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Monday, 3 March 2014

Reviews: Hatriot, Freedom Call, Vanden Plas (Reviewed By Paul)

Hatriot: Dawn Of The New Centurion (Massacre Records)

The latest project of long standing thrash veteran Steve Souza basically grabs you in the nuts, kicks seven shades of shit out of you and leaves through the back door whilst you regain your breath. This is a full-on 80s thrash fest from start to finish. This is the second full album from Hatriot, following quickly on the heels of 2013’s Heroes of Origin debut. Clearly, subtle isn't a word that exists in the Souza vocabulary as opener My Cold Dead Hands comes straight at you, with multiple shredding and Souza’s trademark vocals which left a huge influence on Exodus after Paul Baloff between 1986 and 1993 immediately grabbing the attention. Indeed, the comparisons with his former band are impossible to exclude. Driving drums and bass with the dual guitars of Kosta Vavatakis and Miguel Esparza ripping back and fore dominate the opener and the massive Testament sounding Your Own Worst Enemy before a slight easing of tempo during The Fear Within. Souza’s vocals were always a bit marmite-like. Personally, I like the guttural growl he uses; not only does he possess one of the most recognisable vocal styles in thrash, but you can usually get the gist of what he is singing too. This is quality musicianship with the drumming of Cody Souza particularly notable throughout the album and outstanding on Honour In The Rise and Fall which powers through like an express train. Ridiculous title award goes to Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious which could comfortably slot in to the Exodus back catalogue; massive hooks, soaring solos and chanting chorus combine to really give this the old school feel and even comes with the chanting of “Free Pussy Riot” in the fade which gives you an idea of the track’s lyrical meaning. The title track is the album’s stand out song, with Souza opening up with a trademark scream before a slow build up, full of groove and hook, with the track layering sweetly and increasing in strength and speed as it moves to the crescendo with increased tempo and some powerful fretwork from Vavatakis and Esparza. This track briefly allows you to catch your breath before the full throttle onslaught takes hold. Fans of Testament, Exodus, Violence, Kreator and even Onslaught should really get on the outside of this album. Yes, it has been done before; no, it’s not groundbreaking but if you love a bit of old school thrash in the Bay Area tradition then this is for you. 8/10

Freedom Call: Beyond (SPV/Steamhammer)

A bit like Hatriot, the eighth album from the German Power Metal outfit Freedom Call contains few surprises. Opener Union of the Strong absolutely stinks of Helloween circa 1986 but is delivered in exactly the way you want your German power metal to be. Harmonies galore, rapid fire drumming, squeaky vocals and solos coming at you from every angle. Knights of Taragon follows the same pattern, sword and sorcery lyrical content and some interesting use of trumpet style synths adds to the mix. Chris Bay’s vocals are exactly what you would expect, following the Michael Kiske blueprint of high pitched almost falsetto delivery at times alongside an almost narrative delivery at times. Heart of a Warrior continues in the same vein, rampaging along with the powerful drumming of new man Ramy Ali combining with Ilker Ersin on bass. The guitars of Bay and Lars Rettkowitz deliver some intricate and detailed fretboard action throughout. The Maidenesque Come on Home contains the brilliantly delivered line “Bang Your Head or Die” before drifting into a sing-along ala United by Judas Priest. The title track opens with piano and a string section with Bay doing his best Dickinson impression before off we gallop again. This is quite simply great fun and for those who have seen these guys on stage, you'll know that they are an absolute scream live. Beyond contains 14 tracks and the edition I have also has a second disc of live and unplugged tracks which unfortunately don't always portray Bay’s vocals in the best light but even so you certainly get your money’s worth. This album has more cheese in it than Madame Fromage's specialty Cheese Shop, and by the time you get to Follow Your Heart with its saccharine sweet harmonic choruses you'll have either broken out in a big grin and a massive hope that these guys will appear at BOA again or you’ll have put Hatriot on repeat to cleanse your system. I’m somewhere in the middle with power metal. However, this album is well constructed and sticks very close to a formula that works. 7/10

Vanden Plas: Chronicles Of The Immortals - Netherworld (Path 1) (Frontier Records)

Germanic progressive metallers Vanden Plas latest release is a marmite album with no middle ground. You'll either love this or absolutely hate it. The band’s former works have developed themes from the world of fantasy with lashings of progressive overtones and this one moves even more into that realm being a collaboration with multi-million selling fantasy author Wolfgang Holhbein and based on his Chronicles of the Immortals books. Opener Vision One sets the scene with a narrative from Dave Esser and heartfelt vocals from the unfortunately named Andy Kuntz (yes, cousin of German Footballer Stefan) before the band launch into the real opener Vision Two – The Black Knight; an eight minute plus epic that has drawn massively from Dream Theater in both composition and structure. Several changes of tempo and excellent musicianship with intricate interplay between Gunter Werno’s keyboards and Stephan Lill’s guitar work surge through this piece which reaches a crescendo with a choir adding backing vocals. You get the picture. The remainder of the album is broken down into a further eight ‘Visions’ with the story developing around a boy who is different and feels no-one understands him. Kuntz’s vocals are solid and impressive with a decent range on display. Vision Three – Godmaker continues in a similar vein albeit slightly shorter, and again it is the Dream Theater comparison that instantly comes to mind. Vision Four – Misery Affection Prelude introduces female vocals and segues neatly into Vision Five – A Ghost’s Requiem where the pace is much slower with piano and strings delivering a sombre atmosphere. The theatrical element of this album is unsurprising given the background that the band have in theatre, and this contributes massively to the way the album flows with huge classical elements complementing the regular changes in tempo and direction. Most of the tracks on the album rock in at six minutes plus but throughout the constant change in styles and delivery mean that you are rarely distracted and attention is maintained. This is an album crafted with delicacy and no little beauty. Highlights for me were Vision Seven – The King and the Children of the Lost World which is again crafted elegantly and combines heavy passages with much lighter elements. The album closes with Vision Ten – Inside, a six minute conclusion to the story which maintains the intricate and delicious balance of light and dark interplay that runs throughout the album. Definitely one of the albums of the year if you like progressive metal with huge classical overtones and a big production. If you don't, steer well clear. I’m in the former camp. It’s a damn fine release. 9/10

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