There are new releases from Amon Amarth (pictured), Brian Robertson, Kingdom Come, Graveyard, Within Temptation, Debauchery, M.ill.ion, China, Vintersorg, Kampfar, Power Quest and Eden’s Curse.
Love him or hate him (and plenty of people did when Kindom Come first burst onto the scene) the iconic Lenny Wolf boasts a set of pipes to die for. And two decades after his luscious Led Zeppelin-cloned hits polarised opinion throughout the rock world there’s no denying the unashamed Plantophile still has it.
Creeping back into the consciousness with all the stealth and steely determination you’d expect from Wolf, Kingdon Come might never have been away but this time they’re really back and right now they mean business.
Or so they say. But the decision to re-record a slew of tracks from their first two records smacks of falling back on former glories. And for all Wolf’s insistence that he’s simply adding a much-needed 21st century polish to a series of lost treasures, it seems bizarre to release a brand new album with only three brand new tunes.
Should I, from the criminally underrated Hands Of Time, still sounds brilliant today and a new take on old classic Seventeen is good to hear. And the new songs – particularly Blue Trees – confirm Wolf and co. can still cut it. It’s just a shame they can’t cut an entirely original new record. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Come Again?
This warming amalgamation of lost treasures, unreleased gems and cannily interpreted covers makes for one of the most unexpected successes of 2011 so far. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that a musician of Brian Robertson’s undoubted quality has conjured up a future classic – the twist is that it sounds so perfect for 2011’s retro classic rock market.
That may well be down to a smashing production job by Soren Lindberg and rushonrock fave Chris Laney – the latter a man of so many talents he mustn’t have time to sleep at night.
Where Robertson really comes to life is on the Frankie Miller material liberally sprinkled across Diamonds And Dust. The version of Mail Box makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end such is the powerful fusion of raw emotion and technical prowess.
Strangely the only tune which fails to take the listener to another level is the cover of Thin Lizzy’s Running Back. Robertson clearly disagrees to the point where he includes two different versions – equally tame by comparison to the rest of the fare on offer here – of the same song. But it’s the only blot on an aurally stunning landscape. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Go On My ‘Son!
At some point early into his near two-decade career with Swedish metallers Amon Amarth, the band’s vocalist, Johann Hegg, decided he would not be able to scream forever.
It may have taken the best part of 20 years but the bearded bellower has finally developed an undeniably controlled yet incredibly powerful vocal technique which stands alone as the most valuable asset this ambitious band possesses. Always fearless, Hegg is now all but peerless.
But Surtur Rising isn’t only the ultimate showcase for one of metal’s finest singers. The guitar work is spellbinding and the rhythm section never misses a beat as the heavier end of Viking metal (we’ll call it that even if Hegg and co. aren’t too keen on the occasionally misleading label) welcomes its standard bearer for the future.
Highlights are ten a penny but you don’t need to look much further than the outstanding The Last Stand Of Frej for a supreme example of a band at the very top of its game. Wrath Of The Norsemen harks back to the band’s early days, in tone at least, but this is a record all about the future and caring very little about the past. Amon Amarth are poised for world domination. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Amon-ster
So, Eden’s Curse have followed in the footsteps of Timo Tolkki’s last project Revolution Rennaisance by calling their third album Trinity. Only Portishead’s Third record makes it more explicitly clear than the multi-national band when it comes to labelling their milestones in numerical obsession.
Listening to title track Trinity, you immediately gauge the concept of just why, but only after an unnamed character takes care of some business for a Senator and an epic, operatic Rhapsody Of Fire-esque choir introduces the album with Trinitas Sanctus. After that has done so, Trinity smashes into classic-influenced, melodic heavy metal riffing with a clumsy lyrical tirade explaining exactly the reason for the record titling – “The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost – Who’s the one you fear the most?”
What will be a little too over-the-top for some, will be extremely appetising for others. The power metal fan will not only appreciate the exuberant audacity of Eden’s Curse but also enjoy two guest vocalists giving their all on two great songs. No Holy Man is the first, featuring James LaBrie from Dream Theater fame, performing epic harmonising chorus on what is easily one of the standout tracks on the album, beginning with a cheesy 80s ambience that boasts a simplistic yet mean-as-hell bass line that will have you pumping iron in Balboa-determination.
The next is Helloween’s Andi Deris letting his raspy pipes rip brilliantly through a set of bumpy, crashing riffs on Black Widow. Despite the huge profiles putting out, nothing can be taken away from US-born vocalist Michael Eden or indeed the rest of the quintet, for an album that stands on it’s own as a phantasmagorical pleasure.
You only have to look as far as the beautiful acoustic picking and piano intro to Children Of The Tide and the snappy riffing that ensues, providing an irresistible catchy chorus. Or even the hazy sitar sounds of Jerusalem Sleeps that precede another core of melodic heavy metal that still, regardless of its cheesy edge, reaps attitude.
Finishing off with a daring – but with hindsight – respectable and justified cover of Dio’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Children, Trinity is, on the whole, an absolute must for any melodic metaller. CR
rushonrock rated: 7.5/10 Trin The Zone
China represent the latest reformed European band this week, most will never have heard of them until now and the unfortunate truth is the majority of rock fans still won’t hear them.
There’s very little to sell the band as unique but the sound created is polished and professional to say the least. A relatively low key start to the album with title track Light Up The Dark promises little, but stick with this one and the pay off is rich, bluesy and more than anything promising.
Gates Of Heaven signals a shift of focus, inane guitar riffs take a back seat and the band really seems to gel as a collective as Eric St. Michael’s vocals dovetail perfectly with the guitar work of Messrs Matteo and Schildknecht.
St. Michaels really seems to shine with his Jon Bon Jovi sounding pipes but the rest of the band adequately stay in touch with On My Way and Stay providing the album’s highlights.
The biggest problem is the fluctuating standard of tracks – when it’s poor it’s really poor but when it’s good it’s great. And it seems disappointing that band can’t settle on a sound whether it be the hectic style of the title track or the almost glam rock sound of Right Here Right Now.
The Swiss rockers hold a clichéd background, split followed by reformation (with the obligatory line of ‘more focused then ever’) and now doing what they love puts them at a disadvantage. But the truth is they seem unfocused when it comes to their sound. Which quite frankly is a crying shame as these guys are a welcome throw back to the 80s with their own unlikely twist. AS
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Smashing China
M.ILL.ION – Sane And Insanity (Metal Heaven)
Swedish rockers M.ILL.ION return to the rock scene with a solid effort and prove to be worthy standard bearers for Scandinavian rock. Sane And Insanity signals the band’s seventh album and the chemistry is clear right off the bat.
Cry To Heaven launches you straight into the mood with some excellent shredding solos and impressive vocals. There must be something in the water in Sweden, as lead singer Ulrich Carlsson pulls off perfect Joey Tempest-esque shrieks.
Although not quite as loveable or catchy as their compatriots Europe, M.ILL.ION could claim themselves as a more serious brother. So similar are some of the riffs, you find yourself waiting for songs about Ninja’s or Cherokees. Refreshingly though, the cheesiness never sets in and the band creates their own determined and steely sound.
Test Of Time and I Raise My Glass really highlight the sound that the band seems to aim for, however there are more than a couple of red herrings thrown in for good measure. Title track Sane And Insanity and Under Your Wings provide a theatrical sound that only stands up due to some well placed and delivered axe solos from Andreas Grovle.
The Swedes seamlessly blend anthemic, theatric and melodic into one to create a very enjoyable album that neither takes the breath away or disappoints. Effort is everything and put simply it’s hard to fault them on that front. And previous fans will take pleasure in adding this to a now bulging back catalogue. AS
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Swede Smell Of Success
If anyone can remember 80s pop rockers Roxette (ok, we all can) then there’s an unnerving similarity between their finer moments (they had one or two) and the most commercially appealing Within Temptation record we’ve heard to date.
To call this metal would be to call Richard Mark heavy rock but that’s not to say anyone with a fondness for guitar music should dismiss The Unforgiving out of hand. It’s a bold statement from a band still waiting for that mainstream breakthrough hit and if the concept which underpins it all is a little confused then that’s a minor criticism.
Once it becomes clear what Within Temptation are aiming for with their glossier than ever production, singalong choruses and overt orchestral twists it’s easy to fall head over heels in love with Roxette’s younger and sexier little sister.
As a hat-trick of big hitters you’ll be hard pressed to come across three successive tunes in the mould of Shot In The Dark, In The Middle Of the Night and Faster (featuring a Pet Shop Boys-esque synth rhythm!). All three bristle with artistic intent and yet each track retains the ability to stand alongside any hair metal anthem of the 80s (plus the strings and choral touches) as a genuine jukebox classic.
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Within Temptation, Without Boundaries
They’re Swedish and they sound like a death metal band but don’t let that put you off. This might be the best retro rock record you hear all year and if Graveyard don’t get the credit this modern classic deserves then fans of good, old fashioned guitar music might as well give up and go home now.
There’s a strong Zeppelin flavour to the scuzzy, Plant-infused grower and opening track Ain’t Fit To Live Here. And you could be listening to a hybrid of Cream by the time No Good, Mr Holden grabs you by the scruff of the neck and transports you back to a time when real music ruled and vinyl was piled from floor to ceiling in your favourite ramshackle record store (interestingly this album is available on green and clear vinyl).
Sharing both the vocals and the six-string duties, 70s throwbacks Joakim Nilsson and Jonatan Ramm roll back with credible ease and everything this pair turn their hands – and vocal chords – to seems to turn to gold. At times frenzied (on the frantic title track) and at times utterly focused (on Uncomfortably Numb) their fusion of precision and off the cuff intuition works an absolute treat.
In a week when there’s an abundance of quality rock to consider the gorgeous Graveyard stand out from the crowd. It’s frightening to think that the band’s only been operating for five years, that this is only album number two and that the world is very much their oyster. You should be hearing heaps more about this band throughout the year – if not then there’s something seriously wrong with what is deemed seriously special in 2011. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Graveyard Shift Up A Gear
In the absence of a new Dragonforce record anytime soon the door is open for a new melodic metal powerhouse to seize the day and destroy the opposition. Emboldened by Malmsteen-esque licks and a rhythm section to die for, those crazy dudes from Power Quest make their play for Herman’s people and do so with a certain panache.
Laying their cards on the table from the off with punchy instrumental prelude Battle Stations – subtlety is not Power Quest’s strongest suit – the soaring solos, ridiculous choruses and elongated epics come thick and fast. In fact it’s safe to say this is every would-be shredder’s perfect wet dream.
For the rest of us, assuming we live by the old adage that variety is the spice of life, this does little to titillate the musical tastebuds. Diversity is not a word which appears in the Power Quest dictionary and their ethos is simple: play every song with a fair degree of pace and the rest will take care of itself. They do speed but they don’t do a lot else and if this wasn’t so loud then drifting into a power chord-induced coma could be a legitimate danger.
There will be many hairy fret melters out there who will love every single minute of this non-stop metal cliche. But the discerning rock fan will find little to admire in Power Quest’s ultimately failed bid to knock Dragonforce off their lofty commercial perch. SR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Power Nap
Folk metal is finally finding its voice after years wandering aimlessly in the rock wilderness but Vintersorg are lagging behind if 2011’s standards are anything to go by. Still leaning heavily on their death metal heritage, main man Andreas Hedlund and his array of session musicians lack the imagination and insight to challenge the genre’s big hitters and no amount of strings, traditional chants and jaunty rhythms can change that.
Cumbersome opener Varldsalltets Fanfar drags like a drunk Morris Dancer and follow-up Klippor Och Skar doesn’t hint at anything more wholesome on the horizon. Hedlund has the experience and the nous to craft something a great deal better than Jordpuls and exactly why he has chosen lame imitation over pulsating reinvention remains a mystery.
Perhaps it’s the age-old problem of not enough cooks to bring the broth to the boil. With Hedlund and, to a lesser degree, bandmate Mattias Marklund overseeing every aspect of the Vintersorg project it could well be that tunnel vision and a lack of outside influences is stagnating what should be a vital and trend-setting band.
Right now this Swedish folk, death, progressive metal hybrid is anything but. Treading water is putting it nicely. SR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 Jordpuls? No Pulse.
Pagan black metal. It’s a term to send shivers down the spines of even the most hardened of rock fans and Mare is the kind of record which makes you think twice about wearing just the one pair of pants.
There’s no need to look beyond the hooded figure adorning the cover to gain a sense of just how scary this album really is. But if you do want a sense of what the shadowy figure on the front of Kampfar’s killer release is all about – looking like a menacing cross between an Imperial Guard from Star Wars and the Grim Reaper in a Santa Claus suit – then take a deep breath and jump in.
Nolk’s gutteral, growling vocals are almost friendly by comparison to the crunching soundscape created by his Norwegian brethren. If there was a superlative of unrelenting it’s the very word we’d be searching for right now and listening to Mare is an all-consuming and frankly terrifying experience.
But this record does have the ability to hold your attention in the same way Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet did all those years ago. It’s not as if Kampfar have given pagan death metal its hair metal sheen but, in the context of an unashamedly brutal genre, the songs here are underpinned by a sensational production job and a level of consistency Jon and Richie Sambora would be proud of (maybe).
Ildstemmer is a case in point. On the whole it sounds like your overweight mate hurling all over the kitchen floor after a curry and one pint too many but the tinkly keys and Hammer House Of Horror-style chords create a unique aural experience. Surreal and intoxicating stuff. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Kamp Fire
That’s the divisive inquisition that faced Debauchery’s Thomas Gurrath in May last year. Working as a trainee teacher in a German school, the death metal enthusiast was told by officials that his live performances – which involve covering himself in animal blood – were ‘a form of mental instability that made him unsafe to be around children’.
His devotion to music persevered, and with no option but to quit the job, his one-man-band returns after this brief fiasco, with a brutal serving of a genre now being dubbed as ‘death ‘n’ roll’. As you may imagine, on very general terms it’s a cross-breed of death metal and rock ‘n’ roll, although Germany’s Next Death Metal incorporates an equally groovy, hard rock sound with domineering but typical DM guttural vocals throughout.
The Unbroken begins in ironic, brazen faced tone, poking fun at the mentalities of those who ousted him from his former job. Stating that death metal is his religion turns out to be almost as ironic as his purposely elaborated, intentionally scoffing, stereotypical death metal lyrics, given that the wah-wah guitar and soloing on the impressive opener is probably more at home on a Guns ‘n’ Roses record.
With Animal Holocaust, Bloodslaughter Onslaught and especially School Shooter, one would have thought that Gurrath’s sarcasm has been taken to the next level, but look at his history of song titling (Chainsaw Masturbation, I Will Rape And Murder) and you realise this guy’s been relying on similar generic titles for some time. Nevertheless, pick-of-the-bunch Zombie Blitzkrieg is a genuinely mean ensemble of edgy riffs while Animal Holocaust lives up to its name with a barricade of thick, distorted guitar providing it’s destructive force despite leaning toward sleaze tendencies in the chorus.
The second half of this record spirals respectfully and not rapidly, and whilst there’s some select moments to be praised, the length of the album feels longer than it really is, being somewhat of a monotonous struggle towards the end. An EP’s-worth portion consisting of the first half of Germany’s Next Death Metal would have nailed it. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Next To Nothing
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Andy Spoors, Calum Robson.