And once again we’ve harvested a bumper crop of pre-Christmas classics vying for your attention.
British metal legends Motorhead are back with their best album in decades and Christian rockers Stryper (pictured) prove they’re here to stay.
There’s new music from Seventh Key, Place Vendome and blues rock star Joanne Shaw Taylor.
We check out the latest music from Steven Wilson, The Flower Kings and Ayreon as prog rock makes its presence felt.
There’s the return of ex-Reuben frontman Jamie Lenman and Misfits guitarist Doyle. Plus we review and rate new tunes courtesy of Zodiac, The Whybirds, Fit For An Autopsy, Cursed 13, Winds Of Plague and Ortagos.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we round up the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Melodic Rock
With every fresh Stryper release comes an inevitable wave of crass cynicism and a sneering lack of respect for one of the finest heavy rock bands on the planet.
Forget, for a moment, their well-publicised religious beliefs and rather embarrassing past as yellow and black leather-clad hair metal heroes. Instead, judge No More Hell To Pay on the quality of its music alone.
Opener Revelation sets out Stryper’s stall with due determination. Frontman Michael Sweet’s piercing lead guitar and trademark high-pitched vocal proves this much-maligned band means business.
They don’t dream of hiding from those dearly-held Christian beliefs or that hungry disdain for the devil. But messages of hope and glory are gift-wrapped in some of the most effective metal riffs of 2013.
Taking the very best of 2009’s Murder By Pride and tweaking their sound to fit the current taste for polished trad metal, the focused foursome are on fire. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Sweet Taste Of Success
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Heavy Metal
It’s testimony to Motorhead that the tried and tested veteran trio have refused to compromise when the road to heritage act heaven surely beckoned.
Far from resting on their laurels, Lemmy and co. have consistently produced worthy metal albums and added to a back catalogue bursting with genre classics.
Yet none of their records since 1987’s Rock N Roll has contained the spark and spontaneity running through the heart of Aftershock.
Opener Heartbreaker is pretty standard fare and the full-on rockers come thick and fast. But it’s on the blues-infused Dust And Glass and Lost Woman Blues that Motorhead really rediscover their mojo.
Whether either track makes the final setlist for this month’s UK headline tour remains to be seen but both offer evidence that one of Britain’s true rock treasure remains bitingly relevant. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Shocking
Genre: Classic Rock/Alt Rock
The dude responsible for deciding upon the final tracklist for A Little Blood deserves to be shot. Three songs in and this record will have fans of The Whybirds’ previous two albums tearing out their hair and believing the dream has died. It’s that bad.
But The Cure (aptly named) marks a mid-set revival of sorts. At this point the bluesier riffs kick in, the multiple vocals serve their glorious purpose and The Whybrids are in position to whip up the kind of frenzy their best music inevitably inspires.
Producer Nick Mailing – currently playing bass on the Quireboys’ European tour – has managed the band’s transition from quartet to trio with admirable dexterity. However, the title track and opener Cheating Heart try too hard to compensate for former bass player Taff Thatcher’s absence.
When the Whybirds do a disastrous impression of Oasis and their indie rock ilk it’s painful. When they stick to their roots and mix alt-country with blues rock it works a treat. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Birds Eye Success
Genre: Blues Rock
It’s official then. 2013 is the year when heavy blues rock ripped up the form book and left every other rock and metal movement trailing in its wake.
Graveyard, Free Fall, Blues Pills, Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement, The Graveltones and more have breathed new life into one of guitar music’s most historic genres.
Now Zodiac make a giant leap forward from critically acclaimed debut A Bit Of A Devil to thrust themselves into the leading pack with the fabulous A Hiding Place.
All retro riffs, haunting vocals, soaring solos and riveting blues authenticity, this is a record that should be appreciated on heavyweight vinyl, on a dark November night, with only a bottle of Bourbon and a reckless woman for company. We’ll start with the vinyl… SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Zodiac Mindwarp
Genre: Death Metal
They are not yet a leading name in the French extreme metal scene, but Otargos deserve a greater audience beyond their own shores – which Apex Terror should provide.
Granted, it’s not the most ground-breaking album to emerge from the country in recent years, but for those who like their death metal shrouded in darkness, it should hit more than a few spots.
The title track is absolutely pulverising, boasting a fearsome blast-beat and some thrilling, rapid fire riffery, while the slower-paced Remnant From A Long Dead Star exudes a cold, foreboding atmosphere, with a frosty, black metal hue.
Elsewhere, you’ll encounter some standard DM chug, but even the weaker tracks reveal a more intriguing side on repeated plays – Fallout a case in point.
Gallic flair? It’s not just confined to Gojira. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Terrorizing
Mixing blazing deathcore with dashes of ivory tinkling and symphonic elements, Winds Of Plague could have been an experiment that went horribly wrong. Luckily the California six-piece have an enough suss to keep the aggression levels to the fore, and the material on Resistance, their fourth effort, rarely sounds twee or cheesy.
United Through Hatred, for instance, is a hardcore bruiser built for serious pit action, while Time To Reap is short, sweet and to the point, showcasing Nick Eash and Nick Piunno’s deadly axework to maximum effect.
Like metalcore legends Bleeding Through, Winds Of Plague largely get the balance right between metallic crunch and keyboard embellishment… and you’ll feel like you’ve done ten rounds with the Klitschko brothers before Snake Eyes brings proceedings to a close.
Resistance isn’t subtle, but it will certainly help the plague to keep spreading…Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Resistance Movement
Genre: Black Metal
This album’s third track, Death and Roll, helps to sum up Cursed 13’s aggressive, yet somehow slightly groove-based, take on black metal. Of course the Swedes’ music seethes with malevolence, but as the material on Triumf shows, you don’t have to blast along at hyperspeed to make your point.
Taking in material from 1998 – the year of the band’s birth – to the present day, including tracks recorded for the never released And Hell… album, this opus is a varied beast, from the disorientating strains of Frast Av Eld and the electronica-tinged Agitator, to the heads down assault of Dead and Gone and the thrashy När Marorna Kallar.
Frontman Heljarmadr’s caustic vocal style is something to behold, and anyone who hasn’t closed their ears to Satyricon’s recent, minimalist approach will surely appreciate the slowburning menace of Seductress.
A career retrospective of sorts then, Triumf is a doorway to Cursed 13’s dark world; enjoy the journey. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Triumphant
Deathcore, much to the chagrin of ‘old school’ death metallers, can still produce exhilarating, supremely powerful music, as Whitechapel and The Black Dahlia Murder both prove. Not all bands reach their lofty standards though, and the scene is full of B and C-listers.
Thankfully, Fit For An Autopsy clearly aren’t just another also-ran, as Hellbound proves. The New Jersey act’s second full-length is a well crafted, well executed and (bloody) well brutal slice of ferocious deathcore, that is quite frankly terrifying in its intensity.
And while the crushing beatdowns and depth charge chugs found on this sophomore effort are standard genre hallmarks, tracks like the stunning Do You See Him, which hints at hardcore renegades Converge, and the Gojira-like Tremors, show that FFAA take their influences from far and wide… not just their own musical neighbourhood.
The future of deathcore? Don’t bet against it. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Unleashing Hell
Genre: Progressive Rock
Enjoying an incredibly fertile period of mind-bending creativity, the masterful Steven Wilson has served up the perfect Christmas gift for the progressive rocker in your life.
This audio-visual treat is a genuine tour de force, featuring videos, live tracks and previously unreleased tunes unleashing one of modern music’s most endearing artists in all of his instinctive glory.
Wilson is a performer who deserves to be heard in pin-sharp 5.1 DVD-Audio and The Birthday Party and the orchestral version of The Raven That Refused To Sing (included on the DVD) are best enjoyed on a sound system built to deliver.
The live songs culled from a fabulous Frankfurt set (you’ll wish you’d been there) ripple with heartfelt passion and unbelievable precision. Wilson is the future of progressive rock and this ambitious release offers the hard evidence. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Home Run
Genre: Progressive Rock/Rock Opera
Almost 90 minutes is required to enjoy The Theory Of Everything in all of its pompous glory. Yet as with most of Arjen Lucassen’s finest work the time flies by – the listener immersed in a glorious haze of constantly changing soundscapes and shimmering arrangements.
Guest performers include everyone from Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) to Keith Emmerson and Janne JB Christofferson (Grand Magus) to Rick Wakeman as this stunning studio epic gathers pace and reaches a glorious denouement.
Split into four incredibly detailed yet perfecty articulated chapters, Lucassen’s latest project is a progressive rock masterpiece that defies convention and offers a dazzling insight in to the mind of a truly unique artist.
Picking single songs – if they even exist here – to pique the interest is futile. This is an album that trades on the powerful force of the sum of its parts and taken as one all-encompassing work it’s pure magic. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Everything Better Than Everything Else
Genre: Blues Rock
Three studio albums in and it’s high time one of the best blues artists on the circuit laid down a live album. The latest in Ruf Records’ ‘Songs From The Road’ series provides Joanne Shaw Taylor with the opportunity to do just that and she doesn’t disappoint.
An eagerly anticipated CD/DVD package, pulled together from this summer’s London Borderline set, juxtaposes the singer songwriter’s deep and soulful tones alongside some truly outstanding guitar work.
Opener Soul Station is the smart choice and immediately gets a vociferous crowd in the mood. If Taylor still sounds incredibly tentative filling in time between her songs then she tackles this Best Of set with trademark tenacity.
Diamonds In The Dirt, Manic Depression and Jealousy are the pick of the audio selection – back to back and reassuringly faultless. But Taylor truly shines in front of the camera: watching her live through her music is a genuine joy. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Shaw Thing
Genre: Heavy Metal/Horror Punk
Just missing out on Halloween, ex-Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein joins forces with Dr. CHUD on drums and Cancerslug’s Alex Story on vocals and releases his heavy metal horror solo album.
This album has some stellar guitar work from Doyle – from the Pantera-esque grooves of the eponymous opener, there are plenty of headbanging riffs and drum blasts throughout. The violent imagery and horror-influenced lyrics would please any fan of the genre and make for some interesting rhymes and hooks.
The real let down on this album is Alex Story’s vocals and the singer ensures most of Abominator feels like a pale Danzig imitation – whether it’s his singing, screaming, or crooning on the chorus of dreamingdeadgirls.
It’s a fun album to listen to, can sit comfortably alongside other post-Misfits projects and a few stand-out tracks will probably be getting repeated listens.
Doyle is set to announce shows soon. Stuart Wharton
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Doyle Tone
Reuben frontman Jamie Lenman returns with a solo double album and it’s a stylish delight.
Side one is raw and sometimes blisteringly heavy – mixing the sound of hardcore punk and UK metalcore reminiscent of early Bring Me the Horizon, Architects and similar bands but omitting the crisp clean production. Some songs do, however, last longer than they need to and start to sound a little samey.
Side two sets a completely differently tone altogether. A delightful collection of songs steeped in Americana, bluegrass and even big band jazz. It’s just a shame this chapter wasn’t longer and explored more of jazz and country sounds. It is a refreshing and creative take on the frontman-turned-solo-artist album.
It will be interesting to see how this project is performed live. Whether it is an individual set for each side, or a bipolar mix of both as the heavy Fizzy Blood/non-heavy Pretty Please single would indicate.
Let’s wait and see – Lenman tours in December. SW
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Lenman Up
Genre: Progressive Rock
Perhaps the most ambitious album to date from Swedes The Flower Kings, this deliciously rich and varied record appears hell bent on throwing up more twists and turns than a Wallander plot.
And maybe main man Roine Stoldt has been overdosing on complicated Scandinavian crime dramas given the wild unpredictability of Desolation Rose.
Anyone looking to solve the mystery surrounding The Flower Kings’ primary source of inspiration will be sorely disappointed – so many influences appear to colour this fascinating jazz-infused slab of punchy progressive rock that the evidence trail swiftly runs dry.
Opener Tower ONE clock in at a mouthwatering 13-and-a-half minutes and that song alone is enough to confuse and confound in equal measure. Elsewhere there are pertinent nods to Marillion, It Bites and Yes – so much so that demanding prog rock aficionados will find their appetite for ambition fully sated. The Flower Kings are blossoming. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Rose Tinted Prog
Genre: Melodic Rock
Frontiers specialise in made-to-measure melodic rock supergroups: the secret is unearthing the soul beneath a consistently glossy production and undeniably deep talent pool.
Place Vendome, a platform for former Helloween frontman Michael Kiske, sees the cream of the genre’s classiest songwriters come together in a bid to shape the ultimate melodic rock project.
Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear), Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius) and Alessandro Del Vechhio (Hardline) are just three of the stellar individuals drafted in to give Kiske his fill of tantalising tunes.
But in spite of these wonderfully talented hired hands – and for all the neat touches associated with a polished Dennis Ward production – it’s the soul that’s sorely lacking on Thunder In The Distance.
Too good to be true? Not quite. But the latest Place Vendome record is too good to appeal to fans craving a raw and passionate edge to their rock. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Out Of Place
Genre: Melodic Rock
It’s almost a decade since Billy Greer-fronted side-project Seventh Key released the second of their two critically acclaimed studio albums but I Will Survive has been well worth the wait.
Sea Of Dreams is a sensational AOR-styled ballad that brings Greer’s magnificent voice to the fore but it’s not the only melodic gem here. The band’s multi-layered vocals, synonymous with Kansas at their emotive best, work a treat on the slower songs and the punchy rockers alike.
Building on 2001’s self-titled debut and 2004’s The Raging Fire, it’s clear that I Will Survive is the culmination of a glorious artistic vision shared by Greer and guitarist/producer Mike Slamer.
That vision is realised in triumphant style on the Journey-esque Time And Time Again and the titanic title track. Rooted in the early 80s, I Will Survive benefits from a slick 2013 production and guarantees Greer another permanent fixture on the ‘rock classics’ board. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Key Release