As I look out on this sunny day in Maine while Washington D.C. digs out of a couple of feet of snow, I ponder the latest collection of metal for your listening pleasure.
SPV: 25 & Alive
Reports of the label SPV’s demise seem to have been premature, despite a few bumps in the last few years. Now normally I don’t tend to review compilations as they can be mixed bags with little of interest to offer baring a few choice tracks. This, however, is a rather good cross-section of what SPV has offered over the last quarter of a century. The German label was there at the dawn of German heavy metal in the mid-80s and helped many of them to worldwide fame.
Not just a collection of tracks from their vaults, there are new recordings of older songs including Saxon’s seminal track “Princess of the Night” and Molly Hatchet’s chest-thumping rally cry “Beatin' the Odds”. As you would expect, there are live tracks best represented by a cracking version of Helloween’s “I want Out” by Gamma Ray (one of their several spin-off bands). It’s a toss-up which one is better Dio’s “Stand up and Shout” or MSG’s “Armed and Ready”.
Of course, this is a money spinner to get people interested in the label’s acts. However, you will rarely find such a good collection of heavy rock that contains not one stinker. Perfect for your next long drive.
Gamma Ray: To the Metal
Kai Hansen’s post-Helloween band is still going strong as one of the flag bearers of German power metal. Many bands try to emulate their sound and quality, but very few ever come close. This release does its best to keep the rivals guessing.
This marks their 10th album in a twenty-one year career. “To the Metal,” the title track, makes it very clear what this release and the band is all about. It has an almost Accept quality about it and it’s the most direct track on here with its simple and catchy chorus. Some might consider it a bit cheesy, but the song certainly pays tribute to the anthemic metal bands that preceded them. There is a ballad as well in the form of “No Need to Cry” which feels a bit out of place on a power metal album, and is more like something you would hear on a Scorpions album. Thankfully it's no “Winds of Change”, lacking that track’s insipid nature.
This release is sure to divide some of the band’s fans as it's more a hard rock record than a power metal. There is a sense of a band paying tribute to all the bands that inspired them rather than keeping to a script. Certainly not their best by any measure, but a perfectly decent release from a great band.
Fear Factory: Mechanize
Subtle this ain’t. It's Fear Factory returning to their heaviest roots to produce one in-your-face of an album. Playing with some heavy beats, industrial breaks, and a variety of vocals styles to keep things interesting. You are never quite sure what is coming next on this release. It sounds fresh and exciting like a FF album should, gone are the days of lame re-mix albums.
There are tracks on here that will remind the fan of Demanufacture, one of their best albums. The aggression on here is palpable and the style clearly Fear Factory. The trouble with this sound is that so many metal bands are copying it. The trouble is you are slightly expecting something a bit better than all the imitators out there. I am not sure this lives up to some of their best. Whether I am jaded by so many imitators is open to question.
Fear Factory fans will no doubt welcome their return to form and will probably be happy with this release. The question is whether it will just remind people of their glory days and send them back to their releases or can it stand on its own. This release didn’t grab me the way it should and that is rather disappointing.
Freedom Call: Legend of the Shadowking
Yet another band with links to Gamma Ray and Helloween is Freedom Call. They peddle that wonderful power metal variety that has lyrical content that is full of fantasy. It's not just the title that evokes visions of some of Dio’s more fantastical writing. Tales of battling dragons and epic fantasy sagas abound. This is the perfect soundtrack for your latest foray into sci-fi or fantasy reading.
There is an approachability to this band that is sometimes lacking in other power metal. Its combination of melodic rock, power metal and even some of the harder realms of the genre make for a release that is fairly easy to get into. Of course, the inclusion of cracking choruses and soaring music helps quite a bit as well. It's epic while not being pretentious and metal without being brain-dead. They have come upon a formula that works well and makes it fun for the listener.
There is not really any point to cherry-picking tracks from this release as they all are quite good. While maybe not having anything that stuns the listener with brilliance, this is a solid release. Freedom Call is about as accessible as power metal gets and I would recommend this to anyone interested in dipping into the genre. Rare is a band that has been as consistent as this lot. Well worth seeking out for your epic metal needs.
Annihilator: Live at Masters of Rock
Recorded live in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2008 in front of an enthusiastic crowd, this is a band in its element. It's a greatest hits package featuring songs from their entire career, from their seminal release “Alice in Hell” right through music from their 2007 release called “Metal”, back to their thrash beginnings. Despite the obvious name, it was a return to form for a band that set the standard for Canadian heavy metal at their peak.
Jeff Waters the constant in the band, delivers the goods on this release. This is a DVD/CD set that demonstrates just how good this band can be when they are firing on all cylinders. The release is good enough to serve as an introduction for those who are not yet fans of this great Canadian band. Don’t be fooled by the death metal like name, this lot play straight ahead thrash metal very well.
The line-ups may be hard to keep track of, with the exception of Jeff Waters, but they continue to deliver whomever is involved. Like Megadeth Annihilator is Jeff Waters band and his vision is what drives this lot. The band have several live albums released to date. This is probably the best of the lot.
Well, that is your lot for this week. There is enough metal to keep you busy for a while. Stay warm, safe, and keep rocking as much as you can muster.