(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
At this point, heavy metal has infiltrated every nook and cranny of the globe. I will even go a step further and say that Earth is pretty well metallized at this moment, so it comes as no surprise to discover the band Pokerface from Moscow, Russia.
The band was formed in 2013, and now – after a few shifts in their original line up – things have settled into place with a powerful, co-ed quintet. The fantastic five piece that now call the shots are vocalist Alexandra “Lady Owl” Orlova, guitarists Alina “Xen Ritter” Kuzmina and Egor “Blade” Lobikov, bassist Dmitry “DedMoroz” Morozov and drummer Oles “Doctor“ Pisarenko.
Pokerface recently released their third official effort, the full-length “Game On“, their follow-up to ‘Divide And Rule’ (2015) and their 2014 EP, ‘Terror Is The Law’.
What is immediately clear upon hearing Pokerface is their volatile blending of metal influences both old and new. There are clearly those from old school bands like Kreator, Annihilator or Testament, but they’re offset by modern touches derived from such acts as Arch Enemy.
With “Game On“, the band brandish the title more like a challenge, while also revealing there’s an underlying conceptual theme to the album. Each song embodies a chapter of game-playing in a spiritual contest of chance, ones where there’s immense risk and great reward.
The protagonist at the heart of the story is in a dire, life or death conflict with his own personal demons. Those demons take on monstrous forms, like that of Bone Reaper or The Fatal Scythe, as they manipulate our hero to risk everything time and time again.
Will he succumb to them? Will he overcome them, vanquish them all and ultimately triumph to emerge victorious? You have to delve deep into the chaos of “Game On” to learn what his fate is and perhaps along the way, you too will learn some important lessons in the game of Life.
There’s an ongoing sonic surge in the music of Pokerface here, it all begins with the churning intro song “The Bone Reaper” with its dizzying, pulsating rhythms. Xen and Blade’s guitars are always at work, riff after riff, lick after lick while Doctor’s drums pound onward like a locomotive.
It is but a hint at the real power, speed and savagery that Pokerface are truly capable of. All of which they unleash in full-on tracks like “Play Or Die” (which provides a vicious vocal performance from Lady Owl), “Straight Flush“, or the title track, “Game On“.
Those aforementioned vocals from Lady Owl are quite impressive, as she wields a variety of styles and range on each track. She bellows some crushing gutturals, throat-shredding shrieking and some straightforward, power metal-ish cleans thus always keeping it interesting.
For me, the stand out selections here where she and the others really give it their all are “Blackjack (Demonic 21)“, the scathing “Cry. Pray. Die.” and the all-or-nothing “Jackpot” (my favorite). So, if it is old school thrash-infused metal with a major bent toward high energy speed metal you seek, sink your stake here.
Put your game face, or in this case, Pokerface on and lay your cards on the table via the Bandcamp full album stream of “Game On” below (purchase here). Remember, you can’t win if you don’t play. Game On!