Sunday, June 28, 2015

Powerwolf – Blessed & Possessed

I’ll be the first to admit that Powerwolf is a slightly underwhelming band for me. On the one hand, they make really fun music. It isn’t exactly thought-provoking, or even all that original at times, but it rocks hard and is filled with interesting melodies and riffs. Despite their lack of originality, nobody sounds quite like them. In many respects, the band is quite similar to Sabaton, who shares these characteristics. Where the bands differ, however, is that Powerwolf’s music doesn’t have much to bring you back. They have a number of great tracks (“We Drink Your Blood” and “Murder At Midnight” come to mind), but overall, it feels like the band has thoroughly explored everything their sound has to offer.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that I’ve only heard one of their other records, and yet it feels like I’ve heard half of the melodies on this album before. One example is “Dead Until Dark”, which has an intro that is almost identical to one of the main melodies in “Son of a Wolf”. Even if the general sound of the album is the same, that’s ok, but it’s a little too close for comfort many times on this album. These similarities are unfortunate because “Blessed & Possessed” is a very competent album.

The primary element that makes Powerwolf incredibly compelling is the lead vocals of Attila Dorn. His voice is similar to what you’d expect a possessed metal preacher to sound like, and quite often he is backed up by an equally grandiose choir. This album does its best to be epic at every single moment, and it usually achieves that, even on a softer track like “Let There Be Night”. Most of the time, however, the band is pounding away, offering up a litany of heavy riffs that are complemented by melodic leads that avoid sounding cheesy.

Powerwolf excels when they’re playing fast and hitting hard. The best example of this is “Higher Than Heaven”, which is far and away the speediest track on the record. It offers up more aggression than you might expect from the band (particularly in the vocals), and is a welcome surprise to their sound. Most of the songs on this album are likewise upbeat, but none can match “Higher Than Heaven” in terms of intensity.

On the whole, it would be unfair to say “Blessed & Possessed” is a bad effort. In fact, it has a lot to like. I struggled with the fact that it’s pretty much identical to “Blood of the Saints”, which is the only other Powerwolf album I’ve heard. The only difference is that their earlier effort is better. For newcomers to the band, this album is going to be a wild and fun ride. For casual fans such as myself, it likely won’t be something you’ll come back to. The hardcore fans, however, will love it as it does great justice to the band’s sound!

Be sure to check out and like Powerwolf on Facebook!

"Blessed & Possessed"
"Higher Than Heaven"

Final Rating
3.6/5 or 72%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hyades – The Wolves Are Getting Hungry

Before there was a new thrash album popping up every single week from Italy, there was Hyades. The band has been around since the mid-90s, but things really kicked off with their debut album “Abuse Your Illusions” in 2005. I have to imagine that this band is largely responsible for the absurd wave of thrash that has followed, simply because they’ve been doing it for so long and so well. “The Wolves Are Getting Hungry”, the band’s 4th offering, is another record in an increasingly long line of great albums. Though their was a 6-year wait between this release and their last one, the band picks up just where they left off.

For those unfamiliar with Hyades’ style, they play no-nonsense Bay Area-styled thrash. The riffs are heavy, crunchy, and occasionally melodic. The band has had a slight tendency in the past to go a bit too far when it comes riff plagiarism, but that issue does not appear here. Sure, this record is relatively unoriginal on the whole, but it captures exactly the spirit that it set out to emulate. In particular, this album has an excess of Exodus-inspired riffs (just listen to the opening of “Ignorance Is No Excuse”).

Beyond the riffs, Hyades is notable for their distinctive vocalist. His style is not uncommon in thrash (a raspy snarl), but his approach is unlike any other singer. It’s a bit goofy sounding, but pretty effective for the more fun, skate-themed thrash the band offers. As you might imagine, playing this style of thrash means that Hyades isn’t always raging at full-speed; in fact, there’s a lot of mid-paced moments on this record. The band is pretty good at these though, in part because of their aforementioned singer, but also because this album is so heavy. The production is absolutely crushing, with the low end (and the bass drums in particular) sounding like it’s about to bludgeon your skull in. The guitars are thick and distorted, not unlike modern Exodus. The band ties this together with excellent use of gang vocals to make things even fuller.

This is one of those albums where if you’re familiar with the band, you know what it will sound like before you hear it. The only real negative is that things can start to run together after a while because the songs aren’t the most memorable. With that said, there isn’t a single moment on here where Hyades does not deliver the riffs. For this reason, “The Wolves Are Getting Hungry” is a must-listen for fans of Italian thrash!

Be sure to check out and like Hyades on Facebook!

"Ignorance Is No Excuse"
"The Great Lie"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Prisoner – See The Scars

Prisoner is a Serbian speed metal band that is unleashing their debut-full length “See The Scars” in 2015 on the awesome label Slaney Records. Before you even hear the record, you know it’s going to kill. It has all of the attributes of a great 80s speed metal album: killer one word band name, vibrant, colourful artwork, and a concise 8-song offering. The opening song even opens with an incredible Running Wild homage before bursting into something faster and more aggressive. Perhaps the biggest surprise of this song (and the album as a whole) is the singing. Prisoner’s singer sounds remarkably American in his delivery. In other words, he doesn’t have a very noticeable accent. His vocals are clear, melodic, and incredibly well-tuned. They’re a definite highlight of the album.

Of course, the main focus here should be on the guitars. Not only do they provide a plethora of classic, old-school sounding riffs, but they know how to shred too. One of the best examples comes in the opener, “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered”, where there is a “Powerslave”-esque clean break with some incredibly emotional guitar playing, which ultimately erupts into something speedier and shreddier. Virtuosity is a common theme on this album. Though the band doesn’t inject it into every spare second they have, the guitar solos that do appear on the album are both fitting and very competent.

From a production standpoint, “See The Scars” hits all of the right marks. Everything is clear and easy to hear, and nobody is fighting for attention. When there’s a solo, it’s front and center, and most of the other times, the vocals take charge. There are some great moments like the post-solo section of “Messiah” where the double bass is absolutely punishing, or the fantastic harmonized leads of "Prisoner". On the whole, the production is executed well and keeps the focus on the songs, rather than detracting from them. For this reason, although the album isn’t particularly original, it is still an enjoyable experience. You can’t accuse Prisoner of worshipping or ripping-off a particular band (though the opening of "Risen From The Grave" sounds like a sneak preview of the new Iron Maiden album), and that makes the record a fun listen. It simply takes a number of metal tropes and presents them in a way that hasn’t been done hundreds of times before.

This album does a very good job of straddling the line of both speed metal and thrash metal. Though you could definitely argue in favour of the latter due to the insane tempos, frequent use of gang vocals, and aggressive drumming, the album seems to lean a bit more towards the former simply because it isn’t quite as heavy as a lot of thrash. Regardless of what you call it, Prisoner’sSee The Scars” is a stellar offering of metal!

Be sure to check out and like Prisoner on Facebook!

"Hung, Drawn & Quartered"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Raging Death – Raging Death

 “Raging Death” is the self-titled debut album from an impressive Polish thrashing force. While the Polish thrash scene is by no means barren, it is always nice to see more bands come out of it, especially when they deliver the riffs as well as Raging Death does. This is not an album of power ballads, nor is it one with an emphasis on tech-noodly riffs. Instead, the band hits hard, fast, and often. Once the opening song, “Space Invaders”, starts raging, it takes two minutes until the band lets you catch your breath, and even at that point, they’re still employing an Overkill-esque galloping pace. Prior to that, their sound consists solely of full-speed ahead thrash. There is the occasional calmer moment, like the intro to “Back To The Past”, but Raging Death doesn’t linger with this sound, instead opting to return to breakneck riffing.

In an attempt to hearken back to the days of old, Raging Death has vocalist that stands out a bit from the crowd. He’s a little bit in the vein of those high-pitched shouters (ex: Fastkill), except that he’s more reined in. His delivery is both more understandable and less ridiculous, and this is a good thing because it allows him to have a unique identity while not being a gimmick. As you might imagine, this also makes the songs easier to follow. The aforementioned “Back To The Past” actually has a couple of parts where the band lets the chords ring out so that their vocalist can get a couple of cleaner lines in (this occurs before he unleashes a piercing scream in the chorus). In addition to this screecher, the band also makes excellent use of gang vocals, such as in the chorus of the band’s eponymous song, which shows a serious attempt at writing something that will stick with you.

Another great element of “Raging Death” is the production. The guitars are incredibly crunchy, and always ready to jump out at you with the next riff. By contrast, when there is a solo or lead, they feel very smooth. It almost sounds too easy when a guitarist is shredding because of how clean it sounds in these sections. Due to the speed at which the band often plays, things can get a bit chaotic at times (see the main riff of "Race of Races" for one example), but it never feels like anyone is fighting for attention. You might have to put in a bit more effort to hear the bass, but on the whole, this mix feels both very natural and very appropriate for a thrash band that worships the old guard. Both from a songwriting perspective and a musicianship one, Raging Death is a cut above most of their peers!

Be sure to check out and like Raging Death on Facebook!

"Raging Death"
"Warrior of Revenge"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott