TIMESHOCK “Transfixed” (2020)

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Nobody really knows how Achim Schreiner from Germany manages it to maintain such a relatively low profile while at the same time putting out such a massive load of excellent work. Already the third album in less than 3 months (!) of his latest project TIMESHOCK really makes me wonder.
With creative juices seemingly running endless we have another bunch of songs on this album called “Transfixed”.
It features 11 new songs that show great consistency in both, quality and production. To exactly pinpoint the style of them is actually not an easy task. Though it could be described as a fusion of power metal spiced up with some progressive metal elements. This alone would never do justice to the music we find on this album though.
It also becomes obvious that Schreiner is not a shredder for shredding’s sake. If a song not necessarily requires an elaborate solo than there is none. As simple as that.
However, he is a true master of his instrument which becomes obvious in the massively diverse title track “Transfixed” which works with many different strokes and colors, musically spoken. It also stands out as my fave track.
Which still doesn’t answer my question from the beginning. Why is that guy so criminally underrated?

9/10

Timeshock – Transfixed (Schreiner Music Records)

AMBERIAN DAWN “Looking For You” (2020)

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Starting out in 2008 as a neoclassical power metal act, Finnish band Amberian Dawn have continued to evolve and refine their sound over the years. Now, with their ninth full-length release, Looking For You (Napalm Records), the band have decided to fully embrace their already less than hidden inner Abba, even recording in Benny Andersson’s own studio and using some of the legendary Swedish pop band’s original equipment.

Right from the opening bars of ‘United’, the Abba influence is in your face and rarely eases up. Fans of the band’s older material are likely to be split as there is little here to compare to those early years, but those who have listened to their last couple records shouldn’t be surprised in the least. Tracks such as ‘Ladyhawk’ and ‘Sky is Falling’ from the last couple of records alone have shown this move has been coming for some time.

Songs like ‘Eternal Fire Burning’, ‘Go For a Ride’ and ‘Butterfly’ are lightweight and frothy little head-nodders, and even those with a slightly more sombre edge like ‘Two Blades’ and the balladic ‘Universe’ never really venture too far into dark places. The band does return to their earlier neoclassical and symphonic styles with the fantastic ‘Symphony No.1 Part 3 – Awakening’ which features former Rhapsody of Fire vocalist Fabio Lione duetting with hugely talented Capri Virkunnen.

Coming as a surprise to nobody, a cover of Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ is included. An excellent choice as it meshes perfectly with the album’s overall sound. A slightly reworked and remastered version of ‘Cherish My Memory’ follows the instrumental closer ‘Au Revoir’ and arguably sounds better than it did on 2014’s Magic Forest (Napalm).

An expertly produced ’80s influenced pop-metal album where the vocals, keyboards, and drums take the front seat, Looking For You certainly isn’t the heaviest thing you’ll hear all year (or probably even all day), but it’s a perfectly enjoyable record, bouncy, happy and full of positivity. And Abba.

7 / 10

Amberian Dawn – Looking For You (Napalm Records)

MARKO HIETALA “Pyre Of The Black Heart” (2020)

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Finnish singer/bassist Marko Hietala announces his signing with Nuclear Blast for the English version of his solo album “Pyre Of The Black Heart”. Hietala himself describes the style of the upcoming release as ‘hard prog’. About the goal behing his solo album, Marko Hietala comments: “Well, let’s put it this way: Nightwish is without any doubt my main band and thanks to income from that direction, I don’t have to be that commercially aware …

What I mean, is that when I was coming up with the musical thoughts for this solo record, I was able to do simply anything without limits. So if I had a goal, it was to not have any kind of limits, but to prepare an unpredictable, spontaneous, adventurous, ferocious and intimate solo record.

And now when I am listening to the final album by myself, I can say with my hand on my heart that I – or rather us – pulled it off … The record is a really diverse musical rollercoaster ride that takes eager listeners into a world of strong emotions and deep feelings!”

That pretty much sums it up.

9/10

Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart (Nuclear Blast)

ANVIL “Legal At Last” (2020)

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Lady Fortune hasn’t smiled a lot upon Canadians Anvil. For the 40 years of activity, 17 albums and countless shows they couldn’t reach the status that some bands who call Anvil “teachers” and “mentors” did. Nevertheless, heroic grandfathers of Speed Metal don’t give up and until now they still write music, record the albums and make great shows. And here we got their next, 18-th album Legal At Last.

Angel that smokes an anvil bong on the album’s artwork, the album’s name and the first sounds of title track “Legal At Last”, some kind of glowing hymn, all of this speak for itself: marijuana legalization law in Canada, ain’t that a good topic for an album? This topic also present in the first single from the album, “Nabbed In Nebraska”, where the band tell about the police incident in Nebraska because of smoking weed.
Furthermore, there are a couple of songs dedicated to undoubtedly important topic of environmental pollution (which is too hyped nowadays): “Chemtrails”, “Gasoline” and “Plastic In Paradise”. But when this comes from the band, famous with its pungent, sarcastic and simply gloating lyrics, you can’t take it seriously for 100%. As they say, “Greta, we did everything we can!”

Ok, figured out with the lyrics but what about music? Well, Anvil is very consistent band and therefore it’s predictable, like AC/DC, Motörhead (Anvil‘s touring partners back in far 1983) or let’s say Sabaton, if we take more up-to-date bands. Long story short, if you liked Anvil‘s previous album Pounding The Pavement, you’ll like Legal At Last too. If you don’t, there will be no miracle.

The album is mostly about Heavy and Speed Metal with good riffs, smooth verses a-la Motörhead (another resemblance with this band, by the way is Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow’s vocals) and melodic choruses that is so good for chanting. “Glass House”, “Bottom Line” and “I’m Alive” are the great songs, quite heavy and very groovy. “Food For Vulture” and “Talking To The Wall” are more Heavy Metal, which reminds Diamond Head and Judas Priest in the same time: it’s fast and rigid with great, although a bit muffled drums.

“Gasoline” and “Plastic In Paradise” reduce a tempo sharply and the music goes Black Sabbath: it’s slow, heavy and quite sinister, I need to say. These tracks are changing the album’s mood, making it less monotonous.

Well, musicians themselves talk about Legal At Last as “another Anvil‘s album”. It is commendable modesty and I must admit that’s true. Maybe it’s not the best album from this band but for sure not the worse one. Let’s say it’s somewhere in the middle, strongly. And that’s a good example for an old ox that makes a straight furrow.

7/10

Anvil – Legal At Last (AFM)

Diabulus In Musica “Euphonic Entropy” (2020)

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Sometimes life itself can be the most beautiful inspiration for an artist. Diabulus In Musica singer Zuberoa Aznárez and her husband, keyboardist Gorka Elso, decided to fill their new album “Euphonic Entropy” with all the wonderful, yet chaotic emotions a new life brings. Diabulus In Musica’s fifth and fully self-produced album mirrors the changes and blossoming beauty in the lives of the two band leaders after the birth of their second child and melts everything into thunderous and highly passionate symphonic metal. The album is bursting with power ballads, beautiful melodies and emotions. Songs like the infectious and ultra-melodic “Otoi” (featuring lyrics in Basque language) bewitch the listener’s senses. The intoxicating “The Misfit’s Swing” and the harmonic, soaring “One Step Higher” ensure a multi-faceted and thrilling adventure!

9/10

Diabulus In Musica – Euphonic Entropy (Napalm Records)

ANNIHILATOR “Ballistic, Sadistic” (2020)

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Annihilator has always been essentially the one-man band of guitar hero / producer / singer / songwriter Jeff Waters, and it is rare for someone to be still inspired and stay fresh after so many years in the business. And at 53 years of age, it’s difficult to come up with ideas as easily as you did when you were in your 20s anyway. This is the band’s 17th album and it’s just… another Annihilator record.

Having been around since 1984 and with a revolving door of countless musicians, this is the only instance I can remember Waters keeping the same line-up for two consecutive albums. Not that it matters much, the other members are only there for the promotional band photos and the live performances since Ballistic, Sadistic was written, performed, engineered, and produced by you-know-who, with bassist Rich Hinks offering some additional engineering and editing.

Waters is undoubtedly a very gifted musician – the soloing on this record is at times mindblowing – but it’s been ages since he last wrote more than two or three good songs for an album. And, frankly, he has never been the best songwriter. Even Alice In Hell, one of the most iconic speed/thrash releases ever, has achieved legendary status mainly because of the truly insane guitar work and not because of the songwriting. From Set The World On Fire onwards, I can’t find a release by this band that I would re-listen in its entirety again today with the exception of the ones he recorded with Joe Comeau, Carnival Diablos and Waking The Fury.

Thrash – or heavy/thrash as Annihilator promote themselves – is meant to fill you up with its energy, and while some of the riffs/songs on Ballistic, Sadistic manage to do that up to a point, they also sound uneventfully similar either to each other or to stuff that the band has presented before. I mean, seriously, listen to “Dressed Up For Evil” and “Word Salad” back to back and then tell me I’m wrong. As a result, the album gets tired fairly quickly and really peters out halfway, despite the fact that the penultimate track, “Lip Service”, features exquisite lead guitar work and the closer, “The End Of The Lie”, is a furious thrasher and possibly the best song on the record.

Annihilator have a history of bad album covers and this is no different. They have a history of naïve lyrics and this is no different. Jeff Waters has never been a good singer and in this album he’s no different. While promoting Ballistic, Sadistic, he claimed that it’s the best he has made since Schizo Deluxe, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s still not good enough to actually make any notable difference compared to whatever came before it during these last 15 years.

Annihilator is a fantastic live band and I wish they could muster some of the energy of their live shows and bring it in the studio. But maybe this is where the problem lies; in the studio there is no band, just one man …

Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic (Neverland Music)

RUNNING WILD “Crossing The Blades” (2019)

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It’s been three years since Running Wild wowed their fans with their (still) current album Rapid Foray. Three years in which a lot of water has passed under the metal galleys of time and the fans’ requests for new songs have become more and more vociferous. To ease the wait so that his supporters won’t have to hold out until early summer 2020, Running Wild captain Rock´n`Rolf Kasparek has come up with a real masterstroke: on 6 December 2019 – Saint Nicholas Day! – the band have a special little gift for their fans and will release the EP Crossing The Blades on Steamhammer/SPV, featuring four brand-new tracks, including an exciting cover of the Kiss classic, ‘Strutter.’ But more about that later.

First of all, the focus is on the EP’s opener, ‘Crossing The Blades’. What’s so special about this song is the fact that it’s a harbinger of the next regular album, scheduled for release in summer, but will remain unique in its present incarnation. Because, explains Kasparek: “This version will only be available on the Crossing The Blades EP. The album will feature a different version, completely re-recorded and with a number of little changes.” ‘Crossing The Blades’ is an unusual composition in other respects, too. Rolf: “Normally, a Running Wild song is based on a guitar riff. In this case, however, it’s a bass line, with the guitar only contributing the chords; a unique feature in a Running Wild number.” By the way, the theme of the song is the old musketeer motto “all for one and one for all”.

The EP’s second track is called ‘Stargazed’ and should be familiar to a lot of Wacken attendees, after all Running Wild had presented the song exclusively at the 2018 W:O.A, to an enthusiastic response. The dynamic riff number suits the biggest heavy metal festival in the world perfectly and blends in remarkably well with the list of greatest Running Wild classics.

Number three is – as already mentioned – the Kiss cover ‘Strutter’, which has its own special story, as Rock´n`Rolf explains: “A few months ago, the Kiss show in Hanover during their farewell tour brought back memories of my beginnings as a musician. Kiss were the reason why I founded my first band Granite Heart in 1976, a predecessor of Running Wild. At the time, I found two songs particularly outstanding: ‘Deuce’ and of course ‘Strutter’. At that Kiss show in Hanover I noticed that they don’t play ‘Strutter’ live. That’s why I decided to record my own version, as an homage to my first idols, of course in typical Running Wild style and with a little more steam than the Kiss original.”

Last but not least: The new EP closes with ‘Ride On The Wild Side’, which – thanks to its powerful pace and high compositional quality – would almost have made the shortlist for the upcoming album. Now it enhances the Crossing The Blades EP, particularly because Kasparek recorded the guitar solo on a Fender Stratocaster – instead of his tried and tested Gibson Explorer – to do justice to the track’s rocking flair. Definitely well worth listening to!

8/10

Running Wild – Crossing The Blades (SPV/Steamhammer Records)