Album Review – Striker / Play To Win (2018)

Blending classic Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Power Metal and 80’s Hair Metal, one of the biggest exponents of contemporary Canadian metal music strikes once again with a brand new album, always playing to win.

Champions in blending classic Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Power Metal and 80’s Hair Metal, Canadian shredders Striker are back with another good album titled Play To Win, the sixth in their undisputed career and a follow-up to their two previous award nominated winning albums, their 2017 breathtaking self-titled opus Striker (nominated for a JUNO award, winner of an Edmonton Music Award and Western Canadian Award) and the WCMA + EMA award winning album Stand In The Fire, released in 2016. That means this Edmonton-based squad comprised of frontman Dan Cleary, guitarists Tim Brown and Chris Segger, bassist William Wallace and drummer Adam Brown has been on an absolute roll in the past few years, not only delivering first-class metal for our total delight, but also spreading their music live across Europe and North America with bands like Sonata Arctica, Dark Tranquility and Warbringer, along with festival appearances at 70,000 Tons of Metal and Bang Your Head Festival, proving why they’re already considered one of the biggest exponents in contemporary Canadian Heavy Metal.

Mixed and Mastered by Hendrik Udd at Hendrik Udd Recording Studios, and featuring not only an old school artwork by Elvis Amaral (HipnoFX Audiovisual), but also the fantastic Randy Black (Annihilator, Primal Fear, Destruction) as a session drummer, who by the way also recorded the album Stand in the Fire with the band, Play To Win will please all fans of traditional metal and rock, keeping the name of Striker relevant and strong in the scene. “Play to Win: if you want to win you have to play the game. Find the rules and break them. This is our 6th album and 3rd independent release. If we followed the rules and listened to the industry people we’d have gone absolutely nowhere. Play To Win is about listening to yourself, following your own path, and playing that 5th ace hidden in your sleeve. This album is designed to light a fire under your ass and get you moving, and we made sure to get the most modern, ear melting sounds possible. It’s all about where metal is going, not where it has been, and this is our soundtrack to success,” commented Tim about the album.

And Tim and Chris begin slashing and shredding their strings from the very first second in the opening tune Heart of Lies, where the band delivers their usual ass-kicking fusion of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, with Dan declaiming the song’s chorus beautifully (“Another victim to a heart of lies / Can’t see the truth behind those venom eyes / Another victim to a heart of lies / On deaf ears will fall the eagle’s cry”). Then leaning towards pure 80’s Hard Rock and Glam Metal, in special the crisp and passionate vocal lines by Dan, we have Position of Power, with William and Randy maintaining a solid and rumbling background throughout the entire song; followed by Head First, a good song that gets a bit too commercial at times, but that obviously brings Striker’s old school punch, sounding very rhythmic, groovy and melodic. In addition, Tim and Chris are once again on fire with their riffs and solos, making it a highly recommended addition to your road trip playlist.

Blending the music by Iron Maiden with Motley Crüe, Stratovarius and Van Halen, which in the end resulted in sheer awesomeness, Striker offer us the thrilling On The Run, showcasing a brilliant vocal performance by Dan while William keeps extracting that metallic sound we all love form his bass, whereas The Front is another classic song by Striker, also feeling as it was taken from an 80’s Hair Metal album. It’s a bit too smooth compared to the sonic massacre from their previous albums, but the crisp sound of the guitars and the precise beats by Randy make it very enjoyable and fun. The title-track Play To Win, a mid-tempo feast of rockin’ sounds, sounds even more inspired by the golden years of Hard Rock than ever, with the guitar riffs and solos by both Tim and Chris getting sharper and groovier, and albeit its lyrics are extremely cheesy, the message the band wanted to send is there (and that’s what really matters in the end). Then despite the excellent vocals by Dan, its tuneful guitar solos and a pleasant vibe, the power ballad Standing Alone never really takes off, getting way too mellow compared to what Striker are capable of doing.

Back to a heavier and more epic sonority, those talented Canadian metallers fire an electrified Heavy Metal and Hard Rock tune entitled Summoner, inspired by many classics by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and other behemoths from the NWOBHM, also presenting the best guitar work of the entire album in my opinion. In Heavy Is The Heart the band shows how to do a proper power ballad, bringing passion to the musicality without forgetting the always needed dosages of electricity and rage, again presenting an inspired Dan leading his bandmates from start to finish. However, the closing tune Hands Of Time is another generic song that sounds and feels extremely soft if you’re a longtime fan of Striker, lacking the same potency and kick from their already classic tunes. Put differently, it’s far from being a bad song, but as we all got used to a lot heavier riffs and faster beats by Striker it’s hard to truly relish it.

As a huge fan of their self-titled album released last year, which I personally considered one of the best metal albums of 2017, I felt slightly disappointed with the final result in Play To Win. Nothing to worry about, though, as I guess I’m being too harsh on the guys from Striker, almost “demanding” that they had released another Heavy Metal masterpiece instead of actually enjoying their new album. There’s still a lot of top-of-the-line music to savor in Play To Win, available from their official website as a digital download or as a special edition CD, as well as from iTunes and Amazon, and you can also follow the band on Facebook, subscribe to their YouTube channel and listen to more of their music on Spotify (if you don’t do all that already). Striker are a band that keeps winning no matter what with each and every release (despite singing in their previous album that they were “born to lose”), and the flame of Canadian metal will remain alive and vibrant while we have those skillful metalheads from Edmonton among us, always playing to win.

Best moments of the album: Heart of Lies, On The Run and Summoner.

Worst moments of the album: Standing Alone and Hands Of Time.

Released in 2018 Record Breaking Records

Track listing
1. Heart of Lies 4:04
2. Position of Power 3:41
3. Head First 4:02
4. On The Run 3:52
5. The Front 4:02
6. Play To Win 3:49
7. Standing Alone 4:56
8. Summoner 4:04
9. Heavy Is The Heart 4:54
10. Hands Of Time 3:47

Band members
Dan Cleary – lead vocals
Tim Brown – lead and rhythm guitar
Chris Segger – lead and rhythm guitar
William Wallace – bass
Adam Brown – drums

Guest musician
Randy Black – drums (session)
Lindsay Robinson, John Kennedy and Nathan Schadeck – gang vocals

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Album Review – Ahola / Tug Of War (2014)

A new Teräsbetoni album would have been a lot better for all of us.

Rating6

coverIt looks like Finnish singer and songwriter J. Ahola is really determined to go on with his solo project, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock band Ahola, which means that unfortunately there’s no sign of a new Teräsbetoni album anytime soon. In fact, Ahola seems to be his main band now, not only a project, but I really wish it was the other way round, especially after listening to his new album Tug Of War.

Albeit Ahola’s new album is a million light-years away from being bad music, and the musicians involved are very competent, Tug Of War lacks all that originality and especially the punch from any of the Teräsbetoni albums. In other words, for a guy that has been in a band responsible for powerful classics such as “Taivas Lyö Tulta”, “Metallisydän” and “Missä Miehet Ratsastaa”, it’s hard to accept generic material with song titles like “I Need You” and “Dog”, and it’s even worse due to the bland way he’s using his voice.

The End of the Line opens the album and, despite its promising intro, lacks a lot of energy in its entirety, especially J. Ahola’s vocals which are not what we all wanted to hear. Road of Creation is a more Doom Metal track with his voice sounding a lot better, but again it’s not a great song; and the title-track Tug of War is stronger than the previous tracks but still lacks that “it” factor.

Tug Of War continues with the two best songs of all: On the Run, a nice Hard Rock track with an interesting chorus; and  Still Metal, a song that keeps us wondering how awesome the whole album would have been if it had the same Manowar-ish approach as here. Fortunately, Rock’n’Roll is another solid song (although too generic) that keeps the momentum, but on the other hand One Among the Crowd is a weak ballad and the worst track of all, and followed by the generic The Final Incantation drags the album back to just regular.

AholaThings do not get better with The Will You Always Had, a totally forgettable song, and I Need You, which sounds like a tired Teräsbetoni playing. And finally, we have Dog, an average Hard Rock track with a bad chorus (feel like a dog, really?); Age of Hubris, with some good riffs to elevate the album level a little; and Beerland 2, a total waste of time.

And I’m not even complaining about the fact he’s singing in English now, as I understand (although do not agree) that the Finnish language was kind of limiting his boundaries. The real problem here is that Ahola sound like a sell-off, like something made just for money. I know we cannot expect Ahola and Teräsbetoni to be the same, but it’s sad to see such a talented Power Metal musician, a guy that loves Manowar, Rainbow and Deep Purple, doing some generic material. May the power of the mighty Odin open his eyes and take him back to what he does best: awesome Power Metal.

Best moments of the album: On the Run and Still Metal.

Worst moments of the album: One Among the Crowd, The Final Incantation, The Will You Always Had and Beerland 2.

Released in 2014 Playground Music

Track listing
1. The End of the Line 4:30
2. Road of Creation 5:15
3. Tug of War 4:02
4. On the Run 3:17
5. Still Metal 4:03
6. Rock’n’Roll 3:48
7. One Among the Crowd 4:27
8. The Final Incantation 5:18
9. The Will You Always Had 3:16
10. I Need You 4:29
11. Dog 4:20
12. Age of Hubris 3:28
13. Beerland 2 2:24

Band members
J. Ahola – vocals, guitar
Jari Laitinen – bass
Antti Mäkelä – drums
Antti Karhumaa – lead guitar