U.D.O. – “Decadent” (AFM Records)
Grandaddy metal’s back! Mr Udo Dirkschneider is a man I greatly respect – right from the off in his Accept days when he thrust a mike into my face to singalong to ‘Fast As A Shark’ ha ha! Since then he’s carved his own solo career after more than 40 years in the business, touring across the world and playing in places like Russia long before they opened up as markets for rockers. Now onto his 15th album, “Decadent” sees him reflect upon the past in singing about the ostentatiously luxurious lifestyles and personalities of the super rich. Certainly a topical theme at the moment, it’s reflected in his poignant lyrics like on ‘Breathless’ where he screams ‘…look at the world, it’s falling out of control!!…’ in wanting to incite revolution! Musically it’s no different to his trademark sound and of course, his distinct cat purr / scream vocals, which still remain in fine form despite him being aged 62. With the album balancing hard rock in its earlier half on songs like ‘Pain’ driven by its suave guitar melodies, the more metallic Accept stuff is to be found in the latter part on the likes of ‘Rebels Of The Night’ but overall, my feeling is that this is a thinking album reflected by its social conscience where Udo wants his fans to do the same rather than being another high speed ball buster that he is more renowned for. With a monster tour set to back him, “Decadent” sees Udo take on the world again as the grandaddy master of metal!
Jorn Lande & Trond Holter – “Dracula Swing of Death” (Frontiers Records)
I love this album!!! Presented by Norwegian vocalist extraordinaire Jorn Lande (Yngwie Malmsteen, Avantasia, Masterplan, Ark, Beyond Twilight etc etc) and glam metal guitarist Trond Holter of Wig Wam, this is a rock opera influenced by the likes of Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” or Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare” based on the life of Count Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, widely known as Vlad The Impaler or by his patronymic name Vlad Dracul(a)! Following the tale of when he was a human before he sold his soul to the devil to when he became a vampire, the album’s concept is based on the original Bram Stoker story centered around Dracula’s first true love Mina, with Lande’s vocal duets being complemented by Lena Fløitmoen Børresen. Despite the classical theme, the album is way more rock than opera, being the ultimate mix of Dio meets Whitesnake at their heaviest best so you’ll get an idea of just how superb songs like ‘Masquerade Ball‘, ‘River Of Tears‘ and ‘True love Through Blood‘ are although all ten tracks on this amazing album excel with no fillers. Needless to say, the musicianship is nothing short of stupendous, from Lande and Børresen’s vocal quality (that I would rank against any rock or opera singers out there) to Holter’s virtuoso guitar work. However, what really makes this a landmark album is that the true essence of rock purity has been captured here. Countless bands strive for it, few achieve it, and only the glorious legends that have made rock history have it, but Lande and Holter have achieved here. Capped off by the hammering rhythm of Bernt Jansen’s balls out bass and Per Morten Bergseth’s drum smashing this is what true rock should sound like, piercing the heart with emotion and lifting the soul for the ultimate musical high. You’ll be singing these immortal songs long after they’ve stopped playing and that’s what true rock is all about. There simply must be a follow up to this and I for one am demanding it!
Sylosis – “Dormant Heart” (Nuclear Blast)
If Metallica had formed in Reading then Sylosis would be their name! Hailing from the city that spawned the Reading Festival, Sylosis are one of the most happening British bands right now. In seven years they’ve released an astonishing four studio albums, a live release and two EPs, along with a live reputation to match! With the hoarse, throat strained vocals of Josh Middleton providing the carrion call to songs like ‘Leach’, ‘Where The Wolves Come To Die’ and ‘Mercy’, its his monster guitar along with Alex Bailey’s that pumps out heavy driving riffs that chunder and shake, sounding like Carcass in their wake and when even more scything, like the mighty Metallica themselves during their garage days. Laced tastefully across the top come some equally exquisite guitar melodies that offer brilliant contrast in their cold embrace whilst elsewhere, complement the high tempo of the material with their own matching ferocity! With Carl Parnell and Ali Richardson providing an excellent rearguard, Sylosis’s ultra tight musicianship is what enables this savage beast of a band to be also one graced by superior suaveness in providing a superb atmosphere on the 12 tracks herein. Based on the lyrical theme of challenging society’s herd mentality, “Dormant Heart” is an intense album, immediately grabbing you from the moment you hear it with its dark tranquility and successfully transfixing you throughout, awakening you from mental slumber to a new world beginning.
Savage Machine – “Through The Iron Forest” EP (www.savage-machine.com)
The sound of 80’s metal is back!!!! A bold statement indeed from these plucky Danes who used to be known as Momentum but probably after finding a million other namesake band sensibly changed their name heh heh. Despite the proclamation, Savage Machine are by no means either a retro NWOBHM or ‘true’ metal band. Still, they are heavily influenced by Bruce Dickinson era Iron Maiden although truth be told the deep, epic melodies also reminded me of Riot and the overall sound is actually pretty modern. Propelled by Troels Rasmussen’s clean, soaring vocals which have a hint of Seb Bach in his screams, the twin guitars of Jacob Vestergaard Druedahl Bruun (wot a name lol – Ed) and Simon Poulsen bring on the no nonsense riffs that when warbling together sound like Murray n Smith, but elsewhere are more epic and in the dueling spirit of Hammerfall, especially on galloping songs like ‘Prisoners Of War’, ‘Iron Forest’ and the raw n brooding ‘The Final March’. Although not pioneering any new sounds, Savage Machine offer fresh breath to an old style in their modern take of 80s metal but their saving grace is both their high caliber musicianship and more importantly, the no frills honesty of their music.
Diablo Blvd – “Follow The Deadlights” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Not a whole lot comes out’ve Belgium. It’s a tiny country in Europe often overlooked if not for its fanatical metal scene. In just three years Diablo Blvd have changed all that with just as many albums! Playing a strong rock / metal groove drawing heavily from the rolling riffs of Black Label Society mixed with Life Of Agony especially in Alex Agnew’s macho soulful vocals that are highly reminiscent of Keith Caputo, Diablo Blvd meld hard rock n metal comfortably together with catchy choruses in an irresistible mix. Adding to this come the dark, twisted grooves of Andries Beckers and Dave Hubrechts in their twin guitars that dextrously incorporate eastern melodies alongside heavy riffola a la Machine Head with hints of Metallica and Helmet on songs like the controversial ‘Behind The Veil’, ‘Rise Like Lions’ and ‘Son Of Cain’. There’s certainly a lot going on in the ten tracks making up this third album, but thanks to the big sound production it’s not complicated, allowing the full power of the music to resonate in your ears while the influences come unpredictably as pleasant surprises in the form of hints rather than blatant plagiarism. Almost a super group made up of veteran musicians from Belgium’s undergound, this is Diablo Blvd’s first international release and in many ways deserved in terms of song writing and well executed musicianship to give them that big break from out’ve the Benelux!
Serious Black – “As Daylight Breaks” (AFM Records)
On the face of it a new band, but look closer and Serious Black are big names from the most successful melodic metal bands consisting of Roland Grapow (Masterplan, Helloween), Thomen Stauch (Blind Guardian), Mario Lochert (Visions Of Atlantis), Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge), Jan Vacik (ex-Dreamscape) and last but not least the golden voice of Tad Morose’s Urban Breed! Formed one sunny evening in Spain over a glass of wine, the plan was to bring the talent of six masterminds together and man, have they delivered on this masterpiece! Sounding in places like Riot while elsewhere Stratovarius, the comparisons are immaterial as this really is excellent melodic metal – possibly genre album of the year – as soaring vocals, passionate riffs, wailing solos and thundering double bass rhythms bring superior class to epic songs like ‘As Daylight Breaks’, ‘Setting Fire To The Earth’ and ‘Temple Of The Sun’. Strangely enough, the title track isn’t even metal but instead a soft, tranquil piece graced by pianos and violins but once again, these guys pull it off so well that it doesn’t appear out’ve place with the rest of the 11 tracks, and Urban Breed (the last to join the band) shows his true measure as one of the top vocalists around as his heartfelt vocals bring tears to my eyes along with a feelgood ray of sunshine. Despite the symphonic / power metal album cover, which in my opinion undersells the band, there is so much more to this all star collaboration that in reality has come together brilliantly as a band in their own right displaying amazing musicianship and outstanding songwriting – don’t miss this one!
Alpha Tiger – “iDentity” (Steamhammer / SPV)
A festival favorite having played right across Europe at Hellfest, Bang Your Head and Wacken Open Air, Alpha Tiger’s mix of old school melodic metal is proving irresistible across generations of fans as both new and old lap up the clear, soaring vocals of Stephan Dietrich and the dual virtuoso guitars of Peter Langforth and Alexander Backasch as being the near perfect embodiment of mid 80s metal. With obvious comparisons to early Queensryche and Fates Warning especially in Dietrich’s vocals being highly reminiscent of Geoff Tate on ‘Lady Liberty’, there are also hints of Maiden in the band’s more speedier material like ‘Shut Up & Think’ but equally the use of pianos and synthesizers lends to a more AOR sound on ‘Closer Than Yesterday’, a heavy ballad in the style of Journey or Survivor. Despite their strong take on traditional heavy metal, Alpha Tiger truly shine when these inspirations are made more individualistic on songs like ‘Long Way Of Redemption’ and the defiant ‘We Won’t Take It Anymore’ brought to life by Dietrich’s cool don’t give a shit attitude, which in my opinion are two of the stronger songs on this all important third album. “iDentity” sees them take the bold move out’ve their comfort zone as a fan favorite retro band more into their own stylistic identity, reflected by the modern production and most of all, the band’s central ethos of writing damn fine songs. With a video and a number of spectacular release shows to follow the album launch entitled ‘Alpha Tiger & Friends’, this unassuming band from Freiberg in Saxony have found their own DNA guaranteed to win even more new fans by the bucket load!
Lord Dying – “Poisoned Altars” (Relapse Records)
Currently wading through the sludge wastelands comes Portland’s Lord Dying, who look like they enjoy drinking cold beer while taking a hot shower! Like a younger version of sludge originators Crowbar, there’s plenty of dark heavy down tuned riffing played through slightly fuzzed guitars, along with Erik Olson’s hoarse vocal drawls that certainly draw comparisons to a younger Kirk Windstein. Where Lord Dying differ however, is in their incredible rawness probably influenced by Portland’s punk scene and where they lack in Crowbar’s asteroid heaviness, they more than make up for in a shredding sound with heaps of reverb pulsating through waves of unbridled energy on mid tempo songs like ‘Offering Pain’, ‘An Open Sore’ and the strangely titled ‘Suckling At The Teat Of A She-Beast’ – hmm, not sure if that’s supposed to scare or arouse me ha ha! Already onto their sophomore album in the space of 2 years in “Poisoned Altars”, this quartet have toured the US with Black Cobra, Red Fang, Ghost and Down, taking part in Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Film Festival. Last year saw them invade Europe, playing the prestigious Roadburn Festival after supporting Red Fang and The Shrine before returning to the US to recruit new drummer Rob Shaffer of Dark Castle/Monarch before releasing this excellent album. Lord Dying are a big band who like to play loud with a big sound that is pure raw energy both crushing and shredding without mercy!
Despite – “Epic” EP (Crehate Music)
Formed in the late 90s and hailing from Gothenburg in Sweden, it’s hard to imagine Despite not following in the footsteps of that city’s greatest band In Flames, which clearly they do, but equally the band has evolved over the years to take little also from Soilwork with their brutal chopping beats as well as the riff bending insanity of Gojira. Following the release of two albums, new vocalist Peter Tuthill (also in Godsic) joined them in 2012 and with the addition of a 3rd guitarist in Zoran Panovic more recently, Despite are moving more into the modern metal arena especially with the increasing use of atmospheric guitar harmonies on songs like ‘Awakening’, ‘Give Me Life’ and ‘Sanctum Falls’. It certainly works as while the rhythm continues to provide the heavy element, the guitars work effortless off one another in delivering constant technical breaks amidst piling melodic riffs or grooves. Tuthill’s vocals, while being brutal for the most part and swaying between hoarse to throat strained screamo, occasionally indulging in some actual singing amidst melodic vocal harmonies from the rest of the band. “Epic” shows the band moving away from its prior constraints – be it both live and in the studio – in wanting a bigger and more expansive sound that holds onto elements of old while embracing the new.