Huntress – “Spell Eater”

Huntress – “Spell Eater” (Napalm Records)

Huntress are a Cally heavy metal band featuring the ear piercing coloratura soprano (i.e. four octave range) vocals of one Jill Janus, who grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, before embarking on a career as a teenage opera starlet. Years later, Janus moved to Los Angeles, discovered thrash metal and began stripping the opera from her voice, whilst maintaining its awesome power. But the childhood impressions of the Catskills, and in particular its ties to the occult, never left her and she soon began giving herself to the dark side of bands like Dissection, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. Needless to say, Huntress reflect all these things and songs like ‘Snow Witch’, ‘Eight Of Swords’ and ‘The Tower’ hark back to the days of early Mercyful Fate or even Angel Witch, conjuring up images of sorcery with dark heavy metal riffs and melodies – and of course, those banshee vocals, which apparently can break glass!

Holy Moses – “30th Anniversary – In the Power Of Now”

Holy Moses – “30th Anniversary – In the Power Of Now” 2CD (Steamhammer/SPV)

30 years on and Germany’s thrashers Holy Moses are still shredding it out there. Still fronted by terrifying front woman Sabina Classen, whose vocals have been largely credited with originating today’s female death / thrash style, the band continues to deliver its no frills 80s style thrash with scant regard for commercialism. In commemorating their anniversary, Holy Moses (now with GiftDwarf / ex Rebellion drummer Gerd Lücking) decided to re-record 20 of their most favorite songs like ‘Finished With The Dogs’ on this double CD, which now sound a lot more solid in terms of their production compared to their previous versions i.e. thicker guitars and you can actually hear the bass LOL. In addition they offer a coupla new tracks ‘Borderland’ and ‘Entering The Now’ which certainly don’t show any signs of wimping out and continue in German neck snapping thrash style a plenty!

At Vance – “Facing Your Enemy”

At Vance – “Facing Your Enemy” (AFM Records)

Germany’s At Vance essentially play melodic hard rock led by master guitar magician and composer Olaf Lenk (ex-Velvet Viper) and vocalist Oliver Hartmann (ex-Centers), whose voice could be a dead ringer for Dave Coverdale’s! And AOR Whitesnake is a pretty close comparator to where At Vance are at, with husky rock vocals, heart breaking melodies and sultry keyboards defining songs like ‘See Me Crying’ or ‘Don’t Dream’. I used to think that At Vance were sorta power metal and funnily enough they offer a neo classical instrumental in ‘March Of The Dwarf’ but it seems strangely out’ve place both in terms of its title and style compared to the rest of this album, which is a fine one for crooners rather than rockers.

Savage – “Sons Of Malice”

Savage – “Sons Of Malice” (Minus2Zebra Records)

Forever synonymous with their debut album “Loose N Lethal” and in particular its kick ass track ‘Let It Loose’, these NWOBHM merchants are right back where they started 30 years ago, in the Midlands kicking out their own brand of Brit meat n potatoes metal i.e. nay frills, nay bovver, just real ale LOL! Well the heart of Savage, namely bassist / vocalist Chris Bradley and guitarist Andy Dawson are once again back together and promisingly now joined by Bradley’s son Kristian also on guitar and old buddy Mark Nelson on drums. As I remember them, it was the incredible fusion of Dawson’s fast raw guitar mixed with Bradley’s melodic vocals amid a tight sassy rhythm that belted out songs like ‘Dirty Money’. In 2012 the band is a less savage beast, albeit still with Dawson’s guitar and Bradley’s voice defining the band, but the tempo has slowed and on the likes of ‘Junkyard Dogs’ a strong blues element is present. Still, songs like ‘Waking The Dead’ and ‘Now’ definitely hint towards past glories but with a more mature approach i.e. the difference between an 18 and a 48 year old! In summation, this isn’t a thrash album to prepare you for Aardschok part 2 but if it’s pounding (and I do mean loud) Brit rock anthems you’re craving then “Sons Of Malice” will do you proud!

4Bitten – “Delirium”

4Bitten – “Delirium” (Rocksector Records)

Although hailing from Greece, 4Bitten owe more to 70s hard rock legends like Led Zeppelin or even Glenn Hughes in their punchy but funky grooves. Added to that Fofi Roussos’s power femme rock vocals clearly inspired by Janis Joplin or even Suzi Quatro, and it’s easy to see why they’ve supported Dan Reed in the UK and last year the likes of Tygers Of Pan Tang, Blaze Bayley, Michael Schenker Group and Uriah Heep in Athens! Listening to the likes of ‘Burning The Candle’, ‘Far From Grace’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ the band are indeed a tight outfit with a solid sound and musicianship, as well as possessing a subtle blues element that gives them an added laid back touch whilst not tripping them out. “Delirium” is an important step in the band’s career that will allow them appeal to the mainstream rather like The Answer or Black Stone Cherry whilst keeping level heads.

Anvil – “Plugged In Permanent” / “Absolutely No Alternative” / “Speed Of Sound” / “Plenty Of Power”

Anvil – “Plugged In Permanent” / “Absolutely No Alternative” / “Speed Of Sound” / “Plenty Of Power” 2in1 REISSUES (Steamhammer/SPV)

I would imagine that by now Anvil are a household name – what more can be said about them LOL?! Still, like or loathe em, cry or laugh at em, Anvil are now Canada’s most famous heavy metal band. These reissues are undoubted cash ins on that new found infamy and essentially cover their Massacre (Records) era as well as heralding the introduction of Ivan Hurd and Glenn 5 into the band. Listening to the likes of ‘Doctor Kevorkian’, ‘Green Jesus’, ‘No Evil’ and ‘Beat The Law’ its all pretty much sameo Anvil, from Lips’s rock / metal guitar work to Reiner’s far out drum work. Although technically without fault in terms of the musicianship, the problem seems to be that none of the material comes to within spitting distance of their earlier material i.e. “Metal On Metal” and as such fails to appeal other than in perpetuating a legacy. Given that the landscape had changed considerably in the 2nd half of the 90s with new genres of metal leaving heavy metal all but dead then this rehash of early 80s proto thrash was understandably all but overlooked other than by Anvil’s die hard fans. Perhaps the addition of some new bonus material might’ve enhanced today’s marketability of these albums, but given their 2 for 1 selling point, I guess they will always be relegated to the bargain basement.

BLACK BREATH “Sentenced to Life”

BLACK BREATH
“Sentenced to Life”
LP Edition
(Southern Lord)

Care for a cup of hot tea or perhaps a hammer to the face? Black Breath are new to me but this record features some good old fashioned speed / thrash metal complete with cover art that is almost identical to Exciter’s classic Feel the Knife 12″ EP! No metal fan should notice that…! Truth be told it’s exactly what made me pick this up! It’s not an Exciter copy however, I’d actually compare the sound more to classic Slayer but I sense some influences from Sodom in there as well. Another fantastic slab of vinyl to put in your collection.

-Josh Cook

GHOST “Opus Eponymous”

GHOST
“Opus Eponymous” Picture Disk LP Edition
(Rise Above / Metal Blade)

Very nice debut by this horror/occult metal act taking up the standard of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond’s more mellow and harmonic aspects, most notably the In the Shadows era ‘Fate / House of God era ‘Diamond.  Band comes complete with a costumed cast, one of my favorite things for concept acts! I’m reviewing the Picture Disk LP version, it’s nice and heavy vinyl and comes in a picture disk sleeve with band shot and tracks on the back and different art on the vinyl itself.

-Josh Cook

DEVA

Not knowing anything about DEVA I got Federico Salerno, guitarist and co-writer/composer of all the DEVA music to answer my questions. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

Where does this idea of mixing operatic female voices with metal come from?
Federico: The mix came out when Beatrice and I first met and started making music together. It’s not something we really planned, but she comes from classical and opera background and I’m more into prog-metal, so we basically tried to give our compositions just what each of us was really comfortable with. Some ideas looked weird in the beginning, so we had to learn song after song how to make our worlds interact efficiently. But we loved the result and what was coming out was very promising, so we kept following that direction… And here we are!

How closely related is really metal and classical music? How much of the same structures are there in modern music and classic music?
Federico: They appear to be related if you consider that themes, arrangement and dynamics are the key of success for both modern and classical compositions. There are also many differences, of course, depending on the ages and on the authors, both in classical and modern music. In our songs, the aim is not to bring the one to the other, but to create something that could refer to both. In fact, we have to consider also that modern music is an evolution of classical music and that it’s not so rare to hear Mozart or Bach in heavy metal albums. Also progressive music, especially in its very beginning, gives us a lot of examples of modern “suites” (Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer…), so perhaps what we’re doing is to carry on an already consolidated tradition, just in a different way.

When you get together with an already thought out plan for what to play, how easy does it become a band of 5 individuals meeting for the first time?
Federico: In the beginning it wasn’t so easy, but now there’s so much respect for the project that make us comfortable working even in 4-5 people together: we’ve understood that we want to get to the best result for the song and for the band, not for the individual. It’s important to have a good plan before meeting: we always gather with a clear idea of what we need to work on and, of course, before getting together everyone studies the parts on his own. We all come from many experiences with bands, projects, albums and productions, so everyone know how to approach a song and how to give that song what it really needs. So the arranging process is always very natural, especially for Beatrice, Thomas and myself as we have been working together for a while, now. I also know Davide Barbieri (our new keyboardist) from long time and we’ve been composing and playing together in more than a project before he joined Deva, I’ve always found myself comfortable with his musical view. In the single “What Have I Become” you can already hear what he can do

What kind of process do you go about starting to compose songs after you form? Do you come into the process with already finished songs or to you collaborate as a unit?
Federico: Normally, this process starts when me or Beatrice come up with an idea: it can be a riff, a harmony, a melody, a lyric, even a sound or a concept. Then we start working together on the composition section by section (verse, refrain and so on), giving all the ideas an order. It happened also that we met without having ideas yet and developed something totally new jamming or listening to other artists (again, both classical and modern!). After we have a first rough mp3 with basically a guitar and a vocal line, the rest of the band starts giving the songs rhytyhm ideas, orchestrations, grooves, harmony variations, in a word the arrangement. Since we changed line-up after ‘Between Life And reams’, I wouldn’t be surprised if Davide, who is doing a meticulous job on every song, started joining the composition’s process.

Does being Italian and playing this kind of operatic, symphonic metal bring with it any added pressure of really being great?
Federico: I like to think about it as a sort of heritage, more than a pressure, but it’s true that we have a responsibility: our country has always shown to the world great composers, singers, artists and bands. We try to give our best in what we do, but it’s obviously not a challenge. We’re standing on the shoulders of the giants. On the other hand, it’s difficult nowadays to emerge here in Italy, especially if you make this kind of music: a lot of listeners, few venues. It seems our music is luckier abroad, despite of all we said!

I’ve asked several Italian metal bands this but why is it that metal isn?t more respected as a music format in Italy than it is?
Federico: Heavy Metal, like many alternative styles, doesn’t have the mainstream seal, so it’s mainly considered as a sub-category. But it’s a fact that every music shop has got a ‘Hard’n’Heavy’ section and most of the time it’s huge! Big metal concerts are always welcome by italian juniors and seniors metal-heads and internet is full of discussions, forums, fan-pages made by italian guys. Perhaps things will change in the future, but a band like Lacuna Coil (not the only one, though) had to leave Italy, get success abroad and, after years, they started to be recognized also here for who they are. But there are people that don’t even know they’re an italian band, they think Lacuna come from the United States!
I think this is also due to the lack of bravery from some media. They don’t develop, they just take what has been developed somewhere else

I see that you’ve licensed your album to several different territories. Is it easier doing it this way than to have one single label handling all promotion?
Federico: I don’t know if it could be easier for one label to handle all these things, licenses, promotion and so on. What I can say is that I think we’ve been very lucky to get in touch with RNC Music, they made and still make every day an impressive amount of work on ‘Between Life And Dreams’ and on the upcoming album. They’re very experienced, many licences have been done and this is encouraging us to do always better. To be honest I wasn’t sure that ‘Between Life And Dreams’ could have been so interesting for so many labels, but if also some majors expressed positive comments about the project and want to hear the next work, I guess we can be more than satisfied!

What ways are there to get you band’s name heard of throughout the world?
Federico: One of the most important ways, in my opinion, is the internet: it connects people from all over the world, so it’s indispensable for the word-of-mouth of our days. Of course, another important source are labels, that are supposed to promote the artists they’ve signed. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not so much, but when the work of all the people in the different countries is well coordinated, and the quality of the product is good, some results are achieved. Then there are concerts, photos, reviews, interviews, videoclips, articles, participations, radios… All these things can make your name grow, but of course they can’t be isolated: there must be a strategic plan that, once again, coordinates all the efforts. I don’t want to sound too much like a marketing consultant, but today for an artist, for a band, it’s necessary to be very focused on all the aspects of the ‘product’. Especially if you want to make it for a living.

What kind of success have you so far had with the band?
Federico: After the first release of the album, we spent days and days looking out for all the news coming from all over the world about ‘Between Life And Dreams’, so many countries and so many languages talking about us on blogs, portals, social networks… Then the first fan pages on Myspace, Facebook, Twitter: Spain, France, UK, USA, Mexico, Italy… I’m so grateful to all these guys, they have a true passion for music and want to give us the strongest support they can. The licences mean also a lot to me, it’s like another prove that what we do is interesting! There have also been many satisfa_ctions for us as musicians: Beatrice has been welcome by several webzines and magazines as a sort of a new Tarja, as top-voice in the Metal scene; I’ve been compared more than once to great guitar players (for example John Petrucci) for my arrangements and my soloing, and I’m now endorser for Cort guitars and Blackstar amplifiers and effects; I endorse also the italian Triton Custom Cabinets, that build my signature model of cabinets, that we designed for Deva, called ‘FS 2X12’; Thomas also signed a deal with Yamaha and Paiste. Most important, as band we’ve been labelled like the future of the italian Gothic Metal and like one the next big Gothic bands. All this more than a year after the release of the album, when some journalists saw us opening for Trivium in Milan.
We also had to compose a song for an italian Sci-Fi movie inspired to Star Wars, called ‘Dark Resurrection’, but one of the greatest experiences we had, so far, was to open for Trivium in a sold-out venue, it was simply incredible.
What kind of future do you envision for the band?
Federico: I always like to be very realistic and I know that it’s a long way to the top, but I also like to dream about a future where Deva will mean something for the Gothic community and for the Prog lovers. For the moment, we want to come out with a fresh new album, which is going to be very complicated in its structure, so it needs a special kind of work, a different production… We are very positive, since the songs are growing well and we all like very much the shape they’re taking!

DRAKKAR

I have only nice memories of DRAKKAR from the 90s/early 00s. With a comeback and a new album I found it to be time for an interview. Anders Ekdahl ©2012

I haven’t heard from you guys in a long time. What have you been up to?
-Well, after the promotion for “Razorblade God” we entered into a spiral of events, both in our personal lives and with the band, which made everything related to Drakkar slow and painful. The main issue was the departure of our original drummer Chris, who relocated to Mexico. Without him in the band, it just wasn’t the same anymore, for several reasons. To this, you have to add that we were all in a moment of transition in our personal lives, so we were basically forced to slow down so much that, at times, we kinda felt like we might as well split and be done with it. But that never happened, primarily because we are friends and we enjoy being together and making music together, so we just thought “Ok, no rush. Let’s just take our time and we’ll be back when we’ll be back. No sense in calling it a day: we enjoy this and we have no pressure from outside the band, so let’s just take our time”. That’s more or less how it went. In 2010 we were finally ready and willing once more, so we started recording the new album, and then it was all a matter of finding an interested label to publish it.

When it’s been so quite about you for such a long time how do you keep the fans interest up?
-Well, in 2007 we did a downloadable EP with 4 new songs, distributed for free through our website. That was a way to say: “We’re still here, still alive”. After that, we thought we could get the new record done in a year or so but once again “shit happened” so we weren’t really able to complete the composing sessions until the end of 2009. From that moment onwards, we always tried to keep the fans informed through our Facebook page, to let them know that we were about to finally come back. It has been tough and I’m sure many thought we had disbanded, so I was pleasantly surprised by the interest that this new release has been gathering. It is a testament to the fact the we did at least something right with our first three albums, seeing how there were still fans interested in us after such a long time.

What is the hardest part in not releasing records while still keeping the band alive?
-Well, when you’re not able to release new records, it’s tough because you don’t have feedback anymore if not when you can do a live show… and we’ve been doing few of those as well due to the line-up issues. So basically the hardest part is to find the energy to do things without having a direct feedback. As much as you do something for yourself first and foremost, knowing that there is someone else interested in what you do is important.

Is an Italian record label a good option if you want to reach outside of Italy with your music?
-My Kingdom Music has a very good international distribution network, so I think it’s a good option, yes. Being Italian, it’s easy for us to get in touch and work with them, and they treat us as a priority.

What is it with Italy and symphonic power metal bands? Is there something special in your water?
-I wouldn’t know precisely, but Italy has a great tradition when it comes to classical music. Symphonic music and opera are an important part of our culture and history, so I’m not surprised that there are many bands influenced by our classic composers. To be fair though I don’t consider Drakkar a strictly “symphonic metal” band. I see ourselves more as an Epic Power Metal band. We have classical influences, symphonic keyboards, intros and the like, sure, but those elements are just one of the ingredients of our sound. We do not build songs around the orchestra (except of course for intros like Hyperspace, but that’s – again – an Intro), it’s the other way around.

How pleased are you that there is a new album to promote? What was the inspiration in writing this new album?
-Mighty pleased, of course. It was never our intention to take such a long time between releases as it has been the case in the last ten years, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. As for the inspiration, well, there were many, especially for the concept behind the record, which is based on classic, pulp American science fiction from the ’50s and the ’60s with some hystorical elements and some interesting (in my opinion) twists. Concerning the music, well, we just wrote what we felt like writing. The fact that the development of the record has taken such a long time has obviously made it a bit different than how it might have been if it was all composed and recorded quickly, especially due to the fact that in these 10 years our tastes evolved and we matured as people as well as musicians.

7. When you named the band back in the days what was it that made you chose Drakkar as the band name? Is it a good band name for a power metal band?

The name of the band was chosen by the original bass player, I joined it when it was already called like that, actually. I think it’s a good name, yes, I mean, it’s the name of a viking ship and that fits perfectly with the epic and “northern” side of our music. We come from Milan, in the North of Italy, where many germanic populations migrated and made their home. Especially in the early days of the band we were getting many questions from people outside Italy that were surprised that we hadn’t taken a name more inspired by Roman mythology or stuff like that, so I always had to explain that Italy is a country that has been split up and dominated by foreign populations for so long that you can really find lots of different influences in our culture, on a regional basis.

You’ve always had very dramatic album covers. What is it you want to say with your album covers?
-We simply want to give an idea, a hint of the epic and powerful music inside. I think it’s important that the artwork communicates what the general feeling of the music is, as it is really an integral part of the experience of the album. At least, it is for me. I’m not too fond of MP3s and stuff like that, I have a very tradition approach to music and records, and to me the packaging, booklet, cover and everything is just part of the experience.

How does the cover tie in with the lyrics? Is it important to have lyrics that say something special?
-I wouldn’t know how to define “special”; what I know is that I care very much about lyrics. Of course there are bands with very silly or “standardized” lyrics that I love anyway, because their music is great, but the best of the best, to me, are those songs where words and music go perfectly together, hand in hand. So basically, what I try to do is write lyrics that are befitting with our musical style. As an Epic Power Metal band, I think our songs benefit the most from having lyrics that help you escape from reality, that bring you into a different world, made of heroes, of great battles, of values like friendship, honor and self-sacrifice. It is an allegoric form of writing. For what concerns the link between lyrics and cover, When Lightning Strikes is a concept album. It revolves around a man who has been transformed by an alien race so that he reincarnates every time he dies. The aliens’ purpose is to use him as a witness of our evolution through the centuries in order to judge if Earth’s people can be allowed to one day travel through the stars, or if we are too violent, and therefore dangerous to other races, in which case they would have to confine or destroy us. The cover shows us this man, a viking sailor, when it’s just about to be taken by the aliens and transformed.

Will it take this long for a new album to arrive again? What plans do you have for promoting the album/band now?
-Definitely not: we are already working on the new record and we want to make up for all those years of inactivity. We have great energy at the moment and we plan to make the most of it!
As for the promotion, apart from doing several interviews and stuff we are starting to work on live dates. We will do our best to play as many shows as we can in the next few months.