Astral Doors – Of the Son and the Father (2003)

AstralDoors_OfSonFather4 out of 5 Stars!

Of the Son and the Father is the debut album from Sweden’s Astral Doors, a band that offers up dark and dastardly Heavy Metal from the same musical playbook as the band Dio, or Black Sabbath during its Ronnie James Dio period, only with the addition of a full-time keyboardist. Even vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson (Lion’s Share/Space Odyssey/Wuthering Heights) has the Dio sound and style of delivery down to a science.

From the energetic and thundering opening track “Cloudbreaker,” the band doesn’t let up the intensity for one solitary moment. Each of the eleven tunes included in this collection, from the delicious title track to “Burn Down the Wheel,” “Slay the Dragon,” “Night of the Witch,” “The Trojan Horse,” and “Rainbow in Your Mind,” holds fairly true to the Dio/Black Sabbath style. Indeed, for the most part, the performances by each musician, the album’s overall dark, dense, and driving atmosphere, and especially the songwriting (right down to the fantasy-laced lyrical content of which Dio was so fond of penning) pays full and glorious homage to the late/great Ronnie James Dio himself. Certainly, there are a few deviations, which gives Astral Doors a flair of its very own and keeps the band from being a direct copy of the aforementioned musical style, yet any fan of Dio’s work, whether with his own band, with Black Sabbath (or Heaven & Hell), and even with Rainbow (due to the heavier use of keyboards), will likely appreciate much of the material delivered on this debut.

Thankfully, Astral Doors didn’t disappear from the scene, but went on to release a string of additional albums, the most recent appearing in 2017, and each of them includes music within a similar realm and retains the same high quality as this debut. So to those RJD admirers who are still unfamiliar with Astral Doors, investigating this band will likely make you feel as if you’ve been catapulted into Heavy Metal Heaven.

One final note, if hunting for Of the Son and the Father, keep in mind that the album was released under this title with the cover shown here, but was also released under the title Cloudbreaker with an alternate cover and two “bonus” songs.

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Beautiful Creatures – Beautiful Creatures (2001)

BeautifulCreatures_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Chancing upon a band with a name such as Beautiful Creatures, one could easily assume the group played wonderfully sweet and melodic pop music, but that’s so darned far from reality. Instead, what we have here is some dirty, sleazy, greasy, and kick-ass Hard Rock/Glam Metal in the same realm of groups such as Guns n’ Roses, Vain, L.A. Guns, Roxx Gang, Faster Pussycat, or a host of other loud ‘n’ rude “hair bands” from the ’80s.

Indeed, led by gruff vocalist Joe LeSte (formerly of the talented Bang Tango) and including musicians from several of those aforementioned groups, including guitarists DJ Ashba (Guns n’ Roses/Bulletboys) and Anthony Focx (Bang Tango), bassist Kenny Kweens (L.A. Guns), and drummer Glen Sobel (Bang Tango/Impellitteri), Beautiful Creatures delivered two albums of slamming, glamming, and catchy Hard Rock with a touch of Grunge, Blues, and Industrial Metal.

Fans of “hair bands” from the ’80s and the early ’90s will likely find much to enjoy on this debut. Tunes such as “Wasted,” “Kick Out,” “Goin’ Off,” “1 A.M,” “Step Back,” and “Kickin’ for Days,” blast from the speakers with wicked riffs and thundering percussion, and thanks to LeSte’s vocals, a ton of attitude that could easily match the furious punches thrown by any of the acts that found themselves heavily rotated on MTV during that channel’s heyday. Additionally, the band includes several ballads/semi-ballads for variety—”Time and Time Again,” “Wish,” and “Blacklist”—where the inclusion of acoustic guitar and the occasional background keyboards make for a nice change of pace.

In truth, there’s absolutely nothing innovative or profound on this album, just pure, loud, and rebellious fun. So once again, be warned: these particular “creatures” are far from “beautiful.”

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