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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Vulture Industries – Stranger Times (Season of Mist 2017)

The weirdest band in Scandinavia is back with a new studio album, Stranger Times. Their last record was excellent. The band masterly combined crazy and brilliant, this time they’ve turned down the crazy and up’ed the brilliant. If you look at their back catalogue. They’ve turned the black metal influences and up the progressive sides of their music. Stranger Times is more atmospheric and slightly softer.

 

Tales of Woe sets the tone from the get go. From about the fourth or maybe fifth second it’s blatantly obvious that this is no run of the mill metal album. Tales of Woe is at once a hard piece of music and soft, woeful tune. The characteristic vocals is distinct and full of emotion, and ever present. If you want to enjoy this band, you’ve got to be onboard with vocals. It’s kind of like with King Diamond, you’ve got to like the unique vocals, to enjoy the band.

 

The vultures haven’t forgotten their metal, even though this might be their most mellow record yet, there are plenty of hard and heavy music. The Beacon, Gentle Touch of a Killer and Screaming Reflections are heavy, riffladen songs.The Beacon is the strongest of the bunch, while Screaming Reflections might be the closest thing the vultures ever get to a straight rock tune.

 

As the World Burns is a slow, creepy, circus tune. It’s this weird kind of song that always remind me of Tim Burton movies. Just like The Dead Won’t Mind from the last record, this one quickly became my favorite track. It’s just easy and fun to curl my face up in it’s most evil folds and snarl out the outrageous, vulgar lyrics and creep around like a serial killer from the horror movies of the fifties.

 

The album is not as shockingly good as The Tower was/is. It’s however a quality album filled with great, unusual twists and turns, in addition to the progressive elements. The black metal sides of the band is turned down, but still present. The music brings out certain moods and atmospheres of creepy, circusy horror..

 

Recommended: As the World Burns, The Beacon, Tales of Woe

 

Rating: 4 / 5

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.

Doyle II – As We Die (EMP 2017)

Doyle II: As We Die

 

More of the same from the beast that is Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. The thing about horror punk played in the style of Graves-era Misfits is just how much fun it is to listen to. It’s fast, it’s vulgar, it has a sing-along edge and the lyrics are cheesy and catchy.

 

Doyles heavily overdriven guitar has given up a little space in the mixe, which brings out the bass more than on the last record. New bassist Brandon Strate is totally unknown to me, the playing is good and plunky, you know that bass sound that thunders and clicks at the same time. I’m glad to hear a sound that’s not only about the guitar. The Abominator record sounded a bit boring, without the full bottom. This time around it’s a better mix, the drums might a bit too loud for my personal taste, but all in all the sound is more cohesive on this record.

 

Doyle opens the album in the same manner he’s done since the eighties with a slow, heavy build before bursting into Kiss Me as We Die. This might be the most Misfits-esque song on the record; theatrical, big vocals, fast and punky guitars and a rockabilly type bassline. There are quite a few tracks that show off the rockabilly/fifties-pop inspiration; Witchcraft and We Belong Dead are great examples. The choruses really shine on these tunes. Witchcraft has this Dean Martin / Frank Sinatra feel on the chorus, great stuff.

 

As always in the horror punk genre the lyrics are banalities built on top of each other, this is both a nuisance and a pleasure in that they get stupid real fast, but I enjoy the wordplay.

 

In his earlier work Doyle has been restrictive with his fills and melodies. This time around he sometimes sound like he’s auditioning to replace Tommy Victor in Danzig, with a heap of natural harmonics and squeals which leads the mind back to Circle of Snakes. Dark God Rises and Blood on the Axe are the prime examples. There are a few pure punk songs here as well; Night of Sin, Show No Mercy and Run for Your Life are fast, punishing tracks, with hard vocals and rough attitude.

 

Abominator I liked immediately, this one took me a few rounds to get into, but I think maybe I prefer this second record to the first one. It’s a little less cartoony and not as on the nose, maybe a little more complex and … creative I guess is the best word for it. But songs do sound a bit similar: the riffs are creative but the arrangement is not.

 

Positive: Fun horrorlyrics, short aggressive tracks, rockabilly vocals

Minus: stupid lyrics, too much guitar squealing,  

 

Recommended tracks: We Belong Dead, Whitchcraft, Run for Your Life

 

Rating: 3,5 / 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