Grand Magus: Sword Songs (Nuclear Blast)
Sword Songs is Swedish trio Grand Magus' eighth album and it once again shows that if you were to collect all the retro loving NWOBHM/True Metal bands that are currently around, with new ones coming every week, together in a pile Magus would be somewhere near if not on top of that very sizable mountain, there is just something just so pure and joyous about the music they create that not only separates them from many of the bands doing the same but also gives them enough differences to avoid being just copyists. I'll get this out of the way, I love Magus, I love their records, their live show, their uncompromising infectious enjoyment of what they do, so don't expect this record to be slated, it will not be however, as sycophantic as that previous statement sounds I think Sword Songs is the natural progression for the band.
After their previous record Triumph And Power the band were straying into the over-the-top realm of Manowar (no bad thing) adding some orchestral parts and lots of polished shirtless, greased up chest beating, Sword Songs retains the latter, but it has a snarl that was present on the early albums, the production to isn't over polished and that's to the records benefit as well. Happily Magus are still a three piece machine (for every song bar two, discussed later) with Ludwig Witt still the hammer of the north (sorry/not sorry) behind the kit while Fox's bass is the riffmaster general when JB is burning up and down the fretboard and locks in to the classic metal groove when the two work together. The opening tandem of Freja's Song and Varangian a war-like feel is created with another duo of fist pumping metal anthems, Varangian especially will slay in the live arena with a chant-along chorus to shout aloud with hammers held high. Forged In Iron-Crowned In Steel starts off with some classical guitar and erupts into the albums most Maiden-like track replete with Steve Harris bass gallops from Fox and JB's booming call-to-arms vocals approach that doesn't let up. It is also one of the two songs that features and outside member with Entombed A.D's Nico Elgstrand providing the restrained acoustics.
No such restbite on Born For Battle, Master Of The Land, Frost And Fire which make up the bulk of the album and are evidence to this being one of Magus' best works, they fire on all cylinders throughout right up until the epic finale Everyday There's A Battle To Fight. It's a testament to the band's confidence and indeed their songwriting that they leave a song as good as In For The Kill relegated to the bonus track, In For The Kill is one of two bonus tracks on this record the second being the other song that has an extra member; a cover of Stormbringer which is a heavier interpretation of the Purple classic but still retains the powerful organ lines of Jon Lord, here provided by Witt's Spiritual Beggars bandmate Per Wiberg. Stormbringer is the perfect cover to close the record but the album that proceeds it will stand out as one of the best from the group. Roll on Download as I want to see these tracks live asap, until then though I'm sure Sword Songs will get repeated plays at MoM towers!! 9/10
Kvelertak: Nattesferd (Roadrunner)
It seems strange to think that Nattesferd is only Kvelertak's third record, they seem to have been in the public consciousness for far longer than their nine years as a band. Maybe it's due to their rapid ascent, which is mainly due to their interesting and unique sound, stylised as Black 'n' Roll the band have improved on each release and have developed their sound over the course of three records, their last record Meir saw them take a much more commercial sheen, pipping them as future arena headliners, while also keeping their aggressive black metal influenced sound. Their live prowess was instrumental to the success of their records, they impressed me when I saw them opening for Anthrax and Slayer and it was heartening to see so many come out early for them.
With such high profile tours you'd be forgiven for thinking that the band would add yet more commercialism to their sound but this isn't the case with Nattesferd they have in fact stripped things back a bit focusing more on the black metal influence in their sound, aiming for the jugular with a more violent, frantic approach than previously. The band's major trick is managing to be all inclusive with their music while still performing in Norwegian, at no point does the language barrier get in the way of the impact of Erlend Hjelvik's intense vocal delivery. As he shrieks, screams, growls and squawks, the multi layered but unrelenting triple guitar assault of Vidar, Bjarte and Maciek peel off riff after pit-inciting riff, reinforced by the irrepressible force of Marvin and Kjetil's nuclear engine room.
At just 9 songs and 47 minutes the record doesn't sound to taxing but by the final chord of Nekrodamus it leaves the listener struggling to regain their thoughts after the pulverising but it does you have you reaching for the repeat button as with each listen the songs reveal a little more especially the 9 minute Heksebrann which comes as the record's penultimate number. With the black metal coming back in droves 1985 still throws one of the bands trademark curve balls with the blackened Sunset Strip rock which plows into the the rampaging title track, Bronsegud is a punkier number that leads into a more melodic Ondskapens Galakse and the impressive fast Beserkr (not a Fuck Your Yankee Blue Jeans cover). Nattesferd is another excellent album from the Norwegian masters of heavy metallic rock n roll. 9/10
Secret Rule: Machination (Scarlet Records)
The female fronted metal genre is swamped, (much like the aforementioned retro-metal genre) every week another band comes out featuring a raven haired singer with a piercing soprano warbling over classically influenced power/pop metal. Some are good, some are not good and many others just fade into obscurity, the ones that survive are the bands that are not afraid to change their style. Secret Rule have done away entirely with former and gone straight to the latter, their debut record Transposed Emotions was a concept record that put them more in the NWOBHM camp with progressive touches, none of the usual classically influenced stuff that many in the genre rely on. So on their second album they have added elements to their sound again this time due to the introduction of Sonata Arctica keyboard player Henrik Klingenberg who really puts his stamp all over this record adding layers of keyboard arrangements to the band's heavy sound meaning that sound wise their second album is more akin to Within Temptation's recent releases with classic metal fused with some symphonic elements from Klingenberg.
Secret Rule hail from Italy, they are fronted by Angela Di Vincenzo who has a first-rate vocal style. Her wide range and accent means she stands out above many others in the female fronted genre, she sounds like a mixture of Sharon Den Adel and Lacuna Coil's Christina Scabbia which is indeed a good thing as behind her is a heavy style of metal that brings to mind Kamelot or Serenity as Andy Menario (guitar) and Michele Raspanti (bass) supply the quota of riffage that's down tuned and modern sounding in style with the drumming of new boy Sander Zoer (ex-Delain) being a particular highlight in the speedier songs. I've said that Secret Rule sound a bit like Serenity, Within Temptation and I also say Delain too and as it happens the guests on this album are all from those bands with guitarists' Stefan Helleblad and Timo Somers coming from Within Temptation and Delain respectively and bassist Fabio D'Amore from Serenity, with these guests it's plain to see why Secret Rule remind me so much of modern WT.
Unlike WT they also have some harsh vocals from Janneke De Rooy of Paper Doll Decay which add a bit more meat to tracks like Foolish Daisy. The records sound is fleshed out by some industrial touches on Ex Machina and pulsating The Saviour which mixes choirs with EDM and metal, Dolls is a bit more of the traditional metal style, it's not all great though as the lazy, poppy I Will and the Goth mega ballad The Image slow the middle of the album but things get back on track in the last part of the record. Machination has to make people stand up and take notice of Secret Rule as it's a big leap towards securing a future for the band. 7/10