Primal Fear: Apocalypse (Frontiers Records)
12 albums in and German metal juggernaut Primal Fear are still firing on all cylinders Apocalypse is their latest collection of heavy metal anthems and sees them diversifying their sound adding more AOR influences that have crept in since they signed to Frontiers records. When a band release an album basically every 2 years you'd think that at some point they'd run out of ideas but when a band features songwriting machine Mat Sinner (bass) there's no chance of that as Apocalypse leads in New Rise which has rampaging drums, some orchestral swathes and Ralf Scheepers unmistakeable vocals.
Things get heavier with The Ritual which has that classic Priest speed metal sound to it. Having always been purveyors of metal Primal Fear is the heaviest of all of the projects Sinner, Scheepers, Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson are involved (and that my friends is a lot), so it means when they slow down for King Of Madness or Supernova they shift into the more melodic rock realms with the latter having orchestral swells that turn it into a bit of an emotional epic. From here though the volume is well and truly up with classic metal quota including the aggressive The Beast. Apocalypse is yet another slice of power metal mastery from the German band. 7/10
Manimal: Purgatorio (AFM)
Swedish power metal band Manimal have finally dropped their third record Purgatorio, (Italian for Purgatory) it’s a title derived from Dante’s Inferno and also the name of one of this records strongest songs, although with an album this strong it’s got a lot of competition. Manimal have always just relied on the four core members in the band, rampaging rhythms, aggressive riffs and Samuel Nyman’s Halford-esque vocal acrobatics, you could be forgiven for thinking this is modern day Priest record as Traitor, Behind Enemy Lines and the title track could have sat comfortably on Firepower. Purgatorio is the first time the band have produced a record themselves meaning that this is exactly how they want to sound, I discussed this a little when I spoke to the band last year supporting Firewind and they have a collective goal to be a completely independent band playing the music that they want to. It’s very good then that as a listener this is great metal music that doesn’t rely to heavily on symphonics, although they do appeared in a subdued manner on Denial and The Fear Within, however it’s mainly the tried and tested guitar, bass, drums and vocals formula creating catchy hooks and head banging riffs. Manimal have always been a great band Purgatorio keeps the quality of their product high, purgatory it isn’t; it’s something a little more heavenly. 8/10
Skyharbor: Sunshine Dust (eOne)
Indian/American progressive metal band Skyharbor have been one of the leading lights in the djent/tech metal scene since it started at the beginning of this decade, they have only released three albums in this time but for a band that started out as solo project of guitarist Keshav Dhar to be at the point where they're seen by a few bands as a major influence I'd say that's good going. Sunshine Dust is their third album and comes after a few line up changes the most notable was American Eric Emery taking the place of previous vocalist Dan Tompkins who is probably too busy fronting Tesseract.
Recently the band have toured with Deftones, Tesseract, The Contortionist and Baby Metal and this high profile touring schedule has influenced this record greatly, starting out a self recorded demo once they signed it was re-recorded with Forrester Savell as producer, meaning that it has bigger scope than before. What I've always liked about Skyharbor is their reliance on the more melodic, catchy, ambient soundscapes than some of their contemporaries, in places they have strong pop vein counteracted by the fluidity of the layered guitar playing and occasional crunch.
Take the technicality of Synthetic Hands which twists into a more anthemic finale before Blind Side has a stirring ambience to it reminiscent of Anathema or Mogwai, the guitars jangle while a propulsive rhythm section hooks you in as the emotional chorus takes hold. Sunshine Dust is the next step in the evolution for Skyharbor, with a fixed line up and more touring under their belts hopefully we will see more of them soon, for now however let yourself drift away with this excellent record. 8/10
The Wheel: 2nd & 10 (Wheel Music/Cargo)
A record that begins with a track called Douchebag Blues isn’t pulling any punches but rather than the Southern rock I was waiting for The Wheel are much more grungy hard rocking prospect having the fuzzy guitars and vocal similarities of Soundgarden, with the occasional Zep strut (Last Day) giving you something to shake about. Despite the overarching Americanism The Wheel are a Norwegian five piece formed by guitarist Ørjan Kvalvik who was inspired by EVH, Paul Gilbert and Jerry Cantrell and formed the band with a vision to have a proper rock band. I’d say that vision was fulfilled as they can turn their hand to many styles with Van Halen boogie for My Machine and Hey You, then with On Through The Night and the ballad This Low singer Jan Erik Salvesen adopts the leather lunged heartbreak of David Coverdale. It’s an ode to those halcyon days of classic rock music, Planet Rock listeners will lap this up as it’s a heady mix of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hard rock thrown together for your listening pleasure. Turn it up and get grooving! 7/10