Released: 2012, Pure Steel Records
Earlier this month I had noticed that somehow in our history we had not reviewed any albums by Gothic Knights. Mortified by this oversight I reviewed their whole catalogue. As I was working through that process it occurred to me I wanted to share my thoughts with our readership on the brand new Axehammer album as well. There has always been a parallel (in my mind anyway) between to the two bands. Again I discovered we had no Axehammer CD reviews in our database. What an oversight! It’s almost like the phantom that haunts the Metal-Rules crypt is slowly removing album reviews because I could have sworn we had a couple of Axehammer reviews (and Gothic Knights) reviews in our database. No matter, I can fix that! So much like the Gothic Knights feature we are proud to bring you three reviews of Axehammer, LORD OF THE REALM (1998), WINDRIDER (2006) and the newest 2012 album, MARCHING ON.
Another long break between albums (7 years) and another massive lineup shuffle sees 50% of the band line-up changing including the singer Bill Ramp being replaced by relative newcomer Kleber Mandrake. On the plus side of the equation the band recruited Horacio Colmenares famed bassist of Steel Prophet and New Eden, which is a strong addition. The ‘Axehammer’ mascot (the giant Metal robot) is gone but instead we get some sort of mean-looking monster dude somewhat reminiscent of the creature in the Alien movie series but more like a dragon of sorts. Ya can’t go wrong with a dragon on your album cover!
Replacing your singer is always a tough move but Kleber is an admirable singer in his own right. He has a higher range than his predecessor and while it is not far to compare two different singers, the fact that they were both in the band means people will naturally compare, myself included. Kleber hits some pretty high notes and while he may technically be a better singer, Ramps unique delivery is hard to beat. However, I really admire his talent and he has the ability to take the band to the next level. Check out some of his screams on 'Swing The Steel'! The next immediate difference is that Axehammer have ramped up the intensity and speed across the whole record. The songs have more kick and bite and a youthful aggression and energy that surprises but also delights me. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? That could be the influence of Horacio who seems to bring out the best in his bands as evidenced by the last New Eden album which is fantastic. There are lots of exciting solos on the record, the fretboard Olympics are demonstrated here as well. The band can take a simple musical idea like the central simple riff in the second song 'The Dragons Fly' and make a great song out of it. The tempo is pretty quick across all the songs, some of the cuts are double-bass driven and some have a galloping kick and bouncy bass line but overall the speed has increased for the band. The song 'Fire Away' is a nice example of good driving pace, relentless yet effortless to enjoy. Most of the songs sit in the 4-5 minute range with conventional construction, strong choruses, good melody lines and a good crunchy head-banging guitar tone. Oddly, enough my favourite track, 'Flesh Machine', comes at the end of the album with a menacing vocal tone and great lyrics.
MARCHING ON is a pretty apt title because at this point almost 20 years into the bands career and only three albums deep, very few of us probably care. However, it is that never say die attitude that epitomizes the Metal spirit of 'Marching On', making Metal music with your friends, writing, recording, gigging, even when you think no one is listening. Well, I, for one, am listening and MARCHING ON is a great record.