Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Holy Mother - Criminal Afterlife
(abs/Crazy Life)

The double ironies are multiplying like fractals here, New York's Holy Mother (consisting of ex-Jack Starr's Burning Starr members) having to go overseas to get a deal, finding metal legend Axel Thubeauville and Crazy Life to sharpen the band's hard, immediate power metal into focus. This is the third record, and the sound hasn't changed much, Holy Mother carving up some of the most energetic and electric traditional '80s ideas since Primal Fear (heck, it even looks like Jaws Of Death), o'er which Mike Tirelli does a striking Dio. To drive home the point, there's an unbelievable cover of Holy Diver (record II did a less impressive You've Got Another Thing Comin'), which is spot on vocally with this snapped-down, buff '90s recording approach that is all about sweet midrange that reaches out and shakes you by the lapels. All told, it's this relentless quick-step thunder that crosses classic Dio with the pummel of Iron Savior or Gamma Ray's fast tracks, ultimately power metal packed with the personality perhaps only old pros who were there can provide, which also can unfortunately cause a bit of datedness. www.clm.de or clm@clm.de
Rating 7.5

Six Feet Under - Maximum Violence
(Metal Blade)

Those quizzical anti-death deathsters are back with more infectious punk rock in a Floridian state of mind. People used to put down Unleashed for locking on and netting it out until we believed, and Six Feet Under are about that same vibe. So as with their Warpath record (I loved it, others loathed it), Barnes and Co. have written post-grind pop hits that are just simple and tone-deaf enough to crack a smile. And if you still thought it was all to artsy, the band kicks in with three vanilla-with-razors covers (Kiss, Maiden and Lizzy: update: I had an advance; only the Kiss track made the final cut, the other two to be used as bonus tracks etc.), all clogged up with the band's mid-munch garage crunch, uneventful but effective, sort of death irony at its best. And there's the rub: Brian Slagel has made this sound like he's only giving us the frequencies we need, a chassis built for the stage or AM radio or something, wind blowing through the space between the ears, caveman rock and its most frictionful. Pointless but productive, pushing Six Feet Under into a sort of hallowed netherzone of persona over Deicidal prowess just for the hell of it. And it passes the hardest test of all: I actually play it, which supersedes all critical conjecture.
Rating 8

War - We Are War

Here's one of those mental vortexes usually sane (although deaf) artists kind of fall into and then thrash about, War being (at least this time), All from Vondur and Opthalamia, Blackmoon from Dark Funeral and Necrophobic, Impious from In Aeturnum and big ol' Lars from Hypocrisy. What this larfed collective do is create a 29-minute lark of a din, recorded like old time thrash (Warfare, Venom, The Damned's debut), winding up the punk rock repetition (check out Infernal: yech!) and just surveying the flames as they clank over the bunker in blurry black metal fiendishness. Drunken, drowned-out trash thrash, and straight to the point, in fact way past it. I mean, the Sodom cover sounds like pop. You know you are in capable hands so you kind of trust them, but really, I think there's a few winks of the eye and tips of the bottle going on here, and we're expected to get the joke.
Rating 6

The Atomic Bitchwax - The Atomic Bitchwax
(Tee Pee/MIA)

Here's one of them stoner rock records for ya, only New Jersey's Atomic Bitchwax (Ed from Monster Magnet, Chris from Godspeed and Keith from Slaprocket) really dig into the worms for that authentic old-time smell of earth. Rumbling, screeching, squelching axes battle with the largest of backbeats here (Shitkicker: yeah!), on anthems that recall the magic of Kyuss and thankfully not the whole psychedelic British thing. And there's the rub. Despite a pile of slightly soupy instrumental passages, the record keeps propelling forward on forceful drums and the smack-happiest of monster guitar sounds. It's almost like these interludes serve as builds for vocal tracks that are worthy of the anticipation. And Gettin' Old is the band's very own War Pigs. Contact: www.miarecords.com.
Rating 7.5

Anathema - Judgement
(Music For Nations)

Key songwriter changes (bassist Duncan Patterson having left the band) haven't slowed Anathema's determined march toward rock god status outside the realm of metal. The new record is a sort of prog journey with metal overtones, almost the inverted phenom of a prog band going metal, say an early Marillion or a Final Cut-era Floyd discovering the frosty features of a terrain populated by Hypocrisys. The end result is a moody shiver not unlike new Amorphis but highly sanitized, both vocally and mix-wise, Judgement having been recorded in Italy on a 'Q Base VSD hard disk recording system, meaning it sounds a bit clean, stiff, and surprisingly void of fancy layering. The whole thing is pretty much dreamy gothic balladry of various ilk, occasionally churned through with canny metal guitars, but usually just this consistent story that feels like a long walk through the misty moors, introspection rained over with acoustic guitars, twists in the lane frequently arising and impressing. An effortlessly enjoyable spin that is all about unwinding and uncluttering.
Rating 8.5