In the highly competitive music industry, even metal bands have to fight for increasing recognition with each new release. It’s very difficult for bands to see increases in sales numbers from one album to the next, as any reader of Metal by Numbers is aware. It’s gotten to the point where a band’s new album can sell fewer copies than its predecessor, and yet still debut at a higher chart position, which makes the whole idea of sales charts obsolete in many ways. Nonetheless, every band strives for improvement, especially bands that are on the cusp of reaching mainstream recognition. We are getting a number of those bands releasing new material today, and if you can help to make their new albums successful this week, then we can expect to see a much larger metal community in the mainstream music scene over time.
Firewind, Few Against Many (DisManic, Inc./Century Media)
Armed with a new distribution deal through DisManic, Inc. and eOne, Firewind are hoping to build on the successes of 2010’s Days of Defiance and advance their standing in North America’s metal scene. Having already achieved widespread acclaim throughout mainland Europe, especially in their home country Greece, Firewind are poised to break out in a huge way internationally with Few Against Many. In the continuing cycle of drummers that the band seems to find themselves in, Nightrage skinsman Johan “Jo” Nunez has become a full-time member of the group, officially joining before Firewind kicked off the Frets of Fury world tour in the fall of 2011. It’s just one more way in which Firewind and Nightrage have become irrevocably linked – Gus G. was one of the founding members of Nightrage in 2000, performing on their first two albums and then appearing as a guest on 2009’s Wearing a Martyr’s Crown. Gus also appeared with Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio as two of the many guests on Nightrage’s most recent album, 2011’s Insidious.
Six Feet Under, Undead (Metal Blade)
The four years since the release of Death Rituals have been among the most tumultuous in Six Feet Under’s career. The band did well on 2010’s Graveyard Classics 3, with the most diverse selection of covers to date. However, early in 2011, founding members Terry Butler and Greg Gall departed for other projects, leaving gaping holes in the death metal group’s lineup. Thankfully, Chris Barnes found a great deal of talent in the musicians brought into the lineup. Ex-Chimaira guitarist Matt DeVries was brought in to fill Butler’s shoes on bass, and journeyman drummer Kevin Talley (Dååth, ex-Dying Fetus, ex-Chimaira, ex-Misery Index) was chosen to fill the slot left by Gall. This was also when Chimaira’s other ex-guitarist, Rob Arnold, was added as a second guitarist, marking the first time in the band’s history that they’ve had a five-piece lineup. Regarding Undead, Barnes has been quoting as saying that this album is “the heaviest, most exciting material that I’ve worked on since The Bleeding“, referencing his final album with Cannibal Corpse before their split. Barnes quickly goes on to credit Rob Arnold’s writing as the reason for this, but still, it’s interesting to hear Barnes say this without any regard for the eight Six Feet Under albums following The Bleeding and preceding Undead.
Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 (Season of Mist)
The last Saint Vitus album to be released was Die Healing in 1995, and was followed by the disbanding of the group in 1996. It seemed like a fitting ending to America’s premier doom metal band after an 18-year run of excellence. Even with the 2003 reunion of the Born Too Late lineup for a one-shot gig in Chicago, the air of finality still surrounded Saint Vitus’ career. However, the group’s second reunion in 2008 was vastly different, with a full tour planned for 2009 and no definitive statement on the band’s future afterward. When rumors circulated of new material being written in 2010, it became clear that Saint Vitus was back for an extended period, and fans were finally able to relax and celebrate. However, this album does come with a note of sadness – after leaving the band in 2009 due to health concerns and creative differences, longtime drummer Armando Acosta passed away on November 25, 2010. Lillie: F-65 marks the recording debut of drummer Henry Vasquez (Blood of the Sun), but Acosta’s presence will certainly be missed by veteran fans.
Kill Devil Hill, Kill Devil Hill (SPV/Steamhammer)
This new supergroup features drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven & Hell), bassist Rex Brown (Pantera, Down), guitarist Mark Zavon (Ratt, W.A.S.P.), and singer Dewey Bragg (Pissing Razors). However, just by the first two names, any prospective listener knows that this group is going to be excellent. Kill Devil Hill plays a mix of hard rock and stoner metal, with a lot of influence from the bands from which each of the members came. In our recent interview with Vinny Appice, the legendary drummer said that the music was not intended to sound similar to those bands, but regardless, fans of those groups will appreciate the seeming influence that they had in the writing process. Unfortunately, the band is wrapping up their current tour with Adrenaline Mob today, and apart from an appearance at With Full Force Festival in Germany in July, the band does not have any live dates scheduled until their next European tour starts in September. So if you missed the recent tour dates and aren’t rich enough for a trip to Europe, your only chance to experience this phenomenal band for the foreseeable future is to buy this album.
Sonata Arctica, Stones Grow Her Name (Nuclear Blast)
The transition from a straightforward power metal band to a power-prog hybrid has not been easy for Sonata Arctica. Although both Unia and The Days of Grays received mostly positive reviews, fan reaction overall was more mixed, with some fans loving the new direction and others wanting a return to the days of Ecliptica. At first, it seemed that the group intended to stay the course with the development of their sound, as guitarist Elias Viljanen described some of the riffs he wrote for Stones Grow Her Name as “quite dark”. However, this album will likely instead see a mixing of the old with the new, since drummer Tommy Portimo is quoted as saying that the group “thought about putting a bit more Queen stuff back into the music again”. Either way, Sonata Arctica can only hope to get bigger from here, as they’ve already been headlining stages around the world for the past few years. Headlining slots on festivals would be the next logical progression, and if Stones Grow Her Name does well, then that goal will be very much within their reach.
Sabaton, Carolus Rex (Nuclear Blast)
Carolus Rex marks a number of changes for Sabaton. The biggest change is the most recent, as four of the band’s six members split from the group on March 31st. With only singer Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström left from the original lineup, the band somehow managed to continue on, finding three touring musicians and using digital keyboard recordings to replace the live keyboards. Additionally, Carolus Rex features expansion on the band’s usual lyrical themes, moving beyond World War I and II to cover the Swedish Empire and the Kingdom of Sweden from 1561 to 1721. This release will be a crucial moment in Sabaton’s history, with much more visibility in the United States and a dominant position in the worldwide metal scene. How they overcome this latest set of challenges may very well determine the future of the band as we know it.
Children of Bodom, Holiday at Lake Bodom: 15 Years of Wasted Youth (Fontana)
Purist fans will say that this 15-year anniversary compilation is four years too late, citing the band’s beginning as IneartheD in 1993. However, since the band officially changed their name to Children of Bodom in 1997, the 15-year marker is accurate by that measure. Regardless, Holiday at Lake Bodom is a very comprehensive release, with songs from every one of the band’s albums (except the 2009 covers album Skeletons in the Closet) and two previously unreleased covers recorded specifically for this album. To sweeten the deal even further, the album comes with a bonus DVD featuring bonus videos from touring and backstage during the Ugly World Tour in 2011, and also containing the music video for the track “Shovel Knockout”, off of 2011’s Relentless Reckless Forever.
Also being released this week:
Slash, Apocalyptic Love (Dik Hayd)
TesseracT, Perspective EP (Century Media)
The Cult, Choice of Weapon (12th Street)
Smile Empty Soul, 3’s (eOne)
Havok, Point of No Return (Candlelight)
Sister Sin, Now & Forever (Victory)
To Speak of Wolves, Find Your Worth, Come Home (Solid State)
Dismember, Like an Everflowing Stream (Willowtip)
Royal Thunder, CVI (Relapse)
Mutilation Rites, Empyrean (Prosthetic)
Float Face Down, Exitium Verum (Mediaskare)
Redeemer, First Degree (Mediaskare)
Stoneburner, Sickness Will Pass (Seventh Rule)
Blind Guardian, Memories of a Time to Come (EMI)
Saxon, Heavy Metal Thunder – Live – Eagles Over Wacken (Militia Guard/EMI)
Holy Moses, 30th Anniversary: In the Power of Now (SPV/Steamhammer)
UFO, The Chrysalis Years (1980-1986) (EMI)
Next Week: It’s a short week of releases leading up to a huge beginning to June. Also, we’re getting close to the two year anniversary of the publication of this fine column of mine! What would you like to do to celebrate? Leave me your comments below and we’ll have something prepared for you in time for the big day!