This week we check out the latest releases by Social Distortion (pictured), The Bloodhound Gang, Falkenbach and Battlelore.

Plus we review and rate the new records by Artas, Thomas Giles, A Life Divided, Lazarus AD and The New Black.

Social Distortion – Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph)

In the six years since Social Distortion last released a record everything’s gone all Gaslight Anthem. The question is can the old masters still teach the pupils a relevant lesson in post-punk rock n roll? The answer is a resounding yes.

Opening up with the whirling dervish of a track that is instrumental beast Road Zombie is a brave move by any band’s standards but then Social Distortion have never lacked confidence. It works and it’s the most wonderful piece of rock music we’ve heard this year.

Elsewhere the Springsteen-meets-Stones class which has always underpinned the band’s celebrated career shines through and Mike Ness once again proves himself as a singer worth respecting.

Diamond In The Rough and Gimme The Sweet And Lowdown might hark back to the band’s early days but these days those songs just don’t do Social Distortion any justice. This is a band which has grown in stature and embraced the future – looking back is no longer an option.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Social Service Resumed

Battlelore – Doombound (Napalm)

Billed as epic fantasy metal this horrible mish mash of an album is dogged by a frankly desperate production and no obvious direction whatsoever. Just who experiences this kind of fantasy is anyone’s guess but the two-pronged vocals and basic riffs just don’t mix. In one word: disaster.

The dire opener showcases the worst of Battlelore from the off. The amateurish male vocal neither embraces classic shouting nor deep throated melody. It simply sounds like the band have pulled in some bloke off the street and asked him growl for his life regardless of any potential talent (and there’s no potential or talent here).

Thrown together with the robotic female vocal and Battlelore successfully forge one of the most unpleasant sounds we’ve come across in years. There’s nothing epic here. Nothing fantastic. Just a succession of dull, staid, metal-by-numbers cast-offs.

rushonrock rated: 3/10 Battlebore

Artas – Riotology (Napalm)

If Artas really do teach the science of rioting on this rather bland record then there’s no need to go battening down the hatches just yet.

Their passionate heavy metal bursts are delivered with first degree determination but even standout tracks like The Day The Books Will Burn Again aren’t likely to incite a serious uprising anytime soon.

Students searching for the anthem for their 2011 fee protests or disaffected North African nationals preaching political change please look elsewhere. Artas’ album title might hint at a rabble rousing classic but there’s nothing here we haven’t heard before.

The Avenged Sevenfold-lite refrain of The Suffering Of John Doe does turn things up a notch or two but the energy isn’t sustained. Ultimately Artas fail in their duty to deliver a tub thumping slab of seriously dangerous rock and instead choose to play it frustratingly safe.

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Artas For Artas’ Sake

The Bloodhound Gang – Show Us Your Hits (Universal Music)

Or don’t. Please.

The very thought of a Greatest Hits compilation from this childish crew of pop punk playboys is far more amusing than any of their so-called cynicism. And anyone who buys this load of b******s should be seriously embarrassed.

Apparently there are hits galore on this 14-track collection but they all sound like misses to us. The explicit version of Screwing You On The Beach At Night might raise a titter if you’re an adolescent youth still searching for that first snog but if you’re over the age of 17 it’ll make your toes curl round to your arse.

Show Us Your Hits? Show us a commitment to never write a song again and we’ll be far happier.

rushonrock rated: 1/10 Bloody Hell

Thomas Giles – Pulse (Metal Blade)

There’s an unexpected pomp underpinning this surprisingly accomplished release from Between The Buried And Me frontman Tommy Rogers’ new solo record.

The marvellous Mr Bird possesses a haunting Muse-like quality and it’s impossible to avoid the Freddy Mercury feel to this record’s more expansive moments. Mixing rock, electronica and his trademark penchant for progressive twists and moody turns, Rogers (aka Giles) delivers a musical delicacy best served chilled.

If the fuzzed-up intro to Catch And Release comes across just a little bit corny then we’ll forgive rock’s version of the Pet Shop Boys the odd curve ball. The track almost evolves into something Moby might have rolled out a decade ago and that just about redeems an otherwise dodgy interlude.

For those not familiar with Rogers’ day job this won’t reveal too much. But for BTBAM fans and potential converts alike this is a substantial and sumptuous piece of avant garde 21sy century rock and roll. Glorious stuff.

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Giles Better

Falkenbach – Tiurida (Napalm)

The sweeping, cinematic soundscape which introduces Viking metal overlords Falkenbach on the fabulous Tiurida is a tantalising taste of things to come. This rousing slab of fist-pumping rock is a stunning statement of intent just weeks before genre leaders Turisas unleash their latest opus and Falkenbach should be mightily proud of their efforts.

If the Morris Dancers meet Robin Hood folk of …Where His Ravens Fly… won’t be to everyone’s taste then this epic seven-minute plus track is clearly aimed at the Battle Metal connoisseur with its rousing rhythm and chanted chorus. A made-for-festivals sure-fire hit it demands to be heard with mead in hand and half a crackling boar cooking over an open fire.

And then there’s the fantastic instrumental anthem that is Tanfana – a tour de force of Falkenbach-flavoured Norse passion all wrapped up with mystical instruments heard far too infrequently on the rock and metal scene.

If you’re fed up waiting for Turisas’s February return this will do more than fill a gap. It will open up a whole new world of epic wonderment.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 ‘Bach A Winner

A Life Divided – Passenger (AFM)

Electro rock might be the fastest growing genre this side of Battle Metal but an already saturated market means the wheat is quickly separated from the chaff and A Life Divided’s latest is destined to fight accusations of unoriginality from day one.

It’s not bad but then it doesn’t pull up any proverbial trees. Lead track Heart On Fire is smoother than neat JD but the formulaic quiet/loud/quiet/loud structure lacks the wow factor and a tune with serious potential never quite reaches the assumed heights.

The quirky clunk of Save Me (ever heard those youths banging your dustbin lid in the back lane?) stands out but only for being different. So much so that we can’t quite decide whether A Life Divided’s pursuit of the unique rhythm is going to be their USP or their ultimate downfall…

Weak as dishwater vocals are what finally fail a reasonably interesting record and perhaps that’s where the band need to focus their attention ahead of Passenger‘s follow-up. This could have been good. It’s just not.

rushonrock rated: 5/10 A Life Unfulfilled

Lazarus AD – Black Rivers Flow (Metal Blade)

Any band kicking off with a track called American Dreams is opening itself up to the following one-word comment: cliched. And if you’re looking for something brand new from Black Rivers Flow then prepare to be disappointed.

On the other hand this is a decent stab at the ultimate heavy metal record with an abundance of growling vocals, grizzly riffs and a glaring absence of originality. The Ultimate Sacrifice is like Motorhead on steroids until a soaring guitar solo reminds us Lazarus AD are a technically accomplished bunch never afraid to wear their rehearsal hours on their sleeves.

Often veering towards all-out thrash but always staying on the right side of metal, Black Rivers Flow will appeal as much to fans of Metallica as it will to Black Stone Cherry die-hards wishing their favourite new band would man up from time to time.

The meaty title track is an obvious highlight and is another vibrant example of a band which could easily ape Death Angel’s more melodic moments given half a chance. Lazarus AD have done nothing wrong on a neatly produced album but is that really enough?

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Laz But Not Least

The New Black – II: Better In Black (AFM)

When grunge was good it was very, very good. And The New Black cherry pick the very best bits of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to underpin an uptempo modern metal record with a decidedly Southern Rock flavour.

It’s a combination of styles which shouldn’t really work. And yet it does. This is dirty, rotten rock and roll which demands to be heard again and again. Somehow this German posse possess a canny knack for mixing genres into an aural melting pot and creating the perfect recipe for pure hard rock heaven.

Tracks like Batteries And Rust and Downgrade even plunder the legacy of nu-metal and a Thin Lizzy lesson in riffology and still come up smelling of roses. Never looking to go down one particular road, The New Black take us on a journey through rock’s recent ages and appear to enjoy every minute.

We suggest you hitch a ride. Soon.

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Black On Track

This week’s reviews: Simon Rushworth