Columnus Metallicus: May's Heavy Metal By Louise Brown
, May 23rd, 2016 09:43
Louise Brown once again bestrides the world of metal like a damn colossus. This month she points her laser eyes at Grand Magus, Katatonia and Ghold among others...
You lot had better not be going out dressed like that - Savage Master on casual Friday
May: the month when the sun just peaks at over 13 degrees celsius and the metal community cut the sleeves off their t-shirts and swap all their Thin Lizzy and Scorpions pins from their leathers to their denim vests. Buying albums isn't so much a priority in May but we've found a few you can make an exception for. We know it's the month that the festivals start and precious pennies have to be saved for essentials like Muskelrock tickets, beer tokens and decisions like, “Should I go to Download because what if this is the last time we'll ever get to see Sabbath and Maiden?” Seriously, those are some scary questions. Motörhead were supposed to play a ton of festivals this year! Our favourite bands are creaking on towards retirement age, even Brian 'Thunder' Johnson has been put to pasture. Ritchie Blackmore is giving us one last trip down the Streets Of Dreams next month and I'll be front and centre during Whitesnake at Ramblin' Man Fair, y'know, just in case. The sun is shining, so there's no need for this pessimism; long live rock & roll, so dictates Sir Blackmore. If The Rolling Stones are still touring, there's hope for our heroes and when all's said and done, the new crop of bands reviewed in this column ain't so shoddy, that there's a future in this heavy metal lark yet.
Electric Citizen – Higher Times
This Sin-cinnati foursome are leading us down the path of temptation toward Higher Times this summer, and don't mind if we do. Fronted by the bewitching Laura Dolan, this is the right kind of spooky pop that will have us dancing under the influence in some field, somewhere, at 5am. Opener Evil (why sugarcoat things?) starts with all the Sabbathian might you'd expect from a band in flares and tassled waistcoats (and that's just the blokes), but the thunder clouds part for some Summer In The City style Lovin' Spoonful boogie, ramping up the tempo and making us shake what our mammas gave us. You gotta lose it and groove it when this album's on. Yeah, we could list all the Captain Beyond, Moby Grape cliches at this point, but Electric Citizen are a modern band. Sure, those bands are on their turntables but they're coming at it from a contemporary perspective, remembering that Sonic Youth and Earth were just as influenced by Pentagram as the modern crop of retro hip-swingers. Laura's voice ain't pretty, it's got soul but it ain't soulful, there's a punky, grungey croon over her band's psychedelic wall of sound and hard rock power. In fact, there's nothing to say that fans of Velocity Girl or Throwing Muses won't get down to this along with the vintage doom cult.
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
There's always got to be that one party pooper. As soon as the sun comes out and you're dancing in the garden, they're the ones in the big black jumper muttering about skin cancer and reminding you that it will be winter before you know it. Katatonia are that band. Don't release your new album in May, you bastards. Wait until October like all good gothic doomsters. Man, this is such a bummer but damn it's gorgeous. Give me that big black jumper, I feel the need to be cocooned and melt away with The Fall Of Hearts on repeat. The Swedish death metal depressives really drunk the Kool Aid in 2006 with The Great Cold Distance, distancing themselves from their extreme metal past and going all Perfect Circle on us. Along with Anathema and Opeth, they've fully embraced the prog and with this, their tenth album, they're going for the heart with twelve songs (not counting a slew of bonus tracks, one of which has metal miser Gregor Mackintosh of Paradise Lost on guest guitars) of introspective gloom and doom. New string-slinger Roger Öjersson from Tiamat adds some hope with some nimble-fingered solos that would impress fellow country man Yngwie J. Katatonia are the Leaders of pessimistic prog and when the English summer shits the bed this album will lend all the comfort we need.
Ghold – Pyr
Staying out of the sun, on their third album, South London sludge duo Ghold have drafted guitarist Oliver Martin to add an extra layer to their already multi-textured sonic tower. Crafting a monolith of sound, Ghold are the band that make you miss Fudge Tunnel, or dig out that Corrupted record from the depths of your collection. Armed with just bass, amp, pedals and drums, they weave a tale of crushing doom, teasing the listener with an uneasy minute or two of silence before first song, 'Collusion With Traitors' kicks in proper. There's a neanderthal fury on Pyr and they ramp up the unease by the end of the first track only to jolt the listener to life with a blood-curding, black metal shriek at the start of Blud. The album's piece-de-resistance is the 20-minute Despert Thang, the bass adding the creepy soundtrack to a cavernous crawl through some subterranean temple with chanting monks and horrors untold. Ghold's primordial sludge is not gratuitous, it's a masterclass of doom-laden sturm und drang with an eerie, dread-filled undercurrent that sets the heart pacing and the mind wandering.
Virus – Memento Collider
Do you like Voivod? Virus like Voivod. And Talking Heads. That's the crossroads where Virus meets and it's as incredible as that pairing could ever be. Let's back up a bit. Virus were the continuation of avant black metal weirdos Ved Buens Ende and released their first album, Carheart, in 2003. Singer/guitarist Czral is also in black-thrashers Aura Noir as well as being linked with Ulver, Dimmu Borgir and DHG. Virus isn't black metal in the slightest. It's undefinable, weaving a path between pop, prog, post-punk, thrash and rock. Their fourth album is Virus' continuing evolution, playfully distorting rhythm, vocal sounds, and atmosphere to create a post-thrash, post-apocalyptic, otherworldly universe. Bass player Plenum took a bit of a sabbatical from Virus but is back, infecting these six tracks with a pulsing backbone that takes the listener on a journey while Einar Sjursø's jazz-inflections behind the kit drive the album forward, leaving the frontman's minimalist noise of guitar and voice to pepper Memento Collider with daring dissonance. The three contrasting styles come together to form a cohesive collision that once again proves their genius.
Spell – For None And All
Canada's Spell would go down a storm on tour with Virus. They come at their spacey prog from a more traditional heavy metal direction but, like the Norsemen, worship at the altar of Voivod, and for that matter, Rush. It must be a Canadian thing. The band started in Vancouver in 2007, just in time for the old school heavy metal resurgence. Back then they were called Stryker and joined fellow countrymen Cauldron and Skull Fist in borrowing from NWOBHM obscurities and records with the Banzai swirl. Cannily in time with the turning tide, in 2013 they changed their name to something more occult and swapped the spandex for kaftans. This is no wagon-jumping career move, this is the sound of a band coming into their own and finding their own groove. This is timeless rock with a foot in the proto-metal past, but sounding thoroughly futuristic with horror-soundtrack synths and Geddy Lee vocals. This is their second album as Spell, moving from local DIY label Hard And Heavy, to UK trad metal stable Bad Omen and it's a progression that will see Spell cast their magic further and deservedly so. It's going to be exciting to see what journey they take next, this is promising band and one to watch.
Bat – Wings Of Chains
Imagine having wings of chains, you wouldn't be able to fly, unless you were some mecha-buzzard of death. Bat aren't trying to be clever. They're trying to play thrash metal that pays homage to Venom and with their power trio formation summons the spirit of Lemmy and co. That's not entirely surprising since it's the result of a drunken decision by Municipal Waste's Ryan Waste and DRI's Felix Griffin to play fast and dirty heavy metal-punk. Their anthem 'Code Rude' calls for listeners to be filthy and crude, just like the twelve songs on this debut slice of horrible. Following a sought after demo and followed up by a EP, this isn't an album that Ryan, Felix and guitarist Nick Poulos churned out one midnight though, no matter how it sounds. This is a considered, thought-out tribute to the records that have been spinning in basements of metal maniacs the world over since the early '80s. While touring in the Waste, and to be fair Bat (who are rarely off the road), Wings Of Chains has been Ryan's obsession, unable to let it go until perfect. It's not perfect, it's not meant to be, it's raw and in-your-face. It's out on Hell's Headbangers, who are nailing every single release they put out at the moment – and the only label where you can buy a Nunslaughter swimming costume alongside your Vomitor LPs, which is frankly essential fashion this summer – and when something is this vital, the perfect pairing of thrash metal and hardcore punk, it's gonna be tough for the day job, Municipal Waste, to get it beat.
Lucifer's Hammer – Beyond The Omens
Let's hop over to South America, where traditional heavy metal is regarded as a religious experience. There are no holds barred when these Chileans pick up their instruments. This is power, this is glory, this is metal. The cover has wolves and a castle on the cover. The basslines are unashamed Steve Harrisisms. They have a song called Shinning Blade, yep “shinning”. This is their debut album, following a demo in 2013, and Shadow Kingdom (Manilla Road, Pagan Altar) have picked it up for an international release on, wait for it, cassette! Lucifer's Hammer are the band you need on the tip of your tongue when your shit friend says Iron Maiden sold out when they started writing 18 minute prog songs about hot air balloons. Tell them they're wankers and to listen to Lucifer's Hammer instead. Beyond The Omens has all that early Maiden charm but singer Hades sounds more like Angel Witch's Kevin Heybourne, that slightly off-key magic that made most of the b-list NWOBHM so spellbinding. Now, where's my Panasonic Shockwave?
Savage Master – With Whips And Chains
Staying naïve but staying truly heavy metal, Savage Master are a fairly new five-piece from Louisville, Kentucky consisting of four faceless executioners in full grim garb and a bewitching lady singer who wears leather corsets, thigh high boots and bedecked with chains she'll probably beat you to death with. Betsey Bitch, eat ya heart out. Savage Master are schlocky as hell. Their debut album was based around cult b-movie Black Sunday and while With Whips And Chains ain't no concept album, their themes are limited to Satan, witches, Satan and generally being all the things your Sunday school teacher said was bad. Like Lucifer's Hammer, Savage Master savage the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal vaults and they do it with all the fervour and wonderment of kids raised on Maiden and Saxon without the same level of musicianship, but who cares about that when you're playing from the heart... and your singer is likely to kill you dead with her stiletto heels. Stacey Savage herself is straight from the Beki Bondage school of “who cares if you can't sing”. She has attitude, she has a snarl from hell and she's scary. Savage Master have Satan on their side, they're not Mercyful Fate but they're fun. Lots of fun. The nuns can do one.
Denner/Sherman - Masters Of Evil
Do you know who also isn't Mercyful Fate? Denner/Sherman. But they almost are. We have two choices here, we can listen to Masters Of Evil as the eighth Fate album, or we can approach it as Denner/Sherman's first. The former is going to lead to disappointment, the latter offers up an exciting new band in the realm of old school heavy metal. Okay, history lesson: Brats' singer and guitarist King Diamond and Hank De Wank started Mercyful Fate in 1981. The other Brats axeman Michael Denner soon joined. They made some albums that were really good, changed the face of heavy metal as we know it and pretty much laid the groundwork for black metal. Also Metallica liked them. A lot. Diamond and Denner did go on to form the eponymous King Diamond but the Fate still released five albums in the '90s, which is good going in the decade that killed heavy metal. Now they're back but under a new name, with Fate drummer Snowy Shaw and two new members; Sean Peck from Death Dealer, who has some mighty pipes on him, and bassist Marc Grabowski. Exciting right? Well technically, except Masters Of Evil is a bit pub rock to be honest. Everything about the band is right, right down to the Don't Break The Oath-aping cover. It's not Sean's fault he's not King Diamond. If you can get over that then the album is Fate-tastic, supernatural tales are still told, the Denner/Sherman duel guitars are unbeatable, Satan still looms over their lyrics. In a column that celebrates all that traditional heavy metal gave us, and still gives us, surely a Denner/Sherman comeback is a cause for massive celebration, and if you really crave the full Mercyful Fate experience why don't you go see King Diamond in London on June 21 but listen to this album on your iPod on the way to the gig, during the interval and on your way home? That's as close as we'll get to a proper Fate reunion at the present, I'm afraid, folks.
Grand Magus – Sword Songs
The question at hand is 'Is there such thing as too much heavy metal?'. The commandments handed by Dio to Joey DeMaio, which hath been adhered to by legions of zealots since, are carved in denim and leather. Thou shall defend the steel. Thou shalt have a rallying 'yeah' in the middle of thou song. Thou shall sing about peril and storms and battles. Thou shalt reach for those high notes. Thou shall have a chorus that whips your crowd into a frenzy with the two simple words Viking and Metal. Heavy metal, as in true, iron-forged metal, is easy prey for those that want to turn their nose up at its earnest devotion to cliches of glory, power and dragons, but these people do not want to die for metal and therefore they are false. Grand Magus are back with their eighth album and it's a tickbox of orthodoxy. If Sabaton released Sword Songs it would be painfully naff but Magus are just too damn cool. They're Born For Battle, as they sing on yet another of their rousing anthems. Hold your head up high. Raise your fist up in the air. Play Sword Songs louder than hell. This is lowest common denominator, traditional power metal and should be on the national curriculum. Into glory ride.
Vandallus – On The High Side
In this heavy metal era of looking back to look forward, it's surprising that so few bands have tried, and succeeded, to capture that 1980s, MTV, big budget, big hair rock and Vandallus, from Ohio, are giving it their all. What's even more surprising is that a third of Vandallus are in underground black-speed metal iconoclasts, Midnight. The brainchild of one Jason Vanek, Vandallus aim to capture, in his words “heavy rock, with a little dose of AOR” and while the snobs amongst us might snub his attempts, On The High Side is fun from the intro right through to the Crüe-esque finale. Vanek sounds like Joey Tempest unless he's forcing those Klaus Meine nasal high notes but give this a Roger Glover production and a Helmut Newton cover and we'd be in the red. I'll be singing these choruses all summer, but now I'm off to listen to Vain and work on my tan.