(Rock of Angels 2018)
Much has been written of late about the explosion of talented new (or newish) British bands flying the flag for traditional heavy metal. Monument fit neatly within this category; indeed, a strong argument could be made that they were the tip of the spear, the vanguard of the elite, the leading edge of the wave before this style returned to prominence in the underground. Formed on the streets of East London back in 2011 and including in their ranks a trio of ex-White Wizzard members, Monument have previously released two excellent albums, 2014’s Renegades and 2016’s Hair of the Dog. The band’s album covers feature a hard-drinking, ferocious bulldog mascot, Jack. In keeping with their bi-annual release schedule, Monument now return with full-length #3, entitled Hellhound, whose artwork shows Jack reimagined as a malevolent, fire-breathing Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades in Greek mythology, terrorizing the River Thames and London Bridge. Well done, chaps.
Let’s get something out the way right upfront: Yes, Monument’s music bears more than a passing resemblance to classic Iron Maiden (circa 1982-86). Yes, singer Peter Ellis sounds a good bit like Bruce Dickinson (and also Edguy’s Tobias Sammet, as a possibly more accurate point of reference). Yes, you will hear parts of Monument songs that remind you of other (principally Maiden) songs. If you demand originality and innovation in your music, then the traditional heavy metal is a genre is probably not for you in the first place. More specifically, if you have a problem with bands whose sound is patterned after the greatest era of the greatest heavy metal band that ever walked the Earth, then you can move right along. But it’s your loss. Because Hellhound is a hell of a lot of fun. The album is littered with catchy melodies, killer dual-guitar lines, a galloping rhythm section, powerful vocals, and well-written songs that demonstrate extraordinarily high proficiency in the art of classic British heavy metal. “Death Avenue,” the truly spectacular “Hellhound,” “Wheels of Steel,” and “Attila” are all superb tracks in the time-honored Maiden mold, brimming with excitement and energy. Monument have studied the masters well, and they’ve got the songs, the performances, and the enthusiasm to pull it off convincingly. Besides, the band have a couple of tricks up their sleeves on Hellhound, most notably with the rollicking pirate tune “William Kidd” that opens the album (if you’re hypothesizing from the lyrical content that the song might remind you of Running Wild, you would be correct) and the Thin Lizzy style rocker “Straight Through the Heart” that closes out the regular edition. Hellhound also comes in a limited edition digipak with three bonus tracks, one original and two worthy covers (Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock’n’Roll” and Maiden’s “Déjà Vu”).
Monument were a well-kept secret in the true metal underground for the first few years of their existence; however, that seems to be changing. Hellhound entered the German charts at #65. The band are booked for high-profile gigs at European summer festivals like Bang Your Head, Summer Breeze, Bloodstock, Rockwave, RockHarz, and Metal Days in the weeks ahead. The success is well-deserved. Hellhound is Monument’s finest hour, and it comes highly recommended as a slab of convincing, brilliantly executed British heavy metal with class. I can’t wait to have my first live Monument experience next month in Balingen to see how this stellar material comes to life onstage. Watch this space for a full report.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
June 22nd, 2018
2. Evil Rising
3. Unholy War
4. Hate Is Born
6. Mortification Of The Flesh
7. Under The Cross Of Pain
8. Straight Down (To Hell)
9. The Mask
10. The Forest Of The Impaled
11. The Scourge Of God
\m/ 9 \m/
Shadow Kingdom Records
May 25th, 2018
1. Dragon's Breath
2. The Coming Of A King
3. Lancelot Of The Lake
4. Forbidden Love
5. Enemy Within
6. The Grail Quest
7. A Dream To Some, A Nightmare To Others
8. The Death Of Arthur
\m/ 8.5 \m/
TOLEDO STEEL No Quarter
I’ve written previously in this space about the exciting stable of British traditional heavy metal bands, young and vintage, that Dissonance Productions has assembled of late. Amongst the new breed, talented, hungry acts like Seven Sisters, Eliminator and Primitai are all proudly carrying the torch and stoking the flames of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for the next generation. An integral part of this movement is Southampton’s own Toledo Steel, who self-released two fine EPs in 2013 and 2015. Perhaps those EPs flew under the radar for most, but they contain some truly killer songs: “City Lights,” “Speed Killer,” and “Alcatraz,” to name a few. If you’ve not heard them, both CDs are well worth hunting down. But what brings us here today is Toledo Steel’s long-awaited debut full-length album, entitled No Quarter, released via the aforementioned Dissonance label. The band celebrated the album’s unveiling with a triumphant, sweat-soaked after-party gig at Frost and Fire London last month, and now the quartet (unfortunately down a permanent bass player at the moment, so they’re not quite at full strength) is poised to take the world by storm.
Three-word review of No Quarter: Classic British metal. There’s just so much of the genre that Toledo Steel gets right. The material is catchy, straightforward stuff, driven by timeless riffs, memorable choruses and downright phenomenal leads. While No Quarter is certainly a conservative slab of trad metal that is uninterested in innovating or pushing boundaries (and god bless ‘em for it), Toledo Steel are sufficiently clever to vary their sonic attack within the parameters of their chosen template. Want a fist-in-the-air, singalong rocker? The doctor prescribes a dose of “Rock Nights.” How about a mean, speed attacker? Check out opener “Behold the Machine” or the simply awesome “Sight of the Sniper.” For a more accessible melodic take, give closer “When the Night Draws In” a listen, as it has just a touch of that Sunset Strip sensibility without sacrificing crunch. Perhaps the driving, pounding title track (and lead single) is where everything comes together most effectively, with a splendid riff, a steamroller rhythm section, and an exceptional vocal performance. That said, I couldn’t help but chuckle ever so slightly at lyrics like “The smell of death lingers in the air” and “Drink from the chalice,” which I’m convinced are intentional homages, sly tips of the cap delivered with a wink and a grin to those in the know.
The best part is that unlike so many of their generational counterparts, Toledo Steel have managed to avoid the trap of merely aping their influences and have managed to carve out their own sound. To be sure, there are moments that recall legendary English forebears, but Toledo Steel have succeeded in creating a record that sounds first and foremost like Toledo Steel, rather than Maiden or Priest or Angel Witch or Diamond Head or whatever. Honestly, No Quarter feels like the logical successor to the Zero Hour EP, continuing on in the same vein and further defining the band’s signature sound. Throughout the 8-song, 41-minute running time, lead guitarists Tom Potter and Josh Haysom dish out a dazzling array of fretboard pyrotechnics, just bona fide guitar hero stuff that is perfectly integrated into the songs without ever being distracting. Vocalist Rich Rutter is blessed with a strong set of pipes and a flair for the dramatic. And drummer Matt Dobson delivers the kind of locked-in propulsive groove that gives songs like the aforementioned “No Quarter” their addictive swagger and their relentless power. All component parts of the Toledo Steel machine are honed to a razor-sharp edge.
In the little red promotional sticker on the front of the CD edition of No Quarter, Dissonance offers up the following gem of a quote from Satan’s Russ Tippins: “Makes me proud to be British.” I agree wholeheartedly with Russ. No Quarter makes me proud to be British too. Okay, I’m not actually British, but this album makes me wish I were. Excellent work, lads.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
JUDAS PRIEST Firepower
(Epic Records/Sony, 2018)
Heavy. Metal. Music. When one thinks of this complex noun, the brain conjures a myriad of
associated images: pulverizing power, monolithic volume, supersonic speed, hell-bent leather,
and banshee shrieks birthed from the depths of Hades. The listener is newly energized by the
Exciter of Stained Class steel, riding upon the Sad Wings of Destiny to meet The Hellion that is
perpetually Screaming for Vengeance. Hereby enthralled on this infinite Hell Patrol, the listener
finally meets and embraces heavy metal's creator and savior. Its name is Judas Priest.
Yes, the almighty Priest is back – with a vengeance on Firepower. The iconic British metal
masters have emerged rejuvenated and seemingly reincarnated on this stunning 14-track platter.
Although not a comeback album in the strictest sense (2014's solid Redeemer of Souls received
mixed reviews), Firepower finds the Priest machine firing on all cylinders with its most inspired
work since at least Painkiller. It should come as no surprise to longtime fans that this is Judas
Priest’s highest-charting album ever in the U.S. – Firepower unleashes all the metallic passion,
power, drama, and emotional catharsis that metalheads so desperately crave. In an era of
retirements and the untimely passing of metal legends – as well as sheer market oversaturation in
the YouTube age – it is extremely fulfilling to hear the Priest sounding so hungry and inspired in
Of course, all bands that manage to survive the literal and proverbial passing of time become
“victims of changes,” to one degree or another. Naturally, after an almost 50-year career in the music
industry, Judas Priest has had to adapt as well; from the rejoining of Rob Halford in 2004, to the
retirement of iconic guitarist K.K. Downing and the addition of Ritchie Faulkner in 2011, to the recent
retirement from touring by guitar maestro Glenn Tipton (due to Parkinson's Disease), the Priest
has weathered the storm. Indeed, they sound reinvigorated on Firepower, thanks in no small
part to the muscular, yet warm and organic, work of producer/guitarist extraordinaire Andy Sneap.
This album is a juggernaut of relentless power and passion, anchored beneath the surface by
founding bassist Ian Hill and long-time drummer Scott Travis. The guitar tandem of Tipton and
Faulkner lend a sense of rhythmic precision and melodic flair to these songs, which ooze with
melodic hooks and lyrical purpose. Halford, meanwhile, despite being no longer able to hit the
stratospheric shrieks of his youth, hasn't sounded this good in nearly 20 years.
Those loyal fanatics who prefer Judas Priest at their most ferocious and eviscerating will
discover plenty to love on Firepower. This album is chock full of crunchy power chords,
consistently speedy riffs, and good-ol' straight-ahead, palm-muted chug. No one could accuse the
Priest of reinventing the heavy-metal wheel here, but there's no denying the satisfying fury of
first singles: the title track and “Lightning Strikes;” the latter tune features a harmonious guitar
interlude and an especially-catchy pre-chorus, as Halford warns: “You're sowing the seeds of a
nightmare from Hell/your prayers and demons are tolling the bell.” The band effectively shifts
between a deliberate groove and double-time urgency on “Evil Never Dies,” while the relaxed
crunch of “Never the Heroes” somewhat recalls “Balls to the Wall” by Accept. “Necromancer”
unleashes the unrelenting speed-metal glory of the Painkiller era, while the galloping main riff to
the infectious “Traitors Gate” will promptly have heads lolling from their necks.
Judas Priest have always been at their best when they incorporate dynamics into their metallic
palette, and Firepower is no exception. “Children of the Sun” may seem like a standard, doomy
mid-paced number, but those vocal melodies, particularly in the chorus, will invoke humming for
days. In the storied Priest canon, there is little that compares to the one-two punch of
“Guardians” and “Rising from Ruins.” Beginning with a contemplative piano-based intro,
“Guardians” builds layers of guitar harmonies before emerging into the majestic and dynamic
“Rising from Ruins.” This song showcases a slowly-galloping main riff, splendid lead melodies,
and one of the most irristible choruses this Atlantic side of the “desert plains.” “No Surrender,
another mid-tempo tune, succeeds on the strength of its anthemic chorus; album closer, “Sea of
Red,” by contrast, is one of the band's most plaintive and emotive power ballads.
Firepower isn't a perfect album, but it's damn-near close; perhaps they could have trimmed some
of the more middling fat from the second half of the album (“Flame Thrower,” “Spectre,” “Lone
Wolf”). Regardless, this is an absolute triumph of pure British steel – and perseverance.
“Chasing a dream as I go higher/playing it mean, my heart's on fire/living my life, ain't no
pretender/ready to fight with no surrender.” Bravo.
-- Review by Jonathan Kollnot
--Tracklisting: 1.) Firepower 2.) Lightning Strikes 3.) Evil Never Dies 4.) Never the Heroes 5.)
Necromancer 6.) Children of the Sun 7.) Guardians 8.) Rising from Ruins 9.) Flame Thrower
10.) Spectre 11.) Traitors Gate 12.) No Surrender 13.) Lone Wolf 14.) Sea of Red.
SEVEN SISTERS The Cauldron and the Cross
A new day dawns in England. It goes without saying that all of us honor and revere the British pioneers who forged this music in fire decades ago. Many of the old guard continue to record and perform at a high level, and we rejoice at that fact. But don’t overlook the explosion of young, hungry, talented bands coming out of the UK at the moment. They’ve studied their Maiden, their Diamond Head, their Tokyo Blade, their Raven and so on, and each one is offering a fresh, exciting take on this classic sound. I’m talking about bands like Toledo Steel, Monument, Eliminator, Primitai, and Fury, among a host of others. Seven Sisters fit neatly within this movement. The West London quartet caused a bit of a stir with a well-received demo and seven-inch single a few years ago, then released their excellent full-length debut via High Roller Records in 2016. Along the way, Seven Sisters have developed a reputation as a superb live band, though sadly I’ve not yet had the pleasure. Now they’ve joined the gold-plated stable of British bands old and young on the sharp-eyed Dissonance Productions label, just in time for the release of their second album, The Cauldron and the Cross, in April 2018.
Let it not be said that Seven Sisters are content to play it safe. For The Cauldron and the Cross, the band have tackled the sacred subject matter of the Arthurian legend. Using Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic The Mists of Avalon, as a launching point, Seven Sisters tell the familiar tale well, evoking descriptive imagery and speaking in metaphor rather than a dry narrative tone while wisely eschewing the sound effects and spoken word bits that cause so many well-intentioned concept albums to collapse of their own weight. Insightful turns of phrase abound, many of them equally applicable to today’s world. My lyric-obsessed friends will have a field day with The Cauldron and the Cross. When Kyle McNeill sings, “The land I sought to heal was lost / Caught between the cauldron and the cross,” in the album’s concluding song, it’s enough to give the listener chills.
This adventuresome, ambitious spirit manifests itself in the music, as well. Sure, there’s a story being told here, but if you just want to rock, The Cauldron and the Cross has got your back too. Seven Sisters expertly explore all facets of the traditional metal canon, with numerous twists and turns along the way. For hammer-down, charge-of-the-light-brigade bursts of energy, the band offer tracks like the ripping opener “The Premonition” (if you can listen to this song without throwing your fists in the air and shouting “The premonition burns!!!” then you’ve got more self-restraint than I) and “A Land in Darkness.” The more anthemic side of the band is featured in the insanely catchy “Blood and Fire” and the galloping “Once and Future King.” There’s even a stirring ballad in the form of “Oathbreaker.” But Seven Sisters save the best for last with tracks 8 and 9, the titular song in two epic parts spanning 16 minutes. Here, the band spread their wings with an unerring sense of dynamics that would make ‘80s Steve Harris proud, deftly fusing the different musical moods and movements together in a way that never feels forced, never gets boring and always serves the song. It’s impressive stuff. Even better, Seven Sisters have avoided the trap of merely copying their influences. Of course there are moments that call to mind Iron Maiden especially, but Seven Sisters are channeling their forebears into their own sound, their own direction. And that’s exciting. Along the same lines, Kyle McNeill has one of those classic NWOBHM voices – expressive, emotional and quintessentially British – but manages to avoid sounding like anyone else.
The bottom line is this: I received my digipack copy of The Cauldron and the Cross in the mail about a week ago. It hasn’t left my player since then, which is a problem because I’m supposed to be listening to a bunch of other new stuff for review purposes. Whatever, they can wait. Seven Sisters have delivered one of the finest albums of 2018, period. The label slapped a red promotional sticker on the CD with quotes from various British metal luminaries, my favorite being Ian Nash from Grim Reaper, who says, “The future of British Metal – killer!” He isn’t wrong, folks. Seven Sisters could well have been writing about themselves in the song “Turning of the Tide,” which features the prophetic lyric, “We are where we belong / Our future is our own / We’re standing at the turning of the tide.” I stand with them.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
True Metal Lives
The Voice Of The Underground