We bring you six of the best to brighten up your Sunday evening as some of this month’s heaviest new releases hit stores on Monday.

There’s the latest from wacky US crew Gay For Johnny Depp (pictured) plus beastly offerings from Condemned?, Crowbar, Cauldron, Darkest Era and Primordial. Stuck for a Valentine’s gift for the scary metaller in your life….

Condemned? – Condemned 2 Death (Nuclear Blast)

When Keith Chatham recorded Condemned?’s first album after signing with a very young Nuclear Blast Records in 1985, he might have thought their next piece would be distributed on the same label – and he was right.  But no one would have guessed that the follow up to Humanoid Or Biomechanoid? would be released more than 20 years later.

After a brief stint in Australia (forming Death Sentence and Vicious Circle) and playing in various bands across the bustling Bay Area Thrash scene (Attitude, Something Scaley, Two Bit Thief), Chatham, along with his former band-mate,s finally reformed and, as a result, here it finally is – the album many a thrash-freak has been waiting for.

If something is supressed for too long, there’s a good chance that the eventual repurcussions of freedom will be harnessed in a way that can be visual, symbolic and sometimes extreme, reigniting an old spirit that once embodied a value now archaic, or simply marking the beginning of a new era.  You only have to look as far as Egypt.

Luckily we’re dealing with a much more jovial matter, but that doesn’t mean the same rules don’t apply here – Condemned 2 Death being an album that has come out of the blocks flying, after a well-overdue delay, an entity waiting to unleash it’s straight-laced, pulsating aggression.

What is refreshing about Condemned? is that, even from the beginning they rebuffed a pure thrash sound and favoured the fusion of punk elements which they still stick with today.  Yes, they might be continuing an unfortunate tradition of simplistic lyrics in thrash-based music but, nevertheless, it isn’t bad enough to spoil Condemned 2 Death for the best part.

There’s some oldies from previous projects on disc two, and 14 new songs which give a good variety of hardcore and thrash structures alongside big but jagged street vocal choruses, with Emotional Blurr being a more-than-notable example.  Most songs don’t last more than three-minutes, with Crutch clocking in at a mere 38 seconds.  It might border on the kind of random humour you’d expect from a grindcore act (with the similarities in song length too), but is an unmistakeable instant burst of energised thrash, doused in a renegade punk atmosphere.

There are moments that – regardless of how intense this record may be – are flat, with Crucified exactly that, Save Thy Brother letting out an uninspiring string of chords and D-Day obviously just strung together with lack of thought and boring repetition.

Still, overall, Condemned 2 Death has succeeded in crowning a remarkable return.  Fast, ferocious and finally flailing in fervent strides, this has all the makings of a record that marks future potential for Condemned?, with raw enthusiasm being the prominent driving force behind an engine that still needs some oiling.  They’ve made their intentions known. CR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Death Defying

Gay For Johnny Depp – What Doesn’t Kill You, Eventually Kills You (Shinebox)

It’s always difficult to review a single track when it lasts no longer than two minutes. In fact it’s difficult to do most things in two minutes to be honest. But emo-screamo band Gay For Johnny Depp cram an exuberant amount of energy into that timeframe.

Behind the bizarre band name and clever track titles lurks a noise that would have no problems punching you in the face after it’s finished destroying your eardrums. Opening track Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and Artistic Integrity barely takes a breath and it isn’t until half way through the record that GFJD tap the brakes on their rocket-speed tempo.

What Doesn’t Kill You, Kills You Eventually is only the second official album from the Brooklyn boys, but be under no illusions, new kids on the block they are not. The ease that lead singer Sid Jagger hits banshee like notes is astounding and at times painful.

Gone are the lyrics about making love to their namesake Hollywood star but the cynicism is very much still present. A couple of tracks (Rod Don’t Surf) feature no more than offbeat monologues set to instrumental riffs that throw much needed respite into the mix.

It’s not for everyone’s taste and GFJD would never pretend it is, but the mosh pit crew or those in need of blowing off some steam will lap up every track. A huge positive that almost saves the album for the neutral is a punk rock version of Slade’s Come On Feel The Noize (Boize in this case). AS

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Off At The Depp End

Cauldron – Burning Fortune (Earache)

If you’re a tired fan of traditional heavy metal who needs to hear proof that the genre can still pack the proverbial sucker-punch without reckless, mind-numbing imitation, then Cauldron’s Burning Fortune is going to be the album to warm your Valentine blues.

The Toronto natives, who formed from the ashes of Goat Horn in 2006, bring their second album to the stove with new drummer Chris Steve from fellow Ontario metallers Aggressor, taking over from Steel Rider.  Steve does the exact job he’s meant to, providing some classic but controlled double kicks to give a sturdy foundation for guitar – all making itself known with first track All Or Nothing.

Speaking of guitar, there may be a rugged, raging style in Cauldron’s riffs that would do more than enough to appease the fan of Maiden or Priest, but there’s also a hugely catchy element about it too, and when you experience the fine balance this creates, it’s very rewarding.

You only have to hear Queen Of Fire to catch them at their best. There’s plenty in this cooking pot to muster a stir, and when there’s a heartfelt chorus layered over some strong traditional chord sequences and backed by reflective picking, you would think it would be enough. But add a rocking solo in towards the end of the standout effort, and it’s complete.

Sure there’s a little cheese and the occasional line that don’t exactly give the Canadians the award for best lyricists (Miss You To Death), but it’s all led with an endearing charm that constitutes as Cauldron’s underbelly.  An absolute must for lovers of traditional metal that crave to see the torch carried on with a different flame burning. CR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Burning Bright

Crowbar – Sever The Wicked Hand (Century Media)

If you live for agony then sludge warriors Crowbar are quite capable of delivering all the pain you could possibly desire – and more. Underpinned by Kirk ‘Down’ Windstein’s industrial strength riffs and layer upon layer of torturous lyrics this is the soundtrack to your worst nightmare.

At times the full-on aural assault can become mind-numbing and while there’s nothing mediocre about the tense tunes here the one criticism of Sever The Wicked Hand is that it lurches from the brilliant to the laborious. Windstein might have created a legacy on the back of bone crunching chord progressions but it’s no coincidence that the atmospheric A Farewell To Misery offers welcome relief with its measured instrumental and haunting chants.

Of course your average Crowbar fan isn’t looking for welcome relief – the pursuit of misery is their primary ambition. And the New Orleans crew continue to deliver where depressing dirge is concerned. Echo An Eternity ticks all the boxes and for those who have been counting the days until Crowbar’s return leap straight to this legacy-enhancing track and hit repeat.

Not every rock fan’s cup of tea, or glass of arsenic, but brilliant within its field. That field being one of shattered dreams and emotional purgatory. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Raising The Bar

Darkest Era – The Last Caress Of Light (Metal Blade)

Clean vocals coupled with classic dual guitars – occasionally veering on the Lizzy-esque – make this Celtic folk-fuelled rock one of the surprise hits of 2011. The magnificent Beneath The Frozen Sky fuses a grinding riff with an almost ethereal vocal rich in the accent of these Northern Irish troopers and it truly hits the mark.

But there’s very little here that doesn’t suggest an accomplished act poised for greatness. Think The Sword’s nod to trad metal married to the very best in Celtic roots and you get the idea – this is a band without boundaries and easily capable of belting out epic anthems which would be the perfect fit for festival stages across Europe. Even the very biggest and the best.

Closing with The Last Caress Of Light Before The Dark allows the listener to revel in a full 11 minutes of Darkest Era magic and there’s a strong hint of Steve Hogarth-era Marillion as this glorious monster of a tune awakens.

In conclusion it’s no over-exaggeration to say vocalist Krum is, quite possibly, one of the coolest dudes on the planet – his rousing range a perfect fit for a band oozing potential and clearly passionate about everything they do. His spellbinding delivery on the chorus of the title track is something special to behold and imagining it live sends shivers down the spine. Buy this now. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Era Defining

Primordial – Storm Before Calm Reissue (Metal Blade)

Right from the opening blast of The Heretic’s Age it’s immediately obvious this brutal revisiting of Primordial’s 2002 standard is not about to lie down without a fight.

Sounding fresher, fiercer and feistier than ever before, the tracks which marked the Irish Doom metallers out as ones to watch four albums into their career still bristle with hellish intention. Punishing percussion dovetails naturally with angular guitars and a vocal style which demands respect and induces fear.

Fallen To Ruin relies on a muted guitar intro to crank up the tension but once this frankly frightening track is in full flow there’s no escaping the sheer power of Primordial. That the band ensures the vocals are high in the mix and, therefore, rich in meaning guarantees a more fulfilling black metal journey than most. And while die hard fans of the genre might find this revamped classic just a little too commercial for their bludgeoned eardrums there’s no doubt this is a beast of an album.

What Sleeps Within might rely on the same folky intro style as Fallen To Ruin but this brief and engaging instrumental sticks to the band’s Celtic roots without letting the metal kick in. It’s a smart move preluding, as it does, the punishing Sons Of Morrigan. But then Primordial are all about smart moves and the world awaits their next one…SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Prime Cuts

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson, Andy Spoors