HAMMERFALL
Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, And Unbroken
Nuclear Blast

Sounding more and more like Saxon, Sweden’s power-metal masters return with their sixth installment of sword and steel. Having stayed the course when bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were fluctuating or on hiatus, Hammerfall rose as a new breed to an older sound. They are credited with pioneering the New Wave Of Swedish Metal along with In Flames and Dark Tranquility and joining outside cohorts Iced Earth and Demons & Wizards in promoting true power-metal. Chapter V progresses from 2002’s Crimson Thunder with stellar production, twin-guitar harmonies and large-scale anthems – all elements we’ve come to expect from the sons of Thor.

“Secrets” starts the record off with Rainbow meets Pretty Maids brooding. A landmark track with guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Stefan Elmgren melding together in flawless unison laying a blissfully heavy foundation for lead vocalist Joacim Cans to build each chorus. Bassist Magnus Rosen and drummer Anders Johansson are an impenetrable wall of thunder keeping each of the records ten songs densely balanced. “Blood Bound”, “Hammer Of Justice” and “Born To Rule” are distilled to perfection with riff-driven melodies, larger-than-life solos and iron-clad chants.

The surprise for this reviewer is in the layered “The Templar Flame” and the epic “Knights Of The 21st Century.” Part Dio, part Maiden the two tracks find a subtle magic in combining storytelling lyrics with muscular picturesque musicality - the latter standing as one of the better compositions of the genre. The two and a half minute Baroque instrumental “Imperial” gives the record some breathing room as does the intoxicating driving ballad “Never, Ever.” Well worth the two-year wait, Chapter V takes its proper place next to quintessential metal classics.

Websites:
Nuclear Blast, Hammerfall

SHITHEADZ (Germany) or XHEADS (US)
Dirty Pounding Gasoline
Locomotive Music

Starting out as more of a metal-hardcore band, The Shitheadz eventually developed a taste for straight-ahead dirty biker rock with fist-in-the-gut delivery. Less like AC/DC and more a kin to COC, Kyuss or even Black Label Society the German-based quintet take their brand of denim-clad Les Paul rock and beat it into your brain. There’s nothing subtle about DPG. With song titles like “Powertool”, “Supersonic”, “Nitro” and “A New War” you can guarantee they are only heading in one direction.

Featured track “Return of the Demon” is the albums prime mover. Beginning with a sound clip from a B-Horror movie that is interrupted by a hefty open chord, we hear the band combine forces and blast through an octane-fueled set that’s unbelievably catchy. Sledgehammer drums, strutting guitars and throbbing bass keep the drive infections. The occasional “stoner moments” in “The Seven” and “Motorjesus” also add texture filling the whole package with a wreaking ball of mammoth rock.

Singer Christoph Birx has that post-Grunge edge similar to Scott Stapp (Creed) in his voice. It’s most apparent in the slower “Burning” which would sit comfortably in a Creed set. At other times his powerful baritone hollers out emotional warfare in the records thundering “Dirty Pounding Gasoline” and the Soundgarden-esque “The Black Days”. If Germany was looking for their own brand of Hellacopter-meets Gluecifer they may have found it in these tattooed warlords. The band goes by the name X-Headz in the US. Track it down – it is a monster.

Website:
Locomotive Music, Shitheadz

BLACKMAKER
Staggering To The Surface
Kentland Records

“I’ve been looking for a revolution/so far I haven’t found a solution” is the first lyric oozing from Blackmaker’s 13-song debut on Kentland Records. The song “Revolution” with its addictive groove establishes a purity missing from radio’s FM format. For the Chicago 5-piece Staggering To The Surface marks a long time coming for one of the cities hardest working bands. Having organized themselves in 2001, the group have climbed a prestigious mountain on the back of their excellent songwriting and consistently professional live shows. Pulling from a host of influences from Thin Lizzy and Bob Seger to UFO their CD stands as one of the finest modern rock record since Matchbox 20’s "Yourself Or Someone Like You."

Some of the disc’s pop-rock numbers including “Spiraling” the guitar-fueled “Let It Go” and the pounding “Not Impressed” have a distinct ‘70s hard rock feel reminiscent of some of the biggest stadium sellers of the day. “Good Day” in particular has a Foreigner feel along the lines of “Spellbinder off that band’s chart topper Double Vision. Yet, there’s also the tuned-down feedback of “Break” that distinguishes the band as their own identity.

“All About A Girl,” track five, is the record’s emotional ballad destined for chart success. Potent, pretty and deeply moving, the song has the same impact as Live’s “Lightning Crashes.” The light-hearted “Wicked Tongue” shows the band’s layered capabilities of combine a playfully acoustic intro with gritty guitar swagger. Production on this charmer is crystal clear whether it’s the meaty bass in “Break” or the mountain of feedback in “Things Get Any Worse.” This is one of those few CD where every song bears repeating over and over. Brilliant!

Website:
Kentland Records, Blackmaker

ACID KING
III
Small Stone Records

Oh yeah, we have been anticipating this gem around the office for some time now. Approximately six-years in the making, the San Francisco-based trio do not disappoint on III. Formed in 1993 by singer/guitarist Lori Crover, bassist Peter Lucas and drummer Joey Osbourne the band started playing local shows with the Melvins and the Obsessed. They released their self-titled debut EP the following year on Sympathy For the Record Industry, which they followed with the 1995 full-length Zoroaster.

While touring to support the album, Lucas quit the band and was replaced by Dan Southwick, also a member of Altamont, the side project of Melvins drummer (as well as Lori's husband) Dale Crover. Acid King returned in 1997 with the Acid King/Altmont split, which was released on Frank Kozik's Man's Ruin label. The following year Southwick returned to Altamont and Acid King found a new bassist in Brian Hill; the new lineup released Busse Woods in 1999 also on Man’s Ruin. III finds the line up changing once again as Lori S. and drummer Joey Osbourne are joined by former Obsessed/Goatsnake bassist Guy Pinhas. Together they lead the charge in what can only be compared to the lumbering tree giants in Lord Of The Rings “The Two Towers.”

All to glorious is the lead track “2 Wheel Nation”, the thumping “Bad Vision” and the punishing “Into The Ground” - a set of bone-crushing, densely penetrating slabs complete with Lori’s tuned-down riffage and caterwaul vocals. The songs find their groove quickly and drag you captive through bombastic beats and deafening rumblings. “Heavy Load” is the most accessible of the records seven tunes. Lethargically doom laden, it plods along with memorizing intensity and the wail of the Banshee echoing in the distance. “On The Everafter” and “Sunshine And Sorrow” total 13-minutes and showcase the band’s ability to stretch out with refreshing intensity. In the later we get fewer minor chords, a melodic thread throughout and Lori’s take on life in the big city – haze and all.

Website:
Small Stone Records, Acid King

ROGER MIRET AND THE DISASTERS
1984
Hellcat Records

“Loud Fast Street Rock n’ Roll” is the first thing that greets the eye when you open up Roger Miret’s new digi-pack opus. True to style the Agnostic Front leader shows no signs of slowing down and actually branches out in a couple places – note “Janie Hawk” for some real honest singing. 1984 is Miret’s second solo release following 2002’s self-titled debut and pinches from the same vine including lots of short, fist-pumping action and lyrics of anger and reflection. It must be noted that this has very little to do with Agnostic Front – the songs still reek of punk but are more power-house rock. Wide open riffs start each song, but with sidewalk swag and tough-guy bravado.

Sex Pistol hangovers like “Riot, Riot,Riot”, “Loud And Proud” and “Street Rock N Roll” are more a kin to Dropkick Murphys’ style than AF – but that’s part of the fun. Miret is placing himself in the uncharacteristic role of observer rather than team punk leader. The guitar-based rally cry in “1984” bursts with muscle chops while a cluster of UK-pub brawlers infest the record’s middle with “The Boys”, “Turncoat”, “Lower East Side” and “Hooligans”. Highlights remain in the risk-taking melody of “Kill For Cash” and “Shot Stabbed and Fooled” as well as the passionate ode in “New York City.” It’s all there - a respect and love for everything that’s past and refound.

Website:
Hellcat Records, Roger Miret and the Disasters

MILLENCOLIN
Kingwood
Burning Heart Records

Scandinavian built punk outfit Millencolin return with their sixth offering titled Kingwood. Fans of SoCal hardcore bands like NOFX and the Descendents, Millencolin’s four-piece teamed up with producer Chip Kiesbye and engineer Jim Brumby to deliver what critics are calling their most focused effort to date. We’ll see how it stands next to Pennybridge Pioneers (Epitaph, 2000) in a couple years. Equipped with a Quick Time movie that documents the making of Kingwood, the disc unfolds 12 pop-punk ditties that affix themselves somewhere between body and soul.

For a punk record this is still pretty slick. Granted the guitars are turned up and the frantic, break-neck pace is still intact but amazingly catchy choral arrangements remove some of the angst leaving behind the well-crafted “Stalemate” and “Ray”. There is still plenty of skateboard punk in “Farewell My Hell,” the killer “Biftek Supernova” and crowd favorite “Simple Twist of Hate” where drummer Fredrik Larzon destroys his kit with non-stop flailing. Green Day riffs fill up “Birdie”, “My Name Is Golden” and “Cash Or Clash” yet the progressive bits like “Hard Times”, “Mooseman’s Jukebox” and the delicious “Novo” have the band moving from street punk to MTV heroes.

Websites:
Burning Heart Records, Millencolin

THE GOLDEN GODS
The Thorny Crown of Rock and Roll
24 Hour Records

It was only a matter of time that the US would try its hand at what the Swedes have already perfected. In The Golden Gods we have a retro San Francisco trio trying to be the Hellacopters with a bit of disco thrown in. The thing is – it works really well. TGG describe them selves as Humble Pie meets Grand Funk Railroad meets Ike and Tina Turner. Their live show draws comparisons to The Bellrays and The Datsuns. So what really happens when you stick the disc into your player and hit play? A whole lot of rock n roll!

“Even I Don’t Know” plugs in with a ton of feedback where UK native Simon Scott is doing his best three-chord power swag. Flamboyant bassist Iowan “Dynamite Dan” Trilk drops in the bands funky groove while drummer Shelton Richards holds it all to the floor. Having played out for some three years the boys have locked in on a chemistry that works. Scott’s Steve Marriott-like voice is the right match for his tough-edged chops. And to get the authenticity of pure ‘70s rock we hear plenty of cowbell and sassy background singers.

With ten tracks, each as catchy as the next one, it’s no wander the band’s borrowed Cameron Crowe's tag “The Golden Gods of Rock.” From the keyboard, bass-driven melody of “Dynamite Lady” to the cocky “Rock and Roll Salvation” this record sounds like someone dug up a band that had been hidden for 30 years. Amidst the onslaught of Nugent riffs, BÖC cowbell and Styx organ is some serious songwriting. “Midas Touch”, “Un-Ltd Baby” and Pie’s 30-days in the hole-inspired “Stone Fox” put a fresh face on old format. For a flash of polyester, disco balls and serious cock-rock check these guys out.

Website:
The Golden Gods

CANDLEMASS
Candlemass
Nuclear Blast

Considered the founders of modern doom metal, Candlemass return with their first cohesive undertaking in six years. Their dark career, spanning nearly 20 years, has seen its share of ups and downs. After their critically claimed breakthrough Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986) the Scandinavian five-piece released a succession of quality doom-laden masterpieces including Nightfall (1987), Ancient Dreams (1988) and Tales of Creation (1989). All paid tribute to the mighty Sabbath, but also saw elements of underground bands like Chicago-based Trouble and Virginia’s Pentagram seep into their arrangements.

The ‘90s marked a very chaotic period for the band. Though they continued to release quality material their ever changing lineup and thinning fan-based sent them back to the underground. It was the wedding of guitarist Mats Björkman that brought the return of the band back to the masses. This, their first self-titled record, Candlemass marks the return of the operatic bellowing of vocalist Messiah Marcolin, the somber plodding of drummer Jan Lindth and bassist Leif Edling, and is fueled by the double-guitar edge of Lars Johansson and Mats Björkman. “The Day And The Night” through reserved to the very end of the disc, defines today’s Candlemass with it’s acoustically eerie into, graveyard lyrics and colossal guitar sludge.

Entrenched in the band’s sound is the density of their collective maturity. Dueling guitars with eloquent solos fill “Black Dwarf”, “Spellbreaker” and “Witches.” Yet the heavy hand of doom makes stylish landmarks out of the Sabbath tribute “Copernicus”, “Seven Silver Keys” and “Assassin Of The Light.” Though Candlemass has influenced a number of today’s bands including My Dying Bride, Cathedral and Opeth they don’t try to rewrite the book of their legacy – they are sticking to what they do best. The instrumental “The Man Who Fell From The Sky” and bonus-track “Mars and Volcanos are just the masterpieces we would expect - riffage-by-the-ton, dark and doomy, brutally heavy!

Websites:
Nuclear Blast, Candlemass

THE TURBO A.C.’S
Avenue X
Gearhead Records

New Yawk punksters, Turbo A.C’s are at it again with a fist full of Dick Dale-inspired surf-puck rock. Avenue X must be their fifth record, second with Gearhead and serves up adrenaline soaked power chords, whiplash bass and hypersonic drums. True, there are only three tattooed warriors but they make enough noise for a whole gang of hoodlums. Check out the late-night western “Fistful of Fury” delivered Clint Eastwood style with a six-string set of notes to the head. In keeping with the theme are “Do You Feel Lucky?” and the piano-tinged “Magic Bullets” - a track that will actually give ya chills. Deep breath! This is the kind of band one would expect to see ripping the roof off CBGB’s every night.

And what about that cover? Known for their provocative use of a certain micro-skirted female in compromising positions for cover art – this one has the muscle in the hands of our favorite heroine – in the form of an old-school Tommy Gun. Ramones-fueled “Knifefight” paces itself with the more Rolling Stone-style “Turbonaut” then the band jumps into the fire with the jittering “Anthem Of United States” which has a chores we can’t print here. The surf-guitar softens the blow on the melodic “C-Ya” and rounds out the piercing “Incognito.” It also brings a lot of charm to psuedo-ballad “I Want More”. Is that a flute in “No Time?” Absolutely, and the texture works with the slam of the guitars to perfection. Using a number of sound clips to introduce several of the record’s tunes, the band stick to execution-style “turbo” punk to maximum effect.

Websites:
Gearhead Records, Turbo A.C.’s

THE DEXATEENS
Red Dust Rising
Estrus Records

Hard rock meets Grateful Dead arrangements is the heart of Red Dust Rising. The Dexateens are four guys who take chunky riffs and tough southern rock, swing it wide with garage punk flare and land firmly in a category all by themselves. There is the duly-noted Drive By Truckers shadow that covers “Diamond In The Concrete,” the harmony infectious “That Dollar” and heavy-hitting “Can’t You See.” Through somewhat turned down from the debut only a year ago, the fully amplified guitar is still the instrument of choice. Legendary garage punk producer Tim Kerr mans the knobs with refinement and gives taste to the arrangements including some nice slide in “Bitter Scene.”

Whiskey-stained riffs in “Pistol Totin’ Man,” “Pine Belt Blues” and “Take Me To The Speedway” reek of Skynyrd’s slow drive, blue-collar rock. With just as much pleasure the band embrace the slower tale of “Coal Mine Lung” and it’s unforgettable line “even the preacherman loves his sin.” Contrasts are the primary ingredient keeping a bit of Eagles, Allmans and Black Oak in the record to stir things up. The guitars of Elliott McPherson and John Smith bring a in certain potency while McPherson’s voice is packed with a whole lot of “redneck soul.” Just as complimentary is bassist Matt Patton and drummer Craig Pickering – a nice set of in-the-pocket players who make the jump from seasoned headbangers to good ‘ol southern boys with style and grace.

Website:
Estrus Records, The Dexateens

POPA CHUBBY
Big Man, Big Guitar – Live
Blind Pig Records

Nothing intimidates this 300lbs+ bluesman. First track in on P. Cubby’s second ever live release is the glorious “Hey Joe” an ode to one of his heroes, Jimi Hendrix. Armed with a dense organ courtesy of Mike Lattrell, the Bronx native attacks his six-string Fender with full confidence and finesse. The track in so intoxicating it is still ringing in your ears three songs latter when Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” slaps you out of a thoughtless stupor. Maybe it’s his way of sneaking in classic rock riffs like Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good To Me” or his Gary Moore-like metal-blues but Popa is a force to be reckoned with in a live setting.

Hendrix keeps sneaking into several of Popa’s lead solos thrilling the Radio France crowd. Other of the big man’s influence can be heard in “Time Is Killing Me” and the “How’d A White Boy Get The Blues.” The self-penned “I Can’t See The Light Of Day,” “Somebody Let The Devil Out” and “If The Diesel Don’t Get You Then The Jet Fuel Will” is pure George Thorogood rock. Neil Young’s “Motorcycle Mama” also gets a sweet reworking with the passionate voice of Joplin-esque Galea feeding the soul fire with her husky inspiration.

This marks Chubby’s nineth record and is a refreshing blend of what one would consider his greatest his. The party-hard “Sweet Goddess of Love & Beer” sits comfortably next to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with unnerving magic One of the more important elements of his performance is his rough baritone and its relationship with his guitar grit - sometimes wild and wielding, other times subtle and awe inspiring.

Website:
Blind Pig Records, Popa Chubby

BONA ROBA
Reach in And Get Her
Independent

Talk about retro classics, Queens, NY natives Bona Roba slip into a set of skin-tight leather pants, crank the amps to eleven and blow through some of the sexiest, hip shaken rock ‘n roll, this side of the Atlantic. Comparisons range from power-house Aerosmith and Stooges to early Rolling Stones. Filling up the clubs on Manhattan’s lower east side, the foursome are seeing their share of Vines/Strokes rejects complete with half naked, sweaty girls and Ramones-styled wanna bees. What makes these guys different is not that they’re re-writing another chapter in rock but the way they are carrying the torch. That says a lot.

Flexing their way through “In The Cut,” “Cunningham Park” and “Getting Down” guitarist Louis “Domino” Abbracciamento and Neal LaFanta swap licks o’ plenty with one edge in open chord mayhem and another belting its way out of the garage. Hometown anthem “Williamsburg” pushes drummer Luc Carl over the edge as he slams away on his striped-down kit while bassist Philip Sesso winds his was around the corner of each bombastic beat.

Just for texture, the acoustic guitars come out on the catchy “4th of July” or get exchanged for a late night electric Les Paul in “Playing Records.” Some of the catchier tracks would be the driving “Givers and Takers” and “Blow” which sit somewhere close to the Hellacopters. A start-stop chug captivates “Hollywood Blood” – the only song remotely western in theme or lyric. All the others are pure concrete and steel with the throbbing bass of “In The Hall,” the AC/DC-styled “Getting Down” and the guitar-hungry, ‘70s-ish “The Slip.”

Website:
Bona Roba