Album Review – Dragonlord / Dominion (2018)

Exploring themes of darkness owning and influencing these times we now live in, here comes Eric Peterson’s fantastic Symphonic Black and Thrash Metal project with their first album in 13 years.

After long and excruciating 13 years, San Francisco, California-based Symphonic Black/Thrash Metal horde Dragonlord, the brainchild of Testament’s own Eric Peterson where he’s able to showcase his darkened side, is finally back with a brand new opus, titled Dominion. Serving as the long-awaited follow-up to their 2005 release Black Wings of Destiny, but taking the fantasy and storytelling to a whole new level, Dominion explores themes of darkness owning and influencing these times we now live in, and things that have come to pass. In addition to Eric Peterson on vocals, guitar and bass, Dominion features the musical talents of Lyle Livingston (Psypheria) on orchestrated keys and pianos, Alex Bent (Trivium) on drums, and notable fantasy metal singer Leah McHenry (Leah) on female vocals and choirs, who has performed and recorded with members of renowned acts like Blind Guardian, Nightwish and Delain, among others.

Featuring a stunning artwork painted by Berlin-based Israeli artist and designer Eliran Kantor (Testament, Iced Earth, Sodom), Dominion is a dark fantasy fan’s musical dream, exploring everything from Nordic history to Lord of the Rings, with its eight songs creating a deep and heady musical journey rife with meaning and menace, from the blackest and loudest recesses of Eric Peterson’s mind. If you’re a fan of the superb work done by Mr. Peterson with Thrash Metal titans Testament, you might be surprised by how visceral, epic and imposing his guitar sounds with Dragonlord, not to mention his devilish gnarls, turning Dominion into a must-have for fans not only of the Symphonic Black Metal genre, but also for anyone else who admires high-quality and vibrant extreme music.

The always mesmerizing sounds of thunder and rain open the gates of the underworld in the intro titled Entrance, before Eric comes ripping with his ass-kicking guitar, all embraced by an epic atmosphere and suddenly exploding into the fantastic title-track Dominion, presenting insane keys and an imposing background choir, while Alex proves why he’s one of the most talented drummers of the current metal scene and Eric sounds bestial with his enraged roars. Put differently, this full-bodied and very detailed lesson in Symphonic Black Metal is what Dimmu Borgir should be doing, and their sonic onslaught of piercing and Stygian metal music goes on in Ominous Premonition, getting faster, more demonic and absolutely amazing, with the keys by Lyle being a thing of beauty while Eric not only growls like a demon, but his riffs and solos are also majestic as usual.

In Lamia it’s quite impressive how Eric’s riffs and Lyle’s keys and orchestrations blend so perfectly, with guest vocalist Leha providing a touch of delicacy and passion amidst all devastation blasted by the rest of the band; whereas epicness and lust beautifully flow from all instruments in the stunning Love of the Damned, a Symphonic Black Metal ballad where Eric’s vocals get more introspective and deep (and I would simply love to see them performing this song live). Then it’s time for a journey to the mighty North in Northlanders, with the bitterly cold riffs by Eric and the gripping keys by Lyle being enhanced by Alex’s precise and potent beats, while the ambience remains as epic as possible in a flawless hybrid between Black Metal and Symphonic Metal.

Dragonlord Dominion Ultimate Dragonlair Merch Bundle

Then featuring Tilen Hudrap (Vicious Rumors, Wartune, Thraw) on bass, The Discord of Melkor is perhaps the most Black Metal of all tracks, a dark symphony of classic and vibrant metal music that sounds very dense thanks to the brutality blasted by Alex on drums, whereas Serpents of Fire, the last song in Dominion, is just as fantastic as the rest of this very detailed and thrilling album, with Eric growling and gnarling demonically while Alex and Lyle generate a massive wall of symphonic and violent sounds, resulting in over eight minutes of a captivating and bold sonority for our total delectation, not to mention how its climatic ending gets closer to the Thrash Metal by Testament, therefore adding an extra pinch of adrenaline to the overall result.

If you think that my words are not enough to describe the music in Dominion, I highly recommend you go watch “The Making of Dominion” video series on YouTube (split into parts one, two and three), and in order to get more details about Dragonlord simply go visit their official Facebook page. In addition, from all album versions and bundles available in the market, apart from the digital options you should definitely take a look at the physical combos available from the Spinefarm Records’ webstore, especially the beyond superb “Ultimate Dragonlair” merch bundle, featuring the LP gatefold version with a large-size 20-page lyric booklet, the CD digipack, a copy of the unparalleled “The Burner” comic book, and a stylish T-shirt. But be aware that, once you enter the dangerous dominion of Symphonic Black and Thrash Metal ruled by Eric Peterson and his Dragonlord, there’s no turning back.

Best moments of the album: Dominion, Love of the Damned, Northlanders and The Discord of Melkor.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Spinefarm Records

Track listing
1. Entrance 2:34
2. Dominion 5:36
3. Ominous Premonition 4:40
4. Lamia 4:15
5. Love of the Damned 5:21
6. Northlanders 6:45
7. The Discord of Melkor (feat. Tilen Hudrap) 7:09
8. Serpents of Fire 8:09

Band members
Eric Peterson – vocals, guitars, bass
Lyle Livingston – keyboards, piano, orchestrations
Alex Bent – drums, percussion

Guest musicians
Leah McHenry – female vocals, choirs
Tilen Hudrap – bass “on Discord of Melkor”

Album Review – Airbourne / Breakin’ Outta Hell (2016)

Let the party begin with another blast of kick-ass straightforward Rock N’ Roll forged in the burning pits of Down Under.

Rating4

airbourne_bohEvery single person who thinks Rock N’ Roll is dead and gone should take a very good listen at Breakin’ Outta Hell, the fourth studio album by Australian rockers Airbourne and an amazing ode to all things rock. You won’t find anything that can be considered brand new or revolutionary in Breakin’ Outta Hell that wasn’t already present in their previous releases, the superb Runnin’ Wild, No Guts. No Glory. and Black Dog Barking, but that’s not what this Melbourne-based quartet has in mind with their music anyway. They simply want to blast the purest and most electrifying form of Rock N’ Roll you can think of, and they always succeed in that.

I used to call Airbourne as the “heavier version of AC/DC” when I first heard them due to their more metallic riffs and increased speed, but I have to admit the band comprised of Joel O’Keeffe on lead vocals and lead guitar, his brother Ryan O’Keeffe on drums, David Roads on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, and Justin Street on bass guitar, have truly found their core essence through the years, delivering a unique musicality which, albeit initially inspired by their iconic countrymen, has nicely achieved its own shape and form. If you’re a longtime fan of the band you’ll certainly have a lot of fun with Breakin’ Outta Hell, and if you’re a newcomer to the world of Airbourne get ready to be rocked by those four brawlers from Down Under.

Let the Rock N’ Roll party begin with the title-track Breakin’ Outta Hell, a pure Airbourne composition exhibiting their characteristic riffs and the badass vocals by Joel, making it impossible not to grab a beer and get to the front row to better appreciate this marvelous hymn, followed by the also excellent Rivalry, a mid-tempo chant highly recommended for your road trip playlist. The thunderous bass lines by Justin, together with an amazing job done on guitars by Joel and David, represent exactly what we can always expect from this skilled band. Obviously, some of their songs have a strong AC/DC vibe, which is the case in Get Back Up, in special the sound of guitars, with Ryan stealing the spotlight with his rhythmic and fierce beats.

A song with the beyond rockin’ name It’s Never Too Loud for Me couldn’t be bad at all. Quite the contrary, it’s a tribute to true rock music, with another excellent performance by the entire band smashing their instruments in the name of Rock N’ Roll; whereas Thin the Blood, a beer-drinking hymn tailored for a nasty pub fight (“It’s 5 o’ clock I’m ready to rock / Cold beer gonna hit the spot tonight / No more work coz I’ve knocked off / When I start to drink I just don’t stop / I love the buzz it picks me up / Makes me feel a million bucks”), brings forward the band’s high-speed Hard Rock led by the deranged vocals by Joel. I’m Going to Hell for This is the epitome of “badass music from Down Under”, with pure Rock N’ Roll flowing from the guitars by Joel and David while Ryan keeps delivering his precise beats, turning it into one of the best songs of the album without a shadow of a doubt. And Down On You, with its soft porn lyrics (“When I was a boy I played with my toy / Every single day oh it was a joy / I didn’t really see until she said to me / Have you ever kissed a girl between the knees?”), is the perfect choice for a wild strip-tease by a sexy rockin’ woman.

airbourne-2016I can’t imagine a Rock N’ Roll fan not getting thrilled by an old school composition the likes of Never Been Rocked Like This, where Joel focuses all his passion for rock music into firing his always sensational riffs and solos, not to mention his inebriate harsh screams. Then we have When I Drink I Go Crazy, a fast-paced rockin’ chant which works really well despite its repetitive lyrics, with its blazing guitars and nonstop action being its driving force, and Do Me Like You Do Yourself, another song with sexual connotation that doesn’t sound cheesy, being perfect for playing to your Rock N’ Roll babe when you’re in a darkened room with her, with the fiery guitar solo by Joel only making it even more enjoyable and hotter. Lastly, although I know It’s All for Rock N’ Roll was supposed to be a rock anthem and that the music itself is pretty solid, it ends up getting a bit repetitive compared to all the awesomeness found in the rest of the album. That doesn’t mean it’s not a very good song, though, it’s simply not fantastic, if you know what I’m saying. And if I were you, I would definitely go for the deluxe edition of the album, as the bonus track Bombshell is plain awesome.

In a nutshell, Airbourne play music for decent and humble people like us who enjoy drinking a few pints with our friends and family, who love to engage in a nice pub fight if needed and, above all things, who nurture a profound passion for old school Rock N’ Roll, as simple and thrilling as that, and that’s the main purpose of the band with Breakin’ Outta Hell. As I said, there’s nothing that can be considered innovative throughout the whole album, but I don’t think any real fan of the band is worried about that. Every single time Airbourne launch a new album, we’re treated to kick-ass straightforward Rock N’ Roll forged in the burning pits of Down Under, and while they keep drinking from that beautiful source we can rest assured Rock N’ Roll will never die.

Best moments of the album: Breakin’ Outta Hell, I’m Going to Hell for This and Do Me Like You Do Yourself.

Worst moments of the album: It’s All for Rock N’ Roll.

Released in 2016 Spinefarm Records

Track listing
1. Breakin’ Outta Hell 3:53
2. Rivalry 4:03
3. Get Back Up 3:38
4. It’s Never Too Loud for Me 3:24
5. Thin the Blood 3:29
6. I’m Going to Hell for This 3:45
7. Down On You 4:19
8. Never Been Rocked Like This 3:07
9. When I Drink I Go Crazy 2:41
10. Do Me Like You Do Yourself 3:58
11. It’s All for Rock N’ Roll 3:39

Deluxe Edition bonus track
12. Bombshell 3:28

Band members
Joel O’Keeffe – vocals, lead guitar
David Roads – guitar
Justin Street – bass
Ryan O’Keeffe – drums

Album Review – Venom / From the Very Depths (2015)

Unfortunately, a huge lack of depth is what you will find in the new album by the trailblazers of Black Metal.

Rating6

venom_from the very depthsThe beginning of the 80’s witnessed the birth of the most obscure form of extreme music, Black Metal, thanks almost exclusively to British Black Metal pioneers Venom. For instance, Heavy Metal icons such as Slayer, Cradle of Filth, Kreator, Candlemass, Paradise Lost, among several other Thrash, Speed, Black Metal and NWOBHM bands, were heavily influenced by their music, with songs like Welcome To Hell, Black Metal, Witching Hour, In League With Satan and Countess Bathory becoming legitimate satanic anthems.  Now with From the Very Depths, the fourteenth studio album by this Newcastle-based band formed in the distant year of 1979, Cronos and his crew want to keep the fire of their venomous kingdom burning and disturbing the minds of the weak.

However, if Venom’s first two albums, Welcome to Hell (1981) and Black Metal (1982), are the epitome of this devilish subgenre of heavy music, pretty much all of their following releases lacked innovation, intensity and, consequently, importance (I doubt you can name a relevant song of any of their other albums). From the Very Depths is no exception to that, with its musicality being so rudimentary they seem more like an amateur garage band than those trailblazers of Extreme Metal with so many decades on the road. Cronos, La Rage and Dante stick to the very basics of heavy music, with not a single moment of creativity showcased throughout the album. That would not have been an issue if they were as good as Motörhead or AC/DC, but their extremely limited skills make From the Very Depths an album with absolutely no depth.

But is From the Very Depths really that bad? Well, if you keep your expectations really low you might enjoy some parts of the album. After the intro Eruptus, which really transmits a sense Venom are rising from the very depths of hell, we have the title-track From the Very Depths, which despite not being Black Metal per se (it feels more like Thrash Metal) it’s a very good exhibit of dark and extreme music, with the resonant bass lines by Cronos setting the tone during the whole song. The following track, The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll, has a dark Hardcore/Punk Rock atmosphere, with lyrics that couldn’t sound more Venom than that (“We met the devil at the gates / Not at the crossroads or by humiliate / The man of blues can sell his soul / We’d rather party with the demons… down below”). In addition, its nonstop instrumental helps enhance the electricity of this song, which in my opinion is the best of the album.

venomAfter that satisfactory start, the issues start to appear in From the Very Depths. Smoke is not only generic, especially its lyrics, but it also lacks that wickedness so necessary in Black Metal and it goes on for grueling five minutes. A song so long should have presented more variations or at least a minimum of energy in its riffs, don’t you agree? Temptation sounds like a rip-off of Venom themselves, where the bass lines mess its harmony instead of boosting it, turning it into another disposable track. Leastwise, Cronos’ harsh voice is still in good shape and the song doesn’t go on for torturing five minutes.

The band sounds a lot more cohesive and tuneful in Long Haired Punks, a tribute to Punk Rock and Heavy Metal that connects the heaviest and most deranged aspects of both music genres, with Cronos singing how Venom (and all other metal bands) are punks too (“Fight for survival, hitting the road, get out my way, time for a show / We blast metal, no hip hop or funk, demons from hell, long haired punks”), while Stigmata Satanas, with its very old school sonority, might be nothing outstanding but it’s quite nice, with its crude riffs and vocal lines blending really well with the lyrics, in special with its extremely simple but demonic chorus. On the other hand, Crucified is an awfully uninspired track with a flat rhythm that almost forces you to skip to the next song. The drums by Dante are sadly elementary, sounding like Meg White from the White Stripes without Jack White to salvage the song with more elaborate guitar lines.

Maybe with a more complex (or less monotone) instrumental, Evil Law could have been a really good song, because it contains that trademark devilish aura by Venom, including the wicked noises in the background. In regards to its lyrics (“Fakaa enday yay badah / Urka temeway tado / Coorza onyay femlay / Keelay spray ohapa do”), the only thing I can say is: what the hell is this supposed to mean? Anyway, Grinding Teeth brings back a decent mix of Thrash, Speed and Black Metal, which might sound interesting if it’s chosen for their live performances. Moreover, the band finally tries some different riffs and breaks, helping making the song more delightful.

After another short intro, Ouverture, we have another example of how amateur Venom still sound in Mephistopheles, which despite having a badass attitude it doesn’t offer anything really exciting to the listener. The same can be said about Wings of Valkyrie, a boring track where drums and riffs are negatively overshadowed by the extremely loud bass lines. Lastly, the good song Rise closes the album with the live audience in the background making it sound a lot more organic. If only they had added more of that rawness and brutality to the whole album, From the Very Depths could have been one of the best Extreme Metal albums of the year.

From a technical standpoint there’s almost nothing to be analyzed in From the Very Depths: it’s an album as basic and bland as it can be, with no memorable songs or fresh elements offered in its more than 50 minutes of music. As already mentioned, if you lower your standards (or if you love Venom more than your life) you will actually have some fun listening to From the Very Depths, but it’s hard for anyone else to get thrilled by an album that above all things lack any real depth. Sad to say, after almost 40 years of existence it looks like Venom will continue to be known just as the band who recorded Welcome to Hell and Black Metal.

Best moments of the album: From the Very Depths, The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll and Long Haired Punks.

Worst moments of the album: Smoke, Temptation, Crucified and Wings of Valkyrie.

Released in 2015 Spinefarm Records

Track listing
1. Eruptus 1:01
2. From the Very Depths 3:54
3. The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll 3:09
4. Smoke 5:01
5. Temptation 3:52
6. Long Haired Punks 4:02
7. Stigmata Satanas 3:26
8. Crucified 4:06
9. Evil Law 5:03
10. Grinding Teeth 4:11
11. Ouverture 1:16
12. Mephistopheles 4:06
13. Wings of Valkyrie 4:00
14. Rise 4:34

Band members
Conrad “Cronos” Lant – vocals, bass guitar
Stuart “La Rage” Dixon – guitar, backing vocals
Danny “Dante” Needham – drums, backing vocals