CD Review: “The Hunt For White Christ” by Unleashed

Unleashed celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and it is fitting that the Swedish death metal masters release a new record. The Hunt For White Christ is album number thirteen, and is rife with the viking imagery, thrashing riffs and pounding drums the band is known for.

“Lead Us Into War” engulfs the listener in a blizzard of piercing riffs which form a hammer that swings down during the chorus. It is a superb track to open White Christ.Unfortunately the following track “You Will Fall” stifles the album’s momentum. It is not a bad track, but sounds subdued compared to the opening track.

“Stand Your Ground” picks things up with its mid paced main riff and stomping chorus. Vocalist and bassist Johnny Hedlund’s guttural vocals are decipherable and there is an added urgency in his voice as he urges listeners to make a stand and fight. Guitarists Fredrik Folkare and Tomas Olsson lay down some bluesy leads with a classical flair.

The album really picks up on “Terror Christ” with its grinding guitar riffs that sound like a tank descending upon a city in ruins. The guitar leads are again incredible and complement the dark vibe on this track. “They Rape The Land” continues the auditory assault with a galloping thrash riff that causes instant whiplash. This track has several rhythm changes that capture the chaos of battle but it all flows well.

“The City Of Jorsala Shall Fall” is notable for its Middle Eastern inspired chorus riff, which complements the song title as Jorsala is Swedish for Jerusalem. It is another mid paced stomper with sharp riffs that cut at every turn. The title track is a short blast of pummeling drums and bludgeoning guitars that are lockstep with one another. It is the shortest track on the record and the most straightforward.

“Open To All The World” is a blistering track with a smidgen of hardcore for good measure. It rarely relents and concludes the album with a dissonant acoustic guitar.

The Hunt For White Christ shows how impressive Unleashed sounds when it is focused. The album’s second half is almost perfect, as the songs flow well and take the listener on an exciting and bloody journey. That does not mean the first half of White Christ is bad. However, a couple of tracks are rather disjointed and slightly weak compared to the second half. The production is great with special notice to the guitar tones, particularly the solos. The leads are clear and at times possess a supernal feel. The rhythm changes on these tracks are seamless and heighten the overall excitement of the album.

The Hunt For White Christ is the band’s thirteenth album, but it is certainly not unlucky. Unleashed fire on all cylinders for most of the record proving once again its status as a legendary death metal band. Fans will enjoy this record as the few weaker tracks are eclipsed by the entire record. Unleashed should continue the hunt when it results in killer albums like this.

Check out the band’s official website for news and tour dates:

http://www.unleashed.se/odalheim/index.php

CD Review: “Arcane Astral Aeons” by Sirenia

Sirenia gets right to business on its ninth effort, Arcane Astral Aeons, with the crushing “In Styx Embrace”. The driving guitar riffs and grooving percussion meld well with the orchestral elements. We are even treated to blast beats before transitions to an acoustic passage before concluding in bombastic fashion.

Album single “Into The Night” is a mid tempo rocker with a catchy chorus and some splendid keyboard work. Guitarist Morten Veland unleashes a blistering solo that concludes too soon. “Love Like Cyanide” is the initial single off Astral, with a pumping percussion underneath choppy, classically inspired guitar riffs. Vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan sounds both powerful and vulnerable here, as she laments about toxic love. The track’s midsection is notable for its gothic chorus and tight groove.

“Desire” has a thick galloping riff that accentuates Zoldan’s sultry vocals. She even sings a passage in French over a playful melody before the song kicks back in to high gear with a stomping guitar riff and a black metal interlude.

“Asphyxia” commences with a dissonant guitar riff and a dark ambient electronic sample that segues in to a sludgy guitar riff. There is greater use of industrial and electronica samples on this song, making it an interesting listen.

“The Voyage” is aptly named as its rollicking guitars symbolize a vessel moving to and fro across a hostile sea. This is a dynamic, heavy track with a howling arabesque guitar lead that accentuates the adventurous tone on this track.

Arcane Astral Aeons is 55 minutes long, but there are few dull spots on this record. The album’s 11 tracks are diverse, yet cohesive. This is attributed to several elements of black metal and grooving rhythms appearing throughout the album. Thus, Astral is not monotonous, but there is an aura of similarity to each track. I have said numerous times that symphonic and progressive metal bands have to make extra strides to avoid pretentious and wayward songs. Well, Sirenia have avoided the trap with ease. Zoldan’s grandiose vocals are superb as usual and the guitar riffs are thick and pack a wallop.

Ultimately, Astral is a crushing record with a nice blend of orchestral and electronica samples. Fans will certainly enjoy it as the band’s signature sound is intact with a new black metal element that makes it heavier. Sirenia continue to reach the stars.

Check out the band’s official website for news and tour dates:

http://sirenia.no/

David Bowie: Loving the Alien (Review)

Image result for bowie loving the alien cdSince before his passing, David Bowie‘s back catalog has been collected, cataloged, and re-released in box set format, each one focusing on a different phase of his extensive career. The fourth installment of the series — Loving the Alien [1983-1988] — hit shelves on Friday, 12 October and offers an in-depth examination of the most commercial period of his career. Like the three volumes before it, Loving the Alien builds its foundation on newly remastered editions of the studio albums from the period it covers and rounds out the presentation with extra bits like radio edits and a few non-album tracks. Unlike its predecessors, however, Loving the Alien treads farther afield and gathers up a number of particularly notable surprises.

In the 80s, Bowie became as interested in and invested in extracurricular activities as he was in his studio albums — sometimes more so. What this means is that while there are fewer studio albums during this period than there were during his incredibly prolific 70s (the three here are Let’s Dance, Tonight and  Never Let Me Down), there’s far more in the way of outside projects to represent. These include numerous songs that he did for movie soundtracks such as Labyrinth, Absolute Beginners, The Falcon and the Snowman, and When the Wind BlowsThis being the 80s, when dance mixes were all the rage, Loving the Alien includes one entire disk — entitled Dance — of nothing but extended remixes from the period. There are a couple of non-album songs as well, including Bowie’s Live Aid charity duet with Mick Jagger, “Dancing in the Streets,” and two songs that were left off of Never Let Me Down (but were released as single B-sides). There are two live albums included, one that has never been released before and one that had only been released on CD (but not LP, so that’s new for this release). Both are from shows that had been available on VHS and DVD, so they aren’t new, technically, but both are exceptionally good and it’s nice to have them in newly remastered form. 

But the real story here is Never Let Me Down. And there’s a lot going on. 

A hugely contentious album, most Bowie fans count it as their least favorite of his (and some outright hate it). It’s seen as his big sellout to the 80s corporate machine. Image result for bowie never let me downBowie himself once labeled it his “nadir.” I’ve always kind of liked it, though. I’ve said for decades that NLMD was a good album struggling to break free of a dreadful production full of heavy synthesizers, canned horns, artificial drums, and fake hand claps. If only that album could be completely re-recorded, I often thought, others would hear how good it actually is. I never actually thought seriously that such an eventuality would ever happen. But beyond all hope and reason, it now has. 

Producer and composer Mario McNulty assembled a team of former Bowie associates — guitarists Reeves Gabrels and David Torn, drummer Sterling Campbell and bassist Tim Lefebvre — and stripped the songs from NLMD bare, reworking them from the ground up, leaving only Bowie’s vocal tracks (though, interestingly, McNulty makes use of many alternate takes, giving even the well-known vocals a fresh new feel to them) and a few key musical contributions from the original recording. Keyboard parts have been replaced by a string quartet, and a cringe-worthy “rap” by Mickey Rourke has been supplanted by a spoken word bit by performance artist Laurie Anderson. 

In 2008 Bowie released a sort of greatest hits album called iSelect, full of tracks handpicked by him with liner notes with his thoughts on each song. Wanting to include the NLMD track “Time Will Crawl”, Bowie partnered with McNulty to create a drastically new remix of the song that vastly improved it and proved popular with fans. “Oh, to redo the rest of that album,” Bowie wrote in the liner notes. Looks like he’s now finally got his wish. McNulty secreted away in a studio with his small band of musicians and went to work. So how do the results stack up to the original?

Pretty well, actually. Kicking off with Bowie’s outrage over homelessness, “Day-In Day-Out” remains largely unchanged, retaining much of the original arrangement, backing vocals and sound effects. The guitar parts are more sparse in places, making the song sound a bit more open and less cluttered. “Time Will Crawl” mirrors the 2008 version. The two advance singles that introduced this new production — “Beat of Your Drum” and “Zeroes” — are prime examples of what this kind of approach can achieve, giving the songs a much more organic feel. The title track, “Never Let Me Down”, sounds a little bit heavier and fuller than the original, and it sounds more like a band playing in a rehearsal hall than recording a studio. 

It’s the songs on the album’s Side Two that boast the most drastic changes. The album’s centerpiece, “Glass Spider”, is a completely transformed listening experience. The whole track has been expanded by a full minute-and-a-half, with the intro elongated and made more atmospheric, adding drama and weight to Bowie’s spoken word narrative. The song proper plays out over a plodding, mechanical drum beat half the tempo of the original with a wash of ambient, doom-laden guitar noise, giving the story being told an apocalyptic, post-nuclear winter setting that transforms it immeasurably. “Shining Star”, one of the most unpopular Bowie songs ever, has been transformed almost as drastically as “Glass Spider,” with it’s new, funkier half-tempo beat. There are moments where one misses the quicker, jitterier beat of the original, but this version has removed all of the schmaltz of the former and made it a darker, grittier tune. Like the Side One songs, “New York’s in Love” and “87 and Cry” remain closely faithful to the original versions, just beefing up the guitar sound and making great use of alternate vocals, giving the songs the feel of a live performance. The album closes with Bowie’s Iggy Pop cover, “Bang Bang”, and it’s an odd duck. First, it’s yet another song with a halved tempo. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but for something that’s a cover of a song from a punk pioneer, it’s an unexpected choice. Similarly, the lead instrument for most of the song is the string quartet, giving the song a quirky feel. It takes some getting used to. 

There are some distinctive moments in the original that are sadly missing from the new version, like the drum fills leading into the choruses of “Beat of Your Drum” and Carmine Rojas‘ catchy standout bass lines on the title track, but for the most part this is an excellent re-envisioning of a Bowie album that’s in dire need of reevaluation. Will the new version sway any of the longtime haters? I hope so. I’d be extremely interested in encountering someone for whom this new version is their first exposure to NLMD, and then have them listen to the original version and get their reaction to it. It would be an interesting experiment.

Loving the Alien does an excellent job of chronicling Bowie’s commercial 80s period. I would love for his four-song Live Aid set to have been included, as it would be nice to have that on CD in a remastered format for the first time. But otherwise, this is Bowie’s most divisive period wrapped up in a bow. 

Check out the new box set on Amazon.

CD Review: “Scourge Of The Enthroned” by Krisiun

Krisiun’s eleventh record, Scourge Of The Enthroned, is a colossal slab of merciless blast beats and armor crushing riffs. The title track opens this album with a hellish, yet grandiose riff before slamming straight to hell. Drummer Max Kolesne’s chaotic blast beats synchronize with Moyses Kolesne’s chainsaw guitars throughout the song. The song’s seamless rhythm changes make for an unpredictable and exciting listen.

“Demonic III” is possibly a tribute to this brotherly trio, whose music could conjure a thousand devils. The pulverizing stop start riff sets the mood of this track before the band plays even faster! Moyses even treats us to several guitar leads sandwiched between the monolithic drums and riffs. Meanwhile, bassist and vocalist Alex Camargo’s guttural vocals match the song’s intensity. The song’s crushing midsection solidifies this song as one of the best in the band’s 28 year existence.

Max’s drumming on “Slay The Prophet” advances like an army upon a defenseless city. Once again the track’s midsection provides the listener a slight break as the band settles into brief, albeit nice groove before switching back to heavy mode. Krisiun’s thrash influence shows on “A Thousand Graves” with its fast tempo before transitioning to a rolling blast beat pattern. The riffs on this track strike like several spikes at once. Album closer “Whirlwind Of Immortality” commences with a twisting riff that is joined by rapid drumming, before alternating between a broken galloping riff and a staccato riffing bolstered by blast beats. A fitting end for a record structured on uncertainty and technical chaos.

Scourge Of The Enthroned is Krisiun at its most technical, yet its most dynamic. The complex song structures are at times catchy but never ambitious. Technical death metal bands often fall victim to emphasizing musicianship over emotion, yet Krisiun avoids this common pitfall. You can chalk it up to experience, however Scourge’s brevity is also a main factor. It features just eight tracks and is barely 38 minutes in length. Therefore, Krisiun spend little time fooling about and get right to business. The album’s production superb which is expected from this trio. The drumming and guitars are up front and one can easily hear every time change, riff and lead.

Krisiun once again prove why it is extreme metal royalty on this record. Scourge Of The Enthroned shows a band operating at top performance with several tracks that will certainly become fan favorites. Fans should not worry about the album’s length compared to the band’s past three releases as the songs are around four to six minutes in length. This record certainly takes the throne.

Check out Krisiun’s official Facebook page for news and tour dates:

https://www.facebook.com/krisiun.official/

CD Review: “Steppin’ Out” by Beauregard and the Downright

This summer, Beauregard and the Downright released their album Steppin’ Out, a ten track masterpiece that embodies the obscure balance between grit and grace. If you are not familiar with these guys, Beauregard and the Downright is a refreshing blend of folk and reggae with truly soulful southern undertones. These music craftsmen put their heart and soul into each of their performances and did no less for their first album. Steppin’ Out starts out with it’s cover art, as all albums do, but in this case the art houses its known capacity of a thousand words. The front of the album shows a young, tattered survivor shielding his vision away from a post-apocalyptic scene of exploding missiles wiping away any remains of civilization. But that’s just one perspective, which never yields the full picture. On the back of the album, we can see what has captured the lone survivor’s gaze, a scene of tranquility that escaped the self-destruction of mankind, a scene where peace has prevailed and the wonderment of nature roams free. The artwork foreshadows what is found within the tracks of the album, which is a brief, blissful escape from the crazy, chaotic life we all struggle with at the snail’s pace that is the ticking away of time.

Steppin Out starts off strong with the track “Death & Destruction”, a well composed reggae tango where the lead switches between an extremely catchy horn chorus and mellow vocals that capture the chiaroscuro of humanity with each passing verse. Following this solid start, there is a drastic shift in tone with the second track called “Falling in Love”, As done with their album art, Beauregard and the Downright shows that there is more than one perspective on life. From here, the album goes into some very soulful jams that keep it real with some more sick horn melodies and groovy yet gritty guitar rhythms that pair perfectly with the truth found in each songs’ lyrics. Holding down the middle of the album is the ballad “Atlanta Anthem”, a true look into the depths of Atlanta with the unexpected yet delightful strummings of a ukulele. The band even gives some shoutouts to some of the city’s hotspots such as the Old Fourth Ward and local venues that the band frequents, such as the iconic 529 in East Atlanta Village. However, these shoutouts aren’t just an homage to our wonderful city but help spin the tale that is Atlanta, a city of hustlers and players where sorrows are lost in the bottom of glasses and bliss is found within a night out on the town. More bumping tunes follow in the album, with each song full of new surprises to the ears, really showing the dedication that Beauregard and the Downright put into their first big impression in the music scene. There is even a skit thrown in about the ordinary struggles of ordering some good pizza. To close out Steppin’ Out, the band did a cover of “I Wanna Be Like You”, as best known from the movie The Jungle Book, with all of this track being a live studio session with portions that are stark tributes to the aforementioned movie. These guys can definitely say they went out swinging on this album.

Check out Steppin’ Out for yourself to see what all this hype is about. I really am looking forward to seeing, rather hearing, how Beauregard and the Downright tops their sophomore release.

CD Review: “X” by Nonpoint

Nonpoint unleash its tenth record, X, after 21 years of rocking all over the globe. The band quickly gets down to business with album opener “Empty Batteries.” It is a grooving stomper with a shade of thrash with its dual guitar attack. Vocalist Elias Soriano’s soaring vocals shine on this track with its melodic chorus. “Chaos and Earthquakes” is trademark Nonpoint with the rapping vocal delivery and melodic guitar lines. This song is sure to be a fan favorite and will certainly garner radio airplay. The opening of “Fix This” is a thick wall of pummeling guitars slightly off-key with the drum beat. Things click in with a sweet bass line from Adam Woloszyn. This track is slightly weak compared to the one-two combination of the previous songs, but a nice guitar lead saves this track from mediocrity. “Passive Aggressive” is a fusion of biting guitar riffs and pounding drums and a melancholy chorus. Drummer Robb Rivera drives this song forward with interesting drum fills and rhythm changes. There is a strong Prong influence on “Dodge Your Destiny” with its trashing and unorthodox riffing. The Latin percussion during the song’s second half makes this track a highlight on X. “Milestone” plods forward with a lazy riff which contrasts with Soriano’s rapid rapping. Penultimate track “The Way I Feel” is a despondent track about feeling helpless in a crumbling relationship. This track is fairly poppy despite its depressing lyrics yet Soriano’s vocals are so powerful that you overlook the music.

X is a terse yet powerful statement from Nonpoint. This is a no-frills record with very little filler. The band has expanded its sound with a heavier thrash influence that adds depth to the music. Guitarists Rasheed Thomas and B.C. Kochmit can lay down some heavy riffs and shred, which makes the album a great listen. Elias’s vocals are still amazing after two decades and it is recognizable in this metal genre. Producer Fred Archambault did a great job recording every instrument. The guitar sound is thick yet clear and the bass is rumbling in the background.

Well, X is another notch in the belt for this storied band. Nonpoint fans should enjoy it and these tracks will certainly kick off some mosh pits at the band’s concerts. X shows that Nonpoint are not slowing down anytime soon.

Check out the band’s website for news and tour dates. 

CD Review: Full Nelson by Massive Wagons

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Across the pond, there has been a stir about a band bringing back the classic sound of British hard rock. Massive Wagons, the guys behind this hullabaloo, have been infesting the UK with their contagious energy after nearly a decade of live shows and two killer studio albums. Their sound definitely has that classic 80s hard rock feel that brings back nostalgic memories for some and a longing for more from younger rockers. I would put them as a blend of Van Halen, The Struts, and a pinch of Motley Crue, which makes sense as the band has recently been working with Mike Exeter, the famed engineer behind Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. However, as similar as these guys are to that classic hard rock sound, Massive Wagons have given the world a fresh take on rock and roll to speak for a generation that has lost its spotlight as the glory days of MTV have been lost.

The guys got their start back in 2009 as a local act in Lancaster, England Barry Mills and Adam Thistlethwaite were playing in a local act called Ace Face. The duo decided to break off on their own to form a new paradigm in the music scene focused on rock and roll. After collecting their remaining soon-to-be bandmates to venture forth on their quest for fame, the band hit the ground running. After self-releasing their first album Sniff The Riff and playing hundreds of shows, Massive Wagons caught the attention of independent label Casket Record. From there the guys have put in the work and garnered enough attention to become a well-known rock band around the UK with aspirations to bring their sound to America.

Massive Wagons’ most recent hype has been around their new album Full Nelson slated for release on August 10th. After giving the album a listen, I instantly fell in love with their music. Each track isn’t just a song but an entire soundscape that transports the listener into a nirvana of good rock and roll, as is expected from any good stadium rock band. I get the same goosebumps listening to Massive Wagons as I do listening to AC/DC or Van Halen. Off the bat, the album opens with Massive Wagons’ new single “Under No Illusion”, which is a headbanger from the first note. The album then creeps through track after track of gems, with another single “Billy Balloon Head”, and one of my new favorites to blast while driving, “Sunshine Smile”. Buried in the album is “Robot (Trust In Me)”, a track that Mike Exeter helped with that is pure bliss to the ears as it reminds me of early Metalica. There is a lot to listen to in this track as the composition of it is just off the wall. Following “Robot (Trust In Me)” is a remake of their single “Back to the Stack”, their tribute song to the late Rick Parfitt of Status Quo, another well-composed track that really shows the respect Massive Wagons has for the giants’ shoulders that they have launched their career from. That kind of respect, especially being highlighted as an entire song, shows the true character of this band. To finish out the album, Massive Wagons chose their hit single from 2016 “Tokyo”, a song off their album Welcome To The World that broke various iTunes top 100 charts. Definitely a strong choice to anchor the album, almost as a farewell to their listeners until the next time they pop Full Nelson into their CD player.

As Massive Wagons grows their brand of sensational showmanship and polished tunes, you should expect to catch the fever of their energy and enthusiasm for hard rock. The only cure for such a fever is to fill your ears with some of their music, be it their new upcoming album Full Nelson or one of their older ones that propelled them to where they are today.

Visit Massive Wagons at www.massivewagons.com

‘A.L.I.C.E.’ by Skitzo Calypso

Album cover not finalized.

 

A Skitzo Calypso concert was my first exploration into the world of Brad Cox, and what an introduction it was!  Immediately after discovering the band, I found their website and downloaded several free songs, many of which would later appear on Ghosts II: The Beyond.  But not long after that, they went on an indefinite hiatus.  Vocalist, Cox, and drummer, Gary Holmes, turned their efforts towards Skitzo’s sister band, We Love The Underground, which I quickly grew to love.  But now, as the latter group has decided to take a sabbatical, the former group has re-emerged with a series of teased songs and a forthcoming EP entitled A.L.I.C.E.  I was lucky enough to get my ears on the new tunes in all their glory.

The first song, “Reaching For An Emerald Sky,” wastes no time, bum rushing the listener with cascading key strikes from producer Tony Correlli.  Guitar chords chisel out a path alongside the vocal melody, leading us up and up towards a chorus that, by the end of the song, begs to be heard again.  Though the EP is named after the heroine from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (or Through The Looking-Glass, if you prefer), the inspiration for this song bears quite a different name, and the lyrical content here plays off her story beautifully.

Next is “She’s Not Coming Home,” with twinkling guitar notes draping vocals that trudge forward.  The rhythm section almost provides a move-a-lator of sound from which Brad’s words push forth.  This song marks a darker turn for the record, but features one heck of a stunning solo!

“The Broken Part Of You” is the central slice to this work, and I freakin’ love its bass-intensive intro.  Cox explores multiple vocal approaches here, providing a varied listening experience.  The dark clouds from the last song are still surrounding us, but we’re not going down without a fight.  “Now you’re broken too” he screams into the night.

“Eulogy Of Me” is a lengthy atmospheric piano piece, courtesy of Calypso-alum Cherry Teresa, where the vocals sits close to your ear.  It’s finally here where the skies begin to clear and hope emerges, showing us a bright future awaits.  Cellos and violin additions add strikingly to the dichotomy of light and dark, and a guitar solo emerges out of a scene occupied sparsely by piano notes, captivating us and leading us back to meet the rest of the band.

The final piece of the puzzle is “The Tortured And The Hare,” which features former bassist, Zeke Johnson, launching full blast from the onset.  Though not necessarily a fast song, it is unrelenting, tugging the listener along for the ride.  The killswitch on Brad’s voice adds intensity to the song.  Here’s where we give way to the Wonderland analogies, with white rabbits aplenty.  We chase them from one landscape to another, perhaps an homage to its inspiration, but they never go too fast to lose us, continually putting us through our paces.

There’s no place like home, and that’s where we find Skitzo Calypso: at home in their element.  This little EP is filled with big hooks, but the meat is in verses.  Cox fully commits himself to each moment and there’s never a doubt that every word sung is important.  The dual guitar attack of Bryan Holmes and Patrick Sise is beautifully choreographed and it’s great to hear the Holmes brothers together once again.  A.L.I.C.E. allows us to share in this foursome’s rock n’ roll insanity only briefly, but it’s an adventure that you’ll be happy to repeat.

 
For more on Skitzo Calypso, visit:
Official Website
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CD Review: “Bloody But Unbowed” by Halcyon Way

Atlanta metal band Halcyon Way soldiers on with its fourth release, Bloody But Unbowed. It is a fitting title for a band that formed 17 years ago and continue to wave the metal flag down South. The opening track “Deevolution” starts with a stringed section fused with industrial percussion before the guitars and drums kick in. It is a minute-long song that catches the listener off guard. Drummer Aaron Baumoel’s bass drum drives the title track and is accompanied by some thrashing riffs from guitarists Jon Bodan and Max Eve. The guitar leads are a bit weak for such a grandiose track, but overall this is a strong song that must be played live. “Blame” is the lead single on Bloody and is notable for its pulverizing riffs and mechanical drumming which contrasts with frontman Steve Braun’s soaring vocals. There is a tinge of industrial on “Slaves To Silicon” which is appropriate considering the title. This track is a bit slower than the previous songs and has a groove during the song’s verses. “Superpredator” is a bit clunky with its palm muted riffing but is saved by Baumoel’s monolithic drumming. This track is a bit cheesy, but it is still a fun song. “Primal Fear” is an aggressive, dynamic cut with some interesting guitar phrasing that weaves like a maze.

Bloody But Unbowed walks the thin line between seriousness and mirth. Power and progressive bands are known for bombastic and ostentatious musicianship and songwriting (as I have stated in other reviews) but here, the band is clearly having fun. The guitarists are throwing out some nice leads and riffs but do not get too carried away. Braun’s voice is strong and clear, yet goes over the top from time to time. There are hints of Pantera, Dream Theater and Metallica on this album. However, do not expect to hear a song like “One” “Cemetery Gates” or “Pull Me Under.” Halcyon Way does a good job of offering enough variety for everyone. The production is great and special kudos to the drumming production on this album.

Well, Halcyon Way has accomplished its mission on Bloody But Unbowed. It is the fun-loving little brother to Fates Warning and Dream Theater that deserves mention. While grizzled prog and power metal veterans may pass this up, this album is a good introduction to these subgenres. Keep marching on Halcyon Way.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/halcyonway

‘It Was Metal’ by A Sound Of Thunder

In March 2017, several dozen sweaty nerds (myself included) crowded into a Virginia bar to watch a solid hour of heavy metal; by December the band we’d come to see were performing on stage in a Spanish stadium before thousands of people.  Needless to say, it’s been one hell of a year for A Sound Of Thunder.  What led to such a transformation of circumstance?  All it took was a great song and a well-timed revolution.  You see, following Catalunya’s controversial independence referendum, which saw Spanish police using violence against voters, the band released their song “Els Segadors (The Reapers)” to show support for the citizens.  This song, written a year prior as an homage to the Catalan heritage of the vocalist’s mother, was the band’s arrangement of the Catalan National Anthem, and has served as a rallying call for those who support independence of the Spanish region.  Not bad for a band who considered itself a local heavy metal act up to that point, eh?

But A Sound Of Thunder is no mere one trick pony; American or otherwise.  In June 2018, they released It Was Metal, an album brimming with melodic hypnotism, rhythmic ferocity, and more Blue Öyster Cult Easter eggs than you can imaginos.  You don’t have to be a flaming telepath to enjoy this album, though I’ll admit that if you don’t spend half an hour looking up the medicinal use of Irish skulls after listening to ”Charles II,” you’re missing an opportunity.  From the powerhouse opener, “Phantom Flight,” featuring Accept vocalist, Mark Tornillo; to the flux capacitor-equipped closer, “Fortress of the Future Race,” the band is firing on all cylinders.

This is undoubtedly the band’s fastest album, overall, which keeps the “Hail!”s coming and the fists pumping.  Yet, that doesn’t mean that the band has traded speed for its dynamics.  Perhaps the best example of this is the nearly ten minute track, “Obsidian & Gold,” featuring the wonderful keyboard work of Tony Carey (Zed Yago, ex-Rainbow).  For instance, there is a softer section of this song which pairs up the tender, loving vocals of Nina Osegueda over an understated, yet hauntingly creepy piano arrangement, which has the thrilling effect of drawing us in, while at the same time putting us on edge.  Then there are heavier, mid-tempo portions of the song that sweep us away into huge, swelling sing-alongs.  And once the guitar solo kicks in, it’s like a stampede of elephants, trampling all in its path.  And did I mention the wonderful keyboard work?  That was one sweet, sweet organ solo, Mr. Carey.

While I wholeheartedly loved the contributions of the guest musicians on this release, it is really the ever-increasing talent of the four staple members: Josh Schwartz, Chris Haren, Jesse Keen, and Nina Osegueda, that elevate this album to such a shining display of metal.  They have put out consistently solid releases since I first heard them six years ago, but I dare say this one takes the cake.  Yes, it has even topped my previous favorite from them; the 2013 album, Time’s Arrow.  And what’s more, is this one features a companion comic book anthology, turning each song into a short, several page, graphic adventure by legends of DC, Marvel, and Valiant Comics.  I highly recommend picking up both, as the comics breathe even more life into the auditory journey.  A Sound Of Thunder has really knocked it out of the park with this one.  It Was Metal is a triumph for the genre.

 

Purchase It Was Metal: From The Band | iTunes | Amazon

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