REVIEWS ROUND-UP: Week 43 (2017) – feat. Savage Messiah, Winds of Plague, Hollywood Undead, Sparzanza and more…

The Ghost Cult album round up is back in town, for your vulgar delectation…

Do you believe in second chances? Well, the great thing about music is that every single time a band releases an album they get a new chance… and by Satan am I glad of that, cos I’m having a blast with the fourth Savage Messiah album Hands of Fate (Century Media). See, Savage… is a band I’d previously discarded on the back of some lacklustre live shows and the uninspiring Plague of Conscience (Earache). Well, this leopard hasn’t just shed its spots, Xzibit has pimped this motherfucking big cats’ ride…. The notes from my first listen stated “Youthanasia with balls and if Mustaine could actual sing”… So, sit back, and enjoy a simply great, fun Melodic Metal album. Perhaps the album BFMV have been striving for in recent years, Hands of Fate pumps the fist that doesn’t pump, with regularity, such as when the Death Magnetic stomp of ‘The Crucible’ hits groove-force-one, or during the energetic cliché-ridden (in a good way)power stomp of ‘Eat Your Heart Out’. Chucking Metallica, Iron Maiden and, to these ears, a VERY welcome lashing of Ville Laihiala era Sentenced into the melting pot has helped Savage Messiah create an album full of top songs, headbanging riffs, fist-pumping moments, earworm choruses and great guitar interplay, all backed up by a top production from Scott Atkins. What more could you ask for? Simply put, this is a bloody great, enjoyable Heavy Metal album. [8.0]

While we’re talking delivering the goods, Swedish veterans Sparzanza offer Announcing The End (Dezpotz), a contender for one of the best albums of the year you’ve not heard about yet. When we talk Metallica influence, it’s usually meant in terms of Thrash masterpieces, or big Black Album anthems, yet Sparzanza feel the best bits of Load (Vertigo), all while adding a Shinedown (the good stuff, not the more recent arsefest) arena rock sensibility courtesy of Fredrik Wieleby’s powerful vocals (‘We Are Forever’, an absolute beast of a tune would sit comfortably on The Sound Of Madness), an early SOiL dirtiness and a touch or two of Alter Bridge’s epic rocking. Swagger, groove, stomp, huge tunes, dark, melodic, modern rock-tinged metal… for a band I’d never heard of before (yes, I know us “journos” are supposed to pretend to know everything, but let’s keep it honest here) I’ve had my head turned to a band so far up my alley they’ve set up camp on my front lawn. A touch more diversity, and a hint more top tier song-writing nous would be the icing on what is already a very tasty cake indeed. [7.5]

Possessed (Indie) is a brave statement for Atena to make, offering a thorough disclosure around mental health issues, examining the situations the band members themselves have found themselves in. What is less brave is the by numbers approach to the music, with monotone growls over monotone rhythmic pulses on the guitars. The cleaner vocals may add colour, but other than the effective and interesting rapping on ‘Death Eating’, they exist as a grey swash rather than any particular pulse or splash of vibrancy, and, as pleasant as they are, hooks are few and far between, and the whole album oozes past unspectacularly. Which is rather a shame given the importance of the subject matter, and the openness of its protagonists. [5.0]

Much more diverse, unpredictable, and all the better for it, are Irish “sludge monsters” Zh0ra. Taking an eclectic approach to writing, and a shout it, shout it out loud approach to the vocals on Ethos, Pathos, Logos (self-released), Zh0ra exists predominantly at a touch below mid-pace. Nonetheless this hour long odyssey takes us through Thrash chug, headbanging grooves, Doomy bottom end, and unhinged song structures; the deranged pairing of ‘Sin Eater’ and ‘The Breach’ the core of the album, showcasing every aspect of their make-up. Interesting, if not always successful, Ethos, Pathos, Logos is at least distinctive and unforgettable, and well worth investigating. Even if just to see how a tale of aliens, cannibals and past lives revisited is woven into an (in)coherent whole. [7.0]

From the wild, wide-ranging and unfocused to the razor sharp and singular of vision, with the stomping Crossover of Dr Living Dead. Stockholm’s lurching bemasked sleepwalkers have served up a fine Thrash platter by the name of Cosmic Conqueror (Century Media). Musically not a million miles away from Municipal Waste and Exodus, the occasional Mike Muirisms in the vocals are a nice touch, but where Dr Living Dead is best is when they hit that 4/4 midtempo crunch, and the heads on the floor get a-windmilling (before, no doubt, falling off and biting ankles), such as the neck-punching ‘Terror Vision’. You have heard everything this putrid lot have to offer before, but they do it so well, and in the right undead spirit. Hey, hey, do the zombie, zombie stomp! [7.0]

Symphonic Death (with emphasis on the METAL) merchants Winds of Plague are back again, with their fifth opus maximus, Blood Of My Enemy (SPV/Longbranch), and if the thought of Dimmu Borgir flavouring a meat platter of fucking heavy riffs is enough to get you slavering, prepare to chow down. WoP, rather than fully integrating the styles, tend to run as a fucking heavy metalcore band with symphonic bits dancing over the top, boosting sections here and there, which particularly on the festival friendly standout ‘Never Alone’ ticks every box it needs to. While a touch “second verse, same as the first” as matters proceed, it has to be said this is an enjoyable and pounding listen, with blistering drumming keeping the momentum high. While Fleshgod Apocalypse and septicflesh do this much (much) better due in no small part to their emphasis and amalgamation of the symphonic elements, WoP can chalk up another success. [6.5]

Now, if you’d expect us not to cover Hollywood Undead’s fifth album, the imaginatively titled Five (Century Media), or indeed expected us to widely pan it if we did, then you haven’t been paying enough attention to the randomness and shiteness of my tastes, for HU are indeed covered, and the album ain’t all that bad, either. I preface my next point by saying I am a champion for bands pushing the boundaries and not just being “one thing”, however, HU live in a strange bubble where all the things they are just don’t tie together. At all. When they do metal, such as the excellent pounding rock club killer ‘California Dreaming’ or the Churchill’s dog neck-bounce of ‘Renegade’, they’re really good. When they do Eminem meets boy band (approximately a third of the album) they’re good. When they do middle of the road hip hop, ah, well, they’re not so good… indeed, all of this has happened before and will happen again. That said, Five is most, most listenable, if a more than a bit disjointed. [6.0]


Other albums released 10/27 (click for review)

All Pigs Must Die Hostage Animal (Southern Lord)

Blind Guardian 1998 – 2003 Reissues (Nuclear Blast)

Fleurety The White Death (Peaceville)

Gold Key Hello Phantom (Venn)

Mirror Queen Verdigris (TeePee)

Ne Obliviscaris Urn (Season of Mist)

Powerman 5000 New Wave (Pavement)

Serenity Lionheart (Napalm)

Skyclad First Five Albums Reissued (Noise/BMG)