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

Concert Review – Primal Fear (Virgin Mobile Mod Club,Toronto, ON, 05/03/2014)

Teutonic Power Metal icons take over Toronto to “deliver the black” in the city.

OPENING ACTS: Sovereign Council and Answer With Metal

primal fear_toronto_2014Just two days after the amazing Paganfest America Part V at The Opera House, it was already time for more PURE FUCKIN’ METAL at the small but cozy Virgin Mobile Mod Club, located in the Torontonian neighborhood known as Little Italy. This time, instead of Vikings and warriors, Toronto had the great pleasure to witness a lesson in POWER METAL by German Heavy Metal masters PRIMAL FEAR.

Before savoring the cream of heavy music by the Teutonic metalheads, the fans were surprised by two excellent opening acts “made in Canada”. The first band to hit the Virgin Mobile Mod Club stage was Kingston-based Symphonic Metal band SOVEREIGN COUNCIL, who presented an interesting and very professional mix of Symphonic and Alternative Metal which reminded me of bands such as Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation and Epica. All band members were noticeably excited with the opportunity of opening for Primal Fear and were all smiles during their whole concert, with highlights to lead singer Alexander MacWilliam and female singer Lisa Thompson, who did an amazing job “telling a story” together in each song of their setlist. Of course I have no idea of the names of their songs, but I remember enjoying a really nice one called Bring It Down, and the only issue in my opinion was that their music would be more suited if they were the opening act for a Symphonic Metal band, as some people present at the venue didn’t quite understand their message. Maybe if they are called to open for Within Tempation or Delain, who will be in Toronto soon, their music will be a lot more appreciated.

Band members
Alexander MacWilliam – vocals
Lisa Thompson – female vocals
Chris Thompson – guitars
Patrick Buczynski – guitars
Shaun Vanhoose – bass guitar
Jessica Marsden – keyboards
Brandon Schneider – drums

If someone asks you what you love the most in life, you simply ANSWER WITH METAL! This Stouffville-based Power Metal band delivered a very competent concert, with lots of shredding, guitar solos, fast drumming and everything else that makes traditional Heavy Metal so addictive. Straight-forward songs like Gates Of Hell and Two Wrongs (Don’t Make A Right), with their very traditional approach, were excellent for some headbanging while enjoying a beer, which is probably what the band actually aims with their music, right? Lead singer Dan Nielsen, who by the way is the owner of an amazing voice, seemed so happy for opening to Primal Fear that he “forgot” to look to the crowd in the eye during the concert. Well, we cannot blame him for that, as we can imagine how important yesterday night was for him and the rest of his band. What really matters is that they kicked ass, and just like Sovereign Council they’re a very welcome fresh new addition to the Canadian heavy music scene. Moreover, if they keep being so hard-working and honest in what they do, we can rest assured they will go places with their music.

Band members
Dan Nielsen – vocals
Andrew Jarvis – lead guitar
Matt Hadaway – rhythm guitar
Jon Stallan – bass guitar
Alejandro Gonzalez – drums

PRIMAL FEAR

pf2014_primal fear02Finally, when the clock precisely struck 11pm, Ralf, Mat & Co. hit Toronto again after a long wait of over 4 years, delivering the most powerful and awesome Heavy Metal one can imagine. After playing two intros in a row (Countdown To Insanity and Jaws Of Death), the Heavy Metal extravaganza began with the classic tune Final Embrace, from their second album, the perfect Jaws Of Death (1999). Although the gig wasn’t sold out, the good crowd went crazy with the band from the very first second, with lots of headbanging and fists and horns in the air. And that was only the beginning!

How can Primal Fear be so fuckin’ awesome? First of all, if there’s one thing that I love in Primal Fear is their undeniable ability to ALWAYS release excellent albums, no matter what happens to the band, which was the case again this year with Delivering The Black. It was clear last night the fans love their new material, as songs such as Alive & On Fire, Delivering The Black, One Night In December and When Death Comes Knocking were sung at full force by all fans at the Mod Club.

pf2014_ralf02Secondly, all of their ballads are truly beautiful, and more important than that, a million light-years away from being cheesy. Last night the band perfectly played two of their best ones, the thrilling Seven Seals and the epic Fighting The Darkness, “spreading the love” among the couples who attended the concert. I wish they had played another one such as “Diabolus” or “Under your Spell”, but I was more than happy with last night’s setlist anyway.

However, it’s when the band plays that raw, fast and heavy Power Metal that things get even better, and the reaction of the fans to that type of music is priceless. Nuclear Fire, Chainbreaker, and especially Angel In Black (my favorite of the night), Bad Guys Wear Black and the Heavy Metal anthem Metal Is Forever were responsible for so much headbanging yesterday I’m pretty sure the Rub A-535 sales will go up today. That was an easy task for Primal Fear: they sent us a simple message (“Bang your head / And never turn it down / Bang your head / Bad guys wear black”), we promptly responded without any mercy to our necks and bodies.

It was already past midnight and the concert was almost over, but there was still time for two more strong songs, the electrifying Unbreakable (Part 2) and the superb Running In The Dust, showcasing one more time how great all band members are. The instrumental played by Mat, Alex, Tom and Randy, all really happy and excited for playing in Toronto after so many years, was totally flawless, and during pretty much the entire setlist I thought I was listening to the studio albums or even to an improved version of that. The guitar solos were impressive, the rumbling sound of Mat’s bass was reaching the hearts of the fans, and Edmontonian “stone crusher” Randy Black gave hope to all Canadian metalheads at the venue that have to suffer everyday with nasty things such as Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne.  However, it was the unique voice by Mr. Ralf Scheepers what really captivated the attention of everyone at the concert. Ralf is like a good wine: the older he gets, the more awesome his voice gets. His performance in all songs was stellar, with no exception, and lest we forget he has to perform at that level almost every single day, which makes things even more amazing.

pf2014_primal fear04To sum up, a memorable night for fans of traditional Heavy Metal, and once again Primal Fear made our lives a lot more enjoyable with their mighty metal music. Because although they came to Toronto just to “deliver the black”, they ended up delivering the awesome, and now let’s just hope the Metal Commando does not take so long to come back to the city for another round of impeccable Heavy Metal.

Band members
Ralf Scheepers – lead vocals
Mat Sinner – bass guitar, vocals
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Tom Naumann – guitars*
Randy Black – drums

* Replacing guitarist Magnus Karlsson on this tour.

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Album Review – Primal Fear / Delivering the Black (2014)

Primal Fear once again deliver the awesome.

Rating2

Primalfeardeliveringtheblack2014I remember back in the 90’s when Ralf Scheepers left Gamma Ray to form Primal Fear together with bassist Mat Sinner and that some people started calling them a “Judas Priest tribute band”, especially after Ralf not being called to replace Halford in the Priest itself. Well, I’ve always disagreed with that theory due to the fact that you cannot judge a band just because of their music style or type of vocal. In my opinion, you have to see the big picture and analyze the overall contribution of the band to the world of heavy music. Otherwise, we can say every band is like a “Black Sabbath or The Beatles tribute band”, right? Anyway, this incredible German band has always provided us some high quality Heavy Metal, with amazing albums such as Jaws of Death, Seven Seals and 16.6 (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), and now the “metal eagle” has landed one more time with Delivering the Black, their tenth studio album and I dare to say their best since Seven Seals.

Why not starting the album with a ferocious kick right in the middle of your face? That’s exactly what the band does with the fantastic King For a Day, an epitome of pure Heavy Metal with its perfect riffs, fast drums, amazing solos, and a Ralf Scheepers singing better than ever. It seems he’s following the same path of some of the greatest vocalists of all time like Bruce, Halford and Dio: the older he gets, the better his voice is. Moreover, this track will be perfect as the opening song of their upcoming world tour, as it’s impossible not to bang your head from the very first second.

Primal FearWhy not continuing with the headbanging massacre? It looks like Ralf, Mat & Co. were tired of so much annoyance in the world of music and decided to counter-attack with the heavy and fast song Rebel Faction, where Canadian drummer Randy Black “kindly” reminds us that Canada is still a Heavy Metal nation, and not the pop garbage we see on TV. It’s indeed another track fans will love to see the band playing live. Then comes the first single of the album, When Death Comes Knocking,  which despite not being as incredible as the two initial tracks, is still very powerful and has some good lyrics to sing along with the band (“When death comes knocking / I stand my ground / And I won’t go down / My name stays immortal”), followed by another amazing track called Alive & On Fire, a very traditional Primal Fear track with a Hard Rock approach, perfect for Mat and his strong bass lines. And have I already mentioned that Ralf is on fire in this album?

Primal Fear keep on rockin’ with the title-track, Delivering the Black, another fast tune with great solos, riffs, drums, chorus, in other words, it has the full package! By the way, when you reach this song you’ll already be able to notice how direct their music is in the whole album, with no additional elements or any other bullshit: it’s pure Heavy Metal, just the way we love it. And this metal feast continues in Road to Asylum, with a beautiful combination of Ralf’s powerful voice and Randy’s rhythmic drums. The next track is the longest of all, One Night in December, which is a song with a somber intro, beautiful piano and excellent guitar lines, making it sound as if it had only 3 or 4 minutes, followed by Never Pray For Justice  with its “chainsaw” intro and 100% Heavy Metal sonority.

PRIMAL FEAR DTB deluxe edition

Delivering the Black deluxe edition

The last two tracks of this Heavy Metal avalanche are the lovely ballad Born With a Broken Heart, which gets even better in the Japanese edition of the album as it has the gorgeous Norwegian singer Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy, Leaves’ Eyes) also on vocals, and the fierce Inseminoid teaching us what traditional heavy music must sound like. And if I were you I would purchase the deluxe edition of Delivering the Black, as it also contains a couple of interesting bonus tracks, as well as a DVD containing two music videos and the making of the album. The album art is as good as usual, with Primal Fear’s own mascot, the Metal Eagle, spreading its wings ready to soar, just like the band is ready to rock the world once again.

To sum up, the partnership between Ralf and Mat, which has always been amazing, is definitely getting better and better and Delivering the Black is the perfect representation of their total synergy together. Primal Fear is one of those bands that remind us why METAL IS FOREVER, and I can’t wait to see them live here in Toronto on May 3 “delivering the black”. By the way, I wouldn’t complain if they suddenly played the new album in its entirety, because it’s fuckin’ awesome. Long Live Primal Fear!

Best moments of the album: King For a Day, Rebel Faction, Alive & On Fire and Delivering the Black.

Worst moments of the album: Never Pray For Justice, but not because it’s a bad song. It’s just the less awesome of all.

Released in 2014 Frontier Records

Track listing
1. King For a Day 3:44
2. Rebel Faction 4:41
3. When Death Comes Knocking 6:58
4. Alive & On Fire 4:48
5. Delivering the Black 4:01
6. Road to Asylum 3:48
7. One Night in December 9:18
8. Never Pray For Justice 4:23
9. Born With a Broken Heart 4:36
10. Inseminoid 5:01

Deluxe edition bonus tracks
11. Innocent Man 4:12
12. Man Without Shadow 4:03
13. When Death Comes Knocking (single edit) 4:25

Japanese edition bonus track
14. Born With a Broken Heart (edit version) 4:13

Band members
Ralf Scheepers – vocals
Mat Sinner – bass, backing vocals
Magnus Karlsson – guitars, keyboards
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Randy Black – drums

Guest musicians
Liv Kristine – vocals on “Born With A Broken Heart” (Japanese edition bonus track)