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Metal Excess Awards: The Best of 2014 List

Okay, I’m calling it. I tried to listen to as many releases from 2014 as I could by the end of January 2015 in order to make my best of list. There’s still a number of albums I want to listen to that were released last year, but I’m pretty confident in the list I’ve come up with. If you want more details on the albums, click on the link!

Top 15 Albums of 2014
1. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
2. Steel Panther – All You Can Eat
3. Allen/Lande – The Great Divide
4. Riot V – Unleash the Fire
5. Wolf – Devil Seed
6. Ace Frehley – Space Invader
7. Michael Sweet – I’m Not Your Suicide
8. Edguy – Space Police: Defenders of the Crown
9. AC/DC – Rock or Bust
10. Crazy Lixx – Crazy Lixx
11. Bloodbound – Stormborn
12. Loudlion – Die Tough
13. Winger – Better Days Comin’
14. Mike Tramp – Museum
15. Fozzy – Do You Wanna Start a War

Best Live Albums
1. Scorpions – MTV Unplugged
2. Whitesnake – Live in ’84: Back to the Bone
3. Dio – Live in London: Hammersmith Apollo 1993

Best EPs
1. Buckcherry – Fuck
2. Buckcherry – The Covers: Volume I
3. Skid Row – Rise of the Damnation Army: United World Rebellion, Chapter Two

Best Compilation/Cover Album
Various Artists – Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life

Most Anticipated Releases of 2015
(Bands confirmed or rumored to be releasing new music.)
Alice Cooper
Anthrax
Black Sabbath
Bon Jovi
Def Leppard
Guns N’ Roses
Megadeth
Metallica
Motley Crue
Scorpions – Return to Forever
Stryper
Venom – From the Very Depths
W.A.S.P. – Golgotha
Whitesnake

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Lonewolf – Cult of Steel [Review]

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Lonewolf – Cult of Steel
2015, Massacre Records
Buy the album

1. The Cult of Steel
2. Hordes of the Night
3. Werewolf Rebellion
4. Blood of the Heretic
5. Hell’s Legacy
6. Funeral Pyre
7. Force to Fight
8. Open Fire
9. Mysterium Fidei
10. The Grey Wolves
Bonus Digipak Tracks:
11. Made in Hell
12. Children of the Unlight

Band:
Jens Börner – Vocals, Guitar
Alex Hilbert – Guitar
Rikki Mannhard – Bass
Bubu Brunner – Drums

Producer: Lonewolf

With a history dating back to 1992 and seven albums under their belt, Lonewolf are a French heavy metal outfit that plays in the traditional heavy/power metal style.

What initially grabbed me about this album was the cover art. It’s an excellent piece of work. I don’t think I had ever listened to Lonewolf before this album. There’s a couple of other ‘wolf’ metal bands out there (Powerwolf, Wolf) and I haven’t followed any of them too closely so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lonewolf. Judging by the band name and album title, I was hoping for a traditional heavy metal/power metal sound and that’s exactly what they deliver, though their sound leans more towards power metal rather than old school heavy metal.

Cult of Steel is a melodic metal affair full of everything you’d expect from the power metal genre: galloping drum beats and speedy riffing and solo work. Jens Börner growly vocals give the band’s sound a bit of an edge. Don’t worry, he’s actually a good singer and a good fit.

My complaint about this album is that many of the songs sound too similar. I had to check iTunes to make sure the song wasn’t set on repeat. Those galloping drums and speedy guitars don’t really change tempo at too much. That’s a shame because when the band decides to play things slightly different, the album gets interesting with songs like “Mysterium Fidei” (well, at least with the song’s intro) and “Funeral Pyre”.

Lonewolf could benefit on the next go around by trying to get each song its own identity and not playing ‘Power Metal 101’-type songs but this is a solid slab of metal and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled and ears open for what this band comes up with next.

Highlights: “Cult of Steel”, “Funeral Pyre”, “Open Fire”, “Made In Hell”

Wolf – Devil Seed [Review]

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Wolf – Devil Seed
2014, Century Media Records
Buy the album

1. Overture in C Shark
2. Shark Attack
3. Skeleton Woman
4. Surgeons Of Lobotomy
5. My Demon
6. I Am Pain
7. Back From The Grave
8. The Dark Passenger
9. River Everlost
10. Frozen
11. Killing Floor

Band:
Niklas Stålvind – Vocals, Guitar
Simon Johansson – Guitar
Anders G. Modd – Bass
Richard A Holmgren – Drums

The first and last time I listened to a full album from this band was with their 2009 album Ravenous. It was a solid album, but when I listened to a few tracks from their Legions of Bastards follow-up in 2011, I guess I wasn’t in the mood for these Swedish metal-heads because I’m certain I never listened to the whole thing.

With the release of Devil Seed, I decided to give these guys another chance and I’m glad I did. The first track I heard was “Killing Floor”. I think it might’ve been made available as a streaming preview and it perfectly captures the traditional heavy metal vibe. It’s a great way to close the album. As an opener, the instrumental “Shark in C Minor” sets the pace for what’s to come with yet another fantastic wallop of headbanging metal. “Overture in C Shark” smoothly flows into “Shark Attack”, which does not disappoint after the anticipation already built upon from the opening of the album.

I’ve seen some reviews stating this album is mediocre, but I’m digging it a lot. Much more than I thought I would. In fact, I think I like it better than Ravenous (which I can’t even remember) and I seem to recall that one getting high praise.

Wolf are firmly in the camp of the “new wave of traditional heavy metal” (Enforcer, Cauldron, White Wizzard, Skelator, Skull Fist, etc.) but I’m finding them to be among the cream of the crop as I think they have a better grip on melody and are superior at writing metal-tinged ballads and mid-tempo songs.

Highlights: “Overture in C Shark”, “Shark Attack”, “Skeleton Woman”, “My Demon”, “Frozen”, “Killing Floor”

Bloodbound – Stormborn [Review]

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Bloodbound – Stormborn
2014, AFM Records
Buy the album

1. Bloodtale
2. Satanic Panic
3. Iron Throne
4. Nightmares from the Grave
5. Stormborn
6. We Raise the Dead
7. Made of Steel
8. Blood of My Blood
9. When the Kingdom Will Fall
10. Seven Hells
11. When All Lights Fail

Band:
Patrik Johansson – Vocals
Tomas Olsson – Guitar
Henrik Olsson – Guitar
Anders Broman – Bass
Pelle Akerlind – Drums
Fredrik Bergh – Keyboards

Producer: Bloodbound

When I first came across this album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Either some type of cheesy heavy metal or perhaps something extreme? Well, while power metal is known for having quite a bit of cheese factor, I wouldn’t call Bloodbound cheesy: the keyboards don’t drown out the guitars and there’s plenty of riffing, big anthems and frenetic drumming here.

While I’m not too familiar with the band, I can tell you that Bloodbound have been around for about 10 years and they hail from Sweden. Stormborn is their sixth album and if you’re looking for a point of comparison, their music reminds me a lot Edguy, Avantasia, Dream Evil, Hammerfall, Manowar and Halford. “Made of Steel” sounds like it could’ve come from Manowar or Halford’s Halford IV: Made of Metal album while “When the Kingdom Will Falls” sounds like it came right from one of Tobias Sammet’s bands (Edguy and Avantasia… your choice). Patrik Johansson’s vocals are similar to Sammet’s as well but a little Halford comes through on songs like “Made of Steel” and “Satanic Panic”.

I’ve listened to this album a couple of times and I can’t help but think I’ve heard it all before but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Many of these songs reminds me of other power metal bands. Bloodbound are not plagiarizing or ripping off other bands but their influences do come through. Anyone that is into good old fashioned power metal should be able to find plenty to enjoy on Stormborn. As for myself, going by this album alone, the band has gained a new follower and I’ll have to see if I can check out their previous releases.

Highlights: “Satanic Panic”, “We Raise the Dead”, “Made of Steel”, “Blood of My Blood”, “When the Kingdom Will Fall”, “When All Lights Fail”

Riot V – Unleash the Fire [Review]

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Riot V – Unleash the Fire
2014, Steamhammer/SPV
Buy the album

1. Ride Hard Live Free
2. Metal Warrior
3. Fall From the Sky
4. Bring the Hammer Down
5. Unleash the Fire
6. Land of the Rising Sun
7. Kill to Survive
8. Return of the Outlaw
9. Immortal
10. Take Me Back
11. Fight Fight Fight
12. Until We Meet Again

Band:
Todd Michael Hall – Vocals
Mike Flyntz – Guitar
Nick Lee- Guitar
Don Van Stavern – Bass
Frank Gilchriest – Drums

Producer:
Bruno Ravel, Joshua Black & Riot V

After the unfortunate passing of Riot founder/lead guitarist Mark Reale in 2012, Riot called it a day… temporarily. In 2013, longtime Riot band members guitarist Mike Flyntz, bassist Don Van Stavern and drummer Bobby Jarzombek announced the formation of an off-shoot band called Riot V with the purpose of keeping Mark’s music alive in concert as well as recording new studio music. This was done with the blessing of Mark’s family.

The “V”, I assume, is in reference to the 2010s being the fifth decade of Riot’s existence. I’ve read elsewhere that it’s because this is the fifth line-up of the band but that’s ridiculous and absolutely not true. This band gives Black Sabbath a run for their money with line-up changes… and probably beats them!

After some touring, by the time Riot V got around to recording new material, Bobby Jarzombek was out of the band and in his place is Virgin Steele drummer, Frank Gilchriest, who previously played in Riot from 2003 – 2007. Longtime on again/off again Riot vocalist Tony Moore chose not (or was not asked) to partake in Riot V. In his place is vocalist Todd Michael Hall. Hall does a fantastic job and sounds similar to Tony Moore, which helps this album retain it’s classic Riot sound. As much as I would have loved for Tony and Bobby to remain in this group, Hall and Gilchriest are more than able to step in for them.

So how does Unleash the Fire fare in comparison to Riot’s catalog? Quite well. While Riot always stayed within the realm of hard rock and heavy metal, they took a few twists and turns. With Immortal Soul and Unleash the Fire, it seems like the idea has been to get back the band’s traditional metal roots. Even the title of them album seems like a nod to the band’s 1981 classic Fire Down Under, while there’s also a sequel to that album’s “Outlaw” in the form of Unleash the Fire‘s “Return of the Outlaw”.

As much as I liked Immortal Soul, I think Unleash the Fire may be a bit better. It has more of that classic ’80s melodic power metal sound that Riot had in their glory days. Like a lot of Riot fans, I use Thundersteel as the measuring stick (although I know there are many who would say Fire Down Under). Unleash the Fire does a good job of capturing both eras, even if the heaviest moments here aren’t as heavy as some of the Judas Priest Painkiller-like moments found on Thundersteel.

There’s a couple of songs that are obvious tributes to Mark Reale — “Immortal” and “Until We Meet Again” (and “Land of the Rising Sun” sounds like the band was trying to do Maiden). Even the album art features a nod to Mark Reale with a street sign. While we unfortunately do not have that gifted and severely underrated songwriter/guitarist with us anymore, Riot V is carrying on the legacy of Mark Reale and Riot in grand fashion.

Any fan of Riot should be able to appreciate this album. Despite losing the founding member and lead creative force of the group, Unleash the Fire still sounds like Riot. For myself, and like when I listen to many of Riot’s releases, this album takes me back to a simpler time and headspace. Anytime an album can do that for you, it’s a win.

Highlights: “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fall from the Sky”, “Unleash the Fire”, “Land of the Rising Sun”, “Immortal”, “Take Me Back”, “Until We Meet Again”

Edguy – Space Police: Defenders of the Crown [Review]

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Edguy – Space Police: Defenders of the Crown
2014, Nuclear Blast Records
Buy the album at Amazon.com

1. “Sabre & Torch”
2. “Space Police”
3. “Defenders of the Crown”
4. “Love Tyger”
5. “The Realms of Baba Yaga”
6. “Rock Me Amadeus”
7. “Do Me Like a Caveman”
8. “Shadow Eaters”
9. “Alone in Myself”
10. “The Eternal Wayfarer”
Digital Bonus Tracks:
11. “England”
12. “Aychim in Hysteria”
13. “Space Police (progressive version)”
14. “Space Police (instrumental version)”
15. “Love Tyger (instrumental version)”
16. “Defenders of the Crown (instrumental version)”
17. “Do Me Like a Caveman (instrumental version)”

Band: Tobias Sammet – Lead/Backing vocals, Keyboards
Jens Ludwig – Guitar
Dirk Sauer – Guitar
Tobias “Eggi” Exxel – Bass
Felix Bohnke- Drums

Additional Musicians:
Michael Rodenberg – Keyboards
Oliver Hartmann – Backing Vocals

Producer: Sascha Paeth & Edguy

Much to the dismay of longtime fans, Edguy continues to be an outlet for Tobia Sammet’s silliness and his love for ’80s rock/metal while Avantasia is his more serious metal project. It’s funny because Avantasia started out as a cheesy & cliched power metal side project for Tobias and there was a time when Edguy used to take themselves more seriously.

One of my favorite songs on the album happens to be a bonus track. “Aychim In Hysteria” is a tribute — musically to Def Leppard and lyrically to the band’s live sound in engineer. Edguy’s lyrics have always been full of little in jokes, awkward phrasing and nonsensical words so while I don’t know what the song is about exactly, at least it sounds good!

With regards to the 10-track album, Edguy has delivered one of their best efforts, in my opinion. I know there are plenty of Edguy fans that still pine for their power metal days and maybe they’ll return to that at some point but for now the band seems happy to write silly catchy hard rock/metal songs. It’s almost like they’re becoming a heavier version of The Darkness. I’m fine with that. That’s how Edguy captured my attention in the first place with Rocket Ride. Songs like “Do Me Like a Caveman”, “Love Tyger” and a cover of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” won’t win the band any favors with power metal purists but they are fun songs nonetheless.

For my money, the best tracks from the album are the ballad “Alone In Myself” and the headbanging “Shadow Eaters”. With the bonus tracks, “England” is okay but like I said, I think “Alychim In Hysteria” is pretty awesome. As far as the progressive/instrumental versions go–  okay, nice to include but they aren’t essential listening.

Space Police: Defenders of the Crown is a worthy addition to the Edguy catalog. I wouldn’t place it with Rocket Ride but it’s at least on level with Tinnitus Sanctus and I’m enjoying it more than Age of the Joker.

Highlights: “Sabre & Torch”, “Space Police”, “Love Tyger”, “Shadow Eaters”, “Alone In Myself”, “The Eternal Wayfarer”, “Aychim In Hysteria”

Avantasia – The Mystery of Time [Review]

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Avantasia – The Mystery of Time
2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Buy the album

1. “Spectres”
2. “The Watchmakers’ Dream”
3. “Black Orchid”
4. “Where Clock Hands Freeze”
5. “Sleepwalking”
6. “Savior in the Clockwork”
7. “Invoke the Machine”
8. “What’s Left Of Me”
9. “Dweller in a Dream”
10. “The Great Mystery”

Band:
Tobias Sammet – Lead Vocals, Bass
Sascha Paeth – Guitar
Russell Gilbrook – Drums
Miro – Keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Joe Lynn Turner – Lead Vocals
Michael Kiske – Lead Vocals
Biff Byford – Lead Vocals
Ronnie Atkins – Lead Vocals
Eric Martin – Lead Vocals
Bob Catley – Lead Vocals
Cloudy Yang – Lead Vocals
Bruce Kulick – Guitar
Oliver Hartmann – Guitar
Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Guitar
Ferdy Doernberg – Organ

Produced by: Tobias Sammet & Sascha Paeth

Tobias Sammet just does not quit! Between Edguy and Avantasia, he’s constantly recording or touring. He’s the German equivalent of Dave Grohl. Busy, busy, busy!

It seems to be paying off. The Mystery of Time has done very well across Europe and while it didn’t break the Billboard 200 in the United States, it sold well enough in its first week to make Billboard’s Heatseeker and Hard Rock charts.

Thankfully, The Mystery of Time is only a 10-track collection and not a double album effort like when Sammet released The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon simultaneously back in 2010. But don’t worry, there’s enough power metal epics here — “The Great Mystery” and “Savior in the Clockwork” both clock in (no pun intended) at 10 minutes.

Though I included this album in my Top 10 list for 2013, I didn’t get around to really listening to it until the end of the year even though it was released in March of 2013. Boy, I’m sorry I procrastinated. This may be my favorite Avantasia release yet and the presence of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg only adds to the majestic metal that Avantasia already brings to the table.

Speaking of that orchestra, Edguy used them for their Hellfire Club album. I admit it’s getting harder to tell the difference between Edguy and Avantasia these days. Sammet is the driving force in both bands and they both play power metal. The only real difference is that Edguy seems to have a cheesy sense of humor and Avantasia uses a lot of guest vocalists.

Yeah, definitely should have rated this one higher for 2013. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Great vocal performances all around, great melodies and songs that you can’t get out of your head. Best Avantasia album yet.

Highlights: “Spectres”, “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, “Sleepwalking”, “Savior in the Clockwork”, “Invoke the Machine”, “What’s Left of Me”, “The Great Mystery”

http://www.tobiassammet.com/
http://www.facebook.com/avantasia/

Dio – Finding The Sacred Heart: Live In Philly 1986 [Review]

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Dio – Finding The Sacred Heart: Live In Philly 1986
2013, Eagle Rock Entertainment/Niji Productions

Disc 1
1. Draco Ignis
2. King of Rock and Roll
3. Like the Beat of a Heart
4. Don’t Talk to Strangers
5. Hungry for Heaven
6. Medley: The Last in Line/Children of the Sea/Holy Diver
7. Drum Solo
8. Heaven and Hell
9. Keyboard Solo
10. Guitar Solo

Disc 2
1. Sacred Heart
2. Medley: Rock ‘n’ Roll Children/Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll/Man on the Silver Mountain
3. Time to Burn
4. Stand Up and Shout
5. Rainbow in the Dark
6. We Rock

Band:
Ronnie James Dio – Vocals
Craig Goldy – Guitar
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Vinny Appice – Drums
Claude Schnell – Keyboards

Finding The Sacred Heart: Live In Philly 1986 is Dio’s 5th live album and the second to be released posthumously. As becoming common with live releases (and I think this is a cool idea), not only does is this 1986 concert at the Philadelphia Spectrum presented in audio form but it is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. Truth be told, this show was released on VHS and DVD years ago but those versions were edited down to 60 minutes. Here, you get the entire concert. This is the first time the concert has ever been released as an album.

I watched the DVD a few years ago. It’s quite an enjoyable show and features Dio at the peak of his powers and flashy theatrics. Lasers, smoke and Dio fighting Denzil the dragon… what more could you want ?! Plus, I’ve always had a really soft spot for the Sacred Heart album, which the band was touring behind at the time. That’s probably my favorite disc from this band.

This is a great live performance. Most of the hits you’d want to hear from Dio are presented: “Rainbow in the Dark”, “We Rock”, “Sacred Heart”, “Heaven and Hell” and then there are three medleys to satiate the Black Sabbath and Rainbow fans even more.

Finding The Sacred Heart catches Dio going through a hair metal phase but it’s still a great release and features one of the better line-ups for the band. Well worth seeking out, as is this show in video form.

Highlights: “King of Rock and Roll”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “The Last In Line/Children of the Sea/Holy Diver”, “Sacred Heart”, “Stand Up and Shout”, “We Rock”

http://www.ronniejamesdio.com
http://www.facebook.com/OfficialRonnieJamesDio

Buy the Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy the CD at Amazon.com

Jorn – Traveller [Review]

JORN trav COVER

Jorn – Traveller
2013, Frontiers Records

1. Overload
2. Cancer Demon
3. Traveller
4. Window Maker
5. Make Your Engine Scream
6. Legend Man
7. Carry The Black
8. Rev On
9. Monsoon
10. The Man Who Was King

Band:
Jorn Lande – Vocals
Trond Holter – Guitar
Jimmy Iversen – Guitar
Bernt Jansen – Bass
Willy Bendiksen – Drums

Produced by: Jorn Lande & Trond Holter

Another year, another Jorn release! You’d have to go all the way back to 2005 to see a year where Jorn didn’t release something. 

So what do you get when Wig Wam’s Trond Holter & Bernt Jansen join up with Jorn Lande? One great catchy metal album! Holter ended up co-writing most of the album with Jorn and, wow, with spectacular results! Jorn has always delivered wonderfully produced, powerful & melodic heavy metal (I suppose Jorn would call it “heavy rock” though) and the addition of Holter as a songwriting partner has only helped matters. It’s a bit surprising that Jorn would give us a new studio album just a year after Bring Heavy Rock to the Land but when you’re loaded with such a fantastic collection of songs, why not? I enjoyed the previous album but I can already tell you this album is much, much better from top to bottom.

Of course, what Jorn album would be complete without some type of tribute to Ronnie James? “The Man Who Was King” is another song Lande has written about Dio and I would imagine “Cancer Demon” probably is in reference to Ronnie’s battle with cancer. To be honest, while I enjoy these tributes and appreciate Jorn’s obvious love and respect for the man, I do think it’s time to move on to new territories. Lande does great covers, so I’m always up for him to throw one or two cover songs onto an album, I don’t want that to stop… but I think the time is right to start paying tribute to other rock ‘n’ roll heroes. At the rate Jorn is going, we could start putting together an anthology of Jorn’s Dio covers and songs written about Dio soon!

Regardless, this album is a monster of crunching riffs and Jorn’s amazingly powerful voice (which is worth the price of admission alone). “Overload” and “Rev On” would be my favorite tracks here. Traveller is definitely one of the year’s best releases. Not a dud track in the bunch. Jorn continues on with his very enjoyable blend of melodic metal and ’70s inspired heavy rock and that makes for one heck of an album!

Highlights: “Overload”, “Cancer Demon”, “Traveller”, “Window Man”, “Make Your Engine Scream”, “Carry The Black”, “Rev On”

http://www.jornlande.com/
http://www.facebook.com/OFFICIALJORN

Buy the album at Amazon.com!

Accept – Stalingrad [Review]

Accept – Stalingrad
( 2012, Nuclear Blast Records)

1. Hung, Drawn And Quartered
2. Stalingrad
3. Hellfire
4. Flash To Bang Time
5. Shadow Soldiers
6. Revolution
7. Against The World
8. Twist Of Fate
9. The Quick And The Dead
10. The Galley

Band:
Mark Tornillo – Vocals
Wolf Hoffmann – Guitar
Herman Frank – Guitar
Peter Baltes – Bass
Stefan Schwarzmann – Drums

Producer: Andy Sneap

A reinvigorated Accept continues to storm through the world pummeling everything in sight with their old school heavy metal tank of destruction. Bringing Mark Tornillo into the was a stroke of genius as he really sounds right at home backed by one of Germany’s best and heaviest metal masters.

Although I didn’t find Stalingrad to hit me as immediately as the pummeling Blood of the Nations did, this album is essentially “Blood of the Nations, Part 2”, even if it is a bit more melodic. In the end though, I would rank this album to be every bit just as pleasurable as Blood of the Nations. Make no mistake that Stalingrad is no-frills traditional pounding heavy metal and it’s legitimate (i.e. they actually helped to create the genre and aren’t just ripping it off 30 years later) that we should all be thankful for.

Lap it up while you can, who knows how much longer the old masters can continue to crank ’em out like this?

Highlights: “Hung, Drawn And Quartered”, “Stalingrad”, “Hellfire”, “Flash To Bang Time”, “Shadow Soldiers”, “Twist of Fate”, “The Quick and The Dead”

http://www.acceptworldwide.com/
http://www.facebook.com/accepttheband

Buy ‘Stalingrad’ at Amazon.com

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