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.

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 Go And See Machine Head & Amon Amarth Live In Cardiff At The Motorpoint Arena, On Friday The 9th Of September 2022.

I Went to go and see Machine Head & Amon Amarth Live in Cardiff at the Motorpoint Arena, on Friday the 9th of September 2022. This was the fourth time I have seen Machine Head live, and the second time I’ve seen Amon Amarth live (although 3rd time I’ve had tickets to Amon Amarth… and accidentally forgot to go once, what a twat!).

I’ve been really hyped for this Machine Head concert since the release of their surprisingly great new album, Of Kingdom And Crown, and have been on a bit of a Machine Head listening-bender for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been on setlistfm nearly every day for the past week and a half trying to predict what they’ll play. They’ve done some warm up shows in Scotland and brought out some great setlist surprises that you don’t hear every time, but then in interviews frontman Rob Flynn has stated he is just going to keep it simple and play the hits everyone wants.

I’ve said it before, but Machine Head, especially on their killer run from Ashes’ through to Bloodstone’ (and their first two records are all time classics too) are in my opinion one of the absolute best bands in the whole Metal genre, and they are an utterly excellent live band so any time I can for the rest of my life, I’m going to be hyped to see them live.

The first two times I saw them, they were doing their epic three hour long An Evening With shows, both of which I have some of my fondest concert memories of, and the third time was touring the publicly-maligned Catharsis album really soon before excellent drummer and guitarist Dave McClain and Phil Demmel left the band. This will be my first time seeing the band with new guitarist Vogg (Decapitated) and drummer Matt Alston (Devilment) – I was very curious to see if the band could retain their sense of identity without their longest-serving drummer or their fan favourite guitarist who totally revitalised the band back in the day.

Amon Amarth have come a long way since I first saw them opening for Trivium, Mastodon and Slayer in Wolverhampton with no stage show back in around 2008, touring their now-iconic Twilight Of The Thundergod album, getting bigger and bigger over time until now they are an arena band. Judging from their live DVD they had been putting on bigger stage shows before then too, but it has really escalated over the years and now they are famed as a big-spectacle live act that everyone must see. I was very excited to see them again and reconnect. I remember in the wake of that previous concert, I was very excited for the band, and started being a fan then and there, but due to the cost of some of their old albums at the time, I never got all of their back catalogue, and then each time they released a new album after the Thundergod-follow-up Surtur Rising, I’d always been planning to get it, but then just not got around to it due to money or timing against other band’s releases, and slowly fell out of synch with the band for no particular reason. In the build-up for this concert though, I’ve been listening to the Amon Amarth albums that I do own, and streaming the stuff I’ve missed, and I feel quite the fool. They really are a stellar band, and the stuff released after Surtur seems to be even more to my taste (“Shield Wall,” “Put Your Back Into The Oar” and “Fafner’s Gold” in particular are so catchy and memorable, I’m kicking myself for not keeping up with the band).  

But enough of the preamble, onto the show…

The opening act were The Halo Effect, a new band, but made up of ex-members of In Flames. I’ve seen In Flames live before and wasn’t particularly won over.   After a long day at work, some time with the kids and food, I made it to the concert while The Halo Effect were already on stage, so only caught about 3 full songs. The sound was ok, but there was something wrong with the lead guitar audio, it came out distorted and weird sounding in a way you could tell was a mistake. The songs seemed decent enough, the direction was slightly clean melodeath, nothing particularly fancy. There wasn’t much to talk about really. It was a fine opening, but I wasn’t exactly converted for life.

Next up, came the Norsemen. They certainly didn’t come across as amateur. It was a high production value, massive spectacle, very impressive show. There were people in costumes (soldiers, men at arms swordfighting, and even in the grand tradition of bands like Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden having a roadie in a monster costume running around… the trickster god Loki during the ‘Deceiver title track) as well as big inflatables in the tradition of Dio (Statues, Viking Longships, and even the sea serpent Ragnarok), there were props like Thor’s hammer Mjoliner which fireworks were cunningly times to coincide with it striking, a lot of pyro, cool stage set pieces, multiple backdrops, a clever lightshow that simulated storms or seas etc depending on the story of the song, and video screens in the eyes of the helmet. Very impressive… a proper arena show.

They played basically all the 10 most-played songs on youtube-music, most of the above mentioned songs, some classics like “The Pursuit Of Vikings,” and “Guardians Of Asguard,” Some newer tracks from the brand new album, one from ‘Deciever, and bits from Jomsviking and Berserker. They closed with a rousing rendition of “Twilight Of The Thundergod” which was absolutely stupendous. I was surprised they didn’t play “Death In Fire” as I was under the impression that was a real must-have, but I guess it’s a bit old fashioned, and they didn’t play my personal favourite song of theirs “Runes To My Memory” but I didn’t mind because it was a completely riotous set of wall-to-wall bangers. The only time the energy dipped a bit was for the title track of the new album, but otherwise it was pure adrenaline, catchy melodies, memorable vocal hooks and lots of “hey….hey….hey…” fist pumping/chanting. Lovely, lovely stuff.

Sometimes heavy metal is serious and dour. Sometimes, Johan Hegg has an entire crowd of people making rowing-gestures in a song about oarsmen. Variety is the spice of life.

I utterly fucking loved this show, and have a hugely renewed interest in Amon Amarth, and will make sure to get more of their records now. I have such respect and admiration for them. (Not only for the brilliant spectacle of the visuals, but the immensely fun heavy metal music).

If that had been the concert finished then and there, I’d have been very satisfied. However, I wasn’t ready for the near transcendent experience that was a renewed, reviatalised, firing on all cylinders, something to prove Machine Head delivering just the hits in a condensed, furious, no bullshit, hard as nails manner. Every cliché I’ve just written there… not actually a cliché… actually 100% true accurate description.

Visually it was a very different beast than Amon Amarth were, there were no balloons, actors, costume changes… it was a really tasteful but clever light show, with the occasional bit of tasteful pyro and one confetti storm at the end… but the main vibe was sleek, clean, futuristic and minimalist (as far as an arena level lighting and laser show can be). I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t look it from the photos, but it was actually even cooler than Amon Amarth’s very cool show. Just in a totally different way.

It wasn’t the visuals that made Machine Head the best band of the night though, it was the songs, and the way they were performed.

They opened with the heaviest song off the crushing new album, then proceeded to play basically all the songs with a music video, like “Ten Ton Hammer,” “Davidian,” “Imperium,” “Aesthetics Of Hate ,“ “Locust,” “Halo” etc. The odd song out was “From This Day” which isn’t one of their fast heavy super-metal ones, but rather a bouncy rap-metal experiment, but it was great anyway.  They played three songs from my favourite album, Unto The Locust, which I found especially enjoyable. I would have liked to see more from the new record, but I’ve just been spoiled by their previous 25-29 song Evening-With tours. For a coheadline set, it was sheer perfection. So many all-time gems in such a short space of time was really life affirming. What made it even better was the deep and profound conviction, breath-taking performance  and sheer fucking joy of the band on stage. It wasn’t even weird that Dave and Phil were gone… it was sheer quality from start to finish, utter triumph.

I have rarely screamed harder, clapped more, or basically enjoyed myself more than I did tonight. Air-drumming basically every song for the whole night, air guitaring every solo, singing every chorus and mosh call. The atmosphere was unbelievably electric. I utterly adored this concert. Every time I see the band, they become closer and closer to my favourite band, and this was perhaps the best I’ve ever seen them, and that is a ridiculously high bar!

If you have any chance at all, go see this. You will not regret it.

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!

Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon Review

Florida based Metal band Trivium have been on a seriously good run of form over the past half-decade. Their career up until that point had been almost cursed with a boom and bust critical reception of incredible praise followed by critical trashing over and over. For the past two albums (The Sin And The Sentence from 2017 and What The Dead Men Say from 2020) they’ve been on an incredible high again critically and artistically, and now with 2021’s In The Court Of The Dragon they’ve pulled their third absolute classic out of the bag in a row. While I am partially to all of the band’s albums to different degrees, never before have they unleashed three absolute masterpieces straight in an unbroken row.  

Over the years the band had tried a few different directions, mid-00s Metalcore, Thrash, classic metal, commercial radio metal, and they’ve also hidden in tiny little snippets of death and black metal every now and again for a bit of extra flavour. For the most recent three albums now though, they’ve mixed all their various directions into one broad but cohesive whole and developed their own speedy, stompy, melodic, aggressive, technical, blunt mashup identity. Matt’s singing, screaming, growling and shouting voices have never sounded better and have never blended together so seamlessly. Matt and Corey’s guitar work has never been as memorable, and Paolo’s bouncy high-in-the-mix bass lines are always entertaining.

The real turning point for trivium however, was the astounding one-two punch of incredible new drummer Alex Bent joining the band, and producer Josh Wilbur finally figuring out how best to blend the band’s classic and modern sides together and make them sound like their own thing altogether. Now, some of the band’s previous productions were good, and most of the band’s previous drummers were very good (much like Sepultura in that regard) but this combination of drummer and producer has unleashed an x-factor that elevates ‘Sentence, Dead-men’ and ‘Dragon to a higher level than most of the rest of their discography.

With all that preamble out of the way, you wouldn’t be given a dunce cap to wear if you guessed that “if you liked the last two, you’ll love this one” and “this is one of the finest albums of the band’s career.” Stylistically, this is very much a continuation of the previous two (not a mere repetition of them mind you, it is still engaging, original and forward thinking).

Highlights include the groovy “Shadow Of The Abattoir” the catchy “Like A Sword Over Damocles” and the lengthy “The Phalanx” (which actually started life as an offcut from their Shogun album, and has a bit of a Shogun-esque flavour, but has clearly evolved a bit since that time).

Some people may still brush Trivium off as just ear-plugs, Overkill t-shirts and the too-commercial chorus to 2005’s “Dying In Your Arms” but to do so is folly, and just results in you missing out on one of Metal’s finest bands of the moment, and especially makes you miss out of three of Metal’s absolute best albums of the past 5 years. There is nothing even 1% “Emo” about ‘Dragon. If you like bands like Judas Priest, Death Angel, Fear Factory, Manowar or Metal Church but have never checked out Trivium because it just makes you think of eye-liner and youths, I strongly urge you to check out “No Way Back, Just Through.” Ignore this band at your own detriment!

Exumer – Possessed By Fire Review

When you think of German Thrash Metal, chance are you think of Kreator, Sodom, Destruction or Tankard. Rightly so. One band who shouldn’t be overlooked however are Wiesbaden’s underrated Exumer.

I guess line-up troubles and label issues stopped them getting the same exposure and opportunity as some of their peers, because their sound and formula is perfect for this style of music. Its not blackened or crossover, not progressive or technical, not funky or avant guard, its by the book Thrash, done simply, but effectively. Imagine the missing link between Bonded By Blood and Hell Awaits. Exumer’s cult classic 1986 debut album Possessed By Fire is the closest thing to that missing link. Eschewing the darker, more extreme style most Teutonic thrashers usually opt for, Exumer are Germany’s answer to Californian music (kind of like how Xentrix are for Britain).

The vocals are not the most memorable in the world, but serve the songs. They’re mostly in the mid-range but with occasional high screams. Not too cheesy, not too extreme. The guitar and drums are solid. Not flashy, not virtuoso, but get the job done nicely.

The warm analogue production courtesy of Harris Johns (Voivod, Coroner, Kreator, Sodom) is decent for a Thrash debut (certainly better than Destruction’s early work, less tinny and thin for example).

Highlights include the scream-along Title Track, the more adventurous ‘Xiron Darkstar’ and album closer ‘Silent Death.’

If there was a criticism to be made, I guess lack of originality may be the one to level at this band/album. (They do seem to steal a few sections from other songs **cough** Black Magic *cough* Riot Of Violence** cough). However, no more so than any other C-Tier bands of the era.

A good rule of thumb is that if you take a look at the Jason Vorhees meets Attila The Hun looking artwork and get a nice warm feeling in your tummy, then you will kind of already know what this album sounds like. Does it exceed your expectations, probably not, no, but it does meet them. If you dig albums like Terror Squad by Artillery or Malicious Intent by Razor then you’ll know what sort of level to expect.

Toxik – World Circus Review

Toxik’s 1987 Roadrunner Records debut, World Circus is a lot less technical or progressive than their sophomore album, Think This, and much more in keeping with a traditional Thrash sound. That being said they are rather adventurous, dynamic and technically proficient a that sound.  

Some bands sound raw, rough and nasty, but this is utter professionalism, precise and dynamic from start to finish. More for fans of Heathen than Hirax if you know what I mean. The production is clean and the playing is flashy in an effortless sounding way. I also has one of my all time favourite Thrash tunes on it. There’s some nice melodic falsetto (almost Power Metal) vocals, some very impressive virtuosic lead guitar wizardry with all sorts of fancy sweeping and trickery, and of course, oodles and oodles of speed.

Why isn’t it a bigger album then? If I had  to guess, the two biggest flaws with the album, are firstly that some of the material can be a bit forgettable after the record has stopped playing, and secondly that the opening track, “Heart Attack” is an absolutely brilliant, catchy, unbelievably fun gem and nothing on the rest of the album can live up to that level or entertainment. If someone asked me “what is Thrash Metal?” its one of the first songs I would play them. Its just a shame the rest of the record doesn’t live up to that unfairly high standard.

That being said, it is not a one hit wonder situation. Anti-drug track “Pain And Misery” has a memorable staccato opening and is one of the most rhythmic Thrash songs released before the 90s. I guess the album is probably most famous for the Title Track having a Thrash recreation of the circus theme tune (do-do, doodoo do do, doo doo) but make no mistake, this is not gimmick band. They are deadly serious, with excellent musicianship and thoughtful lyrics (Eg. “Count Your Blessings” covers the topic of homelessness and not taking what you have for granted).

I love the Ed Repka cover art too. Soooooo Thrash. This is the kinds of thing modern bands like Haydes, Municipal Waste and Havok worship.

Overall; Not the most even record in the world, but definitely worth a look for Thrash fans.