Metal Music Reviews from Kev Rowland

AMORPHIS Queen Of Time

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
After twelve albums, world tours, countless gold records, Amorphis are back with their mix of metal, folklore and rock. After their last tour they decided to take a break before going into the studio to rehearse the new album, so had a single day off, before starting the next chapter. This means that all the tightness and understanding that develops from being on the road and gigging were still very much there. In many ways it goes back to the early Seventies when bands were expect to either be on the road or in the studio, preferably releasing an album every 6-8 months. I remember reading an interview with Ian Anderson saying that all his downtime while on tour in the States was spent writing songs for the next Jethro Tull album as they had to be ready for the band to record before they headed back out on the next tour.

I have long been a fan of Amorphis, who somehow manage to bring together many different styles and influences yet make the music so complete and seamless that it always makes total sense. It doesn’t matter if there is a saxophone, or guitar solo, or choir, it is always exactly the right thing to move the music onwards. After their last album, ‘Under The Red Cloud’, some fans may have expected them to get even heavier, but here they have moved sideways and have brought in the likes Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) on pipes, laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin and saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, plus an orchestra and a choir, while also maintaining an incredibly heavy intensity. These elements deliver a dramatic and cinematic depth to the sound, making everything even more epic, even deeper, and even more meaningful than ever before.

As always, borne by Pekka Kainulainen's poetic lyrics, AMORPHIS penetrate deeper than ever into the thicket of folklore and cosmic contexts. "This time, Pekka tells about the cosmic powers that people believed in long ago in a very universal way: the rise and fall of cultures." This is also symbolized by the image of the bee on the album cover - the queen of time, as Holopainen explains the title of the album. "It represents the microcosm that can nevertheless trigger cataclysmic changes. The fall of world empires ushered in by a small sprouting seed. The butterfly that causes a hurricane." And as “Daughter Of Hate” needed a spoken part, lyricist Kainulainen also appears for the first time as a narrator. An excellent choice: His wise and venerable shaman-like voice is a perfect match to the music. Original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine, has also returned to the fold, following the departure of Niclas Etelävuori after 17 years, as the band look both back over what has gone before, and to the future with yet another stunning piece of work. From the production through to the quality and style of the songs, this is essential.

SKELETAL REMAINS Devouring Mortality

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Taking their name from a song by cult NY thrash band Demolition Hammer, covering a song by Carcass on the album, along with it being mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö (Opeth, Bloodbath) and featuring cover art by Dan Seagrave (Entombed, Suffocation, Dismember), it is safe to say that with their third full-length album American death metal band Skeletal Remains are not showing any signs at all of slowing down. These guys have obviously been heavily influenced by Death, with a technical old school sound that is reminiscent of Schuldiner. One of the delighst of this album is the way that they mix tempos,. Not afraid to slow it right down almost to doom speed when the time is right, this allows them to hit back with real impact when they ramp it up, but also shows on songs such as “Catastrophc Retribution” that solos don’t have to be at the speed of light to have the corrcet impact.

There is a lightness within this, with the bottom end not always a sprevalent as it might be, but with Chris Monroy’s vocals not also being a guttural and brutal as one might expect, it actually works together really well. This is a really easy album to listen to, which isn’t something that one can always say of the genre, yet contains plenty of dynamic shifts which are always in keeping with the tone and allows the band to create a distinct sound within the genre. More melodic than many, and certainly not as abrasive, this is an album which is essential for any fan of the genre.

DIMMU BORGIR Eonian

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been way too long since Dimmu Borgir last released a studio album, and I felt the only way to be able to understand how this fits in the canon was by playing a few tracks from this and then dip into ‘Death Cult Armageddon’. This was an interesting exercise, not least because I always felt that a major part of their sound (at least for me) was the clean vocals of ICS Vortex, but of course he departed long ago. Vocalist Shagrath, as well as guitarists Silenoz and Galder are still there providing the material, while drummer Daray has been there for a decade, keyboard player Gerlioz has been there since 2010, so there is only one new boy, bassist Victor Brandt. Deciding to take their time on the songs has obviously been worthwhile, as there is far more breadth and depth to this than anything that have released previously. They have moved far more into the orchestral and symphonic arena, while still playing black metal like no-one else.

A special mention must be made of Gaute Storås and his work on the choral arrangements for the Schola Cantrum Choir, as it isn’t possible to overstate the impact they have had on the album as a whole. This is very much a metal band, but one that is attempting to create a genre of their own making, taking black metal and forcing into something that is far deeper, heavier and orchestral than anything they have managed up to this. The production is simply superb, incredibly clear while also very heavy indeed, allowing the band to spread their wings and show that when it comes to this style of music there are very few in the world who can even approach the majesty and dark beauty of what they are producing. It has been way too long since these guys have provided us with a new album, let’s just hope that the world tour to follow is just that, and that they make their way down here, as that would be a show not to miss.

CALIBAN Elements

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Caliban have been creating quite a noise in the metalcore scene since their inception in the late Nineties, and with the quintet managing to keep the same line-up together for fifteen years now is quite an achievement. Here they are back with the follow-up to 2016’s ‘Gravity’, and they seem to have increased the intensity in all areas. “’Elements’ is a logical progression from the last album,” says guitarist Marc Görtz. “But we definitely expanded the range of music we wanted to incorporate on ‘Elements’. It’s going in extremely different directions. It’s heavier, but also more melodic. Also, Andy is doing all the vocals—harsh and clean—on the new album.” This last is a change, as those duties are normally shared between Andreas Dörner and guitarist Denis Schmidt with competing styles, but here Dörner provides both melodic and gruff. Görtz says that when he started putting together the initial riffs for the album he was trying really hard not to listen to any other music so that he wasn’t influenced, but bands such as Meshuggah, Whitechapel and Trivium all seem to have made their way into his psyche.

It is the intensity that really blast out of the speakers and pins the listener against the far wall – if ever the States want to militarise music then they should look to this album to start with. That the band go between incredibly light and tremendously heavy only emphasises the difference between the two styles. They can keep it low and groove-ridden, suddenly knocking down the guitar tuning, or keep it riff-laden as if they are a new Cannibal Corpse before becoming a next generation Linkin Park. This is all over the place, so much so that one never knows quite where the musical journey is going to lead, except that it will be a fractured and enjoyable road to get there. Caliban are showing no sign at all of slowing down, and this may just be their finest release yet.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Although there have been some substantial gaps in their career, the line-up of At The Gates has been incredibly stable, having been the same since 1993. So, it was quite a blow when guitarist Anders Björler decided that it was time to move on. But, the band knew that they still had a great deal to offer, and called in old friend Jonas Stålhammar who they had known for almost thirty years. One rehearsal later and he had the job. It was important for the band to bring in someone who knew what they had been going through, had followed a similar musical journey, and also came from the same musical influences. Russ Russell was brought in as producer, and the result is one of the standout metal albums of the year.

By now most people would think that At The Gates would have nothing left to prove, having been at the forefront of the Swedish Death Metal scene for so many years, but while other bands have moved on and often changed their musical path ATG have double down and are bringing forth melodic death metal that is as heavy, violent and so damned enjoyable as anything they have released in the past. The band formed back in1990, yet here they are in 2018 showing all the young guns how to do it. The groove, they move, they mix incredibly light and delicate aspects into the thunderous sound, yet when the time is right they all lock in and bring it home. Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg still sounds like the angry young man he used to be, but now with more presence and command. He is at the forefront of what truly is a metallic monster casting all before it. Whatever anyone may want from a metal album, I can pretty much guarantee that this one has it. From the first note to the very last all I wanted to do was to keep turning it up time and again. It has been four years since the last album, let’s just hope that it isn’t so long until the next one.

AGNOSTIC FRONT The American Dream Died

Album · 2015 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.69 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Agnostic Front have been licking up a hardcore storm for more than thirty years, mixing in thrash and punk when the mood takes them, and this 2015 album finds them mixing through the styles. The album commences with a great deal of sound clips, and immediately the listener knows that Roger Miret and the boys are going to be out there making a point. Sixteen songs at under thirty minutes in length, the old adage is true that if you don’t like something hang on a minute as there will be something else along in a minute. But, it does make for quite a disjointed album as when they are good, such as on “Test of Time”, they are very good indeed and there are few who can catch them in their hardcore thrash crossover mode. But, the songs such as the title cut have plenty of aggression from the singer, but not really being carried through by the band, and it just doesn’t contain the attack and passion that it should.

More good than bad, does it stand up against classic albums such as ‘Cause For Alarm’? Personally I don’t think so, but anyone who has been flying the hardcore banner for nearly forty years demands respect.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Legendary Years

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Rhapsody have had an interesting career path, to say the least. What started as one band has been split in two for quite a while, with guitarist Luca Turilli behind Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, and keyboard player Alex Staropoli leading Rhapsody of Fire. Here, Alex has taken his band of merry men on a romp through songs from the first five Rhapsody albums, and in case anyone doesn't realise what is going on this selection is named after the debut, 'Legendary Tales'. What I have always liked about any of the Rhapsody bands, is that they not only have grandiose and almost Wagnerian Ring Cycle ideas, but they like to have the guitars tightly bound together with drums driving it all along. This may be Alex's band, but he acts more as a conductor and arranger, pulling the musicians in the way that makes total sense to his ears.

I haven't actually heard these early songs, so can't comment as to whether they are performed in a better or worse manner than the originals, so I am treating this instead as a brand new album by RoF, and in that context this works incredibly well indeed. They shred, they bring in a chorus, they stop the music dead, or let it sprawl through the speakers like an unstoppable lava flow, laying waste to all the lies before it. Fabio Lione is an amazing singer, and until this album has been the voice of first Rhapsody, and then Rhapsody of Fire, but here Giacomo Voli has taken on the role and it has to be said that he has done a very done job indeed. Overall this is a great album, and stands well in its own right, as well as an introduction to a band who have been at the forefront of symphonic metal for more than twenty years.

OPERATION: MINDCRIME The New Reality

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I think of Geoff Tate I always think of one video clip, for one song, namely his singing on the charity single "Stars". He had been give his lines, and the first time he sang it he just wasn't happy and he just gave up and it was possible to see that he was wondering how to give it justice. When he returned to it he gave probably the best vocal performance of all those involved, and there were quality singers that day. Fast forward a few years and he and Queensrÿche parted company, not exactly on the best of terms, and after certain legalities he was no longer allowed to use that name so instead called his band after one of the most important prog albums of all time.

Apparently, this is the third and final chapter in a musical trilogy, following a little over one year after the release of the second chapter, 'Resurrection', and about two years after the first chapter, 'The Key'. For this project he has brought together a host of musicians, including Kelly Gray, John Moyer, Simon Wright, Scott Mercado, Scott Moughton, Brian Tichy and Mike Ferguson. But, just having known musicians play on the album doesn't mean that it works, and having a solid recording history doesn't mean that Geoff still has the goods. Let's be honest, I really didn't like this album - it is a collection of good intentions, with strange arrangements and confusion, and often with the vocals way too low in the mix and the drums way too high. Is Geoff trying to be Peter Gabriel, or David Bowie? He certainly doesn't appear to be the person we expect him to be, and for that I applaud him. Apparently this release is "another fine progressive rock/metal entry from Tate". No it isn't.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 10 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Truly one of the originals of the death metal scene, Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot' from nearly thirty years is still highlighted by many as a classic, and it is incredible to see that three of the guys in that line-up are still here on the tenth studio album. When I heard that this album had been released I was incredibly excited, as I have always thought of Obituary as a band that will always deliver the goods, time after time. But, even though the band is tight, John's vocals are as raw as they have ever been, and they smash through one song after another there was just something missing for me, a spark, that magical item that lifted them out of the ordinary.

To be honest, I soon discovered that I was bored, which is never a good thing in any form of music, but with death metal? Really? When I started looking ahead to see how many songs there were still to play on the album I knew that something wasn't right. It's not that I have lost my love of the genre, in fact I listen to far more of it these days than I did ten or twenty years ago. A quick check of my collection made me realise something that surprised me, namely that although I do have four other albums by Obituary, the most recent is from twenty years ago. So possibly I have never been as much of a fan as I thought I was, and this album is unlikely to do anything to make me change that opinion. Thy will always be a favourite on the festival circuit, and I am sure that they are great in concert, but is this an album to rush out and buy? It's not bad, but it certainly isn't brilliant either.

NIGHT RANGER Don't Let Up

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It's incredible to think that the debut Night Ranger album, 'Dawn Patrol' was released some thirty-five years before this one, yet Jack Blades (lead vocals, bass guitar), Brad Gillis (lead guitars) and Kelly Keagy (drums, lead vocals) are still there. Eric Levy joined on keyboards in 2011, while Keri Kelly (guitar) became a full member in 2014, although he had previously substituted for Joel Hoekstra. These guys were one of the original MTV darlings, selling millions of albums and releasing at least one bona fide classic single in "Sister Christian". They may not be hitting the charts like they used to, and their million-selling days are probably behind them, but that probably says more about the way that the music industry has changed as opposed to the music they are releasing.

The albums kicks off with "Somehow Someway", and it honestly sounds as if they are still as hungry for success as they were back when they started out. The guitars have just the right amount of edge and bite, the vocals are as solid as ever, and there is just hook after hook. I honestly think that it is impossible to play this album without a smile plastered right across your face as it is just one gem after another. I found that while writing the review I kept sitting back, listening to what was coming out of the speakers, and just really enjoying the music, and isn't that what it is all about when all is said and done? They may not be fashionable anymore, but this is a bloody great album, and don't let anyone tell you any different.

METATRONE Eucharismetal

Album · 2016 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Metatrone started life as Metafora back in 1997, but some four years later keyboard player Davide Bruno decided that he wanted to become a priest. After much debate within the band, the decision was taken to change the name to Metatrone (which means "God is since now and forever"), and they started to write power-prog metal songs deeply inspired by a Christian Catholic view of life and human being. This 2016 album is their fourth studio album, and is a huge head and shoulders above anything else I have heard in the Christian music scene (although to be honest I do listen to way more Black Metal than I do White Metal). Some songs are in English, and some in Italian, but even though Jo Lombardo is a great singer, it is to the music that the ear is taken. The new rhythm section of Dino Fiorenza (bass, Billy Sheehan, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, John Macaluso)) and Salvo Grasso (drums, Hypersonic, DenieD) have slotted right in, and provide a heck of a platform for the rest to play against - some of the plucked bass runs are just amazing - and Davide and guitarist Stefano Calvagno have relished the opportunity.

Fast and furious with loads of interplay, one soon forgets that this is a Christian album and instead just relishes the opportunity to lose some dandruff. They have been kicking up a storm on the Christian festival circuit, but with this album they have pushed straight into the mainstream, and fans of the likes of Savatage and Angra should be seeking these guys out, no matter their view on religion.

BRUJERIA Pocho Aztlan

Album · 2016 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When Brujeria first hit the extreme metal scene back in the Nineties, there was a great deal of discussion as to who was actually in the band, as they all used nicknames to hide their true identities. On guitar and bass was none other than Aesino, probably best known to many as Dino Cazares of Fear Factory, and due to involvement of members in other bands, Brujeria kept going on hiatus while they fulfilled other commitments. It took two years for the second album to see the light of day, five for the third, but no-one ever imagined that it would take sixteen years for the fourth to come out. There have been quite a few changes in the band in the intervening years, with Dino no longer there, but singer Juan Brujo has been a constant, as has bassist Fantasma and guitar/bassist Hongo and Pinche Peach (backing vocals/samples). They have always prided themselves on playing metal heavily influenced by grindcore and early thrash, along with some Mexican influences. To be honest, they have personally always reminded me of early Sepultura, in terms of brutality, rawness and sheer power.

The sixteen-year layoff hasn’t done them any harm, as this album shows them still as heavy as they have always been. They haven’t lost their sense of humour either, with the final song being a Spanish language tongue-in-cheek cover of the Dead Kennedy’s "California über Alles". Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take quite so long for the next one!

SONATA ARCTICA Ecliptica - Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 8 ratings
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Kev Rowland
1999 was quite a year for Sonata Arctica: they recorded the ‘Full Moon’ demo that brought them to the attention of Spinefarm, changed the band name from Tricky Beans, and having signed a deal also released their debut album, ‘Ecliptica’. The line-up back then was Tony Kakko (vocals and keyboards), Jani Liimatainen (guitars), Janne Kivilahti (bass) and Tommy Portimo (drums), and not only were they raw and new in the studio, the production wasn’t all that it might have been. Over the years since then the band have morphed, and have become quite a force in the power and symphonic metal scenes, and as they approached the fifteenth anniversary they started wondering about re-recording the debut, with the current line-up.

Tommy and Tony are the only ones who have stayed the course, and they have been joined now by Elias Viljanen (guitars), Pasi Kauppinen (bass) and Henrik Klingenberg (keyboards). They have approached this recording with the confidence that only comes from years on the road: this certainly doesn’t sound as if it has its roots in an album from 1999, but instead is fresh and bright, powerful and restrained, in the way that only they and possibly Stratovarius at their peak really know how to achieve. When it is time to shred then they can do that quite happily, putting together blistering runs on all instruments, tied together as one, but they can also be reflective and gentle. Tony’s voice is even better now than it was in his youth, and he has the experience of knowing now exactly what works for him and what doesn’t, so if he wants to sing in a different key from the original then that is just fine and dandy. Sonata Arctica continue to be one of the finest bands in this field.

BLAZE OF PERDITION Conscious Darkness

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.16 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Blaze of Perdition were formed back in 2007, and had already released two albums by the time they suffered a tragedy while on tour in 2013, when a road accident took the life of bassist Ikaroz and left vocalist Sonneillo. and drummer Vizun severely injured. The band regrouped, and in 2015 released ‘Near Death Revelations’ and are now back with their latest album, ‘Conscious Darkness’. Unfortunately, I can’t say who is in the band these days as different sites list different members (no bassist) but it looks like the band are probably a four-piece, while the press release doesn’t say anything and the photos I’ve seen show only two people!

That is a shame, as the guys involved in this deserve plenty of credit. There are only four songs, but the shortest of these is eight minutes in length and the album as a whole, clocks in at more than forty-three. There were many who felt that the band were too influenced by Watain in the early days, and certainly the consensus is that the last album was easily the best they had completed to date, spurred on by what they had suffered and a determination to channel the emotion. But, reviews this time around are saying that they have managed to surpass even that, and certainly I can see why. The emotion coming through is palpable, while the atmospherics are perfect. What I find particularly interesting is the way that the mood shifts and changes, and even the vocal stylings are amended and altered depending on what is required – there are even times when they are being sung in a quite plain manner, but still dripping with pain and passion. It is a powerful album in so many ways, with stunning drums and rhythms that drag the listener in, yet at all times I imagine them playing deep in a cave that is lit only by candles, with cowls over their heads so that no-one can see their faces.

This is essential listening for anyone into black metal: it rarely gets any better than this

PARADISE LOST Medusa

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 17 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1988 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Paradise Lost are not only known as one of the most distinctive acts in metal - their music arguably defined the gothic subgenre and raised doom metal to a new level - they are also considered pioneers of an entire musical generation. Never ones to hesitate to explore undiscovered paths, they have encompassed many genres during their career - from their death metal beginnings to the more mainstream electronic dark-pop album ‘Host’, electronic influences on ‘Symbol Of Life’ alongside majestic gothic moments. Vocalist Nick Holmes, guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy, along with bassist Steve Edmondson have never ceased to follow their own vision. The quartet has been an inseparable unit since its inception, with only the drummer's position changing hands several times. The latest incumbent, Waltteri Väyrynen, is only 22 years old, while the band have now been in existence for nearly 30!

With their last album, they showed that they were starting to return to their roots, and that has journey has progressed with ‘Medusa’, which is certainly one of, if not the, heaviest album they have ever released. Here we have doom and gothic metal hitting head on and being brought to live with vocals that owe more to the death scene than any other. There is a quality here that is hard to define, as they bring all the misery of Northern England to bear in 43 minutes of depressing, intense, music. Here is a band that is refusing to rest on their considerable laurels, but instead continue to push boundaries, and to my ears this is easily the most complete work they have ever produced. The drum and bass are crushing, the riffs are solid slabs of lead, while the solos are uplifting and almost cathartic while Nick Holmes shows no sign at all of mellowing in his middle age. I discovered that the more I listened to the album, the more I kept turning up the volume, until the neighbours the other side of the neighbours could share it as well. This is certainly one of the finest metal albums to come out of the UK this year.

KADAVAR Rough Times

Album · 2017 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 3.88 | 4 ratings
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Two years on and the trio are back proving that they fully understand their niche and feel no need whatsoever to move away from it. The slight change in the sound is that the bass has been given more prominence and a far richer sound, but apart from that it is another album straight from the Kadavar playbook, namely doom, psyche and hard rock with major influenced from the likes of Sabbath, Cream and Atomic Rooster. Somehow, they always manage to imbue the music with a vitality, a real energy, and it is this that really makes them standout from others following a similar musical journey. This album has moved them more into classic Sabbath territory than ‘Berlin’, but for someone who grew up cutting his teeth on those albums that’s never going to be a bad thing. But whereas many bands appear to emphasise the doom-laden riffs of that group, Kadavar never forget the need for balance, and this album comes across as refined and polished, as well as raw and grungy all at the same time.

This is their fourth studio album, and they continue to mine a rich vein of material, and although it may never be the most fashionable forms of metal, they are experts at what they do and it is of little surprise that their third release gained some chart success on both Germany and the States, and this one will do the same I’m sure. There is much here for any fan of the genre to really get their teeth and ears into.

KADAVAR Berlin

Album · 2015 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


The cover to the German trio’s third full-length studio album has a very Seventies feel about it, and the music on offer definitely belongs to the first part of that decade, if not earlier. But, given that the first two albums looked as if they belonged firmly in the Sixties, possibly the band are coming more up to date? By now bassist Simon ‘Dragon’ Bouteloup was fully ensconced in the band, having only contributed to a few songs on the previous album, joining Christoph ‘Lupus’ Lindemann (vocals, guitars) and Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt (drums) in making a glorious sound that owes a great deal to the few years either side of 1970. The guitars are distorted when they need to be, or clean and fine at others, while the drums are solid and the bass moved between hitting a solid single note and going off at tangents.

Somehow the band manage to mix Cream, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster (although with no keyboards) and others in a celebration of bell-bottomed flares, long hair, and loud music that is exciting, invigorating and undoubtedly honest. This is music guaranteed to get the sweat running down the walls, and turn even the most svelte and sedate manner rocker into a greasy mess of hair and snot.

Music guaranteed to make lovers of the Seventies and Sixties smile, their version of doom, psyche and straight ahead hard rock is a joy from start to end. If you like the genre then this is essential, but if not then I suggest you pass quickly by while the rest of lose our dandruff.

CRADLE OF FILTH Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.67 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


It is hard to believe that Cradle of Filth have now been making a nuisance of themselves for more than 25 years, but here they are back with their 12th album, their second for Nuclear Blast. True, they have been through one or two musicians during that period (okay, so it’s the best part of 30, but who’s counting?), and while Dani has been there since the very beginning, only drummer Marthus can also claim to have been with the band for more than five years. Somehow it never seems to matter, as Dani has a very strong view on what the band should sound like, and the image they should portray, and to my ears it seems like all the travails and efforts have been leading to this point as to my poor abused ears this is the finest thing they have ever done.

For me there has always been a fine line with CoF as to whether they really mean it, or if they are in danger of becoming a parody of the very thing they are trying to represent, but here their blend of symphonic gothic black metal hits every mark, every time. I just can’t fault this album, as from beginning to end I found myself deep inside the dark world of Dani’s creation, where the drums pummel when they need to, the guitars are clean and melodic or distorted and riffing as the need arises, the symphonic histrionics are just right, the female vocals create just the right amount of balance (congratulations to Lindsay Schoolcraft who has large shoes to fill – I was always a huge fan of Sarah Jezebel Deva – but here she gets it spot on) and then there is Dani. Now solidly into his forties, young(ish) Mr. Filth has created an album that takes the bands to new heights, and while I have always had a soft spot for ‘Dusk...And Her Embrace’, I know this has taken the #1 slot for me. If you love CoF then rush out and get this now, as it is everything you have ever enjoyed about the band, just taken to the next level. If you have never been too sure, then now is the time to give them another try.

BLINDFOLDED AND LED TO THE WOODS Modern Adoxography

Album · 2017 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Christchurch is the third largest city on New Zealand, with a population of approximately 450,000. For those who are unaware, Christchurch was struck by two earthquakes in September 2010 and January 2011, which caused considerable damage to the city and the loss of 185 people. Since then the city has been rebuilding, both physically and emotionally, and the result is a community that is incredibly close and bonded together. I live some 30 minutes outside the city, near the township of Oxford, and have been here for a couple of years now. All of this makes me feel incredibly annoyed that the only way I have managed to discover this death metal outfit is by being sent a digital copy by an American PR company!

Apparently, “Adoxography” is a term coined in the late 19th century, and means "fine writing on a trivial or base subject". That these guys have been inspired by Dillinger Escape Plan, and have been supporting them on their recent NZ tour, is of little surprise. Here was have death metal with a crazed edge, music that is abrasive, sharp and twisted, while losing none of the brutality that one would expect from the genre. Here we have ten relentless tracks in thirty-five minutes of crushing riffs, technical wizardry, and merciless vocals. While the band's musical foundation is built upon brutal death metal, elements of demented grindcore and bizarre sci-fi tones weave their way into the complex structures, resulting in an engaging and damaging listening experience.

I can only hope that the guys are able to tour outside Aotearoa, as music as good as this needs to be heard by a much wider audience than the restricted population of New Zealand can afford. This is brutal, uncompromising, and very, very good indeed.

ALUNAH Solennial

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


This is the sort of album that just shouldn’t exist in 2017, as its roots are so firmly entrenched in the early Seventies that it is quite hard to realise that this was only released this year. Hailing from Birmingham (it would be hard to think of them coming from anywhere else to be honest), these guys have been more than a little inspired by Sabbath, the major difference being that in Sophie Day they have a female singer who knows exactly what is needed for the music. No screaming high pitched soprano classically trained style here, but instead someone who knows instinctively what is needed for each song, whether that be a lower contralto or a voice that is full of innocence and loss.

It is the use of atmosphere that definitely makes this, their fourth, album stand out. The riffs are solid slabs, but sometimes they can be too repetitive even for this style of retro doom, but Sophie and her presence always manages to turn it into something quite special. It is an incredibly immediate album, and quite melodic, two things that I don’t normally associate with this style of metal. This is an impressive album, one that has been making regular returns to my player since I came across it, and I am sure that all those into doom will feel that same way. Well worth investigating

ACCEPT The Rise of Chaos

Album · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 6 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Accept’s last album, ‘Blind Rage’, reached #1 in Germany and Finland, as well as several top 10 positions; Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and last but not least, the US. For a band that released their debut back in the Seventies, and have been following a fairly uncompromising path ever since, that is quite an achievement. So why change something that obviously works? This is straight forward basic heavy metal that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1983’s ‘Balls To The Wall’, but they know what their audience wants. One thing I have always liked about Accept is that one knows exactly what the album is going to sound like when the CD gets into the player, and by using Andy Sneap as producer one is also guaranteed that the production quality is going to be of the very highest order.

If you like Accept then you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t come across them before as you have been residing down a hobbit hole, then basic HM doesn’t get any better than this. Good and solid without being essential.

MAYHEM De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive

Live album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


There is no doubt that ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ is one of the most important black metal albums ever released, and was awarded the #40 spot on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time, where it stated “…Mysteriis… remains a singularly potent document, its expressions of alienation and nihilism lent an icy severity by Aarseth’s lacerating guitar buzz, session vocalist Attila Csihar’s arcane croak and presentation of Dead’s lyrical gothic terror and the pummelling drums of Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg).”

Captured in Norrköping, Sweden in 2015 during the band’s headlining set at the Black Christmass Festival, the show marked Mayhem’s first time ever playing ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ in full, and luckily even if we weren’t there we can now share the experience. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tore Stjerna and NBS Audio and produced by vocalist Attila Csihar and guitarist Teloch. I was lucky enough to catch Mayhem at their first ever NZ gig a few years ago, and Attila has lost none of his power to shock and control an audience, and that is very much in evidence here. The album has not been over-produced, so it is still full of the raw and bleak sound that has made them so many fans. Available in digital and streaming formats as well as vinyl, this is a truly essential release for any fans of the genre.

END OF GREEN Void Estate

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


End of Green have been deploying their own styles of Goth, Doom, Metal, doleful Alternative metal for some twenty-five years, and with their ninth full-length album they are still desperate to find hope: based on this, I don’t think they’re going to find it any time soon, although they’re not going to give up hope just yet. Michelle Darkness sings touching and intimate dirges about aging, loss and loneliness, and on “Darkside of the Sun” he comes across so much like Pete Steele that I had to look to see if it was a Type O number. This is dark music, with a sense of bleakness permeating every note, yet Michelle is also trying to be optimistic as he says in “Unseen”, "Together, we are less alone.”

What is apparent throughout this album is that it is packed full of quality and thoughtfulness, this isn’t something that has been rushed, but instead each lyric has had the sweat poured over it, and then the music has been polished to ensure that it is all working together at its optimum. It is gothic, it is dark, yet there is that slight tinge of light that makes one think that although the band are inhabiting a very dark place indeed, there may be some light for them the other day of the cellar door. I wouldn’t recommend playing this album under the influence of anything, as this is music that needs to be played in the light of day, yet “Crossroads” shows that they can be lighter when they want to be. Commercial, yet never compromising this is a mature album that shows that even though they have been around for quarter of a century they are showing no sign whatsoever of slowing down yet.

DYSCARNATE With All Their Might

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


This is the third full-length for UK death metal trio Dyscarnate, and their first on Unique Leader. Since they released their debut EP back in 2008 the guys have been steadily gaining much critical acclaim with their debut album getting them named “best new death metal band in the UK, without question” by none less than Terrorizer magazine, while the second saw Metal Hammer crowning the band, “the new kings of UK death”. It has been five years since that release, during which time they have been honing their craft onstage, playing gigs with the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Fear Factory, Gojira, and Decapitated, but at long last they are back.

With Matt Unsworth keeping everything solid at the back, it is down to Tom Whitty (guitar, vocals) and Al Llewellyn (bass, vocals) to demonstrate that they are still one of the best bands around when it comes to true brutal death metal, and this they do with aplomb. Having two singers, both in the death style but different from each other, gives the band an edge, while the number of hours they have played together comes through in that they are so tight. Bass and guitar is often as one, driving the sound into the cerebral cortex. Death metal in its truest form rarely gets much better than this.

DAWN OF DISEASE Ascension Gate

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


When it comes to death metal, most bands either seem to get heavier as their career progresses, stay the same, or go off and do something completely different that is either a major success (Opeth) or disaster (At The Gates). So, it is interesting to hear German band Dawn of Disease trying to do something just a little different. They have been around since 2003, but only really started becoming a solid cohesive unit in 2009, and this is their fourth album. Singer Tomasz Wisniewski is convinced that he is still fronting the same band he always has, and his gruff vocals are very much a trademark, but musically here is a group that in many ways are far removed from what many would consider to be death metal yet also still staying true to the cause.

Yes, there are blastbeats, and yes there are quick passages, but there are also many more that are slow in terms of the genre, and packed full of melody. These guys have been listening more to the likes of Iron Maiden than they have to Cannibal Corpse, and the album is all the better for it. As a whole, this is still incredibly heavy, but with plenty of great tunes and the feeling that here is a band that isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and stretch the genre. They have created an album that will be of interest to those into death metal and also to those who many not normally listen to the genre. True, there are times when they go firmly back to where people may expect them to be (“Akephalos”), but this in itself only reinforces what they are doing on the rest of the album. Overall this is a heavy, melodic, really enjoyable album.

IN FLAMES Battles

Album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.45 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland


It is always interesting to research bands such as In Flames on the web, as to say that they have upset a few people with their change in musical direction is something of an understatement. Like many others, I was incredibly impressed with these guys when they burst out of Sweden in the Nineties, so it was something of a shock to come across them again many years later and discover just how far they had changed. Now, change isn’t necessarily bad, and it can often be good, but then there are also the concerns that the band haven’t changed so much as having left the planet altogether and gone into a new universe. Possibly one where they have been starved of oxygen which could explain what they are doing now.

But, I think the largest issue here is that the band is called “In Flames” and there is a skull on the cover. If one discounts those two then it is possible to view the band in a quite different light, and think of them more as a strange My Chemical Romance and Killswitch Engage hybrid. This is Alternative Metal with a larger emphasis on the former than the latter, and the result is something that feels created and false, as if it has been written solely for radio play and charts, as opposed to anything that the band believes in. They may say “we are the truth that hurts the most” in “The Truth”, but the real truth is that here is a band that has lost their way and while they have probably gained a great deal of new fans as a result, the old ones are long gone.

EDGUY Monuments

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
here can’t be many bands around that can lay claim to be celebrating their 25th anniversary with three original members who have yet to reach forty years old, and to have had the same line-up for more than twenty years. But, that is the case with Edguy, who were formed when singer Tobias Sammet and guitarists Jens Ludwig and Dirk Sauer were just fourteen years old. To celebrate reaching this milestone, Nuclear Blast have released a double CD compilation containing five new songs, plus a collection of “greatest hits” plus B-sides and rarities. They have also released this as a limited-edition package which includes a DVD of a 2004 show plus all their promos, and a book crammed full of photos. But, I’ll put up with a digital download of the music, as Edguy always know what they are doing, and they do it mighty fine.

Tobias may keep going off to work with his other project Avantasia, but Edguy allows him to return to what he does so well, providing stunning vocals on the top of a traditional heavy metal attack. The first song that gained Edguy some acclaim was of course “Vain Glory Opera”, and it still sounds as good now as it did when it was released nearly twenty years ago! The music may have become more complex since then, but there is always room for anthems, and apparently, they have played this song at every show since then. Edguy have never pandered to what people feel they should look like to sound like, and even have a name that annoys some people (as with Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are named after one of their teachers), but they’re still going strong. They will be out on the road again soon promoting this album, but if you have ever wondered what these guys sounds like, then this twenty-eight track two-and-a-half-hour long collection is a great way to do it.

DYING FETUS Wrong One to Fuck With

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 6 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Dying Fetus have created quite a stir over the years, releasing some important albums on the way, and finally having a stable line-up is paying dividends as the trio are back with what is to my poor abused ears, easily their most comprehensive album to date. John Gallagher (guitar, vocals) formed the band in 1991, with bassist/vocalist Sean Beasley joining in 2001 and “new boy” drummer Trey Williams keeping the seat warm since 2007, and there is never any room to hide in a trio and when a band has been together for ten years they know what they are doing, and that is very much the case here.

Brutal death metal is what Dying Fetus have always been about, and with both the band name and album title they are showing that there is no change this time around, and why should there be? They have obviously been influenced by Cannibal Corpse, yet Nile have also had an impact, as has Napalm Death as the guys keep their form of death metal just this side of grindcore. It is intense, it is over the top, with absolutely no room for compromise, yet somehow the ten songs all feel quite different and don’t wash out in the way that some albums tend to when they follow the same musical path throughout. There may not be much room for light on this album, but somehow the different shades of brutal black convey enough power and difference to make this album stand out.

There have been some incredibly strong and powerful death metal albums coming out recently, and this is another to be added to the list.

DECAPITATED Anticult

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland


When a band is formed at music school, the chances are that the guys behind it know what they are doing with their instruments, and this is how Polish technical death metal act Decapitated burst onto the scene more than twenty years ago. Since then they have released albums, suffered tragedy (in 2007 their tour bus collided with a truck, and drummer and founder member Witold "Vitek" Kieltyka died from his injuries) and been through line-up changes, so that only guitarist Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka is still there from the beginning, but they show no signs of slowing down. There has been a slight line-up change since the last album, ‘Blood Mantra’, with bassist Hubert Więcek (Banisher), officially replacing Paweł Pasek last year. Hubert is normally a guitarist, and that is his role in Banisher, so he has a different approach to many bassists and has really locked in with both Vogg and drummer Michal Lysejko, allowing singer Rafał ‘Rasta’ Piotrowski to get on with what he does best.

Although this is still death metal, it isn’t nearly as “pure” as could be found in the band’s early days, as they have combined death, thrash, rock ‘n’ roll, even black metal, and atmospheric parts together. I am also convinced that it was no accident that they chose Daniel Bergstrand to be involved with the mixing and mastering, as there is a distinct Meshuggah flavour to much of this. It is heavy, it is loud, it is raw, and it is most definitely passionate. This is music with balls, attitude, attack, and a refusal to conform, and all power to them for that. They included many first takes on this album, including many of the solos, and the vitality and power shines through in everything they do. They are planning on touring throughout the world to promote this album, and I can only hope that they include New Zealand in that list as this is a band I really want to see. This is superb.

BLIND GUARDIAN Live Beyond the Spheres

Live album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Blind Guardian have been at the top of the power metal game for quite some time now, having been formed as long ago as 1984, and they show no sign of slowing down just yet. A decision was taken to record all the shows from their 2015 European tour when they were promoting ‘Beyond The Red River’, and then from those gigs they selected the best versions of each song and have now released it as a triple CD set which is more than two and a half hours long! This is their third official live album, but is going to be viewed by many as their most complete due not only to its length, but that the setlist is one which includes virtually all the songs that any fan could want. Is “The Bard’s Song” on there? Of course, and “Mirror Mirror”, “And Then There Was Silence”, “Nightfall, “Wheel Of Time” – all up there are twenty-two songs on the set, all played as only Blind Guardian can play them, and performed in front of avid audiences who wanted to sing just as much as Hansi Kürsch.

These days the band may only be Hansi (vocals), André Olbrich (guitars), Marcus Siepen (guitars) and Frederik Ehmke (drums), with the line-up being completed by session musicians Barend Courbois (bass) and Mi Schüren (keyboards), but these guys are refusing to sit back and relax, and instead keep waving the power metal flag for everyone to see. When it comes to this style of music there is no-one who does it any better, and this album captures them in their native element, onstage in front of their fans. This album is simply indispensable if you like this style of music. www.nuclearblast.de

ATTILA Chaos

Album · 2016 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


So, Attila are back with their seventh studio album since their debut in 2007, and they are still peddling the same brand of deathcore that either makes them a great band or not, depending on your opinion. To say they are immature is probably one of the politer ways of describing them, as they roll out a string of words designed to offend in “Public Apology”, and I just kept thinking that it might appeal to me if I was fifteen years old again – although I still think I had better taste in music when I was that age. Their music also owes a great deal to Korn and bands such as Limp Bizkit, although not nearly as good (and I must confess to not being a fan of LB either).

Some of the songs do show some promise and even some originality, with the more death-oriented “Obsession” being a case in point, but there is just too much banality and pandering to hopeful radio play to make this an album that I will ever suffer again now I have written about it. That they have made it to the seventh album says something their perseverance, and possibly something about the target audience, but this isn’t for me.

AENAON Hypnosophy

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I remember reviewing the album released by Aenaon prior to this one, ‘Extance’, and saying that the Greek Black Metallers had a lot going for them as they refused to conform to what was expected, and this 2016 release has continued that progression. There has been a slight line-up change, and far less use of guests than before, but while some of it looks normal and as expected, there are some subtle differences. So, we have Astrous (vocals), Achilleas C. (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Anax (guitars), which are all straightforward. But, Nycriz is listed as providing drums, percussion, saz, bouzouki, sitar and oud – certainly not one would expect from a drummer, and some of these would never be expected on a black metal album. The newest member is Orestis, who of course provides saxophone. Saxophone? On a black metal album? The only guest is Giorgos Papagiannakis who provides some clean vocals against the gruff.

On hearing this album, one wonders why not more bands are using a sax in a metal setting, as it works incredibly well, providing a different edge while the guitars are riffing away which feels much more integral to the overall sound than keyboard sometimes do in the same setting. This isn’t the only difference within the album as the guys refuse to sit within any particular form, so although sometimes they are set squarely with the black metal genre there are other times when it is just an influence, and others where they drop it altogether where they move more into the mainstream. This is an even more balanced, exciting and adventurous album than ‘Extance’, and is one that I highly recommend, even if this form of metal isn’t normally to your liking.

BEASTMAKER Inside the Skull

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Formed in California in 2014, this is the second full-length album from the doom/stoner trio. Now, I like doom as much as the next metalhead, and have lots of stoner in my collection, but I can’t get out of my head that this is NWOBHM-tinged doom as opposed to the real thing. Now, back in 1979 I was sweet sixteen, and fell into the genre wholeheartedly but even in the early days it was easy to see what bands were going to make it, what bands might make it, and what bands were probably just going to release one album or single and then vanish, and Beastmaker fall into the last category. They are currently touring with Zakk Sabbath, and I can imagine that they would be a great warm-up band, but never anything more than that.

This is an okay album, but there isn’t enough in the way of good songs for me to want to keep returning to it, and there is a feeling that they have a lot to do if they ever want to break out of the second division.

MESHUGGAH The Violent Sleep of Reason

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 11 ratings
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Kev Rowland


When one buys a Meshuggah album one knows exactly what to expect, and this 2016 is no different to the ones that have come before. What we have here boys and girls is djent, but in a complex downtuned and aggressive form like none other. It is just not possible to state how brutal this album is, from the very first crunch to the last. Singer Jens Kidman has a great deal of work to do to make himself heard, as the rest of the guys are just so tight, so precise, that it is incredible that he manages to find a melody line at all. This is complex stuff, and no-one does this style of music better than the Swedes. True, they are somewhat lacking when it comes to dynamics, as there isn’t a great deal of light to play against the shade, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for them as they just paint the shade somewhat darker. Polyrhythmic is the only way to describe a band who haven’t worked out that 4/4 is often thought to be a valid time signature in metal. Why do that when they can groove in 5/8 instead?

There really is no other band like them, and that they continue to tour the world (they even turned up down here not long ago!) and release albums (this is their ninth) shows that while this may not be to everyone’s tastes, there is simply no-one who can do this any better. Meshuggah, djent, metal, intense, superb.

VINTERSORG Till fjälls, del II

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


This is quite a special album in many ways, as it not only looks back to the debut from 1998 both in title and style, but even includes music from before the very first EP. As bandleader Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming) says, “To write a sequel to the first Vintersorg “Till Fjälls” album was something that many people wanted me to do after its release. The second album “Ödemakens Son” was in the same direction but still something different. So, throughout the years that same mantra was often mentioned again and again “you need to do another album like Till Fjälls”. As an artist I’ve always followed my heart much more than my mind, so inspiration and passion has taken us on a journey through different atmospheres and different musical spheres. From the very folk- music-drenched metal in the beginning, to more progressive and complex textures and structures. As time passed by I just started to write more folk music oriented music again, just out of that same inspiration and passion. On the last three or four albums, we’ve in a way spiraled back to the starting origin, but with new experiences and a different stronghold to rest our art upon. So, I wrote some music and it came over me that it was somewhat “Till Fjälls del II” (part II) and after that fire was lit in our hearts it was a very easy choice to put it in that perspective. It’s not an attempt to do a classic sequel, much more like a lost twin finds its other half after many years. They’re connected to each other but with different experiences and perspectives. The included EP “Tillbaka till källorna” (Back to the Sources) is an attempt to portray the time before Vintersorg was Vintersorg. The songs are written in that transition period when Vargatron was put to rest and Vintersorg was given life. Still, these songs didn’t make it to the first EP “Hedniskhjärtad” due to different reasons but has survived in the back of my head, and on some worn-out tapes. When we decided to do the part II of “Till Fjälls” it came to me that it would be nice to really do a new take on these songs, trying to keep the basis of them but just put them into the Vintersorg perspective.”

Joining Andreas was Mattias Marklund (guitars), who joined not long after the debut, and Simon Lundström (bass), who has only been there a few years. This is classic folk/Viking metal, with strong riffs and walls of sound, although they do also bring in some black metal influences here and there. The result is an album that is incredibly powerful, and although I would much prefer a ‘live’ drummer (as they use when they gig), even I must admit that the programming has been done well and isn’t too painful to listen to. They remind me more of classic Dimmu Borgir than Amon Amarth, but that isn’t a bad thing in my book, as this just screams class from start to end. That one man is responsible for all the writing and much of the instrumentation is quite something, and by singing everything in Swedish they add some mystique. They can be emotional and ambient, or powerful and in your face, often within the same song, and it is the use of dynamics which really make this album stand out from the rest.

It has been three years since their last release, but it has been time well spent, and this is an album that any metalhead could do well to discover.

42 DECIBEL Overloaded

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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This is the third album from Argentinian quartet 42 Decibel, who currently comprise Junior Figueroa (vocals, guitar), Nicko Cambiasso (drums), Billy Bob Riley (rhythm & slide Guitar) and Matt Fraga (bass). This is classic AC/DC with some slide guitar, nothing more, nothing less. Junior sounds uncannily like Bon Scott, and their approach to music is the same as the Aussies were doing some forty years ago. True, when they bring some slide guitar into the mix it does give them a different edge, but for most the time they are channeling music and times from the past. Personally, I’d rather hear the real thing, but given that Bon left us many years ago, and AC/DC have finally given up the ghost as well, this could well be worth investigating by any diehard fans, especially when Junior can also do an Alex Harvey impression.

SUFFOCATION ...Of The Dark Light

Album · 2017 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 5 ratings
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Suffocation have been creating a storm for the best part of thirty years now, and show no signs of slowing down just yet. This is brutal technical death metal at its very finest: it just doesn’t get any better than this. Singer Frank Mullen has been there since the very beginning, and keeps being persuaded to turn out for just one album and tour, but with a family he can’t commit as much as he used to, so his successor, contributing vocalist Kevin Muller (The Merciless Concept / ex-Pyrexia) is also involved on this one. Of course, guitarist and songwriter Terrence Hobbs has been there since 1990, and bassist and lyricist Derek Boyer since 2004, so they know exactly what needs to be done to keep the band true to the Suffocation sound. It has been four years since the last album, due mostly to the band being on tour so much, but there are also a couple of new boys in guitarist Charlie Errigo (also in The Merciless Concept) and drummer Eric Morotti. Together they have linked in and created another monstrous sound, while Chris “Zeuss” Harris mixed and mastered the album and has created something that is powerful, delicate, and full of rage.

I was a big fan of their last album, ‘Pinnacle of Bedlam’, but this one is better. Whatever one wants from a technical death metal album is here in spades. Brutal, over the top, this is amazing.

SECRET SPHERE The Nature of Time

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.45 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Some twenty years after their debut, Italian melodic symphonic act Secret Sphere are back with their ninth studio album. Very much at their heart is founder guitarist Aldo Lonobile, but with singer Michele Luppi (also currently serving as keyboardist and background vocalist for Whitesnake) coming on board in time for their 2012 release ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’, the band have changed so that there are also now some more progressive elements to their sound. Italy seems to produce many strong melodic rock bands, and Secret Sphere are very much in case point. This release highlights their skill in composing highly orchestrated songs and introducing their foray into a new age of heavy rock and metal music. High class songs with amazing choruses, big vocals, majestic orchestral arrangements, and amazing, mind-blowing, guitar heroics are the order of the day. ‘The Nature Of Time’ explores the "back to life" concept, an inward looking search of the self that can positively impact everyone's everyday life.

It is polished, and produced to within an inch of its life, and that is possibly the only really flaw for me, in that the band never breaks out of the self-imposed constraints, so that the spark is often missing. That can’t take away from some great performance and some wonderful songs with superb vocals, but it needs some additional vitality and forcefulness. Some will probably view this as a masterpiece, but I could do with something a little more raw.

MUNICIPAL WASTE Slime and Punishment

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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I’m not sure just how long I’ve been a fan of these guys, but it’s been a while. In some ways, they remind me of Tankard, in that people only see the humour and fun they have, and forget that behind it all there is a damn good band who know exactly what they are about and what they want to achieve. It has been quite a while since their last album, but they’ve still been on the road and have also added an additional guitarist to their ranks to provide them with an even harder and punchy sound. They are still playing thrash/speed metal with a large nod to hardcore, and I have no problem with that at all. To me they always sound as if they have straight out of NYC, even though they’re from Richmond, Virginia, as they have the same sort of feel as many of the bands from that city.

The recording process was different this time around, in that bassist Phil Hall engineered it so the band could record the album themselves before sending it off to Bill Metoyer (known for his work with Slayer, W.A.S.P., Lizzy Borden and Dark Angel) to be mixed. They certainly sound tight, and the result is an album that may not be driving any new boundaries, or even be fashionable any more, but when it comes to recreating the scene of the late Eighties the n few do it much better than this. Turn it up.

IN FLAMES Sounds from the Heart of Gothenburg

Live album · 2016 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.14 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Like many metalheads I’ve always had a soft spot for the melodic death metal of Swedish band In Flames. They have built a massive reputation over the years, and their live shows are renowned for their intensity. But, due to living at the end of the world, and not having easy access to music magazines, I don’t always keep up with the scene as I should, and it has been a while since I last heard any of their material. What we have here is a live album, released in 2016, of a 2015 concert from their hometown, so I settled down, plugged in my headphones and turned it up.

A few songs in and I started searching the web to see what other people were saying about this album, and everyone seemed to be agreed that this is just a tad short of awesome, and mighty fine on so many levels. This means that I must be the only one who thinks the guitars are too low in the mix, and that the drums and vocals are taking too much prominence, and that the material simply wasn’t what I was personally expecting. Much of this is from the latest albums, which admittedly I hadn’t hard, but I swear there are times when they morphed into a heavy version of My Chemical Romance, which isn’t what I was expecting at all! Of course, they aren’t the first band to change since they first started, and they have been around for a long time (and have released a couple of other live albums to boot), but this isn’t an album I could get into and enjoy. Looks like I’m in the minority, won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. For fans only.

TANKARD One Foot in the Grave

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1982, four longhaired metal maniacs from Frankfurt, Germany, decided to found a band, and as they weren’t going to be around for very long they also created a new form of music, Alcoholic Metal! Some thirty-five years later they are still going strong, and kicking up a storm with thrash metal, and have just released their seventeenth studio album. Unlike some, the line-up has been incredibly stable, with singer Gerre and bassist Frank Thorwarth there since the beginning, drummer Olaf Zissel since 1994, and guitarist Andy Gutjahr since 1998, and they’re not showing any sign of slowing down yet.

It is easy to dismiss Tankard as a comedy act, because of their innate sense of humour, and fondness of beer, but behind all that there is a band here that know what they’re doing, and see no point in changing now. This is thrash metal that could have come out of the scene back when it was starting, furious and over the top with riffing guitars and a drummer that refuses to quit, and vocals that are gruff and totally fitting. True, there aren’t many blistering guitar solos, but they have a style that has worked for them for a very long time, so why change it now?

If you have never partaken of the joys of Tankard, yet enjoy thrash, then now could not be a better time to put aside any preconceived ideas and raise a glass.

ORIGIN Unparalleled Universe

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
For twenty years, Origin has engaged a full-blown sensory assault of tight, taut, and technical death metal amplified by flashes of grindcore and groove. The quartet of Paul Ryan (guitar, vocals), John Longstreth (drums), Mike Flores (bass, vocals), and Jason Keyser (vocals) are now back with their latest album, following on from 2014’s ‘Omnipresent’. The last three years has seen a lot of touring, with the likes of Aborted, Exhumed to Immolation, Marduk and Belphegor, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. The album was recorded and mixed at Chapman Studios in February 2017 alongside long-time collaborator and engineer Robert Rebeck (Tech N9ne). The band emerged with ten new songs including a cover of Brujeria's "Revolución", that were mastered in March 2017 by Colin Marston at Menegroth - The Thousand Caves (Altar of Plagues, Jarobe, Krallice).

Paul Ryan says “It feels like an Origin album, but it’s unparalleled to what you might expect if you haven’t heard us for 10 or 15 years. To me, it’s a true reflection of ourselves. I compare it to an action movie. Our earlier material is filled with action from beginning to end. Now, the idea is to add a little more depth and dynamics. You could say there are some twists in the plot musically”. This is brutal death metal, with more in common with grindcore than many other purveyors of the genre. The blastbeats keep coming, the guitars are tight with the bass, and Jason wouldn’t sound out of place fronting Cannibal Corpse. This is awesome on just so many levels, and is one of the best death metal albums I have come across. If you want to lose your dandruff and get severe neck ache then this is the one to get.

WEDNESDAY 13 Condolences

Album · 2017 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Wednesday 13 released five albums with Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13, but it was when he joined forces with Joey Jordison from Slipknot in the latter’s side project Murderdolls that most people became aware of him. Their 2002 debut album, ‘Beyond The Valley Of The Murderdolls’ redefined the horror punk genre, and when they went on hiatus in 2004 he started his solo career, releasing albums that saw him hailed as the bastard son of Alice Cooper and The Misfits. He even found time for an outlaw country project, Bourbon Crow, and a one-off glam metal act, Gunfire 76, before Murderdolls reconvened in 2010. After the ‘Women And Children Last’ album and tour, they again went on hiatus and he revived his solo career, and his latest album ‘Condolences’ is now on the player.

He has moved away from punk, and now this is much more straight forward heavy metal, although still with huge swathes of Alice Cooper influences. Part of that is down to his vocal style, as Wednesday 13 sounds as if he has been gargling whisky before laying down the tracks, providing a rough rawness that works well with the music which also owes a great deal to early W.A.S.P.. He says that he feels that there are no longer any boundaries for him, and that he can perform whatever style he now wishes to, but to be honest there isn’t a tremendous deal of variety among the songs on offer. This is a basic album, with little to lift it to anything special, with the result being that while I may not walk across the room to take it off the player as it’s okay, I may not actually have put it on in the first place. He’s good at what he does, but just not what I want to hear.

DECREPIT BIRTH Axis Mundi

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Formed in 2001, these guys can’t be said to be the most prolific act as this is only their fourth album, and the first since 2010. Their line-up is Bill Robinson (ex-Suffocation) on vocals, Sean Martinez (ex-Rings Of Saturn, ex-Decapitated) on bass, Sam 'Samus' Paulicelli (ex-Goatwhore, ex-Abigail Williams) on drums and Matt Sotelo (Deprecated, Soulside) on guitars, so it’s no surprise that they all know what they are doing given their experience. This is technical death metal, based on incredible drumming, and on the concept that anything is possible. This means that they refuse to stick within what people would normally think of death metal, bringing in progressive metal influences, and hooks that are way more mainstream. Something else that is unusual within the genre is that this doesn’t feature any guitar solos in the normal sense, they’re all really fast palm-muted riffs.

Apparently, the guys haven’t been touring for the last three years, but they are coming back with a vengeance, and their forthcoming trek with Cryptopsy sounds like a show not to miss. I feel incredibly fortunate to have heard two of the best death metal albums I have ever come across in just one week, and of the two Decrepit Birth just have it over Cytotoxin. Released on July 21st, this is one for the diary as if you are a fan of bands such as Suffocation, Death, Origin, Obscura, The Faceless, Fallujah, Nile, Decapitated, Cryptopsy you can’t afford to miss out on this

THUS DEFILED A Return To The Shadows

EP · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


It’s twenty-five years, since Thus Defiled came screaming into the world, drunk on sacrificial blood and aflame with blasphemy. They cut a blazing path through the black metal underground, releasing a series of unholy, Christ-crushing albums and EPs and sharing the stage with the greatest extreme metal has ever produced – Mayhem, Blasphemy, Rotting Christ, Cradle Of Filth, Dissection, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation and many more. A year ago, they crept back into the light with a deluxe reissue of a couple of their more sought after releases under the title ‘An Unhallowed Legacy’. This was their first release since 2011’s ‘Swine Of Hades’, and the response saw them decide to get back together for one last time and now we have ‘A Return To The Shadows’, a new EP featuring one never before heard original track and four cover versions from Death, Metallica, Morbid Angel and W.A.S.P.; reinterpretations of the songs that first helped inspire them right at the beginning.

Mike Browning (Nocturnus, ex-Morbid Angel) and Donn Donni (Vesperian Sorrow) make guest appearances, with Mike revisiting “Demon Seed”, which he originally sang on more than thirty years ago! The five songs show a band that are at the absolute peak, with a brutal death metal/black metal crossover that is as relevant today as it is has ever been, and the only problem I have with this five song EP is that it should be a full album! Whether you want powerful drumming, crunching tight guitars, or a strong vocal attack, it is all here, and then some. This is Black Metal at its very finest, it honesty doesn’t get much better than this. For fans of Venom, Immortal, Cradle Of Filth, Morbid Angel or Death.

WARRANT Louder-Harder-Faster

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Warrant was one of the most popular and successful rock bands to emerge out of Hollywood, CA in the late 80's and early 90's. In 1989, they released their debut ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich’, which immediately entered the charts and launched the hit singles “Down Boys,” “Sometimes She Cries”, and “Heaven”, which climbed up to number two on the US charts. They toured hard and soon that album had racked up sales of more than two million within the States alone. In the summer of 1990, their second album ‘Cherry Pie’, was released with even greater success and the singles “I Saw Red” and the rock anthem “Cherry Pie” received massive airplay. Fast forward to 2017 and the boys are back with their tenth album, and incredibly the line-up is only slightly different from those early days with “new boy” singer Robert Mason (Lynch Mob, Cry of Love) joining original members Joey Allen (guitar), Erik Turner (guitar), Jerry Dixon (bass) and Steven Sweet (drums). Mind you, the new boy has been there since 2008, so it is no surprise that he sounds at home.

The guys always had some similarities with bands such as Poison, Quiet Riot and even Motley Crue and Faster Pussycat, and this album just reinforces that. I have no idea why it has taken them six years to follow on from “Rockaholic”, but let’s just hope that it doesn’t take so long for the next one as this is a blast from start to end. True, it does appear that grunge, black metal or thrash has never taken place, and that we have been transported back to mid-Eighties America, but I don’t have an issue with that. This is American hard rock that is quite naïve in its innocence and bubblegum joy, but it’s as infectious as hell and even the obligatory power ballad doesn’t seem out of place. This is hard rock for people who don’t like hard rock, music destined for the airwaves in the States, and for large arenas where people can hold up their iPhones showing that stupid candle app (so that they don’t have to hold up lighters) during “U In My Life”. There is even a song played on acoustic guitars!

It is cheesy, it is out of date, but most of all it is bloody good fun. When I finished playing it I immediately dug out some Poison and put that on for a change, two bands whose music can be enjoyed without really thinking about it. ‘Louder Harder Faster’ may be full of music that isn’t fashionable any more, if it ever was, but Warrnant know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing it very well indeed.

LOST SOCIETY Braindead

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.83 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It took until 2016 for the Finns to come back with their third album, and even though it is the same quartet who played on the first two, this feels like a totally different band. Yes, they are more polished, as one would expect from a band that now knew what they were doing in a studio, along with the fact that they had been playing live a great deal, but none of that explains why they are now performing fairly standard heavy metal, with a few slight thrash influences. Samy Elbanna has never been the best singer in the world, but he got away with it when the band were trying to beat the sound barrier. Now it has all been slowed right down from where it was, and as someone who really enjoyed how the band used to sound, I found myself being incredibly disappointed. Lost Society used to have a real shot at breaking through some barriers with the way they approached the thrash genre, but with this album they have lost their way. Now, we all know that Megadeth has released the odd duff album, and Metallica haven’t done anything worthwhile since Cliff passed away, so maybe there’s hope for them yet. Let’s hope there is a significant return to form for the next one.

LOST SOCIETY Terror Hungry

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


2014 saw the mad flying Finns return with their second album, following on from ‘Fast Loud Death’ which came out the previous year. In my review of that album I said, “If you want something that allows you to lose the dandruff, that combines passion and polish with power and raw naivety then this will be of interest,” and to be honest not much has changed. This is good old fashioned thrash that sounds as if it has come straight of the Eighties Bay Area, but with a modern sounding production. Both guitarists can really play, and they have plenty of aggression and punch which means that the listener tends to forgive them for playing at warp factor 9 for the whole album.

The difference between this and some of the other thrash albums around is that these guys have decided that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so no new modern sub genres being brought to play, but rather taken Raven and Megadeth and mix it with some hardcore punk attitude, plug in, and see you at the end. This is thrash, nothing less, and just possibly a whole lot more. These guys may only be doing one thing, but they do it incredibly well indeed.

AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos

Album · 2017 · Heavy Psych
Cover art 4.10 | 13 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Although the band was only formed in 2012 by Soen guitarist Marcus Jidell and Candlemass chief Leif Edling, the guys are already back with their third album. The label describes them as where Black Sabbath meets soul and The Devil’s Blood meets Old School Rock, but they’re wrong. Produced by Marcus Jidell himself, while David Castillo (Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth) recorded and mixed it in the famous Ghost Ward Studios, and mastering undertaken by Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Sepultura), here we have an album that was probably a little dated forty-five years ago. What we have here boys and girls, is classic Uriah Heep, with Rickard Nilsson’s Hammond Organ linking with Marcus Jidell’s guitar in a way that is so very reminiscent of Ken Hensley and Mick Box, while Jennie-Ann Smith is different in her approach to the great David Byron, but channels him alongside her Maggie Bell approach.

This is warm, it is heavy, it is comforting and to someone my age also incredibly familiar in its approach. Those first five Heep albums were all classics in their own right, and this should also be judged in the same vein. The absolute standout is “Medusa Child” which twists and turns in many directions during its nine-minute long journey, even bringing in some children singing, while the guitar moves between leaden Iommi-style soundblasts into lighter territory, diving and swirling so that the listener isn’t always sure what is going to happen next. It almost seems as if a few different songs have been taken to pieces and then thrown back together as one, but it works incredibly well. Overall, this is a really enjoyable album, one that any fan of Seventies rock combined with Sabbath doom and a great production would do well to seek out.

SEVEN KINGDOMS Decennium

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On their 2007 debut these guys had a male singer, but he was replaced by Sabrina Valentine for the second, and the band moved much more into power metal territory, something the band are still providing with this their fourth. Having toured with the likes of Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Amaranthe and metal queen Doro, they have been building a strong reputation over the last ten years, with elements of these bands, as well as others like Helloween, having an obvious impact on their music. This is all about hitting hard, then hitting again, with Sabine staying above everything with a strong melodic soprano that never veers into the operatic.

But the guys behind her aren’t going to wimp out, but rather keep it all focussed with plenty of strong harmony guitars and riffs. There is no room for a keyboard player in this band, with the double bass drum blasting away and the band almost moving into thrash territory, this is all about guitars and vocals. Heads down and see you at the end, but with loads of harmony and melody. It is interesting to hear just what an impact the singer has here, as with a different approach they would be a very different band altogether, even with the rest of the band playing the same.

Apparently they crowdfunded this release, and all power to them, as it certainly sounds as if they had a major label behind them. Hopefully this will get them the recognition they deserve as anyone into metal in general, power metal in particular, will find a lot on here to enjoy.

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