STONELAKE
Uncharted Souls
Unlimited Music production

Stonelake are new to us. They reached out through email and in a week or so we had their outstanding fourth disc Uncharted Souls fully cranked in the car. Reminiscent of early TNT on steroids, the four Swedes have melodic hard rock in their DNA. The friendship between guitarist Jan Akesson and singer Peter Grundstrom has spanned nearly 25 years and, though in separate bands, they both enjoyed success on a national stage. Circumstance eventually paired the two together and with the release of their self-titled EP, Stonelake was born. Two full-length records have followed; Reincarnation and World Entry both creeping closer to their vision of blending raw power and energy with melody and substance. A rhythmic guitar structure, memorable hooks and plenty of kick in bass and drum ignite the chemistry of Uncharted Souls with astounding results.

The band has this chameleon effect sounding like Queensryche in “Pain and Hunger” complete with swirling keyboards and a slash and burn solo to the twin-guitar harmony of Megadeth in “Rockin’ down the Walls.” Their ability to capture attention with beefy riffs and soaring vocals makes the trip to 1988 pretty easy. Even the one ballad “Glory Days” has the signature Scorpion whistle in the intro while meeting White Lion in the chorus. Singer Peter Grundstrom has a massive range growling through “Don’t Leave Me Behind” then winding it up Tony Harnell-style in “Eyes of the World.” Throughout the disc’s 10 tracks and two bonus songs the double kick drums rattle the walls and crushing guitars slay the masses. To add to the point, the six-string playing is excellent echoing a younger George Lynch in tone and dexterity. “(Tonight) You’re Beyond the Shadows,” “Higher,” and the brilliant “White Flame” give homage to the best in melodic hard rock.

Website: Stonelake

MINISTRY
Cover Up
Megaforce Records

Bizarrely entertaining, that’s really what this is. In a rather predictable move, Ministry has joined the latest crop of ‘80s bands to release a set of self-indulgent cover songs. Appropriately titled, Cover Up rallies twelve mostly classic ‘70s foot-stompers with Ministry’s own signature grind. Falling in line with their industrial metal outcropping, the Midwest veteran’s prove their connection with their audience by punching up radio favorites “Radar Love,” “Mississippi Queen” and an almost unrecognizable “Roadhouse Blues.” Rumor has it the band has reached its logical end and Cover Up, piped through Megaforce records, makes one wonder if this is lead man Al Jourgensen’s way of clearing out the vaults. The disc injects plenty of roaring metal guitar with fuzzed out industrial dance beats but lacks the political venom behind The Last Sucker (2007) and Rio Grande Blood (2006). A guilty pleasure none-the-less and as the intro to “Black Betty” kicks in, the volume goes up a notch.

What worked in 1983 for the band still works today. Jourgensen’s ability to take a catchy melody and bring it to the dark side with hypnotic synth samples and intense, repetitive beats clobbers even the heaviest original. Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin” takes on a Black Sabbath bad-ass attitude where the keyboard/organ comes straight out of Captain Nemo’s creepy submarine. Then there’s the demonic ZZ Top track “Just Got Paid” where death metal and satanic blues converge in an all out drag race for your eternal soul. Jourgensen’s sense of humor rides along like a back-woods, doped-out cousin peppering T-Rex’s “Get It On” with the question, “What does bang-a-gong mean anyway?” Sabbath’s “Supernaut” spews late sixties drug paranoia while “Lay Lady Lay” and “What a Wonderful World” settle into more of a new wave techno charm. Twenty-five years of music making and Ministry chose to close this chapter with their own jukebox of tour bus favorites - a guilty pleasure indeed.

Website: Ministry, Megaforce Records

BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE
Scream Aim Fire
Red Ink Records

Last time BFMV came to town the punters were turned away in mass having been told the band was kicked off the tour for misbehavior. Now that’s rock and roll with a two-finger salute, mate. Formed in 2003, the Welsh quartet has been pandering their punk metal and seemingly endless array of catchy hooks and bloated riffs with astounding results. An EP (Hand of Blood) and debut (The Poison) have proven the band a force to be reckoned with joining fellow locals Funeral for a Friend and LostProphets in what is being hailed the new wave of Welsh rock. Scream Aim Fire not only continues in the same direction as 2006’s The Poison, but sonic blows it away. The confidence within the record’s eleven tracks pours out of every inch from the thunder drums of the title cut “Scream Aim Fire” to the beefy riff of “Forever and Always.” Where their last opus was somewhere between emo and metalcore Scream goes right for the throat with chunks of old school thrash and power metal. Even the ballads have huge, hairy balls.

Think Dragonforce meets Firewind as “Eye of the Strom” and “Take It out on Me” blow out your speakers pitting blazing guitar riffs against railroad bass lines. “Hearts Burst into Fire,” the first of two ballads begins gentle enough only to be sideswiped by a converging of rhythm and lead guitarists fighting for top position. Vocalist Matt Tuck establishes himself as an A-list singer that can take on the gorgeous melodies of “Deliver Us from Evil” with the growl of a werewolf in “Waking the Demon.” His shake up between clean and throaty vocals are going to catch heat from their hardcore following but actually do justice to their current progressive style. The comparison to Metallica and specifically James Hetfield has merit but in no way compromises the band’s sound. It’s honestly a bit refreshing but does shadow “Say Goodnight” and “Last to Know.” Ultimately it’s the songs that hold this together. Fans will have their opinions but as it is with most sophomore record – give it time to grow, you’ll be surprised.

Website: Bullet for My Valentine, Red Ink Records

JOSH’S APPLETREE
Down In the Gutter (EP)
Independent Release

Sweden’s blues laden, classic rocker’s Josh’s Appletree sent us over their latest and greatest in the form of a two track EP. Those who have been regulars to their MySpace page are familiar with the band’s Uriah Heep meets Deep Purple ‘70s sound in the excellent “Cold Hearted Woman” and their cover of Mountain’s “Blood of the Sun” and Robin Trower’s “Day of the Eagle.” Hot off the desk of their most recent studio session the quartet lock and load with another raging stomper called “Down in the Gutter.” It’s simple 4/4 blues with some real meat on the bass (Jugge Lindhult) and drums (Håkan Hawk Brunnquist). About 1:42 in, the guitar lights the whole thing on fire with a touch of Montrose over a heavy Jon Lord organ. Second track “Should Have Know Better” proves what an amazing find singer Markus Berglund is. He clearly rises as the star over a muted production cutting through the wool with passion and force. Hammond player John Lindholm takes a prominent role from start to end laying the rhythm structure while guitarist/lap steel player Hawkan muscles in with some serious chops, blinding slide and a quintessential solo. Josh’s Appletree are mere moments away from the big time and hopefully 2008 will bring their debut to your local music vendor.

Website: Josh's Appletree

THE YOUNG WEREWOLVES
Cheat the Devil
Independent Release

Philly’s demonic moonchasers are back with their second full-length disc, Cheating the Devil. The trios brand of Rockabilly, Punk, Psychobilly, Garage rock'n'roll may not cut any new ground but is an addictive party raveup if there ever was one. House rouser “Hollywood” has an edge of surf with old Concrete Blonde in the rhythm section. Nick Falcon’s guitar work is stellar in his genre keeping both tone and texture interesting and full. Personally satisfying, “Mischief Night” has a similar pull with Dana Kain’s voice growling from start to finish and a chorus that’s built around ‘70s NYC punk. Thirteen tracks to chose from, all budding with Ramones flavor and Buddy Holly licks make it difficult to nail one down, however #5 “Run Away” keeps calling us back. Maybe it’s the signature Kain bass riff or the Johnny Wolf shuffle; regardless it finds its place in the deep, dark recesses of the cerebral cortex and won’t go away.

Batman/Star Trek and horror film star Sid Haig is the record’s producer and is featured as the narrator for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (as well as on the cover – as the devil). His voice lends itself to the music vibe in a campy though sinister way and introduces the more cinematic second half of the record. Where “Devil Dancer Girl” and “Cheatin’ the Devil” are grease rockers, “Gala Monster Rally,” “Satan’s Daughter” and “Touched by a Demon” are garagey horror soundtracks less than three-minutes long. A low-fi production keeps the experience vintage and austere. The westerned-themed rockabilly of “Gun, Gun. Guns” is a sure fire radio gem while ‘80s dance teaser “Shapeshifter” bounce around like a B-52s outtake. “Tattooed Aliens” is as bizarre as its title - a combination of Twilight Zone and Lost in Space all tangled up in twisted heap of psychobilly. Buried at the end is a hipshakin’ cover of Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the Wolf” just for fun.

Website: The Young Werewolves

A THOUSAND KNIVES OF FIRE
The Last Train To Scornsville
Small Stone Records

All though they claim to be “born in the northland” as opening track “One Eyed Jack” bellows, clearly A Thousand Knives of Fire are more southern than alligator slime. Two thirds of Jersey’s Halfway To Gone (HTG) including guitarist Lee Stuart and drummer Dan Gollin make up this new endeavor with backup sticksman Bob Pantella (Monster Magnet, Raging Slab), bassist Taj Briggles and second guitarist Paul Wiegand. On hiatus from HTG the guts of this band are looking for a ‘70s retro vehicle to feed the almighty riff demons. As the record gets going it’s Nugent-meets-Skynyrd where layers of fuzz rumble under hollow body thunder. Stuart’s voice, though not distinctly charismatic, gets the job done as he tells the tale of the Jersey devil in “Leeds County Devil.” Funking it up is the Clutch-like thumper “Hey Buddy” that gallops head long into a Dixie-fried “She’s Yours.” Slowing it down is the pile driving groover “Nothing In Life’s For Free – a sonic five minute Sabbath baked masterpiece that sounds oh, so sweet fully cranked.

Old school to the core, the band separates the disc into side one and side two. Side two makes a quick change into the wooly stoner “The Last Train to Scornsville,” a story about an ex-con lost in hobo hell with some serious low-fi solo leads and a wicked-ass harp bleeding through. Then we drift into a sludgy doom-filled instrumental “Yeah Part 2/ Thanks For Negeven” and spaced-out feedback of “Hold Your Nose” as the listener sinks into a thick musical plasma of drone only to be saved at the last minute by the extended “Yeah Part 1.” Picking up a bit of COC “The Day After” proves less experimental sticking to a bass line and allowing the guitar to embrace the melody. The harp and the occasional banshee yell add texture to the seven-minute plus instrumental. An extended “Untitled” track of noodleing, head tripping meandering and down-tuning leaves us in an ethereal quasi-meditative state.

Website: Small Stone Records

GIDEON SMITH AND THE DIXIE DAMNED
South of the Moon
Small Stone Records

Charlotte’s outlaw gentleman (and ex-Antiseen roadie) Gideon Smith returns with his band of hells angels, the Dixie Damned, for their second opus in seven years. The man is indeed the real deal and with the sledgehammer rain dance of “Save A Dollar For The Dead” and the grinding biker beater “Way of the Outlaw,” Gid continues to embrace his Jim Morrison/Elvis persona. His voice creeps out of the grave and breathes dusty life into all 13 tracks that mix Goth, Country, Doom, Blues, Psychedelic and the occasional Native American flare into a fine ground pile of southern blend. Straight-ahead rockers “Indian Larry,” “Magic Queen” and “Blacklight Wizard Poster” still echo early Cult but with a razors edge that slices through and pretension and goes straight for legitimate originality. Structurally the songs never feel boxed in or trapped by genre tags, so the desert ballad “Daughter Of The Moon” sits easily next to the delta blues “Black Cat Road”. Just follow the bass and drum.

That same self-assured rhythm section is the fuel behind “The Wolf Will Survive.” While the guitar finds a dirty grease rocker grove that burst into a high-octane solo, all the while the backend just keeps coming. A secession of ballads fill up the middle of the disc in what would usually be an unwanted lull, yet for Gideon it proves to be a reflective aura of smoke-filled meditation. “Shimmering Rain” builds on a tasteful acoustic backdrop with reverberating electric feedback while “Lay Me Down In Ecstasy” follows with more of a country desert vibe like a deep track from the Doors back catalog. Personally this is one of those lyrically emotional tracks as the writer reflects on his life. The guitar tone gravitates toward psychobilly in the darker Cash-like “My Darling Black Rose.” Then  “Feather’s Shadow” takes it one step further bringing in a fat riff and haunting Hammond obviously validating the Cult reference. “Devil’s Night” sits towards the end and is the most doom-filled attack Gideon tracks here. Dark and sludgy, it smells of swamp water and reefer bowl, but feels so right coming out of the speaker at full volume.

Website: Small Stone Records

THE AMERICAN PLAGUE
Heart Attack
Freedback Symphony

Tennessee titans The American Plague follow their essential God Bless released in 2005 with the prolific and timely Heart Attack. Bringing back the mastercraft of hook-filled songs delivered in under three minutes, James “Jaw” Alexander (guitar) Dave Dammit (bass) and Tilmon Navare (drums) generate a fresh take on late '70s rock with punk sensibility and a metal soul. The Knoxville-based trio has built a loyal fan base that embrace their southern brand of blistering hard rock which, according to their press release, “packs the power of Motörhead and Black Sabbath while dousing it with the combustible nitro of the Stooges and Ramones.” Kicking off the record with the arena sized “Something Epic” injects plenty of attitude into the slick hit “Made In The Shade” and the dramatic title track “Heart Attack.” The pounding drums, wailing guitar and foot-stomping bass is the perfect soundtrack for rebellion as three-chord punk collides with retro rock in a compact space.

Producer Ryan “Tater” Johnson packs on the beef by pulling out only the essential elements that make the songs memorable. Take for instance the country boogie of a song like “I Can Relate” that takes two-step CMT rock and blows it right out the door. The stripped-down “Big Return” sticks to a mid-tempo melody that comes complete with a fist-pumping chorus. There’s still plenty of urgent air-guitar pub rock like the stuttering riff of “Animal Mother,” the metallic monster “Let It Roll” and the Blaster’s-like “Far & Away” complete with a belting hook. “The Hard Way” picks up where Kiss left off as the most radio-friendly track on the disc. The chunky guitar baits the listener into a seductive rhythm that sticks like glue and will have you singing the song for days. A classic “70s move it’s the cross-fade of “Servant’s Day” that sounds like it fell off the stage at CBGBs while “Last Drop” gives fans a lethal dose of ACDC turning the spot light on the bass before a face melting solo and a heart stopping ending. Nicely done.

Website: The American Plague

SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN
Valley of Fire
Leviathan Records

Southern blues-rock outfit led by ‘80s metal god David T. Chastain enters its fourth incarnation with the blistering Valley of Fire. Stirring up a mixture of Savoy Brown, early-Whitesnake and even a hint of Dio-era Rainbow the disc welts up a feisty combination of blues metal and technical guitar wizardry. Over the past 25-years Chastain has become a giant among guitarists, known as a proficient and melodic player. His band’s CJSS and Chastain are among metal’s legendary icons so it is no wonder that since moving to Atlanta he has cultivated a taste for the local cuisine. As expected his fret work is flawless, turning out dirty, meaty hooks in “Devil in Me,” “Hard Winter” and the stripper-themed “Whiplash Girl.” As with Southern Gentlemen’s past releases, this ain’t no cotton fields and delta twang, it’s straight up hard rock with a southern flare – think Trixter, Dangerous Toys, Spread Eagle and Salty Dog – with enough Aerosmith to keep it authentic.

Bassist Dave Swart and drummer Mike Haid lock horns in an escalating dust storm of rough and tumble fury. They gallop along through the twisting “Snake Flower” and put the thunder in “Dropping Anchor. ” It’s tricky business finding room around Chastain’s swagger but these guys locate the open slots and give the songs that added push where needed. Truly one of the greatest pairings Chastain has orchestrated is the combined talent of vocalist Eric Johns and the shred king himself. For the first time working as songwriting partners, the two dice up some hefty stunners including the title track “Valley of Fire,” “The Sky Is Falling” and the grinding “Trouble on the Road.” Johns’ lyrics give away his influences embracing all the classics yet his own growl gives the tracks plenty of bite. Two monsters are essential listening “End of the World” and “Bitter Harvest.” Both are cut in the same mold as Rainbow/Deep Purple with broad, sweeping vocals, emotional playing and charismatic crescendos. Now, who says rock is dead?

Website: Leviathan Records
 

PRIMAL FEAR
New Religion
Locomotive Records

When we say the new Primal Fear comes at you like a freight train – we’re not kidding. “Sign of Fear” opens New Religion with a steam-filled chugging riff that explodes like a powder keg into pieces of Accept, Queensryche and Metallica. Moving further away from their straight heavy metal roots, Primal Fear have now entered what can only be described as pure European power metal. They even throw in a bit of a concept to boot. The German five-piece has been compared to Ram It Down-era Priest, Iron Maiden and Testament. Much of that can still be heard in New Religion but as the title alludes, they have made a few modest changes, more as a measure of growth. Starting with the muscle, we have “Psycho,” the Metallica-fueled “Blood on Your Hands” and the brilliant “World of Fire,” which churn out riff after riff with piston-popping precision. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers is in amazing form and maximizes his five-octave range with unbelievable power.

The keyboards weigh heavy on this record from the beautifully melodic “Face of Emptiness” to the remarkably dense trilogy “Fighting the Darkness / The Darkness / Reprise.” Hardcore fans might flinch at the mere inclusion of electronic keys, however it allows the band to move easily into a more symphonic / orchestral direction without losing much aggression. Another first is featured vocalist Simone Simons (Epica) on “Everytime It Rains” whose stunning vocals add dynamic intrigue in the same way Pamela Moore did for Queensryche’s Mindcrime.  This track is a stunner and a jewel in the band’s crown. Bassist (and producer) Mat Sinner and Randy Black keep the pulse racing in a furious drive and as with “Too Much Time,” often at hyper speed. Yet the guitar still rules supreme for PF and with tracks like “The Man (That I Don’t Know) and the title cut “New Religion” the twin duo of Magnus Karlsson and newly returned Henny Wolter is unquestionably what we love about this band.

Website: Primal Fear, Locomotive Records

PAUL SABU
Strange Messiah
Locomotive Records

For many, Paul Sabu had been missing in action for years. Hard to find collectables Heartbreak (1985) and the confusing self title Sabu (1980) maybe moments so far in the past as almost forgotten but the man’s production and guitar talents still linger on records by Shania Twain, Prince Madonna and David Bowie. As a singer, songwriter and guitarist Sabu is the consummate jack-of-all-trades. His love for hard rock surfaces in his work with Alice Cooper, Little Caesar and Lee Aaron but he is just as passionate about writing with the Motels, Robbie Neville and John Waite. Strange Messiah pulls Sabu back to 1988, adds a modern production and surprises us all with a classic Whitesnake-sounding disc. Only those familiar with Sabu’s humble start as a teenage disco singer would appreciate his gruff vocals showcased here in “Blow By Blow,” the blues grinder “Fighting to Die’ and “Headbangers.”

Surprises abound when we dig a little deeper with the AOR “Dangerous Behavior” that cranks up the guitars, slams down the drums and has Sabu singing “If you do unto other what you’re doing to me / There’s going to be trouble I can guarantee.” One of the singer’s ‘80s outlets was a tasty treat called Only Child. The title track “Strange Messiah” could have easily come from that opus with its pounding riff and melodic chorus. The mid-tempo numbers “Ashes of Wrong” and “Jack of all Trades” boast a solid bottom end with the drums dominating a thickening thump. One must be grateful the electric drum phase has passed, however Sabu still maintains his noodling solo runs that limit the record’s progression. The Michael Voss (Mad Max) production gives plenty of swagger to “Hey Look (But Don’t Touch) and the cheap thrill bar ride of “Piece of My Heart.” Fittingly the disc ends with the anthem, “Rock Your World” and while trapped in the ‘80s the album manages to conjure up some rather guilty pleasures.

Website: Paul Sabu, Locomotive Records

MEKONG DELTA
Lurking Fear
Locomotive Records

Mekong Delta were one of those obscure prog/thrash bands you’d see tucked away in the back of the import section of your local record store. The price tag was usually too stiff for the gamble so you counted on the store clerk to give it a nod. The first three records were distributed through Enigma but when the import house closed, we lost touch with Mekong’s continued bludgeonry. Evidently Lurking Fear is the ninth platter from the German four-piece, their first since 1997. The only original is bassist/composer Ralf Hubertt whose passion for classical music still carries through on tracks “Allegro Furioso,” the instrumental refrain “Moderato” and the Yes-like “Purification.”

Comprised by seasoned veterans including vocalist Leo Szigiel (Angel Dust), guitarist Peter Lake (Theory In Practice) and drummer Uli Kusch (Helloween, Holy Moses) the band commit to quasi Euro time changes in “Symphony of Agony” and “Immortal Hate (Accepting Prayers of Supremacy).” The music is atypical thrash with an ’80s tin-can production that actually gives the whole thing a cool retro vibe. By the book thrash means song like “Society in Dissolution” and “Defenders of the Faith” are pure fret fests with hyper sonic riffs and mind-numbing rhythms. The prog elements have a complex almost confusing effect, but though frantic “Ratters (Among the Dead) and “Rule of Corruption” ride the crest of the wave as orchestral giants.

Website: Mekong Delta, Locomotive Records

FATAL SMILE
World Domination
Locomotive Records

Sweden’s Fatal Smile opened for Doro on her spring 2008 25th anniversary tour, finally getting them on American soil. Having already established themselves as an effective metal band in Europe with two previous releases, it was time for them to link legions with the US. Live they are a shear force of hair, guitars and attitude. Singer, Blade is a monster on stage and plays to the crowd with each pelvic thrust. “We’re a wreaking ball that loves to have fun,” he told us backstage dripping in sweat and clad in leather. Joined by fellow Swedes Y (guitars), Alx (bass) and Zteff (drums) they fuel their tank with plenty of Motley Crue riffs and Skid Row posturing. The first track off their current release World Domination called “S.O.B.” sums up their plan of attack, “I’ve been a demon and a devil spawn since 1986/ I’ve had a craving for unholy lovin’ that’s how I get my kicks/ Sex and drugs and rock and roll is all I ever do…” Light on the sleaze and heavy on the metal the band pen catchy song with lots of beefy guitars. The adrenalin-fueled “Stranger” the Sabbath-etched “No Tomorrow” and the bass-led “Primed & Ready” are flashback to when rock ruled supreme.

Eighties producer Michael Wagener gives the disc it’s luster and thickness, especially in the bottom end. Both drum and bass lay it down in solid fashion almost taking over in places (Primed & Ready). The guitars have a modern Zakk Wylde-edge with splatters of Slash as in “Too Far Down” and their theme song “Fatal Smile.” Vocalist Blade is an exceptionally versatile singer handling the heavier tracks like a seasoned pro and moving the more alternative “Out Of My Head” with a funky rap. Classic rockers “Straight To Hell” pick up enough Aerosmith to keep it friendly while “Run For Your Life” has Blade finding the groove with a Graham Bonnet howl and a massive chest-beating chorus. “Eve of War” marches on with a smokin’ groove that strikes hot in a live setting. And that’s where you need to find these guy ‘cause live they are giants with all the right moves, killer tunes and ready for the party. Says Blade, “We’ll give you what you want, then take your girlfriend back to the bus.”

Website: Fatal Smile, Locomotive Records