Welcome, fellow Crusaders, to another installment of the CoP… We’ve a lot to get through this month, so without further ado, let’s get those heads banging!

We kick off this month’s crusade in Bulgaria with Sofian metal heads Velian. Musically the band carry strong whiffs of latter day Evergrey, melding crunching, almost groove-metal styled rifferama to keyboard drenched refrains in punishing fashion. They don’t quite pack the full symphonic punch of Tom Englund and company at this point, and vocalist Ivan Ivanov doesn’t quite offer the emotional heft of Tom either, but there’s a lot of solid material to enjoy on their just-released opus Godless nonetheless. Impressive stuff that’s only going to get better as time goes by. This is definitely worth a punt!

Forged in Black
Brit metallers Forged in Black (quite rightly) impressed my colleague Gavin Strickmann last year with their splendid EP Sinner Sanctorum. They are back in the arena this March, now under the aegis of Crusade-friendly Spanish label Fighter Records with a new full length, entitled Descent of the Serpents. Crisply but punchily produced, DotS is another superb portion of traditional British metal from a band that really knows it’s onions. The title track is magnificent, taking its cues from fellow contemporary Brit acts like Neuronspoiler and Toledo Steel but backing up the melody/muscle interface with darker hues that make the music altogether more satisfying in this reviewer’s opinion. Opening track Seek No Evil is a fine slab of brooding heavy metal, and there’s nary a dull moment on the record, so it’s pretty much a shoe in as album of the month!

Lord Divine
Also on the Fighter label are superb Argentinian outfit Lord Divine. Featuring the utterly peerless vocals of Diego Valdez, whose golden pipes adorned last year’s spectacular Dream Child album, these denizens of Rosario purvey, strangely enough, a very European style of classically-inflected power metal. Grandiose, sweeping, ultra emotional – their new album Facing Chaos is all these things and more, bringing to mind fellow South Americans-who-sound-like-Europeans Angra on tracks like I Am and then, at the drop of a hat, producing some prime neo-classical grandeur with the Mark Boals-assisted The Darkest Light. Fresh sounding despite breaking no new ground, genre fans are going to lap up Lord Divine, whilst the melody inherent in most of the tracks might see the band snaring a few unsuspecting new fans along the way as well – they’d appear to be staring a win-win situation square in the face!

In Victory
Uplifting metal! That’s the name of the new EP from Swedish powermeisters In Victory, and, really, there’s nothing I can add to such a descriptor. Vocalist Mattias Lindberg soars over the top of some, well, uplifting power/speed/symphonic metal on superb opener You Are the One, which is an uber-bombastic statement of intent and then some. Guitarist/songwriter Victor V M-M is a master at penning a tuneful riff, as exposited on the well, uplifting second track Hymn of Absolute Glory. Has aver a song title been more apposite? You’ll think not as you punch the air and sing along; this really is the best Euro metal in excelsis, with everything turned to eleven and everything louder – and more uplifting – than everything else. Cheesy? Possible. Brilliantly irresistible? Certainly! Get involved! Let metal enlighten your mind!

Almost Honest
Far more down to earth are American stoner metallists Almost Honest. These Pennsylvanians like a tune, so beyond the usual onslaught of Sabbathian offcuts stoner/doom metallers often subject the ears to, here you get actual tunes, albeit tunes doused in fuzz and the unmistakeable stench of patchouli. Keystone features vocals you can sing along to, a guitar solo you can hum when you nip out to get some milk – the whole nine yards. There’s a sense of humour bubbling just under the surface too, which makes a nice change with this style of music. I’m looking forward to hearing some more!

Morkast have really pulled out an everyman metal album with new effort Deadlands. They literally have left no stone unturned in an effort to keep everyone in the broad church of metal happy with the album and, for the most part, they achieve their stated war aims. Overall you could best describe them as a deathened trad metal band; Three Inches of Blood sometimes flit across the mind whilst tracks like The Traveler pummel your ears, though thankfully there don’t appear to be any plastic swords being wielded here.

Christopher Kohlenberg is a thoroughly convincing – and highly versatile – lead throat alternately roaring, screaming and occasionally bawling his way over the superb hack n’slash riffage and soloing of Michael Espinosa and Nate Hamann. If the band lack anything it’s the odd killer chorus to keep the listener involved, but other than that Deadlands is a riproaring headbanging experience. Highly recommended!

We don’t seem to have treated ourselves to a dose of South American black/thrash/speed for a while here at the Crusade so it’s off to Colombia we go for a nice little helping of Ripper. Opening their new EP in best fashion with an acoustic guitar intro the band proceed to melt faces in far more prosaic – not to mention welcome – fashion in the shape of pounding second track Power of Speed. Resolutely old school in every respect yet utterly refreshing, Ripper certainly don’t muck about as wave after wave of staccato riffs and breakneck drumming back up the suitably deranged vocal assault of Juan David Hoyos, who also adds savage rhythm guitar to the cacophony.

I say cacophony, but my, it’s a beautiful noise; Razor and (very) old Kreator fans are going to revel in the stygian speedstorm the band creates, the unfettered, unalloyed joy of the delivery being almost as alluring as the actual music itself. This is metal as it should be played and listened to, and if you’re not thrashing maniacally around your living room floor, ripping up your mum’s best rug with your bullet belt at the triumphant denouement of Power and Speed then you’re not the men and women I took you to be!

And there you have it – I hope you found plenty to enjoy in this month’s selection. I certainly did!

Til next time – hail and kill!