BLAST WAVE Renacer
(Rock CD 2016)
There was a time not too terribly long ago when Spanish power metal was among my favorite metal subgenres. Bands like Saratoga, Tierra Santa, Avalanch, Northwind, Red Wine, Azrael, Saurom, Sheratan, Warcry and others harnessed a blend of Iron Maiden and Helloween, to which they added characteristic melodies and typically Spanish-language vocals with just the right balance of charisma, grit and range. Of late, however, those offerings have waned. Some of the bigger names have experienced disappointing stylistic changes, moving toward more commercial, softer pastures and therefore fading from my consciousness. (As a general rule, those who wimp out are dead to me.) More importantly, fewer new Spanish power metal acts are reaching my ears these days, perhaps because of my aversion to digital downloads and the prohibitive shipping costs exacted by the Spanish postal service. That said, I was very impressed by the Frenzy EP released last year, and the Taken debut is excellent.
To that category of outstanding new Spanish power metal albums we must add Blast Wave’s ‘Renacer,’ which saw the light of day at the tail end of 2016. From what I understand, Blast Wave formed back in 2010; however, they struggled for years to achieve a stable lineup, which they’ve now apparently accomplished. Let’s not mince words: ‘Renacer’ is a spectacular example of the Spanish power metal style at its finest. As with many of their peers, Blast Wave construct their sound on a base of classic Iron Maiden, with plenty of dual-guitar histrionics courtesy of Ivan Estevez and David Cabanillas (check out the harmony section in “Resistire,” wow!). In places, they ramp up the speed and heaviness, but also occasionally import some of those big Hansen/Weikath-type melodies, and top it all off with the commanding, Spanish-language vocals of Jon Marcos, which are clear and expressive like so many Spanish metal singers. What sets Blast Wave apart (in a good way) in their chosen genre is the purity and intensity of their attack. Whereas many Spanish bands inject AOR elements or dilute their power with pompous keyboards, frilly balladry and overwrought epics, Blast Wave keep the hammer down throughout. No, ‘Renacer’ isn’t a thrash or speed metal album, but keyboards are kept to a minimum, guitars are front and center, tempos stay pretty consistently on the quicker end of the spectrum (with the occasional exception like “Larga es la Noche”), the songs are to-the-point and never become bogged down in pretension, and the entire record is bristling with energy and the ever-important cojones.
If you’re the kind of person who loves the Saratoga ‘Vientos de Guerra’ album or Tierra Santa’s first few records (before they turned away from metal), then Blast Wave should be mandatory listening. If the idea of well-executed guitar-centric European power metal with powerful Spanish-language vocals and memorable songwriting appeals to you, then ‘Renacer’ should likewise be on your shopping list. It does my heart good to hear a newer band like Blast Wave execute this style so effectively and with so much verve and passion. Good stuff!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
FRENZY Lethal Protector EP
(Underground Power 2016)
The Spanish heavy metal scene is really something special. They have the Pounding Metal Union, a nationwide coalition of die-hard metalheads who share their love of traditional heavy metal and pool their resources to bring stellar international acts to Spanish shores. The pinnacle of the Union’s achievements is the Pounding Metal Fest, which I attended in Madrid two years ago. In terms of lineup, vibe and organization, the Pounding Metal Fest compares favorably with its more famous brethren in Germany and Greece. This spring marks the Pounding Metal Fest X, whose roster includes Riot V, RAM, Metal Inquisitor, Leather Heart, and local newcomers Frenzy, who recently released their debut 5-song EP, entitled ‘Lethal Protector.’ Although technically a new band, having formed in Madrid in 2014, Frenzy is comprised of seasoned veterans of the Madrid metal scene, including several ex-members of the sadly defunct Steel Horse.
This ‘Lethal Protector’ EP is immediately fascinating because of the comic-book angle. The four original tracks on display (there’s also a smashing cover of Racer X’s “Loud and Clear”) are all based on comic books, with songs about Spiderman/Venom, the Hulk (that one’s entitled “Change to Green,” haha), Sin City and Ghost Rider. Better still, the CD booklet presents the lyrics for each song in comic book form, with illustrated panels and the lyrics appearing as text or character dialogue. It’s extremely well done. Not sure how (or if) the band addressed the legal/licensing aspects of using these trademarked characters, names and images, but Frenzy deserve huge props for both the concept and its execution. The back cover of the EP even depicts comic-book style images of the band members having a dialogue about Peter Parker and professing not to be on one side of the conflict or the other, but instead to be “on the heavy metal side.” Bands from Anthrax to A Sound of Thunder have long demonstrated that heavy metal and comic books go hand in hand, but Frenzy’s approach to the joinder is unique and quite clever.
Musically, Frenzy fit neatly alongside their compatriots such as the aforementioned Steel Horse, Thunderheart, Wild, Leather Heart and bands of that ilk. By that, I mean that the music is very much in the 80s traditional anthemic heavy metal style, with catchy melodies, gang-shouted choruses, and a few hard rock elements for good measure. A few ingredients make Frenzy’s take on the genre special, though. The guitarwork of Luis Pinedo and Victor Diaz is fiery, tasteful and downright head-turning in spots, as befits a band that tackles challenging Racer X covers for sport. And vocalist Anthony Stephen is a gem, turning in a fine performance laden with emotion, range (check out those high notes in the pre-chorus of “Change to Green” or “Ride to Be Free”), and just the right amount of grit and swagger. All four original cuts on ‘Lethal Protector’ are well-written winners, with big hooks and smokin’ riffs. I was never a Racer X fan, but the “Loud and Clear” cover ends the EP on such a high note that I feel like I need to check out the classic works of that band.
The only problem with ‘Lethal Protector’ is that, at five songs and 20 minutes, it’s just too damned short. It is, however, a fantastic introduction to the world of Frenzy. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the Madrilenos’ full-length debut whenever it arrives, but this will tide me over nicely in the meantime. Keep on pounding, Pounding Metal Union. You make us all proud!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
It takes a lot of time (and money, if you’re a physical product guy like me) to sift through the avalanche of new releases each month searching for quality metal. Every now and then, though, you hit the jackpot, stumbling across an obscure band from some farflung corner of the heavy metal universe that makes it all worthwhile. Evil Killer are just such a band. The quartet from Pamplona, Spain formed in 2012, and have just released their debut album, ‘Lethal Assault.’ Evil Killer fit neatly within the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, as evidenced by the album’s band photo featuring white high-top sneakers, skinny jeans, a patch jacket, a leather jacket, and band t-shirts.
Before you dismiss them as just another johnny-come-lately old-school metal band, you should know that Evil Killer offer a slightly different variation on the well-worn trad/true metal recipe than many of their peers. Sure, the Maidenisms are there in spades, particularly the twin-guitar harmonies and the delightful guitar/bass interplay. But Evil Killer owe more to classic speed metal (Exciter / Agent Steel / ‘Wall of Jericho’ era Helloween / Riot ‘Thundersteel’) than to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Many of the tunes are sufficiently fast and intense to be classified as thrash, but they are drenched in ever-present, dizzying melodies. It’s a style that I dearly love, but it’s also one that precious few new bands pull off effectively (Belgium’s Evil Invaders would be an example of one that does). So to hear a newcomer act successfully marry the frenetic energy of thrash with the glorious guitar melodies and catchiness of the NWoBHM movement is cause for celebration.
Celebrating is exactly what I feel like doing while listening to ‘Lethal Assault.’ These young Spaniards get it. They have a seemingly unerring instinct for arranging their tunes to balance the hammering tempos and gang-shouted choruses with almost delicate six-string work. “Midnight Assassin” is a case in point. In the span of less than four minutes, Evil Killer carry us from razor-sharp riffing in the verses to a near blastbeat melodic passage to a positively heavenly lead break in which the Jackson guitars of Mikel and Ivan Vera weave masterful chunks of melody, then back to the high-speed verses, gang-shouts and all. It’s an addictive ride, and one that I find myself wanting to take again and again. Another song worthy of mention is the 5.5-minute instrumental track, “1512,” which is one of the best and all-around most entertaining metal instrumentals I’ve heard this side of Iced Earth’s “1776.” Honestly, the only demerits that ‘Lethal Assault’ might warrant are that the songwriting tapers off ever so slightly in the second half (even though closer “Made in Fire” rules), and Mikel’s high-pitched voice, sometimes-uncontrolled delivery and thick accent might be a turnoff to some. For me, though, Evil Killer are a fantastic find, a band poised to become a force within the crowded old-school metal marketplace. Lend them an ear, won’t you?
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
SnakeyeS is a new heavy metal band, originally started by José Pineda (bass player for Spanish band SPHINX) as a solo project. It later evolved into a proper band when he met Cosmin Aioniţă online. As the powerful voice of Romanian band 9.7 RICHTER, Aioniţă loved Pineda’s early demos and, sharing the same musical influences, they both decided to consolidate their partnership as a band. Thus, SnakeyeS was born.
SnakeyeS just finished the recording process of “Welcome To The Snake Pit”, their debut promotional EP. It includes three songs written by José Pineda and Cosmin Aionita and produced, mixed and mastered by José Pineda. The recording line-up for “Welcome To The Snake Pit” was completed by guitar player Justi Bala (who handled all guitar solos on the EP) and Carlos Delgado (drums).
After the raving reviews of the band’s debut EP “Welcome To The Pit,” SnakeyeS returns with a brand new full-length album: “Ultimate Sin” that is focusing on delivering true traditional Heavy Metal, with an up-to-date sound and production.
SnakeyeS also shot a promotional video for ”Ultimate Sin” (the first single off the new album, as well as its title track) with Academy Awards nominee and Goya Awards winner Ricardo Perez in the director’s seat. Click here to watch the video.
The “Ultimate Sin” album, released on March 19 2015, was recorded in the band’s own studio, with bass player and main song writer Jose Pineda handling both production and mixing duties.
Night of the Warriors
(Killer Metal 2015)
Hailing from Madrid, Spain, Thunderheart are a new band, but its members are talented veterans of the trad metal wars. Guitarist Willy Gascon is perhaps best known as guitarist/songwriter from Steel Horse. Drummer Ricardo Lazaro also cut his teeth in Steel Horse. And vocalist Javier Pastor made a name for himself as guitarist/co-writer in Wild. So what we really have here is a supergroup of sorts, an alliance forged from the best of the Spanish traditional heavy metal scene. Seen through the prism of that impressive pedigree, Thunderheart’s debut album was greeted with great anticipation and excitement by aficionados of the burgeoning Spanish classic metal scene. Thankfully, cool German underground metal label Killer Metal Records thought enough of ‘Night of the Warriors’ to give it a much-deserved worldwide release.
Make no mistake: Thunderheart have delivered the goods on this debut album, proving themselves fully worthy of inclusion in the conversation of heavyweight traditional heavy metal hopefuls, along with their predecessor bands and their esteemed colleagues from Sweden, Germany, Canada and the United States. The band do not attempt to reinvent the wheel on ‘Night of the Warriors,’ a compact 9-song, 35-minute exercise in trad metal done right. Most songs hover between 3 and 4 minutes in length, featuring anthemic catchy choruses and Gascon’s arsenal of tasteful melodic riffs and leads, many of which harken back to the best of the NWoBHM era. I realize that’s something of a trendy sound these days, but when it’s done this well, who cares? Also, any worries about Pastor switching from guitar in Wild to lead vocals in Thunderheart may be assuaged immediately. The dude can sing, and he delivers his lines in a clear confident English that eludes so many of his countryman vocalists. If anything, he reminds me a bit of Alexx Stahl (Viron, Roxxcalibur, Masters of Disguise), or perhaps the guy from Metal Inquisitor. That’s a good thing.
A great feature of ‘Night of the Warriors’ is that the energy never lets up and the quality never wanes. There is no filler, no wasted space, no B-grade ideas or going through the motions to pad the running length. Even the 92-second intro, “New Horizons,” is killer. This album doesn’t overstay its welcome either, which could be a concern given the similarity of the material if it dragged on for 10 or 15 minutes longer. Instead, Thunderheart comes out of the gate swinging with the likes of the truly awesome “Show Them Our Fire,” pummels the listener between the eyes on “Thunderheart” and “Concrete Jungle,” then moves on after “Rise or Fall” before you even have a chance to catch your breath. In fact, my only criticisms of ‘Night of the Warriors’ are that the mix seems a bit off (Pastor’s vocals too low, Gascon’s rhythm guitars too high) and the band haven’t really forged their own independent identity or sound just yet. Also, it appears that Thunderheart need a bassist, since Gascon handled both six- and four-string duties on these recordings. Still, for fans of Spanish heavy metal or high-quality trad metal generally, ‘Night of the Warriors’ merits close investigation.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
Return to Pangea
I’ll be honest: Most new thrash bands bore me. Although I dearly love the genre, the sad fact is that many of these young acts are second-rate copycats of the masters, offering up absolutely nothing new or worthwhile, just stock riffs, uninteresting songwriting and bad vocals. So for a newer thrash band to catch my ear in 2015, they’ve got to be something special. Well, the lads in Breathless, the pride of Spanish island Mallorca, definitely fit into that category with their second album, ‘Return to Pangea.’ The three-piece is led by bearded blond guitarist/vocalist Eduardo Moreno, who wails away on his Dean axe while spitting out the lyrics in a high-pitched abrasive rasp that is surprisingly intelligible and manages not to sound like every other new thrash vocalist out there. Moreno’s partners in crime are Oscar Maestre (who switched from guitar to bass when the band’s bass player quit following the release of their debut album) and drummer Joan Font. Although this is only their second album, Breathless have been toiling away since 1999. And they’ve treated us to a very fine album in the form of ‘Return to Pangea.’
What I find most engaging about Breathless is their willingness to think outside the box a bit with their arrangements, to incorporate nuggets of melody and unexpected breaks, without sacrificing raging (and often brutal) thrash energy along the way. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that ‘Return to Pangea’ is a progressive, technical thrash release like Watchtower or something. To the contrary, many parts of this album are like lead track “Killing-Sophy,” in that they are straightforward, stripped-down, basic thrash, undeniably effective but primitive. But Breathless are skilled and clever enough to vary their attack, recognizing that 44 minutes of relentless blasting away can numb the mind and repel the listener. So they’ve included dynamics in their music to keep it interesting, such as the totally-out-of-left-field calm melodic break in the middle of “Introspective Nightmare,” the tasteful and melodic leadwork from Moreno that crops up from time to time, the midtempo trad metal section that leavens “Return to Pangea,” and the gentle intro to “Beyond the Ritual.”
You get the point. Breathless are a band that could methodically rip the listener apart with surgical precision, but they inject enough melody and diversity into the recipe to eliminate monotony and create counterpoint and balance. The result is a highly enjoyable exercise in powerful thrash with a modern, polished production. ‘Return to Pangea’ doesn’t sound dated, but it also doesn’t sound polluted by metalcore fads, for example. Given the massive leap forward that Breathless have taken since their humble ‘Thrashumancy’ debut, I can’t wait to see where they go from here. Thrashers who are not afraid of melody and are looking for something a bit different from the same ol’ same ol’ should investigate ‘Return to Pangea’ without delay.
~ Review by Kit Ekman~
Here is another case of a band that seemingly came from nowhere (well technically they come from Spain) and unleashed a behemoth of an album. Within the first couple of seconds of the opening track Demon In Your Mind, you can’t help but put in some Judas Priest comparisons with the Halfordian style of vocals and the high speed octane charge of their opening salvo. It’s very understandable. However, as you delve deeper into this disc you realize that they have a bit of range in their style and they are far from a one trick pony. Overall I think this sounds more like a Primal Fear overall and maybe some of Mat Sinner’s namesake band as well. Ranging from a very Sinneresque metalrock to the full on scorcher of the aforementioned speed number among others you get a fairly diverse, well written and produced hunk of metal. The interesting thing, Snakeyes do not really sound like a Spanish band at all. I don’t mean that as any disrespect, but honestly this band has a German vibe through and through (again the comparison to Primal Fear here). Bearing in mind that PF is one of my all time favorite bands, I mean that with much praise. 2015 has started with a stellar bang and for the most part it has come thanks to a lot of younger bands releasing their first or second albums that has been leading the charge. With bands such as Snakeyes out there, the future of heavy metal has a very rosy look on it right now!
Choice Tracks – Denied, Ultimate Sin, Demon In Your Mind, Snake Pit, The Cross Is A Lie
True Metal Lives
The Voice Of The Underground