Fates Warning Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

This week, I’ll be delving into the American Prog Metal band Fates Warning. I am new to the band this year, but I’ve spent a large portion of the year getting really familiar with them and am too enthusiastic to wait a few years to actually write this.

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  1. Parallels (1991) – This album is the one you will see in a lot of the Top-500 Metal Albums Of All Time type lists. It was something of a solidification and attempt at mainstream success, ala Queensryche’s Empire or Rush’s Moving Pictures (except without the actual levels of success).


Every song on the album is intensely memorable, and even within each song, they feel like they have about four choruses, because the verses, the pre-choruses, the choruses and the post choruses or whatever, are usually all as good as the choruses on a normal album.

The vocals are so much better than the previous Ray Alder-era records, the production is perfect for this type of material, the musicianship is still impressive without being too showy or indulgent. There may not be 20 minute songs, extended keyboard solos or album-encompassing conceptual narratives, but it still has depth.

A few John Arch-era fans may decry it as a cynical cash crab, and admittedly it is their most mainstream release ever, but for me, that doesn’t matter because it does just have the best set of songs of any Fates Warning album bar-none. There isn’t one song here I wouldn’t want on a live album, compilation or at a concert. Absolutely no fat, no filler, just sheer perfection for this type of music.

Highlights include: “Eye To Eye,” “Point Of View,” & “Leave The Past Behind.”  

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2. Theories Of Flight (2016) – Its not often a band who started in the early 80’s release one of their best albums to date so recently, but that’s what we are dealing with here. This isn’t a “return to form” or some overrated reunion album that isn’t actually as good as people think it is. It doesn’t have a hook. Its not their first ever attempt at something, a radical shift in direction or the entrance of a new band member or start of a new era. This is just “another” Fates Warning album, but which just happens to be one of the best things they’ve ever released. It takes everything that was good about the previous album, goes harder on it, features a more lively performance and better production, and the songs are just better – catchier, more memorable, but more diverse, more instrumentally satisfying and generally just better in every way. It does a very good balance of melody and a bit of heaviness, of complexity and simplicity, of acknowledging the past but looking to the future, and best of all it is concise and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Highly recommended.

Highlights include: “The Light And Shade Of Things,” “SOS,” & “Seven Stars.”  

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3. Disconnected (2000) – This album was quite a stylistic departure from the albums which preceded it (but then most Fates Warning albums are), incorporating more of an industrial and alternative sound in places. Ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore is a full band member on this album (compared to some other albums where he may have guest starred on a track or two). The album ends with 16-minute epic (discounting the oblique outro track) and yet is arguably one of the band’s most concise, focused and most direct albums.

Some fans didn’t like this one as it came out in the Nu Metal era and had a bit of a “modern” sound at the time, which lead to accusations of the band losing their way, but when they do it so much better than everyone else, it really doesn’t matter. For an ‘80s band’s foray into modernisation, this is a heck of a lot better than say, Hear In The Now Frontier. I’d go as far as to say its one of their best albums to date.

Highlights include: “One,” “Pieces Of Me,” & “Still Remains.”  

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4. Darkness In A Different Light (2013) – This was their first album since X, after a nearly a decade, and what a fine comeback it was. Guitarist Frank Aresti re-joined the band, after an even longer absence. Stylistically sort of a twin with Theories Of Flight, mentioned above, quality-wise it is almost as good. If you like one, you’re sure to like the other. They feel kind of like a pair, in the same way Parallels and Inside Out do. It features a good blend of ambitious and progressive moments, with direct and catchy moments, some technical bits and lots of simple but memorable bits. Its also another one which ends on a lengthy epic. The production is nice and clear. If there was one criticism to be made, its is a little bit overlong, but when the material is this good that’s a small flaw. I don’t think its their most instantaneous release, but it is rewarding on repeat listens.

Highlights include: “O Chloroform,” “And Yet It Moves,” & “One Thousand Fires”  

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5. Inside Out (1994) – Sort of Parallels Part 2 stylistically, but a very worthy follow up. The song-writing, performances and production are all excellent. Its not their most progressive album, and its not their most metallic album, so fans of ‘80s Metal or fans of the more experimental stuff might not love this one, but similar to Parallels, if you just want some brilliant rock songs, then you won’t be disappointed. Its got more quality choruses than some band’s whole careers, and pre-choruses as catchy as the best parts of some band’s greatest hits.

I know it’s the last one in the Top-5, but I’d still say its one of the first albums you should check out as a newcomer.

Highlights include: “The Strand,” “Outside Looking In,” & “Down To The Wire.”  

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6. Perfect Symmetry (1989) – This was drummer Mark Zonder (the band’s best drummer in my opinion) ‘s first album, and he makes an impact. Arguably the best feature of the whole record is the very showy drumming. Apart from the drumming, this is a very unique album in the band’s discography. The second album with Ray Alder on vocals, but completely different than the album that preceeded it. There is no Thrash tinge, no ‘80s US Power Metal basis, it’s a radical departure from the early days. The first song is sort of a dark, mechanical, harsh song, ala “Red” by King Crimson, the second song is a catchy stadium rock song like the band would do on their next two albums, there’s also an adventurous instrumental, some tech-y stuff and a semi-ballad.

A very diverse album, unpredictable and very entertaining.

Highlights include: “Through Different Eyes,” “At Fates Hands,” & “Part Of The Machine.”

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7. A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (1997) – The first 4 or 5 times I heard this, I didn’t like it at all. At first I thought it was boring, miserable and repetitive, which made it quite hard to get into. I also didn’t like the gimmick of all the tracks not having names but just roman numerals because it made it harder to remember which was which. However, with repeat listens, patience and some background reading, the album eventually won me over, and with further listens it grew and grew until you can see how high up this list it is, whereas had I written this list the same month I bought this record, it would be dead last.

A slow burn concept album with theme-and-variation re-use of musical and lyrical themes, some sound effects, and a general atmosphere of ennui… its not a cheery or simple listen, but it is quite an accomplishment.

Highlights include: “Part XII,” “Part X,” & “Part III.”  

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8. No Exit (1988) – This transitional album bridges the band’s quite traditional sounding early sound with original singer John Arch, with the band’s future with singer Ray Alder. Ray’s first album, yet still decidedly ‘80s music, it’s a real one-off moment in time. They also for the one and only time in their career, incorporate a tiny bit of Thrash Metal into the sound. The bulk of the album is quite direct, heavy, very metal songs, and then it ends with their longest ever song to date, a 20-minute song that mixes very quiet, slow parts with high energy metallic parts. Even with a 20 minute song, its arguably one of their least proggy albums to date, but if you like them at their most metallic, this is the one for you.

Highlights include: “Silent Cries,” & “The Ivory Gate Of Dreams.”  

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9. Awaken The Guardian (1986) – There is a small, but very vocal subsection of the fans who would have this as number one. It has an incredibly positive reputation and is held very dear in some fan’s hearts. To me, it is the best of the John Arch era, and a good album, but it is not just quite as special to me as to the fans who really adore it. Next to ‘Pleasant Shade it is the album of theirs that took me the longest to “get.” Once I did get into it though, and when I am in the mood for it, I can see a lot of what people seem to love about it. Its also a lot more even and consistent all the way through than No Exit, and on an objective level should probably be above that album in any list, but just for me personally, I don’t much like the sound of Arch’s voice (he is very talented, very skilled, and can sing really well, but I don’t personally enjoy the sound). If it wasn’t for No Exit, you could almost treat the Arch and the Alder eras as two completely different bands. If you like the sound of Arch, consider this one to be much higher up the list. If you like fantasy D&D type lyrics as well, consider this one higher as well. Its very good at what it does. I just prefer what is done on future albums.

Highlights include: “Guardian,” “Fata Morgana,” & “Giant’s Lore (Heart Of Winter).”  

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10. X / FWX (2004) – This album is often called the band’s low point, and even more than Disconnected, people who don’t like Alternative or Nu Metal seem to really hate on this one. There’s bits that sound like Tool, bits that sound a bit Grunge, and bits that are quite commercial. People tend to dislike this because of the style, but ignore the fact that most of the songs are pretty god, the musicianship is excellent and the production is superb. Admittedly, they’ve done better, but this is far from a poor showing. Sadly, it was Mark Zonder’s last album with the band before leaving.

Highlights include: “Simple Human,” “Another Perfect Day,” & “Wish.”  

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11. The Long Good Night (2020) – At time of writing their latest album. It feels a bit unfocused, there’s a bit of filler, and while it features a similar style to two of their best albums (Darkness’ and Theories’), it doesn’t really live up to what came before it. It’s the first time in their career they’ve stayed in one style for three albums in a row, but it just doesn’t feature songs as good as the other two albums in this direction. I definitely wouldn’t make this my first Fates Warning album if I was you.

There are some good moments, but as a whole it is definitely one of their patchier efforts.

Highlights include: “The Longest Shadow Of The Day,” & “Shuttered World.”  

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12. Spectre Within (1985) – Their second album was a huge, huge improvement of the first. It is night and day how much better this one is than the debut. Many people would have this as an all time classic. Its not totally to my tastes, mainly due to the vocals, but I can appreciate the music. Kind of like a mixture between Warning-era Queensryche, Sirens-era Savatage and early Maiden, except the songs aren’t as good as that makes it sound. Good direction, but the execution is just “ok” for me.  

Highlights include: “Epitaph,” & “Traveller In Time.”  

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13. Night On Bröcken (1984) – Their debut, and most people just call it an “Iron Maiden clone.” It is quite derivative, it is quite amateurish and while both of those things can be charming and entertaining sometimes, it just doesn’t have much in the way of good songs. Compared to the two albums which followed it, which are objectively good but just with vocals I dislike and songs that don’t stick in my head, this one is actively pretty poor. For completists only.

Also, on a very shallow note – this has got to be one of the least professional album covers from a band that went on to success. I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but it does sort of give you a pretty accurate representation of the level we are dealing with in this instance.

Highlights include: “Shadowfax.”

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MetalnerdBlog Albums Of The Year 2022

I haven’t actually been that into new releases this year outside maybe my top 5, as I’ve spent most of my buying power this year on completing collections (Motorhead, King Diamond, Orange Goblin, AC/DC, Amon Amarth, Sabaton) of bands I already listened to, or also checking out some ’70s Italian Prog and really delving into Fates Warning.

So the following albums aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop from dozens and dozens of albums like a journalist would do, but rather, just the only 20 new-release albums I’ve heard this year, ranked.

20. Ozzy Osbourne – Patient Number 9 – Guest music from Tony Iommi, Zakk Wylde back, a continuation of the Ordinary Man production / song-writing team, chart success. There’s a lot to talk about here. Not necessarily the best set of songs ever, and a bit overlong though. Its not higher up the list because it feels a bit inessential but it still does just about make it.

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19. Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos – Not the best thing they ever put out, not the worst. It has some strong moments.

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18. Five Finger Death Punch – Afterlife – More of the same formula. I like the formula. Diminishing returns sure, but still worthwhile.

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17. Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying And The Dead – Uneven, has some very weak moments, but the best tracks are great.

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16. Rammstein – Zeit – I was about to type “their most mature album” until I remembered “Dicke Titten” but, sonically quite mature.             

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15. Architects – The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit – A nice, banger-filled, nothing but hits collection. Some fans kicked off against it, I don’t get that, this album is great fun.

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14. Smashing Pumpkins – Autumn: Act 1 – A nice mixture between Oceana and Cyr.

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13. Coheed & Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind – At first, I thought this was a step down from the previous album, but on repeat listens its really grown on me. I think this could be in the top half of their discography.

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12. Lamb Of God – Omens  – A strong sequel to their self-titled album, and one that gets better with each listen. Just the right mixture of variety and formula.

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11. Queensryche – Digital Noise Alliance – Another strong entry from the Toddryche era. A bit more adventurous than the last one.

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10. Kreator – Hate Uber Alles – Kreator just don’t release albums this side of the millennium that don’t make my Top-10 albums of the year lists. Always reliable, always enjoyable, Kreator are one of the best Thrash bands in the modern age, and this album is no different.

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09. Saxon – Carpe Diem – Pretty similar to the last two albums, in all the right ways, and nice and concise.

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08. Korn – Requiem – Short, to the point, no filler, and very catchy. Some people were disappointed with this one, I think its their strongest album this side of the millennium.

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07. Malevolence – Malicious Intent – I am new to this band, like a lot of people it seems because they’ve clearly made a lot of new fans with this utterly excellent new record. This is like a savage mixture between the heaviest parts of Killswitch Engage, and then instead of the radio choruses, its like Pantera, COC and Down parts instead. Utter magic.

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06. Slipknot – The End So Far – Not the best thing they’ve ever released, but despite the internet disapproval, nowhere near their worst. I really enjoy this. It’s a heck of a lot better than All Hope’ and more consistent as an album than The Gray Chapter. I think this might be the album I’ve listened to most since it came out.

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05. Amon Amarth – The Great Heathen Army – I had checked out of Amon Amarth since Surtur Rising, but after catching them on the Machine Head coheadliner tour I ended up getting all of their other albums I had missed, including this new one. It also turned out to be one of their better albums, top half of the discography.

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04. Ghost – Impera – This was their attempt to make a big, crossover, mega-hit like Hysteria or Slippery When Wet. They haven’t quite did that, but they’ve made a damn strong attempt at it, and the recognition is about as well as one can expect for a Metal band in 2022.

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03. Parkway Drive – Darker Still – Much like Architects and Slipknot, this album was a bit rejected by a vocal section of the fanbase. Their loss. I utterly love this record. Such a good listen. I’d rather listen to ‘Soul Bleach’ than anything off the first four albums.

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02. Clutch – Sunrise On Slaughter Beach – This album features my absolute favourite two songs of the year (and/or maybe ever) and the rest of the album is strong as well, what’s not to love?

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01. Machine Head – Of Kingdom And Crown – I went into this record with a lot of trepidation, but boy was I won over. Every time I listen to this I like it more than the last time. This is the most I enjoy listening to an album all the way through this year. I am really taken with it. There isn’t a single track from this I don’t really love, don’t want to hear in a playlist, wouldn’t want to hear live. It feels like a real triumph for Rob after all the negativity and upheaval to make such a strong, brilliantly crafted, instantly classic record.

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Metal Nerd Blog: Artists, Albums & Songs Of The Decade-Plus

My last post was a round up of 2022. For comparison, I’m going to post my top albums, artists & songs of all time (by which I mean since records began, which is only since August 2010, but still, a more life-representative lsit than just the most recent year).

Artists:

(The “Aiden” one isn’t actually the band Aiden, but rather it was where all the children’s music on my phone went, so I’ll also add number 101, who would be the real 100…)

Albums:

Because two of those were just children’s music, I’ll add the next two which would then make it a reall 100:

Songs:

Listens by year:

I’m not sure how muc hthe average person listens to, but I’ve listened to about 43-thousand songs this year, which is one of my better years.

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Again, perception is crazy. The idea that none of these albums or songs are Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin is mind boggling, I feel like 3-quarters of my entire personality has been based around Floyd and Zeppelin for most of my life. I also do not feel like I listen to Soundgarden that much, and couldn’t even tell you how “Fireside” by Arctic Moneky’s goes, but apparently I’ve listened to that more than some of my favourite ever songs, like “Achilles Last Stand” or “Comfortably Numb.”

Equally, my most listened-to Motorhead song is “Ace Of Spades”? Really? Not “(We Are) The Road Crew”? Well, you could’ve fooled me! I feel like I often go out of my way not to listen to “Ace Of Spades” because its a bit over-exposed and if you asked me to name my favourite Motorhead song, it would probably be “In The Name Of Tragedy” or something.

Salem have multiple songs in my top-100 of the entire last 11 and a half years? I mean, I do love them, seriously seriously love them, but they only have about 10 songs at all and they’ve only been going about 2 years… how the hell did I manage to listen to them more than any Anthrax song?

Did I really listen to Slowly We Rot that much? More than Peace Sells or Master Of Puppets or Reign In Blood or Among The Living? Seriosuly. I couldn’t name you three songs from it off the top of my head, but I know every second of those four aforementioned Thrash albums!

No Rishloo songs in that list? Baffling. I feel like I talked about no band as much as Rishloo in the last decade…where the hell are all the Rishloo songs?

Stats are very interesting compared to memory.

One thing that does (but then again doesn’t) surprise me is how fast those two Clutch songs have skyrocketed up the list. They’ve only been out a few months and are already both in the top-10 most listened-to songs of my entire decade! What tunes, if you haven’t heard them, serisouly, get on that now!

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2022 Listening Roundup + Recent Purchases

It isn’t quite the end of 2022, but close enough, and I’ve been taking a moment to reflect back upon the year. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts or reading a lot of articles rounding up 2022 recently, and its inspired me to look back on my own year.

According to LastFM, these are my most listened-to artists, songs and albums of the past 12 months:

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Artists:

Its a mix of mostly old-favourites (Clutch, Slipknot, Machine Head, Pantera), but a little bit of trying some prog bands I hadn’t gotten into before this year (Focus, Banco, PFM), C-list Thrash bands (Hallows Eve, Sanctuary) to expand my Thrash knowledge, and trying out some Emo bands I was too snobby to listen to when they were new, but reunions have had be curious (Paramore, MCR). My biggest discovery of the year has been Fate’s Warning, an American Prog Metal band who have a varied and interesting career, starting off as Maiden clones, turning a bit Power Metal, then sounding like Empire-era Queensryche, then going down and industrial route, then going a bit Dream Theater-meets-Tool-but-AOR. Something for every mood really. They’ve become my main bed-time band, and work-background-music band. Not one of the prog bands where you have to pay vivid attention to every single note (altough you totally can if you want to and would get extra) but who work really well as an easy low-attention listen too. Perfect, essentially you get two albums in one, the face-value one and then the deep attention one. Kind of like a Metal version of Smashing Pumpkin’s level of depth and complexity yet easy listening initial appearance.

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Albums:

Mostly newer AC/DC albums I hadn’t collected yet before this year, then new releases from 2022, and albums generally from my top artists of the year.

Because one of them was just children’s music, here is the real number 50:

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Songs:

Not much in terms of surprises there, if you looked at the artists and albums lists first, just sort of confirmation really. I would just like to say though, that those top two songs, the two best songs off the new Clutch album, are two of my favourite songs of my whole life now, I will listen to them forevermore as long as I live. Absolutely all timers those two!

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Perspective is interesting though, if you had asked me without statistics to back it up, I would have guessed my most listened-to album was Ghost’s Impera, and would have thought my most-listened to band was Amon Amarth. I am not sure, but I also probably would’ve guesed my most listened to song would’ve been something by Smashing Pumpkins, possibly even mega-hit “Tonight, Tonight.”

Also, althoguh I really like it, I had no idea I had listened to Coheed & Cambria’s Vaxis 2 so much, and I could’ve sworn I listened to Korn’s Requiem about twice that much! I also would’ve figured there would be at least one Italian prog band, album and song in each of the top 5’s but I guess because that’s a more recent discovery it wouldn’t add up across the whole of 2022.

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Purchases:

In addition, I’ve been doing this through the year already anyway, but I’ll just do another little recent buying round-up. (The Taylor Swift albums are my wife’s xmas present, so I haven’t actually heard those yet). One last set of albums bought before the new year:

Mostly finishing off collections of artists I already had most of the albums from (Motorhead, Orange Goblin, King Diamond), and then further exploration on Italian ’70s prog. Also, when writing my Manowar list for the last blog post, I remembered there was still one random EP I hadn’t bought back in the day. The new Smashing Pumpkins album release schedule is a bit weird, as it is only a third of the album, with the next two thirds being released on two separate dates in the future, even though you buy it in one go and just get the next parts deleivered later.

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Ok, well, those were the stats, I’ll be back later in the month with the rankings, for end of the year list purposes. See you soon!

Manowar Albums Ranked

Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.

Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.

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1. Kings Of Metal (1988) – Manowar are certainly not to everyone’s taste. This album is Manowar at their most Manowar. If that sounds unappealing, I don’t blame you. In fact, I put off trying it for years and then the first time I heard it, I didn’t really get it. (Even to this day I could deal without an entire four minute spoken word story track, and there’s another track with one of the most overtly misogynistic sets of lyrics ever made, to the point where if you didn’t realise it was parodying the worst traits of other ‘80s bands, you’d be outright ashamed to own it… and even when you do know that, its still pretty cringey).

Not everyone likes this style of hyper-energetic, unrestrained and arguably cliched Power Metal and not everyone likes the symphonic grandiose high-fantasy lighters in the air moments. Even if you do like it, if you were being hyper-critical, you could also argue that there are too many ballad / quiet moments which could affect the pacing / flow of the record. However, once you “get” what the band are going for here, and once you let the best tracks worm their way into your good books, this reveals itself to be a serious contender for one of the best Metal albums ever. The band weren’t exactly lacking for killer tunes before, by any means, but they really hit their stride here.

There’s just something about Kings Of Metal that shines. It just has that really “classic” vibe to it. A highlight not only for their discography, but the whole subgenre and the genre as a whole. If you are into this type of music, this is utterly essential stuff. If for some reason you have never heard it, you really ought to fix that. Even if you aren’t into this sort of music, I’d still recommend you giving it multiple listens – as it could convert you. I may be saying this a lot in this list, but it all comes down to the strength of the songs. I could make all sorts of comments on how the vocals are the perfect blend of Stanely/Simmons, or about how the lift in the chorus of “Wheels Of Fire” is as big as the biggest moments on Painkiller, or how the album provides a nice escapist counterpoint to the more serious music you may listen to… but in the end, those facts may be valid, but they’re not what makes the record so good… it’s the songs. Such killer songs!

Highlights include: “Kings Of Metal,” “Hail And Kill,” & “Blood Of The Kings.”  

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2. Triumph Of Steel (1992) – It can’t have been easy following up Kings Of Metal, a record that I would genuinely consider one of the finest records ever made in the whole subgenre, one which I keep a vinyl copy of on my wall as decoration, but the band came really close with their next record. It is bizarre to think this album came out when Grunge was dominating the media, because this album by contrast is one of the worst offenders of all the bloat and excess and fantasy and non-down-to-earthness of all the things people liked to call Grunge the antithesis of. Now, I really like a lot of Grunge so don’t think that is some kind of complaint about the Grunge movement, just an observation… its comical that when most ‘80s bands where changing their sound, getting less excessive, stripping down, trying to match Seattle’s credibility… Manowar doubled down hard on all of their silliest, most theatrical, most bombastic qualities and made this utterly absurd record. It opens with a twenty minute song with both a bass solo and a drum solo and absolutely no logical structure. There’s even a song that features the line “If you’re not into Metal, you are not my friend” for goodness sake… and I love it with all my heart.

Now, all that cheese, all that bombast and all that showmanship so large it would make Alice Cooper say “Geez… maybe dial it down a bit guys?” would just be a bit of empty throw-away dumb fun without the tunes. The reason this album is so high on my list isn’t actually all the stuff I’ve written so far… arguably in might even be in spite of that stuff. I am not into novelty bands or comedy music, and a lot of people are turned off by Manowar and don’t even try them because the sort of stuff I am mentioning above, which could make them seem like a novelty or comedy band to the untrained eye… no, the reason this album is so high on my list is because the material is so immensely, furiously, massively fun, memorable and enjoyable. Almost every song here makes me want to sing along to every vocal line, every guitar or bass line, every drum fill, every second. These are just some of the best Heavy Metal songs in the world, period. Like I said for the previous album… its all about the strength of the songs. It also doesn’t hurt that its one of their most filler-free records to date.  

Highlights include: “Metal Warriors,” “The Power Of Thy Sword,” & “Ride The Dragon.”  

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3. Louder Than Hell (1996) – If you really like the band’s first four albums, sometimes this album gets seen as something lesser in the band’s discography, sometimes it gets called the beginning of the end or some such insult. For me, personally, this is one of the best things the band ever made. In fact, if there is a red-y/orange cover art with an absurdly muscled dude on the front, it is typically a sign that it will contain some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. This album once again follows a similar formula to the last two and once again delivers absolutely brilliant songs in that style.

There is of course some variety here, from a weird proggy tune with David Gilmore-esque guitar parts, to piano intros, to ballads, but the core of this album / the main direction of this album is the thing I love most about Manowar… and not only is the album made up primarily of songs in that style, but they are supremely good songs in and of themselves. On later albums they would also have songs in this same direction, but not necessarily to the same supremely high standard.

If I was recommending this band to a newcomer, especially one who liked bands like Blind Guardian or Helloween or Gamma Ray, this would be one of the first albums I advised. I consider this album and the two that preceded it as the holy trinity high watermark of the band’s discography, and an inseparable threesome that are all essential and near as good as each-other. If you are going to get one, just do yourself a favour and get all three!

Highlights include: “The Power,” “King,” & “The Gods Made Heavy Metal.”  

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4. Fighting The World (1987) – This album is a transitional and unique moment in the band’s catalogue. It definitely doesn’t fit in with the first four albums, which feel like one era, and only about a third of it feels like it fits in with the next four albums which again feel like the next era of the band. This one is a bit of an island. With its Love Gun/Destroyer inspired artwork, ridiculous lyrics, bizarrely uneven tone (is it dark and serious and epic, or is it  barrel of laughs? – it can’t seem to decide… even more so than on previous records), you could be forgiven for thinking that Manowar jumped the shark here if you had been following the band since the start (and I’m sure many people did feel that way at the time). “Blow Your Speakers” in particular feels almost like a commercial sell out move, although with its lyrics decrying such bands as would do that, it kind of escapes that accusation. I think when you realise what big Kiss fans the band are and always have been, this album makes a lot more sense. They’re not cashing in on the Glam trends of the day, they’re just making their own versions of “I Love It Loud” et al.

What really makes this album shine for me though, are the tracks that really set up what I consider to be the archetypal and classic Manowar format, which are the three songs mentioned below. With these three songs, they elevate this album a good four or five places higher up the list than it might otherwise be when listening to the title track or the semi-ballad-come-power-pop-bopper “Carry On.” That’s not to say the rest of the album isn’t “good,” but those three elevate it from good to “great.”

Highlights include: “Violence And Bloodshed,” “Black Wind, Fire & Steel,” & “Holy War.”  

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5. Hail To England (1984) – I remember an old Metal Hammer article where Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy said it was the best Manowar album. Of the early-day albums, this one is the most consistent, even, reliable and solid. “Bridge Of Death” in one single song does everything the previous album was trying to do, but miles and miles better. The faster more aggressive tunes here are some of the best ones of the early days, the production is a bit better than the last two, and there seems to have been a big step up in musicianship. Its everything the previous two albums were trying, perfected.

Whilst I can’t honestly say its not silly at all, it certainly strikes a much better balance between serious and silly than some of their records do, and is almost tasteful in places, (without being po-faced and boring like they sometimes can be at their most indulgent).

A lot of people might have this as their favourite album, and I can see why. For me and my tastes, I just personally prefer the type of stuff they would go on to do later, but for this type of material and this direction, this is arguably the band at the peak of that style. If you like the early sound more than the later sound, then knock this one straight to number one on your priorities list.

Highlights include: “Kill With Power,” “Blood Of My Enemies,” & “Bridge Of Death.”  

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6. Sign Of The Hammer (1984) – Some people complain about this one, saying parts of it are out of time and out of tune, but as someone who loves Motorhead I don’t really see that as a deal-breaker. This album is a more ambitious and fleshed out realisation of what the band had been attempting with their debut, with some songs that showcase the direction they would start leaning more into on future releases. I feel like the vocals here are much better than the previous three records and the simple and tasteful artwork is a big improvement over the previous records as well.

Apart from the band-title track on the debut record, I feel like this album is also the start of when the band really developed their signature self-referential character, and this feels like a transitional moment between slightly OTT but still normal band, and completely ludicrous as would start on the subsequent album. “All Men Play On Ten” in particular seems to be one of the moments when the band really found themselves.

Highlights include: “All Men Play On Ten,” “Thor (The Powerhead),” & “Guyana (Cult Of The Damned).”  

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7. Battle Hymns (1982) – The band’s debut sounds a little bit different to what the band would eventually become. This record is a real treat for fans of classic heavy metal, ala Breaker-era Accept, ‘70s Priest or early Riot. Before they really leaned hard into the Power side of Power Metal, this is just pure hard rocking early Metal. The production still has one foot in the ’70s even though it was 1982.  

In part, the lyrics are quite different in places to what the band would become. I mean, if most of the general music buying public thinks of Manowar, they think of oily musclebound dudes in loin cloths singing about Conan The Barbarian and such, not tracks about PTSD amongst Vietnam veterans. The song-writing here is relatively strong (much better than their sophomore album) and there are numerous catchy and memorable tunes here that remain concert favourites to this day.

You almost can’t pick up any Manowar live album or best of without hearing something from this record, and that’s a good thing in m opinion. Just watch out for the dodgy late-career re-recording of this. Re-recordings as a rule are basically always worse than the original. Don’t even get tempted, head straight for the charming debut and skip the clinical and sterile re-creation entirely!  

Highlights include: “Manowar,” “Shell Shock,” & “Fast Taker.”  

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8. The Lord Of Steel (2012) – To date, the band’s final album (although there have been some later EPs) and not necessarily an absolutely amazing career-defining comeback album ala Formation Of Damnation or anything, but still a very strong and solid effort and a big, biiiiiig step-up from the album that preceded it. The production / performance lacks a bit of fire and edge, (its not exactly their most vicious album ever), but the songs are by and large very memorable, very catchy, very enjoyable and the best thing of all… the album is relatively consistent and solid the whole way through, very little messing about, very little that is skippable, very little to make you roll your eyes. Pretty much no filler, which is rare on a Manowar album, and no silly intros or indulgent bass solo.

It does lack the real star power of some of the best Manowar albums, and I doubt it would ever make any Manowar Albums Ranked’s number one spot, but I couldn’t ever see it placing last either. Not one for the casual fans neccesarily, but not a “super-fans and collectors only” affair either. If you’re happy with the post-’87 Manowar sound and just want some more of it, pick this one up once you’ve exhausted the real heavy hitters first.  

Highlights include: “Born In A Grave,” “Hail, Kill And Die,” & “Touch The Sky.”  

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9. Warriors Of The World (2002) – Over half of this album is pure gold, and good enough for me to want to count it as part of a “golden era” with the previous albums, but there is a bit (lot?) of filler, a few questionable decisions and a little bit of absolute guff that sort of dilutes the overall impact of the record. The highlights are very high, but the low-points definitely weaken the impression of the record and relegate it to “lesser” status in the discography for me.

If someone was to say “I only want to get the best records, where is the cut off point?” I think I would say this is the first one that is skippable. That being said, if you chopped off all the weaker moments from this one, and it was just a super tight and concise Reign In Blood-length rager of just the best of this…. I think it could be a full three or even four places higher up this list. To skip this album would be to skip a lot of absolutely stellar material. Quite a shame really, a lot of people will never get to hear the best moments it has to offer, but then again, they’re lucky they don’t hear the dross. Such an album of contrasts!  

Highlights include: “Hand Of Doom,” “House Of Death,” & “Warriors Of The World United.”  

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10. Gods Of War (2007) – Too many intros, too much narration, too many slow bits, too self-serious and worst of all… the songs just aren’t that good, even the ones that sound like my favourite type of Manowar song are just lesser versions of that. Props to the band for trying to make a concept album, a Norse mythology story always appeals to me (Amon Amarth do it really well and many other bands have had a great song here and there) so its just a shame that for the most part, its one of the least exciting set of songs the band has ever put out.

It also doesn’t help that it doesn’t flow very well, and a lot of the things that could have made this a strong rock opera are a bit overdone and mishandled, so it just ends up being a bit too camp and embarrassing, even by Manowar standards. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t worthless, but its definitely for serious fans only, and only after you’ve collected basically everything else. If this was the first Manowar album you ever bought, you probably wouldn’t buy any more, which would be a crying shame considering how good the band usually are.

Highlights include: “Die For Metal,” “Sons Of Odin,” & “King Of Kings.”  

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11. Into Glory Ride (1983) – I know there will be some fans who say this is blasphemy, but for my own personal tastes, this is the worst Manowar album. It is mostly slow, a bit samey, lacks a certain energy and is just a little bit boring overall. If I listen to a Manowar album from start to finish, I usually have fun, but with this one I only have fun on “The Warlord” and then settle down and then eventually just loose interest, the rest of the record is just tedious, or at least it is when its all in a row. It doesn’t help that the production is a bit thin and the hi-hats sound weird (although that doesn’t hurt Hotter Than Hell by Kiss when the songs are much better than these, so we can’t entirely blame the production here).

I’ve seen some people call this progressive, and I can pick up a slight hint of Audio Visions era Kansas in a few sparing moments, but it doesn’t feel progressive to me. It just has slightly too-long, dull songs that don’t particularly create anything new, and which fail to excite. That’s not progressive, its just bad self-editing.

I don’t want to make it seem like I just like fast songs, don’t mistake me. The band had touched on slower, more serious and moody material on the previous album with “Dark Avenger” and had perfected on the next album with “Bridge Of Death” but this is just that same type of thing but not executed anywhere near as well… then repeated over and over again, without enough life, energy or vitality to really peak my interest.

Now, I don’t utterly hate it, there are some good moments, particular guitar solos etc. There are also some good ideas at times. But remember what I said before about other albums being at the top of the list due to the strength of the songs? Well, this is just the weakest set of songs Manowar have ever written. Even when songs from this turn up on live albums/DVDs its usually a skip-button magnet for me. Sure there might be a moment here and there that is good, but they’ve done so much better elsewhere. I know some other people really like this one, but its not for me.

Highlights include: “Warlord,” & “March For Revenge.”  

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Lamb Of God – Omens Review

2022’s Omens is the Richmond Virginia Metal stars, Lamb Of God’s ninth full-length studio album (not counting releases under the Burn The Priest moniker). Much like their previous record, it was released on Nuclear Blast, Produced by Josh Wilbur and features Art Cruz on the drums.  

Going into the album, a lot of fans online, on podcasts and in print seemed a bit disinterested in the band, and there was a bit of talk about how the band were past their best, which I didn’t personally get, because I felt their previous album was quite good, they’ve still been good live and they are mostly beloved personalities in the metal media. Anyway, many people are going to talk about going into this with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised… I just say its good, period, just like I expected.

The musical direction and the production style is quite similar to the previous album, sort of leaning into the more groovey and accessible parts of their sound, rather than being technical or angular or abrasive like the early days. If your favourite Lamb Of God song is “ODHGABFE” or “Blood Junkie” this album might be a bit tame for your tastes, but for everyone who fell in love with the band for the likes of “Redneck” and “Set To Fail” this will be right up your street.

Highlights include the catchy “To The Grave,” the speedy “Denial Mechanism” the memorable closer “September Song” and the grower of a title track, which I initially didn’t gel with the very first time I heard it, but you can’t deny that chorus and now its become one of my favourites upon repeat listening.

Is this the single greatest achievement Lamb Of God have ever made? Of course not, but is it some kind of lesser album or boring late career filler with only a few good songs? Not at all! This is a worthy edition to the LOG cannon, solid all the way through, nothing I’d skip, nothing I’d remove from a playlist and nothing I wouldn’t want to see live. Better even than the previous record, much better than the one before that, overall another enjoyable and entertaining southern groover made for big stages. Recommended.  

Queensryche – Digital Noise Alliance Review

Digital Noise Alliance is the 16th full-length studio album by the Seattle Prog-Metal pioneers, Queensryche. It is their fourth album with Todd La Torre on vocals, and second without founding drummer Scott Rockenfeild in the band, last time (on 2019’s The Verdict) singer Todd La Torre also played drums, but this time Kamelot’s Casey Grillo is behind the drum kit. There has been much media drama about the band in the last decade, with various spats between current and ex-members, which can distract people from the music at times, but for my money the current four-album Todd-era run is the best continuous run of four albums the band has had since 1994. If you ignore all the distractions and concentrate on the music, you’ll discover some seriously good records.

Queensryche made their name by experimenting, changing constantly and never making the same album twice in the early days, and while this has resulted in a discography where not every album is to everyone’s tastes, the one thing you could also say is that each album sounded different to the last. However, since original singer Geoff Tate left the band, the run of three albums that followed do all sit in a fairly similar direction, and as good as that style is, sitting in one comfort zone isn’t something the band had ever done before.

With Digital Noise Alliance, Queensryche appear to be trying to test the edges of this comfort zone, broaden their horizons a little bit, expand the formula more and generally try a few new things. There’s a Promised Land style semi-acoustic ballad, (the kind they hadn’t been writing for the last few records), there’s a Billy Idol cover song, there’s some occasional new vocal styles Todd hasn’t used on record yet, there’s a different feel to the drumming, there’s a few riffs or chords or melodies you wouldn’t have heard on the last few albums and the guitar solos often take a different direcition to what listeners have been hearing for the last decade. Just enough variety to keep it fresh and not feel like they’ve fallen into a rut. However, the core of the album is the same core formula of the Todd era Queensryche albums, so it isn’t so different that it would scare away anyone who loved the previous ones, or a big enough departure that it would reach a totally new or different fanbase and win over anyone new. It’s the same sound; but broader, more diverse, ever so slightly more progressive, and most importantly fresh. A nice little grower of a record too, there’s an extra layer of depth and complexity here compared to the last few. 

Highlights include: “Behind The Walls” “Tormentum” and “Hold On.”

If you like melodic guitar leads, gorgeous clean singing, clear bouncy bass lines and a slight prog edge without being ponderous or pretentious, then you’ll have a good time here. There’s always going to be a segment of the audience who just want the ‘80s sound or line-up, and I’m not even going to bother trying to convince you to try this if that is you, but for anyone who is still into the band nowadays but was just worrying if they might be over-relying on a formula or running out of ideas, I can reassure you this album is just as good as the last few, but not afraid to try new things and cover a bit more creative ground.

I Went To Go See Anthrax (With Municipal Waste & Sworn Enemy) Live Last Night In Bristol At The O2 Academy On Thursday 06/10/2022

I went to go see Anthrax (With Municipal Waste & Sworn Enemy) live last night in Bristol at the O2 Academy on Thursday 06/10/2022. I am always a bit dodgy about going to concerts in Bristol. I utterly hate driving there, the roads are very illogical, poorly laid out, change suddenly with little warning and generally difficult to drive on, but the drivers are incredibly competitive and aggressive, a toxic combination. It is nowhere near as pleasant to drive as Cardiff by comparison. The 02 Academy as a venue is also not as nice as the Student’s Union Great Hall / Y Plas in Cardiff, it’s a kind of weird shape and layout, the sound isn’t as good, it gets too hot and generally isn’t as good.

However, Anthrax have been one of (and sometimes even the number one) my absolute life-long favourite bands since I was old enough to shave, and yet I had never managed to catch them on a headline show yet for various financial or scheduling or logistical conflicts over the years (although did finally get to see them supporting Slayer a few years ago).

Now, I am quite reticent about going to concerts nowadays, and have skipped a great many due to the pandemic, even ones I had tickets for. However, after going to see Rammstein and not getting sick or making my family or anyone else sick, I have softened my stance a little bit. I still don’t feel comfortable going to as many as before (eg. I love Saxon live, but have recently skipped two really close and easy to get to Saxon concerts just in case, I’m not going to see Napalm Death, I’ve given BFMV a pass etc) but if it is something I feel will be special (eg. Parkway Drive) my new attitude is I will sometimes risk it. For me, a headline Anthrax show, celebrating the band’s 40th Anniversary, that has been getting rave reviews and the setlist for which is nothing but the absolute best songs, more than qualifies as something special.

After navigating through the stressful streets of Bristol, panic-stricken and on the verge of pissing myself, I finally made it to the venue. Hmm… strange. I arrived late after doors were open and it sounded like the first band were already on, and there was still a 20 minute queue to get in. At Parkway I arrived earlier, at a bigger venue, I still waltzed right in in one fluid motion without queuing. This time it was busy. Well, it turns out the show completely sold out. I thought shows don’t sell out anymore, ever since the pandemic, but apparently things are getting more back to normal now.

I found a relatively nice spot to stand where I could see well enough and wasn’t in too many people’s way and settled in for the night. I caught a few songs from Sworn Enemy. They were quite enjoyable, it was quite aggressive beatdown-heavy metalcore. They were like a heavier, more blunt Hatebreed. The final song was a bit too repetitive for my tastes, but they made up for that by splicing in parts of Pantera’s Domination (or at least I think they spliced in parts, maybe they just wrote a similar part and ripped them off?). A nice little warm up.

The next band up were Richmond Virgina’s Crossover Thrash revivalists, Municipal Waste. I am a fan of Muni-Waste. I own about three quarters of their albums and do enjoy them quite a bit, but I am not a diehard fan where I know every word to every song. Before tonight, I’d probably say “I wouldn’t go to see them on their own, but I like them” but it was an absolutely great set and I might revise that idea now. They played a lot from their The Art Of Partying album which is probably their most famous and definitely the one I know the best, so I could sing along with quite a few choruses etc and join in with the chanting sections without feeling disingenuous. They were really energetic and attention grabbing, they commanded a lot of crowd-surfing and circle pits (although old man at heart that I am, I was glad to be standing out of range of any of it – nice to see, but please don’t touch me!). The singer was quite humorous on stage, but without being gimmicky. The real star of the show however was their drummer. I never realised on record just how incredibly tight and precise he is, nor how complex some of the songs are. I mean, Municipal Waste largely have a set style, and stick to it relatively closely most of the time, and I am not trying to make it sound like they are Dream Theater or something, but for a band who make their name on party-Thrash anthems or Crossover blasts of 1-2 minute rage, there is a surprising amount of depth and nuance to the drumming and song structures, and the speed he can play at whilst maintaining control of every stick-hit is very impressive when you see it with your own eyes from just a few meters’ distance.

The highlight of their set was the closer, arguably their most popular song, and the track I would recommend to any newcomer: “Born To Party” – it’s the one that has that super-catchy “Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up!” hook in it. (Alright, that might sound dumb out of context, but on the album its so much fun). When that hook came in live, it seemed to me as though everyone in the building was smiling like it was their birthday. Joyous. For such a stupid sentence, it is such a killer hook. On the record it comes in alongside the sound of a beer can opening and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how it is meant to make you feel, nothing will.

After a very enjoyable set from the modern Thrash band, it was time for one of the true forefathers of the genre. When Anthrax took the stage, in this ludicrously packed sweatbox, a wave of euphoria came over me. There was a short video before they actually came on, where various celebrities praised them on making it to 40 years or explained why they were important / influential / good etc, then they appeared in silhouette backlit against the video screen and it was so fucking cool. Sometimes you don’t need a 20 foot sea-serpent or a metric tonne of pyro – sometimes you just have to look fucking cool, and Anthrax looked like legends.

The setlist was nothing short of giving the people exactly what they wanted. No real surprises so to speak. All the best songs (more or less) off the 80s albums. The only deviation from that was the sing-along generator “Only” from the Bush era and the fallen-rockstar (eg. Dio) tribute song “In The End” from Joey Belladonna’s reunion album Worship Music. A huge part of it was just the most memorable songs from Among The Living and Spreading The Disease… and since they are two of my favourite albums of all time, you’ll hear no complaints from me. They also did the first half of “Bring The Noise” before transitioning into a storming rendition of “Indians” with a massive crowd-participatory “woah, woah, woah-ah-oh” singalong.

Well, I say a massive crowd singalong, but to be honest, apart from maybe “In The End” not much of the evening wasn’t a massive crowd singalong. I have rarely seen a concert where such a high percentage of the crowd sang for such a high percentage of the evening. Not just choruses, but verses, bridges, obscure 2nd/3rd verses, singing along to the guitar parts etc. Nothing you don’t see a bit at every concert, but like… more, more often, and more intensely. It was like being part of a thousand-member Anthrax-themed choir.

The main members Scott, Charlie, Frankie and Joey were so full of charisma it felt like a privilege to be allowed to be there. Dan Spitz or Rob Caggiano aren’t in the band anymore, so filling that spot was ex-Shadow’s Fall guitarist Jon Donais. I always liked Shadow’s Fall, and he can play the songs, but he is not an icon like the other members, and he just stayed in place for most of the evening, quietly getting the job done without taking up much limelight, possibly out of respect for the whole 40-year celebration thing. As an audience member, I spent about 90% of the evening just fixedly staring at drummer Charlie Benante. Anyone who knows me in person has been subjected to me mooning over Charlie Benante with hearts in my eyes, and I am sure anyone reading this blog more than once has probably read it at least 5 times too, but just to reiterate – that man is one of the best drummers in the game. I utterly love the way he plays.

Last time I saw them, I was lower down and further away, so this time I could really see every hit of every single drum or cymbal, and to me that is worth the price of the ticket, worth the stressful commute, worth being absolutely shattered at work all day today, and moreso than “worth it” – it is a memory I’ll take to my grave.

There’s been a lot of shit-talking on the internet and social media in the last 15-years with people poo-pooing Joey Belladonna and his legacy, but to me he is one of Metal’s most memorable vocalists, and I’ve never agreed with the anti-Joey sentiment out there online. However, I had heard on a few podcasts I trust who like him on records, that he wasn’t always good live, especially in the modern era – but I can happily confirm he was utterly excellent live in my opinion. Not all singers can still pull it off live when they reach a certain vintage, but I thought Joey was the absolute business last night!

Scott Ian as always is just spellbinding. I’ve talked at length before about “Scott Ian’s Wrist” and it was out in full force last night.

The sound was pretty good (painfully loud, but I guess that’s a redundant complaint at a Thrash show) and the stage was presented well with various banners etc. The light show was well designed, and various spots or strobes highlighted specific memorable moments (like a key drumfill, for example that weird super quick bit in “Caught In A Mosh” before the “Why don’t you listen when I try to talk to you” verse comes in). Visually, it looks pretty similar to their XL 40 Years livestream.

Luckily, due to the specifics of the one-way-system and the lateness of the hour resulting in much fewer cars on the road, the drive back home was about 40-minutes quicker and immeasurably less complicated, so that was nice too when I was tired, sweaty, hoarse-throated and ready for bed.

I had an absolute whale of a time, the band where on tip-top form (as a comparison point, they were better here in 2022 than they were on either the “Alive 2” DVD or on the “Big Four” DVD) and if you in anyway like the band, I really urge you to check them out on this tour.