Ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Answer – 'New Horizon' (Napalm)
Genre: Classic Hard Rock
In the glory days of cassettes and FM radio when only Grandmaster Flash beat the white lines of things to come, a band like Northern Ireland’s The Answer would’ve been a fresh breeze into a musty room.
New Horizon is the fourth attempt to capture a razor sharp update on Aerosmith, AC/DC and those dozens of Marshall Tucker Band sound-alikes that snuck into the classic rock radio playlists of the day. Every song from “New Horizon” to “Scream A Louder Love” are precise gems that sparkle with tight well-seasoned playing. Comfort tunes for trying times.
Beaten to Death – 'Dodsfest' (Mas-Kina)
After listening to Dodsfest, the second studio album from Norway’s Beaten to Death, that’s pretty much how you’ll feel. BtD’s grinding hardcore lays a serious beatdown on every sense you have.
For just over 19 minutes, scathing screams and guttural barks command the adrenaline fueled madness. The energy and passion pouring forth is impossible not to get caught up in. Vocal hooks and giant riffs compel listener involvement in the cathartic process. Killswitch Engage style melodies can also be found all over Dodsfest. Recorded 100 percent live, it's honest and humorous and quite possibly the most engaging 19 minutes you’ll experience this year.
Blood Of The Martyrs - 'Completionist' (Self)
For their second album, the Christian metal band Blood Of The Martyrs teamed up with producer Jamie King (Between The Buried And Me) and brought aboard some high profile guest vocalists.
Their brand of metalcore is intense and punishing, with ample breakdowns and some electronic flourishes, but no melodic vocals. Karl Schubach of Misery Signals makes an appearance on the crushing "The Action Man," and Oh, Sleeper's Micah Kinnard guests on the more eclectic "Colonel Gentlemen." The band's aural intensity is complemented by a potent lyrical message. You can get your skull crushed and your soul renewed at the same time.
Genre: Stoner/Desert Rock
From the Ages is the first album from spaced-out San Diego stoner rock trio Earthless since 2007. Like its predecessors, this album is full of thick, serpentine instrumental jams take that hurtle the listener along on a psychedelic joyride.
The band is at its best on the opening song, “The Violence of the Red Sea.” Isaiah Mitchell is one of the few guitarists currently playing who can shred for 20 minutes straight without draining the listener’s patience -- at least not too much. Those who like their psychedelic journeys a little shorter and more structured might check out Mitchell’s other band, Golden Void.
(Karen A. Mann)
Ghost Avenue – 'Ghost Avenue' (Pitch Black)
Genre: Heavy Metal
Relying on catchy melodies and old school riffing, Norway’s Ghost Avenue’s self-titled sophomore release is a throw back affair. Up-tempo rockers predominately fill up the record and most are of the fist pumping variety. The band doesn’t push any musical boundaries and they rely on writing catchy, simple songs.
Opening track “Ghost Avenue” is a perfect blend of Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe. With a riff not far removed from “Looks That Kill,” the track features a driving tempo with a memorable chorus. Despite having moments of solid songwriting some of the material is filler and cliché filled. Despite the fact that the album is drenched in '80s sensibilities, Ghost Avenue play from their heart and are authentic.
Herrschaft – 'Les 12 Vertiges' (Code 666)
Genre: Industrial Metal
With 1999s Animatronic, The Kovenant perfectly combined black metal with synth inspired electronic music. It is great to see France’s Herrschaft carry on that tradition. Their sophomore release Les 12 Vertiges is a multitude of fast picked aggressive riffs blended seamlessly with harsh vocals and dance inspired beats.
Herrschaft employ a great balance of catchy songwriting that is also aggressive at times. The vocals are where the band hits the hardest and are at the most extreme. The electronic elements push the boundaries and give the band its unique identity. With a five-year break in between the records, they took their time perfecting the songwriting, and it works to the album's benefit.
Promethium - 'Origins' (Sky Rocket)
Genre: Heavy Metal
For their second album Origins, the British band Promethium return to their roots. It's straight ahead, old-school metal.
Even though the songs are fairly straightforward, they aren't boring. There are big hooks and catchy choruses driven by crunchy guitars. The vocals are the most unique part of Promethium. Gary McGahon has a distinctive style, sometimes raspy, other times smooth, though it's a bit pitchy in places. He also incorporates some harsh vocals on a couple tracks, such as "The Hunted." Origins is a diverse album for fans of classic metal and hard rock.
Righteous Vendetta - 'The Fire Inside' (EBM)
Genre: Hard Rock
Hailing from Cody, Wyoming, Righteous Vendetta are unleashing their third full-length, The Fire Inside. It incorporates new mixes of several songs from their EP Vol. 1 along with newly recorded tracks.
The songs on the album are extremely catchy and melodic, but have ample aggression. The radio hits "This Pain" and "The Fire Inside" are included, and there are several other potential hits as well. Although most of the album would be classified as hard rock, they enter metal territory as well, especially on tracks like "John The Revelator," which mixes harsh vocals and breakdowns along with melodic singing.
Secrets of the Sky – 'To Sail Black Waters' (Kolony)
Genre: Epic Black Metal
Oakland sextet Secrets of the Sky have secretly rolled out a four song album that takes a stagnant format and practically reinvents it. “Winter,” “Decline,” “Sunrise” and “Black Waters” unfurl their wonders over 40 mesmerizing minutes. Light as cymbal taps, cruel as revenge porn, the vocals span a black rainbow from demoniacal to whispers.
The album’s riffs are so powerfully heavy, their weight threatens to crater your eardrums. The songs are neither prog-rock nor sludge, but soft layers of nuance sandwiched between sheets of chromium steel. Secrets Of The Sky shatter the preconception that there is nothing new under the dark sun. To Sail Black Waters is one of this year’s masterpieces.
Spiralarms – 'Freedom' (SPV)
Genre: Hard Rock
Led by Forbidden guitarist Craig Locicero, California’s Spiralarms are a band with all of the right tools to make a considerable dent in the realm of bluesy hard rock. Their sophomore album is Freedom and it should appeal to fans of both classic rock and its smokier stoner cousin.
While the portmanteau band name is a bit forced, everything else feels entirely natural. From top-to-bottom Freedom is stoked with warm, driving riffs and infectious melodies, all the while sticking its many hooks and righteous barbs into your eardrums. Vocalist/bassist Cornbread does a fantastic job throughout, and tracks like “Blackmoon Morning” and “Lovers Leap” are almost too good to be true.
Terrorway - 'Blackwaters' (Bakerteam)
Genre: Modern Metal
After releasing an EP in 2010, the Italian band Terrorway return with their debut full-length Blackwaters. It's sometimes groovy, sometimes technical, and always extreme.
Some of the tracks embrace a straightforward groove with thrash influences. They get more experimental and technical on other songs, such as "Chained." The production is really good, giving the album a full sound that's also crisp and precise. In addition to top quality riffs, Terrorway inject subtle bits of atmosphere and nuance that you'll notice with repeated listens. Musical prowess and quality songwriting make Blackwaters a good modern groove/thrash/death metal album.
Ulver’s career is one of cruel irony and bold evolution. Expecting the unexpected has become somewhat expectable, so it should come as no surprise that Messe I.X – VI.X is yet another delightfully strange outing. Commissioned by and recorded in collaboration with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, Messe is the closest the Norwegians have come to creating all-out classical music. Vocals are dispensed with almost entirely and the electronica is scaled back in favor of a minimalist sound that nevertheless remains imbued with a grandiose edge.
Whether it’s the symphonic surge of “As Syrians Pour in, Lebanon Grapples with Ghosts of a Bloody Past,” the sexy night time vibes of “Noche Oscura del Alma” or (relatively) rock-like “Mother of Mercy,” the album remains interesting and richly textured throughout. It needs a bit of time to gestate, but underneath the low-key minimalism and moodiness lies an album that is bristling with ideas and soul.