Royal Hunt: Devil's Dozen (Frontiers)
Since Danes Royal Hunt reunited with their most revered vocalist D.C Cooper, back in 2011, the band have gone from strength to strength, celebrating their 20th anniversary 2012 before continuing with their latter career purple patch with 2013's A Life To Die For, however the band have outdone themselves with Devil's Dozen which unsurprisingly their thirteenth album, it is yet a gain a tour-de-force of melodic progressive metal, driven by founding member Andre Andersen's keys, over the eight tracks on this record the band really ply their trade with orchestral melodic metal with huge scope and precise musicianship. Opener So Right So Wrong builds the tension with it's ticking intro that explodes into the first powerful riffs shared by Andersen, guitarist Jonas Larsen and bassist Andreas Passmark. The song has almost a clockwork feel, sounding like it could have come from steampunk ball scene, the band have employed a string section to give them more of a cinematic quality from the outset. With it's huge backing vocals and orchestral feel So Right So Wrong starts the album off how it means to go on, with an epic feel carried by D.C Coopers excellent vocal, things switch on May You Never (Walk Alone) which is not a cover of the Liverpool anthem, no it is a strong second track builds from it's slow piano intro into a sprinting power metal track.
This whole album covers all of Royal Hunt's bases giving 8 distinct songs which are all linked by the bands excellent playing and their trademark sound while never being repetitive. Like I said Cooper's vocals are sublime and indeed unique his European delivery enlivens his rich baritone meaning that songs such as the galloping A Tear In The Rain have an almost operatic quality with a metallic crunch beneath them, but also showing the bands softer side on Until The Day which is a devastatingly powerful ballad induced by Andersen's piano and synths, underscored by the strings and the searing guitars. Having started their career in 1989 Royal Hunt have really outdone themselves on this record with a great mixture of old and new drawing from other influences too, the folky Riches To Rags being a major example of this sounding like it could have come off a Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack. Devil's Dozen is superb, really superb, in just 8 tracks the band leave you wanting more of the quality witnessed on this record, so much so in fact that you immediately play it again! 9/10
Grave Pleasures: Dreamcrash (Sony)
Finnish band Grave Pleasures have a picked their name perfectly, they are exactly that, their debut album is a perverted, sexy, filth laden album that is self described as "post apocalyptic post punk" this is music that is both mysteriously sexy and uplifitingly sad. Grave Pleasures themselves have a lot of misery to draw from, they have risen from the ashes of several bands, the majority of the membership are formally of Beastmilk, one of the most talked about bands in recent years, vocalist Mat ”Kvohst” McNerney and bassist Valtteri Arino both parted ways with Beastmilk's guitarist and set about forming a new band with Linnéa Olsson, Swedish bombshell guitarist formerly of occult doomers The Oath, along the way they found sticksman in the shape of Uno Bruniusson who was co-founder of Maiden-meets-Satan revivalists In Solitude, finally the band found Juho Vanhanen who contributes yet more guitar his jangling telecaster giving the band it's post-punk alternative style as it shines on top of the heavier rhythms. Now when I say heavier I don't mean in a Lamb Of God sense, no I mean atmospherically, the band deal in heavyweight themes and have a overriding sense of doom that manifests itself in an upbeat set of songs that blend, Goth, punk, metal and rock with the same gratifying joie-de-vivre as some of the most individual and cult bands of the late 1980's. The album has a distinctly late 80's early 90's flavour to it Utopian Scream has a stabbing guitar sound relentlessly pushing the forward the rhythms allowing Bruniusson's drums to breathe at the back room, as Kvohst gives a distinctly bizarre vocal performance.
This oddness leads pointedly into the more straightforward approach of New Hip Moon which has nods to New Order/Joy Division and breaks gets the legs moving with it's melodic euphoric Gothic chorus. Throughout this album there are nods to The Cure, to Killing Joke and even more obscure performers like Bauhaus. The furious percussion on the bass driven Crying Wolves nods to the unsettling eccentricity of Jello Bifara and co, while the dissonant guitars hook everything together as they jab on the punk Futureshock which tells you to "Obey The Future". Dreamcrash is not as much of an immediate record as the Beastmilk debut was but it is better for it. Yes there is still a lot of accessible stuff here with gorgeous hooks and melodies throughout but the songs need repeated listens to really draw you in to their world, Worn Threads is a slow burning, swirling ominous affair that is complete counterpoint to the gutsy punk of Taste The Void which along with Lipstick On Your Tombstone has a Gothic overtones Billy Idol and indeed The Cult. Grave Pleasures have crafted a soundtrack for the party, that comes after the party at the end of the world, this is the music of a forgotten generation that have survived the light of a thousand suns but have lost every inhibition in the process and just want to revel in their misery, come and join them and see where the music takes you. 9/10
Black Tide: Chasing Shadows (Pavement Entertainment)
Black Tide have a bit of a torrid time in terms of membership losing band memebers at a rate of knots with only frontman/guitarist Gabriel Garcia staying since the bands inception. I do have history with the band too, their debut was storming piece of old school thrash from a band young and hungry, it featured some modern classics like Shockwave and Warriors Of Time, showing that this band were contenders, however after their first album they did seem to disappear for a bit before returning with the Post Mortem which was in my opinion a turgid desperate attempt to cash in on the burgeoning metalcore style with emo lyrics and a lot of style of substance, this was buoyed by their boring performance at Sonisphere where they committed the ultimate sin of opening their set with a cover of Metallica's Hit The Lights a day after the band themselves had opened their headline set with the same song. The band were obviously none to healthy at that time either taking a bit of a hiatus which saw their drummer and bassist leaving the group, with a revolving line up of drummers and a loss of a bassist (again) since their comeback EP the band are finally settled as a (studio) three piece for this new album.
With this history of the band I was a little apprehensive about their new album but as No Guidelines starts off the band have found their thrash roots again the riffage of Garcia and his sideman Austin Diaz playing with style as Cody Paige blasts away in the engine room. The band have fused their two styles together well on this third record I would liken them to Bullet For My Valentine or even Avenged Sevenfold for the most part with some driving thrash riffs and emotive lyrics delivered by Garcia's scratchy but stylish vocals which are bolstered by the screaming backing vocals that bring to mind Florida's favourite sons Trivium another band that Black Tide have a similarities to. Yes there are misteps, Burn is awful but they are quickly forgotten by tracks like Promised Land, however for the most part this album will really hit the spot with any fans of A7X, BFMV or even Escape The Fate, these are arena baiting songs that are written to get the band back into the public conciousness. If I had one criticism it would be that there is one too many slow ballad like song with whiny lyrics for my liking meaning that a lot of the album is a bit samey. Still a step in the right direction for the Florida band. 6/10