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Friday, 18 July 2014

Reviews: Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, Grave Digger, Demonic Resurrection (Bumper Review By Paul)

Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls (Epic/Colombia)

So a couple of years after the Epitaph finale, here is the return of the Metal Gods with their latest release, Redeemer Of Souls. Priest is of course comprised of living legends, led by one of metal’s true greats in the shape of the mighty Rob Halford. Their style has always been straight forward balls out heavy metal. They make no bones about it. This is what they do and if you don’t like it then you can fuck off.
I’ve always thought Priest were massively underrated in the UK until very recently; certainly for many years they appeared much more appreciated in the States for a long time. With Redeemer Of Souls, the Priest return to the quality of their reunion album, Angel Of Retribution, which was unbelievably released nine years ago? This of course is the first release to feature new guitarist Richie Faulkner and he has clearly given the band a new lease of life. Opener Dragonaut kicks off with a killer riff before crashing into its stride like a charging bull elephant. “Welcome to my word of steel” snarls Halford. Solos snake all over the place, Halford’s voice sounds excellent with his trademark operatic levels and harmonies on the chorus whilst the dual guitars of Faulkner and Glenn Tipton duel away in their customary style. Similar to old school Iron Maiden, the twin axe attack has long been the Priest trademark. Solid stuff with enough hooks to be memorable. The tempo continues with the title track which comes next; similar format, verse followed by chorus with driving bass and drums courtesy of Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis and the double guitar work of Faulkner and Tipton complementing Halford’s superb delivery. 

This is a 13 track album and as with many Priest albums, there is a little bit of filler included. Bloody hell, these guys are mainly in their late 60s so the fact that they are still delivering the goods (sorry!) is most impressive. Halls Of Valhalla isn't my favourite track on the album but the thing with Priest is that they are just masters of the metal riff. This track races along with aplomb and Halford proves that he can still hit the high notes. Solos are dripping through this album, with Faulkner and Tipton delivering killer efforts. Sword Of Damocles follows with thundering drumming but a slight variation in tempo, certainly more Maiden in delivery and a demonstration of their similar style. A sing-a-long chorus with a slower pace, Halford’s delivery is very similar to Mr Dickinson’s. No bad thing in my book. The second half of the album is, to my mind, a selection of traditional Judas Priest heavy metal. Down In Flames has the British Steel era feel about it, whilst Hell And Back would have slotted nicely into the Nostradamus opus released a few years ago. Meanwhile there is a very definite 80s feel to Cold Blooded with Halford providing his unique vocal style to strong effect whilst once again the dual fretwork is solid. Metaliser opens with the classic Halford scream and is a real headbanger of a track, galloping along, hooks reminiscent of the classic tunes from the Painkiller album. It sits nicely alongside Nightcrawler and Jawbreaker. The final tracks maintain a high standard, with Cross Fire the pick before the Beginning Of The End, a softer, introspective song closes the album. It isn’t going to set the world on fire but it is a rather tasty slab of metal from one of the old school masters. A new Priest album is always a welcome sound. Now let’s have a headline set at BOA 2015. That would be sweet. 7/10

Ted Nugent – Shut Up And Jam (Frontiers)

The motor city madman with the political views that would make Nigel Farage blush delivers his 14th album Shut Up And Jam to the unsuspecting rock world and it’s a bit of a stormer. I've had to set aside all of my views about Uncle Ted’s politics to review this piece of work so please don’t for one minute think I agree with any of his agenda. However, having grown up on a diet of the Detroit motor mouth thanks to Brett Perry exposing me to The Amboy Dukes, I have to admit that I've always had a soft spot for his musical ability. For me he is one of THE greatest guitarists to ever come out of the States. His earlier solo stuff like Free For AllWeekend WarriorsCatch Scratch Fever and Intensities In Ten Cities are all dripping with sublime guitar work and some top quality tunes (and like most rock in the 70s it was also dripping with misogynistic lyrics before you say it). His signature Gibson Byrdland provided solos that ripped you in half and who can forget the lengthy holding of the note at the start of Great White Buffalo? So what about his latest release? Well, Shut Up And Jam opens with the rock n’ roll driven title track, with the Nuge’s trademark vocals instantly recognisable and the licks flying around like a swarm of vicious mosquitoes. Nugent has combined with long time collaborators bassist Greg Smith and drummer Mick Brown along with the welcome return of the legendary Derek St Holmes on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. Fear Itself is a storming composition, with a blinding riff and catchy chorus. Although these lyrics are never going to win an award for depth, the Nuge writes to suit his style. A catchy hook on the chorus beefs the track up even more. Mr St Holmes takes lead vocal duty on Everything Matters, a bluesy number which has some really delicate guitar playing. St Holmes was of course, a staple part of the Nugent band for many years and supplied the vocals on a number of Nugent’s more popular tracks. He was also the basis upon which the writers developed the name David St Hubbins in Spinal Tap. 

She’s Gone features a guest vocal from Sammy Hagar whose voice fits the track superbly, with some ridiculous vocal interplay and another blistering track. This is followed by a mellower track, Never Stop Believing which kicks off with driving riffs, heartfelt soloing and then some of the Nuge’s most honest lyrics. A lovely song which focuses very much on Uncle Ted’s love of life, including homage to Martin Luther King. The album also has a bluesy version at the end which is quite stunning. Normal service is quickly resumed with I Still Believe, all about Nuge’s love of America and his patriotism is unwavering. As for the track, it clips along, tambourines and all whilst the Nuge’s guitar work crawls all over it like ants on jam. The next track is just brilliant. “Something smells good” says Uncle Ted before launching into I Love My BBQ. If you are a vegetarian tune out now! This is a tribute to the outdoor art of grilling. “Tofu just might kill you, a tossed salad makes you weak, I like to kill ‘em and grill ‘em, protein’s what we seek”. Hilarious stuff and it gets better. “Well the animals, they got rights, next to the mashed potato”. Throttledown does exactly what you’d expect from the title, a balls out instrumental which allows the entire band to showcase how tight they are. Whilst the focus is always on Nugent, his backing band really kick out the jams on this track. I don’t know how they recorded this album but I wouldn't be surprised if it was very much delivered in a few hits and in a group sound. Do-Rags and A.45 is a pulsing tune, with huge helpings of Dog Eat Dog from yesteryear. Ted’s usual vocal delivery with some excellent screaming vibrates through this one before the band launch into Screaming Eagles, another high paced track which races along. Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead has been kicking around in Ted’s repertoire for several years but is a fitting penultimate track with riffs and hooks galore. It is good stuff. I appreciate that Ted Nugent is a Marmite character. I don’t agree with his political views although I think he gets a worse press because of his giant gob. Ignoring that, this is an album which has some quite brilliant music and guitar playing of the highest quality. This is a return to form of one of rock’s most colourful characters. 9/10

Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper (Napalm Records)

German power metal outfit Grave Digger have been around in various forms since 1980. Part of the early German metal movement, they have experienced many different line-ups and have an extensive back catalogue. Their debut album, Heavy Metal Breakdown is regarded as a bit of a metal classic. Return of the Reaper is their 14th album. I have to admit that, whilst I knew who they were, I would not have been familiar with much of their work. Opening with Return Of The Reaper, an intro track, the band then get the temperature boiling extremely quickly with Hell Funeral which has powerful drumming and some scorching riffs. However, if you are unfamiliar with this band the vocal style is either going to tick your box or get right on your nerves. I have to admit I found Chris Boltendahl’s delivery pretty poor. The guy just can’t sing. Power Play magazine recently referred to it as ‘unique’. That is being generous. Unfortunately the vocals took much of the focus away from the rest of the band’s playing. War God is another blistering paced track, huge riffs and almost blast beat drumming . Alex Ritt, the current guitarist is some player, cranking out solos at will, whilst the rhythm section of Jens Becker (bass) and drummer Stefan Arnold combine incredibly tightly. The musicianship is power metal at its best and this is a country that churns out power metal bands by the bucket load. The lyrics are exactly what you’d expect from this type of band; cue anthemic chanting and choruses, along with some abysmal rhyming. Using four lines which rhyme Agony, Mortality, Brutality and Tragedy is quite special. Tattooed Rider has borrowed the intro to Turbo Lover by Judas Priest, swirling keys washing over the driving guitars and stomping drive. This track really highlights the ‘uniqueness’ of Boltendahl’s voice, which is really gruff and tuneless. However, this band has clearly got a massive fan base so it must appeal to many.

Resurrection Day opens in familiar fashion, riffs galore with Ritt soloing furiously as the band gallop along. However, any band that uses the words ‘nasty smell’ in their lyrics loses points with me; “Shadows from a wasted land, Human rights facing end, wind carries a nasty smell, Evils breed ride straight out of hell”. Okay. Season Of The Witch is a stomper of a track, slower and bound to induce mass clap-a-longs. The lyrics are once again total gibberish, and given some of the shit that I listen to that is saying something; However, if you take this out of the equation then this is a quite brilliant metal track. Sing-a-long choruses, solos dripping out of every pore and a lovely change in tempo in the middle which has some of the worst singing I've ever heard. It would be brilliant in the sun at BOA with a beer in hand and 10,000 tone deaf metal heads singing along! The lyrics get even more ridiculous in Road Rage Killer, which as you will expect is a 100mph blaster. My favourite lyrics since Hail And Kill include the lines “On the road to Babylon, far away from Avalon, Walls can’t stop me, I’m on the prowl, Brought a couple to death, intoxicated by crystal meth”. Whooaa! What the actual fuck?? Despite all my sniggering at the classic metal lyrics I actually really enjoyed this album. It has all the Germanic influences you’d expect, with Helloween and Accept particularly evident. Grave Desecrator has early Udo all over it whilst Satan’s Host is Accept circa 1985. I won’t comment on the lyrical magic here apart from to tease you with another classic line, “Pray for mercy, I am your whip, Obey my prayer, suck my dick”. The obligatory power ballad Nothing To Believe which closes the end of the album allows Hans Peter Katzenburg to show his skills on the keyboard but despite that it is truly toe-curlingly awful. Grave Digger has obviously established a mark in the metal world and are deeply revered in some sections. This album isn’t dreadful by a long way and if you can accept the dreadful lyrics and vocal style then it may well float your boat. Mine is still aground. 6/10

Demonic Resurrection – The Demon King (Candlelight Records)

No messing about with Mumbai’s finest exponents of blackened death metal. A blood curdling roar of “the king is dead” opens their fourth album with The Assassination. This is blast beat heaven from the off with the frenetic pace that we’ve come to expect. Virendra Kaith’s technical drumming is quite breath taking throughout the entire album. The pace slows ever so slightly to allow some of the keyboard elements that have become essential to the metal genre; think Dimmu Borgir as just one example. Second track Facing The Faceless continues the relentless pace with Sahil ‘Demonstealer’ Makhija’s death growls ripping combining with the Trivium type harmonies. Indeed, it is the clean vocals that I really like in this band as they are of top quality. It has been four years since The Return To Darkness, an album that had synth heavy intros. No such luck this time, with each track hitting the ground at 110mph. New guitarist Nishith Hegde has a massive job in filling the strings of former guitarist Daniel Rego, who had a hand in the compositions on this release. The Promise Of Never is a more complex track, layered and with several opportunities for the clean vocals to shine through; Hegdge (from another band Albatross) delivering some tidy soloing whilst the synths of Mephisto finally get the opportunity to add some depth. Title track The Demon King is perhaps the most groove-laden of the tracks, opening with a heavy riff and spoken word before the blast beats kick in. The track still moves at a huge pace and is sure to open up the pits wherever it is played. Operatic synths swoop in and out of the track whilst Demonstealer’s vocals are pure evil. The rhythm section, completed by newest band member Ashwin Shriya power along as the track takes a deep breath, slowing to allow time for recovery as Hegde’s solo takes over and builds the momentum once more. Shattered Equilibrium could be the album’s masterpiece. Haunting keyboards provide an ethereal atmosphere which cascade over the carnage of the black metal assault underneath. This track remains true to the Demonic Resurrection death metal roots but demonstrates that the band, now in their 14th year have also progressed with real evolution in their writing. Although the blast beats can be a little trying at times, you have to admire the pure power and ability of this band and there is some beautiful elements of delicate technical playing evident in penultimate track Even Gods Do Fall. After witnessing their first UK show at BOA two years ago, it’s a shame that they aren't playing there again this year as they slay live. They are supporting Onslaught on their UK tour so if you get the chance check them out. Indian death metal is alive and kicking you in the knackers. A storming follow-up to The Return To Darkness and worthy of every minute you dedicate to listening to it. 8/10

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