Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Bakken - Death Of A Hero (2012)

Bakken [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]
Death Of A Hero

Bakken - Death Of A Hero
Not too long ago, my attention was waylaid by a new band out of Northern Ireland called Bakken. The appeal of their old-school sound was overshadowed only by their collective musical skill and songwriting ability - traits that were immediately apparent even though the band had only released one track off of their forthcoming debut LP. Now, after hearing their album Death Of A Hero in its entirety, I fully stand behind my earlier praise of Bakken as first-rate musicians and a band deserving to be on the radar of all classic metal fans.

With that familiar NWOBHM sound as its bedrock, Death Of A Hero is an eight-part structure incorporating bits of early thrash, touches of progressive flair, and even a hint of an Irish melody. Frontman Simon Pickett leads the charge with a gritty, compelling voice that reminds me at times of a younger James Hetfield. On "Mystic Mogul", the first single from Death Of A Hero and my favorite song on the album, Simon works with some great vocal melodies and gets a little backing help from drummer Niall McGrotty. Bakken does a nice job with the gang choruses on Death Of A Hero, displaying a bit of an early thrash element in their sound.

As enjoyable as the vocals are, Bakken's real strength lies within the intricate melodies and complex variation of riffs that permeate each and every song on Death Of A Hero. Together with Mark-Anthony McGinnis, Pickett delivers an electrifying performance of six-string acrobatics. After a lengthy intro of battlefield sound effects and an anthemic twin-guitar lead, the two axemen launch the album off to a blistering pace with the galloping "Darkest Day". The quality continues on in an upward trek, from the outstanding driving riffs and exquisite leads of "Mystic Mogul" to the Irish melody built into the extensive solo of "Sasquatch". "The Cursed" and "Fortress Of Evil" contain riff structures a bit more complicated than most of Death Of A Hero's tracks, giving the album just a touch of a prog quality to it.

Even with all of the guitar strings set ablaze by Pickett and McGinnis, the band's rhythm section of McGrotty and Brian O'Kane are fully involved in the Bakken sound. While McGrotty's thunderous beats provide a staunch backbone throughout the album, his ability to put the pedal to the metal or dazzle with a well-placed fill is key to Death Of A Hero's appeal. O'Kane's contributions are subtle, for the most part, and ever-present without being flashy - his slick bass solo on "Mystic Mogul" the exception. What is not subtle is the way the distinctive presence of the bass helps shore up the overall NWOBHM quality of Bakken's style.

Death Of A Hero is not a paint-by-numbers album by a band who are aping their influences. Taking inspiration from some of heavy metal's purest qualities, Bakken has constructed a sound that will unquestionably appeal to "old school" fans while also turning the heads of those with somewhat more contemporary tastes.

Track Listing
1Darkest Day8:22
2Mystic Mogul4:35
3The Cursed3:12
5Back To The Future4:47
6Get Back To Your Feet5:54
7Fortress Of Evil3:46
8Voyage Of Aodh7:43
Total Runtime43:47

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview: Katrin of Adjust the Sun

Adjust the Sun, a rising atmospheric death metal outfit from Germany, very recently self-released their debut EP Devouring Worlds. An integral component of Adjust the Sun's melodic formula are the keyboard accents of the talented Katrin, who graciously took some time to answer a few questions for Harvest Moon Music's Women of Heavy Metal interview series.

[HMM] For readers who may unfamiliar with Adjust the Sun, would you introduce the band and describe your role?

[Katrin] We are a six-piece melodic death metal band from Erlangen, Germany. Besides that, we also share some progressive influences. I am the “piano girl” and responsible for the “melodic” parts in our songs.

Katrin - Adjust the Sun
When and how did the group come together, and is there a story behind the name Adjust the Sun?

Sebastian and Benedikt were already playing together for a longer time, together with our former drummer. One day, I got a message in “studi-vz”, a German social network, from Sebastian, who I didn’t know. At first I didn’t know what to make of it and almost deleted the message because usually I only connect with people I already know from “real life” but this time I didn’t, and you could say it was fate. He said that he got my contact from a friend of his (Tim, our former guitarist), who said I was playing the piano, and he wanted me to come to a rehearsal because they were looking for someone to bring some melodic lines and sound layers to their songs. We did one rehearsal and after that I was in the band. We did great just right from the start. The band is a great bunch and I instantly felt good. The name “Adjust the sun” already existed when I joined and it is, as some have surely seen, an allusion to the song “Adjusting the Sun” by the Swedish death metal band Hypocrisy. However, we feel that the picture of “adjusting the sun” is very powerful. When something's not right you need to change perspectives and put things in their true light again. Sometimes that means a lot of effort. Our music is supposed to put things in perspective.

Your debut full-length album Devouring Worlds was released digitally in May. How did the recording sessions go?

The recording sessions really took some time. We started two years ago with basically nothing but our songs. The first recordings were done in our rehearsal room with only basic recording equipment and were not good at all. After that we decided to delete everything and start off again. The drums were the hardest part to record. Because they didn’t turn out with the quality we wanted them to have, Sebastian programmed them, beat by beat. The rest went better, and a few weeks later we had the raw material. Unfortunately, during those long two years, our singer, our drummer and our second guitarist left and had to be replaced. That was a hard time for the band and there were some points when we nearly disbanded. But in spring 2011 Markus, our new guitarist, just met two guys who were willing to mix our raw material. They were Michael “Mitch” Schmitt and Volker Batz from Railtrack Studios. They really did an awesome job!

How long did it take to write the songs for the album?

The songwriting was and is not difficult. Usually someone has got an idea and the others join in while someone is holding on to a riff. We just play and when we have found something that everybody likes, we record it so we can remember and rehearse. If we can rehearse regularly, one song needs only a few hours until it is finished. Songwriting in Adjust the Sun is really organic. I believe that it is due to the fact that we understand each other really well, after having played together for years. The songs for the album were written in only a few months.

How has the reaction to the album been in Germany? Have you received feedback from other countries as well?

We promote our album without the help of any label or agency so we have to use mouth-to-mouth propaganda and social networks like Facebook and Myspace, and of course our gigs. The reaction we got from our audience and friends, who really support us, was great and we hope that they’ll spread the word. Right now we got some review requests from South America, Hungary and Russia. We are overwhelmed by the reach our music has got!

Your keyboard contributions play a large part in the band’s sound. How involved were you in writing the music?

The main part in songwriting is clearly done by Sebastian who comes up with new riffs regularly. As I already said, our songwriting is done by all band members, nevertheless. Everyone can take part in the process by adding ideas and criticizing. My part usually is saying “no, you can’t do that – it sounds like a saw”. I can’t count the times how often I said this. Usually I’ve got the ideas for intros and outros of the songs and the parts that really are full of nice melodies. The outro of “Down”, for example, is my work and I really loved to find the bass lines and riffs and to combine them until they sound the way they do now. Sometimes, during the songwriting process, we find that parts of the songs need a little bit support so they sound delicate but powerful, though. Most of the times I add some strings or synth pads to them and they just turn out great. Sebastian does an awesome job and there is always room for me to squeeze in the odd little note or harmony.

I see that you wrote the lyrics to album closer “Inner Autumn”. Would you explain the story or inspiration behind the words?

I love this song like my own child, and actually the whole song was written by me. I had those riffs and melodies for a long time, almost for ten years, and finally they came together to that nice song because, with the band, I finally had the opportunity to make them great. The lyrics are really a part of “me” and are a retrospective of my life. They were written at a time in my life when things changed rapidly. The only constant was driving to work every morning. It was fall and I had to drive along fields that were covered by fog and you only could see schemes and silhouettes of the trees and hills. When the sun would break through it was really breathtaking. And finally I felt the peace that I needed. I accepted change and embraced it, hence the lines “I celebrate these times of inbetween”. When you can’t see clearly you are forced to have a closer look at yourself and your thoughts. In the end you might find out that you messed up and this really gives you icy stings. That is why the word “cold” stands out so prominently in the end. I believe that the metaphor of fall, or autumn, as I prefer it, is a very strong one and is very inspiring.

For the album artwork, how did you come to choose Silvia Goldhammer?

Silvia, who recently graduated from university with a BA degree, is the girlfriend of Sebastian. She is very talented and we love every piece of her work. So it was clear that we asked her to do the artwork for us. We met, had a few drinks and discussed our wishes and she was free to do as she liked. When she produced the first drafts to us we were stunned. She now works as a freelance graphics artist and you can visit her website and have a look at her work.

As a band, what groups or artists do you draw inspiration from?

I believe the list would be endless if we started to name bands. Every one of us prefers to listen to another kind of music. But clearly Scandinavian bands like Dark Tranquility or In Flames would be in this list.

Does Adjust the Sun have any impending plans to tour in support of Devouring Worlds?

At the moment only a few gigs are planned, the next being in October. The chances of doing a real tour are rather small because our jobs are not very tour-friendly. Besides that, organizing a tour is a huge task and without professional support by an agency or label even risky if you’re not well-known. Many hosts do not want to take the risk of booking an underground band because they don’t know whether their costs will be covered.

Are there any interesting stories from previous gigs that you’d be willing to share?

One story that I will surely tell my grandchildren is from our first concert. We were playing at a band contest and the audience was quite large because the other bands also had their fans with them. When we started playing “Inner Autumn”, which is basically a heavy ballad, our singer announced the “Wall of Death” without our knowledge.  All of us were like “Oh my god, what is he doing there?! He can’t… oh, he does. Nevermind.” So he split the audience and on his command they would clash in the middle of the concert hall. And they really did. It was so funny seeing them doing the Wall of Death to a ballad. In the end one person was even injured and bled.

Adjust the Sun
Which band or bands would you love to share the stage with?

I cannot answer for the whole band but we regularly make jokes about playing at a huge festival like “Wacken”, which is really famous. Of course it would be great to share the stage with bands we draw our inspiration from, like Dark Tranquility. Personally, I'd like to play with Opeth and Ghost Brigade. I love Opeth for their quieter songs and Ghost Brigade for their powerful guitar and bass riffs.

Have you worked out a timeframe for releasing the album on physical CD?

Actually, you can buy a physical CD now. We have released it on 14th of July and it costs 8 EUR (about 9.77 $) plus shipping. It is a little bit more expensive than the digital download on Bandcamp but you will get the beautiful jewel case with the booklet that contains all the lyrics to our songs.

How long have you been playing the keyboards, and what led to your involvement in heavy metal?

I have been playing the piano since I was 10 years old. I attended a special music school and was taught composition theory and history of music and learned to play several other instruments, too. I think what led me to metal was mainly the fault of my father and my friends. My father, a musician himself, is very fond of 80s rock and metal and there was always music at home, mainly Queen and bands like that. One of my friends introduced me to Metallica and Nu Metal bands in the 90s, another one showed me the more brutal stuff like Amon Amarth and Cannibal Corpse when I was 18. I prefer rock and metal to other pop music because of the vast ranges of style, which I did not find in other music.

Are there any musicians in particular who inspire your own style?

I love listening to progressive rock or metal bands like TesseracT and also post rock played by Anathema, Antimatter and Gazpacho is very popular with me at the moment. When you do the “hard stuff” yourself you tend to listen to softer music. I find it an advantage because melodies play a more important role in the softer kinds of metal and rock, and when there is a strange rhythm you are forced to listen. I get lots of ideas when listening to those bands.

If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to play keyboards in a heavy metal band, what would it be?

Don’t be scared! I know this sounds funny, but sometimes those guys with the long hair, strange t-shirts, tattoos and bad drinking habits can be overwhelming. This goes for the band as for the audience, as well. You really have to stand your ground and know what you want. Personally, I believe that many girls should not deny themselves. It is a problem of the metal scene that sometimes, as a woman, you are not accepted as what you are. So many girls choose to assimilate themselves by wearing huge band shirts, not wearing make-up anymore and becoming louts. But you don’t have to. If you are confident and not scared, you can do it and have lots of fun!

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Adjust the Sun for the first time?

For the ones who just heard about us for the first time: We’d love to invite you to listen to our music on Bandcamp and to welcome you on our Facebook page where we inform our fans about gigs and band-related stuff regularly. And to our fans: you are a great bunch of people and you make every concert great! See you soon!

Thanks for the great interview Katrin! I'm definitely looking forward to see what the future holds for Adjust the Sun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Rise of Avernus - Rise of Avernus (2012)

Rise of Avernus [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Rise of Avernus

Rise Of Avernus - Rise Of Avernus
On their debut self-titled EP, Australian Gothic doom outfit Rise of Avernus journeys down the dark and melancholic trail first blazed by outfits such as The Gathering and Theatre of Tragedy. The band, first imagined by singer/pianist Catherine Guirguis and guitarist/growler Ben Vanvollenhoven, treads familiar territory without blending in with the scenery thanks in large part to exceptional musicianship and thoughtful songwriting skill.

A key element of Rise of Avernus' sound is Guirguis' keyboard contributions, which vary from somber piano intros to Gothic harpsichord flourishes. Though rather standard fare within the Gothic metal cosmos, the keys on Rise of Avernus benefit from Guirguis' attention to detail and the EP is stronger for it. Synthesized orchestration also figures prominently in the Rise of Avernus sound, and nowhere is that more evident than on the EP's closing track "Beneath The Frozen Hand Of Time". This track also finds the band at their most ambitious, as the well-crafted song rises and falls between peaks of grinding riffs and valleys of atmospheric melodies. The band also unleashes their entire vocal arsenal on this track, including guest growls from Morgoth's Marc Grewe. Guirguis' lilting style, which sometimes can thin out a bit too much at the uppermost reaches of her range, fits nicely with Vanvollenhoven's harsh contributions. Although he's most often a bit deep in the mix, the times when he deviates into cleaner vocal territory tend to be on level with Guirguis. "Upon A Field Of Stone" finds Vanvollenhoven handling the majority of the vocal duties and doing so in a clean, sometimes Gothically accented style (which he reprises a bit on the album's final track). The varied use of both male and female vocals is definitely one of Rise of Avernus' strengths.

Rise Of Avernus
The majority of the riffs supplied by Vanvollenhoven are not flashy or complex, but fit well with the band's heavy, somber sound. I should also point out that second guitarist Matthew Bell and Bassist Daniel Warrington joined Rise of Avernus after the release of the EP. All of the guitars and bass we hear on Rise of Avernus can be attributed to Vanvollenhoven himself. As for the guitar sound, once more Rise of Avernus taps in to the tried-and-true Gothic doom chugging that we've all come to love - and once more avoids sounding stale by relying on the strength of their songcraft. The six-string staples of the genre are bolstered on Rise of Avernus with varied pacing, plucky leads, and extended, melodic soloing.

Rise of Avernus is certainly a band of skilled musicians and songwriters. If their debut EP represents what's in store when their full-length album arrives this autumn, Gothic metal fans will have another quality album to add to their collections.

Track Listing
1Upon A Field Of Stone4:53
2Forbidden Sin6:21
3Beneath The Frozen Hand Of Time8:39
Total Runtime19:53

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Eldorado - Antigravity Sound Machine (2012)

Eldorado [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Antigravity Sound Machine

Spain's rock 'n' rollers Eldorado are back with Anitgravity Sound Machine, their third full-length release since coming together in 2007. I last touched base with the band in 2009 when reviewing their debut album En Busca de Eldorado, which was a fairly straightforward modern rock effort - albeit with Spanish lyrics. Much has changed in the Eldorado camp since then, not least of which has been the replacement of original singer Ignacio Torrecillas by Jesús Trujillo. The band has also switched their lyrical format over to English, and - perhaps most significantly - dropped the modern rock for a sound straight out of the garages of the '70s. That sound, combined with Trujillo's distinct voice, place Eldorado neck-and-neck with retro rock darlings like Wolfmother and Airbourne.

While Trujillo shares a lot of stylistic similarities with Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale, Eldorado's sound warrants further comparison due to the stripped down riffing of guitarist Andres Duende (also a newcomer since Eldorado's debut). While not flashy, Duende is clearly a student of classic rock. His riffs are simple, groovy affairs atop which he adds an occasional screeching solo or swaggering lead. The fuzziness he lends to "Space Mambo" and "Like A Lost Child" will appeal not only to classic rock fans, but stoner aficionados may even find something to capture their attention. In addition to Duende's guitar, Eldorado's abundant use of an organ on "Like A Lost Child" and the stand-out, Black Sabbath-inspired "Paranormal Circus" lends even more retro credibility to Antigravity Sound Machine.

Eldorado skips ahead in time just a bit on their slower tracks, drawing in the appeal of '80s power ballads on "Kassandra" and "A Farewell To November", the latter track having a bit of a post-rock sound to the atmospheric riffs. As fun as the uptempo songs on Antigravity Sound Machine are, Eldorado's musicianship really shines through on their ballads. The somber-toned "A Farewell To November" is a highlight, as is the the acoustic "Blue Jay Wings" that brings the album to a close.

Antigravity Sound Machine has a familiar sound due not only to Eldorado's classic rock inspiration, but also the recent popularity of other, similarly styled retro rock bands. Nevertheless, this album would be a welcome soundtrack to a summer day spent at the beach sipping brews and catching some rays.

Track Listing
1Maybe Forever4:03
2Mr. Saturn3:54
3Like A Lost Child4:56
4Another Bright Sunday5:46
5Searching For Light4:28
6A Farewell To November4:54
7Background Radiation3:26
8Space Mambo4:12
10Paranormal Circus6:51
11Lady Of The Mountain5:04
12Blue Jay Wings3:17
Total Runtime55:45

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Paradise Lost - Tragic Idol (2012)

Paradise Lost [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Tragic Idol

Paradise Lost - Tragic Idol
A pioneering band of the doom/death genre, England's Paradise Lost also have the distinction of being one of the progenitors of the Gothic metal sub-genre. Their landmark albums Icon and Draconian Times have influenced countless Gothic metal outfits, and still do to this day. Since releasing those albums, Paradise Lost have continued to redefine their sound - though never straying far from the style that established them as metal royalty. On Tragic Idol, the band's thirteenth full-length, a touch of heaviness displaces a bit of the Goth-rock sound heard on recent releases to produce a well-balanced effort that both casual and longtime fans will appreciate.

A remarkable thing about the lengthy existence of Paradise Lost is the band's stability. Since forming in 1988, the only position that experienced any turnover whatsoever has been the drummer. Joining the band in 2009 after the release of Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us, Adrian Erlandsson brings a treasure trove of skill and experience (for proof, see At the gates, Cradle of Filth, The Haunted, and about a dozen others) to the Paradise Lost rhythm section. It's a strange move for Erlandsson, though, since the style of music practiced by Paradise Lost isn't known for requiring much complexity behind the kit. "Theories From Another World" bucks that trend just a bit with some rather intricate fills and an uptempo pace accentuating the downtuned, swirling riffs and wild leads.

Paradise Lost
Elsewhere, the album alternates between the plodding, doomy riffs of opening track "Solitary One" and the chugging pace that has become a trademark of the Gothic style. "Fear Of Impending Hell", a highlight of Tragic Idol, falls into this latter category with a mournful guitar tone that gradually evolves into a rather driving, infectious pace. Frontman and lyricist Nick Holmes sings primarily in a scratchy, impassioned style that reminds me a lot of Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman, but on this song he smooths out his delivery a bit to compliment Greg Mackintosh's haunting leads. On the title track and album closer "The Glorious End", Holmes adds a traditional Gothic baritone to his repertoire for yet another layer of vocal intricacy. And speaking of layers, his harmonies on "Worth Fighting For" stand out as well as the Middle Eastern-themed backing vocals of "Theories From Another World".

At its core, Tragic Idol is an excellent representation of the Gothic doom sound that Paradise Lost has cultivated and experimented with since the early '90s. It's interesting to note that, while influencing countless Gothic and doom metal bands, Paradise Lost also finds inspiration from those very same outfits. Witness "The Glorious End", for example, as none-too-subtle Type O Negative guitar slides highlight the epically doomy riffs. Tragic Idol, while not really groundbreaking and at times flirting with a modern rock sound ("Crucify"), is nevertheless an excellent album that fans of the band - and Gothic doom in general - will enjoy.
Track Listing
1Solitary One4:08
3Fear Of Impending Hell5:25
4Honesty In Death4:07
5Theories From Another World5:02
6In This We Dwell3:54
7To The Darkness5:10
8Tragic Idol4:34
9Worth Fighting For4:12
10The Glorious End5:24
Total Runtime46:04

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Vintersorg - Orkan (2012)

Vintersorg [ Facebook ]

Just fifteen months after releasing Jordpuls, an intricate album of atmospheric metal, Sweden's Vintersorg return with Orkan. With their previous album, the duo of Andreas Hedlund (aka Vintersorg) and Mattias Marklund punctuated their four-year absence with a work so textured and engaging that it came quite close to cracking my Top Ten Albums of 2011. Orkan, the second in a planned series of element-themed releases, retains the qualities that made Jordpuls such a powerful album while also reaching back a bit into Vintersorg's brutal past.

The theme of Jordpuls was Earth, which resulted in an organic and somewhat subdued atmosphere. Orkan, which translates to 'hurricane', is inspired by the element of Water - a force that can be both soothing and chaotic. Hedlund does a stellar job capturing this contrast within each song on Orkan, seamlessly blending lush, orchestral passages with tremolo riffs and aggressive vocals. Hedlund's snarls and shrieks are more prevalent on Orkan than on Jordpuls, as are the black metal guitar and drum elements (the latter still programmed), but he also adds a number of new elements to the mix. Most notable are the brass and woodwind instruments, which make their appearance right away on album opener "Istid". Used primarily to lend a majestic touch, the flute does add a bit of a Jethro Tull flavor to the music now and then. Further on, album highlight "Polarnatten" opens with a plucky string arrangement that sounds very similar to Edvard Grieg's "Into the Hall of the Mountain King". The track quickly cascades into a cacophonous drum fill and frantic riffing before closing with a bit of a harpsichord passage.

While many of the songs, the title track in particular, have engaging melodies, the most attention-grabbing aspect of Orkan lies in the composition of the choruses. While Jordpuls contained many infectious refrains, Hedlund stepped it up a notch here by maximizing vocal harmonics and layering the lyrics atop some rather ingenious keyboard and guitar foundations. The robust, folksy choruses of "Istid" are prime examples.

Held against the backdrop of not only Jordpuls, but of Vintersorg's entire back catalog, Orkan is perhaps the most broad example of the band's evolution. The harsh, sometimes stark aggressiveness of the earlier albums (not to mention Hedlund's other projects) settles in well with the mesmerizing experimentation of the band's most atmospheric releases. That said, I think that Orkan falls just shy of the mark set by Jordpuls primarily because of the increase in the more brutal points. There can be no doubt, though, that Vintersorg truly captured the essence of their theme.

Track Listing
2Ur stjärnstoft är vi komna7:10
6Havets Nåd6:41
Total Runtime50:54

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: Zephyra - First Blood (2012)

Zephyra [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
First Blood

Zephyra - First Blood
First Blood, while an iconic anti-authority film, is in this case the title of the debut EP from Swedish metal outfit Zephyra. Formed in 2009 by the husband and wife team of Tony and Åsa Netterbrant (guitars and vocals, respectively) along with Henrik Willman (guitars), and rounded out by Fredrik Johansson (drums) and Tobias Oja (bass), Zephyra is a band with a heavy sound that straddles the fence between metal and rock. Though only five songs and 23 minutes long, First Blood displays Zephyra's ability to cleanly incorporate multiple influences into their core sound.

"Undone", the heaviest track on the EP, gets First Blood off to a rumbling start with a backbone of chunky riffs and swirling leads. The riff structure here and throughout First Blood is fairly simplistic, with Tony and Henrik emphasizing heft over flash and dropping in an occasional breakdown. The leads and solos tend to compliment the basic riffs, however, with a bit of a swirling, almost anthemic quality to them - those on "Are You Really Blessed" being the most interesting.

Behind the mic, Åsa works with a predominantly clean style, though at times she tosses in a bit of a snarl or growl for a bit more weight. "Loyalty", which is a bit of a power ballad in terms of tempo and pacing, finds Åsa working the upper limits of her range and incorporating some multi-tracked whispers for effect. Tony gets in on the vocal duties as well, his contributions buried rather deep in the mix and bringing to mind a style favored by Lacuna Coil. Åsa's vocal harmonies on "Inside Revealed" - also a ballad-like track - mix well with the soft, melodic guitar leads to result in another album highlight. The final track, an acoustic (and live) version of "Are You Really Blessed" that sounds as if it would fit in well on a Blackmore's Night album, provides Åsa's strongest performance and gives First Blood a folkish finish.

Zephyra show real promise to be able to take their melodic rock/metal hybrid to the next level by adding more complexity to their songs and cleaning up the production a bit. First Blood is a good start.

Track Listing
3Are You Really Blessed5:37
4Inside Revealed5:06
5Are You Really Blessed [Live]4:41
Total Runtime23:43

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Seventh Rize - Visceral Rock (2000)

Seventh Rize [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Visceral Rock

Seventh Rize - Visceral Rock
Formed in 1991 at the tail end of the hair metal craze, Seventh Rize spent several years scorching the stages of the West Texas club circuit before jetting off to Los Angeles to record their debut album - Visceral Rock. Repackaged with new, rather titillating artwork (see what I did there?) in 2007, the recording is original and captures the familiar sounds of the hair metal elite.

For fans of Dokken, Poison, and Ratt, Visceral Rock will elicit fond memories as guitarist Darin Anderson teams with slide guitarist Brett Garsed to craft riffs that are groovy, a bit gritty, and highly contagious. "Hearts On Fire", one of the standout tracks on the album, has a very melodic and distinctly Poison-esque guitar sound to compliment the highly infectious chorus. More than a hint of Dokken can be heard during album closer "No Peace Of Mind", but despite the familiarity to the riffs, Anderson helps keep Visceral Rock fresh through a number of very nice solos. "Love Ride" and "Mind Trip" stand out for some rather nifty leads and an occasional wistful tone, all of which is pure gold for lovers of '80s metal.

Seventh Rize
Vocal duties on Visceral Rock are handled by Henry Font (of NYC metallers Pist.On), who possesses a quite gritty set of pipes and can at times bring to mind former Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy - most notably on "Taken Down By Love". Elsewhere on the album, Font's multi-tracked performance results in some nearly sing-along refrains and choruses that were the staple of '80s rock radio. After the release of this album, Stacy "Big Daddy" Humphries would bring a distinctly different vocal style to Seventh Rize, but that's a story for another day.

While Visceral Rock was certainly released, originally, far too late to ride the wave of rock created by the L.A. Strip scene, it remains a bit of a hidden gem for fans who still look back on those days with fond memories - scattered and fading as they may be. Seventh Rize is still around, having released another full-length in 2009 and - as of this writing - hard at work on another album.

Track Listing
2Devil's Line3:08
3Hearts On Fire3:42
4Divine Intervention3:44
5Taken Down By Love5:48
6Love Ride4:27
7Sound Of A Heartbreak4:21
8Mind Trip4:05
9Can't Go Home5:10
10No Peace Of Mind4:03
Total Runtime38:52

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Hellchamber

Vancouver, British Columbia (that's in Canada, kids) has been responsible for hatching quite a number of successful metal outfits over the years. From Blasphemy to Strapping Young Lad and the excellent 3 Inches of Blood, those frigid northwestern waters have been a wellspring of metallic success. Bursting onto the scene less than a year ago, Hellchamber has just issued their self-titled, 3-track debut EP (which you can hear and download in its entirety on the band's ReverbNation page).

Hellchamber's sound fits squarely within the 3 Inches of Blood / White Wizzard retro metal arena, with voluminous riffs, fist-pumping beats, and scorching vocals. In fact, frontman Shane Stone's vocal style is eerily similar to that of his fellow countryman Sebastian Bach. Imagine, if you will, a caustic mix of Slave to the Grind era Skid Row and mid-'80s Judas Priest. For those whose imaginations are less than vivid, Hellchamber includes their cover of Priest's "The Hellion/Electric Eye" on the EP.

Fans of adrenaline-soaked, classic metal can do themselves a favor by staying up-to-date on Hellchamber's activities via their Facebook page - after consuming the band's EP, of course.