Heavy Metal

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.

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.

Dawnbringer – Nucleus Review

Dawnbringer – Nucleus Review

Interesting release we have right here folks. For those unaware, Dawnbringer is a project band of sorts for Chris Black (Pharaoh, Nachtmystium, Superchrist) and his guitar playing buddies and together they create something like a mix of NWOBHM, straight up American metal, black metal, thrash and doom (there’s even moments of quasi-southern rock). Tell me that doesn’t sound intriguing, I dare you! Nucleus is their fourth full-length and yep, it’s one humdinger of a rickety metal contraption. At times sounding like a weird mash-up of Iron Maiden, Slough Feg, Motorhead and Black Sabbath, this thing rumbles and rambles all over the place and always seems ready to come unhinged but it just screams METAL! From the production, riffs and vocals, there’s an ever present rough and tough vibe and despite the myriad of styles and influences Dawnbringer tries to squish together, they somehow managed to craft some great metal songs that will stick in your head for a long time.

Virgin Steele – The Black Light Bacchanalia Review

Virgin Steele – The Black Light Bacchanalia Review

OK, what the hell is going on here? Why are metal’s elder statesmen forgetting to include metal on their metal albums? First Halford and now this? Virgin Steele has been around since forever (1982), and singer, keyboardist, pianist, composer David DeFeis is a near legendary figure in the metal scene who happens to hail from my neck of the woods in New York. Growing up, I always considered Virgin Steele a poor man’s Manowar (and I think these guys felt the same way). Although I was never a die-hard fan, they had some good early albums and DeFeis is a talented musician and truly gifted and versatile vocalist. However, on album twelve, the pompously titled The Black Light Bacchanalia, DeFeis and company have opted to create nearly ninety minutes of what can best be described as Manowar meets chamber music meets Vegas lounge music. Conceptually, easy listening/lounge Manowar is the equal of other such self defeating ideas as room temperature fire and Shakespeare performed by mimes. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Ross the Boss – Hailstorm Review

Ross the Boss – Hailstorm Review

Is this new Manowar? No, that it ain’t. So it’s Rossowar? Closer, but still no. What we actually have before us is Hailstorm, the second album by Ross the Boss. Mr. The Boss was of course the original fret master for the legendary Manowar and he played on all their classic, seminal albums before riding off to seek glory on his own (yes AMG, there really are classic Manowar albums [I resent that statement. – AMG]). So what type of music would one of the founding fathers of sword and furry loincloth metal create in this day and age? Well, those hoping Ross assembled a merry band of Manowar imitators will be disappointed. While there are several unsubtle stylistic nods to his original band (the most unsubtle band of all time), this is way less Mano-thematic than 2008’s New Metal Leader and focuses more on early 80’s style metal and straight ahead power metal. In some ways this departure from his musical comfort zone works, in others it falls just a bit short.