CRAVE FOR DAWNING “Red Dawn” (2019)

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If there’s one person who’ll never run out of ideas it’s got to be Achim Schreiner (Woodlark, Blood Red Soul). In 2019 he already released albums with melodic/symphonic metal band Blood Red Soul and the power metal band Woodlark. One of his side projects is called CRAVE FOR DAWNING. Musically it ventures out into the funeral metal kind of vein with melancholic doom metal influences. Reminiscing of band like WHEN NOTHING REMAINS or DRACONIAN, CRAVE FOR DAWNING is an interesting new take on this.
The album features 15 songs which are a mix of instrumentals but also songs with female vocals as well as songs with male vocals, both clean and grunts.
The ambient overall feel of the album is omnipresent and it is a perfect background for closing your eyes and let your mind keep wandering off.
“Remedy” is a beautiful ballad with Judit, a vocalist from Hungary, on vocals who instantly remind you of names like Langhans or Stanbridge. But also Achim himself does do some singing in songs like “Burn Me Alive” (grunts), “Flames To The Fire” (clean), “Across The Borderline” (clean) and “Sanctuary” (spoken). The guitar work is immaculate, unsurprisingly. Playing most or all of the instruments himself, Achim must have put a tremendous amount of work in it. It’s one of the things that I kept on thinking while listening to these amazing soundscapes. The production though is not exactly on par with his other recent releases though. Both, the Woodlark and the Blood Red Soul album do have a better sound in my opinion. But that being said, in this genre the production is not as relevant as it certainly is on most other rock and metal genres. A lot of the doom/melancholic metal productions don’t shine with high-end productions though.
However, it is what it is and this not bad at all. Especially as it marks to be the first time Achim Schreiner was branching out into that sort of style at all.
My favorite definitely is the gigantic 15-minute title track “Red Dawn” which contains more ideas than others have on entire albums.
If you want to see a very different side of Achim Schreiner you should give this one a try!

7/10

CRAVE FOR DAWNING – Red Dawn (DK Records)

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TOOL “Fear Inoculum” (2019)

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Art-metal legends TOOL took their time between releases in the past. There were three to five-year-long interims between TOOL‘s albums from 1993’s “Undertow” through 2006’s “10,000 Days”. Yet, since that last release, there has been a whopping 13-year wait for fans. Finally, frontman Maynard James Keenan, drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor have returned with their long-anticipated fifth album. The wait has been worth it. “Fear Inoculum” is a tour de force in prog rock, hard rock, metal and psychedelic madness.

“Fear Inoculum” encompasses seven songs. The digital version includes three bonus instrumental tracks that are also available for download to those who purchase the CD version. Aside from the instrumental numbers, every song exceeds 10 minutes in length, one of many facets indicative of TOOL‘s ongoing nonconventional approach to the rock music format. “Fear Inoculum” is an adventurous, involved expression that eschews their former inclusion of relatively more rock-radio inclined songs, like “Sober”, now with an approach to songwriting that one would expect of a symphony orchestra. Sure, the individual songs can be enjoyed and experienced independently, but they can be appreciated greater when perceived as interrelated units within the entire piece that is “Fear Inoculum”.

The album moves forward with fluidity along the masterfully crafted grooves that are reminiscent of TOOL‘s sounds and style of yore, but the musical constructs are arranged and performed in a way that sounds exciting and new in spite of the fact that they are a little older, a little more grey. The talented quartet has continued to grow individually and as a collective musically and, presumably, otherwise. However, there’s no doubt — and there should be little surprise — that the standout performance is attributable to percussive virtuoso Danny Carey, most saliently evident on the instrumental drum exhibition of “Chocolate Chip Trip”.

The members of TOOL have noticeably grown older since 2006’s “10,000 Days”, explaining the shift in thematic content. Their early career’s witty references to perversion and science fiction, along with crude inside-joke lyrical banter, have been exchanged for lofty reflections upon their personal aging and drift toward maturity, as on “Invincible” — similar thoughts that Keenan had recently addressed last year on A PERFECT CIRCLE‘s “Eat the Elephant”. And drastically unlike the misanthropic and arguably nihilistic yearning for devastation on 1996’s “Ænima”, on “Descending”, Keenan grasps, with hope, for survival and unity in the face of a stumbling society. He proclaims, “It’s Elementary. Muster every fiber. Mobilize. Stay Alive. / Stir us from our wanton slumber. Mitigate our ruin. / Call us all to arms and order.”

Some pockets of the instant gratification, social media-obsessed generation may not have the patience to even give TOOL a chance. Yet epic metal voyages like “7empest” don’t feel like they are the 15-minute-long songs that they are because they’re perpetually gripping and riveting without feeling redundant. The outrageous gap between albums suggested that it would be impossible for TOOL to meet the gargantuan expectations that developed, but the legendary esoteric band has lived up to the hype by virtue of honing their improved skills and properly channeling their matured perspectives both musically and personally. TOOL doesn’t sound new. However, they do sound fresh. Hopefully there won’t be a decade-plus wait for their next album.

9/10

TOOL “Fear Inoculum” (RCA)

SABATON “The Great War” (2019)

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Sabaton has made singing about war nearly as lucrative a proposition as Motley Crüe made singing about their dicks. And unlike their cock rocking elder’s chosen idiom, nation on nation violence translates far better into the metal ethos. Tales of bravery, battle and death are the bloody blocks upon which metal was originally built, and it drinks deeply of that Bathoryian tub to this day. Since 2005 Sabaton has functioned as the house band for the military-industrial complex, churning out platter after platter about the horrors and glories of war, and album number nine, The Great War is another with which to plug the breech. As the title suggests, this one focuses on World War I with songs about legendary figures like Sergeant York and the Red Baron. If you’ve heard any Sabaton release, you’re properly braced for their proprietary Wall o’ Sound™ made up of bigger-than-life symphonics, chunky riffs and the raging, camo-clad machismo channeled through Joakim Brodén’s baritone vocals. Sun Tzu would lament the ridiculous predictability of the band’s battle plan, but hey, when the cannon’s arockin’ who comes aknockin’?

Opener “The Future of Warfare” quickly assures that nothing has changed at Fort Sabaton. It’s the same symphonic power metal cleverly disguised with amped up riffs and toughened vocals. The quasi-operatic choral segments are there to add bombast and grandeur and General Brodén narrates it all with his usual panache. It’s the very model of the band’s style and as such it isn’t all that gripping, as we’ve heard this exact song many times before. Things improve on “Seven Pillars or Wisdom” which while still standard issue, has enough chest thumping bravado to get the blood moving. It isn’t until “The Attack of the Dead Men” that The Great War really goes into attack mode, with a slightly different sound than usual, still bombastic as all get out, but perhaps a tad more epic than usual. The chorus is almost like a heroic Russian folk song, and it really works, sounding serious, larger-than-life and mega-catchy. I want an album of this stuff.

This isn’t it, as classic Sabaton writing prevails, though there are scattered moments that exceed expectations, like “The Red Baron” which is way more rocked out than usual, approaching Avantasia levels of hard rock glory. The Hammond organ adds a hefty Deep Purple-esque glean and this is one of the most fun songs the band’s ever written. The title track and “A Ghost in the Trenches” both show the best of their style with catchy, anthemic moments writ large, but the other tracks are less stirring, like “Devil Dogs,” which feels recycled from earlier works. The album’s epic track, “The End of the War to End All Wars” also falls a bit flat, lacking the emotional gravitas such a heavy topic requires. Things wind out with a haunting take on the classic war remembrance poem turned ballad “In Flanders Fields,” and the tragic, forlorn mood is respectfully conveyed, ending things on a poignant note while offering real world perspective to counter the gung-ho, pro-war shtick the album revels in.

The Great War is a short, tight 38-plus minutes and almost all the songs are under 4 minutes. This makes for a fast, hit and run style album that works in the band’s favor. No song overstays its welcome and things are kept moving at a brisk pace. While the writing is inconsistent, there are no complete duds or mandatory skips and it’s an easy platter to blast through. As always, Brodén’s distinctive vocals set the table for the Sabaton show and he does his usual solid job, even extending himself a bit on cuts like “The Attack of the Dead Men” and especially on “The End of the War to End All Wars,” where he dabbles in slightly darker, more somber singing. The backing music is solid enough and there are some particularly ear-catching guitar harmonies and solos scattered across the tracks courtesy of Chris Rörland and Tommy Johansson. I could do without the nearly omnipresent keyboard/choral grenades, but such is life in the trenches.

The Great War is another well-executed Sabaton offering sure to please fans. It’s a fun, energetic listen with little deviation from the well worn tank tracks the band has established, and they prove once again they can keep writing the same album and still make it entertaining. I’ve experienced battle fatigue with their style since their crowning achievement on Carolus Rex, but this is an enjoyable spin nonetheless. Back to the front, doughboys!

8/10

Sabaton – The Great War (Nuclear Blast)

NEMESEA “White Flag” (2019)

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After vocalist Manda Ophuis left the band after the release of the band’s fourth album, Uprise, things could have easily fallen into a slippery slope. Ophuis had been with the band for 14 years, and to find another vocalist to replace such a tenured one is problematic for any band. But Nemesea grabbed Sanne Mieloo not too shortly after to positive accolades from fans. Mieloo proves she was the right pick for the job based on the fantastic end product in White Flag.

With the band shifting more towards a hard rock sound than their symphonic metal beginnings, nothing has really changed with White Flag. The progression from Uprise continues. Some metallic crunch remains, but its countered by a number of more melodic/ballad-y tracks and a punchy, modern rock feel (along with an occasional dabbling into gothic and electronic-enhanced waters). But where Uprise felt a bit more ‘ordinary,’ White Flag sounds like a band that has found their footing and are totally confident in their current direction. Meaning that they take a few more risks and allow for more dynamic change-ups. Perhaps some of this due to Mieloo’s vocal performance, but the band easily sways from a triumphant rocker like the title track to a more restful number like “Sarah” to the bouncy electronics of “Don’t Tell Me Your Name” with little hesitation or dip in quality. Punchy and upbeat cuts like “Fool’s Gold” and “Nothing Like Me” rank as some of the band’s strongest in this category, and the swirling electronics that infiltrate “Rise” and “Ratata” give the songs a richer tone without overtaking the crunchy guitar riffs. Mieloo herself proves fully capable of some poignant moments when the opportunity arises, and “Lions” and “Let This Be All” have some genuinely touching emotion to them.

White Flag sees Nemesea rising above their earlier efforts and delivering an emotionally potent piece of hard rock/metal. It continues in their sonic shift that has been present for a bit now, while really capturing an energetic and entertaining vibe.

8/10

Nemesea – White Flag (Napalm Records)

VOLBEAT “Rewind, Replay, Rebound” (2019)

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Rockers Volbeat first appeared on the scene in 2005 with the release of their first album The Strength/The Sound/The Songs. While that album failed initially failed to chart, it did eventually make its way onto the Danish rock charts. As for the US, Volbeat didn’t make their first real US breakthrough until 2010 with the release of their fourth album, Beyond Heaven/Above Hell. It was this album that would finally garner the attention of Rock fans in the States and help the band launch into another category of stardom, opening for bands like Metallica and Slipknot.

Now, with their seventh studio album, Rewind, Replay,Rebound due out on Friday, August 2nd via Republic Records, the band is looking to show that they still have more to give. With their current lineup of Michael Poulsen (vocals/guitar), Rob Caggiano (guitars), Boye Larsen (bass), and Jon Larsen (drums), the guys have set about rousing fans from the three year rest they have been in between albums.

The whole album has their signature fusion of Metal and Rockabilly with the occasional pop intonation. The first song on Rewind, Replay, Rebound “Last Day Under the Sun” is no different. This track features a Metal riff as its base and is then layered with uptempo beats and a happy, almost jaunty and repetitive chorus. It is not something you will rage or riot to, but it makes for a nice fluffy feel-good palate cleanser to start. Then, you drop into “Pelvis On Fire” which, before you get too concerned with the safety hazards there, is more thematic than literal. It is more about Poulsen’s metaphorical pelvis being “on fire” for someone who really “shaking that thing.” This is where we dive heavily into that rockabilly thing they do with intense Elvis vibes here both in vocal execution and in the subject matter. If you are a fan of riffed up Elvis, this one is for you.

“Rewind the Exit” instrumentally gets into more traditional rock territory leans less heavily on highly affected vocals and reads as a smoother, cleaner listen than its predecessors. Its message is also that of simplicity, bolstering the benefits of leading a simple authentic life without the need to be someone else. The string work here by Caggiano in the bridge/solo is some of the most impressive at this point in the album. The band’s metal and Hard Rock roots are definitely on display with some inclination towards ballad work. “Die To Live” kicks the tempo back up and gives you that punk, speedball feel compared to “Rewind the Exit.” Featuring guest vocals from Neil Fallon of Clutch, this fast fusion frenzy makes for a bouncy romp that’s easy to dance to and a multilayered good time.

As we get further into the album, “Maybe I Believe” demonstrates the range of their sound and influences with the incorporation of multi-voice choral anthemic effects. The song itself goes from a simple rhythm and opens up into something a little more complex. While usually vocal effects can be easily abused by a lot of bands, Volbeat being no exception, this is one place where the echoic effect added to Poulsen’s vocals actually add ambiance and enhance the track. In “The Awakening of Bonnie Parker” the listener is treated to an intro reminiscent of the opening theme of a sitcom. From there it proceeds to give all the runaway romance vibes like a letter to the infamous other half of the Barrow bandits, Bonnie and Clyde.

From there, we begin our descent towards the end of the album. Here the tracks “The Everlasting” and “7-24” close things out. “7-24” is an ode to a newly born love, a child. It is here that Poulsen exalts his love for child and mother, proclaiming the child to be his ‘shining light’ with an upbeat and dreamy tune that makes for a nice way to ‘drift’ out of this album.

Overall, Rewind, Replay, Rebound is a solid Volbeat staple album that long-time fans should love as it stays the tried and true course of the band’s sound. Newer listeners may be confused by the mix of styles and sounds on the record, but there’s enough to at least make it interesting the first time through. Volbeat knows their audience and plays to those strengths well, but this album doesn’t do much beyond that in the way of reinventing themselves.

All of this is not necessarily a bad thing and not necessary for every band. These guys know they their strengths and make a point to play to them with just enough experimentation to make a ripple in their staple sound, but not a wave. With fans as loyal as theirs and after a three-year wait, it makes sense to give them what they love.

7/10

Volbeat “Rewind, Replay, Rebound” (Vertigo Berlin)

ELLEFSON “Sleeping Giants” (2019)

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Since 1983, Ellefson has been one of the most recognizable bassists in the genre of Thrash Metal. As a founding member of one of the greatest Thrash acts in history, Megadeth, Ellefson is renowned for being the twisted and melodic backbone to classic Megadeth tracks like “Peace Sells” and “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.” A jack of all things Metal, Ellefson has also been a part of a multitude of great side projects such as F5, featuring former Megadeth Drummer Jimmy DeGrasso; Altitudes & Attitude alongside Frankie Bello of Anthrax; and Metal Allegiance with Bassist/Songwriter Mark Menghi, Guitarist Alex Skolnick of Testament, and Drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater, The Winery Dogs).

In becoming Ellefson’s first solo release, Sleeping Giants offers a lot to die-hard fans in terms of musical variety and the calvary of musicians and special guests featured on the album. In the studio, Sleeping Giants was produced by both Ellefson and his business partner Thom Hazaert, who also provides his scathing vocals to a number of tracks on the album. Overall, Sleeping Giants features new material recorded by Ellefson and Hazaert alongside demos and other unreleased tracks from Ellefson’s many side projects. Not to be forgotten, the cover art for Sleeping Giants was designed by artist Melody Myers (Altitudes and Attitude, Marc Rizzo, Escape The Fate).

With an ample supply of both Hard Rock and Metal, Ellefson is gifting fans a ton of new music as Sleeping Giants awakens eighteen brand new tracks. Getting started, Sleeping Giants opens with a gritty, one two punch of the hard nosed “Vultures.” A few tracks later, a second version of “Vultures” appears with an Industrial/Techno remix done by Game of Thrones Actor/DJ Kristian Nairn, who played Hodor on the HBO series. On perhaps the biggest guest spot, Run DMC legend Daryll McDaniels, DMC himself, provides vocals on “Sleeping Giants.” An in-your-face track, DMC’s direct and subtle vocals pair well with a Thrash Metal song alongside Hazaert’s dominant pipes.

Mega-melodic, the Megadeth channelling aggression of “Hammer (Comes Down)” features former Megadeth Guitarist Chris Poland and Creed/Tremonti Guitarist Mark Tremonti who are just what the doctor ordered for a head-banging tune. Thereafter, “If You Were God” features guest vocals by John Bush (ex-Anthrax, Armored Saint) for a truly classic sounding Metal track taking it back to small club shows in the early 1980s. Switching up the sound, “Dead Man Rise” is a rattling combo of sludgy Stoner Rock and Thrash. That in mind, it should be noted that Sleeping Giants offers Ellefson’s approach on Modern Metal via fine tracks like “Faded” and “Feel Your Pain.”

A special guest on a number of bonus tracks only available on the digital copy of Sleeping Giants, David Glen Eisley, best known for being the vocalist behind 1980’s Rock bands House of Lords and Giuffria, is a breathe of fresh air at the end of the album. To shed light, Eisley gives an enjoyable 80’s Rock/Pop touch on songs like “Voices,” “Home,” and “After All (Said and Done).” Other stand-out tracks on Sleeping Giants include “Why Can’t We Die,” which channels the sound of the band Helmet, “Dying On The Vine,” and “Undeniable.”

10/10

Ellefson – “Sleeping Giants” (Combat Records)

BLOOD RED SOUL “River Of Melancholia” (2019)

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After 2017’s “Symphony Of A Memory” it became a bit silent around BLOOD RED SOUL which had to do with the fact that guitarist Achim Schreiner is also responsible for the new WOODLARK album we had featured just recently.
The band’s previous divine singer Ellie Kamphuis is not part of this album though. Also the guest list is significantly shorter as on the first album. The main singer is Fiona Creaby from APPARITION and FALLEN ARISE. She was already guesting on two songs on the band’s debut. Another guest is Lisa Rieger from german symphonic metal band HYDRA and Paul Culley as a co-writer. Culley is part of APPARITION and FALLEN ARISE as well.
All in all “River of Melancholia” makes a very good impression. The production is better than on “Symphony Of A Memory” and the musicality leaves nothing to be desired.
The album starts off with a true opener. “Neverland” is sung by romanian singer Andra Ariadna who also sings in SANCTUARY OF STARS and other bands. Her terrific voice really gives the song what it needs!
Songs like “Just For One Night” are powerful and make you wanna move your body to the rhythm of the music. However though there are surprisingly few of such metal numbers but a lot of epic ballads. These ballads though are beautiful and superb which goes for each one of them. Lisa Rieger adds a special touch to the album with “Giants”. A song Rieger wrote together with Schreiner which mesmerized me when giving the album a few spins.
Just like on the debut record we find two instrumental pieces here as well. One of them is called “The Grind” and gives you an indication of the creative force behind this band. Achim Schreiner has a style that sounds refreshingly different from most modern players and shredders. Clearly having his roots in the classic rock/classic metal sort of era his solos give you appetite for more!
A long epic song is “Guardian Of Forevermore” that was a collaborative effort of Schreiner, Creaby and Culley. The soft part is one of the many moments where Fiona Creaby shines as a singer. The final section of the song lets it transform into full epic metal mode and boy what a part that is! Supported by some harmony backing vocals, Schreiner lays down a staggering solo that sounds like a song for itself.
The final track of the album is called “The End Of The Road” and the guy who plays amazing metal guitar sat down and composed this epic piece of classical music that leaves you deeply impressed by its beauty and depth!
Let’s hope the song title didn’t stand for the band’s future.

A solid album with top notch songs and great playing. Very much recommended.

9/10

Blood Red Soul “River Of Melancholia” (BRS Music) 2019