Vader: The Empire (Nuclear Blast)
Playing it safe has never been in Polish titans Vader’s vocabulary. Powering death metal since 1983, The Empire is a blistering follow up to 2014’s Tibi Et Igni, which was an absolute monster. The Empire starts at full throttle, Angels Of Steel kicking your face hard. The pace doesn't let up for a minute, unsurprisingly for a death metal band. Prayers To The God Of War and Iron Reign drip thick wedged riffs, with the latter’s stomping chug conjuring images of 1980s era Venom.
Piotr Wiwczarek’s distinctive brutal vocals and the band’s no nonsense all out thrash approach remains as strong as it ever did. Brit James Stewart drums like there is no tomorrow. His bass drumming on The Army-Geddon ferocious. Album closer Send Me Back To Hell concludes another solid release from one of the most influential death metal outfits of all time. 8/10
Avenged Sevenfold: The Stage (Capitol Records)
Dropped without any fanfare, The Stage is album number 7 for the Californian outfit and the first with new drummer Brooks Wackerman who replaced Aron Ilejay in 2015. The album is also the first with Capitol records after a decade on Warner Bros.
A concept album based on themes of Artificial Intelligence (AI) The Stage is, despite claims to the contrary a typical AX7 sounding release. Slick production, huge drums, guitars raining down solos and riffs and the instantly recognisable vocals of M. Shadows. The problem for me with AX7 is that they've always retained a sound that whilst truly metal, washes completely over me with absolutely no impact. Take Paradigm as an example.
Battering drums, raging riffs and a big hook. Not a flicker. In fact, Paradigm is one of the catchier tunes on the album as well as the second shortest, with only God Damn clocking in under 4 minutes. God Damn is actually a blistering tune, with a powerful intro, harmonies on the chorus and a variation between crunching riffs and flamenco guitar is the middle eight.
The Stage is probably two songs too long, with five tracks well over six minutes each in length. The band have clearly poured some of their longer term influences into this release, with closer Exist merging a range of styles. At nearly 16 minutes long it's an ambitious piece, huge chunks of Metallica apparent throughout (nowt wrong with a bit of that), with the subject matter focusing on the Big Bang and a narrative from astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson Tyson.
I'm not sure it totally works with clunky interplay, uncomfortable time changes and a variety of approaches which make it difficult to appreciate. The synth work in the middle which merges with some raging drumming and guitar work is a classic example. However, the message of greater life in the universe and mans preoccupation with destroying himself is particularly relevant at this moment.
Let me state for the record that I wish AX7 well. They've been through a lot, with the death of drummer The Rev rocking the band more than could have been expected. They remain a force in the world of metal, hated and loved in equal measure. The expectation on them to be the next big thing from the metal media not helpful. I don't find this album much more exciting than their “massive” 2013 release Hail To The King. But the band are in an arena where they can pretty much do what they want. Good luck to ‘em. 7/10
Crowbar: The Serpent Only Lies (Nuclear Blast)
Album number 11 from New Orleans sludgers Crowbar. It's a heavy, brooding affair with a return to the Crowbar of old. Massive riffs, plodding sections heavy enough to crack concrete and some heads down pace at times to keep you on your toes. Opener Falling While Rising sets the tone, a behemoth of a tune. Kirk Windstein’s vocals remind you that this man must gargle broken glass before breakfast.
As for the riffs, well, fuck me there are riffs pouring out of every orifice. Plasmic And Pure drags the listener and smashes his head against a wall. Windstein and guitarist Matthew Brunson absolutely devastate whilst drummer Tommy Buckley and returning bassist Todd Strange lay down an impenetrable backline. Windstein stated in an interview that he wanted fewer lyrics to let the “riffs breathe”. He has delivered what he promised.
The massive Surviving The Abyss and the brutal title track bear witness. The Serpent Only Lies transports the listener back to the days of Crowbar and 1991’s monstrous Obedience Through Suffering. The beast may be a lumbering creature, but Crowbar 2016 remains a very dangerous beast. 8/10
Taken: Taken (Self Released)
Power metal from Pamplona? Yeah, we will try anything once here at Musipedia (apart from Phil Collins –he can fuck off from the start). Formed from the ashes of Dreamwalker in 2013, Taken has ingested Helloween’s entire catalogue, adopted Klaus Meine’s vocal intonation and used their special set of skills to deliver a really generic, routine power metal album. 100mph from start to finish, the songs are uninspiring, power metal by numbers.
Modern Messiah highlights that vocalist David Arredondo can't actually sing that well, whilst a track titled Wormy Brains means that it all becomes personally too much for me. The keyboards often drown the guitars, the format is repetitive and overall it's just not very good. Dragonforce lite. 5/10