Grave Digger – “Return Of The Reaper” (Napalm Records)
Amazing – some 34 years after they were formed by main man vocalist Chris Boltendahl, Grave Digger are still as potent now as they were back then! Two years on since its predecessor, “Return Of The Reaper” arrives with a vengeance in its more straight up meat n potatoes sound that spells HEAVY metal throughout its 12 songs. Fully charged twin guitars feature prominently in the mix, along with high speed double bass drumming as are Boltendahl’s gravelly rock dog vocals, the perfect element to bind Grave Digger’s mix of catchy galloping speed metal chasers, thundering metal anthems and power to the max ballads. This time round the band have opted out of any concepts or deep themes as on 2012’s Greek mythology themed “Clash Of The Gods”, instead returning back to their heavy metal roots on songs like ‘Wargod’, ‘Road Rage Killer’ and ‘Death Smiles At All Of Us’. Thanks to the superb production, the technology makes their original style now sound like an out of control freight train blaring Judas Priest as it chugs all the way to a fireball wrecking end – something sure to strike home to both old and any new ‘true’ metal fans. To be frank I’ve never heard the band so tight and with so much energy which is great news as I hear they want to continue for another 30 years lol. “Return Of The Reaper” is a great return to fine form by one of the original pioneers of German heavy metal certainly living up to its name in taking me right back to the 80s but with a modern sound in this superb release – Chris Boltendahl, you rule man!
Black Trip – “Goin´ Under” (Steamhammer / SPV)
Black Trip is the super group made up of Enforcer and ex Nifelheim members who play NWOBHM inspired heavy metal! Actually conceived in 2003 it took the best part of 11 years before the project was fully realized owing to the members’ other commitments. Finally the whole band got back together and it’s certainly a marked change from the speed metal of Enforcer not to mention Nifelheim‘s screaming black metal frenzy, right down to those classic 80s headbanger looks – man, that’s how I used to look ha ha! Musically, the band have sought to create the equivalent in songs that could’ve been released during that era and listening to the likes of ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘Going Under’ and ‘Voodoo Queen’ they’ve taken inspiration from the late 70s hard rock of Thin Lizzy as well as heaps of early Maiden, with loads of flowing dextrous guitar work incorporating plenty of melodies, twin guitar galloping riffola and plenty of far out soloing. Enforcer’s Joesph Tholl provides the right kind of NWOBHM accredited soulfully highish vocals and the production is authentic too, being a tad muffled making the material indeed sound as if over 3 decades old! Definitely retro worthy, as well as the novelty of being played by guys normally screaming for satan with fire n blood, Black Trip is certainly worth a listen and especially for those into the NWOBHM.
Steel Prophet – “Omniscient” (Cruz Del Sur Music)
At last – the return of the US prog power metal kings! Timing was never great with Steel Prophet, releasing their debut at the height of the grunge explosion in 1995, but these guys go against the grain anyway, right from their brand of technical metal, to their complex album concepts usually visualising the mastermind songwriter genius of guitarist Steve Kachinsky Blackmore (yes, he is named after the dark one – Ed). The all knowing “Omniscient” certainly reflects that confidence in its title as well as its stunning music – fluid techno prog melodies graced by virtuoso guitar playing against a hard punching, galloping rhythm courtesy of Body Count bassist Vince Dennis and John Tarascio’s drums – sort’ve a mixture between Maiden and Fates Warning! With fan favorite Rick Mythiasin’s operatically soulful vocals returning to the fold in their first full length album in 10 years, the circle is complete in bringing back technical epics like ‘Chariots Of The Gods’ and ‘Trickery Of The Scourge’ in returning the glory of Steel Prophet back to a forgotten world. Despite all this confidence and undoubted musicianship their cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ falls short of the original even though the odds were in their favor to pull off a ripping version, instead coming across as a tad half serious – another quirk in Steel Prophet’s eccentric history – although the ripping ‘1984’ definitely hits the mark both for its unashamed no nonsense power as well as its Orwellian subject matter! Speaking of strange, I’ve left the best till last, which is of course the lyrics and these are based on another Steve Kachinsky story, the central character of which – Auriga Alycone – is on a journey to attain all seeing knowledge (hence the album’s title – Ed) based on a code that relates to 12 symbols that just so happen to correlate with the twelve songs and the twelve illustrations on the album – and there I’ll leave it as the full story is on the Cruz Del Sur site and you can indulge yourselves in working out the link between 911, Richard Nixon and aliens!
Desaster – “Live In Bamberg” 2CD / DVD (High Roller Records)
‘…we may not be as pretty as Steel Panther, but we have much bigger balls!..’. No kidding, formed over 25 years ago, Desaster remain one of the lynchpins of Germany’s underground thrash movement. Unsurprisingly, their influences go right back to the days of Venom, Hellhammer and Destruction in an early blackened thrash style defined by hoarse, guttural vocals, ultra raw guitars dishing out evil warbling melodies and possessed pounding drum work on crude chainsawing songs like ‘Divine Blasphemies’, ‘Hellbangers’ and ‘Evil Arschloch’! Don’t be expecting anything refined either in the lyrics or the musicianship – Desaster are hardcore fans themselves who play for their rabid audiences both in Europe as well as far as South America – and it’s reflected in their OTT delivery that delivers to the max live. This package was recorded at a special 25th anniversary show with a handpicked set list taken from all their numerous releases, but moreover chosen so that all their previous members could guest onstage – even old vocalist Okkulto had an online song poll – as a special treat to fans and supporters of the band who came from all over to make merry mayhem with the band. Still with founder member Infernal on ‘Six Silverstrings of Hellish Crossfire’, “Live In Bamberg” is probably the band’s most ambitious project especially in the 2 hour DVD, but Desaster have pulled out all the stops as per their shows in creating an equally matching OTT package graced by an Axel Hermann cover that is fitting testimony to their cult status. If you ever wanted to know about German underground old school thrash then this is the one for you – a sweat drenched bierkeller bomb – from a band that play n live it from the time they were born to their end of days with no regrets or mercy!
Ted Nugent – “Shutup&Jam!” (Frontiers Records)
With over 40 millions albums sold and having played over 6,500 high-octane live shows, the Nuge or ‘Motor City Madman’ is infamous in US rock history from his decibel setting, gold fish bowl shattering records to guitar dueling with the likes of Frank Marino, who was reputedly chased out’ve a stadium – and not without controversies as a political icon being the bane of PETA to be accused of racism to sitting on the board of the NRA to name but a few! Musically the Nuge is equally regarded for his no effects, no nonsense kick ass brand of 70s American hard rock n roll and it’s no less on this 14th solo album with his raw n wild guitar sound cleanly burning thru those amps so much you can smell the smoke. Every chord, every pick, every finger slide on that fretboard is recorded with crystal clarity just as it was back in the days of the old school – you can almost see Ted’s face screw up at the mere mention of a computer lol. Enlisting old time buddy Derek St Holmes and guest vocalist Sammy Hagar the Nuge is back as the wildman of rock on his first album in 7 years and it’s been worth the wait, as both the man and his songs still resonate the call of the wild in satiating the hunger for raw meat munching rock that only the Nuge can feed with both the purity of his rock essence as well as his patriotic passion – aged 65 and apart from new knees, this old rock dog ain’t gonna quit! Just check out the dual vocal blues rock n roll of ‘She’s Gone’ an you’ll know what I’m talkin’ about man, as Hagar and the Nuge funk it out wang dang sweet poontang style with those non stop guitars. But there’s no messin’ on ‘Never Stop Believing’, a powerful rock ballad that is almost anthemic in its tribute to the nation, so much so I almost expected to hear the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ at the end! But if you like your fresh game served up with a cold brew then brash 80s beer chasers like ‘I Still Believe (In America)’ and ‘I Love My BBQ’ – complete with hilarious retro hippy harmonies – will get your red blood boiling as the guitar instrumental of ‘Throttledown’ is so outta control its smokin’ baby! Closing ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ style with ‘Screaming Eagles’ and the unashamed brash n just down dog heavy white boy rap rock of ‘Semper Fi’ the contrast couldn’t be any more clearer in the heartfelt and poignant blues soul acoustic version of ‘Never Stop Believing’ where the Nuge looks back on his life reminiscing ‘..I got a dream, like Martin Luther King, in my heart, I hear that man sing…and I never stop believin’..’. There may be no more amplifier leaping and no more bisons on stage but Ted Nugent still has the fire in his heart and whatever your views on his politics and persona, there’s no denying the spirit of the American Dream still lives on for this last weekend warrior out on the range.
Chastain – “Surrender To No One – Uncut” (Leviathan / Hellion Records)
US Metal lives! Another legend from Mike Varney’s original Shrapnel roster, David T Chastain was a shredding virtuoso guitarist who graced the US scene back in the 80s with his namesake band. Joining him at the time was a young talented female singer called Leather Leone whose powerful pipes matched what he could achieve on the fretboard. The chemistry between the two would remain for 5 albums until the 90s when she left the music scene. 20 years later Leone not only returned but back into the ranks of Chastain once again! Releasing “Surrender To No One” last year it was evident that she was in fine form and brought back fresh life into the band, receiving worldwide critical acclaim for hearing the sound of her air raid voice once again! The “Uncut” version of this album is essentially what it says, the raw original recordings before any tampering by the producer (Mr Chastain himself) to remove any guitar string noise, amp hum etc that might detract from the commercial release. Personally I think it’s how all albums should sound! You really feel like you’re in front of the band as Leone’s she cat sultry vocals tease n torment you before she blitzes you with her atomic screaming just like in the 80s whilst Chastain’s guitar remains as ever, riffing and wailing wildly all over power epics like ‘Fear My Wrath’, ‘Stand And Fight’ and ‘I Am Sin’. Backed by the steam hammering rhythm of Mike Skimmerhorn’s bass and Stian Kristoffersen’s power drumming mit plenty of double bass work this classic material has a new ‘ultra’ sound making it well able to stand up to today’s extreme bands, whilst not letting up on any of the grace and majesty of the melodies within – if you want to know what modern heavy metal should and does sound like then look no further to the living legend of Chastain – uncut!
Abaddon Incarnate – “Pessimist” (Candlelight Records)
The return of the Irish gods of grind! Formed in the early 90s, Abaddon Incarnate went on to win the MTV battle of the bands UCD 1995 before releasing their highly acclaimed album “Nadir” in 2001. A band that has pretty much toured everywhere worldwide including being the first Irish metal band to tour Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, live is where these guys are at, and that’s certainly the feel to this album despite its morose name – it’s as close to seeing the band live and full credit has to be given to the production, which manages to keep it in the quality bracket despite the band’s extreme racket. Despite being on a label with a legacy in black metal, “Pessimist” is probably closer to “Nadir” and definitely the best grind core album I’ve heard this year – literally – thanks to that aforementioned superior production that takes nothing away from the blurring blast beat drumming and old school filthy guitars chainsawing punk grind riffs while being kicked in the bollocks by the distorted bass. With the band seemingly sharing the vocals they are nothing short of breathtakingly extreme ranging from aggro barking to death growls to hysteria shrills – often simultaneously – making the 13 tracks like ‘Aborted Genesis’, ‘Morbid Epiphany’ and ‘Funeral Hag’ heart stoppingly intense to say the least! With heaps of experience under their belts, Abaddon Incarnate have taken the best of old schools of UK grind crust and mixed it with some Scandi grind death to come out with their 5th full length which is nothing short of a grindcore masterpiece – and one of the most extreme albums sound wise you’ll ever hear!!
Serpent Venom – “Of Things Seen And Unseen” (The Church Within Records)
Serpent Venom play traditional English doom metal and not a million miles from where I live in good ‘ol London town! Conceived in 2008, they have been a name in circulation, but this album is simply awesome, light years from other doom bands around the world in being so authentic, yet so perfect in just about every way. Without a doubt a major factor has to be guitarist Roland Scriver (Sloth, End Of Level Boss), who joined the band in 2011 and is a veritable riff machine, cranking out all the classic doom-meister riffs with his (of course) perfect guitar sound that fuzzes and distorts like an out of way speedway bike only for him to steer it clear of crash just at the last moment – a maestro if I ever heard one! With bassist Nick Davies providing the Rickenbacker rumbles and Paul Sutherland’s mammoth plodding drums adding to the volumen brutale, it’s Garry Ricketts haunting Messiah Marcolin-esque vocals that bring it all home on prehistoric songs like ‘Sorrow’s Bastard’, ‘Let Them Starve’ and ‘Death Throes At Dawn’. Definitely one of the best traditional doom albums I’ve heard this year, and from one of the best English bands around, Serpent Venom’s “Of Things Seen And Unseen” is as foreboding as a historical trip to the bloody Tower Of London itself!
Wolves At The Gate – “VxV” (Solid State Records)
Hot off the foot from their acclaimed debut and 2 prior EPs comes “VxV”, the sophomore from Christian post hardcore band Wolves At The Gate. Aside from the lyrics that talk about the gospel and various preachy sound bytes throughout the album there isn’t anything really happy-clappy about the band, so anyone with a love of post hardcore can still get into the music which is well worth its measure given how heavy it is both sound wise as well as emotively! Mixing the clean vocals of founder Steve Cobucci with Nick Detty’s raw screams it’s the same with the guitar work blending soothing melodies n heartfelt soloing amidst massive walls of shredding noise backed by Dylan Baxter’s smashing drums and heavy strummed bass lines from Ben Summers. Together they produce a vicious, scything mix sweeping all asunder as if smitten by God himself. Now a staple in the Solid State Records roster, the band has toured with the likes of Emery, A Skylit Drive, Unearth, Born Of Osiris, Fit For A King, and Gideon, growing an extremely loyal fan base who clearly relate to their highly charged delivery and impassioned faith. Christian or not, you may not share the beliefs of Wolves At The Gate, but put that aside and you will hear one of the finest and most intense post hardcore bands on this Earth today.