As summer swings round towards autumn, there are no shortage of odes and tributes to the Gods of power and glory that brought us traditional and classic Heavy Metal. Ghost Cult dives in amongst the raised fists and studded wristbands to round-up the latest album releases.
With joyous abandon, and hot on the heels of a fourteenth album released earlier this year, Danish Power Metal act Royal Hunt has, via Northpoint Productions, re-mastered, re-packaged and pretty much gone to town on re-releasing their ebullient debut Land Of Broken Hearts. Originally released in 1992, this resurrected version of a previously deleted gem of an album that was wasted in the grunge-filled musical scene of the early nineties, owing as it does more to the glorious self-titled Bon Jovi debut that most other albums ever have (trust me, this is a huge compliment, that album is great), comes with several acoustic bonus versions and a previously unreleased track.
To be honest, the extra tracks are neither here nor there, it is the jubilant original album with added volume, refinement and polish that should bring all the fans of melodic metal to the yard because all the boxes are ticked. Parpy keyboards? ‘Kingdom Dark’ has them. Massive choruses? ‘Age Gone Wild’ is greeting you warmly. Proto-Rhapsody Hollywood Power Metal epic? The title track is your friend. Post Helloween fledgling Power Metal? ‘Running Wild’ is there grinning, while ‘Easy Rider’ is a NWOBHM long-lost friend, all with Henrik Brockmann’s Jon Bon reminiscent tones to top it all off.
If Magnum and Edguy are close to your heart, then Royal Hunt’s reissued debut should be on your list. [7.5]
Moving further into the symphonic end of the ‘eavy Metals, is German sextet Beyond The Black, a lavish, slick proposition in the Within Temptation mould, but with chunkier, punchier riffing. Heart Of The Hurricane (Napalm) is the third release under the Beyond The Black banner, but first since vocalist Jennifer Haben replaced the entirety of the rest of the line-up, a move that hasn’t gone down well with fans, but hasn’t harmed the prolificacy of the creative process. Haben is a consummately effortless and classy vocalist, capable of drama, and emotion, as well as delivering hooks and is rightly the focus, with the new line-up positioned to fully showcase the vocals as the lead and central point of Beyond The Black.
There is no shortage of quality, with the protagonists working hard to throw tricks in to keep you interested, from the Gothic choral padding of ‘Beneath A Blackened Sky’ which builds to a huge, layered chorus, to ‘Song For The Godless’ stripping things down a folky medieval undertone before building back in the swathes, and ‘Through The Mirror’ takes cues from Evanescence in terms of dramatic power, and there is plenty of polished symphonic metal on display here. However, I’ve said it before, and will say it again, you have to be pretty damn special to pull off a fifteen track, one hour plus album, and Heart Of The Hurricane would have hugely benefitted from some of its bloated extraneous components being trimmed. Hack four tracks and fifteen minutes off, and this becomes a much more palatable proposition. [7.0]
Manimal’s third album Purgatorio (AFM) blasts off paying tribute to the Judas Priest classic ‘Painkiller’, all jagged riffs, steam-hammer drumming, and a Halfordesque wail… there are far worse ways to start an album, and we are off and running into an infectious and joyful Heavy Metal romp of an album that has no delusions about what it is and wants to be… mid-paced, fist-pumping, head-banging, hard-playing Heavy Metal, with Priest the most obvious influence on this Gothenberg four piece who marry all that with a slick, polished (self-done) production. Add in splashes of Power Metal from the heavier end of Sonata Arctica and you have a quality listening experience that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Also kudos for reminding me of the naff, but endearing TV show of the same name… [7.0]
The influence of Anthrax as a creative force often goes undervalued, and they’re often overshadowed by the other members of the Big Four when it comes to the perceived effect and impact on other acts, Thrash or otherwise, but Norwegians Tantara have clearly spent time with the taut, unforgiving riffing of tracks like ‘In My World’, ‘Who Cares Wins and ‘Among The Living’, and it is to their benefit on Sum Of Forces (Indie).
Ambitious, too, this six track release falls somewhere between an album and an EP (though is being branded as an album and, well, it is longer than Reign In Blood) and is looking to mix chugging thrash, rolling bass undertones, with aggressive (yet still melody aware) vocals, and some Dave Mustaine influenced impressive soloing. Elsewhere, nods to Chuck Schuldiner and Alex Skolnick (and their requisite bands) prove Tantara to be willing students of the game, and proficient exponents of it too. Perhaps better musicians than songwriters at this stage (and that’s not meant to be a slight, Tantara aren’t looking for any Black Album success here), they are not afraid to push the envelope either, as Sum Of Forces finishes with a measured ten minute instrumental that covers neo-classical soloing, acoustic interludes, tempo changes, hard riffs, the works. Not to be sniffed at. [7.0]
Infused with the spirit of NWOBHM, Canadians Cauldron are surprisingly melodic and vocally focused act considering they are spawned from the guts of Goat Horn and cite Venom as a key influence. Sitting more towards the Tygers of Pan Tang Hard Rock end of the NWOBHM scale, New Gods (Dissonance) starts really strongly with the referential ‘Prisoner Of The Past’. While the more melodic vocal parts of the album (especially ‘No Longer’) expose some weakness in Jason Decay’s delivery that the double-tracking does its best to fill out, nonetheless, this a lovingly crafted retro-facing old school Rock/Metal album with some glorious tumbling solos. ‘Drown’ ups the tempo nicely, bringing to mind Angel Witch, and ‘Last Request’ is the rousing fist-pumping closer, yet it is the uplifting Hair Rock of ‘Together As None’ that steals the show (whether intentionally or not, I’m not sure…) [6.0]
I’ve been (rightfully) scathing about the continued existence of Grave Digger in the past, as they seem to have amassed more misses than hits over their four hundred year existence, and The Living Dead (Napalm) is another hackneyed collection of rough-around-the-edges stodgy, uninspired chugging Heavy Metal, with dreadful vocals rasping pointlessly over a conveyor belt of self-plagiarism, though the collaboration with Russkaja that brings us the polka-thrash-B-movie-stomp ‘Zombie Dance’ is ridiculously brilliant (with the word “brilliant” being applied quite liberally). Another rotting corpse for the pile of shit Grave Digger albums, then…. [4.0]
Now three albums into their resurrection, classic NWOBHM act Satan successfully rose from Hell with the stand out Life Sentence in 2013, and have continued on a roll that has seen them headline the second stage at Bloodstock, and follow things up with the critically acclaimed Atom By Atom (both Listenable) before signing a deal with behemoths Metal Blade for their fifth album, Cruel Magic.
Inspired by the burgeoning reputation of their 1983 debut Court In The Act (Neat) into a genuinely hugely (and rightly) respected classic over time, Satan have taken influence from themselves by attempting to recreate the (Cruel) Magic of those sessions, thirty five years past, adopting a live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to live and single takes in an effort to capture the essential core energy of their music and to bring us all back to the glory days where mistakes and string buzz and other ambient embellishments would make the final cut.
And whether it’s psychological or not, it really works. There’s a frantic energy to tracks like ‘Doomsday Clock’ that could otherwise be lost in the land of overdubs and click tracks, and the solos peal and run and widdle away exactly how you want to, even if it sounds like Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins are only just holding on to keeping the riffing from falling apart. The clever use of warm, live tones helps as well to give Cruel Magic a classic feel, as if it really was cultivated in a different era.
All in, Cruel Magic is a tour-de-force of classic Olde Heavy Metal, with proper riffs that involve fingers flicking up and down the strings, pacy verses, statement choruses, a folky interlude or two and song titles referencing legions, death knells and all the right things.
Satan in 2018 encapsulates the best of what Satan in 1983 did… very good Heavy Metal that is not trying to be the fastest, loudest, heaviest or stupidest, it’s just trying to be very good Heavy Metal. And we all know that Hell ain’t a bad place to be. [8.0]