Monday, November 26, 2012

Gamma Ray - Skeletons & Majesties Live

Every time I hear a new live album, it reminds me why I dislike them. Whether the band gives a bad performance or chooses a poor setlist, I generally find myself disappointed. Add to that the fact that they are long (which is great when you go see a band, but I prefer albums to be short) and I find myself disliking them quite a bit. With that in mind, I was skeptical of “Skeletons & Majesties Live”, even if Gamma Ray is one of my favourite bands. I’ll preface the review by saying that I finally got to see Gamma Ray live this summer at Wacken, and they are absolutely killer live. I was let down by the short set, but that wasn't the band’s fault at Wacken, so this album should be perfect for me.

The good news is that all four band members are spot on. I couldn’t detect a single mistake, and Kai’s vocals sounded impeccable. In fact, his singing on “Farewell” is among the best performances I’ve heard from him. If you want to hear the band live, this is definitely a good representation of them. This brings me to my issue with this album, which is the setlist. Some of the song choices were fantastic. I never imagined I’d get to hear songs like “Wings of Destiny”, “Men, Martians, and Machines”, and “Watcher In The Sky”. If you are a fan of the band’s Ralf Scheepers era, then you’ll also be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately however, many of song choices are flat-out strange. Firstly, the band felt the need to include two of the worst songs they’ve ever done, “Money” and “Time To Break Free”. In addition, they take the two best songs they’ve ever written and turn them into acoustic songs. “Rebellion in Dreamland” was a pretty pointless endeavour because it really doesn’t change that much from the original (but the fast part loses most of its power, unfortunately). “Send Me A Sign” was actually an interesting rendition of the catchy classic, but I still would have preferred to hear the original. One final point about this record is the somewhat strange inclusion of Michael Kiske on a few songs. I know he sang on them originally, but without being able to see the video, it seems somewhat random for him to be popping up on these tracks.

When it comes down to it, this is a record for the die-hard Gamma Ray fans. I consider myself one, but “Skeletons & Majesties Live” didn’t quite do it for me. It is a fair representation of the quality of performance that the band puts on, but it also showcased the band’s writing talents at their worst. The exclusion of songs like “Man On A Mission”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Fight” is confusing, but the band seemed to go out of their way to pick songs that aren’t their best. I won’t ramble on about the merits of the setlist anymore. If you like the looks of it, buy this; if not, hold out for a better Gamma Ray setlist or find an older live album.

Be sure to check out and like Gamma Ray on Facebook!

"Men, Martians, and Machines"
"Watcher In The Sky"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trial Interview

Recently I had the pleasure to interview one of my favorite new heavy metal bands in Trial. This Swedish five-piece released their amazing debut full-length "The Primordial Temple" earlier this year through The Coffins Slave. Read on further to hear about future recordings, live shows, and a little history about the band! 

SFM - Greetings! Could you give the readers who haven't had the pleasure of listening to Trial a bit of background information on the band? How long has the band been around? How would you describe the sound of the band? Who are some of the band's major influences?

Trial - Hello fellow sinner! Trial first saw the light back in 2007 when the urge to create something real and everlasting manifested, thus making us kill all our previous teenage endeavors to form this unit. We heard the call and answered accordingly!

SFM - You released your debut album "The Primordial Temple" earlier this year through The Coffins Slave. How has the response to the record been and is there anything you would change about it? What have been some of the common praises or complaints (if any) about it?

Trial - Well, it seems like if some people like it and some don’t – just like it should be! Looking back at it I wouldn’t change a thing, what was written years before and up until that very moment when we entered the studio represents us where we stood right there and then. With that out of the way we can now start to unravel ourselves for the next thing to come…

SFM - What inspired some of the lyrical themes on "The Primordial Temple?" (The title track and the very epic and awesome "Phosphoros" in particular).

Trial - The beckoning darkness and the urge to explore it further!

SFM - Could you give the readers any insight into how Trial goes about songwriting? Is it a collaborative process or does one member maybe write a song and bring it in for the rest of the group to learn?

Trial - Usually me (A.J) and A.E writes about 50% each. Riffs are received and shown unto the band and then worked on by everyone. A collaboration that works very well for us!

SFM - Being a band from Sweden, how did the collaboration between the Australian label The Coffins Slave and Trial come about? How has it been working with them?

Trial - We first released our demo in the form of a CD-r, with homemade printed covers etc. Somehow Shannon of The Coffins Slave got a copy and liked what he heard, later on he ended up releasing that same demo but on tape and things went on from there. He has been great to work with since he is first and foremost a music fan and the fact that he is doing this because of his passion for the art itself.

SFM - Are there any plans to tour later this year? Any plans to venture outside of Sweden and possibly overseas? Have you played any of the bigger festivals in Europe? What is the main goal for the band as far as what a live Trial experience should be?

Trial - No plans are made as far as touring goes, though we have some shows coming up, for example Metal Magic 2013 in Denmark, so keep your eyes open!

Our goal is to enhance and express the feeling of the music we play with the aesthetics and performance during the shows. To give form to the formless...

SFM - Sweden has been a hotbed for new metal acts recently, with traditional metal and death metal bands being the most prevalent. What are your thoughts on the scene and are there any other bands that the readers should be aware of?

Trial - Well, I’m not sure to be honest. When you live over here you don’t really notice this so called scene that everyone outside Sweden talks about. But yes, there are some great bands coming from Sweden at the moment, except the obvious you should check out: Ensnared, Vornth & Gust. Three completely different bands doing their own thing.

SFM - Even though you just released your debut album, has the band been working on new material? When can Trial fans expect to hear some new songs?

Trial - Yes, we have some new songs that we are working on at the moment. Trial fans should expect to hear from us pretty soon if everything works according to the plan, but on the other hand, it never does…

SFM - That about concludes this interview. Thank you for your time and do you have any words for your fans?

Trial - Thank you for the interview! Contact:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rocka Rollas - Conquer

It’s 2012 and after a short “break-up” Running Wild have returned with their new EP “Conquer”. The earlier release of “Shadowmaker” was just a cruel joke; Rolf really reformed the band under the new name Rocka Rollas and decided to bring us his pirate-infused speed metal once again! Well, that’s what all Running Wild fans hoped at least. The good news is that Rocka Rollas is actually a legitimate new band that has truly captured the essence of Running Wild. Amazingly, all of this music was composed and played (except for the vocals) by just one guy. Musically, their first full-length, “The War of Steel Has Begun” was quite a different affair. It was still an over-the-top speed metal attack, but it was more of a tribute to heavy metal with tracks like “More Metal Than Steel” and “Heavy Metal Kings”. With “Conquer”, Rocka Rollas has turned their attention bringing back the glory of records like “Blazon Stone” and “Black Hand Inn”.

The opening song, “Bloodbath” is the most pirate-sounding track of the last couple of decades. Seriously, those melodies sound like they were ripped straight from Running Wild (and it isn’t because they are, it’s just that their style was so distinctive that no other band captured it until now). On the title track, the band slows down a bit in favour of a galloping approach. After a few minutes, there are a series of fantastic harmonized lead that eventually morph into guitar solos. This is actually one of the more original moments of the EP, as the band use some melodies that I can’t recall hearing on any Running Wild albums. The third track really picks up the pace again, but it actually reminds me of something from the “Death or Glory” record, where the pirate-sounds were prevalent, but not as clear as they were later on. I guess that is appropriate for a song called “Riding The Metal Storm”. The chorus of this track is actually a lot more upbeat than anything else on the album, but the intensity resumes after each chorus. “Steelwheeler”, the instrumental, is a high-speed shredding affair that is the perfect close to this release.

While it is the guitars that work quite hard to make this record sound like an authentic Running Wild album, the vocalist is actually quite similar to Rolf as well. He is certainly very German sounding and is probably the most appropriate singer for this type of album. It’s difficult for me to comprehend how Rocka Rollas can create this sound so effectively, but they’re the first band I’ve discovered. What’s more, this EP is only a teaser for the full-length, “Metal Strikes Back”, which will be released next year (also on Stormspell Records). “Conquer” is a must-buy for all fans of Running Wild, as well as for all fans of killer speed metal!

Be sure to check out and like Rocka Rollas on Facebook!


Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Züül - To The Frontlines

Züül joins countless other American bands on the quest to revive the glory of the heavy metal of the 80’s, and they manage to stack up quite well against their competition. One thing you’ll notice immediately on “To The Frontlines” is that Züül takes a very different approach from the other current bands of the day. The production is thinner, and far less clear than bands like White Wizzard and Enforcer, but the sound comes off as more authentic. The aforementioned bands are great, but it’s quite clear that they’re from this decade, whereas Züül’s music sounds as if it were recorded in the 80’s. This is a major plus for those of you who don’t like metal to be polished, because “To The Frontlines” is actually quite a raw heavy metal record. I’m actually reminded of great NWOBHM bands like Jaguar and Diamond Head in the sheer energy and tenacity of the vocals, riffs, and solos.

As is often the focus with newer traditional heavy metal bands, I’ll start with the singer. Vocalist Brett Batteau is one of those guys who gets by on his aggressive performance. He doesn’t have the range of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, but he has the attitude of somebody like Paul Di’anno, and for this sound, it works perfectly. The guitar playing on the album is another strong point. The Maiden-like leads are prominent and there are some interesting solos; however, the band definitely does not go overboard in this respect. Züül definitely seems to prefer the old-school approach of “less is more” when it comes to guitar solos. Finally, I have to talk about the songwriting. Simply put, it’s quite inspiring. Not every song is a masterpiece, but when the band writes a great song, they knock it out of the park. The last part of the record is the perfect example. After the somber track, "Of The Fallen",  come the two epics of the album. “Bounty Hunter” is a mid-paced galloping adventure that would make Steve Harris proud. In addition, it has by far the catchiest chorus of the record. Surprisingly, it shows the singer at his most melodic at possibly any point on this album. The song slows down and gets more atmospheric in the middle before finally erupting into a high-speed number that eventually reverts to the original gallop. I won’t give you a play-by-play of the next track, but I can assure you it’s almost as epic as this one! In addition, there are a few other gems on this record: “Show No Mercy”, “Guillotine”, and “Smoldering Nights” come to mind.

Ultimately, Züül have come out with quite a unique record for the sound they are creating. If you don’t like how the bigger new bands are representing traditional heavy metal, give this album a shot. Despite what I’ve described, it isn’t musically all that different from these bands, but it is presented in an extremely unique manner. This is one band that is going to be gaining some serious momentum soon, and if they can make every track as epic as the last couple of songs, they’ll immediately jump to the forefront of metal in my mind!

Be sure to check out and like Züül on Facebook!

"Show No Mercy"
"Bounty Land"
"Waste of Time"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kamikabe - Aberration of Man

If there is one subgenre of metal that is easy to mess up, it has to be technical death metal. Since evolving from the brilliance of bands like Death and Atheist, into the more complicated work done by Suffocation, the genre has felt the need to go even further. It feels as if a lot of these bands try to fit as many blast beats onto an album while also managing to spend 40-50 minutes sweep picking with no apparent direction. Why this has become popular, I’ll never really understand, but the good news is that there are still bands out there trying to make quality technical death metal.

Kamikabe definitely comes from the newer school of death metal, but they do everything right. For one thing, this record is short. When you remove the intro and interlude, you are left with 31 minutes of music, including a 7-minute atmospheric epic. The songwriting matches this accordingly: you aren’t going to find your mind wandering during this condensed slab of music. This is no more apparent than in the fantastic drumming of BJ Sarnese. This man is an absolute beast of a rhythm machine. His work is extremely creative and there is some of everything: blast beats, thrashier patterns, double bass (there’s no shortage of this!), and unique fills. Likewise, the guitars are another highlight of the record. They manage to be technical in a way common to both old and new tech death metal. There are an endless amount of riffs that sound as if they were written for a melodeath band and then played at twice the speed; however, there are also plenty of chugging parts that would not be out of place on a more brutal style played by bands such as Pathology. To accommodate the more conservative fans of death metal, this record also has plenty of speedy tremolo-picked riffs. Another brillant move by Kamikabe is the incorporation of guitar solos. They aren’t plentiful, but the fact that they exist on a record like this (see: “The Process Within”) shows that this band has a bit more attention to melody in their sound.

It might just be my personal bias, but I’ve always felt like this sound is one that is more of an “in the moment” listening experience. After several listens, there are very few parts memorable parts, but that doesn’t mean “Aberration of Man” isn’t a great record while it lasts. If you are a major fan of this style of music, this is absolutely going to be one of your favourite albums of the year. I would probably listen to a lot more technical death metal if it all sounded like this!

Be sure to check out and like Kamikabe on Facebook!

All of it!

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott