Bonfire – Don’t Touch The Light (Germany, Heavy Metal, 1986)
Bonfire may have arrived a few years too late to truly make an impact on German heavy metal, but both their debut (“Don’t Touch The Light”) and the follow-up record (“Fireworks”) perfectly display the quality that followed all of the country’s releases in this era. The band’s sound could be characterized as early 1980s Scorpions, with moments of leaning towards harder Accept-styled riffing, and other moments recalling some American glam bands. It is likely due to this latter sound that Bonfire hasn’t received the critical acclaim they deserve amongst the metal underground, but this is one record not worth skipping!
Dragonhammer – Blood of a Dragon (Italy, Power Metal, 2001)
Dragonhammer doesn’t boast the most original name, nor the most original music, but they are more than simply another name in the crowded Italian power metal scene. The band focuses on catchy choruses (“Legend“, “Age of Glory“, “You Kill (Fortuna In Battaglia)“), but also has plenty of unique qualities to offer. Their keyboards alternate between being extremely in your face when they take the lead melodies, to almost non-existent otherwise. All throughout the record, however, the guitars are clearly the loudest instrument, making the riffs stand out even if they aren’t the main focus of any particular section. The ballads “Scream” and “In Your Eyes” succeed not only because they are memorable efforts, but because they have quite possibly the best acoustic guitar sound on any metal record.
Heimdall – The Almighty (Italy, Power Metal, 2002)
Much like last month, Italian power metal remained my primary focus for the month, and Heimdall’s “The Almighty” proved to hold up incredibly well. Like many of their counterparts, Heimdall are simply majestic, invoking melodies that are matched in epicness only by the band’s artwork. This album in particular is frontloaded, with “The Calling” and “The Search” being the most memorable songs. While not necessarily as original or memorable as the work from Italy’s lead bands, “The Almighty” is nonetheless an upper echelon release, even amidst the competition in the early 2000s.
Nocturnal Rites – Grand Illusion (Sweden, Power Metal, 2005)
With the release of a brilliant record in 2017, it only seemed fair to spend more time with Nocturnal Rites’ back catalogue. The prevailing opinion seems to be that the band declined on their last couple of records, namely “Grand Illusion” and “The 8th Sin”. That could not be further from the truth for the former record. Much like on their newest release, Nocturnal Rites provides an endless number of choruses that are catchy upon first listen. The songs certainly aren’t complex or even particularly thought-provoking, but they’re are all anthems. The biggest fault of the record is its sheer length, but when the vast majority of songs rule, it is an easy listen.
Shah – Beware (Russia, Thrash Metal, 1989)
There were a large number of thrash bands in the 1980s that aspired to nothing more than to simply follow a predictable Metallica/Testament, stripped-down thrash sound. And while all of these groups were likely worshipped in their respective scenes, history has been less kind to them in favour of more adventurous bands. These simpler bands had a major advantage though; they were often great songwriters. Shah’s “Beware” is one of the best instances of a band that does nothing to reinvent the wheel, and yet annihilates most other bands. The obvious highlight is the trio of “Total Devastation“, “Beware“, and “Coward” that opens the record, but later cuts like “Save The Human Race” and “Age of Dismay” are almost as compelling. With just 7 full songs, Shah has no patience for filler, offering truly their best work. The two records that would follow are both incredibly interesting as well for different reasons. All in all, Shah is one of the most underrated thrash bands of their time, and “Beware” is the perfect starting point for new fans.