Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, And Unbroken
Sounding more and more like Saxon, Swedens 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 2002s Crimson Thunder with stellar production, twin-guitar harmonies and large-scale anthems all elements weve 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
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. Theres 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 thats 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. Its 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
Staggering To The Surface
Ive been looking for a revolution/so far I havent found a solution is the first lyric oozing from Blackmakers 13-song debut on Kentland Records. The song Revolution with its addictive groove establishes a purity missing from radios 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 20s "Yourself Or Someone Like You."
Some of the discs 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 bands chart topper Double Vision. Yet, theres also the tuned-down feedback of Break that distinguishes the band as their own identity.
All About A Girl, track five, is the records emotional ballad destined for chart success. Potent, pretty and deeply moving, the song has the same impact as Lives Lightning Crashes. The light-hearted Wicked Tongue shows the bands layered capabilities of combine a playfully acoustic intro with gritty guitar swagger. Production on this charmer is crystal clear whether its 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
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 Mans 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 Loris 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 bands ability to stretch out with refreshing intensity. In the later we get fewer minor chords, a melodic thread throughout and Loris take on life in the big city haze and all.
Website: Small Stone Records, Acid King
|ROGER MIRET AND THE DISASTERS
Loud Fast Street Rock n Roll is the first thing that greets the eye when you open up Roger Mirets 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 Mirets second solo release following 2002s 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 thats 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 records 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. Its all there - a respect and love for everything thats past and refound.
Website: Hellcat Records, Roger Miret and the Disasters
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, Millencolins four-piece teamed up with producer Chip Kiesbye and engineer Jim Brumby to deliver what critics are calling their most focused effort to date. Well 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, Moosemans 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 Dont 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. Scotts 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, its no wander the bands 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 Pies 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
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 Virginias 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 todays Candlemass with its acoustically eerie into, graveyard lyrics and colossal guitar sludge.
Entrenched in the bands 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 todays bands including My Dying Bride, Cathedral and Opeth they dont 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
New Yawk punksters, Turbo A.Cs 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 CBGBs 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 cant 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 records tunes, the band stick to execution-style turbo punk to maximum effect.
Websites: Gearhead Records, Turbo A.C.s
Red Dust Rising
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 Cant 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 Skynyrds slow drive, blue-collar rock. With just as much pleasure the band embrace the slower tale of Coal Mine Lung and its 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 McPhersons 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
Big Man, Big Guitar Live
Blind Pig Records
Nothing intimidates this 300lbs+ bluesman. First track in on P. Cubbys 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 Dixons Back Door Man slaps you out of a thoughtless stupor. Maybe its his way of sneaking in classic rock riffs like Joe Walshs Lifes 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 Popas lead solos thrilling the Radio France crowd. Other of the big mans influence can be heard in Time Is Killing Me and the Howd A White Boy Get The Blues. The self-penned I Cant See The Light Of Day, Somebody Let The Devil Out and If The Diesel Dont Get You Then The Jet Fuel Will is pure George Thorogood rock. Neil Youngs 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 Chubbys 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 Cohens 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
Reach in And Get Her
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 Manhattans 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 theyre 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