REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC
We take a look at the latest Devin Townsend double bill and check out new releases from Night Ranger, Symphony X, Freedom Call, In Legend, Corpus Christii and In Flames.
Anyone who watched Lips and co. go through the trials and tribulations of keeping their band alive during 2008’s magnificent fly-on-the-wall documentary would be hard-pressed to want this album to fail. But sympathy shouldn’t cloud realism.
Thankfully the reality of the situation is that Juggernaut Of Justice is a magnificent metal album bolstered by a canny Bob Marlette production job and playing to the strengths of a band never short of fist-pumping power.
Imagine the last Heaven And Hell studio album mixed with NWOBHM passion and a good deal of Spinal Tap clichés and you’re somewhere close to JOJ. The relentless title track eats away at your brain while follow-up When Hell Breaks Loose is classic heavy metal fare.
If Anvil had attempted to bring their sound and their ethos up to date the result would have been an absolute disaster. Thankfully they didn’t. This is as brilliant and brainless as their original 80s output and deserves both critical acclaim and sales success. If Anvil have been feeling their way back to the top during the last three years then this is the start of an unlikely ascent to metal’s summit. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Rough Justice
Thanks to our retro-soaked friends at Frontiers, classic rock continues to enjoy a long overdue renaissance and this magical affair from big-selling 80s stars Night Ranger is one of the feelgood hits of the summer.
Listening to the better moments of Somewhere In California and it’s easy to understand how Jack Blades and his buddies shifted a total of 10 million copies of their first five albums. The up-tempo rockers and carefully crafted ballads hark back to an age of freedom and excess where putting a smile on the faces of millions of fans was more important than any artistic merit.
But what may come as a pleasant surprise to followers of classy AOR is the intense and uplifting axe work of Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra. Soaring solo follows soaring solo and the guitar work veers from the spectacular to the self-indulgent across this wonderful record.
Follow Your Heart has a mid-80s Kiss feel to it while Time Of Our Lives is a timeless ballad that would have caused MTV to crash 20 years ago. But there’s quality writ large from start to finish on Somewhere In California and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better soundtrack to your summer. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Good Night
The follow-up to the Billboard Chart-bothering Paradise Lost was always going to define Symphony X as truly great progressive metal masters or one-trick ponies bereft of the ability to evolve in the wake of their finest album to date.
Reassuringly, Iconoclast maintains the momentum and continues the progression. Whether it’s better than its immediate predecessor is difficult to gauge at this early stage but at least it’s different enough to warrant praise.
Bookended by two mammoth compositions – the soaraway title track and the immense set closer When All Is Lost – this is a record which never fails to ask difficult questions and answer the toughest of critics.
Mixing straight metal moments with the band’s trademark symphonic twists, Iconoclast will appeal to Dream Theatre and Iron Maiden fans alike. There’s music to bang your head to, music to immerse yourself in and music which bears comparison with the very best bands on the progressive metal scene.
This is not Paradise Lost but if it was eyebrows would have been raised. Symphony X have taken their core strengths and added a neat twist. Neat enough to break the Billboard Top 100. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 X Factor
Melodic death metal pioneers In Flames found themselves at the proverbial crossroads following the departure of founder member and guitarist Jesper Stromblad last year. But if a cruel parting of the ways adversely affected the remaining members then it’s hard to detect any sense of regret or uncertainty on the triumphant Sound Of A Playground Fading.
This is an album oozing confidence, focus and a clear direction. Perfectly mixing growls, screams and clean vocals this is a tour de force of vocal diversity in tune with every riff and solo.
Not afraid to lean even more heavily on their melodic roots, with perfectly placed keyboards again to the fore of the band’s very best work, there are times when death metal devotees will want to curl up and die. For the masses SOAPF surely represents the way forward for a genre too often restricted by its own crass conventions.
Following on from their work with Pendulum, In Flames experiment in dance rock to thrilling effect with the standout track Jester’s Door – less than three minutes of sonic brilliance. But mediocrity is not a feature here and In Flames have left the Stromblad era behind to stride forth with renewed purpose. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Playground Bullies
Any album featuring a 16-minute epic titled The Mighty Masturbator requires further investigation. Then again, just about everything that Devin Townsend turns his hand to these days demands attention. It just so happens his output is so prolific that charting the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter’s best work is a full-time job.
Released at the same time as the lighter, dreamier Ghost (one album’s not enough for the boy Devin), Deconstruction is a heavy old affair and quite likely to make your head hurt on first listen. There’s so much to take on board –let alone the aforementioned epic – it’s impossible to make a snap judgement or deliver an adequate review.
Come back in 12 months’ time and we might be able to cut to the core. For now the immediate impression is of a progressive metal masterpiece making the most of guest stars Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Greg Pusciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan) and Ihshan and pushing boundaries we didn’t believe it was possible to shift.
From the industrial groove of Stand to the circus big top beat underpinning Juuler there’s never a dull moment. But then Devin just doesn’t do dull. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Devin Heaven
In many ways the decision to issue Ghost at the same time as Deconstruction is just another masterstroke from a musician who knows better than most how to make a lasting sonic impact.
At the opposite end of the musical scale to its heavier, darker cousin this is Townsend’s attempt as a chillout session. And like everything he does, albeit against the odds, it works quite brilliantly – the acoustic moments and ambient moods confirming that Ghost’s composer is, indeed, one of the most versatile rock artists of his generation.
Should Devin ever choose to go unplugged and trek across the world Frank Turner-style then this is the record which would provide the platform for that folk-metal transformation. It’s almost inoffensive compared to his trademark output and yet that’s not to say it’s any less vital.
Just where Townsend goes from here is anyone’s guess but the answer is probably anywhere he likes. The only danger facing metal’s jack of all trades is that he’ll be viewed as the master of none. Then again anyone who hears either of this month’s releases will instantly rubbish that ridiculous notion. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Ghost Rider
For one reason or another Freedom Call have always had a ‘second citizen’ feel attached to their brand of power metal.
Despite touring relentlessly with European popularity soaring at its all-time peak, they’ve never truly been regarded in the same tier as the heavyweights of the genre. Purely heeding their studio outputs in recent years, Freedom Call don’t really hack the epic level of the top-dogs, and they probably never will, but that’s not going to stop them putting up a fight on the stage.
It’s an apt way to begin their second live album with We Are One from debut album Stairway To Fairyland, but it takes some time for things to flourish. Four songs in, Tears Of Babylon is the energetic instigator that was needed to mix things up just before the heavy set and darker Blackened Sun.
The setlist makes sense too. Although the bland Out Of The Ruins is a particular low point, the atmosphere is quickly revived by Hunting High And Low, showing Freedom Call’s estute structuring.
The exceptionally cheesy Merlin – Requiem begins the second disc of the performance in fine mozarella fashion and proceeds to emphasise it’s chorus behind menacing Helloween-esque palm muted guitar work in Merlin – Legend Of The Past. The Quest swiftly maintains pace with a no-nonsense mosh of heavy metal riffs before classics like Warriors, Mr Evil and title track Freedom Call are cleverly segregated to ensure that even with a few dips in proceedings, there’ll always be something to look forward to.
If it’s fair to say that they’re not at the top of the pile, then it’s essential to reinstate that Freedom Call are certainly not at the bottom. They can deliver on the stage and pack that punch of deliverance to make you wish you were in the same field of drunken metalheads watching their bravado performance. Who knows, this release might just be the cushion needed for those morbid Hammerfall fans grieving the loss of Hector and hard rock embrace. In all, Live In Hellvetia is a well-chosen back catalogue of songs that mark the band’s success. CR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Call Of The Wild
Whatever you do, don’t confuse Corpus Christii with the American Christian metal group of the same name. One small letter ‘i’ might be the only difference in spelling, but their aesthetics are poles apart.
But re-considering, Satanism and Christianity can in fact go hand in hand. It’s almost like one couldn’t exist without the other – like the artist needs the thorn in his side to describe his pain and essentially paint his canvass. Described as a satanist, Nocturnus Horrendous’ perspective is sparked more by an impulsiveness for individuality, but nevertheless it remains a question whether – like much of his contemporary peers – this band would have surfaced without being the intimidating antithesis to an already existing, seemingly oppressive and apathetic conformism.
This Portuguese one-man effort is spearheaded by Nocturnus Horrendus who is onto his seventh record with the project after spending 13-years chaining his satanist, individualism to a jagged but well produced black metal sound.
What’s firmly established is that it’s all been done before, but still, this is a blunt punt of darkness that has it’s upsides.
The Styx Reflection has the chaotic tremolo riffing that certainly pays homage to 90’s Norway, but actually features brief spoken word sections – a vocal style that continues to surface and twist throughout Luciferian Frequencies, usually boiling over into a desperate harrowing rage of exhausting screams after flurries of manic blastbeating.
Continuing these welcomed sections which sometimes resemble a depressive end of the spectrum doom quality, Deliverer Of Light has a potential to outwit the listener after it contrasts this with carnal, pacy yet melodic guitar rhythm. Soon after, it’s The Infidels Cross that provides a contingency of surprise when it even momentarily has a chugging groove to its constitution.
It’s obvious that Corpus Christii isn’t attempting to re-invent the wheel, but rather spin it again and snap a few spokes to make interesting a dark path that many have trodden before. CR
rushonrock rated: 6.5/10 Corp Blimey
Okay, so we’ve covered a lot of genres and we’re open to anything that rolls along, but you can imagine our surprise when we got a hold of a new debut record self-dubbed as ‘piano metal’ – a slightly ridiculous new term made to emphasize that piano takes the place of guitar in this album.
In Legend is the name, and it’s the unlikely adaption of Bastion Emig of German band Van Canto, who also made an impression as a drummer when he spent two-years with Chinese thrashers Narakam (formerly known as Hades) and ten-years with power metallers Jester’s Funeral. Despite his German roots, Emig was raised in Burkina Faso for much of his childhood and began experimenting with percussion from an early age before returning to his homeland and independently learning the piano. The inspiration for what would become this quirky metal project began right there.
If for some strange reason you’ve been on the scout for some music with metal structures but with distorted guitar absent, yet Rodrigo y Gabriella’s acoustic flamenco metal was a little too wacky for you and Markus Grosskopf’s Bassinvaders slightly silly, then this might be the one!
Replacing a guitar for a piano will understandably be the very metal blasphemy that will result in people shunning Ballads N’ Bullets without giving it a fair chance. But they should, not just out of curiosity, but for its sheer ambition.
Not all metal music sets out with a penchant for raw brutality and if this notion can be accepted, then there’s potential to enjoy this one. This does mean that In Legend will likely attract a gothic audience, making this your biggest guilty pleasure of the year. Especially when Vortex – with a sampled backing of crowd noises – embarrassingly attempts to rally the pit in it’s full swinging piano mayhem. We can only hope this was an ironic call to arms from the three-piece.
Nevertheless, with worst part past, BNB goes on to carve its moments – particularly the catchy-as-hell Heya which crowns their peak with emphatic layers of vocal harmonising that demonstrate just how good of a decision it was to have Charlie Bauerfeind co-produce. His work mastering esteemed power metal acts with a ‘more is more’ mentality almost makes him the natural choice in a project like In Legend.
Piano-driven, BNB doesn’t try too hard in replacing the aggressiveness of guitar, but rather prefers to tap into the more subtle melodic sound of power metal, which works in their favour most in single Pandemonium. Universe closes the debut with the kind of love ballad that every flower metaller secretly listens to but never admits.
A relatively successful start, you can bet this one to be a grower and hope for more from this bizarre trio. CR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Legend-ary Stuff
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.