Some mammoth offerings from the month of metal madness that was March.
It is rare that a band decides to leave an established label to go independent, so Edmonton’s traditional metallers Striker are an exception to the rule. After three pretty successful albums with Austrian Napalm Records label, the Canadians have decided to give it a shot on their own and present fans with their fourth album Stand in the Fire. Given the fact that for the longest time Alberta was known for its death and black metal scene only, Striker’s rise to relative fame with their 80s throwback traditional metal is all the more remarkable..
While some may villainize Striker as a band that keeps releasing almost the same record, it is that cohesion throughout their career so far that endears them to their fans, with energetic no-frills heavy metal that while being highly traditional never sounds dated, but displays this cocky confidence in their own abilities that inevitably takes the listener by storm. Vibrant opener “Phoenix Lights” wields a sharp blade and the big chorus should be enough to suck fans in with its excellent feel for great hooks and bristling energy. But not all is predictable here, because “Out for Blood” has a full-fledged saxophone solo before the guitar solo embedded into a galloping, driving song, and the best thing about it is that it absolutely works and the song sits up there with some of the best the band has penned so far.
Twin guitars, pounding drums, clever tempo variations, just the right special touches in the melody department and Dan Cleary’s perfectly suited voice make for a nay-perfect emulation of what made the 80s such a great decade for metal and a great way to show that the sound still is as valid today. Be it double-bass driven crackers like the title track, the aptly titled shred-fest “Escape from Shred City”, metal hymn “United” or the great closing ballad “One Life”, Striker are cementing their spot in the spearhead of the retro movement and are leading the strong Canadian scene with the New Wave of Canadian Heavy Metal Viathyn, Edge of Attack, Unleash the Archers, Eclipse Prophecy and Borealis showing their foreign colleagues that the northern hammer is swinging strongly!
While having taken the recording process into their own hands, they let Fredrik Nordstrom mix the whole endeavour, which the album greatly benefits from, because it has this clear and powerful sound that this style needs to fully pack its punch. While there are many bands following this route these days, Striker is one of the freshest, most energetic and flat-out best. Even on their own, the Canadians run with the best of them and Stand in the Fire is legacy of this, retro 80s metal will be hard pressed to be better this year than this!
Diamond Head are one of the NWoBHM’s cult acts, having risen to relative fame with their two first albums Lightning to the Nations (1980) and Borrowed Time (1982, sporting an outstanding cover by Rodney Matthews of Magnum fame) and Metallica’s covers of several of their songs. Come their 1983 album Canterbury, though, things began to sour, taking on a more classic rock influenced direction that did not sit well with fans and critics alike, and after their reunion in 2000, 2005’s All Will Be Revealed and 2007’s What’s in Your Head? fared even worse, all the way to being called a “disgrace” to the Diamond Head name with their modern approach to their music.
Nine years after their last effort, Brian Tatler and crew are back, with new Danish-born vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, and one thing becomes clear very quickly, any traces of modernity are gone, quite the contrary, Diamond Head seem to have done the complete 180 and gone completely retro. Back in their early heyday, people had likened them to become new Led Zeppelin and with Diamond Head there is a chance that they might finally live up to that promise, even if just in terms of sound.
“Bones” is as traditional as heavy metal in the style of the 80s comes, driving, powerful, with a nice slowdown for the chorus, possibly the best track the Britons have penned since their first two albums, with “Shout at the Devil” also displaying some great energy and “Set My Soul on Fire” taking on a more plodding approach that also invokes some Led Zeppelin memories with Andersen’s vocal delivery showing some substantial influence by Robert Plant, adding to this impression.
After that Tatler and cohorts continue to lead Diamond Head down the road splitting the 70s and 80s and a few excursions to either side of the road, with driving “See You Rise” and epic “All the Reasons You Live”, but once “Our Time is Now” hits things get a little samey and the retro feel loses a bit of its appeal, running out of steam and getting a little dry. And it’s not until faster “Diamonds” that things pick up again and closing “Silence” with its symphonic flourishes bears the maybe strongest Led Zeppelin influence.
Even though at first the strongly retro sound might take listeners a little aback, Diamond Head evolves into the band’s best album in 33 years with repeated listens and pretty much sounds like what the Brits should have released in 1983 instead of their attempt at a more commercially viable sound titled Canterbury. Even the album’s production fits in without sounding dated, rounding off a surprising comeback after seven years of silence. It remains amazing how many “old” bands, especially from England, still prove that they have what it takes to compete with today’s metal!
Some bands fade away with time, while others are like wine and at least keep their standards, if not get better. Czech power/thrash metal veterans Arakain are gracing the metal world with their 17th album since 1990 and marking the tenth anniversary of their current line up they give it Arakadabra, The thrash metal of old has long made way to a mix of a more groove oriented version of thrash laced with power metal and they have not lost any of their touch in making it memorable.
Compared to 2014’s Adrenalinum Arakain have not changed a whole lot, but continue to explore their world over 16 songs, which with a playing time of 65 minutes may seem a little much and over the whole duration of the album does lead to a few lengths that quite a few of their releases seem to have for some reason. Eagerness to display what they came up with or a wrong sense of having to deliver quantity?
Anyways, “Hra s ohněm” sets out grooving and then goes into a very good and catchy-in-its-own-way chorus, whereas “Peklo” is a great power/thrasher that goes from ominous and dark to full double-bass, upping the ante considerably. This catchy but never kitschy choruses are one of Arakain’s biggest strengths, because they tie the at times quite modern riffing in with the melodies, creating a highly interesting environment for the fan to immerse in, the duo “Diesel” and “Král Slunce” are two great examples for this.
What makes Arakadabra so enjoyable is that the Czechs cleverly vary speeds, intensity and heaviness and founder Jirka Urban and his cohort of 30 years now, Mirek Mach, still belt out riffs that can run with the best of them (see “No stres”), while vocalist Honza Toužimský’s slightly gritty yet melodic voice is the perfect complement for the dynamic compositions, such as “Insomnia”, “Velkej je svět” or riff monster “Kazatel”.
As to be expected with an album of this length, not all the tracks manage to keep the same high level and while there is no inherently bad song on Arakadabra, not all are created equal, such as “Vyděšenej”, “Nero” or “Big Boss”, but neither of them are detriment enough to counter the sheer quality of the other tracks, especially the above-mentioned, so while some fat could have been trimmed, it is not as big of a deal as feared.
As opposed to many “old” bands that either softened up, became an anachronism or are feebly trying to recreate the magic of the past, Arakain have over the years managed to morph into a band that combines the old and the new for the best result. Arakadabra has the potential to appeal to any fan of modern thrash, power and heavy metal and proves that old dogs still can do all the tricks! Great album by a great band!
Some mammoth offerings from the month of metal madness that was March.
Four fortissimous frolics for a fantastic Februrary!
Live at Blå in Oslo, Norway on February 11th, 2016.
PART 1: A Brief Introduction
There’s something to be said about heavy metal and pro wrestling. The mere mention of professional wrestling makes some people scoff and turn away, but so does metal. There is indeed a nice market for each of these forms of entertainment, and even a few subcultures (or sub-genres, if you will) within each field. With this in mind, heavy metal and pro wrestling are actually quite wonderful bedfellows and there is an incredible and undeniable connection between the too. Being seen as “underground” and “counterculture” by many, these two groups are quite connected, and in many ways now more than possibly ever. For the purposes of the article, we will include all forms of metal, from the more traditional to the nü-metal along with aspects of pro wrestling from the “big leagues” to the underground and independent promotions trying to make an impact on the scene.
“Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window. In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.”
- H. P. Lovecraft, “The Music of Erich Zann” (1922)
As we reflect back on the year that was, and the year that lies ahead, it’s difficult to escape the fact that there are some bands that haven’t graced our eager ears with new music in quite some time. Names like Anata, Wintersun, Necrophagist, and Metallica immediately spring to mind in this regard.
Of course, there are a plethora of reasons that might cause bands and/or releases to fall into a state of extended limbo — family responsibilities, full-time jobs, line-up changes contractual disputes, lack of distribution, lack of creativity, financial constraints etc. There is an endless list of obstacles that might throw a wrench in the works between the time a band initially starts tinkering around with creative ideas in the rehearsal space and the time the finished product hits the market, yet my eternally impatient inner fanboy is always inclined to go on some entitled and self-righteous ”if you’re in a band, and you’re not releasing new music, you’re not doing your damn job!” rants.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 bands that are taking their merry time to release music upon the great unwashed masses. More after the jump.
*Note: Bands are listed alphabetically.
My general perspective on metal has always been through the lens of good vs. evil, and I’ve tended to get a good mix of both sides into my metal diet, and 2015 certainly delivered a fair share of both. As with any list of greatest albums of any particular category, individual perspective makes for an imperfect result, and limited time caused me to miss a number of truly exceptional albums (Bane Of Winterstorm’s The War Of Shadows II: Upon The Throne of Ravnorakk and Ghost City’s Tragic Soul Symphony were just a couple from the power metal sub-genre alone). But hey, this is why we have so many different perspectives on this webzine. So without further adieu, here’s my Top 30 of 2015!
Another year down, not enough moshing accomplished. This is the same issue I have every year and at this point, I’m not sure how much moshing is enough moshing. However, I did roll out and rank my top 30 thrash albums of the year to try and help out any other individuals that are suffering from the same lack of moshing that I found myself in throughout 2015. There are some interesting mixtures to be found here, some newer bands clawed their way onto the list – including a rip roaring debut from Skeleton Pit, but a lot of the list is made up of more seasoned bands with multiple albums under their belt now like In Malice’s Wake or the ultra-fun punk spunk of Dr. Living Dead. There are even some “classic” bands throwing their hats into the ring like The Crown or Slayer, so there is plenty of variety for all kinds of thrashers here. Not to mention plenty of different styles of thrash that stretch from death metal influences all the way into the industrial arena and into the all too overlooked groove department.