Sunday, July 31

Elias Viljanen- Taking the Lead (2002)

Elias Viljanen
Taking the Lead

Now for more serious fans of the instrumental shred stuff, Elias Viljanen’s taking the lead is nothing new, it was originally released in 2002 but is seeing a re-release in 2011. On the other hand, to the instrumental shred genre, Taking the Lead was by no means groundbreaking.

The primary claim to fame for Elias Viljanen is his membership in Sonata Arctica, which for all it’s respect within the power metal circles for their earlier albums, has had a rapidly declining guitar presence, and he really didn’t impress too much on the Days of Grey.

About the music, while Elias Viljanen is certainly a technically capable guitarist, he doesn’t show too much on Taking the Lead, the shredding and flourishes take a back seat to the melodies and song structure. What Taking the Lead seems to resemble, more often than not, is an album of hard rock instrumentals. Riff based, a tad repetitive, and not too flashy. The issue is that the primary vehicle of the songs is the lead, and the rhythms are nothing special. While Viljanen certainly fills an album with impressive melodies, they’re not quite on par with some of his peers in the business.

In fairness though, the song Hyper Boogie has to be mentioned. This represents a rare feat in balancing technicality, taste, and creativity, and Elias certainly has to be commended for that. The album as a whole is tasteful more than any of the other two, but it’s really the creativity of Hyper Boogie that sets it apart.

Taking the Lead has one major strength in consistency and listen ability, but that only takes the album so far, while it’s certainly above the pale, it falls short of extraordinary, and ends up instead in the realm of very solid, it’s a good investment for a more casual listener, though I doubt it will do much for the diehards.


Dagg's Rating: 3.25/5

Friday, July 29

Merging Flare- Reverence (2011)

Merging Flare


Merging Flare makes a hefty claim in making “the best Finnish Metal album of the millenium”, and before I laugh that off and list all the superior albums from great bands like Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Thunderstone, Twilightning, and Celesty, I need to establish how exactly the band is making that claim.

Regional concerns aside, Merging Flare really has nothing to do with the melodic power metal of Finland, and if the guest appearance of Kai Hansen on 4 tracks didn’t make it obvious, this album is heavily influenced by German bands like Savage Circus and Gamma Ray. In fact, Merging Flare seems to have graduated from the Stormwarrior school of “Having a vocalist that sounds almost exactly like Kai Hansen, and still finding it necessary to bring Kai Hansen in to do guest vocals” Short, aggressive songs with dual lead harmonies, excellent rhythm sections, and moderate vocal harmonies. So for the purists in the audience, there is a very real chance that Reverence is absolutely the best album to come out of Finland this millenium.

Every song on Reverence falls between 3:00 and 4:30, completely forsaking the longer compositions and ballads that define the more “Artistic” side of metal that has been known to ruin many a brilliant album, Merging Flare sticks to their guns, and provides 11 solid tracks of fast paced, energetic power metal for the everyman. Generally having a more diverse taste than most purists, I tend to enjoy longer songs to break up the album, but Reverence is an extremely listenable and easily digested album. Anyone who knows me knows I’m more liable to get bored with shorter songs than 17 minute epics, but in this instance, Merging Flare knows their craft well, and so keeping it short and to the point is exactly what is needed.

This is an all around great album, with memorable riffs and great production, and for every band that seems to be falling the wayside of “Other musical pursuits” or “Retirement”, another newcomer like Merging Flare is ready to step into the battlefield.


Dagg's Rating: 4.25/5

Thursday, July 28

Furor Gallico - Furor Gallico

Furor Gallico
Furor Gallico


When one thinks of Italy, what comes to mind? Mostaccioli, Opera, Galileo, the Roman Empire, trendy scooters, Michelangelo, Mario and Luigi? I suppose if you are a regular Black Wind reader, symphonic power metal along the lines of Rhapsody or Thy Majestie would also come to mind. However, if Furor Gallico's self-titled debut is any indication, we might soon be thinking of pagan folk metal as soon as the conversation turns to Italy.

I suppose I should describe the music at some point. It seems to me as though most folk metal fits into one of two categories, which I like to think of as the "Korpiklaani" type and the "Moonsorrow" type, with Korpiklaani representing the catchy, fun brand of folk metal and Moonsorrow representing the epic, sweeping variety. Furor Gallico falls right in the middle of the spectrum, generally borrowing from the strengths of each side. Like Korpiklaani, the music here is generally fast, catchy, and accessible. However, unlike Korpiklaani (and very much like Moonsorrow), there is an epic feel to the material here, a vision that goes beyond which beverage will be praised in the next song.

The folk instruments here (namely, the fiddle, tin whistle, bouzouki, and harp) are an integral part of the music, generally taking the melody; however, this is nonetheless a very heavy album, driven as much by metal aggression as by folky melodicism. The vocals, which run the gamut from guttural growling to clean singing, are generally well-done if you like that kind of thing, tastefully switching from one style to another in a manner that works very well with the constantly changing feel of the music.

This is not to say that this is the perfect all-encompassing folk metal album. Being in the middle, it is neither one of the catchiest nor one of the most epic in said genre. However, "Furor Gallico" is a very strong, high-quality album, and I hope to hear more from this band in the future.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 4/5

Endless Main - Sea Of Lies

Endless Main
Sea Of Lies


Power metal debut releases have been a dime a dozen the last couple of years, and it gets harder and harder to pick out the exceptional acts as the scene grows more and more crowded. Slovakia, on the other hand, is a nation that doesn’t get a whole lot of press, and as always I have a good measure of respect for a self-produced metal band that sticks their neck (and their debut album) out for the world to take a hack at. Unfortunately, just being from a remarkably small country that hasn’t made its mark on the metal map doesn’t earn you a whole lot of points on its own. Luckily, Endless Main have a reasonable amount of seasoning to back themselves up.
While “Sea Of Lies” is fast-paced and not without a substantial helping of melody, Endless Main has tweaked the typical melodic power metal formula with a darker, more aggressive sound for this record. Frequently resorting to group choruses and a thudding, pummeling drum and guitar combination, These Slovakians remind me of Primal Fear or Dark At Dawn occasionally, but without some of the raw power. The attitude of “Sea Of Lies” changes as the album progresses. Different vocal techniques and a variance of dynamics and texture can be construed as either inconsistency or an admirable dose of variety. I find this tendency to be somewhere in between. This is, after all, only a debut album, and their effort to bridge gaps is an exercise in creativity for them.
“Angels And Demons” is probably my favorite track on this relatively short full-length album, and I believe it best illustrates the strengths and memorability that Endless Main is capable of. While generally unremarkable, there is considerable talent to be found in most of the band’s music. The guitars are clearly proficient and tend to run free. While I enjoy Michal Sepetka’s vocals, he could certainly hone his vocal chords further. Finally, I’d really enjoy more bass, since the instrument seems to be all but invisible throughout the cd.
Recommended for those of us who are constantly sniffing out new work, and for those hoping for power metal with a bit of a darker edge. However, Endless Main have a little ways to go when it comes to offering something truly memorable for everyone to enjoy.
- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Wednesday, July 27

Jag Panzer - The Scourge Of The Light

Jag Panzer
The Scourge of Light


Jag Panzer should be a familiar name to any self-respecting metal head, as they have been around since 1981, releasing 9 albums since 1984’s debut, "Ample Destruction". "The Scourge of Light" is the band's most recent release, and it is a fine example of a band who has been releasing albums for the last 27 years.

The album starts off with a bit of a lackluster display, “Condemned to Fight” immediately displays a strong sense of melodic guitar work, along with wondrous double kick fury. Unfortunately, the vocal lines written for this particular song are extremely weak, and ruin it on a basic level. The instrumentation tries, but is not able to fully make up for the vocals. However, these woes are soon forgotten as the rest of the album displays masterful vocal lines that really express the vocal ferocity and power at the hands of The Tyrant (a.k.a. Harry Conklin). He does a bit of a Rob Halford impression during the song “Burn” as he hits “Painkiller” high-pitched scream mode.

Next to the vocal magic at the hands of The Tyrant, the instrumentation really pushes the music forward. Drums are mostly typical, but sound great and are well played. The guitar tone is formidable, and any band that's been playing this long ought to have that. Apart from sounding great, the guitars are superbly performed, featuring melodic twin guitar leads and exceptional solos that one would expect from a band of this caliber.

"The Scourge of Light" is not the most original of albums, drawing much influence from many traditional metal bands like Iron Maiden or the aforementioned Judas Priest, as well as many heavy/power metal bands (themselves?). However, what they lack in originality, they make up for with great writing. Other than the opener, there are no tracks with immediate problems. As the album progresses, the songs gradually get better, hitting a slight peak at “Overlord” and the album’s last two tracks, “Burn” and “The Book of Kells.”

Overall, The Scourge of Light may not be the band’s greatest work, but it definitely is a welcome addition to their already lengthy catalogue, as well as an easy jumping off point for any future Jag Panzer fans.


Claus’ Rating 3.75/5

Saturday, July 23

Vicious Rumors - Razorback Killers

Vicious Rumors
Razorback Killers


For a band that has been around since 1980 and released 10 albums in those 21 years, Vicious Rumors is not really a name that pops up when one thinks of legendary metal bands. This is most unfortunate, as this IS a legendary metal band, and I think some more recognition is in order. Razorback Killers is their 10th and most recent album, and it offers up a delicious dog’s breakfast of thrash, power, and heavy metal!

The California quartet has gone under some major changes since its inception, having over 25 “past members” (according to the Metal Archives anyway) including Ira Black (Lizzy Borden), Vinnie Moore, Steve Smyth (Forbidden, Testament, Nevermore), Will Carroll (Death Angel, Machine Head) and James Rivera (Helstar, Killing Machine, Flotsam and Jetsam).

Stylistically, this album is a real mash up of heavy, power and thrash metal. Much of the energy that is displayed in the performances is very familiar in a heavy metal sense. However, the song writing displays a level of melodic maturity that is often seen within the power metal scene. As well, much ferocity is displayed in a very thrash oriented manner, especially in the vocals.

The aforementioned vocals, supplied by Brian Allen, are usually a melodic scream reminiscent of Dickinson or Halford, doesn’t emanate either. While being quite thrashy one moment, he easily switches to a high falsetto many times throughout the album. A layering technique is also audible and quite present, creating an almost evil sound. The guitars are melodic as well as crushing, and provide a dynamic approach that makes the entire work entertaining. Solos, which are featured on nearly every song, are melodic, yet have enough “balls to the wall” power to make them head-bangable. Drumming is pretty typical, but adds some extra punch, just when any song needs it.

Despite being quite derivative (even if it is of many styles) and named after pig slayers, Razorback Killers is a magnificent offering of metal, and will appeal to any metal head.


Claus’ Rating 4.25/5

Friday, July 22

Mystic Prophecy - Fireangel

Mystic Prophecy


With a new album “Ravenlord” coming out on November 25th, I felt the urge to put on Mystic Prophecy’s previous release “Fireangel” once again. (Can we just reflect for a minute on how awesome that album title is? … I know, right?!) Let it be clear, I don’t really need an excuse to revisit this record, as Mystic Prophecy, who already were a force to be reckoned with in the power metal field, really stepped up their game with this diabolical diamond.

I often thought and said that Mystic Prophecy might be the heaviest power metal band out there. Their riffs are dirty, thrashy, and thunder over you like a convoy of bulldozers, or a deranged herd of armored elephants trampling everything to dust. Yet for all the heaviness, they never lose sight of the melodies either, with Greek singer and producer R.D. Liapakis guiding you from one blare-along-chorus to the next. Their dark, often satanic imagery fits the grimness of the music really well, and even though I’m not fond of devilish lyrics, it’s hard not to yell the refrain of “Across The Gates Of Hell” or “Demon’s Crown” at the top of your already croaky voice. And even though it sounds borderline retarded, there is no saying no to “We Kill!! You Die!!”. Judging by one of the working titles of “Ravenlord”, it even gets a sequel in “Die Now !!!”. To hell with subtlety!

My favorites on this album filled with possible candidates are in the middle, where the diptych “To The Devil I Pray” and the title track are enough on their own to rank this album among the band’s best. They are gloomy but powerful songs with choruses for the ages. Other highlights include the Firewind-like “Fight Back The Light” and the very aggressive “Death Under Control”.

What makes “Fireangel” the best of their career so far, is not so much a change of formula, but the best possible product concocted from that formula. Guitar riffs crash, drum beats pound and vocal lines soar like never before, and I bet the band members themselves don’t even remember Gus G. used to play with them back in the day. Dream Evil barely survived his departure, but Mystic Prophecy came out of that split stronger than ever. With all this and more, it’s safe to say I’m stoked for the follow-up “Ravenlord” and if I’m granted the opportunity, I’ll be here to tell you how it caved my skull in with the intro alone. For now, FIRE…ANGEL…BURN!!!


Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5

Thursday, July 21

Thurisaz - The Cimmerian Years

The Cimmerian Years


The evolution of extreme metal is one of the great musical mysteries of our time. How can one explain the transition from the barbaric aggression of Venom and Hellhammer to the the dynamic musicianship and compositional complexity of groups such as Opeth or Enslaved? The very genre that at one time seemed intent on defying all things musical has arguably become one of the greatest creative forces in the world of music, and all this in less than thirty years of existence.

I bring this up for one specific reason: however dramatic early extreme metal could be, its rather simplistic style left little room for emotional or compositional subtlety (see Venom's ill-conceived "At War With Satan" for a hearty laugh or two). The aforementioned evolution made way for greater variety and depth within the extreme metal style, with a number of bands entirely forsaking straightforward aggression in favor of a more sorrowful, "yearning" sound. This is the paradigm in which Thurisaz is operating.

The material here can most accurately be compared to Primordial, albeit with a more modern tone (as evidenced by the vast cityscape gracing the front cover of the album). Speaking of the album cover, it seems to be representative not only of the musical tone of the album, but of the lyrical tone as well. At once angry, mournful, and reflective, the lyrics seen to come directly from the solitary figure on the front cover, who we can only imagine is staring at the distant city with a confusing mixture of disgust and longing. Emotionally, this is a very deep and complex album, which should be listened to in its entirety, with lyrics at hand for the full effect.

If there is one reason to recommend "The Cimmerian Years," however, it is the atmosphere. Like I mentioned earlier, the music here has a lot in common with Primordial - this is the kind of album that builds an atmosphere through a series of songs that are simultaneously pummeling and vast, with a number of well-placed quiet parts throughout the album. There is nothing very technical or flashy here, but this actually works to the band's advantage, as it keeps the epic atmosphere at the foreground of the music.

This isn't to say that this is a perfect album. The atmosphere, despite differences between songs, remains relatively unchanging, lending the album a "same-y" quality over the course of a listen. The vocals, which include guttural death growls, black metal rasps, clean singing, and the occasional whisper, are fine, but nothing to write home about (although the black metal vocals are generally pretty good). However, "The Cimmerian Years" is overall a strong release, and one that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good slice of atmospheric metal.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 4/5

Insense at Hovefestivalen

Insense are a Norwegian metal quartet, playing extreme metal that's easy and comfortable to listen to. Based in Oslo, they started playing in 1999 and have been going strong as a live act ever since. They've been hired as a support act several times, only to be dropped because the headliner band was "uncomfortable with the competition."

That might well explain the amazing show they did at Hovefestivalen; energetic, warm and welcoming extreme metal that doesn't get boring in the long run. The band's attitude was also friendly, while raw and harsh at the same time. I myself am not very used to this kind of metal, but I certainly wouldn't mind seeing these guys on stage again! And judging by the (more or less sober!) audience, I'm not the only one.

The sound mixing drowned the guitar and vocals from time to time, and the drums were at some point way too dominant. The stage presence is one I've missed seeing in several other bands (such as Sarke, the band that played after Insense). The tent venue wasn't too big, and the rain was pouring down. People kept running inside, grabbing a beer and throwing the horns - just having a really good time. It seemed like they were warmed by the music.

Because what's better at a rainy festival than to get inside a tent venue to be warmed by a good metal gig?

Wednesday, July 20

Skyliner - The Alchemist

The Alchemist


Last we heard from them, the intrepid heroes from Skyliner had dropped their self-titled demo on me to substantial effect. Of a number of unsigned demo bands from around the States that I've heard, Skyliner were definitely near the top of the list. Though suffering from some rough-edged production, there was a depth and strength to the debut that spoke volumes about the intent and passion that Mr. Becker and company have for their music. Now with their new EP entitled "The Alchemist", the trio look to be out to open a few more eyes.

"The Alchemist" is, first and foremost, much more accessible than the aforementioned demo. More than that, it has been modernized and given a sleeker feel in both sound and appearance. The title track is a fast-paced, double bass and guitar assault that blends withering leads and vocals with a few insertions of superb melody. If anything, "Undying Wings" is even better with its unorthodox and excellent guitar lead, driving into the best song that I've heard from the band yet. This reminds me exactly why I need to keep my eyes and ears open for local music, because though this is only a pair of songs, the talent is undeniable.

If there's a single item that stands out on "The Alchemist", it's the improvement and sheer power of Becker's vocals. Whereas there was a bit of wavering in his voice on the band's demo, the sound has developed into something both solid and commanding. Reminding me of a blend of Sabaton's Joakim Bróden and Morgana Lefay's Charles Rytkönen, but with a smoother melodic groove than either, Becker has hit the nail on the head with his vocal styling.

The mixing is still a little light on the guitar and drums, but bass is very audible and absolutely nuts in a couple of places! If this came out a bit heavier and more solid, it could be one of my favorite pieces of the year. Right now, it's definitely the best EP I've listened to yet. Go look these guys up if you haven't done so already. Bloody promising!

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Tuesday, July 19

Eumeria - Rebel Mind

Rebel Mind


There was a lot of excitement generated when Bobby Williamson and Shawn Kascak announced the formation of Eumeria, rising from the ashes of Texan prog metallers Outworld. There was even more excitement when they said they'd tapped 3 promising UK musicians to help out. As a result, when the date for début album Rebel Mind was set, hopes had reached fever pitch. Praised has flooded in, and rightly so, as Eumeria have created one of the strongest modern progressive metal albums of the past few years.

From the opening drum blasts of “Legion” to the final resounding chorus of “Secret Places”, it is clear that each bandmate clicks with the others very well. This is also facilitated by a pristine production job; evidently the distance across the pond has tightened the Eumeria sound. Bartlett is a wonder on the drumkit, throwing many syncopated patterns and rhythms like on power ballad “Father”, which enhance the music rather than distract from it. Miraculously, Kascak's bass is more than audible, even playing a Rush-like melodic role in the title track and interweaving with Fullwood's 7-string groovy riffing and melodic soloing, which Williamson ties everything off with atmospheric synths and keyboard solos that easily match the guitars'.

Despite quite a unique sound, there are a several influences that jump out at me; of course Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Symphony X get a mention, but also newer bands like Lost In Thought and Circus Maximus, the latter especially in the vocal performance. Jonny Tatum is one of my favorite vocal discoveries this year; he gives a powerful performance throughout the album, going from a pleasant Michael Eriksen-esque mid-range to slightly harsher notes like on “The Key”, but also knows when to bow out and let the instruments do the talking. His lyrical ability is also impressive, crafting lines that suit his voice such as “Will you embrace the promise of spring/So I can never see/You cannot relive those forgotten years/So join me now my father”*, along with the pre-chorus of “Rebel Mind”.

One of the admirable qualities of this release is its longevity; after a number of spins it is still very enjoyable, and even weaker tracks like “The Key” and “Dreaming Of Death” begin to melt in with the standout tracks. “Secret Places”, a reworking of a previous Williamson track called “Heirs Of Peril”, indulges in a more power metal ethos, and feels a little out of place, but is still a strong song with a catchy chorus. The 7-minute title track also takes a while to sink in, but when it does the excellence really does shine through.

From the heavier grooving lines of “Delusions” to the ethereal acoustic interlude “Red Light Flies”, Eumeria manage to pack in many different ideas and package it off as authentic and fresh. Rebel Mind is not an album to spin every day, but I can see myself returning to it often, especially for the vocals. Needless to say, my appetite has been whetted and I am very interested to see where this band are going in the future.

Angel's rating: 4.25/5

*Transcribed from hearing

Monday, July 18

Manilla Road ~ Playground of the Damned

Manilla Road
Playground of the Damned


The more things change, the more they stay the same. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I have a love/hate relationship with clichés, and I'd like to someday coin my own, but I digress. Redundant though they may be, these clichés are appropriate for Manilla Road and their latest release "Playground Of The Damned". This band has been around forever, not necessarily since the discovery of fire, but close. Manilla Road helped create and define the metal genre in its infancy and they are still around kicking arse and taking names. If you are not familiar with them, but are a fan of Black Sabbath, early 80s Judas Priest and Metallica, and late 80s Iron Maiden, I think you might find Manilla Road to your liking. They are heavy on the metal with decent touches of prog and doom. If I dare say, the doom elements have a taste of grunge à la early Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Now, you might get the impression that the band is a bunch of old fuddy-duddies, but they are not, the drums have a very modern feel about them, but more on the drums will be said later.

Playground of the Damned is riff-tastic. Every song is a conglomeration of great guitar riffs, punctuated with decent guitar solos. The drumming is excellent, lots of double bass and excellent fills, and because of the drumming, it really brings the band and their songs into the modern era. Song highlights for me are "Jackhammer", Abattoir De La Mort" and "Art of War". My general concern about the band, their songs, and their sound, is that the production is weak. It actually lacks so much polish that it almost sounds as if these are demo recordings. The drums sound a little thin and the guitars are tinny. I would like the CD more if the overall sound was more beefy.

Barring the poor production, "Playground Of The Damned" is a decent release. The songs are strong and the playing is excellent. Manilla Road has been around for a while and if they continue to release good songs, they will be around for a long time to come.

Live Long and Rock Hard,

~ ~ ~

SpaceKev's Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Friday, July 15

Consortium Project V ~ Species

Consortium Project V


Even in the digital age, with information at my fingertips, I have missed out on a great many things. I have just listened to Ian Parry's Consortium Project V about a dozen times over the past 2 days realized that I am late to the show. I could kick myself. However, I will not spend too much time lamenting, instead just raising my fist to rock. By the way, I am not taking volunteers to kick me.

Consortium Project V is the latest in the Consortium Project series. It all began in 1999 When Ian Perry assembled a crew of guest musicians to create his sci-fi power metal epic with the release of Consortium Project I. Over the years, and with subsequent Consortium releases, the saga continues with a host of guest musicians. For those of you familiar with Ian Parry and his work, this will be preaching to the choir, but those who are not, I say to you: WOW.

Consortium Project V plays power metal. Sure, purists will argue that it has a little of this and a little of that, but let us not split hairs: power metal. For my 2¢, it has that Northern main land Europe sound and I think fans of Gamma Ray, Nocturnal Rites and Angra would find Consortium Project V to their liking. The song writing and story telling is excellent and the pace of the cd is near perfect.

Ian Parry's voice is very strong. For a dude that has been rocking as long as he has, he still has the balls and the backbone to deliver a strong performance. Parry is accompanied by excellent female vocals provided by Lene Petersen and Ani Lozanova, and this is where I think the songs move into the extraordinary category. Metal has no problem expressing angst and frustration, but rarely with the exception of ballads do bands show vulnerability. But vulnerability is what these ladies bring to the table, and it provides a very nice dimension to the songs. Casey Grillo, the skin pounder for Kamelot, does what he does best (probably my favorite metal drummer) and that is provide a strong rhythmic base on which the songs are built upon.

The songs are all very strong and the pacing of "Species" is excellent. At no time did I find myself hoping that things would speed up or slow down. "Sirens" has this really excellent harmonic guitar intro, and "Silence Calling" has that excellent female vocal performance that I mentioned. It starts off very accessible before it moves into heavy and darker territory. "Oracle" has a great emotional duet. Throughout the CD, there are little production gems that have to be felt and not heard. I won't spoil it, but when you listen to the CD at a respectable volume, you will know exactly what I mean.

I am blown away completely by Consortium Project V and "Species". I regret that I am only finding out about them now as the project comes to a close. I can lament, but I choose to crank the volume and experience.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,

SpaceKev's Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, July 13

Elvenpath - Elvenpath



Elvenpath's 2008 release "Spyrol" left me nonplussed and overwhelmingly unimpressed. So thus far this year, I've put off looking into their newest effort. However, after the opening track "For Our Liberty" came up on shuffle at one point, my interest was piqued and I decided it was time for a second chance for this as-yet unsigned German heavy/power act. Despite the cliché-drenched name, Elvenpath don't necessarily adhere to the ultra light and fluffy power metal that one would expect (though now that I think of it, other bands utilizing both Elven- and -path have avoided such categorizations as well), but rather a hefty emphasis on guitars and moderate tempos.

And let me tell you something: the guitar riffs are heftier and more accomplished this time around indeed. While past efforts haven't been lackluster per se, the band really opens the floodgates on their eponymous release with some great intros and lead riffs, putting much of what they've recorded previously to shame. Also displaying a considerable improvement are the vocals, with Dragutin Kremenovic (phew, say THAT five times fast) providing a showing that is rather excellent. He changes gears quickly and decisively between a rough, snarling yell and a very good piercing scream, along with everything in between.

As "For Our Liberty" was an ear-snagging piece of power metal that dragged me to this album, so it stands as one of the best songs that this album has to offer. However, the quality by no means ends there, as I was rather hooked from the beginning until the somewhat redundant introduction to "Moria". However, "Enflaming Demands", "Into The Future", and "Cellars Of Doom" (the latter reminding me a bit of something Falconer would write) slam home the band's message that they mean business, and bring the guitars to bear in full force. Before the album is even half over, you're guaranteed to have two clenched fists raised high in the air. This attitude is completely supported by the sound clip at the beginning of "Guardians Of The Underground", proclaiming metal as a passion, a will, and an underground way of life.

Then, after the first half of the album comes to a close, the second half begins, with interchanging sections of "Metal Suite" (basically just repeated sounds of battle) combined with the three songs of "The Truelogy". Though cheesy, completely unoriginal, and utterly shameless, this blatant Manowar-worship is still worth a listen through (though "War Of Steel" is the only one worth repeating), but ultimately unnecessary. Unfortunately, this needlessly long and redundant second half holds back the album as a whole from really helping the band break out. To Elvenpath: we all love metal, but what you've done here has been done a hundred times before and pretty much goes without saying. Stick with what you're so obviously good at.

Despite the dragging of the latter part of this work, I suggest finding yourself a copy of this album if you're at all into heavy or power metal, as the first half in particular will satisfy any number of palettes. Heck, buy it and only rip or listen to the first half if you must, but buy it all the same. Elvenpath, if they can continue to muster the kind of power and passion that they have begun to actualize here, will be a band to be talked about.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, July 12

Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa


Always being classed as one of the bands with a near-flawless output thus far, Finnish folk-black metallers Moonsorrow had a lot of pressure on their shoulders with the anticipation of their 6th album. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (English: “As shadows, we walk through the land of the dead”) is the result, and I agree with the band in it being their darkest and gloomiest yet. It is also very heavy in an emotional sense; the native Finnish lyrics convey feelings of desperation and loss, but also hope and the beauty of solitude, with a final sense of absolution.

The album is a literary delight to describe, but almost impossible to do justice in musical terms. The band have slowed down in tempo, that much is clear, but the record still makes room for folky passages in the vein of Equilibrium, with mandolins and bouzouki interweaving with acoustic and distorted guitars. A great example of this is the fantastic opening of “Huuto” (The Scream), which starts with a jubilant folk section which is then mirrored in metal form. Tarvonen's various styles of drumming must also be commended, especially on “Huuto”. The synthesizers from Eurén are tasteful and add well to the cinematic atmosphere. However, the band certainly don't forget their more extreme metal roots, especially in the bleak tremolo section in the last track, “Kuolleiden Maa” (To The Land Of The Dead), which reflects the sentiments in the lyrics perfectly. One final interesting note is how these songs will appear in live format: there are many moments I can envision onstage, such as the fist-pumping anthem of “Muinaiset” (The Ancient Ones), so it is clear that the band focus on being concise, despite the lengthy songs.

The synopsis is of a lost group of wanderers in the cold forests and mountains, whose people have become extinct, and they are also destined to die. The group dwindles, as can be heard in the cinematic transition tracks of footsteps and coughs, but faint strains of folk to try and instill hope. By the end, the narrator is alone and lays down by a river, “thoughts flow with water/so warm is the hazy air/the sun is far hidden from the eye/in my bloody fist I close the earth/I free myself from everything”.* Admittedly, the story has been executed by other bands before, but rarely with such a film-like atmosphere; the album could be used as the soundtrack for a movie adaptation.

Henri Sorvalli, when not weaving basslines, destroys his throat in a mid-range black metal scream which works well with the Finnish language, and the lyrics are incredibly poetic: “soon the first will grab a weapon/makes an end of blasphemy and madness/when even the last is guilty of murder/on these cold paths”*. A Sentenced-like growl also appears on “Muinaiset” in great contrast to the screams. The backing vocals chanting “kuolema” (Finnish for 'death') in the last track are particularly poignant, like the dead souls haunting the dying. There are excerpts provided for the transition tracks which read as though from a traveller's diary, and also fit as an accompaniment.

Sure to please the fans, and sure to impress any lover of folk-black metal, Moonsorrow have certainly outdone themselves with a masterpiece which invokes many feelings when listening. Even without understanding the lyrics, there is a sense of mystery about the album, even after multiple listens. Time will tell whether the band are able to top this album, but for now this comes highly recommended.

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Angel's rating: 5/5

* Translation provided by the wonderful Elina Aho.

Saturday, July 9

Hevisaurus - Jurahevin Kuninkaat

Jurahevin Kuninkaat


Looking at the cover of this album, the most likely reaction that any metalhead would have is a raised eyebrow. A bunch of dinosaurs dressed in spikes and leather? Yeah, that's pretty strange all right, and the childish depiction on the cover is fairly indicative of what lies inside. This is indeed metal written for children. Strange as that may sound, most sectors of entertainment are becoming so personalized and specialized these days that it really should come as no surprise. However, there's one very special thing about Hevisaurus that is not conveyed by the cover: this album is GOOD. It'll lift you up and drag you by the collar as well as or better than many conventional heavy metal releases. And since it's sung purely in Finnish, most of us won't connect with the lyrics either, which makes it a bit less childish-seeming to listen to.

Though the of the songs here are painfully obviously kid's songs ("Kapteeni Koukku"- basically "When The Ants/Johnny Go(es) Marching Home"), and the dinos have names like Milli Pilli, Riffi Raffi, and Komppi Momppi, this is very catchy and proficient heavy metal that's actually surprisingly ballsy in places for a child's record. It ranges from classic, sweeping Finnish power metal to modern hard rocking tracks, all performed in a high-energy and very skillful fashion by a group of Finnish musicians that you'd expect this kind of work from (most notably Henrik Klingenburg and Jens Johansson). Silly or not, Hevisaurus has the same knack for melody as the rest of their kinsmen, and they infuse every song with it.

The vocalist (name not provided publicly) definitely utilizes a style that will appeal to children more than adults. He's animated and friendly sounding, and while this might get irritating in some metal, it really lends character to Hevisaurus's music. Though little of this is original, it's performed in such a novel way that you'll almost forget that you've heard nearly identical tunes before. The instrumentation is part of this feeling- there are speedy guitar riffs, shiny keyboard accents, and fun but not over-the-top guitar solos. Those songs that are obviously dealing with silly or childish subjects ("Haloo, Haloo!" and "Popkornipulla") are saved by their double bass, cheery choruses, and general good nature.

"Jurahevin Kuninkaat" is a quality slice of heavy metal that's assembled so well that it's also a great piece of children's music (or the other way 'round, take your pick). You can bet your life that most kids are going to dig this a lot more than some random Raffi album or pop sewage that you can pluck off the store shelves, too. Yes it's simple, yes it's redundant, and it definitely shouldn't be overplayed, but this is something that any of us metal fans can proudly play for our kids, all the while confident that they're being exposed to excellent music from a young age. Look out mom and dad, you might end up banging your heads too.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Friday, July 8

Before Eden - The Legacy Of Gaia

Before Eden
The Legacy Of Gaia


Sometimes it seems like the forces of the universe are all conspiring to not make you like a piece of music. “The Legacy Of Gaia” is already a dense album, and my first encounter with it and its creators, the Brazilian progressive metal band Before Eden, was less than fortunate. You see, originally I got hold of  the first pressing of their sophomore record, with an audio quality similar to that of a drunken fool banging on an upside down garbage can in a damp dungeon. Luckily the actual promotional copy concerned a re-mastered re-release, which gave me an actual opportunity to evaluate the music. A process that proved to be long and difficult, but in the end I’m glad I stuck with it. To provide an adequate idea of what this little gem sounds like, I’ll (not so) quickly guide you through the individual songs.

With a title like opener “Nomad Soul” one can’t go but oriental, and the fast-paced guitar and keyboard lines swirl like the sand under the hoofs of the nomad’s steed and sweep like the desert wind over his head. Singer Jason Peixer’s chanting of the title echoes as through the dunes at dusk, invoking a grand aura of mystery and solitude. The eastern influence is never far here, which not only ties the material well together, but gives it a feeling akin to Tunisian colleagues Myrath. Yet despite this congruency, each track brings something unique to the table: “Wizard Of The South” provides a rare instantly memorable chorus and “Essence” is a slow-burning and dark affair. The center of attention is the six-part titular suite, which takes us from mystically obscure to splendidly melancholic. The story is similar to Seventh Wonder’s “The Great Escape”, a story of refuge from a dying Earth. “Nova” is an epic in the density of space, while “Tomorrow’s Gone” and “Everland” immerse you in a beautiful state of hopelessness. “Reality” closes the album in style, with another outstanding chorus.

Also included are four bonus tracks, three of them taken from the EP “A Dark Entity”. The title track of this EP is the only new song here, the others date back to the self-titled debut. There is a period of two years between “The Legacy Of Gaia” and this EP, but one song isn’t enough to decide whether Before Eden has evolved or not. One thing is certain: they are still not in a hurry to make it easy on the listener, since “A Dark Entity” is every bit as hermetic as what came before. I do notice a stronger Dream Theater-influence here, with some added harsher vocals; but for now it is unclear how much of this will matter in the future. The songs plucked from the debut pale a little bit compared to their successors, but that can only be a good thing.

“The Legacy Of Gaia” seems to be a work from a progressive power metal band in its earlier stages. I hear bits and pieces of Symphony X’s “The Divine Wings Of Tragedy” and “Twilight In Olympus”, and Kamelot’s “Siege Perilous”; both already impressive releases from bands who would go on to do even greater. Peixer’s singing style sounds like Roy Khan’s as well, further strengthening the comparison. Time will tell if Before Eden is headed in the glorious direction of its peers, but for now “The Legacy Of Gaia” can stand on its own as a demanding, but rewarding addition to the genre.


Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5

Thursday, July 7

Snowblind - Prisoners on Planet Earth

Prisoners on Planet Earth


Perhaps the first thing most metalheads will notice about this band is the name: Snowblind. This can mean a number of things, but I am pretty certain that it is used here in tribute to Black Sabbath. Plodding, repetitive metal, then, is the order of the day. However, Snowblind's latest record, "Prisoners on Planet Earth," seems to be lacking something that made Sabbath's early albums so brilliant - the sort of creative "spark" that has allowed Sabbath's works to stand strong throughout the forty years of evolution that have taken place since. Any given song from "Prisoners," is reasonably good if taken by itself, but none are memorable, and herein lies the problem.

Instrumentally, there is nothing overly spectacular here. The drums and bass plod along at a mid-paced rock groove for the entirety of the album, not doing anything wrong, but generally failing to do anything interesting. The guitar work is a bit more interesting, as there are a number of interesting riffs and solos throughout the album. I don't generally pay much attention to solos, but there were a few in here that caught my attention (see "In the Name of God," "Life and Death," or the Manowar-tinged "Macedonia"). Unfortunately, the guitar work, however interesting it may be at a given point, seems to suffer from the same problem as the rhythm section: ideas are repeated throughout the album to such a degree that they lose their appeal by the end of the listen. The riffs here are generally good, but they are far too similar to each other to be memorable.

"Prisoners on Planet Earth" also suffers to some degree from the vocals, or more specifically, the vocals in conjunction with the production. The singing isn't horrible, but neither is it very good; the singer has a limited range and occasionally has trouble staying on-key, but overall he puts on a decent performance. However, the poor production has relegated him to the background, with plenty of reverb but little punch, wrecking what would have been a serviceable, if unspectacular, vocal performance.

When I listen to "Prisoners on Planet Earth," my mind keeps coming back to one word: "unspectacular." This doesn't mean it's bad - in fact, if you are looking for some simple, catchy metal with a bit of fun guitar work, I would recommend that you check out a couple songs from "Prisoners." The problem is, it doesn't matter which ones.

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Morpheus's Rating: 1.75/5

Wednesday, July 6

Audrey Horne - Audrey Horne

Audrey Horne
Audrey Horne


Audrey Horne is a band of Norwegian black metal musicians playing alternative and “in-your-face”-rock (as they call it themselves). The music’s melodic overall, and with its own little twist. The quartet, made up of members of Enslaved, Sahg and Deride, have released one EP and three albums. At the first listen it might seem like any other melodic alternative rock album, the kind you brush off, thinking you’ve heard the type before. But it doesn’t take long until the little twists and unique atmosphere appear.
Audrey Horne certainly have developed their sound since "Le Fol" in 2007, but not quite as one would expect. They've moved away from the mainstream heavy metal/rock style of "Le Fol" and taken off the edges. There are strong similarities to the previous album, and the lyrics call back to mind songs like “Monster” and “In The End.”

The lyrics follow the same line as those in "Le Fol",  and are just as odd. Some songs, like “Blaze of Ashes” and “Firehose”, could’ve been taken from the aforementioned album. They’re still revolving around inter-human relationships and death; some have a mythological approach (“Charon”), while others are more morbid (“Down Like Suicide”).

As a psychologically analytical reader, I find the underlying message of a number of the tracks to be suicide letters. I see "Audrey Horne" as a concept album: a journey from depression to suicide and back to happiness, whether before or after death. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly outstanding; it has been done before. Also, the music doesn’t made it sound like much of a concept album, and neither do the vocals.

The vocals follow the same approach as "Le Fol"
,  and in some songs (“Firehose”) they are processed and buried within the instruments, while they’re perfectly clear and present on other songs (“Bridges and Anchors”). Overall Toschie does a good job, using his own style instead of imitating others. He complements the instruments nicely without taking over the show.

Audrey Horne might be comparable to a number of classic rock and metal acts, but when all is said and done they maintain their own personal style. Throughout the album they keep the same sound, almost repetitively. There are a few guitar solos which unfortunately aren't as good as they could’ve been (they come out sounding mediocre, and aren’t too catchy). The catchy radio-worthy melodies are still there, luckily; what they did this time was including more ballads and concentrated upon making the song's intros and outros flow into and out of each other. In particular, “Pitch Black Mourning” is one that I feel I’ve heard before, but just can’t remember where. It’s a very odd song, but still classic Audrey Horne.

Moving on to the bonus tracks; these are six acoustic tracks that you should hear, among which are Audrey Horne’s first two cover songs. The first three songs (“Desert Song”, “Carrie” and “Bright Lights”) are average acoustic versions of heavier songs which add nothing extra. But on “Nowhere to Run”, a KISS cover, you're in for a surprise. It opens with a slightly drunken voice saying, in Norwegian: “’Ey, play some Kiss, damnit.” And that’s just what they do, seemingly during a jam or practice session. The penultimate song, “Rearview Mirror”, features a female singer, which together with Toschie’s vocals and the band’s instrumental skills, could well have been taken from a Disney movie score. The final song, “Halo” (a Beyoncé cover), is a marvellous cover, and had I not checked who wrote it, I would’ve thought it was one of Audrey Horne’s own songs.

In general, this album is good if you want some background music that doesn’t catch too much attention, though I would recommend buying the digipack bonus version for the acoustic songs.

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Ønskje's rating: 3.5/5