MASTERCASTLE – DANGEROUS DIAMONDS

Out now on Lion Music

Third strike from the Italian metallers in as many years, and for the most part it’s a case of more of the same.  So all present and correct are Georgia Gueglio’s impassioned METAL vocals (none of your goth croonings here thankfully), sharp guitar riffs and solos from Pier Gonella and a driving rhythm section of bassist Steve Vawamas and drummer Alessandro Bissa.

The production is uncluttered and to the point, very powerful but rather dry with it. This does help propel to 4 piece feel though and it’s a powerful uninhibited metal production the like you would have got before reverb got out of control in the 80s.

11 tracks which for the most part of driven pieces of metal from the fast paced opener “Another Flower” to closer “Bitter & Sweet”.  There are more melodic moments like the mid-tempo commerciality of “Time 4 Lovers” and the ballad “Lovin Me” whilst Gonella gets to showcase his six string skills on “Blue Diamond” which is well done.

Criticisms? A couple in so much as some of the tempos are a little too similar in places although this is evened out by the variation in riffs, also Gonella’s use of the wah can be a little too frequent, using it more sparingly would enhance its effect somewhat. But overall this is another solid effort on a par with last years “Last Desire”.

Simply put Mastercastle write accessible metal with little pretence and 3 albums in have an identifiable sound.

Recommended.

Rating – 88%

MARTY FRIEDMAN – TOKYO JUKEBOX (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Mascot Records

 When one of the worlds’ best metal lead guitarists decides to release an album in the J-Pop style (that’s Japanese Pop for those not in the know) then you are right to feel a little trepidation.  However, if you look into what makes up J-Pop then you will discover it’s nothing like the pop we know in Europe or the USA.  Manufactured “pop idol” and gangsta rap don’t come into the equation in Japan, but rock does and it appears rock transcends all genre boundaries and fully embraces itself into pop culture – hoorah.   

So former Megadeth fret blisterer Marty Friedman (who is seen as a demi-god in the land of the rising sun) has not only moved to Japan to fully embrace its culture but decided to get himself a piece of J-pop action as it where (arguably the next logical step after moving there) and the results are on his new album “Tokyo Jukebox”, which is instrumental versions of popular Japanese tracks and in all honesty its not half as bad I feared it might be.   The songs were chosen in part by the readers of “Nikkei Entertainment!”, Japan`s all time number one entertainment magazine, which features a popular page on Marty each month for over three years and still going strong.

Essentially this is big guitar melodies over rocking back beats (mostly supplied by  Steve Vai drummer Jeremy Colson), its modern in its approach yet also classic in its melodies and for guitar fiends this is all rather enjoyable, although it does feel a little “novelty” in places thanks to a lot of the programmed backings where it does sound a little karaoke, or should that be guitaroke?  Friedman however sounds more inspired that he did on his last solo album “Loudspeaker”, however whether this will manifest itself into big time spent on my jukebox remains to be seen as although its all good fun when its on I don’t find myself wanting to put it on again, yet when it is on I don’t find myself skipping.

Time will tell but for now this is competent enough and Friedman delivers strong lead work over a different format to what many fans may be used to.  Give it a chance.

Rating – 75%



ANGELS OF BABYLON – KINGDOM OF EVIL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Metal Heaven

Angels Of Babylon are a new band consisting of drummer Rhino (ex Manowar), bassist Dave Ellefson (ex Megadeth), vocalist David Fefolt (who sang on the Masi album Downtown Dreamers back in the late 80’s) and guitarist Ethan Brosh (who released an instrumental offering last year). A promising line-up in terms of personnel who have come up with 10 tracks on their debut “Kingdom Of Evil”.

Unfortunately the album never really gets out of mediocre in the song department with a collection of classic metal inspired tracks that don’t really say anything to me. The performances are generally good throughout, although Fefolt’s vocals are gruffer than I remember and do grate a little after a while. Brosh delivers some good lead work but never does it show anything other than competence with little personality. Rhino and Ellefson do little more than keep things solid and there is an overall lack of flair in the material here making this heavy going for the most part with only the middle trio of heavy metal ballad of “Tear Out My Heart”, the driving “Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen” and the grooving “Tarot” pulling themselves out of the department marked mediocre.

Whether there is enough quality here to sustain a career is in serious question, on paper everything looks good but this debut is filled with too many plodders, one dimensional performances and an overall lack of excitement – not helped by a dark production which does little to add excitement to the proceedings. Be sure to check out some clips on the bands myspace before shelling out your pennies.

Rating -50%

HELSTAR – GLORY OF CHAOS (REVIEW)

Released 5th November 2010 on AFM Records

James Rivera has been regaling us with Helstar albums since the early eighties. After a break where James engaged in several other projects, Helstar has been an ongoing concern once more since the turn of the century.

You know what to expect with a Helstar release : fast old school metal. James is an adherent of the Rob Halford school of metal singing, but has an identity all his own that never fails to shine through.

And yes, this album does not stray. Solid heavy metal that checks all the necessary boxes. Menacing vocals, thundering riffs, shreddy guitar leads. All present and accounted for. The only difference between Helstar albums really is the level of creativity in the songwriting. While there’s not a lot of variation between the tunes (there’s only so much you can do in the heavy metal idiom), all of the songs more than make the cut. A good balance between fast and slow tracks keeps the album interesting ‘til the last. When the band puts the pedal to the metal they are sometimes reminiscent of a tighter, more evolved, version of Exciter.

A rock solid metal album that puts most European so-called power metal bands to shame.

Review – 88%
Review by Sancho

CRYSTAL VIPER – LEGEND (REVIEW)

After their frankly not so brilliant live album, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reviewing this new offering by Polish band Crystal Viper.

Thankfully, the band fares better in a studio environment. They’re not nearly as ramshackle as the live album would have you believe. This album is an instant flashback to the earliest Noise Records releases. You’ll find yourself thinking of Helloween, Running Wild, Tyran Pace…

Singer Marta manages to hit the right notes most of the time but her voice remains bland and lacking in power. She surprises in the ballad “Sydonia Bork” though with a very good performance. Some of the tunes border on the banal, a case in point would be “Goddess Of Death” with its faux-folk (is that faulk?) guitar harmonies. I know this is a staple in a lot of metal, but it does absolutely nothing for me. Not Marta’s best performance either.

I can only assume most of the guitar solos were handled by Andy Wave, who does a very good job. On the live album one of the guitarists fell way short of the mark, but it isn’t quite as noticeable here.

Production is good overall, the artwork is professional… If you’re into old school metal you might want to check this album out. There’s a couple of serious duffers among the songs, but these are balanced by some decent head banging fare. Check out “A Man Of Stone” for instance.

A pleasant surprise after the dreary live album, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

ROSS THE BOSS – HAILSTORM (REVIEW)

The debut Ross The Boss album could have been the best Manowar album in years, if only Eric Adams had been there to fulfill vocal duties. Concise heavy metal songs with Ross’ meat and potatoes guitar playing, a competent band and a solid if unremarkable production. The only let down were indeed the vocals. These songs cried out for Adams’ masterful pipes, and precious few singers are up to the task… The follow up offers up the same recipe, but with some adjustments.

In keeping with the trend of the last several years, everything is a bit more bombastic.  The songs aren’t quite as catchy, but Ross sprinkles them with loads of Manowar references (there’s a riff in Burn Alive that owes more than a little to Death Tone, for example). The choruses are mostly Teutonic and should see the horns raised on festivals like Keep It True.

Singer Patrick Fuchs, who put in a respectable performance on the debut, seems to be straining more this time around. I don’t know what happened to Ross’ guitar sound, but this distortion-pedal-into-the-mixing-board type  of tone is inexcusable in 2010. His playing is naturally up to par but that tone really distracts from my enjoyment.

While this is really not a bad heavy metal album it’s flawed in the details. Not up to the level set by its predecessor.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

KISKE SOMERVILLE – S/T (REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Michael Kiske is a great singer, no arguing that point. His performance on Helloween’s seminal “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” albums had him marked for greatness. It wasn’t to be, however. Kiske has gone on record time and again how he doesn’t want to make metal music and basically disappeared from the scene. He’s done some solo stuff and several guest performances on distinctly metallic projects. Not to mention his work with Place Vendome, a project he preferred not to refer to as metal. So how come this new album falls decidedly in the metal corner of the market? Money talks and bullshit walks I guess…

Opening track “Nothing Left To Say” wouldn’t be out of place on a Primal Fear album. Second track “Silence” is aimed squarely at the Evanescence/Within Temptation crowd, with those annoying contemporary keyboards and choppy guitar riffs that have been done to death in this genre. “If I Had A Wish” is a faux-Helloween track. Only lacking the power that made that band so enjoyable. And so it goes on. Primal Fear, Helloween, Epica and After Forever all alternate with varying degrees of success. You can’t help but feel this album has been put together after a marketing study to determine what the present day metal fan expects. “Rain” is a particularly insipid song.

Both singers are a cut above average, even if Kiske has lost some of his mojo over the years. Unfortunately I find their voices don’t mesh together particularly well. Production and execution are both solid if not particularly inspired.

A formulaic and bland album. Faceless and lacking excitement.

Rating – 60%
Review by Sancho