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Album Review: Doom Crew Inc. by Black Label Society

Black Label Society is back with album 11, aptly titled Doom Crew Inc. “Set You Free” opens the album with a sorrowful acoustic guitar that abruptly ends with Zakk Wylde’s signature chugging guitar riffs. “Set You Free” is one of the more radio friendly tracks on this record, but still packs a punch. “Destroy & Conquer” is a hellish blues metal track one could easily hear in a biker bar. The opening riff is a bit generic, but the slowed down doom riff during the song’s midsection and twin guitar leads save the song. “Forever And A Day” is an introspective ballad that shows Zakk’s soft side and is one of my favorite tracks on Doom Crew Inc. The chorus is beautifully haunting and the guitar solo heightens the feeling of loss. “End of Days” is eerily reminiscent of Alice In Chains, but is certainly not an imitation. The heavy, somber guitar riff hovers over the song like a dark cloud. Still, the dual guitars of Wylde and Dario Lorina are the track’s centerpiece as they transition from soft phrasing to sweeping arpeggios. The spirit of Black Sabbath overlooks the plodding “Gospel Of Lies.” The volcanic, foreboding opening riff sounds like something Tony Iommi wrote. The heavy blues jam during the bridge again showcases Wylde and Lorina fusing blues with shred to great effect. “Farewell Ballad” is a fitting closing. The downcast lyrics and weepy guitar evoke the reluctance of saying goodbye to a loved one. However, there is a feeling of acceptance as we realize that we have reached the end.

Doom Crew Inc. has great production. Zakk produced this album at his home studio, the Black Vatican. Each instrument is audible and the vocals sound fine. The guitars are the focal point of any Black Label Society album and they are loud and clear on this album. There is little to critique production wise.

Ultimately, BLS fans will enjoy Doom Crew Inc. The album is diverse offering cohesive blend of doom laden metal, sad ballads and blues tinged hard rock. Perhaps the one sticking point is the album’s 63 minute length. However, that is eclipsed by the band’s musicianship and the monolithic riffs of Wydle and Lorina. Doom Crew Inc. is a dedication to the band’s road crew and fans, and the band pull out all the stops on this one.

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

http://blacklabelsociety.net/

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Album Review: “Chapter 1: Monarchy” by Ad Infinitum

Swiss symphonic metal quartet Ad Infinitum’s debut album, Chapter 1: Monarchy, sounds as grandiose as its title directs. “Infected Monarchy” opens the album with a dream like piano and serene strings that build up as Melissa Bonny’s beautiful, yet powerful vocals commence and the guitars explode. The song transitions between tense drumming and heavy grooves interspersed with tranquil tempo changes while Bonny’s vocals soar above the chaos.

“Marching On Versailles” is a dynamic track with militaristic drumming accompanied with staccato riffing that echoes a march. The harmonious chorus contrasts with the song’s hard driving nature, and showcases Bonny’s vocal range. “Maleficient” is a hellish track with its churning riff and industrial like percussion. Guitarist Adrian Thessenvitz unleashes a nice lead during the song’s midsection before the song plods to its conclusion.

“See You In Hell” is one of the more accessible tracks on Monarchy, with its slow tempo and melancholy yet catchy chorus. It is no wonder that it is the second single off the record. “Fire and Ice” is an emotional ballad with its haunting bass line and halcyon guitar riffs that complement Bonny singing of a love as strong as the elements. “Revenge” is notable for its galloping tempo and baroque guitars that create a dark atmosphere of a person on the hunt for retribution.

Melissa Bonny possesses an amazing voice and it is readily apparent on Chapter 1. Her vocals never waver and convey emotion that give the songs an extra degree of passion. The music is dynamic but with a pronounced technicality making the songs more enjoyable. The classical samples are not overused and Infinitum have a great sense of playing loud and soft. The production is lush yet clear, which gives Chapter 1 a full sound.

Chapter 1: Monarchy is a strong debut album that will impress fans of symphonic and gothic metal. The album is diverse, yet cohesive, and nine of the ten songs clocking at under five minutes. There is enough room for musical growth as the band does not overwhelm the listener. Ad Infinitum is probably saving that for Chapter 2.

check out the band’s official website here:

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Album Review: “DeadRisen” by DeadRisen

American quintet DeadRisen take the nostalgic metal route with its self titled debut album. This should not surprise anyone as Symphonic X bassist Mike Lepond and guitarist Rod Rivera of Rivera/Bomma in the fold. DeadRisen comprises thrash, power metal and a tinge of flamenco with solid results.

“Prophecy” opens with a fiery riff accompanied with orchestral keyboards that breaks down in to a nice groove. Will Shaw’s soaring vocals are in full form here and are never drowned out. “Destiny” recalls old school Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with its cautious guitar intro before falling in to a mid tempo rhythm. The chorus is fairly banal but Rivera’s guitar work compensate for it. “Maker” is the longest track on DeadRisen and features several rhythm changes courtesy of Dan Prestup who plays some slick drum fills.

Things get interesting with the Latin-influenced mid-section as DeadRisen have a few tricks up its sleeve. “Reach For The Sun” is a slow, bluesy number with a hazy atmosphere with the distorted guitar and keyboards. Things kick back in to high gear with “Visions” with its twisted riffing. The band channels Rainbow on this track, with its Middle Eastern tinged chorus riff, progressive guitar riffs and fantastical imagery.

The band closes the record by covering Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” “Bells” is one of Metallica’s simpler songs and one of its best, due to its superb lyricism coupled with the grinding pace of the song. Deadrisen covers it well, particularly with the guitar solo, and the track is a fitting end to the record.

The drum sound is so clear on DeadRisen and I immediately noticed it when I first heard it. It sounds deep giving the songs an added layer of heaviness. The other instruments sound great as does Shaw’s vocal tracks. DeadRisen is a pretty diverse record because the band draws from numerous influences. This makes for an interesting listen especially when six of the ten songs cross the 5 minute mark. The lyrics are cheesy at times, but the music is good enough one can overlook it.

DeadRisen is a strong debut album that fits right in with the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal. The musicianship is top notch, with a few surprises and quirks to pique the interest of the most grizzled metalhead. Here is hoping the band releases some more records.

Check out the band’s website for news and events:

https://www.facebook.com/deadrisenband/

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Album Review: “Killection: A Fictional Compilation Album” by Lordi

Finnish shock metal outfit, Lordi decided to do something special for its tenth album, Killection: A Fictional Compilation Album. The album mimics a compilation album that spans several decades. Thus, each track sounds like a song recorded from various era. This makes for an uneven, but somewhat enjoyable listen as Lordi plays, metal, 80s pop, disco and 70s rock.

However, the band’s gore and horror imagery is present throughout the record. The track “Horror For Hire” is an 80s metal cut, with its big crunching guitars and sing along chorus. Single “Shake The Baby” is a Rob Zombie inspired pseudo industrial metal cut straight from the late 90s. Lordi’s vocals resemble Rob’s a bit particularly during the chorus. “Apollyon” is one of the more interesting songs with its haunting piano and grooving bass. Its cheesiness almost causes one to forget this song is about the angel of the abyss.

Of course, there is an Alice Cooper inspired song on here with “Blow My Fuse.” This is a funky, hard hitting number that could have been recorded in 1972. “Zombimbo” is the disco track that sounds lifted from a grindhouse film with lyrical schlock about a dancing zombie woman.

Killection is a fun record and Lordi was bold for recording it. The album is unpredictable as Lordi touches on several musical genres. The album is uneven because of this, but that is the whole point. The band should be lauded for playing metal, soft rock, industrial, disco and 80s pop and doing a fairly good job playing each genre. However, this also makes Killection a pastiche record as the band plays each musical style at surface level.

Killection is Lordi playing music on its terms. Fans may enjoy the record or raise their collective eyebrows regarding some of the tracks. However, the silver lining is that the next Lordi album could be a horror concept record played to dance music. It is a thought.

Check out the band’s official site here:

https://www.lordi.fi/

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Album Review: “Puritan Masochism” by Konvent

Danish death doom metal quarter Konvent deliver a down tuned dose of heaviness on its debut album Puritan Masochism. The title track opens the album with a bleak guitar line and pounding drums. It is an unnerving, trudging track enraptured in despair. Front woman Rikke List’s guttural vocals are reminiscent of Paradise Lost and early Amorphis as her growls intensify the desolate feel of the song. “The Eye” is a grooving doom number with looping guitar riffs as if the band is outlining an iris. “Trust” has a gothic feel with its lumbering guitar riff in minor keys that continues the perpetual hopelessness of the record. The dissonant, distorted guitar on “World Of Gone” creates a dreary atmosphere throughout the song due to the slow drumming of Julie Simonson. This song is a dead march for the Apocalypse.

The two final songs on the album “Ropes pt. I” and “Ropes pt. II” bring the album to its melancholic conclusion. On “pt. 1,” Guitarist Sara Norregaard plays a galloping guitar riff over a plodding beat that picks up during the midsection before the track concludes with a distant, clean guitar playing the main riff. “Pt. II” opens with a lush, sorrowful Crowbar type riff. The tempo begins cautiously before speeding up as the guitars pick up steam. It is a seven and a half minute threnody that ends the album on an appropriate disheartening note.

Puritan Masochism is a bleak, disharmonious album, with a constant feeling of hopelessness. Konvent play slow, brooding doom metal with a tinge of black metal’s nihilism. The band lacks the sophistication of pioneers like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. That is fine, as Konvent’s suffocating, dismal sound compensates for any lack of finesse or musical complexity. Puritan Masochism fits right in with the aforementioned and is notable for not mimicking either band.

Konvent’s debut album is a standout and deserves a listen from fans of doom, death and goth metal. This is some of the bleakest metal I have heard in a while and had my attention from the first guitar strum. Well done Konvent.

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Album Review: “Dream In Motion” by Kirk Windstein

Heavy metal luminary Kirk Windstein has spent the last 35 years gracing the world with the heaviest, crushing, earth splitting, melancholic metal on the planet as founder and front man of Crowbar. His aptly titled solo debut, Dream In Motion, retains the sorrowful, downbeat spirit of Crowbar, but with a varied musical soundscape. The title track and initial single commences the record with Kirk’s signature sludge guitar riffs accompanied with pounding drums and bass. An ode to his life and career, “Dream In Motion” is a declaration of perseverance and dedication. It is a story of a man that has seen it all and knows that there is more to come. The grooving midsection and crunching guitar riffs reaffirm why Kirk’s music has stood the test of time.

“Hollow Dying Man” is a desolate, eerie number with gloomy riffs that one would expect to hear at a funeral procession. This melancholic feeling remains throughout the album. “Once Again” is notable for its jazzy percussion, which strangely complements the hazy, weeping guitars on the track. “The World You Know” is another dirge with a depressing, overwhelming riff that feels like a looming black cloud. Despite the despondent music, Kirk urges one to live on, in hopes of a better tomorrow. “Necropolis,” features a strumming guitar that sounds like tears hitting the ground. The mournful guitar keys accentuate the feeling of sadness and misery on this track. The album concludes with a cover of “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull and a personal favorite song of mine. Crowbar has played this song live, but never recorded it for an album. Kirk and company cover the song superbly, especially during the acoustic part of the song. A song about homeless man without hope, the lyricist encourages Aqualung to carry on. It is a fitting end to an album created by a man that refuses to give up.

Dream In Motion is not a Crowbar album by another name. There are heavy parts on the record, but it focuses more on mood than loud guitars. Crowbar has several songs in its discography that are soft, psychedelic and unorthodox (Odd Fellows Rest, Amaranthine to name a couple). Thus, Dream is not an album out of left field, as Crowbar fans are familiar with Kirk’s softer material. That feeling of hopelessness and isolation disrupted by but a scintilla of optimism is also present on this record. Heaviness is not just about volume, but feeling and Kirk masters that emotion as he’s mastered the riff.

Dream In Motion is a very strong effort that will satisfy Crowbar fans who have followed Kirk on his amazing journey. The fact that Crowbar are recording a new album this year and Kirk is back in Down is proof positive that the dream continues.

Check out Crowbar’s website for tour dates and merch:

http://www.crowbarnola.com/

CD Review: “Reign Of Gold” by Human Fortress

German power metal outfit Human Fortress return with its sixth release Reign Of Gold. “Thunder” is hampered by thin production and is somewhat generic. Things improve on the title track with its driving rhythm compliments of drummer Apostolos Zaios. “Lucifer’s Waltz” is a diabolical number that would incite an unholy dance at a black mass. The metallic bombast is subdued by ominous strings and an unholy choir that creates an unnerving atmosphere for the track’s duration. “Bullet Of Betrayal” is a melodic track with a strong folk influence. The combination of guitar harmonies and lush keyboards provide for a serene musical landscape. “Shine of Light” falls a bit flat with its schmaltzy piano intro and Gus Monsanto’s pastiche vocals. Power metal often falls victim to its own conventions and it is apparent on this track. Things get heavier on “The Blacksmith” with its sharp guitar riffs and double bass drumming and “Martial Valor” which is a mid-tempo rocker with a heart tugging woodwind solo during the track’s midsection. Initial single “Legion Of The Damned” is a fast paced ride through a dark forest with its punk drums and Iron Maidenesque guitar parts. Album closer “Victory” is a galloping rocker with an overarching string arrangement that accentuates the emotional thrill of victory.

Reign Of Gold is a mixed bag as it is interesting at times and generic at other times. This lack of consistency mars the experience as Human Fortress can play some serious power metal. However, Reign lacks the heaviness and depth found on other power and symphonic metal records. Tracks like “Martial Valor,” “Lucifer’s Waltz,” and “Victory” are heavy with classical elements that heighten the experience. Unfortunately other tracks lack the drive of the aforementioned songs.

Human Fortress has carved a niche in the power metal sub-genre since its formation 20 years ago. However, Reign Of Gold is not a breakout record that would catapult the band to the upper echelons of power metal. There are some solid songs, but not enough to recommend the record to folks. Fans of the band will probably pick it up. However power metal fans may be a little disappointed. Sadly, Reign Of Gold takes the bronze.

Check out the band’s official website:

http://www.human-fortress.de/

CD Review: “The Things We Can’t Stop” by Cold

Florida somber rock band Cold are back with its newest release in 8 years, The Things We Can’t Stop. “Shine” the initial single off the record is a rather banal track with its dreamy riff and simple drum pattern. This is not the best choice for a single as it is generic and sounds like a run of the mill alternative rock song from the past 20 years. “Snowblind” is a slow, haunting song with dissonant riffs and vocalist Scooter Ward’s melodic croon. Guitarist Nick Coyle lays out several melancholy phrases that add to the disturbing serenity of this song. The rest of the album is rather trite as each track is barely distinguishable from the other. Cold returns to its roots on the industrial tinged “Without You,” which appears in the album’s second half. The mid-tempo rocker breaks up the monotony on this record. “Quiet Now” is another notable track with its urgent vocals and saccharine vibe. “Systems Fail” has a hypnotic melody over a gloomy musical landscape. Album closer “We All Love” opens with a piano while Scooter urges everyone to stop the hate and love. It is certainly a needed message in today’s social climate, however, the track is still schmaltz.

The Things We Can’t Stop falls short of being a good record as it is too homogeneous. Cold is known for producing dark, gloomy rock but the band backs itself in to a corner on this album. There is no “Suffocate” on this record or even a “Wicked World.”Things is a somewhat aimless record where the tracks run together. This album would have sounded better with several heavier songs sandwiched between the softer tracks. However, what is done is done.

Cold fans may enjoy The Things We Can’t Stop, but this is a letdown from a band that is capable of making better music. Cold was never at the top of the hard rock or nu metal hierarchy in the early 2000s but the band carved its niche. There are things you cannot stop, however Scooter and company can certainly make a better record than this.

Check out Cold’s official website here:

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CD Review: “Reader Of The Runes-Divination” by Elvenking

Elvenking unleash a potent spell of folk metal on its tenth release, Reader Of The Runes-Divination. “Perthro” is a brief piece that opens the album. “Perthro” is the rune of fate and the unknowable. The tribal drums, sorrowful violins and droning vocals convey a sense of mystery and adventure. “Heathen Divine” is an exuberant track with crushing riffs and driving percussion. Guitarists Aydan and Rafahel lay out some great harmonies and solos throughout this track. “Divination” continues the lively tone of this record with a fast tempo and sweeping violins. This is an anthemic track with its hardy chorus and Rafahel’s energetic vocals. The smooth transition in to a tight groove makes this a enjoyable track from start to finish. “The Misfortune Of Virtue” is one of the heaviest tracks on Reader with its melodic death metal riffs and pounding Lancs’ pulverizing drums. Still, there are tranquil moments during the song’s chorus with its lush keyboards and saccharine vocals. The song seamlessly transitions from heavy to soft while maintaining its dark character. “Under The Sign Of The Black Star” is a grandiose track with its baroque guitar riffs and lumbering bass. The music paints a picture of a group on horseback traveling the countryside at night on a quest. “Reader Of The Runes-Book 1” is a near 11 minute epic that concludes the album in splendid fashion. The regal riffs and Aydan’s soaring vocals are underscored by a mid tempo that slows down for the melodramatic chorus. Blastbeats and black metal riffing kickoff the second half of the track before an acoustic guitar relaxes the intense atmosphere. An excellent end to this record that leaves the listener wanting to hear “Book 2.”

Reader Of The Runes is epic, symphonic metal that takes the listener on a journey. Elvenking play lively and passionately throughout the album, throwing out numerous surprises. Each track is lush and textured with several things going on at once but never sounding awkward or pretentious. This is attributed to the brevity of the songs and the album’s overall song order. Production wise, Reader is stellar, with clear quality and excellent guitar and drum tones.

Elvenking cast the right spell with its tenth record. Reader Of The Runes-Divination is a fun, heavy, adventurous record of the highest degree. Fans of symphonic, folk or power metal will certainly enjoy this record with its great musicianship and songwriting. Bravo Elvenking.

Check out the band’s official website here:

https://www.elvenking.net/

CD Review: “Years Of Aggression” by Suicidal Angels

Greek thrashers Suicidal Angels aim to live up to the title of its seventh release, Years Of Aggression. The whiff of nostalgia is present throughout the album, with Eighties era guitar riffs meshed with stellar leads compliments of guitarist Gus Drax. Unfortunately, the album falls a bit flat as the aggression is somewhat repressed. Album opener “Endless War” commences with a swarming guitar riff that transitions in to a tight galloping riff. Front man and guitarist Nick Melissourgos provides sharp, raspy vocals that fit the gripping nature of the track. However, it is Drax’s blistering, neo-classical solo that is the highlight on this track. A strong opening, however, it leaves one with the impression that the band could play faster and heavier. This feeling is slightly diminished on “Born Of Hate” with its Swedish death metal vibe. The guitar work is superb as Melissourgos and Drax trade off swift guitar lines, but this track is still marred by a lack of pushing the envelope. The title track is dynamic and drummer Orpheas Tzortzopoulos pounds his kit like a madman. The quartet hit the nail on the head at the album’s halfway point on “D.I.V.A.” which is the shortest track on the album. The ripping riffs are supported by relentless yet technical drumming. It is just a shame that Suicidal finally finds its aggression when the album is halfway over. The main riff on “Order Of Death” hits like a mallet to the gut which is only exacerbated by the walloping drum beats. Drax unleashes a sweeping guitar lead that adds to the madness. “The Roof Of Rats” is pure, primal thrash with a encircling riff that will incite a mosh pit. The song’s midsection slows down for a breather before the band begins its second assault on this track. Album closer “The Sacred Dance With Chaos” begins with a disturbing clean guitar passage before the electric guitars take over, maintaining the same dissonant riff. The dark groove invokes a dance macabre that stops during the midsection for a somber acoustic lead. “Sacred Dance” ends Aggression on a sinister high note, and a much needed one at that.

The second half of Years Of Aggression is much superior to the first half. The songs are heavier, diverse and the band rips it up while taking risks. The same cannot be said for the first half as it is somewhat contrived and Suicidal dial it in at times. One knows the band is capable of playing high quality thrash and it is frustrating when the guys plays it safe. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to the old school, provided that you do it right. We see this on tracks like “The Roof Of Rats” with its maniacal riffing as the band moves full speed ahead.

Years of Aggression is saved by its second half. Suicidal Angels now has seven records under its belt so folks expect quality. Sure, every band slips up due to wanting to branch out with its music. However, when a band titles its record Years Of Aggression, one expects to hear fast paced, pummeling, take no prisoners thrash metal. This is especially true of a band that formed 18 years ago and has made a mark in the metal world. Now is not the time for the band to rest on its laurels. Metal heads still and will always need music to get out our aggression.

Check out the band’s official website: https://www.suicidalangels.net/