This week’s reviews include releases from Babylon A.D., The Dark Element, Deity, Desolate Shrine, Entheos, Jeff Scott Soto, Metallica, Nekrasov, Primal Fear, Santa Cruz, Sinsaenum, Threat Signal, Toothgrinder and Vitriol.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Babylon A.D. – Revelation Highway (Frontiers)
The Bay Area glam metal band Babylon A.D. released their debut album in 1989 and had some minor hits like “Bang Go The Bells,” but after another album in 1992 disappeared from view. They released an album in 2000, and after an extended hiatus regrouped and are now releasing their fourth album, Revelation Highway.
As someone who bought their debut when it came out, I always thought they should have been bigger. They still have all their original members, with this album giving a nod to the ’80s and ’90s, but also having some more modern flavored tracks. Opener “Crash And Burn” would have been a big radio hit back in the day with a bluesy feel and memorable chorus. “Saturday Night” is another highlight. Fans of the hair band era may have missed them the first time around, but now’s your chance to discover or re-discover an underrated group.
The Dark Element – The Dark Element (Frontiers)
The Dark Element were formed by guitarist Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica). He recruited former Nightwish singer Anette Olzon, Cain’s Offering bandmates Jonas Kuhlberg (bass) and Jani “Hurtsi” Hurula (drums).
Their self-titled debut is very melodic and catchy, sounding like a metal version of Abba at times. There’s still plenty of heaviness and some excellent guitar work. They blend traditional, power and symphonic metal into an appealing and accessible package. Olzon was a good choice for vocals, with her melodic alto fitting the songs much better than an operatic soprano would. If you were a fan of Olzon-era Nightwish, The Dark Element should be right up your alley.
Deity, a Canadian duo with guest musicians including Cryptopsy’s Flo Mournier, bring a technical death metal sound to the forefront on their debut self-titled release. Their music combines technicality and brutality in fine fashion. It is somewhat similar to Suffocation, though not entirely the same as that band. There is a distinctive aura that permeates this release and makes it more interesting.
It still comes up a bit short when compared to the best of the technical death metal around. This is due to a sound that can be fairly generic at times. It still has enough to set itself apart from the pack, though it isn’t entirely better than a lot of releases from that genre. The combination of speed and chops makes for an exciting and thoroughly interesting listen. If you make sure you don’t set your sights too high, you’re given a compelling time with this release.
Desolate Shrine – Deliverance From The Godless Void (Dark Descent)
From Helsinki, Finland, Desolate Shrine’s music is not something far beyond the common sound of Finnish [blackened] death metal. However, the further they went, the darker and stronger they got, and they’ve gained a powerful position in a short period of time.
Deliverance From the Godless Void is the band’s fourth album. They have a base of Incantation inspired monstrous death metal, and by channeling black/doom metal music they have reached a spellbinding sound of atmospheric blackened death metal. Deliverance From the Godless Void is an hour long epic “Demonic Evocation Prayer,” while “…Of Hell” hypnotically captures the ritualistic spirit of the album and closes it.
Entheos – Dark Future (Spinefarm)
When this writer reviewed last year’s debut album from Entheos, The Infinite Nothing, “a flashy showcase for Entheos’ talent” was the consensus. It was an encouraging start, all the pieces there, but their placement a bit disjointed. With Dark Future, the band fits them together into a vivid tech death portrait.
A major reason for this turnaround is new guitarist Travis LeVrier, best known as one of the original members of Scale the Summit. His presence infuses the music with a daring stance, furthering the electronic tinkering alongside the instrumental complexity. Glimpses of beauty, like in the mellow “Resonance,” prove that Entheos have become more than just flashy playing.
Jeff Scott Soto – Retribution (Frontiers)
From his introduction as Yngwie Malmsteen’s vocalist through his days with Talisman and his highly praised solo career, Jeff Scott Soto‘s soulful voice has long been part of hard rock history. New album Retribution is an instant classic and possibly his career zenith, which sees Soto batting out a more straight-forward melodic rock record.
High octane rockers such as title track “Retribution” and “Breakout” stomp by with all the pomp of stadium fillers replete with wild riffs and solos, while “Feels Like Forever” recalls the glory days of ’90s era ballads. Standout track and tribute to Soto’s brother “Song For Joey” tugs at the heartstrings. For fans of revved up rock and power ballads, Soto and his crew play Retribution firing on all cylinders.
Metallica – Master Of Puppets (Blackened)
Metallica‘s Master Of Puppets is unquestionably one of metal’s all-time greatest albums. Released in 1986, it includes classic songs like the title track, “Battery,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and many others. It’s the latest Metallica album to get the reissue treatment.
There are numerous configurations available. The 3CD edition will probably be the most popular, with a price point under $25. It includes the remastered album, a disc of demos, rough mixes and interviews and a previously released live show. The mack daddy for superfans and those with a bigger budget ($175) is the limited edition box set with 10 CDs, 2 DVDs, 2 LPs, a hardcover book, cassette and other goodies. No matter what configuration you choose, you can’t go wrong with this seminal album that should be a part of every metal fan’s collection.
Nekrasov – The Mirror Void (Prosthetic)
Australian one-man band Nekrasov have been an abstract entity of black metal and noise mayhem for the past 20 years. Nekrasov’s eighth album The Mirror Void is no less harrowing than previous efforts, continuing to delve into the inhumanity of raw blast beating primal metal and infusing it with harsh electronics and horrific dissonance to great effect.
The Mirror Void is black metal layered with nightmare to create the most unsettling of sounds. The title track alone is a cacophony of piercing ambiance and unforgiving soundscapes. The Mirror Void has its moments of sheer terror as well as otherwordly escapism that appear in the more instrumental tracks. The album is a somewhat challenging but satisfying listen that’ll leave your ears stripped but wanting more.
Primal Fear – Best Of Fear (Frontiers)
It has been a good couple of years for Primal Fear fans. Last year the German power metal veterans released the studio album Rulebreakers. Earlier this year saw the live album Angels Of Mercy, and now they are unveiling the compilation Best Of Fear.
The double disc 27 song collection includes material since they last released a greatest hits album in 2006. You’ll hear tracks from New Religion (2007), 16.6 (2009), Unbreakable (2012), Delivering The Black (2014) and Rulebreaker. There are also four newly recorded tracks, though one is a brief instrumental intro. The other three are good, with “Predator” definite single material and an excellent cover of the Heart song “If Looks Could Kill.”
Santa Cruz – Bad Blood Rising (M-Theory)
With their name, you might think Santa Cruz are from northern California, but they actually hail from Finland, and their influences are from the Sunset Strip. Bad Blood Rising is their third full-length album.
They play sleazy hard rock reminiscent of the ’80s, but the production is slick and modern. They have the hooks for rock radio, but also the guitar solos and attitude of more classic bands. In addition to driving rockers, they also dial it back on ballads like “Drag Me Out The Darkness.” Santa Cruz are a band that children of the ’80s can enjoy, but so can their children.
Sinsaenum – Ashes (earMusic)
Last year the death metal supergroup Sinsaenum released their debut album Echoes Of The Tortured. Now the band, whose lineup includes vocalist Attila Csihar (Mayhem) and Sean Z (Chimaira) guitarists Frederic Leclercq (Dragonforce) and Stephane Buriez (Loudblast), bassist Heimoth (Seth) and drummer Joey Jordison (ex-Slipknot) return with the EP Ashes.
It includes three new songs that are extreme and angry. “Monarch Of Death” has a black metal vibe, while “2099 (Heretics)” is bludgeoning death metal mixed with interesting atmospherics. The EP also includes two songs that were bonus tracks on the Japanese edition of their debut album, along with a remix of “Dead Souls.” The new material whets the appetite for a new studio album, which is expected some time next year.
Threat Signal – Disconnect (Agonia)
It has been more than six years since we’ve heard from the Canadian band Threat Signal. They are back with a new guitarist (Matt Perrin) and a new record label (Agonia) for their fourth album Disconnect. The drum duties were handled by Andrew Minarik, who has since left the band.
It continues down the path of their previous releases, blending technical and ‘core elements. There’s plenty of groove and a combination of harsh and melodic vocals. Some tracks are on the accessible side, like “Walking Alone” and “Betrayal,” while others feature an equal dose of brutality and melody. They close with the 10 minute opus “Terminal Madness,” which runs the gamut of styles. It’s a strong comeback for Threat Signal.
Toothgrinder – Phantom Amour (Spinefarm)
Like Toothgrinder’s debut album, Phantom Amour is not progressive metal the way that’s expected. There are no three-minute keyboard solos or a vocalist with the range of an opera singer. Yet, their music heads through down such unusual paths that calling it progressive is appropriate.
Toothgrinder’s stronger melodic direction has mainstream potential, their usage of acoustic guitars and direct choruses suitable radio fare. That’s not to say they’ve lost their edge, with the nasty groove of “Let It Ride” and primal attitude of “Pietà” worthy exceptions. Phantom Amour is a next step without diluting what they started on Nocturnal Masquerade.
This three-song EP from Portland death metal group Vitriol gets to the rotten heart of their tense music instantly and remains fixated on it for the duration of the EP’s running length. There’s no space for any tempos that aren’t clocked at hyper speed, and the band doesn’t seem concerned about that.
For a self-released product, the songs are massive, punchy and clear, the breakneck style of the bass guitar up front with the other instruments. The only lull in Pain Will Define Their Death is when the final track ends. Until that point, it’s a raucous experience.