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):
Rage “The Devil Strikes Again” (Nuclear Blast)
I discovered Rage with the album “Perfect Man” back in 1988. I was really high on some Noise Records-bands at the time, Running Wild and Scanner were two others, and the album made a huge impression on me. In the years to come, I followed Rage very closely, waiting in anticipation for their albums, and buying them as soon as they showed up in stores here in Norway. Believe it or not, things got even better after “Perfect Man”, with “Secrets In A Weird World”, “Trapped” and “Black In Mind” all being very strong albums. However, I lost interest in the band completely when Viktor Smolski joined the band, and the last album I bought was the rather weak “XIII” back in 1998.
Enough of my ramblings about the past. Due to some encouraging early reports, I got my hopes up for this “comeback-album” where Mr. Rage, Peavy Wagner, is joined by two new guys, Marcos Rodriguez (guitars) and Vassilios Maniatopoulos (drums). If the talk about a return to the style of “Black In Mind” wasn’t exciting enough, the fact that Smolski is out of the band, is probably reason good enough to check out Rage again, as I never came to terms with this his songwriting.
So is “The Devil Strikes Again” the album we hoped for? Nah, it’s nowhere near the albums I mentioned in quality, not close to works like “Reflections Of A Shadow” or “The Missing Link” either. Even though the album is surprisingly heavy and aggressive, it still maintains one of the central aspects about the band, the strong melodies. The album opens with the title track, which is loud, fast and energetic, lead on by Peavy’s characteristic vocals. Unfortunately, Peavy doesn’t sing as well as he did. He uses his gruff vocals too much, and sounds harsher and less melodic than in the past.
Even if the album both starts fast, and ends fast with “The Dark Side Of The Sun”, one of the better ones on offer, there are also some more midtempo oriented tracks thrown in the mix. The problem is, that whether they are fast or not, most of the songs come and go without leaving much of an impression. It’s all neat and tidy, but come on, how many times have the band done a song like “Spirits Of The Night”? It’s all so predictable, and at times it sounds rather uninspired. And how can they ruin an otherwise good track (pun intended) like “Back On Track” with a third rate Helloween-sounding bridge and a totally terrible chorus? Also, the sound of the album isn’t as natural in the past, the wall of sound leaves me a bit exhausted at the end.
Maybe it’s a bit unfair to judge the band on past merits, and yeah, I would probably have rated this album a bit higher, if it wasn’t a Rage-album, but came from a newcomer act. That being said, I don’ think I ever will play this piece of vinyl again. Why should I when I already have most of the songs, just in better versions from the same band? (65/100)
Ravensire “The Cycle Never Ends” (Cruz Del Sur)
The last album from Portugal’s Ravensire hit me straight between the eyes, and even if I didn’t suspect the band to be a one hit wonder, I wasn’t completely certain that they would be able to replicate it. “The Cycle Never Ends” is not a carbon copy of the debut, but it has many of the same qualities, and the recognizable Ravensire-sound which we got used to last time around.You don’t need many seconds of the opener before you realize that you are listening to the same band that released “We March Forward”. Both the overall sound as well as the songwriting are held in pretty much the same style. That’s fine by me, because the songs are different enough not to be only copies of tracks from the first full length.
Ravensire delivers a brand of powerful and timeless heavy metal that manages to hold the listener in an iron grip from the very first to the last note. You’ll get riffs so crushingly heavy you need to kneel in front of you speakers and at the same time leads so beautiful you will be lost for words. There is not a weak track to be found on the album, and some of the riffs are awesome, to say the least.
The many tempo changes contribute in keeping the album an exciting ride. You’ll find doomy parts, slowly creeping forward, as well as fast and wild passages, sometimes in one and the same track. Rick’s dark, raw and rough vocals are one of the band’s trademarks, and manages to lift the material to an even higher level. Love em or hate em, but this is the type of vocals that will leave an impression on you, no matter what. Personally I love them, and I think they contribute in making things even more raw and barbaric. Besides, they’re adding a bit of ugliness to the sound, probably scaring everyone used to sugar sweet productions and slick vocals away. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the singing is pointless barking though, many of he vocal lines are extremely catchy, simply refusing to leave my head.
“The Cycle Never Ends” has already cemented a place in this year’s top ten list. Only time will tell how high it will end, but it’s by far my fave album of 2016, as we enter the third month of the year. Fave songs? Well, every single one deserves a mention, from the start with “Cromlech Revelations” with its killer riff and slow, creeping chorus to the epic ending with “Temple At The End Of The World”. I would also like to mention the dark “Crosshaven”, the crushingly heavy “Procession Of the Dead” as well as the faster and more aggressive sounding “Trapped In Dreams”. If you look for muscular, chest beating heavy metal with sharp sounding guitars and stellar songwriting (who doesn’t?), look no further! (85/100)
Sacred Steel “Heavy Metal Sacrifice” (Cruz Del Sur)
I’ve covered my love affair with Sacred Steel before, including my relationship to the different phases in the recording history of the Germans. Don’t get me started on that again, as I guess it will bore the hell out of you, let’s just say that I thought the last album, “The Bloodshed Summoning” was the best thing the band has done for quite some time. I guess we need to go back to “Bloodlust” from 2000 to find something of similar quality. Since the release of “The Bloodshed Summoning”, singer Gerrit participated on the excellent Battleroar-album “Blood Of The Legends”, with what was truly one of his best vocal performances ever.
It’s 2016, and time for another effort from the Sacred Steel, their ninth studio album since the debut back in 1997. “Reborn In Steel” was embraced by some parts of the underground scene, I still remember some raving reviews in a few of the best German fanzines of the time, and was a breath of fresh air in a scene that was rather stale. Since then, true metal has been “in” and “out” a couple of times already, and most of the bands that tried to do something similar to what Sacred Steel did back then, are long gone by now. Sacred Steel are still doing their thing of course, not as overenthusiastic and brilliantly unpolished as in the early days, but pretty much in the same style, with a little more maturity and sophistication.
After the funnily titled “(Intro) Glory Ride”, Gerrit’s trademark siren lets loose the title track, a track which celebrates heavy metal both musically as well as in the charming lyrics. Not their best opening track by any chance, and maybe not as fast as expected, but solid stuff, and 100 percent Sacred Steel of course. Next in line is “The Sign Of The Skull”, an epic midtempo track with impressive vocals from Gerrit. “Hail The Gods Of War” is a faster one, with more aggressive and rather typical Sacred Steel -riffs. After three decent tracks, “Vulture Priest” is the first really outstanding song. My fave on the album from the very first listen, and one of the better songs the band has penned in a while. Effective riffs, a strong chorus, and those charismatic vocals, this one has it all. “Children Of The Sky” is one of the better songs as well, showcasing some pretty diverse vocals from Gerrit, including some really good vocal lines coupled with catchy guitars. “Let There Be Steel” track 7, opens the B-side of the vinyl version, and concludes what is clearly the strongest sequence of the album. With lines like: “Stand and kill – Let there be metal. Let there be sacred steel”, this should quickly turn to a live favorite.
The two next songs are more anonymous before the epic “Beyond The Gates Of Nineveh”, the last real song (only the short “Iron Donkey” is left, and it doesn’t add anything other than a bit of fun to the album) ends “Heavy Metal Sacrifice” on a high note. While there is no place for this album in my personal top five list of Sacred Steel-albums, this is clearly another higly enjoyable offering of true and honest heavy metal. Long live Sacred Steel! (70/100)
Savage Master “With Whips And Chains” (High Roller)
While Savage Master seem to be a love/hate affair for most people, I find myself somewhere in between. If I remember right, I awarded the band’s debut, “Mask Of The Devil”, with a decent score here at Metal Squadron, without being blown away by it. I also had the chance to witness the band at this year’s edition of Keep It True, a performance that kind of cemented my opinion on the band further. They do deliver some solid stuff, but the really outstanding moments are few and far between.
For some people, front woman Stacey seem to be the biggest asset of the band, while others people raise questions about her vocals, especially in a live setting. I wasn’t fully convinced live either, but on this album, her powerful vocals are delivered with strength and conviction, matching the effective, heavy mid tempo riffing that most songs rely on. Her barking vocals lead songs like “Path Of The Necromancer” along quite nicely. The sound is very basic, with drums and bass providing a steady, but not very inventive base for the constant salvia of riffs.
Talking about individual songs, the title track, with masculine background vocals providing a nice contrast to Savages vocals during the chorus as well as steady, rock solid main riff, is very enjoyable, and probably the most memorable track of the album. Savage Master delivers no frills heavy metal, but as the album moves along, the lack of real diversity is quite obvious. The tempo, riffs and choruses all sound pretty similar, something that cools my enthusiasm a little. Don’t misunderstand me, “With Whips And Chains” is worth checking out, as it is solid all the way through. In many ways, it’s rather unspectacular though, and instead of the improvement we all hoped for, this is “only” on par with the debut album. (70/100)
Scarblade “The Cosmic Wrath” (No Remorse)
This band was previously called Ruthless Steel, and released an EP called “Die In The Night” back in 2013. I have to admit the record failed to leave a strong impression on me, and soon found its place collecting dust in one of my shelves. The title track from the EP, along with “Power Of Hate” are re-recorded versions of songs that originally were recorded for the band’s first release, and in addition, the band offers six new songs.
The overall package is definitely a bit more modern sounding than the EP, with a smother sound and some keys added to the backround for more depth. It all sounds quite mellow, with melodic and melancholic songs drenched in cool vocal melodies and hooks galore. Singer Aliki Kostopoulous sounds way more pleasant and controlled compared to the rougher and wilder snarling approach she had in Ruthless Steel. She may have had more charm on the EP, but I guess her singing on “The Cosmic Wrath” should appeal to a much wider audience.
Scarblade offers nothing groundbreaking or new of course, but the album makes fun , and that’s the most important thing. Compared to a lot of the new acts coming through, Scarblade have better songs, but the sound is yet again a little too slick for my taste. For musical reference, there is no denying that Alikis voice is putting a strong mark on the sound, which along with the overall catchiness of the material, makes me think a little of former Nuclear Blast-recording act, Sinergy featuring Kimberly Goss. On a quite coherent album, the damn catchy “Escape”, the faster and more aggressive “Evil War” and the heavier “Cursed Legion” are among the highlights. On the other hand, the rocking “Live Wire” is one of the few tracks I simply can’t come to terms with. (70/100)
Septagon “Deadhead Syndicate” (Cruz Del Sur)
Cruz Del Sur has a knack for signing all the right bands, at the right time. Dark Forest, Magister Templi, Sacral Rage and Atlantean Kodex are just four examples. So has Enrico unearthed another gem in Septagon? We’ll get to that, but let’s start by having a closer look at this new act. Septagon features guitarist Markus Ulrich (Lanfear) and behind the microphone none less than Markus Becker from the already mentioned Atlantean Kodex. The other three members are mostly guys that Ulrich has played with, or is playing with, in Lanfear. However, Septagon has just as little in common with the melodic, slightly progressive metal provided by Lanfear as the grandiose epic metal of Atlantean Kodex. The soft and “Henchman Of Darkness” is the only track on the album that makes you think of Atlantean Kodex a little bit, and that is due to Becker’s vocals.
Septagon showcases the main men’s love for things American, as the sound is some sort of combination of melodic US metal coupled with the more sophisticated thrash acts from the early nineties. The biography mentions Exodus, but to be honest I don’t hear much of that here, at least don’t expect a blast in the vein of “Bonded By Blood”, as this is probably closer to “Force Of Habit”-era Exodus, in terms of energy and aggression.
Whether this album is thrash or not, is something I guess is up for debate, and will be discussed, but the most important thing is that Septagon has created a well-played, melodic, catchy and up to date metal album that doesn’t incorporate outside influences, but celebrates an era that is often overlooked in favor of what happened five years or so earlier. Think of the second or third albums from bands likely to throw in an acoustic instrumental just to add some diversity, you known the likes of Heathen, Annihilator, Forbidden, Death Angel or for that matter Artillery, and you are at least in the same region stylewise. The production and songwriting are a bit different though, making sure Septagon is still something different.
There are parts here that are just as progressive as what you expect from Lanfear. Everything also seems to be on pretty high technical level, with plenty of room for finesse. That being said, this is definitely not a tech-thrash release. The songs, with emphasis on exciting riffs, strong hooks and catchy vocal lines are always the focal point, and there is little or no showing off just for the sake of it. Pretty much all the songs are filled with great leads, and most of them must be considered fast or at least up tempo, but you’ll also find the intro “Ignite The Apocalypse”, a bit in the vein of Annihilator’s “Crystal Ann”. The album also contains a pure, heavy midtempo-track like “Ripper” while the “Secret Silver Panorama Mahcine” also is a standout track due the verse being very Megadeth with Becker snarling like Mustaine but with a very melodic, and unfortunately way too cheesy chorus for my taste.
Among many good tracks, the fast, straight ahead, powerful, yet melodic “Unwanted Company”, and the more diverse “Septagon Conspiracy” with a strong vocal performance by Becker, are among the highlights. My one major criticism is probably that it sounds a little to clean, but that has probably more to do with personal preferences than anything else. (75/100)
Seven Sisters “Seven Sisters” (High Roller)
The intention was to feature this band with an interview here at Metal Squadron, but in the end it never materialized. A bit sad really, as I was rather positive towards their previous efforts, the demo tape as well as the 7”. None of the tracks featured on those two releases are awarded with place on the band’s first full length release, instead we are treated to eight brand new tracks, making this debut album “fresher” than what is usually the case in a time when demo material more often thannotare re-recorded for debut albums.
It was not until I sat down and paid real attention to “Seven Sisters”, that the album kind of opened up for me. It’s not that the album is particularly demanding, because as soon as the guitars to the first track work their way through the speakers, it becomes clear that “original” isn’t a word associated with this bunch. So what made the album a little harder to get into then? Well, it might be the fact that the band seem to focus slightly less on choruses compared to some of these other new heavy metal acts. Instead, Seven Sisters are bringing to the table song structures that are often a little different, like for instance in the lenghty, epic title track.
Musically, this is what I would call “pretty typical British stuff”. There are roots back to the NWOBHM of course, while the guitar work, as in another relatively new British band like Dark Forest, is clearly the strongest aspect. This album is packed with solid riffs and solos and lots of classy twin guitar harmonies.The vocals on the other hand, I am talking about both the technique as well as the voice itself, aren’t that impressive, but somehow they fit quite well with the music. Kyle McNeill has the type of clean vocals that could have come straight out of the NWOBHM, and his style is not too far from Angel Witch’s Kevin Heybourne.
What about the songs then? They are pretty nice, but without any real spectacular moments. The album gets a flying start with two of the faster paced tracks: “Destiny’s Calling” and “Higways Of The Night . Apart from these, and a few additional moments, I feel that the material could have been a tad faster and a bit more aggressive. That being said, there is a certain charm about quite a few of the more midtempo oriented songs as well.
“Seven Sisters” might take more than the usual ccouple of listens to get into, but the album is definitely solid, and worth checking out if you enjoy NWOBHM or the Americans in Riot, which in turn was heavily inspired by the British movement. (70/100)
Sin Starlett “Digital Overload” (Emanes Metal)
“Digital Overload” is the third full length from Sin Starlett out of Luzern in Switzerland. The debut flew under the radar of even the most underground minded of us, but the follow up, “Throat Attack” was a fine affair of down to earth heavy metal, a tradition the band continues with the release of “Digital Overload”. There are absolutely no surprises here, and thank God for that, as the world is always in need for solid, working man’s heavy metal in its purest form.
Elias Felbers’ vocals are reminiscent of a more nasal Biff Byford at times, and the Saxon-influence goes even further in “Tear Down the Walls”, a track that strongly recalls Barnsleys baddest. Speaking about British heavy metal, there is also a bit of early eighties Judas Priest to be found here, maybe not as much in individual tracks, as in the general approach and songwriting. If you bought the vinyl single Metalworld put out last year, you should know what to expect from this album, and the two songs that featured on this release, the title track as well as “Electric Expander” are both among the strongest songs on offer here.
Sin Starlett deserves praise for delivering straight to the point, no frills heavy metal, and nothing else. I would go as far as saying this is one of the better pure metal albums released so far this year. I am writing this review based on the LP-version, and have to say it’s pretty obvious that the A-side contains the best material. Most of the songs are good to great though, with only the mid tempo oriented “The Last Straw” being a bit of a letdown, simply because it’s boring and because the chorus is repeated way too many times. Other than that, this is a well written and performed album with a crisp and natural production. A recommended listening well worth a piece of your time! (75/100)
Stone Magnum “Holy Blessings To None” (RIP Records)
I kind of discovered this band with their last album, the truly excellent “From Time…To Eternity” from 2013, and then went back and checked their good debut album as well, which I missed out on when it was released in 2012. It feels great to be able to write that “Holy Blessings To None” is just as impressive, if not even better than its predecessor, which I gave a very favorable review. I certainly had high hopes for this album when the guitarist Dean Tavernier sent me the files a month or so ago, but I have to say this album is totally awesome. One thing is for certain, Stone Magnum is not your standard doom metal band anymore (if they ever were). The album is damn heavy, but the overall tempo is higher than expected, even though the band always had some killer up temo stuff on their previous albums as well.
Since he joined the band, one of the main strengths of the Stone Magnum, along with the sheer heaviness and the diverse songwriting, is the vocals of Nick Hernandez. On this album, his second with the band, he sounds even more impressive than before. The opener “As I Burn Your World To Ash” is kind of a slow starter, but when Nick puts power behind his words in this track, I at least, feel the hairs on your arms raise. Although his voice is powerful and towering, he is also capable of adding a little aggressive snarl to it like in ”Stone Magnum”, the fastest track on the album, thundering along in frenetic up tempo. In “The Illusion of Faith”, he does a very good Bruce Dickinson-impression and overall his vocals strike me as very powerful and generally impressive.
There is some really sinister and heavy, almost death metallish riffing instance in “Condemn Thy Flesh To Dust, one of quite a few songs that highlights the diversity on offer here. “Signum Crucis” is another one carrying hints of extreme metal, shown in the second part of the song as it build and builds from a doomy start. With the addition of Justin Henry, who has stepped in after Brad Toth left the bands in 2014, the foundation for these parts are created through genereally faster and more aggressive drumming.
Overall, Stone Magnum has something that many doom metal-based acts severly lack. Overall, the songs are very catchy, with strong choruses, memorable riffs and vocal lines. “Holy Blessings To None” is simply put a great album from a band that has proved now, that they without doubt should be a lot bigger than they actually are. (85/100)
Vultures Vengeance “Where The Time Dwelt In” (Cruz Del Sur)
The Italians in Vultures Vengeance seemingly came out of nowhere last year, and released a mighty fine demo tape (later also released as a 7”) with raw and uncompromising heavy metal, sounding a lot like some of the heavier US metal acts from the eighties. Metal Squadron was one of the first online medias to take an interest in the band, and this pretty interesting interview was conducted.
The band seems to have spent the time since that release very well, apart from securing a deal with Cruz Del Sur’s sublabel Gates Of Hell, they have also recorded this EP containing an intro and four new tracks that didn’t feature on the demo. The closing title track is a nearly six minutes long instrumental, while the three other songs are real obscure underground bangers with powerful and commanding vocals and a rather thin sound that reeks of cult metal demos or the Metal Massacre-samplers from the eighties. The production, or maybe the lack of production, might put some potential listeners off, but turn up the sound a little extra, and it should be possible to enjoy the inspired songwriting of these guys.
This EP is full of (hairy)) chest beating US power metal sounding like the genre was supposed to sound at the time when bands like Liege Lord (“Freedom’s Rise”), Omen (“Battle Cry”) or even Jag Panzer (“Ample Destruction”) were at their peak. The songs certainly got a bit of the same dark vibe about them, while the sound, it has to be said is more akin to a demo band threading the same waters as these, or other early to mid eighties US acts.
The EP definitely works best when it’s listened to in its entirety, so it doesn’t really feel necessary to single out particular tracks, but if I face no other choice than to cough up a title or else I will be forced to listen to the new Freedom Call-album, I would surely mention the opener “A Curse From Obsidian Realm”, a no-nonsense, uptempo killer track full of energy, performed with real conviction. That being said, the song writing is inspired and to the point all the way through, and the world definitely needs more material from Vultures Vengeance, as soon as possible! (75/100)
White Magician “The Pledge” (Dystopian Dogs)
Most of the musicians in White Magician are also involved in the truly brilliant Demon Bitch, which just had their first full length released through Skol Recods. Even though White Magician has existed for some years already, “The Pledge” is the first sign of life from the band. We’re talking about an EP, a format that is growing ever more popular among newer acts, with a playing time of around 24 minutes. The musical content is four self penned tracks as well as a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Nosferatu”.
The EP, for now only available on CD-format, but supposed to be released on vinyl as well later in the year, through Germany’s Underground Power, is well worth investigating. If you haven’t yet heard Demon Bitch, you should check it, and if you already know the guys’ main band, you should give it a try nevertheless. The vocals of The Great Kaiser (aka Solon Saton in Demon Bitch) are more controlled compared to those of Logon Saton (bass in White Magician, vocals in Demon Bitch), but watch out for some pretty wild shrieks in the strong opener“The Devil’s City”. The music itself, while always dark, is a bit more melodic compared to Demon Bitch, a tad easier to follow and at times with a stronger hard rock touch.
As for the other songs, “The Pledge: Mad Magic” carries traces of King Diamond, and is slightly faster and more aggressive compared to the opener. It’s a short and strong song with a strange and very intense end section. “The Turn: The Magician’s Last Act” is the only track on this release that I struggle to come to terms with. It lacks a clear direction, and also the power of the other songs. “The Fall: Sad Magic” on the other hand, is a highlight, carrying the most memorable riff on the EP along with a pretty strong melody and some damn catchy vocal lines. Rounding things off is the cover of “Nosferatu”, which is nicely done and fits in quite well with the rest of the songs, even though the volume seems to be a bit lower. A different session perhaps? Also worth mentioning is the great guitar solos which are present in more or less every track. The sound of White Magician might be a bit more conventional compared to Demon Bitch, but this still sounds fresh compared to most of the stuff coming out these days. Personally I can’t wait for the next release (75/100)
Wytch Hazel “Prelude” (Bad Omen)
This, I have to say, is something of a surprise! I thought the first demo showed some promise, but I didn’t think the follow up-EP “The Truth” represented the improvement I hoped for, mostly due to the production, or should I say, the lack of production? Even though the songwriting has showed qualities through all their releases, listening to “Prelude” is a different experience altogether.
On this, the band’s first full length release, the songs flow so much better than before. Also, the crisp production brings forth details that simply wasn’t there before, and really helps in painting those huge melodies even clearer . If you have followed the band since the beginning, there are a couple of tracks here that will be known to you already. “Wytch Hazel” was already on the band’s first demo, while “Fight” is a rerecorded version of the track originally found on the EP “The Truth”. As you probably have understood, these interpretations are way superior to the original versions.
One other thing that I really like, is that fact that even though it’s natural to draw lines to the likes of Jethro Tull, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, with some early heavy metal thrown in of course, Wytch Hazel sounds incredibly fresh and exciting compared to most contemporary acts. The folk and medieval influence is pretty strong, and really adds to the bands identity, as there really aren’t that many bands doing this kind of stuff. It really makes listening to this album is special, and somewhat of a different experience altogether.
Colin Hendra is the main man in Wytch Hazel. Not only is he doing the songwriting, more or less on his own, he also plays guitar and sings. I simply love the warmth of Colins voice and all the delicious guitar harmonies scattered around on the album. If you need proof, just listen to “More Than Conquerors”, a beautiful and mesmerizing tune that got me completely hooked from the first spin. In fact, it’s probably the song I have listened most to the last few months.
“We Will Be Strong” is another of my favorites, while a slower, more stripped down track like “Dark Ages”, doesn’t really do it for me, and a long with a couple of other rather anonymous tracks, is proof that the band can still improve. If you want it straight in the face and prefer your metal with capital letters all the time, this probably isn’t for you, but if you can enjoy a more laidback sound, and a release that is a little bit sophisticated with grandiose, slightly folky melodies and great vocals, this album is one you need to check out! (75/100)