• Axel Rudi Pell - Knights Call (2018)

    Every second year, German heavy metal guitarist Axel Rudi Pell and his band members release another album. The structure is always quite alike. The album covers are quite atmospheric and colourful and often make historic or mythologic references. In most cases, the record comes along with a beautiful poster of the cover artwork and a detailed booklet. Each album includes one or two short instrumentals conveying and epic and majestic atmosphere. In addition to this, the band delivers between eight and ten regular tracks. Most of them are mid-paced stompers with one or two more melodic epics and an occasional ballad in between. From time to time, the band also offers a cover version of an old rock song, in most cases in form of a bonus track. These albums are always enjoyable to listen to but rarely memorable because they always stick to the same old formula. 

    This is also the case for Knights Call. In this particular case, I find Knights Call a little bit more consistent than Game of Sins but less passionate than Into the Storm. The vocals are as great as usual, the organic production is really great but the instrumental work is bland at times, especially the drum play. It's the type of album any collector and fan of the band will appreciate for its solid trademark sound. Occasional fans who already own a studio release, live record or even compilative effort don't really need to get this record because it only offers more of the same. 

    There are still a couple of noteworthy songs on this album. The epic closer ''Tower of Babylon'' develops an exotic atmosphere with its decently employed Middle Eastern folk elements. The slow stomper ''Crusaders of Doom'' is another track with epic proportions carried by a stoic rhythm section, enchanting guitar harmonies and melodic vocals recalling groups such as Rainbow and the band's other epic hard rock heroes from the seventies and eighties.

    There isn't a truly terrible song on the record but some tunes are so formulaic that they make me cringe. ''Long Live Rock'' is a stereotypical as its title and turns out to be the predictable rock anthem the band delivers on nearly every record as if it had to remind itself why it's still churning out melodic hard rock records every second year. ''The Wild and the Young'' is quite similar in style and topic if slightly faster and even more nostalgic. It's not a bad song but about as interesting as listening to grandfather's stories about the war for the eighteenth time.

    One has to admire Axel Rudi Pell's stamina and despite its obvious flaws, I like the artist, the band and even this album. Once a band has earned my respect, I'm quite faithful to the group. Subjectively, I enjoy listening to Knights Call from start to finish because you get exactly what you expected. Objectively, this album is however as creative as a ham sandwich. On the other side, it's almost comforting to witness a band sticking to its same old formula while some things in the world keep evolving dangerously. Sometimes it's reassuring to stay in your comfort zone and Axel Rudi Pell's Knights Call is like that old comfortable couch in your living room where you can chill while watching a movie, reading a novel or play a game. To keep it simple, if hard rock of the late seventies and heavy metal of the early eighties are your favorite types of music, you will enjoy Knights Call for sure. If you want to listen to anything that sounds as if it could have been released within the past thirty years, don't even bother.

    Final rating: 72%

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  • Tankist is an Estonia thrash metal quartet and Unhuman is the group's first full length effort. The group sounds as if it came straight out of the eighties. Its uncompromising sound reminds of Exodus' and Slayer's early works.

    Powerful riffs and melodic guitar solos meet an up-tempo rhythm section and raspy vocals. From time to time, the band varies with a few short and fluid changes in pace and also adds a few dissonant guitar sounds from time to time. The straight production is the right choice for this type of music. The lyrics deal with all types of topics such as religious terrorism and social criticism. Even the colourful cover artwork and album title blend in perfectly. 

    My favorite song on the record is the gloomy ''Miserytomb'' that is a little bit slower than the other tracks and also features a few atmospheric organ sounds while the vocals sound harsher and throatier than usual. Imagine a mixture between Celtic Frost and King Diamond and you have a good idea of what this album highlight sounds like.

    The main problem with Unhuman is that Tankist hasn't quite found its own style yet and that the tracks get somewhat repetitive after a while. Unhuman is a blast to listen to once or twice but nothing truly memorable. If the band fleshed out its changes in pace and dissonant influences a little bit more, it could become a very respectable progressive or technical thrash metal band in the key of Coroner and Voivod.

    Fans of old school thrash metal should give Tankist's Unhuman a few spins. Those who are looking for something new and unique will have to look elsewhere.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Lost Society - Braindead (2016)

    Lost Society performs forty-five minutes of fierce thrash metal on its energizing third full length release Braindead. The band reminds me of American thrash metal bands of the late eighties and early nineties such as Death Angel. 

    The Finnish quartet convinces with juvenile power in form of angry shouts, pitiless riffs, dominant bass guitar and ferocious drum patterns in songs like ''Hangover Activator'' that would probably even wake up the dead. The band isn't just about attitude, energy and speed though. ''Hollow Eyes'' has great pace but also slows down for more melodic guitar solo sections which are clearly inspired by the New Wave of British Metal. The gloomy ''Only (My) Death Is Certain'' opens with mysterious melodies that add an appropriate touch to the epic track that breaks the eight-minute mark. The best of the bunch is however the brilliant opener ''I Am the Antidote'' that combines all of Lost Society's strengths within six unforgettable minutes. Pitiless thrash metal riffs meet gloomy but melodic heavy metal guitar melodies and solos. The bass guitar really is the backbone of the track and adds pace and rhythm with the support of the drums. The vocalist shouts, sings and whispers in varied but always motivated approaches. This song combines melody and energy, attitude and skills, diversity and focus in brilliant manner.

    There are a few minor flaws to mention. Lost Society covers a Pantera song entitled ''P.S.T. 88''. This band really isn't my cup of tea and I find the predecessor of alternative and nu metal with an angry redneck attitude quite annoying and overrated. However, some bands have covered the group's songs rather well and Lost Society's bass-ridden version of the song is also better than the original track that sounded like a sterile Metallica rip-off. Still, I would have liked the band to cover a different group or put another of its own songs on the album. The so-called California Easy Listening Version of the band's own ''Terror Hungry'' doesn't really blend in with the rest of the music as it sounds like an alternative rock song with a few retro rock vibes. The track isn't bad but just feels completely out of place. The record would have been better if the band had just stuck to the great first seven tracks.

    To keep it short, if you like energetic yet melodic thrash metal inspired by American bands that rose to fame in the late eighties and early nineties, you're in for a treat. Braindead is a vivid fun ride from start to finish but never shallow despite its party attitude. The band is even better in concert which can be witnessed on the rare gem Loud∞Out Fest 2016 split release with Japanese metal legends Anthem, Loudness and Outrage. If the band comes to your town, don't hesitate to attend their concert and have some fun.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • The Unguided - And the Battle Royale (2017)

    The Unguided is a band founded by former Sonic Syndicate members. And the Battle Royale is the group's fourth for length release. One can still hear the influence from the Swedish melodic death metal scene here and there thanks to a few select harsh vocals and chugging riffs. On the other side, The Unguided plays a much more contemporary take on this type of music with groove metal riffs and heavy use of melodic keyboards, auto-tuned vocal effects and saccharine choruses. The band actually reminds me of a weaker version of Black Veil Brides. If you think contemporary In Flames has sold out with its alternative rock soundscapes, you clearly haven't listened to The Unguided. 

    The band's music isn't horrible but quite generic and I don't think anyone who is older than sixteen would actually listen to this. It's a good album to introduce teenagers to metal music. This album is like a letter of application for being the opening group for the next touring cycles of Bullet For My Valentine or Five Finger Death Punch. The band suits the style of these popular bands without quite reaching their quality. To be honest, I'm quite surprised The Unguided is considered a metal band by this site's severe standards.

    All these things don't make And the Battle Royale a bad album if you have an open mind for contemporary alternative metal or want to discover what teenagers who are into metal are listening to these days. The keyboard melodies are skillfully employed and make some tracks catchy, others danceable and a few select ones even epic. A few tracks have predictable but decent melodic death metal riffs like ''Dark Metamorphosis''. The band also proves it has the capability for catchy choruses like ''Legendary''. The polished and lush production blends in very well for this type of music. The album cover is so cheesy it's cool and seems to indicate this album is some sort of conceptual output.

    On the other side, the vocals really aren't my cup of tea. Generic melodic death metal vocals without any outstanding elements meet saccharine auto-tuned clean vocals. Bland sing-along passages and a few isolated rap parts are the cherry on the cake. The guitar riffs are often bland and uninspired. The drum sound is too much in the background and the bass guitar rarely stands out. The different songs end up sounding somewhat exchangeable.

    If you like contemporary alternative metal carried by harsh and clean vocals as well as diversified keyboard patterns, you might like The Unguided's And the Battle Royale. If you have a teenage daughter and son who listens to modern metal, surprise her or him by sharing this record with your loved one. Other than that, this melodic-groove-metalcore hybrid doesn't have much merit. It's entertaining to listen to it once or twice but it doesn't offer anything memorable.

    Final rating: 55%

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  • Leaves' Eyes - Sign of the Dragonhead (2018)

    As you know, Leaves' Eyes has gone through a major line-up change when charismatic singer Liv Kristine left the band as her marriage to band leader Alexander Krull fell apart in a quite nasty way two years ago. She was replaced by relatively unknown Finnish singer Elina Siirala. The first release of this new line-up in form of the EP Fires in the North was a disaster with one new lackluster track and unnecessary reworked versions of songs from the excellent last album. My hopes for Sign of the Dragonhead weren't too high but this release surprises positively.

    Elina Siirala's classically trained vocals suit the band's epic symphonic metal very well and even add a more elegant note which works perfectly in the calmer tracks. Alexander Krull's harsh vocals are scarcely used on this record which makes them all the more efficient. What really makes this album stand out are the majestic symphonic elements, inspired folk references and catchy melodies which make nearly every song a potential single candidate. Despite the major line-up change, Sign of the Dragonhead has all of Leaves' Eyes classic trademarks and is a worthy successor of the epic King of Kings. If I had to point out highlights, I would certainly mention the moving ballad ''Fairer than the Sun'', the epic folk-ridden instrumental ''Rulers of Wind and Waves'' that would do any fantasy game or movie justice and the diversified, epic and intelligent album closer ''Waves of Euphoria'' that breaks the eight-minute mark. Even the somewhat generic ''Fires in the North'' works better in the album context than as single candidate.

    Obviously, there are a few minor elements to criticize. I would have expected some more changes and experiments with the new singer. Sign of the Dragonhead is a very good album but also quite by the numbers as it's obvious that the band played it safe in order to keep its fan base intact. The guitar play on the album is quite unspectacular. The riffs are generic and there are only very few solos that work best in the calmer tracks. The bass guitar and drums sound less present than on the at at times quite heavy predecessor. This album is more interesting for those fascinated by early Nightwish than contemporary Epica. This means that the album might rather appeal to those who like more melodic folk and symphonic metal while those who like faster and heavier material won't find many redeeming qualities here.

    To keep it short, Leaves' Eyes fans can purchase this record without any worries. Sign of the Dragonhead isn't as strong as the vivid predecessor but a worthy successor that focuses more on melody than heaviness. If you like elegant folk and symphonic metal in the key of Nightwish's Tarja Turunen era, you should also give this release a few spins. Leaves' Eyes made the best out of a negative situation and this album proves that it was the right choice for them to carry on under the Leaves' Eyes banner. So far, this is easily the best symphonic metal record of the year. Now that the band has proven its consistency, I hope the band members of old date will focus on a long overdue Atrocity release since the group's last symphonic death metal output Okkult was absolutely brilliant.

    Final rating: 80%

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