Wednesday 22 June 2022

ALBUM REVIEW: Kreator, “Hate Über Alles”

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 10/06/2022
Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Hate Über Alles” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. Sergio Corbucci Is Dead
2. Hate Über Alles
3. Killer Of Jesus
4. Crush The Tyrants
5. Strongest Of The Strong
6. Become Immortal
7. Conquer And Destroy
8. Midnight Sun
9. Demonic Future
10. Pride Comes Before The Fall
11. Dying Planet
The Review:
Kreator return with this- the latest studio album from the best of the Teutonic terrors of thrash. Kreator, of course, forged a reputation as perhaps the most extreme of the 80s thrash squads; the “Pleasure To Kill” album in particular was one of the only releases to rival “Reign in Blood” for intensity and violence.
Since their 80’s heyday the band has been through ups and downs but after a distinctly rocky 90s returned to a more thrash orientated sound on “Violent Revolution” and since then have gone from strength to strength. The albums from the band’s latter act- “Hordes of Chaos”, “Phantom Antichrist”, “Gods of Violence” have all been stellar examples of the band marrying an aggressive thrash approach with melodic choruses and guitar work. It’s a comfortable groove for the band and they have become a reliable proposition on record.
My pick of the latter-day records would be “Phantom Antichrist”- I think it does everything that Kreator do extremely well- and while I enjoyed “Gods of Violence” a lot I felt it was missing a little of the extremity and force of their earlier work. “Hate Über Alles” has the artwork and from the first notes when the full band kicks in on the title track, you can tell it has the production (having moved away from Jens Bogren to Arthur Rizk), but does it have the songs and vibe?
Well, this is firmly in the mould of latter day Kreator. “Killer of Jesus” has the chorus and melody, “Crush The Tyrants” is a mid-paced affair and thus is not what Kreator do best. “Strongest of the Strong” has a kind of Judas Priest vibe to the riffs and rhythms. So far, so good. Good riffs, playing choruses and arrangements. “Become Immortal” continues the Priest vibes with its triplet feel and reminiscing lyrics.

After a melodic intro, “Conquer and Destroy” ups the tempo and brings the thrash but settles into the melodic mid-paced bridge to chorus before blasting off again. “Midnight Sun” was an advance single and is one of the more experimental and interesting tracks here- it’s great, I think. It again repeats the thrash riffs and verses and then drops tempo for the chorus, but the female vocalist addition here is cool as is the chorus and themes. It’s a change for Kreator and a welcome one.
“Demonic Future” thrashes convincingly, “Pride Comes Before The Fall” and “Dying Planet” round the record off. It’s all good, it’s all convincing it’s all much better than any band of this vintage has any right to be. However, it’s by no means essential or flawless. The main issue here is memorability- yes, there are hooks but there is not that much that leaves an impression. The title track and “Midnight Sun” are probably the picks here and to be clear there are no bad tracks, but the intensity of old is missing, along with perhaps a little energy.
Overall, this is a decent late-period Kreator record. It is similar to “Gods of Violence”, but perhaps a little lesser than that one. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Phantom Antichrist” or “Hordes of Chaos” but… I’m grateful that Kreator are still around and still making quality music.
The German legends have their place cemented on the upper floors of the thrash building and their output easily outstrips the vast majority of metal bands there has ever been. If you compare their records of the last 22 years to that of, say, Metallica (and Slayer and Anthrax) well, Kreator are the clear winners. If you are a fan of the band, you must hear this. If you want a place to start, there are worse records to begin your journey with. While this may be ‘another Kreator album’ I do sincerely hope that there are more.
“Hate Über Alles” is available HERE 

Band info: Official || Facebook

Wednesday 8 June 2022

ALBUM REVIEW: Ashes of Ares, "Emperors and Fools"

By: Richard Maw & Nathan Harrison

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 21/01/2022
Label: ROAR! Rock of Angels Records

“Emperors and Fools” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. A City in Decay (Intro)
2. I Am the Night
3. Our Last Sunrise
4. Primed
5. Where God Fears to Go
6. Emperors and Fools
7. By My Blade
8. What Tomorrow Will Bring
9. The Iron Throne
10. Gone
11. Throne of Iniquity (CD Exclusive Track)
12. Monster’s Lament

 The Review:

 Ashes of Ares return - as the duo of Matt Barlow and Freddie Vidales - but also, confusingly, with Van Williams still handling the drums. Williams has left the group as a member but has played on the album (as he did for the previous two records) so...things essentially carry on the same. Vidales once again handles bass and guitar duties while Barlow handles what can only be described as his majestic vocals.

Every once in a while, an album comes along that is worth more than the run of the mill review and this is just such an album. My close personal friend/comrade in metal/musical associate Nathan Harrison has volunteered to share the burden here...

Ashes of Ares are a supergroup of sorts - both Barlow and Vidales have done time in Iced Earth, so yes this is power metal, but it is even more than the sum of its parts. The first AOA album was a sombre affair shot through with darkness. The second record, “Well of Souls”, had more light and shade (reviewed by the pair of us at the time) but lacked a little in killer tunes.

This time around, of course, Iced Earth is presumably over as a band - the less said about that the better. Ashes of Ares standalone then, not as an offshoot but very much as a unique entity. First impressions? This is killer. Plain and simple. I think it's the best of the AOA albums so far and the other two were pretty damn good.

This time around? Let's dive in...

RM: Grandiose intro, “A City in Decay”, sets the tone - it's dramatic, bombastic and indicative of what is to follow.

NH: It’s also cleverly shot through with a simple melody that recurs in an altogether different form in the following track, making for a cohesive and epic opening salvo. 

RM: “I Am The Night” is a perfect mix of US power metal and thrash. The production is excellent - clinical, modern, state of the art, very well mixed. Barlow's vocal layers are numerous and incredibly well executed. The instruments are expertly played - I just can't fault it.

NH: What an opener! It does what Ashes of Ares do best – pummelling riffs form a cacophony that only a voice as unique as Barlow’s could convincingly punch through and it makes for a truly unique sound. Barlow flexes his nerd credentials here as well – following the last album’s “The Alien”, which told the story of Superman, we’re now presented with a track about the darker side of the DC Universe – Batman! A perfect partnership of tone and theme.  

RM “Our Last Sunrise” is frenetic and is the kind of track that AOA's alma mater should have been making over the last two decades instead of some of the ropey material that was actually put out. This material is notably more aggressive than the previous two albums (for the most part). It's direct and it rocks hard. The guitar work shines here.

NH: Frenetic is definitely the word, especially when it comes to the verse, with Vidales showing off some exciting, engaging riff work. The pace slows down a touch for a barnstormer of a chorus, Barlow’s iconic layered vocals as incredible as ever.

RM: “Primed” is more downbeat - perhaps closer to the first album - and is another winner. The band take the foot off the gas and Barlow's lower register is put to great use...until the accelerator is pressed. Again, it's a fairly weighty power metal composition with epic high notes reached by Barlow and a lot of changes in the instrumentation and dynamics. 

NH: Some really interesting call-and-response style vocals throughout this one make it a standout, allowing Barlow to make impressive use of almost every aspect of his mighty vocal range. The dynamics are a highlight here too, the force and weight of the segue back into the chorus after a suitably shreddy solo from Vidales is truly impressive.

RM: “Where God Fears To Go” - ANOTHER weighty slab of heaviness. This is now shaping up to be the kind of album that metal fans really wanted from the band. It's pretty relentless; pounding double bass drums, Barlow employing all octaves at his disposal and double (or more) tracking the vocals. It's powerful and neck snapping.

NH: This one fits a lot into its 4 and a half minutes and, by this point in the album, it becomes clear that “Emperors and Fools”, in terms of production and general mood and feel, is very much cut from the same cloth as “Well of Souls”, but is leaps and bounds ahead of that album as far as the performances, song writing and sheer ambition are concerned. Also, that note at the end…how does Barlow still do this?!

RM: “Emperors and Fools”. As you might expect, this is a dynamic track without light and shade. As a title track it's relatively restrained. Acoustic and electric intro, Barlow crooning convincingly. Effectively, it is a power ballad- it would fit onto any previous record but once again the delivery is so convincing and committed that it works exactly as it is supposed to.

NH: This one has shades of some of the quieter tracks on the two Iced EarthSomething Wicked” concept albums –  complex electro-acoustic guitar lines pepper the verses before giving way to a wall-of-sound chorus that sticks in the head after just one listen. Barlow’s lower-mid register gets a good workout here and it’s just as rich as ever.

RM: “By My Blade” - here we have it! For me, the best track on the album, the best track the band has done and one of the best metal songs I have heard in a long time. This has it all: riffs, hooks, energy, performances... it is all present and correct. Superb. Faultless. Barlow's delivery with high and low vocal tracking over the bridge and chorus is spectacular. It's kind of an adrenaline and fantasy infused companion piece to the excellent Punishment from the debut.

NH: Stand back – this one goes off with a bang! Agreed that this is the best track on the album – an absolute standout that shows off the sheer power and prowess of all three musicians involved. Every transition between the different aspects of this song absolutely rips, but the move from chorus back to that searing main riff is grin-inducing. Ashes of Ares are way overdue some live shows regardless, but this track in particular is simply begging for a playthrough. Another iconic character forms the subject of this song, this time Marvel’s Blade. This fellow comic book fan approves, Matt!

RM: “What Tomorrow Will Bring” is more restrained and the quiet intro allows nerves to settle and the shear rush of the previous track to recede. It progresses very nicely into a mid tempo stomper, though. Syncopated beats through the verses add excellent variety and again the hooks are strong here. In fact, the hooks are really strong - it's a positive track and delivered masterfully.

NH: One of the highlights of the album here and a real moment for Van Williams to shine – so many little details and accents stand out making for a hugely fun approach to what could have been a simple and straightforward catchy track.

RM: “The Iron Throne”. Epically crushing intro. This is high drama at its finest. The riffage here is just... magnificent. The notes that Barlow hits are truly awe inspiring. This track is another absolute rager. The lead work is sublime - supplied by a couple of guests (take a bow gents).

NH: Another well known fantasy forms the basis of this track, but its themes are universal – power, betrayal, war – and it makes for a compelling listen. Pinpoint precision double kicks from Williams form a tight lockstep with Vidales’ fretwork, forming a rock solid backing for Barlow’s relentlessly brilliant vocal acrobatics.

RM: “Gone” - we are into ballad territory again here, but still with some real weight to it and the delivery is absolutely committed and top notch. These type of tracks are never going to be my favourite on a record like this, but it's still a dark and effective song with wonderful lead work.

NH: It says a lot about Ashes of Ares’ approach when even their ‘ballads’ contain almost exclusively distorted guitars chugging away powerfully, some up-tempo sections and Barlow screeching his nuts off at every suitable juncture. This is powerful stuff, with a memorable and emotional chorus, carried beautifully by Barlow’s unique timbre.

RM: “Throne of Iniquity” - previously released as part of an EP, this is a CD only track and is ANOTHER winner. Strong rhythm section work forms the bedrock, but then the song goes off into dark and tumultuous territory, followed by serious grooves in the riffs. It's a winner and really set the tone when it was released for the rest of the album. It was a great indicator of the majesty to come.

NH: A masterclass in how to build and build and BUILD over the course of a song – as the song progresses, there’s just more and more going on until it reaches one hell of a climax that pays off everything that has come before within the track. Stunning.

RM: “Monsters Lament”. The epic finale. Having kept most of the compositions pretty tight throughout, Ashes of Ares now deliver an eleven minute epic which features not only Matt Barlow operating at the peak of his powers but also Tim Ripper Owens at the peak of his. If Iced Earth fans had wondered what each ersthile vocalist would sound like if they joined forces then they can wonder no more. This is a sprawling, massive, aggressive, headbanging track. I have a great deal of time for Owens as a vocalist and he absolutely delivers in spades here. His high notes and untouchable, his delivery impeccable. The same can be said of Barlow, who seems just ageless in terms of voice and energy. It's an aural feast, a sonic treat and an incredible way to end this monstrous album.
NH: ‘So good to finally see an old familiar face’ – if lyrics can be described as meta, then this one certainly fits the bill, as two former Iced Earth singers join forces for the first time. Hearing both of these incredible vocalists on one track is certainly a thrill and each delivers a bravura performance, but each singer’s lines are mostly kept separate from each other – it feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity to not have had Barlow and Owens layered on top of one another at more points, both screaming into a massive crescendo. The song itself is also a bit meandering rather than making effective, convincing use of its 11 and a half minute run time. Not quite a damp squib to finish the album, but not the atomic level blast it should have been.
RM: For me, this is easily Ashes of Ares best record and will undoubtedly be THE power metal album of 2022. In fact, whisper it now, it will be VERY difficult for any other metal band to surpasss this. I think it's that good. It's epic in sound and scope but razor sharp in its focus. It is relentless in its quality and manages to sustain complete interest over the course of one hour of music. I can't quite believe how good it is.
NH: After two quite different albums preceding it, “Emperors and Fools” seems to represent a band of accomplished and experienced musicians finding their sound and adopting it with confidence and charm. The sonic approach of the second album combined with the outstanding song writing of the first makes for the best of both worlds and an incredible listen throughout.

“Emperor’s and Fools” is available HERE

Band info: Official | facebook