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.

Toxik – World Circus Review

Toxik’s 1987 Roadrunner Records debut, World Circus is a lot less technical or progressive than their sophomore album, Think This, and much more in keeping with a traditional Thrash sound. That being said they are rather adventurous, dynamic and technically proficient a that sound.  

Some bands sound raw, rough and nasty, but this is utter professionalism, precise and dynamic from start to finish. More for fans of Heathen than Hirax if you know what I mean. The production is clean and the playing is flashy in an effortless sounding way. I also has one of my all time favourite Thrash tunes on it. There’s some nice melodic falsetto (almost Power Metal) vocals, some very impressive virtuosic lead guitar wizardry with all sorts of fancy sweeping and trickery, and of course, oodles and oodles of speed.

Why isn’t it a bigger album then? If I had  to guess, the two biggest flaws with the album, are firstly that some of the material can be a bit forgettable after the record has stopped playing, and secondly that the opening track, “Heart Attack” is an absolutely brilliant, catchy, unbelievably fun gem and nothing on the rest of the album can live up to that level or entertainment. If someone asked me “what is Thrash Metal?” its one of the first songs I would play them. Its just a shame the rest of the record doesn’t live up to that unfairly high standard.

That being said, it is not a one hit wonder situation. Anti-drug track “Pain And Misery” has a memorable staccato opening and is one of the most rhythmic Thrash songs released before the 90s. I guess the album is probably most famous for the Title Track having a Thrash recreation of the circus theme tune (do-do, doodoo do do, doo doo) but make no mistake, this is not gimmick band. They are deadly serious, with excellent musicianship and thoughtful lyrics (Eg. “Count Your Blessings” covers the topic of homelessness and not taking what you have for granted).

I love the Ed Repka cover art too. Soooooo Thrash. This is the kinds of thing modern bands like Haydes, Municipal Waste and Havok worship.

Overall; Not the most even record in the world, but definitely worth a look for Thrash fans.

Hirax – Raging Violence Review

Half an hour of straight-ahead ass kicking, Hirax’s debut Raging Violence is certainly appropriately named. The Californian speedsters’ 1985 album is an underrated gem.

After opening with a silly Monty Python-esque spoken word intro (called ‘Demons’), the album speeds ahead with 14 slabs of snarling, rabid, nasty Thrash. Brevity is the order of the day, with most of the songs under 2 minutes and absolutely none longer than 3 and a half.

There’s a really intriguing mixture of NWOBHM sounding moments, colliding with crossover sounding moments, and a sort of intermittent red-hot streak that clearly influenced Napalm Death (who would later go on to cover the band on their Leader’s Not Followers 2 album).

Its full of brief messy shrieking guitar solos, blunt aggressive drumming and singer Katon W. De Pena’s trademark vocals, that sound a bit like Overkill’s Bobby Blitz Ellsworth being squeezed too hard.

Sometimes they sound a bit like Pleasure To Kill-era Kreator, such as on the furious “Bombs Of Death,” sometimes they have a bit of Holy Terror’s runaway train barely-in-time charm, such as on  “Warlord’s Command,” sometimes, such as on the one minute long “Destroy” they would channel Nuclear Assault. Sometimes they would even foreshadow where Dark Angel would go (only without all the changes and technicality).

The production job is a bit low-budget sounding; but considering this was still only 1985, it was still in the opening days of the Thrash movement, before bands were making real money and getting the big name producers. Not that it needs a bigger production; this isn’t a sweeping progressive epic, it’s a punky blast of naked aggression designed to blow the cobwebs off the listener.

Some minor points of interest: The band’s logo was designed by Celtic Frost’s Tom G. Warior. Future Metallica Merch Maestro Pushhead designed the odd psychedelic humpty dumpty artwork. It was released on Metal Blade.

In summary; its raw, is rough, its over in a flash but it’ll kick your teeth out. This is a record worth checking out.  Their next album was half as long and twice as fast again.

Acid Reign – Obnoxious Review

UK thrashers Acid Reign aren’t the biggest band or the most cult-classic band in their scene. But after you get past Onlaught, Xentrix and Sabbat they are one of the first names that come to mind. They perhaps best known for their initial EP and debut album Moshkinstein and The Fear. Their initial run also featured some singles and compilations, but the most substantial thing for Thrash fans to check out after the two aforementioned releases would be their 1990 sophomore studio album, Obnoxious.

This pink-covered record is very much a continuation and refinement of the style established on the debut. It is no radical departure, bold evolution, or ‘90s Groove experiment. The songs are mostly on the longer side; but not necessarily progressive, like a lot of 1988-1992 Thrash had become (bar one or two songs). This is just heads down, straight ahead, no-nonsense Thrash through and through.

Well, I say no-nonsense, more like almost-no nonsense. The final track; the ironically titled “This Is Serious,” is a joke track, which is actual nonsense (but on purpose).

This isn’t the sort of album to pick up if you are brand new to Metal or even Thrash, but if you just can’t get enough and want to explore more. The bass tone on the album reminds me of Anthrax, the vocals remind me a bit of D.R.I and the guitar reminds me a tiny bit like a slower version of Hirax. It’s a nice combination. The song writing isn’t breath-taking and won’t knock the likes of Forbidden Evil or Fabulous Disaster from the top stops in my favourite Thrash albums, but it is solid and professional.

Highlights include “Thoughtful Sleep” which has a nice acoustic guitar intro with electric lead, as well as the more direct “My Open Mind” and the dynamic opener “Creative Restraint.”

Overall; not earth-shattering but it’s a solidly produced and performed effort of decent material that is well worth your time if you’re into this sort of thing.

Bring Me The Horizon – Post Human: Survival Horror EP Review

Bring Me The Horizon have had an interesting career. They started off as a very uncommercial, noisy, sloppy Deathcore band with screams, screeches and murderous lyrics. People covering that sort of music at the time basically laughed them out of the room though. It wasn’t pretty.

Then they evolved into one of the best British Metalcore bands in the scene for several years, releasing well crafted and memorable albums like Suicide Season, There Is A Hell’ and Sempiternal. Their audiences got bigger and bigger, but so did the backlash, the internet and magazines were awash with anti-BMTH sentiment. All the negativity, critical bashing and internet comment-section abuse eventually alienated the band from the Metal community, and they seemed to decided if they’re going to be called sell-outs or “not metal” anyway, they may as well go with it and seek a more mainstream radio audience.

Their next two albums, That’s The Spirit and Amo were much more commercial, pop-music-infused, modern, melodic, and autotuned. It definitely turned off some of their early audience, but it gained them a whole new audience and mainstream approval, allowing them to go on TV shows Metal fans scoff at, play festivals Metal fans scoff at, get play on radio stations Metal bands can only dream of and get covered in magazines Metal fans scoff at (or in reality allow them not to have to speak to Metal Journalists who rudely dismiss them and focus on more mainstream publications. Some fans call this selling-out too, but if I got that much abuse from the Metal community, I’d do the same thing!).  

Even if the music slowly moved away from what I liked about the band on their 2nd and 3rd albums, they always put out great sounding and interesting albums that were objectively quite good and I’ve enjoyed their musical evolution.

Their last release, last year’s Music To Listen To‘ EP was their bigest departure yet; an experimental, chill out affair and not really what I’d consider a canonical release. Now in late 2020, they’ve released another EP, but this time of proper Rock/Metal songs. Its 9 tracks and about half an hour long, but it does feel like a canonical release and you can imagine these songs being included in future live sets and best-ofs unlike material from the previous EP.

Some of the tracks have been released already, such as ‘Parasite Eve’ and ‘Ludens’ on various soundtracks, and ‘Obey’ (featuring a colab with the singer Yungblud) was dropped as a single earlier this year, with a music video reminiscent of ‘Intergalactic’ by The Beastie Boys. All these (at the time) non-album singles were fairly well received and got people’s hopes up that the band were “going heavy again” as there was a lot more guitar and bigger grooves than the last two albums, and got several lapsed fans excited for the next effort.   

Post Human: Surival Horror opens strongly with the heaviest song in years. It would have been a good bridge between Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit. That’s not to say the whole EP is a return to old formulas. There’s still a lot of the pop/electronic focus of the last few albums, there’s vocal lines that would’ve never fit on older albums, but it does have a crunch and bounce that was in short supply on Amo. In fact that had a song called “Heavy Metal” basically calling out Metal fans for all the comment-section hate.

On the other side of the coin; the collaboration with Babymetal ‘Kingslayer’ is a colourful neon explosion that sounds exactly like what you’d imagine when you hear “BMTH collaboration with Babymetal 2020.” That’s also preceded by one and a half minute intro of the same nature. New single (is it the lead single when they released the other 3 singles separately before the EP was even announced?) ‘Teardrops’ is a nice melodic modern radio-rock single and the natural evolution of what they’ve been doing on the last two albums.

There’s also 1×1 which is a very faithful recreation of the style of Linkin Park’s first two albums. The band have never made any secret of their appreciation for Nu Metal’s biggest selling band, but this is their most influence-on-sleeve track to date.  The EP closes with the annoyingly titled “One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death” which is a slow electronic half-ballad, with a guest appearance from Evanescence’s Amy Lee, that will suit fans of material like “And The Snakes Start To Sing” or “Memorial” from previous efforts.

Overall, stylistically this EP is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no easy tag. Its not the band going heavy again. Its not their poppiest album to date. It is a mish mash of their past 3 records, plus new ideas, and multiple collaborations as usual. You’ll probably never find an objective review of this highly controversial and much discussed band, but throwing my biased two cents in, I think this is a worthwhile EP and fans of the band who haven’t jumped ship yet have nothing to fear, fans of the band who’ve only been here a short time have nothing to fear, save maybe the opener. All in all, I think they’re going for a best-of-both-world’s thing here and they’ve almost nailed it. If they ever release a new full-length album (which is uncertain as they’ve talked about giving up on that format in today’s modern Spotify world) then I imagine further practice at this compromise will yield even better results and hopefully their most well rounded album in years.

Metal Church – S/T Review

The year is 1984, the place is Seattle, the producer is Terry Date and the label is Ground Zero (later reissued on Elektra at Metallica frontman James Hetfield’s insistence). Five young intrepid musicians make a unique and distinctive spin on the various Heavy Metal styles of the time.

Not quite the Thrashiest album, not quite the proto-prog developing with the likes of fellow Seattle band Queensryche at the time, not quite US-Power Metal either – this is one heavy metal album that defies categorisation, and is all the better for it.

Compared to some of the band’s following albums; the sound is a bit primitive and direct, not their most musically accomplished or adventurous work, but all the key ingredients are in place – the speed, the power, the melody, the mood, the atmosphere. The record doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it leaves a very good impression. Sure, the production is a bit reverby and the lyrics aren’t as clever as later releases, but its full of charm and that counts for a lot. The iconic artwork completes the package perfectly.

The late David Wayne isn’t my personal favourite Metal Church singer to date, but he’s got the attitude and suits the material.  

There are some great balls out speed metal moments, like “Hitman” and the Cold War-themed “Battalions.” There are some stompy, attitude-filled gems like “Beyond The Black” and the title-track. There’s also a brief instrumental in “Merciless Onslaught” and even a decent Deep Purple cover (“Highway Star”).

Metal Church is a fine debut from a fine band. Highly recommended to anyone who likes 1980’s Heavy Metal of any variety.

Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine Review.

Progressive Poles Riverside have such a fine track record when it comes to top quality, album-of-the-year level studio albums. Their fourth album Anno Dommini High Definition for example, is arguably one of my favourite albums by any band, ever.

2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine; their third consecutive gold album and final output with guitarist Piotr Grundizinski (before his untimely passing), is no exception.

Their early works were dark and interesting, they then hit a phase of being bombastic, colourful and Deep Purple influenced. I saw them live during this period and it was such a rocking good time, you didn’t expect such good fun from a morbid bunch of proggers who usually released concept albums about psychiatric hospitals.

This sixth full-length studio record sees yet another evolution of their sound. It is cleaner, softer, with more prominent classic-‘70s-prog moments and a bit more of an unexpected The Cure influence. (That’s not to say it doesn’t rock out when it wants to, “Saturate Me” hits a delicious Tool-influenced groove in the middle, for example).

I regret, I have been sleeping on this album for a few years, I was hoping to time buying it for just before my next Riverside live show for maximum excitement overlap, but in 2020 with all the concerts dried up, its gotten a bit “well, what are you waiting for?” so I’ve finally taken the plunge, and I’m beyond glad I did. In hindsight, I don’t know how I ever coped without “Afloat” in my life, (a chilling tune, which out -Judgements Anathema).

Its hard to chose highlights, but if I was to introduce the band to a stranger, the number one pick of introductory track would be “Discard Your Fear.” If you like my wet trousered praise of this album, that would probably be the first track you should investigate to see if you’ll like the album as much as I do. It doesn’t really sound at all like typical Riverside fare, but as a singular one-off song, it just rubs me up in all the right ways. If you already like the band but have been sleeping on their later works as I had been, try out “Time Travellers” to see just how well Mariusz’s vocals have developed.

There is rarely such a thing as a flawless album, but I feel confident in saying that this beautiful, exciting, mellow, peaceful, energetic, diverse, interesting, tasteful bag of contradictions is a completely magical masterpiece.

Ps. [If you are unfamilair with the band but like bands such as Haken, Dream Theater, Opeth, Pain Of Salvation or even The Mars Volta then I highly recommend you check them out.]