Royal Hunt – XIII-Devil’s Dozen
Honestly I have never been a huge fan of Royal Hunt. I have most of their material, and as much as I marvel at how impressed I am of their technical skills, it just never fully clicked to me personally (maybe it’s the fact that they have always had a sort of keyboard first sound to them). After saying that, I would have to say that this one is right up there as one of my favorites. Something about it strikes me more than they have in the past. Now with 13 full length studio efforts as well as gobs of singles, compilations, live albums, box sets and various other releases, there is no denying they are accomplished musicians. And to break down their music, they can really write some great material. If you are one of the few who are new to Royal Hunt, expect big production, incredibly well written prog metal filled with some great hooks and melodies with some killer vocals from the vastly underrated DC Cooper. Andre Andersen is an accomplished writer and has engineered a lot of great tunes and this new album is no exception. If you like heavy prog with lots of melody, then this one is right up your alley – of course in which case I am sure you already knew that! Either way, another great job turned in by Andre, DC and the boys!!
Choice Tracks – How Do You Know, So Right So Wrong, Heart On A Platter, Riches To Rags
Through the Iron Forest
When I contacted the Danish band Savage Machine a few weeks ago to order a physical copy of their new EP, ‘Through the Iron Forest,’ they told me I was the first person in the USA to buy the CD. That state of affairs needs to change, and fast. I know we lovers of traditional heavy metal are living in a new golden age, with a dizzying array of new bands and new releases to check out every month. That situation, as wonderful as it is, inevitably produces casualties because there is insufficient time (not to mention insufficient funds) to purchase and listen to everything, particularly self-released albums from faraway lands. It would be a crime for such a fate to befall Savage Machine, easily one of the more exciting bands to emerge in this time-honored style in many a moon. Over the span of a five song (plus intro), 26-minute EP, the quintet from Denmark manages to impress on almost every level. Perhaps most striking on the first spin through the recording was the diversity of songs. Don’t be alarmed, as everything fits squarely within the classic / trad metal framework, but Savage Machine expertly mix galloping speedsters (“Prisoners of War”) with Swedish-style power metal (“Iron Forest”), moody slow burners sounding a bit like Crimson Glory (“The Easy Way Out”) and even a jaw-dropping Accept/Saxon-type anthem morphing into a Maidenish lead break and tempo change (“The Final March”). Even better, Savage Machine maintain an extremely high level of songwriting quality as they move from one track to the next, appearing equally adept at each style. The next element of ‘Through the Iron Forest’ that bowled me over was the quality of the individual performances, particularly the spine-tingling powerhouse clean vocals of Troels Rasmussen (brimming with emotion and character, possessing a terrific range, yet not sounding like a clone of anybody) and the dynamic, divebombing twin-guitar tandem of Jacob Bruun and Simon Kalmar Poulsen. Wow. Production values belie any suggestion of low-budget recording standards, with the band achieving a full, powerful sound courtesy of producer Jacob Bredahl (whose credits include Hatesphere and others, typically in the more extreme realms).
There’s really not much more to say here. ‘Through the Iron Forest’ is an unqualified triumph and an excellent introduction to Savage Machine. Honestly, the only question in my mind is whether the band can replicate this kind of success over the span of a full-length album. I am confident that Savage Machine are up to the challenge, and am hopeful that we’ll get a definitive answer soon. For now, do yourself a favor and lend your ears to ‘Through the Iron Forest,’ which is a fresh, exciting take on the old-fashioned heavy metal that is so near and dear to all of our hearts.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
ARTILLERY / STRIKER
Siberia, New Orleans, Louisiana
April 16, 2015
It’s monsoon season on the Gulf Coast. We’ve been deluged with 14 inches of rain in the last 6 days. That’s more than our friends in Southern California receive in an entire year! Smack dab in the middle of the water works, Jen and I decided to make the 140-mile treacherous trek through torrential downpours and flooded streets to the Big Easy, where a multinational metal bill par excellence awaited us at Siberia, a tiny hole-in-the-wall venue on St. Claude Street better known for its kitchen (specializing in delicious Slavic Soul food) than its quality as a live music club. Unfortunately, not many metalheads in the central Gulf Coast region had the same idea as we did, as the gig was poorly attended. Not counting the touring bands (of which there were 5), venue staff, and folks wandering in just to get food and get the hell out, there were no more than 20-25 people in the joint, at most.
After several openers, Canadian metal heroes STRIKER took the stage at 10:45 p.m. This tour marks the Edmontonians’ (is that a word?) first jaunt through the United States, but the five-piece is obviously a seasoned and skilled live act. Undeterred by the minuscule stage, the dismal lighting or the weak audience, bearded vocalist Dan Cleary whipped his troops through a tight 9-song, 40-minute set focused on their recent ‘City of Gold’ opus. Striker’s amalgamation of power metal, trad metal and thrash works extremely well in a live setting, with the thrashier numbers like “Underground” and “Crossroads” contrasting nicely with singalong anthems like “Fight for Your Life” and even what Cleary described as a “hair metal song” (“don’t worry,” he hastened to add, “it’s an original – we’re not going to play you a Poison song or anything”) in the form of “Bad Decisions.” Striker exhibits a high level of musicality, from the powerful, strong lead vocals to the stellar lead guitarwork of Tim Brown to the terrific backing vocals courtesy of all three stringed instrumentalists, but especially bassist William Wallace. There were no weak moments, and the band even pulled out some synchronized stage moves at the beginning of “Lethal Force.” Whether it all made an impact with this crowd or not, I cannot say. About seven songs into Striker’s set, the guy next to me at the front of the stage called out, “Play ‘Lethal Force’!” Great, here’s an educated fan that actually knows the band’s material, right? You might think that, except that Striker had just played aforementioned “Lethal Force” two songs earlier. It was that kind of night, I’m afraid. Still, the Canadians took it in stride, and Cleary seemed in good spirits when I chatted with him afterwards. For what it’s worth, I thought their gig was fantastic, and was thrilled to finally be able to witness Striker live after all these years. Closer “Full Speed or No Speed” (one of Jen’s and my mantras for life) finished things off on a high note. Hail Striker! Setlist: Underground, Fight for Your Life, City of Gold, Crossroads, Lethal Force, Start Again, Bad Decisions, Let It Burn, Full Speed or No Speed.
There was a surprisingly efficient changeover, then it was time for the main event, legendary thrash masters ARTILLERY. I’m a longtime fan, especially keen on the ‘By Inheritance’ album, but also into the more recent, melodic, power metal-inflected albums they’ve done with clean singers. Until tonight, however, I had never had an opportunity to witness Denmark’s finest thrash export in the flesh. The only members from the “classic” Artillery lineup on this tour are guitarist Michael Stutzer (clad in trademark backwards ballcap and sporting a 70000 Tons of Metal shirt) and bespectacled white-haired bassist Peter Thorslund (who looks like he could be a math teacher, except that he rocks way harder than any math teacher I ever had). Like their Canadian counterparts, Artillery struggled with having five members (including hulking singer Michael Bastholm Dahl) treading the boards on such a tiny stage, but they actually made it work. Dahl tended to stay front and center until the instrumental parts, when he would yield his little patch of turf to human riff machine Stutzer, a diminutive Danish thrash metal tank who seemed to relish getting right up in the faces of the four or five people – me included – rocking out in the front of the stage. In a surprise move, Artillery kicked off their set with a bang, crashing through classic tune “Khomaniac” from ‘By Inheritance,’ which I always envisioned being an encore. During the shouted “Khomaniac” parts, Dahl went from band member to band member to let them supply the titular word into the mike. Sonically, I had a bit of a dilemma during Artillery’s set. I was positioned directly in front of Michael Stutzer at the front of the stage, right where I wanted to be, except that his amp was about 6 feet from my head and must have been turned up to 11. The result was that, unlike the crisp balanced sound I heard during Striker’s set, all I heard during Artillery’s set was Stutzer’s guitar and a whole lot of it. Dahl’s vocals were very low in the mix where I was standing, although Jen said he sounded much louder about 15 feet further back where she was watching the gig. I thought “hell with it,” and stayed planted right where I was, even though the result was I couldn’t hear vocals clearly and my right ear rang like hell (even being encased in an earplug as it was) the next day. There are worse fates than going deaf by the mighty axe of Michael Stutzer.
You might think that a band of Artillery’s stature and pedigree would be nonplussed or annoyed to be playing in front of fewer than 20 people on a crap stage in a crap venue on a crap Thursday night in New Orleans. If they were, you never would have known it. Dahl was one of the more gracious frontmen I think I’ve ever seen, constantly smiling, thanking us for coming out to the show, saying “cheers” with his beer, and fist-bumping the few die-hards upfront. Funny, there was no printed setlist on the stage floor. Instead, Dahl had a small post-it note sized piece of paper in his pocket that he kept pulling out, unfolding and consulting between songs so he would know what they were playing next. It was funny, and endearing. The most gracious thing Artillery did the whole night came courtesy of Michael Stutzer, however. The band had just finished playing “Into the Universe,” nearly 70 minutes into their set, were taking their final bows and saying goodnight, and the soundman had even brought up the house music again. Suddenly, Stutzer whispered something to Thorslund, who nodded, then gestured to Dahl, who asked “Mr. Soundman, is it alright if we play one more song?” Now, I don’t think anyone in the place was expecting that, and certainly we hadn’t been short-changed by the generous set Artillery had already played. Yet here was Stutzer, hell-bent on playing one more number for the handful of people in attendance. That was cool. Cooler still, the soundman obliged, and we were treated to a terrific rendition of “The Almighty” as a reward for our patience. Overall, it was a superbly constructed setlist, chock full of enough classics (“The Challenge,” “Deeds of Darkness,” “Terror Squad,” “By Inheritance,” and the godly “Into the Universe”) to satiate even the pickiest thrasher. The band also made a couple of nods to the Dahl-featured new album ‘Legion,’ in the form of the title track and the haunting “Chill My Bones.” If anything, I wouldn’t have minded hearing more from that album, like “Godfeather” or “Wardrum Heartbeat.” Artillery also had a couple of surprises up their sleeves. After “Khomaniac,” they tore into the unheralded but quite excellent “Rise Above It All” off ‘When Death Comes,’ and later in the set they gave us “Time Has Come” off ‘Fear of Tomorrow,’ which I hadn’t expected either. All in all, it was an outstanding set from the Danish thrash kings. I woke up the next morning with the sore neck and ringing ears to prove it. Hell, I even felt like I had carpal tunnel in my air-guitar picking hand, heh. After the set, I went over to the merch table and bought a killer ‘Fear of Tomorrow’ shirt and a patch from Dahl. The band accommodated me by gathering around me for a sweaty for a band photograph, throwing triumphant fists and horns, then patted me on the shoulder, shook my hand and thanked me for coming out. Classy. If I weren’t already an Artillery fan for life (and I was), I definitely would be now. Setlist: Khomaniac, Rise Above It All, The Challenge, Deeds of Darkness, When Death Comes (dedicated to New Orleans celebrity Ann Rice), Chill My Bones, Legion, Time Has Come (with prerecorded machine-gun fire intro), Terror Squad (with Stutzer solo intro), By Inheritance, Into the Universe. Encore: The Almighty.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
It’s been seven long years since new Pyramaze music has been released, and after three very solid albums which featured a couple of different vocalists between them, it was time for this Danish melodic metal band to give us something new to digest. Along with new vocalist Terje Heroy in the mix, we have some very well done melopower! Pyramaze has a short, yet significant history of making some very dark and thought-provoking metal and Disciples Of The Sun is a definite addition to their arsenal of albums. There are bits on this album that remind me a bit of a more modern sound (I think it has to do with the vocal styles of the vocalist and not a direction change that the band is consciously taking). I think there is still more this band can do, and maybe now they have finally found that voice that they need to continue to build momentum upon. It’s not that their music hasn’t been good, as I have enjoyed each of their releases (they all have something to offer the listener), but I have just been waiting for this band to reach that next glorious level and they have fallen just a bit short each time. I think Disciples Of The Sun is the next step on the evolutionary ladder and after a seven year stretch, it’s a big step, but there are still a few more rungs left on the ladder that need to be taken. If the band can stick together and stay out of the transitional stages, they are well within reach!
Choice Tracks – Back For More, Perfectly Imperfect, Fearless, Genetic Process, When Black Turns To White
True Metal Lives
The Voice Of The Underground