And it’s the remodelled Thin Lizzy who take centre stage as Black Star Riders drop their much anticipated debut.
We review and rate a slew of SPV/Steamhammer releases as Fair Warning, Anvil, A Pale Horse Named Death and Powerworld unleash new material.
There’s a thrash-off as Brits Evile take on US supergroup Pasadena Napalm Division (pictured).
And we focus on new music from U.D.O., Burzum, Hate Meditation and Blood Ceremony.
Plus we review and rate the new records from hard rockers Voodoo Six and Monster Truck.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK and round up the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Hard Rock
When All Hell Breaks Loose began to take shape in a tiny studio tucked away in the creative quarter of Newcastle, the name Black Star Riders was furthest from the mind of chief songwriter Scott Gorham.
This was a new Thin Lizzy album. Nothing more and nothing less. There was a buzz about its creation, an acknowledgement that it would stay true to that great band’s phenomenal back catalogue and an excitement that classic rock royalty was about to release its first new studio material in 30 years.
Somewhere along the line the Lizzy name was lost. But it was never forgotten. Listen to this polished record and it’s clear Black Star Riders is simply a name to satisfy those uncomfortable about ever releasing Thunder And Lightning’s long awaited follow-up.
Lead single Bound For Glory says it all but whether this band really is on the road to success in its own right remains open to question. For every song worthy of the Lizzy canon there’s a Kingdom Of The Lost or a Hoodoo Voodoo – tunes that lack the requisite class.
All Hell Breaks Loose isn’t the barnstorming comeback album Lizzy fans have longed for this past 30 years. But it is a necessary step forward for a true ‘band’ with a thirst for writing fresh material as well as an appetite for paying due homage to the Lizzy legacy. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Star Quality
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Occult Rock
The (original) Wicker Man is regarded as essential viewing in rock circles. It’s just a shame that Blood Ceremony weren’t around in 1973 to provide the soundtrack. For their enchanting witch’s brew of Sabbathian groove and electric folk, a la Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span, would have been the perfect accompaniment to the film’s pagan shenanigans. Hell, The Eldritch Dark even boasts a track called Lord Summerisle.
One of the first bands to spearhead the so-called ‘occult rock’ revival, the Canadians have really hit their stride on album number three. Tracks like Witchwood, Goodbye Gemini and The Ballad Of The Weird Sisters cry out to be set to vinyl and played via an ancient, dusty turntable – preferably in a dimly lit room filled with incense. The production is warm and organic, the riffs simple yet gloriously effective and the vocals – courtesy of Alia O’Brien – are magical.
Blood Ceremony, like all great bands, transport you to another world. Let them take you there…Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 A Rich Vein Of Form
Genre: Black Metal
As frontman of Nachtmystium, Blake Judd has established himself as one of the pioneers of US black metal, a visionary who’s been unafraid to inhale influences from psych, prog and new wave. And despite also performing in dark post-metallers Twilight, the guitarist/vocalist has never hidden his love of barbaric, bullet-belt wearing bands like Blasphemy and Beherit.
Hate Meditation, which first emerged in 2003, was originally intended to pay homage to such acts and this debut opus certainly channels their fire breathing spirit. Yet while Scars has a raw, fearsome edge – and Judd sounds like he’s possessed by Lucifer himself – there’s much more to this record than mindless blasting and chromatic riffs.
Yes, the likes of Impure spit BM spite straight in your eye, but there are echoes of Nachtmystium’s Floyd-tinged breakthrough Instinct Decay on End Times…and a slow burning, dream-like feel to Scars – Shadow World.
What’s so pleasing about Scars, though, is that it has its own identity while bearing Judd’s distinctive (black) mark… and while it may have taken ten years for Hate Meditation to release a full-length, it has been well worth the wait. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Cutting Deep
Varg Virkenes has been a busy man since his release from prison, with four albums hitting the shelves since 2010. Rather than featuring Burzum’s trademark, otherworldly black metal sound though, Sol Austan, Mani Vestan re-visits the electronic/ambient style he delved into in the late 90s.
A purely instrumental effort, the Norwegian’s 11th opus isn’t exactly a cutting-edge slab of space-age electronica…but given its concept, the “Pagan religious-spiritual concept of a descent into darkness and the following ascend back into the light” (in Vikernes’ words), you perhaps wouldn’t expect it to be.
Much of the music contained within Sol Austan…,appears, in unmastered form, in ForeBears, a film by Virkenes’ wife – and the album certainly feels like a soundtrack, ebbing and flowing, but rarely producing anything challenging or truly dramatic.
A mellow diversion for Burzum then, but not a particularly interesting path to take. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 4/10 Bore-zum
Genre: Heavy Metal
For every fan of Anvil’s balls-to-the-wall NWOBHM-influenced noise there’s a cynic who sees nothing more than parody, pastiche and painful cliché. And Hope In Hell will confirm the opinion of those with a foot in each camp.
Few bands could get away with rhyming New Orleans with Aberdeen or Greece with (Canadian) Geese but Anvil pull it off without the merest hint of irony on the fairly ridiculous Flying.
They’re at it again with the back-to-basics Pay The Toll – Lips shouts ‘pay the toll/for rock n roll’ and shouts it with passion – but then this rough and ready metal record was never going to win awards for the depth of songwriting or the gravity of its subject matter.
Anvil know their strengths and accept their limitations – not for them a fancy concept album or an epic composition. Hope In Hell is fast and frantic from start to finish with Robb Reiner’s drumming typically tenacious. It does the job. And does it well. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 A New Hope
Genre: Classic Rock
The right band at the wrong time, Fair Warning’s initial burst of success was disappointingly brief but Sundancer recalls the quality classic rock that created quite a buzz around their self-titled 1992 debut.
More than two decades down the line and the Germans remain true to a finely-tuned fusion of bluesy 70s rock and commercially driven 80s metal.
Keep It In The Dark owes an obvious debt to Ronnie James Dio and the keys driving Hit And Run evokes memories of Deep Purple at their emotive best.
Man In The Mirror proves Fair Warning can pen a mean AOR anthem but there’s very little this band can’t do where chorus-driven hard rock is concerned. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Warning Shots
Genre: Gothic Metal/Doom Metal
After 74 seconds of their haunting, instrumental opener, A Pale Horse Named Death launch into the grandiose gothic statement that is Shallow Grave. Think The Mission given a 2013 reboot or Marilyn Manson without the metal: it’s a thrilling glimpse of what’s to come.
Make no mistake – APHND do the whole gothic/doom thing very, very well. But they’re no one-trick ponies, slavishly adhering to the genre’s limiting boundaries.
Growing Old prefers to adopt a grunge-inspired sound straight from the vaults of classic Soundgarden or Alice In Chains. And the stripped down acoustica Dead Of Winter throws another light on a band that delivers through darkly effective diversity.
This is an album that surprises, impresses and ultimately evolves into much more than could possibly be imagined. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Horsing Around
Genre: Thrash Metal
This star-studded Dead Horse/D.R.I. collaboration looked good on paper…and sounds even better now the full length debut album is done and dusted.
Throwing open the doors to a devastating mash-up of old school thrash and hardcore punk, PND punch their way through 13 monstrous metal anthems.
Down In The Depths Of Despair couldn’t be anything but a modern thrash classic with its Testament-esque fury and Anthrax-inspired angst.
But it’s on the slamming Cemetery Mass that PND prove they’re so much more than the sum of their parts. Mixing Death Angel with the Beastie Boys to brilliant effect it’s the standout track on a stunning record. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 First Division
Genre: Thrash Metal
In what’s turned out to be quite a week for thrash fans (see PND review above), Huddersfield’s finest make astonishing progress on their journey to the genre’s hall of fame.
Skull is a bone-crushing bid for the big leagues with its emphasis on old-school tradition and modern metal ambition: it never misses a beat and the breakneck pace is almost punishing.
The titanic Tomb might be a brazen copy of late 80s/early 90s Metallica but aping the masters is no bad thing – this song is something special with its haunting intro and soaring solo.
Head Of The Demon proves Evile still have a talent for producing awe-inspiring metal anthems made for sweaty northern clubs and vast festival fields alike. Their time has come. Their time is now. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Skull-duggery
Genre: Hard Rock
As far back as 2010 – on a sub-zero November night in Newcastle – RUSHONROCK began slating Voodoo Six for bigger things after witnessing the band play a storming set in front of a handful of fans rewarded for battling through the worst Tyneside winter in decades.
Weeks later debut long player Fluke? Burst into our Top 15 albums of the year list. And the band’s November 2011 EP Falling Knives maintained a seemingly unstoppable momentum.
But with the assured Songs To Invade Countries To and a slot opening up for Iron Maiden across Europe this summer – including a spot at Download next month – the rest of the world is finally about to wake up to the joy of Six.
Vocalist Luke Purdie has grown in confidence year on year and his trademark growl has never sounded better as he blasts his way through Falling Knives, Sink Or Swim and You Don’t Know.
Voodoo Six have that happy knack for writing songs that ooze belief, passion and pride. Songs that you really could invade a country to. And emerge victorious. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Six Pack
Genre: Heavy Metal
The marmite of rock vocalists, pocket rocket Udo Dirkschneider continues to polarise opinion in his 61st year – but love or hate his singing style it’s impossible not to admire the German screamer’s longevity.
It’s 26 years since the feisty frontman first left Accept – the Priest clones with whom he made his name as a metal performer par excellence.
And of the 14 U.D.O. records that have been released in that time none has sounded quite so impressive as Steelhammer. The production makes the most of Dirkschneider’s limited range and the songwriting is a huge leap forward from 2011’s ridiculous Rev-Raptor.
Cry Of A Nation comes dangerously close to bringing the whole record down with a spurious spoken word passage but it’s a rare stumble on an album that strides forth with confidence.
How many more albums Herr Dirkschneider has in his locker remains to be seen. But should he hang up the mic after Steelhammer he’ll be stepping down in style. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Hammer Time
Genre: Melodic Power Metal
The Michael Bormann-fronted Powerworld’s third album finds the Bavarian power metallers treading familiar ground with another melodic tour de force.
But if one of Germany’s biggest emerging bands has rolled out another note-perfect lesson in modern rock then passion too often cedes to precision.
Bormann is a brilliant frontman but is he singing from the heart? That’s the big question on an album that suffers from being too precise and painfully predictable.
Generic anthems flow – opener Children Of The Universe is overblown and contrived while Am I Digital just doesn’t cut the mustard as it awkwardly forces home the concept running through a cluttered record.
There’s a lot right about Cybersteria. But there’s too much that’s wrong about an album missing a vital spark. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Sighbersteria
Genre: Hard Rock
The Slash-approved Shinedown wannabes of Monster Truck have emerged as one of 2013’s buzz bands. But is the hype justified?
With a Juno (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy) in their locker and the patronage of stars a growing trend, the foundation for success is there.
But it’s the songs that will determine whether Monster Truck actually succeed where masses of North American hard rock bands have failed.
And Furiosity – for all its bluster and bravado – doesn’t have too many standout tunes. The funky Oh Lord is an obvious exception and seven-minute epic For The Sun is a fine slice of retro rock.
As debut albums go this makes a decent stab at establishing Monster Truck as a band with ambition, confidence and the crucial ‘cool’ factor. Whether that’s enough only time will tell. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 For Truck’s Sake