Candlemass - Sweet Evil Sun (Napalm Records)
The lords of doom return, almost four decades of slow, heavy, bone shaking metal and Swedish titans Candlemass give us their latest sermon Sweet Evil Sun. Much like how British institution Black Sabbath are worshipped Candlemass two have a rabid following and are quite rightly worshipped in the same way. Of course any Candlemass will always be compared to their two most famous albums Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall. However with original vocalist Johan Langquist back in the fold since 2019's The Door To Doom, bassist Leif Edling has crafted this record for 18 months, actively attempting to recapture their early days with the most spellbinding, occult, all encompassing riffs the band have ever attempted.
Unlike what Edling does with Avatarium his other major project, Candlemass don't move too far from the script they drafted back in the late 80's, Wizard Of The Vortex, opening with a distorted riff from Edling's bass and Mappe Björkman's rhythm guitar, it marches forward with the military beat of Janne Lind as Lars Johansson's lead guitar screams, the pace shifting into a gallop for him to unleash echoed soloing. One track in and we're on familiar ground Candlemass bringing both girth and glory. There is an Avatarium link to this record to as Marcu Jidell's production feels warm and welcoming, but also moody and mysterious, the title track feeling the most like something from the days of vinyl and rooms of heavy smoke hanging low in the air.
Avatarium singer Jennie-Ann Smith lends her evocative voice to the moody When Death Sighs working in contrast to the more dramatic delivery of Johan Lanquist. The riffs keep coming on the shifting Angel Battle, the crushing Black Butterfly while Scandinavian Gods is heavy rock meets doom, the 7 minute Devil Voodoo continuing the heavy rock leaning as Crucified goes full doom ready for worship. The true heirs to the Sabbath throne, Candlemass will continue to inspire generations of doom bands and fans with their sound, but they are no nostalgia act as this 13th album attests. 9/10
Threshold - Dividing Lines (Inside Out Music)
Threshold are one of the longest lived and in my opinion best progressive metal bands around. Certainly top of the UK heap for sure led to this day by guitarist Karl Groom and keyboardist Richard West, over the years they've had a multitude of members, with three vocalists, the most recent being Glynn Morgan who first sang for the band in 1994 and came back in 2017 for The Legends Of The Shires, also adding rhythm guitar, joining long term drummer Johanne James and bassist Steve Anderson to complete the most recent line up of the band.
Obviously like every band this follow up to the The Legends Of The Shires was delayed by the global pandemic, but this has in some ways influenced the music on this 12th album as The Legends Of The Shires was upbeat this record is somehow darker, heavier but also more melodic than previously, the chorus on Hall Of Echoes a euphoric moment very near the beginning of the record, Glynn belting out a live go to for the future, but then you get a more brooding, moody moment on Let It Burn which is a chugging modern prog metal track, even having some screamed vocals as a backing, evolving into orchestrations.
There's more to like here than on The Legends Of The Shires for me, the narrow storyline of that record meaning that it was very much self contained. Here you can take your own interpretation of what the songs are about, and because of that the songs are as resonant as you want them to be. Even with more focused numbers like Silenced, the songs are extremely impressive from a musical perspective the writing and production of Groom and West, is still some of the best around, the latter making them very in demand for their audio manipulation skills.
Both songwriting and production are showcased as usual on the epics such as The Domino Effect and Defence Condition, having those sprawling, musical journeys Threshold are so accustomed to but both shift into territory that may not have been covered before. Though the same can be said of the most of this album with tracks like Lost Along The Way are from the likes of bands such as Yes. More Threshold is always a good thing in my book and Dividing Lines is Threshold at their most efficient and creative. 9/10
Freternia - The Final Stand (ROAR Rock Of Angels)
Are they Swedish? Are they German? Who cares! (They're Swedish - Geography Ed) Freternia play fantastic European power metal. Originally around in the late 90's early 2000's when only Hammerfall and Helloween were still carrying the flag for power metal, Freternia waited until 2019 to release third album The Gathering after most of the current version of the and spent time as Cromonic and now in 2022 they give us their fourth The Final Stand.
Stripped back and ready to take on anyone, The Final Stand is back to basics Euro Power Metal that is inspired by hope lyrically, but bands such as Helloween (Deris years), but also Swedes Persuader and Italians Derdian. It's music built on a strong foundation forged by the drums of Oskar Lumbojev and the bass gallops of Nicklas Von Porat as his brother(?) Patrtik locks into some Downing/Tipton, Hansen/Weikath twin axe harmonies with Tomas Wäppling, the solos on Shapeshifter and Flame Eternal, very tasty indeed.
The messages of loneliness and despair are galvanised by a feeling of hope delivered brilliantly by the soaring vocals of Pasi Huppi every track bringing a goofy grin but their songs never shift into the silliness of some bands in the power metal zone. They stay true to classic metal and write anthems to get you fists in the air, a sprinkling of keys from Patrik von Porat and Tommie Johansson, adding to the melodies to Shapeshifter and an electronic pulse to The Tower.
Songs like Elvenstar, bring pace with double kick drums and that Helloween influence, Endless Fight continues the breakneck pace adding some triumphal synths, the drumming unstoppable, much like the choruses that make you want to sing along Every. Single. Time. By the time you reach the title track, you'll want to play the whole thing again. The sign of a great album, Freternia play excellent power metal any fan will love! 9/10
17 Crash – Stamina (Rockshots Records)
When the new album from Italian rockers 17 Crash you'll think their probably watched too many Leone films, as A Song For Ennio's Western vibe that sets the scene for this defiant fourth album. Written during the toughest lockdowns in Europe, these 80' styled heavy rockers found it hard to keep their AOR meets hard rock upbeat as the world around them grew smaller, however Stamina is an album about resilience and the power of the human spirit to do things you never thought possible.
It's a metaphor for a band who are in this for the long run led by drummer Phil Hill and singer Ros Crash, they have embodied many different sounds over the years starting out as pure AOR fluff before getting heavier and shifting into the glam meets blues rock band they are now with nods bands such as H.E.A.T and Crazy Lixx but also Hardline and Y&T, the harder edged riffs like Soul are polished to a shine, while the lighter moments like Keep Yourself Alive are backed by some gutsy riffing.
However In My Dreams is a bit too sweet for my liking, but does have that LA Glam scene style colours nailed to the mast. You can imagine it being played to death on MTV, which can be said for a lot of this album to be honest. Stamina is all about the bands resilience and it's defined by some radio friendly rocking. 7/10