Sunday, January 30

Dream of Illusion ~ Decadence


There are things that grow on you in a bad way, and then there are things that grow on you in a not-so-bad way. Decadence, the debut release from Italian heavy metal band Dream of Illusion, is one of those things that grew on me, and in a big way.

The band seems to draw from many influences, so it is a little difficult to accurately describe them. Some of their music can be quite heavy in a nu-metal kind of way, while a good deal of it can be melodic or even a little proggy. Lead singer Francesco Valentini has quite a unique voice, very similar in timbre to that of Michael Sweet from Stryper. I happen to really enjoy his voice, but some people might find it bit on the high pitched side.

Herein lies my main concern for the songs on Decadence. The combination of Francesco's voice with the heavy riffs on some of the songs seem to be at odds, and aren't necessarily compatible with each other. If his voice was a little lower and gravelly sounding it could work, but Francesco is a singer, not a growler. At the same time some of the heavier stuff can be a little repetitive and the riffs stretch on a bit long. There are sections of songs where the heavy and percussive beat and the riffing could be shortened a little in order to break up any monotony that develops.

Dream of Illusion really shines on the more melodic and proggy metal songs. This is were the tone and timbre of Francesco's voice fits perfectly with their song craft. There is a lot of contrast in these songs as well. The opening riffs and verses tend be quite heavy and when the pre-chorus and chorus present themselves, the music is melodic, and dare I say it, even commercially accessible.

While it took me a couple of listens to really get into Dream of Illusion's Decadence, I really enjoyed it once I did. This is a unique band that seems to be trying to find their sound. However, what they have to offer right now is really good!

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,

Space Kev's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Dream of Illusion

Friday, January 28

Okay, I am opening up the can of worms ...

Slipknot has been, are and will continue to be a metal band, despite what most of the scene would lead one on to believe otherwise; the purpose of this post, then? ... well, assuming a number of readers disagree, I'd like to open a respectable, intelligent discussion on the matter, and perhaps settle it once and for all (well, here at Black Wind, anyway).  I have provided five sound clips via Youtube below, showcasing the band's (what I consider to be) undeniable "metalness," and welcome any challengers.  Sure, their sound is undoubtedly modern, American and (at times) unorthodox, but that doesn't mean it isn't metal, that's for sure.

As for my tastes regarding Slipknot, well, I obviously like them a lot and think they're one of the most significant American metal bands around today; I feel each of their albums has doubled the quality of its predecessor, thus making their first, self-titled album my least favorite and their latest, All Hope Is Gone, my absolute favorite.  The band has showcased a substantial amount of growth from album to album (something I am quite akin to, as anyone who knows me will verify) throughout their career and I don't see that letting up anytime soon, assuming they continue after the unfortunate and sudden death of their bassist, Paul Gray.

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I mean, seriously, Underoath has a Metal Archives page but Slipknot doesn't? ... come on people, just because it's well-known doesn't mean it's no good or, at the very least, not metal!  Commence! :P

Thursday, January 27

The Protagonist's Album of the Week: 1/22-1/29

Last Tribe
The Uncrowned


Last Tribe will always be one of my favorite metal bands, but they've been hitting me particularly hard again this week, especially the band's final work, The Uncrowned. Both this and its predecessor Witch Dance are phenomenal examples of "hidden gems". So far as I am aware, these were never very popular, and yet for the power/prog fan, it is very hard to find much better music. They're not overly proggy at all, nor too repetitive, but rather a happy medium. More importantly, they feature fantastic choruses that are almost sorcerous in their ability to get stuck in your head. I can't find it online to link, but "The Chosen One" is one of my very favorite songs anywhere. Here are a couple that you can enjoy:


Wednesday, January 26

Dark Moor - Ancestral Romance

Dark Moor
Ancestral Romance

Dark Moor has been a constant presence in the scene of symphonic power metal for nigh on 20 years now, and while they haven't had the greatest record for consistency, their persistence is to be admired. As a devotee of their brand of symphonic power metal (as opposed, perhaps, to Rhapsody), I've enjoyed every release at least moderately, if not much more so. Recently, they've been like a fine wine, getting considerably better with age after pulling out of their mid-era slump with the outstanding Tarot. With the release of Autumnal, my hope soared, as here was proof of Dark Moor re-asserting themselves as real masters of their genre. Of course, Ancestral Romance will be the real proof as to whether or not Dark Moor's solid new lineup has what it takes to remain at the top of their game.

The proof, friends, is right here. Dark Moor has released another landmark album that is on par with both of their previous releases in terms of grandiose songwriting, fetching melodies, and downright symphonic indulgence. While similar in spirit to their last release, Autumnal, Ancestral Romance is a bit less chromatic and romantically styled. The sound is generally a bit more light-hearted and/or quirky, as opposed to the somber tone that the band put forth previously. One thing they haven't fixed is their lyrics. As any Dark Moor fan will resignedly tell you, the lyrics are penned only very tenuously in the English language. The pronunciation really isn't too horrible, it's just that phrases like “Love came to me, love for good, from the stone. With love, how could I be alone?” end up being somewhat incomprehensible.

While I'm getting the bad out of the way, the song “Just Rock” has to be mentioned. This is awful. It's insipid, banal, and ridiculous. All words that I generally don't associate with power metal at all. It's like a substantially more orchestral Queen rose from the dead with a Spanish accent and backing choirs, trying to deliver an awful gospel of rock. Rock? Where's my METAL??

Enough! The rest of Ancestral Romance is a colorful spread of tunes that are predominantly inspired by Spanish history. “Gadir” kickstarts the album with a monstrously memorable chorus and a tale of the oldest city in Europe. “Love From the Stone” is technically the single off of this album, a love song that, while catchy and tuneful, is definitely not the best that the band has to offer. The album hits a dark note with “Alaric De Marnac”, the tale of a nocturnal serial killer, before stepping up to the mighty “Mio Cid”. Skipping over the aforementioned garbage, we arrive at the strange and lackadaisical “Tilt at Windmills”, which is a very relaxed and humorous track. I can almost see Don Quixote charging them with a ridiculous smile plastered on his face and a heroic song in his heart. The remainder of the album continues with the energetic and stellar “Cancion Del Pirata”, the whimsical instrumental “Ritual Fire Dance”, the quick and philosophical “Ah! Wretched Me”, and finally, the remarkable sole ballad “A Music in My Soul”.

Alfred Romero is perhaps the best that he's ever been on Ancestral Romance. From a husky, sensitive whisper of a voice at the end of “Mio Cid” and “A Music in My Soul”, to a rising, triumphant tenor in “Galdir” and “Cancion Del Pirata”, he is absolutely spectacular. Romero and Dark Moor are responsible for my love for power metal when sung in Spanish. I've grown to appreciate just how smooth, flowing, and beautiful the language is, and find myself just waiting for the sections or songs that are written solely in Spanish. “Cancion Del Pirata” and the final chorus of “Mio Cid” are prime examples of this.

Dark Moor's bombastic use of strings, brass, and choirs is here in full force, along with the rapid double bass and fiery guitar licks that I've grown so fond of. The harpsichord-emulating keyboard that has been in and out of Dark Moor's music since In the Hall of the Olden Dreams has made a return, and some parts of this new work feel like a throwback to the band's early glory days with Elisa Martin. They maintain their supreme musical (if not lyrical) talent for storytelling and emotional conveyance that I simply find most other artists incapable of matching.

Ultimately, despite their typical struggles with English and one BAD track, Dark Moor does indeed deliver another exceptional entry into their passionate neo-classical repertoire. I recommend Ancestral Romance not only to those who already fans of the band and other symphonic power metal, but anyone wanting to discover fast-paced metal meshed finely with art music elements. To Dark Moor: cheers to another solid piece of work that you should be proud to have your name on, but don't you ever write another song like “Just Rock” again.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Tuesday, January 25

Andrew's Album Of (January's Last) Week

Black Tape For A Blue Girl
10 Neurotics


I have had a long love affair with Black Tape For A Blue Girl, which began in the mid-2000s when I first heard The Scavenger Bride; it was, at the time, much different than what I was used to (predominantly black metal), though the stunningly sincere and sentimental remnants of sadness, loss and despair scattered throughout the album pulled certain heartstrings that were, as of then, untouched.  As is obvious, I am still very much a fan of Black Tape For A Blue Girl, and have especially found comfort this week in their latest effort, 10 Neurotics.

Black Tape For A Blue Girl are predominantly rooted in ambient and classical music, though their sound is all their own, wholly and completely.  10 Neurotics is the band's most "energetic" release since their debut album, released in 1986, entitled The Rope; the songs are more concise than we have heard since the 80s, turning over many stones that were, up until this point, untouched.

The album's theme, as is perhaps implied by the cover artwork, revolves around sexuality; it is a brilliant theme brilliantly executed.  Most albums and/or songs dealing with sexuality are shallow, distant, cheap and predictable; they take intimacy at face value rather than delving into the seemingly infinite well of emotions surrounding sex, and all of the potential (and often very real) darkness therein.  The songs speak for themselves, so I do not feel providing interpretations is necessary, however, I will say that the tension, anxiety, fear and pain surrounding the topic represented within this album is absolutely stunning, and unlike anything I have heard elsewhere, anywhere.

A truly beautiful, essential and painful album that is highly recommended to all of you truly open to genuine, overwhelming and emotive music.

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"... and I'm gonna die out here in these fuckin' woods,
and I'm gonna die out here in these fuckin' woods,
and I'm gonna die out here in these fuckin' woods ..."

Saturday, January 22

Kerion - Holy Creatures Quest

Holy Creatures Quest


With all of the great releases that I've been finding on Metalodic Records, I decided to pick out Kerion's first album Holy Creatures Quest to familiarize myself with them before moving on to their latest effort. After having done so, I'm afraid my expectations for The Origins have become a bit stunted. I've spent a lot of time lately talking about how exciting and fresh the new symphonic power metal talent is, and now I run into this... thing.

Kerion is a French band and has more in common with Edenbridge than with, say, Nightwish. The lead female vocalist, Flora Spinelli, tends more towards the middle range without reaching extremely high. This is probably a good thing, because whenever she tries to reach a bit, her voice becomes quite thin and almost wavery. This is unfortunate, because the band really doesn't do a horrible job of choral vocals, and the leads actually serve to pull them down. Flora's vocals aren't absolutely atrocious, but I can think of a dozen better off of the top of my head.

What harms the band even further is the lack of catchy melodies. After the intro track, the second part of “The Last Quest” features probably the most memorable verse and chorus on the entire album. Unfortunately, this is pretty readily put to shame by the like of Rhapsody or Ancient Bards. The second two-part song, “Queen of the Gorgons”, is just plain dull (Spinelli has monotonous low vocals until about three minutes into the song) all the way through, but I perked up at the beginning of “Warrior's Call”, which sounded like it might have some real promise and a bit of edge. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the very worst vocal performance on the album, which ruined what might have been an otherwise acceptable symphonic power metal anthem. To their credit, Kerion's choral vocal sections remind me a bit of Fairyland's, and there are some good riffs thrown in here and there that hold some promise.

Despite some good rhythmic guitar riffing, the songs feel a bit muddy in composition. The melodic lines do not flow smoothly (though often enough, these are lacking anyways), and the band seems to rely too often upon instrumental sections to prolong and enhance their music. The problem with this is that while they seem to have intentions of writing epic music, they fall very flat instrumentally. There's precious little in the way of usual epic bombast to support the ridiculous lyricism and admittedly bland story. We power metal fans don't mind ridiculous titles and lyrics, but the line has to be drawn somewhere (namely, at poor to mediocre music).

This is not a very pleasant listen for people who enjoy well-established and talented power metal. Those just getting into the genre might find it thrilling and powerful for a little while, until they discover other, much more talented bands. Really, odds are that you're going to have heard an awful lot before you dig up this gilded piece of junk anyways, so just don't bother. Kerion and its lead vocalist are going to have to improve their game considerably (and maybe take some voice lessons) if they hope to make any sort of headway in their chosen field.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 3.75 out of 10

If you want to look up music from this album, be my forewarned guest.

Friday, January 21

New Krallice! ... Yeah, I Didn't Know Either.

There is, indeed, a new Krallice album - Diotima - on its way come late April; thankfully, a more-than-worthy preview of the album's third track, The Clearing, is available for your listening pleasure here.  Don't be surprised if this is one of the "worthiest albums of 2011." :P

Thursday, January 20

Holy Grail- Crisis in Utopia

Holy Grail
Crisis in Utopia


Holy Grail…holy smokes!!! Balls to the wall, pedal to the metal, and in your face. That is how I would describe Crisis in Utopia, the first release by California's Holy Grail. I was hooked on this cd from the opening notes of the first song.

Crisis in Utopia is a classic power metal record in every sense of the word. Their sound is heavy, the tempo is fast, and the songs are anthemic and great to scream along with. The band draws heavily from metal pioneers such as Iron Maiden and Accept, but I can also hear some modern influences like Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine and Trivium (less of the screamo junk and more of their melodic metal stuff).

The guitar duo works great together while playing awesome harmonies and killer solos, think Adrian Smith and Dave Murray from Maiden or Wolf Hoffman and Herman Frank from Accept. The drums have many riffs and fills to keep things interesting, the bass holds its own and is either keeping pace with the guitars or thundering away with the drums, and the singing is in your face like a warrior's battle cry. James Paul Luna has a really great rock voice.

The cd is solid, the songs are solid, and Holy Grail is a solid band. I was fortunate to see them on tour with Blind Guardian and Seven Kingdoms and was impressed with their set. I had to buy Crisis in Utopia and have jammed to it many times over since I got it. It really is that good.

Live Long and Rock Hard,

SpaceKev's Rating: 9 out of 10

(Sworn) - Demo



I'm consistently surprised by the promos that I receive, and this demo is no exception. (Sworn) is a progressive metal band from France that is definitely eccentric and singular in sound. They've quite obviously got some influence from bands like Opeth and maybe even Anathema, but have crafted with their demo a very unique album that displays a great deal of creativity and forward momentum.

(Sworn) tends to play a fairly slow variety of progressive metal that often drifts back and forth between soft acoustic sections and blistering double bass passages. Of the four songs featured here, only “Silent” falls under nine minutes. As you might imagine, this means that there's over half an hour of space to fill. You may then wonder if the band is able to fill this with enough interesting ideas and riffs to be worth your time. The answer is difficult but most generally yes.

Personally, (Sworn)'s demo is a bit too obtusely proggy for my taste. There are a number of interesting ideas, but they aren't fully explored before the band moves on. Do not take this in a negative fashion, because this was actually an extremely interesting listen for me, and these fellows obviously have a fair amount of talent. However, they sometimes lean a bit too far in the experimental direction. If you listen to the final song “Space”, there is a sizeable interlude that lasts for a couple of minutes which is comprised of scant drum beats, occasional guitar notes and chords, and a deep groan that repeats itself and gradually grows into hollow laughter. Yes, it is disconcerting and fits the title well, but it's easy to get lost and bored during this song.

Other than this, the songs are exploratory and certainly not redundant. What may feel like a lack of direction at times will be interpreted by those more geared towards this type of music as an experiment of musical and lyrical concepts. The vocalist adds to this feeling with his slightly gravelly voice which groans, weeps, moans, growls, and sighs its way through the four tracks in an extremely unorthodox fashion. (Sworn) certainly come off as an art-metal band in at least some small way because of their treatment of song structures and tonality. The album art looks like a watercolor splash, and is just like the music inside: deliberately vague and intriguing to the listener.

There's little wrong with (Sworn)'s debut demo, and while I didn't gain the sort of enjoyment that I do with some music, it has been one of the most deep and thick (while often remaining surprisingly simple instrumentally) listens that I've recently had the pleasure of enjoying. I recommend this, on the assumption that you're a fan of the bands that I've mentioned or other more unconventional progressive metal.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Please check out the band's Myspace page.

The Protagonist's Album of the Week: 1/15-1/22

Tears In Floods


Dominating my computer and car speakers this week is the one and only album from short-lived Italian power/prog outfit Odyssea. This is relatively typical power metal, but distinguishes itself via extremely smooth melodic lines and a nice dose of progressive-infused shredding from time to time. Not phenomenal, but professional and catchy! Enjoy their opening track, "Fly":

Wednesday, January 19

Red Circuit ~ Homeland

Red Circuit


One of the many things on my bucket list is to attend ProgPower in Atlanta. ProgPower is the premier, and one of the few, festivals in America for professional metal bands. Every year, the bands that play there are those that you have been listening to and reading about for years  prior, and this might be the only time you might ever get to see them live on home soil. Red Circuit is a band on the 2011 lineup and they are definitely worth a listen!

Red Circuit's "Homeland" is solid from beginning to end. It is a near seamless blend of prog and power metal. The songs are very catchy and yet they maintain a complex heaviness. This combination of catchy and heavy make the CD accessible to people with a variety of tastes. The pacing of the songs and that of the CD are great too (as I found out while listening to them on my iPod as I do my daily walk).

The guitar, bass, keyboard and drum sounds are all great and they enhance the accessibility that I've mentioned earlier. The vocals have a nice edge to them, and really shine when the songs have slow breaks in them and the singer gets a chance to really sing. The production is flawless, and attributes to the songs and the band as a whole sounding nice and heavy and melodic.

Red Circuit and their CD "Homeland", are excellent. I have become a fan and can't wait to hear what they do in the future.

Live Long and Rock Hard,


SpaceKev's Rating: 9 out of 10

New Emerald Sun Album Very Soon!


Just today, I was poking around online for some news, as I am of course prone to do, and discovered some great news: the new effort from one of Greek's premier young power metal outfit Emerald Sun is due out in early February!

I appreciated the band's previous effort, Escape From Twilight, for being a quality release floating amidst a sea of mediocre releases from bands in this area of the world. They showed an awful lot of promise in writing determined, energetic power metal with a flourish all their own. One of my chief reservations was the voice of lead singer Theo Tsakirides. In listening to some samples, he seems to have improved considerably!

Enjoy this little trailer and join me in my anticipation!

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Electric Wizard - Black Masses

Electric Wizard
Black Masses


Electric Wizard have achieved what most would consider to be a legendary status, especially within the doom/stoner scene, taking the blueprint the likes of Black Sabbath and Pentagram laid out and further injecting it with all sorts of occult, pseudo-Satanic and horror/exploitation film inspiration, which have all since become something of a trademark for Electric Wizard; it's a delightful match made in Hell, no doubt. :P The band's previous album - Witchcult Today - was quite a success, highlighting a different kind of energy on tracks like Dunwich and even Satanic Rites Of Drugula that we see more fully embraced and developed on the band's latest effort, Black Masses; aye, this sucker isn't all "doom and gloom," that's for sure.

The first thing one is likely to notice as the record starts making its debut spin (outside of the gigantic opening riff, anyway), is the absolutely filthy, dirty and grimy production; it reeks of reverb, feedback and fuzz, like entering into some kind of murky, foggy wasteland, and I must say that it is, by-and-large, the most appropriate and enchanting production job the band has utilized yet.  Frankly, even if the songs themselves were pretty lackluster or even downright awful, I think I'd still eat up this record for its ugly aesthetic alone; thankfully, however, the songs don't suck. ;)

The four opening pieces, in retrospect, are all crushers; thick riffs, churning atmospheres, possessed vocals and undeniable, hazy hooks.  I personally found The Nightchild, the disc's third track, to be especially potent, from its pounding rhythm to it's sprawling, closing chants of "under the black sun!" that are as inspiring as Amando De Ossorio's Blind Dead flicks themselves; it's nothing short of a masterpiece, without question.  Satyr IX and Crypt Of Drugula both serve as exercises in minimalism and ambiance through the stoner/doom filter and, despite not being something new to the Electric Wizard template, the bewitching, meditative vibe is still fully intact, thus compromising no quality whatsoever.

In a nutshell, Black Masses is certainly one of the better albums to be released in 2010 (despite its delayed US release, only finally hitting the shelves here yesterday) and, for my personal tastes, the best doom album altogether last year.  Electric Wizard continue to showcase a craftsmanship and mastery over the genre's aesthetics that most bands only dream of achieving, earning their rightful, undisputed place as one of the genre's best; indeed, it's time to turn off your mind and sink into a spiraling, psychedelic abyss of doom madness!

9 // 10

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Tuesday, January 18

To Whet Our Appetites:

I have tasted the Blood Alliance, and from what I can tell, this is going to be phenomenal.

I absolutely love Master of Illusion, the band's last work. They abandoned their flowery tendencies for more pressing, real-world issues on incredible tracks like "The Vigil" and "Civilized?". Now, the band is moving in a heavy and powerful new direction. There seems to be more emphasis upon the guitars, and the snippets that I heard have been breathtaking. 

Here's a reminder of what the band has been up to lately:

Royal Jester - Night Is Young

Royal Jester
Night is Young


I've been toying with reviewing this album for a while, and I decided to bite the bullet and just do it because of the hate that I've seen directed at this young band. I don't feel that it's deserved, and Royal Jester is one of a wave of the new generation of power metal bands that seem to be excelling right out of the gate with their first release. That said, Royal Jester is the sort of band that I feel a certain guilt while enjoying. Similar to bands like Freedom Call and their ilk, Royal Jester plays supremely cheesy and melodic power metal that is unabashedly corny (whether this is intentional or a result of poor songwriting or interpretation remains to be seen) but incredibly memorable.

I think that Night is Young is probably as inaccessible to black metal fans as something like Burzum is to myself. This most definitely embodies everything that most people will complain about in a “flower metal” album: it's happy, fast-paced, the lyrics are sometimes mindless, and they've swathed themselves in so many influences that some might not be able to detect any hint of originality or creativity. In some ways, I can even agree with this. There's definitely nothing novel about the concept or the execution of Royal Jester's debut whatsoever. If you consider this total and unforgivable twaddle, you don't need to read any further.

Now that I have the attention of the faithful, listen to what I have to say: you will like this album. It's a bit rough on the English pronunciation, but that's easily forgiven for the band's expert command of striking melodies and supremely confident and proficient guitar work. I myself haven't been able to extricate the title track from my head for a couple of weeks, and the maddening hooks don't end there. Songs like “Enter the Mist”, “Wings of Tomorrow”, and “Royal Jester” are all bound to have the same effect. While they've done very little to set themselves apart, Royal Jester has this shiny quality to their music (I have no other way to explain it) that defies confusion with other artists. For an example of what I mean, I suggest a listen or two to the eponymous “Royal Jester”.

A couple of notes on the band's performance: the singer should avoid delving too deeply into his vocal range. He's clearly a tenor and should stay that way, as his voice begins to sound strange and perhaps a bit strangled when he swings too low. Additionally, whoever writes the guitar leads and licks should bloody well keep doing it, because they're some of the best little features of this album period. The rollicking post-chorus line from “Night is Young” is exemplary of what you can expect from the band in general. Overall, the band exudes speed and energy, as well as what is obviously a great passion for their music. This is harmless, fun, and totally listenable.

Because of the obvious immaturity of the band, and the vocal imperfections evident in some places on this album, I can't rate it extremely highly. Royal Jester is to be commended on their spirit and effort however, and I'll be looking sharply for what the Jester has to offer the next time around.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Silver Lake - Silver Lake

Silver Lake
Silver Lake


Some countries are known for their consistent metal output. The Finns have a knack for extraordinary atmosphere, Swedish bands are often easy to pick out of a crowd, and the Germans have more of a keyboard-less classic vibe. What about the Italians? Once upon a time I would have said unceasing double-bass and a horrible reputation for being incomprehensible, but no more. Silver Lake is another young Italian band that has left an impression upon me, and continues to dispel a number of my pre-conceived notions for norms from their country.

I've seen this labeled as everything from AOR to progressive power metal, but I feel that this is pretty clearly classifiable as melodic progressive metal (leaning a little on the soft side of things). Definitely European in feel and with a distinct emphasis upon vocal melodies, Silver Lake manage to out and out avoid the technical obfuscation in their music that tends to scare so many listeners away from the genre. As such, this is relatively accessible to not only fans of somewhat proggy bands like Labyrinth and Seventh Wonder, but also those more interested in heavy, power, or other pursuits. Progressive metal is not an easy field to get yourself started in, but I say that Silver Lake is doing it pretty well with this, their self-titled debut.

Silver Lake seamlessly blends lush piano lines, moderately complex arrangements, and beautiful vocal melodies into attractive songs that are lasting and memorable. There are a couple of guests present on this album, one of whom is my very favorite Italian vocalist, the one and only Michele Luppi (Vision Divine, Killing Touch). Luppi's contribution is relatively small, but unlike some debut guest-work, he supplements the ample talent that is present rather than overriding it with his own glory (which is considerable). “Life” features Michele as lead vocalist and is one of the best tunes as a result. I actually rather liked their cover of Skid Row's “Slave to the Grind” as well, finding it tasteful and rather cleaned-up.

Most of Silver Lake straddles the line a bit between metal and rock, but if it's this good, who am I to split hairs? This is probably the best new progressive metal cd I've heard in terms of songwriting prowess and overall agreeableness since Darkwater's Where Stories End (and that was a very fine album). This is my kind of prog metal: sweet, serene and mellow, but able to tear things up with a well-executed shred and passionate chorus when the time is right. I'll recommend this to most anyone who has even a small taste for it. 7Hard has another gem on its hands with this one, a marvelous debut effort!

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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Andrew's Album Of The Week

Akira Yamaoka
Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack


As anyone who has known me for anything length of time can certainly declare, I absolutely adore and cherish the music of Akira Yamaoka; its purely emotive sensibilities transcend at least half of my library instantly, relying on an awareness of atmosphere, arrangement and composition I have yet to hear from another electronic-based artist.  The Silent Hill 2 soundtrack is arguably his most popular work, though I admit I am a bit too invested to a choose a favorite amongst his other offerings; nevertheless, I've been playing this particular recording a lot in an attempt to cope with the bleak feelings that haunt my days and nights, and recommend it most highly to those with a similar emotional canvas.

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Monday, January 17

Drudkh - Handful Of Stars

Handful Of Stars


Although I was (regrettably) born here in the United States, my ancestry is comprised solely of Slavonic origins, making it rather unsurprising that I feel quite a strong and rooted connection to the music of Ukraine's (no, there is no "the" before the country's namesake, despite popular, mistaken belief) Drudkh.  My first exposure to the magic of this enigmatic group of Slavic musicians came in the form of their second (and often hailed greatest), album - Autumn Aurora - which was amidst the summer of 2004, if my memory serves me well; the overall aesthetic, atmosphere and beauty of the recording took me quite by the throat then (when I was, admittedly, not as seasoned in black metal as I am now), being right up there with the likes Ulver's Bergtatt and Burzum's Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.  It was an astounding journey into a hazy, burning autumnal fantasia where the plentiful woes of humanly existence, if only momentarily, faded into oblivion; after six years or so, despite having a few minor dips, we find that Drudkh are still as potent and moving as they were then, as is elegantly showcased on their latest effort, Handful Of Stars.

A lone, desolate piano introduces the album in a most solemn fashion, readying the listener for the melancholic, impressionistic wave of black metal that is about to wash over them; indeed, this is Drudkh through-and-through.  Atmospherically, as the album title may imply, we're introduced to a slightly more cosmic, stark and cold aura than, say, we heard on their earlier recordings; it is almost delicate and, in comparison to Estrangement or even Blood In Our Wells, rather mellow as well.  The presence of clean guitars is more prominent than ever before, and the melodic sensibility is a bit more refined and streamlined than we have had previously from the band, adding a new dimension to the "Drudkh sound," if you will; overall, it is a very successful venture that does not compromise the band's character or tone.  I do not feel mentioning particular songs to be necessary here, for the album clearly functions as a whole; each song is as a movement, similar to any classical piece, thus only meeting its full potential within its full context.  Oh, and yes, the few guitar solos have never been as sublime, articulate and well-arranged as they are here on Handful Of Stars.

I would also like to make a quick mention of the album's artwork, done by none other than Fursy Teyssier (of Amesoeurs and Les Discrets fame); it is quite captivating, portraying imagery that is more than compatible with its audible counterpart.  The ship traversing the stars is especially gorgeous, reminding me that hardcopy listening is still the most whole and natural listening experience one can have, as opposed to downloaded, digital material.

It is, again, of no surprise that I adore and love Handful Of Stars wholeheartedly; it possesses a kind of spiritual yearning that I experience perpetually and daily, reminding me that there are others filled with similar notions of alienation and longing.   This album, overall, is a fine example of metal - and, more specifically, black metal - becoming the template for art rather than entertainment; the purpose and intent here is far greater than the stupidity of headbanging or the pomposity of virtuoso musicianship, being instead a beautiful, bold and genuine statement from one of Ukraine's absolute best.

9 // 10

- - -

For All Of The Optimists Out There ...

... comes a new Lifelover recording due to us next month!  For those unfamiliar, they play a kind of sarcastic, though no less despaired, experimental black metal; it's excellent stuff, with their last full-length, Konkurs, being their strongest and most developed recording yet.  Will Sjukdom continue upon this path? ... time will tell, no doubt.  The European release date is Valentine's day (a bit ironic) and it appears the album is making its way to the US on March 8th so, if that is indeed true, you can expect a review sometime shortly afterward.

I am excited. :)

Darkthrone - Circle The Wagons

Circle The Wagons


... upon hearing the opening chords to Those Treasures Will Never Befall You, I was rather instantly reminded of Judas Priest's Battering Ram, in both the pacing and progression of the riff, though Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell would cite Motörhead instead, as referenced in the liner notes of the booklet; never the less, we're immediately reminded of Darkthrone's latest, most unoriginal incarnation, where the band has seemingly dedicated themselves to resurrecting the sounds of their influences rather than feeling particularly inclined to coming up with something original, as was the case with their legendary "black trilogy," as it has since been known.  With all personal regards to taste and preference aside, I can understand the (what certainly appears to be) conscious decision to go in such a direction, especially after black metal became something out of the Norwegian movement's hands; the media crafted a perception of the scene that was very inaccurate and, as such, did so much new blood enter into the scene with similar, skewed perspectives, contaminating what was once a very small and intimate movement.  It is a sentiment to appreciate, no doubt, though unfortunately the sentiment alone is not enough to save what is basically another tribute album from Norway's now legendary Darkthrone.

Circle The Wagons flows well enough as an album, being rather concise and immediate, though only a few cuts reverberate in my memory as pieces I'd want to revisit with any kind of consistency; I Am The Graves Of The 80s, despite the rather righteous and adolescent lyrics, possesses a natural energy that is difficult to ignore or deny, showcasing, if nothing else, the band's utmost sincerity of their present convictions.  I Am The Working Class brings us anti-capitalist, broke, repressed, anxious and defiant moles-on-society's-face a warm, fuzzy feeling for being recognized as such; "the daily grind is my fate," indeed.  Overall, it's a good tune that, despite my own sentimentality, may actually have something more to do with Darkthrone's modesty despite their moderate popularity amidst the more near-the-surface underground, as well as the entire underground all together, but I may very well be wrong about that.  The title-track, despite the rather appalling vocal delivery (but that's not the point, I'm sure), contains some of the album's most majestic riffing, especially as the song comes to a close; good stuff, no less.

All-in-all, I'm one of those black metal listeners that comes from the school of Burzum's evolution rather than Darkthrone's, preferring an altogether different aesthetic in nearly all respects; this kind of preference, needless to say, takes its toll upon my personal enjoyment of Circle The Wagons and, for that matter, any recent Darkthrone recording.  I rate the album as I rate it for the band's genuineness, and my respect therein, though I raise the question that I only hinted at earlier: if it has already been done, and better, why bother?  If I want to listen to Repulsion, I will listen to Repulsion; if I want '83 Slayer, I'll listen to Show No Mercy; if I want to listen to Darkthrone, I'll listen to A Blaze In The Northern Sky or Under A Funeral Moon, when they were crafting something that sounded unique to them, and them alone.  Circle The Wagons is another step in the "I've heard that somewhere before" direction, indicating that perhaps it's time for the band to take a break from populating record shelves with records that already exist; admirable, but that's it.

5 // 10

- - -


New Burzum; 'nuff said.
Further details can be found here.

Sunday, January 16

Hollowstone - Demo



Last spring I went to a show of local bands and Hollowstone was on the bill. I really enjoyed their set; the guitar players are accomplished shredders! The bass player thundered away and played the show as if he was in a arena, which I thought was cool, 'cause so many bands just stare at their feet. The drummer hammered the heck out of his kit, the lead singer has a smooth melodic voice, and at the end of their set they handed out their demo, which I happily accepted.

This demo is great. Every member of the band gets a chance to show off their skills, and there is excellent musicianship here. Even though the demo only has three songs, they're very different from each other, and really showcase the bands potential. If I had to single out a favorite, "Gypsy Song" would be the one. It starts off very slowly with percussion and a melody that has a North African/Middle Eastern vibe and slowly builds up until the end where the song is heavy and pulsating.

The only drawback (and I mean the ONLY drawback) is the production. As a fan, I can't really hold it against them since they are a new band and are in the process of developing a fan base. The songs would benefit greatly if they had the ability to spend oodles of moola on recording. This band, given the opportunity, has much to offer.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,

Space Kev's Rating: 8.0 out of 10

Thursday, January 13

The Protagonist's Top Power Metal Albums of 2010

Here it is, my installment of my personal favorite power metal albums of 2010, along with a few words about each. This will not be all-inclusive, nor the same as anyone else's list. However, I like to consider myself a fair judge of the genre and reasonably well-qualified to compile a list.

#15 Masterplan- Time to Be King

I wanted to enjoy this album more than I did. I haven't been thoroughly hooked on Masterplan since Aeronautics though, so it wasn't really a disappointment. Pretty solid offering.

#14 Golden Resurrection- Glory to My King

Probably my favorite thing that Christian Liljegren has ever done, this is a neo-classical gem that also features some great guitar work by Tommy Johansson of ReinXeed.

#13 Excalion- High Time

This one was a little bit of a blow to me. I really love Waterlines, and I was hoping that this would be a continuation of that style rather than a movement towards a more pop metal/AOR influenced album. All the same, this is still pretty darn enjoyable.

#12 Galneryus- Resurrection

One of Galneryus's best efforts to date, I think that this band is starting to finally get the recogniton that they deserve. I'm all for more Japanese power metal, and these are one of the leaders of the pack.

#11 Versailles- Jubilee

This album happened so early in 2010 that it gets forgotten about. However, this is a fantastic and theatrical release by a fine Japanese symphonic power metal band. Versailles are definitely are going places after this release.

#10 Secret Sphere- Archetype

This is the year that I really started getting into Secret Sphere (at last), and I found their new album to be pretty exciting, even if I prefer Sweet Blood Theory by a small margin.

#9 Elvenking- Red Silent Tides

Thank all that is good and metal, Elvenking has FINALLY returned with a quality metal release. It's not as stunning as the epic Heathenreel, but this is great, and a first-rate comeback from a quality band that's really not been on top of its game recently.

#8 Delirion- Lotus

This was a very pleasant surprise, and one of the best of the year. My first exposure to Delirion was this, their second full length. It's a melodic and moderately symphonic masterpiece, suffering mostly from the accents of the singers.

#7 Blind Guardian- At the Edge of Time

I feel that At the Edge of Time is a step back into familiar territory for Blind Guardian, as their most similar to A Night at the Opera. The strange and experimental new direction from A Twist in the Myth is gone, and we've got a more classic vibe that's pretty symphonic. 

#6 ReinXeed- Majestic

This album was thrilling. It's light and somewhat fluffy, like an affectionate kitten. An affectionate kitten that can SHRED and put together some incredibly sweeping vocal melody lines! If you haven't heard ReinXeed, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this as well as the band's back catalog.

- - -

Here they are, the real contenders. I want to say once again that this list represents purely my personal preference, though that is based upon a number of important factors. I also want to mention one last time that there are some very worthy albums that DIDN'T make the list for one reason or another (don't have a copy, haven't spent much time with it yet) that will be featured on a list of honorable mentions!

That said, here are the most mind-blowing, enchanting, incredible power metal releases of 2010:

#5 Instanzia- Ghosts

This album was a complete and incredible surprise. Irresistably catchy, great musicianship, good cover art, everything. This is only their debut, and this is a capable young band. It makes me shiver to think what they might be capable of next.

#4 Angra- Aqua

This is weird. I knew Angra's new release would be good, and I knew it had to end up somewhere on the high end of this list. It's just that this album is not what I expected. It's not entirely even power metal, but it is sublime all the same!

#3 Orden Ogan- Easton Hope

Proof again that it is sometimes the greatest surprises that wind up being the best things that we hear. I knew about Orden Ogan, but Easton Hope proved to me and everyone else that they write high-energy, exceptional material, and that they're here to stay.

#2 Ancient Bards- The Alliance of the Kings

Absolutely breathtaking, this is hand-down the best female-fronted metal I've heard this year, and some of the very best symphonic power metal that I've ever heard. This is another debut that has set the bar remarkably high for both themselves and their contemporaries.

#1 Pathfinder- Beyond the Space, Beyond the Time

Can one ever have enough symphonic power metal? Weary metal-heads may respond yes, but Poland's own Pathfinder have single-handedly (and self-releasedly?) silenced them. This is tremendously bombastic and shamelessly cheesy metal of the very highest caliber.

Well, there you have it. I'll have a list of honorable mentions up in the next couple of days, and Oakenson will be posting his top list as well! Note that his list will consist of a number of genres, and not just power metal, as he is more comfortable in judging a wider range of metal than myself.