Tuesday, May 31

Moloch - Illusionen Eines Verlorenen Lebens


Moloch
Illusionen Eines Verlorenen Lebens
2011


Amidst the numerous one-man black metal projects, there are a few that stand out as talented and enjoyable, able to create records that hold attention and take the listener on a journey. Pr. Sergiy, alias Moloch, attempts this in his latest of many releases, Illusionen Eines Verlorenen Lebens. Relatively new given he only started 9 years ago, he unites dark ambient with depressive black metal in the vein of Xasthur, I Shalt Become and Burzum, but never truly reaches the heights of any of those bands.


This is questionably a “black metal” album, as three fifths of it is dark ambient, including the 22-minute closer “Abgrund Meines Wesens”. The synth in itself is pleasant, and a relief from the harsh black metal of the four middle tracks, but ultimately works better as an atmospheric film score than something more substantial and captivating. As for the black metal, the slow buzzing guitars and repetitive drums in both halves of “Ein Düsterer Winter Kommt” and “Dissonanz Tropfen Eines Glühenden Schmerzes” create a wall of quite monotonous dissonant sound, while Sergiy tries a change in style on “Weg Von Dieser Welt Voller Traurigkeit”, but the garage-quality Scandinavian style is worse than the previous tracks. By the time the two brief synth tracks hit, they are warmly welcomed, although the final track more than outstays its welcome.

Sergiy's Ukrainian roots show through in the lyrics, although comparisons to countrymen Drudkh need not apply. For the sake of a non-Ukrainian audience, I'll use the translations he provides, which show a varying lyrical quality, one of the better lines being “The trees blindly watch upwards as if they have to see the dance of stars”. The vocals, typical of depressive black metal, shift between spoken word, howling and whimpering, which grow unbearable in “Ein Düsterer...II” and “Weg Von...”, and are only vaguely tolerable on “Ein Düsterer..I”.

Some say that black metal is not to be analyzed, but more based on the emotions evoked from an album. Despite this philosophical approach, it doesn't redeem Illusionen Eines Verlorenen Lebens, one of the weaker DSBM albums I've heard. Black metal fanatics should look elsewhere, and those wanting to get into the genre should check out Sterbend or I Shalt Become. The ambient may have been good, but the black metal needs a lot of reworking.

∼ ∼ 

Angel's rating: 1/5

In Legend- Ballads 'n' Bullets

In Legend
Ballads ‘n’ Bullets
2011

-
What exactly is metal anyways? In Legend’s debut album “Ballads ‘n’ Bullets” presents us with just bass guitar, piano, and drums, somehow in the chaos though, we get a dramatic, heavy, and fresh album that sounds as metal as any band touting three guitarists. I guess we can call it prog metal, in the true progressive tradition of bands the like of Jethro Tull. 

Ballads ‘n’ Bullets brings us 14 songs, all around the 3-5 minute range, being that some detractors might call In Legend a “gimmick band”, the first question that comes to mind is “Can this band really stay fresh and interesting over an hour of music?” Yes. Absolutely yes. The production and overall sound of the album is immersive, at times imposing, at time somber, both beautiful and edgy. The from Bastian Emig are excellent as well. What’s interesting is that he’s not just satisfied being an awesome piano player and singer, he also plays drums for Van Canto. At some point that comparison was going to have to come into the picture for “non-standard metal”, however I am much more a fan of this brand.

What’s surprising, and it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise, is that, used correctly, the piano is an excellent music for playing heavy metal. Never mind the fact that it’s been used in practically every other established musical genre with great success, sometimes the metalheads are just slow to learn.

But saving another essay on this (incredible) idea, let’s get down to the music itself, and the specifics of why this album is so great. The opener, “Heaven Inside”, gives us a taste of some absolutely delicious composition. This won’t surprise anyone really familiar with piano music, but to the average metalhead it might be a surprising about how rich the lower notes on the piano sound. This creates a really dense atmosphere for some really great stuff to take place. The third song, “Elekbö” is my personal favorite on the album, for having an almost foreboding chaotic sound. 

Ive been trashing on ballads a lot lately in other reviews, but Ballads ‘n’ Bullets come with two that restore my faith in the idea. “At her Side” has all the sentimentality and emotion to make a great ballad, with a catchy chorus, and enough presence to rise above the cheap poetry that metal bands are so fond of and actually become great music. 

“Yue” is an instrumental piece, clocking in at 5 minutes and only featuring piano, that’s a risky endeavor. I don’t really see In Legend as a band afraid of taking risks though, and Yue is one that pays off and then some. Near the end of the album, we’re treated to the pounding “Heya”, with masterful vocal presence and a very catchy chorus. 

As far as that's wrong, I really do feel like this album could do with some occasional guitar work. In the intro to "Elekbo", there's what hears like a few muted distorted swipes on the guitar (and possibly at other parts in the song, though I can't say with certainty), little flourishes like this could really fill out the albums sound without detracting from the focus on the piano. I also wouldn't have minded a longer track, perhaps in the 8-10 minute range, maybe add in some orchestrations and a choir for it. There's lots of unexplored potential in this formula and I certainly hope they keep pushing forward.

Ballads ‘n’ Bullets is, if a bit of a gimmick, a highly enjoyable, fairly innovative, and overall captivating listen. Certainly on my list of the best albums of 2011 so far.

___

Dagg’s rating: 3.75/5

Monday, May 30

Evergrey - Glorious Collision

Evergrey
Glorious Collision
2011


-


Despair, if one stops to think about it, is quite a strange phenomenon. It is by its very nature unenjoyable and unpleasant, something that none of us wish to experience, and yet it one of the few things we all share - it is integral to the human experience, and for this reason it has served as both a focus and as an inspiration for much of our art. On their eighth full-length album, entitled "Glorious Collision," the guys from Evergrey once again explore this rather enigmatic emotion, but this time achieve somewhat enigmatic results.

Lyrically, there is a lot of depth here. The lyrics are, in typical Evergrey fashion, quite dark and introspective, and over the course of the album they become quite relentless in the quest for the pure expression of despair, longing, and self-doubt. As there are any number of brilliant lyrical moments in this album, I won't bother trying to single one out, but I found the lyrics to be consistently good throughout the album. Good lyricism, however, counts for nothing without strong vocals, and so fortunately the vocals here are quite well-done. Singer and guitarist Tom Englund delivers a powerful, emotional, and heartfelt vocal performance, and this is one of the greatest strengths of the album.

In terms of the music, we see a bit of a shift in Evergrey's sound: while their general vibe remains intact, they have gone for a slightly more commercial approach with this release. The song structures, vocal melodies, and instrumental parts (apart from the solos) all point to a slight simplification of Evergrey's music. This is not necessarily bad; "Wrong," the single for "Glorious Collision" and probably the most commercial track on the album, is also one of the strongest tracks. However, it seems at times like the band has simply run out of ideas - see the chorus from "You," for instance, which despite being played with conviction, is melodically quite mundane and tedious.

I suppose I should mention what specifically makes "Glorious Collision" seem more "commercial." Evergrey certainly still sounds like Evergrey, but here they have added some elements of modern American hard rock, of the variety popularized by Three Doors Down and bastardized over the years by various hosers. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. When it works, it brings a refreshing rock sensibility to Evergrey's sound, and when it doesn't, it ends up dumbing down songs that could be better. Simply put, Evergrey is adding a new element to their sound, and getting mixed results. When they sound like old Evergrey, they do a wonderful job, but when they go for a more commercial sound, there are some difficulties.

I see "Glorious Collision" as a bit of a transitional album for Evergrey. The band is working in a slightly different paradigm than they have before, and although they are finding a measure of success, this is not as strong as some of their previous works. That is not to say that it is bad; Evergrey still maintains their high lyrical standards, and there are a number of great moments throughout the album, but there are also some unremarkable moments which drag down the album as a whole. However, Evergrey has historically been a very consistent band, and I believe that, with time, they can make this new sound work. Despite some inconsistencies, I found "Glorious Collision" to be an enjoyable listen, and I look forward to hearing what Evergrey comes up with next.

- - -

Morpheus's Rating: 3.0/5


Saturday, May 28

Sodom - In War And Pieces


Sodom
In War And Pieces
2010

After a dip in the late 90s, thrash is back and Teutonic titans Sodom are here to lead the way. One of the original “Big German Three” along with Kreator and Destruction, power-trio Sodom have evolved their sound from the earlier blackened thrash, through a punk feel to a more melodic sound. In War And Pieces, their 13th release in 30 years, is an effective summary of both new and old, and bound to attract new attention as well as recapture the diehards.

Simply put, Bernemann owns this record. His solos are fantastic and well-suited to the meaty riffs, even when changing tempo, such as in “Storm Raging Up”. Schottkowski destroys the kit, especially on “Hellfire” and “Knarrenheinz”, their nod to their earlier faster material. Angelripper's bass provides a complementing rhythm section during those headbanger moments, of which there are plenty. Later in the album, there is an echo of Necrophobic, like in the chorus of “Soul Contraband”, before the album closes with the infectious mid-paced “Styptic Parasite”. The band fly their veteran colors, demonstrating the ability to write material that can be easily translated to a live environment, leaving behind many sore necks. 


Sodom fans will be pleased to hear that Angelripper has not lost his voice, and his Araya-esque voice sounds harsh as ever on this release, even letting out some impressive growls and a blackened feel. His lyrics vary in quality, unfortunately weakened by his pronunciation such as on “Feigned Death Throes”. There are echoes of their “Napalm In The Morning”/“M-16” war past on “Nothing Counts More Than Blood” with the line “Dead bodies served as rifle rest/and protection when the bullets blast”. He even shows a sense of humor with “I'm saddle-sore through my ride of gore”. However, he really comes into his own on “Knarrenheinz”, dedicated to their gasmask-clad mascot, spitting an impressively fast vocal over pounding skins and blazing guitars. 

Aside from a couple of lyrical points, the main issues I take with In War And Pieces are when the band try too hard for variety: the acoustic intro of “God Bless You” and the vocal effects on “Through Toxic Veins” in particular. This sort of experimentation does not add to the music, and could have been left out.

In short, however, this is a brilliant thrash release, and one of the stronger of Sodom's discography. Fans of Slayer, Kreator et al should definitely pick this up, along with anybody who has an interest in the genre, as a reaffirmation that thrash is not dead.
∾ ∾ ∾

Rating: 4.5/5


Euphoreon - Euphoreon

Euphoreon
Euphoreon
2011

-

Euphoreon is the studio project of one Matt Summerville, who has collaborated with a keyboardist (and presumably a drummer, though I see none listed) to put out a full-length release following the band's 2009 demo "Before The Blackened Sky". Interestingly, Euphoreon hails from New Zealand, which is not a nation typically known for its melodic death metal bands, to my knowledge. However, for a self-released LP from a far-flung corner of the world, the band's self-titled work is well-polished and quite listenable.

Stylistically, Euphoreon blend a number of different melodic death, folk, black, and even power metal elements. Generally speaking this is a very fast-paced album, and anyone objecting to heavy double-bassing or gratuitous blast beats really ought to stick their head in the ground while this is on. I find the speed rather welcoming, naturally, and feel that the band has placed their blast beats rather tastefully unlike a great number of bands that play in this style. The drums rarely interfere with the music and only serve to elevate the compositions as a whole. Similarly, the guitar work is quite good when it comes to blending with the rest of the band's musical elements, and despite the speed and intensity of much of the album, there are a number of soft solos and even a few sections of clean vocals. The timbre of the guitar in a few places is the sort that I absolutely love. Summerville uses a style that is palm-muted and without a great deal of heaviness, but throws out a sharp, percussive tone with tremolo picking that accentuates everything. Some may find this irritating, but I love it. See "Where Dead Skies Dwell", especially during the bridge, for an example of what I mean.

It's not really fair to compare Euphoreon with a number of bands that they resemble. They lack the sheer speed and instrumental virtuosity of Wintersun, the constant sweeping melodies and fierce Viking attitude of Ensiferum, or the commercial accessibility and more aggressive vocal delivery seen with Children of Bodom or Norther. Yet at times, they blend portions of all three groups with more than an amateur hand. These fellows are most obviously talented and capable of taking their pursuits to a high level. The mere fact that they've churned out something like this is a testament to their dedication and song-writing proficiency.

Yet, their debut release is not without it's flaws. My chief complaint is mostly that I find the vocals, both harsh and clean, a bit boring. It is probable that the band could use a dedicated vocalist (Summerville clearly has the guitar bit well in hand). In addition, while this album avoids being repetitive a manner that is commendable, they also tend to go on a little bit at times with the eight tracks that they have written. The lyrics are a bit bleak for me, but for a fair number of death/black fans, this won't be a problem whatsoever.

I give this an open recommendation to fans of anything that I've already mentioned, as well as a good word to fans of melodic death and black metal. It's a crisp breath of air for a genre that (in my opinion) hasn't seen much new this year. Come a few more years, we could see Euphoreon being a real contender in the melodic-death/folk genre if they keep up the momentum that they have built up with this, their eponymous debut.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Friday, May 27

Shaman- Origins (2010)

Shaman
Origins
2010

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Shaman is a power metal band from Brazil, originally formed when Andre Matos left Angra and took the rhythm section with him. Today, only Ricardo Confessori remains from that original Angra formula, and he even rejoined Angra on their latest album. Origins is the fourth album, and the second since the departure of Andre Matos and the Mariutti brothers. 

All things considered, this starts as a surprisingly good album. It opens with two heart pounding, high energy, fast works of power metal at its best. Lethal Awakening, and the particularly dramatic Inferno Veil. The album then moves into the Ego suite, which given its combined track length of about 7 minutes, feels a bit unnecessary to have split in two. Ego Pt II is a triumphant, anthemi song full of great choral work and soaring vocals. Finally Home wears the Angra influences perhaps a bit too heavily on its sleeves, but is forgivable for having an excellent chorus. I can never fault power metal for being catchy, and Finally Home is one catchy song. 

Rising up to Life, while certainly not the most emotive or beautiful ballad in the history of metal, is at least earnest enough to not feel like it was thrown on out of obligation or a misguided idea about how awesome excessive balladry is. Shaman has at least spared us the stripped down acoustic sobfest in favor of something much more full. 

Unfortunately, the end of the album does not end on quite as awesome of a note as the beginning. The last three tracks are completely forgettable filler. They don’t really provide the listener with anything to distinguish themselves other than some general dramatic flair that fails to take hold, and some world music influences that we’ve heard hundreds of times before in other south American power metal. 

Pulling off a first half with as much excellence as Origins is a praiseworthy feat, and perhaps the biggest mistake Shaman made with this much filler is cramming them all together at the end. There are plenty of albums in my collection, even ones that I really enjoy, that have a few too many boring songs, and Origins joins that list. It’s worth a listen, but maybe not an award.

___

Dagg’s rating: 3 out of 5

Mindflow - With Bare Hands

Mindflow
With Bare Hands
2011
-

Either creativity is taking a hit this year, or the powers behind this website don’t trust me with new material; but for my next two reviews I will be taking on poorly veiled re-releases. Up first is Mindflows’s “With Bare Hands”, which really should’ve been titled “A Nice Pet On Our Own Backs”. For their first release on Nightmare Records, Mindflow has chosen to combine their “favorite” songs from previous albums “Destructive Device” and “365” into one album of fourteen tracks. I understand the appeal of distributing your older work among a larger audience, but after two years, they could’ve at least penned some new songs. Luckily for these Brazilian progressive metallers I’ve never heard of them before, so I’ll just treat this like it’s brand new. (But it isn’t.)

The genre description needs some clarification. These guys play progressive metal like Elvenking plays power metal: they mold the genre into its most commercial form. Just like on “Red Silent Tides”, the lines between metal and hard rock often blur on “With Bare Hands”, as heard in radio-friendly Creed-like tunes “Breakthrough” and “The Ride”. To conclude the comparison with the Italian cheesecake factory: Mindflow’s singer Danilo Herbert often sounds a damn lot like Damnagoras. Prog as pop isn’t new to the scene: Aspera did it last year, and Above Symmetry did it this year (to get that joke, tune in next week).  But those bands were more rooted in the heavier than the softer side of things.

The approach here implies there's no firm foot on the distortion pedal, and that’s a shame. Some excellent riffing is downplayed, probably to sound more appealing to a non-metal audience, and therefore there’s a severe lack of punch. Herbert’s voice carries most of the tunes, and luckily he’s a more than skilled vocalist, displaying a raw kind of emotion throughout. The excellent “Break Me Out” kicks off a satisfying first half, with the title track being another standout. But fourteen songs is too much for music with little impact or variety and the whole thing becomes tiresome past the halfway mark, a few brief glares of distinction notwithstanding.

I hope Mindflow is sick of these songs by now and starts thinking about some new material. This band could go places, but for now it keeps revisiting the old ones. As easy-listening as this may be, it’s hard to actually remember anything of it when the time is up. Fans of softy progressive metal may want to give this a shot, for there’s some fun to be had here. Just don’t expect the quality of “Destructive Device” or “365” or anything…

---

Arno Callens' rating: 3.0 out of 5


Thursday, May 26

Seven Witches ~ Call Upon The WIcked


Seven Witches
Call Upon The Wicked
2011


~


*Yawn*

An hour and nine minutes *yawn* that was *yawn* for the most part, uneventful.


*Yawn*


With the exception *yawn* of a random song *yawn* here or there, "Call Upon The Wicked" should probably be called *yawn* ...oh never mind.


*Yawn*

If you are into Judas Priest's and Iced Earth's style of metal, then buy Judas Priest and Iced Earth CDs. The songs are tedious and unimaginative, and the bonus tracks are unnecessary. Save your pennies on this sleep-inducing latest Seven Witches release.


*Yawn*


~ ~ ~




Live Long and Rock Hard,
SpaceKev




Space Kev's Rating: 2.0 out of 5

Tuesday, May 24

From Oceans to Autumn- The Flood/The Fall

From Oceans to Autumn
The Flood/The Fall
2011

-

From Oceans to Autumn is an instrumental drone/post metal band that brings us a 2 track, 18 minute EP titled The Flood/The Fall. Reviewing this actually provides some interesting challenges, as I’m not particularly well versed in post metal, and only being a 2 song EP, it has different goals from the traditional album. Let’s see what we can say though about this release. Firstly, the two tracks are about 9 minutes each, and run together fairly nicely. For the length of the EP and the general level of variety, I can’t criticize it for being dull or same-y, nor can I call it dry. The atmosphere of the music is very well achieved and expressed. It’s a bit creepy, a bit dreamy, and the soundscaping is done masterfully. In particular, the bass work on the album is, while not a technical masterpiece, a perfect fit for the rhythm, and a huge presence in the music.

I can’t in good faith qualify it with other drone metal, because within 18 minutes, I hear a much more immersive and dynamic experience than typical drone, and that’s a really good thing. For what it seems to aim to be, an atmospheric instrumental experience, The Flood/The Fall is certainly passable, even very good, I can’t say recommending an EP is my usual route, but From Oceans to Autumn is a band I would certainly recommend and I’ll be checking out myself.

___

Dagg’s rating, 3.25/5



Monday, May 23

Interview: Woods of Ypres

Woods of Ypres play a brand of metal that combines elements of doom and black. Originally hailing from Windsor, Ontario, they now have members in both the US and Canada. The band has a stripped down vibe, all the while delivering a wall of sound that rattles your bones and gets into your psyche. All of the guys in the band talked to me (while we were getting yelled at to leave so the manager could go home) after their show in St Paul.





I need to thank Rod and Steve from Rusty Nuts Productions. They stayed late and loaned me their tripod so that the interview could go smoothly. Thanks a million gentlemen!


Highland Glory - Twist Of Faith

Highland Glory
Twist Of Faith
2011

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I don't know about you lot, but when I hear the name Highland Glory, I think of the band ripping things up with their rather enjoyable 2005 effort “Forever Endeavor”, which was a pretty enjoyable piece of power metal from a country which spawns very little of the stuff (Norway). Hearing about this new release had me jumping up and down to get it, and at last I've gotten around to giving it several full spins and my full attention. The move to female vocalist Trine Elise Johansen was a bit of a shock, but I'm open-minded and have enjoyed some great female-fronted power metal in the last year (Ancient Bards and Seven Kingdoms, among others).

Well, if you're reading this review, chances are that you've already seen a few of “Twist of Faith”, and that means that you already know about the issues this album has. For the rest of you, allow me to get this out of the way: Trine is not a good singer, and she sends this album singlehandedly from the land of excellent riffing to complete mediocrity, and even further! Why the band allowed this woman to step behind the mic is completely beyond me. She doesn't have good tone, she has little emotion, and she slurs together word after word without proper enunciation. In fact, if I may be so bold, I haven't encountered this bad of a female singer since Kerion!

To be fair, it isn't all her fault (I don't think), as this album boasts some particularly bad lyrics as well. “Limitation Of Life” is perhaps the best example, but I have no desire to waste your time or mine with the words here. Much of the album falls into slow rock format songs, or even further, into deplorable balladry. This is just not a strength for this band, and while the songs themselves aren't bad by any means, they're pushed over the edge by the aforementioned weak points. In all honesty, most of the guitar and keyboard work on this album is rather tasteful and well-played. Heck, instrumentally, this album is quite solid and  moderately interesting much of the time.

But...nothing is enough to make up for those vocals. I'm so sorry to say this to you Highland Glory, but you guys need to drop Trine like a hot coal and get another singer. The old stuff with Jan Grefstad was much better, and now he's off kicking serious ass with Saint Deamon. I'm not saying you even need a male vocalist, but if you're going to take the female route you'd better make darn sure you do it right. Do us all a favor: give the leading lady the boot, and sack the lyricist at the same time (I don't know who this is). Though I'm a completist, I can't excuse keeping this record around, despite its few bright spots. This is being deleted, and I don't recommend this to anyone. It's not all-around awful, but there are so many better places to look.

- - -

The Protagonist's Rating: 2.25 out of 5


Sunday, May 22

Images Of Eden - Rebuilding The Ruins

Images Of Eden
Rebuilding The Ruins
2011


Concept album storylines can either enhance or ruin an album; fortunately this is not a problem for Images Of Eden’s recent outing Rebuilding The Ruins. A continuation in their style of US progressive metal à la Queensrÿche meets Dream Theater, the lyrics weave well with the music. Quantity appears not to be an issue, with the album clocking in at 74 minutes, most of it played by frontman Gordon Tittsworth. However, the band has evolved from a solo project 10 years ago to a full band, providing a more balanced approach.

Prog influences are worn on their sleeves, including Fates Warning and Rush along with the already mentioned Queensrÿche and Dream Theater. The ballad of the album, “Dreams Unbroken”, has echoes of Marillion’s “Kayleigh”, however the album gets heavier as time elapses, from the lighter “Human Angels” to a groove-oriented “My Stigmata”. The monster 12-minute closer comes out of nowhere, eclipsing and yet summarizing the rest of the album.

The guitars, when either riffing or soloing, are mostly well-produced aside from a dip in “Sorrow’s End”. The drums have a toned down Portnoy-esque feel about them, and would possibly be more impressive with a fuller mixing. Aside from a break in “Sorrow’s End” and a minor role in “Dreams Unbroken”, the bass is relegated to a rhythm position to pave the way for the technical and emotional solos. The use of piano fading in and out during tracks is a pleasant contrast to the heavier sections such in “Children Of Autumn”.

Tittsworth himself is a mixed bag, with some stellar performances like on personal favorite “Tribal Scars” yet an occasional slightly irritating nasal twinge like in the refrain of “Human Angels”. His lyrical capacity ranges from impressive to odd, a better example being “Twilight skies ablaze-turning dusk into dawn/Moonlight seas of haze-crying through song”. Lyrical topics cover tribal wars, relationship issues, references to Christ and a T.S. Eliot quote.

Although his vocal range is not that wide, it suits the music, from a low Russell-Allen style to a combination of early-era Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson. I am, however, not such a fan of guest vocalist Jackie Joyce, who provides a tradeoff with Tittsworth on “My Stigmata” and “Sunlight Of The Spirit Part IV”, but doesn’t seem to add to the songs.

In short, there are some fantastic moments on this album like “Tribal Scars” and the folk-metal inspired “Native To His Land”, but also weaker tracks like “My Stigmata”. It is still worth a listen for those who enjoy the mentioned influences, and best of luck to those who attempt to deduce the storyline.

∼ ∼ ∼

Angel's rating: 3.75/5


Saturday, May 21

Hammerfall - Infected

 
Hammerfall
Infected
2011

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Oh how the mighty hammer has fallen. Hammerfall apparently re-invented themselves, again, and want to attract a larger audience, hence the minimal songwriting, and a metal audience, hence all the clichéd metal stuff, at the same time. Ironically, in the end, they’ll be left with no audience at all. If you thought “No Sacrifice, No Victory” was an offensive bore of a record, you’ll find this  one positively comatose.

Those that have heard – and survived – the single “One More Time”, have a good idea how mind-numbingly stupid most of the songs on here are, and the worst thing of all is: I CAN’T GET THE DAMNED SONG OUT OF MY HEAD. This is the meanest thing any metal band has ever done to me: making an awful song too catchy to forget. At least “One More Time” has some good melodies, which is more than I can say of such other abominations as “Bang Your Head” and “Let’s Get It On”. I love eighties nostalgia as much as any other metalhead, but if you have to do it, do it right, don’t end up with the least inspired metal hymn since “Metal Is Kind Of Great You Know”, by my garage band when I was twelve and knew one power chord on my crappy guitar.

It gets better: at some point Hammerfall is actually throwing some nice ideas around. “The Outlaw” opens with a nice ass-kicking riff and the chorus has an adequate hook. But they decide to follow that up with the ballad "Send Me A Sign" which is so loathsomely boring that locking yourself up with a cassette player playing “Always Will Be” in an endless loop seems like a better foresight than ever listening to it again. It's a cover from a Hungarian band named Pokolgép and this is hardly a commercial for them. You can get your head out of the toilet for a second with “Dia De Los Muertos”, which has a strong build-up and chorus. Unfortunately the next song “I Refuse” sends you diving into the bowl again, hurling up all your former love for Hammerfall and flushing it down the drain. Things briefly pick up again with “666 – The Enemy Within”, which is quite decent, but not even the 'epic' "Redemption" can redeem this album, even when it isn't all that bad in itself.

The shame with this thing is that at times you hear this band has some potential left, but it's hopelessly squandered on mediocre songs. All for the sake of sounding more accessible, mature, heavy or whatever. They've always been extremily accessible, have never been mature and aren't now and this isn't any less or more heavy than it used to be. So what is the point of relegating yourself to a bunch of brain-dead zombies as are on the cover? The absence of Hector is not only felt there, but in the music as well, because almost none of it packs a punch. If the fans pick up on this, they aren't any better than the hoards of the undead in the video for "One More Time Because You Can't Possibly Be Sick Of This Yet". Or maybe the symbolism here is that we'll be lusting for music with brains now, hanging out at shopping malls, while drooling and stuff. Whatever it is: Hammerfall, choke on it.

---

Arno Callens' rating: 2.25 out of 5




Friday, May 20

Wisdom - Judas

Wisdom
Judas
2011

-

“We are slaves in the hands of fate, from the cradle to the grave!” Good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of your life. Thus I was introduced to Wisdom, another promising band from that most obscure of metal countries: Hungary. First Chronology, now this, what’s going on over there? I shall book a ridiculously cheap flight to Budapest and find out! In the meantime, let’s get to business.

I’ve gone through a bit of an evolution with “Judas”. First I was wowed by its energetic spirit and slick production. The opening snippet from this review, taken from first track “Fallin' Away From Grace” tells you all you need to know: this is power metal for the light-hearted, shimmering sing-along songs to brighten up the dreariest of days. Or exceptionally cold and dull showers. But joyful as that introduction may be, soon an uneasy awareness comes dawning.

See, after a few tracks of uncomplicated and cheerful power metal, some of the choruses start to sound a little too alike. Careful analysis may show that they’re not exactly the same, but if you’d cut one refrain out and replace it with another, you’d hardly hear the difference. Now – I hear you screaming – this is not a genre that requires a lot of distinction, but interchangeability is not a characteristic of this genre, but lazy songwriting. Creative as the melodies are in leads and verses, the icing all tastes the same, instead of giving a song its extra flavor. Compare “Age Of Lies” and “Live Forevermore” and if you think that’s completely different, you’ve probably never seen how your brother’s eyes resemble the mailman’s more than your father’s.

So by the time you’ve reached the second half of “Judas” there are no surprises left, except for the title track, which has at least a fresh(er) pre-chorus, before moving on to once again, a very similar refrain. I’m not condemning Wisdom for sticking to a formula, but when you display this much potential everywhere else in the song, I find it puzzling why the choruses haven’t been extended the same courtesy. I admire the work the band has done here, but I feel they could do so much more.

Plus, and this is just me nagging now, I wondered why the textual material on “Judas” is often way darker than its happy nature suggests. There’s really no believing that the world of “Silent Hill” is nightmarish when it’s sung to a tune even the Smurfs would deem as being too upbeat. I wish my nightmares were like that, instead of being rife with demons, grandmothers and the latest Hammerfall-album. Just a small complaint, and Wisdom aren’t the only offenders in this regard, but I find the divergence between lyrics and music striking.

In the end, I’m not especially disappointed in this album as I’m curious why there seems to be a lack of polish in places. “Judas” is a fine treat for a sunny afternoon, and I’m keeping a look out for more Wisdom to come. Rhyme totally unintended, and I bet you wouldn’t have even noticed, if I hadn’t just called attention to it. Whatever.

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Arno Callens' rating: 3.5 out of 5


Thursday, May 19

Ascension - Alchemy

Ascension
Alchemy
2010

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Holy Scotsmen! I'm always on the lookout for more melodic power metal, and Ascension most definitely fit the bill. With their 2010 EP "Alchemy", these young natives of Aberdeen, Scotland have thrown their hats in the ring with their most polished recording yet. If rumors hold true, we should finally see a full-length from the band within the next couple of months here in 2011. I have to thank one of our other contributors here on the blog for introducing me to this band, who have apparently been flying under the radar since 2004.

Ascension's style of power metal is fast, with another of those very high-ranged male vocalists that is constantly blasting his way up the scale with ease. Gratuitous screams are all over this EP, and those who don't care for them had better stay WELL away, because veteran critics are definitely going to turn to the band's vocalist Richard Carnie with their brows furrowed. He's a competent singer, true enough, and definitely sounds passable a fair bit of the time. No, the problem with Carnie is actually his energy level: he is overzealous to the point of dominating the music and making a royal mess of it with his antics. This is after all power metal, and the guitars certainly have a claim to make on the music. In terms of timbre, some people will probably take issue with Carnie's whiney-sounding slides at times. I don't know the age of the songs, but the first track, “Another Chance At Life”, is most certainly the best offering (and cleanest) in most respects. Hopefully this is the direction that the band's new work will take.

The other tunes are not bad, but they are certainly chaotic. There are established melodies, both vocally and instrumentally, but they are so peppered with the “Whoa-oh!” of the singer and the shrieking whinny of the guitars (think Dragonforce here), that it's like moshing during a power metal anthem: it may seem fun, but it pretty much ruins the point of the genre and it doesn't really fit. The closest well-known bands to compare Ascension with are Cellador and Dragonforce. They're perhaps a little closer to the former, but lacking the sheer speed of either.

I actually got very excited when the last track came on. It's an instrumental version of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4, and is an extremely fun piece of music. I'm really into neo-classical shred and covers, and this is a great piece, so props to the band for a job well done! Overall however, "Alchemy" is only mildly interesting, and the middle three tracks are somewhat discardable because of their muddiness. If like me, you are always searching, you could do worse than to pick this up. The band's upcoming full-length will be the real indicator of what will become of them, however, so stay tuned!

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The Protagonist's Rating: 6.25 out of 10









Dreamtale - Epsilon

Dreamtale
Epsilon
2011

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Some bands seem to be running out of ideas for album titles by their fifth, thus often naming it "V", after the Roman numeral. Dreamtale is better than that, naming theirs Epsilon, after the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet. In your face, everyone else.

This Finnish band, as its name and origin suggest, plays straight-up, uncomplicated power metal. Ever since their soaring debut Beyond Reality, these guys have never quite managed to reach the heights of that album, even though there was a lot of great material on especially 2008's Phoenix. It pleases me to say that if there's one record up to the task of standing proudly next to Beyond Reality on the pinnacle of all that is Dreamtale, it's this one. 

Dreamtale historically haven't been all that good at kicking off an album, but here they've nailed it. "Firestorm" is as catchy as a slippery cat with commitment issues is otherwise, and sends your power metal spirit aflame from the very start. The follow-up is "Angel Of Light", that typical poppy tune for which these guys have such a knack it puzzles me why they haven't been asked for the Eurovision Song Contest yet. Maybe because it's the suckiest musical competition in the universe. The song shares its DNA with "New Life" from "Difference" and "Failed States" from "Phoenix": bouncy rhythms, infectious melodies and so un-metal it makes you a bit ashamed to be humming to it all day.

The band returns to a full power metal assault soon enough, sending one unforgettable shiver up your spine after the other. I have no idea what ‘eternal jesters’ are, but I want to be where they reign. Even when the chorus isn’t that great (case in point “Fly Away”) the accompanying lead is good enough to cramp your fist again as it’s firmly lifted up in the air. Balladry, these guys do well, and “Reasons Revealed” is another winner. Bombast they do better, and “Lady Of A Thousand Lakes” makes you want to move more uncontrollably than someone who has a beehive in their pants.

But nothing prepares you for the sheer wonder of the closer, which in my humble opinion and consideration of every great track from “Beyond Reality”, is their best song ever: “March To Glory”. Power metal freaks, listen to it yourself, if only to one song of “Epsilon”, and tell me that isn’t everything you love about this style of music. Hints of it are scattered throughout this review, and it all comes together for the album’s and, for now, this band’s career’s crescendo. Well done, Dreamtale, very well done indeed.

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Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5


Wednesday, May 18

ReinXeed - 1912

ReinXeed
1912
2011

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For the past year, ReinXeed has proven to be my constant companion in the world of power metal. After discovering their most excellent 2010 release Majestic, I hungered continuously for the foretold 2011 release from Tommy Johansson and company. Once I heard Majestic and really got a chance to compare it to the band's prior work, I realized what a pivotal album it was for the group, since it represents a real maturation in sound and talent. How then, would this continue on 1912?

Some will mark ReinXeed's brand of rapid-paced, icy symphonic power metal as forgettable, trite, and lacking "balls". If you're this close-minded, I'm just ignoring you. For the rest of us with a thirst for this sort of thing, 1912 sees ReinXeed picking up just where they left off on Majestic, albeit with a more serious tone and slightly changed sound. As you might deduce from the title and the album cover, this is a concept album of sorts about the Titanic fiasco of 1912, and the story of those passengers on board. This is an interesting theme coming from this band, and I'll admit that I was surprised. However, they handle it very proficiently while dropping a fair amount of the lyrical fluffiness observed on past albums.

Ok, so it's no Sonata Arctica, but the tone of much of this album is often similar: cold and supremely melodic, yet often very lyrically sober. While past albums have had something of a "distant" tone to them (as if the group were playing at the top of a mountain a few miles away), 1912 is a bit more clear. In general, this album boasts more orchestration than past efforts, but also sees a considerable improvement in layered vocals and choruses. Occasionally, another singer besides Johansson steps briefly into the spotlight, and while these bits take a step back towards the youthful sound we've seen on previous releases, it adds interest. Johansson has one of those very smooth voices that, if singing an extended section without too many ups and downs, might lead people to nod off a bit. I don't mean to come off poorly here though, since he really belts out some excellent leads on this album, and it is his best vocal performance yet.

In general, 1912 is a bit less immediately gripping than past efforts, but it grows on you like no one's business. The general exception to this is "The Voyage", which I feel is the best song that the band has ever composed, and I absolutely cannot get enough of it. Otherwise, the album follows a churning, frigid course from boarding the ship to the aftermath of its collision with the infamous iceberg (other excellent songs include "We Must Go Faster" and the title track). Even listening casually, it's very easy to follow the story arc and the sequence of events. The trade-off, then, is less immediate accessibility and the need to listen to the tracks consecutively in order for everything to make sense in exchange for a stronger and mature album as a whole, and one that offers a fulfilling listen from beginning to end. A minor note here: the band seems to occasionally reference its own previous work both melodically and lyrically on this release, as evidenced in both "Challenge The Storm" (see "Deep Under Sea") and "Spirit Lives On" (try "Forever Carry On").

I'm surprised, really, by how thoroughly this album shakes off any number of stereotypes about power metal. Sure, it's light and the vocals are sometimes through the roof, but it's also very tight and precise, with great guitar work, excellent orchestral hits, and very strong choral sections. With this release, the band has also shed the "flower metal" label as well, so what's left and where do we place ReinXeed? At this point, they're a bit in a class of their own, since I cannot think of many bands at all that carry a similar sound with this kind of proficiency. Bowing once again before their technical expertise and tried-and-true formula, I doff my cap to ReinXeed and proclaim 1912 as one of the best experiences of symphonic power metal in 2011.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Tuesday, May 17

Divinefire- Eye of the Storm

Divinefire
Eye of the Storm
2011

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Divinefire is the Christian metal super group that’s the current flagship for Ex-Narnia front man Christian Liljegren, and guitarist Jani Stefanovic (Mehida, Solution .45) (As well as other assorted members and guests). The album is safely in the power metal genre, even with the frequent growling from Stefanovic. It’s a good one too, lyrical content aside (As Christian lyrics tend to be the best method of polarization), the lyrics themselves are well written, structured, and delivered from Liljegren.

What’s going to strike listeners first is the completeness of every song. There is a loud, grandiose, full tone to every song, with sweeping orchestration and driving drums. Lots of moments for head banging and a generally huge atmosphere. A regular complaint against orchestrated power metal with a strong keyboard presence is that the album sounds “Weak” or “Wimpy”. Jani Stefanovic sees your doubts and casts them to the great darkness. His riffs are downright crushing, intertwined perfectly in an intricate dance with the overall melody, and occasionally just going absolutely nuts.

Any major controversy, and a bit of a divisive point for the album, is not Stefanovic’s drumming, or guitar playing, but his vocals. Your mileage may vary, but power metal fans may find the growls and death vocals unnessecary. However, when taken in context of the music, it fits well enough. They, if anything, bring the album down. However, the cleaner vocals create a tension and contrast that really brings out the music. 

Again, your mileage may vary on this point, but a huge relief is the absence of a true ballad. Too often power metal bands feel obliged to write one of these, in fact, on a lot of records, you find two such filler tracks. The closest Eye of the Storm comes, is the exciting, instrumental finale, “Close to the Fire”. Leading up to that though, are eleven, exciting, high octane, well written and well performed tracks to please most any headbanger. The standout tracks for my listening have been “Hold On”, for an extremely strong melodic chorus, and Send me Out, for having such a refreshing head banging rhythm, and again, a downright solid chorus.


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Dagg's rating: 3.75/5

Saturday, May 14

Sacred Dawn- A Madness Within

Sacred Dawn
A Madness Within
2011

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Sacred Dawn is a band that could have a lot of great things going for them, but the album has some serious consistency issues. The band plays a mix that exists somewhere between prog and power metal, with song lengths tending towards 7+ minutes, but a melodic approach more indicative of power metal. I like to talk about great opening tracks, being someone who believes strongly in the album as a piece of art, the opener should set the tone, and prepare the listener for what’s ahead. At this, the opening track, “The Untold Story”, absolutely fails. The instrumentation on the track by itself isn’t awful, but doesn’t bring anything really engaging. The vocals on the other hand are downright boring. Almost painfully so. As a short song, it might be forgettable, but clocking in at more than seven minutes, we run into serious problems. 

The second track, “What you did to me”, suffers the same problem, the instrumentation improves, but the vocals are still dry and tiresome. At only 4:19, this is a more forgivable offense, but back to back with the flop of an opening number, the band is taking a serious risk of people not finishing the album. Quitting at this point would be a mistake though, as the next track “Demonlover” really steals the show.  Perhaps realizing the error of their ways thus far, Demonlover is a standout track that defies all the problems of the first two songs. I’m not the biggest fan of screeching, but hearing that as the first vocals on the track, over a fast paced rhythm, really creates the necessary contrast for this album to stand a chance.

Looking ahead to “A Madness Within” was slightly worrisome, it’s even longer than the opener, and at first seems to return to that same dull vocal delivery, but the vocalist puts out a lot more effort, and the band delivers melodies to justify going for a longer song. There’s darkness and tension, and comparing the last two tracks with the first two feels like looking at the band years apart in their development. 

Summer of Treason begins with a vibe that might remind listeners of Falling into Infinity-era Dream Theater. Now, crunchy guitars are far from the only tool that an artist needs to make a good song/album, but maybe I’m still reeling from the beginning of the album, maybe this was their secret plan all around. After quite a bit of power metal leaning material though, Summer of Treason reassures the band’s prog credentials.

Just when listeners may begin to wonder if the band is really onto something, they have to go and do something like a ballad though. It might sound like I’m anti-ballad, and that’s not the case at all, there are bands that can pull off beautiful, emotive ballads, and from whom I always welcome the effort. What I have no tolerance for is filler ballads that are pure mimicry. Ballads are, in my listening, a risky business, because if you don’t pull it off, you’re sending me right back to where I was at with the beginning of the album, and that’s not a happy place as a listener. “It Shall Be” is filler through and through.

“Delerium” returns to a more listenable territory, the instrumentation is dark and foreboding, and the vocals seem to phase from adequate to boring with screams and growls thrown on top. If Sacred Dawn is teaching us anything, it’s that prog and power metal are near impossible to pull off well without an exciting vocalist, no matter how good of songs you write. “The Decision” and “Wrongfully Accused” are both proggier tracks, with Wrongfully Accused being a bit heavier and longer. There’s some nice classic prog influences going, and I can’t fault them for that. 

The album then closes with Dawn of the Day, which really does a great job of representing the album as a whole. Poor to mediocre clean vocals, mixed up with some harsher vocals that get old very quickly, above average rhythms, and perhaps staying around a bit longer than necessary.

A Madness Within certainly isn’t an album that I’d readily recommend, but there’s flashes here and there that are worth hearing. When taken as a whole, it’s just a very inconsistent album that needed a lot of polishing it didn't get

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Dagg’s rating, 2.25/5


Friday, May 13

Interview: Powerglove

Powerglove is the Bostonian metal band that has named themselves after the innovative Nintendo game peripheral of the late 80s. The band takes some of the beloved songs from video game soundtracks as well as cartoons, and infuses them with high energy power metal. When they get on stage, they go beyond being 4 sweaty dudes banging their heads, they bring a fun and interactive element to their show in the form of costumes, props, and candy. Bassil Silver, who plays the drums and bears the flag of the band as they march into 16-bit combat, sat down with me and chatted just before they took the stage.





We had such a great conversation, unfortunately, not all of it would fit into the confines of the edited interview. We had a nice talk about downloading and pirating and if you want to see Bassil's take on the subject, you can watch it here.



Scale The Summit - The Collective

Scale The Summit
The Collective
2011

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If the term 'instrumental progressive metal' fills you with abject terror, have no fear. Texan-based Scale The Summit may change your mind with
The Collective, a worthy successor of their sophomore Carving Desert Canyons. Their union of genres makes for a rollercoaster ride from chilled post-rock to sludgy post-metal, all with trademark technical and melodic solos.

Picking up from where
Carving left off, the band have added several new elements. Firstly, there is more variety in dynamics, such as slow calming sections such as “The Levitated”, providing a contrast to the heavy headbang of “Gallows” or the sludge feel of “Colossal”. Also, the band vary between a traditional song structure such as “Secret Earth” and a classical movement structure such as “Black Hills”.
Secondly, the band are working together more closely, but each instrument has its own moments to shine. However, you don't need a Berklee diploma to understand the music; the guitars play technically without sacrificing melody, and the drum fills aren't distracting like in some other instrumental bands. The solos easily replace the need for vocals, and are at times soulful and emotional while others are full of crazy arpeggios and scale runs. The bass is just as interesting to listen to, especially on “Alpenglow” where it miraculously keeps time with the guitar solo.
Thirdly, the production has been improved vastly and is now pristine; the bass is more audible, the solo tone is less reedy and the cymbals have been relegated, creating a better balance between instruments. The chords also sound heavier, creating powerful intros such as “Origin Of Species”.

Many comparisons have been claimed, ranging from Cynic through Between The Buried And Me to Cloudkicker, and there is some truth in each of these. However, even those knowing none of the above bands can enjoy this album without problem due to its accessibility. Despite instrumental prog being a less commercial genre, they play it in a way which has potential for getting serious recognition from many circles of fans.

Picking flaws in this album is challenging. Occasionally the album feels a lot longer than its 45 minutes, and the sudden jump from the relaxed “Secret Earth” to the heavy “Gallows” is slightly jarring, but those are minor points compared to the overall enjoyment I gained from this release. The only issue I took was with opening track “Colossal”, which was a bit too sludgy for my liking. However, it's a credit to the band if the “worst” track on a release is still great quality.

To summarize, Scale The Summit have created a multi-purpose album which can capture the listener's attention, be enjoyed as background music, even to help with relaxation. In all capacities, this album is a joy to listen to, and a testament to the band slogan: Their Strings Are Voices.
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Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, May 11

The Silent Rage - Harvester Of Souls

The Silent Rage
Harvester Of Souls
2011

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The Silent Rage is a power metal band out of Greece, and if you know me, you already know my typical take on heavy and power metal coming out of this region. However, I'm always an optimist and was fully willing to give the band a shot with their brand new EP, Harvester Of Souls. The album art (classic black rider straight out of LOTR- classy!) and track listing piqued my interest; it didn't seem to be quite the wimpy sort of stuff that some other local groups are putting out.

A few built-in flaws to excuse on this EP include the mixing, the mastery of the English language, and the occasional redundancy of some of the guitar rhythm lines. I was led to believe that this was a fairly melodic power metal album in the European style, but it certainly shares a good deal with the heavy-hitting USPM school as well. In fact, I'd say it leans towards a few tendencies of classy US power metal a bit stronger, especially in the vocal department, with some of the yells that are present. The title track and "Perished in Flames" are both prime examples of less melodic riffing and darker sounding power metal. Though I'm not a great aficionado of this school, it seems rather well done, and provides a good listen.

More to my interest are the more lead-heavy and melodic tracks like "Inner Scars" and "Leading the Legion", both of which feature considerably more memorable and melodic choruses, which vocalist Dionisis Kontis adapts to quite readily (in fact, I believe that he fits this style better, but I am biased). It is worth noting that the "harsh" vocals on this album are more of a hoarse yell, which in context, works rather well. There are a couple of great roars which get your blood pumping and head nodding quite readily.

For those quite keen on the mixture of more aggressive melodic Euro-power with the rougher edged USPM school at a moderate tempo, this is a tasty little nugget with only a slight amateurish edge. Even the hardcore melodic Euro-power fans like myself can find a good deal to appreciate here. Playing this energetic and harder edged style of power metal in Greece is a smart approach, and maybe Silent Rage will rock the guitars out of a few of the legion of poor to mediocre bands from the country. Check this one out, it shows real promise and a knack for balancing melody and sharpness.


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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.25 out of 10