Benedictum-"Seasons Of Tragedy"-2008

It seems that the second album is always crucial for bands/artists, and the dreaded "Sophmore Jinx" [whether anyone believes in it or not] tends to hover in the back of one`s mind. But with the release of "Seasons Of Tragedy", Benedictum has managed to evade the aforementioned jinx; in fact, this CD features their best material yet. Not that "Seasons Of Tragedy" is radically different from "Uncreation" [their previous outing], but the band have refined their sound and style a bit more. Sound-wise, Benedictum are still rooted in the Metal Church/Rough Cutt mode, and the band really stretches out musically while not straying from the confines of their established sound. After the spooky intro "Dawn Of Seasons", they proceed to tear it up with "Shell Shock", followed by the high-octane "Burn It Out". However, it`s the mid-pacers that won me over; "Within The Solace", "Beast In The Field", "Legacy", are as powerful and passionate as anything Benedictum have ever recorded. My personal favorite [at the moment] is "Steel Rain", which is followed by the closing title track. This last cut is quite lengthy, and is surely the most musically ambitious piece they`ve ever attempted. In less capable hands, the results would be a disaster, but Benedictum are MORE than equal to the task. One of the highpoints on the album is definitely vocalist Veronica Freeman; this album shows her coming into her own as a singer, and her performance on each track is more realized and three dimensional that the bands` debut. [not that she wasn`t good on that album, too]. If I had to find a flaw with this album, I would have to say that, as was the case with "Uncreation", the inclusion of TWO cover tunes here is somewhat pointless. Accept`s "Balls To The Wall" is given a good treatment here, and they`ve also done a rendition of Rainbow`s "Catch The Rainbow" [which my copy of "SOT" doesn`t have!]. And while I`m sure the Rainbow cover sounds great [the band have a reverance for all things Dio], I would much rather have heard two original songs. One suspects record company insistence on the covers [as apparently was the cast last time], which kinda leaves me scratching my head instead of banging it. [not for long, though!] Minor quibbles aside, "Seasons Of Tragedy" is an early entry for top Metal album of 2008, and another notch on the bands` studded belts. BUY OR DIE!!!!


Saint Deamon-"In Shadows Lost From The Brave"-2008

"In Shadows Lost From The Brave" is the debut disc from Saint Deamon, a Swedish/Norwegian 4-piece featuring ex-Dionysus members Ronny Milianowicz and Nobby Noberg [drums and bass, respectively], along with guitarist Toya Johansson and vocalist Jan Thore Grefstad. The album has 11 tracks of classy Euro Power Metal that will definitely appeal to the genre`s many fans. Working within this sometimes restricting musical form can have a detrimental effect on some bands, but Saint Deamon have managed to come up with some exciting and refreshing material. "My Judas" kicks things off [after the intro "The Exodus"], a powerful mid-paced tune, surprising because one might expect an all-guns-blazing high-speed extravaganza as the opening salvo. But the album as a whole has been structured so that each song is somwhat different but blends seamlessly with the next, as well as creating an overall mood for the entire album. NOT an easy thing to do well! The production is atypical of the usual Power Metal releases, as it`s clean and clear WITHOUT sounding over-processed. One of the things I like best is the drum sound; they sound REAL, especially when compared to the overused and at times fake-sounding drum triggers other bands tend to use. But the songs are what matter, and Saint Deamon have that area covered, as well. Highlights also include the title track, "The Burden", the brilliant "No Man`s Land", the Helloween-like "Ride Forever", among others. Fans of Dionysus, Hammerfall, Symphony X, etc. are well advised to get this album, but it certainly has plenty to offer fans of other genres, as well. The best Metal debut of 2008 so far, by a band that is DEFINITELY going places!

Saint Deamon

Black Widow USA-"Soldiers From Hell"-2008

After what seemed like an eternity, Black Widow USA [they added the "USA" to differentiate themselves from others using the same moniker] returns with the follow-up to "Satan`s Playground". "Soldiers From Hell" finds the band armed with better production values, even better songs and an even HEAVIER sound. All the elements that made their their first album such a treat are still present; just think of it as "Satan`s Playground" on steroids! The drums sound like thunder, the guitars are thick and crunchy, everything you could ever want from a traditional Metal album. And don`t expect any social concious lyrics here. Topics of the day are the usual Metal fare; living and riding free, being yourself and not giving a rat`s as who thinks what, demons, darkness, you know, the REAL important issues! The songs are well-crafted and quite lengthy at times, but are never dull, helped by a crystal-clear production that makes you forget that the band released this themselves. Stylistically, the band haven`t strayed far from their roots; traditional Metal influences like Dio, Saxon, Priest, Maiden. But Black Widow have always been able to take their influences and make `em their own, as "Soldiers From Hell" makes very clear. After the cool intro "Moonshadow", the band dives in with "Comfort In The Dark" and a perfect choice for an opening track. Other prime cuts include "Just His Wish", the awesome title track, as well as "When Angels Cry" [featuring a great performance by vocalist Cat] and the epic "Venom". Black Widow aren`t trying to re-invent the wheel [though they MIGHT run over you with it!;)]; they play for their fans and give them what they want, pure Heavy Metal, no more, no less. Another band that deserves more recognition than they get, but we can change that. Go to their website and pick up their albums, dammit! Highly, highly recommended!

Black Widow USA

Jack Bruce/Robin Trower-"Seven Moons"-2007

"Seven Moons" re-teams Jack Bruce and Robin Trower [oh, I really hope I don`t have to explain to you who THEY are!] after nearly 25 years. This album is the fruits of their most recent collaboration and could very well be among their best work. Along with noted Jazz/Rock drummer Gary Husband [an inspired choice], these cornerstones of British Blues Rock have crafted 11 finely-wrought tunes in the classic Blues Rock mold [no, it`s NOT "Classic Rock"!!]. But this is no nostalgia trip; "Seven Moons" is firmly planted in the 21st Century. And this isn`t the kind of Blues Rock you hear on beer commercials, played by some 12 year old "Bluesman" whose parents drive them to their gigs. And you won`t find any 2 hour 12 bar blooze S&M sessions here, either, just great songs performed [not programmed] by great musicians. The sparse production and minor key arrangements give the project a feel as if it had been recorded in the late 1960s` [in fact, the sound here is similar to Alber King`s "Born Under A Bad Sign"] . The songs are rather short, sweet and definitely to-the-point. Trower`s Univibe/Wah-drenched Hendrix stylings are still present, though in a more releaxed and understated way, and Bruce`s always-engaging vocals are perfect for the material, as are his lyrics, which tend to avoid the usual cliches. There`s a lot of good stuff here, among the gems to be found are the title cut, the dreamy "Lives Of Clay", the Cream-like "The Last Door", "Perfect Place", the modern media commentary "Bad Case Of Celebrity". The minimalist, non-glossy production allows the music [and the musicians] to do the talking. Sadly, mainstream Classic Schlock radio probably won`t touch this, although they play "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "Bridge Of Sighs" ad nauseum, and the music on "Seven Moons" is just as good, perhaps a bit better. Don`t take MY word for it; pick it up yourself. And I imagine you`re all wondering why this CD is being reviewed on a "Metal" website; if it weren`t for these guys and their peers, there might not even BE a Heavy Metal as we know it! [Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield did NOT invent the genre, despite what they tell everyone!]

Jack Bruce
Robin Trower

Magnum-"Wings Of Heaven Live"-2008

The title says it all: “Wings Of Heaven-Live” is a loving look back at an album that brought British Rock stalwarts Magnum their greatest commercial success in 1988. While I found that album a bit too slickly produced for my taste, it`s always best to let the music do the talking, and "Wings Of Heaven" speaks volumes, then AND now! As the 20th anniversary approached, the lads decided to do something special to mark the release of this career milestone, much as they did for “On A Storyteller’s Night”. But this time they guys opted to go with a double live CD rather than a DVD, which is fine with me; sometimes it`s best to just turn up the stereo, close your eyes and let yourself be carried away! The shows were recorded at various points on their most recent tour, and featured two sets: the first set [Disc One] features a cross-section of Magnum classics, including their latest studio effort, “Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow”, an album many [myself included] consider to be right right up there with "Storyteller`s....." and "Wings....". The second set [Disc Two] has the WOH album in its` entirety, and finishes off with a knockout version of "Sacred Hour" from the "Chase The Dragon" album. Disc One starts off with the haunting "When We Were Younger" from "Princess Alice...", and not a more brilliant intro could have been chosen! Other cuts from "Princess Alice..." include "Like Brothers We Stand", "Dragons Are Real", and "Out Of The Shadows", and all translate quite nicely to a live setting, though I do miss hearing "Thank You For The Day". These newer tunes blend seamlessly with Magnum mainstays like "Kingdom Of Madness", "Vigilante", "Back Street Kid" and the ever-popular "How Far Jerusalem". No matter how many times the band perform these numbers, they always manage to make them sound as fresh and exciting. You never get the feeling they`re looking at their watches and hoping to get down to the pub before it closes. Disc Two gives us the album the rocketed Magnum to the stratosphere back in `88. The first three songs, "Days Of No Trust", "Wild Swan" and "It Must Have Been Love", all massive hit singles at the time of their release. As long as I live, I will NEVER understand WHY this band were just as big here in the states! Wally Lowe and Mickey Barker fans may disagree, but this current version of Magnum is probably the most powerful in the bands` long history, and the performances here bear this out. It should also be noted that the band play in a somewhat raw, more stripped down manner than you would expect, and the songs come across all the better for this! "One Step Away" has always been a personal favorite of mine, and it sounds better than ever here. Of course, the highlight is "Don`t Wake The Lion", a true epic that, despite its` length, holds your attention from start to finish and is probably one of Tony Clarkin`s greatest musical accomplishments. When I hear Bob Catley sing the line "Too old to die young", I say Thank God for THAT! A message to younger bands; if you want to see how it`s REALLY done, check out Magnum! These guys have been on a roll since their return in 2001, and “Wings Of Heaven-Live” is yet another career highlight. Highest recommendation possible!!! [The album is dedicated to the memory of former Magnum drummer Kex Gorin, who sadly passed on in December 2007]

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