February 28, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Derric Miller
There have recently been a few ’80s bands who reunited and actually accomplished what the Killer Dwarfs once wrote an anthem about — to “keep the spirit alive.” Danger Danger and KEEL are two of those bands who released new music that either equals or surpasses their past recordings, and now that Helix is back together with almost all the original members (including Brent Doerner and Greg Hinz), they achieved that summit as well. Their new studio album, Vagabond Bones, will bring a grin to your face and a beer to your mouth, and there’s little you can do to stop it …
One of the new ingredients the band added when writing the new release is Sean Kelly, the guitar hero and also lead man in Crash Kelly. Although Kelly had to leave the band for Nelly Furtado pastures, he was in Helix long enough to co-write the entire album with lead singer Brian Vollmer, and his talent helped Helix write the best songs they’ve penned in decades.
The title track, “Vagabond Bones,” is a bluesy, bare-knuckled bar rocker that is all smoky melody and actually, funny as well. When Vollmer sings, “You’ll never see my name on the walk of fame,” you can hear Helix doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
Up next, “Monday Morning Meltdown,” may be the most melodic song ever recorded by Helix. The chorus is Beatlesesque, while the verses are actually classic Helix. The song, about a man who basically goes on a weekend bender and wakes up in jail, is the most addictive track on Vagabond Bones. In a few ways, it’ll remind you of Enuff Z’ Nuff as well, but it’s more gritty and less … weed-y. Vollmer is one of those lucky singers who can bring the heat and edge, but also can smooth it out and croon when needed. (Teaching the Bel Canto vocal style obviously has kept Vollmer on top of his game, and then some.)
In an interview with Hardrock Haven, Vollmer told the story about how he came up with the track “Hung Over But Still Hanging In.” He was talking with Russ Dwarf (Killer Dwarfs) and that was Russ’ proclamation when Vollmer asked him how he’s doing. It stuck in Vollmer’s head until he got it out in song. You can tell the band used to imbibe heavily, with lines like, “I drink for nothing and I drink to forget. For no good reason and I ain’t done yet. Got a liquid education, and PhD, in alcoholic toxicity!” Again, the bluesy vibe carries through the composition, and the backing vocals are huge, thanks in part to the aforementioned Dwarf adding his vocals to the track.
“Best Mistake I Never Made” is the mellowest song on Vagabond Bones, sort of an acoustic, almost new country song (in a good way). Helix always writes with a sense of playfulness, and hearing Vollmer sing, “She was the best mistake I never made, the heaviest price I never paid,” you have to smile … because damn near every person can thank Lady Luck things didn’t turn out worse. It’s actually a true story, and Vollmer is baring his soul telling you what could have happened to him, and how grateful he is he ended up with his current wife and not the “shiniest pistol in town.”
The band released “Make ‘Em Dance” as their first single, and it’s a huge sing-a-long anthem. The hit-factor on almost all of Vagabond Bones is off the charts, and this is just another gem for Helix. Pumping, fun as hell, and buoyed with a quirky and repetitive guitar lead, this one bops around in your head for hours after just hearing it once.
Helix somehow sounds rejuvenated. Considering they released their debut 30 years ago, it’s impressive as hell that their newly found love for creating Rock N Roll shines through in every track. Vagabond Bones is good the first time you hear it, and better each listen after, which should be the goal of any studio album — you don’t digest it all at once. You should have a different favorite song on various listens of an album, you should eventually relate to different songs in various capacities, and you should want to keep coming back to the album again and again. That being said, you should pick up Vagabond Bones today.
Label: Perris Records
1. The Animal Inside (won’t Be Denied)
2. Go Hard Or Go Home
3. Vagabond Bones
4. Monday Morning Meltdown
5. When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You
6. Hung Over But Still Hanging In
7. Best Mistake I Never Made
8. Make ‘em Dance
9. Jack It Up
Hardrock Haven Rating: 8.4/10
February 28, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Trevor Portz
It’s always a bit difficult to review a new album by a band that has not only been around for a long time, but also has been extremely influential and highly regarded. Why is this so difficult? Well, because inevitably, unless the reviewer has avoided the band altogether, they will have no choice but to compare the current work to everything in the band’s past, oftentimes creating an impossible standard for the new album to live up to. Fear Factory are certainly a band with an impressive past, credited with more or less bringing industrial metal to the masses, and paving the way for a slew of other bands—from Strapping Young Lad to Static-X. Unfortunately, with their brand new album, Mechanize, the current incarnation of Fear Factory not only fails to live up to their past, but also to their (often less impressive) peers.
On the surface, Mechanize has all of the components necessary to create an amazing album. Along with recently reunited core members Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares, FF 2010 also features Zimmer’s Hole/Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud (who joined in ’03) and drum God Gene Hoglan (if you don’t know his work, you cannot call yourself a metal head.) Therefore, the musicianship is top-notch, and as would be expected, so are the performances. Add to that Rhys Fulber’s excellent production, and it seems impossible for the album to be anything short of awesome. But alas, Mechanize is so full of monotonous, uninspired songs, and so short on anything memorable, that one is left questioning if Obsolete was used as the title for the wrong album.
The biggest problem with Mechanize is certainly the song writing. The songs don’t have unique identities, and instead blend together into a gelatinous metal sludge. It feels very much like everything was written to sound like Fear Factory, but somehow the tracks seem to be missing the elements that would make that a desirable goal. Much like Mudvayne’s recent self-titled release, it is as if everything Fear Factory did to make themselves original and influential has been tossed aside, leaving only the most basic, unoriginal bits, and thus dumping them into the category of generic groove metal.
As stated before, the musicianship present here wants for nothing. Gene Hoglan’s drum performance is as sick and tight as it’s ever been (age clearly hasn’t had any affect on him). As well, the guitar and bass tracks are insanely precise, and Burton’s vocals are endlessly strong, whether he’s growling through a verse or cleanly singing a melodic refrain. But without creative riffs and memorable melodies, musicians even of this high caliber can do little more than go through the motions.
It should be notes that closing track, “Final Exit,” is a shining beacon of hope at the end of the album. The verses, melodic guitars, catchy chorus, and general originality of the track let everyone know that the Fear Factory of old is still present, albeit somewhat buried. Not to say that the guys should consider abandoning their trademark sound for more mellow waters, but they should definitely attempt to rediscover the creativity they seem to have left behind.
Who knows, the hordes of Fear Factory fans will surely disagree with all of this and find plenty to enjoy on Mechanize, and that’s just fine. But in order to retain their status as metal lords and avoid becoming yet another band that “used to be amazing,” (Sepultura, anyone?) it’s going to take something better than this.
Burton C. Bell (vocals)
Dino Cazares (guitar)
Byron Stroud (bass)
Gene Hoglan (drums)
Rhys Fulber (samples, keyboards, programming)
2. Industrial Discipline
3. Fear Campaign
7. Controlled Demolition
8. Designing the Enemy
9. Metallic Division
10. Final Exit
Hardrock Haven rating: 5.2/10
February 27, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Justin Gaines
A Touch of Heaven is the seventh studio album from (mostly) Swedish melodic rockers Last Autumn’s Dream. The band, which features singer/songwriter Mikael Erlandsson alongside former Fair Warning guitarist Andy Malecek and Talisman drummer Jamie Borger, had an unfortunate lineup change recently when bassist Marcel Jacob (also of Talisman) killed himself. Former Treat 4-stringer Nalley Pahlsson was brought in to take Jacob’s spot. So now you’ve got a melodic rock band that’s 75% Swedish, 25% German, features former members of Fair Warning, Treat and Talisman, and has Jeff Scott Soto to lend a hand with backing vocals. How can you not be excited about A Touch of Heaven?
The numbers alone give you a pretty good idea what to expect from A Touch of Heaven. It’s 75% Treat and 25% Fair Warning, which makes it 100% melodic rock goodness. It has that impeccable Swedish sense of melody as well as a guitar tone that recalls Fair Warning’s distinctly German sound. It’s almost like a scientist cooked this up in a lab. Erlandsson sounds absolutely terrific, and proves once again why he should be considered one of the genre’s finest singer/songwriters. He has a great range, plenty of power, and just the right amount of emotion, sounding every bit as sincere on party rockers like “Top of the World” as he does on tender love songs like “Candle In the Dark.” It doesn’t hurt that he’s singing against a backdrop of Malecek’s guitar prowess and a tight rhythm section of Pahlsson and Borger.
A Touch of Heaven may be Last Autumn’s Dream’s best work to date. Aside from the doo-woppy “See My Baby Jive” the whole album is one great melodic rock song after another. And you have to love the band’s spirited cover of the Cheap Trick staple “Surrender.” It’s just one of those songs that every melodic rock band should be required to cover at some point.
This one’s easy to recommend. If you like European melodic rock, A Touch of Heaven needs to go to the top of your “must buy” list.
Label: Escape Music
Michael Erlandsson – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Andy Malecek – Guitars
Nalley Pahlsson – Bass
Jamie Borger – Drums
1. Heaven and Earth
2. Caught In Between
3. Top Of the World
4. Candle In the Dark
5. Come Rain or Shine
7. Last Mistake
8. See My Baby Jive
10. What’s On Your Mind
11. How Long
13. Running On Like Water
14. Jenny’s Eyes
Hardrock Haven Rating: 8/10
February 27, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Joe Mis
Simple, straightforward rock and roll is a rarity these days with so many bands trying to push the boundaries into new territory. But simple, straightforward rock and roll is what you get on Queen Of Hearts, the sophomore release by the German trio First Child.
Built around the vocals and bass of “Cat The Cat”, First Child is a bit of a throwback. Their music is simple and basic, cleanly recorded and performed with a great sense of fun. Guitarist Mr. Buddy S. and drummer Stephan Preussner back up Cat, and together the three of them seem to have a blast. Sporting a very “eccentric” look which would fit in quite nicely at a Mardi Gras celebration, they are seriously good musicians despite the goofy outfits and lurid colored album art. They play primarily old school hard rock, but even the casual listener will pick up the elements of pop rock, old style jazz and of course the blues.
Cat’s vocals are strong and a bit raspy at times – perfect for a blues-based rock singer. It is refreshing to find a European female vocalist with a good quality voice who has decided NOT to front a power metal band, but would rather reach back to basic roots rock. She also plays a fine bass, and her rhythm lines form a solid foundation for First Child’s music. Stephan Preussner is a fine rock drummer and a team player, molding his lines nicely into the music without dominating the sound no matter what the style of song. Mr. Buddy S. is a very good blues and rock guitarist, and puts out some really hooky rhythm lines and nicely styled solos. He also is a true team player, seemingly content to keep his music vibrant and lively but always under control. Therein lies the one and only low point of the album – intensity. First Child hums along nicely but gives the impression that they are playing at 95% capacity, never really maxing out their abilities. There should be a few moments at least where they turn it up to 11.
The CD opens with “Queen Of Hearts” and “Gambler,” great bluesy, Mississippi paddle-wheelers of sound with solid vocals and great guitars. “Every Bullet” is undoubtedly Cat The Cat’s showpiece, giving her a chance to really shine as a vocalist and bassist, and it also allows Buddy S. to lay down some great acoustic blues, while “Rock This Town” is a bit goofy – you can almost hear the band just getting a kick out it all and not taking it (or themselves) too seriously. “Just The Way I Am” is another low key rocker with good structure and lyrics, and “Bones” settles into a great funky groove that is a treat for the ears. “Don’t Mess Around” is blues to the core while “For The First Time” and “Back At Home” are sappy rock ballads that don’t quite fit with the rest of the disc.
“Face In The Mirror” gets the CD back on track with some incredible guitar licks and emotive vocals, and leads into the bouncy and funky “Gypsy Woman.” First Child shifts gears again and seems to want to channel Elvis in “When I Dream,” and then jumps into two great all-out rockers with “Shout Out Devil” and “Have Mercy.” “Bye Bye My Baby” lets Cat show of her girlish side, and the amazing “What Are We Fighting For” wraps the album on a high note.
The production and engineering is very good. The band was obviously looking for a simple setup that would give their listeners that “live feel” without layers of overdubs and electronics. They succeeded on all fronts.
All in all, Queen Of Hearts is a great rock album. Due to the old-school tone it won’t appeal to everyone, but it is a gem and a must-have for any blues or hard rock fan. Nothing revolutionary here, just good roots rock. The only things that would improve this CD would be that one song where the band pushes their limits, and the dropping of one or two of the weaker tracks.
Label: Onslow Records
01 – Queen Of Hearts
02 – Gambler
03 – Every Bullet
04 – Rock This Town
05 – Just The Way I Am
06 – Bones
07 – Don’t Mess Around
08 – For The First Time
09 – Back At Home
10 – Face In The Mirror
11 – Gypsy Woman
12 – When I Dream
13 – Shout Out Devil
14 – Have Mercy
15 – Bye, Bye My Baby
16 – What Are We Fighting For
17 – First Child Band Video Trailer (Data Track)
Hardrock Haven Rating: 8.5/10
February 26, 2010 by Publisher
by John Kindred
WildeStarr features the combined efforts of Dave Starr (Vicious Rumors, Chastain), London Wilde and Jim Hawthorne. Starr, known more for his bass performances with previous bands, takes on the role as guitarist while London provides her voice and keyboard skills to their debut release Arrival. Hawthorne takes his queue providing heavy beats to complete the intense metal excursions.
Arrival comprises 11 songs that fall into the Heavy Metal genre. Rich, lavish production embellishes London’s soaring vocals. She has more in common with metal Gods like Halford and Dickenson then her current peers such as Amy Lee. Modern metal fanatics will be disappointed if they expect to hear female operatic vocals that are prevalent in today’s metal music scene. London’s piercing style is well suited for her natural vocal range. Many of her male counterparts strive to attain screams of indefinite rage, but most fall far short of the goal. In fact, her voice is strongly reminiscent of ‘80s Christian Metal vocalist Charlie Clark (Messiah Prophet).
The musical arrangements are built upon layers of instrumentation that build into a wall of sound. Starr proves that his ability transcends the rhythmic devices of the bass guitar as he performs fluid, flashy harmony guitar solos. The rhythm guitars fall in line with typical metal arrangements, so you will not be wowed by anything dynamically new here. His years as a bass player definitely provides for tight interaction between the rhythm guitar, bass and drums.
With the slick production and layers of audio, Arrival, at times, feels a bit watered down and repetitive. The assault of lead guitar harmony runs pushes a strong Queensryche influence, while the rhythm arrangements move from N.W.O.B.H.M. to slower, more deliberate Sabbath-inspired grooves. All the while, Wilde’s voice soars over the top like a banshee unleashed, calling out to you from the other side.
Arrival leans on the fundamentals of the Heavy Metal genre, which were defined in the ‘70s and ‘80s. WildeStarr don’t attempt to deliver a new twist on the genre but instead languish within its constructs. They settle for showcasing their abilities to excel within the parameters of the Metal world. Arrival is well worth a listen.
Label: Furnace Maximus Records
London Wilde (v)(k)
Dave Starr (g)(b)
Jim Hawthorne (d)
1. Rose In The Dark
3. Touching God
5. Down Of The Sun
6. In This World
7. Generation Next
9. Voice In The Silence
10. The Chain
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10
by Derric Miller
Helix lead singer Brian Vollmer checked in with Hardrock Haven to talk about their brand new studio album Vagabond Bones; adding Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly) to the band and writing with him; specific tracks like “Monday Morning Meltdown” and “Hung Over But Still Hangin’ On;” illegal downloading; upcoming tour plans; and a whole lot more.
Vagabond Bones is a rejuvenated Helix that is no-frills, unpretentious Hard Rock … exactly what the industry needs today. Check out the interview and then pick up Vagabond Bones immediately!
(If the embedded player doesn’t populate, click here to stream the interview in a stand alone player.)
February 25, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Justin Gaines
Since their 1989 debut Last of the Runaways, Giant has been one of the most highly regarded bands in the AOR/melodic rock community. The band, which was formed by brothers Dann and David Huff, released a pair of classic melodic rock albums as the ‘80s came to a close, but had been largely absent since then, reappearing briefly in 2001 with a new album and some live appearances. Now Giant is back…sort of.
Dann Huff, the guitarist/vocalist/primary songwriter of the previous three Giant albums is no longer in the band. He has become a sought after producer and didn’t have the time to commit to Giant (and hey, if Faith Hill and Shania Twain are knocking at your door, it’s hard to blame him.) Still, Giant without Dann Huff is like Talisman without Jeff Scott Soto or an Yngwie Malmsteen album without, you know, Yngwie Malmsteen.
This incarnation of Giant features founding members David Huff and Mike Brignardello alongside Winger guitarist John Roth and vocalist Terry Brock (Strangeways, Seventh Key). Brock’s presence alone makes Promise Land worth checking out, and could, against all odds, be enough to make this new Giant work. It doesn’t hurt that Dann Huff made some contributions to the songwriting process, as well as a solo or two.
Promise Land is a very solid melodic rock album with a definite 1990-ish feel. Just about everybody involved in this album is a seasoned veteran of the time when this kind of music ruled the airwaves, and that experience definitely shows. The songwriting, production, musicianship and vocals are all top shelf, and about what you’d expect from this group. Brock has one of the steadiest, warmest voices in melodic rock, and he turns in a first class performance here. Roth seems like a good fit as well.
Ultimately, as good as the album is there’s one thing that can’t be ignored. Promise Land is missing the heart and soul of Giant. These songs, which are all fairly well-written, seem somewhat sterile and less authentic without Dann Huff singing them. No one would begrudge David Huff the right to keep making music, but he should have treated this as a totally new band, which it is. Without Dann Huff, this just isn’t a true Giant album. If they had called this project something – anything – other than Giant, Promise Land would have been hailed as a triumphant melodic rock album. Somehow seeing that logo just makes the whole thing seem false somehow.
Bottom line: Promise Land is a good, solid melodic rock album, but it just isn’t Giant.
Label: Frontiers Records
Terry Brock – Vocals
John Roth – Guitars
Mike Brignardello – Bass
David Huff – Drums
1. Believer Redux
2. Promise Land
3. Never Surrender
4. Our Love
5. Prisoner of Love
6. Two Worlds Collide
7. Plenty of Love
8. Through My Eyes
9. I’ll Wait for You
10. Dying To See You
11. Double Trouble
12. Complicated Man
13. Save Me
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10
February 24, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Derric Miller
Lead singer Danny Rossi, of the Canadian band One, checked in with Hardrock Haven to talk about their brand new release Dirty Valentine; the band’s history; the video to their new single “Rescue Me;” what the lyrics “I need a religion like I need an addiction,” mean to the band; touring the States; and a whole lot more.
One is a straight ahead, pared down Hard Rock band that will remind you of of a less polished and more authentic version of Modern Rock bands today. Tune in now to get to know One, and pick up Dirty Valentine immediately.
(If the embedded player doesn’t populate, click here to stream the interview in a stand alone player.)
February 12, 2010 at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
by Kimberly Shockley & Gary Dean Ash
The Friday night rock and roll show was more like a “double bill” than an opening band followed by the main attraction. Shooting Star performed only a few less songs than Dennis DeYoung and company. Those who made the trip out on that cold February night, definitely got a two-for-the-price-of-one!
Shooting Star is BACK. If you’ve not seen them in several years, you’ve got to make sure you catch them at an upcoming show. The new lead singer, Ronnie Platt, is from Chicago, as is Dennis DeYoung. Platt was on top of his game during this performance, and his personality and energy pull the band together on stage. Janet Jameson, the new violinist is red hot and can bring the audience to its feet in admiration of her talent. The “dueling” strings performance after “Hang On For Your Life,” which featured founding band member and lead guitarist Van McClain and Jameson, was one of the highlights of their performance. The other founding member, Steve Thomas, delighted the crowd with his solo performance during “You’ve Got Love.” Thomas really showcased his talent and proved he knows how to pound the skins. Shooting Star fans will want to be on the lookout for a new live album, featuring the current lineup.
Shooting Star Set List:
1. Summer sun
2. Bring It On
3. Flesh and Blood
4. You Got Love
6. Don’t Stop Me Now
9. Hang on For Your Life
10. Guitar Violin duel
11. Last Chance
The Dennis DeYoung and Music of STYX performance was more of rock and roll show than past performances over the last few years. New lead guitarist, August Zadra, took the spotlight in three new STYX classics that were added to this tour: “Blue Collar Man,” “Renegade” and “Too Much Time.” Zarda’s vocals were right on the money, and if you closed your eyes, you might have thought you were hearing Tommy Shaw on stage. As DeYoung put it, “Surprise, surprise!” This was only the second performance for the new band, and although at times Zarda and guitarist Jimmy Leahey appeared to be less than confident on stage, the rest of the time, they played the stage with high energy like they owned it. The energy was contagious, not only for DeYoung and the rest of the band, but you could feel the energy in the crowd, which was on its feet for most of the performance. Singing backup, Suzanne DeYoung showed she still has “it,” not only the voice, but the looks. Dennis DeYoung assured the audience there is no Botox, no face lift, and that “them puppies is real,” which brought cheers from the crowd. All in all, Dennis DeYoung and his new band played a fantastic rock and roll show.
Both bands have new albums out, but surprisingly neither chose to include even one new song in their set list. This fact did not detract one bit from either performance, though. The crowd heard the best of the best from each performance. This was truly a rock concert in every sense of the word.
Dennis DeYoung Set List:
1. Grand Illusion
4. Blue Collar Man
5. Desert Moon
6. Light Up
7. Mr. Roboto
8. Too Much Time on My Hand
10. Suite Madam Blue
11. Rockin the Paradise
13. Best of Times
14. Come Sail Away
by Trevor Portz
With the current surge in popularity of the very broadly defined Pagan Metal scene, it was only a matter of time before a documentary would surface attempting to chronicle the genre. Unlike the Black Metal scene from which many Pagan bands emerged, this scene—encompassing everything from the folk metal stylings of Otyg to Turisas’ self-defined “battle metal”—has managed to incorporate some of the more over-the-top visual and stylistic aspects of Black Metal, but without many of the negative connotations. Instead of focusing on the dark and macabre, these bands often rely on European history, fantasy themes, and (in the case of Korpiklaani) drinking to carry forth their brand of metal. Pagan Metal: A Documentary consists of interviews with a handful of notable bands from within the scene, and though fun and informative to a point, serves less as a true documentary of the genre, and more as a snapshot of a few bands’ histories and world views.
Most of the interviews contained on this DVD take place in and around various bands’ stops at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York. Thus, the majority of the interviews come from bands that have made it to the US, namely Primordial, Korpiklaani, Fintroll, Turisas, and Ensiferum. The interviews are broken up and jump from band to band showing each groups’ answers to similar questions. Breaking from Bill Zebub’s trademark style of asking silly, sarcastic questions, most are fairly serious, dealing with everything from cultural history to nationalism.
With Ireland’s Primordial (and German/Norwegian mix Leaves’ Eyes) as the odd-men-out, the majority of the featured bands hail from Finland, and as such, a large portion of the DVD deals with Finnish history and heritage. We learn of Finland’s vague religious past (due to little written language prior to the 16th century), and find that many of the bands dislike the rapid Westernization of their homeland. Their critique of the influx of McDonald’s restaurants seems rather at odds with the fact that their [street] clothes and instruments, among other things, are clearly Western in design and manufacture. One wonders how historically “Finnish” the bands actually live in their day-to-day lives. What is clear, however, is that most of the musicians profiled are very aware of their history, and are doing their part to preserve it musically and lyrically.
Though most interviewees came off as reasonably intelligent and interesting, Primordial vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga comes out on top, being extremely well spoken and knowledgeable about Ireland’s history, both economic and sociologic, and giving credence to the fact that metalheads are often very socially aware. He spoke extensively of Ireland’s ongoing economic struggles, as well as the current issues being faced by the nation in the educational sector and job markets. This gives fans new insight into the band’s lyrical content, and helps illustrate how many of the emotions expressed in Primordial’s music can be felt in nations the world over.
While the interviews are educational and interesting, what they tend not to do is paint a picture of the scene as a whole. Little is said regarding the history of the genre—its rise from Black and Power Metal, and incorporation of themes first touched on by groups such as Bathory—which would have been appropriate for a documentary. Additionally, only a tiny portion of the scene is represented here, thus only a small part of the larger picture is revealed. Logistically, perhaps it was too difficult to interview other key bands from the scene—Eluvietie, Kampfar, and Moonsorrow to name a few—but acknowledging the vastness of the scene would have been desirable.
Additionally, the title “pagan metal” is a bit of a misnomer, as few of the bands actually deal with paganism from a religious standpoint, and the name seems more likely to do with the fact that they aren’t Christians. While “pagan metal” isn’t entirely inaccurate, “folk metal” would seem more appropriate as it more closely describes the bands from both a lyrical and musical standpoint. But nomenclature aside, the genre seems to be getting ever more popular, and new bands a popping up every day. Whether this will be detrimental remains to be seen, but if the
But hey, this is supposed to be a review of a DVD, not the scene in general, and with that in mind, Pagan Metal: A Documentary is an interesting look into a small corner of the pagan metal pantheon, but will certainly be more interesting to those already into it, and is unlikely to do much for outsiders. It simply does not get deep enough into the origins of pagan metal, nor does it cover many of the biggest players involved. Then again, perhaps this is merely mirroring the poorly recorded Finnish history that is discussed within, and instead will serve as an important first attempt at documenting a current metal trend.
Label: Bill Zebub Productions
Hardrock Haven rating: 6.1/10
by Keith Schwier
Hailing from Calgary , Alberta , Canada and armed with a unique set of vocal pipes that packs equal parts power and clarity, Robin Brock is a ticking time bomb of brash female independence and hard-edged musical adventureism. She clearly has immense talent and makes sure she presents her music in a way that is uncompromising to conventional vanilla mainstream, but still writes with enough focus and skill that musical ears with take notice of her constant attention to detail in crafting a good hook.
Monsters truly is an experimental record that never allows itself to rest comfortably in one area, perhaps the reflection of an artist who has spent much of her life shuffling from one area to the next without any time to settle.
Brock shows off everything in her arsenal, from the industrial tinged title track to the throbbing “Master and Slave,” where dark, crunching, staccato guitar licks lay the bed for a tasty sing-along chorus that reads, “You are the master, I am slave, I get so tortured, I only obey.” Sure enough, this isn’t a lady who needs to come out of her shell. There’s slow-burn heavy metal barnstorming in the way of “The Witching Hour,” which sounds eerily similar to the gloom and doom of Black Sabbath’s early days, as well as octane-fueled rockers like “Warrior,” dressed up in straight-on rock simplicity that gets to the point quickly. “You might think you’re stronger, but I’m a warrior and you won’t break me.” There are even hints of synthesized new wave in the punchy “New Addiction” as well as understated moments of earthy beauty in the acoustic-driven “Solitary Girl,” a tender, revealing ballad that serves as a major highlight of the record and features one of Robin’s strongest vocal performances.
Partnering herself with songwriter, programmer, and co-producer John Capek is a collaboration that pays off, as he succeeds in helping her make the material sound fresh and original without letting her go too far astray in one direction. Certainly these two people work well as counterparts to one another, creating a primary focus on musical shading, preserving the delicate balance of quiet subtly vs. raw power, and creating a critical listening ear in the studio of where the song is naturally taking them.
Many of the choruses are catchy, a few of them to the point of being contagious, such as the aforementioned “Master and Slave” and “New Addiction.” The only missteps are the flat electronica moments of “Fuel” and “Power It Through,” songs that never really reach any peaks musically and seem to fizzle more than set the speakers aflame. The momentary dips in quality are few and far between, and thankfully the songs that feature middle of the road verses, such as “7 Pieces,” are driven up the next level by well-constructed choruses that bring aboard new depth and highlight Robin’s rich voice.
Monsters stands up strong, as a whole, from start to finish and doesn’t suffer from too much extraneous riffing or directionless material. One fundamental rule in crafting a record that holds up well over multiple listens is that you never reveal all your tricks at once, so Brock is keen to let the mood and direction of her compositions dictate what is appropriate in any given spot and not try to do too much with any one song. Sure, not every experiment works, but once she reigns herself in a little and finds a succinct musical voice, you sense that Robin is going to be a strong female voice in rock for a long time to come.
2) New Addiction
3) Two Words
4) Master and Slave
5) 7 Pieces
6) Solitary Girl
8 Power It Through
10) The Witching Hour
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10
by Derric Miller
Some genres ebb and flow in popularity, and then there’s Power Metal. Ever since Helloween made their eternal mark on Heavy Metal in the ‘80s, bands like Edguy, DragonForce, Hammerfall, Stratovarius, and a thousand other bands followed suit in varying degrees with this epic, heavy, positive and sometimes cheesy (in a good way) musical format, and Power Metal has kept its omnipresent edge. Add Cryonic to that Metal hierarchy, as this new Swedish group has just thrown down the gauntlet with their debut, Kings of Avalon.
Everything gallops on the first track, “Avalon.” It’s upbeat, thumping, and will remind you of bands like Hammerfall in its majesty. The chorus is pure gold albeit simple and repetitive. Singer Bigswede delivers with passion and melody, and his voice is a bit rougher than some of the other Power Metal bands. In fact, in later songs when he hits the high notes, he sounds like UDO.
Racing riffs from guitarist Freddy and double-blasts from drummer Simon hit you on “Kings of the Hill.” Like the opening track, you’ll get a pumping rhythm that makes you want to down tankards of ale and shout to Valhalla. Bigswede wields his harsher UDO-ish vocals on this track during the guitar solo, which lends a grittier vibe to this mostly smooth unit.
Like most Power Metal bands, some of the tracks run together, and that doesn’t escape Cryonic, especially on songs like “Tear Down the Walls” and “Angels Calling.” One song that changes up the formula somewhat is “Living on the Road,” a song just a few beats per minute slower than the initial tracks and more radio friendly, in a Pretty Maids sort of way.
The track “Seven Doors” sees Cryonic slowing it down to a mid-tempo construct, with haunting two-part harmonies and beautiful acoustic playing in the beginning. Of course, the song crescendos to a heavy, more electric composition, with massive gang “whoa-oh” vocals that remind of dwarves working in the bowels of the earth. The chorus is interesting, “I wanna be free, like eagles flying, I’m living in hell with seven doors.” The “eagle” and “seven doors” reference is an obvious homage to Helloween, but then again, shouldn’t it be?
“Demon” gets Cryonic back on pace with a thundering anthem, one of the meaner songs on Kings of Avalon. Like most of the guitar solos here, they aren’t overly conspicuous but play inside the parameters of the song, smart, fluid and melodic.
Back to giving high-fives to Helloween, Kings of Avalon ends with “Free Like an Eagle;” at least they didn’t name it “Fly Free Like an Eagle.” That aside, the triumphant chorus, churning and soaring, is the perfect way to end the release.
You can listen to this 46-minute album over and over and be amazed at how quickly you make it to the last song—everything just flows and makes sense on Kings of Avalon. Sure, there is something formulaic about Power Metal, but isn’t that what makes it so damn good? Powerful vocals, bubbly guitar solos, galloping rhythms and songs about eagles and angels and kings … why would you play anything else?
Label: High Roller Records
1. Avalon 4:02
2. Kings of the Hill 3:31
3. Tear Down the Walls 4:17
4. Angels Calling 5:27
5. Living on the Road 4:19
6. No More 4:00
7. Seven Doors 4:23
8. No Regrets 3:59
9. Demon 3:57
10. The One 3:53
11. Free Like an Eagle 4:11
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.8/10
by Trevor Portz
With the multitude of generic, cookie-cutter bands proliferating the market these days, it’s rare to pop something into the CD player (which, for the younger crowd, is like a primitive i-Pod), and instantly think, “Holy shit! This is amazing!” It’s even rarer for a band to live up to the hype they give themselves (in this case, describing their new album as “genre defining”). But every once in a while the planets align and amazing things happen. Such is the case with Blackjazz, the fourth album by Norwegian genre-benders Shining, a complex, noisy, brilliant masterpiece that defies stereotypes and expectations and gives hope to future generations of extreme music fans.
Defining what exactly Shining play is as complicated as the music itself. So many styles are represented here—jazz, black metal, techno, rock, noise, classical—the list is seemingly endless. Blending them as they do, Shining really had no choice but to create a new name for their brand of insanity, and “blackjazz,” though exclusionary of many things they dabble in, will certainly suffice. Besides, “blackjazzdancepunktechnorocknoise” sounds a bit like an outtake from Mary Poppins. It’s definitely quite a divergence from the initial acoustic jazz records released by the band, which, though surely good, doubtfully packed the punch of their current incarnation.
Breaking down the tracks individually seems both futile and unnecessary, as there is little to compare the songs to that would be meaningful, and because each song features so many changes/movements/chapters that a true write-up would be infinitely too long. In many ways, the songs themselves act as pieces of a larger movement, acting much like scenes from a dark, post-apocalyptic cinematic masterpiece. The songs do have unique identities—from the Brutal Truth-like intro and Primus-inspired mid section of “Exit Sun,” to the prog-dance-jazz of “Fisheye,” to the power-electronic noisiness of “Omen”—and the wide variety of styles utilized help create small masterpieces within the larger work. Also standing out is the closing cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” featuring guest vocals from Grutle Kjellson, vocalist/bassist of similarly amazing Norwegian band Enslaved. The song was practically written to be covered by Shining, and they do a superb job interpreting this prog classic.
From a technical standpoint, the musicians that make up Shining are among the most elite of extreme virtuosity. Incorporating modal jazz, a slew of odd time signatures (move over Dillinger Escape Plan), and ridiculously complex arrangements, one is left not only supremely impressed, but also with the lingering question of “how do they remember this?” Ignoring this quandary, one is left to sit back and revel in the technicality of the whole thing, and ponder the influences, which appear to range from the Great Kat to Union of Knives (for those unfamiliar with these artists, do yourself a favor and check them out as well).
Above all else, what Shining do best is control the insanity. Don’t get the wrong idea, the music of Blackjazz is far from straightforward and is often rather unsettling, but somehow the album never loses itself among the chaos. It’s almost as if a nuclear blast has gone off, yet has somehow been contained within a crystal sphere. Everything remains unharmed, but it sure looks cool.
Whether the music of Shining will be universally accepted by the general population seems unlikely for the same reason “Arrested Development” was such a short-lived show—most people just don’t get it. But for those that do, count yourselves among those lucky enough to be given the gift of Blackjazz.
Jørgen Munkeby (vocals, guitar, sax)
Torstein Lofthus (drums)
Tor Egil Kreken (bass)
Bernt Moen (synths and keyboards)
Even Helte Hermansen (guitar)
Grutle Kjellson (guest vocals on “Omen” “21st Century Schizoid Man”)
1. The Madness and the Damage Done
3. Exit Sun
4. Exit Sun
5. HEALTER SKELTER
6. The Madness and the Damage Done
7. Blackjazz Deathtrance
9. 21st Century Schizoid Man
Hardrock Haven rating 9.8/10
by Justin Gaines
Challenges is the third album from Dutch progressive rockers Chinawhite, and their first release in nearly a decade. The band cites Rush, Saga, Deep Purple, Kansas and Uriah Heep as their primary influences, and that quickly becomes apparent on Challenges.
Challenges is a tough album to get into. On paper it works. The band has been around for more than two decades, they play a melodic brand of progressive rock, and with their extensive use of the Hammond organ have a decidedly old school sound. Unfortunately the album never seems to come alive. Maybe it’s the production job that’s making the melodic guitar work, heavy Hammond action and the vocals all sound like they’re isolated and/or working against each other. Maybe the band’s intellectual approach and technical proficiency – and make no mistake, the musicianship is high-caliber – is emphasized at the expense of actual songwriting. Some of the guitar work in particular is absolutely dazzling (see the solo on “Inside” for example), but you’re reacting to the guitar playing, not the song itself.
Whatever the reason, aside from a few songs Challenges just fails to resonate. The harder rocking songs like “Stranger” and “Better Than You” are the album’s most effective tracks, reminiscent of Uriah Heep, Chariot and Nightingale. It’s probably no coincidence that those are the songs where Don Feltges’s vocals are most emphasized and where the “atmospheric” and needlessly technical elements are kept to a minimum.
You can’t help but root for a band that’s been around since 1987 and has remained true to their progressive rock influences, but that doesn’t change the fact that Challenges just isn’t up to par. Nearly every neo-progressive album released on the InsideOut label is going to sound more professional and have better songwriting and more importantly better production.
Perhaps you’ll get more out of Challenges if you’re a die-hard neo-progressive rock fan and adore everything about the genre. Chinawhite certainly has a lot to offer, but for casual fans or newcomers, Challenges is probably going to seem a little too boring and “not ready for prime time.”
1. In the Beginning
2. Challenges – Dreams of a Child
3. My Venus Rising
5. How Many Miles
6. Better Than You
8. The Storm Rages On
9. I Am I
10. Dive With a Dolphin
11. Wings of the Wind
Hardrock Haven Rating: 5.5/10
by Justin Gaines
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later…a nu-metal album that doesn’t make you want to carve your eardrums out with a rusty screwdriver. Hell, maybe Mower isn’t technically a nu-metal band (there’s nobody rapping and the bass isn’t doing that “boing boing” Korn thing), but they sound enough like a metalized version of Nickelback and Hinder that the nu-metal (or at least alternative metal) tag seems appropriate.
Make It a Double is Mower’s third album, and it’s all over the place, swerving between rock, metal, punk and alternative before slowing down completely for the second half of the album. The first half is all thundering rhythms and crushing guitars, plus some very angry lyricism and sharp vocals. Think Static X and Biohazard, but with a degree of mainstream rock radio appeal. The second half of the album is made up of reworked versions of previous Mower songs done under the “Slower” tag. They’re stripped down and almost lounge-y, but no less angry than the songs on the first half of the album.
Make It a Double is probably more effective in small doses. A few of these songs are more than enough to get the party started, but the “Slower” songs on the last half of the album kill the buzz pretty quickly. There’s no denying the power of some of the songs on Make It a Double though. If Nickelback had released absolute monster of a party metal anthem “The Party” it would be in regular radio rotation for at least a year. Same with the song “Faded”, which could have been released by any number of skinny-jeans-wearing emo types.
It may not work as a full album, but Make It a Double has enough very strong and very hard-hitting metal songs in the first half to make the album well worth checking out, particularly if you’re already a fan of alternative and/or nu-metal. If you’re not (and you are not alone there), this might come as a welcome surprise.
Label: Suburban Noize
Brian Sheerin – Vocals
Dominic Moscatello – Vocals
Chris McCredie – Bass
Greg Russell – Guitar
Jessie Tate – Drums
1. The Party
3. The Start
5. The Song We Don’t Speak Of
10. Road Rage
13. U Turn
14. Shut Up and Skate
Hardrock Haven rating: 6.5/10
February 16, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Derric Miller
Recorded in the fall of 1989, Commandment’s No Mercy is the band’s sophomore effort, one that never saw a true release, but is now, thanks to Pure Steel Records. Commandment was a Power Metal/Classic Metal band from the Chicago area that found regional success but ultimately, as with thousands of bands, the money tree stopped bearing fruit, the label went under, and thus, the music went silent. No Mercy features the original nine tracks as well as five demo songs, for the true fans out there.
Commandment plays a blazing sort of Heavy Metal and from the opening vocal notes of “Corrupted Youth,” you’ll hear their singer David Nava is as unique as the band’s sound. If you had to compare them to anyone, early Agent Steel might go part way in defining their sound. The guitarist JR3 is a maniac, with frantic leads, solos and riffs. Everything about “Corrupted Youth” screams with the adrenaline of a pissed-off metal head, and it’s fun as hell.
“Betrayed” lets loose with a Nava scream that is high and piercing, then flows into the verses. Although the production isn’t quite there, you’ll need to pay attention to the guitar leads under the cacophony. JR3 is one talented shredder. There isn’t much in the way of sing along choruses here; Nava shows off his range with his siren screams and you will have to be reminded of early Judas Priest as well.
Commandment doesn’t change pace often; it seems they are dead-set on scorching anthems that beg you to crack a few dozen beers and scream along. “No Mercy” is one of those anthems, heavy, with bloody razor riffs and immense guitar solos.
If you are into Iron Maiden, then you’ll like the rhythmic gallop of “Voice of the Sphynx.” The chorus here is the most memorable on the CD. When Nava sings, “Speak to me, tell me your secrets,” you will have to be shouting along. It’s the strongest song on No Mercy, and makes you long for more Commandment.
Luckily, on this version, you get it, with the demos. You will notice the sound quality immediately, but this kind of music needs to be unpolished and raw as possible, so it’s not a detriment unless you are some sort of stuck-up audiophile. “Law of the Streets” certainly could have fit on No Mercy; it sounds like many of the other tracks before it. So do the songs “Fire When Ready” and “On the Attack.”
The best demos are “Ivory Tower” and “Tears of Remembrance.” On “Ivory Tower,” it’s the first time the band does any speed other than Mach 1. Nava sounds like he barely has control on parts of the album, but here, on the slower opening verse, you can hear the growth. It goes a step further on “Tears of Remembrance.” This must have been about the time Queensryche was influencing bands like Heir Apparent and hundreds of others, because you’ll hear a “Take Hold of the Flame” vibe on this track. It seems Commandment was just coming into their own when they broke up, because with the tempo changes, more intricate pacing and obvious vocal improvements on “Tears of Remembrance,” they were clearly evolving for the better.
You will never be able to go back in time and hear all the bands you should have, but in this case, you can go back and hear Commandment. And you should.
Label: Pure Steel Records
1. Corrupted Youth
3. Road to Nowhere
4. Guitar Solo
5. The Cell
6. No Mercy
7. Holding On
9. Voice of the Sphynx
10. Law of the Streets (demo)
11. Fire When Ready (demo)
12. Ivory Tower (demo)
13. Tears of Remembrance (demo)
14. On the Attack (demo)
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.6/10
by Joe Mis
Memorial Roots is the latest release from German power metal veterans Brainstorm. This album is a set of 11 uncompromising pure melodic power metal tracks, each displaying Brainstorm’s traditional big booming sound and fine musicianship.
Brainstorm was founded way back in 1989 by the guitar duo of Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric along with drummer Dieter Bernert. After a few years of the typical band-startup tooling around, they recruited Andy B. Franck as lead vocalist in 1999, and this truly created and solidified the Brainstorm sound. Antonio Ieva joined the band and is their current bassist.
Andy Frank has a superb voice – deep and resonant, and he knows how to use it. His almost silky smooth vocals are the lynchpin of the Brainstorm’s music, and somehow he seems to be giving every word maximum effort yet never seems to be straining. Always clear and understandable, he is definitely one of the best front men in metal. Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric make an outstanding guitar duo and display wonderful teamwork across the entire album. Equally comfortable laying down high-speed power riffs or soft acoustic style passages, they are masters at setting a mood for each song and work very well with the other musicians in the group. Antonio Ieva is a fine bass player and handles his job with great enthusiasm, while Dieter Bernert lays down some incredible drum lines without abusing the double bass. These two provide a very good foundation for the music, and the band is truly a cohesive unit. They handle all of their tempo changes and variations in tone and style without any difficulty.
The CD opening is one of the only down spots on the album. Before “Forsake What I Believed” really gets rolling there is an intro piece with a bit of an orchestral sound that drags on for a minute and fifteen seconds and for the most part is so faint it is almost inaudible. Once you get through that oddity the rest of the album truly rocks. “Shiver” is a great upbeat rock track that allows the guitarists to really shine, while “Would You” is a vocalist’s showpiece with layer after layer of harmonies and great lyrics. They pay tribute to some of their influences with a very Iron Maiden-ish opening to the epic “The Conjunction Of 7 Planets”, an old Fates Warning tone to the pounding “Cross The Line”, and a Metallica style riff in “Victim”.
No matter what the style or influence, all the tracks on Memorial Roots are well structured, well performed and always melodic – no screaming, screeching, grunting or gurgling here. There is plenty of music, lots of melody, great catchy hooks, riffs and grooves – everything that makes an album a success. The production and engineering are excellent as well, and the songwriting and musicianship are solid all around – just what one would expect from a truly veteran band.
Memorial Roots is a winner, no doubt. If you were going to expose someone to power metal for the first time, this would be the album to use. Musically and lyrically outstanding, Brainstorm continues improve with each new release, and seems to want to amaze the European metal scene once again. Even if you are not into power metal this album will be a treat, as underneath all the power metal trappings there is lots of melody, great performances, varied styles and good songwriting. Very Highly recommended!
Label: AFM Records
01 – Forsake What I Believed
02 – Shiver
03 – The Conjunction Of 7 Planets
04 – Cross The Line
05 – Nailed Down Dreams
06 – Blood Still Stains
07 – Ahimsa
08 – The Final Stages Of Decay
09 – Victim
10 – When No One Cares
11 – Would You
Hardrock Haven Rating: 9.5/10
by Derric Miller
You remember Vain, right? The band that came from out of nowhere to slap you across the teeth with their video for “Beat the Bullet,” back in the decade when MTV actually played videos? (That’s be the 1980s.) Like 90 percent of the bands at that time, the Grunge movement came in and traded Aqua Net poofy locks for shitty nanny-goat facial hair. A large portion of those bands deserved to die a depressing, unpoetic death, as they cannibalized the movement around them and helped make a mockery of it, but not Vain. Vain was raw yet melodic, infused with honest attitude and a Punk edge that only Guns N Roses pulled off with more aplomb. In fact, Vain’s release On the Line in 2004 was a critic (but maybe not fan) favorite; Vain kept getting better, even though no one was listening. Well in between their debut No Respect and On the Line was All Those Strangers, a 1991 release that is just now seeing the light of day.
All Those Strangers picks up immediately where you’d want it to, hitting angrily with “Love Drug,” with lead singer Davy Vain’s semi-crooing sleazy vocal style making those lyrics just drip with depravity. If you think Stephen Pearcy sang sheer sex, Vain has always done him one better. Davy’s pacing on the vocals has always been weirdly staccato yet effective, like he bites off the sentences. The guitar solo rips, with Davy West laying down a complete Hair Metal solo, and Vain never sounded so good …
“Planets Turning” you can actually find on the new Delany release Blaze and Ashes. How a song written in 1991 fit onto a concept album in 2009, based on German writer Wolfgang Hohlbein’s fantasy novels (books Davy Vain surely never read) is a discussion for another day. That conundrum aside, “Planets Turning” is Vain doing what they do best, playing a dark melody, and Davy singing with a sense of longing you can’t fake. The foreboding guitar passages, the crescendo to the chorus is just anthemic. This is a brilliant song no matter when or why it was recorded.
Vain did get into trouble with their simplistic lyrics at times, and “Shooting Star” is one of those choruses you can understand why they had detractors. “She’s a shooting star. Here, and now she’s gone, real far. I know that girl she wants it all, cuz she’s a shoot-shoot-shooting star!” They surely could have done better than that.
“Here Comes Lonely” is another wicked track, and can be found on Delany as well. Although re-recorded for that release, hearing it with less polish makes it much more enthralling. The sleaze factor is off the charts; it makes you think you will have needle marks after hearing it, even if you’ve never done drugs. It’s insane Vain wasn’t a bigger band.
When Vain slows it down, like on songs “Turned to Sand” or “Without You” from their two respective other releases, it still works, like on “Shouldn’t Cry” here. This is due in large part to Davy Vain’s almost surreally haunting vocals. This is the kind of song you can hear today or 20 years ago and it still works.
Vain is probably at their peak when they sing about rutting, though, so “Do You Sleep With Strangers?” is perfect for them. The sultry chorus, rife with pent up sex, makes you remember how much fun everyone used to have in the 80s–and maybe, how much fun they aren’t having today when listening to music.
All Those Strangers should have been released nearly 20 years ago, but Grunge and their bankrupt label (Island) interferred with the journey. If you listen to this, and then On the Line, you can see the growth, album by album. They need to come out with a new studio album in 2010 to keep building on whatever momentum they can. They never got a true chance to compete with the likes of KEEL, Motley Crue, Ratt, Dokken, Great White, etc. the first time, because it all went away before they got started. Those bands (and a number more) are back today with new music, and therefore, Vain should follow suit. Here’s hoping …
Label: Jackie Rainbow Records
01. Love Drug
02. Planet’s Turning
03. Shooting Star
04. Too Bad
05. Far Away
06. Wake Up
07. Freak Flag
08. Here Comes Lonely
09. Shouldn’t Cry
10. Do You Sleep With Strangers?
11. Looking Glass
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.8/10
by Derric Miller
Tankard is going to be jealous when they hear “Heavy Metal Drinkers” from Armour’s new self-titled release. Hailing from Finland, Armour plays a dirty, retro brand of Traditional Metal that is irreverent, funny, but most of all, heavy. Led by lead singer/guitarist Vince Venom, whose vocals sound similar to the legendary Eric Wagner (Trouble), they own a unique sound you just don’t hear from a band formed less than a couple decades old.
Finland is known for more polished bands like H.I.M., so think of Armour as their exact opposite. Beginning with the uber-repetitive “Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonite,” you get a pared down version of NWOBHM, if that’s possible. Armour mixes their NWOBHM influences with American bands like KISS, though, so it’s a much more user-friendly, Arena Rock version of NWOBHM. Drummer Johnny River goes ballistic before the guitar solo from Mike Slutz, and there’s something mildly Spinal Tap-ish about this composition — in a good way.
“The Time is Right” begins with an ‘80s power riff, and carries more melody than the opener. Of course, Venom, with his shredded vocals spewing forth the notes that are mostly on key, it’s not all that melodic. The chorus features gang vocals, and hell, this is as old school as Loudness. Armour definitely isn’t influenced by Hinder, Seether or their homogeneous ilk.
As some of the band’s members are actually from a Black Metal background, “Satan’s Knights” may be expected. This is the fastest song on the release, with River an absolute machine all the way through. Armour, because of Venom’s vocal style, gets compared to UDO and Accept, and that’s pretty fair on “Satan’s Knights.” This is probably Slutz best guitar solo also, as the solos tend to blast you instead of playing anything elongated or varied, like here.
By the time you get to “Magick Armour,” “Hellfire” and “Ready to Attack,” you’ll realize Armour doesn’t have a lot of facets to their style. Many of the songs are paced the same why, the vocal passages are sung the same way (with often the same notes), and the songs run together. For some listeners, this inflexibility may cause them to stop paying attention.
It all ends on “Heavy Metal Drinkers,” and it’s a great one. With fevered riffs and blasting drum fills, Armour saved the best for last. The intricacy in the guitar leads takes a step up, and the shouting backing vocals is sheer fun. It’s like WASP’s “Blind in Texas,” but more steroid-fueled and rabid.
Armour is an interesting band, to say the least. If you are a fan of the more traditional style of Metal, no frills and just straight-ahead at all times, Armour is your band. Next time out they might want to mix up the vocals so Venom can sing lower and stray out of his frantic falsetto grinding vocal style, but they also have to keep the fire for playing this style of music and not lose that as well, because that’s what makes Armour worthwhile.
Label: Primitive Reaction
1. Rock’n’roll Tonite
2. The Time is Right
3. Sex Demon
4. Roll Out (Or Get Rocked)
5. Satan’s Knights
6. Can’t Resist your Spell
7. Magick Armour
9. Ready to Attack
10. Heavy Metal Drinkers
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.1/10
February 14, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Franco Wissa
Good God, Sweden and Finland seem to be quickly becoming the mecca for true metal. And keeping with that tradition is Dawn of Silence and their sophomore effort Wicked Saint or Righteous Sinner. Want a CD with fist pumping, head banging, double bass drums, down tuned bass, melodic vocals and a twin guitar attack? Then this is the CD for you.
Truly not a bad track to be heard – from the killer bass guitar work heard on “Escape the Night,” the outstanding vocal screams of “Crucifire,” the brilliant vocal harmonies of “In Quest for Life,“ the give and take between the drums and guitars of “Cage of Fear,“ to the CD highlight, “Release Me (From Myself,)” to the hard rock power chords of “Haunted Dreams,” to the CD’s closing track, the Edguy sounding “Masquerade.”
Mixing metal guitars with melodic vocals is a risky venture at best. Some bands have accomplished this seemingly without effort, (Edguy, Domain and Firewind,) and others are still working hard to know when too much is too much, when to tone down the vocals, allow the guitars to fade into the limelight, while at the same time never forgetting what incredible sounds that the rhythm section of the bass and drums can do for such a musical outing. Dawn of Silence, has, in their own right, done all this and more. Certainly here is a mix of Gamma Ray, Edguy and Primal Fear, but along with this comes the vintage metal of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with the melodic metal of Brainstorm and U.D.O.
It is so difficult to find fault with any part of Wicked Saint or Righteous Sinner, so instead what must be said, is here is a hope that the boys of Dawn of Silence, continue the trek they have started, into future releases, on stage and beyond. For this is about as amazing of a melodic metal CD that any person could hope to hear. The guitars are perfect, the vocals spot on. The overall sound is outstanding. The songwriting was sensational, but as has been said in the past, the most perfect song can be put to paper but without the band to bring that track to life, the songwriting alone, means very little. But here, on this CD, the two come together without effort – brilliant songwriting and brought to life with some knockout musicianship. The bass and drums were just enough in the mix to know of the presence without ever coming across as pretentious or there just for the sake of having them in the band. Their place in the band was evident enough and in places where they needed to be they came across loud and clear, such as what was heard on the CD‘s opening track, “Chasing a Ghost.”
Wicked Saint and Righteous Sinner could damn well make a best of 2010 list. Pick this one today. Crank your stereo just as loud as it will go, and get ready…
Label: GMR Music Group
Chasing a Ghost
Escape the Night
In Quest for Life
Cage of Fear
Away From Heaven
Shadow of Guilt
Patrik Johansson – vocals, guitars
Pelle Johansson – bass
Tobbe Edqvist – drums
Mats Johansson – guitars
Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10
February 14, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Trevor Portz
Borknagar are a unique extreme metal beast. They present a paradox applicable to only a few groups in this great metal world. Unlike so many bands of their ilk, with each release, fans go in knowing what to expect, yet also without any idea of what’s coming. Ludicrous as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth. You see, every Borknagar album (with the possible exception of Origin) comes with a set of given values, but how the band will take these and construct, arrange, deconstruct, and rearrange them remains a constant variable. Borknagar fans expect complex melodies, multilayered instrumentation, regularly shifting dynamics, and of course a perfect balance between the band’s black metal and progressive sides, but still want it presented in a way they haven’t heard before. Taking heed, as they have with their previous releases, Borknagar have yet again delivered an album of beautiful contradictions with 2010′s Universal.
The eight tracks that make up Universal flow so well that they appear more as movements in a larger epic rather than isolated events. This is not to say that the songs don’t have their own identities, but they all serve to illustrate how befitting the album title actually is. With each track, another piece of the overall Universal picture is revealed.
Opening track “Havoc” eases listeners in with a slow, quiet intro, gradually building tension before exploding just past the minute mark. From here, we are enveloped in pure, multilayered black metal brilliance. Replete with cinematic flourishes (such as the doubling of guitars with voices, whether real or synthesized), harsh metal screams (including vocalist Vintersorg’s new foray into a more guttural, death metal growl), and melodic choruses that have become one of Borknagar’s trademarks, the song acts almost as an overture to both Universal and Borknagar’s music in general.
Following in an equally spectacular fashion, “Reason” flaunts keyboardist Lars A. Nedland’s skill for countermelody (with occasional Jethro Tull-type flairs), and also showcases new drummer David Kinkade. Kinkade’s style is reminiscent of predecessor Asgeir Michelson, but he also brings his own style to the mix, ensuring that he will be noticed.
“The Stir of Seasons” throws traditional metal song structure away with its lengthy instrumental passages and sporadic clean vocal breaks. Oddly enough, this is followed immediately by “For a Thousand Years,” which features some of the most traditional metal riffing on any Borknagar release. Of course, with its incorporation of clean-vocaled verses and harsh choruses, and inclusion of an extended instrumental section—complete with bass solo—traditional seems a bit of a misnomer. Though all tracks do a fair job, these two in particular show just how much band founder and leader Øystein Brun allows his bandmates to shine equally, a quality not common in most band with an obvious “leader.”
“Abrasion Tide” and “Worldwide” are both solid compositions, if not standout tracks. They surround, however, what could be one of Borknagar’s strongest songs yet, “Fleshflower.” With detuned guitars and what could almost be described as ’80s new wave-esque vocals, the song is highlighted by its rapid changes. Whereas Borknagar tend to let things progress slowly over extended song lengths, “Fleshflower” sees the band take an almost Queen-like approach of firing rapidly between sections over just three short minutes. If Origin was borne of the band’s wish to focus on their melodic, mellow side, perhaps now there’s a chance for an album of short, complex prog metal bursts.
Closing out the record is “My Domain,” which features the return of vocalist I.C.S. Vortex after a near 10-year absence. Though arguably not as technically perfect at Vintersorg, I.C.S.’s vocals helped define the Borknagar sound and slide seamlessly back into the mix. With the complex arrangements going on in all of their music, it would be interesting to see both vocalists on stage together, though it’s hard to say how well their respective egos would tolerate this. Nevertheless, it’s great to mix things up and bring back a slice of Borknagar’s past.
While Universal may be yet another masterpiece in a long line of stellar releases by Borknagar, it’s also hard to say whether it is their magnum opus. It seems more likely that the band will somehow manage to outdo themselves yet again on their next release, whenever that may come. But for now, take solace in the fact that Universal lives up to its bold title, and that Borknagar’s “Genuine Pulse” is pounding stronger than ever.
Label: The End Records
Vintersorg (vocals and choirs)
Øystein G. Brun (electric, acoustic and high string guitars)
Lars A. Nedland (synthesizers, Hammond organ, grand piano, backing vocals)
David Kinkade (drums)
Jan Erik Tiwaz (bass)
Jens Ryland (guitar)
ICS Vortex (guest vocals on “My Domain”)
3. The Stir of Seasons
4. For A Thousand Years To Come
5. Abrasion Tide
8. My Domain
Hardrock Haven rating 9.4/10
February 12, 2010 by Publisher
by Mike Debbage
Contemporary Christian music is well known for promoting mainstream pop artists such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and the likes but not so much with Classic Rock artists. OK, so there has been occasional success story such as Petra, Guardian and even the melodic metal visual group, Stryper. Otherwise, this genre is rather barren in religious circles, especially in recent years, which is why the sound of DecembeRadio, though familiar, is so refreshing. Classical rock fans will be more than just satisfied with their latest offering.
The band is your straight forward four-man band with drums, bass, dual guitar and vocals with a nice clear and tight production sound from Scotty Wilbanks, who also provides the intermittent keyboard arrangement. The band’s impressive self-titled debut came out in 2006 and was Grammy nominated. They have further expanded their sound with an even greater emphasis on the melody though the open distorted guitar chords on “Better Man,” which would certainly suggest something completely different. Similar arrangement effects can be found on the pulsating and driven “Gasoline” with the ambitious lead vocals of Josh Reedy and Brian Bunn’s lead guitar. Then slam bam in the middle of the song we are exposed to is a children’s choir and strings, creating a very interesting twist as the song returns to its burning pace, keeping you transfixed to the composition.
Otherwise, DecembeRadio is rooted in the straight forward Classic Rock sound with huge melodic anthems whether they are the outright rockers such as “Satisfy” or “Falling For You” or the moving ballads such as “Look For Me” and the stirring “Find You Waiting.” The latter includes some stellar soulful background vocals, Hammond organ and some stirring guitar work. Of course there is the mid tempo rockers or ballads, depending on your vantage point, found in the Gospel-tinged “Believer” and the atmospheric “For Your Glory.” The disc also includes a hidden track that is essentially a loose jam session as well as visual footage showing some insight on the making of the album.
When you think of December, one thing that comes to mind is Christmas and the birth of Christ and lyrically DecembeRadio shows no apology but never with the cram-it-down-your-throat approach. Musically, the songs are commercially viable, which may explain the radio portion of their name. So whether you are a fan of the likes of Petra, Guardian, Black Crowes or Bon Jovi, along with their own slant on Classic Rock, DecembeRadio are more than capable of succeeding both as a Christian band as well as a crossover success into the mainstream market.
1. Better Man
2. Satisfy Me
4. For Your Glory
6. Falling For You
7. Look For Me
8. Love Can
9. Peace Of Mind
10. Be Alright
11. Powerful Thing
12. Find You Waiting
Hardrock Haven rating: 8/10
February 12, 2010 by Publisher
by John Kindred
Angels of Babylon is a super group of sorts, featuring three veteran rockers; Rhino, David Fefolt and David Ellefson and newcomer guitar virtuoso, Ethan Brosh. Each of the vets have cut their teeth with bands like Manowar, Megadeth and Hawk, while Brosh’s first solo release, Out of Oblivion, was released in ’09 on the Magna Carta record label.
Their first album, Kingdom of Evil, is a compilation of music written by Rhino, who waited for the right group of guys to bring his vision to life. The album features 10 songs that fall in the vein of heavy metal and that also have a strong melodic feel. At times, the music pushes the envelope into the edges of power metal. With the use of keyboards and synthesizers layered over crushing palm-muted rhythm guitar arrangements, the band produces an epic and symphonic feel.
For some of older metal heads, David Fefolt’s vocals are going to sound awfully familiar. Back in the ‘80s, he fronted Doug Marks’ (Metal Method guitar instructor) band, Hawk. His vocal style is reminiscent of his previous works. He still has that metallic raspy voice that you will recall. You know what you are getting with quality musicianship of Rhino and Ellefson. The drums and bass are tight and heavy.
Newcomer Brosh shines through with brilliant solo work and solid guitar playing all around. It’s evident that he is a musician who can excel as an instrumentalist as well as a bona fide band member. His influences added into the mix of the music rounds out the band’s overall metal sound. Although he struts his stuff all over the CD, he tears it up with a blazing solo on the intro to the title track, “Angels of Babylon.”
Other great songs include the opener “Conspiracy Theory,” “Tear Out My Heart,” “Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen” and “Kingdom of Evil.” There seems to be Christian themes tied into the lyrical content of several songs. So whether this is a Christian release is unknown. Although they are not reinventing the wheel, their level of musicianship and strong song writing skills produce a well-crafted studio album.
The only real weak track is the instrumental track, “The Remnant,” which features a piano melody played against a synthesizer. It doesn’t fit the flow of all the other bombastic metal tracks. Landing in the track listing as song eight, it really could have been placed last, as metal heads are going skip over this one.
David Ellefson (b)
David Fefolt (v)
Ethan Brosh (g)
1. Conspiracy Theory
2. Apocalypse 2012
3. Night Magic
4. Tear Out My Heart
5. Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen
7. Kingdom Of Evil
8. The Remnant
9. Angels Of Babylon
10. Second Coming
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10
February 10, 2010 by Managing Editor
by Trevor Portz
For those unfamiliar with his work, Bill Zebub has been sarcastically eviscerating metal bands since 1993, when he began publishing the irreverent, yet extremely metal ‘zine, Grimoire of Exalted Deeds. Well-known to metalheads, especially those who make the annual trek to Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Metalfest, Bill has become a staple of the metal scene. His offbeat interviewing style—at its best making all-too-serious metal gods come off as not only mere mortals, but often as goofy metal geeks—may not always be highbrow, but it does do an excellent job of stripping away the dark veneer that surrounds most headbangers, revealing their inner goofball. One of Bill’s latest projects is Metal Retardation, a 90-minute montage of interviews and performances by some of extreme metal’s most elite artists.
The DVD opens with a sadly necessary warning about the overt use of sarcasm contained therein (directed at the poseurs who take metal far too seriously), though it’s sad to think that anyone wouldn’t immediately understand Bill’s style. From then on, we are shown bits and pieces of interviews with a slew of extreme metal stalwarts conducted over the years, at various times and in various places. Rarely staying on any one subject for more than a question or two, things instead bounce around from band to band, artist to artist, occasionally in a thematic fashion, but generally in a more random fashion. At first this may seem a bit of a directorial faux pas, but it ends up working quite well, as it keeps things moving and balances the more interesting and humorous interviewees with the dull. The interviews are also interspersed with a handful of live performances, including Turisas and Finntroll tracks recorded at the B.B. King Blues Club in NYC, and there’s even a vintage King Diamond track to close out the disc.
Though standout moments may differ for each watcher depending on band preferences, several clips stand out above the rest. Constant attempts to coax George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher to sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” are priceless, with Bill even going as far as telling George that “Chris Barnes never had this problem with timing” (Cannibal Corpse fans will understand this dis). The resulting attempt at the song is funny, but having Corpsegrinder call Bill a “dingleberry” (very death metal) is arguably even better.
Other highlights include getting King Diamond to prance around his hotel room impersonating an effeminate Snowy Shaw, trying to convince Finntroll to add Riverdance to their ever-growing stage ensemble, being told of the time Enslaved’s Grutle Kjellson accidentally kicked the shit out of a crippled fan, and Bill’s attempts to explain to a member of Turisas (from Finland) that the Japanese are cannibals since they enjoy eating shark “fins.” Of course, this last joke doesn’t play out so well, as there is a noticeable language barrier that prevents total understanding on the part of the interviewee.
This actually brings up an interesting, albeit surely unintentional revelation garnered from Metal Retardation. The vast majority of the interviews are conducted with bands for whom English is not a first language (Bill himself is Czech), yet almost all are not only comfortable conversing in English, but happen to be extremely well spoken. This is in contrast to several of the American band members, who come off as unlikely to have even completed high school. Not to come off as anti-American, but it is a sad commentary on the state of US education versus that of most other countries. Perhaps the DVD title is more appropriate than it at first seemed.
Seriousness aside, though, Metal Retardation is a helluva lot of fun. It’s nice to know that there are others out there that are metal to the core, but also enlightened enough to see the ridiculousness of many of the genre’s aspects. If anyone doesn’t think “King Diamond upside-down cross dresses” isn’t an awesome quote, they have no business giving the horns.
Label: Bill Zebub Productions
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.4/10