Archive for Raven

Raven – Party Killers – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2015 by novametalreview


Some would question the point of reviewing a limited edition album release – after all, most who read this will have no chance of getting hold of a copy. Well, I’d equate it to a car magazine reviewing a Ferrari… The greatest majority reading it will have no chance of ever owning such a car, but they can dream, right? What we have here is a limited edition recording issued as part of the Kickstarter campaign that fans were able to contribute to used to fund the recent (and excellent) Extermination album release by Raven. See my review of that gem here:

So the story behind this recording goes something like this… The Raven lads are in a studio in Richmond essentially to work on pre-production for the Extermination record, but as they are wont to do, they happened to jam a couple of covers, and, blow me down didn’t they sound killer? Before you could boil a kettle for a cup of tea, the idea of a covers album was in the making. And not just any old tracks, but the tracks the lads grew up with. The title of the record, “Party Killers”, was born back in the day, when the Gallagher brothers would take over the record player and spin their favorite tunes – and accordingly kill the party. At least that’s how I remember the story 🙂

Another nice aspect to this recording is this isn’t a ProTools digital recording, but a “real” analog recording and in my book it sounds amazing. The drums sound alive and everything has a warm sheen to it – none of that rather cold digital hardness that some modern recordings suffer from. Overall this a big sounding record and all the better for that.

The record opens with the Deep Purple classic “Fireball” and the first thing that hits you is how un-convoluted this feels. If you had somehow never heard the original, there is no way you could tell this wasn’t a Raven track from the get-go. John Gallagher’s vocal just sits so well in the track it’s uncanny really, while Joe Hasslevander nails it on the drums. Another nice touch is how Raven fill the keyboard parts in the original with their own interpretation, in this case with some wacky bass effects.

“Fireball” is followed by a Thin Lizzy classic in the shape of “Bad Reputation” and again there is no ‘cover song sheen’ here at all – these are songs that have clearly found their way into the very being that is Raven. It’s hard to get over what this really means, but in so many cases, bands that try the covers album route simply end-up producing poor repeats of the originals, but that just isn’t the case here at all. While there is certainly an element of homage to the original artists, Raven have stamped their essence into each of the tracks presented here.

What follows is an eclectic journey though the musical foundations that brought us the band Raven we know to this day. Cheap Trick’s “He’s A Whore”, is followed by a Budgie rarity in the shape of “In For The Kill” with an infectious groove, which then gives way to a Status Quo number, “Is There A Better Way”, which had me reaching for YouTube to check out the original. Some of these are pretty deep cuts.

The rest of the track listing runs as follows: “Ogre Battle” (Queen), “Queen Of My Dreams” (Edgar Winter group), “Too Bad So Sad” (Nazareth), “Cockroach” (Sweet), “Tak Me Bak Ome” (Slade) and “Hang On To Yourself” (David Bowie). This latter track is perhaps the least obvious of the set, but every track here works wonderfully. It’s quite remarkable how well Mark Gallagher handles all the guitar parts here, because, although retaining the original character, it’s unmistakably Mark. It’s not Mark trying to be Ritchie Blackmore for example on the Purple track. Hopefully you will get the chance to hear what I’m trying to get across.

I believe the idea was that only 500 copies of the Party Killers album would be released on CD, so if I remember the number of people that signed up to back the Kickstarter campaign correctly, by my math there should be a two or three hundred copies of this CD still available. I suspect these will be sold at live shows, so if you want a copy check out the merch booth – you might just get lucky… My score for this album is a straight 10/10

Raven – Extermination – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2015 by novametalreview


The band Raven represent one of the foundations of much of what we regard as “heavy metal” these days, but sadly, many fans of the genre simply don’t understand just how influential Raven were when they broke into the mainstream in the early 80’s. I have previously written about my first Raven gig at Brighton Dome back in early ’82, which was the only full UK tour Raven carried out before leaving for the USA in ’83. That gig will always remain as one of my most enduring early metal smashing experiences… three impossibly young looking lads, creating such a powerful sound and doing it with so much passion and fun. The first two albums, “Rock Until You Drop” and “Wiped Out” remain favorites of mine to this day.

After arriving in the US they toured with Metallica as their support act… the history of the band in the following years can be left to the reader as homework, but some of the record company-led decisions in retrospect probably did the band less good than might have been otherwise, however there is still great music to be found in the Atlantic-era album releases, in particular “Life’s A Bitch”.

There is one thing that seems to have been missed by many so called ‘fans’ – Wacko (Rob Hunter) left the drum-stool back in 1987… Joe Hasselvander has been the permanent drummer ever since, which clocks his membership within the ranks at 28 years. I still cannot believe how many times I’ve seen people act surprised that Wacko isn’t with the band any more. Come on people – 28 years!

There is a dark period in the history of the band; In late 2001 Mark Gallagher suffered a very serious injury to his legs following the collapse of a wall at a construction site, that left him lucky to have not lost at least one of his legs. Despite contrary opinion from several doctors, Mark showed incredible will and fortitude, and was back performing with the band from a wheelchair in 2004 and then back on his feet! The album that followed this, released in 2009, “Walk Through Fire”, the title of which is perhaps a reflection of the trials the band has suffered, was a beaut and brought back the raw energy that the band delivers every time they hit the stage.

Now, admittedly there is a good long time between 2009 and today, but 2015 brings the release of the latest Raven album – Extermination – and it might just be the best ever Raven album… Sure, I am getting ahead of myself, but it really is a massively great piece of heavy metal music. Another quick note – production duties were once again awarded to Kevin Gutierrez of Assembly Line Studios, who was also at the helm for the previous record, and this album is another killer job. The production is crisp, heavy and alive with groove – avoiding the all to common-these-days ProTools flatness. Nice job Kevin!

So, turning now to focus on Extermination, the album opens with a short 42 second piece called imaginatively “Intro” which flows directly into the opener, “Destroy All Monsters” which is a double kick-drum fueled thrasher –the opening guitar riff is annoyingly catchy and the vocals announce themselves by tearing themselves out of the speakers with what I can only call “The John Gallagher Scream”. This track is a masterpiece of power through the verses, coupled to a hook-melody in the chorus that you can’t forget. There isn’t anything you could point to here and change for the better. This is heavy metal at it’s best. Exterminate!

Now I’m not going to run through this track by track, so don’t imagine for one second any that I skip over are any less worthy – I can only afford to spend so much time on this review – but the following are perhaps my favorites.

“It’s Not What You’ve Got” – This is a mid-paced stomper of a track, but with one of those “oh, shit, I can’t get this out-of-my-head” vocal melody lines, particularly in the verses. This track also has a short-but-sweet signature Mark Gallagher going nuts on guitar solo.

“Battle March/Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)” – What a crushing riff! And again John on vocals sounds in tip-top form. This track allows Mark to cut loose through an extended solo section, and it really shows what a unique approach he has to tearing the frets off his guitar.

“Thunder Down Under” – A fitting and well executed tribute to Bon Scott. Just a great heavy metal song, that cleverly rolls in so many classic AC/DC song titles. With a great overdriven bass intro into the solo section.

“Malice In Geordieland” (bonus track) – A celebration of John and Mark’s roots. Just magic stuff… of course being from the UK, despite being from ‘down South’ I can understand what this song is all about, but some may struggle!

Overall this is a slice of heavy metal that deserves to be bought by every single fan of heavy metal, heavy rock, thrash metal, you-name-rock-metal-whatever! Raven have captured all the power and energy that comes with a Raven live show and shoved it into the bits encoded on the CD or in the wiggly groove of the LP if you happen to be a vinyl addict. This may be the 41st anniversary of the bands formation (yes, they formed back in 1974…), but this is as fresh sounding and power-driven as you could ever wish. A cracking good album and easily worthy of a 10/10 score.

Heavy Metal Heaven – Old Bridge Metal Militia Reunion Concert – Lords Of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil, T.T. Quick – Live Review 5/11/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by novametalreview

When this show was first announced I believe it was just Raven, Anvil and Twisted Sister, and that in itself already seemed like a “can’t miss” event, so the final line-up as listed really was exceptional. A night that many heavy metal fans perhaps thought they would never see, particularly T.T. Quick and The Rods, who are playing almost never and rarely, respectively. First though I should point out that the cause behind this event, namely hurricane Sandy, and the devastation left behind, is still a horrible reality for many people, so the spirit and intent behind this show was a motivation of great passion – all the bands donated their time, the organizers, Eddie Trunk and the boys from That Metal Show, the various production companies, etc – everyone involved deserves great kudos and recognition for making this happen. The show was fully sold out the day before and, combined with the money raised through a raffle of donated guitars and basses, over $40,000 was raised, that will basically be going directly to people in dire need. Metal gives back, or just gives, since I don’t think it ever “took” anything in this case.

Now I don’t know the full back-story behind the Old Bridge Metal Militia or the Heavy Metal Heaven record store, but between them they were the organizers of this exceptional event, and they did a fine job considering everyone was basically a volunteer. Pulling off something like this is by no means a cake-walk and at the end of the day I’d like to offer my thanks for putting the event on – notwithstanding the good cause, this was a heavy metal night to remember, and this is likely one of those nights that becomes legendary, at least in rock history.

Rather than string this out in my usual fashion, with a little history lesson here and a tale from the “old days” there, I’ll try and keep to the meat’n’potatoes of the night as much as possible, but first a word on the venue. Hailing from Northern Virginia, the Encore Center in Freehold, NJ, meant absolutely nothing to me, and when we arrived it seemed we were at a rather non-descript strip mall… not very heavy metal at all. Fortunately the sheer amount of long-haired, leather clad metal fans confirmed we were in the right place. Entering the venue, we were greeted with a variety of guitars and basses up for raffle, a display from Oktober Guitars (, who had donated two of the raffle entries (an 8-string bass and a Raven MGT guitar), event t-shirt sales, plus a Raven merch stand. Despite all this, I suspect this hall was more used to wedding receptions, than metal shows. Not that mattered once we made our way into the main hall, which was dominated by a wide, high stage, flanked by a serious looking PA with a back-drop of two large video screens. I think the venue capacity was 1500 and at its peak the floor was packed, but not ridiculously so. In other words the organizers got it pretty much spot on.

The running order was Lords of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, ANVIL and topped off with T.T. Quick. I managed to snap a photo of the official running order and set-time list – see below. Basically everyone was scheduled with a run-time of 40 minutes, which seemed fair, even if didn’t seem to run quite like that later. I was surprised by the start time listed for Lords of Mercy as the tickets stated “Doors 7pm, Show 8pm”, so anyone taking a late entry probably missed what was an exceptional kick-off for the evening. I can’t claim to know anything about Lords of Mercy except they were the local team and came out swinging. Front-man ‘Brandon Sweeny’ is a power-house and despite only catching a couple of numbers from front-of-house, if there was any need of an energy injection to light the night off, he was the man to do it. They did plenty more than enough to be sure I will be in the audience if they make their way down south anytime soon. Thinking about it they would be a good addition to the Rock Harvest II bill, due to take place at The House Of Rock (White Marsh, MD) in November. Before we leave Lords of Mercy, I have to say Brandon is a very personable chap and we were fortunate to meet him back-stage, and he even insisted on taking some pictures with our kids (yes, we turned this into a family outing!). Great PR.

With the evening off and running, the energy level in the whole venue was raised to ‘11’ and this was further stoked by Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, from That Metal Show, who were comparing, and next up they introduced The Rods. I had never seen The Rods before this night, but everything I had read told me to expect a much heavier show than their recordings, and boy, was that an understatement. It was interesting to me that tonight there were three true three-piece bands appearing, The Rods themselves, Raven and ANVIL, with each of them bring a serious slice of heavy. It’s somewhat poignant that I happen to be writing this on the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Ronnie James Dio, and that date was in my mind as I looked across the stage at the diminutive in height, but hugely talented guitarist, David “Rock” Feinstein, Ronnie’s cousin and band-mate during his time with ‘Elf’. I can’t help but think, had Ronnie been alive on this day, this would have been exactly the kind of benefit performance where we may have been blessed with a guest appearance. Somehow I know he was there in spirit, of that, I have no doubt. Their 40-minute set time passed way to fast and I was left wholly impressed with their power and overall heaviness. Again, another band to add to my list that I would travel a considerable distance to go see.

Now the venue was *really* heaving, and with the clock ticking past 9 o’clock, expectation was growing for the imminent arrival of rock legends ‘Raven’. Those who track the NoVAMetalReview blog will know I saw Raven a few short weeks past in Springfield, VA (Empire) and should recall I was raving (uhg, pun totally intended) about their raw energy and sheer outright musicianship. From the mighty Joe Hasselvander on the drums, who, for me, defines power and drive, to the outright insanity of Mark Gallagher on guitar (who, I swear, makes his instrument sound like there are two guitarists in the band) and incidentally easily wins the insane guitar face-pulling competition by several miles (sorry lads, thanks for playing…), to the hypersonic vocal abilities of John Gallagher, who I should also mention is easily capable of melting the frets off his bass, whether it has 4-, 8- or even 12-strings! Raven are one of those bands that don’t need written set-lists and use some kind of on-stage telepathy to know what song is up next. Looking round the hall, and not claiming any kind of science beyond “eye-balling it”, there seemed to be a very high percentage of the audience with Raven shirts on, so they either did a storm on the merch stand or they have some seriously loyal fans.

From the moment they opened with “Take Control”, the thing that struck me more than anything was the audience were singing along with every song, and heck, they knew every damn word. It was very cool to just stand there in the massive crowd and feel that happening. Up second was “Live at the Inferno” and the crowd went nuts. Personally, my favorite of the night was “Firepower” from the Wiped Out album, which I have previously stated is firmly in my top 10 records of all time, followed by “Rock Until You Drop” which perhaps was more appropriate this evening than many others, given the expect late close. Where The Rods scored with “heavy”, Raven went with “power”, just about evenly balanced with “energy”, and they brought it by the truck-load. Actually several silly-big trucks. Full trucks… Now, there was a little ‘odd moment’ at the tail-end of their set, when the stage manager (I assume that was his role?), basically ran onto the stage and announced ‘time’s up’ and cut the set short? WTF? I’ve never seen that at any show, at least as blatantly and just as it was clear that the lads were about to start what was presumably their last number, which I am guessing would have been “On and On”, since that hadn’t been played yet. We shall never know. I have a strange perception that Twisted Sister were getting slightly preferential treatment (more on that to follow) and this was a ploy to ensure T.S. got to hit the stage at their anointed set-time, but let me be clear, this is purely conjecture on my part. However, as Raven departed the stage, a huge chant broke out throughout the crowd: “RAVEN! RAVEN! RAVEN!…”, that echoed throughout the hall and far backstage I’m sure. Raven were the only band to receive this sort of adulation all evening.

Backstage, not one of the Twisted Sister members had ventured into the hospitality area, which certainly set them apart from all the other bands. If you look below you will see a photo of a poster that I bought to commemorate the evening, and every member of every other band signed that poster, but there are no T.S. signatures to be found. For me, as a fan of metal and wanting to be part of an evening that wasn’t about any one band or performance, T.S. did not enamor me one little bit and later this only got worse. But I am getting ahead of myself by about 40 minutes.

When TS hit the stage they certainly delivered musically and Dee Snider appears quite disturbingly the exact same as he was 30 years ago, vocally and appearance-wise, less the make-up. I’m not going to try to pretend I’m a fan and know any more than the standard TS MTV hits, but basically that was their exact set last Saturday. Good stuff, well played and, not surprisingly, the audience knew every song. We got several feel good moments just listening to the audience singing along to music they grew up to. A very well received little extra came in the form of Dave “The Snake” Sabo from Skid Row, who joined the band for a ripping version of “Under The Blade”. I couldn’t hope to captured this verbatim, but during one of the song interludes, when in times past Dee Snider has been know to let rip at the crowd, he turned this around and tore into the “authorities” for the situation left behind in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, and based on the intensity and sincerity in his voice I really felt his passion. Of that, I have no doubt. Their set closed with ‘I Wanna Rock” and this had the crowd totally hooked, belting it out and loving every moment – it was amazing to be part of this.

At that point, I was headed backstage and despite a badge that said “All Access” apparently this didn’t mean “all” when T.S. are leaving the stage area, and security were blocking everyone, no matter what badge or reason. Something about this ‘privileged’ behavior left a bit of sour taste and it wasn’t only me that noticed this. Where every other performer worked around the chaos, little that it may have been, it seems T.S. were above all this. So, this ‘fuss’ and the rather obvious “get Raven off the stage, or Twisted are going to have a hissy…” were perhaps the only two downers throughout a wickedly good evening. Well that and the fact that the venue ran out of alcohol at some point…

Up next we got the mighty ANVIL, a band I have a particular soft-spot for, having been a fan since “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, with that particular signed album cover taking pride of place in our ‘music room’ up on the wall, alongside an ever growing collection of memorabilia. I’ve seen ANVIL several times in the past 2 years, ranging from a terribly advertised show at Jaxx (Springfield, VA), where there were perhaps 25 or so people in the whole place, to sold out shows in Vienna (VA). The one thing you can never say is they don’t deliver, no matter what size crowd. Of course, that was not a problem for this show.

However, following TS was not perhaps the easiest and opening with ‘March of the Crabs”, they simply did what ANVIL does. While they may have closed with “Metal on Metal”, in many ways this is the band mantra. Turn it up to ’11’, feel the power and go with the metal. If you ‘get it’ you’ll be head-banging with the best of them, otherwise go find a spot at the bar and chill. Robb Reiner is a monster on the drum kit and in many ways I have felt he is the power-plant of the band – he is the musical master, from which everything flows. While Lips is no doubt a showman, he is certainly not the most technically appointed player and there are times when I wonder what a few less ‘weed sessions’ might have given us? On any other day that thought probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but when you’ve got master musicians like Mark Gallagher, Dave Feinstein and Dave DePietro to measure up to, it isn’t hard to see who’s got the chops. However, Robb, on the kit, is more than a match for anyone on any given day, and for me it was his performance I noticed.

It was great to see Sal Italiano pumping it out on bass. Even though he is truly the “new guy”, he brings more to the band than previous bassist, Glenn Gyorffy, ever did in my opinion. I am very pumped for the new ANVIL album, “Hope In Hell”, due to hit the streets at the very end of May, which will be the first to feature the current line-up. From what the guys were able to tell me and from the few pre-release reviews I have read, we are in for a treat, taking us back to the true roots that brought us “Metal on Metal” and “Forged In Fire”.

At this point it was noticeable that the crowd had begun to thin a little and I’m sure the combination of TS having been on relatively early and the fact the venue was out of beer at this point, and perhaps not everyone present knew who T.T.Quick are, was to blame, but, for me at least, I was pumped at this point. Mark Tornillo has been doing a fantastic job with Accept and I have been fortunate to see them twice in the past 2 years or so. I know many Accept fans find the lack of Udo up front a problem, but Blood of the Nations (2010) was an exceptional heavy metal record and Mark does a fine job on the older Accept material. The idea that we were about to see T.T.Quick was now almost reality, something that I never thought I would see.

After a few more words from Eddie Trunk, T.T.Quick hit the stage and despite some initial mic issues (which were not the first of the night; we had witnessed at least two other instances where a mic ended up being thrown across the stage because it wasn’t working), the band hit the stage with a power and bite that showed they were here to deliver some serious metal. David DePietro is a guitar monster and I had been primed to pay attention – anyone that was involved with teaching Zakk Wylde must have some serious chops and from what I saw in the first couple of numbers had me convinced! Revisiting “Metal of Honor” after the show really had me wondering why T.T.Quick never achieved more success? Sometimes the music industry just has me shaking my head. The entire set was a power-play and for me I think it was ‘Front Burner’ and ‘Metal of Honor’ toward the end of the set that really had me doing my nut, but there wasn’t a weak number in any of the seven numbers they delivered. Eddie jumped up on stage and incited the audience to call them back for more and we were treated to “Go For The Throat” and then a crushing version of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” that included an impromptu ‘all-star’ appearance by John Gallagher from Raven who delivered a couple of lines and was off again! And then we were done. I don’t remember looking at the time but it must have been around 1.30AM and one of my most memorable moments in my heavy metal life was over, but the memories will live on.

Since the show I have seen many great pictures of the night, but I have yet to see any really good quality video footage – hopefully there is some. Overall I had a blast and I have only seen good things said about the show. Scoring this seems a little pointless, since how do you score something that is unique? But for completeness this was a straight 10/10.

Running order for the show

Running order for the show

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

The Rods

The Rods

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister

ANVIL from side of stage

ANVIL from side of stage



The 'Poster'

The ‘Poster’

Raven – Live Review – 4/19/13 @ Empire, Springfield VA

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2013 by novametalreview

Just writing the band name “Raven” in the context of a live review takes my mind back over 30 years, to a smallish English town by the sea called Brighton, inside a mid-sized venue called The Dome, recalling a vivid memory of a stage that seemed to dramatically shrink in size as three young lads whipped up an energy storm that swept the crowd into a head-banging frenzy. And they were supposed to be the support act! This tour was, I believe, the only full UK tour that Raven completed before leaving for the USA in 1983, so it was either late 1981 or more likely 1982 and they were supporting Girlschool. Wow! Those were some kickass days…I still remember hand-embroidering the Raven logo on my denim vest the day before the show. I still have and wear that vest to shows this day!

The second Raven album, Wiped Out, released in 1982, has always been one of my favorite records of all time, and recently I tracked down a copy on CD, which was not an easy task, so, if you see a copy on Amazon or similar I highly recommend snapping it up. This record, released on the now legendary, low-budget rock label “Neat Records” from Northern England, has such an amazing raw power to it, and captured both the high-energy of the live show and exceptional playing from all three musicians. This record is still seen to this day as a ground-breaker that led the way for thrash and speed metal bands around the world. It’s hard to pick favorites from this record, but I’ll take a stab and take “Live At The Inferno”, “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “Firepower”, but really there isn’t anything close to a filler-track to be seen on this record.

For those that need a reminder (really..?), when Raven broke into the mainstream in 1980 they were a three-piece, with brothers Mark and John Gallagher on guitar and bass respectively, with Rob “Wacko” Hunter on drums, though in earlier years they had various line-ups as a four-piece, and originally formed way back in 1974 (yes, you read that right, 1974, nearly 40 years ago). Lead vocals have always been handled by John and to this day his “harmonious-cat-wail-like” high-pitched scream is an undeniable trademark of any Raven recording or live show. This line-up persisted until 1987 with the departure of Rob, and the arrival of Joe Hasselvander on drums, who technically retains the label “new-guy”, despite having held the drum-stool for some 26 years now. Joe is a master musician and has a list of album appearances, including four solo-efforts, on which he plays anything and everything from drums to guitar to bass and maybe even a touch of violin.

Currently Raven have twelve studio albums to their credit and their most recent offering, “Walk Through Fire” (2009), was something of a reflection on the return of Raven after a studio absence of some 9 years, largely as a result of a very serious accident in 2001 when a wall collapsed and crushed the legs of guitarist Mark. This accident was so serious that at one point it was questionable whether he would ever walk again. I don’t think his doctors had factored in this was a tough lad from the North of England and that a little inconvenience like nearly loosing his legs were going to stop him? No way! To see him now on the stage, I think you’d be hard pushed to even guess this had occurred, though now I’m getting ahead of myself.

I actually saw Raven performing for the first time since that show long ago the UK just last year, in a small bar in Raleigh, NC, but I purposefully held back from writing a review since I knew their were a few things coming down the pipe for the band and now seems like perfect timing. The most relevant is the forthcoming release of a retrospective DVD covering the history of the band, entitled appropriately “Rock Until You Drop”, set for release a little later this year (June I think?). Next up is the Old Bridge Metal Militia concert due to take place on May 11th in Freehold, NJ, featuring Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil and The Rods – wow, that’s a serious slice of metal and I think a night that will go down in metal history. Yes, we have tickets!

This year is the 30th anniversary of the “All For One” album, so the band put together a short series of three dates in the mid-Atlantic region, including the subject gig at Empire in Springfield, VA, follwed the next nigh at The Dead Horse Cantina in Pittsburg and wrapping up in Brooklyn, NY at Saint Vitus Bar. Hopefully more dates around the country (and locally again, please!) will follow.

Empire is one of my favorite local venues, but it isn’t always the easiest place to get the sound right, but my fears were all put on ice when I found out that Kevin Gutierrez, who was the producer for “Walk Through Fire”, was running the sound board that night. Perfect! Also appearing on the bill were locals Cab Ride Home, and recurring favorites and NoVAMetalReview favorites A Sound Of Thunder, but due to crappy weather we didn’t make it through the doors until ASoT were well into their set, so they will have to contend themselves with a mention and a note that they sounded “awesome” this time around (and, yes, I am kicking myself for missing your whole set).

Turning now to Raven, as soon as ASoT’s gear cleared the stage, it’s the lads themselves setting up gear and sound checking without all the fuss and bluster that sometimes seems to go with bands dragging techs/roadies around with them, and after a short wait, we’re off. I think it was a scream of “Are you READY!” from John and the energy-ball that is Raven exploded on stage. Opening with “Take Control”, which is the lead track on the All For One album, immediately it’s clear that Kevin has control of the mix desk and everything is sounding as good as it ever could in Empire, with both John and Mark playing signature Oktober guitars ( John was in fact taking his spanking brand new Explorer-styled, JG8 signature 8-string bass for its first gig, which Tony Leicht (founder of Oktober) had literally just handed over to John. It sounded really good, with a deep, full tone that perfectly fills below Mark’s guitar. Tony hadn’t even had time to take any pictures for his website! Mark on the other hand, had his Raven MGT “tele-style” guitar cranked to just about 11 despite not having his Mesa Boogie amp and was using borrowed gear, and it too sounded wicked that night.

Glaring over the rims of the drum kit we find Joe Hasselvander, who despite not being totally fit that night, is a monster behind the kit and has a way of hitting the skins with an incredibly musical, but powerful touch. It’s hard to put into words, but despite the fact he’s pounding the hell out of the kit, it never comes across as over-hit. It’s a bit like a racing driver that can perfectly clip the apex of every corner and kisses the lip of every curb, but never gets the car out of line.

With the first number out the way, we’re off on a wild ride with “Live At The Inferno” up next, which of course is a crowd favorite, followed by “All For One”, “Breaking You Down” and, one of my personal live favorites, “Firepower”. Normally I avoid listing out set lists and include a photo of the actual setlist from the show, but Raven are one of those bands that use telepathy or some other magic on-stage, and generally don’t have written setlists (though I did grab the hand-written one from the Raleigh gig last year!). Next up we were treated to “Rock Until You Drop” and then Mark got to let rip with a guitar solo that seemed to have his guitar begging for forgiveness at the end of it all. Mark really is a wildly talented guitarist and, ever since the release of “Wiped Out”, I have held him in high regard. He is still a monster on the fret board, and it is clear his “sound” is coming not from the equipment, but directly from his fingers, and how he hits the strings with the pick.

Highlights from the rest of the set for me were “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “On and On” which took us to the end of the ‘set’ proper, but it didn’t take much yelling from the crowd to bring John back out onstage with his classic “custom” red explorer, trem-equipped, bass. Now, there’s a bit of story behind this bass, which recently took a solo tour of Europe – yes, without John. To keep the story short, the bass ended up as “lost luggage” after a trip to a gig in Greece turned into a weather-driven nightmare of missed and re-routed connecting flights. I think it was almost a week before John received a phone call declaring the case had found its way back to Washington-Dulles. There was a collective out-breath from many, many Raven fans around the World when John reported on Facebook it had returned. So, despite being even more beaten up, which seems a stretch considering this bass has survived at least one house fire and years of abuse on the road, John tears into a bass solo that has the bass both screaming and growling at the same time. There aren’t many bass players that can pull off a solo that isn’t a good excuse for a trip to the bar, but no matter how thirsty you might think you are, you don’t want to miss a John Gallagher bass solo.

Following this, Mark and Joe found their way back to the stage and we’re taken on a medley of covers that give us a glimpse into some of the musical foundation that Raven leans on, including UFO (Rock Bottom), Steppenwolf (Born To Be Wild), Montrose (Rock Candy), Black Sabbath (War Pigs/Symptom Of The Universe), The Who (I think it was Won’t Get Fooled Again) and Judas Priest (Genocide). Hopefully I got that right! Finally the evening was brought to a close with “Break The Chain”. I noticed that Mark had switched to an older ESP guitar (I think it was an ESP…eek?), and with John on the 4-string, I did notice a little thinning of the sound in the encore section; some of the “balls” was gone, which is probably a comment more on how powerful the 8-string bass/MGT Oktober guitar pairing was for the main set.

What the above fails to convey is the overabundance of energy that comes with a Raven show. There’s always something going on, with guitars being crashed together, Mark and John running this way (greatly facilitated by the headset mic that John uses), screams and yells, and just general rock’n’roll mayhem. Raven lay claim to be “the wildest band in the f**kin’ world!” which may be a little stretch of the truth, but I definitely would agree with the “wildest band in the f**kin world still playing after nearly 40 years”. That is true by a long, long stretch. Raven may not be one of the first bands you think of when you think early 80’s NWOBHM bands, but they really should be, and if you get the chance to go see them DO NOT PASS; they are a riot and epitomize all that was, and still is, good about a good heavy metal band. My score for the show, a riotous 8.5/10.

Note:  Most of the photos below were taken by Michelle , who is by FAR a way better photographer than I am! Great shots. There are more, just too many to post here.
Raven 117 Raven 034 Raven 048 Raven 057 Raven 065 Raven 066 Raven 072 Raven 084 Raven 089 Raven 090 Raven 093

A Sound Of Thunder – Time’s Arrow – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by novametalreview

Regular readers here on NoVAMetalReview will know very well that A Sound Of Thunder (ASoT) are a local favorite of mine and good friends to boot, but before I get to the “meat’n’potatoes” of the review I’m going to remind myself that the point of this blog was to be true to the music and, as a result, provide something of a service to those who bother to spend their time to read what I have to say. In other words, I will always say it like I see it, honesty above all. Uh oh!, you might think, where is all this heading? Don’t panic, this is just as much a reminder to me, as it might or might not be anything more sinister… read on!


Firstly, I must say a big thank you to ASoT for honoring me with the privilege of providing me with an advance copy of the album, since it is often true that the first few reviews to hit the screen can set the scene for many that follow. Bearing that in mind, I decided that taking my time with this was the right thing to do, but I did scribble some notes to catch my initial impressions following the second or third play through. I have used these to compare against now I have lived with the record for a few days.

So let’s set the scene here a little, “Time’s Arrow” is the third full length album release from ASoT and in the grand scheme of things, especially for a relatively young band, follows pretty closely on the heels of the previous release, “Out Of The Darkness”, from 2012. In fact ASoT also managed to slip in an EP between these two, released in early 2013, which served as something of a sampler for “Time’s Arrow”, featuring “Queen Of Hell” as the EP title track, which also appears as the fifth track on the album. Check out my review of “Queen Of Hell” here:

In order to deliver a quality product, and like many other unsigned bands these days, ASoT ran a Kickstarter campaign to partly fund the record, which raised a little over $9.5K, which is a good amount for a relatively new band, and perhaps a pretty accurate reflection of how good “Out Of The Darkness” was. Without satisfied and hungry fans, raising such an amount of cash would have been a challenge. But notice, I said “partly fund”, so you can be sure ASoT have invested a significant chunk of their own money into the record, which I think is a strong incentive to keep everything honest, with a level of effort at or beyond 100%. When you think about it, spending other people’s money is easy – your own, less so…

One thing that did stay the same from “Out Of The Darkness” was the studio and producer, with a repeat performance from Kevin ‘131’ Gutierrez (While Heaven Wept, Shinedown) at the control console. This was a smart move in my opinion and one reason for the success of “Out Of The Darkness” was the crisp production, with I think an emphasis on ‘production’ being important. Today it is relatively easy to get your hands on recording equipment that in the past would have been the realm of $Million studios perhaps as recently as 10 years ago – now the same quality of equipment can be bought for under $10K or so with a bit of care – but that does not diminish the skill necessary to bring the best out of the equipment and more importantly get the best performance and composition for any particular song and artist. In my opinion ASoT and Kevin are very much “in tune” and as a result there are some nice production touches to the 11 tracks presented here. Leaving this topic for now, we’ll return to this briefly a little later.

So, enough scene setting, let’s get to the point here. “Time’s Arrow”, has a run time of an hour and 5 minutes, and a track count of 11 songs, so the average track runtime works out to just about 6 minutes, which is just about the same as “Out Of The Darkness”, so you can safely assume no great leap or change in approach has occurred. Overall running through the record in order everything seems to flow quite nicely, but I do wonder why the title track isn’t the opening track? In these days of iTunes and playlists it is very easy to re-order things and simply swapping the opener with “Time’s Arrow”, which appears second in the running order, seems to work just fine to me. However, the album opens with a slick track called “Power Play” which leaps out of your speakers (or ear buds…) with a pretty attention grabbing bass and drum riff, which is then joined by guitar in harmony. After a nifty, if brief, lead-off solo, Nina Osegueda’s now familiarly exceptional vocals kick in and we’re off and running. Do look out for the “Thunder Choir” who make their first appearance in the chorus of this song. The choir is made up of about twenty ASoT fans, many of them who contributed a certain amount to the Kickstarter fund campaign, who were invited to a recording studio for an afternoon of fun with Kevin Gutierrez and the band. The result of all this is massive chanted backing vocals in several of the songs, to great effect.

Second up we get the title track, “Time’s Arrow”, which is an opus! Clocking in at whisper under 10 minutes can ASoT pull this off? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” and to be honest it seems effortless. This is no mean feat by any standard, since the attention span of most folks these days seems to just about match that of a Goldfish… This song tells a story written by drummer Chris Haren and was originally produced as a demo by guitarist Schwartz as far back as 2008. The box set edition of the CD includes an expanded version of the song lyrics as a short story which I think is pretty darn cool. One thing I think we can safely say is ASoT songs are a far cry from the song-factory mill that churns out so much of the ‘radio rock’ bogging down the radio-waves these days. Despite its length, “Time’s Arrow” never feels the 9 minutes and 50 seconds that the track runs, and it has a darned catchy chorus that I have caught myself humming. A good sign indeed.

“I Will Not Break” up next is the first ‘single’ release from the album (released April 8th) and is a potential anthem for anyone and all that are in the need of a dose of self-empowerment.  ASoT have always delivered lyrics with a twist and any band who is able to weave in the word “wrath” (a sorely underused emotion…) as in “You are not worthy to feel all of my wrath” gets automatic high praise from me at least, and the line “I won’t the silent, but I might be vi-o-lent” in the context here is a winner. This is one of the short tracks on the record and at 3.57 might even count as radio friendly.

At this point we’re off and running, and I’m not going to dissect each individual track, since (a) this will become a short-story in it’s own right and (b) I don’t want to spoil all the fun. However there are few comments on specific tracks that I refuse to leave unsaid. “Queen Of Hell” pops up as the fifth track and it is like coming across an old friend (at least for those of us who bought the EP) and hearing it again only serves to remind me how damn GREAT this track is. A modern anthem for all that love classic metal; if this track doesn’t become entrenched in everyone’s top 10 tracks for 2013 it will be a travesty. From the moment the Thunder Choir kick in with the chant “Hail, Queen of Hell”, followed by Nina’s skull-scalping opening scream, this song begs you to crank the volume and play it again, only louder.

Rather surprisingly one of my favorite tracks after many repeated plays of the album is the much slower paced “I’ll Walk With You” which allows Nina a chance to back off and showcase her awesome dynamic range, taking us almost from a whisper in the verse, to an emotion wrought chorus. I believe this song is take on “The Walking Dead”, so it’s a sort of twisted zombified love song. I particularly like the way the song drops to an almost dead-stop around the 4 minute mark and then takes off with a really nice guitar solo from Josh.

ASoT have now established what I will declare to be a tradition, that of pitting Nina against some of the best established metal vocalists, and, while on “Out Of The Darkness” we are treated to a duel between John Gallagher of Raven, here Nina is given a workout with none other then ex-Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley on “My Disease”. It’s no surprise that Nina more than holds her own and if there ever was a need to reaffirm just how powerful her voice is, this answers that question emphatically in the positive. A feature of this track is a very deftly executed bass solo from Jesse Keen, which I believe is a first in the ASoT catalog.

So far I have avoided comparing any of the songs to this or that established band, simply because I really don’t think I hear that applying – I would hope this is taken as a massive complement, because I truly feel that ASoT have carved their own sound. Clearly there are influences, but they are classic influences and in the main I would say draw to the root and are not hanging on the coat tails of other bands that have already “done that”. So despite the band mentioning Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Purple and others as influences, they deftly avoid the trap of replicating anything that I can point to as derivative. Well played. Now, having said that, “End Of The Road” is as near a 12-bar blues standard as I think ASoT can ever get, and in this case I don’t think it at all unfair to compare it to something that Deep Purple or Whitesnake might have recorded, since both bands themselves draw hard on the blues. I particularly like the way the middle-eight breaks into an up-paced section that takes us to one of the most free-flowing solos that Josh Schwartz rips off his fret board.

A quick mention for “Wastelands” (track 10), which features a wonderful break-down section in the middle, that really stretches into jazz territory, and then builds with some nice solid bass lines from Jesse. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but feel excited about this whole album. There’s an awful lot of really good stuff to go round.

The final track is an out and out homage to Hawkwind, and if you miss the hint in the music itself, the song title might do it for you – “Reign Of The Hawklords”. I have to be honest, this song has a very, very catchy opening riff and I keep finding it creeping into my head. The lyrics are a clever mix of Hawkwind song titles, and add this to the use of a Theremin which is a rather odd instrument that generates tones in response to hand movements around a couple of antennas, and the result is a modernized 70’s sounding track. Hard to explain, but great to listen to.

A couple of closing notes. One thing this record did for me, more than “Out Of The Darkness” did, is establish that Josh Schwartz is a guitarist of significant note and in particular he has his own recognizable ‘sound’. For me this is one of the most complementary things a guitarist can be anointed with, particularly with so many ‘rock radio’ players out there sounding like they all bought the same amp/effects unit. Throughout the entire length of this record Josh stamps his sound with authority over each and every song, and that is one of the key reasons that ASoT are carving such a recognizable sound.

Of course Nina Osegueda is another of those reasons, and “Time’s Arrow” allows her to reach beyond the confines of “Out Of The Darkness” and continue to deliver vocal acrobatics with such compelling ease. Now it would be wholly unfair to skip a further mention of Jesse Keen on bass, and as already noted this album provides more than a few feature spots for the bass to lead things, but underlying each and every song is some nice work. Finally Chris Haren on drums just powers all this along and makes it seem effortless – which probably means he’s working incredibly hard. It’s tricky to really feature the drums in a metal band, but there are some really nice touches throughout this album, and I really like the snare drum sound Kevin captured. It has a punch and snap to it that leaps out of the mix.

So are there any negatives? In my review of “Out Of The Darkness” I questioned the direction the band was taking – progressive or heavy metal – but this time around that seems to be an entire non-issue. If I really try hard, the only thing that did bug me initially, and still does to a much lesser extent, is the overall mix is a little low-end light – I found myself reaching for the bass control on the car stereo. Using controls from my guitar processor, I would have preferred a little more “growl” and a shade less “crunch” which would probably lend a warmer, punchy overall feel, but I am really splitting hairs here.

So, last comment aside, this is an exceptionally great record, but what is astounding to me is the fact that after doing all the hard work, paying for the recording (with a great studio and producer), with finished masters in hand, ASoT could not find a record label that was prepared to release this… at least at anything beyond a joke deal. What? What the hell has happened to the music industry? The comment received back was in essence “I personally love the record, but from a label perspective it doesn’t fit…” Huh? I assume that every band out there now has to fit into one of the neat little niche slots that guarantee the label a certain revenue or you’re out of luck. Anyway, ASoT has taken the bold (but perhaps only option) of forming their own label, Mad Neptune Records and the album will be released in the USA on June 4th, with the ‘rest of the World’ getting the record one day earlier on June 3th.

So to close, I just reminded myself to re-read my opening paragraph. Yes, ASoT are friends of mine and I am honored to say that. Yes, they are local favorites on mine and I am lucky that they are based in the Northern VA area – it means I get to see them a lot. But, without any bias whatsoever, this is a truly great record, one that is high on entertainment, powerful and through and through metal. I listen to a lot of metal and try to cast my net far and wide, but in this case A Sound Of Thunder have produced the first MUST HAVE album of the year for 2013. There isn’t one weak song here, the playing is exceptional and the vocals hit it every time – buy it. My score 9.5/10

You can pre-order the album through the band’s own web-store right here:

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)

A Sound Of Thunder – Out Of The Darkness – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by novametalreview

A Sound Of Thunder is a band from the local Northern Virginia area, which I have seen perhaps three or four times over the past year, and each time has been better than the last, but I think the real potential of the band is now laid bare for all to see with the release of “Out Of The Darkness”. So what are we dealing with here? Formed in 2008, we have a 4-piece metal band fronted by Nina Osegueda on vocals, with Josh Schwartz on guitar, Jesse Keen on bass and Chris Haren on drums.

Confession time – there are very few female fronted bands I have any time for – off the top of my head Doro Pesch is perhaps the only other female metal vocalist I might bother with. The remainder seem to fall into one of two categories; grunters or screechers (I guess some call this operatic…), neither of which does anything for me. Strangely, I once played in a female fronted band back in the 80’s called Targa. I think we characterized ourselves as melodic thrash, but I digress.

A Sound Of Thunder (ASoT) have turned up a real find with Nina, and this album really provides a showcase for her abilities, giving her a platform that ranges from the mellow “This Shall Pass” to an almost punky, harder edge on “Kill That Bitch”. Everything in between delivers a really solid dose of mainstream metal in the mold of Bruce Dickinson, Udo Dirkschnider and Rob Halford. However, while the attention might be on Nina, without the powerful and solid guitar playing from Josh, the record would fall flat. Josh really shows us how to deliver the classic metal riff on this record and it is surprising that ASoT is his first band. For someone with such a polished delivery, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a list of previous bands as long as the guitar neck he so ably exercises. Underpinning each track, Jesse and Chris anchor the band with a rock solid foundation, doing exactly the job they are there to do – and when they are let loose they pound with the best of ‘em.

The production on this album is crisp and clear, being handled by Kevin “131” Gutierrez (Shinedown, Deceased), and delivers a final vibe that is both current but very much rooted in classic metal. Think of any Black Sabbath or Deep Purple record from the 70’s and you won’t be far from the feeling you get.

The opening track creeps up on you with a swirling keyboard, which becomes a howling guitar, into a classic Sabbath-esq, doom-laden riff, that sets the scene for Nina to open the proceedings and we get a glimpse of all that is to follow with classic metal vocal that soars into the chorus. Some might say kicking an album off with an 8-minute opus takes balls and on some level that would be fair, there is no fast-food, quick-relief in this opening number, but then I think that is what ASoT wanted. You are required to listen. The extended middle section of this track, builds to a crescendo and then pulls the intensity way down to an almost jam-like instrumental section that has Deep Purple and Pink Floyd written all over it. Without the excellent production job I could easily see the longer tracks on the album becoming messy and confusing (there are three tracks that exceed 8 minutes!), but that is never allowed to happen and to be honest the longer tracks are perhaps the most rewarding.

Track two, “The Nightwitch”, picks up the pace after a lilting intro and gets us into a more basic metal mode, but again the chorus pulls you in with a melody that instantly locks itself into your head. Take a moment to listen to the lyrics, there’s some nice work there and throughout the album as a whole.

Now it seems the third track has been a little polarizing in other reviews of this album. For me, “Kill That Bitch” is the perfect foil for the more intense, dare I say it, serious tracks that sit alongside this one. The first time I heard this it caught my ear with the story of a jealous girlfriend enticing her would-be lover to kill – to those that missed it – this is supposed to be fun! And fun it is. Here we find Nina sounding punky, psychotic and menacing all at once. I particularly like the line “If tonight we make it to Vegas, we can get Alice Cooper to marry us”. Nicely done.

The title track brings us Chris Haren’s double-bass drums powering along a track that flies and brings us a soaring duet between Raven’s John Gallagher and Nina. John happens to live in the Northern Virginia area and this is a great match with vocal acrobatics from both singers. Magic. It’s great to hear John sounding so good. I also want to mention some very tasty guitar work from Josh on this track; the solo is perhaps one of the best on the record.

“Calat Alhambra” is another epic that gives Nina another opportunity to work on us with her great lyrical ability, this time pulling on Spanish history to tell us the tale of the Spanish Queen Isabella during the Reconquista. This track perhaps reveals the most progressive metal influences of any here, with no holds from Josh with another sharp solo and some tasteful classical guitar to close the track.

“Fight Until The End” takes us back to some more basic metal, and has one of those annoyingly catchy riffs that just gets stuck in your head. This track grooves with a swagger of a band that knows they’ve got “it” and delivers yet another damn catchy chorus. I suspect this will become a real live favorite, just because it so easy to bang your head to…

The next track is another twist, and “This Too Shall Pass” provides a perfect vehicle for the mellower side of Nina’s voice to be brought to the forefront and smooth as silk it is. Complete with strings and very nicely done orchestration, the whole song slips into your ears in kind of the same way a perfectly aged single-malt scotch slides down your throat. Again, some other reviews have questioned the inclusion of this track since it presents a bit of a challenge, but for me it works to provide a balance and a moment to reflect.

The ten tracks here are closed with “Discovery”, the last of the 8 minute epics, which contains a nod in the direction of classic Iron Maiden at times, particularly in the guitar break around the three minute mark. The song then winds back the pace and builds without rushing allowing the full musicality of the entire band to shine.

So we have a lot to praise here, but what of the dark-side? Surely I’m not suggesting perfection, and no, that would be misleading too. Where there is any criticism, it is not at the individual track level, but more so at the big picture. An album is a collection of songs and the only (small) concern I have comes to the surface when I look at all 10 tracks presented here. As noted, opening the CD with an 8 minute long epic is not for the faint hearted, and furthermore including another two equally long numbers might get a little heavy going for some. Given the simplicity of “Fight Until The End” and “Kill That Bitch” there is a hint of disjointedness. It’s almost as if there’s a question swirling around within the bands collective mind as to whether or not they want to commit to a more progressive path or hold onto the more classic heavy metal core. Currently it seems both plates are up and spinning – the trick is going to be deciding how to resolve this. Can ASoT merge the two, or will they pick one?

The really good news is whatever path the band takes looks likely to work fine. Nina’s vocals are up to the job, no matter what – in fact it’s hard to see what she couldn’t sing. As for the rest of ASoT, each of them has established an unequivocal claim to their place in the band with perfectly delivered performances all round. I understand the next album is already in the works, so I am excited to see where the next record takes the band.

So to close, what we have here is a very well executed mainstream metal album that really should be in every rock fans collection. Approach this with ears wide open and I think any metal fan will find themselves listening to this over and over.

My score for A Sound Of Thunder “Out Of  The Darkness” – a  very solid 8.5/10.

Band website: