Candlemass – Sweet Evil Sun

Sweet Evil Sun Album Cover Art

Candlemass – Sweet Evil Sun
Napalm Records
Release Date: 18/11/2022
Running Time: 54:00
Review by Rory Bentley
7/10

Let’s begin with a confession – I love Candlemass. In fact I love pretty much all Epic Doom from Solitude Aeternus to Crypt Sermon. The combination of disgusting riffs and theatrical vocals sprinkled with arcane lyrics and melodies is a real blind spot for me to the point where I sometimes overlook the flaws of albums that fall into this category in a way that I wouldn’t let, say, a Thrash band get away with. Add this admission to the fact that Candlemass are the inventors and kings of this shit, and you can see there is a definite risk of me giving their 13th (oooh spooky) record an easy ride. With that in mind let’s get the negatives out the way before wanking off Leif Edling for the rest of the review. 

First things first the album is too long considering the relative lack of variety on display here. This is a common accusation levelled at latter day Candlemass records, with songs often staying on an idea for too long or lacking structural discipline. Opener ‘Wizard of the Vortex’ is a good example of this, staying in the tried and tested Doom lane until the last few seconds where it brings in creepy mediaeval melodies and spooky layered vocals before abruptly moving onto the next song. I would have loved to hear this idea expanded on rather than tacked on the end as a jarring afterthought. I mean the song still absolutely slaps, but it had the potential to be even better with some tweaking.

As alluded to earlier, the limited variety on display here makes more superfluous cuts such as the solid, but unremarkable ‘Crucified’ seem like unnecessary inclusions that stop the album from being the lean killing machine that could sit in the lofty company of the band’s late 80’s output. Even the guest vocals from Avatarium powerhouse Jennie-Ann Smith on ‘When Death Sighs’ fail to add the sort of change of pace and tone the album needs. Don’t get me wrong she’s obviously fantastic because she’s incapable of nothing less, but she only appears for the chorus hook and she’s way too far down in the mix to truly leave her mark on the song. I can understand the reservation to show up Johan Langquidst on the mic but come on lads – when you’ve got someone with pipes like Jennie-Ann in the studio you need to let her off the leash.

Despite these pretty major gripes, I really dig this album and I’ve played the absolute shit out of it since I got it. When Candlemass are at the top of their game, which is quite often over the course of this record, they’re damn near untouchable at this whole Doom schtick. The title track is a melodramatic banger with a super catchy chorus and a riff that you could remove tattoos with. Particularly props must go to Johan Langquidst’s pantomime villain vocals which really sell Leif Edling’s beautifully silly lyrics. His voice has understandably changed since his sonorous, more clean style on the band’s debut album, but his more weathered, raspier tone sounds just as commanding and is delivered with an audible wink.

Major props must go to producer Marcus Jidell, who captures the band at their thundering best with a lively and crisp mix. Despite their defiantly dated song-writing approach, the band still sound very contemporary, with a guitar tone younger bands would kill for. Although some fans may prefer a more rough and ready production job and a heavier dose of reverb, Jidell’s approach works very well and stops the band sounding like a throwback. Ironically they have gone in the opposite direction of many of the younger Doom bands they have influenced, who often appear obsessed with attaining a deliberately retro sound.

Despite my earlier complaint that the album is too long, there are plenty of highlights scattered from front to back whether it be the storming full-throttle ‘Angel Battle’ early on, or the supremely satisfying Viking rager ‘Scandinavian Gods’ towards the end of the record. For a heritage band to put something out that’s so good that I can compare it to younger hungrier acts without being unfair is no small feat. Nearly 40 years into their career, Candlemass still have plenty to offer and “Sweet Evil Sun” is a worthy addition to a legendary catalogue.

‘When Death Sighs’ Official Lyric Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Wizard Of The Vortex    
02. Sweet Evil Sun    
03. Angel Battle    
04. Black Butterfly    
05. When Death Sighs feat. Avatarium
06. Scandinavian Gods    
07. Devil Voodoo    
08. Crucified    
09. Goddess    
10. A Cup Of Coffin (Outro)

LINE-UP:
Johan Lanquist – Vocals
Lars Johansson – Lead Guitar
Mappe Björkman – Rhythm Guitar
Leif Edling – Bass
Janne Lind – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley 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.

Alter Bridge – Pawns and Kings

Pawns and Kings Album Cover Art

Alter Bridge – Pawns and Kings
Napalm Records
Release Date: 14/10/2022
Running Time: 53:34
Review By Alex Swift
8/10

Myles Kennedy and co. are, to this writer, one of the greatest acts in Metal today. They have continued to be that, despite the cries of elitists who bemoan the fact that they have a degree of crossover appeal. So, for the avoidance of any doubt, I view “Blackbird” and “Fortress” as absolute classics in the genre, and “ABII” and “The Last Hero” to be deeply overlooked. In fact, while I come back to 2019’s “Walk the Sky” infrequently, I think that album saw the band solidifying that while they may not be the most diverse band musically, the sound they have honed is distinctly theirs and is one they perform exceptionally well. “Pawns and Kings” continues on that path. 

 ‘This Is War’ continues Alter Bridge’s tradition as architects of the brilliant opening songs – a trend which dates back to the band’s inception. Pawns & Kings begins in stunning form with this lavish and potent call to arms. There isn’t a drawn-out introduction like there was on earlier openers. Rather, it accelerates to full speed with the now-iconic hefty Mark Tremonti riff and a huge vocal line from Myles Kennedy in the chorus. It’s a noble rallying cry that wonderfully frames the record from the outset. The powerful ‘Dead Among the Living’ follows. It features yet another catchy vocal line from Kennedy, who is once again supported by Tremonti, who has a markedly larger vocal presence on this record. Side, note, Myles Kennedy has said that the reason for this is he feels fans are put off by his vocal style – I think that’s modesty as both vocalists are on fine form throughout. Still, one of their strongest riffs in a while can be heard on this song, which seems to reprise earlier tracks like ‘Come to Life’ and ‘Ties That Bind’ in its Post-Grunge aesthetic. The record’s standout track, ‘Silver Tongue’, is a low-end rumbling behemoth that wraps up the opening trio of commanding anthems. What Alter Bridge excel at here is striking powerfully and quickly without ever losing sight of their magnificence and size.

The Mark Tremonti led ‘Stay’ is the first of the ballads on this album. Moments like this display the guitarist’s incredible song-writing ability, even if they are schmaltzy and overly sentimental. It’s cheese, sure, but its fine, rich, and mature cheese with a significant emotional aftertaste. This also holds true for the subsequent upbeat song Seasons of Promise. ‘Fable Of the Silent Son’, the band’s longest song to date, can also a be found on the album. The band must have had lots of confidence to write a piece which eclipses ‘Blackbird’ – a song so emotionally affecting that it deserves to be viewed with absolute reverence within Metal – in length. Indeed, while this doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, the heroic piece is without a doubt one of their best to date. It begins with Kennedy in the limelight before exploding into a thumping riff. Together, Tremonti and Brian Marshall throw down powerful guitar riffs that are overlaid by soaring voices. You will be completely engrossed by the time the solo comes around since it moves smoothly through the duration. Both this song and the sumptuous ‘Sin After Sin’, a mid-tempo rocker that highlights the rhythm section as the band’s hidden pulse, have strong Prog characteristics, showing that while Alter Bridge are not often viewed as incredibly versatile, they excel at combining influences.

Although you probably know what to anticipate from an Alter Bridge album by this point, you cannot dispute that they do everything to absolute perfection. The band has come to the realisation that what they do best is to be authentic, and their audience will appreciate them for that too. There is no doubting that Pawns & Kings ranks among their greatest creations.

TRACKLISTING:
01. This Is War
02. Dead Among the Living
03. Silver Tongue
04. Sin After Sin
05. Stay
06. Holiday
07. Fable Of the Silent Sun
08. Season of promise
09. Last Man Standing
10. Pawns & Kings

LINE-UP:
Myles Kennedy – Lead And Backing Vocals, Rhythm, And Lead Guitar
Mark Tremonti – Lead And Rhythm Guitar, Backing And Lead Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums, Percussion

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Alex Swift 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.

Wednesday 13 – Horrifier

Horrifier Album Cover Art

Wednesday 13 – Horrifier
Napalm Records
Release Date: 07/10/2022
Running Time: 39:00
Review by Rory Bentley
7.5/10

Alright you spooky little dorks, as Halloween approaches (at least at the time of writing), everyone’s favourite Glam Punk boogie man Wednesday 13 is here to provide the perfect soundtrack for Pumpkin Sluts up and down the land. The former Murderdoll and Frankenstein Drag Queen is the train that’s never late, dropping a ghoulish LP of gory floor-fillers every two or so years with remarkable consistency. By now you know what you’re going to get, and you’ll already know if this record’s going to be your cup of tea / goblet of blood or not. There are very few surprises here, however when I order ice cream, I know what ice cream’s going to taste like and I’m not looking for some culinary reinvention of the concept of frozen dairy. Stick it in a cone, pop a flake in it and everybody’s happy. With that said I present to you the Shock Rock equivalent of a Mr Whippy. These analogies are getting worse.

Centring on the lyrical theme of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “Christine”, the album could not be more perfect for its October release if it came with a pumpkin-spiced latte. Opening with some classic slasher movie Synthwave for instrumental intro ‘Severed’, before launching into the screeching, Rob Zombie on steroids Industrial attack of the gruesomely titled ‘Insides Out’ it is immediately apparent that subtlety is clearly not on the cards; but good, dirty fun? You’d better believe there’s plenty of that!

I must admit by the time the scabrous molten riffage and screaming vocals of ‘Exhume and Devour’ flew out of  my speakers at an unreasonably early time in the morning, I was concerned that the whole album would consist of beatdown-heavy songs that lacked the playful catchiness of Wednesday’s best work. Nothing about the opening is bad, and I appreciated the more brutal approach as a welcome new wrinkle to the guy’s game, but nonetheless I’ve grown accustomed to big choruses that make you want to cut a rug dressed as a skeleton. Thankfully I did not have to wait long.

In comes ‘You’re So Hideous’ in all its gleeful stupidity to put a big old grin on my sneering face. Gritty, melodic and flamboyant in equal measure, this is what I signed up for! The fact that this is immediately topped by ‘Good Day To Be A Bad Guy’, both in terms of big dumb fun and earworm catchiness, is further proof that despite new pretenders to the schlocky horror throne like Ice Nine Kills, Mr 13 is still the daddy for this sort of cartoon horror fuckery. This is the kind of thing Twisted Sister would give their right bollock to write.

‘Return to Haddonfield’ continues the momentum with Wednesday channelling an even more twisted Blackie Lawless in an absolutely massive chorus replete with soaring guitar leads. This is possibly the most accomplished song on here and sure to be a live favourite, representing a clear high point in the record’s taut sub-forty-minute runtime. But there’s still plenty more gas in the tank as the album continues its blood-splattered rampage.

‘Horrifier’ is a straight down the line Proto-Thrash bruiser that eschews subtlety and intricacy for red-blooded shoutalongs and a filthy chug that never lets up for the entire runtime. The pummelling pace is nicely contrasted when followed by the sleazy Southern grooves of ‘Hell Is Coming’, which in anyone else’s hands would be tiresome wrestling PPV background music, but is rescued from eye-rolling Butt Rock by Wednesday’s knowingly pantomime delivery, committing to the part while keeping tongue firmly in cheek.

Those hankering to hear Wednesday’s Glam side are sure to get a kick out of ‘Halfway to the Grave’ which manages to channel the stadium-filling vibes of the 80’s sunset strip without resorting to boorish misogyny or being composed by abhorrent human turd people like Vince Neal. Result! The fact that it makes me write positively about a scene I despise with every fibre of my being should speak volumes on the song’s quality.

Things wrap up nicely with the short, sharp shock of ‘Christine: Fury In The Night’ and the overblown creepy power ballad, ‘The Other Side’, capping off another successful joyride on this ever-reliable ghost train. This is not an album that will change your life, it’s a little slow to get going and it isn’t up to the gold standard of that first Murderdolls album. But you know what? It has one hell of a shot at improving the soundtrack to your spooky season. It’s a good day to be a fucking bad guy!

‘Good Day To Be A Bad Guy’ Official Audio

TRACKLISTING:
01. Severed
02. Insides Out
03. Exhume and Devour
04. You’re So Hideous
05. Good Day To Be A Bad Guy
06. Return to Haddonfield
07. Horrifier
08. He’ll Is Coming
09. Halfway To The Grave
10. Christine: Fury In The Night
11. The Other Side

LINE-UP:
Joseph Poole – vocals, guitars
Roman Surman – guitars
Jack Tankersley – guitars
Troy Doebbler – bass
Mike Dupke – drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley 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.

Charlotte Wessels – Tales from Six Feet Under Volume II

Tales from Six Feet Under Volume II Album Cover Art

Charlotte Wessels – Tales from Six Feet Under Volume II
Napalm Records
Release Date: 07/10/2022
Running Time: 42:00
Review by Rory Bentley
8/10

Your band splits up, the bills keep piling up and there’s a big old pandemic that’s put every touring musician’s career on ice- what do you do? Well, if you’re former Delain singer Charlotte Wessels you set up a Patreon, connect with your fans and let your creativity explode.

Hot on the heels of last year’s debut solo album, the Dutch songstress continues to capitalise on a musical purple patch with another eclectic set of Alt-Pop ragers that continues to show what an immense talent she actually is. I already knew her pipes were top drawer as they were comfortably my favourite thing about Delain, but this record, along with its predecessor, demonstrates that Wessels is more than a powerful set of lungs.

‘Venus Rises’ acts as the perfect introduction to Wessel’s sonic realm, with layered crooned vocals dripping with attitude over an Electro Pop backdrop which has a recurring motif that stays just the right side of Dubstep so as not to date it to 2010. So strong is the chorus that the song also gets away with a key change at the end without conjuring X-factor Christmas single vibes. This sultry almost Hyper Pop approach is sprinkled throughout the track-listing, adopting a more aggressive form in the layered, almost Industrial strutting of ‘Good Dog’ which sounds like Garbage in their 90’s pomp.

Elsewhere there are hints at Wessel’s Symphonic Metal past such as the plucked strings of ‘Human to Ruin’ and the bombastic riffing and orchestral attack on ‘Phantom Touch’, which could be a Delain song were it not for a more raspy vocal delivery and a creepy carnival waltz that brings to mind sections of Nightwish’s “Imaginaerum” album while adopting a chorus that erupts like a minor key version of Cheryl Crowe’s ‘If it Makes You Happy’. Maybe that bit is just me.

Continuing in a more commercial vein (again, not a dirty word guys – not everything needs to sound like Pig Destroyer), there are a couple of songs where Charlotte goes into her higher register that have the fragile melancholy of Lana Del Rey’s recent work, namely ‘The Final Roadtrip’ and ‘I Forget’. The former drips with summertime sadness even when the final chorus piles on the euphoric strings, while the latter has a Folky bounce to it that will appeal to fans of Joanna Newsom. Although it’s more palatable and less vocally quirky.

The two songs that best illustrate the broad palette on display across “Tales From…” come in the form of ‘Against All Odds’ and ‘Toxic’. The former is a straight up ballad with breezy acoustic guitars and percussive natural harmonics layered under Charlotte’s angelic head-register vocals. The whole song hinges on a theme of dusting yourself off and being ready to look for love once more despite knowing it’s more than likely going to hurt you all over again. The melancholic lyrics that depict defiance in the face of suffering, along with a gorgeous vocal delivery, stop this one tipping too far into diabetes-inducing syrupyness and result in a genuinely lovely song. ‘Toxic’ on the other hand is pure animalistic NIN aggression with stalking industrial beats and a staccato orchestral riff that descends into a screaming beatdown section, all while weaving in some top-tier Pop hooks. It’s a song so filthy it’ll leave dirt under your fingernails by the time it’s had its wicked way with you!

Despite ending a little more sedately with ‘Utopia’, possibly my least favourite here, this is overall a fantastic Alt-Pop record that spans everything from Radiohead, to The Gathering to Ministry, held together by Wessel’s expressive, distinctive voice. Free from having to compromise in the confines of a band and an increasingly saturated and formulaic genre, this is an artist doing whatever the hell she wants and pulling it off with nonchalant ease. I for one am all ears for part three of this journey and am strongly considering joining Charlotte’s Patreon community to see the next chapter take shape firsthand. 

‘Toxic’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Venus Rising
02. Human to Ruin
03. The Phantom Touch
04. Against All Odds
05. A Million Lives
06. The Final Roadtrip 
07. Good Dog
08. Toxic 
09. I Forget
10. Utopia 

LINE-UP:
All vocals, programming and instruments performed by Charlotte Wessels except –
Timo Somers – Guitar on ‘Human To Ruin’ and ‘Against All Odds’ 
Elianne Anemaat – Cello on ‘I Forget’

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley 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.

Powerwolf – The Monumental Mass: A Cinematic Metal Event

The Monumental Mass A Cinematic Metal Event Album Cover Art

Powerwolf – The Monumental Mass: A Cinematic Metal Event
Napalm Records
Release Date: 08/07/22
Running Time: 01:17:00
Review by Simon Black
9/10

I’ve really blown hot and cold over the whole live stream phenomena in the last three years. At the time I was happy to grab at them eagerly, since getting to an actual gig seemed an unlikely event for a while and even as things have improved, I have still had to remain cautious with regard to live events, having family members working in health care settings to be mindful of. As time has passed and I’ve crept out to the real thing occasionally, my attitude has become less supportive, albeit appreciative for the fact they kept us sane during that period, but if I never saw one again (in normal circumstances at least) I would not be too sad. I’ve also got a little annoyed that bands have been releasing the recordings of these as a cheap catch-up release, given that many of them don’t really translate well from their original setting and that the recordings are usually as flat as a pancake compared to most live events, given that they’ve been recorded on sound stages that lack the natural acoustics and anergy of a crowd for the band to fire off of. That means that no matter how well the sound is captured, or how good the performances of the players, that they usually leave one wanting a lot more.

So now I have to eat my words…because this beauty throws everything I have just said out of the window.

Powerwolf released what is probably their biggest and best album “Call of the Wild” in the middle of the pandemic with no opportunity to tour it, so a live stream made sense – but this one is very, very different from most. For a start it was quite late on in the pandemic, but then a quick look online at the snippets that are available on YouTube instantly shows why, this is so much more than five guys effectively recording a rehearsal. The norm is to pop the band in a sound stage with the cameras up close and let the music do the talking, occasional bum notes and all, but Powerwolf never do things by half and this release is no exception. For a start, it’s more like a full form music video than a live stream show. Although the band are playing and recorded as live, there’s an awful lot of staging, effects, theatrics and props, with the band going full out to put the kind of show that you expect when their headlining a decent size arena, which let’s face it they would probably have been doing had the pandemic not screwed things up. This goes some way to explaining why this came out so late in the pandemic when originally available as an online event, given the amount of time and effort that must have gone into it.

With seventeen tracks divided into five acts, allowing for a lot of juggling of props and scenery, the band crank their way through an hour and twenty minutes of their finest material. What you do get here, which may well not have happened with a tour is that the material from “Call of the Wild” gets a thoroughly good airing with four tracks from that album (plus ‘Demons Are A girl’s Best Friend’), but then although this is quite hard to discern from an audio only recording, the band had weaved all this material into a semi-coherent story, although I guess this is more obvious with the visuals. 

I guess you really need to watch rather than just listen, but this still manages to surprise as it’s Powerwolf turning everything up to eleven again, despite the constraints of the format. What for me makes it work, is that unlike nearly every other pandemic filler, this sounds large, expansive and, yes, cinematic. The sound on most live streams is normally dreadfully flat, but this sounds as rich, fat and dripping with reverb as their studio albums or live shows and consequently takes you shamelessly into their arms and the time just passes. I started listening with pencils sharpened, but now have found totally enjoying this piece, and yes, wondering where I can get my hands on a Blu-Ray version.

‘Venom Of Venus’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:

Chapter I – Temptation
01. Prologue / Monumental Mass Theme
02. Faster Than the Flame
03. Venom Of Venus
04. Stossgebet
05. Demons Are A Girl‘s Best Friend

Chapter II – Sin 
06. Dancing with the Dead
07. Cardinal Sin
08. Resurrection By Erection
09. We Drink Your Blood
10. Glaubenskraft

Chapter III – Confession
11. Fire & Forgive
12. Beast of Gévaudan
13. Incense & Iron
14. Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone

Chapter IV – Forgiveness
15. Amen & Attack
16. Army of the Night
17. Blood for Blood (Faoladh)
18. Armata Strigoi
19. Epilogue / Monumental Mass Theme

LINE-UP:
Charles Greywolf – Bass, Guitars
Matthew Greywolf – Guitars
Falk Maria Schlegel – Keyboards
Attila Dorn – Vocals
Roel van Helden – 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.

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

A Heartless Portrait Album Cover Art

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)
Napalm Records
Release Date: 20/05/2022
Running Time: 50:00
Review by Rory Bentley
9/10

Elegant, classy, tasteful, swoon-inducing. All adjectives that I’ve never had fired my way and not necessarily the first things that come to mind when anybody brings up Metal, but Evergrey have every one of those qualities dripping from every pore. Stockholm has produced an enviable number of top tier Rock and Metal artists, but Evergrey are a band who should have got their flowers a long time ago.

Propelled by deceptively technical riffs, gorgeous lead guitar and one of the greatest singers Metal has ever produced in Tom S. Englund, the band have been playing their sophisticated brand of melodic, melancholic Metal for 25 years now and on the evidence of their latest release they show no signs of stopping.

While I enjoyed preceding albums “The Atlantic” and “Escape of the Phoenix”, I did feel that certain songs were a little interchangeable, often rescued from obscurity by Englund’s immaculate, soulful crooning. There is no such issue with “A Heartless Portrait”, with every song oozing with character and heavenly melodic textures.

‘Save Us’ gets things started with some truly titanic riffs and some strikingly savage gang vocals that have a much harder edge than the band have shown in recent releases. As the characteristically soaring chorus erupts from molten slabs of guitar, it is clear the band have come back with a renewed sense of fire. Thankfully this momentum carries over for the entire record!

The militaristic guitars of ‘Midwinter Call’s’ intro keep things in the high energy territory with stomping verses, eerie choral vocals and another wonderful chorus bursting out in glorious technicolour every time Tom opens that honey-dipped throat of his. It also features one of many of the record’s glorious guitar solos, which are always technically flawless without ever feeling indulgent and every bit as soulful as the vocals.

‘Ominous’ lives up to its name with a sinister yet graceful electronic soundscape underpinning spine tingling falsetto vocals and if you think  I’ve spent too long praising old Golden Lungs already I’m here to tell you that you’re in for a long ride with this review. I’ll shift focus for a moment to what an incredible guitar player he is instead for a bit, along with his tag team partner Henrik Danhage. On this particular song their duelling leads are like having your ears kissed by angels and highlight the band’s ability to be super progressive sounding whilst always feeling like they’re serving a cohesive song.

Special mention must also go to Rikard Zander on keys who makes excellent tonal choices that lend tons of atmosphere to every song, particularly the delicate closing bars of ‘Call Out The Dark’. I can count the number of keyboardists in European Metal bands that don’t veer into cheese territory and detract from my enjoyment of a song on one hand. And I don’t need all my fingers either.

I’m scratching my head to find a weak spot on this album but every moment feels essential, there’s a greater sonic variety than on recent releases and the band sound so full of life. Beautiful closing track ‘Wildfires’ nearly made me full on ugly-cry on public transport today for Odin’s sake! 

Against the run of play Evergrey have produced one of the strongest outings in their immaculate catalogue, dazzling us with their strongest elements while still adding nuances and approaches hitherto unheard. It is absolutely criminal that a band this consistently excellent with one of the best vocalists walking the planet, is not playing the same venues and hitting the same chart numbers as some of  their peers. “A Heartless Portrait” is a stirring , anthemic Metal classic delivered with passion, precision and panache. It’s time to give these masterful veterans the long-overdue glory they deserve. Did I mention Tom’s good at singing?

‘Save Us’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Save Us
02. Midwinter Calls
03. Ominous 
04. Call out the Dark
05. The Orphean Testament 
06. Reawakening 
07. The Great Unwashed
08. Heartless
09. Blindfolded
10. Wildfires 

LINE-UP:
Tom S. Englund – vocals, guitars
Henrik Danhage – guitars
Rikard Zander – keys
Jonas Ekdahl – drums
Johan Niemann – bass

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley 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.

Visions of Atlantis – Pirates

Pirates Album Cover Art

Visions of Atlantis – Pirates
Napalm Records
Release Date: 13/05/2022
Running Time: 58:00
Review by Rory Bentley 
8/10

Ok let’s get this out the way, I hate the pirate gimmick. I hate people that do pirate voices thinking it passes as a joke, I hate people that think dressing like a pirate constitutes a personality and I DESPISE the inexplicably popular pirate metal band that I won’t even dignify by naming here. The fact that it turns out that some of the members are bigoted pond life in their personal lives only adds further vindication to my ire. Some of you are probably going to accuse me of being no fun and having no sense of humour, but I’m sure I’ll get over not getting invited to your next plastic cutlass play fight. You’re that guy at work that people call a ‘character’ because he’s memorised some old Harry Enfield quotes but most people conveniently forget to invite to the pub. You wear a t-shirt with guitars on it that says ‘choose your weapon’, you call people ‘sir’ in an affected medieval voice and you sit on a deckchair all day at the Download main stage wearing a hat that doesn’t suit you. I can do this all day but you get the idea. You quote Monty Python and you’re invisible to the opposite sex etc. Ok I’m done. You shout butt scratcher at festivals and sneer at mainstream culture because you lack the social skills to ever be part of it. Ok I promise I’m done now.

The reason I’ve just gone on that harrowing rant is that Visions of Atlantis, a band I actually quite like, popped up in the review schedule with an album called “Pirates”, with a Piratey album cover, some nautical song titles and press photos where they look like some Long-John-Silver-ass motherfuckers, and my heart sank like an anchor based metaphor that I can’t be arsed to come up with. Fearing the worst but having a soft spot for the band, I tentatively put myself forward for the review. Upon hitting play my first words were thus- ‘Thank fuck for that!’

I’m delighted to say, with no small relief, that the Pirate theme here is predominantly allegorical and the album is still the same high quality Symphonic Metal I’ve come to expect from these guys. Even more pleasingly, there is a clear evolution of the band’s sound here that for the most part works incredibly well.

‘Pirates Will Return’ opens things up with the band’s signature bombast, with robust stomping riffs colliding with high production orchestration and powerful duelling vocals from Clémentine Delaunay and Michele Guaitoli. Despite its epic approach and longer runtime, the song whizzes by and is brimming with hooks that hit with laser precision. An excellent start.

The clear focus on melodic hooks is even more present on ‘Melancholy Angel’ and ‘Clocks’, both coming in under the four minute mark and leaning in a more commercial direction. Some fans may view this as a negative but it is a style that really suits them, and in a genre that can become exhausting in its excess, taut, disciplined songwriting that still retains the flamboyance of prime Symphonic Metal is nothing to be sniffed at.

There is a nice balance between more conventional, operatic  kitchen-sink chucking and festival-ready euro bangers that makes for a varied and enjoyable listen. For every cinematic fantasy workout like ‘Master The Hurricane’ there’s a ‘Wild Elysium’ to take the edge off, which is a trick that many of their peers struggle to pull off, either descending too far into pomposity or beating you to death with endless Eurovision (Eurovision is sheer joy, the best night of the whole year, and I won’t hear a word against it! Dark Juan) entries until you have to tap out.

Not everything here works, with a couple of saccharine ballads in the form of ‘Darkness Inside’ and ‘Heal the Scars’ bringing the momentum down a little and I actually feel that some of the punchier songs could have used an extra component or repeated chorus aa they occasionally end a little abruptly. But the fact that the guy that complains everything’s too long is advocating letting a song breathe a bit longer should tell you both how much I enjoyed this record and the clear step towards focused, concise songwriting Visions of Atlantis has taken.

So rather than the horror show of cringe-inducing Jolly Roger bollocks, “Pirates” is a satisfying, meticulously constructed hour of high-quality Symphonic Metal that has the hooks and finesse to see Visions of Atlantis establish themselves as major players in the genre. Never doubted it for a second. Ahem…

‘Melancholy Angel’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Pirates Will Return
02. Melancholy Angel
03. Master The Hurricane 
04. Clocks
05. Freedom
06. Legion of the Seas
07. Wild Elysium
08. Darkness Inside
09. In My World
10. Mercy
11. Heal the Scars
12. I Will Be Gone

LINE-UP:
Clémentine Delauney – Vocals
Michele Guaitoli – Vocals
Dushi Duscha – Guitars
Herbert Glos – Bass       
Thomas Caser – Drums

LINKS:


Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rory Bentley 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.

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Hammer Of Dawn Album Cover Art

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn
Napalm Records
Release Date: 25/02/22
Running Time: 45:50
Review by Simon Black
8/10

“Hammer of Dawn” makes clear from its cover and song titles that this is classic HammerFall fare – so lots of references to hammers, myths and legends, the odd bit of medieval warfare, their ubiquitous mascot Hector, Templars and of course medieval mythical hammers wielded in war by Hector the Templar all at the same time… I wouldn’t want it any other way, as to be fair, I can only think of one bum album from these guys in all this time, which was the one time they deviated from their standard template (sorry “Infected”). The songs on here drip with the Melodic Metal refrains and Power Metal tropes that we love them for, although I remain consistently sad that this is an act that have really failed to make much of an impact here in the UK compared to the rest of the world. A word about this if you will indulge me. 

HammerFall are like many acts in their genre who are huge on the continent, tour constantly both as headliners at good size arenas and are regular fixtures on the festival circuit. Consequently they have a huge fan base over there. But not here in the UK. Here we are lucky to get one show per album cycle, usually in London, at somewhere tiny without the big productions and on a crappy mid-week slot that requires days off of work and ridiculous travel expenditure. In fact the only upcoming show they have over here is supporting Helloween later this year at the Brixton Academy and we’re only getting that because they are part of a full tour package.

The root of this problem lies with the way the small number of booking agencies that dominate the market work. The money they ask for is way above what the financial structures of the UK will support, so consequently bands never get to put in the touring work in the early days here that you need to become credible; consequently the festivals don’t book them because they aren’t a big enough draw (or will consume a disproportionate amount of the budget for the event). That’s a shame, because they deserve to be bigger here than they are.

There is an argument that once you have heard one HammerFall album, you’ve heard them all but personally I refute that. Certainly the Swedish five piece have been pretty damn consistent in both the style and tone of their many albums since they first appears in the early 1990’s at a time when retro traditional Heavy Metal was far from fashionable. Yet here they stubbornly remain in all their studded leather defiance and still it seems delivering the goods. They also managed the rare feat of becoming more successful with their second vocalist than their first, and let’s face it Joacim Cans distinctive and powerfully high vocals are one of the trademarks of this band’s sound. With him and band progenitor Oscar Dronjak being the sole survivors from the early days it shows what a hold these guys have over the sound to sustain such consistency over twelve studio albums and 29 years. Damn good song-writing goes a long way too…

A top drawer HammerFall record is normally bristling with anthemic floor-fillers of the kind that an audience in a festival crowd can yell along to without actually knowing the lyrics, but interspersed by strong melodic pieces that benefit from multiple listens. That song-writing strength to appeal to both the short term and long term listener is one hell of a feat, but in this instance we have an album that has more of the latter than the former. Much as I like having the time to develop the love for these, I also know that those heart thumping life-affirming hits are what HammerFall do best and it’s a shame that some of those more immediate punches aren’t immediately obvious from the first song or two. That said, I’m three spins in and this is growing on me somewhat. Normally HammerFall can pull off a really strong power ballad as well, but to be brutally honest ‘Not Today’ is actually the weakest song on here, despite Cans spectacular vocal range, so I will be sticking to the belters this time out.

The production sound is slightly different, with an interestingly echoey effect on Cans’ vocals, but actually it works quite well. ‘Venerate Me’ is classic anthemic HammerFall and ‘Reveries’ as well feels like it might make its way to my playlists, but fundamentally I’m nit picking. Is it and round classic like “Built To Last” or “No Sacrifice, No Victory”? No, not quite, but it’s pretty damn close and if I was coming to this as a new listener it’s certainly strong enough for me to get hooked in and keep going. Robust and strong, even though the ballad flops, but fundamentally there’s certainly nothing to else to complain about here…

‘Brotherhood’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Brotherhood
02. Hammer Of Dawn
03. No Son Of Odin
04. Venerate Me
05. Reveries
06. Too Old To Die Young
07. Not Today
08. Live Free Or Die
09. State Of The W.I.L.D.
10. No Mercy

LINE-UP:
Oscar Dronjak – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Joacim Cans – Lead Vocals 
Fredrik Larsson – Bass
Pontus Norgren – Guitars, Backing Vocals
David Wallin – Drums

LINKS:

Hammerfall 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.

Silent Skies – Nectar

Nectar Album Cover Art

Silent Skies – Nectar 
Napalm Records
Release Date: 04/02/22
Running Time: 47:09
Review by Beth Jones
10/10

Silent Skies is a meld of minds, forming an Ambient Cinematic project between Evergrey’s Tom Englund, and Pianist/ Instrumentalist Vikram Shankar; an Evergrey fan, and a bloody talented musician. I was lucky enough to review their first release, “Satellites” previously, so when their sophomore album “Nectar” dropped into my inbox, there was no way I was letting anyone else do it. 

The reason I loved their initial release was for the pure melancholy that it delivered within the sheer beauty of the music. And this new offering does more of the same, and some. Its delicate beauty cloaked in cinematic majesty is breathtaking. This album has an added melancholy, too, as guesting on it is Leprous’ cello player, Raphael Weinroth-Browne. The cello is the instrumental embodiment of wistful yearning, and it is used to absolute perfection on this record.   

‘Fallen From Heart’ opens the album, and is a beautifully tender piece, which display’s Tom’s voice stunningly, not only in tone, but in dynamic phrasing. It’s real attention to detail stuff. This is where music stops being a technical ability, and becomes a deep and unexplainable feeling that musicians have. It’s magical. And this is complemented by the ethereal and haunting keys work of Vikram, which is simple and understated, but completely wonderful.

And this really sums up the whole record. It’s one of those albums that actually makes you hold your breath at certain points, such is its delicate poise. Ambient samples are used masterfully to add atmosphere, and gentle rhythms keep the songs moving. But there is a certain freeform fluidity to everything as well. It demonstrates epic musical understanding and connection. Neither the piano or the vocals are the leader, or the follower. They just work in perfect synchronicity.

I love the piano tone on ‘The One’. It reminds me of the old pianos in church halls that I played a lot in my childhood. There’s a certain air of sentimental reminiscence to this track, so it’s quite fitting that it should take me back to the bittersweet times of my youth. This track is a love song of sorts, but its meaning runs deeper than the bog standard ‘you’re the best person ever’ type love songs. It’s more a song about finding inner peace, inner worth, and learning to love yourself… At least that’s what it says to me. Maybe that’s what I needed to hear right now. 

‘Cold’ has to be my standout track of the album. I love the synth line that runs through most of it, and the cello is just so sumptuous and beautiful. But the lyrics also hit me right in the feels. I haven’t connected with a song that much in a while, but it summed up perfectly a place that I have been. It’s melancholy for sure. Possibly even depressing. But it’s also surprisingly comforting. The power of music yet again speaking volumes. 

My only irk on this entire album is that track 3, ‘Neverending’ fades out. Now you all probably know my feelings around fades; They set my teeth on edge with irritation! But given the context of the track, I am guessing it’s deliberate. I’m just a grump. This is simply a beautiful work of art created by two incredibly talented artists. It is serious musical brilliance made to feel and sound effortless. It is tingles down the spine, and goosebumps. That’s proper talent. I adore this album. 

‘Let It Hurt’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Fallen From Heart
02. Taper
03. Neverending
04. Let It Hurt
05. The One
06. Leaving
07. Cold
08. Better Days
09. Closer
10. Nectar

LINE-UP:
Tom S. Englund – Vocals, Production
Vikram Shankar – Piano, Keyboards, Production
Guest:
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Cello

LINKS:

Silent Skies Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Beth Jones 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.

Darkwoods My Betrothed – Angel Of Carnage Unleashed

Angel Of Carnage Unleashed Album Cover Art

Darkwoods My Betrothed – Angel Of Carnage Unleashed
Napalm Records
Release Date: 12/11/21
Running Time: 50:33
Review by Rick Eaglestone
8.5/10

After a two-decade silence Finland’s Darkwoods my Betrothed find their voice with new album “Angel of Carnage Unleashed”.

There were two things I did when I heard about this new album; firstly get very excited as not only is it a brand-new release but it’s also the original line-up, and secondly go back and revisit gems such as “Autumn Roars Thunder” and “Witch-Hunts”, and once I had done that I was fully invested and ready to dive in.

Opener ‘Name the Dead’ immediately brings in a cacophony of brutality which weaves into orchestral elements and back to storming drums and desperately raw vocals, a strong opening track which firmly announces the bands intention and direction. ‘In Evil, Sickness and in Grief’ follows and is also unrelenting for the most part, but has some wonderful atmospheric sections with added layers of haunting backing vocals, and at over eight minutes, manages to hold the listeners attention throughout. 

A change of pace entirely for ‘Murktide and Midnight Sun’, which has a really strong Folk/Viking feel to it. And that leads into my highlight track of the album, ‘You Bitter Source of Sorrow’, which at its very core is everything that first appealed to me as a listener all those years back. It has the frostbitten feel to it, and I just kept going back to it over and over. ‘Where We Dwell’ has a great riff and wonderful piano melodies – these 2 songs paired together make the album for me in all honesty.

The band revisit the Folk/Viking side with ‘In Thrall to ‘Ironskull’s Heart’, another 8 plus minute track that again has enough varied elements, and the only thing that’s missing is a horn full of mead. ‘Massacre’ brings it back to the atmospheric, bleak, and heavy with easily the most urgently savage track of the entire album – it’s a full-on assault of the senses, as too is ‘Black Fog and Poison Wind’ but it’s laden with all the atmosphere of the Carpathian Mountains.

The album finishes with an outro and, although enjoyable, I feel this would’ve served better as an intro track.

‘You Bitter Source Of Sorrow’ Official Audio

TRACKLISTING:
01. Name the Dead
02. In Evil, Sickness and in Grief
03. Murktide and Midnight Sun
04. You Bitter Source of Sorrow
05. Where We Dwell
06. In Thrall to Ironskull’s Heart
07. Massacre
08. Black Fog and Poison Wind
09. Outro

LINE-UP:
Pasi Kankkunen – lead vocals, guitar
Jouni Mikkonen – guitar
Teemu Kautonen – bass, backing vocals
Tuomas Holopainen – keyboards
Kai Hahto – drums (session)

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Rick Eaglestone 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.