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Edguy – “Space Police Defenders Of The Crown”


Edguy – “Space Police Defenders Of The Crown” (Nuclear Blast Records)

A lotta people don’t get Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet – when he’s doing his rock opera in Avantasia, it’s all business as usual, but Edguy, now that’s something else. This not too serious but still bloody good fun band has been going for 22 years and some people wonder just how when you’ve got tongue in cheek song titles like ‘Do Me Like A Caveman’? But step back a little from the seriousness of it all back to the Monsters Of Rock days when the likes of Van Halen, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi played and it was all about having some FUN along with rocking your ass off. Well, that’s where Edguy are comin’ from, and straight off a massive Avantasia tour, Sammet has unleashed a barrage of let it loose energy and kick ass fun creativity taken from his own Zappa influence in the spirit of those sunshine (and lots of rain – Ed) festival days when he must’ve been a kid. “Space Police Defenders Of The Crown” certainly isn’t a cover album by any means although it contains a notable cover of Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ – a national hit in Austria – that has garnered respect even from those Tyrolleans. Elsewhere ‘The Realms of Baba Yaga’ certainly has strong Maiden influences and the slashing ‘Sabre & Torch’ is like a melodic Priest whilst the pomp rock closer ‘The Eternal Wayfarer’ more than reminded me of Magnum, again all bands that have played Monsters Of Rock. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but Tobias gives me the impression that he’s the kind’ve guy that doesn’t like to be constrained by rules let alone be told what to do and the lyrics on ‘Space Police’ reflect that, while being unashamed in its references – or tributes – to the greatest proponents of rock n metal. Still, all that aside, musicianship wise this is a top of the line achievement from Sammet’s own renowned vocals to all the instruments not just being played well, but to the max from creative guitar solos to some very cool keyboard effects along with flagship level sound production. Without a doubt one of the strongest and possibly heaviest Edguy releases, it sets the bar high for what we can expect next from the loveable Tobias Sammet!

Holy Moses – “Redefined Mayhem”


Holy Moses – “Redefined Mayhem” (Steamhammer / SPV)

Prepare for the apocalypse – the maverick in Germany’s metal arsenal has returned. She who cannot be killed – Sabina Classen – a lady whose gruff vocals could shrivel the balls off many a death metaller is back after almost 6 years with a brand new line-up. I dunno if they gave her a bionic body following her motorbike accident but she is looking athletically svelte and with a new found hunger that made her fearsome reputation as the she wolf of the thrash underground! “Redefined Mayhem” is exactly what is says on the tin: still a gruesome thrash fest but now also a precision death machine incorporating dark melodies at times, evil rock n roll and OTT metal elsewhere where whirring thrash riffola sits comfortably alongside wild wailing solos and backed by deep crunching bass lines and nuclear drumming. Classen’s voice is as uncompromising as ever, and bearing in mind she was doing her style a coupla decades before the mainstream press were wowing Angela Gossow, it’s an absolute credit to her for sticking to her guns in being the heart n soul of Holy Moses. More than that, songs like ‘Undead Dogs’, ‘Wet The Knife’ and the prophetic ‘One Step Ahead Of Death’ show a real maturity in their arrangement and professionalism in the band’s tightness with an equally punchy production that puts them in the same raging category as say, Pro Pain. Rounded off by the punk closer of ‘This Dirt’, “Redefined Mayhem” proves that Holy Moses are back and even more dangerous than before with some serious focus but still with their unmistakable fuck you attitude. Beyond that they are the testimony to one woman’s perseverance in the face of adversity – Sabina, you are formidable to the end und we salute you!

Mekong Delta – “In A Mirror Darkly”


Mekong Delta – “In A Mirror Darkly” (Steamhammer / SPV)

Well, mediocre’s anything that I’d describe Mekong Delta as! For almost thirty years, Mekong Delta have enjoyed an excellent reputation as an independent and exceptionally creative band playing complex progressive thrash, which incidentally was founding mastermind, producer and bassist Ralf Hubert’s goal right from their outset in 1985, and this is a technically advanced album from the outset owing more to the lengthy concertos of Yes or ELP than anything more contemporary. There is very little true thrash on this album but rather the band have increased the intensity of their metal to such a degree so as to keep up with their technicality that it comes across as thrash! From Martin LeMar’s operatic vocals the rest of the band produce what I’d describe as pure musical expressionism on intense, mind blowing songs like ‘The Armageddon Machine‘, ‘The Silver In Gods Eye‘ and the instrumental ‘Inside The Outside Of The Inside’. The continuation of the “Wanderer On The Edge Of Time” theme with each piece clocking in between five to seven minutes and very closely interlinked with few interludes, be prepared for an onslaught of some of the most cerebrally and technically challenging material you’ll ever hear played – if you can keep up!

Patria – “Individualism”


Patria – “Individualism” (Indie Recordings)

Ultra decadent black metal from the misty mountains of southern Brazil! Patria was formed in 2008 by multi-instrumentalist Mantus and vocalist Triumphsword, who between them have put out no less than 4 prior albums prior to being joined by second guitarist Igniis Inferniis, bassist Stormbringer and drummer Abyssius. Despite coming from South America, the band have an almost exclusively old school Scandinavian black metal sound going back to classic bands like Darkthrone and Ulver along with some powerful Norse melodies a la Enslaved. “Individualism” takes us back to the early 90s, recorded in the vein of the primitive, raw style as it was back then with screaming banshee vocals, blast beats and some of the most malevolent riffs ever, all impressively arranged with those aforementioned melodies and other sounds like macabre pianos to give songs like ‘Blood Storm Prophecy’, ‘Uncrowned God Of Light’ and ‘Orphan of Emptiness’ that pure, uncompromising passion vividly captured by those pioneering bands! With a special guest appearance from Brazilian composer Fabiano Penna, artwork handled by Costin Chioreanu (Absu, Mayhem and Arcturus) and mastered by Borknagar’s Oystein G. Brun in Norway, Patria have earned the respect of their Scandinavian elders, an achievement few could hope for, let alone attain.

H.E.A.T – “Tearing Down The Walls”


H.E.A.T – “Tearing Down The Walls” (earMusic)

Built to level arenas, Sweden’s H.E.A.T live up to their awesome reputation as one of Scandinavia’s premier AOR bands who continue to raise their international profile with increasing tours in Europe and as far as China! They’ve already staked their ground in the UK, having already had their 2nd album “Address The Nation” nominated by Classic Rock – and it’s easy to see why, as they take the best of the classic and AOR genres, along with their own Scandi-rock sound to bring it right to you – and 10,000 others. With Sweden’s Idol winner Erik Grönwall on vocals and working with Grammy award winning producer Tobias Lindell, H.E.A.T’s sound and material reflect the top of the line aspirations of this band, who will shortly be supporting the Scorpions in Spain. Mixing deep heart felt melodies with incredibly catchy rock grooves and addictive singalong choruses on the stadium shaking ‘Inferno’ or the passion of ‘Mannequin Show’ or the anthemic ‘Eye For An Eye’, H.E.A.T take it right from their jukebox heroes Foreigner – no limp wrists here but macho crowd air punching right down to the authentic 80s AOR sound (check out those synths and drum sound – Ed) – and simply ooze the rock overflow like a dry ice machine outta control. Commercial to the max – and clearly aiming for that – H.E.A.T have balls in their bravado and unashamed love for stadium rock which is why they are built to destroy them. Simply irresistible.

Coldwar – “Pantheist”


Coldwar – “Pantheist” (Candlelight Records)

Pantheism – The belief that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God, or that the universe (or nature) is identical with divinity. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal or anthropomorphic god. Well, despite this Dublin crew’s sentiments I can’t hear anything particularly blasphemous or evil about their music, especially coming from a label like Candlelight. That said, it is certainly extreme, mixing the stench core of hardcore punk with extreme metal. Ultra roaring riffola courtesy of Paul n Dave’s guitars while Trev’s hoarse punk as fuck vocals rear up and foray to the fore amid heavy pummeling bass n drums on aggressive songs like ‘Mazu Awakens’, ‘The Falcon Cannot Hear The Falconer’ and ‘Abandonment Of Being’. With a raw feedback sound graced by dark, clanging melodies and a ripping Pantera groove chucked in on occasion Coldwar certainly live up to their menacing name and have a fearsome reputation live having played Wacken Open Air (Germany), Obscene Extreme Festival (Czech Republic), Loud As Fuck (USA), Up the Punks (UK) and toured alongside bands such as Fear Factory, Soulfly, Sepultura, Suffocation, Anthrax, Hatebreed, and Napalm Death. With four releases already under their burgeoning belts, “Pantheist” is another rock hard release that will only cement their enviable record even further.

The Arkanes – “W.A.R”


The Arkanes – “W.A.R” (SPV)

The Arkanes are a four-piece rock band from Liverpool, the hard city on the Mersey river that spawned the Beatles, and there’s a hint of them here along with doses of Oasis, Foo Fighters and to a lesser degree, Nirvana. From pseudo psychedelic Sgt Pepper melodies to hard rock out riffing and also some heavy duty drumming courtesy of man mountain Andy Long, The Arkanes role it all together into an indie picnic fest with a straight up, sweat n rock sound. Growing organically after school in 2007, things really took off with guitarist Dylan Cassin, who gave up a place at L.I.P.A, Paul McCartney’s school of music, so that he could join the band on a Benelux tour. At times sounding like Noel Gallagher with a liberal use of wah, his wailing fretboard work and far out solos certainly feature prominently on songs like ‘Sharpshooter’ that won a People’s Music Award, ‘Guilt Trip’ and ‘Paper Planes’. With their track ‘Crash And Burn’ reaching number 1 slot on an LA download chart, they were the first British band ever to ascertain a slot on the NACA University/College circuit in America. From this point, the band’s successes ran far and wide, appearing on BBC Radio Live, SWR 3, Eldoradio, TV Berlin, Harvard/MIT university radio (Boston) and NRW TV, amongst others, supporting bands such as Florence And The Machine and The Automatic and the debut single “Don’t Act Like You Know Me” reaching number 10 in Germany’s Most Requested Song of the Week and number 8 in the “Most Downloaded Single” in early 2011 to warrant renowned label SPV picking them up. Although by no means metal, there’s certainly enough noise being hammered out between Long and Cassin to definitely appeal to those liking their indie rock loud n honest with a lofty ambition to take over the world!

The Cringe – “Hiding In Plain Sight”


The Cringe – “Hiding In Plain Sight” (Sony / RED)

As eclectic and diverse as their city is, so it is with these New Yorkers who, despite supporting Steel Panther are no hair rocker band and have supported Cheap Trick and Big Country! Although compared to the Queens Of The Stone Age and the Foo Fighters – and there are certainly elements of them in there – they also return me to the days of The Masters Of Reality in 1989, especially in John Cusimano’s blues / soul vocals on the Bible Belt sounding ‘Lord Jim’ whose lyrics ride the dark cloud of music before a resounding organ almost brings forth an epiphany! Elsewhere they mix organ and grunge on the Nirvana like ‘Get Me Some’ before taking me right back to the late 70s of The Knack like ‘Gotta Find A Way’ with its tight, punchy new wave punk. Made up of Bruce Springsteen drummer Shawn Pelton and My Bungle’s James Rotondi, The Cringe live up to their name in many ways by resurrecting a whole range of rock that I’d though relegated to the deleted bins but in hindsight and as per their album’s title, have shed much needed light on some seminal rock probably unknown to at least a coupla generations of young rockers out there. Go see ‘em and do some catching up in what must be one amazing gig.

Black Label Society – “Catacombs Of The Black Vatican”


Black Label Society – “Catacombs Of The Black Vatican” (Mascot Label Group)

Man, I’ve been following this dude since I heard the roaring biker rock of “Stronger Than Death” back in 2000. Recently bestowed with titles like Classic Rock’s ‘Metal Guru’, ‘Golden God’ by Metal Hammer and the ‘Best Guitarist’ award from Revolver, these days he’s a somewhat more mellower dude when he’s not shaking it stage left to the mighty Ozzy, although like a maturing whisky his quality more than makes up for any kick. The second album to be recorded in his home studio – The Black Vatican hence the title – showcases a wide degree of rock metal talent from the stadium shaking rock of opener ‘Fields Of Unforgiveness’ to the cool southern groove rock of ‘Heart Of Darkness’ and the slightly more Zepp trippy ‘Beyond The Down’ as Wylde brings it on in fine style showing the measure of his song writing as well as his musicianship. When he does go back to his ass kicking bar room shaking best it’s on ‘Damn The Flood’ with its hard crunching riffs and stamping beat. No sooner as the steam clears and the delicate ‘Shades Of Grey’ closes out the album, with me almost wondering if that soft crooning voice on this rock doo wop ballad really belongs to this mean lookin’ 6 feet 2 inch biker dude?! Well credit to him, as Wylde has bravely produced an album that panders more to his spirit of fun and excitement rather than any trend of playing it safe – his wildness has been let loose outta these catacombs amidst kick ass riffs, hell fer leather soloing and dagger thru my heart harmonies that will appeal to any rock dog sinner!

Manilla Road – “Mystification”


Manilla Road – “Mystification” RE-ISSUE (Shadow Kingdom Records)

Like Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road were one of the first proto metal bands formed in the late 70s and as such their sound was seen as eclectic at the time, but in many ways they were forerunners of it. Just sampling main man founder Mark ‘the Shark’ Shelton’s riffs and long drawn out solos (still played on his BC Rich Warlock – Ed) sets the tone for many of today’s epic metal bands. If that weren’t enough then his vocals would definitely fit into today’s power, symphonic and even prog bands being almost classical in their style and soulful in quality. In many ways Manilla Road were an exploratory band – befitting the trivia of Shelton being distantly related to the legendary Prussian explorer of Australia Ludwig von Leichhardtand hence their appeal to many who regard them as a cult band much respected by their fanatical fans. “Mystification” was originally released in 1987 and actually is metal – in fact leaning towards speed metal – given the wild pace of some of the numbers and with its incredibly raw sound on tracks like ‘Masque of The Red Death’, ‘Spirits Of The Dead’ and ‘Death By The Hammer’. Although a re-issue was done in 2000, it was mixed and mastered differently along with the track order being switched around so this ‘corrected’ version restores the original song order along with the original mixing and mastering back to its 80s glory. Despite 20 years and more passing there is still an inherent freshness in the material attesting to its free spirit and unpredictability more than proving the worth of this pioneering US metal outfit – and not in the least Shelton’s perseverance which has resulted in growing live appearances recently. The light certainly hasn’t gone out on Manilla Road!

Alien – “Eternity”


Alien – “Eternity” (AOR Heaven)

Wow, it doesn’t get more 80s than this! Alien was formed in Gothenburg in 1986 by guitarist Tony Borg and vocalist Jim Jidhed and after just 2 singles were signed by Virgin Scandinavia worldwide! Despite success and on the verge of hitting the US, Jidhed left the band to pursue a solo career and there began the inevitable line up changes through the 90s and the new millennium. Whilst the band have been active and continued to periodically release material I’m not sure how much impact they continue to make outside of their native Sweden. However, that might be all about to change as since 2010 they are back to their original line up and the proof positive of this is “Eternity” – a premiere entry in the AOR market! Quite frankly how they wrote songs this good is beyond me, but it attests to the bond of steel strong relationships and resilient talent – it’s like a hidden album from the 80s but it’s actually new! Musically rockier than Bon Jovi but mellower than Europe, although comparisons are there especially in Borg’s lite metal solos, the once again Jidhed’s vocals are less high but actually are better cos he sounds like Bryan Adams during his heyday! Amazingly the rest of the band don’t seem a day older judging by the fresh energetic playing on upbeat songs like ‘Unbroken’, ‘Summer Of Love’ and ‘Look At Us Now’ – all brimming with positive, uplifting enthusiasm and a tearful nostalgia vividly captured in the authentic 80s sound – just check out those synths on ‘What Goes Up’! Self produced to perfection Alien decided to add a song, ‘I’m A Fighter’, written back in the 80’s by their L.A. co-writers Pam Barlow and Janet Morrison Minto, as thanks to their co-work on the debut album. The regained contact with Pam and Janet led to them writing lyrics for this album as well! Released on the aptly titled AOR Heaven label, “Eternity” attests to the love and passion that never fades over time or distance like it sez in the Survivor like ‘Burning Heart’ – Alien are truly back and with a number one album!

Diabulus In Musica – “Argia”


Diabulus In Musica – “Argia” (Napalm Records)

Although still centered around the beauty and the beast vocals of founders Zuberoa Aznárez and keyboardist Gorka Elso, this Spanish symphonic rock / metal band is now with a new backing line since 2012′s “The Wanderer”. Musically though, it’s not much different being steeped in Basque romanticism and red blooded Latin passion as reflected by Aznárez’s angelic vocals, and stylishly contrasted by Elso’s growls n grunts amidst his suave keyboard work that resonates majesty as well as delicate emotion, at times gracing the realms of filmscore metal. Heavily influenced by the classics songs like the Spanish sung ‘Furia de Libertad’ (with Sirenia’s Ailyn Giménez on guest vocals) and the theatrical ‘Encounter at Chronos’ Maze’ (featuring Therion’s Thomas Vikstrom) almost play like mini operas especially when adding in the backing sounds of violins, flutes, and choirs although it all flows magnificently, blending modern instrumental elements with the more orchestral sounds. When the band chose to be conventional like on ‘Spoilt Vampire’ they really bear their claws and ramp it up with crunching goth / rock riffs, double bass drumming and Elso’s growling vox prominently featuring in the mix, once again splendidly contrasted by deep choirs and a funky dance like keyboard melody that brought to mind the Merovingian’s bar in “The Matrix”! All in all a highly entertaining album that I would say is Diabulus In Musica’s most mature to date, and despite being underrated, Aznárez and Elso’s talented eclecticism deserves much more attention that “Argia” should shine the light on.

Below – “Across the Dark River”


Below – “Across the Dark River” (Metal Blade Records)

Legendary has it that after only one, unreleased EP, this Swedish doom lite band was booked on a 10 day tour through Denmark, Holland and Germany with the final show being at the Hammer Of Doom festival! Well, that’s easy to understand when you hear this debut that was incidentally produced by Andy La Rocque, who I understand was equally excited by the band’s potential, as they sound like a lighter version of classic Candlemass right down to the last chord. From Zeb’s wailing, which hits Messiah’s operatic highs although possessed of a softer somewhat rockier touch, the melancholic doom riffs follow suit and likewise aren’t quite as musty as a crypt the way Leif Edling had them 3 decades ago. Add in some trippy harmony vocals and sombre choirs and songs like ‘Bid You Farewell’, ‘Mare Of The Night’ and ‘Across The Dark River’ are less dark and depressive but nevertheless get the doom message across amidst a more catchy rock groove. Steeped in the same mysticism as their fellow Swedes Ghost as all the members have apparently played in previous bands before – but decline to say which despite having credible enough musicianship – Below have only been around for a year and a half, but have ascended faster than a rocket so I’m sure this is all part of some grand master plan, right down to the cover art that could’ve been from the vaults of Shrapnel Records! 

Martyr de Mona – “Impera”


Martyr de Mona – “Impera” (In At The Eye Records/Universal Music)

With three records, a Best British Band of the year award and having supported Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath, Avenged Sevenfold and Alter Bridge, these guys are without doubt the band everyone is watching! Mixing rock with prog and metal but without trying too hard to be much of one thing, Martyr de Mona bring it in style with massive riffs and heaps of reverb in modern, prog hinting riffs contrasted by hard hitting drums that certainly get your chest beating, especially when it all comes together in a Helmet style chopping riff wall of noise fest guaranteed to send any die hard headbanger into a fit! Surprisingly the soloing takes a more Alice In Chains groove as do Louis Hale’s almost tripping vocals and the Pearl Jam like melodies, but with the Tool like sonic barrage going on from these Stourbridge (home of Diamond Head – Ed) stalwarts, there’s little room for a kip on intensely but catchy numbers like ‘Nothing Sacred’, ‘Gravity Breaks’ and ‘Reprisal’. A veritable atom smasher of an album, Martyr de Mona were built to destroy arenas with their awesome sound, and “Impera” is the sword by which they will do it with.

The Drip – “A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics”


The Drip – “A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics” (Relapse Records)

Despite their seemingly wimpy name, flip the switch on this Washington crew and a flood of grindcore will smash into your face! Speedway riffing that glides up n down the fretboard so fast n raw I can’t even make out the bass lays waste to nauseous ‘songs’ (?) like ‘Catalyst’, ‘Bygones Only Burn Once’ and ‘Lash in, Lash out’ along with quadruple beat snare smashing blastbeat drumming. Think Nasum, Rotten Sound, Insect Warfare and The Drip’ll be in the same rabid pool. Brandon Caldwell’s vocals were the one thing that stood out being uncharacteristically high, sort’ve a combination between Roger Miret’s throat swallowing style and Zakk de la Rocha’s high squeals but no less lacking in obnoxiousness along with his lyrical tirade of bitterness and hate against the world ‘…so what the fuck were you expecting? Another rise to another failure?..’. Still, with the songs clocking over 2 mins (sacrilege – Ed), closet song arrangements and an embarrassingly professional sound, some of the crust is clearly wearing off although it’s by no means an ascendancy into the hallowed halls of yuppie-dumb!

Noctem – “Exilium”


Noctem – “Exilium” (Art Gates Records)

Despite Spain being deep in economic recession, Noctem have returned with a fiery album that could set the Mediterranean ablaze! Playing blackened death since 2007, these guys no doubt have Behemoth in sight as an example of the success of extreme metal, and have stepped up to the plate accordingly. Beleth’s guttural vocals lead the rampage in fine Johan Hegg style as Exo’s par excellence guitar work dances around him like a matador to the bull – mercilessly shredding at times whilst at others conjuring some magnificent Spanish guitar influences especially in the solos and melodies. The quality of the riffs is definitely superior than before, so clearly a lot’ve of work has gone in here, and their imperialistic nihilism is reflected in the quality of songs like ‘Decrepit Human Kingdom’, ‘Halo of Repugnance’ and ‘The Adamantine Doors’. With the rhythm being relentless in its pummeling as well as precision, and haunting neo gothic choirs adding their decadent touch, the quality production gives Noctem their most respectable album to date, and moreover one to really win the masses over with!

Blackwater – “Blackwater”


Blackwater – “Blackwater” (The Path Less Traveled Records)

Blackwater hail from Illinois with its proud tradition of doom especially in Trouble, so it comes as no surprise that doom meister vocalist Eric Wagner (Trouble, Dave Grohl’s Probot, the Skull, Blackfinger, L.I.D.) is producing this debut! Formed at the turn of the century but taking almost a decade to solidify a heavy enough line-up, Blackwater needless to say take their inspiration heavily from Trouble during their 90s Def American era, but are also mature enough to have influences going back to 80s heavy metal and even 70s heavy rock so little wonder they’ve chosen to cover Priest’s ‘Deceiver’! Despite the obvious comparisons Blackwater’s own material is strong enough to appeal to those from those eras who can appreciate the authentically heavy but unpretentious guitars of Shayson V. Clay and Todd Phoenix, slow n meandering, but still with a well recognizable enough groove when they choose to crunch a little faster! Alongside Mitchell Barnes wailing but soulful vocals the rhythm provides a respectable enough backing on songs like ‘Bone Crusher’ and ‘Opposite Sides Of Glass’. Clearly in no rush, Blackwater’s approach is not just about churning out songs, but doing ‘em right and this respectable debut adds to their credit.