Iron Fire – Beyond The Void (2019) – Iron Fire have returned with an explosive new album that combines thrash with power metal in a way that I think is highly notable. I wasn’t exactly crazy about their previous effort, but this is definitely a push in the right direction. The opener and title track starts the disc out on the right track with not only a catchy chorus, but some unexpected harsh vocals, which might not be a bad thing every once in a while. This would give Iron Fire a mid-era Mercenary sound, kind of like that 11 Dreams album I used to love so much as a teenager. “Final Warning” comes in with a hefty crunch and yet another catchy chorus. The previous cut didn’t deliver much in the solo department, but this one does. “Cold Chains Of The North” is very much in the same vein, while “Wrong Turn” offers a hell of a lot more to chew on, especially in lieu of its guitar solo. This one hit me like a freight train and definitely succeeds where the last two tracks didn’t quite make the cut. “Bones and Gasoline” is noticeable right from its opening riffs, carrying a little bit of early Metallica with it. The chorus here is also just as noticeable and I love the drum fills just after it. Again, they’re adding bits of Metallica here but offering a better package than the aforementioned did just a few years ago with Hardwired To Self Destruct. You’ll still hear bits of harsh vocal here too, which adds spice to the performance. Obviously latter-era Testament had a role to play in influencing these guys. However, I can think of many AOR acts that might have influenced some of these choruses, quite like the one on “Old Habits Die Hard.” We also have “Judgement Day” which I’d consider to be the album’s major ballad. The song is actually about time being quite short on this earth and how one should appreciate even it. It also mentions creating a time machine to bring the frontman back to a simpler time. Having seen the state of the world lately, I’m definitely welcoming that idea. Putting it simply, I’m quite pleased with this one and feel that it is leagues above their previous record, Among The Dead. Iron Fire mixes hard-hitting thrash metal with sugary choruses and powerful ballads to make one of the biggest surprises in the genre this year. If you passed this one up, I would definitely recommend checking it out.
(12 Tracks, 44:00)
Stellar Master Elite – Hologram Temple (2019) – The latest effort from Stellar Master Elite, Hologram Temple seems to be more influenced by pounding death metal than some of their previous releases. When I mean pounding death metal, I mean that more often than not, the formula can be quite thick and grueling, almost like a sort of industrial death/sludge. Opener “Null” definitely gives this impression, making me think of Thanos a little. Black metal injections still occur, but this thicker direction definitely seems like a step in the right direction for the band and you’ll really want to get some bass heavy headphones for this one, as the record truly delivers in its amount of raw distortion. Even the blackened portions of this album feel deathier than normal and again, that makes me think of conquest and the blackness of space. Sometimes we’ll even hear bits of synth, which again give me that feeling of being on a spaceship out in the middle of the void. Like that black hole we just discovered a few weeks ago. This record feels like that. Most of all, I like the fact that this disc doesn’t come off too much like standard death or black metal, bringing in an unforeseen influence in this deep, sludgy, black hole kinda feeling that I get. The songs are also quite long as well, only further beefed by the inclusion of distinct atmosphere. Some may find that they are too droning for the pummel we expect from death metal, but understand that atmospheres, particularly spatial atmospheres have always been very important to the band and that can also be said for this release. If you really love the atmosphere, then you’re going to love the finale, “Tetragon” which is nearly a full fifteen minutes of just that, along with slight metal portions. I could personally take or leave them (kind of spoils the atmosphere, we didn’t really need those blast beats) as the record is already chock full of metal as is, but I understand that extreme metal is a large part of the act as well. For those who just can’t get into the death metal or atmosphere portions that are so lovingly prominent in this band/DMT trip, I might recommend “The Beast We Have Created” which throws back to a Now, Diabolical style Satyricon. That’s about as black metal as we’re going to get here and I’m fine with that. You know how it is these days, if you go too far black metal then you run the risk of being called a Nazi by greedy publications looking to make money in our current social media clickbait economy that was once called journalism. That being said, I think that Stellar Master Elite have once again showed that they’re a band worth taking notice of and fans of death metal and spatial industrial are going to love Hologram Temple.
(9 Tracks, 61:00)
Battle Beast – No More Hollywood Endings (2019) – Power metal with a womanly vocal edge, Battle Beast really surprised the heck out of me with this one and I think that’s because it draws some inspiration from eighties pop music, which I absolutely love. The synths are also apparent here as you’ll notice with “Unfairy Tales.” Yes, it is very much a pop-influenced metal record and perhaps I am a bit biased here, but unlike some other modern acts of this style, Battle Beast decided to put their music through a time machine. This makes me think of Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar and several other artists from that time period that I don’t feel will ever be topped. Just listen to those riffs in “Endless Summer” and you’ll know why I have such a nostalgia boner for this album. As you become an older person, you start to long for the pieces of your past and No More Hollywood Endings does that for me. It’s proof that The Grim Lord is getting old, but I would also hope that you’d give it a chance if you’re tired of pop metal bands deliberately copying off the current mainstream pop music scene, which I feel is soulless garbage. Then we have “The Hero” which is nearly synthwave rock and makes me want to jump into a DeLorean even more than the previous number. “Piece Of Me” comes out of nowhere with a sort of angsty pop influence that reminds me of current era In This Moment and pulls back from the eighties influence that I was digging earlier. But I’m sure it’ll be good for the radio. “I Wish” is a classical ballad, which I certainly can’t find fault with, though isn’t my cup of tea. “Raise Your Fists” features a folk-influenced power metal vibe, though it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. “The Golden Horde” comes off as the classic power metal cut even though it begins on a very odd club-techno node. I see what they’re doing here, but some of these experiments impress me while others leave me scratching my head. “World On Fire” finally brings us back into the eighties synth influence, while “Bent and Broken” throws us another ballad. Thankfully, the disc ends on a fiery Priestly vibe with “My Last Dream.” From the title alone, you might expect this to be another ballad; though I can assure you that it is not and comes off as a wonderful way to end a rather solid disc. Ultimately, I found the majority of No More Hollywood Endings to be a rather noteworthy release and it definitely separates itself from other releases where modern pop is such a mainstay. I can’t say that I really enjoyed the crass “Piece Of Me” but there’s a little something for almost everyone here and that’s where the main draw of the record will be found. I’m just thankful that Battle Beast are trying not to sound like everyone else in this industry. I’m not sure if that’s just due to experimental curiosity or desperation on their part, but it certainly worked for them more often than not.
(13 Tracks, 55:00)
Sworn Enemy – Gamechanger (2019) – If you’re looking for a vulgar punch in the fucking mouth that doesn’t come from Pantera, Sworn Enemy is just the dose of hardcore that you need. These guys take from the old school and that means they don’t care who doesn’t like what they have to say. In all honesty, these guys make a soundtrack fit for beating the shit out of someone, especially if they deserve it and from the sound of “Prepare For Payback” they’re not looking for remorse. If Five Finger Death Punch actually had some balls, they would be Sworn Enemy. I’m really glad that this genre still exists and bands that literally go out there and say “fuck you motherfucker, I’m going to beat your ass” are still prevalent in society, Obviously, if you have anger issues and this kind of music won’t push you towards acting out on them, Gamechanger could be a real form of therapy. I’m sure it is for the band, and you’ve got to give them proper respect for adding some guitar solo sections into the breakdowns. Now, you can consider this approach a bit meatheaded, but we do need a least some meat, masculinity and testosterone in western society or we’re going to find ourselves easily crushed by a country that does still have all of these things. Men are supposed to lift heavy things after all, it is what we’re biologically built for – and this kind of music is just the thing for those looking to pump some iron in the gym. I’m definitely reminded of Hatebreed who are another one of my favorite acts along with Pro-Pain and Biohazard. One can say that I’ve always been into this kind of music, it’s the hormonal equivalent of injecting steroids as far as I”m concerned and will get anyone pumped for a fight. Preferably in a ring or the octagon though. And then you have “Justify” which is about the corrupt and crooked justice system that we have in this society, a reason why so many good men are thrown and jail and have their entire lives thrown away in the process. We really do need prison reform in this country, as well as political reform in general. The people that we put in charge of our best interests are lying snakes that are only in it for themselves. Listen to that line, “We lose while your pockets get fatter, but to you do our lives matter?” And no, they don’t. This one kind of burns me up a bit, so we’ll go onto the next one. As I’ve gotten older, my fuse has gotten shorter. There are definitely more positive nodes on here like “Selling A Dream” but even those cuts are delivered like a sledgehammer to your balls and I’d expect nothing less. From one of the few bands that I can ever remember writing a song that detailed how much mainstream music sucked, Gamechanger is definitely Sworn Enemy doing what they do best. They are one of my favorite bands in what’s left of the hardcore scene these days and they don’t beat around the bushes with their lyrics, which has always been the appeal for me. Twenty years later and these guys haven’t changed a bit. If you’re missing testosterone in your life, then definitely pick up a copy of Gamechanger. It may very well be a gamechanger in your life.
(11 Tracks, 38:00)
Mirror Of Deception – The Estuary (2018) – This album was submitted to me a few months back and I’m just now getting around to it, but trust me – I’ve greatly enjoyed this one and I hope that the band doesn’t mind a late, highly positive review. The first time I heard “Orphans” I had to play it two more times, I simply couldn’t get enough of it. There’s indeed a folky sense of sorrow here, coupled with a doomy bass thump. Mirror Of Deception feels like Primordial with a tad bit of early Skyclad, a large chunk of The Lord Weird Slough Feg and even a chunk of Paradise Lost for good measure. The Estuary is definitely melancholy, though not a complete tear-jerker as it definitely pounds with enough groove to properly bang your head. “At My Shore” further carries with it that sense of melancholic doom, almost into atmosphere realms which only serve to delight me further. Out of many discs, I certainly found something here and I’m saying that less and less with current music. It’s worth noting that Mirror Of Deception are Germany’s longest running traditional doom metal act and with such high scores (barring their previous album, A Smouldering Fire so I’m not sure what happened there but it appears that the reviewer just didn’t care for the band to begin with and that always unfairly skews reviews) in their discography, it definitely goes without saying that you need to check out the previous albums if you haven’t done so already. Michael Stifferman’s vocals seem to be one of the most potent parts of this band, which decorate their somber riff melodies quite beautifully. Stifferman and guitarist Jochen Fopp have been in this band since it began and that’s saying something. Sure, they took a brief hiatus and let go of a few members, but the record doesn’t show any signs of slacking. While some sections can be rather plodding, it is doom and we have to expect that. Plodding naturally comes with the territory, especially when this is on the more melancholic side of things. I don’t feel that doom fans will have an issue with this disc and would definitely consider it worth a listen.
(8 Tracks, 44:00)