Once Human: The Life I Remember (earOne)
Oof, this is the first word that comes to mind as you spin Once Human's debut album, the production is crystalline, the playing sublime and the band have a professionalism not always evident on a bands first album, it's only when you look at the bands biography that you see that this isn't one member's first rodeo so to speak. Once Human is the brainchild of one Logan Mader the man who made his name as the axe slinger for Machine Head in the early days of the bands inception but he has since shunned the limelight in favour of knob twiddling for FFDP, Gojira and many more, in a union forged by former Roadrunner head Monte Conner, Mader started to have creative ideas with up and coming multi instrumentalist Lauren Hart who moved to vocals rather than guitar as planned. The collaboration between these two has resulted in The Life I Remember which starts off with a stirring orchestral theme before the riff heavy Ground Zero hooks you with it's sheer outright brutality, this is Mader at his explosive best his flying V unleashing riff after snarling riff as his melodic and flaming hot leads are bolstered by Hart's rhythm playing, but also her brilliantly aggressive vocals that have a lot in common with LOG's Randy Blythe or Arch Enemy's Angela Gossrow, she screams, growls and barks inciting a riot with the savage lyrical content of this album that also has links to the MFH early days and indeed LOG at their most political.
Backing all of this is rhythmic noise of Ralph Alexander's blastbeats and snare drum explosions (Demoneyes) who along with Damien Rainaund's pummelling bass riffs give this album it's stomach flipping bottom end that lets Mader add guitar flourishes to lighten the songs barbarity. The album kicks off with 5 thunderous tracks that sees them going hell for leather and Hart shredding her throat, but on Devil Can Have You she shows that she can also sing just as well cleanly on the songs slower passages, this is blown away by the more industrial elements on Time Of The Disease which is an atmospheric piece with a start-stop riff, an orchestral/choral break before we get a black metal influenced second part that really shows off Alexander's drumming, in fact the second half of this album is where things get interesting, we know Mader can do modern thrash metal but he stretches himself on the latter bit of the album, I Am War is an introduction that builds on the industrial part and then we get the almost djent influenced title track that is bookended by the outro Siren before the album ends with the climactic Growing Colder. As I've said this is a debut in name only Logan Mader has been around long enough to create an album of this high quality, he can still shred like a demon and his chest beating song craft remains undiminished, if you've followed Mader's career thus far you need this album. 8/10
Death Dealer: Hallowed Ground (SMG)
They're back folks, three years after their storming debut War Master the American (by way of Australia) power metal masters come back to once again reclaim heavy metal as their own. This is American Power Metal at it's sword wielding mightiest the shrieking vocals, the super speed riffs, the machine gun drumming and songs of war and power, the band have their influences in Judas Priest and Manowar and these shine through from the opening bars of Gunslinger. Once again Sean Peck's vocals are stratospheric he can really destroy those highs shattering glass with his voice that would make Eric Adams quake (see U-666) as the twin axe attack of Stu Marshall and Ross The Boss continue to just bring riff after beautiful riff with both men showing the kind of playing that has seen Marshall be very in demand in the metal world and Ross The Boss being THE Manowar guitarist no matter what Karl Logan may think. They link well on the true metal licks and trade solos like the veterans they are, however no band can function without a solid engine room and Death Dealer have one of those too with Steve Bolognese's drumming and Mike Davis' bass adding the guts to songs like Break The Silence and the speed to Plan Of Attack (which is a song about Iron Man).
There hasn't been any major deviation in the bands sound since War Master this is traditional heavy metal played by five men that have immersed themselves in for years (hell one even helped create it). This lack of evolution is negated by songs such as Way Of The Gun which is the perfect example of this pure metal sound, with it's strutting riff, triumphant guitar solo and even a drum solo, it encapsulates traditional metal excellently. In fact this whole album is a testament to the shirtless wild metal of America's 1980's heyday that drew from the NWOBHM, added a dash of thrash and then proceeded to take a war axe to the whole thing. With tracks like the rumbling Total Devestation, the thrashy K.I.L.L, ode to metal The Anthem and Running Wild-like Skull And Crossbones are all part of this albums classic appeal. At thirteen tracks the record will mean you have to catch your breath at the end but if you love throwing your fist in the air and banging your head liberally then Hallowed Ground will do for you what War Master did three years ago and what Sign Of The Hammer did 30 years earlier. Glorious true metal! 8/10
Sailing To Nowhere: To The Unknown (Bakerteam)
Italian band Sailing To Nowhere are a bit of unique offering as they mix heavy metal and hard rock much like Tobias Sammet does in both Edguy and Avantasia. Comprised of a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, guitarist and two singers (one male one female) the band play progressively tinged metal that is filled with melodic keyboard passages and chunky rock riffs opening gambit No Dreams In My Night has everything you would want from band like this. The dual vocals work well on the melodic tracks like Big Fire (which has a pop element) and the two soul stirring ballads Lovers On Planet Earth and Strange Dimension, which sees both vocalists having an impassioned delivery similar to that of countrymen Lacuna Coil, albeit with a more power metal backing so think Hansi Kursh singing with Elize Ryd and you would be on the right lines. Every track has booming drums, shredding guitars and the keys adding the classical symphonic layer that Blind Guardian pride themselves on, this is at it's most obvious on You Won't Dare, which is blast beat friendly and features some orchestral flourishes throughout. This is an album that will appeal to lovers of strong metal with a metal edge, they also do a hard rocking cover of Anastasia's Left Outside Alone which ends the album in the same manner that it started. Great debut from the Italians!! 7/10