The Virginmarys: Divides (Wind-Up Records)
The Virginmarys are often referred to as a punk rock trio, but I'd say they are more pitched somewhere between the 90's garage/alt rock explosion and 70's rock. The Virginmarys have an ear for the mainstream too that cuts through all of their work, giving them a jangly indie vibe that is anchored by a harder, fuzzier rock edge. Divides is the Macclesfield band's second full length and sees them widening their scope of sound, from the Kings Of Leonesque opening stomper Push The Pedal which does exactly that, through the snotty Frank Turner-like rallying cry of Motherless Land, along with songs that dip their toes into the pub singalong mentality of Britpop kings Oasis, the angular riffs of The Pixies and the post grunge of early Foo Fighters, possibly due to the production of Gil Norton who has worked with both bands.
There is a bigger sound on this record with layered vocals from Ally Dicktay that admittedly have a punk rock snarl to them as he spits bile about modern life on first single Into Dust while he attacks his guitar with an unhinged ferocity, behind him is the crashing percussion of Danny Dolan and the fuzzy bass riffs of Matt Rose, with the three men never letting up the record continually keeps you on the edge of your seat with the immediacy of it all, the lyrical content to is intelligent, political and brutally honest, it's where The Virginmarys have always been at their best and Divides is no different. With the sound so big, the lyrics so contrite and bare, it means that the songs have to shine and like 12 newly set diamonds they do.
The album building into what could really be a live set saving the most impressive, anthemic songs to the end while the ones that come before such as the marching For You My Love, the moody, drum driven, fuzz filled Kill The Messenger, the Arctic Monkey's style bluster of I Wanna Take You Home and the bluesy ragged Walk In My Shoes all add to the first part of the record that climaxes into Into Dust which welcomes you to the anthemic final quarter of the record. Divides is a superb sophomore album that not only builds on the talent shown on the debut record but increases it exponentially, these are songs made for arenas (see Moth To A Flame) which is where The Virginmarys will no doubt be going on the back of this fantastic record. 9/10
Mystic Prophecy: War Brigade (Massacre Records)
German power metal band Mystic Prophecy return after three years with what is now their ninth album of heavy power metal along the similar vein of the tougher sounding US power metal bands like Iced Earth but with the more melodic European touches too on The Crucifix. Nine albums in and it's tough for any band to keep it fresh, but Mystic Prophecy have a sound that has served them well thus far, the band is the brainchild of frontman R.D Liapakis who is still the only constant member of the band since it's inception, more recently he has also been the vocalist of hard rockers Devil's Train, still Mystic Prophecy is his main concern and it's clear that without his rough vocals the band would lose some of their dark power. The songs as always are a drawn from war, evilness, death, with the focus on war for this record explicitly the Spartans battle with the Persians at Thermopylae on Good Day To Die and Fight For One Nation, however it's not all doom and gloom the clarion call of Metal Brigade celebrating the unifying force of heavy metal music with a Manowar style epic, that dives into the thrashy Burning Out.
Liapakis' vocals are powerful booming over the sledgehammer basslines and rapid fire drumming which give the songs their rugged fist pounding rhythms, with the rhythm and lead guitars working in ideal union. Having not been overly familiar with Mystic Prophecy in the past I was struck by just how heavy they are, songs like blastbeat heavy Pray For Hell and Follow The Blind on the other hand they still have more melodic side on semi-ballad 10,000 Miles Away and War Panzer. War Machine is a good album from the German band, it does nothing new but what it does do give you is 11 tracks chest beating power metal and a metal cover of Sex Bomb by Tom Jones which is either genius or a travesty, leaving that for you to make your own mind up about, the rest of the record is a lesson in heavy metal 101. 8/10
Vektor: Terminal Redux (Earache Records)
What is there to say about Vektor? The Philly band could have quite possibly released one of the albums of 2016, Terminal Redux is an extreme, progressive, thrash metal album that has so many twists and turns it could be a Formula One track. Opening with a 9 minute song and then being followed by an 8 minute song this is an album that you really need to listen too a few times to really understand what is going on, the songs are extremely complicated, technical pieces that move between blitzkrieg blackened thrash metal, into more deathly doom territory and beyond, sometimes in just one track. Terminal Redux is not an album for those easily bored it's challenging piece but that's kind of the point, it's been five years since Vektor's last release and they once again have outdone themselves with the sheer bravado of this record that clocks in at over an hour but with each song having so many facets to them that sometimes they can be a little overwhelming but they demand your attention.
Vektor are David DiSanto, Erik Nelson, Blake Anderson and Frank Chin and these four men immediately make their mark with lightning fast riffage that wouldn't be out of place on a black metal album before it turns into a choral doom monster at the end, into the chugging breakdown heavy Cygnus Terminal that builds and builds until LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease) arrives in your ears in blaze of synchronized two hand tapping from DiSanto and Nelson which unfurls into Megadethisms on speed middle section and ramps back up again as Anderson blast beats his ass off. With three unstoppable tracks Mountains Above The Sun provides a welcome break with the relaxed instrumental that plows into Ultimate Artificer which although shorter in length is faster than anything coming before it bringing to mind Strapping Young Lad, in fact Hevy Devy could have easily released this album back in his early years such is the complex, radical uncompromising nature of the songs featured. Pteropticon echoes Slayer sound wise although Slayer if they played at lightspeed and had Nergal fronting them and played with classic twin guitar harmonies.
I've mentioned the guitars already but the need another mention as DiSanto and Nelson are mind blowingly good guitarists, just check out the duel they have on Psychotropia, one that also features bassist Frank Chin holding his own as he too shows off his fleet fingered fretwork illustrating that he can easily do with four strings what they can with six. The middle part of this record contains the shortest most direct songs on the record but the final two tracks make up for that, as Collapse starts out dreamily finally showing that DiSanto has clean singing voice rather than his evil rasp which is in evidence on the rest of the record, Collapse could be a Metallica song with it's building balladic pace and clean sonic soundscape that shifts into a jazzy middle eight counterpointed by the rasp returning for the heavy final section. Still the true progressive nature of the band comes out in the 13 minute plus final song Recharging The Void which again starts out with explosive super fast thrash but then as quickly as it it arrives it disintegrates into a section that sounds awfully like Pink Floyd, recalling On The Turning Away that washes over you as the female vocals soar in the background, before once again erupting into a faster section with the harsh vocals acting as a opposite as the thrash once again creeps in led by Anderson's frankly terrifying drum work. Terminal Redux is a tour-de-force in modern progressive thrash metal, Vektor owe a debt to Voivod, Cynic and yes Devin but they create their own style of music, that will be very hard to replicate or imitate by any band. 10/10