stryper sweetMichael Sweet (pictured) makes a stunning return to form with Christian rockers Stryper this week and it’s ironic his band goes up against The Used – whose frontman Bert McCracken has owned up to urinating in holy water in the past.

In a bumper week for new releases we also check out the newie from trad metal stars 3 Inches Of Blood, bizarre label mates iwrestledabearonce and Chuck Ragan‘s impressive solo offering. Plus there’s the new records by Cain’s Offering and Outloud. Now, what to spend that spare tenner on…

stryper murderStryper – Murder By Pride (Frontiers Records)

It’s not the first time we’ve said this about a new record in 2009 but when you’re looking to make a big impression after some time away, why kick things off with the worst of your latest tunes? Compared to the rest of the fantastic retro fare served up by Stryper, opener Eclipse For The Sun is an absolute shocker sounding more amateur punk rock than classy hair metal.

Thankfully things take an immediate turn for the better in the shape of 4 Leaf Clover and Peace Of Mind and, if I Believe is just a little too tacky even for a Christian rock band, it could be hewn from any classic late 80s disc.

Vocalist Michael Sweet’s trademark whine is an acquired taste but for those of us who acquired it back in the days of In God We Trust this is a remarkable return to form. Let’s just pray for more of the same.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Sweet Earns Strypes

The UsedThe Used – Artwork (Warner Bros.)

Pop or rock, quality or clueless? It’s hard to judge The Used these days as fourth album Artwork only serves to throw the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons.

The heavier, darker moments on this diverse record are definite highlights and maybe Mr McCracken and his buddies have found their long-term future. In harking back to familiar metal-lite melodies and Chesney Hawkes-style cheese, The Used suddenly sound tired and dated.

Opener Blood On My Hands hints at a vibrant record to come but Empty With You is lacking both emotion and a hummable hook. Men Are All The Same is the magic moment and the standard these guys must strive for moving forward.

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Used’s Good

3 Inches album3 Inches Of Blood – Here Waits Thy Doom (Century Media)

Marvelous stuff from the Canadian metal crew who sound like an Iron Maiden tribute band padded out by Judas Priest riffs and Anvil-esque playfulness. If 2007’s Fire Up The Blades was the beginning of something special for the kings of retro rock then Here Waits Thy Doom will go down in history as the defining record of this band’s entire career.

From the off it takes no prisoners – Battles And Brotherhood is a rolicking affair likely to make Turisas jealous and send Saxon fans into a frenzy. From that glorious moment onwards you know you’re in for the heavy metal ride of your life and if your neck’s not aching come the conclusion of the epic Preacher’s Daughter then you’re just not doing it right (head banging, that is).

3 Inches Of Blood deserve to be so much bigger than they are – at least a foot – and this record fulfils years of obvious potential. In the same class as any Maiden record from the mid-80s and a must-buy for all you NWOBHM nuts.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Blood Thirsty

outloudOutloud – Outloud (Frontiers Records)

Think the very best in melodic rock, fused with a touch of old school blues and you have one of the most refreshing new records of the year.

If you’re a big fan of big production and big licks with a nod to the late 80s then you’ll love everything about this remarkably accomplished album. After a couple of cracking tracks it’s clear this is high quality stuff but Tonight confirms it – 20 years ago this would have been a made-for-MTV bona fide chart buster. But then comes the first ballad and This Broken Heart is lighter-waving heaven with its soaring vocals and sensational solo. Phew.

So it might all be a bit dated for rock fans living in the here and now but if you’re a nostalgic sort who demands nothing but the best then this record will satisfy your every need.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Out Of This World 

iwaboiwrestledabearonce – It’s All Happening (Century Media)

Maybe it hasn’t helped these US misfits that their record is released on a week chock full of genuine rock highlights or maybe their music really is that bad, after all.

Imagine Bjork trying to make some sort of vocal impression against a backdrop of elctro-fuelled grind and you get some idea (or maybe you don’t) of just how dreadul this album is. Danger In The Manger is supposed to be one of IWABO’s better tunes but if that racket was in any manger near me I’d warn Mary, Joseph et al to steer well clear. 

Maybe we’re old fashioned but we believe music still requires some kind of melody and structure – even Motorhead understand this basic – but this is one horrible mish mash of totally unsuitable styles.

The coffee Revel of this week’s new releases.

rushonrock rated: 3/10 Try Wrestling A Guitar Lesson

cain's offeringCain’s Offering – Gather The Faithful (Frontiers Records)

Imagine a lighter, less tribal version of 3 Inches Of Blood and you’re part way towards understanding Cain’s Offering with their focus on historical fantasy and attention to polished production values.

Songs like opener My Queen Of Winter and the title track are very clever, artfully arranged and clearly capable of making an impression in the congested symphonic metal market. But they just don’t grab you by the throat and ignite the passion required to stand out form the crowd.

Nothing about this record is bad. But sometimes it’s good to be bad and these guys don’t appear to have an antagonistic bone in their bodies. Nice stuff but since when was metal meant to be nice…

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Average Offering

chuck raganChuck Ragan – Gold Country (Side One Dummy)

This is a golden era for emotive singer songwriters and just as Frank Turner’s beginning to make a big noise Stateside along comes Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan to present a stern challenge to the former Million Dead man’s quest for global domination.

Expecting very little from this under-hyped record we cam away believing Gold Country could be the slow burner of 2009. Packed with country rock tradition and proving Ragan’s credentials as an endearing storyteller there’s a clever mix of personal touches and social commentary.

Get ‘Em All Home might have been better placed on Queensryche’s latest, American Soldier, but it’s a strong anti-war anthem all the same. Yet for sheer surprise value check out Chuck’s Done And Done – deep stuff and a more than decent tune. 

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Gold Standard