Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Lillian Axe - Fields Of Yesterday
(Z Records)

With Steve Blaze busy at work with his apocalyptic force of a band called Near Life Experience, the time seemed right to reach back and cull together the band's considerable back catalogue of rarities recorded in the four years from '89 to '92. As expected, what you get is shiny, well-appointed hair metal with captivating extras, bits of hard-driving Lynch Mob, bits of wound-up Slaughter, bits of raw Eddie Van Halen, bits of mystic Zeppelin, all swirling together under surprisingly solid production values (except for the last two tracks) and that rare quality called 'snap!' Weird, there's just this big stadium drive behind these songs, Lillian Axe reminding me of a classic guitars/vocals band like Queen, or more pertinently, a glam equivalent like TNT, Blaze electrifying these songs like Sykes, then Ron Taylor sending them over the top like Coverdale. Faves would be The Last Time, with its hot Crue chorus and the grinding throb of Blood On The Moon, but nothing here's a pooch, given the band's meticulous hair metal standards and above par songskills. There are gigs planned, so maybe, just maybe, you'll see a full-on Lillian Axe record in 2000. For once, a band has spent its time wisely, learning about music, growing as human beings. Judging from '93's Psychoschizophrenia and these earlier out-takes, it proves to be a worthy exercise.
Rating 8

Heaven's Gate - Boxed

Here's one of those excellent German bands pretty much unknown stateside, Heaven's Gate being solid twin-lead power metal with personality and pleasing nods to the past, especially Grave Digger, Running Wild, Helloween and maybe Dio and Accept. But Boxed isn't new product. Rather it's the band's first record (of five plus one live) and three of their long EPs, remastered, with a couple of bonus tracks, boxed in a two CD set with great liner notes, lyrics and photos (gasp). The second disc is a smart, enjoyable acoustic set, previously released in Japan, and the band have re-jigged the songs to sound quite nice in that setting. But basically, it's vocalist Thomas Rettke that steals the show, the guy being this dead convincing amalgam of all the power metal greats of the '80s and '90s, welled up with the spirit of Gamma Ray. A great way to catch up on the bits of pieces of this band's somewhat fragmented catalogue. www.spv.de.
Rating 8.5

Witchery - Dead, Hot And Ready

The magic of this band (and lordy, there is magic) is that Witchery have unlocked the secret to pushing and prodding along metal fans one accessible layer back of black metal, a layer that is finding the new power metal too prissy, but finding the Norse cons and ex-cons too foreign, dark and mathematical. In essence, Witchery is crazy, shot-glass thrash metal that only allows its proud and professed love of more mainstream stuff (Ozzy, Accept, Priest) leach out under the utmost discipline and control of the most sensitive cheese detector on the planet. Throw in a reincarnated vampire for a vocalist called Toxine, who is for all intents and purposes, a character that is an in-joke piss-take on the self-seriousness of the black metal bands, and you've got a band that is an instant and instantaneous phenom, just this explosive and fortunate marriage of disparate elements built by five distinct personalities, all with their areas of expertise, the combination of which is a metal thinktank the guys themselves probably don't even appreciate fully. The record's a little less immediate than its predecessor, a bit of a grower, at first listen, almost too casual and drunk, on subsequent spins, crazy like a fox. But see them live and you will have this pasted to your forehead like a badge of metal honour, the likes of which you haven't felt the pride of spit-polishing since Bomber, All For One, Breaker, Torch or Rust In Peace.
Rating 9

In Flames - Colony
(Nuclear Blast)

Four records in, and Jesper Stromblad has developed a band that is creatively miles above his over-rated and maudlin retro band Hammerfall or his much-lauded new supergroup Sinergy. If long-lived respect is what Jesper craves, he ought to stick with In Flames, who are evolving into something that is this flamethrown mix of Swansong-era Carcass, Arch Enemy, Iron Maiden and late Hypocrisy. Confused? Well then chuck all the comparitives and just dive right in for a bracing metal experience that is all about the glory of big, dastardly guitars, down-tuned, aggressive, scowled, howled and hollowed by cold vocals and stunning acoustic interludes betwixt the Lizzy-on-Lucifer twin-lead madness. The mix this time out is more alcoholic and Witchery-spooked than on the somewhat claustrophobic and awkward Whoracle from '97. It's like the band is no longer inventing a brave new genre. They now own it and get to trash it. The whimsical space theme persists, a nice, unexpected foil to the music, which like I say, sounds like the most impressive mountain-moving brain bits from the mind of gad-about-metal Michael Amott. A crashing firestorm of crossover metal potent enough to cure all forms of extreme snobbery, from the saddest of black metal mopesters to the fastest of drooling death whiplashers, In Flames firing up a big reminder that we're supposed to buy music because we like it.
Rating 10

Hard Reviews Page 3