Lamb of God - Wrath, Epic Records
Is it too late to say Metal Album Of The Year? The acoustic guitar and building Metallica-esque intro on “The Passing” catches you off guard. But it builds right into the driving “In Your Words,” where Randy Blythe (vocals) has found a new range that he mixes in with his patented scowl. You can hear that the band has continued to grow. They still hold true to their sound, though, without making the same songs over again. Guitarists (Mark Morton and Willie Adler) have upped the riffs (believe it or not), as evident on “Grace.” It features an almost jazz solo into before pulverizing with a dizzying running lick. Chris Adler (drums) still continues to show why he’s metal’s best drummer, and John Campbell (bass) maintains the intricate low-end rhythms. LOG delivers some of their heaviest songs on Wrath with tracks like “Reclamation,” that actually features what sounds to be a dobro guitar.
Grave Digger - Ballads Of A Hangman, Napalm Records
For those of us that have always been Grave Digger fans, singer Chris Boltendahl - and the sound he and his merry band of heathens have been carving since the early ‘80’s - has always represented the core essence of metal. Ballads Of A Hangman is prime Grave Digger no more, no less. As tired, stale and predictable as power metal has become over the last five years, somehow Grave Digger never gets old. Maybe it’s the purity of it all, but you just get the feeling that every member of this band was meant to play in this band. When that happens, a rare type of synergy is achieved. Small complaint: There’s a power metal version of Thin Lizzy’s immortal “Jailbreak.” On first listen, it rules. Second listen is funny. Third listen, not so much.
Crooked X - Self-Titled, EMI
It is truly difficult to have an unbiased opinion on this full-length debut from Oklahoma’s Crooked X, when you know their average age is 14. It’s clear they’re miles above their peers in terms of musicianship and songwriting ability, but if you didn’t know their ages, you might be inclined to pass this one up. Lead vocalist/guitarist Forrest French sings with the inflection and depth of someone twice his age, and lead guitarist Jesse Cooper could be the next Kirk Hammett. Crooked X does an admirable job of bridging the gap between Motley Crue and the pop metal of today, as in opener and cream of the crop “Gone.” The one you know from RockBand, “Nightmare,” gets a complete makeover that loses the punch that’s on the video game. Bottom line is: they are dangerously close to being a novelty act, though their chops suggest otherwise. Time will tell.
Incite - Divided We Fail (EP), Independent
After listening to Incite’s Divided We Fail, you’ll want to hear more. A new album is “to be out soon,” but the band is on a European tour until late March.
Incite’s musical direction reaches toward the darker side of metal-core. That compliments vocalist Richie Cavalera’s festering growls - and yes, Richie is Max Cavalera’s stepson. The title track could gain the notoriety of becoming the band’s first single and for good reason; Dis (guitar) and Zak (drums) deliver one crushing blow after another with their driving tempos. “Die With What You’ve Done” shows off their melodic side but also harbors sword-sharp core elements. The Divided We Fail EP summons proof that Incite’s follow-up record will be nothing less than a well-developed, dense thunderhead.
Morbid Saint -Spectrum Of Death (reissue), Power Play Records
There’s something mildly fascinating about the youthful, exuberant carnal ferocity of all those early ‘90’s death metal chestnuts. In Spectrum Of Death, Sheboygan, Wisconsin’s Morbid Saint hatched a real beauty and then basically disappeared, which only enhanced the band’s mystique. Who are they and what the hell happened? Well, the liner notes do a great job of explaining this and more. There’s a sense of urgency on display here that few of the bands from this era perfected. Morbid Saint had that in spades, as everyone is playing like their lives depended on it. This is the kind of album that truly makes you look over your shoulder to see if the four horsemen of the apocalypse are really gaining ground on you. It’s that insanely focused approach and the sense of very real danger that makes Spectrum Of Death such an exhilarating blast of drooling death.
Fools & Horses - I Am The Ghost, (Independent)
I Am The Ghost is a catchy, feel-good disc that will get you from opener, “Anna Was The Enemy.” The songwriting is fun and creative and covers a wide range of styles. There are remnants of U2, The Beatles, Nickelback, No Doubt and The Rolling Stones, without their being compared to any of the above. Matt Hutchison (vocals/guitar/keys) has a unique voice whether he’s crooning on the heart-felt title track or hitting multiple ranges on the dizzy “Calling You Out.” Steve Herrera (guitar/vocals), Kent Warren (bass/vocals) and Tim Hutchison (drums/vocals) provide just the right touch and some great harmony. Other standouts include the jazzy “Confessions Of The Cheated,” the gritty “Redwings” and jive-laden “Selfish.” Fools & Horses reaches deep and gives you plenty to absorb with I Am The Ghost.
SuidAkrA - Crogacht, Wacken Records/SPV
Crogacht, the ninth studio album from German Celtic metal band SuidAkra, delivers a heavy hitting epic, as they bring Irish mythology to the disc. They combine thundering drums and double bass, aggressive vocals and plenty of guitar, then combine bagpipes, tin whistles and a 16-member choir to create a huge sound. “Isle Of Skye” has a traditional Irish feel through the guitar leads, and the chants sound as if you’re preparing for battle. “Conloach” is a blistering track where Lars (drums) and Marcus (bass) shift gears between pounding and break-neck. “Scathach” is a bagpipe-heavy track that also shows off Arkaduis’ (vocals/guitars) great rhythm guitar work. Crogacht is a sonic barrage to your senses on the pummeling “Shattering Swords” but also shows a tender side on acoustic instrumental “Ar Nasc Fola.” Be sure to catch SuidAkra at The Ridglea on March 6 as part of the Pagan Knights Tour with Tyr.
Scale The Summit - Carving Desert Canyons, Prosthetic Records
Just slip on Carving Desert Canyons, close your eyes and let your mind take you away as this Houston, TX quartet mix and meld their intricate and mesmerizing sound. Chris Letchford (8-string guitar) and Travis Levrier (guitar) use the absence of vocals to create melodies and vocal lines with their fingers. Just check out “Bloom” and you’ll hear the duo work their magic. They’re joined by Pat Skeffington (drums) and Jordan Eberhardt (bass), who are equally as talented and help create the kaleidoscope of sound. “The Great Plains” elicits a sense of comfort and joy, while “Age Of The Tide” is a little harder edge but has a higher melody line and some great lead lines that give a feeling of hope. Carving Desert Canyons is truly amazing and should turn quite a few heads for that little instrumental band from Texas.
Get Thrashed: The Story Of Thrash Metal, Warner Brothers DVD
If you’re looking for deep insight into the start of one the most important genres in metal music, then Get Thrashed is it. The DVD goes back to the birth of thrash metal and includes interviews of the bands that lived it. Ones like Slayer, Overkill, Megadeth, Exodus and Metallica, as well as newer bands that were influenced by thrash, such as Lamb Of God, Shadows Fall and Slipknot. It covers the LA, Bay Area, New York and European scenes, the dress code, headbanding/stagediving/moshing and life on the road. There’s over 90 minutes of bonus footage that covers other influential bands from the US and other countries as well as director commentary giving a good look at how the film came together. The best part is the live footage and vintage photos that correspond with that time and hearing stories from the bands that lived it. This is a must have for any metal fan.