Anthrax – “Kings Of Scotland”

Anthrax – “Kings Of Scotland” CD/DVD (Nuclear Blast) 

Battle Helm Rating

35 years on, selling in excess of 10 million units, receivers of multiple Gold and Platinum awards, 6 Grammy nominations and one of thrash metal’s ‘big 4’, Anthrax have returned to the album that broke them big – “Among The Living”. Recorded in 1987 and dedicated to the memory of Cliff Burton, it produced hits like ‘I Am The Law’ (based on 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd) and ‘Indians’ (in acknowledgement to vocalist Joey Belladona’s part Iroquois heritage) as well as defining what would become the band’s signature sound, along with introducing humour, movies and comics into an image that was a rarity back in the day. Now in 2017, Anthrax have returned with 17 cameras to capture the intensity of playing this famous album in its entirety across 18 songs totally a monumental set of 2 hours! Gamefully choosing Glasgow’s Barrowlands, they couldn’t have found a better crowd to match the band in rabid intensity, roaring along with hearty singalongs and ceaseless cheering, driving the band’s own energy on classics like ‘A.I.R’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Among The Living’, ‘I Am The Law’ – and finally delivering the killer blow in ‘Antisocial’. Now with Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais, the classic line up of Benante, Ian, Bello and Belladona remains as timeless as when I saw them back in the day, still with plenty of banter, attitude but most of all, heart in powering through such a colossal set with such a perfect performance that the title of this live album is indeed richly deserved! If you want to know what the glory of thrash metal was about back in the day – and just an amazing live release – then “Kings Of Scotland” has it stamped all over. Nise fukin life!!!

Riot V – “Armor Of Light”

Riot V – “Armor Of Light” (Nuclear Blast) 

Battle Helm Rating

One of America’s legendary heavy / power metal bands, its spirit continues even after the passing of founder guitarist Mark Reale. Formed as early as 1975 by Reale in New York City, Riot’s history is a roller coaster of success, tragedy and obscurity along with a revolving door of members although always defined in whatever form by Reale, who remained at the helm until passing from Crohn’s disease in 2012. With albums like “Rock City” establishing the band as a cult act in Japan, it was “Thundersteel” released in 1988 that really brought Riot to the attention of many with its searing music, blending incredible power with equal amounts of melodic passion, both being driven through powering guitars and soaring soulful vocals. With Reale’s passing, at the behest of his father, Riot changed its name to Riot V and continued his legacy. With “Thundersteel” bassist Don Van Stavern in its ranks, “Armor Of Light”  is the band’s 16th studio album and what can I say, it’s an incredible follow up to “Thundersteel” so if you loved that album like I do, then you’ll revel in this one too! While Riot struggled and soldiered on bravely through varying labels and production qualities, it’s pretty clear that Nuclear Blast have spared no expense on this release and it is a huge commendation to give Reale the justice that alluded him for this truly inspirational music. Even the artwork is old school, a cool blend between the covers of “Narita” and “Thundersteel”! As such, “Armor Of Light” is everything that longtime Riot fans could dream of, and even more so given the incredible songs and matching musicianship, the latter in no small part due to the blinding guitar work of Mike Flyntz and his former student protege Nick Lee. Blurring in with fast, intricate fret board work on ‘Messiah’ backed by double bass drumming and not forgetting Todd Michael Hall’s soaring heartfelt vocals, the energy is incredible as is the overwhelming passion of the music and of course, those unbelievable guitar solos that duel, match and trade off one another in classic Riot style as pioneered by Reale himself. On ‘Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign’ the pace slows down a tad into chugging riffola and the brilliance of the melodies shines through to your heart as Hall passionately screams ‘….heavy metal runs through my veins!!!..’ – amazing. Closing off aggressively with ‘Raining Fire’ its more double bass drumming from Frank Gilchriest and the heavy, twanging bass of Van Stavern, but soon joined by those twin shining guitars bringing their luminescence to once again dazzle and awe to a jaw dropping ending. Definitely one of my albums of the year so far!

Varathron – “Patriarchs Of Evil”

Varathron – “Patriarchs Of Evil” (Agonia Records) 

Battle Helm Rating

Along with Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron form the cornerstone of Greek black metal which was no easy feat considering the country’s deeply religious convictions as well as a national policy of compulsory military service! Formed back in 1988, I won’t even consider to imagine the number of people that have played in any of these bands, who frequently traded members between themselves to cover the shortfalls in personnel, but with the sheer amount of experience gained as a result of this, there are some truly stellar Greek musicians out there. True to this is the current line of Varathron, still featuring founder vocalist  Stefan Necroabyssious, and joining him since 2004, Achilleas C (Aenaon, ex-Chaotic Symmetry) on guitars and Haris (No Hand Path, Utmost Contempt, ex-Revolting Breed, ex-Morpheus) on drums, with the more recent members being Sotiris (No Hand Path, ex-Rovolting Breed) also on guitars and Stratos Kountouras (Luna Obscura, One of Discord, ex-Vert) on bass! Together, they have been releasing albums steadily over the years with “Patriarchs Of Evil” being the band’s 6th release (not counting their huge number of EPs, split and compilations!). Anyone new to Greek black metal will find that while common aspects of devilry certainly pervade the music including the use of blast beats, the Greek style draws from its own deep mythology along with a rich use of epic and dark melodies, all of which add up to hugely atmospheric releases. “Patriarchs Of Evil” is such an album, rooted in the 90s and devoid of compromise or desire at selling out to modernity, which is just what I want to hear given Varathron’s rich legacy! The 8 tracks here are masterful compositions reflective of the thoughtful attention to detail in invoking such atmosphere, and the talented performances which also incorporate keyboards, pagan folk and heavy metal allow the band to achieve this on this impressive release. Necroabyssious in particular puts on a stellar performance with plenty of creepy passion and haunting emotion in his vocals, backed by the very skilful guitars that exude occult mysticism along with strong epic power like on the 8 minute ‘Ouroboros Dweller (The Dweller of Barathrum)’, completed by heaps of ghostly vocal harmonies. Elsewhere on ‘Luciferian Mystical Awakening’ there’s plenty of dark, pagan passion with the guitars delivering some catchy folk melodies as Necroabyssious’s dry drawls complements the charged atmosphere magnificently, be it in dark ambience or as the fiery furore sets the song ablaze! Blending mid paced blast beating, rich melodies clang and resonate before more pagan epic power comes in on ‘ Saturnian Sect’ as the twin guitars riff away while Necroabyssious sits atop his throne of blood, chanting and offering spoken word as the high priest of his band, urging the listener to follow on his dark quest – and after such a stellar performance, how could you refuse. I mean, “Patriarchs Of Evil” is testimony that one of Greece’s titans is still very much alive and wild!

Blood Tsunami – “Grave Condition”

Blood Tsunami – “Grave Condition” (Soulseller Records) 

Battle Helm Rating

Formed in 2004 and featuring Bård Eithun (a.k.a. Faust, ex-Emperor, Aborym, Scum), Blood Tsunami are a fearsome Norwegian thrash machine that take inspiration from 80s thrashers like Nuclear Assault, early Slayer and Metallica! With 3 prior albums under their bullet belts, “Grave Condition” delivers 9 face melting tracks straight from that era, but equally acknowledging the band’s own punk n roll roots which crop up here n there across the material. Originally intended to feature 4 new songs as a single but soon bolstered by previously unreleased material,  “Grave Condition” evolved into a full blown album, complete with a dirty but massive sound almost along death metal lines. From the pumping double bass driven furor of ‘The Acid King’ with its roaring vocals from founder guitarist Peter Michael Kolstad Vegem and wild solo from Kristoffer Sørensen mixing rock n roll and virtuosity, it’s pretty clear that this hellish fusion is just what sets apart Blood Tsunami and made them such an acclaimed band. Speeding up to blurring black metal on ‘Steel Meets Steel’ complete with cat screeching vocals, the raw but epic riffs and manic solos really show the intensity of the band, while on ‘Gargoyle’ they slow it down into a really cool death n roll groove with really thick guitars and Carl Thomas Morales Janfalk’s bass while shouting out the catchy chorus hardcore style along with some nice NWOBHM tinges on the melodic side and in the twin guitar heavy metal solo. Very stylish indeed, Blood Tsunami offer a very different take in bringing together old and new styles across a range of genres on this highly impressive 5th release!

Violation Wound – “With Man In Charge”

Violation Wound – “With Man In Charge” (Peaceville Records) 

Battle Helm Rating

No stranger to the extreme given his other bands like Autopsy, Abscess and Painted Doll, Chris Reifert’s other abominable creation has to be his total punk out in the hideously named Violation Wound. Formed in a basement back in 2013 mixing violent punk rock with traces of metal and rock n roll, this tornado of a trio is made of bassist Joe Orterry and drummer Matt O’Connell, who join Reifert in his own shredding and cussing bark blast vocals. Together they make one cacophonous racket with all the instruments played to reckless levels of insanity, at times skirting close to being out of control, but somehow still miraculously keeping it just within tolerable limits on the 20 crazed tracks here. Equally, knowing the intelligence of Reifert there are very subtle melodies and hooks making the material, despite the violent noise, being highly catchy. From ‘State Of Alarm’ with its d-beat riffing, hammering beats and matching rhymes to the skanking SOD like ‘God’s Plan’ complete with double bass drumming and Reifert’s visceral drawls, the ominous and seething tone is set right up until the screaming OTT end. Moving to ‘Smoke And Flames’ with Orterry’s heavy bass twanging and churning aggro punk riffola, the contrast couldn’t be greater when Reifert comes in with some rock n roll breaks heh heh – well yeah, that’s the man f–kin with ya! With a tinny melodic tone reminiscent of The Undertones (on meth) on ‘Destroy The Factory’ almost taking the song into ‘alt’ realms, ‘Don’t Believe It’ is melodic hardcore (not counting Orterry’s weirded out bass runs) aside from its deafening volume and insane screams. A lesson in audio decimation, see your neighbours skinned alive on this one!

Gatekeeper – “East Of Sun”

Gatekeeper – “East Of Sun” (Cruz Del Sur Music) 

Battle Helm Rating

If you’re a lover of true warrior metal then this new Vancouver band will add yet another trusty sword to your collection! Steeped in blood red battle riffs that would have Conan himself proud but equally deep folk melodies all making for helluva epic debut, “East Of Sun” boasts a mixture of older, unreleased material written by founder guitarist Jeff Black which are complemented by live staples that have recently been updated. With a strong sword and sorcery theme, expect plenty of aggression on the 10 tracks here, but equally tons of stirring melodies and flowing passion throughout. Adding his own bountiful levels of soaring passion is vocalist Jean-Pierre Abboud whose clean tones tell the tales here beautifully and with plenty of majesty of his own as amply demonstrated on the cover of Savatage’s ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’. Exuding plenty of interweaving work between the twin guitars of Black and Kenny Kroecher, each song has its own energy and identity with really nothing repeated, making for an energetic listen each time that left me eager with anticipation for the next delightful surprise! With a naturally warm sound similar to other bands in the genre like Atlantean Kodex as well as classic groups like Omen (whom they cover on ‘Death Rider’) and Manilla Road, the cover art comes from Duncan Storr, renowned for his work with Skyclad and Rage. Screaming into ‘Blade Of Cimmeria’ with its heavy chugging the soaring vocals and impassioned spiralling guitar work is enough to get a barbarian horde charging while on the drenched in epic fervour ‘Bell Of Tarantia’ a steady double bass drum beat is graced with expressive chord / melody interplay from the guitars throughout and Abboud soaring relentlessly over it all. Adding even more pagan pageantry on ‘Swan Road Saga’ through the incredible vocal harmonies and heart breaking lead work while keeping a strong warrior backbone, I can see what all the fuss is about in Gatekeeper, as they’re a truly talented young band – just get your hands on this treasure and you’ll know just what I’m taking about!   

Carpathian Forest – “Likeim”

Carpathian Forest – “Likeim” (Indie Recordings) 

Battle Helm Rating

Despite being a Norwegian black metal band, there’s always been something peculiar about Carpathian Forest, something more depraved, something more perverted and definitely more ‘different’ even unto their own kind! Formed by Nattefrost in the early 90s, the band released its debut “Black Shining Leather’ towards the end of the decade, and thereafter, the reign of terror began with live shows resembling slaughterhouses rather than gigs! While defining intensity onstage, subsequent releases saw the band unafraid to experiment, adopting symphony, groove and rock n roll into their black mass, willing to stand out even in an already underground scene to be a (very) black sheep. Despite their unstoppable momentum, Carpathian  Forest became low key around 2010 despite playing odd gigs but then went into deathly silence in 2014. Until now. With a completely new band behind him, Nattefrost has brought his perversity back once again firstly in this 2 track EP, an evil foretaste of a full blown blood offering later to come! After more than a decade of high anticipation, Carpathian Forest continue in fine style with plenty of verbal abuse on the title track ‘Likeim’ which crashes in with a loud, blast beating groove and multiple voices / evil spoken words culminating in a chorus drowned by evil, twisted synths – quite possibly the closest you’ll get to possession as expressed through music – not forgetting the insane, wild fretboard sliding ‘solo’! Slightly more ‘normal’ is a decapitating cover of Turbonegro’s ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ with plenty of raw guitars matching Nattefrost’s screams and sickly drawls, although showcasing the new band’s technicality with heaps of metallic lead breaks and even a heavy metal solo chucked in – probably as a big fuck you to everyone (including satan) that Carpathian Forest still is a band doing whatever they fucking well please. And don’t expect a thank you either!

Aura Noir – “Aura Noire”

Aura Noir – “Aura Noire” (Indie Recordings) 

Battle Helm Rating

6 years on, and Aura Noir have returned with their 6th album. Thankfully not just with 6 tracks, this nearly self titled album goes right back to the early 80s days when death metal had yet to be spawned into what it is today, but its guttural drawls stood hand in claw with black thrash, a foul and fearsome beast of its own, spawning the likes of early Destruction, Sepultura and of course, Celtic Frost. “Aura Noire” is 9 tracks from that brood without any sign of wimpness whatsoever! Led by the abyssal bass and beastly drawls of founder bassist / vocalist, Mayhem’s Blasphemer shreds his way to Satan with so much rawness that Tom Warrior could hear him all the way in Switzerland, while co founder drummer Apollyon brings in a variety of styles, from blurring speed to jungle beats and relentless drum rolls, all in the true tradition of those early bands – and in an unbelievably loud volume so I really wonder if the recording studio is still standing ha ha! From ‘Dark Lung Of The Storm’ it’s classic Celtic Frost from the heavy bass, sandpaper raw guitar and those death grunts to ‘The Obscuration’ as the South American speed record is actually broken complete with totally mental whirring guitar and drums that stamp your face into well, total obscurity! ‘Demoniac Flow’ mixes Motorhead double bass beats with some dirty ass guitar and vocals that made me wonder if Cronos was guesting while ‘Mordant Wind’ is very much in the eclectic Ulver sense, mixing Celtic Frost along with blast beats and some scatty jazzy guitar chucked in to mindf—k you even more. An intense release from start to finish, that it does what it does so well impresses me all the more so thanks to the uncompromising might of Aura Noir! 

Bullet – “Dust To Gold”

Bullet – “Dust To Gold” (Steamhammer / SPV) 

Battle Helm Rating

Any band, I mean any band, that has the guts to still be touring in a black, white and red 1964 Volvo tour bus has to worth a listen, and in Bullet’s case, no further invitation need be extended! With an interior to match their hellacious rock n roll lifestyle, not even an ‘unroadworthy’ ban by German Polizei could prevent Wacken fans help the band pay the fine so they could travel on to their next gig the day after! Formed in 2001, this Swedish band take the best from late 70s and early 80s hard rock and heavy metal to concoct their own catchy and lethal in the live setting music, setting fire to most European countries several times, and playing to some of Europe’s most prestigious festivals, such as Rock Am Ring, Graspop, Sweden Rock, Rock Hard, Keep It True, Headbangers Open Air and Wacken – twice! Opening for AC/DC in front of 55,000 people in 2009, expect to hear hard rock elements along with those more metallic tones of Iron Maiden, Accept and Judas Priest which older metallers like myself would draw blood for, along with the identifiable bullet belts, studded wristbands and leather jacket look. Led by their screaming man mountain founder Dag ‘Hell’ Hofer, this five piece mix gutsy riffing and spirited soloing along with wailing melodies and catchy licks through the bountiful twin axe attack of co founder Hampus Klang and Alexander Lyrbo. Backed by the red haired viking from the north drummer Gustav Hjortsjö, Bullet’s material has been honed on the road, not just by being a heavy duty touring band, but by living the life, such is the spirit in the 12 tracks on this 6th studio album. From the searing opener of ‘Speed And Attack’, it’s pretty clear that Bullet’s material is aimed at crowds – big crowds at that – as the catchy riffs tear into you as Hofer’s screams shred in before the blissful soloing finishes you off. Still, on ‘Forever Rise’ it’s the deep melodies and passionate guitar work that hook you in through a mix of Wolf Hoffmann, Angus Young and Glenn Tipton tones as the catchy chorus finishes you off while on ‘Hollow Ground’ the shouted out chorus will have you madly air punching and headbanging a plenty thanks to those amazing guitars once again leaping and pounding into you – awesome! Taking it right into Udo territory is the title track closer ‘Dust To Gold’ with its slower epic rocking showing the deep bass of new addition Gustav Hector, along Hofer’s mix of soulful tones and of course, off the scale screams – simply fantastic. Being true to their touring reputation, I’m sure it won’t be long before we’ll see these guys again and man, I can’t wait to hear this stuff live cos it sure is gold!

Cruachan – “Nine Years Of Blood”

Cruachan – “Nine Years Of Blood” (Trollzorn) 

Battle Helm Rating

‘…the English are upon us, let us drive them from our lands!!..’ Epicly bringing their grandiose 3 album trilogy to a close after 9 years, Ireland’s founding fathers of Celtic metal deliver it spectacularly on the rousing and rebellious “Nine Years Of Blood”! Formed in the early 90s and musically drawing from the Celtic rock of Horslips, Tolkien inspired black metal and the folk metal of Skyclad, Cruachan as you might’ve guessed, are deeply inspired by Ireland’s own history, its often bloody struggles and ancient mythology. Beginning with 2011’s “Blood On The Black Robe” followed by “Blood For The Blood God” in 2014, the trilogy is based on actual history, namely The Nine Years’ War that took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603. With many of the 12 songs on “Nine Years Of Blood” titled after factual figures like Hugh O’Neill (the Earl of Tyrone) and real events like The Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598 and the final Flight of the Earls in 1607, this trilogy has had plenty to drawn from, and it certainly doesn’t hold back in terms of its passion and aggression, but equally it’s still rebellious tone as led by frontman founder multi instrumentalist Keith Fay. Employing the full measure of black, folk and naturally Celtic metal through varying styles including ambient pieces and instrumentals using modern and traditional instruments like the mandolin, bodhrán, tin whistles, violin, cellos and bowed bass, history is brought to life vividly through the rich compositions thanks to the mastery of the musicianship. However, it’s the unbelievable passion and spirit of Fay and his boys that really makes the difference to the powerful performances throughout this amazing album, making you not just feel the emotions of that time, but going as far as thinking you are actually there in that Elizabethan period – now, not too many albums do that! From ‘Blood And Victory’ dripping in black blood through its heavy, slashing decadent riffs and wailing pagan fiddle, ‘Queen Of War’ with its raging drums and epic guitars, you are immersed in those harsh times as Fay tells the tales through his impassioned vocals. Slowing down a tad with Thin Lizzy like guitar melodies and that irresistible fiddle is ‘Cath na Brioscaí’, which soon becomes a full battle like canons firing through thick metallic riffs very much making for a film score piece such is its epic grandeur. Continuing on ‘The Harp, The Lion, The Dragon and The Sword’ the mood is period thanks to the theatrical and folk sounds, although the double bass drumming and Fay’s own blackish screams in between the rich melodies soon bring the reality of the horrors of the conflict, estimated at around 100,000 dead to the senses. With the sombre ‘The Siege Of Kinsale’ signalling defeat as told by the dark drums, wailing fiddle and Fay’s melancholia, the English victory was clear with the rebellious earls fleeing abroad, their estates swallowed by the Crown, and setting the future of the English and Scottish colonisation of Ulster. An utterly incredible experience from start to finish, if history be told then let it be done the Cruachan way.