Monday, August 11, 2014

Evil United - Honored By Fire

Evil United
Honored By Fire
MVD Audio

San Antonio/Austin (Texas, U.S.) based outfit Evil United is an outfit that’s been kicking around for some years. Primarily formed out of the ashes of industrialised metal outfit Pitbull Daycare, the group (Comprising of ex-Pitbull Daycare/Uriel lead guitarist T.C. ‘Bird’ Connally, rhythm guitarist John ‘JV4’ Valenzuela, Riot/ex-Pitbull Daycare/The Devil’s Jukebox bassist Don Van Stavern and ex-Pitbull Daycare/Wednesday 13 drummer Jason ‘Shakes’ West) officially became a band as such when they secured the talent of vocalist Jason McMaster (Who is somewhat of an underground legend within the metal scene with his involvement in bands such as Ignitor, Dangerous Toys, Watchtower and Broken Teeth).
With a full line-up in place, the band set to work on their songs, and released their self-titled debut effort in 2011. Although the album passed under the radar of most, those who managed to hear the album considered it a solid enough release.
It’s been three years since then, and the five piece outfit are back once again with their long awaited second album ‘Honored by Fire’. And much like their debut, it’s a solid and likeable album – if a little flawed in places.
Evil United open their album with ‘Dead Can See’, which is a perfect example of what kind of heavy thrash metal the band offer listeners for the most part. Beginning with a classic thrash-like intro, ‘Dead Can See’ soon settles into a fast paced groove that reveals a touch of modern groove metal delivered in amongst the thrash overtones. I can only assume the band was aiming for a raw sound, as McMaster’s vocals are savagely delivered and rough in some places. But while it all sounds a little unrefined, the song does retain a sense of urgency and energy throughout, which is one of the song’s strong points. Unfortunately, as good as the song is (Not to mention some great shredding guitar work from Connally), the song does overstay it’s welcome a bit towards the end. Had it had a minute edited off the end, the song would have been a killer opener. But as it stands, it’s one of the album’s O.K. numbers, and nothing more.
The follow-up track ‘Caesar’ is introduced via a long build-up, but once it kicks in, it really kicks in! Fast paced, some memorable guitar tones on the guitar front and a top performance from McMaster (Both vocally and melody wise), ‘Caesar’ is definitely one of the album’s true highlights.
Maintaining the consistency of the former track is ‘Ripping Flesh’, which lives up to its title in venomous form and earns its place as another of the album’s real memorable efforts, while ‘Tombspawn’ (Which is preceded by the short acoustic/electric guitar piece instrumental ‘Grave’, and features a guest contribution from drumming legend Gene Hoglan on the lyrical front) and ‘Viking Funeral’ (Which was release as a single in 2013) keeps the momentum moving ever forward.
As mentioned earlier, Evil United’s latest release isn’t without its flawed moments.
Although interesting and well executed, the short instrumental pieces ‘Ab Initio’ and ‘The Cottage’ seems to be placed on the album at random (If anything, ‘Ab Initio’ would have been a great album introduction), and only succeed at breaking up the consistency of the album as a whole with their inclusion. And as for the two hidden efforts at the tail end of the album (Both of which are short untitled instrumentals), their inclusion seems a little tacked on and out of place.
Then there are the songs that don’t quite stand out. ‘Mind Over Pain’ is a good song, but lacks a truly identifiable riff, while the bass heavy ‘Ghost Crushed’ (Again, lyrically co-written with Hoglan) and the speedier album closer ‘Bloody Water’ just isn’t all that memorable.
In some ways, Evil United has what some bands don’t; and that’s an energetic vibe and raw quality captured in the studio. But it’s what’s missing that lets the band down, and that’s evident in the song writing.
Overall, ‘Honored By Fire’ has its moments. It’s a solid album, but far from a truly modern thrash classic by a long short.

For more information on Evil United, check out - http://www.evilunited.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Age Of Artemis - The Waking Hour

Age Of Artemis
The Waking Hour
Power Prog Records

When Brazilian outfit Age Of Artemis released their debut full-length effort ‘Overcoming Limits’ back in 2011 (Through Brazil based label MS Metal Records), the album was overwhelmingly well received by most, with many predicting the band would be the next big act to come out of Brazil’s thriving progressive/power metal scene since fellow Brazilian power metal act Angra first hit the scene back in the early ‘90’s. Three years on, and Age Of Artemis (Comprising of vocalist AlĂ­rio Netto, guitarists Gabriel ‘T-Bone’ Soto and Nathan Grego, bassist Giovanni Sena and drummer Pedro Sena) have returned with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘The Waking Hour’.
Given how acclaimed the band’s debut was, it wouldn’t have come as any surprise to hear the band produce a similar effort a second time around. But with ‘The Waking Hour’, it’s clear the band isn’t interested in rehashing the past. While ‘The Waking Hour’ features some shades of the past, there’s also a lot of new sounds on the album, which is something that sometimes works quite well, and other times, is something that clearly doesn’t work.
The album is opened up with ‘Penance’; a short acoustic/sound effects driven piece that eventually bleeds into some Latin tribal rhythms that serve as a thundering introduction to the powerful ‘Under The Sun’. Combining traditional Brazilian rhythms, power metal, touches of progressive metal and a strong sense of melody, ‘Under The Sun’ is the perfect example of the talent that lies within Age Of Artemis. Melodic, powerful, but never over the top, ‘Under The Sun’ is the perfect opener, and one of the band’s finest compositions to date.
Although a little slower in tempo, the follow up track ‘Broken Bridges’ is another great track, with Netto putting in a great performance (At times he reminds me of ex-Firewind/Spiritual Beggars front man Apollo Papathanasio and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson) alongside the guitarists (This song boasts some of the more memorable solos on the album), while the title track ‘The Waking Hour’ is one of the album’s heavier offerings on the vocal front, but melodic and memorable nonetheless.
It’s around the fifth track that the band hit their first hurdle. The ballad ‘Hunger And Shame’ isn’t necessarily a terrible song as such, but it’s not exactly one of the album’s shining moments either. Sounding a little Dream Theater stylistically, the song seems to drift by without really hitting its mark with its lack of character. Thankfully, the guitar heavy groove based ‘Melted In Charisma’ and the rather accessible ‘Childhood’ puts the album back on the right course with Netto’s strong melodies and the song’s overall progressive/Brazilian rhythm underpinning instrumentation.
Unfortunately, for all the obvious strengths of the album, there are some serious weaknesses that undermine ‘The Waking Hour’ towards the tail end. The first real misstep is ‘Your Smile’. Clearly the band are making an attempt to broaden their sound, but this acoustic piece of pop rock sounds completely out of place on the album with its melodic rock/AOR direction. Not unlike the former track, ‘Exile’ doesn’t work completely with the addition of symphonic influences turning what could have been a great song into something fairly typical of what you would expect from traditional power metal fare. The follow up track ‘New Revolution’ appears to have been moulded on the same template with the addition of symphonic elements, and while it’s not one the album’s strongest cuts, the lengthier progressive instrumental passages means it works far better than ‘Exile’.
Finishing up the album is the ballad ‘Winding Road’ (Which sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and is something quite different for the band style wise) and a piano version of ‘Take Me Home’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Overcoming Limits’). Again, both songs are quite good, but I can’t help but feel that they give the album a weak and forgettable finish.
Overall, it’s clear that Age Of Artemis have progressed stylistically in their three years since the release of their first album, with ‘The Waking Hour’ boasting plenty of great songs, and some bold new sounds from the band as well.
But for all of the good points ‘The Waking Hour’ has, you can’t disguise the album’s one big flaw. And that’s its consistency. The album starts off with a bang, but ends in a whimper with the inclusion of too many slower/ballad like numbers towards the tail end.
In the end, Age Of Artemis has produced a worthy follow up album in ‘The Waking Hour’. Sure, it has some issues, but if the band keeps moving forward as they have done in the past, there’s every chance that with their next album, the band will definitely produce a real first class gem.

For more information on Age Of Artemis, check out - https://www.facebook.com/ageofartemis

© Justin Donnelly