Παρασκευή, 4 Μαΐου 2018

MANACLE: Chains, leather, pure metal and no fear to persevere.

“Music is both a way of expression and release for me, so it means everything! Without it I die!”

There is something about Canada when it comes to ballsy metal. Manacle is no exception to the rule. Forged in the underground metal scene of Canada, Manacle are all about shackles, chains, studs, leather and pure metal worship that will blow your mind. Founder and guitarist Inti Paredes talks to Crystal Logic about everything…

Give us a detailed bio of Manacle.

Inti: Manacle started sometime in 2013 as a trio, with myself on guitar and singing lead vocals, Amar on bass and Matt on drums. Initially started with the intent of being a speed metal band like the first Exciter album, or Agent Steel, we kind of just naturally turned into a more melodic heavy metal band that plays fast. We’ve gone through a few line-up changes since the inception but the idea and direction for the band remains the same. We managed to record ‘No Fear To Persevere’ in the end of 2016 and sat on it through a few line-up changes, among other complications with the album release,  until now. The band currently sits with myself on guitars, Shawn on bass, Spannah on drums and Jesse on vocals.

How do you compose a Manacle song? Do you have a specific idea, do you jam or it comes naturally in the studio?

Inti: Typically I have a lyric or melody idea come to me and start from there. I have a bunch of riffs in the old riff bank and it’s just a matter of arranging them in a way that sounds good to me. I like trying to jam out song ideas as well; usually I’ll just play a riff or two and see where it goes from there.

Give is few notes on each song of your first album.

Fight For Your Life – Opening track, I really clean/acoustic type intros, one of our older songs and typically a show opener.

Tears Of Wrath – This is the song that made me get a real singer, when I wrote the music I couldn’t play guitar and sing it. Kevin’s vocals are amazing on this track. I was working a shipping receiving job, and a friend there was talking and he said “tears of wrath” joking about something, I thought it would be a great song title!

Journey’s End – Longest song on the album. Don’t let your life pass you by!

Live Fast Die Fast – The oldest Manacle song, I wrote a couple of these riffs when I was briefly in Axxion with the intention of making it a song. When I started Manacle I turned it into a full song. 

Witches Hallow – I can’t remember whose idea it was to have the drum solo, maybe John Dinsmore or Jason Decay. This is a song we jammed out together in a rehearsal.

Stand Tall – We didn’t originally have the intention of recording this track. It was something we were still working on at the time, but Jason convinced us to try and record it and we finished writing it in the studio actually! Jason is part of the back-up vocals at the end.

How was the recording process of 'No Fear To Persevere' and how did you end up with Olof Wikstrand of Enforcer for mixing and mastering?

Inti: Jason Decay from Cauldron is a friend of ours and has helped us out a bunch over the years. Essentially, he knew John Dinsmore from doing previous Cauldron recordings, and recommend we book time at his studio. Jason was down in the studio helping us out, I wanna call him our unofficial “co-producer” since he didn’t want the official credit! John is also a really good engineer who taught us so much and had way too much patience! Haha… The studio was a great time because we were all really stoked to finally be in the studio, it was late August and the weather was scorching hot, and we were hungry with something to prove! We were sweating buckets but we finished it in a weekend.
Olof is a friendly acquaintance but also a close friend of Cauldron, so it came together the same way. Olof nailed the sound we were going for and I couldn’t be happier with how it sounds, not to mention all the other great albums he’s mixed.

Your musical inspirations are quiet obvious and they are from 80s US heavy power speed metal legends like Omen, Savage Grace, Agent Steel, but also classic bands like Judas Priest. What made you start playing music and what metal means for you?

Inti: Something about music, rock music, heavy metal, it just clicked for me! When I was younger I looked up to the guitar heroes of my favourite bands and it definitely inspired me to play. Randy Rhoads was a big motivator; and Judas Priest was a huge discovery as well. I also think Canada has such a good library of rock and metal that it was easy to be influenced by Canadian classics. I think particularly watching music videos also made me think, “whoa! This is so cool, I want to do this. I CAN do this!” I had some friends who were also starting to play music around the same time and that helped me learn to play.
Music is both a way of expression and release for me, so it means everything! Without it I die!

There is a new wave of metal bands coming from United States and Canada with Gatekeeper, Eternal Champion, Visigoth and more. How is the current metal scene in North America and Canada? Which bands do you distinguish? It appears that there is something boiling and ready to explode but do you think that it will break through or it will remain underground?

Inti: I think it’s hard to say. Sometimes I feel like metal is becoming popular again and everything is big, lots of shows and bands, and then suddenly everything dries up for a bit and suddenly no one is around. If anything I think I don’t think it’s boiling over, but simmering down and becoming more concentrated. I’m more involved in what’s going on in Canada, so the bands I’m distinguishing are Spell, Barrow Wight, Possessed Steel, Emblem, Cellphone… Canada has lots of great bands, but we could always use more, the big cities in North America are too far apart. and maybe a few more fans while we are at it.

However, speaking of underground, do you think that underground can be the new mainstream and what's your view on "underground" and heavy metal music nowadays? There are many new traditional metal bands out there, various festivals appear everywhere, older bands reunite (even with just one "cult" album), there is a vinyl hype, cassette tapes return and everything 80s-related seems cool...

Inti: I think the underground could become the new mainstream, but it would take a lot to get it there. In the 80’s heavy metal was advertised on a mainstream level like pop music. If they gave it that kind of treatment again, I’m sure it would rise …although I don’t necessarily think it would be the best thing…
My view: Too much hype on everything!

What does it take for a new metal band to survive?

Inti: I’ll let you know if I survive!

The world is changing. Society is changing. Politics and extreme ideas are rising. Do you think that metal music should raise a voice and take place?

Inti: Absolutely, music is the common language that unites us and I strongly believe we can make a positive difference in the world through it. Music and the arts have always been at the forefront of social change and there is no reason that should stop now. Things like the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Moscow Peace Festival, Hear N Aid, Rock Against Racism, Live AID , etc.  are some examples or music raising its voice for noble causes and I think we need more of that today. 

What will you do if you will find out that a member of one of the bands you love supports extreme ideas or will be convicted for a hateful crime?

Inti: Probably will be the end of that band for me, I can’t separate the politics from the music. But there’s also that Dave Holland thing? I guess we just tell ourselves he was a secondary member that didn’t matter and that he was out of the band anyways...
Then you start talking about how good Scott Travis is and Racer X or something instead… Les Binks was really good too!

I know that you are also running a metal record store and label in Canada. It seems that metal is your life but how easy or difficult is to survive?

Inti: I co-founded and ran Stained Class Records for 1 year (I no longer work there), I’ve been doing the label for a few years now and playing in bands, DJing, promoting shows and doing anything I can! Metal is my life and I love it, sometimes it feels like a lot, and there’s not much money in it…but what else would I rather do?

Where do you place Manacle in the current metal scene and what should we expect from you in the near future?

Inti: I’d place us in the bottom right now, but that’s not a bad thing, I’m hoping to play a lot more show this year and record a 7” soon before beginning work on a new album.

Are you still going to see Judas Priest without KK and Glenn?

Inti: I did! Priest will always be my favourite band, and I have the feeling this may be one of their last tours. Of course it’s not the same without KK and Glen, but what other choice do I have since I missed the glory days! They were still great and I regret nothing, long live the Priest!

Photo by Kimo Verkindt
No Fear To Persevere is out now on No Remorse Records

Δευτέρα, 5 Μαρτίου 2018

Morality and inexplicable changes in the music industry.

Metal music is changing. The signs were there. Everywhere. Record labels, artists and bands, promoters and live shows, physical and digital products, press, magazines and online media, social media. The music industry is changing.

The "old" is relevant nowadays. I was listening to Saxon's "Unleash The Beast" yesterday and for most people around my age (and not only) this is something like "new" Saxon but this is already an album 20 years old...  

There is a new trend in metal music since years, where "traditional", "retro" and everything related to the 80s, is overhyped. Even the younger audience is looking and dressed like James Hetfield in his youth. 80s and before is the "old" and after that, even if decades have passed, for some weird reason, everything is considered "new". Nostalgia and worship of the past is the main key of how music industry is moving and the classic acts must stay with us forever, with one way or another.

It is very difficult for music industry to create new major acts like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, and most likely it won't happen in the near future. It is even more difficult (nearly impossible) for a new band to become like those old major acts. From time to time, there are some "new" bands that create fuss around their name and get high slots in big open air festivals but they can't make arena or big venue tours. On the other hand, older bands always get more attention when they are active and when a major act is touring, the music industry is moving around their name.

What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire?

Underneath the current status there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of all the major acts. We have entered a period where older bands will keep moving even without founding members or with so many lineup changes that will transform their sound and image. At this point, there is an inexplicably trend to keep in purpose some elements to those acts that will connect them with their past so they will keep going as the "old act". This might came up randomly or as a business plan, but music bands are transformed in a similar way of a sport club or team that keeps going with new members and players using the same brand name.

Is there a morality issue?

Let's speak with some examples that raised controversy.

Recently, and just few weeks before their world tour (with many dates, many people and money involved) guitarist and main composer of Judas Priest, Glenn Tipton (that is already 70 years old) announced that he won't follow the band to the tour due to health problems that will affect his performance. Tipton revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, with which he was first diagnosed in 2008. In 2011, K.K. Downing also left the band with a statement: "There had been an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time", and he also added that he wasn't happy with the band's live performance. A decent and respectful desicion until one point.

We all understand that people are getting older and they can't perform as they used to be at their prime. The controversy raised in the case of Judas Priest is that without both original guitarists and since this guitar duo is one of the most recognizable elements of the band, can they continue using the name with new members? You still have the voice of Rob Halford and the silent presence of bassist Ian Hill, but is it the same?

Before continuing let's answer a simple question. What is closer to the essence of the Judas Priest sound, this or this? For sure, this is closer.

After answering to yourself the above question, let's share another one: Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there?

And when you will answer yourself this question, think if Glenn Tipton knew from start that we won't follow the Judas Priest tour and everything was a well constructed business plan, or it just happened. 


Let's go to some more examples.

Candlemass are touring without the main composer and founder of the band, Leif Edling. But what is closer to the essence of the Candlemass sound, what we see now live or the band during mid to late 90s?

The classic Venom lineup is Cronos (vocals & bass), Mantas (guitar) and Abaddon (drums). In mid 80s, Mantas left the band and was replaced by two other guitarists and just few years later he came back and Cronos was out of the band. For the next years until mid 90s, the band's main lineup was Demolition Man (vocals & bass), Mantas (guitar), Abaddon (drums) with the addition of Al Burnes on guitar. The original lineup was reformed in the late 90s, but by the mid 00s, only Cronos remains in the band using the Venom moniker. Meanwhile, Demolition Man, Mantas and Abaddon are recording and touring under the name Venom Inc. Which one is the "true" Venom? Or can we have two bands performing the same songs and sharing the same legacy?

There are more similar occasions over the years with bands like Rhapsody and Tank.

Do you want something more extreme? Giuffria is an American hard rock band formed by Gregg Giuffria when his previous band, Angel, broke up. They were active for few years and broke up in 1987. In 2015 some members of the band reformed Giuffria for live shows, without Gregg Giuffria...

Besides the members and persons of each band, there is also the music. And maybe this is the most important thing. We must not forget two crucial things: 

1. Most musicians and artists cannot stop composing and performing. This is what they do and it is an inner need. They live and breath music.

2. Many musicians evolve and change. No matter how much you might love a specific era of an artist or band, you don't own them. You can't tell them what and how to play. Either you like it and follow them again, either not.

For example, Ozzy Osbourne (70 years old) after the last Black Sabbath world tour, started the last tour of his solo career. This last tour might last for two years and despite the business plan and how many people might work behind the "Ozzy" brand name, you can easily spot that Ozzy, the man, lives for the stage and really having fan up there.

Fates Warning is a band with different faces and unique evolution.  There are people who like only their early works, there are people who like only their mid period and there are people who like everything they do. Can you tell them how to play? No. You can just follow what you like. However, they did something very special that pleased everyone. Fates Warning have a specific lineup today with only one founding member (Jim Matheos) but last year, they played two special shows with the 1986 lineup performing only material from that era. They have done this before in 2010 when they reunite "Parallels" lineup for selected shows.

And with that we come to another case where the "old" comes to present again. Nostalgia is the key and some promoters have found a way to offer this kind of special shows to the audience, so older fans will remember their youth and new fans will get a glimpse of a legendary or cult past. Music industry follow them and everyone is working on this direction. For example, when Fates Warning perform this special show, the old albums will get reissued, a live album will be released and press will cover the event and the band.
But besides that case, that was done with respect to the fans, involving all past members but without overcome the current status of the band, there are many more different cases, especially to the underground metal scene.

Over the last years, there are many shows that involve just one member of a band and in some cases not even the main composer. You see an old underground "name", but on stage you see something completely different. There are many people who consider many of those acts as "tribute bands" that have nothing to do with the original group.

Let's close the examples and cases we analyze with another band and another case. Riot was one of the most underrated US metal bands that suffered from many lineup changes and musical styles, but guitarist and composer Mark Reale was always there. Reale died of complications related to Crohn's disease in January 2012, just after the album "Immortal Soul" was released, where he appeared as guitarist but didn't really played on that record. After his death, there were more lineup changes and the band slightly changed the name to Riot V and kept going playing many shows and releasing albums. We all have to admit that their live shows are great but we also have to admit that it might be awkward for some people to hear live songs like "Outlaw" with completely different musicians. But they still continue. Can someone tell them that they don't deserve to do it?
And yet, music industry again found a way to follow such a case by re-releasing the Riot catalogue on different vinyl variations and compact discs. The band will also find a way to perform some special shows, and press will cover it.

Music industry will always find ways to follow the progress of each band when there is impact to the audience. But as we mentioned, underneath the current status in music, there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of the "old" that is more safe than risk with something new. If you will visit a record store, probably you will see more reissues than new releases, and it will be much easier for an old established band to play live shows and get paid for those.

How will music industry keep the "old" always up-to-day? Are there new major acts?

There is a band that might continue for many years and you will never know or care of who performs. Ghost is a big band of our days but the way they are promoted makes no difference to who is behind each Nameless Ghoul or who will be Papa Emeritus. Tobias Forge is the singer and songwriter, but also the business leader of the act and probably he will keep his successful brand name for a long time. Ghost is presented in a way where he can do it and there are unlimited ways of moving on, behind specific persons, with just music and shows. This is an exception of a "new" that can become a successful "old" in the years to come.

There are new bands playing traditional heavy metal like Enforcer or Night Demon that have all the elements of a band that could make a career in the 80s but they are active in the wrong period. They have catchy music, great production and over-the-top live performance. On the other hand, there are few other new bands like Sabaton, Amon Amarth and Volbeat, plus US bands with diverse modern metal sound that have gain great recognition from a younger audience, but we can't really say if they will become timeless. Only time can tell, but we must support new bands, too.

I am going to see Judas Priest in few months in Rockwave Festival along with Accept, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Meanwhile, few weeks earlier Udo will also perform a special Accept show... Will this be the last Judas Priest tour? Can't tell, but in a very weird, scientific fiction future, Rob Halford and Ian Hill might slowly step aside and the "new" guys could continue playing special festival shows under a name like "The Legacy of Judas Priest".

Is it possible that many similar "legacy" and "special shows" could appear in the near future? Maybe including some special guests or even past band members of the "legacy"? Will "tribute bands", "celebration shows" and "heritage act tours" be the future of the music festivals?

"The music that touches you in your youth is magnified as you get older. Each record can be a virtual time machine and all you need is to hear a second or two and you go back to that place and time when you first heard it. It's a brilliant feeling when music touches you so profoundly and stays with you through time." - Rob Halford

There is always an emotional bond between a beloved artist and his fan. This emotional bond can have a different impact to different people, especially when they do not separate the art from the artist. But we need to clarify this: The artist is mortal and the art is immortal.
Let's sum up.

What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire?

Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there?

Is there a morality issue? Or is it just music after all?

Or simply, everything about major acts will be just business, like there is a businessman that has bought a big band (or bands) and hired managers to handle his investements?

Δευτέρα, 19 Φεβρουαρίου 2018

BLACK SABBATH: Demonic riffing & birth of heaviness - What is this that stands before me?

From the ashes of the 60s bands of Mythology and Rare Breed, four blokes from Birmingham started in 1968 a journey that would change the face of music. After many gigs in United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark, the audience was shocked by the heavy music of those guys. In 1969, Ozzy heard the Led Zeppelin debut album and he was surprised. He couldn't believe that this was a new band. He said to Tony Iommi 'did you hear how heavy this Led Zeppelin album sounded?'. Without missing a beat, Tony replied, 'we'll be heavier'. And so they did. In 1969, Earth became Black Sabbath and in February the 13th of 1970, the world of music changed with the first Black Sabbath same-titled album that introduced to the world the songs that were performed only live for the past two years but already had caused an impact to the underground music scene of the late 60s.
 Black Sabbath, 1969

The opening title-track of "Black Sabbath" album was a shock for the world back then. While most of the heavy bands of that era were inspired from blues, Tony Iommi also adds inspiration from Gustav Holst's classic piece "Mars, The Bringer Of War" in the title track, and there was an undentified sinister aura dominating the album.

Heavy Metal's roots came from bands like Cream, Iron Butterfly, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin, but Black Sabbath introduced to the world a complete offering of outcast heavy music with dark lyrics, imaginery, and riffs everywhere. Heavy metal riffs and not just guitar distortion. If we need to set a zero moment for the birth of heavy metal with just one band, one album and one musician, it has to be: Black Sabbath, "Black Sabbath" and Tony Iommi. Heavy metal would exist without them for sure, but it would be different. So much different that might be something else... There was heavy music before and during Black Sabbath's existence, but the blokes from Birmingham led heavy music to a new level.

Those days, even without internet, the spread of the news was quick and a band that released an album in February, could influence another band that released an album just two months later. Music was changing daily and parthenogenesis in music was more present than ever. Things were very fast and recordings were finished in just few days. Just keep in mind that during 1970 - 1973 Black Sabbath recorded 5 albums!

"When the 'Paranoid' album came out, Rudolf Schenker and I saw Black Sabbath play at a club in Hannover and it was amazing. Those are the songs which helped to create the entire heavy metal style. Sabbath's music has become the soundtrack for everything we love about metal. What an incredible band. They mean everything to metal and hard rock." - Klaus Meine (Scorpions)

The theoretically artistic imperfection of the 1970 Sabbath albums ("Black Sabbath", "Paranoid") caused a phenomenon of a social impact with all the "wrong" mucical reasons. Listening to Black Sabbath back then looked like something forbidden. Sinister and anti-hippie lyrics, unorthodox drum parts, weird guitar tuning and lower frequencies that sounded evil and threatening to the listeners of that period, and the diminished fifth - the devil's interval. If you will add the desperate human and yet out-of-this-world voice of Ozzy, you have something completely out-of-the-box, scary and heavy. It was no secret that "Paranoid" track (a huge commercial success) was a song the band didn't really like back then because it didn't fit with the rest of the tunes and was added after the label's request.

"Black Sabbath... Very different in approach to us, but the way they've influenced music since is extraordinary." - Keith Emerson

Black Sabbath never stopped writing and recording music for the next years, and played countless shows all over the world. Critics and press didn't accept them in their early years and there was no marketing plan from any label or manager during 70s. How could there be since press didn't support them? There was just the audience that followed them anywhere and wanted to see this heavy band with the dark anti-hippie lyrics and the crazy frontman. They wanted to witness history in the making. There were of course few other bands with distorted guitars and few heavy songs back in late 60s and early 70s, but there wasn't any complete album so heavy like "Master Of Reality" until 1971. And that was already the third album of Black Sabbath in 2 years. Tony Iommi downtuned his guitar and produced an even bigger, heavier sound. Geezer Butler also downtuned his bass to match Iommi and the result was the heavier album until 1971, and the foundations of more genres like doom, stoner and sludge. Nowadays (or even during the 80s) these songs might be described as "heavy" but not "metal", but during the 70s, that was Heavy Metal.

Black Sabbath were unstoppable and kept evolving. Everyone wanted to check those guys and the impact was huge back then and we cannot understand it clearly with today's standards. In the next three albums ("Vol.4", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", "Sabotage") the progress and the evolution led them to worldwide critical success and they were regarded as one of the most important bands of the 70s.

"I always get the question in every interview I do, 'what are your top five metal albums?'. I make it easy for myself and always say the first five Sabbath albums." - Scott Ian (Anthrax)

Those years, countless future known musicians started playing music thanks to Black Sabbath or listening carefully how they composed those songs. Many of them played heavy metal during 80s, some of them crafted their heavy art few years later (even months) from the moment they were introduced in the Sabbath songs and there was also many artists that were influenced by Black Sabbath without even playing metal, and that makes Sabbath even more important. The impact was huge. Not just in terms of music, but aesthetics also, and direct or indirect influence. Even if you think that you "hear" no influence, it is still there.

"Without doubt, all the songs that Sabbath made were heard around the world and made singers, guitar players, bass players and drummers around the world sit up and think. In Priest we all checked out Sabbath by really listening closely. We learned a lot in the exciting ways that heavy music could be written, recorded and produced." - Rob Halford (Judas Priest)

"Anything I do, even if someone can't identify it, it has to do with Black Sabbath. It is in my blood. It's my favourite band." - Jim Matheos (Fates Warning)

"The true importance of any band can be justified by the influence their music has had on other musicians, and Sabbath have undoubtedly influenced tens of thousands. For me, they are the true godfathers of metal." - Rick Wakeman

"Tony Iommi. He is the master of the riff. He is a huge influence on me because I only play riffs, I don't play lead. To me, Sabbath is like the bible of metal." - Max Cavalera

"You can't calculate the influence that Black Sabbath and Ozzy have had on rock n'roll. It's huge." - Lemmy

"Tony Iommi is the true father of heavy metal, a continuously creative genius riff-meister. Black Sabbath developed an incredibly unique style. These men invented heavy metal. They have come up with more riffs than any other band in history. Sabbath have inspired so many young bands." - Brian May (Queen)

"Metal owns its beginnings to Black Sabbath. Without them, history would have been totally changed. You would not have any metal at all. At least not metal the way we all know it now. You can't say many other bands have had such a huge impact." - Phil Collen (Def Leppard)

"Every metal band owns a debt, musically, to Black Sabbath. They were the original." - Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse)

"The guitar heard around the world. Yes, indeed. The beloved Black Sabbath have inspired more new bands to start their own journey than perhaps any other band." - Gene Simmons (Kiss)

"Black Sabbath are what got me into playing. They were one of my favourite bands and without them I would probably not have become a drummer. I owe them a lot." - Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

"If there was no Black Sabbath, I could still possibly be a morning paper delivery guy." - Lars Ulrich (Metallica)

"Mr. Iommi, also known as The Riffmaster. It's all his fault I am where I am." - James Hetfield (Metallica)

"I love Black Sabbath, they were amazing, they were great, they were dark, and they made an amazing contribution to music today. They taught everyone that you could tune your guitars down to a D or C or A, and that's a big deal. Amost every band that made it big in 90s, including Soundgarden and Nirvana, owe a debt to them." - Dave Grohl

"Like so many of my generation, I grew up listening to Black Sabbath. They were one of the most important bands in my early life. Without them, I would't have become the musician I am." - Trent Reznor

"The godfathers of a genre. There's been no one who really touched on what Black Sabbath sounded like, with all the different nuances that they had as a group and encompassed across their catalogue. They really are the marquee heavy metal band of all time." - Slash

"Without Tony Iommi, heavy metal wouldn't exist. He is the creator of heavy. Tony is a legend. He took rock and roll and turned it into heavy metal." - Eddie Van Halen

Can you make a difference with a random heavy song in one album? Can you make a difference with just one album or a single performance or with just one cover or few dark lyrics? Probably it takes more than being the right time in the right place. Black Sabbath did in few years what others couldn't do in a lifetime and that was ground-breaking and changed everything. They set the biggest boulder and upon it the foundations of heavy metal were built. 

In 1980, once again, with a different line-up and approaching, Black Sabbath (and producer Martin Birch) defined-unlocked the "sound" with the album "Heaven And Hell". From that year and on , heavy metal already had the "SOUND" and the structure. It wasn't "hard-rock-ish", "rock-driven" or "proto-metal" (funny term of the last years, if you want my opinion), or whatever; it is pure Heavy Metal now, in all terms, and that is more than obvious in the 80s, despite that thunder during February the 13th of 1970. There was heavy metal in the 70s, but from 1980 there is a real explosion and once again, Black Sabbath were there, setting with few others the template for 80s heavy metal.

More albums followed during 80s with many line-up changes (someone might say that those incarnations were a different act) but even if the music was more straight-forward, albums like "Headless Cross" and "Tyr" still remain as few of the decade's finest.

Did Black Sabbath know that they defined a genre? Did they do it on purpose? For sure, they knew that there was something "different" happening but it is a fact that when you will try to change the world, most likely you will fail. "Something" drives you to this direction and you will understand what you did only when the impact will surpass your existence.

"Black Sabbath - they invented heavy metal. And we should all thank them for doing it. Tony Iommi is the master guitarist. What he has done is remarkable, and helped to put this band beyond everyone. They should be very proud of what they have achieved. In metal, it all began with them and no one has ever done it better." - Sir Christopher Lee

Δευτέρα, 1 Ιανουαρίου 2018

The albums we enjoyed most in 2017

The usual prologue would be that no one can say that have listened to almost everything that was released during 2017. Everyone who claims that, and posting the "best" and "top" lists is wrong so we will speak just for our favorite releases and the albums we enjoyed most in 2017. 2016 was better and it seems that 2018 will be also better, but there were some solid releases during 2017. Also, you need to check the physical format to have the complete experience of an album, and not just have a quick listen on social networks, downloads or whatever. There are also the unlucky ones (the albums that released during December) that haven't got all the proper attention, since a few plays are never enough.

So, which are our favorite 10 albums?

1. Eloy - The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre (Part I)
After years of hard work, Frank Bornemann finally makes one of his dreams come true with this first part of a rock opera dedicated to Jeanne d'Arc. This is not a typical Eloy release (if there is such a thing) but it is dreamlike and a triumph of artistic music for 2017.

2. Painful Pride - Lost Memories
Decades in the making, this is the debut album of an unsung obscure heroic band from Sweden. Formed in 1983 (!) they finally recorded the songs that was the soundtrack of their youth. I can't be very objective since I was involved with the creation of this album over the last years but you have to listen to this one. Melodic metal that will bring in mind the glorious 80s Swedish metal scene and also early-Def Leppard and Praying Mantis. Bittersweet melodies, emotional performance and great songwritting with highlights tracks like "Lost Memories", "Visions" and "A Thousand Lies". These memories will never be lost.

3. Wrathblade - God Of The Deep Unleashed
Epic metal holocaust by one of the underground leading forces of the genre. Unbound and powerful, "God Of The Deep Unleashed" is the next logical step after the great debut album of 2012. Less straight-forward, with better arrangments and amazing rhythm section (especially the drum parts) this is THE epic metal release of 2017.

4. Sorcerer - The Crowning Of The Fire King
Second full-length album of the Swedish Epic Doom legend. Some fans stick only to the demo-era of Sorcerer, but no matter how much I love the demo-era I cannot ignore the new great albums, especially when you have solid songwriting, Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath elements ("Abandonded By The Gods") and amazing guitar melodies. Just listen to "Unbearable Sorrow", one of the best songs for 2017. The digipak CD version has 2 more songs.

5. Arduini / Balich - Dawn Of Ages
Victor Arduini (ex-Fates Warning) and Brian Balich (Argus) unite forces and create one of the most unexpected releases of 2017. With Black Sabbath as the most notable influence, "Dawn Of Ages" is the biggest surprise of 2017. The 17min "Beyond The Barricade" is a mammoth song and tracks like "Forever Fade", "The Wraith" are among the best ones for 2017. The double vinyl version has 3 bonus tracks (covers from Uriah Heep, Beau Brummels and Black Sabbath)

6. Night Demon - Darkness Remains
This power trio is probably the hottest new traditional heavy metal band around. Most likely they have already surpassed other acts that were supposed to claim this title. Energy, power, fast and mean riffs, catchy songs and influences from 80s Iron Maiden and Neat Records' bands dominate "Darkness Remains" and if you have the chance to see them live, do not miss it!

7. Jacobs Dream - Sea Of Destiny
The same-titled album of 2000 was a revelation (following the equal shock of the 1996 release) and more albums followed over the years but somehow the momentum was lost for Jacobs Dream. Private released, "Sea Of Destiny" lacks of production but there are some great songs, like "Into The Night", that bring in mind the days of glory. While this album passed unnoticed, go out there and and it! 

8. Air Raid - Across The Line
And now, this is evolution. I really loved "Danger Ahead" EP and "Night Of The Axe" but the previous album ("Point Of Impact") didn't work for me. Air Raid added influences from maestro Yngwie Malmsteen and the band reached new levels of excellency.

9. Doomocracy - Visions & Creatures Of Imagination
Sorrowful and eerie, with exotic melodies, stronger Solitude Aeturnus elements and more power, the second album of Doomocracy is a skillful and passionate offering to the altar of epic doom metal.

10. Accept - The Rise Of Chaos
It's Accept. I has to be on the list. Otherwise you will die by the sword.

10 more albums we enjoyed (in alphabetical order):

Argus - From Fields Of Fire
I remember like yesterday the debut album of Argus and now they are already on the fourth full-length release. There is a certain quality in each album and "From Fields Of Fire" is no exception.

Caronte - YONI
Shamanic ritualistic doom. Weird, different and unorthodox, it is not recommended for all traditional (or epic) doomsters but it has a mystical and dark aura that you will love or hate. And NO, this is not stoner.

The Doomsday Kingdom - The Doomsday Kingdom
When I first listened TDK I thought that Mats Leven would fit better on vocals since the songs sounded like they needed his voice. Later and over many listens Niklas Stalvind (Wolf) really sounds suitable and he does a great job with the way he performs the visions, dreams and nightmares of The Doomfather. Leif Edling is a living legend and legends cannot really fail.

Jono - Life
That also came out of nowhere and has a variety of elements and influences that are mixed perfectly to create a diverse album. There are influences from Queen, Journey, Supertramp, Kansas (of all eras), melodic rock with symphonic and progressive elements plus the amazing voice of Johan Norrby. Once you will listen to this album, there is no return.

Lord Vigo - Blackborne Souls
Second album of the doomsters from Germany that follows the steps of their debut adding more maturity and diversity. Heavy, strong, paranormal, gothic and sorrowful, "Blackborne Souls" came out just the first days of 2017 and therefore many people missed it from their top-lists.

Lunar Shadow - Far From Light
The highlight of the album is the guitar parts and the maturity on songwriting. It would be much better if there was better production and more powerful vocals but Lunar Shadow have a kind of underground eccentricity that makes me wait of even better things by them in the future.

Necrytis - Countersighns
Well, that's the kind of US metal we miss. Don't you agree?

Pagan Altar - The Room Of Shadows
While this is far from the classic albums of Pagan Altar, you cannot let the solid guitar work of Alan Jones pass unnoticed. This is indeed a special and emotional release for 2017.

Sanhedrin - A Funeral For The World
These guys know how to write hooks and perform a catchy blend of hard rock, traditional metal and doom, making you feel that you listen something familiar. "Riding On The Dawn" is one of the best opening tracks of 2017.

Venom Inc - Avé
They hAvé returned. Mantas, Abaddon and The Demolition Man deliver pure blood stained prime evil forged in Hell and they bleed metal. Avé Satanas.

Best EP: Open Burn - Open Burn
Here we have three Lethal members (Dave Hull, Glen Cook, Jerry Hartman) with a new singer playing high quality US metal. Of course, singer Eric Johns is not Tom Mallicoat, but since we cannot have a new Lethal album, "Open Burn" is a close substitute but most important there are some great songs here.

Best compilation: Hour Of 13 - Salt The Dead: The Rare And Unreleased
Including the early demo versions of the songs that ended on the Hour Of 13 debut album (one of the best albums of the millennium) plus other rarities and the last official recording of the band, the amazing "Upon Black Wings We Die".
Best live album: Black Sabbath - The End
There is no end for immortality, but this is definitely the best live album of 2017. "The End" is the last live performance of the greatest metal band of all times, in the birthplace of metal, Birmingham. This is nearly a perfect live album, just one thing is missing.

Best reissue: Hittman - Hittman
You might find better albums that were reissued in 2017 (f.e. from Running Wild), but this is how a reissue should be done. Remastered from the original sources, with great unreleased bonus tracks (some of them better than the album songs) and huge booklet with many unpublished photos, complete lyrics, liner notes and everything with the arrangment of the original band members. Also, this is an undeniable killer piece of US metal.

Honorable mentions:

Desolation Angels - "King", Emerald - "Voice For The Silent", Hellwell - "Behind The Demon's Eyes", Knight Area - "Heaven And Beyond", Mausoleum Gate - "Into A Dark Divinity", Millennium - "Awakening", Oz - "Transition State", Professor Emeritus - "Take Me To The Gallows", Reflection - "Bleed Babylon Bleed", Walpyrgus - "Walpyrgus Nights", The Wizards - "Full Moon In Scorpio", Jack Starr's Burning Starr - "Stand Your Ground".

What are we looking forward for 2018?

Judas Priest ("Firepower") and Saxon ("Thunderbolt") will have their new albums during 2018 and once legends are on stage, metal is always sharp. But I strongly believe that "White Horse Hill" from outsider Epic Doom Metal masters Solstice, will be the revelation of 2018. Other than that, Heir Apparent was supposed to have the new album ready for 2017, so I assume that this will be finally completed during 2018, while during this year we are also expecting from two other legendary acts to enter studio after many years: Psychotic Waltz and Saviour Machine.

After their debut EP, that had limited distribution and promotion and came in the form of CD-R, we are expecting a debut full-length album from Open Burn, and also the second part of "The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre" by art rock legends, Eloy.

While Visigoth and Evil-Lyn have ready their new albums (and both of them are very strong), everyone expects what the next step will be for Eternal Champion and we hope that a new album will be out during 2018.

Canadian metal soldiers Sword will enter studio for new material and Pharaoh, one of the best US metal acts of 00s will also release a new album diring 2018. Any other project - release of Chris Black is also more than welcome.

Have a great, happy and healthy 2018!