Friday, July 4, 2014

Kobra And The Lotus - High Priestess

Heavy Metal
Simmons Records
2014










1. Warhorse
2. I Am, I Am
3. Heartbeat
4. Hold On
5. High Priestess
6. Soldier
7. Battle Of Wrath
8. Visionary
9. Willow
10. Lost In The Shadows

A new one from Kobra And The Lotus is definetely an album I was looking forward to. Their last one was my first experience with the band and it really caught me by surprised with it's polished and heavy sound. Just a very intense, attacking sort of metal with a powerful wailer of a female vocalist. Expectations had to be high going into this one as their last album cracked my top 10 of 2012 and I was really hoping for more of that.

After listening to High Priestess I can definitely say this band just has it. Their sound is just attacking and headbangable with a female vocalist who can just wail. This is memorable, headbangable stuff from start to finish and I'm really becoming a major fan of this band. Kobra And The Lotus just isn't your typical female fronted band with their absolutely shredding guitar and wails that have more in common with Bruce Dickinson than your typical atmospheric, gothic, etc type female singer. Their music is just relentless and Kobra Paige has the forceful projection to sell this music to the next level. Kobra And The Lotus just do what they do extremely well and I'm thrilled to hear more of it here. What really sells me here is their ability to be both heavy and extremely catchy and addictive at the same time. Think of a band like Lullacry with their smooth hooks mixed with Iron Maiden's epic qualities and heavy power metal type shredding. I also get more than a few reminders of a modern Warlock as this band just takes a nice direct approach to metal that reminds me of the way Doro showed female vocalist can straight out rock with the best of em.

In conclusion, this is just a monster of an album as it asserts itself with heaviness and dramatic flair. There are some great heavy yet catchy songs to be found here. Addictive stuff that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes a heavy/power type band with a thick sound and wailing vocals.

Highlights: Heartbeat, Battle Of Wrath, Visionary, Willow

Rating - 4.0/5

Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls

Heavy/Traditional Metal
Sony
2014










1. Dragonaut
2. Redeemer Of Souls
3. Halls Of Valhalla
4. Sword Of Damocles
5. March Of The Damned
6. Down In Flames
7. Hell & Back
8. Cold Blooded
9. Metalizer
10. Crossfire
11. Secrets Of The Dead
12. Battle Cry
13. Beginning Of The End

Let me just be blunt for a moment here and say that it's been some time since Judas Priest has made anything remotely exciting. As a band they have been much more relevant for what they have done than what they are doing since the Painkiller album. My expectations for this album thus had to be tempered with a bit of realism. Having heard some samples in advance of getting this though, I do have to admit a sliver of hope for something more than just an old band putting out an album just because of cash and expectations. I heard something in those samples that just sounded a bit encouraging. Life you might say. Still, I wasn't ready to get all psyched about it and went into this with modest expectations.

When I first started listening to this album I've gotta say that I was encouraged. From the start there are some pretty solid songs. Dragonaut, Redeemer Of Souls, and March of the Damned all hooked me pretty immediately with their grounded in classic Priest yet updated sort of power sound. Think of something like Defenders meets Painkiller, but not as balls out as the later and with a bit of the polish of Ram It Down. All in all a good approach for modern Priest in my book. All three of those songs have solid hooks and I was all prepared to write that Priest had actually found some life again.

Well, then you get past the first 5 tracks and Redeemer Of Souls pretty much just sputters and dies. To put it quite simply everything becomes so simplistic beyond this point that it's barely worth writing about. These are really the most basic riffs and song structures anyone could possibly shit out and this does not sound like the work of an experienced band. The sound itself isn't that bad, but there is just no excitement, energy, or imagination to anything for the rest of the album. Think of basic rocking metal and you could probably write these songs. Hell if they were on some Priest cloned power metal band no one would give a flying fuck and write them off as amateurs probably. From the half baked funky rhythm in Hell & Back to the basic blues of Crossfire to the snails pace boredom of Secrets Of The Dead and closing with a lame as hell ballad in Beginning Of The End there's just nothing of value to be found for the bulk of the album. A few good tracks up front just can't carry this level of uninspired filler. Not by a long shot.

This is the kind of album that you just shouldn't let the front loaded nature of fool you. Sure there are some good single quality tracks, but holy shit is this not a complete album. The singles only succeed in lifting this to an average album and just barely. Judas Priest's metal mine appears to be exhausted at this point and I can't imagine them hitting it rich again so to speak. Every once in awhile they find a nugget of the old gold, but it's not nearly enough to make this even worthy of mention next to their classic material. A new Judas Priest album is almost an obligatory listen for a metal fan based on their legacy, but don't expect anything other than missing that classic period even more after listening to this.

Highlights: Redeemer Of Souls, March Of The Damned, Dragonaut

Rating - 2.5/5

Grave Digger - Return Of The Reaper

Power Metal
Napalm Records
2014










1. Return Of The Reaper (Intro)
2. Hell Funeral
3. War God
4. Tattooed Rider
5. Resurrection Day
6. Season Of The Witch
7. Road Rage Killer
8. Grave Desecrator
9. Satan's Host
10. Dia De Los Muertos
11. Death Smiles At All Of Us
12. Nothing To Believe

Grave Digger have always been a solid power metal band, but at this point in their career I'm looking for a spark and I think maybe the band is too. I guess you could say that of late their material and their style has become kind of predictable. The fire hasn't quite been there and I think the band knows it judging by the title and assumed direction going into this one. It seems like they're trying to recapture some of their darker side in getting back to "the reaper" and the only real question is if it is going to work here.

Well, after listening to Return of the Reaper, it's no real great re-imagining of the band or a return to the routes. Sure thematically it doesn't focus on any grand concept and feels a bit more straight up metal with some dark edge, but the overall sound of the band is really not any big change. Basically, this still sounds like heavy power metal with Chris Boltendahl's typical growls and snarls and the same guitar sound the band has had forever. The songs aren't really anything super imaginative and the kind of return to a more intensely dark vibe like on The Grave Digger that I was hoping for doesn't really happen.

That being said this is still Grave Digger and it's a pretty competent album. Just don't really expect any sort of grand rebirth. There are solid highlights though and overall the album is pleasing enough to me as a fan. I think the best tracks here tend to be when the band gets a good pounding rhythm and catchy groove going. The speedier tracks tend to be a bit typical, but when they settle into a good mid-paced heavy roll with some atmosphere like on Season of the Witch the band can still get my attention. Grave Desecreator is also a highlight and another kind of groove driven one, but more upbeat with a nice shout along chorus. Dia De Los Muertos is also noteworthy for it's pounding heaviness.

Overall, this is not a new classic for Grave Digger, but it is a pretty good album for the fans who are still hanging with the band. I don't think this is an incredibly creative or different album and not the kind to enter many album of the year discussions, but it's a solid listening experience in a familiar vein. If you like Grave Digger I'd say it's worth a listen. Not their best album, but not half bad either.

Highlights: Season of the Witch, Grave Desecreator, Dia De Los Muertos

Rating - 3.5/5

Friday, June 27, 2014

Valkeryon - Visions Of Fire

Progressive/Power Metal
Independent
2014










1. Never Fades
2. Culture War Pt. 1: Dumas
3. Culture War Pt. 2: Reconquest
4. Umbra Wars
5. Fight With Time
6. Corruption
7. Trivial
8. Spaceshift
9. A Place Beyond
10. Farewell

Visions Of Fire is Valkeryon's first album so I go in not knowing a whole lot about them or having much in the way of expectations. This is the sort of album I saw the band advertising and decided to give a shot. Hailing from Panama this band caught my attention enough on a preview of a couple of their songs which seemed to have a pretty well put together power/prog sort of sound.

Well, listening to this my initial preview of the band mostly represents their sound. This is a pretty well produced, good sounding sort of Power/Prog band. Musically, I get reminders of Sonta Arctica and Royal Hunt. This is smooth flowing stuff with a fair amount of keyboard touches and a bit of symphonic flare here and there. vocally those comparisons also ring true as I hear some Tony Kakko, DC Cooper, and maybe a little Michael Grant. Not quite as deep as the later, but there is sort of a deep, resonant touch to the singing. At a glance listening to a couple tracks this band sounds pretty solid.

Getting a little more into the meat of the album and listening to it though I've gotta say that the songs start to bleed together as the album gos on. I also find that the music would probably benefit from a bit more heaviness/edge to the guitar as this just gets really bouncy and happy. It's the kind of sugary sweet power sound that starts to wear on me after awhile and it's just a little constant and over the top in that regard. None of the songs are bad, but the lack of the Metal holds most of the songs back a wee bit for me. Oddly the exception to this is the instrumental A Place Beyond which has more heaviness to the guitar and is a nice bit of proggy music. Maybe if more of the album was like this (with added vocals) I'd enjoy it more. Farewell and Never Fades are also pretty good smooth flowing power/prog type tracks even if they are a tad happy.

If you like power/prog that is decidedly on the light and happy side this isn't bad, but the band could benefit from a bit more variation in tempo and dialing back the tralala feel a little. Still, this is a decent power/prog debut that I could see appealing to the right audience who likes their metal pretty fluffy.

Highlights: A Place Beyond, Farewell, Never Fades

Rating - 3.0/5

Tankard - R.I.B.

Thrash Metal
Nuclear Blast
2014










1. War Cry
2. Fooled By Your Guts
3. R.I.B. (Rest In Beer)
4. Riders Of The Doom
5. Hope Can't Die
6. No One Hit Wonder
7. Breakfast For Champions
8. Enemy Of Order
9. Clockwise To Deadline
10. The Party Ain't Over 'Til We Say So

Well, what is there to say about a new Tankard release? Obviously I expect progressive thinking man's metal album with maybe some neoclassical virtuso guitar. I jest of course. Tankard are the ultimate working man's thrash band, constantly staying true to their roots and just making some nice heavy music with fairly goofy, fun lyrical content. I've always enjoyed the band as they are one of the the most consistent thrash bands out there and just come up with a lot of fun yet heavy material. Tankard have never backed off the thrash and and I admire how they have successfully stuck to their guns for so long.

The thing about R.I.B. is I expected straight forward thrash and that's what I got, but there are some serious problems here. I'm fine with direct speedy thrash if it sells itself on it's heaviness, riffs, and vocal intensity, but overall R.I.B. just doesn't quite get the job done. The bulk of this album sounds like it's really running on fumes as the music just doesn't have a lot of energy and the vocals often come off as too subdued. Honestly, it sounds a little phoned in and like the band didn't have their hearts in it. The sort of album that's released just to have an album. It sounds like Tankard basically, but it has no fire. Songs like No One Hit Wonder, Breakfast For Champions, Enemy Of Order, and The Party Ain't Over Till We Say So just don't end up leaving much of an impression. They just kind of settle into one repetitive rhythm and that might be fine if it was a particularly catchy or heavy one, but I just don't hear anything imaginative or intense about them. I get, as I said in the intro of this review, that Tankard isn't meant to be brain food, but I want some killer riffs and rhythms that make me want to bang my head at least and these just come up short. Then at other times when the music does pick up it just seems to get chaotic like on War Cry where Gerre where Gerre can't seem to keep the pace of the music with his vocals or R.I.B. which seems a bit sloppy in it's use of monastic style chanting and similarly erratic approach.

At this point I'm talking about a lot of the album which is just unimpressive or a tad confused, but there are at least a few good thrash tunes to be found here that seem to come about when the vocal performance marries up to the music better than the bulk of the album. Overall, I'd say Hope Can't Die is my favorite here. It's not a barn burner in it's somewhat paced approach, but the rhythm is headbandable and the song features the best vocal performance here. I dig the semi-melodic approach here that sells the song as being kind of fun and catchy. Riders Of The Doom also just comes together well as the vocals have a certain intensity to them and the music keeps it heavy yet with a nice coherent rhythm that Gerre has no problems shouting along to with a good punch. Clockwise To Deadline is also worth noting as a faster one that gets it right letting the music take over to shred, but with a steady rhythm that leaves the vocals with room to breathe.

Overall, I can't say this is Tankard's strongest effort. The bulk of this either doesn't have the intensity to sell it or tries too hard to be intense and ends up sounding confused. Maybe a middle road is in order here and only a few tracks Really get it right. This album also just doesn't seem to have the addictive rhythms or Fun sort of choruses that sell me on the band and that has to be a disappointment. This might be worth it for hardcore Tankard fans, but to the general thrash fan I'd say this is mostly pretty average stuff. Third tier sort of thrash that makes for a few good tunes, but not really an overall solid album. Really, too much of this is mediocre for me to give this much of a rating despite a few good songs. It's still Tankard and their sound isn't bad, but the songs aren't quite there.

Highlights: Hope Can't Die, Riders Of The Doom, Clockwise To Deadline

Rating - 3.0/5

Night Mistress - Into The Madness

Heavy/Power Metal
Power Prog Records
2014










1. Into The Madness (Intro)
2. Until The Day Will Dawn
3. Hand Of God
4. The Place I Belong
5. Walking On Air
6. Madman
7. Longing For The Devil
8. Hell Race
9. Grieving Stars
10. Sacred Dance
11. Recurring Night

Polish act Night Mistress are not a band I have any particular experience with before this album. Really, I just stumbled upon them in my search for something new. When the year isn't quite delivering from the bands I know it becomes time to turn increasingly to checking out bands I don't. Into Madness is the second release from this band, but I'm going in fresh here.

Well, sometimes you just listen to a band and go "Where has this been all my life?". Alright, they haven't been along that long, but this is really freakin solid, traditional sounding stuff. The songwriting is very straight up metal in the best possible way coming off something like more direct, heavier end Maiden with the polish and smooth flow of power metal. I know there are a lot of Maiden inspired bands, but Night Mistress sounds really polished doing it and the songwriting is surprisingly mature and addictive. Think of a cross between Maiden, Seven Witches, and Tad Morose with the songs to back up the sound. Vocally, I'm reminded of Toni Parviainen (formerly of Machine Men) mixed with a bit of Rob Rock on the more mid-ranged, melodic deliveries and when he really sets loose on the highs/wails I get a bit of James Rivera. What the hell is not to like about this I ask? The sound is crystal clear and the music is swift moving, high energy, and in the best tradition of what classic sort of metal should be. This is just a total win at wailing intensity with the right melodic sense to sell the songs. I mean this is nothing amazingly new, but holy shit do they do it well. I found myself just rocking out to all of these songs. This is the kind of power metal I've been craving and it honestly reinvigorated my interest in the more traditional side of the power genre which has seemed to be a little lacking in recent years. It's good to know that although it's been sort of done that a band can still come up with a set of original songs like this.

I suppose I could break down songs, but honestly I like everything here. Absolutely everything. Not a great deal of disection required. Maybe the one thing I should note about the band is that they can be a little quirky, but it tends to come in brief moments like the whistling during the intro to Walking On Air. Overall it's fleeting and I don't find it distracting. The meat of all these songs more than sells them.

I'm honestly impressed and it's been awhile since a dark horse album like this hit me this hard. I think this is the sort of thing that anyone who likes a smooth flowing yet heavy power metal band heavily drawing on traditional roots should hear. Who doesn't like kick ass Maiden reminiscent metal I ask? And then I smack whoever says they don't. Just give these guys a chance and a listen. I doubt you'll regret it.

Highlights: Madman, Hell Race, Hand Of God, The Place I Belong, Recurring Night

Rating - 4.5/5

Magistina Saga - Creaith Anthem

Symphonic/Gothic Metal
Starwave Records
2014










1. Creaith (Intro)
2. 朱ニ染メ狂フ
3. Various
4. Dark Side of the Moon
5. パラレル戯曲トラップ
6. 絡みつく空虚
7. グリード
8. Unplace
9. Persona
10. Deep Affection
11. Fate Gear

The theme of this set of reviews is mostly bands I've never heard before and the theme continues here. This band from Japan is a stranger to me and although they've had a couple of mini-albums/EPs, this is their full length debut. When I saw this band I was reminded of the kind of quirky symphonic sound I heard from fellow Japanese resident Liv Moon (which I completely dig) and decided I'd give this band a shot.

Well what I expected is pretty much what I got and that is not a bad thing. Creaith anthem is full of over the top dramatic delivery, keyboard symphonics, and thick/kind of modern sounding guitar. I know some people immediately cringe at the word modern, but I don't think a thick sound if it's not just simple chugga chugga guitar and the music on Creaith Anthem is absolutely not that. This is more like metal mixed with touches of Trans-Siberian Orchestra flare and with a touch of anime soundtrack. I really dig the fusion and to me the combo of high speed keyboard, thick guitar, and symphonic elements just makes for a great heavy yet dramatic and powerful experience. Any band that pair guitar and keyboard into a majestic experience like this is a winner in my book. Not to leave out the vocals, they're mostly mid-ranged female vocals sung in Japanese and the woman has a good melodic sense which fits well with the overall symphonic yet heavy experience.

Song-wise the experience is overall strong with a fair amount of intricacy to the symphonic/keyboard elements. Stand outs include Various with it's controlled chaos feel and グリード with it's dark jazz feel that would make Tim Burton proud and reminds me a bit of Mechanical Poet 朱ニ染メ狂フ is also worth mentioning with it's nice shapshifting structure between slower heavy moments, mid-paced melodic vocal driven segments, and quick moving passages often driven by the keyboards. Fate Gear is highly enjoyable as well with it's swift melodic feel. There are maybe only two touches on this album I don't like and those are the kind of feedback sounding effects in 絡みつく空虚 and moments of mediocre death vocals in Unplace. Both are fleeting though and don't really detract much. They're more like minor nitpicks.

To sum it all up, this is pretty interesting and involving debut. There's a lot going on and the songs have a lot of pace changes and variation within them. I find this symphonic, complex, heavy, and just plain enjoyable. If you like your music heavily keyboard driven and dramatic this is for you.

Highlights: Various, 朱ニ染メ狂フ, グリード, Fate Gear

Rating - 4.0/5