Act of Defiance – Old Scars,  New Wounds (Metal Blade 2017)

Ex-Megadethers Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick with their second effort. The first record they did in their post-deth careers, Birth and the Burial, was kind of tainted of songwriting style of one Dave Mustain. This time around Broderick has no such ties, and the songwriting is a bit looser and leaning a bit towards djent, hardcore and death metal, thankfully not at same time.

 

The first three songs has the sound and feel classic In Flames and are the highlights of the album. The opening track, M.I.A., has a fantastic driving riff and accentuated by powerful, rumbling bass. The vocals shifts from screaming death metal to a screeching hardcore style and ads great dynamic to the tune. Molten Core has biting Gothenburg sort of edge to it, without going all the way there. Overexposure is my favorite track of the record. It has a complex structure, Broderick shows off his incredible shredding and Henry Derek shines behind the mic.

 

Next up, The Talisman, is a sort of epic, with a mix of some djent chugging and a Loomis / Nevermore middle section, and then breaks down to a slow, almost industrial sounding part before building up again in tempo and intensity. It’s an interesting tune for sure, I’m just not that into the chugging. The acoustic intro / outro is gorgeous btw.

 

And now we reach the point when the band turn to half assed filler material. Lullaby of Vengeance has it’s moments, but I find it to be stressful and a skipper. Circle of Ashes is just boring and sounds of uninspired hashing out of old ideas that never go anywhere.

 

Conspiracy of the Gods leans heavily towards a Meshugga style of riffing in the middle section but turns more traditional thrash at the ending. Actually the latter half of the song is reminiscent of Annihilator from around the turn of the century. And speaking of Annihialtor, Another Killing Spree is a midtempo Annihilator-ish thrash tune, the riff with the arpeggios and fast fills sound so much like a Jeff Waters song,  it’s scary

 

The band wakes up from the mid-album coma of skipper tracks on Broken Dialect, finally chugging in the way I like! More of a thrash metal style on this one. I think the key element for me with this band, is the varied vocals; I get so bored with the screaming hardcore vocals that plague the middle of the record. Finally he changes it up a bit again.

I wish they would have dropped Rise of Rebellion on the far side of the record and ended it on a high note with Broken Dialect.

 

This is the hard second record, and it’s not as good as the first one. I grow so tired of the djent guitarsound and the screaming death metal vocals. This album will not be on regular rotation in my home.

 

Highlights: Overexposure, Broken Dialect, M.I.A.

Rating: 2 / 5

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Venom Inc. – Avé

The battle of the venoms might have a victor!

It’s almost a time honored for bands WAY passed their prime too have a couple of funding members, or members of the classic era, to squabble over the remains of the glory and what money remains that one might be able to squeeze out of the once proud brand. As I’m writing this, the hopeless embarrassing remains of the awful band RATT is a great example of one “has been” suing the other “has beens” for a right to a name that once generated a lot of money, but no longer does. The parallel I’m trying to draw is the battle  for the remains of the genre defining band Venom. One called Venom and fronted by original front Cronos, who returned to the band after an ill fated stint in the pop rock world. A second version is Venom Inc. featuring both Tony Dolan, who replaced Cronos on both vocal and bass in 1988, and original guitarist Mantas.

 

Both bands have done their share slamming in media, with Cronos calling Mantas “an old hack, has been who has lost what little sanity he had” and Mantas replying with stuff like “Cronos has lost all contact with reality”. About two years ago the Cronos lead band released From the Very Depths which, quite frankly, wasn’t very good… From earlier on I have kind of prefered the Tony Dolan material to the classics as I find the songwriting to be better, lyrics less cartoony and production less half assed. This album could get Dolan and Mantas back on top of the venom hill, and, boy, does it ever.

 

The album rules, it rocks, from start to finish. Mr. Dolan sound evil through and through. The vocals are slippery and creepy and then turns around barks and snarls. I totally love the voice, the lyrics are a bit on the silly side of things, but just like Doyle, the silliness is part of the attraction to the whole horror genre. Dein Fleisch is just the right amount humor and horror, the tune is totally creepy and snarly. Ave Satanas sound like a leftover from earlier Venom and in competition with Metal We Bleed, is the most classic sounding track on the record. War might be one of the coolest songs I’ve heard in awhile. It has this x-factor thing; when a simple, kind of monotones riff blends a rhythm section that drives the song ever forward, topped with some catchy vocals.

 

Time to Die has this Danzig-era Misfits / punk feeling to it. It’s rather fast and spitting, totally in your face as the word couplet chaos / anarchy is hurdled towards you. I Kneel to No God has a bluesy tone … kind of … not in a Black Sabbath way or a Gary Moore kind of way, but still bluesy. The final track of Avé is Black n’ Roll which delivers exactly that.

 

All in all a great album, with a nice thick sound, creative and fun tracks that fit nicely with older material. Venom Inc has the upper hand, the material is better and the live show is better. The only thing Venom has got going for the band is Cronos, but he seems rather out of these days and more about clinging to the past than going forward.

 

Pluss: Great rock n roll, fun lyrics, high air guitar factor

Minus: monotone sound

Recommended tracks: War, Dein Fleisch, Black n Roll

 

Rating: 4 / 5

Motörhead – Under Cöver (Motörhead Records 2017)

And so it has arrived, the first “Archival/posthumous” release from the legendary Motörhead and it’s a compilation of cover songs, aptly named Under Cöver. Motorhead did covers throughout their long career  and now they’ve done you the favor of compiling them on one disc!

 

This might be the second most unnecessary release of the year, just after Masterplans Pump Kings. I’m not the biggest Motorhead fan in the world, but I’m still familiar with all of these covers, except Breaking the Law by Priest, Heroes by Bowie and Rockaway Beach by The Ramones. What the protectors of Lemmys legacy basically has done is to make a playlist and thus saved you 4 minutes of Spotify-time, thank you. I bow my head in appreciation. I will take a bit of self critique, I shouldn’t have bought the album. I should have had enough foresight to see what this was … a money grab. The people in charge of the estate of Lemmy, God of rock n roll, the coolest guy to ever play bass, loved by millions are cheaping in his name by releasing this sub par compilation. You can bet your ars this wont be the last archival release. They will pop up every couple years like clockwork.

 

I think it’s kind of odd to include Hellraiser as Lemmy wrote the lyrics for Ozzy, I guess he didn’t write the music. My favorite Motorhead cover is not on the cd and Louie Louie is sorely missed. I’m glad they included Starstruck with Biff Byford on vocals, it’s a truly a great cover. Shot Em Down is another highlight, and in my opinion far superior to the original Twisted Sister tune. Whiplash, the grammy winning Metallica cover, originally written as sort of tribute to Motorhead is fast and fun. Breaking the Law sounds a bit more criminal in Lemmys voice. Heroes is the most creative cover, where they actually experiment with sound and equipment and create something quite unique. Most songs follow the basic patterns of their originals, only faster and harder and topped with the signature gritty vocals of Lemmy.

 

I’m not really sure how to rate this album. I knew the music, I’ve heard it before, both originals and cover versions. They’ve excluded Motorheads finest cover and …. The music is Motorhead as I like to remember them. The existence of this “just for the revenue” release angers me, and yes, it angers me that I bought into it and bought the damn thing.

 

Recommended tracks: Heroes, Starstruck, Whiplash, Shoot Em down.

Accept – Rise of Chaos (Nuclear Blast 2017)

When the new Accept album arrived I was so excited, and on first listening through the album I got even more excited. It’s no secret that I belong to the group of people who prefer the classics and don’t get why everyone seems to have gone bananas over the new material. It’s good, I’d agree to that, but nots Balls to the Wall good, you know?

 

This time around I felt a bit different, the teasers had spoken to me, they’d hit a nerve. When the new album finally dropped I listened to over and over again, to wifeys misery (she did NOT like the album). I immediately wrote a review (in norwegian) praising the band, the album, the music like golden calves. It couldn’t express how much I enjoyed the record. When day three or maybe four after the release come rolling, I sort of forgot the album.

 

A few weeks has now gone by, I find myself not really wanting to listen to it again. What happened? I was like: “this album will save heavy metal, it has the qualities of a timeless record” … and all of sudden couldn’t be bothered to listen to it again?

 

I think it might be that I got everything I wanted, all my anticipations were met. Everything that makes Accept a stand-out band was present on the record, what more could I hope for? Nothing. There was no excitement left for me, no discoveries left do and that makes it … boring? I don’t know. This IS a kick ass record, but not more so than most of Accepts records and so becomes part of the post-comeback pile of quality records. Why should you pick this one to play over any of the others? I couldn’t tell you.

 

The music is explosive and riffy. Highlights riffwise are Koolaid and Die by the Sword. Technical, kick ass and air guitar friendly riffs, in classic Hoffmanstyle. What’s Done is Done has that live quality and drive that post-comeback Accept do so well, The Rise of Chaos is a proper guide on how to write heavy metal. The band is just excellent throughout, but I got some major issues with Tornillos voice and lyrics. He sounds more and more like Udo sound-alike, without the x-factor.

 

Once upon a time Accept lyrics were dirty and edgy, sexy and violent, now they’re old, boring, predictable and cliché. Koolaid is a great idea for a song and should lend itself to any lyricist; “be careful who you listen to” / misuse of religion by its leaders  is the main themes of the song. Even if the idea is good, the actual lyrics are a heap of banalities, and oh so poorly executed. Analog Man is dreadful, just horrid. An entire song about the aging man’s difficulty of understanding his email? Come on, dude. I don’t know who writes the lyrics, but honestly … this is just bad. Worlds Collide is a good song, but the predictable piece of shit lyrics ruins it. The final song of the album saves the b-side lyrically. Race to Extinction is a great angsty song with kick ass shredding guitars and pounding bass lines.

 

To summarize: The music ranges from amazing to great, the lyrics suck and are predictable (on most songs) and not for the first time; I miss Udo in Accept.

 

Recommended tracks: Die by the Sword, The Rise of Chaos, Race to Extinction

+ Riffs and concepts

– Lyrics and vocals

 

Rating: 3 / 5

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

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