Album Review – Crossbones / WWIII (2017)

The most longstanding and influential metal act from Albania returns with a brand new opus, combining American Thrash Metal influences with a dark sound and typical Eastern European sonorities.

When vocalist Olsi Ballta grabbed an Albanian-English dictionary in 1996 and picked the first word on the page he randomly opened, he had no idea he would be founding the most recognized metal act in Albania and the only band from the mid 90’s that kept going. That’s how everything started for Tirana-based Heavy/Thrash Metal band Crossbones, the first Albanian rock band to have released a genuine full-length album on CD (their debut album called Days Of Rage, from 1997), who led them to play several concerts and festivals in the local scene, as well as within the region comprised of Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece and Kosovo, and to perform alongside major names such as Ian Paice (Deep Purple’s legendary drummer) and Rotting Christ.

After the release of a few singles, demos, a live album, a compilation and a stylish box set in the following years, Crossbones are finally back with new material, the full-length record entitled WWIII, combining American Thrash Metal influences with a dark sound and typical Eastern European sonorities in order to provide the listener a full-bodied metal attack that effectively represents not only the name and the artwork of the album, but also the core essence of the band. Perhaps due to the fact that Crossbones have been active through a couple of decades already, the music found in WWIII will provide you a voyage through old school and modern metal music, which only brings more flavor to the entire album. And let’s be honest, for a band that comes from a country where metal has absolutely (and unfortunately) zero support, what these guys do with their music is beyond fantastic.

The high amount of heaviness and groove emanating from all instruments from the very first second in I’m God, a potent mid-tempo Groove Metal composition with blazing guitar solos and neck-breaking riffs, will punch you in the face mercilessly, with lead singer Olsi Ballta delivering classic and melodious Thrash Metal vocal lines. And that’s only the beginning, as the straightforward tune Gates of Hell, led by guitarist Ben Turku and his slashing riffs, will please all fans of heavy music, with drummer Theo Napoloni and bassist Klejd Guza adding tons of groove to the musicality with their pounding beats and thunderous notes, respectively. In the slightly more atmospheric (but still as heavy as hell) Gjallë, or “alive” from Albanian, Theo and Klejd once again become the dynamic duo of fierceness, setting the perfect tone for Olsi to growl the song’s lyrics (which by the way are in Albanian).

The interesting WTF, which obviously means “what the fuck”, is more alternative than all previous tracks, focusing on the cutting strings by both Ben and Klejd while Olsi fires anguished and acid vocals, therefore increasing the song’s obscurity, with its ending being a sheer Groove Metal feast; whereas Messing with the Masses is a lot more introspective and somber, albeit not as exciting as the rest of the album. The dissonant and macabre guitar solo by Ben halfway through it is very effective though, while its second half sounds like a completely different song, being a mix of Alternative and Nu Metal. Schizo gets back to a more direct metal sonority thanks to the high dosage of harmony coming from the guitars by Ben, with Olsi also singing in his mother tongue and sounding more aggressive and demented, in sync with the theme proposed by the song’s name.

Rise offers thrilling Heavy Metal the way we headbanging bastards like it, also bringing elements from Sludge and Stoner Metal (therefore showing the band’s versatility) while Klejd simply kicks ass with his bass lines, supporting the song’s old school metallic lyrics (“I’m taking my chances / Roaming the streets / A wild stab in the dark / And over the fences / A million of thoughts / And fresh blood in the heart”). After a short eerie intro, the band delivers a dark version of Groove Metal with elements from Gothic Rock and Metal in You Fool, where Olsi steals the spotlight with his melancholic growls, supported by the heavy, obscure sounds blasted by all other bands members; followed by That Kind of Feeling, a dark semi-ballad by Crossbones featuring melodic elements from contemporary metal music blended with traditional vocal lines and the punch of Groove Metal, adding more taste to the album. And the second installment of the opening track, simply titled I’m God, Pt. 2, closes WWIII, beginning in a very sorrowful and pensive manner and being a lot more atmospheric than any other song of the album. In other words, a beautiful ending for WWIII, with Olsi having a truly passionate performance on vocals.

If you want to show your support to Crossbones and Albanian metal, simply visit their Facebook page, YouTube channel, SoundCloud and ReverbNation, and buy your copy of WWIII on iTunes, Amazon, Target, CD Universe, Walmart, hbdirect.com and several other retailers. We might not be ready for a real-life World War III, but we should all be more than happy with the music presented by this longstanding Albanian squad in WWIII, an album that will certainly cement the legacy of such important band for metal in Albania, in Eastern Europe and anywhere else where good music is appreciated.

Best moments of the album: Gates of Hell, Gjallë and Rise.

Worst moments of the album: Messing with the Masses.

Released in 2017 Nadir Music

Track listing
1. I’m God 6:55
2. Gates of Hell 5:52
3. Gjallë 4:39
4. WTF 6:32
5. Messing with the Masses 5:23
6. Schizo 6:05
7. Rise 4:41
8. You Fool 4:38
9. That Kind of Feeling 5:58
10. I’m God, Pt. 2 3:39

Band members
Olsi Ballta – vocals
Ben Turku – guitars
Klejd Guza – bass
Theo Napoloni – drums

Album Review – Acrassicauda / Gilgamesh (2015)

A modern, visceral and compelling album by the Arabian black scorpions of Thrash Metal.

Rating3

CoverThe story I’m about to tell you is not only inspiring, but also shows the strong and positive influence music can have on any of us, helping us face our deepest fears and overcome the hardest challenges in our path. Acrassicauda (or أكراسكودا in Arabic), the latin name of a black scorpion species known as the Arabian fat-tailed scorpion (Androctonus crassicauda), is also the name of an incredible Iraqi Thrash Metal band formed in 2000, made famous by the award-winning documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad and often credited as being the first Heavy Metal group to emerge from Iraq, who unfortunately had to undergo all the agonies and pain of witnessing their homeland being devastated by politics and war.

After being granted refugee status in the United States in 2009 and after releasing a couple of demos and one EP, the band now based in New York brings forth their first full-length album, the unique Gilgamesh, a tribute to the ancient Mesopotamian civilization using the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient poem written in the Acadian language in the 3rd millennium BC, originally inscribed on 12 tablets in cuneiform script. With a fascinating theme like that turned into solid and heartfelt music by skillful musicians, you’ll rapidly be absorbed by the story told in Gilgamesh, going back to the start once the album is over and listening to it in its entirety again and again.

Right after the ominous and introspective intro Cedar Forest, where hints of the Middle-Eastern culture are already present, we are offered a blasting mix of modern heavy music and uprising Thrash Metal entitled Rise: the harsh vocals by frontman Faisal Mustafa have the necessary fierceness to transmit the desired message (and you’ll be tempted to scream the chorus together with him and the rest of the band), while guitarist Moe Al Hamawandi helps shape the band’s soul with his riffs and solos. In the potent and very progressive Quest for Eternity, thanks to the job done by Marwan Hussein on drums, they continue their journey through Middle-East by perfectly adding elements of their own culture to the music just like Sepultura did in Chaos A.D. and especially in Roots, while Amongst Kings and Men has a more modern sonority with great vocal lines and a progressive rhythm. In addition, its clean and backing vocals are also amazing and make the whole song even more powerful.

Shamhat, the name of a sacred prostitute who plays an important role on the Epic of Gilgamesh, is a sharp and rumbling intro that flows nicely into the following track, the superb multi-layered clash The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing, a groovy and metallic tune with an outstanding percussion, a strong message and a violent atmosphere. The entire band is kicking ass, with highlights to Faisal and Marwan who are truly electrified and end up elevating the inner beauty of this song. Nonetheless, as even warriors have love in their hearts, Acrassicauda provide the listener an awe-inspiring and touching ballad named Requiem for a Reverie, where its thoughtful lyrics and a passionate performance by Faisal turn it into one of the best moments of the whole album. Their special Middle-Eastern touch is used once again to add rage and balance to House of Dust, a Thrash Metal song that feels really fresh and modern due to the welcome addition of clean vocals, with highlights to its lyrics, which in my opinion should work perfectly when played live (“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take my last oath / As I take my first step in your house of dust I should have known from the start / Where will it all ends? / Right here right now / Where it began / What went wrong? / And what have we done”).

acrassicaudaI can see the fans jumping up and down to the thrilling Unity, which direct and impetuous instrumental together with some eerie passages make the final result truly interesting, followed by Elements, where the band keeps delivering high-end metal embraced by their country’s culture. Needless to say, Moe and Marwan effectively take this song to the next level so good their performances are. Uruk, an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia ruled by Gilgamesh in the 27th century BC, is the second instrumental track of the album, where Acrassicauda showcase their well-developed skills as Iraqi musicians one more time, enhancing your senses for the last track of the album, the startling Rebirth, a song about revolution and the fight for freedom. With its Terminator-inspired riffs and Slayer-ish vibe (especially the one found in the all-time classic “Seasons in the Abyss”), it’s absolutely impossible not to bang you fuckin’ head to it, just before everything converges to a melancholic ending.

According to the band, Gilgamesh is an ode to modern Iraq, a home from which they are sadly exiled today. As bitter as it may sound, darkness seems to be a necessary evil in the conceptualization of superior music, and if you want to come into contact with that intense synthesis of passion and sorrow you can visit Acrassicauda’s FacebookBandCamp page and YouTube channel, and also buy Gigalmesh at their official website as a digital download or physical copy. Lastly, in order to properly finish off this review, I leave you with drummer Marwan Hussein’s own words about what Gilgamesh represents to the band and, inevitably, to everyone else that might have the pleasure of listening to it.

“The whole album’s concept is about journeys, life and death, love, the divine, success and failure, and the eternal struggle for immortality. Acrassicauda immortalizes the legacy of this character and his struggles through music, thousands of years later…” – Marwan Hussein

Best moments of the album: Rise, The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing, Requiem for a Reverie and Rebirth.

Worst moments of the album: Absolutely none. The whole album kicks ass.

Released in 2015 Independent

Track listing
1. Cedar Forest 1:29
2. Rise 5:04
3. Quest for Eternity 3:47
4. Amongst Kings and Men 5:11
5. Shamhat 0:25
6. The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing 3:09
7. Requiem for a Reverie 4:04
8. House of Dust 4:06
9. Unity 4:01
10. Elements 2:56
11. Uruk 2:02
12. Rebirth 4:32

Band members
Faisal Mustafa – vocals
Moe Al Hamawandi – guitar
Firas Abdul Razaq – bass
Marwan Hussein – drums