Mordred – The Dark Parade (M-Theory Audio) [Paul Hutchings]
Over 25 years since the band released The Next Room, they are ready to unleash their fourth long player, The Dark Parade, on the world and make no bones about it, this is an absolute winner. From the opening song Demonic #7, which premiered a few months ago, through to the splendid semi-classic rock feel of Smash Goes The Bottle , this is 39 minutes of your life you need to invest heavily in.
Scott Holderby’s vocals have lost none of their 80s style, but there is now a maturity in the delivery which is welcomed by us old timers. Elsewhere we get the punky crunch of Malignancy with DJ Pause getting stuck into his spinning of the discs, the political stance of I Am Charlie and a darker twist with the heavy Dragging For Bodies. This is an album that shows a maturity that the band has developed since their reformation in 2013. The elements that made Mordred unique remain, yet they’ve managed to bring a contemporary style to the table that works brilliantly.
Their refusal to follow trends and stick to their own path is inspiring and the title track stands alongside All Eyes On The Prize as standout songs on an album which contains no filler. My suggestion: get a copy on order and then sit back and relax as the album envelopes and immerses you. It’s a big welcome back to an innovative and original band. Let’s hope you feel the same. 9/10
Inner Stream – Stain The Sea (Frontiers Music Srl) [Simon Black]
Inner Stream is a vehicle for Argentinian singer songwriter Inés Vera-Ortiz, paired with the veritable album salsiccia factory that is Frontiers in-house Producer Alessandro Del Vecchio and the usual complement of session musicians in Italy, with Vera-Ortiz no doubt delivering her parts remotely from the other side of the world. When they aren’t rebooting old artists, Frontiers do a good job of finding and promoting South American vocalists we would not have heard of over here in Europe. Sometimes these projects can be a bit formulaic, particularly when the genre chosen is of the Melodic Metal or Hard Rock variety that makes up the vast bulk of Frontiers’ output.
Inner Stream are very much from the Symphonic and Gothic end of the spectrum, and although the minds screams Epica or Within Temptation as a natural comparison, there seems to be plenty of room for competition in this crowded marketplace. The overall sound as always invokes those established acts, but fortunately Vera-Ortiz is not a bad song-writer, and her voice, whilst not always original in its application with regard to melodic arrangement is soulful, haunting and passionately delivered.
Supported by a group of instrumentalists who technically know how to build a mood, and adding just the right level of technical flourish to raise the eye brows without being overtly flashy. The negatives are that many of these tracks don’t really individually distinguish themselves from each other in style and tone, so once you’ve had three or four of the Goth Power Ballad’s, you’ve had them all, but fortunately the album does not outstay its welcome in terms of duration. The title track Stain The Sea is definitely one of the stronger ones, but I would include Last Drink as it brings a welcome change of up-tempo pace from the slower hand-wringers that make up the bulk of the record. Nonetheless, a promising start. 6/10
Rian – Twenty-Three (Frontiers Music Srl) [Simon Black]
Now normally when something from Frontiers crosses my desk, it’s usually a brand-bending supergroup or career (re-)launch courtesy of Frontiers main man Serafino Perugino, so this is slightly unusual in that Rian are an established act who he has signed for a multi-album deal as they are, with this being their sophomore release. I’m not knocking what Frontiers do by the way - some of those projects are fantastic ideas - bringing together musicians in collaborations you would never have expected, giving new talent from a different continent a wider global audience, rebooting stalled careers and persuading yesterday’s heroes to swallow their pride and work together again.
The output of the label is formidable and anyone who thinks Melodic Metal, Hard Rock, Power and Symphonic acts are old news without a contemporary market needs to take a look at quite how much of this comes out from this Italian label, and indeed sells. For whatever reason, Rian are perfectly at home musically in the Frontiers stable. Their music is very late 80’s influenced US Radio Hard Rock dripping in Swedish sentiments - complete with Sweeping power chords, clean electric guitar harmonies and twinkly keyboard harmonic and lead guitar overlays. Oh, and a shed load of Power ballads… If this is your bag and plenty seem to, then this has well-crafted and produced addition to the genre is going to appeal. The songs don’t feel rushed, and have had a three year gestation since the band’s debut in 2017. The music is all built around principal songwriter / vocalist / guitarist Richard Andermyr. His voice is clean and crisp, but not particularly exceptional in tone. In fact that pretty much sums the album for me, as I found this sort of sound mass-produced AOR fodder a bit naff back in the day and haven’t really moved from that position since then. That said, the song-writing is pretty robust, and all the musicians deliver solid performances. Where I struggle is that no matter how well-produced this, how well-crafted and structured or delivered is that it’s not a sub-genre that has ever got me going. 5/10
Thor – Alliance (Dead Line Music) [Paul Hutchings]
By Odin’s beard, he’s back again. But this time the sneaky bastard has brought along a whole load of his mates and some members of the C list of the metal world to confuse and bemuse. Yes, the crafty Canadian continues his world domination of the bargain bins and annual bottom 10 lists with another stinking pile of songs that’ll get you screaming towards the off button. So, in the interests of taking one for the entire team, I’ve listened to the whole album just so you never have to.
Thor’s recent releases were complete crap. His last record, 2020’s Rising scooped a whooping 1/10 and I’d been drinking all day when I awarded that. Alliance may not quite be the crawling gutter turd that we are used to, but the bar hasn’t risen that much higher. The one thing I’ll give the great man credit for is that his musicians can play. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Queen Of The Spiders, which as well as featuring Frank Soda of The Imps, sees some rather tasty guitar work.
But you haven’t come here to listen to me eulogise about quality guitar work or fiery metal rhythm sections. It’s all about the song compositions and even with the inclusion of a plethora of vocalists including Raven’s John Gallagher (We Need Musclerock), Soilwork’s Björn Strid on Niflhel (Realm Of The Dead), Death Dealer’s Sean Peck (Thor vs The Juggernaut (War Of The Gods)) and Danko Jones (Rock Around The World), the lyrical quality is still horrific. Ever wonder what happened to Anthrax vocalist Neil Turbin? Me neither but he pops up on We Will Fight Together and provides another reminder, should one be needed, why getting Joey Belladonna to sing was Scott Ian’s best ever decision.
For a man who has released 39 albums, clearly the formula works. Co-opting Chris Holmes and Ross The Boss for lead single The Ultimate Alliance which also features Nina Osegueda (A Sound of Thunder) & Fang Von Wrathenstein (Lords Of The Trident) is a bit of a masterstroke, partly because Osegueda totally owns the song, whilst the duelling guitars bring something a bit different. There’s even a decent hook on the chorus. Somewhere to hang your hat at least. But do check the video out because it’s hilarious.
Lowlights? There are plenty. There are fucking bagpipes, classically misogynistic lyrics (Listen to Good Stuff and try and keep your dinner in your stomach), and simply dreadful cliched metal which leaves you scratching your head. Are we still in 1983? Listen to Battlements, Congregate or the dog excrement of Rock Around the World (how Danko Jones got involved one must wonder) and puzzle long and hard about who buys this music. Answers on a postcard please, because I have the number of a good psychiatrist who can help.
If this was a high diving competition, then Thor would be going off the 1m board and entering the pool with a huge belly flop. None of that double pike with twist from the 10m board nonsense, this is a bomb to beast all bombs. His longevity and tenacity amaze me every year when yet another album drops into my inbox. Alliance is no better than any of his recent output but once again, Jon Mikl Thor demonstrates that it is actually possible to polish a turd. 2/10