Pretty Maids: Kingmaker (Frontiers)
Danish rockers Pretty Maids have been kicking out the jams since 1981 and since then the only two constants have been founder members Ronnie Atkins (vocals) and Ken Hammer (guitar), it's this songwriting partnership that has seen the band still going even after all these years, now they may not be a household name to some (except in Japan where they seem to be revered) but longevity is something not be sniffed at in the cut throat music industry. As with all bands that are experienced there are parts of their career that shine and there are parts that are best left be, happily since 2010's Pandemonium Pretty Maids have been in a bit of a purple patch making some of the strongest, toughest and heaviest songs ever.
Kingmaker is their 15th album and sees Ken Hammer once again peeling off some heavyweight riffage on the opening two tracks When God Took A Day Off and the title track, these are real head kickers, with some excellent shredding and a powerful rhythm section guiding the musical backing it allows Ronnie to snarl viciously. The entire record is bolstered by Jacob Hansen's (Volbeat) production, it makes the entire record sound vibrant and heightens the piercing clarity of Hammer's guitar and the nuances of Atkin's expressive vocals.
Many will see Pretty Maids as an AOR styled band but this record may change that opinion as much of this record is menacing with distorted riffs and an aggressive streak see Bullseye, on the other hand there are of course some lighter melodic touches on the flirty Heaven's Little Devil and of course a mega power ballad in the shape of Last beauty On Earth where Atkins' croons like a natural balladeer. Kingmaker sees Pretty Maids still in playing top quality melodic metal. 8/10
Devilment: II - The Mephisto Waltzes (Nuclear Blast)
Devilment are notably the band stated by Daniel Finch back in 2011, they struggled to find a vocalist until Finch's friend Dani Filth agreed to do some guest vocals and eventually becoming the full time vocalist and sticking around for the debut album. In interim however Finch has left the group, leaving Filth as the sole 'original' member, this means that this second album can be seen as the reinvention of the band. I'll get this out of the way now, I've never been a fan of Filth's vocals, well one part of them in particular, I like his growls, roars and screams but I can't stand the high-pitched screeching he uses, I realise that it's a skill it just grates like nails on a chalkboard, especially live, it was a distraction when we saw Devilment live at Hammerfest and it's always been the major reason that even though I do like Cradle Of Filth I can never play there stuff for too long.
So with this in mind I pushed play on the second album from Dani's now 'other' band with a hint of trepidation, as the record kicks off Judasstein has the squeals but thankfully they don't appear very often and do add to the duality the song. From here the record improves well on Hitchcock Blonde which is a thumping rocker with the schlock horror tendencies and sees Filth using just his scarred main vocal, he works in conjunction with keyboardist Lauren Francis very well on Full Dark, No Stars which is the record's most dramatic piece with the soaring female vocals in juxtaposition with Filth's guttural grunts. II: The Mephisto Waltzes is a strong metal album, full of tasty extreme metal riffage, drum barrages and symphonic styling, its more concise and there is much better quality control than on it's predecessor and where Filth uses is brutal lower register the record is great, I just still can't get past the screeches. 7/10
Enbound: The Blackened Heart (Inner Wound)
Finally a new Enbound album! Who are Enbound? I hear you cry. Well they are a Swedish power metal band that play hook filled, fist punching, music played with a musical dexterity and a symphonic sensibility. Their debut record And She Says Gold was a triumph of furious riffs matched by waves of glorious keys and massive harmonies (even a stonking cover of Beat It) so I was anticipating that their second album would live up to expectations if not exceed them. Joyously it does and then some, more concise than it's predecessor at 10 tracks it's 40 minutes of classy power metal with a shine that comes from frontman Lee Hunter's smooth as silk vocals that some may recognise as the singer of modern AOR masters Work Of Art.
Here once again he is on top form with emotionally charged vocals that display his vocal range, he also provides some additional keys on the melodic Holy Grail. More than ably supporting Hunter's is the clean, crisp guitar work of Marvin Flowberg and the intricate bass of Swede (although Symphony X's Mike LePond plays the bass solo on Feel My Flame) everything on this record though is orchestrated and directed by the band's producer/lyricist/songwriter/drummer/keyboardist/vocalist (on They Don't Really Know) Mike Cameron Force who is really the architect of Enbound. What he has both designed and helped to construct is a very solid slab of bouncy power metal, yes it's standard fair in a shiny candy wrapper but that's not reason not to suck it and see. 7/10