Welcome to this month’s edition of the Crusade! As ever, I hope we’ve put together a good mix of metal that maybe you won’t have encountered before, and I think you’ll agree that we’ve unearthed some pretty good stuff this month! Get stuck in!
Norway’s Articulus – who feature Endolith’s Erling Malm, the other permanent member being Chris Willumsen – have produced a rather fine slab of heavy Euro power/prog on their debut full-length I, which is set to be released next month through Etymology Records.
Malm and Willumsen play virtually everything on the album, with Malm supplying some very accomplished vocals to boot; drums are supplied by Megadeth sticksman Dirk Verbeuren, the result being a slick and very listenable sound that’s up there with the best in this field sonically. Malm has a great voice, slightly redolent of Wolverine’s Stefan Zell, really coming into his own on superbly melodic tracks like Absinthe, which might also bring to mind the smooth power metal of Australia’s Vanishing Point.
Standout track And Velvet Became Iron marches in on the back of a wall of anthemic harmony lead before settling into a writhing, eastern-tinged epic sound that oozes class with its use of brooding riffage and intelligently-placed keyboard accompaniment. This is the band at their most progressively-inclined, not afraid to let the instrumentation spread it’s wings a little as the band tells it’s tale of nefarious activity. The superb mid-section is one of my musical highlights of 2019 thus far, and I have no hesitation in making this the release of the month as a result!
London-based proggists Ark Ascent released their debut album, Downfall, last month, and very nice it is too. Anthemic tracks like the album’s title cut (which comes across as a more metallic version of Europe at their most pompous!) are sure to kick off live, with the band finding just the right mix of muscle and melody to appeal to just about anybody who loves a bit of tuneful, superbly played metal. Former ShadowKeep vocalist Rogue Marechal is a bit of a star, offering power and poise whenever he opens his mouth, whilst fans of Italian prog metal maestros DGM will doubtless be thrilled to find out that bassist Andrea Arcangeli handles four string duties here.
The lead playing of Jack Kirby verges on the inspired at times, with my only minor gripe being that the production sometimes can’t keep up with the ambition of the material. When the band hits it’s stride, however, that becomes irrelevant and this is one of the most enjoyable power/prog/pomp metal releases we’ve come across at the Crusade in a while.
Staying in the UK, but moving North East to Newcastle, we find the very excellent Starborn. Their new album, Savage Peace, is a riotous fifty-odd minutes of top-draw heavy metal straight outta 1986 for sure, but with a modern sheen that keeps the music from sounding stagnant or dated. Coming on like a heavier take on US names like Malice and Fifth Angel at first listen, there’s actually a depth to the material here that belies the ‘trad’ nature of the riffage. Bassist Dan Rochester throws in a bass run described by my colleague Gavin Strickmann as being ‘pure DeMaio’ at the end of opening track Existence Under Oath, and this level of musicianship is replicated throughout the album by all involved, meaning the band actually better some of the names that might be thrown up as influences as riffs tumble out of the speakers.
Unwelcome is pure, unadulterated British Steel of the first order, with guitarists Christopher Foley and Sean Atkinson giving fellow Geordie axe pairing Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey a run for their money, whilst vocalist Bruce Turnbull – who at times sounds a bit like Crimson Glory’s much-missed Midnight – is an absolute metal God in the making. I honestly don’t remember hearing such a convincing vocal performance from an ‘unknown’ since the heady, giddying days of Jugulator. ‘Nuff said.
Every track is an absolute stormer and I really can’t recommend this highly enough if you’re a fan of true British heavy metal.
A bit more modern-sounding are Italo-Swiss metallians Asuryan, whose new album, The Eye of Ra, leavens the fast-paced Egyptian-themed power metal with enough of a metalcore flourish to perhaps attract a few ears to their banner that might otherwise have written the band off as simple Euro power metal gonzo merchants.
The mix of symphonic flourish and heavy-handed breakdown happy thuggery works surprisingly well, the key being that this trio really know how to put a song together. Become The Light is perhaps where they bring everything together best; the track starts as a jaunty, folky piece of Euro power before the band work the death metal growls into the mixture, bolstered by some superbly agile kick drum work a la Children of Bodom before violins once more add a whiff of Elvenking et al. As noted, the juxtaposition of these seemingly alien elements is pulled off superbly, and The Eye of Ra consequently is the sort of album that never grinds the listener down.
Finally this month we head to Cyprus – Nicosia, to be exact – and the classic/hard rock stylings of R.U.S.T.X. Decidedly a family affair – the four piece band is made up entirely of the brothers and sister Xanthou – the band certainly know their way around an anthemic slice of melodic hard rock. At times – the band’s cover of the Wings ‘classic’ Band On The Run, for instance – things can get a little Chicken in a Basket, but for the most part, solid hard rock like the opening track on their new album, a raucous hell raiser called Defendre Le Rock, is the order of the day, and very good it is too.
That man Strickmann detects a whiff of eighties names like Helix and Great White on this track, and certainly you could imagine this song ruling the radio in the US thirty years ago; However the fast paced, almost speed metal assault of next track Running Man shows that the band are adept at changing things up a little, although even here the ghost of ancient names (specifically Rainbow) hangs heavy over proceedings.
That’s absolutely not a bad thing, of course, and there’s plenty of fun to be had with Center of the Universe.
That’s it for another month, then – thanks for your support once again and please don’t hesitate to let us know if you think there are bands deserving of The Crusade’s attention!
until next time – hail and kill!