Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Lazarus A.D., "The Onslaught"

Having grown up on the first wave of thrash in the 1980s, I've been largely underwhelmed by the offerings from the new thrash movement. In general, they get the speed and technicality right, but they miss those pesky little things like melody, hooks and originality. Enter Lazarus A.D. and the remixed and remastered version of their independent 2007 release "The Onslaught," which serves as their introduction on Metal Blade Records.

This is one of the few records from the neo-thrash movement that will likely stay in my collection. You'll note the difference from the very beginning of the record with the catchy guitar riff that opens "Last Breath." Here's a band that truly learned something from the best that the thrash genre has to offer. You'll notice the slower more pronounced riffage of a band like Metallica in the early going before it morphs into something more in line with Exodus. Fast and heavy, it definitely is, but like the bands of the 1980s, you can also hum the song from start to finish and it will stick with you. Likewise with the infectious main riff of the first single "Thou Shalt Not Fear," which features even more Exodus influence -- oddly the more recent version of the band with Rob Dukes on vocals.

Lazarus A.D. is certainly not averse to the speed side of the equation, as you'll hear on the pounding opening of "Damnation for the Weak" or the second riff of "Forged in Blood," but it's never speed for speed's sake. Even at their fastest, the songs remain memorable and make an impact on the listener. Speed serves the song, not the other way around.

As noted above, the primary influence here is Exodus, and those moments provide some of the high points of the record, like the catchy verse melody of "Who I Really Am." But there are plenty of nods to the other titans of the genre. You'll find some chunky Metallica-style riffs on songs like "Absolute Power," sprinklings of Slayer as in the "Reign in Blood"-ish opening of Rebirth, a little Anthrax-style riffing on "Revolution" and some Dave Mustaine-like lead breaks sprinkled throughout. All in all, it's a nice mix of styles that offers moments of recognition, but never sounds copycat.

Bassist/vocalist Jeff Paulick has a nice thrash voice, somewhere between growling and singing. Thrash vocalists are often overlooked with the instruments being the focal point of the music, but that balance is a hard one to achieve and many singers over the years have come off sounding goofy in trying to pull it off. Musically, Lazarus A.D. delivers exactly what good thrash should. The guitar work of Dan Gapen and Alex Lackner is top-notch and drummer Ryan Shutler provides a solid backbone for their crunching riffs and soaring leads.

It will be interesting to see where they go from here. They've already put themselves at the forefront of the movement because "The Onslaught" absolutely shreds anything released by most of their neo-thrash brethren.

Get "The Onslaught."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Devil's Whorehouse, "Blood & Ashes"

If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then Glenn Danzig has to feel pretty good about this project from Morgan of Marduk and a few unknown guys. The band began in 2000 as a Misfits/Samhain cover act and has apparently released a handful of records and EPs over the years, which I somehow missed.

Basically, they’re still playing Misfits/Samhain covers. The 11 tracks on this album pretty much run the gamut from the energetic punk of the Misfits to the more bluesy sounds of Danzig and all points in between. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, there are quite a few entertaining numbers here for fans of the various incarnations of Danzig, but don’t go into this looking for something original.

The record starts off strong with a blast of Misfits on “Oceans Turn to Blood.” Two tracks later, it moves into doomier territory with “Speak the Name of the Dead,” which has the feel of some of Danzig’s more recent material. The brief, dark chanting style of “Cult of Death” provides a kind of interesting interlude to the all-out horror-punk of “Werewolf.” Full Samhain mode comes in with the less melodic turn on “Demons of the Flesh/Tight White Ropes” and “Face the Master,” but the band really shines on the darker more melodic numbers that closer to Danzig. “Shadows Never Change” is one of the better offerings in that vein, though it does show some of the vocal shortcomings of Maelstrom, who can’t quite get the deep, resonant Danzig tones. “Snakes Out the Mouth of Hell” is also memorable, recalling quieter Danzig numbers like “How the Gods Kill.”

Ultimately, Blood & Ashes is what it is — a group of guys who love the Misfits, Samhain and Danzig paying tribute to those bands. They do it well. Maelstrom has a passable Danzig impression, though at times it falters, and the rest of the band provides chops that wouldn’t be out of place on record by the aforementioned bands. It’s low on originality, high on energy and probably worth a listen for fans of the various faces of Danzig.

Get "Blood & Ashes."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Hammerfall, "No Sacrifice, No Victory"

I have a bit of a like/dislike relationship with power/traditional metallers Hammerfall. At times I've quite enjoyed their music, at other times, I've panned them as Manowar wannabes. Their latest, "No Sacrifice, No Victory," though, happens to strike me the right way.

It starts out with the catchy "By Any Means Necessary" that sets the tone for the record. Sure, the gang vocals on the chorus are probably a little over the top, but that's the genre you're dealing with. You've got to expect a little cheese from even the best that power metal has to offer. One thing that this record offers up is a more hard rock-influenced sound than some of their past work. That's evident on the second track, "Life is Now," which after a Maidenesque opening riff, pulls a lot of influence from 1970s and early 1980s arena rock. The other thing that recommends this record are the big NWOBHM-style guitar riffs, like the one on "Punish and Enslave." It's undisguised and unabashed early 1980s songwriting, and it takes me on a welcome trip down memory lane -- despite the strange groaning vocals on the chorus.

Of course, there is a cheese and corniness factor that kicks in particularly hard on the demonic, distorted spoken word intro to "Legion," an otherwise rock-solid high-speed power metal number. The rest of the song makes it forgivable, unlike the band's cover of "My Sharona" that closes the record. It's a pretty straight-forward version of the song that, aside from some slightly more distorted guitars, could probably be mistaken for the original. It's a definite scratch your head and reach for the skip button moment, but it's the only real one on the record and it's more of a throw-away track stuck at the end.

Surprisingly, considering my general dislike of ballads, one of the best moments here is the soft "Between Two Worlds," which opens with a dark organ intro and continues with an acoustic riff and a focus on Joacim Cans' vocals, and only a brief harder moment with the guitar solo. The band comes back with another huge riff and a memorable chorus on "Hallowed Be My Name." (Not, of course, to be confused with Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name.") We get another rollicking power metal number in "Something for the Ages," another 1980s influenced hard rocker with the title track and a nice grooving heavy riff on "Bring the Hammer Down."

The guitar work from Oscar Dronjak and newcomer Pontus Norgren takes center stage here, and it's really those big riffs that make the record. Vocalist Cans is on target, though he occasionally gives in to some of the cliches of the genre, and the rhythm work of drummer Anders Johansson and returning bassist Fredrik Larsson is solid.

In all, "No Sacrifice, No Victory" is a catchy, enjoyable blend of hard rock and traditional metal. While it's not likely to make my year-end list, I can definitely enjoy it while it's playing.

Get "No Sacrifice, No Victory."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

News: Second trailer for Amorphis' 'Skyforger' posted

The second video trailer for "Skyforger", the new album from Finnish metallers Amorphis, which is scheduled for release on May 29 (Europe) and June 16 (North America) via Nuclear Blast Records (May 27 in Finland), can be viewed here .

The follow-up to the "Eclipse" and "Silent Waters" LPs, both of which were certified gold in the band's native Finland, was recorded at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki.
The track listing for the CD is as follows:

01. Sampo

02. Silver Bride

03. From The Heaven Of My Heart

04. Sky Is Mine

05. Majestic Beast

06. My Sun

07. Highest Star

08. Skyforger

09. Course Of Fate

10. From Earth I Rose

11. Godlike Machine (US bonus track)

"Silver Bride", the new video from AMORPHIS, can be viewed at under the “video” section.

Commented guitarist Esa Holopainen: "Director Owe Lingvall did a great job with 'Silver Bride'. We are very happy how the video came out and it really serves the song."

The "Silver Bride" single recently topped the national chart in the band's home country of Finland.

Friday, May 15, 2009

News: Warbringer debuts new video

The new Warbringer album, Waking Into Nightmares, is set for a May 19 release, and the group recently completed a new video for the track, “Severed Reality,” which was shot by David Brodsky (Black Dahlia Murder, GWAR). This is a frenetic, performance based clip that perfectly captures the band’s live stage show. The video can now be viewed exclusively at

John Kevill (vocals) comments: “The video for ‘Severed Reality’ got done in the middle of a tour, and it was done mostly live at the venue we were playing at that night in Milwaukee. We did a couple shots on the stage before anyone showed up, and then just shot the whole show for the video. As it turns out the show was fucking insane, we couldn't even fit all the stage divers in the video! David Brodsky went to put the whole thing together and it came out great, I think it is the strongest video we have had so far.”

Courtesy: Century Media Records

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Candlemass, "Death Magic Doom"

Candlemass impressed me with its last release, "King of the Grey Islands," the first with vocalist Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus. It ended up high on my top 10 list of 2007, so I was naturally looking forward to their new release, "Death, Magic, Doom." It doesn't disappoint.

If you're familiar with Candlemass, you won't find much surprising here. The record opens with one of its strongest performances, "If I Ever Die," an uptempo number with a memorable hook. Like a couple of numbers on "King of the Grey Islands" it showcases Lowe's vocals in a blend of traditional and near-power metal. From there, the record settles back into the heavily Sabbath-influenced doom and gloom riffs that fans expect. "Hammer of Doom," at times, echoes "Black Sabbath" with it's slow, bell-like guitar riff and "Demon of the Deep" offers up a slab of a riff that Tony Iommi himself would be proud of.

As on the last record, the band manages to find a nice middle ground. There are the heavy, plodding numbers like "Hammer of Doom" and "Clouds of Dementia," with some faster, more power metal-tinged numbers mixed in. I find myself being drawn more to the faster numbers, which seem to offer a little more originality. "Dead Angel" opens with an almost thrash riff before settling into an exotic hook that's one of the better moments on the record. Likewise, album closer "My Funeral Dreams" impresses with a dark opening that provides one of Lowe's best vocal moments before opening up into a really good grooving melody. "The Bleeding Baroness," in its faster moments, offers a melodic nod to Mercyful Fate that's also most welcome.

Guitarists Mats Bjorkman and Lars Johansson provide their usual workman-like performances, offering up huge, heavy riffs and some interesting leads. While some long-time fans may still be disappointed at the departure of singer Messiah Marcolin, to my ears, Lowe remains the best vocalist the band has ever had. He manages the sinister tones of Marcolin without the camp. While the vocal melodies do, at times, become slightly similar sounding, especially on the slower passages, there are some truly shining moments that should impress even the most hardcore Marcolin fan.

The record does suffer from a slight case of bad timing, however, coming so near the release of the new record from Heaven and Hell (the all-time ultimate purveyors of doom), but it manages to hold its own. I'm not sure that its as energetic as "King of the Grey Islands," and long-time fans, of course, will bemoan the fact that it's not as powerful as the band's iconic records from the late 1980s, but it's a solid addition to the Candlemass catalog. The comeback that started with the self-titled record in 2005 is still going strong.

Get "Death Magic Doom."

Friday, May 8, 2009

News: Machines of Grace to release debut album this summer

Meet Machines of Grace. They are the latest among the hard rock/heavy metal bands born from Boston's thriving music scene. As with their Beantown bred forefathers, (Aerosmith, Extreme, Godsmack, Dropkick Murphys) Zak Stevens (lead vocals), Jeff Plate (drums), Matt Leff (guitar) and Chris Rapoza (bass) have concocted their own proprietary formula for whiplash on a disc.

"It's just a pure, solid melodic rock sound," said Stevens. "It has infectious grooves and its own brand of outright power. To me, it's got great songwriting with a hard rock edge and strong commercial appeal."

Drummer Jeff Plate (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, Metal Church) and singer Zak Stevens (Circle II Circle, Savatage) bring the resume to help launch the band. Leff and Stevens have a lengthy history, spanning back to their days as protégés at GIT/VIT respectively. Their first band, Wickedwitch, also introduced the talents of drummer Jeff Plate, who clinched the line-up and formed the backbone of today's brainchild: Machines of Grace.

During a considerable hiatus after the demise of the Wickedwitch project, Zak Stevens had gone on to front Savatage (and more recently, Circle II Circle), and later recruited Jeff Plate, who performs regularly with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Metal Church. Meanwhile, Matt Leff had formed Trigger Effect, and with bassist Chris Rapoza, had toured as an opening act for Iron Maiden, Queensryche and Rob Halford.

A Wickedwitch fan suggested that the founding members revise, rethink, record and release the original material, and voila - Machines of Grace was conceived.

"I'd say we're a mix of melodic metal, hard rock, modern rock and acoustic rock," explains guitarist Matt Leff. "The current rock climate is calling for modern production, strong vocal melodies and memorable songs from guys that can really play. I think we fit that description."

Bassist Chris Rapoza agrees: "The CD has an amazing vibe that just flows really well and makes you want to listen to it all the way through. To me, song writing and recording with that same quality always makes for the best type of album."

Jeff Plate tops off the sentiment: "The music is metal, but not thrash. Rock, but not pop. We could be compared to a number of different bands, and each song will give you a different impression, but in the end the sound is distinctly Machines of Grace."

That sound is likewise attributed to the talents of veteran mixologist Paul David Hager. Credited with engineering, mixing and producing studio work by acts such as The Goo Goo Dolls, Avril Lavigne, Pink and Tracy Bonham, Hager brings to the table a record destined for the spotlight, and plenty of industry accolades.

Look for the debut, self-tilted Machines of Grace CD this summer.

Courtesy: Chipster PR

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Interview: John Cooper of Skillet

After 12 years of work, the members of Skillet may have been wondering if they had the right recipe when they released "Comatose" in 2006. Little did they know that record would turn up the heat and, three years later, they’d still be riding the wave.

"You just never know," said singer and bassist John Cooper. "We’re thrilled about it. It has been sort of unexpected because we’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve done six studio records and spent 12 years on the road. In some ways, you never think you’re going to have a big break after 12 years."

But "Comatose" gave them that break. The record is approaching gold, produced five back-to-back No. 1 Christian rock hits, earned them the 2008 GMA Dove Award for Rock Song of the Year and gave them their first Grammy nomination. In 2008, the tour for the record spawned a live album and DVD, "Comatose Comes Alive."

"Our fans had been bugging us for years to do a live project," Cooper said. "We thought it would be really cool, but I wanted to make sure it was going to be done well. It had come up once or twice before, but I never felt like we had the budget to do it. Then, the label said, ‘we’re going to do a live DVD next week.’"

Given only a short time to prepare for the shoot, Cooper is still quite happy with the way it turned out.

"We were already on tour, so we didn’t have to do anything special," he said. "We got really talented people to work on it, and I’m very pleased."

Skillet just wrapped production on the follow-up to "Comatose." Titled "Awake," Cooper expects it to hit shelves in August. He knows the expectations that may be placed on the record, and he felt that pressure writing it.

"There was pressure like I’ve never experienced before in my life," Cooper said. "Every time you do a record, there’s pressure because you want to outdo the last record. This time it was intensified because the last project was so successful."

Cooper wrote more than 40 songs for the album before whittling it down, and said that, while it has a lot of similarities to "Comatose," it won’t be a remake of that record.

"It has songs that I call the ‘Skillet sound’ -- with strings and hard guitars, but we did try a few new things," Cooper said. "Overall it has a bit more of a hard rock sound to it. It’s not a departure by any means, but we put a few new twists in there."

Fans are already getting a chance to hear some of the new material on the current tour, and they’re already singing along thanks to the power of the Internet.

"The first night we ever played the new songs, they were on YouTube with fans already watching them and commenting on them," Cooper said with a laugh. "It was amazing. It was a shock to me."

While Cooper admits the Web does have its down side when it comes to illegal downloads, he also embraces the interaction with fans.

"You have a new record coming out, and fans are watching and waiting to see what’s going to happen," he said. "You can do a lot of grass roots promotion, and you’re not so disconnected from your fans."

Cooper’s also pleased with the package on this tour, which includes long-time friends Decyfer Down and one of Cooper’s favorite Christian rock acts, Disciple. Cooper thinks fans will be entertained, and he hopes they leave with a message.

"My philosophy is let’s get in and have the biggest, most exciting rock show we can have and have a positive influence on people," he said. "We’d like for everyone to leave feeling hopeful. We want you to leave having a good time, having a reason to live, and if you don’t feel like you have a reason to live, we want you to know that we believe Jesus is the answer. He’s there for you, and He loves you the way you are."

Monday, May 4, 2009

News: Testament fans call the shots on new U.S. tour

Testament is offering fans the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to choose what songs they would like to hear during the band’s upcoming North American headlining tour! The poll is being conducted on the band’s official MySpace page.

There are three set lists fans can vote on:

Set A – The Legacy full album + ‘Best Of’
Set B – The New Order full album + ‘Best Of’
Set C - The Persecuted Won’t Forget, Practice What You Preach, Into the Pit, Dog Faced Gods, Raging Waters, More Than Meets The Eye, Demonic, True Believer, The Legacy, Over the Wall, The New Order, Souls of Black, First Strike Is Deadly, Disciples of the Watch, D.N.R., Three Days in Darkness, The Formation of Damnation

Singer Chuck Billy commented on the MySpace/set list poll: “Dudes, we have something SICK planned for you…we know times are tough, and it is hard to get out there and spend the money on a ticket, so we are making this tour YOURS. It is your choice what we play. Check out the BRAND NEW contest live on our MySpace and VOTE on 3 set lists to determine our musical fate for the evening. We promise which ever set wins, we will get out on stage every night and kick your motha-f*@king ass...Also, for the first time EVER we have VIP packages for sale. Not only does the VIP package include a ticket to the show but... hey, go ahead have a drink ON US...and with us. You will hang with us and check out our sound check, PLUS receive an autographed poster, collectible laminate, Testament Music Skins, a Very Special Limited Edition Merch Item and you will be entered into a raffle to win one of our NOT EVEN OUT YET Darkstar Testament Skateboard as well as Eric Peterson’s signature Dean guitar ‘Old Skull’ V, and more! So don’t waste time, take a look at our dates, see when we are coming to your city, buy a ticket to the show & GET INTO THE PIT! Heavy Metal Forever!”

Courtesy: Adrenaline PR

Saturday, May 2, 2009

News: Your impression of Ah-nuld could get you a spot on Austrian Death Machine's new record

Tim Lambesis, the mastermind behind the most brutal Ahhnold band ever, is hard at work not only touring with his band As I Lay Dying but preparing songs for the next Austrian Death Machine album Double Brutal due out early fall Doom-thousand and nine (that's 2009 for anyone who doesn't get puns). Anyone who tries to deny the plain and simple fact that ADM IS the most brutal Arnie band out there will be thrown out of the Martian mines on Mars and Ahhnold will so not start the reactor to save your pathetic life no matter what Kuato says leaving you to choke to death just before your face explodes. Anyway, here is a message from Tim Lambesis via the Austrian Death Machine MySpace page to fans of the band and those who think they can do a better Arnie impersonation…

“I was just searching the web for all things Arnold like I often do, and I came up with an idea based on these videos I posted. I'd love to see some people submit their impersonations with links to videos or audio recording. Whoever has the best impersonation can do a track with me on the new Austrian Death Machine record I'm working on right now. To be honest, I don't think anyone out there can do a better impersonation than Josh Robert Thompson, so don't compare yourself to him. Just do the best you can and have fun…I mean brutal fun of course!”

To submit your video, post the link here.

Courtesy: Metal Blade Records