• Фаэтон - Человеком остаться (2019)

    Two years after its very good last full length effort, Russian heavy metal band Phaeton comes around with what might be its most mellow and melodic release yet in form of a short extended play. The creepy cover artwork is actually quite misleading in that regard.

    The three new songs offer melodic heavy metal that flirts with power metal thanks to particularly smooth guitar sounds, inoffensive rhythm section, crystal clear vocals and the moderate use of calm keyboard parts. The fluffy production suits the release well and recalls groups such as Epiclore.

    The songwriting could be better as the tracks are neither adventurous nor catchy enough to leave a mark. The opening tune is creative and versatile enough to justify its extensive length but the other two tracks are fairly average in that regard and fail to leave a lasting impression.

    To keep it short, Phaeton's new release will please those who like smooth heavy and power metal but it's ultimately the band's least remarkable record to date. It's decent for what it is but not more. After two imaginative full length outputs, this is a step backwards. Let's hope the band's next full length release is a little more emotional, powerful and surprising.

    Final rating: 63%

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  • Pokerface - The Greatest Storm (2019)

    Russian quintet Pokerface plays vibrant melodic thrash metal on its latest extended play The Greatest Storm. The production is clean and crisp and doesn't lose any energy despite its contemporary style. The songwriting is focused with four tracks between four and five minutes that never overstay their welcome. Some thrash metal veterans that tend to stretch their tracks and repeat themselves endlessly should take notes.

    The musicianship is also excellent. Powerful opener and title track ''The Greatest Storm'' actually starts with a bass solo and the instrument is quite domineering in that regard throughout the record. The drums sound tight without being too flashy which suits this genre very well. The mixture of energetic riffs versus great melodic leads and solos is perfectly balanced.

    The definite highlight are though the stunning lead vocals by Alexandra Orlova. One might underestimate her due to her participation in the silly Korrozia Metalla but she is one of the greatest female vocalist in the metal scene. She nails the melodic passages with emotive intensity but also handles the rawer parts with grit and offers some haunting screams at the right moment. Lady Owl is only twenty-five years old and one should keep an eye on her as there might be more great performances to come in the future. She easily beats overrated singers like Alissa White-Gluz and the likes.

    In the end, if you like contemporary thrash metal with outstanding vocals, you should check Pokerface out for sure and this compact, entertaining and passionate extended play is a great place to start with.

    Final rating: 90%

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  • Kampfar - Ofidians Manifest (2019)

    Norwegian pagan metal quartet Kampfar's eight studio record Ofidians Manifest is a solid melodic black metal record that convinces most in its most atmospheric, epic and progressive tracks that showcase the band's ambition, creativity and talent.

    ''Dominans'' convinces with sinister symphonic soundscapes and hypnotizing female chants that complement the clean vocals on the verge of clean techniques and very raw undertones perfectly. The explosive ''Natt'' has a wonderful middle section with an appeasing piano solo that makes the blistering parts around it so much more efficient. The diversified ''Eremitt'' has a similar approach but the piano notes sound quite uneasy and provide an additional bleak note to the varied track that might be the best of the bunch.

    Not all tracks are as great as the record's stunning middle section. Opener ''Syndefall'' includes too many ideas in just four minutes and offers a somewhat complicated start. Album closer ''Det sorte'' on the other side can be seen as a summary of the record as it includes elements offered in this release's best tunes which are though unnecessarily stretched as the song would have sounded much more compact in five minutes than in eight and a half.

    If you like atmospheric, creative and experimental black metal, you can't get around Kampfar's Ofidians Manifest. All seven tracks are richly detailed and grow with every consecutive spin. The unique cover artwork somewhere between horror and originality represents the music on this record very well.

    Final rating: 75%

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  • Judas Priest - Battle Cry (2016)

    Less than two years after the lukewarm Redeemer of Souls, Judas Priest released live album Battle Cry that proves that the legendary British heavy metal quintet doesn't think about retiring yet and still delivers the goods on stage. The concert was recorded at the overrated Wacken Open Air, so you can't expect the most enthusiastic crowd but the atmosphere is better than expected because lead singer Rob Halford is simply a great entertainer that makes the sleepiest mainstream audience react.

    Seventeen songs were played that day and the DVD or BluRay even includes three additional tracks recorded in Poland that weren't played in Germany that night. The CD version of this release sadly only features fifteen songs and one has to wonder why the label didn't make this a double-disc record with all twenty tracks on it. The best version of this release to pick up is hence the combination of the DVD with the CD to have everything your ears and eyes need.

    The set list is quite convincing. Even the tracks from the last effort sound more dynamic on stage and blend in relatively well with the classics. ''Dragonaut'' is a powerful opener, ''Halls of Valhalla'' is a fierce anthem with a varied vocal performance and even the unimaginative ''Redeemer of Souls'' is passable in its live rendition, even though it might be the weakest tune of this album.

    The band obviously played numerous classics tracks. The crowd participation in ''Hell Bent for Leather'' is certainly a highlight. ''You've Got Another Thing Coming'' underlines how entertaining the band can be and never gets tedious despite an extended running time of above eleven minutes. The final track on the CD version is a relentless interpretation of ''Painkiller'' and it never ceases to amaze me how great Rob Halford's voice still sounds at his age.

    When playing a festival, it's difficult to insert tracks that are rarely played live but the band at least included a solid rendition of ''Devil's Child'' on this output. This version isn't spectacular but it's quite refreshing to hear such a song after a while and one has to congratulate the band on continuing to vary its set lists and bringing back forgotten pearls from time to time.

    In the end, Judas Priest's Battle Cry isn't an essential record by any means. It might even be the band's weakest live album but that's just because all the others are so particularly great. However, it's a relief to hear and see the band in full strength after a disappointing last studio record. Those who were afraid that the band was about to retire can witness five musicians who still play with addictive passion.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Riot City - Burn the Night (2019)

    Just a look at the great cover artwork recalls the works of Judas Priest three and a half decades ago and this is also exactly the sound Riot City is going for on its debut full length effort Burn the Night. The young quartet from Calgary offers eight tunes with a total running time of thirty-seven minutes on a concise nostalgic heavy metal record.

    The band sounds as if it had boarded a time machine thirty-five years ago and resurfaced yesterday. The melodic guitar play convinces with strong riffs and numerous melodic solos. The rhythm section is steady and powerful. The high-pitched lead vocals sound juvenile and energizing. The occasional backing vocals provide some additional oomph. The few effects in form of scarcely used keyboard sounds and spoken word samples also have a vintage touch. Everything blends in perfectly and proves that this band knows what it wants to sound like.

    The opener ''Warrior of Time'' summarizes all these strengths with a short atmospheric overture, followed by mid-paced stomping heavy metal and skilled high-pitched vocals supported by rawer gang shouts. Epic power ballad ''In the Dark'' is even more atmospheric and melodic as it convinces with a few smooth acoustic guitar passages and soothing vocals. ''Halloween at Midnight'' flirts with horror movie atmosphere in form of an opening sample and overall somewhat gloomy and mysterious vibe. Drums on this track are performed by late Ty Gogal, a former member of the band.

    Not every single song on here is a killer but Riot City offers high-quality traditional heavy metal inspired by Accept, Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate. Especially the high-pitched lead vocals and the more atmospheric passages are very convincing. Among numerous heavy metal revival bands, Riot City manages to stand out positively and genre fans should give them a chance and keep an eye on them.

    Final rating: 79%

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