Magic Circle – Journey Blind

spin077_Magic_Circle_RGB3007x7

Though it was released it little fanfare, Magic Circle’s self-titled debut was an unheralded highlight of 2013. A combination of classic Sabbath-infused doom a la Trouble or Pentagram unafraid to inject the energy and melody of your favourite heavy metal bands, it was satisfying in all the right ways. The Boston quartet’s sophomore album, Journey Blind (20 Buck Spin) has received significantly more press, and ups the ante.

Where almost every song on the debut was built around a long, slow build-and-release dynamic, Journey Blind shows far more variety in the song-writing without compromising quality. It’s still boasts that raw 80s-souding production, and the likes of the title track and ‘Ghosts of the Southern Front’ still lumber on before kicking things up with blazing NWOBHM riffs, but the album also boasts some shorter, high tempos numbers.

The likes of ‘The Damned Man’ and ‘Lightning Cage’ – both of which are blessed with annoyingly addictive lines that make it hard not to squeal along – act as perfect foils to the longer, more intricate numbers. The epic seven minutes of ‘A Ballad for the Vultures’ is probably the best song the band has recorded yet, boasting a host of riffs that bring to mind Dio-era Sabbath and Iron Maiden gallops, a flurry of reverberating solos, while the vocals are out of this world.

Vocalist Brendan Radigan, for a long time found snarling exclusively for punk outfits such as the Rival Mob, has in recent years shown he’s more than capable of sounding like an air raid siren fronting a NWOBHM band: like a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Eric Wagner, he wails his way through the album but never ends up in a comedic “someone stood on my balls” scream that so many retro-revivalist bands seem fond of.

As with their debut, Magic Circle have shown off a rare skill; making an album that could easily be mistaken for a lost classic from the 80s, yet doesn’t feel outdated or like a rehash. It’s everything you want from an album; energetic, addictive, fun, epic, and incredibly satisfying: A combination of timeless song writing and faultless quality makes Journey Blind one of the best records of the year. Go and buy it. Treat yourself for Christmas. Buy your gran one too.

 

9.0/10

 

DAN SWINHOE

[amazon asin=B017L0HRM0&template=iframe image1]

Gama Bomb – Untouchable Glory

10629770_10153533676503363_2757465466525865530_n

By 1990, the Thrash scene was dying on its feet. The cracks had been apparent since the previous year, but by ’90, a large number of bands were beginning to call it a day, leaving only the biggest and most adaptable to survive in a depressingly thinning field. While some faded away, losing fans by continually retreading old ground, others tried to incorporate more diverse elements such as Jazz and Funk, hoping to save themselves by appealing to a slightly different audience. Unfortunately, with the Grunge and Alternative scenes banging down the door it was clear the game was up. So around 1992, and barring a few notable exceptions (there are always exceptions), Thrash was essentially coaxed into its little wicker basket for a final, one way trip to the vets where, due to an unfortunate clerical error, it would eventually end up being buried in the same plot as the Glam Metal scene at a nearby Pet Sematary.

Music trends tend to come in cycles though, and in good old-fashioned zombie movie tradition, sometime around 2004 the decomposed corpse of Thrash was exhumed and re-animated. The Destruction t-shirts and bullet belts came back, but things weren’t the same. Even at its height, the UK’s contribution to the global Thrash scene barely amounted to a fistful of select names, but during this recent revival, quite tellingly, there have been even fewer of any real note. In fact, only two names have stood out. One begins with an E, and the other is Gama Bomb.

Formed in 2002 and following three strict self-imposed rules (no clean guitars, no ballads and no synths), Gama Bomb delivered their first album in 2005, the independently released Survival of the Fastest to positive reviews. Citizen Brain, Tales From the Grave in Space (both Earache) and The Terror Tapes (AFM) followed, while the band established themselves as a consistently entertaining live act.

New album Untouchable Glory (AFM) follows the fast and thrashy Gama Bomb blueprint to the letter. Every song has fast riffs, fast drums, fast vocals, and every song sounds like it’s racing you to the end. Unfortunately, every song also seems to just blend into the next one. There aren’t actually any bad songs on Untouchable Glory, but there just aren’t any great ones either. Opener ‘Ninja Untouchables/Untouchable Glory’ and the wonderfully ’80s sounding ‘Ride The Night’ are the best of the bunch as they actually contain something memorable – some brilliant Kung Fu backing vocals on the former and a top class chorus on the latter. ‘Witching Mania’ is another quality track, but overall there’s nothing that will immediately stick in the memory. Dedicated fans will undoubtedly familiarise themselves with the lyrics and be able to recite them perfectly by the time the band play them live, but there’s nothing on Untouchable Glory to come close to the instant catchiness of ‘OCP’, ‘Hammer Slammer’, ‘In the Court of General Zod’ or ‘Bullet Belt’.

 

5.0/10

 

GARY ALCOCK

Silentlie – Layers of Nothing

11041813_400261286814877_5746123408171619809_n

10 years after forming, Italian goth rockers Silentlie have finally released their début album, Layers of Nothing (Bakerteam). The band – Giorgia Sacco Taz (vocals), Luigi Pressacco (guitars), Davide Sportiello (bass & Keyboards) and Andrea Piergianni (drums) – have previously managed to release two EPs, but perhaps should have taken a bit longer working on this release…

The 10 tracks and 45 minutes on offer provide plenty keyboard-heavy melodic mid-paced rockers featuring lots atmospherics and thick riffs. While it’s not terrible (nor particularly original) there’s little variation in the speed, style or structure and it’s all pretty safe, even occasionally plodding.

Opener ‘Unbreakable’ is a promising start; upbeat and catchy yet retaining plenty of heaviness in the guitars. But it’s more of an exception. Mostly we’re given mid-tempo filler that fails to stir anything other than apathy. There are some decent moments; ‘Slave’ and ‘Change’ almost stray into doom territory, ‘Dark Nights’ has a real 80s metal feel about it and could be a cover of some lost Ozzy Osbourne b-side.

Taz’s vocals are solid; she knows how to carry a tune but there’s not a lot of range outside her low croon or chorus shout. Pressacco’s guitar work is decent through with occasional flourishes, and there’s a decent selection on solos on offer, especially on the likes of ‘My Scream is Silence,’ ‘Unbreakable’ and album closer ‘Dark Nights’.

There’s not much particularly wrong with Layers of Nothing: the vocals are ok, there’s some nice riffs, and a decent amount of guitar solos scattered about the album. But there’s very little to get excited about.

One for people really hankering for a new hit of gothic metal.

 

6.0/10

Silentlie on Facebook

 

DAN SWINHOE

Evil Invaders – Pulses of Pleasure

10277424_829875400392597_7487560881865872964_n

The first track of Pulses of Pleasure (Napalm) is called ‘Fast, Loud and Rude’ and that tells you everything you need to know. Once it kicks off with a riff that buzzes around like a pissed off wasp you’ve just failed to swat, high on the spillage of your fizzy drink, you know exactly what type of journey Evil Invaders are going to take you on.

With a more melodic (and slightly restrained) take on Exodus, and lashings and thrashings of Exciter worship, Evil Invaders don’t do subtle. Or diverse. They do, however, pedal a line in nostalgic old school thrash and speed metal and everything, from the retro production to the squealing solos (nice harmony lead in the title track, by the way guys) and the pacy chromatic riffs is lovingly recreated. Existing in a bubble where metal ended when Udo quit Accept and Kai Hansen stopped fronting Helloween, Evil Invaders’ sound and influences begin in 1979 and end in 1986.

While the production and performance values and the base level of pretty much every band releasing music out there these days has increased a thousand-fold in the last thirty years, Speed Metal still allows, nay, welcomes with studded wrist band adorned arms, the amateurish “rough and ready” approach which did alright by Raven and Razor (one assumes the band name is taken from the Razor album of the same name?). Deliberately Shit Metal only exists in the hearts and minds of those with both (white hi-top clad) feet in yesteryear, and Gehennah, who do this retro thing with more balls, menace and conviction, shit Evil Invaders for breakfast.

Some might argue naïve charm and a love of a bygone age, when denim and chains (and rivets) ruled the roost, but the fun factor soon wears off as Pulses of Pleasure reveals itself to be big on style and short on substance. The classic speed metal albums were great because, above all, they lived and died on standout riffs and excellent songwriting. Evil Invaders fall short on both counts.

 

5.5/10

Evil Invaders on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

RAM / Portrait – Under Command

 

RAM-Portrait-UnderCommand

 

Friends, allies and countrymen lending each other not just their ears, but their riffs too, and sharing black wax time and what we have here is a pretty cool, if gratuitous, way for two bands to promote themselves and each other. The premise for Under Command, a split EP (Metal Blade), is that each band contributes a new original, a re-imagining of the other band and a cover.

First up is RAM’s original, a spiky Judas Priest inspired 80’s rocket called ‘Savage Machine’. It goes without saying originality is at a premium, but it’s delivered in the right spirit. However, the best of RAM’s trio of unholiness is their take on Portrait’s ‘Welcome To My Funeral’, outdoing the original with graveyard tones and atmospheres working well. All the good work done in the first two, RAM chuck it away with a piss-weak and stock cover of KISS’ ‘Creatures Of The Night’ that seems to go on for double its four minute length.

Portrait have been (unfairly? the jury is still out…) tagged as wannabe Mercyful Fate merchants, with people comparing Per Lengstedt to the King, in an evaluation that the Portrait man can only come out second best in. ‘Martial Lead’ does little to dispel the Fate association, with Lengstedt’s voice and falsetto too rough and no Diamond. Their version of Exciter’s ‘Aggressor’ is decent, raw and aggressive enough, and they run through RAM’s ‘Blessed To Be Cursed’, a more underground and Satanic British Steel era Priest tune, with enough intent to do it justice.

All six tracks suffer from a retro production, and it’s interesting that by the end the differences between the two bands are negligible and this could be one release by the same act. It’s also of note that the more high profile of the two, Portrait, come out second best, but, then, RAM have more to benefit from this, and it shows in the power they put into their track.

All said and done, this is a decent enough curio, but no more than that.

 

6.0/10

RAM on Facebook

Portrait on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Foreseen – Helsinki Savagery

Foreseen_HS

Thrashers Foreseen have been called “Finland’s answer to Power Trip.” Formed in 2010, the band had only released a few EPs and splits up until now, but with their debut album Helsinki Savagery (20 Buck Spin) they sound more like Finland’s answer to every aggressive thrash outfit ever.

Mainly labelled as a Crossover Thrash band, Foreseen combine Slayer-like speed and aggression with stomping hardcore. If you like Municipal Waste but feel the vocals aren’t ferocious enough, these guys are just up your street. It’s aggressive, raw, and full of circle pit inducing headbangers. Anyone who wears patches on their denim vests and claims to like 80s metal should enjoy this.

Instrumental opener ‘Slam Savagery’ combines Reign In Blood (Def Jam) era shredding with early Megadeth-levels of guitar histrionics. ‘Death Injection’ is a high octane slab of brutality, featuring rasping vocals, gang shoutalongs and stomping breakdowns. Whether it’s the squealing ‘Market Target’ or the slower brutality of ‘Structural Oppression,’ there’s very little let up.

Foreseen took a look at 80s thrash and condensed it down to 40 minutes of snarling, shredding and solos. Individually, there’s not a weak song among the lot. Tracks toward the end – ‘Delusion of No Consequence,’ Paving The Way’ – are filled with the same levels of urgency and searing goodness as the opening numbers. The only criticisms you can throw at the album is the lack of variety. While it’s a formula that works, there’s almost no deviation from the standard thrash blueprint. But why fix what isn’t broken?

There’s little, if anything, that hasn’t come before in the realm of thrash metal. Luckily crossover hasn’t been played over and over to death, and Foreseen do enough to avoid sounding hackneyed. They might not be too subtle about hiding their influences, but the energy they put into in the record makes Helsinki Savagery a great record for banging your head to.

 

7.0/10

Foreseen on Facebook

 

DAN SWINHOE

Striker – City Of Gold 

striker_city_of_gold

 

The 80s were a great time for metal. Maybe even the best. And there are plenty of bands that spend their entire careers reliving the glory of big hair, big riffs and epic choruses. Striker are one of these bands.

City of Gold (Napalm) is the Canadian group’s third album. While the retro scene is full of denim and leather types trying to recapture the magic, Striker have a certain energy about them that stops it all becoming too kitsch. What the four-piece lack in originality they make up for with energy and quality song writing; it’s all high-octane drumming and fret-busting solos, gang vocals and soaring sing-alongs. Guitarists Tim Brown and Chris Segger provide the heavy metal thunder – mixing classic Iron Maiden-esque riffs with a speed metal tempo, while Dan Cleary has an impressive set of pipes that could pass for Bruce Dickinson, Bon Jovi or Rob Halford depending on the song.

There’s generally three settings Striker come in: The galloping power metal epic with the likes of ‘Start Again,’ the big melodic stadium rockers such as ‘Bad Decisions,’ and the fast speed metal numbers in vein of ‘Underground’ or ‘Second Attack’. It’s completely unapologetic in its love of the 80s, but it’s entertaining enough that it doesn’t matter.

City of Gold doesn’t have an original moment in it. But it’s still an enjoyable ride. If 44 minutes of big riffs, fist-pumping choruses and 80s metal in general sounds like your thing, Striker will give you everything you need. Yes there’s plenty of cheese, but it’s all so catchy it’s hard not to get sucked in.

7/10

Striker on Facebook

 

DAN SWINHOE