Posts Tagged ‘ traditional Heavy Metal ’

Album of the Week 32-2017: Anthem – Domestic Booty

Some of Anthem’s best records have something awkward to them that has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual music. ‘Immortal’ has its album cover, ‘Domestic Booty’ its title. And maybe the fact that the band broke up for about a decade in the aftermath of this album’s release. Changes in the musical trend department are often cited as the reason for that hiatus and anyone who has heard ‘Domestic Booty’ can safely conclude that the quartet was certainly not running out of inspiration. The record is full of blazing heavy metal songs, some of which are among the best of Anthem’s catalogue.

While ‘Domestic Booty’ isn’t the most consistent record of Anthem’s original run – that would probably be ‘Bound To Break’ – they do sound like a band rejuvenated on the album. Frontman Yukio Morikawa truly shines with his most aggressive and energetic vocal performance thus far, while newcomer Akio Shimizu, who is still the band’s guitarist these days, lends a subtle contemporary edge to the record without altering the powerful, not too complicated heavy metal compositions of bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata too much. It is truly difficult to believe that the band creating this music would split up less than a year later.

These days, opening track ‘Venom Strike’ is still on most Anthem live sets and its classic status is easy to understand. This borderline thrash metal song with rolling bass drums by Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ouchi is probably the most aggressive Anthem song to date and therefore begs to be played live. Even better, but not quite as popular, is the intense, moving heavy metal of ‘Renegade’, which has probably the best chorus the band recorded with Morikawa on vocals and really showcases the guitar talents of Shimizu. Sure, there is some awkward English going on, but that should not ruin the listening experience.

Since these two tracks open the record, it may seem a tad frontloaded, but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’ is one of the darker Anthem tracks yet and as such, a very pleasant surprise. The euphoric ‘Cry In The Night’ and the brooding ‘Gold & Diamonds’ greatly profit from the subtle synth flourishes courtesy of current Deep Purple keyboard player Don Airey and the uptempo triplet frenzy of ‘Devil Inside’ is exactly what the album needs at that point. But even the less notable tracks, such as mid-tempo stomper ‘Mr. Genius’ and the semi-epic closing track ‘Silent Cross’, are very much worth hearing.

If Anthem would have definitively called it a day after the release of ‘Domestic Booty’, it would have been a great closing chapter to a strong career in heavy metal. Nowadays, it sort of gets lost in the shuffle, because Anthem has released seventeen albums to date and the record spawned only one live staple. If it was up to me, ‘Renegade’ would at least have been one as well. Farwell albums, even if the farewell eventually turns out to be temporary, often feel like a bit of an afterthough. ‘Domestic Booty’, however, is another excellent Anthem record. Not one of their best, but it’s pretty damn close.

Recommended tracks: ‘Renegade’, ‘Venom Strike’, ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’

Víctor García (WarCry): “Language is no limitation on music”

The international world of heavy metal is dominated by bands who sing in English and while that is understandable, those who ignore bands who sing in other languages are really missing out on bands like WarCry from Spain. WarCry just released its ninth studio album ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’, an excellent piece of heavy/power metal with Spanish lyrics. I had the chance to speak with lead singer Víctor García about the past, present and future of WarCry.

‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ featured a return to the somewhat heavier sound of the band’s earliest work, but without forsaking the melodic and progressive touches of their other recent albums. “I don’t know if it was the right time for such an approach, but at the moment, this is exactly what we want to do“, says García. “People need to classify everything these days. For me it is all heavy metal, I don’t care if it’s fast or slow, hard or power metal… I don’t believe in styles. For me, a good band is about more than a certain style.

The band obviously took being a good band very seriously, as there was more than three years between ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió’ and its excellent predecessor ‘Inmortal’ (2013). “It’s not easy doing a record that is better than the last one every time“, García explains. “And now that we have recorded eight albums, it gets more difficult every time. We spent a lot of time working on the lyrics. I’m a storyteller. I share a piece of myself, the way I feel, my way of thinking, I express myself in every song. I tried to change this, to not talk about the same things or approach them in a different way, but this is what works.
Our lyrics always take a positive approach, even when dealing with subjects like death, pain or other things that hurt people: keep on fighting, always look for another chance and if you die giving your best, it is a good way to go. We like to sing about human emotions, history, love, anger, pain, death, fighting, victory and loss.

Speaking of the lyrics, while WarCry is now known and beloved for its Spanish language heavy metal, but on their 1997 demo, García still sung in English. “Since then, I’ve spent around four years playing in another Spanish band called Avalanch, singing in Spanish“, García explains. “That is when I realized that singing in Spanish perhaps is not really a limitation on music. It is my language and it is the best way to express my emotions and my music.
It certainly isn’t a limitation for the Spanish metal scene, among which WarCry is a highly popular band. “There are many bands in the Spanish metal scene, getting more and more professional day by day“, says García. “As for our position in that scene, perhaps I am not the ideal person to judge that. We are very popular in our own country and in Latin America. These days, there are even a few people who listen to us outside of the Spanish-speaking world, such as parts of Europe, North-America, Japan and even Australia. We are growing, step by step.

Speaking of people outside the Spanish-speaking world: for ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’, the band enlisted the help of Tim Palmer, who worked as a producer with the likes of U2, Pearl Jam and Robert Plant. “We contacted him to mix our album“, says García. “But he is also a creator and a great professional. He told our producer Dani Sevillano that he would record some ideas and that we could just remove them if we didn’t like them. He added some reverb, some filters and just some keyboard and guitar sounds. He did a great job.

During their early years, WarCry’s lineup changed fairly frequently. However, their current line-up is about to reach its tenth anniversary in 2018. “We are not young boys anymore“, García states. “The band has been around for fifteen years now and all things are calm. We enjoy what we do. We are friends. We are having a very good time doing this and therefore, it is easy to do things right. We can talk when there are problems and we do the best we can. We are all in the same boat.
García himself is still the main songwriter of the band. “On some albums, there are a few songs that have been written by other members“, he says. “And all of them are arranged by the entire band. Their contribution as musicians is invaluable as well, of course.
Despite the fact that Spain has a metal scene, all of the band’s albums have been released on their own record label Jaus Records. “Our record label is our legal representation of the band“, García explains. “It’s like Napoleon said: if you need a friendly hand, it is more easy to find it at the end of your own arm.
Now that the Spanish-speaking world is familiar with WarCry’s material, the quintet is looking forward to presenting their music to the rest of the world. “Now is the time“, García states resolutely. “We have the experience, we have the sound, we have the music and we know what we want. We are passionate guys with a lot of energy on stage. We want to keep the band moving forward, so we are always looking to take the next step.

Album of the Week 24-2017: WarCry – Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…

While Spain loves its catchy power metal, not many of their own bands can even come close to the German, Scandinavian and American bands they enjoy. WarCry, however, have been pumping out excellent albums, especially since establishing their current line-up about a decade ago. Their new record ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ feels like a logical continuation of the excellent ‘Alfa’ (2o11) and ‘Inmortal’ (2013). The songs are carefully crafted to ensure that the essence of WarCry – memorable, uncomplicated riffs and anthemic choruses – is captured and as a result, the album feels a little heavier without forsaking the band’s melodic sophistication.

Though WarCry never went overboard with progressive touches and big arrangements, ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is not the first “back to basics” album they ever released. However, frontman Víctor García has really matured as a songwriter since ‘¿Dónde Está La Luz?’ (2005) and that is why it feels like the songs on this new album have been conceived a little more naturally and organically. There is a spontaneous energy to all of the new songs and therefore, the album is a very worthy successor of the last two albums, which were the best two albums WarCry released thus far. This one is equally great.

It is impressive how Víctor García has succeeded in writing a collection of songs that all have their own strong identity. Especially considering that the songwriting is relatively simple and concise. Sometimes it is a riff, sometimes a certain vocal melody in the chorus, but all of the songs have strong hooks that make them instantly recognizable. Therefore, it is not very difficult to imagine legions of Spanish metalheads singing along to catchy heavy metal tunes like the uptempo ‘Resistencia’, the mid-tempo stomper ‘Así Soy’ or the remarkably upbeat ‘Ya No Volverán’ at upcoming WarCry concerts.

However, the best moments of ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ appear toward the end of the record. ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’ is easily my favorite song of the record. How the song suddenly transforms from what appears to become a ballad into an epic heavy metal tune with an amazing chorus and a fantastic guitar solo by Pablo García causes me to have goosebumps. The riff-oriented ‘Luchar Y Avanzar’ is an excellent, more traditional heavy metal track, while the bombastic ‘Odio’ shows a somewhat darker side of the band and, again, a fantastic Pablo García guitar solo. ‘Muerte O Victoria’ has an amazing, dramatic vibe, while the melancholic closer ‘No Te Abandonaré’ is probably the best piano ballad the band ever recorded.

Everyone who enjoyed the last two WarCry albums can blindly acquire ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’. You will even be rewarded with an artwork and packaging that is simply stunning. But in the end, all that matters is that the songs are simply excellent. I am very happy that the band went for a slightly heavier approach without sacrificing any of the nice flourishes that keyboard player Santi Novoa adds to the sound. WarCry proves that you do not need a million riffs and dozens of unexpected tempo changes in order to write a fine heavy metal song. ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is full of them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’, ‘Odio’, ‘Muerte O Victoria’

Saber Tiger signs European record deal

Not only am I extremely excited that Saber Tiger, one of Japan’s finest bands, has signed a record deal with the Dutch label Into The LimeLight Records, I also feel honored that the band approached me to write their English biography. You can read it in Into The LimeLight’s official press release by clicking here. As I have stated many times before, Saber Tiger has brought me something that I was missing in contemporary “western” Heavy Metal and I’m glad the rest of Europe will finally get the chance to experience this as well. It seems like 2017 will be the year that Europe will be definitively introduced to this amazing band after testing the waters ealier this year.

Congratulations to all the guys in Saber Tiger!

Album of the Week 12-2016: Metal Church – XI

When Metal Church announced the return of their best singer Mike Howe, I was moderately positive. Moderately, because Howe hadn’t been in any professional band since leaving Metal Church in the mid-nineties and time can be quite merciless on the human voice. Besides, I was quite fond of Ronny Munroe’s natural grit. Howe’s voice, however, has stood the test of time remarkably well and apparently fired up founding guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof to write his most inspired set of songs since the band’s original reunion, leaning very carefully toward the darker, more progressive tendencies of the earlier Howe-era. A very welcome change.

Recent Metal Church albums weren’t bad at all, but lacked the urgency that marked their classic work. While ‘XI’ doesn’t entirely escape that problem – a song like ‘Signal Path’ is decent enough, but not as memorable as it should be – it’s definitely the type of album you’ll spin completely instead of skipping to the better tracks. What helps in that regard is the production job; everything is well balanced and Jeff Plate’s drum sound is so much more natural than what is the norm for contemporary Metal records and therefore a lot more pleasant to listen to. Producers should take notes.

But in the end, what really counts is the song material. I was sort of afraid that the band had already hit us with their best shot when ‘No Tomorrow’ surfaced. It’s a nice epic riff fest in which Mike Howe really plays to his strengths, avoiding the highest regions of his range, but still retaining a lot of it. So how does it hold up to the rest of the album? Well, although it is the best song on ‘XI’, there are quite a few songs that come close. Especially those with highly memorable guitar riffs, like opening track ‘Reset’ or the amazing contemporary USPM of ‘Soul Eating Machine’.

‘XI’ really surprises when the band experiments with slower tempos. Of course, with a singer like Howe, you’ll want to give him the space and slower tempos tend to help that. But it’s also the riff work courtesy of Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zant that really shine in songs like the dark and progressive ‘It Waits’ and ‘Shadow’, which sounds like a cross between ‘Fake Healer’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven And Hell’. ‘Sky Falls In’ sounds like it would turn into a Bluesy Rock shuffle, but instead, becomes a powerful midtempo stomper. Fans of faster material can’t go wrong with ‘Needle And Suture’ or closing track ‘Suffer Fools’.

If it’s Howe’s return or a lucky combination of circumstances that drove Vanderhoof to writing his best material in years remains to be seen, but it’s a fact that ‘XI’ is a thoroughly enjoyable album full of memorable riffs, hooky songwriting and amazing vocals. If that doesn’t make a great traditional Heavy Metal record, I don’t know what does. And it’s probably a coincidence, but releasing this in the Easter weekend does justify to spend your time on at least one “Church”.

Recommended tracks: ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘Soul Eating Machine’, ‘It Waits’

Album of the Week 43-2015: Stryper – Fallen

Almost exactly two years ago, ‘No More Hell To Pay’ took me by surprise. I have always had great respect for Stryper as musicians – and Michael Sweet as a singer in particular – but none of the albums released since their reunion early this century as quite as consistent as that 2013 release. ‘Fallen’ is even better. It’s a strong melodic Hard Rock record like one has come to expect from the quartet, but the songwriting department hasn’t done this well of a job since ‘Against The Law’ or possibly even ‘Soldiers Under Command’.

While none of the songs here is as good as the near-perfect melodic Rocker ‘Sympathy’ from the previous record, ‘Fallen’ does avoid some of the pitfalls that ‘No More Hell To Pay’ did suffer from. The material on ‘Fallen’ is still mainly midtempo, but the band has managed to add a little more variation by giving the songs a little more of a recognizable face. Generally, it’s the riff work that does that. The Heavy Metal roots of the band really shine through in the riffs, turning many of the songs into a perfect blend of melodic Rock and Heavy Metal. And the album into a cornerstone of heavy Rock songwriting.

Opening track ‘Yahweh’ is the closest Stryper has ever gotten to an epic Heavy Metal song. Apart from the nice old school riffing, the song spots a surprising number of tempo changes. The choral vocals employed in the chorus are actually a trick that define many of the album’s more religiously laden choruses, such as ‘Heaven’ and ‘Let There Be Light’. Another notable progression is the fact that Michael Sweet once again outdoes himself. His voice just keeps getting better even at age 52 and ‘Fallen’ includes some of his rawest vocal work to date, check out ‘Pride’ (with its awesomely heavy, groovy riff) and the title track for the most obvious examples.

Guitar-wise, the album is simply a delight. Both Michael Sweet and Oz Fox lay down a surprisingly large number of amazing guitar solos and – as mentioned before – the riff work is exemplary. It’s the riffs that make songs like ‘The Calling’, ‘Big Screen Lies’, the powerful Rocker ‘Till I Get What I Need’, the vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding ‘Let There Be Light’ and the stately closer ‘King Of Kings’ so much more memorable than, let’s say, the title track of the previous record. Also, Robert Sweet’s snare drum still resonates too irritatingly loudly, but there’s definitely more variation in his rhythms this time around.

Sure, the secular fan base of the band – to which yours truly counts himself – may be put off by the lesser subtlety in the band’s christian message this time around, but the fact is that ‘Fallen’ is one of the best melodic Hard Rock albums of the last couple of years. The melodies are strong and the riffs and rhythms are muscular. Michael Sweet once again proves that he is one of the finest singers, songwriters and guitarists in the business and as such, his work deserves to be heard. End-of-year list material for sure.

Recommended tracks: ‘Pride’, ‘Till I Get What I Need’, ‘Yahweh’, ‘The Calling’

Album of the Week 41-2015: Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell

Black Sabbath of course has a legendary status in the pantheon of Heavy Metal based on their first six albums with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals alone. And rightfully so. But none of Black Sabbath’s albums are so amazing all the way through as ‘Heaven And Hell’, which was recorded with the incomparable Ronnie James Dio, who single-handedly transformed the band from riffwriters to songwriters. The increased emphasis on melody and Dio’s vocal lines – which are infinitely more interesting than Ozzy’s – make this probably the best traditional Heavy Metal album there is. It’s quite likely the most played Metal album in my collection.

Hardcore fans of the band’s Ozzy-era were afraid that Dio’s arrival would water Black Sabbath down and though this is definitely not ‘Into The Void’ – follow-up ‘The Mob Rules’ would restore some of that crushing heaviness – the album still contains all the heavy riffs and pounding rhythms you can wish for. Of course, there were some changes: Dio’s vocal melodies didn’t slavishly follow Tony Iommi’s guitars and the band definitely upped the ante in terms of tension and release in songwriting. And Dio’s fantasy-based romanticism may be a departure from Geezer Butler’s darker lyrics, but they’re no less memorable.

Of course, the accessible Hardrock of ‘Walk Away’ and the remarkably positive, but ultimately irresistible ‘Wishing Well’ were something fresh for Sabbath at this point. But opposite that, there’s the monumental title track, which showcases a huge Iommi riff, perfect dynamics, brilliant guitar solos and a downright incredible climax. Easily a showcase in Heavy Metal song writing and one of the ultimate songs in the genre. ‘Children Of The Sea’ and the dark melodicism of closing track ‘Lonely Is The Word’ also still show the band in semi-Doom mode. The latter has an amazing middle- and ending section unlike anything the band has ever done before as well.

When the album speeds up, we can see the groundwork for early Power Metal being laid. Opening track ‘Neon Knights’ shows Dio in top shape – he rarely had any other shape, but that’s beside the point – over a simple, but brutally effective uptempo Iommi riff, while ‘Die Young’ shows Black Sabbath at their most vicious – despite the use of keyboards. All of this requires drummer Bill Ward to employ a slightly simpler and less jazzy approach than usual to make room for everyone else, including Geezer Butler’s underestimated, but still mindblowing bass work.

In a way, ‘Heaven And Hell’ is a turning point. It shows a rejuvenated Black Sabbath and it opened the doors for a more melodic approach, that Iommi continued to pursue until long after Dio left. But even without its historical relevance, ‘Heaven And Hell’ still warrants an enjoyable listen. It’s an exercise in excellent songwriting and a more than amazing musicianship. It is quite likely the best album that any of its musicians ever were involved with – although Dio’s legendary contributions to Rainbow’s sophomore ‘Rising’ album shouldn’t be forgotten either. Every respectable Heavy Metal collection should contain this album. Period.

Recommended tracks: ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘Neon Knights’, ‘Wishing Well’