Rocka Rollas - Metal strikes back 4.5/5
1. Night of the living steel
3. Heavy metal strikes back
4. Blazing wings
5. Raging cyborg
6. Warmachine from hell
8. Swords raised in victory
Over the years, California’s Stormspell Records has cultivated an impeccable reputation as a boutique label specializing in high-quality pure heavy metal releases, some of which are current bands steeped in the ways of the olde. Falling squarely within this category are Sweden’s Rocka Rollas, who are in my view the crown jewel of Stormspell’s roster. A fair argument could be made that they’re not a band at all. Hell, they are barely a “they”. Let me explain. Rocka Rollas is the brainchild of one Cederick Forsberg, who writes all the music, plays all the guitars (including the lead, rhythm and bass varieties), performs all the drums and backing vocals, and (as far as I can tell) handles all recording, engineering and producing duties too. The one task Forsberg does not undertake in Rocka Rollas is lead vocals, which are ably handled on ‘Metal strikes back’ by an American, Joe Liszt, who is also the singer for Stormspell recording artists Shadowkiller. Liszt has a grittier, more powerful tone than the talented Josef, who performed on Rocka Rollas’ debut CD, ‘The war of steel has begun’. Liszt does a fantastic job here.
Let’s cut right to the chase: ‘Metal strikes back’ should rate a mandatory purchase for anyone at all interested in traditional/true/power metal. Do you like Riot’s ‘Thundersteel’? How about Hibria’s ‘Defying the rules’? What about the new breed of 80s styled metal bands, like Katana, Enforcer, Alpha Tiger, Hurlement, Striker, Skull Fist, and so on? Then Rocka Rollas just might be your new favorite band, and ‘Metal strikes back’ just might be your favorite CD of 2013. Hyperbole? No, it’s that good. Forsberg isn’t doing anything remotely original or innovative on ‘Metal strikes back’. You will hear parts that are obviously influenced by Judas Priest, Running Wild, Blind Guardian, Manowar, Iron Maiden, and others. It’s just that Forsberg combines these influences brilliantly, composing and arranging these songs in a manner that maximizes excitement, catchiness and energy, while simply oozing heartfelt appreciation of old-fashioned, uptempo, guitar-fueled melodic heavy metal.
Straight out of the gate, “Night of the living steel” explodes through your stereo speakers with a guitar melody so infectious that I caught my wife walking around the house humming it to herself after the first time she heard the song. “Metalive” is a superb anthem with lyrics somewhere between Manowar and ‘Bonded by blood’ (lines include “We are sworn to the metal gods” and “Twenty thousand banging their heads/On this stage their blood will run red”). “Blazing wings” consists of Running Wild melodies played at warp speed with maximum intensity. “Warmachine from hell” musically sounds like the late-90s/early-80s Gothenburg scene at its best, but with Liszt’s stellar clean vocals over the top instead of some annoying death-metal growler. The epic “Swords raised in victory” rides an Andre Olbrich (Blind Guardian) guitar theme to a perfect beer-hall chorus. The remaining tracks on ‘Metal strikes back’ are of equal quality, positively riddled with air-guitar worthy licks, emotive vocals, and melodies guaranteed to have you banging your head and singing along with lyrics and guitar parts alike.
You want to know what’s really amazing about ‘Metal strikes back’? It is one of 3 CDs created by Forsberg that Stormspell Records released simultaneously in September 2013. The others are Blazon Stone ‘Return to Port Royal’ (shameless but jaw-droppingly good Running Wild worship) and Mortyr ‘Rise of the tyrant’ (vicious thrash metal). For my money, Rocka Rollas is the best of these projects, but the point is that the guy is unbelievably talented and prolific. Hell, Stormspell is already posting teasers of the next Rocka Rollas CD, to be released in early 2014. I’ll admit I was skeptical that one Swedish dude could pull off such a feat, but I’m gobsmacked by how massive ‘Metal strikes back’ is. Much as I loved ‘The war of steel has begun’, this new Rocka Rollas CD surpasses it in every category, save one. My solitary nit is that, for some reason, ‘Metal strikes back’, was mastered at a very low volume. I don’t know if this was done as a statement to combat the loudness wars or what, but you have to really crank it on the ol’ hi-fi to hear it properly. Now I’m not averse to turning up the volume, of course, but what happens to those who have Rocka Rollas on an MP3 playlist with a bunch of other recent releases, playing on shuffle? Yep, the Rocka Rollas stuff sounds too damned quiet and tame. So that’s my only constructive criticism for next time, Mr. Forsberg. Keep doing everything else you’re doing. Don’t change anything else. If you can retain Joe Lizst behind the microphone, by all means do it, because his voice fits your music like a hand in glove. You want a 4-word review? Here goes: ‘Metal strikes back’ rules.
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