Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

JASON BECKER Triumphant Hearts

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
JASON BECKER has become one of the more memorable talents of the rock universe. While beginning as a child prodigy and dazzling the world with his insanely technical and lightning fast guitar chops in the 80s with his band Cacophony, BECKER easily caught the attention of the guitar nerd’s universe and scored the highly sought after position of becoming guitarist for David Lee Roth following in the footsteps of such greats as Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. He managed to record on album, “A Little Ain’t Enough” with Roth before a tiny little pain in his leg was diagnosed as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease which would soon rob him of any future as a guitar player. His destiny would change quickly.

Suddenly BECKER was forced to enter a new chapter of his career long before its time. He would turn to the computer to crank out a magnum opus with what little physical ability he retained and after several years released his album “Perspective” which displayed BECKER’s many possible paths that his career could’ve taken him. Despite being condensed into a mere album’s length, BECKER displayed new aspects of his compositional creativity which seemingly were as vast as his fingers were fast. By the time the album was released in 1996, BECKER had been relegated to a wheelchair with only the ability to move his eyes. His diagnosis was to survive five years but now nearly 30 years later, he’s still alive and has finally released a new album.

While remaining out of the public eye, BECKER released the 2012 self-documentary “Not Dead Yet” which showcased this warrior’s longtime battle with ALS and how his family’s dedication had kept him from an early grave. He announced in 2016 that he would launch his TRIUMPHANT HEARTS project in the form of a crowdfunding campaign which ultimately raised more than $100,000. Once again, BECKER wrote all 14 tracks on TRIUMPHANT HEARTS on computer which display his love of classical music. Unlike his 1996 album “Perspective,” the tracks on this one are performed by a lengthy list of guest musicians including Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Neal Schon, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Mattias IA Eklundh, Greg Howe, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G., Steve Hunter and Ben Woods all of whom perform together on the opening single “Valley Of Fire.”

TRIUMPHANT HEARTS is quite a diverse ride through its 78 minutes of music that traverses 14 tracks. Much of the music is heavily fortified symphonic classical music as heard on the outstanding opener “Triumphant Heart” which takes a seductive folk melody and orchestrates the hell out of it, however there include several vocal tracks which include the sappy ballads “Hold On To Love” (2 versions) and a more funkified rocker “We Are One” featuring Steve Knight. “Magic Knight” is a tender acoustic guitar track that features both Uli Jon Roth and Chis Broderick. “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies” are the only two heavy metal rockers and are both instrumental.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is a rather sappy Bob Dylan cover and both versions of “River Of Longing” once again gets a little too sentimental although it features some outstanding guitar work by the guests on board. Overall i’m surprised there’s not more guitar shredding given the guest talent on board. While the one track “Valley Of Fire” does feature some finger breaking workouts, it is also quite generic in how it provides a rather basic rhythmic groove that the soloists work around. While the music itself may be a mixed bag, the production is actually really, really well done and BECKER obviously paid a lot of attention to the details.

Ah, i was hoping this would be more like “Perspective,” an album that i really love. TRIUMPHANT HEARTS while it has its merit doesn’t really take me anywhere that i want to go. This is more like a heart tugging tribute or something. While it’s cool to see BECKER still working behind the scenes in his perpetual state of paralysis, it seems perhaps his creative edge has been left somewhere in the past as well since TRIUMPHANT HEARTS doesn’t really seem to get airborne. I was really hoping for a better product and i’m a lenient critic when it comes to an album released under such circumstances but unfortunately i can’t seem to find much to latch onto on this one. While the album kicks off with an interestingly (mellow) opener, the second track as a cheesy ballad throws it off track quickly. Standout tracks are the opener, “Valley Of Fire,” “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies.” Hopefully BECKER can find a new lease on a creative edge in the future but this one is somewhat of a disappointment.

FARMER BOYS Born Again

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
In the 90’s they played some of the world’s largest festivals, toured with the likes of Rammstein, Deftones and Metallica and were highly regarded in the German music scene for this ability to mix metal with pop melodies, but since their fourth album ‘The Other Side’, which was released in 2004, things have been relatively quiet. However, three of the founding members Matthias Sayer (vocals), Alex Scholpp (guitar) and Ralf Botzenhart (bass – Ralf actually left the band before they became well-known, only recently returning) brought in two new members in Timm Schreiner (drums) and Richard Düe (keyboards) and started playing again in 2017, and this is the first album since then.

The album starts really quietly, with gentle keyboards, but when the guitars come in then the listener knows the band aren’t straying too far away from their roots. Although they are a metal band, I found that the act they reminded me most closely of was My Chemical Romance, with a strong dose of alternative melodies being mixed in with the guitars. Sayer has a great voice, and the album contains hook after hook, and has been very well produced, so even though I don’t normally listen to this style of music I found that it was making me smile. The arrangements contain many elements, and one is never quite sure where each song is going to lead, as there are times they come across as Machine Head with a furious groove, and others Linkin Park, while always maintaining that melodic sensibility. Solid.

ATREYU In Our Wake

Album · 2018 · Melodic Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I first really started paying attention to Atreyu with the release of 2004’s ‘The Curse’, but although I grabbed all their albums up to 2009’s ‘Congregation of the Damned’ I hadn’t realised they had got back together after the hiatus following that to release an album in 2015, and here they are now back with the next, the seventh in their career. It is hard to believe that Atreyu have been together for twenty years now, as they still sound as angry as ever, mixing that aggression with melody and metal to create a sound designed to throw a mosh pit wherever they play. I also put them into the same category as Killswitch Engage and Avenged Sevenfold, all bands out there creating their own masterpieces and not worrying about the rest of the scene. There are parts of “The Time Is Now” which one would say belongs far more in the canon of their recent touring partners Slipknot than Atreyu. These guys have been turning it up and cranking it even harder than they used to, and took inspiration from their classic ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ as they experimented and brought all the ideas under the Atreyu banner.

There is a freshness, which has been brought about by the way of working. “Every song with the exception of two was fully written in the studio,” says Brandon Saller (drums, vocals). “We’d split off into groups and crank out two ideas per day. We’d never written a fresh idea from scratch every day. Spontaneity makes things flow so much better though. We also never spread an album out like this either. We laid the foundation with five recordings, sat with them, and finished with a better picture of where we wanted to go.” Atreyu are very much back, and this reminds me so much of why I loved ‘The Curse’ when it was released. Methinks I need to dust that one off and put it on, as this has reminded me of what a poweful band they are. Superb.

AMARANTHE Helix

Album · 2018 · Trance Metal
Cover art 2.67 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is a long time I last heard Amaranthe, and the only other album I have in my collection is their 2011 debut, but f our albums into their career, they have apparently racked up north of 118 million YouTube views, half a billion song streams, are the three-time holder of BillBoard Heatseekers Chart #1 position and possess a panoply of Gold discs for albums and singles alike. I can only think that the other releases contain far more emotion than this one, which manages to be heavy and sanitised all at the same time. They are mixing symphonic with techno, strong female vocals with death growls and male rock, and it all comes across as rather bland and clinical.

I get the impression there are some good songs in here waiting to burst out, but the album has been layered, polished and honed so that any soul is long gone, driven out from the pressure of yet another run through the mixing desk and further tweaks. Some of the songs are incredibly catchy, such as “Countdown” which has Avril Lavigne-style hit single written all over it, but I would love to hear this album with the guys just performing it from start to finish, with a sympathetic ear at the sound desk. It would be far different to something that shows promise but eventually fails under the weight of all the varnish.

TREAT Tunguska

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Treat may have taken a break at one point during their career, but the current line-up of Robert Ernlund (vocals), Anders Wikström (Guitars and backing vocals), Patrick Appelgren (keyboards, guitar and backing vocals), Jamie Borger (drums), and bass player Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) features just one person, Egberg, who wasn’t on their 1985 debut ‘Scratch and Bite’. This is the first album I have heard from the Swedish group, and there is no doubt that there are some fine hard rock musicians here, just a shame that the arrangements and production let it down so much. Here is an album where every attempt has been made to sanitise and polish it out of existence, and while there may have been some punch and threat in there when they recorded it that is unfortunately now long gone. I am sure that there are going to be some very happy fans of the band out there, and certainly this album is being raved about on the web, but there just isn’t enough variation and power in this for me and it soon fell into the background. Fans of bands such as Eclipse, Hardline, Pretty Maids, Harem Scarem and Danger Danger may well find plenty here to enjoy, but there isn’t enough edge for me.

URIAH HEEP Living The Dream

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It is hard to imagine in this world of 24/7 connectivity, but there was once a time where there was no such thing as internet. Consequently the only way to discover information was by buying books, and I have just gone to bookcase and brought out ‘The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock & Heavy Metal’, written by Tony Jasper and Derek Oliver and published in 1983. Why? Because the front cover is a picture of Mick Box in his natural environment, on stage, and nearly fifty years on from when Uriah Heep were formed he is still there. True, there have been some line-up changes over the years, but from 1986 to 2007 they were the same five guys treading the boards wherever anyone would have them play, often without record label support. Phil Lanzon (keyboards) and Bernie Shaw (vocals) have been in the band since 1986 (although they started working together in Grand Prix before that), while drummer Lee Kerslake had to retire in 2007 due to ill health, and was replaced by Russell Gilbrook while bassist Trevor Bolder sadly passed away in 2013 and was replaced by Davey Rimmer.

When they released their debut album in 1970, it was famously reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine's Melissa Mills who began her review by saying, "If this group makes it I'll have to commit suicide. From the first note you know you don't want to hear any more." Well, with one classic album after another in the Seventies, and various “return to form” albums such as the mighty ‘Abominog’, it is safe to say that Heep have not only made it but have thrived. This is their 25th studio album, and although they have become more polished over the years, there is still a Hammond Organ as the backbone, while Mick Box is refusing to settle into his dotage. Apparently he is 71 years old now, and is still teaching young ‘uns a tricks or two.

Any fan of the band will listen to the harmonies at the introduction to “Rocks In The Road” and smile, as it is exactly the same sound they were producing more than 40 years ago. To celebrate the album they are undertaking a world tour which will encompass 61 countries, again putting bands half their age to shame.

Uriah Heep, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble, still hitting the road, producing great music as they continue to keep living the dream. Essential for any fan, and if you have never actually heard any of their albums (and I guess that is a possibility, maybe) then start with this one and then head back to the early Seventies and give yourself a treat. All together now, “Was only seventeen, I fell in love with a gypsy queen…”

TERROR Total Retaliation

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
LA based Terror have always been a name synonymous with hardcore, sticking hard to the faith since their inception in 2002. After six studio albums, a series of live albums, splits, compilations and EP’s under their belts, the scene veterans are back with their latest album. Thirteen songs, less than thirty minutes in total length, they toy with rap on “Post Armageddon Interlude”, but the rest of the time this is abrasive old school hardcore punk mixed with plenty of thrash tendencies. There is nothing pretty about this, this is all about turn it up and disappearing into a mosh full of violence and sweat. More than fifteen years in the scene and they show no signs at all of slowing down yet, if you want true original hardcore then look no further.

PIAH MATER The Wandering Daughter

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Brazilian-based progressive death metal outfit Piah Mater was formed in 2010 by guitarists Luiz Felipe Netto and Igor Meira, as an outlet for their personal approach to sombre melodies, high-energy riffs and unconventional song structures. 2014 saw the release of their debut album ‘Memories of Inexistence’, since when they have brought drummer Kalki Avatara onboard, and they are now releasing their second album. These guys move between some progressive and melodic rock elements, as well as going full into death and even atmospheric black metal. There are times when the vocals are melodic and softly sung, others when they have been influenced more by Dio, and then others where they are incredibly gruff and unintelligible.

Now, I like my metal to be complex, and there is no doubt that these guys really know what they are doing, with some incredibly complex passages. The issue here is that they are so good at the multiple different styles on show, that it actually detracts from the music as a whole. They jump around from one style to another within the same song, multiple times, and it becomes quite hard to listen t. It is undoubtedly clever, and there is no doubting their skills, but there are times when “less is more” and I know I didn’t enjoy this album nearly as much as I would have done if there had been more focus on what they were doing.

Eclectic in many ways, I found this a really difficult album to get inside, and even playing it multiple times just got me more annoyed with it, and I just can’t warm to it at all which is a real shame as they certainly know what they are doing

TEN Illuminati

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
2018 see the band back with their second consecutive album with Frontiers, the fourth with the same line-up, and their fourteenth overall. Straight away one is reminded of ‘Isla De Muerta’ as the album starts with cinematic sounds (this time of birds), before Darrel starts off with keyboards and piano to set the scene. As the refrain is repeated the acoustic guitars make an entrance, and the listener starts to settle down for what is surely going to be an interesting ride. The band are confident enough to let the music move and swell, there is no need to start with a massive roar, but instead to build the framework in readiness for what is to come. The introduction lasts for more than two minutes, before the arrival of the drums lets the listener know that the band is about to change attack and in come the three guitarists. They interweave, mix and move, again setting the stage for Gary. But, from the beginning of the first song on the album until the vocals make an entrance is more than three minutes, quite some time for any band.

When the guys turn it up and go for gold, then they really elevate the music to a new level. There are some blistering shreds on “Shield Wall” that Malmsteen would be proud of, yet there is still restraint within the piece as a whole, which makes it work far better than if it was just heads on and meet up at the end. Gary seems to be holding notes for longer, while musically there is a lot of complexity in what is being delivered. The band can go from hard rock onslaught to piano and keyboards and make the transition seamless, and aren’t afraid to bring in female vocals if that is what is required, or sound effects if that is what is required. Dennis Ward continues to provide superb production, as he has done so since 2011’s ‘Stormwarning’, while the arrangements left Ten far above many of their contemporaries. This is hard rock with substance and real melody, much more than just turning it up and blasting it out, and while they will appeal to fans of AOR, this has way more depth and contrast than one would expect from that genre. Ten continue to deliver melodic hard rock albums of the highest order, well worth investigation.

TEN Gothica

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
2017 saw Ten back with their thirteenth studio album, and the third with the same line-up. It also saw their return to Frontiers Music, and straight from the off it was obvious that the band again really means business. Their hard rock pomp swagger has seen them compared with the likes of Magnum over the years, but that really isn’t a fair comparison at all. I am a huge fan of Magnum, having first purchased some of their music more than 40 years ago, and seeing them live multiple times (including the Storyteller’s Night tour), but to be honest Magnum have never managed the sheer presence and power that is obvious in all of Ten’s albums. Mind you, Bob Catley did play the part of Merlin on Gary’s superb ‘Once and Future King’ albums so does have a small part in their history.

This is a hard rock band who are all about playing to everyone’s strengths, and ensuring the music is always there to support Gary’s vocals. There may be three guitars, but there are times when the bass is mixed above all of them, while Darrel’s contributions on keyboards can never be overstated. His innate sense of melody and style is always apparent, and even on this album where he seems to take more of a back seat than on ‘Isle De Muerta’, his contributions add real polish and finesse (if you haven’t heard his solo work, or with the prog band Nth Ascension, then you should seek them out as well).

Since Ten first burst onto the melodic hard rock scene with their debut ‘X’ back in 1996, I have been a fan. There have been quite a few line-up changes since then, but Gary has always been at the vocal helm, steering the good ship where it needs to go, and with a highly settled line-up they continue to deliver wonderful albums. Well worth investigating for any fan of the genre.

THE ORDER OF APOLLYON Moriah

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
This album may start with strummed acoustic guitars, but there is a feeling of menace contained within it, and soon the guys are blasting off into the blackened death metal with which they have built their reputation. Originally formed in 2008 by then-Aborted members, guitarist/vocalist BST (ex-Aosoth, VI) and drummer Dan Wilding, the band built a strong reputation with their first two albums, but Wilding was asked to join Carcass in 2012 and later decided to leave The Order Of Apollyon to concentrate on that band. With the other members also having conflicting schedules it was left to BST to restart the band, and to do this he recruited veterans of his native black metal scene, including members of Temple Of Baal, Hell Militia and Merrimack.

So, some three years on from ‘The Sword and the Dagger’, the new band is back with the third album, and shows no sign at all of moving away from their roots. The main issue for me is that the mix means that it really is a solid wall of sound, which means that there just isn’t enough in the way of dynamics, and it comes through all very much at one level, which is a real shame, as there is actually quite a lot going on in here. If would have liked the lead guitar to have been higher, and for the band to come through with more contrast. As it is, it is an enjoyable example of the genre without being essential.

SIRENIA Arcane Astral Aeons

Album · 2018 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s no secret, I’ve been a big fan of Sirenia mastermind Morten Veland for a very long time, probably well over a decade, at least. When I was first getting back into metal after a long break in the mid-2000’s, Tristania was one of the first bands to impress me, and they introduced me to the whole gothic metal scene. Obviously, Morten left the band shortly after their breakthrough album, Beyond the Veil, and has since gone on to create Sirenia. His current band has gone through many phases, including some ups and downs, but one thing that has always remained true is that Morten Veland has always been a master of his craft, and when it comes to knowing his genre in and out and being able to create some of the best songs possible, while being willing to push his sound further with each release, Morten has never disappointed. While the band had largely been just a female vocalist and Morten himself doing pretty much everything for a long time, they’ve become more of a full band in recent years, with other members being given a bit more room to work with. Obviously, Morten remains the main songwriter and leader of the band, but their previous release, Dim Days of Dolor, felt more like a team effort, and the same can definitely be said for the band’s ninth full-length release, Arcane Astral Aeons. Where its predecessor felt like a great beginning to a new era, Arcane Astral Aeons feels like a full leap forward, combining the best elements of previous releases, while continuing to push things further, especially when it comes to the epic symphonic elements, to create possibly the band’s absolute best release to date!

I mentioned before that Sirenia has gone through many phases, and while part of that was due to frequent changes in vocalist, a lot of it also has to do with the musical direction itself. The first two releases felt like a direct continuation of Morten’s work with Tristania, while The 13th Floor and The Enigma of Life felt much more accessible, even coming close to pop sensibilities, at times. More recently, he’s done a great job of blending aspects of different releases together, and that’s once again true for Arcane Astral Aeons, except this time it feels like he’s made a strong effort to push things even further, to create his most diverse, most epic and possibly best release yet. The previous two releases had already gone pretty far with incorporating epic symphonic elements, with strong orchestral sounds throughout, and at times this release goes even further with that, with choirs and orchestras being used to even greater effect than ever before, to give the music an epic feel, while still maintaining the dark, gothic atmosphere of the past. Keyboards are obviously still very prominent, used largely for atmosphere and to give the music a suitably dark tone, which is done very effectively, as always. At the same time, I notice the presence of guitars very strongly, perhaps even more so than on Dim Days of Dolor, as some of the solos are very melodic and absolutely terrific, and almost every track has some hard-hitting riffs, to help add to the already very full sound.

In fact, this release is quite perplexing at times, in that the songs initially seem straight-forward and are generally very easy to get into, but there’s actually a lot going on at all times, with many different layers to the music, as well as most songs having a ton of different passages, sometimes tempo changes, and quite a few explosive sections that switch between vocal styles. Basically, it’s Morten Veland working at his absolute best, using vocal and music dynamics to constantly surprise the listener, while still writing consistently engaging tracks with very catchy choruses, great riffs, and some outstanding melodies. The overall songwriting is fantastic, as usual, with many songs having some of the lighter, catchier choruses found on some of the more accessible Sirenia albums, except now they’re accompanied by some much more complex arrangement, more interesting verses, and a ton of extra layers and surprises that add up to make the songs more complex and dynamic, just like on all of Morten’s best albums.

As always, vocals are a very important part of why Arcane Astral Aeons works so well. After an impressive debut on the previous album, Emmanuelle Zoldan is even better here, sounding fully at home at this point, and she once again does an excellent job of utilizing her different vocal styles, fluidly switching between epic operatic vocals and lower clean vocals on many tracks. She mostly uses a lower register on this album, which works well and especially helps her clean vocals to stand out, as opposed to the mainly higher pitched vocals used by previous singers. A lot of the time, her vocals have a pop sensibility to them, being very smooth and carrying the melodies flawlessly, but she can get fierce at times and does powerful vocals very well. Her operatic vocals are again used in bursts and help bring a classic Sirenia feel to some tracks, along with Morten’s growls, which are again not used as much here as on older albums, but do show up from time to time, mostly in quick bursts, and they’re still just as powerful and intense as ever. I’d say he shows up slightly more than on the previous album, but perhaps still not as much as some would like. There’s also a ton of choir vocals here, as well as a couple of surprises, and everything is done very well while offering a ton of variety.

One area where I can always count on Morten to deliver is the songwriting, and if anything Arcane Astral Aeons is one of his absolute most consistent releases ever, with every song being nothing short of amazing, while still being quite varied, and each having their own amazing moments, as well as quite a few surprising moments. Opening track “In Styx Embrace” is exactly what one would expect from the band at this point, kicking off with some atmospheric keys and huge choral vocals, before the guitars kick in and it turns into a heavy, epic and upbeat track, enhanced by orchestral arrangements and some excellent operatic vocals from Emmanuelle, as well as quick flurries of growls from Morten, especially during an intense part in the middle of the track, which gives way to a beautiful softer passage, followed by an amazing, very melodic guitar solo. Overall, it’s an amazing track and the perfect way to start the album. Even better than that, though, is the stunning second single “Into the Night”, a full-on speedy symphonic power metal track, with some excellent atmospheric keys giving way to some very intense orchestral arrangements, more choirs, and some fun verses, where Emmanuelle sings more normally, but very smoothly. The chorus is the highlight, though, as it’s an excellent mix of choir vocals and Emmanuelle’s lead vocals, and it manages to be equal parts epic, beautiful and extremely catchy. The song honestly feels closer to classic Nightwish than it does to any Sirenia track, but it’s done so well and still manages to fit the album perfectly. It also has an absolutely stunning solo in the second half, that helps take it to an even higher level. My favorite on the album, and one of my personal favorites from the band, for sure.

Next is the lead single “Love Like Cyanide”, a seemingly simple track which manages to pack in a ton of ideas, all of which work surprisingly well together. The track opens with a brief tease at the very radio friendly, somewhat pop-infused chorus, before the guitars kick in and the track settles into a nice groove, with some great work from the rhythm section, while the biggest surprise of the track comes in the form of some aggressive, but non growled male vocals, performed by Beast in Black vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, which help add an extra dimension to the track. The chorus is super catchy, and there’s an especially dark, intense growled section in the second half, leading to a complex instrumental section, and so the track manages to fulfill every criteria of what fans would expect from the band, while also throwing in a cool surprise, to help it make it another stellar track. Next is the slightly more typical “Desire”, a more classic sounding track, which has some very eerie, but cool keyboard effects leading the way, along with some very smooth, clean lead vocals. For the most part, it’s a fairly calm mid-paced track, with heavy riffs in bursts, but its biggest surprise comes in the second half, as the music suddenly becomes more theatrical, and the vocals change the style to follow suit. Eventually, Morten’s growls kick in, during a very heavy section, and so once again, the track manages to pack a lot in, while initially seeming simple and having a catchy chorus. This trend continues with “Asphysxia”, a track which starts out with an extended atmospheric softer section, before the guitars kick in and it settles into a nice groove, with heavy guitar work accompanying some creepy atmospheric keys, and some powerful lead vocals, which eventually gives way to an upbeat, super catchy chorus. It’s yet another track where the instrumental arrangements are rather complex and very eventful, filled with little tempo changes, but the vocals manage to be engaging and the chorus is super melodic and catchy, making it both challenging and accessible at the same time, in a kinda warped way.

A more classic Sirenia track follows next, with “Queen of Lies”, the most old school sounding track on the album. It still has some heavy orchestral work, but it’s a more guitar driven track overall, with some heavy riffs and a ton of atmosphere, as well as being the one track where Morten’s sinister growls lead the way, eventually paving the way for an epic, upbeat chorus where Emmanuelle uses some of her best operatic vocals. It’s a very fun and intense track, overall, and is sure to please fans of Morten’s older works. After that is the softest track on the album, “Nos Heures Sombres”, a more mid-paced, very melodic track, which has some bouncy keyboards and it very much would have fit in on The 13th Floor, is a much more accessible track, where Emmanuelle sings in French, her native language. It’s an excellent vocal showcase while being a fun and catchy track as well, with an excellent instrumental section in the second half. As expected, the band follows the softest track up with one of the heavier tracks, as “The Voyage” is a slow but hard-hitting track, filled with some crushing riffs throughout its verses, along with some very powerful, yet beautiful lead vocals, which give way to an excellent, very melodic chorus. This is one of the tracks where the instrumental work is the highlight for me, though, as the guitar work is amazing throughout, especially during the solo section in the second half, as it manages to be equal parts heavy, intense, technical and very beautiful at different points.

Moving towards the end, “Aerodyne” is another lighter track, which moves at a pretty nice pace, and the verses have a nice rhythm to them, as well as some very light, but fun vocals, while the chorus is upbeat and very catchy. It largely feels like a simpler, more accessible track, but it has some interesting passages in the second half, as first there’s a very nice acoustic section, featuring some low clean vocals from former Tristania vocalist Østen Bergøy, and then there’s a very heavy section, with some intense growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which again shows the many different sides of Sirenia, all in one go. Next are another fun and upbeat track in “Twilight Hours”, which has some excellent melodic lead guitar work, along with some very epic orchestral arrangements, and some excellent operatic lead vocals. The verses fly by quickly and are a lot of fun, while the chorus is epic and very catchy, again coming close to power metal territory, and the guitar solo in the second half is amazing, as expected. Closing out the album is “Growing Embers”, a slower paced track, which alternates between soft and heavy passages brilliantly. It starts off with a beautiful acoustic section before the choirs, orchestras, and guitars kick in, and it turns into a heavy, epic and very melodic track, where Emmanuelle especially shines during the chorus, with some of her most beautiful and highly emotional clean vocals on the entire album. There are a few surprises, first with a sudden fast-paced, heavy instrumental section coming towards the middle, and then with another slow, but also very heavy section later on, with some of the best riffs on the album, before the track closes off with another run through its amazing chorus. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album perfectly. There’s an edited version of “Love Like Cyanide” as a bonus track, which I personally never even listened to once, as I find the original is perfect as is, and I generally only listen to edits if I feel there’s any filler that could be cut from the original version, so I have no clue as to any differences between the two versions.

Overall, Arcane Astral Aeons is yet another excellent album from Morten Veland, and it very well may be the best Sirenia album to date! It’s certainly by far the best symphonic/gothic metal album I’ve heard in years, and it manages to deliver everything I could possibly ask for, with a perfect mix between the heavier, darker sound of older albums, along with the lighter, super catchier sound of some of the middle albums, the more complex arrangement of the previous three albums, and even a few surprises along the way. It’s certainly a very diverse and explosive album, with tons of memorable moments throughout, and it shows the band at their absolute best. Obviously, a must hear for longtime fans of Sirenia, as well as anyone looking to hear the absolute best albums in the genre, as this release certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/11/04/sirenia-arcane-astral-aeons-review/

ALIEN WEAPONRY

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
You know how thrash metal died in the early 90s, and it’s only produced rehashes of it’s glory days over and over again ever since? Yeah? Well, you don’t know shit.

In the past few years there have been a number of fresh, new, young bands revitalising the genre. Warbringer, Nervosa, Power Trip, and Vektor have done more than reanimate thrash’s mouldy corpse. Bands like these have taken the vital building blocks and constructed something new, keeping the foundations in the 80s, but the superstructure is something fresh and new. There is another name to add to that list of bands: Alien Weaponry.

Three lads of Maori descent from the Far North of New Zealand have been making a huge racket for a good few years now, and still aren’t out of their teens. For those unfamiliar with Alien Weaponry, the band is made up of brothers Lewis and Henry De Jong and their good mate Ethan Trembath, and formed in 2010. Henry was 10 and Lewis was 8. Ethan (the same age as Lewis) joined a little later, knowing Lewis from Primary school and then clown school. A former ukulele player, he got the job as bass player because he was the only one who’s arms were long enough to reach the end of a bass guitar. Yup. This is truly a 21st century band.

The martial spirit of Maori culture has been crying out for a full metal release for decades. Every Man For Himself came close with their 2010 EP “Te Pae Mahutonga”, but it was more a hardcore release steeped in self-help and wellbeing philosophy from a Maori spiritual perspective, and the lyrics were in English. “Tu” on the other hand is a bilingual tour de force.

So what’s the meaning behind “Tu”? Well, that’s open to interpretation. Maori is an expressive rather than strictly descriptive language, and meaning is often dependent on context. The album title is an example. The word tu can mean to stand, to stop, to be established, to be wounded, to remain, sort, or to take place. Which meaning is appropriate here? It’s up to the listener to decide. [Note: any translations from here on are my own interpretations and might be light years distant from what the band meant. I’m not a native Maori speaker, so any mistakes and limitations with the language are all mine. I also don’t have macrons on my keyboard, for the written language.]

Introductory first track “Whaikorero” (formal speech) opens with the eerie moan of the purerehua (bull roarer) and the otherworldly voice of the koauau (flute) accompanying the verse of the whaikorero. It is a short story about a nineteenth century encounter between the band’s ancestors and invading/colonising British forces. It was recorded in the Waipu caves, near the boys’ home, further enhancing the atmosphere. It is one of several tracks recorded by Tom Larkin, New Zealand metal royalty, better known for his role as drummer for Shihad.

And then into “Ru Ana Te Whenua” (Shaking my homeland). It starts with a chanted challenge, and then rips into an introductory riff, pounding drums, and suddenly it’s like Pantera reborn and singing in a different language. The guitars are fucking massive! The vocal melody and chanted breakdown are familiar to anyone who has experienced the Maori culture, with the call and response style chants, only it’s never been done before with chunky metal riffs and double kick bass drums.

“Holding My Breath” is written in English. It shows the maturity of songwriting of these young men. It could be considered a teen angst song, but that would be selling it well short. These lyrics apply to anyone suffering anxiety or depression at any age. This trio has already won song writing awards, competing against much older and more mature songwriters.

“Raupatu” (Conquest) goes fully political. To simplify a very complicated story, the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding constitutional document, a treaty signed between the British crown and Maori in 1840. There were problems right from the outset, as the treaty dealt with Maori as a united entity, when really it was a fractured, tribal society. Some tribes signed on behalf of others without their knowledge, giving away rights which weren’t theirs to give. What’s worse, there were problems in translation. The Maori word “rangatiratanga” and the English word “sovereignty” mean quite different things, but were used to mean the same thing in the treaty. The British settlers merrily confiscated huge tracts of prime land all over the country, while Maori thought of it as a loan, or thought they retained ownership. This led to armed conflict, and a number of wars between the Crown and Maori, including the massacre of unarmed civilians at Parihaka in the Taranaki region. The wars led to more confiscations by the crown, a shameless land-grab disguised as punishment. Much of the land confiscated came from tribes not even involved in the fighting. Right… Get all this straight in your head, and a lot of the songs here start to make more sense.

“Kai Tangata” (Human Food) sounds more disturbing than it really is. It’s not a Cannibal Corpse-style slasher cannibal story. It describes a pre-European war party, as they prepare for battle. Their goal is to take the enemy’s heads or liberty. Maori warriors defeated in battle expected their foes to eat their bodies, to incorporate their spirit, or to become passive slaves, who could also be killed and eaten at any time. It was a brutal, uncompromising custom, while the song veers between the brutal and the melodic.

And really, brutal but melodic is the prevailing theme for this entire album. “Rage – It Takes Over Again” could be about teen angst, online bullying, or just good old-fashioned rage-fuelled violence. “The Things That You Know” looks on the surface also like it could be another angst anthem, but a slightly deeper examination points at how some people have problems leaving behind preconceptions.

The whispers of “Whispers” are governmental promises made and broken. There is a sample of former conservative politician and reserve bank governor Don Brash (think Donald Trump minus the rampant ego and dead cat hairpiece), parroting anachronistic, patronisingly racist attitudes to Maori and their culture. Those attitudes almost brought Brash to political power in 2005. Almost… The lyrics pull no punches, in both English and Maori, and point out how the government of New Zealand does not look out for Maori interests, despite the Treaty of Waitangi.

The lyrical and musical maturity on show throughout this album belies the tender age of these three young men. For a debut album, “Tu” is highly impressive. It doesn’t go off the rails by the band trying too hard to impress. While there are a couple of missteps, these are minor issues. Thrash metal is far from dead, and has a bright future. The future has arrived already.

TERRORIZER Caustic Attack

Album · 2018 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Back in 1989, Terrorizer showed the metal world that grindcore didn’t have to be mired in shoddy D.I.Y. hardcore production and sounds, and could have a metallic sharpness to it. The band has rightly been praised and idolized for their influence on grind and death metal. Lyrically, they straddled the line between the political early grindcore, like Napalm Death and Sore throat, and the gore and horror of early death metal, like Autopsy and Necrophagia. Terrorizer was also famed for the high levels of musicianship demonstrated too, with the Morbid Angel pairing of Pete Sandoval and David Vincent showed that simply abusing the hell out of the kick and snare drums, and distorted blown-out weren’t the only way to play grindcore. Jesse Pintado’s breakneck riffage saw him fit in perfectly to Napalm Death.

For many years, it seemed “World Downfall” would be a one-off, treasured by fans of extreme metal the world over. Until 2006 it was. And then something happened to change history. Terrorizer dared “reform” and record a second album! “Darker Days Ahead” was poorly received, and was somewhat overshadowed by Pintado dying only days after it’s release. Another album “Hordes of Zombies” was released in 2012, and a fourth album, “Caustic Attack”, arrived in 2018. The three 21st century albums have been criticised for ruining the legacy of the band, and are supposedly pale imitations of the ’89 original.

The observant reader out there might have noticed the word “reform” was in “quotation marks”. It was like that for a “reason”. The criticism levelled at the “reformed” Terrorizer, and the three subsequent “albums” really is moronic. It is proof that those voicing these criticisms are elitist fools of the highest level, and have no idea of the true legacy of Terrorizer. A bold claim? Perhaps. But then, consider this:

TERRORIZER BROKE UP IN 1988.

Yep. There was no such band as Terrorizer in 1989 when “World Downfall” was released. What’s more, some of the songs on “World Downfall” weren’t even Terrorizer songs. Explanation time.

After Terrorizer broke up, Sandoval joined Morbid Angel, and vocalist Oscar Garcia continued to work with his other band Nausea. Bass player Alfred Estrada ended up in jail. Enter one Shane Embury. Napalm Death’s four string grind maestro Embury loved Terrorizer’s demos and the split they had shared with the aforementioned Nausea. He pestered Earache Record’s main man Dig Pearson into funding a posthumous Terrorizer album. And the rest is history? Well, not quite. There was the matter of recording the album.

Sandoval was ensconced in Morrisound Studios in Florida, busy recording Morbid Angel’s incendiary debut “Altars of Madness”. Garcia and Pintado arrived at the studios to put the album together. Busting Estrada out of jail was a bit beyond the resources of the band, so Sandoval’s band mate Vincent was pulled in to cover bass and some vocal duties. Right so time to rip into it? Er, not quite… Garcia had also played guitar in the original Terrorizer, but realised he couldn’t remember how to play most of the songs. No matter, Pintado had that covered. And away we go… almost. There weren’t actually enough Terrorizer songs to fill an album. What to do? Well, why not borrow some Nausea songs. So they did. Eight hours in the studio, with Vincent and Scott Burns twiddling the knobs in the studio, and “World Downfall” and Terrorizer were done.

So, a band which no longer existed recorded a single album of songs that weren’t even all theirs in super quick time, and what happened? Well, basically everyone fucked off to their respective new gigs, “World Downfall” hit the shelves, and extreme metal fans went mad for it.

So, back to the present day. 29 years after the band’s debut, a fourth Terrorizer album has arrived. There will be the usual naysayers and elitists going on about how it won’t be as good as the original, and that present day Terrorizer isn’t Terrorizer, that it’s a cash-in, a rip-off, a fake, or whatever else. Let them fester in their smug elitist stink. Anyone who takes the time to actually listen to “Caustic Attack” will be rewarded with what Terrorizer has always produced – sharp, intelligent metallic grindcore which is both thought provoking and fun at the same time.

The biggest difference between “Caustic Attack” and “World Downfall” is the improvement in production and sound quality. While “World Downfall” set new standards for grindcore clarity, “Caustic Attack” is sharper still.

Sandoval’s performance in particular is stunning. He has more room to explore looser high speed rhythms than he did in Morbid Angel. Three decades have not dulled the man’s skills in the slightest. From the first moments of lead-off track “Turbulence” he’s straight into his trademark machinegun double kick drums and rattling the snare like a man possessed. What is also instantly obvious is that the trademark Terrorizer riffs are there in bucketloads, and that the new line-up of Sandoval, bassist/vocalist Sam Molina and guitarist Lee Harrison are a match of any previous line-up of the band.

In the past, Terrorizer has mainly produced on short songs, with only a few making it past the three minute mark. Hell, the legendary “Dead Shall Rise” only just clocked past that mark at 3:05. This time out, there are a few longer songs. Does it mean the band has slowed down at all? Nah, you definitely haven’t been paying attention. Five songs come in over four minutes long. This is not a bad thing at all. It just means there’s more Terrorizer to savour. “Crisis” is the first of the longer tracks, but it doesn’t seem like it.

That’s not to say that the hardcore blasts of the past have disappeared either. The title track and “Poison Gas Tsunami” are sharp and, well, caustic and leave the listener salivating for more.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or new on offer here. That is not why you listen to Terrorizer, because the band broke that ground already, in 1989. This is simply the fourth installment from a highly influential band which never managed to record an album in it’s original incarnation. Anyone unable to get past that is a fool to themselves. Extreme metal, grindcore, deathgrind, or whatever other label you want to slap on this band, simply doesn’t get much better than this.

ANAL TRUMP The First 100 Songs

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Grindcore has a reputation for covering some really sick shit sometimes. Shit is the preferred thematic matter for many bands, but there’s other subjects, like sexual perversion, necro-sadism, extreme violence, and all manner of gore, viscera, bodily functions and excretions, and general dark fucked-upped-ness which pervade the various grind subgenres. However, look back at grindcore’s roots, at bands like Napalm Death, Sore Throat, or Electro-Hippies, and what was a big chunk of the subject matter? It was politics.

Back in the day, it was raging against Thatcher and Reagan. Today, chaotic grind duo Anal Trump has realised that the sickest shit going now is the one man idiot show of the current American president.*

“The First 100 Songs” is unashamedly political. It was released on the day of the 2018 mid-term elections. It is a compilation of Anal Trump’s previous EPs, with 30 new songs added. All 100 are “songs” in the same way that namesake Anal Cunt’s “5643 Song EP” really has 5643 songs. These are short, chaotic, incoherent blasts of noise lasting anywhere from fractions of a second to a few seconds. If you sit and watch carefully, your media player might show you when one song ends and another begins, but you’re not going to hear it yourself. It’s all done in about 11 minutes. The song and EP titles are politically biting and highly offensive, but the most offensive thing about them is a lot of them came directly from Donald Trump’s own mouth. Just to remind you of how repulsive a human being Trump actually is, this is interspersed with samples of The Donald, in all his grammatically incorrect, politically illiterate, and morally reprehensible glory.

The duo of Travis Trump and Rob Trump are not doing this for money. Both have day jobs in real bands. Any profits from previous recordings have gone to various socially worthy charities.# “The First 100 Songs” is pure novelty and sick parody. Shit, even the cover has a picture of Trump’s face attached to a naked fat masturbating body. It can’t be taken seriously, but it’s making a serious statement. This is shit which needs saying, sadly, because it needs saying.

*Please note these are my own opinions of the person elected to lead the American people, and in no way reflect the attitudes, opinions, or editorial stance, of Metal Music Archives – V.F.

#As at time of writing it’s unclear if any profits are going to a charity this time, but personally I’d suspect so – V.F.

MAYAN Dhyana

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has taken four years for MaYaN to come back with their third album, and given I was such a major fan of ‘Antagonise’ I was intrigued to see what they were going to come up with. That album took symphinc death metal to a new level, but I don’t think anyone expected them to record the next album with a full orchestra (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) and five singers! Jack Driessen and Mark Jansen are still at the helm of the multi-headed beast they have created, and their vision really knows no bounds. This is over the top, epic, cinematic, majestic, and quite incredible.

The orchestra has taken on many of the roles originally provided by keyboards, which gives the music more power and depth, with real brass and strings striving to be heard, really driving the symphonic element. Then this is combined with metal which refuses to take prisoners, moving between commercial elements and death with ease. Add into the mix some incredible female vocals combining with both rock vocals and death vocals, and it creates something very special indeed. It isn’t possible to fathom where the music is going to lead as they switch it up so much, with a full on death attack suddenly being replaced by a very high female soprano with just piano for accompaniment. This is the likes of Dimmu Borgir being taken to a whole new level, and then just when it feels that it couldn’t become more bombastic we are treated to the title cut with stunning female vocals and picked acoustic guitar with a cello coming in for support. It builds and builds, and shows both restraint and total understanding for contrast and dynamics, light and shade.

In some ways this band was originally almost an offshoot of Epica and After Forever, but the child has superseded the parents, as yet again MaYaN have released an album of incredible complexity and power which is simply stunning.

KORPIKLAANI Kulkija

Album · 2018 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Three years on from their last, Finnsih Folk Metallers Korpiklanni are back with their tenth album ‘Kulkija’, which means ‘Wanderer’. The band state that this album is the closest to their on stage sound, as for tracking they used their tour set up, so will be able to easily perform all of this live. As well as being their longest album to date, in many ways it is also a concept as the wanderer of the album title appears in every song, with each track representing one of his life experiences. For example, opening song “Neito” (which translates to “Maiden”) is about his woman. The road is a wanderer’s bride, a maiden who he misses and who he travels with. However, the real maiden is waiting for his return home. After a journey you may bury your carriage, but the wistful traveller’s songs and music will be carried where it lies. A traveller was born to wander.

It must be said that I am not always a great fan of the folk metal genre, as it often feels that both sides suffer, but this album is definitely one of those where it all works together incredibly well. Far more folk than “just” folk metal, the album has a musical continuity which allows it all to hang together, and although there are times when they allow themselves some metallic guitar, for the most part this feels far more about a logical progression of a musical form as opposed to two opposing styles being brought crashing together. There is a great deal here that pure folkies will find to enjoy, especially with the lyrical violin and the delicate accordion, and one has to wonder what metalheads will think of it. I can imagine this album getting far more play at Cropredy than Wacken, although for some reason I am sure there is more chance of them playing at the latter than the former. Of all their albums I own, this is the one to which I will most often be returning.

ORION'S REIGN Scores of War

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are some bands I will follow for a while before hearing anything substantial from them, just out of the sheer promise they show in bursts. The most recent case of this is Greek symphonic power metal band Orion’s Reign. The band has been around for over thirteen years, releasing their debut Nuclear Winter in 2008, but they had escaped my attention completely until a few years ago when I saw one of their many yearly Christmas music videos. These tracks have always been equal parts silly, epic and just plain entertaining, and so when I heard the band was working on a new album in their current form, I was excited to see what they would be capable when writing their own material. Now that Scores of War is here, it’s safe to say, the band has shattered all my expectations, and delivered one of the absolute best power metal albums of the year!

Fans of the genre should have a good idea of what kind of material to expect here, as this is very much fantasy themed symphonic power metal in its most epic form, with the main focus being on symphonic keys and orchestras, with guitars serving mostly as rhythm for any sections, though when they do come to the front of the sound, they can be quite strong, with some classic heavy metal leads at times, in the vein of classic Maiden, as well as some excellent shredding solos. For the most part, though, it’s the symphonic arrangements and drums that carry the songs, and both of these elements are very well done, with the drums doing an excellent job in setting the pace, while the orchestral elements and symphonic keys are grand, sweeping and epic in every possible way, at times creating the atmosphere of a film score. There’s occasionally the use of folk elements as well, such as fiddles and bagpipes. While there’s always a lot going on, with most tracks containing multiple layers of orchestral elements, everything works together perfectly, and the actual songs are fairly straight-forward and always engaging. There’s also quite a bit of variety in the songs here, with the expected speedy power metal tracks being balanced out by a couple slower tracks, including a ballad, as well as a couple more folk-influenced songs, and other surprises. The album always manages to stay fresh and consistently amazing from start to finish. Performances are excellent all around, and production was handled by Jens Bergen, who did an excellent job as always.

The band has gone through a few lineup changes over the years, with their latest addition being vocalist Daniel Vasconcelos, who joined in 2015. For a while, the band had no vocalist and was just using guests for their various singles, but now with Dan in the group, they are ready to forge ahead. Thankfully, Dan is an excellent vocalist, with a rather deep and powerful voice, which fits the music perfectly. His vocals are often theatrical, somewhat operatic, and fit in well with the overall epic feel of the album, adding an extra layer to everything. He can sometimes get a bit more intense and uses some falsetto every one in a while, to great effect. There’s also a ton of choir vocals throughout the album, which are used quite effectively, as well as a few guests, who I’ll mention in the song by song descriptions.

Having only heard the band performing covers coming into this album, I was interested in seeing what their songwriting skills were like. Needless to say, they do not disappoint, as every song on Scores of War is fantastic in its own way, as the album manages to be both varied and consistently amazing the whole way through. Things kick off with the super epic opener “Elder Blood”, which starts off with an epic orchestral section, accompanied by choral vocals, before the metal instruments and Dan eventually kick in, and then the song speeds up and turns into an epic speedy symphonic power metal track, with excellent verses, an even better chorus, and some excellent rhythm guitar work throughout, as well as an excellent solo. Next is “Together We March”, another speedy track, where the symphonic elements are very prevalent throughout, with guitars mostly serving as rhythm, though they do so effectively. The song has fun verses and another strong chorus, this time with some excellent guest vocals from Tim “Ripper Owns”, who uses his signature falsetto vocals throughout the verses and chorus. There’s also an extremely epic vocal section in the second half, giving way to a great guitar solo, and overall it’s an absolutely wonderful track.

The first slower track is “Gravewalker”, another very epic track, dominated by symphonic elements and choir vocals. The verses are slow but have some rather hard-hitting guitar work, as well as some excellent orchestral sounds, and the chorus is huge, with Dan accompanied by some very epic choir vocals, making for one of the catchiest and most engaging choruses on the album. The track gets intense in the middle for a while, with a great instrumental section, and overall it’s one of my personal favorites here. The highlights keep coming with lead single “The Undefeated Gaul”, one of the fastest, hardest hitting tracks on the album. The riffs are extra aggressive here, and Dan gets very intense during the verses, giving way to a catchy, but frantic and very heavy chorus, which eventually leads to the heaviest instrumental section on the album, with some great shredding guitars. It’s a wild and intense track but still manages to be very epic and fun at the same time. Speaking of fun, “Adventure Song” is a slightly lighter but still fast-paced track, with some excellent choir vocals throughout. It has the vibe of a tavern song and features various folk instruments throughout, that give it the feel of a classic folk song, except with heavy guitars. It’s a fast, melodic and very catchy song, and certainly one of the cheeriest metal songs you’ll ever hear, with an especially great instrumental section, where several different folk instruments are used. The band returns to a more familiar symphonic power metal territory with “Freedom is not Negotiable, which has slow verses, but a fast and intense chorus, filled with more epic choir vocals, and as well as another intense instrumental section with some very heavy guitar work.

Another change of pace comes with “Nostos”, a very melodic mid-paced track, with a slight folk feel to it. The symphonic elements are dominant once again, and it’s a very light, upbeat track with some amazing vocal melodies throughout. It serves as a duet between Dan and Youtube cover vocalist Minniva, who had previously worked with the band on their past few Christmas carols. She fits the track perfectly, with very light but powerful vocals, that capture the vibe of the music wonderfully, and her higher vocals serve as a perfect contrast to Dan’s deeper voice, making them a great duo. The chorus is probably the catchiest and most engaging on the album, and overall it’s simply a wonderful track, and probably my favorite on the album. Next is “Warrior’s Pride”, a faster, more classic power metal feeling track. Guitars lead the way through most of the track, with heavy, driving riffs, and the chorus is fun and catchy, without being quite as grand as usual. The symphonic elements are still there but feel a bit less prominent than usual, and overall it’s a very fast and heavy track, with the occasional growls thrown in for some extra flavor. The lone ballad here is “Withering Heart”, which starts out as a soft piano ballad, but gradually develops into something much more epic, with a great use of choirs and orchestral elements, as well as having by the best vocals from Dan on the entire album, as he really steals the show, especially during the final run-through of the chorus, where he goes all out and absolutely nails it. One last speedy track is “Last Stand”, which certainly feels like the kind of song Rhapsody of Fire would have released in their prime. It’s very fast, intense and makes great use of symphonic elements, while still having some pretty heavy rhythm guitar work, as well as an excellent keyboard solo in the second half, performed by Firewind’s Bob Katsionis. Most vocals on the track are performed by Mark Boals, who does a great job as always, especially during an epic vocal section right at the end, which feels like it could have been a perfect end to the album. Instead, the band chose to close the album out with “Ride Into War”, a slow but very epic track, with a very classic Maiden vibe to the guitar work. It starts out with some classical piano, and stays soft and theatrical for a while before the guitars kick in and that classic heavy metal feel takes over for a while. It’s another very epic track, with great guitar work and an excellent chorus, and it does a nice job of alternating between soft and heavy sections throughout, making it an appropriate ending track.

Overall, Scores of War is an incredible album, from a band I had been following for a while to see if their original material could live up to their cover work. It’s safe to say, Orion’s Reign has not only lived up to my expectations, but they have also completely shattered them, and have produced the best symphonic power metal album of the year, as well as one of the best in recent years. It’s a consistently excellent album, with nicely varied songwriting, a great use of symphonic elements, and excellent guest vocals on a few tracks. Highly recommended for any power metal fan looking for something especially epic, as well as symphonic power metal fans looking for something similar to Rhapsody of Fire at their best, while still doing more than enough to stand out.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/10/19/orions-reign-scores-of-war-review/

DIRE PERIL The Extraterrestrial Compendium

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
American power metal band Dire Peril is a group I have known of for over four years, first hearing their second EP Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, but they had never made such an impression on me up until now. First off, a lot has changed since my initial experience with the band. For three EP’s, mastermind Jason Ashcraft had been working with a full band, including Imagika vocalist Norman Skinner. I only heard the one aforementioned release and found it to be solid, but unspectacular. However, in 2015, Jason took some time away from the band, before eventually regrouping and decided to work as a duo, bringing in Judicator vocalist John Yelland. I have experience with both current members of the band from other projects, discovering Jason’s other band, Helion Prime with their solid self-titled released in 2016, as well as hearing John in three different bands, with the most recent Judicator release, The Last Emperor, being one of my favorite power metal releases of 2018. With these two working together, along with some guest musicians, and two major guest vocalists, I was excited to see if Dire Peril could finally reach their full potential. Now that their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, has arrived, it’s safe to say I won’t be forgetting about this band again any time soon!

Based on the EP I had heard, the band had initially been more of an all-out aggressive power/thrash band, where The Extraterrestrial Compendium is a much more varied, more challenging and more dynamic release. There’s definitely still traces of thrash in many of the riffs, particularly on tracks like “Total Recall” and “Roughnecks”, but there’s also a surprising amount of softer sections, including two ballads, as well as a fair amount of classic heavy metal guitar work, which often brings to mind classic Iron Maiden. I can definitely see the aforementioned band, as well as Iced Earth, being two major influences on this release, but there’s certainly enough fresh ideas here for the album to stand on its own. For the most part, this is an album full of hard hitting, fast paced power metal, with the guitars being the main focus, and often being very aggressive as well as quite technical. Jason’s lead guitar work is excellent throughout the release, and there are also several solos from guest musicians, which are all very well done. This is a very heavy album overall, but it strikes a perfect balance between more intense passages and calmer passages, sometimes within the same track, or sometimes with some very wise track placements. Songwriting is excellent all around, sometimes being direct and instantly engaging, other times being a bit more subtle, and there’s a couple tracks with some slight prog leanings, particular the closing track “Journey Beyond the Stars”. The key, though, is that each song is amazing in its own right, and they all flow nicely together. There’s an overall concept, with each track featuring lyrics based on classic Sci-Fi films, such as Predator, E.T., Starship Troopers and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

One reason I wasn’t overly thrilled by Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, was former vocalist Norman Skinner, whose voice and style just didn’t match my tastes at all, and so I struggled with most of the vocal parts. Thankfully, that is not an issue here, as I’ve been a fan of John Yelland since I first heard him with Disforia, back in 2011, and his vocals have only improved greatly ever since then. While I’ve enjoyed his vocals on the past few Judicator albums, I think his performance on this album is by far his best to date, as he gets to show more aspects of his voice than ever before, and he does an excellent job throughout. His usual, super smooth mid-range vocals are in full effect here, but he also gets to sing a lot deeper than normal on many of the thrashier sections, singing very powerfully and fitting the music perfectly, and he also throws in some epic falsettos from time to time. On the ballads, he sings softer than usual, and puts a lot of emotion into his performance, to help enhance the songs. Overall, this is easily the best, most dynamic performance I’ve ever heard from him.

While I wasn’t overly fond of the vocals on the one EP I heard in the past, I found the songwriting to be fairly enjoyable, and so I was hoping Jason could do a great job of writing songs for a full-length album, especially now that he was working with a singer I prefer. It’s safe to say, he succeeded big time, as the songwriting on this release is both consistently excellent and quite varied, managing to keep me fully engaging throughout, without ever feeling predictable. Opening track “Yuatja (Hunter Culture)” gets things off to a great start, opening with some nice classic heavy metal guitar leads, before picking up the pace and turning into a full throttle, hard-hitting power/thrash track, which definitely brings Iced Earth to mind, in the best way possible. It’s a fast-paced track, with some very good thrashy riffs, and John instantly gets to show off some deep and powerful vocals, which give way to an epic chorus, where some of those classic heavy metal leads return, and then they become a focus once again during a great solo section. It’s an awesome track overall, with a perfect blend of power/thrash and classic heavy metal. Speaking of heavy metal, the next track, “Planet Preservation” has quite a bit of that, especially during its epic, slow but very melodic chorus, where the guitars have a strong Maiden influence to them. Throughout the verses, it’s a slow paced, hard-hitting crusher of a track, but it opens up big time for an amazing chorus. Next is “Enemy Mine”, which starts off with some nice soft guitar work, before settling into a nice rhythm, moving at a somewhat fast pace, without ever fully going all out. It’s a more mid-paced track, with some hard-hitting riffs and powerful vocals throughout the verses, which lead into another very melodic and catchy chorus. In fact, it’s one of the more fun choruses on the album, for sure, and the extended guitar solo is also quite strong.

The first big change of pace comes next with “The Visitor”, the first of two ballads on the album. It’s a largely acoustic track, which moves along at a nice pace, with some very soft yet very emotional vocals from John, where he pushes for some higher notes during the chorus, and does a great job, as always. The song manages to stay engaging throughout and ends with some excellent guitar work and some very powerful vocals, which help bring the song to the next level. Following that track, the pace picks up considerably for the next while, starting with “Total Recall”, an all-out speedy power/thrash assault, based on the film of the same name. It’s one of the heaviest, most furious tracks on the album, with blistering lead guitar work and a great, super fun chorus. Next is “Queen of the Galaxy”, a song I had heard before, as it was the title track of that particular EP. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat track with some nice melodic guitar leads, fun verses and a very melodic, super catchy chorus, which certainly works much better now, with John singing it. Throughout the verses and chorus, John is accompanied by Unleash the Archers vocalist Brittney Slayes (who was also on the original version) and the two sound great together, with the latter lending her powerful, yet super smooth vocals to the track. Next is another fast and furious track in “Roughnecks”, which if anything is even more intense than “Total Recall”, as John uses some crazy falsetto vocals during the verses, and the riffs are just as fast and as violent sounding as ever. It’s definitely an extremely fun, if brief, track, and it sure packs in a ton of energy and power within a short amount of time. From shortest to second longest we go, as “Blood in the Ice” is next, and it’s a sort of mini-epic, based on The Thing. It has a very thick atmosphere to it, starting off with some soft but slightly sinister acoustic guitar work, before picking up the pace and turning into an epic, hard-hitting progressive power metal track, with some more excellent guitar work. It largely moves at more of a mid-paced tempo, before going all out for another very fun, super catchy chorus. There’s a lot of tempo changes throughout, as well as some extended softer passages, which are very effective, and help make the heavier passages all the more effective, by providing a great contrast. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album, as well as one of the most epic, and the vocals are very dynamic and absolutely terrific throughout.

Moving towards the home stretch, lead single “Heart of the Furyan”, again starts off with some dark, soft guitar work, before quickly speeding up and turning into another all-out power/thrash assault. It’s another very hard hitting, blazing fast track, with aggressive verses and a very melodic, epic chorus, again doing an excellent job of mixing together thrashy riffs, epic solos, and some great melodic leads. The highlights keep coming with “Altair IV” The Forbidden Planet”, another fast-paced track, which again has some great melodic leads. It never quite gets as intense as some of the other faster songs, but it still has some great guitar work throughout, as well as bursts of aggressive riffs, and another strong chorus, as well as an outstanding guitar solo. The second ballad of the album is “Always Right Here”, where the guitar work has a very Metallica feel to it, starting out very soft, yet kinda cold, before slowing building up to an intense and epic chorus. John again does an excellent job, and it’s yet another excellent track, with an amazing guitar solo from Christian Münzner.

My most anticipated track going in was 9 minutes closer, “Journey Beyond the Stars”, not just because I tend to love epic length tracks, but also because it features Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, who provides some guitar work, as well as some lead vocals. It is indeed the most progressive track here, starting out with an extended instrumental section, before settling into a calm, slow pace. It’s a fairly slow paced song throughout, with some extended softer passages, and it has another very melodic, fantastic chorus early. Around the midway point, there’s a sequence with some intense guitar work, and from there the song changes a bit, becoming a bit heavier, while still maintaining a fairly slow pace. It’s a track filled will some great instrumental work as well as a great chorus, but I was most interested in Arjen’s contributions, and as a fan of his singing, who has been disappointed with how little he’s been using his voice in recent years, I must say this track had me absolutely thrilled from the first time I heard it! Arjen gets to sing quite a bit, using his soft, warm voice during the early parts, before getting a bit more intense in the second half, singing with more intensity than I’m used to hearing from him, and it works wonderfully. John is, of course, fantastic as always, and overall, it’s definitely an amazing track in its own right, as well as being a perfect way to end the album.

Sometimes, a band I expect very little from at one point in time will go all to produce something truly amazing in the future, and that is exactly what has happened with Dire Peril! When I first heard the band in 2014, I saw some potential for greatness, but I wasn’t sure if they could ever fully get there. With their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, they have gone above and beyond my expectations, producing one of the best power metal albums of the year, which manages to be both very dynamic and consistently engaging throughout. I especially recommend it for fans of the harder hitting, more guitar driven side of power metal, as there’s a ton of thrash influence here, as well as a fair bit of classic heavy metal and some slight prog leanings. Everything is done well, with vocalist John Yelland giving the best performance of his career, and overall, it’s an amazing album from start to finish.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/11/10/dire-peril-the-extraterrestrial-compendium-review/

MONSTER MAGNET Mindfucker

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Mindfucker is the tenth proper full-length studio album (if you aren’t counting redux albums and compilations). It was released on Napalm Records and released in 2018, 5 years after Last Patrol, which was the longest gap the band have had between albums to date, but the line-up stayed the same as last time.

To my mind, Monster Magnet have never made a bad album. Even their least popular album, 4-Way Diablo has my favourite ever Monster Magnet song (‘Wall Of Fire’) on it. But I do have to say that this album has been out for over half a year now and try as I might, I just can’t get into it.

Now there’s nothing majorly wrong with it per sae. It is well produced. The songs are pleasant. Nothing overstays its welcome. Nothing is bad or stupid. Nothing sounds wrong or doesn’t fit the band’s style. Everything is functional. But that’s it.

Usually, there are major moments to write home about. There are usually lyrics that make me want to tell my friends about. There are usually riffs that I want to air guitar to. There are usually inventive things the band haven’t done before. There’s usually more joy in the performance. Generally, there’s usually…more.

That’s not to say the album is worthless, ‘Brainwashed’ for example is very fun, and sounds like its tapping into the same jangly ’60s influence that ‘Dreaming Of You’ by The Coral is, only faster. ‘Want Some’ has some energy to it and would be your typical Monster Magnet rocker that they have pumping out since the fifth album. The opener and the title track are passable too.

The thing is though, its not enough. Its just an ok album. Perfectly fine. If it was your first Monster Magnet album you’d probably like it. But then when you get the other records, and you hear ‘Kiss Of The Scorpion,’ or ‘See You In Hell’ or ‘Black Balloon’ afterwards, then you’d probably shit a brick! ”Wow, how did that ok band release such amazing material!?” you would find yourself asking.

If you love the band and have to have everything they put out. Sure get it. If you just want to support the band and keep them on the road, get it. If you have limited funds and can only afford to buy the best, then maybe skip this particular entry in the history of the bull god. This band have released some of the best material in the genre ever, and you should start with their better material first.

CARPE NOCTEM Vitrun

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed in Reykjavík in 2005 and featuring members of several Icelandic bands such as Misþyrming, Árstíðir lífsins and Naðra, Carpe Noctem have earned a reputation as one of Iceland's leading acts in black metal. The music shows various influences and expresses extreme opposites, forming a raw, chaotic and apocalyptic soundscape combined with Icelandic lyrics referencing Norse mythology, occult writings, apocalyptic prophecies and Icelandic black magic rituals. Although they released their debut through Code666 as long ago as 2013, it is only now that they have returned with the follow-up, perhaps not too surprising given that they are also involved in other bands.

One can’t imagine music like this coming from a warm climate, as it is bleak and uncompromising, as they blast through the frozen wasteland. This is dramatic music which is completely over the top, and completely epic. This is music on a brand scale, a terrible vision of inhumanity and rage, being brought to bear by hordes of riders on black stallions. This is music of swords and shield, fury and vengeance. The promo photo of the band is cinematic, showing the five musicians with their backs to the camera, staring at a mountain in the distance, set within the snowy landscape. That is their quest, their passion, and it comes through this in spades. One of the finest examples of the genre one is ever likely to come across.

SPEARHEAD Pacifism Is Cowardice

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Antonis Kalamoutsos
After seven years, Spearhead from UK strike back with their 4th album and it’s fair to say that, serving death metal since 2005, the band sounds like they have by now all the talent and experience required to establish themselves as a real underground force. And why not further than that?

Everything about Pacifism is Cowardice lives and breathes death metal. To be more precise, a very violent and battle-ready kind of death metal that is dedicated to a war-loving and nihilistic aura, sonically and lyrically. Their sound is sharp and aggressive built mainly in mid-range frequencies and not in blurry lows. Most of the time, the music is very intense and ultra-fast (thanks to the highly-skilled, neurotic drumming) but make no mistake, it’s the guitars that rule Spearhead’s sonic universe. Direct, wild, ferocious riffs and solos, straight out from the ever-present tradition of Morbid Angel and the likes. Personally, I enjoy very much the few mid-tempo riffs and I would like to hear a bit more of them as they sound really delicious.

There are no big surprises in the album's flow as the band seems like not having second thoughts regarding their song patterns. Despite this, I have to point out that the industrial elements of “Duellorum” and “Hyperanthropos” are wisely placed and add an extra element to the already “threatening” character of their music. While their personality is already strong enough, I really think that if such industrial/noise elements were to be used within “normal” tracks, their style would become a bit more personal and juicy. Having said all the above, I regard “Wolves of the Krypteia, We” as the album’s highlight with a totally classic intro riff and a delightful progression.

Pacifism is Cowardice, starting even from the title, seems to distill individualistic ideas and a philosophy of power and supremacy. Now, I know that in art everyone is free, artistic messages can be just role playing and that extreme forms of art may carry extreme thesis but I have to remark that this proud individualism, the Nietzschean references and the gunned image of the band may be innocent or just part of the role but it may also be something more. Living in dangerous social times, one must be cautious of these things, artists and fans equally. Though this fact has a negative weight on me personally, I am not considering it further in this review, keeping it focused in music.

Spearhead deliver their thunderous music with pure extremity and passion and I think that any death metal fan will appreciate their style, their sound and their performance. Truly and undoubtedly mastering their craft, they keep forging that old path of classic 90s death as genuine purists. Expanding their sound in order to attract some of the outsiders may not be the case for them and while it is not necessary, I believe that they would be seriously good at it!

Another very good album in a very competitive year for death metal, definitely not for the faint hearted.

ORPHANED LAND Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs

Album · 2018 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 4 ratings
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The Crow
After the mediocre All Is One and after the departure of the great Yoshi Sassi, my expectations about Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs were low... What a mistake!

Because this album fully retrieves the energy and the magic that this band had in the past, offering their typical mixture between metal, death, progressive and folk with outstanding songwriting. Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalen are fully integrated in the band till the point that Yoshi Sassi is almost not missed here, while the rest of the band makes also a splendid work.

It's very rewarding to hear that while some band like Opeth or Pain of Salvation lost their sound and personality with line-up changes, Orphaned Land retrieves all their elements and characteristic sound throughout the years despite all the members that gave up.

I wish also to mention the great collaborations that this album contains, playing Steve Hackett a fabulous guitar solo in the outstanding Chains Fall to Gravity (one of the most progressive tracks in the whole band's career) and singing Hansi Kürsch (from Blind Guardian) and Thomas Lindberg (At the Gates) in Like Orpheus and Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of The War respectively.

Best Tracks: it's complicated to pick only a few songs, because the overall quality of the album is very high, but The Cave is one of the best Orphaned Land's tracks, All Knowing Eye is touching and Kobi sings great, Chains Fall to Gravity is surprising and very prog, My Brother's Keeper (pure Orphaned Land magic) and The Manifest - Epilogue (precious homage to Victor Jara)

Conclusion: Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is not only a triumphant return of our favorite Israeli band, it's also one of their finest records. Maybe not so great like Mabool, but at least as good as ORwarriOR. A varied, touching and very well crafted collection of folk-prog-death-metal with a beautiful message inside and tons of memorable songs.

After this album, I can only wish the best of lucks for this bands in the future! You have managed to give me back my faith in you.

My rating: ****

P.S.: this review was originally written for ProgArchives.com

ARCHITECTS Holy Hell

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
This was always going to a difficult album. After the passing of Tom, who was the main songwriter, it was never going to be easy to make another record.

Last year however they dropped the excellent single ‘Doomsday’ which was one of the best singles of their career to date, and made this one of the most anticipated comeback albums of recent memory.

Think of albums like Nightmare or The Gray Chapter; when a band looses a member, especially a main songwriter, it always leaves a big mark. Holy Hell has such a mark on it. You can really hear the change in songwriter for example. The music is a bit less technical and a bit more direct. The structures are a bit more straightforward and a bit less expansive. Lyrically, there’s a clear impact. I mean, the opening track is called ‘Death Is Not Defeat’ which tells you everything you need to know.

Its not as heavy as the old Nightmare and Hollow Crown days, nor is it as light as the underrated The Here And Now, but it does it sonically somewhere between Lost Forever // Lost Together and All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us.

Like the aforementioned previous two albums, there is a big focus on melody and floaty electronics and like each album since the beginning, there are plenty of rhythmic breakdowns and a few of Sam’s trademark ‘Bleurgh!’ exclamations. It sounds pretty terrific, not just musically but also with a crystal clear production too. Highlights include the singles ‘Royal Beggars’ and ‘Modern Misery’ as well as the title-track. The best track by far though, is ‘Doomsday’ in my opinion, its one of the band’s best songs period.

It is obviously always going to be an important milestone in their career due to the circumstances of its backstory, but luckily it holds up musically. I wouldn’t jump into a sea of hyperbole and say its the best thing they’ve ever released, but it is a fitting continuation of the legacy and a very welcome addition to the catalogue. It would be a good jumping on point for a new fan and any existing fan would do well to add it to their collection. Skippable it aint.

BEHEMOTH I Loved You at Your Darkest

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Polish trio Behemoth surely need no introduction, having been at the head of the black metal scene for well over 25 years. Given that bassist Orion is the new boy, and he has been there for 15 years, it is of no surprise that they all know what they are doing. Singer/guitarist Nergal has been there since the beginning, and is showing no sign at all of slowing down, while drummer Inferno is still bashing those skins as if his life depends on it. Mind you, there are times during the first real song, “Wolves Of Siberia”, where the snare seems to be a fraction behind where it needs to be, which gave me quite a cause for concern as I found it incredibly offputting.

Luckily the rest of the album doesn’t suffer from the same issues, as the band bring in both choral and orchestral elements to show that they understand their legacy yet are going to continue to drive forward. “I really wanted to redefine ourselves with this record”, Nergal explains. “’I Loved You At Your Darkest’ is a more dynamic record. It’s extreme and radical on one hand, but it’s also more rock-oriented than any other Behemoth record.” Nergal doesn’t view the heightened rock influence as a conscious creative decision so much as a renewed interest in the historical origins of the music he makes. “We don’t give consideration to musical direction, we simply create what naturally comes to us” he says. “But 15 years ago, if you had asked me who I thought was the best band on the planet, I probably would have said Mayhem or Morbid Angel. Today if you asked me, I’d say AC/DC. That should give you a clear indication of why this album is more rock-based. It all comes down to the song writing.”

The album title may also upset some people if they understood the origins as well. “It’s a verse from the Bible,” Nergal reveals. “It’s actually a quote from Jesus Christ himself. For Behemoth to use it as the basis of our record, it’s sacrilege to the extreme.” No strangers to controversy, Behemoth are back with an album that while not exactly essential, is still pushing all the buttons in the right place.



ARSIS Visitant

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
‘Visitant’, is the first new album from famed metal act Arsis in five years, and to show they mean business it was recorded, mixed and mastered at Audio Hammer Studio with producer Mark Lewis (Whitechapel, Devildriver, Cannibal Corpse). It features cover artwork and layout from Mark Riddick (Arch Enemy, Morbid Angel, Varathron) and features guest appearances by Trevor Strand (The Black Dahlia Murder) and Malcolm Pugh (Inferi). The Virginia Beach-based quartet derived its name from the musical term "arsis and thesis", in which "arsis" refers to the unaccented part of a measure. The name's origin comes as no surprise, considering co-founder's James Malone's classical education in music (as well as providing guitar and vocals for Arsis, he is a skilled violinist and a composition major), which in turn adds a whole new layer to the way in which they sound. This is death metal that is righteously tinged with black and thrash influences, but is completely dedicated to expanding the reaches of melodicism and technicality in the genre.

Many people may point to the aggression of the twin guitars, the over the top vocals, or the drum attack as to why this band hit so hard, but for me the star of the sound is Noah Martin whose intricate bass playing pins everything together. There is a warmth to his sound, and he can be found providing either perfect support or counterpoint, working either with the drums or the guitars to ensure that each song is being taken into the stratosphere. Arsis commented on ‘Visitant’: "With a meticulous attention to detail and hooks, we feel as though we have created our most honest and dark record to date". Guitarist and vocalist James Malone elaborates: "I wanted to do something different with the lyrical themes for this album and it was just a natural move to incorporate a passion for horror into Visitant. As I was doing my part of the writing I tried to capture the tone and atmosphere of some of my favourite films (Silver Bullet, From Beyond, Prince Of Darkness). It was a very satisfying and fun album to write and I think it might be what fans consider a 'worthy follow-up' to ‘A Diamond For Disease’."

This, their sixth studio album, shows that Arsis have no intention at all of slowing down, and have created something that is taking melodic technical death metal into new areas, stretching the genre so that in some ways it is almost becoming mainstream, while still pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Well worth investigating.

THE VINTAGE CARAVAN Gateways

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
In some ways it is hard to believe that this is the work of an Icelandic trio in 2018, as opposed to a British quartet from the Seventies, but The Vintage Caravan are back with their fourth album and yet again they prove that they know exactly what they want, and have no plans at all of changing their approach. This is classic hard rock, with just a hint of blues and a touch of prog, as they create something which is whole and hearty. Of course there is going to be an organ on it somewhere, and of course it will be a Hammond, but it is used sparingly and for the most part this is all about bass, guitar and drums combining to create something that is heavy and with a groove, bringing to mind the likes of Free, Budgie and Mountain.

Influenced by the early Seventies, there is certainly no hint of anything from the last forty years in what they are doing, but I for one see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. But, while it is a solid album, it isn’t indispensable, and while I enjoyed it while I was playing it the tunes were soon gone from my mind. The Vintage Caravan are a band who have their place, and if you really want a blast from the past from a band that are going today then this is for you, but while it is a wonderful homage it must be said that it can never be as good as the real thing.

SOULHEALER Up From The Ashes

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Finnish band SoulHealer are back with their fourth album, their first since they went through a few line-up changes last year. What we have here is traditional heavy metal that contains huge elements of Saxon, Scorpions, Helloween and Blind Guardian. There are certainly times when I found myself smiling, and gently moving the noggin, but there are a couple of things that mean that this album isn’t as good as the band think it is. Firstly, the songs themselves are quite boring to be honest: there is the feeling that the get up and go has already got up and gone, and they could do with upping the tempo and providing more aggression. I certainly get the impression that the production has watered down their attack, and that live they would be quite a different proposition. That is also the place where I would more likely forgive singer Jori Kärki, as there are times when he goes for notes that he just can’t hit cleanly or with enough power.

The result is an album which most Metalheads will enjoy to a certain level, but it is unlikely that anyone will be frequently returning to it. Not bad, but certainly not brilliant either.

WATAIN Trident Wolf Eclipse

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 3 ratings
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The Crow
After five years of silence, Watain are back!

And this straightforward album is a good sign that they have not lost punch through the years, offering a true ferocious and direct record with great riffs and dusty (intentioned) production.

Maybe this album is a bit less experimental than previous ones, being some kind of return to their roots. But at the same time, is also more accessible and directly enjoyable.

Sadly, not great in my opinion given the predictable songwriting and lack of surprises, but perfect to be played live, where this band really shines.

Best Tracks: Nuclear Alchemy, Sacred Damnation, A Throne Below, Towards the Sanctuary.

Conclusion: Trident Wolf Eclipse is raw, direct and perfect to be played live. Sadly, this return to the origins for Watain suffers from being too predictable, being unable to create true excitement to the listener.

However, fans of the band Will surely love it!

My rating: ***

THE RUINS OF BEVERAST Exuvia

Album · 2017 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.56 | 8 ratings
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Warthur
I've never explored The Ruins of Beverast before, but the notes of those who've previously delved into that particular dungeon suggest an interesting progression on the part of its architects. Records suggest that the Ruins began on a foundation of atmospheric black metal, before the Beverastian ruler Alexander von Meilenwald took a turn into death-doom territory.

Certainly, the treasure I found in the region known as Exuvia bears out this idea, because the foundations of atmospheric black metal - blast beats and ambient influences mostly - are frequently evident even amid the towering structures of death-doom, lending them a certain stark majesty which makes the Ruins stand apart from the pack.

There's also a certain tribal influence detectable - mostly in the form of distant chants; I am not particularly well-placed to judge whether these inclusions have been chosen with care to ensure an apt selection appropriate to the material being presented as well as respecting the original source, or whether it's some cheap cultural appropriation of some cool-sounding noises which von Meilenwald doesn't even understand and inadvertently renders the material hilarious if you actually knew how inappropriate the choice was... but gosh, does it sound cool.

"Exuvia" refers to the discarded shell of an arthropod - you know, crabs or spiders or insects, those kind of critters - after it's moulted, much as the Beverastian people moulted their old atmospheric black metal ways for a more experimental path. Having come away from the Ruins of Beverast bearing these intriguing samples, I think I will be exploring more of the fallen city sooner or later.

RIVERSIDE Waste7and

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.12 | 3 ratings
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The Crow
After the sad passing of the guitarist Piotr Grudzinski, I'm sure that Wasteland was not an easy album to make.

For this reason, I consider this record a transition one while they let another guitarist to take part (hopefully) on their next record and bring some new ideas and sound. Because one of the first facts that we can clearly hear in Wasteland is that a true guitarist is missing. It's obvious that Mariusz Duda is not a professional guitar player, and because of that in almost all the songs the complex guitar work of previous albums is sadly gone, and the pedals used are also not the most adequate, making the guitar riffs sounds hollow and cheap.

And curiously the same can be said for the drums, which sounds too high pitched, lacking the deep and strength that the heavier parts of the album so desperately need! Why? I just don't know, because the Piotr Kozieradzki's drumming is awesome in other records from the band.

But apart from the production, the musical quality of the album is also a bit irregular. Some outstanding songs like Acid Rain, Veil of Tears and River Down Below are mixed with other average tracks like the not so exciting Guardian Angel, the repetitive The Struggle for Survival and the risky but not really successful Wasteland (I love the western influences though!)

This irregular songwriting makes the hearing of the album on its integrity a bit dull sometimes, and that's the first time that I feel something similar with a Riverside record. Is not a drama, but talking about one of the best prog-rock acts of the last decades, is some kind of a letdown.

Best Tracks: Acid Rain, Veil of Tears, Lament, River Down Below.

Conclusion: I must admit that the band has managed to overcome the death of their guitarist with a good album, which shows both the heaviest and mellowest sides of the band while maintaining the spirit of innovation that this musicians always had, diplaying some very good new ideas like the gothic and obscure Lament and the cinematic but flawed title track.

But in comparison to works like Second Life Syndrome and Anno Domini High Definition, Wasteland just pales.

My rating: ***

This review was originally written for ProgArchives.com

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 13 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
One of the classic black metal bands and a favourite of Sam Dunn of Banger Films (“A Headbanger’s Journey”, “Flight 666”, “Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage”) is Enslaved. My first venture into their catalogue was their seventh album, “Below the Lights” because it was mentioned on a list of best metal albums as well as best progressive albums. I enjoyed it enough to consider a second purchase, and though “In Times” was next on my list, along with “Frost”, I heard so many good things about “E” that I went for this one. Money well spent!

I understand well from what I’ve heard that Enslaved very early on expressed their progressive proclivities and that in the new millennium they expanded their sound into post rock. This album here expresses both of those faces of musical styles quite liberally. In fact, while I love the album as an Enslaved album, it was very easy for me to get into it because I could hear similarities to bands whose music I have already an attanchment to: Opeth, Anciients, Motorpsycho, and Devin Townsend. I also read that one member of Seven Impale joined Enslaved so that’s another bonus as far as I’m concerned.

Of course there’s the quintessential over-distorted guitar sound, speed, demonic vocals, and tenseness that comes with black metal, but also beauty and contrasts. The recording quality is superb, proving that black metal can sound magnificent once it swallows its lo-fi pride and goes for sonic brilliance.

A lot of old school extreme metal albums sound awesome but have little variety in their sound. When I think of old classics from my early teens like “Screaming for Vengeance”, “Number of the Beast”, or “Mob Rules”, each song was treated like an individual piece of work and these albums had variety. No two songs sounded alike. So it’s a great surprise and pleasure to listen to an album like this where once again I can feel that each song provides its own individual stamp on the album rather than just being a barrage of blast beats and tidal waves of distortion. With an album like this and a couple of other 21st century black metal and albums I have heard, I really think black metal has progressed and grown into an art rather than just a statement.

In the New Year, I will most certainly be looking to add two or three more Enslaved albums to my collection, possibly more.

IMMORTAL Northern Chaos Gods

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 4 ratings
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adg211288
When Norwegian black metal act Immortal first disbanded back in 2003 after seven studio albums, they left behind a pretty great legacy, ending on career high note Sons of Northern Darkness (2002). Their later reunion in 2006 resulted in a solid if not exceptional comeback album, All Shall Fall (2009), but then the band went another long stretch without a new album. Then, in 2015, something unthinkable happened: the band's two key members, Abbath and Demonaz (who hadn't been able to play with them since 1997 due to severe tendinitis, which was surgically corrected in 2013), had some sort of bust up. This resulted in Abbath going off to start his self-titled project, which released its debut album in 2016, and Demonaz officially restarted Immortal again in 2015, consisting of just him and drummer Horgh. Demonaz returns to his original instrument, guitar, and also takes over the lead vocalist role from Abbath, with bass handled by guest musicians Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy).

Now I for one was pretty sceptical about this whole thing, I admit it. Demonaz had previous laid down lead vocals in his self-titled project back in 2011 and didn't give the kind of performance that I personally felt would have fit in with Immortal's more aggressive form of black metal music. That's not to say that they were bad, just different, especially considering that Abbath has one of the most distinctive growling voices in the scene and has always been an aspect of Immortal's music that has set them apart from other black metal acts. Sure enough, on Northern Chaos Gods (2018), Immortal's ninth album and first and only without Abbath, Demonaz doesn't deliver anywhere near as distinctive sounding growls as the former frontman. They also fit in here much better than those on Demonaz's March of the Norse (2011) led me to expect they would. Combined with some really furious black metal riffing, Immortal's Abbath-less comeback may just be the most aggressive album they've ever released.

That's the good part. There's also a problem. And that's that with Abbath or without him, lyricist Demonaz has long written extensively about his own Blashyrkh theme and now that we're nine Immortal albums deep, he's starting to really show signs of scraping the barrel. Throughout Northern Chaos Gods and it's eight tracks, you'll continually hear phrases that have been heard before across Immortal records and even though the music itself provides an absolute beast of an album, it does feel just that bit stale now because of the lyrics. Even the title is taken directly from Immortal's popular track One by One, the opener from Sons of Northern Darkness while closer Mighty Ravendark was actually used before as part of Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark) on their third album Battles in the North (1995). Furthermore, there's also Gates to Blashyrkh on this album. It all feels a bit of 'been there, done that'.

In spite of that issue, it's clear that Northern Chaos Gods is a far superior album to Abbath's 2016 self-titled effort, so if nothing else, Demonaz most certainly wins round one of their post-collaboration careers. Immortal just needs a bit more originally in their lyrics in the future though, as for the first for me they prove a distraction when listening to their music, summoning memories of past glories with Abbath up front rather than allowing me to fully invest in this Demonaz fronted new incarnation of the legendary band, without otherwise does a damn fine job of proving itself a viable venture for Demonaz and Horgh. For the music alone, Northern Chaos Gods is still worth a respectable four stars though.

MALTHUSIAN Across Deaths

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Antonis Kalamoutsos
After having gained some strong underground reputation, the time has finally come for the Irish death-metallers Malthusian to release their debut full length album. And while this is a band that totally respects extreme metal values and true spirit, there are no stereotypes to be found here. To be precise, in Across Deaths one may find an intense sense of innovation, as only profound underground art can offer.

Don’t expect your typical death metal plate on this one. Although it appears as such, Across Deaths is not even pure death metal, having strong boundaries-crossing virtues. Most of the music is based on violent death metal riffing and extraordinary, fast and technical drumming but it is clear that Malthusian are on a constant route from death to black and vice versa, riff after riff, part after part. This is specifically achieved with the richness of different lead and backing vocal textures – growls, howls, screams or whispers – but also with the lack of harmonic references. This last fact is one of the albums strangest and most attractive elements: The gloomy, muffled sound may first seem like a lo-fi, stylistic decision. If you listen closely though, you may realise that there is an unexpected clarity on the sound of the instruments, something that convinces me that the production deliberately assists Malthusian’s music in sounding abstract and chaotic, obviously with no intention of helping the listener’s mind realise any constant. At the end, the whole experience feels like walking on a tightrope while ruthless devastating winds fight to throw you down in the abyss. The worst part though and what really makes this album dark, is that this abyss is hidden from your eyes. You can’t see or understand it, it just lies beneath your feet and your mind knows no constant. From this aspect, there is almost an experimental vibe in Across Deaths, like being a distant relative of Portal’s Ion.

The first three tracks of the album serve this ever-changing genres acrobatics but it is only during ''Primal Attunement – The Gloom Epoch’’ when you can fully understand Malthusian’s craftsmanship. For 13 minutes of ultra epic heaviness, we witness the construction of a doom/sludge anthem and it is clear now that it’s not a matter of what the band can or can’t do but a matter of what they decide to do. I am certain that in the future Malthusian will walk further down that doomy road, evolving that contradiction of super fast and super slow moods – anything that needs to be done in order their abyss to grow even darker and more chaotic.

As a conclusion, Across Deaths is a fascinating debut that doesn’t intend to be easily or fully understood. It forms an enigma that is equally savage and intriguing, like chaos and death itself. Try to walk on this tightrope, try to fight back those winds that violently try to stop you and no matter what you do, don’t look down. For this abyss may be deeper than you think.

NACHTLIEDER Lynx

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Back in 2016 I discovered the Swedish female solo black metal artist Nachtlieder through her second album The Female of the Species. I was a bit late to the party at that point, as the album has actually been released the late in the year before, but The Female of the Species is one album that I count among my very best discoveries of 2016. The project of one Dagny Susanne, who does vocals and plays all instruments on her albums bar drums, which are handled by session member Martrum (both previously played together in black/death/thrash metal act Wicked), The Female of the Species was actually something of a sleeper hit with me. When I first heard it I couldn't say with honesty that what I was hearing was the most original take on a black metal sound – it's pretty much impossible to use the terms 'original' and 'straight up black metal' in the same sentence these days though – but it was clear right from the off that Nachtlieder had crafted a decent sound within the genre and that the album really packed a punch. When I reviewed the album, I didn't hesitate to award it a firm four stars.

Something happened then that I wasn't expecting. You see, there are a lot of albums like The Female of the Species that I'd give four stars too for being very solid examples of their genre even if they didn't really bring anything new to the table. For me, there is always room for a good honest example of music that is true to its style's roots and doesn't feel the need to dress it up with fancy frills from outside influences, which in today's black metal scene, often means post-rock or shoegaze elements. That doesn't mean I necessarily want to keep going back to one of them in particular over and over again. Only this time, with The Female of the Species, that's exactly what happened. It turns out that the album was one that had that something special that kept continually drawing me back time after time and during 2017 I eventually got to the point that I realised, although it was a respectable rating I had previously given it, that I had actually judged the release too harshly at four stars. Fast forward to 2018 and The Female of the Species now stands as one of my favourite black metal releases of the last five years.

This of course resulted in a lot of excitement for Nachtlieder's follow-up, Lynx (2018). While undeniably a more of the same release – black metal with none of those modern frills attached – it's quick to assert itself as a work that at worst, is only on the same level as it's predecessor and at best, far exceeds it. And let me just be clear about this, it's at its best far more often than it's at its worst, while that word also feels inappropriate to use when describing the album, though does provide a good emphasis on how much more immediate Lynx is to its predecessor. Eight tracks deliver a sound that captures a good balance between traditional black metal's cold atmosphere and production values that give the music clarity and allow Dagny's riffs to stand out rather than have almost everything lost within a lo-fi haze, an unnecessary way of producing this kind of music that both the founding fathers and countless disciples have for some reason chosen to employ, to continually mixed results that to this day give the black metal genre a poor reputation among fans of other metal genres. Albums like Lynx exist as proof that black metal can still sound cold and raw without being a mass of treble riffs that sound like they were recorded in a tin can.

Lyrically I do struggle with following Dagny's growls, but that's of little consequence when the complete package sounds this great and hits the eardrums this hard. Black metal is often about atmosphere even when it doesn't fit into the atmospheric sub-genre at all (like Lynx), but Nachtlieder manages to weld that with the kind of aggression found in records like Immortal's Sons of Northern Darkness. Rather than coming across like Dagny was unsure what she wanted it to be – cold and atmospheric or faster and riff based – we get treated to a perfect fusion of the two, where riffs will be thumping away, Dagny snarling over them and yet behind there'll be something atmospheric that will raise the level of the composition considerably. Every song on here could be used as an introduction to Nachtlieder's music and serve that purpose well, though for my money Dagny saved the best for last in Moksha, the longest song which is an absolutely furious hard-hitting beast.

Last time I reviewed this project's music, I had to own up to doing it a disservice. This time I'm both already familiar with the artist and have left it a bit longer before publishing a review of the album and I'm very confident that Lynx will continue to stand as one of 2018's black metal gems. It does seem a shame that, so far, not that many people seem have caught onto this project – so as a final word of advice, don't make the mistake that I almost did with the previous album, and make all efforts to change that.

BUCKETHEAD Mirror In The Cellar

Single · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.08 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The second release of Halloween 2018 after 5-13 10-31 is this short and quirky single titled MIRROR IN THE CELLAR which finds BUCKETHEAD releasing a single instead of a second album. Where this comes from is unknown but perhaps it’s a leftover.

In its 3:53 wake, this track takes starts off in dark ambient mode with echoey guitars jumping in before breaking into heavy alternative metal guitar riffs. It continues through a fairly by the books metal format. Riffs that alternate with virtuosic solos that drop out and focus on the echoey space guitar effects. The rhythm is rather funky and the track is quite pleasant but really nothing to get overly excited about especially when followed by the more spectacular Halloween video treat of Track 1 from 5-13 10-31.

Oh yeah, The ghost says BOOOOO!

BUCKETHEAD 5-13 10-31

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
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Only three years ago in 2015, BUCKETHEAD released a whopping 118 albums that year with another 60 coming out the year before but beginning in 2016, the chicken lover slowed way down having only released a mere 24 and 30 in 2017. The year 2018 has been the other extreme as BH spent most of the year touring and released only 2 albums as of September.

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However, if there’s one thing that can coax the eccentric one out of the coop, then that would be Halloween. While no countdown to Halloween has occurred since 2015, the holiday seems to be the season for the reason to do that BUCKETHEAD thang and lo and behold on Halloween 2018, BH released his third album of the year titled 5-13 10-31.

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What also caught me completely off guard is that this album does not have a Pike tag on it which i assume signifies that it is the first BUCKETHEAD album NOT released as part of the Pike series since 2012’s “Electric Sea.” Oh, that darn BUCKETHEAD is always throwing a monkey wrench into the dens of the database keepers!

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TRACK 1 (14:32) is best experienced as the first official video in a long time as the music fits perfectly with the visuals. The video was created, animated and edited by Byan Theiss at Frankenseuss Laboratories with live action footage from tours and includes paintings from BUCKETHEAD incorporated into the journey. This track was produced by Don Monti and Albert and pretty much seems like a separate entity from Track 2 despite musical similarities. The music starts off a bit funky as three trick-or-treaters accidentally end up falling down a well into the underworld of BUCKETHEADLAND. The video and musical journey coincide in amusement park fashion with hairpin turns that hop, skip and jump all over the damn place. Musically BUCKETHEAD juggles his entire career on this one as it includes everything from funk, alternative metal riffing, virtuosic solos, dark ambient, avant-garde metal weirdness as well as other experimental elements that have dotted the massive canon of this freak of nature. The video is absolutely brilliant and one of the best music videos i’ve seen in a long time. The music is perfectly paced to run the gauntlet of BUCKETHEAD-isms and eke out all the proper mood setting responses. The visuals through BUCKETHEADLAND convey the surreal fantastical world in dreamscape weirdness as if taking a cue from Roger Rabbit with animation and live footage coinciding side by side. While pulling out all the tricks and trinkets from the past, BH still manages to find new creepy and surreal ways to play his guitar as more familiar passages pause for a freakfest moment. I love this track! 5 stars. BUCKETHEAD at his absolute best!

(Go to BUCKETLAND to watch the video!)

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Track 2 (14:33) begins with a little funk, followed by some industrial grind and then back to funk and then a little metal guitar. Yep, it’s another shapeshifter as every few measures the mood, tones, timbres and tempos change it up as funk, metal, rock and the avant-garde dance together like ghouls in a graveyard. Add to that the same kind of dark ambient interludes with creepy church organ and freaky shred wankery and this is another guaranteed wild ride in BUCKETHEADLAND. This one pretty much copies the template of “Track 1” with all the bells and whistles displaying BH’s career in summary as he juxtaposes dark ambient creepiness next to sizzling hot face melting guitar solos. I guess i prefer the first track better since it has a video accompaniment that works oh so well in conjunct, however this experimental freakfest is my absolute favorite style of BUCKETHEAD madness, so it totally works for me! Yeah! It was worth the wait but this one is a winner. The video is the best Halloween present of all!!!

NECRONOMICON (BW) Unleashed Bastards

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
To say this band has been through the wringer over the years is something of an understatement, but more than 30 years on from the debut album they are still going, and now they return with their ninth studio album. Okay, so only singer/guitarist has been there since the beginning, and bassist Marco is the only other person who has been there for five years, but they have refused to give up. It possibly doesn’t help their cause that there are multiple recording artists with the same name, and there was even another German Necronomicon in the Seventies, but these guys are a thrash band who don’t see any reason at all for changing their style.

At times they become highly melodic, with more than a hint of Helloween as they move more into power metal than their own iconic punk thrash style, and this is a shame as although interesting I would much have preferred for them to have become more abrasive and move back into the raw style with which they built their name. The result is an album that has some high points, but isn’t consistent enough to make it really stand out from the pack. While it will appeal to those who have been following them for some time, I can’t imagine it will gain them many new fans.

MONUMENTS Phronesis

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It took four years from ‘The Amanensis’ for Monuments to return with their third full-length album, by which time they had not only lost the services of long-term drummer Mike Malyan, but also his replacement Anup Sastry, who on this album has put up an impressive display so newest member Daniel Lang will have a lot to do when they head out on tour. Although this is still a metalcore album, they are starting to concentrate even more on the metallic elements, which are incredibly brutal. This means that when there is a slight respite in proceedings, such as the introduction to “Mirror Image”, one knows that it is going to all come crashing back in a minute.

There is a huge contrast in styles both between songs and within songs, so that the listener is never really sure where the music is going to go, and strong melodic vocals may have mayhem beneath them, or simpler chords may have Barretto throwing up his lungs. One of the bands they have played with recently was Protest The Hero, and that must have been a match made in heaven. I have long been a fan of the Canadians, and it was wonderful that I finally managed to see them play about eighteen months ago, and the styles of the two bands are both complimentary and different, and both can really rip it up when the need arises. Monuments keep improving with each album, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with next time, and indeed if they can actually keep the same line-up together from one album to the next!



SEVENTH WONDER Tiara

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Some things are worth waiting eight years for! Yes, it has really been that long for fans of Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder. The band started off with a pretty good debut, titled Become, before bringing in vocalist Tommy Karevik in time for their excellent second release, Waiting in the Wings, and from there it had been nothing but pure magic for four years, with the band releasing the highly praised, masterful concept album Mercy Falls in 2008, followed by The Great Escape in 2010, which featured six amazing tracks and one mammoth 30 minute epic title track, which has gone on to become my all time favorite prog song. With the kind of creative peak the band had reached, it seemed it would take something from outside to slow it down, and of course, longtime fans know what would happen next: In 2012, Tommy joined Kamelot, and the rest is history. That band has since gone on to release three albums over the last six years, including The Shadow Theory earlier this year. This has left Seventh Wonder fans craving new material from the band for a long time, with the only release during this period being Welcome to Atlanta Live 2014, which contained two new tracks, both of which were very much up to par with the band’s usual work. Well, it’s been a long, slow process, but after eight years, the band is finally set to release their fifth full-length release, Tiara, and it’s another absolute masterpiece, which takes the band’s sound to a whole new level!

Despite the long gap in between releases, it feels like the band has picked up right where they left off, almost literally, as opening track “The Everones” certainly sounds very similar to a particular track from The Great Escape, which I’ll get to in a bit. As expected, the band’s unique brand of melodic, technical prog is in full force here, striking the perfect balance between being heavy in bursts, while being extremely technically proficient, as one would expect from the genre, without losing any of the band’s usual knack for writing some of the absolute best melodies in all of metal, both musically and vocally. Stylistically, this is still the same mix of prog, power metal, and symphonic metal as usual, though the power metal elements are surprisingly held back for most of the album, only to make a grand appearance in a flurry of speedy, explosive tracks right at the end. It wouldn’t be fair to say the album is a slow starter, as every track here is excellent in its own way, but it does take a bit of time to really get going, as expected. A more accurate statement would be that it’s a very backloaded album, as once you get roughly 40% of the way into the album, it goes from excellent to absolutely stunning, and never looks back. One thing I’ve always loved about Seventh Wonder is their ability to write some of the most emotional music I’ve heard from any prog band, and that’s another thing that’s fully intact here, as everything from the guitar tone at times, to the vocals to the lyrics, and even orchestral arrangements, all have a special feeling to them that really helps sell the story.

Speaking of which, Tiara is a concept album, and very much feels like a spiritual successor to Mercy Falls, in how it takes a while to set things up, before delivering a mix of explosive moments, big emotional payoffs, and some more introspective moments throughout the middle and second half. At times it reminds me a bit of Dream Theater’s The Astonishing, in that the band is willing to use more extended softer, somewhat theatrical passages than one may expect from the genre, as well as having a similar approach where one vocalist portrays different characters, but I feel the band has pulled it off in a more convincing way than the latter did both lyrically and musically. I won’t spoil the story, as it’s one of the main highlights of the album, but I will give a brief summary. The plot focuses on an alien race, called the Everones, who are unimpressed by the human race and are set to bring judgment upon them. A young girl named Tiara, the only human who can understand messages the aliens are sending is chosen to travel into space to communicate with the aliens, in an attempt to save humanity. As always, the band does a great job of exploring some dark themes, while managing to throw in an occasional lighter, more uplifting sections, all while delivering some very emotional passages. The story keeps me engaged from start to finish every time I listen to the album and is definitely one of my favorite things about it. I also love how the band constantly makes callbacks to previous songs, but with slight alterations, with one such example being a particularly epic moment during: ”Tiara’s Song”, that calls back to the previous track, “Victorious”. I always like when concept albums feel cohesive and well linked together, while still allowing room for individual highlights, and this album is a perfect example of that.

One of my most anticipated things about Tiara was getting to hear how Tommy Karevik would sound back with Seventh Wonder, after spending three albums with Kamelot, using a much more measured approach, focused largely on his lower register. I find with Seventh Wonder, he tends to be more diverse, still occasionally singing lower, but he has a lot of room to really stretch for some huge high notes, which allows him to show his full talents, as well as giving him room to really fully invest himself emotionally in the songs, as I find his deeper voice doesn’t quite resonate as well. It’s safe to say, he hasn’t skipped a beat, as he sounds absolutely perfect on this album, going for some bigger notes than ever, while still excelling on some of the quieter, more emotional passages, as usual. He’s asked to portray a young girl at times, and he pulls this off much more convincingly than James Labrie did, singing high, with subtle changes from his normal voice, but still sounding sincere and convincing the whole time, which allows to fully sell the lyrics, and get the most out of the songs. This only happens occasionally, though, and for the most part, he’s still singing like he usually does with the band, getting to be as dynamic and intense as ever, delivering both some of his most powerful vocals ever, as well as some of his most beautiful. Every album he’s done with Seventh Wonder has a been vocal tour de force, and Tiara is certainly no exception, being perhaps his absolute best yet.

It’s hard to really go into detail about the songwriting of Tiara and what makes it click without spoiling the whole experience, so I’ll keep descriptions to a minimum here, as much as I can. The album has the expected brief intro track, meant to signal the arrival of the alien race, before triggering into the first full song, “The Everones”. Right away, anyway who’s heard The Great Escape should recognize the guitar notes, as they sound nearly identical to “Wiseman”, though the keyboards have a much more sinister tone to them, which helps give the song its own feel. It’s a dark, heavy track, with some very hard-hitting riffs compared to the band’s usual, while still having some excellent vocal melodies, especially during the chorus, where Tommy really excels. There are also some pretty interesting digital effects used, to give some of the vocals a mechanical sound, though these are thankfully used in short bursts, so as to be effective, without becoming intrusive. Next is “Dream Machines”, another slower, heavier track, which has a nice groove to it. The verses are heavy, while the chorus is soft and extremely catchy, in an epic way, and it’s a great track which mostly serves to introduce the concept of the album, along with the previous track. One last setup track is “Against the Grain”, a softer track, which has some nice acoustic sections and is probably my favorite of the first three songs. It has some extended softer passages, with some beautiful vocals, as well an upbeat, very fun chorus, which foreshadows a big passage to come later on the album. It’s a very eventful song, with a lot of different passages, and it’s by far the most instrumentally adventurous track in the first half, while still having some emotional lyrics and excellent vocals from Tommy.

The first big highlight is “Victorious”, a smartly selected lead single. It’s another mid-paced track, but it has a nice rhythm to it, and it has that familiar Seventh Wonder sound to it, with fun, quick moving verses, a huge chorus, and some truly inspiring vocal melodies and lyrics. It’s a very melodic track overall, with one excellent heavy burst in the second half, as well as an incredible chorus, especially the last time through. I already mentioned that chorus being revisited in “Tiara’s Song”, the first of a three-part suite titled “Farewell”. That particular section comes towards the end of the track and is one of the most awe-inspiring moments on the entire album, but right from the beginning, it’s an epic, upbeat track with excellent keyboard melodies, slow but engaging verses, another huge chorus, and some incredible vocals from Tommy. It’s another track which manages to pack a lot in, and it’s the song where the album officially starts to take off, and become the kind of masterpiece very few bands are capable of producing. The second part, “Goodnight”, is a softer, largely piano-driven track, with more excellent vocals. While the first part is send off for a Tiara on a larger scale, this one has a much more personal feel to it, making it more emotional and heartfelt, with the chorus, in particular, is absolutely stunning, as Tommy uses his softer vocals to amazing effect. Closing out the set is “Beyond Today”, a shocking highlight, as it’s a full piano ballad, but it’s extremely effective one, as Tommy gives us a look into Tiara’s feelings, both on what she’s asked to do as well as contemplating whether she’ll ever have the future she wanted. It’s a very emotional track, where Tommy absolutely kills it on vocals, and the band takes it an extra level higher with some amazing backing vocals from his sister Jenny, who’s provided some vocals on each of their albums since Tommy joined. This album is probably the best use of her so far, particularly on “The Truth”, a very pivotal track in the plot, as well as the most epic, cinematic track on the album, with a film score, feel to it. The track is amazing the whole way through, but Jenny steals the show in the second half, with an absolutely stunning performance.

From that point on, the album goes all out, with “By the Light of the Funeral Pyres”, in particular being the closest to straight-forward power metal the band has ever come. It’s a very fast paced, hard hitting track with some excellent riffs and an extremely intense chorus where Tommy gets to show us his power metal chops. It’s a brief track, but still manages to include some excellent instrumental work, and is a definite highlight. Next is “Damnation Below”, and while it’s another fast-paced, explosive track, it’s interesting to note a very subtle shift between it and the previous track, as while it’s still intense, it doesn’t sound quite as urgent, instead allowing for more the band’s prog tendencies to come through, with some nice grooves, as well as giving more room for lighter vocal melodies, as usual. It has an excellent chorus and strikes the perfect balance between melodic, epic and intense. After a brief interlude, the band closes things out with “Exhale”, the lightest, most upbeat of the last three songs. It’s still fast paced and still has that driving power metal feel, mixed with some prog rhythms and great instrumental work, but it has by far the most uplifting chorus of the three and is another instant highlight. I especially love the triumphant sound of the orchestra at the end, as well as the incredible vocals from Tommy during the final chorus. It’s an absolutely stunning ending to an absolutely stunning album.

Some bands just always manage to rise the occasion, even with insane expectations, and Seventh Wonder is definitely one of them. I had sky-high hopes for Tiara, both because of how much I loved the band’s previous three releases, and because I was excited to finally hear Tommy Karevik fully unleashed again, but even then, I could not have in my wildest dreams expected the end result to be as glorious as it is! Suffice to say, this is a must hear for any fan of the band, as well as any fan of prog or anyone looking for a masterfully done concept album, and this is simply perfect on every level, with fantastic musicianship, great melodies, some huge emotional moments, intense power metal sections, great lyrics and one of the very best vocal performances I’ve ever heard on a prog album. Easily my album of the year, and it’s safe to say it’ll have a place in my personal top 5 favorite albums for quite some time, possibly forever!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/10/13/seventh-wonder-tiara-review/

GUARDIANS OF TIME Tearing Up the World

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Over the years, I have discovered quite a few bands that failed to make much of an impression on me at first, only to come back to them somewhere down the road and suddenly find myself hooked on their music. One such example is Norwegian power metal band Guardians of Time. My first time hearing the band was with their 2011 release A Beautiful Atrocity, which initially did very little for me, and left me quite unimpressed. However, when the band released their next album, Rage, and Fire, in 2015, I decided to give them another shot, and this time around I found myself instantly wowed by their brand of hard-hitting, fast-paced power metal. It turns out, that one release I tried before had been a bit experimental, and even to this day, while I certainly enjoy it more than I did initially, it still remains my least favorite by the band. Now, three years after me becoming a fan, the band is set to release their fifth full-length release, Tearing Up the World, and this one is certainly more of an instant classic than any of their others I’ve heard, so far!

The band has changed their sound quite a bit over the years, but on their previous album they played a very aggressive, guitar-driven brand of power metal, similar to what one would expect from a German band, and this has continued with Tearing Up the World. In fact, this is definitely the fastest paced, most intense album I’ve heard by the band so far, with the majority of the tracks being very up-tempo while striking a perfect balance between frantic verses and very melodic, catchy choruses. There’s some slightly thrashy guitar work at points, as well as brief bursts of harsh vocals, most notably on “Valhalla Awaits”, but for the most part, this is about as pure a power metal album as you’ll ever hear. Performances are strong across the board, with the crunchy guitar work, in particular, being a highlight, with a mix of excellent riffs and grand solos, while the drums are also quite interesting and rather complex at times. Songwriting is excellent across the board, and while the songs are generally fast and straight-forward, there are a couple slower tracks to serve as a nice change of pace, as well as just enough surprises thrown in to keep the album feeling fresh and inspired the whole way through.

One element of the band I needed some time to get used to is vocalist Bernt Fjellestad. At the time I first heard the band, I was not really into rougher power metal vocals, which was obviously a problem, because that’s exactly what Bernt does. He has a rather deep voice and can get very animated at times, coming pretty close to screaming at the top of his lungs on occasion, while generally being quite fiery and powerful. He can deliver choruses nicely and does so frequently on this album, and he also does a good job of singing softly from time to time, but for the most part, he sticks to being very intense, and he isn’t afraid to throw in some epic falsettos, either.

I’ve found past Guardians of Time albums to be a bit slow starting, but it’s safe to say, that’s not the case with Tearing Up the World. The album gets off to a blistering start with the explosive title track, which opens up with some hard-hitting riffs that would feel right at home on a modern melodic death metal album, and indeed we get our first glimpse at some brief harsh vocals during the second verse. The song overall is fast, intense, and has an excellent chorus, as well as a fun solo section, and it certainly gets the album off to a strong start. The pace drops slightly on “Raise the Eagle”, a lighter, more melodic track, which introduces some light keyboards. It has a very classic power metal sound to it, alternating between mid-paced verses and a fast, very melodic chorus, and it has one of the most melodic and impressive solo sections on the album. Next is “We Bring War”, a hard-hitting song, which also had fairly slow verses, before speeding up for a frantic and intense chorus, which stands as one of the bands on the album.

The album only picks up further with “The Burning of Rome”, one of the fastest tracks on the album, slowing down briefly during the first verse, before picking up the pace and never looking back. It has probably the catchiest, the most epic chorus on the entire album, as well as one of the more relaxed performances from Bernt, which ends up paying off in a big way. Following that, “Kingdom Come” is even speedier and doesn’t slow down at all, with some excellent rhythm guitars and drums throughout, as well as a very frantic but melodic chorus. It’s short, but definitely one of the most addictive tracks on the album. The first curveball comes next, during “Valhalla Awaits”. The song itself is typical high energy power metal, as always, with some very fun, melodic verses, but it’s during the chorus where it takes a surprising turn. The guitar work stays very melodic throughout, but the vocals are performed by former Immortal vocalist Abbath, who uses his usual blackened growls. Honestly, I usually don’t mind harsh vocals in power metal, but I find the vocals really clash with the melodic chorus here, and if anything would fit better on the verses, or even on one of the heavier tracks on the album, such as the title track or “We Bring War”. To have placed them on such a melodic track feels like a bit of a mistake to me, and causes the song to be my least favorite, even though the rest of the track is still up to the excellent quality of the rest of the album.

After that slight disappointment, the band bounces back with yet another super fast track in “Brothers of the North”, this time offering up some very intense verses, before giving way to one of the most melodic and well-sung choruses on the album, making it an instant favorite. The last run through is especially inspiring, and overall it’s simply an addictive track. In case anyone thought the band was incapable of slowing things down, “Light Won’t Shine” comes in to offer a sledgehammer to the head of that theory. Indeed, it’s a slow but very hard-hitting crusher of a track, with some especially hard riffs during the verses, giving way to an excellent chorus. It’s both a nice change of pace and an excellent track on its own. Next is “As I Burn”, the other track on the album to feature guest vocals. It’s another speedy track, with slight thrash influences to the guitar work, which fits perfectly as the guest here is Tim “Ripper” Owens, using his typical falsetto vocals to great effect. There’s a nice guitar solo near the end, with some slight Maiden influences, and overall it’s another excellent track. The second and last slower song on the album is “Drawn in Blood”, a very folk-influenced song, with some folk melodies thrown into the guitar work. It’s the most relaxing track on the album, with some excellent melodies, as well as some more lighter vocals from Bernt, and while it’s fairly short-lived, it’s certainly a very fun, catchy track, and stands as my personal favorite, just because it’s such an effective change of pace, and because I love the folk melodies. Closing out the album is “Masters We Were”, another fast-paced track with an excellent chorus, and some excellent melodic guitar work, as well as probably the best solo section on the album. It closes out the album in great form and is another one of my personal favorites. As a bonus, the band has offered up a live performance of “Empire”, a track from Rage and Fire, and it’s a fine performance, with everything sounding near identical to the studio version.

I was hoping for Tearing Up the World to be a fun, hard-hitting power metal album, and it’s exactly that, except with a few nice surprises thrown in, as well as one slight misfire. Aside from that one chorus, though, the album is excellent the whole way through, giving listeners plenty of excellent fast and furious power metal moments, as well as a couple very effective slower tracks. It’s my favorite Guardians of Time album to date, and one that can easily be recommended, both to fans of the band as well as to anyone looking for some great guitar driven power metal, as it’s definitely one of the best released this year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/10/13/guardians-of-time-tearing-up-the-world-review/

PESTILENCE Hadeon

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Hadeon" is the 8th full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Pestilence. The album was released through Hammerheart Records in March 2018. It´s been 5 years since the release of "Obsideo (2013)" and from the interviews with band leader/guitarist/lead vocalist Patrick Mameli I´ve read in the intermediate years, it sounded like he had once again put Pestilence on hold. This time to concentrate on his new project Neuromorph, but apparently Mameli has changed his mind because we´ve heard nothing from Neuromorph as of yet, and here we have another Pestilence album. Since the release of the predecessor Mameli has changed the entire lineup except for himself. Guitarist Patrick Uterwijk has been replaced by Santiago Dobles (Council of the Fallen, Aghora, Cynic), drummer David Haley has been replaced by Septimiu Hărşan, and bassist George Maier has been replaced by Tilen Hudrap.

Stylistically little has changed since the predecessor (and the one before that) as Pestilence still play technical/progressive death metal and they still sound unmistakably like themselves (major lineup changes or not). The tracks are maybe slightly more catchy and immediate than the material on the two relatively similar sounding predecessors, but it´s not a major change of sound. The number of sharp and powerful death/thrash riffs and rhythms have increased though and the use of dissonance and progressive ideas have decreased some. Listening to a track like "Astral Projection", which features an atmospheric section with a spacey vocoder voice, it´s obvious that Pestilence still are a progressive oriented death metal act. The many jazz/fusion type guitar solos and occasional dissonant riffs point in that direction too. Mameli´s intelligible death/thrash growling is the same as always. He has a fairly distinct sounding voice and vocal style.

"Hadeon" is a well produced, powerful, and detailed sounding album, and the sound production suits the material perfectly. The whole thing reeks an odd spiritual abstract sci-fi atmosphere. An atmosphere which is further enhanced by the lyrics and song titles like "Non Physical Existent", "Multi Dimensional", and "Layers of Reality". Upon conclusion "Hadeon" is another high quality release to the Pestilence name, and while this one (and the other post-2000 Pestilence releases) aren´t quite as groundbreaking as the late 80s/early 90s releases by the band, they still prove that Pestilence are relevant and can produce quality music. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

MARDUK Viktoria

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
It’s always a good day for kvlt second wave black metalheads as well as owners of stock for face paint when a new MARDUK album is released. Staunchly stuck in the 90s and all the better for it, this is probably the one Scandinavian band (with the obvious exception of Immortal) that has really stuck it through despite the trends that have ebbed and flowed in the black metal world since the genre was declared independent and scored its own council at the Disunited Demonic Federation. And for anyone who thinks that black metal has become nothing but wimped out drizzle since Dimmu Borgir, a fine day indeed that they can raise their fists and scream at the top of their lungs, “yeah, now that’s fucking black metal!”

Yep, MARDUK are still going strong with their 14th album VIKTORIA which pretty much follows in the theme and approach of 2015’s “Frontschwein.” Once again we’re treated to a no nonsense blackened brutality bash that finds buzzsaw guitars blazings, blastbeats bantering and Mortus’ recognizable demented vocal style preaching the by now familiarity of Satanism, death, blasphemy and a morbid fascination with World War II and the Third Reich. Graced with a modern production, VIKTORIA allows the second wave black metal to shine through in, well, stereophonic lo-fi wonder! Seriously, it sounds authentically retro but not shitty retro. Somehow all the sounds are balanced into kvlt-o-phonic perfection.

Despite the numerous lineup changes over their almost three decade career, once MARDUK got past their death metal infancy, the black metal sound that they’ve so vehemently latched onto for over twenty years has remained amazingly consistent and on VIKTORIA they pummel out nine tracks of pure in-yer-face no nonsense black metal, 90s style! You know, the kind Darkthrone, Emperor and Ulver ditched so very long ago in order to get all snooty on us! MARDUK remain the working man’s black metal. No silly tricks and trinkets to distract from the raw filth and grime that is dripping from each and every sizzling hot riff as well as every member’s unkempt hair.

With nine tracks that are just shy of the 33 minute mark, VIKTORIA is balls to the wall and gets the job done quick. Starting out with a siren and instant bombastic riffing, the album instantly delivers MARDUK’s promise of remaining the stationary guide of the second wavers while almost everyone else went to a different party. Think of them as the preeminent dark candles that have burned for 25 years while even bands like Immortal went out to play in the rain before coming full circle. While it’s often difficult to gauge a MARDUK album because of the sameness that exhibits their canon, each album has slightly different personalities that emerge through the din.

VIKTORIA, while musically competent as always, seems to capture me a tad less than many of their recent albums. While starting out with a little variation between tracks, all tends to sound a bit repetitive by the end, possibly due to the less than flattering fact that Immortal’s return to second wave glory eclipses MARDUK’s humble origins with their outstanding “Northern Chaos Gods” also released in 2018. While i find VIKTORIA to be a tad less enthralling than “Frontschwein,” this is yet another wild romp in this Babylonian god’s namesake within the metal universe and as far as i’m concerned MARDUK can do no wrong even when they don’t blow away the competition or even themselves.

REVOCATION The Outer Ones

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Let’s face it, Revocation don’t make bad albums. So it is with album number seven, once again they impress with another dose of highly technical death tinged thrash.

They come in from the start with blast beats blazing on “Of Unwordly Origin” but in typical Revocation fashion they never sit on the same riff/drum part for long before changing to something else, usually equally complex and jaw dropping. Each song is full of time/tempo changes and musical twists and turns with each band member excelling at their individual instrument, never content to keep it simple. All this wouldn’t count for much if they didn’t have the songs to back it up but fortunately as always they deliver with compelling riff after riff and blistering yet melodic guitar solos. There always seems to be an instrumental on their albums and here we get “Fathomless Catacombs”, five and half minutes of stunning musical virtuosity. To be honest such is the complexity throughout that any song on here could work as an instrumental. With each song delivering the goods on all levels picking favourites is futile but if pushed I might just go for “Vanitas” where if at all possible, they manage just to just squeeze out a bit more ferocity.

While there’s no great leaps or growth since 2016’s “Great Is Our Sin” with music this good it’s irrelevant. In fact it would be hard to see where Revocation could take their music anywhere else without having a complete genre change as they’ve already at the top of their game and have been for at least four albums now. If you enjoy them then “The Outer Ones” is essential listening for you.

DEICIDE Overtures of Blasphemy

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1989, Deicide are responsible for shaping death metal at every level. When I first came across them I really wasn’t sure what to think of them, as I felt that metal was being taken into an area I personally wasn’t interested in, and slammed their 1997 album ‘Serpents of the Light’. But, over the years my musical tastes have broadened considerably, and in my fifties I now listen to music that may would consider too extreme for their tastes. Over the last decade I have revisited Deicide, and have discovered that I was a little hasty some 20 years ago, and that the band have consistently produced very good albums indeed. Glen Benton is still there of course, as is drummer Steve Asheim, as they have been ever since they formed Amon all those years ago. Guitarist Kevin Quirion has been joined by newcomer Mark English, and the band have yet again produced an album which is a solid example of the genre.

Interestingly, Benton has returned to songwriting, something that hasn’t happened since 1992’s ‘Legion’, with opening track “One with Satan,” “Compliments of Christ,” and “Consumed by Hatred,” the rest of the guys fleshed out the remaining nine tracks. “When we started the writing process,” says Benton, “I said to the guys, ‘This record doesn’t have to be boring, going-nowhere grind-all-the-time death metal. Let’s really focus on the quality of the songs, I wanted them to write tasty licks and catchy hooks this time. And let the vocals give it its definition.” No-one could ever imagine that this was anything but Deicide, Benton makes sure of that, but this is an album that actually contains a great deal of variety and styles. They never really slow it down of course, but there are times when it is more power metal than death, and these changes allow the music to breath and give the listener the opportunity to recover from the attack. If ever an album was meant to be played at 11 then this was it, and Asheim shows that he has lost none of his power and attack over the last 30 years, still pummelling the skins like an album. This may not make them any new fans, but all those who already enjoy Deicide will find that this album is one of their most disparate for a while, and all the better for it.



DYNAZTY Firesign

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band will make an album that’s so game-changing, it can earn the band a ton of new fans who would have otherwise not been interested in their music. For me, one such album is Renatus, the fourth full-length album from Swedish melodic metal band Dynazty. The band had started out as a melodic hard rock band, which isn’t a genre I follow too much, but when Renatus came around I heard people talking about it being a change to a much more modernized power metal sound, mixed with some prog, which of course is right up my alley. I gave it a few listens, and the rest is history. The band immediately became one of my favorites, so much so that I went back to hear some of their previous releases and was surprisingly impressed by them, as well, with vocalist Nils Molin, in particular, proving to be equally amazing singing both power metal and hard rock. When their fifth release, Titanic Mass, came around, I was excited to see how the band would progress, and while that release wasn’t the revelation its predecessor was, it was instead a very fun album that kept the momentum going, simplifying their sound just a bit, while still keeping everything that had worked previously. More importantly, it proved the previous release wasn’t a fluke, and so it left me excited to hear any future releases from the band. The band is now set to release their sixth album, Firesign, later this month, and while at this point it feels like they’ve settled into following an established formula, they’re doing such a good job of it, I can’t help but enjoy every second of the new album, just like with the two previous releases.

The biggest difference between Renatus and Titanic Mass, was that the former felt a bit more complex, with one particular track being much longer and more advanced than anything else they’ve done in their career, while the latter felt more simplified, relying on super catchy choruses and pretty much following the same formula for every track, just with varied sounds and tempos. Firesign is somewhere in the middle, in that the songs are still very straight-forward and extremely catchy, but there are a couple of longer ones, and there are times where the band gets more epic than they’ve ever been before, with an increased use of symphonic elements. At the same time, this is very much a formulaic album in the same way its predecessor was, with the verses being simple and fun and the choruses having huge vocal melodies, with the last run through always being especially epic, giving Nils a chance to steal the show right at the end. Every song on the album does this to great effect, just like on the last album, and while on the one hand, I can see it getting a bit repetitive, the band does it so well, I really can’t help but enjoy it every time. One slight difference I’ve noticed going from album to album is that the previous two were a bit heavier than this one, with the guitars having a more dominant presence, especially on Renatus. There’s still some good riffs and nice melodic solos here, but none of the tracks are quite as rocking as the likes of “Starlight”, or “Divine Comedy”. Instead, there’s an increased use of keyboards, with the light trance elements of Renatus feeling much more prominent on this album, especially on the title track, which almost feels like it could have come from Amaranthe, who of course now have Nils Molin in their ranks. One last change I notice is while Titanic Mass, in particular, leaned heavily towards faster-paced tracks, Firesign goes completely the other way, with the majority of the tracks being more mid-paced. This combined with the reduced guitar work makes for a very relaxing, very melodic kind of metal album, where the melodies truly shine, and so anyone looking for a hard-hitting kind of power metal may be disappointed. Personally, I took some time to adjust to this album, but once I did, I found myself loving it about as much as its predecessor, and almost as much as Renatus. Obviously, the performances are amazing across the board, and the production is quite good, as expected.

The best thing about Dynazty through the years has always been vocalist Nils Molin. Whether he’s singing an aggressive, modern power metal track or a softer melodic hard rock track, his voice is absolutely amazing, striking a perfect balance between being intense and powerful, and soft and melodic. He sings very smoothly when needed, and can deliver a chorus as well as anyone, but at the same time, when the intensity picks up, he absolutely kills it with some extremely powerful vocals, and he puts an incredible amount of emotion into his performances, especially in the later parts of tracks, where he gets to go all out. All of this is as true as ever on Firesign, and he once again delivers an incredible performance, that helps make some already great songs even better. He may very well be my favorite singer in all of metal, right now. He’s certainly high up there.

Another area where the band tends to excel is in the songwriting. I was initially a bit disappointed by Firesign, as the band seemed to be losing a bit of their intensity, but over time the album has grown on me a lot, as I’ve realized it still hits hard in place, but it’s definitely more focused on being an extremely, fun catchy and melodic metal album. It’s almost relaxing, in a weird sort of way. The album gets off to a strong start, with lead single “Breathe With Me”, an energetic, up-tempo track which does a great job of indicating what to expect from the album on the whole. It has the speed of the previous album, as well as some good riffs, though it instantly shows a greater focus on keyboards and symphonic elements, which are especially prominent during the chorus, while Nils shines as always, getting particularly intense during the final run of the chorus. It’s not quite as intense as some of the faster songs on the two previous songs, but it’s definitely just as catchy and even more epic, so it makes for a great start to the album.

Next is one of the tracks that took some time to warm up to me, that being “The Grey”, the second single from the album. It’s a slower paced track, and is very heavily reliant on keyboards, especially during the verses. It’s a very melodic track, with some rather unique vocal lines during the verses, before opening up for the unsurprisingly epic chorus. There’s some nice guitar work hidden in there, especially during the guitar solo in the second half, but it’s definitely a softer track overall, and a great indicator of what the overall album sounds like. The pace picks up again with “In the Arms of a Devil”, one of my personal favorites. It’s a hard-hitting, super fast track, which still shows off some flashy keyboards in spots, while overall being one of the heavier and more explosive tracks on the album, with fun verses and a very powerful chorus, especially the last time through, where Nils delivers some of his best vocals I’ve ever heard. It’s a super addictive track overall, and one of my personal favorites from the band.

Once again, the pace drops off immediately afterward, and this time it doesn’t really pick up again for a while. Next is “My Darkest Hour”, a very slow paced and heavily keyboard driven track, with some nice beats to it. I initially wasn’t too thrilled with it, but the vocal melodies eventually won me over, and Nils is amazing as always, while the guitar solo is also very nice. The first longer track is next in the form of “Ascension”, a track I already liked on first listen, though it has grown on me quite a bit over time, as well. It’s faster than the previous track, moving at a nice gallop, without fully speeding up, and it is perhaps the most epic track on the album, with the symphonic elements being especially noticeable throughout, and it has one of the strongest choruses on the album, which of course only gets even better at the end. It’s a fairly straightforward track but has some complex symphonic arrangements, as well as an excellent solo in the middle. It manages to be one of the heavier tracks here, while still showcasing the more melodic and epic and slightly calmer sound the band has gone for on this album. Next is a track which took several listens to impress me, which is the title track. It opens up with some very bouncy keyboards, and it’s definitely a more playful, very accessible track where the keyboards are extremely dominant. It’s by far the most trance infused track here, and has a chorus and vocal melodies that would not feel out of place on an Amaranthe album at all. I initially thought it seemed out of place here, but over time the stupidly catchy chorus and fun keyboard leads have grown on me, and I now find it to be extremely fun and addictive.

There aren’t a ton of surprises in the back half of the album, though everything is excellent. One of my favorites is next in “Closing Doors”, a speedier track, which still stays fairly calm and melodic through, aside from an intense and powerful chorus, which stands out as the highlight of the song, along with the excellent guitar solo. The next three songs are all more mid-paced, with “Follow Me” being particularly heavy and having some great leads, as well as a fun and upbeat chorus, “Let Me Dream Forever” is one of the most melodic tracks on the album, with an extremely strong chorus, and “Starfall” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, having some very chunky guitar work in quick bursts, while having a nice melodic chorus and overall striking a nice balance between the band’s two extremes of super heavy and super melodic. I initially wasn’t impressed by the last of these, especially the very chunky instrumental section later on, but it has grown on me a lot over time. Closing out the album is “The Light Inside the Tunnel”, one track which certainly did not need to grow on me much. It opens up with some beautiful keyboards and symphonic elements, before settling into a nice groove. It strikes a nice balance between some heavy guitar work and very melodic keyboards while moving at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It has one of the most addictive choruses on the album and is certainly one of the most epic, as well as the longest by a couple of seconds. It was one of my favorites right away, and it’s certainly an excellent way to close out the album.

Overall, Firesign is another excellent album from Dynazty, which once again continues with the sound they began back in 2014 with their breakthrough release, Renatus. The pace is a bit slower than I expected, and many of the tracks don’t hit quite as hard as I expected, but it’s yet another very fun and catchy album, full of huge vocal melodies, excellent keyboards and one of the best vocal performances of the year, as expected from Nils Molin. Fans of the previous two releases are sure to enjoy this as well, while any fan of modern melodic metal or power metal is highly recommended to give this and its two predecessors a listen, as Dynazty has become one of the best in the game over the past half decade.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/08/dynazty-firesign-review/

GRAVE DIGGER The Living Dead

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Few bands can claim to be either as prolific or as consistent as German heavy/power metal band Grave Digger. They’re up there with Rage as two of the most active and consistently great power metal bands, over an extremely long career. Celebrating their 38th anniversary earlier this year, Grave Digger has released 18 albums to date, managing to fit in at least once every two years since 1993’s The Reaper. They technically missed one in between 2014 and 2017 but did release a re-recordings compilation at that time, so one can hardly accuse the band of slacking off. Less than two years after the release of Healed By Metal, the band is back with their nineteenth full-length release, The Living Dead, set for release this week. Their past few releases have been very strong, with the band seemingly turning back the clock to produce music every bit on par with some of their best work in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so I was excited to hear what this new release would bring, and it’s safe to say: Grave Digger isn’t just surviving, they’re thriving, in a big way!

The band has developed their own signature sound over the past 38 years, playing one of the heaviest, most hard-hitting brands of power metal out there, with all their albums having some excellent guitar work and the ever rough and powerful vocals of Chris Boltendahl. Their past few releases, in particular, felt very similar to some of their classics from the 90’s, bringing back a lot of the raw intensity of those releases while adding in a bit more melody to make it just a bit more accessible and more modern sounding. All of this continues with The Living Dead, which once again contains a seamless blend between the band’s speedy power metal and slower heavy metal tracks, striking a perfect balance between the two, while also balancing nicely between heavy and melodic passages. I found Healed by Metal, in particular, had some huge choruses, and it generally felt like the band was making an effort to make their music just a bit more melodic, without sacrificing any of the riffs, and if anything The Living Dead has gone even further in that direction, featuring some of their biggest, most epic choruses ever, while still being as heavy and intense and fans of the band would expect. There’s certainly a ton of tracks here that will instantly remind fans of the band’s classic works while being just a bit more epic and catchy than usual. There are a few passages throughout the album that feel particularly fresh, and then there’s one specific track at the end that really takes things to a whole new level when it comes to surprising listeners, and I’ll get to that one in a while. Suffice to say, it surprised me in a great way. Performances are obviously strong across the board, and though longtime drummer Stefan Arnold parted ways with the band before the release of the album, he delivered one last great performance before doing so.

Obviously, one element of Grave Digger that will never change, because it just wouldn’t be Grave Digger without it at this point, is the voice of Chris Boltendahl. He has a very raw, raspy voice that sounds rather unique within power metal, and he brings a level of aggression and intensity not often found within the genre, yet he manages to make it work equally well on the faster, more power metal focused tracks, as well as the slower, more heavy metal tracks. His voice sounds as strong as ever on Fear of the Living Dead, and he does an amazing job on some of the bigger choruses, proving he still has what it takes to carry a band as well as anyone in the genre.

For a band that’s been around so long, you’d expect Grave Digger to struggle with songwriting at least a little bit, and yet that really isn’t the case. They had a bit of a rough stretch from 2005-2009 with a couple of slightly weaker albums, but they returned to form nicely in 2010 with The Clans Will Rise Again, and have been on another great run ever since. The streak continues with The Living Dead, which is consistently excellent from top to bottom, while still having a few particularly strong tracks that rank among my favorites by the band. First up is one such highlight, that being the title track. The track opens with a baby’s lullaby gone wrong before the riffs kick in and it turns into the kind of hard-hitting, speedy opener the band excels at. It slows down during the verses but still keeps the energy up with some great riffs, before speeding up again, for a huge, extremely epic chorus, which certainly stands among the band’s best in that department in quite some time. It manages to be equal parts, intense, epic, melodic and super catchy, and definitely gets the album off to an amazing start.

Next is “Blade of the Immortal”, a slower but equally hard-hitting track, with some very punishing riffs right off the bat, as well as another super epic and fun chorus, and an excellent instrumental section which has some rather unique melodies coming from Grave Digger. Overall, it’s an excellent track which blends classic Grave Digger with some fresh sounds in a great way. After that, the pace picks up again with “When Death Passes By”, another heavy track which stays pretty fast-paced throughout, delivering another fast and super fun chorus, as well as some excellent lead riffs and very fun verses. It’s certainly one of the more classic feeling songs on the album, in a great way. Some surprises come on “Shadow of the Warrior”, an epic track which starts out with a soft acoustic section, featuring some surprisingly calm vocals from Chris, before the riffs kick in and it starts moving at a nice pace, without going full speed. It has another very melodic, super catchy chorus, which ranks as one of the best on the album, and it has some more rather unique and awesome melodies during its solo section. Another excellent track.

There’s a couple tracks here will silly lyrics, as expected. The first of these is “The Power of Metal”, a fairly fast and hard-hitting track, which again mixes classic Grave Digger riffs with a big chorus. The lyrics get in the way slightly during the verses but are funnier than anything, and the chorus is amazing, so it’s still a great track overall. The other track with kinda silly lyrics is “Fist in Your Face”, which stays silly throughout, but thankfully it’s an excellent track musically, with some extremely powerful riffs and is an example of the band playing slow paced but energetic classic heavy metal at its best. In between those two are two more excellent tracks in “Hymn of the Damned”, another very classic sounding speedy power metal track with raw sounding riffs and a huge, epic chorus, and “What War Left Behind”, a very thrashy power metal track, which may be the most classic sounding track on the whole album It’s certainly very raw fast and energetic, in an awesome way.

Moving to the final stretch of the album, “Insane Pain” is another very raw and heavy track, which stays fairly fast during the verses, but slows down for a fun chorus. It’s not one of my favorite tracks here, but it’s still excellent and has some great riffs. There’s a very good bonus track called “Glory or Grave”, which is very speedy, hard-hitting and has an extremely epic and catchy chorus, so it definitely fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. One song that doesn’t quite fit in, but is a pleasant surprise, is the closing track “Zombie Dance”, released as the second single, after the title track. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat heavy metal track with some heavy riffs during the verses, and a stupidly catchy chorus, but what really makes it stand out is the fact that the band called in Austrian Russkaja to provide some folk influences to the music, delivering some epic chants as well as some backing music that strikes a balance between folk and polka, giving the song its aforementioned “Dance”, which also factors into the lyrics during the chorus. It gets even weirder during the middle section, and overall it’s a very bizarre experiment, which somehow works out perfectly and is probably the most unique and surprising thing the band has done in at least 15 years.

Overall, The Living Dead is an amazing album from heavy/power metal veterans Grave Digger, which continues a big resurgence they started eight years ago, and if anything, takes things even further, thanks to a delightful mix of the kind of classic, hard-hitting power metal and heavy metal the band excels at with some of the more melodic tendencies the band has picked up on more recent albums, as well as one hell of an epic surprise in the closing track. Obviously, it’s a must buy for any existing fans of the band and in case there’s anyone looking for an aggressive mix heavy/power metal who hasn’t heard of Grave Digger yet, this would certainly be a great album to start with.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/22/grave-digger-the-living-dead-review/

THE UNITY Rise

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It can be interesting to see what happens when members of big-name bands are given a chance to spread out and try something else for a while, either because the band is on hiatus or taking an extended break between albums. One recent example of this is German melodic metal band The Unity, formed in 2016, with Gamma Ray leader Kai Hansen busy reuniting with his former band Helloween, allowing for relatively new drummer Michael Ehré and longtime guitarist Henjo Richter to join a new band. The rest of the lineup features four members from the long-defunct hard rock/melodic metal band Love.Might.Kill, who was a pretty solid band in their own right. With such a strong pedigree, The Unity showed promise right out of the gate, and their self-titled debut impressed many when it released in 2017. Personally, I missed out on it at the time, but I have since checked out some songs from it and found it to be quite enjoyable, so I was interested to see if the band could keep the momentum going for the follow-up. Well, almost a year and a half later, their sophomore effort, Rise, is set for release, and it is another killer, containing 12 excellent songs, which offer up a ton of variety, while each being consistently entertaining in their own way.

The first thing that has to be addressed, for new listeners, is the musical direction on Rise. Anyone expecting a pure, classic power metal sound in the style of Gamma Ray is probably better off looking elsewhere, as while that does show up in bursts, it’s certainly not the main focus on this release, or for the band in general. In fact, for the most part, the music here can be described as a logical follow up to what Love.Might.Kill had been doing on their two full-length albums, and many of the songs on this album sound more comparable to modern hard rock like the past few Kissin’ Dynamite releases, than to any kind of power metal. Everything is executed wonderfully, though, with some hard hitting, classic sounding guitar riffs, mixed with some more modernized keyboard melodies and some strong vocal melodies. There’s definitely a classic feel to the guitar sound at times, but many of the tracks have a more modern hard rock/melodic metal vibe to them, with a few even being rather radio-friendly, while others hit a bit harder, without losing the melodies or catchy choruses. This is a very vocal driven album overall, though every musician in the band has given a great performance, as expected, with both guitarists keyboardist Sascha Onnen, in particular, being given plenty of chances to shine. Songwriting is quite varied, with a couple of speedy tracks that come close to power metal, while having some slight modern hard rock twists to them, some tracks that almost come close to radio rock territory, one ballad, and a bunch of nicely paced, heavy but suitably catchy and relaxing melodic metal numbers. It’s the latter that dominates the album, and the band excels at them, for sure.

It had been a while since I had last heard anything by Love.Might.Kill, and I didn’t check the full lineup before playing the album for the first time, so initially, I felt vocalist Gianbattista Manenti would be a perfect fit for a melodic rock band, so when I looked up the full band info and discovered his identity, I wasn’t surprised in the least. He has a very smooth voice, which excels during the melodic portions, but he can also sing with a ton of grit and power, with a very deep voice that works perfectly for a hard rock or heavy metal sound. He especially excels during the slower tracks, though he still sounds great on the few power metal portions as well, and simply does a great job throughout the album, being one of the band’s biggest assets.

One of the biggest strengths of Rise is in its songwriting, as it manages to be varied enough to constantly keep the listener guessing as to what will come next, as well as being consistently entertaining throughout, no matter what style the band is playing at the time. Following a brief intro track, the album kicks off with “Betrayal”, an up-tempo, high energy track that combines the speed and vocal melodies of a power metal track, with some decidedly classic hard rock sounding guitar riffs, which makes for a nice combination. It’s a fast-paced, very fun track with energetic verses and a huge, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Gianbattista gets to shine. It gets the album off to an excellent start and is a great track on its own. Next is “You Got Me Wrong”, a slightly upbeat, though more restrained track, which has more of those classic hard rock riffs, while being more melodic overall. It moves at a nice pace, without really speeding up, and definitely falls into more of a typical melodic metal sound, with another excellent chorus. Perhaps the most accessible track on the album is next, that being the second single “The Storm”. It’s a slower, very relaxed track, driven largely by keyboards and vocals. It’s a very melodic track, with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies throughout. There’s a slight hard rock edge to it, but it’s definitely a very accessible track, which I could easily imagine being played on the radio.

The longest track on the album is “Road to Nowhere”, which has a pretty cool voiceover intro, before the band kicks in and it turns into a hard-hitting, mid-paced melodic metal track, which moves at a nice tempo, without quite going full throttle. The riffs hit harder than on most tracks here, and it’s definitely a darker feeling track compared to most, while still having an excellent chorus. It’s definitely one of the tracks where the two guitarists get a chance to shine and are one of my favorites on the album. Next is the fast-paced, rather playful track “Welcome Home”, which has a slight power metal feel to it, while also still having some hard rock in its guitars sound. It’s another fairly accessible and fun track, with fun verses, a great chorus, and a sense of disrespecting the listeners’ intelligence, in a sort of tongue and cheek way, having to remind them when the second verse is about to come in. Aside from that oddity, the track is actually great overall, and of my favorites on the album. As expected, after a couple heavier tracks the pace slows down once again, with the very melodic, slow paced “All That is Real”, a largely keyboard-driven track, with a great guitar solo in the second half, though overall it’s another very accessible and radio-friendly track.

Moving towards the end, lead single “No Hero” is a hard-hitting, classic heavy metal track, with some slight modern touches. It moves a nice pace, features some very heavy riffs and a fun, catchy chorus, and is definitely one of the most instantly engaging, classic metal feeling tracks on this album, sure to please fans looking for something a bit heavier compared to most of the album. Following that, the band once again changes direction completely, offering up the lone ballad of the album, “The Willow Tree”. It’s a fairly simple track, with soft guitar work accompanying the vocals most of the way through, though it has an excellent solo in the middle, and overall it’s a very nice track which serves as a great showcase for Gianbattista, with the chorus, in particular, being amazing. Next is “Above Everything”, which is another nice mid-paced melodic metal track, with some great keyboards and a great chorus, and then comes the last speedy track of the album, “Children of the Light”, a very heavy guitar driven track, which is the closest the album comes to sounding like classic power metal, especially during the chorus. The band brings a harder rock infused sound back for “Better Days”, an upbeat track which moves at a decent pace, and it has a lot of energy to it, with some very smooth and fun verses, and one of the best choruses on the album, helping to make it one of my favorites. Lastly, we have the closing track “L.I.F.E.”, a slow-paced melodic metal track, with some excellent vocals, especially during the chorus. It’s a fairly soft and melodic track, relying heavily on the vocals, and Gianbattista delivers a great performance as always, helping to end the album on a high note.

Overall, Rise is an excellent sophomore release, which proves The Unity is here to stay, and that they’re capable of standing on their own and releasing some excellent music. In fact, while I enjoy classic Gamma Ray as much as anyone, I’d go as far as to say I enjoy this more than anything that band has done is well over a decade, maybe even going as far back as 1999’s Powerplant, as I find the songwriting here to be far more consistent and engaging, and the performances are just as strong all around. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some nice hard rock infused power metal, some mid-paced heavy metal crunchers, some slow paced melodic metal, a ballad and one track which I’d describe as classic power metal. Fans of melodic metal and hard rock with a slight power metal touches are sure to enjoy this, and overall I find it to be a very pleasant surprise. With Kai Hansen seemingly busy for a while yet, I hope The Unity can continue to produce more great albums in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/23/the-unity-rise-review/

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH And Justice for None

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Five Finger Death Punch albums are often fairly similar in terms of quality, musical direction and performance. Most of them feature bouncy groove-metal riffs balanced with melodic modern-metalcore loud/quiet dynamics and easy on the ear radio friendly production jobs. Maybe a ballad or two for variety.

Not all their albums are absolutely identical, and for example their debut is faster and rawer than their fifth album, but there is a general similarity between a lot of them and the basic rule of thumb is that if you like one of them, you’ll probably like them all. They do have a distinct formula if we’re being honest here.

For me, their first two albums and also Got Your Six are the strongest, and up until this point, The Wrong Side Of Heaven’ 2 and American Capitalist are the weaker ones in the catalouge, as there are possibly too many ballads and light tracks on them and not enough fast songs for my own personal tastes, but to be honest that’s all if you are getting nit picky and there’s not too much difference between them unless you sit there and analyse them.

In 2018; two years after it was actually recorded due to some record company shenanigans and legal wranglings and after a gap filling greatest-hits compilation, the band released their seventh full-length studio album, And Justice For None. You can get it in a standard edition, or one with the new songs they added to that aforementioned greatest-hits albums, the catchy single ‘Trouble’ and the cover song ‘Gone Away’ which is a reworking of a The Offspring song (which to be fair they put on the standard edition anyway in the end), as well as two further bonus tracks from the same era, ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘Save Your Breath.’

Now; remember when I said there’s too many ballads and lighter moments on the albums I’d rate as being not their best? Well, this one has two lighter songs that are both covers. It also has the ballad single ‘When The Seasons Change’ preceded by the very good but still ballady ‘I Refuse.’ It even ends on a power ballad with ‘Will The Sun Ever Rise?’ It also has the strange lighter electronic tracks ‘Stuck In My Ways’ & ‘Bloody’ which feel like a play to get on TV advertisements and are a lot lighter and less powerful than my favourite songs by the band.

Hey; I am no ballad-phobic caveman. I love power metal for goodness sake, where you can’t move for ballads. Its just, when there’s one very good ballad on an album, it is a nice piece of variety. When its like two thirds of the whole record it sort of weighs it down and they loose their efficacy. If it had only been say, ‘I Refuse’ for example, that would be fine. If there was only one cover it might’ve been aright. If they only had one song experimenting with electronics, it would have stood out. As it stands, its all a bit too much and it feels like overkill.

There are some groovier, heavier and faster tracks here. ‘Rock Bottom,’ has a rumbling menace to it, ‘It Doesn’t Matter,’ ‘Fire In The Hole’ and ‘Top Of The World’ are the traditional Five Finger Death Punch sound and the opener ‘Fake’ is pretty strong. There’s stuff to like here for sure, don’t let me make you think its a complete departure. I guess the album is a bit overlong though, and a bit unfocused. It also hits the strange ‘make-your-mind-up’ sweet spot between staying too close to the old formula at times and experimenting with new stuff too much, without really committing to either. The problem is that they don’t really suit the new stuff. Again, ‘Bloody’ is an excellent example of what I did not expect from this band. Another song that doesn’t sound like the band is the controversial lead single ‘Sham Pain’ with its lyrics basically complaining about being on tour and sounding ungrateful.

When I first got this album, it really felt like a let down after Got Your Six, and I will admit that it has grown on me a lot more with each repeat listen. If I hadn’t bought it and felt guilty about the money, I might not have listened to it quite so often and allowed it to grow on me. Even with this appreciation-raising slow burn, this is easily my least favourite album from the group. It may be due to the circumstances in which it was written and recorded, burned out and before getting clean and with the record label woes, it may have all impacted upon the quality of the record. Maybe the next one will be great. Or again, maybe its just a natural dip from a band working that hard pumping albums out and touring so often. They dipped a little on the fifth album and rose higher again on the sixth. Maybe it is just a natural fluctuation. Either way, while I am still going to be listening to this album in full over and over again to try and feel like I got my money’s worth, I feel like I won’t ever like it as much as Way Of The Fist or Wrong Side Of Heaven part 1. If you aren’t an obsessive fan, don’t feel bad if you want to skip this one, and if you are a new fan or aren’t a fan yet, I’d advise you leave this one until last, and try something like War Is The Answer first.

ABORTED TerrorVision

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Formed more than 20 years ago, Belgian brutal death metal act Aborted are back with their tenth full-length release, following on from 2016’s ‘Retrogore’. One always knows what Aborted are about, and with this album they deliver, they really deliver. From the gentle introduction through the chaos and hellstorm they unleash, this is quite some album. It is easily the best album I have heard from them, and I have seen others also asking if it is better than their 2003 monster ‘Goremageddon: The Saw and the Carnage Done’, but everyone agrees it is the best album they have released in years.

The drums are being driven by a demented human octopus, the blast beats are everywhere, and there are many times when this album is moving into grind territory, such is its ferocity and unparalleled violence. The guitars crunch, the vocals come from the gut, but just when one thinks it can’t get any heavier they slow it down, or lighten it up, all so that when they come back and put the hammer down everyone gets punched with the change in pace and attack. They remind me somewhat of Cryptopsy in the way they understand dynamics and vary the pace, of Nile in the way they can bring the technical element to bear when they need to, and Carcass and Napalm Death in terms of unrelenting attack when it is required. Luckily, the production is up to the job, and the result is a brutal death metal album that any fan of the genre definitely needs to get.

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