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.

I went to go see Parkway Drive (with While She Sleeps and Lorna Shore supporting) in Cardiff last night, at the Motorpoint Arena, on Monday 3rd October 2022.

I went to go see Parkway Drive (with While She Sleeps and Lorna Shore supporting) in Cardiff last night, at the Motorpoint Arena, on Monday 3rd October 2022. To say I was hyped up for this would be an understatement. Parkway Drive are routinely called on podcasts and magazines and websites etc “the best live band of their generation” and the last time I saw them is pretty much the single best concert I’ve ever been to. One of their albums (Ire) was my album of the decade (the entire decade) and we are fresh in the hype cycle for their new record so I had Parkway on the brain this month anyway so excellent timing.

After work, travel, parking and finding a bathroom, I got to the gig in time for the opening band, Lorna Shore’s first song. I had heard good things about them online, but after this concert I can safely say they are not my cup of tea. Their singer has an excellent voice (very Randy Blythe live) but they have no memorable songs. It was technical, impressive, but utterly unmoving.

A band to appreciate rather than enjoy. It didn’t help that their music is a bit too extreme for a big echoey arena, they would have sounded much better on a club stage. They also didn’t have the stage presence or show for a big stage and the sound mix was utterly terrible (curse of the opening act). I did see quite a few people in their merch, so they must have their own fans, but I wasn’t converted tonight.

Next came the British Melodic Metalcore band While She Sleeps. I had heard of this band for years and years, ever since The North Stands For Nothing was raved about on the old Metal Hammer Podcast many years ago, and have heard hype for all their album releases and major UK festival appearances and steps up in size over the years, but never actually heard a second of their music myself until tonight. It was very entertaining. If you like Architects, Enter Shikari or BMTH you’d probably enjoy them. They don’t sound exactly like any of those bands, but I think their audience would cross over quite a bit. They were very bouncy, energetic, poppy in places, there was a lot of electronics, and their light show was very colourful.

It was a bright, loud, youthful, party, with electronics and lots of clapping and singing along. The singer got in the crowd and sang a song whilst crowd-surfing. Even though I didn’t really know their music, and am not sure if I would buy any, I had a good time and can recognise that objectively they are a very good live band. If you do like them and yet haven’t seen them live yet, you’re definitely missing out.

Finally, the main even took the stage. They didn’t just repeat the same stage set up and spectacle as last time. The stage was covered in spikes (Maybe military “dragon’s teeth” ?), there was a big screen at the back that projected cool imagery like rotting trees, creepy bell towers and a mountain pass “opening,” on top of some of the cool stuff they did last time like the robed figures carrying torches, the boatloads of pyro, the sparks and explosions etc. (Shame about no flaming spinning drumkit though, that is entertainment gold).   

As a spectacle, Parkway Drive do live concerts as well as any major “must see” live band. I’ve seen Rammstein now and didn’t think they did “show” as well as Parkway. Slipknot, Tool, Ghost, Alice Cooper, none of them were as well-designed, aesthetically pleasing and sheer smile-inducing as Parkway. (To get an idea, go on youtube and look up “Parkway Drive – Crushed Live at Bloodstock 2019” – and that’s only the flames not even the rest of it). They just look incredible on stage.

But, even on an empty, unlit, no-spectacle stage, Parkway Drive would still have been one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen due to the sheer power, presence and character of the performance. Winston McCall is the absolute best frontman in music right now in my personal opinion. No one is more commanding, endearing and captivating on a stage. He has such a gravitas, class and spirit that is utterly spell binding. Other people can hammer their arms or punch the floor, or stand in silhouette, but when Winston does it, you feel like something important and life changing is happening. He is just utterly magnetic and incandescent.

The band also all get spotlights for key guitar solos (that massive November Rain style mountain top guitar solo I mentioned on the title track for the new album for example) or drum fills or bass grooves. On a few songs a string section came out and really rocked out, thrashing around, headbanging and getting really into it. The energy was electric, the magic was palpable. Jeff is an absolute guitar hero nowadays and Ben’s drums are utterly thunderous (especially when he rides the floor tom, like the verses to “Prey”), you feel like you are watching absolute masters of the craft.

The setlist was great, four songs each from the three newest albums (meaning four songs from the peerless Ire album) plus a song each from the three albums before that. The songs chosen were the ones that demand the most crowd singalong or clapping or jumping. It was very cleverly chosen to make the most audience participation possible. Looking at the setlist, there may be songs you like more on record, but they clearly know what they need to get a crowd in a frenzy, singing along to every guitar line like south American Iron Maiden fans. There were so many little memorable moments I wouldn’t even want to write them all down, but one of my favourites the guitarists running around Winston in a circle when he was asking the crowd for circle pits.  

The sound/mix was great, the heavy parts sounding massive and the guitar leads were clear, the drums were prominent and you could hear every word of the vocals. It felt bigger than a typical concert, it was mixed to feel cinematic, which I guess aligns with the dark arty video screens and hooded monks on stage etc.

Great sound, great songs, great performance, great spectacle, absolutely great all around. “I recommend you go see them” is the understatement of the year. If I could only see one band live ever again, I’d pick Parkway Drive. Big words, but not hyperbole. I’m dead level-headed serious!

Slipknot – The End So Far Review

I’ve said it before, but Slipknot album releases aren’t just album releases, they are life events as memorable as major elections, weddings, funerals, graduations and the start of new jobs for me. They serve as a significant moment against which memories will be anchored and where eras start and end. They provoke large quantities of discussion with friends, and the sort of in-depth analysis on your own normally only seen with Metallica or Tool album releases.

Not counting their 1996 demo album; 2022’s The End So Far is Iowan metal band Slipknot’s seventh full-length studio album. It follows up 2019’s really excellent We Are Not Your Kind record, and compared to the band’s typical timeline of going on break for many years between records, does so fairly quickly.

In the media, the band had been talking previously about wanting to make a big departure in sound, however saving that for on the next album after this, so this album feels in part like a progression and also in parts like a nostalgic regression and farewell to their origins and legacy. That sort of oil and water contradictory set of aims (Hey, I guess getting nine people to agree to one vision involves a lot of compromise) basically summarizes the whole record for me. Its trying to do two quite opposite things at the same time. There are notable, blatant and really on-the-nose call-backs to the old days, moments deliberately written to please old fans and keep the band aligned with the (glorious) past, but there are also departures, progressions and evolutions designed to bring the band into the (different) future.

So, speaking of harkening back to the late 90’s/early 00’s; there are a lot of moments on this record that are clearly meant to evoke the sound or spirit of great moments from the band’s early days; there’s a little vocal tail here that is clearly meant to remind you of “Purity” and a drum & bass thing that is overtly trying to remind people of “Eyeless” and you may notice for a second or two, a drum part trying to remind you of “The Blister Exists” or a breakdown that is clearly meant to imitate that 3:11 groove from “Three Nil.” There’s a moment of creepy tinkling additional percussion that exists specifically to remind people of the intro to “Scissors” for a second. There’s also creepy churning guitar parts here and there that evoke “Gently” or “Iowa” for a second, although more subtly than the aforementioned things. Its usually only a couple of seconds each, but it often feels like the have written a really modern record and then went “oh no, it needs to sound more like Slipknot…” and then just thrown in some extra cheeky nostalgic icing on the cake to stop it sounding too different. Many songs that aren’t even so specifically hinting directly at specific previous songs, sometimes its just some extra DJ-scratching here, or keg smashes there. to remind people of the old days. The biggest thing however, is probably the entire song “Yen” which seems designed to give people “Vermillion” vibes (although maybe that’s not fair, perhaps its just continuing the tradition of those type of songs, which “Killpop” also did). Although Corey has said in the media that it is about his wife, the disturbing obsessive lyrics seem to be more in the vein of “The Collector” influenced “Prosthetics.”

Apart from the aforementioned very clear nods towards the early days, which feel like garnish rather than the main course, the actual song-writing feels more like a mixture between their two previous records, .5 The Gray Chapter & WANYK, than anything they made their name on way back when. Now don’t come at me with a history lesson, I know Slipknot have been putting clean vocals into heavy songs ever since their debut self-titled album (eg. “Me Inside” and even before that if you count demos) but there was a notable switchover at some point (possibly “Sulfer” from All Hope Is Gone?) where a song with a good start and heavy verse would be dominated by a big radio chorus that somehow makes the whole song feel safer and smaller and less blistering. The guitar lines here would usually also feel less metallic and more alternative-rock. (Around the time everyone on the internet incorrectly decided to say “sounds too much like Stone Sour” every time Slipknot did anything). With a few notable exceptions (“Sarcastrophe,” “Custer,” “The Negative One”), 2014’s .5 The Gray Chapter album was perhaps the worst offender of this stylistic decision where a radio chorus off-balanced the rest of the song, but it is also present in part on WANYK and present quite a bit here on TESF. You could take that thing as one of the dividing lines which could be considered the difference between classic and modern Slipknot song writing.

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all very interesting and everything, but the quality of an album always lives and dies on the strength of the tunes.” I agree. A direction you like, or a direction you aren’t keen on will generate discussion, but what will make you decide if you like it or not will usually just be how much you like the songs.

The songs have pros and cons. Cons: The lyrics aren’t great at times. It feels like it is missing one more fast song. It is probably their least heavy album to date overall. Some of the experimentation doesn’t work so well. If you can’t get over how pandering it feels, some of the fan-service feels distracting. It isn’t as instantly gratifying as most Slipknot albums. While many songs are quite satisfying when they’re on, few leave the sort of lasting impression that older Slipknot albums did and you get a bit of a sense that in a few albums time, the songs from this will be a bit forgotten. You can’t imagine much from this record overtaking classics from Joey’s era in the setlist live or on compilations and playlists.

Pros: It is concise and succinct compared to some of their previous albums. It features arguably the best lead guitar / guitar solos of any Slipknot record to date. Jay Weinberg’s drumming is unrestrained and much more confident than back in 2014. Some of the experimentation works well, and you certainly can’t say its devoid of ideas or creative spark. If you can get over how pandering it sometimes feels, on a gut level all the keg smashing/DJ scratching/double kick and blast beating stuff is just great fun. It gets better with repeat listens.  With the exception of the opening track, the album sequencing works well so there are highlights throughout, so its not frontloaded and there’s no dip on the second half.

The one song unarguably generating the most discussion on the whole record is the opener “Adderall” which stylistically is the most unique and un-Slipknot moment on the record, coming across as some sort of mixture between Radiohead’s The King Of Limbs with QOTSA’s “Autopilot” and The Beatles’ in general. It seems a very clearly political decision to make it track 1 on the record, in a deliberate attempt to make this album stand out in their discography. Quite interesting since some reviews had been saying this album isn’t so much its own entity as just “WANYK-Part-2,” and there is a prominent interview circulating at time of writing with a key band member suggesting that the album was rushed, and that Shawn had said just to get it over with and that it wasn’t a real album, just an extension of the WANYK touring cycle. Of course, I guess that interview could be a) incorrect, or b) Shawn could have changed his mind later, or c) it was just a passing comment out of context. Whatever the case, sticking the very out-of-character jangly prog-pop song first seems like an identity-creating decision. The song probably wouldn’t have generated such large volumes of discussion had it just been track 10 like “Spiders” was. The album might flow better though. Then again, maybe opening the album with “The Dying Song” would then have been too close to “Unsainted” and thus fueled more “WANYK-Part-2” critiscisms. Who knows?

As much as some diehard fans may feel otherwise; for me the album as a whole isn’t flawless, and not every song is utter timeless gold …but it isn’t a poor album either and there are some nice highlights. If you like the band at their heavier, then “Hivemind,” “Warranty” “Heirloom” and “Hell” are going to be enjoyable. I certainly enjoy them. If you like the band being moody and dark, you’ll enjoy “Medicine For The Dead,” “De Sade” and “Finale” (with its memorable choir section part). I’ve seen people online saying these are the finest moments on the album, and I don’t disagree.

Ok. I misspoke earlier. Its not always 100% all about the songs. While not as important; Little things like the artwork, the reputation/reviews and the production can play a part in your opinion and enjoyment of albums too, even if maybe they shouldn’t. The artwork is the same usual thing they’ve been doing since Vol. 3. Unremarkable really. Unlikely to affect your opinion one way or the other. The reviews have been mixed, there’s a lot of “bold new direction” comments and yet also a lot of “same old, same old” comments, and basically every song has been called out as the best or the worst one. Tough record to pin a consensus on. There’s as many different views of the record as there are listeners of it. I think the only thing people are in agreement on generally is that it isn’t as good as the first three records (but realistically “what is, right?”). The production job is ok. The previous album was produced by Greg Feldman with co-production credits for the band, whereas this album is produced by the band with coproduction credits from Joe Barresi. Part of that was due to the pandemic and the difficulty of getting a nine-person band and the production team in one room at the same time. It is better than the somewhat thin production of .5, but not as clear and well-balanced as WANYK which I feel set the standard of what modern mature Slipknot could and should sound like. The production job here really lets you know there are nine members, its quite layered and rewards repeat listens so you can figure out what Craig, Sid or Shawn are doing at any given moment, when last time you were only focusing on the drums and guitars, but it can be a bit cacophonous, messy and slightly overwhelming at points and could give a bad first impression.

The band are so incredibly important and popular that I don’t need to recommend you get this album, but my one recommendation would be not to trust any gut reaction or first impression, and give it some serious dedicated no-distractions time to get in multiple repeat listens before forming an opinion. I’ve been listening to it basically on repeat since it was released at time of writing, and my opinion of it has changed and evolved numerous times since then. This is a grower for sure, and its biggest charms aren’t necessarily readily apparent on first listen.

Clutch – Sunrise On Slaughter Beach review

Clutch are one of the most consistent and hard working bands in rock and roll. The Maryland Stoner Rock outfit released their thirteenth full-length studio album, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach, in 2022. It was produced by Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Royal Blood, Pixies) and released on the band’s own Weathermaker Music.

I think its fair to say Clutch have never made a bad album, and although some albums are more popular than others, if you like Clutch you are probably in for the long haul, enjoying something off of each of their varied but always distinctly Clutch-sounding albums. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is a great album. I mean, of course it is, it’s a Clutch album, that almost goes without saying, you know you are going to get a couple of songs you’ll remember for the rest of your life, a load of clever quirky memorable lyrics, some cool guitar/bass lines that get stuck in your head for weeks and exceptional drumming beyond all of their peers… but even for a Clutch album, and the inherent high standards that implies, this is a strong outing.

The first two singles from the record, “Red Alert (Boss Metal Zone)” and “We Strive For Excellence” were so ridiculously strong, so profoundly catchy, so superbly satisfying and intensely memorable that I was convinced this would be in the top their of their discography before it was even released. For weeks (or is it months, my memory is failing) I’ve been listening to those songs multiple times daily, and got into a ritual of not getting out of bed until I’d heard them. With songs this strong, I was guaranteed to love the album, and sort of envisioned another Earth Rocker / Psychic Warfare style all killer, no filler, heads down, hyper focused hard rocking affair.

Their previous album, The Book Of Bad Decisions, was also excellent, but if there was one criticism to be laid at it, this would be that it was perhaps a bit too long and one or two songs could be cut to make it more streamlined. ‘Slaughter Beach seems aware of this, and clocks in at barely half an hour long, with songs that are concise, succinct and have not an ounce of fat on them. Contrary to my initial expectations however, it isn’t the heads don’t pedal to the metal rager I thought it would be, but rather is arguably their most diverse and exploratory album in a decade and a half, although crucially, having learned the lessons from their focused period, this is not bloated, self indulgent or superfluous experimentation the way some critics of the second halves of their longer records might previously have accused them of, the album is a best of both worlds, allowing the band to stretch their wings and broaden their horizons without sacrificing the flow of the album, the efficiency of the song writing or the patience of the more sober listeners. There are some really cool touches, such as soul singer backing vocals, theremin, vibraphone. However, its still just half an hour of the utmost, cleverly crafted, high-quality bangers, rather than the loosey-goosey jamming of say, Jam Room.   

There are only nine songs, so its hard to sit here and pick out highlights, as there isn’t a single one I wouldn’t want to hear live or have in a compilation (in fact, on a recent livestream at time of writing, they played every single song from it live, amongst classics from various eras of the band’s history, and it all fit so well), but if forced to pick some stand-out tracks to recommend to new commers, the first three singles are all utterly essential for all new Clutch fans forevermore. A clever blade-runner and pandemic-conspiracy inspired utter fist pumping banger, a truly triumphant tale of young kids building a bike ramp that sounds like the very best moments of the first three QOTSA albums filtered through Fu Manchu’s most catchy moments and Pure Rock Fury’s personality (the bass groove when the cowbell kicks in makes me grin like a schoolboy every time), and a groovey as hell Sabbathy stoner anthem title-track that educated me about horse-shoe crabs having blue blood overused by the pharmaceutical industry to the point of threatening extinction on the species.

Tales of D&D twelve-sided die and chaotic evil, or being accosted in space by an unknown menace to rumbling drums and expansive sounds almost match this for quality, as do ghost and witchcraft stories that are more moody and diverse, but the other real highlight for me is the enormously catchy “Three Golden Horns” with its almost Thin-Lizzy-esque lyrical story telling and super catchy “Jazz Music Corrupts The Youth” chorus. The album ends on a more sombre note, about previous heroes/legends being cast aside as criminals/tyrants by future generations that seems to subtly reference recent turning in political tides towards previously lauded forefathers who are now viewed less favourably due to their problematic deeds, with an almost folky slow drum beat and ghostly guitar lines that sound like the emotional climax of a movie.

This is an album I’ve been listening to on repeat, listening to every day since its release at time of writing, and which I will absolutely rinse for the next few years, if not forever. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Just put it on, get into the vibe, and repeat until in love with it. More highly recommended than water or oxygen!

Parkway Drive – Darker Still review

To say I was highly anticipating this album would be something of an understatement. Australian metalcore turned stadium band Parkway Drive’s 2015 album Ire had been my album of the decade, their 2018 album Reverence was a very strong follow-up, and when I saw them live it was and remains to this day, the (no exaggeration) best concert I have ever seen. Better than Rammstein, Alice Cooper, Slipknot, Ghost, Tool or any other famously good live band I’ve ever got a chance to see. Since those two concerts I saw from that tour (one at Download Festival and one in Cardiff headlining) my estimation of the band has only been higher and higher over time.

When I heard the first single from this album, “Glitch,” I was a bit underwhelmed to be honest, but then the second single “The Greatest Fear” got me properly excited, and having listened to “Glitch” so many times since then, I actually really like it now too.

Now, realistically, I can never expect this album to be as good as Ire, literal album of the entire decade, but if they could make something even half as good as Reverence then I’d still be a very happy customer, and it would still be an album of the year contender. The first time I listened to the record in full, it didn’t totally land with me. Part of that was my fault, I rushed in right as it came out, listening to it for a song or two in the shower, then a song or two when I was getting ready for work and the kids were screaming, and then listening to the rest at work in one earphone only whilst preoccupied.

My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of “Oh, they’ve gone too clean, too commercial, too stadium and the good bits of Nu Metal that they’d mixed into the last two albums have been replaced with the bad bits of Nu Metal.” However, I’d paid for it, so I was damn well going to listen to it again and again, in all sorts of different conditions, walking, driving, working, resting, on in the background and hyper focused.

…Well, I’m glad I put the effort in and didn’t go off my initial disappointed reaction, because this album is a delight. Its definitely more of a grower and a slow burn than the instant gratification of Deep Blue or Ire, and its less an obvious natural progression than Reverence was, but the more you listen to it, the more you see why this was absolutely the right album for them to make.

There’s no getting away from it, Parkway Drive are a massive band now, who play big stages to big crowds, and they just couldn’t get away with Killing With A Smile-level heaviness anymore… it just wouldn’t sound right on those big stages. While my initial assessment that this album is cleaner and more commercial than previous records, and that there are more touches of Nu Metal in the sound, it is in all the right ways. This album is an album to jump up and down to, an album to sing along to, an album to have a good time with, an album that sounds like a party, perfect fodder for big concert fun. The songs are deliberately designed to worm their way into your memory and make you want to move.

I wouldn’t say its been dumbed down, its been stream-lined for maximum fist pumping. Songs like “Soul Bleach” and “Like Napalm” just feel good. Dynamic, catchy, crunchy and bouncy. ‘Napalm also has some really tasty lead guitar lines that would feel at home on a European heavy metal festival. I love how Parkway mix that element in more and more as their albums go on.

Its not all festival bopping bouncy fun though. The album does feature some diversity, a few slower more contemplative, darker moments. There are strings, moody moments and a touch of class. The title track is quite understated and subtle (well, at least until the huge November Rain music video mountain top style guitar solo bursts out), and the closer “From The Heart Of Darkness” tries to be a hybrid of the heavy and quiet ones and succeeds really well, with the violins adding a really triumphant feel.

I could talk for hours about this album, but at the end of the day, I think the take home message of the entire review is going to be, “don’t listen to your cynical first impressions, just let it wash over you, accept it for what it is, and with repeat listens it will seriously frow on you.” I really love it now. I find myself singing “Imperial Heretic” in the shower or when doing the dishes without even realising it.

Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying And The Dead Review

2022’s The Sick, The Dying And The Dead is Thrash Metal legends Megadeth’s 16th full-length studio album. At just shy of an hour, the Mustaine / Chris Rakestraw produced record is a nice, easily digestible slice of modern Megadeth.

The album’s backstory will doubtlessly overshadow the music (you know it all by now, Dave’s triumph over cancer, Ellefson’s removal from the band, Steve Di Giorgio’s stepping in etc). The music probably won’t be talked about as much, especially in a few year’s time.

Stylistically, its sort of the same direction the band have been doing since United Abominations. There are some pretty strong tunes that fans will love “Soldier On” “Celebutante” and “Night Stalkers” are all quite memorable, but there is a little bit of filler and like the previous album, Dystopia, its a lot of the right style with great guitar and drums, but slightly forgettable actual songs, that don’t live up to say Endgame or the first six albums. 

The special digital edition of the album ends with two cover tunes, a Dead Kennedys B-side and a Sammy Hagar tune where Sammy himself actually provides guest vocals. A nice bit of fun as a bonus to round out the album and send you on your way. They end up being two of the most memorable tracks on the record. I would recommend this version.

TSTD&TD is an absolutely fine modern Megadeth album, and there are three or four songs from it that could make it into the live show for a short time, which at this stage in their career is really all you can ask for. Ranking it against their back catalogue, it feels kind of around the same tier as maybe Thirteen. Go in with tempered expectations, and you should have a good time. Just don’t expect an absolute career highlight. It’s the best album you can reasonably expect… just remember to have reasonable expectations.  

I Went to see Rammstein at Cardiff Principality Stadium on Thursday 30th June 2022

This was my first concert, gig or night out at all since the pandemic. I actually got the tickthts for this as a birthday gift in 2019! 

Other bands who I had tickets for pre-pandemic, like WASP castagencelled their gigs, some postponed theirs until it wasn't possible for me to go anymore, with work or around the birth of my second son. One, I was just straight up was too anxious to go, having been stuck inside too long and I eneded up chickening-out and just giving the tickets away for free to a random fan on the internet. 

I still didn't really feel ready for this gig yet either, and thought about cancelling many times... but the idea of it being a birthday gift, and of having the tickets for basically three years now, kind of made me feel obliged to go. 

In the run up to the event, I had seen news peices about how Cardiff wasn't a good city for stadium gigs, with travel chaos and inadequate infastructure, people missing gigs due to being stuck in the car etc, which didn't help my trepidation any. 

Despite me only living a 25 minute drive from Cardiff (35 until parked and out of the car), I only arrived at the stadium exactly 40 seconds before the band played their first song, having had a ridiculous commute with lots of shenanigans, including taking of 40 minutes to drive down a road no longer than 200m that I drive through in mere seconds any other time I visit the city, then getting to my usual car park to find it full (but the "full" sign is not visible until you already enter the building, thus being totally pointless, and condeming you to a 5 minute loop de loop to get back to the very start of the road, and thus sufffer another 40 minutes again to get down the same 200m you just drove). 

After accidentally going down a one way street, missing my correct turn due to a psychotic taxi driver tailgaiting me too aggressively for me to safely turn, I then proceeded to get stuck in a residential street whilst trying to lose the taxi guy as any more beeping of his horn and I would probably get out of the car, murder him and end up in prison. After deciding prison didn't seem like the best option,  I trued to do a 3 point turn in about 18 turns, then finally make my way to an alternative car park after some more shenanigans involving a train track, and finally hoof it across the city to the stadium.  
The Welsh flag, as the intro music played

After a quick trip to the bathroom, I walked out onto the stadium floor, and 40 seconds later, the band started playing.

The band taking the stage, hard to see because the ground had adverse camber

The setlist was mostly drawn from their first 3 albums and their newest 2 albums, with approximately 3-4 songs from each, and then just 1 song each from LIFAD and Reise Reise, plus nothing from Rosenrot at all. Mostly hits and fan favourites, maybe 1-2 unexpected songs, but with a crowd this size that’s exactly the right call.

Pyro

This was the first gig I had ever attended at the stadium, and I am not too impressed with it as a music venue. It is clearly a sports venue, and the flooring they put into it to protect the grass was weird, at the wrong angel, slippery, and made it hard to see the band as it felt like you were downhill, and hard to keep your footing (I saw so many people fall over compared to normal gigs in clubs and theaters, or even arenas). It definitely wasn’t the ideal place for a rowdy metal crowd who need firm footing.

That being said, the venue wasn’t all bad – the staff were very friendly and trained, the bathrooms were good, and best of all the sound was very good, probably the best thing about the stadium experience.

Rammstein’s pounding, simplsitic, mostly mid-tempo industrial style suits a big arena sound, its not too busy for the sound system. Big gigs often have poor sound, but I was very happy with this, I could hear every thing – every drum, every bass line, every guitar chord, every word.

Light show

As you have no doubt heard if you pay any attention to metal music, Rammstein put on a good stage show.

There were all sorts of things to make the show visually interesting. Lights, lazers, confetti, foam, explosions, sparks, flames, fireworks, a flamethrower-guitar, band members using different parts of the stage or an alternative stage at times, lots of props, an elevator, a treadmill, musicians going out into the crowd. Basically, it wasn’t low-effort.

Sparks shower
Keyboardist Flake ascending into the sky on an elevator for a DJ set.

Of course other bands do big shows too, in the last few years I’ve seen Alice Cooper and Ghost do props and confetti, Slayer‘s final tour did pretty good pyro, and Parkway Drive do the flames and sparks and elevator plus going out to a second stage and going in the crowd, Slipknot do the cool stage set and treadmill. I didn’t see it with my own eyes because I didn’t want to spend the money at the time with Vince Neil’s voice being bad and with me not having time off work, but I know Motley Crue do the flame-thrower (bass) guitar thing, you can see it on their The End DVD.

Rammstein was kind of like seeing all of that in one show. It didn’t quite seem like it was living up to the hype for the first few songs, they started off without much spectacle, but they built more and more over the course of the show, and by the time it went dark outside, and they played “Sonne” I was starting to think maybe this was at least bigger than anything I’ve seen.

The band on an alternate stage in the middle of the crowd doing a piano ballad reimagining of early hit Engel.

The crowd were pretty decent where I was standing, no crowd-killing, everyone respecting eachother’s space, drunks and pot smokers just merry – not falling down or vommiting or fighting. Quite respectful of wheelchairs and mobility scooters too, which wasn’t always the case in previous gigs I’ve been to. The crowd didn’t seem full or sold-out, but there is a pandemic and the show was rescheduled twice, so they did well to have it quite full.

Because I was deliberately trying to hang back at a quite spot with lots of breathing room and space for pandemic reasons, and not getting up and sweaty, I didn’t really buy into the atmosphere of the gig, and it was mostly just an “ok” gig for me, rather than something amazing or life-changing, but the music was good, the sound was good, the stage show (if not something I’ve never seen before) was still good, and the band’s performance was pretty decent. They definitely put a lot of thought, planning and effort into it, and they did well to fill the size of the venue.

Was this the best show I have ever been to? No. Was it nice to be back at a concert after two years? Yeah, kind of, but I just worry I’ve contracted Covid after being so careful and avoidant for such a long time (time will tell). Would I go back to this stadium for any other band? Probably not, unless it was something really special that I couldn’t see anywhere else, like AC/DC maybe. Would I see Rammsteing again? Definitely, but only if it was in a better venue, in a city with better infastructure. If this same show was in the same place at the same time next year, I’d give it a miss (and I wouldn’t say that for Slipknot at the Motorpoint Arena for example).

The way home was luckily much less eventful and chaotic – just a nice orderly queue for a very long time, then a clear shot home. Once I got out of the city centre, I was arguably home faster than during my normal work day commute.

Had this have been in the Motorpoint Arena instead, or had it been in a pre-pandemic world, I probably would give it an absolutely gushing rave review, but all the stress and the feelings or risk and the subpar venue took a little bit of the rose tint away for me personally.

Don’t get me wrong though, great band and I’m glad I went, I’ll probably just not be in the mood for this sort of thing the same sort of way I used to be for another year or two. I’m currently debating whether to go to any gigs at all this year (there are some tempting ones, like Machine Head, Parkway Drive and Volbeat coming to Cardiff at various points this year) but I’m still a bit uncomfortable being outdoors or in crowds at present.