With a career based on stories of warfare and combat throughout the ages, it was only a matter of time until Swedish power metallers Sabaton returned to focus on one specific event in particular. Having previously dealt with different aspects of World War II on Coat of Arms in 2010 and on 2014’s Heroes (both Nuclear Blast), the band have turned their attentions this time towards World War 1 on latest offering, The Great War (Nuclear Blast). Continue reading
At its molten heart, Rock music should be a very simple beating beast indeed. It should inspire and excite, yes, but it doesn’t need complicated rhythms, progressive tendencies, cerebral lyrics, analysis, politics or a whole plethora of interesting and additional ingredients to be successful or do what it sets out to do. And that is to, unequivocally, “Rock”. Continue reading
Check out all of today’s new releases in the heavy metal world! Continue reading
The list of acts who can be linked to Metal legends Helloween through their band members is really quite an impressive one. Masterplan, Running Wild, U.D.O., Krokus, Accept, Iron Savior, Savage Circus, and Freedom Call have all featured one or more of the German pumpkin botherers at one time or another, not to mention obscure side projects like Shockmachine and Palast, and a frankly ridiculous amount of collaborations and guest appearances. Continue reading
Some elements of life naturally appeal to our various senses; like the aroma of bacon in our nostrils or like a striking sunset in our vision, so Michael Kiske’s warm, velvety optimistic tones are an aural hot chocolate to our ears. It’s hard to hear his voice, whether it be over a racing Metal speedster or a lush acoustic ballad, and not feel some kind of affirming action has taken place. If Kiske and Devin Townsend were to record together, negativity as we know it would be evacuated from this ball of rock.
Kiske/Somerville is a bit of an unusual but oh-so-grin inducing proposition that is rock, Jim, but not as we know it, with its origins almost Simon Cowellesque. Basically Frontier Records have employed Mat Sinner (Sinner, natch, and Primal Fear) to write a bunch of songs for two people who are quite capable of writing their own, and who have been paired up to record together for the second time (Sinner also penning the self-titled debut of 2010).
Since his banishment from Helloween Kiske, the greatest and most distinctive voice in Euro Metal, has nomadically wandered from project to project, including various solo albums, a reoccurring lead cast role in the theatre of Avantasia and (finally) his own heavier project Unisonic. Meanwhile Amanda Somerville has appeared with the glitterati of the Power Metal world in Kamelot, Edguy, Avantasia, and After Forever.
And, perhaps due to the oddity of the nature of its creation, in the main, it works. Most enjoyably, too. While the majority of the music beneath is uptempo Hard Rock (of the tinged by Power and Classic Metal variety), above the surface soar unconstrained, with unrefined joy clearly displayed, the twin voices of our protagonists, usually by means of call and answer; a verse for he, a verse for she, and a chorus where they meet to continue their tales of love.
While the backing music may, like the dodgiest of petrol gauges, swing from average to bloody good, and it all sits very comfortably in the type of garden we are well acquainted with, surprises are, well, nil. City Of Heroes, though, does what too few albums do and, like boobs in the hands, makes us feel good about ourselves.
Well, that’s shut me well and truly the fuck up
It’s apt to begin a commentary on a release from one ex-Helloween guitarist (Roland Grapow) with reference to the man he succeeded in the pumpkin-obsessed kings of Power Metal, one Kai Hansen, who titled the third Gamma Ray album Insanity & Genius (Noise) and referenced in the lyrics how thin the line between the two is. Well, the line between generic and uninteresting pap and Power Metal Glory is even thinner, perhaps as thin as the hair-line on Herr Hansen’s fivehead these days. But with As Daylight Breaks (Nuclear Blast) Serious Black (contenders for best new band name – certainly best Harry Potter themed one) have released a debut that is so far over the line on the side of quality, the line is a dot to them (answers on a postcard if you get that reference).
Having written off Power Metal in my mind as a genre that, no matter how well its composite parts could be put together, was done, creatively redundant and in the type of artistic morass that Death Metal found itself in for twenty years, nevertheless, like the child poking the disembowelled frog with a stick and hoping for some twitch or reaction, with morbid curiosity I find myself drawn to it. See, when Power Metal is on it, there’s very little better for invigorating the mind and soul. And Grapow’s latest offering slapped me round the chops, leaving me with a fiendish grin, a rediscovered enthusiasm for the genre and a frog named Lazarus.
The brainchild of Grapow and former Visions of Atlantis bassist Mario Lochert, with the rhythm section rounded out by former Blind Guardian tub thumper Thomen Stauch, Serious Black absolutely nail everything that is joyous about Power Metal infused hard rock, from the driving opening pair of ‘I Seek No Other Life’ and the simply massive ‘High And Low’ through to the theatre-y and slightly camp closing ‘Older and Wiser’.
The band is led by the underrated and under-celebrated vocal talents of former Tad Morose pipes, Urban breed who avoids being one of a million Kiske-clean wannabes by injecting power and tone; at times channelling Jon Oliva, particularly on the keys led title-track, at others Mike Howe (Metal Church), and able to carry a faster verse alongside the ubiquitous sizeable choruses.
Musically, you can bandy about names such as Kamelot (‘Akhenation’), Within Temptation (the uptempo rock romp of ‘Trail of Murder’), Savatage, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica if you like; there definite elements of Blind Guardian and Helloween, and that’s absolutely fine, as Serious Black sit as a kind of summation of all that “is” from the polished end of Power Metal.
As Daylight Breaks benefits from a great, full, vibrant production and above all exudes the sensation of a band really enjoying their work. As they rightly should. I once incorrectly tagged Grapow as a Janick Gers figure who had ruined one of my favourite bands. He well and truly proved me wrong – I even quite like Pink Bubbles Go Ape now, and I’m one of the few people on the planet who love Chameleon (both EMI) – and with Serious Black he’s done it again, proving as Edguy did with last years’ Space Police (Nuclear Blast) that, when done well, Power Metal can be fulfilling rompy-pompy.
Our UK Editor Steve Tovey has been counting down his Top 25 albums of 2014 via Social Media, including via his Twitter account @steevXIII
If you haven’t been following, find his thoughts on his favourite 25 long players of the year here…
25, Scar Symmetry– The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity) (Nuclear Blast)
A bit of kitchen sink album, this one – prog, power, death, bits that sound like Extreme (the band), a concept that makes Demanufacture look like a children’s story (OK, it is hardly the most developed story anyway…) and part 1 of a trilogy I’m keen to see if it can keep up with the level of this first one.
24, Unearth – Watchers of Rule (eOne)
The album I wanted ‘At War With Reality’ to be, but with a metric tonne of breakdowns (or possibly beatdowns – I still get them confused) on top. Blistering with Gothenburg tinged spiky riffing, dual guitars flying, full on vocals and some good old fashioned metal aggression, Old Wave of Swedish Melodic Death Metal style. No remorse, no repent, no let up, no problem!
23, Ageless Oblivion – Penthos (SOAR/Century Media)
Relentless, progressive and technical death metal, and damn good at it, too.
22, Opeth – Pale Communion (Roadrunner)
I have always had a very strong dislike of Opeth. Then they released an album that doesn’t sound like Opeth. Now loads who did like them, don’t, and loads who didn’t like them, do. Not normally a massive prog fan either, but this album is really good. AND somehow I’ve now started to get into the older stuff I’ve never liked before like Blackwater Park and Still Life. Weird, innit.
21, Overkill– White Devil Armory (Nuclear Blast/eOne)
Continuing their brilliant run of form that near matches their classic first 3 albums since signing for Nuclear Blast with another energetic, full-on, thrash classic. Really loving the vitality but above all the quality of the tunes. Always had a soft spot for Overkill and well chuffed they’re still flying the flag louder and harder than any other “old school” thrash band. Proud to review this one here.
20, Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral (Peaceville)
Set your HM-2 pedals to kill… Really enjoyable old school Death Metal romp. Plenty of Dismember, plenty of Entombed, bit of Morbid Angel in places, and just sounds like a bunch of guys who know what they’re doing having fun with metal they love. ‘sGot big riffs. And I like Nick Holmes vocals on it, too. More cookie monster than cookie cutter and add a distinctive edge.
19, Devin Townsend– Sky Blue (HevyDevy)
So, I split the two albums out and Dark Matters was in the ‘Not Quite…’ list. It took me a little while and a few listens to forgive Sky Blue for not being Epicloud. But seeing as Epicloud is probably my favourite album released in the last 10 years it was always going to be difficult. Sitting very much in the Addicted, Epicloud pop-metal end of the DTP arsenal, it can’t help but be a great, enjoyable listen. I just think he perfected it last time around, so this has a touch of diminishing returns. Still think it’s bloody good, like (hence it making the top 20).
18, Killer Be Killed– Killer Be Killed (Nuclear Blast)
‘im from Mastodon, ‘im from Dillinger, another ‘im from somewhere else (can’t be bothered to google it, sure someone will say below) and a Max Cavalera relegated to side-man all pulling off (tee hee) a bloody great album of riffs, grooves and big old tunes. Lovely stuff.
17, Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade)
The first track is possibly the greatest chest-beating Heavy Metal track of the year, resplendent (I’ve always liked that word) in its’ Bathory meets Manowar glory. After such an blinding start the album could only struggle to live up to expectations. It is bloody good though, and the last track is also amazing. Does what Primordial do, and does it well. One I reviewed, too, so you can check that out here if you like
16, Machine Head – Bloodstones & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast)
OK, still haven’t fully gotten grips with this one – it’s not long been out, there were other albums to cram in before end of year, reviews, life, all that, plus it’s a pretty long album and there’s a lot of music going on (contrary to popular belief, your average Machine Head track isn’t as bone head as many think these days), so sticking this one here. I know it’s good, I know I like it, just not lived with it enough to know how much.
Still, I know it brings the riffs, diversity, some intelligent song-writing, some really cool choral and non-metal touches, and I know I’ll like it more once I spend some time with it and the songs separate out.
15, Judas Priest– Redeemer of Souls (Epic/Columbia)
No, it’s not as heavy as Painkiller, but it does sound like a mix of everything they’ve done til now. Just lashings of good, solid, classic Priest with plenty of nods to their 70s and early 80s stuff (though no Turbo, unfortunately)
And, you know, songs and shit. Good job all round and damn fine album.
Another one I reviewed here.
14, Fen – Carrion Skies (Code666)
The one where they brought it all together, tying up all the threads that make up Fen and producing their best material to date with every track. A sound of a band with confidence and making a statement about who they are. More focused, more “metal” than the last and their definitive release to date.
13, In Flames– Siren Charms (Sony)
Note this is MY albums of the year… and by that I mean favourite not “best”. The perception that most people don’t give a monkeys about post-Colony In Flames is completely overridden by the fact that they’re loads more popular now than they were then (though popularity isn’t a measure of quality etc, I know…) It’s just the undergroundzz innit.
According to itunes, this was my most listened to album of 2014, and, yep, I dig it. It doesn’t do anything particularly different, amazing, new or unexpected, but is a step up on everything post-Come Clarity, for me.
Above all I just think it has a load of good songs. And I like good songs. Even more than I like spazzy-jazzy tech metal. Much more than I like spazzy-jazzy tech metal, to be honest… I dig it. Most of you on here will scoff. The band won’t care either way. And neither will I…
I reviewed here.
12, Bast – Spectres (Burning World)
Excellently crafted “serious” metal, with a great album dynamic that moves through and between post-Black Metal, UK Doom and post-metal, but doesn’t sound inconsistent or forced. I have Steve Patton of Sea Bastard to thank for bringing these to my attention. Really glad he did. I reviewed here.
11, Pyrrhon– The Mother Of Virtues (Relapse)
This album still intimidates me. I probably could (should?) have this higher in my list, but I very rarely want to listen to it cos it’s hard work. Rewarding, but horrible hard work to listen to. Probably the most extreme, all out clusterfuck of the modern-tech “jazz” Ulcerate/Gorguts/Deathspell Omega influenced death metal albums of them all. This was the highest mark I’ve given anything in a review since I gave Insomnium‘s demo 10 back in the late 90’s (and the only time I’ve had an online slagging for giving a band a great review!). Takes death metal almost to the point of not being music any more.
Just don’t call them free-form… (which I actually didn’t… You can read what I did say here)
10, Edguy– Space Police: Defenders of the Crown (Nuclear Blast)
I really like this. It’s dumb, cheesy fun, yes, but it’s well put together, catchy – I still have a fair few of the songs and riffs bouncing around in my head – good, enjoyable entertaining rocky power metal. Cheesier than the stuff that’ll be on the board that will come out with the port at my folks an hour after Christmas dinner, and I love it for that.
Also, it has the best song Van Halen have(n’t) written for 20 years. Reviewed this one here.
9, Schammasch – Contradiction (Prosthetic)
Came to this late in the year as was unsure about its mammoth length (fnarr etc). Atmospheric black/death cleverly sprawling over 85 minutes, it certainly doesn’t drag, filling every one of those minutes with quality.
8, Voices – London (Candlelight)
Was very impressed with these at Bloodstock, the discovery of the weekend for me, so couldn’t wait to check out the album particularly once you hear they’d chucked in a concept to it. Wasn’t disappointed, indeed they exceeded my expectations. Discordant and unsettling and well worth a checking if you haven’t already.
And for the record, I’ve never checked Akercocke beyond seeing them live at the LA2 as a support band 15+ years ago, so no fanboying from me.
7, Slipknot– .5: The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner)
Not much to say, other than a massive return with a massive batch of massive songs.
As I said in my review for Ghost Cult: “The Gray Chapter is a statement of intent, a mountain-strong collection of hate-anthems to stand with Slipknot’s best.
All Killer, No Filler, And then some. .5 punches hard, deep and long, undeniably their most consistent album since Iowa. Nine may have become seven, but if you’re five five five, then they’re (still) six six six. ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’ is an album of some significance.”
You can read the rest of the review here.
6, Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity (Candlelight)
It’s a close run thing, but I think I love the classics of black metal more than those of death metal, yet, other than those 90’s gems, I have very little time for black metal – mainly because it tends to involve the aping of the same 5-10 albums again and again (ad infinitum). It’s not a hard and fast rule, there are bands / albums of BM nature I’ve picked up on and very much enjoyed over the last 15-20 years, and this year brought forth a couple of beasts. I’ve already mentioned Fen, but there was also this British classic that brought joy to my ears. Running a gamut (good word) of sentiments and feelings, being more human than a lot of black metal dares to be, ‘Divination…’ excels dynamically, melodically and emotionally. Distinctively Winterfylleth, this is their best yet.
5, Decapitated– Blood Mantra (Nuclear Blast)
The most hotly anticipated modern death metal riff-fest of the year did not disappoint in any way shape or form. Power, grooves, and, well, riffs. Riffs that came armed with big meathooks. Some cool Slipknot-y and industrial touches here and there, but this was all about great *heavy* metal. I like the overall sound on it, too, dragging them out of the “death metal” pack and making them sound more in a field of one. Which, I guess is where they now stand…
4, BEHEMOTH– The Satanist (Nuclear Blast)
Another band I’d never been massively bowled over by in the past who impressed me this year. Something to do with the fact they actually have songs with hooks and interesting things going on in them. The album gets better as it goes on, peaking in a brilliant crescendo of ‘O Father! O Satan! O Sun!’.
Added to the music, aesthetically this album is great (cover, production, photos, the official vids as well) and can see why it’s wracked up a number of album of the year awards, including the Ghost Cult Magazine official writers AOTY.
Fair play and well done.
3, Revocation– Deathless (Metal Blade)
Paul Alan Ryan spun me a couple of Revocation tunes way back at the start of the year, and I was impressed, so had my eye out for this release. Once it hit, the mix of intelligent thrash, Death (Official) and definite lashings of Mastodon in the melodies and approach all wormed its way under the brain to become one of my go to albums in the second half of the year and one that I’ll keep going to into the new year. Really good modern, technical thrash with a touch of (when they were good ‘Rust In Peace’ era) Megadeth in there too. You’ll do me.
2, Mastodon– Once More Round The Sun (Reprise)
Was late to the Mastodon game, arriving some point around 2009 and ‘The Hunter’ was their first “new” album for me. Despite loving a bit of Leviathan and a bit of Crack The Skye (but not so much Blood Mountain), for me, their simpler, rockier stuff definitely suits them and they’ve really come into their own recently as OMRTS picks things up where Hunter left them off. Just tune after tune after tune after tune with swagger and hooks galore and distinctively ‘Don. Also, they have a song called ‘Diamond In The Witch House’ which does it for me in spades.
1, Sólstafir – Ótta (Season of Mist)
Two in a row for Sólstafir. Hats off! Svartir Sandar romped it for me in 2011, and by golly, Iceland’s finest have only gone and bloody gotten even better! Last time around it could be argued the album went on a touch too long and the vocals weren’t quite up to the level of the rest of wares on offer (though only by a smidge), well, those minor gripes have been consigned to the bin.
Now, post-rock isn’t exactly my bag of gravy, but Sólstafir delivers atmosphere, emotion and deep feelings, while the dynamic journeys of each track on Ótta pull you along for the ride.
A beautiful, magical album. As I say, it’s not my usual bag. Scroll through my ipod and there’s little similar on there, but Sólstafir have a way of speaking to me. Truly. Deeply.
This track’s a really cool video too.