Tomorrow's Outlook - A Voice Unheard

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Progressive Metal

Second full length from Arctic Circle Norwegians Tomorrow’s Outlook makes bold promises, aiming for a sound somewhere between Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Coming six years after debut album 34613 (2012) and a bunch of trouble getting the album on the shelves, A Voice Unheard finally hit the ears like a slap and a half in mid April. The album follows the concept of a coming dystopic future and the impending end of the world. Bleak as fuck to say the least, and certainly, the sound does capture this to some effect. The promised tinges of 80’s melodic leads with distinct rhythm fills are there, complete with the gallop rhythms and twisting solo intricacies. Add to that the melodics that hinge on power metal and some progressive elements that, while never taking the driver’s seat, helps elevate the music above average. While he’s certainly getting lots of help, Øystein Kvile Hanssen (Cyclophonia) and his riveting lead guitar dominates much of the sound. The bountiful instrumental lead passages see him make solemn magic throughout the album, and while bassist Andreas Stenseth adds the level of dignified density with his bass lines, Hanssen and his often catchy, often swiveling, always perfectly delivered leads and hooks mark the album in the greatest sense.

Tomorrow's Outlook - A Voice Unheard

Vocalist Tony Johannessen (Thunder) share vocal duties with none other than Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), who lends his magnificent vocal chords to six songs of the twelve. Arguably these songs are the strongest on the album; opener Within The World Of Dreams and epic single Fly Away. Scheepers voice has matured better than most, and his many recent guest sessions outside Primal Fear shows how well other styles suit him, the progressive heavy flair here hitting particularly hard. His soaring voice and high falsettos always seem to lead the music, rather than be lead by it, and it’s his input that makes the album truly stand out. That’s not to say Johannessen is by any means a bad vocalist; mid paced melodic romper Outlaw sees him driving the music well and following the leads of Hanssen quite well. Scheepers is just one notch above the rest, if not two. Still, with Scheepers you’re always getting Scheepers, so the variation with Johannessen tossed in as well is still a good thing, though I’d rather have seen a few more duets between the two - they lift each other hella good during the shared moments on title track A Voice Unheard - rather than shifting lead vocals between the tracks.

The album is finally concluded with two half interesting covers, of originals by Bruce Dickinson and Aria. These could rightly have been skipped entirely, or added as bonus tracks to those obscure Japanese album versions. Unmistakably, the most interesting material on the album is where the band members themselves get to shine, as their songwriting skills and musical chops are above the need for covers. There is so much here to appreciate; how the melodic vocals in Fly Away brightly contrast the galloping rhythms to the twister of a conclusion to the story, narrated by Danny Webb and emblazoned melancholically and epic both by Hanssen’s lead guitars. A Voice Unheard may not take a natural place in between the monumental greats that are Maiden and Priest, but with its bountiful melodic hooks, driving rhythms and interesting riffs it should be well received by fans of traditional metal, as well as fans of modern progressive and power metal. Despite a couple minor missteps and one or two lackluster tracks A Voice Unheard is a surprisingly high quality release, showcasing plenty of talent and passion for the craft. Here’s hoping for a sequel, to whatever end.

 

Standout tracks: Within The World Of Dreams, A Voice Unheard, Fly Away

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Tomorrow's Outlook - Far Away

Runelord - A Message From The Past

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

Hold on to your butt because with Swedish two man outfit Runelord we’re jumping straight into the stuff of legend. These guys just released their, let’s call it debut album, A Message From The Past, and it’s filled with lots of stuff that exemplifies what makes metal so goshdarn metal. Runelord’s massive sound can be described as a furious wall of unbridled heavy metal. The rifftastic onslaught delves from the epically pounding heaviness of Manowar or even Dio to the raging speed of early Running Wild or their latter day copycats Blazon Stone. The entire soundscape is infused with pounding rhythms and imagery that hearkens to the German speed-power scene that kicked off in the nineties. The likeness to Blazon Stone is of course fairly obvious, being as Runelord is yet another one of Cederick ‘Ced’ Forsberg’s projects, and he is of course the mainman of Blazon Stone (among a myriad of other projects). For Runelord he has brought in Georgy Peichev, most notable for being the vocalist on Blazon Stone’s second album, No Sign Of Glory (2015).

Runelord - A Message From The Past

By that point in time Blazon Stone were already beginning to feel somewhat tired, after a great debut in Return To Port Royal (2013). You could of course call A Message From The Past another Blazon Stone album, but it sounds more like something inspired by the likes of Running Wild, rather than a copycat effort, and has the intensity of early 2000’s Wizard (which is never ever a bad thing, mind you). The theme of the album is also different, dealing mostly with metal, battle, myth and Vikings, rather than pirates (which is also cool, but not if your name is Runelord). Now, when Ced’s mind is set on something it usually doesn’t stray; it’s been obvious on his previous outings and it’s obvious here. The entire album is dead centered on the same vision of fist pumping heavy metal, and while it certainly delivers that by the truckload, some dynamics would have been appreciated. Try for something more melodic to break against the speedy approach or a softer touch in an interlude; variation gives flavor, and that’s basically the only area where A Message From The Past falters.

As for what the album does give, it does it pretty damn good with plenty of furious grit in Ced’s guitars and brimming bass lines. Among the album’s finest moments standsWar All Against All; a lick of fire breathing fury, packed with speedy riffs and gritty lead guitar setting the mood from the get-go. The epic chorus brings the best work of Peichev found on the album, bringing shouts like those of Sven D’Anna (Wizard). There’s also tracks like Valkyries Eternal Winter, The Wisdom Of Steel and closer Beyond The Epos that just pound with a mighty war hammer the fleshy rumbling of Ced’s guitars and the larger than life epic vocals of Peichev, mightily delivered with tasteful layered vocals in the choruses. While plenty of the inspiration is taken from the same areas and there are the obvious similarities in the sound, the final product that is Runelord’s first full length does not sound like a Blazon Stone offering; it’s a straightforward album with no time to waste on delivering the metal, and after a few bland outings from Ced’s main band, it’s certainly a fresh re-ignition of the fire that clearly burns bright for heavy metal.

 

Standout tracks: War All Against All, Valkyries Eternal Winter, The Wisdom Of Steel

 

    

 

Runelord - Heathen Religion

Judas Priest - Firepower

Genre: Heavy Metal

After almost 50 years, 18 albums and basically shaping the way heavy metal was meant to be played you can hardly claim the Birminghamn boys aren't not pulling their weight. Firepower, the 19th full length album, comes four years after its predecessor; Redeemer Of Souls (2014) which proved that modern day Priest still had lots of thunder to strike. The guitar work is generally as strong as can be expected from the originators of the twin axe attack. Glenn Tipton, who was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before the recording of the album (producer Andy Sneap (Hell) will carry his duty on the subsequent tour), defies all said hardship and alongside Richie Faulkner makes Firepower the rifflicious revelry in gritty and melodic guitar dueling and powerful heavy metal thunder. It’s a safe album, but by Priest’s standards, that does not mean bad. Arguably their lowest points have been pretty strong as well, and Firepower is far from their lowest point, as it punches the metal with a fresh and modern sound.

Judas Priest - Firepower

Opener and title track Firepower is actually a rather dull, playing it safe, kind of affair that doesn’t quite to the album justice. Aside from the raunchy guitar intro and a couple of fiery licks strewn throughout, it does little to get the ball rolling. Instead, the following Lightning Strike, used as the single for the album, does all of that and more. After that, the beginning picks up strong and heavy with a few menacingly heavy tracks and rolling thunder with hints to Painkiller (1990) and Angel Of Retribution (2003), culminating in Rising From Ruins (and its building piano intro Guardians), which - quite frankly - blows the rest of the material straight out of the gate. A mid tempo semi epic with an atmospheric touch thanks to the low rumbling of Ian Hill’s dense bass lines and a slow, melodic guitar solo that extends to the climax of the song. While the rest of the album holds a few great tracks, none fully match the intensity of Rising From Ruins, which will likely stand as Firepower’s crowning moment in years to come.

Rob Halford, now 66 years old, delivers with massive amounts of passion for the metal trade and great power in those vocal lines. Staying mostly in his comfortable, yet lethal mid range, he strikes into the higher banshee shrieks in a few choruses where they make great effect. While not going out of his way to once more break the ground he once broke, he shows no sign of his voice faltering. The album is not as experimental as Priest have been known to; most notably with Nostradamus (2008), but sticks to safe ground while still feeling fresh and new. The new life that Faulkner (replacing K.K. Downing) brought to the legendary band before the last album still rolls well, giving Firepower the same sense of love for the craft that was present on Redeemer Of Souls, which it arguably matches in quality. Obviously, no new Judas Priest album will ever hold up to the classics in the eyes of the fans, but with an open mind there’s no doubt that the Priest has lost no love for heavy metal, as Firepower is nothing if not a testament to the everlasting power of the metal gods.

 

Standout tracks: Lightning Strike, Evil Never Dies, Rising From Ruins, Traitor’s Gate

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Judas Priest - Lightning Strike