Short Cuts: Primal Fear, Megadeth, Pagan's Mind

CD Review: Megadeth – Dystopia
T-Boy Records/UMe
All Access Rating: A

Megadeth - Dystopia 2016
Incendiary socio-political commentary comes with the territory with thrash-metal titans Megadeth. So do gnarly, complex guitar riffs and leads that defy the onset of arthritis, explosive displays of technical instrumental brilliance and a pervasive sense of impending menace, as well as the occasional lineup change. Newcomers Kiko Loureiro (guitars) and Chris Adler, still the drummer for Lamb Of God, hopped aboard after the departures of Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover, and the jaw-dropping results of this personnel reshuffling can be found on the breathtaking Dystopia, a buzzing hive of insanely ambitious and meticulously orchestrated, yet absolutely furious, activity that reminds us why Megadeth still matters ... a lot, especially to guitar aficionados. Aside from the dizzying array of squealing, careening solos found all over this record and the frenzied overlapping guitars that close the title track's wild ride, there are tastefully executed classical acoustic intros that begin the otherwise seething and hard-hitting "Look Who's Talking" and "Conquer Or Die." Tight hooks crop up in "The Emperor" and the fast, punk-infused "Foreign Policy" opens up the throttle. The heavy thrum, thundering drive and darting movements of "The Threat Is Real" make it an instant Megadeth classic, while the ominous and dense "Poisonous Shadows" is beautifully wrapped in melancholic strings, before bleeding out with a delicate and darkly stylish piano outro. This is elevated thrash, capable of precise, surgical guitar strikes executed with such fluency that they feel almost futuristic, yet Megadeth still possesses a mean streak a mile wide, as the punishing malevolence of "Post American World" and "Lying In State" so brutally declares. Dystopia charts a course for thrash-metal's brave new world.

CD Review: Primal Fear – Rulebreaker
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: A-

Primal Fear - Rulebreaker 2016
That old saw about life being all about balance has a lot of truth to it. Primal Fear likes to apply that same philosophy in making records, as their sonic rampages often grow into snarling beasts soon soothed by stretches of melodic wonder and magic. Such is the tradeoff on the well-produced Rulebreaker, album No. 11 and the dynamic, crushing follow-up to 2014's Delivering The Black. Offering a little bit of everything, as some hard-charging, high-voltage thrash ("Angels Of Mercy") gets mixed in with hammering bursts of power-metal glory, a grand, orchestral prog epic ("We Walk Without Fear") and more traditional metal grit (see the NWOBHM throwback that is the title track), Rulebreaker finds the German metal machine – led by ex-Gamma Ray singer Ralf Scheppers and bassist/vocalist Mat Sinner – administering a good, satisfyingly heavy bashing a rugged "The End Is Near," with its full-bodied, sneering vocals, and getting downright nasty on "Bullets & Tears," both songs flexing thick, muscular grooves. And when an opportunity arises for Primal Fear to hit the accelerator, they floor it on the slamming anthem "In Metal We Trust," long before the ascending magnificence of power ballad "The Sky Is Burning" is realized with a jaw-dropping chorus. Rulebreaker is classic Primal Fear, sometimes a bit too straightforward, but also full of vitality and blazing energy.

2 CD/DVD Review: Pagan's Mind – Full Circle: Live At Center Stage
All Access Rating: A-

Pagan's Mind - Full Circle:
Live at Center Stage 2015
Pagan's Mind has become a fixture at the ProgPower USA festival, the 2003 edition of the event serving as the band's coming-out party. On Sept. 11, 2014, the progressive-metal powerhouse made history there, performing its sophomore album Celestial Entrance in its entirety, along with an additional set of what they call "True Norwegian Hard-Hitting In-Your-Face Space Metal" centered around the sweeping, epic instrumental "Full Circle" – its watery passages and wide-ranging emotions making for a gripping listen. All of it is included in a new live release, out in various formats, including a spectacular 2 CD/DVD set. Intricate metallic riffing abounds, as Pagan's Mind comes off as a Scandinavian version of Dream Theater on the crunching, yet gracefully melodic, "Entrance Stargate," " ... Of Epic Questions" and "Dimensions of Fire," with dramatic keyboards swirling about or taking on a vaporous quality. The gorgeous piano waterfall of "Back to the Magic of Childhood I: Conception" gives way to a maze of riffs and tempo changes in its companion piece "Back to the Magic of Childhood II: Exploring Life," and the stirring gallop of "Dreamscape Lucidity" rouses the masses, later sent into paroxysms of delight at the lightning-fast soloing and grumbling riffs of "Eyes Of Fire." Meanwhile, the dramatic surges and quicksilver tempo changes of "Intermission" are carried out with aplomb, and "Live Your Life Like a Dream" rides a lovely current of melody. With a theatrical singer that, at times, emotes like Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Pagan's Mind offers enchantment and wonderfully expansive journeys, even if they occasionally take all-too-similar paths. Still, this Pagan's Mind release would be a terrible thing to waste.
– Peter Lindblad

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