Heavy Metal

Before the Dawn – Deathstar Rising Review

Before the Dawn – Deathstar Rising Review

Ah, the life of a reviewer. It has it’s share of perks for sure. The promos, the forum for spouting self-righteous opinions, the money and of course, the women. However, all of that glory fades when compared to the thrill of reporting that a beloved band’s new album is fantastic. This right here was a release I’ve been waiting eagerly for and I had to beg, harass and harangue Angry Metal Guy into letting me review it. Because he’s a harsh but fair employer, he finally relented and let me address the sixth album by these gents from Finland (although that probably means I have to review a crapload of cheesy metalcore albums in the near future [How’d you know!? – AMG]). For those unfamiliar, Before the Dawn is a little difficult to pigeonhole neatly into one genre. They’re essentially a melodic death metal unit with a fair amount of gothic, and at times, doom metal added in. It’s been a successful and highly enjoyable combination and these guys always impressed me with how they blended heaviness with melody and huge hooks. I’m very happy to report that Deathstar Rising is another big success for these guys, contains some of their best material so far and is one of the best releases of the still early year.

Flotsam and Jetsam – The Cold Review

Flotsam and Jetsam – The Cold Review

OK, I’m gonna be brutally honest here. Flotsam and Jetsam hasn’t been good for a long long time. Although they get huge points for durability, perseverance and stick- to- it- ness, their last truly good record was Cuatro which came out way back in 1992. Few bands demonstrate the Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings in such a stark fashion. Their debut, graced with the presence of the soon to be long gone Jason Newsted, was great and considered a classic in some circles. The follow up was angry, thrashy and showed a young, hungry band with scads of potential and a limitless future. Sadly, after that the Flots hit the fan and album three was a directionless, amorphous (not in the good way) blob. Although Cuatro righted the ship, it was also their qualitative high water mark. Since then these Arizona based gluttons for punishment have soldiered on, releasing five albums worth of sub-par metal to ever dwindling patronage. With that tale of metallic tragedy behind us, welcome to album number ten, The Cold. Long ago I learned to approach new Flotsam records with low and/or no expectations so as not to be pummeled by disappointment most cruel. Usually, there were a few respectable tracks per album with the rest being throw aways. Naturally I approached The Cold armed with my standard Flots protocol and to my surprise, the thing ain’t half bad (or 2/3rds bad as they’ve generally been). Do we call it a comeback for the Flotsmeisters? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet huh.

Bullet – Highway Pirates Review

Bullet – Highway Pirates Review

Highway Pirates? Well, that album title blows more than the Last Airbender! If I didn’t already know the music of Sweden’s Bullet, I would likely skip over this release based on severe title failure alone. I mean, c’mon, Highway Pirates? Pair that with the painfully cheesy 80s style album cover and these guys are not doing themselves any favors from a strictly promotional standpoint. Thankfully though, I do know Bullet and what they deliver, which is 110% throwback retro metal/hard rock that sounds like a fusion of old AC/DC and old Accept. I was pretty taken with the goofy but infectiously rockin’ charm of their 2008 album Bite the Bullet and little has changed here as far as sound, style or intent. This is simple, neanderthal metal/rock without any attempts to be thoughtful or important in any way. Beer drinking music, drunken weekend music, call it what you will but this is fun and catchy stuff without pretense. Is it original? No. Is it modern? No. Is it good? Yes, yes it is.

Lazarus A.D. – Black Rivers Flow Review

Lazarus A.D. – Black Rivers Flow Review

There are plenty of myths that sane folks know to be false like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and honest politicians. However, one should never count the sophomore slump among those fairy tales and urban legends, for it is very real and very painful to behold. Exhibit A for 2011 is Lazarus A.D. who had a decent if not remarkable debut with 2009’s The Onslaught. Many seemed to lump them in with the retro-thrash revival and while there was some Exodus aping to be sure, they always sounded more metalcore-ish to my ears. Although I hate metalcore like I hate taxes, there was enough aggression, energy and nods to the old school throughout The Onslaught to make it semi-palatable and I didn’t totally hate it. Well, there is simply no digesting their second platter Black Rivers Flow, as Lazarus A.D. have firmly embraced their inner mall kid and all things Shadow’s Fall and the result is a veritable black river of crappy, overused grooves, tough guy posturing and general mediocrity.

Stratovarius – Elysium Review

Stratovarius – Elysium Review

Stratovarius is a name synonymous with European power metal and right up there with Gamma Ray and Helloween. Over the course of their long recording history they’ve created stellar examples of the style and several of their albums reside on my all time power metal playlist (Destiny, Visions, Episodes, Fourth Dimension, Infinite). Along with these past successes, Stratovarius had their share of ups and downs, including their infamous and acrimonious split with founding member/guitarist/chief songwriter Timo Tolkki (Revolution Renaissance). Both before and after this split, Stratovarius released some uneven albums and went through a phase where they indulged in bloated, overly orchestrated symphonic styles and for many long time fans, this was regrettable (Elements Parts I and II). While 2009’s Polaris seemed to right the ship, Elysium shows considerable backsliding toward these past missteps. While still a decent album with some great moments, it fails to rise anywhere near the level of past triumphs and ultimately bogs down amid ponderous pacing and overwrought orchestration.

Exciter – Death Machine Review

Exciter – Death Machine Review

Stand UP for EXCITER!! Sorry, had to be done. Anywho, Exciter is a band with some serious metal history under their bullet belts. These Canadian metal troopers were there at the birth of thrash metal in the early 80s. In fact, their debut, Heavy Metal Maniacs could be considered the vanguard of said movement since it came out months before Metallica’s and Slayer’s debuts and Germany’s Destruction always cited that album as their inspiration for thrashing like maniacs. Subsequent albums like Violence and Force and Long Live the Loud were also hailed as Angry Metal Masterpieces of the 80s and I was a big fanboy. Sadly, good things never last and Exciter hit some rocky times on later platters and eventually disbanded, rebanded and disbanded yet again, releasing uneven material throughout. However, in 2008 they returned with a new line up (guitarist John Ricci being the only original member) and released the impressive Thrash Speed Burn and now the same line up returns to kick even more ass with Death Machine.

Ghost – Opus Eponymous Review

Ghost – Opus Eponymous Review

How can this be? Yet another metal treasure nearly escaped the watchful eye of Steel Druhm and makes me feel shame for failing to include it in my Top Ten(ish) of 2010. Please forgive this epic oversight as I belatedly introduce you to Opus Eponymous, the debut by Sweden’s Ghost, which is a goldmine of expertly written and played mega-retro 70’s style satanic heavy metal. Taking inspiration from old Mercyful Fate, Witchfinder General, Pentagram and every horror film about satanic cults ever made, Ghost operate in a time warp where metal was as much about mood as sheer musical heaviness and where melody and accessibility were king. Opus Eponymous sometimes feels like the soundtrack to The Exorcist and at other times like Anton LaVey’s satanic mass set to music but it’s compelling, instantly likable and a lot of evil rocking fun for those among us in the left lane of the highway to hell.

Things You Might Have Missed 2010: Hollow – Modern Cathedral/Architect of Mind (Reissue)

Things You Might Have Missed 2010: Hollow – Modern Cathedral/Architect of Mind (Reissue)

Talk about buried and nearly forgotten classics! In their all too brief existence, Hollow walked the line between traditional and progressive metal and had a really compelling sound that fell somewhere between Mindcrime-era Queensryche, Crimson Glory and latter day Agent Steel. However, it always seemed they were completely overlooked and to this day I have yet to meet another metal fan […]

Impaled Nazarene – Road to the Octagon Review

Impaled Nazarene – Road to the Octagon Review

Well, this album CLEARY isn’t in the spirit of the holidays! Christmas-unfriendly band name aside, it’s apparently time for another goat worshipping blast-fest from these blasphemous and blackened Finns. The Impaled ones have created an odd, morphing catalogue over their long life and drifted from pure black metal into something way more like punk-infused black thrash. That continues here as it did on 2007’s Manifest but with more energy and urgency this time out. At a scant thirty three minutes in length, this barely qualifies for a full-length and it goes by mighty fast, but if savage black/punk metal warms the cockles of your heart this time of year, then scream BAH HUMBUG and read on.