Album Review – Stormzone / Lucifer’s Factory (2018)

Featuring mysterious places and characters from the Northern Ireland folklore, the new album by this Belfast-based band will take you on a journey back to the golden years of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock.

What was born as a studio project in 2004 in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, by vocalist John “Harv” Harbinson (No Sweat, Fastway, Sweet Savage, Den of Thieves), who was itching for a new creative outlet after a brief break from the rock industry, quickly evolved into a full-bodied band known as Stormzone, an unstoppable machine of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock anthems that has been embellishing the airwaves with their first-class music since the release of their debut album Caught in the Act, in 2007. Now in 2018, after five awesome full-length albums and countless live concerts, the band comprised of  the aforementioned frontman Harv on vocals, Steve Moore and Junior Afrifa on the guitars, Graham McNulty on bass and backing vocals, and Gordy Gray on drums is ready to stun us all once again with their classic metal music in Lucifer’s Factory, the sixth studio album in their short but already brilliant career.

Furthermore, not only the music kicks ass, but Stormzone have also stepped up their songwriting and lyrics, with the theme throughout Lucifer’s Factory concentrating on famous Irish myths and legends on each one of the 13 tracks of the album, featuring mysterious places or characters and their stories which have become embedded in Northern Ireland folklore. For instance, we have “Cushy Glen”, the notorious cut-throat highwayman, “Albhartach”, the original Irish vampire known to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “Dark Hedges”, the Northern Irish landmark now immortalized in the famous TV series Game of Thrones, and “Hallows’ Eve”, confirming that Halloween did actually originate in Northern Ireland, plus the album’s compelling title track “Lucifer’s Factory”, the origin of which is destined to surprise all, among many other compelling stories. With that said, are you ready to party like there’s no tomorrow to the incendiary Heavy Metal blasted by Stormzone, setting the tone for this upcoming Halloween?

In the opening track Dark Hedges, which by the way legend has it that one June night each year a beautiful ghostly lady appears under the extensive branches of the Dark Hedges trees for an evening of dancing and interaction with the spirits she has previously invited from the graveyard nearby, we’re treated to ass-kicking Heavy Metal from the very first second with an epic vibe in the background. The album couldn’t have started in a better way, bringing beautiful guitar solos, powerful vocals and exciting lyrics  (“Each new day, you’ll hide away / In strength you’ll sway / You’re growing through these centuries / Across entwined, to each you’ll bind / The strength you’ll find / A place in others fantasies”). Then the title-track Lucifer’s Factory keeps blowing our speakers mercilessly, with the guitars by Steve and Junior sounding as sharp as a razor blade, bringing the most thrilling elements from old school Hard Rock blended with contemporary metal music; followed by Cushy Glen, the story of the outlaw and highwayman who terrorized residents and travelers around the Coleraine area of Northern Ireland for many years just over two centuries ago, with Gordy dictating the rhythm in this mid-tempo feast of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock perfect for having a cold beer while singing the lyrics along with the band (“From the brave young men, to the brave old men /They’ll drink to the capture of the Cushy Glen / Flags will fly, and they’ll hang him high / Never no more shall we see him again”). And in Last Night in Hell the talented Harv fires his tuneful, classic vocal lines while the guitar duo continues to deliver their usual heavier-than-hell riffs, not to mention Graham and his thunderous bass lines.

The following tune, titled Albhartach, is just as fast and crisp as good old metal music should always be, and you’ll probably go over the speed limit while listening to it on the road, with its headbanging beats and fantastic backing vocals providing all the support Harv needs to kick ass once again on vocals. Then we have We Are Strong, another flammable tune drinking from the fountain of 80’s Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, and therefore keeping the album at a high level of stamina and fun, with highlights to the excellent job done by Gordy on drums and the once again beautiful solos by Steve and Junior; and Broken Window, a darker tune by Stomrzone also inspired by the golden years of Hard Rock, with Harv taking the lead with his sharp vocals while the sound of the guitars keeps cutting our skin beautifully. And blending the music by Helloween and Motörhead (which obviously means awesomeness), the band fires crushing, fast and melodic metal music from their instruments in The Heaven You Despise, with Gordy spearheading this thrilling extravaganza with his unstoppable drums while the band’s stringed trio is astounding with their axes.

Although Hallows’ Eve can be considered a good song showcasing slashing guitar riffs and another potent performance by Harv on vocals, feeling like a song by Merciful Fate without King Diamond on vocals, it unfortunately loses its grip after a while (nothing that harms the album, though), whereas Your Hell Falls Down takes us back to the 80’s, with pure Rock N’ Roll flowing from the band’s stunning riffs and beats while the bass by Graham shakes the foundations of the earth, bringing even more electricity to the music. In the exciting In for the Kill, an epic intro with an imposing Harv on vocals evolves into a galloping old school Heavy Metal anthem, presenting elements found in the music by metal warriors like Manowar, Gamma Ray and Hammerfall, and the party has no time to end based on the level of energy and fun blasted in The Last Goodbye, perfect for playing some air guitar together with the band, raising your fists while singing it along with Harv, or simply banging your head nonstop to the ass-kicking drums by Gordy. And last but not least Stomrzone offer us Time to Go, a semi-acoustic ballad that slows things down a bit, providing a smooth and passionate ending to such incredible album of Hard Rock, with Harv showcasing one last time all his skills as the excellent singer he is.

You might be asking yourself where you can find Lucifer’s Factory for purchase, and the the answer to that is quite simple, as all you need to do is go to eBay, iTunes, Amazon or Discogs to put your hands on this precious gem of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock made in Northern Ireland, also available for a full listen on Spotify. Hence, don’t forget to pay Stormzone a visit on Facebook for new and tour dates, and to subscribe to their YouTube channel for more of their breathtaking music. As you might have already noticed, Stormzone do not just play Heavy Metal, they live and breathe it, and Lucifer’s Factory represents all their dedication to the music we all love and their respect and admiration for their homeland’s folklore, important ingredients that make the entire album even better than we could have expected and a must-have in the collection of any true metal fan.

Best moments of the album: Dark Hedges, Cushy Glen, The Heaven You Despise and Your Hell Falls Down.

Worst moments of the album: Hallows’ Eve.

Released in 2018 Metal Nation Records

Track listing  
1. Dark Hedges 4:39
2. Lucifer’s Factory 5:08
3. Cushy Glen 4:47
4. Last Night in Hell 5:35
5. Albhartach 3:40
6. We Are Strong 4:20
7. Broken Window 5:49
8. The Heaven You Despise 5:24
9. Hallows’ Eve 5:51
10. Your Hell Falls Down 4:55
11. In for the Kill 5:23
12. The Last Goodbye 4:41
13. Time to Go 4:58

Band members
John “Harv” Harbinson – vocals
Steve Moore – guitars
Junior Afrifa – guitars
Graham McNulty – bass, backing vocals
Gordy Gray – drums

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Album Review – Maverick / Cold Star Dancer (2018)

Enjoy this fun and reinvigorating album of old school Hard Rock which will put a huge smile on your face and remind you why our beloved rock music will never die.

Founded back in 2012 in Belfast, Northern Ireland by the “Balfour Brothers” (vocalist David Balfour and guitarist Ryan Balfour), Hard Rock band Maverick quickly established themselves in the European rock and metal scene with a series of amazing albums released, those being their debut EP Talk’s Cheap, in 2013, followed by the full-length albums Quid Pro Quo, in 2014, and Big Red, in 2016. And Maverick started gaining more and more recognition from fans and critics after each album, leading them to play alongside Swedish Hard Rock stars The Poodles and Swedish superstars Treat, as well as performing at several festivals such as H.E.A.T Festival (Germany), Icerock and Rocknacht Tennwil (Switzerland), and Rockingham (UK).

Now in 2018 it’s time for David and Ryan, together with bassist Richie Diver and drummer Jonathan Millar, to rock our world once again with their brand new album titled Cold Star Dancer, a groovy and modern display of Hard Rock that works as a consequent follow-up to their 2016 album Big Red, showcasing all this amazing quartet is capable of in heavy music. Featuring guest performances by guitarists Anders “Gary” Wikström (Treat) and Steve Moore (Stormzone), who by the way is currently helping the band during their live shows until they find a replacement for their departed second guitarist Terry McHugh, Cold Star Dancer will take you to the golden years of Hard Rock without sounding outdated or cheesy, putting a huge smile on your face and reminding you why Rock N’ Roll will never die as long as bands like Maverick keep playing such beautiful style.

The howling wind is gradually accompanied by the sound of guitars and drums in the intro Dusk until an 80’s-inspired Hard Rock and Rock N’ Roll feast begins in the title-track Cold Star Dancer, with David stealing the spotlight with his melodic vocals, giving life to the song’s catchy lyrics (“See the signs, Cold star Dancer! / Fill the skies with fallen souls tonight! / Don’t you cry… / Hear instead their song!”). Then with the guitar riffs and solos by Ryan getting sharper and heavier, the band offers a fast and fun Hard Rock tune with hints of NWOBHM titled Myrmidon, with Jonathan keeping the music at a thrilling pace; and fire is what you’ll get in the ass-kicking Kiss of Fire, showcasing rhythmic beats, flammable guitars and a powerful performance by David on vocals, or in other words, a born-to-be-a-radio-hit that will certainly drive the audience crazy during their live performances.

Goodbye brings a lighter version of Rock N’ Roll led by the smooth but impactful riffs by Ryan (it can actually be considered a heavier-than-average power ballad), also reminding me of several Hard Rock classics from the 80’s, whereas Ex Machina is a mid-tempo stylish composition by Maverick with pure electricity flowing from all instruments, in special from the bass punches by Richie and the classic beats by Jonathan, generating the perfect ambience for David to thrive once again on vocals. The band’s more “romantic” side comes in the form of the heavy and straightforward Magellan Rise, also leaning towards old school Hard Rock with good performances by all band members (despite the song being a bit too generic), and if you love old school, upbeat Rock N’ Roll from the 80’s you’ll have a blast listening to the fun Seize the Day in your car, at the cottage, at a party, or anywhere else you’re truly enjoying life. Furthermore, David once again has an absolute fantastic performance with his piercing vocals, elevating the song’s taste and impact to a whole new level.

Viper carries the perfect name for a beyond electrifying tune (and I dare you to stand still to such action-packed music journey), presenting Ryan on total fire with his riffs and solos, while Jonathan does what he knows best, which is smashing his drums in a fast and melodic way. Kings sounds like if it was taken from a cigarette TV ad from the 80’s or 90’s, displaying a headbanging pace and sheer energy flowing nonstop, with Randy dictating the rhythm with his guitar lines and with the music flowing smoothly until the song’s sharp ending, while closing the regular version we have a fun rockin’ tune named Devil’s Night, also inspired by the classic sonority from the band’s music heroes. Moreover, Ryan and Richie are in utter sync with their strings, while David continues to deliver his top-notch vocal lines. And as a bonus track we have Maverick’s version of Rick Springfield’s classic Jessie’s Girl (check the original version HERE), a very entertaining and well-crafted cover song that will certainly put you to dance and bring very good memories to your mind.

With that said, what are you waiting for to put your hands on such electrifying album of Hard Rock to embellish the soundtracks of your house parties and road trips? Cold Star Dancer is available at the band’s Big Cartel page in CD or vinyl, at Grooves Inc., at Discogs or on Amazon. And, of course, you can get to know more about Maverick and the Balfour Brothers by visiting their Facebook page, and by listening to more of their classy Hard Rock on their YouTube channel. Needless to say, keep an eye on their tour dates, because if Maverick visit your hometown it’s an almost mandatory event for you and your friends to attend, enjoying a fun and reinvigorating night dedicated to our good old Rock N’ Roll.

Best moments of the album: Cold Star Dancer, Kiss of Fire and Viper.

Worst moments of the album: Magellan Rise.

Released in 2018 Metalapolis

Track listing
1. Dusk 1:28
2. Cold Star Dancer 3:29
3. Myrmidon 4:05
4. Kiss of Fire 3:44
5. Goodbye 4:20
6. Ex Machina 3:38
7. Magellan Rise 4:59
8. Seize the Day 3:06
9. Viper 3:31
10. Kings 3:38
11. Devil’s Night 4:52

Digipak First Edition/Vinyl bonus track
12. Jessie’s Girl (Rick Springfield cover) 3:15

Band members
David Balfour – vocals
Ryan Balfour – guitar
Richie Diver – bass
Jonathan Millar – drums

Guest musician
Anders “Gary” Wikström – guitar on “Cold Star Dancer” and “Ex Machina”
Steve Moore – guitar on “Myrmidon”, “Viper” and “Devil’s Night”

Album Review – Strangle Wire / The Dark Triad EP (2018)

Enjoy this short and sweet lesson in Death Metal made in Northern Ireland, taking you into the dark heart of the human condition.

Behind the locked doors that lie in the shadows, at the end of forgotten passageways, in the depths of every human mind, madness waits, scratching at the splintered wood with bleeding fingers. However, sometimes those locks fail, or the keys are purposefully turned, unleashing the monsters from within. The Dark Triad, the brand new EP by Northern Irish Death Metal quartet Strangle Wire, is the sound of the monsters set free, the sound of broken minds and twisted personalities, and the sound of an insidious assault on the light that keeps the night at bay.

Formed in 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, the band comprised of I (Pete Clarke) on vocals, II (Greg “Daff” Diffin) on bass, III (Ross Duffy) on the guitar, and IV (John Curlett) on drums plays what can be called “Psychological Death Metal”, being highly recommended for fans of Dying Fetus, Cannibal Corpse and Sinister, among several other Death Metal icons. Featuring a classic artwork by British musician and designer Tom Bradfield, The Dark Triad is divided into three sections, entitled Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism, taking the listener into the dark heart of the human condition, propelling them ever onward with a musical force of savage intensity, Death Metal possessed of speed, groove and supreme heaviness.

III (or Ross, if you prefer) kicks off the Death Metal hurricane titled The Games They Play with his metallic riffs before pure anarchy and devastation take over the world, with I (Pete) firing his deep, enraged and bestial growls nonstop. Put differently, this is one of those songs tailored for fans of extreme music who simply love to slam into the pit more than they love anything else in life. Then tribal sounds start another heavier-than-hell, putrid Death Metal feast named The Narcissist, a slow and steady tune from the pits of hell led by the rhythmic beats by IV (John), while II (Greg) and III keep slashing our skin with their demonic strings. Then we have Psychopathic Blue, showcasing guitar lines that remind me of the work done by Thrash Metal acts like Slayer and Testament, but still being pulverizing and demonic as good old Death Metal should be. The quartet is on fire and in total sync throughout the entire song, delivering belligerent and rabid sounds for our total delight, with I’s hellish roars getting even deeper and more primeval.

And their metallic demolition goes on with more furious blast beats, infernal vociferations and crushing riffs in The Failure Exhibit, where the band practically demands that we all get into the circle pit and slam to the total havoc they generate by their instruments; whereas if you’re a diehard fan of old school Death Metal the likes of Cannibal Corpse you’ll have a blast with Through a Black Lens, where IV sounds like a machine gun on drums while I is a demonic bulldozer on vocals. Furthermore, there isn’t a single second of peace during the entire song, it’s nonstop action boosted by the excellent riffage by III and a beyond violent atmosphere. And last but not least, as the final onrush of extreme music by Strangle Wire we’re treated to a headbanging, menacing chant titled Den of Iniquity, sounding insanely heavy from the very first second until its neck-breaking end, while I keeps barking like a creature from a deep and dark cave.

The Dark Triad, which is available for purchase from the Grindscene Records’ webstore, from Code 7, or from Amazon, is not only a very promising and vibrant start for Strangle Wire, but also a “mini-lesson” in how to properly unite technique, feeling and rage in Death Metal and in extreme music in general. And if that’s just a mini-lesson as I said, can you imagine how pulverizing Strangle Wire will sound when they come back with their first full-length lecture?

Best moments of the album: The Games They Play and Through a Black Lens.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Grindscene Records

Track listing  
1. The Games They Play 3:33
2. The Narcissist 4:26
3. Psychopathic Blue 3:21
4. The Failure Exhibit 3:39
5. Through a Black Lens 3:56
6. Den of Iniquity 4:50

Band members
I – vocals
II – bass
III – guitar
IV – drums