Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
If I’m honest, when I saw this release nestled within my promo pile, I didn’t have high expectations for it. I’d never heard of Ironflame before, and the questionable and dated cover artwork did nothing to whet my appetite when I first laid eyes on it. I’ve leaned to trust my instincts though, and as we are at a point in the year when there are slightly fewer albums released, I had the time to try out those instincts once again.
The album in question is ‘Where Madness Dwells’, the fourth album from Ohio-based Ironflame, and it has taken me more than a little by surprise – in a good way. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Andrew D’Cagna, Ironflame was conceived back in 2016 as a one-off to honour a friend that passed away. But when you do things well, people always want more. And so here we are some six years later, with album number four, a remarkable feat in a number of ways. Not only is D’Cagna still active in other bands such as Icarus Witch and Brimstone Coven, he has essentially, once again, created the music on this latest Ironflame album himself. He is joined by guitarists Quinn Lukas and Jesse Scott, bassist James Babcock, and drummer Noah Skiba, but these guys are his live band. In the studio though, only the solos were outsourced to Lukas and Scott; the rest is all D’Cagna.
Having heard nothing of the past three albums, I cannot offer a comparison for those more familiar with Ironflame. However, what I can say is that ‘Where Madness Dwells’ is a cracking album. Deeply rooted in the ‘classic’ metal genre with plenty of NWOBHM-isms, this music will appeal to anyone who likes their metal on the more traditional end of the spectrum. Naturally therefore, the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest spring to mind, the latter far more forcefully though, with songs like the title track bordering on an homage to East London’s finest, after an intro that’s early Metallica through and through, in a good way.
It’s also interesting to note that D’Cagna references the likes of Savatage, Helloween, and even 90s Swedish death metal as influences. Whilst the latter references aren’t overly obvious, once you know this, you can definitely hear some vague hints within the songs, particularly the guitar playing. Overall, it means that there’s as much of a European flavour as a US one.
But above and beyond all else, ‘Where Madness Dwells’ delivers forth a collection of ten highly enjoyable, catchy, and quality heavy metal songs which you’d have to be deaf or devoid of music taste not to quickly latch on to and take great pleasure from listening.
“Famine, pestilence, war, disease, and death. They rule this world.”
This quote from the 1964 film, ‘The Masque Of The Red Death’ opens the album, as the intro to ‘Everlasting Fire’, but within seconds my mind is consumed by the riff that ensues, which is an energetic, up-tempo, and catchy affair. The vocals of D’Cagna do sound similar to those of Bruce Dickinson, whilst the central riff echoes Maiden. But when it all comes together this powerfully and with such a brazen swagger, who am I to criticise? Especially when Maiden seem to be concentrating on countless epics rather than their shorter, punchier material these days. ‘Everlasting Fire’, with its hooks, immediate chorus, and rip-roaring solos is a tonic for my ears.
But are we in the presence of a one-song wonder though? Don’t you believe it, not even for one second. No sooner has the opener disappeared, it is replaced by ‘Under The Spell’, which increases tempo even more and brings with it some slight thrashy overtones, especially in the brisk riffs and rhythm section where the drums in particular are pretty relentless. However, again, the song is memorable thanks to some great hooks, especially in the central harmony licks and riffs that emerge after the halfway point. I have to remind myself frequently that this is, aside from the lead guitar solos, the work of just one man, albeit an incredibly talented man.
I’m going to be absolutely fair here and say that, in a couple of places, the songs don’t grab me as strongly as others, but that’s not a comment on the quality of the material. Moreso, it’s a question of personal taste I would say. But the positives far outweigh the negatives as far as I’m concerned, with several songs delivering some wonderfully powerful heavy metal.
One of these high points arrives in the form of the slower, more brooding, ‘A Funeral Within’. The pace lends an old school doom atmospheric to the song, a little Sorcerer-esque, aided by some of the most prominent bass to be heard on the album. But it remains an endearing and catchy composition with ballad-like overtones to it also, as well as the ubiquitous lead breaks.
I really enjoy the thunderous intensity of the up-tempo ‘The Phantom Flame’ with its infectious lead guitar lines and punishing drumming. The melodies within ‘A Curse Upon Mankind’ get quickly and firmly lodged in my brain too.
But quite possibly my favourite of them all is ‘Infernal Angels’ thanks to the most irresistible chorus that gets better and better with every passing listen. Oh, and how can I forget the classic ‘oh, oh, oh’ passage that you can imagine getting sung with gusto at live shows the world over? It’s a wonderful song, and I have taken it to my heart in the same way that I have taken the entire album to my heart. I love it when I’m taken off guard and sideswiped by a previously unknown entity, and Ironflame have done just that to me. I can see ‘Where Madness Dwells’ getting very regular rotation in the Mansion Of Much Metal over the coming months, because it’s one of those albums that plants a great big smile on your face and reminds you of why you got into heavy metal in the first place all those years ago. If NWOBHM or classic/trad metal floats your boat, then ‘Where Madness Dwells’ by Ironflame requires your immediate attention.
A combination of melodic death metal and Finland? That sounds like a marriage made in heaven to me. For a start, there’s no doubting the heavy metal credentials of this country across a huge range of subgenres, but it is also home to my favourite melodic death metal band of all time: Omnium Gatherum. Reading that the guitarist for this band and Insomnium, Mr Markus Vanhala, makes an appearance on the title track with a lead solo just sealed the deal and I willingly placed my ears in the care of ‘Towards The Dying Lands’, the sophomore release from Horizon Ignited, following 2019’s debut ‘After The Storm’.
Formed in 2017, Horizon Ignited is a sextet comprised of vocalist Okko Solanterä, guitarists Johannes Mäkinen and Vili Vottonen, keyboardist Miska Ek, bassist Jukka Haarala, and drummer Jiri Vanhatalo. And whether or not you’ll like this record will depend on a few factors including how you prefer your melodic death metal to sound. We all know how varied the output can be when placed under this loose and overarching description, and Horizon Ignited have a very definite approach. Put it this way, if you’re wanting to hear the next Omnium Gatherum, this isn’t the record for you. Equally, if you want a similar sound to Amon Amarth, At The Gates, or Insomnium, there’s a fair chance that you’ll end up a little disappointed I’m afraid.
Instead, the tack that Horizon Ignited have chosen sees them more closely aligned to more current era In Flames, with a hint of the melodic end of Dark Tranquillity peeking through. Add to this a modern sheen, a reasonable dose of metalcore and some moments where alt rock plays a part, and you’ll be in the general vicinity of these Finns’ output. Going in blind to this album, with only the words ‘melodic death metal’ and ‘Finland’ in my mind, I must admit I was surprised by what I heard subsequently. Not one to arbitrarily dismiss a band because it wasn’t what I was expecting, I charged on regardless to see what I thought.
Having done just that, I’m going to be honest and say that the style of music that Horizon Ignited offer up on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is probably not what I’d normally choose to listen to, but that doesn’t mean that the finished article is not without merit. For my personal tastes though, the music is just a bit too polished, a bit too clean, a bit too mainstream-sounding, and at times, not quite heavy enough to send me off into raptures.
Despite this summary, there is plenty that I can still get on board with. As such, I think that the band should be commended that their performances and song writing ability are such that I can still find a certain amount of enjoyment with their music even if it doesn’t sit within my normal wheelhouse. The music is definitely catchy and melodic, so that’s an element that’s very hard to ignore for a start.
From the outset, there’s a demonstrable In Flames vibe within the guitar tones and the chosen riffs of ‘Beyond Your Reach’. The song rides along at a solid mid-tempo, with chunky guitars and a strong rhythmic spine, the growls of Okko Solanterä properly deep and powerful too. The chorus, however, reveals a clean approach that’s far more melodic and mainstream, almost befitting an alt-rock or nu-metal band. The song is well put together and reasonably memorable, but even at this early stage, I’m searching for a ‘wow’ factor, or interesting USP that fails to fully materialise.
This lack of a unique selling point continues as the album further develops, with song after song delivering some decent riffs, a nice hooky chorus, and the familiar blend of gruff and clean vocals. Tracks like ‘Servant’ or ‘Reveries’ will get stuck in your head because they are enjoyable compositions, that benefit from a good production that affords clarity to all concerned. But there just isn’t enough here to convince me that ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is anything truly special unfortunately.
A few of the songs either open with clean vocals or feature this delivery more prominently. When this is the case, the melodic death metal descriptor becomes that little bit more tenuous to say the least. The title track is one of these very songs, which despite featuring the guest lead solo from Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium’s Markus Vanhala, sounds more like a meaty mainstream heavy metal song rather than a cutting or bludgeoning slice of death metal. Other tracks of this ilk include ‘Guiding Light’ with its sprawling chorus that has more of an EMO, or metalcore vibe than anything approaching extreme metal. Then there’s the quasi-ballad-like ‘Arching Wings’ which is catchy as hell, but as heavy and edgy as the storylines in Peppa Pig.
Occasionally, the aggression is increased to include a more vibrant and faster beat from the drums and bass, such as ‘End Of The Line’ for example. But these moments feel like they are the exception rather than the rule, leading to a firm impression in my mind that this album is just too smooth and, dare I say it, safe.
As you all know, I vehemently dislike writing reviews that are anything less than positive. However, if I am to listen to more and more music in order to bring readers as much new material as possible, it is inevitable that this will happen with greater frequency. Nevertheless, I always try to steer away from being negative without being constructive in my criticism. Ultimately, Horizon Ignited’s music found here on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ may not be to my personal taste, but I’d still urge anyone to give it a listen because the content of this record is professionally crafted and well executed. It might even be your next great discovery.
Any normal year, and this release may have fallen by the wayside. But this is 2022, and I’m on a mission to listen to more music than ever before, as well as review more music than ever before. A quick look at the cover artwork and I would normally pass on by, given how cliched it looks with a leather-clad long-haired gent (probably band mastermind Zach Schottler himself) holding a guitar in his fiercely clenched fist. He’s holding some metal chains for good measure and tattooed on his arm is the title of this record, ‘Paid In Full’. However, finding themselves on the Atomic Fire Records Label, who have enjoyed a powerful start to life, I decided to investigate.
‘Paid In Full’ is the fourth album from Toronto trio Skull Fist and it turns out that record labels play a big part in this Canadian band’s past. Apparently, band mastermind Schottler suffered a number of issues over the years, culminating in the loss of significant funds. What Schottler didn’t lose though, was his determination, which helps to better explain the chosen cover artwork that I initially derided. Instead of throwing in the towel, the vocalist and guitarist pulled together his long-time bandmates Casey Guest (bass), and JJ Tartagila (drums) to create more new music. As it turns out, it’s pretty good music, too, as ‘Paid In Full’ ably demonstrates.
For a start, the music feels as if it is the work of more than just three musicians, as there is plenty going on. Aside from the rather cheesy intro, the opening, self-titled track is a smashing song that immediately made me realise that I was onto something exciting. Riffs, harmonies, melodies, classic heavy metal attitude, it’s all here and I love it. Lead breaks and solos aplenty embellish a punchy rhythm section, where the bass guitar sounds delightfully massive. Schottler has a great voice too, as he demonstrates when the ludicrously 80s-infused anthemic chorus hits. High notes that verge on screams pierce the ears, but his lower register is great too, with a nice tone and delivery. Sweeping solos are layered over slower lead work to add an explosive dimension, whilst the chugging verse riffs are equally as infectious as everything else. It’s just a killer song, with elements of NWOBHM, classic heavy metal, hard rock, and AOR all looming large. Schottler wasn’t kidding when he is quoted as saying he’s ‘on a never-ending pursuit of melody’ and ‘guitars can do other things than just four chords’.
Apart from being armed with a ludicrous title, ‘Long Live The Fist’, is an up-tempo, energetic beast with an even greater swagger than the opener if that’s possible. It is faster, more urgent, and contains some of the best performances from the trio anywhere on this album. The solos are ridiculous, the drum fills are thunderous, and the bass dances and skips with effervescence too. Pulling this song together are more strong riffs, catchy melodies, and an all-out vocal assault from Schottler.
The more I listen to ‘Paid In Full’, the more brilliant and infectious it gets. ‘Crush, Kill, Destroy’ started out as a ‘meh’ track after the opening duo, but it’s thrash ‘lite’ feel just gets better and better. The faster riffs add a different dimension, as does the overt attitude that the song carries with it. But again, the melodies and catchiness of the music have worn me down. Then there’s the delicious ‘Concierto de Aranjeuz’ style intro to ‘Blackout’ that shows us yet more of Schottler’s skills with the six string.
The speed is then sacrificed for serious groove on ‘Madman’, led by a heavy metal riff that many would have killed to write. It isn’t complex, or tricky, it just sounds big, heavy, and gets the neck muscles moving of their own accord. We’re still treated to the guitar histrionics that we’ve come to expect, but the change of pace and focus with ‘Madman’ is brilliant, topped off by a chorus that gets right under my skin, such is its power and infectious nature. In the blink of an eye, it’s done, and we’re off again at top speed with ‘For The Last Time’, complete with an intro full of wailing and gnashing intent. As it develops, there’s a slight touch of ‘ballad’ about it, but it’s nowhere near a ‘lighter in the air’ track, so those with an aversion to such things can breathe easy again.
The only problem with ‘Paid In Full’ is that it’s all over and done with in a little over half an hour. That’s eight blood and thunder songs, and then the curtain falls. I know that I normally criticise albums for being overly long, but this falls into the completely opposite camp. And when I enjoy the music so much, and when there honestly are no fillers throughout, I genuinely do wish that I had more to sink my teeth into. But that’s the only criticism I have to be honest.
That leaves me with precious little else to report then. ‘Paid In Full’ is one of those all-too-rare records that plants a great big grin on your face, whilst reminding you why you got into heavy metal in the first place. For me, it was the solos, the riffs, the harmonies, melodies, the attitude, and the blood-and-thunder nature of the music. ‘Paid In Full’ has all of these elements and more besides, so if you got into metal for similar reasons to me, I suggest that you investigate this latest endeavour by Skull Fist as quickly as you can. Just be warned: blink and you’ll miss it!
It seems quite inconceivable, but it’s a fact that ‘Shadowland’, the ninth studio album from Swedish metal band Wolf is the first that I have ever reviewed. For more than 25 years, theirs is a name that has been familiar with fans of classic heavy metal and old school power metal. I have heard their music, of course, but I’ve never felt compelled enough to delve into one of their records and give it the time and attention that I offer to many other bands out there. Given that 2022 is a year where I’m throwing myself into the deep end all over the place, I felt that now was the time to dive in properly and hear what I’ve been largely missing over the years.
By and large, I find myself quite impressed actually, the quartet hitting a nostalgic sweet spot that blends the metal of the likes of Dio, with Judas Priest, a touch of Mercyful Fate theatrics, and a dose of Euro power metal, albeit not from the more over-the-top Helloween-style end of the playbook. The music is a lot of fun as a result, but you also have to have a reasonable tolerance to a bit of cheese, because Wolf’s music is smothered in it. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing of course, just an observation and a warning if you’re allergic to such things.
When I first listened to ‘Shadowland’, I was in a foul mood. I was late for an appointment, I kept getting stuck behind slow-moving cars and tractors on the small, winding country roads along which I was driving and, on the return journey I hit a pothole, causing me to have to stop off and have two new tyres fitted to my car. It was not a good day, and I did not like what I was hearing from ‘Shadowland’ either. I nearly gave up and abandon any thoughts of a review, but something made me return for a second run through. I’m glad I did because a) it proved beyond doubt that your mood can easily affect your opinion of music, and b) it has led to a greater understanding and appreciation for what Wolf have created here.
Once the hooks and melodies start to have an effect, this album takes on a whole new meaning. Just take the opening track, ‘Dust’ as a prime example. It did nothing for me on a first listen, but when I listen for the umpteenth time, I can’t understand why it didn’t immediately resonate with me. The riffs are vibrant and on the attack from the start, whilst it skips along at a nice pace led by Johan Koleberg’s forceful drumming, with Niklas Stålvind’s vocals full of energy too. And the melodies are so strong, with hooks so sharp, you’ll be singing it in your sleep.
The pace is maintained with ‘Visions For The Blind’ which features a gloriously infectious chorus to juxtapose the driving riffing from guitarists Stålvind and Simon Johansson that features within the verses. Even the bass of Pontus Egberg makes the necessary impact within an overall production that, whilst clear and strong, has a retro feel about it, ideal for the music that Wolf create here.
If I had a criticism or two, they both feature within ‘The Time Machine’. An otherwise great, brooding track is undermined slightly by its length which, at over six minutes, makes it feel a little bloated. It also highlights the rather toe-curling nature of the lyrics that can emerge on the album. The chorus is fab, but the lyrics are a little ham-fisted and cheesy. It isn’t a negative that plagues every song, and neither is the issue with track lengths. Both feature, but it isn’t an epidemic, more an occasional outbreak that can largely be forgiven.
Back to the highlights, and the ultra-melodic NWoBHM flavour of ‘Evil Lives’ is definitely one of them. It’s a shorter, snappier composition and it’s a wonderful three-and-a-half minutes of classic metal excess. I also happen to rather enjoy the title track thanks mainly to some muscular guitar riffs, and a chorus that I find myself singing incessantly, long after the album has finished playing. Then there’s the more dramatic, theatrical ‘The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake’ that benefits from yet more heavy riffing, dark atmosphere, and a slightly more progressive edge, caused by the frequent shifts in direction within the song, not to mention a stand-out performance from bassist Egberg. You’ve got to love the cheesiness of a track like ‘Rasputin’ to, especially with the pronunciation delivered by Stålvind within the catchy chorus.
The more I listen to Shadowland, the more I find myself liking it. There is definitely something very endearing about this music, as well as being catchy and memorable. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic element of the record, or perhaps it’s because these four Swedes have become incredibly proficient at penning great heavy metal songs. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a combination of both of these elements that have come together on ‘Shadowland’ to create such a proficient record. Whatever the reason, I’m confident that existing fans will not be left disappointed, and that the Wolf name will remain strong for the foreseeable future.
This is now the third release from Serious Black that I have reviewed within the pages of manofmuchmetal.com and it is safe to say that the results have been rather varied. 2017’s ‘Magic’ scored highly, as it delivered a very positive and enjoyable slab of melodic heavy metal. ‘Suite 226’, their 2020 offering didn’t hit the same level in my opinion and was ultimately rather disappointing. Always one to maintain an air of optimism, I refused to just turn my back on the band. Instead, I have checked out their sixth full-length release, ‘Vengeance Is Mine’, and have decided to bring you my thoughts on it subsequently.
The first thing to mention is that previous vocalist Urban Breed is no longer part of the band that began life under the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag, initially featuring ex-members of Helloween, Blind Guardian, and Tad Morose. Urban Breed, arguably one of the biggest draws for Serious Black announced his departure in 2021, but as seems to be the way with Serious Black, they haven’t hung around, or skulked in the shadows licking their wounds. Instead, they have recruited a gentleman by the name of Nikola Mijić, a Serbian who has guested with Eden’s Curse previously. My impression of the new vocalist is largely positive I think; he has a powerful voice, with a gritty, rough edge, and he isn’t afraid of belting out the big notes to demonstrate his range. For some reason, I can’t shake the vague Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) similarities, although we’re certainly not in ‘carbon copy’ territory here.
Having therefore dodged the vocal bullet, what of the music itself? I had significant reservations over the output on ‘Suite 226’, finding the experience ultimately frustrating because of the variation in quality. We all know that the clientele involved, including Dominik Sebastian (Guitar), Mario Lochert (Bass), and Ramy Ali (Drums) are very competent musicians – their track record speaks for itself in that regard. However, the resultant music on ‘Suite 226’ and on previous records for that matter, was patchy. Some was excellent, whilst other songs were mediocre at best.
Happily, ‘On Vengeance Is Mine’, I can hear an improvement overall, with a higher standard across more of the album. However, there remains an issue with the band’s quality control, with some tracks here failing to meet the level that I want and expect.
High on the list of gripes in this area is with the lyrics. Melodic metal and power metal have, throughout time, been one of the biggest offenders where awful lyrics are concerned, often falling into the category of ‘cheesy’. I’m all for some fun sentiment in my metal; it certainly doesn’t have to be all about misery and death for me to be on board. But ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ does push things a bit far at times. For a start, the swearing within ‘Out Of The Ashes’ makes me cringe a little – it just doesn’t fit as far as I’m concerned. Then there’s the intro to ‘Queen Of Lies’ which features a telephone exchange between a mother and daughter, the voice acting of which is straight out of a failed daytime soap opera. The lyrics within the song itself aren’t that much better either which is a shame because the song itself is sharp, crunchy, and full of decent melody.
Moving away from the lyrics, I also have a hard time with ‘The Story’, which feels like a cross between a 90s pop-punk ballad, the kind you’d hear on American Pie, and an 80s hair metal ballad, mixed with a bit of West End musical material for good measure. I like a good ballad, but this is just a little bit too much, and is so sweet, my teeth hurt.
That said, the earlier ballad (yes, there are two) is much better and to my personal tastes. It is big, bold, and features some great melodies as well as some of Mijić’s best vocal work anywhere on this record. The grandiose synth orchestrations actually enhance the song too. Remember when I likened Mijić to Tobi Sammet? It’s here that the Edguy or Avantasia references loom largest on ‘Vengeance Is Mine’. You’ve got to love the harsh vocals that appear out of the blue too. Or at least, I do.
In terms of album high points, I actually really like the opening track, ‘Rock With Us Tonight’. Expressive lead guitar breaks, a nice mid-tempo stomp that’s full of simple but crunchy riffing, and a bridge/chorus combination that’s hook laden, memorable, and which carries the confident air of a solid melodic metal track. It’s a similar story for ‘Fallen Hero’ too, which is another cracking song that gets the balance between swagger, heaviness, and melody just about right, culminating in a great chorus that you’ll be humming for days.
One of the best cuts on the album though, has to be ‘Senso Della Vita’ as it has everything that I want to hear in this kind of music. The chorus is delectable, so catchy, so irresistible, but there’s more to the song than that. It has a more grandiose, over-the-top feel to it but unlike other songs, the blend is just about perfect. This is the classic track that demonstrates that Serious Black can really deliver the goods when they get it all right. ‘Soul Divider’ is also really rather infectious too despite having a darker sheen than other songs. Despite being drenched in syths throughout, it’s also one of the heaviest tracks, meaning that it stands out for that very reason. I’m also a fan of the chorus within ‘Just For You’, even if the lyrical content undermines things again just a touch.
When all is said and done, there is a lot to like about this latest creation from Serious Black. When they get it right, the music is undeniably catchy and thoroughly enjoyable. And whilst they get it right more frequently than some previous releases, it still isn’t quite enough to elevate the band massively in my estimations. I’m still very frustrated at points because I just know that the quartet can do even better. Nevertheless, if you are one of the ones that has disagreed with my reviews on this band in the past, I suggest you disregard everything I’ve written here, and dive straight into ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ because you’ll no doubt adore everything about it.
Here’s a decent little find that was originally hinted at by a follower of my website. Inevitably, given their apparent march towards world domination, this release sees the light of day through Frontiers Music, so don’t expect any nice packaging or extra value for your money here, because that ain’t happening any time soon. But I suppose, if I’m being fair, it should always be about the music first and foremost, so I’ll get off my soapbox now and concentrate on what matters most.
‘Scars’ is the debut album from Nasson Prudant, a guitarist, songwriter and producer from Chile, who has apparently come to the fore thanks to his work with the latest Chaos Magic album, ‘Furyborn’, and ‘The Miror Star’, the debut release from Sinner’s Blood. Having heard neither of these, I come at this review with no knowledge or expectation. The only reference points I have are delivered by the press release which name drops Eclipse, Pretty Maids, and Evergrey as bands that provide inspiration for Nasson’s debut solo release.
Being as fair and honest as I can, I’d have to say that these references aren’t a million miles away from the truth. The music isn’t arguably as heavy and as dark as Evergrey can be, but there are a few similarities to be heard. And there is definitely a melodic hard rock edge to some of the compositions on ‘Scars’, so the Eclipse references aren’t without some merit. However, it might be easier to just refer to Nasson’s music as very competent and enjoyable melodic heavy metal that encompasses a number of different styles across the album; everything from symphonic metal, to Gothic, and from modern metal to classic hard rock is touched upon on and, with more and more listens, it is hard to not fall for its not inconsiderable charms.
On ‘Scars’ Nasson Prudant extends beyond his normal guitar duties to handle the bass, piano, programming and vocals. From there, he is joined by drummer Rodrigo Leiva as well as female vocalist Caterina Nix to add another dimension to some of the songs. But that’s not all, because ‘Scars’ features a handful of guest artists in the form of vocalists Giu Oliver, Mizuho Lin & James Robledo (“We are the Army”), Mistheria who provides additional synths on ‘Mother Moon’, additional vocals from Alessandro del Vecchio on ‘When it Rains’, and guitarist Ignacio Torres who embellishes a trio of songs with lead solos (‘Not Today’, ‘Bringer of Sorrow’ and ‘We are the Army’)
I’m going go start my deeper dive into the music with a duo of my favourite compositions on ‘Scars’, namely ‘Mother Moon’ and ‘On The Other Side’. The former begins quietly but with a dark, foreboding edge, strong orchestration creating a dramatic cinematic introduction. The song builds nicely, to erupt with a muscular riff and a nice melody, the symphonics still an integral part of the soundscape. It’s an incredibly moody composition, a brooding affair that delivers on just about every level – it is heavy, powerful, and highly memorable thanks to some catchy hooks, embellished by a great lead guitar solo. But it’s also nicely paced and put together, with strong contrasts between light and shade. It is also a great song to demonstrate what a god singer Nasson is too. When he pleads to the heavens, it’s quite an arresting sound.
The latter, ‘On The Other Side’ is actually more of a ballad, but it’s a corker. An electronic heartbeat pulses at the start before a brief explosion of orchestration and heaviness enters. It’s gone in a blink to be replaced by a verse comprised of mainly vocals and bass, another introspective and moody affair. However, the chorus is an absolute beast, erupting in a blaze of melodic glory.
What I like about ‘Scars’ is the subtle variety on offer within the eleven tracks. Yes, the album has a general path that it follows, but Nasson isn’t afraid to mix things up a little within the framework of the music. As such, you get upbeat, hard-rocking numbers like ‘King Of Lies’ that walks the fine line between melodic metal and hard rock/AOR thanks to the layered vocals in the chorus, and fine hooks that litter the song, juxtaposed by strong, chugging riffs and no-nonsense drumming from Rodrigo Leiva. Or how about that opening riff on ‘A New Beginning’? This song is the one real time on ‘Scars’ where I can hear those Evergrey references looming large, although these are quickly expunged by a much lighter and breezy chorus than you’d typically hear from the Swedes.
That said, the opening track ‘Not Today’ does also contain the ghost of Evergrey too, but the overall symphonic embellishments are more cinematic and again, there’s a greater melodic hard rock sheen to the brash, memorable chorus that wipes away any darkness that the song may have carried at the outset.
It’s not all positive though, because there are a couple of occasions when the quality dips just a little in my personal opinion. And sadly, given the way ‘Scars’ opens, it is the closing couple of songs that fail to hit me in the same way as some of the earlier songs. ‘We Are The Army’ is one of the tracks that features a number of guests and it begins in hungry, fast fashion, coming out of the blocks in a flurry of power. But I find the ensuing chorus a little average and the more overtly modern metal trappings only serve to dial up the cheese a little too much. And the closing track, ‘Rising’ is OK, but not essential, a little too paint-by-numbers for my tastes.
Mind you, don’t let these blips discourage you from checking out this record because elsewhere there is so much quality to sink your teeth into and enjoy. For a debut release, ‘Scars’ is great; it shows without doubt what kind of talent Nasson Prudant has, both as a songwriter, but as a musician and singer too. I have listened to ‘Scars’ back-to-back on a number of separate occasions and I still don’t find myself getting bored of it as can be the case with this kind of music sometimes. Strong melodies, heaviness, sufficient variety, and a dark edge that stops it from being too saccharine, ‘Scars’ is recommended to anyone looking for a more than solid dose of melodic heavy metal.
Sometimes, just sometimes, you forget just how good an artist is. In a world where I am bombarded with new music on what seems like an hourly basis, it can take a little well-timed nudge to make you remember just how much you like a band or an individual musician. In this case, it had been a while since I had heard the unmistakeable sound of Matt Barlow’s voice. Ever since I discovered Iced Earth’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ around the turn of the Millennium, I have been a fan of Matt’s voice, wowing me in a live setting too, even more so than on disc. Leaving the band after the events of 9-11 to pursue a career in the police force must have been difficult but, with hindsight, a very wise move. The only unfortunate by-product though, for us fans, has been a distinct lack of Matt Barlow behind a microphone, doing what he does best.
Thankfully, we have Ashes Of Ares though and the nudge I required came with the invitation to hear their brand new album, the third of their career, entitled ‘Emperors And Fools’. Having enjoyed their sophomore effort, ‘Well Of Souls’ back in late 2018, I didn’t need an awful lot of persuading to check out their latest offering. As before, Ashes Of Ares is comprised of the core duo of Barlow alongside guitarist/bassist Freddie Vidales, who welcome back Van Williams (Nevermore, Ghost Ship Octavius) to carry out the drumming duties. On top of this, we’re treated to a handful or more of guest musicians who add their flavour to various tracks. For example, Jonah Weingarten composed the entirety of the cinematic instrumental opener ‘A City in Decay’. As instrumental intros go, it’s a pretty powerful affair, full of dark atmosphere and drama.
‘I Am The Night’ is, however, where the true Ashes Of Ares kicks in and it does so in impressive fashion. An urgent riff alongside intermittent drumming signals the beginning of a thrash-infused power metal attack, before Barlow’s magnificent voice enters and takes me back many years in the process. The melodies at play are really immediate, especially given the soaring vocals that accent the guitars. The pace is furious, the drumming typically thunderous and precise, and you get the feeling straight away that Vidales and Barlow are on top form here.
When coupled with the equally energetic and vital ‘Our Last Sunrise’, it is also clear that ‘Emperors And Fools’ doesn’t rock the boat in terms of output; if you were a fan of the band prior to this release, you’ll lap up what the guys produce here because the music is largely cut from the same cloth. It means that if you weren’t previously a fan, there’s not a great deal that’ll change your mind either. Personally, I do like this style of metal and it offers just about everything I could want. If I was to be a little hyper critical, I’d have wanted a slightly better production. It may be the quality of the promo mp3s, but it feels just a little muddy and lacking in clarity overall. Additionally, as good as the material is across the record, there are a few pronounced peaks and troughs, with a couple of songs suffering slightly in the quality stakes. An example would be the slower, more atmospheric ‘Primed’, which doesn’t set my world alight, even if it does improve with repeated spins.
As before, you also get a couple of quieter numbers, including the title track. This is a classic ‘lighters in the air’ or, to be more modern, ‘mobile phones in the air’ song, with acoustic intro, wailing poignant leads and quieter, more emotional singing from Barlow. To be honest, so good is his voice on this song, that he could have been singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’ and I’d not care.
I mentioned guest musicians and ‘The Iron Throne’ sees not one but two guest lead guitar solos. The first is from Sacred Reich’s Wiley Arnett, whilst the second comes from Charlie Mark. They add a nice extra element to what is essentially a muscular, stomping track, full of malevolence.
The undisputed highlight of this record, however, has to be the closing track, ‘Monster’s Lament’. It is an eleven-minute behemoth of a track, and it shows just what these musicians are capable of when they pull out all of the stops. The opening guitar notes are arguably heavier than anywhere else on the record, and they help to set a ponderous yet determined mid-pace that is quickly replaced by all-out pace and guitar histrionics. Williams lets loose the double pedal battery to great effect, and when Barlow finally enters, he is commanding in his deliberate delivery. Before long, he is joined by Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, another ex-Iced Earth alumni and current vocalist for K.K.’s Priest.
Given the extended length of this track, there is much more space for Vidales and Barlow to explore various tempos and soundscapes, including some passages that are quieter and more introspective, and others that are all-out bombast or attack. When juxtaposed, they really make a powerful impression, adding to the already impressive dynamics within the song. The only problem with ending ‘Emperors And Fools’ in this fashion is that it makes you wish a little more of the album could have been this good.
Overall, I have to declare ‘Emperors And Fools’ as a success. It isn’t the absolute home run that I would have loved to hear, and I do lose a little focus here and there as the album plays out. However, when you are presented with an album full of hard-hitting, crunchy riffs and the glorious voice of Matt Barlow, it would take an awful lot for the record not to be a success, certainly in my eyes. Put simply, if you enjoy thrash-infused power metal with plenty of grunt and nicely placed melody and the occasional prog dalliance, then you can never go too far wrong with Ashes Of Ares. ‘Emperors And Fools’ is the latest example to more than prove my point.
Back in 2017, I reviewed ‘Bringer Of Pain’, the fourth studio album of Battle Beast’s career. I didn’t however, review the 2019 follow-up ‘No More Hollywood Endings’. Put simply, I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Bringer Of Pain’ and so didn’t feel sufficiently compelled to explore further. Plus, the release also coincided with a break that I took in 2019 to recharge my reviewing batteries.
It’s now 2022 and, with renewed energy and dedication to my website, I felt that it was the right time to delve back into the world of the Finnish heavy metal sextet to see if I would be more impressed by their sixth offering, especially since the band continue to score number one album spots in their native Finland – you don’t do that sort of thing consistently if your output is lacking, surely?
It transpires that the band line-up remains unchanged for the third album in a row, meaning a certain level of consistency remains following the departure of their principle songwriter at the time, Anton Kabanan. As such, Battle Beast version 2022 remains comprised of vocalist Noora Louhimo, accompanied by guitarists Joona Björkroth and Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, drummer Pyry Vikki, and keyboardist Janne Björkroth.
As we all know, press releases are full of hyperbole, but here, I think we might have an early contender for the boldest, brashest statement of 2022:
“…if you are looking for your daily dose of symphonic heavy metal, that is also catchy, cheerful, theatrical, adventurous, groovy and enchanting, you can stop searching here and now.”
I came into this review with almost no expectations based on my last exposure to Battle Beast, but I must admit that ‘Circus Of Doom’ has turned out to be a pretty decent record with much to enjoy. It’s definitely better than ‘Bringer Of Pain’. But worthy of such an opening statement? Hmm…I’m not yet totally convinced, although I think much more highly of the album now than when I first listened to it, that’s for sure. A first listen left me feeling bored and unsure of whether I’d return and even complete this review. However, as is often the case, with repeated listens came greater understanding and a growing appreciation.
One of the initial hurdles on ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the opening title track. I can understand why they put it up front and central, but given its structure and overall sound, it isn’t the most obvious opening number. As the song’s title suggests, ‘Circus Of Doom’ has a hugely overt sense of theatre about it, as if it was stolen straight from a West End or Broadway rock opera. Or perhaps from their compatriots Nightwish at their most frivolous. The gentle music box intro gives way to a strong riff and powerful rhythms but from there, the orchestration and keys are all over the song. Choral arrangements, tinkling keys, and lush layers of synths bathe the song in a sense of bombast, but it threatens to dilute the heavy metal elements ever so slightly. Admittedly Noora Louhimo puts in an authoritative performance behind the mic and, with repeated spins, the heaviness of the guitars does come through. And crucially, there’s an infectious quality about the song that makes it impossible to maintain any dislike for it. I’m slowly converted and I’m now of the opinion that it’s a charming composition.
‘Wings Of Light’ is arguably the opening salvo that the record could have more sensibly led with. Mind you, it’s clear that Battle Beast want to showcase their increased variety, so leading with this cut might have been counterproductive on that score. It’s a full-on classic heavy metal song, with a slight power metal edge. The production shows its quality here too, as the drums that drive the song along at a brisk pace sound really powerful. I adore the lead guitar solo that emerges later in the track to compliment a hook-heavy chorus, making it quite the statement of intent.
You may already be familiar with ‘Master Of Illusion’ as it was one of the early forerunners released to the expectant fanbase ahead of release. And, I have to say that it remains one of my favourites. The nods to the 80s with the electronic drum sounds are a nice touch. However, it is the melodic strength of the song that carries it so well. The ear worms are vibrant and well executed, whilst there’s no let up in terms of the heaviness. Once again, the keys are bold, vibrant, and well placed, ensuring that there’s a richness to the song that can’t be ignored. Ten songs along this path and I’d not have complained.
If longer-term fans are worried that the overt power metal vibes have been completely ditched, then ‘Where Angels Fear To Fly’ should put those fears to rest. There’s a definite mainstream pop edge to the track, as well as more 80s influences, but the feel of the track is much more Euro power metal and less classic metal.
It’s not all positive however, as ‘Russian Roulette’ still leaves me cold. Of all the content on ‘Circus Of Doom’, this is where the cheese is at its most potent. It’s unashamedly 80s-influenced hard rock with a strong vein of pop running through it. Nope, this is just not for me, although lovers of the Eurovision Song Contest might disagree of course.
Thankfully, despite a couple of other tracks not quite hitting the heights of others (such as ‘The Road To Avalon’ which just feels a little unremarkable and a touch forgettable), the quality never again dips that low. ‘Freedom’ is a little suspect when it comes to the lyrical content, but there’s no denying the strength of the galloping rhythms in the verses, as well as the melodic interplay between the guitars and symphonic arrangements in the chorus; I say forget the toe-curling lyrics and instead immerse yourself in the driving pace and catchiness of the song.
The album ends on a high note though as far as I’m concerned. ‘Place That We Call Home’ is a full-on cinematic power metal anthem that many contemporary acts would have been delighted to write. I’m a sucker for double-pedal led choruses that are rousing, and here Battle Beast do their best to rival the likes of Rhapsody of old where this is concerned. It helps that, despite being less than four minutes long, it comes across as being far more epic than that, a fittingly rousing, grandiose closer to the album.
I’m always prepared to admit when I’m wrong and this is one of those occasions. My first draft, albeit written just in my mind, was much more different than what I’ve written here and I’m very pleased that this is the situation. With ‘Circus Of Doom’, I finally understand what the fuss has all been about with Battle Beast in many quarters of the metal world. I didn’t get it, but I do now. And while I’d not suggest that ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the perfect heavy/power/symphonic metal album, it is a highly professional affair. There is a whole lot to enjoy about it, and it is a great deal of fun too.
When I think of Iceland, I think of the barren landscape that dominates the island. From glaciers to active volcanos, and from the barren grasslands upon which weather-beaten ponies roam to the hot springs and geysers. Musically, my mind turns to Sigur Ros or, from a more metallic standpoint, the likes of the maudlin post metal of Solstafir or the grim, cold black metal of bands like Au∂n. I do not think of epic fantasy-led power metal. However, that’s what we have here from Power Paladin and their debut release, ‘With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel’.
Formed in 2017, Power Paladin clearly spotted a gap in the market in their home country and set about plundering that chasm. Originally created under the moniker of Paladin, the band is comprised of six individual musicians who have come together to deliver their own vision of what power metal should sound like. And that vision, it appears, is classic, heroic power metal that blends the speed of Helloween and their ilk, with a touch of NWOBHM, as well as some of the synth-driven pomposity of Hammerfall and earlier Rhapsody. There are a number of other references that cross my mind fleetingly from time to time, but you get the idea and I’d rather focus on Power Paladin than spend the entire review referring to other bands.
In the past, I have perhaps been guilty of appearing dismissive or derisive of bands that don’t offer an original sound, or something within their music that’s new. That’s wrong of me because a band doesn’t always have to be completely unique to be enjoyable. And that’s definitely the case with Power Paladin. They make no secret of the influences that have come together to create their sound, instead revelling in the fact that their debut is made up of nine songs that they are proud of and which pay a certain homage to those that inspired them. This pride and delight comes through in the music, too. As I listen, I find myself a little swept up in the bombast and grandiosity of Power Paladin’s own brand of power metal.
Right out of the gate, the guitars of Bjarni Þór Jóhannsson and Ingi Þórisson alongside the keys of Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson combine to create an infectious opening composition, ‘Kraven The Hunter’. It’ll have you grinning from ear to ear and probably throwing your best air guitar shapes in front of the mirror as well. In comes a high-pitched wail from vocalist Atli Guðlaugsson, immediately confirming that he certainly has the pipes for a power metal frontman. From there, the riffs are chunky, whilst the rhythm section of drummer Einar Karl Júlíusson and bassist Kristleifur Þorsteinsson create a crisp and strong, driving tempo upon which the remainder of the song is built. Duelling lead guitar solos are both speedy and melodious, whilst Atli Guðlaugsson goes up and down his impressive range with ease and strength. The chorus is a strong one, meaning that the entire song is a mighty powerful affair. Power Paladin have my attention.
‘Righteous Fury’ follows at, quite rightly, a furious tempo, with the keys and guitar dexterity calling to mind Dragonforce at their rapid best. What I like most about this song, however, is the way that the high tempo then segues beautifully into an epic, soaring chorus that’s rather majestic, showcasing the band’s songwriting prowess to the full, as well as once again demonstrating the significant abilities of vocalist Atli Guðlaugsson very well indeed.
I mentioned the NWOBHM influences to the Power Paladin sound and ‘Evermore’ is one of the songs to ably prove my point. After a gorgeously whimsical and melodic keyboard intro, in comes a fabulous galloping riff and rhythm that calls to the ghosts of NWOBHM warriors of yore.
What fantasy-inspired power metal album would be complete without the sounds of Medieval times? Well, ‘Way Of Kings’ has that covered whilst also delivering one of the strongest choruses of the entire album. If you are beginning to think that ‘With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel’ is all saccharine power metal ear candy, think again. The music is undeniably catchy and full of melody, but Power Paladin are most definitely aware of their metal foundations. ‘Dark Crystal’ throws forth the occasional growled vocal as well as unleashing a snarling, aggressive force, driven home by an unrelenting rhythm section and muscular riffing. The ghost of Rhapsody looms large within ‘Ride The Distant Storm’ which again, is a bona fide galloping power metal anthem with plenty of grunt, not to mention a neo-classical bent.
What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was the foray at the centre of ‘Creatures Of The Night’, which lowers the intensity and dials up the blues, and injects a smidge of 70s prog rock just for good measure. As mid-track interludes go, it’s one that I thoroughly welcome, highlighting Power Paladin’s flair for a good melody as well as that most wonderful of ingredients: the guitar solo. The remaining two tracks, neither of which come even close to fabled ‘ballad’ territory, more than maintain the quality that went before them. At over seven and a half minutes in length, ‘Into The Forbidden Forest’ is easily the longest of the nine songs, but is littered with lovely aspects, including some sparkling and catchy guitar licks, not to mention a sprawling chorus that befits the longer format.
I have absolutely no qualms in stating that this is the most consistently enjoyable album that I have heard in 2022 so far. Admittedly we’re less than a week into the new year, but I’ve already consumed a fair amount of new music, and ‘With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel’ has something about it that I really rather like. It’s not pretentious, or particularly serious. It isn’t bursting with new ideas, or jaw-dropping from a technicality point of view. Instead, this album has been put together really well, it is clear about its identity and plants a smile of my face from start to finish. As such, ‘With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel’ is a whole load of fun. And wasn’t that why most of us got into heavy metal in the first place – for the enjoyment of the music? It certainly was for me, so that’s why I’m delighted to have crossed Medieval swords with Power Paladin. If quality melodic power metal influenced by the great and the good of the genre sounds like it could be your cup of tea, check it out as soon as possible.