Ashes Of Ares - Well Of Souls

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

Am I an old school Iced Earth fan boy? Maybe. Have I been waiting anxiously for the follow up to Ashes of Ares’ self titled debut since it was released in 2013? Maybe. Am I going to love this album? Not so maybe. That first album is kickass, and it’s taken five long years but Matt Barlow and Freddie Vidales (both ex- Iced Earth) finally dunnit, releasing follow up Well of Souls in November. A big part of what Ashes of Ares is, is a kind of Iced Earth extension, so you will always find that side of the sound in there, but Well of Souls takes a wide step from what was introduced on the self titled debut, while still sticking largely to the same formula. Vidales is showing his colors not only as a guitarist - there are some pretty sick guitar parts and sweet ass solos on here - but as a songwriter. His influences go some ways beyond the Iced Earth (and let’s face it, Maiden) -esque sound, to dabble in the more extreme and most importantly the arcane progressive. It helps that Van Williams (Ghost Ship Octavius, ex- Nevermore) has added a big touch to the sound, with his progressive background and current leanings - he has left Ashes of Ares since the first album, but still mans the drums here as a guest, appropriately enough.

Ashes Of Ares - Well Of Souls

Pyramaze keyboardist Jonah Weingarten also makes a guest appearance, opening the album up with the intro to Consuming the Mana. He does so in a fashion that distinctly recalls some of his most captive moments from Pyramaze, the deep, invoking keyboards setting the scene. Vidales’ then takes over, and Barlow gives off a banshee like scream to show - he’s still got it. The rest of the song fully sets the tone for the rest of the album; thrashy, powerful and packed to the brim with fleshy riffage and big vocals. Somehow, the first half of the album is slightly less captivating than the second. Mind you, tracks like Unworthy and The Alien still set some massive groundwork especially in the rhythm section and Vidales’ lead guitars (the solo in The Alien is frickin massive), while opting for the bombastic and heavy approach, Williams adding a touch of his signature progressive touches. It takes a slight dip with ballad Soul Searcher and the following Sun Dragon, both of which remain fairly anonymous.

The second half then, takes all the good parts of the first and blows it up with a blast of intensity and creativity. Barlow’s vocals take a turn for the emotional and melodramatic in Let All Despair (if you haven’t gotten a fill of your big sounding Iced Earth semi-ballads lately, there it is), and melodies soar mightily in In The Darkness and Time Traveler, the latter taking a slightly speedy route to set the stage for The God of War, closing the album with loads of fleshy power. That is, except the bonus song You Know My Name, a cover of the Chris Cornell song. It’s a nice little tribute, but pretty anonymous and not up to the standards of the rest of the album. Coming just a few months after Barlow’s debut full length alongside aforementioned Pyramaze keyboardist Weingarten - called We Are Sentinels - this album should sate every need for classic Iced Earth antics, while also standing well on its own and growing what was begun five years ago. Opener Consuming the Mana will sate your need for heavy riffing from Vidales and thrashy Barlow works, while Let All Despair gives you all the melodrama Barlow is known for. The wait was well worth it, as Well of Souls easily grows over its predecessor and in gloriously heavy fashion delivers rifftastic anthems one after the other. The god of war awaits.

 

Standout tracks: Consuming The Mana, Let All Despair, In The Darkness, Time Traveler

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Ashes Of Ares - The Alien

Shadowkiller - Guardians Of The Temple

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

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.

Shadowkiller - Guardians Of The Temple

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

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Shadowkiller - 1600

A Sound Of Thunder - It Was Metal

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

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.

A Sound Of Thunder - It Was Metal

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

 

    

 

Musikvideo: A Sound Of Thunder - It Was Metal