Band Line up:
Kris – Vocals & Bass
Mr. Mo – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Konst – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Mikk – Drums
01. Avoid the Void
03. Skysuckers, Inc.
04. The Engineers
05. It‘s Human
06. Raw is the Law
08. Iron Sun
09. Mr. Chaos
10. The Night
11. Time to Die Again
Smoke the Sky is a four-piece band originating from Munich in the German state of Bavaria. In the rock and metal world, Germany is a country often associated with the bombastic sounds of thrash and power metal. However, rather than limiting themselves to the stereotype, this band seem to be taking as much of an influence from the swampy NOLA infused grooves of Down and COC as they do from post-grunge, muscular rock & roll. The kind that Motley Crue flirted with when they jettisoned Vince Neil and made the best album of their career. It was an album that featured John Corabi on vocals and contained one song that perhaps without coincidence was also called Smoke The Sky!
This Human Maze is the band’s second album. Their first was a 2012 self release (Leave This World Loud) which earned them some prestigious shows alongside bands such as Hellyeah, Crowbar and Dave Lombardo’s Philm.
This newest record was recorded at Frankin Studios, was mixed and mastered by Konst Fischer and released on July 13th.
If we disregard the album’s intro which dusts off one of rock music’s common clichés, and puts a small group of kids up front to recite a nursery rhyme in an unsettling way, then we are left with a buoyant and confident beginning. Avoid The Void snaps in with some crisp drumming and a warm 70’s rock riff before it hits a groove not dissimilar to Wiseblood-era Corrosion Of Conformity. Minutes later, I am thinking there is a significant level of ideas being thrown into the mix here. A female vocal doubles up at times, the kids come back in to add extra voices and by the time we get to the final third of the song it’s taken on an air of psychedelia. I am finding myself impressed with the level of creativity on display. We are only one track in and this is already an interesting and varied listen.
The band streamline things for the following tune. Mephisto is a straight rocker, pushed along with some double bass drum flourishes and a chorus riff that will absolutely have you reaching for your air guitar.
The production has captured a lively feel and there is an an air of fun that is carried through into the stomping pulse of Skysuckers, Inc with its rhymic, semi-rapped vocals. If you shut your eyes and focus on the liberal use of pinch harmonics, you would be forgiven for thinking Zakk Wylde had been drafted in to play guitar. Indeed, the six string work is excellent. Rhythm parts are crunchy with some impressive embellishments and the leads are melodic, tasteful and feature some considerably skillful flair.
As if to prove this point, The Engineers bounces along on a nimble metallic riff. The science fiction lyrics and persistently melodic vocals convince me that Smoke The Sky are sharing some DNA with the Galactic Cowboys. It’s a reference that holds true for the epic and existential, It’s Human, which builds on a steady progression towards to a blast of classic thrash metal that wouldn’t sound out of place on Anthrax’s Spreading The Disease album.
From this point, the album veers off into a ferocious gallop and a different set of influences. Raw Is The Law is another pure thrash-out that sounds like Testament and goes as far as to name check Anthrax and reference Slayer in the lyrics.
This level of ferocity is equalled on another heavy metal belter, Iron Sun, which demonstrates this band as having absolutely no shortage of riffs and plenty of headbanging credibility.
Nestled between these songs, the band have included a mellower moment via the acoustic, Frankinsmoke. For this song, the band strip everything back for a baked-out moment of tranquility and remind us how the influence of Jimmy Page is somewhere in the heart of all metalheads.
From here, the band hit a more measured pace and bring back some solid Rock and Roll. Mr. Chaos works very well, but to my ears, and especially after the aural onslaught of the last few songs, The Night sounds a little too rounded off and compromised to my ears. It seems to be a particularly commercial offering that sounds quite radio friendly when compared to what has gone before. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just found it overall to be less exciting. In fairness, it does feature some exemplary lead guitar playing, but sadly, that just wasn’t enough for me to rate this song more favorably.
Thankfully, the final song on the album redeems things considerably. The band warns us: “Alright, Suckers. It’s time to die… again!” before thrusting us into Time To Die, which is a NOLA inspired head-banger. Back on form, the entire band once again demonstrate they are well-versed in their respective instruments as they effortlessly play around with the riffs and arrangements, ending the album on a rawkus high point.
There is a lot to enjoy about The Human Maze. It manages to weave many different styles of heavy metal into it’s running time without sounding forced or disjointed. The musicians clearly take influence from a wide range of styles and much of this album plays like a natural celebration of that. It’s easy to get caught up in the positive energy of the performances and between them they carry a creative confidence that promises reward with repeated listens.
I give it a solid recommendation. Horns up.