It”s been four years since Eternal Champion unleashed The Armor Of Ire in 2016, but the hype has only intensified with their sophomore full-length. Ravening Iron (No Remorse Records) continues the Austin group”s Epic Metal aspirations as the coarse but melodic guitar work casts a dungeon friendly atmosphere and the vocals forever echo Manilla Road”s Mark Shelton (RIP) with their nasally yet bombastic character. Thankfully, there are enough alternate approaches explored that keep this album from feeling like a retread. Continue reading
If there is one definable moment when 20th Century history took the wrong path, it’s when we decided to remember Prog as being safe. Yes, by the end it was all twenty-minute drum solos and Rick Wakeman in a dress, but Prog grew out of the thrill of experimentation, the desire to subvert and transgress against rock orthodoxy, and the best of it always had a sense of danger at its core. Continue reading
Before you sink your teeth into this, let me make a quick disclaimer for those of you looking for a standard review. This ain’t it. If you want to read, ad nauseam, about each band that played, who was good, who wasn’t, what songs they played or how many bands are “female fronted,” have female members or where any of these bands are from I can guarantee you a quick internet search will get you your fix somewhere. If you are looking for someone to tell you what any of the bands sound like, look like or act like then here is a novel idea, buy their music, go to a show and form an opinion for yourself. No offense intended to anyone writing something like that or looking for that kind of thing but you won’t find it here because I don’t feel like writing something everyone else has or will. (Offense intended to anyone still finding some ridiculous need to write or read about bands being “female fronted.” Fuck off.)
Oh, also there will be naughty words. Continue reading
Psycho Las Vegas 2017 will be taking place from August 18th-20th at the Hard Rock Hotel And Casino Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. The initial lineup seemed to feature every band ever, but now they’ve added Mastodon as the final headliner, and it’s officially one of the sickest bills ever created. Continue reading
Playing epic, classic heavy metal is not a road to travel if fame, glory and success is your goal. Visigoth front man Jake Rogers showed his warrior spirit by talking to Ghost Cult and defending the honour not just of his tribe, or their new album, The Revenant King (Metal Blade), but also their place in the metal world.
It’s been 25 – 30 years since most of your influences were at their peak, and while there is a lot of love and respect for bands like Manilla Road et al, but what makes Visigoth relevant at a time when heavy metal in that form has long moved on in style and sound?
We aren’t concerned with ‘relevance’, we are simply concerned with heavy metal music. True fans of heavy metal don’t care what is “hip” or “cool” or “in”, they simply enjoy what they enjoy and that’s that. I love all sorts of metal music, be it heavy metal, black metal, black thrash, death metal, doom metal, USPM, speed metal, thrash metal, etc.; if it’s real, I dig it! And of course we love plenty of non-metal music as well, because we’re music obsessives! But the type of music we wanted to do with Visigoth was powerful fist-raising, sword-weilding heavy metal, no more, no less.
Playing such a traditional style could be said to have its limitations. What can you do with Visigoth going forward that you haven’t already, or that metal in general hasn’t already done before?
We won’t be doing anything that hasn’t been done before. We are not interested in experimentation or progressive elements or trying to be “genre-defying” in any way. We are not a special snowflake band whatsoever, we are simply a heavy metal band. Some people will scoff at the notion, calling it quaint and regressive, and that’s fine – those aren’t the type of people we would want to talk music with anyway! We’re just a heavy metal band playing heavy metal music for people who love heavy metal music.
How do you balance the irony vs the seriousness with the band? I mean, at what point, (such as say during the writing of ‘Dungeon Master’?) do you think “Ah, this may be a bit close to the line”? I know these are tropes that have been prominent in traditional metal for years, but what’s the thinking around subjects, image, song titles, live presentation and balancing that with being concerned about being too cheesy?
Nothing we do is ironic. This band is passionately from the heart and 100% serious. I am completely against irony in heavy metal. If you think metal is a joke, you have no business playing it. Of course, there are some great bands that have a sense of humour about their music (take Metalucifer, for example), but their humour isn’t ironic, it is a humour born of affection and love for the genre, and they still take the music seriously.
The distinction is a very important one, in my opinion. Sure, some people will think a song like ‘Dungeon Master’ is “cheesy”, but I honestly wrote those lyrics because my experiences playing those table-top roleplaying games and computer games throughout my formative years were really important to what would later become my appreciation for heavy metal aesthetics. A lot of people who are into heavy metal music can relate to this – those who can’t, will call it cheesy and move on. That’s fine, because it’s not for them.
When writing lyrics, coming up with song titles, or devising concepts for artwork or general presentation, I never concern myself with whether or not some toughbro or cool-dude beardo on the internet is going to think it’s cheesy – they can look elsewhere for bands with the modern, up-to-date, hip, cool image that they’re interested in.
Actual metal people tend to understand and unironically enjoy fantasy/barbarian aesthetics and classic heavy metal imagery, and that’s our target audience.
What will make Visigoth stand tall for years to come?
Our dedication to heavy metal music, our passion for playing live gigs, and our drive to improve – we know we aren’t a great band yet, but we’ll keep trying until we get there!
Let’s make this absolutely clear from the start – Manilla Road are undisputed legends of Heavy Metal. That their name does not carry the same mainstream recognition as some of their peers should not mean that it is spoken with any less reverence. Between 1983 and 1990 – following a slightly awkward but extremely interesting two-album start – they put out a run of classic Heavy Metal albums that is almost unmatched in terms of quality, consistency and a genuine sense of the mysterious.
Since returning in 2001 with Atlantis Rising (Iron Glory) and an entirely new line-up, founding member and authentic Metal hero Mark “The Shark” Shelton has never quite reached the heights of the classic material, but has nevertheless put out some captivating and powerful material that confirms both his lifelong devotion to arcane, true Heavy Metal and his talent for creating it.
Following the previous two albums, the worthy but patchy Playground Of The Damned and 2013’s disappointingly flat Mysterium (both Shadow Kingdom), I was starting to worry that Shelton was finally losing his way. But first, Manilla Road’s greatest blessing and curse (and I know you can see what I did there) has always been the same thing – they’re absolute refusal to do things the “right” way, or to make any attempt to meet their audience half-way. It’s what invests their classic material with such charm and power, but it also leads them to settle for a muddy, washed-out production and to front out three of the least catchy songs on the album. Make it through to track four, however, and ‘The Dead Still Speak’ kicks in with riffing so primitive and ugly that it calls Hellhammer to mind – and then things get interesting.
As always, the strengths here are Shelton’s powerful riffs and distinctive vocals (complemented by Bryan “Hellroadie” Patrick since 2001, but here mostly falling into Shelton’s classic 80’s style, rather than the Death and Black Metal vocals they’ve experimented with on previous albums. There’s also a flow to the songs, a sense of continuity that extends across the tracks and makes The Blessed Curse (Golden Core) feel like an album again, rather than the disjointed collections that Playground… and Mysterium both came across as. There’s nothing “new” on here, but expecting there to be seems, frankly, unreasonable – neither Shelton nor Manilla Road have anything to prove.
Neither a full-on return to former glories nor a sign of complete redundancy, The Blessed Curse finds itself in the rather awkward position of being “just another” solid Manilla Road album – proof that this most idiosyncratic and individualistic of veteran Metal bands still has life in it, but not quite the statement of utter mastery that we hope they still have left in them. Fans will have bought it already, and won’t be disappointed, but anyone wanting to catch up on what they’ve missed would be better advised to start elsewhere.
Salt Lake, Utah, is currently drowning in a weight of fan mail – or it would be, if such a thing existed these days. As it is, the various devices of a collective of young metal heads are pinging with platitudes, praise and sites and zines falling over themselves to pay tribute to the greatest thing since ale was quaffed for the first time.
For here is a band, Visigoth, who are revisiting a template established over 30 years ago – a template forged in the fires of “proper” Metal. And on their debut release, The Revenant King (Metal Blade), they doth verily show both their might and wares in a display of muscular, chunky traditional metal. Embracing a rich heritage, their roots of American Classic Metal shine through in the touches of Dio, ‘83-‘85 era Manowar and Manilla Road in their sound. Indeed, halfway through we are greeted with a cover of ‘Necropolis’ from the Road’s seminal Crystal Logic, (Black Dragon/Iron Glory), but this is not a one-trick elephant, as ‘Mammoth Rider’ brings a doomy, epic Candlemass crush before riffing off into Iced Earth territory.
There is a tendency at times for critics and punters alike to fawn more over the concept, ideology and premise of a band, or to be honest entire sub-genres – mix some brooding passages with some sludgy riffs and screams and your band is guaranteed some serious beard-stroking – rather than paying attention to whether what the band is actually delivering merits such a response. Playing traditional metal shorn of the normally pre-requisite Power Metal trappings and singing of armour and days of “yore” also garners similar stroking, though this time not of a beard of hipster origin, and some of the acclaim and commendation of Visigoth is over the top. Yet this is a furrow much ploughed over the past three decades (except for that bit in the 90’s when no one would touch classic metal, even with someone else’s bargepole) and this fledgling quintet have turned in a very respectable effort that shows reverence to the revenant spirits of metal of a bygone age without being derivative, which is no mean feat.
If there are criticisms, while they manage with professionalism the weightiness of penning a series of epic songs (with the exception of ‘Necropolis’ all our adventures weigh in over the five minute mark) some including several sections, at times this does go on a bit. Elsewhere, Jake Rogers vocals, while entirely appropriate, lack a touch of character or distinctiveness, but sharpening and maintaining their weapons is something fledgling warriors learn over time. Visigoth certainly have the weapons and steeds to be successful riding into what promises to be a long and successful campaign. The first skirmish has been won, but great war-leaders make their name by being victorious in a series of battles. Visigoth’s name and reputation is growing, though, and with time many may ride at their side to ultimate victory, glory and fame.
7.0 / 10
Manilla Road’s Out of the Abyss has been reissued by Shadow Kingdom Records and is now available.
Originally released in 1988, Out of the Abyss is an under-appreciated gem, one that guitarist/founder Mark “The Shark” Shelton describes in the reissue’s liner notes as containing “some of the most brutal material that MR has ever done. Shelton goes on to say that “it was the last album in an epic quest by Randy, Scott and I to be as fast and furious as possible with some of the songs…and most of the topics were quite dark and based on Cthulhun mythos or other horror and mystery directions.”
2. Rites of Blood
3. Out of the Abyss
4. Return of the Old Ones
5. Black Cauldron
6. Midnight Meat Train
7. War in Heaven
There’s a lot to be said for taking the proverbial bull by the horns, as British quartet Kaine have done by self-releasing their debut The Waystone after being dissatisfied with the types of deal they were being offered. While it is easy to say they are being naïve, it shows a passion and a belief in their product that would serve more established bands well to tap into. However, are the labels, who are struggling to cover their own costs let alone spunk biscuits over bands that aren’t a guarantee, right to hold back and hedge their bets on Kaine?
Opener ‘Iron Lady’ suggests the band are right to have that self-belief; a raucous slice of NWOBHM magic that could well be a stalking partner of ‘Prowler’. But even on such a strong opener, flaws are exposed as Rage Sadler‘s vocals are simply not strong enough to lead a professional band. While weaker vocals were endearing 30 years ago, the Manilla Road approach no longer flies and having such a key part of a band not up to the standard required seriously undermines the talent and technique on display in all other areas. Sadler and guitaring counter-part Anthony Murch can clearly play, while Dan Mailer’s only bass-flaw is his inability to know when less is more, all over (or under) most tracks like the most contagious of rashes with his Steve Harris runs and fills.
The rest of the album showcases a post-Brave New World (EMI) Iron Maiden meets Rush bent, with Kaine also working in a concoction of traditional British metal and prog, with some pleasing sections calling to mind Fates Warning.
However, here is the crux, sometimes the labels don’t come a-calling because a band isn’t good enough, or just isn’t ready yet. ‘Iron Lady’ shows that the potential genuinely is there, and there really could be an impressive album further down the line, but too often the song-writing, despite several of the parts being impressive, is woolly or meandering, with choruses falling flat compared to their peers. The band needs to work on either being snappier, making parts more memorable and each song more distinctive, or on studying and understanding the more progressive elements they showcase, and how to use them to their advantage, to make them a valid USP in a way that sets them apart.