Archive for the Review Category

The Straddlerz – The Straddlerz

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on 1st March 2021 by Pieni

The Straddlerz
“The Straddlerz”
Dirty rock’n’roll
Self-released
On 29th January 2021

thestraddlerz copy

When two strains of Latin blood – Italian and Argentinian – come together to produce rock music, the outcome must be passionate. And that’s what The Straddlerz self-titled debut album is.

The recording is way too raw, so I’m guessing the producer wanted to preserve the original intensity of both Linda Filippin’s yelling and Michael Reynal’s shredding. I understand that, but a little more polish would make the sound less messy without hurting their edge.

Not all songs roll out like a freight train, or not entirely. “Circle Of Insanity” has a less-than-a-minute seductive intro before all hell breaks loose; that same seduction lasts for half of the song “Addiction” but then Michael doesn’t help himself (did I mention there are two solos in “No Changes”?) and there go the guitars at full speed again, with everybody else following suit. Only “Don’t Go Away” has this bluesy seventies vibe and matching tempo, proving that the “pure and dirty” rockers know a thing or two about melody. “Junkie Bastards” has a groovy beat that’s quite catchy, but since it deviates a bit from their general stance it was “Streets Of Love” – a harder catchiness – that made it to a promotional video.

Someone called them “rock and roll with attitude”. I agree, but personally, I need more than that to fully appreciate a band.

6/10

by Renata “Pieni” Lino

Epica – Omega

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on 19th February 2021 by Nico Solheim-Davidson, the North Sea Poet

Epica
Omega
Symphonic Metal
Release date: 26th February 2021
Released via Nuclear Blast

Epica is a name that many fans of symphonic metal will already be familiar. The band, formed by vocalist and guitarist Mark Jansen, have been a driving force in the symphonic metal scene for almost 20 years. Omega is the eighth studio album from Epica, and one I have been looking forward to greatly.

The album opens strong with the hypnotic medley of Alpha – Anteludium before Abyss Of Time – Countdown To Singularity blasts through the speakers with a driving combination of orchestral elements and roaring guitars. The vocal lines are gracefully performed, whilst the guitars and bass lend the track a more traditionally Epica sound. The Skeleton Key differs, marching in with a two-fold sound that comes across as violent and massive in some parts, and dramatic and shadowy in other parts. The haunting piano notes stepping elegantly throughout the track definitely aid in building up the latter sound, whilst the devastating guitar passages, combined with the drums and bass build up the former sound. Key Of Solomon carries a very Oriental sounding medley, which is furthered emphasised by the vocals.

Gaia has a bright, almost optimistic, and inspiring sound, leading this track to quite easily be an anthem sung by Epica fans across the globe. Code Of Life takes on a Middle Eastern aspect to its sound, combining a variety of different elements into a mesmerising, trance-inducing composition. Freedom – The Wolves Within blares out with everything you would expect from an Epica single: an awe-inspiring vocal duet, staunch symphonic elements, calculated drum strikes, compelling passages from the guitars and bass. Kingdom of Heaven Part III – The Antediluvian Universe eases in with a gentle, alluring flute medley that gradually builds into majestic orchestral and choir piece, which in turn opens the way for the rest of the track. Fusing driving sound of the guitars, bass, and drums, with the staunch power of the orchestral segments and Epica’s signature beauty and the beast vocals, Kingdom Of Heaven is probably one of the best parts of the album – which really says something given the magnificence of the entire album.

Continuing on with the album comes Rivers, a track that has a rather mystical resonance to its sound which is fortified by the emotive voice of Simone gliding alongside the eerie notes of the piano. The real strength of the track is found when the instrumentation from the rest of the band makes itself heard, reinforcing that emotive aspect to the vocals, whilst also making the track sound larger and more fulfilled. Synergize – Manic Manifest bursts in with a straight to the point, guitar-driven passage whilst the orchestration makes its own way, standing out noticeably. The choir vocals sound vibrant whilst adding emphasis to the main vocals of Simone and Mark. Twilight Reverie – The Hypnagogic State is a catchy track, making use of orchestration that could easily rival that of Nightwish due to the almost flamboyant sound it comes across with. The guitars and rhythm section also stand out considerably on this track, making Twilight Reverie another of the best parts of the whole album. Vicky Psarakis’ (The Agonist) spoken word section is what really helps the song feel complete. The album finishes with the grandiose sounds of Omega – Sovereign of the Sun Spheres, which is a poignant track to finish with. The track is a fusion of august medleys, sharp sounding passages, and fierce vocals that feels like a new experience which each listen, making it a powerful song to finish with.

Omega shows how capable Epica are of creating with a variety of elements and merging them into a distinct sound that stays so fresh. Omega is yet another album in Epica’s discography that can be easily summed up with one word: Epic but to do so doesn’t give enough credit to what an aural masterpiece the album is or how it demonstrates this band’s ability to break the mold of their own sound whilst staying true to their more traditional compositions.

10/10

Nico Solheim-Davidson

Nihilum – Call of The Void

Posted in Review with tags , on 18th February 2021 by izaforestspirit

Nihilum
Call of the Void
Black Metal
11th June 2020
Self-Released

Nihilum - Call of the Void

‘Call of The Void’ is the first of two EPs self-released last year by the North Carolina -based American black metal artist Nihilum. Both of his releases are available from his Bandcamp page.

As far as black metal goes, this is fairly fast-paced with Marduk-style pummeling being a key feature. The only notable exception is the ambient intro track The Overseer. Pestilence also caught my attention as one of the slower songs on here with a more varied pace. Here the guitars take on a more layered approach and the vocals are actually fairly easy to follow. Then the pace picks up for the rest of the album. The guitars have a certain bleak feel to them which is very fitting for this style of black metal. There is no shortage of blast beats on here but most of the drum work does really offer much variety to the overall sound.

Overall, ‘Call of The Void’ is a rather decent sounding black metal EP and a good introduction to Nihilum. I would be interested to see how this project progresses.

7/10

Iza Raittila

Ricky Warwick – When Life Was Hard & Fast

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on 16th February 2021 by Pieni

Ricky Warwick
“When Life Was Hard & Fast”
Rock
Release: 19th February 2021
Via Nuclear Blast Records

wlwhnf

Ricky Warwick’s solo career has been a straightforward rock ride and this “When Life Was Hard & Fast” is probably the most genuine in such essence. He invited some friends over, some well-known names in the scene, but the fact that you don’t see “feat. Rockstar X” in any of the titles proves how those invitations weren’t a marketing stunt; just a bunch of buddies celebrating good ol’ rock ‘n’roll. The opening and title-track, for instance. A catchy, spirited tune where Def LeppardJoe Elliott’s crystal voice contrasts perfectly with Warwick’s raspy pitch in the chorus. Or how Andy Taylor (yes, that legend who used to play in Duran Duran) produces a mean guitar solo in the political vent “I’d Rather Be Hit”. Thunder’s Luke Morley also plays a sharp solo on “You Don’t Love Me”, but I’m personally more hooked on the groovy, smooth rhythm provided by the bass on this song.

The Mink Deville cover of “Gunslinger” is pretty loyal to the original but with all the perks of a nowadays recording, meaning it sounds more refined but keeps all the rock’n’roll attitude of the seventies. So it’s kinda funny to talk about “Clown Of Misery” now, as in order to preserve its candid acoustic nature they stuck to the demo version and it sounds like you’re listening to it on an old radio transistor. But it’s “Time Don’t Seem To Matter” that really shows you the graceful side of rock – also acoustic, with some delicate samples in the background and then an electric solo mirrors the chorus modulation sung by Warwick and his youngest daughter Pepper (whom the song was written for).

All the brisk and snappy traits on this record prove how honest Warwick is when he says “rock’n’roll ain’t dead – it’s just lost in its mystery”.

7,5/10

by Renata “Pieni” Lino

Onus Baal – Onus Baal

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on 3rd February 2021 by Mickelrath

Onus Baal
Onus Baal
Power Metal, Heavy Metal
Released: 15th April 2020
Self Released

So, let’s go back to 2020, I know it was a year from hell. However, there was a lot of great music released and I think it’s important to give credit to the bands that managed to put out something in the turbulent shitshow that was 2020. Rolling across the desks of Valkyrian Music is the Spanish power metal outfit Onus Baal. Started in 2018 out of Huelva. They have ground their way through the Spanish metal scene to deliver their debut, self-titled album. The band consists of Tomás Díaz (vocals/rhythm guitar), Javier Fraile (lead guitar), Fermín Cansino (drums) and Gabriel García (bass). Their style of music feels very much on the cusp of NWOBHM and the more traditional European power metal. The two styles blend quite nicely together. Giving them a polished and clear sound that packs that punch.

The production delivers a pleasant listening experience. Nothing feels muddy, each piece of the instrumentation works in harmony with each other. It hits that mark of great balance. Meaning, when the guitar solos kick in, or when the band hits those epic chorus lines, you get the full power of the band blasting at you. Which is what you want from music like this. You want that sense of attack and scale in the music. I just wanted to get up and headbang throughout. There wasn’t a point of the album where I wanted to skip or turn away to something else. Which speaks to how well the album is constructed. In fact, the only thing that was rather annoying was the mandatory Spotify adverts getting in the way. I think the true stand out moments of the album where the songs “Vientos de Ayre” (Winds of Ayre). Where the vocal performance is at it’s strongest on the record. Also, I really liked the song “Cárcel de Cristal” which has a really nice heavy tone that by far exemplified the strengths of Onus Baal.

A really strong record that has clearly been influenced by the likes of Dio, Judas Priest, Sonata Arctica and Hammerfall. It’s a wonderful soup of ideas and as a first album, it’s a great first impression to the metal community. I didn’t even let the fact that the album is in Spanish throw me off. Also, as someone who doesn’t speak the language, I still feel that it’s worth listening to. You can hear the drive, the passion and the enthusiasm for making music in these guys and that’s what I like about them. I stellar record that I think I’ll be revisiting again.

8/10

Mick Birchall

Moonspell – Hermitage

Posted in Review with tags , , , on 31st January 2021 by Pieni

Moonspell
“Hermitage”
Dark metal
Released: 26th February 2021
Via Napalm Records

hermitage

I’ve never been quite comfortable in calling Moonspell “gothic metal” as that’s too much of a specific term to grasp all aspects of their music; “dark metal”, covering a broader range of said aspects, sounds more fitting. Especially now, given that “Hermitage” is probably the most somber album the Portuguese band has ever released.

They claim to be aware they’re approaching their final years as musicians and I remember Fernando Ribeiro saying, at Vagos Metal Fest 2016, how he hoped Moonspell would play like Helloween (headliners of that edition of the festival) when reaching their age. The Germans were in their early fifties at the time, so either that’s what Moonspell consider “final years”, or something has shortened the expiration date of their careers. Something like this pandemic, I believe. This whole situation has changed everybody’s perspective on life and “Hermitage” is supposed to be an album where Moonspell put their hearts out and bring them closer to the fans “in these times of distancing”.

Their bass lines have always been intense – more so since Aires Pereira joined back in 2004 – and the groove of “The Greater Good” is quite a highlight among those lines, enhancing the whole omen vibe of its lyrics.

Ricardo Amorim has long proven his ability to make his strings weep (“The Future Is Dark”, out of “Extinct”, pops to mind, but there are others) but the bluesy foundation upon “All Or Nothing” was built simply excels. “Solitarian”, an instrumental track, follows suit in terms of emotional guitar work, but the drums and keys set up a more jazzy rhythm. Now the gloominess of “Entitlement” is endorsed – not solely but mainly – by Pedro Paixão’s piano, in such a seductive way that I found myself in some film noir scenario listening to it…

I hope “The Hermit Saints” is chosen to be played live: the choir of voices in the chorus will certainly give goosebumps when sung along by the audience. But in all honesty, this record is so rich that pretty much everything will work out live – and I promise it’s not my longing for concerts talking…

9/10

by Renata “Pieni” Lino

Echelon – Поехали

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on 30th January 2021 by Pieni

Echelon
“Поехали”
Industrial
Released: 10th December 2020
Via Patriot

echelonletsgo

Rammstein have made such a mark that it’s almost impossible not to think of them when the term “industrial” comes up. And when the title-track of Echelon’s “Поехали” (let’s go) reminds you of “Feuer Frei” and the same album features a Russian cover of “Asche zu Asche”, you realize how much Rammstein still inspire younger bands of the genre.

Even if singer… I’m sorry, I don’t have a name for you – I can’t find any info regarding the band’s line-up! I did manage to identify the girl on the promo pic as Alena Meta, but since there’s a couple of songs with the note “feat. Alena Meta, I’m not even sure if she’s just a guest or a glorified band member… Now, as I was saying: even if the singer’s grave pitch and aggressive tone also resembles Till Lindemann’s, Echelon have managed to imprint their own stamp and create a sound of their own. The musical structure is more melodic, and the female voices here and there give it a classy touch: besides the aforementioned Alena Meta on the ballads “Особенный Путь” (special way) and the acoustic version of “Ничего нет дороже любви”(nothing more precious than love), they also have Valentina’s shrills spicing up “Действуй” (take action) and the more rock-oriented “Я Астероид” (I’m an asteroid). Another guest – male this time – is Freng, singing the English version of one of my favorites, “Течение Времени” (the flow of time), with a somewhat punk-ish attitude that, strangely enough, fits!

All in all, they combine the typical electronics with cranky guitar riffs, add occasional beautiful piano pieces and victorious vibes, and the outcome is quite charming.

7/10

by Renata “Pieni” Lino

Immortal Guardian – Psychosomatic

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on 24th January 2021 by Mickelrath

Immortal Guardian
Psychosomatic
Power Metal, Progressive Metal
Released: 21st February
Via M-Theory

Oh man, I needed something like this right about now. This is the long awaiting second album from the epic power metallers, Immortal Guardian. I was genuinely blown away from the very first moments of this album. It’s certainly a really positive way to kick off my 2021. The band started the recording in early 2020 and would continue to update and add to it over the year, eventually scrapping the original theme and creating something completely new. This album truly is a product of 2020. At least that blasted year gave us something as powerful and as entertaining as this record. Psychosomatic has this real infectious energy to it and you can truly feel the passion, time and effort that went into this. Let me say this right now, I really appreciate this band and everything they put into this record. 

From a production standpoint, it sounds awesome. The music has this real polished tone to it. Everything feels clean and stands out. With each piece of instrumentation shining on its own but also it comes together to become something much bigger and bolder. The glistening guitar work is complemented by the twinkling keyboard and it’s all made bold by the strong bass and drum combination which gives the music that booming presence. Then you have the vocal performance which is so stellar and site right on top of the already impressive music. It’s power metal done right. If you want a powerful listening experience that grabs you and keeps you hooked in then I don’t think you can go far wrong here. It reminds me of Tobias Sammet albums, epic but also consistently engaging. 

Like I said earlier the band threw away the original concept they had planned for this record and started again. Well, you can tell that this was written in a worldwide pandemic. Not only do you have the song “Lockdown”, which is literally about the global lockdown but other lyrical moments of this record give you a real gut punch. Songs like “Read Between The Lines”, “Self Isolation” and “Phobia” have a surreal quality to them that really capture that feeling of dread, despair and the harsh reality we found ourselves in. At the same time, they manage to balance that out with themes of hope and optimism with “Find a Reason” and “New Day Rising”. 

This is an enigmatic and engaging album that really kept my attention. Immortal Guardian definitely has my attention. I even looked up their previous album Age of Revolution and I will admit that they are legitimately impressive. They craft songs that get stuck in your head and make you want to get up and move. This was quite a nice surprise to start 2021 with.

8/10

Mick Birchall

Therion – Leviathan

Posted in Review with tags , , , on 23rd January 2021 by Pieni

Therion
“Leviathan”
Symphonic metal
Released: 22nd January 2021
Via Nuclear Blast

Therion - Leviathan

Not sure what Christofer Johnsson meant with “giving the people what they kept asking for”, but it worked. Rumor has it they’ve analysed their most played songs on Spotify and inspired the new ones on those, but I honestly can’t see a direct connection between any except that they all sound like Therion. For instance, has the spunky rock rhythm of “The Leaf On The Oak Of Far”, mingled with symphonic choirs, the band’s old school vibe? Sure it has, but it’s not like you can say it’s a “To Mega Therion 2.0”.

There are a couple of songs that could be featured in a soundtrack of some Tolkien-style movie given the enchantment their melodies carry: the ballad “Die Wellen der Zeit” and the not-quite-a-ballad-but-just-as-graceful “Nocturnal Light”. Despite the German title of the first, only the chorus is sung in that language, just like you won’t hear that much Spanish in the catchy “El Primer Sol”. On the other hand, the only Finnish traits on the striking “Tuonela” besides the title are Marko Hietala on vocals and the “feeling” in the guitar solo. Add the Arabic hints in “Marquis Of Hell” and the Asian ones in “Ten Courts Of Diyu” and this record isn’t simply diverse – it’s multicultural.

As for the title-track, it is indeed the most powerful song of the album, its four minutes proving wrong the idea that a piece must last twice as much to be “epic”. Like I’ve said before, all songs sound like Therion, but this is the one with their name all over it. Is it “deliberately packed with hit songs”, like Johnsson assured? I wouldn’t go that far, but I bet the fans will be pretty pleased with the outcome.

8/10

by Renata “Pieni” Lino

Smerdead – Во Тьме Лесов

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on 22nd January 2021 by Paul Macmillan

Smerdead
Во Тьме Лесов
Released 12th December 2020
Melodic death metal
Released via Sound Age Productions

Maybe something is lost in translation from the Russian, but I was not 100% sure what to expect from “zombie metal”. The nomenclature alone, however, was enough to pique curiosity. As it turns out, I doubt could have successfully predicted the sound.

What Smerdead offer is surprisingly melodic, given the brutal sounding, self-applied genre tag. Yes, it is heavy. However, it is most definitely not the knuckle-dragging, caveman variety of metal I imagined would greet me. Given my Russian language skills are absolute zero, I have no idea what frontman, Kozlodyor, is on about. One might assume the undead..? He is, though, a superb death metal vocalist, and his timbre is very easy on the heavy music ear.

The rest of the crew counter this with a highly accessible extreme metal backdrop. As a relatively new band, formed only in 2018, they are a completely fresh discovery for me. Во тьме лесов is, though, the second album of their short career, and it seems they have hit on a trademark “gallop and grunt” from day one. It’s well written, nicely produced, and deserves some widespread attention.

There is something of their sound which is particular to colder regions of the world. As much as they draw on traditional British metal, one can also feel a tundra-esque sway, and, at times, it can be a little like the music of the Steppes. It is, though, always metal, never drifting too far into the twee.

This is maybe what Skámöld would sound like, if their folk elements were to be extracted. Or if Týr ditched their clean singing in favour of a deadite snarl. Their slightly alien aspect allows for a little more escapism than the norm in metal, but doesn’t get too outlandish. This is a band who already know exactly who they are, and show great potential at a very early stage. Keep an eye on them.

7/10

Paul Macmillan

Avenger Kills – The End Has Come

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on 22nd January 2021 by izaforestspirit

Avenger Kills
The End Has Come
Released 10th December 2020
Thrash Metal/Power Metal/
Self-Released

The End Has Come’ is the third album from the Russian power metal band Avenger Kills. The group was formed in 2011 by guitarist Alexander Krasilnikov. All their releases are available from their Bandcamp page.

After just a couple of tracks I can state that this is a guitar-centric album within the thrash metal genre. The vocalist reminded me of Dave Mustaine of Megadeth while the guitar style made me think of the Finnish thrash metal band Stone with elements of old Iced Earth thrown in. Metal Child caught my attention due to the well-timed and reasonably well executed guitar passages. I’m not not sure what is happening on Hangover but it sounds like a completely different band! From thrash metal to hard rock…

Then it is back to thrash metal again for the remainder of the record. The songs maintain a good balance of aggression, speed and melody but mostly they sound very similar to each other. Notable exceptions include the cheerful-sounding power metal style on The Savior and the ballad-like closing track Time of Sins. The latter is also the slowest and most sombre-sounding track on the album. It works well as a closer, mellowing things down towards the end but I’m glad that it is the only track of this type on here.

Overall, what we have here is a fairly decent thrash metal album which I reckon would please fans of early Megadeth and Iced Earth. I emphasize the word ‘decent’ here as this style is not unique in a way but it is a pretty good effort.

6/10

Iza Raittila

Hadal – December

Posted in Review with tags , , , on 9th January 2021 by izaforestspirit

Hadal
December
Released: 5th December 2020
Doom Metal / Death Metal
Released via Planet K Records

Hadal - December

My first review of 2021. I do not normally review doom metal for the simple reason it has never been my favorite metal genre. Not even close. In fact the only doom metal band I listen to occasionally is My Dying Bride. Despite this I decided to give Hadal’s new album a go based on the description of it being a mixture of doom, Gothic and death metal. The Trieste-based, Italian doom metal quintet have been active since 2009 and this is their second album.

So, what we have here is primarily a doom metal album. All the classic hallmarks of the genre are present: a slower, bass-heavy, low-tuned guitar work, melancholic vocals and depressive lyrics. No violins but the music and vocal style bears some similarity to My Dying Bride. If only their singer had the same vocal range as Aaron Stainthorpe… Not quite, but he is doing a pretty good job. There is a hint of death metal audible in the growling vocals at the start of Dark Water, one of the more varied songs on here. I like the contrast between the two vocal styles and the gradual shift between the harsh to the melodic. The low-tuned guitar riffs are still present but at least this is not as ponderous as some of the other tracks on here. Similar things can be said about Without A Word, another song with a hint of death metal in the vocals and some of the guitar riffs.

The rest of the album offers a more varied pace. It’s still slow but the occasional death metal parts are a welcome addition. Speaking of variety, the closing track Stormcrow has some of the most diverse guitar work on the record, happily merging doom, death, Gothic and even thrash metal elements.

Overall, Hadal are not re-inventing the wheel here. Their style does not offer anything dramatically new to the genre. Having said that I reckon that fans of My Dying Bride and early Paradise Lost might enjoy it.

7/10

Iza Raittila

Finsternis – The Old Tongue

Posted in Review with tags , , , on 27th December 2020 by izaforestspirit

Finsternis
The Old Tongue
Released 25th September 2020
Melodic Black Metal/Atmospheric Black Metal
Self-Released

‘The Old Tongue’ is the debut EP from the Alabama-based American melodic black metal band Finsternis. The band was formed in 2018 and it features two members and one former guitarist from the melodic death metal band Curse The Flesh. This EP and their other demos are available from their official Bandcamp page.

It never ceases to amaze me as to which odd corners of the world might spout out some decent-sounding black metal music. This time it’s Mobile, Alabama in the United States of America. I cannot say that I have heard of it before and it is definitely not a place that I would think of as being associated with the genre. Based on the three songs on this EP it sounds like one of their primary influences is Swedish black metal, particularly old Marduk and to some extent Dissection.

All three songs are fairly similar in structure with only a handful of nuance differences to tell them apart. The opener We Unholy Few draws you in with a slow, eerie intro before the aggressive guitars enter the fold. The vocals are pretty much the usual coarse-sounding, distorted shrieks normally associated with the genre. Then, as the song progresses, they balance things out with some melodic parts towards the end. I liked the atmospheric guitar passages on Of Burden and Lament, which is quite possibly best track on the whole EP.

Overall, it’s hard to judge a band based on just three tracks. ‘The Old Tongue’ is a promising melodic black metal EP which I would recommend to fans of the aforementioned bands. They managed to create the right kind of dark atmosphere and the production is remarkably good. I look forward to hearing a full length album from these guys.

7/10

Iza Raittila

Garagedays – Something Black

Posted in Review with tags , , on 17th December 2020 by izaforestspirit

Garagedays
Something Black
Released 13th November 2020
Heavy Metal
Released via El Puerto Records

Garagedays - Something Black

‘Something Black’ is the new album from the Austrian heavy metal band Garagedays. The band was created back in 2005 by vocalist and rhythm guitarist Marco Kern. In the past they have supported bands such as Exodus, Grave Digger, Rotting Christ and U.D.O. This release was mixed and mastered by Andy Laroque who is known from his work with King Diamond. The music style is similar to that of Metallica and Motörhead.

We’re off to a good start with Back In Line, a guitar-centric and energetic heavy metal song filled with catchy riff work. I can understand why this has been compared to Metallica. Both the guitar styles and to a lesser extent the vocals are similar to Metallica’s mid-career work, particularly the black album and ‘Reload’. Then there is thrash metal -style title track with the most memorable chorus and some of the most lively, thunderous guitar passages on the album. This one is definitely for headbanging. Some of the songs have a hint of groove in the guitar tones, especially audible on tracks such as And Again.

They maintain the same tone and style for the majority of the record with the notable exceptions of the ballads My Own Way and To My Soul. In these two the pace slows down and there is a greater emphasis on the melodic vocals. While these are not my favorite tracks on here, they are not out of place and I can see why they deserve a spot on the album.

In summary, ‘Something Black’ is an enjoyable heavy metal album. The style is nothing groundbreaking or new but it demonstrates that Garagedays are skilled musicians who know how to produce memorable songs.

7/10

Iza Raittila

Hollywood Undead – New Empire, Vol. 2

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on 6th December 2020 by Pieni

Hollywood Undead
“New Empire, Vol. 2”
Rap rock
Released: 4th December 2020
Via BMG / Dove & Grenade

vol2

“New Empire” is Hollywood Undead’s gold coin – volume 1 showing their heaviest side, and now volume 2 showing the exact opposite. Which one is better? Well, that’s the same as asking if a burger is better than chocolate cake – you can’t compare two things so different in their nature. What you can do is say what you like the most, and for some of you it may even depend on the mood you’re in (hence the food analogy). It’s really a case of personal taste.

“Idol” came out as first single and I can’t stop thinking how the choice marked the transition between the two records, with its dark and imposing pulse just as heavy as any other song on volume 1. I was going to say “intense” but that kind of applies to every track here, just on a more emotional level (as Danny said at some point). And when that powerful ballad “Coming Home” was released next, such emotional reference made total sense.

The opening track “Medicate” flows with an almost childish catchiness, a chipper song in contrast to its lyric content (medication against depression). The upbeat mood follows suit, a bit sharper now, with “Comin’ Thru The Stereo”, Hyro The Hero’s somewhat high pitched tone highlighting the first verses. Just like “Medicate”, singing along this one is almost mandatory.

The synth rap underlying “Ghost Out” adds a juicy rhythm but it’s the edgy riffing in “Gonna Be Okay” and the seductive one in “Unholy” that really rock me out.

There’s always a song or two in each album that I skip, as not even my open mind enjoys all their musical approaches. “Monsters” has some beautiful, deep lyrics but such dark hip hop isn’t my cup of tea at all, even if I’m able to acknowledge its greatness. As for “Worth It”, it is just too mellow. I believe it’s the first time a Hollywood Undead song can be called that, so kudos for the initiative. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

I’ve left “Heart Of A Champion” for last not because it wraps up the record but because it’s probably my favorite song from volume 1 and I was a bit skeptical the first time I’ve heard of a new version. HU were on tour with Papa Roach and Ice Nine Kills when the pandemic broke out, so it was a nice touch bringing in Jacoby Shaddix and Spencer Charnas, but I was still afraid that it would ruin it. It didn’t (the video is a killer, too) – especially Spencer’s voice in the beginning -, even if I didn’t like to see J-Dog’s “compare me to none” verses cut out. It’s a bit like the two records: not better nor worse, just different.

8/10

Renata “Pieni” Lino

American Tears – Free Angel Express

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on 6th December 2020 by Pieni

American Tears
“Free Angel Express”
Rock
Released: 23rd October 2020
Via Deko Music

FreeAngelExpress

The first thing you’ll feel when listening to American Tears is how seventies those melodies sound. Well, it’s more than a feeling: the band WAS founded in the early seventies, by songwriter and keyboard player Mark Mangold. I’m not sure if they split up and then reformed or if it was just a very long hiatus; all I know is that after releasing “Powerhouse” in 1977, “Hard Core” would see the light of day 41 (!!!) years later. It seems that Mangold wasn’t happy with the lack of “popular response” and I’m sorry to say that this “Free Angel Express” won’t change that.

The concept is interesting, a rock band based on keyboards, capturing such retro vibe; it’s the outcome that fails to keep up with the expectations. The fact that the album lasts almost one hour and a half doesn’t help, most songs raving for more than five minutes and eventually becoming tedious. A poor attempt to sound progressive? The erratic beats of “Not For Nothing” could indicate so, but such dissonance is more annoying than ingenious. The same with “Blue Rondo”, one of the few “short” tracks (4:02), but being instrumental, the ever-shifting patterns make it feel endless, and not in a positive way. American Tears is the kind of band that really should try the “less is more” adage.

I believe there will be some people happy to sing along the “oh ooooh” parts of “Sledgehammered” or gently rock their heads with their eyes closed to the ballad “Woke”, but it will hardly be a large number of them.

5/10

Renata “Pieni” Lino

Soilwork – A Whisp Of The Atlantic

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on 1st December 2020 by Pieni

Soilwork
“A Whisp Of The Atlantic”
Metal
Released: 4th December 2020
Via Nuclear Blast Records

ATLANTICWHISP

Soilwork have been pushing the envelope of classy with every release for a few years now and “A Whisp Of The Atlantic” (even the title has a ring to it, hasn’t it?) keeps the tradition, this time sounding even more exquisite than before. I won’t talk about new directions as I don’t believe that’s what’s happening here – after all, they’ve always juggled with heavy and melodic; but the outcome is indeed… different.

Starting with the title-track, which is also the opening one. Sixteen and a half minutes?! But don’t worry, they haven’t gone progressive, the song just unfolds naturally for that long. The initial sound of the ocean mingles with a soft intro where you’ll recognize Soilwork’s signature right away, and then it takes an ominous turn with cranking guitars and all of a sudden you’re being blasted with fierce drum beats. Yep, “epic” turned out to be a literal term here. Also, the whole EP is a reminder of why Björn Strid is one of the best metal singers around, but the contrasts in this particular song between his coarse, harsh tones and the angelic ones are more highlighted, and so is the excellence of his vocal capacity. Finally, I have to mention the sax in the background during the last minute of the song, as we’re used to sad orchestral arrangements (like in the following song, “Feverish”) and having a sax, New-York-street style, was yet another refreshing trait, even if so subtle.

The other four songs have been rolling on YouTube for about a month (incredible videos, by the way) so I’ll just sum up what you’ve already had the chance to check for yourselves: between the feisty aggression of both “Feverish” and “Desperado”, and the edgy catchiness of “Death Diviner” and “The Nothingness And The Devil” (a Southern rock vibe in the former and a hint of NWOBHM in the guitars of the latter), you’ll find one of the boldest and most vibrant works in Soilwork’s discography.

9/10

Renata “Pieni” Lino

Vörst – Roots of a Frostbitten Land

Posted in Review with tags , on 1st December 2020 by izaforestspirit
 Vörst
 Roots of a Frostbitten Land
 Released 4th October 2020
 Raw Black Metal
 Self-Released
Vörst - From the Roots of a Frostbitten Land

‘Roots of a Frostbitten Land’ is the first EP from the Texas-based, American black metal artist Vörst. What an interesting location, and definitely not one that you would typically associate with black metal… The project was launched last year and the artist claims to have been brought up in the mountains by a family of “deathtrolls”. Right, this is going to be fun!

So after a few listens I can safely state that this belongs in the raw black metal category. It really sounds like it was recorded in someone’s basement to an audience consisting of the artist’s cat or dog and a possible sacrificial goat. The vocals, if I can even call them vocals, are grim as hell. They sound more like a wolf howling. My guess is that he was trying to sound like Abbath (ex-Immortal) but with only limited success. There is not much that I can say about the drums as they are mostly in the background, with the notable exception of Inside Satan’s Abyss where they add more variety to the song. The guitar work is gritty and unrefined but ultimately the best part of the music. I liked the guitar parts on City Witch, one of the more memorable tracks on here.

Overall, raw metal not meant to be pleasant to listen to. This is pretty much much what I expected to hear based on the description. Hardly a masterpiece but not an entire disaster for an artist allegedly raised by trolls.

5/10

Iza Raittila

Sorceress of Sin – Mirrored Revenge

Posted in Review with tags , on 13th November 2020 by izaforestspirit

Sorceress of Sin
Mirrored Revenge
Released 27th November 2020
Melodic Power Metal
Self-Released

Mirrored Revenge

‘Mirrored Revenge’ is the the debut album from a new addition to the British melodic power metal scene – Sorceress of Sin. The line-up includes singer, songwriter Lisa Skinner, her husband Paul Skinner on drums, guitarist Constantine Kanakis, bassist Topher O’Meagher (ex-Gehitka) and Tom Maclean (bass orchestrations). Their sound has been compared to the likes of Firewind, Helloween and Iron Maiden.

The main focus of this album appears to be the guitar work and Lisa Skinner’s powerful vocals. She has a good vocal range hitting the high notes with relative ease. So if you are fan of power metal with strong vocals, then this is the album for you. Luckily the vocals are not operatic and music is guitar- rather than keyboard-centric; otherwise this review would be riddled with Nightwish comparisons. There are keyboards but they are mostly in the background. The pace is varied but mostly energetic with the exception of one slower ballad-esque track Echoes of Existance. Speaking of that track, playing this was one of those moments that really reminded me of old Nightwish, mostly due to the vocals.

The rest of the album sounds much more uplifting, energetic and more importantly more like Iron Maiden than Nightwish. The title track, for instance, is packed with aggressive guitar work and dynamic vocals. Watch out, this vixen might have some virtue but she sure can bite! I also liked Aradia, another uplifting track with brisk guitar work and soaring vocals. Then there is fast and aggressive-sounding closing track Empyre of Stones – one of my favorites on here due to the catchy guitar riffs and powerful vocals. What a fun way to end the album on a high note. If you are not headbanging by this point, then you clearly do not like heavy metal.

Overall, ‘Mirrored Revenge’ was a pleasure to review. I didn’t enjoy the ballad but the rest of the album was definitely entertaining. Some power metal has the tendency to become cheesy after a few listens, this is not the case here. I would recommend it to fans of Iron Maiden and Helloween.

8/10

Iza Raittila





 

Dio – The Studio Collection 1996 – 2004

Posted in Editorial/Opinionated, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on 12th November 2020 by Mickelrath

Dio
Angry Machines / Magica / Killing The Dragon / Master of the Moon
Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Heavy Metal
Originally Release Year: 1996/2000/2002/2004
Release Date:  February 21, 2020 via BMG and Niji Entertainment Group Inc

If there is one band that I can safely say shaped how I hear music to this day I would definitely say Ronnie James Dio and his hard rock/heavy metal collective. Dio are up there as one of the many bands I would sit and listen to for hours on end. I remember my Dad playing me songs like Holy Diver, Rock ‘n’ Roll Children and many others which captivated my attention and informed my music taste. Ronnie James Dio, is an icon to the world of heavy metal. His distinct vocals and descriptive poetry are just the stuff of dreams for the genre. His heavy metal stories are still looked fondly upon today for any and all musicians. Simply put, if you listen, play or even pay the slightest attention to the genre then Dio is a famous and influential name. I remember sitting at my Dad’s computer desk listening to song after song from him and unknowingly learning how his influence is seen everywhere in the genre then and still to this day. 

As much as I would love to spend all day looking over the entire career of Ronnie, and maybe one day I will. Here, I will only be discussing 4 albums. The last four albums of the band Dio. 1996’s Angry Machines, 2000’s Magica, 2002’s Killing The Dragon and 2004’s Master of the Moon. Now, in 2020 we have been given remasters of these four albums and I have to say they sound really good. I mean, get yourself an up-to-date sound system and enjoy heavy metal in its purest form. Those last two albums are both albums that I got on their original release and listened to with my Dad but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll get to those.  Just as an opening statement about these remasters before we get properly started. They’re pretty good. If you like classic heavy metal done well and sounding nice and crisp, I would highly recommend picking up the new remasters.

Firstly, let’s cover the 1996 album Angry Machines. This would be the last studio album with the original drummer Vinnie Appice. It would also serve as the last studio album appearance from guitarist Tracy Grijalva. The main remaster of the original songs is really good. You get this fresh crisp sound to the songs and it sounds a lot better. The bass booms and the drumwork sounds commanding. The overall tone of the album feels bigger and some of my favourite tunes from the record like “Hunter of the Heart” and “Big Sister” sound so good in a whole new way. The opening song “Institutional Man” is a cold mechanical song that leads into the heart of the album’s themes really nicely. Themes of the de-humanisation of mankind and the really oppressive overtone. It’s one of the heavier albums from Dio. A mix of doom and stoner rock that thud along. The riffs coming through loud and powerful with the commanding vocals of Dio captivate and enthrall. This would probably be the album that most general hard rock fans might miss in the Dio repertoire and is certainly not the album that I would say best represents his finest work. However, I feel like as part of the 90’s metal scene it was a good fit. Metal being in that period of crossover between old school and new school. That battle rages on this record as you can hear glimpses of Dio’s old-school ways mixed with a smattering of different metal styling. It feels very much like a band that was throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of Ronnie, this might be one to skip. 

5/10

Moving forward a few years let’s cover Ronnie’s record from 2000, Magica. This album marked the return of guitarist Craig Goldy, who also had performed on Dio‘s 1987 album Dream Evil and in the 2004’s Master of the Moon. Magica also features Jimmy Bain on bass and Simon Wright on drums. Ronnie produced this album and originally planned for it to be the first as part of a trilogy of concept albums and was planning to release them after touring with Heaven and Hell. Sadly, Dio passed away on May 16, 2010 and the only song released from this potential project was titled “Electra”, which is included on this remastered edition. This album feels like a Dio album of old with themes and stories of mysticism, swords and sorcery, tales of otherworldly places and pure fantasy. This is Dio’s bread and butter. The album contains a much brighter and more hopeful sounding band than Angry Machines with lighter guitar and tighter production. It feels so much more consistent and, for lack of a better term, like a Dio album. The guitar solos that Goldy provides are hard-hitting and powerful and coupled with the strong rhythm section played by Bain and Wright and you get music that has more of a beating heart. The opening selection of tunes really set a great tone and get you captivated in this concept album and get you invested in the story that Ronnie is trying to convey. The album just allows you to become lost in its aura, making the story moments intriguing and the pure rock ‘n’ roll moments a real treat. I could personally do without the small interludes breaking up the album, I suppose it’s to flesh out the concept but they don’t add much to the overall listening experience. It feels like it’s more there to pad out the run time. Which isn’t really necessary as the album is pretty lengthy as is. It’s weird listening to “Electra” today. A hint as to what was to come from this icon before his demise. Although the audio quality is not great from a musical perspective, Dio’s vocals are sublime and I feel robbed from the potential project that never was. I would love to hear what Magica II and III would have been. However, Magica itself was a pleasant listen and one worth revisiting to this day.

8/10

Jumping right along now to 2002 and what was my personal introduction to the master himself. It’s definitely up there as one of my favourite albums from Dio, Killing The Dragon. I was a 10 year old kid when this was initially released and I can remember spending time at my dad’s computer playing video games and listening to this record. This album introduced guitarist Doug Aldrich (of Whitesnake fame) to the band. Goldy co-wrote some of the songs before leaving the band and you can hear his fingerprints in places here. This would be their final album with bassist Jimmy Bain. I love this album so much. Like everything about it. This album was such a huge part of my heavy metal christening. It led me to so many bands and informed so much of my personal music taste that I couldn’t really put it into words. Hearing this remaster is quite nice, the songs are just as powerful today as they were back in the day. Aldrich’s solos are very different from previous guitarists. Much more flash and flair to them, more effect pedals were used and they feel much more freeform. It’s like Aldrich was improvising on the day of recording. Though, if you listen carefully, each part is so well constructed and he uses the songs to just build and build. Songs like “Better in the Dark” and “Along Comes a Spider” just evoke that classic Dio sound that old fans, no doub, would love. Dio, sounds so lively here. His vocals are as excellent as ever and you are reminded of why he is the legend he is. The titular “dragon” of the album title refers to modern technology. Dio has expressed his concerns with it possibly threatening society in the future and felt like we needed to rebel against it. I think that in 2020 and the world now revolving around smart technology and peoples reliance on it, this album is more prevalent than ever. The album has some dark themes amongst the bright hopeful rock n roll. Songs like “Throw Away The Children”, “Guilty” and the title track “Killing The Dragon” have very foreboding lyrics. Yet, the heavily charged rock music keeps the pace of the album going and at no point does it linger. Dio gets in, makes his points and gets out. Leaving you with heavy moral questions and entertaining you at the same time. There’s just so much to ponder and enjoy with this album and it’s why I love it so much!

10/10

Finally on this review-rollercoaster, our last section will take us to 2004 and the final ever Dio album, Master of the Moon. If Ronnie has to leave his name-saken band with any sort of legacy, Master of the Moon is not a bad one to leave it on. For this album we see the return of Craig Goldy on guitars, Simon Wright on the drums and long time collaborator Scott Warren  on the keyboard. On bass guitar for this record Dio had Jeff Pilson, from Dokken. A commanding line up and one that delivered a damn fine album. Though, for me personally I don’t enjoy it as much as Killing The Dragon, objectively this is a good record. Deep themes interlaced with well constructed hard rock music with well performed instrumentals and Dio singing his heart out. The production is well put together with every piece of instrumentation doing their work and it all comes together really nicely. Yet, ultimately there feels like there’s something missing. There’s no standout songs, the album just blends together. If we’re comparing all of the remasters in this review, this lacks the aggression of Angry Machines, the imagination of Magica and the passion and persistent drive of Killing The Dragon. It mostly serves its purpose of more Dio music. It’s decently written and competently performed however it lacks that real power that would capture your attention. It’s not even hitting that nostalgia vibe as it doesn’t really capture the 80’s Dio sound that made him famous. It’s not bad by any means however, revisiting this albumin this remaster it just hits the middle of the road. Which is not what you want from the larger than life metal icon. 

6/10

This remaster adventure has been really fun and made me really think about what I look for in a Dio record which makes me think about my taste in heavy metal in general. The man was a legend, no doubt. His star will never fade and my love for his music will never die. He had one of the most complete and commanding careers in the genre. He worked with so many musicians and was a complete product of his era, which informed the genres of rock and heavy metal to a great extent. For me, he was an eye opener. Someone I truly looked up to and it pains me to this day that I never got the opportunity to see him in concert. A true master of his craft and a respective icon for generations to come.

Mick Birchall