Tuesday, 17 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Foehammer, "Second Sight"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 06/04/2018
Label: Australopithecus Records


Like the mythos of Tolkien himself, “Second Sight” is a vast, apocalyptic, intimidating slab of genius and practically invites obsessives and neophytes alike to bask in the overwhelming worlds within.

“Second Sight” DD//LP track listing

1. Black Numenorean
2. Recurring Grave
3. Axis Mundi
4. The Seer
The Review:

Since the 1960s rebirth of “The Lord of the Rings” as the go-to fantasy epic of counterculture, the utopian, religious, horrific, and even whimsical elements of J.R.R. Tolkien’s opus have been peppered into practically every subgenre of pop and rock music.  Whether the weird folk pop single “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” (Leonard Nimoy’s only musical hit), the numerous references in Led Zeppelin’s catalog, the derivative fantasy prog epics of power metal, countless band names, or the Uruk-hai obsessions of black metallers, there’s something about the Tolkien’s “Legendarium” that invites musical adaptation, inspiration, and exploration.  On the flipside, it’s also inspired a lot of eye-rolling crap – insipid name checks, tedious inside jokes, or, most insidiously, the racially coded misreading of particularly deficient black metal types.  Mostly, musicians who take on Tolkien shrink in comparison to the monolithic power; Foehammer is not one of these casualties of hubris.  The doom metal power trio is one of the only modern units formidable enough to wrestle with the Nazgul and emerge victorious.

“Black Numenorean” is the only explicit “Tolkien namecheck” song on Foehammer’s debut full length, “Second Sight”, but the entirety of the record is viscerally, elementally brutal, like a reverberating pyroclastic blast from Mount Doom.  Tolkien’s “Black Numenoreans” are the original corrupted men, turned against the powers of good to support their own sinister ambitions, and Foehammer’s auditory rendering is the perfect metaphor of corruption and martial obsession.  Stomping, rolling blasts of guitar fuzz, slowly aching bass riffs, and crashing percussion are the perfect soul-demolishing soundtrack for nihilistic evil.  I could imagine Sauron himself bellowing in sinister triumph through Jay Cardinell’s trademark death growls.

“Recurring Grave” may not be distinctly Tolkeinesque, but it continues the strain of trudging orc sludge, winding up to agonizing, palm muted buildups.  Joe Cox’s guitar tone is spot on – a gradual build of feedback and subtly bluesy riffs that you’ll find yourself humming for days afterward.  The ethereal fingerpicking intro of “Axis Mundi” may have you thinking you’ve stumbled into Rivendell, but Foehammer quickly descends back into total darkness.  The rhythmic one two punch of Cardinell’s bass and Vang’s titanic drum hits is pure filthy doom joy, while Cox gets to ramp up his playing for a full on shredding solo.

The closing sixteen-minute epic, “The Seer”, is a perfect apotheosis of “Second Sight”’s expansive tone, doom riffing, and occasional guitar freakouts; Cardinell’s growl is truly menacing, Vang’s drums pummel and then retreat, and the fuzz is unrelenting.  Jay’s bass, allowed a minute to churn alone, has the perfect mix of crackle and clarity.  The nearly instrumental second half is a transcendent final dirge that will break your neck from glacial but memorable hooks and riffs, before a final screeching fadeout that will beg you to fire up this LP all over again.  Like the mythos of Tolkien himself, “Second Sight” is a vast, apocalyptic, intimidating slab of genius and practically invites obsessives and neophytes alike to bask in the overwhelming worlds within.

“Second Sight” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM PREMIERE: "Filthy Flowers Of Doom" by Italian heavyweights TONS

“Filthy Flowers of Doom" is Tons' second full length album. Five tracks of in your face sludge/doom metal riffs, tight drumming and a demonic voice all characterize the latest effort from Turin’s finest. Low-league occultism and weed devotion are the basis of this crushing album that will drag you into a sulphurous and sabbathian void. “Filthy Flowers of Doom” is recorded by Danilo “Deepest Sea” Battocchio, while mastering is helmed by Brad Boatright (Sleep, NAILS, Obituary) at Audiosiege (USA).Today you can check out the album in full before its official release on 20th April, let doom flow. Preorder here

Band info: facebook

Sunday, 15 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Winterfylleth, "The Hallowing of Heirdom"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 06/04/2018
Label: Candlelight Records |
Spinefarm Records

“Winterfylleth have created a superb album here- one of atmosphere, melancholy and mystery. Indeed, much like the landscapes that inspired it, there is beauty to be found here in abundance if you are willing to give it a try.”

“The Hallowing of Heirdom” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. The Shepherd
2. Frithgeard
3. Æcerbot
4. Halgemonath
5. Elder Mother
6. Embers
7. A Gleeman’s Volt
8. Latch to a Grave
9. The Nymph
10. On-Cýdig
11. Resting Tarn
12. The Hallowing of Heirdom

The Review:

Winterfylleth have always done things a little differently- no faux-satanic posing for them. No corpsepaint. No spikes and bullet belts. However, they remain a black metal band. On this record, though, they depart from the sonic tropes of black metal entirely and have instead turned in a gothic folk album. If you picked up their career spanning compendium a few years back and heard their version of “John Barleycorn Must Die”, then you have a pretty good reference point for what is contained here.

Twelve tracks of acoustic guitar, violin, percussion and vocals that range from choral to droning- no screams or growls necessary. Winterfylleth have always been a band enthralled with nature and landscape. “The Shepherd”, inspired by the Marlowe poem, and the title track are clear odes to the land, while the title of “Resting Tarn” makes explicit overtures to the land and the people of it, but elsewhere the influence of  nature and folklore is just as strong.

The melodic “Æcerbot”, the melancholic and moody “Halgemonath”, the elegant “Edler Mother”- they all make use of violin and textured acoustic guitars and set a mood of contemplation and wistfulness. At well over 50mins in length the album does not feel like a short listen. Indeed, how much of the album you can listen to in one go may be determined by your love (or lack thereof) of the sounds described here. It is certainly not for everybody, but those who are fans of dark folk will find a lot to like here. “Latch To A Grave” is as dark as anything you will find on most orthodox black metal records, while “The Nymph” is a good deal prettier, with its female voice-over and light atmospherics. The production and recording is also excellent- headed up by the evergreen Chris Fielding of Skyhammer Studio.

Winterfylleth have created a superb album here- one of atmosphere, melancholy and mystery. Indeed, much like the landscapes that inspired it, there is beauty to be found here in abundance if you are willing to give it a try.

“The Hallowing of Heirdom” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Eagle Twin, "The Thundering Heard"

By: John Reppion

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/03/2018
Label: Southern Lord Recordings

“The Thundering Heard” is a dense and rich record; full of aural and textual interest. It’s a record that makes you think, makes you imagine.  It is a visceral, heavy, epic Riff Monster of a record with horns of flame and hooves of stone.

“The Thundering Heard” CD//LP//DD track listing:

1). Quanah Un Rama 
2). Elk Wolfv Hymn
3). Heavy Hoof
4). Antlers of Lightning  

The Review:

Longhorn running ‘cross the dead salt sea / Mountains rising up like beasts with horns like trees / Antlers reaching high, like a forest… On fire!”

The Thundering Herd (Songs of Hoof and Horn)" is Eagle Twin's third full-length album, following on from 2012's "The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale" and 2009's "The Unkindness of Crows". Like its predecessors “The Thundering Heard " deftly blends crushing, yet hypnotic riffs and beats, with American literary Folk Horror. Which is pretty impressive for a two-piece, really.

“Quanah Un Rama” (a fittingly bicornuous title based on Hellboy's Enochian name "Anung un Rama”, and Quanah Parker, Comanche war leader of the "Antelope" people…possibly) opens with a harmonic drone from vocalist/guitarist Gentry Densely’s throat. At once bestial and like some primal religious vocalisation, this inhuman sound underpins much of the record. Then a Big Fat Riff kicks in. And it is Massive. Truly earth moving. The guitar sounds (right across the record) are just… wow. More Om than Sleep, but with all the groove and swagger of the latter. The track jams on and on moving from part to part, texture to texture, but the same narrative remains throughout; every progression is a natural and necessary, and another chapter of the same story. When Densely chants “Come now / Thunder / Come now / Thunder cloud” over Tyler Smith's tribal tom-work, it sounds like a genuine summoning. You will believe that the sky above the studio was black that day.

“Elk Wolfv Hymn” swells in dreamily, yet ominously. We huddle close to the wilderness campfire for another folk-tale of stags and vultures and trees, of mountains and antlers and wolves. And in that same magical way Earth managed with “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skul”l, there’s something so incredibly American about the actual sound of the music itself. The wild, untamed, real America where bears and mountain lions and alligators think nothing of cracking and crunching the bones of humans to get to the marrow within. And crow keeps watch all the while.

“The Heavy Hoof clips / The Heavy Hoof clops / And the Heavy Hoof stamps on your grave”. Another massive riff. Another tom thumping groove. Another absolute belter of a tune, which seems to threaten to evolve into the heaviest version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” you could possibly imagine at one point. But that doesn't happen.

“Antlers of Lightening” begins as pure Sabbath Doom: lumbering, tritone laden heaviness with proclamations of the terror to come in the form of the lightning antlered one. Again through, as the music evolves, the guitar becomes more frenetic, and everything builds and builds and builds, we get an idea of the emerging narrative. We hear the destruction wrought by the electo-horned deity, and the fate of those who dared to try to stop it. About ten minutes in it seems for one moment like we're going to get an actual “Children of the Grave” style chug-a-chug-a-chug-chug breakout riff. Instead things slow back down and jam out until we reach the bitter-sweet outro of the album. A gentle but melacholic ending, like a cold dawn breaking.

The Thundering Heard” is a dense and rich record; full of aural and textual interest. It’s a record that makes you think, makes you imagine. It very much brought Algernon Blackwood’s Weird Fiction tales The Wendigo and The Willows to my mind; tales of the wilderness and the things which walked there long before man ever did. All that said, “The Thundering Heard" is not some deep-thinking, post-something, soundtrack to an unmade movie. It’s a visceral, heavy, epic Riff Monster with horns of flame and hooves of stone. 

“The Thunder Heard” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Thursday, 12 April 2018

TRACK PREMIERE: Let It Breathe debut "Blood Relations"

Now entering their 6th year, things seemed to have slowed to a manageable pace for curator and mastermind Steve STB of STB Records, having hit a purple patch a couple years ago, when it seemed vinyl releases were coming every couple months, more recently it seems to the outsider looking in that STB Records are easing off the gas a little in terms of volume of releases but continue to set the benchmark in terms of delivering high end vinyl releases.  But what would a stunning record  be if the music concealed within those grooves sucked.  Yes STB Records deliver kick ass vinyl, but the quality of the music needs to be kick ass too and the label certainly know a things or two about that, seemingly nurturing talent, until the big boys come along.  Today’s SLUDGELORD debutants seem to be no different, in fact worshippers of the riff, behold, it’s time to feel Minnesota, because  Let It Breathe are ready to bring their self-titled LP from its fuzzy, small town beginnings to the metal-loving masses of the world. 

Let It Breathe’s 7-track self titled debut rumbles with stoney heft and washes of easygoing melody.  Emphatic vocals soar and coast over exuberant drums and tasteful leads, but first and foremost they bring the riff. The cavernous sound resonates deep and grooves hard, and those who dig everything from Howling Giant to The Heavy Eyes to Telekinetic Yeti are sure to trip out to this epic LP and today you can check out a brand new jam, in the form of “Blood Relations”.  Let it Breathe's debut LP is set for release on April 27 via STB Records and can preordered here

Band info: facebook || bandcamp

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

INTERVIEW: The Sludgelord get in deep with Pig Destroyer @ Crossroads Live, Garwood, New Jersey (23/2/2018)

By: Mark Ambrose

For over twenty years, Pig Destroyer have been one of the most recognizable, venerated acts in grindcore and the larger metal community.  Whether weaving complex, conceptual albums like “Terrifyer”, stripped down hardcore-influenced ragers on “Book Burner”, or long form experimental pieces like “Natasha” and “Mass & Volume”, Pig Destroyer make waves with every split, collaboration, and full-length release.  En route to the Obnoxious Noise Fest in Long Island, NY, the legendary act played the rare non-festival show at Crossroads Live in Garwood, New Jersey.  JR Hayes (vocals),  Blake Harrison (electronics), and, briefly, Scott Hull (guitar) sat down for an in-depth chat with THE SLUDGELORD before their February 23 gig with Sunrot and Chained to the Dead to talk about their upcoming sixth full-length record, the appeal of playing offbeat venues, and the creative balance they’ve maintained while still working full-time jobs.

SLUDGELORD: What’s the status for the next release right now?

JR: I’m pretty sure everything has been recorded, so we’re in the mixing/mastering stage now.

Blake: Very close.  Actually, Scott’s at the hotel KIND OF working on some of it now.  I’d say, conservatively, the next week or two we’ll be done.

SLUDGELORD: Whether the deluxe version of “Book Burner” or the “Terrifyer” DVD, you’ve had some extra bells and whistles in the past.  Do you plan that out early on?  Are there any “special bonus” plans for this next album?

JR: I’ve found that stuff that Pig Destroyer plans early on doesn’t ever come to pass.

Blake: I would agree with that.

JR: We got into this record, we did the record, and there wasn’t any time to do any extra material.  It would have been nice to do extra stuff but we didn’t really have a chance.

Blake: There’s never “extra” material.  This one will be more stripped down.

JR: It does gonna be 11 songs, somewhere between 30 to 35 minutes with all the noise pieces.

Blake: Even with the “Mass and Volume” EP, we just had extra studio time. So while [JR] was doing his vocals we kinda put that together.  It was never like a “planned” thing.

JR: It just kinda happens.  Not that we don’t make plans, but with everybody’s schedules and the way things work, we just go with our guts.

SLUDGELORD: With John Jarvis on bass now, has the writing process changed at all?  Is there more “jamming out” songs or collaboration?  Or is Scott laying out everything?

JR: Scott pretty much lays out the foundation of the songs.  Since he programs drums we have to translate the drums for human arms.  Obviously people are allowed to put in their own personal flourishes.  For the most part the music comes from Scott.

Blake: Same thing with my noise – JR and I have demos we’ve been working on forever but Scott may have other ideas.

JR: Ultimately everything runs through Scott –

Blake: But it’s collaborative!

SLUDGELORD: Speaking of the noise and samples, how do you gather that kind of archive?  Is it just constant accumulation?  Blake, do you go in search of something once you have JR’s lyrics?

Blake: I actually didn’t have the lyrics when I was doing my stuff.  I’ll know where the lyrics are falling so I don’t have a burst of static over vocals.  But yeah I’m just always watching movies, at work or wherever, and keep notes and timestamp everything.  I will maybe have 3 pages of notes running on my phone at any given time, which is a lot!

JR: We’ll have a lot of time between records but it’s not like we’re partying for 4 years between albums.  Some of these lyrics I was working on during “Book Burner”.  Because I’ve been in a band with Scott for such a long time, I never know when he’s going to be inspired.  And when he’s inspired he cranks out things really fast, so I want a bunch of shit ready.  With this record I had three full notebooks of lyrics ready.

Blake: The same thing happened with “Phantom Limb” – he’d bring us to a practice with one song ready.  Another month would go by and there’d be another song.  And then the next time there were six!

SLUDGELORD: JR, was there any art or literature you were absorbing in anticipation of writing this record?

JR: I think – I hate to use the term “artist” because it sounds pretentious – but if you’re going to be an artist, being an artist is all about the moment, and it’s about emotion.  Making an album is a document of where the band is.  “Book Burner” was a document of where the band was in 2012, and at that time I was really into religious arguments, I was studying religion, I was absorbing all kinds of philosophical thought so that’s where those lyrics came from.  On the new record it’s kind of the same thing but there’s none of THAT particular stuff.  I feel like the next record is a reaction to where the previous record came from.  I wanted the songs to be about all different things – variety and that sort of thing.

Blake: I’ll also show JR my writing because he’s one of the best lyricists.  There was an idea we were tossing around of using my lyrics at some point.

JR: Which we’re gonna do.

SLUDGELORD: Any music in heavy rotation?

JR: The best record I’ve heard in the last five years is the new Cobalt.  I’ve been obsessed with that.

Blake: Set.

JR: Set is awesome.  I’ve been listening to a lot of old death metal.

Blake: Newer stuff for me has been Full of Hell, Genocide Pact, I’ve been getting into a lot of Alice Cooper lately, who was never a big influence on me growing up.  I feel disconnected talking to people who never listened before or they’ve been listening forever.

JR: I just discovered the band Nomeansno!  I went down a YouTube rabbit hole one day.

Blake: I’ve known JR for 22 years and I never would have thought you’d like that.  I love that band!  METZ from Canada – I don’t know if we can say it but we MAY be doing a split with them.

JR: Let’s not get too crazy *laughs*

Blake: Sunrot, who we’re playing with tonight.  I’m not really a big doom fan but I really like that band. It’s NOT doom, it’s different.

SLUDGELORD: Would you say there’s a unifying concept this time around?

JR: I like the IDEA of concept records, but with this record I tried to make each song its own song.  I told myself if I had a story I’d write a story.  But I don’t like to force things.  I like to go with what I’m feeling.  Luckily the things I had lined up with the songs Scott had written.

Blake: I’d say this is less conceptual than any other record we’ve ever made.

JR: It’s kind of the same feeling I had with “Phantom Limb”.  With “Terrifyer” I was like “God I wrote too much shit.”  I think it works for that record but with the next one I just focused on each song.  I didn’t feel the need for a concept this time.

SLUDGELORD: Do you think there will be a short story this time around, like “The Atheist” in “Book Burner”?

JR: Maybe with the next record.  I’ve been working on my novel, too, so I didn’t have story stuff to put into this one.  I’ve been working on it at least seven years.  This is my third draft.

Blake: I finally started reading it.

JR: Now that I have an editor I changed it around.  And I think for the better.  You lose perspective on something when you make it for too long.

SLUDGELORD: At this point we were joined by guitarist Scott Hull.

Blake: And we actually got someone else to mix this record.  We still tracked it and Scott tracked it.  He mixed “Phantom Limb” and “Book Burner” and did a great job, but sometimes you can get too close to a project.  This time Scott wanted to have someone else mix it, we need a different sound.

Scott: I just wanted to take myself out of that process a little bit more.  The process of writing the music took so long.  Not that it’s any sort of super complicated grouping of songs, but I think these songs are way more mature than any group of songs going into a record.  And I’m happy with everything we’ve committed to… hard disk.  Not tape anymore.

JR: Somebody out there is still using tape!  Steve Albini is still using tape.

Blake: “Phantom Limb” and “Book Burner”, when Scott was mixing after, he would call me and I’d hear his hair falling out.

Scott: It’s just torturous and I wanted to take myself out of the loop on that and focus on the music.  Being a guitar player in a band.

JR: But it’s hard to trust someone else.  I mean I’m nervous about it honestly because we’ve never handed one of our records over to someone else.

Blake: There were four or five names we talked about mixing the record.  The three of us just stopped nonstop about it.  We’ll get there!

SLUDGELORD: And how are you all still balancing full-time jobs at the same time?

JR: Scott has a family too! I don’t know how you balance it.

Blake: [Drummer] Adam [Jarvis] is going into the studio with Misery Index too!  He didn’t have to just learn our stuff, he’s learning that stuff too.

JR: That’s just life nowadays.  Everybody’s doing a million things.

Blake: I have to explain, “I’m not in a band where I get to sleep in and do nothing.”

Scott: I don’t think those exist anymore.

SLUDGELORD: What made you schedule a show in New Jersey when the most obvious spots are often Philadelphia or somewhere like Saint Vitus in Brooklyn?

Blake: I’ve known [Crossroads promoter] Andy Diamond for years.  We had an offer for this big show out on Long Island, so it made sense physically, geographically, and money wise to do this with Andy.

JR: And any time we’ve played Jersey the response has been great.  We’ve always had great shows in New York.

Blake: These are great shows we’re juiced about. I mean out on Long Island we’re with Chepang and Outer Heaven and Internal Bleeding

JR:  The big thing with us is: “Who are we playing with?” We can just go out and play a show but we’d rather play with Iron Lung or some band we really like! 

Blake: Because we don’t do it a lot.  These bands tonight – Sunrot and Chained to the dead – I picked.

SLUDGELORD: That’s really great to hear because the people in these bands were pretty essential in making a modern vital scene in this area.

JR: People don’t realize sometimes all you need to create a great music scene is just one person who is willing to book shows and finds a good venue.  It doesn’t take much, but something really cool can happen.  I wouldn’t even be in bands if someone hadn’t done that in my hometown.

Blake: Playing with bands we like is way more important to us because we get to experience it.  Some band came up to us and said, “I can’t believe you watched us.”  I said, “I LOVE you guys.”

JR: You gotta support the scene.

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Will Haven, "Muerte"

By: Charlie Butler

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/03/2018
Label: Minus Head Records

 “Muerte” is a glorious affirmation of Will Haven's greatness and raises the bar for heavy music in 2018, an awesome awe inspiring achievement for a band 23 years into their existence.

“Muerte” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Hewed With the Brand
2. Winds of Change
3. Kinney
4. The Son
5. 43
6. No Escape (feat. Mike Scheidt of YOB)
7. Unit K
8. Ladwig No. 949
9. Bootstraps
10. Now in the Ashes
11. El Sol (feat. Stephen Carpenter)

The Review:

Hopes of heavy veterans returning with an album that rivals their finest early work are rarely realised. Sacramento hellraisers Will Haven gave a timely reminder of their potent racket on 2011 LP “Voir Dire”. After a lengthy break the band now return with the awe-inspiring “Muerte”, a massive record that gives “Carpe Diem” a run for its money as their finest hour.

The quiet ambience of “Hewed With The Brand” is soon shattered by Grady Avenell’s glass gargling bark which heralds an earth-shaking explosion of riffage. Straight away the band lock into their trademark staccato assault, sounding bigger, heavier and uglier than ever before. The material here strikes a perfect balance between maintaining Will Haven’s crushing sonic palette while adding new layers of songwriting complexity. Will Haven have always had a penchant for hypnotic, effects-heavy interludes of calm in amongst the mayhem but now these sections have been incorporated into more challenging, dynamic compositions like “The Son” and “Now In The Ashes”. Key to this epic, immersive sound is the more prominent use of keyboards. When they were first introduced on “Voir Dire” they added a welcome subtle texture to the bands rumbling sludge. Now they have evolved into an all-encompassing wash of ethereal noise that lends these tracks a rich, unique atmosphere.  

No Escape” provides a powerful centrepiece to the album bolstered by a stunning guest vocal performance by YOB’s Mike Scheidt. A typically brutal lumbering explodes into a slow-motion lament with Scheidt’s timeless croon really hammering home the emotion. The melancholic doom of the outro is strangely beautiful with wordless howls conveying an aching sadness.

Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter joins the fray for the massive finale of “El Sol”. This track is a perfect celebration of the friendship between these two hugely influential bands and demonstration of what both are capable of at the peak of their powers.

The possibility of Will Haven delivering one of the albums of 2018 seemed minimal at the start of the year. “Muerte” is a glorious affirmation of their greatness and raises the bar for heavy music in 2018, an awesome achievement for a band 23 years into their existence.

“Muerte” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Judas Priest, "Firepower"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 09/03/2018
Label: Columbia Records

“Firepower” is one of the best albums in Priest's canon- it has the songs, the sound and the playing to match their best.

“Firepower” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Firepower
2. Lightning Strike
3. Evil Never Dies
4. Never The Heroes
5. Necromancer
6. Children of the Sun
7. Guardians
8. Rising From Ruins
9. Flame Thrower
10. Spectre
11. Traitors Gate
12. No Surrender
13. Lone Wolf
14. Sea Of Red

The Review:

It would be fair and accurate to say that there are only a handful of bands in the metal genre that can accurately be described as legendary due to their progressing the genre and defining the sound and image. Naturally, Judas Priest are one of that very select number. The band brought twin guitars (with more bite than either Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy) into the metal world, along with screaming vocals- often with an aggressive edge to them- and utilised double bass drums and complex arrangements long before most.

Priest's 70's output catapulted the heavy metal genre forward- “Sad Wings of Destiny”, “Sin After Sin”, “Stained Class”, “Killing Machine” and “Unleashed In The East” are classics one and all (even if SAS is a little uneven) and sowed the seeds for thrash, power, speed and even death metal in their approach. 2018, then, finds the band 28 years on from their last classic (“Painkiller”) and a couple of decades on from a truly consistent album. To be clear, I love 70's Priest through and through. I love half of their 80's output; “British Steel”, “Screaming for Vengeance” and “Defenders of The Faith” are all fantastic. However, after that and “Painkiller” the band's work in progressing and defining the genre was done. “Painkiller” was a monstrous work of metal- still massively heavy and the production still sounds enormous- but it is not on the level of their 70s work in my view. “Turbo” and “Ram It Down” were quite simply woeful.

Throughout the 90's, Priest suffered a similar fate to Maiden in that they got in a younger vocalist after their erstwhile frontman went AWOL, who kept the band going. To be fair, “Jugulator”- featuring Tim Ripper Owen's superb vocals- was a good and very heavy record, “Demolition” was Ripper Owens' second with the band and suffers a little  from trying to keep up  with the times- but still contains some great tracks. Halford's return was lauded but produced somewhat uneven results; “Angel of Retribution” had some classics, but it also had the abysmal “Loch Ness”. “Nostradamus” was a conceptual misfire. “Redeemer of Souls” from a few years back was the best of the reunion albums, but was over long and lacked a little in terms of production and aggression. Oh well, thought the fans, they are getting on a bit- we can't expect the aural pyrotechnics of the past... maybe Priest are ready to wind down.

How wrong we were. The Priest is back! “Firepower” is their best album for decades. Certainly the best since “Painkiller”... maybe even better than that. What marks this record out? The songs, the performances and the production. This is the best set of tunes Priest has put together in a lifetime. The playing has real fire, Halford sings superbly. Scott Travis really works hard and puts in a superb turn on the kit- he sounds animated and powerful. Andy Sneap and Tom Allom have combined to make an incredible production team. The album sounds incredible. Muscular, heavy and with a sheen that makes this really listenable.

From the off, the band deliver two stone cold classics: the title track and “Lightning Strikes” could have opened any Priest album and been regarded as two of the best racks on there. They are that good. From there, the album is consistently good and often fantastic. “Evil Never Dies” is a foot stomping beast, “Necromancer” is classic metal in every sense of the word. There are more melodic songs too; “Never The Heroes” is a touching semi ballad- but still features a stunning riff. “Children From the Sun” and “Rising From Ruins” may hint a little too much at the more plodding material from “Defenders of the Faith..”. but they are still good songs and, frankly, the fact that I am even comparing them to the weaker tracks from one of Priest's best albums speaks for itself. They are still pretty good.

If “Flame Thrower” strays too close to Spinal Tap territory in the chorus lyrics, it makes up for this with energy and riffs for days. Plus, Halford's verses are pretty neat and have some nice references to the band's past- with some serious hooks in the bridge to boot. The band deliver another catchy mid tempo track in “Spectre”, another metal classic in the form of “Traitor's Gate” which has some great story telling, more anthemic hard rock/heavy metal in “No Surrender” (it could be from any of the band's best albums) and a Sabbath-esque curveball in the form of “Lone Wolf” which delivers sinister atmosphere and serious groove. Halford is absolutely on fire here as well. They even manage to sign off with the best ballad they have written since the 1970's in the form of “Sea of Red”- an epic finish to an album I thought the band would never make. Every band member excels.

“Firepower” is one of the best albums in Priest's canon- it has the songs, the sound and the playing to match their best. Even if being very picky, there are only a couple of weaker tracks and they are STILL good. For a classic band to make an album like this after so long is incredible. For it to be Priest to have done it is an absolute triumph. If this is to be Glenn Tipton's last record, he has signed off in style, having kept the band going through the good and bad times. If this is to be the latter day high point for Tipton, Halford, Hill, Travis and Faulker then that is fine with me. To be clear, this leaves every other giant metal band's work of the last twenty years in the dust (with the possible exception of Heaven and Hell's “The Devil You Know”- Dio-era Sabbath in all but name- which was a majestic album). “Firepower” is so good, I can't quite believe it. This can be added to Priest's list of classic albums. A long list just got one longer. There are fourteen tracks here, but this album goes to eleven. 

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