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Crimson Shadows – “Kings Among Men”

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Crimson Shadows – “Kings Among Men” (Napalm Records)

Behold the power of ale and the riddle of steel! No kidding, the winners of Wacken’s Battle Of The Bands 2013, these Canadians return triumphantly with a sophomore album ready to take them to the next level. Mixing the galloping guitar steeds of Iron Maiden with the melodic majesty of Blind Guardian, Crimson Shadows deliver their charge in epic glory on songs like ‘Heroes Among Us’, ‘Maidens Call’ and ‘Braving The Storm’. Although not as steadfast in their diehard attitude as Manowar, there’s a definite upbeat warrior spirit that delivers tales of salvation and the victory of freedom as told through the mixed gruff war cries of Jimi Maltais backed by the clean soulful harmonies of Greg Rounding and Morgan Rider – and it doesn’t stop there from the high speed twin seraphic guitar work that dances out melody after melody before spitting dragon fire solos – and then leading the next cavalry charge with fret burning riffola - phew! With Cory Hofing’s breakneck drumming and Morgan Rider’s million mile bass runs Crimson Shadows music is spell bounding in stirring hearts as brains meet beauty and the beast in one awesome album! All in all a triumphant return from a young band ready to take on the world with their metal battle balladry as seen through their heroic dreams.

The Order Of Israfel – “Wisdom”

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The Order Of Israfel – “Wisdom” (Napalm Records)

Formed by ex Church Of Misery guitarist Tom Sutton and bassist Patrik Winberg of the Doomdogs, The Order Of Israfel are apparently named after the angel of music, and whilst I doubt any divine intervention, I certainly can’t doubt the excellence of this debut. Combining the early seventies doom of Sabbath with its nineties descendant in the form of Cathedral interspersed cleverly with folk elements, most of the songs clock in around 10 minutes a piece with varying tempos from classic plod to more dynamic tempos even rocking out Zepp style occasionally. The style itself remains true to the genre(s) in the form of church hymn vocals, trippy multi layered harmonies and a twin guitar assault with heaps of fuzz n reverb as well as some far out soloing that if it went any higher would launch the band into space! Most of all though, its the sound on “Wisdom” that truly takes songs like the 9 minute doom monster of ‘The Noctuus’ or the 15 minute psychedelic love of ‘Promises Made To The Earth’ and the fast rockin ‘The Black Wings A Demon’ into the realms of ‘classic’. Thoroughly organic from Winberg’s crunching bass to those aforementioned guitars and Hans Lilja’s big drum sound, this debut is an excellent achievement in bringing the sound of nature to the mind, yet also being incredibly colorful and most of all, re-awakening that magical feeling in that dark doom heart of mine.

Niva – “Incremental IV”

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Niva – “Incremental IV” (AOR Heaven)

Taking right off from literally from where his last album “Magnitude” left off comes Tony Niva’s sophomore – and is it a diamond. Already famed for playing in bands through the 80s & 90s like Vanessa, Swedish Erotica, Malibu Band and Tracy Goes Crazy, Niva’s grounding in AOR is unparalleled both as a composer and a vocalist. Opening with the upbeat ‘Don’t You Know’, his high vocals immediately grab you, clean and faultless as is the unashamed love reflected in the tender harmonies and subtle guitars, soft but still purring their rock essence. It’s swiftly followed by my personal fave and in my opinion best track on the album – ‘Crush’ – with its addictive lines and fluid keyboard melodies - man, if this had been released in the 80s it would’ve been a hit as stadium anthems go! Niva then slows it down a little with the Foreigner like ‘Better Just Forgotten’ with its mid tempo rock crooning beat broken by fast guitar breaks before pausing with the power ballad of the heart breaking ‘Travel Back In Time’ complete with delicate piano accompanying Niva’s angelic vocals. The rest of the album, whilst not quite matching the hit power of the early tracks is no less different in styles ranging from pure AOR to soft Milk Tray moments and pomp rockers but always graced by Niva’s omnipresence. Whatever his style, Tony Niva’s talent as one of Scandinavia’s best is guaranteed on both his albums that take you right back in replaying the 80s to your heart.

Slaughterday – “Ravenous”

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Slaughterday – “Ravenous” MCD (FDA-Rekotz)

Awesome. Bludgeoning old school death metal that takes off from where the legends of Autopsy, Death and Massacre left us all those years ago. Formed in 2010 by the duo of ex-Obscenity’s Jens Finger (all guitars) and ex- BK 49er Bernd Reiners (Drums/Vocals), Slaughterday have gone from strength to strength in playing their sick and raw trademark sound of evil, with whirring diddly dee guitars, hoarse guttural vocals, chopping bass and hammer stamping drums. Best of all, they have honed to perfection the catchy beats and rhythms that those bands of old pioneered and its great to hear that again on the excellent songs making up this mini album like ‘Crawling In Secrecy’, ‘Abyss Of Nameless Fear’ and a ripping cover of Acheron’s ‘Ave Satanas’. A fantastic release that will appeal to anyone with an appreciation of old school death – I can’t wait for the next album cos I am truly ravenous after this one!!!!

Asa Noir – “Fall Of The Idols”

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Asa Noir – “Fall Of The Idols” (WormHoleDeath Records)

Right from its bombastic film score intro it’s clear that Asa Noir are a little different. Despite taking root in 2004 initially in the realms of Scandi black metal, that soon evolved. Likewise, although having a fascination of Norse mythology, the band were keen to distance themselves from the whole Norse / Pagan / Folk thing despite it being a happening one. Quo vadis? Well, their name is a clue: both a play on Bathory’s “Twilight Of The Gods” there is no doubt an influence from the mighty Quorthon; equally also from the devious Loki unto the which the band explore the darker side of Norse legends in following the Left Hand Path. Add to this the gothic horror fiction of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe and you have the rich cultural pickings from which Asa Noir draw their inspiration. From Henri Asikainen’s drawling vocals which are subtly hoarse (although its clear he’s still singing) to the dark melodies of Ville Oravala and Kalle Hotti’s guitars that still retain the complex spirit of Jon Nödtveidt, much of Asa Noir’s sound is owed to the wonderfully dextrous keyboards of Toni Haapasaari, whose work features prominently – and rightfully so - in the mix, adding incredible atmosphere, haunting effects and even eastern harmonies that bring real texture to songs like ‘Hawthorns For The Jotunn’s Harlot’, ‘Rise Of The Lokean’ and ‘Naglfar Lounge Music’. Asa Noir have bravely evolved away from conventionality, offering a perversely twisted view of their dark aggressive world through the fascinating theater drama they portray on this unique album.

Ashes To Ashes – “Borderline”

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Ashes To Ashes – “Borderline” (WormHoleDeath Records)

Music made for ‘Twilight’. If night is day for some then Genoa – the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and Niccolo Paganini – is the perfect hometown of Italy’s Ashes To Ashes, an amazing band that bring together a number of styles and in their fusion discover a brave new world. Led by the hugely talented Marta ‘Polverina’ Vassallo on vocals / keys along with the virtuoso guitar playing Paolo Schiavi, Ashes To Ashes blend soft moments graced by arpeggios and beautiful melodies with metalcore moments when Marta’s sweet, innocent vocals give rise to her inner demon unleashed in aggro vocals and roars – true love and hate personified! Throughout, Schiavi’s guitar stays unfailingly by her side, providing passionate power to those tender moments to bring orgasmic climax or adding kick ass attitude with his slick rock n roll soloing! I thoroughly enjoyed this album – girlie as it may be – but it is hugely catchy be it from the title track’s mellowcore beat – complete with cool girlie sass shout outs – to the delicate pseudo femme goth rock of ‘Sleep’ to the hugely catchy pop rock of ‘Ballad Of The Wolf’, almost made for Cullen & Swan! Recorded in New York, during which time the band played live twice and recorded their first video for the single ‘Alice’s Song’, “Borderline” shows not only the amazing talent of this new band, but their ambition as lofty as Columbus himself.

  • mongolian, china, heavy metal, black metal, viking metal, pagan metal, chimera, folklore,