I’ve been a fan of Northern Irish outfit Stormzone since their superb set at BOA in 2014 which led to their fourth album, Seven Sins. 2018’s Lucifer’s Factory maintained the quality and now the band are back with their latest long player and yet again they’ve delivered the goods. Over an hour of cracking quality UK classic metal, oozing class and overall a fantastic listen. A solid production ensures the duel guitar work is crisp and clean, Steve Moore and Dave Shields breaking through with some razor-sharp riffs and blistering solos. Vocalist John ‘Harv’ Harbinson possesses one of the best voices in metal, hitting the notes with ease whilst the rhythm section of Graham McNulty and drummer Davy Bates keep the engine room motoring.
The album kicks off with a relatively routine opener, Tolling Of The Bell, but fires into real life with the title track which is a rip-roaring power metal escapade. It’s fast, furious and damn good fun. The melody and harmonies are catchier than Covid 19 on a Bournemouth beach, whilst the song itself pushes the boundaries. This is music that demands a beer in hand, good friends on your flanks and a raucous festival crowd roaring along to every note. Fuck. That’s blown the good vibes. Ironically, the next track is called My Disease which is another melodic rocker which has a beautiful Queensryche vibe.
In fact, it would be fair to say that there is little filler on this album. No, scratch that. There is no filler on this album. It’s bursting with superb power and heavy metal, the type which just fills you with joy, delight at the sheer goodness which it brings. Ignite The Machine is clever, competent and fabulous in its exuberance. Dragon Cartel simply bursts with anthemic goodness, a power metal classic which races along. The mandatory ballad, Nothing To Fear is one of the weaker tracks but still manages to stay classy. Follow up song Revolution clears the head, another powerful driving track that emphasises the melodic undertones that Stormzone bring without compromising their metal roots.
The final third of the album maintains the momentum, something that doesn’t always happen, and Dealer’s Reign keeps things moving whilst the slower paced Flame That Never Dies surprisingly accelerates and once more the fists are raised high. At this point, I’d have been completely satisfied but whilst the final duo doesn’t add much more, they are both enjoyable. The Maiden-esque Under Her Spell is followed by the clichéd yet amusing This Is Heavy Metal, a montage of metal songs in the vein of early Sabaton’s Metal Crue, a call to arms and homage to the genre we all love. It doesn’t detract from a thumpingly good album and one that sits high in the 2020 hall of fame. 9/10
Lionheart: The Reality Of Miracles (Metalville Records) [Paul Hutchings]
2017 saw the second album from UK AOR legends Lionheart, a mere 33 years after their debut. Our Rich loved the album, something that always surprises me about the gnarly old bastard as he’s far more suited to grinding thrash metal than thick, rich melodies and sweet harmonies. But he was spot on about Second Nature, which finally saw the promise the band had shown all those years ago come to fruition. And now, 40 years since the band originally formed, album number three arrives. The Reality Of Miracles features the same line-up as Second Nature, and it’s a highly polished, smooth and impressive record.
The mandatory intro leads into an opening trio that would be best served with crackers, celery and some nice chutney. It’s cheesy but oh so enjoyable. Thine Is The Kingdom allows guitarists Dennis Stratton and Steve Mann to strut their stuff, whilst singer Lee Smalls is on magnificent form throughout. Each track is deliciously composed, featuring beautiful melodies and harmonies, keys that enhance rather than hinder and the odd glimpse of the old power from the 1980s when the band first flexed their muscles. Five Tribes rocks as hard as any other band, a hard rocking song that rattles along at a fair clip. It’s enjoyable and slick.
As was the case on Second Nature, the keyboards with their retro sound take centre stage on several of the tracks, adding a sound that when done well, as here, is unbeatable on a cool summer evening. Behind The Wall is case in point, almost Germanic in its anthemic quality, the symphonic elements add panache to the grandiose feeling of the track. Stratton and Mann can certainly still play, their interplay subtle yet vital. The perfectly balanced stomp of Widows contrasts neatly with the oriental flavours of Kingdom Of The East. There is little to criticise throughout this record. In the true vein of UK AOR, think FM, Vega, as well as the old school of Tobruk, Airrace and Shy, Lionheart have added to the catalogue of albums that stand toe to toe with those 80s US giants, Foreigner, Styx, Journey and Reo Speedwagon. The Reality Of Miracles really is one of the best AOR releases I’ve heard for many a year. 8/10
Katalepsy: Terra Mortuus Est (Unique Leader Records) [Matt Bladen]
Mr Rogers (no not that one), the bass playing extreme metal madman who occasionally reviews the most extreme technical death metal records we get here, called Katalepsy "Generic Russian Slam" so with that ringing endorsement in my ears I pressed play on their latest release, the bands second full length Terra Mortuus Est which has been released on extreme metal label Unique Leader Records. So is is as bad as Charlie says? Well if you like rabid, unleashed slamming death metal with huge pit starting grooves, massive skull crushing breakdowns that evolve into widdly solos. So you can expect drumming that never really moves from explosive blastbeating and guttural growls that start low and stay low. However despite the technical musicianship on display, these Russians can really abuse their instruments, by fourth song The God Of The Grave you've heard every trick they have. Terra Mortuus Est is ideal for wearing a vest, camo shorts and pitting until you can't stand up but unfortunately for me slam is another genre that really does very little for me. 4/10
Kosmogonia: Enthrone The Gods (Cronos Productions) [Matt Bladen]
Just a quick question before you settle down to this review: Do you like Eluveitie? If the answer is no then stop reading. If it's yes then you'll not be surprised to find that pagan folk melodic death sound very much like the Swiss folk metal band and indeed other Northern tundra dwelling bands such as Leaves Eyes and Turisas however Kosmogonia come from Athens Greece, but their sound is almost spot on to the pagan folk metal bands of the North lands. Formed by Kostas Magalios (vocals/guitars) and Christos Drossos (guitars) in 2015 they started out as a much more thrash/death orientated band but Kostas seems to be a man of ambition and began to add folk instrumentation and finally operatic female vocals resulting in the line up that has recorded this album; Maya Kampaki is the other singer, Dimitris Poulos and Spiros Aleksandropoulos on bass and drums respectively.
However fleshing out the more cinematic edges of this band are Odysseus Poulos' keys and Ismini Vasileiou's Flute which is used to great effect on the swaying folkery of Raven's Call while the title track attempts to reach the heady heights of Septicflesh, with a few dramatic tone changes, as does the industrial grind of Triiris. The overriding influence though is that of Eluveitie or even the MaYan project with the growling death vocals in contrast to the soaring operatic tones as the riffs gallops against the orchestral stings on Melody Of Persephone which shifts style throughout moving from out and out death into a folk jig led by that bewitching flute which is so key to the bands sound. If you're folk metal fan then Kosmogonia (Cosmogony) for those of us that don't speak Greek, should definitely be in you to listen too list! 7/10