Amber Galactic was made during late nights and way too early mornings, when sometimes, in the corner of your eye, you can catch a glimpse of another dimension, where all the women are heartbroken space commanders in evening gowns, the champagne is always free and the drugs won’t hurt you. We wanted to create more than just a listening experience, instead we want it to be an alternative reality. We hope that after listening to Amber Galactic, you’ll be wide-eyed, horny and slightly drunk.
Guitarist David Andersson adds:
Musicianship in itself is not interesting, neither are the technical aspects of creating music. The ideas and visions behind the music are the only things really worthy of in-depth discussions. We’ve all reached a point where we can all pretty much play and sing whatever we want. We didn’t talk much about chord changes or amplifiers during the recording sessions. But we spent a lot of time discussing Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety, different vintages of sparkling wine, the psychoacoustic aspects of modulation, the innate superiority of women and why a pearl necklace always look better when whoever wears it has a bored expression on her face.
When asked about the direction of NFO within the realm of Classic Rock, Strid explains with a chuckle:
Most other classic rock bands sound like weed or LSD – we sound like cocaine.
Much maligned (most unfairly in my opinion), this one is still one of Priest‘s biggest selling albums. The change in sound from the more Trad Heavy Metal sound of the previous few albums happened as a reaction to the mid-80’s trend towards incorporating synth pop influences, as pioneered by ZZ Top. Despite that, the title track is one of my personal favourite songs and has remained in Priest‘s live set.
This was the album that started the evolution towards Priest becoming the quintessential Heavy Metal band. Producer Dennis MacKay streamlined Priest‘s songwriting, filtering out most of the Prog to create a tighter, meaner, more direct sound. Stained Class also spawned Beyond The Realms Of Death and Exciter, as well as the controversial Spooky Tooth cover, Better By You, Better Than Me.
Even though Rob Halford had left the band somewhat acrimoniously, Priest made a solid attempt to carry on where Painkiller left off. This was an angry band with a new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens who could snarl as well as scream. This may count as sacrilegious, but Ripper‘s version of Green Manlishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown), which can be found as a bonus track on Demolition, has a creeping menace to it that not even The Metal God himself could match.
This one is a grossly underrated album, that is worth re-evaluating purely on the strength of the last two songs: Bullet Train and the truly epic Cathedral Spires.
Priest’s second album, the follow-up to 1974’s Rocka Rolla could probably be called the band’s first Heavy Metal album. The centrepiece is the monumental Victim Of Changes, which set the stamp of what Judas Priest would be for the next six years, before everything changed for British Steel. The Progginess was still strongly evident, but so were the riffs, solos and stratospheric vocals that became their trademark later on. As well as Victim… this one is probably best known for The Ripper and Tyrant.
Defenders… was the last of the three absolute classic albums Priest recorded in the 80’s, that pretty much set the standard the rest of their albums are judged by. In terms of style, it didn’t really veer much from the path laid down by it’s predecessor, Screaming For Vengeance, which is why it’s not higher up in this countdown.
That said, it’s got another one of my favourite Priest songs on it, in the shape of The Sentinel. It also contains Freewheel Burning, and Eat Me Alive, which is a masterclass in the art of lyrical innuendo and the double entendre, and earned them the ire of a certain Tipper Gore.
After the bitty let-down that was Nostrodamus, Judas Priest needed to get their act back together, especially with the retirement of original member and mainstay, KK Downing. To be absolutely honest, they played it safe. Thing is, this is Judas Priest, one of the greatest Heavy Metal bands ever to walk the Earth, so their version of “playing it safe” puts them head and shoulders above most other bands. This is a bloody good Judas Priest album, with very few weak links. That’s why it’s sitting at Number 5.
Remember though, that this album was never supposed to happen. The original plan was that Priest would do one more tour (named “Epitaph”, for obvious reasons), then would hang it up. Substitute guitarist, Richie Faulkner (who had also worked with the late, great Sir Christopher Lee on his second Charlemagne album) changed all that. Infused by new energy, they went back into the studio and recorded the album that righted the ship.
The term “classic album” is bandied around far too much. Judas Priest, though, got into a little bit of a habit of producing “classic” albums. This is one of them.
The album kicks off with The Hellion, which leads into another all-time favourite of mine, and a mainstay of the band’s live set: Electric Eye. This album also features Bloodstone, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ and Devil’s Child.
Then there’s the title track, Screaming For Vengeance, itself. In the old days of vinyl and cassette, that one kicked off side 2, and… well. That’s why it’s in the Top 3.
If any album deserved the accolade of being called “all killer, no filler”, it’s this one. If not for the next album on the list, this would have been unassailable at the top. There is not one single even slightly below par moment on this entire album. Even the recording of the album has passed into legend in a way that only an album by a British band can… most notably due to the story behind the sound effects on Metal Gods.
It’s also got Grinder, Livin’ After Midnight, Rapid Fire and the song that is to Judas Priest as Paranoid is to Black Sabbath, Breaking The Law.
The only thing that stops British Steel being Priest‘s greatest album (the genius of the Breaking The Law video isn’t allowed into it) is that it doesn’t have a certain song as it’s title track…
It was never going to be anything else, really, was it? As soon as British Steel came in second, this one was obviously the top.
None other than Sy Keeler, singer with Onslaught, agrees with me that this album sums up what Heavy Metal is all about. It was Rob Halford‘s original swansong with the band, and by the gods he went out on top. As with British Steel, this album has no weak links. A quick scan down the tracklisting shows up Hell Patrol, Night Crawler, Between The Hammer and The Anvil and Touch Of Evil. There’s also All Guns Blazing and One Shot At Glory.
Generally, that would be enough to bring it nose-to-nose with British Steel, but then you bring the title track onto the field, and the war is over. Kicking off with new boy (at the time) Scott Travis, formerly of Racer-X absolutely hammering his drumkit into the floor, Painkiller doesn’t let up for a second.
That’s why it’s Judas Priest‘s best album (so far), and possibly the greatest Heavy Metal album ever recorded.
It looks like 2015 was my last Bloodstock as a member of the media.
Why? Not entirely sure, to be honest. I’ve been covering the festival for The Wyrd Ways Rock Show since 2009 (the year Europe headlined), and I’ve always worked bloody hard, interviewing bands performing across all stages. Never trod on anyone’s toes or rubbed anyone the wrong way while I was there. Met a lot of excellent people, too.
I put in my application in May, listing (in detail) what I’d done since 2015 and laid out my plans for the festival itself and the aftermath. Basically, I’d be writing entries live from the event as well as recording interviews with as many bands as I could get my hands on for broadcast through the rest of 2016 and into 2017. I also stated that would mean I would need media tent access so I could get, at the very least, wireless internet access, preferably a hardline.
Based on last year’s experience, I knew that it was pretty much impossible to record decent quality interviews and write anything meaningful in terms of website content from VIP. It was fine if you were just reviewing, but doing interviews? Not practical at all. I’d made the decision a week or so ago that if I didn’t get media tent access, there was no real point in accepting.
I had a bad feeling about all this.
The bad feeling only got worse when responses to my emails, starting last week, were met with “sorry for the delay”, followed by some excuse, or by someone passing the buck, and telling me nothing. By this time I knew people who were applying through Cosa Nostra PR (who seem a damned site more organized, going by the odd encounter) had already been sorted out, which meant interview slots were already being booked up fast. Again all I got from AC Promotions was static. Turns out that two weekends before the biggest festival they look after, when surely everything should have already been sorted out, the staffmember whose job it was to sort out the applications had taken the weekend off. Again. He’d done the same thing the previous year. And the year before.
Ever had the feeling someone really didn’t give much of a shit? That they really couldn’t be bothered doing any work? In comparison, The Noise Cartel, who looked after the event before, worked their arses off. Nelly, Adam, Steph and Nina (as well as various interns through the years) never sat still for more than a moment. To be fair to them, the Cosa Nostra crew were the same, from what I’d seen and comments I’d heard. I saw them moving around the tent from the outside and out in the media area and VIP. AC Promotions? Didn’t clap eyes on them the entire weekend. The year before, I don’t remember seeing one of them move from his seat or take his eyes off his phone for more than a few minutes at a time.
Last year, according to reports from friends of mine who have various radio shows and websites around the country, the media tent was pretty much empty. I can say pretty much for definite that I was the only person out in VIP doing interviews. Looking around, there were also several big names from the independent media scene conspicuous by their absence. Mick The Beard for one. If there was anyone outside the organisation who was a bigger supporter of Bloodstock and what they do, well… they must have been invisible. Yet Mick wasn’t there, and hadn’t been since the new PR company too over. As I said, he wasn’t the only one.
OK, this may well damage my relations with AC Promotions, if not destroy them. I’m really struggling to care, to be honest, since their content has become less and less useful to me and less frequent. Nick and his crew at Nuclear Blast, Andy at Metal Blade and Napalm, Mike at MEPR, the aforementioned Noise Cartel people, Lynne and Marc at Rocksector, Dante and his team at Spinefarm, the folks at ElevenSeven, Lulu at Incendia, Roland at Work Hard PR, Scott at ClawHammer PR, Gary at Frontiers, Becky at Pioneer, Judith at BJF, Emma at Pluggin’Baby, and many others all provide a MUCH better PR service and work harder even with the grassroots like myself.
Like I said. Very disappointing.
Can’t say I’m angry. More I’m hugely disappointed that a festival that’s all about giving smaller bands exposure on a big stage is being hamstrung in that effort by a PR company that really don’t seem to give much of a shit about those selfsame up-and-coming bands and the likes of me and my fellow podcasters and zine writers who spend our own time, money and passion on the only untamed musical style left, trying to help them in their job of elevating the profile of Metal.
This year for my annual dose of Metal festival awesomeness I headed to that most Metal of countries, Belgium, for a festival called the most metal of names, Graspop. It was a festival which had come highly recommended from those I knew who had been before, and despite the long day I had getting there, the layout and organisation (and actually clean toilets) of the festival alone suggested that these recommendations were not without foundation. And that’s without even mentioning the line-up!
So despite the lack of sleep and high levels of stress from the day before, I was up bright and early on Friday morning to head down to the Main Stages for the festival openers Firewind. Friday opening slot is one which I doubt a lot of bands look upon favourably, but Firewind rose admirably to the task of waking up a very sleepy and mostly hungover Graspop. Gus G and co were able to up the energy and deliver a dynamic performance which was clearly able to convert even those who turned up not really caring about them. It wasn’t just the dynamism which deserves praise, but the musicianship too. Most Metalheads don’t need convincing about lead guitarist Gus G’s prowess, but the rest of the band were clearly able to hold their own too and in Henning Basse, they have a frontman who can hold the audience’s attention when he has to, but also is humble enough not to upstage his band-mates when they’re showing off. 7/10
Up next were Canadian Southern Rock outfit Monster Truck. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about them (save for the fact that they’re clearly Southern Rock because they’re called Monster Truck), but they certainly did a good job of winning me over. They encapsulated everything good about the genre with catchy riffs, big choruses and a powerful rhythm section which lent itself perfectly to a festival setting and they were able to get us involved singing along to the easier parts of their songs. The only slight trouble with them was that when these choral parts weren’t present, they didn’t offer anything original enough to prevent people’s attentions from wandering. Still, as a relatively unheard of act, they certainly exceeded my expectations. 7/10
Melodic Death Metal veterans Soilwork provided the next instalment and continued on the already high standard which had been set for the start of the day. The six members made full use of the stage and got the first pits of the day started in no time. Somehow Soilwork were another band missing off of my radar before going to Graspop, which is a shame because they’re the sort of band whose songs do all sound very similar if you’re not familiar with them, which probably prevented me from enjoying them as much as I potentially could have done. Soilwork’s nine song set-list did lose novelty quickly, but thankfully the band were more than able to compensate through their terrific sound. They definitely cemented themselves in the “go away, listen to them properly and go see them again” category. 7/10
The first band of the day I actually knew well, were sadly the first disappointment. As a lover of all things arsey and technical, I made sure I got myself a very good spot for The Winery Dogs; but sadly they weren’t really worth the effort. It wasn’t really their fault though, to be fair. The supergroup trio of Ritchie Kotzen, Billy Shehan and Mike Portnoy were as ridiculous with their respective instruments as ever, but the sound configuration killed their set. The vocals of all three members were inexplicably inaudible throughout and even more inexplicable was that no-one managed to fix it in the 40 minutes they were on-stage. This wasn’t helped by the fact that most people were probably only there because they’d heard of the band members and didn’t actually know any of their songs, so the crowd had absolutely no hope of saving the set either. The fact that their songs involve such a high ratio of instrumental parts helped, but still it was a real shame that The Winery Dogs were held back by something so utterly avoidable. 5/10
I decided to watch Sixx:AM from the other side of the central barrier, and I’m glad I did because they weren’t a huge amount better either. Nikki Sixx, the former Mötley Crüe bassplayer’s side-project-turned-main-project didn’t even have technical problems as an excuse though, which was the troubling thing. As a live act there isn’t actually an awful lot wrong with Sixx:AM. in fairness. They’ve got decent experienced musicians and a frontman who clearly knows what he’s doing, plus all the ridiculous wardrobe and make-up that you would expect from someone who found fame in the 80’s and wasn’t in a Thrash band. The problem is, their songs just aren’t very good. It’s almost as if a really famous band decided to cover songs from bands who never made it and it shows in a festival setting especially when half the crowd need to be won over and just aren’t. It really is a shame because again, it really was only the one thing but it massively held them back. 6/10
Not changing stages meant that I had a prime spot for a band I’ve been wanting to see for years. Bad Religion were a big factor in choosing Graspop over other festivals, as I never got the chance to see them during my angry students days so I thought I really had better make sure I see them before my equally angry graduate days are done. “We are the least theatrical band here”, announced lead singer Greg Graffin to the crowd. I was apprehensive at first as to how a punk band would be received at a very Metal-orientated festival; but the fact is Bad Religion really didn’t need to be at a festival catered for them, nor did they need to be theatrical. They just needed to do what they’ve been doing for over 30 years and play good music very well, and it turns out it really doesn’t matter if you have a lead singer who looks like a middle-class dad filling in in his son’s band. Bad Religion used their time well and powered through 21 songs in total drawing from all of their rich back catalogue, winning over the people I was worried would react badly to them. If they can put in that kind of show with a largely indifferent crowd, I’d love to see what a show in front of die-hard fans would be like. 8/10
Heaven Shall Burn were the unfortunate band I had to watch mostly from a distance because food is a necessary requirement for human beings to survive, and because I knew basically nothing about them before the festival. They seemed to be pretty good at what they did however, being the first band to bring a real stage show to proceedings, which was good to watch if nothing else. Sadly, they really do not suit long-distance viewing, as their intense style and reliance solely on guttural vocals meant that they very much struggled to get any of the crowd past the main bulk of fans into anything they were doing. They were probably great if you were one of those who got close, but for me they ended up leaving me fairly cold. Not only that, but I’d waited ages for my noodles and it turned out they weren’t even the ones I’d actually bloody ordered! That’s not Heaven Shall Burn‘s fault of course….but I was still annoyed! 6/10
I know it may come as a shock to some that Foreigner have actually a very good back catalogue, but having done my research into this band beforehand I was actually very much looking forward to the non-obvious parts of the set-list that were to come. Unfortunately, this is where Foreigner proved to be a disappointment as their seven members did so much faffing about between songs and their lead singer liked the sound of his own voice way too much that they only managed to fit nine songs into an hour-long set. That’s fine if you’re a Prog band, but not if you’re a Classic Rock band. The songs they played were done well, but I just wish they’d taken a more Bad Religion approach to things and gotten on with it. It didn’t help that several members were clearly past their best as well, but that was more to be expected from a band who are celebrating their 40th anniversary. I just wish that somebody could have reminded them beforehand that this wasn’t actually their own gig! They even managed to have an encore, despite the fact that they weren’t even close to being the headliners. Bloody Foreigner… 6/10
I certainly wish that the slightly longer set-list had been given to Disturbed, because quite frankly they were excellent and the one thing which unfortunately prevented them from being exceptional was the fact that they had to rush through things slightly and miss out a fair few killer songs. It had been five whole years since I had seen one of my favourite Nu-Metal bands (yes, I like Nu-Metal, deal with it!) and I had forgotten just how many great songs they have and judging by the massive levels of participation from the crowd, I wasn’t the only one in that boat. I was particularly pleased too, because the only time I had seen Disturbed before they were awful; so I was relieved to see that it was just a bad day at the office and they can deliver the kind of performance their songs deserve. Although it took a little while to set-up which ate into their precious time, I was so glad they chose to do their version of The Sound of Silence because it was far and away the highlight of the day, sending shivers down my spine all the way through. Getting Nikki Sixx on to do Shout At The Devil was a less expected cover, but definitely one I’m glad I was there to witness as well. Much as I love Disturbed though, I do wish they hadn’t played Down With The Sickness, because is there anyone in the Metal world who isn’t thoroughly sick of that song? 8/10
My failure to get the Graspop crowd chanting “Megadave! Megadave!” as we were waiting for Megadeth‘s arrival was pretty disappointing, but this was nothing compared with the disappointment that Megadeth themselves actually were. They blundered into their opener Hangar 18 which should have gotten the crowd going pretty much instantly but it was so badly done that it was actually pretty unrecognisable for much of the intro. Really the only thing resembling a saving grace for Megadeth was that they played Megadeth songs which people like, but even this was ruined somewhat thanks to them playing four songs from their most recent album Dystopia; which I guess you can’t really blame them for, but in all honesty it isn’t a great album and it was clear that most of the audience didn’t know the songs. Plus, there was no way the band’s performance was going to make up for this as none of them looked especially bothered by proceedings and Megadave himself was particularly poor, especially with his vocals which were just mumbled incoherently throughout. It looks as though years of people telling him to keep his mouth shut have taken their toll and he’s become physically incapable of opening it so he can actually sing properly. 5/10
After spending all day at the main stages, I finally departed the open air and headed into a tent to see the man with beard, Zakk Wylde. I must say, I was interested to see what kind of set he would put on because I imagine I was one of the few there who actually owns a (totally legal, I might add) copy of his latest solo album, but I do love pretty much everything he’s done and I felt he may revert back to some Black Label Society stuff rather than try to win over a Metal crowd with acoustic songs from two albums no-one’s heard of. To my delight, he did go for songs from the two Book of Shadows albums, but he made a big mistake in my view of making them much heavier than they sound on record, clearly in an attempt to appease the Graspop faithful. It worked great for the opening song Sold My Soul, as it’s already fairly heavy to begin with and it gave Zakk an opportunity to show off his utterly ridiculous guitar skills, but it didn’t work for the others because as good as the songs are, they were never written to be heavy. The songs were played very well, and Zakk was clearly on form, but to someone who knows the recorded versions of the songs well, it just sounded like he was doing a whole set of poorly considered covers. 6/10
I managed to catch the last song of Amon Amarth’s set from the other side of the main stage as I rushed over to get as good a spot for Sabbath as was possible, but thankfully it was their song I actually like, so that’s something. They had a cool stage show set up and they seemed like they would be a really fun band to see, despite the fact that I don’t actually think much of their music. I can’t exactly give them a rating based on one song viewed from miles away though. I should also mention that after Sabbath I didn’t stick around for the only post-midnight act on that evening, King Diamond, because quite frankly I have no wish to stand around on a cold evening listening to someone who sounds like a cat being neutered without an anaesthetic.
Now Black Sabbath have been one of my favourite bands for years and definitely the top one on this line-up for me, but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier that a band is on their final tour. When I saw them at Download in 2012 it was one of the best live experiences of my life, but they’ve fallen a long way since then and really should have called it a day before now. They can’t do it anymore! Or perhaps, more accurately, Ozzy just can’t do it anymore! The man could barely string two words together and it was so obvious that they had tailored the set to make things easier for him, playing slower songs with larger instrumental sections which would almost certainly never have made it onto a Black Sabbath set otherwise. Everything was very noticeably slowed down as well (which, for Sabbath is really saying something). I’m sorry but if you can’t actually play your own songs live then don’t. The audience somewhat saved the show for them on this occasion making sure they responded as they should to the last Belgian show of Black Sabbath’s career. Thankfully this still made it worth seeing, but for Black Sabbath, The End really cannot come quickly enough. 5/10
The band formed by former King Diamond axe-slingers, Denner/Shermann have released a new video for the track Son Of Satan, which is taken from their upcoming album, Masters Of Evil, out June 24th via Metal Blade Records (expect to hear it on this week’s Wyrd Ways Rock Show, which should be due out over the weekend).
The video was filmed, directed and edited by Owe Lingvall, animated by Konstantin Smirnov, and shot at Studio 1646 in Umea, Sweden. Based loosely on the classic horror movieThe Omen, the song and video deliver an ominous dose of heavy metal music and imagery.
“We chose this song to be the first video because musically, it is a song that really captures the entire essence of what this band is becoming,” commented Michael Denner. “The lyrics are also very vivid, and it fills your imagination with dark, sinister images and visions that Swedish director Owe captured perfectly”.
“Shooting this video was a great time, and I felt that all of us being together there, bonding as a band during the filming process, was important and something I will always remember,” added vocalist, Sean Peck.
Stay tuned for more news – and tour dates! – coming soon!
Masters of Evil track-listing:
1. Angel’s Blood
2. Son of Satan
3. The Wolf Feeds at Night
4. Pentagram and the Cross
5. Masters of Evil
6. Servants of Dagon
7. Escape from Hell
8. The Baroness
On May 27th, Six Feet Under release the fourth installment of their Graveyard Classics series, this time paying tribute to two of Metal’s greatest legends: Iron Maiden and Judas Priest! Entitled Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest and mixed by Jesse Kirkbride at his own studio in Florida, the album comprises five Judas Priest covers (side A), and six Iron Maiden covers (side B), handpicked by Metal Blade Records CEO Brian Slagel.
Chris Barnes comments:
“Achtung Motherfuckers!!! Today we release Murders in the Rue Morgue, a Killer track (pun intended) from our upcoming album, Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest, for your listening pleasure!! Hope you enjoy it!! Hope the haters choke on it, choke on it, choke on it…
Also in other Six Feet Under news – Graveyard Classics The Tour will be invading your European community this summer, be sure to check these dates off on your calendar…
This will be the first and only time we will be playing an entire set list of cover songs – something we haven’t done before – so come experience something groovy and brutal motherfuckers! See you soon, Europe!
As a preview, you can listen to the first track, a cover of Priest’s Invader:
The second single, Never Satisfied, can be heard here:
In regards to this new serving of Death Metal tributes, Chris Barnes asserts:
“Get ready to have your ears violated and your mind blown! Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest just crawled out of the Heavy Metal Cemetery! Having a good time playing music is what it’s always been about since day one, and that’s what the Graveyard Classics albums are to me… a good fucking time! On this trip down memory lane, we cover songs from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden; the two greatest Metal bands of all time. Ray Alder from Fates Warning did a guest background vocal appearance on Invader, our first single. Ray is a great friend, and an awesome vocalist, and I felt our differences in styles blended well together for the middle section and added some harmony to the rawness. I hope you all enjoy the band’s twist on these legendary songs!”
Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest track-listing: Side A: Judas Priest
1. Night Crawler
5. Never Satisfied Side B: Iron Maiden
6. Murders in the Rue Morgue
8. Flash of the Blade
9. The Evil That Men Do
10. Stranger in a Strange Land
11. Total Eclipse
Six Feet Under tour dates:
June 30 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Baroeg
July 1 – Roitzschjora, Germany – With Full Force Festival
July 2 – Flensburg, Germany – Roxy
July 3 – Rostock, Germany – Alte Zuckerfabrik
July 4 – Hamburg, Germany – Bambi Galore
July 5 – München, Germany – Backstage
July 6 – Innsbruck, Austria – PMK
July 7 – Ludwigsburg, Germany – Rockfabrik
July 8 – Pratteln , Switzerland – Z7
July 9 – Essen, Germany – Turock
Amon Amarth are a shining example of what a band can achieve through hard work and determination. Their sound, style and image have not changed much in 20+ years, but relentless touring and a string of consistently strong albums have led to this bunch of Swedish Vikings becoming one of the biggest Metal bands in the world. Suffering a recent setback with the departure of long-term drummer Fredrik Andersson, Amon Amarth have followed the AC/DC template for replacing an important band member: quickly find a replacement (session drummer Tobias Gustafsson, of Vomitory) and record a quintessential album.
Jomsviking, the band’s 10th full-length release, is a concept album featuring an original story about love, loss and revenge, based on the legendary Jomsviking warriors, a secretive group of mercenaries who were sort of like a Viking equivalent of Samurai. Don’t worry if the words “concept album” send alarm bells ringing in your mind; this is by no means a major departure from the band’s usual sound! It is arguably the case though that Amon Amarth have shifted slightly over the years from a pure Swedish Death Metal sound to one that has a bit more in common with NWOBHM and other more overtly melodic metal styles (whilst still retaining Johan Hegg’s trademark harsh Viking roar); this was particularly the case on their previous album, Deceiver of the Gods, and Jomsviking follows suit with several gentler passages used to convey different parts of the story. Nevertheless, there is plenty here to satisfy old school fans and new converts alike.
The opening three tracks are amongst the strongest the band have ever recorded. Lead single First Kill erupts into life with rapid-fire drums and guitar harmonies, leaving the listener in no doubt which band they’re listening to; we’re in familiar, comfortable territory here. Wanderer maintains your attention with a bouncy, palm-muted riff (somewhat reminiscent of Gods of War Arise from fan-favourite album With Oden on Our Side) and contains one of Amon Amarth’s best guitar solos. A melancholic spoken-word passage segues into third track On a Sea of Blood, where axemen Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg are again on top form with Thrashy riffs and Maiden-esque harmonies aplenty. There’s also a deliciously heavy bridge where Johan Hegg sings of a dragon attacking our hero’s ship: “the dragon sweeps down with a roar, sky and ocean shake” (NB: this story is not inspired by true events…). This all drags the listener into the album’s concept with ease, the story fitting the music comfortably.
Other highlights throughout the album include Raise Your Horns, One Thousand Burning Arrows and A Dream That Cannot Be. Raise Your Horns is what every Viking album needs: a drinking song! Heavy and catchy, with a guitar melody you’ll be humming/chanting for ages, this will surely find a place in Amon Amarth’s live set. One Thousand Burning Arrows is a melancholic and captivating song about a Viking king’s funeral; it’s probably the closest the band ever get to a ballad! And A Dream That Cannot Be features a rare collaboration with another artist, in the shape of German Metal siren Doro Pesch. Her impassioned vocals contrast with Johan Hegg’s nicely, with the effect being a Death Metal approximation of The Phantom of the Opera, without being at all cheesy.
It is however very difficult to make a truly great concept album; how do you ensure every chapter of the story is equally engaging? In Amon Amarth’s case, this is magnified by the fact that they have a distinctive, easily identifiable sound. As with several of their other albums, they have struggled to create enough ideas to make their sound captivating enough across all the album’s tracks. Songs like One Against All, At Dawn’s First Light and Vengeance Is My Name contain good riffs and are generally catchy, but they contain several musical ideas found elsewhere on Jomsviking and Amon Amarth’s back catalogue, making them sound somewhat formulaic. Still, there are worse formulae for Rock/Metal bands to stick to…
In general, Jomsviking is more or less business-as-usual for Amon Amarth and is unlikely to disappoint old or new fans. Yes, it’s somewhat inconsistent, but they’ve done a good job of telling a decent story on an album that is not out of place, in terms of style or substance, with the rest of the band’s catalogue. Not many bands make it to ten albums, and there’s enough evidence here to indicate that Amon Amarth still have plenty of fuel in the tank (or mead in the drinking horn; pick your own Viking metaphor…)
We’re having a little breather from the festival stuff in this edition of The Wyrd Ways Rock Show, before going ballsdeep next time out. That means new stuff from Act Of Defiance (Shane Drover and Chris Broderick’s post Megadeth band), Lamb Of God, Kataklysm and loads of others. Come and have a listen. You owe it to yourself. You’ve been good all week, so come and reward yourself with some quality Metal!
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This review is extremely late. One Man Army – which I have been eagerly anticipating since September 2014 – landed in my inbox for review at the end of January. Unfortunately I was extremely ill at the time and after eventually landing myself in hospital, and having to spend a week on bed rest, followed by another month and a half of doing not much more than my day job I’ve only just managed to get round to writing it up. So to colleagues and readers, I’m dreadfully sorry, because really you guys should have read this months ago and been rampaging your way around the world listening to this album since.
Anyway, enough with the pity party and excuses and onto the music. Ensiferum are my third favourite Finnish band of all time – of course Turisas are first, Korpiklaani are second, and my Bloodstock 2015 ticket was purchased on the strength of the Ensiferum announcement. So, yeah, One Man Army has been hotly anticipated in the southern tower of Wyrd Ways Castle for quite some time.
I’m never much fussed about the *how* of music being produced – if sitting under a waterfall wrapped in a bullhide gets your juices flowing and leads to a kick arse album that’s fine by me. Similarly, I couldn’t give any body part of a monkey if your preferred production method is to binge on Red Bull and blue Smarties and bash it out in one take.
Ensiferum have made much though of the production for this album as they tried to move away from digitally produced songs towards arrangements where every instrument actually got played. The result is, I have to say, staggering. Kicking off with March of War you are first gently grabbed by the music – the intro is all a bit Game of Thrones, full of penny whistles and strings and sweeping epic arrangements that are all evocative and bring to mind imagery of an army yomping through the forest renaissance stylee. But then Axe of Judgement begins and you arebodyslammed into the front row and commanded to mosh and pillage until it’s all over. Axe of Judgement is all brimstone and fury and catchy sing along “woahhwoaaah!” choruses, and if it doesn’t get played at BOA I’m going to lead a one woman riot in protest.
Moving on, you get carried along slam bang into Heathen Horde which has about the folkiest opening I’ve heard in 2015. With lyrics like: “All heathen hearts/ Answer the call/ God of thunder bless our swords”, it’s full of fighting talk and promises a good punch up against a side fuelled on righteous fury and blessed by the Gods.
At this point I should point out that my attempts to actually write up my review have been significantly scuppered by the headbanging it engenders. I’m not sure it’s especially hardcore to be sat at your desk, waving a pint of water around bellowing along, because my study is not a longhouse, I can’t quaff for shit (waste of good booze is quaffing) and being of a female persuasion, all my attempts to grow a beard have failed spectacularly, but this album doesn’t allow for sitting still. You have to just give it some and pretend that really your charging across the Northumbrian coast with a shield and axe and not sitting at home in your onesie.
Anyway, Heathen Horde is followed by One Man Army which is the traditional point where my attempts to say something sensible have degenerated into desk moshing. So you can gather that the album’s title track is *rather good*. It’s all rousing vocals and epic instrumental sweeps and a screamy howley end. I like that in a song. Burden of the Fallen is a bit calmer. It’s a ‘water break’ sort of track, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful and an all too brief glimpse into the softer side of the Finnish warriors.
Warrior Without A War is another heads down and mosh it out type track. It is a little bit samey, however that doesn’t detract from it being thoroughly enjoyable. Cry for the Earth Bounds changes things up again with a sort of medieval monasstic chant opening that really does make me think of soaring cathedrals, and solemn occasions. It’s also got a rather awesome guitar riff in the middle. Plus it’s 7 and a half minutes long, and I do like it when you get a decent saga condensed into a single album track. Happy Days.
Two of Spades starts off faster paced than most of the album, with some fantastic drumming and for a folk metal track it’s a bit thrash really and is, I assumed at first, a tribute to Motörhead. I’m not sure about the weird Viking Disco in the middle though. It’s a bit too Saturday Night Fever for my liking. Anyway, from the discotheque we swiftly barrel into My Ancestors Blood wherenormality is restored, and all is well with the world again, as we return to sweeping riffs, epic vocals and a tune catchier than chlamydia on an 18-30 holiday.
The album rounds out with the doom laden intro of Descendants, Defiance, Domination which picks up pace as it goes on, has an excellent spoken word section, and has one of the few clean male vocal tracks that I noticed. I mean, it’s only about 20 seconds in an 11 minute long track, but it stood out. There’s also about a minute of female vocals which are so Games of Thrones-esque I had to check I didn’t have another window open playing the theme tune.
I’ll be honest: the last non-bonus track Neito Pohjolan is the only one I didn’t like on the whole album. It was just… a bit strange and it didn’t quite fit, which is a shame because it had awesome vocals and I’d have liked to like it more.
There are four bonus tracks – a cover of Rawhide, Warmetal, Candour and Lies, and finally Bonus Song. They’re all good, although a little weird – Candour and Lies is basically a country song and Bonus Song is Ensiferum Does A Glam Metal Track. It’s quite good. It reminds me of W.A.S.P!
All in, this is a superb album. This has been one of the most time consuming write ups in my time at WWRS becuase I kept getting distracted with the desk moshing. Which is fun, but doesn’t get a review written. Even if you don’t like folk metal you’ll like this album. Of course, if you already like Ensiferum then you *should* love it, and I’ll see you down the front at Bloodstock!
They get a bonus star for having so many bonus tracks.
We’re back to what passes for normal in this week’s Wyrd Ways Rock Show. This week’s Record Of The Week is the new one from Finnish Metal band, Battle Beast, and in the Spotlight, we have the mighty UFO, whose new album, A Conspiracy Of Stars is due out next month. You’ll be hearing tracks from that very album in this week’s show. Remember to go and vote in the poll to find The Wyrd Ways Rock Show People’s Choice for Album Of 2014. If you want your say, click this link and peruse the shortlist.
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The broadcast version of The Wyrd Ways Rock Show appears on The Wall Rock Radio every Monday at 11pm GMT and Planet Mosh every Thursday at 6pm GMT.
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Scorpions – We Built This House
Enforcer – Undying Evil
Diamond Blvd – Follow The Deadlights Covered: Kobra And The Lotus – Don’t Talk To Strangers (Dio)
Savage Messiah – Hammered Down
Huntress – Starbound Beast Amon Amarth – Father Of The Wolf