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Music Reviews: White Wizzard, Savage Messiah, Skeletonwitch, Mind Key, Cain’s Offering & Walken

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Well its time for another collection of music for you to consider. Considering the comment last week, I will try to make this week’s offerings as uncomplicated as possible.

CD Reviews

White Wizzard: Over the Top

Its hard to imagine that this release is in fact this band’s debut full-length CD as they have been around for quite a while. Their previous effort, seven tracks long, was in fact only a taster of an EP to wet our appetites. Remember back in the day, ironically a time which this band evoke in spades, when seven tracks was acceptable for a “full-length”? White Wizzard continue their quest to invoke the new wave of British heavy metal sound that so enthralled the world back in the 80s.

Imagine some of the also-rans from the day that never had quite enough money to produce a high-quality album. That is what this band is like to me. They evoke bands like Diamond Head and that whole genre of metal. Vocally the band sound less like Bruce Dickinson fronted Iron Maiden and closer to the rough edge vocal style more common in that era. Think bands like Grim Reaper. Then again, that is quite a clever ploy. Younger audiences probably only know of handful of NWOBHM bands, so today this band sounds fresh and new. There is no doubting the quality of the musicianship displayed here.

What White Wizzard do so well is bring together modern metal fans with those that wax nostalgic about the “golden age.” How can you not like tracks like “High Roller” and the title track? Then again, the tea party types might appreciate the track “Live Free or Die.” This is some quality old school heavy metal that is guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.

Savage Messiah: Insurrection Rising

Another promising thrash metal band from the UK. These guys are as old school thrash as WW are old school metal. And thank heaven for bands like them both. This is some great thrash done by guys who really know how to pump out the quality, while retaining the drive and angst. There is no attempt to merge so-called modern sounds with thrash. This is the real thing, pure melodic thrash pleasure, as if the last 30 years never happened.

I think what most easily comes to mind is Megadeth, right down to the lead vocals. Well Megadeth if Rob Halford were doing the backing vocals, especially on a song like the “Serpent Tongue of Divinity.” This is thrash the way it should sound and man are you gonna love it. This is one of the best new thrash releases I have heard in many a moon. Some classy songwriting doesn’t hurt the band’s case either.

If there is one criticism, it is that the band sounds a bit too much like Mustaine & Co at times. However, the band have been through quite a bit of chaos leading up to this release, including members leaving. This is a solid, if derivative release, but don’t let that put you off. A solid debut album from a great new British thrash act.

Skeletonwitch: Breathing the Fire

From the depths of the frozen wastes of Ohio (frozen right now for sure), comes another old school metal act. These guys want to take on the European metal exports at their own game. Musicianship, aggression and angst flow freely from this band. Of course, the band accept that melody works in metal as well and follow some of the Scandinavian bands into the realm of melody and variation. Awesome solos and clever riffing mean this release never gets old.

There is the gruff vocals, blast beat drumming and soaring thrashy guitar. To add to the intrigue the band were recorded in Seattle by a producer more known for his work with grunge heavyweights like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Who knew that Jack Endino could produce such a strong proper metal album? Then again, the band have got the chops to play with the big boys.

This could be one of the break-out American metal releases of the next year. Given the right push and the proper tours they could rival Mastodon. Its about time the US produced some damn good metal like this. If this lot are not on your metal radar then its time they were.

Mind Key: Pulse for Graveheart

This is progressive metal at its most jazzy, just check out “A New Generation” which closes this stellar album. This bunch of Italians have an interesting take on the prog-metal genre, being far more accessible than some of the heavyweights like Dream Theater or Evergrey. There is a clear tinge of AOR about it that reminds the listener of bands like Kansas and even a touch of Toto. Not present is some of the turgid virtuosity of the uber-clever heavy-prog that is about these days.

“Now Until Forever” is very much a jazz tinged offering with its soaring guitar work and a nod to jazz fusion greats like Return to Forever. Interestingly the band have enlisted the likes of Derek Sherinian, Reb Beach of Winger fame and Tom Englund of Evergrey. Despite all these major players there is no tendency to ape any of their numerous bands.

There is not a turkey on this entire album. Its some very special sounding heavy progressive music. I would recommend anyone interested in the genre to check the band out. You will rarely hear something this good from a band you have never heard of before.

Cain’s Offering: Gather the Faithful

Despite the name, this is not a black and death metal band. In fact its yet another pleasant melodic heavy rock release from the guys at Frontiers. The group was founded by Jani Limatainen — best known as founder and guitarist/songwriter for Sonata Artica — after he left that band. The lineup on here reads like a whose who of Scandinavian heavy rock including Stratovarious vocalist Timo Katipelto, former bandmate in Sonata Artica Mikko Harkin, and Paul Di’Anno’s former drummer.

With that line-up it will probably shock no one to realize the main aim of the band is power metal. However this represents the far more melodic and progressive variant of the genre. Soaring vocals, lashings of keyboards and clever musical tricks are all in abundance here. Not necessarily an album whose depth you will appreciate at first, but its definitely there. Then again, there is enough variety between the tracks that you will never tire of it.

This Finnish group has an impressive lineup. It will be interesting to see if it can be kept together for more than one album. Let’s hope on the basis of this release that its not just a one-off. So often this type of great lineup does not last. If you like your Scandi-heavy rock, then this is worth seeking out.

Walken: Walken

Yet another one of those releases which leaves the reviewer pondering what to say about it. When you hear the term “experimental” used in the press release about the band you come to expect oddity. But this is not as odd as some of the nutty stuff that I have reviewed in the last few years. It is, recognizable as heavy rock rather than just heavy white noise. In fact what Walken do is an amalgam of hardcore punk and metal which leans more to the punk side than the metal one.

There is clear nod to the purveyors of the classic era of Bay area thrash like Metallica, Exodus and Testament to name a few. However, considering this band come out of the Bay Area and play metal they would be hard-pressed not to show some sort of influence from that collection of bands. While not necessarily my bag, there is a certain level of talent and ability here that clearly demonstrates they are good at what they do.

I suspect you will be hearing and reading a lot about this bunch in the coming year. Even to this moderately unappreciative ear, they do have that “something” that separates the decent from the bands that should go far.

Well that is your lot for this week. There is quite a bit of variety in this collection. I hope you all have a safe and happy end of the year.

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