UDO – “Celebrator”

UDO – “Celebrator” 2CD (AFM Records)

Wow, legendary ex Accept vocalist Udo Dirkschneider reaches retirement age this month and what better way to celebrate it than with a double album titled “Celebrator”! With a combination of 25 unreleased tracks, B-sides, bonus and rare tracks “Celebrator” is exactly what it sez it is – commemorating the man’s career from his early days with the Raven cover of ‘Born To Be Wild’ to ‘They Only Come Out At Night’ with Lordi. There are also some interesting takes on classic songs like the piano version of ‘Balls To The World’ and an orchestral version of ‘Tears Of A Clown’ where we get to hear different, softer sides to UDO’s voice as well as a dance collaboration with Russian techno act Faktor 2 on ‘Platchet Soldat’. But for me, it’s hearing Mr Dirkschneider giving Mr Halford a true run for his money on ‘Metal Gods’ that makes me wonder how good this would’ve sounded onstage as a duet – happy birthday Mr UDO! Continue reading

Castle – “Blacklands”

Castle – “Blacklands” (Van Records)

Castle are back – in black. When this off the wall trio from San Francisco (where else – Ed) emerged with their debut “In Witch Order” last year it was an interesting fusion of psychedelic occult inspired rock from the 70s, but amped up for this apocalyptic year! I guess one of the reasons for this was that it was originally conceived by guitarist, songwriter and producer Mat Davis as a solo project, with much of the material already written and demoed before bassist / vocalist (and soon to be spouse) Elizabeth Blackwell and drummer Al McCartney joined the band. As such, “Blacklands” is an altogether more structured affair with cleaner production and less gothic rumblings from Blackwell’s bass. However, her raw voice is even more prominent this time, making the doomier songs like ‘Corpse Candles’ even more haunting than they sound! Elsewhere, it’s more of a thrashier feel like on the chugging ‘Curses Of The Priests’ with its gruff dual male / female vocals, while the heavy n epic ‘Dying Breed’ allows Davis to close off in style with heaps of feedback and wailing psychedelic guitar, effectively trademarking Castle’s brand of ‘witch- thrash’! Continue reading

Allegaeon – “Formshifter”

Allegaeon – “Formshifter” (Metal Blade)

Allegaeon essentially play modern melodic death metal characterized by hoarse raw deathlike vocals from Ezra Haynes, and buzzing dervish riffs mixed in with In Flames melodies and emo core warblings courtesy of guitarists Ryan Glisan and Greg Burgess, who clearly also like to show their technical skills like on the cool Spanish guitar work on the acoustic ‘Twelve’. Allegaeon’s music is certainly fast, but not to blurring levels of insanity, but instead controlled as evidenced by the precision drum work on songs like ‘The Azrael Trigger’, ‘Tartessos: The Hidden Xenocryst’ and ‘From The Stars Death Came’, that touch on ancient civilizations and especially Atlantis, which is refreshing from the usual death metal lyrical fodder. All in all, Allegaeon leave me thinking of them as Colorado’s DM equivalent to Agent Steel, who musically compared to their peers at the time, but were a world apart when it came to their philosophies! Continue reading

Svyatogor – “Doctor Veritas”

Svyatogor – “Doctor Veritas” (Svarga Music)

Prepare yourselves for some Ukrainian eccentricity! Whilst Svyatogor have a common enough sounding black metal base, what is interesting is how they craftily mix in other styles like electronica, violins and even cabaret saxophones to take their sound more into theatrical horror metal. At times it’s pretty off the wall with hints of Celtic Frost but I have to commend the way the songs have been structured to always return to their main theme so it’s not like a jazz fusion session LOL! This may be because the main(?) guys in the band, Amorth I.M. (ex-DRUDKH, ASTROFAES) and Master Alafern (QUINTESSENCE MYSTICA, THUNDERKRAFT) seem to be pretty experienced as well as the fact that “Doctor Veritas” is Svyatogor’s third release, but their musicianship, as well as the album’s production, are without fault. Equally, vocalist Arius shows considerable dexterity in competently covering the full black metal spectrum from screams to rasps to haunting whispers on songs like ‘La Concupiscence’, ‘Word hard. Eat. Watch.’ and ‘In Memory Of Fallen Heroes’, the lyrics of which are written in Russian, Ukrainian, French and English! Given their location, I’m not sure how big Svyatogor are ever likely to get, but I have to applaud “Doctor Veritas” as a very brave effort, if anything for the way it pulls off its musical idiosyncrasies! Continue reading

Wykked Wytch – “The Ultimate Deception”

Wykked Wytch – “The Ultimate Deception” (Goomba Music)

Holy crap – is the possessed devil kid on the front cover a childhood foto of vocalist Ipek? If you thought that Holy Moses Sabina Classen was ball buster, then hold out for Turkish American Ipek, who will probably fist your ass to kingdom come LOL! Her band Wykked Wytch have been around since the mid 90s and have gone thru many incarnations, from thrashers to Cradle Of Filth extreme metal to Floridian death metal to blackend gothic metal, and not to mention, a plethora of personnel and varying imagery! On the “The Ultimate Deception” (hope there’s nothing in the title – Ed) it’s almost as if Ipek has gone for an amalgamation of all the aforementioned styles i.e. blackened technical death with hyper speed technical drumming, hammering riffola and Morbid Angelesque dervish melodies on blurring songs like ‘Serpents Among Us’ and ‘Prayers Of The Decapitated’ – as well as a screaming cover of Metallica’s classic ballad ‘Fade To Black’. Ipek’s voice is unquestionable in both it’s power and tremendous range, from clean to cat screeching to cookie monster – but thankfully clearly feminine rather than trying to be a guy – but Wykked Wytch’s weak point is the lack of original sound, and that is ultimately what sets apart even the most die hard fans who wannabe onstage from the legends who grace those hallowed boards. Continue reading

Wild Frontier – “2012”

Wild Frontier – “2012” (Prime Entertainment)

Inspired by the late Gary Moore’s 1987 namesake album, Wild Frontier were formed in Germany over 22 years ago to play melodic hard rock in the style of his passionate music. Well, that may have been the case back then, but the band have undergone quite a few changes over the years and after a promising start in ‘To The End Of The World’ things start to really mellow out to almost pop levels on the likes of ‘Why Don’t You Save Me’ – no thanks LOL! I’m not entirely certain for this departure, perhaps the band are trying to offer a range of songs from their career but the lighter material doesn’t really do it for me, included the cover of Abba’s ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ which may have been intended as tongue in cheek but appears to have backfired. Thankfully, “2012” closes respectably with the likes of ‘Long Gone’ which typifies the genre with crunching guitars and rock out vocals, while ‘Why Are The Good Things Too Hard To Find’ is like an excellent mix of Moore and Journey so why Wild Frontier couldn’t produce more of these seems to be reflected in the latter’s poignant title. Continue reading

Axel Rudi Pell – “Circle Of The Oath”

Axel Rudi Pell – “Circle Of The Oath” (Steamhammer/SPV)

Aha – the Teutonic master of melodic rock metal returns in fine style with his trademark heart wrenching melodies and tear jerking harmonies! “Circle Of The Oath” is Pell’s 15th album no less, and Steamhammer / SPV have spared no expense in offering it in 4 different formats from standard Jewel Case to Digipack (CD plus bonus live track + poster) to double LP (Gatefold, printed inner sleeves, colored blue marbled vinyl) to a limited edition boxset (2 LPs, Digi, Poster, Sticker, Postcard, + 2 more gimmicks). Joining him on bass is his old friend Volker Krawczak – arguably the foundation on which Axel’s sound is built upon, ex Hardliner Johnny Gioeli whose vocals bring a late 70s US rock style into the mix, keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (who worked with Helloween, Holy Moses, and Therion), and mighty Mike Terrana (Rage, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, Steve Lukather etc) on the pounding drums! Musically I tend to think of ARP as a more melodic, almost rock equivalent to Dio (or a metalized version of Rainbow – Ed), which I guess is no truer than on the closer ‘World Of Confusion’ or even the slow ballad ‘Lived Our Lives Before’, with it’s bluesy Blackmore-esque solos. However, for me, ARP is best defined by his fast power rockers like my personal fave ‘Run With The Wind’ that show Axel’s prowess as a guitarist who can hold his own onstage against the likes of Ulrich Roth on 40 minute solos! Whatever your view though, 30 years on this German musical legend is still going strong and in fine form – Axel Rudi Pell, I salute you for not breaking your oath!! Continue reading

Moonspell – “Alpha Noir”

Moonspell – “Alpha Noir” (Napalm Records)

Moonspell are Portugal’s premier metal band. When I first saw them in the mid 90s they were a blackish metal band, and since then they’ve evolved more towards goth metal and these days into a self described ‘dark metal’ band who owe their influences as much towards the Sisters Of Mercy as much as to Type O Negative. “Alpha Noir” is probably their most ambitious project in their career, not in the least because the special edition will contain a twin album – “Omega White” – that contains material especially dedicated to those aforementioned bands! “Alpha Noir” itself is an incendiary album to say the least with raw, growling vocals mixed with neo gothic metallic riffs and a pounding rhythm topped off with dark keyboard atmospherics and haunting melodies on songs like ‘Love Is Blasphemy’, ‘Axis Mundi’ and the decadently titled ‘Lickanthrope’. Although by no means original, Moonspell have had the best part of two decades to work this style to perfection and the result is no better captured than on this exquisite album that exudes sophistication but not without savagery! Continue reading

Crystal Viper – “Excepta”

Crystal Viper – “Excepta” (AFM Records)

Fronted by vocalist / guitarist Marta Gabriel, this Polish HM act have shifted from the power metal in their previous album “Legends” to traditional heavy metal on “Excepta” with huge doses of Iron Maiden right from the Bomber ‘arris twanging bass right thru to the Murrayesque riffs judging by songs like ‘The Spell Of Death’ and ‘It’s Your Omen’. Ironically, it’s Marta’s voice that is the exception being rawer and of course feminine compared to Mr Dickinson, although it certainly doesn’t lack any less power! Crystal Viper also try to show more versatility on this release, offering an HM cover of Vader’s ‘Tyrani Piekiel’ (‘Tyrants Of Hell’), an extra (album only) cover of Demon’s classic ‘Night Of The Demon’, and a power rock ballad in ‘Ghosts Of Sherwood’ which will be the theme song for the forthcoming 3D cinema horror movie “Robin Hood: Ghosts Of Sherwood” – the harmony choral of which reminds me of REM’s ‘Shiny Happy People’ LOL! Continue reading

Running Wild – “Shadowmaker”

Running Wild – “Shadowmaker” (Steamhammmer/SPV)

Yarrr – get ready to be keel hauled once again by Cap’n Rolf! Running Wild are German pirate legends going back to the mid 70s and formed the part of the first wave of German HM alongside the likes of Accept, Living Death and Grave Digger, although I would’ve said they were probably the most mellow of that lot. So, in many ways it doesn’t come as a surprise that “Shadowmaker” isn’t really a metal album as such, but more metalized rock with lots of 70s rock influences like Thin Lizzy on ‘Sailing Fire’, while on the more rock n roll numbers like ‘Me + The Boys’ Rolf’s voice sorta reminds me of Krokus, or even 80s Priest on the singalong ‘I Am Who I Am’. Having seen the best (and worst) side of 35 years, they called it day after their Wacken 2009 performance but last year, Rolf and guitarist Peter Jordan reactivated the band although I’m not sure who else is contributing besides them. Whether “Shadowmaker” turns out to be a comeback album or epitaph, Running Wild have turned out a swashbuckler of an album in every sense from composing to musicianship to production and finally marketing it in 3 different formats from limited 1st edition CD plus bonus DVD to double album (printed inner sleeves & clear vinyl) to limited edition boxset (2 LPs, CD/DVD, Poster, Sticker, Postcard, 30 page book)! Continue reading