With this year’s output, Shadowkiller marks their third full length. The first two albums were generally well received, at least by the few people that heard them. With their first outputs, the American trio brought a big scope of storytelling of war and myth and matching it with equally big sounding guitars and progressive leanings and with plenty of power. Guardians Of The Temple was released only a few days apart from main man Joe Liszt’s other band, Ancient Empire, released their fourth full length. But whereas Ancient Empire - seemingly Liszt’s main focus - was rather bland and uninteresting, he goes out of his way to deliver more in depth progressive thematic with Shadowkiller, while still telling similar stories of myth, legends and fantastic tales. Especially in comparison to the first two albums, the third one kicks major ass.
Without beating around the bush or draping it in fancy words, this is Shadowkiller’s strongest effort to date. No way around it, it is a fleshy, meaty album that should satisfy every need for rifftastic stateside power metal; there is little in the way of cheesy melodics or soaring choruses. Power chords and tasty riffs trade off with neat hooks and interesting leads, with bassist Dan Lynch’s input oozing with energy and character, driving his bass lines comfortably alongside Liszt’s riffing. They also don’t shy away from lengthy, bulky tracks, as evident from the opening two tracks, 1600 and The Last Templars, which mark a strong opening to the album as both songs compete for the title of album highlight, flashing heavy riffing with an old school touch, while staying in the fresh with deft storytelling.
Oddly enough, the least interesting track on the album is the title track, stowed away near the end of the album. While also showcasing some neat guitar harmonies and thriving riffage, it does little to the whole, such as behemoths like The Last Templars and straight up hammering power metal feast Into The Blight do. A downside would be that, while diverse in delivering goodly amounts of fleshy power metal, even in its best moments it has little in the way of emotive range; if Shadowkiller were to employ a keyboardist to add another level of depth to the already impressive soundscape, it might transform the sound and work wonders alongside Liszt’s thrifty guitars. Shadowkiller’s third full length release is an intriguing listen, and one that begs plenty of replays as it deals in a sort of gritty catchiness; an evenly strong album that’s sure to be a rivet in any murican power metal playlist.
Standout tracks: 1600, The Last Templars, Into The Blight
It Was Metal is a heavy as fuck album, in plenty of ways. And it might just be the best one so far by DC quartet A Sound Of Thunder. It is their seventh full length album in seven years (!), having released their unpolished debut Metal Renaissance in 2011 and hitting a high point in The Lesser Key Of Solomon in 2014. The last offering was a cover album, preceded by fairly generic Tales From The Deadside (2016). Now they seem to have hit their stride as It Was Metal hits most notes right, dealing furious guitar battling, rollicking riffage and flying solos with pinpoint accuracy and lots of cheesy fun along the way. One point where A Sound Of Thunder have always stood out is their storytelling. Every song is a story in its own right, be it based on comic books, occult myth or historic figures, and the lyrics portray the stories with depth, vocalist Nina Osegueda’s range and passion giving it the mood befitting the tone of the music.
Opening track Phantom Flight is a densely heavy duet between Osegueda and Accept frontman Mark Tornillo. a highlight on the album with its frantic rhythm play and the perfect match of the vocalists. Osegueda’s shrieks, closer in resemblance to older legends like Doro Pesch than her contemporary likes who would rather take their power metal in more symphonic routes, do well with the grittier, old school heavy style closer to that of Doro, Manowar, and the early heavy power outings of the 1980’s. Basically the only problem It Was Metal has is that it’s got a couple of filler songs, as well as putting the songs in the wrong order. The obvious way to start would be The Crossroads Deal, which in itself works as an intro to the title track, setting the old blues vibe perfectly for sealing the deal with the Devil to create heavy metal. You’ve got the larger than life epic stylistics of closer Fortress Of The Future Race and the electrifying riffage adding a touch of venom to Atlacatl and title track It Was Metal.
Josh Schwartz doesn’t sit idle as each track takes him in new directions, while still letting him play around and have obvious fun as he delivers solo after potent solo. Bass player and keyboardist Jesse Keen adds the deep, rumbling drive with in the first part, and sets the theme and the background atmosphere with the low key keyboard presence. Unfortunately a couple of low points are around; you have Second Lives, which is fairly stagnant, and the overlong Obsidian & Gold (Desdinova Returns), and Lifebringer could have been cut a minute or two. But nothing stands out as much as Tomyris. This is where the storytelling comes to a peak; dealing with the ancient Persian queen and major badass of the same name, where Osegueda portrays the role with conviction and coolness. The epic setting and the flowing drama sits well as the melodic metal that should sit well with any fan of traditional metal. A Sound Of Thunder deliver their potent declaration of love for old school heavy metal with ingenuity and precision, and it definitely is metal - heavy metal.
Standout tracks: Phantom Flight, Els Segadors (The Reapers), Tomyris
When Nils Patrik Johansson split with Civil War via Facebook post (classy) back in 2016 that never meant he was going to sit idle. Just a few months later he released a new full length with his main band, Astral Doors, and now once again he’s turned out another album, this time under his own name for the very first time, so what we get here is a very Johansson centric piece of metal, that focuses on just that - Johansson, and metal. Johansson is a great vocalist, there’s no way around that. With his Ronnie James Dio like style he’ll always be a great fit for the style and approach delivered here, and certainly there is some variation in the material to give him a bit of a run for his money. Big epics like Estonia and How The West Was Won stand in stark contrast to trilling heavy numbers like title track Evil Deluxe and more straight forward power metal tracks Dark Evolution that infuse more keyboards to recall the three Civil War albums.
The thing is, Johansson has been at his very best with Wuthering Heights, as the prog metal vibes and quirky twists fit his unique voice and style perfectly, but that’s not what we’re getting here. Evil Deluxe is a metal album by the numbers that feels more or less like a cash-in by alternating between songs that could well have been tossed on either a Civil War album or an Astral Doors one. It certainly has its moments and some more than ample tracks that get the whole concept of what the metal for metal’s sake thing is all about; rollicking riffage, thunderous drumming and over the top vocals about the glory of heavy metal. In that sense it’s a fun listen, but it never warrants a name of its own, since many of the tracks could have instead been worked into the Astral Doors discography. Listen up Johansson, you don’t want to sit around, you want to sing. Get Erik Ravn on the frickin’ phone and get us a sequel to Salt.
The first half of the album is good - not great, but good - brandishing the big sounding, melodic guitars that roll along with Johanssons voice. There’s certainly a likeable sound to the album, even though it sounds entirely un-new and like it could have been done by any other band within the same style. After September Black the albums kind of loses the momentum it had going. There are some thick riffs and neat melodies, but it doesn’t compare to the first half, which sounds wholly more inspired than the latter, which is more to the Astral Doors kind of Dio/Manowar inspired heavy power metal, rather than thick, epic power metal. Fans of Sabaton and Civil War style of heavy power metal or Astral Doors and their heavy metal antics alike should find a listenable tune or five among these twelve. In short, is this a bad album? No. Is it a necessary, memorable album that pushes the boundaries of what Nils Patrik Johansson is capable of? No. But it’s heavy metal, pure and simple, and at that, it certainly delivers.