Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: Wizard - ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes (2011)

Wizard [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes

Wizard : ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes
Teutonic power metallers Wizard, who've been punishing the masses with their true metal style since the early '90s, are back with thier ninth album ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes. Just in time for Samhain, Wizard have put together a horror themed album inspired by the works of German novelist André Wiesler. His series of supernatural thrillers set during The Thirty Years' War serve as inspiration for much of the album, the band even going so far as to enlist Wiesler to contribute some of the lyrics. The result is a rather punchy collection of songs delivered in a style that fans of the band, as well as fans of outfits like U.D.O. and Grave Digger, will eagerly devour.

Over the years, I've occasionally seen Wizard referred to as Germany's answer to Manowar on a number of metal websites and there is a degree of truth to such a comparison. The band's music is often epic, nearly always rousingly anthemic, and favors well-composed riffs over flighty keyboard passages. While the lads of Manowar bask in their cheesetastic glory, Wizard eschews the fromage for more serious endeavors. The title track, for example, starts ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes in epic fashion with a pummeling double-kick/bass tandem and locomotive riffs. Throw in shout-along gang choruses and robust extended soloing, not to mention a nice tempo shift at the end of the song as frontman Sven D'Anna does his best Jani Lane impersonation, and there's no question as to what Wizard's sound is all about.

D'Anna has a forceful voice that he typically restricts to a mid-ranged delivery, though he's not afraid to reach for the stratosphere for a note or two. I will say that he's his most unbalanced at those moments, but for the most part he turns in a fine performance. Although his cleanly sung parts are a fine compliment to the music, when he adds a little snarl to his delivery (tracks like "Undead Insanity" and "Taste Of Fear", for instance) I find the heightened aggressiveness to these songs much more enjoyable than when Wizard strives for a more even-tempered Euro sound.

Although songs such as "Messenger Of Death" and "Sign Of The Cross" border on territory more familiar to bands such as Helloween and Gamma Ray, with their uplifting choruses and inspirational guitar leads, Wizard never goes full Euro at any point on ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes. The keyboard is used sparingly, such as the piano intro to "Taste Of Fear" and the nice synth atmosphere of "Fair Maiden Mine", and never overshadows the guitars or trespasses into anything resembling wankdom. Instead, the thumping bass of "Messenger Of Death" and the squealing leads of "Fair Maiden Mine" are the elements that most populate the album.

Speaking of "Messenger Of Death", it - along with "Bluotvarwes" - joins the title track as highlights of ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes. The former features some exquisite twin-guitar leads and hungry riffs from Dano Boland and Michael Maass, as well as some very infectious vocal techniques from D'Anna. "Bluotvarwes" is built upon driving, melodic riffs and a strong bass presence by Volker Leson. The tempo shifts are well-placed, the gang choruses are catchy, and Snoppi Denn kills it behind the kit.

The waning moments of ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes start to drift into unremarkable territory when compared to the first several tracks, but there are enough high points to give the album overall buoyancy. This one might have to grow on some fans, but ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes is definitely one of the better "true" power metal albums to hit the streets this year.

Track Listing
1...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes5:07
2Undead Insanity3:46
3Taste Of Fear4:53
5Messenger Of Death5:49
6Sign Of The Cross3:54
7Fair Maiden Mine4:56
11Hagen von Stein3:53
Total Runtime1:01:36

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Dark Forest - Dawn of Infinity (2011)

Dark Forest [Facebook | MySpace]
Dawn of Infinity

Dark Forest : Dawn of Infinity
Clad in blue jeans and high-top sneakers, the guys of England's Dark Forest exude NWOBHM style. An up-and-coming traditional metal outfit, Dark Forest are set to release Dawn of Infinity, their sophomore full-length album of NWOBHM-inspired tunes designed specifically to bridge the gap between classic purists and contemporary power metal aficionados.

Swirling twin-guitar riffs, thunderous double-kick, searing solos, and soaring vocals are the standard fare throughout Dawn of Infinity. Being a metal fan who simply can't get enough of that classic metal sound, tracks like "Hourglass" with its wicked, energizing riffs and catchy, anthemic refrains stand out as highlights of the album. "The Stars My Destination" follows suit and is remarkable for being the only track to add a keyboard to the mix. Just a touch, mind you, but used superbly. "Through The Glass" and "The Tor", the latter of which features a nice little bass lead, round out the most traditional moments of Dawn of Infinity.

Listeners with an ear for a more contemporary power metal sound will most appreciate tracks such as "Green Knight", "Seize The Day", and "Under The Greenwood Tree". On songs such as these, Dark Forest takes on a distinctly Falconer-like sound with galloping Euro-metal riffs, strong bass lines, and upliftingly melodic leads. Frontman Will Lowry-Scott even adopts a cadence that, together with his robust lower-octave delivery, reminds me a lot of Falconer's Mathias Blad. Having said that, if Dark Forest has a weak links it's in the vocal realm. Lowry-Scott is a fine singer, especially for the style, but his comfort zone is definitely within the lower levels of his range. He oftentimes comes across a bit shakily when reaching for a sustained high note, though he absolutely nails a screecher on "The Stars My Destination".

Altogether, Dawn of Infinity is a fun, traditionally-inspired slice of heavy metal that exhibits some outstanding musicianship, if but little in the way of originality. Sometimes originality is overrated, though, and in this case I'm pleased by the band's homage to the metal days of yore.

Track Listing
2Hollow Years5:17
3Green Knight6:10
4Seize The Day5:30
5The Tor8:45
6Through The Glass6:22
7The Stars My Destination6:22
8Under The Greenwood Tree5:21
9Black Delta6:01
10Deadly Premonition6:23
Total Runtime1:02:42

Dark Forest
Dark Forest

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Stonecollar - Trial By Fire (2011)

Stonecollar [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Trail By Fire

Stonecollar : Trail By Fire
When I think of rock and metal acts that have emerged from the country of South Africa, I'm at a loss to come up with any names other than Seether. Certainly more rock than metal, Seether has elicited a rather positive response from modern rock radio since their American debut with 2002's Disclaimer. Following in Seether's footsteps, though certainly not hot on their heels, Cape Town's Stonecollar look to wrangle the same audiences that have propelled their fellow countrymen to international success. A year in the making, Trial By Fire is Stonecollar's debut album and shows the band forging a sound from the remnants of both the '80s heavy metal scene and the grunge movement that sent it underground.

Trial By Fire is, ultimately, a tale of two sounds. The title track, with its '80s-inspired riffs and gritty vocals, exemplifies the side of the album that most appeals to me - and likely most fans of '80s metal. Together with nifty little burners like "Not For Good" and "Poison The Well", this track's high energy and admirable lead guitar work from Sean Tait are just what fans of the retro metal scene hunger for. Teamed up with Clinton Jurgens for a solid twin-guitar attack, Tait lends Stonecollar's sound a vaguely Priest-ish ambiance. Adding to the retro appeal, at least on the more traditionally inspired tracks, is the album's primitive production. The guitars have that raw edge to them that tends to dissolve under most polished production jobs, but the impact of Bryan Nicol's work behind the kit (as well as frontman Léshem Petersen's bass) is severely diminished.

While the production accentuates the more metallic tracks, it harms the songs that have been crafted specifically for the modern rock radio market. Tapping into the post-grunge scene, Stonecollar delivers down-tuned, near-staccato riffs on tracks such as "SQT", "Turn A Blind Eye", and "Say Your Prayers". Petersen's vocal performance, which is rather solid throughout Trial By Fire, fits best with this aspect of Stonecollar's sound. Tracks such as "Loose Cannon" and the modern rock power ballad "...As The Crow Flies" seem to inspire a soulful performance from Petersen, while the layered vocal approach on "Unnatural Selection" adds a rather catchy quality to that particular tune.

In the end, Trial By Fire is an album that wants to join the rising tide of traditionally-inspired heavy metal while also latching on to a more commercially viable sound. Stonecollar has the chops to succeed in either direction, and with improvements to their production values may have a shot at following bands like Seether to mainstream success. Personally, I'd like to see them run with the likes of White Wizzard and Stormzone and leave the Hinder/Alter Bridge sound to the kiddies.

Track Listing
1Not For Good5:32
2Trial By Fire5:03
4Turn A Blind Eye4:11
5Poison The Well5:52
6Say Your Prayers6:08
7Unnatural Selection5:50
8...As The Crow Flies4:31
9Loose Cannon5:11
10Dying Breed6:36
Total Runtime52:58

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Lonely Kamel - Dust Devil (2011)

Lonely Kamel [MySpace]
Dust Devil

Lonely Kamel - Dust Devil
Being "retro" seems to be all the rage these days, though it's really a hit or miss endeavor. Bands like White Wizzard and The Sword, for instance, manage to be both fresh and familiar and reflect all that is good about being "retro". There's always a dark, disturbing side to any trend, unfortunately, which in this case is inhabited by remakes of movies like Footloose and Arthur. So beware, all that is "retro" is not fit to see the light of day. Dust Devil, the third album from the decidedly "retro" Norwegian stoner doom outfit Lonely Kamel, manages to be neither exceptional nor horrendous. Drawing inspiration from bands such as Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and even Molly Hatchet, Lonely Kamel weaves together a nice blues-oriented Southern doom album that any fan of the aforementioned bands will readily embrace, but little is offered to hold it above the pack of other albums on the market.

"Grim Reefer" starts the album off on a high (ahem) note with some nice slide guitar and bluesy riffs giving the track a distinctly swampy, Southern rock edge. Frontman Thomas Brenna has an excellent voice for the style; smokey and soulful, much like Danny Joe Brown (Molly Hatchet) but with a less pronounced drawl. Brenna teams with Lukas Paulsen to deliver the meaty riffs that drive Dust Devil from up-tempo rockers like "Evil Man" to sludgy tracks such as "Seventh Son". Overall, the riffs are never flashy though sometimes, such as on "Roadtrip with Lucifer", they have a definite groove that pulls directly from the pre-metal hard rock of the '70s.

Stian Helle's thumping bass on "Ragnarorkr" and drummer Espen Nesset's crazy fills on "Rotten Seed" are other highlights to be heard on Dust Devil, but ultimately the album doesn't manage to coalesce those sparks into a sustained flame of energy. Fans of '70s hard rock and more contemporary stoner doom will undoubtedly enjoy the album, but after a few spins it will likely be placed on the shelf with the latest Priestess release and forgotten. I wish I had more to say, but average is what average does.

Track Listing
1Grim Reefer6:12
2Evil Man3:04
3Blues For The Dead3:19
4Rotten Seed4:11
5Seventh Son7:45
6The Prophet5:29
8Roadtrip With Lucifer6:12
9Hard To Please2:40
10Whorehouse Groove3:02
Total Runtime45:50

Lonely Kamel

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Grimind - Through the Eyes of Janus (2011)

Grimind [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Through the Eyes of Janus

Grimind - Through the Eyes of Janus
It's been nearly seven years since Swiss Goth rockers Grimind released their MCD Escaped From Life, an album that I thought hinted quite strongly at the band's potential to be players in the radio-friendly rock scene (read my review here). Through the Eyes of Janus, their recently released debut full-length, finds Grimind continuing to blend catchy modern rock songwriting with touches of Gothic melancholy. Though the core of Grimind's sound remains unchanged on Through the Eyes of Janus, the new album is much more polished and refined than their previous effort - clear evidence of the band's maturation as songwriters and musicians.

The foundation of Grimind's sound is built upon dark, sometimes edgy riffs accompanied by an understated keyboard atmosphere. Whether called upon to deliver speedy riffs or proggy licks, guitarist Arnaud Nicod-Clément is consistently precise in his execution. The menacing atmosphere of "Golem's March", the darkest track on Through the Eyes of Janus, is created in great part by Nicod-Clément's strong riffs. He shines again on "The One With No Name", a real headbanger of a track with some nice flair to the leads. Together with frontman David Agocs on rhythm guitar, Nicod-Clément puts together a solid, working-class performance that settles in nicely alongside the work of contemporary guitarists like Tyler Connolly and Joe Garvey.

While Agocs handled the vocal, rhythm guitar, and bass duties on Grimind's previous effort, he relinquishes the latter instrument to Quentin Nussbaumer (who has a prominent part on "Following Their Prey") to focus more on his work behind the mic. Predominantly a mid-ranged singer, Agocs puts together a decent modern rock performance that is effective without being too flashy. There are a few instances over the course of the album where he falls off key a bit during a sustained note or a reach for a higher octave, but such missteps are easily overlooked. He takes an uncharacteristically aggressive approach on "Golem's March", flirting with a thrashy, almost death metal style, but alongside the harsher guitar tone his method enhances the impact of the song.

As on Escaped From Life, drummer Matthieu Cachemaille also handles the keyboard contributions and as such adds the most significant Goth elements to Grimind's sound. Mostly understated, never overshadowing the other instruments, the keys provide just the right amount of depth and mystery to keep Through the Eyes of Janus from blending in with the modern rock masses. "Suffocating Flame" and "Following Their Prey" have nice Gothic appeal, while the keyboard accents on "All Around Your Fears" are perhaps the catchiest element of the album.

Grimind is a band that isn't averse to paying direct homage to their influences, and have so far included a Duran Duran cover song on each of their releases. This time around the band chose "Come Undone" and managed to put together a nicely updated version of the original. A bit of a retro-Goth treat that compliments a solid album of dark, radio-friendly rock.

Track Listing
1Suffocating Flame3:51
2Golem's March4:58
3All Around Your Fears3:44
5Giant's Causeway5:38
6Gates of Paradise and Hell1:56
7The One With No Name3:34
9Come Undone4:07
10Following Their Prey4:01
Total Runtime39:47

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Alas Negras - The Slasher Show (2010)

Alas Negras [Facebook | MySpace]
The Slasher Show

Alas Negras - The Slasher Show
Puerto Rico's Alas Negras is a band that fully embraces the values of thrashy power metal put forth by bands like Iced Earth and Jag Panzer, adhering to the power of the twin-guitar riff and thunderous double-kick with reckless abandon. For their third album, with the October-appropriate title The Slasher Show, Alas Negras pays metallic homage to the season's favorite movie genre - complete with a couple of Vincent Price soundbites thrown in for good measure.

The core of the band's sound is built around the twin-guitar riffing of Javier Diaz and J.C. Agosto, two axeslingers who both have a penchant for delivering some slick leads and interesting harmonies. The production quality on The Slasher Show is fairly primitive, lending a gritty old school sound to the riffs, but Agosto and Diaz nevertheless manage to impress with their abilities. While the early half of the album offers some nice variety, such as the melodic leads on "Never Sleep Again" and the proggy attitude to the riffs on "What Is Your Pleasure?", the latter half of the album tends to stagnate. The guitar work doesn't lessen in quality by any means, but there's a definite lessening of innovation.

Alas Negras
Enhancing the twin-guitar core is the battery of bassist Carlos Maldonado and skinsman Bertito Roman, both of whom provide clear and memorable contributions to The Slasher Show. Maldonado's bass lines generally swirl just below the surface, almost like a shark circling its prey, but at times he stands front and center with a plucky run or two - such as on "Dead By Dawn". This song also features one of Roman's most complex performances, though he's in top form throughout the album.

Rounding out Alas Negras is frontman Giancarlo Martínez, who possesses one of those inflamed voices so synonymous with the thrash of yesteryear. Though mostly a mid-range singer, Martínez occasionally ventures into the higher octaves when appropriate and does an admirable job of keeping it together. From time to time he also adopts a growl that skirts death metal territory, adding yet another dimension to the emotion and appeal that his style brings to the music.

Although The Slasher Show is far from a polished diamond, it's an entertaining little gem that fans of thrashened power metal will certainly appreciate. The Vincent Price homage "Master Of Horror" along with the pleasingly intricate "Dead By Dawn" are just two highlights that make the album worth investigating.

Track Listing
1Welcome To Crystal Lake3:26
2Never Sleep Again3:18
3Dead By Dawn5:00
4What Is Your Pleasure?3:18
5Be My Victim3:46
6Master Of Horror6:30
7Trent's Story4:30
8Chainsaw Massacre3:35
9Pumpkin Patch Grave3:28
10The Night He Came Home3:44
11Vir Triumphalis5:23
Total Runtime45:58

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