Metal Blade Records
Mirror = Rainbow + Argus
At first glance, I would not expect Mirror to sound as old-school epic heavy-metal mixed with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow as they do. Their logo design and album cover color scheme screamed “psychedelic” at first glance. However, the first song opened with a sound similar to that of Rainbow’s self-titled album. The hard-hitting style of Mirror’s drummer Jamie Gomez Arellano reflects that of Cozy Powell, and the guitar tone is reminiscent of Blackmore’s. Jimmy Mavromatis’ sound is unlike new, modern vocalists—you seldom hear the whole package of a strong vibrato, enticing tone and powerful high notes. There isn’t a track I would skip on this album—each is adorned with a catchy, melodic chorus, punchy drums and an excellent usage of two guitars. Fans of Atlantean Kodex and Eternal Champion should not hesitate to pick up this album. –Madi Smith
Morgoth = Entombed + Cancer
Morgoth unleash a wave of relief on the death metal world on Ungod, their first full-length album in 19 years. Their straightforward classic death metal approach is a refreshing contrast to the over-saturated, highly technical realm of today’s death metal. Karsten Jäger’s understandable-but-gross vocals (not unlike Chuck Schuldiner on Death’s Leprosy) team up with the lo-fi guitar tone to deliver a sound that would be comfortably at home in the mid ’90s. The drums are less punchy than they could be due to too much compression, especially on the snare and cymbals, but the guitar tone is delightfully clear, and the audible bass is definitely a plus. Marc Reign’s percussive accents tastefully spice up the riffing. Morgoth’s variation in songwriting gives each track its own sound, making Ungod a great album to blast in its entirety while doubting the progression of society. –Madi Smith
Stand in the Fire
Striker = Raven + Enforcer
Striker have definitely hit their stride on their fourth full-length album, Stand in the Fire. The band struck gold, combining the essence of the classic heavy metal sound of their second album, Armed to the Teeth, with the aggressive, fiery thrash guitars found on their third record, City of Gold.
Stand in the Fire’s second and third tracks are excellent examples of the classic heavy metal sound Striker recreate. They break into big ‘80s choruses reminiscent of Tokyo Blade with simple, strummed-open guitar chords, a massive snare drum—although not entirely replicating the snare from Judas Priest’s Turbo or Saxon’s Destiny—and vocal hooks that instantly seep into my brain. One feat Striker have over Tokyo Blade is a killer saxophone cameo on the second track, “Out for Blood,” intermingling with an awesome fuzzy guitar solo. The last half of the album moves away from the classic ‘80s metal choruses and finishes the album in a more speed metal style.
Stand in the Fire exchanges some of the speed from City of Gold for more varied guitar melodies, while preserving the groove and immense amounts of energy. The guitar solos in the opening track, “Phoenix Lights,” illustrate Timothy Brown and Trent Halliwell’s ability to combine technical skills, such as sweeping, with catchy, memorable runs up the fret board. Striker did maintain some of the aggression found on City of Gold, however. The title track boasts the same machine gun–like riffs, pounding double bass and killer guitar solos, as found in the band’s last album. But it seems as though they discovered a perfect, whole-package formula, including the amazing overlaying vocal melodies that the band’s last album was missing.
Dan Cleary’s vocal melodies are considerably more elaborate on this album, and it seems that slower, more melodic guitar riffs lay the perfect foundation for Cleary to really display his skills as a vocalist. He tastefully adds light, reverbing finesse to the ends of vocal lines and to expand his harmonies in the choruses. Striker preserve their lyrical themes of heavy metal, beer-drinking and unity, reviving their common trope of group chants such as, “I’ll drink to that!” on the tenth track, “Better Times.” They also throw in a track or two about a love surprisingly unrelated to beer.
The sound on Stand in the Fire is perfect for a traditional heavy metal album. The guitar tone is hearty and crisp as the riffs flow, and the solos are as smooth as butter. I appreciate the fact that Cleary avoided slathering auto-tune all over his vocals, if he even used it at all. The bass of the kick drum stays at a reasonable level and leaves room for the bass guitar to be heard. The toms are deep and punchy, and the snare sounds huge. They almost captured a totally organic drum sound, but each kick on the bass drum is unnaturally even.
This is an album I can listen to twice in a row and still be able to find exciting, new, tiny details. Each song differs in tempo and melody, contributing to the easy digesting of the record. This is the perfect album to start off 2016. (Metro Bar 05.15)
Metal Blade Records
Brimstone Coven= Pagan Altar + Black Sabbath
Black Magic is not an album for lovers of technical metal or radical song variation. The first few listens of this album were relatively boring, but there were minor elements that kept luring me back. The more I listened, the more enamored I became with the guitar solos and vocal melodies. I love the unfalteringly massive guitar tone this album possesses and the way the band uses it.
The guitar tone is rich and fuzzy in a very organic way, not a ‘gain knob cranked to 11’ way. The bass and guitar combine harmoniously as each plays off the power of the other. When played in unison, the guitar and bass move like a pyroclastic flow– fiery, powerful and destructive. When the guitar solos open up, the tone softens to a smooth yet heavy sound while the bass maintains the immense, punchy rhythm. The instances in which the bass deviates from the guitar to wander up and down the neck are always well executed and well placed. Andrew D’Cagna is a great bassist and it is evident he and guitarist Corey Roth write very well together.
The guitar riffs are incredibly simple. They follow a very similar pattern throughout the album and there isn’t much melodic variation. The also fall into a habit of repeating a single riff too many times. But once you listen to the album a few times and become familiar with each track, the slight hints of flair begin to stand out more. Roth’s usage of dynamics is crucial to the flow of each song. He varies the strength with which he picks each note to match the mood of the song and to parallel the soft delivery of the vocals.
Roth is the only guitarist but he does an incredible job filling out the solos with tasteful harmonies and layering the riffs. The solos are really refreshing– much like a Gin and Tonic on a hot summer day. They are unique and are a major distinguishing factor between each song. There is an endearing old-timey feel on this album reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, especially in the verse riff on “Beyond the Astral.” Black Magic’s production definitely contributes to the throwback sound. There is little compression on the guitars so when they ring through good speakers, they can swallow the listener whole. The bass guitar has its own cozy place in the mix and never loses its distinctness. The drums are organic and the cymbals are tastefully splashed throughout. The sound of the snare and kick drum is subtle enough to not overpower with the guitars, yet impactful enough to punch its way through the wall of notes when necessary.
“Big John” Williams’ vocals suit each song. His simple melodies seldom overstay their welcome and never attempt to suppress the guitar. The band made an excellent decision in production to mix the vocals slightly lower than the guitar, especially with how dominant the guitar tone is. The two sounds compliment each other instead of competing for the limelight.
Each detail on this album ties together seamlessly so despite its simplicity, this album is still deep and enjoyable. Brimstone Coven did a great job on writing cohesive songs and the album progresses very naturally. Black Magic stays true to its sound throughout and I look forward to what the band will accomplish on their upcoming albums.
Rise Above Records
Lucifer = Laura Branigan + Castle
Johanna Sadonis’ vocals on the first track off Lucifer I, “Abracadabra,” had me frozen in time. She’s unlike many metal vocalists in that her voice seldom gets gritty—instead, her controlled melodies dance through the air with a powerful vibrato that is absent in the delivery of most modern female vocalists. It’s as if the band merged together Laura Branigan with Ann Wilson of Heart with a doom-infused, classic heavy metal sound, and it’s a fantastic combination. The reverb on Sadonis’ vocals delivers a haunting element not unlike that of Castle. There is an abundance of tempo changes throughout each song and plenty of variation between guitar solos. This is one of those “sit down for the whole thing” kind of albums, and you will absolutely enjoy it. (The Complex, 08.08) –Madi Smith
Thunder = Creedence Clearwater Revival + Blackfoot
Thunder’s first album after their reformation in 2009 combines smooth vocals and old southern rock charm to deliver a catchy comeback. Wonder Days gets a little too country on songs such as “The Rain,” but the guitar solos are comin’-at-ya and the tone is crisp and clear. The well-balanced mix is reminiscent of ’70s rock with a classic contrast between acoustic and electric guitars. Danny Bowes’ vocal melodies are catchy and memorable and a perfect complement to Luke Morley and Ben Matthews’ cheerful riffage. “Black Water” would sound right at home at the end of a Sons of Anarchy episode, and the triplets on guitar throughout the verses in “The Prophet” are basically “Barracuda” by Heart. This album definitely isn’t a mind-blowing original album, but if it were background music at Willie’s Lounge, I wouldn’t mind too much. –Madi Smith
I arrived at Club X on July 2 expecting to have an incredible time, and my expectations were exceeded.
Befouler, Salt Lake City’s new black thrash metal band took the stage first for their debut show, and they were incredible. The vocalist had so much power and the incredible riffing and drumming were a refreshing injection to the scene. They received an excellent crowd response from circle pits to new fans up front chanting along to the choruses.
Deathblow followed, and their recognizable songs had the audience in a frenzy. More circle pits broke out, more chanting was heard, and the band revealed their new guitarist Mauro Diaz in the middle of their set, finishing as a four-piece.
Visigoth stormed the stage next and, as expected, they delivered an amazing show. The great sound at Club X balanced the instruments and everything was audible anywhere in the venue.
Night Demon from Ventura, CA took the stage last. Unfortunately for the audience members who left after Visigoth’s performance, Night Demon closed the night with a fantastic set. They played songs off the new album Curse of the Damned as well as their previous self-titled EP. The band spiced up the visuals with their own lighting rig and a ghoulish figure named Rocky, who appeared onstage enticing the audience to drink from the chalice in his hand.
The bands’ styles meshed well together—there was a little something for everyone. Overall, it was one of the best shows I have attended this year.
The Secret Fire
Unspeakable Axe Records
Black Tower = Dissection + Omen
Black Tower’s first full-length album fucking rocks! It’s rough around the edges at first, but full of hooks. Vocalist and guitarist Erin Ewing sings slightly out of tune, but her melodies—especially in the chorus of “Death March”—were burned in my brain after the first listen. The band’s use of harmonies is tastefully done, and the backing vocals layer quite well with Ewing’s. She unleashes her unique, high-pitched snarl on parts throughout the album, my favorite track being “Shadows.” The band performs with elements of punk, black metal and New Wave of British Heavy Metal, picking up speed toward the middle of the album. The production and mix is really well done—you can hear the bass’s awesome melodic puttering around the fret board with ease, and the drums are quite prominent. The album is only 33 minutes long, but it’s a blast of gross, punchy metal, so do yourself a favor and check it out! –Madi Smith
Crobot started off the night at the Complex Thursday, August 27 and surprised me with their rockin’ tunes and groovin’ stage moves. Vocalist Brandon Yeagley danced around stage in his halfway unbuttoned paisley shirt and genuinely seemed to be having an excellent time. Their musical style was a great fit for the bill and they opened the show with a blast of energy.
Saxon stormed the stage, matching Crobot’s energy and increasing it tenfold. Biff Byford’s vocals were gruff and fantastic, especially accompanied by original guitarist Paul Quinn’s zen yet totally bitchin’ solos. Bassist Nibbs Carter went absolutely bonkers head banging and running around the stage while totally tearing up the bass. I saw Saxon exactly three months prior to this show, and drummer Nigel Glockler’s speed and attack had noticeably improved; he even played “20,000 Feet” off of Strong Arm of the Law faster than it was recorded. Byford’s between song banter was sassy and energetic as he encouraged the crowd to sing along and cheer.
After much anticipation, Motörhead commenced their short set of classic tunes. Phil Campbell was immediately engaging the crowd as he ripped on his guitar and darted around the massive, empty stage. Lemmy Kilmister stood stationary and spoke and sang slowly but I didn’t give a damn– I was seeing Motörhead live and in person! They had to cut their set short due to Lemmy’s trouble breathing and when he returned to the stage to profusely apologize, the crowd greeted him with cheers. As he left the stage, all I could hear was, “Lemmy! Lemmy! Lemmy!” It was heartbreaking to see Lemmy in such rough shape, but I had an excellent time seeing a fantastic lineup.