Metal-Nerd Blog 2020 Round UP and AOTY list, part 2:

I know, I know, it is probably two weeks too early, but I’m in the middle of moving home and working 65 hours a week on top of that, so may as well get it in while I have the chance. It’s the tenth year of this blog, and I’d hate to miss out on what is now a yearly tradition.

Last week in part 1, I wrote a round-up of what I’d been buying and listening to this year, and links to reviews of the concerts I had been to prior to lockdown.

Next up;

Here are my most-listened-to artists of the past 12 months according to LastFM:

Quite a mix there; Classic Metal, Classic Rock, Metalcore, Thrash, Prog, Hair, Power, Groove, Death, even a bit of indie. Old favourites, new discoveries. Nicely balanced, didn’t even mean to.

And finally; since it is December now, here is the Metal-Nerd Blog Album Of The Year List, 2020:

Honourable Mention: Salem – S/T EP. – Creeper went from being a fun pop-punk band with some Halloweeny lyrics to a ‘90s Britrock band tapping into older American sounds. Afterwards, their singer has a side project basically making a fun pop-punk band with Halloweeny lyrics. Highly recommended to fans of early Creeper (or Alkaline Trio).

10. BMTH – Post Human Survival Horror – Review here.

09. Five Finger Death Punch – F8 – Review here.

08. Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic – Review here.

07. Creeper – Sex, Death & The Infinite Void – Review here.

06. Haken – Virus  – (Rhymes with Bacon, not Kraken) British prog metal wizards release a captivating sequel to their previous album and continue to escape comparisons to other bands and forge their own identity. Might have even been higher, but I came to it late and haven’t even fully unpacked all its hidden glories yet.

05. Lamb Of God – S/T – Review here.

04. Testament – Titans Of Creation – Review here.

03. Protest The Hero – Palimpsest – Review here.

02. Trivium – What The Dead Men Say – Review here.

01. Sepultura – Quadra – Review here.

Sacred Reich – Awakening Review

Over the last decade and a half, many of the great Thrash Metal bands have had decent or even good comebacks, some have even had great comebacks. Arizona’s Sacred Reich managed to do something rather special with their 2019 comeback record… over two decades after their most recent studio album, they’ve actually made the best record of their whole career.

Now, up until I heard this record, if you told me they’d make a better overall album than The American Way I’d have laughed in your face (not really, I’m a nice guy, I’d have respectfully disagreed, but that doesn’t make as bold a statement, now does it?). I’m sure there’s lots of people who feel the same about their angrier debut album Ignorance, or their popular EP Surf Nicaragua. Top the classics? Not a snowball’s chance…

However, remove nostalgia, expectation, and scepticism, and just go in with a blank slate and you should, like me, be bowled over by the sheer quality of this album. Utterly perfect production job (other bands please take note, this is how it should be done), massively catchy choruses, superb riffing and grooving, interesting lyrics spat out with conviction, and inventive drumming from Dave McClain (back in the band after a long stint in Machine Head), this album contains all the elements of a masterpiece.

Its only half an hour long, and its all good, so it is hard to choose highlights, but I feel like the best introduction or tester to the album for those curious about whether to buy it or not, is to listen to the three song curve of the more melodic “Salvation,” into the guitar-focused and more traditionally Thrashy “Manifest Reality” into the absurdly catchy “Killing Machine” (boy, does that song hit the spot!).

As long as you aren’t put off by the band’s very political message (internet comments sections the world over seem to be, these days, as if all the other Sacred Reich albums weren’t political as hell!?! Their name alone…anyway, nevermind), there is no question that this album is an unquestionable must-have for fans of the band. They’ve done such a good job of mixing different parts of their whole career, selecting only the best bits, shaving off any fat, and then blending it together with a really satisfying mix and performance that just sounds so vital and relevant.

It is relentlessly old school, yes, but it also doesn’t feel like it is just rehashing old ideas. It does that near impossible task of sounding old and new at the same time. Maybe its just that fire-in-the-eyes revitalised energy spilling out through the speakers, but I can’t explain it. Just listen to “Revolution” to see what I mean.

[PS. If you can, try and get the song “Don’t Do It Donnie” too, its on a split with Iron Regan and is a fun little two minute bouncy crossover song, that is the most perfectly fun little succinct track they’ve released since the title track of Independent. Its kind of like D.O.A’s “Fucked Up Ronnie” for the modern day! I’ve just added it to this album on my phone and iTunes. I can’t listen to one without the other anymore].

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic Review

If I had to describe this album in three words? Absolute. Guitar. Pornography! – Thrash fans the world over can rejoice, because on their 17th studio album, Canada’s best Thrash band (no offence to Sacrifice, Exciter and Voivod fans) are truly on top form. I don’t know what has happened in Jeff Water’s life, but he sounds absolutely super-charged. Best vocals of his career. Superb song-writing. Astounding solos. Performances like a man possessed. If the band had broken up after their second album and this was their comeback, the music press would be all over this like ants on a picnic.

As it stands; Their previous album was a step in the right direction, but this album is an Olympic sprint in the right direction. Chocked full of lead guitar that would make most of the great virtuosos blush, fast enough to make modern Megadeth albums feel like a Doom Metal band, fun enough to make it endlessly memorable, Ballistic Sadistic is quite possibly Annihilator’s best album of the modern age. Perhaps their 3rd best ever.

The production is crystal clear but with nice crunchy rhythm guitar and hard hitting drums, all the instruments are perfectly balanced, nice thick bass, vocals not too loud. Its only 10 songs, no intros, no ballads, no joke tracks, just absolute “give the people what they want” thrashing. I mean it isn’t devoid of variety (they don’t call this man the Eddie Van Halen of Thrash Metal for nothing) but it is hyper-focused and filler-free.

Highlights include the opening three songs, including the very Never, Neverland-reminiscent single “Psycho Ward” (Jeff’s lyrics were never the most progressive when it comes to mental health, but I the music is brilliant) as well as the speedy “The End Of The Lie” and “Out With The Garbage” which channel the band’s faster material from their late ‘80s style and not forgetting the brilliant “Lip Service” which carries on that fun guitars cut out, rhythm section takes over style of song that the band tried on songs like Knight Jumps Queen” and “Pastor Of Disaster” in the early ‘90s.

When Annihilator are on, they are really on, one of the best bands in the whole genre when they get it right, and this my friends, is the band on and righter than right. Do you like to headbang? Do you like your air guitar? Do like a bit of melody with your Thrash? Then this red-hot scorcher of an album is highly recommended.

Metal-Nerd Blog 2020 Round UP and AOTY list, part 1:

Leaving aside any talk of the pandemic (you’ve read enough about that this year, this is a light-hearted site, I barely even post bad reviews) 2020 has been an interesting year musically and personally. On a personal level my first and only child celebrated his first ever birthday and my wife and I have just finally bought our first home. I also had a nice break at work at the start of the year where they moved me to an easier job for two months, which was a welcome if brief change. I also managed to loose one stone in weight recently after having put on too much around the pregnancy and new-fatherhood stage.

Musically, before the world turned upside down, I got to go to some fabulous concerts, in the form of Slipknot (childhood favourite but hadn’t seen since I was a teen, wearing the tour t-shirt as I write this), Five Finger Death Punch (better than you’d expect, and Megadeth supported!) and finally Testament, Exodus and Death Angel together (Dream come true line-up, shame a load of the band members and crew caught the virus from this tour).

In terms of new music, some icons like Ozzy released a new album, lots of bands have been releasing short one-off singles or mini-EPs (like Machine Head), some of my favourite bands released albums which obviously made it to my Top-10 list, and some other less-obvious bands surprised me.

In terms of old music; I’ve spent a hell of a lot of the year listening to Def Leppard, (expanding my knowledge of the band beyond just the early NWOBHM days), discovering Danzig, as well as expanding my Motorhead collection. That and as per most years, listening to a bunch of Thrash Metal (just got into Canada’s Sacrifice and LA’s Agent Steel recently, and Hirax earleir this year, there’s always more Thrash to explore).

I’ve also been reading band biographies and music books where I can find the time between work, exercise, parenting and trying to get a house. Max Cavelera and Dee Snider’s books were particularly good. I read Fiver Finger Death Punch’s drummer’s book too, but it’s a bit too simplistic Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll for me, or I should really say erectile dysfunction, alcoholism and metal (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean).

Due to all my Def Leppard listening, I’ve just finished Phil Collen’s book (which is a real easy read, very smoothly written). Most recently I’ve just started fellow blogger 80s Metal Man’s simi-fiction, semi-history of Metal/Rock coming of age novel Rock N Roll Children, and obviously if you’re reading this blog, you should read that book, I’ve not finished it yet but its compelling so far so can still recommend it.

I like a good audiobook too, and have listened to autobiographies on audible by the likes of Sammy Hagar, Phil Collins, Rick Wakeman, Rob Halford, Alice Cooper and Steve Tyler, all of which I’d recommend, (except maybe the Steve Tyler one as it is a bit too lyrical and overwritten at times, but still good a lot of the time).

So that’s the introduction, a round up of the year. Part two will see a list of my most-listened-to artists of the past 12 months and of course the actual AOTY list (gotta be December before I post that, I haven’t even put up the Christmas tree yet!). Stay tuned.

Agent Steel – Unstoppable Force Review

Unstoppable Force is the classification-defying Speed/Thrash/Heavy/US Power Metal band Agent Steel’s second full-length album, following up the exciting 1985 debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse and the 1986 stop-gap EP Mad Locust Rising.

The previous record was a blistering Priest, Maiden and NWOBHM influenced explosion of energy, that was reminiscent of a lot of the best early Thrash albums of the time and with a few Queensryche influences sprinkled on top.

This 1987 sophomore effort carries on that sound (and UFO obsessed lyrical bent), but sees the LA band lean even more heavily on the early Queensryche sound. Singer John Cryiss definitely has been listening to more Geoff Tate since the last record, and even on the speedier tracks, like the appropriately named opener “Unstoppable Force,” and the catchy “Nothin Left” you can still pick up hints of Tate in his performance. However sometimes the whole band just goes for it and full-on writes a Queensryche song, such as on the moody mid-temp “Still Searching” which comes across as the missing link between The Warning and Rage For Order, or the atmospheric album closer “Traveller” which has some delicious Metallica Fade To Black sounding lead guitar to start off with, but quickly ends up being their equivalent of Roads To Madness; derivative – maybe, delightful – unarguably!

The real album highlight however is the six-and-a-half minute instrumental workout “The Day At Guyana” (which is not a Manowar cover, in case you were wondering, but obviously named for the same Jonestown Cool Aid massacre).

Like the previous album, clocking in at just over half an hour, this record is filler-free, to the point and great from start to finish. The playing, performance and production are all tighter and more professional than the debut, and this is a damn fine follow up and must have addition to your collection. If you like your Thrash and are also a big fan of Crimson Glory, Metal Church or especially early Queensryche, then this is essential listening.  

Exumer – Possessed By Fire Review

When you think of German Thrash Metal, chance are you think of Kreator, Sodom, Destruction or Tankard. Rightly so. One band who shouldn’t be overlooked however are Wiesbaden’s underrated Exumer.

I guess line-up troubles and label issues stopped them getting the same exposure and opportunity as some of their peers, because their sound and formula is perfect for this style of music. Its not blackened or crossover, not progressive or technical, not funky or avant guard, its by the book Thrash, done simply, but effectively. Imagine the missing link between Bonded By Blood and Hell Awaits. Exumer’s cult classic 1986 debut album Possessed By Fire is the closest thing to that missing link. Eschewing the darker, more extreme style most Teutonic thrashers usually opt for, Exumer are Germany’s answer to Californian music (kind of like how Xentrix are for Britain).

The vocals are not the most memorable in the world, but serve the songs. They’re mostly in the mid-range but with occasional high screams. Not too cheesy, not too extreme. The guitar and drums are solid. Not flashy, not virtuoso, but get the job done nicely.

The warm analogue production courtesy of Harris Johns (Voivod, Coroner, Kreator, Sodom) is decent for a Thrash debut (certainly better than Destruction’s early work, less tinny and thin for example).

Highlights include the scream-along Title Track, the more adventurous ‘Xiron Darkstar’ and album closer ‘Silent Death.’

If there was a criticism to be made, I guess lack of originality may be the one to level at this band/album. (They do seem to steal a few sections from other songs **cough** Black Magic *cough* Riot Of Violence** cough). However, no more so than any other C-Tier bands of the era.

A good rule of thumb is that if you take a look at the Jason Vorhees meets Attila The Hun looking artwork and get a nice warm feeling in your tummy, then you will kind of already know what this album sounds like. Does it exceed your expectations, probably not, no, but it does meet them. If you dig albums like Terror Squad by Artillery or Malicious Intent by Razor then you’ll know what sort of level to expect.

Agent Steel – Skeptic’s Apocalypse Review

Call it Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, US Power Metal or just plain old Heavy Metal; Agent Steel’s 1985 combat records debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse is a frentic, buzzsaw of an album that pounds along with an almighty force.

This album is the pure flawless distillation on Metal at the time. No wonder it caused a stir back then. It rocks all the way through, from the (excluding a brief intro) meaty opening track; “Agents Of Steel,” which sounds like if someone took an early Venom song, produced it well, and then inserted insane falsetto shrieks and impressive virtuoso lead guitar work, to the catchy album closer “Back To Reign” – that mixes Iron Maiden’s gallop with some of that Show No Mercy-era Slayer tinny bounce and Feel The Fire-era Overkill vocal power,

Singer John Cryiis is incredibly diverse; sounding by turns like Katon W. De Pena of Hirax, Bobby Blitz Ellsworth of Overkill, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and strangely Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb (check out “Evil Eye/Evil Minds”). His ultra-high moments even give King Diamond a run for his money at times.

In terms of the instrumentalists; Guitarists Juan Garcia (also of Evildead) and Kurt Kilfelt are both an absolute master of the instrument, coming up with lots of memorable lead lines and solos. Drummer Chuck Profus puts in a really solid performance behind the drum kit. The production really leans into the ride cymbal and toms (almost as if the fills were recorded separately afterwards) and makes the drumming really stand out. The bass guitar, courtesy of George Robb can unfortunately be a little inaudible on some songs (or conversely almost too audible in other songs, for example the Queen Of The Reich copyist “Guilty As Charged” has quite loud bass).  

Highlights include the speedy/thrashy “Bleed For The Gods” and the more dynamic and versatile “Children Of The Sun” which has a sort of Warning-Era Queensryche feel meets the vibe of Metal Church’s debut (a Seattle-sound if you will – but not in the flannel shirt meaning of that phrase!) and the slightly darker “144,000 Gone” which sounds like a mixture of Anvil and Iron Maiden but more depressing.  

If you like Iron Saviour or Gamma Ray’s sci-fi lyrics with Judas Priest influences this is worth checking out, or if you like the production, music and vocals on debut albums by Anthrax, Exciter or Armoured Saint this is really worth checking out. If you want something Thrashy but clean, familiar but distinct, well-produced for the time but still charming and unmistakably 80s, then this is the perfect meeting point. It also helps that its just 30 minutes with absolutely no filler, so it doesn’t get old or outstay its welcome. Don’t overlook it for too long, I can’t believe I never tried this when I was younger.

Sacred Reich – The American Way Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich are a brilliant thrash metal band from Phoenix, Arizona. They play groove centered breakdowns mixed with chunky speed metal segments and have an awesome singer called Phil Rind, who belongs more to the Phil Anselmo School of singing than to the Death Metal or Iron Maiden-copycat styles that were common among many non-Bay Area Thrash bands.

The American Way, is a bona fide metal classic, containing many of the band’s greatest songs, for example ‘Who’s to Blame,’ and the famous Title Track (which you may remember from the early 90’s Brendan Frasier Cave man Movie ‘California Man.’)

The American Way is possibly Sacred Reich’s career highlight; capitalizing on the success of their previous EP and signature tune ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ the band further mix Hardcore Punk and a little taste of Groove Metal into their classic Thrash sound to create the perhaps ultimate Sacred Reich album. Don’t get me wrong, its still classic Thrash, but with enough variety to make every song distinct, memorable and catchy.

This album contains everything you want from a metal album; complex drumming, speedy riffs, groovy breakdowns, flashy guitar solos and interesting lyrics. The lyrics are socially conscious and political like many of their peers, but less ham-fisted than some of the worse thrash lyricists of the time were. Topics of discussion include everything from backwards messages and politics to metal elitism.

The production is punchy and chunky, with a clarity between the instruments and overall it is generally one of the better produced albums of the era.

The remastered edition comes in a beautiful digipak, and contains raw demos of 6 of the album’s songs along with the music video for ‘The American Way.’

In summary; This is a highly recommended album to any fan of thrash metal. If you like Nuclear Assault or Anthrax in particular then you’re going to love ‘The American Way.

Sacred Reich – Still Ignorant Live 1987-1997 Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich deliver the goods on this live effort, with a career spanning track listing, energetic performance and a great sound. The live album, recorded before the group disbanded sounds awesome, with a really chunky guitar sound and a good mix altogether.

Vocalist Phil Rind can really perform live, and doesn’t fall short live like some other singers. Highlights include a storming rendition of ‘Who’s To Blame,’ a surprisingly bouncy version of ‘Independent,’ as well as all the classics like ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ and ‘Death Squad.’

The Crowd are mix low enough to still be heard but not ruin the sound, and the whole sound gives off a really good concert vibe, it seems like it would’ve been amazing to have been there like all the best live albums do.

The concert mixes in a few numbers from the band’s underrated final album ‘Heal,’ and the songs sound amazing and are welcome next to the classic material.

Good grooves, melodic solos, chunky riffs and a solid production. What more could you ask for ? If you like Sacred Reich you really owe it to yourself to buy this, if you’re new to the band this is a great place to start.

Sacred Reich – Heal Review

The 1990s were not kind to a lot of Thrash Metal bands. Some broke up. Some went soft or tried new styles. Some went too progressive or too extreme. Some just ran out of good ideas.

There are of course, always exceptions to every trend. Heal by Sacred Reich is one such exception. This album is an underrated gem. Now; They may have moved into a Pantera-influenced Groove Metal style for half the album, which could be off-putting to die hard Thrashers, but half the record is still aggressive speedy Thrash and the songs that aren’t are way better than you’d expect from anything in 1996 anyway.

Part of what makes it work so well is Phil Rind’s vocals are perhaps the best of his career. He really developed over the years since Ignorance. Another thing that makes it work so well are that the songs are just so damn catchy and memorable. Finally; The slower moments really help the band’s trademark political and socially aware lyrical content easier to get across. When its not constantly all 1,000mph then you get to take it on board a bit more.

As described above, its an album of two halves. Highlights from the faster stuff includes “Break Through” and “Don’t” which are punchy and energetic, and perhaps best of all the furious album closer “The Power Of The Written Word” which is perhaps the band’s most pissed off song since their debut. (Talk about going out with a bang).

Highlights from the slower stuff include the Sabbathy grooving Title Track, the memorable anti-racist “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt” and the very fun “I Don’t Care.”

Even the Oingo Boingo cover works. The only thing that doesn’t quite do it for me is “Low” which is a bit too Alice In Chains for even my tastes. People who thought that tracks like “A Question” from the previous EP or “Crawling” from the last album weren’t Thrashy enough may want to avoid that one track in particular. (Don’t let it put you off trying the whole record though).

After this album, drummer Dave McClain would go on to join Machine Head for around two decades and Sacred Reich would break up and only play intermittently over the years. (Although things have come full circle now, with the band back full steam ahead with their superb new album, Awakening, and guess who’s behind the kit?).

Although their comeback record is superb, for the last two decades this was a fine ending to the Sacred Reich story. It may not be all fast, all the time, but it is all entertaining, all the time.