With nine years spent waiting since the release of their last album, 2012’s Bury The Light, Pharaoh returns in forceful fashion with their fifth full-length. The Powers That Be (Cruz Del Sur Music) could very well be the Power Metal veterans’ most aggressive outing since 2006’s The Longest Night, bringing in a borderline thrash undercurrent with the guitar’s blazing technical runs along with the vocals’ established grit. This is established right off the bat with the title track’s assertive crunch and ‘Will We Rise’ follows up the intensity with some added Classic Metal flavor.
Like 2018’s Becoming A Demon EP before it, Silver Talon’s first full-length album feels like the missing link between Sanctuary and Nevermore. The latter is especially felt with the sweeping layers of Jeff Loomis-style shred guitar, modern tones, and densely arranged vocal melodrama ala mid-era Warrel Dane. There is also an underlying Power Metal spirit throughout is perhaps most rooted in something like Refuge Denied or even classic Queensryche. The band has only doubled down on that spirit with Decadence And Decay (M-Theory Audio).
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
Of all the bands on the Gothic Rock/Heavy Metal fusion bandwagon, Poltergeist may be the most committed to those Post-Punk aesthetics. The style on their third EP remains closer to Joy Division than Judas Priest with a heavy emphasis on chilling synths, stiff bass-heavy rhythms, and disinterested vampiric baritones. This is especially true on the first two tracks as the opening ‘Electricity’ goes full Synthwave and ‘Through Clouded Eyes’ follows it up in ominously subdued fashion.
Despite promising to move away from Heavy Metal in favor of a Post Punk sound in marketing materials, Lunar Shadow’s third album still features many of the band’s established quirks. The guitar tone’s lessened distortion promises a less in-your-face attitude, but the actual playing is still based around intricate sweeps and trills. The drumming also continues to mix in some aggressive fills and double bass patterns with the more upbeat rhythms while the vocal delivery still consists primarily of a shrill wail with some variation for mood.
Although the brand of epic European power metal that Crystal Viper performs is most definitely up my street, I must preclude this review by admitting that aside from hearing the odd song here and there, I have had no real exposure to them on a studio album level. The Cult, is the Polish act’s eighth full-length release in a legacy that has thus far lasted eighteen years. At face value, a band that maintains that level of consistency would have me assume they have nailed down a singular style and were comfortable releasing records in said style without a whole lot of variation. It is therefore with a great sense of irony that my first review of their noise is of a disc which caught me completely off guard by occupying a different scene entirely. The sweetly epic elements the band is known for are certainly present in The Cult, but the power metal is largely downplayed in favour of a more classic but simultaneously epic style of heavy metal, one that calls back to the days of bands like Accept and Saxon without ever sounding derivative of either.
When listening to Pounder’s second album, Breaking The World, one immediately notices an improvement in lead singer/guitarist Matt Harvey’s (Exhumed/Gruesome) vocal performance. His voice still has the husky, untrained timbre that was an unfortunate liability on 2019’s Uncivilized, but also has more conviction and grit behind it this time around. It may still be a dealbreaker for some listeners, but at least they didn’t attempt to put a power ballad on here…
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
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.