Unleash the Archers
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Women in metal tend to fall within two categories: goth crooners and death shriekers, epitomized by Evanescence’s Amy Lee and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz. There are exceptions of course, as evidenced by the stunning operatic performance of Epica’s Simone Simons, who herself could be considered the pinnacle of yet another category of female metal vocalist: symphonic opera, of which the metal genre abounds. Brittney Slayes from Canadian based Unleash the Archers is a breed apart from all of that. Her vocals are powerful while retaining a degree of femininity, falling somewhere between the gothic songbirds and death metal ravens. What makes her particularly notable is the fact that her vocals evoke power metal’s raw power and range, which is decidedly scarce in the realm of female fronted metal. For whatever reason women are quite underrepresented in the power metal genre.
This is not all about Miss Slayes and her exemplary vocals however. This is about the band she fronts: Unleash the Archers and their fourth studio album, aptly titled Apex. This album illustrates a significant maturation of the band and a distillation and honing of their sound. Unlike previous efforts which, while overall solid albums, contained some meandering themes and styles, Apex is a concept album (yet another thing power metal is renowned for) which follows the exploits of a being known as the Immortal who is summoned by a powerful sorceress for her own nefarious ends. Take a listen to “Clense the Bloodlines” which details the main scenario behind the whole endeavor. Heavy metal and dark epic fantasy: two things, like peanut butter and chocolate, which are awesome apart and eminently good together. Unlike the aforementioned confectionary delight however Apex won’t pack inches onto your waist. If anything you’ll burn calories from all the fist pumping and head banging.
Musically, lyrically, and thematically Apex is a tightly focused beam of modern power metal greatness. Every single aspect here is on point, from Slayes’ powerful and emotive vocals, displaying a range hereto unknown, to the masterful shredding of guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Scott Buchanan and bassist Nikko Whitworth tie everything together with crisp percussion and a rumbling bottom end. The end result is a cohesive and exemplary album representing the greatness that the genre, and more specifically, talented musicians within said genre, can achieve. The apex indeed.
Reviewed by: Farron 1340
Release Date: July 28, 2017
While Prong’s entire catalog is classic, these guys have been on fire since Ruining Lives. If you love modern heavy music than Prong is the mother flippin’ blueprint. While I have loved the last couple of albums this is, quite honestly, Prong’s crowning achievement. Zero Days is classic album that doesn’t miss a beat from start to finish. It’s perfect.
“However It May End” kicks off Zero Days with all of the power and disharmonic nature that you’d expect. The band are on eleven as they rip through this one. The title track continues the pummeling at breakneck speed as the band fly their fists in united rage against modern society. Then there is the classic Prong stomp of “Operation of the Moral Law” which exemplifies who these guys are in my opinion. Tommy Victor & co. lay waste to everything on this one with a heavy groove and a vocal and lyrical approach that remind you of the spectacular NYC hardcore scene. “Wasting of the Day” is another favorite, with a catchy riff and some dissonant vocals that offer something new when the band could have rested on their laurels.
“Divide and Conquer” is another damn perfect moment. With a melodic vocal and a great groove, the song explodes on the chorus offering ample evidence that this sound should be pumping out of giant sound systems so that tens of thousands can sing along. This is a song that you can really feel man, it reaches deep and connects.
I can’t get enough of this album. If you like heavy music and you don’t buy this and/or don’t love it the you simply don’t know good music. In the mid-nineties, I would never have thought that Prong would be at the top of their game in 2017, but here they are. Zero Days is the top of the heap for heavy music. I doubt anything else this year will be able to keep up, let alone top it. Don’t miss out on this one.
Reviewed by mark1340
Black Laden Crown
Release Date: May 26, 2017
If you don’t know who Danzig is, then I’m not going to explain it to you. It’s too late for you.
So, Danzig’s most recent outing, Skeletons, was a wild ride. Loathed by most, I kinda liked the garage recordings and felt that the feel of it coincided perfectly with the Misfits shows. Although I dug it for the most part, the lingering question most certainly was “Will the album of new material sound like this?” The answer is no…and yes.
Black Laden Crown, Danzig’s first album of new compositions since 2010, is an odd bird even within the storied Danzig catalog. The production hit me right off the bat as not up to par with where we left off prior to Skeletons. It’s not as garage-y sounding as Skeletons but it’s also not as thick as the original trilogy of albums. The production is a bit fuller sounding but it still sounds like demos in my opinion. I would also note that this album sounds better in headphones than it does pumping out of your stereo at full volume.
As far as the songs go, this is my favorite Danzig album in a very long time. This is a great batch of songs and they are very memorable. While the doomy and long-winded title track leads you in, it’s the trilogy that follows that really sold me. “Eyes Ripping Fire,” Devil on Hwy 9,” and “Last Ride” are three of the best songs Danzig has written since the debut. “Last Ride” in particular is muscular with a great riff that energizes the vocal roar, making it that much more ferocious. All three songs are full of the groove and power and masculinity that made this era of Danzig’s career his most successful.
“Blackness Falls” and the title track display more of Danzig’s dark crooner elements. While both are powerful tunes that plod along with doomy guitars and explosive, spastic soloing (more so on “Blackness Falls”), Danzig just sort of croons across them lending them a darker, almost goth feel. “Pull the Sun” has the crooner elements as well but it’s much more up-tempo, combining both elements well and taking the album out on a high note.
It’s always hard to review a Danzig album. With such a varied musical history, it seems that everyone hopes for something from their favorite era. If this sounded thicker it could easily have been Danzig 4. Although the songs take a few spins to absorb, they are a great batch of songs despite the production. I feel like this is similar in many ways to Circle of Snakes, an album that I love, in that it’ll be remembered for its production and Danzig’s strained voice rather than the songs.
Reviewed by mark1340
The Horrific Case of Bloody Hammers
Release date: July 14, 2017
Anders Manga is a fixture on the darkwave scene. Emerging in 1993 with The Traumatics, he is also the driving force behind The Dogwoods, and an accomplished and prolific solo artist. From his home in Transylvania County, North Carolina comes a heavier, darker vision than his previous incarnations, known as Bloody Hammers. Working with his wife Devalia, who provides organ and keyboards, Manga has crafted guitar driven rock that draws together darkwave, doom metal, and psychedelia, creating songs that range from exultant to terrifying.
For their current release, Bloody Hammers brings together some classic sounds. Fans of the various subgenres of goth rock will hear a bit of Type O Negative, some Christian Death, and a little Sisters of Mercy, among others. “The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance” and “The Beyond” sound much like the more subdued moments of post-Rozz Williams Christian Death, with the latter track creating an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of “Angels and Drugs” from the American Inquisition release. Bass and drums create a dark foundation for sparse cold, digital, fuzzy guitar and ethereal keyboards. On the other hand, “Gates of Hell” comes in somewhere between Rob Zombie’s early solo work and My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult.
What really works for these songs is the truly intimidating emotions evoked by the arrangements. “Blood” opens with a somber, unsettling verse, only to transform into a powerful, Danzig style chorus. While the former creates a sense of unease, the latter is pure power, anger and passion. “Vultures Circle Overland” uses a similar approach. “All the Colors of the Dark” use creepy organs and heavy guitars to build a sound that could best be described as Type O Negative writing a dark 80’s goth song. This track in particular oozes fear, and shows Bloody Hammers’ mastery of their craft.
With their fifth release, Bloody Hammers shows no sign of slowing down. They momentum they build with each album becomes the driving force for the next attack. The Horrific Case of Bloody Hammers is as unsettling as a horror movie, leaving the listener never knowing when the killer creeping up behind might strike. Dark grooves circle until it is impossible to resist, drawing the unsuspecting victim into the band’s haunted world. Anders Manga has earned his reputation as a goth legend, and continues to prove his right to the crown via Bloody Hammers.
Reviewed by Jim 1340
Reaching Into Infinity
Release Date: May 19th, 2017
Some bands take a certain sound and embrace it so completely and immerse themselves into it so completely that they manage to further mold and condense the sound until their very name becomes synonymous with the style of music they produce. They become iconic poster children for their particular genre.
DragonForce is one such band. They have, over the course of seven albums, become known for a sound that is over the top, melodic, and overall *fast*. Some may call it ‘power metal’ some may label it ‘speed metal’ but whatever you call it there is no denying that DragonForce is one of the biggest players in the field today. Love them or hate them (their sound tends to polarize music fans into either category) when you hear DragonForce you know precisely who you’re listening to.
This of course brings us to “Reaching Into Infinity” the British formed band’s seventh studio album. DragonForce has gone through a number of lineup changes throughout the years but one factor has remained constant: the twin guitars of Herman Li and Sam Totman. Once again their signature sound firmly cements this release in the mind of the listener as a DragonForce album. The high tempo shredding and upper octave guitar noodling are present along with their trademark frenetic soloing, which wrenches the multitudinous squeals and bleeps that have led the band being sometimes referred to as ‘Nintendo metal’. The essential recipe that is a DragonForce album has not changed in the least. It has, perhaps, been kicked up a notch or two (at least in respect to the band’s past few releases).
“Reaching Into Infinity” opens with a minute and a half long instrumental prelude: snare drums and twin guitars in a gradual buildup which releases in the flash that is “Ashes of the Dawn” which is everything you could hope for from a DF tune. Things really heat up however with the beginning of the next track “Judgement Day” which is a high-speed assault of melody. Definitely a highlight. Things continue much the same throughout the album with the exception of the somewhat forgettable ballad “Silence”. It’s not bad of course; it’s just not what we came here for. Fortunately, the tempo picks back up with the following track and never lets down for the remainder of the album. “War” is quite possibly the fastest and heaviest track these guys have laid down since their more speed metal leaning origins. It sounds like something early Blind Guardian would’ve come up with. It’s damn near a thrash tune, with the obligatory DF melody present of course. Speaking of unexpectedly heavy, there’s a bit in the “The Edge of the World” that makes use of death metal vocals which while vastly incongruent with the rest of the album proves that these guys are not afraid of a little experimentation.
The album is anthemic, with a triumphant, positive vibe throughout (with the exception of the ballad because… ballad). There’s no angst here, just the joy that comes from lighting fast riffs and exultant worship of the power of metal.
Reviewed by Farron 1340