Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rocka Rollas - Metal Strikes Back

I recently reviewed Blazon Stone’s “Return to Port Royal”, and I have to admit that with the release of Rocka Rollas’ previous EP, “Conquer”, I didn’t see the point of Blazon Stone. No disrespect intended, but both bands were straight up Running Wild worship. With their second album, “Metal Strikes Back”, however, Rocka Rollas takes a step forward with their sound and have become a much more original band. If anything, this record actually sounds more like their debut album than “Conquer”.

The first thing you’ll notice about this album is that it was born and bred in the 80’s. With only 8 tracks, you are getting pure quality and no filler. There are few modern albums that really do this great of a job of making each track unique and memorable. The sound is generally what you might expect from speed metal: it is exceptionally fast, with plenty of long, impressive guitar solos (many of which feature harmonized sections). Vocalist Joe Liszt improves on his performance from the EP and really brings the intensity. Despite being American, his voice actually sounds like it originates from Sweden. On the chorus of “Night of the Living Steel” he delivers one of the most enjoyable performances in recent memory, and generally is a perfect compliment to the rest of the music. The other area where this record shines is on the guitar work. Whether it is the insanely heavy riff found in “Blazing Wings”, or the shredding that occurs on every track on “Metal Strikes Back”, you’ll find that the guitars are the biggest draw to the music. Some of the melodies do have hints of Running Wild in them (there are a couple on “Raging Cyborg”, as well as in the intro of “Swords Raised In Victory”), but ultimately, that appears to be just one of many influences on this record. The rhythm section on “Metal Strikes Back” is certainly not flashy, but both the bass and the drums add to the energy of the record. The drums in particular are always pounding away relentlessly, but avoid sounding modernized; that is, they don’t abuse double bass. Ultimately, this is a dynamic record that has a lot more to it than you might initially expect.

Metal Strikes Back” is a clear sign of a band taking a huge step forward with their sound. I like their prior album and EP, and will continue to return to them, but this record is such a monumental album that I can’t give it enough praise. I expect this to be a record that people will look back on in the same way we love “Unstoppable Force”, “Death or Glory”, or “Thundersteel”.   

Be sure to check out and like Rocka Rollas on Facebook!

"Night of the Living Steel"
"Heavy Metal Strikes Back"
"Warmachine From Hell"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Axxion - Wild Racer

Axxion join the legions of traditional heavy metal bands out of Toronto, and though the band is only a couple of years old, they have plenty of experience. With former members of Skull Fist and Midnight Malice (among other bands), Axxion are well versed in writing old-school classic heavy metal. On their debut record, “Wild Racer”, Axxion prove that they’re ready to compete with giants like White Wizzard and Striker.

Wild Racer” is the type of record that lives and dies on the quality of its songwriting. The music will do nothing to surprise you. It is straightforward, with plenty of guitar solos, riffs and heaviness, but it ultimately comes down to the quality of the songs. In this case, they’re all pretty good. Most songs are high-speed assaults, but the band is able to slow things to a more rocking tempo on occasion (“Still Hungry”). Even after just one listen, quite a few of these tracks are likely to be memorable. This is due, in part, to D.D. Kerr’s high-pitched vocals. He tends to use that range where the vocals are understandable, but are never completely clear. There’s definitely a bit of attitude to the way he sings on “Wild Racer”. In addition, the guitar work of Sir Shred really strikes a great balance between being melodic and memorable, and being a full-on shredding assault. Even when he is playing extremely fast, the parts are generally quite interesting. The riffs, drumming, and bass playing on “Wild Racer” are pretty standard. This isn’t a bad thing; I’d even compare it to a band like Accept or Axel Rudi Pell where those elements work together to allow the vocal and guitar melodies come to the forefront. One element that Axxion have that few of their contemporaries have mastered is to have some subtly to the music. Most other traditional heavy metal bands are bludgeoning you over the head with how metal they are, how fast their songs are, and how many guitar solos they can put on a record. Little of what these other bands do feel as natural as the songs on “Wild Racer” do. This is a huge draw for people who aren’t as into newer metal bands, and even for someone like me who is a big fan of this style, it makes Axxion a refreshing change of pace.

There isn’t too much else that needs to be said about “Wild Racer”. It’s a very solid debut album from a band that has a lot of potential. This style has been done a lot lately, but Axxion still deliver a record that is well worth hearing.

Be sure to check out and like Axxion on Facebook!

"Wild Racer"
"Still Hungry"

Final Rating
4.1/5 or 82%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Blazon Stone - Return To Port Royal

Ready for boarding? The mad genius behind Sweden’s Rocka Rollas is back with another band: Blazon Stone. Though the band name is different, the influence of Running Wild still runs rampant. With their first album, Blazon Stone have created the most authentic Running Wild worship in existence. In fact, at this point, it’s better to forget that Rock ‘n Rolf is still going, and to just start listening to Blazon Stone instead. From the second the opening melody in “Intro” hits, you will be reminded of those jolly, pirate-like moments that made the original band sound so great. The bass drum picks up the beat a little bit, and things could not be sounding more perfect. Over the course of the next 8 songs, Blazon Stone fully immerses the listener in a world of pirates and speed metal!

Everything about these songs shows how well the band has studied Running Wild. The riffing has plenty of tremolo-picked melodies that, while similar in sound to what you’d expect, never rip-off Rolf. Likewise, the drumming has the same speedy attack. The vocals are perhaps the most differentiating aspect of Blazon Stone; however, they are still appropriate for the music. Some of the choruses (“Return to Port Royal” and “Curse of the Ghost Ship”, among others) make use of haunting, powerful backing vocals. Aside from the great musical performance, what really drives “Return to Port Royal” is the fantastic songwriting. “Stand Your Line” is an old-school rocker that would fit right in with “Renegade” or any other number of Running Wild tunes. The last two tracks gave off a “Lions of the Sea” vibe, while also projecting an epic atmosphere. They may be lengthy songs, but they never wear thin on the listener. If I had to point out a negative point to this record, I suppose it would be the chorus of “Amistad Rebellion”. This is another tracking using plenty of backing vocals, but it feels as though the band was trying to throw too many words in the chorus, and it ends up feeling more muddled than enjoyable. This use of wordy choruses is actually prevalent on other songs, but is executed much better on those tracks. With that said, the rest of “Amistad Rebellion” is as enjoyable as the other 7 full songs.

It’s difficult to say a lot about Blazon Stone, primarily because they’ve done such a great job of paying tribute to Running Wild. The quality of “Return to Port Royal” is as strong as records like “Pile of Skulls” and “Masquerade”, and I consider this record to be more of an extension of Running Wild than actual worship. This album is a prime example of heavy metal done correctly, and if you can’t enjoy “Return to Port Royal”, heavy metal may not be for you.

"Stand Your Line"
"Curse of The Ghost Ship"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Invasion - ...And So It Begins

We are pretty deep into the thrash resurgence at this point. While few of these bands were original in the first place, it definitely seems like we’re beyond the point of saturation now. That isn’t to say that there aren’t many great bands still putting out solid thrash records, but there are definitely becoming too many thrash bands to keep track of. While Sweden’s Invasion does partially fall into this category, they do have some elements that prevent them from falling into obscurity.

…And So It Begins” is pretty much exactly what you would expect Swedish thrash to sound like. It of course has the essential thrash riffs, but they are channeled through some weird offspring of the famed old-school Swedish death metal guitar tone. In addition, the band has some riffs that would not be out of place on “Slaughter of the Soul” or various other melodic death metal records. With the use of blast beats and extremely harsh (but not guttural) vocals, this record straddles the line between thrash and death metal. The closest point of comparison is to fellow Swedish thrashers Carnal Forge. The music is relenting; the drums never stop or slow down, while the guitars supply an endless stream of riffs. Unfortunately, this makes the record fall a bit flat. Playing with intensity is great, but there are no real highs or lows on this album; it’s simply 41 minutes of thrashing. The vocals tend to remain fairly monotonous, and while there are plenty of good riffs on the album, few of them are truly memorable. Ultimately, your enjoyment of “…And So It Begins” is mainly dependent on how much you enjoy the Swedish influences the band brings, and whether or not you are interested in a relentless thrash assault.

Invasion may not be the most original band, but they are just distant enough from the crowd to be enjoyable. Personally, this is not my favourite style of thrash, but it is certainly serviceable. It would be nice to see more emphasis on distinctive songwriting, and maybe some more guitar solos or even Iron Maiden-esque leads to keep things interesting. Despite all of my criticism, there are too many riffs on the album to not give it at least a couple of thorough listens.

Be sure to check out and like Invasion on Facebook!

"...And So It Begins"
"Dystopia Arise"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sodom - Epitome of Torture

In terms of quality, few thrash bands have been as consistent as Germany’s Sodom. Whenever they release a new record, you know you’ll be getting something that is a serviceable thrash record or better. When it comes to their sound, however, they’ve been a bit of a mixed bag. Though the band started as a black/thrash outfit, they’ve refined their sound many times: thrash, death/thrash, punky thrash, and finally back to a standard thrash sound. For the last 10-15 years, the band has settled on a straightforward thrash style, but they have still given us a modern classic in “M-16”. In 2013, the band has returned with “Epitome of Torture”, which is another solid addition to the band’s growing catalogue.

The album kicks off with “My Final Bullet”, and there could not be a more perfect choice. The intro builds to a riff that is so evil and brooding that something hellishly fast must follow. Though you might expect a great riff, you are actually assaulted with Tom Angelripper’s trademark shouting. The chorus takes the song in a bit of a different, more upbeat direction, but is still just as heavy. A second standout would be “Stigmatized”. This song is for fans of the 1992 classic, “Tapping the Vein”. It is absolutely punishing, both in terms of the rhythmic attack and in Angelripper’s return to truly harsh vocals. Even if you feel that Sodom is no longer interesting or relevant, this song is sure to get your head banging. There are other standouts, but rather than go over them, I’ll address the one flaw with this record: it lacks enthusiasm. All of the elements are there; the album has plenty of speed, riffs, and guitar solos, but I don’t see myself returning to “Epitome of Torture” like I do to “In War and Pieces”. Just from looking at the song titles, I can already hear the choruses from several songs on “In War and Pieces” in my head, but I can say the same for only a few tracks on the new record.

Despite my concerns, this is still a Sodom record. Unlike Destruction, Sodom releases are infrequent enough that even if they release less than stellar albums, it is still refreshing to hear. And it is unfair to call “Epitome of Torture” a bad record, it’s just that Sodom has such a solid track record that my expectations were higher. I’ll definitely keep spinning this album, but am more likely to return to 5 or 6 other Sodom records before I get back to this one. 

Be sure to check out and like Sodom on Facebook!

"My Final Bullet"
"Epitome of Torture"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott