Beast In Black: Berserker (Nuclear Blast)
When Anton Kabanen left Finnish metal band Battle Beast in 2015, there wasn't much of a chance he was going to start playing folk, he dove straight into making another metal band and it seems that it was Kabanen that was the old school metal fan, evidenced by the changing sound of Battle Beast's last album. Thankfully if you like chest beating, macho, power metal then Berserker will take you back to the first three BB records, it's Sabaton on steroids with the lycanthropic elements of Powerwolf thrown in for good measure. He hasn't really tried to disguise his involvement with BB by naming the band Beast In Black and using Roman Ismailo (the original artist of Battle Beast) to draw the cover, still he lets the music do the talking and the music shouts louder than anything else.
Beast In Black kicks off this record's classic metal assault with Sami Hänninen's frantic drum patterns and the expressive vocals of Yannis Papadopoulos, who screams with the power of a proper metal singer but also has a strong mid-range. From here it's business as usual for the band Blind And Frozen has a bouncy Euro-pop synth part, although not as Europop as Crazy, Mad, Insane. It's with these synths that the Sabaton comparisons can be made, the fist clenching Blood Of A Lion is a perfect example of high class power metal. The synths are there to give a more decidedly epic sound letting Anton and Kasperi Heikkinen let loose with the solo's, which they do frequently, however they don't always need the heavy use of synths, they can ramp up the speed metal too on Zodd The Immortal but they show their worth on the infectiously catchy End Of The World.
According to the PR the overriding theme of Berserker is apparently based upon the Japanese manga/anime Berserk, I've never heard of it but if it's as overblown as this record then I'm sure it'll be jolly good fun. Beat In Black have pulled a blinder here, anyone who was a little disappointed with the last Battle Beast album need not fret, Beast In Black have everything you could need, a killer debut. 9/10
Butcher Babies: Lilith (Century Media Records)
I've never really enjoyed the Butcher Babies, I'll admit that now before I continue. When they first arrived on the scene they were a thrash/groove/death metal band, fronted by two women who looked liked every metalheads fantasy, they both sang clean, screamed and growled and if I remember rightly rarely wore any tops save for some duct tape strategically positioned as not to be arrested. Many wrote them off as just titillation but since their debut they have reinvented their look with frontwomen Heidi and Carla now wearing more clothing on stage and focusing on being part of the band, rather than the visual elements. Unfortunately due to the masculine nature of metal 'female' fronted bands are still considered by some to be a novelty.
They fought back at this with their last record Take It Like A Man, by adopting an aggressive feminist ideology which was at the heart of the recording. It's this take no shit attitude that continues on their third record Lilith (who is a dangerous sexually wanton demon of the night and steals babies in the darkness - Jewish Mythology Ed) as Heidi and Carla growl, roar and spit venomous lyrics while the groove metal battery is non stop. Unfortunately this record like their others does get a little samey after a while sticking fairly rigidly to the metalcore pummelling of Slipknot or early In This Moment (due in part to the clean vocals). It means that midway through the album it's all too familiar and the for me they have failed to win me over. Obviously this is my opinion and some of you will love this but for me the technical expertise shown, is just at odds with my enjoyment. 6/10
Fire Red Empress: Black Morphine (Self Released)
I reviewed Fire Red Empress' debut EP what seemed like a millennia ago now and throughout I couldn't be more pleased with Nik Taylor-Stoakes vocals, he definitely had the voice for this band. However since that EP he has left (and joined Voodoo Six), the band have had some line up changes and now Jennifer Diehl is behind the mic and that has changed the dynamic of the band significantly. Fire Red Empress are now a different beast, they still play gritty, distorted alternative metal but Jennifer's vocals mean that there is a punk and grunge edge to their music. Think the early music of Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless and even Marmozets with the riff worship of QOTSA for clearer indication of the band they are now, the songs on this record are pretty good the first part of the record is fierce with Jennifer alternating between poppy cleans and raw passionate screams over heavy groove driven metal.
Dead Nature starts the record off with a colossal Soundgarden-like riff, where as Giants has a punk rock spirit, from there it doesn't really relax at all the songs keep the fists flying and you just get dragged along for the ride, only Under The Barren Light allows you to hear the lighter side with a song that starts out as a torchlight anthem but gets heavier, the title has a start stop heaviness which evolves into a great fluid solo and The Little Death is beautiful a real change of pace and style that gives Jennifer's clean vocals a chance to shine before moving into a hypnotic groove. This record is loud and boisterous, it deserves to be played loud, when the riffs bite they don't let go. Little has changed musically but with the new vocals they are able to skillfully make a classic rock track like Dear Mister FM radio ready. It's Reading and Leeds crowd baiting music with enough metal integrity to give a broad appeal. Roll on their show at HRH! 8/10
Iain Jennings: The House (Self Released)
The House is keyboardist Iain Jennings' third solo record (his fifth if you count the two Breathing Space albums), it's a continuation in style from his previous My Dark Surprise, that style is one of dark, conceptual progressive rock that relies heavily on synths and soundscapes. The concept behind the record is a young boy who dies and his ghost becomes another young boy's imaginary friend when they move into the house years later. This record much like songs he has written as member of Mostly Autumn is at the darker, cinematic end of the prog spectrum with suitably English vein running through it, I'm always intrigued how Jennings and MA are so obsessed with Englishness and it's traditional values, their records are Patriotic but never jingoistic.
Returning from the last record are guitarist Andy Newlove, bassist Stu Fletcher (Mantra Vega/Halo Blind) and the undiscovered gem of a vocalist named Mark Chatterton. Also appearing are drummer Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn) and Mostly Autumn mainman Bryan Josh (who had to do something while his wife was pregnant), it's these last two additions that adds a sense of familiarity to the record, the Floydian guitars and expressive drumming mean that it never strays too far away from the Mostly Autumn template, albeit one that also includes some pumping electronica and jazz. The House is another great solo record from a member of the MA mothership, all of which are slightly different but compliment each other greatly. 8/10