Singles meet singles

The title of this column might seem a little speculative, but let’s be honest – I need more readers and most heavy metal-fans are single, so… Anyway, welcome to what I guess will be a pretty irregular feature. You’ll probably see it updated a couple of times a year, depending on if and when I have some stuff to write about.

I am really fond of the single-format, and even though it’s a pain in the ass to play them on my turntable, especially inbetween albums at 33 and 1/3 rpm, I sometimes sit down with a stack of seven inches and always find myself enjoying it. I wanted to separate the reviews (I am not sure if I would use that word) of the  seven inches from the regular album reviews, as they are really two very different formats.  While the album not seldom has an atmosphere and flow that connects the individual tracks, the single more often than not, consists of two very different tracks, showing divergent sides of the band.  Lean back and face a bunch of Metal Squadron-compatible seven inches. Enjoy, and please leave constructive feedback!

Third edition (August 2015):

coverEven though I try my very best to check out everything that I believe could appeal to my taste, I have to admit that Seven Sisters’ demo “The Warden” went under my radar. I read about it yeah, but never got around to listen to it. Fortunately, Kyle McNeill, guitarist and singer in Seven Sisters approached me with both the demo and this single. The band had what you could call a small breakthrough with the demo, as they have since been booked to perform at a few important festivals, “No Sleep ‘Till Dublin” and “Up The Hammers”. “Lost In Time”, sports som pretty clear NWOBHM-influences, has some nice guitar work (riffs, leads and solos) but also includes keyboards as well as a mellow, epic midpart that has a bit in common with the more melodic bands from the era, you know, the likes of Praying Mantis or Trespass . At first I thought the B-side “Wicked Steel” was the stronger of the two, as it adds some extra heaviness in additon to catchy vocal melodies .  After more than 10 listens, things have changed, as I find “Lost In Time” a little more interesting and original. These two songs are the very first to feature the full lineup of the band, and even if there are already lots of positives, things should only impove from here. The sound is not perfect, especially the drums could have sounded more powerful, but overall, things are more than good enough to get a very good taste of the potential in this band. Also, the vocals strike me as a little limited and on the safe side, and is something  that should be worked on. Apparently there is an EP planned for sometime later this year, and I have to say I look forward to it.

artworks-000111040315-srkldt-t500x500While I enjoyed their 2012 album “Throat Attack”, I felt something were missing to make it a real outstanding effort. When I found the new single from the Swiss band at Keep It True this year, it certainly didn’t stop me from buying it. Now I am pretty happy I did. Side A has “Digital Overload” which will also be the title track of the band’s next album due out later this year, while the flip side has the song “Electric Expander”. The sound on this recording is compact and powerful, bringing forward the best in the band’s Judas Priest/Saxon-inspired music. Both songs have riffs that are very basic throughout, but at the same time really effective. “Digital Overload” also sports a cool chorus and some inspired vocals from Elias Felber. He has a voice and a style somewhere between Rob Halford and Biff Byford, which can be heard best in “Electric Expander”. This song starts slower, with an intro that builds and builds. The song is once again constructed around traditional rifforama, and offers few surprises, still it is a very enjoyable uptempo metal track.  Pure metal, nothing else! The songs were described to me as straight and unfussy by guitarist Reno, and yeah they might be, but still (or maybe because) this is some of the best material the band has written. Hopefully the full length shows a bit more diversity than what is possible on a single containing only two songs. By the way, this release is limited to 333 copies, and you can read the interview I recently did with the band here:Sin Starlett, June 2015

492642My relationship to, and knowledge of this Greek band, isn’t the strongest. I think I own their first EP “The Namless One”, and I’ve also heard their other releases, but can’t say they made a big impression on me. “The Crown And The King” consists of two songs, side A carries an own composition in form of “The Crown Of Evermore”, while the band uses the space on the B-side for a rendition of Accepts “The King” from the 1980 album “I’m A Rebel”. “The Crown Of Evermore” which will also feature on the upcoming album, is rather pompous, streamlined and slick with plenty of Virgin Steele-like pathos. The vocals sound very nice and pleasant, but could’ve had a lot more edge to them. Also the different vocal tracks overlapping each other are a bit too much. “The King”, while quite stripped down and naked in Accept’s version, is pompous with keyboards instead of acoustic guitars and a symphonic feel. Valor have also upped the tempo a lot, so the song is not a ballad anymore. There’s not much of the original song left, but on the other hand, the band has made an own interpretation that fits with their sound, as it sounds like one of their own compositions. To be honest I am not too fond of these two tracks, as I struggle with the symphonic and pompous approach. The lack of power might be due to the production which is a bit stale, and doesn’t help either. The A-side will feature on the upcoming album by the way, and the vinyl single is limited to 250 copies.

night-viper-night-viper-7Will it ever stop? Night Viper is yet another new Swedish band.  This Gothenburg-based outfit features amongst other guitarist Tom Sutton, who is also in The Order Of Israfel and Horisont. Bass player Ruben is also involved in a few other acts, the death metal band Miasmal for instance. As you understand by now, these guys (and two gals) have a broad musical background.  There is nothing fancy about Night Viper though, as this is pretty straight, eighties sounding heavy metal. Out of the two songs, the self titled one is the heaviest, while “Chainbreaker” is a bit faster with some cool riffing. I have to say I am not very impressed with the vocals of Sofie-Lee Johansson. Her approach is a little different, especially during the verse of “Chainbreaker”, and I am struggling a bit to come to terms with it. Also the vocal lines are anonymous and her voice a bit too monotone and flat. Don’t misunderstand me, this is decent on most fronts, but I am afraid the band needs a bit more,. The songwriting has to improve and the band should work on creating a stronger identity. The sound is pretty much okay though, quite raw and certainly not overprodced. The single comes limited to 400 on black vinyl and 200 on white, and is a taster of the upcoming album, also out on Svart.

a3208069183_10This is the second single (it’s also released on tape – sold out of course) from Terminal, the project from Enforcer’s Tobias Lindqvist where he pays tribute to obscure eighties metal made in the Eastern communist block. As the first effort was sung in Slovenian, I assume that is the language used this time around as well. The two songs are quite different this time as well. “Satanski Narocila” (“Satanic Orders”) is up tempo and attacking, with cool and obscure vocals from Tobias. To add to the already twisted atmosphere, there are also some spooky voices in the background. The song has strong guitar melodies and a catchy solo section, and although it’s a cool track, it doesn’t grab me as much as “Heavy Metal Lokomotiva” or “Slovo” from the first single. The second track, “Crna Smrt” (“Black Death”) is rather mellow in comparison, atmospheric, considerably slower and more melodic with some pretty weird sounding piano towards the end. The strength of Terminal, is that this project sounds completely different from pretty much everything you hear today. The music is mysterious, weird and twisted in parts. Some of it is due to the eccentric touch added by the lyrics, but the overall atmosphere also helps communicating Lindqvists ideas that seems to stem from times long gone by.

speedtrap-straight-shooter-7After the success of their last album “Powerdose”, released more or less exactly two years ago, Finland’s Speedtrap follows up with a brand new single, which in turn will be followed by a full length release. The A-side is “Straight Shooter”, which is the title track from the forthcoming album. This particular track carries a huge amount of AC/DC-inspiration, and vocalist Jori Sara-aho sounds quite like Bon Scott here. The Riff, the chorus, the voice, well you should love it if you like AC/DC. The B-side is a different story though, as it is an intense and fast version of Bad Religion’s short and sweet “I Want To Conquer The World”, a song that suits the band quite well as they already have a bit of punk in their sound. The song comes complete with screaming guitars and furious vocals, and sounds quite spontaneous. It’s not as melodic as the original of course, and the guitars are way louder, but I think the band has done a decent job of making this song “their own”. Overall I have to say I like Speedtrap better when they do their speed metal thing ala early Exciter compared to when they’re on this AC-DC-trip, but fortunately there are stronger songs on the upcoming album.

Second edition (April 2014):

MidniteHellion-HourOfTheWolfLargeMidnite Hellion’s first release, the mini-CD ”Enter The Unknown” is one of countless releases that I have in my collection, but haven’t come around listening to. Hopefully this problem sounds familiar for those of you who both purchase a lot of music and at the same time receive stuff for reviews. A shame really, but I guess it’s one of the realities of modern day.  Well, the two songs on offer here, “Hour Of The Wolf” and “The Morrigan” are new compositions that didn’t feature on “Enter The Unknown”.  However, both of them are featured on the newly released cassette only concert document “Bitchin’ At Champs! 11-15-2013”. After my initial confession, I’ll have to say that I am not sure if it would have made this review more credible if I had listened to the mini-CD 100 times and already knew it inside out. Not only is the singer brand new since the first attempt, the voice now belongs to a woman, as Scott Alpert is replaced by Pamela P.J. Berlinghof.  I won’t claim to know a lot about her, but I recognize Pamela from the band Twilight Odyssey, of which I reviewed their demo about ten years ago. To start with side A of the single, “Hour of The Wolf” starts out as a mid tempo song, with the voice of Berlinghof pretty much upfront, supported by steady, but a bit unimaginative drumming, a bass that adds some bottom to the music as well as some decent, but not very exciting riffs. Berlinghof does a fairly good job, I like her best when she adds some extra aggression to her performance, but a bit more power overall would have added to her expression. The song picks up some pace and soon reveals some chanted gang vocals that have been done countless times before over a riff that has been done…you know what I mean, right?. It’s a decent song with some okay vocal lines, but in my opinion not interesting or special enough to be released as a single. “The Morrigan” fills the flip side, and this one is a bit better, with more dynamics, a more intense vocal performance and better riffs. The band also shows a bit more identity in this tune, which doesn’t sound exactly like 80 percent of the “new old” metal out there. The sound is good, maybe a bit dry, especially when it comes to the bass, yet powerful and crisp, but the songwriting needs to be improved before the band has me waiting for a full length.

371654Even though we have experienced the breakthrough of acts like Ranger and Speedtrap more recently and a band like Solitaire has released a couple of really good albums, the Finnish metal scene is not one of my faves. Mausoleum Gate, newly signed to the excellent Cruz Del Sur Records, is a more than welcome addition, as this band focuses on a more tempo moderate form of metal compared to the bands I just mentioned.  The songs on offer here are quite different, as the A-side “Obsessed By Metal” is an up tempo one, while the B-side “Infernal” is considerably slower.  Some nice and different ideas, like for instance the Hammond organ towards the end of “Obsessed By Metal” spice up things a bit.  Together with the over the top-approach of the vocalist, the instrument adds a nice touch and some excitement to the ending of this tune. I guess this the kind of metal that will divide the crowds. Some will love it to death because of the obscure nature of the music and the unusual approach. Others will probably have a hard time getting into the band, mainly because of the same factors, but also because the voice fo singer V-P. Varpula is an acquired taste. Even though he sounds quite charming in a song or two, and I love the darkness contained within his vocals, I am a bit unsure myself how I will deal with him through the length of an album. . Some might mention Mercyful Fate or other masters of the dark and heavy when listening to Mausoleum Gate, but the main strength of the band is that they sound quite different. As I mentioned, it’s not the easiest stuff to get into, and some parts sounded quite peculiar at first, but give the tunes ten spins, and you’ll have two songs that both show how diverse the band can sound, and also works as a nice taster for the forthcoming full length.

AMBUSH-Natural-Born-KillersI was in contact with Sweden’s Ambush some time ago with a view to check out their self released demo tape from last year. I took forever to get an answer from the guys, so when I finally received the email, I was too occupied with all the average stuff on Pure Steel to pursue my interest. Well, now the band is ready with a single which includes two tracks that will also feature on the band’s debut album for High Roller. It’s titled “Firestorm”, and is set to be unleashed towards the end of May.  The songs certainly help to raise the expectations for the album, as they are both quite good. The A-side,  consists of the song “Natural Born Killers”, which is a mid tempo, quite catchy, not particularly heavy song, leaning more towards hard rock than metal.  Pretty enjoyable stuff, though very harmless and overall quite lightweight. The other side has “Head East”, which is also a very melodic tune, especially in the vocal department, but overall this carries a bit more aggression and bite compared to the first song. The two songs presented here are nice (maybe too nice, if you know what I mean?) but nowhere near spectacular. The sounds reminds me of some other Swedish bands, the vocals makes me thing a little of early Hammerfall, while the songwriting borrows heavily both from the seventies and early eighties (think Black Trip) as well as the mid-eighties (think RAM). I hope the band has even better stuff on their upcoming full length.

AKTOR-I-Am-the-Psychic-Wars-7Aktor, making their debut with this 7” seems like a bit peculiar constellation as it was formed by Jussi Lehtisalo and Chris Black. The guys are helped out by drummer Tomi Leppänen. Even though I am well informed of Professor Black ‘s versatility, I didn’t see Aktor, and the musical concept behind the band, coming. The funny thing about this, is that how busy Black might seem (High Spirits, Dawnbringer, Pharaoh..), he is not involved nearly the same amount of bands and projects as Lehtisalo. With Black’s vocals quite prominent in the overall picture, it’s difficult not to think High Spirits, though Aktor has a quite different approach. There is influences from commercial rock, maybe even pop music to be found in both acts, but Aktor leans more towards the psychedelic side of things, and incorporates some pretty eccentric ideas at times. Another thing that sets them apart, hell even miles away (as Winger would’ve put it), is the extensive use of  keyboards in Aktor. Even though Aktor and Ghost doesn’t sound alike, I guess they share some influences, as Blue Öyster Cult is a reference that pops up several times during the two songs. The music certainly sounds fresh and different from most new stuff out there. Also, the quality of the song writing is pretty good. I have no problem enjoying these two short tunes, but I need to be in the right mood to manage all the keyboard sounds. There are some decent, quite original melodies in “I Am The Psychic Wars”, the song in itself is quite diverse and the part towards the end where they speed things up is simply great and unexpected.  “Buried By The Sea” starts out at a slower pace, and seems more laidback, but introduces keyboards that seem to have more in common with the progressive scene than anything .  Overall this songs, with its lalalala-part is a bit weirder, has parts that are more hectic, and is not as immediate as the A-side, but certainly fits more or less in the same style. Also the vocal melodies are very pleasant and enjoyable. The single is released on Lehtisalo’s own Ektro records, on black and clear red vinyl.

405289How on earth does Chris Black find the time for everything?  Here he is again, this time in Metalusafer, where he drums, plays the bass, and does some guitar solos. He is helped out only by guitarist Ron Rokken, which Black has previously teamed up with in Superchrist. With a name like this, Metalusafer that is, I guess most of you know what to expect musically.  The name, the art work, the music and of course both song titles simply yell Metalucifer.  The back side of the cover says: “Special thanks to Gezolucifer for inspiration shock and satanic blessing”. Together with the fact that the band recently performed at Ragnarokkr with the tunes on this single as well as some original Metalucifer-material, indicates that this is some kind of tribute, more than anything else. The A-side is named “Heavy Metal Hammer” while the B-side carries “Heavy Metal Saviour”. These two tracks are for sure nothing that will enter into the heavy metal hall of fame, but this is fun, rocking and energetic stuff that should leave most metal heads with a huge smile on their faces. “Heavy Metal Hammer” is a fast banger, that should sound even better when performed live, as it has one of those simple sing along choruses even the most wasted in the attendance should get right. Cool and very instant stuff even though I feel like I have heard this particular tune several times before. Although not at instant, “Heavy Metal Saviour” has grown more on me. It is more midtempo based with heavy pounding drums and a more original chorus that brings a big grin to my face. The lyrics are wonderful, deep and full of interesting contrasts: “Heavy metal woman/heavy metal man/Heavy metal savior/Heavy metal devils/heavy metal gods/heavy metal savior”.  To be honest, it’s probably a little predictable, but still funny stuff, and Black certainly pays respect to Gezolucifer with this pair of tunes.

October31-GoneToTheDevilThe first meeting between yours truly and October 31 was overshadowed by another band, the mighty Skullview. When I ordered the first October 31-album, “The Fire Awaits You” from Germany,  I also bought “Legends Of Valor”, the immense debut by Skullview and was completely blown away by the latter. This was back in 1998, but soon my relationship to King Fowley and the other guys started growing, and I learnt t appreciate all of the bands full length releases, the dark debut, the more melodic “Meet Thy Maker” as well as the aggressive and almost thrashy “No Survivors”. I also had the chance to witness the band live last year, but have to say I was a bit disappointed by the performance at Keep It True last. Sure, it was loud, raw and aggressive, but the melodic aspect of the band’s music got drowned, and I found King Fowley’s vocals a bit too rough. Sadly, this single, containing one self penned tune “Gone To The Devil” as well as a cover of Uriah Heep’s “Too Scared To Run” from the album “Abominog”, follows more or less in the same pattern. “Gone To The Devil” is a short one (3:30) and definitely one of the weaker tunes I have heard from the band, its aggressive and noisy, but what else? Fowley’s vocals along with the guitars give the song a dark edge, but it could certainly have used more interesting riffs or melodies. Also the chorus is way too anonymous. I am not very familiar with the original version of the Heep-song, other than the fact that it reminds me a bit of Saxon from around the time, but October 31’s take is of course darker and rowdier, mainly due to Fowleys vocals but also due to the rather sparse production.

terminusSplit singles seem more common today than ever before, but most of these releases are quite unspectacular, mostly due to the fact that it’s hard to couple two bands of more or less the same quality and style. This release, put out by Helle Mueller and his Underground Power Records is one of those scarce split releases that you need to have. At least if you are a fan of epic power metal. First of all, the black and white artwork done by Pedro Rebelo is excellent and captures the essence of what both bands are about, at least lyrically. Portugal’s Ravensire contributes “Drawing The Sword”, a track that also appeared on last year’s magnificent “We March Forward”. Here the song comes in a different mix. Of course, I would rather have wanted an exclusive track, but with “Drawing The Sword” being one of my absolute favorite tracks of 2013, I really can’t complain too loud. I guess this quote from last year’s review of the album tells a lot of what I feel about the song: “When Thor sings “I draw the sword” with power and conviction, I am reminded once again why raw, epic heavy metal is probably my favorite genre within metal. This tune should be played to everyone yet to learn what this kind of metal is about. If they don’t get it then, they will never do!” Belfast’s Terminus supplies a song that wasn’t a part of their very good “Into Exile”-demo. “Centaurean” is a seven minute monster, not the most diverse maybe, but still interesting all the way through, due to those classic, galloping guitars. The tune is lead along by the characteristic, calm and commanding vocals of James Beattie. A fist pounding anthem, and a powerful and catchy song that should work really well live. I don’t know if the band has been approached by labels already, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if class acts like Cruz Del Sur or even Metal Blade showed an interest in these guys. Whoever releases the next output from the band – I’ll be first in line to get a copy!

386820Next up is a 10”, but it still has only two songs, so I’ll include it in this column. I didn’t hear the self titled EP Second Grave released back in 2012, but “Antithesis” is surely interesting enough to justify going back and have a taste of the previous one. The two songs on offer here are quite different. While the members have a background from bands in styles I normally don’t spend a lot of time on, “Mourning Light” is more or less a pure metal tune, with the impressive vocals of Krista Van Guilder (ex-Warhorse) leading a melodic and galloping, yet heavy tune that  screams both Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy, and wouldn’t sound completely out of place on an album by for instance Slough. The chorus is very catchy and the guitar work is timeless and classy. There are also some great riffs to be found in the slower passages, and the mellow mid part is also different and well worked out. In fact, his is a track diverse enough to stay interesting for all six minutes and 38 seconds. The other side of the EP has the track “Drink The Water”. This one leans toward the doomier side of things, but the voice of Van Guilder provides some light in the darkness, especially during the chorus. The song is almost 12 minutes long, and it crawls along with a really heavy and fuzzy bass sound at a rather slow pace. Honestly I am not a fan of the slower, atmospheric instrumental parts that are partly accompanied by more extreme vocals from Van Guilder, but the rest works well for me, and I am left kind of surprised at how good this band, consisting of members from bands I am not familiar with at all (except for Warhorse and Black Pyramid), sound. Well done to the band, and well done to Pariah Child for a nice looking vinyl release.

First edition (August 2013):

nightTalking about (feed)back, back in March we featured NIGHT, a Linköping-based quartet. The short interview can be found here: The band had just released their debut single “Stand Your Ground”, which was a decent, but rather unspectacular affair of straight, rocking heavy metal.  Funnily enough, the new single, featuring lead track “Gunpowder Treason” backed with “Into The Night”, sports exactly the same cover motive, an angry owl, only the background color is different. A cool concept, if you ask me. Like its predecessor, this new single is also recorded live by Niels Nielsen in Studio Hufvudstaden. Nielsen has previously worked with Maim, Ghost and Night’s label mates Nocturnal, to name a few.  The recording fits the music very well, with a crisp and natural sound. “Gunpowder Treason” is a mid paced banger and an unusual choice for a single, as it’s quite long (more than five and a half minutes) and doesn’t have a particularly strong chorus. The recipe is very traditional, and classic bands like AC/DC, Saxon and Krokus spring to mind along with fellow Swede newcomers Screamer. The song has a simple, yet effective main riff, but overall it lacks a bit of identity. I still find the singer’s voice a bit too strained as well. The other tune, “Into The Night” is faster and catchier, and is probably the best song I’ve heard from the Swedes so far. The vocals are a better fit with the music here and the song comes with a nice solo. Again I feel the guys need to work on their identity, as this tune reminds me of several other songs I’ve heard during more than 25 years listening to heavy metal. A bit of gang vocals spices up the chorus of this solid, but not outstanding song. Still I am anticipating their debut full length, out through Gaphals (who also released this single) in the autumn.

antichristFrom one Swedish act to another. ANTICHRIST was on pretty much every old school thrasher’s lips (or radar, if you find “lips” a bit gay) when they put out their debut album “Forbidden World”, packed with dirty, raging thrash back in the autumn of 2011. This release features a brand new self-composed track occupying the A-side of the vinyl, while a cover of Evil Blood’s “Kill With Napalm” is pressed onto the opposite side. If you are unfamiliar with the Croatian act (that later relocated to Great Britain), check out Buried By Time And Dust’s killer LP-rerelease of the “Midnight In Sodom”-demo, where this particular song is featured as a bonus-track.  Let’s start with the cover then, and yes, I am talking about the song, not the sleeve of the record. ANTICHRIST has maintained the sharp guitars from the original, but the vocals are not as upfront as in Evil Blood’s version. In fact, the original song has a bit of melody and I feel it would have benefited the end result with the vocals being a bit clearer. “Kill With Napalm” is a cool tune nevertheless, and ANTICHRIST’s version comes with a super intense ending. “Burned Beyond Recognition” is the title of the self penned tune. ANTICHRIST still deals in filthy and aggressive old school thrash, but this particular track sounds a bit different compared to the majority of the songs on “Forbidden World”. It’s a very fast one, with angry, buzzing guitars, but at the same time, a bit more complex and ambitious perhaps than in the past. Even though there are some parts that sticks out, like the awesome instrumental piece in the middle, the overall impression is  that this tune is not as easy on the ear as some from the debut. It clocks in at almost six minutes and has fair share of diversity due to the mix of passages with vocals and long instrumental parts. The vocals are totally desperate and hoarse, but not as defined as on the album. “Limited” to a thousand copies, it should be no problem getting hold of a copy of this single, out on Electric Assault Records.

TrapWhy don’t we stay in Sweden for a while longer? After all, the beer is cheap, and so is the bacon!  I have to admit that TRAP is a rather catchy name for a heavy metal band, but their logo reminds me of someone elses. Who on earth (or should I say in Sweden?) can it be? Of course, it’s  the Portrait-logo, and guess what – TRAP features former Portrait-singer Philip Svennefeldt, who is also involved in Helvetets Port. (What about Helvetets Portrait? Any takers?) Alongside him you’ll find some other names that you might recognize. The guitarist, David Stranderud also played in Portrait on the demo and the single, while the rhythm section, consisting of Thomas Hedlund and Peter Svensson has Cult Of The Fox in common, and still play together in Void Moon, who released their first full length through Cruz Del Sur last year. With Svennefeldt behind the microphone, parallels will automatically be drawn to the older Portrait-stuff. Svennefeldt does his King Diamond-improvisasion here as well, both the falsetto as well as the deeper, “sulkier” voice. “Assassins” has uptempo verses combined with a slower chorus , and during the latter, when he sings “Sworn as he fell/Assassins of Hell”, Svennefeldt also reminds me a bit of Sean Peck from Cage. Some cool harmonyparts towards the end of the solo add a nice melodic touch to what I would call an average tune. The other song “Wreckage Of Nations” has Svennefeldts voice slicing through the verse in a way that makes me wish for a singer with a more controlled approach. The guy definitely has some character, but he is simply not the best singer around. This song has a rather weak chorus but a cool middle part. Overall, I am not trapped yet, and if the guys don’t step up their songwriting a notch or two, I fear that Trap will soon be forgotten. After all, their competing with the likes of Portrait, Attic and In Solitude. The single is released through High Roller on red and black vinyl and comes with an insert with the lyrics to both songs.

Metal I.METAL INQUISITOR is one of my favorite active German bands. Their three studio albums have been very good to brilliant, “Doomsday For The Heretic” is my fave by the way. Compilations, livealbums and singles aside, it’s a shame that Blumi and the guys haven’t managed to put out more regular albums since they were formed 15 years ago. The title of this 7” inch, “Euthanasia By Fire” is made out of the song titles of the two tracks featured here. Both are covers, and both were recorded live at Keep It True X. And yes, this is the edition of KIT where I got terribly drunk and tried singing karaoke to Scorpions’ not so classic “Winds Of Change” at a very dark and almost empty pub. The songs we’re talking about, are “Trial By Fire”, originally recorded by Satan for their classic album “Court In The Act”, and “Euthanasia”, which was first released as a single, but also ended up as the opening number of Tygers Of Pan Tangs “Wild Cat”. While the former is an out an out heavy metal-ripper, and one of the best ones of the NWOBHM, the latter is a more rocking tune, resulting in some nice diversity. . Both songs are sung by the guys who originally laid down the vocals for these tunes. Brian Ross does a decent job with the Satan-classic, and I like his voice better live than on record. Jess Cox has definitely sounded fresher than on this recording, and the vocals seems to be a bit low. “Euthanasia” is a decent early NWOBHM-number, but “Trial By Fire” is definitely the highlight here. My copy comes on blue vinyl (it says transparent too, but I haven’t really looked into that) but I think it’s available on black wax as well. I wouldn’t call this a necessary purchase, but if you collect stuff from Germanys best new heavy metal-band, this is worth a purchase.The sound is pretty raw, although there isn’t a lot of crowd noise other than during the introduction of the songs. I guess Mr. Ross used all the noise for the Blitzkrieg-livealbum “Absolutely Live”. Check it out for yourself if you don’t get what I mean.
DexterWe’re still in Europe, but we’re heading far south until we reach Greece and hook up with DEXTER WARD. Their single, released by No Remorse, and strictly limited to 300 copies, features an own composition in the form of “Stars And Stripes” as well as an cover of Lord’s “Leather Queen” from the very rare album (unless you buy one of those Hot Metal-bootlegs on CD) “The Second Coming”. I enjoyed “Neon Lights”, the first album from the US metal-maniacs from Greece to a certain extent, but to say I was blown away is a bit of an exaggeration.  Talking about US, “Stars and Stripes”, the lead cut here, is an uptempo tune, with a nice drive, a great bridge and inspired vocal performance from ex-Battleroar-singer Marco Concoreggi, here under the alias Mark Dexter. In fact, I enjoy this song more than most of the songs on the debut. I don’t think it’s quite strong enough to be a stand out track on a new album, but nevertheless the songwriting and performance are rock solid. The cover song, “Leather Queen”, is also a cool tune, and one of the better, if not the best off the Lord-album. The original has some quite rough vocals, and even though Mark Dexter is following in the same tracks, his voice is a little more polished than Guy Lord’s. If you own the previous recordings from DEXTER WARD, I see no reason why you shouldn’t get this one as well, but if you want a better impression of how the band sounds, you better check out “Neon Lights” or wait for the next album.

7 Jacket (Glue Pocket - No Spine) [OB-GD17-001]Let’s put it straight right from the start – SLOUGH FEG is one of my favorite bands. They have never recorded a weak album, and they are one of the most intense and enjoyable live bands out there.  I had the pleasure to catch the band at a packed and sweaty John Dee in Oslo at the second and ufortunately last edition of the Metal Merchants-festival a freezing cold night back in January 2010, and it’s one of the best gigs I have ever witnessed. As the band prepares for their next full length release, “Digital Resistance”, their debut for Metal Blade, here is a taster of what’s to come. If I am correct, the song “Laser Enforcer” is a demo of a track that will feature on the album, while the B-side, “Blending In” is a cover of a tune originally done by the American eighties band Government Issue. I am not familiar with the original, but Slough Feg’s version is a one minute plus short and very intense punk tune where the guys sound more aggressive than usual. What about the teaser from the album then? Well, the sound is a bit lo-fi compared to what we’re used to, but it’s easy to spot the potential in this song, and I really look forward to hearing how it turns out on “Digital Resistance”. The song has Mike Scalzi’s characteristic voice and his catchy vocal melodies, but there are also some unusual guitar parts as well as some cool laser beam sound effects, making this song sounding fresh without exactly breaking new ground for the band.

daggerSo, does anybody remember Dagger and their 1985-release “Not Afraid Of The Dark”? Not a very good release by any means, but the band photo on the cover is still stuck in my head, almost twenty years after I saw it in an advert for “Svenska Skivklubben” (run it through Google translate) at the last page of Swedens pop- and rock magazine, “Okej”.  This is another DAGGER of course, and yet again we’re dealing with a Swedish act. This DAGGER features some  well known names of the Swedish scene, but names that are normally associated with other genres than DAGGER’s brand of heavy rock.   In fact the band includes three former members of Dismember: Fred Estby behind the drums, David Blomqvist  (guitars), and  bass player Tobias Cristiansson. The last piece in the puzzle, is Jani Kataja, who handles the vocals. He usually sings with Sideburn, and his voice adds a slight touch of stoner to the general expression. This release is a bit unusual as it has a cover song on the A-side, in the form of Quartz’ “Mainline Riders” from the band’s self titled debut, released in 1977. With “unusual” I mean that the cover songs are usually pressed on to side B of a single. If you haven’ t heard the Quartz-song, it’s a rather slow and moody tune, which picks up some pace towards the end. It also has some heavy riffs and a good chorus. The self penned track suggest that DAGGER deals in heavy rock, as it isn’t exactly metal. “Dark Cloud” is shorter, more aggressive piece than the Quartz-track. The song is quite dark, heavy and old school and is something different than what the other new Swedish bands offer. The song in itself isn’t what I would call a gem, but hopefully the band steps up their song writing before the first album.

trial - malicious arts coverSince we started in Sweden, and pretty much stayed in Sweden, what is more natural than to end this column in Sweden as well? I guess it says a bit about how dominant the country is when it comes to metal these days. TRIAL has certainly come in leaps and bounds since I reviewed their first demo for Scream magazine late 2010. The new single “Malicious Arts” is a follow up to last years well received full length “The Primordial Temple”. Released on Nuclear Winter Records and containing two songs in the form of “To Dust…” and “Of Sinister Seed (The Madness Within)”, there are no revolutionary changes since the debut. Even though the band is easy to compare to the likes of Portrait and In Solitude, I enjoy the fact that there is just as much eighties US metal in the sound as there might be influences from Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. Singer Linus Johansson never sets out to sound like a blueprint of King, but instead puts in some small hints to he master here and there in a style that has more in common with the many high pitched US metal-vocalist. His clear, powerful and commanding voice certainly brings out the best in these two tracks, and the fact that he reaches the high notes without sounding as strained as many of his colleagues, is one of his main strenghts. The guitar work is very enjoyable, and the short leads among the uptempo galloping in “To Dust…” are like small injections of energy. The B-side is a longer track, clocking in at nearly seven and a half minutes with several changes in tempo and mood. I guess it would be pretty safe to call “Of Sinister Seed (The Madness Within)” a more epic tune, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear that Andreas Olsson is coming up with some interesting bass lines, not that far away from master of everything epic, Steve Harris. In fact, the references to Iron Maiden are pretty clear in this tune. Like “To Dust…” this is a diverse song that needs a few listen to really sink in. The material of Trial isn’t the catchiest around, but if you invest some time in it, you are likely to be rewarded. Recommended!

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TRIAL (swe): Always in motion


The new album from Sweden’s Trial, “Motherless”, is one of those releases that will create mixed opinions among the people who enjoyed their stellar 2015-release “Vessel”. It’s certainly more on the experimental side of things, and I guess the fact that I haven’t fully made up my mind about it, suggest that it isn’t the easiest to digest. I guess only time will tell how good an album “Motherless” is. Last time I did something on Trial, I spoke to Andreas Johnsson, and he told me that my interview object this time around, the band’s other guitarist, Alexander Ellström, was partly responsible for him playing guitar in the first place.

– It all happened when we were about 12 or 13 years old. We started to hang out listening to music. Andreas  had been playing guitar a couple of years prior to that, but he really wasn’t that interested. As far as I can recall, I picked up a guitar at his place and started playing. From that moment, he kind of got into. At he same time, we started getting into metal as well, Iron Maiden of course, but mostly black and death metal stuff.

How has the fact that you go back a long time helped you develop your playing and interaction? 

– It’s been great. We understand each other perfectly. It’s like we got this sixth sense. It’s really difficult to explain.  If I play something, he immediately understands what kind of vibe it is to the riff, or where it is going. I haven’t really experienced the same feeling playing with someone else . It probably stems from the period I spoke about, when we were young. We kind of learned how to play metal together, and I wasn’t that into metal before we met.

“Vessel” got a lot of great feedback when it was released. Was it all deserved?

– I think “Vessel” was a little bit naïve, but naive in a good way. We wanted to explore many thoughts and ideas on that album, but we simply didn’t know how to technically do it. You have to remember, that it was basically the first time we were in a real studio, so it was a strange experience. We didn’t know how to bring forth all our ideas, but thankfully, we were under much guidance from both the engineer as well as Andy LaRocque who produced the album. This time though, we knew what to do and how to get there. In hindsight, I wish we were able to put all those ideas into “Vessel”, but the record is, like all records, just a footprint in time. It’s best to leave it like that, you will always regret something. You are never satisfied really.

Was it simply the experience from recording “Vessel” that made you more secure of what to do and how to do it for the recordings of “Motherless”?

– Yeah, absolutely. The experience really helped us. We were kind of new in the business back then, and  it helped us understand the segment of recording and how to work on a song in a more broader perspective. We didn’t realize that we lacked it before we went on to record “Vessel”. It was a really mind opening experience for us.

In some ways, Alexander was a bit  surprised by the amount of positive feedback the band got on “Vessel”?

– Of course, you never know what people will think about your work, simply because you isolate yourself when you are writing an album. Personally I don’t try to get too much input from other bands, as I feel really satisfied when I work alone or together with the band members focusing on where to take Trial. Motion is important to us. We really don’t want to be influenced by other bands in an obvious way, but we might be in a more spiritual way.

If you look even further back, are you comfortable listening to your demo and first album?

– Of course, there are some highlights to be found. Not so much with the demo, maybe. I don’t know if you have heard it?

Sure, you sent me a copy for review in Scream Magazine back in 2010.

-Back then we really didn’t know what was going on. It was a very early recording, we didn’t know how to do it, and all the songs turned out quite slow.  The circumstances weren’t the best really. We did the whole thing really fast, I think we recorded the music over one day, perhaps two, and then Linus came in and laid down the vocals in one day too. In hindsight, we didn’t need to rush it, but still we did. “The Primordial Temple” contains some old songs, written around 2008 or perhaps even in 2007, really old stuff we felt we needed to get out there, but there were also a couple of new tracks we were pretty excited about at the time. If you listen to our next release, “Malicious Arts”, (7″ vinyl)  it contains new songs only. This release felt like a new beginning for us, and from that moment, we really started to see where we were heading.

“The Primordial Temple” is starting to get sought after on vinyl and especially on CD, but according to Alexander, it isn’t going to be re-released anytime soon.

– To be honest, we’re not that eager to get it out as of now, but eventually it will get a re-release. Perhaps we could include the songs from “Malicious Arts” as well.

Let’s turn the attention to “Motherless” then. It seems you set out to progress from “Vessel”, and not only to refine the expression you had on that particular album?

– Our goal is always to move forward. Motion is way better than to stagnate. Approximately fifty percent of the songs on “Motherless” were written in the weeks or months after “Vessel” was released, some of them even before the album was out. Then came a period when we didn’t write that many songs, as we focused on playing a couple of gigs and had some other stuff going on. The rest of the songs for “Motherless” were then written a couple of months prior to the recording. Tracks like “In Empyran Labour” and “Juxtaposed” are farily new. The oldest songs on the album are those connected in  the trilogy. They were finished before “Vessel” was released actually.

Apart from your singer Linus, all of you have been together for something like ten years now. Is there a general consensus or an agreement that drives you forward or the dynamics of five different opinions?

– At least there is a general consensus that we’re moving in a certain direction. It’s difficult really, but it’s not like everyone interfere with the ideas of others in a way that we start an argument or something like that. We are pretty much open to write whatever we want, as long as it sounds like Trial, and the feeling is there, along with the sound and the atmosphere. If those factors are present, you can include bits from pretty much every genre. I feel we have really done that With “Motherless”, including things like an Indian raga and even some jazz and blues stuff if you listen closely. It’s kind of a black metal record too, as it’s very melancholic with strong melodies.

Even though there are some pretty distinct changes, I was kind of suspecting an even longer jump from “Vessel” to “Motherless”. While listening to  the latter, it is quite easy to draw lines back to “Vessel” as well.

– You simply can’t make the change too big at once. Perhaps if we had written all the songs during a shorter period of time, like right before we went in and recorded them, the album would have sounded much more different compared to “Vessel”, and much more progressive than what you can hear on the album. When that is said, this is the method we are using. We always have these songs laying around, working on them for a couple of weeks or months, and when the time is right, we pick them up and finish them.

Speaking about the songwriting, Alexander confirms that it’s  still him and Andreas that are coming up with the basic structures for the songs.

– Musically that is. We write all the riffs and discuss where to include them in the songs. Then we take the stuff to the rehearsal room, where everyone have their say. I can have a really strong opinion on how a song should play out, but sometime that doesn’t work, and things have to be changed.  We work on the songs over such a long period of time just to get the feeling right. We don’t like to rush anything. We like the songs to lay over a period of time, and if something isn’t right, we have the ability to sense it. Sometimes we skip the whole song, and never do anything with it again, but most of the time, we finish what we have started. It can be really difficult to get all the things right, to get the perfect instrumentations. It’s hard to nagivate through a song together, at least it takes some time.

IMG_9072Is it hard for you to se the basic idea being changed by the opinions of others as you might want to hold on to the original idea?

– Everyone is pretty open to basically every idea we have, so it’s not a problem really. Sometimes I can have a really strong opinion on a song, but the opinion can change over time. It’s a good thing, because sometimes you are just a little too excited about the initial  idea. It’s important that you don’t rush things, because then the end result will probably not be optimal.

While the lyrics on “Vessel” were shared between three members, Alex is responsible for most of them this time around…

– “Cold Comes The Night” is the only one I didn’t do, it is written by Andreas. It’s not that I felt obligated by the other members to write the lyrics, more that I felt obligated spiritually to do it. I had these things that I really had to get out of my head, that needed to  be examined or explored.  Writing all these lyrics, has been quite a trip for me personally. And it wasn’t really clear for me in the beginning that all the lyrics shared something, almost like a concept.

So it’s not just the last three songs that are connected in a way?

– Those three are obviously connected, but every song more or less is. They deal with the abysses of my life, what I feel and what I experience. Also how I see things and how to get there and continue examine everything that is really dear to me. The lyrics are filled with anxiety, but also with love.

Even if the lyrics are personal, Alexander is confident the listener can still relate to them.

– Absolutely. As long as the lyrics are good and understandable, people can read them and try to see what I mean . They can have a look at their own lives, and see how the lyrics relate. A lot of people are having anxiety and experiencing love or hate or whatever. If you can relate to the lyrics, I believe they can help you in various ways, to help scars heal that haven’t healed. I have to point out though, that none of the lyrics were written with the purpose of of other people understanding them. It was more like meditation for me to get it out of my system. In the end, only I can see the real structures of the lyrics, and read into every word what they meant at the time I was writing them, and what they still mean to me.

Did writing these lyrics give you something in return?

– The album is called “Motherless”, but in some ways I have become a father of these lyrics. Their my children now. Writing these lyrics have given me a lot, but they’re also filled with all these feelings I can’t explain with words. You can only try to explain them with words, to help yourself understand the feelings better. Still they aren’t fully explained. You can look at the lyrics and say: “This doesn’t do it for me, and perhaps take another angle and you feel yeah, this really means something to me. This really captures the feeling I have.” The lyrics are very emotional really.

Were you inspired by other musicians that have written similar lyrics?

– Not really. Of course I am influenced by the dozens of bands I listen to, so if you listen carefully, surely you will find something. What I was really influenced by though, is the beat generation, with poets like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and the likes. I am influenced by how they express themselves, and how they create a new reality by just typing those words. Reading stuff by them opened my senses and my mind to see things a little clearer than I have done before. Perhaps I was also able to be a bit more honest with myself in the lyrics.

Alexander isn’t sure the lyrics feel more like a whole now that he is the main contributor… 

– Its hard to say really. I welcome every other band member to write their own lyrics. It’s a personal expression, and if the other guys have something good, they should really share it,  instead  of keeping it to themselves. For future recordings, I might end up doing all the lyrics, or I might just do one lyric for each album. It’s really hard to predict.

Why is “Motherless” a good title for this album?

-That’s a really good question. You might also have this feeling that you are separated from something, always trying to get back to it.  On this occasion, I identify it as being motherless. Not having this cosmic mother that I belong to, not feeling her prescence. You feel that you don’ belong anywhere. It’s some sort of existential anxiety. You need to investigate all the feelings you have and increase the level of awareness. You need to investigate both yourself and the universe. The microcosm and the macrocosm. As above, so below…Its everything.

I remember Andreas mentioning that the different influences all of you bring to the table, is part of the answer why Trial’s material sounds so diverse. What is your influences and the stuff you bring into the songwriting?

– I would say I come from the music back in the sixties. I only listened to The Beatles, The Who, Beach Boys and Creedence before I started listening to metal. It’s mostly the way they thought back then that appeals to me. Everybody was trying to do something new, and to move forward. I might be a little influenced by the music itself as well, but it’s this way of thinking that I mainly get inspiration from. The next step is to try to translate it into what we’re doing and find my own way. I don’t want to copy anything that has already been done. When you are young, you are not aware of yourself in the manner that you can say: I want to do something that’s unique, but as you get older, it gets easier. I learned a lot from this era in music, and I want to create something that I experience as new.

IMG_9260After releasing “Vessel” you had at least one leftover song from the recordings. Did you record anything else this time?

– There was one song that we finished, but didn’t record. In the end we decided that we wanted to make an album that feels like an whole album in the sense that when you listen to it from the start to end, you will get a certain kind of experience. “Motherless” also felt a little too long with nine songs instead of eight. It all comes down to our own thoughts, but the feeling was that it would be too long. The song in question is heavily jazz influenced. Perhaps we will use it later. It’s a song we’re proud of even though it didn’t fit in on this album.

You are on Metal Blade this time after having been on several different labels in the past. What’s most important for you when it comes to choosing a label to work with?

– The most important thing is that the label believes in what we’re doing, but I guess Metal Blade  wouldn’t have signed us in the first place if they didn’t. However, I guess there are different levels of “believing in”. We don’t demand that much really, we just want to be able to record whatever we want to record. That’s the basic for us, everything else is a bonus, and it’s here you’ll find the difference between labels. Metal Blade is a big label, and it’s kind of more pressure too. I don’t feel pressure to make good music, but people expect us to feel pressure, I think. It could all prove to be really difficult, because if people hate the album, we will probably not get an opportunity to make another one. It’s hard, but we don’t try to think about it that much. We have a strong belief in our music, and if the right path is thread things should be okay.

Alexander describes Metal Blade as a step up  from the days on High Roller, even though he doesn’t say a bad word about the latter either.

– Metal Blade represented an even greater opportunity to work on the songs in the studio. We spent a bit longer time making this album compared to the last, the focus on the songs was really something different and we tried to be  thorough with everything. If something didn’t sound good enough, we did it all over again.

The trilogy, consisting of  the songs “Birth”, “Embodiment” and “Rebirth” is an important part of the album, to such an extent that the whole B-side on the vinyl version is dedicated to “Still The Stars Dismembers The Void” which is the title of the trilogy.

–  These songs are not just about regular birth, regular emobodiment or regular death. You can experience these things on different levels, it could be a thought or a feeling. It can be what comes to mind, and movement also, if you are going through something. It always repeats itself – birth and embodiment, rebirth. You can almost divide everything you do into these three segments. The trilogy is basically an examination of things I have experienced, learned from and tried to understand even more. So I believe that’s the red thread running through these three compositions.

As a listener, I need time to  absorb this album. A lot of time, compared to “Vessel”. Is that something you, as one of the main song writers, can understand?

– Yeah, absolutely. It takes time with this record, as “Motherless” is filled with all these things going on. It’s atmospheric as well, and the lyrics have been taken to another level.

I am really impressed with the vocals this time. Having seen Linus Johansson coming into the band, how would you describe his progress?

– He is definitely more confident nowadays compared to what he was in the beginning. We have changed the approach to how we do the vocals a lot. We really worked fast and intense with the vocals at the early stages of our career, and Linus really wasn’t given enough time to focus on certain passages or even capture a feeling in the vocals. As a singer, sometimes you want to scream your lungs out, sometimes you want to do something completely different. This time we had the time to work on such things. Linus and I also spent time before we started on each song to discuss the lyrics. We talked about how I felt about the lyrics, and how he felt about them. We also spoke about how he could read into the lyrics to try to capture the feeling for each segment of the song, so it wouldn’t be a straight line of intensity throughout the track. Some songs are more interesting to listen to when it comes to the vocals, because Linus really captures the listener. He is really theatrical with his vocals, and for sure did a great job this time. Everyone can hear that his performance is mindblowing.

As you mentioned, you had material ready for this album at an early stage. Do you already have songs for the next album?

– When you are about to record, you only focus on finishing those songs, and make them as perfect as possible. Almost instantly after the recording is finished, I get inspired and creative again. I can do next to nothing prior to and during the recording, but after we are finished, I always tend to want to write more stuff. So yes, we have a couple of songs and ideas basically ready, but nothing we are rehearsing right now.

Do you think the next album will be very different from “Motherless”?

– Absolutely. In some ways, but in some ways it could also be similar. Its quite early to tell. We might change our approach in different songs, and that in turn can change the whole perspective of the album. Of course we don’t want to do anything that is too similar to “Motherless”. We want to do something new, but I need to have the whole picture to say exactly how different it will be.

All photos: Anders Skoorell

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