Memoriam, Voltax & Hellripper
3 metal albums I'm liking a lot right now
First things first: Burning Ambulance has moved! If you ever need to send us anything, this is our new address:
PO Box 870
Bigfork, MT 59911
Nothing is concrete yet, but it’s entirely possible that our scope of operations will expand yet again, beyond the site, the podcast, and the record label. We’ll see how things go.
Just FYI, in case you didn’t know: Montana is fucking beautiful.
• My latest jazz column is up on Stereogum; I paid tribute to Wayne Shorter, and reviewed new albums by the Necks, Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, Angel Bat Dawid, Arooj Aftab/Vijay Iyer/Shahzad Ismaily, and more.
• I reviewed albums by Lull, Azonic, Éliane Radigue, Áine O’Dwyer, Kali Malone, Tangerine Dream, and Pauline Oliveros for Shfl.
Now, let’s talk METAL.
The fifth Memoriam album, Rise to Power, came out in February. Like its four predecessors, it comes wrapped in a cover painted by Dan Seagrave depicting some sort of ceremony — in this case some kind of Hellboy-ish occult military ritual.
Memoriam are a death metal band featuring ex-Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willetts, ex-Benediction and Cerebral Fix bassist Frank Healy, and guitarist Scott Fairfax. Their original drummer, Andrew Whale, was also a member of Bolt Thrower from 1986 to 1994, leaving after their fifth album …For Victory. He left Memoriam in 2020, and on 2021’s To the End and the new album, Spikey T. Smith, a journeyman/hired gun who’s played with everyone from the English Dogs to Sacrilege to Killing Joke to H.R. of Bad Brains and even Morrissey, is behind the kit.
The band was formed as a tribute to Martin “Kiddie” Kearns, who replaced Whale in Bolt Thrower in 1995 and played on their final two albums, Honour, Valour, Pride and Those Once Loyal. He died in 2015, and a year later, Bolt Thrower announced their dissolution. Memoriam’s debut album, For the Fallen, was released in March 2017. It sounds like a direct follow-up to the work of Bolt Thrower. The songs are either as fast as early thrash metal and D-beat punk, or slightly slower, grinding like a truck going uphill. Willetts’ voice is a hoarse roar; he sounds like they forgot to give him a microphone and he’s really pissed about it. All their songs are about war, but never about the glorification of war. The first song on Rise to Power is called “Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead)”, and there are other songs that seem like they could be about trauma or PTSD (“I Am the Enemy”, “The Conflict is Within”). Anyway, their purpose is to make you bang your head, pump your fist, and maybe shout along, and all five of their albums sound more or less the same, so if you like the new one, you’ll like all of its predecessors.
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The Mexican power thrash band Voltax have just released their fifth album, Ardentis. I’ve been a fan since their second album, 2009’s Fugitive State of Mind. Their sound is heavy metal in the glorious early ’80s tradition, with just a little bit of thrash around the edges. They sound like Manowar circa Battle Hymns or Sign of the Hammer; they sound like Accept circa Restless & Wild; they sound like Judas Priest circa Hell Bent for Leather and British Steel, but they’ve got a florid romanticism on songs like “La Bestia Interior” that’s all their own. (Not all their songs are in Spanish.) Vocalist Gerardo Aguirre Mauleón, aka “Jerry,” has a gritty falsetto that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of Udo Dirkschneider or Klaus Meine, but cleaner when he wants it to be. These are seriously anthemic songs with snarling, roaring-down-the-highway riffs augmented by the occasional surprisingly psychedelic keyboard solo, but they’ve got a raw, meat-in-your-teeth performance style that makes the whole thing that much more awesome. On their Bandcamp page, they say, “This Album was recorded live without clicks and metronome, the intention was to fully capture the essence, energy and power of Voltax, only Vocals and Keyboards were recorded separately.” I recommend buying this album immediately, and if you like it, backtrack and pick up Fugitive State of Mind and No Retreat…You Surrender, too.
Hellripper’s Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags came out in February, too. They’re a one-man project in the studio; James McBain from Aberdeen, Scotland does everything. He plays shows, though, for which he’s got a guitarist, bassist, and drummer on call. As you might expect based on the name, this music fucking rips. It’s a little bit death metal, a whole lot thrash (McBain plays really fast, and his drumming has a we-might-be-going-off-the-road-any-second-now looseness), and just enough black metal to not annoy me. The lyrics are all drawn from Scottish history and mythology, but he’s not the kind of asshole who uses that as a disguise for his racism. I know, because I asked: my exact words were “Your lyrics are a mix of history, pre-Christian religion and anti-Christianity, but you’ve avoided drifting into bonehead ‘cultural nationalism’ disguised as headbanger misanthropy — what advice do you have for other metalheads, to help them avoid that pitfall themselves?” His response is worth quoting in full:
“Well, first of all, I’m not a bonehead, so I guess that helps!
“From having conversations with my non-Scottish friends, I’ve gathered that what you describe may be the case in other countries, but this is not the case in Scotland, and Scotland may be an exception in this matter. People may want independence for example and enjoy the culture, but in general it has no connotation to right-wing views — in fact it’s usually the contrary.
“I don’t know what advice I would give to other metalheads other than to do research and know what you're reading about/listening to. Don’t fall into the trap of ‘National Myths’ — where history is twisted or reappropriated to make a point that fits a personal opinion.”
So there you have it. Hellripper’s music rules, and you can listen to it with a clear conscience. Buy with confidence.
That’s it for now. See you next week!