Rock’s Octoberfest continues to gather pace with new releases from reborn thrashers Forbidden, German metallers Crystal Viper and the fantastic Firewind all vying for top billing. Plus we rate and review Triptykon, The Wretched End, Horned Almighty, Powerworld, Virgin Steele, All Ends and Neaera.

Crystal Viper – Legends (AFM)

Earlier this year trad metal heroes Crystal Viper were criticised on this very website for delivering an epic live record which sounded too polished and too clean.

Those high production values are evident again with this brilliant studio album and if Defenders Of The Magic Circle lacked a little creative freedom then the Poles let rip on Legends.

Focusing on tales steeped in their home country’s folklore this is a heady mix of Maiden meets Dragonforce meets Helloween. Frontwoman Marta Gabriel is a modern-day Doro Pesch blasting her way through classic metal cuts and clearly enjoying every minute.

The piano-infused balladry of Sydonia Bork – mixing languages within the lyrics to emotive effect – suits Gabriel down to the ground and yet there’s no doubting this woman can rock out with the best of them.

Legends is a glorious throwback to metal’s 80s heyday and whether you’re an Accept devotee or you were raised on Saxon this is one album which deserves to beef up your collection. And it will. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Crystal-ised

Horned Almighty – Necro Spirituals (Candlelight)

There’s no letting up with Horned Almighty.  As the name suggests, they’re chocked full of satanic energy, fully armed to the hilt with devilish riffs with a coarse, thumping entity that simply doesn’t stop.

That’s not to say that the Danish outfit simply adopt the same structures throughout the record.  There are fresh variations across the board, from an unrelenting thrash with some definitive hardcore influence, to a slower blood-stomping pace.

Ever found something attractive and you can’t explain to yourself why?  Fountain Of A Thousand Plagues has the fresh vitality of a hardcore structure with some brutal yet somehow catchy blackened riffing.

The Age Of Scorn treats us to some severe beat blasting at the beginning, only to turn its focus to a hardcore beat again with stripped down, raw squawks.

Delivering an intoxicating sludgy bass line, The Blasphemous Burden has a thick yet melodious temperament despite the messy feedback building up to the slogging chorus.

For the sticklers of traditional black metal, this may still be of enjoyment, depending on whether you see Horned Almighty as a group experimenting with brutality or poisoning the principles of an aggressive sound.  Usually having a conservative view, there’s still something about this hybrid that clicks. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Almighty Racket

The Wretched End – Ominous (Candlelight)

Co-founding legendary Scandinavian black metal band Emperor, Samoth debuts this new project with Cosmo of Mindgrinder on bass and Nils Fjellstrom of Dark Funeral, Aeon and In Battle on drums.

For all members, Ominous is a fresh step away from former projects.  Advertised as a combination of brash death metal with thrash, The Wretched End polish their sound with a seriously thick blackened coating.

This may be Samoth’s biggest affair he’s had with thrash and the album marks a new beginning, spawned from the current hiatus of his other band Zyklon and the disbanding of Emperor three years ago.

From the beginning of the brief INTRO into the raucous Red Forest Alienation the Norwegian project show they can produce a blistering sound with small but pleasant interferences of melodic work on guitar.

Unlike Zyklon, it isn’t uncommon to hear a cluster of shouts in jagged coherence, breaking away from the inclusion of deathgrowls.  Fleshbomb is a violent, bumpy ride but shows complex duelling guitar work and reveals the vocals to be very finely pinched with a more hardcore-esque feel.

After working consistently with some of the best black/death metal bands in the past (Gorgoroth, Satyricon, Burzum etc), it’s hard to believe he’s just 36.  Would Samoth have really opted out now?

If we’re realistic, it’s not an option either we or the man himself would have considered in any circumstance.  The Wretched End show promising signs of welding together something with a fervent ambition to move onto unmarked soil. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10

Virgin Steele – The Black Light Bacchanalia (SPV/Steamhammer)

Twelve albums and almost 30 years into a rich and varied career and the symphonic metal beloved of New Yorkers Virgin Steele continues to strike a chord with rock fans appreciative of considered, flamboyant, expansive music.

TBLB might be the band’s first new studio release since 2006 but it’s clear main man David DeFeis is still hungry to build on a legacy of ‘barbaric romanticism’. If the intro to In A Dream Of Fire sounds uncannily like something you’d expect to hear on mid-80s Pet Shop Boys record then it’s ultimately rescued and transformed into a track Queensryche might have considered for Operation: Mindcrime.

But bearing in mind Virgin Steele still like to burn the odd sword on stage too many of these cuts don’t go deep enough. To Crown Them With Halos Parts 1 & 2 might be a sprawling, 11-minute plus epic but a sense of self-indulgence serves to ruin what could have been this album’s most obvious crowning glory. Given the chance to fully showcase their unique sound DeFeis and co. drift rather than deliver.

Pagan Heart is a powerful reminder of the band’s Noble Savage heyday but too few of the songs on TBLB prove to be similarly fierce. A record of impressive highs and inexplicable lows one of 2010’s most eagerly anticipated metal albums is still an essential listen for true students of the genre. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Steele Yourself

Firewind – Days Of Defiance (Century Media)

When he’s not off travelling the world as the new Zakk Wylde with the Prince Of Darkness, the magnificent Gus G is the riffmeister behind metal lords Firewind.

And if you liked what you saw and heard at Ozzfest a few weeks back then wait until Days Of Defiance hits your decks. At a time when rock is reaching an exciting new peak Firewind are at the forefront with their mix of classic rock and power metal. And Mr G is truly making his mark as one of the leaders of a new generation of guitar heroes.

The Greek god makes no secret of the fact that a certain Yngwie Malmsteen is a massive influence and on Chariot, with the axe slinger in incredible form, the Swede’s signature sound is there for all to hear. Gus is no rip-off merchant but he wears his heart on his sleeve and who better to pat homage to than one of the greats of the guitar world?

The Departure opens up with another Malmsteen-esque flourish and five tracks into a spectacular record it’s clear Firewind have moved to another level. Far from taking his eye off the ball during his time with Ozzy it seems Gus has gained a renewed focus and there’s no sense of any rift within a close-knit camp. Firewind know their guitarist’s association with one of the biggest names in metal won’t harm their reputation one jot and it seems this remarkable record is their bid to capitalise on renewed interest.

One of the albums of 2010 and proof that Gus G is the man to watch. But then Ozzy already knew that… SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Wind In Their Sails

Triptykon – Shatter EP (Century Media)

When Thomas Gabriel Fischer quit Celtic Frost a couple of years back there were some who raised their eyebrows and some who even suggested it was more a career-breaking mistake than a brave bid to push the boundaries of metal. This powerful, diverse and focused EP proves it was a perfectly timed move suiting one of the genre’s most ambitious movers and shakers down to the ground.

If I Am The Twilight is rich in grizzled vocals and chugging riffs then the eerie, atmospheric electronica of Crucifixus could be the most awe-inspiring piece of music we’ve heard all year.

Perhaps keen to remind the aforementioned critics of his flawless credentials as veteran monster of rock Fischer throws in a couple of meaty live tunes to bring this five-track rollercoaster of an EP to a suitably cacophonous conclusion.

This is gripping stuff and it seems Triptykon can juggle quantity and quality with consummate ease. We can’t wait for more. And more. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Kon Artist

Forbidden – Omega Wave (Nuclear Blast)

In what’s turning out to be a vintage year for classic thrash metal, Forbidden have returned to their roots with a comeback album which is more than a match for fellow bastions of a genre in incredibly rude health right now.

Just weeks after the magnificent Death Angel delivered one of rushonrock‘s records of 2010 their fellow Bay Area noiseniks have only gone and equalled the stunning Relentless Retribution. It might be 13 years since Forbidden last unleashed a studio album on the unsuspecting masses but, make no mistake, this is a monster of a record and ripe for the picking.

Vocalist Russ Anderson is in riotous form as he races through a series of high octane, hotter than San Francisco at the height of summer-style tracks designed to get heads banging and air guitars waving.

Forsaken At The Gates is simply fantastic. The six minute-plus Swine is a superb example of how Forbidden have brought their early 90s sound bang up to date without sacrificing the fury of their youth. And Behind The Mask is more timeless thrash metal perfect for a the new scene.

If you missed Forbidden first time around then this is your lucky day. Don’t make the same mistake twice.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Tidal Wave

Neaera – Forging The Eclipse (Metal Blade)

If you marvel at the twin guitar sound so central to metal’s heavier moments then try Stefan Keller and Tobias Buck for size. This fret melting duo won’t let you down – in fact their exemplary work lifts Neaera’s latest album, their fifth in five years, to a satisfyingly urgent level.

Of course melodic death metal rooted in the German city of Munster won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – or jug of ale – but there’s something quite unique about this band’s work. Its thrash flavours often cede to the Swedish death metal style favoured by Buck but there’s little doubt that Neaera owe their more punishing moments to speed a style rather than doom and gloom.

Brief opener The Forging creates a mysterious and overtly melodic air but any thoughts that a strangely mellow tone has been set are blown away by the brutality of Heaven’s Descent. It’s an apocalyptic tune inducing images of misery and utter desolation – no doubt garnering favour with the darker elements of the death metal scene.

And where that snapshot of desperation leads the remainder of Forging The Eclipse follows with frontman Benjamin Hilleke rarely letting up. He can’t afford to with Keller and Buck delivering crunching riff after crunching riff and as a unit this band are tighter than a Yorkshireman in a recession. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Brand New Nea-era

Powerworld – Human Parasite (SPV/Steamhammer)

When Ilker Ersin first conceived the power metal beast that would become Powerworld he could hardly have imagined his brainchild producing such polished, punchy modern hard rock.

But the shrewd decision to recruit Andrew McDermott on lead vocals has been the making of this underrated and often overlooked quintet. If Human Parasite fails to break any new ground then, at the very least, Powerworld stick to what they know best and deliver fits-pumping anthems with singalong choruses and guitar solos laced with artistic freedom.

No pretentions, no false patter, no prisoners taken: meet Powerworld 2010.

Evil In Me and Stand Up are the entry level songs moulding NWOBHM passion with Teutonic precision to create the perfect soundtrack to 2010’s European metal scene. And there are more where they came from. Plenty more. McDermott’s ability to make even the most cynical of listeners a true believer is a big plus and his sincerity will be crucial to any future success.

Powerworld will go either one of two ways on this evidence: to the top of the bill or the bottom of the pile depending upon whether the tastemakers deem their work current or faux classic. Let’s hope it’s the former. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Human Nature

All Ends – A Road To Depression (Nuclear Blast)

If the direction you really want to take, with the clocks about to turn back and the winter chill setting in, is the Road To Depression then this would seem to be the A-Z you’ve been looking for. But All Ends’ second full length record isn’t all its title suggests it is: there are darker albums out there.

With the twin vocals of Tina Karlsdotter and Jonna Sailon providing an eerie platform for some wickedly genre-defying alternative metal this is something you won’t hear every Friday down your local rock club. There’s a melting pot of styles and myriad aural and lyrical twists and turns – slip this in the CD player and it’s time to crack open a bottle of vintage red wine and savour every track on repeat three time over.

Only then will you appreciate the true flavour of a groundbreaking, if occasionally frustrating, release. I Know Who I Am is rich in irony, not least because this lot could be any number of metal bands and yet none in particular. The title track is a killer cut but if you want to test that three listens rule (see above) you’ll need to set aside a good 20 minutes for this tune alone.

This could be brilliant or it could be quite barmy. But it’s one of those records where it’s worth taking the plunge just in case you miss out on a future classic. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Ends Game