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Bet you weren’t expecting this.

Neither was I, but we’ve had an unexpected windfall of new releases (and new labels, welcome aboard all!) dropping by with an assortment of worthies for review – so many, in fact, that it seemed ridiculous to let this sit ’till the December review cycle.

So here we go again, with another (if ostensibly briefer) monthly music master class for your delectation…

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Turbowolf – Two Hands (Spinefarm Records) (May 26)

What starts off as a Monstermagnetlike foray into Hawkwindesque psychedelic space rock suddenly veers into more of an aggressive hard rock meets punk sort of affair akin to Wendy O Williams’ WOW or the later Plasmatics albums without the overt thrash metal touches.

It’s got that same drive and redlined, scratchy production that suggests the band was playing with the Marshalls cranked all the way, supercharging the mixing board past its limitations.

Frontman Chris Georgiadis has a biting, reedy voice that suggests the likes of Geddy Lee or Killer Dwarfs’ Russ Graham, so particularly thin and pointed as to give Turbowoolf the feel of an 80’s style female fronted hard rock act – all rasp but high and paper thin.  Regardless, it works well with the band and sound they’re going for.

Where the punk influence really shows through is in the seldom-flagging pace of the affair and the unapologetic rawness of the endeavor – think Iggy and the Stooges, Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and the Voidoids or Guitar Wolf.

Surprising as hell that these guys hail from the UK, a music scene generally known for a more laid back, quirky or even stiff approach to hard rock and heavy metal.

Looser than, say, The Vines, but bearing some measure of the same aesthetic musically, Turbowolf keeps things fairly loose throughout, but pours on the aggression tempered by – and this is key – a decidedly good humored feel leavening the mix.

I liked this one quite a bit.

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Anti-Flag – American Spring (Spinefarm Records) (May 26)

Back around the early millenium, my wife and I were still deep in the punk scene.  A little album called Mobilize dropped on us like a bomb, making instant fans out of both of us and a few of our similarly minded friends.  You mean there’s actual politically minded, socially activist punk rock out there beyond Bad Religion and a few notable Fat Wreck Chords bands?  I thought that spirit died with the mid-80’s crossover scene…

In very short order, we collected the entire back catalogue and played ’em to death, sharing the message with anyone who’d listen.  Got in several heated confrontations with blustery old fat right wingers over my frequently worn Mobilize T shirt (seriously).  Saw the band live when they came around locally (great show, tore my original leather jacket there in the mosh pit), and obviously belonged to the fan club.  Suffice to say, AF were the shit.

But it felt like something changed around The Terror State.  Outside of a frequently played (and at that time in history, extremely cathartic) bonus track on that very album, the songs got more pointed, working the particulars of current news headlines over more general sociopolitical concerns.

Things started feeling too timelocked.  We’re doing songs about G.A.T.T. and the W.T.O. now?  The band moved from the sociopolitics of, say, Minor Threat, the Dead Kennedys and Reagan Youth to a recital of the newspaper.  We moved on.

For their part, Anti-Flag moved to a major label.  I discovered a new resurgence in retro-style heavy metal and embraced that.  My wife and I both got hard into the gothic metal scene, and I re-embraced my roots in a general (if mainly Europe-based) scene long assumed dead and subsumed by all crap aggro, groove and nu domestically.

So here we are, a good decade plus after our last serious forays into the punk scene, reunited with old favorites Anti-Flag.  How have they held up?

Well, if you’re vets like us, don’t expect another Mobilize, Underground Network, New Kind of Army, Their System Doesn’t Work for You or Die for the Government.

This is a poppier, more mainstreamed variant of Anti-Flag, less openly political, far less angrily direct and punk either lyrically or musically.

Say WHAT?!?

That’s right…if they had changed their band name and didn’t title the album so provocatively, this could have been any generic power/pop “punk” band out there nowadays.  The Offspring and Green Day (particularly on American Idiot) seem more pointedly political than Anti-Flag.

Do I need to repeat that again?

What the fuck happened?

Sure, it’s been a lot of years.  I think the “read from the headlines and complain” approach of the Terror State forward was a mistake, as it removes the universality and timelessness of the band’s stance.  And as a punk vet, I still hold those silly ideas that signing to a major…and thereby “becoming successful” somehow equates with “selling out”.*

* there’s a reason for that.  Check out how polished and soft great bands become when they sign to a major – it’s less the fact that they get a decent paycheck and larger audience than what they have to GIVE UP to achieve those…

So yeah, we walked away from several albums the band had released in the interim, and can’t really comment on where they’ve been since.  And I understand from the promo material liner notes that they’re at least trying to still speak to the ills of society and our increasingly screwed up political landscape, somewhere beneath all of what I’m hearing here.

But forget that.  Let’s just focus on the album and songs per se, which is really all that matters.  And when we take it down to that measure, things get a damn sight more sorry.

Because this?  This is not Anti-Flag, or at least the one I remember.

What the hell happened?

(shakes head in disbelief)

These last 15 years have marked the darkest time in global political history post-McCarthyism and the height of the Cold War.  Socially and economically, we’re being shoved back into the early industrial age of robber barons, pre-muckraking reforms, pre-unionization, pre-worker rights, pre-Civil Rights, pre-feminist reforms, a new Dark Ages of unchecked corporate greed, resurgent racism on one side and Orwellian political correctness on the other, and a general level of social stupidity undreamt of in this entire century.

And at this time of crisis, where the fuck is Anti-Flag, the voice of catharsis and clarion call for change we had during the height of Dubya?

Not here, that’s for sure.

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Wolfheart – Shadow World (Spinefarm Records) (August 21)

Generic sounding Finnish melodic power metal act.  They self-identify as melodeath, but it’s no real kin to the Gothenburg sound or a band like Mors Principium Est outside of a preponderance of typewriter-like double bass and a few arpeggiated solos.

Instead, the feel is very symphonic and large sounding, with leads, vocals and drums (bar the very forefronted double bass) buried beneath thin sounding, scratchily recorded rhythm guitars and layered keyboard and guitar lead lines that come off like the more symphonic of European power or even pagan metal acts (think something along the lines of Tyr).

But death metal, much less melodeath?  A few bulldozer modern death-style riffs aside…no way.

It’s pretty bombastic and certainly listenable enough, but bears far more in common with something like Manegarm or even Orden Ogan than At The Gates or their more tuneful emo copycats Killswitch Engage and suchlike.

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Atreyu – Long Live (Spinefarm Records) (September 18)

Vaguely gothicized metalcore veterans Atreyu (of The Curse fame) drop their 6th full length – the band’s first after a surprising 7 year hiatus.*

* well, 5 if you consider an odd covers-only album that appeared in 2010, but do those ever really count?

The strongly melodic emo-aligned feel the band is known for is present and accounted for, and the screamo bits seem comparatively subdued in light of the competition and bands who’ve arisen in their wake, and that’s a definite mark in Atreyu’s favor.

Personally, I’d have dropped the whole aggro puke vox angle entirely in favor of Alex Varkatzas’ smooth tenor, but then it wouldn’t be emo/metalcore, would it?  The guitar interplay between Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel is smooth and appropriately mournful in tone, and as ever, Atreyu comes off like a less aggressive, more particularly melodic variant of classic AFI (i.e. before Havok lost his voice and they changed direction entirely).

If you loved these guys back in their heyday, you should be delighted to hear the boys back in action.  I’m down with the style for the most part, but live in what is likely vain hope that Brandon Saller will stick to pounding the skins and drop the growly-puke thing once and for all.  Hey, if not, there’s always duct tape!

I’m kidding, I’m kidding…sheesh!

Good band overall, glad to see they haven’t lost their way after a reasonably long absence from the scene.

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Entwine – Chaotic Nation (Spinefarm Records) (October 2)

Finnish formerly gothic metal band who are now working more of a modern metal meets metalcore sort of thing.  The songs are melodic if despairing, vocals stay clean (and there’s none of that screamo bullshit!), and the tempo remains very much straight ahead and driving despite the detuned 7 string guitar tones.

There’s a feel of the more radio friendly variant of gothic metal still quite present, and moments that feel nigh-symphonic, but it’s more straightforwardly modern metallized than labeling the band with those designations may suggest.

There are keyboard bits and touches of electronic industrial in layered sound effects, but they enhance rather than overpower, and to discover that drummer Aksu Hanttu also serves as producer wasn’t exactly a surprise: while the kitwork isn’t quite as forefronted as I’d like, there’s a crystal clarity, crispness and punch to the drum sound that allows the listener to catch every stroke, every snap of the wrist, every punch of the foot pedal.

In fact, that’s a good descriptor for Chaotic Nation: it’s punchy, upbeat in tempo and flourish yet depressive and emotional in tone, driving gothic meets modern (or vice versa) metal.

Look, gothic metal was practically the first genre I gravitated towards nigh on 15 years ago when I discovered metal had only died out totally and remained so here in the States, so take that and give it a driving, punchy tempo and production that more or less forefronts the drums?

You got me right there.  The drums are pretty much right up front.  And yeah, while he’s hardly the flashiest drummer out there, Hanttu can play.

Sold.

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Shining – International Blackjazz Society (Spinefarm Records) (October 23)

OK, don’t be confused like I was: this is not the Niklas Kvarforth suicide-prone black metal oddity.

Instead, this is a Norwegian act who originally worked traditional jazz (if you can believe that from what’s on display herein).  Eventually they altered focus until they came up with the “blackjazz” label 5 years ago.

So what the hell is “blackjazz” anyway?

Well, to judge by this, it’s 90’s aggro/nu-metal by way of industrial, with atonal free jazz saxophone thrown on top for good measure.  Consider them a far noisier, much less likeable take on Romeo Void, I guess.

I was entirely unimpressed.

This was neither jazz (even Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra wouldn’t consider what he’s doing on sax jazz) or black metal (not even close), but a throwback to the sort of thing metal became during the 90’s and early millenium, particularly here in the States.

You know, the crap that made folks like me walk away from metal as a dead concern?

And they won some Norwegian grammy for this?

P-U.

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Essence – Prime (Spinefarm Records) (October 2)

Danish modern thrash act.  Vocally, they’re like a more melodic Metallica (pre-Black Album, when people still respected those losers), but musically…it’s like someone took modern metal and pop punk and mashed them together, then threw in some old school Bay Area thrash riffs as a garnish.

The leads are impressive and very Bay Area in orientation – you can pick out everyone from Kirk Hammett and Alex Skolnick to Craig Lociero and Glen Alvelais or Lee Altus and Doug Piercy.  And if you don’t know who those folks are, you need to get yourself a proper education, son…

Despite the very classic-sounding leads and an obvious Hetfield impression on the mic, the feel is far from retro.  There’s something off about this beyond the very modern production that just doesn’t sit right with this veteran’s ears.  But they bring the old school riffs – everything from Metallica to Exodus to Forbidden gets a nod somewhere in the riff catalogue, so all is decidedly not lost.

If you want a really modern album that very obviously and respectfully tips its hat to those who were there back in the day, you can’t really do better than this.

Not bad at all.

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Killing Joke – Pylon (Spinefarm Records) (October 23)

Boy, these veterans are still going strong after all these years…

It’s no secret that the entire original 1978 lineup of Coleman, Walker, Glover and Ferguson is back together these days,* so in terms of authenticity…hell, you can’t beat that!

* since 2009, in fact…

I was never a huge Killing Joke fan, being more acquainted with their oddly poppy track “eighties”, the track “wardance” (which appeared on some comp or other years ago) and the excellent Metallica cover of “the wait” than anything else.

They were more of a legendary force in the more gothic/industrial circles I ran in at a few points during the 80’s and 90’s, oft discussed but seldom heard.  If anything, it was more the oft striking image cut by frontman Jaz Coleman that stood out – not quite the level of Dave Vanian’s vampire schtick with The Damned, but memorably “iconic” enough.

So to comment on how Pylon relates to the band’s long history for better or worse…you’ll have to look elsewhere.  That said, what we have here is a fairly solid metallized neo-industrial postpunk affair (how’s that for a triple genre blender?) that bears equal measure of the sort of sound and feel associated with bands as seemingly far afield as the cold, almost dispassionate sonic landscapes of earlier Joy Division and the political stridency of The Jam, while drawing on a vaguely Ministry by way of Skinny Puppy aesthetic.  Even so, the sound is quite guitar driven, with little computerized enhancement and a driving, slow moving locomotive-like metal rhythm.

The overall effect is wholly familiar, yet syncretist enough to come off as wholly original if not unique.  The band almost defies description, straddling seeming opposites and blending them in a sound that’s very much postpunk…yet not.  Metallic…yet not. Industrialized…yet not.  It works.

There’s a strong undercurrent of dissonance and lyrical dissent bubbling beneath the surface, and yet I found it quite soothing.  Coleman’s relaxed, dreamlike vocal approach (at least these days), the ostinato keyboard touches and the unfailingly on the beat guitar and drum pulse brought the sort of dreamy feel of A Flock of Seagulls to mind – a comparison I’m sure the band would be horrified by.  But that’s how it felt, particularly on a track like “euphoria”.

It’s sorrowful and bleak (bringing Joy Division back to mind) yet “modern” in the sense of what British bands of the (very) early 80’s were striving towards: all clean overdriven (as opposed to metal-distorted) guitars, chorus and reverb, open space and dreamlike synthesizer over sleepy murmur vocals (whether despairing tenor or grim baritone in nature).

It’s postpunk bordering on new wave at core, the sort of bands that wound up favored by or influencing later (second wave mid-90’s) goths and oft tossed into the rotation at clubs catering to that crowd.

As a former punk and goth who grew up fascinated by and loving these early 80’s postpunk/new wave acts, Pylon was right up my alley.  A strong effort from guys who were kicking around well before most of us were even born.

Respect.

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Amaranthe – Breaking Point – B-Sides 2011-2015 (Spinefarm) (October 30)

A former touring (female) vocalist with Kamelot and a member of Dream Evil do the acoustic gothic metal thing.

The acoustic stuff is well played and melodic, with Elize Ryd offering a pleasant and strong performance on the distaff end and Jake Lundberg complementing her with clean male vocals.

It’s a bit sleepy over the course of 6 entirely acoustic tracks, but there’s absolutely nothing to fault, and vocals (particularly those of Ryd) are quite likeable.

There are two tracks in the band’s signature (i.e non-acoustic) style, which shows them as a cross between gothic metal and metalcore (complete with lame screamo bits punctuating every bridge or chorus).  Those vox and a few lunkhead detuned neanderthal riffs on “splinter in my soul” aside (see our discussions of Solution .45 and Skindred in this month’s Roundup), the band is surprisingly tight and well produced in a very modern metal sense.

“Breaking point” and the more melodic and motion-oriented parts of “splinter” work very well, and if this is any indication of how the band normally sounds, they’re pretty good – I’d just drop the aggro elements entirely like they had with the acoustic tracks.

Edit those out, and you’ve got a truly killer band on your hands.

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Michael Monroe – Blackout States  (Spinefarm Records) (October 9)

Who doesn’t know Hanoi Rocks?

The oft-stated inspiration for the later Guns N’ Roses, Michael Monroe and Andy McCoy crafted grungy, Aerosmith meets the New York Dolls style anthems as far back as 1981, with their arguably defining moment being the following year’s Self Destruction Blues.  Of course, after an infamous and unfortunate incident involving drummer “Razzle” and Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, that band called it a day and Monroe embarked on a solo career.

Now I loved Not Fakin’ It – to this day, the first thing that comes to mind when you say “Michael Monroe” is the chorus to “dead, jail or rock n’roll!” But since then?  Haven’t heard a peep from the man on these shores.

I was surprised to hear that he’d actually released several albums since, after a nigh-decade long absence between ’89 and ’96 – about 2 per decade, before picking up steam in the last 5 years with no less than three studio and one live since 2010 (!)

So it’s quite a pleasure to hear the man in fine fighting form here, with a band composed of ex-Hanoi and New York Dolls (the more recent reunion touring band, not the classic iteration).  Appropriately enough, Blackout States comes off like a fiery cross between Johnny Thunders-era Dolls or Heartbreakers, Hanoi Rocks and Monroe’s own classic solo work, Steve Jones’ solo work and even Iggy and the Stooges.

The lead work from Steve Conte taps into a similar old school 50’s rockabilly aesthetic to the late Thunders, but with the riffing of Jones and the rawness and rauinchiness of the Stooges and the Dolls.  With Monroe working the latter ballpark of proto-metal 70’s punk and even bringing his infamous sax and harmonica into play, this is like old home week.

But better: more than a simple “nostalgia gig”, Conte and company really lit a fire under Monroe’s ass.  There’s stuff on here that certainly speaks to the same sound and general vibe as the man worked back in the Not Fakin’ It and Hanoi days, but there’s even more of the Dolls meet Stooges thing going on, supercharged with a more modern, nigh on heavy metal energy.

Just check out the Stooges-like “this ain’t no love song” or the full on Motorhead-style punk meets metal of “rock like fuck”…this is the work of a much younger and angrier man than Monroe’s veteran status would seem to imply.

If you love or loved any of the bands aforementioned, rest assured, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.  This album will kick your ass straight into Sunday.

No bullshit: Monroe is back and better than ever.

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Children of Bodom – I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast Records) (October 2)

Melodeath standbys Children of Bodom return with another complex, guitar heavy effort.

I always think of Frank Zappa when Alexi Laiho comes to mind – specifically in terms of “shut up n’ play yer guitar”.

While he’s always composed snakily winding music with a decidedly melodic bent and has in fact made a space for himself as something of a modern metal guitar hero, his puked vocals have always proved a real barrier against any strong appreciation of the band’s music.

Yeah, there are 9 albums and and a good 18 years worth of fans for whom it’s not an issue, but for me, those “vocals” are just too sub-aggro, too utterly ridiculous to take seriously.

So putting that aside for the nonce, how does I Worship Chaos hold up?

Well, musically speaking, this is the sort of stutter beat, latter-Death style machine gun riffing and heavily rhythmic (but very, very “white”*) guitar that marks much of the modern metal scene, particularly when it comes to post-Morrisound/Sunlight era death metal and melodeath.

*  for the clueless, that means, “ain’t got no soul” – i.e. stiff, played as if with a pole up the metaphorical ass.  Try calling that sort of thing “rhythm” with a funk or jazz combo.

Stylistically, it’s become so common as to bleed into other, ostensibly unreleated subgenres like gothic metal and metalcore, so it really makes no impression other than to say he keeps his fingers pretty busy throughout, and that they (and the strangely also-present keyboards) move through too many awkward key changes and modulations to truly call this “melodic” on the rhythm end.

The lead lines are far more impressive, with a strong melodic flair that suggests some James Murphy influence lurking in the background, and it’s these which in fact define and guide the overall sound of Children of Bodom.  If there’s something that really works about the band, this is it.

This is a period in my life where I’m going back and reassessing things I’ve previously overlooked, waved away dismissively or ignored and shut off outright.  This applies equally to film, reading materials, past spiritual endeavors and music, and has been giving some interesting new perspective to my views and outlook.  As such, I’m sure some measure of same has begun to come across both in the Third Eye reviews (of all stripe and particular focus) and the various podcasts which I spearhead.

So never fear, nobody’s gotten soft here.  But giving an objective second look to stuff I’ve previously ignored or knocked is part and parcel of the game.

And ridiculous vox aside, you know what?  Laiho and company aren’t all that bad.  Besides, any band willing to cover The Plasmatics is good by me right there…

Props for the flashy but sonically palatable and well phrased leads and strong melodic focus overall.

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Revocation – Empire of the Obscene (Metal Blade Records) (November 13)

Modern death metal with a pronounced thrash orientation.  Think a less screechy Demolition Hammer or a slightly thrashier Malevolent Creation.

This is apparently a reissue of their debut album, which was the only self released/non-major label item in their catalogue.  To the same point, the band has also tagged on their 2006 Summon the Spawn demo/EP for good measure.  So fans of the band who’d had issues tracking down their earliest work can get both of these in one fully remastered package.

I was a huge fan of Ten Commandments and Retribution, and played the shit out of Epidemic of Violence at the time, so Revocation’s not exactly in bad company – and despite a very in your face modern production approach, this particular apple doesn’t fall too far from the aforementioned tree(s).

Of course, it is a bit generic and samey over the course of an album, and savvier readers may have already picked up that my opinion of Demolition Hammer these days isn’t quite so glowing as back in ’92 – it’s not an album I pull out very often, if at all.  Tastes do change, even for diehards.

And since Revocation seems to be drawing more from the Hammer (with a touch of Anselmo to boot) than Malevolent, while I can objectively appreciate the musicianship being thrown down here, this isn’t the sort of thing I’ll be rotating very often.

Fans of modern, intense and speed-oriented deaththrash should at least give this a dutiful nod of respect.

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Horisont -Odyssey (Rise Above Records) (September 18)

Another kick ass Swedish retro act, this time focused mainly on the 70’s prog scene.  If you’re a fan of classic Styx or even Yes, a track like “odyssey” should seem oddly familiar.  You could toss in a dash of early Rush as well, but that’s more of a stretch – this is more Cherry Red by way of Styx or even Saga.  I think I even heard a touch of Caravan in there…

Space-age keyboard riffs, Ten Years After-esque leads, Grand Funk style riffing, highly energetic small-kit drumming, a decidedly analog sound and searching tenor vocals with more time changes in a single song than most bands these days cram into an entire fucking album.

The band just recruited Church of Misery’s Tom Sutton, which may mark a change from their earlier material.  All I can say for sure is that this is busy dual guitar and keyboard interplay with 70’s style quavering chorus vocals (think early Kiss), rapid fire but ever consonant changes in riff and meter and some of the busiest drumming since H.P. Lovecraft’s Michael Tegza (check out their essential Live May 11, 1968 to see what I mean by that), Mitch Mitchell with the Hendrix Experience or Michael Shrieve with earlier Santana.

All bullshit aside: not only are Horisont stylistically right up my alley, but these fuckers can play!

Hey, wanna drop by NYC sometime?  I’d seriously love to jam with you guys…

You know, I get a lot of albums to review, and stuff gets cleared off the virtual desk fairly regularly.  This one is going nowhere.

A permanent fixture on my iPod rotation, and an easy five star review.

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With The Dead – S/T (Rise Above Records) (October 16)

You know, when Lee Dorrian said he was putting Cathedral to bed…who figured he’d keep right on rolling without a break?

His latest project brings him together with fellow doomsters Electric Wizard, or the former rhythm section thereof.  The result is probably the heaviest thing Dorrian has recorded since Carnival Bizarre, complete with Euro-horror homages in the lyrics and slow as molasses detuned guitar and drums lurching painfully thereto.

All the catchy bits and overt Sabbathisims are in place, and he even dresses up like a Catholic (zombie) priest on the cover, which is pretty cool (not to mention perfect for the season).  How Fulci of him!

The man’s been plugging away at the doom thing (and even formed this very label to promote and release dozens of similarly minded acts) for more than 25 years, so it’s safe to say that Dorrian knows Doom.

Another strong project that in some respects hearkens back to the aforementioned Cathedral high point, but without the Tom G. Warrior vocal swipes.

That’s some good shit.

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Anfinnsaas – S/T (Autumnsongs Records) (September 18)

Atonal noise between a guitar and drums.

Seriously, that’s it.

You’ve likely done the same when you and your pal first picked up an instrument and discovered a distortion pedal.

“Yeah, let’s rock out!” (atonal garbage ensues, annoyed parent/neighbor/sister comes in with hands over ears to tell you to turn it down).

Only difference this time is, somebody actually released it!

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Shumaun – S/T (Self-Released) (November 13)

You have to give these guys credit for sheer persistence.

Apparently vocalist/lead guitarist Farhad Hossain went through FOUR drummers, three of whom actually appear on the album (and the other of whom left in the middle of the recording sessions!).  Biggest name among them is Mark Zonder of Fates Warning, so at least you know we’re not exactly talking slouches here.

But sheesh – Spinal Tap enough for ya?  Hey, Farhad – have to ask, did any of them explode on you?

But seriously.

There’s a definite prog bent to some of the material (which probably made Zonder feel right at home), but it never feels particularly “metal” or “arena” in scope. It’s more intimate and personal than that, for better or worse.

Hossain has a high tenor that strains a lot at the high notes, but he’s solid enough and possesses a winning warmth of tone that gives the impression he wouldn’t be too out of place fronting a Frontiers Records act.

Fellow guitarist Tyler Kim offers light accents and arpeggiations that give a bit more body and complexity to the riffing, and bassist Jose Mora moves around the neck like a would-be Jaco Pastorius or something.  Yeah, that’s a big stretch, but in terms of busy, never resting but very “white” bass playing (see our review of Children of Bodom above), there aren’t too many analogues that jump to mind – Chris Squire, maybe? Jon Entwhistle?

Overall, this is an interesting enough little affair, with smoothness, warmth and very clean production – think Ray Alder-era Fates Warning level. And the more you dig into what’s going on with the band interplay and the overall sound being tapped here, the closer the ties to prog become.

Names like (more recent) Cynic and Alder-fronted Fates Warning, not to mention the strangely much feted Dream Theater (whom I’ve always found a touch bland and new agey – John Tesh and Kenny G go metal!) start springing to mind in tracks like “we always disappear” or “the drop”. The drumming is certainly prog-oriented, and the keyboards definitely say Dream Theater, with quieter harmony vocal moments feeling very latter day Cynic.

But I’m still not quite sure it fits the label of progressive rock, much less progressive metal – there’s a bit of a Dave Matthewsness to it (“the drop”) and a more small scale, intimate feel.  It’s almost like a particularly talented bar band with prog leanings.

Rest assured, it’s quite listenable, and most of the bands mentioned as signifiers are truly killer (you can probably tell the exception or two without any effort) – so you can take this as something of a thumbs up.

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Suhy, Silvergold & Alvarado – Tessellations (Self-Released) (November 13) 

Jazz fusion, but oriented a bit towards the more modern “smooth jazz” vein.

So if you’re not expecting, say, the Al DiMeola/Stanley Clarke/Lenny White iteration of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever or the Billy Cobhman/Jan Hammer version of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, you should be pleasantly surprised.

I was and remain a huge, huge fusion head. I have more albums from folks like the aforementioned (as groups or in solo projects), Tony Williams Lifetime, Frank Zappa, mid-70’s Santana, funk-fusion era Herbie Hancock and Jean Luc Ponty than you’d ever believe.

It’s actually my go-to genre when all’s said and done – fuck vocals, if you’ve got three to five musicians who can seriously “blow” (as they used to say in jazz circles – meaning “play really, really well”, as opposed to the more modern colloquial connotation of “sucking”).

If you ask me on the fly, I’m a metalhead, and that’s a fair portion of what I care about and listen to.  In persona and past lives, I’m a goth and was involved in that scene during both the 80’s and its mid-90’s resurgence.  I was a punk for a long fucking time, again at two if not three separate points in my life.

But when I’m tired of all that?  Guess where my gravitic center lies.

So having this dropped on my plate was…nice.  Really, really nice.

It’s heavily skewed towards guitar, ala Al DiMeola’s solo work, but Ray Suhy bears strong influences or elements of Tony MacAlpine’s approach to Shrapnel-style shred guitar in his playing.

And if there are any theoretical flaws to be found here, this is one of the biggies: the best jazz fusion was always an interplay between bass, drums and guitar, possibly keyboards as well.  But the “look at me, I’m a guitarist” thing doesn’t hold up quite as well – compare Allan Holdsworth’s solo material to what he was doing with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, or DiMeola’s to his Return to Forever albums.  The difference is like night and day.

Even so, the man’s talent and breadth is undeniable – check out his move into quiet, late night Les Paul-style jazz on “special cadence” or the neo-Andres Segoviaisms of “entrement”.  And saying that the music is clearly skewed towards a “star” guitarist does not imply that Alex Silvergold doesn’t know his way around a given meter.

He clearly comes from the same school as folks like Cobham, White and especially the great Tony Williams, whose rolls can be heard clearly in tracks like “perehelion” – the major difference is that he doesn’t affect Williams’ ahead of the beat driving of the music, but pulls back behind the beat for a more familiar groove approach, with occasional explosions of Williamslike energy directly on the beat.  It’s damn good stuff, and shows that the student draws from more than one of the masters – which is a good step towards originality.  Really impressive work, for a high school kid!

Bassist Rolando Alvarado adopts a more subtle approach, though his restlessness can be heard on the quirky opening riff to “malachite dream” and to a certain extent “perehelion”.  For the most part, though, he keeps to the back, preferring to play it slow and low as it were.

I’d be surprised the three of them hail from Jersey, were it not the birthplace and longtime home of the aforementioned DiMeola as well…

More three way band interplay and cohesion as a unit in totality, rather than support for Suhy’s guitar, and this would be perfectly rated.  As it is, consider it somewhat akin to one of the DiMeola classic era albums with a touch of Shrapnel shred and somewhat of a smooth jazz feel.

You know I liked it, and quite a lot at that.

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PSYCHOPUNCH – Sweet Baby Octane (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 20)

“I’ve been around” kicks you in the teeth with the sort of raw, hard rocking aggression as Michael Monroe, but with more of a consistently Social Distortion meets Rancid by way of D Generation midtempo punkishness.

There are definite elements of where metal went between ’88-91 in the wake of Guns N’Roses with bands like Junkyard coming immediately to mind, but with less of the contemplative, countrified edge.  This is more arguably punk in the sense of the bands aforementioned, with a level of dirt and grit and refusal to slow things down below highway cruising compatibility.

While I haven’t previously been exposed to them, these guys have been poking around for a good 15 years.  But to judge by the strength of the material here, it looks like the inclusion of former W.E.T. guitarist Magnus Henriksson and bassist Patrik Wallert would appear to have been a good thing.

While there are a few odd missteps (the oddly misnomered “punkrocker”, which is more akin to indie rock than punk, the aggressive heavy metal of “the new alive”, the 50’s-ish acoustic “drinking alone”), for the most part, Sweet Baby Octane is the right term to describe this collection of punkified hard rockers.

I dug it for sure.

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THE CARBURETORS – Laughing In The Face Of Death (Steamhammer / SPV) (November 20)

OK, they’ve peformed on Eurovision and are pals with Dimmu Borgir, even getting Gier Bratland and Stian “shagrath” Thoreson to guest on this very album.  Eyes rolling, right?

Well, hold up for a second.  Because this is straight up, take no prisoners rock n’roll with a decidedly hard edge: Thin Lizzy by way of Bon Scott-era AC/DC and more than a touch of classic Motorhead.

There’s a touch of And Justice For All-era Metallica to Eddie Guz’ raspy vocals, but guitarists Kai Kidd and Stian Krogh are very much immersed in a 70’s boogie band sensibility, sped up to a neo-metal pace by freight train comin’ double bass drummer Chris Nitro.

This has been a really, really good batch of punkified and metallized hard rock in the old school sense, so it’s hard to avoid comparing acts like the Carburetors to others herein reviewed like Psychopunch, Turbowolf or the revitalized Michael Monroe.  The bottom line is, we’re moving from strength to strength here, it’s all a matter of degree or momentary shift in mood which you prefer at any given time.

Suffice to say, I was very happy with this one.

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Pagan´s Mind – Full Circle (Steamhammer / SPV) (October 16)

A live CD/DVD (or Blu-Ray) package – I’m only reviewing the audio end of this particular affair.

One line summation: Norwegian prog act with power metal leanings.

Vocalist Nils K. Rue adopts some Michael Kiske-isms as filtered through something of a John Cyriis sensibility, and even a hint of King Diamond at one point (the ghostly bit he affects during “dreamscape lucidity”).

Guitarists Jorn Viggo Lofstad and Ronny Tegner keep things sufficiently complex on their front, and Stian Kristoffersen works a fairly straightforward but comfortably skilled power metallesque approach to the drumming.

This was recorded live at Prog Power (which you can hear Rue mentioning between just about every single song) in front of a fairly enthusiastic audience (as prog audiences go, anyway), but the recording quality is extremely crisp throughout, bringing a polished if chilly feel to the affair.

I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but there’s no question that Pagan’s Mind are an accomplished band with plenty of polish and an unusual, and therefore interesting, vocalist to their credit.  I’ll give ’em the nod.

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42 DECIBEL – Rolling In Town (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 18)

Bon Scott-era AC/DC almost to a T.  They’ve got that rockabilly meets boogie band all jumped up hard rock thing down pat.  Fuck, vocalist/guitarist Junior Figueroa even sounds a little like Bon crossed with late Dirty Looks frontman Henrik Ostergaard, while working some unholy cross between Angus Young and Brian Setzer on the 6 string.

And just to one up that, Billy Bob Riley offers some Mardsen & Moodyesque slide for that boogie band-era Whitesnake feel.  Anyone who knows me, the fact that I just mentioned those two bands, in those particular eras…yeah.

I see a few people running right the hell out to grab a copy of this one now.

There are really no bands I can think of who I love more than classic AC/DC.  No disrespect to longtime frontman Brian Johnson, but that shit just ain’t in the same league.  Work your way backwards from Highway to Hell, that’s the real deal.

Add in a touch of Mardsen/Moody era Whitesnake – you know, before they became a cheesy if entertaining “hair metal” concern, and were an actual hard rockin’, hard boozin’ blues & boogie rock thing?  You’re done, son.

Figueroa and company realize that as well.  More’s the better.

Bon is probably giving a big shirtless, tattoo-sporting, missing toothed grin to these guys right now.

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THE JOKERS – Hurricane (Steamhammer / SPV) (September 18)

Well, with a batch of releases as strong as this, you knew there had to be a few that didn’t quite measure up.

Now, don’t get all up in arms, because there’s really nothing wrong with this musically; the production’s excellent, the band is tight, and they’re working territory not all that far removed from a lot of the more hard rock oriented acts discussed herein.

But this one…just doesn’t work for me.  There’s something about it that says 90’s, sort of Pearl Jam meets roots rock by way of Dave Matthews or whatever.  It’s hard to describe in terms of music you don’t like or listen to at all (see also past discussions of A Sound of Thunder), but there’s a lot of that sort of approach to what would otherwise have seemed to fit the same bill as several other acts praised here tonight.

It’s like someone baked up a nice little cake for you, and you’re all ready to thank them…then you take a bite and taste all this weird shit in there. Too much baking powder, an overabundance of salt, and a hint of anchovies.  Whoa, this crap isn’t supposed to be in a cake, much less to this degree!

I can hear some of the hard rock/boogie band thing, particularly courtesy of Paul Hurst on the guitar end, and it seems like they’re tapping both AC/DC and, oddly, Bad Company in equal measure.  Some tracks (the most aggressive and Young brothers-like) work pretty well, and you could easily see these guys sharing a bill with a Frontiers Records lineup.

But there’s something too corner of the mouth about Wane Parry’s delivery, something too yuppie feeling about the overall sound.  There’s too much softness, too much of the Bad Company as done by…I don’t know, Smashmouth or the Barenaked Ladies (just to be funny and really stretch matters – but you get the general idea of what’s being picked up here in the overtones and aftertaste).

Rock n’ roll is supposed to be loose, raw, barely under control.  It’s supposed to make you move, shudder and shake uncontrollably, surrendering the self to something more primal and resonant.

And while they’re decent musicians to be sure and have elements that are dead on and really should work, there is just no way in hell anyone will get that out of The Jokers.

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EAT THE GUN – Howlinwood (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 28)

Here’s another one that falls outside my purview somewhat: while there are definite hard rock elements (“falling” being the best track on the record by a long shot), what Eat the Gun appear to be leaning towards is more of a modern rock meets indie sort of thing.

I could picture hipster types really digging on this one, though there are enough “overly” heavy tracks to keep that crowd scratching their heads (“blood on their hands” is unlikely to get covered on the next Ariel Pink or Arcade Fire record, let’s put it that way).

But even so, it’s weird, and while elements are definitely present (the guitar solo on “old friend”, for example), not truly in the metal/hard rock/punk/goth axis in any palpable sense. Not quite sure what audience they’re trying to reach here…

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HAMMERCULT – Built For War (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 28)

ugh! Those vocals!

oy!  My ears!

Hyper-aggro screamed and shrieked vocals over a very modern and super-aggressive thrash metal affair.  There are occasional power metal, pagan and trad influences – I could swear I heard a touch of Battle Beast in “let it roar”, and both “ode to ares” and “from parts unknown” are the sort of folk instrumentals you expect to hear on a Manegarm album.  But those are the exceptions – overall it’s just…whew.

Definitely the sort of thing those doofy millenial kids are playing nowadays on WSOU, and sooooo not my thing.

They’re an Israeli act, so being this pissed off is sort of a given – taken a look at the global situation lately?  So I get it.  But still…

I appreciate the aggression, the production is very in your face but essentially quite clean, and the band is pretty damn tight, but nah.

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MAD MAX – Thunder, Storm and Passion (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 28)

German NWOBHM-style band active from 1982-9. They’ve reunited since 2006, and this is one of those Saxon-style re-recordings of songs from their past career.  I liked “lonely is the hunter” and “night of passion”, but the band is surprisingly soft for an act of their vintage.

Picture mid-80’s Stryper crossed with Dokken, all Irish tenor-nigh soprano vocal harmonies and highly melodic AOR meets traditional metal, but far lighter in tone and approach than either of those bands ever were.

Very much a Frontiers act, Mad Max is competent and certainly radio friendly, but not at all what I was expecting from the album cover, band photos, title or even the band name!

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Black Trip – Shadowline (Steamhammer / SPV) (August 28)

Now this is a whole hell of a lot more like it!

Classic Kiss meets Grand Funk Railroad by way of Glenn Buxton-era Alice Cooper.  I heard definite flavors of “we’re an American band” in “die with me”, Buxton crossed with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott in “danger”, with Frehley and Stanley all over the damn place.  They even tip the hat to the “occult rock” thing with “over the worldly walls”.

Yet another strong entry in the Swedish retro movement, these guys know their 70’s hard rock inside and out, with a feel so invariably “true” it works right down to the dual lead guitars and vocal production.  If they’d done a Ken Scott and recorded the drums (and to some extent the guitars) “flat” (i.e. somewhat muted and “dead”, with tones that immediately decay rather than sustaining), the illusion would have been perfect and complete. As it is, this is damn close.

To hear that this was produced by Entombed’s Nicke Andersson is no surprise, given his own retro-70’s hard rock work with Imperial State Electric, but just take away that this is a really crisp, well done, and pretty damn retro-sounding production that brings out the best elements of Black Trip’s effective 70’s rock cosplay.

And like Andersson, these guys mainly hail from death and black metal bands themselves: Entombed, Necrophobic, Nifelheim, with a vocalist and drummer late of Swedish retro-metallers Enforcer.  Since I like most of those bands quite a bit, you know you’re in pretty damn good hands, albeit given that we’re talking about a very different sound and approach being worked here.

I’ve heard more shit that I seriously loved with this batch of releases than I have in ages, much less to arrive all in one group.  Hats off to all the bands and labels concerned, you already know who you are.

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