New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: iron maiden

Icon of Sin Put an Expertly Cynical, Smart Update on a Classic Metal Sound

Brazilian band Icon of Sin play a surreal blend of gritty, anthemic late 70s acid rock and early 80s British metal. They take the spirit of early Iron Maiden to its logical conclusion, but with more original and tuneful songcraft than most heavy riff acts. Frontman Raphael Mendes sings in English, in an operatic Bruce Dickinson baritone with a sinister wink. Beyond the drama, it’s not often obvious what he’s singing about, adding to the surrealistic factor. Bassist Caio Vidal plays with a Steve Harris snap, but closer to the ground. Likewise, drummer CJ Dubiella keeps the drive straight-ahead and uncluttered. Guitarists Sol Perez and Mateus Cantaleãno play catchy, anthemic changes with soloing that’s flashy enough to draw some blood but not so much that it becomes a cartoon. Their new album, streaming at Spotify, is one of the first rock records so far with the guts to tackle the ugly consequences of the lockdown, even if they do that opaquely.

They open with their brisk, propulsive theme song: hey, if you’re going to sin, you might as well do it iconically. The second track, Road Rage is an even harder-charging, thrashy number: run to the hills in your tricked-out Toyota. The guitar chords grow fangs but get even catchier in Shadow Dancer, which seems to be a celebration of all the things that can only be found when the sun goes down.

Unholy Battleground is a heavy biker rock tune in a Death Wheelers vein, peaking out with a tasty, bluesy solo: a war-on-terror critique, maybe. Nightbreed is just as grimly anthemic, a big backbeat tune with tinges of 80s goth.

Is the lickety-split, Motorhead-inspired Virtual Empire a cynical commentary on the lockdowners’ attempt to take all human interaction online, where they can spy on you 24/7, Chinese Communist style? It would seem so. The band keep things in the here and now with the even more corrosive Pandemic Euphoria, which could be the UK Subs at the peak of their metal phase. The album’s best and most epic track is Clouds Over Gotham, shifting between gentle, early Genesis-tinged interludes, a fullscale stampede and nightmarish symphonic angst…but if Mendes’ prophecy comes true, we will rise again!

Arcade Generation is a steady, midtempo metal take on Stiv Bators’ old observation about how video games train the kids for war. The band turn Japanese for a moment in The Last Samurai, with its elegant folk-tinged intro and rapidfire, bellicose Asian riffage. They nick a classic early 80s Maiden sound for in The Howling and stick with it for the closing cut, Survival Instinct. Let’s hope they survive to make another album as good as this one.

A Strangely Anthemic, Crushing Blend of Styles From the Aptly Named Evil Drive

If you’re a metal fan, you probably wouldn’t think that death metal vocals, ornate Iron Maiden-style tunesmithing and retro 80s guitar flash would make much sense together. Evil Drive’s new album Demons Within – streaming at Spotify – is a mashup of all of that. It’s the kind of record where your first reaction is WTF. Forty-tive minutes and ten tracks later, it suddenly hits you that you’re still listening.

Take this evil drive and you’ll get it. The intro to the first cut is so predictable it’s funny – except that’s stiletto heels stalking the pavement, not leather boots. Frontwoman Viktoria Viren does the nails-down-the-throat rasp in English over the thrash of guitarists J-P Pusa and Ville Viren, bassist Matti Sorsa and drummer Antti Tani, until they slow down for a second for the chorus.

Track two, Chains is a strangely catchy blend of hardcore/thrash rhythms, peak-era Maiden and sly, showoffy 80s guitar tapping. It’s easy to imagine Bruce Dickinson doing his operatic thing over the ornate, symphonic changes of the title cut, peaking out with an Arabic-tinged guitar solo midway through.

The band go back to the thrashy verse/lushly orchestral chorus template for Revenge, with gritty, scrambling leads and tricky rhythmic changes. We Are the One – an original, not the punk classic by the Avengers – is a big, stampeding Run to the Hills-type anthem, the longest and best song on the album.

Stun-gun staccato and searing twin leads threaten to take Too Wild off the rails. Lords, the next track, is the big hit, a more crazed take on gloomily anthemic European stadium metal.

The machinegunning assault reaches a peak with more than a hint of horror surf in Bringer, then with the ninth track, In the End, we finally get a fractured ballad – who would have expected to find elegant twelve-string picking on an album like this? They close it with Ghost, which with its stampeding drive and total Powerslave-era Maiden guitar duel is anything but ghostly.

There isn’t a single idea on this record that hasn’t been used before, but nobody’s figured out how to put them all together like this band. Raise your lighter to the hope that we can see them in one of those stadiums they ought to be playing this summer.

Saluting Lavishly Orchestral European Metal Cult Favorites Royal Hunt

Not to flog a dead horse, but more bands should make live albums. Swedish band Royal Hunt made a massive double live one, sarcastically titled Wasted Time, for their 25th anniversary back in 2016 and validated their reputation as road warriors. If epic drama, gothic imagery, and melodic metal with classical flourishes are your thing, crank this beast. It’s one long album – every song seems to be about eight minutes – and it’s streaming at Spotify.

What’s most impressive is how ornate and orchestral this music is: they don’t really strip much of anything down from their lavish studio productions. A rattle from Andreas Passmark’s bass, a few bursts from Andre Andersen’s string synth, a couple of Jonas Larsen minor-key guitar chords, a few baroque spirals…and the band launch into their classical-metal instrumental Martial Arts. Before you know it, they segue into the galloping River of Pain with its flangey twin guitars, surreallistically icy keyboard flourishes and tantalizingly sunbaked blues.

This take of One Minute Left to Live is part grand guignol Mozart, a little Viking chant and a lot of Iron Maiden. Take the distortion off the guitar but leave the wah-wah, get Habo Johansson’s drums to chill and suddenly Army of Slaves becomes a Donna Summer disco-pop hit with a dude (that’s DC Cooper) on the mic.

So far the band haven’t taken a break as they segue into Lies, a surreal mashup of AC/DC, speedmetal and the baroque. They finally do before the album’s title track, a new wave pop song on steroids.

Likewise, there’s an oldschool soul ballad bleeding through the crunch and roar of Heart on a Platter.

The doublebass drum really gets a workout in Flight; but first they kick this Trans-Siberian Orchestra-ish sprint off with a rockabilly shuffle. And just when May You Never Walk Alone seems like it’s going to be a power ballad, the guitars and string synth kick in and take it doublespeed.

The album’s best song, Until the Day, appears toward the end of the show: with its funereal piano, it’s the closest thing to Pink Floyd here. By now, the concert has hit a peak and the band keep it going with the phantasmagorical Half Past Loneliness. The accusatory anthem Message to God makes a good segue from there.

They encore with a comfortable take of the catchy early 80s-style Stranded and close the show in a similar vein with A Life to Die For. Some people will hear this and roll their eyes at this relic from the days when there were big record labels who spared no detail in recording stuff like this…but that’s their loss.

The Goners Mash Up Garage Rock and Powerpop with Classic Heavy Riffage

The Goners play an individualistic brand of heavy rock that’s slinkier and more focused than most bands in the style. Unlike most heavy bands, their rhythm section – bassist Aaron Miller and drummer Aaron Smith – really swing (although Geezer Butler and Bill Ward swung like hell too). And the group don’t use a lot of guitar effects: just overdriven amps and some growly treble on the bass, and that’s pretty much it. Their latest album Good Mourning – streaming at Bandcamp – is a blend of doom metal, garage rock and more opaque indie sounds.

The first track, Are You Gone Yet is basically a garage rock tune souped up with some tasty chromatics and a sunbaked wah guitar solo. High Low and Never In Between is a chunky riff-rocking Sabbath homage, more or less, with a couple of pinwheeling, doublespeed guitar solos.

They go back to a garage rock stomp for World of Decay, then hit a gallop with Evil Is Not Enough, a twisted tale of hooking up with a groupie. After that, they take an unexpected and successful detour into loping southwestern gothic with Good Ol’ Death and return to swaying riff-rock with The Sickening, with a nasty, tremolo-picked guitar solo out.

The most bizarre song here is Down and Out, a mashup of the Ventures and early Iron Maiden, with a spacy interlude for trumpet. Likewise, the mashup of Stooges and crunchy Sabbath in You Better Run is pretty weird, up to the album’s best and most allusively menacing guitar solo. With its punchy changes and watery analog chorus-box solos, The Little Blue reminds of Da Capo-era Arthur Lee.

The band go back to a surreal mix of spaghetti western, surf rock and hints of Radio Birdman to close the album with Dead in the Saddle (Dead Moon). Some fans of heavier sounds are going to hear frontman/guitarist Nate Gone’s flat, off-key vocals and the lithe, supple grooves of this music and find it insubstantial. But leave your mind open and you just might get into this.

Summoner Put Out the Best Heavy Psychedelic Album of 2020

When Summoner recorded their set at the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year, were they even planning on releasing it? Did they have any idea that it would turn out to be the best heavy psychedelic rock record of the year?

It’s been desperate times, desperate measures for most artists this year. There’s never been such a deluge of archival live recordings dumped on the web, since studios have been officially put on ice by the lockdowners. Some of those albums are dodgy, but a surprising number are top-shelf and Summoner’s Live at Day of Doom – streaming at Bandcamp – is the best of the bunch. It’s amazing how this band manage to sound so unhinged yet so tight.

No overdubs, no punching in to fix mistakes: they’re in their element, playing through St. Vitus’ magnificently loud (and now tragically silent) PA system to a pretty rapt crowd. What immediately hits you about their performance is the subtle touches. For example, the way frontman Chris Johnson’s bass slithers up into the highs over the fanged guitar riffage of the opening number, Skies of the Unknown. That’s foreshadowing. He’ll do that later, especially toward the end, when he isn’t playing with a gritty, growling tone…or detuning his E string for the slashingly Arabic-tinged Into the Abyss.

Even though Summoner don’t sound much like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you can see they’ve built off those groups’ best ideas to make something completely new. Listen to how guitarists AJ Peters and Joe Richner play their twin leads with a powerglide sleekness on that opening number. They’ll do that again in the evil, slurry chords of The Interloper over drummer Scott Smith’s stampede.

Counterintuitively, the centerpiece of the show is not an upbeat number but a slow, epically spare, almost ten-minute take of Let the Light In. It’s closer to Nektar or Desert Flower than, say, Mastodon, lingering jangle and clang rising to crushing waves. The eerily glimmering tremolo-picking and surreal flanged contrast between Peters and Richner’s guitars will send your natural opiates through the roof.

The chromatics get more sinister in The Prophecy: Johnson’s melodic approach essentially gives the band three lead guitarists. Textures spiral and roar and scream throughout the anthemic, galloping Horns of War. The band wind up the set with Conjuring, their Children of the Grave, with seamonster bass piercing the surface and a tantalizing exchange of solos. Every band this good – and there are hundreds of them around the world – needs to make a live album like this.

Slashing, Anthemic, Melodic Metal From Rising Steel

French band Rising Steel play ferociously melodic, shapeshifting mid-80s style European metal. The obvious influence is Iron Maiden. Like that foundational NWOBHM band, these guys typically take a symphonic approach beyond any kind of simple verse/chorus patterns or blues progressions. They like big crushing hooks, their guitar solos have fangs, and nobody in the band wastes notes. Their album Fight Them All is streaming at Spotify.

They open at a machinegunning pace with Mystic Voices, veering back and forth between Motorhead and Maiden, with what sounds like a recurrent Bloodrock reference: these guys obviously know their source material. Frontman Emmanuelson delivers the requisite Viking operatics over the two-guitar attack of Mat Heavy Jones and Tony Steel and the surprisingly lithe rhythm section of bassist Flo Dust and drummer Steel Zard.

The album’s title track has bleak, crunchy chromatic guitars over a catchy, relentlessly galloping pulse. Steel Hammer could be British oi punk legends the UK Subs with more menacing chords, at least until they take the song halfspeed, and then out with a classic Maiden-ish charge.

They slow things down for a little while with Blackheart, but don’t hold back on the doomy chromatics. The stampede continues with Savage and segues with a swirl into the icily macabre Gloomy World, a surreal mashup of Maiden, Sabbath and piledriver postrock.

Malefice has a straightforward vintage Metallica drive, while Metal Nation is the album’s thrashiest number, and also one of its angriest ones, a furious call for unity against repression.

It’s surprising how few bands have ever done a song called Pussy: count Rising Steel among the few and the proud. Turns out that they don’t even use the word in this unexpectedly lighthearted party anthem.

They go back to thrashy punkmetal with Led By Judas and wind up the album on more of a Metallica style note with the steady, rampaging Master Control. Darkly anthemic heavy music doesn’t get much more memorable than this in 2020.

Mighty Classically-Influenced Metal from Merkabah

Quebecois band Merkabah‘s latest album Ubiquity – streaming at Bandcamp– deserves to be ubiquitous this Halloween. It’s a mammoth, symphonically orchestrated blend of dive-bomber metal and apocalyptic art-rock. They distinguish themselves not only with their haunting tunesmithing but also frontwoman Jacinthe Poulin’s elegant presence on vocals.

The moody, high-romantic introduction to the opening cut, Mythomania, doesn’t give much indication of the Iron Maiden machinegunning to come. The second song, Divine Sparks has a Run to the Hills gallop: drummer Nicolas Bilodeau’s pummeling attack iss closer to the ground.  The twin soloing from axemen François Vachon and Raynald Brochu , the wah guitar oscillations and Louis Doyon’s tumbling bass are pure, skunky, vintage 80s NWOBHM deliciousness.

Red Letter Days would be a gorgeous song even if it wasn’t as heavy: with the clangy reverb guitar, Tschaikovskian piano and smoky organ, vintage Blue Oyster Cult is a reference point. Circles of Decay is phantasmagorical circus metal: imagine peak-era Metallica with an organ and a creepy punk undercurrent.

With its desolate flute and acoustic guitar textures, Brothers From the Seed of Cain is a brooding, potently relevant refugee tale. Opening with a shriek of organ, all stops out, Deadly Prophets of the Printed Page is the album’s most cinematically macabre track,.

Agartha is an unselfconsciously gorgeous, mythically-influenced Scandinavian gothic anthem. The album closes with the thunderously blustering, epic instrumental title cut, which turns out to be the most traditional metallic and also the most traditionally classical track here. If this stuff is too scary for you, you should be watching Barney reruns instead.

A Killer Album from Melodic Metal Band The Lords of Black

Are Trans-Siberian Orchestra a Halloween band? How about Iron Maiden? If you answered yes to both questions, you need to crank the Lords of Black‘s album, simply titled II – streaming at Spotify – at least once this month. If either of those first two groups are your thing, you will probably find yourself blasting this many times. Although there’s plenty here that’s definitely Halloweenish, taken as a whole it comes across as a requiem, more sadness and resignation than venom amidst the bursts and blasts.

While the band’s obvious influence, from Ronnie Romero’s grand guignol vocals, to the machinegunning guitar multitracks of Tony Hernando, is classic mid-80s Maiden, there’s also plenty of bluster and cumulo-nimbus ambience from the synthesized orchestration. Javi Garcia’s ammering bass riffage over Andy C’s bludgeoning drums complete the picture. The cemetery graphics on the album cover give pretty much everything away. And the album’s opening instrumental interlude, Malevolently Beautiful, with its towering twin-guitar attack, makes a solid launching pad for the pummeling first song, Merciless.

The band launches into the fiery anthem Only One Life Away with a tricky icepick rhythm, then the guitars intertwine like martyrs burning at the stake before one spirals away toward Eddie Van Halen territory later on – Hernando isn’t necessarily subtle, but he’s mightily impactful. By contrast, Everything You’re Not opens with unexpectedly pop-oriented piano before the guitars kick in and the storm begins to rage.

New World’s Coming has Exorcist Theme-like piano tinkling evilly behind the guitar crush: call this overhype, but when the volleys of eight-notes kick in, it hits you: this could be a great Maiden track from, say, Powerslave. The band oscillates in and quickly hits a staggering gallop with Cry No More, a toweringly elegaic shout-out to “broken heroes that can’t take it anymore.” Tears I Will Be keeps the drama going full tilt with more of a straight-up, volleying drive, some serious chromatic menace and Adrian Smith-like sprints down the fretboard (and a real Spinal Tap moment on the first chorus – it’s hilarious, and probably not intentional).

The band pulls back, but just a little bit, with Insane, a midtempo minor-key burner. Live By the Lie, Die By the Truth kicks off as what would have been the most likely track to get radio airplay if this was 1985, but by midway through, the savage volleys of tremolo-picking make it the album’s heaviest cut.

Ghost of You is the album’s most epic track: baroque acoustic guitar and toxic atmospherics mingle with a grimly wary dirge, shades of Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The Art of Illusion Part III: The Wasteland makes a good segue: it’s the ghost riders really soaring through the smoky skies, with some tasty phaser effects. The final cut is the defiantly heroic Shadows of War: assaultive as this band is, war is the last thing they want, as Romero’s Brian Johnson-like scream at the end makes more than clear.

Everyone in the group plays with searing chops. Throughout the album, the production has a magnificence drenched in icy digital reverb: the bass really kicks in when Garcia slams out chords as a chorus reaches combustion point, and the drums are tastefully back in the mix, vinyl record style. As melodic metal goes in 2016, it’s hard to imagine anything more fun than this.

A Walk in the Dark with Mary Halvorson

What’s the likelihood of getting to see guitarist Mary Halvorson trading riffs with pedal steel icon Susan Alcorn, building an alchemical stew from there? Along with a familiar and similarly-minded crew including erudite trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson; polymath trombonist Jacob Garchik; the even more devious Jon Irabagon on alto sax; tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her irrepressible deadpan wit; groovemeister bassist John Hebert, and potentially self-combustible drummer Ches Smith? It’s happening tonight and tomorrow night, December 15-16 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM when Halvorson leads this killer octet at the Jazz Gallery. Cover is $22.

Who’s the best guitarist in jazz? Pretty much everybody would probably say Bill Frisell. But how about Halvorson? Within the past year or so, she’s released a drolly noisy, politically spot-on art-rock record with People as well as a methodically-paced, texturally snarling trio album by her Thumbscrew trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, al the while appearing on a slew of other artists’ records. To get an idea of what she’s likely to do with a larger crew alongside her, your best reference point is probably her moodily orchestrated 2013 septet masterpiece, Illusionary Sea (Spotify link).Halvorson’s latest album, Meltframe – streaming at Firehouse Records – is a solo release, a playlist of radically reinvented standards and covers by colleagues who inspire her, tracing something of a career arc for an artist who rather dauntingly hasn’t reached her peak yet.

What’s most striking here is how sad, desolate and often utterly Lynchian these songs are. Halvorson’s own material is hardly lighthearted, but her sardonic sense of humor so often shines through and shifts the dynamics completely. She doesn’t do that here: it’s a raptly bleak and occasionally harrowing late-night stroll, almost a challenge as if to say, you think you really know me? This is me with my glasses off. The material spans influences readily identifiable in Halvorson’s own compositions, including the AACM pantheon, similarly off-the-hinges guitarists past and present, the blurry borders of rock and jazz songcraft…and Ellington.

The album opens with a carefree but blazing fuzztone bolero-metal take of fellow six-stringer Oliver Nelson’s Cascades. Avant jazz singer Annette Peacock’s original recording of Blood is a lo-fi, careless mess of a vignette: Halvorson’s take is twice as long, segueing out and then back into the previous cut in a brooding flamenco vein, distortion off and the tremolo up to maintain the menace.

She shifts gears, sticking pretty close to the wistful pastoral shades of guitarist Noel Akchote’s Cheshire Hotel, but with a lingering, Lynchian unease that rises toward fullscale horror as it goes along. Ornette Coleman’s Sadness blends hints of the gloomy bridge midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner into its moody modalities, an apt setup for her lingering deep-space/deep-midnight interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Solitude.

Ida Lupino, a Carla Bley tune originally recorded by her husband Paul Bley, returns to a nebulous Spanish tinge amid the hazy, strummy variations on Sonic Youth-style open chords, Halvorson playing clean with just the hint of reverb. She keeps that setting as she spins, spirals and then lets her chords hang around McCoy Tyner’s Aisha, one of the more deviant interpretations here. Then she cuts loose with a brief blast of distortion and saunters off toward the deep end of the pitch-shifting pool.

Platform, a Chris Lightcap composition, gives Halvorson a stepping-off point for some gritty crunch and wryly Maidenesque grand guignol. When, by Fujiwara plays off a loop of enigmatically chromatic chords; it sounds like something a drummer might write on an unfamiliar instrument. The album closes with a pensively pitch-shifted, Dave Fiuczynski-esque cover of Roscoe Mitchell’s Leola. Guitar jazz doesn’t get any more individualistic or intense than this in 2015.

Ruby the Hatchet Headline a Killer Triplebill at the Acheron

One thing that jumps out at you when you take a look at what’s happening out of town is that New York hardly has a monopoly on good multiple-band bills. For example, back on the 17th, intense Philadelphia psychedelic metal band Ruby the Hatchet played on a hometown quadruplebill with a couple of the bands – Slow Season and Mondo Drag – who SLAYED at St. Vitus this past Saturday. More about that inspiring night here momentarily. In the meantime, Ruby the Hatchet have moved on to a kick-ass triplebill, headlining at around 10 at the Acheron on July 24. Excellent retro 70s stoner band the Golden Grass – who add boogie and some unexpected blues to their riff-driven attack – play beforehand at around 9. The eclectic, interesting Iyez – who blend dreampop and noisy postrock into their reverbtoned lo-fi assault – open the night at 8. Cover is $10

Ruby the Hatchet’s new album, Valley of the Snake, is streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with Heavy Blanket, Sean Hur’s organ rising out of the mist, introducing Michael Parise’s galloping bass, then the rest of the group – guitarist John Scarps, drummer Owen Stewart and frontwoman Jillian Taylor – kick in. The vibe brings to mind early Maiden, back when they were more straightforward, less artsy. That, or Deep Purple without the hippie-dippy bullshit.

The second track, Vast Acid goes in the same direction, a catchy, swaying anthem fueled by Scarps’ terse multitracks. Taylor’s vocals are strong, with a bent, bluesy edge, but not going over the edge into Janis Joplin cliches. “I will cut you down, down, down,” is the mantra.

Tomorrow Never Comes, the album’s best track, is a haunting, apocalyptic, practically nine-minute epic, teasing the listener with a flamenco-tinged guitar intro before Scarps’ crushing riffage takes over and then eventually hits a cruelly stampeding pulse. Hur’s atmospheric keys are a neat touch. Mos Generator’s classic The Late, Great Planet Earth is a good comparison.

The Unholy Behemoth looks straight back to Sabbath, slow and doomy before it picks up with Iommi-style, bludgeoning blues riffage: it’s a trip to hear a woman singing this stuff. Ozzy, eat your heart out! Likewise, Taylor’s ominous harmonies max out the ethereal menace in the briskly pulsing, Blue Oyster Cult-ish Demons. It would make a good, heavier segue with, say, Burning For You. The album’s final cut is the title track, wryly making jangly psych-folk out of a very familiar Beatles theme before it rises toward Led Zep grandeur. One of the coolest things about this is that you can get it on cassette for the bargain price of $6.66. No joke.