Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Overkill - White Devil Armory

There is no doubt that Overkill is, quite possibly, the hardest working band in metal. At one point they were touring like mad men to the point that front man Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth had a stroke on stage in 2002 and it still didn't stop him or this band. They were surely hit or miss in the 90s after going into a more groove metal direction but in 2010 they did a return to form with Ironbound and again with the follow up, 2012's The Electric Age. So here we are in 2014 hoping this veteran band will make it three in a row and keep the momentum going with their new release, White Devil Armory. Strange title, I know, but for the most part this album is on par with last two.

This band has always had the ability to throw down some killer thrash riffs and this album is chock full of them. After a useless intro, they kick your ass with "Armorist." Although this song has some of the dumbest lyrics in metal this song is a kick ass opener. It may not have the staying power of other songs on this album but the riffs slay and the thrash tempo is a neck breaker. Halfway through they groove it up a bit then go into a monster solo. "Down to the Bone" has that classic Overkill mix of thrash and groove to make for a really good song. The riffing, along with that signature D.D. Verni bass sound, just reeks of the old days. Again we have another killer tasty solo making this song one of the more memorable on the album. And Blitz sounds like he's still 25. His range has not changed a bit and his screams and laughs are pure fuckin' evil. "When There's Smoke..." is just a monster song with some serious riffing and an angry thrash tempo that will give you a stiff neck if you're not careful. I mean, come on, with D.D. Verni's background shouts "When there's smoke, there's fiiiyerrr" what's not to like?

"Bitter Pill" has a dark feel to it but has some kick ass riffing and is even a bit on the epic side. The bridge leading to the chorus is catchy throwing some melody into the mix here. This song is quite different than most on the album as it has many components to it. The groove riffing in the middle adds even more dimension to the song. My only complaint is that the solo seems to be incoherent and all over the place with no direction to it. This song is almost six minutes long but it doesn't seem over long like the previous song "Pig." That song has some nice riffing but it seems to lack direction. The chorus seems to irritate me a bit and the solo is just lack luster. What a difference in songs, one right after the other. "It's All Yours" is so beautifully simplistic but is so catchy. The riff has a cool groove to it and even when it slows a bit in the middle it keeps your attention. The solo on this song is another great shredder and makes up for some of the lack luster soloing on some of the other songs. One thing you can't accuse this album of is lack of variety.

"King of the Rat Bastards" is a thrasher through and through with some killer thrash riffs and some grooves and melodies that make this song quite catchy. Then you have just a straight up riff fest called "Another Day To Die." This song has some of the best riffs of the album and with just a hint of melody thrown in makes this one of my favorites on this album. The solo could have been a little better but overall it doesn't take away from the song. This is just another example of the variety of sounds on this album.

At the end of the day this is an excellent album with just a few flaws. It doesn't hit me like the previous two did but it's still nothing to turn your nose at. This is the band's seventeenth full length album and that, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. They are keeping the momentum going and it appears that they are not slowing down at all. Instead, they are writing a new chapter in the annals of the Green and Black and, by all means, you should be part of it.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crystal Eyes - Killer

Sweden's Crystal Eyes is not a name one usually hears during a discussion about power metal which is a shame since they are quite the diamond on the rough. Forming in 1992 and releasing several demos and a compilation, they released their debut full length in 1999.  I have to admit that my knowledge of them is rather limited since I only have ever owned their 2005 release, Confessions of the Maker, which featured none other than the incredible Daniel Heiman of Lost Horizon fame as session vocalist. That album was really good despite the surprisingly uninspired vocal effort by Mr Heiman.

So now we are in 2014 and Crystal Eyes have released their seventh full length, Killer. Back on the vocals is their original vocalist as well as guitarist, Mikael Dahl. I actually like this guy's vocals. He is all over the place sounding like everyone from Atilla Dorn in places to Kai Hansen others to screams that could have been done by Eric Adams, all the while having his very own sound and personality. His return to the mic is a welcome return and has even made a really good album better with his delivery. The songwriting here also must be credited since the songs are well done and catchy with plenty of hooks to keep you interested. Why this band isn't one of the more well known in their genre is beyond me because this album can stand with any of the more established bands. The title track and album opener is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Kick ass riffing starts the song off with a "killer" (seems that the album name is perfect) verse leading to a catchy chorus that reminds me of Gamma Ray a lot. The solo on this song is really good and their is many more on the album that are even better.

"Warrior" is another song that is just catchy as fuck with a verse that is melodic with massive traditional metal riffing leading to a bridge that hooks you in and then they lay an awesome chorus on us. That's how heavy metal is done. Dahl's vocal delivery is one of the best on the album here with just an amazing sound and range. The beginning of "Hail the Fallen " has another vocal delivery that shows that Dahl's range is a force to be reckoned with. As much as I love Daniel Heiman, I think Dahl fits this band's music much better. Then we have "Forgotten Realms" which is a cross between metal ballad and epic metal. The melodies are just infectious on this song and the epic feel of the verses and chorus just adds to the beauty of it. Starting off with some nice clean sounding guitars this song just builds to become an epic monster with massive riffs and a killer solo all without forsaking the melodic hooks. This is, easily, the best song on the album. "The Lord of Chaos" is a riff fest with more of a speed metal feel. It's loaded with hooks and melodies but the riffing is what's impressive the most here. The chorus reminds me of Gamma Ray in a way. The guitar work on this song is actually impressive when you combine the riffs and the solos.

The ballad is a staple of traditional/power metal but it seems that even the more established bands have been faltering in that aspect lately. However, I'm happy to say that Crystal Eyes has actually created a power metal ballad that not only can I listen to, but actually like...a lot! "Dreamers on Trial" is not cheesy or sappy, but instead it's a ballad that has that metal anthem feel to it. The metal has not been sacrificed as there is plenty of riffs and a solo that gives me goosebumps. This is how the metal ballad is done. "Dogs on Holy Ground" rounds out the album with a chorus that reminds me of "Dogs On Leads" by Accept for some reason. As a matter of fact, the riffing on most of this song has an old Accept feel to it making it stand out a bit from the rest of the album. 

As I said earlier, I do not know why this band is not as well known as their peers because they can deliver an album just as powerful and just as good as any out there, and this album is proof of that. The album is called Killer because it is just that, a killer heavy metal album.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls

Where to begin with this review? I mean, come on, it's Judas Priest. The Metal Gods. This band defined heavy metal for the generations that followed. There's no question that this band single-handedly took what Sabbath started and refined it to create heavy metal as we know it. It actually pains me to write this review because Judas Priest was my first metal band back with the release of Unleashed in the East. I blew my the speakers on my parent's console stereo while losing my voice trying to emulate Rob's vocals on The Green Manalishi at 13 when my voice was changing, facing possible damage to my young tender vocal chords. This was music like I've never heard...a young metal head had been born!

If you look at it, this band has only had a few periods where they had consistently quality albums. The 70s were the period where the band produced some the finest metal the world has ever known. The 80s were loaded with radio friendly songs due to the band having commercial success. Painkiller in 1990 is lauded as setting the bar for future Priest releases. The 90s and into the early 2000s...well, we won't even go there. In 2003 Rob Halford returned to the fold and it seemed all would be right with the world. After one okay album and one absolute catastrophe 2014 brings us a new Judas Priest album, Redeemer of Souls. The hype leading up to this album was the band making statements of this being the heaviest they've done in years. The teasers released were even decent enough for me to be cautiously optimistic. Sadly, the finished product is not what I expected at all. Instead we have an album that is inconsistent with a few songs being good but most being mediocre at best.

So let's start with what's good about this album. The band starts off good with "Dragonaut." The title is silly but the song is pretty good. The song has a nice riff in the beginning and has high energy. It is a decent album opener. Actually the only other high energy song on the album worthy of being an opener would have been "Battle Cry." The title track is also a song that can be catchy at times and is one of the songs that got my hopes up for this album. "Sword of Damocles" has a really cool 70s vibe in the opening riffs, a catchy chorus, and is actually a pretty cool song. The solos on these songs are good as Ritchie Faulkner is a worthy replacement for K.K. Downing as far as solos go. Another song that just screams 70s Priest is "Crossfire." This song could have been on Sin After Sin...maybe only as filler but it still could have been on there. That bluesy riffing has always worked with Priest and it still does after all these years. Even Rob hits some high notes, which is rare on this album. His voice is competent since he's always had a good tenor and baritone to his voice. This is the best song on the album and the best song the band has written in a long time.

Well, that's it folks. The rest of the album is just plain mediocre. "Halls of Valhalla" shows the band over reaching as they did on Nostradamus. It may have been a better song if they shaved about two to three minutes from it but at six minutes long it becomes redundant. Same with "Secrets of the Dead." In fact that song sounds like a leftover from Nostradamus. "March of the Damned" sounds so safe and Halford's vocals are so monotone he actually sounds like Ozzy in places. "Hell & Back" is just awful. It begins like a ballad and although it picks up the pace a bit, it just doesn't keep me interested. Instead it plods along with no balls or direction. The chorus isn't even that catchy. "Metalizer" is the worst offender because you can tell the band is trying way to hard to be heavy and it just doesn't come off the way it should have. Not sure if it was the production or what but it just doesn't work. The riffing is just chugging riffs that sound like they could be heavy but instead they just plod along. It's speedy in places but not enough to save it. The solos are the only thing that's good about this song.

I'm torn because this could have been a better album. There is proof on this very album that this band still has some chops and can still write catchy tunes. I'm not sure what they were trying to do with some of these songs but sometimes the "let's try to be heavy again just to be heavy" doesn't work. Instead it comes off as old men trying to capture some of their former glory. It's embarrassing. Some claim this is the best they've done since Painkiller, and they are right. But what is that really saying? It's the best of their worst? I'm not sure what the future holds for this band. I really wanted to love this album but there's so little to love.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper

Grave Digger. The name, in and of itself, just screams heavy metal. Forming in 1980 the band is still going stronger than ever. I'm not a huge fan of their 80s material as I think they hadn't found their own identity yet. At that time, I thought they were a second rate Accept worship band. Yeah, their 80s albums were fast and heavy but lacked direction. We all know how Chris Boltendahl and company tried to break through commercially with epic fail to say the least. The band returned with 1993s The Reaper and it was pretty much a success with fans and critics alike. As the 90s progressed it seems the band was finally finding their own identity and sound.

So here we are in 2014 and it seems there is no stopping this band. Their sixteenth full length album, Return of the Reaper, is just that, a return of some seriously bad ass heavy metal as only Grave Digger can release. What can we expect, you ask? What they have always good at, massive riffs, killer hooks, and Mr. Boltendahl's gargle with glass vocals that just add to the awesomeness of this album. After a short intro, which is the title track, we get the ball rolling with "Hell Funeral." This is a classic Grave Digger speed metal song with some serious riffing. As a matter of fact these are some of the best riffs this band has ever produced, and that's saying something. The guitar tone is crunchy as fuck and fits the riffing well. The chorus is catchy which is nothing new for Grave Digger. There is such an aggressive overtone here and that is another thing that adds to the beauty of this album. "Wargod" comes immediately after and just crushes you with the riffs, speed, and aggression of the opener.

And it doesn't stop. All through this album you have crusher after crusher. "Road Rage Killer" is a speed metal number with pummeling riffs, crushing speed, and a chorus that will stick with you. These songs are seriously catchy and it all has to do with the riffing. The guitar work on here, as far as the riffing goes, is just incredible. As I said earlier, the riffing on this album is some of the heaviest and best that this band has ever written and I'm sure the credit can go to Axel Ritt. "Satan's Host" is another one of those speed metal numbers that just slay, and does so in under three minutes as does "Resurrection Day" The riffing and the hooks are undeniable on both of these songs. Then you have "Tattooed Rider" that starts off with a synth part that almost makes you think you're listening to "Turbo" by Judas Priest for the first few seconds. But then you realize that the riffing is so much heavier and the chorus on this song is probably the best they've done in a long time.

Which leads me to "Season of the Witch." This is a song that was hit or miss with a lot of people but it was truly a hit with me. That slower tempo with the crushing riffs just reeks of "Avalon" and no one does this kind of song better than Grave Digger. The chorus is absolutely killer and has become one of my all time favorite Grave Digger tracks. Another bone of contention has to do with Axel Ritt. His riffing is just incredible, no one can deny that, but sometimes his solos just don't cut it for me. My biggest fear when hearing the samples of this album would be that Ritt's solos would turn me from this album. Some of his solos are good and catchy and some just leave me wanting something....not sure how to put it. Schmidt and Lulis played such good solos, I was afraid that Ritts solos would cause the songs to suffer. Thankfully they didn't suffer and, although there is not as much wankery as I would like, the solos are classy and well done.

This band has been around for over 30 years and it seems there is no stopping them. The riffing is some of the heaviest they've ever done and Boltendahl sounds incredible. This album is heavy fucking metal defined. The energy here is just amazing for a band that's been around as long as they have. I have a feeling that this band will keep delivering quality metal for many more years to come.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Halberd - Remnants of Crumbling Empires

Halberd is an epic doom/death band that is rather unique since it's members are from three different continents (North America, South America, and Asia) and even though they proclaim their music to be doom/death there is a huge amount of epic metal to their sound. There is so many more dimensions to their music, so to pigeonhole them into a specific genre is actually doing this band a disservice. Their debut release, Remnants of Crumbling Empires, is an impressive four song release clocking in just seconds over forty-one minutes and is a perfect mixture of atmosphere, brutality, melody, and epic metal.

I never go into any review lightly since I really want to know what's going on with any album before forming an opinion of it. I really needed to let this album sink in due to all the elements that are presented here. What impressed me with this band is how they use each dynamic to create a unique sound. The doom riffing at the beginning of "Northern Bloodletting" is heavy as fuck but as the song progresses we have the keys providing the epic orchestrations leading to some nice melodic tremolo riffing. Then it bursts into some massive thrash/death riffs that just slay. The guitar work on this album is incredible as the solo on this song, as well as the rest of the album, just fucking shred. These guys are serious about what they do and there is so much going on here that you need to absorb all the elements to really get the full effect. This song is all over the place as once the ripping solos and the blast beats are over we slow it back down to some epic doom loaded with atmosphere provided by the keyboards.

The vocals are mix of black metal shrieks and low guttural death metal growls. They know when to use each to create an experience with each song. Most of the songs are over eight plus minutes and that is what puts most of this album in the epic zone. However, they seem to take a break from the epic on "Barghash's Poison" to remind you that they are also capable of kicking your ass. This is straight up riff heavy death metal. The song is fast and brutal with just a touch of melody. The riffing just pummels you between the thrashing riffs and the tremolos. Once again, the solo on this song is fucking godly. Then we have "Ignorance of Morbidity" which is an epic song that pretty much maintains a mid paced doom sound throughout the song. The riffing is just pounding heavy with the vocals going back and forth from that low guttural to a black metal shriek that reminds me of Grutle from Enslaved at times.The keyboards are thrown in sporadically and only when they want to create the epic orchestrations that almost sound like battle horns but also sound like the horn section of an orchestra. Again, the star of this show is Andrés Felipe Murillo who just fucking shreds another classy solo.

The production is also noteworthy here because it just creates more of the atmosphere that's present here. The effects and the echoes just give this a sound that doesn't sound over produced but doesn't have that severely under produced sound just to be "kvlt." Even the programmed drums are believable. And no two songs sound the same on this album. Each song has it's own personality but each are essential to the other because this album needs to be consumed whole. This couldn't be more true than on the final and longest song on the album, "Dead Horses Cavalry." This starts with some serious epic doom rhythms but as the song progresses it just builds up to a massive climax as it blasts and the solo just shreds. Some eerie epic doom carries the last few minutes of the song as if the song itself is letting you know that this journey has come to an end. There is a story being told here and I think that the story drives the song and what we are going to hear.

This is one impressive album of epic metal, No, it's stunning, actually.  There's no way to give a full description of the music because of all the elements that make up the songs. After repeated listens to this album, I still hear something new each time I listen to it. This album should appeal to any fan of death, doom, or black metal. Actually, this album should appeal to any and all metal fans. This is serious music by a group of guys who know exactly how to create an amazing atmosphere. This album is essential.


Halberd on Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Zaum - Oracles

Normally this would not be my cup of tea since it seems rather minimalistic on the surface. Zaum play epic doom with more than a few twists. First, and foremost, there are no guitars anywhere on this album, therefor no riffing. They use bass, keyboards and sitars (of all things) create the melodies and the atmosphere on this album. Looking at the album cover it immediately brings to mind a middle eastern feel and after listening to it I was never more right. As I said, under any other circumstance I would have turned this off after 5 minutes, if I was able to stay awake at all. However, there is a magic here than keeps me listening. I'm not sure what it is but it's there and I'm kinda digging it.

I guess what really hooked me in was the psychedelic atmosphere and the middle eastern vibe that this album gives off. It's like I am immersed in a harem and smoking hash from a hookah. At the same time the bass that drives the rhythms here is heavy as fuck making any guitars obsolete. The bass has a little distortion to it making it part of the rhythm section as well as provide part of the melodies. The album is only four songs but clocks in at almost fifty minutes but for some reason it keeps me interested all the way through. The lyrical themes are middle eastern entirely and the subject matter seems to take place during the pre Christian biblical era. With a song title like "Zealot," which opens this album, anyone in the know would see exactly what this band's influences are for this album. The vocals are actually soothing to listen to and sound seriously 60s with the reverb and echo of something that my parents used to call "acid rock."

"The Red Sea" starts off with sitars are psychedelic vocal melodies and then leads to some classic sounding organ parts mixed with that heavy fucking bass. This song actually has riffing, albeit done by the bass, the riffs are cool and the vocals sound chanted. The song does kinda meander on a bit but the epic feel that it gives off keeps me listening. The song picks up the pace a bit at the end with more vocal chants. I think it's actually the weakest song on the album because then you have a song like "Omen," which is longer in length but has more going on to keep me interested. There is this distorted sitar sound starting the song but then it builds up to more of those heavy "riffs" that the bass play with the vocals being almost spoken as if you are being told of impending doom by a prophet. The psychedelic sounds and the chants are cool and the keys have that almost pipe organ sound to them in places adding more atmosphere to the song. This song really has an eerie feel to it which fits the title of the song perfectly.

I'm not supposed to like this. I'm not the biggest fan of the slower, more meandering doom metal. And the fact that this doesn't have any guitars and is not really displaying the metal riffs, there is something that draws me to it. It's interesting, to say the least. This may not be my go to when I'm in a doom mood, but I will revisit this album.

Special thanks to I Hate for the promo.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nox Aeternum - Vale nostri moriens spiritum

Nox Aeternum from Pittsburgh, PA is a one man band that formed in the autumn of 2013 by Andrew Hart. To describe the music or put in into a certain genre is kind of complicated since there are a lot of dimensions at work here. We have some melodic black metal mix with melodic death metal and some progressive sounds thrown in. So here we have the debut EP entitled Vale nostri moriens spiritum which translates to Farewell Dying Breath. The EP was released in December, 2013 and is slightly over sixteen and a half minutes with four songs. I'm happy to say that this is one extremely impressive debut and has me anticipating a full length hopefully soon.

So starting off here we have "Empire of Filth" with an opening riff that kind of reminds me of something from the new Vinterbris, which I loved. So, of course my interest is immediately piqued. The riffing here is a cross between the black metal tremolos and some melo-death thrashers. The vocals flow from a black metal shriek to lower guttural death metal growls. At the midway point of the song we have a brief soft passage that reminds me of Opeth that leads into a shredding solo which, in turn, leads to the climax of the song with the harsh vocals slightly under some decent clean vocals. So far this shows me Mr. Hart can throw some serious hooks into his songs. Immediately following is "Reprise (In Nature's Cleansing)." A really brief little acoustic number, it seems out of place in the track order. It seemed that maybe it could have gone at the end of the album as a nice outro, but it's a nice little piece nonetheless.

"We Are But Falling Leaves" begins with a nice acoustic passage that leads right into the riffing that is really atmospheric with some dual lead riffs giving this tons of melody. His vocals sounds like Mikael Stanne here, which is nothing bad at all. The keys are slightly in the mix giving the song atmosphere and the acoustic passage in the middle is nice. Finally we have "Dawn of a Dead Sun" which begins with a piano intro and keyboards providing the string sounds. Once again we have some melodic lead riffs building the beginning up. Some cool riffing mixed with some well placed chugs leading into the verse. This song is the longest at seven minutes and shows a bit more of this guy's epic side. Mixing in all of the elements that make up this band into one song, including some progressive rhythms and chugs with some acoustic guitars in there all leading to a melodic solo and song climax.  The acoustic part taking you to the end of the song was a nice touch

There's a lot going on in the short amount of time that makes up this EP. I'm really interested in hearing a full length from this guy. He knows how to write catchy songs with hooks and melodies that draw you in. If you are a fan of epic melodic metal that has atmosphere and melody than you should check into this band.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Vintersorg - Naturbål

A new Vintersorg album is always an event to me. I've been a huge fan of everything Andreas Hedlund ever since I first heard Cosmic Genesis back in '02. Mr. V. and company have made some of the most beautiful folk metal the genre has to offer. In the early 2000s, Vintersorg tried a more progressive approached that alienated some fans but I hung on because there was still huge amounts of magic in those works. 2007's Solens Rötter saw the band return to it's roots somewhat as the prog elements were toned down and some of the folk returned. Each subsequent album edged closer and closer to a modern version of the sound created on Cosmic Genesis.

So now we have Vintersorg's ninth full length, Naturbål, translated to mean Natures Bonfire. Once again we see that Mr. V. and Mattias Marklund (The Vintersorgs) have created an album that can stand along side his most beloved first two albums. There are plenty of the black metal elements still present in the music as there are blast beats and tremolo riffing along with Vintersorg's signature black metal rasp. What is also present here is the mesmerizing melodies and incredible songwriting that you come to expect from this band. This era of Vintersorg that has risen after The Focusing Blur has been the most consistent as they have slowly solidified their sound to downplay the prog and just play an epic melodic folk black metal hybrid that is reminiscent of Borknagar, for obvious reasons. But the hints of Comsic Genesis are also there. The production is cleaner and crisper with the keyboards and orchestrations being more refined to give the sound of this album so much more depth than the earlier albums that this will be compared to.

Also present are the epic elements that are in each of Vintersorg's songs. The album opener, "Ur aska och sot," begins with some serious riffs and blast beats along with Mr. V.'s vicious rasps. Then the melodies appear but the riffs are not sacrificed. This album has some interesting and down right killer riffs that help the melodies flow. The song has a lot of elements to it's seven minute song length creating the epic feel along with those beautiful melodies. The song has some female vocals provided by Helena Sofia Lidman and she actually compliments the song perfectly. The lyrics are all in Swedish and lately the themes have been about the destructive forces of nature, first with Orkan (Hurricane) and the forces of weather. It appears that with this album Mr. V. touches on fire but not from man but from nature. "En blixt från klar himmel" translates to "A Bolt from the Blue" and begins with the sound of thunder. This song is just perfect, there is no other way to describe it. The melodies are spellbinding and this is one of the best songs Mr. V. has written in a while

"Lågornas rov," which was the first video released is a monster of an epic song. Here we see every component that Vintersorg has ever placed in his music in one song. We have aggression, melody, and even a touch of prog. As with most of their catalog, the choruses on this album are just incredible and powerful. "Rymdens brinnande öar" is a perfect example of those choruses I mentioned. With female vocals provided by Frida Eurenius and the melodies over the riffs and acoustic guitars this chorus is simply amazing. Then we have "Urdarmåne" which is simply an amazing and indescribable song that has beauty, aggression and awe inspiring melodies. This song is the longest song on the album but given the sheer epic sound present here the song is not even close to being too long or played out. Instead we have these powerful emotions coming from this song creating a song that not just for listening but should be experienced. Yeah, it's that good.

Every Vintersorg album has it's own magic and personality. Even The Focusing Blur with some it's incoherence had this magic about it that I can't seem to explain. But this new album has a magic all it's own making this the best album he has done since Cosmic Genesis. Every song just makes you feel as if you are part of that song. The artistry here in the songwriting and the execution is beyond amazing. If you are a Vintersorg fan then you will get this album. If you were a Vintersorg fan but was put off by the proggy incoherent era, you need to pick this up. Your faith in Mr. V. will be restored.