THE VIRUS CONSPIRES
For the last five to ten years, I have been championing the return of thrash metal by a series of new bands. Some have made it and built pretty solid careers (Havok, Municipal Waste), and others have come and gone (what happened to Lazarus AD). That said though, there's be no shortage of bands in the last decade that have returned to the roots of thrash to make authentic and new thrash that have been more than welcome to those of us that live in hope that Exodus and Death Angel can continue their winning ways since coming back. In short, it's been very good to have a gluttony of new bands making this kind of music. Formed in 2009, Shrapnel jumps right into the middle of this fold with THE VIRUS CONSPIRES. This release is 100% a facemelter, seemingly cut out of 1988 and intent to simply destroy everything in it's path. It's technically excellent, sonically crushing and as good a thrasher as anything that's come along in awhile.
MEN OF HONOR
Being completely honest, the debut Adrenaline Mob release OMERTA didn't do a lot for me. This is surprising actually, as vocalist Russell Allen is one of those guys that I always look forward to hearing from, regardless of the project he's doing at the time. Still, OMERTA was one of those supergroup releases that just didn't have a lot of "get up" to it. It was there, a pretty bland collection of hard rock, sometimes modern metal songs that just kind of went nowhere. The band is back, sans Mike Portnoy who has once again band hopped to a new project. MEN OF HONOR is, most certainly, better than OMERTA is just about every way imaginable. It's still pretty standard faire, but it is a more compelling listen than their previous effort.
There's something very unique about Ron Keel that I think has escaped most of his peers that were spawn from the 80s hair metal scene. For most, they have been content to stick to the formula that made them famous, only take an experimental shot once the mainstream popularity had run it's course, and then returned to their classic form to ride out their career. With Ron Keel, it's been a very different experiment which he has crafted into a career. As an artist, Keel is one of neverending experimentation. He's had hair metal albums, acoustic releases, country metal releases, and now more of a southern rock/metal record. METAL COWBOY seems to have a lot of people remembering Keel's project Iron Horse, but I'd say that is highly inaccurate. The "Metal Cowboy" is proving once again that he's more of a Metal Chameleon. Hard at times, bluesy in other parts and full of twists and turns, METAL COWBOY could very well be the best release Keel's had his name on since THE RIGHT TO ROCK.
Since I first discovered Ektomorf back in 2004 on their DESTROY release, they have been one that, while I never sat around waiting for a release, I've always loved when they had something new out there. As heavy music goes, they are the perfect combination of what I like. They are kind of like the lovechild of Sepultura, Soulfly and Machine Head; all wrapped up into one menacing, brutal package. A couple years ago, they surprised a lot of people with THE ACOUSTIC (which is an acoustic release) and BLACK FLAG. It was surprising because both were pretty weak releases from Ektomorf. Happily, they are back and more pissed off than ever. RETRIBUTION is a very defiant callback to this band's better days.
House Of Lords
As melodic hard rock goes, James Christian has not only kept the band House Of Lords alive, but he's kept it relevant and smart throughout their career. While he was not the original voice of the band, he's been "the guy" on every release and has proven always seems to have some good ideas to keep the band driving creatively forward. Ultimately, over the course of their 9 studio releases, there's only been one that was a total dude (THE POWER AND THE MYTH). In fairness, that one could even be attributed to ring rust after 12 years away from the project. While unflashy, the last four releases have been very solid from start to finish. Returning with PRECIOUS METAL, Christian and his House Of Lords once again hit the consistency mark. They also rock just a little bit harder than you might expect for this release.
After listening to this every day for about a month, it's finally come time to write something about this latest effort from Scorpions. As a giant fan of the band, I firmly wanted to like this release, but after at last 20 listens, it's just not clicking with me. There's just something about it that feels wrong. The arrangements are a bit too happy and fun, for one thing. For another, the edge that made Scorpions one of the best bands of all time, even in their down years, is completely removed from this effort. I've seen a great many reviews out there stating that MTV UNPLUGGED is a must have for a diehard fan. That's untrue though, because as a diehard fan, this has almost no use for my collection. Long story short, I love Scorpions as much as the next 40 something that found them at any point in their historic career...but I have no need to hear these watered down versions of these songs.
SALVATION OF INNOCENTS
I know that I have a pretty distinct label on me of what most people think I like to listen to. I believe that most people think that I'm a classic metal fan whose musical taste basically goes from 80s hair metal bands to Bay Area Thrash. I can't lie - I do love that style a ton...probably the most of anything I do listen to. When it comes to heavy music though, I think many would be very surprised that a close second for me is '90s/'00s era hardcore. Simply put, I'll take albums by the Spudmonsters, Agnostic Front or Hatebreed over anything that the likes of Korn or Disturbed ever delivered. One of my favorites has always been Earth Crisis. With the core of the band intact, Earth Crisis came back from the dead five years ago and have been putting out some of the best material of their career. SALVATION OF INNOCENTS continues this trend.
LIFE & DEATH
Sometimes you hear a band, you can define their intention from the second you hear them. For some, you know they are looking to make as large a statement against anything mainstream as they can. For others, you can just sense the desire for radio airplay and mainstream success. With Blowsight, there's very little doubt that this band is looking for airplay. While that's not my hot point, there's definitely no denying that what they are doing can work if the right ears hear this. Listening to LIFE & DEATH, you can't help but hear this mixed into modern rock radio playlists.
With the overabundance of traditional and power metal bands out there, it's not surprising how many of them just sound the same. Without question, Finland's Battle Beast takes their influences from the classic tones of power metal. Unfortunately for them though, they take a bit too much influence without incorporating much of their own style into it. After multiple listens to BATTLE BEAST, I'm yet to find anything at all that separates them from the bulk of the European metal bands that are finding their way to our shores these days. While there's nothing terrible here, there's not a single "wow" moment either. In short, BATTLE BEAST is the kind of release you listen to in between bands that you just like better.
Red Dragon Cartel
RED DRAGON CARTEL
Jake E. Lee - where have you been for the past two decades? Calling it the way it is, Jake E. Lee was one of the most recognizable sounds in hard rock/heavy metal for about five or six years. His work with Ozzy Osbourne on BARK AT THE MOON and THE ULTIMATE SIN were signatures to the Prince Of Darkness' biggest commercial success. He then moved onto Badlands, which is one of those bands that never got huge even though most now agree that it was one of the very best and most timeless bands of the late 80s and early 90s. In both cases, it was Jake's HUGE sound that propelled these projects. After that though, he was gone. Sure, there was the occasional sighting, like his solo A FINE PINK MIST release and then a somewhat surprise appearance on Enuff Z'nuff's DISSONANCE release, but ultimately the question of "where is Jake E. Lee" became one of folklore in the hard rock and heavy metal community.