Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Iron Savior - Unification

Record II from Kai Hansen and producer/childhood buddy Piet Sielck circles the same power metal planet as self-titled Record I from '97, almost as dead perfect, same stiff Germanic strains, clinical production, cool multiple lead vocals, and most pertinently, a continuation of the Atlantis craft story line, only way more complicated. But it's a big here we go again. I can see my writer buds going, 'oh, it's alright I guess', which is the biggest lie in rock journalism. The record is perfect, and one will either rave about its genius to the skies, or note its perfection and give the middling grade, a sentiment which quickly translates into a record that will only collect dust, those 'alright''s actually translating into huge steaming 'don't give a damn's. I now defy all these frilly power prog fans to accurately argue why this is any better or indeed worse than late spins by Gamma Ray, Helloween, Rage, Hammerfall, Virgin Steele, Grave Digger, Primal Fear or Angra. I see way too many six way ties for first among their top tens. I'm getting suspicious or not getting it at all. Please someone clue me in (but while I wait, I like those little Queen licks: more of those would help thaw this self-important genre, which is just what Blind Guardian seems up to). Novelty covers to make you care: Helloween's Gorgar and Sab's Neon Knights. Bottom line: predictably a nine or ten for fans of the form (these bands don't fool around and they don't screw up), but I gotta balance my head with my heart and go with the anaemic, fraught with falsehood 7.5.
Rating 7.5

Skinlab - Disembody: The New Flesh
(Century Media)

Big hype on for these San Fran cranial agents (first clue is the four page, full colour bio sent with the promo), and the hype is justified to a degree, Skinlab in possession of a rough and tumble ragtag sound which is edging ever so close to crossover hardcore folk like Vision Of Disorder, Nothingface and Earth Crisis, not to mention the disappearing downset. It's a harrowing sound, perhaps still too clubbery, blubbery and brutal for no point, but it is also intriguingly organic, like if rust were a plant. Fresh avant noise touches are well hidden and controlled, and the energy is palpaple and unaffected. But this talk of hooks? I don't hear it. basically get set for another grim look at the world through bleeding ears.
Rating 7.5

Lothlorien - The Primal Event
(Black Mark)

One of four debut albums from Germany's Black Mark, a label who are primed in '99 for the first concerted assault on America in over a year, Lothlorien's The Primal Event displays a band smack in the middle of a feeding pit, populated by acts fusing black metal, death metal and traditional power metal. But lucky for us, these guys are Swedish, so one can expect tons of heavy guitars laden with melody, twin leads smarter than Maiden (see Sorrowsoul and The Other Side), and well-constructed songs that drip with forlorn metal frost. Vocals are also a Carcass-derived fusion of black and death, but these are tempered by the warm keyboards floating over most tracks. So the main texture is one of melodic death, with much more cool twin lead than is usual. Despite the dodgy cover art, this rules, although in this game, only the bigger names will get the praise.
Rating 7.5

Dan Swano - Moontower
(Black Mark)

Dropping the Nightingale moniker under which he recorded two solo albums, ex-Edge Of Sanity magician Dan Swano is now just Dan. And he's dragged a few personality traits from all his past incarnations for this one, arriving at progressive metal with death-like guitars and vocals, over which he prominently strings '70s Moog synthesizer sounds (real Moog or not, don't know, don't care), to the point of novelty. Dan does everything on this, which is amazing, and the sum effect is one of near metal genius, amazing riffs pumped with pomp, those growly vocals competing (often at odds) with that Head East Boston synth mania. Gloomy, dreamy, deadly and gothic, tracks like The Big Sleep summarize the whole thing, soft sonics attached to hard, foreboding, medieval riffery, while Encounterparts really drives at (you guessed it) Rush. A bewildering but thankfully metallic melding from one of the greats.
Rating 8.5

Fu Manchu - Eatin' Dust
(Man's Ruin)

Fu Manchu are the gods of stoner rock irony, basically the garish plastic mirror to the '70s, which carries within its baggage more questionable novelty touchstones than should be allowed. This all gets proven within the band's odious, not as funny as intended dick-droop through The Cultsters' Godzilla. Things improve though with the Blue Cheer, Mudhoney, Beastie Boy, Pavement jumble of the originals, Fu Manchu not outrunning their Weezerness, which is OK, since, like, Weezer is a worthy tactical unit indeed. By the time the title track BTO-four-wheel-drives up to your previously arranged hook-out-of-school rendezvous point, all is well and we can rest assured Man's Ruin has caught a buzzed, way-into-the-red version of the Manchu munch not witnessed on their big shiny real records.
Rating 7.5