H.E.A.T: Into The Great Unknown (earMusic)
In the world of AOR the Swedes are prominent. Hard rock with a massive melodic undercurrent, band's such as veterans Europe and current faves Eclipse pull in decent crowds. H.E.A.T sit very much in the upper echelons of the genre, and album number 5 demonstrates exactly why. Slick, polished and full of the harmonies which only those with dazzling white teeth can reach. Erick Gronwall delivers the sugar coated vocals the music demands, whilst the rest of the band, including returning guitarist David Dalone combine to deliver a perfect record.
The heavy rock of opening track Bastard Of Society is balanced by the synth dominated Redefined and the high pitched Time On Our Side. It's the harmonies that give H.E.A.T the edge and nowhere is this better illustrated that on Best Of The Broken, its clap along chorus guaranteed to get their fans fist pumping. The obligatory ballad is as ghastly as you'd expect for a band of this genre, where cheesy love songs are a speciality. Underneath the layers of fromage sit some very talented musicians and whilst it's not my bag, when AOR is done properly it remains impressive. 8/10
Shrapnel: Raised On Decay (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
If you want some decent thrash then look no further than Norwich's fine quintet Shrapnel. It's been three years since the guys delivered the slicingly dangerous The Virus Conspiracies but they hardly pause for breath on their sophomore release. Disgustingly groove laden riffage at maximum speed, snarling angry vocals and bone crushing drums. Yeah, this is the mutts. The Overkill stomp of The Boundaries Set, the all out in your face blast of opener Hollow Earth and the measured title track all contain subtle nuances that really get the foot tapping and the neck muscles twitching. Jae Hadley's vocals fit the traditional approach superbly whilst the screaming lead guitar of Nathan Sadd, ably supported by rhythm fret partner Chris Martin do most of the damage. These guys are slowly growing in stature. If you haven't heard them and like your thrash with a UK tint then get your aural devices around Raised On Decay. It's well worth it. 8/10
Darkfall: At The End Of Times (Black Sunset)
Austrian melodic death thrashers Darkfall has been kicking around for over 20 years. At The End Of Times is their first release for four years. It's hard, heavy with blast beats and riffage aplenty. The hooks are strong and the assault unwavering. Unfortunately it's destroyed by Thomas Spiwak's guttural howling vocals which add absolutely nothing to the maelstrom the band are trying to create.
Whilst lots of death metal contain very shouty vocalists, Spiwak's aggressive throat burning leaves little to engage the listener. It's a shame as tracks such as The Breed Of Death whilst nothing special are decent enough extreme metal which would get the pits moving. Ultimately it's repetitive and pales against some of the meatier beasts in the same field. 5/10
Stud: Circle Of Lies (Cranksonic)
Not to be confused with the seventies Irish outfit of the same name, Stud is a Finnish hard rock outfit who first formed in 1986 before going their separate ways in 1989. The band reformed in 2012 and Circle Of Lies is their third full record. It's variable stuff, with Ari Toivanen's high pitched vocals sitting comfortably alongside the powerful drumming of Stenda Kukkonen. Guitarist Mika Kansikas puts on a virtuoso display, with some superb work on the title track just for starters. The band are fast paced, well drilled and plough through the ten tracks.
Layered guitar work gives the impression of at least one more guitar throughout. It's not all decent stuff, with a steep dip when you reach Searching For Freedom, a slow paced horror, and No Hero which is particularly dull. It's full of cliches that belong back in the 1980s, although this is quite enjoyable at times. More Than A Woman brings the most misogynistic Scorpions' work to mind, and Real Man, well, it's just the blueprint to my life. "Women and wine, you're top of my mind", absolutely, and with a chorus of "it's gonna be showtime, showtime, all night", what lady could resist the ode of the Real Man. (Although all night does mean lights out at 11 right?).
Music is definitely in the ear of the listener and Stud won't be to the taste of all. It's not an album I'll be playing on a regular basis but despite its relative averageness I wouldn't throw it in the trash. 6/10