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Thursday 5 November 2020

Reviews: Fates Warning, Jeff Scott Soto, Evil Dead, Surma (Simon, Matt, Paul H, Lucas)

Fates Warning: Long Day Good Night (Metal Blade Records) [Simon Black]

OK, so those who know me know I love a bit of Dream Theater fan, and definitely a fan the older incarnations of Queensryche, but for some reason the other pioneer, bastion and absolute grand-daddy of the ‘Big Three’ Prog Metal outfits, Fates Warning, seems to have passed me by even after all these years. The album is (as usual for the genre), a biggie, at an hour and twelve minutes over fourteen tracks and probably their longest studio album to date. This in itself is fascinating. Prog artists tend to be very prolific – Dream Theater have been around a lot less time and have clocked up slightly more studio albums (plus almost as many live ones); stalwarts like Neal Morse seem to produce more albums of both type each year than FW have delivered in total. So even though this is an impressive album number thirteen, it has still taken them thirty-five years to get here. 

Taking a long time to get there is also a good summary of its content. Musically I find the album is a bit challenging, and I guess where all this discussion is leading is that with this long a gestation period I was hoping for something with a bit more ‘Oomph’. It’s dark and moody, but lacks energy. Although a technically very accomplished piece of work, it is a really slow burner and whilst undeniably progressive, is also leaning to the more AOR/Melodic world rather than the Metal one. To be fair this style suits Ray Alder’s voice well, which definitely feels more at home in this vein rather than trying to belt out a more aggressive performance. This isn’t helped by the fact that most of the instruments are way back in the mix and playing second fiddle to the vocals and drums. 

So even when we get more energy in the tracks, such as Alone We Walk, the heavier The Way Home and Scars (which feels more like classic Fates Warning), the overall effect lacks the ‘kick in the teeth’ that this genre delivers when at its best. The challenge I guess is that this band take a lot of listens before you are hooked, and sadly this reviewer has not got the time to really indulge them in that. Not a bad album by any stretch, but I really was expecting more. 6/10

Jeff Scott Soto: Wide Awake - In My Dreamland (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

For many years Glenn Hughes has been called 'The Voice Of Rock' but as time passes we may have to start to look for someone to carry that moniker. My vote goes to American  Jeff Scott Soto, he consistently delivers brilliant vocals whether it's as the frontman of band such as Talismen, Journey, W.E.T, progressive metal supergroup Sons Of Apollo and in his solo band which he has been fronting since 1994. Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) is his seventh solo record and benefits from his nearly 30 years of performing in various genres, along with a cavalcade of Frontiers veterans joining him, for a record of slick melodic/AOR and hard rock co-written with Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline etc) who also plays bass, keys and guitars her as well. 

We get galloping melodic metal on both Paper Wings and Living In A Dream which has Fabrizio Sgattoni unleashing some sweet guitar solos ala the recently departed EVH and one of Soto's previous employers Yngwie Malmsteen. There's a lot of ballsy hard rockers like the Zep-like Desperate, the bouncy opener Someone To Love where Del Vecchio's organ stabs punctuate the rockers, Mystified takes things in a more melodic direction and Love's Blind is pure Journey. On the harder stuff Soto gets to unleash his massive soulful bellow, but on the few muscular ballads we get the tender side, the most effective being Without YouWide Awake (In My Dreamland) is yet more evidence in the case of Jeff Scott Soto being named the new 'Voice Of Rock' another slick rock record from this talented vocalist. 8/10  
Evil Dead: United States Of Anarchy (Steamhammer/SPV) [Paul Hutchings]

Cast your mind back to 1986 and Los Angeles. The City Of Angels in the grip of the hair metal pandemic. No masks back then to protect from the clouds of hairspray, make up and lycra. And that was the blokes! Lurking in the shadows, there were also plenty of thrash bands who were the total antithesis of the preening queens. Alongside the likes of Armored Saint, Overkill and Agent Steel came the blistering pace and chug of Evil Dead. Initially a side project of Agent Steel guitarist Juan Garcia and Abattoir bassist Mel Sanchez, Evil Dead produced a meagre two records, 1989’s Annihilation of Civilisation and 1991’s The Underworld. The debut featured Rob Alaniz on drums, the vocals of Phil Flores and guitarist Albert Gonzales and had the immediately identifiable Ed Repka art. After a lengthy hiatus and two reformations, Evil Dead now return from the grave with their third record, a mere 29 years after their sophomore release.

With Flores, Garcia, Gonzales and Alaniz now joined by bassist Karlos Medina who replaced Shanchez in 1990, this is almost as original an Evil Dead line up as you could get. With Repka adding a glorious piece of album art, the only question was whether Evil Dead could relight the fires of nearly 30 years ago. The answer is a resounding yes because United States Of Anarchy is a fantastic fiery slab of thrash metal which transports you back to those late 1980s, but which also benefits from an updated production and a contemporary sound. Full of their traditional social commentary, much aimed at the Orange Commander In Chief (hopefully not by the time of publication), Evil Dead are certainly intent on making up for lost time with 38 minutes of heavy, full on thrash metal which demonstrates that a) these guys retain the fire of those early years and b) it’s a travesty they’ve been away for so long.

Opening with The Descending, Evil Dead swiftly remind thrash fans old and new that they were a player back in the day. Its skull crushing in intensity. Napoleon Complex is a wall of death wrapped up in a three-minute track, the shrieking guitars soaring above the pummelling drumming and pulsating bass lines. Flores’ is if anything, a better vocalist now than he was back in the day, still commanding and roaring with a vicious bile filled roar. The tracks are feisty, fast and over in minutes. The underlying crossover feel remains deep in the Evil Dead roots, and it surfaces in tracks like the blistering Blasphemy Divine and Seed Of Doubt. There are crunching guitars a plenty here, and old school and new fans alike will revel in the sheer power and energy that Evil Dead bring to the table. It’s a rampant return from a band who are absolutely loved in the thrash halls of fame. On this form, they will be moving higher up the ranks. 8/10

Surma: The Light Within (Metal Blade Records) [Lucas Tuckwood]

It’s time to feel good, so let’s have some good old symphonic metal to brighten the spirits. Today we’ve got Surma, kicking things off with a debut album that goes for the jugular and does not hold back. Drawing themes from sculptures, it’s brimming with that triumphant goodness that symphonic metal is known for, and firmly cements Surma’s place in the modern symphonic scene. Beginning with a soaring intro, the album starts with a bang, and each track feels yet more powerful than the last, and while the themes involve overcoming personal struggles, not a single track fails to deliver that special energy that has the power to lift the spirits. even if they’re not the most subtle lyrics in the world.

If I had to make one critique, it’s that the riffs provided by Heri Joensen of TYR tend to get buried a little beneath the orchestral melodies, and that he’s not often given the chance to rip more nasty solos. I quite enjoyed his vocal contributions, like in The City Of Winds, but they’re rather few and far between. I find that a contrast between the two vocalists adds an extra layer to the songs that ought to be utilised more, but as it stands this is still a great album. Surma are absolutely a band to keep an eye on, and for the symphonic metal fans, this is an essential album for you. As far as debut records go, this is how it’s done. 8/10

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