HardReviews 4
by Martin Popoff

Empire - Trading Souls
(Lion Music)

This follow-up to '01's Hypnotica is a surprisingly sparse, under-stated, AOR-ish affair. Add to that techy, keyboardy production, and you've got a record that would look more appropriate on MTM. The firepower on the album is amazing though. Centred around non-shredding shredder Rolf Munkes, the current version of this non-band includes Tony Martin (Sabbath), Neil Murray (Sabbath, Whitesnake) and Don Airey (Rainbow, Deep Purple). Ultimately, there's zero groove to the thing, cliche's everywhere, a paucity of good riffs, old men playing their old way, but also here and there, some tasteful performances. Not the stuff of legends by any stretch.
Rating 6.5

Chinchilla - Madtropolis
(Metal Blade)

Fourth album now for this unfortunately named act and there haven't been many adjustments, other than the line-up and the inclusion of a Fast Eddie Clarke guitar solo. Vocalist Thomas Laasch is still the band's ace component, the guy bearing down hard on his gonads for a metal performance that isn't girly. But the production is still noisy, the keyboards gay and the structures, too enamoured of double bass drums. Still, I've got a soft spot for the band's street-tested surliness.
Rating 6.5

Gun Barrel - Battle-Tested
(LMP/SPV)

I'm not as enamoured by this one as I was by Power-Drive, even if Gun Barrel continue to be the dirt in the eye of power metal's pretensions. And therein lies the source of expected bad reviews, the humourless but ironically happy metal armies forgetting the reason metal made them bounce in the first place. Battle-Tested starts weak, this band of grime-crusted Germans sounding too much like everyone else when moving quickly (hands full). But charmers reveal themselves, Lonely Rider and My Last Ale (this song busts my gut - hail!) being the epitome of anthem, albeit anthem of a slightly ironic, self-deprecating nature. Count me in the camp of anti-power metallers like this, my low tolerance level causing me to gravitate towards the beer goggles end of the spectrum at the expense of the baroque prog folk. Gun Barrel, with their gruff vocals, their Wacken-whacked lyrics, their growling guitars and their caveman rhythms fill my mead mug to the brim.
Rating 7.5

Hard Reviews Page 5