Hammercult’s Sophomore LP Is An Intentionally Over The Top Slab Of Metal

Courtesy:  SPV/Sonic Attack Records

Courtesy: SPV/Sonic Attack Records

Anyone that keeps up with the news of the world each day knows that there is a lot of trouble going on in the Middle East right now. Tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis have really stepped up again in recent weeks as have the attacks. It’s really a sad state of affairs. For all of the negativity coming from that part of the world, at least one positive has come from that war-ravaged land this year. That one positive is the sophomore album from the Tel-Aviv, Israel-based band Hammercult. Steelcrusher, the band’s follow-up to its 2012 debut album Anthems of the Damned, is a full on assault on the ears that will make any purist member of the Metal Nation worldwide proud. The album’s songs are sung with tongue planted firmly in cheek. One look at the obviously intentionally over-the-top album cover, the cover photo on the band’s Facebook page and one listen through this album proves this to be the case. The band pokes fun at the stereotypes placed on metal and its legions of fans from start to finish. The end result is an album that will have audiences both laughing and rocking along throughout every song. One of the best examples of that satire comes in the form of the metal anthem ‘Metal Rules Tonight.’ There is also the full throttle song about the stereotypes of metal bands on the road in the album’s penultimate song ‘Heading For War.’ And then there is ‘Unholy Art,’ which seems to poke fun at the stereotypes of metal and hard rock in general created by certain groups. It’s one more example of the works on this record that will again, have audiences laughing and rocking along from start to finish.

Audiences will note in listening to Hammercult’s recently released sophomore album Steelcrusher, that there are some pretty dark sounding songs, lyrically and musically speaking. But the reality of the albums on this record is that they were obviously written with tongue planted pretty firmly in cheek. One look at the cover photo on the band’s Facebook page drives home the argument that the band is anything but the dark, evil entity that others such as perhaps Ghost, Emperor, etc. One piece of evidence in that argument comes in the form of the anthemic ‘Metal Rules Tonight.’ Not only does the band encourage the metal legions of the world to put their collective metal horns in the air, it also goes so far as to pay tribute to one of the biggest names in metal in the form of Metallica. Front man Yokir Shochat sings in this full-on anthem, “I’m so wasted/I can’t stand/Grab a *&$$%/Get some #&@%/Speakers blasting through the wall/Master of Puppets and Balls to the Walls.” He goes on later in the song singing to listeners, “Bang your head in full conviction/Raise your fists and show the horns/No remorse or lamentations/Play it loud/Or die/Metal rules tonight/Trends will come and fade away/Heavy metal is here to stay/We are damned but we are free/It’s our way of life/The way it should be/Metal!” That last line sort of echoes AC/DC’s ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ in which front man Brian Johnson sings that “Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution/Rock and roll it will live on.” The song’s speed/thrash metal musical backing will have its fans putting their horns high in the air with pride as they sing along to this metal anthem.

‘Metal Rules Tonight’ is one of the highest of points on Hammercult’s new album. It is only one piece of evidence in the argument that despite the band’s speed/thrash metal sound and its seemingly dark lyrics, it should be taken with a relatively large grain of salt. Another piece of evidence in that argument comes late in the album in the song ‘Heading For War.’ Right off the top, Shochat makes that clear once again as he screams, “Thrashing hotels every day/Heads are banging/Ears are bleeding/Raise your hammers/Ready to explode.” He sings in another verse, “Racing to another city/Party hard tonight/Heavy drinking/Never stopping/It’s the only way we stay alive.” These two verses alone more than tell audiences everything that they need to know about this song. If that’s not enough, the song’s chorus makes painfully clear that there’s nothing evil at all about the band or its album. Shochat sings in the chorus, “Heading for the stage, heading for war/Yes, we live or the fight/And die for the cause we believe to be right/Giving it all with fury and force/Spreading the sound of destruction.” Shochat likens being on the road, performing on stage after stage to like being in a war. Though, interestingly enough, one could argue that there is a lightly veiled reference to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians there and the lack of sense in it. Instead of being involved in that conflict though, the band lives and dies for metal in that “battle” to spread metal’s word to the world. If that veiled commentary on the war in the Gaza strip is in fact there, then that double meaning in this verse makes the song in whole all the more interesting. And along with ‘Metal Rules Tonight,’ it makes the album in whole all the more worth the listen, too.

‘Metal Rules Tonight’ and ‘Heading For War’ are both prime examples of what audiences can expect from Steelcrusher. Both songs show that despite the album’s similarity to works from the likes of Exmortus, Arch Enemy, and others of that ilk, it actually stands out quite a bit from those bands. There is one more example of the band’s tongue in cheek delivery on this album. That example is the song ‘Unholy Art.’ The band’s commentary is perhaps at its strongest in this song as Shochat and company point the finger right back at those that would judge the metal community, singing, “The blackest hearts and darkest minds/You never know just what you will find/It’s not for the faint of heart/This is the Unholy Art/Dishonored/A branded kind/The masses will burn in the flames of our pride/We’ll rise to our own blackened skies/And devour the worlds/And we’re starting tonight. The band singing together, “It’s not for the faint of heart/This is the Unholy Art” is itself a sarcastic statement. It’s Shochat and his band mates almost laughing as they say, “oh it’s such evil stuff. It’s not for the faint of heart.” Again, it’s just one more example of how firmly in their cheeks the band members’ tongues are planted in this record. The statement of “The blackest hearts and darkest minds” is something of a statement against the stereotypes created by certain groups against the metal masses around the world. Those judgmental groups are so fast to throw the first stone even without knowing the full story or doing their research. It’s such searing commentary in so few words. It makes for one of the most powerful statements of the album’s entire body of songs. Of course together with the previously noted songs (and those not noted) it makes the entire collection of songs an album that any true-blooded member of the metal nation worldwide will enjoy and appreciate.

Steelcrusher is available now in stores and online. It can be downloaded via iTunes and Amazon or purchased at the band’s next upcoming performance. The band is currently scheduled to perform live August 9th at Brutal Assault in Jaromer, Czech Republic. Audiences can pick up Steelcrusher at that performance, too. More information and tour updates are available online via the band’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog.

Gloomball Impressive On Its Debut Record

Courtesy:  SPV/Steamhammer

Courtesy: SPV/Steamhammer

Most people in the metal community have either heard of heard of Godsmack or heard them.  Mudvayne, Hellyeah, and Five Finger Death Punch are just as well known in the metal world.  So what if one were to take these bands, toss them into a pot and stir them all together?  One would get Gloomball.  This German five-piece is primed to be one of the next big acts in the United States, given the right support from rock radio programmers.  The band’s debut album, The Distance, is a solid mix of all of the aforementioned bands that at the same time it shows their influences, still manages to solidly maintain its own identity.  It goes without saying that this record is one of the year’s best of the hard rock and metal category.

The album’s opener, ‘Burning Gasoline’ is fittingly titled.  It’s a full throttle hard rock song that wastes no time getting listeners’ blood boiling.  The song’s chorus is just as high powered as the music itself from band members Bjorn Daigger (guitars), Danny Joe (drums), Basti Moser (Bass) and Jossi Lenk (Guitars).  Front man Alen Ljubic sings in the song’s chorus, “The more that you throw/I’ll be back for some more/I have told you before/I’ve told you/What I/Feel a-bout you/Just because/I Don’t see/The point/To help you/Anymore/You’re just gonna stay here/Progress/No less/Just like you were before/Overcome/I’m overcome.”  The somewhat syncopated style of the chorus is reminiscent of Godsmack front man Sully Erna’s vocal style from much of that band’s songs.

The ability of Ljubic to change his vocal style from one song to another on this album is interesting to say the least.  The same can be said of the band’s sound overall.  On the album’s title track, the band has gone from a heavy, up-tempo adrenaline racer to a more controlled piece that still has a certain heavy element.  It’s something more akin to something one might hear from Five Finger Death Punch.  The song’s lyrical side shows a very deeply emotional topic.  Ljubic sings in an almost mournful style, “This will be difficult/We all want things we cannot have/Don’t drown in disbelief/Control yourself/You learn it’s a lie/Don’t betray yourself/It’s just not there/Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” He goes on to sing “This distance makes the heart grow colder.”  This song’s subject is pretty obvious.  And the talent of Ljubic’s band mates to interpret the lyrics makes this one more piece of the whole that will make any rocker proud.

Save for the album’s closer—a cover of ‘Living Within My Tender Pain (from the Rocky IV soundtrack)—the album’s energy picks right back up after the title track from Gloomball’s debut record.  It carries listeners straight through to that much more subdued closer, leaving audiences completely breathless, even after this much more gentle moment.  As gentle as it is, its proof of Black Label Society front man Zakk Wylde’s statement long ago that a song can be heavy lyrically and musically without heavy guitars.  The strains of the piano set against Ljubic singing, “I, I’m the only thing that’s real/Deep inside is where I bleed/Living with my tender pain/Ever since you’ve gone away/Why/Does it still feel like a dream/All my pain feels so unreal/And your shadow it will stay/Right beside me every day.”  Yet again, Ljubic has shown his talent with this piece.  Unlike so many other songs of love lost, the combination of his vocal tone expertly comes together with the sad sounds echoing from the piano to truly catch the pain one must feel in having lost someone close to one’s self.  Of course as already noted, its only one of two moments when the album slows down.  Those wanting something with more energy have plenty to choose from throughout the heart of The Distance.  And by the time that audiences have finished their musical journey with the band, they just might find themselves wanting to travel “The Distance” with this band again.  The Distance is available now in Europe and will be available in the United States on Tuesday, May 7th.  The band’s only current planned performance in support of the record is a release show in Mannheim, Germany on Friday May 17th.  Fans can check in on the band’s Facebook page and official website for all of the latest updates on its tour and more at http://www.facebook.com/GLOOMBALL and http://www.gloomball.com.

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Giant X’s Debut LP Is Giant Fun

Courtesy:  Steamhammer/SPV

Courtesy: Steamhammer/SPV

Giant X, the brainchild of Running Wild band members Rolf Kasparek and Peter J. Jordan brings back all the flare and bombacity of rock’s golden era.  Right from the first moments of the album’s opener, ‘On A Blind Flight’, audiences are instantly transported back to the days of big rock and in many cases, big hair.  ‘Blind Flight’ is a solid mix of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with its solid driving guitars and soaring vocals.  The duo hardly let up from there as it launches into what is sure to be a fan favorite in ‘Don’t Quit Till Tomorrow.’  At this point, there are no plans for Giant X to tour.  But should the band ever manage to h it the road, there’s no doubt that this song would become an instant arena anthem for the band.  The song opens with the simplest of chants that conjures the image of a massive crowd singing along, fists pumping in the air.  Lyrically, this is an equally empowering song.  Kasparek sings near the song’s end, “When the times are getting crazy…don’t quit till tomorrow.  Raise your hands for rock and roll.”  Simply put, what is being said here is don’t let the tough times get you down.  Don’t give up.  Keep pushing through.  The positive message mixed with a solid rocking musical baking makes this one of the album’s best songs, hands down.  Things don’t let off here though.

As the last tones of ‘Don’t Quit Till Tomorrow’ fade away, listeners are able to catch their breath just enough to get ready for even more solid rock in the form of ‘Badland Blues.’  This blues based southern rock style piece is a rock song, plain and simple.  It’s just a great near five minute musical experience.  The only time that the record slows down any is on the semi-ballad, ‘Nameless Heroes.’  This one seems to be a tribute to the men and women in uniform the world over, as Kasparek and Jordan sing, “This goes out to all the nameless heroes/This goes out to all the ones that paid.”  The band leaves little doubt as to whom they are singing for here.  And it’s a fitting tribute to those individuals, too.  It’s one more that’s bound to be a fan favorite regardless of whether or not Giant X tours in support of this record.

‘Don’t Quit Till Tomorrow’ and ‘Nameless Heroes’ are both bound to be fan favorites from Giant X’s debut.  There is at least one more (if not more) that will be another fan favorite.  That song is the album’s very next track, ‘Go 4 It.’ It makes for a perfect transition from ‘Nameless Heroes.’  The song instantly kick starts its listeners after the more emotional ‘Nameless Heroes.’  The first thing that listeners hear from this song is a rather fast guitar intro that leads into Kasparek singing, “You feel the gasoline in your blood…You reek of gas/And you’re kickin’ ass/You are hell on wheels.”  There’s a certain something about this song that oozes the likes of Poison as an influence.  It’s just one more of so many tracks that any fan of big hair and big guitars will appreciate on this upcoming new album.  And for those wondering, Giant X’s debut album, I is due to be available in stores and online in the U.S. on January 22nd.  To find out if the band will be touring in support of its debut, I, fans need just go online to http://www.running-wild.net, and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Giant-X/176387661550

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