Elvenking-"The Winter Wake"-2006

Italian Folk Metal meisters Elvenking have returned with what is surely their best album yet! "The Winter`s Wake" features 12 original tunes [the European bonus has a cover of Skyclad`s "Penny Dreadful", as well as an enhanced "making of" section] of Prog-tinged Metal that seems to be a specialty in Italy. There`s an obvious theme on this album, but the songs are put together well enough that the listener can enjoy each track as a seperate entity, unusual for an album of this type. Another remarkable achievment is that even though there is plenty of instrumentation here, the instruments don`t get in the way of each other; no boring technical excercises or self-indulgent solos to detract from the songs. High quality production values only enhance the performances, and the band know when to "hold back" in a song, keeping things simple, direct and to-the-point. Unlike many band of this genre, you can actually REMEMBER Elvenking`s songs after you`ve heard them, which is definitely refreshing! There`s even a surprise guest appearence from Destruction vocalist Schmier on the title cut! A final mention must be made about the CD booklet, as it features some of the best artwork I`ve ever seen, making "The Winter`s Wake" truly a complete audio/visual package, and a most worthy purchase!



San Diego, California`s Benedictum are one of the most promising REAL Metal bands to come out of the states in a while, and are certainly one of the frontrunners in the "Take back American Metal" campaign. The band consists of vocalist Veronica Freeman, Guitarist Pete Wells, Bassist Jesse Wright, Keyboardist Chris Morgan and Drummer Blackie Sanchez. The five piece have a sound that can best be described as a cross between early Metal Church, Rough Cutt and Hellion, with a slightly more modern Metal `tude. Benedictum's debut release "Uncreation" was produced by ex-Dokken/Dio Bassist Jeff Pilson, and a top-quality affair it is! This bad boy kicks off with the title cut, which has one of the best intros since Priest`s "The Ripper", and thus the blitzkrieg begins! Torrents of high-powered riffage rain down with each track, from the terrifying "Benedictum" to the neck-snapping grind of "#4", and this crew ain`t taking no prisoners! Freeman`s performance on this album can best be described an unholy mixture of Doro, Ann Boleyn, Grace Slick and a leather-clad Banshee sent straight from Hell; when she snarls "I`m the bitch you can`t ignore" on "Misogyny", you BEST believe it, old son! The boys in the band match Freeman with their own instrumental venom; Wells guitar spitting pure Hellfire over the solid-as-steel rhythm section of Sanchez and Wright, with Morgan`s keys weaving in and out of the furious time-changes like a poltergeist. no amature night here! The only head-scratching moment here; why TWO Sabbath covers? The band do a MONUMENTAL version of "Heaven And Hell", but even though they do an equally fine cover of "The Mob Rules", I personally don`t see the point. But these are VERY minor quibbles regarding a VERY major release from a band who are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with on the Metal scene. In fact, "Uncreation" has my vote for debut of the year. Buy, buy, BUY the album and believe!! Highest recommendation possible!! [UPDATE: Guitarist Pete Wells has informed me that "The deal with the 2 Dio covers is the Mob Rules was to be a bonus track on the digi pak but the label made a mistake and put it on every cd" Thanks for the info, Pete!]


Empire-"The Raven Ride"-2006

"The Raven Ride" is album number 3 for Empire, the brainchild of German axe-slinger Rolf Munkes, and finds the inimitable Tony Martin back on vocals [he sang on the previous release "Trading Souls"] as well as a returning Neil Murray [Sabbath, Whitesnake and a zillion others] on bass. Also joining Mr. Munkes` stellar cast is Andre Hilgers (Silent Force) on drums; not too shabby a line-up, eh? Given the pedigree of the aforementioned players, it`s no surprise that the performances, as well as the production [by Munkes] are sublime. The songs tend to lean towards the slower to mid-tempo pace, at times sounding as if they could be out-takes from Sabbath`s "Cross Purposes". The title track "The Raven Ride" is a good example of this, while "Satanic Curses" and "Carbon Based Lifeform" remind me a little of UFO, as they have a strong Seventies` Hard Rock vibe. The album is also a bit heavier than "Trading Souls", and for the MOST part more focused. I say "for the MOST part" because with track 6 "What Would I Do?", things kind of go downhill; the tune doesn`t really go anywhere. "Changing World" and "I Can't Trust Myself" don`t fare much better, and it isn`t until the albums` closer "The Devil Speaks, The Sinner Cries" that things get back on track. It`s easily the best song here, and Martin`s vocals here are among his finest! Overall, the good outweighs the not-so-good here, and what we have is a fine release from featuring some of the BEST Hard Rock talent in the business, all on the same album! Recommended!!!


Giuntini Project III-2006

After nearly 8 years, Italian guitar virtuoso Aldo Giuntini returns with the follow-up to 1998`s Project II, titled [you guessed it!] "Project III". Featuring the same line-up as the last album [Tony Martin on Vocals, Fulvio Gaslini on Bass, Ezio Secomandi on Drums and Dario Patti on Keyboards, with Fabiano Rizzi playing Drums on "Memories In The Sand"], the same producer [the awesome Dario Mollo!] and basically the same type of songs, you would swear that "Project II" was supposed to be a double album, such is the similarity between the two releases. And that`s FINE with me! The tracks here are straight ahead Traditional Hard Rock/Metal delivered with all the class and panache the made the last CD so special. This baby kicks things into high gear right outta the gate with "Gold Digger", and keeps the ball rolling right on through to the end. Though various interviews indicate that Martin was just collecting a paycheck here, his vocal performance shows otherwise; I`ll bet Tony Iommi is kicking himself for cutting this guy loose! The performance by the musicians are top class, the song arrangements are furiously tight, and all topped off by Giuntini`s face-melting chops-to-burn. And he`s one HELLUVA rhythm player to boot, dishing out riff after memorable riff like there`s no tomorrow! Can`t say anything more about this except BUY THIS!! And please Aldo and Tony, don`t make us wait so long next time, ok? Highly, HIGHLY recommended!!


Dio-"Holy Diver-Live"-2006

Dio. "Holy Diver". ` Nuff said!! Released separately as both a DVD and a double CD, "Holy Diver Live" features a set list spanning Ronnie`s remarkable career, from his days with Rainbow, Sabbath and his own solo band. And of course the centerpiece is the ENTIRE "Holy Diver" album performed live from start to finish! Filmed and recorded at London's famed Astoria, the audio [and video of the DVD] is superb. [Note: The CD version has the tracks out of sequence from the actual performance. Disc 1 has the "Holy Diver" portion, whlch Disc 2 has the songs from Ronnie`s regular set-list; the "Holy Diver" performance was actually in the middle of the show. Also, the CD booklet says the show was recorded in 1995; it was actually 2005!] My fellow Upstate New York native opens the show with the classic Rainbow tune "Tarot Woman". It should be noted that Ronnie`s voice seems a little below par for the first few songs, apparently the result of a bout with the flu. But soon things right themselves and you can hear THAT VOICE in all it`s glory! The man has lost NONE of his power and is probably one of the most engaging and personable frontmen around. He talks TO, not DOWN TO, the audience, and is genuinely moved by the enthusiastic reception he receives. And his current band is without a doubt the finest he`s had, perhaps ever. Drummer Simon Wright, Bassist Rudy Sarzo, Keyboardist Scott Warren and Guitarist Doug Aldrich [who played on Dio`s "Killing The Dragon" album and who filled in on this tour at the last minute, due to Craig Goldy injuring his hand] are a molten Metal MONSTER, and are all given ample time to show their stuff. Now those of you who whine "Bring back Vivian Campbell!", all I can say is "GET OVER IT!" Campbell has been out of the band for 20 years now, and hasn`t done anything close to Metal since. [By his own admission, he was trying to bring U2-style riffs to the band!] Aldrich is, in my opinon, the best guitarist Dio`s had. No fancy-schmancy G.I.T. shredder, Doug is a down & dirty Rocker, with grit under his fingernails and chops to burn! "Sign Of The Southern Cross" is next, followed by "One Night In The City". And THEN, prceeded by a video introduction by RJD, the band rips into "Stand Up And Shout" and if you`re ANY kind of Dio fan, I won`t have to tell you what songs come next, `cause you already know. Some of the "Holy Diver" tracks have NEVER been played live, so this is an extra-special treat! Can you stand more? After that, the regular set resumes with the AWESOME "Gates Of Babylon" [!] and THEN we go to "Heaven & Hell", complete with crazed fan hoping up on stage before being removed by security ["Everybody wants to be on stage, I guess", quips Ronnie.] Next is "Man On The Silver Mountain", with a brief excerpt from "Catch The Rainbow", where Mr. Dio`s voice truly SHINES. "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll" is followed by the perennial closer "We Rock". Indeed! There are also bonus interviews with each band members, and well, what MORE could any true Dio fan ask? With this release, Ronnie James Dio has achieved yet ANOTHER milestone in a career FILLED with them, and both the man AND the band are a class act. Long Live Rock `n` Roll!! \m/

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