting to be heard over the cacophony of the instrumentation, readily easing into the back to keep the beat for calmer passages, assisting in the steady build-up into the crescendo. It is, however, the keyboards that feel notably different; no longer even feeling like keyboards but instead mimicking a whole host of folk-like instruments, from violins, flutes, xylophones and piano, truly providing an endless variety to the proceedings, varying multiple times within each track to not overload it, but create a constant source of intrigue. There honestly isn’t a single misstep made here; each instrument has their role to play and they perform superbly, the composition is complex and progressive whilst never feeling obscure and as each track opens you are struck by a feeling of awe of the overwhelming epic melody of the track at hand, constantly feeling as though they are bettering what came immediately before it.
Compositionally, they show more willing to stretch to the boundaries of the genre, providing a far greater number of ambient passages interspersed with aggressive crunching chords and icy tremolo riffs. Everything about this albums conception feels so epic in scale, so grand in the manner the trumpets sound off and the drums collide, the rawer production allowing you to clearly hear every pulsating guitar note, every subtle piano line and every flute backing; you could take the best track from all their past works, and be lucky to have it stand up to anything presented here – and their past albums were both excellent releases in their own right. Now if that’s not progress then I’m struggling to think what is. This is a very possible contestant for my favourite release this year.
Highlights: Sturmzeit, Am Ende Der Welt, Ich bin der Frost
Siren On – Piano Sparkling – 4/5
Some amongst you may recognise the name Jonna Enckell – the mastermind behind this release – from ‘The Project Hate MXCXCIX,’ and whilst that may attest to her vocal prowess, it should be noted that this release is as far from that style as you could imagine. Far more readily likened to ‘Ambeon,’ or ‘Kono Michi’ in its gentle neo-classical meandering, utilising to great effect a variety of instruments, never forgetting the emotional weight each track is intended to deliver through the phenomenal vocals.
Vocally, she succeeds in delivering one of the greatest performances I’ve hear from her. Rich, delicate and powerful; the emotion she manages to carry in her voice is of the kind that cannot be taught, requiring something deeply felt in order to successfully convey it. Varying from the more operatic, broadly toned and immensely powerful multi-layered vocals, to the far thinner, delicate and fragile whispers floating as if carried by the wind, even taking the opportunity to work without backing on ‘Silver Tree;’ this endeavour could have easily fallen short but instead delivers one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Backed by a score of piano lines, violins, synths and the occasional guitar work (notably on ‘electric heart’), they are carefully orchestrated so as to accent the vocals and carry the rhythm, creating a rich and diverse playground for her delicate tone of voice. Harmonious violins with extended chords maintain a constant background presence, supplying much of the subtle atmosphere whilst the piano forms the main body of the rhythm; a ceaseless supply of gentle passages that never fail to feel heartfelt, simple enough to rapidly become ingrained in your mind yet with enough variation to never tire.
When I learnt she had this solo project I was naturally intrigued, eagerly anticipating the work from a vocalist whose past work had long since earned my respect. This release, however, was completely different from what I was expecting; shedding any definitive musical link between her main project, and in doing so, produced a work that should be sought after in its own right. Whilst this may not be the most original conception, it stands as proof that she is more than just a capable vocalist, but also a composer with many talents and it is this release that – for me – elevates her status to one of the better female vocalists still performing.
Highlights: Evangeline, Making of a Love Poem, The Silver Tree
Whyzdom – From the Brink of Infinity – 3.5/5
After much anticipation I finally get my hands on what looked to shape up to be a very interesting release. The female fronted symphonic/power genre seems to have become unbelievably stereotyped, with Nightwish clone bands coming out of the woodwork – very few of them any good – but boasting a small orchestra, guitarists that seem to be able to play a decent enough riff and compositions that feel so much more than just a pop song dressed up a bit for a ‘metal’ crowd, this debut effort seemed set to take a fresh look on a stagnant genre. Sadly, in this theatrical performance not everything works.
The vocals bear the brunt of my criticism, easily comparable to Sharon Den Adel of Within Temptation fame, they are far from the faux-operatic in the genre – even offering the occasional unenthused growl for variety – but there’s ultimately no power behind them. For the bombastic theatrical tone behind her she needs a far thicker, fuller voice to dominate over the lavish backing, but it almost always comes across too fragile, crushed by the weight of the distorted guitars behind her. The drumming too often feels painfully simplistic, capable of delivering some fills here and there, but fairly often is relegated to the back contributing little.
The guitarist demonstrates he can write a decent enough riff and solo, sparsely placed throughout the course of the album, but all too often he appears to be content to fall back onto basic power chords, and beyond the chorus lines, I can’t quite understand why this is so often the case. After all this you may be wondering how I justify the score, and quite frankly its all down to the manner in which the orchestra is integrated; using all manner of flutes, violins and choral work to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the sound, piecing everything together to form a sense of track continuity, adding layers of intermittent rhythms floating in and out of the basic rhythm, working well with the keyboards to provide an interesting diversity to the proceedings.
The end result feels as though fresh eyes have been laid upon the genre, returning to the genre roots where a deep heavy metal distorted crunch is placed on the guitars, retaining that catchy simplistic element to many of the tracks whilst simultaneously going a step further than most modern artists in the genre, and actually integrating orchestral elements, and not in a haphazard manner either. They actually feel directed; they have their own pivotal role to play in lending the classical tone to the music. This may not be the most original album devised, but for all its flaws and shortcomings it not only feels fresh – something which is remarkably rare – but feels like actual metal, and not something else ‘pretending.’ Somehow I don’t think this is the last I’ll be hearing from this one.
Highlights: Everlasting Child, Atlantis, The Seeds of Chaos, Daughter of the Night
Barber/Schuman Split – 4/5
At this point I am writing my 207th post and we are hitting the 367th post (probably closer to the 400th review if we include those with multiple reviews within them), and we have yet to provide a single review of a classical piece. We’ve had rap, pop, jazz, blues and country, but nothing of those a bit further back in time, and it is this that I am set to amend. Consisting of four pieces; two by Samuel Barber (likely best known for his ‘Adagio for Strings’) and two by Robert Schuman, these are two of Leonard Bernstein’s (New York Philharmonic) most celebrated classical offerings in his conduction.
Samuel Barber – Adagio for Strings/Violin Concerto – 4.5/5
Once dubbed by critics as ‘the powerfully moving song ever written,’ from its opening harmony it isn’t difficult to see why, but whilst it strikes a powerful initial emotional impact, its diversity is comparatively narrow, eventually tiring, resulting in feeling like a mere warm-up for violin concerto to follow. A torrent of pace, shrill excited violins above deep and bombastic bass lines, yielding to a more serene and atmospheric quiet, all the time in turmoil struggling back and forth between the two styles, joyous and proud in its delivery. It is however, the shorter finalé to this concerto that, whilst a little out of place amongst the first two movements, shows Barber responding to comments that his style was too simplistic. At first considered impossible to play, it took nearly a year for him to prove people wrong; this is a violin piece that puts Paganinni (renowned for his violin virtuosity) to shame.
But the end result isn’t quite there, it doesn’t quite work as well is it perhaps could. Whether through a misinterpretation of the music from Bernstein, whether the orchestra failed to perform as aptly as they should or even that the music itself is lacking a special quality, the piece comes off a little dissonant at times. It’s an elegant tapestry that occasionally becomes detached, as though the purpose of the section was not uniform knowledge amongst all members of the orchestra. Despite this somewhat pedantic criticism, this is still amongst my favourite pieces of classical music.
Schuman – To Thee Olde Cause/In Praise of Shahn – 3.5/5
This piece begins deceptively, with ‘To Thee Old Cause’ opening slowly and solemnly, almost disturbing with its ‘horror’ like feel as you await for the big finish; that cacophony of what you’ve spent so long dreading, but whilst it does eventually comes, disappears all too soon. Some could call this a reflection of how we can overcome our fears, but personally I call it a bit of a disappointment. It is ‘In Praise of Shahn’ that scores the most points from me, being rather different from a lot of other classical music I’ve listened to, almost reminiscent of the classic Star Trek fight music, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
With a tribal drumming interspersed with the slower sections, this feels rather like an experimental piece well ahead of its time. Almost jazz-like interweaving rhythm lines, swirling in and out of one another as it slowly builds up in tension before releasing, each time reaching a higher peak than the last. Whilst it takes a fair while for the build-ups to occur, it is particularly in the second movement that we are presented with a bold, brash defiance of convention that proves far more enjoyable than when the composer tries to do melancholy.
Crydebris – The Severing [EP] – 4/5
It’s perhaps a little disappointing that by the time this artist had been brought to my attention that they had already disbanded, though decided to finish writing this EP for a limited production of just 300 copies. Whilst many of them have gone to form a new band, ‘Rinoa,’ the sludgier sound that they’ve now adopted is a far cry from what I can only describe as Botch with an atmospheric – almost post-rock – twist. Layered with complex melodies, each member demonstrating a proficiency at their instrument as they write wholly individual interweaving melodies, that rather unlike most artists where they all follow the same general pattern, often feel completely distinct to enhance the chaotic tone, and further the impact when they do all come together.
The bass spends most of its time making a limited but notable presence in the background, used more as a pacing element to distinguish between the tempo in question as trying to pay attention to the drums for this aspect is not the easiest of tasks. Whilst they maintain the timing (as far as I can notice), very rarely will they actually repeat themselves; quite often their prominence in the mix feels like one long solo, working in harmony with the guitars. Prominent in the final production, they feel like an active partner in the melody, and whilst they often feel complex as you struggle to follow the multiple rhythms, they never go into overt speed for the sake of it, continually contributing subtle changes as the track progresses.
The same can be said for the guitars; the complexity arising through their distinctive melodies that emerge, contrasting with the drums to produce multiple rhythms in which to follow, thus creating the dissonant and chaotic tone. They may stray from the core melody but never get caught up in the technicality of their own playing, quickly returning to the main rhythm. The vocals are perhaps the only weak link; the aggressive screams feeling a little thin and monotonous, strained at times; and the cleaner, for all their notable imperfections only occasionally become grating, often lending a raw, human feel that shows more emotional than a flawless performance ever could.
Despite the chaotic tone, it never feels as though its complex for the sheer sake of it; none of the instrumentation on their own feel constructed so as to show off, and instead we’ll often find the pace become distinctly slower as all the elements slowly ‘merge’ together to transform from the anarchic tone to a more sombrely atmospheric singularity. Those who like their music technical without the pretentiousness may find 25 minutes of experimental mathcore that can stand up to multiple listens.
Kadenzza – Into the Oriental Phantasma – 4.5/5
Metal Archives may describe this solo artist’s work as Symphonic Black, but it simply doesn’t fit. Yes, there’s the dark aggressive tone, and certainly the symphonic aspect, but what’s been done with it is as far from the rest of the genre as you could imagine. It’s altogether too beautiful, too epically majestic in the way it meanders from its ambient-like passages to more frightening, cold mechanical aggressive peaks. The neo-classical solo’s and industrial overtones, the doom-like traipsing and the gloomy gothic organs, simply calling them ‘Symphonic Black’ feels like its doing it a disservice. If most Black Metal was to take the view of the victim being tormented, this music takes it from the aspect of the tormentor; carrying out your daily tasks with sick and twisted delight in the hellishly grandiloquent wasteland you proudly call home.
The drumming is all done by machine, but programmed rather effectively. The abuse of ‘super-blast-beats’ at impossible speeds never occurs here, and everything feels as though it is at a plausible pace, even if at times relatively complex. The mechanical tone which is often an unfortunate consequence in most artists music actually works to his advantage here, lending a cold, unnatural, industrial feel as it continues on, creating a distinct notion of something being amiss, contrasting subtly with the warmth of the soaring ambient passages. The vocals emerge where required to lend something thick and howling, distinctly demonic with a sufficiently varied pitch so as to remain twisted without being overused.
The guitar work is unquestionably neo-classical in its style, easily comparable to those who utilise its upbeat tempo in power metal, and his abilities in this regard are incredible. Not necessarily in his speed, or even the melodies he creates – often utilising relatively simplistic, upbeat patterns to great effect – but rather in how he manages to compose them in such a way as to feel aggressive and juxtaposed to the slow melancholy of the synth work and darker passages without ever feeling jarring or out of place. The synths too deserve mention as a force to assist the neo-classical feel of the proceedings in a completely different manner, lending a superb variety in number of styles, from gentle piano interludes, synthetic atmospheric chords and gothic organs.
Everything progresses onwards, there is no ‘looking back’ to repeated chorus lines, but rather a repetition of the style or feel of a past passage. Each aspect is somehow linked to the others, the ambient linked to the guitars by the neo-classical tone; the guitars linked to the blackened interludes by pace and aggression; and the blackened interludes linked to the ambient passages by atmosphere, and through this a ‘middle ground’ emerges that is not only of an entirely unique tone, but is progressively explored for this albums entire duration. This genuinely is a superb release from an artist who seems to despise convention, and whilst he’s torn it to shreds, what he’s replaced it with feels so naturally fitting that it fails to feel bizarre.
Skyclad - 'A Semblance of Normality' - 4/5
[Link purposefully not included - Author Request]
Of course when people think of Skyclad the first thing on their mind is probably ‘that folk metal band with Martin Walkynier’ however this album is not one of Walkynier’s. In fact this album was with Kevin Ridley on vocal duties and the influence from him is very clear. Sadly, this album has been greatly overlooked since the decline of popularity of Skyclad and the departure of Walkynier.
The first thing that becomes clear from the start of the album is how experimental and wild it’s actually going to be. Though the pipe solo at the start is fairly generic it soon explodes into the first song and surprises the listener for the rest of the album. This album has clearly been influenced more heavily by the folk side of folk metal and rather than seeming like metal with folk above it, it appears to be folk songs played in a metal style which is highly unusual in folk metal. The rhythms are often awkward and stiff which, although it can block the flow of the song, provides an interesting base for the tune played above.
What strikes me most positively about the album is not any particular use of instrument or song writing skill but instead how well the band appears to understand each other. The ideas that Skyclad have tried to put through are well executed and direct with no confusion between band members. There is a heavy use of polyphony in almost every song which creates an interesting aura. This is particularly prevalent in the song ‘A survival Campaign’ in which the violin and the vocals intertwine. This is just a simple example of how fine tuned the musicians are, to go through all of them would take a long time. This of course will have come from experience within the band but the newcomer fits in incredible well and it feels like he has always been in the band.
Individually the instruments are not phenomenal. The vocals are clearly very interesting. There are times where you will love the vocals (particularly during strong harmonising) but there will be times where you will hate them to the extent that they are unbearable. The folk influence from Kevin Ridley is unmistakable. Whilst Walkynier contained the heavy metal/thrash metal vocals, Ridley uses folkish vocals which add a light touch on top of what is actually a very heavy album. The guitars are very heavy and, although the riffs are fairly boring, they are played very well with some excellent electric guitar solos throughout the album. The rhythm guitars add a distinct folk touch to the album. They are played in a very typical folk way instead of the generic acoustic guitar, plucked interludes that are so common in folk metal. The keyboards and violins are really well done. Instead of the fairly sloppy, relaxed way that they are normally played they are played majestically with thorough thought of harmonisation and melody. They are often contrapuntal to the vocals which adds an exciting layer above. Neither the bass guitar or the drums really do much although they are played essentially flawlessly with clear focus on the rhythmic structure at the time and the tempo changes in songs like ‘another drinking song’ are well handled.
The lyrics are actually very well done. They actually put a lot of Martin Walkynier’s Skyclad lyrics to shame with their message and clearness. They are written so that they fit perfectly into the instruments and are almost poetic like a folk song.
Overall, this is a very well done album. The songs can become very repetitive and some parts are very difficult to get through but it provides a unique listen that cannot be found in any other band and the musicianship is very professional yet free in the song writing sense.
Anata – The Conductor’s Departure – 4/5
Judging by the distinct lack of Tech Death that I review for this blog, I think if I pointed out that it wasn’t my genre of choice it would be something of an understatement. So take that as you will – whether this is a gem is a sea of mediocrity, or the-odd-one-out in terms of how the genre should be played – but irrespective of personal feelings, this is one album that has genuinely impressed me. Defying the convention of trying to ‘better’ past works in the genre by ‘out-brutalling’ the other, playing faster, tuning deeper and grunting more emphatically, they have taken ‘technical’ to the more literal meaning it once held. Interspersed with chaotic harmonies and subtle polyrhythms (where different instruments have different beat patterns), a delightful contrast emerges between the gentle atmospheric passages and the more dissonant and aggressive, not only resulting in a piece that truly feels fitting to be called technical, but not without a distinct melody presenting itself.
With the rapidly shifting pace the fact that the drums manage to keep up feels impressive in itself, but they go far beyond simply playing a beat. With a variety of tempos they complement the phenomenal guitar work, helping to break up the track and provide a difference in the aggressive feel of the passage. Sharply produced they are robbed of some of their raw aggression but this can take nothing away from their creativity. The vocals present the main weak point, failing to deliver on anywhere near the variation of the rest of the album and resulting in a monotonous affair that all too readily loses all focus. Whilst he often sounds genuinely enraged, and not simply providing unemotional growling, this could be an instrumental album and I wouldn’t notice much of an impact on the end result.
Once again the show is stolen by the impressive guitars – the bass sadly relegated to the back, whilst his presence may be felt more in a live setting here he contributes little – the weaving dual leads providing an unrelenting array of riffs; carefully balancing use of tremolo with alternate styles and paces, a variety of scales seem to be used to lend a indescribable originality, and often utilising time signatures to perform slight variations on the main structure, they create a fluidly evolving passage, maintaining a memorable melody that never feels overplayed. Even including a ‘breakdown’ of sorts in most tracks, here it succeeds in allowing a slower passage to present itself, worked within the composition in such a manner so as to not feel out of place, contrasting the more upbeat normality of the track in question to emphasise the difference, altogether resulting in a more chaotically dissonant sound.
The tempo will constantly shift, the beat pattern will never stay the same for long and each dissonant melody is produced in such a glorious way as to allow that to come through without robbing it of its aggression. Whilst not everything works, some riffs coming across entirely unmemorable forcing you to wait for the next section, this for me is what Tech Death should all be about; not simply showing off how fast you can play but creating a truly chaotic beauty that can be listened to over and over without becoming tiring.
Melechesh – Emissaries – 4/5
An artist that in reality deserved to be given attention far quicker than it was; performing what can only be described as a unique take on the extreme side of the metal spectrum, neither suited to be called ‘black’ or ‘death’ but rather an interesting collage of influences that go together to ultimately form another category entirely. With blackened growls, the occasional chanted vocals and crunchy and bombastic yet often tremolo picked guitar lines, what sets them apart is their strong middle-eastern influences, running right down to the core of the composition that denies any apt comparisons to be drawn.
The vocals at times feel a little thin, and whilst fitting to the track often lack a certain power; there is a potential for a wild ‘flailing’ energy, frantically vying for control over the torrent of guitars but whether due to being too far in the mix, or too warm a production, the result feels all too content and comfortable in the manner they are performed. The drumming too suffers from perhaps being too far back in the end result, clearly capable of a variety of styles, at times emerging in a primal manner, his reluctance to revert to more standard styles of beat patterns continues to shape the unconventional tone they have created.
It is the guitar work that draws the most attention in this line up, lending a unique tone though the use of the uncommonly utilised phrygian scale, playing to the style of riffs that this allows to be created like few artists seem to be capable of achieving. Neither straying entirely into use of tremolo riffs nor those that are more bombastic in a deathly manner, constantly providing an addictive melody that defies both titles; this is the main element that provides their draw, allowing them to convey their unique folk influences in a manner that feels integral to the piece without alienating themselves from the extreme metal spectrum.
Usually I must confess to being a fan of the more overt style of folk, filled with violins, accordions and all manner of bouncy folk-like melodies, but they have succeeded in conveying their influences without resorting to gratuitous layers of unusual instrumentation. Instead, it forms the structural basis for the composition of each track, constantly present, rather than as a gimmick to be attached at the end. The warm production at times feels as though it is robbing it of its dissonant aggression, detracting from the contrast between the pacing of certain passages, and whilst there was a distinct lack of variation throughout the album, is worth looking at simply for its unique hybrid of styles that fits together seamlessly to result in an album not quite like any other.
Highlights: Rebirth of the Nemesis, Deluge of Delusional Dreams, The Scribes of Kur
RAVEN - All For One('83)
01 - Take Control
02 - Mind Over Metal
03 - Sledgehammer Rock
04 - All For One
05 - Run Silent Run Deep
06 - Hung, Drawn & Quartered
07 - Break The Chain
08 - Take It Away
09 - Seek And Destroy
10 - Athletic Rock
11 - Born To Be Wild(STEPPENWOLF cover)
12 - The Ballad Of Marshall Stack
13 - Inquisitor(with UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER)
NWOBHM vanguard nutters RAVEN were one of the shining lights of that movement, charging forth with an early barrage of high octane speed madness. While never able to sustain their initial momentum, they left an undeniable mark on the metal landscape, especially with the Double Trouble produced sledge "All For One".
A raw pulsating crank of uber-wattage, RAVEN ride a histrionic fire trail of built to destroy riffs unto metal glory. Punk inflected, multiple velocities, berating, and forceful, "All For One" is a must have cornerstone for any true metal head's core collection.
TANK-ified, MOTORHEAD-ed, and totally a force unto themselves, RAVEN hit pay dirt with this monolithic Pantheon of metal aggression. There are some bands that you just know have metal on the brain. This is one of them.
Appetite for Metal done right? Feast heartily. RATING: 5/5
QUEENSRYCHE - Rage For Order
01 - Walk in the Shadows
02 - I Dream in Infrared
03 - The Whisper
04 - Gonna Get Close to You
05 - The Killing Words
06 - Surgical Strike
07 - Neue Regel
08 - Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)
09 - London
10 - Screaming in Digital
11 - I Will Remember
After the huge promise of their self titled, the 'Ryche came back with a wet noodle full length. I mean, face it, "The Warning' is a major disappointment after the glory and power of the e.p.. But the band was well before their "Floydian" sell out, and the "delusions of grandeur" bloated epics with "Operation: Mindcrime" and the pop-tastic "Empire". They had an ace up their proverbial sleeves.
"Rage For Order" is a cyborg-ian nightmare, rife with riff, and determined to assault the most base of human instinct. Song after song of pounding, clinical displays of aseptic prog, the album works in spite of it's inherent handicaps. Neil Kernon's(plague of '80's production) modern digital mix is a bewildering display of how not to make a metal album( Rockenfield's drum sound!!!! Arghh!!!!!), but the album rises above due to it's futuristic drive to move the metal genre forward.
A true metal classic, it's the power of song and arrangement that lifts this above the annoying mix. A jewel case of blistering Euro-crunch, the Queensryche band had yet to forget the main tenements of purist metal. One more stab at creative and commercial notoriety would spell the end of relevance for this band, but an everlasting impact is achieved. RATING:4/5
KROKUS - Headhunter
01 - Headhunter
02 - Eat The Rich
03 - Screaming In The Night
04 - Ready To Burn
05 - Night Wolf
06 - Stayed Awake All Night
07 - Stand And Be Counted
08 - White Din
09 - Russian Winter
Always slagged as AC/DC clones(rightly so), KROKUS were generally frowned upon as cut rate lower tier hacks. Most of their earlier material never progressed beyond hard rock boogie thump, and it appeared as if the band didn't have an original thought in their collective heads.
Then, with the release of One Vice At A Time, KROKUS showed that there was actually untapped potential within their ranks. This potential was fulfilled with the release of their Headhunter opus. From the speed metal thrust of the title track, to the memorable chorus of closer "Russian Winter", Headhunter was indeed state of the art metal for the new era. A lusty, cutting edge injection of high octane crunch was incorporated into the bands attack, and KROKUS inserted themselves into the metal communities consciousness. Unfortunately, thus began the long painful slide into corporate pandering, and the band lost any good will they had built with the fans of the genre.
However, Headhunter is a classic of the era, and a worthy spin capable of heating up amplifiers with it's butt shaking wallop. Worthy and worthwhile. RATING: 4/5
MORE - Warhead
01 - Warhead
02 - Fire
03 - Soldier
04 - Depression
05 - Road Rocket
06 - Lord of Twilight
07 - Way of the World
08 - We Are the Band
09 - I Have No Answers
Notoriety for this album usually concentrates on two facts that have little or nothing to do with the music enclosed. First of all, MORE were known to include one PAUL MARIO DAY on lead vox for this debut, DAY of course being IRON MAIDEN's original front man(1976). MORE were also one of the first NWOBHM bands to attain a major label release.
Outside of the interesting trivia however, Warhead is a fairly accomplished album, fueled by the oh-so-metal riff tonnage of main guy KENNY COX. And that is what makes this album such a pleasing encounter for fans of the genre. Riffs and solos are plentiful, executed with bite and aplomb. Somewhat hampered by the mix, and a stiff drum performance, Warhead never-the-less succeeds on sheer will to rock out.
For those in the know, Warhead will always be overshadowed by it's successor Blood and Thunder(in my opinion, one of the top 5 albums of the era), but it stands proudly on it's own. A forgotten band in dire need of rediscovery, a must for fans of axe mechanics. RATING: 3/5
KEEL - The Right To Rock
01 The Right To Rock
02 Back To The City
03 Let's Spend The Night Together
04 Easier Said Than Done
05 So Many Girls So Little Time
06 Electric Love
07 Speed Demon
08 Get Down
09 You're The Victim (I'm The Crime)
10 Easier Said Than Done (Remix)
Once courted as the front man for BLACK SABBATH, RON KEEL first made his mark with the flawed but fabulous STEELER project, recorded with a then relatively unknown YNGWIE MALMSTEEN.When that band fell through, he then decided to strike out on his own as KEEL.
A fairly heavy effort, the album is a perfect example of California metal, upbeat and easy going. Full of riff driven car deck tunes, one can easily imagine oneself cruising around town with the sun roof down while this album blares from the stereo. My chief complaint about The Right To Rock is the boxy, squared off production in which - and this is no coincidence - SIMMONS pretty much makes KEEL sound like heavy KISS. Ronnie's bleat can be a distraction for some too. Other than this, plus a couple of filler tunes, The Right To Rock is quite probably KEEL's strongest release during the halcyon period of metal in which it was released.
Looking for some summertime soundtrack music, then this album fits the bill. RATING: 2.5/5
Mind Funk - Mind Funk
01 - Sugar Ain't So Sweet
02 - Ride & Drive
03 - Bring It On
04 - Big House Burning
05 - Fire
06 - Blood Runs Red
07 - Sister Blue
08 - Woke Up This Morning
09 - Innocence
10 - Touch You
Underground, subversive and pounding, MIND FUNK's debut is a soul destroying surge into the filth and despair of street life. Funkified, doom ridden, and crushing, one's enjoyment of this album hinges entirely on the mood of the listener. If one wishes to delve into the dark underbelly of the mind twisted and corrupted to the core, this crunch classic is a fine elixir indeed. Others beware.
Heroin informed, jacked up and driven, MIND FUNK burrows into the soul, leaving the listener hollow and parched for an uplifting respite. If it weren't for the rise of grunge, and the subsequent metal holocaust, this album may have gotten much more hype as an artistic triumph, if not a true classic.
Listen with a wary ear. This album is insidious in it's dark mission, but an effective look into waste and the wasted. RATING: 4/5
ACCEPT - Death Row
02_Sodom & Gomorra
03_The Beast Inside
05_Guns 'R' Us
06_Like A Loaded Gun
12_Generation Clash II
13_Writing On The Wall
14_Drifting Apart (Instrumental)
15_Pomp And Circumstance (Instrumental)
Bad Habits Die Hard
After a meager comeback with Objection: Overruled, the mighty ACCEPT storm forth with the head crushing stomp of Death Row.
Billed as the first ACCEPT written for one guitar, I was skeptical about what exactly the end product would sound like. Never fear metal heads, a devastating and stirring pound is accomplished, Death Row being every bit the Teutonic pride fest all punters strive for. UDO harangues and points fingers, all the while WOLF HOFFMAN strings together the most exciting and ripping set of guitar pieces I can truly remember.
A masterwerk of Germanic perfection, like a top end BMW, this album must be learned and tamed. Every bit as heavy as much "extreme metal", ACCEPT have forged an iron monument of undying love of the genre. A devastating kicker not like most current music fans have ever heard, Death Row steams and hisses with the very stuff that comprise Heavy Metal. Prepare for some butthurtz. RATING: 4.5/5
GIRLSCHOOL - Hit & Run
01 - C'mon Let's Go
02 - The Hunter
03 - I'm Your Victim
04 - Kick It Down
05 - Following The Crowd
06 - Tush
07 - Hit And Run
08 - Watch Your Step
09 - Back To Start
10 - Yeah Right
11 - Future Flash
Arguably the best all-female metal band, GIRLSCHOOL joined the fray as NWOBHM hopefuls, guitars set to stun, liquored up and ready to do battle with the big guns.
Punky, kindred spirits to MOTORHEAD, the 'SCHOOL mount an excellent display of heads down, no nonsense garage rock. Guitars are recorded loudly and the girls are a warehouse of tasty riffs and licks. The chirpy vocals only add to the overall bash factor of the music. Hit & Run is an album that demands repeated listens, hopefully all at the loudest volumes possible.
One of the first all-female units to actually seem to compete within the male dominated genre, GIRLSCHOOL made their definitive statement with this album. Raunchy, rowdy, and in your face rude, Hit & Run is a solid display of typical NWOBHM "can-do" ethic. Great stuff. RATING 3.5/5
GRAVE DIGGER - Heavy Metal Breakdown
01 Headbanging man
02 Heavy metal breakdown
03 Back from the war
05 We wanna rock you
06 Legion of the lost
08 2000 lightyears from home
09 Heart attack
Like a caustic, unstoppable force, GRAVE DIGGER stormed onto the metal scene with this slamming collection of blackheart-ed fireworks. A more over-the-top gathering of songs rarely seen, Heavy Metal Breakdown bashes and thrashes the listener firmly about the ear, Bolthendahl's scarred vocal perfectly matching Masson's impassioned guitar pyro.
Stirring and absolute, GRAVE DIGGER's debut is a rousing call to war. Various velocities propel the band and listener alike into a maelstrom of metal perfection. Advanced and pre-cognizant, Heavy Metal Breakdown is metallic corker sure to excite the most jaded of metal fan. SCORPIONS shmorpions, give me my GRAVE DIGGER any day!!!! RATING: 4/5
CIRITH UNGOL - Frost & Fire
01 - Frost And Fire
02 - I'm Alive
03 - A Little Fire
04 - What Does it Take
05 - Edge of a Knife
06 - Better Off Dead
07 - Maybe That's Why
08 - Cirith Ungol [Live]
Wigged out nut cases, CIRITH UNGOL forged a series of way out, indescribable hot blades into the metal heads psyche. An anomaly, even to this day, CIRITH UNGOL wove a series of waste case barrages, forever searching for the perfect blend of punk,trad. metal, and prog..
Trippy and triumphant, Frost & Fire is yet another foundation piece to the story of heavy metal. A collective of burned out minds, pushed over the edge of creativity with the addition of Tim Baker on vox, the band henceforth proceeded to formulate some of the best left field metal out there. And Baker is really the key. His pissed off pronouncements push the band into a realm far beyond the boundaries of traditional metal, and into a space entirely of their own creation. RATING: 4/5
RUNNING WILD - Gates To Purgatory
1. Victim of States Power
2. Black Demon
4. Soldiers of Hell
5. Diabolic Force
6. Adrian S.O.S.
7. Genghis Kahn
8. Prisoner of Our Time
9. Walpurgis Night
Forging a presence since as early as '76, these German dummkoph's finally stumbled onto the scene with this single minded yet virulent slab of junky garage metal. Dunder-headed, lacking in variety and critically slammed at the time, amazingly, the album works some kind of crazy mojo and has actually gained a sizable fan base. Justifiably so I say!! It's a wonderfully simplistic headbang, much in the vein of MOTORHEAD or VENOM, and works it's undeniable magic more and more upon repeat visits.
Considered an early example of Black metal( humorously, RUNNING WILD were also included on the infamous "Death Metal" compilation for Noise, along with HELLHAMMER, HELLOWEEN and DARK AVENGER), this album is catchy as hell - pardon the pun - and a righteous neck snapping example of early years speed. RATING: 3/5
Michael Schenker Group - Michael Schenker Group('80)
1. Armed and Ready
2. Cry for the Nations
3. Victim of Illusion
4. Bijou Pleasurette
5. Feels Like a Good Thing
6. Into the Arena
7. Looking Out from Nowhere
8. Tales of Mystery
9. Lost Horizons
MSG's debut is a prime example of synergy at work with superior musicianship. An outstanding display of European sophistication from one of the guitar worlds true aristocrats, this album is an exciting and legendary showcase for the prodigious talents of Schenker.
Backed largely by studio session men - most importantly Don Airey/keys and the mind blowing chops of drum phenom Simon Phillips(the man behind the kit on Judas Priest's "Sin After Sin" masterpiece) - and putting forth a stunning display of creative axe-man-ship, Schenker proved to the world that he could venture out and create involving and dramatic hard rock/metal of his own.
After turning down positions with Ozzy, Whitesnake, and Aerosmith, the world became a better place, for Schenker has created a worthy recommendation for one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time. RATING: 5/5
Michael Schenker Group - MSG '81
1. Are You Ready to Rock
2. Attack of the Mad Axeman
3. On and On
4. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
5. But I Want More
6. Never Trust a Stranger
7. Looking for Love
8. Secondary Motion
After years of toiling masterfully away in the key position of lead guitarist for seminal classic rock outfits SCORPIONS and UFO, Schenker finally struck out on his own with his self named group in 1980. The debut was a masterpiece of '70's rock melodies super-charged by the main man's superb styling, with the added bonus of having a seasoned cast of rock dog veterans providing a tremendous foundation in which to lay his trademark axe( as an interesting side note, the original MSG line up was to consist of Schenker and Canadian maestros RUSH!! Also of note, bass demon Billy Sheehan played on the '79 demos).
Well, the second release is absolutely no slouch either, and my personal favorite from the catalog. Comprising the definitive line-up of Gary Barden/vox, Chris Glen/bass, Paul Raymond/keys, and the immortal Cozy Powell/pounding drums, this album just oozes smooth cool, as Mr. Schenker just rips with classic riff after high minded solo. And this , as always, is the case with all of the work the man has ever done. It's a guitar fans dream. The tones, textures, technicality, and creativeness just blow the listener away, as Schenker creates sonic battalions of cutting edge metallic wonderment. The epitome of "guitar hero". Attack of the mad axeman indeed. RATING: 4/5
TANK - Power of the Hunter
1. Walking Barefoot Over Glass
2. Pure Hatred
3. Biting and Scratching
4. Some Came Running
6. Used Leather (Hanging Loose)
7. Crazy Horses (Osmonds cover)
8. Set Your Back on Fire
9. Red Skull Rock
10. Power of the Hunter
Algy Ward(ex- The Damned) and his biker metal stormtroopers TANK lit up the NWOBHM like the war machine that they were named after. Rightfully compared to MOTORHEAD, they were never to attain the heights of their doppelganger, but left a lasting legacy of swaggering ultra heavy(for it's time) albums that have stood the test of time with class.
Bombastic and punk infused, the band loved to bash the listener about the ears, all the while courting laughs with wickedly funny lyrics about a range of topics. This second release by them is no different. While many consider their debut, Filth Hounds of Hades, to be their best, I feel that they really hit their stride with this sophomore effort, being stronger of song and musicianship. Just listen to classic cuts like "Walking Barefoot Over Glass","Set Your Back On Fire", or wacky Osmonds cover "Crazy Horses", and I think you'll agree.
Never bashful, always bashing, Power of the Hunter is a must have release for the serious metal loving fan. RATING: 4/5
Antichrisis – Legacy of Love Mk II – 5/5
I have spent a while contemplating this album, whether its variety of tones results in natural preference for some over others or whether some tracks were simply not as strong, concluding that the only fitting description is that of the perfect Celtic folk rock album. Sending you the rolling hills of the Irish highlands, capable of bringing a tear to your eye, before rapidly transforming into a boisterous jaunty track fitting for your favourite pub, filled with dancing and singing with a pint of ale at your side all within the opening track; interspersed in this folk rock epic are subtle elements of progressive rock, doom, neo-classical, ambient, and even gothic undertones in some of the darker tracks. Flutes, Uilleann pipes (the Irish equivalent of bagpipes) and violins all make an unrelenting appearance in this show of creativity filled with joy, love and despair.
The drums always present themselves, often with more unusual percussion instruments, at times lending a bombastic tone to the proceedings, constantly maintaining the pace with a variety of beats. There are at least as many acoustic guitars as electric, both lending a rhythm; the former largely through arpeggio’s and the latter through extended chord progressions with a variety of distortion, often in the more aggressive gothic/doom orientated tracks. The occasional solo performance is often kept short so as to not become overly focussed on the single aspect to the piece.
Gentle piano lines (none more spectacular than in ‘Dancing in the midnight sun’) lend a neo-classical feel, whilst the keyboards work to create an epic toned thick backing during certain passages. Perhaps it was a little misleading to state there were violins – it is in fact keyboards (there are two keyboard players) made to mimic their sound with shocking effect, adding any number of atmospheric fills and overlapping harmonies. Both vocalists have an earthy emotion to them; far from the vibrato-laden style in power metal, from the grittier deep male growls to the boisterous and bouncy clean female vocals, they serve to provide an almost endless variety that whilst seems lacking an element of power, the music at no point requires it.
Despite this, it would not be the same without the invaluable contributions of the flutes and pipes; performed superbly to deliver a tone that no other artist I’ve heard can deliver on, making a notable appearance on every track in the form of backing atmosphere and solos. This feels like the odd combination of ‘Kalevala,’ ‘Carved in Stone,’ ‘Crimfall’ and ‘Lyriel’ with more variety than them all combined. It’s been a while since something took me entirely by surprise and (whilst I’m partly blaming the far darker toned debut I listened to first) this has succeeded in showing me a style performed better than I could have imagined. Anyone not scared to try out a slower and more melancholic side to their folk would be foolish not to look into this further.
Highlights: How Can I Live On Top of the Mountain, Our Last Show, Dancing in the Midnight Sun, Baleias Bailando, The Sea