Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hot Fog – Secret Phantasies of the Dragon Sun

Metal is already a bit of a strange genre in the music world, but it is astounding how some bands manage to create metal that is sonically in line with the genre’s sound, and yet take a completely twisted, sideways approach to things. One prime example of this is the legendary Slough Feg, a band that has come up with some strange melodies in their time, but is undeniably heavy metal. In a similar sense, fellow Californian’s Hot Fog are definitely a little bit different from the crowd, and it is likely that Mike Scalzi and co. are a primary influence on the band. Everything from the band name, album title, artwork, and even song lengths (ranging from 2 minutes to 9), show that there are no boundaries for Hot Fog. There is another side of this band, however, which is the stoner metal/rock influence. This isn’t a subgenre I’m terribly familiar with, but Hot Fog definitely brings out elements of that sound.

The only element of this album that might be a bit inaccessible is the vocal performance. Frontman Tim Mitchell definitely has the ability, but his voice is a bit outside the norm for traditional heavy metal. Besides having a bit of a unique tone, he actually sounds like he’d be more comfortable in a band like Priestess. The songwriting on “Secret Phantasies of the Dragon Sun” is a mixed bag, largely alternating between the aforementioned traditional heavy metal and stoner metal. Tracks like “Dawn of the Falconer” and “Epoch of the Tyrant” are showcases of epic songwriting combined with simplistic, if a bit strange riffing and leads. The former song has a great chorus, with Mitchell reaching some of his best heights vocally. Just as quickly as they draw you in to this sound, Hot Fog will unleash their bluesier stoner influence on “Tonight (In The Night)”, and in parts of “By Sanity Denied”. This style is competently played, but can’t compete with the other tracks. The title track manages to pull the two sounds together, and for that reason alone, it is actually the most interesting track on the record. The lengthy “Agamemnon’s Gambit” is worth the 9-minute investment. This track gallops along at a classic metal pace, while also delivering a variety of twists and turns to keep things interesting for its duration. 

With “Secret Phantasies of the Dragon Sun”, Hot Fog has delivered a bit of a bipolar album. The two styles played on this record are certainly not worlds apart, but they tend to alienate the listener who doesn’t enjoy both sounds. This frustration is compounded by the fact that a Slough Feg-esque style usually takes quite a few listens to truly get into. Nevertheless, it is worth spending that time because this album has plenty of interesting moments.

Be sure to check out and like Hot Fog on Facebook!

"Dawn of the Falconer"
"Secret Phantasies of the Dragon Sun"
"Agamemnon's Gambit"

Final Rating
3.7/5 or 74%. 

Written by Scott

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sabaton – Heroes

Up to this point in their career, Sabaton has had an interesting ride. While all of their albums fundamentally sound similar, there is no doubt there have been various degrees of experimentation on each album. Ironically, it is not until the band recorded an album without 4 of the 6 long-standing members that it feels like Sabaton has truly found their sound. Again, this record is not particularly different from the previous ones, but what makes it stand out is that it feels like Sabaton has perfected the art of writing shamelessly catchy songs. They manage to do it in a pretty succinct manner, as 8 of the 10 tracks clock in at less than 4 minutes.

Perhaps the best example of this brilliant attention to songwriting is the opening track, “Night Witches”. The song bounces around various riffs with Joakim Broden’s stellar militaristic, gruff voice leading the charge into battle. The chorus provides an unexpected half-time breakdown, which is unlike anything the band has done before. After a couple of choruses, the song shoots into a two of speedy guitar solos, before a bridge, and then a final chorus. This is an extremely standard song structure for Sabaton, and pretty much every other typical band out there, but these Swedish power metallers are so good at it that you won’t care. Another highlight is the second single, “Resist and Bite”. This song is driven by a wicked melodic guitar line that jumps in and out throughout the track. It also makes use of the band’s undeniable ability to deliver exceptional backing vocals to support Broden.

The band takes a bit of a different turn on “The Ballad of Bull”, which shows them delivering a full-on ballad. This isn’t simply a slow Sabaton tune, but instead a much lighter track. It is nicely placed to break up the similarities of the other tracks, but when those other songs are so good, this ballad serves merely as a disruption. It’s a decent song, but can’t replace the playful, catchy rhythms that appear constantly on “Heroes”. It's worth tracking down a copy of the album with the two bonus tracks because you’ll be rewarded with a Manowar tribute song. If you can appreciate Sabaton’s approach to metal, it’s likely you enjoy Manowar too, and the former band does justice to the latter, as “Man of War” sounds like it could have been pulled straight from “Louder Than Hell”.

Heroes” is one of Sabaton’s finest offerings to date. Its best tracks might not rival the legendary “Primo Victoria” or “Ghost Division”, but this album is an incredible offering of consistent, marching, war-infused power metal. Dull moments are few and far between, and memorable bits are constantly appearing. If you weren’t a fan of Sabaton before this record, you probably still won’t be, but for everyone else, this is an exceptional album.

Be sure to check out and like Sabaton on Facebook!

"Night Witches"
"To Hell And Back"
"Resist And Bite"
"Far From The Fame"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Midnight – No Mercy For Mayhem

It might not be immediately obvious from their imagery, but Midnight puts the fun back into metal. In that sense, they’re pretty similar to Immortal. Make no mistake though, this music is quite serious. Midnight’s brand of blackened speed metal shows worship at the altar of Venom, Motorhead, and Bathory, with hints of some other NWOBHM thrown in. Take the beginning of the opening track, “Evil Like A Knife”, for example, it has an incredible exuberance to it. The main riff has so much energy and enthusiasm that it is infectious. The feel this song gives is actually quite similar to Slayer’s “Evil Has No Boundaries” (not just because they start with “evil”) because the sound is so fresh and new that you can’t help but get swept up by its vigor.

This first song describes the album as a whole quite well. There are fast, punky riffs that would make Motorhead proud, with semi-harsh vocals, ala Cronos over top. The band infuses short bursts of melody to help keep things fresh. The chorus is short and simple, but it makes for an incredibly catchy tune. As “Prowling Leather” starts, you notice the exact same thing. Sure, it’s a bit slower overall, but a bit of variety doesn’t hurt. Again, Athenar’s shouts of the title in the chorus (a common theme on this album) immediately draw you back to this song. Another highlight of the album is “The Final Rape of Night”, which once again brings the speed back up. It might not pass for thrash today, but it fits right in with what Venom was doing in 1982. "Woman of Flame" is the band's best effort because it has the perfect use of lead playing amongst extremely simplistic, but catchy riffs. If there is one song on this album that should be remembered for years to come, it is this one.

Largely because of Midnight, this old-school sound has taken off again, but there are a few reasons why Midnight is superior to all of their followers. For one thing, the production is perfect. Not in the sense that it’s clean, but that is has the right amount of rawness to it. A lot of bands in this style have the tendency to ignore any form of decent sound, but Midnight delivers the perfect balance. The other prime reason Midnight is amazing is because they can mix it up as necessary. While the overall tempo of the album is fast, tracks like “No Mercy For Mayhem” show the band playing a bit slower, but still just as potent. The use of melody (such as the opening lead in the aforementioned track) is incredibly well devised. None of the leads sound forced, and they aren’t particularly over the top either. The guitar solo in the title track is pure Motorhead, with bluesy qualities to it. 

As the album goes on, it does drag a little bit. The first half is certainly stronger than the second half, though songs like “Woman of Flame” and “Whiplash Disaster” are still some of the better cuts. The good thing about this sound is that all of the songs (and even the album) are pretty short, so it never overstays its welcome. “No Mercy For Mayhem” is among the best displays of metal today. It has an influence that is largely gone from the cold, calculated world of modern metal. This album has all of the energy of metal’s youth, and is essential listening for those of us still stuck in the 80’s.

Be sure to check out and like Midnight on Facebook!

"Evil Like A Knife"
"No Mercy For Mayhem"
"The Final Rape Of Knight"
"Woman Of Flame"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Game Over – For Humanity

Evident from the band’s name and cover art, Game Over is a part of the retro thrash group of bands. There is actually a huge scene in Italy with bands like Hyades and National Suicide, and Game Over does an excellent job upholding the quality of the scene, as they stand out as one of the stronger thrash bands from Italy. “For Humanity” is a short, but sweet offering of relatively safe thrash that breaks no new ground for thrash. Nevertheless, it is a well-constructed effort. The production is fantastic: loud, but not in your face; heavy and crunchy, but not sludgy. You are going to be able to hear everything the band does really well on this record. The singer definitely has an accent, but it isn’t quite as pervasive as in some other Italian bands. In “Tupa Tupa or Die” for example, the singer spits out the chorus so quickly that he’ll sound more American than anything. On the other hand, he sometimes shows that pronunciation issue that makes things more memorable. The chorus of "Abyss Of A Need", for example, shows him elongating the "ah" part of "abyss", similar to the way that German bands always pronounce "universe" with the "uni" part very distinctly.

Most of the tracks are pretty similar, but you’ll come across a riff that stands out amongst the rest. There is an extremely technical Testament-inspired riff near the opening of “Abyss Of A Needle” that unfortunately doesn’t last too long. The other riffs tend to be very much in the Exodus vein; in fact, before listening to “For Humanity” I was spinning “Bonded By Blood” and the influence that record had on Game Over is quite obvious. The band does show some love to other thrash heroes though; “N.S.A.” is a vicious 25-second journey that brings back some great songs from the band’s namesake. There are some less serious moments on here as well, such as “Another Dose of Thrash” and “Tupa Tupa or Die”, both of which definitely bring in the more fun approach to thrash that bands like Anthrax had. 

Part of what makes this album so great is how tight the playing is. Though the band reaches some insane tempos at times, the drumming and rhythm guitars are so in sync that you can’t help but bang your head. They do a great job instantly switching between a down-picked mid-paced riff and faster thrashier stuff. Overall, “For Humanity” is an impressive offering amongst new wave bands. The songs tend to be pretty catchy, and the album doesn’t go on longer than necessary. Game Over is definitely a band to watch over the next few years.

Be sure to check out and like Game Over on Facebook!

"Abyss Of A Needle"
"Dawn Of The Dead"
"Another Dose Of Thrash"
"Tupa Tupa Or Die"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott