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Thursday 19 November 2020

Reviews: Skelethal, Eternal Champion, Stan Bush, Black Soul Horde (Rich & Matt)

Skelethal: Unveiling The Threshold (Hells Headbangers) [Rich Oliver]

Unveiling The Threshold is the second album from French death metallers Skelethal. As this new wave of old school death metal gains traction the number of bands seem to increase. No complaints here as I can’t get enough of the old school death metal sound as long as the quality of the material is high. Thankfully Skelethal are another band who produce some absolutely stonking death metal. Skelethal have a sound that is heavily influenced by the early Swedish death metal scene but there are definite nods to the Florida death metal sound as well as a big wedge of doom in there as well. As well as breakneck velocity and brain splattering intensity Skelethal know the art of slowing things down to a malevolent crawl and making death metal sound just that bit nastier. 

Songs such as Antropomorphia and Adorned With The Black Vetebra have moments which bring the pace down evoking the evil atmosphere that makes old school death metal so irresistible to this reviewer's ears. It also means when the speed and aggression kicks back in it sounds all the more effective for it. There are also the songs which are all about flesh ripping aggression such as Sidereal Lifespan and Emerging From The Ethereal Threshold which demand heads are banged and circle pits are started in your front room. The guitar work on the album is great with riffs that are gnarly and plentiful whilst the solos have a thrashy flair to them whilst the rhythm section of the band is tight and relentless. 

The vocals by Guillaume Zeller are in that old school style of being a guttural snarl and suits the tone of the music perfectly. Unveiling The Threshold is another in a long line of great contemporary old school death metal releases. It plays to the strengths of the genre and is a great throwback to the early 90’s both in sound and in the production and mix. The lack of originality is always a key factor when it comes to old school death metal revival bands but a band like Skelethal do it extremely well and as I’ve probably said before you don’t seek out innovation and originality in old school death metal. Another great death metal album for 2020.8/10

Eternal Champion: Ravening Iron (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

From Austin, Texas Eternal Champion have been giving the world their Moorcock inspired heavy metal to the world since 2012 and with each of their releases their sound has become more expansive and more cinematic really bringing the sounds of Michael Moorcock's fantasy universe to life. In his books "The Eternal Champion is a reincarnating hero that has lived many lives in the Multiverse, whose deeds are part of a larger interdimensional struggle for Cosmic Balance between the forces of Law and Chaos" so expect lots of swords and sorcery across these 8 tracks, as the galloping Worms Of The Earth is based upon Robert E. Howard's novel of the same name meaning that they aren't just about Moorcock anymore. Musically too there is a lot of differences with the, a lot of the muscular Manowar chest-beating you'd expect but the album also has many European influences with A Face In The Glare and Skullseeker reminding me a lot of Swedish megastars Ghost, as the title track and War At The Edge Of The End have the driving riffs of Grand Magus along with the obvious influence of American metal legends Manilla Road. 

The albums instrumental, The Godblade is synth-based intermission that keeps the atmosphere of this album in the mystical realms before entering into the epic closing track Banners Of Arhai. As I said earlier in the review Eternal Champion have expanded their sound with every release and the gap between their 2016 record and this one is huge leap despite the band now just being made up of four members Arthur Rizk (drums, guitars, synth), Brad Raub (bass), John Power (guitars, synths, twelve string) and vocalist Jason Tarpey who plays those most metal of instruments War Horn and Hammer & Anvil they have taken their sound to new levels of classic metal power. The songs burst out of the stereo with riffs that move between marching (Cowards Keep) and galloping (Skullseeker), killer solos that weave in and out of the songs seemingly at will and vocals that are a brilliant battle cry telling these epic tales with soul and power. Probably one of the best traditional metal albums of the year, Ravening Iron will be high on any self respecting classic metal fans end of year list! Wonderful! 9/10

Stan Bush: Dare To Dream (Cargo Records UK) [Rich Oliver]

Dare To Dream is the new album from Emmy award winning artist and melodic rock icon Stan Bush. Stan Bush is probably most well known for the songs Dare and The Touch that he contributed to the soundtrack of the original The Transformers movie in 1986 but he has had a long career with many movie soundtrack contributions as well as a lengthy discography with Dare To Dream being his fourteenth album. What we have with Dare To Dream is what you would expect from Stan Bush and that is eleven songs of uplifting, feel-good melodic rock which harks back to the mid to late 1980’s with stadium sized choruses, retro synths, slick guitar and Stan’s trademark crooning. There are countless bands that play this style to this day but Stan is a pioneer and icon in the melodic rock and AOR world and this is the music he was born to play. 

The album is chock full of punch the air anthems that will have older rockers dusting off their air guitars such as opener Born To FightHeat Of AttackNever Give Up and The 80’s (which was released as a single in 2019). You also have the trademark ballads that will get the cigarette lighters aloft such as A Dream Of LoveLive And Breathe and Home. Stan has assembled a great bunch of musicians to join him on this album and the performances are all great whilst Stan himself sounds fantastic with his voice barely aged from the 80’s heydays. Dare To Dream is a vastly enjoyable album. It is a massive throwback to the 1980’s and sounds exactly as you would expect a AOR/melodic rock album to sound. The sound is not original but it is coming from one of the most influential figures in the genre. The songs themselves are fantastic and this album is just the uplifting, feel-good release needed at the tail end of 2020. 8/10

Black Soul Horde: Land Of Demise (No Remorse Records) [Matt Bladen]

NWOBHM inspired band Black Soul Horde sound as if they could be one of the multitude of American/European NWOTHM bands that have sprung up since the mid 2000's (see above). Taking their cues from bands like Maiden, Priest, Saxon et al these bands have an affinity for a time when heavy metal bred it's first load of megastars in a genre that led to the birth of thrash and many others. The bands that spearhead this revival mainly come from North America or Scandinavia but Black Soul Horde break that tradition as they come from the much more Mediterranean climate of Athens Greece. 

The band formed in 2012 releasing a debut record in 2013, however it's taken a while for this second album to come to light but the founding duo of John Tsiakopoulos (guitars, bass, backing vocals, production) and Jim Kotsis (lead vocals) have finally returned with another record that brings galloping bass driven rhythms with Vasilis Nanos giving the drums, twin guitar harmonies, screaming solos (from Costas Papaspyrou) and the anthemic vocal phrasing of Kotsis. At a concise 35 minutes it harks back to the NWOBHM scene where albums were packed full of punchy, fist pumping heavy metal as tracks such as Lord Of Darkness set the head nodding in unison as Stone Giants and Into The Badlands bring the speed metal as Soulships brings an edge of Running Wild. Land Of Demise is a great classic metal album that's been a long time coming but delivers in it's promises. 8/10 

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