Black Star Riders – Heavy Fire (Nuclear Blast 2017)

Few records impress me as much as The Killer Instinct. I fell head over heels in love that record, and barely listened to anything else for months after its release. When the news that BSR was crowd funding their next full length reached me, I got in on the ground floor. I didn’t get my Heavy Fire copy upon release as promised, but three weeks after the date. I’ve got to say I’m disappointed by this, stand by your words and honor you commitments. Because I’m a gentleman I choose to blame the shipping and / or record company, not the band itself.

Heavy Fire doesn’t keep the impossible quality of the Killer Instinct, but I didn’t expect that either. The album is a nice rock album, just as the debut was, but not brilliant. Some of the lyrics have a high school banality to them, in some cases intended like on Dancing with the wrong girl, but at times it just seems wrong sung by a grown man. The opener and title track sets a rock n roll tone, which is kept throughout the record. Heavy Fire is the kind of track this band does well. It’s got a lot of Lizzy glimpses, some nods to Queen and fifties rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis. When the Night Comes Inn is a bland and boring number that should have been left off the record.

Dancing with the Wrong Girl has 1950’s American dream movie innocence, a naiveté, to it. The riff is fun and excellent, and the lead guitar a couple of minute’s inn is also excellent. I enjoy Who Rides the Tiger for its silliness and catchy main riff. Cold War Love has a real rock n roll groove to it. True Blue Kid is shaping up to be my favorite track of the entire record. It’s got that x-factor that sets it apart and I keep humming the chorus to myself while shopping for groceries. That’s a good sign, trust me.

The first time I heard Ticket to Rise I seriously thought it was a very different take on a certain Beatles classic. The chorus kind of play on the similarities of the titles, but other than that the two songs sound nothing like each other.

This is a good record, not as good the previous record, but that record was phenomenal, out of this world. I will definitely continue to listen to the record and to follow the band. Scott Gorham might be an old man, but he still rocks!

Recommended tracks: True Blue Kid, Heavy Fire, Who Rides the Tiger

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Overkill – The Grinding Wheel (Nuclear Blast 2017)

Overkill continue to release consistent quality records. The Grinding Wheel is a solid piece of thrash metal and, in my humble opinion, it has a slight edge over other surviving 80s outfits. The Grinding Wheel is an overall stronger record than For All Kings, Dystopia, Repentless, Hardwired … to Selfdestruct, Under Attack  and Gods of Violence. The only one of my old heroes to come close to Overkill these days are Death Angel, in terms of new music.

All the hallmarks of Overkill are pushed to the front on this record. Blitz is screeching and screaming, Linsk and Tailer sound great, cohesive and blistering; pushing out riff after riff of headbanging / foot tapping intensity. DD is both rumbling and keeping the wall of sound solidly grounded. Lipnicki is solid on the kit. Everything sounds great!

Overkill sound like they’ve got an abundance of energy, where Metallica sound uninspired and Megadeth tired, Slayer bored. Overkill seem to still have the fire burning and some real, honest anger left in their hearts. I could have wished for a bit more diversity and experimentation. Overkill is balancing on the edge becoming their own parody. Just like Kreator, the lack of experimentation is apparent. I feel White Devil Armory had more variation in sound and style, as this record is in your face throughout.

As for the songs, I’m totally into Red, White and Blue as it combines groov, a bit of silliness, gang vocals, thrashing speed and blistering guitars. Overkills energy owes a lot to punk of the late seventies and that inspiration flows to the surface on high energy songs like The Mean  Green Killing Machine and Our Finest Hour.

The main issue with this release is the lack of room to breath or the time to think. But then again, I kind of like that.

 

Recommended tracks: Red White and Blue, Our Finest Hour, Lets all Go to Hades

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Helheim – Landawarijar (Dark Essence / Karisma Records 2017)

This is my first introduction to Heilheims studio work, I’ve seen them live a few times. I met the guys several times and hung out at the record shop owned and operated by V’gandr before it went out of business. He turned me on to a lot of cool old bands I’d never heard of, it’s a shame it went out of business.

Landawrijar is in style similar to the better known viking metalers in Enslaved, which I absolute love. My reason for checking out Landawrijar was a recommendation by a fellow Enslaved fan. Just as with Enslaved I find this music soothing in a weird sort of way. Helheim has solid foot in the black metal camp, but the varied vocals let them go further then black metal usually does. Lyrically this has the Viking vibe that I’ve always associated with the band, the Norwegian lyrics are somewhat on the predictable / clichéd side of the fence, but they work great. I’ve no idea how these words sound to the rest of the world, but as a native speaker of the language, I’m impressed by the diction and how easy it is to understand what he is singing.

Like a lot of other extreme metal acts, Helheim is quite progressive. They combine harsh, fast headbanging music, with melodic interludes, clean vocals and super heavy grooves. Rista Blodørn is a feast for the ears, it combines classic black metal, with an almost industrial sounding, pounding rhythm, before it brakes down to half tempo and a beautiful, yet haunting, melodic guitar interlude ensues. The song then grips again when the full band returns and builds the tune back to a furious anger.

The title track is another amazing composition; quite complex and shifting between thrashing intensity and morbid beauty. The guitar work is mind-blowing on this track. It might be a bit lot and could have been trimmed just little, but it doesn’t seem repetitive at all. Enda-dagr is an apocalyptic song, and thus is well fitting as an album closer.

I find it hard to find the words to do the music justice. The landscape is dark and bleak, like classic Immortal, the vocals is at some points reminiscent of early days Dimmu Borgir, with a kind of Now Diabolical / Volcano –era Satyricon twist, at other points nice and melodic, yet others are raw and punky; quite a show of impressive vocal skill. The guitar work is not always impressive, but it’s never boring. Sometimes less is more. I haven’t really noticed neither the bass nor the drums.

As with most of the releases by Dark Essence / Karisma Records the sound is cold and crisp and … I’ll say complex, in lack of a better term. It’s nice, let’s just keep it at that.

The album works great as a unit, I recommend to listen to all the tracks in sequence. If you have to choose, I’d pick Rista Blodørn or Enda-Dagr  or both.

Rating 4/5

Kreator – Gods of Violence (Nuclear Blast 2017)

Yet another of the great surviving thrash bands seems to have grown stale. Kreator had a major relaunch of their sound with the release of Violent Revolution in 2001, this sound and style was perfected with the release of Enemy of God in 2005. Every release since then has been made from the same blueprint. Some songs have been excellent, some songs sound too much like previous releases and some songs seem tired. Slowly, but certainly, the lack of originality becomes apparent and the music seems stale and unimaginative.

Enemy of God is one of my desert island records and I’m glad that they stuck to this style of songwriting, but I would still like to see some experimentation and development of sound and songwriting. Gods of Violence contains loads of kick ass tracks; Totalitarian Terror, Hail to the Hordes, World War Now or Lions with Eagle Wings to name my favorites. Oh, the title track is also excellent.

The building blocks of Kreator’s sound that I particularly like are the furiousity of Milles vocals, the technicality of the guitar work; here I should point out Samis excellent soloing and sense of melody. The drumming of Ventor is also a trademark of the band. All of these are present on every single track, but for some reason this album doesn’t sit right with me.

When it comes to it, I think the similarities with previous releases is the thing that I can’t get passed. In a way it doesn’t feel like a new release, I have heard these songs before with slightly different lyrics or arrangements. BUT I  LIKE THE SONGS.

In all honesty this release drives me insane, I like it and it tires me. I recommend: Gods of Violence, Totalitarian Terror and Hail to the Hordes

Rating: 2 of 5 for lack of originality, 4 of 5 for the headbandingness of the tracks, 3,5 of 5 in total?

Witchery – In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media 2016)

This release snuck by me, I didn’t know about it until looking up Witchery on Spotify to listen Ashes to Ashes. I thought this band was over and done, with Axenrot now a full time member of Opeth and different singers coming and going. I’m kind of glad they didn’t stick to Legion on the mike, his voice wasn’t right for the sound. This new guy, Angus Norder, is much more on line with Tony Kampner. The mesh of the black metal vocals with thrashy riffs was always one of the key elements in Witchery’s sound, and I’m glad they found a new guy who can pull it off.

When I first got into the band it was the sing along silliness and banality of the lyrics in combination with the crushing guitars of Patrick Jensen and Richard Corpse that drew me in. The riffs are simple, but a near perfect combination of banality and blistering, always on the edge of the cliché. The big guitars are definitely present on this album. Stylistically this album is quite close Symphony for the Devil, their prime release from 2001.

The songs that immediately got stuck in my brain were Nosferatu, The Burning of Salem and Lavey-athan. These three all have the power and the headbanging qualities I want from Witchery; big powerful riffs, easy and catchy melodies. All of these were immediately stuck in my brain, and all three will feature in my great all time, go-to playlist.

Gilded Fangs is an extremed paced little ditty, short and sweet. Empty Tombs has really grown on me; it has that certain combination of heaviness and differing tempos. It got a slow, chugging part and a faster, thrashier part and the main riff is more of a mid paced kind of thing.  In Warm Blood is mid paced throughout. The vocal melody is great, with a creepy feel, especially the way he says “blood”, tickles my funny bone.  Feed the Gun is classic Witchery, a great riff builds and pulls, while the vocals inspire listener participating.

As always Sharlee D’Angelo has a thick and gritty bass. He never craves the spotlight, but is always clear and present. Excellent! New drummer Christofer Barkensjö does an excellent job and has a style that fits the band in a major way.

It’s quite hard to pick out the best track; the overall quality of the music is top notch throughout. If I had to choose, In Warm Blood and The Burning of Salem might have a slight edge over the others.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Glenn Hughes – Resonate (Frontiers Records 2016)

I know Hughes mainly through Deep Purple, I haven’t been a follower of any kind. I like Black Country Communion and his Sabbath record. My interest was peaked for this particular record after a chance listen to a tune from this record, the song was called Heavy, and yes it was heavy.

As might be expected the bass sound is thick and rumbling throughout the entire record. If anything the sound might be a tad bottom heavy and somewhat light on top. The vocals are always soring way over top, it fits a few of the songs like Heavy, Let it Shine and God of Money, however it seems a bit misplaced on Flow or Stumble and Go.

The record is put together in a rather splendid and clearly planned out manner. The different songs roll and build on each other, even songs I find on the weaker side of things, work in the big picture. Take the song When I fall, it’s a rather boring piece of straight forward rock n roll, kind of bluesy, real predictable if you put this track on, say a playlist or just by itself in any sort way. It would be a “skipper”, track to skip, but when played in its spot on the album, this song is worth listening to. It actually sounds pretty God damn good.

A lot of the riffs have a bass kind of feel to them, in that I suspect they are written on a bass, for a bass, by a bass player. Some work as pillars of the song, but some sound rather weak through a guitar. Other than that the record is kind of what to expect from Hughes, it’s bluesy, heavy music with some clear ties to hard rock scene of the seventies.

Recommended tracks: Heavy, God of Money

Metallica – Hardwired … to Self-Destruct (Blackened 2016)

Metallica, ah Metallica, the band I fanatically followed as a teenager, and that has stayed with me through my entire life. The band I’ve have seen live every time they visit my part of the world. I defended St. Anger, I worshipped Death Magnetic, tried to ignore Lulu, listened exclusively to Lords of Summer for about a month, this Metallica, the Metallica of the 21st century, has finally released a new album.

The press proclaimed a return to form, just like they did with St. Anger and Death Magnetic, but their back catalogue is untouchable. I don’t want a return to glory days, to the sound of the black album, justice or puppets. I want Metallica to evolve, find inspiration where they may and produce music that makes me happy, tapping my feet, ravaging my air guitar and pounding pretend drums.

Hardwired … to self destruct is not everything I wanted, but I’m still glad it exists. But for the love music, why the double album? That’s just too much music man, it will get unfocused. Every double studio album in the history of recorded music has this issue. The filler material gets too much and too prominent on a double album, there might be a few bands that have been able pull it off, Pink Floyd comes to mind. What about a warning sticker: “This album may contain up to, or above, 50 % filler material.”

Confusen is the obvious filler song. Everything about this song, except for the main riff, screams filler. The lyrics are sub par, the melody on the chorus is under James’ dignity as writer. Dream No More  has a half assed feel about it, something lacking. Maybe it’s the way James sings, with long drawn out syllables, I don’t know.  Here Comes Revenge also has a few weak melodic moments, but is saved by some strong riffs.

Hardwired was the first teaser off of the album, so as I’m writing this it’s the song I know the best, and yes of course I’ve learnt to play the riff, why do you ask? This song proves that Metallica can still play fast. The savagery of this song is what this band used to be all about, are they able to keep this up?

Of course not, but they manage a plenty of intensity and fury, although the speed is a bit slower. Atlas, Rise! is built on the same template as a lot of epics songs of the past, One, Welcome Home etc. It builds and builds, brings in new riffs when needed or alters the melody slightly to give a new feel. It’s just great. Halo on Fire is the same way, but might harken more to Fade to Black as it has a bit of a softer edge.

Murder One  is kind of a strange tune. The Motörhead theme is apparent with the couplet; born to loose / live to win. When I heard about this song, I thought it would be a fest of speed and spitting lyrics. Instead it got James singing in a style unusual for him. I like this song.  Now that We’re Dead has a vocal melody that sticks in my brain.

ManUNkind is another strange song. On first listen I thought about the Load/Reload era. But it doesn’t really sound like it. I’m thinking it has to do with the kind of arrangement. Am I Savage? is a rather bland number, except for the guitar leads, finally Kirk shines a bit. The lyrics are very typical Hetfield lyrics. Which to me feels familiar and nice, and this familiarity is also found in the drum fills.

I like that they put a fast song at the end of the record; it’s just the way a Metallica record is supposed to end. Spit out the Bone has three great riffs and a good solo, and some blasting bass parts. Trujillo is audible throughout the record, but doesn’t really take much space. The sound is driven by the guitar riff and vocals.

This kind of feel like James’ record, the vocals take up a lot of space in the soundscape. The riffs are ever present, and a much bigger part of the songs than on Death Magnetic. Kirk has his solos, but they seem a bit predictable at this time. I wish he would find the inspiration he had on Load/Reload where he experimented with sounds and styles and scales.

The record sound great and am I’m glad they put less focus on the loudness this time around. The mix is good, personally I would have preferred a more rumbling and a tad louder bass, but this is Metallica after all and I’m kind of used to the bass being low.

 

Recommended tracks: Halo on Fire, Hardwired, Atlas, Rise! Spit Out the Bone, Now that We’re Dead, Moth Into Flame

 

Rating:  4/5