Monday, February 28
Thursday, February 24
Wednesday, February 23
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!
Monday, February 21
Thursday, February 17
Wednesday, February 16
The Protagonist's Rating: 7.0 out of 10
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.
Tuesday, February 15
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.
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Live Long and Rock Hard,
Space Kev's Rating: 7.75 out of 10
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
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
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
Thursday, February 10
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.
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Live Long and Rock Hard,
Space Kev's Rating: 8.25 out of 10