DevilDriver‘s Beast leads the charge where new music is concerned this week but there’s an abundance of albums to tickle your fancy.

We review and rate Deicide, Flotsam & Jetsam, Dalriada, Betzefer, Long Distance Calling, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Ten, Benedictum, Scheepers, Amplifier, Destruction and Moonsorrow.

DevilDriver – Beast (Roadrunner)

With Machine Head’s new album still some way off the metal community is desperate to throw its weight behind the next big thing. DevilDriver’s decision to throw their hat into the ring with the mighty Beast might just prove one of the most inspired moves of 2011.

Talons Out (Teeth Sharpened) is typical DD fare with a newly focused edge. The majestic opening gives way to a brutal vocal and cracking chorus – this has all the ingredients of a classic metal track and leaves the listener hungry for more.

What follows is a feast for fans of all things fast and furious. Crown Of Creation is five minutes of pure heavy metal thunder and must be one of the finest tracks to emerge from this supercharged US heavyweight. A back catalogue which screamed potential suddenly seems so much stronger with the volume and voracity of Beast‘s mighty offerings added to the mix.

So Machine Head’s latest might well turn out to be 2011’s greatest but until that record hits stores this will do very nicely indeed. If the Devil’s in the detail then Dez Fafara and co. have crafted a painstaking career high. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Beast Of The Bunch

Benedictum – Dominion (Frontiers)

If heavy metal’s future is safe in the hands of DevilDriver (see above) and their ilk then bands like Benedictum seem quite content to wallow in the past. This is a dog’s dinner of a record released by the normally oh-so-reliable Frontiers and for a label which makes so few mistakes this is an error of heinous proportions.

The indecision of singer Veronica Freeman doesn’t help. Unsure whether to shout or shriek she gets Dominion off to the worst possible start fronting the woeful title track. Things get better on At The Gates as Freeman thinks about singing a note or two and Prodigal Son is a half decent attempt at a metal anthem with a mid-80s Metallica feel underpinning the album’s highlight track.

Loud Silence, tucked away towards the end of this lengthy record, offers a glimpse of Benedictum’s potential given the right advice and direction but the quality here is not delivered consistently across the remainder of an instantly forgettable release.

That bonus track Sanctuary offers such welcome relief says it all. It outshines much of what’s gone before and surely deserves top billing, rather than a place at the bottom of the pecking order. Poor judgement is just one of the many hurdles Benedictum must overcome if they’re to make their mark as true metal titans. Right now they’re still way off the chasing pack. SR

rushonrock rated: 4/10 Benedic-dud

Long Distance Calling – Long Distance Calling (Superball)

The men from Munster are back. And this time they mean business. This self-titled (largely) instrumental tour-de-force won’t sell millions but those who do invest in a piece a post-rock power will surely reap their rewards.

Across the board thumping riffs, spiralling melodies and soundscapes which suck you in before spitting you out underpin a glorious statement of ambitious intent. This music is so addictive it should be pumped straight into the bloodstream – preferably on a misty night in the middle of nowhere with a mere candle for company.

The Fig’rin Dan Boogie is brilliantly conceived: fusing LDC’s knack for the spectacular with a proggy, uptempo feel it features some almost bewildering fretwork. Timebends is something you might expect to hear on a 1970s Michael Caine crime thriller – its jazzy undertones conjuring images of lounge metal for the masses.

The unexpected vocal on Middleville might surprise the off LDC virgin but these boys use words sparingly and, when they do, it tends to be for a reason. Here the lyrics are delivered with a grungy accent and it works. Occasionally sounding like an over-complicted Terrorvision track this could be the band at their most accessible yet. SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Calling The Wild

Flotsam & Jetsam – The Cold (Nuclear Blast)

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, sometimes malingering a forward-thinking attitude for the future. It can happen to any band, wound up in circles on the same reel of film without realising the constriction they’ve created for themselves. Flotsam and Jetsam aren’t exempt, they have the potential for this too, especially if they only look back to the success of their full length debut, Doomsday For The Deceiver.  So what’ll it be?

At the start of this album, you’re masked and veiled by Hypocrite – a below average, simplistic track with slap-dash street shouts over a generally uninspiring chorus. But don’t allow yourself to be blinded by the mirage. If you turn the stereo off at this point, your premature judgement will force you to miss out on an album that has refreshing variety with an up to date, gratifying sound.

Title track The Cold flashes the Arizona band’s proggy side, with an intense heavy chorus welded smoothly and successfully into mellow, acoustic verses that eventually give way to a dreamy lead-solo to not only finish a tremendous track but also reassert dominance over the listener after a poor beggining to the album.

The saddening Better Off Dead is another fusion of acoustic guitar with exceptional vocals from long-time member Eric A. Knutson that borders more on a power metal ballad than a bonafide thrash hit. But there’s no need for the neck-slinging purist to be upset when it’s followed up by the incredibly rapid, technical riffing of Michael Gilbert and Ed Carlson on Falling Short.  And if that wasn’t enough to get the kind of full bodied blood pumping that induces cardiac arrest, then there’s the noisy start of KYA that showcases Knutson’s gruff harking on top of a groovy thrash-fest.

You might question why they never made huge waves in the way other mainstream acts have, but that doesn’t affect – nor should it affect – what is an exhilarating record.  Never mind the past, Flotsam and Jetsam deserve credit for their work in the present. CR

rushonrock rated: 7.5/10 Cold Comfort

Moonsorrow – Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (Spinefarm)

Four years ago, the release of Vides Luku – Havitetty christened a more progressive side to Moonsorrow with the heathen metallers even admitting that part of their inspirations included Brit prog legends Jethro Tull. But after an album revered as their most ambitious attempt yet, and off the back of an EP which featured a staggering, extended cover of Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, how would the Finns approach the scripture for their sixth record?

Frontman and bassist Ville Sorvali said that Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (As Shadows We Walk In The Land Of The Dead) is a concept album based on ‘life after the end of the world’, running like a long story until everyone in it is finally dead. As you would expect, given the subject matter, it is without a doubt Moonsorrow’s darkest piece of music to date. But for all of the darkness that encompasses this tale of fading hope and impending doom, there is still something so elegant, reflective and intricately melodic about it.

The Helsinki natives begin with the resonating gloominess of Tähdetön, which gives us the most doomy structure you’ll hear on a Moonsorrow record, but only lasts until mid-way, where the pace steps up with galloping riffs and nice sections from Henri Sorvali on lead and keyboards.

And who better to top it off than cousin Ville Sorvali providing vocals depicting the fatigued cries of men as the end of existence beckons wearily closer?

To smooth over this epic into one great theatrical presence and embed a sense of continuity, three tracks provide the noises of wind, cries, footsteps and heavy breathing – all to aid with the visual picture that you find yourself building throughout.

There’ll be people who hate Hävitetty, Nälkä Väsymys Ja Epätoivo and Kuolleille because of this, and would probably prefer some instrumentation to keep things moving.  Their argument is probably a one worth regarding, but for me, their addition only adds to the experience of hearing an album that should really be listened to in one sitting, to get a wholesome and rewarding feel from it. In terms of guests, Olli Vanska from Turisas makes an appearance on violin, with a fantastic contribution on Huuto.

Alongside some heavy but sombre riffing, the nearly-16-minute track is not as richly splurged with the folk instrument as other heavyweights of the genre would choose to do.  Instead, Vanska carefully and beautifully weaves in and out of the mix with great effect.

Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns from Finntroll also joins the apocalyptic party with some backing shouts that I’m told were done after more than a few beers were consumed!  Nothing sounds out of place either, even with the unlikely augmentation of extra vocals from Knut Sorvali (Henri’s five-year-old son). Kuolleiden Maa ends VKKM with an heroic effort that easily puts it in contention with Huuto for the most impressive track award.

Where other bands struggle to create one classic in their existence, Moonsorrow have done it yet again, maintaining their distinct sound and identity without seeking familiar inspirations but instead painting onto a and essentially darker canvass. CR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Moon Rising

Destruction – Day Of Reckoning (Nuclear Blast)

What’s a realistic expectancy for a band that have survived the stormy seas of thrash metal for the last 30 years?  Ask any ultimate fan of the genre and there’s a good chance their response will provide the exact antithesis to those who only occasionally get involved with the odd record for the hell of it.  I’ll admit to the latter.  But even with accelerated expectations and a rigid desire to hear more experimentation, not many can deny the appeal of a confined yet concentrated bundle of raw-spanking, butt-kicking, bone-crunching thrash.

Destruction are undoubtedly one of the heavyweights of this sort of thing. Rising amongst the Teutonic thrash scene in Germany and carrying a reputation of being one of the ‘big three’ from that area, Destruction have brought to the burner, a flat-fisted record returning to retro roots, charged with blunt, pugnacious aggression.

To clear up my issue with lyrics in this genre (which has been repeated tirelessly to cliche) all I will say about them is that they are basically poor. Right, onto instrumentation!

It may well have been a sizable blow to see drummer Marc Reign leave, but new sticksman Wawrzyniec Dramowicz has done a royal job. Hate Is My Fuel is a vehement force of speedy drumming that sits well with guitar hero Mike Sifringer and founding member and bassist Marcel ‘Schmier’ Schirmer.

The effective palm-muted guitar work that harks back to old-school 80s thrash is something for the fans of yesteryear. It’s all too apparent for most of this record, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. Sorceror Of Black Magic definitely makes an impression alongside Destroyer Or Creator.

Essentially the mark below will be seen in two completely divided ways.  For me, Destruction deserve no more than benefit of the doubt for what is a basic, overly nostalgic album. But for lovers of this type of music, there’s a good chance the sheer fiery rapidity of it will see them through, to not only be satisfied with it, but maybe even love it. CR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Total Destruction

Ten – Stormwarning (Frontiers)

Once you’ve successfully negotiated your way past the bizarre ‘Lion King meets Flash Gordon’ intro to Endless Symphony this remarkably accomplished compilation of 80s-flavoured soft metal makes for one of the finest AOR efforts of the past 12 months.

Fusing all the best elements of a decade gloriously back in vogue, Stormwarning whips up the retro emotions with a series of bright and breezy tunes perfect for those impending spring evenings spent sipping beer and watching the sun go down.

Centre Of My Universe is classy enough but still lacks the X-Factor and it’s only after this precursor to genuine quality that a good album begins to sound great. Kingdom Come (we’d like to think this track was named in honour of Lenny Wolf’s great survivors) is a masterful offering recounting Magnum in their mid-80s pomp.

And things just get better. The brilliant Book Of Secrets offers a nod to Whitesnake and Def Leppard – the former’s bluesy notes combined with the latter’s riffology – and this tune swiftly develops into a bona fide hair metal classic.

In this age of instant gratification it’s wise to remember that the appreciation of great rock records used to be more of a marathon than a sprint. Stormwarning is a grower. And it’s growing on us. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Ten Out Of Ten

Deicide – To Hell With God (Century Media)

Fast approaching their 25th anniversary as death metal heavyweights those dastardly characters from Deicide are back with another slab of fulsome, feverish thrash. And it says everything about the Tampa crew that they lay their cards on the table from the off.

There’s no pissing about as the title track bursts into life and, on reflection, it’s a fair bet this lot don’t often attend church on a Sunday morning. The lyrical blast apart it’s good to know that Deicide have lost none of their zest for a bone shaking riff and their classic metal solos flow seamlessly from a vocal delivery best described as beastly.

The pace quickens, if that’s possible, on the furious Save Your before the band give Witness Of Death a suitably bombastic introduction. Deicide’s rhythm section appears tighter than ever and for a genre so heavily reliant on perfect percussion this is breakneck drumming to drool over.

How Can You Call Yourself A God, one of just two tracks clocking in at over four minutes, provides the perfect wrap with a Malmsteen-esque solo giving away to yet more angst-ridden, volatile and frankly disturbing lyrics. Deicide make their point just as they have done across an impressive 10-album career. It’s a point well made, yet again. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Cide With The Devil

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Nightcastle (Lava Records)

If you’ve never imagined Michael Ball as a metal singer then you’re not alone. But at times this expansive, complicated and classical-leaning two-disc offering sounds like every musical you’ve ever dreamed of avoiding with a few familiar rock riffs for good measure.

Re-released with a few bonus tracks to coincide with a rare UK outing for the touring version of TSO it’s clearly the right time to visit this fabled rock monster through 2009’s Nightcastle. But it can be an uncomfortable reacquaintance with a band that require an open mind and a spare couple of hours.

Staying true to Paul O’Neill’s vision of a progressive rock collaborative capable of pushing the boundaries and fusing genres, Nightcastle is, as you would expect, a monumental achievement. It will, however, continue to polarise the rock world.

Some of the classical reworkings and Les Miserables-esque numbers still grate such is the distance between these overblown, pompous tunes and what is generally considered rock. Yet when TSO do give their guitars licence to permeate the great slabs of self-gratification shaping the Nightcastle landscape there’s much to admire.

What does become clear come the conclusion of both CDs, bonus tracks et al, is that TSO remain a dish best served live. Slipping this into the CD player or whacking it on the iPod simply doesn’t do the job. TSO are all about big sounds and big gestures and a big rig is required to suitably showcase O’Neill’s grand vision. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Night Nightcastle

Betzefer – Freedom To The Slavemakers (AFM)

Notable as the first Israeli metal act to release an album on a major label, the boys from Betzefer deserve respect for the time and effort they’ve invested into breaking down barriers and building up a global fanbase.

But when Roadrunner drop a band (it’s pretty damn certain this is exactly what happened) it’s not without reason and Freedom To The Slavemakers smacks of an act treading water.

None of the so-called groove metal here is bad but the bulk is achingly average. Bestseller and Backstage Blues are primitive rather than pugnacious and it’s a theme mirrored across this Warren Riker-produced effort. Which, of course, is a shame.

Metal’s long-term survival very much depends on bands from emerging markets making their mark but where Betzefer once appeared to be metal’s next big thing this record sees them shunted into the sidings alongside the genre’s myriad also-rans. Gone is the spark, gone is the confidence and gone is the feeling that this lot are on the cusp of greatness. SR

rushonrock rated: 4/10 All Betz Are Off

Scheepers – Scheepers (Frontiers)

Behind the worst album sleeve we’ve witnessed in many a long year lies a rather good traditional metal record which will have fans of Priest and Helloween rushing to recount their favourite bands’ glory days.

Opener Locked In The Dungeon marries a clean vocal with Dragonforce-esque musicianship to get things off to a rollicking start. It only gets better. Remission Of Sin is vintage Priest given the Scheepers sheen and you won’t quite believe they still make records like this in 2011 – thankfully they do.

The atmospheric Doomsday benefits from a well-planned narrative intro and on a record which doesn’t stray too far from a tried and tested formula the variation works.

But if you’re looking for one track to sum up the shameless trad metal duplication that is this self-titled gem then look no further than the glorious Saints Of Rock. Imagine Steel Panther at their most playful – with the mind-numbingly daft lyrics to match – and you get a feel for this ridiculous yet addictive anthem. Even the quirky keys which cut in from time to time don’t dull the mood – a mood which drifts into unbridled delerium as Scheepers crown a fantastic party metal record with a genuine retro classic. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Jeepers Scheepers!

Dalriada – Igeret (AFM)

Sometimes it doesn’t matter one jot if you don’t understand a single word of a single song because the music does the talking. Dalriada’s Igret is an uplifting case in point: unless you’re familiar with the language of Hungarian folk the wonderful vocal performance of Laura Binder won’t actually mean anything. But this is one record capable of meaning something to everyone – and then some.

A sparkling array of instruments ensure the folk is more than a match for the metal with everything from harmonicas to squeeze boxes, violins and keys creating a veritable aural feast. The magnificent Hozd el, Isten manages to fuse a myriad of sounds to create a magical tune with Binder’s sublime talent given room to blossom.

The title track is an absolute triumph. If this doesn’t get you dancing in the living room with the speakers turned up to 10 then nothing will. Reminiscent of those Ouzo-infused performers dotted across the Greek islands – given a shot of spicy goulash for good measure – Igeret is happiness on CD. Or maybe it’s a sad old tale. But who knows? The sooner this lot head out on tour with Turisas the better! SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Hungary For More

Amplifier – The Octopus (AmpCorp)

This is prog rock at its finest. And if, as Amplifier believe, they will never surpass the body of work presented here then, as a career-defining opus, this double disc triumph this is something to be very proud of indeed.

One band’s vivid imagination, three years of inspired toil and 16 sensational songs make The Octopus a must-have for fans of Rush and Oceansize alike – in fact any music buff who loves to wallow in a rich and varied soundscape and does not fear repeated visits to the heart of a favourite album.

Amplifier have always hinted at something on the scale of The Octopus but tracks like Interstellar and the acoustic-infused Oscar Night tell the story of potential realised and ambition fulfilled. If this is the beginning and the end of this band as genuine big hitters on the rock scene then the story sandwiched in between opener The Runner and closer Forever And More is so compelling it makes both the past and the future almost obsolete.

At this point the big question should be where next for the amazing Amplifier? But that would be an injustice to this fabulous record. Enjoy the here and now because The Octopus has legs. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Ampli-fire

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson