Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: Redliner - Vengeance (2009)

Redliner [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]

A couple of months ago I reviewed a 3-track sampler from New Jersy's Redliner (read the full review here). The songs were meant as a preview of the band's upcoming debut album Vengeance, and in my review I stated that the promo hinted at a solid full-length release. Vengeance has arrived, and while the three songs on the promo rank among the top tracks on the long-player, there are still highlights aplenty.

Everything about the promo holds true on Vengeance. The album bristles with classic hard rock references, from the big Mötley Crüe-like riffs on "Lay A Finger" to the Saxon-esque patriotic anthem "One Nation". As on the promo, "Never Got A Chance" remains the best song on the release thanks to frontman Jim Santora's heartfelt vocal performance and Dan Chrzan's melodic riffs. This particular track brings to mind The Offspring (think "Heaven Is So Far Away"), lending a contemporary shade to Redliner's brand of hard rock. As memorable as that song is, the most powerful track on Vengeance is "Tortured". Chrzan's heavily distorted main riff is rife with menace, lending a definite Danzig sound to the song. Santora's performance, as well as the rumbling tempo and Chrzan's slightly chaotic solo, further amplifies the morbid tone.

While hints of Redliner's hard rock influences abound on Vengeance, the album is nevertheless a distinctive blend of modern and classic elements. The songs are fresh, yet have significant familiarity to them which allows the band to reach a broad range of listeners. Redliner may well be just one band in the legions of hard rock hopefuls, but they possess not only the chops but the edginess to work their way to the front of the pack. Keep an eye on these guys.

Track Listing
1Knock Me Down3:27
2Damaged Girl3:52
4Don't You Go Away3:57
6Never Got A Chance5:44
7Lay A Finger4:16
9The Time3:46
10One Nation5:51
Total Runtime45:09

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: Mean Venus - PCP (2008)

Mean Venus [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

Sometimes I wonder what's in the water in New Jersey. Of course, I really don't want to know (who does?), yet something's been going on in the Garden State that has resulted in quite a proliferation of hard rock bands. Milltown's Mean Venus, another member of the herd of bands that have been trampling the East Coast and beyond, unharnessed their debut album PCP late in 2008. The album exhibits plenty of the modern rock sensibilities that have manifested success for bands such as Hinder, Seether, and Sixx A.M..

Whether you like modern, radio-friendly rock or not, Mean Venus is not just another copycat band. While tracks like "Thank Me" and "Let The Feelings Go" will score big with the Hinder crowd, the band often lets some of their less-than-contemporary influences shine through. "Midlife Crisis" has an overpowering KISS sound to it not only because of the grimy, bluesy riffs but also because frontman J (yes, he goes by a single letter) seems to channel a bit of Gene Simmons in his delivery. J consistently gives an admirable performance behind the mic with his straightforward "hard rock" voice, which compliments the music very well. He also draws in some familiarity by ably mimicking Axl Rose on the solid power ballad "A Little Peace" while his style on "A Vision" calls to mind Jerry Cantrell's distinctive drawl.

PCP benefits from the bountiful use of hooky riffs and well-crafted solos, courtesy of Marcelo. "Happy Here" provides a good example of his skill, the nice melodic riff that underlies a wistful lead brings to mind Faster Pussycat. While "Desperation" relies on some crass lyrics for shock value, Marcelo's groovy riffs and fairly intense solos make the track one of the album's highlights. At the other end of the spectrum, though, is "Invisible". After a couple of rather rockin' tracks, this song - very much in the vein of Hootie & The Blowfish or Matchbox 20 - interrupts what had been an accelerating freight train of an album. It's a decent light rock song, but PCP would have benefited from "Invisible" being the final track, thereby winding down the album at the end instead of during the early stages.

All-in-all, PCP is a good rock album even though it tends to travel on the safer side of the genre. There's a sense of restraint that permeates each song, as if the guys in Mean Venus are about to throw caution to the wind and really light things up...but never quite cross that line. The band definitely trends toward the lighter side of hard rock, so if that's what you're in the mood for then by all means get your hands on PCP.

Track Listing
1 Let The Feelings Go 3:58
2 Happy Here 5:30
3 Invisible 3:41
4 Midlife Crisis 3:48
5 Thank Me 4:19
6 Desperation 4:23
7 A Little Peace 4:16
8 A Vision 4:57
9 Can't Let You In 3:25
10 Wouldn't It Be Good 3:02
Total Runtime 41:19

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review: Paindivision - One Path (2008)

Paindivision [ Website | MySpace ]
One Path
Riot! Entertainment

Paindivision is a bonecrushing Australian band with a couple of members who've done a few laps around the Heavy Metal block. Guitarist and founding member Stu Marshall spent four years in Dungeon, while Pete Hunt (newly ensconced behind the drum kit) is fresh from Razor Of Occam. The benefits from bassist Dan Quinlan's experience as a producer for acts such as Deicide are reflected in the top-notch production of Paindivision's latest release, One Path. A brutal blend of traditional Heavy Metal riffs with virtuoso guitar leads and solos, Paindivision's trend-defying sound is pure ear candy to any fan of good ol' Heavy Metal.

One Path is, first and foremost, a guitar-driven album. Marshall and his former student Mark Hobson, to put it as boldly as I can, have the chops and the chemistry to be as powerful of a one-two punch as Tipton/Downing (Judas Priest) or Murray/Smith (Iron Maiden). Their runs are consistently as convoluted as any Himalayan goat path, from the harmonized fret tickling on "Flames of the Reaper" to the absolutely pulverizing riffs on "Nightmare". Every song features just enough six-string acrobatics to hold the listener's attention without falling into the morass of directionless wankery. Marshall and Hobson also refuse to allow their contributions to lighten the overall crushing tone, instead infusing plenty of menace into their riffs in order to compliment the aggressive stance of the album.

Making sure each song is planted squarely in your face is Quinlan, who not only lays down some mighty heavy bass lines but also serves as Paindivision's drill sergeant. The vocal element is where the artwork of One Path finds relevance, being considerably gruff and almost hardcore in style. While hardcore vocals and traditional riffs may seem to be a discordant combination, Quinlan does a great job of tempering his style to fit the music. "Beyond the Pain" is the one song where the music is molded to the vocals, featuring a good number of subdued breakdowns as Quinlan barks out the lyrics. The latter stages of "Wasting Life", a slow burner of a track dripping with sleazy attitude, finds Quinlan adopting a style that is more than slightly reminiscent of Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains). "Of Flames and Fury", with its liberal use of hi-hat and crash, at times finds Quinlan sounding a bit like a mix of Cantrell and Axl Rose. In my opinion, it's those moments where Quinlan is singing rather than shouting that work best for him.

Counted among the many highlights of One Path is Paindivision's excellent cover of Accept's "Balls To The Wall", one of my favorite '80s metal anthems. Musically they nail it without doing too much to make it their own, but Quinlan's vocals add a bit of venom that the original lacked. "Nightmare" is by far the best original track on the disc, with its true denim & leather qualities and viral riffs. I usually don't pay much attention to intro and outro tracks, but "The Gates of Ashen Wake" and "The Victory March" are actually quite interesting and fit the album accordingly. The former is a bit of a Japanese spoken-word piece having something to do with Samurai, while the album closer features a nice atmospheric bass piece from Quinlan as well as some "happy metal" anthemic six-string shredding.

Since 2005, Paindivision have had considerable success in their native Australia as well as in Japan. One Path not only has enough sizzling guitar work to make an impact in Europe, but it features plenty of raw belligerence to capture attention here in The States. A couple of tracks tend to fall short of the others, but overall One Path is an album most metalheads will want to spin repeatedly.

Track Listing
1The Gates of Ashen Wake1:42
2Flames of the Reaper3:26
3Face It3:37
4Beyond the Pain4:21
6Wasting Life4:42
7One Path3:40
8Of Flame and Fury3:18
9Balls To The Wall (Accept cover)5:27
10The Victory March2:59
Total Runtime37:20

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Review: Endamage - Apotheosis (2008)

Endamage [ MySpace ]

Apotheosis is the debut release from Endamage, a melodic Death Metal outfit from the city of Braga in northern Portugal. Although melodeath is a crowded subgenre - some would argue that it's overcrowded - there's still opportunity for bands of this ilk to capture some fans before the trend fully runs its course. The flip side of that, however, is that bands that can only muster a mediocre (or less) effort will quickly be stomped into oblivion. Apotheosis shows Endamage  to be a band that could potentially make some headway, thanks to skillful musicianship and a willingness to transcend boundaries.

The first minute of the demo is consumed by a rather majestic intro before "The Search For Redemption" explodes from the speakers. Classic harmonized riffs from Vitor and frontman Pingas float above Suraj's pummeling beats. The song does contain the prerequisite breakdowns, but they're kept to a minimum as the band prefers to slay with venomous riffs and jackhammer double-bass. Pingas delivers the lyrics in a hoarse, slightly raspy howl, which remains fairly constant throughout the three songs presented here. A little more vocal variation would definitely help Endamage stand out, but Pingas' performance is good nonetheless. While Rui's bass is, for the most part, hidden in the mix on the first track, his contributions are significant on "Aeons". Paired with some caustic leads from Pingas and Vitor, the bass helps establish this track as one of the highlights of the demo. The final song, "Of Truth And Wisdom", delivers a heavier bottomed out groove than the previous tracks but still retains all the flashy six-string elements that are so integral to Endamage's formula.

On the surface, Apotheosis is a good example of what fans of melodeath have come to expect from the style. However, there are subtle hints throughout the demo that offer a glimpse of what the future could hold for Endamage. They're good songwriters who don't appear afraid to stray from the run-of-the-mill elements that have been done time and again by countless other bands. Apotheosis probably won't blow you away, unless you're a hardcore fan of melodic Death Metal, but the demo proves Endamage has the potential to rise above the pack.

Track Listing
1 Apotheosis (Intro) 1:00
2 The Search For Redemption 4:45
3 Aeons 4:31
4 Of Truth And Wisdom 3:49
Total Runtime 14:05

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review: Baalberith - For The Glory of Blasphemic Supremacy (2009)

Baalberith [ MySpace | Facebook ]
For The Glory of Blasphemic Supremacy

The last couple of years have been particularly productive ones for England's Baalberith. The Black Metal quartet unleashed two demos, an EP, and For The Glory Of Blasphemic Supremacy  - their epically titled full-length debut. These Brits snared my attention because of their refusal to blindly follow trends, a trap so many young bands fall into these days. Neither overly atmospheric nor starkly brutal, Baalberith's brand of Black Metal instead treads upon a path worn down through the Heavy Metal ages by bands such as Black Sabbath, Cirith Ungol, and Manilla Road. Murderous doses of doomy, traditional Heavy Metal are added to blackened riffs and hellish shrieks to produce an approachable, yet still very lethal, Black Metal elixir.

"Countess Bathory", the song that appeals to me most, is perhaps the track that best exemplifies this unholy marriage of styles. If Motörhead were a corpsepaint wearing Black Metal outfit, this is what they would sound like. Adramalech's simple, groovy riffs have more than a bit of a galloping quality to them as they carry the tune from start to finish. Here, as well as throughout the album, Eligos' bass lines are clearly defined in the mix. The strong bass presence is also a notable factor on "Black Metal War", lending the song a significant Doom Metal vibe. While "Bleached Bones" is also dominated by a doomy aura, Eligos and Adramalech team up for some synchronized tremolo riffing to keep things from becoming too stale. Behind the kit, Valefar increases the brutality with a truly cacophonous performance.

The traditional Heavy Metal elements are strong throughout the majority of For The Glory Of Blasphemic Supremacy, but on "Bleeding The 5000" Baalberith show they haven't forgotten their hellish mission. An atmospheric guitar intro leads to some substantial tremolo riffing and pummeling blast beats as frontman Razakel shrieks and howls incoherently in his croaking, raspy style. In fact, it's Razakel's consistently demonic performance that reminds the listener that For The Glory Of Blasphemic Supremacy is without a doubt a Black Metal album, not merely a romp through the darkened dungeons of Doom.

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't remark on the production quality of the album, as it is very boggy and could be a factor for the casual listener. I don't penalize indie bands for production issues, though a well-produced album certainly enhances the listening experience. Although what they offer isn't quite revolutionary, Baalberith's sound is unique enough in today's Black Metal world to garner them some well-deserved attention - which in the end will allow the band to devote more resources to the production of their future albums. For now, consider For The Glory Of Blasphemic Supremacy a solid album that hints at the promise within this young band.

Track Listing
1 For The Glory Of Blasphemic Supremacy 5:08
2 Bleeding The 5000 5:46
3 Darkness That Comes Before 7:56
4 Black Metal War 4:45
5 Bleached Bones 4:35
6 Countess Bathory 3:25
Total Runtime 31:35

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: Cassandra Syndrome - Of Patriots and Tyrants (2009)

Cassandra Syndrome [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Of Patriots and Tyrants

Maryland's Cassandra Syndrome was formed by Irene and Jay Jericho (vocals and drums, respectively) as an outlet for Irene's socio-political views, which required a harder musical style than their folk/rock band Revel Moon could accommodate. Chris Kackley (guitar) and Joe Cariola (bass) complete the line-up of Cassandra Syndrome, providing the aggressive platform on which Irene serenely delivers her message. The band strives for an early Nightwish/After Forever style of dark, Gothic-shaded metal on their full-length debut Of Patriots and Tyrants, and to a degree achieves that goal.

I say to a degree because there are two very strong elements to Cassandra Syndrome - the music and Irene - and for total success both elements must combine perfectly to create a singular, flawless entity. Though Irene's vocal style is definitely in the same operatic vein as Tarja Turunen (Nightwish) and Floor Jansen (After Forever), she doesn't benefit from the years of classical training those two frontwomen have had. Do not read that statement to mean that Irene isn't a competent vocalist, because she certainly is. "Burning" is a good example of her extensive range as her voice swoops and soars admirably. The issue at work here is that Irene's voice and the music are oftentimes pulling in different directions.

Again, don't construe that as a knock against the musicians' abilities. Kackley lays down some serious solos throughout the album, with the aforementioned "Burning" featuring one of his most elaborate. He and Cariola are the driving force behind the dark, angry undertone that permeates Of Patriots and Tyrants, but in order to fully compliment Irene's vocals the music needs to shed some of the heavy use of distortion and embrace more symphonic elements. The Mötley Crüe-esque main riff on "What We Sow" and the chunky, distorted groove of "Skadi's Touch" work well to get fists pumping, but the effect is diluted just a bit when Irene's style takes the mood in an alternate direction.

Bottom line - Of Patriots and Tyrants is a good, interesting album with thought-provoking lyrics. The band displays plenty of variation throughout the disc, from the heavy "Phoenix" to the acoustic folk ballad "Wild". Irene provides significant vocal and visual charm to compliment Cassandra Syndrome's heated musical edginess, and with a little more refinement both the vocal and musical elements will align. Fans of female-fronted Gothic metal - keep an eye on Cassandra Syndrome. I am.

Track Listing
1 Phoenix 4:53
2 None But Shadows 4:47
3 What We Sow 3:15
4 Mirror Mirror 5:00
5 Burning 4:55
6 PTSD 5:15
7 Cassandra 4:15
8 Skadi's Touch 4:56
9 Soma 3:48
10 Wild 6:10
Total Runtime 47:14

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review: Eldorado - En Busca de Eldorado (2008)

Eldorado [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
En Busca de Eldorado

Eldorado is a very new hard rock outfit from Spain, having only just come together in 2007. Except for an admirable cover of Deep Purple's "Mistreated", the band's debut album En Busca de Eldorado is sung entirely in Spanish. Even if, like me, you can't understand an ounce of Spanish, this album still has a lot to offer fans of both classic and modern hard rock.

One of the highlights of En Busca de Eldorado is the opening track "Abril". Right away, guitarist Nano Paramio greats you with a huge, fuzzy riff straight from the '70s. Eldorado's appeal lies in their ability to deliver an updated classic rock sound that is both retro and contemporary, so it's not long before those distorted riffs give way to a very punchy modern guitar sound. The title track stands out as being the most melodic song on the album, yet still delivers some significant bite thanks to Paramio's razor-sharp leads. His Clapton influence shines through on "El Jugador", where the groovy '70s riffs return in spades. For me, one of the most enjoyable songs on the album is "Déjame Decirte", an obligatory power ballad that features bassist César Sánchez laying down a meaty bottom-end. Besides serving up plenty of riffage, Paramio shines during the solos that are liberally sprinkled throughout the disc. "Identidad" closes out En Busca de Eldorado with Paramio's most extensive solo, ending the album on quite a positive vibe.

The vocals on En Busca de Eldorado are served up by Ignacio Torrecillas. He has a great voice for this type of music - gruff yet smooth, smokey and soulful. Since the album was released, Torrecillas has left the band and the vocal duties have been assumed by Jesús Trujillo. I've not heard Trujillo sing, so the impact he'll have on Eldorado's sound is yet to be determined. If he's as good as, or better than, Torrecillas, Eldorado has a decent chance of making an impact in Europe as well as on this side of the Atlantic.

If you're into modern, radio-friendly hard rock but can't get enough of some good ol' AC/DC and Rainbow, give Eldorado as listen. Whether or not you speak Spanish, there's a good chance you're gonna like what you hear.

Track Listing
1 Abril 4:18
2 El Final 3:33
3 Un Mal Presentimiento 4:21
4 Déjame Decirte 4:00
5 En Busca de Eldorado 3:48
6 El Jugador 5:22
7 Mistreated 8:28
8 Identidad 4:59
Total Runtime 38:49

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review: Saxon - Into the Labyrinth (2009)

Saxon [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Into The Labyrinth
SPV/Steamhammer Records

Into The Labyrinth is the 18th studio album that the legendary NWOBHM outfit Saxon has released since forming back in 1977. At this point in their career, the South Yorkshire lads need little introduction since anyone who's familiar with Heavy Metal has at least heard of Saxon, not to mention the impact the band has had on countless musicians over the past couple of decades. Their eponymous debut is widely considered to be the very first album of the NWOBHM era, and more than 30 years later Saxon continues to rock the nations with their balls-out brand of pure Heavy Metal. For those readers who are pressed for time, I'll summarize this review by simply stating that Saxon cannot release a bad album. It's impossible. Go buy Into The Labyrinth. The rest of you, read on...

Into The Labyrinth kicks off with what I feel is one of the best songs of Saxon's career, certainly to be counted among their Top 10. "Battalions Of Steel" opens with a majestic intro before guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Sacrratt turn up the heat with their patented twin-guitar anthemic riffs. Nigel Glockler's galloping beats keep the song blazing at top speed as Quinn and Scarratt trade heated solos. Iconic frontman Biff Byford is in top form, as always, belting out the chest-pounding choruses with unfeigned conviction. Having placed the bar so high so early, it seems inevitable that the rest of Into The Labyrinth would fail to live up to the opening track. While none of the other songs can match "Battalions Of Steel" in intensity, the remainder of the album is far from ordinary.

The backbone of Saxon's sound is of course Quinn and Scarratt's dual-guitar assault. With the exception of the acoustic, Bayou-blues rendition of the Killing Ground track "Coming Home" that closes out the album, the axemen's presence is a force to be reckoned with throughout Into The Labyrinth. Whether laying down traditional hard rock riffs on "Live To Rock" (which is sure to be a concert favorite) or thrashing it up on "Demon Sweeney Todd", these guys prove yet again that they are masters of the riff. As integral to Saxon's identity as their six-stringers are, Byford consistently gives an instantly recognizable face and voice to the band's music. The years have been remarkably kind to Byford's pipes, and while he occasionally exhibits a bit of a Brian Johnson (AC/DC) rawness now and then, his voice remains as familiar and as strong as ever.

Highlights lurk everywhere on Into The Labyrinth. The epic "Valley Of The Kings" features soaring choruses and guitar solos with a slight Egyptian melody to them, while "Slow Lane Blues" is a bluesy rock throwback with plenty of chugging riffs. "Hellcat" stands out for Quinn and Scarratt's Gatling-gun riffs and wildly unrestrained solos, though the most sinister riffs can be heard on "Crime Of Passion". What would a NWOBHM album be without a power ballad? "Voice" fills that role on this release, yet remains a solid track thanks to some groovy sway and swagger. The only lackluster song on the album (aside from the two sub-minute interludes) is "Protect Yourselves". The riffs are unquestionably heavy, but the track just doesn't live up to the standard set by the other songs on the disc.

Into The Labyrinth is not a classic of the genre, nor is it Saxon's magnum opus (that remains a toss-up between Denim and Leather and Strong Arm of the Law), but it is a helluva strong Heavy Metal album. As long as Saxon has been churning out metal, and as many bands as they've influenced, it seems like quite an injustice that they've toiled in the shadows of other NWOBHM legends such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Maybe it's poetic justice then that 30 years later Saxon is still cranking out kick-ass albums while the aforementioned bands have lost much (if not all) of their momentum. Bottom line - even though Saxon is my favorite '80s metal band, Into The Labyrinth is an album that absolutely needs to be in the collection of every self-respecting metalhead.

Track Listing
1Battlions Of Steel6:34
2Live To Rock5:30
3Demon Sweeney Todd3:51
4The Letter0:42
5Valley Of The Kings5:03
6Slow Lane Blues4:08
7Crime Of Passion4:04
8Premonition in D Minor0:40
10Protect Yourselves3:56
12Come Rock Of Ages (The Circle Is Complete)3:52
13Coming Home (Bottleneck Version)3:12
Total Runtime50:01

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