Lords Of Black: II (Frontiers)
If you don't know anything about Spanish Pro/power metallers Lords Of Black chances are by July you will, this is due to frontman Ronnie Romero being chosen to front Ritchie Blackmore's revived Rainbow project which will be doing the rounds this summer. For those who have heard the debut record by Lords Of Black will realise what Blackmore's reasoning is for this but as Merciless opens the second album the barrage of progressive power riffs give way to Romero's excellent vocals that more than bear a passing resemblance to yet another Ronnie who happened to be a former frontman of Rainbow. So with the circle complete in Blackmore's world what can you expect from the second record from Romero's day job?
Well as I've said earlier the opening strains of Merciless are exactly that thick, fast and heavy with keys underpinning the flurry of riffage, the pace is maintained with Only One Life Away which is driven by technical guitar playing from Tony Hernando and intense double kick drumming from Andy C, we get a mid-paced fist pounder with Everything You're Not which could have been on any of the Dio projects with it's powerful keys and hard rock guitars. Lords Of Black evoke the spirit of classic Stratovarius and Kamelot with symphonic elements, meeting the dramatic delivery and a textured musical palette to create some seriously good music, considering all of the instrumentation is shared by Tony Hernando and Andy C they are obviously both masters of any instrument they care to pick up, add to the expert playing the passionate vocals of Romero and Lords Of Black raise themselves above many of the bands of their ilk the progressive and modern metal elements creep in on Cry No More and Tears I Will Be is a piano driven but muscular ballad with a bass led verse before the chorus really grabs you by the heartstrings, Tears I Will Be starts the slower part of the record quickly followed by the 'true' ballad of the album Insane.
The final part of the album speeds up again for more power metal mayhem on Live By The Lie, Die By The Truth, the thrash-like Shadows Of War and The Art Of Illusions Pat III: The Wasteland which is the final part of the mini-concept started on their debut. The album's magnum opus is the incredibly progressive 9 minute plus Ghost Of You which is the album's true epic full of classical guitars and a substantial amount of pomp which shows all of Lords Of Black's musical power in just one track. With 12 original songs on the album the special edition of the record takes it up to 15 tracks, the bonus songs are a metalized version of Queen's Innuendo and tellingly Lady Of The Lake originally by Rainbow both of which are well done and add a little bit of a cherry on top of the the rest of the album. II is another great record, lets hope that the Rainbow reunion don't record as Lords Of Black are too good a band to slip by. 9/10
Beastmaker: Lusus Naturae (Rise Above)
Normally I'm all for anything that is released on Rise Above Records, I do like a bit of stoner, doom and occult retroism, however I realise that the genre is a little saturated so it means that only really those that are at the top of the pile or doing something different can stand out from the pack. Unfortunately Beastmaker are not in that pile, their doom-laden Sabbath worship is so generic that they border on parody at times. The California three piece have cavernous riffs, low bass rumblings and spacious cymbal filled drumming much like Sabbath or Pentagram, but it's really nothing you haven't heard before, they even start the album with the tolling of bells accompanied by howling wind and rain, something that was ominous in 1970 but has an air of "It's Been Done" in 2016. Now I'm sure there will be some that will say, most music is influenced by the past and this is especially true in the doom genre but what bands like Electric Wizard or indeed The Sword (who are the closest to the band sound wise) have over Beastmaker is that they try to stretch their remit a little, Wizard take the scare the shit out of you route and The Sword add flourishes of prog and psychedelia, but Beastmaker just sound a little bland, that isn't to say they aren't consummate musicians and performers it's just the music they produce has been done before, many times and there is not enough adaptation to maintain your interest for the 12 tracks. 5/10
Stone Broken: All In Time (Self Released)
Many of you may have heard Stone Broken's single Not Your Enemy on Planet Rock and Kerrang, if you haven't then let me break it down for you, they sound frighteningly like Nickleback, but good Nickleback when they rock the hell out rather than play bland radio ballads. You'd be surprised to hear that Stone Broken are not American, they are from the West Midlands, but their sound is distinctly American. Stone Broken do indeed rock the hell out, Not Your Enemy is the album's first strike and it is a rampaging opeing salvo with Robyn Haycock's booming drums battering away and Kieron Conroy's bass laying down the heavy groove as Chris Davis and Rich Moss add the towering riffs, your heads are set to bang from the first few seconds and you don't cease until it's end. Much like tracks such as Burn It To The Ground there is melody in the heaviness with big hooks that continue as the album progresses.
What makes them similar to the Canadian arena rockers are Rich's vocals that are a grittier Kroger but they add enough of their own style to stop them from being a tribute act, as I've said there is some Southern BSC style rock on the massive arena anthem Be There there is also some Alter Bridge on Better which has some intense guitar soloing from Chris Davis who again shows his mettle on Let Me Go which sounds a lot like a more melodic Black Label Society, with the band slowing the pace for a lighter based ballad Wait For You which is a saccharine affair but you can see it burn up the Billboard charts if it had half a chance. Stone Broken are a great band and All In Time is as strong as any of the American bands around at the moment, it's American radio rock at it's finest and it's glad to see a British band with the balls to take on the the Yanks (Canadians) at their own game, if Nickelback had released and album like this then it would be number one so lets hope Stone Broken can be afforded the same acceptance as they write and perform great songs and have more than delivered an award winning performance on this debut record. 8/10