Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff is the author of The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal (previously known as Riff Kills Man!), now a 540 page, 600,000 word compendium comprising 3,700 heavy metal record reviews. Also included are rock lists, a glossary of terms, a concise listing of almost 500 9's and 10's, plus a roll-call of non-metal faves. New to this edition is an exclusive 19-track sampler CD from premiere metal label Century Media. The book is now in its second pressing. For more information, visit the book website or contact martinp@hardradio.com

Fresh Metal

Metal Church - Masterpeace
(Nuclear Blast)

Drugs, booze, bitter infighting . . . David Wayne and Kurdt Vanderhoof have seen and done it all. Now scratching their heads, laughing at the vagaries of youth, most of the reformed (loaded term) Metal Church are thoughtful, thinking, Christians to various extents, Wayne making the biggest leap from professed (witch) "crafter" to spiritual man, political activist, environmentalist, paramedic, and reinstated "reverend" for one of metal's grand institutions. Wayne calls this "a continuation from The Dark, the record we might have made if I had stayed in the band." And while it might not sound like the Mike Howe-era The Human Factor or Hanging In The Balance (my two faves), it is too well-written and wise to get slotted with The Dark. Vanderhoof is a huge student of metal, music and melody, and his acumen shines brightly, especially on shimmery quasi-popster Into Dust and the road racin' riffery of Falldown, Lb. Of Cure and All Your Sorrows. Wayne's lyrics cut an intended edge, variously shrouding and elucidating through years of song skill, his views on religion (ambivalent, antagonistic), life and death (with tales from his medical travels), and the media (one of his fave rants), some of it oblique, some forthright, some almost allegorical. All in all, it's a well-paced, well-sequenced album, crafted like the major label signing they once were, many pure metal styles (no ballads), one instrumental, an unremarkable cover of Toys In The Attic, and fifty or so timeless metal riffs. Always a high quality band, Metal Church have delivered another worthy piece, arguably their best, arguably not, in any event, slottable head held high within a catalogue that is tough to beat.
Rating 9

Doctor Butcher - The Demos!!!

While Savatage devise devious plans for the next (heavier) 'tage and the next TSO, Chris Caffery has been busy with the well-regarded Metalium, thoughts of rereleasing the buried first Doctor Butcher, doing a new one, and now this, the surprise unleashing of some Butcher demos, of which only two of nine compositions made it to the real thing. The core of the band is Chris, blood-curdled 'tage belter Jon Oliva, and drummer John Osborn, although a few others chipped in variously for the album sessions, the demos, and the two live tracks on here. The Demos!!! are certainly just that, live, loose, rough and underproduced. But this is compensated for by hearing those glorious riffs (written pointedly to evoke the first 2 1/2 'tage albums) and Jon Oliva's vehement, venomous, luminous, voluminous deliveries, lent to a raft of B+ to B- grade tracks (A to B+ by most band's standards), that fit cogently the whole slightly garish, slightly tossed-off shock schtick of the concept. It's just a big traditional metal love-in, non-LP highlights being Freaks and silly cop story Help! Police?, a light moment for the band, laughingly off-balance for that shark of a voice. Bottom line: great value with 52 minutes of mostly non-official tracks, two of metal medicine's best practitioners making what is basically old Savatage music, which is arguably the calm, quiet, unsung hot plutonium core of today's power metal. crook-drecords.com.
Rating 8

Spirit Caravan - Dreamwheel

There's something calm, close and intimate about this five track EP from stoner pioneer Scott "Wino" Weinrich, the who through Obsessed and St. Vitus, quietly through the '80s and '90s, tooled this genre that is now big news. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like his old bands, but with the brains of Clutch or Masters Of Reality, and a heeping dose of left field stoner bands like Bang, Blue Cheer and Hawkwind. Plus the fact that the tattooed leather burgers in the band look like bikers helps a dose, reinforcing the authenticity of the thing, which is already ensured by the restrained but craftily conceived lope of the thing. For once in this genre, every song is of use. Pity there's only five of them.
Rating 8

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