Tuesday, November 30

Trelleborg - Lands of Njord

Lands of Njord


Most every metal band has at least one minor feature that makes them different, and some bands have any number of things that truly make them unique. This applies very strongly to Trelleborg, a young Russian band that have emerged from Saint Petersburg with a very unique blend of metal influences. On their debut album, "Lands of Njord", the young quartet storm out with a surprising and memorable offering that will likely divide a great deal of metal heads.

It's difficult to precisely pin down the style of the band. Sure, they're predominantly some flavor of folk metal with some power and black influences. Sure, it's very symphonic with a touch of progressive nature here and there, but there's some very unique touches to Trelleborg that make them more than just another folk band playing up cliches to try and earn themselves a quick audience.

As usual, I'll point out the vocals first thing. "Lord Volland" has a VERY unique voice. It's somewhat obvious that he's not a classically trained professional, but he's got a strong, deep, and smooth voice that adds to the attempted epic feel of the album (and succeeds, in my book). He also pounds out the growls that appear on several tracks on the album (but definitely play second to the clean vocals). While they're decent, they're nothing to write home about.

Secondly, this is an extremely symphonic piece of folk/viking metal. There are a few points in here that remind me sharply of Bal-Sagoth, with occasional blast beats and synthy keyboard backing. In sharp contrast, there's also a hefty dose of the much-maligned accordion. This instrument always gets a bad rap, but I love the thing, and it's put to good use here by Trelleborg. Particularly of note pertaining to the accordion is their song "Metsanhumppa!", a four minute instrumental that is fast, fun, and incredibly catchy (think of it as Trelleborg's version of Nightwish's "Moondance").

Yes, humppa and accordion, we're now drawing lines to bands like Finntroll and Korpiklaani as well. Well, Trelleborg are definitely a little more power metal-ish and epic than either of these two. The more epic tracks like "Gunbjorn" and "Tale of the Immortals" might feel slightly similar to songs like those recorded by say, Ensiferum, but the feel is much different. "Lands of Njord" is a tough album to compare, and thus somewhat difficult to categorize, but the formula has worked well for this aspiring young band. Also noteworthy is their decent English pronunciation Particularly for the nation of Russia, where many bands seem to like to stick to their native tongue, this is exceptional.

All things considered, "Lands of Njord" is a strange and unique experience, ranging in style from humppa to epic battle hymns to strange blast beat-laden black metal passages. I can't help but like it, and I admit that a fondness has grown for this little Russian gem. I'll be on the lookout for their next album for sure.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Thursday, November 25

French Power Metal: An Overview

France, a nation reknowned and reviled throughout history like few others. When it comes to metal, France has been prolific in the genres of death, black, and thrash, but noticeably lacks a strong power metal following. Considering its location and population, this seems somewhat strange, so I've decided to do some digging similar to that which I performed with Norway.

There are only a couple of big name power metal bands from France, though I have come across a number of very interesting lesser names. Stylistically, the French bands seem to run a gamut of influences, from neo-classical shredding and highly melodic structures (similar to their German cousins), to traditional heavy metal sounds a la Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. So again we have a nation without a well-defined national style (it's what happens when you have a small scene), but explores a number of subgenres.

So, without further ado, please find some of the best offerings of French power metal below. mixed in you'll find some samples of their music as well.


Heavenly are one of my favorite power metal bands hands down, and definitely a French premier. Particularly on their latest release, there are some poor things to be said about them. Their fourth album found the band entering some harder, more modern territory (which on "Virus", I find delightful), and this tendency continued and became a bit poppier on their 2009 release, "Carpe Diem". Heavenly play a brand of solid neo-classical power metal, influenced by classics like Gamma Ray. Here's a quality track off of my personal favorite album, 2006's "Virus":


Another of the larger French names in power metal, Nightmare has been around since the early 1980's when they began by playing a brand of traditional heavy metal. After reforming in 1999, the band has resumed their output, but with a much stronger leaning towards power metal. With some very distinct, rougher vocal lines and excellent riffing, Nightmare dropped jaws in the power metal world by dropping a quintet of hard-rocking albums throughout the 2000's, the best of which include their reunion album "Cosmovision" and 2005's "The Dominion Gate".


An as-of-yet still up and coming young progressive power metal band, Alkemyst has only managed a pair of full length albums since their inception in 1999. However, both offerings are excellent. In the case of 2008's "Through Painful Lanes", they have stacked themselves up against that Europe has to offer with a dynamite album that showed off their technical prowess and impressive songwriting skills. With luck, Alkemyst can release another album much sooner than the last, and continue to receive critical acclaim with their unique brand of Euro power/prog.

Bel O Kan

A recent emergence, Bel O Kan released their debut album "Birth of a Queen" in 2009. This upstart young band plays female-fronted symphonic metal with leanings more towards heavy metal than power. The tempos are not quite so fast, and the instrumentation a bit more sparse, but this is an extremely enjoyable album that has firmly planted the band in a position to further their ascent in the world of melodic metal. If they tighten up their dual vocal lines, this band could be a real force to be reckoned with. Here's a track to sample:


A melodic metal band that has established themselves well within France, Karelia seems lately to be taking leanings away from metal and more towards hard rock. Not having heard their latest material, I can't say if this is good or bad. However, some of their past material is quite enjoyable. The band aims to put a fresh, uninhibited spin on heavy metal. Given their recent work, it seems that they are succumbing to popular demand and the urge to make a quick buck. Worth a look, at least.


Another progressive power metal band, and not one that I'm familiar with. Singing entirely in French, this band sounds like they have some promising material (check their Myspace page for some songs), and I'll be on the lookout for some of their work in the near future. They've put out 3 full length releases since 2002, and are due for another this fall. In every nation it seems there are a couple of excellent bands that don't get the popularity that they deserve because they don't sing in English. Manigance, it seems, are one of these bands.


Phenix is genrecized as progressive power metal as well, but listening to them, they seem to have more of a heavy/power sound and attitude. At times, it seems like they've even a US power metal/thrash tinge to them, which certainly provides a bit of a novel flavor in comparison to many of the other bands on this list. I profess not to care for the vocal stylings of the lead singer to any great extent, but I'm sure that others would. Worth looking into.


Another symphonic band, Wildpath boasts more of a power metal flavor, and with a very pleasant female vocalist. Their debut album, "Nyx Secrets" has a very unique cool and almost calming atmosphere about, and while not incredible, they crafted something that is truly special. Wildpath have released a second album in 2009, entitled "Non Omnis Moriar", which I am very excited to hear. This is a remarkable band that is bursting with potential. Here's a great track off of "Nyx Secrets":

Well, there you have it. Perhaps not as in-depth as a few niche specialists might appreciate, but creating this list has already satisfied my craving for a little more metal from France, and will hopefully open a few eyes as to what the nation has to offer. The world of metal is a never-ending trail of discovery, and this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Hail to all, and a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23

Equilibrium - Rekreatur



This review is for Oakenson, as he would have penned it in my place I'm sure, were he around to do so.

With only a small amount of listening to “Turis Fratyr” before encountering Equilibrium's latest offering, I didn't have much to go on. At the time when I first discovered Equilibrium, I was not one for harsh vocals at all, and so it didn't get much play time. Now that I've done some more listening and my ears have become attuned, I've turned back to Equilibrium. They're symphonic, epic, and a little bit over-the-top, all of which mean that they're right up my alley.

It seems to me that “Rekreatur” has been getting a bad rap now that Equilibrium have had their breakthrough and gained some popularity. It's been accused of any number of failings, from poor vocal performance and repeating their old material to being “too light-hearted”. However, this review is not an attack on anyone's poor opinions. Rather, let's start from the top.

If you're reading this, you're most likely already aware of Equilibrium's work, so you know just what to expect from them. Things haven't changed, though they are perhaps a little bit more upbeat this time. These are the same crunchy, synth-drenched battle songs that Equilibrium has been doing since their inception, and will likely continue to do. The vocals are all harsh, and perhaps not the greatest for the genre. I admit I'd probably like the music better if the vocals were clean or at least more akin to those used by bands like Ensiferum and Wintersun. The music isn't very deep either (heck, you can't even understand the lyrics if you don't speak German); it's the sort of fluffy fantasy/folk metal that you listen to when you're in the right mood and want something catchy and uplifting. I for one love it.

I am not the greatest judge of harsh vocals, and so I'm hardly in a strong position to critique Rober Dahn, nor compare him to previous vocalist Helge Stang. If nothing else, they have a heck of a backup band, and one that excels at writing fluid and catchy melodies. The greatest thing about Equilibrium in my opinion is the absolute thrill and grandeur of their keyboard-topped melodies, and these are as sweeping and majestic as ever on this album. Everyone has their own favorite picks on this album, mine include “In Heiligen Hallen”, “Der Ewige Sieg”, and “Der Wassermann”.

Aside from the keyboards, the music is solid. The guitars largely play a rhythm role, but are able to break in with a galloping lead from time to time. Because of the ridiculous style of the music, the presence of the bass is largely glossed over, which is a pity, though I'm sure it comes through better at live shows. The percussion is another impressive part of this and every Equilibrium album. Simply to keep up the blazing pace that the band sets would seem to be a significant feat. The percussion is occasionally varied as well on “Rekreatur”, expanded beyond the standard metal drum kit in some areas, though I do not know if these sounds are electronically generated or not.

Suffice it to say I can't understand nay-sayers of this album, as it's pretty consistent with what the band have been doing. Saying that songs are fluffed-up re-writes of old tunes is not true. Like most bands, Equilibrium's style is pretty unvaried, and it becomes a matter of listening intently enough to be able to distinguish one song and one album from the other. Just because it's all keyboard-driven epic melodic death metal doesn't mean it all sounds the same. Now, based exclusively on the style of music that the band plays, this album is going to turn a number of people away because of its sound. For those that don't mind or enjoy the style, “Rekreatur” is certain to satisfy. Both authors of Black Wind heartily endorse Equilibrium's latest effort, and hope for an equally strong outing their next time around!

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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.75 out of 10

Angra - Temple of Shadows

Temple of Shadows


Ah, Temple of Shadows. One of Angra's greatest works, and a classic power/prog album no matter who you ask. Along with "Rebirth", this album gave Angra the undisputed crown of power metal supremacy in South America. However, I think I'm getting ahead of myself, so I will digress.

"Temple of Shadows" is a concept album concerning a Christian crusader, "The Shadow Hunter", and his spiritual journey questioning the Catholic faith. Lyrically, this album is fascinating, and I feel that there is a great amount of thought and feeling poured into the music. Written by guitarist Rafael Bittencourt, the story of the Shadow Hunter, from the awe-inspiring "Wishing Well" to the speedy and furious "Temple of Hate", is spellbinding.

Instrumentally, the band has never been tighter. Dual guitar aces Bittencourt and Loureiro are in perfect sync as they spit out lightning solos, killer leads, glorious rhythm lines, and lush acoustic support. "Temple of Shadows" is much more of a power metal album than the band's two most recent releases, and the difference in tempo on fast tracks like "Spread Your Fire", "Angels and Demons", and "Temple of Hate" is remarkable. Save "Rebirth", this is the fastest release that Angra have ever produced.

Be that as it may, there are a number of incredible mid and slow-tempo offerings as well. The most remarkable being the absolutely jaw-dropping "Wishing Well". No matter the listener's preference in music, the band must be given credit for this spectacularly well-written tune. With a highly memorable, touching chorus and some really fine guitar work, this is probably the single greatest moment on an already formidably strong  album (given my general distaste for ballads, this is lofty praise from myself).

Another song of great interest is "The Shadow Hunter". Brimming over with flamenco-styled acoustic guitar and folky percussive talent, it provides the Brazilian flavor that the band incorporates into their music so well. At just over eight minutes, it's also the longest song on the album, with several distinct sections.

I find myself dwelling, as you may have noticed, on the first half of this album. The more that i listen to the album in it's entirety, I am convinced that the second half just doesn't stack up to the first half, at least for myself. "Morning Star", "Sprouts of Life", and "No Pain for the Dead" are quality tracks all, but I find them failing slightly when compared to the more catchy, dynamic, and exciting songs that fill the first half. Now granted, this tendency fits the story of the album well, since the latter songs are more brooding, sorrowful, and emotional, and this might be the real reason that they don't excite me as much. These tracks are mellow and interesting, but without the depth seen in their latest release.  An exception to this general rule is the more driving "Winds of Destination", featuring Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian with an excellent guest vocal performance.

Saying that the latter half of the album isn't as good doesn't much diminish the overall greatness of "Temple of Shadows" however. This is, after all, still Angra doing what they do best. It's a superb album that furthered the band's hold on the hearts of many. I hadn't listened to it in its entirety for a good long while, and it has grown on me. Excellence.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Monday, November 22

Revelry on the Horizon

As we move into the winter season, I'm happy to welcome a greater number of readers to our blog. As I'm taking some time off of work this week to head home, posts may be sparse. On the other hand, maybe the lack of work and stuffing of my face will leave me stranded in front of a computer with naught else to do. In any case, here's what's tentatively on the menu for this week, some ideas I've been tossing around:

  1. Review of Angra's "Temple of Shadows" per reader request.
  2. Review of one or two new albums (any requests here? I'm momentarily out of new albums to review for The Metal Observer, and have some spare time)
  3. An overview of the French power metal scene, something that's been on my mind lately. Doesn't seem to be a great amount, and I like to delve.
In Minnesota, we've had some nasty precipitation and bad roads (500+ accidents in the metro area last weekend), so I want to wish all would-be revelers in the United States and beyond this coming week(end) a safe drive and visit to families. If you're bored inside this weekend, explore! Read through our past posts and visit some of the other quality sites we've linked to!

Saturday, November 20

Nightwish- Dark Passion Play

Dark Passion Play


When one of the most popular metal bands around drops their lead singer to worldwide drama and takes a noticeable change in style, you can bet that you're going to cause quite a stir. This is exactly what happened with Nightwish in 2007 before their release of “Dark Passion Play.” Band and fan interactions aside, this latest offering from Nightwish was somewhat controversial, and has set the band in a bit of a new direction.

The new singer, Anette Olzon (previously of AOR/hard rock band Alyson Avenue), brings an entirely different style to the table than that of Tarja, and this is clearly the largest audible difference in their new music. Foresaking the enormous operatic vocal sections (excepting “The Poet and the Pendulum”) that have been Nightwish's trademark sound, the band has made a move more towards a more poppy, melodic metal sound, rather than operatic power metal.

Anette's voice is quite pleasant, and she serves the band quite well. Had the band continued in the same style as before, she would have made a poor replacement for Tarja's soprano brilliance. As it is, she fits the band like a glove, and has fallen quickly in sync with the creative talent of Tuomas Holopainen. Tuomas himself is probably the biggest disappointment in this album to me, as there are various tracks like “Bye Bye Beautiful” and the above mentioned first track where he conveys a bit of self-centeredness, though not enough to detract too much from the music.

The other problem with this album is its movement towards the commercial side of metal. I don't know if this is an intentional move for the band, or if it just sort of developed in the writing of material, the departure of Tarja, and the influences that the band have had lately. I'd still label it as metal, but more like melodic American metal in places than what we're used to. Tuomas has reacted rather negatively when asked about this, so he clearly feels that he's still writing metal himself.

Dark Passion Play” has a very polished production, and a harder sound than ever before, while also being a little more boring on the instrumental side of things (guitars are taking more of a rhythm role this time around). Songs like “Eva”, “For the Heart I Once Had” and “Amaranth” show that the band have undisputedly placed a greater emphasis upon well-defined and accessible vocal melodies. This works both ways. I absolutely adore “Amaranth”, though I don't think of it as the same Nightwish as I once knew.

That's really the big factor on this album. If you expect this to hit you the same way that “Once” and “Century Child” do, you'll be pretty darn disappointed. If you step into it expecting something new, you'll be pleasantly surprised. I can firmly say I don't care for “Dark Passion Play” as much as I do older Nightwish, but it's not a poor album by any stretch of the imagination. It just fits into a style of music that I don't enjoy as much. I find the music a bit more redundant and unexciting, and while still carrying a measure of novelty, it's not the trademark Nightwish sound that so many have come to love.

Nightwish are still creative, just in a different way. Probably, this new style is going to continue onto the next album. I can't say I'm too disappointed, as every band ultimately evolves (or devolves) and dies. “Dark Passion Play” crosses genre lines, but is quite accessible and will still appeal to many older fans of the band. I'm looking forward to the next album, where perhaps they've worked things out and will mature this new sound.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.25 out of 10

Thursday, November 18

Ancient Bards- The Alliance of the Kings

Ancient Bards
The Alliance of the Kings


I actually first discovered this album by reading Oakenson's review of it on The Encyclopedia Metallum, shortly before we became fast friends. I was blown away by his spectacular review of the album (giving it a 100%), and decided that I must have it!

Months later, I am as enraptured by this album as my brother is, and have decided to pen my own review. This album deserves to be well-known, and I've yet to read overall negative feedback on it.

First things first, Italy is a country that is running over with fantasy flower metal bands, and this generally describes the Ancient Bards as well. BUT, and that is a big but, this band does it all with so much passion and talent that it's really hard to compare them to bands like Derdian, Kaledon, and others. Even the mighty Rhapsody of Fire have a considerably different approach. Personally, I've never been an incredible fan of Rhapsody's work, and something like this appeals to me much more.

So what is it that makes “The Alliance of the Kings” so fresh, so exciting, and so novel? There isn't a quick and simple answer, I'm afraid. It is glorious, epic, passionate, and utterly brilliant musically. Let's begin with the very first and perhaps most impressive item, and that which I normally do not care for in metal bands: a female vocalist. I am NOT a sexist, but neither have I been a great fan of women as lead metal vocalists (gothic metal and bands like Nightwish, Luna Mortis, and early Dark Moor notwithstanding), particularly in the genre of power metal. Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards has made me a believer, and I confidently state that this fine lady is already on par with Tarja Turunen in terms of talent and respect in my book. While she is a soprano, she's clearly not as operatic. Her voice is powerful and silky smooth, at times a gentle breath, mounting to fortissimo melodies on many tracks. She slides so gracefully between some notes that, much rather than sounding amateur, her vibrant and melismatic singing is a joy to listen to.

Oh, and instrumentally! Most of this group's work is so incredible that the guitars are almost the low point, believe it or not. The bass is audible, and there are at least two short sections featuring the bass in a solo, which is almost unheard of in this genre. Choirs and synths complete the transformation into a project that has little trouble transporting the listener from an office cubicle to a fantastic land fraught with peril, pride, and promise.

Like many Italian bands, the lyrics are written in English but are occasionally difficult to understand (sword comes out repeatedly as “surd”). This is a slight imperfection in the otherwise flawless majesty to which the band aspires. Musically, the compositions are breathtaking. Long song lengths find the listener repeatedly finding themselves swept up in an orchestral interlude or a tasteful demonstration of the ample guitar shredding that is also to be found. With symphonic metal this well-crafted and exciting, I almost don't care what I'm listening to, story-wise. Here also, the band excels. This is the first entry into an ambitious project for these young Italians, being part one of the “Black Crystal Sword Saga”. The difference being the means of telling the story. The lyrics are perhaps easier to understand, and the story not entirely so bombastic and dramatic. There is more...story-telling if you will, than many other outfits see fit to provide.

While upbeat, technically proficient, and bombastic tracks like “The Birth of Evil” and “Frozen Mind” are my favorites (you CANNOT find better symphonic power metal, ANYWHERE), there is a wide tempo spread and a beautiful ballad in the form of “Lode Al Padre. As with all excellent metal releases, words don't quite do the music justice, as it's impossible to bottle the essence and energy of such a dynamic and unique band and then spread it across so many sheets of paper.

With that said, if you get even a shred of enjoyment out of symphonic or orchestral power metal, or if you feel that you may want to look back into a genre you've given up on, this is the time to do it. The genre itself seems to have been limping a bit the past couple of years, but Ancient Bards are one of the several bands from Europe that have re-energized the genre and given it a sublime recovery this year. This album should not be ignored by any fan of power or heavy metal in general. Friends, you owe it to yourselves to discover this wonderful and majestic gem of an album.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 17

The Protagonist's Album of the Week 11/14-11/21

Crystal Tears
Generation X


An album that I reviewed this past couple of days for The Metal Observer, "Generation X" really surprised me with the punch and aggression that is not typical for power metal coming out of southern Europe. Still, they remain melodic and with some pretty good fretwork. Even better, they've got Ian Parry of various projects (Ayreon, Elegy, Infinity Overture) on lead vocals, and man does he ever tear it up!

Good power metal with a few thrashy moments in the vein of bands like Primal Fear. Check this stuff out, it's got a lot of promise!

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Crystal Tears- X Generation

Monday, November 15

Revolution Renaissance - Trinity

Revolution Renaissance

Like Gandalf the wizard, Timo Tolkki has long been wandering in strange lands, trying to find his path back to the world. Claiming shock when the members of STRATOVARIUS carried on without him (and resumed being badass), Timo sought refuge in his own project, REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE.  “New Era” was a mediocre release, and “Age of Aquarius” started slipping out of the realm of metal.  As a matter of fact, I’d just about given up hope on Timo entirely. I knew that the third and final RR album was coming out this year, and figured I’d give him one last shot.

Well, he hasn’t redeemed himself quite for all of the poor to mediocre power metal he’s made, but “Trinity” is a BIG step up in quality. This is no “Saana- Warrior of Light”, and it’s not watered-down like the self-titled STRATOVARIUS release. “Trinity” is the sort of power metal that you’ve forgotten that Timo once made.  Pretty straight-ahead in its formula, this album has dropped former attempts at silly atmospheric and symphonic elements. The guitars are back, the tempo has been turned up, and the rhythms are strong.

The vocal lines sung by Gus Monsanto are very heavily reminiscent indeed of STRATOVARIUS, and I keep expecting his voice to cease, replaced by Timo Kotipelto.  There are some pretty dumb lyrics on a couple of songs here (“Life is a highway, we’ve got one chance!”) that will make most listeners roll their eyes, but this is hardly the epitome of bad flower metal. Gus is definitely a competent singer, and his voice has a not-unpleasant edge to it. I personally feel that this is a personal best vocal performance for him, having heard a number of his projects.

Now, I’ve heard some rumors suggesting that Timo didn’t actually record the guitars on this album himself, and I have no idea if that’s true or not. In any case, the quality solos are back, and it is a very refreshing feeling. I haven’t felt a Tolkki solo that really SOUNDED like a Tolkki solo in quite some time. This nostalgia for classic, conventional power metal is what makes “Trinity” remarkable. It’s one of the genre’s masters (say what you may about his recent subpar work) making a hefty stride towards a return to form. The rhythm is crunchy and tight, the leads dynamic and excellent, and the solos are superb!

- - -
The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Saturday, November 13

Oh Timo Tolkki, you're so fickle...

Ok, so everyone knows good ol' bumbling Timo Tolkki. He's probably one of the most troubled figures in metal music. After putting Stratovarius through a pretty serious rigamarole, he abandoned them (after which they got back up on their feet and start kicking butt liberally once again) for his new project, Revolution Renaissance.

Tolkki was "shocked and hurt" when his former bandmates from Stratovarius took the rights for the band's name and profits and went on running, but stubbornly put his nose to the grindstone and churned out the trio of RR albums. These aren't bad albums, but they're not spectacular either. The first, "New Era", is a relatively unimpressive piece of work, perhaps most comparable with Tolkki's last album with Stratovarius. "Age of Aquarius" was a step in a different direction, being darker, slower, and less metal, but again not a bad release. Many were expecting the final Revolution Renaissance album, "Trinity", to be weaker yet. Fear heightened when, before the album was even released, Tolkki declared the breakup of RR, claiming to be taking a hefty or permanent break from music.

However, Trinity turned out to be a pretty decent piece of work (I'll have my review of it up here very soon), and it left me hungry for some more of Tolkki's material. He finally made a comeback to some GOOD metal, and then looked like he was going to give up altogether!

Recently, however, there was an announcement that Tolkki, along with a number of other well-known metal musicians, would be forming a melodic metal supergroup entitled Symfonia (including such big names as Uli Kusch and Andre Matos). Symfonia is currently recording material for their first album, and will also begin live shows February of 2011. The first record is due out spring of the same year.

So, while perhaps not the driving creative force behind Symfonia, it seems we'll get to see Tolkki back in action after all. Despite his bumbling lately, his original work with Stratovarius established him as a veteran guitarist and songwriter. Despite all of his dishonesty and mental issues, I see Mr. Tolkki as a troubled but well-meaning individual. The Revolution Renaissance project, while not stellar, was a reasonably interesting piece of work, and his upcoming cooperation with Symfonia is promising. Timo is well on the road to redeeming himself for many people, and already has in the eyes of this fan (besides, it's not like Stratovarius needs him anymore anyways :P).

Thursday, November 11

A Brief Pause

Hail readers! (or what few of you there are so far),

I want to take a break from the typical posting to give you a more personal check-in, and to answer a few questions that we've had :)

1. Yes, Oakenson is not currently contributing to the blog. He's taking a break from it for a little while. Yes, I also know that my reviews are not as good as his, and he knows it too. Hoping he'll be back with us soon, until then you have to put up with me.

2. We've had a few requests for reviews, including Angra's "Temple of Shadows", Christopher Lee's new Charlemagne project, and the latest Symphorce album. My schedule is quite busy at present, and as much as I love the blog, it's a side project to what else is going on. Not that people are breaking down my proverbial door with these requests, but I am thrilled to have been asked and want to oblige. Balancing things like school, work, writing for a couple of different sites, etc. gets a bit hectic at times, and this site is a very fun recreational break from the rest of our lives. That being said, thanks for the communication and keep it up, we love hearing from you :)

3. Something that I've forgotten to mention is a radio show held on Wednesdays from 5-7pm Eastern time by a metal friend of mine from the Buffalo area of New York. Specializing in dark emotional metal (and whatever crap the college station makes him play) but taking open requests is Jake Brew with "The Cold Embrace" metal show. Check it out at the college radio's website, it streams easily in Windows Media Player, and Jake is a fun and knowledgeable host.

That's all that comes to mind for the time being. Thanks again for checking in. Good evening, and as my good friend would say, "Let the winds blow fairly upon you."

The Protagonist's Album of the Week 11/7-11/14



I consider "Rebirth" to be Angra's magnum opus, their swan-song, etc. Whatever you want to call it, it is one of the works that I feel is nigh-unequaled in metal. This is Angra after their schism. The departure of Ricardo Confessori, Andre Matos, and Luis Mariutti paved the way for their replacements. Aquiles Priester, Edu Falaschi, and Felipe Andreoli respectively put the band into overdrive with their arrival in 2001, releasing a speedy and emotive power metal masterpiece. While less progressive than most of Angra's catalog, "Rebirth" proves that Angra are also absolute masters of the power metal genre in a simpler form as well.

Reviewing "Aqua" earlier this week put me in the mood for some of the rest of Angra's work. It's not that often that I return to listening to "Rebirth" in it's entirety, and this week marks the first time in a long time. If you're not so familiar with this album, please check out a couple of these links!

Angra- Acid Rain

Angra- Unholy Wars

Wednesday, November 10

Blood Alliance!

The British masters of melodic power metal, Power Quest have announced on their website that they have completed recording on their upcoming 5th studio album "Blood Alliance". The album is now being mixed and is set for a February 2011 release date. I am extremely pleased by this news, as Power Quest is a favorite of mine and had been having some lineup troubles in past months after the departure of their Italian members, followed by some shuffling about of British members as well. However, with the illustrious Chity Somapala now taking up vocal duties, the band seems ready to take off once again with their incomparable brand of speedy, keyboard-laden metal.

It will be hard to replace Alessio Garavello and Andrea Martongelli, as they were trademarks of the band's sound. I have complete faith however, in Steve Williams and his new lineup to provide us another quality album. Here's a great song off of "Master of Illusion" to get you in the spirit:

Power Quest- The Vigil

Tuesday, November 9

Angra - Aqua

Great Artwork, too!


When I learned about “Aqua”, I began acting like a giddy fanboy, prancing about with my hands clapped to my head, emitting brief shrieks of joy every so often (not that much of an exaggeration either, if you ask my fiancee). You'll have to forgive my ridiculous posture, but Angra was one of the first bands that really got me into metal, and has never failed to release material that I have found consistently excellent. After “Aurora Consurgens” and the troubles with their manager, I had begun to despair, fearing that Angra had gone the way of bands like Lost Horizon and Wintersun. So you can imagine my ecstasy (and perhaps share it) when I learned that a new full length was being released in August.

Upon first listen, I was mildly underwhelmed. I of course, was fantasizing about a bombastic return to “Rebirth” era speed and glory. While I still hold hopes for an album like that someday, “Aqua” is indeed not such an undertaking. Actually, if anything, “Aqua” is even more mellow and thoughtful than ever before (At least for the modern era of Angra). I've heard it claimed both that “Aqua” is a thematic album based on water, and instead a concept album based on “The Tempest”, the former seems more apt to me. The band themselves state that water is the inspiration for the album, and from the stormy heights to the serene depths, the analogy is a striking one.

After the obligatory but not unpleasant short intro piece, “Arising Thunder” kicks off the album in true Angra fashion. While perhaps a bit sparser vocally and instrumentally, this track is an exemplary piece of Angra's work. It is the liveliest and quickest-paced song on the album, and sits pretty well as the first full-length composition (the storm, after which there is peace, if you like), while setting the stage for the reminder of this very aquatic and progressively flavored album.

Now, power/prog isn't anything new for Angra, but they're breaking new ground here for themselves, moving beyond their past two efforts. They continue to grow in this direction, and manage continuously to become stronger songwriters while moving away from conventional power metal. Songs like “Rage of the Waters”, “Spirit of the Air”, and “Hollow” illustrate just how brilliantly the band can execute complex and well-written songs while maintaining the accessibility and wonderfully memorable solos and vocals that have become their hallmarks. As always, touches of folky percussion and Brazilian tonality creep into the recordings from time to time. Along with the ever-impressive guitar talent of Bittencourt and Loureiro, this makes for a very technically sharp album, one of the best I've seen this year.

It's a testament to Angra's ability that they're able to continuously float away from the kind of metal that I and others claim to be our favorite, while keeping us hooked completely. I refuse to give a full track-by track of “Aqua”, but the songs are all good, while many rise further above that. Better people than I will give you a track-by-track, and I won't waste your time with my occasionally redundant writing. For now, suffice to say that “Aqua” is one of the best metal releases of the year, regardless of genre. It is deep and continuously fresh, profoundly energizing, and brings the band instantly up to form. It's not quite on par with “Rebirth”, but it's getting there.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.25/10

Monday, November 8

Minuetum - Haunted Spirit

Haunted Spirit


Greek power metal is always a grab bag. I don't know what it is about this country that inspires such a wide spread of styles within power metal, most of them sadly being unimpressive. There are some standouts of course (ELWING, NIGHTRAGE, EMERALD SUN), but on the whole the Greeks have a large quantity of mediocre-quality metal. Unfortunately for MINUETUM, I am going to go ahead and lump them in with many of the others. Granted, they do have a different style to go along with some talent, but not enough of either to make them stand out amongst a veritable ocean of their south European brethren.

I will hit the biggest point first, Dimitris Zaharopoulos is one of the poorer vocalists that I've heard in recent memory, and really taxes this album for me. He sounds strained, out of tune at times, and without a great deal of range that one typically wants and expects from a lead vocalist in this genre. My other issue with this album is the production. Nothing is really heavy, and maybe this is to be expected from a keyboard-dominated band, but the drums don't hold a lot of substance, and the rhythm guitar is never heavy or chunky. This wouldn't be so much of a problem, but there's some rhythm work that would benefit so much from some extra crunch.

In and of themselves however, the guitar lines are well written and well-played. There is some catchy and pleasant guitar work here which fits the mood and style of the band like a glove. Unfortunately, the guitars are often either too weak to stand out, or are buried beneath the poor vocal performance. It's especially sad on songs like “Ghost King”, when the vocals and guitars play in unison during the chorus, and the otherwise nifty sounding guitar lick is completely wasted. Mercifully, the vocals leave off as you'd hope they would during the solo section, and Jason Mercury (stage name?) shows us that he's capable of a bit of handy guitar shredding.

The other highlight of this album is the keyboard work. Dimitris Melidis is clearly an accomplished-keyboardist who is stuck in a position where he's the saving grace of the band rather than one of several important elements. This is very keyboard-heavy metal, and it's quite prominent in the mix, even when only playing backing chords or pedal tones. Probably a little too heavy, which will also prevent this album from becoming an excellent release.

So, what we've got with “Haunted Spirit” is a freshman release with the machine running full tilt, yet plagued by mechanical deficiencies (don't worry, there aren't any breakdowns here, at least). The keyboards and guitars make this an interesting listen-through, but the lack of really catchy tunes, the sub-par vocalist, and no presence of heaviness make for an album that doesn't have real staying power when matched up against any more prestigious group. I would go so far as to say that if the band keeps their current vocalist, they don't have much potential. There’s a whole lot of room for improvement.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Thursday, November 4

A Forecast of Things to Come

2010 has been an incredible year for new music. We here at Black Wind are compiling a year's end list, and it's probably going to be prodded and fixed a bit before the end of the year, with a couple of releases yet to come.

With 2011 fast approaching on the horizon, we've begun looking ahead at next year. From November's standpoint, it doesn't look like as stunning a year as 2010, but things continue to take shape! I've raked together a few of the notable melodic releases that are coming up next year to make things easier for all of us!

Stratovarius- Elysium

Norther- Circle Regenerated
Sirenia- The Enigma of Life
Jag Panzer

Sonata Arctica!

Iced Earth

Devin Townsend- Ghost

Avian- Midnight at the Tower
Leaves' Eyes

Late 2011/Unannounced
Falconer- Armod
Rush- Clockwork Angels (Yes, I know this isn't metal, but I reserve the right!)
Wintersun- Time (I don't know if they actually mean this, we've been hearing this for a looooong time)

Not disappointing at all! Of course, if you're into other sorts of music, you may have to do some digging on your own. Hope you appreciated the list, cheers!

Wednesday, November 3

Norwegian Power Metal: An Overview

Prepare yourselves for a long post.

After Gaia Epicus invaded my ears a while back, I've been combing my collection and the internet for any more quality power metal from Norway, a nation better known for it's black metal, as well as some excellent progressive work. The end result? There's really not much there, and the really good bands can probably be counted on one hand, but this is my attempt to let these bands see the light of day and give them some well-deserved attention.

Characteristically, there's not really much that's unique about Norwegian power metal. It's speedy, double-bass and rhythm guitar driven lines draw pretty heavily off of their Swedish and German relatives. The country doesn't really have a big enough scene to have a lot of individualism, though some of the bands certainly do. Aside from the previously mentioned Gaia Epicus, a speedy neo-classical rocket, here are most of the other notable Norwegian acts, along with some samples:


Keldian are probably my favorite Norwegian power metal act. The vocals aren't the most refined, the music isn't very heavy or deep, but blast if it isn't catchy and uplifting! Keldian has two fine offerings, and here's a great track off of 2006's "Heaven's Gate".


If you're a fan of Kamelot, you're certainly aware that Roy Khan's prior gig was with this Norwegian band. Conception is a little older than the other bands here, dating back to 1989, and with their fourth, final, and best album "Flow" being released in 1997 before Khan's move to join Kamelot. Conception also has progressive metal leanings, but walks the line a bit closer than Communic.

Beautiful Sin

Formed by elite German power-metaller Uli Kusch in conjunction with some of the member's of prog act Pagan's Mind, Beautiful Sin plays a pretty straight-up version of German-styled power metal. With a heavier punch and some excellent female vocals courtesy of Magali Luyten, Beautiful Sin are a capable act, and their single release "The Unexpected" is a very good piece of work. Here's "This is Not the Original Dream"


Some may call them overrated, but this prog/power metal band has made a pretty hefty splash in their seven years of existence, with three quality releases under their belt. Communic work with longer, more complex song structures, and are more of a progressive outfit than power metal, but are worth a mention regardless, as their work is pretty accessible and enjoyable for metalheads of any variety.
Guardians of Time

Another short-lived band with not much material, Guardians of Time released their breakout album "Machines of Mental Design" in 2004. Falling back into the more traditional style of speedy power metal, here's a track off of that album:

Highland Glory

Mid-paced power metal that reminds me of several German acts, Highland Glory play a tasteful brand of classy power metal that's relatively free of progressive touches. The lead vocalist Jan Grefstad reminds me a bit of the lead vocalist of the French band Nightmare, which gives this band a pretty distinct sound. At times, this leans more towards classic heavy metal, and will likely be enjoyed by those who aren't as impressed by the sheer speed of other Scandinavian acts. Here's a track off of "Forever Endeavor", titled "Edge of Time."

And that, as they say, is that. Plainly, Norway has precious few solid power metal acts, and fewer still that are still active. If I have missed any, please let me know. I'm fairly certain I've nailed all the pertinent bands, but no one is perfect. Hope you've enjoyed this!

Tuesday, November 2

The Protagonist's Album of the Week 10/31-11/7

Savage Circus
Of Doom and Death

Dominating my playlist thus far this week has been Savage Circus's most recent offering, "Of Doom and Death". A very foreboding title, but not completely reflective of the contents of the album. As most are probably aware, Savage Circus is often referred to as a mid-era Blind Guardian clone, when the band was playing very galloping, uptempo power metal. While this is a delightfully apt description (Drummer Thomas Stauch was an 18 year veteran of Blind Guardian before creating the band, though he has since departed), it is not a fair one of the band's talent. 

I personally believe that this band is now beyond anything more than a skin-deep comparison to Blind Guardian (in fact, I'm not even going to say that name anymore). Sure they still have a similar style, but they don't play it just because it was popular with a lot of fans, they play it because they love it and are pretty darn good at it. If listeners take some time to drop elitism and pre-conceived notions, the music on this album and it's predecessor "Dreamland Manor", is quite excellent. Stop making comparisons, and you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by the listening experience on "Of Doom and Death".

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Savage Circus- Of Doom and Death