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.

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.  

Ghost – Impera review

Swedish Rock/Metal band Ghost return in 2022 with their fifth full-length studio album, Impera, an empire themed three-quarters-of-an-hour journey through various musical twists and turns. There are three brief intros/interludes and nine “real songs” including epic stadium-destined power balladry, weird creative diversions, and some big bouncy anthems.

No two Ghost albums are alike, and this album doesn’t sound much like their previous album Prequelle, nor indeed any of the albums that came before that either. They have evolved markedly over the course of their career, and you could make a solid argument for any one of their albums being their best one.

If you are expecting a St. Vitus or Pentagram album, because someone once mentioned the word “doom” or “occult” to you in reference to Ghost several years ago, then this album might be a bit of a shock. This album is perhaps their brightest, shiniest, most “stadium” sounding record to date. The media has been quick to throw out Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Van Halen comparisons, and in all honesty, those do seem fairly close to the mark. They don’t sound specifically like any one of those bands, but there are tinges of the feeling they evoke – just mixed with dozens of other influences. Ghost are such a melting pot and no two listeners will describe it exactly the same way. You’ll be picking up hints of all sorts of different reference points, from ‘60s and ‘70s Psychedelic and Prog music, to that ‘80s MTV sound, to classic Hard Rock, and maybe even bits of Ozzy and Dio, and all sorts of other things. In addition to all the rock and metal, Tobias has also always had a big ear for pop music, and the 70s/80s pop stylings are dialled notably up. The producer, Klas Åhlund, has worked in various capacities for people like Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, the Sugababes, Paloma Faith and numerous others. I’ve heard it described in all sorts of different ways, from Dr. Feelgood by way of “Mama Mia,” to Mercyful Fate covering “Panama,” to the alternate reality where Rabin-era Yes wrote The Black Album.

The mixture of pop, rock and metal has always been a cornerstone of the Ghost schtick, and the ratio and specifics change slightly each time, but it always sounds like Ghost. I would be hard pressed to say you would ever dislike this if you liked any of their previous work, even if it is sonically quite a far cry from Opus Anonymous.

It is hard to pick highlights, because there are only 9 real songs, all of them serve a specific purpose in the journey, three of them were singles anyway already (at time of writing) and none of them are skippable. Its quite a tight, succinct, well-paced, fat-free affair. Definitely the kind of album you listen to in one whole sitting from start to finish. That being said, I’ve always loved the obvious “hits” like “Square Hammer,” “Kiss The Go-Goat” and “Rats” from other releases, so “Hunter’s Moon” is very noteworthy for me. The opener, “Kaisareon” doesn’t fit that previous “hit single” mould, but its supercharged hook after hook after hook approach (its almost like it has 4-5 different album defining choruses in one single song) is a standout in a whole new way. From the reaction it is getting in the media, I can foresee “Darkness At The Heart Of My Love” being a massive concert favourite, and every time I listen to it, it feels important somehow, like some sort of milestone moment.

As usual, Ghost deliver a great new album that gives more of what we want, in quirky and unexpected ways, and sounds exactly and uniquely like themselves while both never repeating themselves and also sounding like a Jukebox of dozens of other disparate things you like or at least recognise from elsewhere. As usual, Ghost deliver a top notch set of songs that will stick with you for years to come, that you are desperate to hear in the live setting, that you couldn’t imagine a playlist without. As usual, within the first few listens, you’ll be convinced its an album of the year contender.      

Bullet For My Valentine – Self Titled (2022) album review

Bullet For My Valentine are one of those bands that everyone seems to hate, who get no respect, who get a critical savaging, and yet somehow have a huge fanbase (so many times I’ve heard them described as “the biggest British metal band since Iron Maiden“).

After their career momentum aggressively stalled and their fortunes took a major downturn with the ill-fated Temper Temper album from 2013, the band have seemed a bit lost, constantly searching for the next idea to bring them back to the biggest of the big leagues. They released the fabulous, mature and relatively heavy (for them) Venom album (and the especially superb Live From Brixton live album) to much lower sales than usual and seemingly total critical indifference, and then released the much cleaner and more commercial-sounding Gravity album to increased live-draw-status but critical savaging, comment-section-joke-status and loss of core-fan respect. It seems like the band just can’t win, when they do well artistically – it feels like no-one cares, they do well commercially – it feels like everyone hates them for it.

This time around, BFMV seem to be chasing respect and credibility moreso than their own artistic fulfilment and what you’d expect the original fans liked about them (Venom) or indeed moreso than commercial success (Gravity). It feels like the plan is that they want to be liked in the comments sections online instead of being the butt of all jokes by self-professed “true” Metalheads (basically, imagine if Blink-182 wanted people in GBH and Exploited shirts to stop slagging them off).

As such, the band known to haters for their pretty-boy watered-down overproduced overtly-commercial sound (the opinion of the trolls, not me) and immature lyrics (a fair criticism for their first four records) are going to try and win over people who probably would never like them anyway, and consequently have made their heaviest album to date and have dialled down the melody, muddied up the production and generally released something uglier and more abrasive than usual.

The results are a qualified success. The album certainly achieves its mission of being the ugliest, dirtiest, heaviest thing the band have put out to date and if it was the first thing a new band who had no reputation put out, no-one would pile the hate onto it the way they hate on BFMV usually. However, it does loose some of what makes BFMV stand out from the crowd usually… I can’t see the masses of teens and lighter rock fans digging it. If hypothetically it didn’t have their name attached and was a totally new release, I don’t think anyone would particularly care about it at all. In this hypothetical world, all I would say to this new band is qualified-congratulations, sure hard to please neckbeards in Waitain and Sarcofago shirts aren’t trashing it anymore, but now no one is talking about it at all.

Ok, that’s enough about the story of the record, what about the music? Grittier vocals, dirtier production, twice as much double-kick drums as usual, noisier guitar tone, guitar solos in every song.

After a much too long intro, the album starts of with the very angry “Parasite” which is the heaviest album opener Bullet’ have released to date. This is followed up with “Knives” which is the nastiest single Bullet’ have released to date. Mission acomplished on the new-look heavy Bullet. This opening one-two throat punch makes you think the album will just be a one-dimensional bludgeoning, especially with the media promises of no soppy ballads, however luckily the album does open up more as it goes along.

At first listen, I felt like the album itself was a bit forgettable and the songs were a bit unmemorable. On repeat listens however it has grown and grown on me. There is a lot of depth to the record that only reveals itself over time. There is some diversity with the more memorable, rhythmic “Can’t Escape The Waves” or the multifaceted “Rainbow Veins” and the slightly more dynamic album closer “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” There are moments on the album that are reminiscent of Devildriver (The first 30 seconds of “No Happy Ever After” for example) and quite often the lead-guitar reminds me a lot of Chimaira (especially as several songs break into a groove for the lead guitar moments, rather than have them over the faster parts).

On the postive side, the record doesn’t outstay its welcome, it is tight, concise and filler-free.

On the negative side, the production is a bit of a mis-fire for me. It doesn’t sound crunchy, metallic and satisfying to please the heavier crowd they seem to want to impress, it isn’t clean enough to satisfy their core audience, instead it is a sort of thin, noisy, tinny sound that would suit a chaotic hardcore band better, but which doesn’t really fit either what Bullet actually are, or what they are trying to be. I can’t entirely shake the feeling like this was a misjudged attempt to please non-fans instead of the more logical doubling down on what seems to have worked for them before.

The band have talked about the start of “Bullet 2.0” and this record shows a lot of potential, if they continue in this direction I think the next album will be the real winner, once they’ve got the kinks worked out (and especially if they figure out the right production sound for this type of material). While I still hold my position that this record will probably not win over a single hater, and is quite at risk of alienating sections of their fanbase who actually like their previous output… I do think this is a relatively strong album for what it is. I’m glad to have this consistent, succinct and unexpected record in my collection.

Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind Review

2021’s Servant Of The Mind is Danish Rock/Metal band Volbeat’s eight studio album, it was produced by Jacob Hansen (with Michael & Rob from the band) and follows up 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound album.

I first got into the band after seeing them live on the cycle for Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie, and fell in love instantly, then devouring their back catalogue and becoming obsessed, listening to them more in one year than it takes me a decade to listen to most other bands, but when it finally came time for me to get in on the ground floor with a new release; 2019’s Rewind’ was a bit of a disappointment for me (especially at first, but to be fair it was a grower), as it initially felt like it was missing a lot of the charm, variety and quirkiness of their earlier work, and also was significantly less heavy or metallic than my favourite side of Volbeat’s many sided style. For me, Rewind’ leaned much too heavily on the band’s radio rock side. That’s always been a part of their sound – but not the whole sound, and to me Rewind’ just focused on it too deeply, too often.

Servant Of The Mind by contrast seems to be very conscious that the previous album was a bit too far away from their metal side, and is a pretty hard and deliberate course-correct towards heaviness. There is much more speed, power, groove, crunch, umph, tiny bits of Thrash-esque moments here and there, even one cheeky Death Metal riff hidden in there once.

Tracks like “Becoming,” feel built for fans who like the band’s heavier material (think “Slaytan”), while “The Devil Rages On,” “Step Into The Light” and “Say No More” more than make up for the previous album’s lighter touch. Heck, “The Sacred Stones” seems to be a deliberate tribute to Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell.” In addition to Metal though, they’ve also always had a bouncy punk tinge at times, and “The Passenger” covers that side of them as well.

While I may be banging on a bit too much about the metal; Volbeat have never been entirely all about heaviness – it is an important part of the puzzle, and it is nice to see it get enough focus again, but it is only part of the bigger picture. For those fans who like the bigger, catchier moments, the album does still have some nice radio rock moments, for example the single “Dagen Før” (featuring Alphabeat’s Stine Bramsen doing guest vocals) covers that kind of “Cape Of Our Heroes” or “Last Day Under The Sun” melodic vibe, and the choruses of even some of the heavier tracks lean into big American radio rock at times (its still there, its just blended better on this album).

Volbeat have also always had a fun side, and while I sort of make it sound like I didn’t like their previous album, it certainly had its great moments. This record takes some of those great moments and builds upon them. Single “Wait A Minute My Girl” has a jaunty saxophone solo, kind of like the fun “Die To Live” from the previous record, while “Step Into The Light” with its reverby twisted surf-rock guitar lead feels like a sequel to the previous album’s “Sorry Sack Of Bones.”  

Now, while I have spent most of the review describing the album’s stylistic decisions, being heavy, or melodic, or bouncy or fun is pretty pointless if the album isn’t actually good. Luckily, the material is really strong. There are riffs that will stick in your head for days, choruses you’ll be dying to sing along to, memorable fills and a very clear production job. More than three quarters of the album I want to see live, I’m spoiled for choice over which songs I’d include in a best-of compilation or playlist.

While I wouldn’t make an argument that it is their all time best album, it is certainly in the top half of their discography, pleasantly surprising, and I would whole heartedly recommend it.

Ps. If you can, try and get the edition with the bonus tracks, the extra cover songs are brilliant!