Ashes Of Ares: Well Of Souls (Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt]
I wasn't keen on the first Ashes Of Ares, if I'm honest I wanted Matt Barlow's first project outside of Iced Earth to sound more like Iced Earth especially with former IE guitarist Freddie Vidales and Nevermore drummer Van Williams joining him. The album was alright but it was a little flat in places staying in cruise for the majority of the record. Not here though according to Barlow, he and Vidales (Van Williams left in 2017 but still contributes drums to this record) wanted to make much heavier, progressive more 'metal' record and I'd say they've done so, also from a personal perspective they've also released an album that is much closer to the Iced Earth sound and as fan boy that makes me happy.
For me Barlow is 'the' definitive voice of Iced Earth and here you can understand why I'd think that, opening with Consuming The Mana and The Alien he's got his gritty mid accompanied by his high screams in the background paired with a rhythm heavy thrash sounding style from the Burnt Offerings years, the heaviness is ramped up again by Unworthy which has a modern metal sound to it as Van Williams plays his ass off behind the kit letting up only for the huge chorus that has every octave in Barlow's range. It slides into Soul Searcher which is ballad full of soul and that has that IE darkness to it as well.
It's a major step up from the first album the first 'proper' metal album Barlow has been apart of for a while, the melodies powerfully soar, the thrashy/classic metal riffs are tough headbangers with Sun Dragon, In The Darkness some of the biggest along with the doomy and theatrical Spirit Of Man and there's even pretty decent cover of Chris Cornell's Bond theme You Know My Name which gets more vocal gymnastics than the original. Barlow and Vidales are back and I won't mention 'the other' band again but this is a natural progression for their sound building on history and the foundation of the debut, Well Of Souls is one heck of metal album for fans of progressive power/thrash metal. 8/10
Shattered Skies: Muted Noir (Self Released) [Matt]
Ah here's a name we've been following the career of for a long time now, in fact since we saw them upstairs in The Gryphon a few years ago. Since then some line up changes have meant the Irish group aren't the same band we saw but the key components of Ian Rockett (guitar/keyboards/synths) and Ross McMahon (drummer/synths/mixing) are still present and correct guiding this new version of the band through it's ascension. Muted Neon is their second full length and it carries on from Auxilium//Vol I the EP released last year. Musically Shattered Skies have always been diverse skillfully blending chunky djent-like heaviness with ethereal ambience along with a bit of pop, classic rock and hazy shade of prog too, it's modern and at time utterly brilliant the compositions being musically dense but never inaccessible.
The Disaffected builds and builds as almost an extended intro the layers adding and adding before it explodes into palm-muted riffs starting the "journey through tough times and into the light on the other side" as vocalist Gerry Brown describes it. The album is influenced by their hardships the band have had to face professionally and personally but it's catharsis of that and there is a light the emboldens tracks like the chunky You Will Know My Name which has synths to die for and a riff that bends the mind, add to that the underlying message in the lyrics and the genuinely impressive vocals of Brown, this track alone is worth picking this record up as it's modern prog perfection. Just two songs again and Shattered Skies remind me why I dragged an old friend to go and see this band in the upstairs of a dingy rock pub in Bristol, it's their flagrant disregard for what they should be doing.
They are progressive at its truest sense, experimental with soundscapes, such as the Shut In which has huge riffs but also some repeating synths for a real mixed palette of sounds, a trick reused throughout the album but not overused at any time. This is a record that demands repeated listens each time you'll discover soemthing else that gets you excited, it's been a brilliant year for bands that at one time would be lumped into the 'djent' sound, 2018 seems to be the year it's matured into a truly formidable force, with acts like Shattered Skies taking the reigns. 9/10
P.O.D: Circles (Mascot Records) [Paul H]
By Jeebus, the Christian nu-metallers return with their tenth release, Circles, which frontman Sonny Sandoval has stated “is this the new beginning for P.O.D., or is it the beautiful end?” Ah, very cryptic. I remember listening to these guys when they released Satellite back in 2001. It was reasonable nu-metal at the time. I don’t think I’ve listened to one of their albums since. I slavishly listened to all of Circles. More fool me. The rap-influenced metal is ghastly. The Christian lyrics make me want to hurl bricks through glass plate windows. It may have an audience in the USA but, and I am sure I’m the wrong audience, if these guys were playing in my garden, I’d close the curtains. 2/10
Reece: Resilient Heart (Mighty Music) [Paul H]
David Reece once sang with Accept on Eat The Heat way back in the late 1980s. There. Soak that up. The former Bonfire singer has now released his second solo album supported by four Danish musicians, Marco Angioni, Martin Jesper Andersen, Frederick Buhert and Siguard J Jensen. Reece has a voice that veers from Axl Rose to Lou Gramm. Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks here suit neither voice. Unfortunately, a lot of the songs on this melodic hard rock release don’t suit a hard rock album. Forest Through The Trees is a particularly dreadful ballad and even when the jams start to unpack, such as on A Perfect Apocalypse, there’s little to distinguish them from the perfectly average. With a real 1980s sound to most of this album, there has to be better to spend your hard-earned cash on. 4/10