Well it is almost mid-January of 2012 and the releases keep flowing. There is a new Metallica EP called Beyond Magnetic on its way with tracks not used on Death Magnetic that aren’t that bad. The cynic would say it is an attempt to blot out the memory of the god-awful Lulu from everyone’s consciousness.
Dragonland: Under The Grey Banner. The band have the word Dragon in their name, so you can expect something epic, of course. They are a symphonic metal band that has gone all concept with this release. This album is nine years in the making and it sounds it. This is third part of a series of releases, the last of which was Holy War.
The timing could not be better, of course, as it was released almost simultaneously with the RPG epic computer game Skyrim. And there are times this disc sounds like a game soundtrack. Just check out “The Black Mare” and try not to think of your faithful steed in your favourite fantasy RPG.
This is a good thing or bad thing depending on your point-of-view. This release, like many of its type, is seriously steeped in the works of Tolkien. Not a bad place to take inspiration from but a bit of cliché’ now in the power and symphonic metal realm. That said, this is not bad stuff at all and has the right amount of pomp and pace.
I found it a bit impenetrable at first, to be honest. However, given a bit of chance it does warm a bit. There is no denying the quality of this release. It just does not have that immediacy that some releases in this genre tend to have. Again that could be a good or bad thing depending on your view. It’s another epic fantasy concept album from a symphonic metal band. If you like that sort of thing, you will enjoy it all.
Iron Maskl: Black As Death
Neo-classical power metal is a genre that the Japanese lap up with gusto. This is one of the bands they love the most. Think Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force when he had Joe Lynn Turner on vocals back in the day. Then again, a former Malmsteen vocalist in the form of Mark Boals is on vocals, and he adds something special to the tunes. Tone down the guitars a bit with less intrusive widdling and that is what you have here. Think Yngwie but not as anal retentive and needlessly complicated.
It’s great over-the-top catchy slightly daft power metal. “Rebel Child” is just perfect. In fact, you could argue this is one of the best Rising Force albums they never released. It is seriously hard not to like it and is a bit easier to take than some of this type, as there is a strong sense of song on this album. It doesn’t ever come across as just one big excuse to show off chops with a few breaks.
“Broken Hero” is a great track that would make a damn good video single for the band. The chorus is a catchy and makes you want to sing along. There is a nice touch of Deep Purple in the keyboards and pace too.
This release is all the things you love about this sort of music with none of the overwrought and pretentious annoyances.
Royal Hunt: Show Me How To Live
Well this one opens with the sound of horses and clashing metal. Yes it is more power metal goodness and DC Cooper is back along for the ride. He was part of the band’s couple of classic albums in the ’90s. This is another example of how symphonic metal should be done. They have even managed to limit themselves to seven tracks of quality rather than 12 with a bit of dross. There is not a duff track on here, as it is all quality stuff.
Or, to put it another way, it is 42 minutes of pure class without a duff note anywhere to be found. It’s all about the quality rather than the quality. The music, while complex and intricate, is not at all weighed down by the “kitchen sink” approach that can so often be found in this type of music.
This band seem to be back to show people why they were always so respected in the genre. With DC Cooper back in the Hunt it seems that this band are back doing what they do at the top of their game.
Evergrey: A Decade and a Half
As you might imagine from the title of this CD, it is a compilation of the best tracks from their catalogue. From what I have heard over their career, that must have been one bugger of a two-CD album to put together. There is not much about these guys that doesn’t seep class and quality. As you might expect from this sort of release, it is a mix of studio efforts with live tracks and even a couple of acoustic tracks. Alas, previously unreleased live acoustic bonus tracks are duplicates of studio songs on here, but that is a minor complaint.
If anyone wants a glimpse of why this bunch are so highly regarded, this is a good place to start. It is a nice selection of all sorts of tracks they are capable of making. There are no lame covers or dodgy tracks to be found. This is a great advertisement for their high quality of output. Though some disagree, I think their last album Glorious Collision is their best release to date. There are several tracks on here to demonstrate why I say that. There is little on here for longtime fans of the band, but as an intro it cannot be beat.
Virgin Steele: Age of Consent-Rerelease
You have to forgive this band for the rather lame name of the album. It was originally recorded in 1988 when it was probably something band members actually thought about. There are some epic moments of cheese on this album rest assured. This re-release by SPV of this late ’80s album comes with a full disc of extras. One of them is an interesting cover of Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance”. The entire thing has been re-mastered lovingly with seven bonus tracks on the second CD. The band have re-released this as they thought it didn’t get its due the first time round.
Obviously, if you already have this album on vinyl then this might be a good way of bringing the album into the digital age. Of course if you are a real purist you might even want to pick this up in its double LP format The re-mastering has not hurt the quality of the tracks and it’s not a case of re-inventing the past. The extra tracks are ok and very much of the time. “The Curse” is quite amusing and has a very New Wave of British Heavy Metal feel about it.
If you have come to Virgin Steele later in their career, this might be an interesting way to visit their ’80s past. I have to say I prefer their more recent work to this stuff.
Primal Fear: Unbreakable
This is the power metal in all its Germanic Glory. I mean, what more can you need for your fist in the air metal pleasure than the second track, “Give Em’ Hell”? Everything that you always loved about Iron Maiden has been interpreted by these Germans here. Then again, Ralf Scheepers learned his craft fronting Gamma Ray until he left to try out for Judas Priest only to be pipped by Ripper Owens for the gig. Mat Sinner is still on bass doing his best impression of Steve Harris.
Yes there is a song called “Bad Guys Wear Black” in which it calls for all of us to bang our head, as does of course “Metal Nation”. This is really not your subtle brand of power metal at all. That is why we all love bands like Primal Fear. They are a no nonsense bunch with their foot on the monitor crowd singing alongside glory hounds. Almost every song feels like it’s crafted to get the crowds going at Walken next year. There is even a bit of the power (heavy on the power) ballad in the form of “Where Angels Die” with its strings and epic feel.
If you want something to warm you up inside in the cold winter months and get you ready for the festival season this summer then this album is it.
Just got a download of the new, yes that is the word new, Van Halen song “Tattoo” which ain’t bad at all. It is far better than I expected and a bit of a grower. On that surprising note, it is time to remind you all to stay safe and rocking until next week.