This week’s reviews include releases from Ace Frehley, Black Mare, Bob Kulick, Caligula’s Horse, The Contortionist, Dyscarnate, Ensiferum, Highrider, Josh Todd & The Conflict, Nothing More, Persona, Purtenance, Sheidim, Soror Dolorosa and Steelheart.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ace Frehley – Anomaly Deluxe Re-Release (eOne)
2009’s Anomaly was Ace Frehley‘s first album in twenty years and boy did he come back with a killer release. Out of print since 2010, Anomaly still stands the test of time and with this reissue it’ll reach new fans. However, for a ‘deluxe’ edition it hasn’t much extra to offer, especially considering there were more tracks than this recorded at the time of Anomaly‘s original sessions.
Only three additional tracks are included in the expanded edition: the original more risqué demo of “Foxy & Free” called “Hard For Me,” a slowed down version of “Pain In The Neck” and a previously digital only take of instrumental “Space Bear.” Regardless of the bonus tracks, get it for the originals as it’s still a wicked album.
Black Mare – Death Magick Mother (Magic Bullet)
Black Mare is a project from Sera Timms, known for her time as vocalist/bassist for Ides of Gemini. Death Magick Mother has Timms in a mode of solemn fortitude, showing great restraint with the more forceful aspects present in her other bands.
The pace settles into an appealing, firm gothic tone. This could’ve turned repetitive quickly, each song a shell of the last, but Timms has a knack for this kind of music. It’s an easy listen, one with hypnotic qualities based on her drifting, eerie vocals.
Bob Kulick – Skeletons In The Closet (Vanity)
Grammy award winning producer and guitarist Bob Kulick has worked with tons of artists over the years ranging from Kiss to W.A.S.P. to Meat Loaf. Skeletons In The Closet is his first solo album, consisting of half original material and half songs from his past.
He brings aboard tons of guest musicians including Dee Snider, Andrew Freeman, Rudy Sarzo, Chuck Wright, Vinnie Appice, Frankie Banali, Eric Singer and his brother Bruce Kulick. David Glen Eisley (Giuffria) handles vocals on the most tracks (three), with Dennis St. James (Balance) singing two of them. It’s a nice blend of old and new, with bluesy, melodic hard rock originals and covers that have a unique take.
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact (InsideOut)
Australian prog metal juggernauts Caligula’s Horse are back with a new concept album, In Contact. To a degree, In Contact focuses on art, creativity, and the human connection. More importantly, though, are the songs and performances. Spread across ten songs and just over an hour, In Contact is a stellar slab of modern progressive metal.
Caligula’s Horse have always been known for adeptly blending melody with technical but not overdone arrangements, mixed in with the occasional djenty embellishments. In Contact is no different, with plenty of chugging riffs, stellar guitar solos, intricate yet still melodic movements, emotional vocals, and great songs. Aside from a small spoken-word misstep (that’s probably crucial to the concept, but not the album), this is a great prog metal album.
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might (Unique Leader)
There’s always something destructive in Dyscarnate’s music, which is obvious with a brief look at their catalog that the band is thirsty for massive grooves which is now the landmark of their music. After releasing Enduring the Massacre in 2010 and And So It Came to Pass 2012, now it’s time for the band’s third album With All Their Might to come aboard.
It is constructed on Dyscarnate’s ultra groovy death metal base, filled with hefty guitar riffs and smashing drumming and bass lines. The absence of guitar solos in Dyscarnate’s music has led the band to build their pieces upon Tom Whitty’s roaring growls and tons of multi-layered guitar works, yet sharp production strengthens the framework and atmosphere of Dyscarnate’s album once again. With All Their Might is near perfection of a modern death metal album.
The Contortionist – Clairvoyant (eOne/Good Fight)
After undergoing wholesale lineup changes including new vocalist Michael Lessard on their previous album, progsters The Contortionist have more continuity on their fourth effort Clairvoyant.
Opening with a five minute instrumental is a bold move, but The Contortionist pull if off. The songs on the album are expansive and generally pretty laid back and mellow. They ramp up the intensity a bit on songs like the title track and portions of “Return To Earth,” but the majority of the album is more ethereal, introspective and jazzy than heavy.
Ensiferum – Two Paths (Metal Blade)
The veteran Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum took a different approach in recording their latest opus Two Paths. They went old school and embraced analog recording to try to get a more organic sound.
Their style is as epic as ever, blending rousing folk music with harsh vocals and some melodic singing. Some tracks have a cinematic vibe, while others are more metal and straightforward. New accordionist Netta Skog (Turisas) makes her presence felt, adding plenty of atmosphere. On the title track a shredding guitar solo is immediately followed by a accordion solo. There’s plenty of variety on the album as Ensiferum follow the template that has made them successful.
Highrider – Roll for Initiative (The Sign)
Roll for Initiative is the debut album from Scandinavian proto-thrash act Highrider. With an album title like that, and songs such as “Roll Dee Twenty” and “Vagina al Dente,” it’s clear these guys don’t take themselves seriously, and neither should we. However, the band shows good potential here, albeit raw and unpolished.
Highrider play a primitive mashup of thrash, doom, and punk. The styles are well done, with a mix of fun and gloomy songs – and some crazy organ work on songs like “The Greater Monkey” which make this a bit unique. Of course, with old-school hardcore-tinged vocals, the eight songs here can get tiresome. This is an album best listened to in short bursts.
Josh Todd & The Conflict – Year Of The Tiger (Century Media)
Buckcherry have been one of the more successful hard rock bands over the years, with numerous radio hits including “Lit Up,” “Crazy Bitch” and “Sorry.” However, their last album, 2015’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, didn’t do as well. Frontman Josh Todd is regrouping with a new band, Josh Todd & The Conflict, which also includes Buckcherry guitarist Stevie D. and touring drummer Sean Winchester.
As you’d expect with the lineup, the sound is pretty similar to Buckcherry, with plenty of radio friendly hard rock, but there are some heavier and rawer moments. The new band also allows more room for experimentation, such as the sparse but catchy “Rain” and the folky ballad “Good Enough.” They also cover the Prince song “Erotic City,” giving it a heavier treatment without losing the original funk vibe. Todd is a great frontman, and he sounds re-energized with his new band.
Metal Missionaries Documentary (Brutally Delicious)
Like other genres, Christian metal has evolved over the years, going from the glam of the ’80s to today’s extreme varieties, but the message has remained the same. The documentary Metal Missionaries explores the extreme Christian metal scene.
Certainly there are those who think the beliefs of Christianity are at odds with the ethos of metal, and some of those interviewed express a negative opinion of Christian metal. But the majority of the film focuses on Christian metal musicians and their experiences. Whether you’re a believer, an atheist or somewhere in between, it’s an interesting examination of the lives, impact and beliefs of extreme Christian metal artists.
Nothing More – The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Better Noise)
The Texas band Nothing More have been around for a while, but didn’t really break through until their 2014 self-titled album, which had four successful singles including the chart topping “This Is The Time (Ballast).” Their latest album The Stories We Tell Ourselves capitalizes and continues that momentum.
“Go To War” has already landed in the top 10 of the rock chart, with a plethora of possible singles in reserve. While able to write mainstream hard rock songs, they also have heavier songs that tip the scale into the metal realm, and there are some progressive moments as well. The album is a bit long with some extraneous instrumental interludes, but with this record Nothing More deliver another batch of quality songs that cement them as one the genre’s stalwarts.
When it comes to countries known for metal, Tunisia is certainly not at the top of the list. But the north African country has its share of metal bands, including the symphonic metal group Persona. After releasing their debut last year, they return with Metamorphosis.
The songs are intricate and epic, with a lot of layers and atmosphere. Jelena Dobric is a versatile vocalist, alternating smooth melodic singing with harsh vocals. The band adds a lot of different styles to their symphonic base, ranging from gothic to progressive and even a little thrash. The musicianship is also first-rate, and most importantly the songs are memorable, with catchy choruses and excellent riffs.
Purtenance – Paradox of Existence (Xtreem)
One of the earliest Finnish death metal acts, Purtenance returned in 2013 after a 20-plus-year layoff and have been active ever since, delivering two full-length records and, most recently, their third EP, which is entitled Paradox of Existence. To no surprise, the four songs offer grim and grimy death metal of the old school variety.
Purtenance mix mid-paced thuggery with up-tempo savagery and reap consistently evil results thanks to a robust production, a grating guitar tone, subterranean vocals, and a wicked sense of melody. The riffs aren’t entirely unique, but they’re performed deftly and with plenty of attitude. Sinister, heavy, groovy, and a good ole deadly time.
Sheidim – Infamata (I, Voidhanger)
Sheidim’s Infamata EP follows last year’s Shrines of the Void debut, though this isn’t a “B-sides” or “outtakes” collection. Any of the five songs could’ve fit in with their first album. Some, like the gripping “Sister of Sleep,” count as the best material the group has written.
“Sister of Sleep” excels with its blackened gloom thanks in small part to a sonic sense of unease across its nine minutes and a ruthless guest spot from Teitanblood singer NSK. With such quick turnaround for new content, Sheidim have so far shown they belong with the likes of Teitanblood in the booming metal scene from Spain.
Soror Dolorosa – Apollo (Prophecy)
Apollo has a very gothic nature that is wonderful to behold. It has that subtle feeling that makes bands like Fields of the Nephilim such great acts to listen to. It must be very difficult to craft an epic album of that nature, but Soror Dolorosa are up to the task. The rather laid back mood of the band is difficult to convey for a long period of time, but Soror Dolorosa have managed to accomplish this.
The songs are indeed beautiful to behold and have a tremendous impact on the listener. Apollo is hardly metal, but able to convey a broad range of emotions regardless. The music is so atmospherically poignant that you’ll want it to last forever and it almost does. This is such a long album, but also an emotionally rich one. It comes highly recommended to fans of ethereal music of this type.
Steelheart – Through Worlds Of Stardust (Frontiers)
Steelheart burst upon the scene with the hit single “I’ll Never Let You Go” in 1991, but like many of the glam, hard rock and hair bands of the era, quickly disappeared into obscurity. They split up for a while before re-emerging in 2008. Through Worlds Of Stardust is their first album since then, and their fifth studio album overall.
Vocalist Miljenko Matijevic is the lone remaining original member. His powerful singing and amazing range set Steelheart apart from the masses back in the day. He can still hit the high notes, but on this album mostly sticks to a midrange style. The songs are bluesy hard rock that hearken back to the band’s early days, but have some modern touches as well. It’s a streamlined 10 track album with some hard rockers and a closing ballad “I’m So In Love With You.”