Tuesday, June 28

Angeli Di Pietra - Anthems Of Conquest

Angeli Di Pietra
Anthems Of Conquest
2011

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“Coming from the heavens, they are riding on the Thunderdragon. Coming from the heavens, they are charging through the sky!” Thus proclaimeth Angeli Di Pietra on the introduction to the opener of their sophomore studio release “Anthems Of Conquest”. While you might at first assume that this band is attempting to be yet another cheap five-cent knockoff of the mighty Rhapsody (Of Fire), it quickly becomes apparent that this is not the band's intent whatsoever. In fact, the band shares much more in common with melodic folk/power like Ensiferum, Trelleborg, Eluveitie, and perhaps Crimfall, though they are not directly comparable with any of these.

A year or so ago I acquired “Storm Over Scaldis”, which was Angeli Di Pietra's first foray onto the field. While the band's first album had some good ideas and melodies, it was a bit roughly hewn for me, and I'm glad to say that they've stepped things up a good bit on their most recent release. Despite being from Belgium, the influences and sounds that have made their way into this work are refreshingly varied. The themes are often Scandinavian (“Last Flight Of The Valkyries”, “Onwards To Asgaard”), but take a number of other interesting turns as well. These include the Middle-Eastern colored “Fate Of The Promised Land” duology, the speed and piratical attitude of “Buccaneers”, and Celtic touches in “Avalon” and “Boadicea”.

This should give you some idea of what "Anthems Of Conquest" is all about: victory songs from various empires and lands, rolled together into a cohesive effort that, while still displaying some immaturity in sound, I'd say accomplishes what it sets out to do. The vocals of Sjoera Roggeman have improved, and she provides a very solid melodic framework around which most of the rest of the music swirls. I remember now that I didn't care for Angeli Di Pietra's harsh vocals in the past, nor do I here. They sound a bit amateurish and indistinguishable, but don't make any major transgressions.

Instrumentally, this album wallows a bit sometimes while trying to find itself. The attempt at blending a number of different influences is admirable, but there are a few points where the guitar players in particular seem to get a bit confused, with the occasional note or notes clashing (and not in an intended fashion) and distracting the listener. However, the overall impression of the work of axemen Smeyers and Sortino is fairly good. In fact, in many ways "Anthems Of Conquest" seems like an exploratory guitar odyssey in building power/folk metal with varying stylistic influences. If only the melodies were a little more hooky, we might really have something to work with.

As another entry in a somewhat crowded genre, "Anthems Of Conquest" sees Angeli Di Pietra beginning to overcome the challenges of the band's (relative) youth, and throw together some very respectable songs like "Last Flight Of The Valkyries" and the title track. Anyone who likes to search the folky reaches of power metal and melodic death for the newest interesting thing is sure to find something that they enjoy here. It's good to see that this band isn't stagnating, and they're well on their way to becoming a solid B grade power/folk/death act (which is not demeaning them at all).

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The Progatonist's Rating: 3.25 out of 5




Monday, June 27

Love.Might.Kill - Brace For Impact

Love.Might.Kill
Brace For Impact
2011

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“Brace for impact!” was the cry from Chesley Sullenberg as he landed the Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, but unlike that crash landing, Love.Might.Kill's début album of the same phrase gives a full aerial display, soaring up and diving down in equal measure. The band, masterminded by Firewind/Metalium/Uli Jon Roth drummer Michael Ehré, deliver melodic heavy/power metal with an impressive namecheck of influences.

The opener track “Tomorrow Never Comes” arrives in style with a crunchy guitars and big pounding drums, and it becomes a game of Name That Influence. The harmonized riffing of ex-Crossroads guitarists Stöver and Ellerhorst are good, but nothing spectacular. The solos are where they truly come into their own, especially on the driving “Down To Nowhere”, prompting much air-guitaring. The keyboardist is uncredited, but mostly their work is relegated to the odd synth section, apart from an epic finale in “Love Will Remain” and a solo on the lackluster “Caught In A Dream”. Sweers' bass may as well not exist, but that is to be expected on an album commandeered by a drummer. Speaking thereof, Ehré shows some chops but mostly sticks to a fist-pumping rhythm or double-bass bash, breaking out into the odd fill or roll such as on interlude “The Answer”, which are adequate for the time being, but I can hope for some improvement on the sophomore effort.

Love.Might.Kill have found a gem in vocalist Jan Manenti, who emulates a hybrid of Dio, David Coverdale and Apollo Papathanasio, imprinting a unique brand on an otherwise unoriginal album. His range is impressive from the lows of “Caught In A Dream” to the air-raid siren on “Satan's Den”, cementing his place in the band. Lyrical content has been carefully molded to his voice, creating some great singalong choruses such as on “Pretty Little Mess” and the title track. Topics such as overcoming difficulties, the devil arriving on earth and our inevitable self-destruction are nothing new to the metal genre, but the ability to sing along to them with such a smile on my face is certainly novel.

First impressions bring Hammerfall and Rainbow to mind, but later in the album older Helloween appears encapsulated in my favorite track “Calm Before The Storm”. Pretty Maids, Whitesnake, Masterplan and Accept also have their moments, which doesn't leave a lot of room for originality. Perhaps once these influences have been absorbed, Love.Might.Kill will be able to develop as a band and create something which is not only great fun to listen to, but also recognizably them.

~


Angel's rating: 3.75/5


Sunday, June 26

In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading



In Flames
Sounds of a Playground Fading
2011

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It’s been 9 years since In Flames put the metal world on its head with the controversial and groundbreaking “Reroute to Remain”. The fan base split, with some calling it sell out garbage, and others (Joined by a legion of new fans) embracing the chance. Nine years later, the “New In Flames” might still be garbage, but calling them sell outs would hardly be fair at this point, the electronic infused melodic death metal style is clearly what the band wants to play. Lazy critics for years have trashed on In Flames to cater to that rabid section of the fan base, but risking bringing up the age old shit storm, In Flames has every right to play this genre of music, and so let’s see how good of a job they do with it.

What makes Sounds of a Playground Fading so fascinating is that it is the first album without founder Jesper Stromblad. A lot has been made of this, with the reactionary segment of the fan base saying that the band has no right to exist anymore. Those fans would be good to be reminded that Anders Friden and Bjorn Gelotte  have both been with the band for 15 years, appearing on every album except “Lunar Strain”. Really though, there is no dropoff in the quality of songs on Sounds of a Playground Fading than on anything in the new era.

So, history aside, the important question has to be “Is Sounds of a Playground Fading actually any good?” and the answer is yes. The melodic content on the album is at an all time high for the band and Anders Friden’s vocals are really quite impressive. He still retains all the edge and quite a bit of the harshness from his early days, but those are accents to the fact that he’s also a really good singer. Perhaps moreso than in any of their previous works, In Flames has incorporated quite a bit of progressive influence. “Jester’s Door” is a song unlike anything we’ve ever heard from In Flames, they didn’t redefine music by any means, but the track provides a distinct and chilling atmosphere. It also really expresses just how important electronic elements can be to metal, making use of a sound pallet far beyond cheesy synth tones. 

A New Dawn is a very energetic, fast paced and heavy song. I won’t be naïve enough to think it’ll “Please longtime fans” (Because nothing will), but for the rest of the metalhead community, this is an excellent song, similar in a lot of ways to the better songs on Reroute to Remain. Where the Dead Ships Dwell and The Attic both resemble songs that might have been written for Soundtrack to Your Escape, and the intro to “All For Me” does have the effect of reminding me of material from Colony or Clayman.

If the album lacks anything, it is a centerpiece. While each of the 13 songs has its own flavor and quality, the album still comes off more as a “Collection of songs”, than a single listening experience. Some of the tracks are rather forgettable, and the biggest standout is “Jester’s Door”. A song like “The Chosen Pessimist” did A Sense of Purpose wonders, and I can’t help but wonder what it could have done for Sounds of a Playground fading

Give this album a chance, it is by no means the album to bring the grumpy old fans back, but nonetheless, it's very solid. 

___

Dagg’s rating: 3.75/5

Friday, June 24

Versailles - Holy Grail


Versailles
Holy Grail
2011


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Versailles is a band that has long been known in the West for their unique and classy style of dress more than anything else. Looking like a cross between a cast of anime characters and a group of rather androgynous eighteenth-century European nobles, they are as much standard-bearers of the visual kei genre as they are of power metal. That said, their metal is just as classy as their meticulously crafted attire. They play a very precise form of neoclassical power metal, with a great deal of professionalism and attention to detail.

However, no amount of class or professionalism can make a great album, as evidenced by Versaille's latest work, "Holy Grail." There is nothing noticeably bad here - nothing cringe-worthy or embarrassing - but neither is there anything very memorable. The material here is reasonably good, but "Holy Grail," clocking in at a huge 71 minutes, spreads the ideas far too thin and quickly wears out its welcome. Simply put, Versailles has enough ideas to create a very good 40-minute album, but they have mired these ideas in a sea of rather forgettable stuff and ended up with a long, watered-down, and overall underwhelming album.

"Holy Grail" is not without its share of good moments, though. The opening track, "Masquerade," starts with a brilliantly composed orchestral bit that leads into a fairly high-quality, if unoriginal, power metal song. "Flowery" features a really fun neoclassical guitar solo at the beginning and one of the best bass performances on the album, which jumps all around while still providing a rock-solid foundation for the chord progression. Honestly, there is a reason to recommend every song; the problem is not a lack of good ideas, rather, it is the fact that the ideas present are scattered throughout an immense amount of material and have become lost in the shuffle. At any given point in the album, I could tune in and find it reasonably enjoyable, but there are few moments that stand out as great or memorable. Surprisingly, then, the one song where the band truly shines is the 16-minute "Faith & Decision," a brilliant epic containing perhaps as many strong ideas as the rest of the album, which the band weaves into an immense tapestry of exquisite melodicism and bombastic magnificence. Unfortunately, by the time "Faith & Decision" starts, the album has been playing for almost an hour, and it already feels like it's time to turn on the lights and start rolling the credits.

This is the unfortunate story of "Holy Grail:" there are plenty of good ideas, but not enough to create an engaging 70-minute album. Writing this review was rather frustrating as well; I wanted to give it a good score, but the album was simply far too long for its own good. I guess we can only hope that Versailles will opt for a more concise approach in the future, so we can know them for their music rather than for their effeminate attire.

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Morpheus's Rating: 2.5/5


Tuesday, June 21

Desert - Star Of Delusive Hopes

Desert
Star Of Delusive Hopes
2011

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Metal has a tendency to leak out of the least likely corners of the world nowadays. Why, I've reviewed several Middle-Eastern bands at this point, and Desert aren't even the first from Israel. The region seems to breed a certain unorthodoxy in the way that many of these bands carry out the writing of their music. In the case of Beersheba's Desert, this means an interesting and somewhat unique blend of metallic stylings that lend the music a flavor all its own.

This is labeled as power metal, and it's not that simple. Desert utilizes a very theatrical approach, using guitar lines more rhythmically and heavily distorted to deliver a crushing, grungy effect. Keyboards are omnipresent, ranging from a sprinkling of harmonic notes to an occasional wall of sound. In any case, the combination of instrumentation and Alexei Raymar's emotive singing construct a vessel that is a theatrical blend of heavy and slower-paced power metal with occasional doomy influences as well (the guitar timbre is definitely part of this).

Desert's sound is somewhat easily distinguishable, to be sure, but the mixture of all of the elements lacks a certain something to carry "Star Of Delusive Hopes" through to the higher plane to which the musicians seem to be aspiring. The songs tend to drag on a bit without strong melodies in the vocal line (an important feature for nearly every band), and while a couple sections of harsh vocals and interesting percussion are featured (hammered chimes in "Release Me"), they're inconsistent enough to almost seem out of place. Once again, the guitars disappoint in this regard as well. With their thick, fuzzy tone, they ride in the backseat throughout the whole album, with nary an explosive lead to shanghai your attention, nor a solo to leave you senseless. What we have on our hands is a band that has become too caught up in the details and has distracted itself from solid songwriting.

There are a few high points, however. "Letter Of Marque" is a spirited song that enjoys an easily-sung chorus, and "Lament For Soldier's Glory" features Joakim Broden of Sabaton fame (Yes, he's singing about soldiers and war again. In fact, I'm not sure that he knows how to sing about anything else). "Whispers" is also a remarkable song with a bit more energy, despite starting with a spoken sample, which I'm never a fan of.

Desert has a creative formula that obviously requires some revision, but the band may be on to something. There is potential here to record a great theatrical metal album with a bit more activity from the guitars, some moderation (or at least balance) from the keyboards, and a good number of hooks thrown in for good measure. Fans of the elusive power/doom fusion genre might find "Star Of Delusive Hopes" to be an interesting find, but I would generally not recommend this over anything else unless you're looking for the very particular niche that Desert is trying to fill.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 2.75 out of 5





Zero Hour - The Towers of Avarice


Zero Hour
The Towers of Avarice
2001


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Preface: I have wanted to write a review for "The Towers of Avarice" for a long time. I don't like to pick favorites, but if I do have a favorite album, this is probably it. As you might imagine, this was not an easy task; I have been brainstorming for a long time ways in which to put my love of this album into words, and I don't believe that it is entirely possible. That said, I will do my darnedest to express my thoughts and feelings, and this may require a bit of a departure from standard procedure, so bear with me. If this review seems at all over-the-top or flowery, that is because it needs to be; there is no other way that I can describe this album.

As they say in Sweden, "Haters are welcome." You have been warned.

With that, let us begin.

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The album is a very enigmatic art form. A poorly written album can quickly wear out its welcome, dragging a collection of good songs deep into the mire of mediocrity, but a well-written album does just the opposite: it becomes much greater than the sum of its parts, going far beyond what could be accomplished with a mere grouping of songs. The best albums flow together as cohesive works, and fulfill a role much more important than simply entertainment: they speak to some fundamental truth, imparting upon the listener greater knowledge of what it means to live, what it means to die, what it means to be human.

But in my opinion, there is one album that may perhaps go beyond all the others, and this album is "The Towers of Avarice." Grotesque but beautiful, cold but emotional, reflective but epic, filled with both hope and despair, clarity and illusion, "Towers" stands out as a dazzlingly brilliant spire of truth in the darkness and confusion of human existence. Based loosely on Fritz Lang's classic dystopian film "Metropolis," it tells the story of a man fighting for ideals in a world devoid of them, though both the vivid lyricism of singer Erik Rosvold and the incredibly creative compositions of twin brothers Jasun and Troy Tipton (guitar/keyboards and bass, respectively). Between the aforementioned musicians and drummer Mike Guy, the musicianship here is impeccable; both technically precise and emotionally deep, it brings out the best of each musician, and to build on an earlier theme, the band as a whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The music here is quite mind-boggling at first, as there is little in the way of traditional song structure or recurring melodies, and the constant time changes come at the listener with seemingly no rhyme or reason. However, given time, "The Towers of Avarice" slowly but surely reveals itself to be a thoroughly entertaining and unprecedentedly deep compositional masterpiece. In a way, the album flows very much like a movie. The first three tracks (out of six) function collectively as a rising-action sequence of sorts, slowly raising the tension for the fourth, a quiet track appropriately titled "Reflections." This in turn serves as a kind of "calm before the storm" moment preceding the epic fifth track, which is the centerpiece and climax of the album. The album ends on a haunting note with the desolate "The Ghosts of Dawn," and at a mere 45 minutes, always leaves the listener hungry for more.

Perhaps I should tell of how I first came upon "The Towers of Avarice." I was introduced to Zero Hour about a year and a half ago by a friend who was listening to "Towers" on a daily basis and told me to check it out. To tell the truth, I didn't like it at all on the first listen. The compositions were so complex that it seemed almost to be random, forgoing any semblance of musicality in favor of technicality, and (on a purely subjective note) the futuristic tone of the album didn't sit well with my newly-discovered love of folk metal. I put down the album and didn't come back to it until a week later, when my friend's constant praise of the album persuaded me to give it another try. I began to listen to it every day while riding the train home from school in an attempt to make myself understand it, and by the fifth listen, I began to like parts of it. With every listen, I found that it made more and more sense, and was, in fact, as musical as it was technical, and as natural as it was machinelike. This is what makes "The Towers of Avarice" great - it grows on the listener like no other album I have heard before or since. In fact, well over a year (and probably around 200 listens) later, "Towers" continues to grow on me. Every time I listen to it, I find new subtle things that I hadn't noticed before, and I continue to find it more and more brilliant. While it may be an extremely difficult album, it is also an extremely rewarding album, and the effort put forth by the listener is repaid many times over.

But to truly understand "The Towers of Avarice," one cannot start with my introduction to it in 2009, nor the release of the album in 2001, nor even the debut of "Metropolis" in 1927. If you wish to understand this album, you must follow me on a journey through dreams, in which I will take you 2400 years ago to the city of Athens, not too far from my home on Mount Olympus, when a man by the name of Plato began to lay the written groundwork for modern thought. Plato posited that there existed fundamental archetypes - ideal forms to which all things aspire - which, though we cannot perceive them, govern the universe and its movements. While most in western society no longer believe this, looking instead for particularities and empirical proof, it is nonetheless a noble ideal, and "The Towers of Avarice" may be our most substantial manifestation of this ideal. In other words, we may not be able to know the archetypal album, but if there is such a thing, "Towers" is pretty damn close.

All dream-journeying aside, I would recommend "The Towers of Avarice" not only to fans of progressive metal, but to anyone who enjoys music that is both thoroughly challenging and highly rewarding. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word - an utterly brilliant album that takes the listener on a journey into the very core of the human condition, building up to an immense, towering climax and leaving us at the end with nothing but our ideals and the burning desire to listen to "Towers" one more time. Magnificent.

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Morpheus's Rating: 5/5


Monday, June 20

Symphony X - Iconoclast

Symphony X
Iconoclast
2011

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US prog metallers Symphony X appear to have aimed for quantity rather than frequency with their latest, Iconoclast. Over 80 minutes of progressive metal is a lot to absorb, but the band are masterful in ensuring the tightness of the material, whilst tackling the newfound lyrical topic of man vs. machine.

The opening 10-minute title track certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the album, continuing the flavor of Paradise Lost in a more epic style. Romeo is on top form in his roles as guitarist, songwriter and producer, creating both heavy riffing and technical solos like on “Prometheus (I Am Alive)”, but still integrate well with the rest of the musicians. Pinella, with the volume boosted this time, delivers impressive keyboard solos and beautiful piano such as in the pseudo-ballad “When All Is Lost”, while Rullo and Lepond showcase a tight and well-mixed if slightly uninteresting rhythm section, from the lighter “The End Of Innocence” to the heavier “Heretic”.

New influences are creeping in; Nevermore can be found in some sections, while “Dehumanized” could have been taken from Cowboys From Hell, right down to the Dimebag-esque solo. Unfortunately, this results in a confusing album where there is little sense of flow, and the placement of “When All Is Lost” in the special edition gives the idea of a false ending, when there are still 5 tracks to come.

Russell Allen, fresh from his ventures in Lande/Allen and Star One, delivers one of his best vocal performances yet, from the harsh anger in “Bastards Of The Machine”, through an uncanny Dio-worship on “The Lords Of Chaos” to trademark emotion-filled choruses on many others. His range is fairly extensive, including a Plant-style high in “Children Of A Faceless God”, although he does tend to overuse the newly-introduced more aggressive side to him. The choral element fortunately saves this from turning into monotony, and in the end balances the album out.

The lyrics, as promised, cover the theme of technology in society, with varying degrees of success. For some inexplicable reason, there is more profanity in the lyrics (“Come on, hit the switch/You son of a bitch”), and a death metal feel in others (“The flesh breeds corruption/Eradicate the insect prey, exterminate”) to match the heavier take on their music. However, he still shows the ability to write great vocal lines throughout the record, creating memorable choruses, and injects a power metal feel into the closer, “Reign In Madness”, showing he's still got that knack.

Although not a flawless album, Iconoclast has little to complain about in every aspect. Occasionally the album will feel a little bloated, but that is part of Symphony X's trademark for me: too much instead of too little. “Light Up The Night” and “The Lords Of Chaos” can feel a bit like filler after an album filled with highlights, which justifies the 2CD more than a 1-disc, but overall the CD is a blast from one end to the other.

Long-term fans will claim the band have abandoned their roots, but Iconoclast is definitely a step back from Paradise Lost in terms of bringing a more progressive feel to the direction established on the latter record. Sure to top many Best Of 2011's, it is surely a record worth experiencing, and proof that 8 records down the line, Symphony X still have a lot of zest left in them.

~ ~ ~


Rating: 4.75/5

Stonelake - Marching On Timeless Tales

Stonelake
Marching On Timeless Tales
2011

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Contrary to its Finnish, German or Italian counterparts, it’s hard to describe what defines Swedish power metal. Yet somehow, when I first put on Stonelake’s “Marching On Timeless Tales” I immediately knew they hailed from the same country as Dream Evil, Manimal and Nocturnal Rites; all bands which I recognize in the sound of this melodic heavy metal outfit. That’s right, this is no straight-up power metal, but the similarities are easy to spot.

Stonelake certainly kept busy the last five years, this is their fifth album since 2006’s debut “Reincarnation”.  I’m not familiar with any of their older material, but let that not spoil the fun. From opener “Red Canyon”, with its slow pounding riffs and atmospheric keyboards, you know what you’re in for, especially when that firecracker chorus comes in: uncomplicated music built around strong guitar work and catchy vocal melodies. Aside from the Swedish component, I hear a familiarity with German acts Evidence One and Sanction-X. Both bands who do this kind of thing quite well.  

The first half of “Marching On Timeless Tales” offers the most diversity. “Liar” kind of sounds like it could’ve been from Nocturnal Rites’ “Afterlife” up ‘til “Grand Illusion”-era. Manimal comes to mind with the slightly more complexly structured “Sound Of A Whisper” and “Fool With No Denial”, which feature powerful and sharply sung choruses bound to linger around for a while. More straightforward is the Dream Evil-esque rocker “SnakeChild”, whose vocal harmonies almost had me think Niklas Isfeldt was behind the microphone. But you get it, this is Swedish melodic metal at its best.

Sadly the album takes a plunge in the second half, with the less memorable offerings of “Lay Down The War” and “Winds Of Fire”. Sure, it’s still enjoyable, but the spark of the first half is mostly gone. “Marching On Timeless Tales” ends on a strong note though, with “The Temple”, not only in title a wonderfully melancholic echo to Nocturnal Rites’ “Temple Of The Dead”. So there you have it, Stonelake won’t change your life anytime soon, but if you like any of the bands I mentioned above at any point in their career (because I can see why people would be turned off Dream Evil's and Nocturnal Rites’ more recent output), give this a try and I guarantee you won’t come back complaining. If you do, direct yourself to the webmaster, he takes all my punches.

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Arno Callens' rating: 3.5 out of 5

There is no music from this album available, our sincerest apologies.

Saturday, June 18

Interview ~ Faithsedge

Last Sunday night, instead of watching Swamp Loggers reruns, trying to avoid anything Kardashian related, or taking the dog for a walk, I had the chance to Skype with Giancarlo Floridia, the main man from Faithsedge. After reviewing their debut cd, I had become a big fan of the band. I got to know Giancarlo through Facebook and when the opportunity to interview him came up, it was an opportunity that I jumped at.

Giancarlo talks about how he got his first guitar, how Faithsedge came together, and the timeless vocal advice given to him by Joe Lynn Turner. It was a great way to spend a Sunday night.



Overtures - Rebirth

Overtures
Rebirth
2011

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Italy remains one of the most productive countries when it comes to power metal and with Overtures, there is yet another fine addition to their musical export. This isn’t their first step onto the scene though, as they already have a studio album, “Beyond The Waterfall”, under their belt. And with what’s on display on the not very originally titled “Rebirth”, it definitely deserves a look.

The other being Overmaster, this is the second Italian power metal band I’ve recently heard that doesn’t take its influences from national heroes Rhapsody Of Fire or Labyrinth, but drifts closer to the German side of the spectrum. I don’t want to limit Overtures’ sound to some hasty comparison, but this reminds me a good deal of classic-era Edguy. Which would explain why I like it so much. The song structures are simple and effective, with energetic riffing and spare use of keyboards and organs. The melodies soar, from verse to chorus and lead to solo, and the instantly recognizable voice of Michele Guaitoli is backed up by nice harmonic choirs. Occasionally this even has that hard rock-ish edge that is typical for Edguy’s more recent output. And unlike Saidian (and maybe Chinchilla), this doesn’t feel like an obvious Edguy-knockoff, but firmly stands on its own feet. Lyrically, they fall a bit short, especially compared to Tobias Sammet’s own scribbling, but I won’t hold it against them. Another legit comparison would be to fellow countrymen Dragonhammer, without the symphonic component.

There isn’t much use in singling out this track or the other, as the album is fairly consistent in quality. I will say that “Here We Fall” is a great opener, “Fly, Angel” as catchy as they come and that I have a new favorite track with every spin. Although “My Name Is Fear” has won the most thus far. Guaitoli, who sounds a little bit like a mix between Michele Luppi (ex-Vision Divine, Killing Touch) and Bruce Dickinson., gets the job done alright, but his voice might take some time growing used to. The bonus-track, an acoustic version of "Not Too Late" is a great showcase for him, though. Over multiple spins this band has made quite an impression on me, as it should on anyone with a taste for Edguy or enthusiastic power metal in general. 

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Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5



Frosthammer - The Cold Wind of Eternity

Frosthammer
The Cold Wind of Eternity
2011 

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This is the fourth and final demo from British Columbian black metal band Frosthammer, who have been ever so kind as to give me their last three demos for my listening pleasure. There haven’t been any major changes between this release and “Imagery of the Forgotten Realm” like there was between the aforementioned and its predecessor “Winter’s Embrace.” Production is raw and cold, but thick as pea soup, providing an excellent and eerie atmosphere. 

The synths have become more prominent once again, but the guitars have taken it up a notch, providing excellent tremolo picking backed with some truly remarkable riffs, such as those featured on "Where the Northern Wind Doth Blow (part 3) - Abandoned in a Forest of Wolves" (which is the third section and conclusion to the two part song from “Winter’s Embrace”). The growls maintain their effectiveness, and the clean vocals have improved again (not to the caliber that I would prefer, but they’re better). The problem is that they’re placed perfectly where they should be, but the execution is weak. "Shining Light" and "Abandoned in a Forest of Wolves" are the strongest tracks in a demo filled with naught but good songs. 

All in all, a great black metal band to watch. When these guys manage to release a full-length, I’ll definitely be there to review it.

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Claus’ rating: 3.75/5

Friday, June 17

Týr - The Lay Of Thrym

Týr
The Lay Of Thrym
2011

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Who doesn't like Faroese metal stalwarts Týr? I mean really, they've been quite consistent and constantly evolving their music since their 2002 debut “How Far To Asgard”. Famous for the distinctive vocals of Heri Joensen and their excellent blend of Scandinavian folk with progressive touches, we've all been waiting for Týr's next venture after the thoroughly enjoyable “By The Light Of The Northern Star” in 2009. Now that 2011 and the new album are finally here, Týr's latest hammerblow to the metal world is being judged all around the globe. I've found that this a considerable change of pace for them, and in more ways than one.

First things first, “The Lay Of Thrym” sees Týr treading further into power metal territory more than they have in the past. Most of the songs are uptempo and rollicking tunes that once again take on the guise of silly, happy pagan music. At first I thought that “Shadow Of The Swastika” was kind of a stupid song, until I took the time to look over the lyrics. The message, while blunt and antagonistic, is not a bad one whatsoever. In general, the band's regular conceptual commitment to paganism and Vikings is strong and entertaining, if perhaps a bit short-sighted in some ways. At least the lyricism here isn't just thinly-veiled attention-fishing for more fans to jump on the pagan bandwagon like it was on “By The Light Of The Northern Star”.

Musically, this is very catchy and accessible, maybe more so than any of the band's albums to date, and it'll definitely net a few more fans for Týr without a doubt. However, for those of us who were used to and fond of this albums predecessors, tracks like “Sinklars Visa”, “Tróndur í Gøtu”, and Turið Torkilsdóttir are sadly absent here. In fact, the lush harmonization that we've heard on previous efforts has been all but forsaken on "The Lay Of Thrym", generally in favor of more straightforward work. While there's nothing wrong with excellent metal tracks like “Flames Of The Free” and “Fields Of The Fallen”, I for one miss the subtlety and beauty of these vocal-centric tracks (Yes yes, I know that they're a metal band). But that doesn't stop me (nor should it the reader) from appreciating the band's move towards higher octane metal. The music here is some of the most energetic the band has ever written, and an example to followers of how the power/folk hybrid is supposed to sound when executed properly.

One other thing that bears mentioning when it comes to Týr's music is the emotional quality of Heri Joensen's voice (or rather, the almost complete absence of it). Sure, he's got an excellent knack for this rough-edged Viking material, and especially when singing in his native Faroese, but he really only has a couple of settings when he's singing without backing: loud and aggressive or soft and tentative. Perhaps that's why I find the overall song selection a bit weaker on “The Lay Of Thrym”, as the vocals are more often Heri singing solo, and the rarely-changing timbre can become a bit grinding. While I generally prefer faster tracks, Týr has historically been so good at adding color to their albums with great vocal harmonization (not just in the choruses of some songs) and varying of speeds, and I just don't see it happening here.

Technicalities, mostly, are the order of the day for complaints here, since it's really a stomping good time the whole way through. “The Lay Of Thrym” is a bit of a departure from the band's norms, but it's a high energy toss of the axe that anyone into the band is bound to enjoy. I recommend this highly, with the caveat that you'll hear the band's folky and progressive side fading a bit. Regardless, this is an album that any fan of folk, power, prog, (or anything in between) will find to be a great deal of fun.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 3.75 out of 5












Rhapsody of Fire - From Chaos to Eternity


Rhapsody of Fire
From Chaos to Eternity
2011


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Much has happened in the world of metal since Rhapsody released their superb debut album, "Legendary Tales," in 1997. The symphonic metal genre, then in its infancy, has become a powerful force in the metal scene, and Rhapsody's orchestral roots and epic scope, at one time constituting a tiny niche genre, have become relatively common in all kinds of metal. With young bands such as Ancient Bards and Pathfinder releasing magnificent new works in the symphonic metal paradigm, the future of the genre looks quite promising, and as Rhapsody are no longer the sole purveyors of the style, there is much less pressure on them to push the genre in new directions.

That said, Rhapsody of Fire is by no means slacking off; rather, they are doing what they do best, and having fun with it. Their latest record, "From Chaos to Eternity," does a good job of summarizing all that Rhapsody (of Fire) has done thus far, and subtly pushes it in a slightly heavier, more riff-driven direction. In a sense, Rhapsody has completed the circle they began with their earliest releases: after delving deep into symphonic and progressive territory with "Symphony of Enchanted Lands, Volume II" and "Triumph or Agony," much to the chagrin of a number of fans, they have returned to their metal roots. That said, however, this is not another "Legendary Tales." "From Chaos to Eternity" is the kind of album that can only be created by a band that has, over the years, developed and mastered a sound, and brought together all aspects of this sound into one unit.

Here we have all the Rhapsody trademarks: epic orchestrations, blazing solos, folk-infused balladry, a narrated storyline, and huge choruses, as well as a few newer elements. Most notable among these are the increased use of Fabio's excellent harsh vocals and the almost unprecedented classic-rock vibe present in "I Belong to the Stars."

In other news, guitarists Luca Turilli and Tom Hess have brought the guitar back to the foreground of Rhapsody's sound, and perhaps created Rhapsody's most interesting guitar album to date, both in terms of riffs and in terms of the guitar's interaction with the other instruments. However, Rhapsody has by no means shed the symphonic sound and become a guitar-metal band. The orchestral and choral parts still play an integral role in the music, and both sides play off each other nicely, creating a sound that is equal parts intense progressive metal and sweeping symphonic metal.

While "From Chaos to Eternity" may not have the youthful exuberance of "Legendary Tales" or the artistic cohesion of either "Symphony of Enchanted Lands," it makes up for this in terms of its solid, creative writing and flawless execution. Of all the albums Rhapsody has recorded, this is perhaps the most fun. Since the release of "Legendary Tales," they have been one of the most innovative bands in metal, and at this point, I'll be happy if they just keep doing what they do best, especially if it's all as glorious as "From Chaos to Eternity."

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Morpheus's Rating: 4.25/5

Thursday, June 16

Interview: Illdisposed


With their latest album “There Is Light (But It's Not For Me)”, out now on Massacre Records and reviewed here, Danish stalwarts Illdisposed continue their trend into the synthy groove-death genre. We asked guitarist and main musical composer Jakob “Batten” Hansen about his thoughts on the new album, his past with Illdisposed and just why they have a thing against long hair...



Thank you so much Jakob, for taking the time out to answer these questions and congratulations on 20 years as a band! I imagine it's been quite a ride since you joined. Do you feel like you've been in the business of Illdisposed for so long? And do you consider There Is Light as an anniversary album or just a natural progression?

Thank you. You’re right it has been quite a ride – but it definitely doesn’t feel like the 12 years I’ve been in the band. It feels more like 5 years or something. That’s the bad thing about having too much fun; time is disappearing right out of your hands! Anyway, the new album is just a natural progression. A “best of” album would be more appropriate as an anniversary album.

In what way does Tue Madsen's approach differ to previous collaborations like Fredrik Nordström?

We have known Tue since he was playing guitar in Pixie Killers, and that’s a freakin’ long time ago! So he knows how to challenge us. Fredrik was cool too though, we just didn’t feel like jumping on the boat to Sweden this time.

You've started using a lot of synth in the last few releases. Was it an evolutionary step or just an experiment that went right?

It was just an experiment that happened back in 2003 after we nearly split up. We needed some fresh air and ran into these 2 techno dudes. But it turned out pretty well, at least when you ask me. We’ve made so many albums that it’s refreshing to try something different now and then.

Do you find that you can pick holes in your own albums? And do you consider There Is Light your best to date?

After finishing a new album I can’t stand to listen to it for years because I’ve been working so intensely with it over a long period of time. But I don’t think There Is Light is the best one. Maybe the 3rd or 4th best.

Practising in a bathroom? Okay, if you say so...

Do you feel that you have learnt something with each release? If so, what?

Yeah definitely. If I didn’t learn something through all these releases I would be a complete moron. It’s about challenging yourself. You also learn to keep stuff to yourself and having to be an asshole sometimes to survive in the tough music industry.

Have lineup changes affected you significantly, given you and Bo are the main creators?

No not at all. The people that are changed are only playing live with us anyway, they never recorded anything with us.

What do you usually do before going on stage? Do you have any rituals?

We share a bottle of vodka. There’s nothing like vodka, it can get you up no matter how deep down you are. It makes the fog disappear.

Do you or the other band members have any musical "guilty pleasures"? Apparently you don't listen to much metal, so why did you cover the songs you did on Retro? Any specific reasons? Love the AC/DC cover, by the way!

It’s only guilty pleasures if you’re embarrassed about it. We all listen to everything from old Danish folk music to rap, pop, metal and whatsoever. We listen to a lot of shit - as long as it’s good shit.
The songs on Retro are songs we grew up with. Songs that inspired us to begin playing that kind of music ourselves.

How long will it be before you start recording A-Ha covers?

Uh, if that ever happens I hope someone will shoot me. I love A-Ha but doing covers of them is not something I’ll ever want to do. Bo looks a little bit like their singer though.

You've had quite a revolving door of musicians over the years. Would it be considered taboo to take on a musician with long hair?

My hair has been growing for a year now. And Franz got long hair since a few years. So we’re getting there!

We almost believe his comment on hair growth

Are there any famous people, dead or alive, with whom you'd love to hang out?

Right now I think the best choice would be Charlie Sheen.

Any parting comment to those who will be reading this?

Put some treble in it!

Thanks again for your time Jakob, and good luck with the remaining shows!

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Interview conducted by Angel

Wednesday, June 15

Odinfist - We Are Gods

Odinfist
We Are Gods
2010

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Power and thrash metal have historically enjoyed a reasonable amount of overlap in the music of some artists. I have learned that it is a mixture of two styles that appeal to me in very different ways and to different extents (power metal obviously being far more dominant, as far as my tastes are concerned). Lyrically and vocally, Canada's Odinfist fly the flag of their thrash ancestors proudly, while injecting some of the speed and melodicism that are power trademarks.

In addition to combining metal genres, Odinfist have a strange amalgamation of vocal styles and timbres, as well as an occasional mish-mosh of melodies, situated in places where they don't quite seem to sit comfortably within the song that they're placed. This is perhaps most noticeable in the opener "Skull Collection", where the chorus has a strange mystical, dreamy quality. All the while, harsh vocals sounding like impish gurgles are present in the background. It's such a strange juxtaposition of concepts that I can't really call it good or bad.

The band, of course, isn't taking themselves particularly seriously, which is a good thing because I think they might fall on their faces if they attempted it. The bounding irreverence combined with the sometimes melodic, sometimes tearing clean vocals makes for an unusual ride (at least to these ears). Tyler Anderson's vocal delivery, while definitely different from what I'm used to, is very genuine and emotional, even if that means that it comes off as chaotic and slightly debased. He's obviously having fun, and with the rest of the band behind him, leading them all steadfastly in their necrotic advance (there's a lot of emphasis on death here, lyrically).

Despite how I'm describing the album, there's not an overpowering sense of heaviness, and once again I don't know that this particular hurts the band or improves their chances. The guitars have a couple opportunities to swing good lines, but also sometimes fall in a fairly regular rhythmic chug that I have a hard time getting into. Solos aren't bad, but they are wedged into odd spaces and occupy strange tonal territory. Part of the reason for all of this is the mix, and while the guitars definitely suffer in power, I can at least hear a good bit of the bass.

In the end, I can't bring myself to form a strong opinion on this either way. It's largely fun and unoffensive, if a bit morbid, but it also doesn't grab my attention and hold it. This thrashier, slower style of heavy metal with rough vocals isn't my sort of thing, however I don't think that fans more attuned to this style of metal would find it in bad standing, as it has kind of a classy old-school sound to it that some might really get into. Other will make a stronger judgment call on this than I. While capable and unconventional, it's a bit too strange and lacking strong hooks for me.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 2.5 out of 5



Tuesday, June 14

Frosthammer - Imagery of the Forgotten Realm


Frosthammer
Imagery of the Forgotten Realm
2010

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This is the Canadian black metallers third demo, and the second in my trio. There have been some changes this time around, but the trademark Frosthammer sound is still there. The production is mostly the same, but a little thicker and denser, creating a heavier and more epic atmosphere.

They have begun adding symphonic elements, and the keyboards are beginning to take on more prominence, often using thick synths or atmospheric pianos. The guitars still have a tremolo addiction, but there are some actual riffs here, and Frosthammer proves that when they want to, they can write some bad-ass riffs. There is a great lead break on “Ascent to the Great Wizard’s Tomb” that almost resembles a tremolo picked guitar solo. The growls are of the same great quality, and the clean vocals have improved, but are still weak enough to notice.

This demo is better than the last one, but there is still much potential to be realized. This marks a slight change in sound, from a melodic style to a symphonic one, though the general idea hasn’t changed. Any and all black metal fans should run to find a copy of this, as they will surely be surprised and enthralled.

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Claus’ rating: 3.5/5

Monday, June 13

Luna Mortis - The Absence

Luna Mortis
The Absence
2009

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I first heard of Luna Mortis a few years back when I was trying to delve into local (or pseudo-local, at least) bands. At first, their harsh vocals put me off, but I've since come back to this album to explore it on a number of occasions, and it has grown on me immensely. I don't even remember where I purchased it, but the band sadly split up in early 2010 and has now moved on to other projects due to some measure of internal tension between members (as I understand it).

Hailing at one point from Madison, Wisconsin, Luna Mortis plays a very modern, harsh version of progressive/melodic death metal on this, their one and only full-length release, "The Absence". Appropriately named, perhaps, the album begins with song titles such as "Ash" and "Ruin" while the aggressive tone drops the album immediately through a crunchy descent of darkness and despair. As the chorus of the opening song concludes: "All is lost in ash!" Adding to this rather bleak atmosphere are the scathing harsh vocals of Mary Zimmer. Initially, this was what put me off the album, and as I'd heard precious little of women utilizing harsh vocals at that point, it struck me as particularly brutal (relatively speaking, of course).

Thankfully however, the band rises out of the ravine through which the first few songs run, and though the atmosphere is more or less maintained, there are a couple of bright spots: most notably the excellent "Forever More". A driving, up-tempo and considerably more upbeat song, this track is both my favorite on the album and a refreshing change from the omnipresent murk surrounding it. It's also home to one of the best guitar hooks on the album, which is guaranteed to stick with you long after the song and album are done and gone.

Highlights abound here, and while Zimmer isn't the most fantastic vocalist, her alto range and more husky tone is quite well-suited for Luna Mortis's style of darker progressive metal. I mentioned her harsh vocals earlier, and while they initially drove me away from this album, they have now become part of its magnetism. This tormented howling is a part of the emotions of fear, desperation, and defiance that pervades the album. Despite being labeled as proggy, this is very modern and quite accessible, and many of the guitar leads are very easy to get into and bang your head with. It'll probably bore some of the more technical prog-heads, but it's likely that many of them wouldn't care for the vocals here regardless.

With great chemistry and good concise (yet technical) songwriting skills, it's a wonder to me how this band got in such a train wreck with all of the great things that they had going for them. As it is, however, "The Absence" is fated to remain something of an anomaly in the lesser-known landscape of American metal. I recommend to anyone with a taste for dark melodic metal to pick this up and give it a try, as it is surprisingly sustaining and rewarding for such a young band.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 4.0 out of 5




Thorr-Axe - Wall Of Spears

Thorr-Axe
Wall Of Spears
2011
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Passing the torch from legendary metal bands to the next generation can be a daunting task, but US youngsters Thorr-Axe handle the duties of stoner metal legends like High On Fire, Electric Wizard and Ocean Chief well, creating a crushing if not overly original metal sound that will please fans of the genre. They bring new material as well as reworked tracks from their demo Roots Of The Mountain to their début album Wall Of Spears, masterminded by renowned producer Bob Fouts.

The power-trio demonstrate proficiency in their instruments, whether in slow crushing chord progressions like “Hung For Nine Days” or fast crunchy riffing as on “The Island”. Melodic and technical solos are dotted through the album, the most impressive being on “The Dragon King”. The distorted bass gives out a heavy low-end, but seems buried from production and playing the same as the guitars, whereas drummer Roach has more to say, including some punk-style beats on the title track. Although each song has a very distinctive intro and feel, the main musical flaw of this album is that the riffs are very over-used, limited almost to one per track. Each song is also structurally quite similar, with each solo entering at an almost predictable point. This is somewhat understandable, however, given the ages of the musicians, and songwriting comes with practice.

The vocals, handled mostly by guitarist Thomasson, are a sludgy hardcore scream which seems quite low in the mix compared to the guitars. Whether this is deliberate or not, it draws attention away from them and the varying lyrical quality. Most of the tracks carry a Norse theme, referencing Odin, Bolthor and Yggdrasil like an Amon Amarth cast-off, but they throw in other tracks like the amusing “Brewmaster” with the repeated line “All Midgard will bathe in beer”. Unfortunately there are some pretty terrible lyrics, such as the line ““Here on this island, two men enter, one man leaves/And from the looks of it, that one man will be me”. The best vocal performance is given on the closer track, the reworked “Sundering Of The Frost Giant”, where Roach joins in for an impressive double-attack of high and low growls, finishing the album nicely.

To give the band their credit, I can imagine they deliver the songs well in a live atmosphere, and there were many enjoyable moments of headbanging. Despite its faults, Wall Of Spears can be counted among the better début albums, if not quite to the standard of their heroes. It ticks all the boxes, and I look forward to following the progress of this band on their next release.

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Rating: 3.5/5


Sunday, June 12

Dawn Of Valor Ticket Giveaway!


You read correctly, for those local to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota (or at least those who plan to be for Dawn of Valor's next concert), we're giving you all a shot at a pair of FREE TICKETS courtesy of the band! Doors open at 6:00 on Sunday, June 19th, and the show will likely run until midnight.

The occasion? Why to celebrate the band's new singer. Shrouded in mystery, this new frontman will be heading up Dawn of Valor's charge onto the stage on June 19th at Station Four alongside Under Eden, White Wizzard, Revocation, Redsky, and Eldergaad!

How to get your shot at two free tickets? Read the following:

It's simple really, just email Black Wind Metal at blackwindmetal at gmail dot com from an email address that we can reach YOU at, and let us know what your favorite metal release of 2011 has been thus far. Please let us know if you'd like have the tickets mailed to you by the end of the week (please include address if so), or if you'd like the band to meet you with them at the door!  Emails must be received before 11:59 PM on Wednesday, June 15th in order to be eligible. The winner will be contacted by Dawn of Valor via email in regards to claiming your free tickets.

And if you don't win, $10 is a pittance to pay for a night of great music. We here at Black Wind are looking forward to hearing from all of you with your replies and seeing you at the show!

Saturday, June 11

Falconer - Armod

Falconer
Armod
2011

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Since I first got into power metal, Falconer has been a major player in my tastes, and remains one of my very favorite artists. Heck, I remember mopping floors to such epic backgrounds as “Upon The Grave Of Guilt” and “Mindtraveller”. I've now been following them diligently since the release of “Northwind”, and have been consistently pleased with their efforts since. After hearing about the direction that “Armod” would be taking, I pondered for the longest time about just what this new work would sound like, and I'd heard a number of rumors, including being entirely in Swedish, being less of a “metal” album, and relying far more on folk instrumentation. Well, it turns out that the first of these, other than the bonus tracks, is entirely accurate. However, while the vocals are 100% Swedish, this is definitely still a metal album, but it is definitely not your average Falconer album. While Falconer has long specialized in their special crafting of a bridge spanning power and folk metal, on “Armod” this bridge descends decidedly further within the borders of folk territory, tending more often to leave power metal behind. Much of the time, it almost feels like Mathias Blad is singing with a different backing band, but little reminders pop up now and again that this is indeed the same group of 12-year metal veterans.

So what's changed, and what separates “Armod” from thundering releases like “Chapters From A Vale Forlorn” and “Among Beggars And Thieves?” Well, it's still hard, that's for sure, but in general the compositions here are a bit less melodic in the traditionally western-accepted sense of the word. The guitar lines have more of a primal savagery to them in places, rather than the rough-edged, rustic charisma that listeners have come to know. The opening riff of “Svarta Änkan” (“Black Widow”) exemplifies the change in tonality and guitar riffing, as does the brutal instrumental introduction to “Griftefrid” (Blastbeats in Falconer? Now I've heard it all!). There are some songs where the classic vibe of the band is present (“Rosornas Grav”- “By The Rose's Grave”), but even here the influence of different elements, be they female backing vocals, alternate instrumentation, or a more melancholy tone, is evident.

For some, I would say that Falconer, on this album especially, can be compared to the mighty Týr (most especially in the case of the latter's most recent release). The bands have decidedly different sounds, but the similarity in meshing styles is clear. To Falconer's credit, they have a much more refined feel going, and Mathias Blad is, as always, a vocalist of the highest caliber. Few can equal his grace, and his smooth baritone has frequently been mentioned in the same breath with greats like Roy Khan in terms of pure talent. With “Armod” being sung in Swedish, Blad's vocals sound a bit more harsh and cold to native English-speaking ears, but the experience is very much the same.

In some ways, “Armod” is as distinctive as Falconer's previous work, and fans of the band will be able to recognize it immediately in ways other than Blad's voice. However, the template is so different that it will most undoubtedly split opinions- power metal fans will probably care for it less, while it will attract more attention from those predisposed to folk and extreme metal. Remember while you listen that the band was very open about what they wanted to do with “Armod” from the beginning, and that it was a very personal album that the band self-admittedly realized wouldn't appeal to their regular audience. So I accept this with good grace, and despite its differences it is no mediocre metal album, but still a competent and well-executed recording with a great deal of polish. I anticipate this will continue to grow on me.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 3.5 out of 5






Thursday, June 9

Vulvagun - Cold Moon Over Babylon


Vulvagun
Cold Moon Over Babylon
2011

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At first when I saw the name Vulvagun pop up on my promo list, I skipped it with a look of disgust (really, with a name like that, what was I to think?). Later however, I happened to see them labeled as power metal- prompting another look and a sample listen, which impressed me suitably. I'm glad to say now that I made an error, and that no one should be thrown off by the strange name of the band (though I would like to know why the band chose it for themselves).

Vulvagun is a young and rather ambitious young metal outfit from Melbourne, Australia. Though labeled as power metal, I would hesitate to describe their music as just that. Mixing elements of USPM with a dash of prog and a slab of thrash, Vulvagun produces a heavy and darkly shaded album of twisting harmonies and thundering riffs. "Cold Moon Over Babylon" sure took its sweet time growing on me, but now that it has, I find myself coming back to it many evenings when I have time for dedicated listening. I say this because if there's one thing that I've learned about Vulvagun, it's that they have composed a very thick and chewy sort of album.

Vocalist Wayne Dwyer's commanding shout combined with the chunky riffing creates a dramatic atmosphere that lends itself very well to the lyrical theme of the album. I call this album ambitious because the band undertakes a very dark and solemn theme on their first outing: The Lesser Key Of Solomon, a mythical text on demonology. Never mind undertake, these guys succeed in being taken seriously with mythological subjects in the way that groups like Virgin Steele do (and perhaps more). Sometimes dark, sometimes mysterious, and rarely dull, the material here is rare. Really, I think that the only thing lacking for this band is pulling everything together and providing listeners with a little more melody. On the other hand, songs like "Malachi" and the title track deliver quite satisfyingly, and indicate just what the band is capable of.

However, I don't think that this diminishes the appeal of "Cold Moon Over Babylon" much at all. While not a very accessible album, it is well worth the reward of repeated listens. The most surprising thing about this work is its maturity level, as it sounds like a band that has dropped half a dozen releases and is moving on to something more grand. I don't know how much more I can say about this record, but it's well worth a try. Vulvagun isn't playing with the kids here, this is a well-developed piece of work with great depth.

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The Protagonist's Rating: 3.75 out of 5