Saturday, April 30

Lost In Thought ~ Opus Arise


Lost In Thought
Opus Arise
2011
 ~

I was lost in thought when I found myself thinking about the region of Wales in the U.K., and it occurred to me that many things that I love come from there. It's where the BBC films Doctor Who and Torchwood, is full of mythology and castles (which are perfect for the metal genre), and if I was to go backpacking there, I wouldn't be attacked and turned into a werewolf, (since that happens on the complete opposite side of the UK). To add to my list of cool things about Wales, I now have Lost In Thought.

Lost in Thought play a brand of progressive power metal that fans of Pagan's Mind, Seventh Wonder, and Circus Maximus will find appealing. Despite Opus Arise being the band's debut CD, the songs show a depth and maturity that you'd expect from a group with a few releases under its belt and because of this, Lost In Thought make a great first impression.

It is quite obvious from the first notes of the first song, "Beyond The Flames", that Lost In Thought is full of musicians that make full use of their talents, but don't go so far overboard that the average listener gets lost in confusing musical concepts. Opus Arise has its full on metal moments (such as "Entity") and shows its softer side in moments like "New Times Awaken". While I would have liked a couple more blisteringly fast songs, it was just not to be. For the most part, Lost In Thought play mid-tempo melodic progressive metal with plenty of time changes and unique musical progressions.

Opus Arise is an impressive debut CD that will satisfy the prog-rocker in you and more. Perhaps their next album will bring a few more full-tilt tracks to satisfy my hunger for speed, but in the meantime, I'll just listen to Opus Arise and dream of castles.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev


Space Kev's Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Faithsedge ~ Faithsedge


Faithsedge
Faithsedge
2011

~

There was a time before pretty boys with acid-washed jeans distorted the meaning of radio friendly pop metal and turned it (and anything that is even remotely similar to it), into the generic hair metal that people with a dim mind and less discerning ears playfully mock and giggle at. The bands that came before the *ahem* hair movement were more dynamic and less formulaic than the bands that followed. While Night Ranger, Ratt, and Dokken were at the top of the heap, bands like Keel, Icon, Rough Cutt, and Helix were developing a twin guitar attack that added melodic depth to their sound. Faithsedge has picked up the mantle and carried it into the new millennium with their self-titled debut release.


I mentioned some bands that had a dynamic pop metal sound. Faithsedge certainly has that feel, and dangnabbit it sounds refreshing! I wasn't exactly sure how much I was going to like this cd, because the opening song "There's Still Hope" lacked a little of that indescribable oomph to push it past my presumptuous attitude. Then "Let It End This Way" began with its Ozzy inspired riff and my wall of preconceived notions fell by the wayside.


The songs are all well-written and performed, but the overall production of the cd is lacking a modern punch. As it is, the production favors a melodic, and dare I say, light-on-its-feet guitar sound. While this is important for the style of the songs, the bass and drum sound is sacrificed (the bass is in the background and the drums lack any bombast).


While the songs on Faithsedge have classic elements in them, I think they would also appeal to fans of more modern bands like Hinder, Lifehouse and Daughtry. All of the songs are anthemic and will no doubt inspire the listener to get their cell phone out (the modern equivalent of the lighter) and raise it into the air.

~ ~ ~


Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev




Space Kev's Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, April 29

Wizard - ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes

Wizard
...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes
2011

-

Seriously, what is up with 2011 and ridiculously-hard-to-spell album titles? First there was Sons Of Seasons’ “Magnisphyricon” and now there’s Wizard’s “…Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes” (I deserve a medal for typing this). What will the next Edguy-album be called? “The Vicissitudes of Phosphoric Resuscitation”? For the sake of my own sanity, I’m going to refer to this album as “…Of Waterfalls and Boomerangs”, alright?

So far for the bad news, because despite its title, “…Of Waterfalls and Boomerangs” provides deliciously uncomplicated heavy/power metal, in the vein of other Teutonic acts like Paragon and Iron Savior. Vicious like a pack of wolves, Wizard rips you to shreds with their fast-paced rhythms until you howl alongside them with the epically catchy choruses. The onslaught loses some momentum towards the end, but by then the Germans have already offered you more infectious material than a container full of used drug needles ever could.

Make no mistake: you’ve heard this stuff before, and maybe even better. But fans of the genre should lap this up, and it’s so tremendously fun, that it really doesn’t matter anyway. There comes a point where you can’t fault a band for not being original, because it is obvious they have no intention to be. Some musicians like the challenge of pushing  themselves to the limit, others settle for the comfort of being good at what they do. Wizard clearly falls into that second category. The result may or may not be to your liking, but in either case the responsibility is yours, not the band’s. So you’re either in the pack of wariwulfs and bluotvarwes or you’re out, Wizard can only offer you a place.

---

Arno Callens' rating: 3.5 out of 5


Mercenary - Metamorphosis


Mercenary
Metamorphosis
2011

-

Mercenary are, apparently, a rather popular melodic death/power metal band from Denmark, and from what I’ve read they’ve undergone a major style change. So being new to the band, I looked up some songs on YouTube. Their old songs were great, mixing a decent clean singing style and a high pitched shriek along with keyboards over the typical melodic death metal. Not this album. The singer more often opts for a more punk-sounding, alt rock type style mixed with a few “growls” which are much more reminiscent of a wimpy hardcore scream. Apart from the vocals, the rest of the music is pretty decent if uninteresting. The keyboards pop up from time to time, most notably in "In a River of Madness". The guitars are OK, chugging along, screeching out a melodic solo from time to time, and basically doing what guitars almost always do in a situation such as this. Drumming is the typical double-bass affair.

The intro track, "Through the Eyes of the Devil", is one of the best songs on the album. There is ONE catchy vocal line on this album, and it is featured on this song. Luckily for the band, this happens to occur during the chorus, so we hear it a couple of times. The album picks up a bit, and I mean only a bit, in the second half. "On the Edge of Sanity" is the best and last song on the album. It’s not that it’s amazingly different, just more melodic death metal-y. The absolute best part of this song is the end, because that means that the album is over (unless you have the American version with the bonus track "The Black Brigade", in which case you have another 5:44 to suffer). One thing that is constantly in the front my mind while listening to this is the fact that almost all these songs sound the same. I could live with this if it was one really good song, but it’s the same punk poser metal-wannabe song over and over, and nobody wants that. Except losers.

The one place that this band does well on this album is introductions. Most of the songs have pretty decent intros which do the worst possible thing a good intro can do: they give you hope. The song starts and you think to yourself, “Hey, this could be a good song!” and then things begin to turn sour faster than a week-old potato salad in the hot desert sun. There are some decent solos, however. Nothing special or amazing, but better than the rest of the album.

All in all, this album left me feeling dirty. Please, if anyone reads this review, don’t sully your eardrums with this garbage.

---

Claus’ Rating 1/5


I would never compromise the integrity of this site by posting a video.

Thursday, April 28

Circle of Silence - "The Blackened Halo"


Circle of Silence
The Blackened Halo
2011

-

Primal Fear fans rejoice! With their third album, "The Blackened Halo," German metalheads Circle of Silence have given fans a nice heavy slab of aggressive power metal, featuring plenty of memorable moments and powerful riffage (I'm pretty sure that's not a word, but I'm using it anyway - but I digress). They don't introduce anything new to the genre, but this is inconsequential. While there is something to be said for innovation, there is also something to be said for doing something because it worked before. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and these are the words that Circle of Silence, like their aforementioned countrymen, live by.

Stylistically, the material here is a mixture of power, thrash, and traditional metal, with the emphasis on power metal. The songwriting is relatively concise, with only two songs topping the five-minute mark. This suits Circle of Silence's aggressive style quite well, as no song overstays its welcome, and every song leaves the listener wanting more. That is not to say that the songs sound incomplete; rather, they communicate what they need to communicate, and then end with little messing around. The vocals of singer Niklas Keim should also be noted here; his voice lower-pitched and less melodic than that of most power metal singers, but very powerful, and they lend a bit of a unique feel to the album.

While I find that most metal albums are best appreciated as single entities (with songs serving as "chapters," more or less), "The Blackened Halo" is certainly a song-based album, and I shall review it as such. All of the songs are pretty standard-sounding metal songs, but none are noticeably weak, and there are several that stand out as excellent. The furious opener "Synthetic Sleep" features some some really jagged-edged riffing contrasted with more melodic parts, as well as a number of simple but convincing guitar leads. "Take Your Life" and the closer "Until the Worlds Collide" (which begins with a deceptively soft piano intro before the riff bursts in), add an intriguing bit of Gothenburg-style guitar riffing to the mix. Perhaps my favorite, though, is "21 Grams," and I could go into this for a while, but I'll just say that it's a very well-written song, effectively building tension throughout the verses and releasing it through the incredibly powerful chorus, which is certainly one of the highlights of the album.

If there is one problem with "The Blackened Halo," it is that the material here is fairly unoriginal. This is not necessarily a problem; there are many great albums that are just as derivative. The songs mentioned above are all great examples of a band taking a good formula and perfecting it, and for the most part, the other songs are very well-done as well. However, there is little variation from song to song, and after a while, the material begins to blend together, reducing some of the overall impact of the individual songs. This is not to say that the album is poorly put-together, but it could use a little more variation in the songwriting.

All told, "The Blackened Halo" is a solid album, with good songs and powerful riffs. It doesn't pretend to innovate in any way, but for what it is, it is very well done. Despite a lack of variety in the songwriting, it manages to maintain a consistently high standard from song to song, and I look forward to hearing more from Circle of Silence.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 3.0/5




Valkiria- The Pathway

Valkiria
The Pathway
2004

-


I don't even remember how I got my hands on this album, but I've had it for almost as long as I've been into power metal. Valkiria is a power metal outfit from Chile who produced The Pathway as their one and only studio album. I know little about the band, who they are, or what happened to them, but their one shot has left a light but lasting impression upon me.


One at first gets the impression that this is going to be a science-fiction inspired album, with the rather cool and spacey intro track. However, Valkiria quickly turns the tables back to traditional melodic power metal with the driving "Only A Dream". Quite pleasant, if a little bit jarring (the production on this album is not the greatest), the band puts their strong point out front immediately: they know darn well how to write and perform their guitar leads. The Pathway has some very cool and melodically sensible guitar work, even if it's not overly flashy.


Vocally, this is fairly middle of the road. Lead vocalist Jaime Salva is nothing special, to be sure, but he generally is able to do the rest of the band justice. He succumbs a bit to the typical failing of this genre in that he starts losing power and tone when he begins to reach his high range. That said, he presents a rather solid mid-range that supports the band's ample instrumental talents, and life goes on. The piano on this album is a little bit sparse, but I look forward to it every time it is featured in a brief interlude. Rather than play with the typical synths (though these are included at times) as this genre tends to do, Valkiria sticks with a more traditional upright sound that is rather refreshing and fun. The drumming is solid but seems to occasionally have trouble keeping the band together. The percussive hyperactivity is doubled-edged in this respect but generally displays above average talent.


A few problems present themselves in "Betray", as the band adds some vocal and keyboard effects that I think detract from the music as a whole. The middle of the album tends to stagnate a bit, in part because of the addition of some rather mediocre female vocals on "I Feel". Energy is regenerated anew by the energetic "Scepter Of Power", but doesn't reach the potential that the band is capable of, despite some really excellent guitar and drum work. The next couple of tracks are nothing special, and one gets the feeling that the album is petering out with Valkiria having capitalized on all of its talent until...


"El Angel De La Espada Sagrada" calls the listener to attention with its commanding and resonating guitar intro, which turns into a driving mid-tempo rocker. Suddenly, the listener is surrounded by Spanish lyrics rather than the English that has been standard up to this point, and it sounds much more natural. The songs swings back and forth between an excellent guitar-dominated stomp and a sweeping mellow chorus that the band emerges from with conviction. After chilling me with this newfound mastery of variation and decisive guitar work, the band launches into an extended and thoroughly proficient solo section before varying the dynamics again by dropping into a ballad-like bridge. Once again, the triumphant call of the guitar rings out, rallying the band back into a rousing outro and concluding a jaw-dropping five minute experience. Unfortunately, you've no time to recover. "En Busca Del Talisman" picks up right where the last track left off. Though we don't get quite the same energy, this one's another top-notch Spanish-sung epic (and a bit longer, at almost 8 minutes) that doesn't wear out its welcome.


These last couple of songs tend to send a chill down my spine, despite the inconsistency of the rest of the album. It's a pity that Valkiria is no longer together, since for a brief moment the band puts together some of the strongest power metal that I've ever heard from this part of the world. I don't know how difficult The Pathway is to find, but any fan of the genre owes themself the musical bliss that this album provides at its best. This is a good album, with touches of absolute brilliance, and highly recommended to those searching for something off the beaten path.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 7.75 out of 10



Stargazery ~ Eye On The Sky


Stargazey
Eye On The Sky
2011


~


Some bands have names that make no sense (pick 90% of the emo bands out there today), and some bands are named after their egotistical leader Van Halen comes to mind). Some bands however, have a name that they grow into and suits their sound like a glove. Stargazery is one of those bands and their newest release, Eye on the Sky, only enhances that name.

Eye on the Sky has a larger than gravity feel and there is defiantly a particular ambiance to it. Stargazery's overall sound has a classic rock/metal vibe, which I can easily compare to 80s Joey Lynn Turner-era Ranbow and David Coverdale's vocal performance on Whitesnake's Slide It In. There is even a hint of pop sensibility similar to Europe's Final Countdown.

Despite my comparision to the classic rock/metal sound, the production is very modern and this is where their sound becomes their own. They create an ambient vibe with the keyboard, the occasional unique sound clip, and they also skip the overwhelming use of reverb. Other modern touches to the music include the use of double-bass drum and some speed picking by the guitars. The overall blend of the individual instruments create that larger than gravity feel that I mentioned. Add to that the vocal performance of Jari Tiura, which is very bluesy, perhaps like David Coverdale.

Every song on Eye on the Sky has an anthemic sing-along feel. This makes the the music accessible to a wide range of people. "How Many Miles" and "Jester of Kings" will have people mouthing along on their iPods. The guitar solo on "S.O.S" is probably the tastiest one on the cd, and the opening track "Dying" kicks things off with a fist pumping beat.

I happen to love this classic feel, and I suppose a lot of that is due to the fact that I was a pimply faced teenager when the bands that I compare Stargazery to were in their prime. As I mentioned, Eye on the Sky is a very very accessible cd, but it does give a little nod to the past. It is a good debut release that will give you a soar throat from all the sing-along choruses, and your arm will be tired from pumping your fist in the air.

~ ~ ~


Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev




Space Kev's Rating: 7.75 out of 10


Wednesday, April 27

Woodscream - Pentadrama

Woodscream
Pentadrama
2010

-

I'm always happy to entertain review requests from bands, and this EP exemplifies why. Being a critic allows one to hear some little-known music from around the world and experience some very unique material. In the case of Russia's Woodscream, this means folk-inspired heavy metal of a rather straight-forward and rocking variety that is rather accessible, easy to catch on and get in to, and a fair bit of fun.

Pentadrama is, as one might expect, comprised of five songs. All of them are quite short and sweet, falling in the 3:00-3:40 range. For an EP this works very well, as it allows the group to explore some ideas and melodies without wearing out their welcome, especially since their work isn't proggy or experimental. The production here is more than fair for an unsigned EP, and the listen time is short enough that there's no redundancy either. Many of the melodies are decidedly Russian in character, but are coupled with the rather modern tone and timbre of guitar and voice, so this quite an easy album to listen to.

Part of what helps is vocalist Valentina Tsyganova, whose voice is a bit more easy to follow than say, Laura Binder of Dalriada. It doesn't have the same nasally tone and is generally a bit more sharp-edged and aggressive. Otherwise, there are certainly some similarities between Woodscream and this by now well-established Hungarian folk band. Woodscream are more brief and simple in nature, but may actually be considered listenable to more people. As I mention above, I consider them folk-inspired heavy metal rather than folk metal itself (the violin is really the only persistent instrumental element that implies folk), though there is definitely a blurring of lines. Death vocals are only present on a single track, and don't really push my opinion one way or the other.

I expect the market for this sort of music is pretty good over in eastern Europe, but this may be restrained from expanding much because it is sung in Russian (I for one generally do not mind). There is a point during “Чёрная Cмерть” (“Black Death”) with a spoken section that drags a bit. I'm never a fan of this in any music, and especially when I have no idea what is being said. The band is redeemed however, by a couple of very nifty keyboard sections that are mournfully brief but extremely well executed. This is definitely something that I'd want to see more of on a studio album, since the run in “Аббат Джон” (“Abbot John”) is particularly excellent. In spite of this, my favorite track remains the excited “Аконит” (“Aconite”), with its furious fiddling.

Pentadrama is a neat little EP, and doubly so for those of us who are interested in seeing more young folk talent rise out of a country like Russia. This is energetic and challenging music, but could benefit mainly from a bit more alternate instrumentation (more pipes and keyboard). With any luck, This young group will find themselves a bit of critical acclaim and attract some attention. Russia pumps out enough mediocre heavy metal that something like this deserves a bit of recognition.


- - -


The Protagonist's Rating: 7.0 out of 10


Tuesday, April 26

InsIDead ~ Chaos ElecDead


InsIDead
Chaos ElecDead
2011


~


I have seen the light of a thousand torches illuminating the night sky. Torches born by a mob storming a castle that is providing shelter to a menacing and misunderstood monster. As I watch I suck in a breath of fresh air, but my lungs seem to fill of molten steel and my head feels like it's been slammed with a gunny sack filled with bricks . What in tarnation am I talking about? This is InsIDead's latest release, Chaos ElecDead.


InsIDead play a brand of technical thrash that is similar in style to Meshuggah and Soilwork. To me, technical thrash blends the aggression of thrash with the melodic intonation of power metal. Many metal bands derive their tone, especially their drum tone, from Metallica's highly over produced cd …And Justice For All (much to my disappointment). To my delight however, InsIDead have a solid grasp on technical thrash. Even better, they come at us with a sound that is more organic, if a little dry at times. Their drums actually sound like drums and not overly compressed pillowcases.


Much like Meshuggah and Soilwork, InsIDead's vocals go back and forth between aggressive yelling and aggressive singing. This is not always the case though, George T does display his softer side on "Time", the closest thing there is to a ballad. The cd is full of nice layered guitar riffing, it adds a nice melodic feel and Jim T does exhibit some nice shredding. As I have said a million times before, no band worth its own weight is any good without a solid rhythm section, and Nick M and Jim M can certainly break some bones.


The initial riff on the opening song "No I.D" creates that anticipation you get moments before a massive mosh pit erupts in the concert hall, so its a decent song to lead off Chaos ElecDead. As I mentioned earlier, "Time" is the closest thing there is to a ballad and it's a great song because of the shifts in tempo, tone, and vocals. Other songs such as "Away From Me" and "In My World" mix it up little with sections in the songs that are not too far removed from some of the radio friendly metal that is easy to listen to.

Chaos ElecDead from InsIDead is really good. I really enjoy their organic tone, even if it could use a little tweaking. The songs are excellent, and they make me feel kick-ass!


~ ~ ~


Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev



Space Kev's Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Angband - Visions Of The Seeker

Angband
Visions Of The Seeker
2010

- - -

Right, here's a band whose 2010 release slipped more or less under my radar. Though because of all the quality metal coming out last year, and given that Angband hail all the way from Iran (needless to say, not your typical country for metal of this variety), I don't think you could fault anyone for not hearing this. With a Tolkien-inspired name, you might think that Visions Of The Seeker is going to be another lame interpretation of the great man's work. However, Angband takes only its name from Mr. Tolkien (at least, as far as I can tell), and certainly precious little of his talent.

I was really hoping that this album would be a great one, and therefore be a bona fide "diamond in the rough". Unfortunately, Angband is destined to remain a very faint blip on the radar for most of us, unless of course you're the sort of person that gets aggravated by poor power metal. This is unfortunately quite dull, and at times it descends rather decidedly into the dark depths that lie beneath mediocrity. The first real track, "Blind Anger", isn't bad, but it remains constantly without a real melody. The drums and rhythm guitar consistently pound out a bland and uniform background (save for a bit of interesting alternative percussive work here and there by a non-traditional metal instrument) until the song ends rather abruptly. The vocals on this track remind me almost of melodic sobs, which is strange to say the least. The supporting background vocals are of a high, slightly piercing quality, and remind me of kittens mewling at times. Not a pleasant combination. Even the solo section is just boring.

The second tune is where we are treated to the real meat of the album. At this point, the music is quite awful. Harsh vocals which might sound despairing and potent in some setting are just awkward and laughable when combined with the "sobbing" sound of the lead vocals that I've already described. From this point forward, the instrumentation moves back and forth from a dull pounding to a chaotic mess that doesn't contain a redeeming solo or lead to save the album's life. We've all heard some bad power metal, but this is as bad as it gets. I don't know if the band's sense of tonality is just so far removed from my own that I'm unable to appreciate it, or if it's really just completely melodically nonsensical.

Something else worth mentioning here is the timbre of the distortion. On most of the tracks, it's a low-fi quality that, were it much fuzzier, could be mistaken for raw black metal. I'm sure that this is due to the low quality of available recording equipment in the band's home country. This lends the album a very harsh flavor that is not pleasant to those of us who are used to and seeking garden-variety power metal. Certainly, there's no claim of Visions Of The Seeker fitting perfectly into the genre's mold, but I don't think many at all will find this a pleasant listen.

Angband's formula might be more bearable if it were a bit more brief, but these songs drag on and on sometimes, plodding along at a tempo that feels slower than it actually is due to the lack of inventiveness in the guitar lines. Despite an occasional interesting spot (the interlude in "Easy To Believe", or one of the brief glimpses of indigenous percussion), the band generally meanders back and forth between complete dullness and actively offending my hearing. Ultimately, this album ought to remain where it came from. If this is the sort of music that Angband and their metal-starved friends in Iran love, so be it, but I want nothing to do with it. I can't in good faith recommend this to anyone, but there is a lesson to be learned here in what to avoid. Visions Of The Seeker is worth hearing just a little of, if only to discover a side of metal that is better left untouched.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 2.0 out of 10



Cellador - Enter Deception

Cellador
Enter Deception
2006

-


A few years ago, and not long after I got into metal, someone steered me clear of Cellador's Enter Deception, claiming it to be one of the worst examples of power metal that they'd heard. Being the naive young metalhead that I was, I took them up on their advice and haven't listened to this album until recently. Now that I have experienced it, I wish for the life of me that I could remember who it was that influenced me to stay away from it, as I'd like to give them a sharp slap upside the head.

The trick with this album is to get hooked on the fire-spitting guitar riffs, the galloping drum lines, and the furious melodies. If you accomplish this, the rest will just fall into place. Start perhaps with the terrific "Never Again", where the vocals are spot-on most of the time and the guitar leads won't quit. I'd wager that it's darn near impossible for any fan of blindingly fast, incessantly melodic power metal to dislike this track. From there, move to some of the band's other work (don't bother trying to find something slow, it doesn't exist here, and I can appreciate a band for that), focusing again upon the instrumentation first and foremost.

Especially if Dragonforce is popular, I see no reason why this album shouldn't be better known and better appreciated. Sure, Chris Petersen isn't on par with ZP Theart, but he's not an awful vocalist either. Some of the screams are a bit strained, some of the notes are held a bit long, and sometimes the vocals don't quite fit the background instrumentation the greatest, but I've heard significantly worse in my relatively short time on this earth. In fact, with a better-refined vocal section (I even think that with some tweaking, Petersen would be capable of carrying this out), Cellador could become a slightly more experimental, slightly downtempo, and considerably more enjoyable version of the mighty commercial machine that is Dragonforce. I sure as heck like Enter Deception better than half of their work as is.

We've acknowledged that you have to be a speed freak to dig this album, and it'll never quite be top-shelf material, but the (again, Dragonforce-esque) melodies are like a strong adhesive. Like myself, you may find yourself wanting to return to it ever more often after you've spun it a few times and adjusted. Similar to a number of good albums, this one is generally a grower and needs some time to sink in. This is the kind of album that's good for long drives on flat, boring highways, something we midwestern Americans have in spades.


So, as someone who admittedly jumped on the metal bandwagon with Dragonforce (gah, there's that bloody name again!), it's nice to at last know that there's something similar out there for those of us who enjoy the speed and melody, but can't handle ZP Theart all the time (or just want to try something different). Absolutely recommended for any power fan to try. This is a niche album, but a pretty sweet one. Once again, I'm rather peeved that I put off trying it out for so long. Those of you with similar appreciation for this sort of metal, please don't make the same mistake that I did. I've heard that there's at last a new Cellador album in the works, and you can bet I'll have my firt raised for it when it arrives.


- - -


The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25





Monday, April 25

Artizan - Curse of the Artizan

Artizan
Curse of the Artizan
2011

-

Sometimes it seems like there’s not much to say about a record. This isn’t because it’s boring, or uninspired, but occasionally stems from a general sense of professionalism on a well executed record. That’s the scenario we’re faced with, when reviewing Artizan’s debut LP, “Curse of the Artizan”.

At first glance, this is fairly straight-lined traditional metal. Not in the sense of the classic bands, but there’s really nothing to classify it into the typical subgenres like power, death, or thrash. Perhaps you could call it melodic metal, without confusing it with the European bands that usually claim that title. The album contains consistently solid guitar work, especially in “Game within a Game” and “Rise”. The drums are a bit more distinctive, at the very least sparing the listener from the double bass pedal assault often abused in recent metal. 

  The vocals on the album are the biggest standout: if there’s anything that’s really memorable, it’s the voice of Tom Braden. I’ve always been a big fan of unique and memorable voices and Braden certainly has one, although he doesn’t seem willing to push it to its limits quite yet. I count myself excited for hearing that if it ever happens. Compositionally, this is a very refreshing record, the rhythms are complex enough to keep the listener engaged, but simple enough to let the melodies shine. “Game within a Game” is the most memorable track, a mid tempo, mid length number with a crushing rhythm guitar and a great vocal performance. 

The melodies are good enough to distinguish each track, but on the first few listens, nothing in particular really latched itself onto my brain or was overtly catchy. What the band lacks in ground breaking melodies though, it makes up for in startling consistency. It’s important to remember that this is the first album, and there’s a really strong air of professionalism with the music. What the band sets out to accomplish, it nails right on the head. For a first effort, this is really strong, and shows a lot of potential, however as an isolated album, it lacks the “Wow factor” to break into the category of an elite release. I would however, give the album a positive review, because it’s a well above average album, knocking on the door of being very good. If this album lacks anything, it’s energy. A healthy diet of some of the high octane legends of the past could do the band unspeakable benefit and take them into the upper echelon. Give me a scream, or a grandiose guitar solo, and you have me sold. Most importantly though, I think this opens the door for a lot of possibilities for the band in the future, and they could have a bright career ahead of them, if not fully realized.

___
Dagg's rating: 3.75 out of 5



Desiderium - An Image Of Solitude

Desiderium
An Image Of Solitude
2011

~

Take two of the most successful names in atmospheric black metal (Agalloch and Borknagar) and meld them together in a unique fusion. That's an introduction to Desiderium, a US two-man project of Michael Rumple, vocalist of Acrasia, and guest Philip Wentworth as guitarist/bassist. Those familiar with Acrasia's prog metal tendencies, however, should put aside any idea of similarity, and instead enjoy what unfolds.

Musically speaking, the programmed drums are quite tasteful and varied, bearing in mind that neither Rumple nor Wentworth are drummers. From the raw approach to “And Her Cries Echoed Across The Hills” to the doom feel of closer “The Passing Of Life From Troubled Eyes”, the distorted guitars are not overpowering but still make themselves felt, and the tone on the solos is beautiful. The bass is unfortunately absent for the most part aside from “Pale Cloak Of Dawn”, and in my opinion a larger bass role would have made this a perfect release, but the other instruments and choral sections more than make up for it.

The listener is greeted with a piano- and synth-based “intro” of five minutes, a collaboration of bandmate Zach Dresher and experimental artist Will Mygatt, a calming atmospheric piece that also provides a neat segue. Each of the songs have their own feel about them; Rumple makes his love of Pale Folklore-era Agalloch well-known in the melodies, but there are also hints of aforementioned Borknagar along with Swallow The Sun and an orchestral ending to the album. There is definitely a lot of variety that has gone into this album, including some Arcturus-style cleans, a brilliantly executed acoustic section, and some space-y synthesizer effects, all on different songs.

The vocals were the biggest surprise here due to Rumple's usual lower growling approach in Acrasia. Instead, he goes for an easily-comprehensible rasp not unlike Haughm's (Agalloch) and some unproduced cleans on the last two tracks. His lyrical style is more honest and direct than many black metal bands, with such lines as “What men walked this path before I?/These memories are all forgotten/In one hundred years, so am I”. Granted, not as eloquent as some, but his narrative style of delivery in a slower post-metal fashion adds another dimension, and unites them well with the music.

Flaws are naturally present in this release, including the mentioned lack of bass, as well as the cleans which could have been softened with a little production. The influence of Agalloch is quite prominent, so anybody who seeks originality in music may be cautious in approach. Finally, the piano section in “Forest Of Forgotten Memories” feels slightly forced rather than natural in progression, but that's a minor detail rather than a major bone to pick.

All in all, this was a pleasant surprise to receive, and certainly an album to which I can return often and fully enjoy. Also, it introduced me to Borknagar, whom I had not tried prior to this release, and re-affirmed my love of older Agalloch. Definitely worth checking out if you like either of the two, or have any interest in atmospheric black metal.

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Angel's rating: 4.25/5

While Heaven Wept - Fear Of Infinity

While Heaven Wept
Fear Of Infinity
2011

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How do you begin to describe something that defies description? How can words on digital paper possibly encompass everything that this album invokes? Simply put: they can’t, but I won’t be caught without trying.

The levels of anticipation for “Fear Of Infinity” were ridiculously high, after 2009’s “Vast Oceans Lachrymose” turned the collective heads of the metal world in the direction of these American masters of progressive doom. By the time the beehive started to overflow with buzz, there wasn’t a single way in which this album would fully deliver on the expectations. So don’t assume you’ll be floored with the first spin, or even with the three consecutive ones. Rip the album out of its context, let the music speak for itself and slowly immerse yourself in the wonder that is “Fear Of Infinity”.

There’re only seven tracks on this album, and each of them represents a different mood, so don’t mind if I break it down. While Heaven Wept seems to have a knack for writing mammoth opening tracks. If “The Furthest Shore” has the potential to flatten a building to the ground, then “Hour Of Reprisal” pisses on its ruins and drives them all the way down to the center of the Earth. As soon as the majestic amalgamation of rancorous riffs and ominous orchestration hits, a big neon sign screaming “EPIC” starts flashing in your brains only to explode a second later. This song screams determination and bitterness and marks the heaviest boulder these guys have ever carved.

Never eschewing an element of power metal in their music, While Heaven Wept can write a catchy tune if they so intend and “Destroyer Of Solace” is a tough one to shake off. “Obsessions Now Effigies” is the closest thing to “Vast Oceans Lachrymose”, with its ebb-and-tide structure of cresting and breaking, rolling and receding waves of melancholy. Halfway through the album is a moment of peace in the form of the ballad “Unplenitude”, which is a welcome moment of quiet before the second half.

Up next is the gloomy “To Grieve Forever”, which to no one’s surprise is a song about grief. Definitely one that’ll flow better on rainy days, but it’s ending melody is wonderfully uplifting for a song that takes us to the saddest corners of the human heart. Second-to-last is “Saturn And Sacrifice”, a strange and more straightforward metal song with a theatrical chorus. Definitely the odd one out here, but it has lots of singing-along-potential and a nice, up-tempo middle section.

The actual finale is called “Finality” and ends with “This is the end!”, which seems more than fitting, but we get it, guys: it’s the last song. Despite its length and the pressure of being the “epic last track”, it isn’t in a hurry to outdo the rest of the album, instead it continues its atmosphere with a not particularly complicated but sweeping and engulfing love song.

And repeat. There will be people who detract this album for only being 37 minutes long, and I was a bit skeptical too at first. Yet after multiple spins I can conclude that "Fear Of Infinity" is perfect in duration and even better: it’s very hard to turn off when the first song comes around again. So instead of giving us an hour-long album that risks getting boring in places, While Heaven Wept has given us one with instant and infinite replay-value. We never have to fear infinity again.

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Arno Callens' rating: 4.5 out of 5

Friday, April 22

Time Requiem - Optical Illusion


Time Requiem
Optical Illusion
2006

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If there is one thing that can make or break a neoclassical "shred" metal band, it is how they treat their songs - as musical ideas to be developed and formed into cohesive pieces, or simply as vehicles by which to show off their musicianship. I am glad to say that Time Requiem have chosen the former. There is a great deal of shredding in this album; however, it it is neither the central focus of the album nor a filler thrown in to stretch the songs. The solos, whether played on keyboard or guitar, are an integral part of the songwriting on "Optical Illusion," as each one subtly brings new melodic ideas to the table, lending the album a refreshing sense of fluidity, while maintaining a high level of technical brilliance.

The songwriting here is diverse, ranging from fairly standard power metal songs such as "Sphere of Fantasy" to more complex progressive numbers such as "Sin to Sin" and the superb title track. This diversity is reflected even within songs, many of which change dramatically from the beginning to the end. While this makes for an interesting listen, it can at times be detrimental to the flow of the album, and this is the only real weakness of the album. Taken on their own, the slower "Creator in Time" and the classic-rock-esque "Miracle Man" are good songs, but the way they are set up as the sixth and seventh songs slows down the album so much that by the time we reach "Sphere of Fantasy," the return to fast power metal seems almost out of place.

I am not usually one to focus on individual songs, but I have to include a special mention of the song "The Talisman," as it is my personal favorite on this album, and a shining example of how progressive power metal should be played. As the cliché goes, this song is worth the price of admission, and, to extend the cliché, that may be a bargain. Beginning with blindingly fast, aggressive riffing à la Symphony X, it boils over in a burst of shredding fury, which leads directly into the ominous verse. The chorus also deserves a mention here. Quite unusual in power metal (and even in progressive metal), it sounds very cold and distant; in fact, quite machinelike, and yet it is sung with inflection and emotion. "The Talisman," like many other songs on the album, ends quite differently than it began, slowly fading out in something of a lyrical mantra: "The face of universe has broken down, forever gone/It's time to show yourself, not fade away and die." After a journey through the dark, the listener is lulled into a sense of serenity before being thrust back into the confusion with the beginning of the title track.

Perhaps the most important aspect of "Optical Illusion" is the subtlety of the music. The material here is fairly dense and complex, and this is definitely the kind of album that rewards multiple listens. Of course, the music is very intricate, and so one will notice more and more detail with each listen. More importantly, the atmosphere becomes more and more apparent with repeated listens. "Optical Illusion," if we want to nitpick, is truly an aural illusion of sorts. While the seeming juxtaposition of "light" and "dark" parts seems strange at times, there is always a slight sinister edge to the "light" parts, lending the entire album (with the strange exception of "Miracle Man") an illusory feel - it is holistically a dark, confusing album, but gives little glimpses of clarity, whether they are real or not.

All in all, "Optical Illusion" is a difficult album, both in terms of complexity and in terms of finding the common thread that runs through it all. It is also a very rewarding album, one that can be enjoyed and appreciated for a long time without losing any of its appeal. Despite some inconsistencies, Time Requiem has managed to produce another memorable album, which I would recommend for anyone interested in the more technical side of melodic metal.


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Morpheus's Rating: 4.0/5




Imperia ~ Secret Passion

Imperia
Secret Passion
2011

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I have been a slow convert to gothic metal. When I used to hear the word goth, I couldn't help but imagine the Marilyn Manson/Hot Topic teens hanging out at the mall. Or from way back in my youth, the girls that listened to The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Smiths begging for change at the bus stop in front of an urban McDonald's. Not that there is anything wrong with The Cure and The Smiths, but over the past several years my impression of goth music has changed greatly. H.I.M, Nightwish, and Within Temptation have made a huge impression on me. Imperia is a band out of the Netherlands that is indeed worth mentioning.

Imperia has just released their third full length CD, Secret Passion. This is my first exposure to the band, and after listening to Secret Passion, I am going to have to acquire the rest of the music in their catalogue. When the music started, I made an immediate comparison to fellow countrymen After Forever and their former singer Floor Jansen. I can also hear similarities to Elis, and the less operatically styled songs of Tarja-era Nightwish.

Imperia plays a style of music that is both haunting and soothing at the same time. The sense of the forlorn is quite strong and it strikes a chord deep within me. The vocals on Secret Passion are quite excellent. Helena Michaelsen delivers a great performance overall, but really showcases her abilities on "Fragile". One of my favorite songs on the CD, her voice assumes different characteristics and makes "Fragile" sound just that. The guitars and rhythm section are really solid, and if they were to stand alone they'd be very metal, but when the keyboard and orchestration is added, everything transforms into a beautiful gothic soundscape. Other songs not to be overlooked include the opener (and very Nightwish-like) "Touch of Your Hand" and "Out of Sight", which showcases a very tasty guitar solo. The bonus track "Mistress" is good as a little piece of techno pop but is a little out of place against the heavy symphonic goth. This makes me think of Theatre of Tragedy or Liv Kristine's solo material.

I'd like to hear a few more guitar solos, but that aside, Secret Passion is a great CD. It hits my melancholic side in ways that I find reassuring (if that is possible). Imperia does a great job on Secret Passion, and it is a worthy investment.

~ ~ ~

Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev


SpaceKev's Rating: 8 out of 10


Days of Anger ~ Death Path


Days of Anger
Death Path
2011


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When I talk about thrash, I am not talking about some farming technique, your dad taking to you with a belt after you disrespected your mother, or even a skate boarding reference. I am talking about metal. I fell in love with it a couple decades back when I heard "The Big 4" and all of their brothers and cousins. Technical, in-your-face, and aggressive, thrash has influenced many sub-genres and evolved considerably over the years. I still have a hankering for the old days, and with that said, enter the band Days of Anger and their newest release, Death Path.

As the band's name suggests, there is a boat load of anger in their music. Days of Anger's aggression washed over me like an old friend. My first impression was that there is a classic Nuclear Assault/NY City thrash influence in the music. I even hear some So Far, So Good, So What? era Megadeth in there too. As the songs on the cd progress, there is a definite groove to them as well, much in the way you would hear on many Pantera songs.

Death Path opens with "Damaged", and it was a full frontal assault on my suburban sensibilities. The first half of Death Path is a full-on beat down. The real treat for me is in the deep cuts, the songs towards the end of the CD. "Hands of Evil" and "Life Form" are thrash songs all the way, but they have added dimension to them because of some musical break downs such as tempo changes and hauntingly clean picking.

If there's one song on "Death Path" that rubbed me the wrong way, it was "F@*k That (Silly God)". As you can imagine, the song rallies against religion. Musically it is simplistic compared to the other songs, but that's not what got to me. The approach to the lyrics was very elementary. Bands like Slayer (and just about every black metal band) have countless songs of this nature and they manage to say the same thing, just in a more intellectual way. I know a great many people will disagree with me on this point and call me a pinhead or worse, but that is how I feel.

Other than my complaint about one song, Days of Anger's Death Path is a solid and aggressive release. If you feel like flipping off the world as you listen to music when you are cruising down the interstate, then this should be in your arsenal.

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Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev




SpaceKev's Rating: 8 out of 10



CypherSeer ~ Origins


CypherSeer

Origins
2011

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I love to play Scrabble, but when it comes to doing puzzles, I stink. I don't own a crystal ball, though I once had a Magic 8-Ball (when I found out it lied to me, I threw it out). Now that I have admitted my weaknesses, I must exclaim: I have cracked the code and seen the future! New Jersey based American power meal band CypherSeer has a great new CD and the world shall know it as Origins.

CypherSeer combine the heaviness found in American power metal with some of the finesse of their European counterparts. Fans of Iced Earth, In Flames, and Nevermore will find Origins to their liking. It's heavy, fast, and has some technical flare while never sacrificing it's melodic heart. The songs on this album flow nicely from beginning to end. Though it doesn't happen often, there is a little bit of redundancy, with a couple of songs running together with others. Don't let that deter you from buying this though, because there is a lot of depth in the songs on here. "Soul Sacrifice" has a heavy verse and chorus and a fast solo section that features some nice keyboard soloing and some great weedily-deedily guitar shedding. The debut single "Dying Force" is classic power metal with a touch of prog while "The Curse" has the bone crunch of something Nevermore might put out. I do not not want to create any sort of impression that CypherSeer is nothing but speed, because they are not. The tempo actually varies a fair bit.

The vocals are quite praiseworthy, and some modern death styles are added in occasionally to enhance the background and harmonies. While I love this, it may put off some purists. If it does, they're posers. The musicianship is very nice here as well. For the most part, the guitar does the leg work and solos while the keyboards add a touch of ambience to the music, much in a way you'd expect from a Kamelot release.

The number of comparisons that I've made here will hopefully give you an idea of what Cypherseer are like, and that they stand in good company. This is a really good band, and Origins has found a way into regular rotation on my power metal playlist.



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Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev




SpaceKev's Rating: 8.25 out of 10



Thursday, April 21

Twisted Tower Dire - Make It Dark

Twisted Tower Dire
Make It Dark
2011

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Twisted Tower Dire is a well-known and respected band in the field of U.S. metal, and Make It Dark is the first album of theirs I've had the opportunity to review. While I generally prefer my power metal to be of the more modern and polished variety, there's always been a lofty draw to the sort of music that this band has made. Crest Of The Martyrs and Netherworlds are both extremely cool albums, and I am delighted to say that the band hasn't done anything drastic to cast aside old fans.

First things first, a great many people will raise a cry in disappointment that this album only runs thirty six minutes with eight tracks (and one of those is a re-recording, so you actually only get twenty eight and a half of new material), and that after a four year wait for a new album, this is ridiculous. To those people I say: deal with it. After all, if the contents are great, we can't decry albums too much for being short. Would you rather the band write a couple of quick filler tracks? I didn't think so.

Another change that is quickly evident on Make It Dark is the general feel and attitude of the songs. To put it bluntly, this is perhaps to Twisted Tower Dire's repertoire as A Twist In The Myth was to Blind Guardian's: more accessible and with less lyrical consistency. Of course, the implication here is that it might consequently be your least favorite TTD work to date. Myself, I see Twisted Tower Dire returning to a more basic, fun-loving and raucous style of heavy metal, and there's nothing wrong with that because the band sure knows how to do this as well as anyone else.

All of these songs are rather simple in structure and execution, though TTD still flexes its muscles with some excellent lead guitar work, audible and purposeful bass, and drum work that sounds pretty good and doesn't get old. The title track and "Mystera" are fairly brief tracks that whisk the listener off to an escape of simple, catchy metal, while tracks like "White Shadow" and "The Only Way" will lay you low with well-executed, involved guitar lines and some catchy vocal lines with an inimitable style of wailing vibrato. These latter two tracks are my favorites on the album, and I also very much enjoy "Snow Leopard", despite the fact that it's certainly the divider on the album. This song is the great indicator, and if you can stand listening to "Snow leopard run! Run snow leopard run!" for five minutes, you'll love the rest of what this album has to offer.

So, other than being shorter than some would like, and putting us through the metal equivalent of a Barney song, Twisted Tower Dire has concocted something that is really quite appealing, highly melodic, and completely inoffensive. Despite its drawbacks, Make It Dark is a quality little piece of work that deserves the Twisted Tower Dire name that is stamped on its cover. I recommend this to fans of USPM that aren't haughty purists, as well as Euro-power fans that occasionally like to dabble in some of the more melodic stuff that U.S. power metal bands have to offer.


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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.25 out of 10


Pagan's Mind - Heavenly Ecstasy

Pagan's Mind
Heavenly Ecstasy
2011

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Let's begin with an excerpt of dialogue from Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight":

Alfred Pennyworth: Know your limits, Master Wayne.
Bruce Wayne: Batman has no limits.
Alfred Pennyworth: Well, you do, sir.
Bruce Wayne: Well, can't afford to know 'em.

I'll shock the comic book-fans by saying this, but Batman doesn't know what he's talking about. There is nothing wrong, and a whole lot right, with knowing your limits; and Pagan's Mind anno 2011 are living proof of that. The scope of their previous highlights "Celestial Entrance" and "Enigmatic: Calling" may have been boundless, but as musicians they can only push themselves so far, which resulted in 2008's little identity crisis "God's Equation". Time to refocus and apply their strength and talent in a different way, time for "Heavenly Ecstasy".

Prog-heads be warned: power leads the charge here as Pagan's Mind introduces their token heavy- and spaceyness in a more straightforward and accessible environment. Don't worry though, the new songs can still kick your ass up from the ground and let you soar among the stars. The instrumentation hasn't suffered in terms of complexity, but the crunchy guitars and exciting keyboards serve the purpose of immediately grabbing your attention and never letting go, instead of the difficult-to-get-into philosophical meandering of before.

Despite this change in approach, the album never becomes formulaic and mixes things up in all the right places. More traditional tracks like the blistering opener "Eyes Of Fire" and the online single "Intermission" are interspersed with faster material like the ecstatic "Into The Aftermath" and the agressive "The Master's Voice". There's even room for the epic "Revelation To The End" and the moody closer "Never Walk Alone". Diversity in abundance, and everything's as addictive as something you would get easily addicted to.

A change of sound is never an easy process for neither band nor audience, but I respect a band that knows the degree of its capacity and adjusts accordingly, without necessarily aiming lower. Their newfound path refreshens everything I love about Pagan's Mind and "Heavenly Ecstasy" deserves an equal place in the galaxy as its predecessors.

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Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5