Black Widow-"Satan`s Playground"-2003

Still MORE evidence that the US Metal scene [REAL Metal, that is!] is alive, kickin`, and screamin`!! Maryland, USA`s very own Black Widow came together in 1997 and are now among the stateside Metal mongers manning the front lines to take back the glorious Metal name from those sorry-ass Nu Metal pretenders-to-the-throne! The band is; Tommy Azzinaro (drums), Dean Meredith (bass), Johnny Anthony (guitar) and Cat (vocals). The music on their debut, "Satan's Playground", reminds me at times of Dokken's "Tooth And Nail" crossed with "Screams In The Night"-era Hellion; Black Widow make NO apologies for their love of `80s` Metal, and why SHOULD they?! There ain`t no rapping, scratching or turntables HERE, boys `n` girls, just 12 fist pumpin`, neck snappin` Metal anthems, and it`s all GOOD for you, too! From the kick off track "Black Sunshine" [which features a great sing along chorus], to the mid paced "Ends Of The Earth" [my favorite, so far!], as well as the killer riffage of "BlackJack", "Winds Of Fire" [THE biker anthem for the 21st Century!], the ominous title track, the rousing "Heavy Metal Warriors" and all points in between, Black Widow hits all the right notes! The band are a well oiled machine [or engine of destruction, if you will], tearing through the tunes w precision AND professionalism. No slouches in THIS crew! The icing on the cake is the vocals of Cat; her voice goes from rough `n` ready to silky smoothe in a heartbeat! A perfect compliment to Johnny, Tommy and Dean's instrumental firepower. And though some may quibble about the production, I say so WHAT?! Gimme a fair production with great tunes and performances over perfect production and boring music ANY day!! With this album, Black Widow have begun spinning their web across the Metal Underground, and once it snares you, you will NOT escape; you won`t want to, either!! Highest possible recommendation!! [Thanks Cat & crew, for the birthday greetings!!]

Black Widow

Tonka-"...this present darkness"-2003/Powercage-"...a slave of sworded affluence"-2003 [Cover N/A]

Hailing from Norway, these two bands are the brainchildren of drummer Yngve Jacobsen. For those who think US Metal`s peak was in the mid `eighties, Powercage is DEFINITELY up your alley! "a slave under sworded affluence" has that late `seventies/early `eighties Metal vibe that recalls early Judas Priest, Uli Jon Roth-era Scorpions, and various NWOBHM; the song-writing overall is more Heavy Rock than strictly Metal, which is a refreshing change!:) Thick, pounding, bluesy riffs and sparse, uncluttered production [unlike many of today`s Power Metal] give Powercage a distinct edge over their peers, as heard on tracks like "Darkness Falls", "Cries of the Damned" and "Bringer of Hope". You shouldn`t label Powercage as a nostalgia act; this band is simply paying homage to a classic era in Metal while at the same time acknowledging their roots, loudly and proudly! Next we have "this present darkness" by Tonka. This album at times borders on late `eighties Thrash Metal; bands like Forbidden and especially Coroner come to mind. But Tonka aren`t strictly Thrash because like Powercage, they draw from a variety of influences to give the music their own personal stamp. The eight tunes are somewhat technical at times, but not so much that you lose interest. Quite the contrary, you`ll be left wanting MORE! And between these two killer discs, I think more is just what Yngve`s gonna give us! Highest possible recommendation! [Cheers and thanks to Yngve for these 2 GREAT discs! Hopefully I`ll get to Norway in the near future and we can jam!:)]


Moonstone-"The Second Rune"-2003

Get ready for another French Revolution! Or, to be more precise, a French Metal Revolution. This one will be considerably less bloody [unless you happen to be one of those Nu Metal morons who think Limp Bizkit is "Metal"!], but no less influential. And no doubt leading the pack will be Moonstone! "The Second Rune" is, approriately enough, the band`s second release, and while their S/T debut was a fine slab of Euro Power Metal, this new album is better in EVERY way; filled to the brim with fire, fury, power, passion, EVERYTHING that European Power Metal SHOULD be! "The 13th" kicks things off with a BLAST! Based on the movie "The 13th Warrior" [one of my favorite films!], Moonstone could not have picked a better opening track; hell, they should re-release "The 13th Warrior" and include this tune on the soundtrack! From that point onward, it`s headbangers heaven; the anthemic "Heart On Heart", "Mindlord" [featuring an incredible vocal performance by Paula Guittard] "Run" [if this song doesn`t get your blood pumping, you MUST be dead!!] heart-wrenching "You`re Leaving Me" the fist pumping "Burning Fire" Based in part on the movie "From Hell" [another fave flick of mine; this band has taste!], the Maiden-esque "Pure Evil" is another addition to the growing collection of Metal songs about Whitechapel`s favorite son, Jack The Ripper, and is easily one of the BEST tracks on the album! [dunno why I threw in the Iron Maiden reference; Maiden haven`t sounded this good in years!] Closing the album with a bang is "I`m Back", another neck snapper. Actually, you shouldn`t consider this the closing track, `cause as soon as the CD is finished playing, you WILL be hitting the "Play" button again, and again, and.... The band is: Paula Guittard on vocals, Mikylee on drums, Emilien Vincent on lead guitar, Franck Vidal on rhythm guitar, and Gilles Lesoin on bass. The whole band are top class musicians, especially Paula; it is her vocals, as well as her lyrics, that give Moonstone their special character. But make no mistake, this is THE definitive Moonstone lineup; NO weak links in THIS chain! The production on "The Second Rune", as well as the performances, help make this album one of THE Metal albums of the 21st century! Vive Le France! [Merci a thousand times over to Mikylee for sending me the disc!!!]


Stranglehold-"World Part II"-2003

Belgium`s very own STRANGLEHOLD have returned with the follow-up to their 6 song 2002 demo; so was it worth the wait? You BET!!! The band is; vocalist Rik Wullaert, guitarist Lorenzo Augusti, Corina Stokmans on drums. [various session bassists were employed for the recording]. All of the songs on the aforementioned demo have been re-recorded here, and there are 2 new tracks [plus 1 cover tune] as well. "World Part II" kicks things off in grandiose fashion with an almost symphonic intro which gives way to a crunching mid-paced riff. Another new cut, "The Voyage Home" is easily my favorite, with a great chorus and Lorenzo`s KILLER guitar work! [Lyrics to "The Voyage Home" were written by Cee of Iron Rain!] The last song is a cover of Megadeth`s "Moto Psycho", and this version will make you wanna push the pedal to the metal while you`re crankin` it up in your car! The newer recordings of earlier STRANGLEHOLD favorites ["Goodbye", "Sands Of Time", "Antarctica", "Like A Ghost", "Monster"] are only improved upon in their latest incarnations; the band have refined and expanded on these tunes, while still retaining that NWOBHM/early `eighties US Metal feel that give this band such a distinctive sound, and that make STRANGLEHOLD one of the best and brightest Metal acts of the 21st century. Now for God`s sake, will someone PLEASE SIGN THIS BAND!!!??? To order their latest release, check out their official website. [Looking forward to that jam, Lorenzo!!:)]


Iron Rain-"Sardonic"-2002

With a name like Iron Rain, you probably assumed [like I did] that the music wold be along the lines of standard Melodic Power Metal, right? And like me, you were wrong! Truth is, this Eureka, California-based band defies being pigeonholed into a musical corner; the music is Iron Rain, take it or leave it! In existence since 1993, "Sardonic" is their second release; the album was written, produced and [for the most part] engineered, as well as mastered by the band themselves. And in true DIY fashion, the CD cover, booklet, as well as the photography and packaging was done by the band, as well! [and a fine piece of work it is, too!] The band at this time consists of vocalist Cee and guitarist Beigh, as well as whatever musicians they can find who share their vision. Musically, Iron Rain are more in the Hard Rock vein, with Sabbath style riffage at times sharing space with Pink Floyd-ish arrangements. Great care was obviously taken to ensure that each tune stood apart from one another. But one of the more striking features of this band is their lyrical approach, which are at time politically charged and of a high social conciousness not heard these days. Nothing like the mindless whining we were subjected to from the early `ninties grungers, or the junior high tantrums being passed off as music by all the Nu Metal mooks! This band actually has something to say, and they do so in an intelligent, at times sarcastic wit. NOT easy, but the band pulls it off! But Iron Rain don`t get bogged down in their message, either; the tracks here are melodic, memorable, and rock like HELL! But it`s their conviction that impresses me the most; trends mean squat them, and they stand up for their personal beliefs, no matter what. And isn`t THAT what Metal was originally all about? If more artists shared their philosophy, maybe the music industry wouldn`t be in the dismal state it`s in! Iron Rain is a band you either love or hate [I`m in the former!!]; there is no middle ground. And they wouldn`t have it any other way! DEFINITELY worth checking out, so go to the band`s official site for more info! [A hearty thanks to Cee and Beigh for the disc!:)]

Iron Rain
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