And there’s a bumper crop of the finest guitar-fuelled sounds in the world with spoof metallers Steel Panther leading the charge.
We review and rate the latest offerings from Robert Cray, Anette Olzon, and Halestorm.
Plus we run the rule over Pyrrhon, Ringworm, Pilgrim and Memphis May Fire.
There’s new music from Jackson Firebird (pictured), The Graviators, Bruised Not Broken and AOR legends Asia.
And we check out albums from Magnum, L.R.S., Dynazty and Beth Hart‘s live collaboration with Joe Bonamassa.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we run the rule over the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Asia – Gravitas (Frontiers Records)
It might be achingly uncool to shower heartfelt praise upon AOR gurus Asia but Gravitas is a weighty piece of work worthy of critical acclaim.
Somehow even better than 2012’s mightily impressive XXX, this record is even more melodic, even more anthemic and even more dynamic.
The two-part title track and emotive ballad The Closer I Get To You are two of the best tunes these big hitters have penned in decades. Only the bizarre Nyctophobia smacks of over-confidence and a lack of focus.
John Wetton has revamped his vocal style to such an extent that Gravitas can almost be described as a groundbreaking move by Asia. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Gravitastic
BEST OF THE REST
Steel Panther – All You Can Eat (Steel Panther/Open E)
Genre: Hair Metal
After the balls up that was Balls Out it a blessed relief that the Panther’s tracks are back to their bonkers best.
For starters it’s possible to hear Michael Starr singing every word. And when he’s belting out ‘The end of the world is coming/you should be coming too’ there’s no point losing the thrust in a muddy mix.
Brilliant ballad Bukkake Tears, self-deprecating mid-paced rocker The Burden Of Being Wonderful and set closer She’s On The Rag prove the joke isn’t over – just yet.
This wonderful album is a record quite capable of bringing down the curtain on one of metal’s finest comedy acts. It could do just that. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Feast Of Fun
Dynazty – Renatus (Spinefarm)
Genre: Power Metal
If Steel Panther are playing the metal game for a laugh then Swedes Dynazty are deadly serious.
So much so that they’ve ditched the slightly sleazier hard rock sound underpinning Sultans Of Sin and gone pedal to the metal on Renatus.
Nils Molin does a dynamic impression of Ronnie James Dio while his band mates do their devilish best to replicate Dragonforce at their most dangerous.
Lead single Starlight is the standout tune but Run Amok is already setting the pace as a firm live favourite. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Ren-egades
Pilgrim: II: Void Worship (Metal Blade)
Genre: Doom Metal
With their 2012 debut, Misery Wizard, Pilgrim took doom metal back to its roots, and made a huge dent in the underground scene to boot.
II: Void Worship, then, had been much anticipated – and fans won’t be disappointed, as the album’s dark hearted, Sabbathian riffs creep and crawl out of their speakers and burrow into their souls.
As you’d expect, much of the album is set to snail’s pace, which gives The Wizard’s titanic tritones plenty of space to breathe – Master’s Chamber is a prime example.
But II is not without variety either: The Paladin sees Pilgrim let loose with some rip roaring, fire and brimstone heavy metal, with a chorus which should have fists raised from LA to Moscow. It also suggests that the band could follow a similar path to Grand Magus, should they wish to.
However, the Rhode Islanders, are – for now – simply a damn fine doom band… and with II: Void Worship, they’ve shown that they’re not just a flash in the pan either. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Pilgrim’s Progress
Memphis May Fire – Unconditional (Rise Records)
Unconditional, Memphis May Fire’s fourth album, confirms the Dallas band as one of the forerunners of the metalcore scene.
Unconditional bursts out of the blocks like Usain Bolt at the London 2012 Olympics with No Ordinary Love and the haunting Beneath The Skin, that deals with self-harm, while Sleepless Nights includes the lyrics ‘I just wanna be myself again, I just wanna feel that I’m alive’.
Listen to the words of Memphis May Fire’s fourth effort and you’ll find tracks with just as much tear-jerking power as an Adele song – it’s just cloaked in the sort of riffs and rhythms that are so good that the lyrics sometimes fly under the radar.
This is an album that will be sure to connect to the fans of the band, not just lyrically but musically. It’s an absolute banger that goes a long way to confirming MMF as one of the big boys on the scene. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Fire Starters
Bruised But Not Broken – Fragment (Standby Records)
Mixing metalcore, hardcore and downright hard rock, Bruised But Not Broken have engineered an excellent debut album.
From Charlotte, North Carolina, the band is made up of 15 and 16-year-olds, and the music that they have produced is remarkable for their age.
The heaviest song of the bunch, Mourning Glory, is full of screams and deep, aggressive guitar – in direct contrast to The Prodigals Brother, which feels more like a Linkin Park B-Side. Not only does it make the album more unpredictable in nature, but it showcases the full range of talent at the disposal of BBNB.
Their second album could go either way – a descent into the chaotic darkness of Mourning Glory or an ascent into the more rhythmic sound of The Prodigals Brother.
It’ll be great finding out. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Bruising
Robert Cray Band – In My Soul (Provogue)
You don’t win five Grammys by chance and Robert Cray is no chancer. But that’s not to say he plays it safe: In My Soul is, as the title suggests, a classic soul record and far removed from 2012’s Nothin’ But Love.
Of course there are bluesier moments and the odd blast of heavier guitar genius – gutsy opener You Move Me could easily be turned up to 10.
But Fine Yesterday and CD bonus track Pillow are mellow, throwback songs, harking back to an age when Stax soul ruled the roost.
Typically Cray is in fine voice. In fact he’s sounding smoother, groovier, classier and sassier than ever on yet another stanbout addition to a phenomenal body of work. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Heart Of Soul
Jackson Firebird – Cock Rockin’ (Napalm)
Genre: Rock N Roll
Ever wondered what 50s rock n roll would sound like given a garage rock filter and an Aussie-fuelled 21st century attitude? The answer is Jackson Firebird.
Dripping with raw passion and pulling off passable impressions of everyone from vintage Kiss to Lenny Kravitz and the Black Crowes to classic Hendrix this is heady stuff.
At times the production might be just a little too raw. But Brendan Harvey and Dale Hudak wanted their dizzying debut to sound like it was made in the early hours of the morning in a sweaty basement bar – and it does.
Lead single Quan Dang and the titanic title track hint at greatness to come. For now just enjoy the Firebird’s first flushes of success. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Cocksure
Pyrrhon – The Mother Of All Virtues (Relapse)
Genre: Death/Extreme Metal
It’s no surprise to discover that Today Is The Day’s Ryan Jones has produced this album, as his band’s claustrophobic, caustic noisecore has clearly influenced Pyrrhon.
The New York act also draw on death metal – and the avant garde extremity of France’s Deathspell Omega make its presence felt too. The results are curious, if difficult to digest, with chaotic time changes, jazz rhythms and scorched earth vocals combining to create a disturbing, thoroughly disorientating piece of work.
The Mother Of All Virtues is certainly an ambitious offering which pushes the boundaries of heavy music, a blackened maelstrom which is difficult to ignore. Tracks like White Flag are brimming with vitriol and barely restrained violence, as well as illustrating the band’s frightening technical abilities.
The snag is that there aren’t enough hooks here to leave a lasting impression and Pyrrhon, as talented as they may be, are just a little too much like hard work. Frustrating. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 5/10 Pyrrhomaniacs
Ringworm – Hammer Of The Witch (Relapse)
With tracks called Die Like A Pig and a frontman named Human Furnace, you know you’re not going to get sing-a-long emo anthems from Ringworm. The Cleveland veterans instead specialise in brutal, muscular hardcore, pumped full of testosterone and boasting a serrated metal edge… this is music for the mosh pit and best served live.
Hammer Of The Witch, their Relapse debut, builds on a fine 20-year plus career with 13 incendiary bombs wrapped in riffs and packed explosive energy: the likes of Leave Your Skin At The Door and the raging King Of Blood simply slay everything in their path with sheer force of will.
Sure, the album can be a little samey in places, and there’s no clear ‘anthem’ to shout along too, but it’s still a weighty slice of metallic hardcore which means serious business. A worthy addition to the Ringworm canon. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Witch-craft
Beth Hart/Joe Bonamassa – Live In Amsterdam (Provogue Records)
Genre: Blues Rock
Bored at the prospect of another Joe Bonamassa project? Don’t lose faith just yet.
This is not the time to ignore the latest in a long line of live releases from one of the most prolific musicians on the planet.
Bonamassa might have been recorded in Vienna, New York, the Royal Albert Hall and just about everywhere else in the last few years but this time Beth Hart is the primary focus.
And the pair sizzle with on-stage chemistry on Can’t Let Go, Something’s Got A Hold On Me and Nutbush City Limits. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Hartbreaking
Annette Olzon – Shine (earMUSIC)
Genre: Power Pop
Nothing like Annette Olzon’s accomplished yet ultimately ill-fated work with Nightwish, this is more like the kind of record Belinda Carlisle would love to make.
Olzon’s voice loses none of its theatrical thrust on Shine and yet symphonic metal fans should look away now.
Bar the odd heavy rhythm this has nothing whatsoever to do with rock – hard, soft or otherwise. It’s a powerful pop record and a pretty good one at that.
It’s hardly surprising Olzon can out-sing Lady GaGa and the rest but the biggest problem is persuading her rock-orientated fanbase to support a bold move towards the mainstream. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Olzon Her Own
Magnum – Escape From The Shadow Garden (SPV/Steamhammer)
Genre: Melodic Rock
When Magnum do decide to call it a day it’s unlikely the void they will leave at the heart of the British melodic rock/prog scene will ever be satisfactorily filled. Remarkably, 18 albums in, the Midlands maestros continue to push the musical boundaries.
Escape From The Shadow Garden had to be good to maintain the band’s recent momentum and it is. This magnificent record follows hot on the heels of 2012’s On The 13th Day and its even better predecessor The Visitation. Thankfully Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin have mined yet another seam of rich musical gold from the creative pit that just keeps on giving.
From the robust keyboard-led chords of opener Live Til You Die (Clarkin’s trademark guitar sound isn’t far behind) this is a special album. Epic mid-set tune Midnight Angel combines the band’s commercially fertile late 80s sound with the modern edge of their most recent output to deliver the perfect melodic rock statement. Miss Magnum on tour this spring and miss out. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Magnum Opus
Halestorm – ReAniMate 2.0 (Atlantic)
Genre: Hard Rock
No strangers to complementing their original studio output with carefully selected covers, Halestorm have unleashed a second batch of rocky reinterpretations to coincide with this spring’s UK headline tour.
It’s Lzzy Hale’s take on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky that will inevitably hit the headlines and capture the imagination – it’s a superior version of the original and yet still retains a heavy disco vibe.
Covering AC/DC’s Shoot To Thrill must have seemed like a far safer bet and yet this is the one song that fails to sparkle. Yet even here Hale is in vibrant form vocally and her consistency is almost frightening. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6/10 Lucky Dip
The Graviators – Motherload (Napalm)
Genre: Sludge/Doom Metal
Their guitars scuzzier than the floor of the local rock disco and featuring gravel-toned vocals capable of razing cities, The Graviators haven’t made Motherload with the intention of breaking FM radio anytime soon.
Take meandering 10 minute-plus sludge fest Lost Lord – a tune composed for men with matted facial hair, furrowed brows, kegs brimming with home brew and ears hardened by years of pounding rhythms played through busted PAs. It’s music you never imagined was possible.
Bizarrely Tha Graviators could be accused of jumping on the bandwagon for all things retro, de-tuned and claiming to be the new Clutch. In reality theirs is a sound worthy of soundtracking a ridiculously healthy scene. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Load Of Fun
L.R.S. – Down To The Core (Frontiers)
Genre: Melodic Rock
Now we all know Frontiers just love a good collaboration as they look to complement their roster of established acts with super groups borne out of like-minded melodic rock maestros.
Step forward Tommy La Verdi (21 Guns), Josh Ramos (The Storm, Hardline) and Michael Shotton (Von Groove, Airtime) – theirs is a timely coming together that perfectly captures this outstanding label’s core sound and principle values.
There’s more than a hint of mid-80s Triumph underpinning a slick record rich in hummable hooks and Alessandro Del Vecchio’s keys expertise. Down To The Core is a delightful exercise in making sweet, sweet music without fear of critical or commercial failure. Now which supergroup’s up next…SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Core Blimey