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].

Judas Priest – Firepower Review

220px-JudasPriestFirepower18 studio albums in, and Metal Pioneers Judas Priest are still relevant. There are many bands from the past who are making great music nowadays. Kreator have been as good in the past 10 years as they ever were in the ’80s. You can add Saxon and Accept to that list. Queensryche since Todd joined too.

Priest’s best moments on Redeemer Of Souls and Angel Of Retribution were in that sort of sphere as well but not to the unquestionable level of the above mentioned renaissances. Judging from how magazines, podcasts, blogs and websites I care about have reacted to Firepower however, I was expecting seriously great things when pressing play for the first time.

I’ve been hammering this record non-stop in the car for about half a month now, repeat listening to it over and over again. Its taken a while to grow on me as I had such high expectations after the last Saxon album and also all the hype surrounding this, that it almost did more harm than good setting me unrealistic expectations, but after taking a good long time to really digest it and understand how I feel about it, I can definitely confirm Firepower is a bit of a banger.

There are a few moments of variety, such as the slower closer ‘Sea Of Red’ and the brief instrumental ‘Guardians’ but most of the material is just straight ahead well written classic heavy metal. Highlights for me include ‘Evil Never Dies,’ ‘Rising From Ruins,’ ‘Flame Thrower’ and especailly ‘Traitors Gate.’

That being said, its an album you can listen to all the way through, and its an album you can happily listen to on repeat. I once heard the phrase ‘an album you can get lost in’ and that’s exactly how I feel about Firepower. The performances pop. Rob’s vocals are more energetic than on the previous record. Travis’ drums are that little bit harder. The production is a lot sharper and more metallic as well. Everything sounds that little bit harder and heavier. Maybe its having that Andy Sneap involvment? Who knows, but everything rips. The band sound twenty years younger.

I wouldn’t go overboard and start heaping tonnes and tonnes of hyperbolic praise on this personally. I wouldn’t argue its better than Screaming For Vengeance or Painkiller. I like Angel Of Retribution and Redeemer Of Souls well enough already not to go down that ‘best album since Painkiller’ route, but I will say it is a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue and no disapointment whatsoever. A pedantic person may be inclined to argue it is a bit overlong, and that a few songs are a bit forgettable compared to the better ones, but those are arguments that can be made for pretty much every album nowadays. Iron Maiden fans are well used to it at this stage and it doesn’t stop us buying their albums.

After Nostradamus I thought this band may be hitting a downer period and after KK left the band it seemed quite unlikely they would be anything more than a nostalgia act but that’s two albums now they’ve proved that fear wrong. The band are arguably on an upward streak and they are starting to sound almost as fresh and relevant as the new Accept and Saxon albums have been. Considering by how long Priest pre-date those bands its even more impressive really. It isn’t just as amazing as I was expecting, but what I was expecting wasn’t realistic to begin with, but the more I play Firepower, the closer it gets to being a reality.

If you like Priest, get it. If you like Classic Metal, get it. Hell, if you like Metal at all, get it!

Saxon – Thunderbolt Review

220px-Album_cover_of_Saxon_-_Thunderbolt_(2018)Now, I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest or most devout Saxon fan. I only got into them about five or six years ago after hearing ‘Denim & Leather’ in an episode of both Metal Evolution and also Heavy Metal Louder Than Life and feeling like I needed to hear more. Since this was in my most financially broke student period its been a slow process gathering their discography. At present I own only about ¾ of their albums, but to be fair, have seen them live about 3 times (would’ve been four, but one was cancelled). Slowly, slowly they’ve won me over more and more and more until I’d now consider them one of my absolute favourite bands (if not for a mental block about having to have the full discography I have), and its a rare day you catch me without a Saxon t-shirt on, even at work.

Saxon have had several distinct periods over the years. The unsigned and first album era. The classic and most publicly beloved era of the next 3-5 albums where the bulk of their live setlist and greatest-hits tracklists will be drawn from. The more commercial 3 albums after that in the mid-late ’80s. The early ’90s comeback. The early ’00s comeback. The late ’00s comeback. Their current three comeback albums. Yeah, when I saw them live, singer Biff Byford joked “we’re on about our tenth comeback now!”

Even though they were already on an amazing comeback with Sacrifice, the public considered their last album Battering Ram a comeback as well, and judging by the chart performance and critical and fan reaction to this current album, 2018’s Thunderbolt (their 22nd studio album), the same thing is happening again.

Much like German Metal Legends, Accept or Kreator; Saxon are playing and writing better now than so many younger bands, than so many of their peers, and arguably than themselves in much of their classic discography.

Even as a new fan, this record is not something you want to be missing out on, this isn’t just a reason to tour or one or two new songs to add to a setlist for one tour, to be forgotten forever after, this is a damn strong, exciting, vital sounding album!

Highlights include the bombastic strung-up moody album-centerpiece ‘Nosferatu’ with its astonishing guitar work, dynamic mix of tempos and evocative lyrics, as well as the furious Motorhead tribute ‘And They Played Rock N Roll’ and the heavy ‘Predator’ which features guest vocals from Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg.

To be honest though, apart from an instrumental intro, there is not one skippable song on the whole album. Even towards the end of the album, tracks like ‘Speed Merchant’ are just as good as anything at the start of the album. It makes sense that the band are playing six or seven songs from this record live at the moment, as it is some seriously strong material. With Paul Quinn’s searing guitar solos, Nigel Glocker’s mighty drumming and Andy Sneap’s absolutely perfect production job… this is exactly what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like; punchy, heavy, vital, catchy, impressive and fun!

If you like Saxon then this is no album to miss, if you are lapsed its a good re-entry point, and of course, if you are new or newish to Saxon then this is mandatory listening. I know some people would call it sacrilegious to compare it to career triumphs like Strong Arm Of The Law, Wheels Of Steel, Demin & Leather or Solid Ball Of Rock, but this tight, consistent and damn entertaining album is honestly good enough to be both up there with the best Saxon material but up there with the best Heavy Metal material coming out at the moment. I would have it over Iron Maiden’s latest at the moment, and they are on a high period as well. Don’t miss out, get struck by the Thunderbolt now!

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds Review

Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds

In 2014, Nuclear Blast records released the eight full-length studio album by the now-legendary Bay Area based Heavy Metal band Machine Head, entitled Bloodstone & Diamonds.

It was their first without longtime bassist Adam Duce (a huge part of the band’s sound) and the first with new bassist Jared MacEachern. This line-up shift leaves frontman Robb Flynn as the sole original member. Luckily long-time drummer Dave McClain is still on board as he has been for everything except the debut, and Phil Demmel is still there as he has been for the last three exceptionally good albums, leaving a feeling of consistency and cushioning the blow of such a big loss.

Produced by bandleader Robb Flynn & Juan Urteaga, mixed by Colin Richardson (with additional work from Andy Sneap and Steve Lagudi); sonically, this is an exemplary record. The instruments are crystal clear, the mix is crushing and well balanced, and this only serves to highlight the superb, passionate performances and some of the best vocals in the band’s history. Its a real treat for the ears, as violins swirl warmly around and the gorgeously-recorded drum kit hammers proudly across the spectrum.

When I first got into the band, public opinion had turned on them, every magazine and website claimed they were on the way out, people spoke of them either with contempt or with rose tinted nostalgia and an “only Burn My Eyes was any good” historic revisionism. It nice to see how much the band’s star is on the rise now. Every album keeps getting better. They keep getting the recognition they deserve from critics. Live shows are full of adoring fans. This even ended up being, to date, the band’s highest charting record ever.

It deserves it. This is one stone-cold gem of an album. Almost flawless. There’s no filler, no weak songs, nothing out-of-place. The choruses are memorable. The solos are scorching. The fills are impressive and satisfying. The album is chocked full of riffs that sound like all eras of the band’s history and still move things forward to the future. There’s a bouncy scrappy Hardcore-influenced sound to “Game Over,” a haunting epic feeling to “Sail Into The Black,” a melancholy melodic feel to “Damage Inside” a big dirty sludgy sound to “Beneath The Silt” and more rampant Blackening-esque Thrashy aggression to the likes of “Killers & Kings” and “Eyes Of The Dead.” The titanic 71-minute record is full to the brim with all different sorts of ideas and directions but still feels like one cohesive whole.

The quality of the songwriting tips everything over the edge. Its not just immaculately produced, furiously performed and stylistically satisfying… but its also just plain brilliant in and of itself. It stands up remarkably well to repeat listens. All the little clever structuring decisions, neat flourishes and all the orchestral extras reveal themselves more and more with repeat listens. There’s an immense depth to this one. I’ve seen over half of it live in concert and it absolutely crushed and felt “right” beside stuff from all positions in the band’s discography. It felt incredible even without the lush production and the extra orchestral instruments. These are just brilliant songs, plain and simple.

It must have been difficult to live up to the impossibly high standards the band have been setting themselves for the last twelve-or-so years, but somehow Machine Head managed it, once again. This is an incredible record that will stand up well against any Machine Head record you care to name. Get yourself a copy if you haven’t already!

I went to go see Saxon tonight on Thursday the 4th December 2014 at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, England

I went to go see Saxon tonight on Thursday the 4th December 2014 at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, England. The ticket said doors 6.30, over at 10. Saxon were to be supported by fellow ‘80s British Metal band Hell (recently rejuvenated, and musical home of Andy Sneap).

It turns out that the evening got re-organized. Beyond The Black, a German Power Metal band were added to the bill, which was a nice addition.

Beyond The Black sounded like a bit of a mixture between Accept, Sabaton and Stratovarius (although a toned down one) at times. They had a female singer and a keyboard player but weren’t either symphonic or operatic, nor were they in the Evanescence mould either… it was good solid traditional Heavy Metal from Europe. Or at least that’s what it sounded like in the Hall, who knows what a record producer could do to them?

Interestingly, their rhythm section locked into these very Slipknot grooves at times that seemed very modern and out of place in the Euro-Metal thing if you thought about it (but of course, flowed naturally if you weren’t scrutinizing it looking for things to write about).

I quite liked them. I’d be happy to see them again.

Next came Hell. I knew of them, but hadn’t heard anything. Hoo boy. It was interesting. Very theatric. Very very theatric. It was like watching King Diamond or Queensryche when they do Mindcrime with all the acting. He dressed up in a cloak like a wizard. He stripped topless and self-flagellated with a whip… there were smoke cannons and very theatric lighting. Interestingly though, either the smoke cannons were unreliable or the person operating them had never seen Hell before because they were so badly out of time it was really distracting.

This was the first Metal gig I’ve ever went to with my girlfriend, and she was baffled by this. Or amused to the point of laughing. I was baffled to the point of laughing too. Musically, it was pretty awesome. Quite traditional, sort of like a mixture between early Queensryche and Savatage’s most Power Metal moments (think ‘The Needle Lies’ and ‘Power Of The Night’) mixed with Cradle Of Filth’s less heavy sections (think ‘Better To Reign In Hell’)… oh and a big huge dose of Mercyful Fate. The singer was like a very strange mixture between King Diamond and Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammil… listen to VDGG’s ‘Killer’ or ‘Arrow’ and you’ll probably see what I mean. His whole thing was performed like he was in a musical or a play, rather than actually singing in a band. But still… very entertaining. Wikipedia said there’d be exploding bibles though… that might’ve been even more fun. Fireworks are cool in a controlled setting.

It went on too long. It was a big contrast to the super down-to-earth attitudes of Beyond The Black and Saxon. But still… I recommend checking them out.

Then, the moment I paid for, Saxon came on. When I originally bought the tickets it said they were only playing songs off of the classic trio of Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim & Leather. Somewhere between then and now, things changed, and they played a more representative setlist, with two or three more modern tunes like ‘Lionheart’ ‘Forever Free’ and ‘Sacrifice’ as well as a few surprises like ‘Frozen Rainbow’ off of the debut and ‘This Town Rocks’ off of the The Power And The Glory album. All the tracks you’d want or expect from the non-classic-trio rest of the catalogue like ‘Crusader,’ ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’ were present and accounted for. The modern tracks, far from being momentum killers, made me want to pick up all the modern Saxon albums… I think these guys might very well be in a new golden age like Kreator, Accept and Queensryche. Y’know that thing when they come back super strong.
That probably sounds super obvious to someone who’s been there since the beginning, but for a new, young fan who got turned onto the band with the internet recommendation of essentially “hail-to-the-80s,” it makes for a new thought. Either way, I’ve got some more Saxon albums to buy!

The concert had absolutely superb sound and mixing, and a brilliant civilized crowd. I had lots of space, a great view and wasn’t shoved or crowd-surfed over once. Just like when I saw Queensryche here last year… awesome venue, and an older crowd is nice too. Hmmm, why am I mentoning Queensryche so much? Queensryche on the brain tonight.

Nigel Glockler is a fantastic drummer. He injected such life and energy into things. He would throw in double-kicks and extra fills and sneaky cymbal catches all over the place and really improve and modernize the drum tracks to all the classic material.That and his fills are thunderous. He plays with a lot of power and authority. It makes the band feel so much tighter, stronger and heavier than the studio recordings. If I was going to recommend Saxon on someone I’d now recommend they check out a live album with Nigel on it. Possibly the St George’s Day Sacrifice one since it was also from Manchester’s HMV Ritz. I know he was there in like ’82… but still, here he just felt so… like a young modern guy coming in and kicking ass… you know like when you hear an old song, and think ‘I’d love if someone with some umph covered this’? Well… Nigel gave the material that umph. Like I said, I know he’s got a long, long history in the band, but something about seeing him in the flesh just made me stand back and think “wow… this guy is awesome.”

The band also added extra parts to some of the songs and extended or slightly rearranged them to be better live. A lot of their best songs are pretty short, and to make them up live they’d throw in an extra guitar solo, or one more repetition of the chorus to just let you sing along one more time… it worked really well. The whole unit were incredible.

Even ‘Suzie Hold On’ which I never really liked (until now), felt really great live. I usually zone out during ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ too even though I like it, because the comparison to Judas Priest’s ‘Victim Of Changes’ distracts me and my brain runs off on a thought-tangent and before I start concentrating again the song is over, but it completely captured my attention here, especially with Nigel making it feel so much more powerful.

Then, hearing all the classics like ‘Strong Arm Of The Law,’ ‘Denim & Leather,’ ‘Dallas 1PM,’ ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ ‘The Power And The Glory’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ was just great fun. It was awesome. Real fun sing-along stuff, very entertaining concert… well sang, well played, sounding and looking great, with the whole ‘raises-them-to-another-level’ drumming really icing the whole metaphorical cake.

Bottom line… Saxon were awesome and I had a great time. Go see ‘em if you’re a fan, they are excellent live. If you can’t see ‘em live maybe check out the Wacken DVD or the new George’s Day live album for some Glockler-improved Saxon.