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Justin G. RSS Feed (Northern Virginia)

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Final Curtain
Final Curtain
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive second outing from this Swedish melodic rock band, February 9, 2016
This review is from: Final Curtain (MP3 Music)
Swedish melodic rock project Constancia returned after a six-year absence in 2015 with Final Curtain. It's their second album, and once again features keyboardist/songwriter Mikael Rosengren (Token), guitarist Janne Stark (Overdrive, Locomotive Breath), vocalist David Fremburg (Andromeda, Space Odyssey) and drummer Peter Svensson. Bassist Linus Abrahamsson is new this time around.

As with Constancia's debut – 2009's Lost and Gone – Final Curtain is a really solid melodic rock album. Polished and melodic, but with a strong hard rock crunch in the guitars. Fremburg continues to impress with just how great a fit he is for this kind of music. He has plenty of power, but puts the right amount of emotion into these songs as well. The songwriting is a bit tighter this time around. Where Lost and Gone sometimes felt like just another Frontiers project, you can start to hear a real Constancia sound on Final Curtain, and the songs have more staying power.

Final Curtain is a step up from the previous Constancia album. Here's hoping the album's title doesn't mean this is the last we'll hear from this group. If you're a fan of catchy, polished, melodic rock along the lines of Vega, Degreed, Ten and House of Lords, this is an album you'll want to hear.

Price: $12.99
30 used & new from $8.66

5.0 out of 5 stars As always - fast, heavy, fun rock/metal, February 8, 2016
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This review is from: Testosterone (Audio CD)
Swedish heavy metal powerhouse Mustasch hit fans with a massive dose of riffs and rhythms in 2015 with the appropriately-titled Testosterone. It’s their eighth studio album to date, and continues the (Swedish) Grammy award-winning band’s brand of catchy, heavy, rock-meets-metal albums.

As with previous albums, Mustasch doesn’t waste any time on Testosterone. Ten tracks, 39 minutes, and wall-to-wall riffs. Think Orange Goblin or The Sword, but faster and more fun. There’s a heavy rock vibe like you’d find on a Spiritual Beggars album, and Ralf Gyllenhammar’s vocals always seem a bit like The Cult’s Ian Astbury. It’s a potent mix, and the results – especially on songs like “Down to Earth,” “The Hunter” and the title track – speak for themselves.

Mustasch can always be counted on to deliver high speed, heavy as hell, and just plain fun metal albums, and Testosterone is no exception. If you’re already a Mustasch fan, this album will definitely satisfy, and if you’re new to the band but dig the heavier sounds of Orange Goblin, Spiritual Beggars, The Quill and even Volbeat, Testosterone should make you a believer.

Hands in the Till
Hands in the Till
Price: $2.99
23 used & new from $2.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten US AOR gem - finally reissued, February 5, 2016
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This review is from: Hands in the Till (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1981, Hands in the Till was the debut (and only) album from American AOR band Fortress, another one of those “one and done” rock bands that probably should have made it, but never did.

Fortress played a catchy, radio-friendly brand of AOR with some hints of boogie and Southern rock. Styx meets Head East meets .38 Special maybe? It’s a simple, catchy, fun rock n’ roll album with good vocals and some nice guitar work. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but given where pop music was at the time, a solid rocking album like this is definitely a good thing. “Hands in the Till” and “Breakin’ Free” are the highlights, but the whole album is enjoyable.

They may not have set the world on fire, but Fortress did leave behind a very solid AOR album in Hands in the Till that fans of Styx, Foreigner, Head East, Spys and REO Speedwagon should find worthwhile.

Edition Notes: Wounded Bird reissued Hands in the Till in 2008, making it the first time this album has been released on CD. The liner notes don’t mention remastering, but it sounds like they may have cleaned it up a bit. No bonus material and a bare-bones booklet, but it’s still nice to see this one on CD.

Disciples Of The Sun
Disciples Of The Sun
Price: $12.99
31 used & new from $8.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Melodic/progressive/power metal perfection!, February 5, 2016
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This review is from: Disciples Of The Sun (Audio CD)
Danish progressive/power metal band Pyramaze returned after a seven-year absence in 2015 with Disciples of the Sun, their fourth studio album. Change seems to be the only constant with this band, so Disciples of the Sun features a new label (Inner Wound), new producer (Jacob Hansen of Volbeat/Amaranthe/Pretty Maids fame, who also joins the band on bass and guitar) and a new singer (Terje Haroy of Teodor Tuff/Crossnail). And Anubis Gate’s Kim Olesen lends a hand on keyboards.

Pyramaze has always delivered solid albums, regardless of who was singing for the band, but with Disciples of the Sun they’ve really taken their sound to a whole new level. If there’s a magic formula to getting the power/melody/technicality mix just right, Pyramaze has discovered it here. If you like the power metal emphasis on melody and rousing vocals, you’re going to love Disciples of the Sun. If you like your metal to be both heavy and progressive, you’re going to love Disciples of the Sun. This album is as catchy as it is heavy, and the songs make you remember everything you love about progressive/power metal.

Oh, and while the idea of a virtual unknown coming in to replace Lance King, Matt Barlow and (briefly) Urban Breed may not sound promising, this is arguably the best vocal performance Pyramaze has ever had. Haroy has a huge voice with fantastic power and range. And paired with Hansen’s production and mix, the results are jaw-dropping. Check out “Unveil,” “Genetic Process” or the monster title track for proof of this album’s greatness.

With Disciples of the Sun, Pyramaze has given us an album that’s as good as anything a “top tier” progressive/power metal band has released in recent years. It’s a major step forward for the band, and is arguably the best progressive/power metal album of 2015. If you’re a fan of bands like Tad Morose, Symphony X, Masterplan, Circus Maximus and Pagan’s Mind, Disciples of the Sun is an absolute must-have release.

Unleashing the shadows
Unleashing the shadows
Price: $22.40
26 used & new from $9.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Dio!, February 3, 2016
This review is from: Unleashing the shadows (Audio CD)
2013’s Unleashing the Shadows is the second album from Argentinian heavy metal band Electro-Nomicon, which features Helker vocalist Diego Valdez (a.k.a the 7 foot reincarnation of Ronnie James Dio).

Any band with Valdez on vocals is bound to result in Dio comparisons, so let’s get that out of the way up front. Yes, Electro-Nomicon has a strong Dio vibe in both the songwriting as well as the vocals. Dio, Rainbow and Black Sabbath all factor in, giving Unleashing the Shadows a very heavy, very powerful traditional metal sound. Valdez sounds eerily similar to Ronnie James Dio, even more so than Jorn Lande ever did, so there are times when listening to this is a bit surreal.

Beyond the Dio vibe, Unleashing the Shadows is a well-written, well-executed collection of heavy, catchy metal songs that should satisfy fans of melodic and power metal in general. Fans of Dio, Jorn and Helker will get the most out of it, but it’s easy to see fans of bands like Firewind, Masterplan, Mob Rules and Thunderstone getting into the Electro-Nomicon experience.

4 used & new from $27.88

4.0 out of 5 stars A strange and compelling traditional/black metal hybrid, February 3, 2016
This review is from: Unbleed (Audio CD)
Chicago-based heavy metal act Dawnbringer released their debut album Unbleed in 1997. Dawnbringer, of course, is the brainchild of singer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Black (Pharaoh, High Spirits, Superchrist), and is a strange but compelling hybrid of traditional and black metal.

Unbleed is a strange album. It has moments that seem straightforward USBM enough, like Nachtmystium maybe, but then the solo hits and it’s like something from an old Metal Massacre comp. Harsh vocals dominate the album, which takes away some of the old school vibe, but it’s still there around the edges. And the hybrid works better than it has a right to. This is just a really compelling and creative album.

The only band that seems similar to Dawnbringer is Slough Feg, but more having an equally unique approach to old school metal than anything else. If you’re into the classic heavy metal sound but can be open-minded about black metal elements, Dawnbringer is a band worth discovering. Unfortunately Unbleed has been out of print for a while, and wasn’t that easy to track down in the first place.

End of Time
End of Time
Price: $31.95
3 used & new from $29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars German power metal with a polished, progressive side, February 2, 2016
This review is from: End of Time (Audio CD)
2012’s End of Time is the second full-length release from German power metal band Destination’s Calling, a band that doesn’t quite follow the standard formula for German power metal.

While End of Time is very much a power metal album, there’s an almost progressive metal approach to some of these songs. Sort of like what you’d end up with if you crossed Brainstorm and Vanishing Point. It’s a really strong album, and one with some incredible melodies and a great vocal performance. It’s not as heavy or sing-songy as the average power metal album, but it still has that melodic aspect that really hooks you.

Unfortunately, End of Time was the band’s final offering. They called it quits in 2014. It’s a shame, because Destination’s Calling did offer a different approach to power metal, and that’s something the genre needs from time to time. If you’re a fan of power metal, and particularly where power and prog metal intersect, Destination’s Calling is a band that’s well worth discovering.

Price: $2.99
24 used & new from $2.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Soft rock featuring Felix Cavaliere and a young Vinnie Vincent - finally reissued, February 2, 2016
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This review is from: Treasure (Audio CD)
AOR band Treasure made their debut in 1977 with this self-titled album. Treasure was formed by singer/songwriter Felix Cavaliere (formerly with The Young Rascals) and featured the first recordings of a young guitarist named Vincent Cusano, who is better known as Vinnie Vincent of KISS/Vinnie Vincent Invasion fame.

Treasure’s debut is about as good an example of the late ‘70s AOR sound as you’re likely to find, often veering into soft rock territory despite Cusano’s presence. When it’s upbeat and catchy, it’s pretty solid AOR, and when the pace slows and Cavaliere starts crooning you expect the Love Boat to sail by. Think Toto meets Hall & Oates. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t rock much, and will come as something of a shock to people who only know Vinnie Vincent from his metal years.

At this point, the only people who are going to get much mileage out of the Treasure debut are either serious Felix Cavaliere fans or die-hard KISS collectors (and there don’t appear to be any other kind). Fortunately the CD reissue of Treasure is affordable enough that both camps can satisfy their curiosity without laying out too much cash.

Edition Notes: Wounded Bird’s 2011 reissue of the Treasure debut marks the first time this album has been released on CD. Unlike most Wounded Bird reissues, this one sounds like it has been remastered, or at least cleaned up a bit sonically. It also includes a bonus track – the single edit of “I Wanna Love You.” The booklet is bare-bones, as expected. It’s a good reissue overall, and enough to nudge this 3/3.5-star album into 4-star territory.

Battering Ram
Battering Ram
Price: $9.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Ramming speed!, February 1, 2016
This review is from: Battering Ram (MP3 Music)
It's been more than 35 years since British heavy metal institution Saxon released their debut album, and the band still shows no sign of slowing down. They just released their 21st (21st!!!) studio album, titled Battering Ram, and it's every bit the kind of high-octane heavy metal album we've come to expect from them.

Saxon is one of the most consistent, and consistently impressive, bands in metal. There aren't many bands from the NWOBHM era that still release albums that can compete with their early material, but Saxon is definitely one of them. The sheer power and energy of Battering Ram is incredible. The title track kicks things off, and is every bit as rousing as a good Saxon anthem should be. “The Devil's Footprint” is a high-speed, heavy as hell (no pun intended) thrasher. “Queen of Hearts” has a “Princess of the Night” vibe, and “Kingdom of the Cross” continues Saxon's trend of historically-themed epics. Album closer “Three Sheets to the Wind” is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's actually a really fun rocker.

No, Saxon isn't breaking any new ground here. Overall, Battering Ram is very similar to Sacrifice and Call to Arms. Given how strong those albums are though, that's not really a bad thing, especially compared to recent works by Iron Maiden and even Judas Priest. At this point, Saxon are the true standard bearers of British heavy metal.

Disclosure: I was given an MP3 copy of this album for review.

Price: $14.99
33 used & new from $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Back on track, February 1, 2016
This review is from: Stormborn (Audio CD)
Swedish heavy/power metal band helped close out 2014 with a bang with the release of their sixth album, titled Stormborn. Bloodbound is still trying to figure out exactly what their sound is. Over the course of their eight year career, Bloodbound’s brand of power metal has gone from heavy and dark to somewhat progressive to melodic rocking and back again. The formula has been changed yet again, but this time around the band may have gotten it exactly right.

With Stormborn, Bloodbound opts for a mix of the traditional, Hammerfall-style melodic power metal, but with a definite nod to the more bombastic sound that Sabaton and Powerwolf have had so much success with. They also adopt Powerwolf’s penchant for cheesy pseudo-Satanism on a couple of tracks. It’s a very upbeat album with speed and heaviness held in check by powerful melodies. Between the huge choruses, the straightforward melodic focus and Patrik Johansson’s unique voice, Stormborn ends up sounding a lot like what Edguy might sound like today if they still made power metal albums. The title track and “Made of Steel” are the album’s big anthems, but “Nightmares From the Grave” is very memorable as well, with its haunting children’s choir. And there are at least a few songs here that are lyrically inspired by the Game of Thrones series, which is a fun touch for fantasy fans. And hey, they can’t all be about the devil, right?

You get the feeling this is where Bloodbound was trying to get to ever since Johansson replaced Urban Breed a few albums back. Stormborn sounds like the band is finally comfortable in its own skin. It also sounds like pure ear candy if you like your power metal completely bombastic and ridiculously catchy. If Sabaton, Powerwolf, Hammerfall and early Edguy are what gets you pumped, you definitely will want to give Stormborn a listen. And if you haven’t paid much attention to Bloodbound lately, it might be time to give them another try.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this CD by the label for review.

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