There is more life in the old dog of Traditional Heavy Metal now than at any time since the glory days of the early eighties, as a whole new generation of Classic Metal loving reprobates are making their mark in the world, while the original protagonists continue to release new material. Ghost Cult runs the rule of the best of the latest releases, including a new EP from Gatekeeper and full-lengths from Traveler, Rhapsody Of Fire, Last In Line and Matt Harvey‘s Pounder while also taking in Vision Of Atlantis’ new live album, and it is the hot new puppies that are taking the plaudits…
Gatekeeper – Grey Maiden EP (Cruz del Sur)
While Visigoth quite rightly walked away from 2018 with a whole host of Heavy Metal plaudits for their vibrant Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade), not far behind (and indeed, some would argue, not really behind, just a little more under the radar) was Canadian quintet Gatekeeper with the storming and epic East Of Sun (Cruz del Sur), a glorious slab of Proper Heavy Metal. Keen to capitalize, and to buck the album-tour-disappear-reappear-album-tour cycle, the ‘keeper are striking while the iron is hot with an intriguing and worthwhile EP.
Featuring a classic twin-guitar Heavy Metal title track, a reworking of an old demo days classic (‘Tale of Twins’), a bardly folk-tinged acoustic number ‘Moss’ and a stomping cover of the obscure NWOBHM act Tredegar’s ‘Richard III’, Gatekeeper have more than added to their already burgeoning legacy with a quality EP. Hewn from a bygone time, with reverence for the older styles, all while maintaining contemporary energy and awareness of how to mix things up within a conservative style, this is classy Heavy Metal, influenced by NWOBHM, and eschewing many of the cheesy trappings that can turn people off. There’s a lot to like here. EP’s are an under-utilized format that were used to great effect in the nineties by some underground champions for advancement, and it’s great to see that concept revisited. It has to be said, Gatekeeper are coming along very nicely indeed. 8 / 10
Traveler – Traveler (Gates Of Hell)
Yet Grey Maiden isn’t even the best work released this week that Jean-Pierre Aboud is on. What?! I hear you cry, eyes wide in shock, as a sharply inhaled gasp hits the back of your throat… No, for indeed those distinctive pipes also decorate the self-titled debut album from quintet Traveler. Having grown from being a hobby band for six-stringer Matt Reis to a full-time Heavy Metal force, this first full-length is simply brilliant.
Taking cues from Di’anno era Maiden with a raft of high-energy, twin guitar Classic Metal anthems (particularly on ‘Behind The Iron’), pumping drums, fist-banging force and huge choruses, Traveler stays the right side of cheesy while nodding (heads) in the direction of North American predecessors Omen all while surpassing them.
Kicking off with a flurry of fine anthems, ‘Starbreaker’, the chant-inducing ‘Street Machine’ with it’s cool, audible bass-runs, and the aforementioned ‘…Iron’ start oh-so-strong. ‘Konamized’ is a rip-roaring instrumental that keeps the quality and vitality levels up before handing over to the glorious NWOBHM perfection of ‘Up To You’ – all galloping rhythms, scintillating and well-crafted leads combined with infectious vigour, showcasing the modern take on classic Heavy Metal at its very finest.
‘Fallen Heroes’ takes the baton round the final bend, with a magnificent solo embellishing a pulsing time-change and a ten-strong horse-race of a main riff before ‘Mindless Maze’ and the pacy ‘Speed Queen’ round off an excellent album that proves that retro music doesn’t have to be derivative, repetitive or disappointing. Indeed, this taste of the past is fresher than the wares of many of their contemporaries. All hail the Traveler. 9 / 10
Rhapsody Of Fire – The Eighth Mountain (AFM)
It really does seem almost a lifetime ago that Rhapsody Of Fire (or just Rhapsody as they were then) were trail-blazing and innovating with their Hollywood Fantasy Symphonic Metal sound, ripping through multi-faceted concepts that wove a magic story across several genuine Power Metal landmark albums, with Dawn Of Victory and Power Of The Dragonflame (Limb) establishing The Emerald Sword Saga as the standard-bearer for the genre. Time and tide can be a cruel mistress, and with a sound as over-the-top and vibrant as Rhapsody’s was, with their early glories casting a long shadow over the “Of Fire” period – and with multiple line-up changes (keyboard player Alex Staropoli is the only original member) – the modern legacy of Rhapsody Of Fire, while not tainted, certainly lacks the sparkle of yesteryear. Despite the launching of a new multi-album tale, the Nephlins Empire Saga, and a refining of their sound, The Eighth Mountain is certainly not about to kick-start a storming of the Power Metal gates.
Thoroughly decent and respectable, with exceptional musicianship, and a star turn from the Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra, especially on ‘March Against The Tyrant’, nonetheless, while the fire burns it cannot rage to inferno, and there is nothing truly exciting to inspire wide-eyed campfire regaling of epic musical soundscapes. The Eighth Mountain is another Rhapsody Of Fire album in a growing line of albums that are neither as stirring or wildly ambitious as their early adventures, nor, when pitched against rivals such as Gloryhammer, Twilight Force and their own former member Luca Turilli, quite captivating enough to spark a revival or interest beyond their existing and dedicated fanbase. Decent enough, though. 6 / 10
Last In Line – II (Frontiers)
You all know the story of the origins of Last In Line, yeah? Former compatriots of Ronnie James Dio, guitarist Vivian Campbell and powerhouse percussionist Vinnie Appice got together to celebrate the life and times of their former frontman, uncovering the talented Andrew Freeman on vocals along the way. Phil Soussan takes on four-string duties.
Primarily dealing with stoic and considered Rockers that call to mind more recent Deep Purple at times, nonetheless on tracks like ‘Year Of The Gun’ and ‘Electrified’ Last In Line do indeed Stand Up And Shout, pushing the tempo slightly. Elsewhere, Freeman regularly calls to mind Ian Gillan and Tony “The Cat” Martin delivers a stately performance, while on the darker ‘False Flags’, his inner Dio takes a lead role, in a delivery that recalls Dehumanizer (IRS/Reprise).
Matters can be a little sedate due to the predominantly steady pace, but there’s bluesy diversity at times, and the performers are clearly masters of their craft, II builds upon its predecessor, Heavy Crown by adding an organic and less formulaic approach to the crafting of its songs to produce a solid, if unspectacular, release. 6 / 10
Pounder – Uncivilized (Hells Headbangers)
It probably goes without saying that there is nothing reserved or pedestrian about Matt Harvey (Exhumed)’s Pounder street Speed Metal project and their debut full-length Uncivilized. Adding a Punk edge with some rough-around-the-edges vocals on top of pacy NWOBHM-powered efforts, the uncouth tone is set from the off, with opener ‘Fuck Off And Die’.
Adding elements of early Mötley Crüe, Motorhead, Raven and Maiden into a cocktail that kicks from outset, nonetheless, Pounder find it difficult to keep things interesting til the end, as the ideas well seems a little sparse when it comes to the waters of creativity.
That said, there’s a lot of love for the source sound and style, and this clearly comes across as a project borne of fun and a deep-seated investment in NWOBHM and older skoöl Metal from its protagonists, and you can do worse than spend half an hour in such Uncivilized company. 6 / 10
Visions of Atlantis – The Deep & The Dark Live @ Symphonic Metal Nights
Six albums seemed to be the charm for Visions Of Atlantis, with 2018’s The Deep & The Dark (Napalm) seeing a stabilizing of a previously ever-rotating line-up (drummer Thomas Caser the only original remaining member) with the full integration of vocalists Clementine Delauney (Serenity, Whyzdom, Exit Eden) and Siegfried Samer (though, that said, Samer now appears to have left the band) into their powerful, uplifting Symphonic Metal; an album that makes up the backbone of this live album.
While not deviating much from the studio versions, nonetheless the live renditions add an extra oomph and bite to the drumming. Delauney’s vocals, while being exemplary throughout, also have a touch more life and power to them, especially on ‘Book Of Nature’.
All the requisite tricks and flicks are on display, and Visions Of Atlantis prove that they’ve long stepped out of the shadow of comparisons to Nightwish that have dogged parts of their career. That said, getting a settled line up would go some way to helping them establish themselves further on the back of a strong outing and live follow-up. 7 / 10