Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Iced Earth - Alive In Athens
(Century Media)

Jon Schaffer continues to be blown away by the support of Iced Earth fans in Greece and thanks them heavily on this seventh record, one which is apparently (much to the bewilderment of the band), seeing a 35,000 run three-CD release, the rest being a still hefty two discs. It's a typically blazing, fiercely exacting, slightly cheesy Iced Earth display, lots of hair, an overall metal man's tone which feels not unlike that of Manowar. Matt Barlow is the blessing and the problem, making us confront the reason we show up for Iced Earth's tragically pure form of metal artistry. It's kind of cool how a bunch of these uniformly great but, uh, uniform songs are seeping into anthem status, demonstrating that new legends can be groomed rather than simply born.
Rating 7.5

Devin Townsend - Infinity/Christeen (Plus Four Demos)
(HDR Records)

As sheer and euphoric as the full-length from whence they blossomed, these five wundersonics are some of Devin's best work, Christeen blessed with a heaven-bent groove, the rest sounding like A-choices from the record for frig's sake, especially Sit In The Mountain which is a plush velvet power ballad popster supercharged by a damn big dam. There's a furtive and meditative use of repetition here (heck, one semi-instrumental is even called Om), which focuses attention on the sick infinitely layered electricity of the thing. Too cool really, just too damn cool.
Rating 9

White Skull - Tales From The North
(Nuclear Blast)

Here's a lame attempt at replicating the success of Hammerfall, White Skull (whah?) coming up short with their own laughing-out-loud Sacred Steel record. Figures these guys had to be from some weird place (Italy), De Boni's ridiculous vocals and odd enunciation causing grave flaws in this rote exercise in Valhalla metal. I mean this wrote the book on rote. Damn, get it off. Note: two previous albums and one EP called, wait for it . . . Asgard. Somebody tell these nutcrackers there aren't any Vikings in Venice.
Rating 2

Southfork - Southfork
(Black Mark)

No idea who these Swedes be (no bio provided, webpage don't work yet), but their sound is a cool cross between stoner rock and grunge, specifically a sawed-off, less exalted Soundgarden, which is a cool way for a stoner rock band to lean, a sort of healthy, creative and chops-driven psychedelia as it were. As a result there's a big, bog-blasted, slightly southern rockin' (via Raging Slab?) '70s vibe with looming riffs as per Spoonman, all the while vocalist Gunnar Loof doing a convincing Ian Astbury when smooth, Chris Cornell when growly.
Rating 7.5

Hard Reviews Page 3