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Monday 4 March 2019

Reviews: Frozen Crown, Zebrahead, Spirits Of Fire, West Bound (Matt, Rich & Neil)

Frozen Crown: Crowned In Frost (Scarlet Records) [Rich]

Italian power metallers Frozen Crown strike back with their second album Crowned In Frost and show no sign of thawing. I was hugely impressed with their debut album The Fallen King calling it an absolutely stunning piece of power metal and with Crowned In Frost they have matched and at times even surpassed the quality of that album.

Crowned In Frost is a prime example of power metal done right in that it is high octane, high energy music which will in equal parts make you smile, make you want to sing along and make you want to bang your head. After a brief opening track the album kicks off with Neverending which is practically a mission statement for the band and plays up to all their strengths - the dazzling vocals of frontwoman Giadra “Jade” Etro, aggressive fast metal riffs, sensational lead guitar work, a pummelling rhythm section and all mixed in with irresistible melodies, earworm hooks and choruses that will burrow into the very centre of your brain. It’s a great song to start the album and sets up things to come with the band maintaining the level of quality throughout the album though the highlights for me were In The Dark, Lost In Time, the majestic title track and the epic Winterfall.

Frozen Crown garnered a lot of attention and praise with their debut and they should 100% get the same acclaim with Crowned In Frost. My only minor criticisms of the album were the pointless instrumental interludes The Wolf And The Maiden and Enthroned and it could have done without the unnecessary and out of place harsh vocals by guitarist Federico Mondelli (which are thankfully rare). Other than those minor negatives this is an absolute killer power metal album which is proving to be one of the highlights of 2019 thus far. 9/10

Zebrahead: Brain Invaders (MFZB) [Neil]

Zebrahead hit upon their signature energy-filled punk / rap party anthem sound very early in their career and have pretty much stuck to that formula for the past 20+ years. Ergo, you’d probably expect for their thirteenth studio album the band wouldn’t deviate too much from the tried and tested. And you’d be right, since I’m sure you’re all familiar with that adage about things that aren’t broken. So, let’s just say that by now it’s highly likely that you already know if you’re a fan of the band and thus whether you’ll enjoy this album and leap straight into a track by track rundown, shall we? Okay then:

When Both Sides Suck, We're All Winners -We hit the ground running with this satisfyingly aggressive opener. Featuring a chunky, thrash-like main riff and a very big chorus this is a fine example of the musical style the band have done so well over the years. If you feel like checking out just one track from this album I’d recommend this one. Party level: Hard. 

I Won't Let You Down - Rapper Ali Tabatabaee takes more of the centre stage for the albums second track which features another big singalong chorus albeit being a slightly more melodic outing than the preceding track. Party level: Strong.

All My Friends Are Nobodies - The first single from the album is classic Zebrahead with singer/guitarist Matty Lewis trading verses with Ali in the bands’ trademark style all ably backed up by drummer Ed Udhus’ rhythms and Ben Osmundon’s bass lines. Yet another big chorus too. Party level: Still strong.

We're Not Alright - The second single is more archetypical ZH, so pretty much business as usual but with an added “whoa-oh” breakdown which I expect will work great live. Party level: Decent.
You Don't Know Anything About Me - Featuring a guest horn section but due to a lack of liner notes on my review copy I’m not entirely sure who’s it is (the most likely culprits would seem to be Reel Big Fish though), this is another song largely driven by Ali’s rapped vocals over guitar duo Dan Palmer and Matty Lewis’ ska-like upstroking. Party level: Back to strong.

Chasing The Sun - Those upstrokes make another appearance here along with some quite prominent electronic elements. This is perhaps the closest thing to musical experimentation that the band have on this release. Party level: Staying strong.

Party On The Dancefloor - A return to the more aggressive side of the band with an uptempo track performed vocally largely by Ali, with Matty’s singing only popping up during the chorus. Party level: Very strong.

Do Your Worst - Maybe the biggest earworm on the album, this is an example of how ZH can write an actual damned catchy tune when they want to. Also features a (short) guitar solo too just to really show off their musical chops. Party level: Remaining strong.
All Die Young - Not my favourite song here if I’m honest. I can’t quite explain why but this feels almost forced even though it’s another pretty typical ZH-sounding song, weird. Party level: Average.

Up In Smoke - Another upstroke driven tune, and another ridiculously catchy, fun earworm. This tune should indeed invade your brain with it’s whistle along bits and the (in my opinion both amusing and unwelcome) reminder that people used to say “hootie hoo” (is that still a thing? I genuinely haven’t heard anyone saying it since Master P And The No Limit Soldiers were around). Party level: Strong nevertheless.

Ichi, Ni, San, Shi - This is probably the most aggressive song on the album and it’s a bloody strong tune too. Featuring only Ali on vocals I imagine that this is going to be an absolute rager live (especially during the bands’ next tour of Japan where I hear they’re kinda popular). Party Level: Hard.

Take a Deep Breath (And Go Fuck Yourself) - Despite the title this is actually a somewhat softer song, which I think is a definite grower. Party level: Standing strong, eventually.

Better Living Through Chemistry - Another song to demonstrate that the band do actually have some degree of versatility. It’s still unmistakably ZH but the lower tempo bits and more electronic and sampled elements make it sound at least a little different. Party level: Very strong.

Bullet On The Brain - And to close out the album’s regular track list we have another song that ups both the tempo and aggression. And then adds a couple of metric tonnes of “whoa-oh”’s just to get into your head that little bit more. Brain Invaders indeed. Party level: Strong-ish.

All in all this is a very very good entry in the Zebrahead oeuvre. Existing fans should snap this up and even though it’s unlikely to win over too many new fans one suspects that the band like it that way. Party on dudes (8/10).

Spirits Of Fire: S/T (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

When a band features Tim "Ripper" Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death, etc.), Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord) and was put together by renowned LA-based producer Roy Z.(Bruce Dickinson, Halford, Tribe Of Gypsies) you can almost guarantee that it's not going to be AOR, even though it's on Frontiers Records. Kicking off with Light Speed Marching those biting Caffery riffs come at you thick and fast, he wanted this album to sound like a classic metal album and it does as you'd expect the biggest names that pop into your head are Savatage and Judas Priest, especially due to Caffery's layered guitars, the proggy thrash rhythms of DiGiorgio and Zonder, as the voice of The Ripper is at its most visceral.

Temple Of The Soul is a more progressive track taking in the Fates Warning/Dream Theater influence but as the record wears on it's foot to the floor heavy metal anthems, in fact the title track does sound a lot the middle section in Painkiller and descends into some guitar heroics from Caffery. The album has peaks and troughs It's Everywhere is an ominous creeping metal track with some acoustic intro while A Game really slows things down with an almost blues sound to it before picking up with double kick drums at the climax. A debut album steeped in traditional metal values, the screeching vocals, screaming guitars and thundering riffs make sure that Spirits Of Fire should be played at maximum volume to get the right reaction. Hold your horns high Spirits Of Fire bring the noise. 8/10

West Bound: Volume I (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

Continuing with the Italian label it's the turn of West Bound who's album Volume I is cleverly (or maybe not so) their debut album. Like with most Frontiers releases it's a collaboration between two known names this time it's vocalist Chas West (Resurrection Kings, ex-Bonham, Lynch Mob etc.) and guitarist/producer Roy Z (yep him again). They are backed by pretty solid backing band for this album that is chock full of swaggering hard rock that reminds me a heck of a lot of Whitesnake, with West's vocals better here than in the Dio offshoot he sings with, on rockers like Keeper Of The Flame and Never Surrender he's got that leather lunged bravado but oddly it's on Beautiful Dreamer they are at their best as he apes the lovelorn crooning of Coverdale on a swaying ballad. 

Now I said Whitesnake but there is also a bit more to it than that, there is a 90's edge to the band with rumbles of Thunder, the touches of SKIN and even a sight of Little Angels peeking in for the more moody Nothing while Roll The Bones and The Traveller has some Zeppelin touches and some bubbling organs. Volume I is properly big hard rock record, sure it's nothing new sitting comfortably in the new wave of hard rock but with some fine guitar work from Z and Jimmy Burkhard, a locked down rhythm section from Jason Cornwell and Dave 'Chilli' Moreno, piano and keys from Stephen Leblanc and the sublime vocals of West, West Bound has an embryonic sound, one foot in the blues and another in massive arena rock Volume I is a strong contender to knock Inglorious off their perch. 8/10  

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