Posts Tagged ‘ traditional Heavy Metal ’

Album of the Week 17-2019: Black Sabbath – Mob Rules


Black Sabbath completely reinvented itself when Ozzy Osbourne left and Ronnie James Dio took over. ‘Heaven And Hell’ turned out to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and made Sabbath catch up with the blossoming NWOBHM scene with class and conviction. Its follow-up ‘Mob Rules’ is often seen as more of the same. But while the album still mostly relies on the perfect blend of Sabbath’s at the time unprecedented heaviness and Dio’s more melodic hardrock sensibilities, it’s also quite a bit heavier than ‘Heaven And Hell’. ‘Mob Rules’ is an excellent album in its own right.

Looking back, it does seem like remaining original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) tried to inject some more of the slow, heavy doom metal (although it was not yet known as such) that Black Sabbath was renowned for in the Ozzy-era back into their sound. Though to be fair, the arrival of new drummer Vinny Appice probably contributed to that as well, as he is a more straightforward power hitter than Bill Ward. I have once seen the album described as Iommi and Dio trying to blow each other off the record and though that description is apt, it also suggests less cohesion than actually can be heard.

‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’ is far and away the longest and heaviest track on ‘Mob Rules’. It is built upon simple, but monstrous riffs that don’t contain a lot of notes, but wring everything out of those that are there. It also is the perfect rebuttal for the previous statement, as the band leaves plenty of room for Dio’s majestic voice in the verses. This also does wonders for the dynamics of the song. Following it, however, is ‘The Mob Rules’, which injects Sabbath’s music with the savage aggression of the punk era. In a way, ‘Mob Rules’ marries what were the best elements of past and present when the album came out in 1981.

One often heard complaint is that ‘Mob Rules’ follows the sequencing of ‘Heaven And Hell’ a little too closely, but that may originate from staunch critics of the band. Sure, ‘Turn Up The Night’ is stylistically similar to ‘Neon Knights’ – uptempo, powerful and romantic – and tracks like ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Country Girl’ reprise the loose, rocky vibe of the likes of ‘Lady Evil’, but the sound of ‘Mob Rules’ is so characteristic that nobody would mistake them for ‘Heaven And Hell’ tracks. In addition, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’ and ‘Over And Over’ don’t sound like anything Black Sabbath has done before or since. The latter is an impressive doom metal ballad, unlikely as that sounds, and the former an epic heavy metal track that would not sound out of place on one of Dio’s first two albums, had it not been for the main riff that just screams Iommi.

Ultimately, ‘Mob Rules’ does in deed fall somewhat short of ‘Heaven And Hell’. The interlude ‘E5150’ is much too long, especially considering its place on the album, and ‘Slipping Away’ isn’t exactly the most inspired Black Sabbath track to date. Give it some time, however, and the album will proof it has a lot of merit on its own. Some of the songs are quite unique entries into the Black Sabbath catalog and worthy of being heard. There is simply too much good stuff on this record to be dismissed as the lesser Black Sabbath album with Dio.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’, ‘Turn Up The Night’

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Album of the Week 16-2019: Death Angel – Killing Season


Out of all the bands that resumed activity in the wake of Chuck Billy’s Thrash Of The Titans benefit, Death Angel is easily the most relevant today. Where most of those bands rely mostly on nostalgia, Death Angel still releases some of the most convincing and creative thrash metal around. Having said that, I do prefer the band with its original rhythm section. Original drummer Andy Galeon in particular granted a unique flavor to the band. ‘Killing Season’ was the final album for him and bassist Dennis Pepa and it is inexplicably overlooked as one of their best albums.

What makes ‘Killing Season’ so good is how little it is concerned about what style it is. Most of the record is some form of metal, but the lines between several subgenres are blurred, which is probably why thrash purists are not showering the album with the praise it deserves. In a way, it does sort of sound like the hybrid of thrash metal, traditional heavy metal and modern hardrock that Metallica has been attempting on their last two albums, with the most important difference being that it’s actually successful here. Nick Raskulinecz’ production occasionally lends the material a Foo Fighters-ish polish, without forsaking the metallic qualities of the songs.

As for the subgenre distinction, look no further than opening track ‘Lord Of Hate’. It has a thrash intensity, but with riffs that have more in common with more traditional heavy metal. It is hardly the only track on the album for which that is true. The mindtempo stomper ‘Dethroned’ and the more modern, but extremely powerful aggresion of ‘Sonic Beatdown’ are also in between genres. ‘Buried Alive’ relies on a mid-tempo gallop and some of Rob Cavestany’s most effective riff work to date, while ‘Soulless’ combines dark heavy metal with an almost Alice In Chains-ish atmosphere, most apparent in the vocal harmonies of Cavestany and frontman Mark Osegueda in the pre-chorus.

Save for the cool jazzy interlude in the otherwise full-on punk-ish anger of ‘Carnival Justice’, the more experimental material is all on the second half of the album. ‘When Worlds Collide’ and ‘Steal The Crown’ both have an almost rock ‘n’ roll-like vibe in the looseness of their rhythms, while ‘God Vs. God’ is one of those more modern metal tracks that needs a couple of spins to appreciate the brilliance of its tortured atmosphere, not unlike ‘Famine’ on the previous album ‘The Art Of Dying’. Closing track ‘Resurrection Machine’ starts out sounding like it will be the lone ballad of the album, but evolves into a dynamic heavy metal track with a gorgeous Cavestany-sung middle section. With that, ‘Killing Season’ ends on a high note.

Though ‘The Art Of Dying’ was Death Angel’s big comeback, ‘Killing Season’ is the one that proved the band was still relevant. There is a freedom to the band’s songwriting approach here that any of their other albums not titled ‘Act III’ and ‘Frolic Through The Park’ lack, albeit with much more consistency than the latter. ‘Killing Season’ also features what is probably Mark Osegueda’s finest vocal performance to date and a surprisingly natural, yet sufficiently heavy production. In an era of burnt-out seasoned bands and embarrassing acts bands, ‘Killing Season’ is all a fan of interesting thrash can wish for.

Recommended tracks: ‘Soulless’, ‘Resurrection Machine’, ‘Buried Alive’, ‘Sonic Beatdown’

Album of the Week 12-2019: Anthem – Nucleus


Some European label – Nuclear Blast, no less – finally has the balls to release Anthem’s music outside of Japan. Sure, the band needed a set of songs with English lyrics to accomplish an international record deal, but apart from the lyrics, Anthem was always easily one of the more European sounding of all Japanese metal bands. Their first international release ‘Nucleus’ is a collection of re-recorded songs from the last ten albums of the band. As a compilation and an introduction to the band, ‘Nucleus’ works remarkably well and even the transition to English feels suprisingly natural.

For those who don’t know: Anthem is one of the oldest heavy metal bands in Japan and still one of the best. Unlike many contemporary Japanese bands, Anthem does not dazzle you with displays of virtuosity, instead opting for ballsy, riffy metal that is actually heavy and uptempo, but not too fast. This band truly belongs alongside the likes of Accept and Judas Priest in any serious heavy metal collection. The spirited performances and excellent songwriting of the band make Anthem more than just a nostalgia act though. The fact that almost all of these songs have originally been recorded in the 21st century says enough.

Apart from the English lyrics and having Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals instead of original lead singer Eizo Sakamoto on some of these tracks, they really are not that much different from their original versions. I am quite happy that the keyboards have been pushed a little more to the background on tracks like ‘Black Empire’ and the goosebumps-inducing closer ‘Unbroken Sign’, allowing Akio Shimizu’s rhythm guitar to give the songs just a little more force. Producer and engineer Jens Bogren also makes the best out of Isamu Tamaru’s drums, which end up sounding modern, but not triggered to hell and back.

The song selection on ‘Nucleus’ is commendable as well. Sure, with a collection like this one, everyone misses a favorite, but Anthem really did a good job picking the songs that fit Morikawa’s voice best. There’s a few instances where I think Sakamoto did it better, but ‘Ghost In The Flame’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Eternal Warrior’ and the aforementioned ‘Unbroken Sign’ almost appear to be written for Morikawa, while he wasn’t even in the band when they were originally released. The sequencing is done really well, as the album flows like a new studio record rather than a loose collection of songs.

It is good to see Anthem try their hand at conquering the European market almost four decades after bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata started the band. Everyone who enjoyed Accept’s post-reunion material will undoubtedly like ‘Nucleus’ as well, but in fact, every fan of traditional heavy metal should give the band a chance. High import prices are no excuse anymore. Anthem has more good riffs and memorable choruses than the average young power metal band and the rhythms are never less than extremely powerful. Hopefully this will not be their last European release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Unbroken Sign’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’

Album of the Week 10-2019: Kipelov – Zhit Vopreki


Valery Kipelov’s name will forever be inextricably linked to the legendary Russian heavy metal band Aria, which he fronted until 2002. His current band, simply named Kipelov, is more than just a continuation of the Aria sound, however. In fact, Kipelov is much more in line with contemporary power metal, adding to the relevance of the band. Of the three studio albums the band has released so far, sophomore album ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is their best. There are many powerful riffs to be heard here and several German power metal bands could learn a songwriting lesson or two from the Russian quintet.

On ‘Zhit Vopreki’, Kipelov profits from having a well-oiled band. Predecessor ‘Reki Vremën’ was released six years earlier, but the band played a lot of live shows in the meantime and it is obvious that all the band members are on the same wavelength musically. Guitarists Andrey Golovanov and Vyacheslav Molchanov in particular are tight, sounding like a massive wall of guitars despite not being tuned too low or having an unusual amount of bass in their sound. Vocally, Valery Kipelov does not give the impression of being in his mid-fifties here, sounding as passionate and powerful as he ever has.

After a slightly theatrical intro, the title track shows the album’s mission statement and does it well. The song has a defiant, almost heroic atmosphere that should be synonymous with heavy metal. Uptempo, but not too fast is a common pace for Kipelov and really contributes to the power of the song, maximizing the impact of its incredible chorus. That tempo accounts for some of the album’s highlights, as evidenced by the following two tracks: the powerfully stomping ‘Blast Ognya’ and the catchy ‘Glamurnaya Ptitsa’. The lone truly fast track, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’, almost pushes the band into speed metal territory surprisingly effectively.

However, what truly makes ‘Zhit Vopreki’ the best Kipelov album is the quality of its slower tracks. When the band slows down to an almost doomy, midtempo groove, the results are simply stunning here. ‘Bezumiye’ has a brooding, almost evil feel, but ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’ is a true highlight here. The riff work is relatively straightforward, but that is exactly what allows the song to be so atmospheric. In addition, the vocal arrangements are incredible; the dual harmonies are vaguely reminiscent of Alice In Chains, while the extra layer in the chorus is really powerful.  ‘Na Grani’ and especially the largely acoustic, profoundly dark ‘Dikhaniye Posledney Lyubvi’ are surprisingly excellent ballads as well.

Kipelov’s departure from Aria may have been a shock to the fan base when it happened, but in the long run, it all turned out for the best. Aria is still making great records with the fantastic Mikhail Zhitnyakov and Valery Kipelov is recording great albums in a style he, if ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is any proof, apparently feels more comfortable with. In addition, ‘Zhit Vopreki’ has aged very well. Nothing sounds dated, which can in part be accredited to the ballsy production, but in the end, it’s the songs that make it one of the best post-2010 power metal albums worldwide. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the likes of Morgana Lefay.

Recommended tracks: ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’, ‘Zhit Vopreki’, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’

Massive thanks to Ruslania for helping me purchase the album.

Album of the Week 06-2019: Aria – Feniks


‘Feniks’ was a return to form for Russia’s Aria. Not entirely like the titular character, because bassist Vitaly Dubinin never really lost his special songwriting touch, but ‘Feniks’ is definitely the first Aria album since ‘Krov Za Krov’ two decades earlier that is pretty much excellent from start to finish. Maybe it was the addition of the fantastic new singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov, who debuts here, that gave the band some fresh impulses. But whatever the reason, everything that makes traditional heavy metal worthwhile is present in these songs, with just enough contemporary aggression to justify the band’s existence in this century.

Previous singer Artur Berkut often gets the blame for the somewhat less enthusiastic reception of the two albums before ‘Feniks’. However, he is a decent singer and really, the albums suffer from the same issue as the last three albums with Valery Kipelov: the highlights are nothing short of amazing, but all other songs are forgettable. Picking highlights is a lot more difficult on ‘Feniks’, because it is a consistently excellent set of songs and the same can be said about the performances and the production. None of the songs is worth skipping and the sound is clear and convinving.

Opening with ‘Chorny Kvadrat’ was a wise choice. The song combines the band’s strong Iron Maiden influence with a slightly more modern power metal approach, which truly allows newcomer Zhitnyakov to shine. His voice has all the passion of Kipelov’s, with a slightly larger range and an unprecedented degree of theatricality to boot. Comparable in approach is the powerful ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, which has a similarly subtle degree of melancholy in its triumphant traditional metal sound. Both of these tracks alone would already have been worth whatever you pay for the album, as they are among the best Aria songs to date.

Luckily, there is more. Aria always manages to pump out a couple of engaging epics and this time around, the splendidly constructed ‘Chornaya Legenda’ is the best one. The entire song has an atmosphere of imminent danger and the way the intro riff comes back in a different key after the acoustic middle section is pure brilliance. ‘Attila’ and ‘Istoria Odnogo Ubiyci’ are slightly less dense riffing-wise, instead opting to give the song some room to unfold. The calmly symphonic ‘Rekviyem’ is a pretty unique ballad in Aria’s discography and really shows off Zhitnyakov’s abilities. The title track shows the band at its most Maiden-esque, while ‘Dalniy Svet’ and ‘Ravnovesiye Sil’ are powerful midtempo hardrockers with really cool vocal harmonies in their choruses.

While it is tempting to blame Aria’s return to form on the arrival of Zhitnyakov, that would be too easy. For one, there are recordings of the band demoing ‘Boi Bez Pravil’ with Berkut floating around on YouTube and I cannot imagine that being the only one, since he left the group only months before te release of ‘Feniks’. Instead, something else must have sparked the inspiration of the band. We may never know to whom or what we should be thankful, but ‘Feniks’ rates among the best albums Aria has released to date. In fact, it is one of the greatest traditional heavy metal albums of the 21st century.

Recommeded tracks: ‘Chorny Kvadrat’, ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, ‘Chornaya Legenda’

Album of the Week 51-2018: Warlock – Hellbound


Sometimes it is remarkable how much better bands can get in surprisingly little time. There was only slightly over a year between the recordings of Warlock’s debut album ‘Burning The Witches’ and its follow-up ‘Hellbound’, but the German quintet made immense progress in that period. Where the former is an enjoyable heavy metal record with the occasional noteworthy song, ‘Hellbound’ is one of the greatest metal records of the mid-eighties. ‘Hellbound’ sees Warlock enhancing their NWOBHM leanings, which lends the album a classy edge without ending up sounding too polished. In fact, ‘Hellbound’ is highly energetic. At times even aggressive.

Back when ‘Burning The Witches’ was released, Warlock gained some attention for having a female singer. Quite understandably; female metal musicians were rare at the time and Doro Pesch’s voice was in deed what lifted the album above mediocrity. Her extremely passionate performance is still one of the highlights on ‘Hellbound’, but the album is full of fantastic guitar work by both Peter Szigeti and Rudy Graf. The band’s biggest improvement is certainly made in the guitar department; while the riffs and solos are not that much different in character than before, one can hear that more thought went into the arrangements.

Probably the best example of that growth is the incredibly elegant ‘Out Of Control’. In essence a beautiful melodic heavy metal track with likely Pesch’s best performance on the record, but its acoustic intro and some strategically placed bright overtones throughout the song give it even more sheen than it would have had without those subtle touches. Definitely one of the best European power metal songs of the eighties. ‘Wrathchild’ also is a hidden gem, with its melancholic dramaticism and climactic time feel changes truly enhancing the raw power of the simple, yet effective riff work.

It’s not all sophistication characterizing ‘Hellbound’ though. ‘Earthshaker Rock’ and the awesome title track are uncomplicated uptempo rockers that were obviously designed for the live situation. ‘Time To Die’ is as aggressive as pre-thrash NWOBHM gets, with Pesch’s sounding at her angriest at least until ‘A Touch Of Evil’ would be recorded. The title ‘Shout It Out’ suggests a simple sing-along anthem, but it is in fact relatively epic and a masterclass in building towards a climax; the whole song seems to imply some subdued anger or rebellion that culminates in a fantastic “prepare for battle” type feel in the final minute.

‘Hellbound’ was, in a way, the pinnacle of Warlock’s original line-up. Graf left the band not long after its release and by the time Pesch’s magnum opus ‘Triumph And Agony’ was released, Szigeti and bassist Frank Rittel had left as well. Many of these songs are still played at Doro live shows to this day and it is not hard to understand why. Even though ‘Hellbound’ is clearly a product of the mid-eighties, the songs themselves are timeless. That is why over half of these songs still give yours truly goosebumps after knowing them for so long. ‘Hellbound’ is simply a near-flawless slab of European heavy metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Out Of Control’, ‘Shout It Out’, ‘Wrathchild’

Album of the Week 48-2018: Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality


Since Lovebites’ debut album ‘Awakening From Abyss’ was a serious contender for my album of the year last year – it was basically a coin toss between that one and Firewind’s ‘Immortals’ – and their EP ‘Battle Against Damnation’ also seriously impressed me earlier this year, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ was an album I anticipated eagerly. Fortunately, it is another quality record that finds the middle ground between traditional heavy metal and contemporary European power metal. Due to its slightly more streamlined production, the immediate impact is not as strong as with ‘Awakening From Abyss’, but the many excellent songs reveal themselves soon enough.

To get my criticism out of the way first: most of the songs on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ are paired stylistically and I’m not sure if that is beneficial to the flow of the album. It starts out with two strongly European-tinged power metal tracks, which are followed by two lighter, melodic tracks, the two most aggressive tracks on the album and two songs with distinct melodic hardrock elements. I think ‘Clockwork Immortality’ could have been more balanced if the songs were spread out more evenly over the album. It’s only a minor problem though, as the songwriting and performances are top-notch here.

As I said before, some of the songs need a little time. First video ‘Rising’ did not make the best first impression, but makes perfect sense within the context of the album. My initial thoughts about the following ‘Empty Daydream’ were that the track was only saved by its futuristic prog middle section, but though I still think it is somewhat overlong, the melodies and Asami’s vocal performance are excellent. However, the more metallic material, like the powerful uptempo guitar feast ‘Addicted’, the the vaguely Loudness-ish borderline thrash metal of ‘M.D.O.’ and the equally melodic as intense ‘Pledge Of The Savior’ definitely had more immediate appeal.

Quite surprisingly, my favorite track on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is ‘The Final Collision’. That is surprising, because it was the power metal that drew me towards Lovebites in the first place and the song has more in common with minor key late eighties hardrock. Asami gets to show different sides of her incredible voice and the climactic chorus is the single finest moment on ‘Clockwork Immortality’. The guitar arrangements are impeccable as well, but the same can be said about the entire album. Midori and Miyako are all over the album, though they appear to be less focused on soloing and more on strong harmonies and layering contrasting parts this time around.

While ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is not quite as good as ‘Awakening From Abyss’ and ‘Battle Against Damnation’ were, it is about as close as it gets. Lovebites is experimenting on a few tracks and rather successfully on most of them. The entire band is on fire, with especially Asami and Haruna having massively improved their skills. Funnily enough, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ shows that Lovebites has the European power metal sound down better than a lot of actual European power metal bands. If that is your thing, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is well worth your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Final Collision’, ‘Addicted’, ‘M.D.O.’, ‘Pledge Of The Savior’

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