Tag Archives: classic metal

Iced Earth – Incorruptible – Album Review

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Artist: Iced Earth

Album Title: Incorruptible

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 16 June 2017

The phrase ‘only time will tell’ features a lot in music reviews, certainly in mine. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums and put pen to paper in double-quick time to submit my thoughts in time for the deadline. All too frequently, I have to make a snap decision about whether I like something and sometimes I’ll add in the caveat ‘only time will tell’ to buy myself a little breathing space regarding a record’s long term status and whether it’s a classic or the band’s best. Sometimes, I get my reviews right and sometimes I get them wrong.

When it comes to Iced Earth, I have to hold my hands up and admit to getting it very wrong. I’m a long term fan of the Indiana metal band, discovering them in the late 90s via ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. This is the album lauded by many as the band’s best and I certainly hold it in high regard. However, with interest piqued, I delved into the back catalogue and I also enjoy the vast majority of their earlier material, favouring ‘Night of the Stormrider’ if my life depended on it. In terms of the post- ‘Something…’ era, I lapped up ‘Horror Show’ and ‘The Glorious Burden’, both of which are fabulous records. Their unique blend of classic metal, power metal and thrash has proved to be a potent formula amongst their ever-growing army of fans, myself included.

More recent output, beginning with 2007’s ‘Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1’ and ending in 2014 with ‘Plagues of Babylon’ garnered very positive reviews from me in the pages of Powerplay Magazine. However, as time has told, I don’t return to them as frequently as I thought that I would. If I want a fix of Iced Earth, I’ll tend to go for something older. In fact, as I type, I’m hard-pressed to remember very much from any of these more recent albums.

Many will point to the instability of the line-up and, in particular, the frequent changes of the vocalist. However, I think that’s unfair. Matt Barlow will remain a fan favourite since he stood front and centre over some of the best material of the band’s career. That’s unavoidable. However, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens did an excellent job on a couple of records including the aforementioned ‘The Glorious Burden’ and then, after a brief return for Barlow with ‘The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’, Iced Earth have since 2011, turned to ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to deliver their diatribes. And make no mistake; he does a very good job, sounding very similar to both Barlow and Owens when delivering in the lower and higher registers respectively.

The revolving door syndrome that has affected almost every other position within the band is not entirely to blame either, although it can’t have been the most conducive atmosphere in which to create high quality music. Neither can Schaffer’s ongoing medical problems which fortunately have never drastically curtailed his endeavours. At the end of the day, this is Jon Schafer’s band; he founded Iced Earth and he remains the central creative force, creating most the material and having a say in just about everything else.

With that said, all of the albums between 2007 and 2014 have some very good material on them and I’m in no way saying that they are bad. It is just that they haven’t stood the test of time with me.

This time around however, with no deadlines or time constraints, I could listen in more detail and form a much firmer opinion over the material. And the material in question is the ten songs that feature on ‘Incorruptible’, the twelfth album in the Iced Earth discography.

The accompanying press release sees the ever-confident and bullish Shafer referring to this album as one of their strongest and whilst I approached this hyperbole with caution, I now must agree with him. Having allowed this album to burrow deeper into my brain than many others, I feel much more confident in delivering a very positive review of ‘Incorruptible’. I shall go so far as to stick my neck out and venture that this record is the best material to emanate from the Iced Earth camp since ‘The Glorious Burden’, possibly even longer. Indeed, alongside vocalist Stu Block, in-out drummer Brent Smedley, bassist Luke Appleton and new lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, Schaffer has clearly hit a rich vein of form with ‘Incorruptible’.

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What I like about this album so much is that it manages to blend powerful riffs and heavy music with plenty of melody and strong choruses to make the music truly memorable and rather addictive. Add in to the mix a sense of theatrics, drama and storytelling for which Iced Earth have become known and synonymous and suddenly things start to stack up in the right way.

Given the dark album cover complete with the ubiquitous Set Abominae character, I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘The Dark Saga’ with this record. But what I actually get is more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ vibe, where just about every track delivers something that makes me bang my head, smile or reach for the repeat button. There will no doubt be some who suggest that Iced Earth are cynically trying to recapture the magic of ‘Something Wicked…’ but I humbly disagree. Of course there are some similarities but on ‘Incorruptible’, I hear some of that magic that has imbued all classic Iced Earth material, whatever the era, whoever the clientele.

Kicking off with a dark and theatrical, almost cinematic intro, ‘Great Heathen Army’ offers fans of this band a thoroughly rousing and raucous opening salvo. Block screams and croons with gusto, the rhythm section pounds away and those trademark fast-picked rhythm guitars of Schafer create some tasty riffs. The chorus is a bit of a grower too, blossoming into a full-blown anthem after a few spins.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of Iced Earth on this record though, is the lead guitar work of newbie Jake Dreyer. His lead breaks litter the opener but they have a genuinely melodic edge to them, transforming the solos into something more nuanced than just a gratuitous shred-fest. To further illustrate this point, just check out the fabulous ballad-esque ‘Raven Wing’, complete with lush acoustic guitars. It is here that Dreyer indulges in some lead work that is full of depth, subtlety and bluesy soul, as well as the necessary all-out shred. It doesn’t do any harm that the entire song itself is a well-crafted monster, but it is the lead work alongside the changes in pace and heaviness that leaves the greatest impression.

The variety of the music is also a definite strength of ‘Incorruptible’ too. This is not a one-dimensional album and it benefits greatly as a direct result. You get the mid-tempo stompers like ‘Black Flag’ which in itself is a muscular metal track laced with plenty of melody. And there are the more sombre and brooding compositions like ‘The Veil’ which arguably features my favourite chorus on the record, one that I find myself humming at the most unexpected of times, unable to dislodge it from my head.

Then there’s the short, sharp and intense thrash blitzkrieg of ‘Seven Headed Whore’ with its intro riff that’s instantly reminiscent of Slayer in their prime followed by the potent combination of machine-gun drumming and matching riffs. In contrast, ‘Brothers’ is imbued with a satisfying groove that’s infectious as hell.

‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is an instrumental but far from being a snooze-fest, it is actually one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. I find the tribal vocals fascinating and a really nice touch whilst I’m genuinely taken by the pronounced, powerhouse drumming that is a firm feature of the track.

And ‘Incorruptible’ ends in fitting Iced Earth style with a slightly longer track, ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’. At just shy of ten minutes, it isn’t the longest epic that Schaffer has ever penned but it does still pack a punch. Complete with occasional Celtic overtones, a certain amount of quiet homage to Iron Maiden and the sounds of war, it tells a story within the Battle of Fredericksburg to great effect. It’s a glorious romp and the perfect way to end such a glorious album.

Mind you, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ that demonstrate a lessening of the quality as I genuinely like them all. In that respect, this has to be the most consistent record from Iced Earth for a significant number of years. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, this is without doubt their best release since ‘The Glorious Burden’ and it pushes the likes of ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as one of their best ever releases. In short, ‘Incorruptible’ is unmistakeably the sound of Iced Earth firing on all cylinders and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Helion Prime – Helion Prime – Album Review

CD Booklet

Artist: Helion Prime

Album Title: Helion Prime

Label: AFM Records

Release Date: 24 February 2017

Science-based power metal. These four words will go a long way to determine whether or not you carry on reading the remainder of this review. It is a description that it likely to either draw you in like a tractor beam or send you scurrying away faster than you can say ‘Higgs Bosun’. See what I did there?!

Personally, I have a big soft spot for power metal in general so long as it is done properly. That was definitely the impression I got when I heard ‘Life Finds A Way’ on the Internet and so therefore, coupled with the striking cover artwork that borders on the silly, I found myself intrigued enough to give this self-titled debut album from Helion Prime a proper listen.

By way of background for the uninitiated like me, Helion Prime are a Sacramento, California-based quintet comprised of guitarist and founder Jason Ashcraft, lead guitarist Chad Anderson, bassist Jeremy Steinhouse, drummer Alexander Bosson and brand new vocalist Kayla Dixon. The band are now signed to AFM Records and as part of that contract, they are re-releasing this self-titled debut that originally saw the light of day in 2016. The fact that many of us were blissfully unaware of this album clearly meant that the initial release did not come with a great deal of pomp or fanfare, something that this re-release will no doubt hope to address.

Personally, I’m really glad this decision was taken. Normally, I’m a little cynical about such things, questioning value for money and such like. However, here I think it is justified because this is a band that have plenty of potential and they deserve to be brought to the attention of the wider world before a second album is released in the next year or so.

Forget the science aspect for just a moment and concentrate on the music. On this score, the output is bound to find favour with plenty of fans of power metal but more than that, it is likely to appeal to those who delve into the worlds of melodic metal and classic heavy metal, even those who prefer the thrash genre, although this is slightly less pronounced perhaps.

What you get is ten songs full of sharp, chunky riffs, lots of groove and strong choruses with enough hooks and melodies to keep you entertained without diluting the metallic intent of the compositions. And then on top of that, you have the voice of Heather Michelle, who has since departed. Despite a proliferation of female singers in metal in recent years, the genre of power metal is still largely a male dominated world, so this is a welcome ingredient to the Helion Prime recipe.

More than just a unique selling point or novelty aspect, Heather has a truly wonderful voice, one that I personally really like. It is more than powerful and plenty rich enough to compliment the beefy music that sits behind it but she also sounds strangely seductive and very feminine. It is difficult to explain but I can’t get enough of her voice; there’s just something about it. I hope her recent replacement Kayla Dixon is as good.

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In keeping with the scientific-based lyrical content that spans space exploration, prehistoric times and a nod to science-fiction, the album opens up with a futuristic-sounding intro where synths lay the foundation for a sampled spoken-word diatribe that hypothesises that we are not the only intelligent life in the universe.

After this dramatic opening, things get going properly with a duo of monstrous tracks. ‘The Drake Equation’ bounces along in up-tempo fashion, leading to an instantly catchy chorus that lays down a marker for what Helion Prime are all about. The rhythm section is impressively robust and dominant and the lead guitar work that enters the fray in the latter stages is extravagant, but not overly so. In fact, thinking about it, this is a feature of Helion Prime; they could have gone all-out bonkers and over-the-top but instead, they have chosen to craft a set of songs that are nicely honed and which don’t take things too far.

The chorus to ‘Life Finds A Way’ has to be my favourite on the entire record. It is catchy as hell, epic-sounding with a galloping rhythm. Instantly likeable, it is compounded by a cool lead guitar solo and more strong riffs that are addictive and bring a smile to my face.

‘Into The Black Hole’, raises the pace even further and has a vaguely prog feel as it features a slightly quirky vocal line within the verses, only to be replaced by another great sing-along chorus and no-nonsense riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a traditional heavy metal record.

Elsewhere on this debut record, ‘A Place I Thought I Knew’ dials the intensity down a notch to good effect whilst ‘You Keep What You Kill’ delivers more of a speedy thrash vibe, incorporating some deep growled vocals and some prominent keyboard embellishments.

‘Oceans Of Time’ is arguably the first time on the record where the band delve a little into indulgent territory as keyboards and guitars trade blows during an extended solo section whereas ‘Apollo (The Eagle Has Landed)’ has the feel of the band letting go just a little more. It has another big chorus but flits between all-out speedy power metal and thrash and even flirts ever so subtly with progressive elements.

To round things out, Dream Evil’s Niklas Isfeldt appears on closer ‘Live And Die On This Day’ to deliver some male lead vocals. It’s a nice touch and ends the album with an interesting and welcome twist.

All in all, I have a strong feeling that Helion Prime might prove themselves to be a class act. This debut is slick, well put together, nicely proportioned and a lot of fun, without ever descending into silliness as their self-created tag line might suggest. ‘Helion Prime’ is a cracking debut and sets an impressively high benchmark for future releases by this talented bunch of Californians, beginning with their sophomore effort, along with their new vocalist, which is due to see the light of day in late 2017/early 2018.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Hammerfall – Built To Last – Album Review

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Artist: Hammerfall

Album Title: Built To Last

Label: Napalm Records

Date Of Release: 4 November 2016

Hammerfall were one of the first bands that I listened to during a period of power metal discovery around the turn of the millennium, when I simply couldn’t get enough of this genre. Alongside Gamma Ray, Sonata Arctica and Helloween, Hammerfall were a band to whom I turned on a frequent basis.

I just loved the rousing music that was catchy as hell but was also rather grandiose, slightly pompous in a good way and with heavy metal running through their collective veins. Telling tales of warriors and epic battles, Hammerfall always got my head banging and fists pumping with their macho brand of music. Known as the ‘Templars of Steel’, every album is littered with anthems that get lodged in my head and fulfil a need when I tire of the more extreme metal that I also listen to.

‘Built To Last’ is definitely aptly named, given that this is the Swedish quintet’s tenth studio album during a career which now stretches back some 23 years. Hammerfall, it appears, really are built to last and over the near quarter-century have garnered a significant following within the metal community. In some quarters, the fan base is undeniably feverish and fiercely loyal, a testament to a band that has consistently delivered the goods over the years.

With album number ten, guitarist and founder Oscar Drojnak, vocalist Joacim Cans, guitarist Pontus Norgren, bassist Fredrik Larsson and drummer David Wallin have returned to their roots a little more than of late. Never ones to stray too far from their tried and trusted formula, there is nonetheless a distinct feeling with ‘Built To Last’ that Hammerfall have gone back to the early days for inspiration and, in so doing, have created arguably their strongest recording for perhaps a decade or more.

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One of the barometers I use when judging the quality of an album is, regardless of the actual running time, the apparent speed with which it comes to a close. In the case of ‘Built To last’, the ten tracks fly past in a blur of muscular riffs, powerful rhythms, duelling solos, melodic lead breaks and memorable, sing-along choruses led by the unmistakeable voice of Joacim Cans.

‘Built To Last’ kicks off with real intent in the form of ‘Bring It!’ which is a high-tempo, no-nonsense melodic heavy metal anthem. It is a bold statement, one that signals that Hammerfall are hungry and determined to come out of their corner fighting hard. The chorus is a live classic in waiting but the whole thing from the speedy riffs to the cool hard rock swagger immediately gets the blood pumping and plants a smile on my face.

‘Hammer High’ is a classic Hammerfall track. It begins with a strong drum beat and an immediately catchy melody played out by their now-familiar choir-style vocals. This melody is the foundation of the huge chorus but the verses are just as enjoyable. The pace is slowed slightly to allow Cans the time and space to impress with his high quality voice, full of power and melodic intent. The solos are things of beauty too, with Drojnak and Norgren going toe-to-toe excellently.

In a brief change of pace, ‘The Sacred Vow’ opens with a gorgeous classical guitar before exploding with full force. Lyrically, long term fans might notice a few nods to classic Hammerfall songs but it is the killer chorus that steals the show. It has that classic Hammerfall stomp and groove to it that is simply infectious, begging to be replayed over and again. Again, I love the melodic solos whilst Cans’ voice hits heights that shouldn’t be possible for a grown man to reach. Definitely one of my favourites on the album, this.

Thunderous drumming and lightning fast neo-classical hammer-ons usher in ‘Dethrone and Defy’ a track that keeps the pedal to the metal for almost the entirety of its five minute length. It takes no prisoners and is certainly a striking composition because of this. In direct contrast, ‘Twilight Princess’ is the ubiquitous Hammerfall ballad. Introduced by a whimsical flute melody, it gives way to subtle synths, gentle guitars and a vocal performance full of emotion. Again the lead guitar work is gorgeous but the way the song ebbs and flows to assist with the story telling is what makes this such a compelling piece of work.

There isn’t a weak track on ‘Built to Last’ but other definite highlights include the blood and thunder chorus and strangely captivating and slightly unexpected closing melody of ‘Stormbreaker’. Then there’s the more straight-up classic heavy metal sound of ‘New Breed’, which has a worthy lyrical content and more smoking lead guitar histrionics.

You’d never believe then that I wasn’t keen on this album after a single play through would you? ‘Built To Last’ has got under my skin the more I have listened to it, to the point where I find it rather addictive now. And the best thing is, with ‘Built To Last’ Hammerfall have cemented their place in my affections and remain one of my go-to bands when I want a dose of quality metal to get me nodding my head, and singing along (badly). What’s more, ‘Built to Last’ puts a huge smile on my face every single time.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Grand Magus – Sword Songs – Album Review

Grand Magus - Sword Songs - Artwork

Artist: Grand Magus

Album Title: Sword Songs

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 13 May 2016

If you’ve clicked on the link to read a review of the latest Grand Magus album that compares and contrasts ‘Sword Songs’ with the seven albums that have gone before it, you may have to search elsewhere. This is because for some reason, the Man Of Much Metal has never before delved into the world of Grand Magus. I’m not the biggest doom metal aficionado in the world and so I just presumed that the Swedes would not be for me. As such, I come to this review colder than a polar bear in a snowstorm.

I know nothing of the history of Grand Magus, I know nothing of their back catalogue and I know nothing of the baggage that surrounds them, namely which of their albums fans think is the best, which is worst and why. However, this ends here and now. Abruptly. You see, I have made a catastrophic error. I only have ‘Sword Songs’ to go on but I’m well and truly smitten, certainly smitten enough to dive headlong into their fifteen years’ worth of material.

It is true that the words ‘doom’ and ‘stoner’ loom large over many descriptions of Grand Magus. However, as I have discovered, the trio of musicians might have begun life in this fashion but are an entirely different beast, offering so much more in the process.

The first thing that gave this album the thumbs up was the title of the opening track. The guys don’t even know me, but to name it after my firstborn daughter, rather than the Norse Goddess, is a lovely touch. They even spelled ‘Freja’ correctly.

But seriously, within a few moments of ‘Freja’s Choice’, it was clear that I was going to very much enjoy this record. In 2016, Grand Magus are what I can only describe as a ‘proper heavy metal band’. They blend classic rock and metal with elements of doom, NOWBHM and power metal to create a properly addictive does of heavy music. It’s the perfect blend of non-nonsense riffing, big choruses and fists-in-the-air sing-along anthems. But then, one look at a front cover that’s adorned with an eagle clutching a broadsword in its talons and you could probably have guessed the content of this record.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

In Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson, Grand Magus are blessed with a vocalist who is just about everything you’d want from a metal front man. His voice is powerful, with a gravelly texture and he actually injects a surprising amount of melody into his delivery. It’s the perfect voice for a set of huge Scandinavian battle hymns. The fact that he then delivers massive riff after riff, as well as the occasional stirring solo means that he is well and truly a force to be reckoned with. I just love the guy’s guitar tone. The melodic leads are authoritative whilst the bottom end is a beefy distortion-fuelled joy.

Behind him are bassist Fox Skinner and drummer Ludwig ‘Ludde’ Witt, both of whom come together to drive the songs forward with power and precision. The drums are nothing short of thunderous and the clarity afforded the bass in the mix means that it rumbles satisfyingly throughout, occasionally coming to the fore and shaking the earth’s core in the process.

‘Sword Songs’ is comprised of nine tracks and weighs in at just over half an hour. That might sound a little on the short side and yes, I’d agree it is. But then no-one ever complained about the length of Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ or At The Gates’ ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’; they’re still lauded as classics in spite of the fact that they’re not endowed with the greatest of lengths. I’m not saying that ‘Sword Songs’ will definitely reach this lofty status but I am saying that this record is chock full of absolutely superb heavy metal that I can’t stop playing.

‘Freja’s Choice’ opens the album in no-nonsense fashion with a huge riff and some drums designed to waken the Norse Gods. It’s an unabashed call to arms that has an early Sabbath vibe in places, meaning that it’s a powerhouse of a song.

You can’t escape the Manowar echoes within ‘Varangian’, thanks to the mid-tempo stomp of the main riff as well as the pomp and sense of the epic that the chorus brings with it. I can imagine this being a huge hit on the live circuits, although truth be told, the same could be said for pretty much the entire album.

‘Forged In Iron – Crowned In Steel’ is a personal favourite. It begins quietly with a hint of Iron Maiden before another killer riff strides in, complete with galloping bass. However, it’s the ‘Viking Metal’ chorus that does it for me. It’s so damn macho that I can feel my beard and chest hair growing faster just by listening to it. Glorious.
‘Master Of The Land’ contains some of the heaviest and best riffs on the entire record, real headbang-inducing fare whereas ‘Last One To Fall’ is slightly faster-paced with a definite power metal sheen to it in the chorus and a churning groove-laden behemoth riff that comes out of nowhere but is almost hypnotic.

There’s barely a weak moment on the record and fittingly ‘Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight’ closes the album in fabulous fashion. Another favourite, it is the closest that Grand Magus get to a ballad but the melodies are just delicious and the guitar tones within the chorus are just about perfect, setting off some kind of primeval response in me.

Above all, what I love most about ‘Sword Songs’ and Grand Magus is the honesty of the music, the sense of fun and enjoyment that comes across in the songs. It would have been easy to allow a few more ‘modern’ metal trappings into their sound but they have remained steadfast against that particular tide. Yes, they may have veered away from their early doom influences but their integrity towards the classic heavy metal ethos is hugely refreshing. If you want to remind yourself of what attracted you to heavy metal in the first place, ‘Sword Songs’ is the place to start.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – DreamlessIn Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher – Album Review

CD Cover ArtWork - Dreamsnatcher (2015)

Artist: Neverworld

Album Title: Dreamsnatcher

Label: Dream Demon Recordings

Date of Release: 4 March 2016

It is fair to say that the name Neverworld has been on my radar for some time but I’d never taken the plunge for one reason or another until now, upon the release of their second album, ‘Dreamsnatcher’. Over the past year or so, I have seen a number of snippets of music over social media and it has been these little tasters that convinced me that I had to listen to Neverworld this time around. And overall, I’m really glad I did.

But before I go on, let’s get the slight niggle out of the way first and it has to do with the production. It isn’t bad, far from it. Each instrument can be heard within the mix at most times. It’s just not to my personal taste and I can’t help but think that it could have been a little stronger, particularly in the guitar department. As it is, some of the six-string work is rendered a little fuzzy and buzzy, reminiscent of the 70s and 80s at times. This may be entirely deliberate but from my own subjective point of view, I would have liked a slightly different production approach overall.

 

Neverworld band

However, let’s move onto the positive stuff and, on that score, there’s plenty to talk about.

Imagine, if you will, a mash-up of classic NWOBHM, Bay Area thrash metal and the melodic progressive stylings of the likes of the aforementioned Vanishing Point. This description sounds good to me and happily, the reality is equally as palatable. In fact, the more I listen, the more I’m convinced that ‘Dreamsnatcher’ is very much the distilled sound of five guys with a love of heavy metal getting together, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and giving it 100%, leaving nothing behind except a trail of blood, sweat and the smell of burning denim and leather.

Neverworld 2016 is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Ben Colton, guitarist Jack Foster, drummer Mike Vaughan, keyboardist Daniel Potter and bassist Gary Payne. And ‘Dreamsnatcher’ contains everything that you’d expect from a ‘proper’ heavy metal album. You want heavy riffs? You’ve got them. You want an uncompromising and powerful rhythm section? You’ve got it. You want up-tempo music that you can bang our head and sing along to? You’ve got it. And you want dual guitar harmonies and blazing lead guitar solos? Yup, you’ve got them too and you’ve got them in spades. As someone who has a huge weakness for such frivolities, it’s a joy to hear.

And if all that wasn’t enough, you have the lead vocals of Ben Colton. When he nails it, the guy sounds great and I’m frequently reminded of the mighty Silvio Massaro of Vanishing Point, such is Colton’s rich timbre and powerful, passionate delivery. Very occasionally, when he is required to hit the higher end of his register, it sounds a bit of a struggle but otherwise, Colton is really impressive behind the mic.

It all adds up to an album that’s both serious rocking and a hell of a lot of fun. Every time I listen, I begin to smile, my head starts to nod and invariably, I break out the air guitar regardless of whether I’m behind closed doors or taking the dog out for a walk. The exuberance of Neverworld is infectious and I can’t help getting swept up in it.

Aside from the obvious vocals and lead guitar frivolities, the most ear-catching aspect of Neverworld is the keyboards of Daniel Potter. ‘Dreamsnatcher’ is awash with keys, both to enhance and create melodic lead lines but also to add depth, atmosphere and to soften the edges of an in-your-face metal assault. Some listeners bemoan and deride albums that utilise keyboards and synths but in my opinion, they are a very welcome addition to the overall Neverworld sound.

For once, I will refrain from picking out any particular songs for further scrutiny because the entire record is remarkably consistent. There’s something to like within each of the ten compositions, be it an uncompromising double pedal drum beat, a melodic and soulful lead guitar solo or a passionate vocal line.

Overall, and most importantly, Neverworld remind us all of what heavy metal is all about. At a time when we seem fixated on the next big subgenre or the ‘scene’, here is a band that have metaphorically stuck two fingers up and said, ‘we just want to rock’. And for that, Neverworld should be applauded.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Live Gig Review: Triaxis – The Portland Arms, Cambridge – 23 Jan 2016

Gig line-up: Triaxis, Metaprism, Silent Divide, Powderhead

Venue: The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Date: 23 January 2016

The Man Of Much Metal meets Triaxis!

The Man Of Much Metal meets Triaxis!

**all other photographs courtesy of Neil Garratt**

It has been a long time since I went to a gig. Too long, in fact. However, it is the reality for a chap that has two small children and a dwindling amount of free time on his hands. It has to be something special to get me to absolve myself of fatherly duties these days and so that alone should speak volumes of the high regard in which I hold UK metallers Triaxis. It was a decision made all the more justified with news reaching us just days before the show that founding members CJ (guitar) and Giles (drums) are to take a break from the band at the end of March, meaning that this was one of the last chances to see the line-up that recorded the magnificent third album, ‘Zero Hour’ (2015).

Speaking of which, check out my review of ‘Zero Hour’ right here, an album that made it into my top 30 albums of 2015 list.

All of this meant that I left my partner with minimal guilt as I travelled the 40 miles west to Cambridge and more specifically, The Portland Arms, for a night of heavy metal indulgence.

Before this evening, I had never been to the venue at The Portland Arms before and I must admit to being quite impressed. Housed at the rear of a normal urban pub nestled a small but perfectly formed bespoke live music venue, complete with sound desk and integral bar. The Portland Arms should be proud of their facilities and even more so once the live music began, thanks to a properly decent sound throughout.

The first of four bands to take the stage was Powderhead, a local, Cambridge-based classic rock band. Formed less than a year ago, the musical output was a little raw and in need of a little honing. However, the quintet had something about them to suggest that they might have a positive future ahead of them.

Next up was Silent Divide and with them came a discernible increase in the quality, a trend that continued throughout the evening. Led by the veritable ball of energy that is Marianne ‘M’ Rose, I found myself rather admiring the Essex-based band’s set. Their particular brand of alt-rock meets metalcore isn’t normally my thing, but it was played with passion, conviction and commendable precision. I wouldn’t mind catching Silent Divide live again.

As the members of Metaprism made their way down a flight of stairs at the back of the venue, you couldn’t fail to notice the sheer size of this band. Put it this way, you’d not mess with any of them in a darkened alley of an evening. Fortunately for my integrity and for my health, the dual vocal (male and female combo) modern melodic metal sextet Metaprism put on a really enjoyable show and they won me over nicely. It’s not often you see a singer performing in the middle of a mosh pit and, coupled with some hilariously dreadful inter-song banter (‘I’ve got nothing…anyone got any jokes?’) the Bournemouth metallers ended up being a bit of a hit with me.

12474095_10153573979903929_6498304577300644773_o

The Man Of Much Metal meets Triaxis!

As good as the support acts were, I was here primarily for Triaxis. Therefore, when they hit the stage, I will admit to a fair amount of excitement on my part. I’d heard good things about the Welsh-based quintet but the reality was even better. Here is a band that’s at the very top of their game and the performance underlined this point perfectly.

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Triaxis opened with a barnstorming rendition of ‘Liberty’ and, after a quick tweak by the sound engineer, the song came through loud and clear. Performed with precision all round, plenty of explosive energy and a genuine sense of enjoyment, the end result was infectious and exhilarating. Not even a few technical difficulties could dampen the spirits or performance of the classic-meets-thrash metal five-piece. In fact, if anything, the mic problems and backing track glitches simply added to the sense of fun and served as welcome banter fodder for the irrepressible lead vocalist Krissie Kirby. The innuendo created by a simple mic cord was hilarious and her ‘diva’ comments had the crowd eating out of her hands.

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Importantly, for all the fripperies, it was the music and the way in which it was performed that delighted me the most. ‘Blood Red Skies’ was a personal highlight, as was the impossibly brilliant ‘Black Trinity’, the latter remaining lodged in my head for the entire journey home, along with a comforting post-gig ringing in the ears. The set also included the likes of ‘Victorious’, ‘Death Machine’ and ‘Stand Your Ground’ as well as ‘Dying Sun’ and the emotional ‘Lest We Forget’, performed only for the second time on stage.

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

On this showing, it seems strange that CJ and Giles have decided to take a break; both of them put in top performances and, in the case of CJ, the entire show was played with a smile on her face. Bassist Becky Baldwin never stood still and lead guitarist Glyn impressed with some lightning fast and razor sharp lead breaks.

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

Photo credit: Neil Garratt

To be honest, each member put in great performances and the hour-long set flew by to the point where I couldn’t believe that it was all over. Regardless of what happens with Triaxis from here on in (and they should be destined for greatness by the way), I am pleased to have witnessed a live show with their elite line-up intact. In Triaxis, the UK have a very special band indeed that are worthy of all the plaudits heading their way. What a fun night.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19

Welcome to chapter 12 in my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ countdown. I hope you’re enjoying this series as much as I am putting it all together.

A reminder that the positions 30-16 are very arbitrary and are only really ordered this way to allow a new blog post each day. These albums are equal in many ways and should be treated as such. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, links to each one can be found at the bottom of this post.

And with that, I give you the next featured album…

Number 19

triaxis zero hour coverTriaxis
‘Zero Hour’
Rocksector Records

From the heart of South Wales comes a band that does things the right way. A strong work ethic, abundant touring and a warm rapport and interaction with fans both in person and over the Internet. It’s no wonder that Triaxis have taken the title of being the metalheads’ metal band – they certainly deserve the accolade.

However, most fundamental of all, Triaxis maintain a steely focus on creating the best music that they possibly can. The result in 2015 is ‘Zero Hour’ the quintet’s third full-length album and what an album it is. I have been an admirer of Triaxis since their debut and I can safely say that ‘Zero Hour’ represents a big step up in just about every department. The riffs are more incisive, the melodies that little bit bigger and more infectious, the singing, the playing, the song writing; everything is just that little bit better, meaning that Triaxis have thrown down a massively impressive challenge to their rivals.

triaxis band

I penned a full review of ‘Zero Hour’ earlier in the year. If you want to read it, click here. I also interviewed the delightful voice of the band, Krissie, the result of which can be read here.

The overall sound of Triaxis is deceptively difficult to define, so I hope you’ll forgive a generous quote from my review which tackles this conundrum in a rather ham-fisted way if I’m honest:

‘…there are many nods to the thrash genre thanks to the aggressive and powerful drumming, the barrage of tight, incisive, fast-paced riffs and the overt attitude that vocalist Krissie conveys with her singing. However, in addition, there’s a demonstrable NWOBHM and classic metal vibe to much of the material. The likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to name a couple are referenced thanks to Triaxis’ love of galloping tempos, harmonies and choruses that contain enough hooks to catch a blue whale. And then, there are also a few more modern twists for good measure, including a smattering of metalcore- tinged growls to compliment the clean voice as well as the occasional use of synths and sampled sounds away in the background.’

It isn’t my best example of descriptive prose but it gives the uninitiated a rough idea of what to expect. Of course, what I could have said was ‘if you love proper heavy metal, you’ll love Triaxis’. That would have been far simpler and just as accurate to be honest.

Having lived with ‘Zero Hour’ for half a year now, what strikes me more than anything else is the subtle variety that’s on offer across the 12 tracks that make up this record. From the majesty of ‘Liberty’ to the thunderous battery of ‘Death Machine’ and from the NWOBHM-inspired ‘Terraform’ to the more melodic hard rock swagger of ‘Stand Your Ground’, this is a record that delivers on a number of levels and never gets old or stale; several months down the line and the music remains as fresh and vibrant as it did at the very beginning.

If there is any justice in this world, ‘Zero Hour’ should be the catalyst to propel Triaxis into the big time; you can hear and feel the confidence of the band, the music screams quality and every track offers something exciting for the listener. In the same way that I concluded my review, if you’re after a dose of uncompromising straight-up heavy metal, you need to hear this record.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012