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Music Reviews: Shadowside, Axel Rudi Pell, H.E.A.T., Van Canto, Mortemia, Hungry & the Hunted

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My CD pile runeth over once more, and it's got some cracking stuff in it. As I don’t review singles, I shall briefly mention the new single from the UK’s FM “Flamingo Road” a fine return to form, full release soon to follow.

CD reviews

Shadowside: Dare to Dream

When I first slapped this disc in the CD player, I was astonished to hear vocals that sounded not unlike Graham Bonnet of Rainbow and Alcatrazz fame. His gravely screech is one of the more unusual and distinct vocal styles in heavy rock. I was even more shocked to learn the lead singer of this band is in fact a young woman, something you don’t really discover until the ballad “Time to say Goodbye.” It is a great track mind you, but a bit of shock first time round.

The group hail from Brazil, but have origins all over Europe, Portugal, Lithuania, German and Italy. The band produce an interesting smorgasbord of heavy rock which combines several sub-genres into one listenable mish-mash. Needless to say this lot are as far away from Sepultura as you can imagine. This is their second release and their first to make it out of their homeland.

Strong enough to make it internationally, the band rely and straight ahead heavy rock rather than trying to play off “ethnic” sounds. I am sure after a heavy rotation on the festival scene these guys will be back with an even stronger release. One of the best South American heavy rock bands you have ever heard.

Axel Rudi Pell: The Crest

From the computer game name of the album to the cover art, you know what you are going to get on this release. Then again its an Axel Rudi Pell album, his 13th so there is pretty much a consistent theme. ARP has taken over from DIO the band in the sword and sorcery epic soundtrack, for a game or movie that doesn’t exist. This is Dragonforce taken up a notch.

Its glorious swords in the air anthemic metal writ large and his fans love him for it. The band is fronted by former Hardline vocalist Joey Gioeli in fine form. For the first time ARP has self-produced this album, but you would never know the difference. It has lost none of the “big sound” his releases are so well known for. ARP releases you either love or hate, and I have always drifted towards the former. Its great stuff that is escapism at its best. The perfect soundtrack for a session of your favourite Massively Multiplayer Online Role-play game.

“Devil Zone” is just such a track that sums up what ARP and his releases are all about. This 6 plus minute epic has all the soaring guitar and vocals you have come to expect from this sort of metal. Suit up and ride out to battle, there are scurrilous cretins in need of the taste of your blade.

H.E.A.T.: Freedom Rock

This bunch hail from Sweden and seem to want to take the baton from Europe and run with it. To them grunge and nu metal never happened, its all melodic, big hair and huge choruses. They do what they do, oh so well, and its no wonder the single “Beg, Beg, Beg” hits the Swedish charts up release. This is feel good pop hard rock that is so often missing from our radio these days.

This guys are young and sure of themselves. There are bouts of tweeness in their songs, but nothing too cringe-worthy. This is pure melodic hard rock at its best or worst depending on your view. Huge choruses, plenty of hooks and excuses galore to raise you lighter in the air. Tobias Sammet of Edguy shows up on “Black Night” no doubt after being impressed by the band on the tour Heat came along on.

Some say these guys are the frontmen to the new wave of melodic rock. You do far worse. Older fans of the genre will see their influences worn firmly on their sleeve. After a few listens, you’ll forget all that and enjoy the pleasure in it all. H.E.A.T. stands up well next to the new FM release which says a great deal. Expect to see this rank high on the end of year “best of” lists for hard rock.

Van Canto: Tribe of Force

Five vocalists and a drummer does not make for your typical metal band. Then again Van Canto are nothing like your typical metal band and that is why what they do is so amazing. I bet most of you didn’t even realise there was a genre called “a capella” metal, well there is and this lot are at the top of the genre. What they do is, and I say this as a vocalist, freaking amazing. They replicate all the instruments, other than drums, with their voices.

This is not acoustic metal, its proper heavy metal, with all the proper parts. All the instruments are replicated. You think it can’t be done? Check out their cover of “Master of Puppets” and be awed. This is their third album, which is a mix of mostly originals and covers. Having heard all three its clear this is the best and it shows a band confident in their abilities. There are hints of bands like Rainbow, Iron Maiden and other purveyors of power metal. They even out Blackmore’s Night on the track “Last Night of the Kings” and well as a touch of Thin Lizzy with “Rebellion”.

Personally I would recommend fans of metal rush out and buy all of their releases, but if you have to buy only one this is the one to get. Its not very often a release leaves me stunned on first listen. This is one such occasion. Absolutely bloody brilliant metal done in the most spectacular way possible.

Mortemia: Misere Mortem

Dark gothic symphonic metal that combine growling vocals with choral singings. Led by Morten Veland of Tristania and Sirenia fame, this is a type of metal well known to those into things dark and symphonic. This is a one man band as well, so the strength of this output is quite impressive. Now many have complained this release does not break any new ground, but that is rather unfair. Not every release can be groundbreaking material no matter who is behind it.

“The Eye of the Storm” has all the best of this genre with is power metal vibe combined with the counterbalanced vocals. Its aims to be epic in scope and succeeds. While not every track on here has the wow factor you expect from the genre there are enough decent ones on here to keep it on the positive side. Fans on the genre will have enough to keep them happy, while those new to the genre might want to look to Sirenia’s back catalogue for more consistent releases.

It might just be because the Norwegian has set such a high standard for his work. Or maybe he needs the input of others to truly make a great record.

Hungry & the Hunted: Magic Bullets

I slapped this one on the CD player and was immediately struck by what I heard. Alas, it was not in a good way and plucked it out of the CD player to find another review release to ponder. Several complete listens later and I am at a loss about what to say. The guy fronted Midnight Special and has done stints opening for Clapton and Weller playing the blues. He is a well respected blues player I understand.

Not sure what the hell happened with this release. The songs aren’t up to anything, the sound is pretty poor and the whole disc is a bit too long. It claims this release is a tribute to the sprit of the underdog and was inspired by some of the songs of his youth. Unfortunately you can hear no hints of Bruce Springsteen, Motorhead or the The Clash in these tracks. It just seems the guy is letting off steam and not giving a shit. I guess “Matter of Time” is a somewhat decent tune, but they are few and far between.

This is garage band rock, called “street rock & roll” in the PR, at its least appealing. I might be missing something here, but the album never gets going or gets anywhere. Hope the guy heads back to the blues he is so talented at, because blues’ loss is no ones gain.

Well on that sour note, its time to end this column. As always stay safe and rocking whatever you do.

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