Candlemass – “Psalms For The Dead”

Candlemass – “Psalms For The Dead” (Napalm Records)

After 28 years, this will be Candlemass’s 11th and final studio album, after which the band will continue only as a touring band, although I believe vocalist Rob Lowe has already left them LOL! Well, the good news is that they are going out on a high note, if a lighter one in terms tempering their dark, evil tones in favour of returning to their roots of Black Sabbath. It’s still very much doom, but Lowe is actually singing songs like ‘Prophet’, ‘Waterwitch’ and ‘Black As Time’ very much like Ozzy rather than in the classic operatic soprano vein that defined Candlemass. Furthermore, the use of hammond organ and some light harmony vocals is definitely more in the 70s style and maybe giving a nod towards the stoner market – well, it’s their last album so why not milk it LOL. Still, it’s been a magnificent career for these guys right from when we first heard “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” in ’86 to being the defining band of Swedish doom – Candlemass, I salute thee! Continue reading

Grand Magus – “The Hunt”

Grand Magus – “The Hunt” (Nuclear Blast)

I used to think that these Swedes were a pretty good stoner metal band but along with changing their label for this album, they seem to have gone back to their heavy metal roots. Remaining a three piece although now with Spiritual Beggars drummer Ludwig Witt to replace Sebastian Sippola, JB still possesses a fine voice and on songs like ‘Silver Moon’, ‘Valhalla Rising’ and ‘Son Of The Last Breath’ he now has the opportunity to showcase his ability to handle soulful and melodic stuff along with their more aggressive tones. Rhythmically the band is as tight as ever allowing them to ably handle the groovier and more harmonious material that I wouldn’t have imagined on their previous releases, so “The Hunt” has definitely progressed them now more into the realms of a traditional viking HM band. Grand Magus continue to remain grand, but they’ve cleaned up their act, taken a bath and emptied the ashtray on this one. Continue reading

Dark New Day – “New Tradition”

Dark New Day – “New Tradition” (Goomba Music)

DND is a hard rock supergroup made up of guitarist Clint Lowery (Sevendust), bassist Corey Lowery (Eye Empire), drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence), Troy McLawhorn (Evanescence) and vocalist Brett Hestla (Virgos Merlot). It’s been almost 7 years since we last heard from these guys with their debut ‘Twelve Year Silence’, yet unbelievably all the songs making up “New Tradition” were written only a year after that album! Whatever the case, the good news is that songs like ‘Take It From Me’, ‘I Don’t Need You’ and ‘Fiend’ don’t sound dated despite the agit cover and song titles, which related to some label beefs at the time. With a similar, if groovier sound to that of Alter Bridge with big Americana power rock riffs and soulful vocals, DND may have picked an opportune moment to release these tracks to a brand new market! Continue reading

Natur – “Head Of Death”

Natur – “Head Of Death” (Earache Records)

These Rhode Island stoners continue where Sabbath left for the dark world of doom. Playing early 70s occult rock amped up for today characterized by heavy fuzz guitar, booming bass and Weibust’s high wailing vocals, they also appear to live in a marijuana plantation judging by their far out songs like ‘Goblin Shark’, ‘Spider Baby’ and ‘Mutations In Maine’! Along with Hour Of 13, Cauldron, Barn Burner etc there seems to be quite a revival in ‘old metal’ and Natur are right up there with them, along with their own brand of upbeat stoner rock and given their fascination with the sea, could give the likes of Alestorm a run for their ale! Continue reading

Sonata Arctica – “Stones Grow Her Name”

Sonata Arctica – “Stones Grow Her Name” (Nuclear Blast)

These Finns have been through quite an evolution in their time starting off as hard rock before becoming a Stratovarius inspired power metal band. On this album they have evolved yet again into a decidedly lighter direction that incorporates new styles from country to renaissance to medieval although it remains upbeat with Tony Kakko’s trademark high end vocals, chundering rock guitar and keyboard atmospherics all of which add up to make for strongly melodic songs that are both energetic and actually sound like the band are having fun! Rather than go for complexity, ballads like ‘Alone In Heaven’ sound like they’ve been composed acoustically before switching on the power, whilst the likes of ‘Wildfire Part III’ see SA almost going into Queen rock opera territory resplendent with loads of piano and tweeting birdsong LOL. If that isn’t strange enough then try ‘Shitloada ‘O Money’, which is a throwback to 80s LA rock n roll although the prize has to go to ‘Cinderblox’ – a country toon no less complete with fiddle and banjo so much so that I was expecting C.W. McCall to be rappin’ in – c’mon! Definitely one of the more bizarre releases this year…. Continue reading

A Silent Escape – “A Silent Escape”

A Silent Escape – “A Silent Escape” (www.asilentescape.com)

Get ready for the big one. From the ashes of Sweden’s Union Square comes A Silent Escape, who fuse punk pop vocals with In Flames guitar power melodies and Guns N Roses soloing! With over 11 years experience already under their belt, I wouldn’t say A Silent Escape are exactly new to this and the breathtaking confidence at which they belt out songs like ‘Final Chapter’, ‘God’s A Liar’ and ‘My Habit’ reflects those years as well as their talent to include some piano and electronics craftily without giving the game away. As Union Square only folded for contractual reasons with Warner (a major label no less), A Silent Escape is pretty much the continuation of a band that won best unsigned act from Bandit Rock (Sweden’s biggest rock radio station), MTV Sweden & ZTV! Continue reading

Fear Factory – “The Industrialist”

Fear Factory – “The Industrialist” (AFM Records)

“….They said that the world was coming to an end. Well… it ended and it was caused by our own hand. The world just kept on turning….”. Fear Factory have never been afraid to experiment. Since their genre creating inception in the late 80s, this industrial death metal band have been blending various styles with the common thread of mixing fearsome brutality with melodies. With the experimentation extending also into band members’ personal careers – and not without friction – their previous opus “Mechanize” did little to dispel any doubts given the departure of OG drummer Raymond Herrera and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers. Well, “The Industrialist” is not without controversy, given that it is essentially a joint effort between vocalist Burton C Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares, who has handled all the instruments including drum programming. Ironically based around the concept where a machine becomes human and realizes its own humanity, songs like ‘God Eater’, ‘Religion Is Flawed Because Man Is Flawed’ and ‘Difference Engine’ feature perfect rapid fire brutal precision drumming, soothing atmospheric keyboard harmonies, industro-synth melodies and raw shredding guitar from Cazares, while Bell’s diverse vocals provide the equivalent matching style be it raw throat strained to soulful to roaring. This might be Fear Factory’s most perfect album to date, that much of it is fabricated using machines is what needs to be rationalized…. Continue reading

Empires Of Eden – “Channelling The Infinite”

Empires Of Eden – “Channelling The Infinite” (Music Buy Mail / Cargo Records)

EOE is a collaborative project orchestrated by Australia’s Stu Marshall (ex-Dungeon) featuring an amazing array of vocalists ranging from Udo to Steve Grimmett to Cage’s Sean Peck to Metal Church’s Ronny Munroe – to name but a few! While Stu composes and plays all the music, which is stylized to each of his guest vocalists, they retain the freedom to write their own lyrics and incorporate their own melodies, thus making for superb songs that reflect the heavy, power and melodic genres that each of them are associated with. From the heavy riffs of ‘Hammer Down’ that feature Udo’s trademark air raid siren screams to the soulful guitar melodies on ‘White Wings’ on which Ronny Munroe’s epic vocals soar to Sean Peck’s shredding vocals on the majestic and intense ‘Born A King’, Stu Marshall has done a superb job on “Channelling The Infinite” which does exactly what it says on the tin! Continue reading

The Cory Smoot Experiment – “When Worlds Collide”

The Cory Smoot Experiment – “When Worlds Collide” (Metal Blade Records)

Aka Flattus Maximus, the guitarist from GWAR, Cory Smoot had just finished this solo album before sadly passing away last year. Originally intended to feature a number of guest vocalists from GWAR’s own Dave Brockie and Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe, when scheduling conflicts meant that fell thru, Cory simply took up the handle and did ’em all himself! “When Worlds Collide” is definitely experimental, incorporating a wide range of styles but thankfully all heavily played from deep rumbling bass to double bass drumming from the Crowbar like ‘Fortunate Son’ to the thrashing ‘Mandatory Purgatory’. Cory’s guitar work itself covers the metal spectrum from his Spanish style on ‘Brainfade’ to the funk / death of ‘The Gauntlet’ and elsewhere shredding on the Fear Factory like ‘Religion Is Friction’! Vocally, his work isn’t as strong although it’s definitely suited to the dark metal he has created here, again trying to incorporate a variety of styles. “When Worlds Collide” is a fitting epitaph to him, probably showcasing much more than what the world knew of him and definitely sounding like he’s had a lotta fun doing, the proceeds of which will go to his family, so what more could he ask for? Continue reading

Arstidir Lifsins – “Vapna Laekjar Eldr”

Arstidir Lifsins – “Vapna Laekjar Eldr” (Van Records)

Possibly one of the most ambitious packages I’ve ever seen, Arstidir Lifsins is a 9 piece German / Icelandic / Norwegian collaboration who play Norse / Pagan / Black metal mixed in with folk sung in old Icelandic! The brainchild of Stefan who studied Medieval Icelandic while in Iceland, no doubt influenced profoundly by its timeless, primordial, volcanic landscape as well as the strong Norse culture, Arstidir Lifsins itself roughly translates to ‘seasons of life’ and is strongly connected to the different seasons. “Vapna Laekjar Eldr” is again deeply rooted in Iceland’s history of the later half of the 10th century AD, continuing the story from the first album “Jötunheima dolgferð” also set in the Westjords (Vestfirðir) and telling the harsh tale of survival and struggle of farmers based on the family sagas of Norwegian and Celtic settlers. Pressed in a special dark red coloured vinyl and presented in a gatefold is an extensive art book with 48 pages, including nine exclusively painted pictures by singer Marsél, English translations of the lyrics and a special chapter that is designed in the way of 14th century Icelandic illuminated manuscripts. If the packaging is superb, then the music is nothing short of epic: centered around a Norse black metal core come Nordic choirs, strong Scandinavian folk melodies, as well as a range of instruments from violins to organs to harps to piano. Dark, melancholic and at times violent, while elsewhere ambient and atmospheric Arstidir Lifsins have accurately captured Iceland’s wild and unforgiving nature, but also its majestic beauty in a superb album whose energy goes beyond music and into a complete cultural immersion! Continue reading