The last of a groundbreaking run of undisputed classics, Sabotage (Vertigo/BMG), often gets overlooked during debates about the studio legacy of legendary metal pioneers Black Sabbath. Considering the seismic impact of the band’s previous five releases, this isn’t entirely surprising but Sabotage has always deserved more time in those conversations.
Haunt – Beautiful Distraction
Having released six full-lengths and other assorted releases in just five years, it’s only inevitable for Haunt’s output to start getting samey. Their first (and probably not last) album in 2021, Beautiful Distraction carries on the polished, synth-laden variant of Heavy Metal last seen on 2020’s Mind Freeze and Flashback. Fortunately, the formula is still enjoyable with tracks like ‘In Our Dreams’ and ‘Face Of Danger’ offering uplifting hooks while ‘Imaginary Borders’ hits. It’s rather strange to see new versions of ‘Hearts On Fire’ and ‘It’s In My Hands’ considering their appearances on prior albums, but their later placements in the track order ultimately amount to inoffensive inclusions. As interchangeable as these albums have become lately, fans will still find their favorite pleasantries on full display.
7 / 10
Witchseeker – Scene Of The Wild
Like 2017’s When The Clock Strikes before it, the second album from Singapore’s Witchseeker offers high octane Speed Metal with a certain Hard Rock sensibility. That latter element is especially pronounced on Scene Of The Wild (Dying Victims Productions) as songs like ‘Rock This Night Away,’ ‘Sin City’ (Not an AC/DC cover), and ‘Tokyo Nights’ among others are packed with catchy singalongs and frolicking beats. Fortunately, there’s still enough rawness to go around with the tempos often opting for total intensity, the vocals having an endearingly untrained quality and a filthy as hell bass tone. It may not be a serious gamechanger but another fun listen for fans of Enforcer and White Wizzard.
8 / 10
Significant Point – Into The Storm
Significant Point’s debut album follows in the footsteps of their countrymen in groups like Loudness and Anthem, but their approach to Speed Metal ends up feeling more German than Japanese. Songs like the opening ‘Attacker’ and ‘Riders Under The Sun’ show strong influence from Running Wild and Walls Of Jericho-era Helloween with their blazing guitar runs, flamboyant harmonies, relentless drumming, and unhinged yet melodic wails.
There’s also room for more Classic Metal leaning fun with ‘You’ve Got The Power’ and ‘Night Of The Axe’ offering some in your face optimism. The more epic touches on ‘Running Alone’ also make for another highlight of a closer. Into The Storm (Dying Victims Productions) may be rather rough and tumble for some fans, especially when it comes to the vocals, but comes strongly recommended to those who like their Power Metal with extra grit.
8 / 10
With a solo career that is now going over two decades strong, Blaze Bayley shows no signs of slowing down with his tenth full-length album. While War Within Me (Blaze Bayley Records) is an inevitable step back from the Infinite Entanglement trilogy that he released through the late 2010s, this has more to do with the sense of scale than any sort of quality concerns. If anything, the album is essentially a fun look back on everything that Blaze has accomplished thus far.
James Durbin may have been the “metal guy” during his season on American Idol, but it’s been an uphill battle for him to get any sort of street cred in the actual scene. His subsequent solo albums seemed noncommittal in terms of style and his brief stint singing for Quiet Riot felt more like an odd novelty than a real step forward. It’s hard to tell how the reception towards The Beast Awakens (Frontiers Records srl) will compare but at the very least, it’s a notable turning point on his path to Heavy Metal legitimacy.
For a band whose schtick has been carrying the torch for old school Heavy Metal, it’s interesting how Crystal Viper’s eighth album feels like a trip to their own early roots. The band didn’t venture too far from that core sound over the years, but The Cult (Listenable Records) comes with the “Running Wild as fronted by Doro Pesch” spirit that defined early staples like The Curse of Crystal Viper or Metal Nation. I like to think that recruiting Ced Forsberg of Rocka Rollas/Blazon Stone fame for drum duties was the spark for this shift in style.
Saber – Without Warning (1/1)
It’s pretty easy to compare Saber to their fellow Californians in Haunt. In addition to playing a similarly polished Heavy Metal style, the band has released their debut album through Trevor William Church’s record label with Church himself even playing the drums on a sessional basis. Fortunately, Saber is able to set themselves apart by means of over-the-top vocals and faster tempos on songs like ‘Strike Of The Witch’ and the appropriately titled ‘Speed Racer.’ There’s certainly room for further development, especially given that Without Warning is less than a half-hour long, but it’s a fun listen for fans of groups like Cauldron and Riot City.
Buy the album here: https://saberheavymetal.bandcamp.com/album/without-warning
7 / 10
Konquest – The Night Goes On (1/8)
Konquest is a one-man project from Tuscany whose first full-length album makes no bones about their Iron Maiden worship. The vocals have a more workman quality in comparison, but the guitar harmonies are on point and the bass gets plenty of chances to let out some Steve Harris-style flourishes. The songwriting is also well-executed as songs like the title track and ‘Helding Back The Tears’ (Not a typo?) are packed with catchy Eighties-friendly hooks while ‘Heavy Heart’ and ‘The Vision’ hint at more Epic Metal aspirations. The latter’s musical lifts from ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ are a bit much, but it’s in good fun. I also keep wanting to write their name as Kong Quest, which just makes me want to play through Donkey Kong Country 2 again. Fun stuff.
Buy the album here https://konquestband.bandcamp.com/
8 / 10
Midnight Spell – Sky Destroyer (1/8)
In a way similar to recent efforts from groups like RAM and Ambush, Midnight Spell’s first album is a grab-bag of Classic Metal tropes. Tracks like ‘Lady Of The Moonlight’ and ‘To The Stars’ seem inspired by the likes of Dokken with their borderline Glam hooks and anthemic pacing while ‘Cemetery Queen’ is the token occult number taking influence from Mercyful Fate and the title track goes for all-out Speed Metal. The rather meat and potatoes presentation risks coming off as too plain, but the musicianship is tight and the fantastic earworms on songs like ‘Midnight Ride’ just can’t be ignored. It’s a bit more polished than your typical Traditional Metal debut, but it manages to be endearing in its own right.
Buy the album here: https://midnightspell.bandcamp.com/album/sky-destroyer
8 / 10
Hallows Eve was quite an anomaly back in the halcyon days of Eighties Heavy Metal. Even going by the standards of a time when subgenres were still nebulous and ill-defined, the Atlantans’ approach was difficult to pin down. Utilizing familiar tropes in unfamiliar ways, their Alice Cooper-inspired horror theatrics set them apart from their Speed Metal peers while their Punk attitude was a far cry from King Diamond. Their 1985 debut album, Tales Of Terror (Metal Blade Records), is easily the rawest and arguably the most endearing iteration of their Horror Metal formula.
While Toronto’s Possessed Steel approached Epic Metal with a rough attitude on the EPs they released in 2014 and 2017, their first proper full-length is much classier in comparison. The style is as grandiose as ever, but a greater emphasis on intricate guitar harmonies and polished production gives Aedris (Temple Of Mystery Records) more in common with a band like Wytch Hazel than Atlantean Kodex. Further comparisons could also be made to The Lord Weird Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune with the free-flowing structures and pastoral air throughout.
Consisting entirely of musicians from the eccentric Demon Bitch with equally esoteric pseudonyms, Detroit’s White Magician settles firmly into the world of heavy Occult Rock on their first full-length album. “The Agents Of Fortune”-esque cover art is enough to indicate that any comparisons to Blue Öyster Cult are likely intentional; the band exercises a similarly freerolling attitude with an ominous undercurrent. But while Dealers Of Divinity (Cruz Del Sur Music) gambles on a well-trod formula, the group seems to have a couple of aces up their sleeves.
Cortez’s third full-length album shows a certain spark that was merely hinted at the Boston group”s previous releases. This is immediately established with the opening”No Escape,” which comes crashing in with a template more in line with Classic Metal than their usual Stoner Rock. I find myself reminded of Cauldron or Castle as the driving tempo sustains a reverb-friendly production job with a slew of flamboyant guitar leads, gritty bass, and chanted vocals to go around.