Gojira – Fortitude Review

I have been putting off reviewing this album for a while since I feel a little unqualified to talk about it. Sure, I bought their live DVD about 7 years ago and listened to it a few times, and I bought two of their studio albums as a gift for my brother about 5 years ago and have heard those in passing. I’ve always known I should get into Gojira, but never quite got around to it. Basically, I have been hearing a constant gushing stream of praise about this band since about 2005 in print, online, in podcasts, from word of mouth and just about every source imaginable, yet somehow never really properly tried the band enough, and had certainly never personally “got” them.

For a good few years I had heard that they had toned down the extreme metal sections and upped the amount of prog on their previous album, Magma, which I kept meaning to buy but didn’t get around to, but I heard one single from it at the time which I was thoroughly impressed by, and I had already always said to myself, “if they get a little bit less extreme, I’ll start listening to Gojira.” Cut to 2021, and the environmentally-themed French Prog—Metal released their seventh full-length studio album (on Roadrunner Records), and to my delight all the reviews and press beforehand had been talking about how it was less heavy and more proggy, with a huge chunk of groove metal added to their palate. I finally decided to take the plunge.

Review in short: Love. At. First. Listen.

I listened to it every single day, sometimes twice, for about a month after release day and still try to listen to at least some of it very regularly now. I’m going to be coming back to this for years. I don’t think it is unfair to say this album has had as big an impact on me as some game changing album that you heard back in high-school and bonded with forever. Wow, I wasn’t sure you could get that feeling again as an adult, but wow, this record really floored me.

Take all the best parts of the proggy but accessible Crack The Skye by Mastodon, mix it with the best parts of the groovy but experimental Against by Sepultura, add in the best sort of Architects’ thought provoking the-planet-is-doomed lyrics, blend them together with an utterly unique and singular musical voice (which is the Gojira signature sound, I later discovered when going back to all their previous albums after this), and out comes Fortitude, one of the most instantly loveable metal albums I have heard in years and years.  

From the teasing drum build-up of the disjointed and rhythmic opener “Born For One Thing” to the delicate acoustic fade out (following the otherwise brutal sonic bombardment) of “Grind” this album is sheer bloody perfection from start to finish, with not a wasted second. Everything is so perfectly balanced; each song is such an intriguing and hypnotic journey and they strike the perfect balance between expansive and catchy. It feels at times just about as cosmic and floaty as you can without disappearing up your own ass, but then by contrast still so instantaneous and crushingly metallic when it wants to, bouncing between the two at just the right moments so you never get sick of one style, and never staying at one pace long enough to get boring.

You know how some albums have to be listened to from start to finish in one go? This isn’t one of those. Its certainly benefits from that don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t reliant one it. The album has a brilliant flow, sequencing and journey, and travels across the sonic landscape with a clear beginning, middle and end, however, if you want, all the songs sound great without that context, and literally any single track from it sounds great away from the album if it comes up on shuffle. Basically, it has all the best features of a concept album without the drawbacks.

The production, by singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier is majestic, and Andy Wallace (who mixed Iowa and Toxicity) mixes everything to perfection. The actual sound of this record feels like it was made just to appeal to me. I can’t get enough. I just melts in the ear. Speaking of Duplantiers, drummer Joe Duplantier is one of the most instantly loveable drummers I have ever heard. What a drummer, such a unique drumming “voice.” Such a balance between virtuosity and restraint. Utter magnificence.

Possibly the best thing about the album though, is that I always wanted to like Gojira but was a bit intimidated, and this album finally “unlocked” them. I’ve since gone back and been blown away by all their other amazing albums (I’m damn partial to a bit of The Way Of All Flesh now, and can finally see for myself what everyone was telling me about From Mars To Sirus for years. I guess some fans who love the heavier early days could potentially be a bit disappointed by the band being a bit too accessible with this album, but on the other hand, if anyone else like me out there knows they could like Gojira but don’t yet, this album is the way in for sure. For a few years, one of the thing that stopped me fully going in on Gojira was that the vocals were just a bit too abrasive for me, and the music was a bit mysterious. However, like the leap between Mastodon’s Lifesblood EP and their Crack The Skye album, the vocals here are so advanced and impressive compared to the earlier Gojira records my friends all told me to love in college like The Link of the fan-beloved From Mars To Sirus that it is like night and day. Sure, the more brutal vocal stylings suited those albums because the music was more brutal itself, but here, you can actually say, these are objectively fantastic vocals. The mid-section vocals on “Hold On” send a shiver up my spine in the way Tool sometimes do when they’re being particularly majestic.

If I was to choose one song to suggest to newcomers to test the waters, I think I would recommend the groovy mid-paced “Sphinx.” It has a few heavier moments, it grooves, the lead guitar section is proggy and weird and overall I think it is probably the mid-point of everything on the album. That said, if you do like things heavier, the one to go for is definitely the energetic and punchy album closer “Grind” which despite the aforementioned outro, is the most punch-to-the-face pick-scraping stomper on the record, and the closest thing to their more famous albums. For the opposite end of the spectrum, the surprising stoner-rock left turn of “The Chant” has the cleanest vocals of any Gojira to date, so if you don’t like any extreme metal at all, that is the one to check out first, after which you can graduate to “The Trials” which reminds me a bit of a darker version of the Title Track to Coheed And Cambria’s The Afterman mixed with the haunting end of Roots Remain by Mastodon.

Never a dull moment, delicate, crushing diverse, intriguing, infinitely replayable, Fortitude is all these things and more. I don’t use this word often, and my opinion might not be worth much coming to the band so late, but to me this album is an utter masterpiece. Can’t recommend enough.

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum Review

2021’s Aggression Continuum is the tenth full-length canonical studio album (discounting compilations, remix albums, demos, and their almost-debut Concrete – which doesn’t count) by the veteran Metal band Fear Factory. It has a long and storied history, which you can go into at length online should you wish, but the gist of it was that the band recorded an album called Monolith a few years ago, featuring less polished versions of these tunes, but that record got delayed due to legal issues and wasn’t released. Most of the various old band members hate each other, and all of them seem to hate guitarist and current band leader Dino Cazares, who crowdfunded for the cash to improve Monolith and turn it into this current album via a series of small upgrades. He used the cash to hire Mike Heller on drums (who’d done a great job on their previous album Genexus) to replace Monolith’s drum-machine tracks with actual drums, and to add in additional keyboards, electronics and atmosphere to flesh the whole thing out and give it the finishing touches. In the meantime however, iconic singer Burton C. Bell left the band in a less-than-amicable split, but rather than start afresh with a new singer, Dino decided to keep just his old vocal recordings from 2017 and release the album anyway, as a weird hybrid of old and new.

A messy genesis to be sure, but you better believe I crowdfunded this record and was looking forward to it, because despite the recent mess they have become, Fear Factory were actually one of my favourite bands growing up and when they are on top form they can be one of the best bands in the entire genre. After the uncivilized sniping by the press; I really wanted one more record from them, and I wanted it to be great. Even though it is sad to see how the mighty have fallen, and hard to believe they would ever continue without Burton, it is still good to have this one last record.

Even going in wating to like it, I am a bit skeptical of the album, and feel there is something a bit cynical on some of the tracks. Perhaps the biggest fault on Aggression Continuum is that there isn’t enough importance placed on the drums or especially not enough focus on the bass, whereas the band had one of the best rhythm sections in the history of Metal in the 90s, which was an equally big selling point to their sci-fi lyrics, clean/growl vocal dynamic and crunchy staccato guitar style that made them famous. Sure that was the hook, but there was always more to it than that. Maybe there is bit too much repeating old glories (one of the songs is a pretty shameless fan service reference to their ‘90s hit “Replica”) and maybe there is a bit to reliance on formula. The album lacks the diversity and nuance that made their earlier work pop, focusing instead on the aforementioned surface level similarity between those early records. Whereas their first four albums were a constant evolution and no two albums sounded that much alike, ever since Raymond and Christian left the band, Fear Factory have kind of just fall into a formula of what they think they should sound like, rather than pushing what they can sound like or even what they did actually sound like. Before, there was a signature guitar and lyrical style in a diverse catalogue. Now its all just riffs and robots, but lacking in all the other parts that complemented the surface level similarity of recurrent crunchy metallic terminator vibes, and stopped a recognisable style from being a gimmick, instead turning it into the basis for some utterly classic albums.     

That all being said however, this album isn’t the worst thing the band have released. It may be a bit by-the-numbers. It may be a bit cynical. However; It is more realized and less rushed than 2005’s hit and miss Transgression, and it is better produced and less boring/forgettable than 2012’s The Industrialist (having a human drummer instead of a drum machine certainly helps it compare favourably to that record).

Sure the spark that made their best albums really shine is missing, but there are a few really quite good tracks, such as the exciting opener “Recode,” the energetic title track “Aggression Continuum,” the bouncy single “Disruptor” and also the deep track “Monolith” which has a nice little guitar solo (a rarity in Fear Factory songs). Its also short enough not to overstay its welcome, which is always a plus. I don’t think in years to come this album will be anyone’s absolute Fear Factory album, but it is an OK end to the Burton C Bell era of the band, and it is not an embarrassment.

Overall, not their best release, but not without its merits. Buy if you are already a fan, don’t start here.

Helloween – Helloween (2021) Album Review

Trumpets, Keys, Stars and Rings

Wow, what a dream come true. After the fan fantasy Pumpkins United tour, the astounding live-album United Alive and the killer one-off single “Pumpkins United” it is finally time for the long-awaited new full-length studio album from the German Power Metal icons Helloween.

Helloween are one of my all-time favourite bands, and I like all eras of the band. They started off in the early ‘80s on their early EPs and first album Walls Of Jericho as a heavier and thrashier proposition, fronted by Kai Hansen (who would later take a back seat but stay on guitar for the following two albums, before leaving and forming the equally excellent band Gamma Ray). After the early EPs and debut album, world-class singer Michael Kiske joined the band in the late ‘80s and helmed their two most beloved albums, the genre-defining Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts 1 & 2, which are utter indisputable classics of the Power Metal genre and form much of the band’s live setlist even to this day. Kiske also presided over the next two less-popular, increasingly commercial and increasingly un-metal albums before leaving the band. In the early-mid ‘90s after a period of turbulence, declining popularity and declining band morale, singer Andi Deris joined the band and has been with the band ever since as they rebuilt, endured and produced some of their finest work along the way.

Each singer has their own fans. Kai is the original and heaviest, Kiske is the most popular and best technical singer, and Andi is the longest-serving and best showman/performer. This new album, like the wicked live album that precedes it, features all three singers on it, sometimes alone or usually mixed together. They are cleverly blended on this record; without a proper analysis it feels broadly like about Andi probably doing 55%, Kiske doing about 30% and Hansen doing about 15% which seems appropriate given their relative longevity in the band, and their relative commercial appeal (and the fact that Kai had talked about singing less in Gamma Ray a few years ago). Interestingly too, as a tribute to the late Helloween drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, current drummer Daniel Löble actually recorded his drum parts using Ingo’s old drumkit. Nice touch!


Although there must have been some temptation to just dive back into a retro ‘80s sound musically and sonically now that Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske back in the fold and Ingo’s old kit is being used, the results are actually decidedly more modern. While there is clear influence from the ‘80s it is not a simple rehash or retreading of old ground. Shameless fan service is in low supply and they’ve made a concerted effort to blend modernity and nostalgia in a classy way. The production (courtesy of Charlie Bauerfeind & Dennis Ward) is slick and modern, feeling much more like the most recent Derris Era Helloween albums, My God Given Right and Straight Out Of Hell in terms of actual sonics. Even album art evokes simultaneously their classic Walls Of Jericho, Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Time Of The Oath album artworks all at once, which again feels like a clever blending of the three eras together.

The song-writing does sound like recent Helloween albums first and foremost, not too much like the ‘80s and not overly like Hansen’s work in Gamma Ray or Kiske’s work in Unisonic (there are bits here and there, but its not the main flavour). This record is not a rejection of all the progress the band have made over the years, and it isn’t just the Helloween of the ‘80s back in an anachronistic inappropriate revival cash-in.

That being said, the three singers meets numerous guitar players dynamic does help it stand apart from recent albums too though. It isn’t just business as usual with a cheap gimmick slapped on the top either. What this actually is, is a new hybrid-Helloween, bringing a best-of-both worlds approach, injected with extra energy and enthusiasm on top if that for good measure. It is a good record, in fact a very good record, and a brilliant payoff for fans who like more than one era of the band. I highly recommend it.

However; while it would be tempting to get carried away for the sake of the story and say that it is their best album to date, or even their best album since 1990 or whatever, that would be incredibly unfair to some of the amazing albums the band have been releasing all along. It is a good album, easily in the top half or even top third of their discography, but to say it tops everything since the Keepers’ would be an inaccurate nonsense. This album is good, but let’s not forget some of the other great work they’ve made for the sake of a good hyperbole-filled headline. I genuinely hope people who come back to the band because of the reunion vibe now go back and check out killer albums like 7 Sinners and especially Time Of The Oath and see how strong the band can be without Kai or Michael as well (if you’re interested, check out my ranking of all Helloween albums from best to worst).

Ok. Soapbox moment done. Album highlights include the 12-minute album closer “Skyfall,” (varied and triumphant), as well as the majestic 7-minute album opener “Out For The Glory” and the shorter/punchier “Cyanide” (both premium modern Power Metal) and the more Hard Rock number “Mass Pollution” which has some of the most memorable guitar moments.

Overall; 2021’s Helloween is a very noteworthy album that manages to live up to its potential, with killer songs, killer sounds and a killer premise. I’m pretty over the moon about this album and I hope you will be too.

PS. I’ve already got tickets to see them live, postponed due to the pandemic from before the album was out, and now I really hope they drop a few tunes from this album into the set too.    

Gama Bomb – Sea Savage Review

Since being a teenager, my favourite subgenre of Metal has always been Thrash Metal. However, for some bizarre reason, when the New Wave Of Thrash Metal started, and lots of younger bands started making top quality Thrash, I utterly slept on it, not exploring it at all, or sometimes I even outright dismissed it.

This year I’ve been rectifying that, giving bands like Hazzerd, Harlott, Hyades, Havok, Power Trip, Lich King, Mosh-Pit Justice and Municipal Waste their fair shot and being won over time and time again.

The one exception to my New Thrash blind spot has always been Gama Bomb, maybe its because they’re my fellow countrymen, maybe its because they strike the right balance of humour and fun without descending into parody, maybe its just because they write the most memorable songs, but even when I had a “1980s or GTFO” attitude towards Thrash, I’d still find time to listen to Gama Bomb, recommend them to people, and I was even lucky enough to see them live (remember concerts guys?) when a guitarist I knew gave me a free ticket and transport (good guy!) back before I went to concerts regularly or was able to drive.

Many years since I first went in on the band with their Tales From The Grave In Space record, Gama Bomb have now released what I believe to be not only their best album to date, not only one of the best NWOTM albums I’ve heard, not only an album as good as what the ‘80s bands can put out nowadays, but one of the straight-up best Thrash albums I’ve heard to date from any era.

You heard that right. This album is their best one yet. This album can stand proudly up to the best things Slayer or Anthrax have been putting out since the ‘00s, and this album can stand up happily to some things Death Angel or Heathen were putting out in the late ‘80s. Never mind simply holding its own; this album is actively better than most of the output Thrash bands put out in the ‘90s and arguably better than some (if not a lot) classic Thrash and Proto-Thrash albums of 1983-1985 too!

I was a week one buyer (December 2020) after getting mega hyped by the pre-release singles, but it has taken me this long to write a review simply because I wanted to make sure how hard I like it wasn’t just hype or a sort of bubble-gum scenario where the flavour will go away really soon kind of thing. However, a few months later and I still think this record is a damn masterpiece of Thrash.

Songs like “Miami Super-Cops,” “Sea Savage,” “Ready, Steady…Goat!” and “Sheer Khan” just get stuck in my head for days. I have so often been on a walk these days and been unable not to sing aloud “Down, down, town!” during “Miami Super-Cops” when I had otherwise been walking in silence, sometimes leading passers-by to look at me like I am a lunatic. I don’t care, its so catchy it is irresistable!

Alongside top notch, catchy as hell tunes, everything else works perfectly. The production is tight, the playing is brilliant, the vocals just get better every time you hear them (some of those crazy Agent Steel-style screeches are so catchy) and the mixture between serious traditional Thrash music but goofy lyrics just works so well (but importantly, without being comedy music, which is always a turn-off for me). For example, when they go into “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” in the middle of the title track, it comes across as really clever even though it probably shouldn’t.

In summary, if you like Thrash Metal and can get over the fact that the band are not from the 1980s, you absolutely need this album in your collection, no questions asked.

Rob Zombie – The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy Review

2021 sees the release of the seventh full-length studio album from the horror and sci-fi obsessed industrial tinged larger than life rock icon Rob Zombie. Cumbersomely named; “The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy” sees Rob Zombie continued his tradition of excessively titled albums, but perhaps not topping his most OTT choice from a decade ago with his fourth record “Hellbilly Deluxe II: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool.”

It was released on Nuclear Blast and follows up the very well received “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser” album from 2016, which the general consensus around reckoned was one of Zombie’s best albums to date, but for me it was actually a bit of a let-down after my favourite album to date, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from 2013. Warlock had its highlights for sure, and I appreciated the attempt to be lean, succinct and have a big personality, but fell a bit flat a times in the song writing department of the deeper tracks.  

As such, I approached this new album with a bit of trepidation, but luckily ‘Kool Aid really knocked it out of the park in my opinion, as it seems to fuse the best elements from ‘Venomous (Catchiness, hooks, better song-writing) and ‘Warlock (immediacy, character, eccentricity).

This is the second album to be produced by Christopher “Zeuss” Harris. It doesn’t have as clean nor big a sound as the old Scott Humphrey produced albums of yore, but it does has a lot of energy and seems to be going for a bit of a slightly punkier vibe than a typically industrial or even stadium sound.

The band line-up is also the same as last time around. Former Marilyn Manson member turned solo virtuoso John 5 has been in the band for years and years now, but his influence is particularly notable on this record, with all the little funk asides and effects laden guitar parts. I feel like he has been allowed to shine much more than say Educated Horses for example. I would argue that in terms of sheer guitar playing fun, this is definitely one of the most colourful Rob Zombie records to date. Its also the third studio with former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish on board. Now that Manson’s career is looking to be fast going downhill, its great to see some of the members from the iconic Holywood line-up are still out there making an impact.

There are a lot of damn fine songs to be found here. From the single “The Triumph Of King Freak” and “The Eternal Struggles Of The Howling Man” to the much talked about country tinged “18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks and a One-Way Ticket on the Ghost Train.” The real highlights for me personally are the stompy “The Satanic Rites of Blacula” and the groovy “Shadow of the Cemetery Man” as well as “The Ballad of Sleazy Rider.” I’d already rank it higher in the discography than Hellbilly Deluxe 2 or Educated Horses and in fact there is certainly a much higher hit to miss ratio than ‘Warlock on the deeper cuts. It hasn’t been out that long so its probably too early to tell, but already I’d estimate that this is in at least the top half of his discography.

Its not all glory though. There are 17 tracks here, totalling 42 mins, but there is a bit of fat that could be trimmed. Six of the Seventeen tracks here are effectively intros or interludes and this cumulatively makes up a full five minutes of the record. Zombie has never been a stranger to intros and interludes, the classic debut Hellbilly Deluxe certainly has its fair share, and the platinum selling follow up The Sinister Urge had a couple, and while I appreciate that one or two can add flavour and break things up, I think this record has perhaps the most extracurricular activity outside the main songs, which may affect the flow a little bit (its not a deal breaker or anything, but I’ll probably find myself skipping them a lot in the future).  

To summarise; it has a silly name and a lot of interludes, it doesn’t sound as huge as the early records sonically, but it is consistently chocked full of strong and memorable songs, has some variety and in terms of quality it is even better than its much hyped predecessor. Well worth checking out.

Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering Review

[Warning: My most listened-to artist of the past 12 years by a large margin according to statistics from Last FM is Queensryche, so if you expect a review without mentioning Seattle’s finest, you may have to look elsewhere].

Rejoice In The Suffering is the debut full-length studio album by Todd La Torre, the man most famous for being the singer on the past three Queensryche albums (and drummer on the latest one too!) and who was in Crimson Glory before that.

It was released on Ratpack records and self-produced, but with help from bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Craig Blackwell, with mixing and mastering duties capably handled by Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Chimaira, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Overkill, Heathen, and the past two Queensryche records).

Now obviously, the first question you may be wondering is, “does it sound like Queensryche?” And the answer is a non-committal “sort of, a bit, in places, but also no.” Having the man who has been the revitalising force in the band and voice of their records for the past decade will obviously draw some comparison, as will tapping Zeuss who worked on their albums. That being said, the album feels like Todd wanting to use all the ideas he has that don’t quite fit in the Queensryche formula, or that might be too much of a departure if he did. This is not a Hard Rock record, this is not a Prog Metal album. This is a Metal album with a capital M.

The album is heavier, harder, faster and less progressive than 90% of the Ryche’s output, and because Todd doesn’t have to fit in with an established sound, his voice is much less like Geoff Tate’s than it is on Ryche records. While still sounding like himself, he really shows off all different sorts of voices here, from Rob Halford Screeches to that Bruce Dickinson/Ian Gillian talk-sing, to Chuck Billy melodic bark, to a few death growls and at one point an almost Dani Filth style creepy storytelling voice blended with a Johan Hegg roar, on one of the bonus tracks (“One By One”). Don’t let me dropping all those names capsize the boat or deflate your enthusiasm though, this is not to say the album is Todd-does-karaoke, Todd himself would probably be shaking his head if he were ever reading my comparisons; its just my limited language skills describing how broad the range of styles he covers is, he has his own unique spin on all of these voices.  

What about the music? Where does that fit in with? Well, to be honest, it reminds me a lot of the newest Andy Sneap-helmed albums by Accept, Saxon and Priest at times, but some songs on the other hand (like “Critical Cynic”) are a little more punchy and staccato with that crunchy guitar sound that modern Prong albums have, but also wouldn’t be out of place on a Five Finger Death Punch album, the sort of thing you get when you take Fear Factory’s mechanical style and make it more organic.

The semi-ballad “Crossroads To Insanity” on the other hand is exactly the sort of thing Queensrcyhe have been doing lately, and probably the one to try first if you aren’t into heavier material. I feel like this one could have just sat happily on The Verdict. Its not really representative of the whole album though, if you want to get sort of the average sound of the record, listen first to the crunchy mid-paced title track, and then to the speedier, thrashier “Vanguards Of The Dawn Wall” which is probably the hardest, heaviest number and closer to Testament than Queensryche. This song shows me why Todd deserves a solo album, as he utterly nails this track, but it would never have fit on The Verdict or Condition Human. Now imagine something mid-way between the two and you’ll get a ballpark idea for where the album sits most of the time.

Todd handles the drums himself and does a great job (he was a drummer since a young age), mixing in a bit of flare with also not overplaying and aforementioned Graig handles the riffs; doing a very solid job of it, serving the songs well. There are some brilliant guitar solos too, particularly on the album closer (not counting bonus tracks) “Apology.”

Good production, check. Good stylistic direction, check. Good music, check. Good vocals, check check check check check.

I don’t know if the album will still be listened to and talked about in 5, 10 or 20 years. I don’t know if Todd’s solo career will be an ongoing thing, or if this is just a one time pandemic-era release of steam while Queensryche can’t tour. I don’t know if I am just unduly fond of it due to being a massive Toddryche fanboy, but I do know that in and of itself, this album is well worth your time right now, and a stirling showcase of a master vocalist demonstrating a broader range than he gets to in his day job. Being selfish, I hope it doesn’t interfere in Queensryche in any way, but other than that one caveat, I have nothing but good things to say about this.

Accept – Too Mean To Die Review

If someone asked me to define pure classic heavy metal, the first thing that comes to my mind is the German band, Accept. Their classic run of 1980s albums is still fresh and entertaining to this day, and their reunion era with the new singer Mark Tornillo is somehow just as good, or even better (very few heritage bands can say that, maybe only Kreator are making better albums nowadays than in the 80s). For example; Their 2012 album Stalingrad was one of my albums of the whole decade, and the follow up to that Blind Rage is just as good.

In 2021 the long running band have put out their sixteenth full-length studio album, and the fifth of their modern Tornillo-era. Like the other albums from this era it is released on Nuclear Blast, and boasts an absolutely banging production job from Andy Sneap (who has done some great work with the best Saxon, ‘Priest and Testament albums of the modern era).

There has been some line-up shifts in recent years, as essential members Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann left before the previous album, The Rise Of Chaos, and now iconic bassist Peter Baltes has departed too. I can imagine a few fans being worried about how that will affect the sound and direction.

Luckily main-man Wolf Hoffman is still going strong, and the Tornillo/Sneap dynamic over Wolf’s signature style ensures a sense of continuity. Christopher Williams on drums and Uwe Lulis on guitar are still here from the previous record (and the live album before that) and both of those guys are pretty dialled into what Accept should sound like anyway, which also helps it all still feel like Accept should feel.

If you have heard any album since Blood Of The Nations, you will know stylistically what to expect here. They’ve settled into a specific style and are pretty much just fleshing out every variation of that theme they can think of without straying too far, kind of like how Motorhead did for their final five or six albums, or what Saxon have been doing on their three or four most recent records. There are fast, medium and slow paced variations. There are melodic, blunt and medium intensity variants. There are rocking and metallic stylistic variants. Some songs may have a bit of a neoclassical section here, or a singalong section there. But at the end of the day, they’ve hit upon an excellent formula and they’re working it to maximum effect one album after another now; There’s lots of speed metal, lots of hard rock and a few tiny tinges of thrash and power metal in small doses for flavour now and again.

If you want to know what this album (or indeed the last four albums sound like), check out the brilliant tracks “Not My Problem,” “No One’s Master” or the title-track “To Mean To Die.” Plenty of good tunes here to keep existing fans happy. This stuff is exactly what I love about the band.

For the band’s more rock, less Metallic side, “Overnight Sensation” is a blast, and the amusing lyrics about social media influencers kind of serve as a spiritual sequel to the previous album’s “Analogue Man.”  If you like the band when they add a bit of classical music into the mix, then “Symphony Of Pain” is also worth checking out.

How does this album fit into the band’s catalogue overall? Well, it isn’t my number-one favourite, but it is no disappointment either. I think of words like “solid” or “dependable” which may sound like damning with faint praise, but that isn’t the case. They have released better albums, that’s just the burden of being a brilliant band with a stellar catalogue. There may perhaps be one or two songs that come across as filler, and furthermore because they’ve used this formula for several albums now nothing feels particularly wow-ing or fresh which can sometimes have an impact when ranking records, but as a whole it is just another damn solid set of songs in a style I’ve come to love for the last decade, and still as well produced and performed as ever. If it was a Deep Purple album, it would be Who Do We Think We Are. Still awesome, but maybe not the one that makes it into all the lists.

Will it make my album of the decade list like Stalingrad did? Maybe not. Will it be my number one album of this year? Possibly not either.  But do I still recommend you buy it? You bet I doa. If you liked Rise Of Chaos, you’re going to like this, it is as simple as that. At least half the album I can’t wait to add to playlists or see on live albums.

[Ps. As a side note, every time I look at the green album artwork with a pissed off looking serpent and a lightning forked-tongue, I always wonder if it was originally made for Overkill, like maybe the single art for Electric Rattlesnake? Kind of like how Obituary’s Cause Of Death album cover was originally either made or at least suggested for Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains].

Heathen – Empire Of The Blind Review

Empire Of The Blind was released in September on Nuclear Blast. Heathen are perhaps not the world’s most prolific band, having only released their fourth studio album since their 1980s inception in 2020, but when they do put something out, you can be sure its going to be good.

Carrying on the general sound and vibe of their previous album, The Evolution Of Chaos, this new album sees the band once again blasting out crunchy Bay Area Thrash Metal riffs, a variety of fast, slow and mid-paced material, great melodic catchy choruses and superb melodic lead guitar lines. (Guitarist Lee Altus clearly uses Heathen nowadays as a vehicle to let out the cleaner catchier stuff that wouldn’t fit with his other band, Exodus).

The only main shift in direction from the previous record would be the amount of mid-paced or groove based parts is higher, and the number of speedy parts is a bit lower (although thankfully, without crossing the barrier into being ploddy).

They don’t frontload it and shove a bunch of filler at the end, it starts off restrained, opens up as it goes along, with the power-ballad just after the middle as a bit of a breather. It arguably gets better as it goes on, and also doesn’t drag on too long, clocking in at a solid 47 minutes with 10 proper tracks, an intro and an outro. The production is flawless, the vocals are remarkably good for singer Dave White’s age (holds up a lot better than many of his ‘80s contemporaries), and the overall flow of the album is just right.

Highlights include the tight and bouncy “Blood To Be Let” and the speedy “The God’s Divide” (I wish that was the album opener actually) as well as and the muscular “In Black” which feels like it could be played at sporting events, and reminds me a tiny little bit of the meatier material on Metallica’s Death Magnetic album (think “Judas Kiss” and “Broken, Beaten, Scarred”). The instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” is the real standout moment however, which balances the faster more powerful riffing with grand guitar textures and victorious mountaintop vista, sword-in-hand feel.

Kragen Lum has been handling the heavy lifting in the song-writing department, and seems to be more into creating a mood and leaving room for the singer and lead guitars to show their stuff, rather than just breaking teeth. The balance is not too dissimilar to recent Queensryche albums actually, (I don’t see how someone who loves Condition Human for example wouldn’t enjoy “Shrine Of Apathy”) although still unmistakably Heathen.

If I was to make a slight criticism, it would be that the album could maybe do with one or two faster songs to keep the Thrashing up. For example just one more “The God’s Divide” would have elevated it from good to very good for me, but that’s just nit-picking and personal preference really, and Heathen have never exactly been a Dark Angel or Razor focusing on relentless speed anyway. As long as you don’t go in expecting Darkness Descends, Violent Restitution, Reign In Blood or Pleasure To Kill however, this album is sure to satisfy and if you enjoyed their previous album The Evolution Of Chaos then there’s little chance you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the songs or the performance of the musicians.

Riverside – Wasteland Review

Polish Prog Metal band Riverside suffered the terrible loss of their lead guitarist Piotr Grudziński less than half a year after their superb sixth full-length studio album; Love, Fear & The Time Machine.

After the difficult decision to carry on without replacing him, their next and at time of writing newest album was released in 2018 via InsideOut Music and met with deserved acclaim (and surprisingly in this day and age, sold relatively well for a prog album, continuing their streak of gold albums in their homeland).

It can’t have been easy carrying on without such a key member of the band, who’d been there since the very start, but somehow they managed to create a beautiful, affecting, and very interesting album with no loss of quality, while also not losing their ‘sound’ or ‘spirit’. If they had understandably chosen not to continue after 2016, they would have been leaving us with a wonderful catalogue. As it stands however, on Wasteland they do a masterful job of continuing their genuinely near-flawless discography and only solidifying their legacy as absolute masters of the genre.

The actual playing and vocals are top notch. The production and mixing and have a tasteful, stripped back, classic-sounding, raw feel that perfectly suits the material and the place in the band’s discography.

The real magic of the album however, comes from the material here, which is simply wonderful from start to finish. There isn’t one track I would lose, edit or alter. Nine perfectly balanced no-fat tracks over 50 minutes and not outstaying its welcome.

Its so good all the way through it could be difficult to choose highlights, but if you like the band at their proggiest, then check out nine-and-a-half minute “The Struggle For Survival” which features a bit of a 21st Century Schizoid Man/Heart Of The Sunrise/The Necromancer vibe with a lot of instrumental muscle flexing with some brilliant bass and keyboard showing off (and Maciej Meller’s guest guitar solo is especially quite entertaining in a Fripp sort of way). If however you prefer the band just writing good songs; then the varied ‘Veil Of Tears’ and the haunting and touching semi-ballad ‘Guardian Angel’ for example are two of the best songs the band have ever released to date.

This is a record with a lot of up front charm and instantaneous gratification, but a lot of mood, atmosphere and subtle depth as well and even the tracks that don’t drop your jaw right away become favourites in time (I like “River Down Below” more every single time I hear it for example, and I do mean every single time, I can’t say that for many other bands). As with all the Riverside albums to date, I can’t recommend it enough.

Overkill – The Electric Age Review

Overkill are one of the hardest working, relentless, dependable bands in Thrash Metal. Much like Motorhead were, they were constantly on the road or pumping out album after album, flying the flag and keeping the faith over the years (and still are) wether the media were paying attention or not.

Their first four albums are pretty indispensable Thrash Metal must-haves that I am very find of. I keep a framed vinyl copy of The Years Of Decay on my wall as decoration. I can’t claim to be their biggest ever fan, for example I didn’t give their ‘90s output as much attention as I should have until recently, but I have been slowly rectifying that, and I still have a very high regard of the band even if I don’t know every single thing they ever released. Public opinions seem to be mixed on almost everything after their WFO album, but I remember clearly when almost the whole media, fan community and internet were united in love for their 2010 album Ironbound. That was a fantastic, reenergised, retro but modern, firecracker of an album that filtered what was good about classic Overkill and modernised it, and crucially had the songwriting and performance to back up the production and brilliant formula. To make a Testament comparison, it was very much their Formation Of Damnation.

What happened after Ironbound though? Was it an anomalous high-water mark like Megadeth’s Endgame but then they slowly slipped back down from the heights? Or was it a kick up the ass that was just the beginning of a new period of great album after great album?

Luckily, it was the latter. How do you possibly follow up a career rejuvenation like Ironbound? “Easy,” said Overkill a mere two years later, and promptly issued forth another fired-up, teeth shattering, razor sharp collection of classic yet modernised tracks that give the fans exactly what they want, but somehow without just recycling old material. Stylistically, it is a continuation but also a fine-tuning of what they did on Ironbound, with a few less over-long songs, and a slight rejigging of the ratio of Thrash to Classic Metal to Groove aspects, with a bit less groove this time around and a lot more thrash.

Another superb production job with great guitar tone (and more importantly for Overkill, bass tone), another impressive Ron Lipnicki drum performance, another example of Blitz’s singing/attitude at his very best (gotta love his sarcastic sounding angry snarl) all serve to compliment that aforementioned style and add to the quality of the record as a whole.

Highlights include the single “Electric Rattlesnake” as well as the brief but satisfying “Old Wounds, New Scars” and best of all is probably “Save Yourself” which is just a perfect example of the sound, spirit and style of Overkill.

If you liked Ironbound, this is a tighter, faster, even better version of what that album achieved. If you ever liked Overkill at all, there’s practically no chance you wouldn’t like The Electric Age. Sixteen original studio albums deep into their forty-year career, it was/is pretty exciting to think that the band were/still are able to make material this good.