Serenity: Lionheart (Napalm Records)
We know now with hindsight that King Richard The Lionheart was a bit of dick, a warmongering Religious fanatic who, ritually committed genocide in the name of his God while his own kingdom fell apart beneath him. As a historian I know that the truth ruins any good story, myths and legends are not concerned with the truth, just the heroic implications of their protagonists. So with that in mind you'll have to treat Austrian symphonic metal band Serenity's sixth album as a fantasy piece, it's a concept record about Richard and paints him as uniting hero, rather than the crusading madman looking to further his Empire. A little naive yes but ideal for the purpose of power metal record, it means there can be lots of cinematic flourishes, huge choruses and choral elements, all of which are exactly what you'd want from Serenity, a band who have used history as inspiration, with their most recent album a concept piece about Da Vinci.
If you set aside the theme and imagine say a leader from a fantasy novel like Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings the songs are all excellent representations of rampaging power metal led by founder member Andreas Schipflinger's explosive drumming, he makes sure that when the songs need to gallop, they are less like a stallion and more like a Ford Mustang, all cylinders blazing on the title track, a song that is a perfect single pairing the thunderous rhythms with hook-laden chorus and crowd participation "hey hey" refrain. They get heavier on Hero which is a chance for Fabio D'Amore to display his bass-work and lets Christian Hermsdörfer play some gritter riffs but he returns to the vivid melodic guitar lines and dazzling solos fairly rapidly with the excellent Stand And Fight.
As far as Georg Neuhauser's vocals go he can do no wrong in my eyes, I love the dramatic way he sings and he is at his most poignant on King's Landing. As I said treat Lionheart as fantasy record and concentrate on just the songs then it's another brilliant effort from Serenity, if you focus too much on the subject matter then it does detract from it all a little. 8/10
Jeff Scott Soto: Retribution (Frontiers Records)
Jeff Scott Soto is a bit of a rock journeyman, he's been the singer numerous high profile groups with a stint in Journey, as the singer for Yngwie Malmsteen, he's a part of Trans Siberian orchestra and at the helm of Talisman. More recently he has been the lungs for W.E.T (a Frontiers project featuring members of Eclipse and Work Of Art) and Sons Of Apollo, it's a pretty good resume by anyone's standards but as well as fronting all of these bands he has a successful solo career, fronting both the heavier S.O.T.O and his self titled project. This is the sixth fully solo record and marks 15 years of collaboration with Frontiers, in the past his solo records have always been full of high calibre melodic hard rock and Retribution is a continuation of this trend, there's a smattering of Whitesnake, a touch of Journey but it's all sung with conviction by the unmistakable vocals of JSS.
The record can be a little ballad heavy, which is always an issue with melodic rock, the best of which is the brilliantly overwrought Feels Like Forever. On the other hand when it rocks out on the heavy title track, the shimmering Inside/Outside, the punchy Rage Of The Year you get to do a bit of head nodding to do. JSS is best known to the wider rock audience as a vocalist for hire, dig a little deeper and you find that he is an accomplished performer in his own right and that his real talent lays with his solo projects, classy hard rock with excellent vocal prowess. 8/10
Night Legion: Night Legion (Massacre Records)
It's pretty much set that if a band features Stu Marshall I'm going to like it. His work with Empires Of Eden, Dungeon and Death Dealer really fly the flag for chest beating true power metal, you know the kind that ask all wimps and posers to leave the hall? The Australian guitarist has played with and produced for some of the biggest musicians in traditional metal and he continues to form new bands all of whom carry a banner for Manowar, Maiden and Priest. Night Legion is his latest band teaming up with fellow Aussie's bassist Glenn Williams (Dungeon), drummer Clay T; who was in Blasted To Static with Marshall and Racer X's Jeff Martin and vocalist Vo Simpson from thrash band Darker Half.
Musically they don't diversify at all, this is traditional power metal folks, drums with that hammer like Mjolnir, a bass that grinds on the slower tracks such as Enter The Storm and of course Stu Marshall's excellent guitar playing is the cornerstone of the entire record, riffing like a bastard and throwing in solos galore. In fact the only part of this record that may cause some controversy is that, Vo Simpson has a voice that is hit and miss, in the mid ranges it's a great melodic snarl but when he tries to do the Halford heroics they can fall a little flat (most noticeable on the title track).
He's certainly not Eric Adams but he carries the record admirably with classic metal vocals you'd expect. Like I said I'm always going to like something Stu Marshall is involved in but on this one the vocals are little too erratic and more often than not don't appeal. 6/10
Goya: Kathmandu (Self Released)
Stoke On Trent has somewhat of musical heritage it's the birthplace of Lemmy, Slash and Robbie Williams, the city that has more speed bumps than could ever be needed are also the home of Goya. This trio play loud noisy rock/metal, they let their music do the talking as an instrumental band, they bring wave after wave heavy progressive rock from the outset of this four song EP, there's quite a bit going on with the music here, it demands repeated listens with each track bursting with musicality, take a song like Venenatus it moves so fluidly between Floydian textures and lumbering doom riffs that it doesn't take you by surprise, rather you realise that this is the only real path the song can take, well until it moves into a bass driven jazz section that brings psychedelic feedback and tribal drumming.
It's a 13 minute plus epic that comes just after a shorter more direct Collider which opening song and most basic cut on the record, Ashoka is discordant stoner rock and builds into the stunning title track rounding out the EP with it's most progressive moment, having the same blissed-out melancholy as Anathema or Alcest. Instrumental music for me can be a bit one dimensional but there is so much to hook you in on this EP that I will keep coming back to it, discovering something new each time. 7/10