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Wednesday 8 January 2014

Reviews: Iced Earth, Skull Fist, Seven Deadly

Iced Earth: Plagues Of Babylon (Century Media)

The American metal machine rolls into town again, this is their second album with new vocalist Stu Block, who managed to defy the critics on Dystopia by having his own style but staying true to the vocal delivery of long time frontman Matt Barlow. Things start off with the triumphal intro of the title track which begins like a metal funeral procession, before the trademark Schaffer riffage kicks in picking the pace up and starting things off in familiar territory lyrically with the continuing story of the Set Abominae (Iced Earth's mascot), and the hints to ancient Egypt, 6 tracks are part of the "Something Wicked Saga" and the other 6 are standalone tracks. Plagues Of Babylon is Iced Earth to the core with the relentless razor sharp riffs of Schaffer driving the songs along with a thrash-like ferocity, backed by the lead guitars of Troy Steele and the muscular rhythm section of Raphael Saini on drums and Brit Luke Appleton on bass. Key to the sound too are the excellent vocals of Stu Block who still has the perfect voice for Iced Earth and is a better replacement for MB than Ripper ever was (sorry Tim). The Set Abominae theme is the first half with songs about genocide, slavery, plague and zombies being the major lyrical themes of this continuation which ends with the 7-minute The End? this provides a cliff-hanger to the saga for further continuation Onto the stand alone tracks then and they a varied between the creeping horror of Cthulu, the Western-metal of Peacemaker, the political rallying cries of Spirit Of The Times (previously recorded by Schaffer's side project Sons Of Liberty) as well as a cover of Highwayman which features vocals from Michael Poulsen and Russell Allen in the other two roles, finally the band have an obligatory ballad with If I Could See You which features Schaffer's Demons & Wizards cohort Hansi Kursch. This yet another great album from Schaffer and co it has all the Iced Earth hallmarks that make the bands great, excellent riffs, massive gang chorus vocals and some seriously good songs. 8/10        

Seven Deadly: Obliviation (WEMC Productions)

Seven Deadly rose from the ashes of Panic Cell and stormed onto the scene with a four track stunner of an E.P (reviewed in these pages many moons ago). So now it's time for the full length debut, some line-up shuffling has gone on with PC bassist and founder member Bobby now concentrating on other ventures, however the rest of the band are still the same with H Virdee and Dave Irving dealing with the six strings bringing the hammering riffs and massive breakdowns, Rob Hicks smashes the hell out of his skins, new boy Murillo Rassi brings the groove on bass and Archie Wilson shows off his diverse vocal delivery easily soaring in the clean melodies and then roaring like a demon in the screaming parts. This is muscular modern metal at its' finest and it shows that it's not just the Yanks that know how to do this stuff we Brits are pretty good at it too. The album is made up of 12 killer tracks with the anthemic From This DarknessBlood On Your Hands and Allegiance coming from the E.P albeit with a much more muscular production and arrangement here. The band mix modern metal sounds of Lamb Of God, Devildriver and Trivium with the more groove based sounds of FFDP and Disturbed who are also alluded to in the electronic samples used throughout the album. From This Darkness is still a massive track and its melodic outro is followed by the heavy as hell Posthumous, the band drive the melody home with Pure Steel which would feel at home on a FFDP album. Throughout the album the band walk the line between heavy and melodic with H and Dave's guitars weaving intricate leads/solos with crushing riffs, the rhythm section driving the songs along at 100mph, special mention to Rob Hicks' drumming which is superb, Archie's vocals too are amazing, he has an expansive range that is part David Draiman part Randy Blythe see the title track. This debut is a monster filled with massive slabs of modern metal that get better as the album goes on and better again on repeated plays. Hopefully the strength of this album will see Seven Deadly headlining arenas soon!! 9/10         

Skull Fist: Chasing The Dream (Nuclear Blast)

Skull Fist are one of the main bands to have come out of the Canadian NWOBHM revival along with Cauldron and Axxion. There has been a gap of 3 years since the band’s debut Head Of The Pack the reasons for this are numerous, the most major being frontman Jackie Slaughter's broken neck from Skateboarding, but the band are back with a much bigger sound than on the debut which had a very trad sound in terms of the full pelt speed metal riffs and the D.I.Y production. This second full length has a similar style with super-fast riffage coming from Slaughter and Johnny Nesta, who kills with his face melting solos. The rhythm section too are a well-oiled machine with galloping bass and drums driving every song and provide Slaughter with a traditional metal base for his helium filled vocals. With any bullet belt revival band it's all about authenticity and not being too much of a copycat band, Skull Fist are neither of these things yes their songs homage the greats of the 80's when white hi-tops and harlequin spandex were the order of the day but Skull Fist expand their sound a little bit bringing in a bit of Sunset Strip style sleaze on Bad For Good which wouldn't sound out of place on a Ratt album. This is another excellent album from the crazy Canadians and with tracks like the title track, Call Of The Wild the super-fast Sign Of The Warrior, the fret wanking instrumental Shreds Not Dead and the explosive finale of Mean Street Rider. For anyone that was there the first time this is a great album to reminisce to, for those who weren't it is fast, furious metal madness. 7/10 

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