LEGION of the DAMNED
Malevolent Rapture
Locomotive Records

Holland’s Legion of the Damned is determined to make more than an average dent on the thrash metal scene. Under their previous name Occult, the band released four punishing death metal grinders before switching gears to full-on thrash. Winding up a whirlwind of riff-wielding guitars, flailing bass and breakneck drums, the Venlo four piece falls in with such cult classics as Slayer, Exodus and Dark Angel. With Malevolent Rapture song structure, as twisted as it gets, is the key component. Take the opening track “Legion of the Damned” roaring out of the box with a thunderous bass line amid some rather fine Priest meets Maiden moments. The guttural sounds of Maurice Swinkles are an acquired taste. He beats his chest bravely on the more gravel-toned “Werewolf Corpse,” “Bleed for Me” and the pummeling “Demonfist” all sounding remotely akin to Exodus. Stick with them as several of the songs bear repeating to capture the full swing of the singer’s texture.

Guitar harmonies and Maiden-like chord progressions put a very melodic bend to the record’s ten tracks. The galloping nature of “Death’s Head March,” “Scourging the Crowned King,” and “Taste The Whip” have that Death Angel ring with a constant assault on the hammering backend. “Into the Eye of the Storm” slows the whole thing down with a Slayer meets BLS chugging guitar. The elements of hardcore keep it intensely ferocious with only the occasional drift into core metal around the solo edges. Title track, “Malevolent Rapture” reaches hyper speed with a throaty-vocal to match. Bonus track, “Killing for Recreation” gives a nod to Megadeth – remember there is only one guy playing guitar here, ever when it sounds like several. A number of songs do have a tendency to get repetitive. Singular riffs find their home in other songs, yet overall the band put together a decent slab o’ steel. This band is perfect for fans of Napalm Death, Celtic Frost, Overkill and other bludgeoning ear-damaging racket.

Websites: Legion of the Damned, Locomotive Records

KING KARMA
Self Titled
Universal Records

Way back in issue #55 we reviewed King Karma’s debut disc with high praise. The band has now signed to Universal Records and have reissued the Jimmy Johnson- produced collectable with new graphics and superior sound. To celebrate the band’s momentum we are running the review again. Take note, these guys have the right mojo.

Steeped in blues-soaked Southern rock comes the tried and true sound of King Karma. Based out of Vancouver, BC the Canuck four-piece garnered the attention of famed producer/sessionman Jimmy Johnson (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin) who flew the boys to Muscle Shoals and recorded one of the best debuts to ever come across our desk. Combining the astounding talents of vocalist Shaun Williamson, guitarist Markus Wolfe, bassist Todd Ronning and drummer Rick Fedyk the record plays like a lost treasure from 1976. Ringing up a familiar sound both in tone and texture to Cry of Love (due to Steve Melton, engineer, co-producer) we have a blues hard rock band treading dangerously close to stadium superstars Bad Company.

“I consider this CD to be our best rock product since we worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the 70’s,” writes Johnson who was sold on the band three years ago when handed a rough demo. However, shortly after winning over Johnson King Karma lost their original singer. His replacement was found in the dynamic Shaun Williamson whose contribution to songs like “Blue Monday”, “Heaven’s Burning” and “Shake My Bones” make this release as exciting to classic rock fans as outtakes to Deep Purple’s “Burn”. Williamson’s voice runs the gamete from Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner to Paul Rodgers and even Chris Cornell yet he still retains his personal signature. In combination with Wolfe’s inspired Mick Ralphs-like riffs each song retains an element of lasting dominance.

Fueled by a wall of fierce power-chords “Into The Everlast”, “Devil’s Road” and “Mamas Pride” embrace a magnetic groove that capitalizes on a thick bottom end, a blues bass and an element of magic not heard in years. But it is “Revolution Man” that separates this band from the rest o f the pack. Building from an acoustic backdrop the song locks on a melodic subway and rides it into a musical storm with the lyrics, “Rage against the change”, echoing all the way home. Tasteful solos like the lead break in “I’m Listening” the tender strain in “Twilight Child” and the Clapton-esque “Midnight Sunshine” abound. All twelve songs mark considerable maturity in both lyrics and composition. A stunning debut if ever there was one. Big guitars, big vocals and rumbling rhythms all make this an essential release.

Websites: King Karma and CD Baby

MAGNOLIA
Self-titled
Transubstans Records

Magnolia comes to us through our friends at Record Heaven in Sweden. This heavy rock gem is the brainchild of Ronny Eriksson and reflects his interest in the late ‘60s early ‘70s guitar-driven sounds of bands like Mountain, Cream and Sweden’s own November. The disc takes its name from the thunderous Blue Cheer track “Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger” off their second platter Outsideinside (released 1968). Though the lyrics are sung in Swedish, the aggressive riffing and swelling song structure are more than enough to satisfy fans of bombastic rock. There is a level of progressive stoner bits in the tuned down “Resa Utan Slut,” “Natt Bleu Dag” and the sinister “Dalstandsk Polska” yet most of the record contains big open-chords reminiscent of Black Sabbath in “Vern Bestammer?” Uriah Heep in “Torsuunnen” or early UFO in “Stanna Till!”

Eriksson composed all nine songs in the deep woods of Dalsland, Sweden but does recruit a number of guests including drummer Anders "Heda" Hedström whose presence is primary to the rather humorous instrumental “Trollbunden.” Guitarist Love Tholin lends a hand on several numbers as does Jack Vreeswijk (son of the famous Swedish artist Cornelis Vreesvijk). Being recorded as an analog recording gives the project an added thickness and depth. Even solo’s like the one heard in the title track “Magnolia” carry tremendous weight and dexterity. Eriksson does a fine job capturing the mood of the early ‘70s with a hollow or echoed recording, added sound effects and vocal distortion. He’s also not afraid of putting in some tasty funk beats found in the first track or locking in on a catchy groove making “Torsuunnen” a real prize in this set.

Websites: Record Heaven Records

GÖSTA BERLINGS SAGA
Tid är ljud
Record Heaven Records

This unique 7-song instrumental is a progressive return to the extended jazz elements found in early Yes, ELP and King Crimson. Quite popular in the Stockholm rock scene, the band finds their roots in melodic passages that play out as lengthy explorations of a central theme. After several runs through, the disc takes on a variety of moods much the same way the jazz/rock quartet of Al DiMeola / Klaus Schulze / Stomu Yamashta / Steve Winwood do in Go Live in Paris. All 7-songs hover right around 8-minutes - give or take and they make the most out of a push/pull exercise while still trying to stick with the plot. “Helgamarktz” begins with an acoustic guitar developing the melody before a layered jazz ensemble carries it away into a keyboard circus. Eventually the rhythm is reestablished with congas and electric guitar.

Granted, the keyboard gets a little too much attention dominating a large percentage of each song. The Pink Floyd-esque “Aniarasviten” does take a nice journey balancing the cosmic organ with some fine wah-wah guitar. More jazz-based is the thumping “Ljud Fran Stan” and Robert Fripp/Keith Emerson “Svarta Hal Och Elijusspar,” the latter adding a flute for harmony and texture. “Syrenernas Sang” takes a marching beat and bends a psychedelic haze around it, then slices through with a more traditional Beatle friendly pop maneuver. Somehow Schroeder’s piano theme (Charlie Brown) keeps coming around in the melody. The toe-tapping “Tog Du Med Dig Naturen?” and calming “Knolsvanen” fuse new age progressive jazz into puddles of languid orchestration. Much of this disc bleeds over into musical masturbation but if you hang with it long enough you’ll appreciate its quality.

Websites: Record Heaven Records

VILLEBRAD
Alla är här utom jag
Transubstans Records

Alla är här utom jag is the debut disc from this impressive Swedish 4-piece. Changing their name from Klotet to Villebrad, the band concentrate on a series of orchestrated passages alá King Crimson with vocals reminiscent of the early ‘80s band Japan. “Död Barrikad” gets the disc rolling with a mesmerizing swell from the languid keyboard to a Cure-like chorus. Granted all lyrics are sung in Swedish with an electronic keyboard laying down the primary melody, yet the musical styling of guitar, bass and drums keep the keyboards from gaining to much ground. “Both “Periferi” and “Försvunnen I Antipoderna” channel the polish of Tear for Fears in the lush spread of vocal harmonies over a slick, catchy verse. What sounds like a Fender Strat comes in to add a darker texture drifting into stoner territory on the latter track. The funk of “Ingenting” hooks a juicy Tull-like riff with an engaging backbeat throwing the song headlong into a metallic frenzy showcasing the band’s tougher side.

Hailing from Uppsala, city of Kaipa, the group is committed to displaying their range of emotions and textures with a pop backdrop. Somewhere around the album’s title track “Alla är här utom jag” the Japan influence really starts to show up, yet that same pop layering can de heard in several of the other tracks especially in the chorus. “Nu Laddas Vapnen” muscles up a grinding guitar respecting the bands effort to keep it heavy. Progressing slightly into Curved Air territory songs like “Gjutjärnsspis” and “Allvarligt Talat” keep the keys elevated to create mood then use drums and guitar as accents and harmonic punctuation. Ending this unique though somewhat meandering journey is the rhythmic “Kranium Med Minnen.” Built on a melodic core structure, the song does take some rather interesting twist and turns in much the same way King Crimson’s Islands handles its jazzier elements.

Websites: Record Heaven Records
 

ANTLER
Nothing That a Bullet Couldn’t Cure
Small Stone Records

You might not recognize Antler on paper, but their soulful southern rock will definitely trigger something from your whiskey-blurred past. Part country twang with the occasional big band horn section, the six-man team harness up eleven scorchers that come blaring out of your speakers. Three quarters of the ragged bunch hail from the road-warn outfit Roadsaw and equip the band with plenty of dusty stories that play out like an Eastwood western. There’s the haunting opener “The Gentle Butcher” with its fat-bottom hook and sinfully stained harmonies that embrace a razor-edge guitar. They sing about “blood-soaked hands” and “stretching your pretty neck across the butchers block” before jumping into the organ-plowed groove of “Deep in a Hole.” The crash of guitars is elegantly done building the momentum then dropping in at just the right moment. There are a number of chilling moments like the wicked solo that stitches up “Behind the Key” or the honky-tonk piano in “They Know I’m The One.”

As a sextet Antler are full and grandiose - everyone has his part and knows how and when to blow it out. We get the surging organ, the metered bass, bombastic drum and the full on guitars without running over each other. The shadow of the Drive-by Truckers lingers long and loud over the record’s mid-section in “Frozen Over” and “Reminds Me of a Way.” By “Black Eyed Stranger,” the ‘60’s garage sound has fully melted into southern rock, psychedelic pseudo-metal complete with over-the-top keyboards, fuzzy feedback and an extended fadeout. The record ends with the balls out “My Favorite Enemy” and the balladry, “A River Underground.” The latter wrapping itself around a whimsical Pink Floyd aura as it lazily makes its way over the five-minute mark. For fans of progressive southern rock.

Website: Small Stone Records

THE BROUGHT LOW
Right on Time
Small Stone Records

New Yorkers The Brought Low have found their bottom-scraping blues a bit brighter with a country rock blend. Among member changes, births and deaths and several thousand miles of roadwork in-between, this dedicated four-piece move away from their stoner years and seek solace in traditional ‘70’s hard rock the ‘ol fashion way. Plenty of Skynyrd/Humble Pie/Foghat fills juicy slabs like “Hail Mary,” “Throne” and “Vernon Jackson” yet, the band also include inspired elements of Neil Young, The Band, and the Allman Bros. Right On Time spins heads by kicking off with a traditional delta blues-like relic in “A Better Life” capturing a sweaty Black Keys vibe complete with vocalist B.H. Smith’s southern drawl on the lyrics and aided by full band harmonies. “This Ain’t No Game” turns it up a notch bringing in some Black Crowes/Point Blank swagger including a smoking solo dual sure to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Track five, “Dear Ohio” strips it down to an 18-wheeler rumble and a big hook in the chorus keeping it fresh on the brain.

A pummeling rhythm section has tracks like “Tell Me” and “Shakedown” chugging along at full steam while a series of weighty riffs doll up the songs showcasing the band’s ability to write massive sounding anthems without losing the subtleties that also make them unique. As the record marches through its ten tracks, “Blues for Cubby” comes flying out of the speakers near the end with howling guitars and a churning bass line - perfect for fans of high-octane rock at full-speed ahead. “There’s a Light” crowns the album with a return to traditional blues/gospel. While the organ winds up the intro, acoustic strumming raising the tempo that embraces B.H. Smith’s thick baritone. During the midsection, a piano line lies in the background for texture occasionally introducing the crescendo of electric guitar and drum. Right on Time has a certain wholeness to it. The band finds a surprising design to refresh a retro sound, but with time-honored warmth.

Website: Small Stone Records

JEREMY SPENCER
Precious Little
Blind Pig Records

Jeremy Spencer was only in Fleetwood Mac a few short years (from their inception in 1967-71), yet his contribution was enormous. Hired for his slide and piano prowess, Spencer’s role was a primary support to Peter Green. After Green left in 1970, Spencer was the bands only true guitar link to their blues-rock beginning. Spencer grew up listening to early blues artists including Elmore James and is most remembered for celebrating early pioneers of rock & roll like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. His playing style would run the gamut embracing rockabilly, teen idols and surf guitar. After four albums with Mac, Spencer literally disappeared and was eventually found within the embrace of the Christian sect Children of God. The next eight years he released three solo albums through various record companies, but after the late ‘70’s fell completely silent – until now. From Spencer’s current press sheet he states, “I have received many offers and most of them I have accepted or declined on the basis of prayer. I asked God if I should record again…he told me to do it.” For fans of early Mac, Precious Little is literally a miracle.

A return to the fire of Spencer’s early playing, Precious Little was actually the brain child of a group of Norwegian blues musicians. The group bonded with the guitarist prior to an Oslo blues festival and took to recording right away. The ‘50’s-inspired title track with its balladry, almost Steely Dan vibe was the test that set the mood for the session. Material for the album is part originals, part covers yet Spencer re-creates a number of stylings from the traditional steel blues of “Bitter Lemon” to the surf magic of Slim Rhodes’ “Maria de Santiago” and the grinding slide in “Bleeding Heart.” Aside from his stunning guitar work, Spencer’s voice is remarkably strong. He breathes emotion into the Elmore James classic “It Hurts me Too” and though an octave higher than Eric Clapton, can reflect the pain in the country-ish “Many Sparrows” and the traditional standard in the modified “Serena Serena.” The electric slide of “Psychic Waste,” the horn-enriched “Dr. J” and the tasty “Trouble and Woe” prove Spencer is firmly in touch with today and has so much more to say.

Website: Jeremy Spencer, Blind Pig Records

BLINDSIDE BLUES BAND
Long Hard Road
Grooveyard Records

“Electric Woman,” “The Power” and “Gypsy Blood” – the song titles alone define this package of eleven hard rock blues gems from the Blindside Blues Band. The Ohio five-piece pull out their old LP’s, rifle through Pat Travers’ Hot Shots, Robin Trower’s – Live and UFO’s Obsession then merge their three-guitar assault into a defining rock record. Much harder than the band’s predecessors, Long Hard Road is tighter and direct. There is no letting up on this smoldering platter – the second the needle (or in this case, laser) hits the opening track, it’s total balls-to-the-wall monster riffs. Both “Electric Woman” and “Mercury Man” dish out lethal doses of mind-bending leads while a pounding rhythm section drives relentlessly. Cream’s “Outside Woman Blues” takes a raving workup in the hands of these guys making it thicker and more forceful than the original.

Right around “I should’ve Loved You” and “The Power” echoes of Michael Schenker start to penetrate the disc. With two guitars doubling up on the primary chord, a third is free to jump into solo slots giving the songs ultimate flare. Comparisons to Molly Hatchet, the Outlaws, and Skynyrd can be drawn but only on the use of three guns up front. BBB is more about the classic pre-metal sound of the late ‘70’s. To prove it they go for the throat in their muscled-up rendition of UFO’s “Pack It up and Go.” The guitars are unbelievable, in perfect synch and spot on. “Sacred Son” and “Gypsy Blood” move closer to Cactus, Hendrix and Mountain territory with significant density and bravado. The grit of vocalist Mike Onesko keeps a certain rawness in the mix and is delivered with loads of personality. The balance on the production is clean and loud. Best to crank this one! Blindside Blues Band is Mike Onesko (guitar/vocals), Scott Johnson (guitar), Bill Gressock (guitar), Michael Barrick (bass) and Emery Ceo (drums).

Website: Grooveyard Records

FIREWIND
Allegiance
Century Media

Gus G and his merry band of pipers are back at it with another stellar power-metal opus titled Allegiance. Gus, as we all know, hails from Greece and is quickly becoming the “Guitar God” of the decade. The record marks the band’s fourth outing since their springboard launch out of the Leviathan workshop. G is impressive, laying down a Technicolor array of sonic mania from the double harmonies in “Falling to Pieces” to the passionate acoustic soliloquies in “Deliverance.” His thunderous style is immediately attractive, full of hooks with plenty of bite and searing solos – all distinctly European with an edge to the neo-classic era. Fellow Greek Bob Katsionis adds his keyboards wizardry around G as an atmospheric support most impressive in the Evanescence-like “Breaking The Silence.” American drummer Mark Cross (Helloween, Nightfall, Winters Bane) sits firmly in the driver’s seat as he bashes through “Insanity,” the massive “Ready to Strike” and hyper-speed “Dreamchaser.”

Bassist Petros Christo is Cross’s partner-in-crime. The two sew up the bottom end with tons of density. He can be heard in the one-two punch of “Where do we Go from Here” which borrows more than tad bit from the Scorpions “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and the subtle build in the Gary Moore-inspired instrumental “Before the Storm.” Newcomer vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Majestic, Time Requiem) swallows the records eleven tracks with operatic brilliance. A mixture of Geoff Tate meets Rob Halford, Apollo digs deep into the song, finds the essence of its emotion and pulls it out with pure star power. Based on road reports he’s one hell of a frontman. A couple very cool moments arise in the closing minute of the epic “The Essence” where G finds his inner Iron Maiden and completely unleashes a full-on flurry, he does a similar run in “Ready to Strike.” It sends a shiver up the spine every time.

Website: Firewind, Century Media

PEPPERTOWN
Firefly
SOL Records

Peppertown is a unique blend of alt-country rock infused with a slight Bruce Hornsby meets John Cougar flare. Their base roots embrace blues and ‘70s southern rock which makes for a pleasant, if not predictable, mid-western delivery. Hailing from Indiana, the quintet has spent the last year playing roadside bars from Cincinnati and Louisville to Indianapolis. 23 year-old Scott Siefferman leads the band with his nasal baritone and acoustic guitar. He can craft a hook as that’s immediately addictive like the intoxicating “She Runs From Me” or the amped up Bob Seger-like “Cold Hand.” Yet, it’s his candid, direct and, at times, deeply personal lyrics that elevate the songwriting. Joined by lead guitarist Ryan Baker, bassist Keith Eckstein and ex-Pure Grain rhythm section Brian DeBruler (drums) and Michelle D’Amico (percussionist) the five come together in a tangle web of rustic folk and exhilarating jams.

There are the elegant guitar sweeps in “Change My Ways,” the Santana wizardry of “Season of the Burn” and the mesmerizing coaching of “Alone Again” where Siefferman vocals meet layered harmonies that drip like honey over a keyboard ripple. Strong elements of ‘70s icons Firefall, Ambrosia and early Wings find their rhythmic patter in songs like “Firefly” and the jingling swagger of “Peppertown Road.” A wiry sense of humor bonds “Tractor Wreckin’ Blues,” “My Addictions” and “Life is Flyin” with a chemistry of soulful charm and roll-licking rumble. Over 11-tracks, the five-piece showcase some serious chops proving to be well-rehearsed instrumentalists as well as unique and original in their songwriting. Funny how even in their darkest, bluesy moments Peppertown still conjure up memories of the Smithereens and BoDeans.

Website: Peppertown

"DEMONS"
(Her Name Was) Tragedy
Alaska Productions

Our friends from Stockholm, the "Demons" sneak out their much-anticipated four-track EP just before the close of the year and right in time for Christmas. (Her Name Was) Tragedy is a flashy look under the hood as to what the boys have in store for 2007. Trimmed down to a three-piece after the departure of guitarist Stefan Jonsson in 2005, the band were left to knock about a number of ditties, hone their skills and prime up for a swath through Europe last summer. Shifting their weight around has got them itching to get out on the road after the first of the year and put the “power’ back in power-trio. Purveyors of the MC5/Stooges attack, the greasy hot rod kings prove they’ve still got plenty of combustion in their engine as the guitar grinds out a gruff riff in the opening track “(Her Name Was) Tragedy.” Catchy and full of muscle, the song plays out like a silver screen movie. Act one is a tasty lick to whet the appetite; act two brings in the drums and bass with a tuneful chorus. Act three is the debutante of danger herself, Tragedy, swinging to a punk-infused pop classic.

“Way Of The Dice” comes charging in with full frontal guitars. Drummer Micke Jacobsson makes his presence known pounding ferociously on the kit and riding the high-hat for all its worth. Guitarist/vocals Mathias Carlsson locks down a solid Steve Jones-riff giving bassist Tristan Jeanneau lots of room to move around. His fills rattle like a sidewinder in heat. “Situation” follows suite coming as close as these greasers are going to get to edgy pop. Carlsson’s rhythm guitar fuels the number as it rounds the bend, then gets stoked with some crackling solo work. Never one to lack passion, his husky voice makes the most out of every syllable then asks the question, “Where have all the boot boys gone?” A sirens call echoes out of the speakers as the final track “Police on my Back” rings in. Mad Micke is at it again as his relentless pounding sets pace with TJ’s throbbing bass. Hep Cat Matt’s guitar bolsters the chugging rhythm with plenty of start-stop action. Four songs are just enough to convince us that greatness is on its way. Watch the band unleash their full-length disc Ace In The Hole early next year.

Website: "Demons"