Sunday, December 9, 2012

INNER SIEGE - KINGDOM OF SHADOWS



American Heavy Metal is alive and well and thriving in a five piece outfit from Illinois called Inner Siege. These guys deliver bone crushing heavy metal with slight old school power metal overtones. No overbearing keyboards, just flat out soaring vocals with a powerful twin guitar attack and punishing rhythm section.

Kingdom of Shadows is the title of their debut platter, which is a solid offering of metal prowess. In their bio they list Kamelot, Dream Evil, Firewind, Symphony X and Pagan’s Mind as influences, so that gives a strong indication of where their stylistic heredity comes from. Upon first listen those influences stand out strong, but where a band like Dream Evil and Firewind live on anthemic chorus’s (especially Dream Evil) that isn’t really where Inner Siege is at. Perhaps this is where the Kamelot influence comes in.

This album of guitar driven heavy metal is well crafted and well executed. The performances are world class mixed and mastered by Fredrik Nordstrom of Dream Evil. The vocals of Jeremy Ray will remind some of early Queensryche, but Ray is no Tate clone. The guitar work of Kevin Grose and J Prater simply shreds while the bass work of Ravn and drum precision of Wade Helm lock it all down tight. It goes without saying that the sound quality on Kingdom of Shadows is brilliant.

The promotional material provided by Roxx Records indicates that this is a concept album. Unfortunately because there isn’t a lyric sheet I’m somewhat at a loss as to what the concept is, I have my suspicions but without knowing for sure I’ll keep my speculation to myself. I do know this, it appears to be well thought out and developed.

Musically there is a lot of muscle here and it’s not relying on a bunch of blast beats to get the point across.   From album opener Warrior through the powerful closing track Sacrifice, Kingdom of Shadows is the real metal deal. The most easily accessible tracks include the galloping drive of Rider and the slug fest which is Children of Winter.

The leather jacket brigade should be lining up in droves to grab this one. One of the five best albums I’ve heard this year. One can hope that they will somehow tour their way out to the glorious state of euphoria which is California. Inner Siege, Kingdom of Shadows demands that you obtain a copy and enjoy the winter with the cold steel that is the musical precision within. 

9 axes
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

DIVINE INCARNATION - JUDGEMENT AGAINST THE NATIONS



Moving with the subtlety of a runaway locomotive the debut album by Divine Incarnation has arrived. (Actually it arrived a little while ago, but due to several delays this review is finally seeing the light of day…. Sorry guys!!). Judgment Against the Nations is the title of this metallic assault brought to us by Sanctus Gladius Records

Judgment Against the Nations is blackened/Thrash Metal that is long on bombast and short on any kind of subtlety, with upfront guitars and vocals that could scrape paint off a wall. Opening with what I think is the best track, The Return, you know what you're gonna get. Fast songs that have few changes but have lots of sledgehammer moments.

Other stands out tracks include, All Powerful One and The Only Way. These tracks have some solid thrashy death type moments, yet have a really strong old school vibe reinterpreted for today. The black metal influence is really strong on the 10 minute epic Indignation, for me tho I sorta got lost along the way.


There are really strong riffs on this album. The production is clean and brutal without being overproduced in the least. This band sounds like someone I’d hear in San Francisco at the Rock On Broadway, very underground and very raw. According to the liner notes these tracks were originally recorded in October 2009 and July 2010. Perhaps as two separate demo’s that have been put together for this limited edition release. If that is the case, the production elements are really quite good.

On their Facebook page they list their influences as,

Bathory, Celtic Frost, Emperor, Hellhammer, Immortal, Mayhem, Slayer.

That I can believe! This is a limited edition disc so if you don’t already own one you might’ve missed out, but if brutal thrashing blackened death is up your alley; grab a copy of Divine Incarnation’s Judgment Against the Nations. You won’t be disappointed.

7 axes

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ULTIMATUM - HEART OF METAL: 20 YEARS OF ULTIMATUM

“Neck Snappin’, Fist Pumpin’, Head Banging Heart of METAL!!” is the chorus to one of the greatest anthems to come out of the Metal underground. That song is the title of their 20th anniversary box set and separate compilation CD. Old school power metal masters Ultimatum have again contributed to the history of heavy metal as an art form and as artists with a distinctly Christian world view.



Ultimatum has reached a plateau that few bands have; they have been around for 20 years and still going strong. They’ve never been trapped in that album a year and tour grind that most bands fall into by default, however I’m sure that the guys themselves would love to have had that opportunity!

No, Ultimatum by and large has been a regional band which occasionally ventured outside the confines of the great state of New Mexico. Having played several larger festival shows over the course of their musical career including the Up From the Ashes festivals in Southern California, Extreme Mardi Gras also in Southern California, Cali-Stone and the big one, Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois. I was fortunate enough to see them in 2010 at Up From the Ashes 3.

However, even without the benefit of full fledged touring this group of dedicated and persistent musicians have garnered a fan base that is truly world wide. One of the benefits of the musical underground, from tape traders to file swapping. It’s because of the advent of the internet that has allowed this band to develop such a fanatical fan base.



Roxx Records saw the opportunity to do something special and indeed they have. Heart of Metal: Twenty years of Ultimatum is a fabulous collection of all things Ultimatum. This collector's box set came with three CD’s, one DVD, autographed pictures, stickers, guitar pick and patch, whew! Oh if I forgot, it all came in a very cool embossed box to hold it all!

Starting off with the center piece CD, Heart of Metal 20 Years of Ultimatum, this 18 song compendium of high octane metal madness covers the gamut of Ultimatum’s recording career. For many fans the highlight of this disc is the four new tracks, Blood on a Thousand Hills, Scattered (Body Parts), Hook Line & Sinker and Rip ‘n’ Tear. These four tracks are what Ultimatum is all about in a nutshell, screaming old school thrashy/power metal i.e. Metal Church/Exodus/Meliah Rage. (Not the Euro metal that somehow gets labeled power metal).

Blood on a Thousand Hills opens up with a driving riff that locks in and pulls the rhythm section along.(A live version is included on the DVD) Fast and furious through the verses they put the brakes on during the chorus, a pile driver in overdrive. Scattered (body Parts) is more riffy with a slight groove to it, that is until the chorus kicks in with its pure headbanging joy. Founder and lead guitarist Robert Gutierrez shreds throughout this tune, with some nice tasty lead work. Rip N Tear is another barn burner that just plows along with some very crunchy riff work, that time change before the solo smokes. However my favorite of the new songs is the slowest (?), I know I know…. But Hook Line and Sinker is AWESOME!! Mid tempo at best with a stellar groove, this is the type of song you just imagine rows of headbanger's going nuts, remiscient of Accepts Balls to the Wall video. Strong riffage with a brilliant chorus that Scott Waters just belts out, fabulous stuff. The guitar solo section is very Maidenesqe, lots of melody with a nice tempo change.

The other fourteen tracks are taken from throughout the Ultimatum catalog. Many of those tracks were voted upon by the fans themselves through an online poll. Even then several of the tracks were remixed just for this release i.e. Heart of Metal, One for All (taken from 2007’s Into The Pit). A remixed version of Locked In Chains comes from their 2010 album Lex Metallis. The drums seem to have a fuller and more natural sound this time.

Other featured songs are Crash Course, Temple of the Spirit from 2000’s The Mechanics of Perilous Times. Never, Puppet of Destruction and Gutterbox appear from 1998’s Puppet of Destruction. Darkest Void appears from their debut album Symphonic Extremities along with that albums title track. The 2007 version of Blink appears here also in a remixed form along with the 2008 version of Mortal Stomp.

This album isn’t just a greatest hits type collection as it features those special versions of these classic Ultimatum tracks. This is the only disc to be featured outside this box set, so if you were unable to purchase the entire box set you can still get this 18 song gem.


The second disc is entitled Before the Pit: Demo’s and Alternate Versions. Featuring material from 2007’s Into The Pit, this CD is like watching a painting being constructed or looking at the assemblage of film in the cutting room of some Hollywood studio. There are lots of rough mixes, which for an artist is akin to being able to ‘try before you buy.’ However the original four song demo of Into The Pit is included here; One For All, Heart of Metal, Deathwish and Blind Faith. This was used to secure their record deal with Retroactive. These versions to this ear sound more aggressive and a bit heavier than what eventually appeared on …Pit. Well worth checking out.

Several alternate mixes of songs appear here as well; Blink, Into the Pit and Heart of Metal as well. These versions are different than what appeared on the final album. Several rough mixes, where a song is in the middle of the production process but not quite finished are included, Blood Covenant, Blind Faith, and Into the Pit. These tracks are raw and offer very cool insight into how songs are arranged and brought into focus (could you imagine how many versions of Metallica’s song Master of Puppets there must be!?!?). I’ve always been fascinated by this somewhat tedious process of putting an album together, however there is just a certain energy to the studio process which is very different from a live performance. This is disc is for true Ultimaniacs only. Of special note is the remixed radio version of Heart Of Metal. This is the version which appears on Dale Huffman’s radio show Metal Pulse Radio, a cool intro and more delay and reverb for a rich radio sound.

The third disc to be included is a copy of their remastered 1998 album Puppet of Destruction. A review of this album can be found here on the White Throne web site. Puppet of Destruction review

Of special note to me is that the final disc a DVD which clocks in a nearly four hours of material. Two complete concerts are included their appearance at Extreme Mardi Gras in 2002 and their 2010 triumph at the Up From The Ashes Festival in Temecula, Ca. There is also a plethora of interviews, live show clips, back stage material and their now classic video clip for their anthemic track, Heart of Metal.

As a fan I always dig the behind the scenes type material, it just helps me to feel that much more part of what is going on with my favorite artists. The 2007 interview, which is included, is really a great slice of Ultimatum in 20 minutes.

Ultimatum: Heart of Metal – 20 Years of Ultimatum, is a classic box set. If you were fortunate to snag one you’ll treasure it as a cornerstone of the Christian Metal Movement, however if you weren’t then by all means pick up a copy of the single disc Heart of Metal. This is heavy metal made by metal fans who like it hard, grinding and powerful. Crushing guitars with bombastic bass and thunderous drums topped off by a gravely throated vocalist, what more can a metal fan want???

10 axes….
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Saturday, November 3, 2012

BIOGENESIS - THE RISE THE FALL THE REBIRTH


Before vocalist Chaz Bond joined Jacob’s Dream he was part of Biogenesis. Biogenesis put out one album way back in 2001 on Steve Rowe’s label, Rowe Productions. There was much hoopla as that album was a solid array of metal styles, myself I missed that album but I’ve heard about it non stop for years.

I enjoyed Chaz’s vocal work with Jacob’s Dream, so when I heard that he was going to put Biogenesis back together I was excited and anxious to hear it. The Rise The Fall The Rebirth is the title of this solid assortment of heavy metal chaos. There are groove elements, there are thrash elements, there are moody melancholic moments, throw some proggy stuff in there. Not to mention some traditional metal pieces and it comes out Biogenesis.


Chaz’s vocal performance is solid throughout. There are occasional thrash screams, growls and his trademark tenor vocal with plenty of grit. The musical performances are top drawer with exception skill and feel. Nevin Cline (drums) and Randy Walton (bass) lock together with surgical precision, both feeding off the other while holding down the back beat and groove.

But the songs are strong and don’t all fall into the typical verse chorus verse chorus solo. The melodies are haunting and infectious. It took me a time or two to lock in but once I did, some serious musical nirvana happening. Tracks like Hatred Seed or Point of Origin just bring the pain, while Angel is simply a drifty sorrowful tune of sheer genius. The more I listen to this release the better it gets.

The production elements are pretty solid, I’ve seen some complaints in the forums, but to my ears production is not the issue. The sounds are sweet and crunchy, but I think the album suffers from a lack of mastering. The bottom end gets a little too fat for my taste and would benefit from some cleaning up.

The Rise The Fall The Rebirth is heavy and crushing. This album really is a good one, it’ll make you raise your fist and yell. If you want something a little different then reach for this and be ready to bang yer head with power and passion.

7 axes
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

LIBERTY N JUSTICE - THE CIGAR CHRONICLES VOLUMES 1 & 2

The latest release from veteran rockers Liberty N Justice is a 26 song opus entitled The Cigar Chronicles Vol. 1 & 2. Justin Murr & JK Northrup have assembled another who’s who of melodic hard rock and put together a cavalcade of musical bliss. Top notch performances which drive the feel good release of the year.

The Cigar Chronicles is a two disc release broken into Volume 1 & Volume 2. Volume 1 follows the trend of the last 5-6 years with an array of covers, LNJ paying tribute to a wide array of artists, which include the following songs and guest performers;

1. "Ice Ice Baby" Seann Nicols (Adler's Appetite/ Tarsha) & Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister) originally recorded by Vanilla Ice

2. "I Can't Dance" Stevie Rachelle (TUFF) originally recorded by Genesis

3. "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" CJ Snare (Firehouse/ Rubicon Cross), George Lynch (Dokken/ Lynch Mob), & Jeff Pilson (Dokken/ Foreigner) originally recorded by U2

4. "Stayin' Alive" Kip Winger (Winger) originally recorded by The Bee Gees

5. "YMCA" Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge & Trans Siberian Orchestra), Chris Dickens (Mission Of One) & Neil Zaza, originally recorded by The Village People

6. "Iris" Tony Harnell (TNT/ Westworld) & Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot/ Hotel Diablo)
originally recorded by The Goo Goo Dolls

7. "You're So Vain" Phil Lewis (LA Guns) & Chris Green (Rubicon Cross/ Furyon)
originally recorded by Carly Simon

8. "Queen Of The Night" Selena McVey & Brooke St. James (Tyketto)
originally recorded by Whitney Houston

9."Blame It On The Rain" Andrew Freeman (Hurricane/Offspring/30 Stones), Pete Fry (Far Cry) & Eric Ragno (Liberty N' Justice) originally recorded by Milli Vanilli

10. "Bye Bye Bye" Chas West (Bonham) & Jeff LaBar (Cinderella) originally recorded by N'Sync

11. "Dancing On The Ceiling" James Christian (House Of Lords) originally recorded by Lionel Ritchie

12."Stuck In The Middle With You" Larry Worley (FearNot), Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (Guns N' Roses), Andy Robbins (Holy Soldier/Joe Lynn Turner), & Anthony Gravley (Windup Rocket) originally recorded by Stealers Wheel

13. "Mmmbop" Jamie Rowe (Guardian), Anthony Gravley (Windup Rocket), Roxx Hunter, originally recorded by Hanson

This compendium of classic songs is vast on the style scale, so I will only highlight what I found to be the strongest tracks. The Vanilla Ice track Ice Ice Baby rocks with a solid groove finds new life in this session.

You’re So Vain clamors for attention as it drives right up and down Sunset Blvd; its late 80’s Los Angeles feel reminds me of the glitz lights and unbelievable night life of Hollywood. The Lionel Ritchie song Dancing on the Ceiling which features the vocals of James Christian, rocks pure and simple. We can add the Hanson and Stealers Wheel covers as well. LNJ drives a musical caravan here that reminds one of the great rock n roll acts from days gone by.

The ultimate highlight from Volume 1 is the Kip Winger vocal on the acoustic version of the Bee Gees classic, Stayin Alive. Having grown up during the disco era I was very skeptical at first, but this song is one of the best of 2012. The dynamics of Wingers performance is stellar, great range and control. He brings so much soul and passion without pretense. The arrangement of the acoustic guitar is fabulous and drives it along.


Volume 2 is thirteen tracks of sheer hard rock genius. The disc is full of original compositions and if disc one has laid out a high expectation, rest assured that disc two passes it. Volume 2 is full of memorable melodies and catchy hard rock ear candy.

This is the list of the of the songs and guest performers on Volume 2

1. "Devil His Dues" Derrick LeFevre (formerly of Lillian Axe), Vic Rivera (Crunch), Michael Feighan (Liberty N' Justice/White Cross/ King James) & Barry Graul (Mercy Me/ White Cross)

2. "The Greatest" David Cagle (Liberty N' Justice), Mark Allen Lanoue (Chasing Karma/ Bilioxi), & Brad Stetler

3. "Cupids Gonna Bleed" Gunnar Nelson (Nelson), Steve Brown (Trixter) with Barry Carl (Rockapella)

4. "Under Construction" Eric Dover (Slash's Snakepit/Jelly Fish), Mark Kendall (Great White) ,Ian Keith Hafner (Jaguar Blaze) & Eric Ragno

5. "Been There Done That" Ted Poley (Danger Danger) & Richard Kendrick (Straitjacket Smile)

6. "Grace" Michael Bormann (Jaded Heart/ Rain/ Charade), Phillip Bardowell (Unruly Child/ Beach Boys) & Mark Slaughter (Slaughter)

7. "Sucker Punched" Rick Stitch (Hotel Diablo), Jerry Dixon (Warrant) & Xander Demos

8. "Broken Bones" Giancarlo Floridia (Faithsedge), Greg Martin (The Kentucky Headhunters) & Chad Stewart (Faster Pussycat)

9. "Sin" Jani Lane, Bill Leverty (Firehouse), & Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper)

10. "Give Em" A Light" Paul Shortino (King Kobra/ Quiet Riot/ Rough Cutt) & Dave Henzerling (King Kobra/Steelshine)

11. "Daddy Long Legs" Louis St August (Mass) & Tim Gaines (Stryper)

12. "Cut Me Mick" Ron Keel (Keel) & Michael Phillips (Deliverance/ The Sacrificed)

13. "Tomorrow" Terry Ilous (Great White/XYZ),Ron Wikso (Foreigner, The Storm, David Lee Roth, Richie Sambora, Cher, Gregg Rolie Band), Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline, Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes, Edge Of Forever and Eden's Curse) & PK Mitchell

additional background vocals by Richard Kendrick, Giancarlo Floridia, Phil Vincent, Michael Stover, Frankie Cleaver, Bryan Cole

The real question is where to start because there are so many excellent songs and performances. Of special note would be that this album features the vocal debut of permanent LNJ vocalist David Cagle on the song The Greatest. Having heard this effort I can see why he will be the vocalist going forward. Cagle’s smooth yet husky driving tonality fits in the LNJ mold perfectly. The song itself is pure LNJ, hooky edgy melodic and upbeat.

If you’ve heard any of the samples that LNJ have been sharing around the net the last couple of months rest assured the other tracks are by no means filler. Whether its album opener Devil His Due or the full tilt rocker Been There Done That, with a great vocal provided by Ted Poley from Danger Danger; to one of the pre-released tunes in Daddy Long Legs The Cigar Chronicles is one of the musical highpoints of 2012. I mean how do just keep gushing about how Sucker Punched rocks or Cut Me Mick slices like a razor, while Under Construction is the slow retrospective ballad that goes deep lyrically with an autobiographical bent. Grace doesn’t fall into the same category as many of the other tracks with a slightly more melancholic feel of an overcast day with rain forecast.

Another note worth mentioning is that the song Sin features the last vocal performance of Jani Lane (Warrant) before his untimely passing. One must ponder whether Jani took to heart the lyrics he was singing, the quality of performance leads to think he must have. How could he not?

Top notch production values throughout that bring out the best in the songs and the performances within. Frankly there are so many excellent tunes here to try to discuss them all is simply not possible.

The Cigar Chronicles Volumes 1 & 2 is a collection that is both enjoyable and richly deep. The work ethic is clearly on display and reminds one just how hard it is to put together a composition that is memorable. To put together so many memorable tracks is really amazing. Memo to all you air guitar players and arm swirling air drummers get ready for a hot time in the ole city tonight! This is rock n roll that uplifts and encourages without clich├ęs, CRANK IT UP!!

9 axes
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Friday, October 26, 2012

MESSENGER - YOU CHOOSE


Messenger hail from the East Coast, the nations capital specifically, and these boys have a strong understanding about how to rock! Messenger have crafted a sound that reminds me of early Sacred Warrior (musically not vocally) and Dio. This ten song album is full of hooks and well crafted songs. You Choose is the title and Messenger make no mistake about the choice before you.

Opening with the rythymic drumming of Tim TNT Tieff, The Sacrifice comes charging out of the wall of sound with a catchy chorus. Yet I notice immediately that there is no guitar solo. The End of Time is a bit heavier and struts its stuff in a slightly up tempo fashion. Well arranged and with a stellar guitar solo, the chorus is anthemic but not cheesy at all.

Songs such as The Back of My Mind, The Risen Christ and Christian Rocker kick it up much like End of Time, with powerful verses musically that hit like a hammer and break through when the chorus comes. This type of song writing is when Messenger is at their peak. Undoubtedly these tracks would go down a storm in a live setting.

However not to be overlooked the slow and moody Paradise finds it place just fine. With its tight songwriting and straight to the point arranging, it highlights a stellar guitar solo from Vlad Gurin. This works and the whole package is offered in a rather melancholic atmosphere. The vocal work of Frank Herring is solid and the bass playing of Roy Richardson rounds out the bottom end.



Power, Rulemaker are just a notch or two below the other songs, catchy none the less. The only song that left me completely flat is Come Home, which suffers from an overly simplistic chorus which is too repetitious.

Lyrically, this album harkens back to the day of early Resurrection Band, Daniel Band or Jerusalem as they present the Gospel and tackle various church issues. The only track that left me flat lyrically was Christian Rocker, just the title should tell you enough. It falls in that ‘Rock for The Rock’ category.

Clocking in at a smidget over 30 minutes long the whole thing is done before you get a chance to get comfortable. Yet that is one of the charms of this album, it hits hard and quick, closing with the aforementioned The Risen Christ, and it delivers the goods.

This is an independent release but don’t think it is substandard, it’s not by any stretch. The production is quality, slight mastering issues aside but nothing that detracts at all.

Messenger’s album You Choose is full tilt 80’s heavy metal in the vain of Dio or Sacred Warrior. The emphasis is on songs and strong melodies with powerful guitar. It’ll be interesting to see how Messenger grow from this release as they’ve been around for several years. You Choose has been more than a pleasant surprise it has become a driving companion.

7 axes

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