Tarja - Living The Dream (earMusic) [Matt Bladen]
We don't really review compilations or "Best Of's" but Tarja is the quintessential metal Diva, her operatic training first heard in Nightwish, Tarja has been a solo artist for 15 years so with a glut of material from six studio albums, Tarja has hand picked the track listing to this "best of"which features a rarities and a live disc too but here I'm focusing on the one "best of" disc, all 16 tracks have been remastered at Sterling Sound so there's continuity between how each track sounds, there has also been an effort to put as many songs as possible by choosing single, alternative or remix edits rather than original versions of tracks that usually run longer.
Big ballads such as I Feel Immortal are mixed with symphonic rockers such as Die Alive and the riffy Falling Awake which features Jason Hook of FFDP. There's an ideal mix of rock and ballads all showcasing those soaring vocals that spawned a million copycats, as Demons In You (featuring Alissa White-Gluz) and Dead Promises (featuring Björn “Speed” Strid) book ending the luscious Diva, it's great to hear these tracks all in one place and for long time fans the addition of new song Eye Of The Storm which uses Habanera from Carmen as motif for an emotional track. If you're new to Tarja's solo work then this will do its job and give you a starting point to work from. 7/10
AAWKS - (((Heavy On The Cosmic))) (Black Throne Productions) [Rich Piva]
I have had the crazy, psych trip from AAWKS for a while now, and let me tell you, if you like the outer space fuzz this one is going to melt your face. With the release of their killer debut (((Heavy On The Cosmic))) now on vinyl, hopefully the Canadian boys will get even more exposure for this record because it is absolutely killer.
Drugs were consumed during the creation of ((Heavy On The Cosmic))). I was not there but I didn’t have to be. The clip at the beginning spells out nicely where this rocket ship is heading; the trip to planet fuzz has commenced with the opener Beyond The Sun. This is exactly what want with my heavy, fuzzy psych. This record is produced perfectly and is a serious headphone head trip. I cannot wait to hear all the sounds that are expelled into the atmosphere when I spin the vinyl for the first time. The trippy guitar work on Sunshine Apparitions is amazing and you get riffs all day with this one. Space City is another trippy ripper with some amazing guitar work and is one of my songs of the year.
The Woods has some stoner rock vibes and reminds me a bit of Psychlona until the acid laced breakdown which has our tripping traveller talking to the trees. So great. All Is Fine has some doomy riffing to open and is the soundtrack to someone trying convince themselves that the title is so while seeing their own face melt in the mirror. These are just a few of the highlights on a heavy psych rock record that needs to be consumed in large doses immediately because the whole damn thing is must listen from end to trippy end.
This is candy for me, and I can’t get enough. Give me fuzzy space psych heavy rock all day. AAWKS with ((Heavy On The Cosmic))) may have concocted one of the more perfect doses of this medicine that we all need to consume and have alter our way of thinking. Heavy on the cosmic indeed. 9/10
Sword - III (Massacre Records) [Rich Piva]
If we were betting on bands to come back in 2022 the Canadian metal band Sword would not have been on the top of my list. After releasing two rippers in the mid to late 80s and getting some mainstream exposure opening for Metallica and some other big names, the band drifted away into obscurity for various 80s metal reasons, but those two records were always considered classics by people who know what’s good. Now they are back, 34 years after there last record, with III, and the boys from Quebec sound just as killer as they did in the 80s, which is an amazing feat. I am not sure Sword fans could have asked for much more with a return than what III brings. Is it perfect? No. Is it fun and exactly what I was expecting when I heard this was coming out? Absolutely.
Like their two classics, III combines some of the best stuff of the 80s, leaning on the traditional, NWOBHM, a bit of hair cheese, and elements of thrash over the eight tracks. Tracks like the opener, Bad Blood, and Spread The Pain are right out of the Sword playbook and combine the best of what they do. Sword has always been catchy as hell too, which comes across in the track Dirty Pig, which while is a bit cringey lyrically is a total earworm with its chorus and is probably my favourite track on III. Unleashing Hell is a fun (yet also at times cringey) look back track that chronicles the Montreal scene they came up in during that amazing time and probably part of the demise of the band. Spread The Pain reminds me of some Dio (in sound only, not necessarily in quality) while the closer Not Me, No Way is a nice way to end the record with some more of what makes Sword who they were/are.
This was fun and it is great to have Sword back with some new material. There is nothing groundbreaking here but III is an enjoyable 80s metal inspired return to form for a band we all probably thought was done for good. The record is a bit short (35 minutes with really seven tracks and one instrumental interlude) but for that time Sword brings you back to their heyday in the only way they know how to. 7/10
Messora - Burn (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
On our last review of Messora, their 2019 debut The Door, the word Opeth was mentioned a lot, so as to not do the same here, I’ll say this in opening; Messor sound like Opeth, that is the Opeth up to Watershed, progressive death metal that has folksy, acoustic and gothic inclinations but at its heart relies on down tuned guitars and growled vocals played in odd time signatures.
So as not to mention the Swedes again, I’ll say that Messora is a studio project by Zach Dean, who continues to be the main musical force behind it today giving guitars/bass and vocals while on this record he has recruited Sam Neumann for drums and keys as special guest Llin Owen provides the cello on Leeches.
The first song on the album that really reminds me of the Swedes, as does Respite where the acoustics, classical guitars, clean vocals and guitars are brought out to quell the aggression and give you time to breathe before the chugging Ashes builds the dissonance again, the closing blast of Winter, bringing orchestrations and choirs. Following on from their debut and a standalone single in 2021, Messora don’t try to change their output with this second album, progressive death metal, which feels Swedish. 7/10