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Thursday 25 August 2022

Reviews: Grave Digger, Dynazty, To Obey A Tyrant, Santa Cruz (Reviews By Richard Oliver, David G, Matt Cook & Simon Black)

Grave Digger - Symbol Of Eternity (ROAR/Soulfood) [Richard Oliver]

For anyone who listens to traditional heavy metal or power metal then Grave Digger should be a familiar name. These German veterans have been delivering heavy metal goodness since their formation in 1980 and with new release Symbol Of Eternity they now have a staggering total of 20 full length original albums to their name. Symbol Of Eternity lyrically harks back to the Knights Of The Cross album from 1998 with its theme of the story of the Crusaders. Musically it is the same reliable Grave Digger sound that we have had for decades and with this being the 20th album from the band it is very much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. 

 The trademark Grave Digger sound which mixes traditional heavy metal and European power metal can be heard on songs such as Hell Is My Purgatory, Nights Of Jerusalem and Heart Of A Warrior with driving riffs, powerhouse rhythm and bombastic choruses whilst a more mid paced and epic sound can be heard on the title track and The Last Crusade. The album closes in different style with a cover of the Greek singer Vasilis Papakonstantinou and his song Hellas Hellas which sees singer Chris Boltendahl sing in Greek for the first time ever and it even has some guest vocals from Vasilis Papakonstantinou himself. Although this album is still very much standard Grave Digger the band do sound more energised and enthusiastic compared to some of their other recent albums with the band dishing out killer riffs, thunderous bass and pounding drums. 

The vocals of Chris Boltendahl, whilst not the strongest, do suit this style of music and apart from a few wobbles throughout the album are on the whole solid. If you have heard any other Grave Digger albums and enjoyed them then it is safe to say that you will enjoy Symbol Of Eternity. It doesn’t reach the heights of their 90’s albums but this is another solid and enjoyable album from the German metal veterans. 7/10

Dynazty – Final Advent (AFM Records) [David G]

Sweden’s Dynazty seemingly started life as a hard rock band, on listening to their debut Bring the Thunder it comes across as a passable approximation of the L.A. hard rock style. Fast forward to their eighth album Final Advent and it is striking just how much the band has changed over time, becoming a very modern power metal band, and doing so whilst undergoing very few personnel changes. I emphasise the very modern part of the description because Final Advent sounds (and looks, thanks to its striking cover art), very much of the now. The production is sparkling clean, layers of vocal melodies and keyboards fill out the picture sketched from crunchy guitars, the only real quibble being the slightly muddy sounding drums. 

It’s hard to fault the performance of those involved; Nils Molin’s vocals are deservedly pushed to the fore, displaying considerable range and power he deservedly fills a role as focal point for the band’s music. So far I’ve avoided talking about the actual songs because I’m stuck in ambivalence. At times there is a sense that I’m listening to… Europop? Natural Born Killer, for instance, has this vocal melody leading into its chorus that sounds like it could be lifted from ABBA. The verses are driven along by a thudding bass drum and tsk-ing hi-hat beat, and even when the guitars come in they sound curiously muted. 

That’s not to say this makes it bad, in fact there are moments that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Eurovision song, like the intense wall of sound that constitutes the chorus to Instinct, which is kind of thrilling. The keyboard and vocal driven power ballad Yours is probably the highlight of the album, the crashing guitars introduced at the chorus providing a platform from which Nils belts out sentimental mush in an admirable style. If anything, the real downside to the album is when the band tries to do something heavier or more adventurous. 

The stultifying Achilles Heel perhaps being the best example, grasping at some exotic and epic sound but instead lurching along without any purpose. The intended stomp of Advent doesn’t really feel all that powerful, though it has a fun winding solo. Power Of Will is probably the most successful at “doing a metal” here, less restrained it thunders along with the typical self-affirming lyrics telling us the world is his to take, gloriously unpretentious it doesn’t apologise and nor should it. In moments this album can be quite charming, energising, even inspiring. 

Sadly, reaching those moments involves something of a trawl through the parts (sometimes entire songs) that come across as contrived and cumbersome. I do have to commend the band for doing things that other power metal bands will coyly smile at from a safe distance, I just don’t think they’ve done enough to bring it together for a really satisfying experience. 5/10

To Obey A Tyrant – Omnimalevolent (Realityfade Records)  [Matt Cook]

Symphonic deathcore might sound like it’s created by a bunch of musicians cracking skulls and taking names while an eloquent, picturesque soundscape is generated via a calming piano. Well, that’s only half true. To Obey A Tyrant forcefully embrace the former while instead opting to implement symphonics in a way that doesn’t welcome you in, but in fact terrifies you into utter and complete submission. The instrumentals aren’t used as a serene backdrop, but rather a reminder that evil lurks everywhere. Much like a tyrant’s rule over an under-developed, unhinged, war-torn nation, Omnimalevolent sees the UK five-piece pulverise and decimate. 

Brandon Singleton knows no bounds when it comes to manipulating his voice into a goblin-like, bloodthirsty beast. He’s grotesque, fearful and raspy while also leading an auditory ambush of violence. To call Singleton’s output “vocals” doesn’t quite encapsulate what comes out of his mouth. The intense gargling found on Death Incantation is sinister enough to spring the song into a full-on slugfest. Singleton then decides to play the part of a victim on the Titanic, bellowing words of turmoil and inevitable demise (Ov Fire And Sulphur). Even so, the macabre usage of keyboards aids in the conjuring of fatalistic happenings. 

This isn’t Nightwish, after all. Bruno Clay produces avalanching drumlines on the title track and Sanctus Infernum is chock full of bunker-busting breakdown blasts working in tandem with symphonic elements which endanger rather than comfort. Just the way it was meant to be. Seven years after their formation, To Obey A Tyrant’s debut full-length leaves no questions unanswered when it comes to their style of music: fucking ruthless. The usage of symphonic elements for malicious means feels like being bludgeoned to death by a life-sized stuffed teddy bear. 8/10

Santa Cruz - The Return Of The Kings (M-Theory Audio) [Simon Black]

Between 2007 and 2018, Finland’s Santa Cruz were an established cohesive unit with five studio albums and an EP under their belt before almost collapsing, leaving only one founder member, and indeed musician in the form of Archie Cruz, who despite trying to pull a new line-up ended up having to release 2019’s Katharsis on his own with and producer Kane Churko on all instruments.Then the world went to hell in a hand cart…However, at the start of the year Cruz announced that a new line up and album were here, and despite a challenging launch show at L’A’’s legendary Whisky-A-Go-Go, the new band have knuckled down to produce Return Of The Kings

Not having come across them before in any of their previous incarnations, I can’t really compare the old with the new, but what I am hearing now is an intermittently robust and reasonably strong Hard Rock album, heavily influenced by the 80’s Sunset Strip scene stylistically, but wisely keeping the sound as reasonable up to date and modern. The it tends to flip and ape the weaker elements of the decade a little too directly, and frustration sets in. 

Opening with the beefy and in your face Here Comes The Revolution, things get off to a really good start. This one is something of a belter – lively, modern, fast and with a strong but powerful vocal style from Cruz that’s going to get the more Metal end of the market nodding along appreciatively. Take Me To America is a slab of pure sleaze, with a dollop of Stoner groove and again that down and dirty vocal delivery that is making me a happy chap. Under The Gun starts heading things in a more traditionally 80’s Strip commercial sound, with a bit of anthemic chorusing and the kind of arrangements and solos that the period was so well known for. Really for me this is the point where things slip somewhat, as the first two tracks had the 80’s as an influence in the mix whilst still sounding new and modern, but from hereon in that becomes a case of straight lifting and shifting. 

Cheesy power ballad Disarm hammers that point home. We get a little of the energy back with Standing My Ground, but also seemed to have picked up some Synthwave along the way, followed by the more bouncy and punky shots and once again I get the feeling that this is an album trying to touch a lot of ground from a decade long gone. I’m sure that after all the challenges and delays the band would have been under pressure to deliver something, but this record feels half cooked. Where the 80’s are an influential element in a modern hard rock sound, this band are on fire with wonderfully powerful down and dirty songs, but when the influence becomes a case of straight stylistic copying the softer end of that decade then they fall flat. 

There are about 6 tracks on here that take that more gutsy feel, and would have made an absolute top notch EP, but diluted as they are with all the naffer more over-polished elements of the historical period the net effect is somewhat disappointing. When blend the old influences subtly into the more dominant new then they’re fantastic, but when they don’t…  6/10

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