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 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.
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
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
High Spirits’ endearing sincerity has always been a shining contrast to the often-sour realms of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, and that feelgood brightness is needed now more than ever. While it’s been four years since the release of their last album, 2016’s Motivator, the Chicago project’s fourth full-length doesn’t skip a beat and their established blend of AOR and Classic Metal is well intact. You always know what you’re getting but it’s presented with far too much enthusiasm to ever feel stale.
The first full-length album from Seattle’s Greyhawk is a particularly interesting iteration of the NWOTHM scene. A focus on hooky songwriting with an epic tone makes for easy comparisons to such contemporaries as Visigoth and Traveler as the production carries a polished sheen similar to the likes of Haunt or Idle Hands. While these factors would initially suggest that the band is just another notch in a long line of derivatives, they find a lot of ways to set themselves apart on Keepers Of The Flame (Fighter Records).