Leaving for Wacken tomorrow, so there's just enough time to post this one, and then maybe get almost through the end of what I currently have. I've got the last 10 discs in my collection sitting on the shelf here at work, and will probably not pick up more than 15 or 20 at Wacken (gotta save money for beer and shirts), so after that it's tapes...and I need to find the rest of my tape collection, because I'm pretty sure that my brothers have made off with or lost my Metallica and Megadeth material, and Utopia Banished, Spreading The Disease, and a bunch of other ancient stuff is just AWOL. I should probably dub them over to digital, but the rig I've got for that kind of sucks, and didn't do well working over the Graveland tape I got at Wacken last year.
Gamma Ray - Heaven Can Wait [5/7]
"This isn't nearly so much an EP as a short little album that didn't get a proper release... [w]hile it's good stuff, a lot of the tracks are available elsewhere, so it's probably only worth it to current Gamma Ray fans to actually go and dig it up."
Gamma Ray - Heading For Tomorrow [5/7]
"...somewhat generic-sounding early Germanic power metal disc, not powered by knights and dragons but not especially memorable either. There are quite a few good tunes on here, but Gamma Ray has substantially left this sound behind..."
Gamma Ray - Future Madhouse [5/7]
"The music is top-notch, some of Gamma Ray's best work from what I consider their better period, though most people will probably shy away from importing something this short and this out-of-print. If you happen across it, it's a good pickup, but even as good as it is, probably not worth searching after."
In Extremo - Weckt die Toten! [4/7]
"...it's clear that In Extremo is just beginning to get a handle on who they are as a metal band rather than a group of early musicians, and above all else the arrangements aren't as strong as they'd later become. Though the roots of their style are evident and this one will be essential for fans, it probably isn't worth the while of those with a more casual interest."
Bruce Dickinson - The Chemical Wedding [7/7]
"...probably the best of Bruce's solo records, and thoroughly essential as well. The songs are dynamite, and the performances offered are flat incredible; when you stack this next to Iron Maiden's Virtual XI, it should be immediately obvious why Maiden realized the reunion had to happen. An excellent album, maybe the one Bruce disc to get..."
Iron Maiden - The X Factor [5/7]
"...the material is decent, actually a step up from Fear of the Dark and anticipating their comeback material in spots. Blaze isn't a bad singer, either, but there isn't anywhere on this disc where you can hear him and not immediately think of how Bruce would do it, and it'd come out at least as good if not better. The Blaze discs aren't essential, even for Maiden fans...but collectors may be interested in this one..."
Iron Maiden - A Real Live One [5/7]
"...a lot of Fear... songs -- more, actually, than there are in fact good songs on said record. There isn't anything from before 1987 on this record, making it an interesting document in contrast to every other existing Iron Maiden live album, but given that fact, one that's probably of interest only to collectors and diehard Maiden fans."
Let Me Dream - The Maze [3/7]
"In places they echo both Borknagar and Bifrost, so some collectors will probably be interested, but over the bulk of the disc, they're fairly uninteresting, with pedestrian riffage and goopy Russian-singing-in-English vocals filling the spaces in around the Bifrost-biting. Fortunately, it doesn't go on for very long..."
Megadeth - Youthanasia [6/7]
"...quite a few classics spread over it, and still overall in a style that's both wholly thrash and wholly awesome. Though it's one of Megadeth's most accessible works, it's no less worthy for it, and a strong addition to any metalhead's collection..."
My Pet Demon - A New Found Evil [5/7]
"...it's fairly easy to tell that the band was still averaging age 14 when this one was recorded. It's obviously not Decapitated by any stretch of interpretation, but on this one, MPD shows off some fairly good thrash chops... The band has decided to officially consider several of the songs on this one to never have existed, but there's still some good music in here..."
Nightwish - Century Child [5/7]
"Nightwish definitely have their own sound, and it's quite epic and operatic for those to whom this appeals, but in many parts it's even more tentatively metal than power metal at large is. Nightwish fans and those into smilar bands will be all over this one, but regular metalheads may want to approach it with caution."
Rapid Charlie - Zombie Town [4/7]
"The riffs and grooves are mostly quite simplistic, but covered with gonzo shrieking and ridiculously bloodthirsty lyrics, Rapid Charlie laid down the foundations for the ludicrous yet extreme North Shore ''meat metal'' scene, which inspired a lot of bands but was always much more performance art than musical performance."
Savatage - Handful Of Rain [6/7]
"There is some really good material on here, but given where it sits in the band's history, it shouldn't be surprising that it also includes a few of the negatives of both sides of Savatage; the tiredness of their hard rock period and the pretensions of their later Broadway-show era. They keep it together well, and these moments are transient, though still present; the bulk of the disc is executed at a high level and well worth it for fans of hard rock and melodic metal..."
Sentenced - Down [5/7]
"...better than I remembered; despite the fact that they essentially did this one over as Frozen, Sentenced still has some good music and decent performances here. The focus and direction that would come back on Crimson is still absent, though, so in a lot of parts this one is forgettable, and to a certain degree 'just another Sentenced disc' -- but this kind of neglects the reality that Sentenced is quite reliable at putting out quality, if not superlative, records."
Stone - Free! [5/7]
"A good but somewhat overwhelmingly long live performance from this Finnish stoner/thrash act, the music is cool and well-delivered, but one piece has trouble standing out from the next when collected into a compendium like this. It's a good introduction to the band, though given that the labels they were on were never the most high-profile, getting this, let alone other material from them is a bit of an uncertain proposition."
Xentrix - Dilute To Taste [7/7]
"A practically perfect 30-minute EP, this punches up five tracks of ripping thrash metal with a nice shot of comedy at the end; while the band is probably best known for ''Ghostbusters'' and the controversy that their use of the logo caused, this doesn't distract from the extremely high quality of the musicianship over the rest of the disc. With strong writing and performances live as well as in the studio, this is Xentrix at their best, and general metalheads as well as thrash collectors ought to pick this up if they run across it."
Sepultura - Morbid Visions [6/7]
"The execution is sometimes lacking, but the spirit is omnipresent on Sepultura's debut, which is a lot more death metal after what Death, Possessed, and Kreator were doing about this time than the thrash metal that they...would later develop into. The sound is similar to the grooving basement blasts of Scream Bloody Gore, and while the performance isn't at Chuck's level, it's still some damned good stuff..."
Sepultura - Bestal Devastation [5/7]
"...not as brutal or crushing as their first full-length, but the thrash feel of Sepultura here is much more like what they'd do later, though thoroughly informed by early Slayer as was the case with nearly all brutal thrash in this period. There's some good material here, but as a standalone it's valuable chiefly for reasons of history..."
Immortal - Damned In Black [6/7]
"The playing and songcraft rip as usual, and the tight Abyss production just puts the extra shine and crunch on top. While it's not as generally essential as At The Heart of Winter, it's still pretty much a must-buy for black metallers, and it does have some general appeal as well.
Nuclear Assault - Alive Again [5/7]
"Another thrash band returns from a long layoff, and Nuclear Assault does it in just about the same fashion as everyone else; a thick slice of material that, while good, is much more solid than revolutionary, and will please old fans while not necessarily drawing in anyone new."
Myrkskog - Superior Massacre [5/7]
"...despite the intricacy of the music, like Zyklon with the intensity dialed back a notch to allow for some more complex, almost Hate-Eternal-esque guitar lines, it doesn't put high demands on you to immediately listen and pay attention. I'm not certain whether this comes from the songwriting or from the production, but whatever the cause, it's going to take close listening to bring the true value out of this. It's still pretty cool black/death metal..."
Carcass - Symphonies of Sickness [6/7]
"Dense, dark, and gore-obsessed, this is not Carcass at their absolute best, but it deserves its reputation as a death metal classic. The oppressive atmosphere is only furthered by the medically precise lyrics, which are unintelligible in actual performance... It's not as strong or strongly original as Carcass would be when they later grew away from this style, but in order for that development to happen, Carcass first had to create this clinical grind-death sound, which of itself has been tremendously influential as well."
Celtic Frost - Into The Pandemonium [6/7]
"For the most part it's black metal of the older thrash-driven school, but it's flavored with a few electronic or otherwise digressive pieces that still compare favorably with the weirdest bits that Sigh, ...And Oceans, and Arcturus have been able to come up with. This is a deliberately and desperately inaccessible disc for most people, but once that tough nut is cracked, it's a complete world all into itself."
Alastis - Revenge [5/7]
"...significant influences in both sound and arrangement from electronic forms. The instrumentation is still death metal, and the overall music is still doom-death, but in places it's easy to see how this almost could be counted as a member of a whole different genre. If you're interested in a death metal version of Samael's later period, this would be a good disc to pick up..."
Anthrax - Persistence Of Time [6/7]
"...while it's definitely original, there are a couple songs that may not sit so well with the average metalhead; Anthrax's up-beat thrash has turned out to be an evolutionary dead end in metal so far, and it may well only be fans of the style and of the band who are going to go back for this one. It's cool, but it's different, and so different that in a modern context it may be a little difficult to listen to."
Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell [7/7]
"While Sabbath, like the stoner bands that they influenced, is often a lot more rockish than nonstop metal, this one is still a thoroughly cool metal album as well as being fairly easy to listen to and get into. The instrumental side of the band is spot-on, and Dio's voice suits the writing like a glove, even though Ozzy could well have done just as good a job on these tracks. Highly recommended; while Ozzy's discs are the essential Sabbath, Dio Sabbath is nearly as good..."
Blind Guardian - Imaginations From Hamburg [4/7]
"Guardian fans will sweat through the rotten sound quality to get to the rare acoustic show at the end of the disc, which they did in Sweden after Thomen passed out and couldn't drum any more, but people less into the band will be much better off with one of the band's official lives or a studio record."
Borgabor V - Born In The Woods [5/7]
"Bizarre and poorly recorded, this dirt-level combination of Pantera and Mayhem is the ultimate testament of the short-lived and exceedingly bizarre 'meat metal' genre, in which, as in a lot of offshoots of black metal, musical performance took a back stage to acting psycho on stage. While the CD will not itself spit raw meat over you or do push-ups while playing, it is otherwise a fair testament of this scene's lunacy, and not too difficult to listen to, provided that you're into underground, necro sounds in the first place."
Bruce Dickinson - Skunkworks [4/7]
"...a decent record, but barely more than peripherally metal, and it often gets caught up in itself, especially with the overuse of space/black-technology references in a couple of songs to tie in the title, which was also trendy in the mid-1990s. Between this one and Maiden's contemporaneous X Factor, there is a single very strong record lurking, but here as there, Bruces offering is barely more than average without the presence of the other half of the equation."
Death - Live In L.A. [6/7]
"The recording quality isn't always the best, but the performance is absolutely top-notch; Death deliver as no one else is able to on a 70-minute set covering most of their career, while concentrating on the later material, which is both intrinsically complex and acquiring greater brutal punch in the live performance. Since there won't ever be any more Death live shows, this record is a necessity..."
Dystopian Abyss - Tendencies [4/7]
"The overall feel is sometimes boring, sometimes cool, with the band coming off as a less experienced, less creative, less capable Maudlin of the Well. Given the fairly good quality of the playing and the fact that all the members were still in high school when this one was laid down, it becomes less surprising that several of them have gone on to distinguished bands in the North Shore underground...though the lack of creative focus here also explains why they weren't able to go on together..."
Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I [7/7]
"...this is a momentous and almost uniformly crunchy album which is a blast to listen to as well as the wellspring for the entire modern power metal movement. Most fans will be able to listen to it on this basis, but even the extreme undergrounders may be won over by the degree of fanatical guitar pyrotechnics to be found here; Kai Hansen puts on a clinic the likes of which he has rarely come near in Gamma Ray, though always well-integrated with the actual song structure."
Helloween - Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part II [6/7]
"Lacking as memorable, or as good songs, this one does not come up to the standard of its predecessor, and so is essential for power metallers only, rather than for everyone. The playing is still cool, but the songwriting isn't as strong... Normal metalheads will crank up ''I Want Out'' and likely forget the rest of the record."
Metallica - Hero of the Day [4/7]
"The title track is forgettable, and the components of the medley on the B-side are from albums that everyone owns already, but they still make this single worth the usually nominal price of entry. The performance is pretty good as well, though nobody but thorough Metallica fans is going to buy this, and history has shown that they are not overwhelmingly discriminating..."
Iced Earth - Night of the Stormrider [5/7]
"This was a good disc before it was re-produced and repackaged for Dark Genesis, though this is somewhat masked by the fact that this is far from the peak Iced Earth lineup. Still, they do a good job with the material, and the record rips and punches in a way that was totally anachronistic for its time, but is no less cool almost 15 years on."
Metallica - Kill 'Em All [6/7]
"Though some of the playing is raw and the arrangements and lyrics would take a huge step up in the near future, this is still a thrash classic that ought to be found in everyone's library, no matter what you think of their current state of suck. In the end, the music remains, and this is kickass music..."
Metallica - King Nothing [3/7]
"...there is one passable song on this one and one clunker that even James' uninspired stage banter cannot drag back up to the level of respectability. It's a waste of silicon, and if you get it, a waste of money. Dont bother."
Iron Maiden - Run To The Hills 2002 [5/7]
"More of a short EP, this fundraising single for Clive Burr's MS treatment packs on some good live tracks as well as the always-awesome title cut. Given the lack of new material, this isn't really essential, but buying a copy helps out a good guy..."
Metallica - Master of Puppets [7/7]
"This record includes zero bad songs and several that have a legitimate shot at the title of 'best metal song ever'. Of course its essential; even if it didn't turn out to be a tremendous musical landmark and maybe the second most influential thrash record ever after Reign In Blood, it's still full of incredible music, and the sound is just absolutely perfect."
Megadeth - The World Needs A Hero [4/7]
"...plainly a second-rate, second-run Megadeth album, on which a lot of the writing and arrangements were simply mailed in, trying deliberately to recapture the magic of the past, but mostly failing. Some of the unlucky-in-love material verges almost on emo in philosophical intent, and the sum total of the disc is not the enema that Mustaine suggested the world might need at the time of the release of this disc, but rather the impacted shit that such a treatment would flush out."
Gamma Ray - No World Order [7/7]
"Gamma Ray has really hit their stride as of late, and this one will compare well, perhaps even favorably, to the bands classic output. It's not as influential, or accordingly as essential, but if you're into melodic metal, this is an extremely strong pick that will easily overpower nearly everything else being put out currently. I wasn't as into it on the first pass, but there are several songs on this one that will become classics with time..."
Nocturnal Rites - Tales of Mystery and Imagination [5/7]
"The performance is decent enough, but this mix of Helloween and Mario-Brothers background music cannot but grade out as merely more of the same, yet more second-tier power metal done with no more heaviness than might be expected from HammerFall or commitment to its topics than might be expected from early Gamma Ray."
Show review will be up around the end of next week; I'm going to skip a week in shelfcore updates so that I can cover stuff from today and yesterday as well as stuff bought in Germany at one fell swoop.