Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation Live

Symbol Of Salvation Live Album Cover Art

Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation Live
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 22/10/2021
Running Time: 01:08:10
Review by Simon Black
9/10

Armored Saint are ones of those bands who really, really, really ought to be much bigger than they currently are. I first came across them when I was given a DJ promo copy of the studio version of “Symbol Of Salvation” way back when and was blown away by a record that across its thirteen songs did not have a duff one amongst them. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the fifth record from these boys, so what I had taken as an explosive debut was the result of a decade of hard work. That’s work done mainly upstream at a time when America only seemed to care for Hair Metal or Thrash Metal, whilst they ploughed the Power Metal furrow, arguably ahead of Helloween, settling the point, once and for all, why the USA variant is so different from its ultimately more dominant European counterpart.

This was Power Metal with way more groove and soul. Then there was John Bush’s incredible voice – a voice that Metallica once tried to lure away and which ultimately Anthrax succeeded in doing, killing off Armored Saint for a decade, by which time the world had moved on and not helped the fact that Bush still could not let Anthrax go properly until Joey Belladonna’s return in 2005. They’ve been facing an uphill struggle ever since, which is a shame, because I can’t fault any of their recent studio offerings at all – 2015’s “Win Hands Down” and last year’s “Punching The Sky” are absolute masterworks as far as I am concerned, but they don’t quite hold a candle to the last album of the classic line up, which turned out to be original guitarist Dave Prichard’s obituary before his tragically early death from leukaemia in 1990. So, dusting this album down for its thirtieth anniversary makes perfect sense and the band fortunately laid these live shows down way back in 2018 in readiness. Add to this there’s a filmed version of the show in the works, with both recordings being captured at New York’s Gramercy Theatre.

Bush is one of those singer’s whose power has not been diminished by age, even though the tuning may have dropped the odd semitone to help him along, but that makes the material sound darker and heavier than its original recording. That really helps, as even a riotously up-tempo belter like opener ‘Reign Of Fire’ (still the Saint song as far as I’m concerned) sounds better with this darker underbelly. The original recordings always suffered in my eyes, as my ageing vinyl copy never belted out too loud even when turned up to eleven as a consequence of the physical challenges of squeezing fifty-five minutes’ worth of material onto a single disk, so it wasn’t until the coming of the digital age that I could hear a reasonable remastering of this. This live recording goes way farther – the sound is rich, fat and heavier than a two ton heavy thing. Add to which Bush’s performance is absolutely top notch here, with not a note or syllable dropped and although the audience don’t sound too loud, the atmosphere is positively electric.

This release is pretty good value for money too, as well as all thirteen original songs being given the live treatment, plus a radio edit of the title track, but more interestingly five demo tracks featuring Prichard which never made it to the final album. The contrast in Bush’s voice is really obvious played back to back, but his live delivery has a maturity and richness that he lacked in those younger days. Much as I love the original I suspect I’m probably more likely to re-spin this live version in its entirety, as it’s got that darker edge and timbre that the band’s current incarnation has developed combined with some of their absolute best songs in their thirty-seven year career.

‘Spineless’ (Official Video from “Symbol Of Salvation Live”)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Reign Of Fire
02. Dropping Like Flies
03. Last Train Home
04. Tribal Dance
05. The Truth Always Hurts
06. Half Drawn Bridge
07. Another Day
08. Symbol Of Salvation
09. Hanging Judge
10. Warzone
11. Burning Question
12. Tainted Past
13. Spineless
14. Nothing Between The Ears (1989 4-Track Demo)
15. Get Lost (1989 4-Track Demo)
16. Medieval Nightmares (1989 4-Track Demo)
17. People (1989 4-Track Demo)
18. Pirates (1989 4-Track Demo)
19. Symbol Of Salvation (Live Radio Edit)

LINE-UP:
Joey Vera – Bass
Gonzo Sandoval – Drums
Phil Sandoval – Guitars
John Bush – Vocals
Jeff Duncan – Guitars

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Eternal Silence – Timegate:Anathema

Timegate Anathema Album Cover Art

Eternal Silence – Timegate:Anathema
Rockshots Records
Release Date: 08/10/2021
Running Time: 50:28
Review by Simon Black
7/10

Italian Symphonic Metallers Eternal Silence have been ploughing their particular furrow for about a decade and “Timegate:Anathema” is their first full-length album since 2017’s “Mastermind Tyranny” (although the void has been filled with a couple of EP’s in between). There are attempts at more overtly Power Metal tracks in this – the opener ‘The Way of Time’ being a good example, but the band work best when they stick to their Symphonic guns, as the second track ‘Edge Of The Dream’, which almost feels like it belongs to a completely different act or recording block. When they throw these more technical flourishes and time-change complexities into the mix things work much, much better for them and the effortless way that a nice lengthy instrumental section can be thrown at the front of tracks like ‘Ancient Spirit’ tells me that these guys have got the song-writing balance between the technical and the catchy-melodic just right.

The two handed vocal performance between Marika Vanni and Alberto Cassina works really well, although Vanni takes the lion’s share of the work. I also can’t fault the instrumental work at all, particularly their uncredited keyboard player, who whilst avoiding the cliché of inter-instrument shredding with the guitars, has some absolutely superb yet restrained solo spots scattered throughout.

Symphonic Metal works best when the production is top notch, crisp, layered and sensitive in equal proportions to the brutal or heavy when they are part of it. Fuse the two and you get the harmonic equivalent of being bashed around the ears by a concrete melodic elephant. Sadly, the production on this falls a little short of that. Although the vocals are clearly presented at the front of the mix, and given both depth and clarity, the Metallic instrumentals in particular sound very trebly, lacking in depth and way too far back in the mix (even the orchestral elements suffer from the same distance problem in places).

Now to be fair to them, this is probably the first time the band have tackled remote recording – a skill let’s face it that every act is having to grapple with at the moment. In reality this normally comes down to whoever is in the producer’s chair, not the musicians’, as there is usually a world of difference between what gets laid down in the raw and what makes it through the engineering and mixing process. However, in this instance, it’s a combination of Michele Guaitoli and the band themselves, and my gut tells me that they should perhaps step back from this area next time out and trust to a strong producer, as the mix is that little too close to a baseline recording.

The song writing is what holds this record up and the structure and arrangements here are spot on – ‘Heart of Lead’ being the stand out track for me, although the experimental but catchy as fuck ‘Glide In The Air’ deserves mention as well, as you can tell it will be a cracker live. Love the tunes, but let down by the recording and mixing – nonetheless the song-writing and performances still make “Timegate:Anathema” worthy of attention.

‘Red Death Masquerade’ (Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Way Of Time
02. Edge Of The Dream
03. Ancient Spirit
04. Heart Of Lead
05. Lonely
06. Glide In The Air
07. Rain
08. My Soul Sad Until Death
09. Firefly
10. Red Death Masquerade

LINE-UP:
Marika Vanni – Vocals
Alberto Cassina – Guitar/Vocals
Alessio Sessa – Bass
Andrea Zannin – Drums
Enzo Criscuolo – Guitar

LINKS:

Eternal Silence Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Rage – Resurrection Day

Resurrection Day Album Cover Art

Rage – Resurrection Day
Steamhammer/SPV
Release Date: 17/09/2021
Running Time: 50:02
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Rage have been at this a long time.

Although from the same German historic Power Metal label stable as Helloween, they have not quite managed to become such a major name outside of Power Metal circles, which is a shame, as the back catalogue of twenty-six studio albums, ten EP’s and four live albums since 1984 is bloody impressive by anyone’s standards. A quick look at the dizzying number of line-up changes that have revolved around Vocalist and Bassist Peavy Wagner over the decades may go some way to explaining that. Line-up changes take the wind out of any progress a band makes by slowing down the momentum and constantly forcing their fan base to readjust and this time it’s almost a completely new line up behind Peavy, with only drummer Vassilios Maniatopoulos still in play from previous incarnations, and even then this is only his second studio contribution. That’s the negative side. The positive aspect is you get to effectively reboot and ditch the parts that did not work, but either way it still does not make continuous growth and brand consistency easy.

The twelve tracks on here all have a huge amount of energy and this doesn’t feel like an old band going through the motions, but then eighteen months of lock downs and practically a new band will put a fire under most acts. The songs all have strength and enthusiasm in abundance and Peavy et al still have a lot they want to say. Musically this is mostly full pelt Power with added orchestrations, a healthy dollop of Speed Metal, with a few Thrashy touches in the time structures and vocal arrangements. Peavey is very much at the front of the mix, as you would expect since basically he is Rage. That said the musicianship from the rest of the band is top notch, but could do with being a bit more present in the mix other than during the solos.

‘Monetary Goods’ is the strongest track by a country mile – it’s anthemic and punchy and it holds its own far better than a lot of the material on here, which could have benefitted from a bit of pruning to be brutally honest. That said there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the material, but with a bit more of this catchiness sprinkled throughout then this would have been a resounding ten out of ten. Nevertheless, Rage remain masters of the genre and continue to be relevant.

‘Virginity’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Memento Vitae (Overture)
02. Resurrection Day
03. Virginity
04. A New Land
05. Arrogance and Ignorance
06. Man in Chains
07. The Age of Reason
08. Monetary Gods
09. Mind Control
10. Traveling Through Time
11. Black Room
12. Extinction Overkill

LINE-UP:
Peavy Wagner – Vocals & Bass
Vassilios Maniatopoulos – Drums
Stefan Weber – Guitars
Jean Borman – Guitars

LINKS:

Rage Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Apostolica – Haeretica Ecclesia

Haeretica Ecclesia Album Cover Art

Apostolica – Haeretica Ecclesia
Scarlet Records
Release Date: 17/09/2021
Running Time: 50:04
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Apostolica are a band with a bit of a buzz about them at the moment, although I’m very wary of the word ‘buzz’, because it’s a little too close to the entry for ‘hype’ in my thesaurus. As I often blather away on here, European Power Metal bands are churning records out at a crazy rate of knots all the time, despite the fact that in both America and especially here in the UK, they are very much a niche taste by comparison to other sub-genres of our wonderful metallum familiae. The phrase ‘cookie-cutter’ is often deployed when reviewing a fair few of them, but in reality ‘sausage-factory’ might be closer to the truth, given the sheer volume of acts and albums cranking the handle right now. When you have a crowded marketplace the risk of repetition and derivation is incredibly high and on the face of it this is a band, that sounds like Powerwolf and Sabaton, whilst borrowing the concepts both lyrically and visually of medieval masquerade and anonymity that Ghost have done so well…

…And those masks look great by the way, suiting the theme of “modern day knights of the Apocalypse” down to a tee, with ‘Meliora’-era matching Nameless Ghoul styled suits and hard, fixed black medieval death masks – but with the chin kept free for vocal movement (not to mention being a darn site cooler to wear). Ah well, there’s plenty of knobbly bits to hang a medical grade surgical mask on if needed…

I’m perhaps being a bit harsh here, as this is a band on their debut album (although by all accounts experienced musos make up their anonymous ranks) and I am judging this without any opportunity to understand if the positive parts of their reputation came from the live arena, since no-one has seen them perform yet (and to be clear when reviewing a new band I often try and track down live snippets online rather than watching their official videos). The derivation ceases to be an issue when a belter of a live show is unfolding, as the influences often just move into the background if the band are ripping you a new bum hole on stage, but in this instance I have only the record to go on.

Musically this is anthemic Power Metal with every track underscored with church organ orchestrations – which is a bit unfortunate really since Powerwolf just delivered the masterclass in this style with their ‘Call Of The Wild’ album a few months ago (although to be fair those boys have had six increasingly accomplished studio albums to polish their style and that record may well prove to be their peak). Add to this sound is a much gruffer vocal delivery more akin to that of Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén and lyrically Tobias Forge deserves an influential credit. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing here, it’s just they aren’t quite doing it as well as those three big influences…

…Yet.

But then, it is early days, and more theatrical bands are stealing the glory right now, and I reserve the right to eat an appropriately chocolaty knight’s helmet when I do finally get to see them live. And to be clear, I think that would be worth waiting for, as musically these boys know how to crank the handle well, although for some bizarre reason all the best tracks don’t really start to surface until the album is over half way through. From ‘No More Place In Hell’ onwards, the anthemic first punching gets going with a vengeance, the arrangements get tighter and this starts to sound like a band well on their way to forging a strong individual sound of their own. What makes the difference is the harmonised ensemble choruses, which sound like the whole band are contributing to and unlike the discordance that often accompanies a bunch or rough and ready metallers doing backing grunts, these guys manage a pretty good choral harmony together. More of this please.

Add to the fact that the arrangements jump up a notch from this point on and I find myself having a completely different listening experience. It doesn’t let up after this, with the moody and elegantly structured ‘The Doom’ driving things forward superbly. After that, Simon is a happy bunny, but clearly next time around a bit more time is going to be needed on pre-production, and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here and assuming that Covid fucked this up, as it really is an album of two halves. Deliver a whole album with the punch of the second half, and these boys are going to build a reputation that makes winging old hacks like me bitching about their influences irrelevant. A promising start…

‘Sanctus Spiritus’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Sanctus Spiritus
02. The Sword Of Sorrow
03. Come With Us
04. Thanatos
05. Pollution Is My Name
06. No More Place In Hell
07. The Doom
08. Famine
09. The Dusk Is Coming
10. Redemption

LINE-UP:
Ezekiel – Vocals
Isaia – Guitar
Jonas – Bass
Malachia – Drums

LINKS:

Apostolica Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

Wall Of Skulls Album Cover Art

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls
AFM Records
Release Date: 17/09/2021
Running Time: 49:51
Review by Simon Black
8/10

I have a confession to make. Given that I have a deep love of Power Metal, I have somehow managed to not come across Brainstorm up until this point, which is a little embarrassing for a band that have been around for the best part of thirty years. I am however more familiar with one of Vocalist Andy B. Franck’s previous projects – the now defunct Symphorce, which carved a parallel track to Brainstorm for a number of years until Franck pulled the plug on that particular project a decade ago. That outfit had a more Progressive Metal edge which had great appeal to me personally, but Franck’s distinctive and powerful voice is always going to grab your attention and discovering that a vocalist whose work you liked has another ten albums of back catalogue to dig up is no bad discovery on this bleak Monday morning.

The music here is firmly in the anthemic German Power Metal category, something that seems as natural as breathing to natives of that country. It must be something to do with their rather wonderful beer. Far too much Euro Power material gets bogged down with trying to create convoluted concept albums and forgets about building a record around well-structured and crafted songs, but Brainstorm have this down to a tee. Franck’s voice is very high in the mix, which is not a bad thing, but the problem with that approach is you might miss the sheer subtle song-writing craft that guitarists Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric bring to proceedings. The trouble with opting for accessibility for an audience in a festival field to easily singalong to when they don’t know your songs, as many Power acts do is that the tunes can quickly become forgettable after the fact. Not so here. These two really are a pair of riff monsters, with relentless and driven delivery being the order of the day, rather than a focus on overt flourishes of instrumental technical decadence the genre often drips with. The album’s the stronger for it, as the focus is on creating songs that hold the attention with heaviness and rhythm, eschewing the more hook laden melodic catchy anthems that many contemporaries choose.

Not that there isn’t catchiness here, but it mainly comes from Franck, of which the softer ‘Glory Disappears’ gives him chance to adopt a completely different vocal style or the spot on and brilliantly anthemic ‘Solitude’, which takes the top spot favourite song position for me. There’s also plenty of speed and pace in there, with tracks like ‘My Dystopia’ belting out the rhythms and pace without losing the subtlety. Where this record wins over so many of its peers is that it remains consistently strong throughout, to the point where I have struggles to highlight a weak filler song elsewhere. That’s never bad for a Monday.

‘Turn Off The Light’ feat. Seeb from Orden Ogan (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Chamber Thirteen
02. Where Ravens Fly
03. Solitude
04. Escape the Silence
05. Turn Off the Light
06. Glory Disappears
07. My Dystopia
08. End of My Innocence
09. Stigmatized (Shadows Fall)
10. Holding On
11. I, the Deceiver

LINE-UP:
Andy B. Franck – Lead Vocals
Torsten Ihlenfeld – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Milan Loncaric – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Antonio Ieva – Bass
Dieter Bernert – Drums

LINKS:

Brainstorm Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Andrey Smirnoff – Electric Gravity

Electric Gravity Album Cover Art

Andrey Smirnoff – Electric Gravity
Self-Released
Release Date: 10/09/2021
Running Time: 39:36
Review by Simon Black
8/10

For those not aware Andrey Smirnoff mostly spends his time these days cranking out the instrumental side of things for Udo Dirkschneider’s various projects, but what becomes abundantly clear approximately thirty seconds after starting to listen to this album is that his range and skills are way above and beyond those levels of Teutonic and very Traditional Heavy Metal. In fact, “Electric Gravity” is a purely instrumental album and intended to showcase that he can play way, way more than that for which he is usually associated. He does this spectacularly well…

The absolutely blistering shredder ‘Samurai’ rips my deck a new poo hole as an opening gambit, but Smirnoff immediately changes tack with the more Melodic ‘Dream It Out Loud’ and I am left with the same level of eyebrow raising surprise at the contrast that I got the first time Satch’s “Surfing With The Alien” came across my bows. This record has a lot in common with that, as there really are no two tracks that you can pigeonhole into the same style (although the production and mixing make it clearly sound consistent). Also, in common with that classic shredding opus is he’s handled all the stringed instruments and arrangements himself, with minimal keyboard and drum support. ‘Djentology’ does exactly (and Progressively) what you would expect it to do with an incredible amount of polish, and although not a style I’m too enamoured of, in this instance is little short of incredible in performance and structure, and ‘Wings Of Freedom’ wouldn’t sound out of place in a Cats In Space set adding a bit of 70’s groove to proceedings. ‘Magic Dancer’ then throws you off kilter again with a very gentle balletic structure and no percussion, before current single ‘Light And Shadow’ steals from the Joh Petrucci school of structure with brutal precision and a healthy dollop of Neo-Classicism for good measure. And just to round it off we get some Boogie, some Jazz and a healthy dollop of Modern Metal to boot, and you get an album that is positively dizzying.

There’s nothing on here that’s new and innovative musically – stylistically this is Smirnoff riffing every style he can, but what he succeeds in doing is proving that not only does he have the range, but that he can generally do it much better than most. It’s no mean feat to pull of this amount of variety, and make a purely instrumental album work to the casual listener, but he does. Before I know it, the album has flown by, and I’ve been so busy sitting back in my chair admiring the performance that I’ve forgotten to write anything down. That’s happened four times now…

‘Samurai’ (Official Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Samurai
02. Dream It Out Loud
03. Djentology
04. Wings Of Freedom
05. Magic Dancer
06. Light And Shadow
07. Coming Home
08. Twist Me
09. Escape
10. Where The Rivers Flow

LINE-UP:
Andrey Smirnoff – Guitar, Bass,
Corvin Bahn – Keyboards
Sergey Serebrennikov – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Oversense – Egomania

Egomania Album Cover Art

Oversense – Egomania
Dr. Music Records
Release Date: 17/09/2021
Running Time: 54:39
Review by Simon Black
9/10

Oversense have been working their particular brand of Melodic Modern Metal for the best part of a decade and after what appears to be a somewhat successful crowdfunding campaign have pulled together their sophomore album “Egomania”. I’m not previously familiar with this Bavarian band, but the first point that strikes the ears is that this is an incredibly well-produced and sophisticated sound for a home-produced record. The studio recording was all done by band front man, guitarist, keyboard player, band leader and general all-rounder Danny Meyer at his own studio and subsequently mastered by Avantasia’s Miro Rodenberg. The sound is quite beefy and richly layered with a deep sensitivity for melody and timing, helped enormously by the inclusion of one woman YouTube phenomena Jassy J., who adds some complex layering and subtlety to the musical dimension. Meyer’s voice is capable of a broad range both in pitch and style and he works his best when he runs the gamut between the more sustained clean sounds and the more in your face tracks like ‘Tear Me Down’. But to be honest this guy is clearly an incredibly talented chap and the range this record displays in that regard is phenomenal.

Unusually this album is not slated for release until September (I am reviewing this in June), which is a long lead time by anyone’s standard and at this point only the ‘Be’ single is available to hear. Judging by the number of hits it has already garnered on YouTube this slow burn approach may yet pay off. Single ‘Be’ absolutely stands out as one of the strongest contenders on here, with its catchy keyboard riff, up-tempo pile-driving delivery, sophisticated time changes and is vocally led by a duet from Meyer and Sick N’ Beautiful vocalist Herma Sick. The only problem I have with this song, is that’s it’s the only one to use this particular collaboration. The mix of male and female voices works really well and leaves the listener wanting much more. Fortunately we do get a little more, as ‘Faith’ also has a guest turn from Ulli Perhonen, which adds a positively Symphonic touch to this particular track, which the musical framework stands up to meet the challenge of. Having those dual voices more frequently might be something to think about when touring becomes an option, as it adds a real depth and maturity to the sound…

The musical tone and variety within the overall Melodic Metal framework is really rather broad to boot, taking in both the up-tempo to the downright Gothic in the down-tuned ‘Love’, which melds the mood, anger and melody together in an incredibly catchy way. If ‘Be’ is the leader, this is definitely the tailgating follower.

There’s no shortage of anthemic fist-punchers too, with ‘Rave In Hell’ being a great example of this, showing that despite Meyer’s technical capabilities, sometime what you need is simplicity and a track that gets people jumping. The positively Thrashy introduction to ‘Antisocial’ follows, before settling into high tempo Power Metal territory, which tells me that this band could manage pretty much any style of Metal if they chose to, although the distinctive high energy rests that frequent the music like an arrhythmic heart beat are such a distinctive signature of their songs. The record slows down for its finale, with the ballad ‘Memories’, but it’s the lengthy closer ‘Extinction’ that holds the attention. It’s got power and depth in its low tempo piano introduction, but then comes belting in with high tempo and energy, creating an epic and complex journey that showcases many of the high points the album has shared to date. The talent in here is formidable, from a bunch of musicians capable of depth, variety and a blisteringly time-tight delivery. One to watch for sure…

TRACKLISTING:
01. Toast To The Devil
02. The Longing
03. Be (feat. Herma Sick)
04. My Eden
05. Tear Me Down
06. Love
07. Faith (featuring Ulli Perhonen)
08. Rave In Hell
09. Antisocial
10. Memories
11. Extinction

LINE-UP:
Danny Meyer – Vocals, Guitar & Keyboards
Jasmin ‘Jassy J.’ Pabst – Guitar
Marco Volpert – Bass / Vocals
Patrick Lippert – Drums / Vocals

LINKS:

Oversense Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Queen Of Distortion – Checkmate!

Checkmate! Album Cover Art

Queen Of Distortion – Checkmate!
Green Bronto Records
Release Date: 02/07/2021
Running Time: 53:25
Review by Simon Black
6/10

Checkmate! is the debut full-length album for this German-based five piece, all of whom are experienced players coming together for this project. They’ve been going since 2018 and have previously released an EP and a live EP, but this has clearly been delayed by Covid, hence the rather unusual sequencing of the live offering before a studio full length debut. Musically this is straight up twin-guitar fuelled good old Heavy Metal, with solid riffage, subtle but technically effective melodic structural integrity and a restrained level of flourish on top. I can’t really fault any of the song-writing either, as these songs are well-crafted and structured, if a little bit predictable.

Vocalist Chris T’Anti, interestingly, is a newcomer to the Metal world though, having started her career as a vocal coach and has sung in more mainstream projects to date but is absolutely front and centre of the mix. She can deliver an edge and has the roughness that can work well in the genre, but comes across a bit like she is forcing herself too rigidly to follow the melodic riff structure and phrasing the guitars are rendering – much like a Thrash vocalist who has fifty per cent of their focus on the instrument hanging round their neck might tend to, rather than being freer with the melody lines – although you get a hint of what she is capable of with her overlaid vocal backing vocals, which stretch the envelope a bit. For an album full of experienced musicians though it has an unusual, almost unfinished feel as if the band are still finding their voice. I think an element of this lies with T’Anti needing to develop the confidence to let rip with her more natural (and considerable) vocal talents.

However, when a track like ‘Torn From Life’ comes along that difference is stark and clear. Whereas the majority of the songs show her phrasing and delivery in quite a fixed, gravelly and staccato light, this track (at nearly seven minutes the longest on the album) is a Power Ballad, that opens gently and sees her singing properly and opening up in a completely different way. At this point she is utterly entrancing. I guess the point I am trying to make is that the more overtly Metal tracks on here see her trying to be a Metal singer, rather than just being a singer, who is in a Metal band. From this point onwards some of the songs show her balancing the two styles a little bit more frequently, but I can’t help feeling that if she had opened up and just sang her heart out with the clear, powerful and emotionally wrought set of lungs and voice box that this track delivers, more consistently on the rest of the tracks, then this would have been an absolute belter of an album.

‘Bloody Rain’ (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Throne Of Destruction
02. Bloody Rain
03. New Order
04. Electrified
05. Threatening Stalemate
06. Four Horsemen
07. Save Yourself
08. Torn From Life
09. Rest In Pieces
10. Into The Void
11. Checkmate!
12. People Without Tears
13. Nightmares

LINE-UP:
Chris T’Anti – Vocals
Torsten Schirmer – Guitar
Mike Richter – Guitar
Carsten Bätge – Bass, Backing Vocals, Keyboards
Holger Schilling – Drums

LINKS:

Queen Of Distortion Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Dark Arena – Worlds Of Horror

Worlds Of Horror Cover

Dark Arena – Worlds Of Horror
Pure Steel Records
Release Date: 27/08/2021
Running Time: 39:45
Review by Simon Black
6/10

When music like this hits my desk, it always brings something of a lump to my throat. Dark Arena have been around for a while in various guises and have staggered out a number of records to date. I say staggered because one is their original 2006 EP that was repackaged and expanded last year, another a compilation, making this effectively their fifth full length studio album. It’s also sadly their last, as string-virtuoso Paul Konjicija sadly passed away in 2019. This recording was made in 2018 and is effectively an epitaph to both him and the band.

Given that they did not have the luxury of being able to go back and post-produce and touch up in the standard way, I suspect that the mix we have here is fairly close to what was laid down in the studio. I come to this conclusion because the engineering jumps around a little and, overall, could do with a bit more depth of field being added to the mix, as vocals and instruments don’t always flow cohesively as a band. If the vocals were slightly further back in the mix this would have sounded perfect.

This is a minor issue though, because what stands out on this album first and foremost are Konjicija’s quite significant musical chops. He takes both bass and all guitar duties on the recordings and is an incredibly proficient player – whichever part or instrument that he is playing. The overall sound is the kind of USA sound that blends the technical proficiency of Progressive Metal with the attitude and structures common to Thrash. The tracks that work best are when they keep things short, sweet and Thrashy, with ‘Sacred Rite’standing out as the strongest song on here, not only from having the punchiest arrangement, but because is also makes the most effective use of Juan Ricardo’s vocal range. That said, like most work with a Progressive edge, it benefits from multiple listens that give the opportunity for the depth crafted into the arrangements to come to the fore. A fitting epitaph.

‘Dark Arena’ (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Worlds Of Horror
02. Dark Arena
03. Annunaki Arise
04. Damnation Within
05. Bite The Bullet
06. Kill Procedure
07. Sacred Rite
08. Destiny Bridge
09. Abandoned

LINE-UP:
Juan Ricardo – Vocals
Paul Konjicija – Bass & Guitars
Noah Buchanan – Drums & Keyboards

LINKS:

Dark Arena Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Steel Rhino – Steel Rhino

Steel Rhino Album Cover Art

Steel Rhino – Steel Rhino
GMR Music
Release Date: 20/08/2021
Running Time: 42:34
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Now this is an interesting project.

The name Steel Rhino evokes motes of New Wave of British Heavy Metal loudly and clearly and the music absolutely fits that mould, albeit with a good dollop of Melodic Hard Rock on top. Being the child of Swedish drummer Mikael Rosengren; hard, solid and heavy rhythms are the backbone of this three piece project. I say project as in ‘solo’ because the guitar and bass work is all the product of versatile session musician Filip Vilhemsson, with vocals supplied by the incredibly flexible Herbie Langhans. Flexible, in that every project this man contributes to, sounds like it may have been delivered by a completely different singer – such is his range. The only time I’ve seen him live, he was part of the Avantasia circus, where clean screams were more the order of the day, with the exception of his very Sisters of Mercy-esque solo spot on ‘Draconian Love’. This project sees him taking a totally different sounding rough and ready Rock ’n’ Roll turn on the mic which fits the tone of the project perfectly, being more akin to early Udo Dirkschneider in style, but whilst still giving him a few moments to scale up to the rafters and surprise you with the breadth of his vocal spectrum.

Opening with the anthemic and aptly titled ‘Rhino Attack’ this album fires high energy Traditional Metal with a rich and modern production sound. The songs could have been written in the early 1980’s, but the sound is very much of the moment. Not overtly technical in nature, but rich, fat and crisp with every contributor sounding clear in the mix and a cohesive overall band sound and feel to support it. I’m a great believer that a clear and distinct bass guitar in the mix is what truly gets heads nodding in the pit and bassist Vilhemsson clearly agrees and uses this to good effect, with that instrument tending to dominate over the guitar sound on many occasions. It works, as this album is all about the rhythms. Thundering, stampeding and unrelenting rhythms, straight out of the NWOBHM era, but not crazily speed obsessed as the sounds that followed it a few short years later. The song-writing focuses on catchiness with those solid rhythmic riffs laying the cornerstone of each song, but with good catch vocal and guitar melodies to keep an audience fist-pumping. I will be curious to see if this project ever gets the opportunity for a live outing, as these songs all feel like they would work really well in the flesh.

A cracking album, which deserves life beyond the confines of a studio project.

‘Boom Boom’ (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. Rhino Attack
02. Arrival
03. Lovin’ Easy
04. Steel Rhino
05. Bells Of Midnight
06. Fire & Ice
07. Ghost From The Past
08. Sands Of Time
09. Life We Choose
10. Boom Boom
11. New Tomorrow

LINE-UP:
Mikael Rosengren – Drums
Herbie Langhans – Vocals
Filip Vilhemsson – Guitar, Bass

LINKS:

Steel Rhino Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.