Nightqueen-"For Queen And Metal"-2012

After releasing one demo and an EP, Belgian Power Metalists Nightqueen have unleashed their first full length CD, and it`s a beaut! Sure, “For Queen And Metal” won`t win any awards for originality, but who cares? If classy Euro Metal is what you crave, look no further. Though the arrangements feature lush keyboard backings to go along with the Metallic guitar crunch, which in turn accentuates the Gothic/Medieval/Romance lyrical imagery present on the eleven cuts. The album is also the debut of new vocalist Keely Larreina, who truly shines throughout. High quality production, and most importantly the bands` songwriting abilities make this album such a joy to listen to; check out “Nightfall”, “Mystical Nights”, “For Queen And Metal”, the awesome "Lady Fantasy", “Screaming for Mercy” and "Secret Of The Blind Man", or pretty much every other cut on the disc for proof. Nightqueen obviously care a great deal about their preferred style of music, and have crafted an album that will doubtless please almost any serious Metalhead. “For Queen And Metal” definitely belongs near the top of anyones` Top Metal Albums Of 2012. Two horns waaaaayyy up!!!


Angel Witch-"As Above, So Below"-2012

NWOBHM legends Angel Witch [basically, leader Kevin Heybourne and a plethora of different lineups] have been put into the grave more times than Dracula, and have risen from said grave just as often. For all the praise heaped upon them, the bands` reputation pretty much centers around their S/T 1980 debut, a fine slab of Metal that has influenced countless Metal bands, from Doom, Death, Thrash and all points in between. Yet while fellow NWOBHM acts like Leppard and Maiden [and to a lesser extent Saxon] went on to worldwide acclaim, Angel Witch became a victim of outside and [mostly] internal circumstances that brought the band to a sputtering halt while they were still on the launching pad. Since then, Heybourne`s attempted several times to get the band back on course, with mixed results. Thus in 2012, we find the lads giving it another go with the release of "As Above, So Below"; but THIS time, they`ve come a helluva lot closer to the bulls` eye. To be sure, it`s not quite up their with the 1980 debut, but it IS something of a throw-back to that disc; in fact, "As Above, So Below" should have been the follow-up to the first one, rather than the sometimes dodgy efforts in between. For the new CD, Angel Witch just decided to be Angel Witch, warts & all, resulting in eight cuts that mark a welcome return to form. Even the production has a definite Old School feel. Among my personal favorites are "Dead Sea Scrolls", "Into The Dark", "Gebura,", "Witching Hour" and "Brainwashed". Heybourne`s guitar work is in fine form, and even his vocals [usually a sore point] are alright. All told, a brilliant return to the fold for a group who never quite received their just desserts, a sad fact that "As Above, So Below" will surely rectify. Highly recommended!!

Angel Witch @ Metal Blade

Pretty Maids-"It Comes Alive-Maid In Switzerland"-2012

Danish Hard Rockers Pretty Maids are one of those bands that have you scratching your head and wondering why the HELL they aren`t more famous? For 30 years these guys have stuck to their guns and created some of the best Hard Rock tunes around, chock full of catchy riffs and melodies that SHOULD have propelled them to the top. Sadly, this never came about. But the last 10 years especially have been kind to the band and their most recent releases have garnered much critical acclaim and an ever more devoted following. The culmination of all is can be found on the recent CD/DVD combo "It Comes Alive: Maid In Switzerland". The CD and DVD feature the band recorded live in Pratteln, Switzerland to a large and enthusiastic crowd of die-hards fans. Pretty Maids are obviously in their element live, and though the guys aren`t exactly in the first flushes of youth, they have more fire and energy than most of the Hot Topic-clad Boy Bands posing as "Metal". Songwise, the band performs a cross section of their best material, classic AND current: "Hell On High Heels", "Walk Away", "Little Drops Of Heaven", "Yellow Rain" [my FAVORITE], "Future World", and "Savage Heart". Not a bum track to be found; the guys knew what the crowd wanted and gave it to `em! Core members Ronnie Atkins [vocals] and Ken Hammer [guitar] are fronting what is probably the best PM line-up to date, and each member gives a flawless performance. One of my favorite albums of 2012, and one that will no doubt propel Pretty Maids even further up the ladder; sure, they may never headline arenas in the US [although God knows they SHOULD be!], but I`ve a hunch that "It Comes Alive: Maid In Switzerland" will earn the band plenty of converts. How about YOU? [Is is just me, or does Ronnie Atkins look a LOT like Ray Simms, actor Bill Nighy`s character in the movie "Still Crazy"?]

Pretty Maids

Axel Rudi Pell-"Circle Of The Oath"-2012

After exiting Steeler in 1989, guitarist Axel Rudi Pell has released 15 studio albums [not counting various compilations, etc]; unlike many other artists with a long career, the German axe-smith has pretty much stayed consistent musically, not varying his style but still managing to keep it fresh. Such is the case with 2012s` "Circle of the Oath". Featuring the same line-up since 1999 [fronted by vocalist Johnny Gioeli], the new CD delivers everything the bands` rabid following has come to expect; straight forward Rock/Metal that exhudes class and intelligence at a time when such qualities are looked down upon by some of the more low-brow practitioners of the Metal form. "Ghost In The Black" and "Run with the Wind" kick things off in grand fashion, while Axel & crew go epic with the title track which, though brilliant, could have used a trim from its` 9:20 length. "Fortunes of War" is another winner, and really the whole album is great. While there certainly aren`t any surprises here, "Circle of the Oath" does give the fans exactly what they want, and isn`t that how it SHOULD be? Yet another feather in Axel Rudi Pells` cap, and another worthy addition to ARP fans collection!

Axel Rudi Pell

Gideon Smith And The Dixie Damned-"30 Weight"-2012

For a while now, the Heavy Rock world has been inundated with so-called "Outlaws" and dubious biker types who have classed their followers into "chapters", while pushing their stale beer, whiskey and overall badassery. Personally, I`m not too "Wylde" [heh heh] about this particular sub-genre, though loads of other people like it. All the tats, leather vests and torn Pantera T-shirts won`t mean Jack [Daniels] if you can`t deliver the goods, which most artists of this ilk cannot. Then there`s Gideon Smith. Gideon has released 2 CDs [as well as a couple of EPs] filled with his special mix of Heavy Rock, Stoner/Doom and Blues. Smith makes his music because he wants to, and more importantly, HOW he wants to, damn the trend setters, full speed ahead. Unlike the outlaw wannabes currently making the rounds in the mainstream, Gideon really IS an outlaw, doing what he loves; this honest, earnest approach is what draws people to his style of music. And now we have CD Number 3, "30 Weight". With the latest album, Gideon has expanded a bit on what he set down with the previous releases without veering from his original vision. The rockin` "Black Fire" is the lead off track, and things just keep getting better! "South" has an early Danzig feel, while "Love Of The Vampire" is just a total ass-kicker. Gideons` surprise cover of Saint Vitus "I Bleed Black" actually improves the original, I think. The stripped down "When I Die" showcases Gideons` versatility, while the Rockabilly-tinged "Come And Howl" closes out the album in fine fashion, though the tracks I`ve mentioned are but a few of the gems awaiting the listener, and you owe it to yourself to check out Gideon Smith, an artist who`s as real as it gets, and so is the music on 30 Weight"! [Special thanks to Gideon Smith and Scott Hamilton for the review copy once again!]
Gideon Smith
Reviews Index