Metal Music Reviews from Kingcrimsonprog

ARCHITECTS All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us

Album · 2016 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us was the critically acclaimed 2016 album from British Metalcore champions Architects. It is their seventh full-length release, their most successful to date, and their final album to feature Tom Searle before his untimely and tragic passing. It was produced by Fredrik Nordstrom (Arch Enemy, At The Gates, In Flames) and released on Epitaph records.

Architects fans generally fall into three categories; people who only like the incredibly brash and technical Dillinger Escape Plan-influenced early days. People who worship their breakthrough album Hollow Crown above all else, and people who favour their newest three albums. Me, I’m in the latter camp. My favourite of all their albums is Lost Forever // Lost Together.

My second favourite of all their albums is this. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is a real achievement. It is arguably their finest and most diverse record to date and when you take personal favouritism out of it, objectively their best. Their electronic side is fleshed out the best here. Sam’s voice is the strongest its ever been here. The balance between their heavy and contemplative sides is at its most harmonious here. Its got their best lyrics to date in my opinion. The production job is utterly perfect, the twinkling electronics float and the crunchy riffs really crunch.

The musical style comes close to Djent a lot at times especially with the balance of progressive metal style clean beautiful vocals, floating electronics and crunchy rhythmic, awkward riffing. They don’t fully immerse themselves in that one style but fans of it would love this album. Its one colour in their bigger picture. They also look in some more commercial directions here too, and luckily they have the tact and taste not to sound like they’re selling out or anything, again its just one part of a bigger whole. Its a very natural evolution of the style they’ve been refining since 2012’s Daybreaker.

Highlights include the punishing opener ‘Nihilist’ (which is the sort-of title track), as well as the rhythmic single ‘A Match Made In Heaven’ and the touching Anathema-esque closer ‘Memento Mori.’ It fittingly tells us to be mindful of death.

Overall; this is a stunning, tasteful, diverse and beautiful album that lives in a mathy, techy, heavy world too. It is expertly written, played, produced and has some fantastic lyrics. Its one of the band’s better if not best albums and if you like the band you’d be mad to miss it (unless you really only like the earliest stuff only). If you like bands like Tesseract, Circles or Monuments I’d also highly recommend this one to you to try.

EDGUY Mandrake

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 18 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
There’s a very handy Metallica comparison that works when thinking about Edguy. So, Kingdom of Madness is the Kill ‘Em All of the discography, a more raw and charming affair that wears its influences loud and proud and is fun but not yet fully developed. Vain Glory Opera is like Ride The Lightening, a more mature and uniquely them record that starts showing off their ambition while still rocking. Theater Of Salvation is Master Of Puppets, the magnum opus, the really grand and ambitious album that contains amazing, well constructed and monstrously catchy songs. The Savage Poetry is …And Justice For All, the follow up to their best album and almost as good in its own right.

All of that brings me to what I’m trying to say here. Mandrake is their Black Album. After four albums in one particular style and tone, the band decide to mature off in a new direction and break out of the confines of their home genre. Like The Black Album still had some Thrash songs on it like ‘Struggle Within’ and ‘Through The Never,’ Mandrake has some pure Power Metal songs on it like ‘Painting On The Wall,’ ‘Golden Dawn’ and ‘Save Us Now.’ Even then, sometimes when it does do traditional Power Metal, its more of a Master Of The Rings vibe than a Keeper Of The Seven Keys vibe if you know what I mean. Just listen to the little skiffly drumstick solo and high pitched comedy vocal in the middle of ‘Save Us Now’ to see what I mean.

Largely however, Edguy find themselves testing the limitations of their German Melodic Power Metal roots. ‘Painting On The Wall’ and its more progressive big brother ‘Tears Of A Mandrake’ have some very Bon Jovi and Detonater-era Ratt sounding influences audible on them, its no the whole picture but it is one colour they’re painting with. ‘Jerusalem’ sees them blending their Power Metal stylings with a more commercial Hard Rock vibe foreshadowing where they’d go on their next album. ‘The Pharaoh’ is a ten minute epic with an eastern vibe that sounds like a mixture between Sabaton when they get slow and stompy and when Rainbow would go eastern sounding like on ‘Babylon’ and ‘Tarot Woman.’ ‘Nailed To The Wheel’ although opening up acoustically with some very different vocal melodies than Edguy usually go for, evolves into the fastest most pissed-off Thrash Metal like song the band had put out to date. If you get the version with bonus tracks, ‘The Devil & The Savant’ also has a touch of Glam to it. Not the whole picture again, but its there. Its the band testing their boundaries.

The production job also has a lot to do with it. This album has a much more full, bright, unmetallic sheen to it. Commercial is the word best to describe it really. Its good in its own way but it sounds quite different to where they’d been living in previously.

Like with Metallica, there are lots of fans who consider The Black Album the last of the classic-five and there are other purists who think there was only a classic four and this is the first one afterwards. Of course, there are also a large amount of fans I’ve discovered online who prefer the band in their more Hard Rock form and say things like ‘Yeah, they got good when they stopped trying to sound like Iron Maiden’ and even those guys are also split on this record, because its not quite the Pure Power Metal style and its not quite not either.

Overall; Mandrake is a very good album, and a very interesting album, but whether you’ll like it or not very much depends on what you wanted out of it in the first place. The production job may be off putting if you wanted a certain thing, as may be the songwriting for about half of it. The songwriting on the other half may be off putting if you wanted a different thing. Vocals, guitar solos, drum patterns and creativity are all above reproach, its just the sound and musical direction that people are divided over.

TRIVIUM The Sin And The Sentence

Album · 2017 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.11 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Let me say this quickly before you stop reading. This album is a fucking masterpiece. A gigantic game-changing triumph we didn’t expect! This is hands-down the best album of their career and a new high for the subgenre. An almost from out of nowhere about-face turn, skyrocketing them from diminishing returns to champions. No, I wasn’t expecting it either, but go with me on this…

Right, still reading? Ok, with that out of the way. Lets do the review.

Trivium have had a funny old career. Their output has been really varied. They’ve done some really heavy and some really melodic stuff. They’ve done some technical progressive stuff and some simplistic groovy stuff. They’ve gone brash and brutal and they’ve gone mature and commercial. Not only has their music been really varied but so have the reactions from both their fan-base and the critics for every album. Every new album seems to sees them pick up new fans they’ve never had before and lose diehards who hate the new material or direction. Critics in one territory or from one background may hate the early stuff and love the mid career stuff and its vice versa with critics from another territory or background. Some albums are beloved in Germany but forgotten in the UK. Some are cult classics in America but underrated gems in Europe.

Me, I’ve liked every single one of the bands albums. A few of them I’ve loved. Like the majority of fans I’d say the best three are Shogun, In Waves and Ascendancy. I also have a huge soft spot for Silence In The Snow too due to its Classic Metal and Power Metal vibes but I understand how some fans of the heavier or techier stuff aren’t into that one.

This album, even with all that said, is just straight up and unarguably in another damn league. The energy in the performances; the fantastic satisfying crunchy production, the best and most diverse vocals of their career, the best drummer they’ve ever had hands-down… these are all factors that elevate this album above the rest of their discography. As are the songs themselves.

The songs are some of the most diverse, inventive and interesting songs they’ve written musically and structurally to date. They mix a vast array of styles that the band have dipped their toes into over the years and a lot of new stuff to. They have some of the band’s most interesting and memorable riffs and solos to date. They take twists and turns you don’t expect and catch you off guard. They showcase all of the musician’s talents at times but leave space for the lyrics and vocals to take center stage at other times. Sometimes they’re haunting and beautiful and sometimes they’re furious and heavy as balls, just riffing the fuck out of a big groovy riff.

Do you remember back when Machine Head were new and they were the cool new thing, and then they altered their style and tried new vocal techniques and production styles and lots of fans jumped ship but then The Blackening came out, all full of energy and anger and just plain amazing songs and suddenly tore everyone’s heads off and now Machine Head are bone-fide legends? This album is Trivium’s equivalent of The Blackening. It doesn’t sound anything like it, but that step-up in quality and energy and absolute revitalization of their career? That’s the same!

A lot of people online and in print have been going nuts over The Sin And The Sentence and justly so. In a recent interview Trivium mainman Matt Heafy said that the band decided they would have to write the best album of their career or else give up because they are always second guessing themselves and changing their styles and going through as many drummers as Spinal Tap. Well, Trivium ‘aint giving up now, because this is unequivocally their best ever work. Maybe its because Paolo is writing more of the songs than Matt. Maybe its because they are letting some of their Black Metal and Skate Punk influences mix into things instead of trying to purely do a mix of Groove Metal, Thrash Metal and Classic Metal like their original mission statement. Maybe new drummer Alex Bent just injected a new lease of life into them like Todd La Torre did to Queensryche. I don’t know why, but this thing is just on a whole other level.

Its quite a diverse album that really doesn’t sit in any one space for too long. ‘Betrayer’ mixes Ascendancy-era brutality with Pennywise style Punk and a happy Power Metal lead guitar sheen, but ends up with blast beats in the middle. ‘Thrown Into The Fire’ is the darkest and heaviest thing they’ve ever done at times and has undertones of Dimmu Borgir, but then at other times is just an absolute riff and solo school that…ok maybe this one does sound a bit like The Blackening actually. ‘The Wretchedness Inside’ is the kind of thing they were doing on the heavier deep-cuts from In Waves mixed with some jaunty Prong-style disco beats and a guitar effect than almost recalls Damageplan on their weirder songs like ‘Blunt Force Trauma’ or ‘Explode,’ it also has a strange midsection that remind’s me of Slipknot’s ‘Custer’ but then it has one of the most satisfying and heavy riff-out moments like Messuggah or something and that transitions into really pretty, clean Maiden-esque guitar lines. ‘The Heart From Your Hate’ is probably the most conventional song on the album, and it mixes their ‘In Waves’ and ‘Brave This Storm’ style staccato riffing with their ‘And Sadness Will Sear’ style mature The Black Album-worshiping stuff.

For fans of the band’s heavier side ‘Sever The Hand’ pretty much alternates between especially crushing groove metal riffing and pissed off Thrash Metal sections throughout. Fans of the band’s cleaner more commercial side won’t be disappointed either. Although this is one of the band’s heaviest and most progressive and technical albums yet, there’s still some stuff to get into if you prefer the heart-throb-Heafy stuff they previously showcased on ‘Dying In Your Arms’ and the like. ‘Endless Night’ for example lives in that sort of territory. Its just got a hell of a lot more energy, verve and attitude to it. The drums and background guitars give it a cool sort of Coheed & Cambria quality rather than just radio rock.

I’d try to pick out highlights but the album doesn’t sit in any one place long enough (hell the songs don’t either) to really establish a good version of it. I wouldn’t cut a single track and I’d like to see each of them live. Its all great. Its all interesting and diverse. That’s “diverse,” yet really cleverly constructed and naturally flowing though, not wacky-“diverse” were stuff that doesn’t fit is just smashed together. This is an album you can listen to over and over again and find new depths, new nooks and crannies. ‘Oh hey I didn’t notice that cool drum fill before’ sort of stuff. Not “why are they playing a bassoon over old-school Tampa Death Metal riffs during their Lady GaGa cover?” sort of stuff.

Its hard to hand out a man of the match award either. Matt’s voice is so much better than its ever been (check out ‘Beauty In The Sorrow’). Paolo’s songwriting is so much better than its ever been. Corey’s guitar solos are just as good if not better than they were on the glorious guitar-line fueled Silence In The Snow. Oh yeah, and there’s Alex Bent, whose drumming absolutely makes the album. More than the cherry on top its almost the whole goddamn cake.

Overall, the Sin And The Sentence is an utter masterpiece. If you like Trivium do not miss out on this at all. If you used to like them and stopped, don’t you dare miss out on this one either, this is the one to get back into them on, seriously. If you’ve never listened to them I strongly urge you to change that. I’d even go as far as to say “If you only get one Trivium album, make it this.” This isn’t just a good Trivium album, or a good album, this is a game-changer.

EDGUY The Savage Poetry

Album · 2000 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 13 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Edguy were in an interesting position at the turn of the millennium. Starting the group as a bunch of wide-eyed teenagers in the early to mid ’90s, Tobias Samet and the rest of the boys who would go on to become legends of German Melodic Power Metal, were initially a rough an ready influences-worn-on-sleeves kinda band. They released a demo quality debut album called Savage Poetry in 1995 and then through years of practice and touring went on to become a leading force in Power Metal and one of the finest to be doing it at the time. After releasing their absolute magnum opus Theater Of Salvation in 1999 and being considerably more famous and beloved, fans kept asking if they would reissue Savage Poetry which had long since been out of print. Doing them one better, the band took all the talent, skills and confidence they’d been developing over the years and remade the album. No reissued, not re-recorded, but remade entirely.

Everything is different here, new artwork, new logo, new track order, new guitar solos, heck even the bassist and drummer are new when you think about it as neither were on the original version. They added a ‘The’ to the title as well, that’s new. Essentially, what happened was the band listened to these old songs and then wrote them again in 1999 as only the band who had released Theater Of Salvation could have. What resulted was a mix of old and new, that ticks all the right boxes to sound classic and modern, naive and accomplished, charming and sophisticated. There’s a duality to it that works as well as your go to metaphor (be that chocolate and peanut butter, tits and dragons or whatever people are saying these days, the point is the two compliment each-other despite seeming like different worlds).

For most people this is just some handy background information for a pub quiz however because unless you go out of your way, you aren’t hearing the 1995 version easily and the differences between the two versions are therefore largely academic. Regardless, because this is Edguy in 1999 we’re talking about here, this is an absolutely superb album not to be missed by Edguy fans, or indeed anyone with an interest in this style of music. If you listen to Gamma Ray, Helloween, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius or anyone of that nature, you really want to get up on this album. I would be so bold as to say The Savage Poetry is either the band’s second best, or sometimes if I’m feeling generous, joint-first best studio album.

There are a lot of similarities between this and Theater Of Salvation. They were both recorded around the turn of the millennium at Rhoen Studios in Fulda, Germany, and were both self produced by the band, with the same line-up. They both feature a mixture of Maiden and Priest influenced speed metal sections, bombastic grandiose sections with pianos and choral singing, and then some occasional ballads, and happy Helloween-influenced melodies. They both come before the band went a bit more Hard Rock in direction and they both come before the band started letting their humour play a big part.

Highlights include the speedier more metallic tracks ‘Sacred Hell’ and ‘Misguiding Your Life’ as well as the slow stompy Hammerfall-esque opener ‘Hallowed’ and possibly best of all, the diverse multi-faceted ten-minute ‘Eyes Of The Tyrant.’

The album works really well from start to finish, the two ballads break things up (and are surprisngly tasteful), the longer tracks take you on a little journey and then the rest of the album gets its head down and delivers exactly what you love about the band perfectly, only with a little bit more of a NWOBHM gallop than usual.

Overall; be sure not to miss out on one of the band’s absolute finest hours. If you like the glorious melodic guitar lines, crunchy riffs and pounding drums of Edguy at their most metallic, this is seriously up there as one of the finest examples of that. If you like the band being adventurous and writing long complex stuff, that’s here too. If you like them when they drop some ballads, these are some of the band’s best. If you’re tempted by the band but scared off by the more commercial Hard Rock stuff or the comedy stuff there’s none of that here. This is the band at their best, with some damn fine songs and a sterling production job, updating some charming old songs into an absolute beast of an album. Highly recommended!

RHAPSODY OF FIRE Symphony Of Enchanted Lands

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 36 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Ludicrously over the top, pompously bombastic, cheesy as hell. With Power Metal these things can either be used as insults, or as compliments depending on what you like to listen to.

There are few bands more OTT, more pompous or more cheesy than Italy’s Rhapsody (Who were later re-named Rhapsody Of Fire due to legal issues, and later still split into two bands, Rhapsody Of Fire and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody with different members in different sides continuing things on separately). Pompus, cheesy and OTT sure, but that’s exactly what’s so great about them. The band are the very spirit of over-dramatic, flowery, sword and sorcery themed Symphonic Power Metal. Just take a look at the dragon on the front cover. Hey people told you dragons and stuff were ridiculous back in the ’90s but nowadays everyone’s calling their newborn kid Khallesi and you can buy Game Of Thrones t-shirts in Asda. (That’s Wallmart for my non-British readers).

Singer Fabio Lione (currently in Angra) has an absolutely stunning voice, with such ridiculous power, range and control. The perfect man for the job of delivering the cheesy OTT story, over this cheesy OTT music. He has the perfect skill for delivering the immense drama the band have to offer. Lead guitarist Luca Turilli’s insane virtuoso mastery of his instrument is beyond impressive. The shred level is off the charts. The combination of both those things is bound to have been a huge influence on modern bands like Firewind and Dragonforce.

This 1998 effort is the second entry in their series of concept albums set in a Lord Of The Rings style fantasy world, continuing the story of their The Emerald Sword Saga. The music is a mixture of Hollywood soundtrack style orchestration and glorious rampaging melodic European-style Power Metal. There’s speedy numbers, mid-paced stuff and lavish string & wind driven atmospheric passages, all working next to each other in perfect harmony. Sometimes they just go ahead and blend it all together too. The fast songs will have flutes and acoustic guitars as intros or outros or middle-eights, the slow songs will have orchestral moments or narration at the end, the mid-paced stompers will speed up later on. It all works so well together.

After a minute of dramatic classical music and chanting in the intro ‘Epicus Furor,’ the band kick off the album with a bang, on possibly the finest track on the whole album and one of the finest of their early career… the absolutely storming ‘Emerald Sword,’ with one of the catchiest choruses you’ll ever hear (it sticks in my head for days at a time). The album is crowned by an epic 13-minute title track which encompasses pretty much all the many styles this album has to offer in one single place. Everything in between, the ballads, the fast ones and the orchestral stuff is all up to a very high standard. Highlights include ‘Wisdom Of The Kings,’ ‘Riding The Wings Of Eternity’ and ‘Beyond The Gates Of Infinity.’

Overall; Symphony Of Enchanted Lands is a ridiculously bold and spectacular album brimming with effort, with enthusiasm and drama. The musicianship is immense, the songs are memorable and as long as you don’t mind that its cheesy as hell, I highly recommend you check it out. Fans of symphonic bands would like it, fans of Power Metal would like it and fans of fantasy fiction would like it.

STRATOVARIUS Intermission

Boxset / Compilation · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.27 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Intermission is a mish-mash compilation album by the Finnish Power Metal band Stratovarius from 2001. It was released as a stopgap between their commercially successful Infinite album from 2000 and their ambitious and slightly Prog Metal double album series Elements Parts 1 & 2 from 2003.

Its got linear notes from the band about the release and a very well designed cover art referencing previous albums (kind of like Pink Floyd’s Echos compilation does).

The album opens up with four brand new songs, first of which is the slightly power ballad style ‘Will My Soul Ever Rest In Peace?’ Its nice solid melodic Hard Rock stuff. Next comes ‘Falling Into Fantasy’ which starts off with a shimmering Empire-era Queensryche style vibe. Think ‘Della Brown.’ It sounds like the sort of stuff the band were doing on the popular Destiny album. Speaking of Queensryche the chorus is quite reminiscent of ‘Jet City Woman’ too actually. The song livens up further with a nice energetic guitar solo and a fun drum pattern underneath with a very nice tom fill at the end of the solo. At the start you thought it was just another ballad (Statovarius do a lot of ’em) but really it turned out to be one of the best songs they do in this particular direction, if a little derivative of Degarmo and company (for me that’s a good thing really).

That’s followed up by the traditionally power metal track ‘The Curtains Are Falling,’ a speedy double-kicks-a-flailin’ headbanger with a catchy chorus and memorable neoclassical keyboards. Its got a lot of energy and probably would have been the smarter choice to open the album with, I think. Probably would’ve worked better going from most to least energetic, but hey, its sequenced how its sequenced folks, I don’t make the rules.

Finally there’s a track called ‘Requiem’ which is essentially just a typical instrumental intro or outro. The sort thing most people will skip after the first few listens. A slow, keyboard driven atmospheric build up with no Heavy Metal payoff.

That’s it for the brand new specially written for this songs. The rest are gathered from mixed sources during their classic period. There’s two demos ‘Neon Light Child’ and ‘Freedom’ both of which are OK but forgettable (just the same as the final versions but with less polished production really). Then two live tracks, ‘Hunting High & Low’ (their very fun hit single) and ‘I Surrender’ (which is actually a Rainbow cover, and very fun, if a bit out of place), which are nice but kind of pointless on a compilation as opposed to a proper full-length live album. There’s two studio cover songs; ‘Bloodstone’ originally by Judas Priest (which they nail) and ‘Kill The King’ originally by Rainbow again (which has been done better by other bands, but its decent if you aren’t over-familiar with it).

The majority of the rest is all the bonus tracks from deluxe editions of the last few albums etc. ‘Keep The Flame’ is a very somber and emotional piano ballad. ‘Dream With Me’ is a power ballad that gets very jaunty towards the end when the solo kicks in. Then there’s another power ballad called ‘What Can I Say?’ which is slightly similar to track one, but with a bit more bite to it. OK yes, sensing a theme here? There are a lot of ballads on here. Its not all ballads though…

‘Its A Mystery’ is a very strong more commercial Power Metal tune in the vein of ‘Hunting High & Low’ which sounds like it would’ve fit perfectly on Infinite and probably would’ve made a great single if they’d released it that way. Its one of the best songs on this compilation. ‘Why Are We Here?’ the bonus track from Infinite is similarly just another really strong track from them in their commercial direction, and also baffling that it wasn’t a big single either. ‘Cold Winter Nights’ is typical perfect up-tempo Stratovarius, with that sort of Judas Priest’s Electric Eye vibe only with more keyboards and melody. Its also one of the best songs here and a nice surprise if it wasn’t on your version of Destiny already. ‘When The Night Turns To Day’ is a stomping mid pace track with a whiff of Queensryche’s Empire about it, just like the new track mentioned above. It would also have fit best on Destiny (even though it was initially from as far back as Episode, if you can believe that).

As you can imagine, Intermission is just a jumble of odds and ends with no particular theme or flow or consistency. Its not a must-have release or anything. Hey, if you like ’em doing ballads and covers you’re quids-in. If you want ’em doing more of a Speed Metal thing there’s not so much of that on here though, so maybe don’t start here if you are new, pick up one of the records in their glory run from Episode to Elements Part 2 instead.

If you like the band already though, and just want a cheap, easy and quick way to get the bonus tracks and b-sides in one place then this is great for that purpose, and hey there’s four solid new songs too to flesh it out. Nothing life changing, but worth a look if you’ve ran out of other Stratovarius products to check out from this era.

PRONG Carved Into Stone

Album · 2012 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
One of the absolute best Prong albums is Carved Into Stone. It was released in 2012 by Steve Evetts (Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, Sick Of It All) on SPV records, and features the bass talents of Tony Campos (Fear Factory, Ministry, Soulfly etc.)

Prong are a really interesting band. They cover a lot of different ground. Early in their career they were a Hardcore Punk band, after that they crossed over into more Thrash teritory. Then they released some seminal Groove Metal albums before going into a much more Industrial direction with some slight Nu Metal overtones. Then they broke up and came back, and went in a few more slight alterations of combinations of all of these styles over their next few albums. Some are more raw, some are more polished, some lean more heavily in one direction, some lean more heavily in another.

The music here, on Carved Into Stone, is terrific. The album opens with two faster ragers, drops into a punkier number and evens out with a mid-paced groover in the spirit of Black Label Society (only with an alternative rock style chorus). This little run is really a mixture of all the different eras of their career. There’s a few moments of industrial flavours here and there. There’s plenty of Pantera, early Machine Head and ’90s Sepultura sounding stuff. There’s tiny little pieces of Fear Factory on the odd occasion. There’s straight up Thrash used sparingly, and moments of punk. It all mashes together smoothly and perfectly both within the songs themselves, and along the album as a whole. It flows really well and all the parts gel together within individual songs.

If you are a new Prong fan, the common consensus is that you should start with their classic 1994 album Cleansing. In my opinion the next place you should go after that is here, Carved Into Stone. I was about to list highlights, but really the aforementioned first five tracks are all absolute must-hears. They show off different parts of the Prong sound. If you wonder if this album is for you then check out any but preferably all of those. ‘Eternal Heat,’ ‘Ammunition’ and ‘Carved Into Stone’ in particular are like three different bands and no one on their own showcases the band fully, yet all of them are absolutely brilliant examples of what Prong do (in part) and really good tunes in and of themselves.

Overall; if you like bands like Fear Factory, Pantera, Machine Head, Pissing Razors or ’90s Sepultura you may seriously want to check out Prong. If you check out Prong you may seriously want to check out Carved Into Stone. It is a very well mixed combination of a few different styles within their arsenal, but what tips it over the edge is the brilliant performances, punchy production, level of consistency and better than usual songs from the band.

EXODUS Blood In, Blood Out

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 8 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Exodus have had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Not as many as say Cradle Of Filth or Annihilator but certainly not as stable as the likes of Rush or Clutch. They've had three lead singers on record; firstly Paul Baloff on their immortal debut album Bonded By Blood, who was replaced by former Legacy (the band who would go on to be Testament) vocalist Steve 'Zetro' Souza. Zetro saw them through the rest of the '80s and early nineties (on, in my opinion, their most important and seminal work and some of the best Thrash Metal by any band at all). He himself was then replaced by Baloff again in the late '90s until Baloff passed away.

The band got back together with Zetro and released one of the best albums of their (or anyone's) career in 2004's Tempo Of The Damned. (Incidentally; If you don't love 'War Is My Sheppard' then I just don't know what to do with you). Then, just a year later Zetro was out and replaced by the then little-known Rob Dukes, who we were all very skeptical about but who fit the band monstrously well and eventually won a lot of people over, during the course of his tenure, lasting three studio albums, a live album and a remake compilation of Bonded By Blood. After two singers zig-zagging there was finally vocal stability and the modernized band was the going concern that would see them through to retirement.

[Before the angry comments flow in I know I mentioned line up changes and then just discussed the singers. It wasn't only the singers. Guitarists have changed, bassists have changed. Drummer Tom Hunting has left and returned a few times (although that's more understandable as he has a health condition). But for the last few years things had been nice and stable within the group more or less.]

Where was I? Yes... to see them through to retirement. ....Aaaaaaaaand then Dukes was out and Zetro was back again. What the hell? Do you know how hard it is to get fans to accept a third singer!? And to do so this late into their career. Imagine if Blaze Bailey actually won over Maiden fans. Do you know how rare that is? And then they go start over again. I didn't buy this album for a full two years after I wanted it just out of sheer mourning for Dukes. 

Oh well, at least it wasn't a new singer again. As much as I love Dukes' vocals on that run of albums its hard to deny that Zetro is an absolute legend and the definitive voice of Exodus for me. He's who I'd want to see live and my dream setlist by the band is 80% Zetro era songs. It just makes sense. In fact, it took me catching the band live to get over the shock and realize things weren't just reunion for reunions sake. Yes it is mentally untidy that their current singer is on their was their singer, then not, then he was again, then he wasn't again and then he was again, and that his time in the band was '86-94 and then not until '02 and out again in '04 and then not on the superb trilogy of albums between then and 2014.  Its untidy, but that's Steve fucking Souza! That's the guy who sang 'Accelerating faster, devastating plaster, fabulous disaster.' How can you deny him?

Anyway. That's all a very long-winded bit of background to Exodus' tenth studio album, 2014's Blood In, Blood Out. The name presumably a cheeky wink to their history with line-up changes. The only reason to even mention all this background is that it sits there swirling away in your mind as you listen to this album. Can it live up to the monster of Tempo Of The Damned? Can it live up to their '80s glory period? How will it affect their absolute top run of form on those previous Rob Dukes albums, are they just going to throw away all that good work?

Well the good news for all of us is that this album absolutely kills. After a strange industrial intro courtesy of guest star Dan The Automator (which if you didn't know about beforehand would make you fearful Exodus have taken a funny turn and decided this album is going to go a bit Static X) the band burst into an absolutely ferocious and concise hour of blistering, up tempo Bay Area Thrash.

The songs are very catchy and memorable without letting up on the intensity. Its very restless, aggressive and pounding. Yet somehow there are tonnes of hooks to grab on to. The chanting gang vocals on some songs are undeniable. On some songs the razor sharp guitar solos get stuck in your head. Some songs have that one riff that is just irresistible and breaks a huge smile across your face. I mean just listen to the chorus to 'Collateral Damage.' You aint forgetting that any time soon! Hell; listen to its guitar solo. That's not just any other guitar solo, its really rather unique. And that's just one song. I can't emphasize this enough: each and every one of the songs on the album, all of them, are catchy and memorable. There's nothing that needs removing from the album. Nothing that should've been trimmed to make it more punchy.

The songs are generally less long and feature less repetition than on the previous few albums, and what is left is really just all the best parts. It may be less ambitious and less adventurous but it makes up for it in snarling, barking, high speed uuumph. It really is the pure essence of Thrash Metal writ large in modern production, triumphantly performed by absolutely bad asses who have only gotten better with age.

An interesting point here is the guest appearance from Metallica's Kirk Hammet who we all remember was in Exodus before he joined Metallica (Tempo Of The Damed featured a song he'd written on). Kirk adds some guest guitar to 'Salt The Wound.' Its a nice touch. Speaking of guest appearances, Testament's Chuck Billy also comes in and does guest vocals on 'BTK' and the title track. He is always a great guest. I loved it when he showed up on Forbidden's reunion album Omega Wave and I love him showing up here (just as Zetro guested on Testament's First Strike Still Deadly). I love the whole Bay Area Thrash camaraderie thing.

Side note: Does anyone else remember that fun, weird, N64 game 'Body Harvest' ? I can't forget it now. Exodus have a song by that name here and now all I can think of is giant blocky praying mantis-looking aliens. Every time I spin this album all I can think of is those aliens, Chuck Billy's smile, and how weird it is that Rob Dukes is out of the band and yet they totally make their discography make sense with this album. Oh, and while we're at it; Best guitar solo on the album? Body Harvest!

After a brilliantly strong opening, the guest appearances, the great stomping 'Body Harvest' and its great solo and 'BTK' and all that stuff, you'd think the album may start to lag towards the end. That is a remarkably good first half, and by anyone's standards they could dump a bunch of filler at the end and most people would still go away thinking it was a great record. Well, that is exactly what they do not do. The second half arguably mirrors the first for quality, for ferocity, for catchiness and for interesting memorable moments: 'Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage,' 'Honor Killings,' 'Food For The Worms' ...these are all raging tunes.

Overall; despite line up drama, this is an absolutely ripping album from the Bay Area legends, and people like me were wrong to doubt them. The band are arguably in much better shape than three quarters of the rest of '80s Thrash bands are at the minute, arguably stronger than ninety percent of new Thrash revival bands, and this album is arguably in the top half in not top quarter of their entire discography (and those are damn big words, but I genuinely mean it). If like me you are skeptical of yet further line up changes or just plain sad to see Rob go, don't hesitate like I did. Blood goes in, Blood goes out, but Exodus are always bloody brilliant.

EDGUY Theater of Salvation

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 18 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Ask me what either the best or my favourite album by Edguy is and nine times out of ten I’ll tell you its Theater Of Salvation (the other one time its the 2000 remake version of The Savage Poetry). Ask me what my favourite Edguy song is and one hundred out of one hundred times I’ll tell you its ‘Babylon.’ Heck, I’ll probably tell you that uninvited most days because I’m just that enthusiastic about it.

Something magical was in the air in 1999 when the German Power Metal band burst out of Rhoen Studios in their homeland of Fulda. Their first two albums showed potential. Vain Glory Opera saw them truly find themselves. Then they absolutely cemented their legacy with this magnificent release. Talk about knocking it out of the park. It was their first record with the famous rhythm section of Tobias Exxel and Felix Bohnke on bass and drums respectively, who’ve been there ever since.

The album begins strongly with the aforementioned ‘Babylon’ and ends on a high with the 12-minute diverse mini-epic Title Track. There’s some nice speedy heavy Power Metal tunes in ‘Arrows Fly,’ ‘The Headless Game’ and the excellent ‘Falling Down’ (another of the must-hear tracks here). There’s some slower quieter moments too with ballad ‘Another Time’ and power ballad ‘Land Of The Miracle.’ If you only like Power Metal at its most pounding and chest beating, these two might be a bit wet for your tastes, but they add variety.

As you can see from a lot of those titles, there’s a sort of religious theme going on here. It doesn’t just show up lyrically but also in the keyboards and vocals a lot. You know how ‘Suite Sister Mary’ by Queensryche has a sort of religious sound to it? That sort of thing, but if that was dark, this is very very bright and colourful and shiny. You may think, “well how the heck does that fit into Power Metal? I can’t imagine a mixture between the background music in The Borgias and the galloping of Iron Maiden” but I assure you it gels really well with these particualr songs and how the band have constructed them.

Speaking of vocals, these would have to be in the running for a career best from mainman Tobias Sammet. Its a very different style to whats used in their later more hard rock albums like Rocket Ride and Tinnitus Sanctus, and slightly less adventourous than his work in his other project Avantasia, but it is really one of the finest recorded examples of the pinnacle of him/the band doing this style of music.

There are other Edguy albums that show off raw charm, that show off adventure, or that go down fun and silly routes. If you want them at their absolute perfect core, with their absolute best set of brilliantly made and catchy, memorable and musically impressive songs, then go for Theater Of Salvation every time. This album for me is up there in the pantheon of absolute Power Metal greats. When I’m thinking of Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Nightfall In Middle Earth, Land Of The Free, Glory To The Brave and their likes, I’m definitely thinking of Theater Of Salvation too.

SLIPKNOT Day Of The Gusano

Movie · 2017 · Nu Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
***This review is regarding the single disc, UK Blu-Ray version only. Which contains the full uninterrupted concert only, with no special features or documentary footage.***

Now, you might be thinking ‘I’ve already got three Slipknot videos with concert footage on them’ if you already own Disasterpeices live in London from the Iowa touring cycle, (Sic)nesses live at Download festival 2009 on their first headline performance there during the All Hope Is Gone touring cycle, and the 2nd disc of the documentary release Voliminal Inside The Nine which had a smattering of live tracks from different dates and locations during the Vol. 3 touring cycle.

So what has Day Of The Gusano got to separate it from the others and make it worth buying as well? Well; first off, it is their first official concert video with the new rhythm section of Jay and Alex on drums and bass. Its their first ever show in Mexico City and the fans are energetic and grateful. Its their first video of a Knotfest performance and features all the associated spectacle and backdrops. It has songs from the .5 The Gray Chapter album, which obviously none of the previous videos will have had.

Comparing it to their other DVDs, there are 11 songs here that aren’t on Disaterpieces, including the rarely played ‘Metabolic’ off of Iowa, and ‘Me Inside’ & ‘Prosthetics’ off of the debut. There are 6 songs here that aren’t on (Sic)nesses at Download ’09. Compared to Voliminal‘s concert section, well, its a full length concert in a single location not just 9 random tracks from various locations, and none of it is in black & white.

So, onto ‘Gusano itself. (If you didn’t know already or bother to google that, its Spanish for ‘Maggots’ by the way, which makes sense, since y’know, they call their fans ‘Maggots’ and its filmed in Mexico). The audio visual quality of the release is really high. The picture quality, camera work, variety of shots, editing and general watching experience of the concert are the best that Slipknot have had to date. It is beautiful to look at, and there’s nothing distracting or interrupting about the editing. The performance visually has lots of pyro and fireworks and big backdrops and set pieces, fancy lighting. There’s generally lots going on up there on stage… its big and flashy and never boring.

The mix and production are very good. The only niggle is that Corey’s vocals are a bit lower in the mix than any previous live efforts from the band, but that’s real nitpicking. Otherwise, the instruments are really clear and well balanced, you can make the kick drum out clearly in all situations, and its even easier to hear Craig and Sid’s stuff than usual too which helps you notice them a bit better. If there’s a key riff or drum fill or whatever its given priority and generally its all beefy, heavy and just plain well put together.

The band themselves’ performance will always make or break a concert though. All the audio visual quality in the world, with the most expensive fireworks and lighting can’t hide a crappy performance. Slipknot have been through different phases in that regard. Old bootlegs off of the first album cycle show them as a sort of messy raw jumble. On Iowa they were a tight well-oiled million dollar perfect live-band (I remember seeing them live in Belfast on that cycle and its still one of my favourite ever concert experiences all these years later). On Volume 3 they flipped between the two but generally they were let down by Corey’s vocals (both times I saw them on that cycle and indeed both their 9.0 Live album and Voliminal DVD from that cycle all suffered from Corey’s vocals not being as great as usual). On All Hope‘ however, they came back blazing and were incredible and put in career defining performances and Corey sounded like one of the world’s greatest ever frontmen.

Luckily, here, the band are really on top form. This is a fiery, energetic, fun performance that everybody seems into. There are no complaints about the new line up and they do a great job of trying to fill some pretty massive, childhood-defining, shoes. (Heck, Jay arguably plays ‘Vermilion’ better live here than on any of the other three officially released versions of it). The veteran members are all super practiced, tight and precise. Corey is really strong here, arguably the second-best that he’s ever been on an official release next to Download ’09. (There are some minor questions about that on ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘Prosthetics’ maybe, which are a bit sketchy perhaps, but for the majority of it he really, really nails it). Its also nice to see him making an effort to speak Spanish which he does rather a lot and appears really humble and grateful.

The one bit where all Slipknot concerts drag is during ‘Spit It Out’ when the band get all the audience to squat down so they can all jump (the fuck) up at the same key moment. The actual process of cajoling them all to squat down can be a bit boring to watch or listen to if you aren’t actually there yourself sometimes, but luckily here it really doesn’t drag on too long and they payoff is great; the image of the gigantic Mexican crowd all bouncing in unison is really rather impressive.

So just to go through the list: It looks great. It sounds great. The band play great. The setlist is different enough from previous live releases to be worth it. That setlist itself is also pretty great, doing a good job of pleasing fans with the songs they’d expect to hear (Old fans could never see a set without ‘(sic)’ or ‘Surfacing’ and newer fans would never accept a set without ‘Duality’ and ‘Psychosocial’ for example) with pleasing them by spicing things up a bit and not just repeating themselves every time. On a personal note as well, its just so damn nice that they played ‘Metabolic’ live. I’ve been banging on for years about it and how its my favourite Slipknot song and they’ve finally put it out on something. I’m very pleased about that. Underrated song!

Anyway, that’s just personal preference. Everyone has their pros and cons to any setlist by any band. I’m sure some people are gutted ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Left Behind’ are missing considering they were big singles. I myself am kind of surprised ‘Skeptic’ is missing. With its catchy-ass chorus its absolutely built for big audience sing-alongs. I’d have thought that would be in every live set ever following Paul’s death, but I guess maybe its too personal for them lyrically or something like that.

Overall; this is a damn fine release from the band and not one to miss out on. Not even if you’ve already got a lot of live material by them already, as discussed at the beginning. Its probably their best video album on purely video terms, and its really worthy of inclusion in your collection in the other aspects like tracklisting and performance. If you are desperate to see the documentary, don’t get this version, but if you, like me, only really want the concert then this is the perfect version (at the lowest price).

ACCEPT The Rise of Chaos

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.49 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
2017 saw the legendary German Heavy Metal band Accept releasing their fifteenth studio album. It is their fourth album with former TT-Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo handling the vocals and as with all the albums of this era it features the slick polished production style of Andy Sneap and has been released on Nuclear Blast records.

It is noteworthy in that it has a significant line-up change following the departure of Herman Frank and Stefan Scharzmann, who had both been consistently in the band since 2005. They’ve been replaced by former Grave Digger/Rebellion guitarist Uwe Lulis, and War Within’s Christopher Williams joining in to the anchoring presence of Baltes and Hoffmann.

The music on the album is very much of the same formula that the band found renewed success with on their excellent previous three albums. With the same vocal styles and production job as the last three albums and roughly the same musical direction there are a lot of similarities with those previous three records and so, if you like those and want more of the same then this is a highly recommended album.

If you want some diversity, new ideas, or progression then this album isn’t for you. If you didn’t like the previous ones due to the production or vocals, this isn’t for you. Luckily for me, I am an absolute blind fanboy to the Tornillo era of Accept, and simply can’t get enough. I really enjoyed the recent Restless & Live concert release from this current line-up too.

One thing I would mention is that it is slightly safer and less energetic in terms of performance. I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘firing-on-all-cylinders’ or ‘firecracker’ anymore, although the difference is so slight it will only come up if you are sat directly looking for criticism. This is seriously top quality stuff, don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Album highlights include the firey opener ‘Die By The Sword,’ the nostalgia fueled ‘Analogue Man’ and the uplifting ‘Weight Of The World. ‘ To be fair its all solid, with absolutely no filler.

Overall; The Rise Of Chaos is more of the same from Accept and a very good installment of that. Unless you don’t like them recently as it is, or are actively looking for faults this is a rock solid and very entertaining addition to their catalogue and you’d be mad to miss it.

IRON SAVIOR Dark Assault

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.34 | 10 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Iron Savior are the cult favourite German Power Metal band named after a sentient spacecraft that initially spawned as a collaboration between Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray fame and former Gamma Ray producer Piet Sielck. Their third studio album, Dark Assault, was released on Noise Records in 2001 and was their final album with Kai in the band before they forged more of their own unique identity and step out of Gamma Ray’s shadow.

Of their three Kai-era albums, Dark Assault is in my opinion the finest and most accomplished, and has some of the most memorable material and definitely the best production job. I’d also argue it has the least filler and works the best as a single journey all the way through. The style of music on here is very much in the Melodic European Power Metal theme, but without as many tinges of neoclassical or folk or progressive or indeed symphonic influences as some of their peers. It has more of the sort of biker feel as say, the first two Running Wild records (before they went Pirate themed) rather than Symphony Of Enchanted Lands or something. The track ‘Solar Wings’ has Kai on lead vocals instead of Piet, which makes it feel a little bit like Gamma Ray (but in general the band sound distinct by the very different vocals when Piet sings and the Andreas Kück keyboards. Its also got less Queen influence and less Thrash influence. Its a bit more of a simple pounding NWOBHM influence).

Highlights include the very catchy ‘Never Say Die’ and the bad ass ‘Predators’ as the mid-paced ‘Made Of Metal.’ There’s also a neat Judas Priest cover at the end, which suits the style of the album very well.

When you consider their lower pitched vocal style, Sci-Fi themes, and less over-the-top style than some bands in the genre, Iron Savior may be a lot more palatable to new-comers of Power Metal than say a Rhapsody or Freedom Call and sit in that same sort of bold, pure Judas Priest meets Accept metal that Primal Fear deal in. If you are into Saxon and Priest and bands like that, but are slightly afraid of Power Metal’s reputation, this album would be a great dip-your-toe-in-the-water album. It also goes without saying that I’d recommend it to fans of Gamma Ray (as long as you understand that they aren’t just a carbon copy).

KILLSWITCH ENGAGE Incarnate

Album · 2016 · Metalcore
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Incarnate is the Massachusetts Metalcore band Killswitch Engage’s seventh full-length studio album (or sixth if you count the 2000 self-titled one as a demo, which some people do) and their second since original singer Jesse Leach returned to the band after a three-album absence. It was released in early 2016 and had the very unenviable task of following up their critically acclaimed (and in my opinion amazing) Disarm The Descent album from three years prior.

As with most of the band’s work it was produced by guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and released on Roadrunner Records; with the same line-up of musicians since their debut (Justin, Joel, Mike and Adam), and the music is a continuation of the same musical formula they’ve been working from more or less since the beginning. At this point, its safe to say you can kind of guess what the album will sound like, at least broadly.

Some fans, reviewers, publications and podcasts that I respect didn’t give this album the strongest reception at the time. A lot of the criticism was either ‘heard it all before’ or else ‘not as good as Disarm The Descent.’ For me, I never find the ‘heard it all before’ issue a problem, if its good its good as far as I am concerned, and this album is definitely good. I am not the harshest critic of music in the world. I won’t just lap up any old crap but I won’t throw a band I love under the bus just for repeating a formula or having one album be especially good doesn’t ruin everything else for me.

There is some variety on the disc and there are occasional riffs and moments that definitely haven’t been heard before from this band. The almost Djenty rhythm on ‘Strength Of The Mind’ doesn’t sound like anything on The End Of Heartache at all, for example. If they vastly changed their sound too far, people would cry ‘sell out’ instantly, so this slow and very gradual evolution while staying within the boundaries of sounding like themselves is for me the best way to go. Its like Motorhead. Nothing on Ace Of Spades sounds like On Parole anymore and there’s plenty on March Or Die sounds nothing like Ace Of Spades anymore either and yet we all know that (say it with me now) ‘every Motorhead album sounds the same!’

Sure; there will always be a few Melodeath influenced riffs, a few Groove Metal and Hardcore influenced breakdowns, a light/heavy change up dynamic, a pinch harmonic here, some very sparingly-used blast beats hidden there. At least one slow track. A clean arpeggio style intro here, a sparingly used death growl backing-vocal there. But hey, that’s what we love about the band to begin with, right? This album is chocked full of great memorable moments. There’s absolutely tonnes of individual parts that catch your attention and make you pull a satisfied face as they slam into that riff or that groove or as that tasty drum fill sneaks in etc. They may have been doing this formula for years but that also means they’ve had a lot of practice getting it right!

Highlights include for sure the three most famous tracks ‘Hate By Design,’ ‘Strength Of The Mind’ and ‘Cut Me Loose’ as well as the very strong ‘Until The Day’ and the opener ‘Alone I Stand.’ If it were just these tracks it would be an absolutely astounding album. I guess there may be a little filler, but overall it is a pretty strong album.

Placing it in the band’s discography, I would agree with the majority of people that it isn’t as strong as Disarm The Decent which is actually my number one favourite album by the band, and it may not be strong enough to count as my second favourite either sure, but it is far from their worst album and far far from any sort of disappointment. Material from this album live is absolutely crushing. Tracks from this album in best-of playlists sit well beside any of the previous material. When anything from this album comes on on shuffle or random it makes me sit up and smile.

Another thing to point out for praise here are the lyrics. I’ve spent the past five years in a really depressing environment, (and especially the past two), watching people die almost every few days, watching people get told they have HIV, watching people in the grips of diseases and cancers that have damaged their brain so much they don’t recognize their own husband’s face, seeing the ravages of addiction on the body and mind and all the horrible health complications from it they don’t tell you about. Just a real swirling vortex of constant human misery. When I bought this album it quickly became my walking to work album for its amazing, positive, uplifting lyrical content. ‘Who can raise you from the fall and save you? Only you. Who can take the pain away and change you? Only you. Gather all your pain and suffering: Turn them into strength and weaponry to overcome the enemy that’s in you, that’s in you!’ – Hard to argue with that! Its great how this album makes you feel inside yourself, as a person. ‘Inspirational‘ is a very cheesy and overblown word to use in a review for a Metalcore album but here it almost seems fitting.

Overall; as long as you aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this album if you are an existing fan. If you are a new fan and haven’t heard everything already and so again aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this. In terms of ranking and being an amateur critic sure, I can see albums to say it isn’t as good as, but on its own merit it is a really strong, really enjoyable record and a very worthy addition to any fan’s collection. Some of those riffs, some of those breakdowns, some of those choruses will stick with me forever and if like me, you were a bit too put off initially by any of the negative reviews out there to try it right away, rest assured this album is absolutely worth checking out and a really respectable entry in the band’s discography.

SONATA ARCTICA Ecliptica

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 38 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Sonata Arctica are a Finnish Power Metal band, starting their career in the late ’90s, and Ecliptica is their now-classic self-produced debut album from 1999. This is back before they started getting orchestras and turning progressive, before their concept albums. This is the band dealing purely with the basic, glistening, unaltered, raw and pure perfect formula without experimentation.

In terms of musical direction the material is very much in the style of their fellow countrymen Stratovarius. Very melodic, speedy European-style Power Metal with plenty of doublekicks, keyboards and sweet falsetto vocals. The band have toured with Stratovarius and covered their material so its very much influences on sleeves here. However, just like Airbourne and AC/DC’s sonic relationship, just because they are very similar to someone else’s style doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a damn good job at it. On this album they do that pounding speed metal with keyboard solos and gorgeous melodies thing as well as any of the originators of the scene. The band have such joy, enthusiasm and energy that just sparks off every chorus and solo. Its very pleasant listening. Its like somebody captured smiles and sunshine in audio form. There’s a reason cynics call Power Metal ‘Happy Metal’ and bands like Sonata Arctica play a big part in that.

The songs here are some of the finest examples of the formula in the history of the genre. ‘Blank File,’ ‘Destruction Preventer,’ ‘Kingdom For A Heart’ and the lead single ‘UnOpened’ are all particularly strong. The bouncy powerballd ‘Letter To Dana’ is memorable. (Also the bonus track ‘Mary-Lou’ if you get that version, is very enjoyable). The album is really strong and consistent without much filler and nothing you would want to skip immediately. It is succinct, memorable, flows well and works well as a whole. You can play it from start to end and stay entertained the whole time.

If you scoff at ‘Flower Metal’ and all its cheese, then maybe this will confirm all your worst fears (apart from maybe songs about wizards and dragons and fairies). But if you are a fan of Freedom Call and Stratovarius its hard to see how you wouldn’t love this band and this album.

Tony Kakko has such a strong voice and his contributions on keys add great colour to the material. He conveys such emotion. If you don’t usually like this type of music you may find him a bit too flowery but if you are into this music there are only a handful of singers on the planet who do it as well.

Its almost amazing that the band started off with such a strong debut right away. A lot of bands took a while to get their style down, especially in Power Metal where a lot of bands started off as Thrash or Heavy Metal bands and took a few albums to get where they were going. I guess having other bands already blaze the trial beforehand helped. But much like Hammerfall; even though they didn’t start off in the ’80s like Blind Guardian or Helloween or Running Wild, they just arrived seemingly out of nowhere and dropped a rock-solid gem of a debut, coming out of the gate already formed. The band would go on to very different things with complex concept albums and musical exploration, but this debut finds them focused into the absolute perfect basic speedy melodic Power Metal formula and doing it as well as any of their peers or indeed any of their idols.

Overall; this is an absolute banger of an album. The speed, the melody, the sentimental ballads are all exactly what you want from a Power Metal group and Sonata Arctica have absolutely mastered the form. If anyone were to sling any criticism at the album it could only be that it sounds a lot like Stratovarius, but that can equally be praise because its a difficult thing to achieve, and they do it so well, so consistently and very memorably indeed.

STRATOVARIUS Episode

Album · 1996 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.21 | 32 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
This is where things just start to go right for Finnish Power Metal legends Stratovarius. Some bands just take a while to really get it right. They formed all the way back in 1984 and gradually mutated with experience and line-up changes from being a solid but forgettable underground Heavy Metal band that didn’t even tour to one of the world’s premier Power Metal bands. Their first three albums were respectable efforts with main guitarist Timo Tolkki on vocals and stylistically lacking much of the melodic Euro flavour or symphonic pomp of their more famous material. Their fourth album saw them add a new lead vocalist in the iconic Timo Kotipelto and start gearing up to become the band they always had the potential to be.

In 1996 the band exploded in terms of quality, memorability, confidence and power. They released the Episode album, their fifth studio long-player, and the first to feature the ‘classic line up’ with the aforementioned Kotipelto and Tolkki (and not forgetting bassist Jari Kainulainen) now joined by the new additions of German Jörg Michael (of Rage fame!) on drums and Swedish Jens Johannson (of Yngwie Malmsteen fame!) on keyboards. This line-up just all compliment each other’s styles really well and bring the best out of each other.

The thundering double kicks of Jörg perfectly suit Tolkki’s Priest-meets-Scorpions-meets-early-Queensryche style riffs. The guitar and keyboard trade-off solos between Tolkki and Johannson are some of the best in the genre and take what Blackmore and Lord were doing in the ’70s and both modernize and metalize it. Kotipelto’s soaring vocals are finely accentuated by background keys from Johannson and are given the room to breathe by the long ringing chords that Tolkki drops over that perfectly-synced rhythm section. This is perfect musical harmony exemplified.

The album contains some of the band’s absolute finest work, such as ‘Father Time,’ ‘Tommorow,’ ‘Will The Sun Rise?’ ‘Speed Of Light’ and the furious instrumental ‘Stratosphere.’ How many bands has this stuff influenced over the years?! You can hear it absolutely dripping down through history to bands like Sonata Arctica and Dragonforce and so, so many others. Hell, even the ballad is great. Sometime I get a bit sick of Power Metal bands doing ballads but ‘Forever’ on this album is absolutely beautiful, so simple and sweetly and perfect.

There’s a bit of variety too, on the slow and pounding numbers like the ominous and threatening sounding ‘Uncertainty’ which sounds like if someone took Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and Queensryche’s ‘Roads To Madness’ and mixed them together. There’s the eastern tinged ‘Babylon’ and the almost eight minute long multi-part, multi-tempo, mutli-mood ‘Night Time Eclipse’ which would foreshadow the band’s slow transition into progressive territories. ‘Season Of Change’ sees the band work with a full orchestra and gives them a symphonic feel similar to Italy’s Rhapsody.

Overall this album was a real triumph for the band, it is a diverse and entertaining journey of an album full of depth and character and indeed some absolutely off the chain virtuosic (yet perfectly balanced) musicianship. It was the beginning of a solid run of really great records with the so called classic line-up and a record that no fan of either the band nor the genre should overlook. Visions might be the first Stratovarius album new fans should check out, but Episode should swiftly follow!

EDGUY Hellfire Club

Album · 2004 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 22 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Edguy are a Power Metal band from Germany, headed up by Tobias Samet (also known for Avantasia), and Hellfire Club is their sixth album. The 2004 effort is one of their best in terms of enjoyability and quality, and is interesting in their discography looking back, as it serves as a bridge between their Power Metal early days and their Hard Rock tinged later days, and also sees the band’s silly side come a bit more to the fore.

There are some very fine Power Metal moments on here, and there are some very fine Hard Rock-ifed moments. There are also some tracks that balance them both, in a mature and semi-progressive way similar to their previous album, 2001’s Mandrake, most notably the ten-minute ‘The Piper Never Dies.’ Its sort of a great midpoint between their various different styles and ambitions without being too far in any one direction and therefor it is very originally Edguy without any influences hanging obviously off sleeves.

The production job on the album is very big and radio ready, matching the stadium-focused choruses that have started to find their way in to the music. A huge memorable chorus like that of single ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ (a song about ‘the mile high club’ with a comic lyrical style) sounds gigantic on this record. Its a far cry from the thin and wirey dueling guitars of classics from Theater Of Salvation (a production style perfect in its own right, but for very different music). The band are fleshed out by a guest orchestra which gives things a bit of extra depth and bombast.

Highlights include ‘Down To The Devil’ which has a fiendishly catchy chorus, as well as the foot-to-the-floor ‘We Don’t Need A Hero’ which is one of the better tunes on here and the guitar work is noteworthy. Lastly, the cheesily-titled ‘The Rise Of The Morning Glory’ which I feel is the exact mid point of every thing going on here and the go-to tester track you should listen to if you want to get an idea of whether or not you’d enjoy this.

Overall; this is definitely one of the band’s better albums in terms of sheer song quality, riffs, memorable choruses and big hooks. Its not their most traditionally Power Metal release ever but isn’t so far away from the formula that it would be off-putting either like some of their albums **Cough**Tinnitus Sanctus**Cough** (and what it lacks in that department it makes up for in creativity and fun). The orchestral addition adds a lot, and the production is humongous.

Ps. If you can, try and get the version with bonus tracks so you can hear Kreator’s Mille Petroza join in on ‘Mysteria’ as well as the bonus track ‘Children Of Steel’ which is one of the most traditional Heavy Metal songs the band have written to date.

EDGUY Vain Glory Opera

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 15 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Wow, what a change! For German Power Metal luminaries Edguy, the third time was a charm and every other cliché you can throw. The band started off at a really young age, their previous two albums were Maiden, Priest and Helloween worship with very demo-esque production jobs and not so confident performances. You could tell it was good but it didn’t grab your shoulders and shake you.

The third album they unleashed (y’know if you count 1995 version of Savage Poetry) changed that in a big way. Vainglory Opera, from 1998 is a whole other level of professional and inspired. Maybe its partially due to the much greater production job making things sound much more mature and slick, maybe its partially due to the songs themselves being a bit more stripped down, or maybe its just a sheer undeniable spike in confidence and talent…but this album just has that ‘x factor’ that elevates it high. The vocals, man, the vocals! Tobias Samet has such a majestic and gigantic voice. The guitar solos! They siiiiing. Its not even that flashy but its so sweet-spot memorable, y’know?

Then there’s the songs. Ok, there’s two ballads (an orchestral one and a powerballad), there’s a cover song (an almost unrecognizable reworking of an old Ultravox tune jammed through a sort of Stratovarius filter) and there’s an obligatory intro. There’s the title-track which serves as the album’s high point and is a semi-epic that most bands would use as an album closer. To me, it sounds like ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’ and ‘Mother Russia’ by Iron Maiden had a baby that then got stuck in the machine from the movie The Fly with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s ‘Trilogy’ and the background music from a documentary on the Christian Church’s history. Its spiced up even further by the guest appearance from Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian.

The main bulk of the rest of the material is a mix of two themes; songs with fast double-kick drums that sound like what Helloween would’ve come up with if they had tried to replicate the style of Metallica’s The Black Album in their own unique way, and slower stomping songs reminiscent of Hammerfall when they go mid-paced, but with huge religious-sounding choruses (something they’d explore even more on their next record). The best two for my money being ‘Until We Rise Again’ and ‘No More Foolin.’ Also worth mentioning is ‘Out Of Control’ which features guest guitar work from Stratovarius virtuoso Timo Tolkki.

Its certainly a unique album. Within the genre and within the band’s discography. There aren’t a million other Vainglory Operas out there. Nobody else sounds like this. I don’t think anybody else would either be able to pull it off or be fool enough to try. In the first half of the band’s career when they were still unashamedly Power Metal without the hard rock tinges and before they started adding in all the humour, Vainglory Opera is the band’s attempt at doing the classy grown up mature album. Its real nice to hear the band exploring this ground.

On their next album, the fan favourite classic, Theater Of Salvation, the band would unleash their golden album of absolute pure Power Metal perfection. This album was a perfect stepping stone from their humble youthful beginnings to their zenith, along a not repeated path, but man, while they were here, they nailed it!

DISTURBED Asylum

Album · 2010 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 14 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Asylum is the popular American Nu Metal band Disturbed's fifth full-length studio album, it came out in 2010 on Reprise Records and was their final album before their hiatus and eventual reunion and sonic rejuvination. When this album first came out I gave it a miss and skipped over the album, having became a bit numb to the band or their charm but catching them live after their reunion warmed me to the much made-fun-of band again and I subsequently decided to see what I'd been missing.

Musically it is very much in the same direction as their usual formula. A lot of press at the time described it as a bit more elongated or progressive or mature, but basically, it sounds like a typical Disturbed album. The musicianship however has gotten stronger over the years with the drums getting more rhythmically complex and the guitar solos getting more masterful. Draiman's vocal ability gets stronger and stronger with each release. I'd argue the lyrics are also stronger than they were in the beginning.

Overall, on first impression, the album struck me as pretty decent. Not perfect, but still stronger than I had been hoping for. I guess reviews at the time from neutral parties were fairly positive but all I'd been reading or listening to was from people who didn't like the band to begin with really.

Disturbed have had a mixed history with cover songs, there was the very maligned 'Shout' but then there was the very successful 'Land Of Confusion' and five years after this album came the absolute smash hit in 'The Sound Of Silence.' On this record, they drop a U2 cover in the form of 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' which for me doesn't really work and is nowhere near as strong as the original material. I guess its a hidden track technically but still, I could've lived without it. Personal taste issue. Not for me.

The aforementioned original material however is pretty interesting though. The lead single, the environmentally conscious 'Another Way To Die' is pretty damn catchy and memorable. The holocaust-themed 'Never Again' is arguably one of their best to date (pretty lucky really, you wouldn't want to fumble a song about such a serious subject). The title-track and the succinct 'Warrior' are typical but notably strong Disturbed fayer.

As with all of the band's records, there maybe aren't enough ideas to fill a whole full-length. There's a little bit of filler and not every single moment is an immortal classic. There's always about half an album's worth of stuff that would be rousing and welcome live and would fit in any Best Of album or Playlist, and there's always at least a quarter of the album that you overlook after the first few weeks. Asylum is no exception. I'd be lying to you if I said I loved every moment, or that there's no song from it I wouldn't want to see live.

What you do get on Asylum however, is another five or six really great Disturbed moments to add into the collection. Nothing to engage or convert non-fans and nothing to make you shout 'best Disturbed album ever!' but it is certainly a worthwhile and entertaining entry in their discography and not one that should be overlooked. 'Never Again' on its own is almost worth the price of admission. This is the band at their most practiced, developed, and perfected. At the height of their vocal and instrumental prowess, delivering another great bunch of songs. It isn't their best and doesn't have the raw charm of their earliest works or the renewed energy of their reunion album, but is certainly not a record that deserves to be forgotten or overlooked.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM No Place for Disgrace

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 18 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
No Place For Disgrace is the sophomore full-length album by the cult US Thrash Metal band Flotsam & Jetsam. It was released in 1988 as their old bandmate Jason Newstead was working on Metallica’s …And Justice For All album.

The Phoenix, Arizona band’s musical style here is mostly more or less a direct continuation of that found on their fondly remembered debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver. Its quickfire but not Slayer levels of fast. Its not succinct but never progressive. Its got melody but isn’t overly sugary or radio-pleasant. It reminds me a little bit of Death Angel’s The Ultraviolence at times.

Highlights include the Title Track, especially when it breaks down to a soft section where singer Eric AK describes a man killing himself via hari kari (hence the album’s artwork) as well as the brief instrumental ‘The Jones’ and ‘I Live, You Die’ which is perhaps the fastest song on the album and has some of the finest guitar work.

On an interesting note, there is a rather odd decision here to cover Elton John’s ‘Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting’ which does hold some gimmick value but doesn’t really match the rest of the material.

Compared to some of the more famous bands like Exodus or Anthrax or Overkill or Megadeth, Flotsam & Jetsam are maybe lacking something in character, however they are far from the most generic or forgettable band to play Thrash. A possible exception to this would be the very fun, PMRC-baiting track ‘Hard On You’ which is arguably the catchiest track they’ve made to this point. For me this track, as well as the improved production job, arguably tip this album over their debut, which admittedly was more charming than this at least.

If you like Thrash and want to try something less obvious, this is definitely worth checking out. If you are interested in the band, this is definitely the first album of theirs I’d recommend for you check out (unless you’re just in it for the Newstead connection in which case although some songs were still co-written by him here, the debut he actually plays on is the more obvious way to go).

ANTHRAX Live: The Island Years

Live album · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.55 | 8 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Live: The Island Years is a live album by the American Thrash Metal legends Anthrax, it was released in 1994 as a sort of finale or closure of the band’s successful and critically acclaimed Joey Belladonna era, as the band had recently started a new era with John Bush.

It is not one continuous concert all the way through but rather it is two sections; firstly the soundtrack to their Live Noize video, recorded in concert in California in 1991 and then there is a second section which was recorded for radio in New York, live in the studio, added on at the end. You can think of it as two shows cobbled together or you can think of it as them adding some extra value for money onto Live Noize… its up to you.

It is a bit jarring the change between one show and the next, and again the change in sound between the two recordings and productions and mixes, but this is still less jarring than one of those live albums where there’s a different show from a different city as every track, and you do get two well flowing shows in and of themselves.

In terms of track listing, there’s two tracks from their ‘Killer Bs album (A Kiss cover in ‘Parasite’ and the smash hit Public Enemy cover/collaboration ‘Bring The Noise’ fleshed out by Flava Flav who guests here singing part of his own ‘Too Much Posse.’). There’s also one Neil Turban era tune in the form of ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’. The rest of the material is drawn from their four Joey Belladonna era albums. There’s thirteen tracks in total, although annoyingly Spreading The Disease era gem ‘A.I.R.’ is for some reason randomly split across two tracks in an awkward way, which also makes the track order on the back wrong as it doesn’t take this split into account. There’s still thirteen songs however because ‘Too Much Posse’ is not on its own track by itself.

I guess you could complain that four of the tracks are covers (if you are counting ‘Too Much Posse’) or that maybe some of your favourite songs aren’t included but then that’s offset by having a lot of the big singles and concert favourites from Among The Living and Persistence Of Time such as ‘Caught In A Mosh,’ ‘Indians,’ ‘I Am The Law,’ ‘In My World’ and ‘Keep It In The Family’ and a few surprises too. (Hey, who’d have expected a deep cut off of State Of Euphoria? But the album closes with ‘Now Its Dark’).

That’s some great live Thrash Metal from such a classic band during their golden period. In terms of performance, things are accordingly entertaining. Its got a great live feel and isn’t slick or heavily overdubbed and squeaky clean. It feels fun and raw and realistically live (without sounding rough or ramshackle either by the way). The guitar solos have a real energy and aren’t exactly the same as on the albums, Joey singing Neil’s song is interesting, the band having fun geeking out to Kiss is interesting, its all got a sort of atmosphere of fun. I guess they were the band who were noted for always laughing and for example dressing up in beach shorts instead of making themselves grim and serious.

Yes it came out a bit too late and might’ve appeared either like a cash in or like a snub to the Bush era to some fans. Yes, the packaging may seem a bit rushed and cheap. Yes it is two shows mashed together and one of those is in a studio not a proper concert. Yes, 30% of the setlist wasn’t written by Anthrax. However if you like Anthrax and want to hear the band live back in their heyday its still an absolutely worthwhile addition to your collection. There’s some great tunes, some fiery performances, a fairly decent amount of content and a more than adequate live sound job. I feel it does a good job of sitting as a nice full-stop on the Belladonna era.

There are better Anthrax live albums available nowadays; Music Of Mass Destruction (with Bush circa We Have Come For You All) and Alive 2 (from the 2005 Belladonna reunion tour) are particularly recommended. If you only have a limited interest or amount of money then this wouldn’t be the main one I’d recommend, but if you do have an predisposition to check this out I’d definitely state ‘don’t be put off, give it a go!’

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION BCCIV

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
I absolutely loved Black Country Communion and was gutted when they split up. Their music was so fresh, vibrant and energetic despite its obvious homage to the past and they really were just about the best Hard Rock band doing the whole ’70s-worship sound of recent years. All three of their albums from before their split have at least five songs that are among my favorite ever songs and which are better than just about any of the classic ’70s band’s modern output for my personal taste.

How happy was I then, when I heard they were getting back together. I remember reading on Blabbermouth all around the time of their split (and yet again when California Breed, a band with some of the same members, formed) about how lead guitarist and occasional singer Joe Bonamasa was too famous and busy in his own right to give Black Country Communion the time, as his schedule simply wouldn’t allow it. I remember hoping for the day he’d have the time again. Well, thank goodness its all sorted and we have more from this band. You can see the phoenix on the cover illustrating the band’s reformation.

There’s a certain magic when Glen Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derik Sherinian and Joe Bonamasa get together, (only heightened by ‘fifth member of the band,’ producer Keven Shirley). The bass and drums match styles perfectly, the keys accentuate the vocals so well, the guitar and key solos fit well together, both vocalist’s styles gel, the guitar works so well with the rhythm section. Its all so perfectly balanced, and thanks to the roomy production it all sounds so big and warm.

Basically; this reunion record has a lot of expectations to live up to. On first listen its nice to hear they are keeping up the same style of music and doing the same sort of thing. Its not suddenly taken a rap or electronic turn, they haven’t chucked it all away and went pop or something. Its exactly what you’d hope for, stylstically.

There’s plenty of depth, characther and a fair bit of variety. A lot of the tracks stretch out a bit, many lasting seven or eight minutes. There’s a nice balance of slow and fast, of hard and soft, of thoughtful and of instantaneous. There’s moments that lean a bit more into each of the member’s individual territories and there’s moments when its a mixture of all.

After knocking you over the head (no pun intended) with two mid paced Hard Rockers, for example, they drop a very interesting folky number. If you liked ‘The Battle Hadrian’s Wall’ then you are sure to dig ‘The Last Song for My Resting Place.’ If you like things a bit slower, sexier and well, blusier then at the album’s midway point they drop ‘The Cove’ which has some seriosuly good guitar and very atmospheric keys. Eight-minute album closer ‘When The Morning Comes’ starts out on a slow and sombre note before kicking off.

If you like the band at their faster and heavier however (think ‘The Outsider’ or ‘Confessor’) then they’ve got that here too, on ‘Sway.’ ‘The Crow’ does it too, sounding initially like a rip-off of RATM’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ before hitting the gas and running away with the speed.

I think my favourite track has to be either ‘Over My Head’ with its fun stop-start verses and its catchy ‘yeah-e-eah’ hook, or else ‘Awake’ which doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before, it starts off jaunty and almost indie rock but has a kind of ‘Achilles’ Last Stand‘ vibe in the verses and then goes into a full-on Yes meets Dream Theater solo-trade-off.

Overall; BCCIV had a lot of high expectations to meet, and luckily it holds up really well. They do what they do best, they try some new things, they balance all the different shades of their sound well and present an entertaining record that keeps you guessing but that fits together into a stylish hour long journey. The quality of the material is damn strong, the musicianship is exemplary, the production job is of course perfect and even though I’m biased and just glad to have the band back, I’d say this is absolutely good enough to sit alongside their previous work. I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been a fan!

ANNIHILATOR Set the World on Fire

Album · 1993 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.92 | 30 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
After putting out two of the most outstanding and essential Thrash Metal albums of all time in the form of 1989’s classic Alice In Hell and 1990’s Never Neverland; Canada’s best Thrash band (well, in my opinion anyway, we can debate it another time) took their time getting a third album out. The first two albums were largely written in demo form before the band were even signed or (at least before their second record was out) and just perfected over time. An album a year. Nice. Next time round there was more time needed to build up a full record’s worth of material though.

Always a band for constant line-up changes, Annihilator once again saw a big shift in membership. Jeff Waters, band leader, lead guitarist and occasional singer basically IS the band in the way Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails or Josh Homme is to Queens Of The Stone Age or Dave Mustaine is to Megadeth. Jeff obviously stayed, as did bassist Wayne Darley even though he supposedly didn’t actually play on the album. This album features however their third singer in three albums (Coburn Pharr replaced here by Aaron Randall, though Pharr still gets writing credits on some of the songs) their third Rhythm-guitarist in three albums (Neil Goldberg replacing Dave Davis) and their second Drummer in three albums (the lovable Ray Hartman replaced by Mike Magini – now of Dream Theater fame!) and even then, he’s one of three drummer on the album because Ray is still on two tracks and there was yet another drummer on the ballad. With all these line up shifts its like watching Cradle Of Filth’s early career or something!

I suspect that there are some reasons why a lot of people didn’t receive this album as well at the time and again why it isn’t remembered just as fondly as the first two. First reason; constant line-up shifting can give an impression of being muddled and unfocused. Second reason; ballad included, can give impression of selling out. Third reason; came out in 1993 after the glory period of Thrash was over and everyone either sick of it or was told to listen to something from Seattle instead by the press.

Do you know what’s not a reason though? The music. This album is bad ass! From the heavier tracks like the stomping Title Track, the crazy-ass technical workout ‘Brain Dance’ (an absolutely amazing song spoiled only slightly by its silly comedy section in the middle) as well as the speedy ‘No Zone’ to the more shreddy, softer, hard rock jams like ‘Sounds Good To Me,’ ‘Snake In The Grass’ and ‘The Edge’ which show a different side of the band, this stuff is all gold! I remember the first time I read the back of their Greatest Hits CD it said ‘Canada’s Answer To Metallica/The Van Halen Of Thrash Metal’ and I thought well I get the Metallica reference but this album is the first time where I really hear the Van Halen coming out… ‘Don’t Bother Me’ is some serious guitar workout, with that skiffly off-the-rails Van Halen feel, only with the chug and power of Thrash behind it.

The absolute best moment on the album for me however has to be the incredible ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ which is tied with Exodus’ ‘Braindead’ as the catchiest and most memorable Thrash song ever released! That main riff! It sticks in my head for days!

For me, Set The World On Fire is a great record. Its a bit more varied than their previous work. Not just as heavy as often, but in terms of songwriting quality, in terms of musicianship and in terms of fun it ticks all the right boxes. This album is a real winner and vastly underrated. If you haven’t already go on, give it a go! If you have before, give it another chance!

GIRLSCHOOL Screaming Blue Murder

Album · 1982 · NWoBHM
Cover art 3.35 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Screaming Blue Murder is the London band’s third full-length studio album, and for me, my favourite so far. I think I’ve read somewhere that the previous two records are more popular because the photoshoots and music videos got a bit more glamourous around this stage and people accused them of following Def Leppard out of Metal and into the mainstream or whatever (and listening to their next album that definitely was a little closer to the truth there) but all these years later the only thing that matters to me is the music.

For me a track like ‘Wildlife’ with its infectious chanting chorus, jaunty bouncing rhythm and lead guitar quality is just undeniable. The band have a bit of a Hard Rock sound, a bit of a Punk sound and a bit of a Heavy Metal sound. All three elements are well balanced. If you want something anthemic and ready for radio there’s the retro sounding rock n’ roll of ‘It Turns Your Head Around.’ If you want something a bit more Metallic to sink your teeth in to, then there’s ‘Don’t Call It Love’ which could be on any of the first four Dio albums to my ears. Hey, what diversity in those three tracks alone! I think that’s why this album just pips the previous two badass ones as my favourite. Its almost as fierce but the diversity makes it even more interesting.

Ok. I get that some people won’t love it a much as the previous records. Some people prefer Kill ‘Em All to Master Of Puppets too. Diffrent Strokes and all that. Screaming Blue Murder is indeed a bit more sophisticated than the two albums which preceed it, which are more raw and charming, which have a bit more ramshakle Motorhead vibe to ’em. This one tries on a few more hats. Its not always pounding speed. ‘Flesh And Blood’ is the kind of rolling tribal prog thing Queensryche would be exploring the other side of the milenium! The guitar solos are a bit more ‘feel’ than ‘flash.’

…But that’s all just an extra layer to like. Its still got the hard stuff when you like to just bang around the room (‘Hellrazor’ has that in spades. As does the bonus track ‘Don’t Stop’ if you get a special edition or reissue). Nigel Grey’s roomy and open production job also keeps this sounding hard and rocking. There’s punkiness in the distorted bass on ‘You Got Me.’ This isn’t exactly a Bananarama album now is it? Its like Motorhead, Sex Pistols and AC/DC blended together, with a fat reverb and a unique vocal style.

For me, this 1982 gem, their third in as many years by the way, is a very strong record. It stands up well alongside the better releases of their contemporaries like Raven, Grim Reaper and Bitch’s Sin. Its not just at that untouchable layer as Maiden, Saxon or Motorhead but its definitely belonging of a spot in the collections of any fan of those bigger bands (alongside their previous two, which are less diverse but more energetic and raw and no less worthy of your listening time!).

ATROPHY Socialized Hate

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
This album won't be for everyone, but if you like the following sentence, I'd recommend giving it a square go: 20% Coma Of Souls, 20% Forbidden Evil, 10% Handle With Care, 50% The Legacy. ...Interested? If so, read on. 

Atrophy were one of many late '80s bands pumping out Thrash Metal. They were sometimes associated with Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam due to geography, although they had more of a Bay Area sound (and specifically, Testament worship) with some Teutonic Thrash tinges and the tiniest wee bit of a crossover Thrash influence.

Now, if you know your Thrash, you'll know that there's several tiers of both quality and when-you-should-check-em-out that most fans can broadly agree on. Individual preference and media exposure in your territory may make you disagree on some placements but the overall theme is usually agreed upon. There's of course the very Top tier of Thrash, the stuff you usually get into first, is probably objectively the best and the stuff that makes you fall in love with the subgenre. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Kreator. The definition of Thrash for many.

There's then the second-highest tier, the stuff that you bought purposefully because it was Thrash and that is still fairly successful and famous but not just as much; stuff like Annihilator, Forbidden, Heathen, Vio-lence, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Sodom, Destruction, Early Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault. The real guts of Thrash fandom for many.

There's a third that only real Thrash fans love, you'll find it in list of best Thrash albums ever, but not in the general lists as much. When major outlets cover Thrash this stuff is ignored but when people in the know really nerd out on Thrash this stuff comes up. Stuff like Whiplash, Razor, Onslaught, Paradox, Devastation, Rigor Mortis, Morbid Saint, Toxik, Xentrix and Hirax. And; of course, Atrophy. Then there's a tier or three below that of diminishing fame (and some say diminishing quality, others vehemently deny that however) but you get my jist by now.

I bring this up really to illustrate where Atrophy fit in and in so doing also how likely you are to enjoy them. If you like Thrash enough to get into multiple bands from the third tier then this is worth serious investigation. If you only want the absolute best or most famous stuff this may seem a bit too derivative for you. If you don't like Thrash at all then never worry your pretty head about Atrophy because I don't think they'll be your cup of tea anyway. How could they be really? They are basically one of the purest distillations of the Thrash formula ever to form a band.

Atrophy don't play the kind of Thrash that's closer to NWOBHM in sound, nor the kind that is a direct close precursor to Death or Black Metal, nor even the kind that's Punky and ramshackle. They aren't a progressive variation on Thrash. They don't have any happy melodic Power Metal tendencies. Its pretty straight down the line Thrash with no thrills and little diversity (but done perfectly!).

What it lacks in a unique sales pitch (hey check out the band with the funk influence or the orchestra etc.) it makes up in consistency, quality and ferocity. All the compliments you can level at Testament's debut album The Legacy all work for Atrophy's Socialized Hate. The razor-sharp riffs, the creative and powerful guitar leads, the intros, the barked hard low vocals, the relentless drumming. Atrophy also specialize in really good lyrics (well, except the silly one off joke song Beer Pong, but you can let that slide as the rest is so good).

Songs like the Title Track, the opener 'Chemical Dependency' and the fabulous three-song run of 'Product Of The Past' 'Rest In Pieces' and 'Urban Decay' are just really strong, really entertaining and really pure Thrash Metal, and if that's your bag then Socialized Hate is worth adding to your collection. Sure, it might not be your first Metal album or your first Thrash album (or even your fifteenth) but if you love this stuff and want more, but more that is still great and not just more for the sake of it, then... y'know... Socialized Hate, innit.   

ROB ZOMBIE Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor

Album · 2013 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is the fifth studio album by the American Industrial Metal legend Rob Zombie, it came out in 2013 and was produced by Bob Marlette (Filter, Alice Cooper, Iommi). Personally, this is my favourite of all the Rob Zombie albums, with the strongest set of songs, the least filler and the best choruses.

This album sees Ginger Fish join the band on drums (the second Marilyn Manson alumnus to join after guitarist John 5) which is a nice addition indeed. It mostly follows the usual stompy fun sample-filled Rob Zombie formula musically (but delivers a concise, focused, above average quality version of that formula) and also takes a strange turn lyrically and it the artwork and goes in a sort of ’60s/LSD-fueled direction. The main difference musically between earlier records is the higher frequency of keyboard and organ sounds giving it a retro feel. Sort of the same thing Monster Magnet sometimes tap in to, for example on ‘See You In Hell’ from their famous Powertrip album.

Sometimes, with Rob Zombie, there are real highlights on albums and making a greatest hits set or cherry picking the best moments is super easy but here its harder to choose because literally every song here is great. Its almost hard to pick something. For me, my absolute favourite track is the Ridicously catchy (even with the gibberish lyrics) ‘Ging Gang Gong De Do Gong De Laga Raga’ …its such a well built song. The section where the chorus kicks in but there’s only drums and vocals feels so anthemic. The speedy keyboard-fueled lead single ‘Dead City Radio & The New Gods Of Supertown’ and their rousing cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s ‘We’re An American Band’ complete with fun as hell cowbell are also worth mentioning. However, picking favourites is really just deciding which mood you are in today because this is seriously strong from start to finish.

Compared to some of the other famous Industrial stars, its less progressive, less artistic, and less challenging, but don’t forget a heck of a lot more fun. This album in particular is like a greatest hits set in terms of quality and consistency. If you want some damn catchy and memorable, totally fun, simple and entertaining music with an Industrial Metal flavouring on the top its worth exploring Rob Zombie and if you like Rob Zombie or indeed if want to check him out, in my opinion this is his best work to date and I heartily recommend it.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY Blind

Album · 1991 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Blind is a very interesting and unique record within the C.O.C discography both historically and musically. A transitional record for a band who have had several very distinct and separate sounding periods and musical-directions over the years.

In the ’80s C.O.C were a raw, gnarly Hardcore Punk band (but with Sabbathy doomy tracks here and there too) and gained more and more Thrash influence with each release. In the 2012-2015 one of the earlier line-ups reformed but made more sludgy stonery Metal. The band are most famous however for their 1990s period especially the fan favourite Deliverance and Wiseblood albums which saw them add in Southern Rock, Groove Metal and Stoner Rock elements together into one big melting pot resulting in some of the best music of all time (real top 100 albums to hear before you die type stuff, seriously, if you don’t own those two albums yet, drop what you are doing and explore!).

In 1991 however, C.O.C had an interesting and one-off change of pace, direction and line up. Usual bassist and occasional singer Mike Dean was out (he’d be back again) replaced by Phil Swisher. Karl Agell joins the band and takes the mic, about their fifth singer alreay. For the first time guitarist Woody Weatherman finds himself in company as a second guitarist is added to the line-up, a big step in changing their sound from ramshackle Punk flavour to something else, something more metallic. That guitarist was none other than Pepper Keenan. Pepper of course being famous not only as the guitarist in supergoup Down nowadays, but also the band leader and singer of C.O.C for their most famous and beloved work in the ’90s.

Well, all that history and line-up information is certainly interesting, but it really doesn’t give you any guide as to what this particular record sounds like and if you’ll like it or not. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you like Chaos AD? Do you like Burn My Eyes? Do you like Vulgar Display Of Power? Do you like Cleansing? …if so then you’ll probably love Blind too!

The music is a far cry from the early Hardcore Punk and Crossover Thrash directions. It has yet to gain the Stoner Rock vibes, bounciness or Southern Rock influences that meshed into the sound of their most famous stuff. It is a strange pure perfect early Nineties Metal record. The intro and outro tracks are noisy-ass Doom-sounding sludgy dirges; otherwise however, the rest is a little harder to define. I know some people argue that Groove Metal or Post-Thrash or whatever you want to call it is not a real subgenre. I’ve heard this album called all sorts from Thrash (not really right) to Sludge (no…not right either) to Doom (…nope, not right either). The only one that really fits for me is Groove Metal. Take those above-mentioned four albums, Blind sits somewhere in a cross section somewhere the middle of all of them.

Karl’s vocals are James Hetfield/Chuck Billy influenced, semi-barked and semi-melodic, often very reverby and very, very well-suited to the music. The drums are very rumbly and varied. The guitar is very raw and heavy, never Slayer-fast but with a nice Thrash-style chug mixed in with hardcore fueled long ringing chords. Imagine a Supergroup that was half Black Label Society and half High On Fire trying to cover one of the deeper cuts from The More Things Change. In terms of production, it doesn’t have the warm Hard Rock ready sound of the next two records or the tinny budget-sounding job of the earlier stuff, instead it has a very distinctive early-’90s sound, the kind of thing that Pissing Razors had before the millennium. Something somewhere like Demanufacture only without the futuristic robotic vibes. Its a real charming sound.

Highlights include the ridiculously catchy single ‘Dance Of The Dead’ (Seriously; why don’t the band play this live more often!?) as well as the excellent drum-powered ‘Damned For All Time’ and of course the concert favourite ‘Vote With A Bullet’ which has the interesting point of having Pepper sing lead vocals, a hint of what was to come.

Overall; there’s no band quite like C.O.C and there’s no C.O.C release quite like Blind. If you like the band you really ought to check it out if you haven’t already, and if you don’t like the band yet but are a fan of the albums and bands that I’ve been mentioning throughout then this is a serious gap in your collection, do yourself a favour and give it a try!

BLIND GUARDIAN Follow the Blind

Album · 1989 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 41 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Follow The Blind is the second full-length studio album by the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1989 and sees the band in a bit of a transition period, much more advanced than their debut but not yet fully developed into the full on Power Metal style they would become famous for on the next half-dozen albums.

It also sees the band leaning more into a Thrash Metal direction than at any point in their career, with notable Bay Area Thrash influences in particular. If you like Exodus, Testament and Forbidden’s debuts, and you also like Power Metal then this album is a delightful middle ground. Its harder and more aggressive than future Blind Guardian records, and has also yet to develop the more progressive tendencies of their later period. What it lacks in scope however, it makes up for in sheer fury. I think this album would be a great introduction to the band and indeed to the subgenre for fans of Thrash who are maybe afraid of Power Metal due to its reputation as being a bit flowery and wimpy compared to other Metal styles.

On the downside however, for Power Metal fans especially, all that Thrash influence leaves less room for catchiness, melodies and variety as compared to their other work. That is not to say it is devoid of those qualities, just that it is a smaller percentage of the music than usual. Listen to ‘Fast To Madness’ for example… a brilliant Metal song, but you wouldn’t generate as big a sing-along as say ‘Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill.’ The title track does experiment with different tempos and balancing heavy and clean styles, but more in a …And Justice For All/The Years Of Decay way than in an Imaginations From The Other Side way. Both fine ways to be sure, just depends what mood you are in and what expectations you had when you bought the album in the first place.

In terms of songwriting quality, I think Blind Guardian’s albums sort of just got better and better up until about Nightfall In Middle Earth, and so I think this album is better than their debut but not yet as good as Tales From The Twilight World, or the classic Somewhere Far Beyond. That is of course not to say its poor, just that it isn’t as good as the really good stuff. In terms of production, its a bit noisy and harsh on the ears, and works better in small chunks than as a whole. Not unlike fellow Power Metal Pioneers Helloween’s Thrashy Walls Of Jericho album in that regard.

Speaking of Helloween, Kai Hansen makes some guest appearances on this album, both on guitar on ‘Hall Of The King’ and on Guitar and Vocals on ‘Valhalla.’ These for me are two of the best songs on the album anyway, and are made even better by Kai’s presence. The other main highlight is the excellent instrumental ‘Beyond The Ice’ which is one of the best songs on the album for me, very pummeling, quite diverse and with astounding guitar work… it really shows off what a force the band are musically with its bouncy toms and double kicks and the excellent range of riffs and solos.

Overall; Follow The Blind is an experimental album that sees the band trying to find their sound. It is arguably the hardest, fastest and heaviest of their records and arguably the least melodic and catchy. It is however a very decent album that no Blind Guardian fan should miss out on (how could you be a fan and deprive yourself of ‘Banished From Sanctuary’ or ‘Valhalla’?) and that would be a good starting point for fans of heavier music trying Blind Guardian out.

*Ps. The Remastered edition has two cover songs and four early demos to add some value for money. None worth upgrading over in and of themselves, but very welcome if you are getting em for free anyway. *

ACCEPT Restless & Live

Movie · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.02 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Restless & Live is a concert release from the veteran German Heavy Metal legends Accept. It was released on Nuclear Blast Records in 2017 on several formats; such as a CD set with tracks taken from different concerts across the touring cycle for Blind Rage (their third studio album since being reinvigorated by the joining of new singer Mark Tornillo). It was also released as a Blu Ray of a single entire performance at 2015’s Bang Your Head Festival. If you’ve got a bit more money to splash out you can get a set with the Blu Ray and CD versions, or if you prefer DVDs that’s also an option.

My personal preference for concert movies or albums is that they come from on single concert not a mix of shows, and if available preferably on Blu Ray, so for me this was the version I went for and am most happy with. (which this review will be focusing on).

In terms of specs: The Blu Ray version is in 1080p with PCM Stereo and DTS HD Master 5.1 options, Region:All. There aren’t any bonus features. There’s a booklet with some photos but no linear notes.

So the main reason you are buying this disc is for the concert; which is about an hour and forty-five minutes of blistering classic Heavy Metal. The 18-song tracklisting is pretty heavily focused on the three Tornillo-era albums, with a few of the classic ’80s crowdpleasing tunes added in as well. So if you’ve already got the DVD that came with Blind Rage its still worth checking this out for the different tracklisting and higher production values. (The CD version of Restless & Wild contains 27 songs and more of a mix of material).

The tracklisting is: 1. Stampede 2. Stalingrad 3. London Leatherboys 4. Restless & Wild 5. Dying Breed 6. Final Journey 7. Shadow Soldiers 8. Losers & Winners 9. 200 Years 10. Midnite Mover 11. No Shelter 12. Princess Of The Dawn 14. Pandemic 15. Fast As A Shark 16. Metal Heart 17. Teutonic Terror 18. Balls To The Wall

The performance is tight and professional but still has that ‘live’ feeling and energy, it isn’t all sterile but it isn’t loose and sloppy either, its just right. They all give it gusto and look pretty into it. There’s no complaints on vocals, musicianship or song selection for me. Wolf Hoffman’s guitar solos are as entertaining as you would expect and there’s a fun bass versus guitar trade off section at one point. The camera work, editing, sound and mix are all solid. Nothing jarring or out of place, no sync issues, all instruments audible and in correct balance. The songs sound clear and yet muscular.

Its a pretty simple and honest affair. There’s no gimmicks here; no big show with giant robot crabs on stage or band members catching fire or shooting lazers out of their eyes, and there’s no life changing documentary, no animations weaved into the concert or anything… but if you want to buy an Accept live concert and watch songs like ‘Fast As A Shark’ and ‘Balls To The Wall’ played well by the new line-up and competently captured and prepared for home viewing then it is an absolutely fine product and I highly recommend it to fans of the band, especially to fans of the newer three albums. For me, watching songs like ‘No Shelter,’ ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Pandemic’ belted out enthusiastically are worth the money.

If you are new to the band, this is a very strong starting place, (if not entirely representative of the overall discography) and if you are a fan already its a worthy addition to your collection.

ROB ZOMBIE The Zombie Horror Picture Show

Movie · 2014 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
The Zombie Horror Picture Show is a live release by the Industrial Metal band Rob Zombie. It was filmed in Texas and released in 2014 on DVD and Blu Ray, his first full concert video release. The Blu Ray version is in 1080p with DTS HD Master 5.1, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and PCM stereo options.

Live CDs are great, but Rob Zombie has always been about spectacle, about visual, about putting on a show. It just makes more sense to release it in a visual medium. Here’s a list of things you can find on this concert film: Multiple costume changes (including prosthetic Nosferatu ears and a light-up mouth-guard) …when the band are already decoratively dressed and wearing make up to begin with; Multiple screens (showing a mixture of crowd footage, scenes from the music videos and dedicated footage such as horror imagery, strip tease, psychedelic visualizers and karaoke sing along prompts), light-up guitars, a see-through drum kit (which also has pentagrams projected onto it at one stage), balloons, confetti, fireworks and pyro and steam cannons, lights and lasers, customized mic-stands, fake snow falling, hired dancers in big puppet costumes, a giant prop that says ‘Zombie’ on it, a giant radio prop, a giant skeletal podium prop and even a giant steampunk-robot-chariot that drives around the stage and can move its head around. That’s more than most bands do in a whole career these days.

Its a very visual concert, with a lot to take in. The editing and camera work is all very high-budget stuff, lots of different angles available, movement, concentrating on the right parts of the song. There’s the occasional grainy film filters, or psychedelic looking screen mirrored down the middle or what have you, and during the intro, outro and a small selection of the more quiet parts it’ll cut to footage from the road. Its a very good looking film, well put together, not too stylized but not to plain. Very in keeping with Zombie’s tastes and artwork (Which makes sense seeing as Zombie himself directed it). Perhaps, there’s a few too many titty-shots. … a much higher proportion than normal really. If that’s off-putting to you then this aint the concert for you I fear, as there’s no getting around it here.

The band, featuring drummer Ginger Fish and guitarist John 5 (Hey, remember how cool Marilyn Manson was live when those two were in the band!?) as well as bassist Piggy D are all on top form, no free rides! Rob himself performs well and enthusiastically, really getting into it, dancing, interacting with the audience, going into the crowd etc. His vocals, which have been criticized on previous live releases are very strong here, and not a weak link at all. From everyone involved its a good performance, and the crowd seem into it.

The setlist is great; out of all of ‘Zombie’s live albums this has the most wide-ranging setlist, covering five solo albums and two White Zombie albums. Across its 80 minute length you’ll find all the hits you’d expect like ‘Dragula,’ ‘Living Dead Girl,’ ‘Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy),’ ‘Sick Bubblegum’ etc. There’s material from the then-new album Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (including a really storming rendition of ‘Dead City Radio…’). There’s also a brief drum solo and a slightly longer guitar solo where John 5 really gets to shred. There’s the popular Grand Funk cover of ‘We’re An American Band.’ The Educated Horses album is the least drawn-from album but then there was already a live album from that touring cycle so its good not to just repeat the same setlist twice. Everyone’s tastes are different and I’d personally have loved to add in ‘Scum Of The Earth’ and ‘Werewolf Women of the SS’ but otherwise it is a pretty amazing selection.

Sound wise, its is decent. The White Zombie covers sound nice and thick, and the more organic material from his solo catalogue fairs really well. Some of the more industrial sections maybe sound different live than on record but not in any way that spoils them. My only minor gripe is that my favourite ‘Zombie song, the very catchy ‘Ding Dang Dong De Do Gong De Laga Raga’ isn’t just as crunchy and massive live. Its good, but not just as satisfying. I think its just because there’s only one guitar track live and in the studio they can beef it up with more. Minor nitpick at most though.

There isn’t much in the way of extras at all, just a gallery, not even a booklet with linear notes or anything, but to be honest I bought it for the concert in the first place so that’s ok I guess.

Overall, in terms of set,sound, performance, spectacle, visuals and editing this is a very good concert film and I highly recommend it. If you are a fan already it is pretty perfect and as an introduction to the band it serves as a pretty high quality ‘greatest hits’ package with a nice career spanning collection of songs to give you a flavour for different eras.

METALLICA Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.63 | 29 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Metallica albums are so hard to judge. To me, Metallica are so absurdly superhumanly important. They are so larger than life. Each album release is not just an album, but an event. It is a climactic shift for my whole culture. I feel like Metallica releases are as significant to me as major life events like first kisses or first drinks or going to university for the first time. Metallica are as close to a religious leader as I’ll ever experience in my life time. As such, objectively judging them is somewhat impossible.

You are talking to an avid, ardent St. Anger defender here. You are talking to someone who could spend twenty-five minutes talking about ‘The Judas Kiss’ on a first date should you let him. You are talking to someone who feels like a chink in Metallica’s armour is a worry almost able to spoil a whole day over. When Metallica do Metallica well, its otherworldly levels of special and when they disappoint its a talking point for months. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to judge or review them, then, given that this band wrote Master Of Puppets, which I do honestly and with all the sincerity in my soul, think I might feel about the same way devout religious people probably feel about their holy books. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful, but its important for the context behind the review to convey how truly disproportionately this group affects my sense-of-self, worldview and culture. Ever seen a grown man cry when his sports team loses a game? That same ludicrous thing is what Metallica taps into in me.And I don’t even consider myself that big a fan compared to a lot of people I’ve met. You’ll never see me scoffing at someone and saying I’m a bigger fan, or getting jealous and competitive about another fan. And yet…

When I hear tracks like the first three singles; ‘Hardwired’ ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘Atlas, Rise!’ then, considering everything I’ve just written about this band and its cultural and emotional significance to me, I am suddenly filled with a sense of hope, excitement and the feeling that everything is all right with the world. This is the feeling of being a teenager, I can still feel the green sofa on which I first really got into ….And Justice For All, can still see the swings in the park when I roared the chorus of ‘Blackened’ at the top of my lungs out in, to amuse my equally excitable teenage friends. I can remember being younger than that and feeling genuinely frightened by the darker moments on the Black album. Feeling like I might go to hell for listening to it. I can see the movie I was ignoring when choosing to inspect the Black Album closely for the first time on headphones instead of engaging with the family movie night. (What Dreams May Come). I can still feel the rattle of the cheap bus windows the first time I realized Kill ‘Em All wasn’t old fashioned, it was charming. I can smell, see and taste things when I listen to Metallica. I have super clear memories of almost any time someone insulted St Anger when I was in the room. These three singles bring all those memories back faster, harder and clearer than Lulu, Beyond Magnetic or ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo)’ were able to, or indeed any live broadcast since about 2004 could.

Metallica were undoubtedly in a bad place before they dropped ‘Hardwired.’ They had whittled away a boatload of goodwill with LuLu, with the failed 3D movie and with ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo).’ The Metallica who were unstoppable to me seemed to be gone. People were stopping to care. Metallica were becoming a joke. What fans from the ’80s felt around the time of the ’90s eyeliner or ’90s fans felt around the time they watched Lars slamming doors on the documentary, its was starting to feel like the only feeling that could be felt about Metallica. That feeling, or worse still, ambivalence. This is the most important band in the world for the love of all things sacred… being ambivalent towards them feels unnatural. It feels tantamount to defeat. To depression almost. It was with a great sigh of relief then, that ‘Hardwired’ was equal to, if not better than even, the weaker moments on St Anger or Death Magnetic. We can never expect them to follow up the first six albums, that way sheer unbridled madness lies, but if they can keep up with the best half of their latter day albums and not turn into ‘Lords Of Summer – The Band’ then all would be well. As long as they sound like they, y’know, give as s*** .

Then comes ‘Moth Into Flame.’ Pow. Same again. Its like Death Magnetic with better production, better vocals, and more concise songwriting. Oh, what’s that? ‘Atlas, Rise’ ? Just as good. Oh thank goodness. Its going to be good, I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones. Its going to be… uh, oh, ok, nevermind.

Yeah, its nice, its nice to try and capture the vibe of C.O.C’s ‘Heaven’s Not Overflowing.’ Its nice to capture the vibe of ‘Devil’s Dance’ again. Its nice to have two six track discs each ending with a lengthy closer. Another song about Cthulu is a good idea. You’ve had success with that before. Its nice to do a tribute to the fallen Lemmy condsidering the specific impact he had on Metallica and vice versa. I mean Lemmy outright praises, thanks and accredits Metallica more than once in his autobiography and covered ‘Whiplash’ …Metallica covered numerous Motorhead songs and shared the stage with Lemmy. Sure. Its not going to be just another hollow tribute by any other band, its going to be personal and meaningful, yeah?

Well; here’s the thing, that Heaven’s Not Overflowing on the silly-title-of-the-month award winner ‘ManUnKind’ moment is fun and awesome, but the song doesn’t fit the mood of the rest of the record at all, really sits out like a sore thumb and probably could’ve served better as a B-Side. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it fits. The awkward, complex drum pattern just reminds me of that section in the Some Kind Of Monster documentary where Lar’s father recommends they ‘delete that’ …is it an attempt to redeem awkward beats or is it another moment someone should’ve saved them from themselves. ‘Murder One’ for all its potential is a forgettable, skippable, unnecessary addition to the album. Was the best way to pay tribute to the man really by writing the most boring song of the album, and just adding in some of Lemmy’s lyrics? Is that what Lemmy would want. Is that what Lemmy’s fans want? Is that what anybody wants? With the accompanying music video I get the Lemmy tribute aspect comes across more, but hey have you ever read Lemmy’s autobiography? I bet that a better tribute would’ve been just to cover a track off of one of those albums like Bastards or We Are Motorhead that he felt didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

When I’m on the subject of niggles… why have a song called ‘Am I Savage’ with no Diamond Head relation, but then have a direct Diamond Head reference in the intro on Confusion? Not just any Diamond Head reference but an ‘Am I Evil’ one specifically. Like. What are you trying to do. Surely, those two things are supposed to go together?! Where they initially together and got separated later in editing? Are they two separate similar shout outs to the same song? ‘Am I Savage?’ ‘Am I Evil?’ or Am I reading too much into this?

I like the two disc closing tracks ‘Spit Out The Bone’ and ‘Halo On Fire,’ …but they’re clearly on the wrong discs! Disc one is much more focused on Thrash. Disc two is much more focused on the Load style. Swap the two disc closers around and you’ve almost got themed discs. Might have flowed better. ‘Spit Out The Bone’ for me is arguably the best song on the album, maybe even of the last four albums. It could do with having a shorter build up time. It could do with sitting closer to ‘Hard Wired.’ It and ‘Hardwired’ are like the focused and expanded evil twins of eachother. They bookend the album. They’d bookmark a disc of the thrashier stuff even more strongly though. A disc each of each direction would be cool and you could pick which disc you were in the mood for.

I wonder what happened to the rest of Metallica’s catalogue though. Metallica were more than just Thrash and Load. I can hear lots of Kill ‘Em All. I can hear lots of Load. I can hear lots and lots of Death Magnetic. What about The Black Album or Ride The Lightening though? Or even poor misunderstood St Anger. Well, upon repeat listens actually I can hear some Black Album on ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Am I Savage’ actually. Initial gut reaction underplays that. You just feel like its Here comes Death Magnetic band trying to play more like Kill ‘Em All… you like that? Ok, well then here’s some Death Magnetic band trying to play Load a bit heavier. Uh…what?

I have to say. On first listen, tracks like ‘Am I Savage?’ and ‘Confusion’ really missed the mark for me. They bored me. Had me questioning the band’s choices. Was this really on the same album as ‘Moth Into Flame’ ? Repeat listens have revealed more depth. Have highlighted the swinging in-the-pocket grooves. Have allowed me to forget my expectations and just let the album be its own thing. So, maybe ‘Here Comes Revenge’ isn’t just a poor man’s ‘Broken Beaten Scared’ after all, and hey, that vocal during the guitar lead has an almost ‘Outlaw Torn’-esque emotive quality to it. A watered down, middle-aged version of it, but a version of it none the less. Repeat listens are this album’s friend. Its a grower. I bet much of its reputation is already formed, and all of our initial ‘Yay’ or ‘Yuck!’ gut reactions will stick around for decades, but to be honest I hated over half this stuff on first listen and now I like a good three quarters.

This album is a bit of a difficult one to get straight in my head. UK journalist Terry Beezer once said Millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal. When hearing ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I’m happy to report he’s got it wrong but then ‘Murder One’ and ‘Dream No More’ have me knowing in my gut he’s dead right. I mean, stacked up against the worst songs on Metallica’s worst albums, maybe they kind of pass, barely, but against the best moments of those albums, not even close to being close to close. And the mythical quality of the best Metallica albums? Not even visible on the horizon. I mean, would you honestly want to see half of this album live if you knew what else you’d be missing out on. Even if Metallica did a show with no hits and no fan favourites, I’d still want to hear the deep cuts off of everything else prioritized over the deep cuts on this. Or would I? Hmmm. Its like a war inside my head (and not the PTSD war in my head of the ‘Confusion’ video). First impressions say I’d skip this stuff when choosing a live setlist, but repeat listening to the vocals in ‘Now That We’re Dead’ …hmm, I’m not sure anymore. Hmmm.

Ok, Ok. Let me think… So yeah. I’ve had some criticisms of this album, especially on the very first listen. That all being said. This is no bad album. Not even close. The band just get judged so much more harshly due to their significance. The intro to ‘Now That We’re All Dead’ ? Amazing fun. Who could possibly not enjoy that? The best riffs in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Confusion’? Yes of course they put a smile on my face, of course I’d want to learn them on guitar. This is Metallica we’re talking about here, James Hetfield knows a thing or two about writing memorable riffs! Increasingly though, they don’t seem to know how to edit themselves, how to cut out the flab, how to be concise. The best thing about this album is that, on those first three singles, it felt like the band had finally worked out how to be concise again, and that’s probably where a lot of disappointment on my part came from, the realization that it was not to be. Should’ve guessed… it was a double album after all. Its hardly a medium known for its focus and discipline.

Then again, the best song on the album is 7-minutes long, so being concise isn’t everything. Just ask …And Justice For All. One things for sure. Metallica dodged a bullet with this album. They were about to slide into the ‘I don’t want to hear anything new ever again’ folder along with the likes of The Rolling Stones, but with the best moments of the record, they’ve dug their nails into staying relelvent. Of course, this isn’t a perfect record. I strongly wish they’d record firier, angrier, more personally invested performances. I wish they’d sound more excited. I wish they’d be livlier and convey more energy. I mean, if Exodus and Testament can still do it, at the same age from the same background, then we know it is physically possible. Have you heard the title track to Blood In Blood Out? It can be done.

Anyway; Despite the one or two filler tracks. Despite the slighly flow-diminishing running order. Despite the surprisngly unfitting tribute to Lemmy. Despite the performance not rocking the hell out. Despite any niggles or nitpicking, this is an album I’ll be listening to in five years time. Its an album that gets less dissapointing with each listen. Its an album that whether its a sane or rational thing to happen or not will inform a disproportionate amount of who I am as a person. I’ll never be objective about this so I won’t even pretend to be.

If history is anything to go by, I’ll have a different oppinion on this in a month, quarter and year from now. I’ll probablly have a different opinion every time you ask me. This review is by no means the last you’ll hear from me on the matter. But overall; I’m glad Metallica made new music and I’m very glad to own an album with ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’ on it.

...Thought that was the end? Think again. This is a Metallica album. Initial gut reactions are one thing, measured multi-listen reviews are another. Even later revalidations are also required. Having absolutely hammered listening to this now, I’ve more left to say. I’ve listened track by track as they were released, all together as a piece of work, in custom orders of my own choosing, accompanied by videos or all alone as audio only, focused or in the background, and all that has melted together in my mind into one whole where I now have a much better grasp on my feelings.

Overall; I think this is a strong album. In all honesty, perhaps a single disc of all the Thrash stuff and a disc of the Black/Reload stuff six months later would’ve worked better, but overall, there’s nothing poor here. Well, maybe ‘Murder One’ for my personal taste… but that’s about it (and I’m sure there’s people out there who are throwing cheetos at the screen screaming that its their favourite song, so live and let live). Tracks like ‘Confusion,’ ‘Am I Savage’ and especially ‘Halo On Fire’ all have really strong endings and work better on repeat listens and in album context. When you deconstruct them or try and guess what they’re going to do, instead of just letting them exist, sure they don’t live up to the standards of your own imagination, but they do work the way Metallica planned them and you just have to accept that your hypothetical perfect version does not exist. Like my Andy Sneap produced, non-brickwalled version of Death Magnetic, it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t stop ‘That Was Just Your Life,’ ‘Judas Kiss’ or ‘All Nightmare Long’ from being bad-ass.

What also becomes apparent after all the dust has settled is how right my gut was on the positive matters. ‘Hardwired,’ ‘Moth Into Flame,’ ‘Atlas, Rise,’ ‘Now That We’re Dead,’ ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and especially, especially ‘Spit Out The Bone’ are my favourite tracks. They are all exactly what I want from the band, and proof that they can still do amazing things even with all the fame and money and age and expectation and conflicting fanbase demographics. These songs, each and every one, I WOULD love to see live.

On repeat listens; I also really connect to parts of other songs, the end of ‘Halo On Fire’ once the guitar lead comes in is priceless, the harsh vocals later in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ are really exciting, the clever mid section of ‘Confusion’ is good. The guitar solo on ‘Dream No More’ is like the best stuff on Reload and I can see now how the ‘you turn to stone’ section is trying to channel The Black Album’s slower tracks. That main riff in the admittedly-still-out-of-place ‘ManUnKind’ is pretty infectious. I mean, they aren’t as great as the best moments on the best albums, (but then, what is?), however they do still warrant attention and respect. More than that even, genuine warmth.

On the matter of the special edition bonus tracks; firstly, the new version of ‘Lords Of Summer’ is a huge improvement. The production, the performance, the attitude, the arrangement, and especially the guitar solos. It all just works so much better. It feels more vital and less like medicority eating Metallica alive. Its celebratory lyrics even put me in a good mood.

The Maiden and Deep Purple covers we’ve heard before, sure but its nice to have them all the same, and the Ronnie medley in particular is pretty great. Their guitar tone on these songs works really well, almost like a history lesson or through-line. Then there’s a ten-song live set: A Diamond Head cover, songs exclusively from Ride The Lightning and Kill ‘Em All and then ending with a live version of ‘Hardwired’ from another concert, ten live tracks, three covers and an extra Metallica song… overall its a pretty substantial bonus. On the Rasputin Music show; the performances and banter all seem happy and grateful and fun, and it all has a great jovial atmosphere. Its a nice addition. I don’t think I’d buy it on its own or anything, there’s plenty of alternative Metallica live shows (especially on their extensive website) to choose from elsewhere, but it is by no means a let down and is actually really rather good indeed. If this was your first Metallica album and you got this on the end too, it would really rule.

Ok. A bit of a fractured review, but it matches my fractured reaction to the album and the fractured way in which I initially consumed it. To summarize: My initial reaction to it, especially disc 2, was disappointment but it really grows. It is not perfect and could easily loose two or three songs, or each song could easily loose thirty seconds to a minute each. The running order could be slightly different [and for my own future listening I am listening to it in the custom order in the appendix below the review]. ‘ManUnKind’ doesn’t fit no matter how good or bad it is or not. ‘Murder One’ is my least favourite track despite Lemmy being amazing and specifically important to this band, directly.

…All of those niggles aside, and they are just niggles, this is pretty damn good. The songs each have something good about them (Hello daaaaarkness, say good-bye), and the aforementioned half or so of the album that I really like, well, I really really like it now! Those songs each have something to love about them. They are very good indeed, and really keep Metallica alive and relevant and live up to all my expectations.

This band are too gigantic, larger than life, and both culturally and emotionally significant for me to have any sort of detached, logical, impartial idea about the objective quality of the record, but in my guts, when I hear ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I know that everything is right with the world; at least for today (despite what the dystopian lyrics would have you believe). Lords of Summer undenied indeed.

——————————————————————–

Custom track order: 1. Hardwired. 2. Moth Into Flame. 3. Atlas, Rise. 4. Now That We’re Dead 5. Here Comes Revenge 6. Spit Out The Bone

1. Confusion. 2. Dream No More. 3. ManUnKind. 4. Murder One. 5. Am I Savage. 6. Halo On Fire.

———————————————————————

IRON SAVIOR Iron Savior

Album · 1997 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 14 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Helloween’s family tree has given us a lot of great musical moments over the years. If you are interested in that band, you can follow the members in and out of that Teutonic institution and find quite a lot of great bands to get into. Not only can you follow a line of logic to Gamma Ray and Freedom Call, or backwards to Blind Guardian at a stretch. Almost anywhere you look there’s some cool band that probably suits your tastes.

One of the great bands you can find on this musical treasure hunt is Germany’s Iron Savior, formed by Kai Hansen, Piet Sielck and Thomen Stauch. They’re a melodic Power Metal band with Sci-Fi themed lyrics and a concept about a self-aware spaceship. Yeah… not exactly wizards and dragons anymore.

Opening with a military march style intro and dual guitar harmonies with an almost Queen flavour on opener ‘The Arrival’ the album lulls you in, before bursting out of the traps with the first proper song ‘Atlantis Falling;’ an up-tempo rocker with that heavier-than-NWOBHM, lighter-than-Thrash style of riffing, some bouncy drumming with lots of space and breaks to show off in, a slightly adventurous and atypical song structure without being outright proggy, and a rather unique vocal style within the subgenere. This is no Bruce Dickinson or Geoff Tate copycat, this is something different. Its also got an absolutely delicious guitar solo that displays everything great about Power Metal; the feel, melody and fun abound.

This song sets up the feel of the whole album, you’ve got driving,forward pressing drums creating a sense of urgency, you’ve got quick chuggy riffs and you’ve got barked low pitched vocals then it gets offset by (sometimes effects-laiden) catchy clean vocal sections with anthemic sing-along choruses and elevated to greatness in the mid-sections once the guitar solos come in and really take things from good to great. There’s one piano ballad in the middle, but otherwise its variations on fast and faster, simple and slightly adventurous, but all within a reasonably similar framework. Depending on what mood you’re in you may call that samey. I call it focused and consistent.

Highlights include the fun catchy title track which feels somewhere between Judas Priest’s Delivering The Goods and Motley Crue’s Live Wire during the verses before going off-track with its mid-paced robotic chorus, as well as the very Blind Guardian flavoured ‘Riding On Fire’ and the Hansi Kürsch guest spot ‘For The World.’ Although to be honest, its all pretty unskippable.

The band would later go on to new line-ups, move further out of the shadows of other bands and become more of a full on real band than a fun side-project supergroup of sorts, but this strong and fun debut is still essential listening for fans of the band and the genre at-large. Piet never needed the other guys to deliver his vision, but its damn nice that he chose to back then, and damn fun we can still listen to it now. Highly recommended.

PRIMAL FEAR Jaws of Death

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.65 | 11 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Do you like Judas Priest? What about Accept? Or the heavier Iron Maiden stuff? Ok good. Do you also like Helloween, or indeed Gamma Ray? Well then… I think I’ve got a recommendation for you.

Germany’s Primal Fear, featuring ex-Gamma Ray singer Ralf Scheepers play a very traditional and blistering take on Power Metal. Does all of Blind Guardian’s prog or Freedom Call’s happy vibes make you yearn for something a bit more simplistic and earthy? Do you wish Stratovarius didn’t have so much keyboard? Do you wish Hammerfall were a bit heavier? Then, as this album puts it, welcome to the church of blood…

The usual media line on this band is ‘Its as if Judas Priest’s Painkiller album was a whole band’ and although in the long run its slightly inaccurate, it does set you up for the right ballpark. Imagine a Thrash band covering ‘Bloodstone’ off of Screaming For Vengeance, or Gamma Ray covering a mid-tempo Accept track like ‘Dogs On Leads’ or even at a push imagine one of Kreator’s more melodic moments but with Rob Halford guest-singing.

Mix all that in a blender, add a chunky, crisp ’90s production job, a bird-mascott and a few surprises and you’ve got Jaws Of Death. Its an album of straight-forward Priest-worshipping Power Metal with incredible vocals and lead guitar, but distinctly German. Its Thrashier than the bands you’d jokingly call Flower Metal instead of Power Metal, and less folky or proggy than some Power Metal bands went in the mid-to-late ’90s, yet harder and heavier than the NWOBHM influenced and ballad filled likes of Hammerfall.

There’s a nice bit of diversity too, to break things up a bit. ‘Into The Future’ has that slightly disorientating, pulsing vibe you’d almost expect from Voivod. ‘Under Your Spell’ starts off with a synth line before evolving into a heavy yet slow track you’d expect in the middle of a Tornillo-era modern Accept album, ‘Play To Kill’ on the other hand sounds like it came straight off of Peace Sells But Who’s Buying for the first 40 seconds or so. After all that has you reeling there’s even a Rainbow cover song on there.

So yeah, its kind of hard to even talk about this album without making comparisons to other artist’s work, but you know what…so what? I love this album. I love this album because I like Hammerfall. I love this album because I like Accept. I love this album because I love the Painkiller album and wish there was more of it. I love this as a Gamma Ray fan. …But I also love it on its own merits! Jaws Of Death is a catchy, well written, entertaining heavy metal album that hits all the right sweet-spots, that has the heavy guitars I like, that has the anthemic choruses I want, that has double-kicks more often than not. That has a powerful and technical singer who has a broad range of squeals, shouts, shrieks, and clean singing styles, propped up by those Teutonic gang backing vocals every now and again ….and best of all the album is absolutely slathered in heroic guitar solos.

In terms of the band’s back catalougue; Jaws Of Death (their 1999 sophomore release) is certainly one of the best. Its a lot stronger and more defined than the debut, its more focused and pure than some of the newer stuff and just has that indefinable x-factor about it. If you like Power Metal, Thrash Metal or especially if you like Traditional Metal you’d probably love this band’s whole output, and if you’re going to try out the band for the first time I’d say there’s no better place than here.

Just listen to the vocals on ‘When The Night Comes,’ the chorus of ‘Final Embrace’ or the superb lead guitar on ‘Under Your Spell’ … this is the pure essence of Heavy Metal right here. This is what its all about. This is what Manowar spent their lives banging on about. This is something you should probably add to you collection if you haven’t already.

BLIND GUARDIAN Tales From the Twilight World

Album · 1990 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 48 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
If you enjoy Power Metal then this is an album that will either be already in your collection or pretty high up on your to-do list; since 1990’s Tales Of The Twilight World by the German band Blind Guardian is a pretty big deal, this album helped the band reach new heights, helped the band to separate their style from precursor Thrash and Speed stylings and into more purely Power territory, as well as introducing the world to their concert favourite ballad ‘Lord Of The Rings.’

‘Twilight World occupies a sweet spot in the band’s discography where it still has all the raw charm of the early material, but introduces a lot of the tropes from their better known material, such as Queen-inspired harmonies, choral involvement and progressive structuring and arrangements. Hansi ‘s vocals are really developing into the style fans know and love and Kalle Trapp’s production job sounds even better than on the previous two records.

Like several other Blind Guardian albums; the album boasts guest appearances from other musical greats including Iron Saviour’s Piet Sielck and frequent collaborator, Gamma Ray’s Kai Hansen. The lyrics reference a lot of popular fiction, like Dune, E.T. And The Tommyknockers, as well as all the Tolkien you can expect from the band who famously made a whole concept album about the Salmarillion.

If you are into the catchy choruses, there’s plenty to love here, and you’ll be humming melodies from this record all week long after hearing it. If you are into the guitar heroism, the leads and solos are delightful as always, and if you want riffs there’s plenty of Thrash in here to get you excited.

Highlights include the strong opener ‘Traveller In Time,’ as well as the excellent ‘Lost In The Twilight Hall’ and of course the aforementioned ‘Lord Of The Rings.’

If you are into the band, this album is a real no-brainer and if you are into the genre, its something you really ought to try out soon. There’s some seriously high quality memorable material on here, plenty of impressive solos and fills, and some fairly interesting lyrics. This really was the first of a streak of Blind Guardian gems from the 1990s, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this type of music.

BARONESS Purple

Album · 2015 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
After two great sludgy and slightly proggy bruisers in the form of Red Album and Blue Record, Baroness pulled a dramatic change of direction with their third full-length record, the double album Yellow & Green. That album was pretty much a masterpiece which really expanded the band’s possibilities, even if it was in a way more commercial and less heavy.

With their fourth album, Purple, the swampy southern band tries to bridge the two worlds, taking the more obvious singles from each of their eras, mixing them together, and using the mixture as the template for an album worth of banging, interesting, well-crafted rock music. It’s a bit less Radiohead than Green but its also a bit less Mastodon than Blue Record.

The direction is one thing; the quality is what’s important. There’s no questions on the quality front whatsoever. You might not like the lack of heaviness or the lack of prog, but you cannot disagree that this is one well-made collection of tunes. The musicianship is great, the production is great, the vocals are getting better, and the songs are memorable. Month’s after my first listen I still find myself humming the likes of ‘Kerosene’ and ‘The Iron Bell,’ I still find my thumbs rushing to chose ‘Shock Me’ when I’m deciding what to listen to for my walk to work.

There’s just a nice balance between variety and consistency, there are fast and slow moments, periods of quick fury and periods of slow somber reflection, but it all feels like one cohesive whole. An album where you could swap the track order around and still get the same journey.

This has far more musical DNA in common with Once More Round The Sun than for example, Through Silver In Blood, so the heavy heavy sludge crowd may still find it off putting, but for the rest of us who just like a good time, this is one very enjoyable selection of gnarly Rock singles that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Red Fang fans will find a lot to enjoy here.

Overall; great songs, get it if you aren’t a heaviness-snob.

ANTHRAX For All Kings

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 12 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
After a brief cinematic-sounding instrumental intro, the East Coast Thrash Metal legends Anthrax’s eleventh full-length studio album kicks into gear with the stompy upper-midpaced ‘You Gotta Believe’ calling to mind the longer tracks on their Persistence Of Time and State Of Euphoria albums; the clicky drum production serves to balance the modern with the classic, the repetitive but not hypnotic song structure harkens back to State Of Euphoria even further, but when the lead guitar kicks in it is apparent that Dan Spitz and his unique and singular style are nowhere to be seen, nor can we hear the warm feel of the excellent Rob Caggiano. New man and former Shadows Fall member Jon Donais has some big shoes to fill.

Joey Bellandona, back for the second studio album since rejoining the band, sounds a little more at home here than on 2011’s Worship Music, which makes sense since the songs weren’t written with someone else in mind first. He still tries a bit more of the Bush-aping choruses which were a weak point on Worship Music since the two very different vocalists had different strengths, but there’s a bit more umph to the verses this time. A bit more of a spitting delivery. A bit more bite. Ironically, on this one he sounds more like he has something to prove, incumbent though he may be.

So far so good. The end of the songs when a few more double kicks let fly and the guitars get a bit busier are always good. The guitar solos are always entertaining. The musicianship is great in general on all the instruments all the way through. The mix is good, and you can really separate the bass drum for the bass guitar or concentrate on whatever you chose, be that a ride cymbal or an individual guitarist’s part.

There’s a few pretty damn enjoyable songs worth pointing out too, such as the speedy politically-charged closer ‘Zero Tolerance’ as well as the aggressive ‘Defend/Avenge’ and the complex and entertaining album highlight ‘Blood Eagle Wings.’

Sounds like a good album to me. The only problem is that it lacks a wow factor. It’s a bit repetitive, a bit unadventurous, a bit ploddy and a bit dull. The song tempos could use a boost. There could be a bit more variety (especially in the vocal department, the choruses sort of blanket over the tracks and make them feel a bit too safe, too samey and too slow). The song lengths could do with a trim. Heck, some of the songs could do with being trimmed altogether… there’s value for money and there’s quality control. ‘Suzerain’ is a perfect example of the whole album, it has a great verse recalling the best parts of the likes of ‘What Doesn’t Die’ or ‘Discharge’ but then the chorus comes in and you just start planning your groceries, looking out the window at the fat guy with the interesting shirt or checking your phone messages. Not even on purpose. Its not like its even bad, its not like you want to lose interest, its just that musically and vocally For All Kings just isn’t special enough to keep your attention. Where’s the choruses like ‘Fueled’? Or ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’? Or ‘Lone Justice’? Where’s the drama of ‘This Is Not An Exit’ or ‘Indians’ ? Where’s the damn excitement?

Its one of those albums where no song is bad and there’s nothing actually even bad or objectionable on there, but overall its just not that great. I like the album, but I don’t love it. Much like the recent Slayer or Megadeth albums, you don’t initially want to compare them to the past, but they just don’t have the same spark and you can’t help but feel that no-matter how objective you would prefer to stay. Its more an album of ‘Ooo, that’s a cool drum part’ rather than ‘Ooo, that’s a cool song.’ Its more, ‘wow, this is slick’ than ‘wow, this is awesome.’ Its good, but its good in the wrong way. It doesn’t grab you. It doesn’t speak to you. I don’t hear too much on here I’d love to hear in concert. I don’t hear too much I want to run out and show my friends. I don’t hear too much to even discuss at all. It one of those classic 6/10 albums that you’ll have in your collection, but never actually love, you might even listen to it more than an actual great one to try and get something more out of it. Overall; It feels like Anthrax are on the right path, but they just haven’t gotten all the way to the desired destination.

MEGADETH Dystopia

Album · 2016 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 30 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Well, for those fans looking forward to a blistering ‘holy cow’ return-to-form story, there may be some disappointment. Despite the interesting new band line-up with Angra’s Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God’s excellent drummer Chris Adler; Dystopia, Megadeth’s fifteenth full-length studio album is not necessarily the career highlight that hype and wishful thinking may have lead us all to believe.

The new lineup is great and not gimmicky, but its still the Mustaine show here on Dystopia. Band-leader Mustaine still writes a huge percentage of the music, so despite the line-up, it doesn’t suddenly sound much like Angra or Lamb Of God either, although you can definitely pick up on their involvement during breakdowns or solos if you're paying attention.

With that out of the way, Dystopia is a good album. Of course it is. It’s a Megadeth album that isn’t Risk, of course it’s a good album. Its more or less the same Megadeth album that the last four ones have been, with about the same level of similarity and difference as each of the last four have had with each other. Its slightly heavier than 2013’s Supercollider, its slightly more consistent than 2011’s Thirteen and slightly thrashier than 2007’s United Abominations, but when all is said and done, its relatively similar to them all, especially the less famous mid-album stuff. 2009’s Endgame is arguably the closest record to this stylistically in the Medageth catalogue; thrashy yet modern, ‘fast’ on paper but still varied and with plenty of mid-tempo moments, energetic and revitalized but not necessarily earth-shattering. They're arguably quite similar in quality too, as well as stylistically.

If you’ve enjoyed Megadeth’s recent output, this is good. Its good for me, I’ve been really keen on all the recent albums personally. If you only like a particular period such as the ‘80s or ‘90s however, I’d give up now because despite the hype there’s not that much difference here to anything the band have turned-in since the millennium.

There are a few interesting moments here and there, such as a touch of piano and spoken-word at the end of ‘Poison Shadow’ or some Spanish guitar at the beginning of the instrumental ‘Conquer Or Die’ but again, nothing you haven’t heard before from a band with such a long and storied career as Megadeth ...who have covered a lot of ground already in their time. Apart from having a cover of Fear’s ‘Foreign Policy’ at the end, which admittedly fits in well thematically with the majority of the rest of the record’s tone anyway, the album doesn’t particularly have any stand out moments or obvious hits, it isn’t an album of highlights and filler, it feels very consistent, and benefits from being absorbed in a single listening session rather than picked and chosen from. That’s a good thing though, this is a good album that works well as an album, that is good all the way through and that feels like a complete ‘whole.’

With all of that being said, its then understandably hard choose favourite tracks from Dystopia; for me ‘Lying In State’ is one of the strongest, a track which sounds very close to the style of the faster stuff on 2004’s The System Has Failed, and has lead guitar lines that don’t sound much like any previous Megadeth material. Another noteworthy track would be the fun, bouncy ‘The Emperor’ which feels like the better Thirteen material and would sit rather nicely beside ‘Whose Life Is It Anyway?’ in concert.

Overall; Dystopia is another post millennial Megadeth album of strong quality that satisfies on every level, but that probably won’t go down in the history books. The guitars are sharper, the vocals have more snarl and the lyrics are a bit more politicized than Supercollider for example, but I think ‘business as usual’ is a fairer summation of the record than ‘best album since…’ because, for me at least, Megadeth have been dishing out high quality, enjoyable, entertaining albums of this quality all along.

TRIVIUM Silence In The Snow

Album · 2015 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.72 | 7 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
I have a lot of love and respect for Trivium; the Floridian Metal band released their seventh full-length studio in 2015, entitled ‘Silence In The Snow’ on Roadrunner Records and it is one of the best in their discography. Words that come to mind when I think of Trivium include ‘Hard Working’ ‘Consistent’ and more and more these days ‘Underrated.’

‘Silence In The Snow’ sees the band diversifying their sound a little after their previous two albums arguably started to head too much down one particular aspect of their sound. This album experiments more with dynamics, with fast and slow, with cleaner singing and changes the primary focus from rhythm to guitar heroics. The clean slick production by Michael Baskette (Slash/Alter Bridge/Tremonti), the tasteful minimalistic art direction and even the lyrics all gel into one really solid whole. On paper it should be bland, but in practice it works remarkably well.

Musically, there’s a lot of guitar solos, a lot of lead lines, a few switches to acoustic guitar. There’s a few surprises too, such as the one Djenty moment in the middle of ‘Beneath The Sun’ and a sort of Power Metal moment at one stage as well. There’s even a guest appearance from Ishan on the intro track. Highlights include the moody ‘Pull Me From The Void,’ the speedy ‘The Thing That’s Killing Me’ and the excellent single ‘Blind Leading The Blind.’

The album features some of the best and most impressive and mature singing in the band’s career, in a way that feels natural and not like a calculated move. Trivium may have received an arguably unfair bit of a backlash last time they did the ‘we’re done with growling’ thing ten years ago, but unless you’re shallow and just plain out looking for drama you wouldn’t even notice here, the only thing you’d notice is the quality of the singing. Its not an exciting selling-point in and of itself… but when you hear it in context, and consider how perfectly crafted the material is as a whole, the record ends up feeling damn pretty strong and creatively viable.

Overall; To me, there’s something about the songwriting that feels a bit more considered. A bit less auto-pilot and a bit less filler. I like everything the band have put out, but this to me is one of their better records. More than three quarters of this album I’d love to see live, and would put on any Trivium compilation or playlist. If someone said they were going to check out the band and asked me if this album was a good starting point I wouldn’t jump out and say ‘start elsewhere.’ If you like the band, this is a fine record and absolutely worth your money, your time and your attention.

ICED EARTH The Dark Saga

Album · 1996 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 31 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
1996’s conceptual The Dark Saga is the fourth studio album by American Power Metal/Heavy Metal band Iced Earth; it was their second album with Matt Barlow singing. It was produced by Jim Morris of Morrisound fame and released on Century Media.

The lyrics are based on the story from the Image comic “Spawn,’” (a lot of character exploration and melancholy – just like the early issue of the book) and so is the artwork. To be honest though, blink and you’d miss it… lyrically it still sounds like most Iced Earth albums anyway and the artwork could easily match their other releases anyway. Its not as if it’s a concept album about The Smurfs or something.

The music on the album is a sort of average of the band’s influences, one part NWOBHM, one part Thrash, one part Power Metal, without being any one overly more than the other… its not their fastest, nor their most bombastic, nor their most “Heavy Metal.” It moved away from the sound of their earlier records and set the tone more or less for their next three or four albums.

If you’ve never heard the band before, image Queensryche’s The Warning mixed with Testament’s Practice What You Preach and Saxon’s Denim & Leather played mostly in a mid-tempo. There’s evocative wide ranging vocals that communicate a lot, there’s a certain rock-meets metal balance and there’s a substantial chug and some double kicks and a bit of a Thrashy edge… only without ever breaking out into a blistering speed.

The standout moments include ‘I Died For You,’ ‘The Last Laugh’ and the seven-minute closer ‘A Question Of Heaven.’ To be honest its all pretty equal though, not much in the way of filler, all of the similar high standard.

If I was going to level any criticism at this record, I could maybe use the ‘formulaic’ card, as its not the most diverse or eclectic release in the world, but that is balanced by how solid and reliable it is. I could play the ‘wearing their influences on their sleeve’ card but their mixture of influences is at least resultant in something that is unmistakably Iced Earth. I don’t feel either is particularly warranted however, this for me is a really decent album from a really decent band… for a brand new listener I’d recommend trying Something Wicked first, but otherwise this is a fine addition to your Iced Earth collection and yet another strong record from the consistent and dependable act

ARCHITECTS Lost Forever // Lost Together

Album · 2014 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
British Metalcore/Tech band Architects have never released a similar album twice in a row. After the brilliant Daybreaker album however, it seems like Architects have definitely decided on their path… holding Hollow Crown in reverence and balancing innovation around that, to masterful effect.

2014 saw the release of the Lost Forever Lost Together album, which feels like a heavier and slightly more sophisticated take on that Daybreaker sound. Its meatier and more complex without necessarily being as obtuse and angular as some of their oldest material or as brash as even the popular Hollow Crown. They also take a few post-rock twists and delve into some spacey textured moments to balance it out, there’s in-your-face power and there’s brooding, and the mix works rather well. This is all topped off with thought provoking socially and environmentally conscious lyrics and an absolutely superb production job that enhances the listening experience further. The band are one of the best bands to do the tech thing without being complex, the brash thing without being caustic and the melodic thing without being saccharine. They are a great example of how passionate and honest this music can be and a standard bearer for quality. They’re not just another band, they’ve got that extra ‘special something’ and this isn’t just another album, it too has some indescribable elevating factor.

As always, the talented musicians do a remarkable job with the construction/performance of the material and the singing is arguably better than ever. Highlights include the pummeling ‘C.A.N.C.E.R’ and ‘Broken Cross’ as well as the quitter ‘Colony Collapse.’ Really though, there’s no filler, no weak tracks and quite literally never a dull moment. If this sort of music is your thing, you ought to check out this record, because it is a particularly good example of it.

I think the easiest way to describe Lost Forever Lost Together is ‘exactly the Architects album you hoped for in 2014’ and I mean that as a very big compliment as well as an honest description of what to expect stylistically and in terms of quality. I caught the band live just as the album was coming out and it got me really excited, the music they played from this album fit so well alongside their back catalogue and was absolutely massive in its own right. If you’ve never heard the band before, and don’t know what to expect, just stick on 'Castles In The Air,' ‘The Devil Is Near’ and ‘The Distant Blue’ and that will give you a good idea of what these guys have to offer.

What this album is, at its heart, is Architects absolutely perfecting their formula and delivering as perfect an example of it as they can possibly muster, throwing everything they have into performance, lyrical craft and all the bells and whistles on top. I highly recommend it to any fan of the genre, the band, or heavy music in general… this isn’t a throw-away record that you won’t be listening to next year… this one is built to last.

MANOWAR The Lord Of Steel

Album · 2012 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.72 | 8 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
2012’s The Lord Of Steel was the American Heavy Metal band Manowar’s 11th full-length original studio album proper. It doesn’t experiment too much with the formula, it is the sort of default Manowar sound for anything since Kings Of Metal, but with less orchestration and fewer ballads than a lot of Manowar records. Perhaps it was a reaction against the direction of 2007’s Gods Of War album or something, but the majority of this album is just meaty, substantial, catchy Heavy Metal songs, in a mixture of tempos and even things which start off threatening to be ballads have big distorted riffs and doomy hanging chords by the end. It revels in the meat-and-potatoes stuff. And it does it well.

Now, I know that Manowar might be a joke to some in the music community because of the sweaty loin cloth imagery and death-to-false-metal warcries associated with the band… but musically, if you like bands like Judas Priest, Saxon or Iron Maiden at all, it is worth giving them a try. It doesn’t ever really matter about anything non-musical as much as the music itself and this band knows how to make Heavy Metal sound good – plain and simple. If you like steady, pounding drums with double-kicks, melodic guitar solos, vocals with charm and character, fantasy lyrics and NWOBHM meets Power Metal flavoured riffing, then this is an album that will suit you. Opener and title track ‘The Lord Of Steel’ pretty much sums it all up, if you wonder whether the record is for you, give that a quick listen first and it will tell you everything you need to know.

Where does this fit in with the rest of their catalogue? Well, I wouldn’t argue that it is the single greatest effort in their entire career. It is unarguably in the top 50% of their discography though. I can think of other records I like better, but I wouldn’t write this one off as a forgotten late career release “for-diehards-only” until you’ve listened to great songs like ‘Born In A Grave,’ ‘Expendable’ and ‘Hail Kill And Die’ first! …If you want to get yourself in a good mood, stick on ‘Touch The Sky’ let go on inhibitions, and just give in to it. You’ll feel like a glorious hero for a brief moment when that absolutely delicious guitar solo kicks in.

Overall; DiMaio, Adams, Logan and the now-returned early drummer Donnie Hamzik have released a steady, solid, smooth and almost-perfect gem. If there could be any criticism made, it might be that it is so slick that the performance perhaps lacks a bit of urgency or fire, but otherwise, this is such a finely crafted and easily enjoyable album. If you like the band, don’t miss out on it!

COHEED AND CAMBRIA The Color Before the Sun

Album · 2015 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.22 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
The Color Before The Sun is the innovative American Prog/Punk/Rock/Metal hybrid band Coheed & Cambria’s eight full-length studio album, it was produced by the band and Jay Joyce (who also contributes some piano) and released in 2015.

That hybrid sound isn’t quite so pronounced this time around though. There’s nothing on here that’s as heavy as the band’s heaviest output, there’s nothing as progressive as the band’s most progressive moments, there’s nothing as fast as the band’s fastest moments. Nothing is so sugary or so lush as the band’s most grandiose ballads of yore. There’s no summery happy single. There’s no ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘No World For Tomorrow’ or ‘Domino The Destitute’ or ‘Sentry The Defiant’ type big smashing centrepiece either. Even Sanchez’s usually immensely emotional, evocative and expressive vocals are a bit more restrained. He’s usually singing about the most dramatic point in a character’s entire life, and Claudio can really make you feel that. Here he still has the talent and the signature style but the performance is a bit more held back, a foot off the gas pedal and less hair raising.

As an album; its very much Coheed on the ‘medium’ setting. As such, it took the album a bit longer to really click with me than usual… but click it did. I’ll admit, the very first time I heard this record in full I didn’t like it much and I could imagine it getting bad reviews from professional critics without the time to really let it sink in because of the fact its such a grower and it does take a bit of listening to reveal all its secrets and hidden depths. Its not even as if it’s a return to roots or going back to their early sound either because although its poppy and cheerful it doesn’t really sound much like Second Stage Turbine Blade either. It’s a bit more raw, honest, stripped back and realistic. The emotions are more human. If you’re willing to give it a chance, the quality’s absolutely there though.

The other big talking point about this record is that the lyrics are no longer conceptual or telling the Amory Wars story, but you’d be hard pressed to notice sometimes with all the mentioning of moons and planets and returning words and ideas the band always use like ‘home’ and ‘love’ etc. The band write about relationships, fatherhood, artistry and similar topics here, same as always in one way, just without the sci-fi angle. There’s some great memorable lines here, with ‘Ghosts,’ ‘Atlas’ and ‘The Audience’ being especially interesting.

The album also goes to town on lots of sing-along moments, there’s a real surplus of ‘woah ah ooooh’s and ‘da dada da’s. It seems like the band are compensating for the lack of power with pleasant smiley moments, and it works well. There’s also a few really sweet, enjoyable guitar lines that’ll stick in your head. Now, on top of that there are some seriously fun moments and memorable choruses; the opener ‘Island’ as well as the singles ‘Here To Mars’ and ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid’ in particular are all worth checking out. Another major highlight is the subtle and understated ballad ‘Ghost’ which has some different sounding vocals from Claudio.

Overall; this is a more mature, mid-paced, cohesive and restrained album from Coheed & Cambria. It isn’t as instant or dramatic or adventurous as some of the band’s back catalogue but it is enjoyable and it is worth your time. There’s just something very good about it, it is a real grower, its earthy and honest and it is just very well crafted and succinct with no filler and an absolute boatload of hooks. I recommend it to anyone who’s ever had an interest in the group.

LAMB OF GOD VII: Sturm und Drang

Album · 2015 · Groove Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Lamb Of God were in an interesting and dark place prior to making 2015’s VII: Sturm & Drang album; there’s been a book and a documentary released about the time and countless better writers than the likes of me have summarized it online. It permeates the album quite a lot, the atmosphere, the title, and even some of the lyrics (‘512’ and ‘Still Echoes’ for example). Its not so much a concept album about what happened to Randy or anything as formal as that, but that era certainly cast a noticeable shadow over this, their seventh full-length record as Lamb Of God.

Musically, the album takes a split approach between covering new ground and keeping it familiar. It isn’t different enough for example from their previous two albums that you could say it’s a break from the norm, but there are certainly moments on it you haven’t heard before. The band are no strangers to slow thoughtful intros or bigger scale album closers, but even at that this album contains more melody, slow parts and subtlety than some of their previous work. It also isn’t the first time they’ve had guest stars, (just ask Chris Poland, Steve Austin and Devin Townsend), but Deftones’ Chino Morino and Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato both appear on this record and deliver nifty performances than breath fresh new life into proceedings (and luckily on two of the already best tracks of the record). As you can see, its new ground but simultaneously very familiar.

‘Overlord’ is an interesting one, because it isn’t the kind of final epic closer like ‘King Me’ or ‘Reclamation’ from previous records where you’d expect more pronounced dynamics and a few less-heavy vocals. It’s a mid-album track with a lot of melody from Blythe and no orchestration or drama to justify it to the die-hard “I Only Like Brutal Music” section of the crowd. I could see a portion of the fanbase call it a bit of a sell-out… well, apart from the thrashy fast paced end of the song that is just about the best part of the whole record that is.

The bulk of the album, the ‘normal’ Lamb Of God songs, are all exactly what you want from the band. You get aggressive, angry 3-4 minute songs with Thrash and Groove roots, modern sensibilities, and a technical but not showy approach, all topped off with furious barking. Its good. It Lamb Of God doing what they do. If you want more of that, get this album, don’t worry that its turned into something you don’t want, or that its become a cheesy guest-spot fest with every man and his dog clogging up the runtime making it feel disjointed or not like a proper album.

The interesting backstory, the excellent guest-spots and the few innovations do make this an album that you can tell future fans to check out when they get into the band and wonder what to look at first, and the album is a good album in and of itself… but one thing I would say is that just purely in terms of songwriting, there was nothing that jumped out at me on first listen and made me feel “well that’s going straight into a greatest hits playlist right now,” nor anything that made me say “I can’t wait to see them play THAT ONE live” and nothing that made me want to listen to it six times in a row. There was no super special song like the first time I heard ‘Contractor’ or ‘To The End’ or ‘Ruin’ where I just got blown away. Its all very good, don’t get me wrong, but even after a long while of getting into the album and letting it sit with me, I haven’t got a new favourite Lamb Of God song contender. The band are maintaining their high standard, but they aren’t necessarily improving or blowing minds this time (and to be fair it is an impossible task for a band who’ve did it so many times already).

In summary; this is a good Lamb Of God album, arguably not their very best ever, but rock solid and certainly a worthy addition to your collection that gives you what you want stylistically but with enough unique selling points to not make you feel like you’ve heard it all before.

BLIND GUARDIAN Imaginations From the Other Side

Album · 1995 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 73 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Imaginations From The Otherside is the seminal and genre-defining fifth full-length studio album from the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1995, and produced by the famous Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen (Rainbow, Metallica, Morbid Angel, Ensiferum) and it caught the band in an unstoppable run of classic album after classic album, with high public will at the time and historical importance nowadays.

The album sees the band in a bit more of a progressive mood; with less difference between the fast, the slow and the acoustic songs in favour of complex tunes that merge all three. It’s a far cry from the Thrashy roots of Battalions Of Fear but still unmistakably Blind Guardian sounding at the same time. The band do a good job at writing more complex and sophisticated songs without making them feel pompous or disjointed… everything flows logically and you don’t really feel as if you’ve sat there listening to the same song for six or seven minutes. It whizzes by as you think about Peter Pan and Narnia etc. enjoying some of the genre's less-cheesy vocal melodies and some hard hitting Metallic music.

The standard of musicianship is immense, not just in terms of flashy virtuosity but also in more subtle ways and in terms of the actual performance captured here… this sounds like a masterpiece. You know when you get an album for the first time and just think “this sounds important” …this is such an album. Understandably it is now considered a classic of the genre and is justly recommended routinely to anyone interested in the band or this type of music in general and I would easily feel comfortable throwing out another voice in the crowd telling you to get your hands on a copy.

Album highlights for me are the opener, which is also the album’s Title Track, and the more melodic single ‘Bright Eyes’ as well as the brief ballad ‘A Past And Future Secret’ which I feel is the strongest moment on the record. Its all of a pretty similarly high standard though, and arguably best listened to as a single continuous journey rather than as separate tracks.

As strong and enjoyable as the album is, there’s not really that much to say about it other than it is essential listening for fans, its is a good first album for new fans, and that I highly recommend it. It doesn’t have any guest stars, special talking point or singular narrative concept. Its Blind Guardian doing what they do best, to perfection…which is a pretty damn strong recommendation in and of itself really!

CLUTCH Psychic Warfare

Album · 2015 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.83 | 6 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Clutch have come a long, long way from their Hardcore roots, and if you do a side-by side comparison of the likes of the Pitchfork or Passive Restraints EPs, you’d scarcely imagine it is the same band. They’ve weaved their way from defining Stoner Rock, to becoming loose and jam focused, to exploring Blues territories.

All the way through they’ve been inventive, impressive, consistent and a whole barrel of fun. Almost no band going can claim to have more charm, personality or dependability, and there’s barely been a group on this Earth with the same down to earth vibe and strong work-ethic for such a long, long time. I mean, what other band still has all the original members of its debut album’s line-up, ten albums later?

That’s Clutch for you. Always honest, always consistent and always excellent. They do what they want and they do it well and it always sounds good. With their previous album, 2013’s Earth Rocker, the band stripped away all the frills and delivered the most focused and electrifying performance possible, with arguably the most trim and electric collection of tunes to date. It was a damn good album, with a good direction for the band at that moment in time, and the press and the public stood up, took notice and started to realize just what an amazing band Clutch had been all along. Clutch concerts had bigger audiences, you see more people in the streets wearing Clutch shirts and Clutch get more mentions on podcasts and magazines and popular music websites than they have in a while. Altogether; a triumph, well deserved and long-earned, with no hint of compromise. The band’s public mindshare has gone up and down over the year but right now feels like a golden era.

Psychic Warfare now comes along, two years later in 2015, and follows the same formula. Clutch give a damn focused, lazer-beam version of their trademark sound, in a briefer, more succinct fashion than ever before. They speed up the tempos, they give an even sweatier more powerful performance, and they never compromise what makes them so good in the first place.

‘X-Ray Visions,’ ‘Sucker For The Witch,’ ‘Decapitation Blues’ and especially ‘Noble Savage’ are barrelling, fast-paced rockers. Hold on to something or the album might well knock you over. ‘A Quick Death In Texas’ is a funky ZZ Top-flavoured smile-inducer that recalls previous work like ‘DC Sound Attack’ in its funky midsection and ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ in its uplifting chorus (and features amusing lyrics about a man in mortal peril after having seduced ZZ Top’s singer’s wife). Balance is achieved with the sublime ‘Our Lady Of Electric Light’ and ‘Son Of Virginia’ which recall the very best of the slow side of Clutch; think ‘Drink To The Dead,’ ‘The Face,’ ‘The Regulator’ and ‘Basket Of Eggs’ and you’re in the right territory… but damn, these two are particularly strong, evocative and entertaining. It doesn’t overdo the slow moments, it doesn’t overdo the instrumental noodling, and even with all the speed it isn’t repetitive or simplistic. It is a pretty perfect mixture that captures Clutch as they are in 2015 absolutely masterfully.

As always, the musicianship is otherworldly with some of the most subtly fantastic drums in the industry and bass and guitar lines that will stick in your head for years if history is anything to go by – no one’s showing off but everyone comes across like a virtuoso. Fallon’s superb vocals are as sharp as ever; full of story-selling conviction and passion as he screams, sings, bellows and worries his way through poplar music’s greatest lyrical adventures since Phil Lynott passed away. The man knows how to convey drama, that’s for sure! I want to single out a few choice lyrics every time I review a Clutch record, so stupendous are the band at creating memorable lines, but man, I’d just have the whole damn record’s lyrics down this time!

Album highlights? Every damn song! Don’t even bother with a tester. If you like the band, you’ll love this. Overall; If you like the band then you absolutely need this in your collection. If you don’t like the band then you’re seriously missing out on something special – maybe try again now and reevaluate. In any case; I don’t reckon it would be humanly possible for Clutch to have made a better album and I can’t imagine enjoying anything they could’ve come up with this time more. I know it goes against my Catholic upbringing, but I’m a sucker for this album.

FEAR FACTORY Genexus

Album · 2015 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 8 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
2015’s Genexus is the Los Angeles Metal band Fear Factory’s ninth officially recognized full-length studio album proper (discounting compilations, rereleases, remix projects etc). It is the third album since guitarist Dino Cazares rejoined the band when Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera left. It is also the first album with Mike Heller on drums (although Deen Castronovo plays on single ‘Soul Hacker’) who the band made a point of getting to play live following an online controversy with the use of no human drummers on their previous record, The Industrialist.

For me, it doesn’t matter who played on it, what’s a real instrument and what isn’t; all that matters is if it is enjoyable and memorable. An album could be soullessly generated by a computer algorithm for all I care if it made me genuinely enjoy myself. This is definitely the most memorable and enjoyable album the band have released since 2004’s Archetype in my opinion. It sticks to the same futuristic lyrical well and imagery that the band are best known for, it contains plenty of the same staccato riffs synched-up with the kickdrum patterns that are the band’s trademark, and its got the same Burton C Bell clean/heavy splits… it all sounds very Fear Factory, but crucially the songs are fun, they stick out more, there’s no filler and there’s more bounce and groove than the last three records. It’s a Fear Factory album, and it’s a damn good one. Its not boring, its not repetitive and its not a failed experiment.

Imagine the verses from the band’s heavier album Mechanize, with the choruses from the band’s clean and commercial Transgression, topped with the balance, character and personality of Archetype. That’s the sort of ballpark the band are working in – its not a throwback album trying to recapture Demanufacture or Obsolete, its not a sell-out, its not an attempt to write their most brutal album ever… the band have kind of mixed different aspects from different eras together (Heck; there’s even one or two moments where the Rhys Fulber additions feel a bit like they did on Digimortal for a few seconds).

For me, that mix achieved here is an absolute winner. Having had time to live with the album and let it all really sink in, I feel that Genexus is one of the band’s very best albums, easily in the top half of their discography, and I’d be more than happy to see lots of these songs in live setlists and compilations from now on. Its not a throw-away album by any stretch of the imagination.

Highlights include the ridiculously bouncy single ‘Soul Hacker’ (the most outright fun Fear Factory song this side of ‘Edge Crusher’ or ‘Cyberwaste’), the brief and perfect ‘Church Of Execution’ as well as the crushing ‘Protomech’ and the quieter, more dreamy ‘Expiration Date,’ which almost reminds me of modern-day Anathema at times. Anything on the record is good though, there’s legitimately nothing I would delete or skip at all.

Fear Factory are such an underrated band who never really got their due. Compared to how historically important and influential they are (basically informing much of the music for the next decade), and considereing how any time Roadrunner Records does anything special there’s a Fear Factory connection in some way (boxset series, compilation series, 25th anniversary series, Drilling The Vein, Roadrunner United etc), or indeed just how many people have something positive to say about them… when they come play my city its never to an audience big or passionate enough to reflect this, and that’s kind of sad. I can’t see this album winning over a legion of new fans, I can’t see it thrusting the band to superstar status, but what it definitely can do is satisfy existing fans, cement the different eras of the band’s discography into a more sensible cohesive whole, and raise the band’s stock and hit-to-miss ratio in the right direction. Its one more top quality album to add to the list of good Fear Factory albums. It makes me excited about this band again and makes me feel validated and vindicated after sticking with them through different line-ups and stylistic shake ups of varying quality. It makes me want to talk about Fear Factory all the time again like I used to a decade ago. It makes me want to convert new fans. Most importantly of all, it makes me want to listen to it over and over.

In summary; it’s a mixture of Fear Factory’s heavier and lighter sides, done right, with memorable catchy songs full of character. Its one of the band’s better records to date and I highly recommend it to any existing or potential future fan without hesitation or qualification.

QUEENSRŸCHE Condition Hüman

Album · 2015 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.82 | 12 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
With their previous album, the self-titled one, American Progressive Metal band Queensrÿche had the eyes of the world on them due to the much publicized split with Geoff Tate and the existence of two competing Queensrÿches. There was the intrigue of a new singer, and the “they’ve gone back to their Metal roots” tagline to get everyone’s attention. Luckily, It was a brilliant album, but people would’ve been paying attention anyway. In 2015, with all the dust settled, and no more special taglines, the band have to sink or swim solely on the merits of the music.

Like their previous self-titled effort, Condition Hüman was crowdfunded, and if like me you pledged I’m sure you’ll already be very familiar with the first three tracks which the band let you download while you waited for the full album to be released. As it turns out, these three tracks are actually a pretty fair cross-section of the album proper and display the different moods explored on the record quite adequately. Opening with ‘Arrow Of Time’ which is now firmly in the band’s live setlists, the band show off their Heavy Metal roots, going for a “remember, we wrote ‘Queen Of The Ryche’ and ‘The Needle Lies’ too you know!” sort of feel. Promotional single ‘Guardian’ is next which I would say is the average sound of the album overall, so go out and listen to the song and watch the video because I think it is a pretty clear indication of what you can expect from the band nowadays. Then comes the slower, darker, less conventional ‘Hellfire’ which explores the progressive side of the band – never going so far as to have a 7-minute keyboard solo or songs about flowers developing split personalities in space, but certainly finds the Seattle group putting more thought into structuring, dynamics and unusual ideas than your average bread and butter Heavy Metal bands would. It wouldn’t feel too out of place on Promised Land beside ‘Damaged’ or even Hear In The Now Frontier beside ‘Hit The Black’ at a push but there’s a more modern feel too it… making it feel more like a logical successor to the type of music the band were writing on Operation Mindcrime II (an underrated album in my opinion).

The band do explore more of their overall discography on this one, which feels fair to me. It was unquestionably good to go back to the EP-Empire days, but it would also be a shame to outright ignore the best parts of what came afterwards and keep an artificial boundary in place forever. This album seems to be a reconciling of the previous Todd-fronted album with the post-Empire material to excellent effect; ‘Selfish Lies’ for example sounds at first like a bit the Tribe album, then goes a bit Empire-esque towards the end once the delicious album-highlight guitar solo comes in. ‘Eye9’ opens with a nice Tool-esque bassline and heavily processed vocals that reminds me of a mixture between ‘I Am I’ and ‘The Hostage’ from previous releases, but the song takes so many twists and turns in its duration it crosses all sorts of territory from American Soldier to Rage For Order, and when the (also album highlight) guitar solo came on for the first time it made my already high estimation of the song double or even triple (the lead guitar on this album is simply joyous!). Most surprising of all, ‘Just Us’ is an acoustic-flavoured, jangly Alternative Rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on either Hear In The Now Frontier or Q2K and even though the thought of that is off-putting to a lot of the fanbase, well, the rejuvenated band show us how good it can be, (and hey, when you’ve not got a full album of it, it works as a nice contrast) injecting an almost Houses Of The Holy feel into the proceedings and elevating it to something special.

The album lasts twelve tracks long, (with one of those just being an intro for the final song), and clocks in at 54 minutes, which is a lot more substantial than the trim and cheerful album which the Todd-lineup debuted with. Not only is it in the addition of more tracks that this extra length manifests itself, but the individual tracks themselves are all a little longer…the previous record’s tracks all lasted between two-and-a-half to four minutes in length and this album sees that average shift to something like between four and five, with the final track lasting almost eight. What you get for your extra invested time isn’t simple repetition or wasted time or filler… you get extra guitar solos, more thoughtful and sophisticated song writing and the ability to work in slower tempos alongside the fist-pumping Metal. You could make an argument that it isn’t as lean and focused, but you could also make the argument that there’s more depth.

Yes… my two favourite songs are predictably ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘All There Was,’ (which just happen to be the two most traditional songs on the record and the closest that the album comes to Speed Metal because I’m dreadfully predictable) but the band’s experimentation here is a profound success… with the record’s most progressive moment, the album-closing Title Track being not only one of the best songs on the album but one of the best songs the band have written in years and years, ending on an almost Voivod note and showing the guys still aren’t afraid to try new things.

All the background history and discography comparisons certainly get you to adjust your expectations, to guess what type of music might be here and get you interested in talking about it… but its all for nothing unfortunately, if the actual music is cack. Well, to put your mind at ease, it isn’t cack. Not by a long shot… stick on ‘Hourglass’ and just drink in those vocals, stick on one of the aforementioned guitar solos and bathe in the whip’s distinctive playing, pay close attention to the drum fills and hi-hat teasing from the unique and enjoyable Scott Rockenfield (in my opinion, one of the most important things in separating Queensrÿche from their peers). Yes, the musicianship is out of this world, with the same renewed passion and energy as the last album but more time to show off in! On top of that, the production job is better, with a more satisfying, less harsh sound and a clearer more balanced mix.

Overall; Condition Hüman was a surprise to me, but a really welcome one. I love the Todd line-up and I’ve loved their previous album so much that I still can’t stop listening to it ahead of numerous other classic releases, so when this record abandoned the formula slightly it could’ve been a bad move for this particular listener… but hey, the whole point of Queensrÿche was that they evolve between every album, never sounding the same twice. This album is not only another evolution, but a reaffirmation of everything that worked with every era of the band’s prestigious history, and its an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come. Get yourself a copy without delay!

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH Got Your Six

Album · 2015 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Dependable as always, the American Heavy Metal band Five Finger Death Punch return in 2015 with their sixth full-length studio album, Got Your Six, showing no signs of fatigue, letting-up or diminishing returns. The band have released another barn-storming collection of stompy, groovy, catchy melodic Metal equally as high in quality as the best of their existing discography to date. Five Finger Death Punch are the kind of slow-evolution band that don’t mess with their formula too much, if you liked their previous albums then you’ll love this because its pretty similar sounding, but with enough of a twist that it doesn’t get boring. Its not suddenly a jazz record or a dubstep album, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard it all before.

The production job by Kevin Churko is excellent as usual, the man just gets this band and how they should sound. The musicianship is strong, with the lead guitars better than ever, singer Ivan Moody stretching himself and exploring new vocal ground, and the rhythm section delivering the same kind of powerful post-Pantera stomp the band is known for. Performance-wise this record is one of their most intense and exciting performances since their debut album, there’s a renewed enthusiasm and a bit of a harder edge than the last two or three records… its just got a little bit more of an umph.

Highlights include the excellent and varied Title Track, as well as the fun and fast-paced ‘No Sudden Movements’ which has a different feel than you’ve heard from the band before, as well as the very fun ‘Boots And Blood’ which is honestly one of my favourite songs the band have come up with to date. There’s also a fun little acoustic guitar solo in the middle of ‘Question Everything’ which is a delightful surprise and makes it stand out on the album.

Sure, the artwork is cheesy and the lyrics are adolescent (even I can’t defend them), but when the music is this good, the songs are this catchy and it sounds like a million bucks… who really cares? This is a damn strong, damn entertaining and completely reliable band, and Got Your Six is among the best of their output to date. If you hate them on principle it won’t change your mind, but existing fans need not hesitate for a moment – Got Your Six is excellent and worth a place in your collection without question.

If you can, try and get yourself a copy of the edition with bonus tracks by the way, because for my money, the bonus tracks are even better than the majority of the album… more in the direction of The Way Of The Fist; ‘You’re Not My Kind’ in particular is an excellent song and one that draws my attention. If there’s a negligible price difference, opt for that version.

HELLOWEEN My God-Given Right

Album · 2015 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.64 | 14 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Its 2015, the German Power Metal legends Helloween have released their 15th full-length studio album proper, not counting EPs or compilations or the symphonic Unarmed album. It is their fifth consecutive release with the same stable line-up (a big deal for a band who’ve had such a turnover of musicians in their time), and their tenth overall with Andi Deris fronting the band (making that now twice as many Helloween albums with him as without him). It was produced by Power Metal producer extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Freedom Call, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall) and released through Nuclear Blast. The version I got came in a 3D lenticular box with bonus tracks although there are many versions available.

My God-Given Right very much picks up where the last couple of Helloween albums left off. Sometimes Helloween make a change-up to their sound for about half-an album, like on The Dark Ride or 7 Sinners being heavier, or Rabbit Don’t Come Easy being more experimental, but this isn’t one of those times. This is the core Helloween sound through and through. It wouldn’t be too mean spirited to say “you’ve heard most of these songs before” because it just lets you know that you are getting what you want: fun, melodic, cheesy, commercial Power Metal with a bit of a sense of humour.

There are moments where they throw in piano, synths or mess around with progressive structures – but mostly its driving, fun Power Metal in a mix of tempos. You get the more Hard Rock flavoured single, the slower more ballady track, the balls-out fast paced track, and the rest of it is what I’d call the medium Deris Helloween sound (which is exactly what I wanted, expected and appreciate having). If you are a fan of any album since Master Of The Rings, and the albums since Keeper’ The Legacy in particular, you’re going to love it!

The highlights for me are ‘Russian Roulé,’ ‘Living On The Edge’ (which I always feel like its called ‘Carry On’ since that’s the main chant in the chorus) and the very fun, and very very cheesy ‘If God Loves Rock And Roll’ which has the best chorus on the album, and a deliciously silly breakdown in the centre which I should hate but absolutely love for some reason. The bonus tracks too are very good, being a bit more experimental and in a slightly different mood to the rest of the record, making a nice little contrast at the end.

The band have been on a roll for the last few albums, each one in turn could be called a career highlight or have the “…the best album since” tag applied to it, and this is no different. This is a perfect Helloween album. No filler, no messing about, nothing worth skipping, just an album chocked full of giving the people what they want and somehow not feeling tired or like they’re repeating themselves, something this band have a real knack for. I’m biased, I know, but I highly recommend checking out this album, and have nothing negative to say about it whatsoever – get yourself a copy and enjoy the pumpkin-y goodness.

BRING ME THE HORIZON That's the Spirit

Album · 2015 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.79 | 2 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
Bring Me The Horizon have had an interesting evolution as a band, with the material on their new record being utterly unidentifiable as being the same band as the one who made their debut EP, and yet every release in between has been the completely logical sequel to its predecessor.

A journey that very much started when Suicide Season had less death growls and blast beats on it than their debut album, and featuring the odd little touches of electronics here and there, has album-by-album seen the band evolves into a BBC Radio 1-friendly band with almost entirely clean vocals, absolutely no touches of Death Metal anywhere in the proceedings whatsoever, and electronics out the wazzoo (so to speak). Its still Rock music (with Pop and Dance tinges), but there’s very little Metal left. They loose fans with each step on the road but seem to recruit 50 for every 1 who drops. A good guide to the band’s evolution is to take the two least-extreme songs on any album and that becomes the average sound of the next album… so, considering that their excellent previous album Sempiternal featured ‘Can You Feel My Heart?’ and ‘…And The Snakes Start To Sing’ – following my train of thought, you can see what sort of thing you can expect on 2015’s That’s The Spirit.

So that’s evolution covered. “Stylistically” would be the next concern – There’s tiny touches of Nine Inch Nails, there’s tiny touches of Pink Floyd, there’s even a moment with cheerleaders singing (like on Mastodon’s ‘Aunt Lisa,’ Marilyn Manson’s ‘mObscene’ and Faith No More’s ‘Be Aggressive’ amongst others) but it seems to me that most of the direction is from outside the comfort zone of the average Rock/Metal fan. What else can be said? Well its melancholy as hell, with a real hopeless, negative, depressing feel straight from the opener ‘Doomed’ – but its bittersweet, with euphoric electronic dance music sounds in the background and the most melodic and talented clean singing of the band’s career. Even the track called ‘Happy Song’ seems to be dripping in misery, and I guess you can see why if you read any interviews with the band’s frontman and his struggles with addiction. The songs do have some nice structuring and are well constructed, dynamic and interesting… its not just verse-chorus-verse, but it is immediate, accessible and catchy as all hell.

“Sonically” comes next – well, it sounds like a million bucks, which is interesting because its actually self-produced. It is amazingly clear, the electronics are top drawer, the mix is perfect, the drums are shimmering and the little touches of keys stick out like they’re tapping you on the shoulder. The production is actually notably good. Almost distractingly good.

Songwriting? Forget about it! All this direction changing might upset me (I am absolutely in love with the Suicide Season sound and would happily have taken four clones of it instead of evolution) but the thing that makes it all work is that the band just write absolutely furiously good songs. Songs that stick in your head. Songs that you think about all day at work. Songs that make you buy concert tickets. Highlights include the excellent single ‘Throne’ which just makes you want to throw fists in the air, ‘True Friends’ which is just stupidly catchy …as well as ‘Blasphemy’ which is something special, it would be the best song on almost any album by any of the band’s peers and its difficult to describe why, other than a plain and simple “Its just that damn good!”

Bring Me The Horizon have made a lot of great albums, but even so this one won’t be forgotten. In an already foolishly good year of excellent releases from a great many bands (this really has been a great year for music I enjoy) this one still stands out. That’s The Spirit isn’t an album I’ll listen to a few times and shelve, its still going to be in heavy rotation next week, next month, next year, and on the band’s next album-cycle. If you have similar tastes to me, get yourself a copy, you won’t be sorry!

TESSERACT Polaris

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.51 | 3 ratings
Buy this album from MMA partners
Kingcrimsonprog
The British Progressive Heavy Metal band Tesseract’s previous album, Altered State was my studio introduction to the band (after catching them live supporting someone else) and has since become one of my very favourite albums of the last decade and one that I would without hesitation call a genuine stone cold masterpiece. Vocalist Ashe O’Hara was an excellent frontman on record and live (both as a surprisingly great opening band I’d never heard of and then again later when I saw them again as a converted fan) and quickly became one of my favourite singers. I’ve since gotten into Tesseract’s earlier material and also Skyharbour’s output featuring Tesseract’s excellent original singer Dan Tompkins but my real love of Ashe made me very happy to have both options, it was nice to have both Tesseract with Ashe, Skyharbour with Dan… the best of both worlds if you will, and I was a bit sceptical of Dan’s return to the band and saddened by Ashe’s exit. I know its popular to root for the original guy… (There’s always someone to point out that their favourite band’s first singer was better – Paul Diano, Paul Baloff etc) but individual personal preference, I just always liked Ashe more, and so got a bit worried when he was no-longer in the band. Since catching the band live with Dan however, all my fears were alleviated and I began to get excited for their new album. They started the promotion cycle and excitement built even more.

Now that its finally here, and I’ve had time to digest it all, I can safely say that Tesseract’s self-produced third full-length album Polaris is a damn fine record. Even coming at it from the perspective I was, this is a great record and very satisfying.

Stylistically; Its not as heavy as their debut album, One, and its not a perfectly blended singular journey like Altered State was, its got a cool unique feel to it. It’s essentially a lot of distinct, separate moods and vibes, experimental and loose in one manner yet studied and perfectly formed in other ways. It feels like the listener is exploring a lot of different sides of the band’s influences and areas of interest. Some of it is more electronic, some of it is more Djenty, some of it is a bit more traditionally prog, and best of all… all of it is good. That’s the real crux here, because with reality being what it is, some people are always going to hate or dismiss this record; Some, because it isn’t heavy enough for them, some because Ashe isn’t there, some simply because its Djent and its cool to hate on Djent at the moment… but regardless of what genre it is, who sings on it or how brutal it is or isn’t – its just good. Damn good. A fine third album by this band and most importantly a fine album in and of itself even devoid of any context.

The highlights of the album for me are the momentously enjoyable and memorable ‘Hexes,’ as well as the entertaining robotic-sounding opener ‘Dystopia’ and the lead single ‘Messenger.’ Even in such an awkward, angular, evershifting genre as Djent they manage to pack in the choruses and vocal melodies that stick in your head for days and make you hum along in your head long after the record is over. ‘Hexes’ in particular has a shot at being the best song in the band’s whole discography for my money.

In summary, Tesseract don’t sound anything like either of their previous full-length records here, but they do sound fresh, interesting and captivating. It’s a grower for sure, and I’ve found its charms revealing themselves more and more with each new listen, always something fresh and interesting to focus on, always some new thing in the background coming to your attention, always a cool bass or drum part to make you smile.

MMA TOP 5 Metal ALBUMS

Rating by members, ranked by custom algorithm
Albums with 30 ratings and more
Master of Puppets Thrash Metal
METALLICA
Buy this album from our partners
Rust in Peace Thrash Metal
MEGADETH
Buy this album from our partners
Rising Traditional heavy metal
RAINBOW
Buy this album from our partners
Reign in Blood Thrash Metal
SLAYER
Buy this album from our partners
Ride the Lightning Thrash Metal
METALLICA
Buy this album from our partners

New Metal Artists

New Metal Releases

River Black Metalcore
RIVER BLACK
Buy this album from MMA partners
Curse of Conception Doom Metal
SPIRIT ADRIFT
Buy this album from MMA partners
Samudra Death Metal
KARTIKEYA
Buy this album from MMA partners
Dawn of Aquarius Power Metal
ARRAYAN PATH
Buy this album from MMA partners
Descent Into hell Death Metal
DEATH YELL
Buy this album from MMA partners
More new releases

New Free Metal MP3 download/stream

New Metal Online Videos

More videos

New MMA Metal Forum Topics

More in the forums

New Site interactions

More...

Latest Metal News

members-submitted

More in the forums

Social Media

Share this site
Follow us

Buy Metal Music Online