Archive for April, 2012

Accept – Stalingrad – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , on April 25, 2012 by novametalreview

Accept are one of the true METAL bands still producing great music that come from the ‘real’ roots of metal. Originally formed in 1976 they, along with bands like Saxon, are the real deal and remain true to their sound and approach. However, there is no getting away from the discomfort certain Accept fans have with the loss of Udo Dirkschneider on vocals, but the introduction of Mark Tornillo back in 2009 has really been the kick in the butt that the band needed. With the release of “Blood Of The Nations” in 2010, the first studio release for 14 years, the band proved they really do have a Metal Heart and stood up proud with an amazingly strong message for everyone – yes, we’re back and indeed have our balls to the wall…

Not only did they put out an amazingly strong album, but Accept took on a world tour in 2011, taking some 80 days that covered 65,000km in total and reached 450,000 fans. I was fortunate to see them at Jaxx (now Empire), in Springfield VA, a 500 capacity club venue just perfect to get up close and really see the power this band brings to any live show. That show has to be one of my top shows for 2011 easily, with the band firing on all cylinders. Perhaps for the better, the show is not all about the singer as it seemed at times with Udo at the helm, with Mark Tornillo leading, but not on any level upstaging Wolf Hoffmann (guitar) and Peter Baltes (bass) who are now the only original members, or indeed Herman Frank (guitar) and Stefan Schwarzmann (drums) who are more recent additions to the line-up. All now seem to mesh in a very comfortable way.

Even while the tour was in progress, interviews were hinting that the band was ready to dive back into the studio as soon as they could to record the follow-up, which leads us to today’s offering, “Stalingrad”. The album title was announced back in September 2011, so the wait from then until now has seemed longer than I would have liked, but I’ve had this CD on pretty much constant play since it arrived a week or so back.

So what do we get with Stalingrad? Well the first thing I will say is that if you liked “Blood Of The Nations” then you will find it hard to be disappointed with Stalingrad. The real question is does it move the band forward and, if so, how?

Well, after listening to this quite a lot, I will say yes it does, but not in any revolutionary way. And that is a very good thing in my book. There is no doubt that “Blood Of The Nations” (BotN) was a particularly great record, and tracks like Teutonic Terror, Beat The Bastards and Pandemic (I could go on) are exceptional riff-monster examples of what Accept has been about since “Restless And Wild” was released in 1982. “Stalingrad” doesn’t have the same immediate impact as BotN and indeed, it doesn’t quite have the same sense of excitement in the song writing, which is probably not surprising since that record represents 14 years of pent up music. However, with “Stalingrad” we have a maturing of what is the new Accept with Mark on vocals. What this record really does for me is confirm that BotN was not a fluke and that we can look forward to many more years of great Accept music to come. The new album in many ways seems like disk 2 of BotN, a continuing of the theme, but I will say without some of the immediate “smack-in-the-face” impact of the earlier disk.

Individually my personal selection of standout tracks are the CD’s namesake, “Stalingrad”, which is a mid-paced powerhouse, “Hellfire”, which gives us a chance to hear the more melodic side of Mark Tornillo’s voice in the post-solo bridge section, “Shadow Soldiers” which starts with a very Schenker-esq solo leading into a very catchy ascending riff, and “Never Forget” which is a commentary on the events of 9/11 and the effect on Western society. Overall there isn’t a truly poor track on the album, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see other people with other favorites.

So to close, if you are a fan of Accept in particular or just classic metal then there is no question you should buy this record, however, if you haven’t already snagged a copy of “Blood Of The Nations” then you might want to get that first, or buy them both!

My score for “Stalingrad” a solid 8/10.

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Live Review – M-PIRE Of EVIL and Onslaught – U St Music Hall, Washington DC, 3/8/12

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2012 by novametalreview

Full admission up front: I am not the ‘thrasher’ in the NovaMetalReview household. That honor belongs firmly to Mrs. NovaMetalReview and it was due to her sharp eyes that she spotted the legendary Onslaught and M-PIRE of EVIL were making a last-night of their tour stop in D.C. Basically once things get on the heavier side of Megadeth I’m like a fish out of water… so this review will be a little different, since I am certainly not qualified to relate what I saw live to this or that album, or much more than read up the Wikipedia history of both acts on the bill. However, I remember Onslaught from the 80’s and was totally intrigued to find out what they had become some 30 years on. And the same comment applies in the case of M-PIRE of EVIL, who comprise Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn (guitar) and Tony ‘The Demolition Man’ Dolan (vocals/bass), plus relative newbie Marc Jackson on drums, the former two representing a snap-shot of the almighty Venom.

So, not being the die-hard thrasher I bought the latest two Onslaught albums to catch-up and, wow, great stuff. Both Killing Peace and Sounds Of Violence are how I remember thrash metal from the good old days in the 80’s. Brutal, heavy and aggressive, but still melodic and incredibly tight. Reminds me of early Metallica/Slayer with tighter edge. Anyway this is not an album review so moving on.

The gig was at the U Street Music Hall in D.C. and I think a bit of an experiment since this was the first ‘metal’ gig the venue had hosted, and hence the first time we had been there. So, down a darkish stairway we headed to the basement level. Actually I liked the place. One day I plan to write a review of the various local venues, so I save the details for then, but the stage was certainly not large, but the PA was loud and the overall vibe good.

The turn out was not large by any stretch; I counted about fifty people, but they were the hard-core fans judging by the reaction to the show. I can’t mention the audience without acknowledging the presence of John Gallagher from Raven, who happens to live not far from DC (a few miles from the NovaMetalReview residence in fact). So we were overdosing in a very nice way on British rock star legends. That was pretty awesome.

So, first up and without as much as a local support act to warm our eardrums, WHAM! Here were M-PIRE of EVIL, with Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn sporting a sharp looking Epiphone SG and Tony immediately tearing it up on the bass through a near-antique Kustom amp and cabinet, but sounding  brutal and sharp at the same time. About half-a-number in they were firing on all cylinders and despite the thin crowd, appeared to be going for it on ‘11’.  Tony has a unique bass style and seems to make a whole array of different tones and sounds – really interesting and I’m sure integral to M-PIRE’s overall impact. Jeff is a much better guitar player than most that is written about him – underrated by a magnitude or two I’d say. Very entertaining indeed!

They ripped through a mix of old Venom numbers and newer material, and, if anything, got better and better the more they played. I think Motothead-on-speed came to mind about 6 songs into their set, which is no mean feat. For me at least, this was speed-rock’n’roll. It seems there was some kind of time limit imposed by the venue or may be because it was Easter Sunday, but the set was over much too soon for my liking, running about 40-45-odd minutes. Excellent, and certainly leaving a “want-to-see-more” impression firmly stamped on my mind. Since seeing them I have ordered their last release and pre-ordered their new album due for release around April 24th. Watch this space for a review.

So, now it was Onslaught’s turn. Without any messing around, they hit the ‘go’ button and power thrash filled the room. Mixing a good selection from The Force and the more recent material, the band sounded very tight and incredibly powerful. Sy Keeler sounded great on vocals, while Mike Hourihan on drums, who is the most recent addition to the band, powered the whole set from beginning to end. In particular Mike seemed to be having fun. Now, I must say that Andy Rosser-Davies on lead guitar was flawless musically, but as performer I think I’ve seen more animated amplifiers… it really wouldn’t be out of place to at least appear to be into it, but may be that is just a style thing, or just the result of 21 dates along an 8000 mile trek around North America – without a single day off. Nige Rockett on rhythm guitar is a total thrashing machine – exceptional.  Sy did manage to incite a bit of a mosh pit which is not necessarily an easy thing to do with 50 people in attendance, and I would say everyone was totally in awe of with how tight the band were. I didn’t time the set, but my estimate was about an hour start-to-end.

So, I’ve saved the best for last; after the show both bands, M-PIRE of EVIL and Onslaught hung out in the bar and you could not meet a nicer bunch of guys. Every one of them found time to sign all the LP and CD covers people brought with them, t-shirts, drum sticks, take pictures, you name it. But more than just that, they were happy just to chat. And let’s not forget John from Raven was still there… wow, pinch me someone! Check out the classic pic with Tony ‘The Demolition Man, John Gallagher Raven and Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn – very, very, metal! And it would be rude of me not to mention that Tony Dolan from M-PIRE of EVIL was very generous with merch donating a couple of shirts to Mrs. NovaMetalReview – what a great stand-up guy he is (and one that knows how to win a couple of fans-for-life).

So to close, I will simply say if you ever get the chance to see either band, and I believe M-PIRE of EVIL will be back in the USA toward the end of the year for a headline tour, while Onslaught were talking about 2013; GO SEE THEM. Both are exceptional, and even for this lightweight, non-thrasher, there is a lot to commend in both bands.

Normally I’d score what I’d seen based on some knowledge and background, but here I’m shooting from the hip (and remember Mrs. NovaMetalReview probably doesn’t agree with these…): M-PIRE of EVIL 8/10 and Onslaught 7.5/10

Tony "The Demolition Man", John from Raven and Jeff "Mantas"
(Pic credit: Tony "Dio" Leonard)

Furyon – Gravitas – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , on April 6, 2012 by novametalreview

(Frontiers Records – Release data 3/27/12)

From the opening crushing cords of “Disappear Again” the feel of this album is simply of a band that “knows” they have got “it” – yes, that indefinable “it” quality is here and not in any small measure either. Many debut albums come across delivering promise but with mixed messages in direction and/or style, but I don’t detect any of that here. You could easily be forgiven for thinking this was the third or fourth album from the band, such is the consistency and quality of the overall product.

Partly I suspect the vibe on the record is is a function of an exceptional production job by Rick Beato (Shinedown/Fozzy) who has given the album a sound that is crisply modern, but with a feel of any of the classic metal records from the 80’s. Every instrument and vocal has a clear place in the mix, but overall the result is akin to sitting in front of a 747 at take-off power… this is a recording packed with power and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

Strangely this is another band I have a personal connection with from the mists of time (ok, we’re really talking mid/late-80’s here), back in the UK. The whole story would take a blog-post in itself, so I’ll keep it short-ish… Around 1987-88 I was playing guitar in a band called “Strikly Wicked”. The drummer was Rick Eade (I think he went by Ricky Stix back then!), who ended up in “Pride”, a band which had an important part in the founding of Furyon – both Chris Green (guitar/Furyon) and Matt Mitchell (vocals/Furyon) were founding members of Pride. Chris and Matt used to come and watch Strikly Wicked, and Chris has certainly offered some very flattering comments regarding our influence on him around that time. Clearly things have worked out musically rather better for Chris than they did for myself! Anyway, that’s enough reminiscing for now.

The album opens with “Disappear Again” which very nicely sums up most of what is critical to know about Furyon – crushing guitars from Chris Green and Pat Heath, both delivering amazing lead work with a dual-guitar attack that most bands can only dream of, Matt Mitchell on vocals who has evolved on this album to deliver some supremely crafted work, Alex “Nickel” Bowen on bass who holds the band’s foundation down with some class playing, while Lee Farmery delivers a pounding rhythm section on the drums. Put together you have an amazing collection of musicianship and none of this is held back as far as I see; Furyon have come out with all guns blazing.

While “Disappear Again” could easily be the first single from this record, the pace doesn’t let up with the second track, “Stand Like Stone”, which has an almost Dio-like riff intro, well Dio on speed perhaps. So other reviewers have drawn parallels to Alice In Chains and Alter Bridge amongst others, but personally I see older more classic roots, and in this case I would tend toward Led Zeppelin (riff-wize at least, but somewhat supercharged).

Now, the third track takes us into much more progressive territory, with traces of Queensryche to my ears, but with a much more melodic vocal dressing. Here we see the band stretch their leg’s with a track clocking in at a touch over 8 minutes. For me, I never really noticed the length. The middle-eight/bridge section builds a nice tension to the guitar solo, and both tasteful and shred-riffic; certainly any aspiring guitarists would do no wrong in looking at what both Chris and Pat are doing on any of the tracks on the CD.

I will restrain myself from commenting on every track; if you want the play-by-play coverage go buy the album yourself, but I can’t resist the haunting intro of seventh track, “Fear Alone”. This has an almost film-score like feel, atmospheric, yet threatening. What comes next is a massively majestic Zeppelin-esq/Deep Purple style riff for the pre-verse that I can only imagine washing over the audience at some massive festival like Download or Wacken. It would be huge…

Jumping ahead another couple of tracks, “Our Peace Someday” seems to me to be another track crying out to be a massive radio hit. Every time I hear this it draws me in and I am a huge fan of Matt’s vocal on this track.

It always seems like a good idea to have a strong closer on any record, but Furyon have saved what may perhaps be the best for last with “Desert Suicide”. This track just builds on everything we have been treated to up to this point. This is progressive metal at it’s most accessible, with lightly drifting verses, which snap into amazingly powerful pre-chorus/chorus sections. Throughout the guitar work is exceptional, with nothing held back, that is until we get to the solo where there is some just beautiful fluid playing going on here. Matt though is the star of this track. His emotion and character just take command, and we climb from an almost whisper, to a soaring scream of pure soul-rending energy.

So, all too soon the ride is over, and I am left wanting more. Knowing this record has been available as an independent release for a year or so prior to being picked up by Frontiers, I can only imagine what new material is coming in the follow-up record. However it would be unfair if I left the impression that there is no room to grow here, because there is. The one criticism I return to on repeated listens is the lack of that one knockout track. While “Desert Suicide” is an amazing epic, and there are candidates for singles, what we need on the next record is a track that no matter what you just can’t get the damn thing out of your head. From what we have here it is no stretch at all to see that coming, but the risk is, without, I could see the band settling down to become another very successful progressive metal band in the larger club venue scene, but not where I believe they deserve – headlining stadiums and festivals.

Furyon have delivered one of the best debut records from any ‘new’ band in years with Gravitas. What comes next is the defining moment for them.

My score: 9/10 and a definite buy for any metal fan.

See: http://www.furyon.net/

Live Review – A Sound Of Thunder – Empire 3/30/12

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , on April 4, 2012 by novametalreview

What? More “A Sound Of Thunder” coverage? Yes, and why not? They are a Northern Virginia outfit – you did notice the title of this blog-site, right? Anyway, hot on the heels of the “Out Of The Darkness” album review, came the album release show on Saturday 30th March, at Empire in Springfield, VA, which still happens to be one of my favorite places to see a band perform. So, stripped of the polish of the studio environment. could ASoT deliver the goods and live up to the very high bar set by the album?

A “CD Release Party” is often a defining moment for any band attempting to elevate themselves above the “local band” tag. No matter how popular an act might be in the local 50-100 mile radius from ‘home’ losing that ‘local’ label is just as much an attitude, as it is a tangible performance thing.  So are ASoT there yet? Read on…

For one reason or another I didn’t get a chance to hear a full set from any of the support acts, so my apologies to those bands. I am sure our paths will cross, but for now I’ll keep my opinions under wraps until I can do you full justice. I will say initially I was a little concerned that the turn out was a little thin, but then again I have seen Empire (a.k.a. Jaxx) with many fewer people for bands with allegedly much bigger names. However, by the time A Sound Of Thunder took the stage the audience had filled in and I would describe it as an enthusiastic throng – enough to get a vibe going.

Without any pretentiousness the band themselves sound-checked their own equipment – so no roadies taking on those duties just yet; that will come with time. First up was Chris Haren on drums and with hardly more than a couple of snacks per drum, Kevin Gutierrez (producer of the album and very occasional live sound man) was happy things were as they should be. Now that’s a smart move; get the guy who produced your CD to run the soundboard. Obviously a wizard with all things sound related, having Kevin run the desk was one less thing to worry about.

So, next to sound-check we get Jesse Keen who handles both bass and keyboards, so that answered the question I had rattling around in my head regarding who would play the (few) keyboard parts from the record. Jesse also contributes the only backing vocal to the live show, so he got to check both his and the main mic. Finally Josh Schwartz on guitar gave us a wake-up call with a nice loud blast from his Line 6 half-stack and Steinberger ZT3 guitar with a very pretty translucent blue finish. Not a particularly common heavy metal guitar choice, but as we were to discover, a very effective one.

So with a puff or two from the smoke machine, an intro modeled on the theme from The Exorcist, called not surprisingly “Exorcist” (according to the set list in front of me) opened the proceedings and immediately the band is firing on all cylinders. Chris hammering his drum kit into submission, Jesse anchoring the bottom end on the bass and Josh letting rip with some fiery guitar from the very beginning. This short intro lead into a new track called “Queen Of Hell”, destined for the next record I understand. And with this Nina Osegueda strides onto stage and immediately you can sense the confidence and presence that comes with a great front-man or more correctly front-woman in this case. Stamping her authority on the evening, Nina let rip from the very first note and as noted in the album review this is one special voice. Able to scream with the best of them (reminding me of Bruce Dickinson from Maiden on this opening track) but also supremely melodic it was clear we were in for a night with the band going for the kill.

Next up we get one of the obvious crowd pleasers from the CD, “Fight Until The End”, which has a very catchy metal groove to the verse, and one of those annoying hard to forget chorus melodies. It was at this point I noticed that Chris has one of the loudest snare drums on planet earth… that is one cutting loud drum (in a good way). I’m not one to notice drummers too often but Chris was obviously enjoying himself up on the drum riser with his double kick drums proudly displaying the ASoT name across them.

Moving on we got to one of my (current) favorites from the album, ”Night Witch”. Now this has quite a lot of production on the CD, so it was quite a challenge to translate this song to the live set and Josh mentioned after the gig that this took a few months in rehearsal to come together, but boy did it work. With a soft keyboard intro, the song blasts open with what felt like a smack to the head (in a good way you understand). Not an easy song to sing live I’m guessing, but Nina did the song proud. At the end it seems Nina felt the need to whip the band into shape with a leather belt, with both Jesse and Josh being on the receiving end – lucky for Chris he was safe behind his kit.

“The Day I Die” was the first of the longer tracks from the CD and it worked extremely well. It’s not easy to hold an audiences attention for an 8-minute epic, but with the help of Kevin on the desk adding nice touches echo and reverb this just worked perfectly. As the track ran it’s course Josh Schwartz took the (metaphorical) spotlight and treated us to a little over 2 minute guitar solo that was very tasteful and entertaining at the same time. Note to other guitarists reading this – it’s not at all about how many notes you can fit into the shortest time or how fast you can get from one end of the neck to the other. Technique is fine, but you have to be <musical> with it and Josh managed to do exactly that. I particularly liked the way he was able to both tease and educate us as to his roots with snatches of Accept, Maiden and Dio riffage cleverly interwoven into the solo. Nice!

The solo led into the title track from the CD, “Out Of The Darkness” and I had wondered whether John Gallagher (Raven) might make an appearance to recreate the lead vocal duet with Nina as on the CD, but it was not to be. Apparently John was otherwise engaged, and on reflection this was probably no bad thing since tonight was A Sound Of Thunder’s night to be in the spotlight. “Calate Alhambra” is another of the long songs from the CD, but this worked exceptionally well live, with it’s catchy main verse riff and some great vocal histronics from Nina.

Ok, confession time – I’m not a huge fan of drum solos… and next up we have, yep, a drum solo. Chris did a fine job and filled the 2-minute segment – technically I’m not qualified to comment. Would I have missed the solo had it not happened? Probably not, but give the man a break – it’s fun to have a thrash now and then. I did wonder why we didn’t get a bass solo…! Jesse is a somewhat quiet figure on stage and I would encourage him to open up to the audience, but that will likely come with more time. I did notice he is a great bass player and filled in underneath the guitar solos with some nice playing.

The rest of the night closed out the remaining tracks from the CD, with the exception of “This Too Shall Pass” which is basically an orchestrated number requiring at a minimum a string section, and I think this track is well left alone to remain out of the live set. I will comment that “Kill That Bitch” is great fun live and allows Nina a chance to get the audience singing “Kill her!, killer her!” which I can see a little downstream from here becoming something the band can have a lot of fun with.

The final song on the official set list was the bands namesake “A Sound Of Thunder” and this was greeted at the end with enthusiastic applause and yells for “one more song” , which led to the unscheduled addition of “Blood Vomit” with a pacey double-kick driven chorus which closed the night with a suitably heavy blast from the previous CD release “Metal Renaissance”.

After the show the band hung out and chatted with anyone and everyone, signed setlists, CD covers and all that good stuff, so doing all the right things that fans want. I was particularly pleased to see the band had patches for sale, so that will be an addition to my next denim which is in the planning stage right now. So the night drew to a close.

So, constructive criticism? Sure, this is a ‘young’ band, so it would be impossible for everything to be perfect, right? If there were one overarching thing I would say it was confidence – there’s still a hint of nervousness about the collective whole, which doesn’t need to be there at all. Individually that’s not really applicable, and Nina in particular is certainly in command of the whole thing, but taken as a bigger entity the band is not entirely cohesive. This is a hard thing to write down, but when a band is fully integrated it’s something like driving a perfectly balanced sports car; every specific aspect works in harmony with the bigger picture. ASoT are at the point where all the components are as needed, but we’re still tuning the suspension, adjusting the engine and figuring out the perfect tire pressures. Time and experience are the solution, more than attempting to force a specific change.

So did ASoT convince me they are moving up the ladder and heading for big-time ready (whatever that means…)?  Certainly! When I first saw ASoT it was supporting Accept just about 1 year ago and I was mildly interested. But a lot of work has gone on since then, both live, with many gigs, and in the studio, and all of this has been to the greater good.  The previous time I saw ASoT was perhaps 4 or so weeks back in a small pub in front of perhaps 30 people and they impressed me then despite the small PA and cramped stage area. It was clear things had advanced a whole lot, from that show alone, but this current show, with the benefit of a headline status and access to all the stage, plus the sharp ear of Kevin on the mixing desk, proved that ASoT are a match live to their latest CD, and indeed ready for bigger things. With another 8 dates lined up over the next few weeks anyone that catches a show will be in for a good time.

My score for this show: 8/10

For details of upcoming ASoT shows see: http://www.asoundofthunderband.com/

P.S. Amazon CD reviews have been 5/5 – nice! Currently CD is sold out on Amazon – wow! More coming soon.