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Q5 – New World Order – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2016 by novametalreview

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OK, hands up who has heard of Q5 before? Yes, that is probably a pretty small showing; at least that’s my bet. Well, let’s do some catching up, since there isn’t a massive amount to catch up on.

So, Q5 were originally formed back in 1983 in Seattle, by smashing together two groups from the local scene, taking three members of TKO (guitarist Rick Pierce, bassist Evan Sheeley, and drummer Gary Thompson) and two members of C.O.R.E. (frontman Jonathan K and guitarist Floyd D. Rose – of Floyd Rose tremolo system fame). This line up released “Steel The Light” in 1984 and it was through this record that I discovered the band, and it has to be said it was the cool sci-fi spaceship cover art that really attracted my eye, rather than any knowledge of the band or music when I bought it. Fortunately the album was an absolute corker and kicked some serious butt. Hello Q5!

Following “Steel The Light”, their sophomore release in 1985, “When The Mirror Cracks”, was a little less heavy and seemed to me at least to have a little more keyboard than I would have perhaps liked. Unfortunately the band was already coming apart at the seems and split due the all too common “personal differences” soon after the album release. To be honest I assumed that was the last that anyone was likely to hear of Q5, but, surprise, the band popped up on the Sweden Rock Festival in 2014, with 3/5ths of the original line up, with Scott K. on vocals, Pierce on guitar and Sheeley bass, joined by new blood in the form of Dennis Turner on guitar and Jeffery McCormack on drums.

It seems the band had such a good time that they decided to keep the band going with an aim of putting out a new album, which is what I have in front of me right now. Released on Frontiers, “New World Order” turns in no less than fourteen tracks (one being listed as a bonus track on my copy) with a runtime topping just over an hour, and I have to honest there isn’t a duffer amongst them! It has been quite a long time since any album caught my ear quite as much as this did – so much so that I played it back-to-back straight through three times following the first listen!

So, Q5 really seem to have found their happy place with this record, and have adopted a solid power/heavy metal foundation here, which is just PERFECT in my book. Sure there is melody by the bucket load, but you will also find massive power-driving riffs and plenty of excellent playing from all contributors to keep you drawn in. I don’t really like drawing comparisons to other bands, but I’m going to break my own rules here just so you can get an idea of nature of these guys in 2016 – after the first couple of listens through I was starting to get infusions of Saxon, Judas Priest and recent Accept, but not in any derivative way.

Since I have only had my hands on this record for two days now I can’t claim to have any particular favorite track, but I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t mention “A Warrior’s Song/Mach Opus 206” which are listed as two separate tracks, but run into each other, and form an absolutely epic power metal trip. “Mach Opus 206” is in fact an massive riff-tastic monster of an instrumental track and I can’t help turning this one up to ‘11’ whenever this hits my ears. It’s honestly epically huge!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great recording this is too. So often these days albums seem to come out flat and lifeless, but this record has a real energy and feel behind it driving the whole experience along. The drums and bass sound massive and the guitar sound is just about perfect – cutting, but still heavy. Jonathan Scott K’s vocal sit perfectly within each track and it may be his lyrical phrasing that makes me think NWOBHM. All in all despite there being 14 tracks here – I WANT MORE.

So, to close – it doesn’t matter a damn whether or not you remember Q5 from before (though if you do, all is good) – if you like your rock on the heavier side, GO AND BUY THIS RECORD. I can’t believe anyone could be disappointed. And just to make things clear, it has been quite a long time since I felt motivated enough to write a review, but I could not let this pass. This is a killer album and a straight 10/10.

M-PIRE of EVIL – Crucified – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by novametalreview

My first exposure to M-PIRE of EVIL was at a less-than-well attended show in downtown Washington D.C. and these fellas damn near knocked my head off… This was a little over a year ago now and shortly after that show got hold of the then-current album, “Hell To The Holy” and have been thrashing it up ever since. I really need to catch-up and write a review because it is a great record, however today my focus is on their latest offering, “Crucified”. In many ways this would have been the perfect record for someone like me, with only a limited knowledge of their prior work, since this album includes nine re-recorded tracks from the “old days”, plus a couple of newbies. I think I need to do some explaining here first?

Sometimes words get confusing when trying to unravel the history of one or more bands but I’m going to try… Back in 1979 a dark force was formed in the world of heavy metal, something that would in fact spawn a whole new genre of metal, Black Metal, taken from the second album by the crushing force that was Venom. Now, my memory isn’t perfect, but I recall certain elements of the rock press not really giving Venom the props they fully deserved and it is only in retrospect their influence is now appreciated (and perhaps worshipped in some quarters). The trio included on guitar Jeff Dunn, later to be anointed with the moniker “Mantas”. Over time, the normal wear and tear suffered by so many bands led to line-up changes that brought Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan to join Venom on bass and vocals in 1988. Along with original drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray and a couple of rhythm guitar players that came and went, this line-up turned out three albums, Prime Evil, Temples of Ice and The Waste Lands. Following less than stellar sales figures, largely due to the grunge-era kicking in, Venom split-up for a few years. However this was but chapter one for this story.

Fast forward to the year 2010 and Mantas was playing in a band called “Dryll”, and found himself looking for a drummer, and recruited another former Venom member, Anthony “Antton” Lant to fill the drum stool. At that point a glimmer of brilliance sparked and the Demolition Man joined as the third member of the power trio. Originally taking the name “Prime Evil”, this was found to be ‘in-use’ by another band, so they came up with a slightly morphed variant, becoming known as “M-PIRE of EVIL”. Antton only lasted through the recording process of their debut EP and “Hell To The Holy” and departed just prior to the band taking to the road in early 2012. Fairly rapidly Marc Jackson stepped in and the line-up was complete. Shortly after completing the tour Jackson joined M-PIRE of EVIL as a full member and was anointed the name JXN. Fortunately we are now up to date.

So, what does “Crucified” give us? Well as noted earlier, we have mostly re-recorded tracks from the three Venom-era offerings featuring Mantas and the Demolition Man and a couple of new numbers. In fact for me this is perfect, since I am not at all familiar with the Venom back-catalog, and while live M-PIRE are able to include some of the other classic Venom numbers (such as “Black Metal” and “Countess Bathory”), I’m guessing those numbers have other writing credits to them one way or another, making them harder to re-record/release.

So the album opens with “Temples Of Ice” from the album of the same name, and this rips. With a classic half-pace opening intro, it takes a short 47 seconds to get to the meat’n’potatoes and as Mantas tears into the riff with a crisp precision, the vocals cut through and grab your attention. The Demolition Man is both vicious but melodic at the same time – none of that grunting or growling that afflicts so many bands that allude to a similar genre classification. This is the perfect combination of nasty while musical. To be honest I keep thinking that Tony reminds me of Lemmy (yes, from Motorhead…) with a little less rock’n’roll and more bite. Excellent! There is a neat bass intro to the solo and then we get some guitar heroics which really show how good Mantas is playing these days – he is both highly melodic, while pulling off some very technical runs. It’s about now you will wake up and start to pay attention to the pounding on the drums. Damn JXN is a monster… the double kick-drum work through the tail-end of the solo is just vicious, while over the top are some just amazingly executed fills. Wild stuff all round.

Up second is “Parasite” and this just reinforces the idea that the first track wasn’t a fluke. This is a band firing on all cylinders and, yes, this bad-boy is both turbo- and supercharged. Crank this up; it deserves to be played loud. Depending on what you’re playing this on, the louder it gets, the better it seems. Awesome. Incidentally this is very well recorded album, so top marks for that. The bass work on all the tracks is just excellent, while not being overblown which is a temptation with a trio sometimes.

I won’t run this track by track, since we’ll be here all week, but I really dig the crazy-fast double-kick drum work on “Kissing The Beast” (track #3), while the moody “Blackened Are The Priests” provides a bit of breather and a more atmospheric feel – I particularly like the bass section in the middle eight. I’m going to skip forward to track #8, “Wolverine”, which has a totally wicked double-kick drum fueled chorus section which meshes perfectly with the guitar riff and to me makes me think of machine guns. Wicked stuff all round.

“Crucified”, the title-track, taken from The Waste Lands, has a damn catchy melody to the chorus, which I don’t think is totally expected given who is delivering this, but it works extremely well. This might be my favorite track on the whole record to be honest. I really like the way the solo builds out of the middle-eight section and again is another example of how good Mantas is; there’s even some harmony parts in there, but it’s not over done in any way – tasteful even.

The two new tracks lead off with “Demone” and this is a power-thrash number. To be honest this has more than a nod in the direction of Slayer to my ears, at least until we get to the solo, which pulls the pace off a bit and has a more bluesy tint to it. Closing the album is “Taking it All” and this is a lot of fun, with a chanted “F**k You!” as the feature of the chorus. I believe this track is reason for a recent request the band put out requesting fans send in videos of themselves shouting, screaming and yelling “F**k You!”, so standby for a video release by the band for this track featuring an assortment of M-PIRE of EVIL fans. Should be a riot!

So let’s put this in perspective. There are only two new tracks here, so those of you that are hardcore Venom fans may get a little less out of this than I did, simply because you probably already have nine of the tracks here. But let’s not discount the fact that it’s nice to get an up to date take on this material and we are dealing with modern recording techniques, giving us better sound here. Whether you ‘like’ that is up to you. I really like this record and score this a hard metal 8.5/10.

Here’s a link to my previous live review of the M-PIRE of EVIL show in D.C. last year > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-R

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T & N – Slave To The Empire – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by novametalreview

George Lynch is one busy guitar player, no doubt about it, in fact so much so that I’m lagging quite a bit behind his release schedule. Today I am going to try to catch up and write a review that is something a little shorter than an episode from Lord Of The Rings in the hope that I can catch up some…

So, confession time. Rewinding the clock, George Lynch was without doubt the most influential guitar player on myself back in the days when I was playing guitar. I still have a George Lynch VHS guitar tuition video and booklet that was released in the early 90’s, and I remember vividly learning every song from “Tooth and Nail” and “Under Lock and Key” note-for-note. Well, almost note-for-note… Now is not the time or place for a full history lesson, since the George Lynch and Don Dokken story is pretty complex, however, it is impossible not to give it a passing mention since it is the catalyst for the band before us – T & N.

First off, what a crap name. Sorry but it is. However, to explain this some history is unavoidable. The ‘classic’ Dokken line-up is most often regarded as Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass) and Mick Brown (drums), which came together in 1983. While the band achieved great commercial success, creative and personal differences led to the band splitting up in 1989, and while they did reform in 1993 and struggled on until 1997, they really only managed to put out one decent album in this time (Dysfunctional, 1995), until the final split, with Don continuing Dokken, while George went off to reform Lynch Mob (which had put out the exceptionally good “Wicked Sensation” release in 1990). If you’re confused by this, good, so am I, because it is confusing.

At various times a reunion has been touted as “just around the corner” but has never happened. Most recently this was heavily discussed back in 2010, with official announcements saying it was on, and then retracted. Oh, what a flippin’ saga! Finally though, something real did come from all this rumor, with Lynch, Pilson and Brown announcing the formation of “Tooth and Nail” which was 75% of the classic Dokken line-up, obviously minus Dokken himself, who did not want to derail his current plans with “Dokken”. Of course things could not just go smoothly and it turned out that another band had a prior trademark claim to the name “Tooth and Nail”, so they took the simple expediency of shortening the name to “T & N”.  I don’t like the name at all, but it is what it is. OK, I won’t mention that I don’t like the name again, OK?

Finally I can move on and talk about the music. So, with this album we get a split of five Dokken covers/re-dos, and seven new tracks. Despite the announced line-up, confusingly Mick Brown only plays drums on the Dokken covers, with Brian Tichy playing on all seven originals. At this point, and with no obvious or simple explanation in anything I have seen or read, I don’t know why. For the new material we get Jeff Pilson on lead vocals and I think he does a fine job. The title track has a catchy hook, that, after a few plays, becomes lodged in your head and, at least for me, seems to draw me to crank the volume.

On the re-do tracks of the five, we get four ‘guest’ vocalists which mixes things up nicely. The first track we meet is “Tooth and Nail” with Doug Pinnick from King’s X giving it a bit more edge than the original, and I must say the guitar solo George delivers is a monster. Next up is “It’s Not Love”, sung by current Warrant singer Robert Mason (also previously of Lynch Mob) and he gives it a new edge, though it’s pretty faithful to the original overall. Jeff Pilson handles the vocal on “Into the Fire” and I’d say this is pretty much a straight rendition, although they have added a new bridge section which pulls the energy down and adds a nice dynamic to the track. “Alone Again” is sung by Sebastian Back, who I must admit isn’t particularly one of my favorites (tending to come across as trying just too damn hard much of the time), but here he does a fine job. Given this is a pretty laid back track, it wasn’t obvious to me this would be the best fit, but Bach gives it a nice edge, while letting the melody do it’s work through the chorus. Well played sir! Finally, the last of the re-dos is “Kiss Of Death” with Tim “Ripper” Owens (formerly of Judas Priest and Iced Earth) and he tears into this with venom. To my ears he gives this track a Ronnie James Dio type feel and on hearing this it would have been a perfect track for Dio. Well that isn’t going to happen now is it… Owens here does a perfect job. This might be my favorite of the repeats.

George Lynch has matured a lot as a guitarist over the years and now uses a lot more texture in his guitar sounds compared to the super-overdrive of the classic Dokken days, and despite the old ESP guitars still making an appearance, you are just as likely to see George with a Telecaster in his hands these days. With T & N things are a little closer in sound and tone of the old Dokken days, at least to my ears, compared say to the recent Lynch Mob “Sound Mountain Sessions” which has less overdrive and more ‘blues’ in his playing. It is very revealing to play the original Dokken recordings of the five re-dos included here, and you realize very quickly how good those songs were, how good the playing was, but also how damn good George is playing these days. He’s able to add almost another layer to each song. Listen hard and you will catch a lot of subtle licks and kicks that sneak in. For me these songs and solos in particular are almost like gospel, and the idea of messing with them left me with some trepidation initially. Trust me, George hasn’t strayed far from the path, but has done just enough to keep everything fresh and interesting.

Of the new tracks on the record there isn’t really anything I don’t like, and I have already mentioned the title track, but a couple of stand-out tracks for me are “When Eagles Die” and “Mind Control”. Taking the former, “When Eagles Die” opens with an annoyingly catchy acoustic guitar riff, with an equally catchy vocal riff, which then progresses into showcase for the song writing excellence that is T & N. This is a great track to crank up on the car stereo. With “Mind Control” this is a more conventional barnstorming number that I like perhaps more than anything for the cranking bass line from Pilson that drives the whole thing alone.

To close, I will say that it took a few spins to get this record under my skin – initially the re-do tracks seemed to stand-out and poke me in the ears a bit simply because they weren’t the old favorites I was used to, but once I got over the idea change isn’t all bad (sheesh!), the simple enjoyment that is evident in playing these songs again and re-exploring the vocals with alternate singers drew me in and currently this is one of my favorite CDs to spin. Obviously for Dokken and/or George Lynch fans this is a must buy record, but if those are the only people that buy this it would be doing the band an injustice, since this is truly a very good chunk of heavy metal. My score 8.5/10.

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Saxon – Sacrifice – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by novametalreview

Release: 26 March 2013 in the United States

There’s a part of me saying “Don’t bother, it is what it is…”, but the Saxon fan inside won’t let me pass up the chance to offer an opinion on the 20th studio album from one of ‘the’ iconic NWOBHM bands still making music. While many would argue that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest took the NWOBHM to the highest level, the last 5 or 6 album releases from Saxon have easily eclipsed anything from Maiden or Priest in the last 10-15 years, at least in my book. The previous Saxon release, 2011’s “Call To Arms” was an exceptional record and the tour that went with it was a showcase for all that is good with live heavy metal.

While Saxon are far from a stadium band in the USA, this provides an amazing opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest heavy metal bands up close and personal. Saxon may be headlining festivals like Wacken in Germany in front of 86,000 fans (2011), but in the US they were touring venues with a capacity of 500 or so – and blowing the roof of everywhere they visited, if the two dates I saw were any measure of the tour. I can only hope we see the same again in 2013.

Prior to the release of Sacrifice there were a few pre-release interviews that indicated the band was taking a ‘back to the roots’ approach, which I must admit I was a little confused over since, for me at least, Call To Arms had already done that. In thinking about writing this review I obviously went on an all out Saxon binge session for a few days, and I have to say that Call To Arms (CTA) was an extremely good record. I’m going to resist the urge to re-review that record, but I will say if you don’t have a copy, GO BUY ONE RIGHT NOW!

The exact quote from Biff (Saxon lead singer, as if you didn’t already know…) was this: “Less tricks, more power! My brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.” I’m not sure I really understand why this was felt to be necessary? If there were any “tricks” on CTA, then I’m blind-sided by them and if “Back in 79”, “Chasing the Bullet” (one of my all time favorite Saxon live tracks) and the opener, “Hammer of the Gods”, aren’t back to basics then I clearly am misreading what Saxon are all about. Well, it is either that or perhaps Sacrifice didn’t quite meet Biff’s guidance.

So, what do we get with Sacrifice? Well to start the basic record lists 10 tracks, of which the opener is a 1 minute and 46 second long intro… so in reality the main disk only contains 9 tracks with a run time of 37 minutes and 45 seconds or thereabouts. In one respect this is back to the old classic material, at least in terms of run time. One bright spot – the tracks will easily fit onto an LP… The CD version I bought was the “deluxe” that included an additional 5-track ‘bonus’ disk, which carries a selection of re-recorded tracks, giving us another 22 minutes of music. I will say that the booklet format for the deluxe edition is extremely well executed and is a very nice piece of work.

Once we are past the extended intro, we are into the title track, “Sacrifice”, which is a mid-pace stomper and I’m guessing will be the opener for the live shows. This is good stuff. Solid Saxon, with a crisp and sharp modern edge to the guitar sound, while the double kick-drum work from Nigel Glockler punches through nicely. Holding everything together we have the excellent bass work of Nibbs Carter. All in all the production on the record is tight, as you would expect at the deft hands of Andy Sneap who produced the last two Accept albums, the exceptional “Dark Roots of Earth” from Testament and a long list from Megadeth, Exodus and many more. So, no complaints on that front. I should mention that the video for Sacrifice is really good and certainly gives much more than a nod in the direction of classic MTV video offerings from “back in the day”. Well worth checking out on YouTube if you haven’t already. See: http://youtu.be/8d_6BkhKPAk

Next up we have “Made in Belfast” which certainly follows in the tradition of storytelling that Biff has often used before, this time the subject is the shipyards of Belfast around the time when the Titanic was built. Pulling on the workingman background that runs so deeply through the blood in Biff’s veins, this is another mid-paced number, that is lifted by the addition of a mandolin both as the lead-in intro and mid-way through the track.

“Warriors of the Road” brings us a theme that was previously explored a little in the Nigel Glocker/Doug Scarett side-project, “Mad Men and English Dogs” with the track “Hello Murray!”, namely motor racing. This is a faster track with a neat hammer on sort of riff on the main guitar part. Nigel Glocker is a big Formula One fan and wears F1 style driving boots when he is drumming… I think he is a big fan of Felipe Masa (Ferrari), if I recall correctly.

Now it’s about just about here in the proceedings when the wind seems to slacken off. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be that the autopilot was switched on… Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing that follows the third track is a bad song and by most bands standards the remaining six tracks would be ‘good stuff’, but, while on Call To Arms we had nice change of pace, in the shape of “Mists of Avalon”, which was then followed by the poignant “Call to Arms”, here on Sacrifice we continue with a series of five roughly mid-paced tracks, none of which pops me between the eyes. I hate to even think of the term “fillers’ but for a band of the caliber of Saxon, I was expecting more.

Finally we get to the last track on the main CD, rather bizarrely titled “Standing in a Queue” (translated into American, “Standing in a Line”) – yeah, like at an amusement park or at the bank, or something. I’ve seen other reviews compare this track to something AC/DC might write, but I don’t see it. Personally I’ve got this image of Biff standing inline at the Post Office or supermarket and getting a little pissed off. It just seems so trivial. It’s such an odd way to close the album, and has the feel of a B-side for those that can remember 45’s, or something released on the websites for fan club members.

I won’t spend a lot of time here on the bonus disk, and I’m sure the true fans will suck this up for the change in perspective this gives, but again it’s not all sweetness and light. I was pretty excited to see this CD opened with new orchestral version of Crusader, since the orchestral version of “Call to Arms” was quite magnificent. Unfortunately where Call to Arms was so well executed, I’m not convinced the same was carried out with Crusader. To me the orchestral parts simply seem like a nice digital keyboard, which is a far cry from a full or even partial orchestra. It comes across as a tad tacky to my ears. I think this would be amazing with an real orchestra, but here it falls flat. I’d give it an A+ for potential, but a C for execution. The rest of the bonus disk is all perfectly good stuff.

As you can probably tell, overall I was disappointed. Where “Call to Arms” blew my socks off, here my socks are firmly attached. As I said, the overall impression isn’t bad in any identifiable way, but it certainly isn’t one of great excitement. My score overall 7.5/10.