Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Album Review; Butcher Babies - Goliath

File:Butcher Babies Goliath Album Cover.jpg

Track Listing:

1. I Smell A Massacre
2. Magnolia Blvd.
3. C8h18 (Gasoline)
4. Grim Sleeper
5. Goliath
6. In Denial
7. Give Me Reason
8. The Mirror Never Lies
9. Dead Poet
10. The Deathsurround
11. Axe Wound

I've always made it clear to people that whenever I am faced with a new album, I do my best to be open minded and honest about it. I don't like to base my opinions in regards to any Metal album or band on appearance, genre, or anybody else's opinion. Hell, my favourite band ever is Motorhead, yet if they released a bad album, I'd be the first one to admit it. On the flip side, I was massively surprised at how great last year's BMTH album 'Sempiternal' was. I still listen to it, a proper quality album. However, there will always be a few bands round the corner that, while considered controversial, I cannot in good conscience, ignore. (There's a few more coming up, I assure you)

Butcher Babies are one of these bands. Their early exposure was mainly due to some idea of shock value meets sex appeal. The band has two frontwomen; Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, who spent the early days of the band performing onstage in barely any clothes, with nipple tape and smearings of fake blood. They say the look was inspired by Wendy O Williams of the Plasmatics, but it's tricky to take their claims seriously. The vehement reaction of a lot of Metalheads is understandable by that factor alone! Reality is, unless this turns out to be the first Metal band you've listened to; there's no shock in this at all, so a lot of people just saw it as a means to grab attention. To be fair, whether it was positive or negative attention they received, they got it. The album 'Goliath' came out last year, but it is only now that I decided "Screw it, I'll give it a shot!"

Basically, what I've heard on this album is a very strange beast. There's elements of Modern Metal bands like The Defiled and other, more melodic Metalcore bands. There's a lot of Pantera influence in the groove. It's far from terrible, but at the end of the day, it's something that a lot of people won't really know what to do with.

The problem comes in the vocals. Heidi Shepherd's screams are alright. She's no Angela Gossow, obviously, but for what Butcher Babies are doing, it fits without being exceptional. It's very limited in range; nine times out of ten, it's high or nothing. The real weakness lies in the clean vocals, which more often than not sound too mall-of-America. That is, there's a palpable feel of L.A. pretence. It's sugar sweet over the top of what is sometimes rather good, if familiar music. Opening tracks 'I Smell A Massacre' and 'Magnolia Blvd' suffer from this problem. Though they are, in themselves, decent songs. 'C8H18 (Gasoline)' uses a clean sang melody that suits the vocal style a bit better, and is the better song for it. Musically, it could be a song by The Defiled. There are places where the vocals seem more vulnerable in mood, or tense, that show a third dimension to the sound.

Catchiness is one thing this album has by the truckload. The riffs, while often unremarkable, are catchy. The choruses and vocal lines are also really catchy. 'Grim Sleeper' also bears that stamp that reminds me of The Defiled. Lyrically, it's a bit too wet for me, "Calling out no one knows I'm here, I'm nameless and faceless as fear" makes it a bit of a tired attempt at reaching out to emo kids.

The title track 'Goliath' starts out with a solid riff that is just underused more than anything. There's a great pace to this song too. Lyrically, it's more venomous than I'd expected this band to come out with. It actually lives up to it's namesake. 'In Denial' sees the sugar sweet vocals return again, annoyingly. It also starts out with a guitar lead that could've jumped right off of Bullet For My Valentine's 'Fever' album. There's a pretty boring breakdown followed by another BFMV-esque guitar solo. There's another venture into heartbroken, traumatised territory with a short vocal line that sounds on the verge of tears. It'll convince some while it pisses others off.

'Give Me Reason' is a definite low point. There's nothing striking about it, and again those clean vocals are too prominent. 'The Mirror Never Lies' is a better, more sinister song (Well, sinister for this kind of Metal). There's a bit of a swagger in the way the verses are delivered and the groove is about as slick as it gets. Alongside 'Dead Poet', these two songs show an almost Disturbed tinge to the band's repertoire. There's also a decent lower-register scream vocal shown.

'The Deathsurround' brings in another Defiled-type riff, and another groove to fit. There's a real stomp to it though, which makes it a stand-out track. In the light of what this band has done so far, it only seems obvious that they close the album with a track called 'Axe Wound'. To be frank, it doesn't end on a high note. It would've been wiser to have more of a party Metal vibe closing the record.

The sound of this band is mainstream. There's no getting past that. This is not, nor was it ever going to be an album aimed at Black or Death Metal fans. This is safe Metalcore meets Groove Metal, but as that goes, it's not actually that bad, musically. I can see the appeal to many, because in terms of sound it is a step away from the predictability of BFMV and Avenged Sevenfold. That's what this band is aimed at; people who want their fix of passably heavy music to have fun to. I have been surprised by this album, but I wouldn't call it brilliant. There are things that it is better than, including the last Nickelback album, Of Mice & Men's 'Restoring Force' and BFMV's 'Temper Temper'. The real test will be seeing if this band is a flash in the pan (No pun intended!) or if it has staying power. I'll remain a skeptic on that issue for the foreseeable future. And just to be clear, this band is a Metal band, in sound. Though it may be debatable if they are Metal in spirit or execution.

Rating: 6/10

Album Review; Hirax - Immortal Legacy

Track Listing:

1. Black Smoke
2. Hellion Rising
3. Victims Of The Dead
4. Thunder Roar, The Conquest, La Boca De La Bestia - The Mouth of the Beast
5. Earthshaker
6. Tied To The Gallows Pole
7. Deciever
8. Immortal Legacy
9. S.O.W. (Intro)
10. Violence Of Action
11. Atlantis (Journey Of Atlantis)
12. The World Will Burn

An often overlooked band from the 80's Thrash Metal days, Hirax have now released their fifth full-length studio album. The band, fronted by Katon W. De Pena, were one of the earlier bands to combine Thrash with more of a Hardcore Punk edge. They've got a pretty good back catalogue of fast, short, simplistic songs. Katon's vocal was the greater talking point of the band, due to his unique tone. This is a band with some solid albums to it's name.

'Immortal Legacy' may see De Pena's band step out into the higher ranks of modern Thrash Metal. Right from the off, 'Black Smoke' delivers a great riff and solo, all before the brilliant frontman even hits his first note. The speed and grit is still there, but this is already more concise music than what's come before it. Katon's voice is on great form. Always one of the more melodic singers in the Thrash scene. If you like your Thrash vocalists to sound like Rob Dukes or Chuck Billy then the way Katon uses his voice may be odd to you sometimes, but he can wail with the best of them and his high screams are effective and well utilised.

Through 'Hellion Rising' and 'Victims Of The Dead', there are more sharp riffs and the chorus in the latter shows how catchy Hirax can make their music. Great, well structured drum beats and more great guitar solos, courtesy of Lance Harrison, help keep the album charging forward. The dual-guitar harmony at the start of 'Thunder Roar, The Conquest, La Boca De La Bestia - The Mouth of the Beast' (A nice, easy to remember title!) is a nice treat. The song has enough faster points and mosh-pit ready material to keep any Thrasher happy. Jorge Iacobellis' drumming at several points in the whole album are at a furious and satisfying high pace.

'Earthshaker' provides a brief intermission with a decent guitar instrumental before 'Tied To The Gallows Pole' provides the catchiest chorus so far, with Katon's lyrics being delivered in time and tune with an equally punchy riff. His voice is better on this album than I've heard it before. The production job done by Bill Metoyer shows the best in this band. The album sounds big without completely abandoning the old-school Thrash aesthetic, something that the long-time Hirax fans will be grateful for, I'm sure.

The album only stays at a high quality, with 'Deceiver' giving Katon's voice a good workout. Some of the riffs start to sound a bit standard in places, but as soon as that starts to effect how much I enjoy the album, a new riff comes in to make me bang my head. The title track starts off furiously, with one of the more venomous riffs on the record, backed up by turbo-speed drumming and another melodic guitar line for good measure. Katon's high vocals make a triumphant appearance here, showing the man still has it.

After a good intro, 'Violence Of Action' keeps the furious pace up. Hirax have always been a very pure Thrash band. There's no awkward balladry to be found or uncomfortable moments of progression. You know what you're getting with a Hirax record, so it's the quality of the individual album that must shine through, and 'Immortal Legacy' shines as bright as Hirax ever have. 'The World Will Burn' closes this album with a tour de force clocking in at just over two minutes, with a very headbang ready riff underlining Katon's great vocal delivery. In true Thrash Metal fashion, this album ends leaving you wanting to listen to it again. Hirax have delivered an album here that can easily stand alongside the recent releases of many other Thrash bands.

Rating: 7.5/10

Monday, 10 March 2014

Album Review; Tengger Cavalry - Ancient Call

Track Listing:

1. Dance With The Wolf
2. Galloping Towards The Great Land
3. Battle Song From Far Away
4. Hymn Of The Earth
5. Echo Of The Grassland
6. Brave
7. Summon The Warrior
8. The Battlefront
9. Chant Of The Cavalry
10. Legend On The Horseback

The world of Metal is a far bigger place than it used to be. As a stand alone fact is a great thing; the more that our beloved music travels, the more it twists and turns and is made into something new and exciting. Just look at the Metal that has come out of South America; honest, brash and hugely aggressive music that talks of the everyday struggles with violence, crime and oppression that are a truth to them rather than a theme. The metal in Japan, which takes many forms, that display different sides of Japan's cultural quirkiness and eccentricities. The religious and sociological rebellion that has emerged from the staunch and conservative cultures of the Scandinavian countries and Poland. The list goes on. Metal is globalising, we all know this. I like to pay close heed to this globalisation and find as much amazing music as I can.

Recently, I found out about a band called Tengger Cavalry. For those who don't know, this is a band that hails from China. China has a fairly short but colourful history as far as Metal music is concerned. Some great bands like Tang Dynasty, Ritual Day, Chaotic Aeon, Baroque Of Dante, Hyonblud have come from that country, and its Metal underground is brimming with many more bands.

Tengger Cavalry were initially a one-man band, but now has a line-up proper. Formed in 2009, it's a relatively young band, but it's one that has been hard at work. 'Ancient Call' is their fourth full length record. They call their sound Nomadic Folk Metal. It's a good label to give them. What it sounds like is a mixture of Black Metal with traditional Heavy Metal tinges and a lot of great elements of Chinese folk music. Sound weird? Well, it works like an absolute dream!

The album opens with an acoustic instrumental. Alongside some form of eastern throat singing and very traditional percussive sounds, 'Dance With The Wolf' sets a great tone for what is to come. 'Galloping Towards The Great Land' is where the Metal starts in earnest. It's clear that Black Metal is the first half of their sound; the rasping vocals and the guitar tone show this clearly, but the way the song is structured (riff-based, punchy, sometimes-galloping rhythms, etc.) show that traditional Metal is the second half. Some great, familiar Chinese instruments make appearances, including (I believe) the Erhu, and another instrument that is in the Zither family. In fact, the Erhu melodies on 'Battle Song From Far Away' are simply captivating, but then, it is a beautiful instrument anyway.

The only problem I have with the album is that, in true Black Metal fashion, the lyrics, I cannot understand. It will come down to individual taste whether or not that's a bad thing. I've known plenty of fans of Extreme Metal that don't care what the singer is saying, only in what they sound like. If that is the way to look at it; Tengger Cavalry sound brilliant, so feel free to not mind.

By the time 'Hymn Of The Earth' and 'Echo Of The Grassland' have been and gone, it's clear that this band has their sound figured out and well honed into a very concise, effective and original art form. The originality, the freshness of the sound is the absolute key here. It's Folk Metal, but not as we know it! Anyone who likes a bit of a knees-up while they listen to their Metal will be frothing at the mouth over songs like 'Brave', which also has a great riff or two, and envelopes the listener comfortably, but with enough energy, pace and impact to keep an ardent headbanger satisfied.

'Summon The Warrior' starts out slowly, with a powerful feel to it. It's darker, the riff is great, and there are some sort of Melodic Death Metal tinges weaved into the song as well. This album never slips into generic territory. There's always an oriental flair to be heard, with those eastern folk instruments giving the Metal heard here a whole new dialect with which to speak. 'The Battlefront' provides a calm before the storm moment, as well as some more sublime music. The percussion instruments, alone, feel very powerful and moving.

'Chant Of The Cavalry' seems like the kind of song that this band should use as a live staple and set everyone into a frenzy with. It has the hallmarks of the more memorable Metal songs; Infectious riffs, a sense of groove, brilliant melodies and it's as catchy as a Godzilla-sized net. Again, the music as a whole is beautiful, and I feel it'd be great in the live setting.

'Legend On Horseback' sees Tengger Cavalry ends the album on a very high note, just by doing what they have done through the whole album. It's not been for a while that I've heard a new style of Metal and thought "I just want to hear more and more of that" but this album gives me the hunger for more. All props to the band; absolutely brilliantly done. 'Ancient Call' will probably stand as one of the best underground albums this year, but if not it's definitely going to be the most original.

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Album Review; Mechina - Xenon

Track Listing:

1. Xenon
2. Alithea
3. Zoticus
4. Terrae
5. Tartarus
6. Phedra
7. Thales
8. Erebus
9. Amyntas
10. Actaeon

Last year, one of my favourite albums released was 'Empyrean' by Mechina. The follow up to that album has now arrived, and I couldn't wait to hear it and subsequently review it. My expectations were naturally high when going into this album, Xenon, which is the final part of a trilogy of albums that the band has called The Acheron Trilogy.

The band have lost none of their penchant for building an effective sonic atmosphere, that much is apparent from the start of the record. One immediately noticeable difference is in the way this album has been mixed to the last one; the heavier elements of the bands sound have been dragged to the front of the sound, with blast beats and Industrial styled riffs leading the charge rather than supporting it as was the case on Empyrean. The orchestration still adds volume to the overall sound, but is more the passenger this time around. This gives the album is given a more chaotic yet urgent feel that isn't dissimilar to Fleshgod Apocalypse's stellar album 'Labyrinth' from last year. The hook-based catchiness of the clean vocals may be toned down, but the music itself makes up for with more memorable riffs and flurries of strings that engage the listener well.

'Alithea' has a great Fear Factory meets The Defiled type riff. The songwriting and structuring of this band is damn near perfect. Yes, the clean vocals might be auto-tuned, but even that sound lends something to the band's Cyber Metal type palette. The detail in the orchestration that manages to weave a charging riff with beautiful string sections keeps the album three dimensional. 'Zoticus' starts in such a gentle way before the guitars come in to fill in the gaps. It's a ballad, but not a wimpy one. Rather, it lends to the telling of the story just as it should. Haters of synths will despise this song, but if you like your Metal being tweaked, the layers of sound on show will be satisfying.

'Terrae' brings the heavy back, though it sounds a bit similar to other Mechina songs, with the inclusion of female vocal lines. It's not quite a lower point on the album, primarily because the flow of the story and the music is uninterrupted. It does little to loosen the grip on your imagination. 'Tartarus' is very much the same, with the aforementioned female vocals adding an almost ethnic feel to the songs. All the while the drumming and guitars keep the rhythm fast enough and constant enough for any Metalhead. The delicate keys and sombre beat at the end of the song are a nice touch.

'Phedra' features a good use of both vocal styles, with the quick transitions between them feeling rather dynamic. Musically it's great. The band have a very cinematic quality that has carried on through their past works to this album and has remained at a very high standard. 'Thales' brings in some very welcome blast beats and tremolo-picked guitar riffs, showing more of their Death Metal leanings. The ominous choir in the background and the epic feel of the album really helps bring the story of the album to a head. It's definitely the most intense song on the album so far, and the most lyrically ominous; "Humans have squandered any chance to find peace, Now let them reap what they sow." being one of my favourite lines in the song. Everything hollows out, leaving only the atmospheric effects five minutes in, giving the calm before the climactic storm.

'Erebus' takes the intensity of the previous song and focuses it into a jarring whirlwind of staccato riffs and punctuating orchestration before 'Amyntas' brings the tale home for the short, hauntingly gorgeous closing track 'Actaeon', which features no Metal elements, rather serving as a fitting close to a great trilogy of albums. At the end of the day, last year's album 'Empyrean' had a touch more impact to it, but 'Xenon' is not a let down by any stretch of the imagination. This record, I can recommend as highly as it's predecessor, and though this album is less of an instant gratification, it has a lot of value to offer to the more attentive listener.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 3 March 2014

Album Review; Grand Magus - Triumph And Power

Track Listing:

1. On Hooves Of Gold
2. Steel Versus Steel
3. Fight
4. Triumph And Power
5. Dominator
6. Arv
7. Holmgang
8. The Naked And The Dead
9. Ymer
10. The Hammer Will Bite

Sweden's Grand Magus are now onto their seventh album. This is a band that, from individual to individual are held in either very high regard or with indifference. In my opinion, they're a very accomplished band. They may not have broken many boundaries, but the quality of their albums cannot be denied. They've always got a good, memorable riff and powerful vocal hooks on par with the classic Metal bands. Heavy Metal is what they do, without any bullshit. Neither old-school nor modern.

In the form of 'Triumph And Power', Grand Magus have delivered their strongest album to date. The effortlessly epic feel of the opener 'No Hooves Of Gold' couldn't possibly fail to put any listener in the mood for the fist pumping anthemic songs that make up the rest of the album. JB Christoffersson's booming voice is in as fine a form as ever, and his aptitude for riff crafting remains inspired.

Lyrically the songs border on ridiculous, but this is nothing new for Heavy Metal. Grand Magus execute it in such a way that it doesn't sound self conscious or silly. Instead, it's another hearty celebration of the over the top imagery that found it's home in Heavy Metal decades ago. The mid-paced NWOBHM flavoured tune 'Steel Versus Steel' shows this well. 'Fight' is a call to arms for revolution, but neither a stand-out track nor a poor one. A slightly bland moment.

It's more than made up for on the title track, which stomps and pounds with a chest-beating sense of self belief and empowerment, built in to an imagery of battle and glory. The riff is another winner, and the contrast between JB's low range vocals to his higher, powerful wails helps the song to no end. All the while, Ludwig Witt's drums keep the battle march constant and tightly wound.

'Dominator' is my personal favourite song on the album, I can't place if it's the riff, the lyrical content or the sing-along quality of it. It's most likely a combination of the three. This is where Grand Magus excel; it's not about gimmicks or fads. They've made a career out of writing good, memorable songs that have fun with Heavy Metal.

Strange instrumental intermission 'Arv' might not be anything exceptional in itself, but it does give a touch of sonic variety on the record, as well as set the listener up for the next song, 'Holmgang'. The slightly faster, Rock 'N' Roll feel of 'The Naked And The Dead' definitely catches the ear more, and shows a lot of solid drum fills from Witt.

The album is concluded with 'The Hammer Will Bite', which begins with a clean, single note guitar line before bursting into full swing with one of the best riffs this album offers. Again, the epic feel is there, reminiscent somewhat of the band's amazing 'Ravens Guide Our Way' from 2010's 'Hammer Of The North'.

As I've mentioned, there isn't really anything new here, but nor should there be; Grand Magus definitely follow the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage, like AC/DC, Saxon and Motorhead before them, and this is what keeps them in such good stead with the Metal community as a whole. It doesn't matter how much Metal's more extreme subgenres continue to progress and morph into new styles over the years; there will always be a place for that classic sound of Heavy Metal. As that goes; Grand Magus' latest is a damn-near perfect showcase of what makes it such a satisfying sound even after all these years. It won't be everyone's cup of tea (What is?) but it is more than worth a listen if you fancy going back to basics without going back to an album that's decades old. The Grand Magus fanbase will not be disappointed.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Album Review; Shrapnel - The Virus Conspires

Shrapnel - The Virus Conspires

Track Listing:

1. Kingdom Come
2. Titan
3. Braindead
4. 22
5. The Virus Conspires
6. The Wake
7. Red Terror
8. The Watchers
9. Pseudocommando
10. Poison The Mind
11. All That We Know

Thrash Metal, at this point in time, has been largely dominated by the old guard like Testament, Overkill, Voivod and Death Angel. The Thrash revival bands have been side-lined for the most part. Evile are still going strong and making good records, while Municipal Waste and Skeletonwitch's newest releases seem to have passed by many people unnoticed. I sometimes wonder if this is largely due to the revival bands lacking a degree of excitement at this point. There's an energy required for Thrash Metal that has been lacking in a lot of the newer bands for a little while. Shrapnel, from Norwich, England, released their debut album this month, and it's a great addition to any Thrash fan's record collection.

'Kingdom Come' makes it perfectly clear from the start that this is a band that's out to Thrash your face off. Speed, riffs, gritty vocals and chaotic yet tight song writing is on show, along with a great amount of instrumental prowess that impresses without showing off. The vocal style of Jae Hadley has the force and simplicity of Tom Araya with a throatier edge that is reminiscent of Thrash singers like Mark Osegueda and Steve Souza. The song comes in, sets the tone in just under three minutes and quickly exits.

The second song 'Titan', which showcases more of the same, with some great moments that bring some true grit back to the Thrash Metal sub-genre, including more stellar riffs and some, frankly ridiculous drumming chops. The guitar tone is a noteworthy point; both guitarists, lead player Nathan Sadd and rhythm player Chris Martin clearly take their influences from bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Kreator and even Forbidden, but the tone heard on the album is decidedly modern, rather than sounding retro for the sake of posing. The riffs themselves are anything but simplistic. I'd heard it said about Dave Mustaine that his riffs were as impressive as other guitarists lead playing; the same can be said of Shrapnel's fantastic duo.

'Braindead' is another that doesn't sit about too long and is all the better for it. This is part of what makes 'The Virus Conspires' so compelling and genuine - bluntly put; there's no fucking about. No riff outstays it's welcome, nothing is present in the songs for the sake of it. This record retains the punk inspired spirit that made the original Thrash movement stand out. The instrumental break in the song '22' is another fantastic showcase of what Shrapnel are capable of, while the title track 'The Virus Conspires' brings the sinister feel of darker Thrash bands like Exodus and Dark Angel kicking and screaming into the modern age, showing that Shrapnel is a serious prospect in the genre.

As much as this is a Thrash Metal record, there are hints of other things to be heard on 'The Virus Conspires', little tinges of traditional Heavy Metal and even slight nods to early Death Metal bands, particularly in the fleeting yet effective atmospheric moments. In this respect it's great to see that they're not Thrash-by-numbers. A streak of originality and a clear consideration in regards to the songs are key here. 'The Wake' is probably one of my favourite songs on this record, though to be honest, the whole album is killer! There's a stupendously great riff to be heard at 2mins 39secs into the track.

I'm both sorry for and massively impressed by drummer Simon Jackson as far as this album goes; he never lets up! The reason I say I'm sorry for him is because he'll be going like a freight train for a whole set when Shrapnel play live. Can't be easy, but on the album he makes it sound easy enough in the best way possible. The songs flow smoothly from faster to slower (but never actually slow) tempos, and it's obvious that Simon's prowess behind the kit has something to do with the ease in the flow of the whole record. 'The Watchers' brings blast beats, ever impressive bass-drum kicks and very precise stop-starts.

Right through the rest of the album, there's no reprieve; it's non-stop Thrash Metal brilliance. It's raw, it's new, it's vicious and it brings a whole lot to the Thrash Metal style. At last, Thrash Metal sounds essential again, as it always should. This is one of the best debuts I've heard in a good while, and I cannot wait to hear more from this band, hopefully in the not too distant future. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9.5/10

Album Review; Primal Fear - Delivering The Black

Track Listing:

1. King For A Day
2. Rebel Faction
3. When Death Comes Knocking
4. Alive & On Fire
5. Delivering The Black
6. Road To Asylum
7. One Night In December
8. Never Pray For Justice
9. Born With A Broken Heart
10. Inseminoid

It's rare for me to find a Power Metal album that I can listen to right through without cringing. More often than not there's at least one ballad that just makes me want to throw my stomach up due to a cheese overload. Oftentimes the word 'Power' seems to make the label a contradiction in terms.

This is not true of 'Delivering The Black' by Primal Fear.

From the opener 'King For A Day', this is a balls-out, full-steam-ahead charge of vamped up Power Metal to bang your head to with your fist held high. Ralf Scheepers' voice, Alex Beyrodt's and Magnus Karlsson's guitars and Randy Black's drums all blend together to make a constantly epic torrent of classy sounding metal. The riffs heard on 'Rebel Faction' will get stuck in your head in the very best way. The guitar solo shows the two axemen to be magnificently skilled at their craft.

'When Death Comes Knocking' takes things down to a slower pace, but has another phenomenal riff that will please the most ardent headbanger and the kind of lyrics that will keep the battle-hardened Power Metal diehard singing his heart out, especially at the inspiring chorus that could have easily been an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest hit. The eastern flavoured acoustic interval in the middle of the track is a welcome addition to the formula as well, and the guitar solo it goes into is top notch.

'Alive & On Fire' brings a Rock 'N' Roll feel to the fray, with the overall vibe matching something like Saxon or Accept. Without a doubt, Mat Sinner's backing vocals bring a grittier element that keeps the cheese almost non-existence. The title track brings back the faster pace, with the lyrical content that befits a band ten albums into their career; a majestic and fantastical take on what it's like being in a Metal band!

The band doesn't let up, there's no filler to be heard here. 'Road To Asylum' may be a bit more low-key as the chorus melodies go, but the rhythms in the music are still heavy enough to keep the listener's full attention engaged. The album is filled with great songs, this is the key to Primal Fear's success on this album; the song writing. The album sounds complete; flowing without a hiccup, each song as great as the last. Nine minute epic 'One Night In December' starts with beautiful melodies on keys and strings, before giving way to a guitar solo. The pace may vary, but the impact of the song does not. The quality remains high, and the song does not feel half as long as it really is. The orchestration behind the song is enough to make Nightwish shake their head in envious frustration, and the guitars soloing with harmonies and then in a trade-off shows again the skills that this band have acquired in their seventeen year career.

'Never Pray For Justice' keeps the epic juices flowing; again the guitar players work in conjunction to give a great intro to the song. Ralf Scheepers vocal screeches and soars above it all, the Judas Priest influence unmistakable. 'Born With A Broken Heart' brings things to lighter-waving ballad territory. The song is huge and sweeping, and though the lyrical content may be a bit too familiar, it's a great song, and as the only full-on Power Metal Ballad on the album, it's actually a welcome addition that helps keep the album from sounding too samey.

'Inseminoid' brings this album to a fast and satisfying finish. The song is a veritable battering of what makes Power Metal a great sub-genre, when it's done properly. This whole album is Power Metal at it's very best. Yes, the raw ingredients have been used many times across the lifetime of the Metal genre, but here, Primal Fear have brought these components together in a brilliant and very moreish fashion. This German band have just released the album that should put them in the same breaths as Helloween, Gamma Ray and Blind Guardian. If ever an album was to show that Power Metal is more than just a cheesy joke in the 21st Century, this is the album.

Rating: 10/10