Sunday, October 31

Requiem - Requiem Forever

Requiem Forever


Ever since hearing “Shadowhunt” and “Painting the Wind” over and over on my Pandora power metal station, I've dreamed of owning this album, but it's a hard one to find. After finally buying an MP3 copy of it, I like the album just as much as I'd hoped I would. Despite only having heard a couple of the songs before, “Requiem Forever” already conjures that sort of old familiarity that I associate with other  classics.

“Requiem Forever” is a rather unique album. The songs don't flow perfectly from one to another, and consequently, most of them stand better on their own. What this means however, is a considerable amount of variety in their songs, and no reliance upon “filler” tracks whatsoever.

The general musical feel on “Requiem Forever” is perhaps a bit thinner than many other metal albums. This is in part due to the mixing. The guitar lines are a little bit simpler, the solos shorter, and the keyboards not quite so flashy as many a power metal band's. Yet, the songs are driving, and the hooks are plentiful. A few harsh vocals pop in from time to time, and one of the singers has a gruff baritone in opposition to the high tenor that's featured as well.

The sheer spread of style on this album is impressive: you've got standard fare power metal (“Shadowhunt”, “Painting the Wind”), a more aggressive hard-rock tinge (“Possessed By Power”, “Hold On”), and even some borderline thrash material (“Violate”). These tracks have a measure of memorability that isn't shared by most creative output, and for that very reason, I think that this album deserves to be better known. One thing that you'll NEVER hear criticized about this album is redundancy.

It's a pity that Requiem is no longer around to grace us with a new offering, but several of their members are now present in other projects (Isäntä Meidän, Silent Voices, Winterborn). “Requiem Forever” has faded away amidst innumerable releases in a dense and confusing landscape of metal, to be occasionally discovered by an earnest seeker. In my house, however, this album will forever remain a classic, and I'll spread awareness of it wherever I can.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.75 out of 10

Quick Thought

Hey everyone, please be sure to check out the sites that we have linked to. As we gain a little more traffic, we'd like to return the favor in some small way by guiding our readers towards some other quality metal sites on the web.Please check out our first few links (if you haven't already):

The Metal Archives- The premier database of metal information on the web. Very complete, and well organized. There is quite simply no better choice when looking for details or tracking your metal collection online.

The Metal Crypt- A quality metal review site with constant updates, quick concise reviews, and easy reader ratings of all albums.

White Throne Metal Reviews- Another blogspot site devoted to discovering and sharing the best in Christian metal music. Certainly not just recommended to Christians, however!

The Metal Observer- One of the largest metal webzines on the internet, and The Protagonist's second home. Numerous updates every day, and a wealth of information and reviews.

Wednesday, October 27

On "Bad" Bands

On my mind today is the Greek power metal band Minuetum. More specifically, how disappointing their first release was. Having reviewed the album today for The Metal Observer, I began to reflect on the worst power metal that I've heard since I began listening to the genre a few years back.

Minuetum didn't produce a bad album with their first release, but it's considerably weaker than most of what is out there. Perhaps it's just because I have an admittedly enormous soft spot for the genre, but I just couldn't bring myself to score the album that lowly, as it still had a few decent moments. I'm obligated to say however, that it's one of the poorest releases I've heard from the genre (though I haven't explored many a band, particularly those who aren't well known at all).

I am reminded of the album that I constantly quote as the worst power metal relase I've ever heard: Power Symphony's "Lightbringer". Man, that lady just can't stay in key, it's no wonder no one will sign them to release their other album. Is it harsh to say to a band "Hey, you're not bad, but if you got a GOOD singer, you could do pretty well!" How many bands would really just up and drop their lead vocalist in favor of someone with more talent, and if they did, would they really be the kind of band I'd want to listen to?

The alternative being, if they can't or won't, just telling them to quit. How can you tell anyone to stop making music, even if most people think it's bad? Especially in a genre like metal, where many bands don't make a dime and do it out of passion, people aren't expecting to strike it rich quick anyways. Chances are, they're doing it because they love it. I guess the answer is that we have to let them come to the realization on their own, and decide whether or not they want to go on trying to release music that nobody really likes.

Hmm. Anyways, here's a GOOD song from a GOOD power metal band. :)

Sabaton- 40:1

Tuesday, October 26

Heavenly: A Collection of Thoughts.

Better than you.

In response to a reader's request, I'm now going to rant about the premier French power metal band Heavenly.

First off, if you haven't heard this band, you should go and take care of that right now, because they've got some stellar work. From their first album, up to and including their admittedly watered-down recent release "Carpe Diem".

No, my beef here lately is with some idiot's review of what I and several others I know think of as the band's magnum opus, "Virus". This review (and a couple of others like it) is on the Metal Archives. Now I appreciate having no comments allowed, and no response-reviews allowed as well. The Metal Archives will take anyone's opinion on an album so long as it is reasonably-intelligently written (in terms of grammar, spelling, and coherent thoughts, at least), so there's some garbage there, and some people that clearly can't tell power metal from an Enya album. least that's what some of these reviews have led me to think. I have several concerns about these "critics", and want to make a good name for Heavenly's "Virus" here and incite some conversation before I head over there and post my own review. Allow me to itemize the complaints made about the album and address them:

  • Heavenly sounds too much like Gamma Ray and Helloween.
Really? Just how much of these two bands have you listened to? I'm not intimately acquainted with the entire catalog of either band, but I've got a few albums and enjoy them quite a bit. Let me tell you straight up, Heavenly sounds like Gamma-ween in that it's relatively high tempo, uses the same instrumentation, have similar song structures, and relatively high-register singers. Heavenly has different production, different timbres, entirely different vocals, and definitely a proggier neo-classical tinge to them.
  • The choruses aren't catchy at all, and the album is poorer in this regard than Heavenly's previous releases.
Did you listen to the album, or just fast-forward it the whole time? Without even performing a formal analysis of the songs (I will do it, don't tempt me), I can tell you that the melody lines are more consistently structured on this album in a fashion that is pleasing to ears trained to western music (this album was, after all, a bit of a move towards the mainstream for the band), and the choruses are more frequently repeated. This is of course, rather subjective, but most people that I've had a conversation with about this album that are reasonably familiar with the band's other material and metal in general would agree pretty readily on this point.
  • Lyrics are unintelligible.
Agreed, I don't know who does does their English lyrics, but they need help. There's also no excuse for Ben Sotto to still have such a shaky grasp on the English language. If you can't do it decently, sing it in your native language. I'm an ignorant American who wasn't required to learn a foreign language. I could sing more intelligently in your language than you can in mine, and English is the standard in metal.
  • The album isn't original
I don't know, I could go either way on this one. Is there really much original power metal? Not so much. That being said, does this sound a lot like other power metal? Not really. Find me a band that has a vocalist that sounds like Ben Sotto and pulls off a super-fast, heavily percussive, neo-classical heavy album with dual guitars, and I might grant that to you. Right now, another band that meets all of those criteria doesn't come to mind. If they do, you'd probably still be able to tell the difference like night and day.
  • The solos sound very juvenile
Oh I SEE! You go play them! There are some damn good solos on Virus. The title track probably being my favorite off the top of my head.
  • The vocalist has no sense of dynamics
Do you know what that word means? This is METAL, it's LOUD.
  • This album is just garbage
And your favorite power metal band is Skylark. Go listen to Power Symphony and let the adults listen to their music.

Ok, I think enough is enough. Please go listen to a couple of songs off of "Virus". Please comment and let me know if you agree on either end, because this album is getting a bad rap. Seriously, you'd think this was like "Eternal Empire" or something. Here's a few examples:

Oakenson's Album Of The (Blustery) Week!

Nox Arcana
Shadow Of The Raven


The autumn winds are a-blowing and the chill of summer's demise is certainly swirling about in the air, reminding us all of nature's boundless glory, beauty and strength; what does this have to do with Nox Arcana, you may inquire? Well, considering this particular album is a musical dedication and tribute to one of literature's true masters of horror, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, and is overwhelmingly autumnal in its atmosphere, I can think of no better album of the week under such glorious circumstances.
Oh, yes, and there's no metal to be found here, but it's amazing in the way a Castlevania soundtrack is amazing so, yeah, check it out. ;)

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Kamelot - Poetry For The Poisoned

Poetry For The Poisoned


I have a rather extensive and nostalgic history with Kamelot, which began in February of 2000, when the band's fourth effort (no less titled The Fourth Legacy) was unleashed here in the United States; they were the first melodic metal band I really got into that was under the radar in terms of popularity and, at the time, scene recognition (though that has, of course, since changed) and, as they say, the rest was more or less history. I was hooked on The Fourth Legacy the way I was hooked on Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind three or four years prior to that; Kamelot ultimately helped to change the way I looked at music and was certainly the catalyst for the musical explorations that are still relevant and prominent in my tastes today. Nearly ten years later, and with a number of albums now under their belt since The Fourth Legacy, the Americans, German and Norwegian have yet to disappoint, with Poetry For The Poison being no exception.

Ghost Opera, the band's 2007 effort, took a bit of time to saturate into my conscious fully, being not quite as immediate as all of the prior albums, despite The Black Halo and Epica being, specifically, potentially difficult albums to fully appreciate due to their density on first listen; no less, it took a few spins though, slowly but surely, the songs became rooted in my heart and the album has since become a favorite. Poetry For The Poisoned has had a similar effect, really unfurling its wings more and more with each listen; I would say, if I were to rate the album on the first two listens or so, I would have given it a mere seven out of ten whilst, when you reach the final score below, you will see that that has changed somewhat considerably now that I've listened through the album about ten times (and probably more).

In essence, this is Kamelot doing what they do: crafting sophisticated, layered yet structurally rather accessible songs that have, over the course of their career, become delightfully saturated in melancholy, moreso than on the early efforts. Roy Khan is, without question, one of the most talented vocalists in metal today, being right up there with the likes of Hansi Kürsch and Tony Kakko (a couple of my favorites, anyway); his voice has grown with every release and I am confident in saying that Poetry For The Poisoned features his most stellar performance yet, which is perhaps a bit difficult to believe, considering just how incredible his voice is to begin with (though it is, no less, true :P). As usual, the production team of Sascha Paeth and Miro delivers beautifully, with the audible texture of this particular album being somewhat warm and almost organic, showcasing the growth of not only the band but the production duo's capabilities as well.

The opening track, as well as the album's "hit" - The Great Pandemonium - kicks things off with an ethnic flare and a driving groove, containing all of the band's mid-paced signatures, including the undeniably heaviness and catchiness (though perhaps not as immediate as March Of Mephisto or Rule The World); Thomas Youngblood's solo here is particularly exceptional, as well.

When Tomorrow Comes, Hunter's Season and Once Upon A Time could be considered the most classic sounding power metal pieces on the album, all featuring soaring choruses, beautiful melodies and, of course, double-bass a-plenty; Hunter's Season is particularly stirring, perhaps due to the song's dedication being to Mr. Youngblood's late mother.

Seal Of Woven Years and House On A Hill are both worth a mention as well, showcasing the band integrating ballad-esque themes and sensibilities within a rather metallic context; they're actually a couple of my personal favorites from the album, and are yet another fine example of the band's capacity to think outside of the box a bit.

Poetry For The Poisoned is, by and large, my favorite composition on the album, being divided into four parts/tracks: Incubus, So Long, All Is Over and Dissection. Incubus is unbelievably haunting, with the "Come with me tonight, tell me how it feels to be alive ..." bit being goosebump-inducing every time I hear it; this is, undoubtedly, the band amidst their darkest depths yet. The spectral sounds give way quickly enough to a frantic symphonic section, which arrives as quickly as it departs, crashing down at the beginning of the achingly beautiful second piece, So Long. As hopefully made clear, this song is quite dynamic and progressive, going through a number of changes in a relatively short period of time, which proves to be true with All Is Over and Dissection as well; needless to say, it is more than effective, and I may even go as far as saying it's the best Kamelot piece yet, though there's a lot of competition for that tag. ;) Nevertheless, it's absolutely amazing and is definitely the album's centerpiece.

Overall, I am rather happy with the direction Kamelot has taken, even if further away from that straight-up power metal sound some would prefer; they have grown yet have also clearly stayed true to their sound and their essence. There are not many artists who have stayed so close to their core whilst simultaneously integrating as much experimentation as Kamelot has, without it ever reaching any kind of narcissistic excess; truly, they are masters of their craft, and I don't anticipate the quality of their future releases waning anytime soon. ;) One of the 2010's best!

9 // 10

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Monday, October 25

Vanden Plas - The Seraphic Clockwork

Vanden Plas
The Seraphic Clockwork

Vanden Plas has and will always fill a very special place in my metal collection. They were both one of the earliest bands in my collection, and one of the last of those early bands for me to really delve into. “Beyond Daylight” and “Christ 0” are both very solid offerings, and grew on me very quickly, while also being the sort of albums that I must be in the right sort of mood to enjoy.

Though “The Seraphic Clockwork” begins with a jarring intro to “Frequency”, it gives way in relatively short order to the kind of sound you’ve come to expect from Vanden Plas: cleverly written melodic progressive metal with the brilliant vocals of Andy Kuntz, and occasional touches of symphonic flair. Unlike past albums, the band has taken a bolder stance (perhaps experimental) on this album with the instrumental work brought into sharper focus, but at a bit of a cost.

I speak of the former vocal and chorus stylings of the band. Gone are the long held notes of Andy Kuntz, soaring above the instrumentation. Songs like “Scarlet Flower Fields”, “Shadow I Am”, and “End of Days” are a memory. In their place are heavier, slightly more technical offerings (do not read: mechanical). In fact, I’d venture that this is Vanden Plas’s heaviest piece of work to date, and more consistently so.  Another concept album, this one biblically-based (surprised? I think not), “The Seraphic Clockwork” is possibly even more dramatic overall than “Christ 0”. Despite being less symphonic to my ear, “The Seraphic Clockwork” utilizes just as many choral parts as its predecessor.

With all of the projects that Vanden Plas’s members have been working on lately, it’s really no surprise that this album is such an ambitious release. While the music is as expertly executed as always, the intent in this work is upon the story. The tracks have lengthened, surpassing both the band’s previous single longest track, and average track length overall.  “The Final Murder”, “Quicksilver”, “Rush of Silence”, and the sprawling “On My Way to Jerusalem” all clock in at or over nine minutes.

While this album isn’t really any more progressive than previous efforts by the band, it will definitely swing the bands favor further in the progressive direction. Those preferring shorter song lengths and catchy, hard rocking tracks will not find too much to sink their teeth into. On the other hand, the soundscapes here are masterfully illustrated and narrated, making them a dream come true for those who delight in the story and spectacle. Alas, while I am very much a proponent of the band’s work, I have to say that I find this to be their least enjoyable of their last three albums, mostly because the past two have been so terrific.

No matter how you feel about their work, Vanden Plas has dropped a weighty, bombastic slab of progressive metal on the world this year, further establishing themselves as one of Europe’s premier modern prog-metal acts with their superb proficiency and tasteful arrangements. I recommend checking this album out very soon. It seems to have a hit-or-miss effect, which has struck a glancing but significant blow with this listener. 

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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Friday, October 22

The Protagonist's Album of the Week 10/17-10/24



Apologies for my lack of posting the last couple of days. It's been a very busy week and work and has left me rather exhausted when not working. However, there's been a bright spot on the radar this week. A relatively little-known alternative rock band out of Salt Lake City, Utah, Acroma has only ever produced one studio album. Titled "Orbitals", this album caught my ears a year or two ago and randomly popped up again on my radar last weekend. Admittedly, it's much different than my usual choice of the speedy and crunchy variety. Fairly mellow, "Orbitals" is somewhat soothing and is a very pleasant listening experience. I was surprised by how much I've enjoyed it. Here's my favorite, the title track:

Thursday, October 21

Kalmah - 12 Gauge

12 Gauge


A steady rain beats upon the window to my immediate left and, even though it is nearly the middle of May, I feel as if autumn is approaching as it does at summer's end and, even if just for a fleeting moment, it is Kalmah's season once again. Indeed, Kalmah have, to these ears, always captured the essence of autumn quite well with their unique and instantly recognizable form of melodic death metal (which possesses a rather melancholy atmosphere, despite the otherwise high-energy compositions) and, to celebrate the release of their most recent album - 12 Gauge - with a review, I can think of no better time nor circumstance to do so than now.

The album begins with two acoustic guitars interplaying rather gloomy melodies off of one another and, only moments afterward, does a lonely trumpet begin to float atop the guitars; aye, the atmosphere is already set only 30 seconds into the album. It is not too long (less than a minute, in fact) after that the metallic ferocity kicks-in and, thus, the album begins full-force. Rust Never Sleeps is an unquestionably good opener, showcasing the melodic breadth Kalmah have always displayed from album-to-album and, as is a staple in the band's sound, there's plenty of killer guitar and keyboard solos to feed upon, too. One To Fail follows with some fantastic guitar/keyboard interplay opening the track up and, before the song's end, you'll undoubtedly be shouting "Hiiop!" with Pekka Kokko all the way home.

Venturing further into the album's swampy and morose depths do we find some of Kalmah's best work, easily. The title-cut is one of the Finn's most well-crafted pieces all-together, beginning (like the opener) with a reflective acoustic moment that quickly becomes a head-banging one and, as the lyrics swirl about regarding the dangers of utilizing medication and substances to take care of problems that assuredly cannot be cured in such a manner, one can't help but to realize just how far the band has come since Swamplord (Kalmah's debut album). Both of Marco Sneck's (the band's keyboardist) compositions are impeccable, with Godeye's mid-section being one of the catchiest of the band's career and Sacramentum being the band's most epic piece yet, undoubtedly. Yes, Sacramentum is quite a beast in its own right, taking the melancholy grandeur of 12 Gauge to its towering pinnacle; this is definitely a song that is better heard than written about, so I suggest you do the same. ;)

I'd like to take a brief moment to highlight the production, as the album truly sounds fantastic; it is hard-hitting, dirty (but clean enough for all of the instruments to come through in their own right) and dark. Granted, I've never felt that any of Kalmah's albums were badly produced or mixed in any regard, however, I feel the purely audible aesthetic of 12 Gauge eclipses all past production jobs.

If the old man wading through the bog on the cover were to figuratively be Kalmah, he would certainly slay the fish-headed-hawk beast with ease and, really, that is just what 12 Gauge is: a triumph! The band started off amidst the shadow of Children Of Bodom (though, between you and I, I have always thought they were better) and, now, they're a force all their own, with a sound that has grown to be uniquely their sound, and no one else's. I cannot help but to think that the Finns must be quite proud of the direction they have taken and, without question, 12 Gauge is the utmost justification of such, as the musical craftsmanship showcased here is simply immaculate. Finland's melodic death metal movement has a king, valorous and stern upon his throne, and the diadem that rests upon his mighty brow crowns none other than Kalmah, and Kalmah alone; hail!

8.75 // 10

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Originally written for Belgium's Fueled Magazine.

New Stratovarius = Yummy!

It seems a brand new Stratovarius album is on its way! :) Polaris was awesome, their best in years, so let's hope that Elysium, due out in January, shall live up to the high standard set by Polaris; the artwork and track-listing are below.

01. Heavenly Divine
02. Infernal Maze
03. Elysium, Part I, II and III
04. Civilization
05. Darkest Hours
06. Under Flaming Skies
07. No Return
08. New Horizon
09. Move The Mountain

Wednesday, October 20

Herman Frank!

I'm somewhat active on the Metal Archives forums (more as a reader than as a contributor), and I'd seen people throwing around the name Herman Frank for a while. Specifically, about his solo album "Loyal to None". I saw it was straight-up heavy metal, which is good, but it's not my power fix, so I put off checking it out. This morning I threw the album on and got blasted out of my seat!

This cd is incredible! I haven't heard such delightfully heavy and dynamic traditionally-styled metal like this in...maybe almost ever! The vocals are POWERFUL and commanding, the guitars are fantastic, and the hooks just keep coming. I'd like to share with you the opening track of "Loyal to None", and hope it floors you like it did me. Enjoy!

Amberian Dawn Has A New Song Called (Sonata) Arctica. :P

If you find yourself rather dissatisfied over the fact that Nightwish hasn't released more albums like Oceanborn and Wishmaster, perhaps Amberian Dawn is what you've been looking for; quite unoriginal, but still rather enjoyable to listen to all the same. The video is below.

It is late, the skies are watching us ...


Good night; more potency tomorrow, I promise.

Monday, October 18

Oakenson's Album Of The Week!



I have, you see, listened to this album three times today alone, and the closing track (Kurzes Epos) seven or eight times so, indeed, there's no question this is my album of the week! ;)
Fantastical German Pagan Folk Metal = WIN.
:D <3

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Finntroll - Nifelvind



Finntroll, at this point in their musical career, are a more-or-less household name to any self-respecting metalhead and it is, without question, that such a stature is well-deserved. The Finns, along with the likes of Thyrfing, Einherjer and Menhir, for example, were one of the first bands to utilize rather traditional sounding Norse music and themes amidst the extreme metal backdrop and, unlike the aforementioned artists, Finntroll's endeavors were perhaps the most catchy and fun of them all, partly due to the nature of humppa music (which is the predominant influence on the Finns' craft), as well as the tales of which the songs told. Indeed, Finntroll began as a band with an incredibly immediate (though odd) sound, and it is this very sound that harnessed much of the attention they've received thusfar. In 2007 the band released Ur Jordens Djup, an album showcasing a much more serious, darker and brooding side of Finntroll's art that was only hinted at on previous albums (such as, for example, the title-cut on Nattfödd) and it was, to perhaps 50% of the fan-base, received with a large sense of disappointment; aye, as soon as the Finns ventured much further and deeper into their folkloric roots did the fan-base begin to divide. Warping back to present-day, and being a good three years in the making, Nifelvind is Finntroll's fifth full-length effort (not including the Visor Om Slutet or Trollhammaren EPs) and it is, undoubtedly, yet another progression in the band's sound, one of which will see fans even further divided than before, I predict.

Beginning with Blodmarsh (Bloodmarch, in English), one is immediately taken by the orchestral grandeur and percussive brilliance of this opening piece, which somewhat quickly leads into the first metallic track of the album, Solsagan (The Saga Of The Sun). I was, admittedly, almost a bit surprised at the initial harshness of Solsagan, being littered with blast-beats, über-aggressive vocals from Vreth (in which his performance is, for the record, even better on this album than on Ur Jordens Djup) and, overall, an atmosphere that is quite grim, despite the catchy chorus; indeed, Finntroll are at it again! Den Frusna Munnen (The Frozen Mouth) follows, keeping things coming along rather nicely by showcasing extensive percussion and keyboard arrangements that are, undoubtedly, amongst the band's finest.

Okay, before going any further, and seeing as I've already mentioned this aspect twice, must I highlight the percussion on this album, which is wholly, thoroughly and undeniably brilliant. Being metal listeners, we're all used to somewhat powerful percussion arrangements already, simply because of the aggressive drum-playing that is prevalent throughout all of the genre's sub-genres and, once in a while, we may even hear an orchestra hit here or there to further emphasize already powerful moments but, truly, never have we heard the sort of percussive bravado that is present throughout all of Nifelvind's duration. Take the tracks Mot Skuggornas Värld (Towards The World Of Shadows) and Fornfamnad (Embraced By The Ancient), for example; both utilize very intimate, camp-fire styled percussion (including what sounds like bongos, wood-blocks and other somewhat natural sounding instruments that I am, admittedly, unfamiliar with) whilst also demonstrating massive orchestral arrangements, thus creating an atmosphere that is as huge as it is intimate - seriously, it's ingenious.

I am not about to give you a song-by-song review, for both of our sakes, however, I cannot help but to highlight a few more tracks that are, obviously, worth mentioning. Under Bergets Rot (Under The Root Of The Mountain), much like En Mäktig Här from the previous album, sees the band returning to a bit more light-heartedness amidst what is otherwise a fairly dark album and, by the Gods, what a success! - equipped with wacky-melodies galore and danceable rhythms, Under Bergets Rot finds the band sounding as quirky and odd as ever, whilst never losing sense of their undeniable identity. Galgasång (The Gallows Song) is a nice acoustic piece that would certainly not sound out-of-place on the band's acoustic EP, Visor Om Slutet; being quite an intimate and warm track overall, it expresses the sensitivity Finntroll are able to convey amidst their quiet moments. Lastly, the albums closer - Dråp (Manslaughter) - is quite a beast all on its own, taking the album to some of its grandest heights by, again, the brilliant utilization of percussion and orchestrations galore, in addition to a melodic sensibility that can only come from a band well into their respective career; yes, Dråp is an impeccable closer for an impeccable album.

All-in-all, Nifelvind stands as Finntroll's most outstanding musical achievement thusfar, which becomes crystal-clear when taking into account the extensive instrumentation and arrangements utilized throughout the album. Furthermore, by blending the aforementioned with a sweeping sense of compositional competency, the Finns never lose sight of what makes a good song (rather than the long-winded, Dream Theater-esque drivel some bands get carried-away with) a, yes, good song. Nifelvind is easily one of 2010's best albums and, even if you're on the fence about newer Finntroll, you're truly doing yourself a disservice by not giving this masterful record at least a couple of spins; just as roots grow around the stones beneath them - slowly but surely - so shall Nifelvind grow upon you, trust me. ;)

9.75 // 10

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Originally written for Belgium's Fueled Magazine.

Dark Tranquillity - We Are The Void

Dark Tranquillity
We Are The Void


There has always been an air of nobility about Dark Tranquillity, as they have steadfastly stuck to their core-essence throughout their entire career whilst also experimenting with it from album-to-album; it is without a doubt that achieving this kind of feat is not easy, as typically bands either go too far or not far enough, though these Swedes have kept the equilibrium quite in-tact over the years. Keeping this in mind, We Are The Void is Dark Tranquillity through-and-through, however, as to be expected, it is also quite unlike anything else in their catalog thusfar. Projector has been, still is and, more than likely, shall always be my favorite Dark Tranquillity album - it's sublime, darkly and meticulous prowess ultimately re-defined melodic death metal whilst simultaneously going completely against the grain of what the genre was at the time - aye, it's not just an album, it's a work of art. This review is, needless to say, on Dark Tranquillity's 2010 effort however, though my stance on Projector is quite relevant when it comes to the appreciation I have harnessed for this particular effort, the band's ninth full-length altogether (amidst a plethora of other EPs and singles and such).

Shadow In Our Blood opens up the album quite promptly with an absolutely infectious bass/synth interplay that isn't too far off from being something you'd hear on an industrial record (if it weren't for Dark Tranquillity's masterful antics, anyway); the song's pace hastily quickens into a thrashing number, however, in vein of all of the band's modern classics (Final Resistence, Lost To Apathy, Focus Shift and so on) and remains just as infectious throughout its duration as it is in its intro. Aye, you've got it right, in just one song I was already helplessly hooked.

Before going further into anymore song-by-song analysis, let me make it clear that this is perhaps the band's darkest effort thusfar, with Projector being the only other contender. The early albums are unquestionably the band's most aggressive, though atmospherically they're almost fantastical and, at times, vaguely folkloric, ultimately keeping the sort of darkness presented here at a distance. Projector was unquestionably seeped in shades, though was rather mellow at its core and, afterward, the band experimented with catchy melodicism and certainly perfected it with Haven through Fiction, each respective album displaying a different element of this vast dynamic masterfully. We Are The Void, in turn, focuses its gaze towards the abyss and thus finds the band crafting atmospheres more bleak, anxious and frustrated than ever before - a turbulent album for turbulent times, undoubtedly.

The Fatalist, Her Silent Language and even Surface The Infinite are, to these ears, the catchiest and most immediate songs on the album, maybe even moreso than the opener, utilizing beautiful melodies and arrangements to expand upon their individual cores. Her Silent Language specifically finds Mikael Stanne's clean vocals at their melancholy heights and, for the record (though rather unrelated), I'd selfishly LOVE to hear the band do a totally mellow record where Mikael only utilizes his clean voice. :P He is certainly one of the most underrated clean singers out there, when he does decide to go down that route, anyway. Arkhangelsk and Iridium both really showcase the darkness I spoke of earlier, easily being two of the band's most dense and blackened offerings; needless to say, they're two of my personal highlights from the album, with Iridium being in my top-three favorite songs from the band already (... it's that brilliant). Overall, pretty much every song on the album, outside of the semi-title track I Am The Void, possess a rather progressive song structure that goes beyond the typical intro-verse-chorus-verse-chrous-break-chorus format, despite the song lengths being rather modest otherwise. The tracks herein may only be four or five minutes, yes, but their adept arrangements and compositions make them feel more like seven or eight minutes (in a strikingly good way, of course).

In essence, and from what I've already read around online, some listeners are disappointed with the direction of this album, as it's certainly not as immediate or catchy as Dark Tranquillity's past three albums, however, the genius here is undeniable, as far as I see it: here is a group of Swedish musicians yet-again reinventing themselves, writing-off another chapter within their impeccable saga whilst still staying true to themselves and what they've always been about ... if this isn't dedication and loyalty to a musical craft then I do not know what is, frankly. I do, of course, recommend this album to all Dark Tranquillity fans, new and old alike, as well as to anyone who is looking for powerful, melodic and somewhat aggressive music of the absolute highest order; staring into the void has never been this lovely, guaranteed. ;) Essential!

9.5 // 10

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Originally written for Belgium's Fueled Magazine.

Twilightning - Delirium Veil

Delirium Veil


In a day and age where Finnish giants Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius reign supreme over the Scandinavian world of power metal, many metalheads think that there's nothing new to be found in the genre. However, at the same time that these bands were recording “Winterheart's Guild” and “Elements” respectively, an unknown but extremely well supported band called Twilightning was piecing together their debut.

Now, I have to take a step back and say that I enjoy Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica as much as the next Finn-metal fan. But when asked to be honest, I've got to say that THIS is the Finnish metal album (heck, THE album) of 2003. The music here is different from that of most artists in a number of ways, and Heikki Pöyhiä's vocals are one of the first. This man has a powerful voice that reminds me a bit at times of Jarmo Pääkkönen of Excalion. Tempo-wise, this album swings back and forth a little bit, but most of the better tracks are up-tempo. I've heard some describe this album as progressive, and I can't say that I really agree with that at all. By and large, this album is fairly strophic, but certainly not in a way that you'll tire of. Particularly not with the guitar hooks! Though it leans ever so slightly in the direction of hard rock at a few points (a trait of this band that sadly deepens and takes the music downhill after this album), the guitar work on this album is nothing short of stellar. Not perhaps the fastest, showiest, or most technical, but so very well rounded and absurdly catchy!

 Not only are the riffs and vocals good on this album, but I found the percussion above-average and well mixed. The guitar solos are truly excellent, particularly in “Gone to the Wall” and “Return to Innocence”. Every song is brimming with catchy guitar licks and great vocal hooks. Even the weakest tracks on this album are enjoyable and comparable to “good” tracks produced by many other groups. The studio production is done extremely well to top everything off, especially for a debut album. One of my few complaints is the extended tinkly instrumental sections that precede or follow a couple of the songs. They're not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and sometimes I enjoy listening to them. But more often than not, I'll barely be able to hear it. This makes me wonder if there's just dead space, which leads me to skip it.

As for high and low points, I'd generally describe this album as starting and riding high throughout the first four songs, then coasting downhill through the still great “Return to Innocence” to reach the not unpleasant valley (in terms of tempo) of “Under Somber Skies” through “Enslaved to the Mind”, before streaking upwards and ending on the second pinnacle of musical brilliance on the album, (and my personal favorite) “Masked Ball Dalliance”. A slower, sweeping song with a good balance of vocals and guitar work, this song presents some of the most brilliant melodies on the album. The title track is the other high point of the this album, with a straight-forward fast paced metal race through vocal acrobatics, machine-gun snare drumming, and fantastically executed flourishes of guitar. My opinion of “Under Somber Skies” and “Enslaved to the Mind” as the weaker tracks here is not shared by everyone, however, as I've heard the former referred to as a favorite by several other reviewers. You'll just have to pick this one up yourself to find out :)

It would be hard to believe that this album could disappoint any fan of melodic metal. The musicianship is really just top-notch in every way, and the band members truly have a gift of melody. High marks for following a successful metal mold while adding a lot of their own color. Twilightning may have sunk after the release of their incredible debut, but this album is a testament of what a band is capable of at their creative peak. Stunning in its execution, “Delirium Veil” sweeps up the listener to a plane of musical rapture that few bands have ever reached. Absolutely essential.

The Protagonist's Rating: 9.5 out of 10