Saturday, September 26, 2009

HARMONY - CHAPTER II: AFTERMATH


After writing the review for Theocracy I got in touch with their label Ulterium Records. Emil there was curious if I’d be interested in any of their other artists and I let him know in no uncertain terms YES! Send them in. Music is always spinning,so it seems, here at the White Throne offices, so the chance to hear something new is always welcome.

Well I received Harmony’s second release “Chapter II: Aftermath” and it’s been spinning pretty continually over the last several weeks. Melodic Metal with Neo-Classical-Prog elements as well. Now just because I say ‘Prog’ don’t all you prog haters turn the page. Not one song here is over 6 minutes…. So don’t think it’s all a bunch of guitar and keyboard noodling. It’s not, this band is about songs.

Strong melodic sense throughout this album is enhanced by piano/keyboards and great guitar work. Henrik Bath brings a superior vocal performance which is simply enthralling. A slower moody feel, flat out metal, or simply bringing it home with great melodic feel. Henrik shines. Listen to ‘Silently We Fade’ or ‘Rain’ and tell me he doesn’t have the pipes. (If his name sounds familiar it might be because Henrik is also a member of Darkwater) Markus Sigfridsson brings strong guitar chops in the vein of fellow Swede Yngwie Malmsteen. Perhaps a bit more melodic is Markus’s playing. He definitely plays to fit the song.

Comparisons to Stratovarius seem in order to this reviewer. Harmony would be similar in style I think. Their promotional material says “Imagine a great mix between Yngwie Malmsteen, Kamelot and Nocturnal Rites, and you’ll find Harmony.” At times I would even say a touch of Dream Theater because some of breakdowns and guitar, keyboard interplay strike me that way as well. If you listen to the song ‘Aftermath’ I think you’ll agree!

Nearly every song on this release is simply amazing, so it’s hard to pin down the stand outs but I’ll try. The aforementioned “Rain”, “Silently We Fade” and also including “Aftermath”, “Hollow Faces” and “End of My Road” simply scream superior quality. The musicianship is outstanding let I forget Tobias Enbert (drums) and Magnus Holmberg (keyboards). Very high quality and believe me if it wasn’t so I’d tell you.

The production is superior to their debut release “Dreaming Awake” a much more complete and full sound is achieved. The mix is very even and all the instruments are heard as well as the vocals. This type of metal with a positive Christian message is just what the doctor ordered for this headbanger.

This disc is very well layered with a lot of depth musically and lyrically. A lyric wasn’t included in my package, but regardless what I can hear makes me smile. Nothing trite or contrived on this album. This band could easily tour with the likes of Primal Fear, Saxon, Hammerfall and it would be a great bill.

I know this album came out much earlier this year and late last year, depending on your part of the world. If you haven’t picked it up yet I would make this a high priority. Good stuff.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

STRYPER - MURDER BY PRIDE


Twenty five years ago Stryper released the now classic six song EP entitled the ‘Yellow and Black Attack’. A rather startled and astonished music community was taken aback by this foursome from Southern California. Large contingents of fans developed and have hung on through a lot of ups and downs.

Record label issues, Christian Pastor issues, Personal issues, Image issues, Christian Church issues, Air play issues ( I never heard them played in the San Francisco Bay Area EVER!), yet these guys have seemingly overcome the many obstacles placed in front of them. I can’t think of another artist other than Amy Grant to receive such ridicule and criticism from looks to sound of the music. Currently, their biggest obstacle, without a doubt; being the passing of Michael Sweet’s wife Kyle earlier this year from cancer. Time will tell how that will play itself out. My condolences go out to Mike and his family.

That brings us to Stryper’s current release ‘Murder by Pride’. After what many viewed as a disappointing comeback disc in 2005’s ‘Reborn’ left many wondering would Stryper ever put out an album as good as say ‘To Hell With The Devil’ or ‘Against The Law’? Well I’m not sure if this current disc will negate the nay sayers because even though there are many elements of what might be called the ‘classic’ Stryper sound, there are also many things that are not.

Being a life long Stryper fan (bought that EP in 84, but avoided the remix in 86 because that just didn’t cut it at all… thanks Cliffy for that re-master!) I really hoped for something that was just gonna flat out ROCK from beginning to end. Having said that there are many moments on ‘Murder by Pride’ where the Band shines.

The cover of Boston’s “Peace of Mind” simply cranks with ALL the Stryper elements, high energy music, guitar melodies, vocal harmonies and LOUD GUITARS! ‘4 Leaf Clover’ gets the job done as a nice hard rock number with a great chorus and it does sound like Stryper. It has a cool groove and the song feels like Stryper 2009.

Disc opener ‘Eclipse for the Son’ has a very modern rock vibe. The song itself is probably the fastest tune on the disc with a screaming guitar solo. However title track ‘Murder by Pride’ is a mid tempo rocker that initially reminded me of ‘Calling on You’ with a familiar sounding guitar harmony and tempo. Yet this song is a bit heavier than the aforementioned single from Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil.” There are several other tunes that are pretty catchy and rock pretty well ‘Mercy over Blame’, “Alive” and “Everything” show that the band can still belt it out.

The re-recording of ‘My Love (I’ll Always Show)’ does seem a bit out of place, this song was written 25 years ago and appeared on the ‘Roxx Regime’ CD. There are several ballads/acoustic rock songs that don’t seem to really fit. It would seem they would’ve been more appropriate on a Michael Sweet solo album. It would’ve been nice to see some of the other guys contributing musically to the songs, but from what I can see Michael wrote all the material. I’m sure Oz has a few ditties he could’ve contributed. Oh well.

This album isn’t the home run I’d hoped for but enjoyable none the less. I can’t help wondering tho why does the Boston tune simply RIP and the other songs almost seem pedestrian by comparison. Just my opinion. Stryper fans should enjoy this album without reservation.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

THRESHER - HERE I AM


Fans of old school style thrash/power metal raise your fists and yell with excitement as Roxx Productions has released a lost musical gem. From the blue collar land of coal and steel (i.e. Pennsylvania) comes Thresher. “Here I Am” is their previously unreleased 8 song self financed album. This was to be a follow up of the bands first 6 song demo ‘Totally Possessed’, but due to life issues this album was never released. That is until now!

A sound akin to early Megadeth, Metallica and at times Metal Church. Thresher hits like a freight train going past the point of no return. With upfront heavy duty guitar sounds and a solid backbone of brutal drum and bass. These guys play quite convincingly and passionately.

The opener ‘Sanctuary’ starts with a classical guitar prelude before the power chords start flying and the hair starts swayin’. John Mark Buchanan brings a vocal prowess that often reminds me of James Hetfield or sometimes Dave Mustaine. When the song hits it's apex you just want to push repeat. Parts of ‘Faith Awaken’ or ‘Amazin Grace’ are reminiscent of early Megadeth with different riffs and time change elements. While ‘Here I Am’ opens up with a very familiar sound akin to Metallica’s ‘Fade to Black’. None of these are rip offs but elements incorporated into Threshers own sound which only enhance the songs themselves and show homage to those who came before. The payoff part in ‘Here I Am’ is when John repeats ‘Here I am! Here I am oh God send Me!’ a great melody that is enhanced by the power of the music underneath it.

Wait until you hear ‘Altar of Sacrifice’ a solid piece of metallic brutality that continues this discs ascent into excellence. Bring the hammer down and listen to the technical breakdown in the middle, I can see the pit swirling and the sweat flying! That just brings us to the final songs ‘Death to Asherah’, and ‘One Way Out’. The surge of power continues through all of those tunes. “Asherah” in particular reminds me of something that could’ve been included on say ‘Kill em all’, lots of riff and time components ‘DEATH TO ASHERAH!’…..

I myself could’ve done without the tune ‘Raptor’…. An attempt at metal/rap or whatever you want to call it, however once you get past the initial ‘rap’ section the band launches full speed into some very tasty riffage and lead work.

The production is above average for an independent release back in 92. The instruments are evenly distributed through the mix and the quality is there. The only question I have is, am I the only one who happened to notice perhaps more high end above 4k in this release. I don’t know if that would be a mastering issue or perhaps just how the original tapes were recorded. Anyway by simply adjust the treble control slightly that negative element is eliminated.

I also understand the early copies that Roxx Productions released had the first demo as well. My copy didn’t come with that so I’m sure all you lucky ones who pre-ordered are chuckling in your sleep.

If you love thrash DON’T miss this release, you’ll be kicking your self if you do.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

STRICKEN - STRICKEN


Out of Southern California, launching a brutal twin guitar attack come San Diego’s own Stricken. With a sound akin to Godsmack or Disturbed, Stricken demand your attention. If you think I’m kidding about the guitar sound just listen to this Roxx Productions release.

From the opening song ‘Awakened’ through ‘Vicious Cycle’ and closing song ‘Fallen Land’ the songs are crushed with power, passion and drive. Dave Meriwether knocks the vocals out of the park with strength and grit that cuts through the musical freight train. Both Corey Newton and Matt Kearney (on guitars respectively) have got the TONE and they bring a shredding rhythm and polished lead sense to this release. Rik Bernotas (bass) and Brian Scottini (drums) have the backbone of this musical juggernaut.

My personal favorites here are the aforementioned ‘Vicious Cycle’ full tilt metal here, ‘Commander’ a POWERFUL DRIVING worship song (make no mistake about the power!). The music here is relentless with some of the most worshipful lyrics, Dave brings it home here. At times his vocal is reminiscent of James Hetfield but he drives it home. The song ‘Deception’ is another where no punches are pulled but there is a melodic element in the chorus the makes me hit replay again and again.

One of the strengths here is the memorable songs. They bring a strong melodic structure without sacrificing the STRONG GUITARS, yes there is a modern metal vibe but that shouldn’t deter any open minded individual from checking this release out. Like a breath of fresh air, Stricken aren’t afraid to write shorter more concise songs that you can scream along to (or sing!). ‘Creation’ brings a slightly slower but still powerful side musically. Akin to something like ‘Sanitarium’ by Metallica.

Lyrically there is no mistaking Stricken for anything else other than a band of brothers passionate about their faith. The lyrics are intelligent, thought through and well executed.
Very mature writing I’ve not heard since Theocracy’s “Mirror of Souls”. They're not preachy but heart felt, tactful and honest. Not usually seen in heavy metal.

The production is solid with an even sound (I’m sure those guitars are triple tracked!) with good drum tones and equal parts sweat and blood. Excellent packaging from Roxx Productions and DownPour Records, a nice gem case with lyrics and LIVE photos on the inside back inlay. I love to see live pics it helps me know these guys can PLAY. And play they can.

I realize this disc came out in 2008, but greatness shouldn’t be overlooked and this is MY blog! I hope at some point to see Stricken in a live setting, any chance of a Nor Cal show??... This is an excellent release that should be appeal to a wide fan base. I dig it.

Buy it and enjoy…. Illegal downloading rips ‘em off… Click the title bar and you should be taken to their MySpace…. CRANK IT UP!!!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

GRAVE ROBBER - INNER SANCTUM


WHOAH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH!

Growing up I used to watch Chiller Diller Matinee, The Sci-Fi Flicks and The Monstrous Movie. Creature Features would make the occasional appearance if I could stay up that late. It was through those shows that I developed an appreciation of the early monster flix i.e. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, so on. Good always conquered evil and the bad guys always lost. They might come again, but that was half of the fun. The true sense of those early horror pieces was the ultimate overcoming of Good, and they were pretty darn fun as well.

In a similar way we have one the most original bands to come out in Christian music in a long time. Grave Robber’s second release entitled ‘Inner Sanctum’ is wonderful. Taking their obvious love of bands like The Misfits, Alice Cooper; Grave Robber has carved out a unique niche here. From their outrageous stage attire to the crazy stage names Wretched belts out the Vokills and shovel. Lamentor wails on guitar while Carcass bashes his bass. Not to be outdone Plague hits the Doom Tubs. Tongue firmly planted in cheek (if they had one) they are the complete package and real deal.

“Children of the night… what music they make…...”

The music is punk with metal influences and hooks that really get under your skin. “Valley of Dry Bones”, “Fear No Evil”, “Altered States”, “The Night has Eyes” all bring fabulous chorus’s that are so catchy they implore you to listen again. The punk vibe is so cool it just rocks. Yet there is enough metal here to make any headbanger happy. I don’t own the previous Grave Robber CD but from the clips I’ve heard on a couple of compilations this album has a richer production from the drums to guitars. Lots of energy and passion that seep from this recording throughout.

One of my favorite songs is “Tell Tale Heart”, an obvious nod to Edgar Allen Poe, but musically to the King (Elvis that is!). I could only imagine Wretched singing this to his favorite ghoul. There is even a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Children of The Grave” that just ROCKS! Lots of drive and it’s heavy.

Through out this release Grave Robber hit another homerun in the lyric department as the lyrics themselves are anything but clich├ęd. Metaphor and Allegory are here with obvious tact and wit. Throughout the package each song is skillfully crafted lyrically and musically, enough ‘Whoas’ to make me think of an old spooky movie. Retroactive Records has put out three Essential releases this year. First are “Ultimatum – Lex Metalis”, “Mainline Riders – WorldShaker” and now Grave Robber.

This is a fabulous rock n roll album that’s fun, thought provoking, and a great listen. It’s just getting tons of repeated play in my CD player. You can check ‘em out on their Myspace page or watch their video for ‘Altered States’ on YouTube. Support these bands and buy their stuff, don’t rip ‘em off through downloading…..

ROCK ON!

Are there T-Shirts available?

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

ARNION - FALL LIKE RAIN


Coming at us from South America, specifically, Brazil is Arnion (Greek for ‘lamb of God’). Heavy duty production values with emphasis on massive amounts of “riffage.”
They bring their brand of metal to rest of the world. An assimilation of Bay Area Thrash/Old School Power Metal (Metal Church anyone?) and a healthy dose of punk attitude.

Hitting on all cylinders Arnion starts the disc off with a track aptly titled ‘Visions of Hell’ blasting away with multiple riff and time changes, this is only a prelude of what is to come. One of my favorite songs comes following in ‘Zombies’ a Megadeth influenced style tune that is as heavy as a cement truck. Once again multiple riff and time changes abound.

At times the material does get a bit technical, but for the most part Arnion plays it straight ahead. Several times a heavier old school power metal style emerges such as “Get Ready for War” or the “Whitened Graves”. The songs start in a mid tempo groove but end up moving out like an F-18 on take off from an aircraft carrier. 0-200 mph in 3 seconds.

The disc also includes their 2006 release ‘Refuge’(digitally remastered)which on several tracks a different vocal style, almost death metal like, emerges. In this case the title track ‘Refuge’ sticks out to me. Intense and heavy, I can see the pit moving and the windmills swirling.

Some of the material from ‘Refuge’ was re-recorded for the ‘Falls like Rain’ release. There are some differences that fans will take note of. Listening to both releases the immediate difference is the production. ‘Falls like Rain’ has a bit cleaner sound and heavier guitar tracks. “Human Holocaust” and “Whitened Graves” definitely benefit from the newer production.

There are obviously some Sepultura influences but again Arnion take those and make them their own. This is an album for those who love a Riff. The riff carries the songs and makes them pound and thrash away. Myself I could’ve handled a little more melody or hook in the songs but when stuff hits like this, maybe all that’s needed is a sledgehammer to pound away the rust…… All the pieces are there for a true breakout let’s hope that next release falls in place. Keep Rockin’ till the Final day…..

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