KnuckleTracks #37

Everybody seems to be in a particularly nasty and uneasy and nervous mood this fall and for good reason. Anyway, we shall not dwell, we shall metalize. Metal’s always been there exposing the ugly side of human nature and much of what you will hear this time out goes to those dark places, of course, none of it by design, given that everything on this disc was written and slapped to CD before the events of Sept. 11. Still, you’ve got to appreciate the ironies.

1) WITCHERY – ‘Omens’ 4:20; from Symphony For The Devil (Necropolis)

Jensen and his furious flight crew are back with another beheading heavy metal shred sure to heat up your winter of discontent. With riffs that rip like Chinese throwing darts, Symphony For The Devil is sure to perch high up best of lists for the year. Death, thrash and the sweet memories they create: it’s all here along with the usual skeleton crew.

2) TESTAMENT – ‘Trial By Fire’ 4:32; from First Strike Still Deadly (Spitfire)

The truest purest thrash kings have concocted a real gem here, going back to their roots and re-recording a cauldron of their classic blasts from the past. Here them again for the first time in the wide-angled majesty of today’s burning production values.

3) SOLEFALD – ‘Hate Yourself’ 5:27; from Pills Against The Ageless Ills (Century Media)

Creating that tingly excitement level once garnered by Emperor and then Satyricon, Solefald are the new creative black metal force for ’01, turning in their masterpiece, a panoramic blast of provocative ideas and the expert execution thereof. Prepare to have your mind blown open.

4) DESTRUCTION – ‘Nailed To The Cross’ 3:46; from The Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)

Destruction are ground zero for the very best in German thrash histrionics of an almost Priest-retro nature, at least when it comes to the intelligence level of the riffs and their rhythmic weaves. Plus the production is just lethal, all performance caught in flaming, flaring old school glory.

5) KATAKLYSM – ‘Damnation Is Here’ 4:34; from Epic (The Poetry Of War) (Nuclear Blast)

Canada’s sick, thick metal death-dealers are back with was has been heralded as their most sophisticated yet extreme album yet. There’s a compressed, thought-provoking agitation to the material on Epic, Kataklysm creating a firestorm of new ideas for metal’s future.

6) GWAR – ‘Battle-Lust’ 3:02; from Violence Has Arrived (Metal Blade)

The biggest alien cult band in the world (actually, they’re from the Antarctic) is back with an insanely carnal batch of mayhemic metal munchers, conceptual, over the top as always, ready to tour unto death. More popular than you imagine, Gwar have passed into the realm of legends, for over a decade reflecting back at you all the despicable things you are.

7) MIDNIGHT SUN – ‘Metal Gods’ 4:02; from “Metal Machine” (Limb Music Products/SPV)

Power metal with a sly wink and a nudge, Midnight Sun sound like true rock stars, which is half the battle. Add to that clean, edgy, hi-tech production and melodies that are over the top and down the sides, and you’ve got the most promising development in metal we’ve heard in years. Sharp Edged Power Metal ...a mature and hot mixture of Power Metal, epic influences, True Metal and progressive passages.

8) ROYAL HUNT – The Mission’ 5:50; from The Mission (Century Media)

John West and Andre Anderson have now proven themselves to be a great team, recalling the magic of Deep Purple in the mid-‘80s with their elegant keyboard-bolstered traditional metal. This one’s an intelligent concept album spiced with interesting segues at every twist in the tale.

9) GAMMA RAY – ‘The Heart Of The Unicorn’ 4:46; from No World Order (Noise)

Kai Hansen has hatched another devious plot here, crafting an inspiringly retro power metal album that unleashed the fury of good, grounded German guitars. The album looks at one world government conspiracies theories in a new way, and the musical accompaniment is fast and characteristically precise.

10) HEAVENLY – ‘The World Will Be Better’ 6:52; from Sign Of The Winner (Noise)

Pure, shining, shimmery power metal is at hand, except Heavenly, with their operatic vocals and sinewy twin leads, may have defined a new state of the art. Melodies drip with drama and arrangements are tight as a chrome-plated drum. Those who think Helloween and Hammerfall have left the building, sign up right here.

11) CONSORTIUM PROJECT II – ‘Mirror Image’ 4:59; from Continuum In Extremis (Locomotive)

Elegy’s Ian Parry has come up with his latest vibrant and conceptual power prog statement. Lyrically, the man finds ways to provoke thought with regard to our obligations as human beings. Musically, look for the usual stellar line-up, including members from Kamelot, Vanden Plas and of course, Elegy. See or email for more info.

12) APOCALYPTICA – ‘Path Vol. 2’ 3:24; from Cult (Spitfire)

The Finnish cello masters are back with more aggressive sawing and slashing. ‘Path Vol. 2’ features Sandra Nasic from Guano Apes on vocals who combines with the band for a heavy, refreshingly percussive track of classical innovation. Heaviness in a different frame of mind, Apocalyptica are an amazing success story.

13) HUMAN FORTRESS – ‘The Dragon’s Lair’ 3:46; from “Lord Of Earth And Heavens Heir” (Limb Music Products/SPV)

Human Fortress have created a cathedral of exotic power metal here that marries prog proper with a impressive Epic Melodic Metal with great individuality and a high standard of musical competence. One of the most talented of Germany's new metal bands is at the start line. Produced by Tommy Newton.

14) SEVENDUST – ‘Crucified’ 4:11; from Animosity (TVT)

Three records in, Sevendust are one of the most successful and beloved of all modern metal bands, weaving strong melodies through stellar productions over songs that are sturdy and inevitable hit-bound. Lajon Witherspoon’s vocal skills are legion, the man learning from the greats and projecting this band far above the common rabble. Worthy veterans with three quality records.

15) TIERRA SANTA – ‘Pegaso’ 4:01; from Sangre De Reyes (Locomotive)

This is the fourth album from Spain’s towering kings of power metal, Sangre De Reyes combining gleaming steel arrangements with some of the most tasteful traditional playing you’ve heard since Piece Of Mind. Everything is in Spanish, but there’s no escaping the mysterious melodies and the soon to be classic riffs that envelope this high quality release.

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16) TRANSATLANTIC – ‘Bridge Across Forever’ 5:01; from Bridge Across Forever (Metal Blade)

And we’ll close things off with a ballad. But beware: the rest of the Transatlantic album is the rocked up prog magic that you’ve come to love from Pete Trewavas, Roine Stolt and Neal Morse. What you get is 77 minutes and only four tracks of rich, rewarding percussive, mostly hard rocking prog that reaches back to old schoolers like Yes and Genesis but with today’s appetite for crunch.