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

Advertisements

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

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?

Overkill – Coverkill (Steamhammer 1999)

I’ve been looking around for this record for quite some time, but it’s not that available in my frigid corner of the world, so I buckled under and bought the damn thing on Itunes. I’m completionist, if it’s an artist I really like, I need to own the entire discography (excepting some compilations, live recordings, singles etc.) or my life will be pointless and sad (ocd?). This hole in my Overkill collection has bothered me for years. And completion feels oh so very sweet.

I’ve talked about my fascination for cover albums when handling Danzigs latest travesty of a record. I downloaded these songs at work, with a slow, slooooow connection, which gave me plenty of time to check out the track list. Three Sabbath covers, wow, a Deep Purple track, Priest, Motörhead, Ramones, Kiss and Tull. Good stuff! But, wait, what’s this? ManOwar? Really? I’m never drunk enough to listen to ManOwar any more. I was in my youth, but now? I’m old fart… man.

I suppose it’s natural to open with the tune they took their name from. The Motörhead classic sound ferocious in the Overkills interpretation. I kind of wish they’d included a studio version, not a live version, oh well. Two of three Sabbath covers sound decent. Never Say Die has never been a personal favorite of mine, I rarely listen to that record at all. Megadeth has also done a cover of this song, but I think Overkill has the edge on this one. Changes I don’t like, Blitz doesn’t really have the voice for ballads, just like Ozzy. The bass really bothers me, it sounds half assed. DD’s bass is bouldering, as always, but it doesn’t fit this particular song. Cornucopia has never made an impact on me, neither the original nor this cover version, so I won’t linger on this tune.

Deuce is just a killer. I find the original Kiss song a bit on slow side. Overkill has sped it up and given it some power, which is totally what this song deserves. This one is just nice. I enjoyed the Ramones cover as well. I had a Ramones period in high school, when I listened to every track I could get my hands on, but this track … I don’t think it ever came my way. I’m not familiar with The Dead Boys, I like this song, but I have no idea how the original sounds. I think maybe they should have picked a different Purple tune, but that’s just me.

This entire album has the same feel as Metallicas Garage Inc. in that the production is not as slick and or precise as the studio albums containing original material. I guess that they’re looking for that garage sound, that feeling of the days when they first started. It’s not the best selection of covers I’ve heard, but certainly not the worst. Overkill had a typical groove metal sound in the late nineties, evident on this record, and it really doesn’t fit well with a few of the chosen tracks on this record.

This isn’t the big whole in my collection I thought it would be. It’s a nice little reminder that Overkill used to be a coverband, but also that they’ve moved on.

Recommended tracks: Overkill, Deuce

Rating 3/5

Overkill – From the Underground and Below (Steamhammer 1997)

This is perhaps Overkills grooviest record, released in the heyday of groove metal, perhaps on the tail end, but still. Overkill has really taken the groove of the metal scene at this time to heart. Just like on the two previous releases, W.F.O and Killing Kind, Overkills transition to the sound of nineties works out great.

They manage to combine the aggression from their earlier material with slower, thicker music of this decade. I wasn’t really around noticing Overkill at the time, I was to busy discovering Metallica. I found some magazines from the time cleaning out the house a while back, and found an interview with Kerry King where he kind of rips Overkill for selling out. I for one am glad they changed their sound and style, because this material is much stronger than the “classic” material.

The disc starts up with a fist to the face. It Lives is a crunchy song with a nice chorus and real hook for the middle section.  Long Time Dyin’, Half Past Dead, F.U.C.T. and The Rip and Tear  are all of the same ilk. They are mid-paced with a heavy bass line and groovy guitars. The lead work should be mentioned, especially on F.U.C.T., just a great melody and so incredibly fitting to the music.

Blitz plays to his strength, the melodic strength to his vocals are as usual top notch. Promises sees the band doing a ballad, full of clichés and totally lacking in quality, but it has that certain sing-along quality that a lot of ballads have. I’m glad they didn’t make a habit of the ballads.

I think The Rip ‘n Tear is my favorite track. It has a mixture of heaviness, melody, groovy rhythms and funny lyrics, not to mention the hooky melody. This is the kind of song that drew me to Overkill in the first place, and the sort of tracks that I pick out when I make playlists.

From the Underground and Below is a bit darker than the Killing Kind and W.F.O. both lyrically and musically. They are still kind of getting their groove metal wings still, it will still be a few years until they master it fully.

 

Recommended tracks: It Lives, The Rip and Tear and F.U.C.T.

Rating: 4/5

Black Star Riders – All Brakes Loose (Nuclear Blast 2013)

The debut from Black Star Riders is kind of hard to consider a debut, seeing that the band had been playing together for a number of years, but as Thin Lizzy. The decision to release new music was a good one, but the decision to release the new music under a new name was even better. Had this album been released as a Thin Lizzy album, it would’ve gotten a totally different welcome, from me at least. I understand the drive to write new music, but with Lynott dead it would be kind of disrespectful, in a way.

The music is a continuation of the sound and songwriting style made famous by Thin Lizzy. The guitar leads, double or not, all have that melodic tinge to them. The record is kind of uneven, some of the songs lack a little in the completion, and they don’t all come together.  Some songs seem like they’ve been thrown together, or recorded as separate riffs and put together in the mix.

I rather concentrate on the songs I enjoy. Bound for Glory is totally working the Lizzy sound, the double lead is magnificent and chorus is catchy as all that. Hey Judas is great, from start to finish. The main riff is so strong, and the melody is magnificent. Hoodoo Voodoo  is contagious in it’s catchiness, even though I got kind of sick of it after some time. Blues ain’t so bad  is a heavy blues song with some monstrous bass going on.

This album is nothing new,  it’s not original in any way. The album is probably close to what Lizzy could have sounded like if Lynott hadn’t passed away. This band, this record is a great tribute to the sound that Lynott was a big part in creating. The uneven songwriting will change before the next record, thankfully.

Recommended tracks: Bound for Glory, Hey Judas

Rating: 3/5

Hex A.D. – The Last Nail in the Coffin Lid (2016)

This is the second full length album from my fellow countrymen with the peculiar name Hex A.D. I’m not really sure if this is a band or a solo thing from drummer Rick Hagan. I’ve seen them live a couple of times and I saw some footage from a show they did with current Candlemass-singer Mats Lèven, which was absolute killer.

I was never able to get a hold of their debut, which I believe may only have been released on vinyl, not really sure. I heard this band through a sampler, Doom over Cthulu, and have been a fan ever since. The track was called Fields of Gehenna and back then the band was simply called HEX, which seems a better name. I guess someone was already called HEX and they just added the A.D. later.

The music on the album is absolutely amazing, beautiful and very well crafted. There is only one thing I don’t really care for on this record, and that is the Deep Purple mark II organ sound that is used on several tracks. The whole album seems heavily inspired by the seventies, but I personally can’t stand this sound. It screeches in my ears.

The album opens with a four minute instrumental piece, which is a bold move I must say, but it works. The Bitter End is a beautiful piece. The sound and opening riff has a soothing effect on me.

A Nocturnal Report continues the feel from the Bitter End and seems almost like a continuation of the former track. The melodic guitar sets a mood, a heavy mood, a gloomy mood. It builds and rolls, and builds again. The vocal delivery is incredible, the phrasing and melody brings the song together in a major way. I also enjoy the lyrics, this is some Poe-ish stuff right here.

Another Graveyard Shift is in the same direction as the two previous tracks. Beautiful guitars, well crafted melodies and sinister sounding lyrics. The most interesting song is the 15 minute epic The Madrigal of the Black Hooded Crow.  I’m not usually one for songs that stretches past ten minutes, but when they work, it’s usually in a great way. This track works, for the most part. The way riff follow on riff, without being dragged out or passed over. I’m not too fund of how the songs ends. It’s this acoustic, Celtic sounding, melodic thing, that sounds like Primordial doing a ballad. Just doesn’t work for me and might be the only musically thing I’m not into on the entire record.

The album finishes off with a short Opeth, circa Black Water Park, sounding tune called as a Doornail. This might be the heaviest track, in the traditional sense.

I will give this album all kinds of recommendations. It’s got this seventies Sabbath meets Rainbow with Dio meets Deep Purple mark II and III, played in the sound and style of eighties Candlemass kind of feel. So I guess if you like any of these bands, you should check this band out.

Recommended tracks:  A nocturnal Report, The Madrigal of the Black Hooded Crow.

Rating: 4,5 / 5