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Thursday 11 July 2019

Review: Sabaton, Turilli/Lione Rhapsody, Immortal Birds, Hammerhands (Matt, Rich & Lee)

Sabaton: The Great War (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Perfectly timed to coincide with the bands 20th anniversary, Swedish historical power metal act Sabaton's ninth (!) full length album is a concept piece about the titular great war 1914 -1918. The recording for the album started on 11/11/2018, exactly 100 years since the end of the WWI, keeping their commitment to history in tact. I've had a massive respect for Sabaton, they are a band who should not be at the level they are now, very few power metal bands headline festivals all over the world, nevermind embark on arena tours, as they will next year. But there is something about their mix of stories from history (mainly from wars), bouncy, sing along tracks and infectiously fun stage show that resonates with metal fans all kinds.

In my opinion their music has gotten a little lighter than it was in their early days but much of this is due to their position as an arena bands so I suppose it needs to be accessible. That's not to say they are an AOR band, no this ninth album has a lot of crunchy guitar riffs and searing solos from Tommy Johansson and Chris Rörland as Pär Sundström (bass) and Hannes Van Dahl (drums) bring the power metal gallops but on tracks such as The Attack Of The Dead Men they bring more synths in. Now I've outlined it here but I'm sure some of you will ask what The Great War actually sounds like? Well it's Sabaton at their most bombastic for the most part. The production of the band and co-producer Jonas Kjellgren makes everything sound huge and Joakim Brodén is on fine vocal form his bellowing vocals giving the, historically factual (more on that later), lyrics life. The Great War is also more approachable than their Carolus Rex concept just mainly because most people (in the UK_) will be familiar with WWI.

Musically it's full of big power metal anthems like the Devil Dogs about the US Marine Corps, ode to sniper in A Ghost In The Trenches, the gloriously thrashy Seven Pillars Of Wisdom about T. E. Lawrence and the excellent Fields Of Verdun which has stupidly simplistic lyrics, but mark my words at Bloodstock they will be sung back with gusto. However they also have the Deep Purple-like Red Baron (it's the Hammonds), the mini-epic symphonic title track and of course a massive dramatic piece in the form of The End Of The War To End All Wars, which features their special Great War choir, who appear again on the beautiful sung rendition of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields which ends the album on a bittersuite note. It's a massive improvement on the The Last Stand with Sabaton recapturing that early sound while also retaining that arena sized quality they now possess.

Now we get to the historical accuracy and I can say that Sabaton do it better than any other band mainly due to the fact that in conjunction with multimedia historians Indy Neidell and Timeghost they have launched their own History channel available as an app or on social media meaning that the historical content is a factual as it can be (a big plus for a Historian like me), it also means that there is a special 'History' edition of the album which has spoken word intros to each song giving an overview of the subject matter allowing you a bit of context if you're not a history buff. Who knew heavy metal could be educational!? Sabaton are now at a point where they can do no wrong, from taking up the empty stage left by Manowar, to lasting 20 years in a fickle music industry, these camouflage obsessed Swedes are now next in line to the thrones soon to be vacated by Maiden, Metallica and their ilk. Primo Victoria Indeed! 8/10   

Turilli/Lione Rhapsody: Zero Gravity - Rebirth And Evolution (Nuclear Blast) [Rich Oliver]

The long standing joke amongst metal fans about how many versions of the band Rhapsody there are has been extended with this being the fourth incarnation of the band.  In case you aren’t aware of the long running drama of the band formerly known as Rhapsody the original Rhapsody formed in 1995 and released a string of highly successful symphonic power metal albums.  The band were forced to change their name in 2006 due to copyright issues and were rebirthed as Rhapsody Of Fire where they continued until founding guitarist Luca Turilli jumped ship in 2011 and formed his own Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. Vocalist Fabio Lione also quit Rhapsody Of Fire in 2016 but the band continued with new members and continue to this day having released new album The Eighth Mountain this year.  Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody also folded in 2018 leaving Rhapsody Of Fire as the sole incarnation of the band.

Until now that is.  Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione have reunited and formed Turilli/Lione Rhapsody joined by former Rhapsody/Rhapsody Of Fire drummer Alex Holzwarth and bassist Patrice Guers and guitarist Dominique Leurquin from Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody.  Confused yet?  I know I am so let’s talk about the actual music. Zero Gravity (Rebirth And Evolution) has all the key components of prior Rhapsody albums such as epic orchestration, soaring choirs and virtuoso vocal and guitar performances but this has little to do with the dungeons and dragons nature of former albums being a far darker and more mature sound. There is a huge progressive metal influence throughout with a big Dream Theater influence as well as progressive power metal acts such as Kamelot and Serenity. This is a wholly contemporary sound for Rhapsody and as much as I enjoy the fantasy forays of previous albums this new mature progressive sound was a welcome surprise.

From the start of the album you can tell this a different beast with the beefier guitar sound and use of keyboards and electronics in opener Phoenix Rising. The concept of this album very much seems science based rather than fantasy with song titles such as Decoding The Multiverse and Multidimensional showing the new lyrical approach of this version of the band.  My personal highlight was the fantastic I Am which features the fabulous guest vocals of DGM frontman Mark Basile and is a fantastic piece of progressive symphonic metal with a very Queen-esque middle section. The performances on Zero Gravity (Rebirth And Evolution) are all top tier. Fabio Lione is incapable of doing a less than stellar vocal performance and Luca Turilli impresses as always with his fretboard pyrotechnics. Impressively he also handles all keyboards and orchestrations on the album and does a sterling job of it.

I’ll fully admit that when I found out there was yet another version of Rhapsody forming I rolled my eyes but it has to be said that the chemistry between Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione is still there and with this new direction sounds like a very promising reunion. Zero Gravity (Rebirth And Evolution) has definitely won me over and shows there is room for more than one Rhapsody. 8/10

Immortal Bird: Thrive On Neglect (20 Buck Spin) [Lee Burgess]

Immortal Bird's Thrive On Neglect isn’t a bad album, it’s just not very well put together. It’s all very tight and pacey, but it lacks the kind of chugging bloody menace that great DM has in order to drag the listener in. There’s plenty of metal on show, but plainly speaking there isn’t much in the way of death. The mix is thin, making for annoying guitar tone and tinny drumming. All this is topped off by screaming tantrum vocals that grate instead of enrich and terrify. That said, it’s obvious that with a bit of work and serious thought, this band could, with a few changes evolve and reach their lethal potential. Must try harder. 5/10

Hammerhands: Model Citizen (Hammerhands) [Lee Burgess]

Hammerhands crawling, weaving, menacing Industrial tinged doom is quite infectious. With Model Citizen, they create the kind of atmosphere that fans of the genre will want to devour or even savour. This is not your run of the mill Candlemass wannabe nonsense, this is the real deal. A seething and slithering record with tracks that are rich and dark. Too Many Rivers, That Awful Sound and Bastard Jesus pretty much sum up the tone of this bleak but brilliant tower of misery. It’s all very negative and suffocating, and rarely brings us up for air, and when it does, it’s probably toxic. But it’s when we are submerged in sadness that the magic happens. 8/10

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