Monday, March 30, 2015

Air Raid – Point of Impact

Sweden’s Air Raid has a relatively short, but already impressive career. With their first EP and album, both of which were on Stormspell Records, they put forth great songs filled with hard-hitting riffs, catchy melodies (both vocal and guitar) and fantastic musicianship. It was, in my mind, a big blow when the band lost their first singer. He had a very distinctive voice, unlike any other singer I’ve ever heard. With that said, the band’s new singer, while not being quite as unique, is equally talented (just hear how high the note he hits at the end of “Bound to Destroy” is). And his performance on “Point of Impact”, along with the rest of the band’s, makes for a great ride.

This album is a short, but sweet ball of energy. The band is usually playing uptempo, and though they don’t reach absurd speeds, they move fast enough to give your neck a good workout. The riffs on this album are your standard heavy/speed metal affair, with the occasional exception ("Wildfire" has a very Megadeth-esque sounding technical riff that crushes). Though this style has been done many times before, you definitely won’t feel as though you’ve heard these riffs before. Perhaps most importantly, Air Raid knows how to take a riff and a vocal melody and turn it into a hook. All of these songs become quickly memorable, moreso in the sense that you’ll recognize all of the choruses on your second listen, rather than that the song will come to your head just from looking at the titles.

As mentioned above, one of the things that really makes “Point of Impact” so good is the voice of Arthur Andersson. Sure, he has the technical ability, but so do a lot of metal singers. The reason Andersson is so good is because he’s able to channel a lot of emotion into his performance as well. You can hear from the inflection in his voice when he hits certain notes that he’s really feeling the music and providing the best possible complement to it. His voice itself is not dissimilar from other Swedish heavy metal singers, which is also a good thing.

Overall, “Point of Impact” doesn’t really have a weak point. As much as I enjoyed Air Raid’s last record, I’m thinking this album might be better. It doesn’t quite have the same high points, but it’s far more consistent. There isn’t a single bad track on here, and the band is clearly well versed in how to write heavy metal by taking songwriting elements that sound great without overdoing them. There are harmonies, great riffs, wicked solos, upper-range vocals, and just a ton of enthusiasm for metal. There’s really nothing more you could ask for in an album.

Be sure to check out and like Air Raid on Facebook!

"Bound to Destroy"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ambush – Firestorm

Sweden is a complete goldmine for metal. It seems like that country really doesn’t have a weakness, as it delivers great bands in nearly all styles of metal. One of its current strengths is traditional heavy metal, a style played by up and coming band Ambush. “Firestorm” is the band’s debut full-length, and it displays plenty of vigor and energy over the course of its nearly 40-minute playtime. Before you even hear “Firestorm”, you could probably have a solid guess as to what it sounds like just by looking at the band’s logo and imagery. These guys make it no secret that they love metal, and their riffs are just pure, unfiltered heavy metal. Even the title track, which kicks off the record, opens by sounding like a sped up “Neon Knights” by Black Sabbath. Along the way, the band interjects numerous guitar solos, many of which have a primal, rock ‘n roll feel to them. These solos often take the energy of each song to the next level. Though the band can blast away at full speed (see “Don’t Shoot (Let ‘em Burn)”), they often play just a bit faster than mid-paced.

One of the interesting elements of Ambush’s sound is singer Oskar Jacobsson. In many respects, he does sound like your typical Swedish heavy metal singer (which is a good thing, of course). But the more I listen to this record, he actually reminds me of the singer for legendary German heavy metal band Stormwitch. The only difference is that Jacobsson has a superior range, and is a bit more willing to let loose. Jacobsson’s choruses are supported by plenty of backing vocals. Seemingly every track incorporates some shouting to complement the frontman’s more melodic approach.

In terms of highlights, “Firestorm” never really stops delivering. Both the band’s title track and the album’s title track are easy to remember songs that are fun to sing along to. When it comes to memorability, however, no song is better than “Natural Born Killers”, which is a fantastic display of melody and emotion. This song will be stuck in your head for hours to come after the record finishes, which is likely why it is the closing track. It does help when an album is both front-loaded and finishes strong, but even the middle songs deliver. “Close My Eyes” and “Molotov Cocktail”, while not being radically different from any other songs on the album, also stand out as being incredibly well written. While "Master of Pain" is a bit creepier in its overall approach, the chorus of the song brings back the feel-good heavy metal sound, all while referencing Manowar (perhaps unintentionally).

Ambush does not rewrite metal history with “Firestorm”. Yes, there’s a lot of chugging during the verses, some harmonized leads here and there, and plenty of riff styles you’ve heard before. I would even go so far as to call the band generic sounding. But the most important factor is the music, and “Firestorm” is a killer record from start to finish. As someone who has heard obscene amount of heavy metal in this vein, Ambush’sFirestorm” is one album that will remain in heavy rotation for me.

Be sure to check out and like Ambush on Facebook!

"Molotov Cocktail"
"Natural Born Killers"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stallion – Rise and Ride

Stallion burst onto the scene in 2013 with their first two-track demo, which was an energetic ode to riffs and speed. Not unlike Canadian speed metallers Skull Fist, Stallion is one of those bands that just oozes metal. For that reason, their first full-length album, “Rise and Ride”, was incredibly anticipated for me (unfortunately High Roller Records doesn’t have the best North American distribution, so it took a while to buy a copy of this). The good news is that this album completely lives up to every expectation I had. From start to finish, it is one of the most fun records imaginable.

For newcomers to the band, Stallion’s music is driven by classic 80s-styled riffs, a high-pitched wailer of a singer, and incredible guitar work. It’s actually a little bit absurd just how crazy Stallion’s frontman gets with his vocals. Of course, this over-the-top approach is exactly what makes the band so great. Whether they’re raging at full speed like in the aptly named “Wild Stallions”, or rocking out hard on the title track or “Streets of Sin”, Stallion always gives you absolutely everything they have. Their metalness shines through most on “Stigmatized”, which has some pretty strong words about being true to metal and yourself. This song is followed up by one of the most technical tracks on the record: “Canadian Steele”, which references a number of my favourite hometown bands (and other great Canadian talent).

The second half of the record definitely is not as strong as the first half. It’s not that any of the last 5 tracks are bad or sound out of place, but the first 5 songs rock so hard that it’s pretty much impossible to follow them. This is one of only two minor complaints I have about this record. My second issue with the album is that they re-recorded “Canadian Steele”, but not “Give It To Me”. Both songs are absolutely essential, and the latter ranks among my favourite songs ever. Nevertheless, that’s really just an excuse to seek out their other material. “Rise and Ride” stands on its own as one of the great releases from all of the newer traditional heavy metal and speed metal bands, and despite my own bias towards bands from the Toronto scene, it’s easy to say that Stallion is up there with those genre giants.   

Be sure to check out and like Stallion on Facebook!

"Rise and Ride"
"Wild Stallions"
"Streets of Sin"
"Canadian Steele"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Torrefy – Thrash and Burn

Torrefy hails from Canada’s West coast, and in 2014, they put out their debut full-length record “Thrash and Burn”. This is an album title you should not take at face value. While there is plenty of thrashing here, Torrefy isn’t focused on emulating Exodus with no original thought. Instead, their album provides a diverse range of influences. In fact, “Thrash and Burn” is almost too diverse for its own good. While every song has great moments, sometimes it would be best if the band focused on one sound that they do well, rather than trying to cover a broader base of music. One example of this is the track “Direwolf”. Several parts in the song are driven by a galloping pace, with deep, epic USPM-style vocals (or even similar to something like Falconer). This is in direct contrast to the majority of the record, which has incredibly brutal death/black-like growling. These two vocal styles converge later in the track, and while I can’t say I’ve heard anything quite like this before, you can’t help but feel like the record would be a bit more cohesive if the band stuck with their more aggressive sound.

As mentioned above, this release is still, at its core, a thrash album. The best comparison would be to Skeletonwitch, as there are plenty of hard-hitting riffs, and the thrashyness of the riffs is enhanced by the visceral production. In general, I’m actually not a big fan of the production here, primarily because it doesn’t really sound either old-school or modern. Instead, it feels more like a plug-in and play sound, which is definitely authentic, but not quite as striking as if the band had gone for something a bit tighter. Still, the guitars sound pretty ripping at times.

As alluded to above, Torrefy definitely isn’t afraid to go outside the realm of thrash. The instrumental track “Incineratorr” is an excellent example of this where the band throws in both the occasional bluesy lick and the freezing cold black metal tremolo-picked riff. Towards the end of the song, Torrefy’s lead axeman shows off his more melodic side with an incredible solo that at times reminds one of Judas Priest. “Thrashcan” is another song where he shows an ability to really construct an entrancing solo.

Ultimately, “Thrash and Burn” displays a lot of potential. Torrefy knows their way around a variety of sounds. With a stronger production and more focused songwriting, Torrefy’s next release will surely impress. For now, this album is well-worth checking out simply for “Direwolf” alone, but also because it isn’t something you’ve heard many times before.  

Be sure to check out and like Torrefy on Facebook!


Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, March 20, 2015

BAT – Cruel Discipline

BAT is a relatively new speed metal supergroup that hails from the US. The big name on this project is Ryan Waste, of Municipal Waste fame, but the band’s other members have no shortage of experience in other great bands as well. “Cruel Discipline” is the follow-up EP to the band’s first demo “Primitive Age” that was released a couple of years ago, and this EP is the very definition of short but sweet. The two songs here don’t even break 5 minutes combined, but they get their point across very quickly. Both songs follow the Midnight black ‘n roll/speed metal formula that is built on dirty old-school sounding riffs. The vocals are gruff and aggressive, but entirely understandable. There is a somewhat hilarious vocal break in “Cruel Discipline” that is enjoyable just because of the sheer absurdity of it. After all, no matter how great Ryan Waste’s vocals are for this sound, he’s not exactly the guy who should be doing a vocal solo. Aside from the vocals, there is plenty of punk influence, of course, and this gives the band a lot of attitude. The production is outstanding; it really is perfect for this style of music, especially because the bass cuts through the mix well. The sound is not particularly clean, but easy to understand.

Of the two tracks, the title track is the stronger cut, largely because of its incredible guitar solo. One thing I always dig about these 80s speed metal worship bands is that they have phenomenal guitar players who understand how to construct a great solo, and “Cruel Discipline” proves this easily. The solo on “Rule of the Beast” is a bit more frantic, but is good nonetheless. This second song is a bit faster than the first, but very much in the same vein of worshipping Venom.

Ultimately, “Cruel Discipline” is an impressive release. Its only flaw is that it is too short. Perhaps these guys are too busy with their other projects, or they’re sitting on a goldmine of an album waiting to be unleashed, but two songs is too few in this case. For the right price, this is a definite must-buy, but more importantly, it also clearly marks a band that you should keep on your radar for the inevitable full-length.

Be sure to check out and like BAT on Facebook!

"Cruel Discipline"
"Rule of the Beast"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Bio-Cancer – Tormenting The Innocent

Just in case you thought the retro thrash movement was slowing down, Bio-Cancer is here to show you otherwise. Their second album, “Tormenting The Innocent”, is truly one of the more inspired and devastating releases thrash has seen in the past decade. The band wastes little time before they unleash an incredibly brutal and technical riff upon you in the first track “Obligated To Incest”. The whole time, the track is building to the vocals. Having been new to the band, I was pleasantly surprised by Bio-Cancer’s vocalist. Harsh singers are often described to be spitting out venom when they speak, but never has that comparison been more apt than in the case of Bio-Cancer’s singer. He puts any of thrash’s harsh vocalists to shame in terms of how aggressive and impressive his attack is. He is joined by a legion of backing vocals, each instance of which is well timed to create a rhythmic assault.

The vocals are definitely the biggest talking point on “Tormenting The Innocent”, but they aren’t the only thing to enjoy here. One thing Bio-Cancer does really well is play fast. Ok, that’s a bit of a given for a thrash band, but Bio-Cancer turns up the speed another notch above most thrash bands. While they don’t approach Fastkill in terms of the sheer consistently of speed, Bio-Cancer will definitely induce severe whiplash, particularly on tracks like the aforementioned “Obligated To Incest”, as well as “Haters Gonna…Suffer!”. The band sounds like they are trying to escape the limitations of the human body and play faster than is possible. What is amazing about this is that they don’t compromise the quality of the songs. After one listen, you could easily shout along to the chorus of “Tormenting The Innocent”, among other tracks.

It’s clear that “Tormenting The Innocent” will hook anyone who digs thrash after even just a minute of the first song, but for those who don’t worship thrash at the same level, the question remains: does Bio-Cancer really offer anything new here? The answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, you’ve probably heard a lot of these style of riffs before. Where Bio-Cancer does differ is with the sheer intensity of their approach. It’s almost comical how brutal they are. It rivals bands like Sadus who were just speed all the time, but it does it in an even more over-the-top fashion, largely due to the vocals. Though Bio-Cancer always play fast, their drummer isn’t going mach-10 the whole time, and this works to their benefit. He can throw in a groove at any time while the guitars are still playing absurd riffs, and this prevents the album from becoming monotonous.

Perhaps the greatest feature of “Tormenting The Innocent” is its sheer enthusiasm. Every single member of the band delivers an incredible performance (bass included; in fact, the bass playing is quite prominent on this record). There really isn’t a single weak point on this album, and its appeal goes well beyond your denim-jacket wearing thrasher (though as one of those guys, we love this stuff too!). If you haven’t heard “Tormenting The Innocent”, you are missing out on the early contender for thrash album of the year!

Be sure to check out and like Bio-Cancer on Facebook!

"Obligated To Incest"
"Tormenting The Innocent"
"F(r)iends or Fiends"

Final Rating
4.6/5 or 92%. 

Written by Scott