R3VO – Fireflies EP

Fireflies EP Cover Art

R3VO – Fireflies EP
Self-Released
Release Date: 16/11/22
Running Time: 23:30
Review by Simon Black
9/10

Occasionally something comes across the bows that takes you completely by surprise. 

R3VO are based in Berlin and have only really started to get off the starting blocks since their inception in 2019 thanks to you-know-what. An email in the EM inbox direct from the band started the conversation, and since I’m always up for a bit of Prog I went for it myself, because they did ask very nicely and took the trouble to find us online rather than via a PR company. A bit of research indicates that despite their relative newness, this is a band who are making dents in a crowded marketplace. A quick spin of this EP quickly indicates why.

Normally if five tracks bounced around the influences encompassing everything from Pop to a Funky Electronica, to the down-tuned nastiness of Grunge with the anger of Groove-soaked Hardcore in a Metal sandwich with an eclectic vocalist with a strong Alternative bent (but without the annoying whinging of Emo) then I would normally be arguing that it was time to pick a couple of these flavours and nail things down a bit more tightly. Not here though, because the key word missing from that last list is the one which makes it possible for all of these things to co-exist in the same twenty-three minutes and that is ‘Progressive’.

The name may invoke a Star Wars droid unit, but as a musical unit this rather young four piece are incredibly tight. To be able to shift between all these styles fluidly within tracks like a jazz band riffing off the moment, yet still retaining the overall coherent song-structure is no small achievement. So much so that this takes me a good five end-to-end spins before I can even begin to start writing this, which is usually a sign that either I’ve got a real clanger on my hands and I’m trying to work out how to pull my punches, or that I have found a band I am going to fall in love with.

For a four piece they really max up the richness in the sounds, and despite the fact that the individual tracks sound like they may have been recorded at different times, this is a remarkably cohesive debut EP. With haunting yet subtly powerful vocals, some incredibly fluid and technically complex instrumental work and most of all, real damned deep ear-worm catchiness, this seems like an incredibly promising start. The title track and single ‘Fireflies’ is an absolute catchy monster, and deserves a shit load of airplay, but I can tell from the technical wizardry and subtlety in everything else that yes, this is a band to love.

‘Fireflies’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Artificial Pleasure
02. Fireflies
03. Dorian Gray
04. Darling
05. Aluminium

LINE-UP:
Altair Chagué – Drums
Jan Kurfürst – Guitar
Leo Lotux’s – Vocals
Victor Nissim – Bass

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.

Powerwolf – Lupus Dei (Re-Issue)

Lupus Dei (Re-Issue) Album Cover Art

Powerwolf – Lupus Dei (Re-Issue)
Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 11/11/22
Running Time: 01:05:34
Review by Simon Black
8/10

I’m still incredulous that I came so late to the Powerwolf party, and even more pissed that I missed their performance at Bloodstock a few years ago, as with the bigger walleted Download now likely to swallow them moving forwards their meteoric rise from obscure to top-drawer in this country is now complete. It’s a problem for Power Metal acts in the UK, as they frequently don’t put the groundwork in early that they do on mainland Europe, and consequently remain a niche act before scenarios like the above see them play catch up and overshoot pretty damn fast. Well good luck to them, they deserve it as they’re a hard-working act that delivers a consistent level of quality. 

As I said, I discovered them only relatively recently and unlike many long running acts whose best work is often to be found in their early years, Powerwolf seems to get better and better with every album. You know whenever a fresh album arrives precisely what you are going to get. The band have always had a turn for catchy song-writing and the re-release of “Lupus Dei” illustrates this, but the skill and polish of this ability just kept honing upwards since their inception. 

Most acts demonstrate both their own and the audience’s love for a particular album by quite how much of a record’s material survives into the live set year on year. The usual formula as bands get on is to blast out 3-5 songs from whatever the current release is at the start of a show, with the rest of the set made up of much older material that presage the inevitable Greatest Hits album at some point, but Powerwolf consistently do the complete opposite of this. In fact, a quick skim across their live albums listings indicates that only the title track from this release has ever made it onto any of their many live albums. That’s as much to do with the fact they seem to get better as songwriters on every album cycle as it is about the fact that they are forward looking. I suspect a huge contribution to this is the fact that with the exception of the drum stool, this is the same line-up that formed in Saarbrücken in 2003.

The album itself is interesting. 

Being mainly more familiar with material in the last ten years and generally being of a mind to air a live recording when I do so of my own free will, the early albums of the band remain a bit of a closed book to me. Two things immediately strike me as I crank this one up. Firstly, this is absolutely arrangement-wise the same act, with the same catchy song-writing and knack for ear-worm arrangements and phrasing as evident as they are today, and thematically this is consistent, so lots of catholic-styled religious imagery (although if there’s any actual religion in there it is the worship of the Church of Metal), corpse paint, werewolves and vampires… with the songs usually being about corpse painted Metal warriors hunting down vampires and werewolves…

That said, they sounded somewhat different in 2007. For a start Attilla Dorn is singing in a completely different register from the one I am more accustomed to. As a student of classical opera, he’s always demonstrated that style in his performance, but nowadays he’s more of a mix of alto and baritone (with occasional lofty peaks when scaling a crescendo at the end of the bridge or final verse), but this album is more tenor and alto in pitch. In addition, the distinctive cathedral organ sound from Falk Maria Schlegel is less dominant. In later albums that synth voice is used rigidly throughout and remains as unchanging as a Hammond organ in an early 70’s Hard Rock album, but here it’s only used sporadically amongst lots of other key sounds and way, way further back in the mix, as opposed to taking equal weighting with the guitars as it does today.

The third fact is not so immediately obvious. This is a concept album (i.e., with one specific story across its duration, rather than individual songs riffing around a consistent theme) and one told from the point of view of the werewolf, rather than the usual narrator choice of the band members’ stage identities (specifically Thiess of Kaltenbrunn from 17th century Livonia who self-identified as a werewolf, potentially forcing a update of the gender identification spectrum to LGBTQ+W). And that’s probably the main reason why this material does not appear live much – it really does not fit into the overall staging and narrative style the band have now. This is a bit of a shame really, as having dug a little further into their back catalog, it’s clear that musically this is far more the casting of the mould that leads us all the way to 2021’s fantastic “The Call of the Wild”. Although the stylism remains unchanged throughout, this is the start of the bolder, stagier incarnation of the band who by this point had grown enough in popularity to be able to headline and deliver the theatrical performances and set pieces we love them for today, and that feels like it’s cross fertilised back into the writing as they pushed themselves beyond their relatively low key origins.

In short it feels like the point where they really take off musically, and from this point they run with it. I can’t fault any of the tracks on here individually, although to be honest the concept would have passed me by had I not dug a little deeper in my research. It’s the template for the future, but as I said before, it’s hard to award higher marks, because the song-writing just continues to creak up a notch album by album from this point forward. Clearly, we are going to need a bigger scale soon…

‘Saturday Satan’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Lupus Daemonis (Intro)
02. We Take It from the Living
03. Prayer in the Dark
04. Saturday Satan
05. In Blood We Trust
06. Behind the Leathermask
07. Vampires Don’t Die
08. When the Moon Shines Red
09. Mother Mary Is a Bird of Prey
10. Tiger of Sabrod
11. Lupus Dei
12. Lupus Daemonis (Intro) [Demo Version)
13. We Take It from the Living (Demo Version)
14. Saturday Satan (Demo Version)
15. Behind the Leathermask (Demo Version)
16.Tiger of Sabrod (Demo Version)

LINE-UP:
Attila Dorn – Vocals
Matthew Greywolf – Lead And Rhythm Guitar
Charles Greywolf – Bass, Rhythm Guitar
Stéfane Funèbre – Drums, Percussion
Falk Maria Schlegel – Organ, Keyboards

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.

Munroe’s Thunder – The Black Watch

The Black Watch Album Cover Art

Munroe’s Thunder – The Black Watch
RFL Records
Release Date: 11/11/22
Running Time: 52:16
Review by Simon Black
9/10

Ronny Munroe’s contribution to the US Power Metal scene in my humble opinion goes somewhat and criminally underrated. I guess part of the problem is that he has so often stepped into the lead vocal role for a number of established acts that have seen a decline in their fortunes before he got there, and therefore has the toughest job of all – that of bearing the front man’s burden as they endeavour to get back to where they once (when the vocalists’ the fans are expecting to see are no longer around). It’s a thankless job, and so far he’s done that for both Metal Church and Vicious Rumors most notably, but the reality is that he’s been rather prolific since the early 1980’s, contributing to numerous other acts and a plethora of work under his own name in recent years. I had the Frontiers Between Worlds project come across my desk last year, but that was less than satisfactory as it fell into the sausage factory category that much of that label’s output can tip into when the guest artists are treated like visiting session musicians in a high-volume factory model, rather than being front and centre when it comes to conceptualising, writing and delivery.

That personal element is what makes a massive difference here on “The Black Watch”. On the surface this might appear like yet another historical conceptual Power Metal album, of which let’s face it, there are too many to count, but this story (and it’s all about the somewhat gruesome 16th century period of Scottish history surrounding Mary Queen of Scot’s) has family tree links to Munroe’s own origins and consequently he’s thrown a lot of effort into making this feel a little more real and personal than so many of the endless cookie cutter Power concepts bother to do.

The other factor that helps massively is that this kind of endlessly repetitive Power output is very much the norm in Europe, and America’s take on Power Metal is a very different beast indeed. That historical contribution to Metal Church and Vicious Rumors stands front and centre at this point, because despite having a deep love for the Euro / Power variant, I’ve always found the USA variant far more interesting – as it’s closer in source to the NWOBHM root, whilst incorporating the harder Speed / proto-Thrash edge that was super important to the movement in the 80’s in America. That and a focus on writing accessible and commercially acceptable songs has always given this variant the edge for me, even if they’ve never been huge in the native lands, and all those strengths are brought to bear with this record.

Monroe is such a charismatic and powerful front man, that it’s an absolute joy to hear him throwing his enthusiasm and energy into this record. He’s still got one hell of a range on him, and I always prefer it when clean vocal delivery has that powerful and throatier Rock’n’roll edge to it, and this is what Munroe absolutely does best. ‘Thirty Years War’ stands head and shoulders above much of the material on here for that reason – as it’s all about his voice and delivery, and a song that as it slowly builds from its balladic and soft introduction just what a stylistic range he has. Not that the fist pumping rollercoaster style of the bulk of the rest of the album doesn’t deliver the goods too, and in spades.

Musically this is very much all about Munroe, and despite a very robust instrumental delivery from the rest of the band, they do take a back seat in the mix to allow him to do what he does best. But to be fair, I can’t really fault the song-writing of anything on here, as the precise construction allows for that storytelling to actually step forward, accentuated by Munroe’s controlled and emphatic delivery – something so many Power concepts completely miss. For once the story has a chance to grab you and make you want to keep listening, as opposed to being something buried so deep in the crafting that it takes hours of repeated listening to even begin to unpick this.

Accessible, powerful and with a rich and charismatic delivery, finally something that allows the world to see what this vastly underrated frontman can deliver when the shackles of being a hired hand for other people’s projects are lifted.

‘Echoes Of The Dead’ Official Audio

TRACKLISTING:
01. Battle Cry
02. The Black Watch
03. Awaken The Fire
04. Gray Hall
05. Babbington Mary
06. Brace For The Night
07. Dead Man’s War
08. Falkirk
09. Thirty Years War
10. Echoes Of The Dead
11. The Executioner

LINE-UP:
Ronny Munroe – Vocals
David Mark Pearce – Guitars, bass
BJ Zampa – Drums 
Justin Zych – Guitar 
Oliver Wakeman – Keyboards

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.

Mad Symphony – Blood 2 Dust

Blood 2 Dust Album Cover Art

Mad Symphony – Blood 2 Dust
Self-Released
Release Date: 19/11/22
Running Time: 21:56
Review by Simon Black
10/10

Formed from the ashes of Grunge outfit Soulbender, Mad Symphony are firmly in the rising category of the New Wave of Classic Rock (another opportunity for us journo’s to prove that we really know our shit, with yet another easy-on-the-tongue acronym ‘NWOCR’). Mad Symphony also have a distinctly Progressive Rock edge that picks up exactly where the golden age of Rush from “2112” to “Moving Pictures” left off, although it all sounds thoroughly more modern than that, and a small amount of that deep and heavy Groove leftover from their previous act exuded in the mix is also helping, adding the kind of low-end rumble that makes my kidneys rattle and causes my kids to ask me to stop being so inconsiderate and please turn the fucking volume down. 

I think it’s fair to say that despite the short period of time that they’ve been around, I’ve become quite a fan of Vancouver’s Mad Symphony. This may be only their second EP, with the first crossing my desk last May, but it’s not often that a band ticks all my boxes in the way these guys did with that debut. So much so that it made its way to my top ten last year (and I normally exclude EP’s from that) and has been listened to a lot in the car ever since. A new act they may be, but old hands they also most definitely are, and my word does that experience show. This is far from being part of the retro wave of 80’s soundalikes littering up the Rock and Metal release schedules currently – you can hear the influences loud and proud, sure, but the direction of travel is firmly future focussed…

Last year’s “Mad Symphony EP” most definitely left me wanting more, so it is with great delight that this one also landed. Despite the disappointment that I am still going to have to wait for a full album from these chaps, I think it’s safe to say that the five new tracks we do get here today do not disappoint. If indeed they ever take that album route that is, as there’s a lot to be said for the more recent trend of acts producing only EP’s but with a much shorter gap between them than you would normally get in the traditional album cycle (and therefore ideal for people under 30 who seem incapable of staying still long enough to listen to a full album anymore). Little and often works as a strategy to build a band though, regardless of how attention deficit your audience may be…

The title track opens the piece, and from the get-go it’s clear that the tone of this EP is way more measured than the punch-the-air floor-filling catchiness of the debut, with some careful crafting and building of mood working brilliantly on this track and allows the listener to appreciate the sheer fluid progressive interplay between these six guys. I say six, because vocalist Kevin Wright adds perfectly to this. In this sort of music, the vocalist usually shuts up and goes for a nice long sit down and a cup of tea when the instrumental interplay interludes start at the half-way mark, but Wright adds his voice to this for the second half of the song. All the players are weaving nicely here, and the additional melody lines he includes make him feel as much an controlled improvisational instrument on the mix as any of the rest of the band. It’s very nicely done, and the subtleties of it grow with every listen.

‘I Can’t Remember Your Name’ is a moody post relationship ballad and takes the moodier turn a step further, and to be fair that slightly darker tone stays on throughout, and just when you think there’s another more upbeat moment coming, the EP beautifully twists you in the opposite direction. It’s a highly effective counterbalance to the original EP, and if the two sets of tracks were intermingled on one long play that difference would not be worth commenting on, but it allows us to explore another side to the band in sharp focus packaged this way, and one that works really well, as these songs build carefully and reward the repeat listener with the depth and subtlety of the song-writing that has gone into them. 

My personal favourites are the title track and the closer ‘Judgement Day’, but to be honest that’s a hard choice to make when the calibre remains as consistently high as it was the first time round. None of these songs outstay their welcome either, and all five tracks are delivered in a crisp twenty-one minutes of run time, and once again, I am frustrated as hell that five is my lot and left wanting more.  Focussed and punchy, but moody and mellifluous throughout, this is a more musically subtle and complex piece than its predecessor. “Always leave them wanting more” is the backbone of the entertainment industry, and Mad Symphony have hit it into the back of the net twice running. More please, chaps.

‘Do It All Over Again’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Blood 2 Dust
02. I Can’t Remember Your Name
03. Reality Check
04. Judgement Day
05. Truth In The Shadows

LINE-UP:
Kevin Wright – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Dave Groves – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Ted Tosoff – Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mike Russell – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Amrit Prasad – Bass
Wes Hallam – 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.

Leatherwolf – Kill The Hunted

Kill The Hunted Album Cover Art

Leatherwolf – Kill The Hunted
Rock Of Angels Records/ Soulfood Music
Release Date: 11/11/22
Running Time: 50:10
Review by Simon Black
6.5/10

Leatherwolf are one of those acts that I have found to be somewhat elusive over the decades, and chronically overlooked at the time of their inception. I first came across them in 1989 when backpacking around the USA and their “Street Ready” album was released. This was the first time I had really encountered the USA incarnation of Power Metal, and at the time their unique selling point came from what they cheesily referred to as the “Triple Axe Attack”, which genuinely appears to be the first time a Metal act had three full time guitarists in the mix. This meaning any layering you produce in the studio can be reproduced live in those pre-digital days, so if you thought that Iron Maiden came up with that idea when the invited Brice and Adrian back, then onto the naughty step with you…

This was quite an important step at the time really, as with three equally talented six stringers, the different styles and playing signature voices allowed for a broad range of tone and I dutifully carried back a now very well-worn vinyl copy of that record to dear old Blighty. I was quite surprised that no-one in Europe ever seemed to have heard of them when I got home though, and for years I have been trying to get hold of that record in digital format, which has proved as hard to find as rocking horse droppings unless you want to pay over the top import fees (although it has literally just been released on streaming platforms mere weeks ago). What also didn’t help was Grunge, which effectively wiped them out not long after “Street Ready” was released. They regrouped as Hail Mary, but that self-titled album only recently saw the light of day a couple of months back, and it wasn’t until 1999 that they were back under their original moniker. So, I have more than a small amount of curiosity about this one.

A lot has happened in the intervening years. There’s line-up changes, and there’s line-up changes, but this band clearly installed a revolving door in their rehearsal space a long time since. Only drummer Dean Roberts remains from the line-up I encountered all those years ago, and with the distinctive voice of Michael Olivieri having only recently vacated the post (albeit for the second time) I was fully expecting this to sound like band to sound nothing like what I had heard all those years ago. 

Well, they do and they don’t…

Let’s start with the vocals. New lungsman Keith Adamiak has all the advantage of youth, as well as being tonally not dissimilar from Oliveri, although I would argue he’s got a lot more rock’n’roll roughness to his tone, whilst still being able to hit the high notes bang to rights. This brings an edginess that lends the music the power and energy of that long ago time, without feeling over-polished and desperately trying to get commercial appeal (which “Street Ready” most definitely suffered from). It’s always a risk bringing an unknown young new player into an established brand, but this is one risk that has paid off, as his performance is powerful, charismatic and with enough energy to power the street in a blackout.

Musically it’s harder to pin down. 

Having not heard anything from their output in the intervening years, it’s difficult to track the evolution. That said, stylistically this is absolutely coming from the same place as that early material, with fast paced Power Metal being absolutely the order of the day. That said the kind of triple-layered harmonies that grabbed my attention way back when are not that prevalent. The production seems to be a bit fragmented too, with the music generally benefitting from a rounded mix, but the vocals sometimes sound like they’ve been added in with a different hand at the mixer, and can sound a little crisp and trebly compared to the instrumentals, but that’s a minor niggle as it actually helps bring Adamiak to the fore although the fact that this mix can change so much from track to track gets annoying after a while.

What it’s lacking though is the catchiness of the past, and that’s down to some quite by the numbers song writing in places. Opener ‘Hit The Dirt’ and the title track deliver the goods well enough, and the more epic and richly rounded ‘The Henchman’ is spot on and definitely a nod to the past with that distinctive instrumental interplay front and centre, but tracks like ‘Madhouse’ and ‘Medusa’ feel like the kind of padding that should never have made it beyond the pre-production stage. Overall, the record feels a little rushed and patchy, with that sound inconsistency proving to be a real bugbear as time wears on.

But this to all intents and purposes is a new act, with an old name, and one that is clearly not done gelling with the current line-up. When it’s on form, it delivers superbly, but that stylistic and recording inconsistency makes me feel that a punchier EP of the best tracks would have been a better step until that process has completed.

‘Kill The Hunted’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Hit the Dirt 
02. Nobody 
03. Kill the Hunted 
04. Only the Wicked 
05. Madhouse 
06. Medusa 
07. The Henchman 
08. (Evil) Empires Fall 
09. Road Rage 
10. Lights Out Agan 
11. Enslaved 

LINE-UP:
Barry Sparks – Bass
Dean Roberts – Drums
Rob Math – Guitars
Luke Man – Guitars
Keith Adamiak – Vocals
Wayne Findlay – Keyboards / 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.

Hedra – The Pecking Order

The Pecking Order Album Cover Art

Hedra – The Pecking Order
Devils Clause Records
Release Date: 11/11/22
Running Time: 29:38
Review by Simon Black
8/10

The big problem I have with a lot of Progressive Metal music is that the Progressive elements more often than not dominate over the Metal ones. It’s a fine line to draw to be fair, so razor thin are the boundaries between the different sub-genres that you can quickly cross the line into something else just be tuning the balance between the elements even just a little. Prog Metal bands often have another challenge as well, and that’s one caused by spending too long in the studio polishing the material and not enough out in the field working out which aspects work best with an audience. Well, the signs are promising here, as despite starting off as a studio project and only releasing a few singles so far, Hedra have put the road miles in of late and are starting to take off. Well, I hope they are…

The first thing to strike the listener is that this is absolutely a very Metal act. Hard, heavy, down and dirty, this is Prog Metal from the Mastodon school of excellence, although I can tell there’s some serious Tool worship going on the mix too. Wisely they keep the songs accessible, catchy and Metal for the brutal pounding opener ‘Jackdaw’, which delivered such a deep and bassy rumble that I needed to adjust the EQ before my kidneys vibrated themselves into renal catatonia. Add to this some pounding layered instrumental and drum parts, haunting vocal lines and Progressive cleverness that takes a few listens to spot and then appreciate, this is a band heading in a very positive direction. When the Prog elements are the extra icing on the cake on top of a well-crafted and catchy song, you know they’ve got that elusive balance right.

‘Stolen’ adds some more atmospheric layering with its catchy power arpeggios and weaving guitar parts, proving that sometimes being Progressive can be delivered highly effectively without the need for a keyboard player, and that gentlebeings is how you keep your Prog most definitely very fucking Metal. ‘Suchi’ if anything is even heavier, with a nice Grungey feel to it that evoked Alice In Chains fabulous “Dirt” opus, but it’s also the point where the pace slows down and lets the Prog elements step forward a little, but not at the expense of the overall catchiness, because that chorus melody line is one hell of an ear worm, and despite being the longest song on here, doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This vein continues throughout the mini-EP, but with the more technical Prog songs coming later as the listener has been hooked in, which is a nice strategy and one that with sadly only six tracks to listen to definitely leaves one wanting more. That said, the three heavier songs at the front definitely hit the back of the net and bode well for the future.

‘Stormclouds’ Official Animated Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Jackdaw
02. Stolen
03. Suchi
04. Avismogi
05. Storm Clouds
06. Head Held High (demo)

LINE-UP:
Jim Marten – Vocals
Kamil Korsak – Guitar
Zoran Gyenis – Guitar
Lukas “Kozi” Mozdzenski – Bass
James Redden – 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.

Blakk Ledd – Heavy Metal Fans

Heavy Metal Fans Album Cover Art

Blakk Ledd – Heavy Metal Fans
Melodic Passion
Release Date: 11/11/22
Running Time: 52:35
Review by Simon Black
7.5/10

When this record from the Swedish Metal act landed, I at first thought I may have missed something from the NWOBHM influenced USA Metal of the mid 80’s, but no this is very new material from a relatively recently founded band. That was the first surprise. The second one was that this sounds like a young bunch of fiery millennials who’ve discovered their parents’ vinyl collections and run with it (like Reckless Love for example), but the press pack reveals a very grizzled middle-aged bunch of chaps, who don’t look very Metal at all, but my word they certainly have that sound nailed and have clearly owned all the right records for many decades..

Now those that read my drivelling regularly will know that I blow hot and cold when it comes to this retro-fad let’s re-create the 80’s approach, particularly when bands waste inordinate amounts of effort recreating analogue sounds on digital equipment (missing the point that it was the frenetic pace of delivery on kit that was available that led to that sound, and if they liked it so much then said bands would have not spent the intervening decades desperately remastering to the latest tech whenever they got the chance). Blakk Ledd seem to get this absolutely and although it’s definitely a no frills recording, the score to the back of the net comes from the fact they play with the energy and enthusiasm of the 80’s and that they have taken their influences directly from the early days of both USA and Euro metal stalwarts like Accept, Dokken and Judas Priest circa “Screaming For Vengeance”. 

I say “no frills” and by that I mean it’s not over-produced (and we forget much of that era was – which is a nightmare when someone does want to remaster anything from the 80’s). They have however, captured the individual players clearly and succinctly and the sound matches what they are trying to achieve, although I did have to take down the higher midrange to brilliance ends of the EQ so that it didn’t feel too sharp on the old lugholes and bump up the bass a little, but that roughness actually helps, because it brings with it bucket loads of energy.

Vocalist Christer Elmgren in particular does not sound like a man with an ageing voice box and has the kind of power and range on him that all of the singers on that roster of influences would love to still be able to hit so effortlessly as he seems to. I’m equally impressed with the guitar work of Tommie “Dawson” Karlsson, who proves as many of the greats did that although two guitarists gave you harmonies and the ability to weightily deliver rhythm and lead breaks in parallel, but that actually having just one really great guitarist can be more than enough.

With lyrics that scream their love for this kind of old school metal loud and proud, and some quite well-structured tunes with absolutely no fat to trim, Blakk Ledd were an unexpectedly pleasant surprise, and proof that you really are as young or old as you decide you want to be. 

‘Heavy Metal Fans’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Heavy Metal Fans
02. Cold Trash Coming
03. Bad Sign
04. Ignite Your Life
05. Hold Your Ground
06. Burning Fever
07. Running In The Night
08. Liar
09. Pitch Black Hole
10. Take ‘Em Down

LINE-UP:
Anders Andersson – Bass
Peter Svensson – Drums
Tommie “Dawson” Karlsson – Guitars
Christer Elmgren – Vocals

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.

Chaos Over Cosmos – A Dream If Ever There Was One

A Dream If Ever There Was One Album Cover Art

Chaos Over Cosmos – A Dream If Ever There Was One
Self-Released
Release Date: 09/11/22
Running Time: 40:01
Review by Simon Black
10/10

You know this reviewing lark is a funny old game. 

Now that these days I have some editorial duties on this site alongside the reviewing work, I am continually amazed by the sheer volume and variety of work we get submitted for review. There are literally 2-300 new albums or EP’s sent every month, not to mention an insane number of singles which we haven’t got the bandwidth to even start to look at. Sadly, we can only ever review a fraction of what is submitted, as no matter how many of us contribute, the more seems to come in as the site grows. And whilst this occasionally leads to an undignified scramble as we journalists fight over the chance to be the first to review something from one of the more established acts, it’s worth remembering that the reason I started writing again after a twenty-year break was so I could find brand new bands to listen to. In fact supporting the underground, so that act has a chance of getting off the starting blocks amongst the myriad of contenders is sort of the whole reason that this site exists…

Chaos Over Cosmos first came across my radar not long after I started writing again in 2020 and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing their work ever since. It’s fascinating to watch them evolve and grow. I say “them”, as the band revolves around the incredibly musically gifted Rafal Bowman, who basically does all the instrumental work from somewhere in Poland, supported by a revolving door of vocalists over the years from Spain, Australia and most recently the United States – none of whom he has actually met in the flesh. 

2020’s “The Ultimate Multiverse” was a compilation of an earlier album and two EP’s, hence its eclecticism, but it was enough to hook me in, because against all the odds I was blown away. 2021’s “The Silver Lining Between Stars” beat the odds again the following year, making it twice in a row a band got a 9 out of 10 from me. 

Why against the odds? Well for a start, that scoring for two albums on the trot is rare for me – and indeed for most reviewers, as frankly most bands struggle to retain that level of quality over time. Added to that I am not a young chap, and as an old fart whose musical tastes crystallised in my teens in the mid 80’s I do tend to lean more towards the clean vocal end of the Metal spectrum and less of the Extreme side – particularly vocally. So how has a Progressive Technical Melodeath with Metalcore tropes studio project consistently managed to pull in top scores from me for the last three years when this is not material I would normally approach?

Simple. It’s so far and very consistently been fucking excellently well-crafted and delivered.

I guess the key hook for me was the Progressive one. As someone with a classical music background, I have always been drawn to artists that demonstrate sheer technical delivery and musical ability. That said, if these virtuous tendencies are unrestrained without putting the listener rather than the player first, then sitting in awe of the clever playing rapidly gets old, unless there is some really strong song-writing, musical structure, catchiness and accessibility in the delivery balanced evenly within that mix. And that’s why these chaps have managed the unheard of, and hit the high scores again three times running now, because all of those elements are balanced well across the six songs in this latest album. Although four of the tracks are really meaty in terms of runtime as Prog is want, they don’t outstay their welcome either, which is really refreshing – as indeed does the album as a whole.

What’s also really helping is the fact that most recent vocalist KC Lyon is now on his second outing for the band. That continuity for more than just one release has gone a long way to help maintain the consistency of delivery quality since this time last year, as it’s clear these guys have a great rapport and share the song-writing between them, rather than KC just being given a lyric sheet, a mike and a deadline. That’s where my favourite part of this lark kicks in – watching an act grow, develop and flower.

Additionally, this time round, there are some guest vocals on ‘Navigating by Moonlight’ that add a nice balance to KC’s Melodeath screams that allow a real sense of range to open up, and something perhaps to encourage more of in the future. The sound has evolved musically as well. Although Bowman remains one of the most accomplished shredders I’ve heard in years, can write drum programs that would cause Spinal Tap-esque spontaneous human combustion if a real human being ever tried to play them live, but this time he’s also added an additional synth layer in there that allows for the kind of layered harmonies and sparring interplay that makes bands like Dream Theater so enjoyable to watch.

And “watch” is probably the word I would throw in like the veritable Holy Hand Grenade, as this act has been going as a virtual thing since long before Covid made everyone else soundproof their linen cupboards and learned to home record. Adding more players adds more depth – and it would be absolutely fantastic if this act could take the next step and allow us to see them in the flesh. Impossible? Well Devin Townsend pulled it off in lockdown with a supporting band that also had never met and Chaos Over Cosmos absolutely nailed remote recording before anyone else had to, so here’s hoping.

In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to give them a go. Can a band really get a run of three 9/10 scores from me back-to-back. Clearly not, because this one deserved the full ten.

TRACKLISTING:
01. Continuum
02. Fire-eater
03. Navigating by Moonlight
04. A Mantra of Oppression
05. Ebb and Flow[ers]
06. Melatonin

LINE-UP:
KC Lyon – Vocals, Lyrics, Songwriting
Rafal Bowman – Guitars, Synths, Drum Programming, Songwriting
Keaton Lyon – Guest Vocals In ‘Navigating By Moonlight’

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.

Ross Harding – Chapter II EP

Chapter II Album Cover Art

Ross Harding – Chapter II EP
Mongrel Records
Release Date: 11/04/22
Running Time: 21:45
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Good old-fashioned, Blues-based Rock is very much out of vogue at the moment. This pisses me off no end, because the fact is every splintered sub-genre across the Rock and Metal pantheons owes a very strong debt to this influential music through which Elvis Presley crossed the racial lines of post-depression America’s darkly racist South and out into the big wide world. Without it we would have no Rock, Metal or the million genre splinters thereafter. And to be fair, it was first coming across Blues and Soul music via an unlikely exposure to The Blues Brothers movie in the early 80’s that opened my ears and mind, sent me diving into vinyl second-hand shops with a vengeance and started a long musical journey that brought me to the point where I am sitting writing this all these years later. These days here in the UK, Blues seems relegated to a niché pub-jam environment catering mostly to an older audience, which is a damn shame, as for me it’s just as relevant, influential and moving as it ever was when it’s done right. You certainly would not have had Grunge in the 90’s either, as that brought a lot of the Blues sentiments after Rock and Metal had almost over-polished themselves out of existence in the late 80’s, and with it a more down to earth, accessible and soulful way of expressing yourself through music heavy enough to rattle internal organs.

Enter Ross Harding, who hails from Johannesburg in South Africa and is living proof that this is far from just being music for old men in pubs in the UK (he’s half my age), with this five track EP being the second he has released this year. Musically the Blues vein runs deep, but that’s in equal proportion to a soulful Hard Rock vibe, and enough of a dollop of that honest Grunge-ethos and down-tuning to appeal to the heavier end of the spectrum. For a man writing, playing and singing everything himself this actually has a surprisingly tight and cohesive groove, and I was slightly surprised to find this was not in fact a full band. 

These five tracks have a remarkable dark and moving depth to them, an experience that starts with his cracked, soulful and incredibly emotive voice which has a surprising turn of range to it. Add to that a remarkably heavy edge to the music, especially opener ‘Black Sun Blues’ which really evoked “Superunknown” era Soundgarden in terms of mood, tone and vocal timbre (he’s a dead ringer for Cornell as well). Musically this is underpinned perfectly, with bass work so deep, vibratory and heavy that my teenage daughter asked me to turn it down please. He’s also a rather talented guitarist, of the kind where controlled precise flow of sound carries you along the emotional path in a way that blistering shredding never will. One note held well can move hearts and mountains, as any Pink Floyd fan will tell you, and tracks like ‘Love And Time’ illustrates this perfectly. 

With a crisp and clear production, the subtleties of guitar and vocals are beautifully balanced and the songs just flow leaving you wanting more. Sometimes you just need to go back to your musical roots, and it’s rather fantastic that it’s taken a gentleman half my age to remind me of that fact.

‘Rest’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Black Sun Blues
02. Blood And Bones
03. Love And Time
04. Fire Away
05. Let It Go II (Return)

LINE-UP:
Ross – Harding – All Instruments

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.

Joe Lynn Turner – Belly Of The Beast

Belly Of The Beast Album Cover Art

Joe Lynn Turner – Belly Of The Beast
Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group
Release Date: 28/10/22
Running Time: 50:11
Review by Simon Black
10/10

Joe Lynn Turner is, like fellow under-rated lungs man Graham Bonnett, a man known first and foremost for his contribution to the revolving door that was 70’s and 80’s supergroup Rainbow, which made everyone passing by the mike stand into a global name no matter how brief their stint behind that mighty stand (although to be fair he lasted as long as Dio did and was there for their biggest chart success in ‘I Surrender’). Both though, have suffered from the millstone that was success with that act and the fact that it eclipsed anything else either of them did before or after. 

To be fair the last time Turner crossed my radar was during his stint with Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force – a match apparently made at label Polydor’s suggestion and not one driven by any love between the two. My overarching memory I have from a live show from the “Odyssey” tour at the fag end of the 80’s was Turner came across as immensely frustrated on stage, whilst singing his heart out and trying to act like a professional whilst a petulant Malmsteen hogged the limelight. Expecting to be given a bit more of an equal billing given his pedigree, he found himself constantly pushed to the edge of Rock City in Nottingham’s tiny stage by Malmsteen’s ego and theatrics, lest he end up losing an eye to a machine head. Or indeed a hair piece as it turned out… 

Although to be fair, at that point I have to confess to being more interested in watching the interplay between Malmsteen and the utterly fantastic Jens Johansson in their heyday (not to mention an unknown support band from Newcastle called The Quireboys who blew all of them offstage), but Turner was top notch live and at the time it was the stimulus to go and listen more to his period with Blackmore, which had largely passed me by at that time rather than anything by Malmsteen.

So, sorry Joe, but I’ve had some catching up to do, and I suspect a few of you may too. So, you may well have noticed from the header of this page that I have chosen to give this release one of my scarce and precious top dollar scores – something I don’t do often, and with good reason. He’s been releasing solo material for a while, and a quick spin through the back catalogue indicates exactly what you would expect, but why is this is special enough to deserve that score?

For a start, this sounds deeper, darker and heavier than anything I have heard Joe Lynn Turner put his name to before. The reason for that, and the lynchpin of this release, is that it’s a collaboration with the versatile Swedish multi-instrumentalist and producer Peter Tägtgren (best known for his contributions to Death Metal act Hypocrisy, Industrial act Pain and the other founding half of what Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann does when he’s bored). In many ways this is more of a supergroup project than a Turner solo album when you look at everyone the pair of them have worked with between them, but I don’t care how they market it, because it’s a fantastic piece of music from start to finish.

It is perhaps apt that at this point in his career, Turner has chosen to ditch the trademark coiffured barnet wig and embrace the reality of his bold, brave and beautifully bald bonce. And all power to him for doing so. What I had not appreciated until this point, was that actually he has been suffering with alopecia all the way through his life and career, and not felt confident enough to be himself until now. 

Good for you mate. And do you know what? This album feels like a celebration of that self-worth.

Like I said, it’s not what you expect and therefore unlike anything else in his back catalogue. It feels like this collaboration has unleashed a deep, dark and rich vein of profoundly raw, personal emotion and damned fine song-writing that has lain untapped for too long, for fear that it goes against the establish JLT brand and sound. Well, it’s never too late to realise your true potential, and this album most spectacularly does that.

Musically the influence of Tägtgren hits you in the face from the get-go, fusing uniquely the kind of Hard Rock arrangements and riffage with a dark, down-tuned and dirty Industrial flavour that punches you round the head with a couple of dirty gold bricks exactly the same way the best of Nine Inch Nails or Killing Joke do when their on top of their game. That means catchy hooks and arrangements, in a dark and brutal oily Industrial sauce, whilst still sounding like a Hard Rock / Melodic Metal album. That massive contradiction is no mean feat to pull off, creating darkness and depth whilst still retaining poignant Melodic catchiness on each and every song.

And then there’s Joe’s performance itself. 

Like the music, he has taken a gruffer and rougher style of delivery, whilst losing not one iota of his significant vocal range. Yes, the clean notes scale beautifully high and melodically, but there’s a rough ‘n’ roll gruffness to the delivery that comes completely from left field, fits the musical tone like a hand in a dirty leather studded glove and punches you on the chops when you least expect it. From the dark and brutal opening title track, a song born out of the feelings of fear and apocalyptic gloom the pandemic brought, this album does not let up for the whole of its 50 minutes. Even the more slow and moody closer ‘Requiem’ packs a punch, despite being possibly the weakest song on here, but you neither notice or care by this point because this absolutely does not feel like it’s coming from a man who has clocked up a whopping total of 40 album releases up to this point. 

What it is a deep, dark and utterly wonderful rebirth of a man who has been overlooked for far too long. Now please get out on the road soon and prove it to us. So, do I regret my ten out of ten score? Yes, I do, and that’s only because I cannot turn it up to 11…

‘Belly Of The Beast’ Official Lyric Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. Belly of the Beast
02. Black Sun
03. Tortured Soul
04. Rise Up
05. Dark Night of the Soul
06. Tears of Blood
07. Desire
08. Don’t Fear the Dark
09. Fallen World
10. Living the Dream
11. Requiem

LINE-UP:
Joe Lynn Turner – Vocals
Peter Tägtgren – Guitars, Bass & Programming
Sebastian Tägtgren – Drums
Love Magnusson – Guitar solos

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.