Fans of 2014’s excellent Promulgation of the Fall would have been hoping for more than just two tracks from these Greek death metallers this year but their new EP Sombre Doom satisfies with quality over quantity. Opening with a howling dead wind of feedback, the first track Redemptive Immolation is grave and doom-laden with a thick, dark atmosphere. After the oppressive opener, the up-tempo battering of Wind’s Bane comes as a relief but is still rich in ghostly gloom and haunting guitar. The songs and riffs aren’t the most original but Sombre Doom is all about the vibe and the execution: this reeks of rain, death, evil and graveyards. Proper death metal if you ask me, and one of the best EPs of the year.
The covers albums is almost always a dodgy proposition but I couldn’t help but hold out some hope for Danzig’s Skeletons. Partly because… Glenn F. Danzig! But also cause I knew the Evil Elvis was going to choose some interesting material to put through the metal wringer. And it’s the choice of material that saves Skeletons from being a total stinker. The performances are pretty ropey: flat vocals, lifeless drums and relentless guitar squealies along with a flabby sound that’s devoid of dynamics. There are dicey renditions of Sabbath’s N.I.B, Aerosmith’s Lord of the Thighs and ZZ Top’s Rough Boy, while a surprising choice, sounds like your drunken Dad commandeering the microphone at a wedding. Dad, stop! But Danzig gets bonus points for doing all these tracks his own way and, when you’ve got Glenn M. F. Danzig doing The Everly Brothers’ Crying in the Rain, it’s hard not to get a kick out of that… however much it sounds like the karaoke of your darkest fears. It’s worth having Skeletons just for that and its opening trio of tunes: Dave Allan and the Arrows’ Devil’s Angels is bashed out in delightfully Misfits-y style; the obscure soundtrack curio Satan (Theme from Satan’s Sadists) is brilliant and tailor-made for Glenn – “I was born mean, by the time I was 12 I was killing, killing for Satan”; and his cover of Elvis’ Let Yourself Go is a stomping taster for his planned Elvis EP. It’s definitely for fans-only but, for them, it’s a flawed-but-loveable glimpse into the great Fonzig’s interesting and eclectic influences. And if you’re not singing “I was borrrrn mean…” in the shower every day after hearing this, you’re a better man than me.
Schammasch’s Triangle is high-concept stuff. The Swiss group divide their latest album into stages with three themed CDs (The Process of Dying, Metaflesh and The Supernal Clear Light of the Void). The three discs each run to 33 minutes and all signify a stage of a spiritual journey. The concept is enhanced by the wonderful box set package and its eye-catching, symbolic imagery (by the talented Ester Segarra). It all screams masterpiece! Well, apart from the music. The album has a befittingly grand production but the music of Triangle is a chore. The first disc is a sub-Behemoth slog and the third disc, while it has a pleasant cinematic ambience, goes nowhere fast: five tracks where the final two would have had the same effect. The second disc is more successful. Its Monotheist-style evil, glassy prog and mysterious chants offering up the album’s hookiest passages. But there’s just too much padding throughout. And treating each disc as a separate album doesn’t help either when two of them are such a slog. The scale of the project keeps me returning to it, hoping it will finally click, but after coming away from another listen feeling nothing I have to finally accept that Triangle is just overlong and unrewarding. It looks and sounds incredible but there are not enough engaging moments to justify an hour and 40 minutes of my time.
I love a good live album and I love “classic” rock but rarely come across magnificent examples of either these days. And a good live classic rock album is even rarer! So I was hoping that Danko Jones’ latest release Live at Wacken would deliver on both accounts. I’ve only ever heard a few songs of his and never been blown away. It’s all a bit too much like a jeans advert. But I hear a lot of people say he (they?) are great live. On the basis of this set I can imagine that’s probably the case but the excitement only partially translates to CD/DVD. It’s got a great sound and jovial atmosphere. The band is loose and frontman Danko is in charming form, clearly enjoying being the loverman rocker at Europe’s Metal Mecca. But for all their self-professed “mean power chords” there’s not much in the way of decent riffs or songs. But the energy, witty raps and cheery vibe are winning and some Misfits-style pop punk numbers like the excellent The Twisting Knife add melodic substance in amongst all the two-chord dating-manual songs. It’s likely to be the only Danko Jones I will ever want or need but it’s enough of a good time to be worth holding on to. Like their festival slot, it’s fun for the afternoon but they’ll need to do better to score any hot night-time action.
The King is Blind’s superb debut album Our Father was released back in January and it’s still the album to beat if anyone out there wants to take the coveted HMO Album of the Year 2016 spot. It’s a smart concept album about Satan, Christ and the devil in mankind given an absolute drubbing by the band’s burly death metal hammering. The King is Blind cleverly avoid all the usual concept album excess though, bashing out their tale in ten songs that are all a riot in their own right. The variation in styles carry the narrative (death, thrashing hardcore, Monotheist-ic doom and black metal atmosphere) and the focus on excellent songwriting and riffs means the concept that can be enjoyed or ignored. If you want to curl up with the lyrics or just enjoy a cathartic extreme metal battering, Our Father works equally well. An impressive and notable debut. I can’t wait to see them live in October.
Alex Harvey was not only one of Scotland’s most legendary rockers, he was also steeped in showbiz. This album, his third with SAHB, came out in ’74 but Alex had been around in music and theatre since the late 50s. He formed his “Sensational” band, with members of prog rockers Tear Gas, in the early 70s and often referred to them in terms of movies and the stage: he was their director. And The Impossible Dream is their most theatrical and cinematic album, the culmination of Harvey’s decades of experience. It’s comparable to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out: an adventurous extravaganza. From the tribal, comic book stomp of Vambo and Man in the Jar‘s gonzo noir to the dancehall Sergeant Fury, the skittery blues of Weights Made of Lead and the riffing pirate yarn Tomahawk Kid this album is a total romp. Yo ho ho! And as Anthem closes the album out, it’s extremely moving too. It’ll make ye greet.
Much as I enjoyed it, I was frustrated by how polite Grand Magus’ last album Triumph and Power was. Their brand of strutting, Manowar-ish, mid-tempo trad metal was charming, hooky and personable but it was too nice. I wanted them to get more bloodthirsty. I’m pleased to report that their latest album Sword Songs is a definite improvement. The drumming is forceful, the riffs are more earth-shaking and the guitar solos are bolder. But the sense of urbanity remains: mainly due to the persistent mid-tempos and JB’s vocal delivery. He’s got a soulful voice full of grit and character but I really want to hear him bust his lungs for the cause. It’s more a frustration than a criticism. If they gave it up more this band would be godly. And I want that for them. Sword Songs is a decisive manoeuvre but it’s not the stuff of legend. You don’t get into Valhalla without cracking a few skulls.