2013-15 reviews (I-P)

To bands/labels/managements submitting material:

What you get is my honest opinion, so don’t expect every third album to receive 90 out of 100 points. There is simply way too much crap out there, even in the genres I love. Come on, almost every average release out there receive top scores in one or more webzines these days. My task is to help the readers by singling out the releases that deserves some extra attention. If you can’t live with mye critical approach, don’t bother sending me promos! If you are allright with it, hit my mailbox with your stuff (physical promos preferred):

leifkr(at)online.no

Mail address: Leif Kringen, Melbystien 3, N-2818 Gjovik, Norway

Ichabod Krane “Day Of Reckoning” (Pure Steel)ICHABOD-KRANE-Day-of-Reckoning-400

Can I really manage another Pure Steel release? Is “Day Of Reckoning” as dead average as most of the other stuff this label is pushing on us? Is the production better compared to the almost unlistenable Project Terror-album? Yes, yes and yes are the answers. Unfortunately this is another one of those albums, that even though its going to receive top scores in some webzines like all releases nowadays does, will  go on to sell a couple of hundred copies before everyone forget about it. While the album sounds a bit better than Project Terror’s “Conquistador”, “Day Of Reckoning” also has some major flaws. The flat production takes a bit of the edge off the music, making it all sound a little too safe. Music like this really need a heavy and powerful production, this album simply doesn’t have one.

Ichabod Krane’s claim to fame is the fact that they feature a couple of members and former members of bands like Advocate (killer band!), Halloween and Sleepy Hollow. Singer Jeff Schlinz is the least known musician in the band although his main band Wülfhook will surely get some attention as soon as they move on from the demo stage. I remember him sounding quite impressive on the Wülfhook-demos, but I don’t feel this recording is able to bring out the very best of his voice.

Clocking in at 40 minutes, “Day Of Reckoning” contains ten tracks of mainly mid tempo oriented traditional US metal. There are attempts at adding melodies, but none that sticks out. The songwriting lacks a bit of focus, and you’ll find yourself struggling to remember individual tracks off this album, even after five or more listens. The label might talk about catchy choruses, but to be honest I can’t find a single one here. Surely a matter of taste, but when its hard to distinguish the choruses from the verses, you have a problem on you hands.

Schlinz’ high pitched vocals recall Rob Halford at times, but his voice could and should have been more prominent in the mix. He also should try to sound more diverse, as he does more or less the same stuff all the way through this album. Ichabod Krane lacks imagination and creativity in the song writing, resulting in all the songs sounding dull and boring without a single highlight. As much as I adore US metal, I can only suggest you forget this one as soon as possible. (45/100)

In Solitude «Sister» (Metal Blade) InSolitude-Sister

It certainly took some time getting this review together. Partly because the album is rather different compared to the last album, and partly because it threads some waters that I am not too familiar with. So don’t expect the usual list of reference bands here, since I am proud to admit I have close to zero knowledge about the countless goth rock-and post rock-bands that are namedropped in most other reviews of this album.

I mentioned that it’s different to the excellent “The World. The Flesh. The Devil” which was the best album released by a metal band two years ago. But wait a minute, wasn’t that album also quite different from the debut? Is really the difference between “The World. The Flesh. The Devil” and “Sister” more remarkable than between the former and “In Solitude”? I am really not sure. I agree that “Sister” is less metal than its predecessor, but come on, we’re hardly talking about a revolution. You can surely hear that we’re dealing with the same band. Even if singer Pelle more or less has quit using the falsetto, he is still remisicient of King Diamond when he operates in his mid-range, and songs like the heavy and slow creeping “Inmost Nigredo”, “Horses In The Ground” which includes a guest appearance by female vocalist Jarboe and “Pallid Hands” which was a song l liked already at first spin, still have enough metal in them. At the same time there is some different stuff here, like “Death Knows Where” which has a strong 70s vibe and the shortest song on offer, the acoustic “He Knows”.  The latter doesn’t do much for me, but it’s really not that important as long as I enjoy pretty much everything else on offer.

I still rate the second album a little higher, but In Solitude has managed to move on and do something different while maintaining the dark aura that has always surrounded the band. How many bands manage to carve out an even fresher and more original sound without losing grip on their main strength, the totally killer song writing? For this alone, In Solitude deserves some credit.  The instrumental side of things is really tastefully done. Many of the riffs come with some incredible hooks and the solos are never simply show offs, but executed in a way that fit the moods of the songs to perfection.

The opinion will surely differ on this one, and my guess is that some people simply will be put off by the fact that the band has moved away from their metal roots. If you can look past that, and enjoy this album for what it is, a dark blend of rock, hard rock and metal from the seventies, eighties and nineties, you will most likely be fascinated by how much there are to discover here. This is certainly not an album that you will lose interest in this side of Christmas. (85/100)

Invasion “…And So It Begins” (Pure Steel)Front_cover 400

Having released two demos several years ago, Invasion is a quite surprising addition to the fast-growing Pure Steel-rooster. On their first full length release, the three Swedish guys have included some tracks from their demos as well as some newer tunes. The guys have been, or are still involved in a few other Swedish acts, most notably, guitarist Kalle Sundin recently joined  Gehennah as their new bass player.

Musically we’re dealing in fast and intense old school thrash metal. The roots are to be found in the eighties, but listening to “…And So It Begins”, I can’t free myself from thinking about the Swedish scene of the nineties as well, with  bands like “Slaughter Of The Soul”-era At The Gates and Carnal Forge. Overall, Invasion is probably leaning more towards the Teutonic scene than Bay Area. Especially the angry, raspy vocals borrow heavily from the Germans, as it is clearly in the Mille/Angelripper-tradition. I have to admit I struggled a bit with the drum sound to begin with, but have more or less adjusted to it. Talking about the drums, there are some small hints of death metal in this album, most of them comes from the drummer who adds some blast beats to a few of the tracks. The production is powerful and everything sound crisp and clear. Old school-maniacs should be warned that this is not your typical untight  and sloppy stuff, neither is the production very raw.

The album is a collection of 13 fast thrash metal rippers, most of them quite enjoyable. “Prophecy” is one of the best, a song where the band uses both melody and brutal blast beats to create three short minutes of thrashing intensity.. The playing time is just around the 41 minute mark, so the songs are short and to the point. The raspy vocals along with the tempo and some not to distinct melodies makes this a catchy affair, but at the same time the end result is a little predictable. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this generic, but the music surely lacks a little bit of personality. To conclude, Invasion isn’t a very original band and the material isn’t very diverse, but “…And So It Begins” is still a nice “modern” old school thrash-affair.  (65/100)

Iron Curtain «Jaguar Spirit» (Heavy Forces)iron-curtain-jaguar-spirit

I bought “Road To Hell”, the first full length from this Spanish quartet along with Demona’s “Metal Through Time”, the latter being so completely horrible that I tried to forget about the purchase as fast as possible. Drifting into the more dusty and seldom visited corners of my record collection went both albums, although the stuff on “Road To Hell” was miles better than what Demona could offer. Well, judging by this new album, I should probably dig it out again. Sure, “Jaguar Spirit” is no classic, but it’s still a highly enjoyable record that I bet will leave most heavy rockers with a big grin on their face. The reason? Well, this music brings forth memories from the era we all know and love, The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. The guitarists spit out riff after riff, while the drummer and the bassist deliver quite simple, yet highly effective work. Music like this should always be topped with a great singer to bring out the best in the straight forward material, but unfortunately Iron Curtain doesn’t quite have the vocalist to do so. Mike has a rough edge to his voice that is cool enough, but a more flexible singer would have given the songs more life and lifted the material to the next level. Sometimes I am struck by the same feeling I get when I hear Lemmy of Motorhead trying to sing the band’s more melodic tunes. It certainly adds a bit of charm to the overall expression, but to be honest, it doesn’t really sound particularly great.

There is arguably a lot of energy invested in this album, and you can almost picture the band drowned in sweat in a warm studio as they were recording these tunes.  As always with a band doing straight forward heavy metal, the diversity isn’t exactly huge. The tempo is often the same as well, resulting in quite a few of the songs sounding rather similar. The guys should definitely work on giving the songs a stronger identity. Even though some of them are quite enjoyable, stronger and more varied choruses can be one way to do it. Also, Iron Curtain sounds quite similar to other bands on the NWOBHM retro trip. To really stick out, the band needs to improve and highlight the elements that are most important in their sound. The album is quite coherent with most of the material at the same level, but I feel the title track deserves special mention, mainly for its intensity level. The band shows good taste by covering Weapon’s explosion of a tune, “Set The Stage Alight”. It’s also a good choice of a cover song, as the original is quite close to the style of music Iron Curtain performs.

“Jaguar Spirit” proves that Iron Curtain can be both energetic and enjoyable. With even stronger and more original sounding material as well as improved vocals next time, the band can probably be considered a real force among the newer European metal acts.(70/100)

Iron Dogs “Free And Wild” (Dying Victims)iron dogs - front cover-large

Okay, I’ll admit it straight away. I am not a big fan of Iron Dogs’ debut. The performance was too sloppy and too hectic for its own good, and I was also a little put off by the vocal performance and the songwriting. I hoped for some progression the second time around, and I guess I got some. “Free And Wild” is a better album than the debut. If we start with the production, there is no massive changes. The drums sound a bit stale and the guitars are thin, but it doesn’t really detract from the overall impression. The duo tries to weigh up with plenty of charm and enthusiasm, and they almost manage to create something worth listening to.

Yeah,  you read right, this time Iron Dogs is reduced to a duo, with only drummer Dan Lee helping out guitarist, singer and bass player Jo Capitalicide.  The music is more or less the same though, as Dan an Jo still grinds out their rowdy heavy metal with hints of punk and speed. I won’t try to name references this time, just think about the heavy metal of the early and mid eighties, the stuff put out by the likes of Neat, Ebony, Metal Blade, Roadrunner. Even though I don’t think they manage to capture exactly the same (and right) feeling, Iron Dogs could probably have been one of of those labels, if they weren’t 25-30 years late.

The opener of the album, “Firebird” is a fast one, quite similar to the first track of the debut, “Razors Of Doom”, but a bit more melodic. The tempo is brought down for “Kingdom Of Steel” which is a mid tempo tune with a dark atmosphere where Jo uses the deeper regions of his register. I like the fact that the song is completely different from the opener, but overall it’s just an okay track. The best tune is probably  “Adversity”,  a cool song that sounds a bit like simpler, stripped down version of  Slough Feg. The title track is a letdown though, being way too predictable and hectic with a really weak chorus. I am not a big fan of Jo’s vocals in this song either, as he sounds quite uninspired and nearly speaks just as much as he is singing. Generally I could have wished for more enthusiasm in the vocal delivery.Jo has that bit of originality  though, and I guess some people might find   the way his voice cracks in the chorus of “Storm Warning”charming.

Most of the material on the debut struck me as a bit unstructured and messy, and fortunately this album is a bit easier to follow. However, the quality of the song writing isn’t that much better. For instance, I found the last three or four songs to be quite average. Not bad, but compared to the two best songs on offer here (“Firebird” and “Adversity”), nothing more than fillers. Some of the guitar work , for instance in “Cannibal Death Cult” is a little too unspectacular leaving me with a sense that I have heard it before, maybe even on this particular album .The best part about the album music wise, is probably the bass playing, as Jo makes it all interesting with his small, exciting runs.   I am a huge, huge fan of everything obscure from the eighties, but that certainly doesn’t mean I have to worship every band that tries to capture something from this era, does it? (65/100)

Iron Jaws “Guilty Of Ignorance” (Pure Steel)Cover_Iron Jaws 400

Imagine what it feels like getting your leg caught in an Iron Jaw, feeling bones break and skin crack while you are screaming at the top of your head. Listening to the band Iron Jaws is a different experience though, and nowhere near as powerful and sharp as the teeth of the iron jaw. The Italian quartet, based in the city of Asti, located in the northwest of Italy, certainly know what they’re doing and manages to come up with a decent slap of old school, mostly speed metal-oriented material, but there is still some aspects about the band that doesn’t work as well as I would have liked them to. For an album that goes in this direction, there is hardly a better title for an opening number than “No Speed Limit”, and while this is clearly one of the strongest tracks on offer, there is something missing. The sound doesn’t feel quite right, and while the info sheet from the label singles out the drums as an improved area, as they now have a “much more devastating impact” compared to the debut, I am not satisfied. They might sound better compared to “Louder Is Not Enough”, the band’s 2010-album, which I have to admit I haven’t had a chance to listen to, but in my opinion they don’t do the quite decent material justice, as they sound way to clinical and simply unnatural.  Also, the guitars could have sounded a lot more powerful.

The singer, Mixy has an angry, snarling approach adding some aggression to the overall picture, but there are some amateurish and heavily accented background vocals here and there that spoil the enjoyment a bit.  “H.B.M.B” and “Speed Metal Command” are probably the most annoying examples, but this type of vocal also leaves its mark on the otherwise okay title track. The cover version of Hallow’s Eve’s classic “Metal Merchants” is too clean and lifeless, and doesn’t do anything for me apart from documenting that the band has excellent taste when it comes to metal.

Apart from the objections I have against the sound, the songs are simply not memorable enough and even though the band has probably listened to all the right records and are performing this kind of metal with all the right intentions, they’re not really capable of recreating the same atmosphere as on the classics that inspired them.  Neither is the material diverse enough to keep me interested throughout the album. If you are really desperate for some fast and catchy Italian metal, Asgard is a far better alternative than Iron Jaws. (55/100)

Iron Kingdom “Gates Of Eternity” (Self-financed)ik

A few years back I used to do around 150 reviews (in Norwegian) yearly for Scream magazine. Nothing but madness of course, but at least it helped me keeping up to date with almost everything that was released that could be labeled as heavy metal. Nowadays, with two small kids hanging onto my arms and legs for most of the day, I don’t have time to check out every band that releases albums on their own, thus Iron Kingdom from British Columbia in Canada, almost went under my radar.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to the band’s debut when it was released towards the end of 2011, but luckily the band sent me both this one as well as this year’ offering “Gates Of Eternity”.

Countless US metal-bands have performed music that is inspired by Iron Maiden. Steel Prophet is a name that springs to mind, a band that did this very successfully (we’re talking music, not sales here) during the nineties, and since we’re already in Canada, what about Deaf Dealer and their debut “Keeper Of The Flame” as well as the absolutely killer, unreleased second album “Journey Into  Fear”? As you probably already have understood, Iron Kingdom has also listened to their fair share of Maiden. “Gates Of Eternity” contains plenty of galloping rhythms, twin guitars and a bass that is very distinct in the mix. The vocals of Chris Osterman are different though, nasal, thin and high pitched, but never what I would call strained. I like his voice a lot, and it certainly adds identity to the band’s musical expression which, to be honest, isn’t very original.

What about the songs then? Well, most of them are very enjoyable. Let me guide you through a few of the key tracks: The speedy and catchy opener “At The Gates” is a definitive highlight, the riffing here reminds me a little bit of the godly Destiny’s End. The song is quite dynamic too, with a calmer middle part. “Chains Of Solitude” is another solid one, featuring some really cool axe work and a nice chorus. “Demon Of Deception” is mostly an up tempo tune, but illustrates the diversity on offer here, by introducing a much slower, heavier, some might call it doomier, chorus. Great stuff, even though the chorus would have been even more impressive if the singer had a fuller, more powerful voice. The 15 minutes epic, “Egypt – The End Is Near” has some great parts, but is stretched a bit too long, resulting in the album clocking in at nearly an hour. Some songs like “Guardian Angel” (A lot of Fates Warning to be heard here, especially in the Arch-like vocal delivery) and “Crowned In Iron” are solid stuff, nothing more, nothing less.

Overall this is an enjoyable and energetic sniff of mid-eighties heavy metal. The solos are ripping and the double guitar work is well executed. It’s also an album that sounds good to be a self financed affair. However, I feel the drums, played by Chris’ sister Amanda, could have been more defined and powerful. As I mentioned, the music isn’t exactly original, but I guess the third album will show us even more of what this band is about.  The packaging also deserves a mention, especially in times when many people are downloading music off the internet. Sporting a really cult front cover, “Gates Of Eternity” is a well done release. The booklet includes lyrics and lots of pictures, something that adds to the experience. Visit the band’s site (www.iron-kingdom.com) and order this one if you are into underground heavy metal with a strong Maiden-vibe. (75/100)

Ironsword “None But The Brave” (Shadow Kingdom)a3106078406_10

I guess it’s safe to say that Ironsword is one of the best bands that has entered the scene during the past 15 years or so. I remember receiving the second promo tape for review in Scream Magazine  in 1998 or something, and already back then, the band showed some promise. The debut album even more, while both “Return Of The Warrior” as well as “Overlords Of Chaos” were nothing less than outstanding releases, and among the very best that was released in 2004 and 2008 respectively. For quite a while, I feared we would never get the chance to listen to another album from Tann and his compatriots, and when the album was announced some months ago, I got really excited. My hands were trembling badly when I put the CD on, but I soon relaxed. This was the same Ironsword I knew and loved before, performing raw, heavy and catchy epic metal.

It’s all about taste of course, but I love Tann’s’ vocals. I can understand that he is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me its simply impossible to picture Ironsword without this raw, hoarse and rough roars. In my opinion, the vocals add strength and power to the already strong and powerful music. The songs themselves are real anthems, with most of the time, rather simple, yet very effective and powerful choruses (“Kings Of The Night” anyone?) that simply deserves to be sung along to.

Apart from the opener “Forging The Sword” and “Calm Before The Storm” which both carry more than a slight resemblance to Manilla Road mostly in the vocals during the choruses of course, but also in tempo for instance, I really enjoy the title track, which is slower and darker song than many of the songs on the album. I love the way it creeps and crawls along, with heavy guitars and drums and this dark commanding chorus. Also the reference to Omen’s “Death Rider” is pretty cool!

As always the songwriting is quite consistent. A song like “Army Of Darkness leaves you in total exhaustion after pumping your fist in the air and yelling along with yet another commanding, masculine chorus. I wrote “quite consistent”, because there are a couple of tracks maybe, where it feels like the band is mainly going through the routine. They follow more or less the same pattern and style as the rest, but simply fail to impress as much as the better songs on the album.  “Eye For An Eye” is one example, the slow “Betrayer” another one. When the album is finished you are also left with the impression that the band used a lot of the strongest songs on the first half of the disc.

Apart from the first half being a bit more impressive than the second, the only minor problem I have with this album, is that I feel it could have been a little more diverse, as many of the songs are held in the same tempo and have rather similar choruses and structures. That being said, the transparent, yet heavy production where you, for a change can hear all the cool stuff the bass player is doing, is very fitting. All in all, this is a mighty fine comeback from Portugal’s finest. (80/100)

Johnny Touch “Inner City Wolves” (Shadow Kingdom)JOHNNY%20TOUCH

Viewed from the outside, it certainly seems like a lot things are happening within the heavy metal circles of Australia at the moment. Bands that so far haven’t reached further than the demo stage, like Tarot and my new faves Outcast, are heavily covered here at Metal Squadron, while I’ve just started listening to the upcoming album by fellow hopefuls Convent Guilt. Out of the mentioned acts, Johnny Touch is definitely closest to Convent Guilt, as “Inner City Wolves” can only be labelled as pure heavy metal. Some might characterize this kind of straight forward, riff based heavy metal as simple, but done the right way, this is a genre that offers a lot of enjoyment.

Having spun “Inner City Wolves” countless times during the last month or so, my feelings towards this album have never been static. I started out being quite impressed by the material on offer here, had a shorter spell were things pretty much turned around and I found the album a lot less enjoyable, and ended up writing this review pretty much somewhere in the middle of these two polarized views. The songs themselves aren’t bad, but the overall impression is that the material lacks aggression and bite. Maybe it’s due to the dry and simplistic production, but most of the time this kind of music works rather well without huge walls of guitars and thundering drums. That being said, “Inner City Wolves” could have benefited from a bit larger sound without losing the authenticity. Especially the rhythm guitars could have sounded more powerful.

The general performance, both when it comes to the voice and the instruments also feels a bit restrained, as the band seems to hold things back a little. It’s maybe not in the nature of this type of heavy metal to have massive choruses, but the songs could also have stood much stronger individually with bigger hooks or fist pumping choruses. The underwhelming “Bitch Of A Son” is just one example. The arrangements also feel quite sparse and similar, adding to the feeling that you are listening to one long song rather than a collection of individual tracks. The best part about this album is the riffs, which, at least partly, shows that the band can come up with something that sounds fresh and inspired, like in the opener “It’s Alright”. I also enjoy some of the more epic songs that show a bit of dynamics, like “End Of Daze or the closer “Black Company” which includes some acoustic, Crimson Glory-like, passages as well as some heavier riffs compared to most of the songs on offer here. The shredding solos in for instance “The Metal Embrace” is also a highlight. “Inner City Wolves” sounds honest enough, and appears to be played from the heart, but neither the material nor the soaring vocals are quite strong enough. (65/100)

Lady Beast ”Lady Beast” (Infernö)

lady beast artwork 500I really miss a killer, contemporary, female fronted heavy metal band. You know, something in the vein of Acid, Masque, Chastain, Malteze or Black Knight.  Canada’s Mortillery is a very cool band and probably the best of the new ones, but their music is just as close to thrash and punk as pure heavy metal. Christian Mistress is a promising act too, but need a couple of more recordings under their belt while Cauchemar sounds decent whenever they enter a studio, but so far has trouble cutting it on stage.  However, none of these are up to the same standard as the killer acts from 25 years ago. The situation leaves the podium open for new bands to enter, and while I have listen to too many weak Warlock-copies during the last ten years, I have never given up discovering something as good as the aforementioned bands.

Lady Beast isn’t there yet, and they might struggle to reach the same heights, but at least they prove with their debut that they have something to offer. I have to admit I missed out when the band released “Lady Beast” themselves on vinyl last summer.  If you also did, here is another chance to hear what this female fronted, Pittsburgh-based quintet is up to. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. So the quality of the songs might not be overwhelming, but I enjoy the fact that the band has their own musical expression. Quite an achievement as we’re dealing with traditional heavy metal here.

The album consists of eight self penned, rocking tracks that make fun listening to. The songs are short, catchy and to the point, and I really enjoy the intense riffing in “Lady Beast” and “The Lost Boys”.  On a positive note, Lady Beast, also has a certain amount of charming naivety topped with lots of enthusiasm.  Combine these two elements, and you have something quite infectious. Until next time, I hope the band do something with the rather poor and flat drum sound. Also a bit more identity both to the overall expression as well as the single tracks, can’t harm.

The CD-version has an extra track in addition to the eight on the vinyl, and as often before, it’s a cover. Unfortunately, I can’t say that Lady Beasts take on “Ram It Down” by Judas Priest is a success. While the melodic vocals of Deborah Levine work very well in the band’s own compositions, her voice clearly lacks the power and presence of the original which a cover version always will be compared to. In fact, I think this release would have been better off without this extra song, even though it’s  a short one in the first place, originally clocking in a bit short of 28 minutes. (70/100)

Lucid Dreams “Lucid Dreams” (Rockworks)LD

A late 2013 release, this album by the Norwegian act, Lucid Dreams, would most likely not have been reviewed if it wasn’t for the fact that a) the band is from my homecountry, a scene that needs all the support it can get and b) the guys sent me a physical copy of the CD. I am not sure if this is the right place to say it, but the CDs I receive physically will always be a priority, as sending one shows that the band is ready to offer both time and money to get their stuff reviewed, something that has already gotten pretty unusual as now it’s far too easy to click and send a large file for a review.

That being said, I am not willing to do too many compromises with what I review, so don’t expect me to write about everything that gets in my way.  Lucid Dreams has existed for some years already, but this is their first album. The six musicians are no newcomers, but most of them can’t brag about being in this or that band. The drummer, Kjell Rune Hagen, is probably the best known among the bunch, having earlier bashed skins for both Tristania and Trail Of Tears. The singer, Fredrik Sindsen is also in Trendkiller, who has been part of the scene here in Norway for a long, long time now.

The main reason why I hesitated reviewing this release, is the fact that it’s not a full blown metal album. The guys deal mostly in hard rock but blends it with metal and adds some progressive touches here and there. Sindsen has a powerful, rough, towering and soulful voice, and his performance lifts the album from mediocre to something I can listen to and enjoy quite a bit, at least when I am in the right mood. The album, produced by guitarist Rune Gutuen and mixed and mastered by veteran Tommy Hansen at the legendary Jailhouse, sounds both powerful and crisp, a near perfect sound to this type of music.

The album contains an intro and 11 songs, and I feel  this is two or three too many, as a few of the tracks are not up to the desired standard. The whole thing gets off to a flying start with “Cassie’s Escape”, the first real song,  probably the most “metal” track on the album, an uptempo, bombastic and quite powerful affair. “For Your Love” is also a strong stadium hard rocker, while the first single  is “Daisy Dukes”, an American hardrocker in the vein of Van Halen or Extreme. The song has lots of energy, but  isn’t really my cup of tea.

Overall, the band sounds really professional, and could easily have been mistaken for an American hard rock band,  but they also have a little of a contemporary European melodic hard rock/metal-touch.  All credit to the band for making a very diverse album, the first part of the song “Lucid Dreams” sounds a bit like the calmer moments of Dream Theater, while “Stormy” is a slow, dark and melancholic number. These songs are decent enough, but there are also some I struggle quite a bit with, “Wanton Conquest” is the one that springs to my mind first. In my ears, just a terrible song. Staying with the areas where there are room for improvement, I feel the keyboard is too dominant in a few of the tracks. In the intros it all works fine, but some of the keyboard solos feel misplaced and interrupt the flow of the songs. The band also needs a bit more identity. This style doesn’t have to be original to be good, but the moments of déjà-vu on this album are a bit too heavy. (60/100)

Lunar Shadow “Triumphator” (Self financed)Lunar Shadow 2

I featured an interview with main man Max from Lunar Shadow some months ago, but never got around to review their first offering, a four song EP with a playing time of around 20 minutes. First, let me say that I really love this kind of self production. Lunar Shadow have done everything right here, we’re talking a real, silver pressed CD, a cool cover that complements the musical content, and lyrics printed in the booklet. For underground maniacs these things are essential, so let’s issue a “well done” to the band.

So far, so good. What about the music then? I don’t know why, but I kind of expected something a bit more aggressive or heavy.  “Triumphator” contains mainly epic metal with songs dominated by countless double guitar leads. Most of the songs are held in mid tempo, but in the form of “Metalian” the EP contains a through and through faster track.  I have to admit that I struggle to find a really outstanding song here, but on the other hand, there is not a single track  among the four that I am likely to skip either. Even though the sound is a little muddy, you can still hear the many details in the songs. There is definitely some original songwriting here and at times some unexpected melodies (listen to the chorus in “When The Last Grave Has Opened”) contributing to this being one of those releases that you can play again and again without getting tired of it. The song structures are often that little different from what you expect, and the main strength of the band is the fact that they manage to do things a little bit different, even within the rather narrow borders of heavy and epic metal.

The production, while not being overproduced or clean, sounds very natural with a strong live feeling. Of course the guitars could have sounded a bit fatter, but after all, this  is a self financed release. In Alex Vornam, the band has a decent, but not spectacular singer. There is definitely room for improvement in this department, as sometimes it feels like he is holding back a little. His clear voice in itself is a pretty fine match with the music though.  One other thing that needs to be mentioned is the bass playing. I simply love it!  Try to isolate the instrument when you play the EP, and you will hear a lot of really cool stuff going on. (70/100)

Majesty “Generation Steel” (Noiseart)MAJESTY_Generation_Steel_Cover

Majesty is a band that is quite inconsistent, but when on form, like on a couple of albums in the past, they’re one of the better European acts at penning catchy stuff somewhere between Manowar and the typical German singalong tradition. I guess most readers will find this band a little to clichéd, cheesy and predictable. Members have come and gone since the band debuted with “Keep It True”, back in 2000, and today singer Tarek is the only original member left. The two last offerings from the band, “Thunder Rider” and “Banners High” both released in 2013, differed a lot in quality, as I thought the former was pretty decent, in fact one of the better releases from the band, while the latter simply did nothing for me.

“Generation Steel” opens with “Hawks Will Fly”, which is not as fast as you probably would expect a opener of a Majesty-album to be. The chorus and the vocal melodies along with the oooooh-choir in the background is typical Majesty though. Other songs include “Shout At The World”, starting with a piano intros similar to Roxette and turning out to be one of the most commercial song from the band ever. If you replace the vocals, this sounds a bit like übercatchy hard rock in the vein of Lordi or Brother Firetribe. Who knows, this tune might be a hit in the metal and rock clubs in Germany?

For those who have followed the band closely, there is absolutely nothing new here. If you compare an album like “Sword & Sorcery” which to date, along with the already mentioned debut, is their best one, to “Generation Steel”, you’ll easily hear that we’re talking about the same band. The melodies are more or less variations over the same theme, with plenty of typical Manowar pathos. At the same time, it’s also quite easy to hear that the band sounds a bit more commercial these days. There are traces of hard rock in the sound of the band, “Shout At The World” has already been mentioned, the huge ballad “The Last Reward”, is another example.

My guess is that if you are into bands like Manowar, Virgin Steele or Gamma Ray for that matter, and haven’t heard Majesty before, you might be in for a treat here. If you have heard at least a couple of the albums the band has already done, chances are you’ll find “Generation Steel” a little too safe with tempos ranging from the standard fast, double bass numbers to stomping mid tempo and the already mentioned ballad. The lyrics have many references to past works of the band, including lines and phrases like “Reign In Glory” and “Keep It True” and in some tracks they seem a bit too banal. Like in the past, there is also a tendency to repeat the choruses to a point when you get tired of them. (55/100)

Malevolent Force ”Descent Into The Abyss” (Stormspell)MALEVOLENT-FORCE

If I get it right, “Descent Into The Abyss” was released digitally at the beginning of this year, and now Stormspell has made the recording available on physical format as part of their ever growing Trend Killers series. The band is from Houston, Texas, and released a demo titled “Rhapsody Of Evil” back in 2012, containing five of the eight songs included here. The opening track, “Soldier Of Misfortune” starts off with guitars sounding a bit like Artillery for the first minute or so. At close to six minutes, it’s by far the longest song, mainly because of the intro. Most of the tracks clock in around the three minute mark. As the first songs evolves, it turns into a decent up tempo, but not really fast affair, characterized by hoarse, desperate vocals. You can hear the singer almost gasping for breath here and there. Unfortunately, his vocals are a bit flat on the flat side, and he has the kind of voice that gets on your nerves a bit after a while, maybe also because the vocals are pretty upfront in the mix.

The music is pretty intense, but I feel it lack a little when it comes to memorable riffs. The band doesn’t sound like the most melodic and clean thrash-acts out there, but on the other hand not exactly savage or wild either. Somewhere in between maybe, with a bit from both worlds. Also the songs sound a little too similar, as the stand out moments are few and far between. There are some pretty devastating, heavier riffs between the two and three minute mark in “Destruction Of Sodom (At The Hands Of The Creator)” though, which is the best part on the whole album.

Throughout the album, the songs are characterized by dark riffs and the band is able to maintain a pretty high level of aggression and intensity, like in the two minute plus “Bound In Eternal Torment” which is a fast and intense rager. The breaks from the wild thrashing, are few and only temporary, as in the end of “Call Of The Blades”. Lasts for half an hour, feels about right. It’s a pretty short album, but about half an hour sounds right for this type of release. What the band presents is certainly not bad, but it leaves the listener quite lukewarm. The sound is not the main reason for that, although, a more meaty guitar sound would have helped a bit. I doubt the band will get any bigger recognition now, since the musical climate has turned a bit away from thrash metal again. (60/100)

Mausoleum Gate “Mausoleum Gate” (Cruz Del Sur)a1554579155_10

Even though I wasn’t exactly blown away, the demo and the 7” managed to catch my attention, perhaps not first and foremost because of the strength of the material, but more because Mausoleum Gate sounded rather fresh and different on these releases. Luckily, the band still offers something completely different from the usual retro heavy metal stuff we get drowned in nowadays, but unfortunately the concept, or the main idea behind the band is still a bit better than the end result.

The riff in “Magic Of The Gypsy Queen” feels strangely familiar and the song sounds quite a lot like something Rainbow could have done during the seventies, although the vocals of V-P. Varpula adds something extra, or should I say different, to the context. The song itself is one of the catchier and better ones of the album. The album contains only six tracks, and “Demon Droid” is the second one, a different song compared to the opener, almost doomy in approach, and more eighties than seventies sounding. Unfortunately this strikes me as a tune where I feel too little is happening. Everything is kept rather simplistic, the riffs and the drums, and the vocals are…well…not bad, but for certain rather unspectacular. Varpula is clearly not out to impress by showing off, and thank God for that, but the Finnish accent along with what seems like a lack of creativity when it comes to creating vocal lines that do something else than simply following the riffs, dampen my enthusiasm a little bit.

The epic “Lost Beyond The Sun”, a song that surprisingly enough starts out sounding like Magnum, with Varpula not too far away from Bob Catley, is better. This is a rather slow and epic tune, really thick on atmosphere. Good stuff! The band has a real knack for spooky intros and outtros and between the songs “Mercenaries Of Steel” and “There Must Be Demons” which are for sure, two of the most metallic numbers on the album, there is a bridge of sounds that makes the two tracks run together. To be honest, these kind of things, feel quite unnecessary and in my opinion don’t add anything substantial to the experience of listening to the album.

Mausoleum Gate” is rounded off by the song of the same name, but even though the main idea is pretty good, at nearly 12 minutes, the song is pretty drawn out and the chorus is repeated over and over again till it bores you. I can’t help but think that the band should have waited a bit longer to release this album. Perhaps then, both the material as well as the overall performance would have felt a bit stronger. (65/100)

Medieval Steel “Dark Castle” (Empire)405881

I caught most of the set Medieval Steel performed at last year’s edition of Keep It True, but have to say I wasn’t too impressed. Okay, you can’t really fault the atmosphere that was created through their self titled track, but I seem to be among the minority that really isn’t a big fan of this hymn. I enjoyed some of the older material the guys performed though, but struggled with some of the new songs that was performed. Everything sounded a bit sameish, and a tad too modern.

“Dark Castle”, the band’s first real studio album ever, released 30 (!) years after the legendary EP, contains quite a few of the songs peformed at Keep It True, and fortunately they work better here than on that particular night. Having had the chance to get to know the songs better, under more convenient listening circumstances, has certainly helped. Of course there are some boring moments here, like the totally awful album closer “Thou Shall Not Kill” and “American War Machine” (strong verse, terrible modern sounding bridge and chorus), but overall this isn’t as modern riffing oriented as I feared.

Although you wouldn’t find a single killer track here, there are some moments which are way above average, like the powerful opener “Powersurge” with a powerful main riff as well as the melodic and epic “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” which sounds more or less like classic Medieval Steel.  The band even pulls of the big ballad “April” in a respectable manner, something which seems quite uncommon these days, as most classic metal bands seem to crash big time when they try to do the ballad stuff.  Most of the songs are what I would call good, but unspectacular, and besides the tracks I have mentioned, I have a hard time coming up with real stand out songs. “Circle Of Fire” perhaps, but that’s about it.

“Dark Castle” certainly doesn’t come with a big production, everything is kept rather basic, but the sound is clear enough, powerful enough and last but not least, natural enough. I don’t think this album would have sounded right with another type of production. In this case, less is definitely more. The musicianship is solid as you would expect from a band consisting mainly of experienced metalheads, nothing new or fresh, but still damn solid. The vocals of Bobby Franklin deserves special mention though. They’re still very pleasant to listen to, and at times he sounds a lot like Biff Byford. (65/100)

Metal Inquisitor “Ultima Ratio Regis”  (Massacre)metal_inquisitor_ultimaratioregis_cover

This is Metal Inquisitor’s fourth album, and I guess they have earned the right to claim as Running Wild do in “Riding The Storm”: “We stay on course whatever will come”. The band was here before the recent heavy metal resurrection, and they’re still delivering more or less the same style as they started out with on the highly enjoyable debut, “The Apparition”. In fact Metal Inquisitor in 2014, is pretty close to being the definition of classic heavy metal, as they also were in 2002, I’ll have to add.

The last album from the Germans, “Unconditional Absolution” was their weakest yet, still it was a very enjoyable heavy metal-release. The same can be said about “Ultima Ratio Regis”, I’ve definitely heard the band better, but the album is still an early highlight of what looks to be yet another exciting year for those of us into everything old school, heavy and honest.  The opening tune, “Confession Saves Blood” is all what Metal Inquisitor is about, and definitely one of the best songs on offer here. Uptempo,plenty of energy, inspired vocals and a catchy chorus are some of the ingredients.

The second tune, “Burn Them All” has a vintage Saxon-riff, while there are traces of Running Wild to be heard both in the riffs as well as in El Rojo’s vocal lines in “Banners High”, which is the anthem of the album. A piece of catchy, classic metal and for sure a future live favorite.   Together these three songs represent a very good and highly inspired start to the album, but unfortunately the band isn’t really able to keep the high standard from here on.  “Black Dessert Demon” (sic) certainly isn’t bad, again I am reminded of Saxon, because of the riffs but also due to the fact that singer El Rojo sounds a bit like a more aggressive and nasal Biff Byford. Unfortunately, the song is too predictable without any real “vow-factor”. By the way, El Rojo has become a real trademark for the band, and is a singer you’ll recognize among hundreds of others.

To avoid sounding too negative, I have to point out that the latter half of the album has grown considerably on me since I heard the songs the first time. The main reason why these tracks needed a bit more time, is probably that very few of them, apart from maybe the album’s most melodic tune “Servant Of State”, have particularly strong choruses.  My fave outside of the first three songs, is probably the fast and powerful “Death On Demand”, but also  “The Pale Messenger” with a very cool main riff deserves a mention. The rather slow, and more than seven minutes long closer “Second Peace Of Thorn” is nothing else than boring though, and by far the least interesting song of the album. (75/100)

Midnight Priest “Midnight Steel” (Slaney)a1899752759_10

Midnight Priest’s self titled full length from 2011 was a convincing heavy metal affair with a pretty unique atmosphere where Portuguese lyrics performed by a high and eccentric singer and an overall dark feeling running through the songs were some of the ingredients. Unfortunately a lot of changes have taken place within the band since then. Most importantly, the charismatic singer The Priest left the band along with one of the guitarists, Nasty Nightmare. The latter has since then formed New hopefuls The Unholy, a band which also includes Midnight Priest’s current bass player Joe Dalton.

Compared to the dark and haunting debut, containing many references to the likes of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, “Midnight Steel” is a much more straight ahead NWOBHM-influenced affair, clearly missing the egde and the originality of the last album.  The sound of the album is pretty solid though, highlighted by heavy, pounding drums. My main concern, along with the factors already mentioned, is the material, which by no means is up to the same standard as on the first full length. The opener, “Made Of Steel” for instance is a surprisingly unspectacular. “Into The Nightmare” follows more or less the same pattern, and leaves you with the impression that the band has turned into a run of the mill, basic heavy metal-act, performing the kind of generic stuff a lot of newer acts do these days. Okay, so some songs are quite good, but I have a hard time finding a really standout track here. “And Then The Darkness” is perhaps the main contender, and this tune is also the one track that recalls memories of the style of the debut album.

Overall the songs are a lot slicker and melodic than in the past. Just, listen to “When Midnight Comes”, not a bad song by any means, but very streamlined and easy to get into. In other words, it has the same focus as a lot of these newer heavy metal-acts have. There are similarities to Swedish bands like Steelwing or Enforcer to be detected here, but also a Judas Priest-influence shining through, both generally as well as specifically in a track like “Hellbreaker”. Out of the ten tracks on the album, three are short, a, rather meaningless instrumentals. The new singer, Lex Thunder is certainly not bad, but I struggle to hear a lot of personality in his performance. He has a pretty clear and powerful voice and can hit the high ones, but the same can be said about a lot of other singers as well. (65/100)

Mindless Sinner ”The New Messiah” (Pure Steel)Cover MINDLESS SINNER_The New Messiah

The really impressive comebacks, especially coming from bands that have been on hiatus for more than a handful of years, are few and far between. Of course there are expections,  who wasn’t impressed with what Satan did on “Life Sentence” for instance? After their return to the live circuit with appearances at Muskelrock in 2014 and Keep It True the following year, the Swedes now return wtith what is only their second full length since the very beginning in the early eighties and their first album for nearly 30 years. I guess its common consensus that the odds are against the band, and I for one, really expected something a lot worse than “The New Messiah”.

Everyone that has heard the band’s previous material, knows that Mindless Sinner used to have a knack for penning really memorable songs, and according to this comeback album, they still have it in them. Singer Christer Göransson is still capable as well, while his range might not be as impressive as in the heydays of course, the guy still possesses good control over his voice and the style is the same soaring one we are used to. Unfortunately the production sound kind of low budget, and a fatter sound, would have lifted the material a step or two.

Musically, “The New Messiah” sounds surprisingly close to the style the band did on “Turn On The Power”, especially when you take into account the time that has passed since that one was released. The album doesn’t really start one a high note though, as “Men Of Steel”, apart from some blistering guitar solo work, is a bit mediocre. Well, it has the extra energy that openers should have, but the melody isn’t up there with the best on the album. “Where Worlds Collide” and the title track are better in that aspect.  Don’t expect a particularly heavy or aggressive album, because as these tracks showcase, this is rather laidback, majestic melodic metal, at times a bit similar to later Jack Starr or the most commercial moments of Riot. “Follow Your Path” has lyrics that might be a little awkward, but is still a fine, galloping tune, and “Metalized” might be the best song on offer here, a mid tempo tune with a bit more attack and metallic bite than the rest,  and with a majestic chorus led by Göransson’s soaring vocals.

I guess some of my readers will find this album too lightweight, but personally I enjoy it quite a lot.  Of course there are some mediocre songs here, but the stuff is seldom or never bland, although the album gets a little too safe and precictable during the middle part with tracks such  as “We’re The Ones”, and “Dance Of The Devil”  and “Time Of Fear”. Still, this is a surprisingly good effort, and much better than the terrible artwork suggests. (70/100)

Mortalicum “Tears From The Grave” (Metal On Metal)mortalicum

Because the last album from Sweden’s Mortalicum was a real grower that I ended up digging a lot, I have used some extra time on the band’s third full length release “Tears From The Grave”. Through the years, we’ve learnt to expect a certain kind of quality from these guys, and they always seem to have more to offer than you might grab at first listen, as there are always plenty of great riffs or a hooky vocal lines, both courtesy of Henrik Högl, hidden in the songs. And guess what? The same thing pretty much occurred this time around as well.

It’s not that the music is very complex, this is pretty much straight forward doom metal with hints of heavy rock. Although I don’t find it as strong as its predecessor, “Tears From The Grave” is still a great album. The heaviness, the slow tempos along with the strong sense for melody and the vocals make me think of another great Swedish band, Spiritual Beggars. Trouble is another name that springs to mind several times during this album. A song like “Spirits Of The Dead” involves a stronger element of heavy metal, so it’s no surprise this one being one of my personal favorites. Easily one of the coolest songs I have heard from Mortalicum, and a direction I would like them to pursue further in the future.

“Tears From The Grave” is a much longer album compared to “The Endtime Prophecy”, with a playing time of almost 64 minutes. The title track, clocking in at more than 11 minutes, is pretty much the heart of the album. The song has a killer riff which is played underneath the solo towards the end of the song, something that the band tend to do on different occasions, for instance in “Remember The Fallen”. The album displays plenty of heaviness, groove and melody, and comes with the thick and varm sound similar to the previous offerings.

Patrick Backlund’s extremely cool bass lines also deserve a mention, just lend an ear to his work in the opener “The Endless Sacrifice”, “The Passage” or the album closer “The Winding Star”. Totally killer! With a playing time that exceeds an hour, there are almost bound to be some parts that don’t grab you in the same manner as the majority of the material. “The Illusion” is one of the few examples that don’t do a lot for me personally, but overall the band definitely has the knack of penning memorable riffs and catcy vocal melodies.

While Mortalicum has established themselves as one of the more consistent doomy, heavy rock bands around, listening to “Tears From The Grave” creates a feeling very similar to the one you get from spending time with any of the band’s two other albums. Of course you can view it as a band that have found its own style and are trying to sharpen it further for each album, but personally, I would’ve wished for a more significant contrast to the previous works of the band. (75/100)

Mortyr «Rise Of The Tyrant» (Stormspell)Mortyr - Rise of the Tyrants

I have to say I am quite impressed by the creativity and work rate of young Swede Cederick Forsberg. Rocka Rollas and Blazon Stone have both released new albums very recently, and in fact the former has a new one called “Celtic Kings” coming already early in 2014. If everything goes as planned that is. I mentioned Cedrick’s creativity,  but  part of the answer to how this guy can spit out album after album, might be the fact that some of material, already is a couple of years old. At least this is the case here, as three of the songs on “Rise Of The Tyrant” featured on a demo as early as in 2008.

While Rocka Rollas and Blazon Stone might sound a bit similar, thanks to the heavy teutonic influence in Rocka Rollas and the total Running Wild-worship of Blazon Stone, I can assure you that Mortyr represents something completely different.  Until you hear the bonus track on the CD that is…A cover of “Merciless Game” by none other than Running Wild. Well, it all makes sense in a way, as Cedrick in Blazon Stone blueprints Rock’n Rolfs sound from “Port Royal” until “Masquerade”,  while “Merciless Game” is one of the faster and thrashiest songs from 1987s “Under Jolly Roger”. The tune blends quite well with the rest of the material here, and is a cool song to close an album with, with its blistering guitar solo and nice outro.

There are seven other tracks and an intro here as well, making “Rise Of The Tyrant” a 35 minutes long (or should I say short) thrashing affair. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this album.  Even though the rather dark and aggressive thrash of Mortyr is completely different to what Cederick does in his other bands, he confirms that he is a good song writer with a nice sense for melodies. Between all the aggression and intensity, be it in an intro or an outro, or during a solo or a middle part, there are lots of melodic moments.The result is a different, brutal thrash album. In fact some of the solo work could be taken from an eighties Shrapnel release. The vocals of Jank pull the album in the opposite direction, as it rather harsh and brutal, in other words a nice contrast to the more melodic moments.  His performance in what is probably the best track on the album, “Show Me To Hell” is nothing but awesome. Other highlights include the title track where a fast verse alternates with a slower chorus with the angry voice of Jank supported by some towering clean background vocals.

Overall, this is extremely catchy stuff, just listen to the powerful  and direct “Dark Angel”.  The best songs on the album come first and last, and the mid part of the album is a little on the mediocre side. Also, don’t expect a diverse album, “Rise Of The Tyrant” certainly isn’t.  However, if you see yourself enjoying eighties American thrash mixed with some European sense for melody, you should definitely lend Mortyr an ear. (75/100)

Night “Soldiers Of Time” (Gaphals)Night-Cover

It’s time yet again for some Swedish stuff. The stream of traditional metal coming out of this country is just unreal. I thought Night’s first album was okay, nothing more, nothing less. The late seventies/early eighties style was quite charming, but the songwriting, and especially the vocals were both a bit mediocre. When you keep it traditional in the vein of acts like Saxon, Krokus, Accept, AC/DC and Judas Priest, bands that have had their paths trodden by countless acts before, it’s absolutely essential to have the songs as well as the singer.

I doesn’t take a lot of time to hear that he band has improved though. In fact, after hearing the opener “Waiting For The Time”, for the first…eh…time, I quickly named it the best song the band has done so far. The overall sound offers more of the same authentic late seventies/early eighties stuff that dominated the first album, and even though this album is not recorded live in the studio, like the first one was, the guitar sound, is still raw, naked and emotional. As you have already understood, the music of Night is very basic, with rather simple riffs and a rhythm section that doesn’t take anything away from the songs. The solos are really enjoyable and most of them represents small highlights on the album. “Soldiers Of Time” has a natural sound with lots of air and space for the instruments. If it wasn’t for the vocals, parts of this album would have been very relaxing to listen to. This is exemplified by the strongly seventies inspired album closer “Stars In The Sky” which has a glorious instrumental part placed at the very end.

For me, the vocals are still the weak spot. Singer Burning Fire might sound a bit more diverse her compared to the debut, but his vocals are still paper thin and way too strained when he reaches for the high ones. Talking about diversity, this album has a bit more to offer than the rather one dimensional debut. “Towards The Sky” is a song that sticks out. With acoustic guitars it’s sounding more like a pop song than anything else. Very catchy stuff that works well in breaking up the album and adding some diversity. So even if I might not have cared much for it outside of this context, it’s more than okay to have it here, in the very middle of the album. A few of the more generic songs, “Ride On” for instance and”Kings And Queens”, one of the faster tunes on the album, feel a little too safe and predictable. Even though this album is a little more interesting compared to the debut, I end up on 65 points this time as well. I guess that can only mean I was a little too generous when I reviewed the debut. Shit happens! (65/100)

Night «Night» (Gaphals)
night
After two vinyl singles, Sweden’s Night is ready with their first full lenght. Even though the two tracks from the second single were a bit more convincing than what the band offered on their first release, I have to admit that my expectations for the band’s first full length were quite moderate. Three of the four single tracks are included, only the rather weak “Hard Working Man” has been dropped. In addition you’ll get a further seven tracks more or less in the same style as those on the singles, making  “Night” a 44 minutes long, fairly enjoyable, rockin’ affair. Think early eighties stuff, just as much hard rock as metal in fact, with pretty obvious links to bands like Saxon, Krokus, Accept, AC/DC and Judas Priest.

The band seems to have a blast when writing and peforming this kind of stuff,  as there is a lot of positive energy in this material. The album is also a very consistent offering. On a positive side, all the songs are pretty much of the same standard, while the stand out track or two that you are always waiting for when listening to a new album, sadly never shows up. To exaggerate a little bit, listening to this album feels a little like listening to one really long song, even though in the very melodic “Running In The Night” as well as in the heavier and more laidback album closer “Keep The Fire Burning”, the band has a couple of tunes that are at least a little different. Nevertheless, it’s not a lot of diversity here, neither in tempo nor in songwriting, and this is something that makes the album a little dull when you listen to it a couple of times in a row. The band’s strength is that they sound really honest about what they do. There’s nothing fancy to be heard in these ten tracks, just down to earth stuff, with one solid riff following the other. Of course you have heard most of them before, but I guess originality has never been what Night has strived for.

The production fits the music very well. It’s crips and authentic and brings out the best in the band’s quite simple, often midtempo oriented songs.  As I have written when I have dealt with the band before, my main issue with Night is the vocals. Burning Fire generally sounds a bit too strained, and when he does those hoarse and rusty shrieks like one minute into “Taking You Down”, I cringe a little. With this and some flaws when it comes to the songwriting, my guess is that Night is more enjoyable on stage than on CD. However, one must not forget that the guys are really young, in their early twenties or younger, and with a little more experience, like they will get on the forthcoming Scandinavian tour with Ghost (they’re both from Linköping), Night will just get better. (65/100)

Night Demon “Curse Of The Damned” (Steamhammer)night-demon-cover-final-1500px

Night Demon has been very active  in the live circuit since the release of their self titled EP back in 2012. The guys have made a name for themselves a real power trio, and while the EP showed a lot of promise, the guys are definitely stepping up with their first full length release, proving that they can be diverse and interesting enough also through the length of an album. In my ears, Night Demon is one of the bands that come close to capturing the real the spirit of  the NWOBHM. Most importantly, they manage to do it naturally, without sounding forced. Musically there are no big surprises to be found, but the album is moe diverse than I expected it to be after having heard the EP. The style is pretty much the same though, with references to bands like Jaguar, Savage, Angel Witch and Diamond Head.

Jarvis’ vocals follow the expected patterns, I can even here some Sean Harris here, in the way the singer stretches some words, for instance “Night” during the chorus of “Screams In The Night”, a natural opener of the album. This song sounds so much like NWOBHM, it could have been used to illustrate what the whole movement was about, even 35 years later! The title track is a slower (not really slow though) and heavier track, indicating that there is some diversity to this album. “Satan” is next, apart from having a title also used by Enforcer on their last album, this track is also showcasing the heavier side of Night Demon.

Overall this is a very consistent album. Yeah, so it might have benefited from an outstanding song or two, but on the other hand there really isn’t much not to like here. Okay, so maybe a song like “Heavy Metal Heat” really isn’t that interesting, a bit too standard maybe, but most of the tracks are really enjoyable featuring catchy choruses and riffs as well as strong melodies.Night Demon is a sympathetic, hard working band that manages to sound fresh even though they sound a lot like the NWOBHM-stuff that came out during the early eighties. Whether they play it fast, slow or heavy, it’s always quality and lots of energy involved. Add a transparent and heavy production with thick guitars and powerful drums, and we have a winner. (80/100)

Night Demon ”Night Demon” (Shadow Kingdom)
cover
You could probably argue that all kinds of traditional metal are inspired by The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but there is no doubt that we have seen a rise in new bands trying to copy both the songwriting, the sound and the performance of bands from this era. Some of these acts are European, but it seems like the majority is coming from overseas. Another thing many of these bands have in common, is the fact that the members are also involved in other, often very different, musical projects. Night Demon, already confirmed to perform at next year’s Keep It True, fits rights into this pattern.  Guitarist Brent Woodward as well as skin basher John Crerar are both involved in The Fucking Wrath. I guess the band name alone is an indication of the chances that a feature on that particular band will end up here on Metal Squadron.

Of the four tracks on offer on the trio’s first release, three of them, are, roughly said, quite similar. “Night Demon” “Ancient Evil”, and “Ritual” are energetic up-tempo, catchy rockers while the “The Chalice” is a slower, heavier and somehow more relaxed track adding some diversity to this pretty intense 14 minutes short affair.  It might be the fact that it sticks out from the rest, but ever since I heard the EP for the first time, this track has been my favorite. None of the other three songs are what I would classify as fillers, but the band need to step up their songwriting a little bit to make the forthcoming full length really special.

The playing time is one of the reasons why I have played this one a lot since I grabbed the files of the band’s Bandcamp-site, the other is the fact that I really enjoy the music. Even though the band looks 30 years back in time to the likes of Tygers Of Pan Tang, Sweet Savage, Diamond Head and even a more tempo moderate Jaguar for inspiration, the songwriting is rock solid with hooks in all the right places, catchy sing a long-choruses and melodic solos. The vocals of newcomer Jarvis Leatherby, who also handles the bass, has the charming, little naïve touch that was often present among the singers of the NWOBHM. His voice might strike you as unspectacular, but he possesses great control of it, his tone is warm and rich, and there is a certain kind of soul in his voice that I soon learnt to appreciate. During the chorus of “Ancient Evil” I am even reminded of the mighty Sean Harris of Diamond Head, and hopefully that’s not only because of the last word in the song title.

The sound is quite raw and authentic and suits the music very well. It’s stripped of fancy effects and brings out the best in the band’s compositions. Whether you are long time admirer of the movement called NWOBHM, or have discovered heavy metal more recently with the likes of Cauldron and Enforcer (listen to the songs “Night Demon” or “Ritual”), you should definitely lend Night Demon an ear.  By the way, check out the interview I recently did with the band: https://metalsquadron.com/2013/04/06/night-demon-a-three-headed-beast/ (75/100)

Nightmare “The Will To Overpower” (Lethal Loudness)500467

If my mind serves me right, I enjoyed “About To Explode”, the last album from Colombia’s Nightmare. I have to admit that I haven’t revisited it a lot since it was released five years ago (scary to think about), but I remember it as a way above average, honest, straight up metal affair with a few quite memorable songs. Singer and guitarist Burning Axe Ripper along with the other guitarist Enforcer are both heavily involved in Witchtrap, a band which also impressed me a bit with their 2012 release “Vengeance Is My Name”. I guess you have pretty much concluded by now that I had some expectations for “The Will To Overpower”, but unfortunately, I can’t say they were fulfilled.

There isn’t much wrong with the performance here, these guys are without doubt steady musicans. The vocals, while a little thin maybe and not the most expressive either, works quite well within the context and help add some melody to the overall picture. The production is mighty fine too, transparent and dry (love the bass sound) but not slick, and with plenty of heaviness in the bottom. I am perfectly allright with the style the band performs too, as this is pure heavy metal with the only “interference” being some tracks having a touch of hard rock. What bothers me about this album, is mainly the songwriting. Songs like the energetic “Sabotage” with an excellent end section, the mid tempo stomper “Gates Of Hades” and the dead catchy riffer “Ride The Fire” are more than fine, but good enough to be the outstanding tracks on a release from a band like Nightmare? I am not sure about that! A song like “Hard Rock” is located in the complete opposite end of the scale, being almost as dull as the title indicate, showing of course a slight hard rock-influence as well. However, most of the songs are located somewhere between these two extremes, being mostly average tunes that are quite easily forgotten. Not bad by any means, but too many of the tracks leaves me lukewarm.

Being from Colombia I have no problem accepting the fact that the lyrics are not perfect. After all, I guess there are people out there laughing about the way I express myself in my reviews, but “Sex”, which is a strangely unspectacular opening number, has some completely ridiculous lyrics. “Take out your clothes/open your legs/I know your dying to your clit licked”. I guess the lyrics to this one isn’t meant to be taken too serious, but they certainly made me embarrased. Embarrasing is nowhere near the right word to describe “The Will To Overpower”, but I have to admit I  hoped for stronger and more inspired material. (65/100)

Nitehawks “Vendetta” (Skol)NITEHAWKS_vendetta_coverJPG1000

Somehow, Italian bands don’t do NWOBHM-influenced heavy metal as well as they do doom, epic metal or speed metal. I have a hard time trying to forget the last time I reviewed an Italian band part of the so called NWOTHM. The band was Gengis Khan, and their “Gengis Khan Was A Rocker”-album was simply terrible, resulting in an all time low score (20) here at Metal Squadron. Let me be clear that Nitehawks are nowhere as bad as Genghis Khan, but still I can’t say that there is a lot to enjoy on their debut album. Maybe it was my expectations that were too high, as the information that came with the promo spoke about bands like Accept, Enforcer, Running Wild as well as Judas Priest. Those names made me expect a slice of solid, traditional heavy metal, while what I got was some kind of dull mixture between metal and hard rock.

First of all, I am not that found of the vocals of Frank Macri. Yes, they have plenty of character, but don’t sound very good or fitting in my opinion. Macri has a raw, nasal, snarling style that occupies a lot of space in the band’s sound. In Shorter sequences, his vocals have a Mark Shelton-like touch, for instance in one part of the rocking, but downright boring “Rocketman”, but most of the time, he reminds me of a harder to swallow-version of Axxis’ Bernhard Weiss. As I mentioned, the music has a hard rocking edge, with some really soft and commercial choruses (“Blackout In Paradise”, “Suite 95”) in a few of the songs. Some of these choruses are also repeated way too many times in each song. “Never Let You Go” is only one example. There are a couple of more metallic moments here as well. The opener “Into The Wild” is probably the most energetic track on the album, while “Nighthawks” has some cool moments, but is partly destroyed by some terrible keyboards during the verse and a dull singalong chorus.. Even during these more metallic tracks, the band struggle to impress by doing something out of the ordinary. Okay, so some solos are quite enjoyable, but there are very few riffs here that make me pay extra attention to what the band is doing. (50/100)

Noble Beast “Noble Beast” (Tridroid)cover

Melodic sing-along, German-sounding heavy metal is normally too cheesy for me, but once in a while, the pieces fit together and it all works. This is one of those rare moments. As bands like Heaven’s Gate (when did they last release a decent album, or an album for that matter?) and Blind Guardian have grown really stale lately, this genre needs a kick up the ass and an alternative to the bands trying to copy the slick sound of Helloween’s “Keeper Of The Seven Keys pt.II”.

During the second half of the nineties and the first years of the new millenium there were some bands, mostly German ones, trying to copy the sound of Blind Guardian, or at least doing something that was close to the sound of the masters, but unfortunately most of these didn’t have the songwriting abilities needed. Fast forward to 2104, and Noble Beast out of Minnesota releases their self titled debut album, a huge surprise and a feast for everyone into things fast, bombastic and very memorable. The melodies here are not that far from let’s say Falconer, Ensiferum and even Freedom Call, while the execution is rougher and more powerful, resulting in a product closer to Blind Guardian, Amon Amarth, Iron Saviour and at times even with guitar work reminiscent of Running Wild, for instance in “On Wings Of Steel”.

I  guess a lot of people reading Metal Squadron will find this release too cheesy and banal, but for me this album arrived just at the right time as I needed something easy on the ear. If I had written this review a couple of weeks earlier (I definitely could have done it, as I had listened to it many times by then already), the score would probably have been a bit higher. As I suspected, the album isn’t a grower, and when everything is consumed, there is not a lot more to explore. Also there are a too many moments when the melodies or the choruses are too familiar.  The already mentioned “On Wings Of Steel” as well as “We  Burn” are just two examples. What I really like here, is the fact that the rough edges, the dark guitars, the powerful, but not at all perfect vocals add some charm to the overall picture. And yes, I have no problems admitting I was charmed by this release.

This album is full of great riffs, fast drums, dramatic vocals and enormous choruses. Listening to the album in its entirety, you’ll for certain find some similar sounding moments, but at the same time you’ll be surprised at how interesting the band is able to keep it from start to finish. A song like “Disintegrating Force” even borrows from the more extreme styles of metal as it runs headlong at insane speed, while “The Dragon Reborn” represents some of the calmer moments on the album, being far from as hectic and bombastic as most of the stuff here. Some people might still find the album a bit too tedious, but as long as you’ll find yourself tapping your foot, performing air guitar or singing along for more or less all the 63 minutes, you really can’t complain. At least I don’t. Good one! (75/100)

Nocturnal ”Storming Evil” (High Roller)NOCTURNALStormingEvilCoverS

I was expecting good things from the third full length by Germany’s thrashing maniacs Nocturnal, but ended up with something even better. While I can be very enthusiastic during the first handful of listens, there is a clear tendency that I get tired of new thrash metal-releases rather quickly. “Storming Evil” however, is not one of those albums. After having played this CD almost to death since I first got a copy a month or so back, the recording has already proved that it stands the test of time.

“Storming Evil” is also one of those rare albums that starts out with a bang and ends with an even larger “booom”. Not that it’s anything wrong with the first part of the album, both the quite diverse (remember that everything is relative) opening track “Storm From The Graves” as well as the catchy “Rising Demons”, which the band has also made a video to. However, in most cases the intensity level falls a bit and the songwriting isn’t really as sharp as to begin with when you enter the second half of an album in this genre. I wouldn’t say it’s the other way around with “Storming Evil”, but to my ears, the second half of the album is just as convincing as the first one, both when it comes to performance as well as songwriting. In fact, the last three songs on the album, are all among the highlights.  What about “Ripping Knives” for instance, where the riffs are at least as sharp as the knives Tyrannizer is singing about?

The vocals of Tyrannizer are extremely brutal and savage to come from a woman. Hell, I am sure she scares the shit out of some male singers with the power, energy level and aggression she showcases here. Her delivery is so convincing you’ll feel the rage and venom in her voice affecting you while listening to the album. Simply incredible!  When that is said, this album would have been nothing if it wasn’ t for Avenger’s steady rifforama. In fact there are more killer riffs squeezed into one tune here (listen to “Crushing The Bones”, and especially the second half of the song) than you get on your average thrash album, and with the help of Mortus in his Underworld studio, the band has also achieved a more fitting and balanced sound than on the previous albums.

Even though diversity isn’t the strongest point here, there are at least some shifts in tempo and some heavier mid tempo parts, as well as complete songs like “Taken By Fire” which work really well in contrast to the faster stuff. Most of the time, this album is packed with speed, so if you happen to drive a car, you better fasten your seat belt before you put this album in your stereo. If you are at home, get someone to tie you up as securely as possible, cause “Storming Evil” really shakes things up and leaves the listener with little or no time to breathe. (80/100)

Nocturnal “Nocturnal” (Gaphals)
nocturnal
Nocturnal from Linköping in Sweden isn’t what I usually feature in this blog, but as the guys at Gaphals were nice enough to send me both a copy of “Nocturnal” as well as a 12” consisting of two tracks, I’ll make an exception from my strict rules. Nocturnal is what we could call a brand new constellation, performing their first concert a bit more than a year ago. Since then, one 7” inch has been released before the 12” I mentioned.

The music on the band’s debut will probably be put into the retro rock category. The nods to the seventies are quite obvious, and there are hints of blues and also a bit of the psychedelic flair that was found in some of the music of the sixties. As in other overexposed genres, it’s really difficult to present something original, and I strongly doubt that this is something Notcturnal has aimed for. The album contains eight songs, among them two different parts of the song “Cursing The Mindless”.  The album is quite diverse. Ranging from the quite memorable and direct “One Of A Kind” to the first part of the slower “Cursing the Mindless”, a song with a decent melody, some cool sounding organ and a very catchy guitars. Some of the songs have an inner drive that makes them interesting, while others tend to be a bit more stagnant, and thus boring.

The sound is crisp and organic and brings out the best in the band’s music, which in turn feels spontaneous, honest and relaxed. Aggressive moments are few and far between, making the album well suited for a forty minutes long rest on the sofa. The vocals accompany the music quite well, melting in with the music rather than taking full control. However in a song like “Satan’s Shuffle”, you’ll probably notice that the singer’s voice sounds a bit strained. But as I didn’t hear much of this elsewhere, it’s really not a problem. I wouldn’t call the many instrumental parts a problem either, but my advice is to tighten up some of these a little bit to keep a stronger focus on the main ideas of the songs. If you are a bigger fan of this genre than me, and enjoy other Swedish bands like Graveyard and Horisont, you could probably add some points to my score. Check it out for yourself! (60/100)

Nomad Son ”The Darkening” (Metal On Metal)

Nomad_Son_TD_PressCoverI have quite fond memories of the 2008-debut “First Light” as well as the follow up “The Eternal Return” that arrived two almost exactly two years later. Malta’s Nomad Son sees scene veteran Albert Bell (also a member of Forsaken) teaming up with former Frenzy Mono-members vocalist Jordan Cutajar, drummer Edward Magri as well as brothers Chris and Julian Grech (guitars and keyboards).  There seem to be an added slice of aggression to this album compared to the two earlier ones. I guess you could label the band’s sound as power doom, with just as much emphasis (maybe even a bit more) on power and heavy metal as doom.  For instance there are bits and pieces of both Martin-era Black Sabbath and Dio to be found here. The extensive use of organ along with the one of a kind voice of Cutajar is what makes this band really unique, resulting in an interesting and very refreshing album. “The Darkening” gets off to a very strong start with “Light Bearer”, a dark, extremely heavy and powerful opener, featuring some uptempo, Trouble-like riffing which also returns in a few of the other tracks on the album.

In the other end of the album, you’ll find the calm and beautiful instrumental “Epilogue”, and inbetween these songs, you’ll get mostly original and high quality material. The keys are often used surprisingly, as in the second number “Age Of Contempt” which is a rather aggressive number, featuring some dark, crushing riffing in stark contrast to the organ. This particular tune is indeed a diverse riff-fest featuring lots of aggression and some awesome organ. For the third thrack “The Devil’s Banquet”, the tempo is brought down considerably, and this is more or less a pure doom metal-tune.

The keys are helping the band create a really huge and sometimes majestic sound, listen to the opening of “Only The Scars” for instance, a song that is among the more melodic tunes of the album. Overall, the tempo is higher here than on the average doom album – “Descent To Hell” is another example, it starts pretty fast, then goes into a slow, heavy riff during the chorus before it kicks into gear again for the verse. Great dynamic stuff!  “Caligula” is at the other end of the scale though, a slow and crawling track with a long intro and an almost creepy atmosphere that soon develops a very heavy main riff before ending in a climax with a crushing final 90 seconds.

I don’t have time or the space to go into detail about each and every song on offer her, but the title track will rank as stand out number by many listeners with its memorable chorus.  I have seen some people singling out the vocals as the weakest point of the band on their earlier works, and while I admit it’s not often you hear a raspy and rough voice like Cutajar’s  to go with this kind of music,  it’s exactly this fact that excites me. Cutajar might sound a bit strained here and there, but hey…rather that than having a voice similar to every other singer in the genre while you are putting in an uninspired performance. You kind of expect a commanding vocalist with a powerful voice to go with this kind of music, but Cutajar has more to his voice, sounding for instance hopelessly desperate in “Lightbearer” and completely pissed of during the verse of “Age Of Contempt”.

Overall this is a very powerful, surprisingly fast and aggressive album topped with the necessarily originality to make it a really stand out release. I have to stress that even though the band is often associated with doom metal, this is by no means a doom metal-album. Of course there are slow and heavy passages with powerful vocals here, but the amount of up-tempo parts, are surprisingly high, making this a more classic metal-oriented album. There is a lot of attack in the vocals as well. With this album Nomad Son tightens its grip on the listener from the very first second, and it is a definitive contender for the best album released by Metal on Metal ever, only facing some serious competition from the last Attacker-album.  There is not a weak song in sight and the dull moments are few and far between. Add to that a transparent and very powerful sound, and you have one of the highlights of the year and a definitive contender for my personal top ten, come December month. (85/100)

October 31 “Bury The Hatchet” (Hell’s Headbangers)october_31_-_bury_the_hatchet_cover-small

I am pretty sure I have mentioned it somewhere else on these pages, but I’ll never forget the moment back in 1998 when I received a package with two CD’s released by R.I.P Records out of Chicago. One of the discs was Skullviews incredible “Legends Of Valor”, an album that clicked with me immediately and to this day still is one of my fave records put out during the nineties. The other album was October 31’s debut album “The Fire Awaits You”, a release packed with quirkier, darker and more obscure metal. I needed some time to get used to the rough edges and King Fowley raw vocals (similar to Tony Dolan from Atomkraft and Venom), but today I love most of the material as well as the twisted atmosphere of this record. So where is the band 16 years, but only three studio albums later? Well, even though it’s nine years since the last offering, “No Survivors”, “Bury The Hatchet” sounds quite a bit like that particular album.

There is not a lot of diversity here, pretty much everything is held in the same tempo, but always retaining the aggression that was a vital part of the last album. At first it all can sound a bit sameish, but after a few listens, it becomes clear that a few of the tracks are slightly more melodic than the rest. “Down At Lovers Lane” is one them containing some light keys, played by King Fowley himself. “Arsenic On The Rocks” is another one, and one of the most impressive tracks of the album. The album also contains a really well done and extremely powerful cover of Icon’s “Under The Gun”. I never liked Icon’s debut a lot, and simply wasn’t aware of how cool this song actually is until I heard October 31’s rendition. Great work!

The title song is a slow and creepy track that could have been on the first one, with King acting just as much as a storyteller as a singer. Definitely one of the highlights for me personally on a record where there really aren’t that many standout tunes. “Vodoo Island” is another one I enjoy a lot, the kind of aggressive, dark heavy metal song the band always does quite well. I was not overly impressed by the song “Gone To The Devil” when it was released on a single some time ago, but the song Works better here, in the context of the album.

While the details in the music got completely lost during the concert the band did at Keep It True in 2013, the production on “Bury The Hatchet” is crisp and clear enough to underline them. Most of the time though, the details arent’t what draw your attention, as this is one rampant and violent album, that leaves you with the feeling that you have been rolled over by something really heavy. I think 75 points should be about right for this album. It’s really good, as you learnt to expect from King Fowley and the guys, but amongst all the honest aggression and thick heavy metal atmosphere, you’ll find yourself thinking how this could have come out if the band was just a little bit better at penning songs. (75/100)

Perpetratör “Thermonuclear Epiphany” (Stormspell)PERPY

Perpetrator is an outlet for Rick Thor’s (Ravensire, ex-Ironsword) affection for thrash metal. He handles the vocals along with the bass of course, while the steady rifforama on this record is delivered by Paulão and Marouco. Worth mentioning is also the session drummer Ângelo Sexo.  His name kind of reminds me of another “drummer”.  While Rick’s approach is more aggressive and snarling here, and his vocals are not as upfront and a bit flatter compared to Ravensire, you’ll most likely recognizing his voice

The opener “Megaton Therion” is a fast and very intense song with a typically, half chaotic thrash metal-solo.  “Pyres Of The Night” is next, a tune which has the most impressive riff on the album. There is no denying the overall expression borrows quite heavily from the German scene of the eighties, but Perpetrator has tightened up in all departments. They’re not sounding as basic, or dare I say minimalistic as a few of the Teutonic acts were either.  The production is more modern, in lack of a better word, but I don’t have a problem with it being too polished. In fact it’s quite refreshing to hear this music with a good, but not too clinical production. Most songs are catchy, straight ahead and fast, making this an album that should click with you rather fast. If you like this kind of stuff, that is. By the way, the well played guitar solos also deserve a special mention.

Other highlights include “Death To All” which starts out as a fast and frenetic affair and gets right in your face, until the tempo slows down and the song gets heavier around the two minute mark. A few tunes sticks out by being a little different too. “Fire Unleashed” is a rather melodic heavy metal-tune from start to finish. It’s also one of my absolute favorites from the album, with Rick also sounding closer to what he does on the Ravensire-album here, especially during the cool verse.   “Shadow Of A Man” also deserves a mention, at five and a half minutes it’s by far the longest song on the album. The tune has a slow build up with a rather long intro. It’s still a fast song, but at the same time it contains a few more different parts than a few of the shorter tunes.

While a couple of the songs don’t do a lot for me, “Thermonuclear Epiphany” is still a quite enjoyable 35 minute long journey. Most of the time at high speed, but as you have probably understood already, not completely without the needed diversity. (70/100)

Persian Risk “Who Am I” (Self Released)473441

I was pleasantly surprised by “Once A King”, Persian Risk’s comeback album released towards the end of 2012. I was even more surprised when I received a mail from Carl Sentance containing information about the new album, “Who Am I?”. If you heard the previous album, this new one more or less follows the same pattern, even to the extent that it, like its predecessor includes rerecordings of two songs from the band’s back catalogue.

Summed up with a few words, this is extremely solid, typical British melodic heavy metal, rooted in the same tradition as fellow veterans Saxon and Praying Mantis. Carl Sentance is in mighty fine form, with a voice that carries similarities to Biff Byford as well as Doogie White. I mentioned the two newly recorded songs, both of them are among the absolute highlights of the album. “Dark Tower”, a song that originally appeared on the album “Rise Up”, is a majestic hymn that reminds me a lot of Saxon, especially in the vocals, while “Calling For You” is a killer track from their very rare and expensive single from 1981. Both tracks melt in well with the newer material too. The title track has a galloping feel and a chorus making it one of the harder and definitely better songs on the album, even though it has quite mellow, laidback and melodic verse. “My Creation” sticks out with a fine, almost AOR-like verse, but with some heavy, fat guitars and pounding drums. The chorus is huge! Not my personal fave, but the quality simply can’t be denied.

Even though my main impression is that this is a strong affair, there are a few tracks that fall a bit short, mainly because they are a bit different, and in my opinion, stray too far away from the melodic heavy metal the band does so well. “Facing Your Demons” is not a favorite, sounding too modern, a bit like Harem Scarem or something similar. The rocking “I Feel Free” is not the type of song I prefer either, even though there is a lot of energy involved and some cool guitar work as well. The album closer “I Thought It Was You” is the song that sticks out the most. I have a hard time describing it, but it’s definitely something completely different, no metal or hard rock, rather mainstream and definitely something that could be played on daytime radio. Even though these songs don’t go that well with my personal taste, there is still some good songwriting involved. I easily recommend this album if you like melodic heavy metal in the best British tradition. (70/100)

 Pleonexia “Break All Chains” (Pure Underground)

height-400Michele Da Pila (vocals, guitars and keyboards) formed Pleonexia as late as in 2012, and since then he has added five more members to the lineup, including two guitarists and a keyboardist. The coverart and band logo are quite simplistic, and judging from these elements I was pretty unsure what to expect.  Unsure I still am, especially when I ask myself what this band wants to achieve. They mix up hard rock tracks with some minor metal moments, and end up sounding really weird.

The production is way too lifeless and thin and the drum sound is weak and extremely dull. The band’s biggest problem though is the fact that for every good idea the band showcases, there are two which are not so good. The self titled opener has a few good moments, but also some I could live without, like the humming during the verse. And what about those early verses in “Break The Chains”, complete with totally silly lyrics?  Or those over the top cheesy keyboards in “Iron Will”, turning the song into a copy of those Italian bands trying to copy Rhapsody in the late nineties. Or the strange, feminine sounding vocals towards the end of “Everything You Said”? So please, don’t come here saying this bands sounds like the masters of melody and atmosphere, Adramelch, or something of similar quality.  Over the top, funny ideas always ruins it for me, not only in Pleonexia.

The band certainly doesn’t lack creativity, sometimes it seems like too much is crammed into each song. On a more positive note, many of the tracks showcase the fact that Pleonexia is a band with a fair share of originality, but unfortunately the melodies are generally too sugar sweet. As Da Pila also seems to have a voice well suited for pure hard rock, I think this band would do a lot better if they steered clear of the metal elements in the future, dropped some of those silly sounding keyboards and concentrated on writing as catchy hard rock as possible. I think they can do it quite well, as their music is already choke full of thick hooks. (50/100)

Portrait “Crossroads” (Metal Blade)    Portrait - Crossroads - Artwork

Third album from Sweden’s Portrait, and although I enjoyed the previous ones, I felt both of them missed a really good singer. Philip who sang on the self titled debut, were simply not good enough, while I found the vocals of Per too dominant and strained on “Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae”. On “Crossroads”, it’s still Per’s voice you can hear, even though his surname has changed from Karlsson to Lengstedt somewhere along the way, or should I say road? While I felt he was too upfront and dominating on the last one, his voice is lower in the mix this time.

“Crossroads” is one of those albums you need to hear in its entirety. You’ll probably get more impressed that way, than by listening to single tracks. I guess people will argue about this, but having listened to “Crimen…” again for the first time since it came out, I will have to say I prefer the overall sound of “Crossroads”.

Let’s focus on the musical content then. The acoustic instrumental “Liberation” is followed by “At The Ghost Gate”, described by guitarist Christian Lindell as something similar to Black Sabbath’s “Headless Cross”. With Lengsted’s vocals being more in the vein of King Diamond or Rob Halford than Tony Martin, I guess you will have to force yourself to hear the similarities, but I get his point – this song is not the fast and direct opener you probably expected from Portrait. In my ears, that’s quite refreshing.

After the rather slow start (not that the song is bad by any means), things pick up pace with “We Were Not Alone” and in particular “In Time”. The latter is probably the most straight forward and catchy tune on the album, and the decision to make it available on the internet as the first taster from the album, makes a lot of sense. Most of the songs are written by Lindell,  and are pretty much true to what we have come to expect from the band. There are hints to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate, and the tune “Black Easter” could have been a track that failed to make In Solitude’s outstanding “The World. The Flesh. The Devil”. “Ageless Rites” is a tune penned by the band’s new bass player Cab Castervall, and it’s a song with some really cool instrumental sections.

Compared to the previous album, “Crossroads” doesn’t sound as tense . Everything, including the vocals feel a little more relaxed, making the whole album more easier to listen to, and most of all, easier to enjoy. The main problem, if I can you use that expression, with this album is that it lacks a stand out song or two. The material is coherent, well written and well performed, but I strongly doubt that there are songs here that will stand strong as the classics written by two of the band’s main inspirations Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden in 20 or 30 years time. “Crossroads” is well worth a purchase, but in my opinion the band is yet to deliver a totally killer album. Maybe next time? (75/100)

Praying Mantis “Legacy” (Frontiers)Praying mantis

Although I enjoy some of the stuff the label puts out, I won’t make it a habit reviewing albums released on Frontiers here. I need to make an exception for Prayin Mantis though, as I am a big fan of a couple of different eras of the band. My favourite albums would probably be the stellar debut as well as 1998s “Forever In Time”. However the band has always been very consistent with their albums, apart from maybe one or two releases. So how does the band sound in 2015? As expected, they don’t make fools of themselves.

“Legacy”, Praying Mantis’ ninth studio album opens with ”Fight For Honour”, a solid opener, and one of the darker and heavier tracks on the record. I wasn’t blown away when I first heard it, and it gave me rather moderate expectations for the rest of the album back then. However, the track has grown on me, and I have no problem seeing why the guys have chosen it to open this album. “The One” is close to pure AOR , both the verse as well as the chorus. If you have heard the latest albums from the band, the song comes as no surprise, but after the opening track it is rather unexpected nevertheless. “The One” is a good AOR tune though, showcasing one of the strongest melodies on the album.

Once again, the band has a new singer. John Jaycee Cuijpers has been in a Dio-tribute band, and has that little bit of character and grit in his voice, to avoid sounding too slick or soulless. A times you can picture this guy singing Dio and Black Sabbath-classics with ease. In a song like “Against The World”, he really proves why he was the right choice for the job with a great overall performance. I mentioned the pure AOR-track “The One Earlier”, “All I See” is another really catchy moment containing the classic harmony vocals the band is known for. The chorus in this one is pure class! “The Runner” is also a strong track, more guitar driven, while there are also some mediocre moments, like “Tokyo”, a proposal to the fans in what is probably the biggest market for the band, or  the mid tempo oriented and keyboard drenched “Better Man”.

I am happy that I am still able to enjoy a new album from Praying Mantis, but I have to say I look forward to hearing their old material performed at Keep It True next year. (70/100)

Primeval Realm ”Primordial Light” (Pure Steel)cover artwork

After doing a couple of demos some years back, Pure Steel (who else?) gave the band based around multi instrumentalist and singer Joe Potash,  perhaps known to some due to his work with Horrifier, a chance to release their first full length.  Apparently the band split up shortly afterwards, so I make this review a rather short one, as there is no need for too much constructive feedback.

The album only contain five tracks with vocals, while the two other songs are instrumentals. In fact, you could probably say that the album only has four tracks with vocals, as the last song, “Primordial Light…Depature” only contains one or two short spoken parts. Talking about instrumentals, I don’t see really see the point in the seven  minute long“Galaxy Lifter”, as it contains mediocre riffs and some spacey organ, but not much else. It’s also way too long.  Generally speaking, there are too many long, drawn out instrumental parts on the album, and now I am not only talking about the instrumental tracks.  It sounds like the band didn’t have enough material for an album, and certainly not enough decent ideas.“Electric Knowledge” is probably the best song on offer, sounding a bit more like Trouble, but without the Chicago doomsters’ outstanding sense for effective melodies.  Keyboards are also used slightly in some tracks, this is one of them.

The sound of “Primordial Light” is dry and feels a bit boring, almost without any spark at all. The soaring vocal lines of mr. Potash are too predictable, and his overall performance is not particularly impressive, listen to the seventies inspired “Heavy Is The Mind”, and you’ll probably get the same impression like I did – the vocal delivery lacks some real conviction.

Overall, I am afraid this record sounds a bit devoid of ideas and at times rather uninspired. There is not a single song I would rate higher than “average”. Take “Black Flames & Shadows” for instance, it’s okay that it’s based around the same riff,  but come on, you need some parts to break it up and make it a bit more interesting. Also, I don’t think the band has the right feeling in their music, at least not on this album. To me, Primeval Realm sounds like a heavy metal band playing slow, not like a doom band performing doom. (40/100)

Project Terror “Conquistador” (Pure Steel)Cover PROJECT TERROR-Conquistador 400

Formerly known as Blood Redskies, Project Terror is the brainchild of singer Ronnie Stixx, who used to be in bands like Vicious Rumors and Shadowkeep. As far as I understand, Project Terror is based in Texas. To start with the main man, there’s no doubt that Stixx has an impressive set of pipes. Unfortunately, he simply overuses them, and really gets on the listener’s nerves after a while. I feel he is a bit like Sean Peck in Cage these days, who has really killed my enthusiasm for that band with his over the top-approach. It has to be added though, that the vocals of Stixx are nowhere as clear and prominent in the mix as those of Peck.

While the vocals are making the album demanding to listen to at times, it’s the production that ruins it for me. Yet again Pure Steel is guilty of putting out something that sounds like shit. There is no real bottom end in the music, everything sounds hollow and thin. The label has some good acts on its roster, but they are slowly but surely being drowned in an endless stream of underproduced, average metal. Everything on “Conquistador” sound really muddy, flowing together, making it quite hard to distinguish the instruments. The high pitch vocals are pretty much drowned in the mix, especially during some of the faster moments on the album. Just listen to the double bass parts in the opener “Breaking The Spell”. Totally unlistenable, if you ask me. I am normally not that concerned about the production quality, and have no problem with raw sounding productions. But when something sounds as flat and hollow as this one, I really struggle.

There isn’t a lot of diversity on “”Conquistador”, but the songs where the band slows things down a bit, are those that are listenable.” Blood Red Skies” is one of them. The title song is also a good one, with some nice, hooky vocal lines, cool guitar riffs and interesting details of which at least some of them survives the muddy and unbalanced production. Stixx’ vocals also comes through as a bit clearer here. The album closer “United” showing also some influence from the European scene while sporting some really dull lyrics, are quite terrible though. Worth mentioning for those of you with an eye for details, is the fact that the band for the track “Take To The Sky” uses the same intro as in Barren Cross’ incredible “Out Of Time” from the “State Of Control”-album

There are some good ideas contained within this Collection of songs, and with a stronger production and a vocalist capable of controlling his voice and not overdoing things, this could have been a cool album. Now it’s just a totally over the top modern power metal affair, that really leaves you drained, even though it only lasts for about 39 minutes. (50/100)

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With the release of “Darkness Remains”, Night Demon should be able to please most of those who enjoyed “Curse Of The Damned”, the band’s debut album from 2015. Jarvis Leatherby and his companions still deal in strongly NWOBHM-based metal performed with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. While the new album is the main talking point, Jarvis also lets us in on life on the road as well as his involvement in Jaguar and Cirith Ungol. Continue reading

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