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.:CD Reviews:.

SINNER – One Bullet Left (AFM Records 2011)

Sinner - One Bullet Left
  1. The One You Left Behind
  2. Back On Trail
  3. Give & Take
  4. One Bullet Left
  5. 10 2 Death
  6. Haunted
  7. Atomic Playboys (STEVE STEVENS cover)
  8. Suicide Mission
  9. Wake Me When I'm Sober
  10. Mind Over Matter
  11. Mend To Be Broken
  12. Rolling Away

Back in 2008 the band around Mat Sinner - SINNER - released "Crash & Burn" (see the review here). While his other band, PRIMAL FEAR, is heavier and plays solid Heavy/Power Metal, with SINNER the bassist opts for a Hard Rock direction and has been doing so since the 1980s. Mat has been busy the past few years with PRIMAL FEAR and VOODOO CIRCLE, the band around SILENT FORCE guitarist Alex Beyrodt. Alex also joined PRIMAL FEAR again, mainly for the live performances, plus he's also part of the line-up of SINNER. Anno 2011 the band has 3 guitarists and a new drummer: Alex Beyrodt, Christof Leim, Alex Scholpp (TARJA, FARMER BOYS) and André Hilgers (SILENT FORCE, RAGE) behind the drums. These guys made the follow-up to "Crash & Burn", i.e. "One Bullet Left". AFM Records released it on the 9th September. The digipack edition contains, next to the regular list of 12 songs, 2 bonus tracks and a video for the song "Back On Trail".

"One Bullet Left" begins with "The One You Left Behind", a fast Hard Rock song. The tempo is high, the guitarwork melodic, but when not, the whole simply rocks! The chorus is catchy enough. A very good start for this new album. "Back On Trail" is slower and soundq a lot like THIN LIZZY's classic hit "Jailbreak", only more powerful due to modern technology. But I like it. "Give & Take" is a melodic Heavy Metal track with more drive and power. Again the chorus was written to be catchy, especially on the melodic side. However, Mat's singing in that part isn't so good, as it sounds forced. The music is quite alright. The title track start with a very nice rhythm on the toms, in vein of MARYLIN MANSON's "The Beautiful People". The chorus is Poppy, although the addition of heavy guitars are needed to keep it in the Hard Rock department. Not bad, nothing super either. "10 2 Death", however, is then a better song. It's got drive and power. The rhythm, too, is well written. Vocally, though, I think Mat wrote too many words for the lyrics, as he almost stumbles over them at some point.

Halfway the tracklist you get the obligatory power ballad, "Haunted". Nothing special, really, and I must say I found Mat's singing the least good aspect here. He's never been among the best singer and there are songs where his voice does fit, also in some songs of PRIMAL FEAR, but here it's just mediocre. "Atomic Playboys" is a cover, originally by STEVE STEVENS, whom I've never heard of. But SINNER made it rock, no doubt about that. It's a classic straight-forward Rock song, comparable, to some extent, to SHAKRA, PRIMAL FEAR (probably because of the production) and similar. "Suicide Mission" has the same kind of rhythm and very melodic leads. Somehow, THIN LIZZY came to mind again, but in a heavier version. Still, "Back On Trail" is far more THIN LIZZY than this song. The tempo drops a bit in "Wake Me When I'm Sober", where the melodic leads stand out. "Mind Over Matter" is another straight-forward Rock song and a firm one as well. Comparable to U.D.O.'s latest works. "Mend To Be Broken" is also a solid song with power and drive. The album ends with "Rolling Away". Tension, mystery... just drums and clean guitars first, then the same rhythm and melody is applied for the verses. Full power and volume is activated in the chorus. All in all, a very nice Bluesy Hard Rock song with 80's influences.

Long story short, I liked "Crash & Burn". "One Bullet Left" is also a good album, contains several solid Hard Rock songs that are easy to listen to and get you in the mood. On the other hand, the material is never as strong as the PRIMAL FEAR stuff, even if the writing process is different there, as is the style. If you're fan of the band or the style, you cannot really go wrong here, although it's not the best Mat has made so far.

More info at www.matsinner.de.

Line-up:
Mat Sinner - vocals, bass
Alex Beyrodt - guitars
Christof Leim - guitars
Alex Scholpp - guitars
André Hilgers - drums


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ARKONA – Slovo (Napalm Records 2011)

Arkona - Slovo
  1. Az'
  2. Arkaim
  3. Bol'no Mne
  4. Leshiy
  5. Zakliatie
  6. Predok
  7. Nikogda
  8. Tam Za Tumanami
  9. Potomok
  10. Slovo
  11. Odna
  12. Vo Moiom Sadochke
  13. Stenka Na Stenku
  14. Zimushka

Back in May the Russian Folk Metal band ARKONA released the EP "Stenka Na Stenku" (see the review here) as pre-taste for the next studio full-length "Slovo", which means "Word" in English. "Slovo" is the follow-up to the band's very good "Goi, Rode, Goi!" album from 2009 (see the review here). ARKONA will later this year tour with the Heidenfest package, which also includes SKÁLMÖLD, ALESTORM, TURISAS, FINNTROLL and special guests like TODTGELICHTER, WINTERSUN and DORNENREICH, but they will not be present at all shows. The tour starts at the end of September. But let's focus again on ARKONA's newest ouput, which contains 14 tracks, consisting of proper songs and interludes. "Slovo" also features guest performances from the Chamber Orchestra of Kazan State Conservatory N.G. Zhiganova (under direction of Darya Ivanova) and The Choir of Moscow State Conservatory Students (under direction of Alexandra Sidorova). The release date was set on the 26th August. for info on the lyrical context and translations, go to the band's website at this location.

For those whose knowledge of Russian is at a low level or non-existent (like me), here are the translations of the song titles:

01. The Beginning Of All Beginnings
02. Arkaim
03. It's Painful For Me
04. Leshiy
05. Incantation
06. Ancestor
07. Never
08. Behind The Mist
09. The Descendant
10. The Word
11. Alone
12. In My Garden
13. Wall To The Wall
14. Winter

"Slovo" begins with an orchestral intro containing Folk instruments, cello, strings, brass... and percussion, which result in an epic piece of music! This rises to a climax near the end to instantly make way for powerful and rough Black Metal-ish Metal in "Arkaim", where drums blast away at full speed. It's a massive song, diverse in composition (e.g. hymnic at one time, rough and aggressive the next instant) and even flirting with Power Metal at a certain moment. It's nice to hear the change in rhythm for the bridge and chorus. Melody and leads are primarily provided by Folk instrumentation. ARKONA is still a Folk Metal band somehow, even though the power of guitars (incl. bass) and drums is vital, too. The break halfway offers a moment of rest, so to speak, with its pipebags, percussion, violin... the lot, in short. The eye of the storm, as they say. After the last outburst, winds carry it all to the next song, "Bol'no Mne", which also contains the acoustic guitar of the previous song. Cello input is responsible for the leadwork and it's as if the guys from APOCALYPTICA were asked to play this part. While the acoustic composition carries on, fast Metal is added. The acoustic input is dominant here (as it also ends the song), yet there is also room for a choir moment where Masha sings with her typical hymnic voice, and even throws in some narration. So far, so very good. No complaints at all from my part.

Three tracks done, 11 more to go. And the middle-section of the tracklist, track 4 'till (and included) 9, are not as strong, at least not like previous efforts. The production is very good, the execution ditto. That's all fine. "Leshiy" begins with the accordion playing a relatively happy tune. The guitar takes over and the music carries on with a dancey rhythm. Masha's rough vocals give the song a rough edge and that is also due to the Russian language itself. Maybe that roughness is more than needed. Musically you won't find much Folk in this song, the emphasis lies on guitar, bass and drums, although there are violin accents, added with flute and similar. The aforementioned accordion returns in the chorus, where the music is played at a higher pace. Overall not that bad and very different from the previous tracks, but still... I personally found it less appealing. "Zakliatie" has a spoken intro at first, then meditative music and sung vocals follow, a bit like in the song "Slavsia, Rus" (off the album "Ot Serdca K Nebu", 2007). The whispering comes back at a later instant and even if it has a function, I'm not so fond of it. But salvation, to some extent, is near as the Metal kicks in with Folk input. As the song evolves and advances near the end, the flame goes out with a furious outburst.

"Predok" is an atmospheric, spoken interlude. Pretty good. This takes us the the battle that is fought in "Nikogda". This is a dark song, and yet positive when looking at the lyrical context. The music is rough at first, but you get the typical humpa-rhythm over halfway together with a higher Folk influence. "Tam Za Tumanami" is an acoustic Folk song with clean vocals and choir, which sounds - musically - a bit more hopeful, despite being about a warrior who died and his lover waiting for him to return or until they are reunited in the afterlife. In "Potomok", another hymnic song, you can hear a child doing the main (spoken) vocals. Now, these 6 songs are far from bad and the lyrics are interesting (judging by the translations on the band's website, since my Russian is non-existent), but musically I didn't find these songs as strong as what can be found on ARKONA's previous albums or even the tracks that preceded or follow them.

The last five tracks are all highlights. "Slovo" is a midtempo Folk Metal song with acoustic passages, while "Odna" contains wolf howling to get you in the mood and create the right setting in your mind. Folk with percussion comes in, while Masha sings in a clean way. Add Metal and growls and you get a different result, which contrasts nicely. But that reverts again to the Folky stuff with a hurdy-gurdy, if I heard right, to then finish the song with a final outburst. Another acoustic Folk tune is "Vo Moiom Sadochke". "Stenka Na Stenku" comes off the same-titled EP that was released earlier this year and last but not least there is "Zimushka". Atmospheric at first, but then the Metal flows along in an on-off pattern. Masha is assisted on vocals by Tatiana Narishkina from the band VEDAN' KOLOD'.

ARKONA continues on "Slovo" where "Goi, Rode, Goi!" left off. Fans of the band need not worry and can buy this new album blind. The sound is good, the songs are typically ARKONA and you get a varied tracklisting. The interludes and acoustic passages help create a certain atmosphere and translate the feelings and emotions in the lyrics as good as possible, but it's not always a hit. At least, depending on what you like on a musical level. Although you cannot really go wrong with "Slovo", I do consider it a step back compared to the previous albums.

More info at www.arkona-russia.com.

Line-up:
Masha "Scream" - vocals
Sergej "Lazar" - guitars
Ruslan "Kniaz" - bass
Vlad "Artist" - drums


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SVARTSOT – Maledictus Eris (Napalm Records 2011)

Svartsot - Maledictus Eris
  1. Staden...
  2. Gud Giv Det Varer Ved!
  3. Dødedansen
  4. Farsoten Kom
  5. Holdt Net Af En Tjørn
  6. Den Forgængelige Tro
  7. Om Jeg Lever Kveg
  8. Kunsten At Dø
  9. Den Nidske Gud
  10. Spigrene
  11. Og Landet Ligger Så Øde He

With the renewed line-up the Danish Folk Metal band SVARTSOT released its second album, "Mulmets Viser", in 2010. See the review here). This was not a bad album, but to me it wasn't as good as the debut, "Ravnenes Saga" (2007, see the review here). The new one lacked in variation and could use more Folk and also less flute. Apparently the band learned from it all and grew towards each other in terms of influences and musical wishes. Album no. 3, "Maledictus Eris", came out on the 29th July, which is indeed quite fast. Perhaps inspiration was streaming through the guys' minds after the previous one and the gigs that followed.

The lyrical context for the new album takes us back to the year 1347 when, according to the press text, "a ship landed in the harbor of Messina, Sicily carrying an unwelcome cargo - the bodies of a plague-ridden crew. Over the next few years, the disease spread across most of an unprepared Europe, eliminating around a third of the population. The survivors could do nothing but watch their families and friends die a grim death, as the epidemic swept across the map following the trade routes. By 1350 the Black Death had reached Denmark." The album basically tells the tale of the Black Death in Denmark, "beginning prior to its arrival and ending when the first, and most devastating, bout had passed. The songs tell the tales of the dying, the dead and the survivors, their fears, their sadness, their reactions, and their grief. The church blamed the disease on the sins of the masses, who, in turn, blamed the minorities, but all their reasoning was ill-founded and misguided. Why did the pious and the heretical die in equal measure? With no one left to blame, too few remaining to fulfil the traditional roles in society, no medieval treatment sufficing to cure, and no one spared the suffering, it was left to the conscience of each individual as to how to meet the end: in penance or in debauchery?"

"Maledictus Eris" was recorded, mixed, mastered, and produced by Lasse Lammert (known for his work with ALESTORM, among others) at his studio in Lübeck, Germany. He also added additional guitarwork. The cover artwork and layout was created by Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák (GRAVE DIGGER, TÝR, STRATOVARIUS, ...). The album kicks off with an intro ("Staden"), in which you can hear people enter a bar/pub and you obviously hear the sounds of glasses and mugs. "Gud Giv Det Varer Ved!" then follows instantly with direct, hymnic Folk Metal and growling vocals, which are present throughout the album. Leads are provided by the guitar and flute, which results in a nice combo. The flute is more prominent in the chorus, by the way. Overall the Danes have written a catchy tune, allowing for lots of headbanging. "Dødedansen" is next with its humpa Metal. Growls are again the leading vocals, but they take turns with screams, courtesy of Uffe Dons Petersen, I assume. He's mentioned as guest vocalist, hence the assuming. But it won't be the only time that I mix up Thor and Uffe, as you can read lower. Uffe is guitarist in the Melodic Death Metal band UNBELIEF and joined SVARTSOT this year as guitarist. The screamy stuff reminded me, in a way, of IN FLAMES and their "Whoracle" album (1997). The flute and guitar again offer leadwork, while over halfway there's room for a solo and instrumental talk. The quality remains intact, so far so very good.

"Farsoten Kom" begins with a catchy tune and rhythmic/hymnic "hey ho, hey, heyho" kind of singing. Something that should surely be played live, for it's perfect for that setting. This is a semi-acoustic track with even a bit of Blues. The mandolin is used for leads (very nice, by the way), while the growls continue to dominate in the vocal department. This is one hell of a song, without question! "Holdt Net Af En Tjørn" starts with drums and (Swedish) pipebags, which form a nice team. Metal comes in for the rhythm aspect, which makes the picture complete. Vocally you get growls and screams with the first being the dominant one. Musically it's all about Metal, save for the acoustic guitar in the back. Melody is of high importance in the chorus, which sounds indeed very Folky! Another highlight on SVARTOT's 3rd album. And so is "Den Forgængelige Tro", which has the music fading, thus creating a sort of tension. Folky leads via the guitar, in a next instant joined by the flute (or whistle) and the drums after that. Slow at first, wavey somehow, but then it's all about Metal. The melodic element was again reserved for the chorus. While this song features very nice drumwork, it's rather simple as a whole, but should do great live.

The drums also set in "Om Jeg Lever Kveg", after which the guitars come in with rhythm and leads. The whole is the typical Folk Metal we've come to expect from SVARTSOT. There's a nice contrast between the guitars in the verses, sounding clean and distorted. The latter is of course the prevailing one and like before, the drums also stand out in this song. "Kunsten At Dø" follows with first the toms and acoustic guitar. This part alone is simply amazing! The production is also well done, as it helps to make it all sound amazing. Folky guitar leads are normal - we're dealing with a Folk Metal band, after all. The verses are acoustic and have hoarse vocals (perhaps this is also (?) Uffe's doing?), which offers something else instead of growls. And that change is good. The chorus is this time not about melody, but about the power of Metal. And with growls! Since drummer Danni Lyse Jelsgaard did such a good job in the beginning of the previous songs, he may also start "Den Nidske Gud". Powerful verses follow soon after that, while the melody returns in the chorus, thanks to the mandoline. This is another simple song, but an effective one.

In favour of change, the band sets in "Spigrene" in an acoustic manner, but it doesn't take long before the entire band takes off. And they keep it acoustic all the way, with clean vocals this time. I have no idea who sings here and perhaps it IS Thor... or Uffe. I think I'll need the booklet to find out. Musically the flute/whistle helps with the melodic side of the song. SVARTSOT ends the trip to the past with a bang: "Og Landet Ligger Så Øde Hen". Here they offer midtempo, though not really that fast, hymnic Power Folk. Pipebags, whistles, ... the lot. Later on the drums increase in strength with the double bass. All killer no filler.

Like I said above, "Mulmets Viser" was not really attractive (for me), especially compared to "Ravnenes Saga". I had some hopes that "Maledictus Eris" would be different than "Mulmets Viser", but nothing more. And maybe it's best not to expect things too much, then you won't be disappointed if those expectations are not met. But it turned out that "Maledictus Eris"... may be SVARTSOT's best album so far! I didn't detect one bad song, not one moment that I wanted to skip a song or fast-forward. The production is very well done, the compositions are diverse enough to let Folk prevail at one time and to let Metal prevail the other time. You don't get flutes everywhere or pipebags, the band kept it nicely balanced. Perhaps because the line-up is now better adjusted to each other. in any case, this is certainly one of the highlights this year and a must for any Folk Metal fan, whether this is your first SVARTSOT release or not.

More info at www.svartsot.dk.

Line-up:
Thor Bager - vocals
Cris J.S. Frederiksen - guitars, mandolin
Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen - whistles, Swedish pipebags
James Atkin - bass
Danni Lyse Jelsgaard - drums


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SKÁLMÖLD – Baldur (Napalm Records 2011)

Skálmöld
  1. Heima
  2. Árás
  3. Sorg
  4. Upprisa
  5. För
  6. Draumur
  7. Kvaðning
  8. Hefnd
  9. Daudi
  10. Valhöll
  11. Baldur
  12. Kvaðning (Edit)

Pagan Metal bands are legio out there, from ENSIFERUM over AMON AMARTH to ARKONA and TÝR, to name just these. But Iceland also has its bands in this lyrical genre, as SKÁLMÖLD proves. The debut album, "Baldur", was originally released in december 2010 by Tutl Records, but Napalm Records saw the potential and offered to release the album worldwide on the 29th of July. The Tutl and Napalm versions differ by two bonus tracks on the Napalm one: "Baldur" and "Kvaðning (Edit)", which is a shorter version of "Kvaðning".

SKÁLMÖLD, the name apparently being an old Icelandic word used to describe the (bloody) conflicts between the biggest Icelandic families in the 13th century, was formed in the summer of 2009, its members coming from different musical backgrounds, both Metal and non-Metal. As said before, the lyrical aspect is based on Norse mythology, but is said to follow "the strict rules of traditional Icelandic poetry". The concept album tells the dramatic turn of events of the Icelandic Viking, Baldur. The story begins in a time of peace when Baldur, a wealthy man, has just settled down. He has much land, a loving wife, and children. Yet disaster strikes, when a demon-like creature not-of-this-world brutally attacks his peaceful existence. His home is in ruins and, worst of all, his family dead. Finding two of his men, Gunnar Jarl and Grímur, still alive, Baldur swears revenge. Fighting their way across the harsh Icelandic landscape, the three never lose sight of their goal... a final battle against their sworn enemy. But victory comes with a prize: a prize Baldur is more than willing to pay, even with his life.

Aðalbjörn Tryggvason of SÓLSTAFIR contributed with guest vocals for the songs "Árás" and "Hefnd". A translation of the track titles can be found on Metal-Archives.com, as follows:

01. Home
02. Attack
03. Grief
04. Uprising
05. Journey
06. Dream
07. Summoning
08. Vengeance
09. Death
10. Valhalla
11. Baldur

"Baldur" begins with a hymnic song, "Heima", in which a man takes the lead, while a children's choir follows in a next instant. This then makes way for an adults' choir. This sounds epic and very touching. A great track, which doesn't need any music to accompany it. The attack ("Árás") begins with a guitar intro, where drums and keyboards are added to both tension and power. Slow, folky hymns follow before the band goes into higher gear with hoarse, roaring vocals. Before the chorus kicks in (incl. group singing for atmosphere and context) there's a nice transition in the form of wind. Nice to see the band added nature samples to make the song more alive. The Folk aspect is also present in the guitar leads. All in all, a job well done. So is "Sorg" with its acoustic intro, which later makes way for slow, melodic Metal. Again, quite hymnic and very nice melodies. The group singing adds to the greatness to this track. But there's also enough room for instrumentality (incl. the organ). The atmosphere is rather dark and you can be sure this ain't a song about the birds and the bees.

"Upprisa" brings us humpa Folk Metal with organ leads. It's an energetic song and musically perfect to have a drink, so to speak. Think of KORPIKLAANI, but in a rougher version. The whole slows down, but adds more power in the chorus. The aforementioned hoarse, roaring vocals are of course present again, throughout the album. The music here is varied in terms of speed, rhythm, melodies, atmosphere and even breaks, which reminded me a little of e.g. MANOWAR or POWERWOLF. After a while the music grows in volume and power before reverting back to the chorus compositions. All things considered, hats off for the Icelanders. Then comes "FöR" with an intro that predicts fast Metal. And yes, the music comes pounding out of the speakers then. This is powerful stuff! The chorus has dual vocals, both the roaring and clean singing, creating a nice contrast. Halfway there's a break with (again) marching drums, in preparation for breakdown-like part, excellent to headbang to. But somehow this track was less to my liking than the others.

"Draumur" is an interlude that is full of danger. A crying baby, a cat not feeling at ease (if that's a cat).. something evil's ahead. The backing chanting with the organ enforces that feeling. The very Folky "Kvaðning" (which returns at the end in a shorter version) then is set in with the oboe and percussion., after which the whole band joins in. The vocals should have contained a bit more growling, as this kind of singing would have fit better here, in my opinion. The melodic, instrumental piece in the middle is a very nice addition, after which the song grows in power, energy and speed. Another song well done! "Hefnd" is another hymnic, rhythmic Folk track, somehow reminding me of MOONSORROW. The organ leads again, while the guitars and drums are the providers of power and rhythm. There's a screamy middle part with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's guest vocals, I presume, and the guitar following suit. All this connects neatly with the chorus and rest of the song.

"Daudi" is set in with the oboe. For those not knowing this instrument, see Wikipedia (click here). The organ lingers in the back and then the music takes off, with Metal all the way, slowly growing first, but then hell bursts loose! The vocals, yes, the same as before, start to annoy here. Honestly. Variation at this stage would be nice, but this kind of singing is no different than the other songs, so you could easily interchange it between the tracks. The music, however, is very good and gets more epic in the last part. Which brings us to "Valhöll". You cannot write pagan lyrics and not mention the famed Valhalla. The hymnic singing here is very well done and comes out really well. It sounds similar to what TÝR has done in the past. The drums offer backing support, while the oboe provides leads. Another highlight of a track, indeed. "Baldur" is closed with the epic and long (almost 11 minutes) title track. And epic start changing into a midtempo power ball! The music is heavy and of course powerful, containing varied singing. The last part is where you get group singing again (perfect for this kind of song) with drums and slow music. Wonderful!

So, a new Pagan Metal band has risen from the underground. SKÁLMÖLD have done a good job with their debut album, "Baldur", combining very nice music and an interesting context. In addition, it's nice to have another band singing in its mother tongue, as it gives the material that extra touch. Hopefully the English translations are in the booklet or available online. The production is well done, the music comes out really well, but in the vocal department it would be nice to have a bit more variation in terms of growling, roaring and what not.

More info at www.skalmold.is.

Line-up:
Björgvin Sigurðsson - vocals, guitars
Baldur Ragnarsson - guitars, vocals
Þráinn Árni Baldvinsson - guitars, vocals
Gunnar Ben - keyboards, oboe, vocals
Snæbjörn Ragnarsson - bass, vocals
Jón Geir Jóhannsson - drums, vocals


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MISGUIDED AGGRESSION – Flood The Common Ground (Kerosene Media/Year Of The Sun Records 2011)

Misguided Aggression - Flood The Common Ground
  1. Intro
  2. Winter Soldier
  3. Chasing Sanity
  4. The Visionary
  5. The First Stone
  6. Humility
  7. Autonomy
  8. Hidden Empire
  9. Flood The Common Ground

MISGUIDED AGGRESSION is a Canadian Progressive Groove/Death Metal band, founded in 2004. Since then they've released a few recordings like "Fear No Evil" (2005), "Our Savior's Daydream" (2006) and "The Beast Coast Tour" EP (2007). The band's last full-length was "Hatchala" (2009), which apparently got several positive reviews. The new album, "Flood The Common Ground" is the first I hear from these Canadians. This release contains 9 tracks, totalling a playtime of... little more than 26 minutes. Yep, short tracks indeed. The longest, "The First Stone", clocks in after 4 minutes. The release occured on the 28th June.

The album begins with the "Intro", sounding like a spoken sample of an American soldier about the 9/11 and stuff, plus the indoctrination by the media in that context. "Winter Soldier" follows immediately with violent and brutal Death Metal with melodic touches. The singing, eh, screaming is done in a growling/hoarse kind of way. Those aforementioned melodic touches are not your typical things, but they made me think of how, for example, IWRESTLEDABEARONCE (not at all my cup of tea, by the way) used them. The Metalcore-ish influences come out in the chorus. Since it's quite a technical song, you have to stay focused here or just flip on it. Overall, not that bad.

"Chasing Sanity" is next and also right after the last note of "Winter Soldier". Aggressive and violent riffing, blastbeats... a nice start. But then the music slows down a little, Metalcore-style, and the screaming commences. And I'll be honest, it annoys me. Furthermore, you get the varied compositions in terms of tempos, rhythm, ... The music does the title justice, that's correct. "The Visionary" also kicks in brutally and continues like that, including the screams. Also, where's the structure? But then comes the intro of "The First Stone", which I thought was promising. You can hear and feel something fast is to follows and so it does! Blasting Death Metal! Only for a short while, though, then all flows more normally. Musically it's alright, especially in the drum department. But as the song advances, the breakdowns come in, there is stop-start riffing, the pace increases for a while, followed by the Metalcore-ish stuff once more. First half of the song is alright, but then it just lessens, by manner of speech.

"Humility" also contains the typical ingredients of pounding extreme Metal, screams, and so forth. Oh yes, it's brutal, it's destructive, and whatever more. But it didn't get me, so to speak. I didn't feel anything here. Neither with "Autonomy", which sets in with blasting Metal, followed by again the variable rhythms, stop-start playing, ... Which you'll also find in "Hidden Empire" and "Flood The Common Ground".

I've tried to appreciate "Flood The Common Ground" these past few weeks, but alas, it didn't work. There are some nice ideas throughout the album, no question about that, but the whole just offers too much of the same, even if the guys add technicality in the songs. The material may, however, be suitable if you're in an angry mood or want to shake of the stress you accumulated during the week. Other than that, I'd say this is more aimed at fans of the band.

More info at www.misguidedaggression.com.

Line-up:
Rob DeMedeiros - vocals
Randy Allcock - guitar
Ben Dobson - guitar
John Ryan Godfrey - bass
Ben Taylor - drums


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DRACONIAN – A Rose For The Apocalypse (Napalm Records 2011)

Draconian - A Rose For The Apocalypse
  1. The Drowning Age
  2. The Last Hour Ancient Sunlight
  3. End Of The Rope
  4. Elysian Night
  5. Deadlight
  6. Dead World Assembly
  7. A Phantom Dissonance
  8. The Quiet Storm
  9. The Death Of Hours
  10. Wall Of Sighs

The Swedish Gothic/Doom Metal band DRACONIAN released their last album, "Turning Season Within", in 2008. See my review here. But as each album brought them closer to the international stages and a bigger fanbase, several gigs were obviously played to promote this last effort. DRACONIAN rapidly became one of my favourite bands and the solo stuff of guitarist Johan Ericson under the banner DOOM:VS also is very much worth checking out if you're into Death/Doom. Anyway, three years later a new album is out since the 24th June: "A Rose For The Apocalypse". Again the band worked with producer Jens Bogren (AMON AMARTH, PARADISE LOST, GWYLLION, SYMPHONY X, ENSLAVED, TURISAS, and many more), like on the previous album, which means the sound remains recognizable and even similar to e.g. AMON AMARTH's latest releases.

"A Rose For The Apocalypse" contains ten tracks, totalling a playtime of a good hour of Doom, gloom, melancholy, sorrow and sadness. Or, anything a DRACONIAN album should contain and has contained. It all starts with the suspicious/mysterious intro of "The Drowning Age", after which reasonably fast melodic Doom breaks loose, reminding of AMON AMARTH somehow, but that's due to the Jens's productional work. That was only the first part, as proper (i.e. slow) Doom then is selected. Vocalist Anders Jacobsson takes the lead and his brutal grunts work very well with the heavy guitars, while Lisa's angelic, weeping voice contrasts nicely. A clean break offers the chance for Lisa's voice to be in the spotlights, supported by accustomed music. Everything grows stronger again afterwards with a rather big Gothic touch now. In short, a typical DRACONIAN song and very good one even. In the slow "The Last Hour Ancient Sunlight" it's Lisa who sings the lead vocal parts in the clean verses. The melodic input is apparent, incl. symphonic backing. Anders's grunts are reserved for the chorus, which is heavier and more dramatic, so to speak. It's a dark and quite brutal track. The ballsiness is broken by a violin moment, a nice move. And the contrast remains intact even when the slow, crushing Doom that follows then makes way again for the clean verses (and so forth).

With "End Of The Rope" the Swedes made one hell of a song and big highlight (in my humble opinion) on this new album. A melodic line at first, followed by firm Doom Metal that can only be done by DRACONIAN. This is far from happy music, but it sounds so tasty. The violin accents help to accentuate the feeling of loss or pain, while Lisa's singing is perfect to vocally express this feeling. Anders creates a wonderful contrast with his grunts. Absolutely stunning material! The piano break near the end comes as a (pleasant) surprise, while the Metal stop as if the plug was pulled. "Elysian Night" is set in in a direct manner. Clean verses with Lisa on lead vocals are opposed to a brutal, yet dramatic chorus where Anders plays a key role. Symphonic backing completes the picture. During the guitar break there's a spoken part with a piece of "Ode To A Nightingale" by John Keats. The symphonic piece that follows flows well with the heavier Doom, but is also nice to the ears so it's not only the guitars that need to take care of the melodic aspect.

"Deadlight" is a more simple song, which starts with cracking sounds like from an LP/vinyl. A spooky passage comes next, transcending nicely into a more Jazzy part. When heaviness falls in, the overall pace and feel remain the same, however. Grunts are the dominant vocals, angelic singing is reserved for the chorus. Nice to hear too how, before the guitar solo, the band added a powerful bridge where Anders can go all the way with his extreme vocals. The first thing one notices in "Dead World Assembly" is the increase in push, drive, at least in the beginning. The verses are of the slow and acoustic kind. Perfect for soft female vocals. And as you would expect, power and aggression reside in the chorus. Again I have to congratulate the band for how they pulled it off. The aforementioned violin makes a return in the break, together with the acoustic guitar. There's another quoted part too, taken from the poem "Earth's Answer" by William Blake.

"A Phantom Dissonance" begins acoustically, but this is soon replaced by alarming (so to speak) Doom, connecting neatly with the acoustic verses. The roles are again clear: Lisa in the verses, Anders in the chorus. A Jazzy break comes in later, after which the band continues the regular structure. No complaints from my part, this is another solid song. The cracking of vinyl and/or a radio effect is applied in "The Quiet Storm" as well. Female vocals come in only briefly and in that specific part (comes in a second time much later), grunts take on the rest of this sorrowful song. Even if the chorus contains a good dose of sadness and gloom, the drumming there is quite firm. No direct start in "The Death Of Hours", rather slow building (with of course enough melody) towards the midtempo verses. Female vocals there, furious grunts and screams in the chorus. A semi-acoustic break is set before the spoken part with a backing organ. And this spoken part contains elements from the poem "Unforgotten" by Laurence Hope. Last but not least, there's "Wall Of Sighs", which is another midtempo song full of melancholy, doom and gloom. Vocally only grunts. Later the spotlights are aimed at the violin for its solo. A solid song, but in my opinion not as good or attractive as the preceding ones.

To cut a long story short: you cannot go wrong with DRACONIAN if you're into Gothic/Doom Metal. They are the best, or among the best, bands in this genre and have once again put out an outstanding album. "A Rose For The Apocalypse" continues where "Turning Season Within" left off, also soundwise. Some songs reminded me of "Arcane Rain Fell" (perhaps the band's best album?). The vocal input is simply awesome, the music needs no comment and can speak for its own (i.e. it's amazing), but I also had the impression the guitars sounded heavier than before. In any case, "A Rose For The Apocalypse" is recommended material, without question.

More info at www.draconian.se.

Line-up:
Anders Jacobsson - vocals
Lisa Johansson - vocals
Johan Ericson - guitars
Daniel Arvidsson - guitars
Fredrik Johansson - bass
Jerry Torstensson - drums


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BYFROST – Of Death (AFM Records 2011)

Byfrost - Of Death
  1. May The Dead Rise
  2. Eye For An Eye
  3. Buried Alive
  4. Of Death
  5. Full Force Rage
  6. Shadow Of Fear
  7. Sorgh
  8. All Gods Are Gone

Another Norwegian Black Metal band has stepped onto the battlefield. This time it's BYFROST. This band was founded in 2007. A first release, the "Byfrostmetal" EP, came out in 2008. Some line-up changes occurred, but that didn't stop BYFROST from carrying on. Anno 2009 the Norwegians worked on their debut album, "Black Earth" (released in 2010), which was produced by Herbrand Larsen (ENSLAVED) and Bjørnar E. Nilsen (VULTURE INDUSTRIES, BLACK HOLE GENERATOR). Arve Isdal from ENSLAVED made a guest appearance for the song "Desire", while the artwork was done by Christian Sloan Hall, who has also worked with TESTAMENT, DIMMU BORGIR, SLAYER and others. Four years after the band's founding, album no. 2 is out (since the 24th June) under the title "Of Death". And again the same duo produced this release, like before.

With a title like "Of Death", it's only obvious that the song titles follow suit, even if they may sound simple. "May The Dead Rise" is the opener and takes off with a violent and groovy attack. Blackened Death Metal that was given a modern production. And it sounds good! The Metal comes pounding out of the speakers. Catchy riffing is key, whereas the vocals made me think a bit of Alexi Laiho from CHILDREN OF BODOM. However, in this song it's mostly the music that does the talking. "Eye For An Eye" doesn't start until the rain stops. And then music comes marching in, flowing over into midtempo Black/Death with music in vein of (recent) DIMMU BORGIR. The blasting break over halfway is a nice piece, which returns later on. So far, so very good.

"Buried Alive" beings in a creepy, evil way with guitar and (evil, Shagrath-ish) vocals. Hell breaks loose after that, by manner of speech. Midtempo Black Metal verses connect with a chorus that sounds very familiar, at least musically. It's been bugging me for days, but then the name MOB RULES and their song "Unholy War" popped up. Yes, this is a melodic Power Metal band (from Germany), but that means nothing here. In any case, "Buried Alive" is a rather slow song, but speed is not an issue here, the overall atmosphere and feel are. And the result is good. The title track adds more aggression, so buckle up. Again, speed is of no big importance, but this song contains some furious hitting! Fast double bass is partly responsible. The whole has a feel of evil, of darkness, of unholy happenings. It's quite simple in structure and playing and sounds musically inline with KEEP OF KALESSIN.

As "Full Force Rage" indicates, speed IS an issue here. Thrash/Death/Black Metal at hyperspeed! And somehow - is it because of the production? - you could mistake this for a Heavy/Power Metal song. It's got a nice rhythm, I must say. The break halfway serves as preparation for the final outburst. A short song for a change, nothing wrong with that. "Shadow Of Fear" is a Thrash/Death/Black pounder of a song. The focus lies on rhythm guitar lines, while later on you get a solo with Thrashy backing. "Sorgh" is an atmospheric track with just the guitar, backing keyboards and spoken samples (on repeat). You could almost meditate to this. Not bad, but nothing super either, to be honest. "Of Death" is put to and end with "All Gods Are Gone" - as a Black Metal band you must have such a kind of song title, right? - and its violent, erupting Metal. The melodic input is a bit bigger here. The whole slows down around and over halfway, in a hymnic and chanting manner until the end. Another good song, no doubt about that, but not as much of a highlight as the first tracks.

BYFROST brings Black/Death Metal in vein of e.g. KEEP OF KALESSIN, some DIMMU BORGIR and similar. "Of Death" is far from a bad album. It's actually quite good and offers something fresh, both to the market and AFM's catalogue of bands.

More info at www.myspace.com/byfrostmetal.

Line-up:
HeavyHarms - vocals, guitar
R.I.P. Meister - bass
Alkolust - drums


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BURIED IN BLACK – Black Death (AFM Records 2011)

Buried In Black - Black Death
  1. The Bait
  2. Parasite's Paradise
  3. 7.405.926
  4. One Life Left
  5. A Vast Hereafter
  6. Lest We Forget
  7. Act Of Caprice
  8. Godseed
  9. Violand
  10. One Ate Seven

The German Death Metal band BURIED IN BLACK has been around since 2008. The time was taken to write own songs and in 2010 a demo called "Arms Of Armageddon" was released. One year later, the official debut album is out under the title "Black Death" and this since the 10 June. BURIED IN BLACK has so far shared the stage with e.g. MAROON, DISBELIEF, MAINTAIN, DARK AGE and ALL THAT REMAINS.

"Black Death" contains 10 tracks and kicks off with "The Bait". The raw production, so to speak, fits this rather Black/Thrash-ish stuff. Growls and screams occupy the vocal department, while the rhythm section adds the obligatory blastbeats. The whole comes across as energetic, powerful, fast and yes, even catchy. The midtempo chorus contrasts nicely with the verses, sounding dark and evil. Solos make the song complete. "Parasite's Paradise" is a midtempo rocker, which transcends into pounding Thrash/Death'n'Roll. It's not pure Death Metal these guys play. Growls are the lead vocals. The chorus differs again very much and offers more melody and even, unless my ears fooled me, a Stoner-ish influence. But it's nice.

"7.405.926" is a midtempo double-bass BOLT THROWER kind of song. Of course you get extreme vocals with energetic Metal, but a lot of groove. Things slow down a little, but aren't less violent, in the chorus. This reminded me of, for example, old GOREFEST ("Soul Survivor", "Chapter 13" albums). Over halfway the band opts for a more Bluesy approach, too. And speed is also an issue in "One Life Left", where thundering Metal with growls and screams is delivered. Again the Metal sounds quite groovy. The chorus is simple, though. But the end result is well done. "A Vast Hereafter" not only takes of instantly, it also brings some Hardcore influences to the table. You could compare it to PRO-PAIN. Death 'n' Roll follows soon after that. Another solid song, though you need to stay focused, for it's not Pop music we're dealing with here.

In "Lest We Forget" BURIED IN BLACK keeps its Death Metal slow throughout the song and thus gives it a Doomy touch. This in itself is not bad, but the overdistortion is beginning to annoy at this stage. "Act Of Caprice" doesn't seem to be in a hurry either and it very straight-forward. In addition, it also has that overdistorted sound of the guitars and as violent as it all may sound, it's getting harder to stay focused. "Godseed" begins with some building, then the same recipe as before is applied (with growls and screams), but the music this time sounds a bit like AMON AMARTH. Nothing super, but nice and it adds to the diversity. "Violand" is the song where the band has found the pedal to accelerate once more. It's a direct roller, powerful and violent indeed. And last, there's "One Ate Seven", another (pounding) roller.

And a new band has entered the extreme Metal battlefield, bringing in general Death Metal, but adding other influences to keep it more groovy and rolling. In a way, that's nice, but things aren't perfect yet here. The distortion is an element of discussion for it makes it hard to keep on listening from start to finish. Also, the production seems to be different depending on the song: sometimes there seems to be more triggering, other times there's less. Perhaps BURIED IN BLACK is a band whose music comes out best live and the album is merely a promotional tool. In short, nice try, but there's better material out there.

More info at www.buriedinblack.de.

Line-up:
Ron Brunke - vocals
Ben Liepelt - guitars
Etienne Belmar - guitars
Torsten Eggert - bass
Sören Teckenburg - drums


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PHARAOH – Ten Years (Cruz Del Sur Music 2011)

Pharaoh - Ten Years
  1. Ten Years
  2. When We Fly
  3. White Light (NEW MODEL ARMY cover)
  4. Reflection And The Inevitable Future
  5. Nothing I Can Say
  6. Tormentor (SLAYER cover)

PHARAOH, the US Power Metal band featuring ex-CONTROL DENIED singer Tim Aymar, first came to my attention in 2008, at the time of the release of their third album "Be Gone", following "After The Fire" (2003) and "The Longest Night" (2006). See my review here. As it is known, the band was formed in 1997 and while awaiting the fourth full-length the band decided to celebrate their first 10 years in the form of an EP called... "Ten Years", and this on the 7th June. This contains six tracks: two new songs from the "Be Gone" recording session, two songs previously released only as a bonus 7" and two cover songs (NEW MODEL ARMY's "White Light" and SLAYER's "Tormentor"). As you thus can expect, this release is aimed at the fans in particular.

The EP starts with the title track, which takes off instantly with pounding melodic Power Metal. This flows over neatly into the straight-forward verses where Tim's powerful singing cannot be ignored. This is good stuff, on all levels. The chorus is catchy and the music also comes pounding out of the speakers. The melodic aspect comes out very well. Before the calm break and the return of power afterwards, there's a solo (and a good one!). But there's solo stuff near the end as well. All in all, great stuff to begin with. "When We Fly" has a building intro, albeit a short one, and then all hell breaks loose. This is again straight-forward power Metal with an epic touch. The solos are of course mandatory. This song as well, flawless.

Which brings us the first cover, "White Light", originally by NEW MODEL ARMY. I have never heard of this band or this song, so I briefly checked on YouTube and even if it's not Metal, PHARAOH gave it a light Metal injection. This Rock song is very well executed and Tim's singing is nicely adjusted to the lack of aggressive riffs and thundering drums. "Reflection And The Inevitable Future" is a midtempo rocker of a song with the production sounding a little different from the first two songs. Melody is important in the chorus, where you'll find hymnic singing, too. The musicianship in general is of course very solid. "Nothing I Can Say" then is another midtempo rocker where the melodic aspect is much higher, and yet the music seems to have a Doomy character. Things get more powerful and driven in the chorus. And again I have to hail Tim's vocal input. He's truly an exceptional vocalist. Room for solos was also taken into account. The EP ends with the SLAYER cover "Tormentor". Compared to the original, PHARAOH did a very good job here as well. Back then SLAYER didn't sound as Thrashy yet, so neither does PHARAOH.

"Be Gone" was a very pleasant album, even if it took several listens to fully appreciate the songs, since there was always something else to check out (vocally and instrumentally). I liked it a lot. Since no real news came from the band since then, the EP comes as a surprise, but a positive one, as you get two unreleased songs from the last album recording session, two songs that were released elsewhere (not on the albums) and two covers, which show that PHARAOH can go relatively broad. In short, "Ten Years" is, in my humble opinion, a must for those who like what these guys play. If you're unfamiliar with PHARAOH, go for the albums (first). Other than that, the appetite for the fourth album has been ignited.

More info at www.solarflight.net.

Line-up:
Tim Aymar - vocals
Matt Johnsen - guitars
Chris Kerns - bass
Chris Black - drums


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ANGELI DI PIETRA – Anthems Of Conquest (CCP Records 2011)

Angeli Di PÔetra - Anthems Of Conquest
  1. Last Flight of The Valkyries
  2. Gates Of Time
  3. Fate Of The Promised Land - The Desert
  4. Fate Of The Promised Land - Mark Of The Scimitar
  5. Towards New Shores
  6. Buccaneers
  7. Anthem Of Conquest
  8. I Am Spartacus
  9. The Battle Of Camlann
  10. Avalon
  11. Boadicea
  12. Onwards To Asgaard
  13. Remembrance

ANGELI DI PIETRA, the Belgian Folk/Power Metal band, released its debut album, "Storm Over Scaldis", two years ago. Prior to that a few demos were put out and several gigs were played to get the name out and acquire a fanbase. Like before, the band presented its album not only by means of a gig, but also at the Metalzone shop in Antwerp, their hometown. You can read about that at this location. I also wrote. "Anthems Of Conquest" is the title of the follow-up and was put on the 3rd June, although originally it should have already seen the light of day in May. ANGELI DI PIETRA again occupied the Excess Studios in The Netherlands to record, produce and mix the album, but mastering was this time done by Jacob Hansen. This should then result in a more powerful sound, of course.

"Anthems Of Conquest" holds 13 tracks, of which 5 are instrumental interludes. Starting off with "Last Flight Of The Valkyries", where you're welcomed by the hymnic chorus vocals, before pounding Folk/Power Metal sets in. Guy's grunts are dominant in the verses, while Sjoera's angelic chanting form the bridge to the chorus. Once there, both vocal types unite, assisted by the typical humpa kind of music. The middle section is where the band takes a different direction. A calm piece with piano leads, but the guitars aren't that far away. When it's solo time, it's solo time indeed. That's at least one aspect that was given lots of attention during the song writing sessions. And so the song flows onwards to its normal structure again. Already in this first song it is without question that melody was a key ingredient. "Gates Of Time" is a more ballsy song, where pounding Metal aggression comes rushing out of the speakers. This increased heaviness, throughout the song, is welcome. Vocally it's Sjoera who's in charge, though Guy comes in to counter (or complement, depending on how you consider it). To break the song in two, it's the solo that takes up the vacant space before all returns to normal. However, there is another heavy instrumental piece near the end with a focus on the drums. While it sounds nice, it was not needed, in my opinion.

Via the "Gates Of Time" we arrive in "The Desert" in the "Fate Of The Promised Land", a song about the Crusades. An intro with appropriate music, to neatly connect with the pounding, devastating force that is "Mark Of The Scimitar". The galopping verses have female lead vocals, with an Eastern touch, while the grunts are more used as accents. The Eastern touch can also be found in the guitar input. Keyboards make their entry again to provide leads in a first instant, after which the guitar takes over command for the solo. And to make the musical picture complete, the acoustic guitar makes a short appearance too before all reverts backs to verses and chorus. Speaking of which, the chorus is short and to the point. "Mark Of The Scimitar" ends well, it doesn't sound or feel as stretched as "Gates Of Time". Leaving the battlefield, the band travels onwards "Towards New Shores", another interlude. Here an orchestral approach was applied with flute, bells, strings... the lot. It sounds quite filmscore-like, almost like taken from a fantasy Disney film. on those shores the "Buccaneers" reside. This song offers galopping melodic Folky Power Metal in vein of e.g. FALCONER, TÝR, TURISAS and so on. This is classy epic Power Metal with some orchestral touches later on. What's important about this track are the catchy melodies. It's one of those songs that were written to played live, where I'm sure it will do great! And so is the singing, by both vocalists.

The beginning of "Anthem Of Conquest" makes you believe the entire track will be as calm and serene, which is nice for a change. But then it transforms into a fast, melodic Power Metal entity... with some slowing down here and there. Soloing is vital, obviously, but it's foremost about heavy and aggressive riffing. Tasty! "I Am Spartacus" starts with a sample from the film, the man introducing himself and so on. The music comes bursting in, fast, furious and with a solo. The pounding verses have Sjoera on lead vocals. In the last instant she even takes out her soprano voice. Guy grunts his way through the second part of the verses. There's an acoustic piano break before the chorus (where the piano also plays a role), where the music again takes on a hymnic character. Grunts lead, female singing backs it. I found the song's ending (= slide) rather strange. Maybe I should relisten to it a few times to see why it was done, or perhaps it was an idea of either Gaël or Kevin. In any case, ANGELI DI PIETRA have not disappointed yet. On the contrary, they have surprised in a positive way, as you could already gather from my little report on the listening session.

"The Battle Of Camlann" is another catchy Folk/Power Metal tune, in vein of e.g. ENSIFERUM. Female lead vocals in the verses, while grunts take on the second part there. The music also increases in tempo then. Keyboards provide perfect backing for Sjoera's vocals, right before the guitar solo. The chorus is as before. We're dealing with a Folk-influenced Metal band, so... This song is also a good example of how the balance between melody and power is worked out. "Avalon" is another instrumental and another very nice one, too. Acoustic and serene at first, later with keyboards, orchestral elements and even choir vocals. This leads smoothly to "Boadicea". A calm start with violent bursts... tension rises! Dark, Folky midtempo Power Metal comes in. Grunts lead, but when Sjoera's angelic singing falls in, the music also becomes more powerful and the pace quickens. This dark and vicious feel can also be found in the chorus. This song stands out from the others because the band gave it a Gothic touch, in vein of AFTER FOREVER, SYLVER MYST and similar. Furthermore there's enough room for instrumental talk and solos. I do like to add that I found this song less good or attractive. It's still a good song, make no mistake, but perhaps it needs a few more listens to be appreciated as it should.

ANGELI DI PIETRA offered a variety of subjects on their debut "Storm Over Scaldis" and it's no different on "Anthems Of Conquest". Hence the song "Onwards To Asgaard". It seems almost a must for a Folk-inspired Metal band to have at least one song about Norse or Germanic mythology. Otherwise this is usually the domain of AMON AMARTH, MOONSORROW, TÝR, ENSIFERUM, MÅNEGARM, UNLEASHED, FEJD, and more. But back to Belgium. In this before-last song you get uptempo Folk/Power Metal like FALCONER brings it, especially the uptempo verses (with grunts) reminded me of that Swedish band. The music slows down in the chorus, where the Folk touch is big. The solos are again well done and there's even a moment for the bass, what a surprise! "Remembrance" ends the album with an instrumental track. Acousticness reigns, there's even a flute, but as the seconds tick away, the whole becoems on epic and bombastic unity, which is just... pure awesomeness!

"Storm Over Scaldis" was/is a very decent album, but it's not ANGELI DI PIETRA at its best. Live of course the band delivers the goods. Now with their second album, "Anthems Of Conquest", the band should deliver them even more or much better. The songs are well written, catchy where needed and intricate where wanted. The band has its own style, its own sound and it comes out better with Jacob Hansen's final touch. If anyone still doubted the skills and integrity of this Belgian formation, check out "Anthems Of Conquest", for they have improved a lot and are on the right path to the international stages. It can only get (even) better from here.

More info at www.angeli-di-pietra.com.

Line-up:
Sjoera Roggeman - vocals
Guy Van Campenhout - vocals
Gael Sortino - guitars
Quevin Smeyers - guitars
Kurt Hermans - bass
Vincent Pichal - drums


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ALESTORM – Back Through Time (Napalm Records 2011)

Alestorm - Back Through Time
  1. Back Through Time
  2. Shipwrecked
  3. The Sunk'n Norwegian
  4. Midget Saw
  5. Buckfast Powersmash
  6. Scraping The Barrel
  7. Rum
  8. Swashbuckled
  9. Rumpelkombo
  10. Barrett's Privateers
  11. Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid

The Scottish Folk/Power Metal band ALESTORM has returned to the shores to present its third album, "Back Through Time", following "Captain Morgan's Revenge" (2008, see the review here) and "Black Sails At Midnight" (2009, see the review here). Napalm Records released it on the 3rd June. The limited edition has two bonus tracks, while the deluxe boxset has the digibook and an exclusive Captain Morgan pendant. But first, ALESTORM's line-up once again underwent a change: guitarist Dani Evans returned to be the band's guitarist (he was the bass player on "Captain Morgan's Revenge") to replace Gavin Harper, while drummer Ian Wilson left and was replaced by Peter Alcorn. "Back Through Time" offers the typical ALESTORM elements (accordion, humpa Metal, lots of sing-along tunes, booz, and so on), but what's most apparent is the ballsier guitarwork. More than before.

The albums commences at sea where brutal blasting Metal suddenly kicks in, followed by the typical accordion-driven Folk Metal. You get the classic humpa-hymns in the chorus, so feel free to sing along. Speaking of heavier guitarwork, this song definitely shows it. The blastbeats are present too, another new element in ALESTORM's compositions. Can you say DRAGONFORCE? Because that's the band that comes to mind then. Not that I mind, it's just an observation. All in all, a goog first song. "Shipwrecked" is then better, in my opinion. Firm midtempo Folk/Power with the accordion as dominant instrument. The verses contain the trumpets you could also hear on the previous albums. The chorus, here too, is catchy, so when you see the band at a gig, you're in for a treat.

In "The Sunk'n Norwegian" a flute comes into play, countered by the guitars and drums. This reminded me in a way of ELUVEITIE. The verses are firm, vile even. An epic bridge makes the connection to the hymnic chorus. The guitar solo breaks the flow a little, which is good. This song is another highlight, if you ask me. And so is "Midget Saw", where humpa Folk Metal is delivered as requested. However, it's the guitar input that is key here. The melodic aspect only comes through here and there, used as accents, so to speak. The title of the next song, "Buckfast" already indicates it, this is a fast one. Sharp, vicious riffing with fast drums. The playtime is short, which also gives the speed away. Christopher stands in the spotlights once more with his accordion and vocals. This song is melodically quite diverse, almost theatrical and playful. Later on ALESTORM opt for Thrash in vein of EXODUS. Yep, "Back Through Time" is heavier, more powerful than the previous releases.

ALESTORM is also about booze, and each ALESTORM album must contain a few of those songs. Starting with "Scraping The Barrel". A slow Folk tune, a power ballad, you might say. If you're familiar with the previous booze songs, then you know what to expect. It's good, but not outstanding. So is "Rum", an enjoyable Folk/Power track where the accordion is up front again. The simple chorus helps to make this song a killer on stage. "Swashbuckled" focuses on the heavy guitarwork, while the chorus counters with hymnic and melodic touches. "Rumpelkombo" was over before I knew what happened. It's only 6 seconds long and actually not worth the attention. So we fast-forward to "Barrett's Privateers". This is more of a normal Metal track, even if the accordion is in the spotlights. Group singing is important here. The end result, however, is rather mediocre. Luckily there's one highlight left: "Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid". This song is epic, massive and bombastic. And it includes blastbeats and shrieks. Where the first song reminded me of DRAGONFORCE, it's DIMMU BORGIR that comes to mind here. A job very well done.

ALESTORM's third full-length, "Back Through Time", offers quite a diverse pallet on lyrical terms, especially compared to their previous efforts. And that's good. The music or compositions also changed a little to avoid repetition. The guitars sound heavier, the drums follow. The music has become ballsier, although you still get the typical catchy melodies and hooks ALESTORM is known for. However, like with e.g. DRAGONFORCE and KORPIKLAANI, the magic begins to fade. In addition, how many drinking songs can one write? KORPIKLAANI has been or still is on this road too and, to be honest, it gets boring. But maybe one should consider the albums as a promotional tool for their gigs, i.e. it's live that the true and full glory of ALESTORM comes out. I do want to end with a positive note: ALESTORM's music does give you the feeling that you're indeed back in time. Either you use your imagination or the band makes a nice video that perfectly expresses that impression.

More info at www.myspace.com/alestorm.

Line-up:
Christopher Bowes - vocals, keyboards
Dani Evans - guitars
Gareth Murdock - bass
Peter Alcorn - drums


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MARCHE FUNÈBRE – To Drown (Shiver Records 2011)

MARCHE FUNEBRE - To Drown
  1. Into Deadly Marshes
  2. Valley Of Tears
  3. The Well That Drowns Me
  4. Regiment Of The Hopeless
  5. Of Dreams and Vanity
  6. The Dark Corner
  7. Lethe

MARCHE FUNÈBRE, the Belgian Death/Doom Metal band that was founded in 2008, put out its first release in 2009. The EP was titled "Norizon" and contained 4 songs. I got a copy to review back then (see here) and to make it short, I was pleasantly surprised. The band showed great potential and I was quite anxious to see the release of the first full-length. This has now become reality, as the Belgian label Shiver Records released "To Drown" on the 1st June. Live-wise the band has shared the stage with a.o. THE ETERNAL, ISOLE and NOVEMBERS DOOM. But back to the new album, "To Drown". This was recorded, produced, mixed and mastered in The Netherlands at the Excess Studios, where a.o. AFTER FOREVER, GOREFEST, AYREON, SINISTER and many others have recorded their material. The Belgian band ANGELI DI PIETRA also recorded their albums there.

The recording line-up for "To Drown" differs from the current line-up: Roel Van Doorsselaere recorded the bass guitars and additional grunts, whereas Zoran Van Bellegem is the band's current bassist. Roel was a fixed member during the time of "Norizon", though. Guest vocals were provided by Hans Vanweyenberg ("Valley Of Tears") and Yune Van Oost (child's scream in "Regiment Of The Hopeless"). The lyrics for the song "Lethe" are originally by Charles Baudelaire from "Le Léthé" ("Les Épaves", 1866), with official translation by George Dillon (1936). The cover art was in the hands of Brooke Shaden and is based on "Bobble Head". Now for the songs themselves. My apologies beforehand for the comparisons, but that's unavoidable. It doesn't mean that I consider MARCHE FUNÈBRE a clone band. Far from it even.

At first the band finds itself "Into Deadly Marshes", where appropriate sounds and tension-building music (through the guitars and toms) can be heard. This is linked directly with the "Valley Of Tears", which starts instantly. Not only the music, but also the hymnic clean singing. The song is divised into several parts and you can clearly distinct one from the other. At first there's Traditional/Epic Doom in vein of CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, WARNING, .... This flows over into more powerful territory and the grunts are reminiscent of e.g. MOURNING BELOVETH. And so it advances, with changes in tempo and rhythm, but also vocally it's not just grunts or cleans, but screams as well. With almost 10 minutes of playtime, the Belgians did provide quite a diverse track, whereas other Doom bands would choose a simpler way and strech the song, so to speak. In short, so far, so very good.

In "The Well That Drowns Me" little drops of water can be heard, like "Into Deadly Marshes" also had its intro. Drums kick in, followed by slow, Funeral-ish Doom. The music is hard and dark with gutteral grunts. The clean change offers a nice contrast and goes into duet with the grunts in a musical canvas that is quite listenable. Again diversity and change is key to properly express the feelings, the happenings. A calm break precedes a more violent eruption. All in all another job very well done, although I had the impression that the song was stretched a little too much. "Regiment Of The Hopeless" is at least half as short (5 minutes), its intro consisting of a clean guitar with a soothing sound. But beware of the creepy edge, as if something's about to give. The second guitar aids with the building and so the music gets heavier and heavier, while marching drums carry on all the while. The singing is delivered by grunts and screams. At some point I had to think of BOLT THROWER, only in a slower version. Nothing wrong with that, of course. MARCHE FUNÈBRE continue to deliver the goods, short song or long song.

"Of Dreams And Vanity" also takes a direct start with growls and double-bass midtempo Doom. This higher amount of drive/push is very welcome, but as we're dealing with a Doom band, the tempo is to drop soon enough. Clean vocals then take the lead, while screams and growls are used in an accentuating role. The straight-forward Heavy/Doom Metal gets a tempo boost like in the beginning. But that's not all, as drummer Dennis Lefebvre even throws in some blastbeats. Powerful Death/Doom takes over for a while, after which the obvious drop occurs again. The guitar solo, although a little unexpected, does form a nice touch to the whole. The last part consists of clean singing in a sorrowful way. The music, logically, is inline with that. What else to say about this song? It's diverse in tempo, it's more sorrowful than the preceding ones (somehow) and the multi-vocal aspect is the other strong point.

The atmospheric, clean start of "The Dark Corner" (with singing in a sighing way) is nothing compared to what follows. An outcry seems to be the sign for the music to burst loose. The powerful verses contrast nicely with the chorus, where the smell of death, the dark, the touch of agony cannot be denied. It definitely does not give you a feeling of hope or joy. Musically the focus lies on rhythm. And like before, the guys tried to not keep the compositions linear. Tempo increases are present, though limited in length. Everything is well executed and the vocal element is the finished touch. "The Dark Corner" is Doomy and varied, but is more creepy than the others.

Which brings us to the massive song that is "Lethe", clocking in after 18 minutes. Where to start? With the beginning, of course, reminiscent of bands like EVOKEN, THERGOTHON, FUNERAL, SATURNUS and so on. In other words, slow (duh!) Funeral/Death Doom, but with a good dose of melody too. This line does carry on and on, while the Metal aspect gradually increases in power and drive, offering more attack now and then. After a few minutes this makes way for a more Jazzy piece, of which I can only say: wow! The contrast is just huge, of course, but I find it great to hear this kind of change, implementation. The band then slowly rebuilds (during which a solo is played) towards a more aggressive approach, mainly in the vocal department. The full-flowing Heavy/Doom Metal even goes into an AMON AMARTH-like rush. Which is another wonderful highlight. Doom then again sets in after the rush, but there's not that much difference with that (rush). It's sounds almost the same, only at lower speeds. The general mood here is one of sorrow and mourning. The clean vocals add to this impression with their weeping touch. There's one final, powerful outbreak á la NOVEMBERS DOOM and AMON AMARTH (to name just these) before the songs ends on a soft note.

MARCHE FUNÈBRE put out a qualitative release in 2009 under the title "Norizon". They showed the potential was there to take it further and farther, even if Doom is not as widely appreciated as Thrash, Death or Black. I definitely was looking forward to the first real album, though I tried to keep my expectations as low as possible. With the gazillion of releases being put out each month, it's hard to stay focused on all. Having listened to the album several times, "To Drown" left me amazed at how the band has progressed in these two years. "To Drown" is an undertaking intro the darkest depths of life, lasting a good hour. So be ready when checking in. Each song stands out, even if similar compositions/structures were applied. One song may be darker than the other, another may have a creepy touch, another is focusing on sorrow and gloom and so on. To close off, I can only highly recommend this album. MARCHE FUNÈBRE are on their way to international recognition.

More info at www.myspace.com/marchefunebretheband.

Line-up:
Arne Vandenhoeck - vocals
Peter Egberghs - guitars, vocals
Kurt Blommé - guitars
Zoran Van Bellegem - bass
Dennis Lefebvre - drums


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TÝR – The Lay of Thrym (Napalm Records 2011)

TYR - The Lay of Thrym
  1. Flames Of The Free
  2. Shadow Of The Swastika
  3. Take Your Tyrant
  4. Evening Star
  5. Hall Of Freedom
  6. Fields Of The Fallen
  7. Konning Hans
  8. Ellindur Bóndi á Jaðri
  9. Nine Worlds Of Lore
  10. The Lay Of Thrym

The Faroese Folk/Pagan Metal band TÝR released its previous album, "By The Light Of The Northern Star" (see the review here), in 2009. As with each release the band has toured a lot and even played on the cruise ship for the 70,000 Tons Of Metal festival/cruise. Vocalist/guitarist Heri Joensen also released an album with his other band/project HELJAREYGA in 2010. Anno 2011 TÝR's 6th album sees the light of day and this on the 27th May. And like before the number of tracks with English lyrics is greater:

How Far To Asgaard = 1
Eric The Red = 4
Ragnarok = 4
Land = 8
By The Light Of The Northern Star = 2
The Lay of Thrym = 2

For this release, the band worked again with producer Jacob Hanse from start to finish, from recording to mastering. The lyrical context (or at least the title) revolves around the story of King Thrym, who dared steal Thor's hammer Mjollnir. More about Thrym on Wikipedia (here), the University of Pittsburgh (here), GermanicMythology.com (here) and so on. The album itself continues in the same style as "By The Light Of The Northern Star". In other words, more direct songs, shorter songs and more catchy compositions.

It starts with the pounding drums and direct attack in "Flames Of The Free", where you'll also find catchy melodies and a sing-along chorus. The rhythm is of the humpa kind, as is the case in "Shadow Of The Swastika" and "Take Your Tyrant". Furthermore, Heri's singing is again top notch, epic and hymnic while the music contains again the right amount of power. This song lifts you up, puts a smile on your face somehow. Also, I found it having a lot of hit potential. It's definitely one of the best tracks on this new album. Melody is also of importance in "Shadow Of The Swastika". This song as well appears to have a positive vibe and contains energizing music. The chorus is sung with multiple vocal layers, while the music is based on melody. The contrast between Heri's melodic voice and the rocking riffs and drums in the verses works very well. Even if this is a simple song, I have to give kudos to Kári Streymoy for his drumming.

"Take Your Tyrant" is another song which takes off in a direct way. Melody again comes out mostly in the (radio-friendly) chorus and the music is different in the verses, more normal, so to speak. Not the humpa kind of stuff. The toms play a vital role here. Simplicity was also a rule here, it seems, although there is enough room for solos and powerful drumming. But it is a fact that TÝR continue to deliver. "Evening Star" is another very good song, in my opinion. It begins calm and clean, followed by hymnic verses (also clean and calm). More power and drive come out in the chorus. This is a typical TÝR song, but a very beautiful one. In "Hall Of Freedom" marching drums accompany the melodic guitars, after which all forces are combined to create a piece of pounding melodic Metal. And how welcome it is and how awesome it sounds! Straight-forward verses come in with powerful singing, flowing neatly over into a fast and catchy double-bass chorus. The created contrast is again well done.

"Fields Of The Fallen" is another straight-forward rocker (well, Metal song) where heavy riffing is key. This probably is one of the heaviest TÝR tracks to date. The music comes pounding out of the speakers and the lads made sure the solo was long enough, or longer than usual, this time. Another highlight, all in all. Then comes the first of the two non-English songs: "Konning Hans". This is a hymnic power ballad, which sounds, all things considered, relatively heavy, but I found it somehow less - or better - not as attractive as the other songs. Maybe over time I'll appreciate it more. "Ellindur Bóndi á Jaðri" is the other non-English song. The terms melodic, hymnic, Folky, and so on can easily be applied here. A typical midtempo TÝR song, in other words. Good, but nothing special. The bursting intro of "Nine Worlds Of Lore" is then a welcome element. Pounding Metal is the main aspect here, although melody remains a base ingredient. The chorus is the center of attention. Solid work here as well. But as the material was getting a little less interesting or attractive after "Fields Of The Fallen", it's good to see and hear the album ends with another strong song, "The Lay Of Thrym" or the title track. Its intro (and outro) reminded me of another of TÝR's songs, "Regin Smiður" (can be found on the "Eric The Red" album), but it's not an exact copy-paste, of course. Wild and furious Folk Metal follows a little while later. And again the chorus was made very tasty!

"The Lay Of Thrym" follows the same direction as "By The Light Of The Northern Star", the band's previous album. Where the first few albums were a bit more Progressive, anno 2009 TÝR opted for a more straight-forward and catchier approach without neglecting their own sound and characteristics. It showed that even then the Faroese band can be successful and write great songs. Plus, it makes it easier to play the material live, or better, make the crowd digest them easier at gigs. So far this approach works very well, but (for me) there were a bit too many elements on "The Lay Of Thrym" that hinted at mass appeal. However, the Faroese deliver the goods once again with their typical Folk Metal. And that's all that matters.

More info at www.tyr.net.

Line-up:
Heri Joensen - vocals, guitars
Terji Skibenæs - guitars
Gunnar H. Thomsen - bass
Kári Streymoy - drums


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KARMA TO BURN – V (Napalm Records 2011)

Karma To Burn - V
  1. 47
  2. 50
  3. 48
  4. The Cynic
  5. 49
  6. 51
  7. Jimmy Dean
  8. Never Say Die (BLACK SABBATH cover)

The American Stoner Rock band KARMA TO BURN released their fourth studio album, "Appalachian Incantation", in 2010. This was their comeback album and my first encounter with the band's music. KARMA TO BURN is known for being an instrumental band, although on, for example, their last album they had a few sung songs. Vocals were delivered by Daniel Davies (YEAR LONG DISASTER). Now, since the 27th May, album no. 5, aptly titled "V", is out and again the majority of the songs are instrumental, three others are with vocals. Again Daniel Davies was contacted to provide them. One of those songs is the BLACK SABBATH cover "Never Say Die".

"V" opens with song or track "47", which has a good tempo, drive and pace. The whole surely rocks! The middle section stands out in terms of rhythm. "50" connects neatly with the fading out first track. The Rock that follows is more Stoner than before. Building is done with drums, followed by heavy Bluesy stuff with a distorted bass. The mix between melody and more rocking, darker stuff is well balanced. Around halfway, the moment for change it seems, the music slows down a little and you even get a hammer on the anvil here. Another solid track, though I would not rank it among the best on "V". The situation improves with "48", which begins in an atmosperic, dreamy way. Pounding Rock follows with a very nice composition. I can't say if it's the verse or chorus part - not always easy without lyrics - but I do know I like it a lot. Vocals would indeed fit here. Halfway the bass gets more prominent a first time. Then it's back to the more powerful stuff before the bass gets another moment of glory. Very nice music here.

The same can be said about "The Cynic", the first song with vocals. This is a Bluesy Rocker, which starts with a building intro. The production is very good and fits this kind of music. The catchy guitarwork really stands out here, as does the rhythm. Things get more straight-forward in the chorus. Overall, a real highlight! "49" is another instrumental, Stoner Rock indeed. Undeniable! The guitars sound a bit higher in the mix, which again emphasizes the non-vocal character. The distortion is also a bit higher. This song has an nice beat and a dancy (by manner of speech) chorus, while the verses rock more (i.e. are heavier). "51" connects perfectly and also has a nice vibe and beat. No, not a Dance/Techno/... beat, of course. If you put some catchy lyrics to this song, it could turn out to be a great hitmonster. The chorus, if that's indeed the part, is a little slower, but more melodic. The middle section is simply killer. Then the music rocks, but with tact before going full-on. It's an honest recording too, as you can detect a misalignment between the kickdrum and the snare in the last tens of seconds of the track. Not that I mind, not at all.

"Jimmy Dean" is the second track with vocals and here you get Heavy Rock first, though the song has not taken off yet. Tension rises... and then *BAM!*, straight-forward music comes pumping out of the speakers. High tempo, lots of drive and push! Daniel's vocals are again well done and fit the music. Or the music fits his vocals. This is simple great stuff and I can only say: bring it on!!! Rob (drums) even added some cowbell, which adds a very nice touch to the whole. A first short solo comes afterwards, though a longer one is reserved for later. First class material, overall. The BLACK SABBATH cover "Never Say Die" is also well done. Pretty faultless, if you ask me. Plus, with the better production nowadays the song's even more interesting. Although truth be told, this is not my favourite song on "V".

"Appalachian Incantation" was an interesting album to get to know KARMA TO BURN and to me it seemd like a pretty decent album. But it didn't make me want to check out the band's back catalogue right away. Now with "V" that might change. I was pleasantly surprised, perhaps even more than before, about the end result, about the songs themselves. It was a very entertaining period, these past several weeks. Some songs indeed could use some vocals, others certainly do not need them. They are written well like that. Daniel Davies (YEAR LONG DISASTER) makes another guest appearance and he does it with splendour. KARMA TO BURN have delivered a very good job with "V", which makes it a (highly) recommended release (if you ask me).

More info at www.k2burn.com.

Line-up:
Will Mecum - guitar
Rich Mullins - bass
Rob Oswald - drums


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ARKONA – Stenka Na Stenku (Napalm Records 2011)

Arkona - Stenka Na Stenku
  1. Stenka Na Stenku
  2. Valenki
  3. Goi, Rode, Goi! (acoustic version)
  4. Skål (feat. Freki from VARG)
  5. Duren
  6. Noviy Mir (SHAMAN cover)

Two years ago the Russian Pagan Metal band ARKONA released their last masterpiece "Goi, Rode, Goi!" (see the review here), convincing the European Metalheads of the quality on offer. Each ARKONA album is a must-have, by the way. Lots of gigs followed in support of this album and the fanbase thus grew massively. While awaiting the next full-length album, which is to come out late this summer, an EP has been put out on the 27th May under the title "Stenka Na Stenku", which means - according to Metal-Archives.com - "Wall On Wall", an East-Slavic massive fighting amusment. This EP contains 6 tracks: one that will be on the forthcoming album and 5 non-album tracks.

"Stenka Na Stenku" is the first, an accordion-driven catchy Folk Metal track. Masha sings with a clean voice here. This song is what one would and can expect from ARKONA. First class material! Next is "Valenki", where the accordion also rules. The humpa-beat was applied here too. A contrast is created between acoustic verses and a heavier chorus. And to make it more Metal, you get blastbeats here and there. Another good song. The acoustic version of "Goi, Rode, Goi!" is nice to hear. Of course the vocal lines sound familiar, but it's as if the song has been re-written specifically for an acoustic approach. A job very well done.

"Skål" is a midtempo Folk tune with clean singing. The focus however lies on Metal instrumentation (and drinking? ;-)). Freki from the Black Metal band VARG does guest vocals here. This song is also a highlight on the EP. More acousticness can be found in "Duren", with Masha adding hymnic vocals. The music gets heavier, darker, more Metal later on and made me think of RAMMSTEIN, in terms of rhythm. It's good overall, only not as attractive like the, for example, the title track. "Noviy Mir" is orginally a song by the Finnish Folk band SHAMAN, who later its name to KORPIKLAANI. It's also an acoustic song which gets a tad heavier in the second half. Vocally you get enough "hohohoho" kind of lines (no, not the X-mas stuff, far from it even). A nice try, but this one as well just doesn't fit with ARKONA's normal efforts.

To conclude it's easy to say that "Stenka Na Stenku" is very much a fans' release. Furthermore, I have the impression ARKONA goes more commercial here, due to focus on Folk and thus very accessible tunes. Nothing wrong with accessibility, but if you know what ARKONA usually delivers, then this EP is both a nice and a disappointing release. In short, a nice intermezzo, but let's direct the binoculars at the new, forthcoming full-length.

More info at www.arkona-russia.com.

Line-up:
Masha "Scream" - vocals
Sergej "Lazar" - guitars
Ruslan "Kniaz" - bass
Vlad "Artist" - drums


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HEAVEN'S BASEMENT – Unbreakable (Heaven's Basement 2011)

Heaven's Basement - Unbreakable
  1. Unbreakable
  2. Guilt Trips And Sins
  3. The Long Good Bye
  4. Close Encounters
  5. Paranoia
  6. Let Me Out Of Here
  7. Leeches

I got acquainted with HEAVEN'S BASEMENT's music back in 2008, when this British Rock 'n' Roll/Hard Rock band released its self-titled debut EP. While some may offer other comparisons, back then I heard stuff similar to THUNDER, VOODOO SIX, THIN LIZZY, SAXON, OVERLOADED, LED ZEPPELIN, and maybe even some TENACIOUS D, etc... I finished the review (see here) like this: The quality is amazing, especially for a first release, as it sounds as if these guys have been playing together for more than 15 years. "Heaven's Basement" is - to my ears - one of the surprises of 2008 and a quote from frontman Richie says it all:"We're the band that will make you fall in love with Rock 'n' Roll all over again." And I couldn't agree more.

Since that EP the guys have been playing gigs as if their lives depended on them. To be a member of HEAVEN'S BASEMENT means commitment, dedication and sacrifice. All these gigs made it possible for the band to share the stage with bands like PAPAROACH, SHINEDOWN, BUCKCHERRY, BLACK STONE CHERRY and even appearing at festivals like Sonisphere. Playing gigs can be fun and all, but also demanding when the bookings come in and you cannot easily combine it all anymore with your job, family, etc... Hence replacements being necessary. Aaron Buchannan replaced singer Richie Hevanz, while Rob Ellershaw replaced Rob Randell on bass. But HEAVEN'S BASEMENT also lost their second axeman, Jonny Rocker, which leaves Sid Glover as the sole survivor. The new line-up also worked on the new release that is called "Unbreakable", and out since May 2011.

"Unbreakbable" kicks off with the title track. Instant Rock with pounding drums and groovy guitar lines. Vocally you get screams to accentuate, but mostly and obviously Aaron's clean vocals have a rough edge and they fit the music quite perfectly. Richie was also perfect, but Aaron is a worthy replacement. The music also contains catchy melodies and dito chorus, which the band kept simple and effective. This also allows for singing along at the band's gigs. The guitar solo serves to break the stream a little and is a welcome element. "Guilt Trips And Sins" has a somewhat different production, tighter, you could say. It starts with an intro before full power is unleashed. The groovy Rock is very radio-friendly in a way. The verses are clean, contrasting nicely with the full-on power of the chorus. The obligatory solo rounds it all off.

Speaking of pounding drums, that's what you get served first in "The Long Good Bye". Chris uses toms and more for that, building the tension together with Sid's guitarwork to then come to blossom into SHAKRA-like Hard Rock. A very nice composition! This song, however, is rather touching, more emotional. It feels darker, more sad and the solo, although more functional than otherwise, follows that line neatly. The end result is definitely worth checking out. But then... to me personally, "Close Encounters" and "Paranoia" are less good. Not overall, but due to one or more things. The first song is a Bluesy Hard Rock one with a nice rhythm. The clean verses demand a clean voice and so Aaron delivers. No rough edges here, only pureness. The music does rock, but it's not as powerful as before and the emphasis lies more on groove and melody. This change is nice for the sake of variety. The screams you can hear halfway are perhaps functional, but they annoy, if I may be so frank. "Paranoia" then is, as I would describe, a sly and vicious song. Full power is again reserved for the chorus. It's also a light Rock song, quite radio-friendly and with a catchy chorus. All in all, it's a simple song, but just not my cup of tea and not as attractive as the other tracks.

These previous two tracks aside, "Let Me Out Of Here" is another highlight. It's a power ballad, which starts calm and lets the music fall in at a later instant. The guitar solo is nice, by the way. "Leeches" closes the EP with an uptempo Hard Rock track. It's got energy, the right vibe (to make you feel good) and it's catchy. Plus, it's got Aaron singing a little rougher again. A job very well done, by all.

Long story short, "Heaven's Basement" was a very nice EP, showed the band's potential and this, logically, led them to stages in many places, gradually also increasing their fanbase. Three years and a line-up change later, EP no. 2 is out under the title "Unbreakable", which may sound cheesy, but it's the songs that count, not a title. On this second release, the British again demonstrate they are a force to reckon with and they enjoy what they do and do it with a passion. The new vocalist is good, but his screams aren't always needed. The production is again very good and clear, but rough where needed. Therefore, I cannot add anything else but that "Unbreakable" is definitely recommended earfood for any Rock 'n' Roll fan. So contact the band to order your copy.

More info at www.heavensbasement.com.

Line-up:
Aaron Buchannan - vocals
Sid Glover - guitars
Rob Ellershaw - bass
Chris Rivers - drums


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U.D.O. – REV-Raptor (AFM Records 2011)

UDO - REV-Raptor
  1. REV-Raptor
  2. Leatherhead
  3. Renegade
  4. I Give As Good As I Get
  5. Dr. Death
  6. Rock'N'Roll Soldiers
  7. Terrorvision
  8. Underworld
  9. Pain Man
  10. Fairy Tales Of Victory
  11. Motor-Borg
  12. True Born Winners
  13. Days Of Hope And Glory

And after the EP, "Leatherhead" (out since April, see lower), you get the full album called "REV-Raptor". The cover art is also done in a comic way and its colours match those of the EP. The album, out since the 20th May, contains 13 tracks with more ballads than needed. Udo and his mates kick off with the title track, which is a powerful and sharp, but dark and direct track. You instantly hear how well "REV-Raptor" (song and album) connect with "Mastercutor" and "Dominator", the preceding albums. "Leatherhead" starts with clean guitar, but in a dark and doomy atmosphere. Drums come in steadily to make the tension rise and then all hell breaks loose. Well, not exactly. You get pounding midtempo Heavy Metal in vein of the last few albums. Clean verses are opposed to a full chorus. The structure and playing is quite simple, but one doesn't have to go super technical to make a good song. Still, it doesn't really excite me. Not like before. The obligatory guitar solo rounds it off.

This brings us to "Renegade", where fat guitars are the dominating factor. The music as a whole is a powerful, double-bass pounder. It rocks! It's catchy! It gives you energy! In other words, one of those songs that will kill live. The solos were done flawlessly. "I Give As Good As I Get" is the first of a few ballads. Nothing super, though. "Dr. Death", good to have that song coming next, is a double-bass pounder with cleaner singing, to put it short. But that doesn't mean it's less good. On the contrary. "Rock'N'Roll Soldiers" is another new track with fat guitars and a slower rhythm and pace. Simplicity is again applied. The verses ar clean and devoid of heavy riffing. That is for the chorus, which is also very simple. Simple... MANOWAR-style. It's good to have the solo, though. "Terrorvision" is another typical U.D.O. song, a midtempo Rocker.

But then another slow track, a bit ballad-ish in some way, puts another crack in the wall: "Underworld". Here too, nothing exciting. It's not a bad song and luckily it's not a pure ballad and still Metal enough, as I'm personally not fond of U.D.O.'s ballads. "Pain Man" then, a straight-forward song with RAMMSTEIN-like rhythm. Next to that, the verses are clean, but Udo sounds quite vicious and angry. Judging by the title, that's not a surprise. All in all another solid song, only not as catchy as the others. Not that everything needs to stick at once. So, do you want another ballad? "Fairy Tales Of Victory" will fulfill your request. But it's one of the better on this album. The real deal is of course to be found in what U.D.O. does best: an uptempo Heavy Metal hymn in the band's typical style. "Motor-Borg" is simple, catchy and effective and allows for several headbang moments. The man himself sounds as vicious as ever, while the guitar solos are top notch. First class Metal, in other words.

Two more songs then, "True Born Winners" begins with a humpa-beat, to then continue with a simple beat in a simple structure. Again the band wrote a catchy song, which makes the album all the more attractive. The last one, "Days Of Hope And Glory", is... indeed, a ballad. But the second one that's worth checking out, also because it sounds somewhat theatrical, like in a musical. The other two are just not that good, in my humble opinion.

The "Leatherhead" EP was aimed at U.D.O. fans, while the albums are more for the regular Heavy Metal fans or those that prefer full-lengths instead of in-between releases. "Mastercutor" and "Dominator" were both good to very good albums and showed that Udo still knows how to rock. He's one of the veterans, and as long as the inspiration is there, he will of course carry on. Hence the release of "REV-Raptor", where another number of solid Metal tracks were put on disc. Were it not for the overload of ballads or ballad-ish tracks - yes, 4 is too much - I would have been more enthusiastic about the album. But "REV-Raptor" remains a worthwhile release, nevertheless.

More info at www.udo-online.de.

Line-up:
Udo Dirkschneider - vocals
Stefan Kaufmann - guitars
Igor Gianola - guitars
Fitty Wienhold - bass
Francesco Jovino - drums


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ROXXCALIBUR – Lords Of The NWOBHM DVD (Limb Music Products 2011)

Roxxcalibur - Lords Of The NWOBHM
  1. Axe Crazy (Keep It True 2010)
  2. Witchfinder General (Keep It True 2010)
  3. Destiny (Headbanger's Open Air 2010
  4. Lady Of Mars (Headbanger's Open Air 2010)
  5. Running For The Line (Headbanger's Open Air 2010)
  6. Blackrods (Headbanger's Open Air 2010)
  7. Blitzkrieg (Headbanger's Open Air 2009)
  8. Master Of Disguise (ROXXCALIBUR as SAVAGE GRACE, Headbanger's Open Air 2010)
  9. Heavy Metal Wizard (ROXXCALIBUR as THUNDER RIDER, Swordbrothers 2009)
  10. Studio Report England
  11. Behind The Scenes At Keep It True Festival 2009

I forgot to say that "Lords Of The NWOBHM" also comes with a bonus DVD. Or better, the limited edition comes with a bonus DVD. What does this DVD contain? Live footage of the band at work at various festivals: Keep It True 2010, Heabanger's Open Air 2010, Swordbrothers 2009. For some songs ROXXCALIBUR is joined by the original vocalist of the band's song they are playing then. For example, for the song "Blitzkrieg" they had Brian Ross from the same-titled band and SATAN doing the vocals. On "Running For The Line" and "Blackrods" Oz and JJ from JJ's POWERHOUSE respectively sang and played the guitar. And you could see they felt at least 20 years younger again. It was great to see them act on stage as if reliving their second youth.

There's also a studio report which features the band and Chris Tsangarides in the man's studio, behind the desk with lots of buttons and whatever else. They're all having fun, while Chris is playing with the buttons to get the right sound and all. And last, but not least, there's backstage footage of the band rehearsing in the back room with the respective vocalists. Each rehearsal (with the guitarists doing their thing and even singing along when needed, but with the added humour, of course) and Neudi playing drums on the table. Vocalists you can see at work, first rehearsing, then on stage: Enid Williams (GIRLSCHOOL), Jess Cox (ex-TYGERS OF PAN TANG), Brian Ross (BLITZKRIEG, SATAN), TERRY DARK (JAMESON RAID) and several more. This, although perhaps a bit ordinary, does give a different perspective on the band's shows, creates an old school effect, but is a special topic on the DVD, as you can only respect the fact that these singers DID want to participate AND can still sing quite well. Though they're not the best vocalist in the world and their voices have undergone the test of time, you can tell they still love doing this.

So, in short: not only is "Lords Of The NWOBHM" very much worth the purchase, but the added DVD is a very nice bonus, so go for the limited edition (which also includes a poster and a sticker) while you can.

More info at www.roxxcalibur.com.

Line-up:
Alexx Stahl - vocals
Kalli - guitars
Roger Dequis - guitars
Mario Lang - bass
Neudi - drums


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ROXXCALIBUR – Lords Of The NWOBHM (Limb Music Products 2011)

Roxxcalibur - Lords Of The NWOBHM
  1. London Bridge Is Falling Down (Intro)
  2. Atomic Rock - Original by MORE, 1981
  3. Heads Will Roll - Original by SATAN, 1982
  4. Flying High - Original by HOLLOW GROUND, 1981
  5. Day To Day - Original by CRYER, 1980
  6. If Heaven Is Hell - Original by TOKYO BLADE, 1983
  7. Lift Up Your Eyes - Original by SAXON (unfinished)
  8. Satan's Serenade - Original by QUARTZ, 1980
  9. Hellbound - Original by TYGERS OF PAN TANG, 1981
  10. Music Power - Original by OXYM, 1980
  11. Angel Of Death - Original by SPARTA, 1981
  12. A Face In The Crowd - Original by SARACEN, 1981
  13. Battlescarred - Original by BLOOD MONEY, 1987
  14. Stage Fright - Original by WITCHFYNDE, 1980
  15. At War With Satan (Preview) - Original by VENOM, 1982

Two years ago the German tribute band, ROXXCALIBUR, released its first album in remembrance of the mighty period for Metal, NWOBHM (The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal). Titled "NWOBHM For Muthas" (see the review here) contained 14 tracks, including an intro, from different years and bands. Covered were CLOVEN HOOF, JAGUAR, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, SAVAGE, GRIM REAPER and more. But that was only a fraction of the bands that were formed then or released an album, EP, demo, ... As was told previously, ROXXCALIBUR was founded by VIRON drummer Neudi, who has a passion for NWOBHM. Positive about "NWOBHM For Muthas" was not only the fact that the more unknown stuff was covered, but also from bands that weren't as famous as, say, SAXON, DIAMOND HEAD, IRON MAIDEN, VENOM and so on. The production, too, was done to keep the feel and sound of the originals intact. Obviously ROXXCALIBUR was not formed for the studio releases only, since the material is perfect for live performances, be that in small venues or large festivals.

For the first album, the band worked with producer Uwe Lulis. For the new album, "Lords Of The NWOBHM" (out since the 20th May), Chris Tsangarides sat behind the desk. He's known for his work on JUDAS PRIEST's "Painkiller" and "Sad Wings Of Destiny", as well as works of THIN LIZZY, GARY MOORE, TYGERS OF PAN TANG, QUARTZ and PROWLER. Which also explains why he got the job this time, to give the recordings the classic sound. And it is said that "as was usual with ROXXCALIBUR, the basic tracks were played live, usually without clicktrack and without any kind of modern day aides like computer editing. Chris Tsangarides mixed the CD using only a digital 24-track tape machine and an electric tubes mixing desk, refusing to use Pro Tools, CuBase and the like." I personally find this wonderful, as it also gives the instruments a true and proper sound, a realistic sound. The difference is of course that the songs sound less mechanical, less polished, but much mor pure. Nothing wrong with today's production/mixing/mastering possibilities, but it can sometimes sound too artificial.

The cover is again by the hands of Rodney Matthews, who presented another painting from the "Elric" saga, like on the first album. The first edition of "Lords Of The NWOBHM" includes a bonus DVD, which, besides live material also includes a feature about the work with Chris Tsangarides. For NWOBHM gourmets the special scenes with the improvised rehearsals for the NWOBHM anniversary show at the Keep It True 2009 festival will be especially interesting. You'll also find liner notes in the booklet. In addition, NWOBHM insider John Tucker had contributed his own sleeve notes. Tucker is a freelance journalist, photographer and author of important NWOBHM books such as "Suzie Smiled... The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal", "Am I Evil? Diamond Head - The Myths, The Music and Metallica" and was co-author of Biff Byford's autobiography (SAXON).

I looked for more info on Metal-Archives.com regarding original releases and such. Some dates were different than what the press text mentioned. Why that is, beats me. Maybe there were some typos in the text. Anyway, the album begins with a short intro, kids singing the song title ("London Bridge Is Falling Down"). It is said to be a well-known traditional nursery rhyme and singing game, which is found in different versions all over the world. See Wikipedia (here) for more info. Next is MORE's "Atomic Rock", which was released on the "We Are The Band" single in 1983. ROXXCALIBUR begins the song in a direct way. You get catchy midtempo Metal with a Bluesy touch. Alexx's clean vocals are perfect here. The song itself is quite simple, but very tasty and effective! It was written to be played at gigs and festivals. Or just to have a good time. The solos are also well done. Overall, a tight performance from the Germans.

SATAN's "Heads Will Roll" can be found on the "Kiss Of Death" single and "The First Demo" (1981). It's an uptempo, Punky NWOBHM song with the bass high in the mix, but the guitars are of course the key elements. However, you just cannot deny Neudi's drumming. A sudden calm break (it's really unexpected) offers some rest before the pedal is pushed down again for the solos. Another top notch cover. HOLLOW GROUND's "Flying High" comes off the "Warlord" EP from 1980, or better, it can be found on that release (too?). This song does not take off immediately, rather there's some building involved first. And it rocks, that's for sure. The drums stand in the spotlights this time, while the music flows more normally in the chorus. Another simple and straight-forward song with high effectiveness.

I didn't find anything on CRYER (then again, I didn't look long enough, to be honest) and their "Day To Day" song, save that I saw on YouTube a cover that was titled "The Single". In any case, to me this is one of the less good songs on this album. The covering itself is well done and it makes the song sond tighter than the original. Personally, I have a preference for the other tracks. "Day To Day" is a more relaxed song, so to speak. It's not as wild and fast as the others. TOKYO BLADE's "If Heaven Is Hell" can originally be found on the same-titled single. The song begins acoustically, but the Metal takes over soon enough with vicious and powerful guitars. The Bluesy influence can also be heard here, next to the catchy chorus. Choruses apparently were very important in those days. Alexx's vocals are powerful, as the song requires. The solos are flawless and most welcome. There's an overall good vibe about this song. After the acoustic break, another round of soloing is set in. Great stuff!

This brings us "Lift Up Your Eyes" by SAXON. This track was originally less than 2 minutes long and can be found on e.g. the "Diamonds & Nuggets" compilation from 2003. The band never finished the song. But Biff Byford and Paul Quinn liked the idea and gave ROXXCALIBUR the green light to finish the song. So now it's over 5 minutes long. It begins with the intro, sounding dark and rythmic due to the use of the toms and bass mainly. The whole sounds quite relaxed, serene, although the singing is again done with added power. The created vibe is simply great, the solos as well. Halfway ROXXCALIBUR added a marching break, followed by the melody of the chorus, but slower now, to gradually increase the tempo for a proper solo. And so the song advances at a faster rate, ever faster until double bass comes in and the end is reached. The lads didn't rewrite the song, but by adding solos (mainly), they managed to revive the short track and make it worth checking out. This will be great to see and hear live. I wonder if SAXON themselves will add it to their set someday.

Another song that was not fully my cup of tea, yet the end result is without question well done, is QUARTZ's "Satan's Serenade", which can be found on the same-titled single. This song has a mysterious, horror-like intro with chanting (this part returns later on). Of course it's a dark song with an evil touch. But when the vocals and melodic guitarwork come in, it sounds rather happy. Perhaps that's evil luring you in this way. It would have been a perfect song for the late Ronnie James Dio. The galopping rhythm makes it stand out from the others in the tracklist. Or better, the guys tried to play different kinds of NWOBHM songs for this album, not songs that sound the same. From Satan to hell with "Hellbound". This TYGERS OF PAN TANG song can be found on the same-titled single and on the "Spellbound" album. And it rocks! You could compare it to, for example, "Let It Loose" (SAVAGE), "Power And The Glory" (SAXON). Here as well, a catchy chorus and overall excellent NWOBHM.

OXYM is another band I have never heard, like HOLLOW GROUND, CRYER, QUARTZ, SPARTA, SARACEN and BLOOD MONEY. Its song "Music Power" comes off the same-titled single. Good about the new recording is that it starts with the band in the studio (= real sound), which transcends into the album sound. It's a midtempo, dark song where the guitars sound a little heavier than before. The clean and calm verses are very different from the previous songs, while the music comes out with full power in the chorus. Later on you get the typical uptempo NWOBHM stuff with solos. And this is another highlight. SPARTA's "Angel Of Death" comes off the "Tonight" single. It's a firm, direct rocker. Group vocals were applied in the chorus and as a whole this song is excellent for live performances. The slowdown in the middle section allows for the attention to be put on the oncoming solos, during which the music speeds up again.

"A Face In The Crowd" by SARACEN (there were apparently 2 SARACENs, according the Metal-Archives.com), can be found on the "Change Of Heart" album from 1984. Why the press text mentioned the year 1981... maybe the original song was then written and released on a demo or something? The song has a clean start and dito verses with low vocals. The whole comes across as a power ballad, although there's more volume in the (hymnic) chorus. The tempo remains the same all the while. All in all not bad, but this is another song that didn't appeal to me that much. Luckily there's BLOOD MONEY's "Battlescarred", of which I didn't find much info (I should have looked a bit more into it, perhaps). With this song the Metal is back, so you can again bang the head that doesn't bang. There's some building at first and you know something is going to burst, which it does. It's almost Thrash here. The solos are, as usual, very well done.

WITCHFYNDE's "Stage Fright" comes off the same-titled album. Here, too, a building intro followed by slow Rock/Metal. The music has something dark and mysterious and I found this aspect a bit similar to QUEEN's "Innuendo". Last but not least there's VENOM, a band that never was among my favourites and a band I never further checked out. The song "At War With Satan (Preview)" comes off their famed "Black Metal" album. The track has a bass intro with bursting guitars. When he song takes off, it's with a galopping rhythm and furious vocals. Who sings them, I don't know, but I doubt it's Alexx. Unless he indeed pulled it off, for which one can only give him kudos. I found this cover rather nice, but sadly it's too short. So is the original, but still...

What to say? I liked "NWOBHM For Muthas" a lot, for reasons described above and in the review. The same can be said about "Lords Of The NWOBHM". The production is again very well done and keeps the spirit of NOWBHM intact, while bringing it to the 21st century. The band indeed clearly showed you don't need fancy technology and what not to create a good sounding album. The songs sound real, the music sounds real and realistic and the whole album is given a sort of live feel, which I think is one of the most important aspects of this release. Furthermore, I don't think you can get a better compilation, so to speak, of the famed NWOBHM period than how ROXXCALIBUR present it. As far as I'm concerned, Neudi and co. may continue for several years to come.

More info at www.roxxcalibur.com.

Line-up:
Alexx Stahl - vocals
Kalli - guitars
Roger Dequis - guitars
Mario Lang - bass
Neudi - drums


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UNLEASH THE ARCHERS – Demons Of The Astrowaste (Unleash The Archers 2011)

Unleash The Archers - Demons Of The Astrowaste
  1. 00:00:01
  2. Dawn Of Ages
  3. Realm Of Tomorrow
  4. General Of The Dark Army
  5. Daughters Of Winterstone
  6. Battle In The Shadow (Of The Mountain)
  7. Despair
  8. The Outlander
  9. City Of Iron
  10. The Fall Of The Galactic Guard
  11. Astral Annihilation
  12. Ripping Through Time

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS is a Canadian Metal band mixing influences from Power Metal, Melodic Death and Metalcore. Formed in 2007, this female-fronted band has so far shared the stage with ABORTED, AUGURY, BLACKGUARD, CATTLE DECAPITATION, DISMEMBER, HIBRIA, LEAVES' EYES, STRATOVARIUS, TOXIC HOLOCAUST and 3 INCHES OF BLOOD. Or, a variety of styles, from Power Metal to Death Metal. In 2009 a first album was put out under the title "Behold The Devastation". This was followed by and extensive tour across Canada. Now, anno 2011, album no. 2 is out since the 18th May: "Demons Of The AstroWaste". This is at the same time the first I hear from this band. Mixing elements from the aforementioned genres, plus having a female vocalist, should make for an interesting experience.

The concept of this new release is "set in the distant future, telling the story of a mercenary who happens upon a sword on a long abandoned planet. The sword corrupts his soul and makes him not only the most evil being in all the universe, but also the most powerful. Each song describes a different chapter in his battle with the man he was, and the man the weapon has created." The artwork is again by the hands of JP Fournier, who previously worked with IMMORTAL, EDGUY, DRAGONFOCE, KALEDON and more. "Demons Of The AstroWaste" contains 12 tracks, totalling a playtime of over 60 minutes.

The adventure begins with the intro "00:00:01", which lasts 45 seconds, not one. ;-) Anyway, you hear a hammer pounding onto a piece of iron on the anvil, but the spooky backing helps to make the sci-fi scenery come to life. "Dawn Of Ages" connects neatly with the music fading in, tension rising and then taking off properly! Pounding double bass Power Metal with clean female vocals in the verses, more normal flowing Metal in the chorus. There's a short solo before the bridge, which leads to some nice group singing before the band continues with full force. All in all, a very decent start. So is "Realm Of Tomorrow", which follows right after "Dawn Of Ages". Here you get Metalcore to begin with, in breakdown format. A blend of Metalcore and Power Metal follows with a duo of vocal styles (cleans, screams). The chorus is more straight-forward, musically. I had to think a little of THE AGONIST, only UNLEASH THE ARCHERS bring it slower and with a bigger Power Metal injection. Breakdowns and galopping stuff is added in the next instants, but the last part of the song is also worth mentioning: drums and vocals only doing the chorus part (however short).

The "General Of The Dark Army" arises/arrives then, first with a semi-acoustic guitar intro (in a ballad-ish part), then with violence and bloodshed, so to speak. That's when the Metalcore/Power Metal mix is unleashed. Again the clean vocals lead (as they do in each song), but you get screams in the bridge and chorus. The breakdown features both cleans and screams, but I have to say that this screamy bit is... well, I personally don't like it. Other than that, no complaints. "Daughters Of Winterstone" commences with a direct attack of violent Metalcore. At least, as violent as the possibilities allow. And you get screams, too, obviously. Those return in the breakdowned (is that a word?) bridge, whereas clean vocals dominate in the pounding verses. The chorus is where the music takes on a Power Metal character. The rest is Metalcore. And that's also the major downside of this song: there's too much of it, or better, there are too many breakdowns. I understand this can be nice and useful, but when overdone, like here, it's plain boring!

"Battle In The Shadow (Of The Mountain)" is the much better. A symphonic intro followed by slow, melodic Power Metal... which then makes way for, indeed, Metalcore. But with a lot of energy. The difference between the verses, brdige and chorus is well composed. The occasional screams in the first half become more prominent in the second half of the song, while the music then enters the realm of Melodic Death Metal. "Despair" offers pounding Metalcore with grunts and screams first (this returns later on), then cleans take over. The chorus is a rather nice hymnic, melodic piece. And yes, here too you'll find several breakdowns, which made me think "move (...) on, will you?". The music itself changes often and I couldn't help but wonder if the song is perhaps too long to be good. "The Outlander" is a ballad, featuring the piano, backing keyboards and clean vocals. Nice idea in general, but a rather boring end result.

And the contrast then with "City Of Iron" couldn't be bigger: Metalcore/Melodic Death Metal pounding out of the speakers, but with a catchy chorus. That must be said. Screams and breakdowns, yes, are present as well in this song. The middle section contains "wooohooohoo..." kind of singing, but, in my (humble) opinion, it's best to not do that too often (or just leave it for this once), as it sounds lame. Sorry to say so, but I can't find another word for it. "The Fall Of The Galactic Guard" begins with some building, followed by Metalcore/Melodic Death with clean (female, yes) vocals. Grunts come in in the bridge as second voice and the chorus. Are there breakdowns here? Well.. yes, unfortunately. This really starts to annoy, no kidding. In addition, the band speeds things up a little later, which makes you wonder for what purpose. Last but not least, the singing is not that good either here. It lacks strength and variation.

"Astral Annihilation" brings a midtempo mix of Metalcore and Power Metal with the singing in layers. Screams get more prominent over halfway. Musically not that bad, but nothing super either. Don't even mention the breakdowns. And last, there's "Ripping Through Time", where keyboard leads can be heard. What a surprise and fresh input! No kidding, seriously. Then again, happiness is soon ripped to shreds, as it's only the intro. What follows is a fast combination of the aforementioned influences (Metalcore, Melodic Death and Power Metal). Like in the previous song the singing is rather poor and overall, the end result is not that splendid.

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS, another new band for me, sounded very nice the first few listens. I liked the way the band combined more extreme (as far as you can use that word here) Metal with the more melodic stuff of Power Metal and put clean female (!) vocals over it. The first half of "Demons Of The AstroWaste" is therefore quite nice and very listenable, but after that things go downhill quite rapidly. My impression was that in some songs the compositions changed for the sake of change (?) and that there are far too many breakdowns on this album. It's good perhaps to apply them here and there, but keep it limited, else it spoils the listening experience and prevents the song/music from moving on when it should (be moving on). Also, Brittney's singing is nice for a few songs, then her limits cannot be ignored. Whether or not the screams are to make up for that, I don't know. Like I've said with other releases, ditch the bad songs (or least good) and you've got a nice EP.

More info at www.unleashthearchers.com.

Line-up:
Brittney Hayes - vocals
Brayden Dyczkowski - guitar, vocals
Zahk Hedstrom - bass
Scott Buchanan - drums


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TWISTED TOWER DIRE – Make It Dark (Cruz Del Sur Music 2011)

TWISTED TOWER DIRE - Make It Dark
  1. Mystera
  2. Snow Leopard
  3. The Stone
  4. Make It Dark
  5. White Shadow
  6. The Only Way
  7. Torture Torture
  8. Beyond The Gate

The first and only time I got to know about the American Heavy Metal band TWISTED TOWER DIRE was back in 2007, when their album "Netherworlds" came out. See the review here. I also had an interview (see here) with Dave Boyd and Scott Waldrop, the guitarists in the band. My main concern about the album was that, although the music was quite alright, the vocals sadly didn't follow. Then-vocalist Tony Taylor had/has a clean and high-pitched voice and he sang high indeed a bit too much. Checking some things on Metal-Archives.com, it seems Tony passed away last year (2010, R.I.P.). Since the release of "Netherworlds", or maybe prior to, Johnny Aune has become the new frontman. TWISTED TOWER DIRE of course played several gigs here and there, but I lost track of the band at some point. When seeing that the band had found a new label home (from the German label Remedy Records to the Italian label Cruz Del Sur Music) and thus a new album was in the pipeline, I was curious to hear the new tunes.

"Make It Dark" is the title of that new release, which came out on the 13th May. You get 8 songs, totalling a rather short playtime of 36 minutes. Quality before quantity, of course. "Mystera" is the first song. Be sure to buckle up, for there's no intro. Uptempo Heavy Metal, catchy as hell, is what's on offer. Johnny's voice is indeed lower, more suited for this kind of Metal. The whole reminded me a bit of the Swedish Power Metallers NOSTRADAMEUS, mainly their first album(s). Melody plays an important part again. "Snow Leopard" on the other hand is a midtempo track in vein of e.g. IRON MAIDEN. In other words: simple, catchy, old school. And it rocks! Which brings us to "The Stone", where TTD cranked it up a few notches. Solos are included and more than one. If "Netherworlds" was quite solid, then "Make It Dark" obviously surpasses it with splendour.

The title track occupies the 4th position. This is a melodic midtempo Rocker, as simple as that. And as good as the others. "White Shadow" provides more drive and power, taking a direct start with double bass. "The Only Way" is where the band opts for more simplicity, though with a nice vibe and melodies. Before they take out the big one, you can detect some Bluesy influences in "Torture Torture", where group singing is almost omni-present. It's almost positive torture, because the old school stamp (incl. the group singing, so to speak) makes it very entertaining, almost uplifting. This should be great to see/hear live. And not only this song. The big one I mentioned is "Beyond The Gate", clocking in after the 8th minute marker. It begins slowly. The tempo boost kicks in around halfway. While TWISTED TOWER DIRE is not a band of big budgets, I did find the mixing well done here, as the bass guitar even comes through, adding to the mood/vibe of the song.

Back in 2007 I was very positive (musically speaking) about TWISTED TOWER DIRE, but the high-pitched vocals were, for me, the weakest link. Hearing Johnny Aune and how he fits with the new songs on "Make It Dark" is a joy to experience. The band has surpassed itself, creating one hell of a Heavy Metal album. I even dare say it's one of the best releases this year. There's a big fun-factor here, a positive vibe, by manner of speech. It's as if the band has found new energy, a new drive after 4 years. Something I have absolutely nothing against. This new release helps to relieve yourself from the daily stress and annoyances, or just have a good time, for that matter. Anyone into the pureness of Heavy Metal should instantly order "Make It Dark". And let's hope European promotors can get the band to play on the old continent.

More info at www.twistedtowerdire.com.

Line-up:
Johnny Aune - vocals
Dave Boyd - guitars
Scott Waldrop - guitars
Jim Hunter - bass
Marc Stauffer - drums


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BEYOND THE LABYRINTH – Chapter III - Stories (Incommunicado Records 2011)

Beyond The Labyrinth - Chapter III - Stories
  1. The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes
  2. Where Kindred Spirits Meet
  3. Hidden Agenda
  4. Oceans Apart
  5. Fear's The Killer
  6. The Darkest Page
  7. Saturation Point
  8. Stories Waiting To Be Told
  9. Raise The Horns
  10. Hypersensitive
  11. The Peter Principle
  12. Strength

BEYOND THE LABYRINTH, a Belgian Rock/Metal band formed several years ago, put out their debut album, "Signs", in 2005. I heard a few samples, but they didn't convince. A few years later (2008) "Castles In The Sand" was released and lots of text was written about it prior to this event. I checked out the album in the shop, somehow liked what I heard, but as I was looking for something else, this album was left there. But somehow BEYOND THE LABYRINTH was etched in my mind for later use. That later use came in April this year when I met mastermind Geert Fieuw at Prog, Power & Metalfest in Mons, Belgium. We had a (very) nice talk and one thing led to another, i.e. I got to review the bands latest offering, "Chapter III - Stories". This was released on the 13th May. Livewise the band has already shared the stage with bands like URIAH HEEP, THRESHOLD, QUANTUM FANTAY, PURE INC., SERENITY, KAMELOT, RIVERSIDE, PAGAN'S MIND and more.

But on to "Chapter III - Stories". "The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes" has an Eastern intro, after which the rest of the band (excluding vocals) fall in. The vocals do stand high in the mix, once they too play their role. But Jo shows he can indeed sing, very well even. The song itself has a nice rhythm and the focus lies on melody and atmosphere (notice the touching chorus, for example), not on ballsy Rock. The result is very listenable. The guitar solo adds to the splendour of the music. All in all, a very good start. "Where Kindred Spirits Meet" is the song where the guitar does sound a bit more powerful and it collaborates very well with the keyboards when the two meet. Jo's singing stands high in the mix, again, but in a way that it instantly has your attention. The rocking verses contrast nicely with the slow and rather solemn (if I may use that word here) chorus. The guitar solo is a must, but a very welcome one. So far, so very good.

And the level of power increases ("Hidden Agenda"), as the music comes crashing in, like a door being kicked in (by manner of speech). Even the singing is inline with that. The bridge (or pre-chorus?) is very well done and connects neatly with the chorus, which is simple, straight-forward and very effective. The solo is a predictably element, but rather short. A more simple song or something more intricate, BEYOND THE LABYRINTH delivers! Time for something softer then: "Oceans Apart". Main ingredients: piano, guitar, rhythm section and vocals. The music does get a bit more voluminous in the chorus, but not in a disturbing manner. The general feel remains intact. The ballad is guitar-driven with the added keyboard backing with a result that is very accessible, and again well done (although personally, I find it a bit less attractive than the more rocking tracks). The obligatory guitar solo rounds it off.

The band continues then with "Fear's The Killer", putting the lever back on Rock (with a Proggy touch). The guitar is the driving force, while the backing keyboards (also) help enforce the rhythm. A good move. Jo's vocal input also increases in power in the chorus, which is preceded by a hymnic bridge. The song itself is quite long, for a change. But here as well I fail to see or notice anything bad or negative. "The Darkest Page" then, one of my favourite songs on this album. At first, a dark and orchestral intro, as if doom is nigh. The sad and gloomy melodies carry on when the song takes off. The singing is inline (solemn) with the slow music, a very nice composition. It's, in any case, not a song for the happy of heart. There's a small tempo increase in the chorus, but after that it's mostly all about the symphonic elements / keyboards input. But the band kept it varied, both in terms of rhythm and melodies.

The scales tip again in favour of more Rock, which is where "Saturation Point" comes in. And I must say it's a very welcome song after the Doomy "The Darkest Page". Pluspoints are again given for the vocal input, even if the music is also very much worth hearing. The chorus is more pushy, a little more punch, while the melodic backing makes it complete. The acoustic guitar comes into play in the intro of "Stories Waiting To Be Told", while the keyboards are the dominant instrument in the verses.. The guitars and drums add their power in the chorus, which has something of a power ballad. The acoustic input is a welcome aspect, when taking all songs into account. The guitar solo is expected (as if it's mandatory to have a solo), but here I found it not necessary.

BEYOND THE LABYRINTH manages to surprise, even near the end, as "Raise The Horns" begins with Funk Rock, while the organ also plays an important role. You could compare this music somehow to what, for example, Dave Weckl and Stanton Moore have produced throughout the years. And again I have to praise Jo's singing, a proof the man can indeed sing a wide variety of songs. Lyrically I believe it's a tribute to great Rock/Metal artists and perhaps Ronnie James Dio in particular. "Hypersensitive" starts with a spacey/electronic intro (which returns before the solo later), followed by Doomy Rock/Metal. The pace and playing gets firmer once the verses are set in. This links very well with the pounding, melodic chorus and hymnic bridge.

"The Peter Principle" is another more simple and straight-forward song with a catchy chorus. The music can be catalogued as Progressive Rock in vein of e.g. ERIK NORLANDER. It is nice to hear how a Jazzy, spacey bridge was added before the touching solo. As "The Darkest Page" is one of my favourites, so is this song. You could play this a couple of times and just not get tired of it. "Chapter III - Stories" ends with "Strength", where the intro has a big SAVATAGE influence (piano), reminiscent of e.g. the "The Wake Of Magellan" album. The verses are slow and also piano-driven. And it's not just the intro, the entire song has SAVATAGE written over it. The theatrical aspect is another proof of it. Or you could refer to TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA for that, which has a lot in common with the last albums of SAVATAGE. The whole song is first class, from start to finish, on all levels.

I didn't pay that much attention to BEYOND LABYRINTH in the past, but based on the samples I heard and what the band presents with "Chapter III - Stories" I have to say... wow! I've said it before, the Belgian scene is largely filled with extreme Metal bands, so it's good to hear melodic counterweight from time to time. I can only be positive about this release, the compositions, the listenability, the singing (isn't Jo an underestimated vocalist?), the lyrics (depending on the song), etc. This is first class material (and perhaps BTL's best album so far)!

More info at www.beyond-the-labyrinth.com.

Line-up:
Jo de Boeck - vocals
Geert Fieuw - guitar, keyboards
Gerry Verstreken - bass
Michel Lodder - drums


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ARGUS – Boldly Stride The Doomed (Cruz Del Sur Music 2011)

Argus - Boldly Stride The Doomed
  1. Abandoning The Gates Of Byzantium
  2. A Curse On The World
  3. Wolves Of Dusk
  4. The Ladder
  5. Durendal
  6. 42-7-29
  7. Boldly Stride The Doomed
  8. Fading Silver Light
  9. Pieces Of Your Smile
  10. The Ruins Of Ourboros

ARGUS, an American Heavy/Doom Metal band, released its second opus on the 13th May this year via Cruz Del Sur Music. This label also seems to have a keen ear for band sin this style. See also SLOUGH FEG, ATLANTEAN KODEX, WHILE HEAVEN WEPT and so on. ARGUS has been in existence since 2005. A demo was released in 2007, the self-titled debut full-length saw the light of day two years later. And another two years later, "Boldly Stride The Doomed" is available. Not a lot is known about this band, I have the impression, but they did perform at the Hammer Of Doom Festival earlier this year.

"Boldly Stride The Doomed" has an intro and an outro, both of the instrumental type. The intro, "Abandoning The Gates Of Byzantium", is a nice acoustic piece of which a full song should be made, if I may say so. The outro, "The Ruins Of Ourboros", is semi-acoustic. When "A Curse On The World" kicks in, its midtempo Heavy/Doom instantly reminds of e.g. WHILE HEAVEN WEPT and SLOUGH FEG, while Butch's voice reminded me in a way of Robert Lowe from SOLITUDE AETURNUS and CANDLEMASS, only with a rougher edge. The guitar solo is well done and fits in perfectly. "Wolves Of Dusk" does not offer direct attack, rather lets the music gradually come in by first laying out an intro. Galopping Heavy/Doom follows and you can be sure it rocks! The singing is also done with a lot of power and passion. The slower bridge and chorus work very well with the faster verses and help to keep the attention. The solos were divided between the guitars and even bass.

"The Ladder" is a little less attractive to my ears, but solid nevertheless. The pace is slower and Butch's singing is done in the same hymnic manner as in the other songs. Nothing wrong with that, but it can be a bit dull after a while. The solo is then a welcome element, to break the vocal stream. "Durendal" takes the listener on a hunt, or better, to a battle. The horses and trumpets make the song more vivid. Melodic Doom then sets in with nice playing, sounding quite playful too. It's one of those Epic Doom songs with strong verses and the slow chorus creating a nice contrast. The verses in "42-7-29" are devoid of heaviness. Instead you'll hear keyboards in the form of a piano. The singing also is cleaner than before, which is good, as in the chorus everything gets more powerful. The (obligatory) solo is inline with the dramatic feel of the music.

Time for a kick in the rear then, something that can only be hailed. "Boldly Stride The Doomed" is where it all happens. The choice to go a little faster was needed, as the majority of the previous songs was a lot slower and while on their own those songs are solid, (at least) I was in need of hearing the music shifting into higher gear. "Fading Silver Light" is another powerful track, albeit a little (!) slower than the previous one. Butch sings in a more serene manner here and leaves the rougher singing aside. Last full song is "Pieces Of Your Smile", where the tempo is even lower than the previous two songs. It's not Funeral Doom... yet. With over 11 minutes of playtime, the impression is created that the band stretched the song, thus playing slower, to reach this mark. The singing is diverse enough, from clean to a more screamy approach, while the music also grows in power in the chorus. All in all, a very solid ending.

This first acquaintance with ARGUS has been a very positive one, in my opinion. The production is good and perfect for the style these guys play. The songs themselves are very listenable, although sometimes too long (stretched?). This is food for fans of SOLITUDE AETURNUS, (old) CANDLEMASS, WHILE HEAVEN WEPT, SLOUGH FEG and similar. ARGUS may be proud of their achievement. However, my only point of critique would be the singing: I found it a bit too much of the same (hymnic, screamy). Maybe the songs were written for Butch to sing like that, but it makes him sound predictable. Long story short, "Boldly Stride The Doomed" is a solid and recommended Heavy/Doom Metal release.

More info at www.argusmetal.com.

Line-up:
Butch Balich - vocals
Jason Mucio - guitar
Erik Johnson - guitar
Andy Ramage - bass
Kevin Latchaw - drums


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ANCIENT CREATION – Moonlight Monument (Heaven And Hell Records 2011)

Ancient Creation - Moonlight Monument
  1. Profane Destiny
  2. Black Reflection
  3. Apocalypse
  4. With Anguish
  5. Through Prophet's Eyes
  6. Drifting To Fade
  7. Stories In The Snow
  8. At Dusk
  9. Moonlight Monument

Four years ago I got acquainted with a US Heavy Metal band called ANCIENT CREATION and their album "Evolution Bound". The Dutch label Melissa Records, now defunct, released this album and that of BEYOND FALLEN, SEVENTH CALLING and 3HM. All of which I had the chance to review. To recapitulate: ANCIENT CREATION was founded by guitarist Peter Nisenkier, who was soon joined by bassist Andy Critz, with whom Peter played in SATIVA. Guitarist Jason Johnson was the next to take a position, while drummer Mike Burns was hard to find during a couple of months. Writing music was one thing, having someone sing the lyrics another, so Steve Bentley closed the ranks, coming over from DARKSIDE. Mike Burns however left the band after the release of the album, so the band needed a new skinsman. Kevin Keeton was found worthy, as was second guitarist Maxx Christopher from GRAVEN IMAGE. This line-up not only played a whole series of gigs, sharing the stage with bands such as STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, BODY COUNT, HELSTAR, LACUNA COIL, CAGE, METAL CHURCH, CELLADOR and MELIAH RAGE, but also put their skills together to create the second album, which was scheduled for a release around end of April, beginning of May.

"Moonlight Monument" starts with "Profane Destiny". A melodic intro followed by midtempo Heavy Metal. Steve's vocals sound ballsy, epic one might say. The music reminded me of bands like CRESCENT SHIELD, SEVEN WITCHES, and so on. Nothing wrong with that and it's only normal comparisons are made. But it also means the guys created something very much worth checking out. Melody is also present in the chorus. The obligatory solo increases that aspect and is a must with this kind of Metal. In short, a very nice song to start with. "Black Reflection" also starts in a melodic way, but has the toms included, also to create a bit of tension. Then, double-bass Metal kicks in with ballsy midtempo verses. The bridge is done in Death Metal style, as the drums and guitars demonstrate. Steve's vocals also sound darker in the (powerful) chorus. The guitar solo once more adds to the melodic side of the song.

"Apocalypse", the third in line, sounds Metal enough, yet begins in a Folky manner. This little touch is of course very nice, as it adds to the variety in general. Melodic Metal follows, in a simple way and very headbang-friendly. The band adds power in the (dark, dramatic) chorus, where the music comes pounding out of the speakers. Luckily there's the guitar solo, although it sounds a bit too wild or too high in the mix. The length of this track also affects the listening experience in a bad way. Well, not the length itself, just the lack of change and variability of the compositions. Other points that bothered (by lack of a better word) me were the production and the need for a little more guitar power/input. "Apocalypse" is not a bad song, it's just not as strong as the others. It gets better with "With Anguish", which is also a long song. This one starts with a wavey, psychedelic guitar intro and a fixed bass line. ANCIENT CREATION goes Jazz/Funk here or close enough. But that is soon over when the rolling Metal kicks in, in a classic way. Melody is again of importance. And here the band did pay attention to keep things diverse, as you get a calm break with just the vocals and the solo standing out. The pace gradually picks up again in an easy-going way, while the solo carries on until it's time to let solid Metal take over command again. A long story short: quality material.

For "Through Prophet's Eyes" a fade-in was applied on the Neo-Classical-ish guitarline. Pounding, dark Metal comes after that. Steve's singing is fierce and vicious and fits the overall atmosphere. The chorus is melodic and uptempo, contrasting nicely with the verses. Riffing is key in this song and obviously the guitars are the dominating factor, while the drums opted to follow. "Through Prophet's Eyes" also provides a change in tempo before the solo kicks in. All in all, a good song, but not among the highlights. No intro, but a direct take-off in "Drifting To Fade". Rolling Metal with chugga-riffing, all advancing at a slow pace. To break that stream a little, melodic pieces were composed to connect the parts. While the rhythmic riffs were vital in the previous song, here it's the solos (guitar and bass) that demand most of the playtime. The whole song rocks indeed, but the production prevents it from really showing its glory. I know and understand that recording (incl. producing, mixing, mastering) an album requires money, lots of it and that the band most likely used any means they had to at least improve that aspect compared to how "Evolution Bound" sounded. So my comment is just to indicate that the song itself is not to blame, rather the sound. And yet, this roughness and of course the music itself with it reminded me of HELSTAR. So, there's also a positive consequence.

Time for another highlight then: "Stories In The Snow". Yes, a melodic start - how did you know? ;-) - building, creating tension and then *bam!* straight-forward Heavy Metal. What stands out here is the very nice change between heavy parts and the Jazzy/Funky ones, which are calmer. Even when the music gets more Metal again, this Funky character is maintained. The solos are once more craving for attention. Excellent work, lads. Two more songs and the album is done. First, an acoustic instrumental song called "At Dusk". It's in general quite nice. The classic symphonic backing is present, as is the electric intervention later on. The title track, "Moonlight Monument", was saved for last. Not the best song, thus no save-the-best-for-last here. However, it's a direct and powerful song with enough solos to make you want more (or not, depending on how you feel about solos) and all things considered, a good choice to end with.

In 2007 I said about "Evolution Bound" that this was good food for fans of US Heavy/Power Metal, but that the production was the bad element and the solos sounding as if improvised and not connecting well with what followed in those particular songs. I personally found it better to await the follow-up, despite "Evolution Bound" having been received very positively in other reviews. Now, I can also be positive. The production has improved, so already on that point does "Moonlight Monument" slay "Evolution Bound". The songs in general sound more powerful, the band sounds more solid, are more of a unity (if you know what I mean) and are ready for the next step. ANCIENT CREATION made a reasonable step forward and made an album that reinvigerates the style Heavy Metal, at least the American version. Sure, it doesn't break new grounds or smash the competition - then again, that depends on who you consider competition, and why should it be a competition at all? - but it does deliver the goods and should go great on stage. However, I would like to finish by saying that Steve's voice, although rough-edged and fitting for this style, could use a change in timbre (e.g. more clean singing in some parts). The way he sings doesn't always (in few cases) fit with the music, but that's only a small detail. So, if you're seeking new stuff (pure US Heavy/Power Metal) for your collection, in vein of SEVEN WITCHES, HELSTAR, CRESCENT SHIELD and similar, "Moonlight Monument" is one of those albums to purchase.

More info at www.myspace.com/ancientcreation.

Line-up:
Steve Bentley - vocals
Peter Nisenkier - guitars
Maxx Christopher - guitars
Andy Critz - bass
Kevin Keeton - drums


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LAKE OF TEARS – Illwill (AFM Records 2011)

Lake Of Tears - Illwill
  1. Floating In Darkness
  2. Illwill
  3. The Hating
  4. U.N.S.A.N.E.
  5. House Of The Setting Sun
  6. Behind The Green Door
  7. Parasites
  8. Out Of Control
  9. Taste Of Hell
  10. Midnight Madness

The Swedish band LAKE OF TEARS was formed back in 1992. In the period 1994-2000 the band put out 4 albums. After the release of "Forever Autumn" (1999) LAKE OF TEARS was no more, although "The Neonai" was released in 2002. The following years, 2003, the band was revived and so they set to work on a new album. "Black Brick Road" saw the light of day in 2004. The band's last album dates from 2007: "Moons And Mushrooms". We're now 2011 and album no. 8 is available since the 29th April under the title "Illwill". This is also my first proper acquaintance with this band. In other words, I cannot compare this new release with the previous albums or say how LAKE OF TEARS sounds, should sound, what's typical. But that's the case with any band one hears for the first time.

The album starts with "Floating In Darkness", a Rock 'n' Roll song with a Thrashy beat. It's simple in a simple structure and somehow I had to think of DIAMOND HEAD's "Helpless", which was covered in the late 1980s by METALLICA. Of course there's a guitar solo, which forms the finishing touch. All in all a decent song, but nothing spectacular to me. Next is the title track, "llwill", which is very much guitar-driven. The slow tempo and Gothic feel are quite nice, especially in the first part with the toms. However, simplicity rules again. Even if this song is different from the first one - luckily - the focus lies on easy listening, accessibility.

The fast riffing in "The Hating" does sound promising. Will the band shift into higher gear? They do, in a way, for this song rocks! Rock 'n' Roll, baby, come on! That's more like it. The tempo does drop in the last part, where you'll find the guitar solo. "The Hating" is, for me at least, the first of a few highlights. "U.N.S.A.N.E." is another. The music here is Doomier, more like CANDLEMASS... with a small MOTÖRHEAD touch, so to speak. There's also a clean break, a Bluesy one, for the solo. All in all, the Swedes have done another very good job here. And you can add "House Of The Setting Sun" to the shortlist as well. This, to keep it short, is a calm, easy-listening Jazzy track and not only is this well done, it adds to the variety on this album.

"Behind The Green Door" is a straight-forward Gothic Rock song, nothing more, nothing less. Not bad, just not a highlight to me. LAKE OF TEARS then gets a kick in the rear and comes with "Parasites", a wild Rock song. This is a very welcome sort of song at this point. More of this, guys. "Out Of Control" is not an EDGUY cover, but another Gothic Rock song, something that holds no suprises. "Taste Of Hell" is nice as a title and logically you would expect a song with balls. Well, it does rock, that's a fact, but the nice thing here - even if the song is not really among the best ever - is the Folky guitar melody. The album is put to an end with "Midnight Madness", a wild Gothic Rock song with a small Black Metal touch in the guitarwork. The vocals contain the added roughness to complement this change.

For a first acquaintance I have to say I'm a bit disappointed regarding "Illwill". There's no ill will involved here and it's perhaps because I'm not really familiar with LAKE OF TEARS's back catalogue and/or because my taste lies mainly elsewhere. In any case, fans of the band will probably enjoy this new release a lot. "Illwill" is full of accessible songs, it's not about technical stuff. Not that each Rock/Metal band should write such songs, but it would have made the album stronger, I think. Then again, Gothic Rock/Metal isn't about technical songs. However, as I said, you do get a varied offering of songs (Jazzy stuff, Folky twists, straight-forward Rockers, Doomy influences, etc.) and that's a strong point. A long story short: "Illwill" is a rather mediocre release (only a few highlights) from a band that is know to be among the veterans of Dark Rock/Metal. Fans of LAKE OF TEARS can get the limited edition, if desired, which contains 3 live bonus tracks: "As Daylight Yields", "Demon You/Lily Anne" and "Crazyman".

More info at www.lakeoftears.net.

Line-up:
Daniel Brennare - vocals, guitar
Magnus Sahlgren - guitars
Mikael Larsson - bass
Johan Oudhuis - drums


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DERELICT – Promo EP 2011 (Derelict 2011)

Derelict - Promo EP 2011
  1. Perpetuation
  2. Expiry
  3. Yours To Surpass

Some time ago I got in touch with DERELICT frontman Eric Burnet, or better, he got in touch with me, about reviewing his band's newest release, the "Promo EP 2011", which was made available on the 26th April. It's a self-release, of course, and serves as a pre-taste of things to come on the new DERELICT album, which is in the making. DERELICT hail from Montreal, Canada, and play Technical/Progressive Death Metal. It is said their music can be compared to bands like DEATH, STRAPPING YOUNG LAD and THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, for example. Formed in 2005, the band released its debut album, "Ideological Prey" the year after, followed by the EP "Carry The Flame" in 2008. Anno 2009 album no. 2 was ready and put out under the title "Unspoken Words". Live-wise the Canadians have shared the stage with acts like JOB FOR A COWBOY, WHITECHAPEL, THE AGONIST, RECOVATION, THREAT SIGNAL and more. With the upcoming third full-length, it logical that they hope to expand that list and perhaps play abroad as well (?).

But now, in the year 2011 A.D., a 3-track EP has come out. Three songs, each not that long, so this review will also be short, logically. It starts with the furious "Perpetuation". Not only that, it also attacks in a direct way and sounds like a machine gun. Eric's vocals are bestial, to say the least, guiding what you can consider a whirlwind of brutality. But a very nice one, I must say. "Expiry" is no less violent, but takes its time to rush in. But once it does, the ferocity is unstoppable. However, the pace seems be lower here, while halfway and near the end there's a fast outbreak. Last but not least, "Yours To Surpass" is a direct and instant violent eruption of destructive sounds with screamy vocals. Twisted melodic interventions break the wall a little, or better, make it stronger. The change in rhythm and tempo is typical for this style, but when played loud enough (or for the uninitiated), then this is an assault on mind and body.

Short story shorter: if you already liked what DERELICT plays, then the "Promo EP 2011" is what you may expect. Anyone else into Death Metal and specifically the Technical or Progressive version, keep an eye on this Canadian band, for they are very much worth checking out. My only remark would be regarding the production, which sounds a little too digital. Then again, so do many other Metal releases or Extreme Metal releases nowadays. Still, giving the sound a more old school touch would be nice.

More info at www.derelictmetal.com.

Line-up:
Eric Burnet - vocals
Max Lussier - guitars
Collin McGee - guitars
Jordan Perry - drums


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MIDNATTSOL – The Metamorphosis Melody (Napalm Records 2011)

Midnattsol - The Metamorphosis Melody
  1. Alva
  2. The Metamorphosis Melody
  3. Spellbound
  4. The Tide
  5. A Poet's Prayer
  6. Forlorn
  7. Kong Valemons Kamp
  8. Goodbye
  9. Forvandlingen
  10. Motets Makt
  11. My Re-Creation

It's been three years since the last MIDNATTSOL album, "Nordlys" ("Northlight" or "Northern Light"). See the review here. Not that long after the release, guitarist Christian Hector left the band. The search for a replacement was arduous, but Alex Kautz was found worthy. He joined the band at the Metal Female Voices Fest in Belgium in 2009. The recording of that performance can be found on the bonus DVD that comes with MIDNATTSOL's newest output, "The Metamorphosis Melody", out since the 22nd April. The title can thus be considered as a new start for the band. Like for "Nordlys" MIDNATTSOL worked with Markus Stock (EMPYRIUM, THE VISION BLEAK) at the Klangschmiede E Studios.

It begins with the soft and dreamy symphonic intro that is "Alva". As the seconds tick away, the music grows in power and bombast, especially over halfway, to neatly connect with the bursting loose of "The Metamorphosis Melody". Guitars play a key role here, not only in heavy riffing, but also in leads. However, the symphonic backing does come to the front to complement the guitars. Carmen's clean vocals are low, yet she adds an operatic touch, too. She doesn't sound bad, but her voice still requires getting used to. And that will forever be an issue, I guess. The chorus sounds double-layered, i.e. it sounds a bit sad, but at the same time you can interprete it as positive. Still, this first song is a very nice mix of heaviness and melody. I personally wouldn't mind if it were entirely instrumental.

"Spellbound" is a midtempo song, sounding dreamy with wood leads (i.e. wooden instrument. Is it the mouthharp?), while guitars and drums counter with power. Carmen's soft vocals remain a constant. They're not overdone here and that's good. The chorus, I must say, is quite attractive. The melodic aspect gets a bit enforced by brass input, while the guitars and drums continue like before. All in all, another pretty solid song. "The Tide" has something of a dreamy, atmospheric ballad. Strings lead, countering Metal comes later. The song also has a sort of Doomy feel. This brings us to the strong song that is "A Poet's Prayer", where you'll find more drive and push. Something that was needed at this point. And it sounds really good, with the symphonics in the back and soft operatic vocals. The music does slow down in the chorus and there's a nice calm break, too, before coming back to the first part.

"Forlorn" has the piano as first instrument, followed by slow melodic Metal. The piano continues to play its melody, while the Metal nicely contrasts. The whole becomes a bombastic unity in the chorus. You can detect a bit of Doom here, too, mainly during the solo. And strange or not, but I had the impression the music afterwards sounded rather happy. This difference between the parts is good, if you ask me. All songs so far sounded good, but for me the first highlight of the two is "Kong Valemons Kamp", where brutal guitars dominate, despite piano and symphonic leadwork. Variation is key here, especially compared to the preceding songs.

A nice acoustic ballad, "Goodbye", breaks the heavy stream a little and helps to bring out the Folk in MIDNATTSOL's music. The second highlight on this album is "Forvandlingen", which begins with a clean guitar intro, after which midtempo Folk/Power Metal follows. The whole sounds again quite diverse, and like before Metal prevails here. "Motets Makt" starts with the violin, which gives the song a dark character. When the song really takes off, it's easy to notice the increase in power and drive. And the happier feeling. There is a slowdown in the (hymnic) chorus, though, and that's a shame. All goes well in the verses and beyond, but slowing down for the chorus should not have been done as it does more bad than good. I understand that this move was made to differentiate it from the other parts of the song, but still... The album ends with "My Re-Creation", which also starts clean and calm, after which there's a power injection. In se, not bad, but nothing super either.

"Nordlys" was my first real encounter with MIDNATTSOL and I was positively surprised, although Carmen's voice remained a point of discussion. "The Metamorphosis Melody" also turned out to be a good and solid album, and you can have nothing but respect for the hard work that went into creating it. But! But! Again Carmen's voice remains food for discussion, as her voice doesn't always fit the song or she sings in the same way. This makes it hard to appreciate the songs better. Speaking of which, I sometimes had the impression the band applied the same structures or procedures to several songs, which it sound like you were listening to the same song again and again. So, to recapitulate, "The Metamorphosis Melody" is a good album, but there's not much that sticks, that makes you want to play the album again and again. Fans may argue differently, which is their right. Music is in many cases taste-related after all.

More info at www.midnattsol.com.

Line-up:
Carmen Elise Espenæs - vocals
Daniel Droste - guitars
Alex Kautz - guitars
Daniel Fischer - keyboards
Birgit Öbrunner - bass
Chris Merzinsky - drums


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LEAVES' EYES – Meredead (Napalm Records 2011)

Leaves' Eyes - Meredead
  1. Spirit's Masquerade
  2. Étain
  3. Velvet Heart
  4. Kråkevisa
  5. To France (MIKE OLDFIELD cover)
  6. Meredead
  7. Sigrlinn
  8. Minne Tåror Er Ei Grimme
  9. Empty Horizon
  10. Veritas
  11. Nystev
  12. Tell-Tale Eyes

In 2009 LEAVES' EYES, the group around ex-THEATRE OF TRAGEDY vocalist Liv Kristine, released its wonderful album "Njord". This was a pleasant surprise for me, the reason can be found in the review (see here) I wrote. Anno 2011, on the 22nd April, the follow-up is ready: "Meredead". The line-up also changed: Sander van der Meer (CYPHER, ...) came in as the new guitarist, while Roland Navratil (ex-EDENBRIDGE, DIGNITY, ...) became the new skinsman. On this new release you can also hear several guests: Anette Guldbrandsen, Carmen Elise Espenæs (MIDNATTSOL), Maite Itoiz (ELFENTHAL), John Kelly (ELFENTHAL), Chirstina Roch and Jann Kirchhof. For full details, just go to Metal-Archives.com.

"Spirit's Masquerade" begins in a theatrical and hymnic way, including marching drums, a choir and steadily the power is being built. Pipes add melody, while symphonic elements in the back create a nice atmosphere. This makes way for a slab of pounding Metal, but not for long, as Liv's soft vocals are accompanied by the aforementioned melodic music. Overall, this reminds me a lot of EPICA or perhaps NIGHTWISH (the Tarja period). A calm break allows for a more Folk-oriented approach. The marching drums from the intro are a recurring element, while the hymnic chanting also deserves praise. In short, LEAVES' EYES sure as hell delivers. "Étain" takes a calm start, a touching one even, if I may say. Gothic Metal of first quality follows soon, yet there are also Folk influences. The drums play a key role through the toms, while the violin (fiddle?) adds melodic accents. Again there are similarities with NIGHTWISH (incl. the operatic chanting). In general, this song has single potential. A break was added here too, where the piano and percussion are the dominant factors before the guitar solo may fall in. And this is highlight no. 2 in the tracklist.

The next three songs are also well done, but are a bit less to my liking. "Velvet Heart" is a very rhythmic, Gothic song with catchy melodic touches. It's straight-forward, dancy and very radio-friendly. The simple chorus is an extra testimony to that. "Kråkevisa" has Liv telling the tale in Norwegian (her mother tongue) and is singing-wise assisted by Anette Guldbrandsen. Folk music is added, led by the violin, while the guitars and drums offer rhythmic support. The latter prevail in the verses. An acoustic Folk break helps break the stream a little before the band carries on with Folky orchestral Metal. The MIKE OLDFIELD cover "To France" is, obviously, another radio-friendly song, where Folk elements are of high importance. The band gave it a light Gothic touch and made the guitars and drums sound not as strong as usual, but the end result is still damn catchy.

The title track, "Meredead", puts the band back on the right path with operatic singing at first. Acoustic verses (with percussion) are next and again Maite Itoiz (ELFENTHAL) makes a guest appearance. Slow Metal power is added in the chorus. The whole comes across as a theatrical power ballad, which is nicely done. After the acoustic break and solo, the grand vocal input just blows you away. Marvellous singing! "Sigrlinn" is, as you may expect, a Folk song. It begins with acoustic music, but soon lets the power of Metal join in, together with symphonic backing. This creates a unity that is grand, bombastic and epic! Alex Krull's guest grunts add to the amazing result. But that's not all, as Liv suddenly gets the spotlights aimed at her before the solo moment comes blasting in. What a contrast! And all very well achieved.

Film-score music is the first you hear when "Minne Tåror Er Ei Grimme" is played. The piano, acoustic guitar and flute nicely follow along. As do the vocals. This is almost like the music of "Lord Of The Rings". Listen to this great track and dream away. "Empty Horizon" brings back the Metal to the plate, although the impact of the symphonic side cannot be denied. It's a slow and rather dramatic (or sad) song with very nice singing and very beautiful music. "Veritas" is not a real song, rather an atmospheric interlude. But I guess you have to consider it in combination with the powerful "Nystev", where the vocals are the key element. The song's got drive and agian has the toms as outstanding factor. The balance between acoustic, clean music and Metal input is well divised. The music's got a great vibe, is bombastic. The male choir helps with that. As LEAVES' EYES combines Folk with symphonic Metal, the album ends in a perfect way with "Tell-Tale Eyes", an acoustic Folk song with clean singing, both male and female.

As "Njord" was a pleasant surprise, I was sort of expecting "Meredead" to continue in that direction. And it does. It also seems Liv and co. made an even greater effort in creating this album, as once again the band takes you on a trip to distant lands and ages. You could see it as a cruise, but one like no other. Melody (incl. the symphonic aspect) is of vital importance, but this is here and there nicely countered by heavy guitars and drums. LEAVES' EYES deliver the goods once more and you can have nothing but utter respect for this. Is this their best album so far? I don't know, but I do know that combining the best of "Njord" and "Meredead" would create one brilliant Folk/Symphonic Metal album.

More info at www.leaveseyes.com.

Line-up:
Liv Kristine - vocals
Alexander Krull - vocals
Thorsten Bauer - guitars, bass
Sander van der Meer - guitars
Roland Navratil - drums


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BEYOND CREATION – The Aura (PRC Music 2011)

Beyond Creation - The Aura
  1. No Request For The Corrupted
  2. Coexistence
  3. Chromatic Horizon
  4. Omnipresent Perception
  5. Injustice Revealed
  6. Le Détenteurr
  7. The Aura
  8. Social Disability
  9. Elevation Path
  10. The Deported

BEYOND CREATION is a Canadian Progressive/Technical Death Metal band, formed in 2005. In 2010 they released a demo with 3 songs, each to be found on the first full-length, "The Aura". This release came out on the 12th April via PRC Music and contains 10 songs. Starting is done with "No Request For The Corrupted". Drums first, then a furious attack as if automatic fire was activated. The production is quite clear and the mix allows for the (fretless) bass to come out now and then. This is of course a must when playing technical Death Metal. See also a band like OBSCURA. The vocal department consists of two styles: growls and screams, both used in about the same amount. It's good to have those screams, as they offer a nice change. This first song is, all things considered, one brutal, aggressive, devastating (and more) kind of composition with room for melodic touches. And this is only the beginning.

"Coexistence" takes of with a Thrashy humpa-rhythm, though that soon makes way for an overall varied offering of rhythms (incl. the obligatory blasting) and tempi. Vocals remain a mix of growls and screams, where the growling even gets a bestial edge. Musically you get breakdowns too, but not that you think BEYOND CREATION is a Deathcore band, not at all. This is the second longest song on the album, so it's normal you get lots of music for your money here and thus another diverse dish of skull-crushing and pounding Death Metal. There's even a Jazzy bass interlude, so to speak. "Chromatic Horizon" is a direct and fast interlude that could be used to make a full song of it. Short or long tracks, I've got no complaints about BEYOND CREATION's approach.

This brings us to "Omnipresent Perception", another energetic song with furious drumming. And while it has the typical ingredients, the result is different from the other songs. That's of course a good thing, as it's no use writing the same song twice or changing a few details to get another song. Growls are the lead vocals, while the screams fall in occasionally. Variation is once more applied, as are the breakdowns or something that sounds close enough. This violent song was written to allow instrumentality to be in the spotlights, but on a whole, take your time to digest it all. This is not Pop or straight-forward Heavy Metal you're listening to. The bass and bass drum (or kickdrum) set in "Injustice Revealed", after which the guitars come in and play along. As the rhythm remains constant, there's room for a little solo. Around halfway hell breaks finally loose, both in the vocal and musical departments.

"Le Détenteur" is a direct blaster, so to speak, so be sure to be buckled up! It's a short track, so the attack must be effective right from the start. But even within these limits the Canadians manage to keep it varied and even let the bass have its moment of glory. Contrasting with all this fury and destruction, "The Aura" offers a calm, Jazzy intro with atmospheric backing. The bass is on lead here, but not for long, as the Metal takes over to continue the building. Vocals are again offered in the aforementioned two variations. The song on its own is perfectly inline with the others: as varied as you can expect and as demanding as you might expect. Luckily there was room for some normal flowing music, too.

Three more songs then, starting with "Social Disability", which is where double bass flows as smoothly as molten butter. The song is also more relaxed compared to the others. That is, if relaxed is a proper term here. Yes, even when the growls and screams come in, the music does not grow in size or become more violent. Jazzy influences are present again. The increase in brutality, blasts and more comes only in moments. And yet, even in short pieces it makes the song sound as heavy as the preceding ones. In the second half you do get a brutal breakdown you cannot deny! "Elevation Path" is another interlude, a calm one. And a very welcome one. All thereis is a clean guitar, bass and percussion. The result is quite tasty, if I may say so. "The Deported" is the longest song on this album, over 11 minutes. This thus means: a buffet of brutality, speed, hyperspeed, melody, harmonies, technical devastation, mighty breakdowns... to then all fall away for the calm break... which is the calm before the storm or better, the eye of the storm, because after the solo all winds up again to that gigantic wave of destructive power.

I admit I've been very positive about BEYOND CREATION and "The Aura". Then again, OBSCURA is one of my favourite Technical Death Metal bands and since BEYOND CREATION also plays in that pond or river, next to a.o. NEURAXIS, NECROPHAGIST, ANATA, THE FACELESS and several more, my expectations went from none to all fulfilled. There are similarities between these different bands, without question, but what these Canadians have delivered so far is quite simply mindblowing. The musicianship, the production, the compositions, ... Several spins are obviously needed to hear and grasp it all. Anyway, all things considered... "The Aura" is a masterpiece, as simple as that. Hence, heavily recommended material for fans of the genre and a worthy candidate for this years Best Of lists.

More info at www.myspace.com/beyondcreationofficial.

Line-up:
Simon Girard - vocals, guitar
Kévin Chartré - guitar
Dominic "Forest" Lapointe - bass
Guyot Begin-Benoit - drums


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U.D.O. – Leatherhead (AFM Records 2011)

UDO - Leatherhead
  1. Leatherhead
  2. Rock'N'Roll Soldiers
  3. Free Or Rebellion
  4. Run!
  5. Jingle Balls (video clip)
  6. Leatherhead (video clip)

Udo Dirkschneider is one of Metal's veterans, first with ACCEPT, then with U.D.O.. Everything combined he has quite a back catalogue to be proud of, with both bands. U.D.O.'s last studio album was the very good "Dominator" (2009), preceded by the "Infected" EP. These followed "Mastercutor" from 2007. Now, two years later, on the 8th of April, a new EP is available under the title "Leatherhead". This release contains 6 tracks, 4 songs and two video clips. As this EP serves as pre-taste for the upcoming "REV-Raptor" album (20th of May), two video clips were added as bonus, so to speak: "Leatherhead" and "Jingle Balls" (from a cooperation with the band EVIL DISPOSITION band of EMP mailorder).

"Leatherhead" is a new track. It starts with clean guitar, but in a dark and doomy atmosphere. Drums come in steadily to make the tension rise and then all hell breaks loose. Well, not exactly. You get pounding midtempo Heavy Metal in vein of the last few albums. Clean verses are opposed to a full chorus. The structure and playing is quite simple, but one doesn't have to go super technical to make a good song. Still, it doesn't really excite me. Not like before. The obligatory guitar solo rounds it off. "Rock'N'Roll Soldiers" is another new track with fat guitars and a slower rhythm and pace. Simplicity is again applied. The verses ar clean and devoid of heavy riffing. That is for the chorus, which is also very simple. Simple... MANOWAR-style. It's good to have the solo, though.

The last two songs were previously only available on the "Thundervision" DVD from 2004. "Free Or Rebellion" is a midtempo, Bluesier track with the typical fat guitar sound . Udo sounds as venomous as ever, which is good, not only for the song, but also because it shows time has no effect on him. The song in general is a fairly ballsy one that will do good live. "Run!" is a ballad. The piano dominates, though lets the guitars and drums fall in a little later. Udo sings in a more humble way here, as is required and as he has done on previous releases as well. But it's far from good, to be honest. Udo has sung better ballads than this one.

Like "Infected", I would say that "Leatherhead" is more aimed at the fans of U.D.O. than at fans of Heavy Metal in general. They better wait for "REV-Raptor", the album, or check out previous albums. I found U.D.O.'s last few works good to very good. Or better, worth having. With "Leatherhead" I'm a bit disappointed. But maybe that's because my preferences lie elsewhere or the previous efforts were just much better than this release. Fingers crossed that "REV-Raptor" will be another strong album, at least as good as "Dominator". These two new songs are only a (too) small indication of what to expect.

More info at www.udo-online.de.

Line-up:
Udo Dirkschneider - vocals
Stefan Kaufmann - guitars
Igor Gianola - guitars
Fitty Wienhold - bass
Francesco Jovino - drums


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REV 16:8 – Ashlands (AFM Records 2011)

REV 16:8 - Ashlands
  1. Agenda
  2. Ashlands
  3. Blackline Sundown
  4. A Study In Patterns And Habits
  5. The Chase
  6. Serenade
  7. Rust Retinal Vein
  8. Coal Mirror
  9. When Your Words Are Obsolete
  10. Leave Me

It's been a while since I last had a Black Metal release to review. Not that this is among my favourite styles (save perhaps when used with Folk elements, for example. See MOONSORROW, MÅNEGARM, BLACK MESSIAH, FALKENBACH and so on). But I can appreciate it, even if it's an acquired taste, so to speak. Anyway, REV 16:8 is the band in question. They hail from Sweden and were formed back in 2008, when BLOODSHED was put to rest. The line-up originally consisted of 5 members, but they were soon enough reduced to 3. The debut album, "Grand Tidal Rave" came out in 2009, the follow-up came out last April (on the 8th) via AFM Records under the title "Ashlands". The bio text says the following about why REV 16:8 exists: "The driving influence for REV 16:8 is life, its continually tainting canvas, its frail ground and its glorious insignificance. The goal is for the music and the words to form the perfect expression of utter disgust. The combination is a celebration to the mind and to the tortures of what life is." Any sign of positive thinking is nowhere to be found, it seems. By the way, the bandname apparently refers to Revelation 16:8: "The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, which then was allowed to burn people with fire".

"Ashlands" contains ten tracks, of which two are intros. Of course the album serves as a trip through the dark passages of life. So the intro that is "Agenda" serves as the entrance into that tunnel, the start of it all. And it's not on green meadows with birds and bees and flowers that the ride is taking place. You're in the abyss, hell, the most cruel surroundings. Cries of agony enforce that impression. What follows is an assault of blasting Black Metal, from "Ashlands" over "Blackline Sundown" while experiencing "A Study In Patterns And Habits". Vile, vicious vocals guide you through it all. "The Chase" is where the music is left for what it is and a spoken part comes in its place. The general feel is dark and gloomy. And then the ride continues. A little slower at first with "Serenade", but the pace and level ferocity soon increases again, especially in "Rust Retinal Vein" and "Coal Mirror". "When Your Words Are Obsolete" is slow on one hand, but kicks into top gear in the second half, while "Leave Me" offers your typical humpa Black Metal with a catchy touch.

REV 16:8 may be a young band, so to speak, with only two albums out on a relative short notice, but they have potential to take it further. "Ashlands" is a dark, ferocious and destructive piece of Black Metal, in vein of e.g. DARK FUNERAL, MARDUK and similar. There were a few highlights, as far as I'm concerned, but the whole lacks direction. I mean, sure, you get extreme Metal and it's far from the happy Power Metal of e.g. FREEDOM CALL, GAMMA RAY and so on, but it bores quite rapidly. Maybe because the band uses a standard way of making such songs (by the book, as they say) and perhaps sticking to the same elements, same structures. In short, the potential is there, "Ashlands" is not that bad, but it's not good enough either to stand out from the rest.

More info at www.myspace.com/rev168.

Line-up:
Talon - vocals
Nefastus - guitar
Pata - drums


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POWER QUEST – Blood Alliance (Napalm Records 2011)

Power Quest - Blood Alliance
  1. Battle Stations
  2. Rising Anew
  3. Glorious
  4. Sacrifice
  5. Survive
  6. Better Days
  7. Crunching The Numbers
  8. Only In My Dreams
  9. Blood Alliance
  10. City Of Lies

The UK band POWER QUEST has returned to the scene with a new album, "Blood Alliance", out since 25th of March. Their last effort was "Master Of Illusion" and came out almost 3 year ago (april 2008). See here for the review. Throughout the years, what really stood out was the number of line-up changes. The Italian influence increased as the band's career advanced, but since a few years mastermind/keyboardist Steve Williams has decided to add some fellow English countrymen to the line-up. On vocals, however, they have Chity Sompala (RED CIRCUIT, ex-FIREWIND, ex-AVALON, ex-CIVILIZATION ONE, ex-DOMAIN and more). All pieces of the puzzle were regrouped in 2010, the year the band worked on "Blood Alliance", the 5th album. On the live front POWER QUEST has, over the years, shared the stage with bands like THRESHOLD, DREAM EVIL, LABYRINTH, HELLOWEEN, ANGRA, FIREWIND, TARJA and MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP.

A new album, a new line-up, a new start. Chity has a different voice than Alessio, as he sings lower while Alessio is a clean singer with a preference for high notes. And this was often an element that played a role in the appreciation of the albums/songs. "Blood Alliance" begins with an intro ("Battle Stations"), an uptempo track. As is mostly the case with intros, it's all about the music. The guitarwork is key here (riffs and soloing). And as is sometimes the case with intros, you have the impression they were or could be part of a normal track/song and that's how I perceive "Battle Stations". It's good, very good even. Perhaps too good to be the intro instead of a portion of a normal song. When that's done, "Rising Anew" - the sign of a new start for the band - breaks loose. Also an uptempo song with a classic humpa rhythm. The guitar input is very melodic in the beginning, but gets firmer as the verses come into play. The music is typically POWER QUEST, but can also be compared (in a way) to DRAGONFORCE, IRON MASK, AT VANCE and similar. The humpa beat made way for double bass, while the keyboards remain in the back, letting the guitars claim most of the attention. The chorus contains nice choral arrangements, I must say. The obligatory solo moments are filled by the guitars and keyboards, perhaps the only time where Steve really breaks through the wall. Another very good song and Chity stands his ground here.

With "Glorious" POWER QUEST delivers a firm and straight-forward Heavy/Power Metal song with catchy guitar work. The classic element in the form of double bass attack is also neatly implemented. The hymnic chorus rounds it off. All in all, another solid end result. "Sacrifice" reminds of HAMMERFALL's "Let The Hammer Fall" riffing. The 80s' influence cannot be denied here and the whole comes across as a power ballad, or almost like one. The keyboards are the leading instrument, while the guitars are responsible for rhythm and power. And the obligatory solo, naturally. I found this song a little less interesting, or not as strong as the previous ones. Maybe because in those 6 minutes, there's not that much change, or, the end should have come a bit sooner. Mind you, Chity's clean vocals fit perfectly here. I've got no complaints about his role. "Survive" is also one of the tracks that require some listens to be fully appreciated, despite being a classic melodic Power Metal song, with fast drums and all that's required. The keyboards lead once again here. I had to think of the French Power Metal band HEAVENLY and the Swedish Power Metal band NOSTRADAMEUS, which also sounded like this on their first few albums. Solos are also of importance in this song.

The band took another trip to the 80s in "Better Days", which starts with a keyboard intro... 80s' style, obviously. When the rest of the band falls in, the Heavy Metal is injected with a Glam shot, but that all adds to the diversity on this album: Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Glam Metal, Bluesy touches, fast songs, slow(er) songs, ... "Crunching The Numbers" is another straight-forward track, offering powerful Heavy Metal, where the verses nicely contrast with the slower (yet at a direct pace) chorus. However, I found Chity's vocal lines rather strange, as was the rhythm. But maybe that's just because the transitions between each parts occur in a split second. It thus takes some listens to properly grasp this. But that doesn't mean it's bad. Far from it. This brings us to another highlight on this album, "Only In My Dreams", which starts off with a mysterious intro, followed by Bluesy Heavy Metal. All's well here: the rhythm, the singing, the listenability, the solo... first class. The title track, very 80s-inspired, as is the entire album, is a long one, 9 minutes. At first I only considered it a regular song, but it takes several spins to appreciate the effort put into this song. There are no bad songs here, only some are better/stronger than the others. This one is a pounding midtempo melodic Metal song with attention for breaks and solos to avoid monotony or stretched parts. The "Blood Alliance" is settled in the "City Of Lies", another highlight on the album. Double bass uptempo Metal. The band's got the wind in their backs for sure. The 80s' keyboards touch operates from the back, also contributing to the melodic aspect of the song, where mainly the guitar leads are the dominant factor. Contrasting with the fast pace is the chorus, played a little slower.

You may have ditched POWER QUEST in the past, because of it's lighter form of Power Metal and/or because of Alessio's high-pitched vocals or for some other reason. However, as Steve Williams is the engine, the mastermind of the band, he stood his ground, firmly believed and still does in his band - and it paid off - and survived the various line-up changes. But he (and the band) also went through great moments in terms of putting out albums, playing numerous gigs, sharing the stage with various bands and thus acquiring new fans. "Master Of Illusion", the band's last output, was a very decent effort, though not all tracks were on the same level and Alessio's singing could use a rougher edge. With Chity in the front seat and basically the entire line-up (save Steve Williams) renewed (compared to the last album), "Blood Alliance" may well be POWER QUEST's best effort to date. Chity's voice is lower, which is something that fits better with the music. I also believe the man has a wider range than Alessio, who was/is a good vocalist, only (too?) limited for POWER QUEST. "Bood Alliance" sounds very 80s-influenced, but the modern production makes this a perfect marriage for fans of Melodic Power Metal. In short, definitely one of the better albums this year.

More info at www.power-quest.co.uk.

Line-up:
Chity Somapala - vocals
Gavin Owen - guitars
Andy Midgley - guitars
Paul Finnie - bass
Steve Williams - keyboards
Rich Smith - drums


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EDEN'S CURSE – Trinity (AFM Records 2011)

Eden's Curse - Trinity
  1. Trinitas Sanctus
  2. Trinity
  3. Saints Of Tomorrow
  4. No Holy Man (feat. James LaBrie)
  5. Guardian Angel
  6. Can't Fool The Devil
  7. Rivers Of Destiny
  8. Dare To Be Different
  9. Children Of The Tide
  10. Black Widow (feat. Andi Deris)
  11. Jerusalem Sleeps
  12. Rock 'N' Roll Children (DIO cover)

It's been 4 years since I last heard something from EDEN'S CURSE, the melodic Heavy Metal band. Back then their debut album came out and I had the chance to write something about it. See here. I totally missed the follow-up, "The Second Coming", but the band came into focus again with their third album, "Trinity". AFM Records released it on the 18th March. "Trinity" is also the album where keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio makes his debut in EDEN'S CURSE. He replaces Ferdy Doernberg. In addition, you'll hear two guest vocalists on this new release: James LaBrie from DREAM THEATER and Andi Deris from HELLOWEEN.

The album starts with two guys meeting each other, with one pointing the other in the right direction. Like mob stuff, undercover dealings. A symphonic/operatic intro ("Trinitas Sanctus") then comes into play. This way of starting the album reminded me a little of how KAMELOT introduced their "The Black Halo" album, with that negative beginning (i.e. rewind the first track for about 20 seconds or so). Anyway, in total contrast then "Trinity" breaks loose. This is a guitar-driven Hard Rock/Heavy Metal song with backing keyboards. Michael's voice is still clean, but quite powerful. The music also has an 80's touch, especially in the bridge and chorus. The whole comes across as catchy and easy to sing-along with. The wild guitar solo rounds it off. In short, first class material. "Saints Of Tomorrow" is a more straight-forward and simpler Hard Rock kind of song with keyboards dominating in the melodic area, even existing in piano form in the verses. The song also has an 80's feel with the expected dose of catchiness. EDEN'S CURSE continues to deliver.

James Labrie's guest appearance in "No Holy Man" is predictable, not only because the song seems (!) to be written for him, it also has a Proggy feel. The guitarwork clearly stands out here. But that can only be heard after the atmospheric keyboards and ambient sounds have paved the way first. Keyboards rule in the verses, by the way. The band even made a video for this song. See here. Song no. 3, and the quality remains high, very high. I personally like this song a lot! "Guardian Angel" sets in with a symphonic intro, letting the tension rise at which point the band falls in with acoustic music, brought by the guitar and piano. Clean vocals are perfectly inline with the music. Nothing's forced, all flows naturally. The chorus is where things get a little more powerful, although that's too strong a term here. This powerballad might sound cliché, but one cannot deny how good this sounds.

Which brings us back to what EDEN'S CURSE does best: ROCK! "Can't Fool The Devil" surely is proof of that. You could compare this song to the likes of SAXON, WOLF and so on. The backing organ takes care of atmosphere and feel, while the overall pace of the music lies high enough to bang your head. This is another super highlight, as you could call it, together with "No Holy Man". Of course, in my humble opinion. You may like other songs more. "Rivers Of Destiny" is a midtempo track with Bluesy Hard Rock. The organ is present, too. Semi-acoustic verses contrast nicely with the chorus where full power and flow come out flawlessly with the multiple vocal lines. Again the 80's touch was applied. "Dare To Be Different" already sounds good with the title alone. The music too starts off very well with fast-paced stuff, but that's the only place where you'll hear it, unfortunately. Firm midtempo with a leading organ takes over soon enough. But that doesn't mean it's bad, far from it even.

The tempo drops even more in "Children Of The Tide", a slow(er) song with enough melody (key aspect in EDEN'S CURSE songs) and nice balance between the acoustic and more powerful parts. This track is also fit to cruise to. But (for me) it's not as good or as strong as the other songs. Andi Deris was chosen for "Black Widow" as this is a furious Metal song. Still within the boundaries of Heavy Metal, of course. We're not talking Thrash, Death or Black here. The instrumentation is adapted, the vocals sound vicious, while Andi adds screamy lines in the bridge and chorus. A very nice end result, to say the least. "Jerusalem Sleeps" is another slower song. It sounds hymnic, but ballsy as well somehow. The keyboards contribute to the melodic aspect and catchiness is again of high importance. The overall atmosphere is also well done and helps to create the setting in your mind/imagination. The compositions are also diverse enough for a song like this and somehow you can't avoid the use of symphonic elements. But this all helps to create a masterpiece. The DIO cover "Rock 'N' Roll Children" is extremely well done, if I may say so. The original can be found on "Sacred Heart" from 1985.

Back in 2007 I found EDEN'S CURSE a decent band who put out a decent album. But it could be better. Having missed "The Second Coming" (save for some YouTube samples), I can safely say that "Trinity" is one hell of a melodic Heavy Metal album. The guys really outdid themselves, even if the previous release was also hailed in several reviews. Fans of the genre simply must check out this new album, for the production is very good and not only gives the needed power to the music when needed, but allows for multiple listens without growing tired of it. If you're thus into bands like SHAKRA, AXXIS, PRETTY MAIDS, and similar, then hesistate not and buy "Trinity". Definitely among the best releases this year!

More info at www.edenscurse.com.

Line-up:
Michael Eden - vocals
Thorsten Koehne - guitars
Paul Logue - bass
Alessandro Del Vecchio - keyboards
Pete Newdeck - drums


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BLOODBOUND – Unholy Cross (AFM Records 2011)

Bloodbound - Unholy Cross
  1. Moria
  2. Drop The Bomb
  3. The Ones We Left Behind
  4. Reflections Of Evil
  5. In For The Kill
  6. Together We Fight
  7. The Dark Side Of Life
  8. Brothers Of War
  9. Message From Hell
  10. In The Dead Of Night
  11. Unholy Cross

BLOODBOUND is a Swedish Hard Rock / Power Metal band and was founded in 2004 by Tomas Olsson (guitar) and Fredrik Bergh (keyboards). Only one demo was needed to get a label deal in both Europe and Asia. The band's debut, "Nosferatu", came out two years later. This led to sharing the stage with SABATON, ARCH ENEMY, PRETTY MAIDS and EVERGREY. Then-vocalist Urban Breed left the band that same year to focus on his solo project. Ex-JADED HEART singer Michael Bormann was asked to fill the position and do vocals for the next album, "Book Of The Dead" (2007). But he too couldn't completely devote himself to BLOODBOUND, so the Swdes had to look once again for a new vocalist. Urban Breed returned and the band supported HAMMERFALL before entering the studio to record "Tabula Rasa" with Urban. The songs on this third album showed that BLOODBOUND was prepared to venture in a more modern direction without changing style. But Urban left a second time to not return. DAWN OF SILENCE frontman Patrik Johansson joined the fold and so voice no. 3 was ready to record for album no. 4, "Unholy Cross". AFM Records saw hail in the material and released it on the 18th of March 2011.

For this new album BLOODBOUND worked with Jonas Kjellgren for the mixing and mastering. Jonas has worked with many bands, in several styles: CENTINEX, SCAR SYMMETRY, SONIC SYNDICATE, DIGNITY, SOLUTION .45, ZONARIA, ALTARIA, STEEL ATTACK, DAWN OF SILENCE, and many more. "Unholy Cross" is my first proper acquaintance with BLOODBOUND, although I have heard a few samples in the past, yet I wasn't fully convinced at the time to properly check out this band. As "Tabula Rasa" was more modern sounding, it is said that this new album goes back to the traditional sound for which BLOODBOUND is (was?) known. Eleven songs on this album totalling a playtime of a good 50 minutes, starting with "Moria".This song starts calm and has then typical Heavy/Power Metal riffing helping with the building of the tension. When full power breaks loose, the similarities with bands like IRON MAIDEN, RAGE, POWERWOLF, HAMMERFALL and so on cannot be denied, but I don't mind at all. Clean vocals in the galopping verses, which connect neatly with the melodic bridge that assures a smooth passage to the hymnic chorus. The guitar solo reminded me of the one in EUROPE's classic hit "The Final Countdown". Again, I don't mind, for it fits perfectly and gives the song a nice classic touch. In short, very solid song to start with.

"Drop The Bomb" is next, a direct and midtempo Hard Rock / Heavy Metal track, with a rather dark feel. The riffing stands out here! Michael's vocal input is again of high quality, backed by choirish singing. The chorus, like before, has a hymnic character. The obligatory solo completes the compositions. This is not a technical song, but it does the job more than enough. No direct start, buta clean guitar intro for "The Ones We Left Behind". The Rock touch is not far away. The soft singing grows in power steadily, coming to full blossom in the chorus. Very nice work here! The soft keyboard backing in the verses helps with the melodic aspect. This song will do great live, you can just hear it was written that way. "Reflections Of Evil" contains fast riffing and overall more push and drive, which is good. Not only in itself, but also for the flow of the tracklist. Vocals are a key element here, especially as deliverer of melodic input, while the chorus is typically Power Metal (double bass, the whole sounding epic and hymnic). Another simple but effective song.

So far, so very good. But then there are two songs that, although not bad at all, drag the level a bit down: "In For The Kill". This track starts with some building before taking off at midtempo pace and a Bluesy rhythm. The chorus is where the balls are and the vocal input is of vital importance. All things considered, I do have to add that there's a special atmosphere in/about this song. The second track, before the quality is raised again, is "Together We Fight". Its intro consists of hymnic guitar lines. After that, galopping Hard Rock all the way! The hymnic touch returns in the chorus. But I found this song too safe. It's not one that stands out compared to the others, even if it's all well executed and produced.

BLOODBOUND continues then with "The Dark Side Of Life", a song that adds a serious power injection to te tracklist. The building tension made me think the band would shift into 6th gear and get speeding. And so it happens, and that's a very good move! Keyboards play their role from the back and mainly in the bridge. The chorus is a typical Power Metal one, epic and hymnic. You even get two guitar solos. This song is perfect. "Brothers Of War" is a ballad with a Bluesy touch. Nice, but I've heard better. The song even reminded me of an other one, or in other words, I thought it was a cover. "Message From Hell" is more like it, as it is also a provider of furious riffing and high tempo. Power verses are opposed to a hymnic chorus and the whole just sounds brilliant! Awesome! Splendid! There are also solos aplenty, more than otherwise.

"In The Dead Of Night" is also a fast song with pounding drums and an epic Power Metal chorus where keyboards offer support from the back. Even the guitar solo is very well done. I'm overjoyed, so to speak. No kidding. The album ends with the introducing riffs of "Unholy Cross", the title track. Firm midtempo Hard Rock / Heavy Metal follows, carrying a good dose of catchiness. Although there's a slowdown in the bridge, the pace is picked up again in the chorus. There the music is reminiscent of EDGUY and (old) AVANTASIA, to name these examples. The solo rounds it all off.

While I haven't taken the time to properly check out BLOODBOUND's music, I was happy to be able to review the band's latest offering, "Unholy Cross". Their mix of Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Power Metal may not be original and done before and reminding of other bands, but somehow the Swedes managed to put their stamp on the compositions. Despite the continuous change in frontman, it cannot be denied that Patrik Johansson plays a very important role on this new album and that he does a very good job. There are a few less good songs, but on a general basis I can only recommend "Unholy Cross". The lads may be proud of what they achieved with this release.

More info at www.bloodbound.se.

Line-up:
Patrik Johansson - vocals
Tomas Olsson - guitars
Henrik Olsson - guitars
Fredrik Bergh - keyboards
Anders Broman - bass
Pelle Akerlind - drums


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GRAVE DIGGER – The Ballad Of Mary (Napalm Records 2011)

Grave Digger - The Ballad Of Mary
  1. The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of The Scots) (feat. Doro)
  2. Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching) (feat. Hansi Kürsch)
  3. The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of The Scots) (extended symphonic version)
  4. Highland Farewell (instrumental version)
  5. Coming Home (instrumental version)

Last year the German Heavy/Power Metal formation GRAVE DIGGER released "The Clans Will Rise Again" (see review). To me this was a another solid release, considering the line-up change renewing the energy of old. That same year the band celebrated its 30th anniversary. During the performance at Wacken Open Air a few guests joined the band on stage. The fans, it is said, reacted enthusiastically and so GRAVE DIGGER decided to release an EP titled "The Ballad Of Mary", containing 5 tracks. This came out on the 4th of March. The title track can also be found, in its original version, on the band's 1996 release, "Tunes Of War".

"The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of The Scots)" is a ballad. You get an acoustic intro with symphonic backing, clearly indicating nothing heavy is to be expected. You get clean vocals, both male and female. The female's done by Doro. The added whispering is quite simply boring. In itself it's not a bad song, but it's very mellow. The vocal performance comes across as if both vocalists play on safe or as if they had no interest in singing it. It might also be my impression. The band's classic "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)" was previously covered by VAN CANTO on their latest release, "Tribe Of Force" (2010). On this new EP, it's BLIND GUARDIAN / DEMONS AND WIZARDS vocalist Hansi Kürsch singing the lyrics together with Chris Boltendahl. VAN CANTO takes care of backing vocals. All in all, not a bad re-recording, but this is not the kind of song for Hansi's voice, if I may say so.

Next is the unplugged version of the title track, with added symphonic backing. "Highland Farewell" is a track off "The Clans Will Rise Again" (2010), here in its instrumental version. Well, not entirely, as the backing vocals were kept for the chorus. Still, it's a very decent song and it's good to hear it without vocals. Should be done more often, also by other bands. You don't always need vocals. And last there's "Coming Home", also off "The Clans Will Rise Again" and also in (almost) instrumental version, save for the choral arrangements in the chorus. These last two songs are the best on this EP, in my (humble) opinion.

GRAVE DIGGER have released solid albums over the years, one better than the other. Their Scotland-themed releases are highly recommended, as is of course their last studio full-length. The EP "The Ballad Of Mary" contains nothing new, save re-recordings and instrumental versions of (fairly) recent tracks. On a whole, the end result is rather weak. Or in other words, this is for fans only. If you want to check out GRAVE DIGGER, get the albums, not this EP.

More info at www.grave-digger.de.

Line-up:
Chris Boltendahl - vocals
Axel Ritt - guitars
Jens Becker - bass
Hans Peter Katzenburg - keyboards
Stefan Arnold - drums


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VOODOO CIRCLE – Broken Heat Syndrome (AFM Records 2011)

Voodoo Circle - Broken Heart Syndrome
  1. No Solution Blues
  2. King Of Your Dreams
  3. Devil's Daughter
  4. This Could Be Paradise
  5. Broken Heart Syndrome
  6. When Destiny Calls
  7. Blind Man
  8. Heal My Pain
  9. The Heavens Are Burning
  10. Don't Take My Heart
  11. I'm In Heaven
  12. Wings Of Fury

Alex Beyrodt's VOODOO CIRCLE project released its self-titled debut album in 2008 (click here for the review). Here he presented Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in vein of the olden days with lots of Bluesy influences. While SILENT FORCE has been put in the fridge, so to speak, since he and other members are active in other bands (SONS OF SEASONS, RAGE, ...), Alex was also asked to rejoin PRIMAL FEAR as they were without a second axeman. So he joined the guys on tour. Once that was done, material was being written for a second VOODOO CIRCLE album. Titled "Broken Heart Syndrom", it came out on the 25th of February. Not only that, but drummer Mel Gaynor left and was replaced by DEZPERADOZ hitman Markus Kullmann.

Twelve tracks, one more than on the debut album. It starts with "No Solution Blues", where - obviously you get Bluesy guitar riffing with drums helping to build. Once done, the typical to-the-point Hard Rock (including solo) comes streaming out of the speakers. The guitar is the center of attention, logically. David Readman's clean vocals fit in perfectly. The whole sounds very catchy and you can almost hear the lads had fun with this song. In the midtempo track "King Of Your Dreams" the organ comes in as backing instrument, for the sake of atmosphere. Full rocking power, with enough breathing room for the melodic input, is set for the chorus, like in the previous song. Alex's soloing rounds it all off. Very good stuff, if I may say so.

To counter the heaviness of the rocking riffs, "Devil's Daughter" takes a calm start, flowing over into calm, soothing verses. This Bluesy ballad is devoid of heavy guitarwork or drums. However, they do come to life in the bridge and chorus, where the organ joins them. The latter also gets its moment of glory, next to the obligatory guitar solo. "This Could Be Paradise" is a direct Hard Rock track, with enough melodic input to keep it inline with the rest of the material. Or better, as is typical for VOODOO CIRCLE. The song's also headbang-friendly and if you feel like singing along, the chorus is your part.

The organ gets a more prominent role in "Broken Heart Syndrome", a Bluesy midtempo Rocksong where the guitarlines demand most of the attention. "When Destiny Calls" is another Bluesy Hard Rocker, but tighter than the previous song. Think of SINNER, SAXON and alike. The melodicness comes out most in the bridge and chorus. In general, this song is rather radio-friendly. Alright, though not as exciting as the preceding tracks. "Blind Man" is even less interesting. It's a ballad with a key role for the organ. "Heal My Pain" also follows the Bluesy Hard Rock path, yet allows for some Funk accents. The whole also comes across as very radio-friendly. In se, not that bad, but somehow it annoys rapidly and the use of the tambourine only reinforces this.

The uptempo "The Heavens Are Burning" is then a better option. Straight-forward with backing keyboards. No real complaints here. The same counts for the direct Rocker "Don't Take My Heart", which contains a very nice solo moment. The song is catchy, has the classic type of riffing, while atmospheric backing makes the picture complete. Flawless! However, things go back to less good in "I'm In Heaven". This Bluesy Rocker is too Pop-oriented (also for my taste), that the end result is rather bland. Sure, radio-friendly might be good, but compared to the other songs on this release, it's weak. Last but not least, and thank goodness for this, "Wings Of Fury" does its name justice: uptempo, double bass, and lots of guitarwork. A perfect ending, considering the previous few tracks that weren't that good.

Three years ago I was very positive about VOODOO CIRCLE and its debut album. It also showed that Alex Beyrodt is an underestimated guitarist, who deserves more credit. People usually think of the big names, but you have to hear and see it to believe it. When PRIMAL FEAR came to Belgium last December, I was of course witness of Alex's skills and my impression was only confirmed. Why else would the Japanese love him so much? In any case, he once again delivered a solid album, "Broken Heart Blues", for fans of old school Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. This should be great to see live.

More info at www.voodoocircle.de.

Line-up:
David Readman - vocals
Alex Beyrodt - guitars
Jimmy Kresic - keyboards
Mat Sinner - bass
Markus Kullmann - drums


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VISIONS OF ATLANTIS – Delta (Napalm Records 2011)

Visions Of Atlantis - Delta
  1. Black River Delta
  2. Memento
  3. New Dawn
  4. Where Daylight Falls
  5. Conquest Of Others
  6. Twist Of Fate
  7. Elegy Of Existence
  8. Reflection
  9. Sonar
  10. Gravitate Towards Fatality

The Austrian Symphonic Power Metal band VISIONS OF ATLANTIS was formed back in 2000, said to be fascinated by the myths surrounding legendary Atlantis. It didn't take them long to get signed and release an album. Their first two albums, "Eternal Endless Infinity" (2002) and "Cast Away" (2004), were made with a different line-up. Although the result was good, it wasn't really breathtaking to me. Especially Nicole Bogner's voice was not much to my liking. That changed with the joining of Melissa Ferlaak, a soprano who formerly fronted AESMA DAEVA. Wolfgang Koch replaced guitarist Werner Fiedler and Martin Harb became the new keyboardist instead of Miro Holly. This new line-up made the next album, "Trinity" (2007), which was also the band's last output to date.

Live-wise VISIONS OF ATLANTIS has so far shared the stage with LACUNA COIL, NIGHTWISH, EDENBRIDGE, EPICA and others, as they played at festivals in Europe, Asia and Latin America. It's after the tour with EPICA in the United States that the line-up changed again: Melissa Ferlaak and guitarist Wolf K. left. And so former guitarist Werner Fiedler returned to reclaim his place. Bassist Mike Koren was replaced by Mario Lochert. But most importantly, Maxi Nil (from Greece) became the new female singer in the band. She had previously worked with MOONSPELL and ELYSIUM, her former band. And so a (once again) renewed formation began working on the follow-up to "Trinity". In the summer of 2010 the band entered the studios to record "Delta", which came out on the 25th February 2011.

I must say that I was very skeptical when I found out about the band releasing a new album without operatic vocals. Back in 2007 I found "Trinity" overall quite good, even if it sounded very much like the NIGHTWISH before "Once". Clean vocals, on both sides (male and female) created less of a contrast than before. But one must keep an open mind at all times, for things may turn out better than expected. Or better, if you don't know how a person's voice (in this case Maxi Nil's) sounds, then what expectations can you have? So, "Delta", the 4th full-length of VISIONS OF ATLANTIS. Before I continue, I do want to add that I saw the band at work back in February, when they were on tour with VEXILIUM and RHAPSODY OF FIRE. I found the band's performance alright, but nothing that made increase my enthusiasm. But that could also have been because I stood more to the side, so I couldn't hear the sound in a proper manner. Still, live compared to recordings, it's still different.

"Delta" does not begin with an intro. It's only now that I see this. Winamp put the songs in a wrong order, putting "Sonar" in first place, for example. It's "Black River Delta" with which the album begins and so on (see the tracklist above). The intro of "Black River Delta", the string composition, reminded me of GWYLLION's "Lost In A Dream" (see this YouTube link), before the melodic Metal kicks in. As the band sounded very much like NIGHTWISH on their previous album, again I find an example of copy-pasting (maybe not 1/1), so to speak. Sure, it's all been done before, etcetera etcetera, but when the similarity is so obvious... it cannot be a coincidence, right? Then again, one could wonder if the band was/is aware of the existence of GWYLLION. Anyway, It's bombastic symphonic Metal that is delivered here with dual vocals and a very catchy bridge. The vocal lines are nicely divided, as Mario sings mainly the darker parts, the heavier pieces. The song itself is quite progressive and reminds a little of SYMPHONY X, FREEDOM CALL, SONATA ARCTICA and so on. All comparisons aside, "Black River Delta" is one of the best songs here.

"Memento" also is a dark song, as the guitar with its sharp riffing and the general atmosphere of the song clearly demonstrate. Symphonics work from the back. Maxi gets a leading role in the chorus, which is given a hymnic character. The solos and vocal break make the track complete. Another very good song here, in other words. "New Dawn" is a short song, about 3 minutes long, therefore good for radioplay. But not only the length, the music itself also allows VISION OF ATLANTIS to get more attention on air. It's a Poppish Gothic Metal song with lots of symphonic keyboard lines while the guitars (incl. bass) and drums counter with power. Power is a big word here, since with Pop you can't have your guitar sound too aggressive, of course. Mario's few screamy interventions sound weak and cannot make this song stronger. As catchy as it all sounds, I do have to say it bores rapidly. Not that I would compare it to Eurovision stuff, which also bores rapidly, but you get the idea.

The first piano notes of "Where Daylight Falls" are misleading as you might think it's a ballad. Once the entire bands bursts in, the power of Metal takes over command. Ok, this is a small exaggeration, as this song as well sounds relatively Poppish, but it's catchy, it's got enough power to not be Pop and it's just one of those songs that are very entertaining and fun to listen to. A title like "Conquest Of Others" must have something that does this title justice, as small as it may be. An intro of bombings, alarm sounds and dark/epic orchestral support is certainly a good example. The verses continue in that same atmosphere with rough vocals. Things get more melodic and hymnic in the bridge, where Maxi also comes into earshot with backing vocals. What makes this song stand out and thus be a highlight is largely due to the contrast between the melodic side (incl. symphonic elements) and the power side (guitar). It's another bombastic song where the orchestral aspect comes out strongly in the second half. A top job, I have to say.

As the use of symphonic elements is of high importance in VISION OF ATLANTIS's music and a classic way to begin a song, so it also happens in "Twist Of Fate". But Metal soon takes over, albeit mainly as countering means for the dominant symphonic waves. When the guitar lines do work together, thus on the same level, with the symphonic melodies, the result is a lust for the ear. Where Mario previously sang the lead vocals, this time it's Maxi who's in the spotlights again. Both singers join forces in the chorus, and Mario is allowed to play a vicious role later on. No real complaints here, the band once again delivers the goods. Tension is created in the intro of "Elegy Of Existence", where brass and strings announce the coming of something big. Mario's vicious vocals, added with enough Metal power, while the orchestra lingers in the back. Maxi falls in for the more melodic and atmospheric parts. While all of this sounds grand, I had the feeling the music contained a touch of hope, so to speak. If there were images to accompany the sound, then you'd understand what I mean. Or you may already do so. The list of highlights is expanding, indeed.

No symphonics in "Reflection". It's the piano that delivers the first touches of sound and melody. And yes, this time it's a ballad. And obviously it's Maxi who sings it. The guitar and drums fall in later, but not with brutal force, of course. Inline with the other songs, this one is catchy and very listenable. Before the final song, the interlude "Sonar" allows the listener to drift away on soft atmospheric and orchestral sounds to (instantly) "Gravitate Towards Fatality". The music falls in directly, with double bass, symphonic leads and countering guitar and drum power. Maxi and Mario take turns in terms of singing. The hymnic character of the chorus blends in nicely with the verses. All in all, another jewel to be added to the list of highlights and a great song to end with.

As critical as I have been all this time, I cannot deny that VISIONS OF ATLANTIS have perhaps put out their best album to date. The quality of the production, the compositions, the feelings that are addressed when listening to this album... Maybe I should see the band at work again to properly form an opinion. But for now, "Delta" is one of the better albums this year. Not the best, because the competition is tough, but the quality cannot be denied. Yes, the songs are mostly linear and very listenable (or accessible). And depending on the song you might wish for a more ballsier input/approach. Like I said, it sounds very good, and that's perhaps also its weakness, that it sounds too polished, too clean. If this kind of music is your cup of tea, I believe this album will give you many hours of listening pleasure. For me personally, it's a put-it-aside-and-listen-when-needed/wanted case.

More info at www.myspace.com/visionsofatlantisofficial.

Line-up:
Maxi Nil - vocals
Mario Plank - vocals
Werner Fiedler - guitars
Martin Harb - keyboards
Mario Lochert - bass
Thomas Caser - drums


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SERENITY – Death & Legacy (Napalm Records 2011)

Serenity - Death & Legacy
  1. Set Sail To (Intro)
  2. New Horizons
  3. The Chevalier
  4. Far From Home
  5. Heavenly Mission
  6. Prayer (Interlude)
  7. State Of Siege
  8. Changing Fate
  9. When Canvas Starts To Burn
  10. Serenade Of Flames
  11. Youngest Of Widows
  12. Below Eastern Skies (Interlude)
  13. Beyond Desert Sands
  14. To India's Shore
  15. Lament (Interlude)
  16. My Legacy

Three years ago the Austrian Progressive/Melodic Metal band SERENITY released its second opus, "Fallen Sanctuary" (2008, see review). This was a big step forward from the debut "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" (2007, see review). Following this second release, the band went on tour with KAMELOT, but also shared the stage with EDENBRIDGE and THRESHOLD. Afterwards work began on the new album, "Death & Legacy", which came out on the 25th of February. Like before Oliver Phillips was put in charge of the orchestra production and the mixing was in the hands of Jan Vacik, who worked with SERENITY for their first album. Jacob Hansen was responsible for "Fallen Sanctuary". But that's not all, as bassist Simon Holzknecht left the band during the production phase, which was in August 2010. Fabio D'Amore (PATHOSRAY, FAIRYLAND, SYRAYDE) was found as worthy replacement.

"Death & Legacy" is lyrically interesting as it's one of those albums that have an educational value. Each song deals with an important character in history: Christopher Columbus, Giacomo Casanova, Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth I, and so on. Somehow it's not abnormal that the band chose this direction, as vocalist Georg Neuhauser is an archaeologist or at least that's one of his activities outside of the band. But perhaps it was a shared interest in the band that made them write songs about these people. In any case, I'm all for this kind of albums. Last time the band had a few guest vocalists (Sandra Schleret from ELIS and Maggo Wenzel from TRISTWOOD and INZEST), and it's not different on album no. 3: Charlotte Wessels (DELAIN), Ailyn (SIRENIA), and Amanda Sommerville.

Because of the lyrical context, you couldn't make this album a standard one with only, say, 10 tracks. A whopping 16 were made, of course including interludes to allow for the songs to come to life, to have the listener imagine the story, the setting and so on. "Set Sail To" is a perfect introduction (with waves, sounds of the ship, cries of battle and accompanying drums) to "New Horizons", where Sir Francis Drake crosses the Pacific Ocean anno 1579. The transition occurs smoothly, followed by orchestral input (strings, flute, ...), paving the way for the Metal to join in. The music rolls on at midtempo, and sounds quite bombastic (thanks to the brass instruments). It all flows very well. The verses are rather easy-listening at first (vocals, piano, drums), more powerful in a second instant. Full power is activated in the bridge and chorus. The band even reserved space for a symphonic break (piano, violins, choir), where the Metal nevertheless rolls on. But the latter then holds its silence to allows the orchestral side blossom fully. The obligatory guitar solo wasn't forgotten either here. First class material to start with.

In "The Chevalier" the band travels to 1763, where Giacomo Casanova encounters a woman in England who is able to withstand the temptation, withstand Giacomo's way of seducing her. The songs starts with a symphonic intro, which again shows how important the symphonic aspect is for SERENITY (as Mario said in the interview I had with him in 2008). On the other hand, this kind of music was very much present at the time. There was no Pop, Rock, Blues, Metal, ... yet. The verses are clean and sound rather Poppy, but the music gets heavier in the bridge and chorus. It's a power ballad, which sounds good, but rather cliché. Ailyn (SIRENIA) enters the room here and if I got it right, she plays the role of the aforementioned woman. It's nice to hear this contrast, that not all is sung by male vocals. The piano break (with acoustic guitar and symphonic backing) breaks the stream a little and makes the listening all the better.

Back on the ship, we travel further in time again, to the year 1488. Which is indeed "Far From Home". Main character here is Batolomeu Dias, who is deeply frustrated: his crew decided to turn and sail back home. However, he would have had the possibility to reach India on sea as the first man, sailing along Africa's westcoast and passing the Cape of good Hope. In this song you get more Metal power, of course with the added bombast. But the Metal prevails and very firmly. The chorus is a bit slower for the sake of contrast, while the bombastic break over halfway rounds it off. "Heavenly Mission" is about the Templars, and specifically the year 1314. The character is Jacques de Molay and it's his death day. The guitars remind me of EVANESCENCE's "Bring Me To Life" song. But the music takes on a ballad-ish character in the chorus. All in all not bad, but this bores rapidly somehow. And the solo cannot save the song, even if it's good to have this element.

"Prayer" is the first interlude, aside from the intro in the beginning of the tracklist. It's the prayer of a Spanish soldier's wife, who sees her husband sail away with Hernan Cortés's army to conquer Middle America. Strings in the back create the right atmosphere. The symphonic aspect continues in "State Of Siege", where Cortés has been putting Tenochtitlán under siege for two months now. It's the year 1521. The aforementioned soldier only wishes to go home to his wife as the siege isn't that successful. But the music is more important of course. You get an orchestral intro (strings, wood, flute, drums), followed by firm Metal in this way: "GO!". The verses are clean -, but the guitar power comes out better in the bridge and chorus, with a serious tempo boost.

"Changing Fate" is a semi-acoustic ballad. Acoustic at first, but then the Metal comes in with added bombast. The attack in 1589 to finally defeat the Spanish armada ended in fiasco and Queen Elizabeth I lets Francis Drake fall from her grace. In the song, Drake begs for mercy and another chance. Female vocals here again, for obvious reasons. The whole also sounds better than the previous one (with Ailyn). "When Canvas Starts To Burn" brings back the Metal. It's a midtempo, dark track with symphonic support. And it rocks! The lyrical context is this: Albrecht Duerer at the turning point between the 15th and the 16th century which was seen by many as a time of coming apocalypse due to sightings of comets and similar things.

The inquisitor und writer of the "Malleus Maleficarum", Heinrich Kramer, instructs the torturers before the following witch trial. This is "Serenade Of Flames". It starts with a guitar lick in a loop while the rest of the band falls in. The piano follows the guitar melody before the verses with heavy riffing take over. However, the acoustic guitar is also at play there. Vocal duties are shared again. Who sings here, I don't know. Is it Amanda or Charlotte? Whoever it is, the result is very well done. Melody is a key aspect, as in every song, but in some songs you just cannot get around it. And from one woman (the witch) to the next, i.e. Maria Stuart I of Scotland on the day of her execution. This occurs in "Youngest Of Widows". The song takes a vocal start, after which the music falls in with orchestral accents. Heavy riffing keeps the firm midtempo intact, while the bridge and chorus allows for the melodic level to rise. Breaks are provided by the piano and symphonics, followed by a guitar solo. All in all, another job well done by the Austrians.

"Below Eastern Skies" is an interlude, in connection with "Beyond Desert Sands". The band has travelled to a different setting this time, as the Eastern influences demonstrate via the melodies, percussion and vocal input. The song that follows takes us back to 1324, to Marco Polo on his deathbed, mesmerizing about his always having told the truth about his journeys and adventures, but people not believing him. Musically you get thundering symphonic Metal. Full rolling power is comes out in the chorus. If the previous songs had a guitar solo, this song has more. The reason for it is unknown to me, but I certainly do not complain about this decision. It's after all quite a solid song, at least to my ears. "To India's Shore", to remain in the East, is about one of the sons of Christoph Columbus telling about the good news concerning his father, i.e. finally the Queen has granted her support to his daring plan. The song itself is written from Columbus's point of view. A symphonic intro led by the piano, followed by Metal instrumentation, as you would and could expect. The verses are clean, have a Gothic-ish touch, and again full power and flow is reserved for the chorus. It's almost as if SERENITY applied the same structure over and over again. Perhaps because it's easier? This song furthermore sounds quite emotional and touching.

And so we come to the last interlude, "Lament". This deals with Galileo Galilei's lament on the morning he finally was hit by total blindness. What shall the great observer of the sky now become? No music here, only an Italian spoken text. "Death & Legacy" ends, what a surprise, with "My Legacy". Or in other words, like before, the interlude was an intro to this song, which also deals with Galilei's sight problem. It's the year 1638. The music commences with the piano and vocals, followed by direct midtempo and melodic Metal. The pace is firm, and the power of the guitars and drums is a clear indication of it. Short acoustic passages break the stream a little and are beneficial to the listening experience. What is dominating here is the symphonic aspect. And like before, the end result is very good.

I'll more or less repeat myself from the last review, but whatever. "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" was good, but its main problem was speed or lack thereof. "Fallen Sanctuary" was much better, as it contained more energetic material and better orchestral arrangements. The production was also an improvement. It's not a surprise that this album was among my favourite 10 of 2008. I haven't seen the band live yet and I hope to experience it at least once, but until then the new album, "Death & Legacy" will have to offer compensation. Or perhaps a live release in the coming years? Anyway, this third album caused my expectations to be high. Would it be as good as "Fallen Sanctuary"? It took me several listens to appreciate the new songs, as the band seems to have taken, depending on the song, a more commercial, by lack of a better term, direction. The very polished production is partly guilty for this impression. But it doesn't mean the album is less worth checking out. The symphonic aspect remains very important, but the Metal side remains firmly intact. One could argue about the number of tracks, but considering the educational value, you get your money's worth, both musically and lyrically. I can therefore only recommend this album. And advise multiple spinnings to grasp it all.

More info at www.serenity-band.com.

Line-up:
Georg Neuhauser - vocals
Thomas Buchberger - guitars
Mario Hirzinger - keyboards
Fabio D'Amore - bass
Andreas Schipflinger - drums


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SHAKRA – Back On Track (AFM Records 2011)

Shakra - Back On Track
  1. B True B You
  2. I'll Be
  3. Crazy
  4. Back On Track
  5. When I See You
  6. MMTWGR
  7. Yesterday's Gone
  8. Someday
  9. Lonesomness
  10. Unspoken Truth
  11. Brand New Day
  12. Stronger Than Ever

The Swiss Hard Rock band SHAKRA put out their last studio album, "Everest" (see review), in April 2009. Since then many gigs followed, but the line-up also showed signs of disruption. And not a small one, as vocalist Mark Fox left the band after having fronted it for 8 years. His voice was typical of SHAKRA's impression and was very compatible with the music. A new vocalist was found after an extensive search: John Prakesh. He has the Swiss nationality, but has his roots in India. Until fronting SHAKRA, he was the lead singer of the Hard Rock band PRAKESH. And so the Swiss are back on track to continue rocking and writing new songs. "Back On Track" is also the title of their newest output, released again via AFM Records on the 25th of February.

To complete this intro, a small recap (useful or not) of how I got into the band. It began with "Fall", which was to my liking, also because it was something refreshing, I might say. Since then I've bought all albums since "Rising" (this one included). "Infected" was a very nice follow-up, though perhaps a bit too many softer songs. Having heard "Everest", it seems the band decided to step on the gas again and offer solid guitar-driven Hard Rock. Needless to say that for some it might be the same as usual, but I like the usual as it makes SHAKRA to what it is, with an own sound and vibe. Comparing the new material or the Mark Fox period with the first few albums is something I cannot do, yet I'm curious to hear how the band's old material sounds.

So, as you knew what to expect with each new SHAKRA album, would it be any different with "Back On Track"? Not that much, really, since the main composers are still there, it's just the voice that has changed. This new album was, like the others, produced by guitarist Thom Blunier in his own Powerride Studio. You'll find 12 tracks on this new release, added with the bonus track "Eternity" on the limited edition digipack. How this song sounds, I don't know, for it wasn't added to the promo tracklist. But anyway, the album kicks off with the direct approach of "B True B You". It's got power, it's rhyhthmic, it's anything you wish a Hard Rock song to be. Due to John's vocal timbre and powerful riffing by Thom and Thomas, you could compare this new SHAKRA a bit to their colleagues from THE ORDER. The bridge is where melodicness comes out, while the chorus is comparable to other tracks. John also has no fear of showing his skills, of singing with full force. The obligatory solo is present as well, but it's at the same time a classic ingredient in SHAKRA songs. In short, the song rocks!

"I'll Be" is a midtempo Groove Rocker with the typical melodic touch, comparable to (for example) "Rising High". Especially the chorus reminds of this other song. No complaints whatsoever, the Swiss continue to deliver quality. "Crazy" offers a more direct and faster take on Hard Rock, but it's also quite radio-friendly somehow. Here John sounds a bit more like Mark Fox and a contrast is created between the vicious verses and melodic chorus. It's almost like AC/DC in a modern jacket. The chorus is simple, though, which isn't bad in itself. However, I do have to admit that the solo helps to appreciate this song more, otherwise the whole would have come across as a little too simple. "Back On Track" is another fast track, direct and to the point, in typical SHAKRA style. John's singing is sharp, collaborating well with the powerful and energizing music. Bring it on! This is one of the best tracks on this album with the solo finishing it off.

Each SHAKRA album also must contain at least one ballad. "When I See You" is comparable to "Why?". You get acoustic verses and a semi-acoustic chorus. The electric guitar was set low in the mix, also because it's not needed to go full-on in a song like this one, which on a general level is alright. But somehow I've never been that fond of the band's ballads. Not that they're bad, just not my cup of tea that much. Time to rock again then with "MMTWGR" ("Money Makes The World Go Round"), another catchy, ballsy and high enjoyable song. The solo is inline with the overall feel and groove. The tempo drops a lot in "Yesterday's Gone", where the band nevertheless continues to provide a groovy kind of Rock with the added melody. The verses are clean and dark, while the chorus has a rather sad feel. This power ballad kind of track is better than "When I See You", precisely because of the added power.

Kicking down the pedal a bit more down in "Someday", a midtempo Groove Rock track. Catchy it certainly is, that's also one of the strong points of SHAKRA's songs. Roger comes more into the spotlights here with his active drumming towards and in the chorus. The Bluesy guitar break is a nice element in the compositions. With "Lonesomness" the second ballad is at play. Again clean (semi-)acoustic verses and a bit more power in the chorus. It's alright, but the addition of the solo does a lot of good. To not have each song contain the same elements, you can expect some nice changes. One that really surprised me was the percussion intro of "Unspoken Truth". This is a positive take on composing songs and it certainly is beneficial to SHAKRA's sound. Once that's done, the midtempo, yet bombastic grooving Hard Rock breaks loose, in a dark and melodic way. I could say it's epic, but only because of how it sounds, the impression it leaves behind. Very well done, lads! Two more songs left. "Brand New Day" is another more direct and lively Hard Rock track. And yes, it ROCKS! The wild solo fits in perfectly. "Stronger Than Ever" is one of those classic titles, whenever a band undergoes a line-up change or releases a new album after a break or something. While it could be true, one must also see it in the right context and at the time when the song/album was written. To not finish this new release in a ordinary way, the guys made this last track fast and unstoppable. And, I repeat, damn catchy! However, the chorus does sound a bit sad, while at the same time containing a message of hope, of determination. This song will definitely do great live!

SHAKRA is one of my favourite Hard Rock bands and I've had the pleasure of having seen them live several years ago. Sadly it was the only time. But at least the albums are a small compensation for that. For on CD or on stage, the band stands its ground very firmly. The line-up change in terms of finding a new vocalist turned out to be a very successful one, as I have the impression John Prakesh is more versatile than Mark Fox. John's addition also helps the band to pick from a broader pallet of compositions. "Back On Track" is a cliché title, but one that fits and tells it like it is. SHAKRA are back - not that they ever were away, but still... - and with a renewed energy that can carry them even further.

More info at www.shakra.ch.

Line-up:
John Prakesh - vocals
Thom Blunier - guitars
Thomas Muster - guitars
Dominik Pfister - bass
Roger Tanner - drums


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NIGHTMARE – One Night Of Insurrection (AFM Records 2011)

Nightmare - One Night Of Insurrection
  1. Intro
  2. Eternal Winter
  3. Wicked White Demon
  4. Heretic
  5. Legions Of The Rising Sun
  6. Secret Rules
  7. Queen Of Love And Pain
  8. Three Miles Island
  9. Cosmovision
  10. The Winds Of Sin
  11. Target For Revenge
  12. The Gospel Of Judas
  13. The Watchtower

The French Power Metal band NIGHTMARE has been around for more than 30 years and this year they're celebrating it with their first DVD, called "One Night Of Insurrection". In 2009 the band released their latest studio effort, "Insurrection" (see review), and logically played several gigs to promote that record. It was also one of my favourite releases of that year. After all those years and despite or thanks to the many line-up changes, the French presented an album that kicks the asses of many other bands. If I may be so frank. I haven't seen the band at work yet, but hope to do so this coming April. This new live release, out since the 25th of February, comes as CD/DVD, or better, CD with a bonus DVD on which you'll find the concert and a documentary of the band in Israel. The tracklist on the CD is shorter than that on the DVD, maybe because it's best to watch the gig and experience it in full (image and sound)?

As the band split and reformed back in 1999, the tracklisting on (the CD of) "One Night Of Insurrection" is based on the albums that were created since, i.e. "Cosmovision" (2001, 1 song), "Silent Room" (2003, no songs), "The Dominion Gate" (2005, 3 songs), "Genetic Disorder" (2007, 3 songs) and "Insurrection" (2009, 5 songs).

The tracklist of the DVD is as follows:

01. Intro
02. Eternal Winter
03. Wicked White Demon
04. Heretic
05. Legions Of The Rising Sun
06. Secret Rules
07. Queen Of Love & Pain
08. Three Miles Island
09. Hallucinations
10. The Winds Of Sin
11. Target For Revenge
12. The Gospel Of Judas
13. Mind Matrix Schizophrenia *
14. The Watchtower
15. Power Of The Universe *
16. Lord Of The Sky *
17. Trust A Crowd *

The CD not only misses a few songs (see the *), but has the song "Cosmovision" instead of "Hallucinations". And the first one isn't even on the DVD. It's probably an error and "Hallucinations" is "Cosmovision". I can't say anything about the DVD, as the promo only had the audio mp3s of the CD. So after the obligatory intro, which had something mysterious, dark and creepy, the band sets in with the heavy and slow "Eternal Winter". Already there you can detect the ballsy guitar sound and the vocal similarities, to some extent, with the late Ronnie James Dio. Drums stand high in the mix, perhaps too high. Warmed-up, the band shifts into higher gear with "Wicked White Demon". Oh yes, the concert also features appearances by former members, hence the screaming in "Heretic", for example. Other than that, the band kept its setlist well-arranged in terms of speed and such. After a few more rapid songs, "Queen Of Love & Pain" dras the tempo back down in favour of a bit more melody and ballad-ish parts. To increase up the pace again with "Three Miles Island" and so on.

NIGHTMARE have releases good to very good albums since their comeback. This live release confirms we're dealing with a solid band here, however... I felt this could have been better. Personally I think the sound of this release is too thick, too compressed, if you know what I mean. It's like one big powerball of guitarwork and battering drums with vocalist Jo trying to come through. I'm not questioning the band's musicianship, only the sound of the recording. You could listen to "One Night Of Insurrection" for the sake of hearing a live version of NIGHTMARE. But if you like what these guys play, then sitting through the entire listening session can get a tad boring after some songs. In any case, this is a fans-only release. If you want to check out NIGHTMARE, start with the studio albums, that's the best option.

More info at www.myspace.com/nightmareofficial.

Line-up:
Jo Amore - vocals
Franck Milleliri - guitar
JC Jess - guitar
Yves Campion - bass
David Amore - drums


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HATETREND – Violated (Violent Journey Records 2011)

Hatetrend - Violated
  1. Free Yourself
  2. BreakNeck
  3. Borrowed Time
  4. The Chemical Me
  5. Violated
  6. Ice Cold
  7. This Is The Suffering
  8. Disciple
  9. Introducing Me
  10. Weak

I received a mail from Violent Journey Records via which I could download the promo of HATETREND's debut album, "Violated", which came out on the 16th of February. Who or what HATETREND is, I didn't know, until I listened to the album. HATETREND is a Finnish band (from Helsinki), plays a groovy kind of Death/Thrash Metal, and was formed in 2002 by vocalist Markus Mutta. It took the band 5 demos to decide to work on the debut full-length with producer Anssi Kippo, who worked with CHILDREN OF BODOM on their album "Hate Crew Deathroll".

The album starts with "Free Yourself", where aggressive riffing rules. The guitars almost growls. The music is comparable to that of THE HAUNTED and TESTAMENT, with some Hardcore influences. Then again, the midtempo verses contain hoarse, greasy vocals - contrasting with cleans in the chorus - and the whole made me think, in some way, of AMON AMARTH. So you can already see (hear?) what HATETREND has on offer. Rhythm is key, while melodic interventions remind of - yep, more name-dropping - IN FLAMES and DARK TRANQUILLITY, for example. Only, the Finnish apply them in a more subtle manner. Very good stuff to kick off the album. As is "BreakNeck", which is set in with vicious, sharp riffing, before unleashing hell! Ingredients: pounding drums, aggressive vocals and dark, angry Metal. It's catchy and headbang-friendly. The pieces are connected through uptempo Thrashy playing, which simply sounds awesome! Melodic licks are applied as well a little later, though only in a small quantity. Still, this is another song in which the band delivers the good.

Melodic Thrash (with a groovy touch) is provided in "Borrowed Time". The song rocks, albeit a bit calmer, so to speak, than before. It's smoother and the singing is of the clean kind in the chorus. Musically you could compare it to e.g. TESTAMENT. The solo rounds it off. I can be short about "The Chemical Me", but it doesn't mean it's a bad thing. The track is wild, rolling, groovy, but also destructive and ballsy. The rough, growly vocals are a very good match in this case. However, for the sake of contrast and diversity, Markus reverts to a clean voice in the chorus. After this violent assault, there's "Violated" to start off with a calm intro where drum rolls and clean guitar input are the chosen elements. Afer that the entire band falls in with rolling bass drums, groovy guitars, all flowing onwards in a smooth way. The rhythm is solid and catchy. Again the lyrics are sung in a clean manner in the chorus, where the music rushes onwards at a higher tempo. The bass guitar then makes a strange noise, as if Riku is slapping or something. After the solo and near the end, there's a break with samples, which, in my opinion, is not appropriate and doesn't fit with what preceded. Other than that, no complaints.

Five songs done, what could go wrong? Well, the second half of the tracklist isn't as good as the first. But, make no mistake, there's not one bad song to be found here. Screamy vocals are the first you hear in "Ice Cold". The song really takes off when the entire band falls in. And it's direct, with a funky beat/rhythm. At a given moment there is a spoken moment, backed by melodic music. The rhythmic chorus, also with melodic accents, follows swiftly. A job well done. "This Is The Suffering" also contains a funky injection, despite its pounding character. I must say, though, that a really fast song would be very welcome. And yes, clean singing in the chorus, just like before. While this might fit, according to the music, it can be very predictable and even annoying then. One must not always apply the same structure or pattern in each song, no matter if the riffs or melodies change.

The situation improves with the last highlight: "Disciple". A song that comes rolling out of the speakers, in a thundering way with wild riffing. With the typical groovy sauce, of course, and the clean vocals, next to the extreme ones. The solo is the finishing touch. "Introducing Me" and "Weak" are the last two songs. The first takes a direct, midtempo start. The music is firm and to the point. Rough vocals in the verses are opposed to cleans in the chorus. And there's the obligatory solo, too. All in all, another good song, though it lacks the strength of the first five. "Weak" is being built first, but then it transcends into funky Thrash Metal. There are a few speed boosts, but not in the typical way you'd expect. Still, it's good, but here as well, it doesn't surpass the first five songs.

HATETREND brings Thrash with enough groove, even some Hardcore influences, if I may say, however subtle. Thrash prevails, though comparisons with bigger bands easily arise (TESTAMENT, NEVERMORE, PANTERA, HATE SQUAD, ...). "Violated" is the band's debut album, filled with very entertaining Metal. Metal that will come out great on stage. The Finnish can be proud of the result. Anyone into Extreme/Thrash Metal is recommended to check out HATETREND, for their offering is worth it.

More info at www.hatetrend.com.

Line-up:
Markus Mutta - vocals
Tuukka Turunen - guitar
Janne Kähkönen - guitar
Riku Pessinen - bass
Jukka Reinikainen - drums


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DALRIADA – Ígéret (AFM Records 2011)

Dalriada - Igeret
  1. Intro
  2. Hajdutanc
  3. Hozd el, Isten
  4. Mennyei Harang
  5. Ígéret
  6. Igazi Tüz
  7. Kinizsi Mulatsaga
  8. A Hadak Utja
  9. Leszek A Csillag
  10. Leszek A Hold
  11. Outro

The Hungarian Folk Metal band DALRIADA was founded back in 1998, at which time they were known as ECHOES OF DALRIADA. Mastermind of the band, guitarist András Ficzek gathered other musicians around him to combine the beauty of Metal and Folk with the tales of Hungarian lore. The name DALRIADA is taken from the first kingdom of the Scots, but it is said that based on some longuistic studies it may have an ancient Hungarian origin with the meaning of "battle-song". The new monniker wasn't adopted until 2007. From the proper take-off in 2003 to this date (February 2011, the 18th to be exact) the band has released six albums, the first being "Jégbontó" (2004), the last or latest being "Ígéret", for which a Western European label signed them, i.e. AFM Records. KORPIKLAANI frontman Jonne made a guest appearance in the song "Leszek A Hold".

I got first acquainted with this band's music a few years ago, when a Hungarian friend of mine presented me their second album, "Fergeteg" (2006), on mp3. Already then did I hear the potential these guys and girl had. But I haven't done any follow-up since then. Seeing their latest album released via AFM Records was a new and better opportunity to hear what they had made this time. All titles and lyrics are of course in Hungarian. But luckily the band made explanations regarding the lyrical context available in English on their website. DALRIADA's 6th studio album starts with a vocal intro, accompanied by a weak (in the context of sound) acoustic guitar. When the violin comes in, it's as if KORPIKLAANI is at work. This instrument is also leading the charge in "Hajdutanc", where guitars and drums deliver the power. The similarities with e.g. ELUVEITIE and KORPIKLAANI cannot be ignored. KORPIKLAANI mainly for the humpa-rhythm. The music sounds very happy. Laura's the main vocalist, but harsh vocals counter hers. The chorus holds full hymnic power. To stress the Folk influence, there's a nice break with the flute as main instrument, accompanied by the harspichord and percussion. Afterwards the same assembly plays, but with Metal added. A guitar solo wasn't forgotten either. All in all, a job very well done.

A string instrument (lute? bouzouki?) sets in the next song, "Hozd el, Isten", followed by a guitar solo helping with the building. The verses are acoustic and domain of the guitar, accordion and percussion). Laura's voice is guided by them. Full power is saved for in between and the chorus. There's even an organ solo, which makes the listening experience more interesting. Clean male vocals can be heard in a later instant. "Mennyei Harang" is probably the only song on this album I liked the least. The piano is of importance here and the ballad-ish verses have male and female singing taking turns. Despite the different solos (guitar, folk, keyboard) and midtempo Metal kicking in a little later, it's not in se not bad, but not super either. Then comes the title track, a humpa-rhythmed Folk song, led by the violin and accordion. Think of KORPIKLAANI's "Happy Little Boozer" and similar and you know what DALRIADA brings here. The verses are of the midtempo kind, while the hymnic character of the chorus comes to life later on. No guitar solo here, but a violin one. The overall result is almost like KORPIKLAANI-meets-ELUVEITIE. But it's good, mind you.

"Igazi Tüz" is a direct, midtempo Folk Metal song, led by the violin. Laura takes on the verses, while András occupies himself with the bridge and chorus, where he's joined by Laura, resulting in a nice duet. The guitar solo finishes the song off. In "Kinizsi Mulatsaga" you can hear ENSIFERUM (to name one example) similarities. The semi-acoustic verses are sung by Laura, who seems to be in good company with all this melodic input. The accordion takes over the lead in the chorus. This is great stuff. The male vocals reminded me a bit of Apollo Papathanasio, the singer of FIREWIND. There's also a violin break, followed by a fast outbreak with growling vocals. "Kinizsi Mulatsaga" is definitely one of the best songs here, also because it's quite diverse. "A Hadak Utja" commences with the bass, paving the way for the Folky stuff that's due. And then the whole band takes off with midtempo, guitar-driven music. No female singing here, only male (cleans and growls, verses and bridge, coming togetherin the chorus). The chorus is also the part where the music fully comes to life and it sounds very nice.

"Leszek A Csillag" is another song where the piano has an important role to play, here in the intro and in the song itself, countering with the power of the guitars and drums. The violin is also present, to emphasize the Folk influence. The chorus line again can be compared to ELUVEITIE's work. Vocal duties are shared between András and Laura.In this song you can also hear Jonne from KORPIKLAANI. But as I didn't hear his voice, it must be an instrumental appearance, most likely guitar. Like before, full musical power and volume comes out in the chorus. Solo-wise, both guitar and keyboard joined forces. Last but not least, there's "Leszek A Hold", where vocals are the first you hear. It's a hymnic track, violin-driven. The band's not shy to give the song a kick in the rear from time to time, allowing the humpa-rhythm happily flowing out of the speakers, carrying the melodies of the violin and accordion. Later in the song there's a tribal part (vocals and percussion), which also dominates the "Outro" that puts an end to DALRIADA's newest output.

Not much is known about the Hungarian Metal scene, though most likely there too you'll find truckloads of bands playing several styles (Power, Death, Black, Doom, and so on). DALRIADA have been building on their career for quite a while and especially since the debut album, the band has not ceased to put out new material on a regular basis. With a new label deal and new album, the Hungarians are ready for the next step: touring Europe and breaking through. Napalm Records signed KORPIKLAANI several years ago (before the Finnish were transfered to Nuclear Blast). Nuclear Blast signed ELUVEITIE a few years ago. Now AFM also has its Folk Metal candidate. "Ígéret" is recommended material for any Folk Metal fan and especially those into ELUVEITIE and KORPIKLAANI, as those are, in my opinion, the closest sounding bands. The fact that DALRIADA's lyrics are in their native language makes this release more interesting.

More info at www.dalriada.hu.

Line-up:
Laura Binder - lead vocals
András Ficzek - guitar, vocals
Mátyás Németh Szabó - guitar
Barnabás Ungár - keyboards, harsh vocals
István Molnár - bass
Tadeusz Rieckmann - drums, harsh vocals


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BETZEFER – Freedom To The Slave Makers (AFM Records 2011)

Betzefer - Freedom To The Slave Makers
  1. Bestseller
  2. Backstage Blues
  3. Feels So Right
  4. Diamond Director
  5. Nothing But Opinions
  6. Empty Magazine
  7. Doomsday
  8. Perfect Lie
  9. Song For The Alcoholic
  10. Heaven Sent

BETZEFER is an Israelian Groove/Metalcore band, releasing its second full-length on the 18th of February. The band was founded back in 1997 and has so far released 3 EPs and one album, "Down Low" (2005), via Roadrunner Records. In the beginning they were known as LE'AKAT BETZEFER, later shortened it to BETZEFER. The music also evolved from Punk to Groove Metal in vein of PANTERA and later SEPULTURA. Their sophomore album is my first encounter with the band, although I had heard of them in the past, though didn't check 'em out. "Freedom To The Slave Makers" is the title of the new record and AFM Records will soon release it. The mixing was in the hands of Grammy-Award winning producer Warren Riker (known for his work with DOWN, LAUREN HILL, SANTANA and many more).

On the live front BETZEFER has so far supported SOULFLY, LAMB OF GOD on those respective European tours. Later SEPULTURA and MEGADETH were added to the curriculum vitae. This led to main stage playtime on the big summer festivals. In Israel, the band's success transcended into mainstream waters, which in turn gave the band the opportunity to play at big festivals and get attention from the local media.

Groove Metal like PANTERA is something I like. And I like SEPULTURA, the old version (until and incl. "Chaos A.D."). Stuff like SOULFLY, for example, is not in my book. But I like hearing new (to me) bands, even if may turn out to be a disappointment. It could also be very pleasant. One never knows. Anyway, BETZEFER deserves a chance, so I took it. Or gave it, however you see it. "Freedom To The Slave Makers" contains 10 tracks, with indeed lots of Groove Metal, but also Hard Rock influences, for example. I didn't really notice the Metalcore touch, except maybe the screamy vocals. The first song, "Bestseller", is a groovy rocker with a catchy and headbang-friendly rhythm. Avital's vocals are screamy, though he changes into proper singing in the chorus. There the music flows slower. To not make it one big groove wall, guitarist Matan added a solo and this does help to make the listening more pleasant.

"Backstage Blues" takes a pounding start and contains what it says: Bluesy influences. And that's of course nice to hear as it adds to the diversity of the songs on this album. The vocals are again mixed, cleans and screams. The whole song rocks, it's got balls. The wild solo emphasizes this. The Bluesy touch can also be found in the groovy song "Feels So Right", where the band opted for a straight-forward Hard Rock/Heavy Metal (it's sometimes a thin line between these two) approach. The guitar riffing clearly stands out and a big thumbs up goes to Matan for that. The chorus is powerful and with screamy vocals, though the tempo lies lower than in the verses. The solo adds the finishing touch. Definitely one of the best tracks on this release.

"Diamond Director" also takes a direct start. It's an easy-going Groove Metal track with rough vocals. Overall quite an alright song, but the chorus, in my humble opinion, is annoying. Luckily the funky "Nothing But Opinions" brings some salvation. Which brings us to the Hardcore-influenced "Empty Magazine", which is a midtempo pounder. But a very nice one! "Doomsday", despite its title, sounds quit alright with its Blues touches mixed with the typical Groove Metal. The chorus has the entire band singing, which creates that group feeling and adds to the feel of the song. They even added a breakdown in a later instant. "Perfect Lie" starts with a building intro, but doesn't get into high gear, no matter when. It's relatively ok, but nothing more. "Song For The Alcoholic" is then much better, faster and with small Hardcore elements. Plus Avital's screamy vocals, of course. "Heaven Sent" puts an end to "Freedom To The Slave Makers" as a wild, Hardcore/Groove track with growling song. The Thrash/Hardcore rhythm is the highlight here. Splendid stuff!

As I said in the beginning, "Freedom To The Slave Makers" is my first proper encounter with the Groove Metal of BETZEFER. I also said it's nice to hear new bands and particularly from countries/areas which are not or poorly represented in my collection. There are indeed similarities with the aforementioned bands, but I like how the Israeli managed to keep it as varied as possible within the Groove boundaries (see the Blues and Hard Rock references). I did notice some points that need working on (in my opinion): more melody in several songs. There's sometimes too much of those groove sounds and a second guitar could help create more balance. But it's up to the band to decide. And as fitting as screams may be, they're not appropriate in every song. Or better, the timbre of Avital's voice is not always the right one. This is perhaps a subjective element, but so is other stuff in music. All in all, I can be positive about BETZEFER and their second full-length.

More info at www.myspace.com/betzefer.

Line-up:
Avital Tamir - vocals
Matan Cohen - guitars
Rotem Inbar - bass
Roey Berman - drums


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ONSLAUGHT – Sounds Of Violence (AFM Records 2011)

Onslaught - Sounds Of Violence
  1. Into The Abyss
  2. Born For War
  3. The Sound Of Violence
  4. Code Black
  5. Rest In Pieces
  6. Godhead
  7. Hatebox
  8. Antitheist
  9. Suicideology
  10. End Of The Storm
  11. Bomber (MOTÖRHEAD cover) (bonus track)

The British Thrash Metal formation ONSLAUGHT reformed several years ago, after having split in the early 1990s. Their first albums, "The Force" and "Power From Hell", are true classics, but with "In Search Of Sanity" it was different. The music was more melodic and vocalist Sy Keeler was replaced by Steve Grimmett. And so the end was drawing nearer. Each then went his own way, be it in another band or being busy with a dayjob. Either way, anno 2007 a new album was released under the title "Killing Peace". UK, Thrash... which producer? Andy Sneap is a name everyone knows, no matter the genre (Thrash, Power, Melodic Death, Black, Heavy, ...). But Andy's works also sound quite polished. "Killing Peace" was a very solid release and live the material really came out strong. I had the pleasure to see ONSLAUGHT at work in 2007 at Meadow Fest in Belgium, where I also had an interview with Nige (guitar) and Sy (vocals). See here. Two years later, at Alcatraz Metal Festival in Deinze, Belgium, I saw the bad for the second time and again they put on quite a show. You can read my findings in both festival reports here and here. After Alcatraz I had another interview with Nige. See here.

The band not only released a live album, "Live Damnation - Live In Leeds", a few years ago, but also toured their asses off, so to speak the last two years. Europe, UK, Japan (if I'm not mistaking), South America, ... You could wonder if there ever was enough time to work on new material. That new material will be unleashed onto the world on the 28th January via AFM Records. Yes, ONSLAUGHT left Candlelight Records. This may provide better or more opportunities for this sympathetic Thrash formation. For the sound no Andy Sneap, but the Danish Jacob Hansen. While in the recent past Andy Sneap was much in demand, Jacob's popularity also has risen to extreme heights since a few years, also for several styles (Power, Thrash, Progressive, Death, ...). And I believe it was a good choice for Nige and co. to travel to Denmark this time. Compared to "Killing Peace", I find that "Sounds Of Violence" has a more powerful sound, ballsier. But it's also due to the new material itself, which is darker, grittier, angrier than before. There's a bonus track, "Bomber", a MOTÖRHEAD cover. You can hear MOTÖRHEAD guitarist Phil Campbell play guitar (obviously) and SODOM vocalist Tom Angelripper doing vocals.

"Sounds Of Violence" starts with an instrumental intro ("Into The Abyss"), consisting of marching drums and symphonics, creating a sort of tension. But when "Born For War" kicks in, it's with a bang! A big bang! The guitars go for instant killing. Sy sounds vicious and perhaps angrier than before. Steve pounds the drums like never before. Or better, his drumming is one of the elements that stands out, you just cannot ignore that. The solos are wild and crazy. There's a dark and powerful piece in the middle of the song before the band goes back to uptempo killing. All I can say is, this is one hell of a song and enormously catchy! However, it must be said that there are similarities (if not identical elements) with other songs: the chorus, when Sy sings "Born for war", it sounds a lot like when he sung "Burn, burn, burn" in the same song on "Killing Peace". The verse riff made me think of the track "Power From Hell", while the automatic fire moment (riffing + drums) was done previously by the Greek Thrash band DRUNKARD in their song "Like Sin Explode", which is as catchy and killer, in my opinion.

"The Sound Of Violence" is next, building with a melodic intro to let powerful, pounding Thrash burst out afterwards. The same can be said about the bridge, while Sy's screamy vocals reminded me of David Maier of the German Thrash band SPELLBOUND. Melody is also of importance in this song, without of course compromising on ferocious guitarwork. The track ends with Sy screaming "This is the sound of violeeeeence", which is similar to him screaming "Spitting blood in the face of Gooood" on the "Killing Peace" album. Nothing wrong with that, just something I noticed. Awesomeness is also provided in "Code Black", where the first part, the intro, is excellent to headbang to. Here as well it serves to pave the way for the assault that lurks behind the curtains. The midtempo verses sound dark, not only musically, but Sy's vocal input helps to emphasize it. He sounds brutal, lets out the demon in him. Perhaps that same demon that was on the cover of "Power From Hell" and "Killing Peace"? The chorus is, as one can expect, catchy. The line "Riiiise, this is the new world order" is easy to sing or grunt along to and great stuff for in your car, hehehe. Steve's drumming is firm, no fancy stuff, only straight and hard attacks, just what this song needs. At some point Jeff (bass) and Steve get their moment of fame in preparation of a slow, headbang-friendly piece of Metal. No complaints from my part. Bring it on, I say.

"Rest In Pieces" then, kicking off with a wild drumroll, aggressive and cutting Thrash riffing joining in, creating one big violent unity. The uptempo bridge is of the venomous kind, while the simple yet effective chorus comes pounding out of the speakers. Awesome, eargasmic Thrash! The solo breaks this assault a little with a nice touch of melody, though uptempo brutality stays near. On a final note: I wish I had the stamina of Steve. Isn't he one of the most underestimated Thrash drummers? Listen to this song or just this album and be convinced of the man's skills. Time for another religious (or better, anti-religious) track, "Godhead", which takes a thundering start by combining drums (toms) and guitars, like a small avalanche. The pounding chorus ("Children of God, they hear no evil, they see no evil, they speak no evil, you're fucking eeeviiil") and a fantastic voice courtesy of Sy Keeler are elements that stick out the most. The (groovy) guitar work is once more of exquisite quality and especially the middle part of the song is another proof of that. The first solo is quite spheric, breaks the aggressive attack in a wonderful way. The second solo is by contrast of the wild sort. From start to finish, Nige and co. deliver the goods and more than that.

Powerful building in "Hatebox" as well - what follows is dark, vicious, and brutal -, where the guitars also have a groovy sound. It's almost like MOTÖRHEAD goes Thrash, in some way, although I have to say I'm not that familiar with this band's works, aside from the known songs. Nige or Andy added an alarm-like tune like Robb Flynn has done in MACHINE HEAD. Sy's vicious input combined with a powerful force in the chorus is done well, but I don't find this the best part. Still, this is very powerful music and preferably to be listened to when in the right mood, to channel you possible aggression and anger. No direct start in "Antitheist" either, rather a melodic tune to get you in a right mood, while Steve's pounding are a sign the taking off is not far away. Firm, midtempo and groovy verses and a venomous Sy: killer recipe. Add some double-bass (in the chorus) to make the music more alive, a little faster and you've got a song that's variable enough without entering the zone of Progressive Metal. The soloing too was done very well, without going for classic stuff or keeping it simple. Speaking of riffing, there's a short part where Nige and Andy's input makes ONSLAUGHT enter the realm of Death Metal. Nice change there.

Three tracks left, starting with the last uptempo song of the pack: "Suicideology". A classic start: starting slow, creating some tension until the cord snaps. The riffing stands out, logically and the whole assembly is just a pure delight. I LOVE IT! Sy, like before, sounds as evil, venomous, sly as before and perhaps more than before. Steve adds some wild hits in the bridge to transcend into the pounding chorus filled with power, ferocity and destruction. "Sounds Of Violence" started with a pretty calm intro and so it ends, in a solemn manner through the use of the piano ("The End Of The Storm"). The MOTÖRHEAD cover, "Bomber", features as said above MOTÖRHEAD guitarist Phil Campbell and SODOM mainman Tom Angelripper on vocals. The result is alright, though I find it not that special. It's good that like this ONSLAUGHT want to sort of pay tribute to Lemmy and co., but personally I'll stick to ONSLAUGHT.

ONSLAUGHT have made good to very good albums in the past and "Killing Peace" was a nice come back release, solid and showing a re-energized Thrash band. Live this formation stood their ground firmly and conquered every place they played at, steadily increasing the ONSLAUGHT army. Expectations for the new album were high and the teasers sounded very promising. The first few listens made my impression go from very good to pretty alright. Nige told me it's a grower and so I decided to let it rest a few days, but somehow I picked it up soon again, letting it spin for many days in a row, mainly in my car during the week between christmas and new year. This proved to be fruitful and having the promo with me on the train to work was an excellent way to block off annoying chatter and enjoy an album that comes from an ONSLAUGHT that is more than before revived, re-energized, and whatever other term you can use here. "Sounds Of Violence" is darker, more powerful, more aggressive than "Killing Peace". In fact, the latter almost pales in comparison. What will it give on stage? Better have your earplugs ready and perhaps body armor, for ONSLAUGHT are more than ready to kill, destroy and maim. "Sounds Of Violence", not the kind of stuff for bedtime stories!

More info at www.onslaughtfromhell.com.

Line-up:
Sy Keeler - vocals
Nige Rockett - guitar
Andy Rosser-Davies - guitar
Jeff Williams - bass
Steve Grice - drums


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LORDS OF THE TRIDENT – Chains On Fire (Junko Johnson 2011)

LORDS OF THE TRIDENT - Chains On Fire
  1. Skyforce
  2. Face Of The Enemy
  3. Chains On Fire
  4. Fighting For Love
  5. Legions Of Hypocrisy
  6. The Metal Sea
  7. Foggy Harbor Town
  8. Stranded
  9. Beauty Of The Blade
  10. The Enforcer
  11. Followers Of Set
  12. Wicked Touch
  13. Man/Machine

Back in January I got a mail from a friend of mine, Datis Alaee, who's active as host on Metal Messiah Radio and does promotion for several bands. This time it concerned LORDS OF THE TRIDENT, a relatively new American Heavy Metal band. Founded in 2008, the lords released their debut full-length, "Death Or Sandwich", the following year. And then the usual stuff occured: gigs and working on follow-up material. Anno 2011, on the 28th of January, the follow-up came out under the title "Chains On Fire". As this is my first acquaintance with LORDS OF THE TRIDENT, who seems to incorporate humour into their lyrics (a bit like EDGUY did in the past, for example), I cannot compare with the first album. "Chains On Fire" contains 13 tracks with a total playtime of a good 60 minutes, so you get your money's worth... at least in terms of numbers of songs.

The album starts with a midtempo track, "Skyforce", wher clean vocals are spiced with high-pitched screams. Adn this is something to get used to. King Diamond also uses these, but I guess it also depends on the vocalist's timbre. The song itself is simple, but very enjoyable with a ballsy, but to the point chorus. The solo rounds it off. All in all a very decent track to begin with. "Face Of The Enemy" is slower, groovier, doomier. I compared it to ZZ TOP, but in a heavier version. The bass comes out quite well with its distortion. The listenability of the song is again high, but in general it's a pretty average track, yet very radio-friendly. The vocals high in the mix, which might contribute to this all. Luckily there's the title track, "Chains On Fire", which is one of the best songs on this album. It takes a direct start with full force! Powerful riffing, ballsier vocals (though still clean)... that's the way to go. The bridge is taken slowlier, which forms a nice contrast with the verses. The chorus is where the band speeds it up again. The result is catchy and highly enjoyable and perfect for when you're cruising on the highway. Vocalist Fang also outs some screams then. However, what's key in this song is the guitarwork, and that includes the solos, for which Asian Metal and Killius Maximus take turns. A job very well done!

Also well done is the Bluesy Rocker "Fighting For Love", which seems have been produced in a different way. Another influence is Glam, or better, the song sounds quite 80's with a Glam touch. Melodies and rhythm are what makes this song stand out, with of course the obligatory solo as the final touch. "Legions Of Hypocrisy" is another song that stands out, like "Chains On Fire". This one brings the band back onto the Heavy Metal track. The heavy, midtempo verses without question rock! The pace decreases in the bridge, where double bass drumming can be heard. The guitarwork also turns darker. Melodic input is important in the chorus, which sounds rather emotional, though not in the emo-sense, if you know what I mean. And yes, solos are added as well in this song, no worries. Worries are to be made about "The Metal Sea". Or it's just my personal taste that plays a role here. It starts with stormy weather and a cracking ship. An accordion plays a sad melody, after which slow, Doomy Metal sets in. Think of BLACK SABBATH meets (old) MANOWAR. And in a way ALESTORM (the Scottish Folk Metal band) can be named as well, as the music not only sounds Doomy, but has a Folk touch as well. The lyrics are sung, as usual, with clean vocals. There's a nice bass break, followed by the guitar solo, but what this song really needs - even if I understand the tracklist needs to be diverse and all - is a kick in the rear. That's the biggest problem with this song.

The ship arrives at "Foggy Harbor Town", which has an intro before the take off. you get firm midtempo Hard Rock / Metal, 80's style. The song's definitely better than the previous one, but a bit more balls or higher tempo is advised. The rhythm, however, is catchy and I guess that's one of the strong points of LORDS OF THE TRIDENT: adding catchiness where possible. The ship remains "Stranded", in a melodic and hymnic way at first. But then slow, melodic Metal takes over, quickly evolving into a more firm version of this. And the whole rocks! The aforementioned 80's influence is present in the chorus. While previously the guitarwork stood out, and still does, this time the pounding drums make sure the spotlights don't forget them. Or the solos. In short, another good song by the Lords. And they keep the quality high enough, as "Beauty Of The Blade" confirms. First, the drums, then, Bluesy Rock. The pace isn't that high, but the end result is entertaining enough. However, Fang's vocals are high in the mix, perhaps a little too high, in my opinion. The acoustic guitar start in "The Enforcer" contrasts nicely with the slow BLACK SABBATH / HEAVEN AND HELL kind of Metal that follows. The verses are also (semi-)acoustic, while the chorus is of the hymnic kind. Still, Fang screams in this part and that just doesn't fit or belong here. It's annoying and negatively affects the listening experience. The tempo boost later on is a good move, as it sort of forms the bridge to the solo.

A fast track is needed, no kidding. "Followers Of Set" fulfills that demand... at first. That's the spirit! But then the pace drops. Why? All was going well, there was no reason to go for midtempo. But they did. It's a dark, epic song, one might say. And Fang's vocals sound much lower. If that is Fang, of course. Wild soloing is the finishing touch. A solid song, nothing more to add. "Wicked Touch" begins in a clean way, then transcends into a Glam-ish Rock song, including "wo-ho" backing vocals. Nice retro move. And with the final song, "Man/Machine", LORDS OF THE TRIDENT managed to sounds like AMON AMARTH. At least, the slow, but direct start reminded me of the song "Cry Of The Black Birds". The verses are slow, but the band shifted into 6th gear (by manner of speech) for the bridge, where growls occupy the vocal position, to then slow down in the chorus. This should have been fast as well, actually. It would have made the song much better.

LORDS OF THE TRIDENT offers quite a diverse list of songs ontheir sophomore album, "Chains On Fire". It's nice to hear this mixture of influences, while making sure we're dealing with an album here, not a compilation. Pluspoints go to honesty, musicianship and production. Minus points are given for the screams and the fact that the album is indeed... a bit too long. Plus, more faster songs would definitely be beneficial. It would help to get through the listening session from start to finish without wondering if there's anything that puts the fire onto those chains. Or if that trident is used to make the lads write a few more faster tracks. Other than that, they can be proud of what they've achieved so far. "Chains On Fire" is an entertaining album for fans of the pureness of Heavy Metal.

More info at www.lordsofthetrident.com.

Line-up:
Fang VonKillenstein - vocals
Asian Metal - guitar
Killius Maximus - guitar
Pontifex Mortis - bass
Korgoth - drums


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FALKENBACH – Tiurida (Napalm Records 2011)

Falkenbach - Tiurida
  1. Intro
  2. ...Where His Ravens Fly...
  3. Time Between Dog And Wolf
  4. Tanfana
  5. Runes Shall You Know
  6. In Flames
  7. Sunnavend

The German solo project/one man band FALKENBACH was founded by Vratyas Vakyas back in 1989, the year when the first demo was put out under the title "Havamal". This is also a collection of poems in the "Poetic Edda", attributed to the Norse god Odin (see Wikipedia). This text is also free to read online. FALKENBACH thus set the tone with its Folk Metal and pagan lyrics would also be part of each FALKENBACH release. The music would be quite hymnic, stylistically combining Black Metal and Folk elements. The band's debut full-length came out in 1996, titled "...En Their Medh Riki Fara...". This led to a deal with Napalm Records, who released the follow-up: "...Magni Blandinn Ok Megintiri..." (1998). Gruadually the Black Metal elements became less dominant, but that didn't prevent FALKENBACH from releasing another strong album ("Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty", 2003), recorded with help of some guest musicians from the band VINDSVAL. In 2005 "Heralding - The Fireblade" was released and this is perhaps Vratyas most important album. Again he got the help of the VINDSVAL guys. A break of some six years brought enough inspiration for a new FALKENBACH album. The title "Tiurida" means "Glory" in English. On this new recording Vratyas offers a nice mix of rough tracks, choral arrangements, clean vocals and a typical Folk touch. The lyrical aspect remains set in the Nordic mythology.

"Tiurida", out since the 28th of January, contains seven tracks (six songs and an intro), totalling a playtime of 40 minutes, which is enough to take you once again on a wonderful trip to a distant age. This intro serves to create the right atmosphere, the right feel. A horn or something quite similar is a perfect instrument then, also forming the bridge to "...Where His Ravens Fly...", adding Folk touches through the use of the acoustic guitar, flute and percussion. The singing at first occurs in Norse (?), I think, but soon makes way for English. At that point full Metal power is activated, but still inline with the Folk touch. Melody is important in this song and both this as well as the rhythm is absolutely a joy to listen to. "...Where His Ravens Fly..." is a simple, yet effective and catchy hymnic song. Its ending is like its beginning: acoustic. You could compare this song, just informational, to the works of e.g. TÝR and HEIDEVOLK.

"Time Between Dog And Wolf" takes a different approach, i.e. fiercer, darker Metal. Or better, more Metal than the first song. The Black Metal influences are clearly present through the use of harsh vocals. Even if the music is rather slow, doomy and atmospheric, it is inline with the vocals (or the other way around). The chorus breaks that impression a little by increasing the melodic level. It's in general comparable to MOONSORROW, TÝR, and even EREB ALTOR, the Viking Doom Metal band. Vratyas nicely mixed the tracklist: a Folky song first, then a Black(ish) one, followed by another Folky one. "Tanfana" is the title and also has an acoustic beginning before letting the Metal out. Folk Metal with flute leads. This is a fully instrumental track with atmospheric keyboards in the back. There's an acoustic break that helps to enrich the listening. And like its intro, the song ends in the same way.

No Black song after this, but "Runes Shall You Know", with again the acoustic guitar setting the song in, followed by slow Folk Metal. The singing is of the hymnic kind, while the music in general is guitar-driven. No complaints here, as far I'm concerned. The same thing can be said about "In Flames", brought ashore by sea/ocean waves and a clean guitar playing the main melody. And then the Blackish Folk Metal sets in, with harsh vocals. The guitar work stands out here, that's without question. The acoustic break allows for a nice contrast before returning to harsh Black/Folk Metal. Vratyas continues to deliver the goods! "Sunnavend" puts an end to the "Glory" in the form of a hymnic, semi-acoustic Folk song with hymnic, clean vocals. Again, in vein of TÝR, HEIDEVOLK, etc...

I got introduced to FALKENBACH a few years ago and bought "Heralding - The Fireblade". It didn't take long before I added the other three albums as well. It soon became one of my favourite Folk Metal bands, also because Vratyas mixes Black Metal and Folk music, but not that each song is a harsh one. He manages to create good balances on each release. And so the news of a new FALKENBACH album created expectations, but somehow one should know when to trust an artist/musician to do a solid job. It's no different with "Tiurida". The balance between Folk and Black(ish) Metal is again nicely created, the typical hymnic compositions are there, the production is top notch. What more could you ask? Fans of this band/project should not hesitate and get the album. And so should any other fan of Pagan and/or Folk Metal.

More info at www.www.falkenbach.de.

Line-up:
Vratyas Vakyas - all instruments and arrangements


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BATTLELORE – Doombound (Napalm Records 2011)

Battlelore - Doombound
  1. Bloodstained
  2. Iron Of Death
  3. Bow And Helm
  4. Enchanted
  5. Kärmessurma
  6. Olden Gods
  7. Fate Of The Betrayed
  8. Men As Wolves
  9. Last Of The Lords
  10. Doombound
  11. Kielo

Three years ago the Finnish Epic Metal band BATTLELORE released fifth studio album, "The Last Alliance". I liked the predecessor, "Evernight", but the follow-up surprised me even more (see review). This year, 2011, the band celebrates its 10 anniversary. For the promotion of "The Last Alliance" BATTLELORE went on a trip to Ibiza with the Hard Rock Hell Road Trip, but apparently they then stayed most of the time, if not rest of the time, in Finland. This also allowed them to work on a new album. "Doombound" is the title and the release was set on the 28th January, again via Napalm Records, just like before. The lyrical context is still set in the world of Tolkien. For this new release, no "Lord Of The Rings", but "The Children Of Húrin" and especially the character Túrin Turambar were chosen to create songs around. "Doombound" is also the band's first concept album, so it is said in the bio text. For the sound Janne Saska (Sound Supreme Studio) and Dan Swanö were asked to collaborate. The limited edition is a 6-panel digipack and contains a DVD (Live at Club Nosturi 2008 and 2009, video clips, and behind-the-scenes footage).

Like before, eleven songs were chosen to complete the tracklist. Symphonic elements are again present to help bring the song to life. Starting with "Bloodstained"'s intro, where these are clearly present. Clean vocals, from Kaisa and Tomi, fit perfectly. But then it's time to activate full power. Tomi's clean vocals lead, while Kaisa takes on bridge and chorus, which sounds similar to what DARK THE SUNS brings. The melodic aspect is strenghtened by the piano. There's a nice flute break at some point, when all signs of Metal are held silent. Overall, a very nice, yet slow, track to begin with. "Iron Of Death" sounds fiercer as title. The music is adapted to it, as the whole lets the guitars and drums come out better. However, the symphonic input is still of vital importance. Tomi's the leading vocalist again, during which the music rolls on and yet sounds hopeful, thanks to the melodic input. This is contrasted with Kaisa's parts, where the music is darker, slower and has a more mysterious feel. The piano is the connecting element. The brass part offers a nice change, even if the guitars sounds more furious then. This works very well. For the song "Bow And Helm", the band made use of narrations. Double-bass pounding Metal then kicks in, AMON AMARTH-style. Here Tomi reverts to his grunt voice. When the orchestral elements fall in, the music becomes calmer. This makes the compatibility with Kaisa's soft voice easier and creates a nice contrast.

"Enchanted" takes a clean and soothing start, followed by midtempo, symphonic-driven Metal. The verses are inline with the beginning, soft, for which Kaisa's voice is an obvious choice. As it is for the bridge and chorus. "Enchanted" is a dreamy, atmospheric track. And yes, Tomi also gets his chance, but later on, when things get more dramatic. Not that the song gets bad or anything, but his part sounds dramatic, when referring to the context. I have no complaints about his vocal input (growling) itself. Just to make things clear and not create misunderstandings. Judging by the symphonic touch, this is another dark and sad song. In se nothing wrong with that, BATTLELORE continue to deliver quality. And they do even more in my favourite track on "Doombound": "Kärmessurma". There's more power, more directness here and everything flows faster. The growling reminds of bands like SOULFLY and SEPULTURA, or, Max Cavalera (since he's the link between those bands). In combination with the music it creates a tribal-ish effect. The Finnish-sung lyrics come through very strong, while orchestral input stresses the dramatic happenings (lyrical context). This track also has a big Metal stamp, as the guitars get more attention again. After Kaisa's entry there's a piano break, transcending into an atmospheric part where the cello and piano reign. They pave the way for the outbreak of fully melodic power. But in short: excellent work!

"Olden Gods" is another AMON AMARTh-ish song, due to the attack of the guitars and drums. Symphonics linger in the back. The verses contain power bursts and Tomi's leading vocals, while Kaisa comes out in the hymnic bridge and chorus, where piano-orchestra battle or collaborate (depending on how you consider it) with the tandem guitars-drums. The guitar solo is inline with the general flow and melodies. No complaints from my part. "Fate Of The Betrayed" is a rather strange one, somehow. It's violin intro sounds very happy and uplifting. It's strange, but in a positive manner, considering the darker stuff in the preceding tracks. Melodic verses are opposed to an aggressive bridge, where Tomi's screams are best fit. Full power is found in the chorus, which is Kaisa's domain. The guitarbreak, excellent to headbang to, had screams and soft singing countering each other. And so another very decent song was made.

The ballsy start of "Men As Wolves" might be alright, but where is it going? You could compare it to a car or motorbike starting without taking off. But the situation is under control when hymnic, symphonic Metal takes over. The piano is the leading instrument in the verses, accompanying Kaisa's chanting. Tomi comes in for the rough and epic parts. And singing is what's done the most here, probably more than in the other songs. Especially Kaisa spent a lot of time behind the microphone. The music in "Last Of The Lords" is one of hope, it sounds epic - it's the chorus line, in fact - and that's exactly what this album needs. More of this stuff, please! However, the slow and dark verses are in contrast with that. The slow, but bombastic break, where growls dominate, adds to the diversity of the track. The music in "Doombound" does its title justice, or is it the other way around? Metal prevails, but it's doomy indeed. Tomi's screams stress that aspect, albeit in in the lyrical context. Kaisa takes over in the bridge. Doomy on one side, Folky on the other and comparable to TÝR. The flute break (with symphonic elements) is the first of two, followed by an acoustic one where the guitar, cello and piano occupy the playground. As the music is not harsh, the only vocal option is Kaisa, but it's also a dangerous choice, as one might overdo it. That is, make too much use of her voice. BATTLELORE's sixth album ends with an orchestral outro, containing the piano, cello, the flute and percussion, together creating a very nice, solemn and captivating song called "Kielo".

Three year ago I found "The Last Alliance" BATTLELORE's best album to date. Having heard "Doombound", it's a close call between this last one and its precedessor. The Finnish Folk/Power Metallers have again created a very nice album. I know that speed is not an issue in this band's songs, but in my (humble) opinion it wouldn't hurt to add a few faster tracks here and there. On the other hand, the members do compensate the lack of such songs by arranging their songs so that the end result is, ultimately, very much worth hearing. Add images and the picture's complete.

More info at www.battlelore.net.

Line-up:
Kaisa Jouhki - vocals
Tomi Mykkänen - vocals
Jussi Rautio - guitars
Jyri Vahvanen - guitars
Timo Honkanen - bass
Maria Honkanen - keyboards, flute
Henri Vahvanen - drums


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ARTAS – Riotology (Napalm Records 2011)

Artas - Riotology
  1. A Journey Begins...
  2. Fortress Of No Hope
  3. The Day The Books Will Burn Again
  4. The Suffering Of John Doe
  5. Rassenhass
  6. O5
  7. No Pasarán
  8. The Grin Behind The Mirror
  9. Gipfelstürmer
  10. Le Saboteur
  11. Mediafada
  12. O5
  13. Ashes Of Failure
  14. Between Poets And Murderers
  15. A Martyr's Dawn
  16. ...Surrounded by Darkness We Are Able To See The Stars

ARTAS, an Austrian Modern Metal band, hails from Austria, the land of Napalm Records, and put out their debut album, "The Healing" (see review), three years ago. This happened two years after the band's founding. Before adopting the name ARTAS, the band was known as STAUB & SCHATTEN (DUST & TREASURES). Musically the band plays a mix of Thrash, Death and Hardcore. On their newest album, "Riotology", out since the 28th January, this isn't any different. Vocally you once again get a mix of growls, screams and cleans. On "The Healing" the lyrics were mainly in English, but German and Spanish also were chosen. On "Riotology" the same languages appear and French was added. Jacob Hansen mixed the debut album while Dennis Sibejin's (JOB FOR A COWBOY, CHIMAIRA) took care of the artwork. This time Jacob sat behind the desk again, while Jan Yrlund (TÝR, KORPIKLAANI, ...) handled the artwork. And last, "The Healing" had 13 tracks, "Riotology" contains 16.

This new release starts with an alarming intro, as if it's war and bombardments are about to occur. Acoustic music comes in to complement the atmosphere. "Fortress Of No Hope" follows instantly with power bursts after which all leashes are loose and fat, groovy guitars take over command. The verses are of the Thrash-meets-Hardcore make, with the typical humpa-rhythm. Obimahan's screamy vocals are the leading ones and not just in this song. A contrast is created in the melodic chorus, where clean singing has taken over and the drums revert to midtempo double-bass. Speaking of which, Christoph managed to keep it relatively diverse and this can particularly be heard in the last few minutes of the song, when the music goes instrumental. Ending is done cf. the intro: melodic and groovy. For starters, this is a very solid track! So is "The Day The Books Will Burn Again", which provides instant attack! The groovy guitars, pounding drums and aggressive vocals are the key ingredients for a killer song. Pounding verses with dual vocals flowing into a breakdown-ish bridge, though a very violent one, which leads to similar, yet devastating chorus. After which the attack continues. Terms like aggressive, destructive, ripping and similar are very appropriate here.

In "The Suffering Of John Doe" (see also Wikipedia) ARTAS keeps it groovy, but sounds a bit like MACHINE HEAD. Vocal contrast is provided by screams in the verses, cleans in the bridge, where the music is more melodic, and cleans with a rough edge in the humping chorus. There's also a breakdown part where Obimahan screams as if in agony or something. Or screaming his rage. Looking at the song title, it's no surprise the band wrote this part. The bass also gets its (short) moment of glory, as does the obligatory guitar solo. ARTAS keeps it solid, but somehow I found this song less interesting/attractive than the others. "Rassenhass" is another highlight. Its title means "Racial Hate" or "Racism". The band delivers fast riffing in the beginning. With the drums added a tension is created until all power breaks loose under the form of fast, pounding double-bass Metal. And let it be clear that the guys made it catchy enough! Rough vocals in the verses, clean in the melodic bridge. The chorus is where speed is increased. This time, as you could deduct from the title, the lyrics are in German. Solid work, nothing more, nothing less.

"Riotology" contains two interludes, both titled "O5". The first is one with clean guitars and atmospheric backing under the form of city sounds and police cars. Obimahan's singing sounds rather whiney, if you ask me. Then again, this choice is understandable when looking at the context of the album. But it's an interlude, so no need to weigh it as much as a normal song. The second interlude also has the clean guitars, but features a solo while the acoustic guitar carries on with the main melody. Here as well, an ok track. ARTAS used the Spanish language in a song called "Bastardo" on their debut album and here it's "No Pasarán" that is the Spanish sung song. This short phrase/outcry has been used in many contexts, be it war, politics, films, and so on. See the Wikipedia article (click here) for more info. The song starts violently and you feel something's about to break. And so it happens. "No Pasarán" is one monster of a song, brutal, devastating and more. It nice to hear how the guys though of the ending: an explosion followed by a cello piece, to stress the sadness/drama.

Done shedding any tears? Buckle up for more aggressive Groove Thrash/Hardcore in "The Grin Behind The Mirror". Hoarse vocals lead the way in the verses, while (again) melody creeps into the bridge, to have the music pounding in the chorus. As rare as it may be on this release, you even get a guitar solo here. Afterwards the song becomes instrumental to fall directly into "Gipfelstürmer". This took me by surprise, as it doesn't sound/feel natural. A typical "Wtf?" is at its place here. In "Gipfelstürmer", which could be translated as "conqueror of a/the peak" (litterally), "go-getter" and so on (see also dict.cc) the band delivers double-bass aggression at first (this is the chorus part). Screamy vocals occupy the verses, while the bridge is where the melody hides. This structure seems to be used for all songs. Ending occurs by means of the acoustic guitar. All in all, not that bad. As "The Grin Behind The Mirror" ended in a strange way, so strange does "Gipfelstürmer". Namely, like the second part of another song. No, the preceding one, for that they sound too different. The aforementioned acoustic guitar forms the bridge with "Le Saboteur", where French is used for the lyrics. The tension that is created gives the impression another fast track is to take off. Of course, you get the kind of pounding the band provided earlier on this album. It works for the music and especially in songs like this one. Another highlight in the pocket.

"Mediafada" is a strong title and the music should be accordingly. It is. No intro here, but a direct and powerful attack with screamy vocals that would do well with a pure Hardcore band. The lads made the rhythm here catchy enough to keep you energized. The Hardcore influence can also be heard in the bridge. Screams in the verses is one thing, but these are replaced by cleaner ones in the chorus. And so I skip the other "O5" track (see above) to arrive at "Ashes Of Failure", which does have an intro. The verses are acoustic this time and with a more normal kind of drumming - instead of the violent hits - the whole sounds very nice. Logically the singing is also adapted. ARTAS does make the music more powerful and aggressive towards the chorus. At some point there's a nice part to headbang to. The song also contains a solo, albeit short and functional. Overall, however, ARTAS prove again their worth. And that's also, in my opinion, the last highlight of "Riotology". "Between Poets And Murderers" takes a clean start via drums, guitars and a string instrument (cello or violin, I can't figure it out). This intro alone is very well done! But then Groove Metal (incl. Hardcore touch) takes over. The verses are not like before, though sound modern. They flow more normally. The pounding is reserved for the (melodic) chorus. Here the band added symphonic pinches, but I fail to understand why. Not that they're out of place, but they're not needed at all. The aforementioned cello or violin gets a solo moment, together with the guitar. Afterwards the intro returns. As a whole, the result is good and solid.

A radio channel is sought in "A Martyr's Dawn". As you might expect, it's only right when the Metal falls. What to say? This song is inline with the aggressive and violent tracks that preceded, although it must be said that this song here does contain lots of rhythmic riffing. "Riotology" started with an intro and it ends with an outro, "...Surrounded by Darkness We Are Able to See the Stars". Clean guitar and whiney vocals, the main and only ingredients. Result? Bwah, nothing special, if you ask me. But like before, perhaps when one sees it in the right context, then this kind of ending might make sense.

My preference still goes out to old school Metal, though I can appreciate modern stuff. ARTAS pleasantly surprised me back in 2008 with their debut album, "The Healing". Already at that time were they a devastating force that should be reckoned with. "Riotology" caused some expectations, in a positive way, and for several many days the expectations were very largely met. Until a few days ago, when I started working on the review. Then you pay attention to some details, which caused my impression to be changed. I'm of course still positive about ARTAS themselves and the music they make, the effort they put in it. On "Riotology" the band continues to deliver a mix of Death, Thrash and Hardcore and they're good at it. What's good about this album? (personal opinion!) The production, the musical input, the languages. Which points are discussable? Solos (more are needed, also to break to massive presence of the guitar wall and contribute to the listening experience), too many tracks (it's hard to sit through an entire listen). But all in all, this is far from a bad release.

More info at www.myspace.com/artasmetal.

Line-up:
Obimahan Ismahil - vocals
Hannes Koller - vocals, guitar
Sahid Al Atmaah - guitar
Radek Karpienko - bass
Christoph Grabner - drums


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THE NEW BLACK – II: Better In Black (AFM Records 2011)

The New Black - Better In Black
  1. Better In Black
  2. The King I Was
  3. Batteries & Rust
  4. Downgrade
  5. Into Modesty
  6. Altar Boys
  7. Happy Zombies
  8. My Favorite Disease
  9. Fading Me Out
  10. When It All Ends
  11. Last Chance To Throw Dirt
  12. Sun Cries Moon

THE NEW BLACK is a German Heavy Rock/Hard Rock band, founded a few years ago. They released their debut, "The New Black", in 2009. What I heard didn't really impress me and so I didn't review it. However, it seems this did get the band on the map as they opened for AC/DC and filled support slots for ALTER BRIDGE, VOLBEAT and BLACK LABEL SOCIETY. Furthermore, THE NEW BLACK played at Wacken and Rock Am Ring. Anno 2011 a new album is out and this since the 21st January: "II - Better In Black". The album was mixed by engineer Michael Dotzler and guitarist Fabian Schwarz, while Achim Köhler (PRIMAL FEAR, BRAINSTORM, ...) took care of the mastering. "II - Better In Black" contains 12 tracks for the regular edition and a bonus track ("Soon") is added on the digipack.

The album begins with the uptempo rocker "Better In Black", which is very rhythmic and quite dancey at the same time. Fludid's vocals stand out as he delivers a very good job. His timbre does sound a bit similar to that of Roland Orzabal from TEARS FOR FEARS. Full musical action is provided in the chorus. "The King I Was" is a little slower and in vein of e.g. SHAKRA, DIO, IOMMI. At least, according to my ears. This is a darker song, yet it does rock and flows on faster for the solo moment, in which both guitarists take turns. The music is also radio-friendly. The rocking guitars hold their silence while the acoustic one introduces "Batteries & Rust", after which they do come in with start-stop grooving. Again the choice was made to activate full power in the chorus. The acoustic guitar returns two times or so as if to split the song into parts. All in all another good result, though not as strong, in my humble opinion, as the first two tracks.

"Downgrade" is a happy rocker with a riff that reminded me of DIO's "Better In The Dark" ("Killing The Dragon" album). THE NEW BLACK deliver Heavy Rock/Hard Rock with melodic clean vocals, yet here Fludid added a rough edge. And here as well his singing reminds of Roland Orzabal's. The band plays faster in the chorus, which is not only catchy, but also contains tastey riffing. There's a guitar solo as well, if only for the sake of having one. But it fits here, so no worries about that. "Downgrade" is another song that stands out. While "Batteries & Rust" was a little less good, "Into Modesty" is another. It takes a clean, calm start, reminding of THE CURE. Low vocals fit with the midtempo, dark and rather emo-like music. Full power is reserved for the chorus. And again the song is fit for radioplay.

"Altar Boys" gives the tracklist a kick in the rear, for it rocks! Oh yes, it rocks! Definitely one of the best songs here. Especially the rhythm is very very good. Also nice to hear is the woodblock in the first part and chorus. Plus, Fludid throws in a harmonica as well, giving it a Southern touch. The guys from THE NEW BLACK then go semi-acoustic in "Happy Zombies". What to say about this song? It's whiney, boring, very American-sounding. It sucks, if I may be so frank. Yeah, KID ROCK could probably use such a song in his repertoire, but is that a reference? Thankfully there's "My Favourite Disease", which brings back proper Hard Rock, comparable to e.g. SHAKRA. It's straight-forward and ballsy. In short: efficient.

The bass is the instrument that sets in "Fading Me Out". This is another song where the band rocks and quickly shifts into high gear. "When It All Ends" is another bad song. The first part is (semi-)acoustic, followed by Heavy Rock, but overall it's disappointing. It doesn't stick, it doesn't make - at least me - crave for more. The last two songs are better, though no highlights either: "Last Chance To Throw Dirt" and "Sun Cries Moon". The first is a midtempo rocker with heavy grooves, while the latter starts clean, then flows into midtempo Rock with riffing that's a bit sharper than before.

While I didn't review THE NEW BLACK's self-titled debut album, I took my chance with the follow-up, "II: Better In Black". The first listens were quite positive and overall I remain positive. The album contains simple, yet rocking songs with here and there a radio-friendly one. Catchiness and listenability are key elements here. The whole is also very well produced, though it sounds almost too well-made, if you know what I mean. There's a big American touch on the songs, but all in all it's a fairly decent Heavy Rock album, though not (among) the best in the genre. It could be that the songs come out better live. Fingers crossed for album no. 3.

More info at www.thenewblackofficial.de.

Line-up:
Fludid - vocals
Christof Leim - guitars
Fabian Schwarz - guitars
GŁnt Auschrat - bass
Chris Weiß - drums


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STIGMA – The Undertaker (Pivotal Rockordings 2011)

Stigma - The Undertaker
  1. 1,2,3,4 Dead!
  2. We Are The Deceased
  3. It's Bullet Time! (feat. Brendan Schieppati of BLEEDING THROUGH)
  4. The Undertaker

Last year the Italian Deathcore formation STIGMA released its second album, "Concerto For The Undead". It was preceded by "When Midnight Strikes!" in 2008, which was my first acquaintance with this band and its music. As you might recall from the review (click here) I was very pleased with what the guys delivered. Now, almost one year later (on the 17th January) an online EP (available only via iTunes, Amazon MP3, and CD Baby) has been released under the title "The Undertaker". This EP contains 3 new tracks and the reportedly popular song "The Undertaker", off the band's aforementioned album, "Concerto For The Undead". This new release (except for the song "The Undertaker") was engineerded by Simone Mularoni (DGM, EMPYRIOS) at Fear Studios, while mixing and mastering were in the hands of Bombs of Death Productions, consisting of BLEEDING THROUGH vocalist Brendan Schieppati and ANAAL NATHRAKH mainman Mick Kenny. The artwork was provided by Daniel McBride (BORN OF OSIRIS, VEIL OF MAYA, VIATROPHY).

Four tracks, no time to waste. Starting with "1,2,3,4 Dead!", the band continues the lyrical aspect where "Concerto For The Undead" left off. This song takes a direct start with screamy vocals. The whole sounds violent and also has Stefano pounding his kit to pieces. The attack is brutal and contrasts nicely with the melodic chorus. Breakdowns are not forgotten and spice the song where appropriate, especially in the last few minutes. "We Are The Deceased" may be a little slower in the beginning, but it's not less brutal or aggressive. The verses are uptempo with very catchy rhythm, the Thrash-kind. Vocalist Vlad goes on as if in eternal agony or rage. Again I have to complement Stefano with his drumwork, which is active and diverse. The chorus is like one big powerball, monstrous even. And surprise, there's even a guitar solo. In any case, STIGMA delivers once again!

Guitar and organ (yes, strange, unless my ears were fooling me) occupy the first moments of "It's Bullet Time!", where tension is built. Following are Thrashy uptempo verses, similar to the recent works of IN FLAMES, for example. Vlad remains an element you cannot ignore. His lungs must be made of steel with all this screaming. The guitars are the driving force, the center of attention, the main instruments. Despite Stefano's input. When the breakdown kicks in, the vocal input changes from screamy to a more Hardcore timbre, which is, I think (I'm not familiar with the man's work and band. Unfortunately?), the moment when Brendan Schieppati takes up the microphone. The chorus once more is the part where melody plays a more important role. Last but not least, there's the title track. I'll just copy-paste from the previous review: the quality remains in "The Undertaker", despite a rather whiney (or sad, dramatic) chorus. The screams sound as if possessed. Musically it's CHILDREN OF BODOM-like, in terms of Metal, not the melodic side of the Finnish band's music.

On their previous release, "Concerto For The Undead", STIGMA had improved on several levels. The gigs certainly had their impact on the experience and musicianship. Seeing this EP, "The Undertaker", come out shows that the guys found a recipe that works and created a few new tracks inline with that album and yet lifting a tip of the veil of things to come? Fans of the band certainly do not have to worry. If you like your Deathcore brutal and yet melodic to maintain balance, then STIGMA is your saviour. The only question would be: why only online? Or will these songs make it onto the next album?

More info at www.myspace.com/stigmahc.

Line-up:
Stefano 'Vlad' Ghersi - vocals
Andrea Bailo - guitars
Giacomo Poli - guitars
Flavio Magnaldi - bass
Stefano Ghigliano - drums


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VIOLENT EVE – Eleven Reasons To Kill (NoiseHead Records 2011)

Violent Eve - Eleven Reasons To Kill
  1. O.W.L.
  2. Too Sick
  3. Priests Of Corruption
  4. The Whisper Of The Shrouded Child
  5. Obtruder
  6. Infected Herd
  7. The Idol
  8. Despise Your Messiah
  9. The End That You Deserved
  10. Infinite Worm
  11. Lotus Overdoze

Several months ago I was sent a promo copy of VIOLENT EVE's debut album "Eleven Reasons To Kill", which came out on the 13th January. It's May when I'm writing this. VIOLENT EVE is a new band, formed in 2009 and consists of members from DREAMAKER, SKUNK DF, SILVER FIST, DARK MOOR and more. Or basically, there are 5 musicians, each having played in one or more bands. While their background (mostly) lies in the Heavy/Power Metal zone, the Metal they play with VIOLENT EVE is far more extreme: Melodic Death Metal with Metalcore influences. A first demo was made with four tracks and sent to various labels. NoiseHead Records offered the best conditions and so "Eleven Reasons To Kill" was born.

Something tells me this album, or better, the lyrics are very much religion-inspired. Well, anti-religion would be a better description if you look at the song titles. The album is full of aggressive and blunt attacks. It starts with "O.W.L.", which reminded me of e.g. GOREFEST, KATAKLYSM and similar. The aforementioned core-influences are present, but the band opts for a more melodic approach in the second half of the song, in this case a little similar to modern IN FLAMES. As the music changes, so do the vocals: from aggressive grunting to clean. But the raw power of before returns to finish the song. All in all a very solid track. "Too Sick" is next and contains Industrial sampling in vein of ROB ZOMBIE, after which uptempo pounding Metal follows, which you can consider a musical mixture of PANTERA and GOREFEST. Typical for this song is the ferocious guitarwork. All things considered, this is what I would call a vile, vicious and dark track. The alarm-like accents via the guitars emphasize the danger, the badness.

One example of the anti-religion theme is "Priests Of Corruption", which begins with a blunt groove (guitars) and double bass, transcending into pounding aggression. It's a pretty straight-forward song with Zyrus singing in an aggressive way. More like between grunts and squeals. The Metalcore aspect cannot be ignored, mainly by means of a breakdown. You do get a guitar solo as well followed by a crazy twist before the music shifts back to the vile aggression of before. All previous songs had a length of about 3 minutes, but "The Whisper Of The Shrouded Child" clocks in after 6 minutes. No aggression here in the intro, but a clean first part, calm and relaxed. And so it shifts back and forth between the cleanness and added groove power. The contrast with the previous songs is big, since the overall result sounds somewhat emo. So thankfully there are heavier parts, as they prevent total boredom. And this is another core-song, as is Melodic Death/Metalcore.

And it doesn't get better with "Obtruder", where electronic sounds are the first you hear and tension comes from the guitars and drums (toms). And then hell breaks loose with blastbeats, grunts and quite simply chaotic Metal, which throws you from one corner in the room to the other. In terms of vocals, (late) PANTERA came again to mind. The music, after the chaos is over, is actually quite listenable. The clean singing, however, does not fit with the harsh guitar input. When the solo is due, the rhythmic section reverts to Thrashy uptempo playing, which conflicts, in my opinion, with what preceded. It makes it hard to connect the parts. Even the blastbeats later on are useless, if you ask me. In short, it's hard to stay focused here.

Then there's "Infected Herd", which really was not my cup of tea. It begins with atmospheric/electronic sounds to create a certain setting/mood. Add the groovy guitars, which are omni-present on this album, a beat and we're off, the violent and destructive way. Until here it sounds good. But then.. It's SLIPKNOT time, oh yes. Despite a few core-elements, this song could have been written by SLIPKNOT. Even the vocals remind of Corey Taylor. In se, not that bad, but it bores rapidly. And here too the contrast between clean singing and blunt guitarpower is too big. Something's missing here, but it a more melodic input to complement the vocals, for example.

The situation improves with "The Idol", where double bass and chugga-chugga riffing are key ingrediens. Ballsy verses contrast nicely with a more melodic bridge, which in turn contrasts with the aggressive chorus. Think of MACHINE HEAD and you'll get an idea of what VIOLENT EVE made here. "Despise Your Messiah" is another highlight, taking of slowly. Once the music really bursts loose, it's at a reasonable tempo and pace, but doesn't sound as aggressive or wild as before. You could say it's a calm Rocker, with a Thrashy intermezzo. The next two tracks are of the less interesting ones. "The End That You Deserved" begins in a spooky way, followed by Industrial Metal. The breakdowns are included. The song is destructive with a melodic edge and here too you can easily notice the difference between verses, bridge and chorus. Solos also form part of the compositions and while the first one is alright, the second one so does not fit and makes the last part of the song messy.

"Infinite Worm" is another long song, ending before the 7-minutes marker. The Industrial touch was also applied here (as if in a factory), both in the beginning and the end. Once the blunt grooves kick in with the drums, it made me think somehow of TESSERACT. This Deathcore song has a melodic bridge where Zyrus blurts out the lyrics, which I found a bit laughable, to be honest. They are also the weakest link. Musically it's ok, though nothing spectacular. Right when I thought the song was over (I wasn't looking at the screen, hence...), something different was being played: groovy riffing first as if to pave the way and then core-time! The singing, or rather, screaming can be compared to how Phil Anselmo (ex-PANTERA, DOWN) screamed in "A New Level". Zyrus's clean singing, however, sounds lame. Sorry for being so direct. "Eleven Reasons To Kill" luckily ends with a highlight: "Lotus Overdoze". As you could imagine you get wild and brutal groove Metal, in a galopping style. And breakdowns too, indeed. But then it all stops and samples take over (for a certain period). What? Why? Perhaps to better express what's going on, when reading the lyrics. I don't have them, but it would indeed be helpful during the listening. The music then takes a few more twists and turns before getting back on track again. But as a whole, this song is another good one.

VIOLENT EVE sure delivered an album full of violent songs, like an unstoppable force that just wants to thrash the place, kick those in the face that deserve it, and so on. The production is very polished and somehow there is a nice balance between raw power and melodic inteventions. "Eleven Reasons To Kill" is a very good way to channel your anger, your hatred, if you just want to vent your frustrations without actually hurting someone. However, the (in my humble opinion) bad side is that the 7-strings are very clearly present to the point of annoyance. Of course the band plays a style that requires powerful guitarwork, ballsy attacks, etc... but it's not because there are 7 strings on the guitar that one has to constantly (or most of the time) use that sound.

More info at www.myspace.com/violenteve.

Line-up:
Zyrus - vocals
David Ramos - guitars
Diego Lopez - guitars
Dani Fernandez - bass
Edu Brenes - drums


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ACID DEATH – Promo (Acid Death 2011)

Acid Death - Promo
  1. Convict 655321
  2. Crossing The Line
  3. Apathy Murders Hope

ACID DEATH is a Greek Death Metal band, formed in 1989. They're also said to be one of the oldest bands in Greece. Their discography began to take shape in 1990 with the demo "Rotation Of Insanity". Several demos, a split and an EP followed, leading in 1998 to the debut full-length, "Pieces Of Mankind". Two years later "Random's Manifest" was unleashed. After that, ACID DEATH was no more. The musical style was at first described as Thrash Metal, later evolving into Progressive Death Metal. Live-wise the Greek have share the stage with bands like KREATOR, THE HAUNTED, IMPALED NAZARENE, CHILDREN OF BODOM, MAYHEM and ROTTING CHRIST. Anno 2011 they are back with a new line-up and a new promotional (self-)release, dubbed "Promo", out since the 10th of January. The band is currently working on a new full-length.

I got to know about ACID DEATH thanks to a promotional mail of theirs, stating their comeback and mentioning the "Promo". This release features 3 tracks: 2 oldies and one new. The older songs consists of one re-recorded and a song that never made it onto a release thus far. Comparing with their previous releases is impossible, for the aforementioned reason. The 3-track promo starts with "Convict 655321", a rolling midtempo Death Metal track. Here you get very nice riffing (a bit too much of the same?) and Metal flowing at a rather normal pace (not the blasting kind). Backing keyboards help to counter the dominion of the guitars. Next is the new song, "Crossing The Line", starting with growling guitars and building its way onward. The midtempo verses are in nice contrast, so to speak, with the melodic interventions in the chorus, which sounded a bit like DEATH, MALEVOLENT CREATION and so on. It's a dark and vicious song, with backing keyboards (or samples?) giving it a haunting touch. Last but not least, there's "Apathy Murders Hope". The old school Death Metal touch, both in terms of sound and compositions are there and nicely applied. The Metal comes raging and pounding of the speakers. The bass guitar stands relatively high in the mix, but on a whole you get a low and dark sound, which simply sounds awesome. The hoarse vocals, in combination with the music, made me think of old SEPULTURA, DEATH and similar. The midtempo break for the solo is also well done. This song dates from 2000. It was planned to be on "Fear Mechanics" (2001), but never got recorded.

I'll continue to say it, it's always nice to hear new stuff, even it concerns bands you never heard of. The Greek scene made me acquainted with BATTLEROAR, FIREWIND, INNERWISH, NIGHTFALL, SHATTERED HOPE and UNHOLY RITUAL. From Heavy Metal to Black Metal, in other words, but of course there are many more bands over there. ACID DEATH is thus the new one on my short list and I cannot deny I'm happy about this. Their Death Metal (comparable to DEATH, ATHEIST, old SEPULTURA, ...) is old school and interesting enough to keep on following. While I'm not familiar with their albums, the "Promo" shows that these Greek haven't lost the skill to make Metal. Fingers crossed for a solid new album and perhaps a re-release of their first two?

More info at www.myspace.com/aciddeathgr.

Line-up:
Savvas Betinis - vocals, bass
Dennis Kostopoulos - guitars
Gus K - guitars
Kostas Alexakis - drums, percussion


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MEADOWS END – Ode To Quietus (Meadows End 2011)

Meadows End - Ode To Quietus
  1. Beyond The Dead Cold Surface
  2. Resurrection Of Madness
  3. The Gloom That Is His World
  4. Homeland
  5. Coven Of Blood
  6. My Demon
  7. Starvation '12
  8. Falling Asleep

MEADOWS END is a Swedish Melodic Death Metal formation, finding its roots in 1997, where it arose from the ashes of GENOCIDE, who played Metal in vein of SEPULTURA. The addition of a keyboardist and screamer/growler led to a sound that was very popular at the time and this thanks to bands like IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY, and so on. MEADOWS END released several demos and two EPs, the last being "Dead Calm Rise", but now, early 2011, the Swedes are ready to unleash their debut full-length. It's called "Ode To Quietus". However, it was not made with the original line-up, as after the last EP several people left (incl. the aformentioned vocalist and keyboardist) and were replaced. A second guitarist was also added to the new formation.

"Ode To Quietus" is a self-recorded album, done at Studio Rex in Örnsköldsvik, while the mixing and mastering was done by respectively Andreas Almström and Rikard Öqvist. The eight tracks total a playtime of almost 43 minutes. Lengthy but foremost diverse enough to entertained with each listen. Lyrically... I don't know what they're about, but it's definitely far from happiness, joy, birds and bees. This is a dark album. Yes, the cover shows it; yes, the track titles indicate it; yes, the music floats on he same waves. Like before melody is an important element in the compositions, so the use of keyboards/piano is something you'll hear a lot.

It starts with the piano intro (incl. symphonic backing) of "Beyond The Dead Cold Surface". The song is built, it grows as guitars come in and bursts out once all gates are opened. All the while the melodic tune carries on. The chosen pace is midtempo. Keyboards dominate, while guitars and drums counter with power and rhythm. Johan's growls, while not identical, reminded me of Thomas from the Danish Doom band SATURNUS. The music, on the other hand, gave me an impression of AMON AMARTH going more theatrical/bombastic. At some point there's a dark side-step (before returning to normal), where the piano leads, followed by an (atmospheric) guitar solo. And this sounds very very (yes, I put that word twice, it's no typo) nice! So far, so very good.

"Resurrection Of Madness" commences with a wild, stamping intro with electronic touches, which are only used here. The verses are in midtempo and of the galopping kind. Again the contrast of keyboards (melody) and guitars/drums (power) is applied. The piano (with symphonic backing) dominates in the bridge. The song's got more power, push and energy than the first track. Here MEADOWS END shows it can be very versatile, as there's an atmospheric piece which could have been written by NIGHTWISH. You can hear symphonics rising in volume. They accompany Johan's vocals, which are followed by a solo. "Resurrection Of Madness" is another dark and dramatic song, one where mainly Johan's vocal input stands out. "The Gloom That Is His World", by contrast, starts clean (guitars and drums) with the expected symphonic backing. As I said before, keyboards and symphonics form a vital part in the new MEADOWS END writing processes. Once that part is done, power and emotion take over. The verses are straight-forward, a bit like on IN FLAMES's "Whoracle" album or DARK TRANQUILLITY stuff. The keyboards provide symphonic backing. Not that it's needed here, as the standard Metal instrumentation is perfectly capable of carrying the song. But it helps in terms of melody and atmosphere. The chorus is where the piano is allowed to add some touches. Before the awaited solo, all stops and the intro melody makes a comeback. And so the Swedes continue to put out pure quality.

On to "Homeland" then, with its slow, yet direct start. Symphonics and guitars collaborate in the verses, while the first continues to be in the spotlights in the chorus. Brass, wood, strings... all is used. Not at the same time, but spread throughout the song. The music takes on a theatrical/musical character at some point. Diversity is key here, both melodically and rhythmically. "Coven Of Blood" provides vicious guitar work, while the drums add a Thrashy attack. Something that deserves kudos, for it adds to the listening experience. The symphonics are pushed to the back, though come out enough, and help add bombast. But the main line is guitar-driven Death/Thrash. This tempo boost was highly needed. This aggressiveness continues during the wild guitar solo. There's a keyboard solo as well, but then the Metal is much calmer, ready to attack again. Main description for this song: aggressive, dark, filthy, ...

"My Demon" has to be my favourite track on "Ode To Quietus". It begins in a direct, pounding manner. The piano leads, the guitars add power. The same happens in the verses, only the piano is replaced by symphonic keyboards, which are of vital importance once more, especially in the chorus. Catchiness is thé word here! I cannot stress it enough. Johan's low vocals fit extremely. The band also used a choir element like NIGHTWISH has done (see the "Once" album). This is a great piece! Highlights in this song are the diverse drumming and the melodies. "Starvation '12" is about 2012 and the so-called downfall of humanity and whatever other chaotic occurrences will take place. How humans will revert to their primitive habits. Guitars are in charged here and especially the slow, doomy intro fits with the lyrics. Once the song takes off, it reminds of old IN FLAMES, the period of "Whoracle" and "Colony". The use of keyboards is much less here, they are forced to offer faint sounds from the back, even in the chorus, which is where emotion and drama come out best. The guitar solo is inline with the overall feel. However, the piano does get its moment to help stress that drama, the consequences of this imagined chaos.

All this chaos and madness has an impact on the body and mind, hence "Falling Asleep" at the end. Thundering Metal opposed to bombastic symphonic elements. Beautiful! The pounding verses contain piano leads and here as well, it's a joy to listen to it! Between the parts the music slows down, becomes more humble, to get active again in the bridge. The piano dominates in the chorus, where the music flows better. As MEADOWS END plays Death Metal, the typical elements called blastbeats should be applied at least once, no? And so it happens. This particular part, which includes the guitar solo, even reminds of DIMMU BORGIR, whether that's good or not. Diversity is again very nicely applied here, be that in terms of melody, rhythm or tempo. About 3 minutes before the end, all falls away, to allow the piano shine in the spotlights. All the while violent eruptions are unavoidable! The piano continues to lead afterwards, while overall the music is slow, humble, solemn and another solo can be heard. Sleep does set in by means of piano, cello and a clean (sounding, not looks ;-)) guitar.

MEADOWS END is a new band to me, for it's only thanks to keyboardist Robin Mattson that I got to comment on the band's debut album. I'm familiar with his work, his skills and I'm sure he can get very far. "Ode To Quietus" turned out to be, in my (always humble) opinion, one of the best - and I'm not exaggerating - Melodic Death Metal releases of the last few years. I mentioned some bands just to compare and I'll add one more: HOLLENTHON. In any case, even if this is a self-release, the production is well done, the compositions are top notch and like I said before, with each spin you hear something new. I can therefore do no more than heavily recommend "Ode To Quietus". Another proof that one doesn't need to be signed to put out masterpieces.

More info at www.meadowsend.se.

Line-up:
Johan "The Brute" Brandberg - vocals
Jan Dahlberg - guitar
Stefan Sjölander - lead guitar
Robin Mattsson - keyboards and orchestra
Mats Helli - bass
Daniel Tiger - Drums


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Reviews 2011

On this page
ACID DEATH -
Promo
ANCIENT CREATION -
Moonlight Monument
ALESTORM -
Back Through Time
ANGELI DI PIETRA -
Anthems Of
Conquest
ARGUS -
Boldly Stride
The Doomed
ARKONA -
Stenka Na Stenku
ARKONA -
Slovo
ARTAS -
Riotology
BATTLELORE -
Doombound
BETZEFER -
Freedom To
The Slave Makers
BEYOND CREATION -
The Aura
BEYOND THE
LABYRINTH -
Chapter III - Stories
BLOODBOUND -
Unholy Cross
BURIED IN BLACK -
Black Death
BYFROST -
Of Death
DALRIADA -
Ígéret
DERELICT -
Promo EP 2011
DRACONIAN -
A Rose For
The Apocalypse
EDEN'S CURSE -
Trinity
FALKENBACH -
Tiurida
GRAVE DIGGER -
The Ballad Of Mary
HATETREND -
Violated
HEAVEN'S BASEMENT -
Unbreakable
KARMA TO BURN -
V
LAKE OF TEARS -
Illwill
LEAVES' EYES -
Meredead
LORDS OF
THE TRIDENT -
Chains On Fire
MARCHE FUNÈBRE -
To Drown
MEADOWS END -
Ode To Quietus
MIDNATTSOL -
The Metamorphosis
Melody
MISGUIDED
AGGRESSION -
Flood The
Common Ground
NIGHTMARE -
One Night
Of Insurrection
ONSLAUGHT -
Sounds Of Violence
PHARAOH -
Ten Years
POWER QUEST -
Blood Alliance
REV 16:8 -
Ashlands
ROXXCALIBUR -
Lords Of The
NWOBHM
ROXXCALIBUR -
Lords Of The
NWOBHM (DVD)
SERENITY -
Death & Legacy
SHAKRA -
Back On Track
SINNER -
One Bullet Left
SKÁLMÖLD -
Baldur
STIGMA -
The Undertaker
SVARTSOT -
Maledictus Eris
THE NEW BLACK -
II: Better In Black
TWISTED TOWER
DIRE -
Make It Dark
TÝR -
The Lay Of Thrym
U.D.O. -
Leatherhead
U.D.O. -
REV-Raptor
UNLEASH THE
ARCHERS -
Demons Of The
AstroWaste
VIOLENT EVE -
Eleven Reasons
To Kill
VISIONS OF
ATLANTIS -
Delta
VOODOO CIRCLE -
Broken Heart
Syndrome