Category Archives: Band Name P – T

Tankard – One Foot In the Grave

 

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

Having last reviewed Tankard in these very pages (R.I.B., 2014), I am somewhat familiar with these Teutonic terrors already. Tankard hail from Frankfurt and have been toiling in the thrash rock territory for nigh on 35 years now.  These beer and thrash metal hooligans have to their credit 14 studio LP’s, two compilations, two DVD’s and a live LP.  They will be at Metal Frenzy Fest in June and July, featuring many other metal stalwarts such as Rage, Vader, Destruction, Amorphis, Stratovarious and Fleshgod Apocalypse.  Their ranks include Gerre on vocals, Frank on bass, Olaf on drums and Andy on guitar.

Since the last time I reviewed them I had sort of a weird idea.  I assigned a brand name of a beer to each tune, just as sort of a fluke, being it was Tankard and all.  Well, this time out I was just going to go with light (pilsner), or ale, or a dark brew to help describe these musical minions.  Seemed like a good idea at first – then I realized each song was, indeed, a darker brew!

Take the first track up, for instance.  Pay to Pray is fast and heavy as fuck.  We are in Riff City here, my lovelies, and things are tough, like a street gang.  Even the vocals are more of a throaty shout than anything else.  They get the job done, people.  They have this shit down.

Meanwhile, on Arena of the True Lies, we have another heavy uptempo number.  I loved the sound on this number, by the way.  Normally I don’t get bogged down in semantics, but this is the aural equivalent of a jack hammer or buzzsaw with just a touch of studio polish.  Great stuff, and they throw in a couple of quick guitar solos to boot!

Don’t Bullshit Us! gets at least five cool points just for the title.  It should probably also get points for being Super heavy as fuck.  I know I probably curse too much and probably use the word HEAVY too much, but other better words admittedly fail me at the moment!  This is a wow moment here – a no-holds-barred onslaught on the senses, with an aggressive attitude, a nice guitar piece, and that stop-time on a dime dramatic shift stuff that I’m always on about.

The title track, by slight contrast, is also a very cool piece, with one of those foreboding intros that give you gooseflesh if done just the right way.  It is also super fast thrash, which seems to be becoming a pattern for these blokes… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Syrian Nightmare, for which Tankard have already released an official lyric video.

This is another really heavy tune, with lots of shredding plus a nice guitar bit right out of the box.  This one is kinda proggy – well, there’s some noodling going on.  Nothing to get too excited about.  This sounds like Hell on Earth.  The guitar part makes me wonder if things are getting a bit formulaic.  I would say perhaps just ever-so-slightly.  Again, I’m not going to worry about that. No big deal and not really significant to our purposes here.

Northern Crown features some nice leads and is full of dramatic heavy stuff, including the obligatory guitar solo.

Lock Em Up! features more of the stop-on-a-dime dramatic time shifts and complicated arrangements.  There is more heavy riffing and more guitar soloing.

The Evil That Men Display is a slight alteration in proceedings.  It begins life with the threat vocal intro, then it’s super slam thrash from that point on.  So, not that much different, but still, change is change!

Secret Order features a violin intro, of all things!  There is also some vocal chanting (monks) during the chorus.  This is a slam jam at about a minute in, really fast and very heavy.  I would venture to call this historical metal.  Not bad at all.  There is also a violin outro.

Sole Grinder is another Heavy as Fuck/Riff City adventure.  I would also use my colleague Dr. J.’s S.F.B. here. If you haven’t heard, S.F.B. refers to the Super Fucking Bad-Ass content of the tune!

Summing up briefly, Tankard’s latest is a no-brainer.  If you like beer, and you like thrash metal, there is a good chance you will like Tankard.  Check them out!

Verdict: 9/10

Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour

Nuclear Blast Records

Review by Rick Ossian

I never thought I would see the day when I would tire of Progressive Metal.  Perhaps I am simply reaching that age when it no longer inspires me the way that it once did.  However, generalizations do not become us, so let us dispense with the rhetoric and get on to what is going on with Kemi, Finland’s Sonata Arctica.  They can boast of 20 years together and 11 LP’s, not counting re-issues and re-packagings.  Their personnel is as follows: Tony Kakko on vocals, Elias Viljanen on guitars, Tommy Portimo on drums, Henrik Klingenberg on keyboards and Pasi Kaippinen on bass.  Together they form what must be said is a rather seasoned outfit.  So, how do they fall short with this, their latest release?  Read on, minions, and you shall discover the answer.

I am trying to be merciful.  In fact, there were several tracks that definitely mustered up some serious bobbing of the head and toes.  A number of the tunes on board possessed the charm, the chug and the instrumental power of a good Progressive Metal song.  Others were bogged down in the mire of big production, overpowering washes of keyboards, and a serious lack of guitar.

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Closer to An Animal is, unfortunately, one of the latter.  FX and atmosphere seem to be the order of the day, at least for the beginning of most of these tracks, and Closer is no exception.  Their are some powerful, winning moments and elements.  The vocals, for example, are operatic in the best of traditions.  This is a medium-heavy number, both in delivery and tempo.  A lovely, chugging rhythm featuring the piano and the guitar are the main drivers, particularly the piano.  Though it is pretty and prominent, their are times when I would have preferred a blast of guitar in my face as opposed to a wash of keyboards.  Towards the close a narrative vocal drowned in echo FX takes over the proceedings, which I found a bit strange but added a bit of a mystique to an otherwise lackluster tune.

Life begins its course with a nice wedge of lead guitar and angelic vocals.  Again, the vocals are majestic and powerful, definitely a highlight to the proceedings.  This track starts out heavy-ish, but with some severely mellow interchanges.  There are lots of big instrumental and vocal passages, but this is again more of a big production than anything else.  I was reminded, as is customary for these chaps, of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It is a shame that more of the grit and grime of that lot (à la Savatage) was not in order.  The guitars and the keyboards are driving again, and there is a nice guitar solo at the two-and-a-half minute mark.  It is a lengthy one, but we like lengthy guitar bits, so kudos for that!  This track is obviously a celebration of life of sorts, especially when one considers the overriding lyrical refrain (“Life is Better Alive”).

Fairytale is a bit longer (just over six-and-a-half mintues), and a bit better than the previous pair of tracks.  There are strings and bells and whistles and the like, and things get a bit heavier, which we DEFINITELY like.  There is that chugging rhythm present again as well, which we shall see develop into a regular pattern.  The vocals are powerful, even regal at times.  Tony has a presence about him that few Prog vocalists could compare favourably to.  Keyboards abound, as per usual, and there is a triumphant bit of shredding at four minutes in.  This is one of those tracks where I found my head and feet moving about a bit!

We Are Who We Are is a wee bit long on the intro, and is a mellower track than what we may be used to given the outfit we are working with.  This one is in the classic storyteller mode, even a bit ballad-esque.  The majesty of the vocals, even the lyrics, is obvious: “I didn’t like how the lake reflected me” struck me as particularly profound.  There are bells, keys, and whistles (or flutes, rather) on board again, and we get a nice instrumental break/guitar bit at three minutes in.  The overtly obvious message here, lyrically at least, was that “we should take care of our loved ones”.  Grand sentiment, agreed, but isn’t it a bit tame for progressive metal?

Til Death’s Done Us Apart has a bit more spit and growl to it.  It starts us off with a short intro, screaming, riffs and a driving piano.  This is another of the storyteller mode, which can be a good vibe if the storyteller is a good one.  This one is of a love/union gone wrong.  Their is the presence of the inevitable heavy double-bass drum, and the piano work is indeed lovely.  At 2:45 we get a mid-section instrumental breakdown, which is brief but powerful.  The vocals are also in your face, and the big production aspect is present again.  This is more of an uptempo number, with a nice piano bit at the close.

Among the Shooting Stars begins with chirping crickets, of all things.  It is another ballad, in the boy-girl storyteller fashion.  It can get semi-heavy at times, but is medium tempo and mellow for the most part.  The chug is there, which is good, and the piano is driving AGAIN.  I would have to say that this particular number is a bit mediocre for these folks.

Rise in the Night, by contrast, is a shorter, heavier number, featuring the old stand-by heavy double-bass drum attack AGAIN.  It is uptempo, and the vocals are very good.  They appear to have locked into a pretty tight groove on this one, and I was nodding the old noggin a bit here again.  That is a good sign.  Unfortunately, there is something slightly stale about the sound.  Can’t quite put my finger on why – perhaps you will note the reason when you hear it.  What begins as a simple guitar bit turns into some serious shredding (2:10), and the track itself moves right along, but there seems to be something holding them back…

Fly, Navigate, Communicate is another with a promising beginning, but many of the same elements featured earlier (massive double-bass drums, vocals, piano) are ever-present everywhere.  A nice moment or two of shredding (three minutes in) livens things up a bit, but ultimately not enough to save this one.

Candle Lawns is another in the vein of the stately, majestic variety of tune.  Pretty piano and measured drums grace what is a mid-tempo ballad arrangement.  There are some dramatic moments, particularly the bluesy lead guitar bit at 2:40.  I guess at this point I was just growing weary of the slow dance numbers.

White Pearl Black Oceans Part II: By the Grace of God wins points for title alone, and it is the single longest track on board.  Now, normally, as you know, I would revel in a 10-minute epic magnum opus such as this, but as our fellow Tom Mead would say, it meanders on a bit.  The storyteller mode is deeply set in place herein, and the piano is driving again.  Strings, particularly violin, are also abounding.  There is some beautiful piano work here, but keep in mind that the guitar should be here as well, and sadly, it is not.  There ARE guitars, but no bash-your-head-open riffing to speak of.  At about four minutes in, things DO take a turn for the better.  The tempo picks us, and at about six minutes in we get some serious shredding, which is almost always a nice thing!

Our closer for the day is actually a bit of closure, as the title indicates.  On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal), is another very lovely ballad, with the piano driving again.  Though this is indeed a pretty arrangement, it is super mellow, and there is hardly any other instrumentation save for the piano.  Tony asks us “Am I the only human here?”  Sadly, at the end of this, he most likely is.

To sum up, I can think of only a couple of things to say – this particular outing for this outfit was slightly disappointing, but then I guess I am just used to them rocking out a bit more.  If big productions and lush piano/vocal ballads are your thing, then perhaps this is for you.  I, however, was a bit put off.

Verdict : 6/10

Twilight Force – Heroes of Mighty Magic

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeOn first listen to this latest missive from the purveyors of “Adventure Metal“, Twilight Force, I am struck by the grandeur of it all.  Pomp and circumstance is most definitely the order of the day when it comes to Heroes of Mighty Magic, the second full-length work from our heroic men of Twilight Force.  Their first was 2014’s Tales of Ancient Prophecies.  It’s all very triumphant, and the recording is chock full of chanting vocal refrains sounding like monastic choirs, loads of lead guitar shred-fests, and plenty of drumming to go with the mixture of classical and power metal.  There are also mounds upon mounds of widdling, as one might presume with something this unabashedly Proggy.

Twilight Force claim that their home is the Twilight Kingdom, and their personnel is as follows: Chrileon on lead vocals, Lynd on electric and acoustic guitars and lute, Born on bass, Blackwald on keyboards, piano, violin and cembalo, De’Azsh on drums and Aerendir on guitars.  Imagine the blokes from Trans-Siberian Orchestra meeting up with, say, Manowar, while Dream Theater and Symphony X take up seats in the wings.  Oh, yes, and we throw in all but the kitchen sink on most tracks, even bells (literally) and whistles before it’s all over.

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For example, on Battle of Arcane Might, our senses are assaulted by lots of guitars, angelic, powerful vocals, big rhythms on the bass and the drums (a powerful indeed double-bass delivery from De’Azsh), and all manner of light-speed shredding from the guitar duo masters.  There is also an enormous crescendo at the close, which, as we shall see/hear, is quite definitely a pattern on these tracks.

Powerwind sounds like it could be music from King Arthur’s Court, of all places, and is another all-out assault as the drums and bass pound us into submission.  There are also LOTS of keys and BIG vocals (again, a pattern for our boys it seems), and classical shredding intermixed with big instrumental breakdowns, shifts, and even full stops at times.

Guardian of the Seas is a track featuring a nice violin intro, soon giving way to triumphant vocals and monks chanting.  The instrumental breakdowns are often reminiscent of classical interlude.  The use of light and shade, quiet and loud are almost incredible in their gracefully textured applications.  Strings obviously play a large role in the overall presentation here.

Flight of the Sapphire Dragon (at least 5 cool points should be awarded for title alone here) is another with the flute/violin intro, the monk chanting-style vocal delivery on the refrains, a VERY busy drummer (kudos, De’Azsh!), and a veritable instrumental attack at more than one point.  LOTS of quick shredding on display here again, as well as the big vocal/instrumental crescendo that graces most of these tunes.

So far, we’ve been dealing with mere 5-minute (or thereabouts) masterpieces – not so with our next track up.  The monster epic There and Back Again is a full ten-minutes-plus leviathan of the same stuff we’ve already been hearing thus far.  I paused a moment before the inevitable double-click, almost as if having to prepare myself for what was to follow.  Once again, the classical interludes are regularly employed, for better or worse.  There is also much to listen to in terms of triumphant, acrobatic at times, vocals.  A much-coveted item (the crystal of destiny) is also alluded to in the lyrics.  Once again, it’s all VERY triumphant.  Magical narration is afoot, but we’ve only cracked the surface – listen/read on!

Riders of the Dawn features a big, LOUD intro, and more of the same pompous stuff from before, only dialed slightly back as we’re in the 3-4 minute range now.  “Fighting legendary creatures” is the task of the day, and we get loads of widdling to go along with it, of course.  Another busy drumming session, another BIG finish.  Some definite patterns are developing here.

Keepers of Fate includes an ominous intro, and we all know how much I love those!  Nimble fingers on the guitars laying down a couple of solos and more BIG drums and bells and super swift shredding, along with more chanting and a big finish.  Sound familiar?

Rise of a Hero features a beautiful classical intro with lots of keys and violins and such.  There is also a LOT of drumming, as we’ve come to expect from the skin-bashing D-man.  There sounds like a bit of female vocal in there as well, which can be refreshing, but here it’s almost beyond our notice unless one is paying carefully close attention.  This track is one of many wherein it seems our heroes are racing to the close.  Classical interludes abound, and before we know it we get our big crescendo and finish.

To the Stars is, alas, more of the same, but somehow it all works.  Indeed, there are times when it works rather well.  Unfortunately, there are also moments when I began to wonder if it was all worthwhile.  The futility of repetition can sometimes wear on one, after all.  But no matter – plenty of triumphant vocals and loads of widdling guitars, keys and violin.  Plenty of big drumming also, and lets not forget to throw in a couple of our classically-themed interludes.  The musical breakdowns I’ve heard  normally include jazzy-rocky-bluesy jams, but these are mainly classical in orientation and delivery.

The title track is up next, and it’s another big one, nigh on ten minutes.  There is vocal narration, briefly, on board here again, and lots of the same thing(s) we’ve already been hearing, so there are times when I admit it would have been refreshing to just hear an all-out metal attack with a big guitar riff (à la Sabbath), and NOT all of the bells and whistles.  But, as I often do, I digress.  The point of this is the repetition of it all will begin to bog most listeners down by this point in the journey.  Therefore, I beseech thee, dear reader, to hang in there.  We’re almost home!

Epilogue is quite possibly the best example of Metal spoken word that I can recall hearing in some time.  In point of fact, it is the very first time I can recall hearing one go one for so long.  A full six-and-a-half minutes, in fact!  It is very prophetic, of course, full of warnings to heed and prophecies to consider.  A good story, told by an excellent narrator, and full of kings and queens and wizards and their untold sorcery.  A bit out of place, but interesting and fun to listen to.

Our closer for the day, a very short (1:45) requiem of sorts, entitled Knights of Twilight’s Might, is just that.  It is a big crescendo with big vocals and an even bigger arrangement.  It is indicative of what we’ve just heard, and contains all of the elements from before, only dialled considerably back for the sake of time constraints.  In closing myself, then, I’d like to say that this ‘Adventure Metal’ has been an adventure indeed for my listening pleasure.  So, if you like your rock/metal big, pompous and very indulgent, then Twilight Force is for you.  Don’t delay, it’s been released already! Also, for those of you who like to go to shows, Twilight Force will be touring with labelmates Sabaton and Accept in 2017!

Verdict: 8/10

Sabaton – The Last Stand

Nuclear Blast

amazon_badgeSwedish “warfare metal” troupe Sabaton are ten plus years and eight albums into their career.  At first glance, it is baffling that their star is still in its ascendancy.  The European Power Metal boom ended a decade ago and most of the other big-hitters have either fallen by the wayside or are playing to smaller, more selective crowds.  Here in 2016, though, Sabaton are even bigger in the UK currently than home-grown warriors Dragonforce, and that’s without the endorsement of any guitar-based videogames!  The Swedes have forged a stellar reputation based on (literally) explosive live shows and albums full of fist-pumping anthems.  Thankfully, The Last Stand is more of the same and should please old and new fans alike.

Many of Sabaton’s albums have a concept of sorts and The Last Stand is no different.  From the Battle of Thermopylae to World War II, each track details a famous military defence against seemingly insurmountable odds.  This could be construed as a metaphor for Sabaton’s career.  Not many bands (least of all one that makes quite an unfashionable kind of music) can survive the loss of four founding members at once and come out the other side arguably even stronger.

The general feel and format of the album is fairly similar to 2014’s Heroes.  It has a short running time (about 36 minutes) and only one song is longer than 4 minutes.  It’s a delivery that distinguishes Sabaton from many of their Power Metal peers.  They eschew drawn-out epics in favour of short, sharp assaults on the senses.  This is no lo-fi punk rock record though.  Sabaton’s trademark layered and bombastic sound is as potent as ever.

Things kick off in cinematic fashion with Sparta, a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to 300.  A militaristic keyboard fanfare sets the tone, complemented by pounding drums, crowd chanting and a steady fist-pumping rhythm. It’s the sort of thing that will generate audience participation in a live setting, making it an ideal track to open both an album and a show.

Regular Sabaton listeners will notice that there’s a prevalence of keyboards to beef up the “wall of sound” on The Last Stand, which Heroes was lacking somewhat.  This is most evident on Blood of Bannockburn, the track that’s perhaps most likely to become a permanent setlist fixture.  Organ and bagpipes combine superbly with the impassioned, bellowing vocal delivery of singer Joakim Broden: “Join the Scottish Revolution/Freedom must be won by blood” could one day be as popular a Sabaton lyric as “Through the gates of hell/As we make our way to heaven”.  It’s one of a few songs on The Last Stand though that is arguably too short.  Less than 3 minutes in length, Blood of Bannockburn is over and done with all too soon (one of the few occasions where a more epic approach would have been better).

Sabaton are one of those bands whose increased popularity is arguably more as a result of their live shows than their recorded output.  Luckily, just about every track on The Last Stand sounds like it was meant to be performed live.

Rorke’s Drift is a fast, frantic number expertly evoking its dramatic subject matter, the Zulu War.

The title track is one where you’ll find yourself singing along to both the vocals AND the guitars.  Somewhat reminiscent of Avantasia’s Sign of the Cross (in terms of both its central riff and Catholic Church-themed lyrics), it has the kind of relentless rhythm that’ll get the crowds bouncing along.

Shiroyama, about the last stand of the Samurai, contains a perfect Dragonforce-esque Japanese video game melody, with another great singalong chorus. However, as with Blood of Bannockburn, it could do with being longer.

This is not a perfect album but, quite frankly, that hardly matters.  As long as Sabaton remain fun, energetic and, of course, educational, their fans won’t be disappointed.  The fact that some tracks on The Last Stand are perhaps too short or repetitive (Last Dying Breath, The Lost Battalion) hardly matters, as they all embody the power and enthusiasm that have served this band well for eight albums and counting.

They’re not reinventing the wheel nor really doing anything that they’ve not done countless times before but that’s not why people listen to this band.  There’s an awful lot of history out there; if The Last Stand is anything to go by, Sabaton are still clearly more than up to the task of making it all come to life.

Verdict: 8/10

 

Pseudo/Sentai – Enter the Sentai

Truly Tarcon Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Upon my first scoping out this recording, I was hopeful.  The album cover is really cool, and of course on reading their bio I must admit I was impressed.  Then I heard the tunes, and the old adage “never judge a book by its cover” reared its ugly head.  Of course, in this case it wasn’t a book – it was this batch of ‘tunes’, and I use the term loosely.  Unless you are a big fan, and I feel sorry for you if you are, then leave this one alone.  It is not Metal, it is barely even Rock.  More than anything, it is noise.  There are some redeeming moments throughout (the bass playing, for instance), but on the whole I’d say this is more experimental than anything else.

Pseudo/Sentai are from Brooklyn, and they are Scott Baker on vocals, guitar and firearm, and Greg Murphy on guitars, vocals and axe.  According to their bio, they are ‘here to save the world‘.  They will need better music if they are to do that.

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Intro the Sentai is, as one might expect, an intro of sorts.  As I mentioned above, it is merely noise to the uninitiated.  Enter the Sentai, the track that follows, is much the same.  It does rock out a bit at first, but shortly turns into a muddled mess afterwards.

Desert Dessert is awash with atmospherics.  There are straight vocals, but things get a bit muddled in the mix.  This is more alternative, even Noise Rock, than it is Metal.  There is a lead guitar solo (sort of) at 3:15, and a cacophony of sorts at the close.  Let’s keep ploughing along, shall we?

Code Ocean is more of the same, and although at one point I was ever-so-slightly reminded of Faith No More (vocally), I would hesitate to lump them in with such a great band.  Again, things lean much more in the Alternative/Noise Rock direction than real Heavy Metal or Hard Rock.  There are lots of stop/start dynamics here as well, but mainly PC FX at the intro (briefly) and more blips and bleeps at the end.

Adaptive Manipulator gets five cool points for the title and the creepy cool fingerpicking intro.  It is at this point when things kick in, for better or worse.  There is introspective instrumental work as well, with a bit of bashing drums and some guitar grunge, if you will.  At 3:30 they actually Rock out a bit, and then descend into another noisy cacophony at the close.

Belle of the Cabal is slightly heavier, and even noisier, if that’s even possible.  Some weird chanting going on at about 2:30, then a fadeout that begins at about 3:30.  They relight the flame shortly afterwords, and we get some weird vocal exercise at the close.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Crown of the Crow King begins life with riffing and pounding drums.  A promising start, to be sure, but soon mired in the strange vocals and the attempt at an instrumental breakdown of sorts.  The vocals return a bit later, and we are reminded what a strange little tune this one is.  The fadeout begins at about 2:25, and before we know it, it is mercifully over.

The Man-The Mill-The Machine is up next, and it starts off well enough, with one of those creepy cool intros.  There are atmospherics again, and a lead guitar solo (sort of) at 1:30.  Do they have the chops to back it up?  Not hardly.  There are a couple of shifts into heavier territory, but ultimately we return to the weirdness.  The word lackluster comes to mind.  At 3:20 there is a monologue of sorts, which had me shaking my noggin in wonder.  There were some redeeming bits of bass playing here and there, but that about sums it up.  There is a brief bit of drums and guitar kicking things up a notch at about the four-minute mark, but then more weird FX at the close.

Rome 2.0 features a strumming guitar and drum intro, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Wishbone Ash, of all creatures.  I was also reminded a bit of my local Battle of the Bands, and NOT on a good night.  The odd introspective shift occurs at 1:50, which gives way to some slightly rockier passages at 2:20 and 3:25.  The vocal breakdown at 4:25 is weak, but the drums are a bit heavier at 4:45.  At five minutes in we get a touch more bass, but nothing too brilliant.  They almost break into a jam at 5:20, and then things draw to a close.

Baron Wasteland again features a cool title, but doesn’t really have the muscle to back things up.  The vocals are slightly reminiscent of Faith No More again, but nothing remarkable – just a faded memory at this point.  This is another weak one, unfortunately.  Too noisy, no focus.  Some vocal FX and decent drumming attempt to save this one from the mire, but it a case of too little, too late.  There is some minimal redemption going on with the bass at about five minutes in, then another FX cacophony at the close.  I’m sensing a disturbing pattern here…

Our closer for today is Werewolf Casey, which is also available as a single, I believe.  It does have a good rhythm, and IS slightly rocking, but more alt than Metal again, with more of the same lame atmospherics.  There is some decent drumming going on, and the shift at three minutes in provides them with a decent enough workout.  Hell, there is even another attempt at a guitar solo at 3:20, but it is more rhythm and riff than lead(s)…

In short, this is a collection for fans only.  If you don’t trust my judgement, and still want to hear for yourself, you can go to Bandcamp and get this for nothing!  Good call on their part, as they will undoubtedly reach more ears that way.

Verdict: 3/10

Scorpion Child – Acid Roulette

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeAustin, Texas Scorpion Child are on their second effort with this blast of Heavy Metal Boogie.  Their eponymous debut being way back in 2013, it seems what we’re listening to now means it was well worth the wait.  This set of recordings really cooks, save for a couple of minuscule moments that I will point out shortly.  For those of you keeping track, Scorpion Child are Aryn Jonathan Black (voice), Christopher Jay Cowart (lead), Jon “Charn” Rice (percussion), Alec “Mexecutioner” Padron (bass) and Aaron John “AJ” Vincent (heavy keys).

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She Sings I Kill (catchy title, eh?) starts things off in a very nice direction for us.  It starts life with a big intro, straight of the late 60’s/early 70’s heavy metal/hard rock era.  The bass is positively monstrous on here, as it will show on several other tracks!  This is melodic metal for the most part, but with a slightly different edge, à la a Metal Black Crowes or Quireboys.  Kind of like what The Answer were trying to pull off, I think…

Reaper’s Danse has a burst of in-your-face guitar at the outset, plus plenty of big drums and bass.  There is also the obligatory guitar solo (2:35).  It is a tasty treat.  This is mainly a blast of Southern-style metal for your pants that will make you get and danse!

My Woman In Black has a Riff City intro with more huge bass, heavy and pounding our lights out senselessly and repeatedly.  We should be thankful for our beating(s).  There are a few more nice little guitar bits here, a brief one at 1:45 and another, slightly longer one at 3:15.  For whatever reason, at 3:40 we get a big shift and almost a full stop.  Some nice feedback at the close, a classy touch that often gets ignored because, well – it happens so often!

The title track is up next, and features plenty of guitar, bass and drums for all of you sticklers out there.  This is, again, toe-tapping and fairly heavy stuff.  The jam out at the beginning is worth the ride alone, but this tune is a near – six-minute monster, and will need some reckoning should we decide to face it on our own!  At almost two minutes in we hear a mellow shift, with focus on the bass and keys doing solos (2:50), sort of a Metal Psych/Blues, if you will.  Some serious bass playing.  Then, they pretty much just jam out the rest of the tune, leaning in a Psych/Space Metal direction mostly.  At five minutes in, things return to ‘normal’, and we get a big feedback boost at the outro.

Winter Side of Deranged, aside from its lovely title, is another full-on 70’s Hard Rock/Heavy Metal homage, giving us a huge fucking blast of heavy Boogie.  The lyrics are something about a train and pain, I think – I was too caught up in the jam, folks!  I’ll admit it!  At two minutes in the engine room shifts to an even higher gear – and can you HEAR that bass? Oh, my!  The drums do their damage as well, but the two of them together are unbeatable.

Seance is one of those creepy weird little chant things with dusty vinyl FX.  It is for the horror geeks and nerds among us, I guess.  To each their own – I went to a seance one as a boy, and I think the whole thing was rigged – so I’m a bit biased!

Twilight Coven brings us back to the heavier-than-shit blasting boogie with the big bass and the drums.  Is it getting old yet?  I don’t think so, but then I’m a bit fond of this band’s material.  I was getting a major Iggy & the Stooges (à la Raw Power) vibe off of this one, both vocally and musically.

Survives features a super creepy vocal and piano intro.  It is a gorgeous piano, though.  At 1:10 things kick into gear, but at 1:40 we’re back to the creepiness.  Then, we get this depressed, anguished blusy kick back in and a guitar solo at 3:25.  The creeps return at the end and close with the ultra-creepy vocal/keyboard routine.  Nice but depressing…

Blind Man’s Shrine is more of the same – bluesy heavy rock/metal with LOADS of guitar.  The engine room is blasting away again with super heavy bass and drums.  Again, isn’t this like the Answer – only better?  Maybe it’s just me… There is a tasty Southern-style shredding going on at 3:25.  Bad ass stuff.

Moon Tension doesn’t really have an intro to speak of, but that’s okay.  There are blasts of plenty right out of the gate in full, no mucking about this time around!  This I would liken more to a psych/heavy blues Crowes again, maybe even a Metal Faces with somebody else besides Rod the Mod trying to sing.  The lead guitar bit at 2:50 is only slightly widdly, with a bit of FX, but not overdone in my opinion.  At three minutes, we come to a full stop, then are outdoor insect sound FX, and a door closing at the end of the tune.  Not sure why that stuff is there, but I just mention it in passing.  Enjoy the bugs!

Tower Grove is another groovy blast of Blues boogie, with lots of guitar and blasting drum work, heavy bass guitar included of course.  I caught my head bobbing and saw my toes tapping while I was jamming to this one.  There are several noteworthy guitar moments, particularly at 2:10 and 2:35, where some power chords seriously shred, and at 3:25 we get a big face full of the stuff!  Big riffs close with powerful drumming.

Might Be Your Man is another huge track, almost 6 minutes worth.  This is big and bluesy and Heavy Metal/Hard Rock again, pretty much in that 60’s/70’s vein I was mentioning above.  The breakdown at about three-and-a-half minutes in is another big moment, with a lead (3:40) that sounds like Space Blues (Hawkwind), then sky blue guitar (Uli Jon Roth), then another big jam to the close.  Some guitar FX round things out rather nicely.

Addictions is our closer for the day, and is a big old six-and-a-half minute arse -kicker.  There are big Uriah Heep-style keys at the intro this time around, but only very briefly.  At 20 seconds in, we get a big kick.  This is a pretty heavy Blues, plus the requisite HEAVY bass and drums.  A blast of guitars at 50 seconds in, then it’s back to Riff City at 1:15.  At 2:45 we get a big shift, to an even more uptempo boogie.  I love this lyric line:” I see all I need/ Right in front of me/It’s a natural thing.”  For some reason or other at 4 minutes in, however, things fall apart rather quickly, and all we’re left with is a couple of minutes of a rainstorm…hmm.

Suffice it to say that I fell in love with this stack of wax from the very early beginning of my listening session.  If you like Ginger, the Quireboys, the Black Crowes, or maybe even The Allman Brothers, then a bit heavier, then this might be right up your alley!

Verdict: 9/10

Tremonti – Dust

Fret12 Records

Review: Nathan Lagden

Wamazon_badgehile Tremonti may not have been around long, their frontman, after whom the band is named, has been one of the most renowned guitarists in Rock and Metal since the late 90s, achieving a great deal of success originally with Creed and then Alter Bridge.  While the frontman of the latter band, Myles Kennedy, is off touring with Slash, Mark Tremonti has taken to releasing albums from his own band with songs he wrote which apparently don’t fit into either of his two other projects.  In fact, his band’s third release Dust was written and recorded at the same time as their previous album Cauterize and comes only a year after its release, so my biggest worry going into the album was that it would be more of a rushed B-sides album than one which was able to stand on its own two feet.

My doubts are swept away pretty quickly after the short fade-in of the album’s opening track My Last Mistake gives way to a brilliantly fast-paced intro with guitars, bass and drums all interlocking superbly.  It’s taken five seconds and my head is already banging. The rest of the song follows suit and Mark Tremonti‘s vocals seem to go from strength to strength on every album, with Dust‘s opener being an especially good example.  Good verses, an even better chorus and of course a trademark Tremonti solo. One song in and I’m dying to hear more.

The Cage begins with a pounding drum beat before launching into a crushing guitar riff which keeps up throughout.  This is definitely one of the heaviest songs Tremonti has ever attempted, with Mark almost shouting through the verses but arriving at a stellar chorus which is great to sing along to, giving the song a more Metalcore feel than anything else, as strange as that is to say.  The song has a relentless pace which is maintained throughout the solo and towards the final chorus.  Once again my hair is flying through the air to this one.

The heaviness is kept up into the next song Once Dead as well with another booming guitar and drum intro.  Afterwards the tempo does die down a little, but definitely for the best as it gives us a bit of a contrast with the track before and allows the song to go through peaks and troughs, which are very easy to get into.  Once Dead has not one, but two solos to get your teeth into as well, and when it’s Mark Tremonti controlling the fretboard, that really is no bad thing by anyone’s standards.

The album’s title track is up next, which comes as something of a relief because this much slower number gives the listener a much needed breather from the onslaught so far.  Dust is also the main single from the album and as good as the first three songs were, I can definitely see why this was chosen.  The song goes in a more alt rock direction with melodic verses building into a stunning chorus which completely consumes the listener when it builds up to it.  It has the best guitar playing on the album so far as well.  Whereas the other songs felt slightly rushed, this was timed perfectly.

Betray Me brings the heaviness right back again, which is welcome to an extent but as powerful as the guitars at the start of the song undoubtedly are, it does really feel as though we’ve heard it before and makes Dust feel like the only unique song on the first half of the album.  It’s another very good song, don’t get me wrong, but for all the same reasons as the tracks listed above.  Still though, it’s another great song to belt out at the top of your lungs once you’ve heard it a couple of times.

A slower and darker intro starts off the next track Tore My Heart Out and the verse at first appears to carry on this theme, but it does have a wonderfully constructed build throughout which is so subtly done that I didn’t consciously notice it first time around.  In case you needed reminding of Tremonti‘s writing abilities, this song will definitely serve as ample example.  It’s a pretty ambitious track all-round with its multiple layers and excellent use of the backing vocals of rhythm guitarist Eric Friedman. The necessity for the recording and mixing to be absolutely spot on or they couldn’t succeed with it. Thankfully, all of those things are achieved to create another terrific song.

Catching Fire is the aptly named track to follow, which I say because the song feels like it’s just waiting to really spark into life for the first introductory verse, and it absolutely does so straight afterwards. The exhilarating tempo decreases for more epic choruses and an interesting breakdown midway through, which subsequently launches straight back into one of the best sections on the album to really go nuts and bang your head to.  It ends on a high too, with a great vocal-driven outro which is another time where you really do have to wonder why it took Mark Tremonti until 2013 to start singing lead vocals.

Another breather is needed for Never Wrong which brings us back down tempo once again.  This is not as strong a track as the other slower numbers on the album though.  The transition from verse to chorus is noticeably disjointed and whereas Tremonti‘s other slower tracks work on the basis of their builds, Never Wrong has nothing of the sort and largely gets bogged down at the same level the whole way through.  This is still not an overly bad song, but it’s definitely more of a filler than anything else.  It does have another solo that would make any aspiring guitar player green with envy though.

The Rising kicks us back into life though with another song that’s filled with energy, crushing guitars and complimenting rhythm section.  It’s another brilliant showcase of Mark Tremonti‘s vocal work as well.  It’s the drum and bass combination of Garrett Whitlock and Wolfgang Van Halen which deserves special mention here though, because though they are great throughout the album.   With this track it definitely feels as though they add something extra and carry the song further. The sections aren’t complicated, but they aren’t simple either and that is to their credit.

Tremonti rounds things off with Unable To See, the slowest song yet and the only one which can really be described as a ballad.  With a simple chord-based clean guitar backing and only basic and not-very-prominent rhythm backing.  That is until the bridge, when the distortions come back in again, but not so much that it completely changes the song.  The chorus is another epic one which you can completely picture a whole crowd singing along to at a festival or something like that, if only Tremonti and the last song on their most recent album were popular enough to achieve that effect.

Still, the song’s quality is clearly worthy of it.

Dust is another very solid album from Tremonti and my fears of it simply being a B-sides album in disguise were definitely proven to be unfounded.  However, despite the assertions I keep hearing that Tremonti‘s solo project is for those songs which don’t fit into his other bands and I can’t escape the feeling that we’ve heard this all before.  The vast majority of these songs would not be out of place on a Creed or Alter Bridge album – they’re very good songs in their own right, but I would just have hoped that someone with Mark Tremonti’s undoubted talent and creativity could push the boat out a little more.  Failing that, I can’t help but wonder whether combining the best songs from Dust and Cauterize into one longer album and trimming the songs which don’t really add anything would have been a better idea.  I appreciate that the man’s got to sell records, so bringing out two in two years is better than bringing out one slightly longer one, but it would have turned a good album into a great album. It’s not going to stop me listening to Dust however, and it certainly shouldn’t put you off listening to it either because despite all of this, it remains a very good album on its own merits.

Verdict: 8/10

Ravenia – Beyond the Walls of Death

Nuclear Blast

Review by Tom Mead

amazon_badgeApart from the genre-transcending big names like Nightwish and Within Temptation, Symphonic Metal isn’t something that’s been a major concern for many Metalheads for quite some time.  Finnish newbies Ravenia aim to change that though and, on the face of it at least, they appear to be serious contenders.  With live classical musicians as members, rather than relying on synthesised strings, and a pledge to make the perfect fusion between Metal and film score music, they have plenty of positive attributes that could see them as the ones to revive this virtually forgotten-about Metal sub-genre.

However, it doesn’t take long to realise that this debut album is anything but the start of a successful renaissance.  If you’re going to call your album Beyond the Walls of Death you need to, bluntly speaking, give it some welly!  There is no “oomph”, “bombast” or anything else that often makes Symphonic Metal such an enthralling kind of music.  For starters, the mix is all wrong.  The vocals of Armi Paivinen are admittedly sublime and they do compliment the strings well throughout, but these elements are so overtly dominant in the mix as to render the guitars and drums essentially redundant; “weak” and “tinny” are words that frequently come to mind throughout the album’s duration.

As well as getting the mix wrong, if you’re going to make a “perfect” blend of Symphonic and Metal music, you actually need to be able to play your instruments properly.  Ravenia’s guitars and drums are SOOOOOO formulaic and uninspired it hurts; like a 5th-rate Nu-Metal band, without even the faintest whiff of a solo or anything else that requires musical dexterity.  Anyone who doesn’t find this all mind-numbingly boring should be studied by scientists in order to help develop a new form of alertness medication; you need to be superhuman in order to withstand this snooze-fest…

Symphonic Metal is a hard genre to get right, due to the intricate blending of seemingly disparate elements that it requires. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for getting it as utterly WRONG as Ravenia do here.  I am shocked that such a prestigious and respected label as Nuclear Blast has given them a chance, to be honest.  Maybe they’ve seen some promise that might be realised on future releases; it’s because of the band’s relative inexperience that my review score for this album isn’t even lower.  But if Beyond the Walls of Death is actually the best that Ravenia can do, they will sadly be cast aside very quickly.

Verdict: 3/10

Skunk Anansie – Anarchytecture

V2

Review by Nathan Lagden

amazon_badgeSkunk Anansie have been around for over 20 years now (albeit with a fairly lengthy hiatus throughout most of the 00’s), yet nowadays it seems as though their career is somewhat on the wane, with none of the big album successes or festival headline performances which marked them out as such an important act.  Increasingly it seems as though the alternative rock quartet are confined to the 90’s in many people’s minds, but Anarchytecture, their sixth studio album (and third since their 2009 reformation), shows that they do still have plenty to offer, even if the album lacks a lot of what made Skunk Anansie such a big name.

The album opens with its leading single Love Someone Else, which is in a way quite an odd choice as its methodical nature is not really what would be expected from an opener of a band so heavily influenced by Punk and Heavy Metal.  On the other hand though, the song is to a large extent a perfect summary of an album which certainly has its merits, but just doesn’t seem to get going in the way you feel it ought to.  The opening bass-driven intro does certainly ease the listener into the record and the song progresses very nicely through many layers to a chorus where lead singer Skin gives a trademark vocal performance.  But overall, it is a bit of a surprise when the song ends just as you felt it was about to really take off.

It then moves on to Victim which is very similar in its melodic progressions, but also just doesn’t have the same energy and drive that we are so used to with Skunk Anansie.  The lyrical themes and melancholic vocals are certainly aspects of the band that we’ve seen before, but nevertheless it does seem very odd for a Skunk Anansie record to be two tracks in and not heard a song you can go completely mental to.  Victim even teases a big build before the final chorus, but falls back into the same understated pattern as the rest of the song.

Things do then pick up considerably with the next track Beauty Is Your Curse.  This is the first time you really hear guitarist Ace‘s simple yet effective riffs come to the fore and the tempo picks up to a deliver a song much more rooted in the band’s Punk inspirations than the first two songs.  It still is lacking a certain anger that fans may be used to, but the energy is definitely back for this song and not at the expense of the “quiet-loud” effect which summed up so much 90’s Alt Rock.

Death To The Lovers slows things down again, though this time with a much more emotional impact as Skin‘s vocals take centre-stage in this heartfelt personal ballad.  The other three instruments are really only there for support and the intended effect of playing to Skin‘s strengths, both in terms of vocals and lyrics, is definitely achieved.  As impactful as the song is when listening to it however, it just doesn’t seem to quite have enough depth to be as memorable as it should be.

The carefully constructed build of In The Back Room then follows again with a similar theme of providing all the hallmarks of a song working its way to a big in your face crescendo without actually getting there.  Again, there are merits to this song in the form of a catchy drum beat and interesting bass line culminating in a much more pop-based chorus than anything we’ve heard thus far. It’s no bad thing per se, but certainly the impression I had by this almost half-way point on my first listen was that I’d yet to hear a song that would really stick with me.

This does change slightly with Bullets however.  Its distorted bass introduction builds to an excellent guitar-driven chorus and a fantastic vocal melody which definitely does stick with you.  This is Skunk Anansie‘s writing at its best – something which which does not overcomplicate anything, but keeps it simple for maximum effect.  Again, nothing of their former angrier selves here, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good song.

The next song That Sinking Feeling is another terrific example of what this band is also about.  Catchy drum-beats, Punky guitar riffs and distinctive vocals building through a great tempo to a chorus that is great for jumping around to.  Now that we’re at this stage of the album it does make you realise that Skunk Anansie do still have a lot to offer and can still kick up an upbeat guitar-based rocking tracks when the mood strikes them.

It is all over too soon however as we slow right back down again for Without You.  This is another song however, where the raw emotion of Skin‘s performance is used to great effect.  You always get the feeling that she deeply means what she sings, and this is especially true when her vocals become the focal-point of any song, such as with this one.  So even though it does mean the album reverts to again another safer and more melodic track, this time it is not to its detriment.

Suckers! is up next. A 1:22 instrumental track which ironically has the best riff on the album and so, as good a listen as it is, it really is actually quite disappointing that they didn’t decide to make a proper song out of it.

You could almost be forgiven though, for thinking that it’s just the intro to We Are The Flames, as it starts in a very similar fashion before Skin‘s distinctive vocals kick back in for a toned-down verse.  This is yet another song which teases an epic build but instead drops off as it reaches the chorus.  It’s not as if it’s a bad chorus, or even a bad song.  It’s just that once again we’re left with the feeling that it there could have been a lot more to it and that would have made it just that little bit better.

They did save the best for last however. I’ll Let You Down very much hits home with very personal lyrics and an incredible performance from Skin. In fact, the song actually feels a lot closer to her solo work than Skunk Anansie, but you won’t hear any complaints from me on that front.  The song is a beautifully haunting melody which send shivers up the spine.  Despite the title of the closing track and despite my criticisms, I do not feel let down by this album.  It very much follows along the same lines as Black Traffic and the rest of Skunk Anansie‘s post-reunion work.

I suppose one cannot expect a band who did have quite a lot of success for being angry and angsty to remain angry and angsty without it sounding forced.  And it really isn’t even as if there is a bad song on Anarchytecture, it’s just that it doesn’t live up to what you would expect from the name and provide the energy that you would want from a band who made a name for themselves as a “clit-rock” act.  Nor have they replaced this old dynamism with anything else particularly, which for me is the greatest disappointment.  The whole album just feels a little bit like they’re playing it safe, with the melodic tracks which used to be a pause for breath between an album of fast-paced kilers now being the norm.  Ultimately, there is nothing majorly wrong with Anarchytecture, but it will not be remembered as a classic either.

Verdict 6/10

Ragehammer – The Hammer Doctrine

Pagan Records/Bandcamp

Review by Rick Ossian

On first listen to Ragehammer‘s first full-length outing, I have to admit that I was NOT impressed.  Of course, I’ve never heard their 2012 demo War Hawks.  Nor have I ever heard their split earlier this year, Enlightenment by Bloodletting.  You should also know that this kind of Metal is not particularly my cuppa.  If you like indiscernible vocals, instruments that unfortunately get lost in the mix, etc., then perhaps this is yours.  I do not know.  I am merely the conduit between these fellows and you, the reader/potential listener.  These metallurgic fellows are from Poland, and they are Corpsebutcher on bass, Mortar on drums, Bestial Avenger on guitar and Heretik Hellstorm on vocals.  It is fairly easy to see why they wouldn’t use their own names… but then, THAT is another story, and though my opinion may not matter to some, THAT is why we are here.  Let’s move on, shall we?

The tunes are not what’s to blame here.  The mix is mainly to blame, and the fact the vocals can’t really be deciphered.  Again, this is my opinion.  I’m sure that in their native Poland they are the next best thing to creamery butter and homemade bread.  I, unfortunately, have heard far too many outings just like this.  Speed for the sake of speed does NOT make good Metal, I’m afraid.

ragehammergroupshot

Take the opening number, for example.  First Wave Black Metal starts out with feedback, drums and guitar – in that order.  Now, normally, I would say they have the makings of a great tune.  However, this free-for-all, frantic, frenzied mess is just that – messy.  They are no doubt busy, and the shouting vocals sound as if they have genuine purpose.  There are some good moments, as well – the guitar breakdown/shift at three minutes in, and the guitar solo at 3:45 features some serious shredding.  Other than that, there is nothing much to say about this track.

Unleash the Dogs boasts a heavy, riffing intro, which gives way to an uptempo slammer.  The vocals, predictably enough, are rough again, and some are discernible, but most are not.  The drums are very busy, but unfortunately for the most part get lost in the mix.  What a shame!  Close finds some big feedback thrown our way, but that is the highlight of the tune.

Wrog features lots of riffing, and is another toe-tapper.   Definitely a speedy number, with a busy drummer.  The vocals are muddy at best.

Warlord’s Fall, with a drum intro and a very heavy assault, could be a great song.  Just check out the title!  It makes you think, maybe…  Again, there is lots of screaming going on, and the players are extremely busy.  Sometimes it takes more than that to make a song.  The shift at 2:30 gives way to some heavy, sludgy riffs, almost a Bluesy Black Metal/Thrash.  At four minutes in we get another drum and bass attack, and an unholy wicked scream at 4:40.

Knives, at six-and-a-half minutes, is the longest track on board.  There is more screaming, and some serious bass and drums again.  There is a shift and a lead guitar bit at 3:30, and a stab at some clean vocals at 4:30.  There are what I would perceive to be some mixing problems again with this tune.  Towards the close, the bass player shows off again.  That may be the highlight within this one.

I Am the Tyrant is a five-minute ditty which is impressive for the pure speed of presentation alone.  However, when it’s obvious that this is their only real foundation for the track, one may tend to lose interest.  I know I did.  Sorry.  Lots of worthy instrumentation again, and lots of screaming.  Moving on!

Pure Hatred has what could be another promising beginning that quickly falls into speed for the sake of speed.  The bass player is at it again, that may be their trump card, if you like.  More indiscernible vocals, and a bright spot with the guitar at three minutes in.  However, it is not enough to save this one.  There is another super-speedy guitar bit at 3:50.

From Homo Sapiens to Homo Raptor should win cool points for its title alone.  Then we hear it, and it is, unfortunately, more of the same.  Mr Hellstorm tries to save his soul briefly, trying to sing some clean vocals at around the four-minute mark.  He should have saved his breath.  There is a decent jam at the three-minute mark.

The closer, Spotkanie z Diablem (“Meeting With the Devil“) is actually a cover of Poland’s Krzystof Klenczon i Trzy Korony, and is most likely the high point of this set.  There is a heavy instrumental intro and a jamming midsection.  However, the evil laugh(s), one at 2 minutes in, and one at the close, could have been better.  MUCH better.  Just saying.

Verdict: 5/10