Reviews Round-Up October 2020
- ARMORED SAINT – ‘Punching The Sky’
- FATES WARNING – ‘Long Day Good Night’
- MEMOIRA – ‘Carnival Of Creation’
- STAR INSIGHT – 'Across The Galaxy’
- LEGENDRY – ‘Mists Of Time’ & ‘Dungeon Crawler’
- DYGITALS – ‘God Save The King’
- SUDDEN DEATH – ‘All Or Nothing’
It’s a bit hard to get your head around it when the bands you kind of grew up with become the elder statespeople of the music you love, but how else could you describe Armored Saint and Fates Warning? Both came into being back in 1982, both have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune along the way, but both are still in business and producing some truly great music.
ARMORED SAINT’s eleventh full-length offering, ‘Punching The Sky’ (Metal Blade, 23 October), is, as you’d expect, as strong and as electrifying as anything they’ve ever put out. Is there such a thing as a bad Armored Saint album? No, is the simple answer. Age might have matured them a little, but you can draw a direct line from, say, 1991’s ‘Symbol Of Salvation’ to ‘Punching The Sky’ and see both a progression and a continuity. A nod to the old school, indeed. ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’, the de facto title track with its smouldering opening Eastern mysticism and forceful riff, is as good a song as they’ve ever written, as, come to that, is the follow-on cut ‘End Of The Attention Span’. John Bush’s voice, possibly the band’s defining feature, is in fine form throughout, and when the points are tallied in the critics’ end-of-year Top Tens ‘Punching The Sky’ has got to come out as one of 2020’s finest albums. There’s a digipack with some bonus tracks and a live DVD from the Rock hard festival to track down.
Meanwhile, labelmates FATES WARNING also follow a path they’ve walked before, delivering in ‘Long Day Good Night’ (Metal Blade, 6 November) an exquisitely-crafted slow-burning album which treats returning listeners to seemingly buried gems revealed with each new play. It’s a thoughtful album, expansive and cerebral, designed to raise a sweat mentally rather than physically, and it’s well paced too. Songs like ‘The Way Home’ and ‘Scars’ ably demonstrate the light and shade that dwells within, and the ethereal and exquisite ‘Under The Sun’ sees the band working with a string section for the first time in their career; and it works beautifully, too. Fates Warning have never really reaped the rewards they so justly deserved, and you really have to wonder if there’s a parallel universe somewhere out there in the cosmos in which this band are huge.
After a lengthy gap in proceedings, Finnish symphonic metallers MEMOIRA return with their third album ‘Carnival Of Creation’ (Inverse Records, 25 September). It’s been a long time – eight years – since ‘Memories, Tragedies, Masquerades’ followed their self-titled debut, but the band are still completely in tune with the contemporary scene and are back in business with a powerful and exhilarating come-back album. Although much rests on Annika Jalkanen’s beautiful vocals, the whole band – guitarists Hannu Lindholm and Jani Puusa, keyboard player Lassi Nuolivaara, bassist Niko Laaksonen and drummer Matti Viritanen – all get a chance to show what they can do on an album of well-executed and superbly written songs. Nothing clocks in at less than five minutes, and cuts like ‘Queen Element’ ably demonstrate why this is a band to check out.
From the same stable and cut from similar cloth come STAR INSIGHT with their second album ‘Across The Galaxy’ (Inverse Records, 16 October). Another band who’ve taken their time to re-appear on the scene – their debut ‘Messera’ appeared back in 2014 – Star Insight go more down the operatic / cookie monster route, with Anna Pellikka and Pekka Rajala trading vocals against a forceful blast of guitars, bass and drums. Star Insight’s songs are in the main short and more direct, and the album offers a pleasing balance of heads-down ball-breakers (the stomping ‘Withing [sic] Horizon’, for example) and graceful soul-seekers, and songs like ‘Reaching For The Sky Above’ and ‘I’m Not A Number’, both alluring and exciting, should appeal to fans of Epica in particular.
The guys are Golden Core/ZYX music have been pretty busy of late. US metallers LEGENDRY’s first two albums, 2016’s ‘Mists Of Time’ and ‘Dungeon Crawler’ which appeared the following year, have been spruced up and double-packed for re-issue (Golden Core, 30 October), the debut album even getting a new remaster courtesy of A&R man, drummer and multi-talented all-rounder Neudi. The two albums are a treasure trove of classic metal, gilded with enthusiasm and maybe sounding a touch like prime-time Exciter at times. The vocals might be an acquired taste, but these are albums which are just meant to be cranked up and enjoyed. Check out ‘Swords Of Zeus’ and be swept away.
Appearing a couple of weeks earlier comes ‘God Save The King’, the latest album by DYGITALS (Golden Core, 18 October). The French outfit originally came into being back in 1984, and had a modicum of success before hitting the buffers in 1992. After dabbling and demos the band came back with a couple of twenty-first century albums in ‘Avé’ and ‘Dynamite’, and ‘God Save The King’ – a concept album, apparently, about King George VI – finds the band in exceptionally good health. It’s very well played and a rather rousing album to get to grips with, especially the superbly catchy ‘The Father King’.
SUDDEN DEATH’s ‘All Or Nothing’ (Golden Core, 31 July) passed me by earlier in the year, but this re-issue of the Berlin-band’s only album, recorded in 1986 and augmented by their demo, a live cut and some tracks from a later, related act called Wolfpack, is well worth a listen. It’s gloriously rough-as-a-badger and shows the band had a vigorous Priest fixation (like that’s a bad thing!), but there’s a rugged charm running through cuts like ‘Killer’ and ‘Sudden Death’ and the whole album is a time machine to a long-lost land when the metal scene was less complicated but no less exciting.
© John Tucker October 2020