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Monday 29 April 2024

Reviews: Morgul Blade, Dolmen Gate, Son Of Man, War Grave (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Morgul Blade - Heavy Metal Wraiths (No Remorse Records) [Matt Bladen]

The works of Tolkien form the basis of so many bands, his epic tales are just as prevalent in power/epic metal as they are in black metal, so Morgul Blade have brought both together with Heavy Metal Wraiths the follow up to their 2021 debut Fell Sorcery Abounds

Formed by vocalist/guitarist Lord Klauf, Spectre joined on drums in 2020, the Heavy Temple sticksman also known as Baron Lycan (or Will to his mum) also producing as they solidified their line up with Jimmy Viola on bass/guitar/keys and Sister Midnight aka High Priestess Nighthawk in Heavy Temple on lead guitar. This line up have brought a bit more bite to Heavy Metal Wraiths, taking classic metal glory on the title track and fusing it with glacial black metal on tracks such as Razor Sharp, they add folky synths on A Welcoming Hearth which is an intro to the fist pumping Neither Cross Nor Crown, the storming bassline paired with tremolo picking. 

These are songs to headbang too, Celtic Frost if they played with Blind Guardian, or Mercyful Fate fronted by Venom’s Cronos, is the general vibe and Morgul Blade manage to pull it off. When they lean into the black metal it’s savage and blistering but when they pull back and go down the trad metal route, you forget about the harsh vocals and just get down to rocking with a twin axe attack and songs about fantasy lore. Having been welcomed at classic metal festivals in Germany and beyond and like their namesake will leave a part of them with you, slowly turning you into one of them. 8/10

Dolmen Gate – Gateways Of Eternity (No Remorse Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Forged from the fires of other Portuguese metal bands. Dolmen Gate is unashamedly epic heavy metal, in the style of Omen, Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and Sentry. This album is a pleasingly old school styled release, with the nine-tracks all neatly crafted and delivered. It’s no wonder that the band have already played at the Up the Hammers Festival and will be making their Keep It True debut this year.

Vocalist Ana brings a fresh yet familiar voice to the classic metal that is conjured up, with the lyrical content reassuringly mystical and mythical. Songs such as Rest In Flames and Chambers Of Magic work in every way, bringing an urge to pump that fist in the air and bang the head.

It may be a retro sound, but the production is spot on, giving it the old school flavour throughout whilst ensuring that there is clarity and contemporary delivery. In fact, it’s the heady mix of 70s and 80s influences that make Gateways Of Eternity so enjoyable. With the resurgence of bands playing what we might call traditional or classic heavy metal, Dolmen Gate need to bring something a bit extra to the party to stand apart. They do that with ease, their songs full of thick, heavy riffs, crashing drums, and with Ana’s vocals providing a different angle to the usual high-pitched male power metal version.

The songs are catchy, focused and anthemic. There isn’t a duff track here, with The Wheel amongst the standout songs. Of course, there needs to be some longer, epic songs to truly tick all the boxes, and penultimate track Betrayer does that with aplomb. It’s an eight-minute monster, which charges along and provides that glorious dual guitar sound that you’d demand from a band of this genre.

Gateways Of Eternity is a fine debut, and the band from Lisbon should be rightly proud of their efforts. A must for any fan of heavy metal. 8/10

Son Of Man - Gaslight (Cherry Red Records) [Matt Bladen]

I'll save you the convoluted history of the Welsh band Man, that's what Wikipedia is for. However what you need to know is that the they formed in Merthyr and played psychedelic/progressive/jam rock, releasing countless albums while having enough members over the years to field a rugby team. They experienced deaths and disaster but are still going to this day. Two former band members formed Son Of Man a few years ago and now they are releasing their third studio album called Gaslight. Get it? Got it? Good? 

To the album itself and this has got some progressive parts to it but Son Of Man takes more a classic rock route with bluesy Whitesnakeisms on Can't Stop Loving You and some Uriah Heep organ playing on Down, there's a mixture of styles but most could be played on classic rock radio stations without stirring up too much negativity. 

The former men from Man are guitarist George Jones (who is now the only guitarist and is the son of Man founder Mickey Jones) and drummer Bob Richards. Gaslight also sees bassist Ray Jones (of Sassafras) return to the band to join singer Richie Galloni and keyboardist Marco James. The latter's contribution adding all sorts of Floyd to Far From Home though on Tomorrow it's all about those Gilmour slow hand emotive solos. 

Gaslight is an eclectic record, the swaggering hard rock, classic prog are put with southern rock on There Will Come A Day to give you a well rounded listening experience. Gaslight won't leave you in the dark, it's a classy rock record from this Welsh legacy. 8/10

War Grave – War Grave (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

The debut EP from London’s War Grave comes with added Ripper. Yes, by whatever means they have done it, the frontman of KK’s Priest contributes his shrill falsetto to one of the tracks on this five-song EP. It certainly gives an edge to the release, but we will get to Mr Owens later.

Formed in 2021, War Grave straddle several genres. There are elements of thrash, power metal, speed metal and even more traditional heavy metal strewn across the five songs. Vocalist Roman Kantoch has a decent range, even if he does struggle with some of the higher lines. But utilising a twin guitar approach is always going to get bonus points in my book, and with Trent Powell and Stuart Layne providing the incision, War Grave have nailed an individual style that makes this EP eminently listenable.

No messing around on the opening song War Graves. It’s full steam ahead with the powerful drumming of Steve Brill an immediate focus. It’s a brave start, with a song that is over seven-minutes long. It works brilliantly though, with the switch to an Anthrax type chug sure to grab attention of those who like to stomp. Searing lead work rips through early, and the combination of power and thrash metal is an alliance that will get heads nodding. Even the drop in tempo on War Graves works when it maybe shouldn’t, although it’ll be interesting to see how this changes reaction halfway through when it’s played live.

It's the blend of old school and contemporary flavours that make War Grave stand out. They don’t rely entirely on the old guard influences, adding their own dashes to the mix, but underneath it all, this is heavy metal, pure and simple. And for me that works.

There’s plenty of fists aloft opportunities throughout this EP. Enchained is drenched in old school power metal but works because it’s just bloody good. And then we arrive at Witch, and the shrieking power of Ripper Owens. Opening with solid if standard riffage that gets the head moving, it’s the dual scream off between Kantoch and Owens that grabs you from the start. 

Now, I dislike Ripper’s vocals, always have, and always will, so his presence on this song doesn’t help me at all, and Kantoch gives a winning performance regardless of the guest. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Owens’ singing detracts from a well structured and vibrant track. But I know that for many, the Ripper is a big deal, and I can’t argue with his presence bringing something extra to the song.

It's down to the final duo to bring War Grave over the line and they do so in style with the explosive Revenge Is Near, which is top drawer metal that for me is the standout track on the EP. Even the harmonies and vocal histrionics lock in superbly. They finish the EP with another solid track in Price To Pay. A bit more pedestrian than what has gone before, it still ticks just about every metal box going. 

With a fresh production, War Grave has delivered an impressive opening salvo on what one hopes will be just the start of their journey. 8/10

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