Monday, February 28

Serenity - Death & Legacy

Death & Legacy


I have no idea what Austria is supposed to be famous for (except maybe ski resorts) but I like to think of it as a country that produces some fine symphonic power metal with a touch of progression. Think Edenbridge, Juvaliant and not in the least, Serenity.

Emerging in 2007 with a debut akin to Sonata Arctica in one of their greater moments, they really established a name for themselves with the follow-up. “Fallen Sanctuary” was an album full of sweeping melodies and a pervasive sense of melancholic grandeur. Ambition is said to be the enemy of success, but with the anticipated third album “Death & Legacy”, Serenity prove that saying wrong and deliver their most consistently qualitative album to date.

This is very ambitious indeed. Making a compelling concept album is a tricky art, and the band has done well to tell separate stories tied in to an overarching idea rather than just one long tale. I don’t think they’re quite ready yet for their own “Black Halo”. The structure also gives way to a lot of different characters, settings and thus song material. The ever-engulfing atmosphere shapeshifts from epic to romantic, from tragic to melancholic.

From the opening “Set Sail To…” segueing into “New Horizons”, we’re catapulted onto the bow of a 16th century explorer's ship, cruising the high seas to the blank edges of the map. It is immediately clear that Serenity is working on a larger scale here. No longer are they creating charming miniatures, but painting full-blown canvases of delight and wonder. “Far From Home” offers more of the adventurous, but is intercut with “The Chevalier”, which is the sort of dreamy romantic thing only Dark Moor can pull off equally. This back-and-forth between bombast and tenderness is woven through the entire album and gives it suitable balance.

Odd one out is the ass-kicker “When Canvas Starts To Burn”, which is suspected to have been left off one of the previous albums. With 12 full songs (on the limited edition) and 4 interludes the band may have tried a little too hard, and as a result some tracks are more memorable than others. First time around some of the melodies sound a little too similar too, although this becomes less apparent after repeated listens. Besides, when you’ve come to the end of it, it’s hard to pick a song that could’ve been kept in the freezer.

A lot has been said about all the female guest talent that is on display here, which made me  wonder why Sabine Edelsbacher from countrymen Edenbridge doesn’t appear. Their guitarist Lanvall wrote and performed the instrumental “Below Eastern Skies”, so it seems like a missed opportunity. Not that her colleagues don’t deliver: Delain's Charlotte Wessels in particular takes the duet “Serenade Of Flames” to new levels of tragic ecstasy.

Serenity swim in deeper waters now, and it’s a relief to see them stay afloat. With the significant steps they have taken between albums one can only imagine where they will go next. As long as their music remains as creative and engaging as it is right now, I for one won’t worry too much.


Arno Callens' rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thursday, February 24

The Protagonist's Album Of The Week: 2/19-2/26

From Afar


I've been on a frenzied Ensiferum kick after seeing them live last week (that concert review should be posted shortly), and their latest work has been sticking with me day to day. The title track itself is one of the most blistering examples of supremely good power/melo-death that I've ever heard. There's no mistaking the folksy instrumental sections, the scathing vocals, the heroic viking atmosphere, and the sublime speed: this album is Ensiferum at their best.

- - -

Interview: Minos

Minos is a folk metal band out of Rochester, Minnesota that is getting set to release its debut CD in March of 2011. The CD is incredible and you can read the review for it here. Here's what the band has to say about their influences and their approach to music.

Wednesday, February 23

Sequester - Shaping Life And Soul

Shaping Life And Soul


Well here's a surprise. With the reputation that Canada has had lately for churning out seriously killer metal, perhaps it shouldn't be, but one-man band Sequester (Ryan Boc) has produced an album that defies easy categorization or description. While generally fitting into the power metal genre, there are a lot of side influences here. Traditional and thrash metal, prog rock, grunge, and blues are all genres that are noticeable to myself, but the list certainly doesn't end there. Personally, I would peg Sequester as a somewhat mellow brand of mid-tempo melodic power metal, with an epic atmosphere at times (and that's trying to be concise).

The atmosphere is really what this album is all about. This is, especially for its genre, very thoughtful music, much more so than the majority of commercial metal (which is perhaps why it's self-recorded and released). The lyrics dwell on topics from ethics to video games and everything in-between. In a word, I'd decribe the album as contemplative. Whether discussing a book or a concrete situation of some gravity, there is a slower and more methodical approach taken by Mr. Boc on this release than one typically expects from a garden-variety metal band.

In part, that's why I like this album so much. With a slower take on power metal, the blistering leads and racing double-bass speed are somewhat scarce. But lo, the riffage abounds! I've never experienced slower, less flowery metal that has pounded guitar and vocal hooks into my head so subtly and proficiently. In truth, upon passive listen I didn't really think that Shaping Life and Soul would be the sort of metal that I'd really enjoy. Give it a half a chance though, and you'll probably wind up with it stuck on your car stereo all week long. It's almost uncanny how memorable this music is; the vocal lines in particular remind me of a hundred other songs at different times, but I can never quite put my finger on exactly what or who. Combined with Boc's rather distinct voice, this means that he is well on his way to distinguishing himself from the pack.

Rather than attempt to describe the music any further, I'd like to point out that this album is only available in digital format. This is very sad for the completists like myself who prefer to have the complete package (and are willing to pay top dollar for it), but budget restrictions are going to be a major factor for one metal dude with no label. You can find the album for sale at CDBaby, and download another work of Sequester's, the EP Nameless One, on the band's official website. Also of note on the band's site is the detail given about each individual track. An explanation and full lyrics are given for all of them!

In short, Shaping Life and Soul is a devastatingly memorable and touching work that weaves a collection of varied songs into a very personalized, accessible whole. No doubts about it, this is probably my favorite metal work of 2011 that I've heard or reviewed to date. It's one of those few albums that you truly have to hear yourself in order to experience and understand, and a difficult one to properly describe. Before I finish, I want to mention the track “Bhaalspawn” for being a great song based upon one of my favorite video games of all time, Baldur's Gate II (the whole Forgotten Realms setting is a favorite of mine, but this game in particular). For a song that's truly representative of the game and with a very cool lyrical interpretation of the life of Bhaal's child, fans should know to check this out!

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Monday, February 21

Update / Andrew's Album Of The Week

... I know it has been a little while since I have posted anything here, however, a number of roadblocks have recently found their way into my personal life and, unfortunately, such things weigh heavier on me than some, perhaps even most; no less, I am still around, though a bit more quiet than usual.  With that, here's my album of the week:

Ø (Disambiguation)
Although I imagine a fair number of readers probably don't care for this sort of thing, I've always enjoyed Underoath's musical expression and, perhaps more significantly, their perpetual state of growth and progression; each album has been a leap into new territory whilst also keeping the band's core very much intact, resulting in something that has become, over the years, genuinely original (and, when we're talking any -core genre, that is quite a feat).  This is their latest and, in my opinion, greatest; expect a full review soon. ;)

- - -

Thursday, February 17

Late Winter Updates

It's been a while since I've just talked about...whatever, rather than writing a review, so that's what I'll do tonight.

Readers have noticed a change in our banner and a slight realignment of the columns thanks to SpaceKev. A background change may be in the works as well. As the blog grows more popular, I'm trying to shine it up a bit and add more visual appeal. Along with SpaceKev's recent video interview of Holy Grail, we've added another label to those that we get promos from. These currently include: 7Hard Records, Lion Music, Pure Steel Records, and now the mighty Cruz del Sur.

We've had some great words with a number of bands that I've been in contact with, and I appreciate all the kind words and enthusiasm that everyone has expressed. This site has only  been around for about 4 months now, but we've been growing in popularity more than I would have thought possible. My hope with my reviews is always to provide an enthusiastic and insightful look at the metal that I enjoy, and I think that this has come across really well to numerous artists that I've spoken with.

Local shows are becoming a more important part of what we do here at Black Wind, and we will be posting some sort of material with every show. Last week, it was the Holy Grail interview, and this weekend it will be a concert review and (hopefully) pictures of the Finnish Metal Tour. We're looking forward to a number of shows coming up here in St. Paul and attempting to get some press coverage of them as well. I think that, while our coverage is only of a couple of venues in one metro area, that we can give you a good idea of the spirit and attitudes of the bands and shows that we cover. Hopefully you can expect the same in your city, wherever you are.

Lastly, I also want to direct your attention to the links that we have posted on the right hand side of the page. You'll notice the addition of the Web of Metal review archive (a database that Black Wind will soon be a part of), as well as Dagg's prog and metal emporium. I don't remember how I ran into this fellow, but he writes some fantastically detailed reviews, and I encourage all of you that love long, thoughtful analysis to visit his site.

That's all for now. As always, thank you for reading and keep in touch.

-The Protagonist

Wednesday, February 16

Vexillum - The Wandering Notes

The Wandering Notes


For better or for worse, I was absolutely obsessed with finding Vexillum's debut album after I first discovered it (which I did by using the Metal Archive's Discordance, a fantastic tool!). The picturesque album art admittedly appealed to the fantasy reader in me, with its depiction of a rowdy tavern. With drinks being served, band playing, and bar patrons chatting, it was an idyllic and irresistible piece of cover art. After not being able to find the album available on hardcopy anywhere, I've bought it digitally from Amazon for the time being (though I now see that it has leaked).


I was surprised to see such an unknown band on the ticket for the recent Rhapsody of Fire/Visions of Atlantis tour in Europe, but figured that this could only bode well. As you might well guess, Vexillum plays a pretty similar style of fast paced, Italian flavored European power metal. I was nodding my head and smiling pretty quickly, since Vexillum follows the oh-so-successful and familiar blueprint that many bands before them have established. Example: “Neverending Quest” begins with a sweeping acoustic intro which bursts into an explosive and dramatically held scream from the vocalist that gradually fades into a coursing run of guitar and drum. Nothing new or experimental here, just the type of power metal that you and I know and love.


What IS novel about The Wandering Notes is, as the title might partially imply, the tendency of the songs to convey motion. The intro and outro of almost every song features footsteps (coming and going from the building before the first track and after the last), music, laughter, and voices. To me, it seems that the band is recreating a visitor's time at the tavern and his movement between tables, experiencing the stories, tales, and music that each bar regular has to offer. Despite not being the most original, I've never heard this concept taken so far as to fill a whole album, and it makes for a fun and interesting listen.


Musically, Vexillum has their stuff in pretty tight order. Dario Valesi has a very high and distinctly Italian voice (minus the powerful accent), but sometimes comes off as yelling a bit rather than singing. This tendency isn't too overpowering, though it might hang some listeners up. There are some catchy choruses floating around the album to be sure; it couldn't be power metal without them. The guitarists are pretty talented and have some really cool riffing going on, which is probably the band's single strongest point. In general, I feel that Vexillum has got a handle on their own style which, when all elements are combined, stands out from most of their contemporaries. In fact, their addition of light symphonic elements, the background noise of the tavern, a couple of guest vocal appearances, and a violin appearance all combine to make this a clever and well-conceived debut. Songs like “Neverending Quest”, “Avalon”, and “The Wood of Chances” remind me of why I love this genre so much, and the younger, less mature attitude of bands like Vexillum becomes almost refreshing rather than irritating and amateur.


There is a clear need for maturity on The Wandering Notes: the vocals could be tightened and improved and the mixing could be a bit more bass-heavy. On the band's next album, they'll have to cut out the gimmick (however effective it may be) and really deliver their own sound, or they won't be contending. However, there's plenty of rocking power metal and adept musicianship here to keep fans of the genre interested. Grab yourself a pint, take a seat, and let the cares of the modern world drift away, if just for a short time.


- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 7.0 out of 10

The Protagonist's Album Of The Week: 2/12-2/19



Elvenking's first release is kind of a strange one. The best way to describe it, as was mentioned to me by a friend, is probably "chaotic". Damnagoras' vocals are all over the place here, he slides around and doesn't stay in sync with the instrumentation much at all (the instruments themselves seem a little bit disorganized). The more that I listen to Heathenreel over the years, the better it gets, despite this lack of firm organization. This is the album that first got me into harsh vocals, and I haven't really looked back since. Of course, it's largely a power/folk mixture that doesn't spare the violin or the catchy chorus. Still Elvenking's strongest outing after a lot of muddling around, and I don't know that any album will have quite the wild spirit that this one achieves. Check out these classic tunes, if you haven't heard them already.

- - -

Interview: Holy Grail

Holy Grail, an awesome metal band out of Southern California, are currently on tour for their latest release, Crisis in Utopia. Crisis in Utopia is easily one of my favorite releases of 2010, and you can read my review of it here on Black Wind Metal. This past year, they have been part of several tours, making treks across the country with Amon Amarth, Blind Guardian, and Eluveitie. This coming August, they will be playing the legendary Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. I had the opportunity to meet up with Eli and Luna before their show at Station 4 in St. Paul.

Tuesday, February 15

Overdrive ~ Angelmaker





I have been scratching my head lately, as I’ve come across a boat load of metal bands that have embraced the past and made a sound for themselves. I absolutely love the stuff happening today, but I can't forget my past. Being a middle aged dude, I remember the "old days" well and fondly. Sweden's Overdrive make a solid traditional metal album with their latest release Angelmaker.

The first thing I noticed about Angelmaker was the cover art: a little silly, but equally creepy. There is definitely an early 80s vibe going on here, akin to Judas Priest's British Steel/Point of Entry, but also something along the lines of Dokken's Tooth and Nail. This is noticeable not only in the style of the riffs, but as well the way the rhythm section holds the fort down.

The production on "Angelmaker" is solid and clean. The guitar solos are reminiscent of the style and phrasing that was popular to play 20 years ago, but they sound fresh. "In Gut We Trust" is probably my favorite song on the CD, I enjoy the production effects used on the vocals during the chorus. "I Know There's Something Going On" needs to be mentioned not only because it is a cover of a new-wave classic, but also because Overdrive does a great job roughing and rocking it up without losing the essence of the original.

If there’s a weakness in this CD, it’s that it is so firmly rooted in the 80s. While I do enjoy bands that embrace the 80s, sometimes it comes on a little strong. If that’s your thing, more power to ya. So, if you are in the mood for a classic 80s metal album made for today's audience, then Overdrive's "Angelmaker" might just do the trick. Kick back with your high-tops on, turn on the blacklight, and enjoy.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,


Space Kev's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Tangent Plane - Project Elimi

Tangent Plane
Project Elimi


Hearing about another power/prog band on the 7Hard label got me pretty excited. After all, this label has been on fire lately with a bunch of quality releases. Tangent Plane themselves are putting out their second release with Project Elimi, and their first with 7Hard as their label. This band has actually been around since 1996 and play not power/prog (as I was originally led to believe), but rather a quirky and somewhat aggressive blend of heavy metal with some progressive elements.

A few things become quickly evident after hitting play: this is not quite heavy/prog metal as I'm used to it, and Project Elimi is maybe a little bit out of my comfort zone. The guitars are deep and crunchy and definitely take a back seat to the vocals, playing a very strong rhythmic role in most of the songs here. A modest solo presents itself here and there, but the axe man Pellegrino is largely relegated to a support task. Despite this, he does perform quite well, taking his occasional step into the limelight in stride. The rest of the rhythm section gets a mixed reaction from me. Percussively, this is pretty unremarkable work, and not overly complex. On the other hand, the bass is quite well-mixed and very easy to pick out and follow along with, which I appreciate. Pity it doesn't play a more interesting part.

Effects: this album is full of them, from guitars, keyboards, vocals, and beyond. No song and almost no section escapes their touch. Sometimes this sounds great (There are some great keyboard licks here, and generally a fine performance), and sometimes it gets to be a little too much. I feel that vocal effects need to be light and tasteful unless they're made prominent for a very specific and well-defined purpose. The vocal distortion on this album just competes with the guitar when it happens, and comes out sounding kind of messy. Granted, this is due in part to the vocal style of Jan Otto.

Guess what time it is now? Time to address a serious vocal issue which for some (like myself), will diminish the level of enjoyment found on an otherwise respectable album. Jan Otto has a fabulous voice: he's powerful, can be tender, and is clearly the spotlight of the band, but I can't express how desperately he needs to cut back on that bloody vibrato. The guy sounds like he's shaking his head and neck around ceaselessly, and while he achieves a very strong and pronounced vibrato, it's ridiculously over-dramatic and wholly unnecessary a majority of the time.

Other than that, Project Elimi really suffers from little else, other than just not being terribly memorable. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you're a band that relies on your vocalist to deliver the goods, you better be darn sure that he's going to attract a wide appeal and sing some catchy melodies. Being a proggy band is no excuse not to write catchy music (plenty of bands have achieved this in the past), and Tangent Plane fail much of the time to deliver the hooks. When the voice gets to be too much for me, I look to the guitars for some salvation, and there isn't much to be found.

This is a well-played and well-recorded album, but I don't think that Tangent Plane are going to make out terribly well on it. This band has more potential than most, and now they just need to put it all together in the right way. Hence, Project Elimi isn't a poor album, just one that doesn't appeal to me and won't to a number of others. If you're into hard, crunchy modern progressive metal with effects, some aggression, and don't mind the ridiculous vibrato, you might dig this a whole lot. 

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Monday, February 14

Hibria ~ Blind Ride


Blind Ride



Brazil has long been known to be a haven for some great metal bands, there is a passion that comes out of the country that is undeniable. Admittedly, I have been playing catch up on all of the awesome music that percolates out of Brazil, and Hibria is a band that is new to me despite releasing music since 2002. I am bummed that I just heard about them via their latest release, "Blind Ride", because, after a few listens, I NEED to find more from these guys.

Since I have not heard of the band before, I am not going to try to compare them to anything they have done in the past. Right off the bat, they remind me of what Helloween and Nocturnal Rites have been doing these past few years. If you are a fan of Hammerfall and Firewind, Hibria should also be to your liking. The CD is filled with a lot of charging riffs and dual leads, strong and passionate vocals, and a solid rhythm section. The choruses are catchy and a little on the epic side.

What I like most about "Blind Ride", is that the tempo of the CD is varied. The placement of the songs on the CD breaks up any monotony that may develop because of the way that like-styled songs are clustered together. "Shoot Me Down" is a driving fast paced song, with a nice melodic break in the intro. "Beyond Regrets of the Past" is blissfully busy and the double-bass drum is awesome. Lastly, "I Feel No Bliss" is a nice slow song, but it doesn't enter ballad territory.

I can only find a couple small faults on "Blind Ride". Iuri Sanson, the lead singer, has a strong and passionate voice, but on a couple of occasions it sounds strained. While he delivers a powerful performance throughout the CD, some of the high notes seem just out of his comfortable reach. With that said, Sanson does have a killer voice. The other thing I noticed is that many of the songs come off as busy. A small group of people might find this overwhelming, but I happen to enjoy it.

Overall, I was impressed with my introduction to Hibria's "Blind Ride". I will definitely be looking into their back catalogue.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,


Space Kev's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Saturday, February 12

Vision Divine - The 25th Hour

Vision Divine
The 25th Hour


Since discovering The Perfect Machine a few years back, I've developed a very fond affection for Italian power/prog experts Vision Divine. Michele Luppi is admittedly the single greatest recipient of my affection, but the trio of albums that the band made during his time with them illustrate the entire group at their creative and musical peak. The 25th Hour is the final album of this trio, and probably the most mellow of the three.

Like most of the band's work, and specifically with Luppi, almost every piece that was composed for this album is supremely smooth and memorable. A relatively reserved rhythm guitar sound (definitely not as prominent or as edgy as that heard on The Perfect Machine) combined with a great deal of synth work ensures that as usual, Luppi's vocals are the primary focus. Without coming off as too much of a fanboy (and it's already painfully obvious that I am), there's a bloody good reason he's considered one of the very best singers in metal, and his final tour with Vision Divine is nothing short of exemplary in that regard. He is as distinctive as he is high and clear, and the trademark sound of his own layered vocal tracks is what makes songs like "Eyes of a Child" so outstanding and emotionally powerful.

Enough about Luppi. After all I'm shortchanging the real mastermind of Vision Divine, Olaf Thorsen, who has turned this band into the metal equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci: inventive and visionary. Despite Vision Divine's reputation as a relatively "light" metal project, none of his guitar or arrangement work since Stream of Consciousness has been anything other than terrific. Actually, the lack of extreme crunch or ridiculous speed is probably something that endears VD so deeply to a number of people, myself included. The music here is so carefully crafted and thoughtful that you can almost feel a map being drawn by the wandering notes, the tasteful synth lines, and the acrobatic, lushly layered vocals and guitar. It's enough to give me chills.

The 25th Hour takes the listener on a journey through the mind of a madman whose last sanity, his guardian angel, has died. This is a continuation of the story begun, I believe, in Stream of Consciousness, and includes some of the melodic themes from that album. The band tells the story much better than I, and while I always prefer and recommend hardcopies over digital versions of albums, The 25th Hour is an absolute must in this regard. The liner notes include as much text as the lyrics, and you're truly missing the whole experience if you don't have the complete package.

My favorite tracks here are "Eyes of a Child", "Alpha & Omega", and probably the brief but stunning finale, "Ascension" because of the great heights that it rises to, as well as the flawless finish that it puts on such a wonderful album. I haven't moved on to Vision Divine's most recent offering without Michele Luppi yet, just because I feel that something profound will be missing from the equation. I am sure that I will someday soon, but I'm certain that this trio of albums, including the third and final, will remain my favorites. The 25th Hour is a sweeping, intelligent, and evocatively thoughtful composition which ties up any musical loose ends that the band might have had. It's a very different experience from the first two albums of this era of the band, but certainly of the same heart and quality of work. Bravo Vision Divine, an impeccable finish to a masterful storytelling and musical experience.
- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Viathyn - The Peregrine Way

 The Peregrine Way


As any regular reader will know, I've had a thing for Canadian power metal lately. I can't believe how many quality albums came out in 2010 from a scene that I hadn't even realized existed. Sure, I'd heard of Forgotten Tales and even Icewind, but what about Instanzia, Heroik, and now Viathyn? It was more than I could keep up with at once, and so I'm just now getting to Viathyn's quality release.

Unlike the other bands I've mentioned, Viathyn hails not from Quebec, but rather from the western half of the nation: Calgary, Alberta, to be specific. Their self-released debut The Peregrine Way is a progressively tinged work of guitar-centric power metal with a light blush of neo-classical influence to color their musical complexion. Despite the good production for a self-release (as well as lead guitarist Jake Wright's barely-controlled urge to shred), Viathyn conveys at times a very medieval feeling throughout a number of their songs. I don't mean via folky instrumentation, but rather the arrangement and tonal feeling of some of the compositions (think Falconer at times, but less crunchy and more progressive). This is helped along by the significant vocal talent of lead singer Tomislav Crnkovic.

The Peregrine Way goes down pretty easy. For power metal, it is fresh and hardly redundant. There are plenty of soft instrumental interludes and preludes, gliding choruses , occasional atmospheric synths, and more-than-proficient vocal lines. All of this, crowned with galloping guitar leads, brings to mind the word that I associate with the album as a whole: Freedom. Purposefully or not, the sometimes thoughtful, sometimes joyous feeling of the music conveys a sensation of unfettered liberty that permeates much of the music. I realize I may be in the minority here, but I feel this very strongly.

With so much mediocre junk coming from Europe nowadays (Kerion, Minuetum, Skylark, etc.), it's a bit of a wonder to me that Viathyn haven't attracted the attention of a small label for release of this album. The musicianship is tight and proficient in all areas, the sound is well-defined, and the band is obviously passionate about their music. My two personal favorite tracks off of the album illustrate these qualities as well or better than the others. “Through the Orchard” begins as a soothing instrumental stroll which stretches into a wistful and yearning commentary on a simple and beautiful, yet troubled life. “Twilight Haven” is a bit more straightforward: it's more instrumental, and home to some of the best guitar work on the album. Granted, these are the two longest tunes on the album (both clocking in over eight and a half minutes), but this in itself is a testament to the songwriting talent that is present on The Peregrine Way, as neither of them come close to wearing out their hearty welcome.

Put shortly, Viathyn have put forth a debut full-length that's both stirring and talented. This will appeal to a great number of fans of both power and heavy metal, and especially those who appreciate less cheesy and (in a way at least) more idyllic lyricism. I strongly recommend looking into this album and purchasing it. There are a few signs of musical immaturity and the production isn't the finest, but this is a singular and highly enjoyable listen.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Thursday, February 10

Fireforce ~ March On


March On



There is an expression that goes "the more things change, the more they stay the same." With that in mind, I really love listening to new bands who have a firm grasp on the origin of a genre. This definitely can be said about Belgium's Fireforce, whose debut release "March On" pays homage to classic European metal bands of the 80s. I liken Fireforce's sound to "Restless and Wild" from Accept and "Walls of Jericho" from Helloween, as well as Metal Church's self titled debut. Fireforce is a power metal band, but power metal in the more classic sense of the definition. They have a driving rhythm and little time for operatic drama.

"March On" is rough, gritty, in-your-face, and relentless from the beginning to end. "Coastal Battery", the opener, is the standout track on the CD, with a close favorite being "Hold Your Ground". Prepare yourself for a history lesson in battle tactics because many of the songs are war and battle-related. They do stray a little into the metal brotherhood territory a la Manowar with "Born to Play Metal". To me, songs about metal brotherhood are a little tiresome, but theirs is a good one and I know there are people out there who are happy to throw up the horns to songs of this ilk. \m/

As I've mentioned, "March On' is a gritty and relentless CD. This means the production as well as vocals and song writing. It can be a bit wearying if you are not in the mood for the constant hammering rhythm. If they were to include some sort of pseudo thrash ballad in there, maybe along the lines of "The Thing That Should Not Be" from Metallica, it would break up the monotony.

I can't end the review without mentioning the cover art. It's done by Eric Philippe, who has done artwork for Rhapsody, Mob Rules, and TNT. The long and the short of it is: it looks great. If you are into no-holds-barred, classic power metal, then I definitely recommend "March On" from Fireforce.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,


Space Kev's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

The Protagonist's Album Of The Week: 2/5-2/12



In preparation for the imminent Finnish invasion, I've been spinning Finntroll's latest a few times this week, and darn if it hasn't grown on me immensely. I used to think that this was a little too harsh for me, but it's actually now becoming downright charming, as perhaps Andrew can attest to. Lately, this has been one of my favorite folk albums, a fantstic mix of whimsy and dark folk metal. Of course, the percussive work on Nifelvind is singularly brilliant as well. Check out this quality track, one of my favorites!

- - -

While Heaven Wept ~ Triumph : Tragedy : Transcendence

While Heaven Wept
Triumph : Tragedy : Transcendence


I have a love/hate relationship with live albums. If the recording is done right, you can feel the energy of the band reach out to you from the speakers in a way that no studio recording could ever hope to capture: the band will sound fresh and the crowd lively. If done poorly, the band (most noticeably the singer) will sound road worn, and often too much emphasis is placed on synced live backing tracks and overdubs that you just completely miss the live experience altogether.

I am ecstatic with the way While Heaven Wept's live opus, "Triumph : Tragedy : Transcendence" turned out, it has everything that I want in a live recording. The band is tight and the vocals are spot on. The crowd is appreciative. Too many times, the audience in live recordings is so quiet in the mix that you forget you are listening to a live recording. Here however, they can be heard nicely before and after each song. The production on this album is huge. The keyboards, while not overpowering, fit into every nook and cranny of the live sound, making the recording sound full.

The band and their songs sound warm, rich, and fresh. The songs translate great from the studio into a live setting. The closing song, "Vessel", stands out to me because of the audience participation, however every song on "Triumph : Tragedy : Transcendence" is stellar.

There is one thing that some people might find unusual about this live recording: a fade to silence after each track. This is not uncommon, but if you are not used to it it may sound odd in a live recording because it takes away from the complete live experience in a small way. In the modern age we live in with everyone on the go, should you have to turn off your mp3 player, or have it on shuffle, these fades are added as to not have a jarring stop in-between the songs.

I have nothing but praise for "Triumph : Tragedy : Transcendence", and While Heaven Wept is a hugely impressive and talented band. The sound and performance on this cd would be a fantastic introduction to anyone who is not familiar with the band. For those who are already fans, you can enjoy the band in the warmth of this live show.

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Live Long and Rock Hard,

Space Kev's Rating: 9.25 out of 10

Monday, February 7

OffTopic ~ Backstage



OffTopic is a hard rock/metal band out of Spain. I had not heard of them before and had no idea what to expect when I pressed play to hear the 6 songs on their "Backstage" EP. I was surprised and pleased by what I found.

The songs on "Backstage" have a familiar sound to them. They remind me of the radio friendly hard rock bands of the 80s, and call bands like Vixen, Kiss, and Slaughter to mind. They also have a modern feel to them similar to that of Velvet Revolver, Puddle of Mudd, and Shinedown. "Time Flies", "How Many Times", and "Game Over" are the standout songs for me on this EP.

Right off the get-go, guitar player Toni Sánchez-Gil establishes OffTopic as a solid hard rock band. His riffs are heavy and groovy and his solos on all of the songs are stellar. Cristian Millán on drums and José Luis López on bass each get a chance to show off throughout the 6 songs. Lead singer Rosa Ibánez has a nice strong voice, not as polished as you'd might expect and want, but a good solid voice nonetheless. She can really tear it up when she is unrestrained, such as on "Time Flies" and "How Many Times".

I have a few concerns about "Backstage", the first of them being the backing vocals on the opening track "Mask". Even though it sounds like Cristian Millán is pulling double duty, sometimes the backing vocals are a bit loud in the mix and might benefit if one of the guys were to join her while recording backing vocals. Another concern I have is the power-ballad "Because of You". There is a keyboard part that sounds like woodwind and horns during the soft verses that does not blend well with the heavier portions of the song during the chorus. "Because of You (Reprise)", the last song of the EP, is much better than its predecessor because that keyboard part is stripped away. My final concern, and a relatively small one at that, is that while the production is quite good, the overall sound could be beefier and heavier.

Overall, OffTopic is a great band with great songs. The musicianship is top notch. If you are a fan of hard rock and metal and like any of the bands that I have referenced, you should really check these guys (and lady) out.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,

Space Kev's Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Some of the songs on their MySpace page are sung in Spanish.

Friday, February 4

Axenstar - Aftermath



I haven’t been around the power metal scene for an overabundant amount of time. Long enough, however, to have heard of Axenstar and acquired their catalog (which I listen to a little more than occasionally). I’ve always thought of them as one of the stalwart grunts of the European power metal scene, soldiering on and releasing quality albums while repeatedly taking a back seat to a good number of their more popular Scandinavian brethren. If you’re even somewhat acquainted with Axenstar like I am, you know that they haven’t made a poor album, and you expect a pretty reasonable offer from them every time there’s a new release (My personal favorite being 2005’s The Inquisition)

I was struck by the artwork of Aftermath immediately. The album cover is darker than the band’s standard fare to date, which typically included angels in some form or another.  This doesn’t seem to have had much effect upon the contents however, as it’s pretty much the same fare that we’ve always seen.  This could be good or bad, and for Axenstar, which has always thrived in its consistent use of clear harmonized vocals and double-bass driven riffage, it’s pretty decent. They haven’t tried to progress, but have taken instead to improving their already successful and appreciated formula which obviously works for them. 

The improvement is obvious. First and foremost, this is the best produced Axenstar album to date, and noticeably so. Play a couple of tracks from The Final Requiem and then switch to Aftermath. Big difference? You bet. The drums are BIG here, and pound really hard. This alone makes the album a smoker: hard and consistently fast. Even the more mellow tracks like “Agony” and “Until Your Dying Breath” are pretty brisk. Luckily, this means that I never got bored while listening, which is something that I do very quickly with poor to mediocre ballads. Speaking from past experience, Axenstar’s ballads are nothing to write home about, and I’m glad to see that they’ve been omitted on this newest work. 

Axenstar has always been quickly and easily distinguishable from any and all other metal bands solely based upon their lead vocalist Magnus Winterwild. On early releases, his voice was somewhat immature which, combined with being clear as a bell with no vibrato, certainly gave the band a youthful feel. On Aftermath, Winterwild is fully capable and in control of his voice. While still very high and clear, there is no weakness. When layered and harmonized with himself, he creates a very distinctive style with which the band carries itself. Combined with the newfound percussive mixture and the persistently competent guitar and bass, this makes for a rather enjoyable listening experience, if perhaps a little bit redundant due to Winterwild’s tendency to lack much variety in tone or timbre.

Without mincing any more words, Aftermath is a pretty quality release, and one that Axenstar’s members ought to be proud of themselves for. I still hold a soft spot for a couple of the band's earlier outings, but Aftermath will certainly appeal to a wider audience overall with its polished sound and solid performance.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.25 out of 10