Powerwolf - Call Of The Wild (Napalm Records) [Simon Black]
Having a deep love of outrageous and ostentatious Power Metal when it is done well and having missed Bloodstock the year these chaps played recently, I was curious to see what this, their eighth studio record would deliver. Powerwolf have been pumping this sort of singalong melody driven Power Metal tunage for fifteen years now and with almost as many live, special orchestrated editions and compilations to go with them, there was a risk that they may have run out of steam. You need not worry on that count, as this one’s a palpable hit.
From the orchestral opening of Faster Than The Flame
, this album delivers the goods. When you’ve been at this a while and have such a distinctive sound, the concern always lingers that the well of originality may be running dry, but there is absolutely no sign of that here. Each and every track on here is Powerwolf at their absolute best, with that rich underpinning of orchestration adding such depth and an undeniable epic quality throughout. The pace and tempo is mainly mid-tempo, but I have to draw out the absolutely impeccable power ballad Alive Or Undead
. Karsten Brill opens this up with a little piano support – hauntingly and movingly clear is his vocal delivery here, as the orchestration builds up and the song goes full Power Ballad. It should be a single and it’s likely to work really well live, as indeed does pretty will pretty much every damned corpse-painted track on here. They’ve also opted to include a few folky motes in the mix as well, with Blood For Blood (Faoladh)
and the title track adding some folk voices to the keys layering. It’s by no means a change of direction, but you just know it’s going to get people dancing when played live.
Special mention needs to go out to the Deluxe Edition of this as well, which at a whopping three CD’s is well worth the extra cash. This version has the standard studio album as the first disk, with a compilation of existing well-known tracks with collaborative elements. So alongside obvious inclusions like the recent single Demon’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend
with Alissa White-Gluz, more established tracks get a revisit with guest vocalists like Ralf Scheepers, Doro Pesch, Johan Hegg, Johannes Eckerström and many more. It’s worth shelling out for this disk alone, as this is the cream of the European Metal circuit delivering the goods here. And for good measure, there’s a third disk with all the studio tracks just with the full choral vocals and orchestrated versions. It’s not so much a different version, as a chance to hear the underlying orchestrations and choral parts in isolation, but I have to say this version doesn’t do anything for them. Maybe some people will want a version they can play to the baby boomers in their family, but in my book you can’t improve on perfection.
Powerwolf are at their absolute melodic, anthemic and catchy best here. This album is probably their magnum opus to date, and totally befits an act in the process of moving from arenas to much larger stages (at least on the European mainland). And not before time. 10/10
Yngwie Malmsteen – Parabellum (Music Theories Recordings) [Simon Black]
I need to level with you. Despite normally getting off on the more classically influenced end of the Metal world, I haven’t really had much exposure to all things Yngwie. OK, there’s a couple of vinyl copies of early Rising Force
LP’s somewhere deep in the collection and I certainly remember seeing him play Rock City in Nottingham many moons ago circa the Odyssey
album in 1988 when Joe Lynn Turner was in the vocal spot (although there was no way that venue was big enough for those two to share a stage in any respect). I remember being slightly disappointed because that’s a difficult venue to get the sound right in, particularly if your man on the desk is used to playing bigger halls and it doesn’t really lend itself to the kind of subtle harmonic interplay that the tail end of the Neo-Classical collaboration with Jens Johansen was still delivering at that point. After that he completely dropped off of my radar, probably because musically his direction of travel took him away from that sound, but also because the music industry in the UK dropped any kind of pretentious virtuosity like a hot brick in favour of all things Grunge and all dreary crap that followed, until people started going back to the source.
I might be forgiven for thinking that little has actually changed in the intervening years since 1988’s Odyssey
, as musically this is well and truly in the Neo-Classical camp, although the reality is this is him going back to his roots fully for the first time in a while. Given that his supporting line-up has been something of a revolving door over the decades, I was curious to know who his new vocalist is, as his timbre and style fits the music perfectly. It’s clean, but not over the top, has presence, range and a nice tone - which begs the question as to why Malmsteen spent so many years putting up with big name egos sharing his stage when this record proves that he’s more than capable of doing it all by himself. Plus it’s got to be cheaper when you don’t have to litigate against yourself when the inevitable fall out occurs…Wolves At The Door
opens the record and sets the Neo-Classical stall out very early, even though this particular stall is reselling Paganini’s 24th Caprice
rather blatantly for its instrumental break (that’s the piece they used for the South Bank Show theme tune for those of us in the UK old enough to remember it). The first thing that strikes the ears is the acoustic effects chosen for the mix. This record literally sounds like it was recorded in an empty theatre, which is perhaps not as unsurprising as you might think. In fact it isn’t, he’s done it all himself from his Florida home without the usual studio tie and money pressures thanks to Covid. I wonder how deliberate this is EQ stylistic choice, as it really does sound like the different players are spread across a large empty stage minus the dampening effect of an audience and feels like a supportive nod to the fact that most theatres have now been dark for a very long time. #
That said Malmsteen has made sure he’s got the guitar and mike highest in the mix, with the drums echoing to the back somewhere, the bass in between the two and the keyboards somewhere near the cloakroom in the foyer. It’s quite disconcerting at first but works, although I do wish I could hear the keyboard sparring that used to happen between Malmsteen and Johansen, as it was a thing of beauty in its time. We get a few moments where Nick Z. Marino is loud enough in the mix to clearly hear - the opening of God Particle
is a good example, but at this point the focus is on the Spanish guitar style Malmsteen is using. This album is not about that kind of interplay, it’s about the guitarist’s virtuosity, songwriting and what keys there are exist to create a backing mood, not instrumental bickering.
As one might expect, there’s a fair few purely instrumental tracks on here and mostly in the high tempo vein, yet the album feels like a cohesive whole. I’m cautious of using the word ‘Symphonic’ here, as in the Metal world that refers to a completely separate style of music (ironically one directly influenced by Malmsteen himself), but it is the correct word to describe an album that really feels like it is one piece of music and one that surprisingly does not drag or repeat itself other than to reward the patient listener with a few refrains. His playing is also undiminished and where some of his contemporaries might be watching the wear and tear on their fingers, but arthritis is clearly not an issue for this guitar hero of old. I was expecting to unleash my ire on this, but in fact I’ve really rather enjoyed it. 8/10
Lord Of The Lost – Judas (Napalm Records) [Zak Skane]
The German five piece have released their seventh studio, a double (with an additional third acoustic album) concept album via Napalm Records. The band's seventh album Judas is based on two biblical themes Damnation and Salvation which based of the paper called Gospel Of Judas which depicts conversations that Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ had casted in different lights from the New Testament.
The first thing I got to complement with this album is that the band has nailed the atmosphere of this concept album. The production on this two-part album is amazing, the drums sound punchy and huge, guitars sound thick and the vocals especially the choirs sound anthemic. A big credit to the producer and mixing engineer for not only making a good quality production record, but also creating cinematic experience for the listener. The band have really made sure that they didn’t want to be pigeon holed to any sub genre with songs like their opening Priest which starts off with tribal drums and Middle Eastern inspired female vocals before it kicks in with the chonky guitars, punchy drums and powerful vocals. Other effort from this album like the symphonic Your Star Has Led You Astray, the catchy Born With A Broken Heart are really great staples for this album and are definitely going to be fan favourites. Songs like the opening track of the second disk the Gospel Of Judas shows the bands more dramatic side whilst the electronic tinged ballad Argent shows the bands more emotional side.
There’s not many criticisms that I can make other than the fact sometimes the songs can get a bit formative which can be a bit overbearing especially for a double album. When it came to listening to the third disk of album that had original acoustic songs, I found that they didn’t hold as much weight as they do when the band stripped away from their cinematic production. Overall I’ll if you are fans of Powerwolf and Nostradamus era Judas Priest this is definitely an album worth checking out. 7/10
Times Of Grace – Songs Of Loss And Separation (Wicked Good Records) [Zak Skane]
Times Of Grace is a side project that came about when Adam D was writing whilst recovering from back surgery. Whilst writing material for his main band Killswitch engage he also came up additional material that wouldn’t fit with the Killswitch sonic template, so once Adam has recovered he teamed up with former Killswitch singer (this is before he re-joined) Jesse Leach to collaborate on the lyric and vocal department, which therefore Times Of Grace was born releasing their debut album Hymns Of A Broken Man in 2011. Fast forward ten years later stuck in a pandemic Adam and Jesse team up outside of Killswitch engage again to treat us with it’s follow up Songs Of Loss And Separation as a ten year anniversary of their previous album. My overview of this record is that it’s a lot more out of the box sounding in comparison to their previous album (Hymns Of A Broken Man), but it’s still a great album none of the less.
For instance on this album you get to hear some of best dual vocal harmonies of this year (yeah I said it) from Adam D and Jesse Leach especially from their opening blues tinged track The Burden Of Belief before it goes into the Hard Rock territory Mend You which sounds like if you put Incubus and A Perfect Circle into a room to create ballad for Killswitch Engage. Once we get into the third and fourth track Rescue and Far From Heavenless in which the duo go into familiar metal core territory with Rescue being your classic up tempo chuggy riffs with half tempo sing along chorus where us Far From Heavenless is a gradual build up into metal slugginess. After that the band leads us to back into more Hard Rock territory again with Bleed Me and Medusa before it goes into the Grungy Alice In Chains inspired Currents. After that the band takes us to their more Radio Rock sounding tracks with To Carry The Weight and Cold to provide us with melodies and subjects that will play on our heart strings especially with Cold where the guys tackle the subject of self doubt and dishonesty with ourselves and others which is a subject that comes into our lives one form or another.
Before the band leaves us with the grand sledgehammer of a crescendo of Forever. In conclusion this is a great effort from the duo, the vocals arrangements that Adam D and Jesse Leach are heavenly as well brutal when it comes to the heavy sections. The distorted guitars sound just as edge crushing as they did since Killswitch’s End Of Heartache as well as ambient and moving when it comes to the more bluesy and more stripped down parts of the album. I also give them credit for their songwriting skills and choices this project has to offer they’ve definitely made a piece of art that stands on its own but still keeps the Killswitch fans happy, 8/10.