It’s new music time again and this week we bring you the latest offerings from speed metal kings Dragonforce (pictured), the Metallica-endorsed Volbeat and the legendary Pantera!

Plus we rate and review Swashbuckle, Conditions, Dawn Of Ashes, System Divide, Last Void, Eastern Front, Love Amongst Ruin, Good Luck Jonathan and Circle II Circle.

Volbeat – Beyond Heaven/Above Hell (Spinefarm)

Take the elements of Social Distortion, mix them with Johnny Cash whilst adding the vocal stylings of Chris Cornell and you have Volbeat.

At the outset of this album it’s hard to understand what the Danes are looking to achieve.  Openers The Mirror And The Ripper and, especially, Heaven And Hell are classic rockabilly tracks which would make Mike Ness proud before Who Are They punches into a Metallica-style riff and the album descends into heavy metal.

There is no doubting Volbeat’s talent with front man Michael Poulson clearly having the knack of writing decent ‘rock and roll’ tunes.  However, he seems to be undecided in which direction to take it.

Poulson’s vocals are soaring and the choruses are big and bolshie with flawless guitar work – but it’s hard to distinguish where he wants to go.  There is no doubting the catchiness of Fallen but the style quickly reverts back to rockabilly as 7 Shots trundles along whilst Magic Zone is a bad attempt at a ballad.

However Poulson is redeemed with a true highlight of the album 16 Dollars – a real foot-tapping, barn-dancing rock and roll gem.  Despite the feeling of confusion about what style Volbeat are searching for this is an incredibly catchy album. Poulsen and co. manage to perfect every riff and combine some of the catchiest choruses you’ll ever hear. TW

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Feel The (Vol)Beat

The Last Void – State Of Mind (Self Released)

This is a classic example of a debut album that shows flashes of potential but isn’t quite there yet.  The Last Void take a lot of influence from the sounds of Australian band Karnivool but have a rare female fronted prog setup from Costa Rica.

There may be an underlying stigma towards some female singers in metal and a lot of the time it isn’t justified.  However, I just can’t seem to adjust to Adriana Munoz’s vocals.  There’s no doubt she has a fantastic clean voice, but I’m not sure it suits the style of music.  It seems to tame the energy.  In many of the interludes she is more at home (in the middle of Survive) but overall it is out of place.

Metal Mind begins in a prog thrash fashion that more resembles the excessively speedy guitar riffs of Mastodon.  But the song changes into a completely different verse with Munoz’s quietened voice almost drowned out and a general feeling of disjointedness.

There’s complexity in the actual guitar work itself, but it seems even the second time round with their breakdown of furious riffs, the song continues back into the chorus with no delicate thought.

The off-beat drum verses with intervals of distorted guitar create that Karnivool-esque sound in Kindergarden Stuff.  Unfortunately, like the rest of the album, the song only hints that The Last Void have a seed that (with their technical ability and some progressive nurturing) can blossom.

There’s nothing saying that some ardent progsters won’t enjoy State Of Mind, but there are other bands that are worth looking at first.  Still, keep an eye on them.  The pieces of the jigsaw are not quite together yet but this is their debut: expect something special second time around. CR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Avoid The Void

Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (Expanded Edition)

What’s not to like about one of the most definitive metal albums of all time revamped and repackaged across three CDs? This always was a sensational piece of work and 20 years on its power and precision is undiminished.

Combining metal with melody and often taking on Metallica’s Black album for sheer intensity, Cowboys From Hell announced Phil Anselmo, Dimebag Darrel and their buddies as major players on the rock scene. From the brilliant title track to classics like Cemetary Gates, the Pantera boys laid down a marker and went on to inspire a whole generation of US metal bands.

In its guise as a long-awaited re-release this stone cold classic comes with demo versions of the key tracks and a brand new tune in the shape of The Will To Survive. Never previously released it hints at a hoped for slew of quality archive material just waiting to see the light of day.

It’s impossible to describe Pantera’s importance at a time when metal in all of its various guises is in such rude health but this impressive package is a great way to emphasise the point. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 For Cowboys Junkies

Dawn Of Ashes – Genocide Chapter (Metal Blade)

Dawn Of Ashes don’t believe in singalong pop metal with snappy song titles and sugary choruses: tracks like Seething The Flesh In The River Of Phlegethon might seem quite ridiculous were it not for the sheer evil underpinning these extreme metal anti-heroes. It’s evil but it’s good.

The brief but brilliant sub two-minute instrumental Reanimation Of The Dark Ages offers some relatively light relief midway through the band’s brutal major label debut and its sweeping sci-fi meets horror soundscape hints at a glorious future.

But for Dawn Of Ashes it’s all about the here and now as Kristoff Bathory (he prefers the tag ‘horrid screamer’ over plain and simple ‘vocalist’) unleash some frankly hateful stuff on the death metal masses.

God-Like-Demon‘s old school thrash riff is about as commercial as this crew get but let’s face it – four blokes who look like the living dead are never going to trouble the charts. Trouble their fans, they may well do. This is metal deserving of a serious health warning. Listen at your peril… SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Dawn Of Evil

System Divide – The Conscious Sedation (Metal Blade)

Kids may not be on the cards yet, but mixing a colourful blend of styles System Divide has emerged as the lovechild of Miri Milman and Sven de Caluwe.  The couple have cooperated to create a sound with the brutality of Slipknot-esque guitar riffs, tainted with a poisonous femme fatale gothic touch.

Milman (formerly of Distorted) provides the coherent breaks from the raw death growls of de Caluwe (of Aborted), with her powerful clean vocals.  But it’s not only this variation that makes it.  (N)ether is the ultimate example of what System Divide are capable of.

The song flitters from raw speed and pulverising aggression to the slow slog of a metalcore structure with Milman’s dreamy singing alongside symphonic and electric keyboards.  For me, the result is a like putting pineapple on a pizza, which is absolutely damn fine.

Such is the heaviness of guitar and drums in The Apex Doctrine that you don’t expect a beautiful church organ to burst into an interlude with Milman’s oriental harmonising.

System Divide have attempted to merge several genres that have been done before, but don’t usually see eye to eye.  What can be admired most about this record is its ambition to do that. CR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Beat The System

Dragonforce – Twilight Dementia (Spinefarm)

Fans will expect nothing less from the perfectionist duo of Herman Li and Sam Totman but this blast through Dragonforce’s finer moments is less like a live album and more like a regular ‘Best Of’.

Combining faultless playing with the latest studio wizardry, one of the most proficient metal bands on the planet have left nothing to chance on this collection of tunes culled from 19 UK shows. And with 19 versions of every song to consider you can imagine Li and Totman spending a series of very long nights mulling over which note sounded best and which key change was marginally off.

Twilight Dementia may lack the raw appeal of the lost generation of live classics but it does serve to close the book on the Theart years. And if you’re a late convert to Dragonforce then this tw0-disc career resume is the perfect place to start with a truly remarkable band.

Through The Fire And Flames is a sparkling piece of overblown modern metal and Heroes Of Our Time is the perfect anthem for guitar gods Li and Totman. But one things become crystal clear as this 13-track collection reaches a raucous conclusion: Theart’s soaring vocals will be sorely missed and appointing a suitable replacement will be key to Dragonforce’s future success. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Live Force

Love Amongst Ruin – Love Amongst Ruin (Ancient B Records)

Ex-Placebo member Steve Hewitt has stylistically distanced himself from his days as a drummer.  Finding himself at the front of the stage was an unforeseen venture that he more stumbled across than had ever planned.  Nonetheless, this takes no quality away from Love Amongst Ruin’s exciting debut album.

The underlining of gloominess that defined his former band may still be there, but Hewitt has essentially moved away from the energised neurosis of old, to a dark but tranquil melancholia.

The first two songs of the album kick off a charismatic start.  Released as a single, So Sad (Fade) begins the album with a burst of distorted grungy riffs, and Alone has the twinges of keyboard between verses that suggest a bit of Depeche Mode has sneaked it’s way in.

Come On Say It has a spacey feel, with some beautiful violins weaving in and out, contributing to the chilled atmosphere of the tune.  Vocally, there’s some of Richard Kruspe (with Emigrate) in there and, dare I say it, a little of Ian Brown too, especially in Heaven & Hell.

Unfortunately Blood & Earth does nothing but annoy with the repeated ‘I’ve gotta run just to get away’ becoming a grating chorus and rare downside to the record.

Hewitt has come forth from the back of the stage in true fashion and demanded respect as a solo artist.  We’re giving him it. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10  Love It

Eastern Front – Blood On Snow (Candlelight)

Unlike many of the UK black metal acts, Eastern Front focus on the historical battles of WWII, as opposed to the more popular told tales of Saxony and natural beauty.

Sporting a predominantly black metal sound with death metal tweaked vocals, their debut shows pockets of potential and some lovely melodic sections in amongst the harsh guttural growls and piercing screams.

Beginning with some mournful violin and acoustic guitar, Where The Warriors Once Fell contains some spoken words of battle (which is a little cheesy), and progresses into some impressive collaborations of rhythm and lead.

Title track Blood On Snow arrives in head over heel force after the sounds of wind and footsteps in snow are interrupted by a tank firing.  Eastern Front’s potential shines through with the infectious guitars and insanely chaotic drumming by Destruction – sadly the band have generic BM stage names and really go over the top on the corpse paint.

Regardless, this is a decent debut, and although Eastern Front don’t rank in the same division as Winterfylleth for me, they have still showed that British black metal’s still got a lot to give. CR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Snow Joke

Swashbuckle – Crime Always Pays (Nuclear Blast)

Think Turisas stripped of their furs and sporting peg legs, swapping mead for rum and choosing pots of gold over rape and pillaging and what you’ve got is the next big thing in rock: Pirate Metal.

There’s yo ho hos aplenty as singer Admiral Nobeard (real name Patrick Henry!) growls and grunts his way through some of the most outrageous songs you’ll hear all year. If Raw Doggin’ At The Raw Bar is surpassed for sheer dizzying silliness in 2010 we’ll eat our (pirate) hat.

Then there’s Powder Keg – with its obligatory sea shanty inspired chant – and the standout At The Bottom Of A Glass. You get the idea. And it’s a very simple one indeed. Take the best bits of piracy, throw in some fine thrash twists, dress up like Johnny Depp and give yourself a suitably fearsome name then let the fans flock your way.

Once Crime Always Pays gains the recognition it deserves the plan will come to glorious fruition and Nobeard, Commodore Redrum and Bootsman Collins (they both have very boring real names too) can ditch the high seas and start to make an honest living. Or something like that… SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Support Piracy

Conditions – Fluorescent Youth (Good Fight Music)

Midway through this album, a decent stab at pop metal, the boys who call themselves Conditions break into the made-for-arenas Make Them Remember. But will we? Really?

The chorus rattles along as follows: How will you make them remember your name/When everyone here seems the same. And herein lies the problem with this enthusiastic bunch of American chaps – they’re about as original as Axl Rose turning up late for a show.

There are brief – and in the case of the fantastic When You Fall, even brilliant – moments of respite when you start to believe Conditions could really be the next big thing. But on this evidence they’re more likely to be a fluorescent flash in the pan.

Maybe they want to be You Me At Six but they’re not even that cute – lyrically or visually. In fact trying to find something or some song which makes Conditions stand out from the crowd is like trying to find your granny at a Rammstein concert – impossible. SR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Condition(s) Critical

Goodluck Jonathan – This Is Our Way Out EP (Something/Nothing Records)

The juxtaposition of punchy guitars and a near spoken word vocal style make Goodluck Jonathan an uncomfortable proposition.

Neither rock nor pop, this edgy EP is like listening to The Streets jamming with an Arcade Fire side project and to say it’s an acquired taste is an understatement. The heavily accented vocals never seem more out of place than when GJ employ the sleazy guitar sound which underpins Broken Heart.

Four tracks is just about all you can take from this band in one sitting unless a swift descent into terminal depression is your main aim. Await the full album at your peril.

Pushing rock’s boundaries is a bold move but GJ sound like a few lads who met in the pub, threw their disparate musical influences into the mix, added some clever lyrical touches and decided to form a band. Brave, bordering on the foolhardy. SR

rushonrock rated: 4/10 Jonny Rotten

Circle II Circle – Consequence Of Power (AFM)

Five albums in and Circle II Circle are starting to sound like the real metal deal. Bursting into action with the Maiden-esque Whispers In Vain it’s just a shame a rousing riff gives way to some echo-effect vocals. Lead singer Zachary Stevens, formerly of Savatage, has no reason to rely on studio trickery but a bad choice early doors is a mere blip on an otherwise solid record.

Sticking to the Blaze Bayley school of powerful melody, Stevens proves himself quite adept at breezing though every twist and turn of an engaging metal journey. In tandem with guitar hero Andy Lee, Circle II Circle’s talented frontman delivers yet another credible audition for any big name trad metal band looking to replace their singer anytime soon.

If Out Of Nowhere is more chugging than challenging then Stevens’ vocal performance remains consistently high. Taking a gamble with Take Back Yesterday, the man behind the mic doesn’t convince when attempting to showcase his lighter side but that’s no criticism of a fully committed rocker.

This is all about power and precision. Stevens and his band have both in abundance. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Complete The Circle

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson, Tom Walsh.