Album Review – Charred Walls Of The Damned / Creatures Watching Over the Dead (2016)

A magnificent lecture in Heavy Metal by four high-skilled electrified beasts who need absolutely no introduction.

Rating2

coverSome people call American Heavy Metal band Charred Walls Of The Damned a “supergroup”, but in my opinion they’re a lot more than that. Formed in 2009 by the immensely talented drummer Richard Christy (Death, Control Denied, Iced Earth) after a five-year absence from the metal scene since leaving Iced Earth and joining The Howard Stern Show in 2004, and having the one and only Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Beyond Fear, Winter’s Bane, Dio Disciples) on vocals, Jason Suecof (special guest musician and producer for Death Angel, Trivium, Kataklysm, Chimaira, DevilDriver and tons of other amazing bands) on guitar, and Steve Digiorgio (Testament, Control Denied, Death, Iced Earth, Sebastian Bach) on bass, Charred Walls Of The Damned go beyond the boundaries of almost all known “supergroups”, being an already established named in the world of heavy music and always delivering first-class material to metalheads all over the world.

If you have never heard their first two releases (their self-titled masterpiece Charred Walls of the Damned, from 2010, and Cold Winds on Timeless Days, from 2011), don’t waste any more time and go after them because those albums are definitely worth a shot, especially for fans of a high level intricacy together with sheer heaviness in music. And now, after almost five years waiting for more of the vigorous music by Charred Walls Of The Damned, Mr. Christy and his henchmen are finally back with another lecture in Heavy Metal entitled Creatures Watching Over the Dead, the third installment (all of them with beautiful names, by the way) by this band that’s a synonym to classy Heavy Metal and, unarguably, one of the best supergroups of all time, if not the best as they are for this guy that writes to you right now.

As soon as the serene intro in the opening track My Eyes explodes into pure Heavy Metal, Ripper’s voice starts penetrating deep inside your mind while the flawless beats by Richard crush your soul, proving how incredible this duo always sounds. We’re treated to the right amount of complexity and progressiveness in this outstanding composition, and don’t forget to check Richard’s drum demonstration for this song as it’s simply awesome. The Soulless, the first single of the album, has everything we love in traditional Heavy Metal. Fast and blazing guitars, a perfect drumming, rumbling bass lines and Ripper’s screams soaring as high as the sun make this demolishing fusion of Death, Thrash and modern Heavy Metal a newborn metallic classic, with its acid lyrics criticizing what’s happening with many of us in our modern but extremely toxic society (“I see you tripping into this electric world / As your brain melts into glass / Thoughts focusing upon a dark screen of deceit / A life that’s paid in full and wallowing in grief / Stepping through the mindless threshold / Now amongst the soulless”). Moreover, I have no words to say how good the guitar solo by Mr. Suecof is, it really gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to it.

It’s time to enjoy the acoustic lines by Jason and the smoother-than-usual vocals by Ripper before their demonic side arises in the dark power ballad Afterlife, presenting a dense musicality where the thunderous bass by Steve perfectly complements the crisp beats by Richard; followed by the best song of the album in my humble opinion, As I Catch My Breath. Gripping, groovy, atmospheric, powerful and inspiring are only a few adjectives we can use to describe it, with all four band members having outstanding performances showcasing all their skills in this classy hymn. Furthermore, it’s quite impossible not to sing the chorus along with Ripper and the guys, unless you’re absolutely not into metal music, of course. Slightly similar to the musicality from “Afterlife”, Lies brings forward a solid and potent sounding with hints of Power Metal, enhancing the epic vibe of the song. It’s another tune tailored for Ripper to shine with his enraged vocals, also presenting a soulful guitar solo by Jason that puts a beautiful end to such an awesome composition.

cwotd-2016Do you like what Ripper did with Judas Priest and Beyond Fear? If your answer is yes, Reach into the Light will put a humongous smile on your face. Its rhythmic drumming and cutting riffs provide Ripper exactly what he needs to fire his old school high-pitched screams, with all breaks and variations adding more flavor to this bestial composition by this incredible quartet. It truly amuses me how they can sound extremely aggressive and very harmonious at the same time, which is the case in another one of my favorites, Tear Me Down, displaying some electrifying vocals and guitar lines while Richard continues to impress on drums. Put differently, they get the best elements from their musical backgrounds and careers, and easily transform that interesting mixture into high-end metal music.

I personally recommend Living in the Shadow of Yesterday for your road trip playlist due to its pleasant rhythm, not to mention how good the crystal clear sound of drums is, as well as the song’s mighty bass lines. In addition, despite minimal, the song’s backing vocals end up working extremely well, and I guess I don’t need to say how tuneful all riffs and solos by Jason sound. Finally, the last sonic strike by Charred Walls Of The Damned, Time Has Passed, is a lesson in bass guitar by Steve. His instrument sounds insanely heavy, slapping the listener in the face pretty hard with each note played, which only gets better when accompanied by Richard’s groovy and furious beats and fills. When the song was over after my first listen to the album, it left me craving more Charred Walls Of The Damned. Well, it’s just a matter of going back to the beginning of the album and savor all songs again and again (something I’ve been doing nonstop since the album’s official launch).

Although there are no live dates scheduled yet for Charred Walls Of The Damned, I’m certain a tour to promote Creatures Watching Over the Dead will happen soon, and I truly hope they add a few Canadian dates to that. When that happens, you might notice Jason and Steve won’t probably join Richard and Ripper due to their other duties, but that’s not a big deal as the live musicians for the band include the also awesome Dennis Hayes (bass) and John Comprix (guitar) from Beyond Fear, as well as Matt Sorg (guitar) from Shed the Skin (check the review for their kick-ass debut album Harrowing Faith by clicking HERE). While we wait for a Creatures Watching Over the Dead tour, you can enjoy the entire album at the Howard Stern’s official website, and obviously purchase your favorite version of it at the Metal Blade Records’ website. More than just a metal album, Creatures Watching Over the Dead is a magnificent lecture in Heavy Metal by four high-skilled electrified musicians who need absolutely no introduction if you live and breathe heavy music.

Best moments of the album: The Soulless, As I Catch My Breath, Reach into the Light and Tear Me Down.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2016 Metal Blade Records

Track listing
1. My Eyes 4:30
2. The Soulless 4:03
3. Afterlife 2:53
4. As I Catch My Breath 5:03
5. Lies 3:31
6. Reach into the Light 2:39
7. Tear Me Down 3:50
8. Living in the Shadow of Yesterday 3:36
9. Time Has Passed 3:16

Band members
Tim “Ripper” Owens – vocals
Jason Suecof – guitar
Steve Digiorgio – bass
Richard Christy – drums

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Metal Chick of the Month – Kobra Paige

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I am, I am all that’s inside you… I am, I am evil burning through!

Have you ever been bitten by a cobra? If not, this is probably the best opportunity you will ever have in your life to finally feel the powerful venom of a spellbinding snake flowing through your veins in the form of old school Heavy Metal, and I’m sure you’ll just love the experience. I’m talking about the stunning Canadian metaller Brittany Paige, better known for her onstage moniker Kobra Paige, the fiery frontwoman of Canadian Heavy Metal band Kobra And The Lotus. Are you ready for a metallic snake bite?

Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, Kobra is a classically trained singer and pianist, having completed Grade 8 in vocals and Grade 6 in piano with The Royal Conservatory of Music, before forming Kobra And The Lotus in 2008 together with guitarist Chris Swenson and drummer Griffin Kissack. She said she was doing classical training from when she was very young until she lost interest in it, getting into Heavy Metal and Rock N’ Roll during her high school years especially because there was something in heavy music with a strong connection to what she loved the most in classical music, allowing her to explore her true voice. “I felt it was an extremely natural progression because metal allows for that chest voice to be used”, she explained. In addition, she mentioned she was going to university without a real intention of doing music seriously, although she truly wanted to start her own metal band anyway. After starting singing and writing music she felt so passionate and alive she decided to go ahead with her music career, which also meant the end of university for her.

Despite not pursuing a career in classical music, the classical training was essential for our blonde bombshell to learn the art of singing and how to properly take good care of her voice. “I’m so scared of that because I can’t just buy a new guitar. I only have this one instrument and you don’t want to blow it, so absolutely the breath exercises and the tools that I learned from it have very much helped, made me more knowledgeable”, she said in one of her interviews. Well, she said she was blown away at a Judas Priest concert after the band played their thunderous classic Painkiller, and she also fell in love for the powerful multi-layered voice by Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, so it makes total sense for her to be so worried about her voice as we all know how demanding singing like Rob Halford and Robert Plant can be to any mortal person, right?

Still under the name Brittany Paige, she released with Kobra And The Lotus their debut album Out of the Pit, in 2009, before adopting the name Kobra Paige and releasing two more albums with the band, the self-titled Kobra and the Lotus in 2012 and their most recent full-length album High Priestess in 2014, as well as an EP with cover versions for renowned Canadian rock bands entitled Words of the Prophets in 2015, and a 7″ vinyl EP named Zombie also in 2015, released as a Halloween treat and containing the songs Zombie and Remember Me. She also took part in the Heavy Metal/Hard Rock project Tony Gabriele’s Orbynot, recording vocals for their 2012 album Try to Stop Me, and is constantly lending her voice to the metal army known as Metal All Stars, sharing the stage with iconic musicians such as Tim “Ripper” Owens, Ross the Boss, Vinny Appice and Paul Di’Anno, and more recently to the cult Melodic Power Metal act Kamelot during their latest world tour. And you better get ready, because Kobra And The Lotus announced back in November 2015 they are gearing up for their fourth full-length album, a double disc entitled Prevail, to be released in a not-so-distant future (you can pre-order it HERE).

There are several videos on YouTube where you can enjoy her electrifying vocals and looks, and more important than that, feel the remarkable shift in her voice through the years. As a “few” suggestions, I believe you can take a listen at the old school thrashy tunes Snake Pit, Ride Like Sugar and Cynical Wasteland, the thunderous Welcome To My Funeral and I Am, I Am, the sexy heavy ballad Black Velvet, the Power Metal epicness of 50 Shades Of Evil and Forever One, the band’s thrilling cover versions for Motörhead’s all-time classic Ace of Spades and Rush’s groovy anthem The Spirit Of Radio, and their awesome performance at the famous festival Bloodstock Open Air in 2012. When asked about that change, Kobra said it happened mainly from their first to their second album, when she started following a direction where she felt more comfortable with her voice, sounding more organic, honest and authentic, and also evolving with the other band members in terms of skills and songwriting.

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Based on her vocal style and the music played by Kobra and The Lotus, you might think her biggest influences come only from traditional Heavy Metal, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, who obviously had a huge impact on her life and who she would simply love to tour with. However, our gorgeous Kobra is a fan of all types of music, from old school metal the likes of Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.) and Iced Earth, to Folk/Viking Metal such as Eluveitie and Amon Amarth, to obviously classical music, in special German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven. As pretty much all successful musicians, she doesn’t stick to only one music genre, which helps her evolve as a singer and songwriter by expanding her horizons and bringing to her mind huge amounts of creativity and passion.

As expected for such a charismatic persona like Kobra, she was invited to take part on an interesting documentary called Soaring Highs and Brutal Lows: The Voices of Women in Metal after her performance at the famous Metal Female Voices Fest in 2013, touring then with other female vocalists in different festivals and telling their own stories in the world of heavy music. Talking about the life on the road, Kobra said once that “any person obviously has to be really into heavy metal, living and breathing for it, in order to be on the road constantly”, and in regards to being a beautiful woman among so many male metalheads, she said that one of the funniest things that ever happened to her on tour was when Kobra and The Lotus were touring around Canada the first time and she got a lot of questions like “are you the merch girl?”, surprising them all the minute she got onstage.

Her hobbies and interests are also very common for most of us, especially if you enjoy more physical stuff such as kickboxing and hiking on a mountain. Moreover, as she’s so focused on her music career and loves all things music so much, she has also nurtured an interest in musical theater, something she used to do at a younger age, looking into some Broadway scoring to improve her skills and capacity for innovation. One curious detail about her is that, even after spending so much time on the road with the band, she’s an avid traveler, always searching for exotic destinations to visit and new cultures to learn about.

Lastly, in case you haven’t noticed yet, our metal viper has the tattoo of a dream catcher on her arm, something very meaningful to her since she was a little girl. Her mom used to take her to sun dances, increasing Native American influences on her while she was growing up. Besides, she used to have constant nightmares until she was 13, when her parents put a dream catcher over her bed as a protective symbol, which ended up working really well for her. I’m pretty sure her nightmares are long gone by now, not due to the dream catcher but mainly because of her badass attitude and inner strength. In other words, I can’t think of any entity brave enough to disturb the peace of our headbanging cobra, and if anyone or anything dares to do so, they will mercilessly have their asses kicked pretty bad.

Kobra Paige’s Official Facebook page
Kobra Paige’s Official Twitter
Kobra Paige’s Official Instagram

Kobra And The Lotus’ Official Facebook page
Kobra And The Lotus’ Official Twitter

“I am who I am and this is my voice; if it’s not bad-ass enough for some people, that’s just too bad.” – Kobra Paige

Album Review – Iced Earth / Plagues of Babylon (2014)

Jon Schaffer & Co. deliver the fans another excellent traditional Heavy Metal album.

Rating4

Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon (2014)Based on one of the first releases of the year, the album Plagues of Babylon from the American Heavy Metal band Iced Earth, it looks like 2014 will be very promising for the world of heavy music. It’s not a masterpiece, nor even the best album of the band’s solid career, but it sure is a pretty good Heavy Metal album. After the interesting Dystopia (2011), which marked the debut of Stu Block on vocals, Iced Earth suffer a few more lineup changes now (again, and again, and again…) with Luke Appleton and Raphael Saini debuting on bass and drums, respectively. All those changes usually affect the quality of the music of any band, or at least the continuity of the work done, but fortunately the final result in Plagues of Babylon is above average and the changes are barely noticed.

Half of the songs in the album follow the “Something Wicked” concept, according to Jon Schaffer, while the rest have no connection to it (which doesn’t mean they’re not interesting songs). The band sets the bar really high with the opening track, Plagues of Babylon, with its imposing start/intro, awesome chorus (“So if you’re asking yourself, why? / Your eyes are blind to the raging storm / Will they cleanse the Earth of humanity? / Unleash the Plagues of Babylon?”), and almost 8 minutes of pure Iced Earth always led by Jon Schaffer’s unparalleled riffs. And is it Stu or Matt Barlow on vocals? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Democide has another “marching” intro, as if the band was getting “ready for war”, and its fast rhythm full of Thrash Metal elements will surely turn it into a fan favorite.

Plagues of Babylon continues with The Culling, which is a regular song with a nice solo, but nothing compared to the previous tracks, and the great Among the Living Dead with the one and only Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) also on lead vocals. It’s a powerful song with stunning riffs and variations, making it the best of the album in my opinion. In Resistance, Stu sounds less like Matt, and it’s interesting to see how Jon tried to create an epic song here with a “Babylonian” heavy riff. The End? sounds like some of the old Iced Earth songs; however, it’s too long and becomes boring after a while.

The second half of the album begins with If I Could See You, a beautiful semi-acoustic ballad with a great job done by Stu, despite its extremely mellow cliché lyrics. And here comes Jon Schaffer with one more epic song with over 6 minutes, Cthulhu, but it lacks more creativity and energy. Peacemaker is traditional Iced Earth (so traditional Stu sounds exactly like Matt here): I enjoyed a lot the guitar solos in this track, but again Jon could have added more creativity into it to make the overall result even better.

icedearthpromo2013Parasite offers absolutely nothing new: it’s just filler and probably the worst song of all. On the other hand, Spirit of the Times puts the album back on track, and you must agree with me that Jon not only loves Heavy Metal ballads but also knows how to create some very good ones. Then comes a weird cover for the song Highwayman, from American songwriter Jimmy Webb, with Michael Poulsen (Volbeat) and Russell Allen (Symphony X) on lead and backing vocals together with Jon Schaffer, and finally an outro so stupid that I prefer not to talk about it.

Last but not least, Plagues of Babylon has an astounding front cover, featuring Iced Earth’s unique mascot Set Abominae with his army of living dead. It’s pure art, a brilliant concept, and I just love it. Furthermore, you can stream the full album here on Iced Earth’s official website through the app Spotify, and start getting used to the songs before it’s actually released and you can buy your physical copy of it, and before their 2014 world tour, with many dates across the USA and Canada including a concert in Toronto on Monday, April 14.

To sum up, the partnership between Jon Schaffer and Stu Block seems to be working very well in the past few years, and the powerful music in Plagues of Babylon is a good example of it. As I mentioned before, if most of the releases in 2014 are as good as this album, then we metalheads will have a very happy headbanging year.

Best moments of the album: Plagues of Babylon, Democide and Among the Living Dead.

Worst moments of the album: The Culling, The End? and Parasite.

Released in 2014 Platinum Dragon Germany GmbH/Century Media

Track listing
1. Plagues of Babylon 7:48
2. Democide 5:23
3. The Culling 4:27
4. Among the Living Dead 5:15
5. Resistance 5:00
6. The End? 7:14
7. If I Could See You 3:56
8. Cthulhu 6:05
9. Peacemaker 5:02
10. Parasite 3:30
11. Spirit of the Times 5:06
12. Highwayman 3:13
13. Outro 0:25

Band members
Jon Schaffer – rhythm, acoustic & lead guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Highwayman”
Troy Seele – lead guitar
Stu Block – lead vocals, backing vocals
Luke Appleton – bass guitar
Raphael Saini – drums