BIG RIVER – Beautiful Trauma EP

The extended periods of pandemic lockdown in the UK took their toll on most bands, but for Kent-based blues rockers Big River, that period of instability between 2020 and ’21 was particularly tough. Despite releasing their debut album ‘Redemption’ in 2019, they were still heavily reliant on regular live work to keep up momentum. Without access to venues and audiences, they were in danger of losing traction. The band suffered a further knock back in March 2021 when it was announced that long-serving vocalist Adam Bartholomew would be leaving the fold. For many, his big presence and big waistcoats had been a vital part of the Big River live experience.

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ZARRAZA – Kreated In Blood EP

On their 2018 release ‘Necroshiva’, Kazakhstan’s Zarraza really tightened up their blend of thrash and groove metal. The album, although centring around a couple of tried and tested styles and obvious influences, was incredibly well produced and came loaded with impeccably played riffs. On the best tracks, elements of Lamb of God jostled against bits of Slayer, which resulted in something incredibly powerful, especially when dressed with a dirty hardcore-tinged bottom end. In terms of their abilities with a riff, this underground act were now on a par with French metallers Backdawn, and Atlanta’s Bless The Dead. This tight and mean approach carried the following year’s ‘Rotten Remains’ where the arguably more professional band set about revisiting and re-recording some of their earlier DIY recordings, again with brilliant results.

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SUNSTORM – Brothers In Arms

When the legendary vocalist Joe Lynn Turner stepped away from Sunstorm in 2020, it could have been the end of the line for the much loved melodic rock band. After all, his departure not only left them without their distinctive voice, it also led to a band with no original members. In addition, Joe was the reason why most people loved Sunstorm in the first place. For these reasons, for Sunstorm to continue seemed like a strange decision. However, they battled on, thinking that Sunstorm name would be enough alone to shift a few units.

After securing the talented but busy Ronnie Romero in 2021, the band secured not only another top drawer singer – capable of tackling a broad range of styles – but also someone who’d technically filled Joe’s shoes when Ritchie Blackmore decided to revive the Rainbow moniker. On paper, Ron was perfect for the Sunstorm job. Since they were attempting to replace the irreplaceable, the reality could have been different, but between some well written songs and Romero in great form, the new-look Sunstorm’s ‘Afterlife’ was a solid affair, regardless of whatever band name happened to be on the box. It was certainly good enough to suggest that Sunstorm had a future without Turner.

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SLAVES OF DISSONANCE – Toxoplasmosis EP

Based in Queensland, Slaves of Dissonance are a great addition to the Aussie metal scene. On their debut EP ‘Toxoplasmosis’, the riffs come with the heaviness of Lamb of God, the pneumatics of late period Death and Periphery, and even a smidgeon of TesseracT’s artiness, to create something that’s interesting and occasionally challenging, but somehow always familiar. On that score, its a release that pushes all of the right buttons.

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RESTLESS SPIRITS – Second To None

Guitarist Tony Hernando will be familiar to some melodic rock fans through his associations with powerhouse vocalist Ronnie Romero, and their work together as members of Spanish metal band Lords of Black. Although that band’s huge riffs helped to put Hernando in the spotlight across Europe, its with his side project, Restless Spirits, the musician really shines. When working under that moniker, Hernando’s work takes a far more tuneful approach as he tackles a broad variety of melodic rock styles. In addition, the band’s role call of guest vocalists on their debut from 2019 – including Hardline men Deen Castronovo and Johnny Gioeli, and the brilliant Dino Jelusic – helped to bring Tony’s work to an even broader audience.

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