The Sword - Warp Riders
Released: August 24 Genre: Heavy metal/hard rock Label: Kemado
I have a hard time listening to The Sword without thinking that they must be the bastard child of Kiss, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. I swear, half the time I think that they're going to break into either Highway Star any minute now. Although that feeling somewhat fades after a handful of listens and Warp Riders develops a charming personality of its own. To say that the album and the band is a nod to the good ol' 70s hard rock/primal metal acts is an understatement, it's more of a full bow.
A seasoned metal listener will probably not be blown away by Warp Riders and its standard-yet-classy rhythms, classic rock soloing or Cronise's vocals (that sounds like a cross between Ozzy and modern Hetfield, at least to these ears), but one might be surprised that an album that is so deeply entrenched in an era long gone can sound so honest and full of life.
While not every song is a hit, the flow and charm of Warp Riders is undeniable. If you end up buying it based on this review yet somehow don't like it, at least you can stare at the gorgeous artwork.
Black Label Society - Order of the Black
Released: August 10 Genre: Metal/rock Label: Roadrunner
Zakk Wylde is the type of guy that divides a crowd, you either love him or you hate him. I've always had a soft spot for the guy and quite like his style, even though he both turned me onto, and a few years later off pinch harmonics.
It's been a fair few years since I listened to a BLS album for an extended period of time (Mafia, 2005 actually) and at first glance it doesn't seem like much has changed. Nor at the second or third for that matter, and while BLS have their (well, Zakk's) style and sound it's somewhat saddening to see how little has changed. The same-y sound from song-to-song makes me want do either of these two things: sit on my porch with a bottle of JD and a shotgun (that's the good one), or turn it off. Order Of The Black is the type of album where I deem that the glass is half-full, because sometimes the quality song is there and sometimes it is not.
If Zakk is your God, then this is probably the album for you. If he's a cool guitarist/songwriter, then this might be the album for you and if he is someone you couldn't care less for, well...
Mar de Grises - Streams Inwards
Released: August 30 Genre: Melodic/progressive doom Label: Season of Mist
Chile is not a country known for its steady stream of metal bands, but thanks to fellow writer Duncan Geddes, Mar De Grises have come to my attention. The low-down on their sound would be that it is mostly doom, a touch of progressive and it is all very melancholic. I actually thought they were Finnish at first, since their sound is pretty, if not very similar to that of Swallow The Sun.
The album is short, only 31 minutes and that's definitely not a bad thing. Doom is one of those genres that turn pretty stale after 40-45 minutes but Streams Inwards is interesting and fresh all the way through. That being said, it's not reinventing the wheel, nor the genre so don't expect to be blown away if you're a veteran doom/death fan.
Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
Released: August 13 Genre: Heavy metal Label: EMI
There are only a handful bands in the metal world for which time seemingly stops when they release a new album. Iron Maiden are certainly one of those and whenever they release a new album it's a global event for the metal community. Much can be said about the band, but the first thing that comes to my mind is longevity. For most of us, from the day we were introduced to metal, there have been a select few constants and Iron Maiden is one of them.
As a listener who was far from impressed with "A Matter Of Life And Death", I did not expect much. That being said, "The Final Frontier" opens with one of the cooler things they've done in about twenty-or-so years. While "Satellite 15" somewhat outstays its welcome, it's a breath of fresh air compared to what we're used to from Maiden.
My primary complaints about Maiden post-reunion were a) the excess use of clean/acoustic intros to open AND close songs, as well as the constant one-line choruses repeated over and over. A third complaint would also be the production getting worse and worse as their relationship with Kevin Shirley got longer and longer. Hardcore fans might say that Maiden have always had quiet intros as a part of their sound, and that is most certainly true; however the number of quiet intros/outros on "Dance Of Death" and "A Matter Of.." outnumbered those on the first seven albums, by many (including me) regarded as their golden years. While Maiden have improved in the intro/outro and chorus department, they have actually gotten even worse when it comes to the production. "The Final Frontier" sounds far from final, and is on par with what most bands call demos these days. For a band that had the best productions in the 80's, it's quite a dip to now be so far below the average production value of today. As everybody knows, the band is getting quite old and while it really doesn't show much in terms of playing, there are places when it's pretty apparent. Somehow Steve Harris seems to think that Bruce Dickinson, while still a great vocalist, is still 24 years old. Some of the Harris-penned melodies are simply too much for Bruce, such as the nearly song-killing chorus in "Mother Of Mercy" where Dickinson sounds very strained.
Despite its problems, "The Final Frontier" contains some really good material. Guitarist Adrian Smith has fully assumed the position as the chief writer beside Harris and what a blessing that is for the band. From a guitar perspective, "The Final Frontier" is one of their most interesting since their heyday. To borrow a sports term, he is having a career year but despite that there are more variables that need to be in place to produce a good albumespecially if it's 76 minutes long.
Yes, "The Final Frontier" is a very long record and at times it certainly feels like it. Considering it's almost twice the length of the albums they used to put out in their creative prime, it's not exactly unlikely that it'd also be a bore-fest of Star Trekian proportions. Could a good 15-20 minutes have been trimmed to make the album a rock-solid release? Absolutely. To my ears, the album works very well for the first 45-50 minutes, with only "The Alchemist" and "El Dorado" being slightly lesser than the other tracks, but are still good, solid tunes. Perhaps it's the awesome combo of "Isle Of Avalon" and "Starblind" (the middle section is simply sublime) preceding the final trio, but those final songs do nothing for me. I would include "The Talisman" as one of the good/great songs if it weren't for those first 2 minutes killing all momentum they'd built up at that point. While the final songs have their moments, they are definitely a step down from the rest of the albumplus the fact that the main guitar melody in "When The Wild Wind Blows" (first occurring around 0:46) reminds me way too much of Nik Kershaw's 80s hit "The Riddle".
Despite everything, the album is undeniably solid and at this point in their career it's a huge achievement. It seemed as if they had tarnished their legacy (har-har) with "A Matter Of Life And Death" but they have most certainly redeemed themselves with this solid release.
Ps. Greatest metal band of all time.