'Epitaph' DVD/Blu-Ray out May 28
A year ago Judas Priest filmed the London performance of what was billed as their final tour, and now not only do we know that wasn’t exactly true, but the resulting DVD/Blu-Ray, titled Epitaph, will be released May 28 on Sony Legacy. One clip from the concert film, the Point of Entry classic “Heading Out to the Highway” – which originally premiered at Rolling Stone – has been released, and it’s a good indication of what the DVD will be like, with new guitarist Richie Faulkner proving to be a good replacement for K.K. Downing. Get your week off to a proper start by cranking a song Priest just don’t play often enough anymore.
LA band puts internal strife behind them on strong new album
White Wizzard are set to release their third album The Devil’s Cut June 25 on Century Media, their first since 2011’s very good Flying Tigers. What makes this album different is that for once the Los Angeles band has a stable lineup for the first time in forever. Unlike the last album, which saw bassist Jon Leon playing all guitars and singer Wyatt Anderson sing on the album and then quit the band a second time just as good reviews were starting to roll in and tours were being set up, these guys have been together for the past year, and you get the sense a complete band is playing on the new record.
Although new singer Joseph Michael makes a big impact, bringing a lot more charisma and depth to the music that the band never really had before, the key members on The Devil’s Cut are guitarists Jake Dreyer and Will Wallner, who shred on the level that fans of that half NWOBHM-derived, half proggy style of heavy metal crave. The end result is an excellent album that finally sees White Wizzard truly living up to their potential.
They’ve just posted the first single “Kings of the Highway” on YouTube, which you can listen to below. It’s the simplest song on the album, but also one of the catchiest tracks, a good introduction to this new era in the band’s history. Here’s hoping these guys stay together, because they have a really good thing going right now.
Creative German fans have some fun with the help of the Aussie rockers
Metalcore musician allegedly conspired to have his estranged wife killed
Classic heavy metal from Norway highlights this week in metal
Album of the Week:
Magister Templi, Lucifer Leviathan Logos (Cruz Del Sur)
When it comes to bands replicating the classic heavy metal of the mid-1980s, it’s not that a band has to devoutly follow the lead of one or two influential bands from the era; all we ask is that they honor the sound and aesthetic and try their best to do something that feels more impassioned than derivative. Achieving that can be tricky. As much as a pleasure it is to hear bands like Portrait and In Solitude copy classic Mercyful Fate, in the end the music has to have enough of the band’s own personality to stand on its own without continually referencing someone else’s music.
A lazy writer would describe Magister Templi as “just another Mercyful Fate rip-off band”, but the Norwegian band brings a whole lot more to the table than just some half-handed Melissa homages. Doom, NWOBHM, and European heavy metal coalesce into a spellbinding debut album that contains many reference points, yet refuses to settle on one. You hear Pagan Altar one minute, Candlemass the next, and yet, the great Fate the next, and it’s all held together by musicians that are clearly experienced enough to not let those influences become too distracting. For an “old school” album this record is deceptively varied all the while delighting in occult/Satanic lyrical things. Tying it all together like The Dude’s rug is the brilliantly named singer Abraxas d’Ruckus, who belts out his lines in an authoritative bellow, taking already excellent compositions and catapulting them even further. “Master of the Temple”, “Lucifer”, and “Tiphareth” immediately stand out thanks to some very contagious lead riffs and d’Ruckus’s persona, while the acoustic-tinged “Vitriol” incorporates a pagan, Black Widow influence into a decidedly evil arrangement, proof that Magister Templi are much more than a retro gimmick.
Also out this week:
The Amenta, Flesh Is Heir (Listenable): The Australian band continues to churn out the industrial-tinged death metal on their third album. Unlike so many deathcore bands, who combine death metal and dissonance to create an ungodly racket just to incite mosh pit violence, The Amenta smartly combine the two sides to create music that is not only throttling but actually engages the listener. All the experimentation never comes at the expense of the song, which is a rarity in metal these days, although the Gojira pick scrapes have to go.
Atrocity, Okkult (Napalm): Also known as Liv Kristine’s backing band in Leaves’ Eyes, this is the German veterans’ 12th album, and it continues their latter-day trend of combining death metal with overblown symphonic/gothic influences. Typically, the simpler the arrangement, the better it is (as on the deliriously brain-dead “Death By Metal”), but all too often it’s a cacophonous din of keyboards that distracts rather than create atmosphere.
Delain, Interlude (Napalm): The best “prom dress metal” band working today has released an enjoyable little stopgap album to coincide with their well-deserved signing with Napalm. It’s a mish-mash, but the new songs are terrific (“Breathe on Me”, for instance), there are some good covers (including a reading of “Smalltown Boy” that’s more a cover of Paradise Lost’s cover of the Bronski Beat original), and some fun live tracks. Where other like-minded bands tend to let themselves get lost in lavish arrangements and labyrinthine song structures, Delain keep it simple, always coming through with very strong hooks, letting the charisma of singer Charlotte Wessels lead the way, and the end result is always charming and memorable. Of course, it’s not as strong as last year’s We Are the Others, but fans of the band will be very pleased with this one.
Earthling, Dark Path (Forcefield): I suppose you’d call this Richmond, Virginia band’s debut “blackened thrash”, but whatever the umbrella term, this album creeps up on you, plundering the uglier depths of heavy metal’s misanthropic side to create an effectively savage listening experience. Not too shabby at all.
F.K.Ü., 4: Rise Of The Mosh Mongers (Napalm): An acronym for “Freddy Kreuger’s Underwear”, these Swedes are all about the horror and humor, so much so that it tends to overshadow that they’re actually quite a good thrash band. Although the novelty threatens to wear then the deeper into this album you go, it’s nevertheless some fun, no-frills, Overkill-style metal.
Freedom Call, Ages Of Light (SPV): While Chris Bay and Freedom Call can never be called innovators, their brand of power metal is as good as any other German band out there right now, and this is a very nice 18-track look back at their body of work. I’ll take this over today’s sorry versions of Helloween and Gamma Ray any day.
Gama Bomb, The Terror Tapes (AFM): Another band that plays thrash metal with a sense of humor, Ireland’s Gama Bomb never disappoint, always playing simple mid-‘80s crossover thrash while shamelessly championing their own geekiness. Fast, rampaging, but always with a strong sense of melody, these guys work the formula as well as anyone.
Gloomball, The Distance (SPV): Another European band desperately trying to sound American by playing lazy, pandering groove metal. We have enough of these bands over here, thank you very much. Go away.
Grime, Deteriorate (Forcefield): Not to be confused with the Canadian electropop chanteuse Grimes, this Italian band plays music far more savage and hateful. There’s not much to their brand of sludge, but they get their point across in effective, merciless fashion, bluesy doom riffs countered by some truly deraged screams.
In The Silence, A Fair Dream Gone Mad (Sensory): Sensory always comes through with exceptional progressive metal releases, and this one is no exception. This Sacramento band does a fantastic job combining the dark, gothy tones of Katatonia with ornate, unpredictable arrangements, which results in an unusually brooding sounding prog record. With beautiful, disciplined arrangements, singing that utilizes emotion without getting too maudlin, riffs and hooks intertwining, this is a remarkable, self-assured debut that leaves an immediate impression. What a discovery.
Kingdom Come, Outlier (SPV): 25 years after causing a minor stir with his preening, Zeppelin rip-off debut album, Lenny Wolf is still at it with Kingdom Come (or “Kingdom Clone”, as we called them back in the day) this being, quite incredibly, their 14th album. In the end, Wolf displays just as big a lack of originality now as he did in 1988, this time trying to create a circa-1995 alt-metal album and failing miserably.
Of Noah, Where Things Grow Without Light (The Path Less Travelled): Here’s an interesting one, a two-track, 35-minute instrumental album by a guitar/drums duo from the country of Georgia. Seemingly minimal, the bass-less pair does a good job creating expansive post-metal together, an undeniable chemistry existing between them. The songs meander languidly, but the changes never feel arbitrary, instead flowing naturally. Stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.
Sadgiqacea, False Prism (Candlelight): Doom, black metal, and psychedelic rock collide in impressive fashion on this first outing by the Philadelphia duo. There’s plenty of room for improvement – strong lead vocals will catapult this over the top – but as it stands right now these guys with the difficult name have a good thing going. And for the record, it’s pronounced “Sad-Juh-KAY-Sha”.
Sidious, Ascension to the Throne ov Self (Kaotoxin): Cut from the same cloth as Dimmu Borgir, the British band’s debut EP tries to achieve a similar balance of black metal and symphonic adornments, but instead feels overwhelmed by triggered drums, lavish keyboards, and overly loud mastering.
Sodom, Epitome Of Torture (SPV): Tom Angelripper and Sodom have not changed one bit over the years, and nor do we ever want them to. Together with longtime guitarist Bernemann and drummer Markus Freiwald the trio have been on a good little roll, and this is a very worthy follow-up to 2011’s excellent In War and Pieces. It’s a bit dopey in parts (“S.O.D.O.M.” expecially), but otherwise it’s the kind of upper-tier, slightly filthy thrash metal you expect from these German greats.
V8 Wankers, Got Beer? (SPV): Apparently there’s huge demand for joke bands that sing about beer in Germany, because these bands just won’t go away. If that isn’t enough, these guys are constantly trying to act like they’re from the American South, which, as I mentioned above, is even more annoying.
Vicious Rumors, Electric Punishment (SPV): The woefully underrated California heavy metal veterans return with yet another album that remains faithful to their classic, pre-power metal sound, heavy on speed, power, and most importantly, melody. “Black X List” is a scorcher.
Debut album blends dark/gothic metal and progressive rock
I was going through my usual Monday morning routine, sifting through this week’s new releases I hadn’t yet gotten to in preparation for tomorrow’s weekly round-up, when a new album stopped me dead in my tracks. It felt like an interpretation of the polished gothic metal of Katatonia through the eyes of a progressive rock fan, a marvelous blend of brooding atmosphere and adventurous yet disciplined songwriting.
The band’s name is In the Silence. They’re from Sacramento, they started in 2007 led by singer/guitarist/songwriter Josh Burke, and self-released their debut album A Fair Dream Gone Mad last year. They recently signed with trusted prog metal label Sensory, who will be re-releasing the album tomorrow. And it is magnificent, a remarkable, assured first outing that shows potential for even better things. In trying to find the perfect song to introduce you to them, I went with “Serenity”, which Katatonia fans will immediately identify with, but as it goes on you hear this band carving out their own niche by taking the music into heavier territory than the esteemed Swedes. So please, take the time to give this track a listen, and check out the rest of the album when it comes out tomorrow.
Doom band's long-awaited second full-length due in June
Just a month or so ago I was wondering, where the heck is Jex Thoth? The last time we heard from the talented American high priestess of occult doom was on her band’s 2010 Witness EP, as well as contributing lead vocals on Sabbath Assembly’s incredible Restored to One that same year. Mere days after that I learned the Wisconsin singer and her band of the same name are set to release a new album called Blood Moon Rise June 15 on I Hate Records, and the new song “Keep Your Weeds” has been posted on YouTube as a teaser.
While the doom influence remains very much apparent on the new record, as “Keep Your Weeds” indicates that aspect is downplayed from time to time on Blood Moon Rise in favor of a more psychedelic-hued direction. The arrangement on that track in particular is restrained enough to place the sole focus on Thoth’s stunning voice, as she casts a hypnotic little spell on the listener with her dulcet singing. You can’t ask for a better way to kick off your Monday than this gorgeous track.
Identity crisis leads to an all-time low
Have you ever seen a heavy metal band experience unprecedented success yet seem hopelessly lost as Judas Priest looked in the late-1980s? Having won over a new generation of fans with 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance and 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, the British veterans were poised to make a huge commercial splash, and they pulled out – what they thought, anyway – all the stops on 1986’s Turbo, a flamboyant, hook-driven, synthesizer-laden album that downplayed the band’s trademark heaviness for a more blatant pop influence. Although it sold very well, becoming a crossover success and paving the way for a very popular arena tour, Turbo remained a very controversial album among Priest diehards and has gone on to be the most polarizing album in their discography. The fact was Judas Priest was going through a bit of an identity crisis right when they were hitting their commercial peak.
Turbo was indeed a disappointment, but in my opinion time has been kind to that album. While it might not be perfect, it still boasts some of their most underrated moments (I will defend “Out in the Cold” to the day I die), a fascinating example of ‘80s pop excess infiltrating the heavy metal aesthetic. Like any other teenaged Priest fan in 1988, I eagerly anticipated the follow-up, but the first single from the album sure didn’t bode well.
A tie-in with the Anthony Michael Hall vehicle Johnny Be Good – already enough to make a metalhead cringe – Priest’s cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” felt far too forced for comfort, its rigid, crunching riffs and slick ‘80s polish stripping the song of all its reckless charm. Rob Halford tried to sell it as well as he could, but it was all for naught. Come on, guys, this is beneath you, was my initial reaction, yet I somehow, foolishly held out hope that the rest of the forthcoming record would deliver.
When I bought a cassette copy of Ram it Down in mid-May 1988, it took all of 30 seconds for my optimism to wither away. The savage scream Halford lets out at the beginning of the title track is about as exciting as the entire album gets; after that moment the song not so much launches as limps out of the gate as a limp imitation of older speedsters as “Exciter” and “Freewheel Burning”. The guitars have no bite to them, as Tom Allom’s production saps the band of any energy whatsoever. The lyrics are far too corny, even by Priest standards (“Thousands of cars and a million guitars / Screaming with power in the air”). And worst of all, the drumming, or lack thereof, is deplorable. Even the 17 year-old idiot that I was could tell that drummer Dave Holland was nowhere to be heard on this record, instead replaced by a painfully obvious drum machine even more rigid than Holland’s stiff backbeats.
It all felt like a bad simulation of a once-great band, and to this day it pains me to listen to it. The band repeatedly attempts to assert its metal credibility, but songs like “Heavy Metal”, “Monsters of Rock”, and “I’m a Rocker” feel like Halford, Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, and Ian Hill are all trying embarrassingly hard to let their fans know that after Turbo they’re still capable of sounding heavy. The main riff on “Love You to Death” is killer, but the lascivious lyrics are unbearable and borderline hilarious. That damned drum machine dominates the entire album and proves to be a distraction on many a track, especially “Hard as Iron”, but one cannot let Tipton and Downing off the hook either, as their Aerosmith sleaze rock riffs on “Love Zone” rank as the single worst moment I have ever heard on a Judas Priest record.
One song does stand out. The ballad “Blood Red Skies” is an effective one, a moody piece that actually puts the drum machine to good use, which along with the tastefully used synths gives the song a (for then) cutting-edge industrial feel. It’s the kind of experimental combination of metal, pop, and creative production that would have added some welcome depth to Turbo, but on this record it comes nowhere close to redeeming a painfully mediocre piece of work.
Looking back, Priest were trying their best to evolve, but in all the wrong ways. They were using their well-earned clout in the music business to try new things, going so far as to record a series of tracks with UK pop producers Stock, Aitken, and Waterman – the minds responsible for “Never Gonna Give You Up” and countless others – which have never been released, and which I am morbidly interested in hearing, especially the reputed cover of the Stylistics’ R&B hit “You Are Everything”. Come on, guys, release that stuff!
If Priest's 1988 wasn't bad enough, that same year Slayer came along and humiliated their heroes by recording a mind-blowing cover of Sin After Sin's "Dissident Aggressor" that obliterated everything on Ram it Down, instantly rendering Priest passé and irrelevant in the eyes of we headbanger teens. In the end, if there was one good thing to take from the failure of Ram it Down – certified gold in 1988, it has never gone platinum in the US – it just might have been the kick in the pants the band needed, because two years later they’d be back with a great new drummer, a back-to-basics attitude, and a new record that would prove to be one of their very best.