Tuesday, October 4

Black Wind Moving to new home!

Please Note:

After almost a year of existence, Black Wind has outgrown its home here at Blogspot. We are relocating to our new home at BlackWindMetal.com. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be continuing to build this new site, but you can find our latest reviews posted regularly!

Please update your bookmarks, feeds, and reading habits, and we'll see you around!

Friday, September 30

Myrath - Tales Of The Sands

Tales Of The Sands


Those lucky few who’ve read my reviews on this site, may already know that I have a soft spot for the middle ground between power, progressive and symphonic metal. Earlier this very fine musical year I gave Serenity’s and Sons Of Seasons’ newest forthcomings a glowing review, and I’m about to extend the same courtesy to Myrath’s latest and brightest “Tales Of The Sands”. That is, as soon as I have changed from my belly-dancer’s outfit to my reviewing clothes (read: pajamas).

Before I continue carving a sculpture for these monuments of progressive metal, can I just say it’s weird to describe a band as “Eastern” when their actual country of origin, Tunisia, is geographically speaking north of the European village I live in? An observation you didn’t care about, but one that I had to get off my chest. Deep breaths, everyone. Anyway, a lot of bands may experiment with Eastern folk influences, but usually that’s what they are: influences. Myrath hails from the sweeping sands of the desert and they sweat their heritage from every pore, effortlessly and naturally combining it with their Symphony X-flavored type of progressive power metal. This time around there are more Arabic sections than on predecessor “Desert Call”, and even though it makes singing along a near impossible and incomprehensible task, they add that little extra touch of ethnicity that I admire so much in these noble nomads.

While “Desert Call” had a few longer compositions and a generally more languid (but not boring) atmosphere, relying on complex song structures and brief bursts of melodic genius, “Tales Of The Sand” has gone the newfound Pagan’s Mind route, choosing to focus on short but powerful songs that lose none of the intricacy and delicacy of previous outings. Nowhere is this more clear than in the first stretch of the album, where the almost hypnotic “Under Siege” segues nicely into the salty swagger of “Braving The Seas” and the melancholy of “Merciless Times”; all rivaling the splendor of Serenity’s “Death & Legacy”. The title track seems more concerned with the magic and mysticism of the literary tales of the sand, bathing in an aroma of mystery among the dunes. That concludes the most epic part of the album, and the rest of the record is more concerned with themes of introspection not unlike Evergrey in their heyday. Yet there is still a lot of wonder to behold, not in the least with the one-two punch of the record’s closers. The entrancing “Beyond The Stars” makes your blood pump with its pulsating rhythms and sets your limbs in motion in an almost uncontrollable fashion. It takes considerable willpower to refrain from dancing around like the serpentine subject of a snake charmer to this music, and what other metal band can say that? The swan song of the album, “Time To Grow”, takes a more straightforward power metal route, with an uplifting chorus to show you out in style.

September will be remembered in the annals of musical history as the month where there was more progressive metal than you could shake Mike Mangini’s drumstick at, and Myrath is among the finest of the fine. Unique, daring, and self-aware; they’re the Tunisian revolution of the progressive metal scene.  And yes, there’s a very clever political joke in there. Hey, it was either that or something about the camel on the album cover.

Arno Callens' rating: 4.25 out of 5

Wednesday, September 28

Angra - Rebirth



"Healing whispers of the angels bring the sunrise again..."

Thus sayeth the wise Edu Falaschi in the first few minutes of Angra's momentous return to form after parting ways with previous members Andre Matos, Ricardo Confessori (destined to return for 2010's "Aqua"), and Luis Mariutti. Just as many fans were left wondering what was to become of the band, "Rebirth" dropped jaws worldwide while baptizing the new lineup in a whole new high-octane style of power-prog that offered more punch and complexity than the band's previous efforts.

While the Brazilians previously established themselves as one of the premier metal acts in their home country with great records like "Holy Land" and "Angels Cry", the intensity of "Rebirth" left them alone at the top of the heap in their chosen genre. Not only did the band rebound quickly from losing half its members, but managed to write its strongest material yet. While the prelude/opening song combination has always been a strong point for Angra, "In Excelsis" and "Nova Era" take this strength to new heights, and the combination is one of my very favorites at the beginning of an album. Also known for blending tempos and incorporating native Brazilian elements and conventional symphonic sounds, "Rebirth" brings these sounds to the forefront, in addition to emphasizing the band's guitar work like never before.

Need evidence of the maturity of the band's composition? Look no further than the sublimely epic "Acid Rain", the breathtaking "Running Alone", or the superb blend of indigenously inspired melodies and power metal speed of "Unholy Wars". Even at their softer moments, the ballad "Heroes Of Sand" and the moderate title track, Angra has never to this day written more infectious and accessible material. The dual fire-spitting guitar attack of Loureiro and Bittencourt, always been a cornerstone, has manifested here in the fastest, most impressive example of their work together. From this point forward, it more or less became expected from them on every album.

"Rebirth" stands alone amongst Angra's catalog as being the one true example of pure high-speed melodic power metal that the band has produced. While highly technical, it doesn't have the pronounced progressive flair of the group's later albums, while simultaneously featuring much more bombast and dramatics than earlier efforts like "Holy Land" and "Fireworks". Along with the mighty "Temple Of Shadows", this is generally considered to be the band's finest work, and for good enough reason.

A couple of listens through will have any fan of fine progressive power on their knees, weeping and blubbering for mercy. Though it's a happy, religious-tuned, and rip-roaring power metal adventure, most metal fans will find something to appreciate on "Rebirth" (which is perhaps one of the most apt album titles I've ever come across). Some might call “Rebirth” the album that Angra produced before they "focused their energy" and created the epic “Temple Of Shadows”, but I think that this work was instrumental in phasing the band from one era to another, and what better way to do it than fill it with the galloping power metal that appears occasionally on albums across the rest of their career?

Angra is clearly pleased with this effort, and so overwhelmingly am I. As Edu stated for the band, it’s “time to fly”.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson
Deform To Form A Star/Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
(Grace for Drowning)


In a year that saw releases from Opeth, Dream Theater, Unexpect, Neal Morse, and Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson can still turn heads when he announces a double album. In more proper terms, Grace for Drowning is actually a set of two individual albums, titled “Deform To Form A Star” and “Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye”, packaged and sold together. These then mark the second and third solo albums for Mr. Wilson, and given how little he was involved in the writing of the most recent Blackfield album, his first real songwriting since the release of The Incident back in 2009.

It’s a little strange to think of an artist as prolific as Steven Wilson taking a break from songwriting, but I imagine the rest, however short, was valuable, especially given the results on Grace for Drowning. I had originally considered reviewing the two albums separately, as they both stand alone as beautiful and unique musical statements, however there is also so much that happens between the two, that I could not do the project full justice with standalone reviews.

As a project, Grace for Drowning is painted with a stunning sound palette, rich with sweeping orchestrations, flutes, saxophones, pianos, subtle guitar tones and a large force of choral work on nearly every song, and in some instances, building the bulk of the song’s melody. The Ambience of the album sweeps from dark and haunting lows, to triumphant and serene highs, and a presence of the classic progressive, psychedelic, and jazz eras.

The first disc, Deform to Form a Star, focuses more heavily on the choral aspects, with two songs (Grace for Drowning and Raider Prelude) featuring them almost exclusively, and, Raider Prelude aside, tends to be the lighter of the two discs. Remainder The Black Dog is the accessibility highlight, being the song that listeners are most likely to latch onto first, however Sectarian and Deform To Form A Star are my personal favorites.

The second disc, Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye, contains only 5 songs, one of them though, is the 23 minute “Raider II”. It is similar to Remainder The Black Dog for it’s over jazz influence, but it sums up the entire project much better, using a full range of the sound palette expressed in the rest of the disc. Index, one of the several songs to have a video recording, has a very dark and moody atmosphere, which is distinct, as most of the darker songs on Grace for Drowning tend more towards the direction of haunting.

What really brought home the cohesiveness of the album to me were the twin guitar solos that populate the title tracks of both discs. They’re slow, melodic, and full of emotion. Steven Wilson has never regarded himself as a very talented guitarist, or a very talented vocalist, and truth be told, he does not have the massive range or technical ability as some of his peers within the progressive genre. He is however, the premier innovative songwriter, and a master of ambiance and sonic atmosphere, and all of this are on full display.

This album is a skillful summation of the proper influence of the classic era of progressive music, full of modern flourishes and masterful presentation. AOTY considerations go without saying here, as I can find no major faults, and indeed, it’s been an extremely difficult album to put down since it’s release


Dagg’s rating: 4.75/5

Tuesday, September 27

Crimfall - The Writ of the Sword


The Writ of the Sword



“The Writ of the Sword” is the sophomore album by Finnish metal band Crimfall. This band really made a bit of a splash in the scene with their debut “As the Path Unfolds…” which, from what I heard was mostly worthy of its praise. However, Crimfall seems to have fallen victim to the dreaded curse of the second album.

For one to label this band with a genre is rather difficult, as they cross many boundary lines. They use the dual vocalist system, switching between clean, folksy female vocals and harsh growls and screams, which are fairly common of folk metal. The performances of both vocalists are amiable, even if there are some vocal lines that aren’t all that great and some of the high pitched growls are weak.

Apart from the vocals, there are quite a few violin passages which add to the folk feeling. There are a few symphonic elements, however they’re far between and don’t add much to the overall sound. Choirs and chants are more common and more effective.

There are a couple of acoustic guitar passages that are rather compelling, but apart from that, the guitar is mostly uninteresting and boring. There is a real lack of entertaining riffs, and the few solos that there are, are very simplistic, emotionless and quite frankly a waste of time. Having some obvious melodic death metal influences didn’t help their cause, as they tended to take weaker aspects that tend to appear in the genre. There are some great drum moments on this however, which makes up for the lack of inspirational guitar playing.

Despite having very talented musicians, the lack of inspiration in the majority of the song writing really holds this album back. Being a young band however, they do have potential to make something of themselves yet.


Claus’ Rating 2.25 /5

Monday, September 26

Opeth - Heritage



I'm going to assume that most of you know a bit about Opeth. Whether you like them or not, you have to admit their importance as one of the most influential metal bands of the last twenty years. Since the release of the groundbreaking "Orchid" in 1995, they have constantly pushed their unique brand of progressive death metal in ever new and surprising directions, freely adding hints of folk, jazz, progressive rock, and whatever else mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt wants to play. Within this paradigm, they have carved out their own very specialized niche in the world of metal. However, Opeth has never been known to shy away from experimentaion (see 2003's mellowed-out "Damnation"), and their latest offering, "Heritage," marks another rather dramatic shift in their sound.

First of all, Mikael's growls are gone. This is not an unprecedented move; he has already written an album (again, "Damnation") with no death growls. But "Heritage" is most certainly not another "Damnation." Opeth has opted this time to go for a "retro" progressive rock sound, featuring mellotron, hammond organ, and album artwork bearing an uncanny resemblance to that of the Moody Blues's "In Search of the Lost Chord." Their experimental side is restless as ever, featuring songs that switch, in traditional Opethian fashion, from quiet folky sections, to heavy riffing, to modern-jazzy bits, and back again, bringing me to my next point: "Heritage" is not really a huge departure from the Opeth of the past. Despite the notable changes in sound, many of the elements that made Opeth so important in the first place are still there. One could almost say that they have merely substituted progressive rock for progressive death metal, changing relatively little compared to what they did on "Damnation."

But, you may be wondering, how good is "Heritage" as an album? Will I find it worth my time and money? This is a rather difficult question; not only is Opeth an infamous divider of opinions, but their new sound has thrown another rather formidable wrench into the whole mix. In general, I found it to be a strong album, though perhaps not as focused as it could have been. The songwriting is all over the place, from the jazzy "Nepenthe" to the hard-rocking Dio tribute "Slither," and this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. While it makes for an interesting listen, it also costs the album a bit of artistic cohesion; it seems more like a collection than a single cohesive piece. In a way, "Heritage" plays like a debut album, and perhaps it is a debut album of sorts - Opeth is exploring some new musical territory, and although "Heritage" is perhaps less polished than we are used to, it also displays a great deal of creative vitality.

That said, those who find Opeth to be tedious and boring will certainly not be won over, and those who like Opeth as a death metal band will find little of value here. "Heritage" marks an important and decisive turning point for Opeth, and it will probably not sink in easily. However, it is a well-written album, and a respectable addition to Opeth's catalogue.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 3.75/5

Thursday, September 22

Morton - Come Read The Words Forbidden

Come Read The Words Forbidden
The evidence can no longer be ignored: an Eastern European power metal surge is coming and we’d all best stock up on Dragonland and Lost Horizon before they overtake us all. This year Chronology and Wisdom already raised the flag for Hungary and now Morton has come to hoist the banners of Ukraine.  Safe to say music as we know it will never be the same again. Max “Morton” Pasechnik is a renowned sound-producer (or at least his website claims he is) who put his own band together under his last name. No offense, but can I just say this is becoming an increasingly annoying trend? What happened to Steeldragon and Firehammer, people? Anyway, uninspired band name or not, Morton proves to be a powerhouse on the other side of the studio glass as well, because this is a smashing debut the likes of which we do not see too often anymore from western Europe.

“Come Read The Words Forbidden” features four songs from last year’s EP “Grimoire” and nine new ones. Unlike Thaurorod’s debut there isn’t a major difference in quality between the two releases, and ‘oldies’ have no problem keeping up with ‘newbies’. I’d even give some of the previously existing material an edge. “Oblivion” is the kind of song whose lyrics you’ll want to memorize as quickly as possible because humming is just not going to cut it in the shower. The rapturous “Werewolf Hunt” opens with a manic keyboard intro, as if actual lycanthropes were chasing you around the music-playing device of your choosing. ‘You can almost feel the caress of their jaws…,’ singer Morton assures us and I almost really did indeed. “Grimoire” is a softer song of sorts, opting for an unconventional structure and a haunting atmosphere, not unlike Kamelot in their golden days.

On to the new material.  The album fires on all cylinders from minute one with a triptych of pure power metal pornography. “Calling For The Storm” gives Hammerfall, Silent Force, Gamma Ray (and probably a bunch of other bands) a run for their money, as this is off now the best opener about storms and such in the business. Every power metal band is ancestrally and legally obligated to have at least one song about eagles, and “Eaglemark” easily soars among the greatest skydivers in the genre, like Helloween, Gamma Ray and Stratovarius. And the holy trinity of power metal tropes wouldn’t be complete without some kind of reference to brotherhood, unity in strength, and standing side by side for fighting purposes. “Brotherhood Of Light” is all you want from an uplifting and belligerent song about keeping up your spirits in the face of whatever danger besets your Dungeons & Dragons-character Flungo, the kickboxing gnome.

Taking a slight plunge into less stellar territory (which they can quite afford after all that yummyness) is the next set of tracks, with “Sleeping King” being an agreeable tune and “We Are The Shades” building up some medieval tension again not unlike Kamelot, who used to have some Renaissance-flair back in the days of “The Fourth Legacy”. Closer “Weeping Bell” again shows off the bands willingness to go the distance and come up with something unfound on the rest of the album. A melancholic and slow dirge with an unforgettable chorus, it closes the album miles away from the glorious pomp of the opener. The diversity on offer is just another one in the plus column, which has taken over the minus column almost entirely at this point.

Still this album is not without its flaws, and three to four tracks don’t meet the mark set by their colleagues. Minor filler notwithstanding “Come Read The Words Forbidden” makes up for the occasional dud with daring, varied and above all sparkling power metal, marking Ukraine firmly on the map of countries we now have to reckon with. Whether it’s an intense study of the genre or the fallout of Chernobyl that turned these guys into the power metal powerhouse they are, I dare not say, but Morton is here to stay and we’d better damn get used to it.

Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5

Wednesday, September 21

Silverdollar ~ Morte



It is extremely appropriate, even a little cliche, for metal bands to have some sort of dramatic opening to their albums. What would you think if the album opened with a lecture from Al Gore about global warming? Kinda breaks the stereotype and makes ya think and feel a little self-conscious. Drat!

"Morte" is the second release from Swedish heavy metallers Silverdollar. Silverdollar, a name that doesn't seem quite appropriate for a band out of Sweden, plays straight-forward metal, incorporating elements of late 80's Adrian Smith penned Iron Maiden songs, the thrashy side of Sebastian Bach-era Skid Row, and the prog-power touches of Cloudscape.

All of the music on "Morte" has a nice familiar sound and feel to it, especially if you have been around for a while like me. The vocals are strong and ballsy, the guitar solos are melodically tasty, and the bass drum lays down a solid foundation. When it comes to the songs, while they have a familiar sound and feel, there are some standouts. "Hear Me" has a very cool off-kilter rhythm section during the guitar solo that I like, and "Evil Never Sleeps" is a very accessible tune for a wide audience. The title track, "Morte", has a nice, slow, and Egyptian/Middle-Eastern feel to it.

You don't have to be old as dirt like me to enjoy Silverdollar. There is enough of a modern vibe on here to appeal to people who lack a connection to the music of a decade and a half ago. Also, if you are looking for "new old" music but are afraid to venture into territory that you might be unfamiliar with, Silverdollar and their release "Morte" could be just right for you.

Live Long and Rock Hard,

~ ~ ~

SpaceKev's Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Tuesday, September 20

Morifade - Empire of Souls

Empire of Souls


Recently, I talked with the esteemed Mr. Protagonist about the difficulty of reviewing middle-of-the-road, unmemorable albums. Given that the job of the reviewer is to look for the strengths and weaknesses of an album, where is one to go when there are none? "Empire of Souls," the latest offering from Swedish power metal group Morifade, is one such album. On the one hand, it's not bad; in fact, there's nothing particularly wrong with it. However, apart from a track or two near the end, there is nothing that stands out as being brilliant, or even very memorable at all.

The material here is fairly standard-sounding power metal, with a bit of a progressive influence at times. Keyboards are used to provide a bit of atmosphere and the occasional melodic flourish, but don't do very much on the whole. The vocals are good, but given that most of the melodies are quite forgettable, they don't add a lot to the mix either. The one great thing about this album is the production; the sound is crystal clear, and every instrument can be heard with relative ease. Unfortunately, no amount of production will save bland songwriting. Aye, there's the rub.

I suppose I should mention that a couple of the songs did stand out for me. "Resemblance of Hate," the seventh track here and my favorite by far, is a fun proggy song with a slight middle-eastern tinge and some neat instrumental performances. I also found the next song, a speedier number called "Impact of Vanity," to be a standout of sorts, though that may be only in relation to the rest of the album.

All told, "Empire of Souls" is by no means a bad album, nor is it brilliant. It's a decent collection of decent power metal, with a couple really good songs near the end. It's nothing like Morifade's glorious 1999 debut, "Possession of Power," but I would suggest it for any fan of power metal looking for a bit of background music. Unfortunately, that's all.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 3.0/5

Monday, September 19

Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare

Alice Cooper
Welcome 2 My Nightmare


If I’ve learned anything from aging rock stars, it’s that there comes a point when creativity bottoms out, they stop caring, and eventually resort to a half baked reunion to push sales, and if you saw the “School’s Out” joke coming, then I’ll gracefully bow out of trying to be funny and get down to the album at hand, Alice Cooper’s latest “Welcome 2 my nightmare”.

We’ve seen what Ozzy is capable of past 60 (Nothing extraordinary), and who could ever wipe that atrocious super bowl halftime show that “The Who” put on from their memory. Alice however, is hot off the massively successful and entertaining Theater of Death tour, as well as an induction into the rock and roll hall of fame, and a reunion with the members that could have made the Alice Cooper Band the most respected and legendary rock group of all time, had they not broke up in 1973. Alice Cooper laughs career death in the face.

The music of Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a fantastic amalgamation of the greatest moments of Alice’s career. There are elements of Killer, Billion Dollar Babies, the original Welcome to My Nightmare, Lace and Whiskey, and The Last Temptation present in the musical formula, as well as musicians who took part in each of those records (except for The Last Temptation, a lineup that seems to have unfortunately fallen into the abyss). In particular, the lead single “I’ll Bite your Face Off” would have felt right at home on The Last Temptation, and “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever” is that type of delicious tastelessness that feels right at home on an Alice Cooper record.

The standout tracks are (unsurprisingly) those penned by original Alice Cooper members Dennis Dunaway and Michael Bruce, and those are Runaway Train and When Hell Comes Home. The first is a blast right out of 40 years gone past. When Hell Comes Home on the other hand has a heaviness that’s quite startling coming from such aged musicians. It would be easy to say that these musicians had been sitting on their royalty checks for the last 40 years, letting their talents go to waste, but what’s clear is that these are still tremendously talented musicians that have been perhaps wasted to the perils of commercial interest.

Finally, the controversy has to be addressed. Ke$ha. First, for all those foaming at the mouth saying such a talent less pop star has no place on an album with a legend like Alice Cooper. Get real. Alice Cooper pioneered Shock Rock, a genre that Ke$ha feels right at home in. While maybe not the all encompassing spectacle that Lady GaGa has become, there has to be a lot of mutual respect between the two singers, and honestly, her performance isn’t that bad. Nothing spectacular, but she certainly lays down a good song, and it’s entertaining to hear pop stars sing lyrics with Cooper’s fingerprints all over them.

This is the gold standard for aging rock stars, and it hurts to even say that. Regardless of the age, the significance, and the legend that surrounds Alice Cooper, this is just a very, very, solid rock album.


Dagg's rating: 4/5

Friday, September 16

Arch / Matheos - Sympathetic Resonance

Arch / Matheos
Sympathetic Resonance


Sometimes you really can have your cake and eat it too, if that cake is progressive, with numbers and stuff. Vocalist Ray Alder is currently committed to two bands: Fates Warning and Redemption. For reasons of time management the good man could not appear on the new albums of both acts, and in the end he seems to have picked Redemption. You can read about the result of that collaboration, “This Mortal Coil”, here in a few weeks. So guitarist for Fates Warning, Jim Matheos, had to recruit another singer and who did he call but his old pal John Arch, absent from the metal scene for quite some time now. So, all members of Fates Warning, except Alder, got together and formed Arch / Matheos (after fighting a long time for who would get first billing). To make a long story short: there will be two great American progressive metal albums out this year, without resorting to desperate measures like cloning Ray Alder or cutting him in half.

But enough about dismemberment, let’s talk about “Sympathetic Resonance”. For all you people who are still wrapping your heads around Fates Warning’s “The Spectre Within” and/or “Awaken The Guardian” (with question marks instead of pupils in your eyes) this won’t be any more easily accessible or digestible. Those who embraced those albums as the intricate progressive masterpieces they are, will probably explode of excite- and enjoyment and should provisionally get some extra pairs of pants. Personally, I have a fondness for early Fates Warning, so I had an edge coming into Arch / Matheos and I liked it instantly. An opening track titled “Neurotically Wired” already sounds rather complicated, and it really is. Dense, and layered, with only a handful of melodies that will strike you as “normal”. John Arch defies such basic human things as “standard rhythm” and “reproducible melody” and instead wails ever on end in word combinations you never thought were possible. But that is the fascinating charm of his vocal performance, even though I can understand how it would put some people off.

Luckily it is the second-most difficult song on the album, and the follow-up “Midnight Serenade” boasts a strong and memorable chorus, with Arch’s voice as the perfect medium for the delicate and fragile melodies. There is a slight Dream Theater-vibe in this and the next track, “Stained Glass Sky”, noticeable in the groovy riffs and more aggressive vocal work. No moment is wasted in this 13-minute long endeavor, with a quiet bridge and chorus providing the necessary balance to the fury around. “On The Fence” is maybe the most hermetic affair on here, and it pales a little compared to the monuments that surround it. Because next up is another highlight, the wonderfully engaging “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)”, with its entrancing rhythm and almost ecstatic chorus. “Incense And Myrrh”, a semi-ballad, ends things on a peaceful note.

While this is not as eerie, magical or mystical as classic Fates Warning, it’s equally stupefying, confounding, and captivating, as if it were “Awaken The Guardian” updated for the 21st century or the last season of “Lost”. Consecutive listens will probably reveal more than mere words can express, but there is no doubt this is a welcome and wonderful return of one of progressive metal’s dream teams. And with a new Dream Theater out and a new Redemption shortly, the times for US prog could not be more fortunate.

Arno Callens' Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Thursday, September 15

Destruction - Day Of Reckoning

Day Of Reckoning


Considered one of the forefathers of the Teutonic thrash metal scene along with Kreator and Sodom, power-trio Destruction have released their 11th album, Day Of Reckoning, another unrelenting 50-minute slab of their brand of technical thrash metal with snarls, riffs and a polished overtone. It's a tried-and-true formula which has been the basis of their past 4 albums, with different drummers in the hotseat and guest guitarists being the variation over the years.

Opener “The Price” is a powerful blast, full of pounding drums and pure thrash in the riffs, and it sounds impressive. Vocalist and bassist Schmier brings his trademark mid-level snarl (akin to a more melodic Angelripper), although his bass could do with a boost. Sifringer pulls some nice riffs and rhythm out, and there's a requisite cool solo and shout-along section that speaks of years of being a live band instead of in the studio. The whole song is a neat package, showcasing the band's sound in a nutshell. The music feels a little synthetic, but it certainly sounds and engaging and promising of more headbang-worthy material.

This sound, although enjoyable at first, is then repeated almost exactly throughout the following 10 tracks, with the exception of the bonus track, the latest in a plethora of Dio tribute covers, ending with a touching and soft “Rest In Peace”. Granted, there is some variation between songs, with solos provided by guest shredder Ol Drake (of Evile fame) on half the songs, and Schmier brings some proper cleans on “Armageddonizer”, but it becomes challenging to listen to the whole album, in particular to the lyrics, at best mediocre and at worst cringe-worthy. Lines such as “Rebellion, a cycle in the game of lies/Even a solitary man won't let his soul demise/It ruined all my dreams and all my hope/Guidelines are worst, worse than fucking dope” continue the tradition of dodgy lyrics from previous albums. Plus, “Sheep Of The Regime” has gained my award already for Best Track Title 2011.

To set the record straight, this is not a terrible album by any means, and songs like “Hate Is My Fuel” and the title track can be easily slid into a classic Destruction setlist, but those expecting frequent repeats of the whole album will be disappointed. It's clear the band enjoy following this formula, but as a listener it becomes tiring to hear after a few songs. Fans of Destruction's recent output will enjoy Day Of Reckoning, and thrash enthusiasts can take the album for a couple of spins, but I personally preferred the new Sodom release.

~ ~ ~

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, September 14

MaYaN - MaYaN (2011)


Created by vocalist Mark Jansen (Epica), keyboardist Jack Driessen, and guitarist Frank Schiphorst, MaYaN is a band of many very different musicians, gathered together into one band – makes me think of Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon. MaYaN plays symphonic death metal, a confusing mix of Epica’s heaviest parts and typical death metal.

The vocals on this album are very diverse. I mean we have grunts, screams, choirs, and the “average” sympho-metal vocals. As for vocalists, we have Mark Jansen, Ariën van Weesenbeek and Jack Driessen on grunts and screams, Simone Simons, Floor Jansen and Laura Macrì as the choir and clean female vocals, and Henning Basse on clean male vocals.  With such a line-up, it’s bound to be good, right? It’s a wonderful combination, and I’m sure it was intended as that. To me, it sounds as if the choir and few solos are destroyed by grunts and screams. I usually enjoy the combination, but here? No. It’s beauty and the beast, only that the beast takes over entirely.

It’s obvious that Mark Jansen is behind this; there are clear similarities to Epica’s latest stuff, especially in terms of instrumentation and song structure. However, the drums, guitars, and keyboards are far more compact than in Epica’s music, sacrificing the grandiose factor. The connection between each element is present, but very weak, and the band members don’t work so well as a unit.  The guitar solos end up sounding as incomplete as the lyrics. There are some calm, quiet, and beautiful solo parts; Simone is wonderful and there is a great solo by Laura in “Essenza Di Te”, which unfortunately but inevitably crashes into grunts and rough death metal.

After having read through the lyrics, I have to say that I’m not impressed. They’re repetitive, and the metaphors are very hard to understand, as well as sometimes being hilarious in both content and wording: "Care for the canine/But hack and chop the pig to hell" and "They will gain status that could open the cage/Before our rights are emptied to zero". At least there’s no Latin here, so it’s a tad easier to understand the non-English parts. Sadly, that doesn’t mean they make sense, and neither does the rest of the album.

I had hoped Mark Jansen had somehow improved his abilities as a songwriter, but it turns out he hasn’t. I highly doubt his abilities as a composer; the first time I heard this album I thought it was a mess. As if it was supposed to be a masterpiece, but something went wrong and it ended up being a symphonic debacle.

- - -

Tora’s rating: 0.75/5.

Tuesday, September 13

Артания - Ночь оденет тебе свой венец (Night Shall Crown Ye)


Ночь оденет тебе свой венец (Night Shall Crown Ye)



Артания (Artania) is a symphonic black metal band from Voronezh, Russia, and this is their debut album. While many people stray from more mainstream symphonic black metal bands such as Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth, this appeals to both fans of the aforementioned bands, and general metal lovers.

This album tends to avoid many of the pitfalls of typical black metal, such as pointless tremolo riffs, but also lacks a genuine spark of creativity. There are some decent, heavy riffs, but they are fairly typical, and rarely ever take attention. There is, however, a guitar solo on San-Grinyol (Theatre Of Death) that is actually very good, which is a nice change for black metal. Acoustic guitars pop up from time to time, and add another dimension to music, which is needed. The drums however, tend to take up much attention, as the double bass is very prominent and powerful. Vocals take much of the spotlight here, a trend that seems to follow the genre, showcasing a mid-pitched growl or scream, which is very well done. This is countered with more operatic female vocals, however they also border on very aggressive, which is a different take on a genre trait such as this. Keys are audible, however they don’t show up very often, and symphonic elements are also somewhat scarce.

The only place where this album lacks is song writing. Apart from a few passages here and there, nothing is particularly catchy or amazing. While this is good in the sense that production is solid, the individual performances are well played, and they complement each other, but there seems to be this lack of imaginative spark, which would really make the whole album fantastic. I understand that this is a young band, and first albums aren’t always that great, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what they have in store.

While there is nothing really wrong with this album, it just doesn’t seem to be able to stand up to bands like Tvangeste, Bal-Sagoth, or any of the genre stalwarts of the last 20 or so years. This is a first album, and I expect that this band will continue to experiment and find themselves an original sound that may take them places. A good listen for fans of symphonic black metal, but otherwise, it may be a mediocre first recording.


Claus’ Rating 3/5

Thursday, September 8

HB - The Battle Of God

The Battle of God

It was quite a surprise to get this album in the mail. It came with the message:”Hopefully the Christian content doesn’t bother you, judge it on quality!” So, that’s exactly what I did, because I have to admit that I do not like it when Christian metal bands only sing about God and religion. But you have to give every new album a fair chance. And from the first note here I’m in love with the music.

HB is a Finnish metal band, and this is their 10th album. Finland always gives us some great metal, and happily HB is no exception. “The Battle of God” starts with the song “Time of Silence”. Pounding drums, worthy of some head banging, is the order of this album, guided by a deep and full distorted guitar. I was afraid, because this is a female fronted metal band, that we would get into some opera or at least classical trained vocals. Luckily, this doesn't happen for HB. The vocals are pop/rock-ish, low registered, and just lovely. 

I have to admit that the music is very well made. The ballad “Hallelujah” is superb in his use with classical instruments combined with rock elements. I love that song even though it’s clearly a song intended for God, and that's really the only problem I have with this album at all. I don't mind Christian music so long as it isn't forced upon me. Okay fair enough, I shouldn’t listen to this album if I don’t want that. But hell if I'd let some metal like this go to waste just because of the lyrics. 

The vocals are a bit raw and low, and I like it when a female fronted metal band does this. There are enough classical instruments in it to make up for the lack of classical singing (which I don’t mind) and along with the band's aggressive metal. I couldn’t ask for more. I always say something about the production, so let’s do that again. The sound of “The Battle of God” is incredibly good. Everything is in balanced and every instrument gets his own part to shine on this album. 

So if you’re Christian and you like metal, this certainly is something for you. If even an atheist like me can be convinced that this is good music, you may well think it is the best thing you’ve ever heard.

Kelvin’s rating 3.5/5

Wednesday, September 7

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events

Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn of Events


A new drummer does not necessarily make a new band. For fans, this is great news, and for detractors, this still probably won’t impress too much. However, for the disheartened fans of earlier material, simply frustrated with the stagnation of the recent three albums, Dream Theater’s newest release, “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is quite promising. In my mind, it was never a question of if Mike Mangini could keep up with Mike Portnoy’s talents. It’s not like Dream Theater played “The Dance Of Eternity” all that often anyways. More important was if Mangini was going to provide the creative spark to make Dream Theater a respectable progressive metal band again or not. What’s really encouraging, just from the track listing, is that they finally started to figure out song lengths. The longest song on "A Dramatic Turn of Events" is twelve and a half minutes, and four songs are in the four to seven minute range. If there was one thing that absolutely tanked "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", it was deciding that “The Best of Times” needed to be THIRTEEN MINUTES LONG. The only parts of that album that were interesting enough to go past 10 minutes were the bookends. So certainly the band more mature on this release. However within the record, there are still a few points where they delve into completely unnecessary displays of technical proficiency. If I never hear another 10+ minute ballad from Dream Theater, it will be too soon.

Another frequent criticism of recent work had been that although the heavy material was cool to listen to, Portnoy’s “rough” vocals destroyed the song. My own issue had been that the heavy stuff was closer to mainstream metal like Metallica, than heavy progressive like say… Evergrey. Fear not, removing Portnoy’s influence has helped quite a bit in this category as well. Petrucci carries the majority of lyrical duties, but like a light from the heavens, John Myung contributes his first lyrics in over a decade. I’m not quite sure what “Breaking All Illusions” is about, but that’s because it doesn’t make some blatantly obvious and stupid point like pretty much every song on "Black Clouds..." If this album had a lyrical theme, I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was, or even tell you what most of the songs are about, and for progressive metal, I’m really pretty much fine with that. Especially when the alternatives are songs about vampires or car crashes. While I really enjoyed the lyrics to “In the Presence of Enemies” off "Systematic Chaos" (That whole song really) I’ve discovered, for the most part, the less I can figure out DT’s lyrics, the more I enjoy the music.

Labrie’s vocals are much less strained. I think through a lot of coaching and stylistic adjustments, they’ve finally figured out how to make him stop sounding like a complete prat. This does hold them back from some of their previous material that I really enjoyed, because when LaBrie’s voice was in the right condition, songs like "Beyond this Life" or "In the Name of God" really completed their albums.

Everything is here to identify this with DT albums like "Train of Thought", or that not terrible version of "Falling Into Infinity" that I keep being told exists only in demo versions. I’m still not taken off my feet by the music, but it’s a definite improvement. While the loss of Portnoy has saved the band from some of the unnecessary excesses of songs like “The Ministry of Lost Souls” or “The Shattered Fortress”, the band also loses the aggression that led to masterpieces like “The Glass Prison” or “Home”. This album I think will change very little, the fan boys will be fan boys, and the band is still pretty intent on showing off all sort of technical wankery, but it IS an improvement.


Dagg’s rating: 3.75/5

Tuesday, September 6

Rusty Pacemaker - Blackness and White Light

Rusty Pacemaker

Blackness and White Light



Even though this band name could make one think of this as a gory death metal band, this is actually in a heavy/doom/gothic metal vein. Rusty is actually one Austrian dude, who taught himself multiple instruments in his quest for making music. This is a very DIY album, which isn’t in the black metal genre, which is quite rare. Except for the drums and female vocals, all guitars, bass, keys, and vocals were performed by Rusty.

This album is hard to classify, as I haven’t really heard anything quite like it before. Just from the production, I can tell that this was either a DIY album, or a decently produced black metal one. He has sighted Bathory as an influence, so that may be where the production stems from. However, the music is very diverse, with acoustic guitars making the occasional appearance, as well as keys and some atypical percussion. The guitars are well played, keys are effective and drumming is pretty good. Overall, all instruments are written and played with emotion and a decent degree of skill.

However, this album isn’t without its flaws. The vocals on here range from not very good to just terrible. The female vocals on Amok are just terrible. However, the vocal lines are quite well written, if a good singer were behind them, it would have made the whole album much more enjoyable. Apart from that, there are no real flaws, just a lack of amazing content. None of this really sticks in your head, and it doesn’t have the “wow factor” that can warrant a great score. This is a very personal album, and I think that the only person out there that can truly appreciate this fully would be its creator. There are no tracks that clearly rise above the others, they all have their moments of disinterest, but they have their good moments too, and overall, this is a positive experience.

Although having some flaws, Rusty Pacemaker has created a decently enjoyable album that is an extremely emotional soundscape that may not be for all. However, I believe that the only opinion that truly counts for this album is Rusty’s.


Claus’ Rating 2.75/5