Secret Sphere – The Nature of Time (Frontiers Records – 2017)

I was incredibly sceptical going into this album. I’ve had some previous experience with the band, but left them for dead a while back. I was totally oblivious to the fact they had gotten a new singer and changed musical direction something fierce, this happened like five years ago. And all for the better.

 

The reason I wrote these Italiens off years ago was the style of power metal they played, I heaped them in with Rhapsody and all their sound-alike bands from Italy, justified in my opinion. They’ve changed in a more progressive direction, and I can hear a lot of Dream Theater inspiration on this record, and even a few bits of pure rip off.

 

The album is beautiful, artwork and all, just gorgeous. The same could be said about the music. Beautiful is the best word to describe it. Songs like Kindness, Love and Honesty are amazingly melodic, with a heavy tint. The songs flows and raps around your ears like a wonderful …. something or other.

 

The Dream Theater references are obvious, down to the guitar sound. Remember that twangy / chorusy guitar from Pull Me Under? It gets more than its fair share on this record. The lyrics are the heaviest part of the album, although some riffs are as heavy as one can expect from Italian progers, the main feel of the album is a soft, melodic type, with rough edges. The metaly metalriffs are spread out through the record and you get a taste on almost every song. The intro to otherwise ballady Faith, for instance, is surprisingly heavy. The Awakening is the heaviest  number on here. It’s built around a classical epic skeleton: A classical intro, with orchestra, that bursts into an amazingly technical guitar solo, befor the proggy rhythm parts steps in and you go to a fast verse, and then slow it down to a more melodic middle section, before going up tempo again for the chorus, and so forth and so on.

 

The melodies, riffs, lyrics and progressive elements mix together in really cool way. I’m totally digging this album, however there is one thing I really really don’t care for: I understand that as proggers they feel obliged to have one long story through the album, a concept. I’ve tried a few times to pick up on the story, but it’s not really speaking to me. I just don’t get it. The last 30 seconds of every track is dedicated to bringing the story forward, the story is poorly told. The soundbites thus become a nuisance and annoying, I wished they would have put them on separate tracks so could escape them easier.

+ Melodies, riffs, songwriting

– Lack of originality, unfulfilling concept / story, too much blatant Dream Theater ripping

 

Recommended tracks: Faith, Love, The Awakening, The Calling

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Masterplan – PumpKings (AFM 2017)

This must be the most unnecessary album I’ve experienced in quite some time. I have fond memories of nearly all the tracks on this re-recording from the original Helloween releases, but do I really need to have them in “a more modern”version? Heeeeell no!

Maybe the title should just be “Roland Grapow – Cranky and Bitter”? Productionvise the album is ok, up to modern standards, the cover art is ok for minor release like this. The timing of this release is more conspicuous; why now, mr. Grapow? The reason seems obvious, Roland didn’t get invited to the big Helloween reunion / celebration / money grab and now feels the need to mark his territory. And he goes about it like a dog would, by pissing on the stuff he feels belongs to him.

The music isn’t changed or revamped in any major way, they sound like lesser versions. However there are three distinct differences and none of them good:

  1. The vocals: Rick Altzi isn’t my favorite vocalist, but he has a rough voice with quite a bit of power. What he really lacks is the technique to sing this style. His voice is more suited towards a harder style of music. All these tracks were originally recorded by Andy Deris and Michael Kiske in their prime. Both of these are / were extremely talented singers and with a huge range and emotion in their voices. Rick Altzi isn’t anywhere near able to pull off their melodies and falls flat.
  2. The keyboard: Most of Helloweens songs has a keyboard in the mix at some level, sometimes barely audible, sometimes just pleasantly present. In this rerecording they are loud, ALL THE TIME. I’m not the biggest fan of keyboards, but it has it’s place and it’s functions. But this … this just too much.
  3. The guitarfills. Grapow uses every chance to include a little twiddelidi, sometimes it works most time it’s annoying.

 

The songs are still good, but I’d rather go with the originals. This seems like a bitter mans revenge fantasy; so they don’t want me with them? I’ll show ‘em, I’ll record my versions, they’re my songs after all, and that’l show ‘em MWAHA HA HA …. HA

 

Rating: 1,5 / 5

 

Danzig – Black Laden Crown (Evilive Records 2017)

After the weak sounding covers record Skeletons I didn’t get my hopes up for this release. The sound is in the same sort of low fi Glenn has been doing ever since 7:77 I Luciferi. The songs are doomy and gloomy, mostly slow to mid tempo pieces.

 

Let’s pause a minute to consider the cover art, wow how awful is this cover? Danzig cover art has been a huge part of what has drawn me to the music, especially the Giger drawing of How the Gods Kill, not to mention the classic skull logo or the medieval look of Circle of Snakes. This time around he has chosen to go for the esthetics of his Verotic comic books. I get that he is big into the comic book world, but this cover is too much on the cartoony side for me personally, bit of a disappointment.

 

The sound is very similar to the Deth Red Saboath album. Lyrically this album is better crafted, maybe not as accessible as earlier, but with better quality… quality might not be the right word…shit… they seem less childish and more of a comprehensive body of work.

 

The guitar is heavily overdriven, I’m thinking a thick fuzz sound, Victor likes himself some natural harmonics, so much so that it sort of gets annoying. The riffs themselves are dark, and heavy, reminiscent of Circle of Snakes and 4p. The high, squeaky fills gets a bit much, for my taste. The drums are once again handled by Joey Castillo, who was the from about 95 up through the touring cycle for I, Luciferi in 03. I can’t really say he makes much of an impact on the album. Drums are hollow-sounding and bass-laden, like they’ve been on every danzig-record since the turn of the century. I guess Glenn played the bass and keyboards himself.

 

The opener, which also happens to be the title track, is a sort of half breed between his past half instrumental openers, like Unendlich or Wotans Procession and earlier heavy numbers; like Thirteen or Angel Blake. It’s a slow, but heavy number. Best of all, it has this classic, easy-to-follow Danzig vocal melody. A truly wicked start to the new disc. Eyes Ripping Fire is not a great song, it’s lacking in power and gets dull and seems to drag out, even though it’s only like four minutes long.

 

Devil on Hwy 9, the teaser and the single, isn’t a very good either. The chorus is nice and infectious, but the main riff is just boring and Victor is slightly too active with his fills. I’m sure this will be killer live though, it just falls flat in a studio version.

 

I’ve listened to this album a bunch of times now, and it doesn’t really stick. It kind of falls flat. I get what he’s trying to do with production but when you know that with today’s technology untrained kids can make great sounding stuff in their bedrooms, this low-fi shit doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t sound retro, it doesn’t sound evil, it just sounds half assed.

 

Being a Danzig-fan is hard around the release of new music, because of Danzigs press rounds, he’s now getting to sound like more of a nutcase than Mustaine and that says a bit. Jeebuz man, Glenn says some crazy shit.

 

Let’s end this with: Established Danzig fan? Yes: Get the record, it’s what you expect and want, but with crap production. No: Go to the first four records for some bluesy stuff, record 5 and 6 for some industrial darkness, 7 and 8 for some truly dark, yet somehow popy, music, wait with Black Laden Crown and Deth Red Sabaoth.

 

Recommended tracks: Devil on Hwy 9, Skulls & Daisies

 

Rating: 3 / 5

Overkill – Necroshine (Steamhammer 1999)

Necroshine was the album that got me into Overkill, and it’s the record I measure all other Overkill releases up against. I was aware of the band for many years, never listening to them. I don’t remember exactly how I got a hold of this record, but I loved it from the first snarling of the opening title track: Groovy and heavy, with thoroughly heavy bottom and screeching vocals on top. I still love the track.

My December introduced me to the sing-along chorus side of Overkill. A simple little vocal line, followed by some ooo-ing, that sticks in your brain, and a midtempo, sludgy riff that grooves, builds and pushes ever onwards. Let Us Pray is another groovy, midtempo, heavy tune, with all the greatness of the first two tracks, plus some Sabbath-esque riffing. Stone Cold Jesus is as infectious as the plague and when I hear it, it stays with me for quite some time; great riff, great melodies and amazing arrangement.

There are a few songs that don’t quite measure up; Forked Tongue Kiss, Revelation and I am Fear are somewhat lesser compositions. They all lack that little extra tinge that makes remarkable. Revelation  might be the weakest song Overkill released since the forgettable I Hear Black in ’93.

Black Line is more of an upbeat song then the rest of the record. Lyrically the record is kind of dark and, at times, kind of creepy. Black Line has a bit humor to the lyrics, combine that with a moody but up beat riff and you get a good listening experience.

Dead Man has a massive groove and together with 80 Cycles, are the two strongest tracks on the entire record. The blend of groove, Sabbath-eque riffing pressed together in a thrash soundscape and a sing-along sensibility, you get some great metal. The shifting tempos seem natural and spices up the songs. Absolutely amazing tracks!

The record has a definitive 90s feel to it. The sound and focus on groove, and the fact that most of the songs from this thrash band is midtempo, are all clear evidence of the 90s. If you like(d) this sound and the grooves of Machine Hear or Pantera, give Overkill 90s releases a spin.

Recommended tracks: 80 Cycles, Dead Man, Stone Cold Jesus, Necroshine, My December

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Abattoir – Vicious Attack (Combat 1985)

This record’s sort of a gem, at lest side A is, the B-side is a forgettable collection of mediocrity. I picked this up at flea market, mainly to fill up the 5 for the price of 3 bargain dealy thing. I’ve listened to this record every now again, and the main draw is the first tracks off of the A-side; Screams From the Grave and Vicious Attack (Maniac). These two tracks are bursts of energy and scream-along greates. Vicious Attack (Maniac) is a great car song as well, at least if you want to drive fast. I have the speeding ticket to prove its effectiveness.

Both these songs are a cross of thrash and speed metal, they don’t have quite the edge of 1985 Slayer, Megadeth or Metallica, but they are fast, heavy and filled to the rim with riffs and headbanging goodness. Side-A is completed by the easily forgotten The Enemy and a ripping cover of Ace of Spades, dutyfully and lovingly done.

The B-side starts off with a warning of a lowering of the bar; The Living and the Dead. The riff is half assed, at best.  Stronger Than Evil is ok, it’s passable and unremarkable. Don’t Walk Alone is a classic skipper-track, with awful comic book style lyrics. Game of Death is the strongest track of the B-side. The riffs are better, the lyrics aren’t horrible and the energy is back.

All in all it’s not the best record, not the worst. It’s totally understandable why this band sort of faded away in the fog of time. One of the most annoying things about this record is the fact that it’s not available through Spotify, google play or Itunes. It was however re-released on cd and vinyl by Century Media a while back.

Recommended tracks: Screams from the Grave, Vicious Attack (Maniac), Ace of Spades

Rating: 2,5 / 5

Deep Purple – Infinite (Ear 2017)

Deep Purple, still going and still sounding like Deep Purple. There’s nothing new to either the songwriting or sound of the band. If you like Deep Purple, you will probably like this album too. If you’re a hitpicking Purple listener you might as well just skip this record all together. Just a little side note; is this actually the most stable “mark” of Deep Purple? Is there any constellation of the band that’s been together as long as this particular line up?

Don Airey has kept the sound and feel of Jon Lord, the horrible organ sound of the seventies is still alive and well on Infinite, I really do detest this sound, it screeches in my ears and, just as I do with the older purple songs, I skip these tracks more often than not. Ironically, the first song to stay with me is the organ heavy Hip Boots. Steve Morse is a great blues guitarist, he wrangles that thing and makes it howl and scream when he wants it. Get Me Outta Here has some major licks and so does Roadhouse Blues. The latter being an old fashioned dirty blues tune, borrowing heavy from the yearly decades of last century, complete with harmonica and everything.

Ian Gillan sounds a bit whiney. His voice pretty much sounds the same, but with a tinge whineyness to it. When he brings on the energy, he is magnificent, truly. Ian Paice is steady, groovy, heavy and same old same old. All I Got Is You has that recognizable Piace groove.

This record is for the people who have a past with the band, lets be honest, who else is interested in Deep Purple anymore? This is not a creative masterpiece, it’s rather predictable in its greatness. The musicianship is rock solid and the songwriting is heavy inspired by their back catalogue and true blues rock. I will give them props for playing to their strength rather than experimenting with all kinds of craziness which plagues a lot of aging rockers.

The question is: does the world really need more original material from Deep Purple? Off course it does! Infinite is worth a good spot in any hard rock rotation.

Recommended tracks: Hip Boots, Roudhouse Blues

Rating: 3/5

Mastodon – Emperor of Sand (Reprise 2017)

Mastodon has climbed from a band I hardly cared about up to a band I keep an eye on, and now with Emperor of Sand I think they climb even higher in my attention-tree. Mastodon keeps growing further and further away from the sludge of their earlier album and incorporating more progressive elements and adding melodies.

This might not sit right with fans of their classic sound, all the whining about ‘selling out that’ surfaced on the net when Once More ‘round the Sun was released will, probably, bubble back up. I don’t care; this is the Mastodon I enjoy the most. The band that keeps things groovy, heavy, technical and also incorporates some melody, nice hooks and energy, this is the band I like.

The sludge is by no means gone from the bands sound. The latter part of the record is especially sludge heavy, songs like Andromeda and Scorpion Breath are the best examples of the classic Mastodon style. Mid paced, but high frequency songs, with a lot of drums.

The closer, Jaguar God, is the longest track of the record, just short of 8 minutes. It starts of slow with a long melodic part and some weird vocals, complete with harmonies. After about 2 minutes the mood changes, the sound harshens and tempo increases ever so slightly. After about another minute or so, they start building up and bringing back down the intensity and the song keeps shifting from side to side. Then the tempo kicks up another nudge with some nice guitar work. Suddenly the song takes on an Opeth type of chromatic riffing, but with the intensity on high. Then the song relaxes into a melodic outro, playing on the mood and chords of the intro. What a great song, epic! I love it, just amazing … this is the kind tune that makes me feel … something… it’s journey …

The lead tracks were Sultans Curse, Show Yourself and Andromeda. Show Yourself is the most accessible song on the album, the least complicated so to speak and has hooky chorus that easily sticks and can be hummed immediately. It’s a good song, and catchy. Sultans Curse has more of classic Mastodon sound, more of sludge edge to it. I wasn’t too impressed by this song when it was released as a teaser, however it works great as an opener. It sets the mood perfectly; this is going to be a blend of heaviness, grooves, sludgy, muddy sound and intricate melodies and song structures. Everything one would expect from this band. The song itself might not be their strongest track, but opens up the record in a great way. Andromeda  is heavier than the other two singles, both lyrically and musically. It reminds of Trampled Under Hoof from the debut, without having any major similarities other than the sound.

Steambreather has a few opening notes, before the riff kicks inn, that it’s so similar to Phantom Lord that I had to check if Metallica had snuck into my playlist. The rest of the song is a midtempo, muddy riff, almost a stoner riff on the verse. The chorus is actually to popy sounding to me. Precious Stones is catchy as all hell and seems to made for the grand old men of rock radio, I would imagine Eddie Trunk will go bananas over this track.

The record kind of falls a bit in the middle as Roots Remain, Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom  is structured in similar manner and also has communalities in tone and riffs. There is nothing wrong with these songs as single tracks, when they are piled on top of each other like this, it gets a bit pale and boring. Scorpion Breath and Andromeda  brings the focus back, the sludge is thick on both of these and they should speak to old fans, as mentioned above.

Mastodon is kind of heading into dangerous waters now, if they take this popy direction any further they risk a Megadeth fall, think Risk and Supercollider, when the urge to get airplay outweighs the integrity of the musician and the result is awful music, that falls flat for the pop lovers and the rockers. If Mastodon slows down even further they might end up in this exact spot.

But for now, the music sounds inspired and heavy and groovy. The lyrics have lost a little edge. Brann is still a wicked drummer, the three vocalists combo still works.

 

Recommended tracks: Jaguar God, Show Yourself, Steambreather.