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 Hazelthan 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.
With Wytch Hazel having established their style right from their 2011 formation, each of their releases has mostly been a matter of fine-tuning and making tweaks to their Hard Rock vision. The band’s third full-length album is no exception as it delivers its signature blend of Celtic melodies and spiritual lyrics with brazen positivity. Past efforts have been enjoyable in their own right but III: Pentecost (Bad Omen Records) may be the strongest execution of the formula so far.Continue reading
Spirit Adrift could’ve followed the more accessible bent of 2019’s Divided In Darkness with more of the same but chose to mix things up to an even greater degree with their fourth full-length album. The tug o’ war between Doom and Traditional Metal that has defined their style has turned in the latter’s favor with more songs taking on upbeat tempos. The lyrics have also undergone a noticeable attitude adjustment with a decidedly optimistic outlook and an emphasis on metaphysical galactic imagery. There are enough common denominators to help Enlightened In Eternity (20 Buck Spin/Century Media) fit in with their established trajectory, but it may be their most drastic sound shift thus far.
After releasing two albums and an EP under the Witch Hazel moniker, the York, Pennsylvania quartet has rebranded as SpellBook. Their first album under this new moniker, Magic & Mischief (Cruz Del Sur Music), doesn’t deviate too far from their established Occult Rock style. There are a multitude of Seventies Rock grooves fitted with a slight Doom crunch that is quick to recall their contemporaries in groups like Lucifer, Demon Eye, and Icarus Witch.