And today’s top choices include the return of slick Swiss combo Gotthard, symphonic metal stars Delain and the ever-impressive FM.
There’s new music from Consider Me Dead, Gamma Ray and Sonata Arctica.
Plus we check out the latest sounds from Trollfest (pictured), Lacuna Coil and Black Label Society.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we round up the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Black Label Society – Catacombs Of The Black Vatican (Mascot)
Genre: Heavy Metal
Zakk Wylde’s ability to mix vintage Black Sabbath with classic Soundgarden has always underpinned Black Label Society’s mass appeal within the metal world.
Yet the brilliant Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is, even by this stellar band’s standards, a career high. These days it’s all about quality rather than quantity in the BLS camp: a four-year gap between records is a far cry from their prolific run in the early noughties but it’s been time well spent.
Wylde and co. have always been able to fuse the heavy with the light and that heady combination ensures COTBV confirms the LA band as genre leaders rather than lazy imitators. Believe, Angel Of Mercy and Heart Of Darkness stand tall alongside the cream of the BLS back catalogue. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Wylde Side
BEST OF THE REST
Gotthard – Bang! (G Records/PIAS)
Genre: Melodic Rock
Swiss chart toppers Gotthard might never have got the recognition outside their home nation that their slick brand of melodic rock richly deserves but it hasn’t stopped Leo Leoni and co. from ploughing on regardless.
More than 20 years after the band opened up for Magnum on the tour that was meant to crack the UK they’re still flying below the radar where British audiences are concerned.
And that’s a crying shame. Bang! follows the same tried and tested formula that made 2012’s Firebirth such a compelling album with new singer Nic Maeder slowly but surely emerging from the shadow of the late, great Steve Lee.
Feel What I Feel, My Belief and set closer Thank You are just what long-time Gotthard fans crave and new converts need. It’s not too late to discover your new favourite band. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Swiss Timing
FM – Futurama (Riff City/Membran)
Genre: Melodic Rock
If Gotthard are good (see above) then FM are even better when it comes to ruling the melodic rock roost. Wowing fans on this spring’s must-see triple header – opening up for Europe and Foreigner – Steve Overland and co. continue to release new material at an astonishing rate.
Plugged as an EP but featuring 11 songs, this heady mix of new material and live classics really hits the spot.
FM are perfectly placed to play music’s new game with a loyal and devoted fan base poised to pick up each new release and their reputation as a live act par excellence undiminished.
It’s worth buying Futurama for a brilliant rendition of Tough Love but there’s no end of hidden gems here. Catch the band, buy the T-shirt and invest in the EP: nothing beats experience. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 FMblematic
Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Dead (earMUSIC)
Genre: Trad Metal/Power Metal
In the absence of a new Iron Maiden album anytime soon those good old folk at Gamma Ray have only gone and released the record Bruce Dickinson and the boys might have made…had they not been so knackered after another world tour.
Empire Of The Dead allows founder and former Helloween man (ok, that was a long, long time ago) Kai Hansen the space to unleash his very best impression of the bastard child of Biff Byford and Dave Murray.
Equally adept at raspy razor-edged vocals as he is dancing across the nearest fretboard, it’s clear Hansen is thoroughly enjoying his twilight years. EOTD is a fun metal album made for moshers the world over.
Hellbent is a brazen amalgam of just about every great metal song you’ve ever heard but then Gamma Ray have always played to their strengths. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Ray Of Light
Consider Me Dead – Young At Heart (Standby Records)
This album is awful.
Consider Me Dead have produced an album that sounds like what would happen if Rebecca Black’s auto tune machine discovered Miley Cyrus and black guy-liner.
Within this unfortunate record lurk the cringeworthy lyrics ‘I can see right through you, I can help you discover love’ – delivered by a bunch of 20-somethings with a terrifying lack of musical nous.
Spinal Tap’s last drummer had more talent than this bunch do.
Listeners who subject themselves to Young At Heart should take the advice of the band themselves and consider themselves dead for the amount of time it takes to listen to all 10 songs.
Do not buy. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 0/10 Dead Wait
Sonata Arctica – Pariah’s Child (Nuclear Blast)
Genre: Power Metal
There are good reasons why power metal is a much derided genre: Sonata Arctica are one of those reasons.
This desperate album isn’t helped by one of the worst vocal performances in rock history (imagine Alvin and the Chipmunks doing Rock Of Ages) but it’s the complete lack of imagination across the board that make’s Pariah’s Child a bona fide flop.
Running Lights will leave you hiding in the dark and if X Marks The Spot it must be one of the most painful puss-filled spots ever.
Power metal can’t live off rapidly played guitar scales alone. There has to be something more. And with Dragonforce and Dynazty doing it so much better bands like Sonata Arctica just don’t sound relevant. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 2/10 Child’s Play
Delain – The Human Contradiction (Napalm)
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Readying themselves for a run as special guests on this month’s Within Temptation UK tour it seems timely that Delain have delivered the best album of their career.
There’s a greater power underlying Charlotte Wessels’ vocals on The Human Contradiction and it’s no longer symphonic or damned. Delain are spreading their wings to make a play for the wider hard rock market – albeit with their darkest offering to date.
If the subject matter is occasionally grim then it’s set to a soundtrack that’s nothing less than uplifting and perhaps that’s the only flaw here: the gloomy goth-flavoured lyrics are frequently juxtaposed alongside the most vibrant of modern metal riffs.
Your Body Is A Battleground and Sing To Me underline the point but Delain have more than enough in their locker to carry it off. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 The Human Touch
Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo (Century Media)
Genre: Melodic Metal
Lacuna Coil are more frustrating than Mario Balotelli: brilliant one moment and a load of balls the next. Italians simply don’t do ‘consistent’ and Broken Crown Halo is a classic example of Cristina Scabbia and co. reaching for the stars and falling agonisingly short.
The enchanting singer is Lacuna Coil’s ace in the pack but it seems she’s ceded quality control to a colleague – most likely Andrea Ferro – and is content to let some utter tripe slip through the net.
Hostage To The Light is Scabbia at her engaging and enigmatic best but Broken Crown Halo lacks more of these standout moments.
It’s baffling that a band this good are occasionally so bad but enjoy the highlights and it’s possible to fall in love with Lacuna Coil all over again. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Coil Your Bluff
Trollfest – Kaptein Kaos (Noise Art)
Genre: Folk Metal
The nutty Norwegians are back and this time they mean business.
Hot on the heels of 2012’s RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Brumlebassen, the fucked up folk metal mentalists kick off Kaptein Kaos with a weird instrumental straight out of the toy shop from hell.
The title track opens up with a sound that can only be described as ‘kitchen metal’ (think a bearded troll rampaging through your pan drawer) before the frantic screams usher in all-out craziness.
This is not an album that will be to everyone’s tastes. Or anyone’s tastes. But there won’t be many records released in 2014 that up the metal ante with such a glorious disregard for convention. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Kaptein Kool