Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unisonic – Light of Dawn

Unisonic is the super group featuring ex-Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen, alongside a group of equally seasoned and experienced musicians. Apart from Kiske’s involvement with Avantasia and other guest appearances, this project appears to be as close to a return to metal as he is willing to get. The first album was a mixed bag, largely due to a distinctive split between metal and non-metal songs. On their new album, Unisonic again gave us a taste with an EP, and it was an unexpected surprise. The title track of that EP, “For The Kingdom”, which also appears on this album, is essentially “Eagle Fly Free Pt. 2”. It is a fast, upbeat track that is completely reminiscent of Helloween. For that reason, Unisonic’s second album looked quite promising. Unfortunately, that track was a bit deceiving of the sound of the album.

Light of Dawn” once again features a very obvious mix of heavier metal songs and more ballad/hard rock-oriented material. Each sound comprises about half of the album, and as was the case last time, the metal songs are far superior to the non-metal tracks. Even the metal songs, however, tend to be relatively standard and unexciting. “Find Shelter” for example, can be pretty speedy in the chorus, with the use of double bass drumming and Kiske’s melodic vocals, but its chorus isn’t anything special. The rest of the song is likewise not too interesting, and it sort of leaves you scratching your head, wondering how two of the greatest musicians ever could create something so uninspired. These metal tracks take a turn for the better once “Exceptional” comes in. This song is almost like a modern Edguy track. It is built around its predictably catchy chorus, showing off the incredible vocal talents of Michael Kiske. Even though the song begins in a similar manner to the tracks before it, it is immediately clear how superior this song will be due to Kiske's vocal melodies. 

As mentioned before, the highlight of the album is "For The Kingdom", but there is also another old-school power metal track: "Your Time Has Come". Both songs are built around fast-paced riffs, melodic guitar work, soaring vocals, and catchy choruses. Much like what happened on "Exceptional", the second that both of these tracks begin, you immediately know your in for something better than the rest of the experience has been. "For The Kingdom" gets a bit tamer in the verses, but it is another opportunity for Kiske to show off his still perfect singing abilities. "Your Time Has Come" is even faster and features better guitar work than "For The Kingdom". This song shows the band at their absolute best, and reveals just how much potential they still have.

Many of the other tracks are just disappointing. “You And I” is a ballad (only two tracks into the album!) that is par for the course for power metal. Unfortunately it lacks the emotional touch of a classic like “A Tale That Wasn’t Right”. Even a track like “When The Deed Is Done”, which has some cool harmonized guitars, is ultimately quite plodding by the end of the song. The solo in the song features some flashy guitar work, but it is ultimately forgotten as it is surrounded by sub-standard songwriting. When “Not Gonna Take Anymore” comes in, the act is starting to get a bit tired. Michael Kiske will make absolutely anything sound good because of how strong his voice still is, but at a certain point, the novelty of his voice begins to wear off, simply because the songwriting continues to bore. Even when they give you an enjoyable track like "Exceptional", the band immediately returns to a ballad on the very next track! Some of the later tracks on the album are more reminiscent of the semi-enjoyable hard rock that was present on the debut, but it's just frustrating to see a band that still has the ability to make brilliant music water down their sound. 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare this band to Helloween, or to say that only the metal songs here are good. After all, these guys are over 20 years removed from Helloween, and people are obviously free to enjoy music beyond metal. The sad reality, however, is that these musicians are both famous for their work in power metal, and while they’re free to create any music they’d like together, the main reason why so many people listen to Unisonic is to try to recapture the glory that the two Keepers records delivered. I said in my review of the first Unisonic album that you can’t expect them to put out a Helloween album, but “Light of Dawn” is a complete step backwards from the debut record, and it is even further from the sound we know and love, despite having a couple of tracks that bring back that sound. There are a few great songs here, and it is worth seeking out the release for those songs alone, but it is hard to recommend sitting through the entire album.

Be sure to check out and like Unisonic on Facebook!

"For The Kingdom"
"Your Time Has Come"

Final Rating
3.25/5 or 65%. 

Written by Scott

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Johnny Touch - Inner City Wolves

If you couldn't tell from the name of the band or the artwork on the cover, Johnny Touch play heavy metal in an incredibly old-school vein. "Inner City Wolves" delivers a dosage of metal in its least extreme form and does so brilliantly. The music here is good. Damn good. So frequently, bands that play (I hate the word,too) retro-heavy metal are mediocre to terrible, but this Aussie quartet (featuring members of Stargazer, Cauldron Black Ram and Oath of Damnation) has managed to craft some refreshing material that clearly emulates the past greats, all while forging their own style. If this wasn't the case, a reputable label like Shadow Kingdom Records wouldn't put their name on it, and many people outside of the land down under would remain ignorant to one of the continent's finest metal bands. 

The reason that the music on "Inner City Wolves" is so refreshing is because when a band that plays this style of metal these days puts out a recording, it usually lacks anything remotely memorable and I find myself switching to "insert Swedish band here" instead, but that doesn't occur with Johnny Touch. These guys deliver with their rendition of metal that brings to mind past greats like Savatage, when Jamie Whyte is effortlessly shredding on "Lady Stutter," while Pahl Hodgson brings his golden pipes to sound off along the heavy riffage. Their ability to transition between acoustic passages and distorted moments on the epic "Black Company" remind me a bit of Sanctuary, who were excellent at using a more somber acoustic sound, accompanied with a heavy rhythm guitar. The comparisons to other bands isn't something that takes away from the quality of the music, as it actually highlights just how good they are at songwriting. Instead of wanting to listen to the great band who I hear in their sound, I'm drawn in to what Johnny Touch is making because the songs are killer. 

There aren't many weak moments throughout this record, which can mostly be attributed to every member of the band doing a solid to stellar job. The bass thumps along throughout, providing the necessary heaviness when needed, or providing solid fills during the acoustic sections, and the drumming is consistent for every song. Still, the real highlights are the lead guitar work and the vocals. The 3-minute shred-fest that is "Radiation Axeposure" should be enough to adequately show off how good Whyte is with the ax, but his solos on every track are top-notch and would make classic shredders like Criss Oliva (RIP) and David Chastain proud. Hodgon's range is off the hook, as his vocals soar on "Lady Stutter" and "It's Alright," and then descend to a much cleaner tone (and slower pace) on "End of Daze." "Inner City Wolves" is the product of talented musicians with good taste and mighty fine songwriting skills, which is pretty much the formula for a memorable and worthwhile release. If you find yourself wanting to listen to something other than the strange, occult heavy metal from Sweden, or the dozens of Maiden/Priest ripoffs, Johnny Touch has the cure for what ails you. 

"It's Alright"
"Lady Stutter"
"Black Company"

Final Rating 
4.25/5 or 85% 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Overkill – White Devil Armory

Like many other thrash acts from the 80’s, Overkill returned to their old-school roots around the time thrash started popping up everywhere again. Whether you consider it to be bandwagoning or a surge of inspiration from all of the young bands around, it’s hard to deny that “Ironbound” was an impressive record. “The Electric Age” showed the band settling into a more standard sound, and was a bit of a letdown after the brilliance of “Ironbound”. “White Devil Armory” shows the band keeping up their prolific pace, and the good news is that Overkill has put together a pretty solid effort with this album.

The first song on this record is the single, “Armorist”. The lyrics are a bit strange, but once you get past that issue, the music is absolutely pummeling. On first listen, this song was a bit underwhelming, but with successive listens, its brilliance became clear. The song brings a much-welcomed burst of speed, with the aggression that only Overkill can deliver (likely a part of that New Jersey attitude). Over the course of the next few songs, Overkill continues to pump out memorable songs. “Pig” is the definite highlight; it is another track that suffers from disappointing lyrics, but the riffs slay, so that issue can be ignored. In fact, the main riff of this song is on par with anything the band has written since the first album. The chorus of this song shows a slight change in Blitz’ vocals. He is becoming a bit more distinct in his snarl (as if that were even possible), but at the same time, it sounds as though some of his singing ability is deteriorating slightly. On “Pig”, this new vocal sound is particularly effective because of the attack in the vocal lines.

Another standout song is “Bitter Pill”. This isn’t a doomy song per se (especially when compared to classics like “Drunken Wisdom” and “Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher”), but it is certainly slower and less thrashy than the rest of the record. About halfway through the song, a Black Sabbath riff appears out of nowhere. It’s got the bouncy groove that was extremely prominent on a record like “Vol. 4”, and it’s a great change of pace for the album. Unfortunately this section is only about a minute long, but it’s still nice to see the band trying new things. The next few songs bring up the speed again (particularly "Where's There Smoke...", and are still top-grade songs. It isn’t until “Another Die To Day” that there is a slight drop off in quality. The remainder of the record is still enjoyable, and certainly none of the remaining songs are out of place, but they lack the energy and catchiness that the earlier songs had.

One thing Overkill nailed on “White Devil Armory” is the production. This is probably their best sounding record, mainly because of the rhythm section. Anytime the double kicks are playing (which is pretty often) the record because immensely heavy. D.D. Verni’s bass is also very prominent; that’s nothing new for Overkill, but in tandem with the newly electrified drums, it creates an even more crushing sound. This is even further compounded by the plentiful gang vocals that are scattered through the album.

I was very critical of “The Electric Age”, perhaps because it couldn’t live up to “Ironbound”, or perhaps because it just wasn’t a particularly great record. I would lean towards the latter reason, simply because “White Devil Armory” has shown Overkill can still bring the heat. While “White Devil Armory” cannot reach the heights of “Ironbound”, it is still an enjoyable album in its own right.

Be sure to check out and like Overkill on Facebook!

"Bitter Pill"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott

Friday, July 18, 2014

Autopsy – Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves

Since Autopsy’s return just a few years ago, the band has been quite prolific. “Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves” marks their third-full length in the new millennium, and much like the two before it, it brings plenty of good ideas to the fold. For the most part, these ideas are nothing new for Autopsy, particularly on the first half of the record. In fact, most of this album could be considered an extension of “The Headless Ritual”, but with slightly less melody. The music is still disgusting, aided largely in part by Chris Reifert’s disturbed vocals. It sounds like his voice gets deeper and deeper on each release. He’s able to change his attack with each line of words when he wants to, and this means things can be completely understandable one second, and incomprehensible the next. This incredible ability is displayed well on the title track, which shows Reifert doing everything from incredibly guttural vocals, to higher-pitched black metal-esque rasps. Accompanying Reifert’s distraught vocals are franticly paced guitar solos. The opener, “Savagery”, has quite a few of these, and that song barely breaks 2 minutes. This track shows the band at their best: playing fast, aggressive death metal, with an emphasis on conjuring atmosphere amongst the brutality. 

When the band does slow down, it gives them an opportunity to explore more sadistic melodies. In “King of Flesh Ripped”, for example, the guitars work in harmony to create sickening moments of awe. The next few tracks largely continue what the first two songs have set up. The album takes a much more interesting turn on its latter half, as the band comes up with some unique ideas that haven’t been seen on an Autopsy album before. “Deep Crimson Dreaming” is the highlight; Joe Allen’s bass playing on this song is absolutely incredible. It isn’t particularly technical, but he picks his spots correctly and makes the bass cut through the mix in a way that really enhances what the rest of the band is doing. This track is quite slow, but it gives off the feeling that the title implies: the mood is incredibly creepy. “Parasitic Eye” continues showcasing a new side of Autopsy by opening with some bluesy riffing. It sounds a bit strange to call anything this band does blues, but it seems completely appropriate for this track. Of course, most of the song is your standard Autopsy affair (though this sound comes back later in the track), but this slight bit of variety really improves the album substantially.

Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves” is pretty much your standard Autopsy record. Like the last one, it flirts with innovation, but ultimately stays the course the band has set. They are releasing material pretty quickly, but it’s still pretty decent stuff. While the heights of “Macabre Eternal” haven’t been reached with this record, it will still appeal to fans of Autopsy. The band might benefit from cutting their albums even shorter, but there is no bad material on this release.

Be sure to check out and like Autopsy on Facebook!

"Deep Crimson Dreaming"
"Parasitic Eye"

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%. 

Written by Scott

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Avalon Steel Interview

This next interview is with up and coming USPM band Avalon Steel! I reviewed their new EP "Ascension" last month, and just had to talk to them about it. This interview was handled by guitarist Sean Kane.

Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Hi Sean. Congratulations on the release of your new EP! Before we get to the EP, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about how the band formed.

Sean Kane (SK): Thanks, Scott! It all started out with just my brother, Nick, on the drums, and I on the guitar. We love old school heavy metal and we've tried playing with others that do as well. We've gone through a plethora of members and band names with mainly my brother as a constant. However, we formed officially as Avalon Steel around 2010 in my junior year of high school. I'm in my senior year of college, so it's really been a long journey.

SFM: Your first demo was independently released a couple of years ago. How was the reception to that demo?

SK: Demo? What demo? It doesn't exist!

SFM: The sound and imagery of your demo and EP both give off that old-school US power metal vibe. Are these bands your primary influences? What are some specific bands you guys love?

SK: Well, I think it's really a huge culmination of my own interests as well as the interests from the rest of the bandmates. I think my brother and I have been listening to USPM for around three or four years now. We can't get enough of the stuff! But we don't purposefully write songs that ape Omen or Metal Church, it's just stuff we've been listening to for so long. We love other genres as well ranging from classic and death metal to stuff like jazz and Celtic. I feel like our songs, including ones that aren't on the EP, range from stuff like you would hear from Jag Panzer and Liege Lord to the more epic doom metal of Candlemass. I really think we have a good mixture that keeps things interesting. I love good dynamics.

SFM: The most unique aspect of Avalon Steel, to me, is vocalist Tommy Parnelle. Was having someone with a distinct voice important, or were you just looking for a quality singer?

SK: It's kind of a funny story. Well, not funny, but it's at least interesting. Usually metal singers have really high voices like Halford or Ian Gillan, but you can't hardly find any male singers in a more bassy range like Mattias Blad or Matt Barlow. Tommy is a trained bass but he can still hit some pretty high notes. I think it was a combination of working with what he had and knowing that we had something a little different. 

SFM: Recently guitarist Ross Thompson left the band. What was the reason for the split?

SK: No bad blood. Things were going on in other parts of his life that were bigger priorities. 

SFM: What are you looking for in a new guitar player?

SK: Has to love the music we do. It's all about the music. And has to be better looking than Tommy; we gotta knock his ego down a few pegs!

SFM: Are you currently looking for a label? What do you look for in a label?

SK: We're actually on a tiny start up label called Mechanical Pig, but for awhile I was teetering on the question whether we needed one for a while. It's a different industry these days than it was back in the glory days. Everyone can do their thing in the comforts of their own home or whatever. It's almost an outdated mode unless you're one of the lucky few to land a really good label deal...but how common is that for a metal band?

Frankly, indie labels are nice because it allows you more freedom. You still have control over music, band, and even the booking in our case. We still supply our own merch, pay for the recording and distribution, and we still do our own groundwork. It's not a big time thing, you know? It's really local. I guess you could say it's a starting point for building a more focused "business" network. It's certainly given us a few connections that have benefited us. 

And a bigger label? We'll see. I'm wary of people in nice suits waving papers in your face. The music business is just Really the only benefits for something bigger would be a bigger budget and a wider audience. But if you're really good with the Internet and shit, you can do that by yourself; it's just a looooot more difficult.

SFM: What’s in the immediate future for Avalon Steel?

SK: Right now? Get back on the momentum. We've had good word on our EP and I'd like to ride that for as long as we can. I'm already gearing up to dish out more songs. We're probably not going to tour because of our work schedules, but I'd like to at least do a few shows outside of Charlotte and build a bigger fanbase. Can't sell all the copies if we see the same faces every time. We've been trying to push our music on the Internet as much as we can, but when it's just as easy to keep scrolling it's not always easy.

SFM: It seems like there is often a lot of criticism towards newer bands simply because they aren’t the bands of the 80’s (despite many newer bands being better). How do you handle criticism of your music?

SK: Metal has had it's Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. I'm not here to be Judas Priest 2.0, though I'll welcome the comparison. We're not those bands and never will be. Sorry, we're not going to write this generation's Master of Reality or Killers. I want to be recognized by our own right. I don't want to be a band that completely copies everything the 80s did, but I can't stand most of the modern metal. I'd like to think that we'll pick up where USPM left off and everyone else ignored. 

Criticism is tough. Everyone is their own worst critic and will be the first to tell themselves that they hate their own music, but the opinion of someone else can be either uplifting or even more devastating. Everything is subjective and you have to learn to take it in stride. Not everyone has the same taste nor will someone see what you see in something. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it. Me? I go cry in a corner with my beer and ponder my existence. 

SFM: A huge part of promotion these days is done through social media. I’m curious to get your thoughts specifically on Facebook and the ever-declining reach of statuses that get posted. Have you noticed that fewer people see your statuses over time, despite your page getting more likes? Will bands eventually abandon Facebook in favour of another website?

SK: Social media is a double-edged sword. It's really easy for bands to just post a status as an update, but like I've said before, it's just as easy for others to ignore you. Your band has 5,000 likes? So what, you only bring out 15 people to your shows! Having an established fanbase is more important than arbitrary "likes" on Facebook, and that's the hard part. I don't think it's necessarily Facebook's fault though. I think that will happen with every sort of media. People are lazy and you really gotta work to get not only their attention, but to get their asses in a venue. You can lead a horse to a river, but you can't make them drink it. And that's where coming out with a good "product" comes in handy. We always try to bring in entertainment value at our shows. Word of mouth is still quality press these days and having fans tell others is still a great way to attract people. 

SFM: You guys have set “Ascension” as a “name your price” release on Bandcamp. Is this something you think more bands should be doing? Given that you are offering this release for free, do you feel you should be compensated for the time and money you put into practicing, recording, and gear?

SK: Bandcamp and the like are still really new things in the music industry. We're all at this weird transition phase where we all like our digital stuff but like to buy CDs at the same time. Sure, I'd love to get the money I sunk into the recording back, but at this point it's about taking risks. I think that Bandcamp offers like only 200 free downloads. Yeah, it's a bit of a loss, but I think if they really like out stuff then they can order a shirt or something too. Fuck, if they've done that then they can do a donation for all I care!  Recording costs an arm and a leg, but I also believe in something like consumer value. We're a fledgling band, I think we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought we'd make money and I think that goes for all others like us. They don't call them starving artists for nothing. That's why this isn't our main paying gig, we'd be out in the streets!

SFM: More and more bands are going the crowd funding route these days for financing albums and tours. What are your thoughts on crowd funding? Is this something we can expect to see from Avalon Steel in the future?

SK: I think it's a great thing! If people see value in something, then go for it! It's a great tool for bands or idiots with potato salads. Any capitalist bastard worth their salt won't turn down something like this. I have a couple of friends in a band called Judicator out in the western side of the States. They used a crowdfund and got the finances for recording their album by selling album packs and raffles for a free guitar. I suppose it's all about how you use it. 

As for Avalon Steel, I suppose that now since we have a taste of music to send out it wouldn't be a bad idea. I'd hate to ask people for money for an album before they even heard what we sounded like. At least now they can have an idea. Might be a little while before we start thinking of financing an album though.

SFM: Last words for the fans out there? 

SK: If you like us, buy something; if you've already bought something, then buy as a gift! Our shirts made great dishrags and our EPs can be awesome drinkcoasters! 

Support your scene, go to local shows, bang the singer's girlfriend, listen to loud music, only do certain kinds of drugs, and please, if you see me out there, buy me a beer!
Thank you, Scott, it was an honor and a pleasure! 

SFM: Be sure to check out and like Avalon Steel on Facebook!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Alestorm Interview

Recently I had an opportunity to throw some questions at one of the most entertaining men in metal: Christopher Bowes from Alestorm! Check out his thoughts on the new album and other topics below.

Skull Fracturing Metal (SFM): Hi Chris! Congratulations on the new album, “Sunset On The Golden Age”, which is another fantastic Alestorm record! Did you specifically set out to do anything different with this record compared to the prior three albums?

Christopher Bowes (CB): I think just writing cool songs about pirates was the only concern when we started out working on this album! I wanted to make sure it was incredibly catchy, and that it would work in the live enviroment. Since we play so many live gigs, it would be a bit unfortunate if the songs didn't work live. I reckon it's alright, as far as albums go.

SFM: Some new elements I noticed were the death metal vocals in “1741” and “Surf Squid Warfare”, and the rapping in the cover song. Why is it important to add these sorts of elements to your albums?

CB: We kinda came to the realisation that we aren't a folk metal band, nor a power metal band, and so there was nothing stopping us from incorporating whatever styles we wanted into the music. I think that's my favourite thing about this band – we aren't pandering to a bunch of nerds dressed in chainmail and thor's hammers, nor are we aiming for kids in frilly shirts who demand millions of true metal guitar solos. So expect even more genre bending nonsense in the future!

SFM: “Hangover” is certainly one of the more interesting tracks on the record. Lyrically it fits in perfectly with Alestorm, but the original song certainly isn’t well known for many metal fans. What inspired doing this cover?

CB: Basically I was just driving around one day and this song came on the radio – I instantly knew that it just had to be an Alestorm song. I mean, come on, it's so perfect – it's got a catchy melody and it's all about getting drunk. Add a few guitars and a bit of accordion, and it's an Alestorm classic! I really hope a lot of people get pissed off by the rapping!

SFM: “Sunset On The Golden Age” is the first Alestorm album to feature Elliot Vernon on keyboards. Does this free you up to focus more on vocals, or does it allow you to do more interesting things on keyboards because you have two keyboard players?

CB: A bit of both! I'm pretty terrible at playing keys while singing, so previously one had to be sacrificed for the other, in the live setting. Now we can have crazy keyboards all over the place, and still keep them going in the background while i'm singing away. I love the versatility it offers us :)

SFM: Alestorm has announced tour dates up through November at this point, but that mostly covers Europe. Can we expect an Alestorm North America tour in early 2015? If so, will you be headlining?

CB: Yes! We've given up on doing support slots now (unless Metallica or Iron Maiden come asking), so expect to see us hitting North America for a headlining run in early 2015, maybe soon after the “70000 Tons of Metal” festival which we've just announced. Party times imminent!

SFM: One of your upcoming tours is with labelmates and one of my favourite bands Crimson Shadows. How did you guys hook up with them for the tour?

CB: That's one of the joys of having a record label – they practically throw ideal support bands at you for your tour. So it was all Napalm's idea, haha! We've known the CS guys for a while now, having played a few shows in Canada together in the past. Looking forward to some more!

SFM: Now that you’re four albums in, it must be more difficult go about how choosing a setlist. How do you decide your sets these days? Do you mix it up each night on tour? Are there any songs you won’t play?

CB: Most of our songs are terrible, particularly the deep album tracks on our debut. I've never met anyone who actually likes the song Death Before the Mast, so we never do it. We only have like 10 popular songs, and we love pandering to the lowest common denominator, so we just play all of those on repeat! I'm sure there's a bunch of people out there who would love to hear us play Keelhauled 15 times in a night. Weirdos, haha!

SFM: A lot of metal bands tend to prefer playing small club shows to bigger festivals, but Alestorm is one band that strikes me as being perfect for festivals like Wacken and Hellfest because of the sing-along nature of many of your songs. Which type of show works better for you?

CB: They both have their charm – I like to make the show as interactive as possible; having wee chats with people in the crowd and stealing their beer. You can't really do that at huge festival shows, but they totally make up for it with the huge crowds of people singing along. It's a feeling that can't be beaten!

SFM: With your busy touring schedule for Alestorm, will you be writing material for Gloryhammer while on the road?

CB: Hmm yeah, I should probably get round to doing that. A 2nd Gloryhammer album would be fun. Might start working on it soon!

SFM: Bonus question: what is the best non-Alestorm drinking song?

CB: Seven Drunken Nights by the Dubliners!

SFM: Any last words for the fans out there?

CB: Every time you take a poo on a plane, god kills a kitten.

SFM: Be sure to check out and like Alestorm on Facebook!