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):
Mail address: Leif Kringen, Melbystien 3, N-2818 Gjovik, Norway
Ancient Empire “Other World” (Stormspell)
Following up their 2014-release “When Empires Fall”, this is the second album from San Fransisco-based, modern power metal-outfit Ancient Empire. The band features the rhythm section of the Pelletier-brothers (Steve, drums and Rich, bass) who both have a long career, with acts like Forgotten Disciple, Hellhound and Rapid Fire on their CV. All bands by the way, have had their material released by Stormspell, who are also releasing this new Ancient Empire-album, as they were with the debut. A rhythm section alone doesn’t make an album for the average heavy metal-fan I guess, and the last cog in the wheel is Joe Liszt who is also in Shadowkiller and used to sing for Rocka Rollas.
Ancient Empire performs decent heavy/power metal, avoiding the worst clichés. The material on “Other World” is not overly exciting by any means, but solid enough and well performed. “Fight Another Day” is a powerful and midtempo oriented opener, clearly one of the better tracks here, but in a broader context, a little unspectacular. Some cuts, like the following “Dark Before Dawn” inject a bit more tempo, but most of the songs strike me a little ordinary again when it comes to the melodies. More hooks would have been great, as there are some fine guitar shredding going on. Liszt is without doubt a solid singer, but the vocal melodies lacks in creativity and sound a little too similar from song to song.
The recording feels a little clinical, I wished it hit me more straight in my face, with some additional aggression and bite. Maybe it would have helped if the guitars were a bit beefier and further forward in the mix? The drums could have sounded a bit more natural as well. Another point worth mentioning, is the fact that as the album moves along, I have a pretty hard time distinguishing the songs from each other. To sum up, Ancient Empire delivers decent, power metal with a dark aura surrounding, but, mostly due to the lack of hooks and catchy melodies, there isn’t really a single standout track on offer here (55/100)
Angel Sword “Rebels Beyond The Pale” (Underground Power)
With the likes of Ranger and Speedtrap coming through, we were reminded that Finland has more to offer than sugar sweet, so called power metal. With Tyfon’s Doom, Satan’s Fall and Angel Sword releasing stuff pretty much at the same time, it suddenly feels like Finnish heavy metal stands stronger than for quite a while. Out of the three acts mentioned in the same sentence here, Angel Sword is probably the least interesting. Their mix of seventies hard rock, naïve NWOBHM/punk and mid eighties, melancholic Scandinavian metal, is certainly not bad, but there are few factors that prevent me from using the really big superlatives.
This album, the band’s first full length release, consists of the four tracks from the band’s demo “Midwinter Tapes”, remixed with some parts also being rerecorded as well as five brand new tracks. One of the main strengths of the band is the nice melodies and hummable choruses that turn up here and there, most notably in tracks like “Devastator”, “Lords Of Thunder” and “Lightning Runner”. On the other hand, this album also contains songs like “Heavy Metal Night” and “Break The Chains”, the latter sporting a pretty strong Accept-influence, that are really unspectacular and cheesy.
The main problem with this album is the really shabby vocals, and that comes from someone who usually tolerates a lot when we talk about vocals in traditional heavy metal. In fact, it should be clear to everyone listening to this album that the vocals simply aren’t good enough. When the tempo slows down in songs like the spooky and heavy “Witches Never Die” or in the dark and heavy “Sign Of The Ravens”, the vocals are really a painful experience.
Apart from the inconsistent songwriting and the subpar vocals, the band has managed to create a crisp and natural, varm sound, where we don’t get the usual wall of distorted guitars. It all sounds neat and tidy with the clean guitars bringing forth the many guitar harmonies. The instrumental parts are mostly a pleasure to listen to, although the lack of aggression and bite becomes very clear after a while. I already see this band being celebrated by some people as the new metal sensation. In my opinion they still have a lot of homework to do! (65/100)
Anvil “Anvil Is Anvil” (Steamhammer)
Anvil keeps pumping out albums in the wake of their rise to (almost) stardom with the documentary you all have probably seen. I read a very good review of this album in one of the respected European metal magazines, but come on, this is some of the weakest stuff the band has ever released! Compare “Anvil Is Anvil” to a world class album like “Forged In Fire”, or an excellent, but somewhat overlooked album like “Worth The Weight”, and you will have trouble believing it’s the same band. Hell, “Anvil Is Anvil” is even weaker than the rather mediocre last releases like “Juggernaut Of Justice” and “Hope In Hell”.
In many ways I am tempted to say that the music sounds just as uninspired as the album title. Having said that, “Anvil Is Anvil” is a fitting title in many ways, as this album also has the trademark Anvil-sound. What it doesn’t have, is the songs. The songwriting on this album is really lackluster. Since I am in a pretty good mood, I can name three songs that I sort of like. “Run Like Hell”, “Runaway Train” and “Fire On The Highway” are all okay, but even these tracks are extremely predictable and not even close to some of the best songs the band has done during the past ten years.
Quite a few of the songs are too much rock’n roll for my taste, but the production is quite good, heavy and natural with Robb Reiners massive drums very much upfront. Lipps is also his usual self, with his characteristic vocals and guitar riffs. As you have probably understood by now, the main problem with this album is the totally uninspired song writing. The opening track “Daggers And Rum” is simply awful, showing a side of the band I have never heard before with its pirate-inspired lyrics and “yo-ho-ho’s” Other than that there are a bunch of mid tempo stompers like “Gun Control” and “Zombie Apocalypse” where the the band is only running through the routines. Really boring stuff, in my opinion.
Some songs have decent parts, like “Forgive Not Forget” with its classic Anvil-verse, but in return they have some really shitty choruses. The band has gone for gang vocals during a few of the choruses this time, but these are also extremely predictable to the point where they almost feel calculated. Also, many of the choruses, as weak as they are, are repeated to the point that you get down on your knees begging for mercy. The band might still deliver from the stage (I haven’t seen them for a few years), but they should really consider if it’s worth doing more albums if they can’t find some spark or inspiration. (40/100)
Axevyper “Into The Serpent’s Den” (Iron Shield)
I kind of miss the Italian label My Graveyard Records. Along with the usual subpar stuff, they also released some pretty fine albums (with mostly terrible covers), among them some releases by Assedium and Axevyper. The former featured a couple of members that are in Axevyper to this day. The guitarist Guido Tiberi is one of them, and he is also the guy behind Hyborian Steel, which is probably my favourite among the three mentioned here. While Hyborian Steel deals in dark and obscure metal with rough vocals, mainly inspired by American underground masters, it’s a lot easier to hear that Axevyper is more influenced by European metal. Already the opening track, “Brothers Of The Black Sword” showcases a pretty strong “Powerslave/Piece Of Mind”- influence. The crunchy and loud bass as well as some of the classic harmonies are just two factors that point in this direction.
Even though the tracks sound like they were forged on British soil, Axevyper doesn’t sound like your your usual NWOBHM-retro band, in fact they’re more similar to a British band being away for a while, then doing a pretty decent comeback brushing off some dust and returning with a sound that is a bit more modern. While they have the style as well as the ability to perform it well, Axevyper don’t really have the songwriting skills to lift this album up in the elite division. Don’t misunderstand me, this is an enjoyable piece of work, but its not one I see myself returning to in a year’s time.
Overall, the album isn’t particularly heavy, it’s more like solid melodic metal, with a rather smooth sound, but not compeletely without punch or aggression. However, a bit rougher edges would have helped the band, as everything sounds a bit to crisp and clean. The material is strongly lacking idenitity. I don’t think there is a single track on here that sticks out, but if I have to choose, “Soliders Of The Underground” and “Spirit Of The Wild” are probably the ones I enjoy the most. “Metal Tyrant”, an hommage to Harry Conklin and Jag Panzer also deserves a mention, along with “Under The Pyramid” which has a darker overall expression. There are a few longer tracks here as well, but they’re not interesting enough to hold the listener’s attention throughout. (65/100)
Blackslash “Sinister Lightning” (Iron Shield)
I enjoy listening to and discovering new acts. It’s nothing new really, as it dates back to the time when I really got into the more obscure underground heavy metal in the second half of the nineties. Of course it was more fun back then, when you sat back browsing through the paper lists you got in the mail and decided whether or whether not to order something from Germany or the US, simply based on the description, not of a reviewer trying to be objective, but one done by the guy behind the distro trying to push their stuff on you. No problem really, as people back then seemed to be both honest and also quite accurate in their descriptions.
Why am I mentioning this in the review of Blackslash and their new album? Well, for once, Blackslash is a rather new band. While the cover art might suggest that the German quintet deals in more aggressive sounds, their second full length turns out to be nothing but pleasant, melodic metal. The vocals of Clemens Haas is laidback and pleasant (though a bit flat) and the songs are performed without too many rough edges and with emphasis on nice melodies and strong hooks. Even though the album doesn’t sound as heavy or aggressive as expected, it’s still quite enjoyable stuff. The band sounds a bit different from other German newcomers like Blizzen or Stallion and in “Made Of Steel” they have something that, at least in parts, sounds a little like an American power ballad.
Even though the band has a knack of penning strong choruses, showcased in for instance “Empire Rising”, I feel that they are repeated a little too much for their own good. A problem is also that the material seems to be lacking a little bite and energy. A song like “Lucifer’s Reign” sounds a little sharper, has a bit more energy, and because of this, it’s one of the highlights on the album.
Overall, this debut album is nothing to be overly excited about, but still an album that you could play and enjoy, if you are into “easy listening” melodic metal that is. What it definitely does show, is some potential for the future. (65/100)
Blizzen “Genesis Reversed” (High Roller)
Okay, I admit it, I am underwhelmed by a lot of the bands that are part of what people love to call NWOTHM. Lets, see, the first few albums by Enforcer were brilliant, and the darker approach they have chosen for their later albums has worked well too, but a lot of these newer acts following in pretty similar footsteps, are not impressing me at all. Look to Canada for example and bands like Cauldron, Axxion or Skull Fist. Apart from the first Cauldron-EP (hey, that’s a long time ago), these acts do nothing at all for me. Too many hair metal-sounding riffs, sugar sweet vocals and soft melodies are among my main concerns. The same can, at least to a certain extent, be said about acts like Hitten, Stallion and…Blizzen.
Although there were some signs that weren’t too positive already on the first EP released last year, I wanted to wait for Blizzen’s first full length before I passed the judgement on the guys. Like on the EP ,the vocals sound way too flat and at the same time, come across totally without grit or power. To add to this, the music is way too lightweight and slick. I could have mentioned the lack of originality as well, but since this is clearly not a criteria for making interesting music, I will limit myself to saying that the band should work on elements that sets them apart from the bands I have mentioned and all other acts exploring the waters where hard rocking sounds meet heavy metal.
Even though I don’t really curse myself for missing the band’s appearance when I attended the “Revenge Of True Heavy Metal “ in Finland earlier this year, the music of Blizzen probably works better in a live format, where the band should be able to add some energy and sound a bit heavier. On record they simply haven’t enough to offer. The songs are way too similar when it comes to tempo, melodies and atmosphere too. None of them is worth singling out, as all of them fail to impress me. Yes, I can listen to “Genesis Reversed” without turning the album off, but I am listening to it only to review it, not because I enjoy it. (50/100)
Cauldron “In Ruin” (High Roller)
Okay, I admit it: I own a Cauldron t-shirt. I even wear it sometimes, but only underneath a jumper or a shirt. I never take off the jumper, I never unbutton the shirt. Why not? Well, I am not particularly proud of owning it, although it has to be said I bought it around the release of their first EP, “Into The Cauldron” back in 2007. You see, I loved the stuff singer and bass player Jason Decay did in Goat Horn prior to Cauldron, but since the EP, I’ve been lukewarm at best, sometimes frustrated when listening to their newer material.
“In Ruin” is Cauldron’s first full length since 2012, and taking the time they have used to get this album done into consideration, I guess it’s allowed to raise the expectations compared to what we got last time we heard from the Canadian trio. And yeah, this album might be a little better than “Burning Fortune” and “Tomorrows Lost”, but it’s just marginal, and “In Ruin” is definitely not an album that will change the way I look at the band. While it all sounds neat and tidy, with some pretty nice vocal melodies here and there from Mr. Decay, it’s all way too safe. I have nothing against melodic stuff, but when you pretend to play heavy metal, it should sound raw, it should have energy and it should sound that little bit dangerous. Cauldron doesn’t meet any of the criteria.
The last albums have been severely lacking when it comes to grit and energy, and unfortunately “In Ruin” does as well. Also, Decay’s vocals, while very prominent in the mix, sound as uncomitted and laidback as ever, failing to add bite to the overall picture. I am sure this type of mellow expression, severely lacking in power, with hints of a more hardrocking style is what the band is aiming for, but it doesn’t appeal to me at all.
Even though the album as a whole sounds rather dull and one dimensional both when it comes to tempo and arrangements, the opening track “No Return/In Ruin” featuring some nice guitar details, some pretty decent vocal harmonies and a surprisingly energy filled mid section, as well as the catchy “Burning At Both Ends” are both quite enjoyable. (55/100)
Dark Forest “Beyond The Veil” (Cruz Del Sur)
This is the album that should catapult Dark Forest into the elite division of heavy metal. Don’t misunderstand me, I was a big fan of their two latest albums as well, but this new one is clearly the best and most coherent work yet.
When you listen to «Beyond The Veil», you get a strong sense of spending time with not only a collection of songs, but an album, in the real meaning of the word. People will always have favourite tracks, I have a couple myself («Autumn’s Crown» which is the undisputed hit of the album, with a strong melody, the overall excellent «Blackthorn» with some awesome harmonies going on in the chorus and the long, epic album closer «The Lore Of The Land»), but the album itself should definitely be the main focus here. There is a thick, red thread running through all the songs of the album. At 71 minutes, I guess you can argue that the album is too long. However, the boring parts are very few and far between and the melodies, while clearly being written to complement each other, are not too similar.
The twin guitar work, full of wonderful harmonies has always been the best part about Dark Forest, and here it is shaped to perferction. It’s difficult to understand how you can do it better, as each solo or riff works perfectly. The album is very melodic, in the same manner that a band like Twisted Tower Dire is melodic, but with different kind melodies of course .Melodic heavy metal with folk influences should be a pretty accurate description, for as Christian Horton says in the interview, this is not a folk metal album with alternative instruments. Guitars, bass, drums and vocals that’s it. The classic set up for a heavy metal band.
While some might argue that the band lacks a top class singer, the vocals of Josh Winnard are improved compared to last time. While it felt like he was only just getting used to singing on «The Awakening», he seems much more secure now. His voice is not spectacular in any way, but it’s very pleasant, and fits well with the crisp sound and the melodic base of the songs. Also, some of the vocal melodies are simply irresistible. Coupled with the lyrics, they draw you into another, magical world.
In a year that has been a bit underwhelming when it comes to new releases, «Beyond The Veil» is a bright, shining light and clearly one of the strongest offerings put out by a heavy metal band. It takes a great band to create such grand and majestic compositions without turning cheesy. Dark Forest is definitely a great band! (85/100)
Dark Nightmare “Tortured Souls” (Eat Metal)
I believe I own both the previous albums released by Greece’s Dark Nightmare, but to be honest, I don’t play them a lot. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I have listened to “The Human Liberty” or “Beneath The Veils Of Winter” since they were both brand new. That doesn’t make the band irrelevant of course, and I remember both previous releases as decent. The problem is, that there is a lot of stuff coming out that deserves to be described with bigger superlatives than that.
The stuff the band present on “Tortured Souls” is not very immediate, and it took a handful of listens before I started enjoying the album. The singer has a pretty heavy accent, but if you’re ears are fed regularly with metal from the southern parts of Europe, it shouldn’t ruin your listening experience. I have to say it draws my attention a little though, both when I am just lending the music an ear, but especially when I listening more actively with the lyrics in front of me.
In a few of the songs there are traces of extreme metal to be found, but also some interesting keyboard parts that definitely add something extra to the songs and make them more interesting. There is a bit of a progressive touch on the material, which contributes strongly in keeping things interesting. The opener of the album, “I-Life” doesn’t really cut it with me, but already the following, “Crown Of Innocence”, is better. This song has a mystical aura and a really tasteful guitar solo. With the third track, ”Eternal Forest” things really gets interesting. The track is close to 8 minutes long and reeks of extreme metal in the guitars as well as the drumming. It’s a really diverse number, with the main part being very emotional and powerful, containing passages with deeper, dramatic vocals a little similar to the mighty Eric Clayton from Saviour Machine. Simply excellent stuff!
Speaking of the singer, I have to admit he gets a little on my nerves when he uses the upper register of his voice, like in ”Waiting For The Light” for instance. Most of the time though, his performance is steady and powerful. Clocking in at almost 55 minutes, “Tortured Souls” seems a little too long, but it’s not really a big problem as thing are kept rather interesting and also surprisingly fresh throughout the album. It might be due to the fact that I don’t listen to nowhere near as much progressive tinted metal as I used to, but to me, Dark Nightmare has a bit of their own thing going, which is never a bad thing. Both the music as well a the vocals and lyrics, carry this strong melancholic feeling, something which you can hear in for instance “Slaughter”. While the band never reaches the heights of the aforementioned “Eternal Forest”, most of the songs are quite decent. “Borders Of Pain” where the band sound faster and more aggressive, is one that doesn’t work as good for me, as it feels a little too hectic with a vocal style that doesn’t seem to fit the singer’s voice that well. (70/100)
Demon “Cemetery Junction” (Spaced Out Music)
Apart from the obvious first two albums that everyone seem to love, I am a huge fan of the albums that Demon did in the late eighties and early nineties. “Breakout” and “Blow-out” are fine records, while “Taking The World By Storm” and “Hold On To The Dream” are two of my favorite albums ever, and simply so awesome I can’t picture myself surviving more than a month without listening to one or both of them.
It’s been obvious for quite some time now, that the band is not capable of delivering that kind of quality anymore, but “Unbroken”, only the band’s third album in the 20 years that have passed since the release of “Blow-out”, showed that Dave Hill and his ever changing compatriots are still capable of coming up with some pretty solid stuff. “Cemetery Junction”, hitting the streets “only” four years later, is more or less in the same league. It’s a long way to the standards of the already mentioned world class albums, but still there are songs here better than most of the stuff coming out these days. As always, there is something damn honest and workman like about the way the band operates.
The opening track “Are You Just Like Me”, really raised my quite moderate expectations, as it is clearly one of the best, if not the best Demon-track since the days of “Blow-Out”. A rocking and direct opener with an infectious chorus and some tasteful keyboards added. “Life In Berlin” is slower and more on the melancholic side of things, with Mr. Hill contributing to the melancholy with his performance. A very different track to the opener, but still a strong one.
Speaking about the vocals, you should have no problem recognizing the voice of Mr. Hill, the only remaining original member of the band, especially if you have a relationship to Demon that involves more than having heard songs like “Don’t Break The Circle” or “Night Of The Demon”. While he is clearly not the singer he once was, his signature hoarse and rough voice is still intact, and come on, Demon has never been about perfect vocal performances. Hill has always been able to carry huge emotions with his voice, and he still is, just listen to the track “Queen Of Hollywood”.
Sadly, after the two first tracks, things go downhill, at times rather steep. While there are some good moments in the aformentioned “Queen Of Hollywood”, the title track and a couple of others, the general impression is that that there are too many soft moments and generally the songwriting seems too conservative, with quite a few of the songs recalling tracks the band already wrote in the past. Also the performance seems to miss the necessary spark and energy to make mediocre songs that little bit more interesting, at times the band, including Hill himself, sounds almost uninspired. (60/100)
Demon Bitch “Hellfriends” (Skol)
I fell completely in love with Demon Bitch with the release of their EP “Death Is Hanging”. Just like another (now sadly defunct) act from the area, Borrowed Time, Demon Bitch is capturing the true heavy metal spirit from the eighties. And just like Borrowed Time did, Demon Bitch also shows willingness to think outside of the box and experiment with the song writing without straying one inch from the power/speed/heavy-metal-path. “Hellfriends” is a weird album, at times downright mad, but without turning into nonsense or something that isn’t heavy metal. Quite an achievement, I would say.
The performance might not be tightest you have heard this year, but what the hell, it has a lot of charm, and you can really hear the guys having fun and enjoying themselves when they recorded the album. It’s certainly not an album for everyone, but my readers, and everyone else with a bit of experience from underground and under produced eighties heavy should find a lot of joy in this album. Personally, I think Logon Saton’s theatrical and totally over the top vocals are one of the coolest aspects about Demon Bitch. Wild and whining, they seem to be all over the place and are totally fascinating.
I was a bit shocked to say the least, when I made a compilation with one song from this release and some tracks from a few random new metal releases a while ago. The volume on “Hellfriends” is very low compared to most other recordings put out this year, but listening to it now, it’s not that much a concern, as the volume of course is steady from song to song. Also, you can always turn up the volume to 11 if you want!
Let’s round of this review by saying a little about some of the individual tracks. There are only seven of them, and one of those, “A Passage To The Other Side”, is a short instrumental. Among the six others, you’ll find “Devil Love” which is a rerecording of a song that originally featured on the band’s 2012 Demo. The opening tune, “Warning From The Skies” is great, so melodic, so intense and so fresh sounding, it leaves you on your knees begging for more. The title track is another fave, totally over the top, both when it comes to the tempo as well as the singing. “Fortunes Told” also deserves to be mentioned, and especially the intense and energy packed ending which works as a climax to a great track.
The album clocks in at 36 minutes, which feels about right, since it’s not the most diverse album. That being said, listening to “Hellfriends” is a different experience than listening to 90 percent of the metal stuff coming out these days. It sounds so genuine and so right! If you like your metal dark, fast and catchy, this is the album to buy. I love it! (80/100)
Dexter Ward “Rendezvous With Destiny” (No Remorse)
I did an in depth interview with Mark from Dexter Ward a while ago. He is a lovely guy and very good heavy metal singer, and possesses a voice with a lot of identity. Simply put, he is a singer you can easily recognize among hordes of others, and also one of the main strengths of Dexter Ward, both on album as well as in a live setting. He not only carries the songs on this album, he is also able to lift them to a higher level.
With the catchy and extremely easy to like title track, the album gets off to a solid start. The following “Stone Age Warrior”, taking on a heavier and more epic approach, is the best song on offer here, an opinion that seems to be shared by many who have heard the album. A real hymn! The third track is “These Metal Wings” where a Jag Panzer-like chorus is paired with some Iron Maiden-like guitar work, and the end result is another hymn. After these three killer songs, which were also the ones the band performed when I had the joy of watching them at KIT, things get a little less exciting. Not boring or bad, I must stress, but a little less entertaining.
The material is rather melodic, easy to remember and with lots of hooks. It’s all nice and tidy stuff, and I am listening to this album and enjoying it, but that being said, there is something missing for “Rendezvous With Destiny” to be a real top class album. I am not sure what it is, but some of the riffs could surely have been a bit more interesting. Maybe I would have liked the album even more if they had added more of the heaviness they have incorporated in “Stone Age Warrior”? Or perhaps if the sound was a bit rawer, or one or two songs (“Knights Of Jerusalem” springs to mind) had a bit more energy? Don’t let my objections avoid you from checking out “Rendezvous With Destiny” though, as it is a mighty fine piece of melodic heavy metal with some hard rock influences, most notable in “We Are Dexter Ward”. (75/100)
Eternal Champion “The Armor Of Ire” (No Remorse)
Since I am not the fastest when it comes to finishing reviews, I have been able to watch from the sidelines as the praise for this one has been coming from both left and right. As those of you who have followed Metal Squadron from the start should know, we were pretty much the first to feature Eternal Champion, so no – we are not surprised!
So what about “The Armor Of Ire”, the band’s first full length then? Is it the highlight “everyone” seems to think? I would definitely say so, it’s clearly a stand out release, and destined to feature in a very prominent position on my top ten-list, come the end of 2017. I guess you can say, the album is already a winner, as there is no other record released this year that I have listened to the same number of times as “The Armor Of Ire”. Partly because it’s a short album of course, clocking in at only 34 minutes, but also because it’s damn good one. The “Armor Of Ire” is also surprisingly diverse, without straying far off from what is expected from a pure heavy metal album with an epic element of course.
The first track “I Am The Hammer” has some Jon Oliva-like shrieks at the start, and soon turns into a monster of a midtempo…eh…hammer with some damn heavy riffs. The title track I loved straight away too, it’s a lot more melodic, nowhere near as dark and heavy as the opener, it even has some tasteful synth incorporated, but with awesome melodies going on throughout the song. These two tracks are both among the very best heavy metal numbers released in 2017, no doubt about it. “The Last Kingdom Of Pictdom” most of you probably know from the demo, although this is a newly recorded version. Another great song, and even though I have heard it countless times already on the tape and later on the 7″, I am nowhere near tired of it.
Alongside the six real tracks, of which five are new ones, there are also two intros which I don’t really get the point with. I would clearly have preferred another full length song, but one of the strengths about “The Amor Of Ire” is, that apart from these short pieces, there is hardly a dull moment on offer. “Invoker”, originally planned for the 12” inch split with Gatekeeper, containing another killer bunch of riffs and a nice mix of atmospheric and heavier parts, is another highlight, and should be pure joy to witness live, while the melodic “Sing A Last Song Of Valdese” is an example of how the guitars and the vocal melodies and distinct voice of Jason Tarpey are able to create moments of pure epic metal magic. “The Armor Of Ire” is an album every fan of heavy metal should know…and of course buy! (90/100)
Fates Warning “Theories Of Flight” (InsideOut)
I haven’t done too many reviews of progressive metal-releases here at Metal Squadron, but Fates Warning is…Fates Warning, and also an act, or should we perhaps say “institution”, that has many fans in heavy, doom and epic metal-circles. If we focus on Fates Warning with Ray Alder as a singer, the band hasn’t been able to recreate the intricate songwriting and stellar melodies that made albums like “Perfect Symmetry” and “Parallels” so great, and Alder himself hasn’t sounded at his best since “A Pleasant Shade Of Gray”. This time, both factors are taken care of, and the result, “Theories Of Flight” is nothing less than a future classic and one of the better albums Fates Warning have released. It might sound like a hasty conclusion, but with some albums, you just know it. I guess it’s something about you wanting to play it again, only a couple of hours after it last was on the turntable.
Those who know Fates Warning and the trademarks of the Alder-era, should know what to expect. The musicians involved are all experienced and ranked among the elite performers on their respective instruments, all incorporating a lot of details in their work, making the album well equipped to stand the test of time. Main song writer and guitarist Jim Matheos has a style that it’s easy to recognize, and the rhythm section with Joey Vera and Bobby Jarzombek is solid, with the latter supplying a more metallic fundament for the songs than Mark Zonder most probably would have done. Calmer passages are blended with slightly modern sounding and groovier metal parts seemingly without any effort at all, and Alder’s vocals sounds really smooth, like in his prime, and it also carries a world full of emotions.
The first half of this album is nothing short of excellent. You got the opener “From The Rooftops”, which after a slow start with emotional vocals and beautiful leads, gets harder and more aggressive-progressive. Next up is “Seven Stars” which is the hit of the album, almost like the most commercial tracks from “Perfect Symmetry” or “Parallels”, although the structure of the song is a bit more complicated than most of the tracks on those albums. “SOS” follows in the same tradition, also a melodic and very catchy tune, with some more progressive parts as well. “ The Light And Shade Of Things”, one of two tracks that surpasses the ten minute mark, is the real gem of the album. An extremely beautiful and powerful song that during the calmer parts reminds me a bit of something from Marillion’s masterful 1994-release “Brave”. The way I started this paragraph might suggest that the second half of the album is a bit weaker. But it really isn’t. Slightly less memorable, or a bit less instant maybe, but the the quality is still there, and I am sure some people will argue the at a song like “”Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen” is among the definitive highlights of the album along with the epic “The Ghost Of Home”, showcasing some of the best lyrics on offer here.
This is, simply put, a brilliant, modern progressive metal album, rich on melodies, emotions and well crafted songs performed by excellent musicians. “Theories Of Flight” is clearly an album that deserves something more than just being consumed, you need to listen and digest to get the best out of this piece of work. An album that will stand the test of time! (85/100)
Frenzy “Lethal Protector” (Underground Power)
It’s always nice when bands take the time to contact me and ask for a review. It’s even nicer when they a) don’t play black metal, b) offer to send me a physical copy of their product and c) actually get their asses of to send me the stuff. I still get lots of mail from (mostly) one man projects performing either black metal or some kind of modern bullshit that doesn’t deserve any promotion at all. I also, and this is one thing that I don’t understand, get mails from bands offering me to send their stuff for review, but never actually do it.
So why am I mentioning this here? Well, Frenzy seems like a professional outfit. They contacted me via mail, offering to send me their EP “Lethal Protector”, and actually kept their word. The band is pretty new, formed in Madrid only in 2014 and three of the members were formerly in Steel Horse which released two full length releases before they broke up. Singer Anthony Stephen was part of Steel Horse towards the end, but didn’t sing on their albums. I was really surprised when I heard him sing, as he didn’t sound like your average Spanish singer at all. It appears he was born in the US, and without the typical accent this sounds very much like something that could have come out of the US in the late eighties.
This is simply a great little EP, it makes fun listening to it, and it’s so damn easy to hear that the guys had fun making it. All five songs, including a very well executed version of Racer X’s ripper “Loud And Clear” from their debut “Street Lethal” ( I guess Frenzy probably took their name from the intro to this album carrying the same name), are enjoyable in the way they mix feelgood heavy metal with hard rock and either turns it into a catchy, mid tempo stomper like “Change To Green” or goes for a more out and out aggressive, yet still melodic attack in the faster titletrack or in “Ride To Be Free”. In both cases, the excellent, piercing vocals of Stephen as well as the tasty guitar work are the main focal points. Please, don’t have us waiting too long for the full length, guys! (75/100)
Grey Wolf “Glorious Death” (Arthorium)
Greywolf is a Brazilian band which had their previous effort, “We Are Metal Heads” rereleased by one of the finest labels aound, Stormspell. I can’t remember being very impressed by that release, but this new one, their first for Arthorium, who deserves a mention for bothering to send me a physical copy of this album, shows pretty clear signs of improvement. As the cover art suggest, this is clearly not for wimps, “Glorious Death” is completely free of commercial ambitions, vocal perfection and slick, sugar sweet choruses. Instead, this is epic battle metal with references to a couple of my favourite, newer metal bands, Ironsword and Ravensire, both due to the rough vocals as well as the the no frills, ballsy epic metal the guys deliver.
To be honest, Grey Wolf isn’t as good as the mentioned act yet, but the no compromise-style coupled with some really good attempts at writing real metal hymns, make this album rather interesting. The main man Fabio “Grey Wolf” Paulinelli, is the man behind the rough and hoarse vocals as well as the bass, and has made sure his instrument is very audible in the mix. Most songs contain some really cool bass lines, a bit out of the ordinary.
“Glorious Death doesn’t offer a lot of diversity. There are a lot of midtempo oriented songs full of heavy riffs, coming out very dark and at times almost doomy. Of course there are exceptions, but more parts than full songs, for instance the end of the “The Are Will Rule The Kingdom (King Kull pt. 2)” or the calmer “Cimmeria” complete with acoustic guitars in the vein of Manilla Road and vocal lines a little similar to Martin Walkyier in Skydclad. The material is a little up and down, with “Metal Avenger”, a real hymn in the vein of Ironsword and Ravensire, the defintive highlight of the album. (70/100)
Hammer King “King Is Rising” (Cruz Del Sur)
Cruz Del Sur has an impressive rooster with many great acts. Unfortunately, Hammer King isn’t one of them. Their debut, released one and a half year ago, was a pretty lackluster affair, and I honestly cant’ say that “King Is Rising”, is any better. Musically we’re talking melodic heavy metal, or power metal which is the expression I guess some people would use. To give you a rough idea about how this sounds, Hammerfall should work as a reference, or perhaps even more fitting, Hammer King’s fellow Germans, Majesty. The latter mostly due to the way they mix up some light Manowar-influences with more European sounding melodic metal. Like in Majesty, cliches are pretty much everywere, trying to keep up with all the musical pathos.
Say what you will about Hammerfall or Majesty, their albums are pretty much hit or miss, but at their peak, both bands certainly knew how pen a catchy tune, something that is really essential when you are dealing in this type of metal. The same can’t be said about Hammer King, as the songwriting feels really uninspired while the musicians are just doing what is expected of them, seemingly without putting no extra effort or no real heart into it. The whole album feels so damn safe, almost calculated.
Okay, so you might get the expression that I am not the right guy to review this album, but the truth is that I am usually a sucker for strong melodies and hooks galore, which you normally would expect in a band like Hammer King, but sadly I can’t find any of that here. The songs just plod along, and the wailing vocals of singer Titan Fox, known also for his work with Ross The Boss, is simply awful when he goes for the falsetto during the choruses of tracks like “Warrior’s Reign” or “Eternal Tower Of Woe”. (40/100)
High Spirits “Motivator” (High Roller)
It’s time for the third effort from Chris Black and his High Spirits, which at least in studio format, means he is doing pretty much everything himself. While I enjoyed both the previous albums, there is no denying that High Spirits is definitely at their best when they’re on stage performing their catchy material.
Black’s feelgood, toe tapping heavy metal/hard rock, has always been enjoyable in studio versions as well, hell I even bough the two demos and then the self financed vinyl version when they was first released, but the added energy and power makes the stage Version more impressive. The formula is pretty much the same as it was back when he did the demos, and why change a concept that has worked so well for him, gaining them new fans for each album? However, without the really stand out songs the band has built a reputation around, there isn’t enough substance here to keep the listener interested, as the structures and the arrangements are almost similar to that of pop music designed for mass consumption.
I might have enjoyed “”Motivator” more if I wasn’t very familiar with the band from before, so if you haven’t heard the previous High Spirits-stuff, this might be the album that gets you hooked, even though most songs feel like weaker takes on some of Black’s earlier tracks. The best song is probably “Down The Endless Road” with both pace and energy. In the other end of the scale, you got a track like “Thank You”, where both the lyrica as well as the music feel very banal, even when were talking about High Spirits. Some of the songs sound a bit forced, and generally the material isn’t as fluent as in the past, as some vocal melodies and melodies in general, feel a bit “constructed”. The song writing is basic and predictable and quite a few times during the course of the album I catch myself thinking that Chris is just going through the routines. I guess this is the first High Spirits-album that won’t find a way into my collection. (60/100)
Hitten “State Of Shock” (No Remorse)
I kind of liked Hitten’s debut album, but even if it was a decent affair, it wasn’t good enough to give the band the big breakthrough in underground circles. But hey, bands from Spain rarely get breakthroughs. And not many bands, regardless of where they are from, get it with their debut album.
My first impression, without remembering the debut in details, was that “State Of Shock” showed a slightly more melodic side of the band. For instance, I can’t remember the choruses on the first album being this memorable. In addition, it seems like a few of the rough edges have been smoothed out a little. “Eternal Force”, from what I understand a tribute to the late Mark Reale, featuring current Riot V-singer Todd Michael Hall is an example of a song that, mainly due to the guitars, turns out a little too cheerful and cheesy for me. When I think of it, some of the songs from the latest Riot-album are as well, so that might be the idea behind it. In the other end of the scale we have a song like “Chained To Insanity” starting with darker and rougher vocals, in slower tempo, before it picks up speed and aggression, almost adopting a thrash-light approach in parts. A good song, although the main thing might just as well be that the structure isn’t as predictable as in many of the other tracks. “Don’t Be Late”, already released as a single last year, with some classic US metal riffs and “Can’t Bring Me Down” containing nice guitarwork and cool backing vocals, are other solid tunes here.
Something that applies for Hitten like it does for a lot of other newer, heavy metal-acts, is the fact that the band really needs to work hard on their identity. Listening to “State Of Shock”, is for most parts, just like listening to one of the countless other heavy metal-albums released during the past years. The band knows their stuff, both when it comes to songwriting and performing, but they should definitely try to explore some new ideas within the borders of their style. In my opinion, they should also search for those small, but at the same time, very important details which will make a metal music mass consumer, like pretty much everyone of us reading these pages are, recognize the band from the steadily growing bunch of new acts exploring the same waters.
The vocals of Aitor Navarro are, just like the rest here, rather unspectacular. Again, I could have wished for a more original voice, but more important is probably the lack of power in parts of his delivery. At times he sounds a bit uninterested, which is simply not the way to try to lift these compositions. There are a lot of flashing guitar solos scattered around on the album, but again, we’ve heard it all before, and even if the solos in themselves are executed in fine manner. (65/100)
Iron Spell “Electric Conjuring” (Eat Metal)
This album, the first one for Iron Spell, starts with a short intro, “Ave Zulbah” leading us into the real opening track “Torches In The Woods”. The song has some catchy riffing going on as well as a bit of tempo, but nothing more than you should expect from an opening tune. The chorus however, seems a little on the soft side, a critiscm I also had towards the latest Hitten-album, a band Iron Spell surely has a bit in common with musically. “The Night of The Mothman” is roughly in the same vein, but fortunately a bit stronger. The vocal lines are more engaging and the chorus is better. “The Witch” shows a heavier side of the band, and the vocalist shows a lot of enthusiasm, but his voice comes out a bit on the ordinary side. There is little or no identity to be heard, and he also seems a little strained in parts.
Its probably not a sign of quality song writing, when the instrumental track, “Under The Iron Spell” is the strongest compostition on this album. It offers nothing that you haven’t heard before of course, but is a really cool hymn in the tradition of catchy NWOBHM-instrumetnals. “Stormrider”, one of the songs where the chorus isn’t overly melodic, is also one of the tracks that works rather well, and it raises the question if the band would profit from toning down some of the choruses a bit. Towards the end of the album, there are some pretty mediocre songs popping up. “We Are Legion”, a more midtempo oriented track, fails to impress as the main idea isn’t strong enough. There are also some work to be done in other areas, as the prechorus to “Evil Gypsy” doesn’t quite sound right, a shame really as both the verse an the chorus are better. Finally I have to mention the simple and forced “Moonlight Maniac” which is close to a disaster, with the vocalist at his absolutely worst, some lame lyrics and a totally horrible chorus. Other than that, this is not the most diverse album around, so 43 minutes is more than enough. (65/100)
Lethal Steel “Legion Of The Night” (High Roller)
We’re off to…Sweden. Not for the first time this year, I predict. The stream of new, up and coming acts from our neighbors in the East, is pretty astonishing. I won’t name them all here, you just need to check the review section to see that I really enjoy most of these bands releasing their albums on Metal Blade or in the case of Lethal Steel (and countless others) High Roller. Lethal Steel performs what you could call Muskelrock-compatible heavy metal, I guess it’s no coincidence that the band was just booked to perform at this festival for the second time, and that it’s not just connected to the fact that their label sponsors the event.
While the band members share a passion for the godfathers of Swedish heavy metal Heavy Load and Gotham City, there is a love for more obscure acts, both Swedish and international to be found here. The album contains eight tracks ranging from the three minute short “Into The Void Of Lucifer” to the six and a half minute journey of “Night Of The Witch”. As in quite a few heavy metal acts recently, the vocals of Viktor borrows a bit from King Diamond, not as much as in Attic or even fellow Swedish bands like old Portrait or Trial, but still you can’t help but think of the Danish master here and there. Viktor has a few nuances in his voice, and his performance is quite diverse. The slightly melancholic feel to his voice fits the general mood of most of the songs.
The album starts on a high note, with the two best tracks fired off at the very beginning. “Sirius” and especially “Nattsvart” with lyrics in Swedish are just great tracks, Together with the fast and to the point rifforama that is “Into The Void Of Lucifer”, these tracks are, maybe not heads and shoulders above the rest, but at least in a somewhat different league. The rest is decent, but nothing spectacular, and definitely not as a original as the band themselves want to be when they claim they’re the only Swedish metal band playing genuine heavy metal at the moment. “Legion Of The Night” is a solid start, and if the band can produce more material as convincing as the best songs here, there is no reason why Lethal Steel can’t be the next big traditional metal-thing from Sweden. (70/100)
Lizzies “Good Luck” (The Sign)
Since Metal Squadron generates nothing but expenses, I’ve said a few times that albums that I receive physically (although I never ask a band to send me anything), will jump forward in the queue. “Good Luck”, from the Madrid-based, all female-band Lizzies is one of these albums. After a demo, an EP and an single, I guess it was about time to explore the last common format, the full length album.
With the help of producer Ola Ersfjord, along with fellow Swede Magnus Lindberg handling the mastering of the album, the quartet has recorded nine, mostly short and compact songs, something which is reflected in the playing time, with “Good Luck” clocking in at a rather meager 31 minutes and 40 seconds. The album is a very even affair, with the majority of the songs being on the same level. I personally, struggle to find a really outstanding tune here, but I can listen to and enjoy the album in its entirety without getting too bored. The material, is really easy to get into, hell even the song titles on this album are damn catchy! Also, the sound shouldn’t be able to scare anyone off, as everything sound very pleasant, with a lot of warmth and authenticity.
“Good Luck” is packed with r0cking, feelgood music that should fit the summer quite well, but I suspect it’s the kind of album that will only last for one summer. Maximum. There isn’t any real depth in the songwriting, but still you can enjoy the album for what it is. The choruses seems a tad to commercial and smooth for my taste, but will probably work fine for singing along to during concerts. There is a couple of tracks that are a bit more aggressive and attacking, and these are the ones I enjoy most. “Speed On The Road” for instance, is the fastest song on the album, and one of that has made a real impression even after having listened to the album close to fifteen times. (60/100)
Lucifer’s Hammer “Beyond The Omens” (Shadow Kingdom)
We’re heading for Santiago, Chile and the madmen in Lucifer’s Hammer. I enjoyed the demo from a few years back to the extent that I set up an interview with the guys, and had some pretty high expectations for the first full length release. So am I satisfied with what the trio has to offer? Well, “Beyond The Omens” is an enjoyable affair of armor plated heavy metal, but like most releases this year, it struggles to reach the level above “good”.
“Beyond The Omens” is dressed in a solid production. Crisp, but not too slick, and it contributes strongly in bringing forth the power in the band’s performance. Unfortunately, the song material fails to convince beyond what you expect from a talented newcomer band. While some of the songs are above average, I am struggling to find a really top class composition here. A shame really, as there is nothing wrong with the style the band is playing, some sort of combination between US and European sounds.
I guess it’s pretty safe to say that some people will struggle a bit with the vocals of Hades. His voice is unspectacular and could have used more power. Even though I can’t call his performance fully convincing, it kinda works in a strange way. At least for me. “The Hammer Of The Gods” is a pretty good opener, and for sure one of the best tracks on the entire album. The riffs are decent, there is a cool, instrumental mid section which sounds quite Maiden-inspired before it suddenly changes to something similar to Running Wild. The following instrumental “Lucifers Hammer” is another highlight, sounding like something Savage Grace could have done, or logically, a bit like Iron Maiden.
One of the best things about “Beyond The Omens”, is the fact that it is a pretty diverse album, at least for traditional metal standards. “Dying” for instance, is a slower and more melodic tune with a melancholic touch, while “Shinning Blade” is a heavier hymn. “Black Mysteries” is faster again with some really good guitar work. None of these tracks are mindblowing, but they’re all pretty enjoyable, at least in this context.
“Nightmares”, on the other hand, is clearly one of the weaker tracks on offer here, a pretty lame and uninspired hard rocker. “Warriors” starts out with some quite NWOBHM-sounding guitars and a certain Saxon- vibe, before the closing title track showcases a riff that is pretty similar to Pretty Maids’ awesome “Back To Back”. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful song, and along with the two opening tracks, one of the better ones on the album. (65/100)
Maze Of Terror “Ready To Kill” (Empire)
Even though we’re in South America, in Lima, Peru, to be more precise, don’t expect some kind of raw, filthy and untight thrash metal here. In fact, Maze Of Terror deals in well produced, brutal and dark thrash, with drummer Hammer pounding those drums like there is no tomorrow. This is some really powerful shit, and at times, I guess you could you use the term death thrash to descreibe what you hear on the album.
“Ready To Kill” is the band’s first full length after an EP, “Skullcrusher” was released back in 2012. I never heard that one, but this new offering should definitely get their name around. I have no problem picturing these songs in a live setting, were I think they should be even more effective. The opener, “Rotting Force” has a really cool main riff, and the bass and drums contribute to making this track one where the whole band sounds really pissed off. The vocalist too of course, with his snarling and angry approach.
It’s a little refreshing to hear a band that doesn’t only sound like a rehash of old Destruction and Kreator-songs. The band has a lot of other ideas, as seen in the 10 minute long album closer “Giles De Rais”. That being said, this is still thrash made for headbanging with screaming solos and some bad ass riffs. The second track “Lycanthropes” is a real killer, but the album is not fast, wild and furious all the time, as the guys have the ability to throw some heavier and more controlled parts into the mix. The album also showcases a couple of darker and more groove oriented songs like for instance “Executio Bestialis”.
While not groundbreaking or particularly diverse, “Ready To Kill” is still one of the better thrash metal albums I have heard during the last six months. (70/100)
Metal Church “XI” (Nuclear Blast)
While I was working on a review on the new Rage-album, I came to think of this one, and the fact that I hadn’t gotten around to review Mike Howe’s return to Metal Church. The main reason why Rage made me think of Metal Church, is because both albums have been spoken about as a return to something that once was, in the case of Metal Church, the three albums the band did with Mike Howe in the late eighties/early nineties. Listening to both albums also thaught me one important thing, a lesson I should have learnt several years ago: With a few execptions, there really is no need to buy albums from old favourites anymore. Neither Rage nor Metal Church have produced bad albums, but what they deliver with their latest offerings is so damn average it should be prohibited.
Musically, Metal Church has done a couple of things right with this album. They have taken the style that they have used for the past few albums and mashed it with the particular Howe-era that I referred to earlier. You can even hear them using some of the old tricks that worked so well in the past, like the acoustic middle part in “Signal Path”, which sends us straight back to “Hanging In The Balance”.
When the first small snippets from the album were spread, most people seemed very impressed by Mike Howe’s voice. I was one of those, and I still am damned impressed. It’s not his fault that the album is so mediocre. His voice is in top shape, and he sings just as good as on the aforementioned recordings. However his vocal lines are not as strong as they used to be. I am pretty sure I can hum a line here or there from all the past Howe-recordings, but here everything is very anonymous. The same goes for the choruses. Where are the fist-raising, anthemic ones the band used to be famous for? There is not a single good chorus on “XI”, and in quite a few of the songs, the verse or the bridge is the catchiest part. The choruses in general sound uninspired and like a band on auto pilot. Apart from “Signal Path”, there are a few songs that have something going for them, like the decent opener “Reset”, the first video track from the album, “No Tomorrow”, which was the first song I listened to, and still is my fave from the album, as well as “Sky Falls In”, which again is good, apart from the chorus. However, there is not a single song here I would rate above average. (60/100)
Moros Nyx “Revolution Street” (Underground Power)
I did a review of “Rite Of Rebellion, the demo tape from these guys (later also released as a 7”) a while back. The demo contained an intro as well as three regular tracks, but only the really good opening track from the tape, “Child Of The Dream” has been found worthy a place on the Chicago based quartet’s first full length. While the kind of often fast and always highly melodic “happy metal” for many years was associated with Europe, it’s nice and kind of refreshing to hear American bands trying to replicate this style, or doing it with their own twist. Moros Nyx belongs to the latter category. Even though they have some of the big, singalong choruses that you will be humming in your sleep, and they know when to add some fine guitar harmonies, they are not as fast paced as their European counterparts and the songwriting also offers a lot more diversity than expected.
While the songmaterial is rather coherent and interesting all the way through, there are a couple of highlights that deserves to be singled out for some extra praise. “Child In A Dream” has already been mentioned. It’s one of the faster songs on the album, featuring also a bit more aggressive vocals from singer MP Papai. A really high quality, melodic underground metal-hymn with lots of charm. The adventurous, 7 and a half minute long title track is also really good, somewhere in the terrain of Iron Maiden meets Keeper-era Helloween meets Gamma Ray, while “Fear Monger” has a chorus that you will be humming for weeks to come, while Kai Hansen will probably curse himself for not coming up with it. I could go on adding more tracks to the list, as both “A Time For Heroes” and “What Happens This Night” deserve to be mentioned.
To be honest, I don’t like the ballad “We Are The Damned”. It’s something about MP Papai’s vocals and his lines that doesn’t work for me. Actually I think the female singer, Satan’s Hallow’s Mandy Martillo, suits this track a lot better, something which becomes quite clear when you hear the two trade lines back and forth before they join forces. That being said, this track, along with the likes of “Captured” which has a very different structure and “Deformed In the Mind” which is more intense and has a darker approach, add quite a lot of diversity to the album. Diversity that makes this record more interesting than most new melodic heavy metal releases out there. Also, the crisp and not too massive sound, where the songs are allowed to breathe, adds to the experience. Clearly one of the finest debut albums of 2016 so far! (75/100)