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HEAVENLY – Carpe Diem (AFM Records 2009)

Heavenly - Carpe Diem
  1. Carpe Diem
  2. Lost In Your Eyes
  3. Farewell
  4. Fullmoon
  5. A Better Me
  6. Ashen Paradise
  7. The Face Of The Truth
  8. Ode To Joy
  9. Save Our Souls

It's been two years since the French Melodic Power Metal band HEAVENLY released an album and that was "Virus", its fourth release. The band was long considered a GAMMA RAY clone, as their Metal sounded very similar to that of the Germans. Then again, there were many Power Metal bands at that time who were influenced by the likes of HELLOWEEN, GAMMA RAY, STRATOVARIUS, SONATA ARCTICA and so on. What HEAVENLY made was far from bad. With their third album, "Dust To Dust", the music was given a massive and powerful production and it was strange to hear the follow-up, "Virus", with a lighter sound. But several listens did show this was another very good album.

The same line-up also played the required gigs and put their heads together for the creation of a new record. "Carpe Diem" is the title of this 5th album, released on the 18th of December through AFM Records, who also released the previous one. However, drummer Pierre-Emmanuel "Piwee" Desfray (ex-FAIRYLAND) has recently replaced Thomas Das Neves, who did record the drumparts for "Carpe Diem", according to Metal-Archives.com. However, in the booklet, it's Piwee who gets the credits, even if he joined in October and at the message on the band's website says that Phil Colodetti was then mixing and mastering the album. I don't know who's featured on the cover, but somehow it's clear that love plays a role in terms of lyrics. The thorned border/threshold (whatever you see) can also be found on MANTICORA's "8 Deadly Sins" and KAMELOT's "The Black Halo". Coincidence or not, but I find the similarity a bit too obvious/easy/...

Soundwise Phil Colodetti sat behind the buttons again, for the production, mixing and mastering. And that is both good and bad. Good, for it may have costed less and maybe his knowledge suited the band's vision better in terms of sound. Bad, because I thought the songs could use a more powerful edge. Oliver Hartmann provided guest vocals for the song "Save Our Souls", Geraldine Gadaut did this for "Carpe Diem" and "Ashen Paradise". Like before the tracklist holds nine songs.

It all starts with the title track's intro, following by the music breaking in. Typical Melodic Power Metal at midtempo with a undeniable 80's touch. One big proof of that is the similarity of the bridge with the hit "Fame", as in "Fame! I'm gonna live forever...". The chorus is catchy and includes the typical HEAVENLY choir-ish vocals. Guitar solos are a must and they are present, no worries about that. This forms a nice contrast with the heavy rhythm, by which I mean there's enough Metal in this track to withstand the melodic impact. All in all, a decent starting song that continues where "Virus" left off. However, I do find it awkward to see this French band going for such a lyrical subject. Either they mean it as a joke or they didn't find inspiration for something more serious or epic.

The next song, "Lost In Your Eyes", is already a better one. The title is cliché as hell and fits better with a Pop song, as this kind of subject/theme gets rehashed a gazillion times each year, but the music is what you need to pay attention to. Neo-Classical Metal. HEAVENLY's classic/typical element, the harpsichord, is present as well. Ben's keyboard work provides the backing and leads. The piano is the main instrument in the verses, though the guitars offer assistance in the second part. Next to that there's the melodic and catchy bridge, which contains more power, both musically and vocally. The chorus is sung by the choir. Again, that's HEAVENLY's trademark to give the song a more epic touch. The guitar solo puts the final touch to it all.

"Farewell", not KAMELOT's song, is another very good song. It starts with a piano intro and Ben's high-pitched vocals. In terms of melody this sounds very much like QUEEN and could easily have been sung by the late Freddie Mercury. Once this first part, melodic with symphonic touches, is done, the piano, serving as connecting element, guides the softer singing onwards until it hands over responsibility to the Metal instrumentation, but not without keeping a eye on it. In other words, the melodic aspect is still high enough, though the overall pace is slow. Even the chorus, which also sounds very QUEEN-ish. Let's cut it short: "Farewell" is so well done, it might as well have been a QUEEN song, on all aspects. And one must simply give kudos to the band for this result.

A music box and a happy baby are the first thing you hear when playing "Fullmoon". But the atmosphere soon turns dark as the bass and drum come in and maintain a steady beat, letting the piano and guitars join a little later. The 80's touch is very much present again. HEAVENLY plays firm and makes it chorus epic, more epic than before. During this part there's a sudden tempo outbreak, which is nice and should be done more often on this album. Melody comes from the keyboards, who play a vital role, countered by the heavy guitars. And after one decent and three very good songs, the first (of two) excellent song(s) is due...

"A Better Me". I find it excellent, mainly for its chorus. The song itself starts with the piano and Ben on vocals. All sounds calm and gentle, somehow reminding of QUEEN again. The theatricalness (if this is a correct term) makes it sound like a mix of QUEEN, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, SAVATAGE, or similar. While there was something dark about the previous song, the chorus here creates a counterbalance, as it sounds epic and uplifting. Regarding the QUEEN references, think of their classic hit "Bohemian Rhapsody". Overall there's a nice flow of calmer and more rocking parts, creating a result to be proud of. "Ode To Joy" is the other excellent song. "Ode An die Freude", as it's better known as, from BEETHOVEN is nicely worked into the compositions. Taking the first place, the Metal breaks loose afterwards and boosts onwards. Neo-classical Metal that's a joy to hear. Nothing more needs to be said, all elements are present to make this one of the best tracks on this album.

Three more songs to go: "Ashen Paradise", "The Face Of The Truth" and "Save our Souls". The first has violins to begin with, creating what you could call tension and then a cry for help follows, analogue with GAMMA RAY's "Induction" from their "No World Order" album (2001). What you get then is dark, pounding Metal where guitars are the dominant factor, degrading the keyboards to a backing role. Epic material! The pace also gets a kick in the rear at some point(s) and the fast chorus makes the picture complete. Bombastic and catchy stuff, quality all the way. "The Face Of The Truth" is, like "Carpe Diem", not a bad track, but it's not that very good either. Dark atmosphered, advancing slowly, building towards the verses, which are devoid of heaviness, yet allow symphonic elements to provide the leads. The brdige, too, is slow and sounds rather sad. Vocally things turn quite godly in the chorus. The pace throughout the song remains slow, the feeling sad. Last but certainly not least there's "Save Our Souls", a firm midtempo Power Metal track. Again, epicness and bombast in the chorus. There were QUEEN similarities earlier on, the melody in the chorus also reminded me another band's song, but as so much is released these days, it's hard to remember it all correctly. Solos are once more legion. "Carpe Diem" ends in style, let that be clear.

In my opinion, HEAVENLY's best effort so far was "Dust To Dust". The lighter production on "Virus" needed several listens, but they were worth it. Expectations were thus high for "Carpe Diem" and I need to say that the French delivered another qualitative piece of Power Metal. This cannot be denied. It's food for fans of GAMMA RAY, (old) EDGUY, STRATOVARIUS, FREEDOM CALL and similar. HEAVENLY haven't released a bad album (yet), but as good as "Carpe Diem" is on its own, it's light(er) compared to the other albums. It's more oriented towards the masses. If this love theme and accompanying lighter Metal is just a one-time change, then one can sleep soundly. If however Ben an co. opt to continue in this direction, I fear they might soon enough decide to steer their vessel back into the Power Metal of old direction.

More info at www.heavenly.fr.

Line-up:
Ben Sotto - vocals
Charley Corbiaux - guitars
Olivier Lapauze - guitars
Matthieu Plana - bass
Pierre-Emmanuel "Piwee" Desfray - drums


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THE DUST CONNECTION – Trails (Snakebite Records 2009)

The Dust Connection - Trails
  1. The Nameless
  2. Orbit
  3. The Grand Final
  4. Clouds
  5. Trails (Conduct The Tension)
  6. Garden Of Remembrance
  7. Remission Of Sins
  8. Subconscious World
  9. New God
  10. Path
  11. Nothingness
  12. The House That Doesn't Exist
  13. Nine Days' Wonder
  14. Within The Silence

THE DUST CONNECTION is a Dutch Progressive Rock/Metal band, formed before or in 2003, judging by the fact that they made a first release, a demo, in 2003. Live-wise the band has already shared the stage with PAIN OF SALVATION, EVERGREY, THRESHOLD, DEVIN TOWNSEND, ALCHEMIST, THE GATHERING, MERCENARY and more. The debut album came out on the 11th of December. It's March 2010 when I'm writing this, so yes, it has taken a while to write something about "Trails". With 14 tracks and a total playtime of a good 70 minutes, it's obvious it wasn't an easy undertaking.

"Trails" starts in a direct manner with "The Nameless". No intro, no tension, just direct Prog Rock. The keyboard leads sound very 80's, but also provide atmospheric backing in the verses. The guitar is the key instrument here. Contrast is created via a slower, atmospheric chorus, again with an important role for the piano. There is a guitar solo later on and it's a good one, plus it makes the song more interesting. As the keyboards provide a big portion of the melody, they too can add a solo afterwards. And so until the end. All in all a very decent starting song. "Orbit" is a darker kind of song, and heavier. Keyboards add the required atmospheric backing. This instantly made me think of bands like ARTRACH, NIGHTWISH, DREAM THEATER, MANIGANCE, ... Melody is an important element in the chorus, which means this is the terrain of the keyboards. They are also selected for a solo, backed by heavy and rhythmic Rock/Metal support. The chorus is visited one more time before all falls silent. Here as well, very solid material.

But it doesn't stay that way, since the following two songs - it's a matter of taste, to some extent, but still... - are harder to digest, less attractive or catchy. "The Grand Final", a title that could be used for the last track of the album, begins with a nice ambient intro by the keyboards, with guitar support before throwing themselves into the verses, which are also very atmospheric. This is a vital element in THE DUST CONNECTION: atmosphere. Almost to do its name justice, to have the atmosphere be the dust that connects. This is contrasted with a heavy/ier chorus. Jeroen's vocals are high in the mix. Not that it wasn't that obvious before, but here you can hear it better. As the music carries on, ambient, Jazzy even, connecting pieces (piano as main instrument) offer a very soothing change. A joint-venture between guitar and keyboards results in a sad, but touching solo. Heaviness kicks in a little later, but does that rather unexpectedly. The chorus is played then and the band soon found a way to put an end to it all. Everything's well played, but somehow this song's not as strong as the previous two or some that follow. "Clouds" also has the keyboards as first instrument, but here it's for the leading melody, followed by ballad-ish verses. Main ingredients are the piano and accoustic guitar. Again, heaviness in the chorus, but this overall remains slow and melancholic. Even the solo is accustomed to this way of playing. Ambient keyboards are all that remain in the last part of the song. Decent end result, but not a highlight, in my opinion.

"Trails (Conduct The Tension)" is a short track and I had mistaken it for a longer one, as "Garden Of Remembrance" follows so smoothly. Luckily I checked the display of my discman. But anyway, after this short and mysterious interlude with piano accents, the "Garden Of Remembrance" is a joy to listen to and truth be told, one to be added to the same list as the first two tracks. The melody (from "Trails (Conduct The Tension)" flows better, sounds happier even. Jeroen's vocals are added to it as the verses are played. Full power (incl. guitar, keyboards, drums) is provided in the chorus. The piano is the most important instrument and not only in the middle section of the song, where all heaviness is washed away, leaving just the piano and vocals. The melody sounds like a repentance, by manner of speech. Following that are piano leads and guitar/drum power with female backing vocals. And backing from the back, indeed, far in the back. All then flows back to the chorus, although there's still room for a guitar solo, even if it sounds sad (also with appropriate piano support) in the last 30 seconds of the song.

"Remission Of Sins" is a spacey, atmospheric Rock song, very much guitar-driven. Keyboards provide the required backing. Things get stronger, more powerful in the chorus, as if the element of danger was added. Musically it sounds similar to, for example, EVERGREY, albeit in a lighter version. Interestingly all falls silent when it's solo time, thus allowing the guitar to come out better. All in all a decent song, but nothing more. The same counts for "Subconscious World". Keyboards lay out the first melodies, growing in power, adding tension until slow Rock takes over and the keyboards take on a backing role. Jeroen's vocals are high in the mix, particularly in the (very melodic) chorus. But he's not the only one who's singing here, as he gets assistance from guitarist Martijn Balsters. Again the guitar is the driving element. For the sake of change and diversity, keyboardist Sander Heerings adds an organ solo and may take the song to its ending that way.

From or in the "Subconscious World" we find a "New God". This track and the following make up the rest of the list of songs that are very good. In my (humble) opinion, of course. Keyboards remain a vital instrument, first with electronic playfulness, which is taken over by heavy Rock, sounding firm and powerful, pushing the keyboards to the back. And it's heaviness that dominates, which is a good thing. Solos come from the keytar and guitar itself this time. We're dealing with a Progressive Rock/Metal band here, thus at some point the music takes a different direction. Throwing away all heaviness, nothing but calm music can be heard instead, very atmospheric and smoothly flowing over into a sad, melancholic piece played by the whole band, and with the piano and guitar as culprits, you might say. They are responsible for this exquisite moment. But that soon is wiped away by the aforementioned heaviness with dark and evil sounding backing, almost horrific. The song does end in an abrupt way, right after the chorus is done one final time. Like *bam!*, over and out.

Let's take a different "Path" then. Starting with a heavy guitar, this soon transcends into a slow DREAM THEATER-like melodic chorus. The heavy riffing vs the keyboard melodies offers a very enjoyable listening experience. Furthermore, the Dutch made this track diverse and variable enough with, for example, spotlight moments for the toms and eastern touches through the guitar. Composition-wise this is absolutely marvellous. No guitar solo, but a spacey keyboard one, with heavy instrumentation countering it. This is by far one of the best, if not the best, tracks on "Trails". With 14 tracks totalling a long playtime, it would be nice to have something lighter to digest. That's where "Nothingness" comes in. This is a lighter Rock song with piano leads, although the pace if firm, higher and more direct. Perhaps due to its lightness it feels more lively than the previous tracks. Even the (catchy chorus flows more freely. After the instrumental break (exotic, eastern and with vocals), the obligatory guitar solo kicks in. Another solid song, nothing more, nothing less.

"The House That Doesn't Exist" is another track where things run smooth and calm in an ambient atmosphere. Sounds almost like meditative music. The verses sound dramatic, nostalgic even thanks to the piano. When the solo comes in, it's inline with what preceded, being all quite ballad-ish. Do notice that the guitar solo is a long one, but also very good. Over 1/3 of the song there's a power increase, adding more feeling to the music (chorus). Instrumentalism is important in this song, offered by the guitar and keyboards on one hand, going for a bass moment on the other hand and even finding a spot to add a semi-accoustic Jazzy touch via the organ and guitars (electric and accoustic). The band does take the main road again with the chorus and rides towards the end on the piano (a great composition, I must say), although a clock ticks the final seconds away.

A radio transmission introduces "Nine Days' Wonder", or better, it sounds like one, a transmission, with distortion and all. Heavy riffing and firm beating fall in and disconnect the radio, so to speak. This is a ballsy song, reminding a lot of the Swedish Prog Metallers EVERGREY. Contrast is created between the slow verses (guitar-driven, keyboards backing) and the powerful chorus. Like in the previous song, the final part of the song is instrumental and this time it's the guitar that takes its responsability with a sad solo. The assistance is inline with that feeling and the result is beautiful. A very solid song, nothing more needs to be said. And so "Within The Silence" closes "Trails". Calm guitarwork at first with atmospheric backing, in a ballad-ish jacket, reminding somehow of THIN LIZZY. The verses are guitar-dominated. Melody comes from both the guitar and piano, a joint-venture that sounds simply great. All's well, ends well.

THE DUST CONNECTION, Progressive Rock/Metal from the Netherlands, present their debut album, "Trails". With 14 tracks and a playtime of about 74 minutes, you're in for a long adventure with ups and downs, heavy and soft parts and more in between. You might not grasp everything from the first listen, so give it time and spins to let the trails show themselves. Progfans should have no problems with this disc as everything's present for a solid result. Compositions, musicianship, solos... the Dutch have the skills, keeping in mind there is room for improvement. "Trails" isn't the best album in its genre, but it's good. My only remark would be the production, being at the rather light side. I understand that Progressive Rock should not be produced like its Metal variant, but somehow a more Metal production here and there (depending on the song) would have been beneficial to the album.

More info at www.thedustconnection.com.

Line-up:
Jeroen Voogd - vocals
Martijn Balsters - guitars, vocals
Sander Heerings - keyboards
Niels van Dongen - bass
Robert Spaninks - drums


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ELIS – Catharsis (Napalm Records 2009)

Elis - Catharsis
  1. Core Of Life
  2. Twinkling Shadow
  3. Warrior's Tale
  4. Des Lebens Traum - Des Traumes Leben
  5. I Come Undone
  6. Firefly
  7. Morning Star
  8. Das Kleine Ungeheuer
  9. Mother's Fire
  10. Rainbow
  11. The Dark Bridge

The Liechtenstein band ELIS was formed in 2003, after most members left the Gothic band ERBEN DER SCHÖPFUNG. Logically ELIs would continue the Gothic direction. "God's Silence, Devil's Temptation" was the band's first full-length, recorded under the watchful eye of ATROCITY vocalist Alexander Krull at his Mastersound Studio. ELIS soon gained recognition and performed at several festivals. They even toured with EISHEILIG and THE VISION BLEAK in 2004. That same year the follow-up came out under the title "Dark Clouds In A Perfect Sky". This resulted in a tour with ATROCITY, LEAVES' EYES and BATTLELORE. After a successful videoshoot for "Der Letzte Tag" the band hit the road again with VISIONS OF ATLANTIS and LYRIEL. A few line-up changes later the band's third album, "Griefshire", was ready to hit the market. That same year, 2006, vocalist Sabine Dünser suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away just after finishing her vocal tracks. The album got released nevertheless in honour of Sabine, who wrote the story for this album. "Griefshire" as my first proper encounter with ELIS and my review reflected my positive findings of this release. Sabine's vocals suited in most songs, but her timbre at times was irritating to my ears, similar to Liv Kristine's.

The rest of the band didn't want to quit now and decided to look for a new female vocalist. They found her in the person of Sandra Schleret (SIEGFRIED, ex-DREAMS OF SANITY). She appeared on SERENITY's "Fallen Sanctuary" album in 2008. In 2007 the band embarked on a tour with KOTIPELTO and CHRIS CAFFERY. At the beginning of the tour, an EP ("Show Me The Way") was released with the last 3 track with Sabine's vocals and two re-recorded songs with Sandra's voice. Few gigs were played in 2008, as the band wanted to work on the follow-up to "Griefshire". Again the Mastersound Studio was booked. Michelle Darkness (END OF GREEN) made a guest performance in the song "Warrior's Tale". "Catharsis", the title of this new release, came out on the 27th of November.

With "Catharsis" ELIS have gone into a more Power Metal kind of direction, though without completely abandoning the Gothic environment of before. It starts with "Core Of Life", a midtempo song where guitars provide the power in the verses and keyboards create the atmospheric setting. The music starts to pound in the chorus, where piano melodies contrast the guitar and drum power. There's a sad feel, obviously, as catharsis means healing through suffering. The guitarsolo emphasizes that feeling. A good track to start with, that's for sure. And it gets better. "Twinkling Shadow" - a strange title, as I never thought a shadow could twinkle - offers aggressive riffing at first before the guitars roll on with the drums as the verses have arisen. Keyboards are again the instrument of atmosphere and change into a symphonic shape in the bridge. Tom (bass) adds growls/grunts reminiscent of Karl Willets in BOLT THROWER. The music flows better in the chorus, where dual vocals tell the tale.

"Warrior's Tale" has a symphonic intro with choir singing. This rises to a certain height before calm guitarwork takes over. No singing, rather whispering and assisted by slow Metal. Gentle singing follows afterwards and that sounds very nice. The music is also more Gothic than the previous two tracks. Next to female vocals, clean male singing is also part of the song, during which symphonic backing with a dark feel is played. It seems the tale is not a happy one, as the chorus sounds quite sad. The dual female singing helps in bringing this event more to life. The obligatory solo is present, be it with symphonic backing. A job well done, overall. No complaints at all. "Des Lebens Traum - Des Traumes Leben" can be (best?) translated as "(To) Dream The Life - (To) Live The Dream". It's not a litteral or exact translation, though. This song is more rocking, more active, even though there is a slow build-up with the keyboards adding an electronic touch to the whole. Slow verses with dark and subtle symphonic elements in the back. Clean female singing dominates (logically), though grunts are reserved for the bridge, assisting or countering Sandra's singing. This is one of the few songs in German, something the band has been doing since some time and therefore ELIS needed a German-speaking vocalist. Sandra occupies the chorus, where the Metal remains slow. After the solo there is a boost, however, to increase the activeness of the music. In short, a very nice song.

I said before that ELIS has moved away a bit from the Gothic Metal they played before. Another proof of that is "I Come Undone", which sounds more like a mix of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. The bass started the track, the drums kicked in a little later and the rest followed as the right pace and sound was found. The keyboards not only offering backing, but are needed to support the vocals. Despite this being a lighter song, the result is good, no question about that. "Firefly" brings back the heaviness, the darkness and even the tempo. There's a nice contrast between the different parts: slow verses (with symphonic backing), a pounding bridge and midtempo chorus. The guitar solo is inline with the music, i.e. wild. The second one is more toned down, but longer. It's good that the music has increased in power and what not, especially after a song like "I Come Undone".

Tension and mystery are main ingredients in the intro of "Morning Star". The Metal instrumentation comes marching in soon enough. Grunts are the main vocals here and the heaviness or sound of the music reminds of PAGAN'S MIND (the Norwegian ProgPower band), but without keyboards. Sandra falls in, assisted by soft keyboards backing in the bridge and chorus, where gentle piano touches were strewn about. But foremost this song rocks! However, there's no solo to stress that fact. Or perhaps its absence makes it rock even more? Whatever the reason is, this is one of the best songs on "Catharsis". But all good things have a bad side and the second German-sung song is the culprit: "Das Kleine Ungeheuer". Translated it gives this: "The Little Monster" or "The Little Horror". In both cases, it's not something very positive, is it? And it seems the band wanted to match the music to that title. It starts calm and playful, but soon changes into slow and dark Metal. The guitars dominate here, to emphasize this dark character. Female vocals take the vocal lead, though the male counterpart comes in now and then, backed by xylophone sounds. Not only is there a dark feel, the whole sounds whiney, too. The singing, I mean. When adding a whispering "Geh fort!" ("Be gone!", "Go away!" if my knowledge doesn't trick me) it makes me cringe even more. Sorry, but indeed weakest song on this album. That is a fact.

The situation improves a bit with "Mother's Fire", which is a more rocking song like "I Come Undone". It rocks, it's got symphonic backing in both the bridge and chorus, where vocally you get grunts, in both parts. Over halfway the music changes into something soohing and calm, followed by the guitar solo. The keyboards then provide backing support before all flows back to the chorus. in general this is an ok song, but nothing more. But it's better than "Das Kleine Ungeheuer". After the rain comes the sun and a "Rainbow". Woohoo! With a calm, exotic and at the same time accoustic intro (percussion included), it gives peace of mind. Something very welcome at this stage in the listening process. The violin comes in as well, but only as connecting instrument. It does lead in the chorus, where the orchestral input rises in volume as the chorus grows. The guitars and drums only come in in the last minute or so, but without disturbing the feel and tempo of before. This is a very good song, even without the guitars and drums adding their saying. "The Dark Bridge" ends the "Catharsis" with a slow Metal song. Keyboards in the back, as usual. The verses are firm and contain orchestral accents, which rise in power in the bridge and chorus. The chorus is also the place where Sandra and Tom combine their vocal skills, each taking turns. Overall, an ok song.

With Sandra Schleret on board ELIS is set for a fine future. I like her voice better than Sabine's (sure, it's a taste issue), but at the same time the band needed to change the musical direction a little, as Sandra's voice is more made for Power Metal (or related) material, even though she does a very fine job here with the Gothic songs, too. If ELIS never was your kind of band, you probably won't find anything interesting here either. Fans of the band should have no big problems with the new vocalist and music. It helps if you're into LACUNA COIL, GWYLLION (yes, that Belgian band that released a very fine album earlier this year), NIGHTWISH, LEAVES' EYES and similar. Which again confirms ELIS ventured into the Gothic/Power Metal direction with "Catharsis". Despite the grand loss for the band, their persistance helped to overcome (as much as possible) this loss by creating a very good follow-up. The limited edition contains 2 bonus tracks and a DVD with the band's performance at Metal Female Voices Fest 2007 in Belgium.

More info at www.elis.li.

Line-up:
Sandra Schleret - vocals
Pete Streit - guitars
Christian Gruber - guitars
Tom Saxer - bass
Max Näscher - drums


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TOMYDEEPESTEGO – Chronophage (Subsound Records 2009)

Tomydeepestego - Chronophage
  1. Dr. Disagius
  2. Cicades
  3. Controversy (Act I, Inferno)
  4. J.H.I.
  5. El Hombre Loco (Desde Generaciones)
  6. Crepuscolo (Act II, Purgatorio)
  7. Milla
  8. Libero Arbitrio (Act III, Paradiso)

TOMYDEEPESTEGO is an Italian 4-piece Rock/Metal band that was founded in 2006. Each of the members plays an instrument, but what is most noticeable is the absence of vocals. Indeed, These Italians keep it instrumental all the way. One year after the band's start, Subsound Records offered them a contract and the first album, "Odyssea", was a fact. This gave TOMYDEEPESTEGO the opportunity to share the stage with bands like CULT OF LUNA, RED SPAROWES, THIS WILL DESTROY YOU and FU MANCHU. Only the first and last ring a bell with me, even if it's just their names. Lots of efforts and playing later, the follow-up is ready and out since the 20th of November. Titled "Chronophage", this album was recorded in the first months of 2009. It is said the sound and mood are different compared to the debut and based on the songs on MySpace I can agree with that to a certain extent. As this is my first acquaintance with TOMYDEEPESTEGO, I cannot compare "Chronophage" with "Odyssea", but something (those songs perhaps) tells me the latter is also worth checking out.

This sophomore release contains eight tracks, totalling a playtime of almost 48 minutes. It kicks off with "Dr. Disagius", a midtempo Rock song where the distorted bass instantly sticks out. Drums are an important element here, especially with the toms. As there are no vocals, it gives the instruments more room for fills and improvisation. The guitar is of course the main instrument, since without it the song would not be as powerful or full as it is now. There's a touch of darkness when it comes to the chorus, where the guitars groove the music away. It's interesting to hear how TOMYDEEPESTEGO managed to keep things enjoyable by offering a nice flow of calm and wilder parts, as the contrast between the verses (if you can use that term here) and the chorus shows. In short, this is a nice song to start with. Vocals would be nice, but then again... it wouldn't be as magical, I think. "Cicades" is next and those beasties are present indeed, though only briefly. The track starts calm, creating some sort of tension along the way, yet the atmosphere remains soothing. At this point you can speak of a radio-friendly song. But then the power is let out (with a dark/sad undertone) for the chorus. Again the contrast with the calmness of the verses pops up. So, cicades. They come in over halfway and that offers a nice twist here. But like I said, it's over very soon, as the music continues its flow, developing in a very Rocking song with enough groove to power it up. Here as well, it wouldn't hurt to add vocals (you do need the right kind of singer then), but they're best left out. The music handles the talking very well and this track made my ears happier than with the first song, "Dr. Disagius".

And it stays that way in "Controversy (Act I, Inferno)", that apparently forms a trilogy with "Crepuscolo (Act II, Purgatorio)" and "Libero Arbitrio (Act III, Paradiso)". I haven't yet figured out how and I probably won't, unless some other time. Fact is that "Controversy (Act I, Inferno)" also takes a calm start and advances/evolves into what could be considered verses. Due to the lack of vocals, it's less easy to detect whether it's still the intro or a verse part or perhaps the chorus. After having accompanied the music through gentle cymbal hits, the drums finally fall in properly, which allows the music to gain in volume and flow more freely. I see a pattern here. The power outbreak is reserved for... the chorus, indeed. But that's not all, contrast-wise. The pace lies higher (it's far from uptempo, though) in the verses. This sort of change obviously is a big help to hear the difference between the several moments of the song. Around 1/3 of the playtime, the guitars start to weep, you could say. The music sounds a bit more sentimental/emotional and implementing a piece where the violin and calm, soothing music take command only enforces that feeling. But let it be known that this twist is simply superb! Absolutely beautiful. The power and groove do come back for the last part. So far, so very good.

But all good stories come to an end. "J.H.I.", whatever it may stand for, is a less good song. Dark, groovy building, tension, danger... the bubble is about the burst. And so it happens with a "hey, hey, hey" chorus. That's the only part where you'll hear vocals on this album. The tempo lies low, which is a help in keeping the overall feel and atmosphere dark, secret, mystical. Is this the underworld? I'm on repeat when it comes to vocals and I do want to stress that "J.H.I." is a song that needs them more than the others. But the band probably has its reasons for not having a singer and thus asking you to make an effort and listen to what the music has to say, what is trying to be conveyed. Well, I don't know what it is, but I do know the song is a bit too long. Hence my support for vocals here, to break the musical flow a little, or not let your focus drift away too soon. The overall result is solid, but it's just less interesting than the previous songs.

No fear, no worries, for the best song is about to be played: "El Hombre Loco (Desde Generaciones)". Whether or not the title plays a role in this, is unknown to me. There's a calm guitar tune at first, sad but very beautiful. The drums add a slow beat, accompanying the nice melody and rhythm. This is very relaxing and soothing and very beautiful at this stage. Doomy, emotional, touching... terms used with a positive connotation. Just sit back, empty your mind and let the music carry you to distant lands where everyday troubles know no existence. There's only one downside to this song: it's too short! The calm start of "Crepuscolo (Act II, Purgatorio)" is focused on the drums, primarily the toms. The music is more Rocking here. Steadily the right pace is found and the power can flow as needed. It's a slow song with great melodies and harmonies, letting grooves and distorted sounds (is that the bass?) occupy the chorus. The overall atmosphere is again rather dark and sad. Or my ears must be confusing me. The stream of heaviness goes down the drain. What is left is calm guitarwork, backed by tom/cymbal hits that build toward something bigger, but never reach it. But the song ends in a perfect manner, nothing abrupt, nothing sudden, there's nothing cut off. Everything fits.

Two more to go, "Milla" first. This one throws itself at your ears with heavy grooves, going for instant satisfaction. But all that tones down in the verses, where all heaviness has vaporized. Gentle drum ticks add to the atmosphere before going for the normal hits. The track feels great, the atmosphere is pleasant, the melodies and harmonies work very well. And the transitions were neatly implemented. A flawless piece of work, if I may say. To keep the diversity intact the band even opted for a electronic backing, sad feeling creating, support (a bit spacey) for the guitar grooves, but finishes the whole in style and thus a big ball of power. All in all a very solid song. "Libero Arbitrio (Act III, Paradiso)" puts an end to the instrumental voyage and as the title says: destination = paradise. Now, you might expect happy tunes and the like, but the first sounds don't even come close, rather annouce danger. The music progresses slowly, but lets melody do the talking. The increase in heaviness is reserved for the chorus. No real speed here, but even at this slow pace the end result of this guitar-driven track is very nice.

Eight songs, almost 48 minutes of music. 99.9% instrumental, since "J.H.I." has the only vocal parts on this album as "hey, hey, hey". Anyway, there are loads of albums with vocals out there and there are many without, but I still think those are far less in number and thus it's good to now and then listen to music alone and hear how a band pulls it off to keep it just at that, at making their compositions interesting enough to make you sit the ride through. With "Chronophage" TOMYDEEPESTEGO convinced me of their skills and ideas and I can surely recommend it to anyone into instrumental Rock/Metal. This can be played as background and foreground music (meaning you actively listen), with the latter being promising if you make the effort of listening and not let other things interfere with that. Vocals may come in handy on a next occasion, but the danger here is: you need the right vocalist (male or female), the right sound of the voice to match the music.

More info at www.myspace.com/tomydeepestego

Line-up:
Edoardo Lucà - guitar
Valerio De Lucia - guitar
Daniele Lunardi - bass
Simone Giannangeli - drums


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NOSTRADAMEUS – Illusion's Parade (AFM Records 2009)

Nostradameus - Illusion's Parade
  1. Walk Of Pain
  2. Art Of Deception
  3. The Mariner
  4. Nothing
  5. Cult
  6. Broken Soul (Virgin Mary)
  7. Illusion's Parade
  8. Armageddon Forever
  9. Time For Madness

The Swedish Power Metal band NOSTRADAMEUS is still alive and even celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2008. Only, nothing came out in 2008, as the anniversary release got postponed until now, the 20th of November. Titled "Illusion's Parade", it's the follow-up to 2007's "Pathway" album, where the Swedes drifted away from the Melodic Power Metal of before and ventured into a heavier direction. I gave a brief rundown in my review of "Pathway", so no need to repeat that.

Let's get to work and focus on the band's newest output. As said before, "Pathway" was a heavier album compared to the four previous ones, and especially a step forward compared to "Hellbound", which I consider the band's least good release so far. The first three were enjoyable Melodic Power Metal albums, where speed was a key ingredient, as was custom during those years, when Power Metal was very popular. With the newest output, Freddy and co. opted for a more Thrashy approach, a bit like their colleagues from PARADOX. "Walk Of Pain" is the first example of the sharper direction. Starting (and ending) with electronic foundation, creating a setting of mystery, another world before the Metal kicks in and carries the melody further. Sharp, aggressive guitars and pounding drums are the key ingredients in this firm-sounding song. Atmospheric keyboards linger in the back and come to the front now and then. The chorus is more melodic, yet still powerful and heavy enough and at the same time - to be honest - a bit whiney in terms of singing, which is probably meant to sound this way when you look at the title. Mind you, it's a good track, and the contrast between the chorus and verses is well executed. The guitar soloing is the only element that still hadn't come along, but it's good to have it in this track. The importance cannot be doubted.

Speaking of PARADOX, "Art Of Deception" could have been written by them. The intro is just tight, midtempo Power Metal, but once the verses kick in, the Thrash riffing comes out very well. Firm midtempo Metal, but the bridge holds the speed and extra vocal aggression, while the chorus is the basis of melody once more, also because of Freddy's very good singing. Catchy it certainly is and more than "Walk Of Pain". Esko's drumming is very active and energetic and that helps to make the song extra powerful, as the riffs alone are not enough. "Art Of Deception" is certainly one of the highlights. "The Mariner" is next and starts calmly. The guitars, assisted by samples, created a spooky tension, building up towards the real take-off, which is violent, aggressive, but not as fast as before. Esko slashes everything in his way and that corresponds perfectly with the guitar input. But somehow this track is a bit too long, certain things are stretched too much.

"Nothing" then adds a serious tempo boost and more vicious guitar riffing to the pack. Freddy's rough, yet melodic vocals fit form a perfect couple with the music. This song has more drive and punch and reminded me of bands like BLIND GUARDIAN, PERSUADER, IRON SAVIOR and SAVAGE CIRCUS. And logically I find this track very much worth checking out. The soloing is the cherry on the cake. Another highlight is "Cult". What I particularly liked here was the rhythm. Esko once again adds a furious pounding touch to the whole. Effects were added to Freddy's vocals in the verses, and I can't say that made me happy. The chorus comes over as hymnic. At the same time the singing is more clean, which is good for a change. Halfway there's a guitarbreak with drumsamples, another element that doesn't score high in my book. The accoustic guitarsolo is a surprise, though, while the rhythm guitar carries on. All this in a calmer context, of course, before the Metal adds a final outbreak.

We're in the second half of the tracklist now and it's time for a big fish: "Broken Soul (Virgin Mary)". With a length of almost 11 minutes (10:45 to be precise), you better stay focused. At first, a calm guitarmelody to build the tension. The distorted guitar that joins in reminds again of, for example, PARADOX. But that soon ends as melodic twinkles take over, creating a strange atmosphere, playing on and on while the Metal power is added and takes over completely, edging towards the line of departure. Pounding drums, chugga-chugga riffing and soft singing occupy the verses. Melody is reserved for the chorus, where Freddy adds more volume to his singing and the music sounds more dramatic. The guitars are a key element throughout the entire song. Atmospheric backing gives a dark touch to the song. Right when you think the song will continue the current direction, the accoustic guitar takes the upperhand, to which all must bow and hold its silence. But this instrument allows its electric variant to go solo afterwards (helped by the drums), while the accoustic rhythm carries on. This middle section is a very interesting aspect of "Broken Soul (Virgin Mary)" as it breaks the stream of Metal that preceded it. Freddy and co. then go for a final epic adventure. The song ends like it started.

Now the road is cleared for the last short tracks, beginning with the title track, which is nothing more than symphonic melodies, though played very soft. During that moment industrial elements were added, like sounds from a factory. Or, depending on what your ears tell you: a hammer hitting an iron bar or anvil (*ting*) and meanwhile a beer bottle being opened (*shh*). Whether or not it's true, only the band can tell, hahaha. That part lasts only a good two minutes, after which it's time for another load of aggressive Metal with "Armageddon Forever". Ferocious riffing, devastating drums, screamy vocals... all inline with the title. Strange to see NOSTRADAMEUS taking this direction, but it's well done, I must add. Perhaps this is a pretaste of what might be written for the next album when the band might go even more Thrash. And that's exactly how "Time For Madness" sounds: Thrashy. Uptempo drums, fast riffing, Freddy going mad here and there. Uptempo verses, midtempo chorus, where the madness is enforced through samples. Melody is key then. This is the last track, and the last highlight. Truly one of the best tracks here and one of the best NOSTRADAMEUS have written since many years.

"Illusion's Parade" turned out to be a decent album. That is, not from the very first listen, but after several listens. However, it is not the band's best release at all. What is instanty hearable is the production, that seems less favourable for the drums this time, as they sound rather thin (mainly the kickdrums) compared to the band's previous releases and especially compared to "Pathway", as that is the album that started the change in direction. The new album is heavier, more aggressive than before and I'm thinking NOSTRADAMEUS is slowly turning into a Power/Thrash band. Something "Illusion's Parade" is showing the first signs of. On the other hand, the old elements of before are still present in the songs, else it wouldn't be NOSTRADAMEUS anymore, and it's good to hear that the roots, so to speak, were not thrown overboard while venturing into this more aggressive direction. Fans of the old NOSTRADAMEUS (first three albums) probably won't like "Illusion's Parade". If you liked "Pathway", then you'll easier appreciate this follow-up.

More info at www.myspace.com/nostradameusofficial

Line-up:
Freddy Persson - vocals
Jake Fredén - guitars
Lennart Specht - guitars
Thomas Antonsson - bass
Esko Salow - drums


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KAUAN – Aava Tuulen Maa (Firebox Records 2009)

Kauan - Aava Tuulen Maa
  1. Ommeltu Polku
  2. Valveuni
  3. Föhn
  4. Sokea Sisar
  5. Neulana Hetkessä

KAUAN is a Russian band or project founded by Anton Belov, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. In 2005, he and Alexander Borovich (guitar, backing vocals, programming) put their minds together for this musical experience. What started as a Folk/black Metal band evolved over the years into a Ambient Postrock project. September 2006 was the time when Lubov Mushnikova joined as violin player. Several guests also entered the recording studio for their parts, but none of them became part of the band's line-up. The first album ("Luumikuuro", 2007) contained even some cello and saxophone parts. After the release of this album Alexander Borovich left the band, but he still helped with the recordings of the follow-up, "Tietäjän Laulu", which came out in 2008.

Now, anno 2009, since the 20th of November, album no. 3 is out: "Aava Tuulen Maa". Finnish lyrics, indeed. At least, that's my guess. Although several guests are mentioned on the MySpace page, I think this newest album was created just by Anton and Lubov. When looking at the cover, there's no hellish Black Metal to expect, but relaxing sounds, almost suitable for meditation. Music like this sounds totally different than what you would expect from a regular Metal band, let alone a Progressive Metal band. Anton and Lubov, but mostly Anton as he's the mastermind of KAUAN, not only have a painting as cover art, but also paint with their music. The way I see it is painting first and then the music, not the other way around. Unless the graphical artist worked this, music first and based on what he heard the painted a scenery.

Ocean waves are a key element, connecting each song. They are ever-present, be it the beginning or the ending of each track. Not one song ends like it should, for the waves will bring on the next tunes. And so "Ommeltu Polku" begins: sea/ocean sounds and calm guitarwork in vein of SWALLOW THE SUN (yes, a Doom Metal band, but they too have their ambient moments) assisted by piano touches. Atmospheric setting, perfect to dream away in it. Keyboards are a vital element in each of the songs, be it as piano, as synth or as mere backing instrument. Happiness is not around, at least not as is known to us. The music sounds rather sad and melancholic and very well done. The production is quite simply perfect. No vocals at all, which is good here. With barely 5 minutes, you could see "Ommeltu Polku" as the intro, since the other songs are all at least 10 minutes long.

"Valveuni" is another song where it's clear that atmosphere is key. Keyboards obviously dominate and instead of the electric guitar, it's the accoustic one that takes up its responsability. Divided into several parts, which neatly follow one another, you drift off towards the land of dreams, although the overall feel remains melancholic. Anton may be a multi-instrumentalist, but he can sing, too. Not that it is needed, as the music alone can perfectly provide the right entertainment, so to speak. But as it doesn't really form a disturbance, no need to make a fuss about it. The spacey touch later sounds as if Erik Norlander lend a hand, as this sounds similar to his keyboard/synths-based albums. The piano adds a soft touch to the whole, and is also allowed to have some spotlight time. Absolutely stunning material.

"Föhn", which is not a song about this kind of hairdressing, by the way ;-), is a more active song. Active in that it rocks more, though in an accoustic form. Well, "rocks" to some extent. This first part reminded me somehow of ENIGMA's hit "Sadeness". The electric guitar now also comes in to increase that "Rock" feel. Vocals are present as well, but the music takes up the biggest part of the time. Like the pattern of the waves, calm passages are part of this lengthy song. Anton decided to leave only one or two instruments during those moments, in most cases the guitar and/or the piano, complementing or countering each other. Overall, another qualitative end result.

The electric guitar remains present in "Sokea Sisar", too. In this slow song Anton's singing is good and comes out best in the chorus. It's more attractive. The accoustic guitar and piano complete the instrumentation, countering also the electric power a bit. Lubov's input through the violin is very welcome and blends in perfectly. The solo, the leads, the collaboration with the other instruments is flawless. After the calm intermission it's the keyboards and (slow) drums mainly that dominate, playing a totally different melody in a looped manner. Adding vocals to that may help break the monotony a little, but it must be said that this part is just too long and affects the listening experience in a bad way. Thankfully the piano comes to the rescue, helped by symphonic elements. The accoustic guitar and violin help out as well a little later. As beautiful as that sounds, I was surprised to hear the music came to a sudden halt. Overall, I found this track less interesting, even if the quality is still high.

One final stage before returning to shore then. "Neulana Hetkessä" has the piano coming in in hops. The drums and bass are added for reasons of fullness. The accoustic guitar and the violin form the perfect pair to make everything sound soft and easy to listen to while at the same time injecting the music with a touch of mournful sounds. At a later instant, the electric guitar makes a short entrance, in a scratching way. While this is a good idea in the context of the song, it sounds more like "willing, but not able to". The piano works its way to the front after this intervention while the violin comes and goes. Near the end the electric guitar is repaired and is lead back into the fold by the violin. The trip started with ocean waves and so it all ends.

As 2009 is coming to an end, I try to work away many of the reviews that are still due. Getting a release like "Aava Tuulen Maa" gives the last weeks/days of this year an interesting twist, as this is far from being a Metal album. KAUAN plays ambient Postrock. This is totally not my kind of territory, so the only comparable bands I can mention, to a certain degree, are SWALLOW THE SUN (their calmer stuff, not the heavy Doom songs), ERIK NORLANDER and EMPYRIUM, which comes closest of all. Other reviews mentioned a band like ISIS, but I cannot confirm this reference. "Aava Tuulen Maa" was, to my ears, a very good release based on the first few songs. Instrumental, atmospheric, relaxing... I could totally see myself listening to this for many more years. But then Anton sings and a more rocking feel is added and the magic was disturbed. Especially the last two songs require you to focus, since the music isn't flowing in a straight line. The overall quality is high, make no mistake. What Anton and Lubov present here deserves kudos and applause and basically is food for anyone into Postrock. Metalheads are to look elsewhere, unless he/she is open-minded enough to appreciate ambient music, too. Then the reward will be interesting.

More info at www.myspace.com/kauanmusic

Line-up:
Anton Belov - vocals, guitars, keys, programming
Lubov Mushnikova - violin


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JUGGERNAUT – ...Where Mountains Walk (Subsound Records 2009)

Juggernaut - Where Mountains Walk
  1. Of Snakes And Men
  2. Flamingoes
  3. Seven Companions And An Empty Case
  4. Ghostface
  5. A Fish Called Atlantis
  6. Nailscratched
  7. Day Of The Dances
  8. Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World
  9. The Bridge And The Shepperd
  10. Diario

TOMYDEESPESTEGO brought out a new album via Subsound Records on the 20th of November, so did another Italian band called JUGGERNAUT. Formed in 2006, the band is said to produce "a grave and gloomy sound, able to synthesize the language of Metal, the violence of Hardcore and the imaginery of Gothic.". Before this debut album, "...Where Mountains Walk", the promo release "Facial Sacrilege: Ballads By The Fireplace" was put out in 2006. Gigwise the band has shared the stage with TODAY IS THE DAY, SWALLOW THE SUN, EPHEL DUATH, STEREOCHRIST and more.

"...Where Mountains Walk" is as strange a title as the tracks. "Of Snakes And Men" starts slowly and in an agonizing manner, expressed through screams (squeals if you will). The music sounds Doomy, SWALLOW THE SUN-Doomy, but more painful and slower. Other than that the mix of heavy outbreaks and calmer, soothing passages (in vein of SATURNUS) is well done. Italians have an accent when speaking English and that's no different when Salvatore talks a bit in those calm passages. Ending with a touch of symphony, the transition into "Flamingoes" is smooth. The tempo remains low, but the guitars become more prominent, turning the music into Post Rock/Metal. The squeals are back. Someone must be going through hell. ;-) As the guitars are more important, the song logically rocks more and at such an moment the bass also comes floating on the surface (read: higher in the mix). But like before, a (very nice) contrast is implemented through calmer, Jazzy playing. JUGGERNAUT even goes Black Metal(-ish) afterwards, if only for a short while before going back to the Rock part before the Jazzy interlude. The wild flow retreats one more time in favour of an atmospheric, melodic part, which soon has to make way again. Overall, this is quite a progressive track and a very good one, to be honest.

Another very song is "Seven Companions And An Empty Case", of which the intro creates some tension, stressed by musical bursts. Slow music with an easy-listening rhythm and beat, but rocking, follows. Yes, the hurtful squeals (apparently a key element) can be heard here, too. The symbiosis of rocking and soothing parts seems to be a classic structure for these Italians. They provide the listener with very nice rhythms and leads, so why change that? It's like in football/soccer/other team sports: never change a winning team. Plus, the variation (including musical accents) is even more clear because of the changing drumpattern, for which the band deserves bonus points, you could say.

And the quality remains high. "Ghostface" has a ticking clock in its intro, reminding of those standing clocks. Ambient music (twinkling, guitars) neatly follows along. Jazzy at first, the music soon morphs into Rock, albeit it in a slow version. One thing must be said here: take your time to listen, because if you try to go through it too fast or with certain expectations, you'll be disappointed. If you however do listen carefully, then the reward will be worth it. Variation and diversity are the main guidance, as shown by the collection of accents, different rhythms, hands clapping, unconventional instrumentation and more.

There is a film called "A Fish Called Wanda", JUGGERNAUT looked farther, saw it bigger and dubbed it "A Fish Called Atlantis". Beginning accoustically with a cello and percussion, this duo soon is joined by a xylophone and violin. The band even thought of castagnettes as extra spice. Obviously this joint-venture sounds very nice. With two minutes length the Italians made very good use of it, but I wonder by in the last instant squeals needed to be added. Time for another slow and Doomy song ("Nailscratched") in vein of SWALLOW THE SUN, SATURNUS and similar. Around halfway there's an active outbreak (instrumental at first, vocals added a bit later). Diversity has been a guiding line again, but somehow the end result is not as attractive as the previous songs, no matter how good.

"Day Of The Dances" does not start calm or accoustically or anything along those lines. Nope, what you get are blasts. Yep, talk about a surprise. But that is just an intro, as the verses are calm and accoustic. The heavy building and powerful outbreaks don't stay behind that long. The typical squeales and shrieks are here, too, and that's a surprise, at least to me. Compared to the previous songs, this one here is rather short. The overall result is good, though, but not as much as the first couple ones and, for example, "Thank You For Not Discussing The Outside World". This one does again revert to a calm tune, atmospheric and sad. Apparently there's something wrong with either the Inside World or the Outside World. I'm merely looking at the title. However, the sadness and gloom of the situation is nicely expressed through the heavy outbreaks, which are inline with the intro. Musically, or bandwise, thoughts of SWALLOW THE SUN, SATURNUS, ESOTERIC and others cannot be suppressed. The provided melodies are nice to the ear and the mix of tranquil and wild(er) parts is once more well done. Instrumentally things are definitely worth checking out.

The two last songs, "The Bridge And The Shepperd" and "Diario" are the least good (not to say worst), songs on "...Where Mountains Walk". The first starts with ambient fading in and out, a flute comes along in the last part and all of a sudden the music stops. It's as if the ending was cut off. The start of the last track isn't better. Talking with guitars slowly coming to the front, before agony breaks out. Slow, Doomy Rock takes over afterwards. Somehow I can't make a joyful jump here, as this song just doesn't cut it for me. Coming back to that talking: it's incredibly annoying and does not add anything favourable to the song. The verses are rather Jazzy, while the power comes out in the chorus and beyond. Not only the talking, but also the singing (again squeals and shrieks, both unfitting here) is the biggest culprit here in making this song unattractive. On top of that, with more than 9 minutes, the track is also far too long.

Discovering new bands is always an interesting experience. Mind you, that doesn't mean you will or have to like everything. JUGGERNAUT's "grave and gloomy sound, able to synthesize the language of Metal, the violence of Hardcore and the imaginery of Gothic" is far from bad, as several songs have shown. On the other hand, there are some that aren't as attractive and based on a personal score - that's why I never put scores under my reviews, as those are always subjective and don't tell much about the albums themselves - "...Where Mountains Walk" is a good album, but far from very good or even must-have. If you're open-minded enough, you'll probably find something here. Other than that, the follow-up release will be an important one.

More info at www.myspace.com/thejuggernautband.

Line-up:
Salvatore Blasi - vocals
Luigi Farina - guitar, classical and accoustic guitars, kettledrums
Matteo Palandri - guitars
Roberto Cippitelli - bass, glokenspiel, vibraslap, castanuelas
Guido Penta - drums


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ELOY – Visionary (Artist Station Records 2009)

Eloy - Visionary
  1. The Refuge
  2. The Secret
  3. Age Of Insanity
  4. The Challenge (Time To Turn, Part 2)
  5. Summernight Symphony
  6. Mystery (The Secret, Part 2)
  7. Thoughts

ELOY is a German Progressive Rock band that was founded way back in the 20th century, around the end of the 1960s. Their history is extensive and although I usually add a few words with each review, I could find anything more compact. The band's website has the band's career divided into several chapters/periods and each period is described with more than enough words. So I basically want to direct you to www.eloy-legacy.com to read it for yourself. ELOY has in all those years released many albums. This process came to a halt in 1998, the year in which "Ocean 2 - The Answer" came out. "Ocean" came out in 1977. The band had broken up. The line-up had also undergone many changes during the group's career. You can see for yourself on ELOY's website. But despite the split, their music was still in high demand, it is said. And so it happened. ELOY got back together and recorded another album: "Visionary". This one was released via Artist Station Records on the 18th or 20th of November.

"Visionary" contains seven tracks, totalling a playtime of just over 42 minutes, which means long songs. But that's also a typical aspect of Progressive Rock. The album takes its time to unwrap the musical compositions, as shown with the spacey, ambient intro of "The Refuge". Once the guitars and drums are added, the real take-off is signaled. The pace is slow, but that is very fitting for this Jazzy Progressive Rock. Frank has a clean voice, nothing rough about it. While the music is of course not the crunchy kind of Rock, there's no need to have someone with a raspy voice, but somehow his sounds a bit flat, which makes the compatibility with the music less viable. Now, you might say he has been singing like this all those years, etc.. but as this is the first time I get to hear an ELOY album, I can use that excuse. ;-) A bit more fullness or power would only have had a positive impact. But back to the music, which even throws in a Folky touch through the flute. The guitars remain of course the main, leading instrument, be it electric, accoustic or bass. The keyboards are there for the melodic aspect. Drumwise you get both: drums and percussion and that only adds to the listening experience. When music and vocals join forces, they unleash their full power in the chorus. All in all, this is a good song to start with, but there's better material coming up.

One example is "The Secret", which is a few minutes longer than "The Refuge", or better, it's the 3rd longest song (07:45) on this album. Again it starts in an ambient and spheric manner. Keyboards, guitar (calm plucking) and drums follow soon, with the latter keeping up a simple and linear rhythm/beat. The combination of all these elements create a very nice first part. A very nice one, indeed. As the music continues its melodies, the moment has come to add vocals. As we're dealing with a spacey atmosphere, the band found it fitting to put effects on the vocals. The drums may not be technical, but the use of cymbals sure may increase here. They're made for a reason. The chorus contains backing support from the violin and flute and even if the whole sounds Poppish, the result is pleasing to the ears. On the other hand, you better not be in a happy mood at this point, since there's a certain "whineyness" or whining about this part and the singing. The last minute of the track is reserved for the keyboards, which present themselves in atmospheric format, guiding the vocals onwards. "The Secret" is a good song, no doubt about that, but despite its length I missed what you could call variety. Or at least in a larger quantity. But perhaps that's one of the differences between Progressive Rock and Progressive Metal. Or just how ELOY writes its songs.

Time for the second longest song then, "Age Of Insanity" (07:56). The title alone looks promising, doesn't it? The music certainly rocks more, be it with Bluesy influences, while the keyboards add a spacey kind of backing. A slow tempo with backing and guitars and main instrumentation create the main flow. Frank's clean vocals continue to be clearly present in the verses. The music grows in volume and sounds/flows smoother in the chorus, thus clearly distincting itself from the verses. However, when looking back at the title, the expected power never comes out. The music is just too soft for that. But make no mistake, the music is very good. ELOY created very nice melodies, and those shine especially in the chorus. Later on the chorus is set between a guitar solo and an instrumental part containing a speech, but in that time there was also room for a keyboard solo. One name that instantly passed through my mind then was that of ERIK NORLANDER. All things considered and despite not being a more powerful song, I cannot add anything else but that "Age Of Insanity" is the best song on "Visionary", bar none.

Sadly, at least in my (humble) opinion, it never gets as good anymore. In fact, it gets worse, even if I never expected that. Sure, my first acquaintance with ELOY, but for a band having been active for several decades, it creates certain promises and whatever more. On the other hand, subjectivity is always around when it comes to (dis)liking or commenting on music. But that's for later. "The Challenge (Time To Turn, Part 2)" seems to be a continuation/sequel to another song from the past, most likely "Time To Turn" from the same-titled album from 1982. No Rock, no ambient/spheric start, but Reggae-ish in terms of rhythm and beat with the guitar and drums as main instrumentation. The bass does sound strong and high in the mix, while the keyboards linger in the back in the verses. They do increase in power, together with the rest in the bridge. The chorus is where Frank holds his silence and lets either Anke Renner or Tina Lux handle the singing. To spice up the musical aspect, a guitar solo was implemented and I really want to thank the guys for that, as it comes like a gift from heaven. It helps to break what would else be a linear song. "The Challenge (Time To Turn, Part 2)" is a good song and having female vocals makes it more interesting, but somehow I found the flow too linear and the chorus was played a bit too often.

But then ruin sets in with "Summernight Symphony". Symphonic elements lay out sad melodies and in that context it's best to keep the tempo low. The guitar leads, the keyboards provide gentle backing. The overall soft- and calmness make it sounds like a ballad. The melodies are good if you're open-minded enough or don't mind the Pop feel. The dual vocals are this time not a positive element and sound boring. Nothing personal, just how this element sounds is a thorn in my eye, or, ears. Overall, I can't really be positive here. Even if the playtime is much shorter than before, the end result is just... boring, dull, (enter synonym). The situation is not much better in "Mystery (The Secret, Part 2)", the longest song (9 minutes). Where the original can be found, I don't know. I didn't find the album, or perhaps I overlooked it. The ambient, spheric kind of intro has returned, and calm guitars (including a strong bass) and a steady drumbeat are added shortly after. This of course sounds very good, but things keep on turning in the same loop. Frank's singing remains a not so strong element, in my humble opinion, and on top of that he sounds rather nasal here, which makes it even less likeable. The musical power comes out as the chorus draws nearer. The beat then also becomes much firmer. Spheric keyboards remain a constant. I have to mention the singing once more. The vocal lines... Well, they're not good. In fact, it's the least good input of this kind in this song and so far (compared to the other tracks). Musically the result is alright, though too linear. "Thoughts" ends the band's first album in so many years. And those thoughts don't last long: barely one minute and a half. It's an accoustic track, where again the music is the better of the two. No, sorry, I just cannot be overjoyed by the vocals.

Progressive Rock is not a genre I often listen to (the number of such releases in my collection is extremely low), let alone write something about such a release. ELOY has quite a career behind them and they have acquired a large fanbase over the years. Kudos for them and respect for what they've done and have restarted after massive demand from the fans. "Visionary" is the result and most likely doesn't sound too different from the older albums, something I can neither confirm nor deny. It is however interesting to hear new/unknown (to me) bands, despite taste being a key factor in the process of appreciation. With ELOY I can only say that there were a few good songs on their newest output, but I think there's better ProgRock out there. Fans of the band will of course have a better understanding and ear for the Germans' music and they will no doubt like "Visionary". Hence the classic sort of ending: "Visionary" is a release for the fans, those that have supported ELOY all those years and craved for more. Anyone new to this band is best to start elsewhere, I believe.

More info at www.eloy-legacy.com.

Line-up:
Frank Bornemann - vocals, guitars
Hannes Folberth - (additional) keyboards
Michael Gerlach - keyboards
Klaus-Peter Matziol - bass
Bodo Schopf - drums, percussion


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BURNING BLACK – Mechanichell (Limg Music Products 2009)

Burning Black - Mechanichell
  1. Reckoning Day (Instrumental)
  2. Our Sentence
  3. MechanicHell
  4. Purgatory Child
  5. Secrets To Hide
  6. Reborn From My Sins
  7. Hero Of The Century
  8. Dangerous Game
  9. Dust And Rain
  10. Messengers Of Hell
  11. Victims And Tortures

BURNING BLACK is an Italian Heavy/Power Metal band, formed in 2004 by John Morris (guitars) and Dan Ainlay (vocals). The following two years two demos are recorded: "Smell The Fire" and "Fight To Dream". This results in a record contract and a completion of the line-up with AJ Simons on bass and Will Oswin on drums. Several gigs later the band records its debut album, "Prisoners Of Steel", in the summer of 2007. The release is set for April 2008. BURNING BLACK then has the chance to share the stage with U.D.O., PRIMAL FEAR, VOLBEAT, BONFIRE, WHITE SKULL, RAGE and more. Anno 2009 (20th November to be precise) the follow-up release is out under the title "MechanicHell". Prior to the release, however, the Italians toured with CIRCLE II CIRCLE and MANTICORA. To give their music more power, the band got joined by Eric Antonello as second guitarist.

It's May 2010 as I'm writing this. Yes, just a small delay, nothing to worry about. *cough* But as I had planned to review "Mechanichell", it has to be done. The album starts with an instrumental intro dominated by the guitar and bass, creating a dark atmosphere. Certainly not a sunny and colourful one. The Metal breaks loose in "Our Sentence" at a firm pace, though in a relatively high gear. Melody is key, coming from the guitars and backing keyboards (although I don't know who added those). Dan's vocals are of the screamy kind, the rough-edged kind. You won't hear him do any cleans. The guitarsolo is well done, but the drumpattern remains too standard and linear. Still, this is a nice song to start with. "MechanicHell", the title track, is an even better one. Uptempo, double bass... it's hard to sit still here. Powerful Metal is what you get, with a lot of energy and catchiness. Definitely one of the highlights.

"Purgatory Child" and "Secrets To Hide" are two less good tracks. The first is a firm midtempo one with keyboards backing, which means the guitars are what it's all about. Dan sings with his usual powerful voice, adding passion to his input. However, the chorus is rather boring here. The guitarsolo is good, though. "Secrets To Hide" is a better track, again focussing on guitars and having the keyboards provide backing. The leadwork stands out here, but overall this is a very linear song and could use more variety. But fear not, for most of what's to come is worth hearing. "Reborn From My Sins" is a slow rocker, including atmospheric backing. Screamy vocals are present again and this works well in the ballsy verses. Dan does sing in a more controlled manner in the chorus. The guitar solo is a necessity from which the song clearly benefits.

With "Hero Of The Century" BURNING BLACK added another fast track to the pack. Double-bass Power Metal! After several midtempo tracks, something speedier is much desired. No problems here whatsoever. "Dangerous Game" is an 80's-like song and that's mainly because of the keyboards and guitars. Dan's rough vocals fit very well here, although cleans would have been a better choice. Somehow I doubt if he can sing in a clean way, as he screams (or close enough) in practically each song. Even in "Dust And Rain". This is a slow track with simple music, which requires clean vocals. Dan's screaming here sounds as if he's in great agony and this just does not work with the music at all! He basically raped the song, so to speak. Can I say "yuk!"? The last highlight on this album is "Messengers Of Hell", which bring back the power of Metal. The tempo also is high, and musically it's all about riffs. Despite a too linear structure, the music's quite good, but Dan's screams form the bad element (again). "Victims And Tortures" is the last track, but it's so badly ripped (for the mp3 promo) that it's a mix of other songs and accoustic passages, though very short ones. I couldn't make anything of it. Was this supposed to be a (accoustic) ballad?

BURNING BLACK's sophomore album, "Mechanichell", is overall a solid Heavy/Power Metal release. It contains lots of energy, passion and power that it's clear the band has learned from its recent past and intends to improve with each album. Pluspoints go to the production, the catchy tunes, the execution. However, not everything is perfect. Minus points are for the linearity of the songs. Sure, adding a solo helps to avoid monotony, but surely they won't rely on this forever? Also, drumfills. Where are they? It's not because you don't write complex songs that you need to keep this element chained to standard patterns? Oh yes, I almost forgot the vocals. The rough singing works well with the heavy guitarwork, but I hope Dan will try to use his voice according to the music and not scream at each opportunity. Fans of PRIMAL FEAR, JUDAS PRIEST, BRAINSTORM, MASTERPLAN, SEVEN WITCHES, VICIOUS RUMORS and similar can check out "Mechanichell" if in need for something new. Fingers crossed for album no. 3.

More info at www.myspace.com/burningblackband

Line-up:
Dan Ainlay - vocals
John Morris - guitar
Eric Antonello - guitar
AJ Simons - bass
Will Oswin - drums


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MOB RULES – Radical Peace (AFM Records 2009)

Mob Rules - Radical Peace
  1. Children Of The Flames
  2. Trial By Fire
  3. Warchild
  4. Astral Hand
  5. The Oswald File (Ethnolution Part II - A Matter Of Unnecessary Doubt):
    Chapter I - Prologue
    Chapter II - Desperate Son
    Chapter III - 11-30 AM
    Chapter III - Unnecessary Doubt
    Chapter III - A Dead Man's Face
    Chapter VI - Did You Reach The Sun
  6. Waiting For The Sun
  7. The Glance Of Fame

I wrote a whole introduction in the review of the "Astral Hand" EP, which came out in October (see lower on this page). So let's continue to MOB RULES's newest album, "Radical Peace", out since the 13th of November. Seven tracks are to be found on this new release, totalling a playtime of more than 50 minutes. Most songs are over 5 minutes long while "The Oswald File (Ethnolution Part II - A Matter Of Unnecessary Doubt)" takes up over 18 minutes. But don't worry, it is said that you can manually browse through the song as it's spread over 6 tracks, from no. 5 to no. 10. Here the tracklist only counts to 7 (the mp3 promo has the song as one big file), but on the back of the album you'll see that "The Oswald File (Ethnolution Part II - A Matter Of Unnecessary Doubt)" is no. 5 and "Waiting For The Sun" no. 11, ending with no. 12 ("The Glance Of Fame").

"Children Of The Flames" starts gently with Klaus welcoming the listener, telling what to expect. At least, it feels like that. There's a sort of tension that rises to a bombastic kickoff. Heavy riffing, firm but slow drumming and a more aggressive vocalist behind the microphone. The improved production makes the music come out better, gives it more power, which was needed after all those years. Heaviness is all around, though melody (not just through the vocals) comes to the front in particularly the epic chorus where symphonic backing makes the song complete. An organ moment, during which the Metal has slowed down even more, adds a dramatic touch. All heaviness falls away afterwards and the rebuilding can begin. Having Nikolas behind the kit is an improvement as he adds some small fills here and there, despite his drumming not being that technical here. MOB RULES did fool me after 5 minutes. All music ends and it feels like a normal ending. But after a few seconds of silence the whole process begins anew. The same intro, but then the music carries on very slowly with the organ being a key instrument (helped by the guitars), as if to stress once more the dramatic character of the lyrics, which talk about children in death camps.

"Trial By Fire" also has the guitar laying out the red carpet before all hell breaks loose. There's something HAMMERFALL-ish about this intro, especially the HAMMERFALL of the last few years, having thrown speed overboard. But then it's power time. Fierce drumming, heavy riffing and adjusted singing (with and without effects). Very good move to give the music a kick in the rear, especially in the verses. And again the melodic aspect is reserved for the bridge and chorus, resulting in a hymnic moment in the midst of metallic power. The solo is guarded by the heavy riffing and firm drumming, keeping the pace high enough. Very nice work overall and quite catchy as well. More of this, I say. Lyrically this song deals with the church in the middle ages and witch burning. And more is delivered in "Warchild", starting with a metallic bang! All the while keyboard twinkels create some sort of suspense. The music is far more symphonic this time, being more prominent. The pace is much slower than before and the verses are devoid of heavy guitars. It's all about vocals, keyboards (including gentle piano touches), bass and drums. The full power comes out in the chorus. The strings help to give the music a sad touch, also because the lyrics are about USA politics, the Vietnam war, George Bush's decisions and the axis of evil. Basically, MOB RULES wanted to create a song about war and how it is used to suppress people and the effect it has on people. Overall the expression of the right feelings is well done, be it through the singing or the instrumentation. Yes, even the solo is inline with that.

"Astral Hand" has an orchestral arrangement in its intro, assisted by the accoustic guitar. All is calm and peaceful and little by little the music moves towards the big bang as drums and Metal power are added. This first part is slow and quite hymnic. But then the boost kicks in and you can instantly hear the music has become more Metal than before, more powerful than before. That's because the compositions were written that way, to have the guitars add more power and be the dominant instrument. However, ochestral elements do peek through the curtain for backing and assistance in the leads. And yes, even the drums benefit from this change. Whereas Arved was more a relaxed drummer, sticking to simple patterns, Nikolas adds fills to make the transition to e.g. the chorus more fluently and better recognisable. Plus, it's not just addings fills for the sake of fills. That was one of my main concerns on their previous albums and during the listening session as well the change of drummer turned out to be a good move. Epicness can be found in the chorus. As the guitars are the dominant instrument, solos are a must. No flaws here, all flows well, all fits well, all sounds well. Afterwards all heaviness falls away and it's just Sascha's piano work and Klaus's vocals before increasing the volume again for the chorus. The outro is identical to the intro and that means head and tail neatly hold the song together.

And the it's time for the juggernaut "The Oswald File (Ethnolution Part II - A Matter Of Unnecessary Doubt)", being the follow-up to "Ethnolution A.D." on the same-titled album from 2006. Guitarist Sven Lüdke said at the time of the listening session in October that the band is considering putting the two "Ethnolution" songs together for a DVD-recording with an orchestra and choir, but nothing concrete has been planned yet. "The Oswald File" is 18 minutes long and consists logically of several parts or chapters. Basically it's about the man who killed John F. Kennedy, known as Lee Harvey Oswald. Hence the song title. It is said that the CIA and KGB were behind this criminal act, but that's just one or two of the possible theories. As JFK brought hope/peace, Obama is in the same position, so the theme is applicable to today's situation. The song starts with the speech of JFK when he said the famoous words "Ich bin ein Berliner". Symphonic powerful Metal then kicks in. Not fast, but not slow either, yet firm enough for an epic song. And as much importance the guitars have on the album, the keyboards cannot be missed in songs like this one. Musically there is of course a varied flow of heavy outbreaks and gentle, more melodic parts. Like the verses, during which Klaus expresses Lee's thoughts after the act. The chorus lets the music release it's full power and melody, obviously keeping the drama and sadness of the event intact. This is grand stuff. At a given moment the Metal falls away and instead you hear Lee getting ready for the kill, first drinking something and listening to the radio for the latest updates. The music rebuilds with marching drums and accoustic guitars while the orchestra grows stronger and stronger until all hell breaks loose. And we're close to halfway then. The band picks up the trail again and marches onward with a firm pace. But the inevitable has happened, as the radio reporter confirms. The music is adapted instantly. The transitions from firm Metal into more dramatic, melodic directions happen flawlessly. And instrumental talk does play a big role in the second half of this mighty song. Magnificent piece of music. MOB RULES have truly outdone themselves here.

Alrighty, back to business as usual with "Waiting For The Sun" where you'll find sharper riffing (makes this song a really rocking one), more fierce drumming and rougher singing, even if Klaus's limits don't reach that far. But he does a good job. Symphonic accents stress the melodic aspect of this song (especially in the chorus), but it's the guitars and drums that dominate once more. Declaring this as a mix of HAMMERFALL and VANDEN PLAS is not entirely correct, but the VANDEN PLAS influence is caused by Markus Teske, who has produced VANDEN PLAS's albums, as well as RED CIRCUIT's and is even the keyboardist in this last band. Markus also produced, mixed and mastered MOB RULES's previous two albums. So he's in a big way responsible for the more powerful sound of "Radical Peace". The last 5 minutes are for "The Glance Of Fame", setting in with a heavy intro where guitars and symphonic keyboards determine the melodic direction before the real take-off starts. The guitars and drums are still the key instruments, but the soft touch of the symphonic elements forms an ideal addition. "Astral Hand" was radio-friendly, but so is this song and even sounds similar, only a tad slower and more melodic. The guitars were more powerful in "Astral Hand". But the result is also good, and especially the chorus jumps out. Before the solo is played and the song afterwards relies on repetition of the chorus, there's an enjoyable heavy pounding Metal moment that forms the bridge. All in all a decent song to end a very good album.

MOB RULES, potential enough but not always being powerful enough, has now fixed that problem and present what could be their best album in years or since the band's founding. Power is what the Metal of these Germans needed to be able to play along again in the world of Power Metal, which has lost lots of its appeal since several years. MOB RULES found a new power source and created "Radical Peace", an album of which the band can be very proud of. You can really hear and feel lots of effort and time went into creating this masterpiece. Yes, masterpiece, a term very much appropriate here. If you thought the previous albums were too melodic and not Metal enough, then "Radical Peace" will make you change your opinion. Absolutely recommended release, in my humble opinion.

More info at www.mobrules.de.

Line-up:
Klaus Dirks - vocals
Matthias Mineur - guitar
Sven Lüdke - guitar
Sascha Onnen - keyboards
Markus Brinkmann - bass
Nikolas Fritz - drums


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DARK AGE – Acedia (AFM Records 2009)

Dark Age - Acedia
  1. Kingdom Nevercome
  2. Devote Yourself To Nothing
  3. Neon Gardens
  4. Snake Of June
  5. Zeitgeist (Ghost In A Machine)
  6. 10 Steps To Nausea
  7. Halo Meridian
  8. Underneath These Burdens
  9. All The Unfullfilled
  10. Babylon Riots
  11. Myself Heretic

I was presented DARK AGE's last offering, "Minus Exitus", last year. This German Melodic Death Metal formation has been around since 1994 and this was their fifth album. In all those years my ears never heard any DARK AGE tunes until that review moment. Though the end result didn't do me much, even if there were similarities with bands like IN FLAMES, SOILWORK, MACHINE HEAD, some (old) PARADISE LOST, DARK TRANQUILLITY and so on. Mainly the clean vocals and thin production (on the drums) were elements that ruined the listening experience. Anno 2008 the band was signed to Remedy Records. Anno 2009 they're on AFM Records. Seems like AFM is picking up a lot of bands that either didn't get enough support from their previous label or maybe because that previous label couldn't support them properly anymore or there might be another reason.

I referred to PARADISE LOST and the first track ("Kingdom Nevercome") of this new album, "Acedia" (out on the 13th of November), contains the same influences. Sort of like PARADISE LOST meets modern Rock. Clean vocals again in this pounding, aggressive track. But let it be clear that hoarse screams are very much present too and that's a good thing. The PARADISE LOST influence can be heard in the chorus, with both the vocals and music. The melodic element is present through keyboards and samples. The Melodic Death touch reminds of DARK TRANQUILLITY, which in some of their songs also follow a Gothic-inspired direction. All in all, a good track to start with and already I'm more satisfied than at the time of "Minus Exitus". staying with PARADISE LOST, here's "Devote Yourself To Nothing". Atmospheric backing, firmly played Metal, aggressive vocals... this smells more like DARK TRANQUILLITY. The keyboards increase in (backing volume) in the bridge and chorus, where they complete the compositions. Eike then also reverts to clean singing. The musicianship is very good here, the riffing tastey, the melodic aspect subtle but needed. All in all a job very well done.

Two good to very good songs so far. Is this the same band that made "Minus Exitus"? Anyway, time for another solid track: "Neon Gardens". This one contains vicious, sharp guitarwork. The energy level is high here, with nice melodic leads supported by the keyboards. The verses are devoid of heaviness and sound cold, Gothic/Industrial-ish. The bridge is where the Metal power comes in again and the screaming/yelling is like a mix of Andreas Sydow (see DARKANE's song "Innocence Gone") and Chester Bennington from LINKIN PARK. Yes, that's not a good reference, but that's what my ears told me. Clean vocals take over in the chorus. And they fit well with the music, similar to how PARADISE LOST does it. The quality on offer remains high. I'm positively surprised. "Snake Of June" sounds even more bombastic and symphonic than everything before. The pace is not really fast, though. Clean, Gothic-ish verses contrasting with a brutal chorus, where the keyboards offer symphonic backing to make sure the right emotions are expressed. This is a dark, emotional and gloomy song, very much guitar-dominated, of course. The solos are the cherry on the cake.

Time for a boost then, in aggression and firmness: "Zeitgeist (Ghost In A Machine)". Clean vocals, similar to the previous track, in the verses, backed by electronic touches. Gothic/Industrial Metal, if you will. It's a cold world out there and this is a perfect song to show that. The clean, normal vocals (the verses have a more robotic voice), occupy the chorus. Electronic touches are woven in between the different parts. The groovy guitarwork and keyboard backing reminds of RAMMSTEIN somehow. Not the present RAMMSTEIN, but that of "Herzeleid" and "Sehnsucht". Pounding Metal with a lot of groove, executed very nicely. What more could you ask for? Uptempo Metal? No problem, at least the start of "10 Steps To Nausea" fulfills that wish. Rolling midtempo is the pace afterwards, the music ever so aggressive and dark. Melodic backing can be found in the chorus, where Eike sing in a more normal manner, opposed to the growls/screams soon afterwards. The Thrashy Metal from the start does come back later, around the middle.

"Halo Meridian" starts with a looped guitartune and leaves it up to the listener to guess what will come next. Drums are added, atmospheric backing too, little by little moving onwards. As the loop continues vocals are added until Eike's short screams makes the music enters the realms of aggressiveness and into the chorus. The looped guitartune and Poppy feel with the clean vocals are in fact the verses. But it's when the Metal kicks in that the music comes thundering out of the speakers. Melodic Death of a fine quality at this stage, despite again, yes, PARADISE LOST influences (think "Draconian Times", but heavier, more aggressive). But then DARK AGE surprises all as the Thrash gear is selected and that's a very fine gear, I must tell you. At that point it's also guitar time, including solos, as short as they may be. The outro is the same as the intro, so head and tail hold the middle section perfectly together.

Up next is "Underneath These Burdens", a song that reminds heavily of old IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY and similar. The pounding, fast-paced drums, rough vocals, guitar-dominated compositions and atmospheric backing... key ingredients for a well-prepared Melodic Death Metal song. The chorus does sound whiney, though. The clean vocals worked well before, but here they're better left out and replaced by the growls/screams. The solo is the medicine against those whiney clean vocals. Musically everything's quite alright, even the input from the keyboards. Electronics show up again, though very shortly, in "All The Unfullfilled" and as the Metal bursts in, it's as if I'm listening to EMPYRIOS. But DARK AGE sounds a bit more aggressive, a bit. This track contains lots of groove and the keyboard presence cannot be denied either, as they add to the atmosphere and expression of the right emotions and feelings, be it anger, fear, or anything else along those lines. Eike growls in the verses, yet goes clean (again, not exactly the most attractive part of the song) in the bridge. The chorus is filled with screams as if in agony. That may work well in the whole of the song, but it becomes annoying after a while.

More Groove Metal power is played in "Babylon Riots". Midpaced, modern Metal with the contrast between the Poppy verses and somewhat heavier chorus, but overall the result is aimed more at radio-play than anything else. The breakdown with shouting vocals sounds boring, dull, monotonous and angsty. Even the solo can't rectify that. As far as I'm concerned, this makes the very good work of the previous songs (or most of them) completely undone. It's a shame. luckily things end in Metal style with "Myself Heretic" and thus with more Groove, power, aggression, drive, determinance. Growls in the verses, clean vocals in the chorus. The clean vocals are again the least attractive aspect, despite being quite listenable previously. The solo is well done and so is the music afterwards. The guitars are the main factor, next to the drums, while keyboards offer modest backing. All in all, a good end result.

"Minus Exitus" was far from being a good album, except if your mind was set on modern Metal. With "Acedia" it seems the guys have set their backs straight, put their heads together to create a powerful follow-up, one that would offer more power, more balls, more aggression. And they've succeeded, if you ask me. The majority of the tracks shows a band that can make decent Metal. The influences from bands like (mainly) PARADISE LOST and DARK TRANQUILLITY (or Gothic Metal meets Melodic Death Metal) were neatly applied into their own compositions, resulting in an album that is worth checking out, much more than the previous effort.

More info at www.dark-age.de.

Line-up:
Eike Freese - vocals, guitars
Jörn Schubert - guitars
Martin Reichert - keyboards
Alex Frank - bass
André Schumann - drums


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PLUTONIUM ORANGE – Volume (Firebox Records 2009)

Plutonium Orange - Volume
  1. One Of Us
  2. Killer By the Road
  3. Bend
  4. The Glow
  5. Waiting For The Gun
  6. Wet Trails
  7. Bring Out Your Dead
  8. 13 Minutes Of Agony
  9. Unstable/Unreal

PLUTONIUM ORANGE was formed in 2000. Over a period of 4 years they made 3 demos. The band's MySpace says 4, but Metal-Archives.com lists the following: "Fruit Of The Doom" (2000), "Volume" (2001) and "Waiting For The Gun" (2002). Anyway, the line-up features guitarist Juha Raivio and drummer Pasi Pasanen, respectively SWALLOW THE SUN guitarist and ex-SWALLOW THE SUN drummer. They are assisted by Samuli Liekkinen (vox/guitars) and Antti Sjöblom (bass). Together they finally managed to put out a full album, "Volume". This came out on the 11th of November via Firebox Records.

While SWALLOW THE SUN is one of the leading Melodic Death/Doom bands, PLUTONIUM ORANGE is said to be a Stoner Rock band. This creates expectations which are never fulfilled, at least not in terms of Stoner Rock. The Finns sound rather radio-friendly and very accessible. Not only because of the compositions, but also the shortness of the songs. With 9 tracks, the overall playtime is less than 40 minutes. But it sounds so nice, as the rocking "One Of Us" demonstrates. It is an energetic Rock song with Samuli's clean vocals, ideal for this kind of music. The obligatory solo is not forgotten. Stoner it is not, modern (Hard) Rock all the more. "Killer By The Road" keeps the energetic level as high, with the guitars adding more melody than before. As accessible the first song was, the second one is it even more. The drums are pretty standard, but luckily Pasi throws in some classic fills (toms, cymbals), which are not only beneficial to the song, but as he's the one with the most freedom to do something... After the guitar solo, things turns a bit more emotional, so to speak, without compromising on the Rock aspect.

"Bend"'s calm guitar intro can make you think this song's a ballad. And I must say, this first part does sound nice. Once the Rock touch takes over, the music comes pounding out of the speakers. Slow(er) verses are opposed to a chorus where the music has the necessary breathing room and can thus flow much smoother while letting out more melody. Good song, nothing more. "The Glow" is a slower Rocker, Doomier somehow, but never SWALLOW THE SUN doomier or similar, though there are a few musical similarities. Still, not enough for a proper comparison. Lyrically it seems to deal with a broken relationship where he/she is kicked out of the house. Overall quite a nice result. The song, I mean. "Waiting For The Gun" cranks up the pace again and sounds rather happy. The verses hold the melody, while the chorus is where terms like "emotional", "disappointed", etc. can be applied. It's a decent song, but not as likeable as the previous ones. There's a chance it bores after a few listens.

The situation improves with "Wet Trails", which starts calm, but creates a tension nevertheless. The uptempo outbreak contrasts nicely and you're set for a good 4 minutes of straight-forward Rock. The melodic leads in the chorus are a very nice element and considering Juha's experience in SWALLOW THE SUN, that's no surprise. Pasi's drumwork is very active and he neatly follows the tempo changes, staying inline with the guitars. Like before, this is another accessible track, but a solid one. "Bring Out Your Dead" takes a direct start, to the point. The guitarwork is good and offers a nice mix of melody, heaviness, soft touches and more aggressive ones, while the drumming can be considered firm. This song's heavier than the preceding ones. There's a higher focus on Rock instead of melody, even if this element is present, though not as a constant. The chorus is short, but powerful and effective. No flaws here, in other words.

Next stop is "13 Minutes Of Agony", which is not like the title. It's between 4 and 4.5 minutes long and it's far from agonizing. Although it must be noted that this is the heaviest song on "Volume" and the only one that comes close to the term Stoner. The tempo and feel are more than alright, but Pasi uses too much cymbal, in my humble opinion. But all is well done, including the guitarwork. "Unstable/Unreal" ends this debut album by letting the bass lay out the main rhythm, after which the guitars pick it up, assisted by the drums. The music rocks and the pace lies high enough. Structure-wise this is simple and to the point.

PLUTONIUM ORANGE is NOT a Stoner Rock band, no matter what the description might say. There's only one song that comes close to this style, but the others are better cataloged as Modern (Melodic) Rock. They're very accessible, simple even in most cases and due to their un-Metalness quite radio-friendly. But whether or not radio stations will put this band on the playlist, is another matter. Fact is that "Volume" offers several enjoyable Rocksongs for the open-minded Metalhead, who seeks something simpler now and then. I haven't seen many reviews being positive about this album, but to my ears it's good enough. There is quality here. I do however would like to see these Finns make a proper Stoner Rock album. Will the sophomore release be that one?

More info at www.myspace.com/plutoniumorange.

Line-up:
Samuli Liekkinen - vocals, guitars
Juha Raivio - guitars
Antti Sjöblom - bass
Pasi Pasanen - drums


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WHILE HEAVEN WEPT – Vast Oceans Lachrymose (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

While Heaven Wept - Vast Oceans Lachrymose
  1. The Furthest Shore
  2. To Wander The Void
  3. Living Sepulchre
  4. Vessel
  5. Vast Oceans Lachrymose
  6. Epilogue

The American Doom Metal band WHILE HEAVEN WEPT formed in 1989 as DREAM WYTCH, but changed to their current name in 1991. Some demos, an EP and a split-release later, "Sorrow Of The Angels" was born and that was in 1998. Four years later a "Best Of" came out, featuring material of all releases that had been released so far. The line-up also changed many times, turning WHILE HEAVEN WEPT into a revolving door of Doom. The following year, 2003, the band's sophomore album saw the light of day: "Of Empires Forlorn". The Americans got a lot of praise for that and that was nothing less than justified and deserved. WHILE HEAVEN WEPT may not be as famous as CANDLEMASS or SOLITUDE AETURNUS, but their music is as qualitative as can be, and with a new vocalist - Tom Phillips still handles that part, too, though less - called Rain Irving the band is set for a new era of Doom, starting with "Vast Oceans Lachrymose".

This new release and at the same time the band's third studio album, came out on the 6th of November and can be considered as their 20th anniversary album. Six tracks totalling a playtime of a good 40 minutes. But rest assured Tom and co. didn't just turn this into a sorrowful album, as you'll come across some faster material, Progressive stuff, classical elements and more. My knowledge of the band and their music is very limited, but I've already heard some older songs here and there. "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" is my first proper encounter with the music, the first album I can listen to in its entirety. And I've been playing it many times the past many weeks and so far I have not been disappointed at all.

The voyage on the oceans takes off from "The Furthest Shore", which is not only the longest song (more than 15 minutes), but is also divided into several parts. First is pounding, heavy Doom Metal. Atmospheric keyboards create the right setting, but it's the guitars that are the dominating factor, not just for the rhythm, but also the leads as they pick up what the keyboards started. That alone makes this song very much worthwhile. And we're not even at one third of the playtime then. The band neatly connects each part with the accoustic guitar. Gentle electric guitarplay flows along and this creates an exotic moment during which one can relax and enjoy the sounds of music. But it's so damn beautiful tears must be let loose at some point. Once heaviness takes over again and Rain offers a first ear on his vocal skills, the song has really taken off. And Rain can sing, let that be clear. His voice comes out very well in the chorus, where the melodic aspect is strong. So far, so very good, as it all sounds a bit hymnic, to some extent. There is more Metal to come. Once again the keyboards take the lead, but the guitars continue the same melodies, taking it further and claiming full attention. It can't get any more instrumental. And diverse it is, with the variable rhythms and tempos. For Rain it's a time of rest, but he soon has to deliver the goods again, which he does in a splendid way, backed by the keyboards. The guitars take this part towards the next accoustic break by throwing a very beautiful lead melody onto the stack, actually replaying the chorus melody Rain sang just before. All that's left then is the accoustic guitar and soft atmospheric backing. The guitars and drums do come in again, sounding like a rolling thunder before unleashing their full power, creating a dark atmosphere. Rain's singing is then inline with the wildness of the music, as if the ocean waves are suddenly more active than ever and the ship cannot hold its course. All calms down afterwards, as if the ship has crashed onto the shore or sank before even nearing the shore. All is destroyed and nothing's left but sadness and sorrow. Atmospheric keyboards and gentle guitarwork increase that feeling. Rain's dramatic vocals add the perfect vocal touch to this dark event. The melodic part that takes up the last few minutes is filled with tristesse, gloom, Doom, despair, death. The guitarmelody (reminiscent, to my ears, of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, SAVATAGE and similar) is so stunning, absolutely magnificent and whatever more that I don't know what to write anymore. It brought me to tears a few times. Yeah, you can be tough as a Metalhead, but the power of music (Metal in our case) is so grand it can move you as well. Outstanding quality! "The Furthest Shore" alone makes it worth buying "Vast Oceans Lachrymose". And there's even better material after this song.

To make you come to your senses again after this long, but sorrowful boat trip, it's time "To Wander The Void", though it will takes half less time to get through it. This time the band opted for midtempo Metal with a more direct approach and firmer playing. Rain's clean vocals stand out and increase the melodic aspect of the chorus. The accoustic guitar is present here as well, responsible for the break in the middle, but the electric instrumentation soon takes over command again, even increasing the pace later on as the guitar solo is played. Nothing more needs to be said, save that long or short, WHILE HEAVEN WEPT stands for quality.

Up next is "Living Sepulchre" and my guess is it takes up about 3 to 4 minutes. The mp3 promo had both "Living Sepulchre" and "Vessel" glued together, just like "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" and "Epilogue", so I'll comment on them as such. The first duo, "Living Sepulchre" and "Vessel" form one long song again, almost twelve minutes. A direct start is taken and a very Metal one for that matter. The active drums cannot be ignored. This uptempo pace contrasts with the slow singing and whispering, and these first 3-4 minutes don't really know any point where things slow down. A faster outbreak occurs to help the solo come to the front. The transition to "Vessel" is done through the... indeed, accoustic guitar and since it sounds so differently from what preceded, I'm guessing this is where "Vessel" takes off. Gentle electric instrumentation, including soft drums, take over and grow to a real powerful force. Rain's vocals are added, get backed now and then and flow on towards the chorus, which is slow, sad, depressing, but very melodic. And that part is quite simply breathtaking! The guitars play a magnificent role and the atmospheric backing helps to put it all in the right context. Absolutely perfect!

Inline with the title "Vast Oceans Lachrymose", ocean waves prepare for the music to be washed ashore. Brass instruments (horns? I can't put my finger on it) lay the first melodic layer, adding a touch of danger to the overall feeling. The keyboards then gain in volume and become the leading instrument, while slow guitars and drums add to the power and feel of the song. While the melody is one of sadness and despair, I thought the drums were going a little bit too fast. It doesn't really disturb the flow, but somehow a wee bit slower might have been better. As is custom now, the melody is carried onwards by the guitars during which piano accents complete the compositions. The result? It's so touching, it's out of this world. Truly a masterpiece and again tears need to be suppressed or let out to flow. As if there's not enough water already. The ocean waves brought the music to your ears, it also takes it away again at the end. The title track is one big instrumental eargasm, without the smallest doubt. And the waves also introduce the last stage of the voyage, being appropriately titled "Epilogue". Ambient keyboards this time, fitting as meditation music, playing a sad melody, but so freaking awesome! It's touching, moving, sheer beauty, as if the gods mingled them with the writing process. An excellent piece of work to end an excellent album. And here the waves do come in again, to wash it all away for good. Or until you push the "Play" button again.

The press text mentioned bands like FATES WARNING,(early) QUEENSRYCHE, RUSH, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, BATHORY, ARCTURUS, QUEEN, RAINBOW (with Dio) and several others as similar bands. That may be true, but some bands don't fit that list, if you ask me. That I do know. WHILE HEAVEN WEPT is quite simply an extraordinary Epic Doom Metal band, which deserves all the praise they can get and their 20th anniversary is celebrated with an album that contains some of the best Doom Metal I've heard in the 21st century. "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" instantly grabbed me and several listens I'm still in its claws. The power of the ocean is enormous and therefore I cannot add anything else but great hails and extra recommendations regarding this album for any fan of exquisite Metal, not in the least Epic Doom Metal. Absolute masterpiece!

More info at www.whileheavenwept.net.

Line-up:
Rain Irving - lead vocals
Tom Phillips - guitars, keyboards, vocals
Scott Loose - guitars
Michelle Schrotz - keyboards, vocals
Jim Hunter - bass, vocals
Trevor Schrotz - drums


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HANDFUL OF HATE – You Will Bleed (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Handful Of Hate - You Will Bleed
  1. You Will Bleed
  2. The Pest' Son
  3. Bliss Between Thorns
  4. I Gave You Scars
  5. Earthly And Crawling
  6. The March Of Hate
  7. Between Pain And Perdition
  8. The Fault To Exist
  9. Extremism Made Fire - Cholera!

HANDFUL OF HATE is an Italian Black Metal band, formed in 1993 and so far they've got five albums up their sleeves, next to a demo and some EPs. Black Metal is not a genre I regularly listen to and my collection is also very limited in terms of releases. But I do appreciate this style in several forms, be it raw, melodic, progressive, symphonic, or mixed with Thrash, Death, Folk, ... And these last ones are closest to my liking. Since I've never heard of HANDFUL OF HATE, it's obvious that their newest output, "You Will Bleed", out since the 6th of November, is my first acquaintance with these Italians and their view on Black Metal. Musically I cannot draw many comparisons, but DARK FUNERAL came to mind and the expertise of my good friend Marcus Desmouceaux Goulart helped with adding the following: GORGOROTH (old period and the newest release), TSJUDER, HORNA, NIFELHEIM and 1349. Of course, that's all depending on those bands' releases.

Nicola Bianchi is the founder of the band and precisely that what makes a band a band, the line-up, underwent several changes in the past, especially the guitars and bass positions. Even before the writing of "You Will Bleed" could commence, Nicola was forced to look for new people to work with. HANDFUL OF HATE's debut album, "Qliphothic Supremacy", came out in 1997, while the band's last output, "Gruesome Splendour", dates back from 2006. The follow-up contains nine tracks with a total playtime of almost 40 minutes. The band's previous efforts had a similar length.

From start to finish, HANDFUL OF HATE presents exactly that: hate. The handful then stands for the relatively short album's length. Starting with the title track. The raging Black Metal sounds violent, dirty, filty and mean. Up to the point that the ferocity had to be dammed in by throwing a prayer in between. A first listen didn't do the trick, several did. The quality is there and it comes out even better in "The Pest' Son", which also throws the music right at you, instant harsh/demonic vocals, drums blasting like hell and the storm being more powerful than before. Andrea Bianchi doesn't just blast, else the song would be too monotonous. Melody plays a more important role than in "You Will Bleed", especially in the chorus, and that too helps to make the song more interesting.

The tempo goes a bit down in "Bliss Between Thorns", which is still a very aggressive and evil-sounding song, but somehow it sounds a bit too linear to my ears. The execution is well done, but a bit more change in compositions would not have hurt. The drop in tempo is made undone in "I Gave You Scars", where the blastbeats were added again. A furious outbreak compared to the previous song. And that's a good thing, as it offers a variable flow of the tracklist. The violence, aggressiveness and hateful compositions in "Earthly And Crawling" are next and offer a nice change between blasts and what you could call normal speed.

On the other hand, there's another slowdown coming up. "The March Of Hate" to be precise. Slower than before, but perhaps more demonical than before, which means the scales are back in balance. "Between Pain And Perdition" needs not much explanation, as it the same recipe as the fast songs: blasting like hell, the storm not giving in and even speeding up some more. Same thing for "The Fault To Exist", containing pounding Metal and Nicola sounding as if in agony, wrapping himself in self-hate. Last but not least, there's "Extremism Made Fire - Cholera!". As usual, fast guitarwork, aggressive drumming and diabolical vocals. All ends with an explosion, as if the construction is crumbling down.

Several listens were needed to get into "You Will Bleed" and I have to admit that these Italians positively surprised me, even though chances are slim I'll buy their back catalogue. This new album sounds well produced and stays true to the old Black Metal of the early 1990s, yet with a 21st century look on the matter. Fans of the band should have no problem at all with "You Will Bleed". Black Metal fans who were previously unaware of/unfamiliar with HANDFUL OF HATE are encouraged to check this band and their music out.

More info at www.handfulofhate.com.

Line-up:
Nicola Bianchi - vocals, guitars
Deimos - guitars
Nicholas - bass
Andrea Bianchi - drums


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ALWAYS FALLEN – Reflection (Mausoleum Records 2009)

Always Fallen - Reflection
  1. Death Comes Down
  2. Hail To Fire *
  3. Into Your Mothers Eyes
  4. Prophecy *
  5. Back Where I Belong
  6. Morality
  7. See My Blood *
  8. Who Gave Witness **
  9. Temple Of Ruins
  10. No Mercy **
  11. Ra'ad

The Belgian Thrash band ALWAYS FALLEN has released its first full-length: "Reflection". Although being postponed a few times, the final date was set on the 1st of November. The band saw the light of day in 2005 and after a line-up change (vocalist Kenny Devos joining the ranks) a first demo was made and titled "No Mercy For Sinners" (2007). Anno 2008 the EP "See My Blood" came out and this resultated in several gigs with established acts like SODOM, ENSIFERUM, AXXIS, STORMLORD, MAROON, NEAERA, and more. In addition, ALWAYS FALLEN managed to secure a slot at the Metalcamp festival in Slovenia, where bands like NIGHTWISH, KATAKLYSM, DEATH ANGEL and many more also hit the stage.

"Reflection" was recorded at Studio Jonathas under the guidance of ex-CHANNEL ZERO member Xavier Carion, who also mixed this first full-length. Mastering was in the capable hands of Attie Bauw, known from his work for JUDAS PRIEST, SCORPIONS, CHANNEL ZERO and many more. 11 tracks and a playtime of almost 60 minutes: this promises to be one heavy... reflection. The three songs from the "See My Blood" EP also made it onto this album (see the * in the tracklist), so I copy-pasted what I wrote in 2008, considering the songs didn't really change, except in sound. The same thing counts for two track (see **) that came off the "No Mercy For Sinners" demo. I'm not familiar with that release, so I can't compare with how these songs sound today.

The "Reflection" starts with the aggressive and pounding "Death Comes Down" and it comes down indeed. Thrash to the bone, countered with melody in the chorus while Kenny both sings and screams his way out of it. The guitars do a lot of the talking, by the way and during the solo, death unleashes its devastating powers. "Hail To Fire" contains the typical humpapa kind of tempo, rhythm and riffing, which puts an even bigger smile on my face. Kenny's double-sided vocals come out very strong. Thibault, responsable for the brutal pounding of the drums, does a very good job at keeping the music powerful and diverse enough. The breakdowns are well executed and the battering guitar ram clearly indicates you better not stand in the band's way. This song clearly is one of the highlights.

"Into Your Mothers Eyes" is a massive track, almost 8 minutes long. Logically it starts with a build-up, albeit heavy and with a good rhythm. The midtempo verses contain enough power to maintain a certain ballsiness the album needs. The bridge could have been written by MACHINE HEAD, while things get slower, cleaner, more dramatic in the chorus. That contrast is good, as an idea, but it doesn't sound as good/attractive/fitting as it should/could. ALWAYS FALLEN still have room for growth and one of those points to work on is going from rough and aggressive to calm and melodic. Towards the end of the song, the tempo goes down and by the sound of the weeping guitars it's as if all is falling in ruins, yet trying to recover anyway. It's not a bad song, but not the best either. Its length is also a problem. Making it shorter and perhaps more to the point would/could make it more interesting.

For "Prophecy" (titled "The Prophecy" on the EP) the band even pushed down the pedal even more, thrashing like an unstoppable force, created in "Hail To Fire". As fast as the verses are, the chorus certainly is much slower and more melodic. Kenny sings in a cleaner way then and although I liked this double voice in the previous songs, I'm not that fond of his intervention in the chorus. The "yeah!" element here is more disturbing than beneficial, in my opinion. The music is good to very good, that's beyond doubt. And that includes the solos. It's interesting to hear something HEATHEN-ish in the bridge, from "Heathen's Song", if I'm correct.

"Back Where I Belong" is part of the chorus text in EDGUY's hit "Babylon", but ALWAYS FALLEN wrote a different kind of music for it. It sounds more ballad-ish, almost like METALLICA's "Unforgiven" or "The Unforgiven II". Musically not bad, but it feels awkward to hear Kenny sing this way. Around halfway the power level increases and the obligatory solo is added, flowing over into very nice guitarwork afterwards, during which Jens and Mike put their skills together. With "Morality" it's back to killing time. Drums building, ferocious riffs following. But the speed remains behind, which might have its reasons, but as the songs advances it becomes clear that Thibault's drumming could use a kick in the rear to better flow along with the guitars. ALWAYS FALLEN combine Thrash Metal with more modern influences, as was shown in previous songs. I noticed a small CLAWFINGER influence (the "Deaf Dumb Blind" or "Use Your Brain" era) in the bridge. Kenny's singing is clean in the chorus, also dwelling in the midtempo range. The guitarwork stands out with lots of rhythmic playing. Once the solo part is done, the riffing from the beginning comes back and so the circle is round and finished.

The start of "See My Blood" is good, sharp and deadly. Midtempo is key and Kenny mixes clean singing with raw interventions spendidly. For the chorus the tempo goes down a little and a higher dose of melody is injected. For the guitarsolo the rhythm guitar takes a sharper approach and overall I can't suppress the thought of the old days of METALLICA, which of course is more than welcome. In short, another quality song. "Who Gave Witness" offers another Thrash attack, yet with lots of melody this time and at a firm, free-flowing midtempo. Clean singing overall, although backing grunts can be heard in the chorus. To make the song more spicey a wild guitar solo was implemented. One remark, though: time is also an issue here, meaning it's hard to stay focused. Making the song less lengthy could solve the problem or work around the focusing by playing with the compositions or change some small things here and there.

Those worries are soon forgotten as "Temple Of Ruins" kicks in. Lots of aggression, high speed and a great rhythm. What more do you need? It sounds very old school, almost EXODUS-like. The backing vocals add to that atmosphere and feel. Kenny's clean singing in the chorus did make me frown, though. He sounded almost like Brian Molko from PLACEBO. Yes, that Pop Rock band or however you wish to catalog them. For the sake of fun (I guess), the Belgians even added a Reggae-like break. But the devastation soon continues, DESTRUCTION-style. Awesome, to say the least.

"No Mercy" is another speedy track, something the band is very good at. At least, the verses are where the action is. The chorus is dealt with a little slower, but nevertheless firm and powerful with the added spice of dual leads. Kenny's double-edged voice blends in neatly with the very nice guitarwork (sharp and effective). To cut it short, another highlight. "Ra'ad" puts an end to "Reflection". This is a fully instrumental track featuring slow tempo, heavy guitars, and a strange atmosphere. What the title stands for I cannot tell. Googling the word got, for example, the Wikipedia article (click here) as a result where it is said that Ra'ad "is an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) developed by Pakistan and operational with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)."

ALWAYS FALLEN presented a nice EP last year with "See My Blood". The live performances that followed also confirmed the potential of this band and expectations regarding the full-length, "Reflection", were high. From the start it is clear the band managed to convey its passion and energy for a very strong and determined sounding album. Working with Xavier Carion and Attie Bauw were good choices. The band's mix of old school and modern influences works quite well and should please fans of both camps. The older songs are clear highlights, but it must be said that the (really) new material sounded very pleasing as well in most cases. Their career is still young, so the band can work on improving some things like keeping long songs interesting enough (or possibly making them shorter), for example. All things considered, "Reflection" is a very decent album, but I believe the best is yet to come.

More info at www.myspace.com/alwaysfallenmetal.

Line-up:
Kenny Devos - vocals
Jens Patteeuw - guitars
Mike Wage - guitars
Pieter Nyckees - bass
Thibault Coosemans - drums


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THE 11TH HOUR – Burden Of Grief (Napalm Records 2009)

The 11th Hour - Burden Of Grief
  1. One Last Smoke
  2. In The Silent Grave
  3. Origins For Mourning
  4. Weep For Me
  5. Atonement
  6. Longing For Oblivion

THE 11TH HOUR is the brainchild of Ed Warby, multi-instrumentalist as it seems he played it all on this debut album called "Burden Of Grief": guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. And he even sang the clean parts, while Rogga Johansson (EDGE OF SANITY, DEMIURG, PAGANIZER, RIBSPREADER) added the growls. Ed is foremost known for his drumming in the Death Metal formations GOREFEST and HAIL OF BULLETS and the Prog Rock projects STAR ONE and AYREON. Rogga and Ed even played together in DEMIURG at some point in time and since both share a passion for Doom Metal, it was only a matter of time before these two people would come together again to create such music. And so THE 11TH HOUR was born.

"Burden Of Grief" is thus the first release and came out at the end of October. It contains six tracks with a total playtime of a good 50 minutes. Lyrically this is the background story: "Diagnosed with a terminal lung disease, haunted by unspeakable nightmares forcing him to revisit the blackest days of his life... faced with his imminent demise, a dying man spends his last days on earth coming to grips with his troubled past and attempting to redeem himself. "Burden Of Grief" takes us from the stifling blackness of his room to the damp soil of the graveyard where the dead sleep, and beyond...". So much for the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees, eh? The press text further mentions that the album is a cycle of "loss and regret, of death and bereavement, and of doom and redemption, set to some of the heaviest music imaginable." Again, not a very happy atmosphere, but the part about the music is just ridiculous. We all know that, especially since there are heavier (Doom Metal) bands than THE 11TH HOUR. Ronnie Björnström for Audio Enhanced Productions handled the mix while Mick Koopman (HAIL OF BULLETS, ASPHYX) supplied the artwork which is presented as the protagonist’s handwritten journal.

But let's focus on the music. "One Last Smoke", although the story goes in a different direction, could be about the heated debate about a complete smoking prohibition in Belgium, be it pubs or restaurants or similar. On the other hand, smoking and lung cancer are very much connected. The first sighs in this song say it all. Gloom and Doom break loose afterwards. The guitar is logically the main element here, while keyboards provide the dramatic touch of despair. Vocally there's a clear distinction between verses and chorus: clean in the first, growls in the bridge and both doing a duet in the chorus. The last part of this song has the keyboards dominating for a small instant and the Metal flows along at an even slower pace. The guitars pick up the leads and all slides back to the chorus. Musically I'd say this is very much comparable to MOURNING BELOVETH, MY DYING BRIDE, SWALLOW THE SUN and similar. So far, so very good.

Smoking leads to lung cancer leads to death leads to the grave, hence "In The Silent Grave". To create that specific atmosphere of death and loss, what better instrument than the piano to lay out the first notes? When the Metal instrumentation kicks in, it sounds like a sign of danger. The pace is slow, he guitar dominates more than before. Obviously this is a sad and mournful song, but at the same time it sounds quite powerful and in a way made me consider it as GOREFEST (the Death Metal band in which Ed drums) in a slow(er) version. Again the vocal distinction between verses and chorus (clean vs growls). Very well done, I must say. All of a sudden, however, the piano breaks the stream of heaviness, playing the intro melody again while the drums carry on. But that doesn't take too long, as the chorus coms back into play during which the keyboards offer a faint backing, yet growing in volume through the sound of a flute. Nothing special afterwards, save that the chorus is put on repeat, which may be a bit too much. But it doesn't really hurt this second song, which also shows that Ed did put time and effort into creating this album.

"Origins For Mourning" could have been a Funeral Doom song. The guitar once again is a key factor, creating something evil and dangerous in a droning way and at the same time adding a touch of sorrow. All the while the piano adds a soft melody. The rhythm is quite simply eargasmic. Vocal duties were switched, growls in the verses, clean in the chorus. As the title suggested, this song is mournful, depressing and dark. There's even a guitar solo over halfway. Afterwards all falls silent to let the piano become the center of attention. Ed's clean singing comes in and heaviness (incl. the sad leads) starts to come back again, also letting another solo do the talking. The guitar also gets its moment of fame before the whole rises to bombastic heights. The normal flow remains intact during this event. Rogga takes over the mic for a short moment, too. And again it's like GOREFEST-gone-slow. This mournful song ends with a big symbiosis of power and symphony. Three out of three so far. This is getting exciting.

Ed looked into the Book of Doom Metal and used several standard terms for this debut album: mourning, weep, burden, grief, grave, oblivion. But as they are part of the English language and well-suited for this kind of depressing music, he had no other choice. Anyway, let's carry on with "Weep For Me". When looking at the story, it's as if this is a song of self-pity. You've got the strings providing a dark, evil and unearthly feel. Not long afterwards the guitar and drums fall in. No heaviness in the verses, just symphonic backing to support Ed's mournful singing. The chorus is where the full power is held, including Rogga's growls. The guitar and growling continuein the next phase(s). Even the bass adds to the power with a heavy roll. The music sounds more melodic when Ed sings, again creating a contrast not only between the vocal types, but the specific musical parts as well. Guitars remain important, be it for the rhythmic or the melodic aspect. Another song that's good in my book.

"Atonement" has no intro, rather takes a direct start with slow grooving Doom. Rogga occupies the verses, backed by piano accents and rolling heaviness. A cleaner approach with more dramatic music is set for the chorus. Now, as good as this division of singing parts was in the previous songs, Ed's intervention sounds annoying here. The guitarwork is great, though the drums suffer from monotony, even if it's not a song that demands supertechnical or advanced drumming. There is a moment where the drums are told to hold their silence, during which the guitars and whispering tell about this part of the story, which is gloomy, dark and creepy. Overall, the music is good, but you have to remain focused more than before. Ed's singing is annoying, I cannot say it otherwise. Rogga's on the other hands fits much better.

One last song, "Longing For Oblivion". It seems our character didn't like what he experienced, so he surrenders to the powers of death. Considering his disease is in a terminal phase, it was bound to happen. Whether he goes to heaven or hell... oblivion sure doesn't sound that positive. Characteristics here are obviously the slow pace and heavy grooves, while keyboards offer the dramatic touch. Vocal duties are divised as growls in the verses, clean in the chorus. While annoying in "Atonement", Ed's singing is easier to digest in this last song. Symphonic leads proove to be a very important element in countering the guitar power. Hospital machinery sounds (the beeping of the heartbeat) and atmospheric piano accents create a moment of calmness and serenity. Calm guitarpicking plays along a bit later and soon they come together to let the volcano of mournful heaviness erupt again. The beeping continues, the massive guitarlayers and pounding drums indicate our character is surrendering to the clutches of death. Ed sings again and to be honest... he sounds too thin. A voice with more power, more roughness would have been much better here. I'm not saying Ed's a bad singer, it's just his voice that doesn't fit with the sad and weeping character of the music, which sounds damn beautiful and massive. Strings stress this feeling even more.

And so I've come to the end of this review, which is way overdue. A writer's block? Maybe so. Anyway, Doom Metal releases aren't that widely spread, so it's good that "Burden Of Grief" has hit the market. THE 11TH HOUR is lucky to be signed to Napalm Records, which has a large distribution network. And so it can help put Doom Metal better on the map. It's good to see Ed Warby going for a slower approach (compared to GOREFEST, for example) and at the same time showing he's got skills beyond the drums. Of course "Burden Of Grief" sounds massive and very well produced, otherwise the band would have signed with a smaller label and given the songs a rougher sound. Personally, the polish does affect the depth, honesty and pureness of what could have been a very good underground release. But the end result is well done and food for fans of MOURNING BELOVETH, SWALLOW THE SUN, MOURNERS LAMENT, NOVEMBERS DOOM and similar. Ed and Rogga can be proud of their work.

More info at www.myspace.com/11thhourdoom.

Line-up:
Ed Warby - guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals
Rogga Johansson - vocals


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ARKONA – Goi, Rode, Goi! (Napalm Records 2009)

Arkona - Goi, Rode, Goi!
  1. Goi, Rode, Goi!
  2. Tropoiu Nevedannoi (On the Unknown Trail)
  3. Nevidal (The Wonder)
  4. Na Moey Zemle (In My Land)
  5. Pritcha (The Parable)
  6. V Tsepiakh Drevney Tainy (In Chains of Ancient Mystery)
  7. Yarilo
  8. Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov (Faces of Immortal Gods)
  9. Kolo Navi (Kolo of Nav)
  10. Korochun
  11. Pamiat (The Memory)
  12. Kupalets
  13. Arkona
  14. Nebo Hmuroe, Tuchi Mrachniye (Sullen Sky Lurid Clouds)

After Metalcore, it's Folk/Pagan Metal that became a trend, despite several bands having started their career before many more jumped the bandwagon. Several of those bands are serious about this, about their heritage or their interest in the pagan beliefs. You all know them: AMON AMARTH, TÝR, ELUVEITIE, MOONSORROW, MÅNEGARM, STORMWARRIOR, BLACK MESSIAH, and so on. Another band, not from Scandinavia, but still from the northern cold regions is ARKONA from Russia. This nation has many Metal bands and in the Pagan genre, ARKONA is one of the best bands. ARKONA was founded back in 2002. Vocalist Maria "Scream" Arhipova and Alexander "Warlock" Korolyov (drums at that time) were members of a local pagan community called "Vyatichi" and decided to start a band to put their philosophical interests into music. The bandname was HYPERBOREA, but that soon became ARKONA. In 2003 a 3-track demo was recorded and the year after the band was really on its way with the debut album "Vozrozhdenie" ("Revival"). That same year the follow-up came out under the title "Lepta" ("Contribution"). Driven by natural forces, Masha's inspiration was enormous and 2005 meant another album could be added to the discography: "Vo Slavu Velikim!" ("For The Glory Of Great"). Anno 2006 a first live DVD/CD called "Zhizn Vo Slavu" came out an featured the gig in the "Relax" club in Moscow on the 23rd November 2005.

Gigs were obviously played and the band even toured in Europe with BRUTAL ASSAULT in 2008, after the release of "Ot Serdtsa K Nebu" ("From The Heart To The Sky""). This fourth album came out in 2007 in Russia, but Napalm Records licensed it for a release in Europe in 2008 and so ARKONA could reach many more people and even play some gigs on European soil. Back home, the band instantly started working on the follow-up, "Goi, Rode, Goi!". Prior to the release of this new full-length (out since the end of October), another live DVD was put out in February this year. "Noch Velesova" ("Night of Veles"), the English translation of the title, contained the gig the band played in Moscow at the end of October 2007. Since I heard about ARKONA in the Russian Metal Special of the MetalCast in 2007, I instantly bought "Ot Serdtsa K Nebu" when it came out. This was one of the best Pagan/Folk Metal bands I had heard. Not only because of the music, but also because Masha sings in Russian, not English. The foreign language element is important, in my opinion. Hence my liking for bands like TÝR, MOONSORROW, MÅNEGARM, BLACK MESSIAH, ... It gives the songs that extra special touch. Thanks to Vic Records, I could acquire the other albums as well, as this label re-released them for the European market.

Making "Goi, Rode, Goi!" is said to have been an enormous undertaking. More than 40 musicians were involved in the process and the band themselves declare that this was the hardest and most time-consuming period ever. The band used a full-fledged chorus and a string quintet for the first time in their career. Plus, numerous guests appeared in the song "Na Moey Zemle", be it to sing or add an instrumental touch. ARKONA's fifth studio album contains 14 tracks, totalling a playtime of almost 80 minutes. This thing is packed! And I noticed my promo copy had the songs "Tropoiu Nevedannoi" and "Yarilo" switched places. So, to make it clear, the retail version has "Tropoiu Nevedannoi" as 2nd track, the other as 7th. ARKONA's lyrics are never translated in the booklet, though the band added a short description for each of the songs. You can read them at this location, where you'll also see who the guest musicians were and in which songs you can hear them. I could add this list in the review, but better not make it longer than necessary, even if I value such info.

The album kicks off with the title track. Ocean waves create the perfect setting as this song is about a group of warriors having a shipwreck and not surviving afterwards. The music comes pounding in in a set of bursts. Masha's enchanting voice starts a hymnic part assisted by traditional instruments like the balalaika, bagpipes (Gaita Gallega), accoustic guitar before the blasting Metal breaks loose. This is a perfect representation of the wild sea and how the crew is having difficulty of keeping the vessel from crashing. Vocally you get clean singing in the verses, hymnic in the bridge and rough/screamy in the chorus. It's a powerful song with a big epic touch. It can be considered an ode to the god Rod. Halfway there's a nice Folk/Symphonic break. The music goes into a dancy direction later on, but only briefly. "Goi, Rode, Goi!" is a great song offering wonderful melodies in combination with harsh Metal. And let's not forget the vocals.

I would normally go on with "Yarilo", as this was second on the promo, but I'll follow the normal tracklist with "Tropoiu Nevedannoi". Here you get blasting Blackish Metal with the violin as leading instrument. Atmospheric backing completes the whole. Masha's raw vocals on top of the tense, energetic music creates a powerful combination. Yet more smooth passages are allowed to break that power a bit by letting the violin and cello come to the front, resulting in Masha adjusting her voice to the typical hymnic kind of singing. It feels very calm and soothing. Since we're dealing with a Folk Metal band here, those elements comes to life at specific moments. "Tropoiu Nevedannoi" is very diverse in heaviness and melodicness and that's one of the strengths of ARKONA, to not go for a linear approach. The song ends in a hymnic and Folk kind of way. After this heavy track, calmer sounds are on the way. The intro of "Nevidal" is a perfect example.

This song starts in a calm manner. The flute is a central instrument, while guitars, drums and keyboards add power and help with the build-up. The tempo lies low and again a hymnic character was given to the music. Masha's clean singng is quite simply a joy to listen to. Pace and power pick up as the chorus comes in sight. In terms of traditional instruments, the band provided a nice mix of violin, bagpipes (Gaita Gallega), keyboards, choir, and more. The rhythm and tempo are subject to variability. The musical mood changes from rough and raging to a more humble state. Overall, this is another powerful song, but especially one of high quality. I'd even say first class Folk/Pagan Metal. Absolutely one of my favourite tracks on this new release.

Up next is the juggernaut of the album: "Na Moey Zemle". This song features many guests from colleague-bands like MÅNEGARM, HEIDEVOLK, OBTEST, SKYFORGER and MENHIR. Most of them offer vocal input, few opt for the flute or violin or even pipes and kokle (a string instrument). A cello to start with, a sense of mystery, the violing then carrying the melody in vein of QUEEN's hit "The Show Must Go On") towards the Metal outbreak. But first, Masha needs to be heard. And may I stress (! that this vocal part sounds awesome! ARKONA are practically unbeatable with a voice like hers. The verses are rough and powerful, the melody comes out in the chorus. And melody is important here, executed beautifully through the traditional instruments. As this song last for over 15 minutes, the amount of music is big and variety is only logical. From heavy parts to calm, accoustic passages and back. Simply top notch!

"Pritcha" is a short track, offering only speech backed by a howling wind. The music kicks in again in "V Tsepiakh Drevney Tainy". Here the Folk stamp is clear from the beginning. Gradually the Metal aspect increases in pace and power. Folk remains the key element and Masha's singing shows a distinction between the (clean) verses and (rough) chorus. Her "loiloiloi" singing is annoying. That I couldn't ignore. It also seems out of place. The stream of heaviness is broken by an accoustic passage where the vocals revert to the usual hymnic singing, something she does best. An epic, dark part follows, which means a change in vocal style. Sergej even threw in a guitar solo before the song reaches its end on symphonic waves. All in all, an ok song, but far from being the band's best. Luckily the big majority of the tracklist is filled with very good songs.

And so we have come to the other track that had changed places: "Yarilo". This is a very happy song, if you ask me. The flute's melody, the dancy beat, the over all feel. The Metal aspect is lighter and the playtime is much shorter than the other tracks. But even in this happy jacket, ARKONA manages to provide great music, with help from the balalaika. Masha's singing is contrasted again: clean in the verses, rough in the chorus. While ARKONA is more comparable to the more energetic bands in the genre, like MÅNEGARM, I did sense a KORPIKLAANI touch over halfway because of the humpapa rhythm and added accordion melodies. But don't fear, as the Russians aren't going in the direction of the Finnish. The band is too dynamic for that, too wild. Too mature?

"Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov" is a more linear song at first, though acoustic interventions break the heaviness now and then. Masha sings in her typical way, but she soon opts for whispered singing, assisted by the accoustic guitar. The chorus is where the music unleashes its full power, including blastbeats. Still clean singing, now with high outbreaks. Here the choir gets a moment to shine. KORPIKLAANI in the previous song, MOONSORROW in this track and that's due to the variable flow of heay and calmer, accoustic parts. The middle section is reserved for the violin, during which playing Masha holds another speech, rising to a climax (chorus). The flute then takes over, but afterwards the tempo drops and things turn darker, forcing Masha to adapt and growl her way through the lyrics.

"Kolo Navi" has everything a powerful song requries: fast riffs, blastbeats, growls. This song is dark, epic, brutal. This first part comes to a total stop all of a sudden and has to let the talking be done by the bagpipes. The humpapa rhythm comes back into play here, though at a slower rate and the whole does feel quite hymnic. Accousticness is the next step, allowing for a full-on Folk direction. This sounds very tribal-ish and the aforementioned bagpipes help put the song to sleep. "Korochun" also puts the emphasis on Folk as it lets the flute and hurdy gurdy (wheel fiddle) play the first melodies. Calm music, soothing to the ear with an ambient and tribal feel. Another exquisite track. Vlad helps to make this song fuller by adding firm tom beats and accentuate that tribal feel even more. To be honest, his input wasn't needed, at least in my opinion, but they sure don't hurt either. You could consider this song as one to meditate to.

Time for another happy song, although that's maybe a wrong term. The flute leads at first in "Pamiat", midtempo Metal follows. This track, too, was given a dancy beat. Clean singing and uptempo Metal kick in a little later and there's even some hands clapping to this beat, all in a Folkish atmosphere. Halfway the song the ferocity increases, both musically and vocally. What a contrast with what preceded. But that soon comes back, back to happy happy joy joy, even though Masha holds on to the growls. Happy song with a rough/dark edge. The tribal aspect remains alive (thanks to the drums) in the next track, "Kupalets", where ARKONA shows they're well on their way to Pagan Metal domination. Hymnic singing, Masha's speciality and Folk Metal added later on, but inline with the earlier beat. One flow, two different streams, wonderful result.

Lots of bands have their own song. ARKONA took its time to create it. "Arkona" is about the place that was once a fortress and the spiritual center of Baltic Slavonic tribes. It was destroyed by Christians in 1168. For the band, as for many other Rodnovers, Arkona is the symbol of the lost, but unforgotten lore which has been sleeping through the centuries, awaiting for its revival. Consequently the start of the song is hymnic and tribal, though Sergej is on the road as well. The music advances slowly as Masha adds her growls. Sergej's guitar is the leading instrument and also a key element in the compositions. Vlad's drumwork is normal, but percussion increaes the power of this element. In the middle of the track the music gets a boost, during which not the guitar, but the bagpipes get to play a solo. Sergej can provide his afterwards. The situation becomes more aggressive and ARKONA is like a wild wolf on the loose. Once exhausted, the music reverts to the calmer Folk-influenced Metal with a rather happy touch. The last part does let out the aggressiveness once more.

"Nebo Hmuroe, Tuchi Mrachniye" puts an end to this long and almost everlasting journey at sea. A tragic end even, when looking at the background story. And as we started with water, we also end with water. First part of the song consists of Masha's hymnic voice, backed by slow Metal and melodic input provided by the balalaika. The sea flows along in the middle of the track while birds fly above. A very nice and calming part. The nature aspect remains intact as the flute suddenly comes in. It doesn't take long before the voyage is over then. This is the second longest song, 10.5 minutes, and as beautiful as the majority on this album.

ARKONA sounded like a young band on "Vozrozhdenie", but gradually improved their style, the compositions, the musicianship and more. "Vo Slavu Velikim!" was a true highlight, their best so far, even though all albums are simply worth getting. With "Ot Serdtsa K Nebu" the Russians took it even further, sounding tighter, heavier, more mature in a way. "Goi, Rode, Goi!" continues that path and shows a Folk/Pagan Metal band that can compete with the big ones out there. Lead onwards by Masha's majestic character and enchanting voice, this force is determined to bring back the gods of before, or better, the belief in those gods. Being signed to Napalm Records helps/helped them to reach more people and next year they'll even tour with the Paganfest ensemble. A place well-deserved, in my opinion. As comparison: TÝR conquered from the (North) West, ARKONA come from the (North) East with a passion and devotion that simply demands respect. "Goi, Rode, Goi!" is proof of that.

More info at www.arkona-russia.com.

Line-up:
Masha "Scream" - vocals
Sergej "Lazar" - guitars
Ruslan "Kniaz" - bass
Vlad "Artist" - drums


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SANDSTONE – Purging The Past (Limb Music Products 2009)

Sadnstone - Purging The Past
  1. Anymore Lies
  2. Hiding In The Shadows
  3. Karma
  4. Son Of Carthage
  5. The Road To Guantanamo
  6. Y
  7. Fingerprints
  8. Division
  9. DOA
  10. Enigma
  11. Happy Birthday
  12. All Operations

SANDSTONE hails from Northern Ireland. As far as my knowledge goes, only one other band from that area is in my collection: FIRELAND. SANDSTONE is a Heavy Metal band, said to play - according to the press release - Progressive Melodic Metal. But my ears didn't find that much Progressive stuff. The comparisons with FATES WARNING, QUEENSRYCHE, IRON MAIDEN or even GUNS 'N' ROSES could be true, to a certain extent. SANDSTONE was founded in 2003 by Stevie McLaughlin (lead guitar) and Sean McBay (vocals, guitar). Stevie's brother David McLaughlin (bass) and Paddy Flemming (drums) completed the line-up. Three years later the band managed to sign with Casket Records, who released the debut album "Tides Of Opinion" in that same year (2006). Another two years later work on the follo-up commenced. "Purging The Past" would be the title and the release was scheduled for February of 2009. Limb Music recognized the potential of SANDSTONE and offered to release the album on a wider scale. Not only that, but it got remixed and remastered (by REBELLION guitarist Uwe Lulis).

"Purging The Past" came out on the 30th of October and if you look at the tracklist and compare it with the original edition (on Metal-Archives for example), you'll notice (as I did) that there are three songs less on the re-release: 15 vs 12 or "Skuldakin", "Critical" and "Sleep". One can only wonder why or the main reason may be that Limb Music thought 12 were enough, also marketing-wise. The order of the tracks is also redone compared to the first edition, probably also for marketing reasons. 12 tracks for a total of between 50 and 60 minutes is already a good offering. Starting with "Anymore Lies", you get slow to midtempo Heavy Metal. Nothing too technical, but the combination of heaviness and melody sounds good to the ear. Speaking of heaviness, it's actually the melodic aspect of the songs that prevails. The power of the rhythm guitarwork does contrast with that and Sean's clean vocals. They are absolutely devoid of any roughness, but somehow that's not a problem here. Musically the guys know how to make the end result catchy and for Metal's sake add the obligatory solo.

"Hiding In The Shadows" takes a slower approach, yet keeps the melodic touch intact. The verses are not the place for heavy guitars; they can be found in the chorus, though overall it's never about being a solid ball of Rock. That's now what SANDSTONE is about, I believe, rather about melody and feel. The song structure is again quite simple and truth be told, the drumwork would benefit from fills and a few variations here and there. Now it's just too linear, too much the same kind of hits. Other than that, the song is quite enjoyable. "Karma" (not a cover of KAMELOT's classic hit) is where the accoustic guitar comes in. Taking the role of rhythm guitar, it does let the role of lead guitar to its electric brother, so to speak. The first got the verses, but together they form a mighty duo. The chorus is where all power is let loose and the electric guitar assists the accoustic one to increase the rhythm aspect. The song remains simple, but catchy, while focussing again on melody and feel, never on instrumental show-off or technical stuff.

"Son Of Carthage" then. After the slower songs, time for another kick in the... well, a more Metal song with more power and tempo. And that's more than a good thing. It's catchy, the rhythm and beat (not to be misunderstood, I'm still talking Rock and Metal here) are just great! The guitarwork is very well done, no matter how classic it sounds and while previously the solos were rather short and functional, they play a bigger role here and are a key part of the compostions. In general, this song reminded me of DRAGONFORCE, though not at the same speed or with the same technicalities. Still, Heavy Metal, Power Metal and you could say, 80's Prog (QUEENSRYCHE-ish, for example)... SANDSTONE does not stick to the same formula. "The Road To Guantanamo" is a darker song, starting with a speech from some politician. Paddy adds appropriate tomwork, while the accoustic guitar the right melody. Afterwards it's time to Rock! Though not a fast rate. Emphasis lies on heavy riffing in the verses, which are slow at first, but then suddenly the power increases, the Metal comes out in a more pounding manner. Firm piece of music! Things turn darker again and slow in the chorus, to properly "describe" the situation of the war against terrorism and the Guantano prison. Quality Metal here, no question about that.

Time for a ballad, the first of two: "Y" and "All Operations". "Y" is an accoustic track, all the way, at least at first. And it sounds beautiful and very touching. Sure, it's not the best ballad ever, but the guys have done a good job here. The verses are soothing, the "power" and volume is set for the chorus, which is slow and inline with the verses in terms of expressing the right emotions and feelings. The guitar solos is a welcome element and fits in perfectly. To compare with other bands is not always easy, but the first one that came to mind was SAVATAGE and I think that says a lot. After this interesting peace of mind moment, it's time to kick back some energy into the album. "Fingerprints" handles it very well. First a building intro, followed by firm midtempo Metal. Everything flows on smoothly. The drums are not technical, but still are the most variable element (tension, stops, ...). At some point the stream is dammed in, to allow an accoustic intervention to take place, after which both electric and accoustic guitars join forces for a little while before it's all about the Metal again. So far, no real complaints and with "Fingerprints" SANDSTONE have another enjoyable song in the pocket.

But not all tracks are equally good. For example, personally speaking of course, I found "Division" one of the lesser songs on this album. It starts with heavy guitarwork, building the flow with the drums. Accousticness takes over once the verses are there, but electric touches appear a little later and take over command fully in the chorus, also giving room to melody in that part. At some point Sean sings "afraid to fall asleep" and that can relate to this song, in a way, about falling asleep. The guitar solo's nice, but doesn't my impression that much. But there's one song left that raises the bar again: "D.O.A.". What it stands for, I don't know. Fact is that the starting guitarwork sounds very promising and the power that follows was absolutely needed at this stage. Overall, this is a solid song with nice melodic touches in the chorus. On the other hand, it's not as catchy as the first few tracks. The obligatory solo is a plus, definitely.

The best has been commented on, even though the remaining three tracks are far from bad. They're just not as catchy as most of the others. "Enigma" commences with electronic twinkles, topped by guitars bursts, slowly advancing before the hose is fully opened. Firm Metal is unleashed, be it simple and to the point. The melody hides in the (slower) bridge and chorus, where the pace picks up again. The vocals are the main ingredient here and thus highest in the mix. Somehow it sounds as if they're higher here than in the previous songs. Or it could that the music was better at catching my attention then. Solos are again present and not for a few seconds. Nope, much longer. Bonus point for that. "Happy Birthday" is not a happy song, judging by the music. It's slow and dark, almost BLACK SABBATH-ish. The tempo gets a serious boost, though, afterwards, with pounding, double bass Metal as a result. What a blessing of a surprise! However, things slow down again in the chorus, which is short and simple. The solos also dwell in the pool of pounding Metal and when the song is over and done, the feeling of "oh, that was it?" might pop up. In other words, maybe the guys could have worked on the ending, making it smoother and not so abrupt. Other than that, it's a nice track.

"Purging The Past" started with a rocking song, it ends with the opposite, a ballad. "All Operations" is its title, as said above, and the second ballad on this album, next to "Y". "Y" was a very good song, "All Operations"... is not... a very good song. It's accoustic, too, though electric touches are added towards the chorus, turning the song into semi-accoustic. Again this intervention does not disturb the original flow and feel. But somehow I don't get the same impression as with "Y". The end result is not that bad, but it's not that super either.

My knowledge of the Northern Ireland Metal scene is extremely limited. As I said in the intro, only FIRELAND is in my collection. Of course, the country could house other bands that might ring a bell, but so far none. With SANDSTONE Limb Music have done a very good job in signing them to spread the word on a wider scale and also giving their newest album, "Purging The Past", a better sound. I haven't heard the original, so I guess the re-release sounds better. SANDSTONE play a mix of Heavy (NWOBHM-inspired) and (80's) Progressive Metal and do it in a solid manner. The majority of the tracks turns this album into an enjoyable and catchy release that will offer enough pleasure for months and years to come. The guys did a good job, so why complain? Well, a bit more technical stuff wouldn't hurt (especially on the drums, which are often too simple and leave room for fills). But that's for a next occasion. Until then, enjoy "Purging The Past".

More info at www.myspace.com/sandstonerocks.

Line-up:
Sean McBay - vocals, guitar
Stevie McLaughlin - guitar
David McLaughlin - bass
Paddy (Power) Flemming - drums


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WATCH ME BLEED – Souldrinker (Silverwolf Productions 2009)

Watch Me Bleed - Souldrinker
  1. Rise
  2. Bloodred Rain
  3. Sixsixseven
  4. Where Darkness Hides
  5. The End Of Everything
  6. Dead Sky Black Sun
  7. The Game Is On
  8. Burn Down Hope
  9. All Red Roses Die
  10. Jackhammer
  11. The Bleeding Chalice

WATCH ME BLEED is a new group, founded in 2007 by guitarist Markus Pohl, who's was and still is active in SYMPHORCE and MYSTIC PROPHECY, and SYMPHORCE drummer Steffen Theurer. The line-up got completed along the way with Chris Rodens (KICKDOWN) and Markus Wenzel (INZEST) on vocals and Michael Vetter on bass. Shortly after the rough core of the band was established, WATCH ME BLEED hit the stage and supported STONE SOUR, for example. Of course, music needed to be written, else what's the use of having a band? So as time passed by a full album came to see the light of day, that day being the 23rd of October. Silverwolf Productions saw potential in this band and offered them a contrast. The music is not that hard to catalog, or maybe it is if you stick to one genre, but it's a mix of Death, Thrash and Hardcore. Having two different, though aggressive, voices in the line-up helps to bring that sound out to the masses. With only one guitarist, this may be a problem.

"Souldrinker" is the title of this debut album and features eleven songs or a playtime of a good 45 minutes. It starts with the pounding, raging Death Metal-influenced "Rise". Hoarse vocals (Chris) in the verses, growls (Markus) and hoarse/screamy (Chris) in the chorus, where the music allows room for melodic input. There are solos too, but then the pace drops and the rhythm presents itself in variable forms. All in all a good start. It gets better with the uptempo "Bloodred Rain", where you'll find the typical humpapa-Thrash rhythm. Steffen even adds some blastbeats to spice the song. Markus's riffing is absolutely dangerous, sounding sharp and grinding to the bone. The rhythm is classic, but it sounds very nice. The pace slows down and a melodic touch is added in the bridge, but that's only to let the full power come out in the chorus, which is simple in setup. The solo is well done and done in layers, by which I mean it sounds as if two guitarists are playing, despite Markus Pohl being the sole axeman in the band. So they might need to get someone with them for the gigs then.

As the pace went up, so it goes down again in "Sixsixseven", which also features very nice guitarwork. Power is what comes streaming out of the speakers, with Chris sounding even more ferocious and Markus's growls following shortly. It's a classic song about 666, but in this case the neighbour. And yes, the obligatory solo was not forgotten. All in all, another decent song, but not among the real highlights, if you ask me. A song that can be added to that list is "Where Darkness Hides". A lightning crack prepares you for things to come. Well, it doesn't, but rest assured you're getting a hot-spiced dish of furious Metal consisting of evil riffing and fast drumming. And that's just the verses. Of course, for the sake of contrast, the tempo goes down in the chorus. Before that there's the bridge where effects were put on the vocals and although the idea behind that decision may be justified, the result isn't that attractive. The music is good, that cannot be denied. The guitar solo is a little longer than before and inline with the general atmosphere of this song.

It seems a pattern was applied here: one good song, one very good song, one good song, one very good song. And that brings us to... a good song. But don't worry, because after this the pattern shifts a bit: two very good songs, one good, two very good, one good. "The End Of Everything" does not have a direct start, rather builds a kind of tension, slowly increasing in tempo and heaviness before the full power is unleashed at medium tempo. The riffing doesn't flow smoothly, but is cut at regular intervals. You could call it "stop-start". But that's only in the verses, the chorus is where all flows like it should. And that's also the part where Markus can growl his heart out. The middle of the song is where silence was activated, followed by a new rebuilding in preparation for the wild solo.

What follows is a a violent storm that lasts 8 minutes spread over "Dead Sky Black Sun" and "The Game Is On". the first starts a bit strangely, as if the guitar is weeping/crying, but once the fury is unleashed there's not stopping. This is the fastest track so far and it is more than welcome. The verses sound firm, even in midtempo while both vocalists pour (or scream and growl, if you will) their everything into this song. The Hardcore influences come out nicely in the bridge and chorus, but breakdowns there are not. The weeping of the guitar returns in a solo, yet that element turns to normal soon enough. Steffen's drumming helps to give the storm enough power. "The Game Is On" - no, not a reworked version of GLENN FREY's "The Heat Is On" - contains a great rhythm start, followed by uptempo pounding drums, which include the toms, an element that's often underestimated. Uptempo verses where aggression rules, not in the least through the vocals. Steffen is very much warmed up, at full speed now and that results in blastbeats. The chorus again shows Hardcore was of influence and that's mainly noticeable through the vocals. The furious storm sure is worth checking out and standing in.

"Burn Down Hope" is a slow/midtempo song, yet powerful enough compared to the other tracks. Terms that came to mind to describe the music and the song in general are dirty, mean, vicious. Having vocalists like Chris and Markus does play a role in this. Markus may be the only guitarist, but that allows him to put the spotlights on his input and one specific moment does pop up where gets 100% attention as he lets his instrument do the talking through heavy riffs and soloing. Before going to the longest song of the album, two more highlights must be mentioned: "All Red Roses Die" and "Jackhammer". The first has some evil riffing and drum bursts in its intro, sort of setting the tone and paving the way for what's to come, being a midtempo mix of Hardcore and Death Metal elements, yet sounding very energetic. Overall, very good music with a tempo increase during the solo part. "Jackhammer" also has the rhythm guitar laying the first stones, while Steffen's backing it up. Midtempo here as well, but with a very tastey rhythm. Things slow down in the bridge, yet the pedal is pushed down again for the chorus, which is simple but effective and where both vocalists deliver the goods once more. While Markus's guitarwork has been good to very good so far, it's mainly Steffen's skin and cymbalwork that stands out here.

And so we have come to the juggernaut that is "The Bleeding Chalice", featuring guest appearances by SYMPHORCE/BRAINSTORM vocalist Andy B. Franck, guitarist Constantine (MYSTIC PROPHECY, DESCENDING) and vocalist Nemesis from EIGENSINN, a Gothic Rock band. The song starts with a calm guitarmelody, which is picked up by the Metal instrumentation, once heaviness kicks in, of course. The toms were used a bit more than usual in "The Game Is On", but Steffen thought it wasn't enough, so made sure they were more present in this last song. Next to Chris's voice, you'll hear Andy's, but also a female one. First I could lay the link, but it's in fact Nemesis. She got to sing the chorus. Tempo-wise it's all medium, save for a boost later on. The guitarsolo is very much needed and also executed very well. All in all you can say "The Bleeding Chalice" is a pretty good track to end this first album.

WATCH ME BLEED have shown their potential with "Souldrinker". Combining elements from Thrash, Death and Hardcore into a solid unity - and without sounding like a Thrash- or Deathcore band - is not always easy, or better, it's not easy to turn it into something listenable and enjoyable. Finding comparable bands was not an easy undertaking, but my ears told me bands like ILLDISPOSED, KATAKLYSM, EX DEO and CONTRADICTION come close. The Germans, to be honest, have succeeded in making their debut album worth checking out, although truth be told, it is far from being the best release in this category. Since everything went so fast from forming the band to writing songs, let's see what the follow-up will bring. But that's still a long time from now.

More info at www.watchmebleed.com.

Line-up:
Chris Rodens - vocals (screams, whispers)
Markus Wenzel - vocals (growls, grunts)
Markus Pohl - guitars
Michael Vetter - bass
Steffen Theurer - drums


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SYCRONOMICA – Sycroscope (Silverwolf Productions 2009)

Sycronomica - Sycroscope
  1. Preludium III
  2. Kaleidoscope
  3. Realm Of Dust And Ashes
  4. The Call
  5. An Der Schwelle
  6. Nebelgestalt
  7. Embers
  8. Ground On Fire
  9. Geleit Ins Moor

The German Epic/Symphonic Black Metal band SYCRONOMICA released its third album, "Sycroscope", on the 23rd of October through Silverwolf Productions. It's the follow-up to 2006's "Gate", which came out via Armageddon Music. That album was the follow-up to 2004's "Paths". SYCRONOMICA was formed in 1996 and has managed to keep a stable line-up, or as good as possible. But even for this third album, something had to change, and so Robin Fischer replaced Maximilian Marquardt on bass. Like with the previous two album, drummer Michael Bayer made the cover artwork. The band has already played on several big festivals like Summer Breeze Open Air, Ragnarök Festival, Summer Nights Open Air, Metal Bash and more, and shared the stage with bands like SIX FEET UNDER, IN FLAMES, FINNTROLL, ENSLAVED, GORGOROTH and others.

Like on the previous two albums, "Sycroscope" starts with an intro and logically this one's titled "Preludium III". And the creepy atmosphere is present here, as well, or what did you expect? The cover does help to create a visual version of this "Preludium" or the albums overall. Operatic vocals welcome you and musically this intro is preparing the basis for "Kaleidoscope", which bursts loose in typical Black Metal style. Oliver's raw vocals remind in a way of Shagrath's (DIMMU BORGIR). The keyboards provide the melody in the chorus, which is filled with pounding Metal. In general this is quite a theatrical song, almost compare to LE GRAND GUIGNOL. Later on clean singing is added, sort of like Vortex did in DIMMU BORGIR. All in all, a very decent take off. These Germans have taken a step forward. "Realm Of Dust And Ashes" is another song where blasting rules, though melody is taken care of by both guitars and keyboards. On the other hand, the band opted for a stop-start-Metal approach in the verses, though keeping things atmospheric to bring the music to life. Keyboards continue to play a key role in terms of melody, yet it's the guitars that dominate with their power. Over halfway there's an accoustic break, introducing a storm that perfectly breaks the Black Metal attack. Though of course, it doesn't last too long before the guitar solo kicks in. The direct transition to the madness of before could have been done more smoothly, if you ask me. Now it sounds too abrupt, the solo is barely done or *bang!*, back to the order of the day. But nevertheless, the "Realm Of Dust And Ashes" is left behind with a positive feeling as "The Call" is heeded.

And this song is definitely a highlight. Starting with Folkish keyboard tunes while a raging blaststorm does the rest. The tempo does go down a bit in the chorus. On the other hand, the situation becomes more brutal around the middle of the track and that's when Oliver changes his harsher vocals for growls. The second half leaves all heaviness away and allows accoustic instrumentation demand full attention, during which the keyboards add a twinkling touch before madness takes over. And keyboards are the dominant factor then, though a guitar solo finds a spot to be heard, too. All ends with the blasting and melodies of the intro. Speaking of storms, that's what you're going through in the intro of "An Der Schwelle" ("At The Threshold" or "At The Doorstep"), where keyboards add a creepy touch. Something the creaking door only emphasises. Once that door is opened, all hell breaks loose. This is the first of the German sung songs and because of the firmness of German, this mixes nicely with the music, which has a dark feel. Logical, to some extent, as you cannot know what lies behind the door. Or as it is said in "Hávamál":

"The man who stands at a strange threshold,
Should be cautious before he cross it,
Glance this way and that:
Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
Awaiting him in the hall?"


About halfway there's a nice, but short piano break before it's back to the chaos in the dark. SYCRONOMICA managed to make the changes in heaviness and melodies flow very well together. Later the music slows down a lot, allowing the growling vocals to come to the front while keyboard melodies keep the music going. And it's precisely the melodies that dominate throughout the entire track, even until the end, which drew nearer at a creeping pace, leading you back outside into the storm. Another very good song to be added to the list of highlights.

"Nebelgestalt" is another worthwhile song, lasting for almost 8 minutes. At first the keyboards saw some accents here and there, followed by midtempo Metal sounding almost ballad-ish compared to the previous songs. The lyrics are again in German. Keyboards dominate with melodies, though are comdemned to the back, while guitars form the forefront. The drums make everything advance at a raging pace. Vocals are needed and they do partake, but the band left lots of room for instrumental talk, especially for the guitars. There is a keyboard solo later, however. Due to its length the band could easily play with the structure, making this quite a Progressive track. To break the flow, a fairytale-ish symphonic break was added at some point. Vocally that meant a mix of shrieks, operatic singing and normal, clean vocals. A combination or order that worked quite well, to be honest.

The Metal instrumentation creates a tension in "Embers" before the right pace is selected and the music can flow more freely. The guitars deliver the power, the keyboards are in charge of the melodic aspect. The music grows in power, in size, in volume and that leads to the chorus. Keyboards play another important role here, though the guitar power is set highest in the mix and although that can be nice, they sometimes overwhelm the drums. On the other hand, and especially around the middle, they're the center of attention because of the heavy, "barking" riffs, during which moment a violin melody is let loose to add to the dark atmosphere. The guitars continue to dominate, the keyboards fulfill a secondary role. Oh yes, drumwise everything flows quite normally. It's only much later that Michael throws in some blasts. All elements combined and at least a few listens result in another addition to the highlights shortlist.

Two more tracks left: "Ground On Fire" and "Geleit Ins Moor". The first also has an intro in which the song is being built and it's the guitars and keyboards that do all the work, or most of it. Michael's blasting is added soon, pushing the music onwards while melodic leads tell the tale. SYCRONOMICA made a very good mix of melodic, where all sounds quite smooth, and blasting parts. Speaking of blasting: the change into raging Black Metal occured a little too fast, but somehow it connects well with what preceded. The keyboards then come to the front at that point. Later they step back again and let the guitars do the talking. Oliver's been singing in his typical rough/raw manner to make it fit with the atmosphere and heaviness of the music, but the last two minutes it's clean singing you'll hear. Near the end all falls silent, save for the violin as sole surivor. And with that the shortlist is completed. not to say that "Geleit Ins Moor" is a bad song. Not at all. The keyboards and piano, together with faint Metal sounds, dominate the first part. The result is a ballad. Woohoo! But fear not, as the accoustic guitar forms the bridge a few times. After about 2 minutes it comes in a first time to prepare the listener for the violent and aggressive outbreak that is to follow. The pace remains slow, but the singing is of the clean type. A little while later, after the second accoustic intervention, that aspect changes to shrieks while the music is again aggressive. The violin is the solo instrument here and can show its potential, or part of it, for the rest of the duration of this final track.

"Gate" was nice at first, but it didn't fully convince me, despite containing several good things. "Sycroscope" isn't flawless either, particularly on the production side (which has improved a lot, make no mistake), but overall the album is, in my humble opinion, the band's best album to date. Of course the DIMMU BORGIR similarities are there, but that should not be a reason to dismiss this new release. It may even be a selling point for those who like the Norwegian band or similar ones. SYCRONOMICA has shown they have the skills and ideas and deserve to be heard. Now, if only they can upgrade their sound a little more, it would make the picture complete.

More info at www.sycronomica.de.

Line-up:
Oliver Walther - vocals
Christian Metz - guitars
Johannes Jüde - guitars
Florian Winter - keyboards
Robin Fischer - bass
Michael Bayer - drums


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NOVA ORBIS – Imago (Nova Orbis 2009)

Nova Orbis - Imago
  1. Castle Of Exile
  2. Unstable Mind
  3. Dark Delusion
  4. Ancient Guardian
  5. Change
  6. Love Remains
  7. The Lamp
  8. Sarah Deserves To Rest
  9. Falling Of The Empire
  10. Wisdom Hunter

NOVA ORBIS is a Colombian Gothic/Progressive Metal band, formed in 2005 by what is still the original line-up. This review should have been done several months ago, as the band's debut album, "Imago", came out in October 2009. This is three years after the "Nova Orbis" demo from 2006. The band name means New World in Latin. The music is actually a mix of several styles (mainly Heavy, Power) in a Gothic atmosphere and Progressive structure. The lyrical themes on "Imago" range from Fantasy over literature to politics and philosophy. Musically the band also used traditional instruments like the tiple and the bandola, while incorporating choir arrangements in some songs.

"Castle Of Exile" starts with a harpsichord, in a dark atmosphere. Steadily bells are added, followed by the flute. The music sounds quite soft then. The Metal power comes in as a surprise, as if you suddenly increase the volume. Symphonic melodies and heavy power work nicely together at an overall slow tempo. Keyboards are very important. Ana is the main vocalist here. She sings in a clean manner and with a low voice. José adds some grunts here and there. This combo with the music made me think a bit of THEE ORAKLE and TYSTNADEN, for example. Tempo and rhythm changes are nicely implemented, but somehow I found it hard to distinguish verses from bridge and chorus. And with a lack of lyrics it's even harder to find some structure here. However, the overall result sounds nice. Nothing super, though.

"Unstable Mind" is then a better song. It opens with a piano intro, playing a happy/playful melody, followed by pounding Metal. This sounds quite firm and once more Ana is on vocals. The bridge is catchy, contrary to the dramatic chorus. José does come in, too, in duet form with Ana. The keyboards offer the melody, mainly in electronic version. "Unstable Mind" is particularly interesting on an instrumental level, containing enough diversity (incl. neo-classical touches). Guitars counter with power. And it gets even better with "Dark Delusion". Here a tension is created, the song is built by the keyboards, guitars and drums, while the bass lays out the main rhythm. Thanks to a good mix, this is clearly audible and for the better. Slow and Doomy Metal follows, but the pace soon increases, allowing the music to flow better. This is a guitar-driven song, but as usual the melodic aspect is delivered by the keyboards. Ana's and José's vocals are combined in the chorus, and for that the mixing was in their favour. Solos are present, too, from both the guitar and keyboards. At some point the song does enter a side-street, so to speak, in pure DREAM THEATER style. Melodic, atmospheric and fully instrumental. A very nice move.

With "Ancient Guardian" the Colombians have written a very nice epic track. It begns in a melodic way, also creating a tension to let out the music at a smooth tempo. The bass once more plays a prominent role and again this is a good decision. The rhythm is without criticism, while the keyboards fulfill their role very well. The midtempo chorus, melodic as it is, is inline with the overall quality on offer. And that also counts for the solos (by the guitar and keyboards). Diversity can be found in the rhythm and tempos. So, like "Dark Delusion", this track is another highlight. The ballad, "Change", can be added to the list of highlights as well. The first part is entirely accoustic and it sounds a bit (!) similar to Greek music, if you know what I mean. That's probably due to the use of the traditional instrumentation. As is custom in ballads, the piano is to be present, too. The electric power comes out as the chorus is due. Solos were not forgotten and don't disturb the flow. The melodic aspect (guitars, keyboards) is very well worked out.

The first half of "Imago" done, time for the second one and it's from here that things slowly go downhill again. "Love Remains" begins with dark piano touches and Ana sighing as if lost in a void or something. This time it's José who's the lead vocalist. With the piano as guiding instrument, it gives the song a musical feeling. Musical like those theater productions. But then the real take-off occurs with powerful and pounding Metal. Then it becoms clear that José doesn't have the best vocal chords for this song. Ana comes in in the chorus. Her voice and the music reminded me of the Portuguese Power Metal band ORATORY. Melodies are provided in symphonic format. Ana and José take turns for the lyrics, which adds to the diversity of the song. After the solo, the accoustic part from before the power outbreak comes back. All in all a decent song, but in a way it made me think the playtime could have been reduced a bit.

Despite its good rhythm and nice keyboard leads, "The Lamp" cannot turn the tide. Guided forth at a firm, but slow pace José works his way through the lyrics, yet allows Ana to do some of the work, too. Both come together in the chorus. The overall compositions are simpler than before. Mainly on an instrumental level, all is very much ok. And that is confirmed by an instrumental part that reminded a bit of old NIGHTWISH. "Sarah Deserves To Rest" has electronic/House-ish keyboards to start with, but Eastern Metal, slow and atmospheric, soon takes over. Ana's on leads vocals. The music gets more active in the chorus. NOVA ORBIS give their music a Progressive twist, depending on the song, but what you get with the Doomy instrumental break and solos afterwards sounds strange, out of place almost. It makes the listening a bit hard to sustain.

"Falling Of The Empire" could have been one of the better/best tracks, but somehow it turned out to be one of the... least good. It's slow, symphonic, but speeds up for the chorus. It's here that the choir arrangements were used. Ana leading the vocal charge in this song. In between you get some humpapa-like tempo increases. José takes over the mic at a later instant. The chorus is quite alright, but overall this song doesn't have that much too offer. "Wisdom Hunter" closes the album with a DREAM THEATER-like start. This time José does add the balls to his singing, backed by the organ. Ana occupies the chorus. Melody is a vital ingredient in the compositions and it must be said that David delivers very nice work, like he has done in practically all the songs. The guitars continue to deliver the necessary power, while Jose (drummer) adds a few tempo boosts here and there. Still, all things considered, it's a pretty mediocre track.

Colombia, another country I've never heard anything from in terms of Metal. With NOVA ORBIS the first band has come out, also thanks to the promotional work of Adrian at Lugga Music Productions. NOVA ORBIS play Gothic/Progressive Metal with similarities to LACUNA COIL, LA-VENTURA, THEE ORAKLE, TYSTNADEN, INNERFATE and a bit of ORATORY. "Imago" is their debut, self-released and offers a nice impression of the band's potential. Potential there is, indeed, and the musicianship is also at a good level already. For a self-release the sound is of course what it is: good, but it can get better. The mix is good, however, as it lets out each instrument clearly. Somehow there are some clouds that prevent the sun to shine: Ana's vocals can sound somewhat monotonous after a while. Certain songs aren't exactly jewels in terms of compositions. And finally, related to the previous comment, the playtime in general could be reduced in favour of the songs. Quality above quantity. Still, "Imago" is pretty decent for a debut, but it's on the follow-up and beyond that the Colombians will need to show how far their skills and ideas reach.

More info at www.myspace.com/novaorbis.

Line-up:
Ana Maria Barajas - vocals
José David Barajas - guitars, vocals
Jorge A Gutiérrez - guitars
David Martinez - keyboards
Rodolfo Cáliz - bass
Jose F. Osorio - drums


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ELDORADO – Dorado (Déjame Decirte 2009)

Eldorado - Dorado
  1. La Casa De Las 7 Chimeneas
  2. Porno Star
  3. Atlántico
  4. Caída Libre
  5. I Don't Need No Doctor
  6. El Desertor
  7. La Gran Evasión
  8. Tarot TV
  9. Meteoro

The Spanish Hard Rock band ELDORADO, founded in 2007, released its second album in October and titled it "Dorado". An English edition was also made available under the title "Gold". I had the honour and pleasure to review the band's debut release, "En Busca De Eldorado", last year and as you may have read, I found it a very worthwhile release. As the lyrics were in Spanish, it gave the album an extra special touch. This time I had the choice of reviewing either the Spanish or English version of "Dorado". The English one was obviously made to attract more people, to reach out to a broader audience, but to my ears and in my humbe opinion, that sort of scratches off the special touch of the Spanish version. And since the debut album was in Spanish, I saw no reason why I would have to change to English now.

For their sophomore album ELDORADO worked again with producer Richard Chycki, but this time in his studio in Toronto, Canada, while the mastering was in the hands of Andy Vandette at Masterdisk in New York, USA. The release was done through their own label, Déjame Decirte. A proper European release will take place in March 2010 through Bad Reputation. "Dorado" starts with a very radio-friendly, but funky Rocker: "La Casa De Las 7 Chimeneas". The band even made a video for this track, single if you will. Being radio-friendly also means simple in structure, in melodies and so on. While that can be nice for a while, it can become tedious in the long run. The band does deliver the goods and especially the instrumental aspect is good while Jesús tries to add a passionate touch to his singing. Drumwise it would not have hurt to add some fills here. But the main element that bugged me - and that's typical in a radio-friendly song - were the zils (small metal jingles on a tabourine).

"Porno Star" is another good track, laying the first notes and melodies gently onto the table before the real outburst is activated. Those (damn) zils are present again in the chorus. Overall the music sounds firmer than in the first song and Nano is offered a key role to add some solos. First a small one around halfway while Javi assists on toms and Jesús adds some words as well. The song is being rebuilt then and the full power is unleashed to let Nano play the real solo. That middle section makes the song more worthwhile as it breaks the linearity that would remain without it. In general, good job from these lads, but the best is yet to come. There's still "Atlántico". This song has an un-typical instrument occupying the introduction: a flute. This creates a soft and gentle atmosphere (including faint guitarsounds in the back) and allows Jesús to adjust his singing in the same manner, and that in turn creates a nice contrast with his louder voice in the more Rocking songs. Full power is reserved for the chorus. "Atlántico" adds a Bluesy touch to the album and sounds, due to its slow pace and soft music, rather ballad-ish. Over halfway the instruments do the talking and that is a nice change. This part is simple but effective and it seems ELDORADO have mastered that aspect. The music further flows on smoothly without sudden outbreaks or anything and particularly the last minute is an absolute lust for the ear.

One third gone, two more to go and it's exactly then the feast commences. But truth be told, in my opinion, it's not perfect over the entire line. In "Caída Libre" comes in at a slow pace with a Bluesy feel, which is already the chorus's music. Vocaly it's all clean without reaching for the high notes and thus no yelling, so to speak. The verses contain no heaviness, though the guitar is present in a shockey way, and as a result contrast with the fuller chorus. Exactly that aspect of this song makes "Caída Libre" very attractive. Things start to get more serious at halfway. Seems like the middle of the song is a key part in the compositions as it's always there the band changes direction for a little while. The guitarwork is layered and that is for the benefit of the song.

While "Gold" is the English version of "Dorado", the band did opt to let "I Don't Need No Doctor" to be present on the Spanish version, too. Why is a riddle to me, perhaps as a new single, but it makes the link with the other songs more difficult. On the other hand... it's the 5th track out of 9, which is the middle. And didn't I just say the band then changes direction? Musically you don't need to expect a change, it's still Hard Rock, but the lyrics are in English. The song has more power, more punch than the preceding ones and words to sing are few in number. Hence Jesús being put on repeat for the chorus, which is just that one line. It's good for a few times, but here the repetition goes on and on and on and it just is a drag to sit through it. Musically it might all sound linear and simple - Hard Rock never has been a technical style - but the rhythm and leads are elements for which the band deserves praise. The middle section is again the territory of instrumentalism and this time the bass gets its moment of glory. But, the repeating of the title is done then, too and that should not have been the case. Afterwards all flows back to the chorus and so on until the end. Basically, "I Don't Need No Doctor" is a good song, but the chorus/title is sung far too often. The lyrical/vocal aspect lacks variety, in other words.

"El Desertor" promises better material. The guitar is the main instrument, sounding calm and yet very melodic, while the singing is added very quickly. It's another radio-friendly track at midtempo and with another spotlight moment (well, more than a moment) for the bass. Heavy is not the right word to describe the music, but it does rock and forms a nice, crunchy song. "La Gran Evasión" is where you can truly speak of ROCK! Not in the least because it reminds of DIO's "Killing The Dragon" period. And as I'm writing this review, Dio himself is fighting the dragon called stomach cancer. Let's hope he does kill it and can get back on his feet to do what he does best: singing with heart and soul for the love of Rock 'n' Roll. But back to ELDORADO. This seventh track offers more power, more drive, a higher tempo, as if given a boost. The drums are key here, definitely, as not Alex Rada, but Javi Planelles (who replaced Alex on the drumstool) made his playing more active. The music also sounds more fun, or it's as if the band has more fun in writing and recording it. The guitarsolo reminds of what Joe Satriani did on his older albums and that is of course a good sign. All in all, a true "golden" track here.

"Tarot TV" rocks, too, yet sounds a bit toned down in that aspect. The Bluesy feel is back and the playing sounds quite firm and tight, not allowing the music to act a little wild like "La Gran Evasión". The band even added a vibraslap, another uncommon instrument. I only remember the Scottish Folk/Power Metal band ALESTORM having used it so far. ELDORADO used it around the middle of the playtime to start the part where some tension is created in order to unleash the guitar solo. Again Joe Satriani came to mind. And so the chorus comes back in sight and a little later the end of the song. Pure quality, let's not beat about the bush. One more song to go then with "Meteoro". Here as well, no need to let the music kick the door in. Just let it all flow nice and easy, with a Bluesy touch. Once it's time to rock, AC/DC comes to mind in the stop-start verses. Again the rhythm and leads are first class elements and especially the chorus is the place where melodicness reigns. Somehow, and despite a meteor not being a soft stone, the song is almost a means to relax. Over halfway it's solo time, the bass thumps on and drumwise fills complete the compositions. No real complaints here. All's fine by me.

"En Busca De Eldorado" was and is highly recommended material for anyone into classic Hard Rock like DIO, THUNDER, BLACK SABBATH, METALLICA (1996-1997), IOMMI and others. Does that count for "Dorado"? Well, I'd rather compare with SHAKRA, JOE SATRIANI, AEROSMITH (thought I'm no expert on this band), METALLICA and similar. In all sincerity and honesty, I have to admit it is (or I found) a little less good than the debut album, which rocked more. This sophomore release is aimed at radio play, although there is heavier material on it as well. And that can be good, as long as that is not the main reason when making music. In this genre, ELDORADO is a band to reckon with. They know where they're going and having both a Spanish and English version of "Dorado"/"Gold" should open the doors to several European, maybe even (South) American countries.

More info at www.enbuscadeeldorado.com.

Line-up:
Jesús Trujillo - vocals
Nano Paramio - guitars
César Sanchez - bass
Javi Planelles - drums


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GRIMLORD – Dolce Vita Sath-an As (Trident Harmony 2009)

Grimlord - Dolce Vita Sath-an As
  1. Dolce Vita Sath-anas
  2. When The Heads Are Going Down
  3. Oh! My King
  4. Shade Of Wrath Angels
  5. Ground Zero
  6. Dissolution Of Eternity
  7. Ancient Land Of Ys
  8. Avericious Scavenger / Panth Of Lash
  9. Lamentation Sword

The Polish band GRIMLORD released its debut album last year under the title "Blood Runneth Over". That was a big step in a different direction: playing Black Metal initially, going for Hard Rock/Heavy Metal on this first full album. And that's the direction the band would continue. "Blood Runneth Over" contained several good ideas and some interesting songs here and there, but the biggest problem was the vocals. The potential was there and so my hopes were high for the follow-up. That release was titled "Dolce Vita Sath-an As" and came out somewhere around September-October. There's nowhere a proper date to be found and since I got my promo copy in that period, my guess is the release date lies close to it.

"Dolce Vita Sath-an As" starts with the title track's Rap-ish keyboard doodle. Seriously, it shows no signs of Metal whatsoever. Of course, once the guitars and drums fall in the situation improves a lot. You can clearly hear the band paid attention to the production, which is much better/powerful than before. Barth's singing is clean, though with a rough edge. He has an accent, though, but that's something that can be worked on. The music is very much guitar-driven, pushed onwards by Lukass's energetic and dynamic drumming. Around halfway it's solotime. The rest of the song, at which end a blasting outbreak is planned, remains instrumental. To be honest, I'm positively surprised. If the rest of the album is as good, then GRIMLORD have taken a big leap forward.

"When The Heads Are Going Down" starts in a direct manner with pounding drums. All that reverts to accousticness a little alter, soothing the listener. The verses are slow, yet contain full instrumentation. Barth's accent is more audiblehere and that forms a bit of a black stain on the song. Musically the songs feels very IRON MAIDEN-ish. Strangely enough, during the solo a blastfest is set up and I have to admit it is the best part of the song. Instrumentalism is again a key aspect and occupies the remainder of the song, ending with an accoustic touch. Overall I find "When The Heads Are Going Down" another good track, but honesty obliges me to have my preference set on the title track.

"Oh! My King" lets the band take its time to find the best moment to fall in. First an atmosphere of danger, or tension, is created, building up to the slow Metal passage. Barth's singing is not bad, but his accent stands in the way, a lot more than in the first two songs. On top of that he wrote too many words to sing and that doesn't flow well with the music. The music by itself is quite good: Heavy Metal with blasts in the chorus. An accoustic intervention breaks this stream a little, yet a rebuilding takes place, also paving the way for the solo outbreak. The second half of the track is good, too... musically. Three songs done now and then it happens: the production changes dramatically with "Shade Of Wrath Angels", the first in a series of instrumental songs and to be honest, the best of the pack. It sounds rawer, more pure. You do have keyboards/piano moments, but obviously the guitar dominates. The drums don't sound real, or better, I'm having doubts about it. The atmosphere is dark and epic and that is perfectly inline with the title.

Not a lot of explanation is needed for "Ground Zero", right? We all know what happened, or what we saw happening, on 9/11. A sample of a news report and Bush speech are key elements in such a song, to make it more alive. All the while a creeping tune is playing in the back to create the right atmosphere. The production is even rawer than before. Main instrument to bring the horror to life is the organ. A good choice, in my opinion. Musically it's Heavy Metal, though a touch of Black Metal wouldn't have hurt here, considering the lyrical theme. "Dissolution Of Eternity" sounds heavier, although more sad than any of the previous songs. Keyboards provide melodic backing. The drums really sound fake now, though at its core this is not a bad song. Did Lukass really play this? It's hard to believe. This just screams "drumcomputer!". "Ancient Land Of Ys", a song hailed in other reviews of this release, is quite an average song. Starting accoustically, going for a more Doomy direction via the guitars and piano and with a drumcomputer that really works on my nerves. Not only because it's programmed, but because it sounds weak, there's no power behind it. And that affects the listening experience a lot, in my humble opinion.

The dual title "Avericious Scavenger / Panth Of Lash" is a slow, melodic song in which accousticness takes over command after a while, forming the bridge between the first and second part, also indicated in the title. And precisely that break made me frown, as both parts sound quite incompatible. In addition, the drumcomputer is now really... annoying. I don't want to beat about the bush, but why is there such a big difference between the first three songs and the instrumentals in terms of production and drumsound (or replacing Lukass with a programmed version)? "Lamentation Sword" is the last hope for improvement. Haunting sounds coming from the piano lay out the first melodic touches, followed by slow Metal, or better, Heavy Metal with ups and downs during which keyboards and church bells come into play. The whole rocks until the fifth minute. After that it's Doom time and the song title indicated such a change, but in a last instant the amount of heaviness increases one more time. Overall, it's quite alright to end the "Dolce Vita" in this way.

As I said in the beginning, my hopes were high for "Dolce Vita Sath-an As". Hearing the first two songs, I found they had made a good progression and overall after the first full listen I was reasonably satisfied, but more listens gradually turned my smile the other way around. The musical/instrumental skills are in any case present, so that's not the problem. This new album starts well, sounds well, but after 1/3 the sound all of a sudden changes, is rawer and it worsens with each succeeding track, despite most of these songs being not super, but not bad either. They just need a proper production to shine and why that didn't happen is a riddle to me, but the end result does bug me. I can only speak for myself, but why other reviews didn't mention this... Did I get a wrong promo copy? Anyway, had all sounded like the first few songs, my opinion would be far more positive. As it is, I cannot really recommend "Dolce Vita Sath-an As". As one other reviewer said, better cut out the majority of the tracks and have a good EP made of the remaining songs.

More info at www.grimlord.eu.

Line-up:
Barth La Picard - vocals, guitars
Orson - bass
Lukass - drums


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PARADOX – Riot Squad (AFM Records 2009)

Paradox - Riot Squad
  1. Suburban Riot Squad
  2. Hollow Peace
  3. Riptide
  4. Rise In Rank
  5. Evolution Reset
  6. Nothingness
  7. No Place to Survive
  8. Dream Hero
  9. Planet Terror
  10. Psychofficial

The German Power/Thrash/Speed Metal formation PARADOX is one of the veterans of the 1980's. Despite a break of about 10 years, this block of Metal is hard to break and came back with a strong album ("Collision Course") in 2000, but fate struck again and the band was halted once more as mainman Charly Steinhauer was faced with personal problems. But the gods of Metal were on his side and anno 2005 PARADOX picked up their arms again to fight the unfinished battle. Their fourth album, "Electrify", came out last year and proved to be quite a powerful piece of Power/Thrash. Charly and co. had far from lost the ability and determination to offer solid Metal. And so they could carry on playing gigs at various festivals, do a tour and more and even start working on a new album. Charly once again produced the album, but it's unclear to me who did the mixing/mastering. Last time it was Jacob Hansen. This time I saw two names being connected with this taks: Fredrik Nordström (news post in October 2008 on the band's website) and Achim Köhler (news post in July 2009). Whoever did it, he did a great job. The artwork was once again done by Claudio Bergamin, who also did it for the "Electrify" album. And if you look closely you can see the same character featured on the cover. Come to think of it, it looks like a badge and if the band is looking for an original merchandise idea: have such badges made, not as patches, but as pins/broches.

PARADOX's fifth album is called "Riot Squad" and will be available on the 16th of October. With a title like that, you can easily expect a more aggressive PARADOX, one that found the right inspiration, strength and power to take the music to the next level, especially after "Electrify". And let me tell you, this is one big Thrash assault. It starts with "Suburban Riot Squad". Main ingredients: raging guitars, fast riffing, uptempo drums. All of excellent quality. You just can't sit still here. Power and ferocity in one. Add a wild solo and the process is completed. "Hollow Peace" comes bursting in directly with its sharp, aggressive guitarwork and pounding drums. Out of the way or be killed by this machinegun of a song. Charly did see to it that a touch of melodicness made it into the chorus, mainly through his singing. But for the solo the usual procedure was applied: fast Thrash. Outstanding material, no question about it.

And so we go on with "Riptide", an even more powerful song, despite more normal drumming (not the humpapa-Thrash beat). The guitars sound sharp and ready to bite. The music is catchy and a simple, yet effective, chorus is then a helpful element. "Rise In Rank" has heavy guitarwork - I don't expect PARADOX to tone it down here - and slow/midtempo drumming. But when the real kickoff begins, you realize the preceding stuff was just a first part. Once the Thrash kicks in, you're in for very pleasant listening experience. Destructive guitarwork, drums pushing everything onwards, making sure nothing stays upright. The rise to the top is a violent and aggressive one. Things slow down a bit in the chorus, but once the solo claims attention, it's back to pedal to the metal. Great in all aspects: rhythm, melodicness, compositions, musicianship, sound, aggression, catchiness. "Evolution Reset" is business as usual: Fast Thrash. And words like ferocious, devastating, killer are more than fitting. And the chorus is still the keeper of melodic touches.

The second part of the tracklisting (the first track being "Nothingness") starts calm with animal sounds. My guess is it's ocean waves and dolphin or whale sounds. My ears could fool me, though. The Metal comes in in a brutal manner, sounding quite dark. Somehow there's more moderation compared to the previous tracks. The melodic touches are again reserved for the chorus. A less ferocious song this time. And that's a good choice, else it would make the album sound monotonous if all tracks were fast-speed Power/Thrash. And speaking of which, "No Place to Survive" will kick you wide awake. Fast, relentless, aggressive, one violent force of hack 'n' slash. Or in short, another magnificent song. "Dream Hero" starts with a tension creating composition. The overall feeling is evil, dark, monstrous and quite powerful. The drumming is more normal, like in "Riptide", but with the required ferocity. There's a Thrash boost in the bridge, but all falls backin the slow, melodic chorus. Another very nice song, though, even if it's not full speed all the way. Even if it were like that, it wouldn't mean you get a better song, or better music.

But anyway, the track that follows is the least good one on "Riot Squad": "Planet Terror". This is not a fast song, it's not as Thrashy as the others, despite a title that might indicate such a musical direction. Technicalities aren't important here, the flow and the unity is. It begins with samples from the news, also hearing police and such before the music bursts in and builds towards something violent. It's a midtempo track, but with strange leads. I can't really put my finger on it (whether it's guitars or keyboards, it's a looped sound that lingers in the back), but these elements do make the song stand apart from the others. Of course melody plays a role and Charly sings less rough, and cleaner. Personally I found it hard to stay focused here. It sounds un-PARADOX-like. Maybe Charly wanted to try something else and this dark track was the result. Perhaps with the texts at hand, it might be easier to understand why the song sounds like it sounds. Definitely not easy-listening. Give it a couple of spins to fully "get" it. But then there's "Psychofficial" that closes the album in style. PARADOX turns off the light with a blast. "Psychofficial" is a superfast song, nothing more, nothing less. And no, it's not like SLIPKNOT's "Psychosocial", even if Charly sings (in his own rough way) the word in almost the same way.

PARADOX made a nice (second) comeback last year with "Electrify". A powerful, yet modern sound was given to the songs by Jacob Hansen, who did a good job back then. This time the sound is a bit different, rougher, less polished, one might say. That's for the benefit of the more aggressive guitarsound. "Riot Squad", the new album, is basically one big, violent storm of aggressive Metal. Charly and co. have gained enough inspiration while promoting the previous album and with this new release you could say it's their best to date. Everything sounds masterful: production, musicianship, compositions, sound, ... Therefore I'll end with the cliché phrase: recommended for any fan of Speed Metal (or Power/Thrash, if you prefer that term).

More info at www.paradox-bangers.de.

Line-up:
Charly Steinhauer - vocals, guitars
Kai Pasemann - guitars
Olly Keller - bass
Roland Johada - drums


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BRAINSTORM – Memorial Roots (AFM Records 2009)

Brainstorm - Memorial Roots
  1. Forsake What I Believe
  2. Shiver
  3. The Conjunction Of 7 Planets
  4. Cross The Line
  5. Nailed Down Dreams
  6. Blood Still Stains
  7. Ahimsa
  8. The Final Stages Of Decay
  9. Victim
  10. When No One Cares
  11. Would You

The German band BRAINSTORM has been among my favourite Power Metal bands for several years, starting with "Unholy", which was good, but not their best work. That would come later with "Soul Temptation" in 2003. I had the pleasure to see them live once, in 2004 when they supported EDGUY, together with NOCTURNAL RITES. The band was formed back in 1989, releasing several demos before their debut, "Hungry", hit the market in 1997. "Ambiguity" was their first album for Metal Blade Records, a label the band would stay on for twelve years. The last output was "Downburst" in 2008, preceded by the DVD "Honey from the B's (Beasting Around the Bush)" in 2007. Metal Blade will release a Best Of called "Just Highs No Lows (12 Years Of Persistence)" in November. Since several months BRAINSTORM are signed to AFM Records and the first release here is "Memorial Roots" (out since the 16th of October), an album that has been awaited with high anticipatience, at least in my case.

In 2007 Metal Blade also re-released the bands first two albums, "Hungry" and "Unholy", in 2CD digipacks, each containing the original CD and a remastered version. Bonus tracks from the demos were added to both releases. For fans who had a hard time obtaining these albums this was an excellent opportunity. Soundwise the Germans have appealed to Achim Köhler for a very long time and a big change in that sound came with "Downburst". Composition-wise the music also underwent a slight change then. Sascha Paeth sat behind the desk this time and I feared this would affect BRAINSTORM's powerful sound. Especially considering Sascha, as good as he is, produced earlier works from KAMELOT, EPICA, AVANTASIA, EDGUY, and many more. And especially his more recent work doesn't really give the guitars a powerful touch. To each his own, of course, but compare Achim's touch to that of Sascha and you'll hear what I mean.

But anyway, on to the new record, "Memorial Roots", as I could typ a lot more about this band. "Soul Temptation" was a very big highlight and the follow-up "Liquid Monster" was very decent as well, still having a rather dark, mean touch in the guitars. "Downburst" meant indeed going down, lighter, more melodic, more accessible, even if there were some pretty good songs on that album. Fingers crossed for a return to form with "Memorial Roots" then. Well... no. It turned out worse than expected. Ok, BRAINSTORM and catchy tunes have always gone hand-in-hand, but never in the sense that the band needed mainstream attraction to acquire a fanbase. The production, done by I-don't-know-who, is even lighter than what Sascha Paeth did on "Downburst". The drums are relatively high in the mix and the guitars a bit lower than what you would expect on a BRAINSTORM album. What's the reason for this?

It starts with the long atmospheric intro of "Forsake What I Believe". Symphonic backing waves back and forth in the meantime. Guitars dominate throughout the song, which is obviously a logical decision as this is the basis of BRAINSTORM's songs. The verses are calm and easy, contrary to the (slow and epic) chorus, which lets the instrumental power rise. Here too, the keyboards are a present factor. Although the guitars are a bit lower in the mix, the real power of this song should shine on stage. The solo is a classic one, in true BRAINSTORM style. Somehow, though, I had the impression I was listening to something from the "Liquid Monster" album. Anyway, a decent song to start with, but the better ones are yet to come. Like "Shiver", which takes a direct start, but sounds a lot lighter. Perhaps the lightest so far. I can't remember BRAINSTORM having composed a Metal song - I'm not speaking of ballads - that sounded so radio-friendly. It's got more drive and push than the previous song and Dieter's drumming is very firm, just like the song. But like I said, it's light, it's radio-friendly somehow and the center of attention is the chorus. The soloing is good, as usual.

"The Conjunction Of 7 Planets" is next and also takes its time to unleash its power. First some gentle guitars with symphonic backing, followed by the power of Metal. The tempo is set at medium and as the music advanced the symphonic aspect rises in volume. Again the structure of calm verses versus a more powerful chorus was applied here, only this time the chorus sounds very emotional. Near the last part of the song all falls silent, yet the guitar solos then get their moment of fame. All in all, a decent song, but nothing spectacular. That outburst is reserved for "Cross The Line", an uptempo track that was badly needed at this point. No complaints at all here, a classic BRAINSTORM track. But then something terrible happens... two weak tracks pop up: "Nailed Down Dreams" and "Blood Still Stains". The first has the piano to come in for melody and adding a more mellow touch to the song. Keyboards are prominent, the guitars's power is lacking, Andy sings softer, though things get a bit more powerful along the way. The chorus, too, is of the emotional kind, even whiney. Not even the solos can save this track. "Nailed Down Dreams" has to be one of the weakest songs ever written by these Germans. "Blood Still Stains" has more power, contains more Metal, though the pace isn't high. The compositions are very linear and thus don't allow for variety. The overall execution is good, though, and the pounding chorus offers a glimmer of hope. Hope that the real power will come out live, because on CD this song is far from being a highlight.

But have no fear, for another superb track is coming up: "Ahimsa". Ok, superb might be an overstatement, but it's a lot better than the previous two songs. Again, more drive, higher tempo. The music sounds fiercer, though quite light. Keyboards take the lead and all in all I have no real complaints. A job well done. And now the trend sets in: a less good song follows, another splendid one, again a bit less and finishing in style. Let's start with "The Final Stages Of Decay". Calm guitarstart, sounding Jazzy in a way. The Metal chugs along at a slow pace, but the guitar power increases as the moment of soloing draws closer. A decent track, nothing more. "Victim" adds another power boost to the album and this puts a big smile on my face. The music sounds powerful, evil and that's something this album needs in higher quantities. Guitars dominate, Andy sounds darker, more evil and this too is a good move. The melody comes out in the chorus, in an epic kind of way, but makes this part less fiercesome. Still, another highlight, without question.

Two more songs then, "When No One Cares" and "Would You". The first, good, but nothing more. Symphonic leads and backing are present again, while the guitars add the required power. It's a midtempo song with a good rhythm. Andy's vocals were given a spacey effect in the bridge and that's subject to taste. I'm not really fond of it, but it doesn't hurt the song, so no reason to dismiss it. The chorus shelters a nice touch of melodicness and the guitar solos are as good as ever. All things considered, the quality is there, but somehow this track is not among the best here. That last spot is saved for "Would You", in which the band offers a last outburst of power. The tempo lies high and epicness is spread all around. Guitar power to the maximum! A worthy ending for a rather average album.

BRAINSTORM's 8th album didn't fulfill my expectations. I agree you can't keep on making the same album over and over again, but going lighter, more accessible isn't the best way either, or at least not for several albums in a row. So far, each of their older albums (from "Hungry" to "Soul Temptation") has been a hit and is recommended to highly recommended. Since "Liquid Monster" some cracks started to appear in this formation (or its musical compositions) that stood out from the rest of the Power Metal bands (HELLOWEEN, STRATOVARIUS, GAMMA RAY, SONATA ARCTICA, and similar). They made their music lighter, more polished and so on. The BRAINSTORM stamp is still present here (which is good, of course), but the music is less dark, less evil, less powerful and the production of "Memorial Roots" made me often doubt whether I was listening to a CD or mp3s of 128 kbps. Is "Memorial Roots" better than "Downburst"? Personally, I would pick "Downburst" as the better one. Anyone wanting to properly check out this band should go for their older albums, unless you're seeking an easier, catchier entrance, which is what "Memorial Roots" will offer you.

More info at www.brainstorm-web.net

Line-up:
Andy B. Franck - vocals
Torsten Ihlenfeld - guitars
Milan Loncaric - guitars
Antonio Ieva - bass
Dieter Bernert - drums


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RAM-ZET – Neutralized (Ascendance Records 2009)

Ram-Zet - Neutralized
  1. Infamia
  2. I Am Dirt
  3. 222
  4. Addict
  5. God Don't Forgive
  6. Beautiful Pain
  7. To Ashes
  8. Requiem

RAM-ZET was founded in 1999 as a one-man project by Zet, aimed at taking Gothic Metal into an avantgarde direction. A demo was recorded and that led to a label deal with Spikefarm. Soon the line-up came to completion and together they made the debut album, "Pure Therapy", that saw the light of day in 2000. "Escape" followed two years later. Signing with Tabu Records in Norway, album no. 3 was planned for 2005 under the title "Intra". Throughout the years the line-up changed a few times, mainly on bass. Anno 2008 all was stable again and work on the fourth album could start. Everything was done early 2009. "Neutralized" was ready to be unleashed. As each album got positive reactions from press, fans and others, expectations for "Neutralized" were thus high.

My experience with RAM-ZET is limited to one song, which I downloaded some years ago from Century Media's website, as it was one of the mp3s they put online. And I liked what I heard, yet never though of digging further and possibly buying one or more of the band's albums. Receiving a promo copy of "Neutralized" back in September - it's February 2010 when I'm writing this (despite the release being te 12th of October) and reviewing a complex album like this one isn't always easy - it felt good to finally hear RAM-ZET's music with a proper ear, or better, I had a reason to listen to their music.

"Infamia" opens this album in a thundering manner. The music comes bursting in and thunders onwards. Zet's harsh vocals contrast with Sfinx's angelic touches, in a typical "beauty and the beast" style. The chorus is where the melodicness reigns. Musically electronic accents add spice to the song. Over halfway, the situation calms down into an atmospheric moment with Sfinx on vocals. In a relaxing way the music flows on before returning to the theatrical madness and eventually the chorus. All in all a very nice song to start with. "I Am Dirt" comes with a spacey intro, fading in. Sfinx's first words are covered with an effect as if she's an old woman, singing "I am dirt" a few times until she's running out of breath and only heavy breathing remains. The harpsichord is played for the theatrical aspect. This carries on as female singing is added and in a next phase the Metal power. At that point Zet's rough vocals come in. The overall atmosphere and feel is dark. The melodicness has more room in te bridge, together with Sfinx's vocals. But that is made undone as the power of the chorus takes over. "I Am Dirt" is a very Progressive kind of song. You'll hear lots of rhythm and melodic changes. The guitar solo is present, yes, but it sounds as if the guitar is being raped. Next to singing, music is the key element, thus more attention was created for instrumental talk. As good as this song is, I found it less attractive than "Infamia".

"222" then, which has got be one of the best songs on this album. It starts in an Industrial way, morphing into raging Black Metal (including melodies) in vein of CARACH ANGREN. The vocal input of both Zet and Sfinx is excellent, magnificent and more. It left me speechless. The Metal aspect is important here, in terms of music. The power and bombast are opposed by soothing symphonic elements. Or better, they need to collaborate, yet it sounds so contrasting. At a given moment, the guitarwork turns Jazzy, which is a very nice twist. In combination with the mad character of the music, this forms a nice duo. Once again it's amazing to hear how music music and diversity these Norwegians implemented into this track.

The next title made me believe I would be listening to a K'S CHOICE song, which is also called "Addict". K'S CHOICE is a Belgian Pop Rock band. Luckily RAM-ZET take a completely different direction. "Addict" is one of the longer songs, clocking in over 10 minutes. Beginning with electronic elements, the groovy power is unleashed as the Metal instrumentation is let out. The verses sound rather chaotic to my ears. Zet's vocals again contrast with Sfinx's, who occupies the dramatic sounding bridge. The what I think is the pre-chorus is all about madness, but that's even less to my liking. The singing just sounds false, noisy, and so on. Thankfully the chorus sounded a bit better. The Industrial feel is stronger than before. Diversity can be found in the rhythm. The drums alone are a perfect proof of that. Here, too, there's enough instrumental talk, including a solo and piano break. But like "I Am Dirt" I found this song not that attractive.

Starting with "God Don't Forgive" the remainder of the songs are very much worth hearing. This track takes off with a nice and soft symphonic intro, after which slow/midtempo power is comes in. The Metal aspect is high again here, not only accompanying Zet's harsh singing. Melodic interventions are limited to backing support, though the piano can stick its nose through the fence. Sfinx can be heard in the pounding bridge and this part is very nice to listen to. Drama is the keyword for the chorus, stressed by the piano. Both vocalists, Zet and Sfinx, join forces. The end result is beautiful and especially the musical side of the song is first class material.

"Beautiful Pain" is not exactly the most happy or uplifting title. It begins in quite an unconventional way, but that's rather normal with Avantgarde Metal. The violin of Sareeta, who recently left the band (anno 2010), is the first instrument you'll hear, together with the vibraslap, also used by ELDORADO, JUGGERNAUT and ALESTORM. At least, that's what I know based on the albums I've reviewed so far. Anyway, with Avantgarde Metal you can make your Metal as diverse and interesting as you wish. The vocals are covered with an effect as if to show they're lost and doomed. Soft singing follows (and it sounds great) with ambient backing. And so the verses come in sight: Industrial Metal breaking loose. Harsh male vocals here, though as if in agony. This is countered by Sfinx's interventions in the slow, melodic chorus. Zet's guitar is the instrument of power, while electronic keyboards and violin take care of the melodic side. To break this flow the band added an enchanting part, sounding rather Eastern-like. Sfinx is then the ideal vocalist. Musically things are polyrhythmic, including a furious outbreak. The overall atmosphere and feel is dark. And right when you don't expect it, all heaviness falls away. Only accousticness remains and this takes the song to its end. Again you'll hear lots of music here. With over 10 minutes, the Norwegians made good use of this length.

"To Ashes" is a bit shorter, but still over 8 minutes long. Some distortion, some explosions, but soothing singing brings comfort. Light organ sounds offer backing support. The music continues in accoustic form, sounding very exotic. Dark, hunting Metal power counters this. Metal and orchestrations are perfectly combined here. The spacey keyboard solo is the first of the solos, the guitar follows a bit later. An accoustic break offers a resting point. What a change with the power of before! Towards the end all cards are put on the table, as the music sounds chaotic with a big slap of madness, but in a controlled way. Another qualitative track on the list of highlights.

"Requiem" is the final song, but be prepared for the last 10 minutes of "Neutralized". It starts with a radio channel being sought, selected. At least, that's what I could make of it. The Metal that takes over completely erases that impression with its perfect rhythm. Zet takes the verses again, letting hunting keyboards intervene at the end. The bridge contrasts with melody and Sfinx on vocals. The chorus comes over as a wild and chaotic part. The break that follows consists of the violin (or cello?) and Metal bursts, but they flow more easily afterwards. Sfinx then also sings along. With a long playtime, a solo moment isn't forgotten. Leaving this sidestep for what it is, the band returns to the power of before. About 3 to 4 minutes before the end of the track, the music comes to a halt. This ending is rather unexpected and leaves you wondering if maybe something went wrong with the editing. A long silence follows and if you fast-forward you'll find an accoustic part that includes percussion. Instrumental all the way, for as long as it lasts, which isn't that long. Nevertheless, this is a very nice suprise!

"Neutralized", my first proper encounter with the Avantgarde Gothic Metal from RAM-ZET. That one song I heard back in 2000 and something already left me wondering at the magnificence of the Norwegians' music. Fans of the band will have no problem with this fourth album. Any open-minded Metalhead is strongly advised to check out the band and their discography. If you seek similar bands or influences, I heard similarities with LACUNA COIL, TRAIL OF TEARS, AYREON, DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA, ... but of course RAM-ZET is more than just Metal. The musicianship, the compositions, the sound and several influences are what stands for. "Neutralized" is one of the best albums of 2009 and it depends on your taste where you'll place in your list.

More info at www.myspace.com/ramzetofficial

Line-up:
Zet - vocals, guitars
Sfinx - vocals
Ka - keyboards
Sareeta - violin
Lanius - bass
Küth - drums


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MOB RULES – Astral Hand (AFM Records 2009)

Mob Rules - Astral Hand
  1. Astral Hand (album version)
  2. Astral Hand (radio edit)
  3. Astral Hand (instrumental)
  4. Man On The Run (bonus track)
  5. Hold On 2009 (bonus track, unplugged version)

The German Melodic Power Metal band MOB RULES was founded in 1994 by Klaus Dirks (vocals) and Matthias Mineur (guitar). A first release came out in 1996, "Savage Land Pt. 1", before dubbing their debut album the same title (but without the "Pt. 1" element) in 1999. At that time the band scored a deal with Limb Music Products, the label that also catapulted RHAPSODY into stardom, for example. After the second album, "Temple Of Two Suns" (2000), the band signed with SPV, which put out "Hollowed Be Thy Name" (2002), "Among The Gods" (2004) and the band's last album, "Ethnolution A.D.", in 2006. Prior to this last release MOB RULES made a live CD/DVD titled "Signs Of The Time - Live". The band has toured in several places in Europe and across the ocean, meaning the USA. But the last few years it became a bit silent around the band, also because they all have dayjobs and because the line-up underwent another change: drummer Arved Mannott wanted to spend more time with his family and found he had accomplished what he wanted to with MOB RULES. A replacement was rapidly found in the person of Nikolas Fritz, who brought fresh energy into the band and music.

Thanks to a promo tape LMP sent me in 1999 - for the promotion of LUCA TURILLI's "King Of The Nordic Twilight" album -, I got to know the music, even if it was just one track ("Secret Signs" off the "Savage Land" album). But I didn't rush to the shop to buy the albums. Not even when "Temple Of Two Suns" came out, which had a rather weak production, I still recall. It wasn't until the period of "Ethnolution A.D." that I added "Among The Gods" and "Ethnolution A.D." to my collection. Both were/are decent albums, but not perfect, as more crunchy guitarwork and a bit more intricate drumming would not have hurt. Live the band also is worth checking out. I had the pleasure and luck to see them perform at Metalnight in Heule, Belgium, in November 2007. More recently I had an interview with Sven (guitar), Markus (bass) and Nikolas (drums) about the band, the forthcoming album ("Radical Peace", out on the 13th of November) and attended a listening session of this new album. And it was great. The music sounded much more Metal than before and that was something this band sorely needed. The interview will be online soon, but as other things came in between... Anyway, at the end of that day I was given the "Astral Hand" EP for a review. It was released on the 9th of October.

Being signed to AFM Records now, after SPV having been declared insolvent and not really having done much for MOB RULES, the new label wanted to extra promote the band and its music by making this single more worthwile. So they made an EP of it by adding a few extra songs, special artwork, etc... "Astral Hand" contains 5 tracks. Well, three different ones, as the title track comes in three flavours: full version, radio edit and instrumental version. The other two are a new one and an accoustic version of a song off "Temple Of Two Suns".

"Astral Hand" has an orchestral arrangement in its intro, assisted by the accoustic guitar. All is calm and peaceful and little by little the music moves towards the big bang as drums and Metal power are added. This first part is slow and quite hymnic. But then the boost kicks in and you can instantly hear the music has become more Metal than before, more powerful than before. That's because the compositions were written that way, to have the guitars add more power and be the dominant instrument. However, ochestral elements do peek through the curtain for backing and assistance in the leads. And yes, even the drums benefit from this change. Whereas Arved was more a relaxed drummer, sticking to simple patterns, Nikolas adds fills to make the transition to e.g. the chorus more fluently and better recognisable. Plus, it's not just addings fills for the sake of fills. That was one of my main concerns on their previous albums and during the listening session as well the change of drummer turned out to be a good move. Epicness can be found in the chorus. As the guitars are the dominant instrument, solos are a must. No flaws here, all flows well, all fits well, all sounds well. Afterwards all heaviness falls away and it's just Sascha's piano work and Klaus's vocals before increasing the volume again for the chorus. The outro is identical to the intro and that means head and tail neatly hold the song together.

The radio edit is a shorter track. No need to comment on that one, as I, personally, find such versions useless. Why cut a song for radio play? Either play the full song (and thus respect the band's work) or have the band make a song specifically for that purpose, but that's mainstream thinking. The instrumental version, however, is a very nice addition and should actually be on the "Radical Peace" album as bonus track. You can hear vocals are missing, even if you haven't heard the normal version, but on the other hand it allows the listener to have a more clear view/hearing on the music itself, which is very interesting.

The new song, "Man On The Run", has a different, rougher production, almost as if no big studio work was done. You know, like a band on its debut album. Anyway, it's a midtempo Heavy Metal song with keyboards backing. Here and there electronic touches season the music and the whole feels as if it's a remake of an 80's song. The keyboards and production play the biggest role in this thinking. The keyboards are more important here than in "Astral Hand", especially as the chorus draws nearer and of course in the chorus itself, too. Overall, it's a decent song. And yes, there's a guitar solo. "Hold On" is a ballad and re-recorded, though accoustic, version of the one that can be found on the band's second album, "Temple Of Two Suns". It's not that bad, but it's far from super.

As a pretaste (21-22 minutes) this is a prettyg good release and shows a more potent MOB RULES. "Astral Hand" is also the band's first EP, not counting the self-released "Savage Land Pt. 1". Obviously, when looking at the songs, it's an EP aimed at the fans, not people unfamiliar with these German Power Metallers. The production is a big step forward compared to previous albums and I hope to review "Radical Peace" soon. Having written draft comments during the listening session a few weeks ago should make the writing easier.

More info at www.mobrules.de.

Line-up:
Klaus Dirks - vocals
Matthias Mineur - guitar
Sven Lüdke - guitar
Sascha Onnen - keyboards
Markus Brinkmann - bass
Nikolas Fritz - drums


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KARUNA – Neitherworld (Karuna 2009)

Karuna - Neitherworld
  1. Neitherworld
  2. Wayfarer
  3. The Lost

KARUNA is a Melodic Power Metal band from Galway, Ireland, and has recently (29th of September) released a new 3-track demo, "Neitherworld". The band was formerly known as DARK CRYSTAL, formed in 2002, under which banner it put out the demo "In the Arms of the Mountain" in 2003. As KARUNA and on "Neitherworld" the trio headed into a new musical direction, from Symphonic Heavy/Power Metal to straight-forward Melodic Power Metal. For this demo the band appealed to THRESHOLD guitarist Karl Groom for the vocal production and backing vocal arrangements. Lyrically the theme is said to be "that all energy is connected, and that consciousness is universal. All will be revealed on the journey!" Colin (vocals, guitars) and co. posted a short explanation for each song on the band's website.

The first track is already the title track: "Neitherworld". Explanation: "The darkest of dreams took the joy from her life, but a spirit reaches out of the darkness to send her a loving message. Losing the will to live, it's quite a struggle to get out of the Neitherworld into the light, into the world of infinite possibilities. But everything is possible, we just need to learn how to fly." This song takes a direct start and is set at midtempo speed. This is Power Metal, alright, as guitars dominate in terms of rhythm and melodies. The production is clear, though a bit light, if you ask me. Musically the focus lies on melody and atmosphere, not technical showing off. Colin's vocals are clean and well-suited for this kind of epic Metal. The chorus is of the epic kind and has the keyboards offering backing and an increase in melodicness. But that's the only part where this instrument can push the guitars a little bit to the back. Other than that, the latter instrument is the ruler of all. And since instrumentation is so important here, and in the other songs, solos (keyboards and guitar) weren't forgotten. Halfway the track both instruments do it together and even if the solos don't take up that much time, the execution is very well done. And that counts for the entire song. Qualitative material, that's for sure.

Next stop is "Wayfarer". Explanation: "The enlightened sages of old knew so many secrets of life, and on his journey through time, the wayfarer discovered... this wisdom is available to us here and now! Beyond the field of the mind as we know it, there is a vast consciousness allowing us to progress back in time to past wounds, allowing for healing to take place. The people are crying out for a change, to face the fears and leave old sorrows behind! This could bring about the ending of all wars, inner and outer." Here as well, a direct start and the tempo upped a little. The guitars remain the dominant instrument, yet the keyboards do get their chance. The music's more epic, more instrumental even and reminds of bands like SONATA ARCTICA, STRATOVARIUS and POWER QUEST. The tempo gets a boost in the chorus. The obligatory solos are present as well. Overall another very nice song, even if it's nothing new for the genre. One remark, though, and it's a constant throughout this demo: the light production. It's of course not superlight or thin, but a bit more crunch and rougher edges are to be considered. Considered as in tried, tested. Perhaps similar to NIGHTMARE's "Insurrection" album (see lower on this page).

And last but not least: "The Lost". Explanation: "A disembodied celestial being has managed to make contact with the lower plains of existence, one of them being the human plane. On the human plane the being encounters so much agony and disenchantment. He sends his message out to be heard by the people, and he hears back the cries of the lost human souls...trapped within the framework of their bodies. But slowly, they start to listen more and more to his universal message!" And this last song, too, takes a rather direct start, though this time the tempo lies lower than before. To make up for that, the trio made their Metal fiercer for the verses. Keyboards add the requried backing to create the right atmosphere. The chorus is also slow, by the way. No contrast in terms of tempo. After the keyboard and guitar solos things get more atmospheric at some point, meaning all heaviness has fallen away. But that is undone soon enough as the Metal pounds its way towards the chorus again. In this track you can hear HIGHLORD guitarist Stefano Droetto who played the leads and solos. And yes, after two very good songs, it would be a shame if "The Lost" would be the ugly duckling, right? Well, it's not ugly at all. It confirms how well KARUNA made their Metal.

So, what's the verdict? "Neitherworld" contains three very good Melodic Power Metal songs, totalling a playtime of over 18 minutes. In general there is not one bad song here as the quality on offer cannot be denied. Sure, the music is reminiscent of bands like HELLOWEEN, SONATA ARCTICA, POWER QUEST, IRON MAIDEN, (old) KALEDON and similar, but let that be a guide or indicator to let you know what to expect. The fact remains clear, though, that KARUNA is worth checking out, or better, "Neitherworld" is and this release should permit the band to take it further, even scoring a label deal at some point. Interested people can contact the band for a copy of this new demo.

More info at karuna.biz.

Line-up:
Colin Callanan - vocals, guitars
Eanan Murphy - bass
Christopher Carton - drums


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TRACEDAWN – Ego Anthem (Drakkar Entertainment 2009)

Tracedawn - Ego Anthem
  1. Make Amends
  2. Part Of The Wounded
  3. Scum
  4. In Your Name
  5. Your Way Is Not For Me
  6. Dirt Track Speedball
  7. Repeating Mistakes
  8. Brain Attack
  9. The Forsaken

The Finnish TRACEDAWN was founded in 2005 and was then known as MORAVIA, but that didn't last very long. Under the old name the band made one demo, "Path Of Reality". Once TRACEDAWN was a fact, the work for a proper album started and in 2008 the self-titled debut, "Tracedawn", was available for the masses. One year later the follow-up is out: "Ego Anthem". As I've never heard of TRACEDAWN, it's obvious that this new release, out since the 25th of September, is my first encounter with their music. When I tell you they play Melodic Death Metal, it should be easy to name Finnish bands in the same league. Indeed, CHILDREN OF BODOM, INSOMNIUM, MORS PRINCIPIUM EST, KALMAH and so on.

The first thing you notice is the clear production. Everything sounds polished, but of course the music remains recognisable. Very much even, as the Finnish combine elements from Melodic Death, Thrash and Power Metal. As good as the cover looks, I have to admit that "Ego Anthem" didn't really convince me, as I found two - yes, only two - tracks worth the attention. Full attention, I mean. Those winners are "Make Amends" and "Scum". The first fits perfectly in the shortlist I mentioned above. It's a midtempo track, featuring aggressive riffing and melodic interventions from the keyboards (and piano). Vocally you get the harsh kind, as is common, and a clean counterpart for the chorus (where melody reigns and the tempo has dropped a few levels). Very well done is also the solo, divided over both guitarists. The other one, "Scum", starts in a groovy way with lots of melody, but that's before the uptempo setting is selected. The verses are a pleasure to listen, as cliché as they may sound with the harsh vocals. Even the solo moment (guitars and keyboards) has a high pace and reminds a bit of DRAGONFORCE.

The other tracks are average or just not good enough, yet have good elements. There's in fact a common denominator: a whiney chorus. "Part Of The Wounded" is a relatively good song, again with lots of melody and the contrast between the (firm, aggressive) verses and melodic, whiney chorus. The majority of the song is listenable, but once the chorus (and adjusted clean vocals) set in... listening experience is damaged. The same thing occurs in "In Your Name": good verses with lots of guitarwork and the typical rough/harsh singing. But then the chorus pops up and again it scars the song. The situation in the songs afterwards is even worse. "Your Way Is Not For Me" is overall a bit chaotic. The pace is slower and the only highlight is the short solo moment. The faster "Dirt Track Speedball" sounds fairly good concerning the verses and especially the Power Metal-ish solo moment. But the clean singing in the chorus creates such a contrast that it's advised to skip to the next song. Nothing against contrast, as long as it fits. And just when you thought it could only get better again, there's "Repeating Mistakes". The title alone is a clear indication that it's by far not the best song on this album. Overall, it's just... uninteresting and more than the whiney songs. Not even a solo can rectify that. In "Brain Attack" the band decided to do it the other way around: clean singing in the verses, harsh in the chorus. That didn't help either, as it's precisely the clean vocals that are a problem. Not that the singing is not good, it just doesn't fit with the music. The guitarwork deserves applause, though. And last and certainly least, the obligatory ballad that is called "The Forsaken". Well, it starts as a ballad, later on things get more Metal. Melody plays another key role here.

Some subjectivity might have slipped into the text and that's unavoidable. Composition-wise the aforementioned bands do a far better job and succeed in keeping the attention vivid. Incorporating clean vocals in extreme Metal is not a problem per se, but here they don't mix well with the music in most cases. In addition, they're overdone, too much of the same and referring back to the compositions or structure, the pattern heavy-verses-and-melodic-whiney-chorus also was applied too often, limiting the room for more difference between each song. I like Melodic Death Metal and I can understand that young bands like TRACEDAWN can't instantly be like the bigger names out there, but so far "Ego Anthem" is a pretty mediocre release, in my humble opinion. Summarized: it all sounds supergood and polished and the guys know how to play, but I didn't detect feeling, depth, passion. TRACEDAWN and "Ego Anthem" are good for the diehard fans of the genre and/or young(er) Metalheads who like the modern version of Metal. Other than that, there's better stuff available on the market.

More info at www.withoutwalls.albumit.fi.

Line-up:
Antti Lappalainen - vocals
Tuomas Yli-Jaskari - guitar
Roni Seppänen - guitar
Pekko Heikkilä - keyboards
Vili Itäpelto - bass
Perttu Kurttila - drums


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EMIL BULLS – Phoenix (Drakkar Entertainment 2009)

Emil Bulls - Phoenix
  1. Here Comes The Fire
  2. When God Was Sleeping
  3. The Architects Of My Apocalypse
  4. Ad Infinitum
  5. Triumph And Disaster
  6. Man Overboard! - The Dark Hour Of Reason
  7. The Storm Comes In
  8. Time
  9. Nothing In This World
  10. Infecting The Program
  11. It's High Time
  12. Son Of The Morning
  13. I Don't Belong Here

EMIL BULLS, a name that sounds pretty strange and makes it not that easy to stick a musical tag to it, although one can be sure we're not dealing with a Metal band here. The band was formed a few years ago and put out their first album, "The Black Path", in early 2008. This even got them a place on the tour with SYSTEM OF A DOWN and SCARS ON BROADWAY, for example. Producer Benny Richter (CALIBAN, KRYPTERIA) was the man behind the buttons again and got assistance from engineer Toni Meloni (THE SORROW, DIE TOTEN HOSEN, ...) to help give the new album, "Phoenix" (out since the 25th of September), a powerful but clear sound.

EMIL BULLS is a German band, but when hearing the music, I couldn't help but think this was an American one. It's modern Rock with some Metal influences. Overall, you could detect similarities with modern IN FLAMES, ILL NINO, SUM 41, a bit of CLAWFINGER, SIMPLE PLAN even, and so on. Yes, there's even some (Scr)E(a)mo stuff on "Phoenix". Well, not some, a lot. Considering my taste is far from this kind of music, you'll understand I had a hard time listening to this album, trying to pick out some good things to say. I got a review copy, that answers your question why I reviewed it when the music isn't my cup of tea. Even the cover art looks more like a fashion element with the pink/purple/blue colours. But it looks nice.

"Phoenix" has 13 songs, totalling a playtime of over 50 minutes. Personally I found five tracks that managed to entertain me more than the other eight. "Here Comes The Fire" is a simple but effective song. Despite the screamy vocals, the music is reasonably good and groovy. The melodic chorus reminded a bit of modern IN FLAMES somehow. There's even a breakdown in the second half of the track, followed by a calm piece before going back to the normal pace and rhythm. "When God Was Sleeping" is more energetic, hastier, and has more drive. The Punk influences are clearly present and the whole sounds actually very radio-friendly. Tempo-wise there's a contrast between the verses and the chorus, as the first is done in high gear, the other a couple of gears slower. All in all, not super, but not really bad either. "Ad Infinitum" is one of the few songs that make EMIL BULLS sound like a Groove Metal band. Vocally you get screams, which made me frown here, and a mix of clean and rough ones as leads. The whiney chorus has slipped in here as well and that drags the whole thing down. Unless you're a fan of such kinds of interventions. The short guitarsolo is good, but nothing more. "The Storm Comes In" is good because I could stick these terms to it: energetic, wild, rough, groovy, ballsy. Again the vocal contrast is present, rough/screamy in the verses and clean/whiney in the chorus.. Sad thing is that there's even an Emo moment later on. In other words, when it's rocking, it's good. When they're whining, it's not. Well, they're good at whining, but that doesn't make it a good song. Dito for "Infecting The Program", which is basically screamy uptempo Metalcore.

Like I said above, there is a lot of (Scr)E(a)mo stuff on this album and the other tracks all suffer from that aspect, despite, for example, the Doomy start and rocking verses of "Man Overboard! - The Dark Hour Of Reason". Next to their heavy material, EMIL BULLS even added a ballad at the end, "I Don't Belong Here". And even such a song sounds so terrible... because of Christoph's singing. I think the piano alone would be more pleasant (or relaxing) to listen to than the version on "Phoenix". Does that count then for the other songs, too? Not entirely. Sure, there are some good elements, but overall an album like this is food for the shelves.

EMIL BULLS is not a Metal band, despite a few influences. It's a modern/contemporary Rock band with (Scr)E(a)mo influences and the kind that is very popular in the USA. Hell, they even tricked me into thinking they were not a European band. Yes, it sounds that good, well produced, polished and everything else that is requried to compete with the bands overseas and get radioplay and MTV time and more. So, Metalheads, steer clear from this, unless you enjoy having a whiney moment now and then. Fans of bands like ILL NINO, SUM 41, SIMPLE PLAN and similar... if you're looking for new material, EMIL BULLS and "Phoenix" is the way to go.

More info at www.emilbulls.de.

Line-up:
Christoph von Freydorf - vocals
Stephan "Moik" Karl - guitar
Andy Bock - guitar
James Richardson - bass
Fabian Füss - drums


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TOXIC HEART – Ride Your Life (Toxic Heart 2009)

7th Angel - In Your Face
  1. Ticket
  2. New Generation
  3. Love Is For Fools
  4. The One
  5. Ride Your Life
  6. Eyes Of A Broken Man
  7. Big Time
  8. Baby
  9. Makin' Me Bad
  10. One Night Stand
  11. Like The Way I Feel

In 2008 I got a mail from drummer Simon Berro from the Slovenian band 7TH ANGEL for a review of their album "In Your Face", which came out in September 2007. Considering I had only heard Black Metal coming from that country (SOMRAK and MOR ZABOTH), it was a pleasant surprise to hear lighter material this time. The Hard Rock these guys play certainly is worth checking out. But now, another band comes along: TOXIC HEART. These guys play a mix of Glam and Hard Rock, but with a strong emphasis on Glam. Glam never was a popular style among Metalheads, yet it did reach several people in the mainstream community. And today there are still several Glam bands, or bands using these influences, though no one dresses like a woman anymore, hahaha. It was Mike himself, guitarist here and in 7th ANGEL, who contacted me for a review. And when looking at the line-up, it doesn't differ that much from 7th ANGEL's. Only bass and drums: Rider and Mogy, instead of Tweety and Simmy.

So when TOXIC HEART saw the light of day is unknown, or better, uncommunicated, but they do have a first album out since the 24th of September: "Ride Your Life". Love plays obviously a big part in the lyrics. Examples are legio, like "Ticket", "Love Is For Fools", "The One", "Eyes Of A Broken Man", "Baby", "Makin' Me Bad", "One Night Stand", ... "Ticket" is a typical Glam track, rather short, but to the point. Already here it's clear that the listening experience will be entertaining. A track like "New Generation" clearly prooves that, as it sounds more fun and Mike added more melody through his guitarwork. "Love Is For Fools" is a title that indeed can be true, and that also depends on the girl/woman you're with. You may think it's all sunshine and whatever more, but you could get screwed/cheated on so bad and you'll realize it too late. Anyway, this is a pretty solid midtempo track, sounding a bit heavier than the previous songs.

Three songs so far and I just can't get enough of it, hahaha. Let me tell you there is not one bad song here. Sure, one may be less good, or better, interesting (depending on your taste) than the other, but the quality level is high. "The One" is another example of the love these guys have for Glam Metal. Sadly enough, Axl will need to improve his English or learn that the h isn't pronounced like a g. Examples: behind-begind, heart-geart, ... Sure, not everyone can speak English fluently (or any other language, for that matter), but this is just a small advice to improve where you can and try to pronounce things as correctly as possible. Currently his mistakes make listening to the song less enjoyable. Musically all is fine, though. "Ride Your Life", the title track, offers more drive and a higher pace, though the chorus sounds similar to that of "Ticket". But it's a catchy song and the solo is well done. Quality from start to finish!

A trilogy of highlights follows, starting with "Eyes Of A Broken Man", where toms are important for the beat and rhythm. And it's good to see this drum element being used a bit more. This song rocks more and Axl's singing sounds more ballsy. Catchiness is again present in the chorus. "Big Time" adds a more Metal injection to the album. It's a straight-forward, firm and ballsy song, though with a somewhat dancy chorus, as strange as that may sound. But it sounds very good, so the praise is justified. "Baby" on the other hand, lowers the amount of heaviness in favour of a more melodic approach, while keeping the pace high enough. The song contains a nice contrast between the calm, ballad-ish verses and the powerful chorus. Guitarwork is again very good, offering a.o. nice leads and dito solo.

You might think that "Makin' Me Bad" is another ballsy song and you're partly right. It's not exactly ballsy, but rather dirty and heavier. But alas, Axl's accent is again the weak link, even though his singing overall is good. But don't fear, for two more highlights are still in the pipeline: "One Night Stand" and "Like The Way I Feel". The first offers another tempo boost. It's a straight-forward rocker, and a worthwhile one. The solo is the cherry on the cake. The last stands out for its heavy, rolling rhythm. Nothing more to say. Listen and enjoy is all that is needed here.

TOXIC HEART's Glam Metal feels of course very 80's, as that was the genre's period. The production is of course much better nowadays and even for a band that is not signed I cannot deny they've done a very good job here. Their songs are catchy, entertaining, enjoyable, fun and offer an excellent mix of Glam, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. There is, like I said, not one bad song here, and a large majority stands out. Musically all is well, vocally the accent forms a small obstacle in few songs, but that's something that can be worked on. What else needs to be said? Just contact the band to obtain your copy of "Ride Your Life" if you're seeking quality Glam Metal.

More info at www.myspace.com/toxicheartofficial.

Line-up:
Axl - vocals
Mike - guitars
Rider - bass
Mogy - drums


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DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA – Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious (Ascendance Records 2009)

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious
  1. A Tapdancer's Dilemma
  2. A Rancid Romance
  3. Lucy Fears The Morning Star
  4. Bedlam Sticks
  5. New World Widows
  6. Siberian Love Affairs
  7. Vodka Inferno
  8. Memoirs Of A Roadkill
  9. Ricera Dell'Anima
  10. Stratosphere Serenace

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA, the name alone tells you the music won't be your regular kind of Metal. There seems to have even been such an orchestra in the Middle Ages, as you can read on the band's website. Apparently the original scores of this orchestra's music were confiscated and burned by the Church in 1503, but a group of Swedes found it a good idea to form a band and play a modern version of the old music. D:S:O was formed in 2003. The debut album, "The Butcher's Ballroom" (2006), became very popular and the band gained massive success and soon enough the name was in everybody's ears. Gigwise, too, the band scored a lot.

Since the 21st of September the second album is out and titled "Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious". Judging by its cover and song titles you wouldn't think this is a Metal album, but a Pop album. Or a kids' album. That creates a conflict among people, fans and non-fans. Some like, others don't. And at first I too was sceptical, but after a few listens one can see a humourous twist here. A bit like EDGUY did in the (recent) past, but still somewhat different. It's as if the band is trying to show that the music had the people in its power, put a spell on them as long as the music was playing and people were enjoying the party and pleasure.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA combines influences from several styles with Metal. Or is it the other way around? Several styles and a touch of Metal? Either way, as you "sing along" and become one of the "damned and delirious", you'll hear Metal, opera, Jazz, Tango, Polka, Swing, Boogie and Progressive, somehow. It's clear that this range of elements makes it hard to catalog the band under a certain genre, save for... Avantgarde Metal, known for the use of non-standard elements and following an innovative direction. But there's more to this genre, obviously.

"A Tapdancer's Dilemma" instantly shows you how important the non-Metal elements are: trumpet, boogie-rhythm and feel and a distorted guitar to give the whole a Rocking/Metal touch. The accoustic guitar is also present and is even used for a solo. And obviously you can't ignore the piano. Daniel and Annlouice take turns in singing the male and female parts respectively. All in all a very decent start, but there's better material to come. "A Rancid Romance" starts calm with the piano before pounding Rock takes over, filled with trumpets and castagnettes. Both vocalists sing a duet here. But that's just the first part. The cello forms the breaking point, the bridge towards the use of full power possibilities of the vocals and music. There's a chaotic feel to it all and that increases at some point. Contrast is created by switching to a symphonic-laden piece until the end.

With "Lucy Fears The Morning Star" the first real highlight pops up. Not that the previous two songs were bad, not at all. Quality is assured, but in this third song even more. No direct start, but a storm breaking loose (cracking of the lightning). Orchestral music sets in under the form of brass instruments and kettle drums in the back. Marching drums are added and the whole increases in volume until the Metal aspect takes over. Heavy guitars, clear and firm drumming, the kettle drums still pounding on and another layer being added (cello) before things turn to something more playful, though toned down. Once the vocals set in there's no stopping anymore. Annlouice's operatic vocal sound is very recognisable and one of the key elements of D:S:O. In the verses it contrasts heavily with the calm music. This song puts a bigger focus on the guitars and drums, as it sounds more Metal than what preceded. And not just normal singing can be heard here, but also frantic expressions. Further on the band opted for a percussion moment - while the guitars continue to deliver the power - and I can tell that is one fine part. Trumpets then deliver the melody a little later. And that's not all. Just as you think this melody will carry on until the end, all heaviness falls silent and the music turns into a Jazzy (or ist it Rumba?) direction. Absolutely stunning material.

"Bedlam Sticks" and "New World Widows" are the following highlights. The first starts with calm guitarwork before switching to boogie/twist influenced music while Daniel now gets his chance to sing again. Once the Metal instrumentation is added, the madness/lunacy begins. As heavy as the song is, I somehow had to think of RAMMSTEIN's "Keine Lust" and particularly the rhythm. Later on the bass gets its moment of glory. The second song starts accoustically, yet evolves into something bigger as bass and drums are added, followed by the electric guitars and vocals (male and female, first clean, then operatic). The rhythm and vocals are the elements that stand out - the music is energetic, funky and more -, but it's if there's one element you can't miss, it's the cello. To break this flow of energy a bit, there's a middle part that forms a resting point. Calm music and humming before the funky rhythm is picked up again.

"Siberian Love Affairs" is a short track and sort of serves as an intro to "Vodka Inferno", also because the link between Siberia and vodka is easily made. The intro is one of fun, laughter, an organ that makes people's mood more joyful (the booz is another element that plays a role in this event) with sing-along melodies. The Metal bursts in once the "Vodka Inferno" begins. The Rock/Metal aspect reigns again here, but for the solo the spotlights are aimed at the violin while a very nice rhythm and beat back it up. It's obviously a part song and that is noticeable particularly through the chorus. On the other hand, the Swedes succeeded in making this song very diverse in terms of compositions. Hats off for that.

The accoustic guitar shows its importance once more in "Memoirs Of A Roadkill", with a rhythm similar to the popular "Grease" film/musical. Daniel takes the leading vocal role again. Overall quite a good song with a calm ending. But then the ultimate highlight of this new album can be played: "Ricera Dell'Anima". Accoustic first, but soon it's full on electric and somehow a bit in vein of JOE SATRIANI's classic hit "Surfing With The Alien". Female vocals dominate. The Metal riffing and leads are assisted by the violin and further on this leads to a very nice chorus. At some point there's a cello break while the guitars switch their tone to create a Western (like the films) kind of atmosphere and setting. And to make the dish complete there's even a clarinet. The transition to Metal sounds very nice. The cello does return afterwards and gets the company of that same clarinet, which outs itself completely. Very very very well done. Rhythm, melodies, singing, musicianship, ... wonderful!

And last but not least there's "Stratosphere Serenace". The cello is the first (leading) instrument - reminiscent of APOCALYPTICA -, followed by frantic Metal bursts. Later on focus lies on drums, bass, percussion and guitar accents, while male vocals do the rest in terms of lyrics. Annlouice is not forgotten and gets her chance, too. Musically this is another very diverse/Progressive song with rhythm riffing being very important. After five minutes the tempo goes up and things get crazier with key ingredients like guitars and spacey backing. "Stratosphere Serenace" can be added to the short list that already contained "Lucy Fears The Morning Star", "Bedlam Sticks" and "New World Widows", and of course "Ricera Dell'Anima".

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA, a name that quickly founds its way into the minds of many Rock/Metal fans, particularly because of how the Swedes make their Metal. It's a stew of Metal, Opera, Jazz, Tango, Polka, Swing, Boogie with a Progressive touch here and there. There's only one term that fits then: Avantgarde Metal. "The Butcher's Ballroom" got lots of positive reactions, so the pressure was high to create a solid follow-up and I can without any doubt say that "Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious" has turned out to be quite a (positive) surprise, as I've only heard bits and pieces of the debut album. The use of other influences makes me appreciate these specific styles even more. 2009 is turning out to be a very good year and D:S:O adds the special spices to this buffet.

More info at www.myspace.com/diabloswingorchestra.

Line-up:
Daniel Håkansson - vocals, guitars
Annlouice Wolgers - vocals
Pontus Mantefors - guitars, effects
Andy Johansson - bass
Johannes Bergion - cello
Andreas Halvardsson - drums


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SKYFIRE – Esoteric (Pivotal Rockordings 2009)

Skyfire - Esoteric
  1. Deathlike Overture (Intro)
  2. Esoteric
  3. Rise And Decay
  4. Let The Old World Burn
  5. Darkness Descending
  6. Seclusion
  7. Misery's Supremacy
  8. Under a Pitch Black Sky
  9. Linger In Doubt
  10. The Legacy of the Defeated
  11. Within Reach (bonus track)

The Swedish Melodic/Progressive Death Metal formation SKYFIRE was born a good ten years ago. Fourteen to be precise. They released their first demo in 1998, called "Within Reach", which apparently never saw the light. It took the band three years to release their debut album under the title "Timeless Departure". And that was a perfect starting title. Anno 2003 the MCD "Haunted By Shadows" came out, followed by a new full-length album, "Mind Resolution". And the Swedes were heavily inspired to write new material, as the follow-up, "Spectral", was released one year later. Since then the veil of darkness covered SKYFIRE for several years. The line-up also suffered from this, since two new members were attracted: Joakim Karlsson (vocals) from MARK:BLACK and guitarist Johan Reinhldz (ANDROMEDA, NONEXIST). The reformed band then set to work and created first the (digital) "Fractal" EP and the new album, "Esoteric", which was released via Pivotal Rockordings on the 18th of September. SKYFIRE produced the album, SCAR SYMMETRY guitarist Jonas Kjellgren did the mixing and mastering. THE FORSAKEN guitarist Patrik Persson produced the vocals for all the songs.

"Esoteric" is my first acquaintance with the band and their music. Eleven tracks, including the demo song "Within Reach", which causes an enormous difference with the regular album tracks, offer an interesting and diverse experience in the world of Melodic Death Metal. It starts with "Deathlike Overture", an epic symphonic intro, which would not have been a misfit for films like "Lord Of The Rings" and similar. The title track follows, starting calm with the piano and bass, after which the other instrumentation falls in, creating a tension. Then the cord snaps and sharp, uptempo Metal floods the place. Joakim's rough, growling vocals fit in very well. Very nice is the musical contrast with the chorus where the piano is mixed with the Metal instrumentation while the tempo drops to medium speed. At some point the orchestral aspect grows as choir samples, trumpets and the piano come to the front, letting the Metal carry on its play. Overall it's clear that SKYIFRE have made a very good combination of melody and aggression.

It doesn't stop there, since "Rise And Decay" is another jewel. An atmospheric start with the piano as main element with the drums adding some nice grooves. The guitars come in a little later and sound less ferocious than before, playing a more melodic role. This first part sounds almost like what ARCH ENEMY does. But it's then that the music turns more aggressive, or rather, the vocals do. The music has an emotional feel then without being like Emo music (Emo, Screamo, etc...), of course. The pattern "uptempo verses, slow chorus" is also applied here, with the melodic aspect being big in the chorus.Drummer Joakim Jonsson even blasts his way through the verses. The piano and symphonic elements are neatly implemented, while the guitar solo (dark and gloomy) is inline with the general atmosphere of the song.

Tension-building is also done in "Let The Old World Burn". Uptempo, Thrashy verses follow. The melodic aspect comes to life in the bridge and chorus, again the part where the tempo lies a bit lower. At a given moment you get a piano break during which slow-paced Metal follows the same stream. The lead guitar picks up the piano's melody, enforces it and then goes its own way into a solo. Like the other songs this is another highlight. The piano and symphonic samples are important throughout the entire tracklisting and another proof of that is offered in the intro of "Darkness Descending". The choir falls in together with the drums and the guitars join a little later. Blasting apocalyptic Metal then instantly destroys the eardrums before reverting to midtempo. The piano and symphonic elements sound similar to those on COVENANT's critically acclaimed "Nexus Polaris" album. That part comes back later. This time the pattern is switched: slow, melodic verses and a tempo boost towards and in the chorus. The sound of the guitars here with the added piano melodies give the song a Melodic Black Metal feel instead of Melodic Death Metal and create a theatrical moment, similar to what LE GRAND GUIGNOL did on their album "The Great Maddening" (2007). Here as well the quality is high, though a little less than in the other tracks.

"Seclusion" is a song where the music is a perfect example ofhow Metal and symphonic layers drift on the same line. This mix is simply great. Afterwards the music breaks out in a fast and raging fury, though the tempo drops in the chorus. The guitars are the key instruments here, rhythm- and leadwise. But make no mistake, because the piano remains present all the way. After this exquisite song the equally fantastic "Misery's Supremacy" kicks in with a direct start dominated by guitar leads and piano backing. The symphonic layers are added not too long after that and perfectly play along. And what comes next? Yep, fast, aggressive Metal. It's becoming predicatble, isn't it? But I don't mind, because the result sounds so tastey! Before playing at a slower speed for the chorus, drummer Joakim has the time to add some blasts. There is a break as resting point where the piano is the dominant instrument. The guitars and drums are added to complement it. Electronic touches create a different atmosphere and in general the music sounds quite DREAM THEATER-like, but in an extremer format. This midtempo Progressive part slows down as it advanced, even lets the orchestral elements rise in volume before the band heads back to the aggressive Metal of before. One word here: variation. Guitarwork, drumwork, ... it's far from being linear or simple.

Another song with a direct start is the midtempo track "Under A Pitch Black Sky", offering more Metal, by which I mean the melodic aspect isn't present yet, save for some atmospheric backing. Predictability is key, as the verses are played at uptempo. The bridge contains blast and then all falls back in the chorus where the melodic aspect reigns, again giving the song a more emotional touch, stressed by the piano and choir. And let me tell you that this is one beautiful chorus. Drumwise Joakim offers the fastest input so far and although that can be nice in a genre like Melodic Death Metal or even in SKYFIRE's songs, he does play so fast here it tends to sound chaotic and nefast for the rhythm. Therefore, slower would not have hurt the song at all. A piano break comes along before the guitarsolo is played, even in dual format at a certain moment. Again the band made sure diversity was present and this is one of the songs where the musicianship really comes out.

Firm midtempo drumming and atmospheric keyboards are the first elements you hear in "Linger In Doubt" before the guitars are added. Tempo-wise you can see an increase as each part plays its role: midtempo for the verses, uptempo in the bridge and blasting in the chorus, where the piano and synths provide the melodic backing. Although there are enough sung parts, this song does contain quite a lot of instrumental time and they're of course first class material. Pedal to the m/Metal with "The Legacy Of The Defeated". The music pounds, rages on at full power. Yes, even the required (well, not really, but it's for the better) blasting, which helps to give the song extra power. This time the symphonic elements get a more prominent, leading role, while the guitars once again make the music balance between Melodic Death and Melodic Black Metal. While the midtempo verses consist of full instrumentation, the guitars are silent in the bridge and make themselves useful again in the chorus. Here too, an emotional touch was added, enforced by the symphonic samples. All things considered, you'll find another good mix of sung and instrumental parts.

All regular tracks are done. But there's a bonus track, an old one even, as it comes off the band's first demo, "Within Reach". You know, the one that never was released. And what a difference in sound there is with the other tracks. Damn... you can hear it's a demo and that the keyboards are very basic compared to the result now, anno 2009. Clean vocals, too, instead of growling, since Mattias Holmgren (ex-SUPREME MAJESTY, ex-NAGLFAR, ...) took his responsability as session member. It's a midtempo song and in general good in spirit, but not in sound. But it is a demo and it was the band's first work, so... But the band has grown and improved a lot over the years and I think it's obvious to say that anno 2009 they're stronger than ever.

My first acquaintance with SKYFIRE and it's a hit! I do have to add it took me two listens to find that out, one mediocre (circumstances weren't favourable) and one super good (in the morning, in the train to work). "Esoteric" is without the smallest doubt one of the highlights of 2009. It's great to see how these Swedes add their own stamp (through the use of the piano and symphonic elements), create their own material instead of being a clone or sounding similar to their colleagues from ARCH ENEMY, DARK TRANQUILLITY, DAWN OF TEARS and so on. I've checked out the songs on MySpace and it seems the band continued where they left off with "Spectral" in 2004. The new album quite simply shines because of the compositions and of course the excellent production. Heavily recommended material!

More info at www.myspace.com/skyfiremusic.

Line-up:
Joakim Karlsson - vocals
Johan Reinholdz - guitars
Andreas Edlund - guitars, keyboards
Martin Hanner - bass, keyboards
Joakim Jonsson - drums


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OMEGA LITHIUM – Dreams In Formaline (e-Wave Records 2009)

Omega Lithium - Dreams In Formaline
  1. Infest
  2. Stigmata
  3. My Haunted Self
  4. Dreams In Formaline
  5. Andromeda
  6. Nebula
  7. Snow Red
  8. Hollow March
  9. Factor: Misery
  10. Angel's Holocaust
  11. Point Blank

OMEGA LITHIUM is a Croatian band that plays Industrial Gothic Metal. The name can be explained as follows: "If Lithium comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe chemical burns. Lithium salts, on the other hand, are used to treat bipolar disorders, mania and depression. But these are by no means all of the applications of that chemical element with the atomic number 3, because in combination with Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, Lithium forms an accoustic drug with a highly addictive quality: Omega Lithium!" The band was formed in 2007 and two years later the first album is out (since the 18th of September): "Dreams In Formaline". Formalin is an aqueous solution, a mix of formaldehyde and methanol, which is used to preserve bodies and anatomical and biological preparations. The lyrical aspect of the album deals with - and I quote - "questions relating to social conflict, conspiracies and the dark side of humanity. At the same time, this new sonic drug is intended to combat the rampant consumerism of western civilisation." "By definition, consumerism is the equalisation of personal happiness with consumption and the acquisition of possessions", guitarist Malice Rime explains. "It makes people lazy and indifferent, in addition to becoming stupid and easy to manipulate."

OMEGA LITHIUM thus play Industrial Gothic Metal and bring it in such a way it feels cold, uneasy and from another world. Musically the band was influenced by (mainly) LACUNA COIL and EVANESCENCE, yet I also heard similarities with RAMMSTEIN, TYSTNADEN, ELUSIVE and others. "Dreams In Formaline" starts with a very Techno-like song: "Infest". The Metal aspect comes in later. Synths play a very important role here. Mya's clean Pop voice does fit very well with this music and you can even imagine her singing in Dance songs. Luckily the guitars and drums add some heaviness to counter the synths. It's a surprise there's no heavy beat to it, like NIGHTWISH did with their "Wish I Had An Angel". All in all not a bad song to start with, but definitely not the best here. "Stigmata" is then a better candidate. The band even made a very nice video for this song. Keyboards again provide the melody while the guitar is the element of power, especially in the chorus. Very nice here are the percussion and gentle melodic touches, creating a dark, though attractive atmosphere. The overall feel is dark and lost, but I pretty much like this song. It needs a few listens, though, but has elements that cling to you.

"My Haunted Self" is another song worth hearing. Symphonics take up the first couple of seconds, laying out the main melody. Vocals and Metal instrumentation are added swiftly and smoothly. The tempo lies low and this sounds very much like a ballad. The beauty-and-the-beast vocals (Mya and Malice) sound very much like how it's done in LACUNA COIL. But I have to add that Malice's rough singing isn't that attractive (in general and as far as my taste goes) and certainly not like Mya's voice, for example. ;-) Strings and piano are the key instruments, but the guitars and drums are needed to complete the compositions, else you would hear and feel something's missing. Back to electronics with "Dreams In Formaline". The guitar also sounds heavier, crunchier. Mya's singing is covered with effects and together with the electronic backing I have a LADY GAGA feeling. Something to be avoided, in other words. The chorus isn't that bad, but it does bore rapidly as it gets repeated quite a lot. In general this song is one of the less interesting ones.

The situation improves with "Andromeda", as it delivers music that's more energetic, has more power and groove and has quite a Dancey touch. This last element can be good or bad, according to your taste and views on Industrial Metal. I'm not fond of Dance music, though I can appreciate it, so to speak, in this context here, but only as long as it doesn't dominate everything. The synths continue their role of melody providers and even add strings to make sure certain emotions and feelings are addressed in one or another way. The chorus is slow and dark and Mya's singing is very good here. At some point an electronic break interrupts the flow, but that is soon restored as the music heads towards the chorus once more. So far so good and "Nebula" confirms the positive trend. Eletronic leads, even heavier grooves, but the tempo doesn't lie very high. The verses made me think (to a certain extent, of course) of DEPECHE MODE and their classic hit "Enjoy The Silence". The Norwegian Gothic Rock band ELUSIVE also came to mind. Aain the tempo drops in the chorus, which sounds quite dramatic (not the tempo, but the chorus itself). Mya is the leading vocalist, yet Malice does get his chance later on and not too long. The Industrial aspect of the music reigns, that's a fact.

The piano starts and ends "Snow Red" in a theatrical, mad manner while guitar and drum bursts are added a little later. It's a slow midtempo song with heavy verses. The keyboards provide atmospheric backing. Again LACUNA COIL comes to mind, in vein of their hit "Your Heaven's A Lie". "Snow Red" is not a bad song, but it's not super either. Even the piano break, followed by the guitar having its moment can't rectify that. "Hollow March" can, on the other hand. This song starts directly with dominating keyboards/synths while tha guitar comes peeping through the curtains. Full power is reserved for the chorus where the keyboards add choir-ish singing to make the music more grand. That element gets some spotlight time at a given moment before the music rebuilds towards the chorus. No male vocals here, just Mya's. Sadly enough, things start to go down again as "Factor: Misery" is played. The Industrial factor is dominant and electronic music can be found practically everywhere in this song. At some point I have the impression I'm listening to MILK INC. (a Belgian dance/trance formation). Despite Mya's qualitative singing skills, the song does bore rapidly, at least in my (humble) opinion. Luckily that was the last bad/least good song.

"Angel's Holocaust" and "Point Blank" are the last two tracks and as you can guess, part of the shortlist of song worth checking out. The first has a starts that's based on electronic pinches (I can't find another term to describe it), yet the Metal grooves are just around the corner. Malice now has more on his hands in terms of singing, especially in the verses. Mya comes in a little later and in the chorus. When she sings her parts the music is played at full power. The chorus contains symphonic layers and that gives the song an emotional injection. The drumsamples on top of Torsten's drumming do annoy after a while. Overall, this could have been a LACUNA COIL song as the similarities cannot be ignored. The second song, "Point Blank", starts in a gentle way, thanks to the piano. Once that's done, heavy, grooving, pounding symphonic Metal takes over. Mya's the dominant vocalist again and that's for the better, though Malice adds backing in the chorus. The guitar is given a sharper touch and it sounds as if it's grinding its way through the song. You'll find a piano/symphonic break, during which a speech is held, as the music advances. After that the powerball of before takes back its place and on it goes until the end.

I like Gothic Metal, though my preferences are still different, and I like Industrial now and then, depending on how it's done. My collection also lacks quite some Industrial bands and/or releases due to this. Having had the chance to review and get acquainted with OMEGA LITHIUM's music was an interesting, though not always successful experience. Of the 11 tracks, which total a playtime of not even 40 minutes, the majority stands out (7). But it's not enough to hail this album as the next best thing. Metalheads who are more into Gothic and/or Industrial Metal will have a nice album with "Dreams In Formaline". Metalheads who like their Metal pure and devoid of electronics (at least the amount on offer here) will steer clear, obviously. Anyway, "Dreams In Formaline" is, although not that bad, an album of which the songs are mostly too linear and the amount of electronic layers is a bit too much, preventing the guitar(s) to add more intricate compositions.

More info at www.omegalithium.com.

Line-up:
Mya Mortenssen - vocals
Malice Rime - guitars, synths, backing vocals
Zoltan Harpax - bass
Torsten Nihill - drums


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IGNITOR – The Spider Queen (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Ignitor - The Spider Queen
  1. Magnus Opus
  2. Evil Calling
  3. I Never Knew
  4. The Games Begin
  5. Angels Descend
  6. The Spider Queen
  7. Rune Of Power
  8. What Loves Denies
  9. Construct Of Destruction
  10. My Heart Turns To Dust
  11. Dynasty of Darkness

The US Heavy Metal band IGNITOR has returned with a new album and a new line-up. I got to know about them two years ago, when they released their second album (their first as a signed band), "Road Of Bones". This presented a band who holds on to the old school form of Heavy Metal and that is still a style that can easily stand the test of time... if done properly. almost two years later (barely one month difference) album no. 3 is out: "The Spider Queen" (released on the 14th of September). The line-up has changed as vocalist Erika Swinnich was replaced by WATCH TOWER singer Jason McMaster and guitarist Annah Moore saw her place taken by Beverly Barrington. Overall, "Road Of Bones" was a decent album which appealed more to fans of the style. But sadly the quality was prevented from coming out in a proper way because of a production that was not as it was supposed to be.

"The Spider Queen" is said to be "a Rock Opera written by guitarist Stuart Laurence himself in 9 scenes plus an intro and an epilogue, each scene represented by a song. "The Spider Queen" narrates the adventure of a young man facing the quest of his life, avenging his parents' death. The story revolves around a mysterious talisman, the "Rune of Power" and the magic it possesses, with many turns of events that will lead to an unexpected end. Each and every one of the numerous characters are impersonated by the versatile, dramatic and impressive vocals of Jason McMaster who delivers a performance to the highest of his standards."

IGNITOR continue the style they do best - I somehow doubt they can play anything more intricate and technical. This new album is filled with eleven Heavy Metal tracks of which only a few can be catalogued under that "Rock Opera" banner. And as I feared after the first listen, this isn't the band's best album by far. Replacing Erika Swinnich prooved to be a hard task, even if her high screams weren't a lust for the ear. Jason is not better, neither clean nor screamy nor doubled. And truth be told, the production also plays a big role in the quality of "The Spider Queen". Mainly the drums suffer from this. The mix is not bad as each instrument comes through, but the whole lacks power. Songs that stand out are non-existant, though there are some of them that have good elements: "Evil Calling", "The Games Begin", "The Spider Queen", "Rune Of Power" and "What Loves Denies". Those have good Heavy Metal elements, but as a whole they're a bit too simple and linear. There's also a ballad on this album: "I Never Knew". But it is boring. Really, I have nothing against ballads, if done well. Here it's just not good. The rest of the tracks is just too mediocre or worse.

I like Heavy Metal (pure and old school) and despite the line-up change I had some hopes IGNITOR would top "Road Of Bones", but instead the road was still full of bones and thus preventing an easy passage towards better grounds. The production is something that has been dealt with in a light way, especially when young bands in extremer genres can give their music a far better and more powerful sound. Also, Jason's vocals. He's not the best Metal vocalist and in several songs his input just doesn't flow well with the music. The tone of his voice is most times quite nerve-wrecking. Is this due to the production? All I know is that "The Spider Queen" is not recommended at all, unless you're such a die hard Heavy Metal fan (or more specifically MANOWAR, EDGUY, ICED EARTH and similar in this case) you're willing to overlook the faulty aspects.

More info at www.myspace.com/ignitor.

Line-up:
Jason McMaster - vocals
Beverly Barrington - guitar
Stuart Laurence - guitar
Brendon Bigelow - bass
Pat Doyle - drums


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FOOL'S GAME – Reality Divine (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Fool's Game - Reality Divine
  1. Mass Psychosis
  2. When The Beginning Meets The End
  3. Sowing Dead Seeds
  4. As The Field Of Dreams Was Abandoned
  5. The Conqueror Worm
  6. Prelude To The Fair
  7. She Moved Through The Fair
  8. The Wild Swans At Coole
  9. On Endless Planes Of Ignorance

FOOL'S GAME is the brain-child of guitarist/song-writer Matt Crooks, who came up with it in 2008. He had acquired lots of experience with DIVISION, who released three albums so far and foremost played many hundreds of shows. Since he had other musical ideas, he quit the band and focused on FOOL'S GAME. PHARAOH guitarist Matt Johnsen was asked for advice and he offered to be part of this new band/project. The drum position was said to be best fit for but John Macaluso (STARBREAKER, ex-Yngwie, ex-ARK, ex-TNT), who gladly took the job. Vocals then, which proved to be a less easy task, but MANTICORA's Lars Larsen found the idea interesting enough to participate. The keyboards would be played by Matt's friend Nick van Dyk from the band REDEMPTION.

The first release has been out since the 14th of September (it's February 2010 when I'm writing this, but as I had planned to write something about this album, it somehow got postponed again and again) and is called "Reality Divine". Stylewise the band brings nothing but solid Heavy/Power Metal with a dark undertone, which makes it a perfect fit for vocalist Lars Larsen, as he's experienced in this kind of Metal with his own band MANTICORA. Tim Aymar (CONTROL DENIED, PHARAOH) lended a hand, or better, a voice for the song "The Conqueror Worm", where his input is simply amazing.

The opener "Mass Psychosis" is a perfect example of FOOL'S GAME's Metal. Dark, blunt riffing, pounding drums. Key factors for the perfect starter. Add some very nice leads, coupled with Lars's emotional voice and the cake is ready. Emotional here does not mean the kind of emotional like in Emocore or similar. Anyone familiar with MANTICORA will know what to expect. Truth be told, the music does sound a bit similar to the kind the Danish make, but they're different enough to make a distinction. Matt and co. made a very nice mix of brutality and melody or melodicness, so to speak, provided by either the guitars or keyboards. The music also perfectly expresses the title of the song.

"When The Beginning Meets The End"'s intro is where tension is built. The tempo lies low, but soon the band chooses a higher gear. The guitars remain the dominant element and although they form a powerful entity, the mix is done in a way to give the bass some breathing room as well. However, it's not all about the power of Metal. To make things more interesting, the accoustic guitar was intertwined with the wall of sound at some point and I can assure you this decision makes the listening all the more pleasant. The chorus is where the singing increases the melodic aspect, but it's also done in a hymnic sort of way. Obviously there are the electronic keyboards to help empower the melodic input, though only at certain intervals. Otherwise they're lingering in the back. The guitars are the main instrumentation and of course that means solos, which are very welcome.

With "Sowing Dead Seeds", another dark title emerges and the music logically follows. Compared to the previous track, the sound of the guitars knows an increase in brutality (it's a term I think is appropriate here, even if we're not dealing with a Death Metal band here). The overall feel is dark and evil, somehow. Keyboards offer melodic input, mainly through accents. Once the intro is done, all heaviness falls away and accoustic music remains. Lars's singing follows that path and thus he sings with a softer voice. The power increases again when the chorus is due. Solos are also implemented in the compositions. The change between accoustic and electric music is well done. All parts connect flawlessly and when needed the singing is done out of full chest, expressing he right kind of emotions more than before. As dark and evil as it may be, this is also a song that was finished by a touch of sadness, creating a beautiful overall result.

Time for a tempo boost then with "As The Field Of Dreams Was Abandoned". First of all, this is a great title, as it makes the listener create his/her own impression of what it could mean or maybe compare it with other, self-experienced situations. The music is faster, Heavy Metal to the bone, and that's a good thing. Lars is not a fast singer and you can hear the music going faster than he outs the words. On the other hand, that also creates a nice collaboration. Happiness is not what's at play here, as the chorus indicates. It's a good song, but not among the best on this album. One of those, or better, thé song is the epic "The Conqueror Worm", featuring Tim Aymar from PHARAOH. The music comes fading in, building the structure, rolling on and you can just feel something's going to burst loose. The typical riffing and energetic drumming are key ingredients here and the respective musicians fulfill their roles perfectly. Tim handles one part of the verses, Lars the other. Both voices come together in the chorus, which emphasizes the epicness of the song. Overall, nothing but greatness here, be it the music, the musicianship, the solos, etc...

"Prelude To The Fair" is exactly that, an intro. The piano creates a balladish feel, but slow melodic Metal takes over a little later and neatly flows into "She Moved Through The Fair", where the Metal instantly awakens, so to speak, and keeps the listener's attention alive. High energy level, pounding Metal, melodic assistance from the keyboards... on the music flows. The fast(er) stream comes to a slowdown in the chorus, which even allows for female vocal input. Who's behind this rather beautiful voice is unknown to me. Some light grunts are added as well. The music is good and invites you to move/headbang/... along. The same tempo and energy level can be found in "The Wild Swans At Coole". The marriage of melody and heaviness turned out well and to spice it, electronic accents were added. Drumwise a good beat is secured and the tempo high enough, making the listening easier.

"Reality Divine" ends with another highlight, even if there are no bad songs on this album. "On Endless Planes Of Ignorance" is another philosophical title, like "As The Field Of Dreams Was Abandoned" or "Sowing Dead Seeds", for example. You get pounding, straight-forward Metal here with the guitars leading the way. Lars gets his vocal role here, but it's mainly the instruments that do the talking. All in all, a very good ending song on an overall very solid album.

FOOL'S GAME is a new band and therefore not many people will know aboout it. Being signed to Cruz Del Sur should help to get the name out and having, for example, Lars F. Larsen from MANTICORA on vocals should help (at least) MANTICORA fans to check this American band and thus spread the word. Playing gigs on European soil would also contribute to acquiring a bigger fanbase and more. The Heavy/Power Metal these guys play is not the of the happy kind. I found it similar, in a way, to MANTICORA's, but then a bit groovier and heavier. Most songs on "Reality Divine" are in midtempo with here and there a tempo boost. To avoid monotony, Matt (as he's the founder and mainman) and co. managed to create catchy compositions, offering a very nice flow between calmer and more aggressive passages and between melody and heaviness. The songwriting is well done and each time you can focus on something else: vocals, drums, guitars, solos, etc. FOOL'S GAME stands for quality (Power) Metal you cannot deny.

More info at www.fools-game.com.

Line-up:
Lars F. Larsen - vocals
Matt Crooks - guitars, bass
Matt Johnsen - guitars
Nick van Dyk - keyboards
John Macaluso - drums


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TWINSPIRITS – The Forbidden City (Lion Music 2009)

Twinspirits - The Forbidden City
  1. The Forbidden City
  2. Taste The Infinity
  3. Number One
  4. Everything
  5. One Of Us
  6. BTR
  7. Hide This Feeling
  8. My Future
  9. Reaction
  10. I Am Free

Italy has spawned many great bands in several genres, but it's mainly the more melodic ones that jump out (Power, Progressive, ...): RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), LABYRINTH, VISION DIVINE, KALEDON, EMPYRIOS, DGM, SECRET SPHERE, GENIUS and many more. Speaking of GENIUS, this is a project born from the mind of guitarist/keyboardist Daniele Liverani, who also plays in TWINSPIRITS, KHYMERA and more. In TWINSPIRITS he plays the keyboards and is not the sole driving force behind this band. The name TWINSPIRITS reminds of the story behind the GENIUS project, and somehow logically, the music sounds alike. GENIUS had several vocalists, as it was a Rock/Metal Opera. TWINSPIRITS is a regular band with one vocalist. This formation arose from the underground in 2004.

Drummer Dario Ciccioni (EMPYRIOS, HARTMANN, GENIUS, ...) was found worthy to also play in this band. On vocals no Italian was found good enough, so Daniele and co. looked at Søren Adamsen (CRYSTAL EYES, ARTILLERY, ...), who joined the fold to record the debut album "The Music That Will Heal the World" in 2007. Two years later, on the 11th September, the follow-up came out under the title "The Forbidden City". It's September 2010 when I'm writing this, because I was sent a promo copy a few months ago by Daniele Liverani, together with the last two albums of his GENIUS project, which I reviewed some time ago. On this second album, it's the Swedish singer Göran Nyström who handles the vocals.

Ten tracks and a playtime of a good hour means you're in for quite a journey, even if such characteristics are normal for Progressive Metal. It starts with the lengthy title track, which clocks in after more than 10 minutes. To not make the first part too strong, the song is set in through the keyboards (piano loop and backing), who then take over the melody from the piano and gets the company of guitars and drums. All in steps and it's then the guitar that takes over those leads. In other words, the band takes its time to come to the verses, which are slow and guitar-driven. Göran vocals are clean, yet powerful. The tempo doesn't go up in the chorus either, which has a hymnical character. The rhythm and leads from the intro return at some point, this time with vocals, followed by a solo. This is the first barrier for the choir-ish bombast piece where Dario throws in variable drumwork. Once that is done, a second solo traps the aforementioned instrumental piece. The intro piece is actually a key composition, as it can be heard many times in this song, but under various forms. Despite or thanks to this stretched piece of music, this first track is very well done.

Earlier I said Daniele is not the sole driving force, but his input is very valuable as shown once more in the piano intro of "Taste The Infinity". It's a sad melody and even when the drums and vocals are added, the same serenity is kept. The same counts for the acoustic guitar, which follows the piano lines. The acoustic guitar is replaced by its electric cousin in the verses. As the song progresses (incl. the chorus), the singing grows more powerful. There's room for a solo. The piano started the song and so it ends as well. Almost twice as short as the opening track, "Taste The Infinity" is equally a very good song.

With "Number One" the Italians present a very active track. It's got power, drive, tempo and more. Everything to make it a hit! Göran Nyström shows he's also fit for this kind of songs. Definitely on the best tracks on this album. It may be the shortest one, but there sure is enough to enjoy. Monotonous it is not, nor is it linear. Tension is built in the spacey intro of "Everything", after which firm power is unleashed with a key role for the piano. This creates a DREAM THEATER impression. However, all this then makes way for slow verses with a Doomy guitarriff and low piano backing. This summons an image of SAVATAGE or TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. Progressive is what you could call the (melodic) bridge and chorus, where Göran sings with a stronger voice. Pluspoints go to the contrast between these parts, verses and chorus. And of course the solo aspect wasn't forgotten either.

"One Of Us" is a guitar-driven midtempo song, although there's room for spacey keyboard leads. Catchiness can be found in the chorus. Solos come from the guitar and keyboards and especially with the latter the musical piece sounds awesome! "BTR", whatever it stands for, is the instrumental track. As can be expected, you get loads of variety in terms of rhythm, leads, tempo. Here as well, the music reminded me of SAVATAGE and/or TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. Of course, you might hear similarities with other bands, but that's alright. Either way, Daniele and co. made another very nice song.

"Hide This Feeling" starts acoustically and has a female vocalist at the same time, which, yes, ... see TSO. Of course, she sings a duet with Göran and logically then, since the music isn't exactly heavy or powerful (in the Rock sense), it's a ballad. But a very good one, also because both singer have compatible voices. Top job, if you ask me. Earlier I said that the intro of "The Forbidden City" was a stretched piece of music. This term can easily be applied to "My Future", which is basically a song stretched to more than six minutes, yet allowing the band to add other elements in between. Guitars may be vital, but that also counts for the melodic input from the keyboards (piano, symphonic touches, etc...). The chorus is an important element in the structure and again the band made it very catchy. Bonus points go to Göran's vocal work. While he has done a tremendous job in the other songs, due to the stretched situation, he's given more time to properly express himself.

"Reaction" starts with a fade-in, building with the organ and faint guitars and drums, sounding quite AC/DC-like somehow. This flows into a slow keyboard-lead Progressive part, which in turn connects with firm midtempo, rocking verses. Full power is let out in the chorus. Throw in the obligatory solo and you've got another attractive song. "The Forbidden City" may end way past the 10-minutes marker, it's "I Am Free" that takes the 1st prize, due to being 7 seconds longer. No calm start, but instant power. Its dark verses remind of DREAM THEATER, while the organ in between serves as connecting element. The pedal is pushed down in the chorus and later on a sniff of aggression is added. Then it's mainly the vocals and keyboards that are responsible for that. The solo moment is served afterwards, though in a slow setting (TSO-like).

I don't know how good "The Music That Will Heal the World" is, but I do can tell you that "The Forbidden City" is very much worth checking out. As usual with Progressive Metal, you don't hear it all in one listen. Time and effort are needed to hear the beauty of the compositions, the variety and more. It's no different with TWINSPIRITS. If you're into the aforementioned bands, or like Progressive Metal tout court, this Italian band should be in your collection. Currently Daniele and co. are working on their third album. Until then, go out and buy "The Forbidden City". While you're at it, go for the GENIUS albums as well.

More info at www.myspace.com/twinspiritsband.

Line-up:
Göran Nyström - vocals
Tommy Ermolli - guitars
Daniele Liverani - keyboards
Alberto Rigoni - bass
Dario Ciccioni - drums


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NIGHTMARE – Insurrection (AFM Records 2009)

Nightmare - Insurrection
  1. Eternal Winter
  2. The Gospel Of Judas
  3. Insurrection
  4. Legions Of The Rising Sun
  5. Three Miles Island
  6. Mirrors Of Damnation
  7. Decameron
  8. Target For Revenge
  9. Cosa Nostra (Part I: The Light)
  10. Angels Of Glass

The French band NIGHTMARE was founded at the end of the 1970s and started with playing traditional Heavy Metal for almost ten years. A long break/split-up followed and it wasn't until 1999 that the band came back to life and decided to take a firmer approach of Metal. Power Metal it was. Anno 2009 the French celebrate their 30th anniversary and although the new album, "Insurrection" (out since the 11th of September), doesn't contain anything special, it does sound good, very good even. I've seen several of the band's albums at the store where I buy most of my albums and I managed to take a listen to the last four. Considering Metal sounded less polished, less powerful and so on back in the day, I guess it's best not to compare the sound with the new albums. Well, I couldn't anyway, since I'm totally not familiar with their 80's material. But a short summary of how the last few albums sound: "Cosmovision" (2001) is a very good Power Metal album with 80's touches. But due to the rather light production, the real power doesn't come out properly. Mind you, it does sound good. The production on "Silent Room" (2003) is much better, more up to date. "The Dominion Gate" (2005) was an album I had considered buying, but for some reason I didn't buy it at the time of its release, yet kept it in mind for a later purchase, which still hasn't been taken care of. Again the production was a step in the right direction and the album was NIGHTMARE's best in that context. For "Genetic Disorder" (2007) the band appealed to Fredrik Nordström to give the songs the right kind of power and feel. It was heavy and it rocked, similar to "Tears Of Blood" by SILVER FIRST and "Rise Of The Tyrant" by ARCH ENEMY.

NIGHTMARE hasn't been free from line-up changes and it seems that vocalist Jo Amore was originally the band's drummer before he gave up that position in favour of his brother. I wonder if his drumming skills are still good enough. For this new album the band made good use of the services of the new guitarist, JC Jess, and got a record deal with AFM Records. The previous albums were put out by Napalm Records and Regain Records. "Insurrection" is one of the albums I managed to acquire (as mp3 promo) for this review. According to vocalist Jo Amore, four studios were used: drums and arrangements at Savern Studio in France, vocals and bass at Peek studio in France and guitars at u3multimedia studio in Stuttgart (Germany) and mixing at Indiscreet Audio Studio in Ostfildern, Germany.

"Insurrection" kicks off with the rather slow, but powerful "Eternal Winter". Jo's rough vocals come out very strong and the music reminds of other Power Metal bands like MYSTIC PROPHECY, HELSTAR, GRAVE DIGGER, a bit of MASTERPLAN and so on. The chorus is where the melody lies and has a somewhat hymnic feel. To create a contrast, the ending of this song is atmospheric with calm guitarwork as opposed to the heavier verses. All in all a good start, but the best is yet to come, starting with "The Gospel Of Judas". Vicious and sharp riffing, sounding close to Death Metal even. What follows is Thrashy Power Metal. Absolutely superb!! Think of RECKLESS TIDE, HELSTAR and similar. Overall, this is a dark and epic song, but oh so eargasmic. The same thing can be said about "Insurrection", which also sound quite Thrashy. Jo doesn't only sing here, he even outs a scream in vein of James Rivera (HELSTAR). Melody is an important factor here, especially in the chorus and the singing contributes to that. And yes, the obligatory guitar solo has not been forgotten. Very good material to be found here, no doubt about it.

NIGHTMARE's Heavy/Power Metal is all about the basic instrumentation of Metal: guitars and drums. Occasionally you'll hear some keyboards, but more as backing than anything else. For now, guitars rule and "Legions Of The Rising Sun" is a clear example of that. The main riffing is started immediately, followed by the rest of the band at a firm pace. Heavy in the verses, melodic in the chorus where drummer David adds some double bass. Speaking of backing, symphonic elements were added to the whole. An epic track and also containing good soloing. "Three Miles Island", another highlight on this album, starts calm, backed by cold, industrial-like sounds. A spoken part follows, probably the president of the USA talking about the disaster that took place regarding a nuclear plant (is this about Tsjernobyl?). There are even sirenes. But then the Metal comes thundering in. Midtempo, firm and tight and once again a melodic chorus. It's interesting to see/hear how the French implemented an atmospheric break, sounding like the intro, but stranger, colder, more sad. Little by little a rebuilding takes place with the riffing first. Drums and vocals follow soon after that and the whole leads up to the solo part before going back to the verses, chorus and so on. No complaints from my part, none at all.

The wild guitar start of "Mirrors Of Damnation" is in fact the main riffing before the real take off occurs. Jo throws in a short scream before reverting to normal singing in the verses and the, yes, melodic and epic chorus. In general, this is another good song, though a bit less compared to what preceded and follows. Tracks 7, 8 and 9 can be added to the shortlist of highlights that already consisted of tracks 2 to (and incl.) 5. "Decameron" introduces more power, more drive to the bunch and that's a good move after "Mirrors Of Damnation". Jo's voice sounds vicious and dirty in the verses, more melodic in the bridge and (hymnic) chorus. That melodic aspect is also thanks to the guitars. The guitar solo is the whipped cream on the cake. "Target For Revenge" is a calm song, forming a sort of resting point/moment at first. It sounds almost ballad-ish. The singing is adapted to this softer playing. Not bad, but Jo's singing fits better in heavier pieces. The chorus is slow, epic, hymnic and sounds very much like MANTICORA has done in the past. Over the entire line, good points for this track. It doesn't always have be fast and ferocious.

Powerful and thundering Metal is what you get in "Cosa Nostra (Part I: The Light)", except for the melodic chorus. Seems like a recurring element, a common denominator. The singing is very good here, and that includes the chorus. The same thing can be said about the soloing and the heavy riffed moment afterwards. A very nice one, even. And this song is the last highlight on "Insurrection". "Angels Of Glass" ends the album with a song that sounds a bit lighter than the others and therefore stands somewhat apart from them. Putting it at the end of the tracklist doesn't help in terms of integration. It's a midtempo Heavy Metal song (thought the tempo does increase in the bridge) which is in general quite good, but not the band's best.

"Insurrection" is my first proper encounter with NIGHTMARE and their view on Heavy/Power Metal in the 21st century. Sure, I've heard their previous few albums, but just to get an impression and it was positive for each of those, so the chance is big I'll add them (or some) to my collection on a next store visit. But right now, all eyes and ears are to be aimed/directed at "Insurrection", because NIGHTMARE may celebrate its 30th anniversary, but it's done in style. They can be very proud of what they've achieved so far and especially with an album like this, you can't go wrong. Anyone thinking Power Metal bands have gone soft(er) or the genre is dying... do check out this album. Personally, I'm a very satisfied Power Metal fan and declare this release as one of the best this year, in general and in the genre. Nothing but positive elements: production (best so far?), compositions, musicianship, ...

More info at www.myspace.com/nightmareofficial.

Line-up:
Jo Amore - vocals
Franck Milleliri - guitar
JC Jess - guitar
Yves Campion - bass
David Amore - drums


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TWENTY-SIX OTHER-WORLDS – Manipulated (Twenty-Six Other-Worlds 2009)

Twenty-Six Other-Worlds - Manipulated
  1. When Beauty Danced
  2. Incubus
  3. As I Call On The Dark
  4. Lady Deadly

I'm going to keep it short, because Cedric, the bass player, wrote a very nice and funny biographical text about the band on their website. TWENTY-SIX OTHER-WORLDS was in a first instant known as ANGEL DUST, who played mainly IRON MAIDEN covers. And yes, they even got the chance to open up for the NWOBHM veterans. The Maltese Metal band was formed in 1996 but several years and a split later later, the core of the band (Cedric, guitarist Adrian Zammit aka Skid and drummer Jonathan Briffa aka Luni) sought and found two new members to complete the line-up for what would then become TWENTY-SIX OTHER WORLDS: Chris Grech on vocals and Steve Said Sarreo as second guitarist. ANGEL DUST could not be used anymore for several reasons, one being that there was already a well-known band called like that, hailing from Germany.

The Maltese TWENTY-SIX OTHER-WORLDS can be catalogued under Progressive Metal and released their debut album (or EP, as there are only four tracks and a playtime of between 30 and 40 minutes) on the 4th of September and titled it "Manipulated". The band isn't signed and given this fact one must give them kudos for not promoting their music with a simple CD-R, but a pressed CD in a digipack. Ok, no booklet, but the lyrics and technical information are printed on the digipack, so nothing to nag about here. With this low number of tracks and in comparison long playtime you're set for long songs. In Progressive Metal that's a common thing and personally, I'm not against that at all.

"Manipulated" starts "When Beauty Danced"'s ambient intro. Rain is added to make it all more lively, but soon enough the music takes over. Midtempo Prog with gentle singing at first, a fuller voice later on. As it's not a 3-minute song, the band takes its time to progress and develop the track, giving the tempo a boost in the chorus. Instrumentalism is important and the Maltese offer a nice variety of rhythms and tempos, going for a fiercer approach over halfway. And yes, there is a guitar solo. Right when you think the song is nearing its end, the band gives it another twist in true DREAM THEATER style. For starters, this song is already very good. And without keyboards!

No ambient intro for "Incubus". It's the drums that set this song in, the guitars follow a little later, complementing Jonathan's hits, while the tempo gradually increases. Chris sings with a low voice and somehow sounds more passionate than before. Musically everything advances at a solid pace and good rhythm, which gets slowed down by the chorus. Melody then claims attention, mainly through the vocals. Keyboards would have been useful here, despite the actual result being quite flawless already. Comparable bands here are ANGRA and STORMENTAL (and similar, obviously), but these are just mentioned as indication. Chris's singing (clean with a rough edge) is good in the chorus, but it's not perfect (yet), even though he's a capable vocalist. It's a small detail and something that can be worked on for later releases. Over the middle of the song it's time for an instrumental moment where variability is applied to different aspects of this song. The band managed to neatly implement a Jazzy piece, which is a surprising and positive twist. When the solo is due, the tempo gets a kick in the rear. In the last part the chorus comes back again and the whole ends at an energetic peak! Second song done and here as well, nothing but positive thoughts. But as good as these two tracks are, there's an even better one - well, two - comping up.

Drums in "Incubus", the guitar (though gentle) in "As I Call On The Dark", sounding smooth and relaxing. And does it sound good? Hell yes, it does. The drums fall not long afterwards, adding an exotic touch, not to say Jazzy. With Chris adjusting his singing this piece might as well have been written by ANGRA. In other words, top job by the Maltese in this first part. Jonathan prooves to be a valuable member as he makes his drumming more interesting through fills and the playing in general. The verses are devoid of heaviness while the chorus has it all, though being slow at first and heavier/more powerful in a second instant. Later on as the music flows at a good pace the chorus benefits from that, too. The drums were put high in the mix, but rest assured the guitars don't suffer from that, not even when they try to break the barrier a little with solos (short at first, later a longer one). Before they can be played there's an instrumental transition which seems to group influences from Progressive Rock and Metal, AOR and Hard Rock. Strange but true. Linearity is not a word in TWENTY-SIX OTHER-WORLDS's dictionary and that is without question a very positive aspect.

Last but not least there's "Lady Deadly", a slow to midtempo Progressive Rock song, even entering the Power Metal zone as the tempo goes up. A super enjoyable moment and one that reminded me of the song Martin "Marthus" Skaroupka (drums, CRADLE OF FILTH) plays here. But after that all slows down and the verses are set in with clean, yet careful singing. A more aggressive outbreak is reserved for the chorus. The bridge comes up with heavy grooves, but slow pounding Metal and Chris's clean vocals are too light to properly counter that. The contrast is too big. The chorus is again the keeper of melody and sounds very nice. The uptempo Power Metal of before returns here afterwards for a brief moment. Midtempo Metal then takes over command again, allowing a DREAM THEATER-styled part to be played. The chorus is done once more, together with so much more that makes up this song. And suprise, not two, but three times an eargasm is reached as the music turns towards Power Metal again for the solo. Absolutely awesome moment here. Everything comes to a close, falling silent and letting calm guitarwork carry the last notes to rest.

And so I've come to the end of this review. Another unsigned band managed to pleasantly surprise me, even though this review is somehow overdue and my thoughts were confirmed many weeks ago. Anyone seeking quality Progressive Metal in vein of DREAM THEATER, PAGAN'S MIND, ANGRA, STORMENTAL, VANISHING POINT and so on, played with passion and integrity, and without (!) keyboards - it can't get any more pure - is advised to check out the Maltese band TWENTY-SIX OTHER-WORLDS and their debut album "Manipulated". Sheer quality is on offer, though with some rough edges here and there, but nothing that time cannot correct.

More info at www.26ow.com.

Line-up:
Chris Grech - vocals
Adrian Zammit - guitar
Steve Said Sarreo - guitar
Cedric Debono - bass
Jonathan Briffa - drums


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LEAVES' EYES – Njord (Napalm Records 2009)

Leaves' Eyes - Njord
  1. Njord
  2. My Destiny
  3. Emerald Island
  4. Take The Devil In Me
  5. Scarborough Fair
  6. Through Our Veins
  7. Irish Rain
  8. Northbound
  9. Ragnarok
  10. Morgenland
  11. The Holy Bond
  12. Frøya's Theme

LEAVES' EYES, the group around ex-THEATRE OF TRAGEDY vocalist Liv Kristine, was founded in 2004 and in that same year the Gothic Metal formation released its debut "Lovelorn". Lyrically this album dealt with a magical world filled with mermaids, love and tragedy. The following year "Vinland Saga" comes out. The lyrics are based on this well-know saga and particularly the Viking Leif Eriksson plays a key role in this story. Lots of gigs and an EP later, the live CD/DVD "We Came With The Northern Winds / En Saga I Belgia" is released. The performed concert is that at the Metal Female Voices Fest, in Belgium on October 20, 2007. Now, August 28, a new album is available for the fans: "Njord". Again the band uses Norse history and myths (Liv is from Norway, hence the choice) to create the next chapter in their discography.

The band consists thus of Liv Kristine on vocals and the entire line-up of the German Death Metal group ATROCITY. I'm not a fan of either band and even ATROCITY couldn't convince me live, when they performed at Velorock a few years ago. The main problem isn't the music - though Gothic Metal is something do appreciate, yet rarely listen to - but Liv's voice. Personally I find it too light, lacking volume, depth and whatever more. She sings in a way that's far more suitable for Pop music and indeed, she even made a few Pop releases under her own name. Anyway, I was very surprised when I got a promo copy of "Njord" to review. It turned out that, after several listens, everything I disliked about this band would have to be thrown overboard. Well, not everything. Anyway, more on that later. "Njord" was also made possible thanks to the input of a choir and the Lingua Mortis Orchestra directed by Victor Smolski (RAGE guitarist). Liv is said to sing in eight languages on this release, but I didn't really notice it. Perhaps because they are somewhat similar?

On to the album. "Njord" starts with an atmospheric ENYA-like intro before bursting into symphonic bombast. The tempo is low, the orchestra dominating in terms of melody and leads. The Metal aspect comes alive in the chorus, where Alexander adds some short growls. Liv sings in a less high-pitched way, keeps it more moderate and I have to say that this is what makes me like her singing now, or better. Not the high notes stuff. The orchestral break is also very nice. Once the band falls in with Alexander on vocals, the overall atmosphere and feel is one of sadness and sorrow. The guitar solo fits in perfectly then, as short as it may be. A very nice starting song, no doubt about that. "My Destiny" has eagles flying over and Liv's singing in the first couple of seconds is the kind I don't like. She sounds like a frail human being and that just doesn't match with Metal or the bombastic kind that is presented here. Gentle piano touches secretly come to the front before *bam!* Metal kicks in. But it's not as aggressive as in "Njord". "My Destiny" is one of the more mainstream songs on this album, especially the chorus is an indication of that. The piano and orchestra is very important, even if the guitars are more present here. The piano is not a lead instrument in the chorus, as Liv's voice taking that role. The symphonics do add more input compared to the short bursts in the verses. All in all "My Destiny" is a good song, though not the best here.

"Emerald Island" is. But there's even better material further down the track listing. "Emerald Island" starts with a very nice cello layer. Liv joins soon enough, adding her input to this sad, but epic, part. Little by little more is added (violins, kettle drums, ...) and the music then continues with the entire band. The power of Metal is always a blessing, even if the orchestral version alone was already beautiful. That power comes from the chorus (where Alexander adds short shouts), contrary to the verses where the piano and symphonic elements are master of the situation. The importance is not only noticeable in the chorus, there's even a break where strings and brass are the leading while Alex holds a speech before everything returns to the bombast of before, including a solo. "Take The Devil In Me" also starts in a sad way with the piano and strings. Again, a composition that is pure perfection. Stunning material. The band falls in later, while the melody continues. No heaviness in the verses, which sounds quite Poppy. Even when the guitars are added in the bridge, the whole might sound heavier, but the Pop feel doesn't disappear. The music also sounds more atmospheric than before. The orchestral arrangements are again well done. Overall, another good song, just a bit too Poppy.

"Scarborough Fair" is said to be an English traditional song. I've never heard it before, so it should be interesting to see/hear what LEAVES' EYES make of it. Its beginning instruments sounds very different from the ordinary piano or orchestral ones. Folk is the first word that comes to mind here and given the fact that uilleann pipes and whistles were used, it's not that much of a surprise. Added to that, it creates a nice atmosphere and makes the album more interesting, especially when the proper instruments are used and not samples or keyboards tunes. The accoustic guitar replaces its electric variant for a while, assisting Liv. The Folk feel remains intact, until the Metal instrumentation comes in. The tempo remains slow and orchestral input is high. The guitarsolo is longer this time, which is good, as it flows better and has more time to fully open and come to an end. Afterwards all heaviness falls silent and it's back to accoustic Folk-influenced music. The uillean pipes do their job and blend in very well. When the band plays the same tune, it somehow doesn't sound as magical. Sure, it sounds good and whatever more, but it misses that extra spark.

Back to the Metal then with "Through Our Veins". It's a slow, bombastic song where, yes, orchestral input is of high importance, though the music wouldn't be as powerful without the guitars and drums. This one, too, sounds quite Poppish. No heaviness in the verses and full power in the chorus. Despite the mainstream feel, it's a bit better than "My Destiny". Maybe because it sounds darker, more bombastic, more mystical. "Irish Rain" introduces the accoustic guitar again in the beginning. Liv's singing is good and soft (as in "not nerve-wrecking") and the orchestra increases the melodic aspect. This Folk-ish aspect is relaxing and it turns out the entire song continues that way. No Metal instrumentation or in other words, "Irish Rain" is a resting point and very nice one, too. Although I'm not sure, I thought I heard a hurdy gurdy in the second half of the song. If so, that makes the authenticity of the music extra strong, since it's another Folk instrument that was used on the album.

HAMMERFALL has "Bloodbound", LEAVES' EYES made "Northbound", a powerful and bombastic track. The contrast with "Irish Rain" couldn't be bigger. The classic pattern was used: no heaviness in the verses, full power in the chorus. The symphonic bombast moment further down the track reminded me of NIGHTWISH and more specifically the band's last two albums, "Once" and "Dark Passion Play". "Northbound" is one of the better/best tracks, that's without a doubt. And it gets even better. Because up next is the first of the two songs I consider to be the best on "Njord", despite several other very good songs. "Ragnarok", the title alone indicates something beautiful must be made from this, even if the event itself wasn't so beautiful. It starts with a spark of danger and the orchestra helps to create that occurence. What follows is an up-and-down going flow of Metal, orchestra (and vocals), Metal (and Alex). The tempo increases in the chorus. There's not much that needs to be said here, save that it would be a very nice soundtrack for an epic movie.

"Morgenland" is the other superb song I can highly recommend. Accoustic guitar (a bouzouki?) and percussion to begin with, replaced by strings and vocals that set in a gentle and sad playing that remains constant for the rest of the song. Again NIGHTWISH comes to mind, mainly the song "Forever Yours" off the "Century Child" album (2002). Quite a beautiful piece of music, to say the least. And then it's back to less good material. Well, less and good, or "The Holy Bond" and "Frøya's Theme". The first has the guitars and drums being the starting instruments, while the orchestra provides the melodic leads. After "My Destiny" and "Through Our Veins", this is the third Poppish song on the album. And again the full power is reserved for the chorus. The choir and orchestral arrangements are well done, but overall this song is quite weak after the strong trilogy that preceded it.

And that brings us to the last track, "Frøya's Theme". An atmospheric beginning occupied by the orchestra, piano and vocals. The Metal instrumentation doesn't come in until a lot later and even so it happens with short bursts. Firm Metal takes over not long after that, and even if the orchestral elements are pushed to the back, they do come back regularly. We have another NIGHTWISH moment later when the guitars claim a moment of fame (with the choir backing). Alex then also gets his 15 seconds (well, it's only for a short time, but you get the idea) before everything flows back to the chorus. The intro makes a comeback at some point and that's when Liv speaks in Norwegian (at least, I think it's Norwegian) and Alex in German while the music has turned into Folk. Somehow I had to think of "Creek Mary's Blood" from... NIGHTWISH. Yeah, it becomes tedious and LEAVES' EYES is NOT NIGHTWISH, I'm aware of that. But when you hear something that sounds similar (not identical) to another song, it can be helpful to mention it. As beautiful as this may be, the song must go on and the chorus soon comes in sight. Ending the theme is done with a bang, as it should.

After this long thesis I'll tell what I wanted to say after having listened to "Njord", trying to remain objective, despite my disliking of mainly Liv's voice. "Njord" is one of the best releases of 2009 and I even dare to think that this album is the band's best to date. The production is, in general, very good and gives the music a clear but powerful sound. The instrumental input is very qualitative and Liv's singing is of the best she has done so far (based on what I've heard so far). Singing in a more moderate way is a good choice. And while I liked her singing, it's Alex's interventions that sort of made me frown from time to time. His growls aren't good, his shouts a bit better. He won't change that, but a real growl would have sounded better with the music in the specific cases. But that little problem aside, anyone into Symphonic/Gothic Metal is recommended to check out "Njord". If Liv and co. continue like that, I might end up buying their albums after all, hahaha.

More info at www.leaveseyes.com.

Line-up:
Liv Kristine - vocals
Alexander Krull - vocals
Thorsten Bauer - guitars
Mathias Röderer - guitars
Alla Fedynitch - bass
Seven Antonopolous - drums


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AXXIS – Utopia (AFM Records 2009)

Axxis - Utopia
  1. Journey To Utopia
  2. Utopia
  3. Last Man On Earth
  4. Fass Mich An
  5. Sarah Wanna Die
  6. My Fathers' Eyes
  7. The Monsters Crawl
  8. Eyes Of A Child
  9. Heavy Rain
  10. For You I Will Die
  11. Underworld

The German formation AXXIS is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and coincidentally there's also a new album out and this since the 28th of August: "Utopia". AXXIS was formed back in 1988, but released its debut album, "Kingdom Of The Night", in 1989. More albums and singles followed, but each time with a few years in between (for the albums). I got to know them in 2006 with "Paradise In Flames", which wasn't much to my liking. The follow-up, "Doom Of Destiny" (2007), was better, but still there weren't enough songs that made want to buy the album. Considering Bernhard Weiss (vocals) and co. managed to improve their output with each album, my expectations for "Utopia" weren't high, but high enough to be curious. And it turns out they've really improved a lot this time. Since AFM has switched to mp3 promos since several months, a delay in reviewing can occur. But that also counts for other mp3 promos, not necessarily from AFM. Anyway, the line-up has also changed throughout the years, mainly on three positions: guitar, bass, drums. SILENT FORCE/RAGE drummer André Hilgers left the band in 2008 to focus fully on his two other bands. He was replaced by Alex Landenburg (MEKONG DELTA, AT VANCE, ...).

The last big tour dates back to 2007-2008 when they hit the road with HELLOWEEN and GAMMA RAY. I got to see the band for the first time earlier this year at Frostrock in Kuurne, Belgium. And that made appreciate the band and their music even more. Back to the album then. AXXIS continued where they left off with "Doom Of Destiny". Bernhard Weiss and Harry Oellers once again produced the album, while Dennis Ward handled the mix and Jürgen Lusky mastered it, as he has been doing so since 2002. Derek Gores was asked to make the cover artwork. According to Bernhard they "put a lot of power into the guitar sound. Different amps, mic's and different guitars for each song. (...) At the same time Harry was focused on his key-arrangements with new sounds and equipment. He recorded millions of keyboard tracks and it was not easy to decide which ones we should leave or erase. This time the songs were predestinated for a lot of musical stuff. By the end of the day the sound is really "FAT"." Harry added that "Rob and Marco were very enthusiastic during the recordings and production. They wrote the song "Taste My Blood" just to give "Utopia" another colour."

First you undertake the "Journey To Utopia", a rather spooky trip, one can say, before arriving at the destination, "Utopia". It's clear from the start that the quality on offer is high, very high. This Rocksong does indeed feature powerful guitarwork and keyboards delivering the required melodies and reinforcements. It's energetic, uptempo. Bernhard's singing is top, much better than before, probably because he doesn't go for those high notes anymore. The chorus is catchy and contains female backing vocals. To spice things up a little a guitarsolo was implemented. Overall, a fine example of quality musicianship and execution. The positive line continues in "Last Man On Earth" with its symphonic start and dark backing, creating some sort of tension. What's going to happen? The music bursting loose, of course. The keyboards are the main element, while the guitars and drums fulfill their role in adding the right amount of power. Everything is excellent here: leads, rhythm, the bombastic/epic chorus, ... the second highlight on this album.

"Fass Mich An" is the first and only German sung song on "Utopia". And that's nice for a change. The guitar sounds heavier than before and although the keyboards are still the main provider of melodies, the guitar does take up its responsability here, too. The female backing vocals are present again. The full musical power lies in the chorus. The piano adds a dark touch before the guitar solo kicks in. Somehow this song is quite radio-friendly, but that's because of how it's composed. "Fass Mich An" is a solid song, no doubt about that. Back to English then with "Sarah Wanna Die" where the keyboards (changing with piano) offer the leads before the Metal comes crashing in. Uptempo, very nice rhythm and feel and once again adding a serious shot of energy to the whole, creating a feel good mood. In terms of drumming, Alexander is an added value, as he adds a couple of fills here and there to not only make the compositions more complete, but keep it interesting for the listener. Solowise it's the keyboards and guitar that step to the front. Definitely another highlight in the tracklist.

"My Fathers' Eyes" is the obligatory ballad and it's even quite good. The piano, keyboard and gentle guitar heaviness are key ingredients here. At the same time this song also splits the tracklist in two, offering a sort of resting point, so to speak. There's a monster on the cover and there are monsters in the next song, "The Monsters Crawl". This is a dark midtempo rocker with some spacey accents. The guitar rhythm is definitely an earcatcher, while the keyboards again are the masters of melody. The female vocals can be heard here, too, and the solos weren't forgotten either. The same can be said about "Eyes Of A Child", a pounding Rocksong with strong keyboard leads, resulting in a great cruising song. "Heavy Rain" is a gentle Rocksong, also radio-friendly. Good result, though a little less attractive than the other tracks. But let it be clear there is no bad song here. The last two, "For You I Will Die" and "Underworld" are the last highlights. The first is in vein of "Sarah Wanna Die", the last is an awesome Power Metal song. It's got speed, sounds like an unleashed fury and with strong melodies. The female vocalist makes a last entry here and yes, the guitar solo is added, too.

The normal tracklist ends here. The limited edition digipack has two more tracks: "Taste My Blood" and "20 Years Anniversary Song". I don't know how they sound, but I can tell you that several guests can be heard in "20 Years Anniversary Song": Andi Deris (HELLOWEEN), Schmier (DESTRUCTION), Doro, Claus Lessmann (BONFIRE), David Readman (PINK CREAM 69, VOODOO CIRCLE), Rolf Stahlhofen (ex- SÖHNE MANNHEIMS) and ex-AXXIS guitarist Walter Pietsch. The song itself lasts 13 minutes.

Like I said before, AXXIS has improved with each release (at least their last two, in my case) and with "Utopia" I'm sure one can say it's one of their best, if not their best, album to date. This is the first AXXIS album I'm fully satisfied with/about. There is not one dull track here, only killers, no fillers. It scores on all levels: musicianship, production, vocals, compositions, feel, ... Sure, I sound very positive and that's because "Utopia" IS a very good album and in that context highly recommended. 20 years in the business and delivering a high quality mix of Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Power Metal... congrats, guys. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!

More info at www.axxis.de.

Line-up:
Bernhard Weiss - vocals
Marco Wriedt - guitars
Rob Schomaker - bass
Harry Oellers - keyboards
Alex Landenburg - drums


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U.D.O. – Dominator (AFM Records 2009)

UDO - Dominator
  1. The Bogeyman
  2. Dominator
  3. Black And White
  4. Infected
  5. Heavy Metal Heaven
  6. Doom Ride
  7. Stillness Of Time
  8. Devil's Rendezvous
  9. Speed Demon
  10. Whispers In The Dark

Udo Dirkschneider, a Heavy Metal icon, everybody knows that. So let's continue where I left off, being the "Infected" EP. See a bit lower on this page. "Dominator" is U.D.O.'s twelfth studio album (to be released on the 21st August), following 2007's "Mastercutor". Logically the new material continues in that direction, even if there are similarities with previous albums. That's only natural when you maintain the chosen style, in this case Heavy Metal. Since the band has been around for more than 20 years, they know what they're doing and no one needs to learn them a lesson. Responsable for the very good production was guitarist Stefan Kaufmann, who played drums in ACCEPT for about 14 years.

It starts with one of the best U.D.O. songs in years - or at least to my experience, even if I only have a few releases - and that is "The Bogeyman". A mysterious start, atmospheric with keyboards playing a sad melody resulting in a doomy setting before the Metal kicks in. Straight-forward with sharp riffing (think of a razorblade or a chainsaw), Udo sounding vicious and mean... what more do you want? The rhythm is great, the chorus is it even more and quite easy to sing-along. This will do well on stage, especially in smaller venues, not on open air festivals as that would make the song lose all power and feel. So, excellent start and this isn't the only highlight.

The title track is another. What you get here is pounding Metal or in other words, pedal to the metal. Not in terms of speed, even if the pace is strong and direct. The music sounds more aggressive, ballsier, whereas melody comes out in the chorus. The wild guitarsolo adds to the power of this song. I can only conclude that U.D.O. have done another remarkable job here, writing a song that can get stuck in your head for a while. Then there's of course the track that was chosen for the earlier EP, "Infected". I'll just copy-paste from the review. You get a straight-forward heavy rocker of the kind that is typical for U.D.O.. It's vicious, mean, rough, even a bit monstrous and has a great sing-along chorus, which is excellent for live performances. Melody plays an important role again and although as a whole this is a pretty simple song, the power and and efficiency are clearly present. This German band shows once more how it's done.

A little further down the tracklist you'll find "Doom Ride" and contrary to its title the pace isn't that slow at all. It's not fast, that's true, but the guys keep it going at a firm pace. The atmosphere overall is quite dark and doomy. The chorus once again contains the most melody. Rhythm-wise this is obviously another bull's-eye. Or in short, a classic-to-be U.D.O. song. Last but certainly not least and if I may say so, this is my favourite track on "Dominator": "Speed Demon". Yep, the pace is high this time as Udo and co. have taken some epo. Uptempo Heavy Metal, one of U.D.O.'s specialities and reminiscent of not only ACCEPT (duh!, lots of material is similar to Udo's ACCEPT period), but also PARAGON and GRAVE DIGGER, to name just these. This speed-injected track has similarities with, for example, "Infected". The riffing, the rhythm, the leads, the solos, the chorus, the vocals... everything is perfect here.

Next to the aforementioned tracks where the tempo lies a bit higher, you'll also hear some slower compositions - "Black And White", "Heavy Metal Heaven", "Stillness Of Time" and "Whispers In The Dark" - and one funky rocker, a bit Polka-like with a humpapa-like beat, but very nice, i.e. "Devil's Rendezvous". "Black And White" is a slow track with a big contrast between the verses and the chorus. The verses are calm and Udo sings in a normal way, not using his raw/rough voice. That's for the bridge and chorus and at that time the musical volume also increases. The drums keep a steady beat going, which is a normal happening in U.D.O.'s songs, while Udo and the guitars do the most work. And that's again of high quality. "Heavy Metal Heaven" sounds similar to "Man And Machine". It's a slow, pounding song, sort of like MANOWAR has done several times before. Simple, but effective, very effective even. Only, Udo adds more melody (in the chorus) through his singing. The drum pattern may be simple, but they sound like a big setup with that added reverb.

The piano, thé instrument for ballads and it's used twice here, in "Stillness Of Time" and "Whispers In The Dark". The first has it all for the calm and sweet moments of a ballad, saving the Metal power for the chorus. Overall, this isn't such a bad song, also because there's enough attention for instrumental talk, including a very nice solo. The song ends like it started, with the piano. "Whispers In The Dark" has symphonic backing as extra element. But personally speaking, I have to say this is by far the worst (or least good, however you consider it) song on this album. I have nothing against ballads, as they can form a resting point (for example), but there are ballads and there are ballads. What's the term? Filler, indeed.

Fans of Heavy Metal or U.D.O. need not worry, for the man and his comrades have once again delivered the goods, which isn't a surprise anymore. U.D.O. still stands for quality and it will remain like this until Udo himself calls it quits. There are no real flaws here, save for that one last track, but other than that you can buy "Dominator" unheard. Udo (or U.D.O.) remains a force to reckon with, no matter which Metal genre is most popular. You cannot do anything but have respect for that.

More info at www.udo-online.de.

Line-up:
Udo Dirkschneider - vocals
Stefan Kaufmann - guitars
Igor Gianola - guitars
Fitty Wienhold - bass
Francesco Jovino - drums


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ILLUSION SUITE – Final Hour (Limb Music Products 2009)

ILLUSION SUITE - Final Hour
  1. The W.I.R.E.
  2. Scarlet Skies *
  3. The Devil In Your Heart *
  4. Once We Were Here *
  5. A Moment To Remember
  6. The Passage *
  7. Pandora's Box *
  8. The Adventures Of Arcan *
  9. A Ghost From The Past

ILLUSION SUITE is a Norwegian Progressive Metal band, formed in 2003 by Roger Bjørge (drums) and Øyvind "Lionheart" Larsen (guitar). Bill Makatowicz (vocals) joined the band later the same year and Dag Erik Johnsen (bass) completed the line-up in 2005. Keyboardist Ketil Ronold joined not too long ago. Shortly after the formation the band made two demos, "Demo One" (2004) and "The Adventures Of Arcan" (2005, produced by guitarist Øyvind Larsen in his own Lionheart Studio, where JORN LANDE, CIRCUS MAXIMUS and Nils K.Rue of PAGAN'S MIND have also recorded some of their parts). I got know about this band around that period when I saw a posting on a Metal forum - can't remember which one, though - as a certain user posted links to the website and downloadable releases. And you don't let that chance slip away, when a band offers its music for free. This was also needed to get the name out and secure a possible record deal, which only happened last year, as the Norwegians were contacted by Limb Music Products (LMP). For several years this label has been focussing on Power and Progressive Metal with bands like FLASHBACK OF ANGER, SILENT MEMORIAL, ELDRITCH, PAGAN'S MIND, IVORY TOWER, VANDEN PLAS, VANISHING POINT and others.

In terms of Progressive Metal, the Norwegian scene is quite limited, as it's mainly COMMUNIC, PAGAN'S MIND and CIRCUS MAXIMUS that are known to the outside world. ILLUSION SUITE is determined to do as good or even better to promote Norwegian Progressive Metal. And with their debut album, "Final Hour" (out since the 7th August), they're on the right path. Markus Teske (VANDEN PLAS, SYMPHONY X, DOMINICI...) was responsable for the mixing and mastering, which took place at the Bazement Studio in Germany. Josh Sommers handled the cover art. It remained silent for quite some time around this band and I personally found it quite a (positive) surprise that managed to carry on and even sign a record deal.

"Final Hour" is thus the band's debut album and consisted not only of new songs, but also of re-recorded songs off their first two demos (two off "Demo One" and all but the intro off "The Adventures Of Arcan"). See the *. From the looks of it, ILLUSION SUITE took the easy way and composed the tracklisting for the biggest part with older songs and nicely divided the new tracks among them. It all starts with "The W.I.R.E.", an abbreviation of which I don't know the meaning. The music comes fading in and bursts loose. It's a midtempo track with keyboard leads and the guitars as power supplier, but of course also offering some solos. The atmosphere is dark and epic. The guitars' role increases once the intro and first barrier (which comes back later, including as outro) are conquered. The keyboards linger in the back, yet push through for the chorus, which is more atmospheric. The rhythm variation is one thing, another is the piano-plus-cello break, serving as a resting point before the connection with the heavier aspect of the song is flawlessy made. For a first track there's a lot of catchy material in here and that's a good thing, that you can easily connect with the music instead of having to listen several times before finding a hook. Not that having to listen more than once is bad, not at all. Making comparisons with other bands in this league of Progressive Metal is unavoidable, but it helps to find more such bands: SYMPHONY X (music and vocals), DREAM THEATER, VANDEN PLAS and a bit of EVERGREY.

Next stop is "Scarlet Skies", coming off "Demo One". This song has more vicious riffing and bombastic keyboards in the beginning. After this intro the pace slows down and the power of strings falls away, but only for a short moment as it comes back together with neoclassical keyboards and it's hard, at this point, to distinguish a bridge from the chorus here, as each part that follows is different and confusing. I'll check once I have the album in my hands, since the mp3-promo doesn't have the lyrics. But as pay attention, it becomes clear that the chorus is a very melodic (mainly via the vocals) part where the guitarpower does come out strong while the keyboards get a minor backing role. What is nice and well thought of is the atmospheric and Jazzy break (drums, keyboards and bass) before the Metal kicks back in. And we're not even halfway then. The solos are delivered by both the guitar and keyboards and remind of STRATOVARIUS and SONATA ARCTICA. So far, so good, no flaws whatsoever.

"The Devil In Your Heart" is the first track off the "The Adventures Of Arcan" demo. It's a midtempo one, offering a direct and heavy start while orchestral arrangements drift along. Melody is important, particularly in the chorus where the vocals contribute to that aspect as well and the contrast with the dominating Metal instrumentation in the verses is very nice. Also very nice and a sort of attention boost is a bombastic and symphonic piece towards the middle, followed by a short guitar solo. A little later things turn a bit more aggressive, growling even and Bill has adjusted his singing to fit that feeling. Metal dominates, but it's good to hear that the symphonic elements get the chance to come into the (smaller) spotlights. "The Devil In Your Heart" is almost (but one second) 5 minutes long and you get a lot of music for that length.

And we continue with "Once We Were Here", the second track off the "The Adventures Of Arcan" demo. Spacey keyboard tunes as a starter, with symphonics helping to build the tension. The Metal comes bursting in, DREAM THEATER-style. A slow verse part follows and then the music takes a totally different direction with a different rhythm and dito leads. DREAM THEATER influences and a bit of SYMPHONY X are very much present here. The mixing, done by Markus Teske, is very well done, as the bass guitar can even be heard, adding some Jazzy touches. The overall pace is medium, the music flows well, nothing is overdone, though the keyboards (incl. symphonics) do have to continuously give ground to the guitars and drums. The song comes to an end with a gentle piano piece, while all heaviness has stopped since then. Strange but true: while "The Devil In Your Heart" sounds like a long song, "Once We Were Here" is over before you know it - despite being 20 seconds longer -, also because the music is more straight-forward. But that doesn't mean the quality is less, not at all.

The piano ending of the previous track sets the atmosphere for the accoustic beginning of "A Moment To Remember", the second longest song on this album (little less than 8 minutes) and also the second one of the three newly written songs. Once that first minute of softness is over, fierce keyboard accents in collaboration with the drums and guitars take over command instantly. And then it's business as usual: powerful riffing, pounding drums, intricate bass parts and the keyboards/symphonics pushed to the back, making the song a bit more full/complete and helping to create the right atmosphere, though with a dark edge. As it's Metal that dominates or sounds the loudest, Bill's voice is adjusted and also sounds rougher. And it's not only Bill who does the singing, he gets assistance from a female colleague. I'll have to check the booklet to know who that is. But let it be clear that this offers a very interesting and fresh touch to not only the song, but the album, too. For the chorus the guitarpower has lessened a bit in favour of more atmospheric music. With the piano coming to the front it creates a DREAM THEATER setting. To give Bill and his female counterpart a break the rest of the band carries on with Øyvind providing a solo in the meantime. Over halfway and once the entire band is back on the same track, the keyboards do get a more prominent role, also as the instrument (in symphonic disguise) that ends the song. From start to finish, this song is pure quality. It's not too long, it's not too short, everything just fits.

Symphonic keyboards with electronic seeds create a beginning tension in "The Passage", the other track off "Demo One". After that the cord snaps and it's firm-paced, galopping Metal that you get on your plate. Keyboards are more prominent (in symphonic format) for the melodies and leads while the guitar sounds like a train (chugga chugga). Very nice is the middle section with choir, a bigger symphonic input and with the power of the guitar and drums, this sounds very epic and majestic and emotional as Bill's singing turns a bit more aggressive without yelling. Logically the next step is a solo, while the keyboards carry on, and Øyvind knows how the handle it. Before the final outburst the Metal aspect is toned down a bit to let the piano moment come out better and not disturb the atmosphere and expressed emotions. And let it be clear that this is a very nice part. The tempo increase afterwards is just perfect and aggression also rises then. "The Passage" is left behind in a bombastic manner. So far, so very good and my impression is far better than the first quick listen I gave to the album a few weeks ago.

Symphonic layers are important in ILLUSION SUITE's music and another song where you can really hear that is "Pandora's Box", also taken from the "The Adventures Of Arcan" demo. This is, by the way, one of my favourite tracks on this album. It's not only in the intro, but a big part of the middle section, too. Once the pattern created by the strings and guitar is over, the transition with the verses happens very smoothly. No guitars, just drum beats, bass and keyboard accents. And vocals, of course. After that everyone's involved and the guitar plays a more important role, though the keyboards (also in piano form) are still ver much needed for melodies and leads. The solo before the middle section is a wild one. Short, but functional and contrasts heavily when everything falls away and it's just the symphonic aspect that remains. The box opens and twinkling sounds come out of it, making a girl laugh. Little by little the orchestral power rises (strings, brass, percussion) again. They should make a video for this song with the box and everything. Truly a magnificent piece of Progressive Metal.

And then, the biggest chunk of the album, the title track of the second demo: "The Adventures Of Arcan". With its 15 minutes you're in for a very diverse and first class ride. It starts with guitar and drum bursts, while keyboards linger in the back, creating a spacey atmosphere. The keyboards push their waves through the guitar and drum barrier, but those try to stand their ground. There's even a guitar solo as if to protest the keyboards' move. Symphonics play of course a vital role and they do so very early on. The rolling verses are Metal dominated, but the keyboards remain in the back, ready to raise their voices when needed. To break the flow of aggressive riffing, everything falls silent to let an atmospheric part come to the front. Calm guitarwork (reminiscent of ANGRA or KIKO LOUREIRO's solo work) and backing keyboards. Little by little the Metal comes rumbling in again for another round. The contrast with the piano-driven moment where this female singer is featured again is big, but the transition went very smooth. Afterwards heaviness is cranked up again and Bill's singing also sounds rougher. The man has a great voice here, but also in the previous songs. Instrumental attention is key in Progressive Metal and one third of the playtime being done, the band offers a dark, aggressive and pounding piece of music. Excellent to headbang to. But you won't have much time to do it properly, as we're back on track with another female-sung intervention. The drumming and aggressive guitarwork are simply staggering. Before halfway orchestral sounds announce a new twist where melody plays a vital role now while the guitar's power has been reduced a bit, only a bit. Since this is such a long song, be ready for a whole banquet of musical pieces, both soft and hard, short and long, melodic and aggressive. The calm Jazzy guitarpart of before comes back, creating a resting point, though not much time is given to rest. However, you get another chance as not much later it's all about accousticness. Very tranquil and calming sounds. The last third of the playtime is what you can expect: a symbiosys of heaviness and melodicness with special attention to the dark, epic, bombastic, orchestral piece after a good 11 minutes. While the solo does its work after that, our beloved female singer makes another entry, backed by strings and more precisely the plucking of the strings. The Metal comes in again and the strings continue to be played, though it's a bit hard to hear it, as the guitar and drum power are a bit too strong, but if you pay attention you can still hear them. With humps and bumps the song comes to an end, flowing over into music box-like twinkling. No, wait. That's a xylophone (metallophone). Anyway, to add some final words: a-ma-zing! Stunning piece of work and perhaps the best on this album.

You would think "Final Hour" ends with this big fat opus, but it seems the band thought it better to add one last song to really finalize this album. "A Ghost From The Past", the third and last of the new songs. It's a little longer than 1/5 of "The Adventures Of Arcan". A direct, atmospheric start without any signs of Metal power. Keyboards are the main instrument, also later, and the guitar only comes in once the bridge is there. Full power can be found in the chorus. Due to its shortness, this song can't go in many directions, but the band tries to compensate that by playing with guitar and drum parts. "A Ghost From The Past" is as good as the previous songs, but it has been placed at the wrong position.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I was glad to see that ILLUSION SUITE hadn't died/disbanded/split-up. The demos showed a band with potential and with the proper means the musical pearls could shine even brighter. Those means finally became available and the Norwegians took the chance with both hands. The result? "Final Hour". The similarities with DREAM THEATER, SYMPHONY X, VANDEN PLAS and similar are a help instead of a burden, but ILLUSION SUITE blend them together and created something of their own. "Final Hour" offers (almost) an hour of pure delight in terms of Progressive Metal. Melodic and aggressive, soft and hard. Every part is connected to the other in such a smooth way that it never becomes a problem when listening. The whole construction flows very smoothly, but you must be prepared to listen, really listen and NOT drop off after a few songs. That's what I did at first, but realized you must hold on, for the ride is very much worth it. Fans of Progressive Metal (with some Power injections) cannot ignore this excellent album. Highly recommended, I say.

More info at www.illusionsuite.net.

Line-up:
Bill Makatowicz - vocals
Øyvind "Lionhart" Larsen - guitars
Ketil Ronold - keyboards
Dag Erik Johnsen - bass
Roger Bjørge - drums


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ENOCHIAN THEORY – Evolution: Creation Ex Nihilio (Anomalousz Music Records 2009)

ENOCHIAN THEORY - Evolution: Creation Ex Nihilio
  1. Everyending Has A Beginning...

    The Dimensionless Monologue:
  2. Tedium (i)
  3. The Dimensionless Monologue (ii)
  4. T.D.M. (iii)

  5. At Great Odds With...
  6. Apathia
  7. Triumvirate
  8. Movement
  9. After The Movement
  10. Waves Of Ascension
  11. The Fire Around The Lotus
  12. The Living Continuum
  13. A Monument To The Death Of An Idea

A few months ago, at the end of May, I got a request to review the newest release of a band called ENOCHIAN THEORY (pronounced E-KNOW-KEY-AN). It took me a while before I could listen to the album, but the first tries surprised me... in a more negative than positive way. The material sounded very soft, with some heavy outbursts, but still... It wasn't like most of the Progressive Rock or Metal I had heard. To give you an idea, these are the bands in my collection: AMASEFFER, ANGRA, ANUBIS GATE, AYREON, CIRCUS MAXIMUS, CLOUDSCAPE, DGM, DREAM THEATER, EVERGREY, ILLUSION SUITE, MANIGANCE, MAR DE GRISES, OCEANS OF SADNESS, PAGAN'S MIND, PYRAMAZE, QUANTUM FANTAY, SILENT MEMORIAL, SYMPHONY X, THRESHOLD, VANDEN PLAS and more. You get the idea. What ENOCHIAN THEORY plays is hard to compare to these bands, save for perhaps MAR DE GRISES, a bit of DREAM THEATER and that's about it. I read in other reviews mentions of OPETH, PORCUPINE TREE, PAIN OF SALVATION, KATATONIA, THE GATHERING and several others, but I personally can't say whether these comparisons are valid or not, save for perhaps OPETH, of which I've heard only a small portion so far.

The British trio that is ENOCHIAN THEORY came together in 2004 and quickly (in 2005) had a first demo ready: "Our Lengthening Shadows". This release contained seven tracks. The following year "A Monument To The Death Of An Idea" came out, containing five tracks. This second self-release scored them support slots for EPHEL DUATH, RED SPARROWS and TWIN ZERO. Considering no label was willing to sign them, the trio created their own label, Anomalousz Music Records Ltd., in 2007 and signed a distribution deal for the release of "A Monument To The Death Of An Idea" with CODE 7/Plastic Head Distribution. More divisions were created afterwards. AMR-PR and AMR Booking were part two and three of the The Anomalousz Music Group. More deals were signed, gigs were organised, and so on. But in 2008, one year after the founding of the label, original guitarist Scott Ware left and the band decided to continue as trio.

Lots of brainstorming and practising lead to "Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio" and was produced by David Castillo, who had worked with OPETH, KATATONIA, BLOODBATH and INME. He introduced the British to graphical artist Robin Portnoff, who had a new and interesting job to do. Despite the positive comments from labels like AFM, Nuclear Blast, SPV, Century Media and more, this is another self-release, via the band's own label this time. Apparently no agreement could have been reached with any of those labels. History and other info aside, let's look at the album, which is out and available since the 3rd of August.

"Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio" means "creation out of nothing". And from the looks of it, an entire industry has been set up where once was... a forest? Looking at the dead tree, the barren soil, this isn't an album full of happy happy, joy joy songs. It's apity, though, the lyrics were not included in the booklet, since it's not always easy to understand what Ben sings. Thirteen tracks totalling a playtime of almost 49 minutes, which would mean an average playtime of +/- 3 minutes per song. Looking at the cover and album title this isn't exactly a normal album, as the guys tried to tell a story. Or in other words, it's a concept album. I think. Also because everal tracks are more like interludes than proper songs.

The evolution start with "Every Ending Has A Beginning...", an intro that contains no music, but creates a dark and mystical atmosphere that could have been used in films like "Star Trek", "Alien" (and the sequels) and similar. And so the tension rises and with a woosh you're teleported to another place Or you could see it as the soil being prepared for something new. Remove the old, and put something new. That new situation is "The Dimensionless Monologue" trilogy, which starts with calm guitarchords in a repeated pattern. Slowly everything comes to life as bass and drums are added and Ben's soft voice welcomes you or rather, seems to be asking some important questions. Little by little the musical power increases, bursting open over the middle. Energetic drumming, heavy guitars, a voice crying out... and all ends in a bumping and jolting way. "Tedium" is a short track and hard to be considered a full song. It sounds more like an extract from a longer song. On the other hand, it's the first part of the trilogy, so there is perhaps a reason for the shortness.

"The Dimensionless Monologue" is next and the transition into this track didn't happen smoothly. Instead, the music is thrown into your face (or better, ears). Melody and symphonic elements are key ingredients at this point. don't expect anything heavy, but the sheer volume and directness makes you look a bit dazzled/surprised. The verses are quite Jazzy with just the vocals, bass and drums - a very nice moment, I must say - with symphonic accents in between, as if stressing a certain feeling. As the chorus draws nearer the power is built up and peaks with full-on Rock/Metal provided by the guitars and drums. It sounds like a breakdown, only not as destructive as in Hard- and Metalcore. The symphonic accents are added again at a later stage, while the breakdown continues to rumble. The melodic intro comes back after this and carries the song to its end, during which the guitarleads are pushed back a little by the symphonic layers. Last part then, "T.D.M.". Seems like the guys had a little play with the letters D, T and M when you look at the three subtitles. Anyhow, here you can be at ease. Atmospheric, accoustic and ambient are terms that fit very well here. Due to its shortness (01:35) this track also feels like an interlude, though it's the ending of the trilogy. Musically it's got an Eastern touch provided by the backing sounds and accoustic guitar. It's as if you're listening to the soundtrack of "The Mummy" or a similar film. But the guitar was seeking a right tone until the main melody is found around the middle of the track, while the backing sounds continue to wave around and about, creating a sort of tension which comes to rest at the end.

Time to move on then, starting with "At Great Odds With...". This has a somewhat difficult start, as if no one dares to play the first notes, but that problem is solved rapidly as the music suddenly comes bursting in. This is Rock! And finally something you can consider to be a normal song. Symphonic elements play an important role in terms of melody, even if the guitars follow now and then. But they mostly fulfill the role of power provider. All falls silent at some point and is replaced by gentle guitarwork (electric and accoustic) with dito support from the drums and piano. Another beautiful moment. The vocals come in later, inline with the softness of the music. Over halfway the symphonic ingredients peak through the curtain again and right when you don't expect it, the volume increases as the music gets more rocking, growing bigger. The odds come to an end with a fade-out of the guitars, as if wiped away.

"Apathia" starts like a moaning/whining cat. That's the comparison I immediately made when I heard that guitarsound. if it's the guitar, that is. That sound increases in volume and power as the rest of the instrumentation is added, including harsh vocals. And the cat will remain present somehow, lingering in the back. It's nice to hear some rough singing, also because clean vocals would be so out of place here. Symphonic elements are added around the first minute, but soon disappear again. There's plenty attention for the instrumental aspect of this song and this makes it possible to turn this into a Rock track where the guitars play a key role, obviously, while the drums keep a steady beat. The last minute is totally different, heavier, darker, more rumbling with symphonic accents rising towards a point where Ben outs a sort of cry for help/attention/similar.

Next to the cast, we have the frog. Or is it a whale? In any case, that's what the twisting and cracking guitarsounds can be compared to in "Triumvirate". A hoovering sound comes up and sounds of the wild. Are we in the jungle? Or is this the part where the forest's surface is being reduced? It feels as if you're watching from behind the bushes, looking at the works taking place, and the wind is blowing heavily. I could be completely wrong with this description, but as you can see, this track isn't a proper song, but one of the several interludes.

"Movement". Very soft music comes floating in. The first words are sung and more music is added, like the violin playing a melody on repeat, bass and guitarchords. Slowly this whole develops itself further and along the way drums become more present. The trio offers gentle Progressive Rock here, the melody supplied by the symphonic elements. The guitars are not to be considered less needed, even if their role is more basis. The volume increases thanks to the use of - again - those symphonic elements. Let it be clear that they are a vital element in ENOCHIAN THEORY's compositions. Without them the music wouldn't have the same power or feel and simple keyboards wouldn't suffice as replacement. The unity of different instruments reaches new heights and gains in fullness towards the middle. The chorus is the place where melody and Rock collide and even merge, despite this being a sad part. Sadness delivered by the violins. You get solo time, occupied by the guitars and drums. The last instant of the song is one of Rock and totally different than what preceded. The pace lies higher and the symphonic backing pushes through the barrier at some point 'till the song is done.

"After The Movement" is next, logically. This is another shorter track, filled with symphonic instrumentation (cello and violin, if I heard right). And I even had to think of a passing ship, strange but true. As this is an instrumental track, it would not have misstood in a film. The melody is of the sad kind, the same thing counts for the atmosphere. It's as if this is the scene where all is destroyed and wiped away, because of the effects of the industry on the environment (looking at the cover again). Just look at the video of MICHAEL JACKSON's "Earth Song" and you'll see what I mean. Needless to say this is another beautiful track, sadly too short. The "Waves Of Ascension" gets the band back on the road with a direct start, though slow and very melodic. guitars dominate while keyboards linger in the back, yet push to the front as the music advances. It's interesting/beautiful/... to hear how the guys pull the plug when the first verse is there. The bass and drums (accents) are the basis, the guitar plays a soft melody. The singing is obviously adapted to this situation. Once the chorus is to be played, the power and volume gain in strength and the emotional aspect also increases. Over halfway all but the guitars and symphonic backing fall silent. Drums and bass join in a little later. This specific moment offers a bit of rest, but is another proof of the quality delivered here. High quality even. The final rise to power bubbles up, but is terminated by clean and fine sweep of the violin.

The longest song and track then (clocking in around 07:15): "The Fire Around The Lotus". This is one of my favourites. At first it's got a rather sad, melancholic melody (violin), gentle guitarchords and vocals with a radio-effect. That first part alone is extremely beautiful, at least to my ears. When the drums are added and the music flows more freely... absolutely breathtaking and tears-producing. The chorus makes the character of the music aggressive and violent., including the rougher vocals. This is a great move that perfectly contrasts with the first part, which comes back after this sidestep. ENOCHIAN THEORY is a Progressive band, after all, so you can expect another part that is unlike the others. That one comes around 05:25 and features just the guitar with drum accents (cymbals), sounding like it's going to take off soon, yet remains stuck somewhere. A slab of heaviness takes over and puts an end to the lotus once and for all.

The title of this last interlude says it all: "The Living Continuum". Science Fiction, baby. It's similar to "Everyending Has A Beginning...". Sounds of the universe. Here too, any space-related Science Fiction film will do. And this brings us to "A Monument To The Death Of An Idea", which was the title of the band's same-titled EP and either they just preserved the title or this is a re-recording (original or reworked) of one of those tracks or a mix of elements from all or some of those tracks. Whatever. It starts with a funky rhythm after which the Jazzyness breaks loose, with keyboards and all. The music is delivered at full power, though with a humble violin in the back. Ben sings out of full chest, clean and - truth be told - a bit whiney, if you ask me. Musically the band even added a Doomy part, Sludge Doom you could say, that transcends into a whole of heavy, grooving/grinding Rock... to go back to the calm sort of music that - in a way - has something COLDPLAY-ish (and I truly dislike the crap they make. To each his own, of course) and striking back with the heavy grinding. It's like a storm at sea, up and down the music goes. Overall, this last song isn't bad, but it's not the best of the pack either.

ENOCHIAN THEORY has given me quite a task here. I'm used to heavier Rock and Metal, even in the Progressive category. Then again, it's interesting to hear a different take on Progressive Rock/Metal, the softer side. If you need comparable material, just see the bands I mentioned above and/or google for other reviews. Like I said in the beginning, "Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio" is not a regular album, but is to be considered one whole of connected tracks that tell a story. You can shuffle the tracks just for listening pleasure, but if you want to go with the right flow, it's from track 1 to track 13, non-stop. The production is very good, the compositions very well made and foremost, this album is over before you know it, as the songs connect very neatly. There are many layers here, so take your time, but it is very much worth it. One bad move is the absence of lyrics, that would have made the picture complete. Honesty obliges me to declare this release as one of the surprises of this year, but it will be hard to end in (at least) my Top 10.

More info at www.enochiantheory.co.uk.

Line-up:
Ben Harris-Hayes - vocals, guitars
Shaun Rayment - bass
Sam Street - drums, percussion
The Lost Orchestra - pianos, synthesizers, extra sounds and orchestral performance


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KALEDON – Roaming The Land: Ten Years Later (Kaledon 2009)

Kaledon - Roaming The Land
  1. The Calling
  2. Shadow Of Azrael
  3. A New Man
  4. The End Of The Green Power
  5. Greatest Heart
  6. Undeads Again
  7. drum solo
  8. Wounded Friend
  9. Spirit Of The Dragon *
  10. God Says Yes *
  11. The God Beyond The Man
  12. We Will Rock You (QUEEN cover)
  13. Clash Of The Titans
  14. Revenge
  15. Return To Kaledon
  16. In Search Of Kaledon *

I'm not going to go through KALEDON's history anymore. Just read the reviews I've written of all their albums. The band has been in existence for ten years now and so the time was nigh for a live release. Since the 27th of July this is the case and it's called "Roaming The Land - Ten Years Later". For now, it's only available as mp3 (CD might follow later), but the DVD-version is in the making, although it's not sure yet when this will come out. The gig was recorded at Stazione Birra on the 30th of October 2008. Obviously you won't hear English binding texts, as the gig is played on Italian soil with all or mostly Italian fans. For this occasion the band invited ex-vocalist Antoni Drago (see * in the tracklisting). Claudio Conti, the band's previous vocalist, was not invited for whatever reason. For the tracklisting the band had enough albums and songs to choose from. And when I compare the one on the band's website with what I eventually heard, three tracks didn't make it onto the album or these titles were mentioned to mislead the fans in a way: "Mighty Son Of The Great Lord", "Black Telepathy" and "Into The Fog". Three very nice songs, by the way.

It starts with the intro from "Chapter 1: The Destruction", "The Calling". It's been a while since I last heard KALEDON's first two albums, so it was nice to hear this piece again. "Shadow Of Azrael" (from "The King's Rescue") follows smoothly and keeps the nostalgic mood intact. Despite his accent, Marco does a good job and better than how Claudio sounded back then, but it's still different. This is a nice song to sing along with and the atmosphere is great. With "A New Man" the first track off "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins" comes out of the speakers and it's obvious Marco's voice sounds more natural here, as he made his debut for KALEDON on this album. The singing is high in the mix and the volume of the organ has also been increased a bit compared to the album. On the other hand, a bit more power, more daring, more passion would not have hurt this live version. The organ solo isn't bad, but it's not super either and later on this instrument sounds messy. Better said, it's best Daniele doesn't use it so often, especially not when proper keyboards are needed.

"The End Of The Green Power" does provide the wanted power, that's for sure. I also have no complaints about "Greatest Heart". Another example where the organ should shut up is the solo moment in "Undeads Again". It doesn't fit and it does more harm than good. David Folchitto is offered a moment of glory, but no matter how good a drummer he is, the solo itself is rather boring. He's capable of better things, in my opinion. The transition to this solo, meaning how "Undeads Again" ends and the focus is shifted to David, happens in a rather bumpy manner, as Alex and Tommy silence their guitars a bit too late and not direct enough. It's a trivial element, I know, but on the other hand it contributes to the realness of the recordings and a live gig shouldn't be top notch perfect.

Time for a calm moment with the ballad "Wounded Friend". Generally speaking this is a nice song and it should logically also shine live or maybe particularly live. And it does. The only difference with the album version is the accoustic guitar solo instead of the electric one. A very nice change, but why? For no reason? To try something else? And then it's time for Antoni Drago to come onto the stage for "Spirit Of The Dragon", also off "Chapter 1: The Destruction". This is the moment where Marco and Antoni address the crowd. In Italian of course. Nice for Italians, bothersome for foreigners who don't understand the language. Antoni's accent is even bigger than Marco's and that's something many Italian vocalist suffer from, the accent. Antoni has a rough, sharp voice, in a way comparable to Rob Halford from JUDAS PRIEST. This song as well sounds quite nostalgic. The result is nice, but that damn organ (with a spacey touch here) is present again instead of the normal keyboards. Talk about out of place.

Antoni stays on stage for "God Says Yes" and despite the crowd loving the performance, I once again have to criticise the use of the organ, which replaced the normal keyboards you would expect, as it's done like that on the album. The organ worked well on "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins" and I understand you would then use it in the songs from that album. And although a gig doesn't have to be note for note perfect, at least try to stick to the album's instruments and how it sounds there. Speaking of new songs, "The God Beyond The Man" was the first song that was presented at the time of "Chapter 5" and there was even a video shot for this, seeing the band at work in the studio. Hearing this song at this point in the track listing gives the album a fresh injection after the old songs. The QUEEN cover "We Will Rock You" already sounded very good on CD, the live version is equally good and Marco even asks the crowd to join in, which is not exceptional as millions of people around the world know this song.

Going back in time to "Chapter 4: Twilight Of The Gods", on which Claudio could last be heard and offering his best input to date, Alex and co. performed "Clash Of The Titans", which is a speedy Power Metal song. The execution is good, but it's clear that this kind of songs isn't Marco's style. Instead of asking Antoni to sing, Marco has the task to try "Revenge". And he did well. Highlight here is the solo moment with the guitars and drums. The uptempo "Return To Kaledon" is well done, but contains too much spacey keyboards compared to the album version. And last but certainly not least, another oldie with Antoni and now with Marco, too: "In Search Of Kaledon". This is one of the best songs on this live release! No question about it. Both vocalists are quite compatible, even if it's not perfection. The solo moment is very well executed. Bonus points for that.

KALEDON isn't the biggest band in Italy and so far they've been unlucky with labels and playing gigs abroad, yet you have to give them kudos for their determination. They improved with each album and made very good Power Metal album with "Chapter 4: Twilight Of The Gods". Even the latest, "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins" was a very solid album, even if the style was more Hard Rock oriented. And now, fans can listen to their band doing it live. It's obvious this is a fans' release. The sound is good, the performance dito and it's interesting to hear Antoni Drago's input anno 2008/9. Sadly enough "Chapter 3: The Way Of The Light" was completely ignored and save for that one song, "Chapter 4" underwent the same treatment. The band's two best Power Metal albums. Was it a vocalist-related problem? In any case, "Roaming The Land - Ten Years Later" is a very fine release and I'm looking forward to the DVD version.

More info at www.kaledon.com.

Line-up:
Marco Palazzi - vocals
Alex Mele - guitar
Tommy Nemesio - guitar
Daniele Fuligni - keyboards
Paolo Lezziroli - bass
David Folchitto - drums


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GRIEVING AGE – In Aloof Lantern, Thy Bequeathed A Wailer Quietus... (Grieving Age 2009)

Grieving Age - In Aloof Lantern, Thy Bequeathed A Wailer Quietus...
  1. A Quadrennial Dame Pyres, Hearses Shall No Yawn, Thence...
  2. Therefore, A Myriad of Gargoyles Bellow Their Aborted Versicles, Quoth Thee...

Many weeks ago I was sent the self-released debut album from the Saudi Arabian Doom Metal band GRIEVING AGE by Adrian from Lugga Music without prior notice. As I'm not familiar with that country - I didn't even think they had Metal bands over there - it did trigger my curiosity to find out what these Saudis did in the world of Doom Metal. Obviously similarities with existing bands would not be ignorable. GRIEVING AGE was founded in the summer of 2003, when Ghassan (guitars) met Ahmed (vocals) in a music store where Ahmed works. One must share a musical interest with someone else before starting a band and these two people happened to be both interested in Doom Metal. Time passed by and it wasn't until the following year that the first step were taken to form a band. A few line-up changes occured and since a few years the situation is stable.

The band's discography contains three releases so far: "Live Rehearsal" (2005), "The Hopeless River" (single, 2005) and "In Solace Enthroned by Thorns" (demo, 2007). since the 16th of July the debut album was added and carries the long and weird title "In Aloof Lantern, Thy Bequeathed A Wailer Quietus...". Currently GRIEVING AGE are still unsigned. For this album the band worked with Dan Swanö for the mixing and mastering. Aaron Stainthrope from MY DYING BRIDGE took care of the artwork, logo and layout. You can find two songs on this album, totalling a playtime of a good 35 minutes, which means you'll have to stay focused, as each song lasts a minimum of +/- 17 minutes and each also has a strange title. English words that don't really say anything logical, at least not in this order or composition. When reading the lyrics, there too problems arise to decode what is written. It looks like a Babelfish translation, with all due respect. I'm far from being an expert on the English language, but the titles and lyrics cannot be proper English, can they? Anyhow, when you're not sure about the grammatical rules or vocabulary of a certain language (English in this case), ask friends/fans/family/... for help. It will only benefit the band.

GRIEVING AGE plays Death/Doom Metal, influenced by bands like MY DYING BRIDE, SATURNUS, NOVEMBERS DOOM, and several others. "A Quadrennial Dame Pyres, Hearses Shall No Yawn, Thence...", the longest of the two tracks, starts with a dark intro before the Doom is unleashed.The guitar- and drumwork sound simple, which means not a lot of variation was implemented and this can and possibly will affect your focus. The vocals are done in a growling manner, but making sure you can still understand what Ahmed growls. Somehow. Musically you can of course mention several bands to compare with, but the ones that first came to mind for me were BLACK SABBATH and SATURNUS. Ok, MY DYING BRIDE, too and perhaps MOURNING BELOVETH. Speaking of focus, around the 11th minute all falls silent and an interlude is played, similar to the song's intro, for a couple of minutes, after which the slow Doom of before takes over, albeit at an even slower pace. As good as everything is executed and sounds production-wise, I did have to pull through to hear the song until the end. The aforementioned bands do, in my humble opinion, a better job at keeping things interesting. Even Funeral Doom stuff like that from AHAB, TYRANNY, ESOTERIC and others is more attractive. So, generally speaking, nice effort, but not perfect.

"Therefore, A Myriad of Gargoyles Bellow Their Aborted Versicles, Quoth Thee..." is a few minutes shorter and you might think these Doomsters activated other switches and knobs and that was partly the case. Whether or not for the better is another question. In any case, this track as well starts in a calm manner. The slow Death/Doom like before then kicks in and after a few minutes the music gets a serious tempo boost, which is a very good move, I must say. But that only lasts for a few minutes and soon enough all falls back to the slow-paced Metal. The drums are simple, maybe more so than in the first song and despite the early tempo boost, that doesn't change anything for this instrument. Nothing technical, no specific fills, ... just linear stuff. While Ahmed's vocals were more than alright in the first track, they tend to annoy in this second track. Again the production and everything around it is well done, but trying to listen from the first note to the last prooved to be quite an undertaking.

Metal from Saudi Arabia and more specifically Doom Metal, Death/Doom Metal. The influences are clear, but despite the good will of these Doomsters, the end result is not that super, no matter if the sound is good or not. Again, it does sound good and everything is well executed, but the compositions lack variety and filling to keep the attention vivid from start to finish. Even putting the album aside and picking it up again didn't help. Of course, we're dealing with a debut album, so in that context one can be forgiving. Doom Metal fans who seek to broaden their collection in a geographical manner - it doesn't happen everyday you get to hear Metal from Saudi Arabia or that region - may find GRIEVING AGE and "In Aloof Lantern, Thy Bequeathed A Wailer Quietus..." worth checking out. But if the band wants to go its own way and not be a clone band, why not try to incorporate Eastern influences? Indeed, the music must in the first place be Doom Metal, but that can already help a little (!) in terms of variation.

More info at www.myspace.com/grievingage.

Line-up:
Ahmed Shawli - vocals
Ghassan Fudail - guitar
Diya Azzoni - guitar
Abdullah Sabab - keyboards/guitar (session)
Hosam Tammar - bass
Emad Mujalled - drums


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CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES – Seeds Of Resurrection (Ceremony Of Opposites 2009)

CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES - Seeds Of Resurrection
  1. Frantic Convulsion
  2. Severe Carnage
  3. Supremacy
  4. The Fool's Ferocity
  5. Avoiding The Inevitable

CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES is a Dutch Death Metal band, formed in 2005 by As (bass), Pascal (guitars) and Marcel (vocals, guitars). The name is based on the members' different personalities and musical tastes. The drumposition was filled in by Sander, who helped record the first demo "The Fear Within" in 2005. Two years later the band's debut album came out, "Death's Dominion". Years went by, and obviously gigs were played to get the name out and acquire funds for the recording of a new release. Drummer Sander Jacobs can last be heard on the band's latest release, "Seeds Of Resurrection", which came out in July. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Tim Verheijden, who strangely enough already left the band at the end of 2009, being not so long ago. His replacement is Sander Helmink, who will play his first gig with the band in January. Since October CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES have signed a world-wide deal with Painkiller Records for the release of their sophomore album, "Seeds Of Resurrection". Yes, same title as the EP, which was made as promotional tool.

Live-wise the Dutch have so far played at Metalcamp 2008 in Slovenia and shared the stage with bands like AFTER FOREVER, BORN FROM PAIN, HAIL OF BULLETS, SINISTER, TORTURE SQUAD, TRAIL OF TEARS, ARCH ENEMY, ICED EARTH, MORBID ANGEL, ... One of the recent live events they played was Metal Against Child Cancer this month. I was there, obviously, looking forward to their performance, but could only see a short moment of their show. See my report of the festival for more details. Either way, I heard lots nevertheless and it was heavy and brutal. I hope to see a full show from start to finish next year, of course, to make up for the early leaving at MACC. Anyway, I had a talk with As and Pascal about the usual stuff and like with IZEGRIM the band was very cooperative in providing the review material. So here it is. "Seeds Of Resurrection" contains five new tracks and like before it's a self-release. The band's first label deal starts in 2010.

"Frantic Convulsion" takes a melodic, midtempo start and Marcel's growls and shrieks aren't far off. Slow verses, but a tempo boost in the bridge and chorus, where the Metal has more punch. In short, a very nice song to start with. And it gets better as "Severe Carnage" is set in with the bass guitar, creating some sort of tension... before the Metal kicks in, during which the tempo gradually increases. While the growls in the heavy grooved verses are fairly understandable, the shrieks in the chorus are not or very much less. Marcel made me think, in a way, of his German name-sake from DESTRUCTION, Marcel aka Schmier. He also tends to seek some high notes to shriek. Not all Death Metal needs a solo, but it can make a song more interesting. And so it happened. It's not a super technical one, but it's good. Later on, near the end, the vocals are left aside and it's all about the music, which is faster and wilder.

"Supremacy" is next and starts with the building of the song, followed by uptempo Metal, Thrashy somehow. Sadly this part comes to a halt really soon, despite returning later. Midtempo verses and again dual vocals (growls and shrieks, the latter for the accents). The song's got an evil character and the band managed to mislead me a few times here. Along the way the pace does quicken and that's a good thing. With "The Fool's Ferocity" the building is more epic, hymnic even. The music crawls forward before unwrapping its deadly forces comparable to a bulldozer. The contrast of sad melodies versus heavy grinding riffs is well done and works quite well in this setting. The production is of course not perfect, but it does give the songs a live character, a certain realness, as if you can see the band play. And that keeps the attractiveness high, of course. Last but not least there's "Avoiding The Inevitable" and that's the last track. This is by far the fastest of them all. I can be short: raging, wild, energetic, ... but without making it one big ball of linearity. The band managed to keep the song varied enough and end in this EP in style!

Short live experience, long studio performance. ;-) CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES are an upcoming force that is set to destroy many stages with their Death Metal. This is a hard-working band that deserves to be seen and heard, for I can only conclude with positive terms regarding "Seeds Of Resurrection". It's real, it's qualitative, it's honest and it's made with passion. What more do you want? Ok, there's one thing I need to criticize and that's indeed the sound... of the drums. Not that it's bad, not at all. But a bit more power and bite (if you know what I mean) wouldn't hurt at all. As this is more a promo EP, I take it for the upcoming full album such details will be dealt with. "Seeds Of Resurrection", an EP to have and a title to look forward to next year. Let the ceremony begin!

More info at www.myspace.com/ceremonyofoppositesmetal.

Line-up:
Marcel Oerlemans - vocals, guitar
Pascal Steffens - guitar, backing vocals
As van Loon - bass, backing vocals
Sander Jacobs - drums


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ADIMIRON – When Reality Wakes Up (Alkemist Fanatix Europe 2009)

Adimiron - When Reality Wakes Up
  1. Desperates
  2. Wrong Side Of The Town
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Choice For A Mask
  5. Mindoll
  6. Das Experiment
  7. Spitfire (PRODIGY cover)
  8. When Reality Wakes Up
  9. Still Winter Within
  10. Endeavouring
  11. Flag Of Sinners

A few months ago (it's October now) I surprisingly received a package with two CD-Rs from Alessandro Castelli, guitarist from the Italian band ADIMIRON. Strangely enough I had never heard of this band, save on MySpace, but I've never reviewed any of their releases. The two CDs were the new album, "When Reality Wakes Up", and a bonus EP with a few songs from that same album, as a gift, one might say. ADIMIRON was formed in 1998 and made a first demo in 2001, "Everlasting High". The "Eclipse" EP followed the next year and thanks to a deal with the Dutch label Karmageddon Media the band's debut album hit the market under the title "Burning Souls". This received lots of positive criticism, apparently, as the Italians delivered a solid piece of Melodic Death Metal. Once Karmageddon Media collapsed, ADIMIRON had to look for a new label home and in the meantime recorded "W.F.T.N.A." or "Waiting For The New Album", which was used as a promotional tool for labels and press. That was in 2006.

Anno 2009 the new album is finally out and titled "When Reality Wakes Up". Since I haven't heard "Burning Souls", I can't say how good it was or how it compares to this new album. All I know is that, with the line-up having changed drastically (Alessandro being the sole survivor, surrounded by three new people), the music also changed: very groovy Thrash in vein of NEVERMORE, ELDRITCH, PANTERA and similar. Whether that's a good choice or not remains to be seen. The album contains a total of eleven tracks, including a PRODIGY cover. The line-up lacks a bassist, so the band arranged for this instrument to be added too. Whether it was played by Alessandro or Danilo or done via the computer is riddle to me. Alkemist Fanatix Europe released the album on the 30th of June.

It starts with "Desperates", where the blunt riffing and pounding drums call the shots. This is a slow grooving song, also in the chorus, only here a melodic touch was added. Vocally you get clean singing, yet with a rough edge and a small accent. To spice the compositions a little, electronic/spacey elements were thrown into the pot. Overall this is a powerfull song, thriving heavily on the guitars and drums. Think of NEVERMORE, DOWN, PANTERA, ELDRITCH and similar and you'll know what to expect. The situation improves with "Wrong Side Of The Town", which has more drive and double bass. The guitars are again a dominating factor and even add melody here and there. Somehow I had to think of ICED EARTH. The music is very good and the electronic touches are present as well. There is however one big problem here: the blunt guitarwork doesn't allow for much variety and therefore you get a sort of monotonous brew. "Wrong Side Of The Town" does belong to the highlights on this album.

The curve was rising, yet drops again as "Forgiveness" is played. Calm guitarwork to start with before the Metal bursts in. The singing is also cleaner than before, especially in the chorus, and it comes across as whiney. But then again, the music is slower, more emotional, which makes this sort of whiney singing more fitting. Considering ADIMIRON plays Groove Metal, adding clean vocals is a risky undertaking and makes this marriage a difficult one. The song also advances in such a difficult way as if the band didn't know which direction to take. The chaotic guitars that were put at the end are, simply put, a mess. There is no other word for it. With "Choice For A Mask" it doesn't get any better. On the contrary even. You get a powerfull start where terms like pounding, grooving and bursting fit well. But once the verses are there all of that melts away and makes room for clean vocals and calm music. The most fitting expression is then "wtf?". The emotional aspect is present once more and reminds of bands like CREED and DISTURBED. Or in other words, I tried to suppress a yawn. The song has a ballad feel, despite heavier outbursts. At some point the music gets more drive, more groove and power, but that's sadly only for a very short while. Still, the overall result is not that bad to be put on the list of bad/worst songs.

But all hope is not lost as "When Reality Wakes Up" contains a few more worthwhile songs, like "Mindoll", one of the (few) highlights. It's back to heaviness with this one, back to music with balls. And I can assure you, the song couldn't come any sooner. The solos in between are short, but better than before and the spice here is the percussion. Very well done. But the fun is over soon when "Das Experiment" comes along. Starting with melodic, clean guitars, building a tension before the brutal outbreak wipes it all away. The drums, to focus on this instrument for a change, are varied and that alone deserves kudos. The flow of the song is, on the other hand, bumpy and thus never smooth. And that just makes you want to the ability to change it and make it fluent. The paradox here is that the drums play a big role in this bumpy ride. The chorus is clean and contains melodic guitarwork. At some point, after the heavy grooves, there's a dead moment. And that just doesn't fit, because you (the listener) expect something, but all you can do is think "DO SOMETHING!". Well, the chorus comes back into play, which was not what (at least) I was expecting to be done. But anyway, overall, this is one of the less good, not to say bad, songs.

Up next is the PRODIGY cover "Spitfire". I'm totally not familiar with the original, so I can't really compare. No, I didn't check it out either, because this is far from being my favourite genre, let alone favourite band. The electronic beats are present, obviously, and the guitars add bursts to increase the power. The tempo is slow, the music grooving and at least better than the previous song, "Das Experiment". The vocals are boring, to be honest. It must be said. It's as if Andrea tries to be tough, but he fails. In short, the song is too linear, too monotonous. But fortunately "When Reality Wakes Up" comes to the rescue and for once there are no vocals. Yay! Indeed, a fully instrumental track. Who would have thought that? The start is semi-accoustic with drum samples. A calm, relaxing piece of music as intro. The building happens little by little until full instrumentation is at work. Another ttrack for the shortlist of highlights, that's as certain as water is wet.

Three more songs then and it doesn't look too good anymore. The only one standing out is the last one: "Flag Of Sinners". It's also the longest track on this album. The music rolls on at midtempo and reminds of NEVERMORE. You get some Eastern touches along the way, which make the song more interesting. Even the ending is well done. Nothing more needs to be said, it's a decent song, plain and simple. The other two, "Still Winter Within" and "Endeavouring", are boring, dull, sleep-inducing and more. Well, perhaps not sleep-inducing, but I did have a very hard time to stay focused. In "Still Winter Within" effects were added to the vocals and that was just something they had better not done. The Groove Metal is reserved for the chorus, contrasting with the clean, whiney verses in which you'll also detect piano touches. Huh? Totally uninteresting. "Endeavouring" contains R&B drumsamples. That alone is enough (at least for me) to dismiss the song. Anyway, this element and calm guitarpicking form the intro, while Andrea's rough vocals come in as the music flows on. Obviously the contrast couldn't be bigger. This is a wrong marriage. The Groove Metal kicks in a little later and even this increase in heaviness can't save this track.

So, my first encounter with ADIMIRON. Let's make a quick summary of "When Reality Wakes Up": is it better than "Burning Souls"? I can't compare them, so that's up to you if you've heard the debut album. I found five very worthy songs, which below half of the tracks. Another four were reasonably good, be it as a whole or for the largest part of the song itself. And the worst two are to be found near the end. The change from Melodic Death Metal to Groove Metal was perhaps not the best idea, as I've read several positive comments about "Burning Souls". Is "When Reality Wakes Up" good on its own? No, it's far from perfect to be a must-have. I'm grateful for getting to know new material and with those five tracks, an excellent EP/MCD could have been made. If Alessandro and co. want to continue in this direction, it's best (in my humble opinion) to diss the bad stuff and focus on the good songs on this album. But to each his own, liking this or that music is still a subjective thing. Anyway, if you're into modern, grooving Metal, there's a chance you'll like what ADIMIRON does.

More info at www.myspace.com/adimironcrew.

Line-up:
Andrea Spinelli - vocals
Alessandro Castelli - guitar
Danilo Valentini - guitar
Federico Maragoni - drums


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SPIRITUS MORTIS – The God Behind The God (Firebox Records 2009)

SPIRITUS MORTIS - The God Behind The God
  1. The Man Of Steel
  2. Death Bride
  3. The Rotting Trophy
  4. Curved Horizon
  5. When The Wind Howled
  6. Heavy Drinker
  7. The God Behind The God
  8. Perpetual Motion

The Finnish Doom Metal band SPIRITUS MORTIS saw the light of day in 1987. Since then the band has released lots of demos and took their time for the debut album, "Spiritus Mortis", which came out in 2004. Line-up changes also occured - it seems no band, or almost none, is free from that. It's via their sophomore album, "Fallen" (2006), that I first heard about this band. What I heard was qualitative Doom Metal. Two split releases and a single later the band's third album, "The God Behind The God" is now available and out since the 26th of June via a new label, Firebox Records. New label, in that Rage Of Achilles went bankrupt after the release of the debut album, Black Lotus Records also had to close the books after a little while, so let's hope Firebox Records does not undergo the same fate. Two more line-up changes took place the last two years: vocalist Vesa Lampi left in August 2007 and a new, full-time vocalist was found in Sami Hynninen aka Albert Witchfinder from REVEREND BIZARRE. He joined in January 2009. Guitarist VP Rapo also left a few years ago and was replaced by Kari Lavila.

"The God Behind The God" contains eight tracks, totalling a playtime of a good 45 minutes. It kicks off with the rather fast - for Doom standards - "The Man Of Steel". This sounds like NWOBHM meets Doom Metal and you could compare it to old CANDLEMASS, but even to SOLITUDE AETURNUS. The musicianship is outstanding, be it guitars (rhythm and leads), vocals or drums. And since there's a new vocalist, I have to say that Sami has done a terrific job here. His voice is clean, but powerful and he's not afraid to even throw in some high-pitched screams reminiscent in a way of Rob Halford. Only Rob's are sharper, clearer. The very good production helps to make everything shine. A pity the song only lasts less than 3 minutes.

Since we're dealing with a Doom band, there have to be slow songs, too, and long songs. And sometimes both are united. One example is "Death Bride", clocking in shortly before the 8th-minute marker. Think of the two best (in my humble opinion) traditional/epic Doom Metal bands (CANDLEMASS and SOLITUDE AETURNUS) and throw in a slab of BLACK SABBATH. The music is very much Doom, with a feeling of being lost. The SOLITUDE AETURNUS influence comes out very strongly in the verses and Sami once again offers nothing but the best he can do. Around the fourth minute all falls away and it's just the bass that left. Little by little more is added, like the accoustic guitar, then the drums. The atmosphere of solitude is stressed at this point and Sami's singing sounds a bit as if going mad, before *bam*, the NWOBHM/Doom kicks in. Or better, think of old SAVATAGE (1980's era). Absolutely splendid result here. Even the vocals are somewhat reminiscent.

While I'm at it, more Doom can be heard in "Curved Horizon", "When The Wind Howled" and "The God Behind The God". The tempo goes from sloooow to slooow to slooooooow. I don't know if that helps to give you a better impression, but let me put it like this: "Curved Horizon" starts with the guitars in the back, waiting to come to the front, which they do shortly afterwards. I apologise for the name-dropping, but since it's what my ears tell me and to give an indication of how it sounds, it must be done. The BLACK-SABBATH-meets-SOLITUDE-AETURNUS influences are omnipresent again, which is good (or bad, if you don't like these bands, but then you won't like SPIRITUS MORTIS either). Sami sings ina hymnic manner this time. The guitars are active in both variants, electric and accoustic with the latter providing some leads. Since this track ends around 08:30 lots of attention can be spent on instrumentalism. Cherry on the cake is the part that start between the 6th and 7th minute where not in the least Sami delivers the goods.

"When The Wind Howled" is a more active song, though the tempo remains slow. The guitars are given a heavier sound and that helps a lot to create a dark atmosphere. The vocal deliverance is quite versatile this time, stiff on one occasion, clean/loose on another, whereas in other songs Sami tends to stick to one type of singing. Either way, another qualitative result. No complaints whatsoever. And then there's that other superslow song, "The God Behind The God", which probably the slowest track on the album. With a playtime of almost 12 minutes it sure crawls forward at a... ehum, rapid, pace. The music comes fading at Funeral Doom speed and sounds like the already named Epic Doom Metal bands. Sami's voice is inline with the monotony of the guitars, yet change to some sort of speech in the second half, as if preaching. All in all another very good song.

The remainder consists of more active songs, starting with "The Rotting Trophy". This is another midtempo track, reminiscent musically of BLACK SABBATH/HEAVEN AND HELL. Sami's singing has a feeling of despair, of madness, but it fits with the heavy guitarwork. Jarkko's drumming is quite active as he makes good use of his kit (incl. toms and cymbals). The only thing that bothered me is that this song, too, ends too soon and quite abruptly. Add a few more minutes (two-three) and that would be it, even if the delivered result is very good already. "Heavy Drinker" is a Bluesy midtempo song. Clean vocals, solos in between, music reminiscent of BLACK-SABBATH-meets-SOLITUDE-AETURNUS or similar, of course. Unfortunately this track, too, ends in a sudden way. Or is there something wrong with my ears? Last but not least there's the rocking and uptempo "Perpetual Motion". The title already says it and the music adds to that, providing a more Rock feeling with adapated (i.e. rough) singing. Quite nice, though not exactly SPIRITUS MORTIS's speciality, in my opinion.

"Spiritus Mortis" and "Fallen" were good to very good albums, but "The God Behind The God" is it even more. The line-up changes didn't have any effect or maybe a positive effect, even if the music was written before Sami joined on vocals. Since his voice - different than what he did in REVEREND BIZARRE, as he really amazed me here, more than before - matches so good with the music, this leads me to believe the guys already had him in mind when they were writing this third album. The fact remains that SPIRITUS MORTIS is a must for any fan of Traditional/Epic Doom Metal and with "The God Behind The God" they have delivered their best album... in my opinion. Definitely one of the best Doom releases of this year, not in the least due to its diversity.

More info at www.spiritusmortis.com.

Line-up:
Sami Hynninen - vocals
Jussi Maijala - guitars
Kari Lavila - guitars
Teemu Maijala - bass
Jarkko Seppälä - drums


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U.D.O. – Infected (AFM Records 2009)

UDO - Infected
  1. Infected
  2. Systematic Madness *
  3. Bodyworld *
  4. Platchet Soldat (remix) *
  5. Poezd Po Rossii (live) *

Udo Dirkschneider needs no introduction anymore, being one of the icons of Heavy Metal. He has made quite a career with ACCEPT, then with U.D.O., releasing eleven studio albums with the first and eleven with the latter, next to several live albums, EPs and so on. That will soon be twelve in the advantage of U.D.O., as the forthcoming release is called "Dominator" and is due for the 21st of August. Until then there's the "Infected" EP, out since the 22nd of June, containing four non-album tracks (see the *), of which two are special versions of older songs. "Mastercutor" was the last studio output, followed by the "Mastercutor Alive" release in 2008, available as CD and DVD and CD/DVD.

"Infected" has a total of little more than 24 minutes of playtime. Kicking off with the title track, you get a straight-forward heavy rocker of the kind that is typical for U.D.O.. It's vicious, mean, rough, even a bit monstrous and has a great sing-along chorus, which is excellent for live performances. Melody plays an important role again and although as a whole this is a pretty simple song, the power and and efficiency are clearly present. This German band shows once more how it's done.

"Systematic Madness" is another quality Metal song, starting with a calm guitarmelody, followed by the powerful outburst into slow/midtempo music featuring heavy riffing and low singing with a dark undertone. The melodic aspect increases as the bridge is in sight and falls back to let the majestical power of the chorus take over. This part reminded me a little of "Vendetta", which can be found on the previous album, "Mastercutor" (2007). Only here the tempo lies a bit higher and the playing seems to be firmer. Once again, another very decent song, with a very nice guitarsolo. The overall result remains simple but effective. One thing I do would like to criticise: the endless repeating of the chorus in the last part of the song. This may have its use, but it becomes a drag and ultimately loses its effect. It made me want to skip to "Bodyworld" a lot faster.

And that song is my favourite on this EP. It's starts calm, very melodic and then instant Metal satisfaction. Or in other words, a firm and strong midtempo track, played with determination. I had thoughts of "We Do - For You" at some point and that particular song was one of my favourites on "Mastercutor" (2007). The bridge contains a small pace-breaker, but after that it's back to 100% full-on power. Absolutely first class material, including the solo.

The two special versions that complete this EP are "Platchet Soldat (remix)", which is the Russian-sung version of "Cry Soldier Cry" from "Mission No. X" (2005). This remix also sounds lighter than what you would expect from U.D.O. in terms of heaviness. Not bad, but not exactly super either. It's nice, though, that you get it in Russian, but the remix isn't that spectacular. Also in Russian is "Poezd Po Rossii" or "Trainride In Russia". Here you get the live version, apparently recorded in Moscow. The original can be found on the "Thunderball" album from 2004. The live recording is very good, the atmosphere is so damn attractive you wish you were there and this is also stressed by the use of the accordion, turning this into a Folk song. A job well done.

"Infected" is a nice appetizer for "Dominator", that's more than clear. Musically and soundwise it continues the path of "Mastercutor", though you can obviously hear similarities with older material, which is normal, else U.D.O. wouldn't be U.D.O.. The band has stayed true to its style, grosso modo, so why change if all goes well? Udo and co. once again offer quality, even if this EP is more a release for the fans than the casual Heavy Metal fan or those that care more about albums.

More info at www.udo-online.de.

Line-up:
Udo Dirkschneider - vocals
Stefan Kaufmann - guitars
Igor Gianola - guitars
Fitty Wienhold - bass
Francesco Jovino - drums


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HELLCHIEF – Wave It Around (Hellchief 2009)

Hellchief - Wave It Around
  1. Endless Run
  2. Chief 2000
  3. Jack

HELLCHIEF is a Belgian Alternative Metal band, founded a few years ago. When is unknown to me, as even their biography doesn't cover that aspect. Even Google left me in the darkness. But considering they've recently released their first demo CD, or CDemo, it's not like they've been around since 2000. The press text does quote news papers where other songs are mentioned than those on this 3-track demo, "Wave It Around", which - I guess - came out in or around June (or earlier) of this year. Anyway, those other titles are "Streetloving", "Plow" and "Bloodclaud". HELLCHIEF has been in my MySpace list for a few months and it's only since that moment that I could add another Belgian band to the list.

This 4-piece band combines influences from different styles: Thrash, Hardcore, Rock 'n' Roll, Blues, Country, ... hence the term Alternative Metal. The "Wave It Around" demo contains three songs, totalling a playtime of... 6 minutes. I found that a bit short and would have preferred to have those other songs on it as well. But maybe they weren't good enough, or too different from the three on offer here. "Endless Run" is the first. Harsh vocals, uptempo music and to the point. The sound is good, for a demo, but it's a bit ofa pity that the guitar is pushed to the back in favour of more bass and drums. The mix of Thrash, Hardcore, Rock 'n' Roll sounds good and despite the shortness of the song, a wild solo also found a place here.

"Chief 2000" is an even better song. The tempo is set high here, too, but the melodic aspect has increased compared to "Endless Run". This Bluesy Rock 'n' Roll-ish track actually sounds quite happy. Singing-wise you get both clean (verses) and gutteral (chorus) vocals. A short playtime here as well and with just 1 minute and a half it's too short. Add e.g. two more minutes and it will be beneficial to the compositions and allow more space to fully develop. Other than that, a job well done. And last but not least, "Jack". This is - yes, indeed - a fast Rocker with clean vocals. The music sounds like a combination of Blues, Country, Thrash, ... and although this aspect sounds good, the clean vocals don't really fit and aren't that attractive. To add an extra spice, Pé (guitar) added another wild, but short, solo.

HELLCHIEF, though still in demo phase, has potential to take it further and so far the result, "Wave It Around", is worth hearing, yet lacks perfection. It could also be that their true power lies in live performances. All that remains to be seen, of course, but I do would like to see how they pull it off live. For now, anyone into a band combining several influences without compromising on heaviness and straight-forwardness can easily check out HELLCHIEF. One advice for the next release(s), though: either more songs or longer songs.

More info at www.myspace.com/hellchieff.

Line-up:
Dave - vocals
Pé - guitars
Guido - bass
Pascal - drums


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DEFEAT LIES AHEAD – Self Preservation (Defeat Lies Ahead 2009)

Defeat Lies Ahead - Self Preservation
  1. Self Preservation
  2. Revenge On My World
  3. Surviving The Game
  4. Demons To Protect

DEFEAT LIES AHEAD is a Dutch Metal band bringing together influences from Hardcore, Metalcore and Death Metal. The band was formed in 2007, but immediately combined forces to create own material. The first result was unleashed on the 20th June under the title "Self Preservation", a 4-track demo full of aggressive, grooving tunes with devastating breakdowns. The production/mixing/mastering process was handled under the guidance of Redpack Recordings. The band is currently working on an MCD, which is planned for later this year. On a live level DEFEAT LIES AHEAD has share the stage with PRO-PAIN, ARKANGEL and SETTLE THE SCORE, of which only PRO-PAIN is familiar to me.

Four tracks totalling a playtime of little more than 13 minutes. In other words, it's over before you know it. Then again, we are dealing with a demo here. It starts with the Hardcore-ish title track. Uptempo, brutal guitarwork, aggressive vocals and devastating breakdowns. Marcello even added a few blastbeats to spice things up a little, while the guitar outs a few screams at some point. At the last instant it's just the bass, rattling and soon rejoined by slow, grinding and grooving Metal. This excellent starting song is over after almost four minutes, but you won't notice it since the transition to "Revenge On My World" is very smooth.

This second track is about 40 seconds less long, but not less aggressive. Only the tempo has dropped a lot with the result that the music is trying to grind, groove, pound and twist its way towards the finish. All of sudden an energy source has been found and instead of crawling, you can say the music is running towards the end. And that is a positive change, although for the sake of diversity, it's good to not make every song sound the same or have the same rhythm. All in all a good continuation.

"Surviving The Game" has a rumbling start, followed by Hardcore Metal. One big monstrous happening, of course, but that falls back to midtempo-paced grooving Metal; still keeping the level of aggressiveness intact. Destructive breakdowns stress the power of this Dutch force and as the last seconds draw nearer, the music rolls on to meet them. With its 02:50 minutes this is the shortest track, with "Demons To Protect" as close follower with eight more seconds. This one starts with calm guitarchords, but then it's Hardcore time. Pounding drums, brutal vocals, thundering breakdowns and even a pinch of MACHINE HEAD. Very nice result.

For a demo I can say that DEFEAT LIES AHEAD has done a good job. Though this isn't the best Hardcore/Groove Metal on the market, the quality is there, the ideas are there. I'm not specialised in Hardcore - though eager to further check out some bands -, which might explain my problem with the shortness of the songs, which are to the point and ruthless. "Self Preservation" is one ball of aggression, of power, of "don't fuck with me!" and has been given a very good production. These Dutch are on the right path, even if I would like to see a bit more diversity in the compositions. If you want to obtain a copy of this demo, just contact the band for further informations.

More info at www.myspace.com/defeatliesahead.

Line-up:
Mike - vocals
Denski - guitars
Wesley - bass
Marcello - drums


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DECAYOR – Recurring Times Of Grief (Decayor 2009)

Decayor - Recurring Times Of Grief
  1. Stir Of Echoes
  2. Veil Of Despair
  3. The Sacred Heart Is Bleeding
  4. Weeping Willows

DECAYOR is a 3-piece Death/Doom Metal band from Ireland, the country where e.g. MOURNING BELOVETH (thé Irish Death/Doom band?) hails from, next to several others, of course. The band was formed in 2001, released a 3-track "Live Demo" in 2005, followed by a critically acclaimed demo in 2008 under the title "Welcome The Stench Of Betrayal". Now, one year later, the next release is out and this since June. Titled "Recurring Times Of Grief" DECAYOR makes it clear one is not to expect happy Power Metal tunes. The EP is self-released as the trio is still unsigned. Four tracks (one intro, 3 songs) this time, totalling a playtime of about 33 minutes.

"Stir Of Echoes" is the intro, filled with a sombre piano melody. A storm break loose, making the smooth bridge to "Veil Of Despair". A thing the three songs share is that they are each divided into three parts. In this second track the music is slow with obviously lots of sadness and despair, but with the right kind of roughness. We're dealing with a Death/Doom band. My ears told me it sounded similar to what bands like CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, MOURNING BELOVETH, THE GATES OF SLUMBER and (old) PARADISE LOST have done in the past. The production sounds pure and honest and that alone deserves lots of respect. Pauric growsl his way through the lyrics, but does it as if in agony to better reflect the overall content of the lyrics. Before the second part of the song is due, the guitar solo is played to accentuate the dark and mournful character of the music. With over 12 minutes of length, there's time to take a different turn and it happens at about the 4th minute. Any signs of heaviness have been neatly erased, leaving just the guitar and faint atmospheric backing while a second guitar comes fading in. The storm of before plays another role here to introduce an instrumental, epic part. What follows after that is very active and wild Metal with Pauric having adjusted his singing, sounding not in agony, but possessed, mad even. And this forms a big contrast with the first part. The last three minutes are similar/identical to the first four: slow Death/Doom with a fade out towards the end. A long track, but thanks to the more active side-step the end result is certainly very good.

"The Sacred Heart Is Bleeding" is a little less long,but still near the 10-minutes-marker. The Metal comes rolling in, like rocks rolling from a hill. Tension is created, the song is being built and then we're off at a solid pace. Midtempo Doom, as rough as before. Pauric continues his growling while the music now enters (old) SEPULTURA domain, though advancing at a slower pace than the Brazilians back in the day. 1/3 done, time for instrumental talk with a key role for the accoustic guitar afterwards to add to the melodic and sorrowful character of the music. But the big surprise here is... clean singing. Totally unexpected, but very good and fitting nevertheless. Kudos to Pauric for this twist. Later the heaviness/Metalness falls away. Only guitarplucking with backing is allowed. Feelings of emptiness and loss come up. Sloooow Death/Doom kicks, sorry, comes crawling in. Vocally everything sounds cold, bleak and icy, though that soon is undone by stepping up again and changing to what was done in the first part of the song. "The Sacred Heart Is Bleeding" is another hit. Amazing how these guys pulled it off.

"Weeping Willows" is the last track and this one as well is shorter than the others, but still 9 minutes. In fact, the three songs are set in decreasing order, from longest to shortest. It takes a direct start. Not as heavy or "brutal" as before, but more moderate. The tempo also lies lower than before. The drums and bass are in the spotlights for a moment, only until the guitar(s) is added. The music is also more sorrowful than before. With a title like that, pretty obvious, no? Pauric's singing sounds very hymnic, almost like how Frode Forsmo from the Norwegian Doomsters FUNERAL does it. Or how it's done in WHILE HEAVEN WEPT. Halfway the drums hold still and let the guitar do the talking. This evolves to wilder Doom with Pauric opting for growls again. There's even a guitar solo in this segment. After that the vocals reverts to mad, hoarse singing. The last few minutes are reserved for slooow Death/Doom until the end, although the tempo gets a quick boost in between.

With only four tracks and over half an hour of mournful, agonizing and depressing Metal, I can only congratulate the guys from DECAYOR for their dedication and honest work. Not only the songs, but the production as well reflects that pefectly. Not stcking to linearity and adding surprising twists here and there can only result in applause and kudos. This EP is indeed not one with happy tunes, but neverthless I do feel good in these "Recurring Times Of Grief". Which leaves me to say the cliché words, but meant in all honesty: highly recommended for Doom and Death/Doom fans. It's a self-release, which means you'll have to contact the band for a copy.

More info at www.myspace.com/decayordie.

Line-up:
Pauric Gallagher - vocals, guitars
Kevin Mc Closkey - bass
Gary Byrne - drums


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BE'LAKOR – Stone's Reach (Prime Cuts Music 2009)

Be'Lakor - Stone's Reach
  1. Venator
  2. From Scythe To Sceptre
  3. Outlive The Hand
  4. Sun's Delusion
  5. Held In Hollows
  6. Husks
  7. Aspect
  8. Countless Skies

The Australian Melodic Death Metal formation BE'LAKOR was born in 2004 and put out its first release in 2007 under the title "The Frail Tide". It had six tracks, a playtime of almost 43 minutes and took the world by storm. Especially fans of bands like AMON AMARTH should have had quite an interesting listening experience, also because th production was very good for an unsigned band. But nowadays many bands that are unsigned tend to deliver solid works. Positive criticism from Europe grew and even in Australia the band acquired a large fanbase. Around the middle of 2008 BE'LAKOR even signed to the Dutch label Descent Productions (ex-home of GORATH, IKUINEN KAAMOS, MOURNERS LAMENT and more), but few months later both parties seperated and BE'LAKOR was free again. Until June 2009, the month in which their second release and first full album ("Stone's Reach", 20th of June), you could say that, came out. Prime Cuts Music saw the quality the band has to offer and added them to its roster.

As the release date drew closer, the Australians added a new song each time to their MySpace page. I was extremely anticipating this new album and hearing the new songs made me instantly crave for more. Everything sounded so much better ("The Frail Tide" already had quite a good production), and the compositions were typically BE'LAKOR. George's growling, the guitarwork, the drums... Each of the three songs sounded so great that receiving the album to review shortly after the actual release made my heart pound 100 beats faster. Ok, some exaggeration here. We're now a few months later and it's only now that I found the time to write something about "Stone's Reach". It's a one man's business after all.

The album has eight tracks, totalling a playtime of more than 60 minutes. Talk about value for money, even though one doesn't mean the other will be alright, too. But in terms of musical quality, I have no complaints. It all starts with "Venator" and its Jazzy beginning. The Metal outbreak comes in like a whirlwind as the pattern of pounding drums, raging melodic guitars and demonic growling. This reminds heavily of bands like AMON AMARTH and OPETH. At least, the few OPETH songs I've heard so far. Calm guitar and drum interventions bring tranquillity before the storm comes back. Due to the long playtime, lots of attention can be given to instrumental talk, and that's a very good move, something BE'LAKOR do with style. The variety on offer in this first song comprises several emotions, from happy and positive to sad and negative. "Venator" is easily one of the best songs the band has written so far. With its length of a good 8 minutes and a half you're in for a long ride and that's the case with most of the songs here.

"From Scythe To Sceptre" is next and takes on a direct start at midtempo, building up towards the verses. George's growling (reminiscent of AMON AMARTH and OPETH, for example) is of course as present as can be. Guitars play a key role here and offer a constant eargasm as George and Shaun provide the listener with great harmonies. The second part of the song is more vicious, a bit faster, fiercer, but the melodic aspect is far from forgotten. The piano forms a stop at some point before going with the flow as the music picks up here it left off. Meanwhile the accoustic guitar has also joined the fold. And that accoustic guitar demands full attention a bit later, even occupies the lead position. Electric guitars and keyboards don't agree and fight back. Sad but true and truth be told, the music does sound sad, even with or despite the heavier rhythm guitar. Only firm instrumental talk follows then, but George is allowed to throw in some deep growls, somewhat reminiscent of Karl willets from BOLT THROWER, one last time. Need it be said that this is another fantastic song?

"Outlive The Hand" is next, a bit longer (more than 8 and a half minutes) and personally speaking, one of the best songs on this album. It starts calm with chord plucking and atmospheric backing, building the tension, adding a bit of suspense. Or is it meditation? ;-) Keyboards come fading and *bam!* A grand thing awaits and the tension only increases. The next bang is the definitive one. As if a tank is rolling on on high speed! And in that context you can easily refer to BOLT THROWER, only BE'LAKOR play this piece faster and more melodic. The piano plays along, too, and not to fill the empty spots. This song is filled with changes in terms of rhythm, tempo, melody and with them come various moods. The result is quite simply breathtaking. At some point an (semi-)accoustic break offers rest. Sad symphonic leads come in, while the drums keep a slow and gentle beat going. The mood here is one of sadness, tristesse, sorrow and despair. Absolutely stunning how these Australians neatly mix it with the heavier stuff. And that heavier stuff enforces this mood through the guitars and growls. The piano plays another important role as it breaks this flow and forms the bridge to a more Death Metal influenced part: fast drums, dito riffing and with the piano providing the melody/leads. Quite original, if you ask me, and I have to say this combination works very well.

Time for something happier then. At least, "happy" seems more fitting after "Outlive The Hand". "Sun's Delusion" is a midtempo track, taking a direct start. As is common in BE'LAKOR's songs, melody is one of the main ingredients, though the rhythm and drum pattern are also a lust for the ear. The tempo drops in the chorus where the atmosphere is sad and gloomy, not in the least because of the atmospheric backing by the keyboards. The instrumental talk, with the keyboards leading, is of high quality. Stunning even. And permits George to come in on specific moments, but certainly not too long. The guitars take over, together, and stretch their time before the original rhythm is picked again while the drums keep the tempo high enough. All falls silent about 2 minutes before the end, letting calm guitarwork come to the front, or better, demand all attention before one final rolling outburst is thrown out of the speakers and fades out by the guidance of the piano. Another long but fa-bu-lous song, let that be clear.

"Held In Hollows" also starts in a direct manner, though with bumping, an element that will return. George's vocals are added very rapidly, as he instantly jumps into the verses. Melodic parts connect those with the chorus. The tempo increases afterwards and then you're set for a long instrumental ride again, dominated by the keyboards and guitars. Since this isn't a short song, it lends itself perfectly for non-sung music. As good as the music is, it does sound different from what preceded, almost un-BE'LAKOR-ish. But then again, it adds to the variety and makes the album more interesting. Of course, the George and co. made sure you can recognise this as a BE'LAKOR song. Later on there's a nice piano break with the guitars before coming back at full power, still holding the melody played before that intact. All in all another qualitative song, though different from the others.

So far lots of Melodic/Progressive Death Metal has passed and continuing like before could (!) be overkill to some ears, which is why the band found it useful and fitting to implement a break ("Husks") at this stage. It's accoustic and fully instrumental. But it's not just a break, it's by itself quite a nice track, too. "Aspect" is, apart from "Husks", the shortest song on "Stone's Reach" with its nearly 6 minutes of playtime. Keyboards take the lead and provide atmospheric backing while guitars and drums go along in a marching manner. That's just the start. Once the real starting point is found, the music rolls on, energetic, as if it's with renewed power (!). The keyboard melody remains constant at this point. The verses are sound tight and firm and rock like hell (to use a cliché). The band even accelerates a bit after that. George's vocals are both of the growling and screaming kind (later on), but not the emo kind, don't worry. About one minute and a half before the end of the song all falls silent, save for a gentle guitarsolo followed by a build-up towards something more powerful, though slow and melodic, but nevertheless sad. Despite its shorter playtime, the band did manage to make something great of this song and shows that it doesn't have to make long songs to provide quality. Not that I want BE'LAKOR to change strategy, because their longer songs are too good.

And last, but certainly not least, "Countless Skies", also the longest song on this first full-length. The beginning is gentle and calm. The drums are added and the music goes into a Jazzy direction. No guitars, just the piano, the drums and vocals. Once the chorus is there, the Metal power comes rolling out of the speakers. The melodic aspect is high, though. At that instant the tempo also increases. Bonus points go to the connecting parts. Speaking of melody: they add a rather melancholic touch to the song and that feeling is enforced by the piano. The guitars are afterwards in charge of the talking, though Jimmy adds a few (cymbal) fills and Steve's piano skills come in handy as well. Overall this is another good song. Not as perfect as the majority here, but solid no matter what.

I said the following about "The Frail Tide": "This is really, really amazing and - if I may say so, because that's how I feel about it (obviously :p) - very original. I am very happy to have come accross this band on MySpace (it does seem to have its advantages). BE'LAKOR is one of the underground pearls of Australia (...)." For "Stone's Reach" I can't do anything else but use the same text and even hail the band some more, considering there are more songs, more music (Melodic Death Metal with Progressive influences), more of everything. The production has improved, the compositions are catchy, addictive, diverse. BE'LAKOR is a band that succeeded - sorry, succeeds - in keeping my attention and keeping me chained. Seeing them live would be the cherry on the cake. But for that I need to go to Australia. In short: heavily recommended for Melodic/Progressive Death Metal fans or Metalheads with a broad taste in general.

More info at www.myspace.com/belakor.

Line-up:
George Kosmas - vocals, guitars
Shaun Sykes - guitars
John Richardson - bass
Steven Merry - keyboards
Jimmy Vanden Broeck - drums


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RAM – Lightbringer (AFM Records 2009)

RAM - Lightbringer
  1. Crushing The Dwarf Of Ignorance
  2. Lightbringer
  3. In Victory
  4. Awakening The Chimaera
  5. Ghost Pilot (MII)
  6. Suomussalmi (The Few Of Iron)
  7. Blood God
  8. Titan
  9. The Elixir
  10. Prelude To Death

RAM is a Swedish Heavy Metal band, founded in 1999 by guitarist Harry Granroth. The debut album saw the light of day in 2005 under the title "Forced Entry", preceded by the "Sudden Impact" EP in 2003 (re-released in 2005). Obviously the band has to play gigs to spread the name and acquire a bigger fanbase. It is said that RAM is influenced by bands like JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, MERCYFUL FATE (I'm not really familiar with this band, which excludes any comparisons this way) and similar. Although I'm not that familiar with the music, except for the MySpace songs that were in the list prior to any news about the new album, it is exactly that album, "Lightbringer" (out since the 19th of June), that is my first proper encounter with RAM's Heavy Metal.

There is a total of ten tracks on this new release, including an in- and outro. And so it commences, with "Crushing The Dwarf Of Ignorance", which sounds like a news message mixed among the building music. Rain wipes everything clean so that "Lightbringer" can unleash its power. This is quite clearly pure Heavy Metal inspired by bands like IRON MAIDEN, DIAMOND HEAD and even ICED EARTH (bridge). An energetic song like this requires adapted singing and Oscar has the perfect voice for that, sounding fierce and ready for battle. The chorus is a pounding confirmation of the splendour of the music. Pure listening pleasure guaranteed! The dual guitar solos (taking turns) add the final touch.

"In Victory" is next and at first it sounds as if the guitars are seeking a way out. This is found quite quickly, as the slow/midtempo verses take over. Oscar sings in a more clean way here, but doesn't forget to go for a ballsy approach either. The chorus has something hymnic, hearing how it is sung and played. All elements combined made me think, at some point, of THIN LIZZY. As good as everything sounds and as good as the execution is, I found this song a little (!) less good than "Lightbringer" or the trio that follows.

A title like "Awakening The Chimaera" requires the music to be powerful and firm. The pace lies higher, helped by the rolling kickdrums. The JUDAS PRIEST influence is clearly present, not only in the music, but also in the vocals. Somehow I even had SHADOWKEEP and (old) SAVATAGE in mind. While the majority of the song is sung with a clean voice, the chorus is slower and has a rawer kind of singing, growling almost. Both musically and the way of greasy singing sound like GREEN JELLY's popular track "Little Pig, Little Pig". But all in all this is another very entertaining track.

"Ghost Pilot (MII)" starts with an exotic guitar line, a bit dreamy, atmospheric. The Metal comes blasting in and then it's time: firm, midtempo Metal. And what's more, the bass is pretty high in the mix. I didn't notice it that much before, but here you can hear it more clearly. Musically you can think of several bands to compare with (ICED EARTH, JUDAS PRIEST, SAVATAGE, IRON MAIDEN (in the chorus), ...) or summarize it as US Heavy Metal meets EU Heavy Metal. The riffing is great, the leads are great, the solos are great. All is great here! Even the high screams don't annoy, contrary to how it's done in certain other bands.

And it doesn't stop there. "Suomussalmi (The Few Of Iron)" starts with dark, "orchestral-ish" guitarwork to build the tension. A bass moment follows, playing the main line. The lead guitar joins in soon enough and last it's Oscar doing his thing. Heavy Metal is RAM's style, but here the band added a Folky touch to the verses and not just in the music, but also the way the lyrics are sung. The real power comes out in the chorus. At some point the music switches to what could have been a MANOWAR piece, sounding like "Warriors Of The World", after which the tempo increases again for the solo. An epic break is set afterwards, complete with marching drums, making you think of a film scene. The bass line and what followed from the beginning of the song makes its return here for the final minutes. Overall this is quite a progressive kind of song, something that is very welcome here and does not disturb the style or flow of the songs.

The final highlight is "Blood God". I can be short about it: it's pure Heavy Metal, like IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, SAXON, and similar. Raging guitars, thundering drums... pure listening pleasure. The last two, well, three tracks are also good, but a little less. I can't really specify it, but they lack that extra touch that can be found in the other tracks. "Titan"'s start is a confusing one, as you may think it's a ballad. But then it's Metal time! And this sounds a lot like AC/DC... the Metal version. The verses are alright, but the chorus is much better and epic, in a way. Around the third minute all falls silent and slowly something different takes over, starting with a fierce solo and rocking backing support before entering the domain of the chorus again.

"The Elixir" has a melodic guitarstart, but it's very short, sounding like the guitars were being tuned. Midtempo Metal comes in fiercely with a bang, though the tempo drops to reach the verses. Once the chorus is in sight, the pace quickens agains. Musically it's the same as usual, NWOBHM-meets-US-Heavy-Metal like, for example, (old) SAVATAGE. All in all an alright song, but nothing more. The outro "Prelude To Death" has the music fading in. It sounds Doomy, almost like ESOTERIC. Not that bad, but nothing spectacular either.

It was a (positive) surprise to find out that RAM had signed with AFM Records for their newest album, "Lightbringer", which meant easy access to the album (both for review and purchase purposes). I had to give the album several spins, but it became rapidly clear that the Swedes know their Metal and play it with passion and devotion, keeping the legacy alive. Composition-wise there might be a few things to improve, but in general you cannot go wrong with RAM or "Lightbringer" if you're into pure Heavy Metal.

More info at www.ram-metal.com.

Line-up:
Oscar Carlquist - vocals
Harry Granroth - guitars
Daniel Johansson - guitars
Morgan Pettersson - drums


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MANIMAL – The Darkest Room (AFM Records 2009)

Manimal - The Darkest Room
  1. Shadows
  2. The Darkest Room
  3. Living Dead
  4. I Am
  5. Ordinary Man
  6. Human Nature
  7. Spinegrinder
  8. Dreamers And Fools
  9. The Life We Lived

Power Metal is still alive and although not all releases are first quality, there is still an overload of good bands, or better, bands releasing good albums. Or good bands releasing good albums. Whatever. MANIMAL is one of those new bands, formed in the period when Power Metal flourished, anno 2001. Typical for this band is the fat guitarsound, the high-pitched vocals and the melodic impact on the compositions.

Before working on their debut album, "The Darkest Room" (out in Sweden since February, in Europe on the 12th of June, thanks to AFM Records), MANIMAL released three demos, one in 2001, "Human Nature" in 2005 and a third one in 2006. Obviously the debut album contains a lot of those songs, reworked or not, I can't tell. The production is, as I mentioned earlier, fat and polished. This is thanks to producer Tobias Lindell (MUSTACH, ...), who will also produce the upcoming album of EUROPE.

A new band, woohoo! Well, the first notes did sound very promising and I can tell that with "Shadows" the band composed a very good song to start with. It's a midtempo track, guitar-driven, though the keyboards follow in the back. Once the pounding chorus comes into play, the full musical power is addressed and this is a very nice treat for the ears. The solo moment over the middle of the playtime is an interesting and valuable element. Everyone delivers a solid performance, though I must say that the high-pitched singing does require a certain taste. I usually don't mind such singing that much, but here it's questionable.

The title track is next and the quality level remains high. "The Darkest Room" commences with a tension-building intro, making the music advance little by little until the slow, heavy verses take over. The tempo remains slow overall, though once again the brilliance lies in the chorus, dominated by melody and overall giving the song a bit of an epic feel. The solo part is short and thus rather functional. I would have preferred it longer, though. Samuel's high singing is present again, especially in the last part of this track and honesty obliges me to say it would have been better if he didn't scream and let another short guitarsolo be added there. Other than that, a very smooth delivery. Even the soft piano touches towards the end add to the quality that is delivered here.

But it doesn't stay that way. "Living Dead", "I Am", "Ordinary Man" and "Spinegrinder" are less good or interesting, as far as I'm concerned. The main riffing in "Living Dead" is actually the sole element that stands out, even if the song stands for power, drive and roll. Again Samuel's singing is the weakest link and especially the chorus is the bad spot in the song. "I Am" also has an intro in which the tension is being built to flow over into a flow of power. Midtempo is the set pace, the sound fat and groovy with the keyboards providing atmospheric backing. Overall this is a nice song, but those vocals... The solos have been good so far, short or longer, but here I fail to see how this part connects with the rest of the music.

"Ordinary Man", is one of the two least good, not to say the worst, songs on "The Darkest Room". The keyboards are the start and the guitars and drums set in along the way. At some point all falls away, and the bass guitar has its moment of glory. This song is very DREAM THEATER-ish and that adds a different touch to the whole. Sadly Samuel's singing is again the annoying factor. Not the normal voice, but the high screams really made me cringe and want to throw the CD against the wall. Ok, some exaggeration here, but honestly, stop doing that. The high screams can have a purpose, but here they do far more harm than good. And finally there's "Spinegrinder", a slow/midtempo groover. The bass is very important in the verses. The vocals are still a questionable element and even the radio effect in the beginning doesn't change that. As a whole this song bores rapidly, despite a nice accoustic twist.

Luckily there are still three songs make a big majority worth listening to: "Human Nature", "Dreamers And Fools" and "The Life We Lived". The first starts with the drums (toms) and bass, creating the foundations, on which the guitarlines are added. The combination steadily builds towards something great, or that's the impression that's being created. And then we're off, at a tigh midtempo pace. The music is very much Power Metal now and has a very nice rhythm and feel. The soloing, too, is better than before. And just when you think this is a 100% perfect song, you have to keep in mind there's still a singer in the band.

The next one, "Dreamers And Fools", increases the pace even more and that puts a big smile on my face. This track has got power, tempo, drive, punch... everything. The music is absolutely great, melodic and with an epic feel. The music, that is. The music, indeed. No, the vocals are what they have been all along. Exactly. So let's move on to the last track, "The Life We Lived", a slow/midtempo Heavy Metal one. Even though the music is more simple this time, it still is qualitative. The verses are devoid of heaviness, save at a later instant. The use of the accoustic guitar is a good idea and helps to give the album a touch of diversity. After the break in the middle the tempo increases and the music turns into something similar like on PARADOX's last album, "Electrify", which is something between Power and Thrash Metal. A very nice move.

When looking at the songs that really stand out, the score is pretty low. Adding the two second best, the situation obviously improves. MANIMAL shows lots of potential on their debut, "The Darkest Room". Especially the music (riffs, melodies, compositions) is well thought of and it all sounds very nice. Sadly enough, as much as clean vocals fit this kind of music, it's precisely this element that in most cases gives the listening experience a bitter taste. The quality is clearly there, but either Samuel has to stop overdoing the high-pitched singing (incl. screams) or the Swedes have to look for another vocalist. A recommended album? Based on the music, you can't really go wrong here. Based on the whole? That depends on your likes in terms of singing.

More info at www.manimal.nu.

Line-up:
Samuel Nyman - vocals
Henrik Stenroos - guitars
Pether Mentzer - bass
Richard Mentzer - drums


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BLAZE BAYLEY – The Night That Will Not Die (Blaze Bayley Recordings 2008)

Blaze Bayley - The Night That Will Not Die CD 1:
  1. The Man Who Would Not Die
  2. Blackmailer
  3. Smile Back At Death
  4. Alive
  5. Identity
  6. Kill & Destroy
  7. Ghost In The Machine
  8. Ten Seconds
  9. Futureal
  10. The Launch
  11. Lord Of Flies
  12. Leap Of Faith
CD 2:
  1. The Edge Of Darkness
  2. Crack In The System
  3. Voices From The Past
  4. Stare At The Sun
  5. Born As A Stranger
  6. Man On The Edge
  7. While You Were Gone
  8. Samurai
  9. Robot
     
     
     

After the succesful "The Man Who Would Not Die" (2008), the band fronted by ex-IRON MAIDEN vocalist Blaze Bayley, named BLAZE BAYLEY (before that it was BLAZE), went on tour and the result is the live album and DVD "The Night That Will Not Die", out since the 9th of June. It's a double CD, meaning the band selected songs from Blaze's entire solo career, from the BLAZE and BLAZE BAYLEY period. But even from his IRON MAIDEN intermezzo did the band pick a few songs. When I said in my review of "The Man Who Would Not Die" that "Blaze is like a fish in the water with his own band", the setlist of this new live offering did surprise me, since Blaze picked as much songs from his time in MAIDEN as from his second and third solo album together.

A small rundown of the number of selected tracks per album: "Silicon Messiah" (5), "Tenth Dimension" (2), "Blood And Belief" (2), "The Man Who Would Not Die" (8), "The X-Factor" (3) and "Virtual XI" (1). he last two are of course the IRON MAIDEN releases. Why only two tracks off "Tenth Dimension" and "Blood and Belief" were chosen is a riddle to me, considering they both are good albums. Obviously this tour was to promote the band's latest studio output, so most songs were picked from that album.

"The Night That Will Not Die" was recorded in Pratteln, Switzerland, at the Z7 venue on the 13th of December 2008. It's dedicated to Debbie, the band's manager and Blaze's wife who passed away two months and a half before this specific gig. The DVD lacks one song compared to the CD, since a lare wooden cut-out of Blaze prevented the camera from shooting decent footage. Next to the album tracks, two intro were used for both discs: "Gothic Power" (by Christopher Fields) on the first and "Apocalypse Now" on the second, before "The Edge Of Darkness" kicks in.

And once that first intro nears its end, the band comes onto the stage and you can hear the crowd go exstatic. You instantly feel part of the large group of fans there. The music kicks in ("The Man Who Would Not Die") and we're off for a great night of Heavy Metal. The sound is good, Blaze's singing is good, the solos are good. It's all good. "Blackmailer" is one of my favourite tracks off the last album and I thought it would sound as good live as on CD, but somehow it's a bit less and Blaze's singing here is also a bit less. But the overall result still is worth listening to. In the studio you can work with several tools, but that's harder in a live setting or with a live recording. When taking such situations into account, you can better focus on how it's done on stage. So far, no complaints. Blaze and co. decided to glue "Smile Back At Death" onto "Blackmailer". No binding text, just full-on music. The talking is for afterwards. And at this first moment Blaze is very grateful for the crowd having shown in in such large numbers, for showing the support, etc... and tells the audience they (band) are shooting a DVD, which will be/is accompanied by a live CD of the gig.

After these new tracks, the band continues with older material ("Alive") from the "Blood And Belief" album. In general this is quite an ok song live, though not really super, but the switch from energetic Metal to the calmer solo moment is a bit too sudden, in my opinion. "Identity", off the "Silicon Messiah" album, follows very rapidly. The situation improves a bit, but my ears couldn't adjust to the combo Blaze-music. It was as if the flow of the song was disturbed due to some incompatibility between these two elements. This could be due to it being live and not a studio recording. No time to rest after this song, as "Kill & Destroy" is around the corner. This energetic rocker of a song has a crowd moment, too, where they are encouraged to sing the very simple chorus, while bass and drums carry on. "Kill & Destroy" is one of the better BLAZE songs and live it sounds very good as well.

The start of "Ghost In The Machine" needs you attention, because it sounds a bit rumbly compared to the studio version. It's live, after all. But the song comes out pretty strong and the atmosphere does help to stay focused. "Ten Seconds" follows immediately and is another killer track on this live release. Afterwards Blaze holds another speech for the crowd, telling about his time in MAIDEN and so on. And that is a perfect intro for "Futureal", which comes off "Virtual XI". As bad as that album may be/is, this particular song does sound good here among Blaze's own material. The crowd loves it, too. Another killer track is "The Launch". Uptempo Heavy Metal, IRON MAIDEN style, but heavier and very welcome at this point in the set. The solos are also well executed. Another IRON MAIDEN song follows, this time it's "Lord Of The Flies" from the "The X-Factor" album. It's not that bad, but it's far from being as attractive, super, amazing, great and similar as what preceded. Once again the combo Blaze-music doesn't form a compatible duo. Maybe Blaze should have taken a different song or something off the "Tenth Dimension" or "Blood And Belief" releases. The first disc of "The Night That Will Not Die" comes to an end with "Leap Of Faith" from the "Tenth Dimension" album, but my copy had a faulty start. Lawrence announces the song in the last seconds of "Lord Of The Flies", but then 2 dead seconds interrupt this process. Something went wrong when the CD was made ready for pressing, I believe. It could be it's only a few copies that suffer from this, and although it's a trivial issue, it is a pity after such a smooth ride that allowed hearing the band at work without any interruption. But back to the song: a fine choice that ends part one in style, also because it's an uptempo song. The dual solo moment is the cherry on the cake.

Disc two starts with another track from the "The X-Factor" album: "The Edge Of Darkness". While the previous attempts weren't that successful, this time the song does sound good and everyone's parts form a good unity. Fast-forward then to Blaze's latest album with "Crack In The System". The album version didn't make me crave for more, the live version is quite simply solid. It could have something to do with the setlist and the mix of different songs, but somehow things turn out better live. In some cases, with other bands, it can be the other way around: live not good, studio much better. Blaze addresses the crowd at the end before continuing with "Voices From The Past", another new song. And this is another highlight! It helps to have a sing-along chorus, of course, but as I liked the album version, I don't see why it would fail to succeed live. And it succeeds! The tempo boost in that song sounds even greater live, so you can imagine what a feeling it gives. "Stare At The Sun" is one of the longest songs on the setlist, clocking in well after the 7th minute marker. Blaze's singing here is also more clean, less rough as on the latest output. Overall, no real complaints as far as I'm concerned. Everyone's skilled enough to play a tight set. It's also nice to hear the differences with each song in terms of instrument adjustment: Blaze's voice is more clean with older and IRON MAIDEN songs and the guitars, too, change their tone a little depending on the song. Playing each song with the crunchiness of "The Man Who Would Not Die" would not be a good choice and do more damage than good to the respective songs.

No pauses, constant Metal. "Born As A Stranger" is next and is nothing more than a solid uptempo Heavy Metal song. Quality assured. "Man On The Edge", dito. Blaze pumps up the crowd before throwing himself into the song. The track's playtime is longer than the song itself, because the band holds a 3 minute silence to let the audience enjoy and get ready for the last portion of the gig. Blaze does speak to the fans at some point before carrying on with the first of the last three (all from the "The Man Who Would Not Die" album) songs. "While You Were Gone" was half to my liking on the album, as mainly the uptempo part was very very good. Here it's another classic case of being half-good or so-so on the album and better in a live setting. The bass solo at the end does form a nice element here. "Samurai" was one of the highlights on the album, live it's as good, if not better. Blaze talks one more time to the crowd, thanking them large and wide and presenting the band that has offered them a very worthy and entertaining time. "The Night That Will Not Die" ends with a bang called "Robot". It's one of the more aggressive and Thrashier songs on "The Man Who Would Not Die" and comes out quite to very good on the Swiss stage.

"The Man Who Would Not Die" was a very solid album and recommended for any Heavy Metal fan. Having never seen Blaze at work live (neither with IRON MAIDEN nor with his own band - come to think of it, I haven't seen MAIDEN live either. Yeah, I know, sue me.) having the chance to review "The Night That Will Not Die" (partly) makes up for that and that's something I'm grateful for. Blaze is an underestimated artist (so is his band), that is obvious. He hasn't made one bad album so far (generally speaking, not song-per-song) and this live release is a confirmation that the will and power to go on are as strong as or stronger than ever. Almost two hours of pure and mighty Heavy Metal, spanning a wide period of Blaze's career. Not to be ignored.

More info at www.blazebayley.net.

Line-up:
Blaze Bayley - vocals
Nicolas Bermudez - guitars
Jay Walsh - guitars
David Bermudez - bass
Lawrence Paterson - drums


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TÝR – By The Light Of The Northern Star (Napalm Records 2009)

TYR - By The Light Of The Northern Star
  1. Hold The Heathen Hammer High
  2. Tróndur I Gøtu
  3. Into The Storm
  4. Northern Gate
  5. Turid Torkilsdóttir
  6. By The Sword In My Hand
  7. Ride
  8. Hear The Heathen Call
  9. By The Light Of The Northern Star

The Faroese Folk/Pagan Metal band TÝR saw the light of day in 1998, which was 999 years after the year in which chieftain Tróndur í Gøtu (the same as in the song "Gandksvædi Tróndar" on the "Land" album?) was told by Sigmundur Brestisson, at the decree of king of Norway Olaf Tryggvason, to convert to the Christian faith or face severe consequences, meaning death by beheading. Sigmundur Brestisson introduced Christianity in the Faroe Islands in the year 999. The entire story can be read in the "Færeyinga Saga", which tells the story of how the Faroes were converted to Christianity and became a part of the Kingdom of Norway. See Wikipedia (click here) for more information. One of the websites where you can read the Saga is northvegr.org. Or you can read it on Google Books (click here), though this version is in Faroese, Danish and German.

But back to modern civilization, as TÝR released five full albums so far: "How Far To Asgaard" in 2002 (and re-released in 2008 by Napalm Records), followed by "Eric The Red" in 2003 (re-released in 2006 by Napalm Records), "Ragnarok" later that same year (2006), then "Land" two years later and last but not least, "By The Light Of The Northern Star", out since the 29th of May. With the signing to Napalm Records and guitarist Heri Joensen taking over the vocal tasks from Pól Arni Holm in 2002 for "Eric The Red", the band gained rapid success. Mainly the critically acclaimed "Ragnarok" had a big hand in that, as it showed a band with power, skills, and on a conquest with sheer determination. Touring with a.o. WINTERSUN and AMON AMARTH helped to convert more lost souls. But as "Land" came out, the comments were less praising, since the overall tempo had dropped a lot. "How Far To Asgaard" was a slow album, but so was "Land", even if there were some faster moments. It definitely was not "Ragnarok II". The Paganfest tour and also that with labelmates ALESTORM and HOLLENTHON was another positive addition to their curriculum vitae, but on a musical level Heri and co. better not make "Land II", since it were the faster sort of tunes that were an important element in attracting fans. Of course, TÝR does not use Folk instruments to create their songs, rather let the guitars do the work and that makes TÝR so special. They also manage to put their own stamp on the songs, to create their own sound.

All the band's albums are based on folklore, sagas, history and more along those lines regarding the Faroe Islands, the Vikings, Norse mythology. And it isn't any different on "By The Light Of The Northern Star". At the time of "Ragnarok", I made the mistake, partially based on the cover art, thinking the album dealt with Christianity wiping out the Pagan beliefs. But it was about the war between the Aesir and the monsters and giants, resulting in the end of the world. At that time I was very ignorant on the subject of Norse mythology, but have been reading about it since some months ago, and some improvement is noticeable. ;-) With that in mind, I can say it's more fun listening to this already very good album. Seeing the cover of the newest release and the song titles, it's obvious the Christianity theme is more appropriate here.

"Land" is TÝR's longest album so far, with almost 70 minutes of playtime. the others follow closely, but "By The Light Of The Northern Star" is far behind with its 43.5 minutes (rounded off). As usual the lyrics are in either English or Faroese (or Icelandic), though the number of songs in the band's native language has decreased a lot. A comparison, and I'm counting the songs that are either in Faroese or a combination of Faroese and English:

"How Far To Asgaard" = 1
"Eric The Red" = 4
"Ragnarok" = 4
"Land" = 8
"By The Light Of The Northern Star" = 2

Is this due to popular demand that the majority of the songs are in English? Is it Napalm Records who requested this for marketing reasons? Or is it a band's decision to attract more potential fans? Whatever it is, I find this a bad move, as the native tongue of these Metallers is what makes TÝR's songs interesting and attractive. In my humble opinion. Even if you don't understand a word of it, the translation is in the booklets.

But on to the music. As I said before, the album is shorter than all the preceding ones, which were at least 60 minutes long. That leaves less room for progressive twists and other implementations. And at the same time that doesn't mean the result will be bad or uninteresting. On the contrary, even. The first song, "Hold The Heathen Hammer High" is a perfect example of what to expect and what was lacking on the previous album: speed, tempo, power. Especially the increase in tempo and that is a very good change. During the intro the tension is being built with the main melody and backing drums in tribal format. Little by little the pace increases until the battle commences. Then it's all about pounding drums and what you could call humpapa-Metal. Quite simply great! Heri also sounds more powerful, or better said, proud, very proud. Even the first words confirm this: "Heathen heart, pagan pride (...)". After the (unjustified) bad press about TÝR (with MOONSORROW and other bands on the Paganfest tour) being labeled as Nazis, racists and fascists by the German BIFFF (Berliner Institut für Faschismus-Forschung und Antifaschistische Aktion) when passing through Germany, I guess this was one element that made Heri even more proud of his heritage. Musically this is easy to digest, the connecting solos are a key connecting element, the lyrics are easy to sing along to (especially the chorus) and overall this is a song that will do great on stage.

Then on to the first Faroese-sung song, "Tróndur I Gøtu". It's a typical TÝR song, rolling on at midtempo. The playing is firm, the solos are legio in number. In general a good song, though not as attractive as the preceding one, or most of the previous Faroese songs the band has written. Luckily there's "Into The Storm" to raise the curve and make the band score points. It's a pounding, double-bass song with slow verses and a fast(er) chorus. Here it's hard to sit still, as you'll discover a great rhythm, great chorus, great everything. Even the solo part in the middle. Lyrics are loosely based on a Faroese traditional text from the ballad "Geyti Álakksson".

In "Northern Gate" the drums play a chief role via the toms. Heri's "wohohoho..." in the chorus may have its use, but he sings so often it becomes a bit annoying or rather redundant. No, it is annoying, to be honest, and does more bad than good, even if Kari assists him on the toms. On the other hand, would a guitar lead (instead of Heri's singing) be better? In general the singing is fierce and proud, as if he's going into battle. The music remains in the midtempo area and is good to very good. The solo part is well executed, as usual.

Time for the second Faroese/Icelandic song, "Turid Torkilsdóttir". The start and ending are identical: a capella in a hymnic way. And I assure you: it's f-ing beautiful!! Absolutely breathtaking. The music (guitars and drums) are added in steps and this kind of reminded me of MANOWAR. Take that as a compliment or an insult, but I mean it in a good way. The tension is slowly being built and once the right pace (midtempo) is set, the music comes rolling out of the speakers with a very nice, though sad somehow, guitar lead. No Heri yet, but more guitar action in the form a solo, followed by the chorus and so forth until the a capella ending. Or to cut it short: the guitar leads play a very big role here, hence Heri singing less. "Turid Torkilsdóttir" is another highlight on this album. According to Wikipedia (true or not, but click here) Turid Torkilsdóttir (daughter of the king of Norway) was the first Faroese woman about which more is known than her name, as she was the most influential landlady during the Viking Age. She too is a character of the "Færeyinga Saga" and is said to have been married to Sigmundur Brestisson. The lyrics are loosely based on the Faroese ballad "Ása Dvorgamoy".

Midtempo is another characteristic of this Faroese band's music and it's no different with "By The Sword In My Hand". Power rules here, power as in Power Metal. This song has balls, big balls, even if the chorus has sing-along lines. The heavy riffing is really a lust for the ear. This will cause explosions on stage. Oh yes, I forgot, there are solos, too. Flawless, of course. There's nothing more to add but also declare this as one of the highlights of this new album. And an even bigger highlight is "Ride". Happy melodies, Folk touch... a song that can get stuck in your head, in a positive way. It's a simple song, but a very effective one!

So, speed, tempo? It's there and "Hear The Heathen Call" confirms it. Kari increases the speed of his hits and pushes the music onwards in a higher gear. The humpapa-rhythm is back, though a bit slower, yet the pace remains high and increases along the way, especially in the verses. The chorus is slow, hymnic and epic. A very fine piece of Pagan Metal and it's great to have the tempo increase again after the chorus. "Hear The Heathen Call" is also one of the better highlights here. The same rolling pace is chosen in "By The Light Of The Northern Star", i.e. double-bass, keeping things direct and efficient. The mixing is very good (as usual with Jacob Hansen) as bassist Gunnar steps more to the front. The heavy verses are in midtempo, the chorus, touching in a way, contain the uptempo double bass drums. The singing is also very fitting and good, even if all things considered Heri isn't Metal's best vocalist. But for this form of Metal, his voice is more than fine. The title track is also one of those tracks that restore your level of courage and power when you need it. The wild guitarsolo certainly is a big help then, too. Qualitative material to end a qualitative album.

Coming back to the music and TÝR's heritage, these Faroese are known for using traditional melodies in their songs. This time it's in six songs this is the case: "Tróndur I Gøtu" (Faroese), "Into The Storm" (Faroese and Norwegian), "Turid Torkilsdóttir" (Faroese), "By The Sword In My Hand" (Swedish/Finnish), "Ride" (Faroese and Irish) and "By The Light Of The Northern Star" (Faroese and Norwegian). But as the press text said these melodies are nowhere kept and passed on via oral tradition, they must have been recorded by now somewhere, no?

"Eric The Red" and "Ragnarok" could very much please me. The re-release of the Doomy "How Far To Asgaard" less, though it does have its moments. Maybe I should relisten to it a few times. "Land" was good, but needed lots of spins to get into it, and foremost lacked speed and tempo. This problem, if you call it that, has been solved on "By The Light Of The Northern Star". Power, drive, tempo... the songs put a smile on my face again and made me a happy TÝR fan again. The songs are shorter, simpler, easier to digest, strong enough to stand the test of several listens. The simplicity is maybe due to the story, not requiring too technical compositions. Having less Icelandic or Faroese sung songs can be good to appeal to more people, but it's best to keep the number of songs at a decent level, as they contribute to the magic of TÝR's Metal. All things considered, the Faroese have made an album (almost) as good as "Eric The Red" and "Ragnarok", but in a different way. Quality assured, as usual. If you like Limited Editions, this one has two bonus tracks: "The Northern Lights" (instrumental based on a Norwegian traditional melody) and "Anthem" (instrumental).

More info at www.tyr.net.

Line-up:
Heri Joensen - vocals, guitars
Terji Skibenæs - guitars
Gunnar H. Thomsen - bass
Kári Streymoy - drums


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STREAM OF PASSION – The Flame Within (Napalm Records 2009)

STREAM OF PASSION - The Flame Within
  1. The Art Of Loss
  2. In The End
  3. Now Or Never
  4. When You Hurt Me The Most
  5. Run Away
  6. Games We Play
  7. The Endless Night
  8. My Leader
  9. Burn My Pain
  10. Let Me In
  11. Street Spirit (RADIOHEAD cover)
  12. A Part Of You
  13. All I Know

STREAM OF PASSION, a new Dutch Progressive/Gothic Metal band, sees the light in 2005. Thanks to Arjen Lucassen (overly active in several projects with AYREON being his biggest) the band acquires rapidly a growing fanbase and international appeal. In the same year the debut album, "Embrace The Storm", comes out and scores a lot, not in the least because of Marcela Bovio's charming and angelic singing. Needless to say that the instrumental side of the album is another plus. Lots of gigs follow and to conclude a live release comes out under the title "Live In The Real World".

Two years after the founding the line-up shows cracks, dents and eventually some parts need to be replaced. Guitarists Arjen Lucassen and Lori Linstruth decide to leave and so does pianist Alejandro Millán, with whom Marcela has played in ELFONIA and HYDRA. Only three members left now: Marcela Bovio (vocals, violin), Johan van Stratum (bass) and drummer Davy Mickers. In 2007 the line-up steadily grows back to its full power as Eric Hazebroek and Stephan Schultz occupy the guitarists' positions, while Jeffrey Revet is the new pianist/keyboardist. The band is now ready again to hit the stage and work on new material, which resulted in the second album, "The Flame Within".

Being signed to InsideOut for the debut album and the live release, STREAM OF PASSION found a new home at Napalm Records, who didn't hesitate to offer this formation of skilled musicians a contract. "The Flame Within" is planned for the 29th of May. Thirteen tracks on "Embrace The Storm", one more for "The Flame Within". To come back to the line-up change once more: around mid April this year drummer Davy Mickers decided to leave the band and spend more time with his family. Luckily a replacement was found fast enough. His name? Martijn Peters. Davy did record the drumparts on the new album.

"The Art Of Loss" is the first track and instantly sets the overall atmosphere and power. It's a dark and heavy track, though symphonic elements play an important role, too. Marcela's soft singing contrasts heavily with the heavy guitars in the verses, but the result is quite simply perfect and that's just the first song. You also get guitarsolos in lots of the tracks and it's good that they added them here as well. The piano plays a smaller role and is foremost heard in the beginning and further down the track. All in all a perfect - well, very good, at least - start, but the best is yet to come.

The pace goes a little down in "In The End", in which there's a contrast in heaviness or better said, power. The verses are calm, in the typical STREAM OF PASSION style, while the chorus hides the full instrumentation. There you can here a marriage of power and emotion that is really breathtaking, but also gives the song a ballad-ish touch. The piano is more prominent this time and the guitarsolo is inline with the overall feel of the song.

The three following tracks have the same starting instrument. Yes, the piano. Jeffrey has his hands full, so to speak the coming tracks. "Now Or Never" is the first and focuses on the guitars again as element of power, while the piano leads the charge. The completeness of the instrumentation, including symphonic assistance, occupies the chorus. "Now Or Never" is a very decent song, make no mistake. But, at least to me, the previous tracks were more attractive. The situation improves, though, with "When You Hurt Me The Most". This could have been an Emo title, but it's not, fortunately. Guided by the piano, Marcela softly lets her voice carry the words. And this time, ladies and gentlemen, we have a ballad. Calm at first, growing as time passes by and the rest of the members join to play their parts. Vocally and instrumentally this is of course a commendable song. "Run Away" does not increase the tempo or heaviness, but is another ballad, featuring again Marcela's gentle voice. The pace is slow, naturally, and here as well the power increases at a later instant in the song. Symphonics, a very fitting aspect, were used as backing element in the chorus. In general, another good song, though a little less good than the song preceding it.

But enough piano talk, time for more guitar power. "Games We Play" kicks back energy into the album and that's because of the rhythmic guitars, offering a more than welcome sound after the soft, but melodic break. Each again plays his/her role and the keyboards (piano here) cannot be missed from their leading tunes, backed by symphonic elements (strings mostly). The chorus once more contains all power and energy and even sounds happier than what preceded, although it's not exactly the best term here. Still, the overall result is very good and puts this song on the shortlist of highlights.

Quality rules and this is also the case in the midtempo "The Endless Night", which not only combines Metal and symphonic instrumentation, but also offers a nice piano break before full power is restored. That Metal power is extra enforced in "My Leader", especially in the chorus of that song. The verses are again of the calm kind, lead by the piano. Instead of a piano break, it's the strings that get their moment of fame before the piano takes over again, paving the way for the solos.

STREAM OF PASSION's music can be compared to several other bands, like LACUNA COIL, EPICA, WITHIN TEMPTATION, GWYLLION (to some degree) and EDENBRIDGE. One example of the similarities with LACUNA COIL is "Burn My Pain". A symphonic intro, soft singing and heavy guitar bursts. Full melodicness, with an emotional touch, can be found in the chorus. Of course, it's the Italian band that came to my mind first, but some among you might hear similarities with a different band. Either way, "Burn My Pain" is a very decent song.

Up next is another highlight: "Let Me In". This track offers Melodic Dark Metal at midtempo pace and consists of the characteristic contrast between the verses and the chorus. The mix of heaviness and melody made me think of EDENBRIDGE's "Paramount" song, off their "MyEarthDream" album. A beautiful song by those Austrians, a beautiful song by these Dutch (and Mexican ;-)). But as good as this song is, personally - although I might change my opinion later - I thought "Street Spirit" was the best song on "The Flame Within". Maybe not the best, but the one that suddenly activated something in my ears or mind that made me appreciate the band's efforts a little more. Strangely enough, it seems to be a cover of a RADIOHEAD song. And I don't even listen to the radio, let alone RADIOHEAD. Sure, I've heard a few of their hits, but that's all. Anyway, the song starts in a symphonic manner, as if something bigger is coming or something dramatic just happened. Calm guitarwork and Marcela's adjusted singing follow. All elements work together to increase the power and build the song... until the chorus, though slow, comes bursting in. The overall feel here is emotional, heavy and dramatic. But foremost, what a voice! Stunning piece of work.

The last two tracks, "A Part Of You" and "All I Know" are different in terms of heaviness. The first is a slow Metal-stamped song in which the piano dominates the verses and the Metal aspect connects the different parts, to let melody take over in the chorus. The piao is a key instrument here. The second one is another ballad. Symphonics in the back, piano in the front, gently sprinkling soft sounds while Marcela sings the words in an appropriate manner.

A good debut album, "Embrace The Storm" - obviously, as Arjen Lucassen's input was huge then - and a few line-up changes later STREAM OF PASSION flows again and perhaps better than before. This time the entire band sat together and exchanged ideas and if you know each has enough skills to fulfill his/her role... "The Flame Within" is one that burns brightly, not in the least because of Marcela and co.'s devotion. Jens Bogren's mastering helped to give the music a powerful, yet polished sound to let both heaviness and melody, including symphonic interventions, create very entertaining combinations. The new release is a grower, but even after the first listen you cannot deny the quality that is on offer here. I mentioned it before, but this is not only an album for the fans, but also for those into LACUNA COIL, EPICA, WITHIN TEMPTATION, GWYLLION (to some degree) and EDENBRIDGE. Or similar. A must to check out in preparation for a live experience.

More info at www.streamofpassion.com.

Line-up:
Marcela Bovio - vocals, violin
Eric Hazebroek - guitars
Stephan Schultz - guitars
Johan van Stratum - bass
Jeffrey Revet - keyboards, piano
Davy Mickers - drums


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ALESTORM – Black Sails At Midnight (Napalm Records 2009)

Alestorm - Black Sails At Midnight
  1. The Quest
  2. Leviathan
  3. That Famous Ol' Spiced
  4. Keelhauled
  5. To The End Of Our Days
  6. Black Sails Of Midnight
  7. No Quarter
  8. Pirate Song
  9. Chronicles Of Vengeance
  10. Wolves Of The Sea

The Scottish pirates have returned. They released their debut, "Captain Morgan's Revenge", last year in January. This got them instant success and who knows, they could be the starters of a new trend with their Folk/Power Metal in a pirate context. Although it must be said that RUNNING WILD has been pirating the world of Metal far longer than ALESTORM (formerly known as BATTLEHEART). Earlier this year (2009) the EP "Leviathan" was released. The new album, "Black Sails At Midnight", came out on the 29th of May and even contains some of the EP's songs.

Musically it's inline with the debut album, although now the guitarsound has been made heavier. Lasse Lambert produced again, while James Murphy (DEATH, OBITUARY, TESTAMENT, ...) took care of the mastering. Line-up wise bassist Dani Evans left and has been replaced by ex-WAYLANDER guitarist Gareth Murdock.

"Black Sails At Midnight" is not only a title that indicates an increase in power of the Power Metal, but the cover, too, follows that idea. Whereas "Captain Morgan's Revenge" was more like "Want a ride? Welcome on board.", the follow-up is definitely not as happy, and more "You're on board now, but nothing is as it seems. This won't be a smooth ride, you'll have to show your worth."

"The Quest" kicks off the faring. A gallopping rhythm, a good and firm tempo and orchestral leads (brass instrumentation and especially in the chorus, leading the vocals) contrasting with the heaviness of the guitars, which even have something Death Metal-ish.. The accordion also makes its appearance again, like before, in cooperation with the pounding/raging Metal. Absolutely great to hear. And yes, typical with this kind of music is the sing-along aspect of the chorus. To spice the song you'll hear Christopher and Gavin soloing in duel-form, with Gavin's guitar being doubled/duplicated.

"Leviathan" takes it a bit slower, but things advance still advance at a firm rate. Heavy guitars, trumpets and Ian playing better than before, adding small fills here and there. Christopher sounds very fierce and angry, inline with the increased heaviness of the songs. The bridge and chorus, mainly thanks to the trumpets, reminded in a way of TURISAS, THYRFING and similar. The accordion is active here as well, for a solo intervention or lead role, although in the verses it's the guitar that is the dominant and leading instrument. Quality still assured here, catchiness still a key element. The guitarsolo isn't the best, though. The keyboard one is better, in my opinion.

Time for a midtempo roller: "That Famous Ol' Spiced". This one, too, reminds of TURISAS and THYRFING. Trumpets are very important, then the accordion. The guitar is the no. 1 instrument, though. And to make the Folk atmosphere more appropriate a flute has been used at some point. The chorus (accordion-lead) still has the sing-along stamp, and somehow you can regard this as one of the party songs. The heavier guitars do not form a problem at all and are even an improvement to the music. After the solo moment (guitar and keyboards) the chorus is thrown through a tempo-decreasing Folk-filter - until the end -, meaning the tempo drops, but you do get the humpapa-rhythm. Very nice, though. The title made me think of Otik's spiced potatoes, which can be read about in several books of the "Dragonlance" series, specifically those which involve the Heroes of the Lance.

Fast accordion leads, and even the violin following that pace (coming back later in the song), and a stomping kickdrum indicate a fast song and that's what you get with "Keelhauled". Musically this is very similar to KORPIKLAANI, for example, but then at a higher tempo. There's only one word to describe this song: fun! And that counts especially for the chorus and melodies. Without question one of the best tracks on "Black Sails At Midnight". I have no (real) complaints so far. "Keelhauled" is a song one can play many times and I'm sure this will do very well live.

To recharge one's batteries, the band decided to add a ballad at the stage: "To The End Of Our Days". Sea sounds, a calm guitarlead... and then *bam*, slow, heavy music taking over. The accordion is used as connecting instrument. Later on you get an organ solo, the shakey variant. The chorus has a vocal line that seems to have been inspired by "Nancy The Tavern Wench". "To The End Of Our Days" is not the band's best song, but decent nevertheless. I like the variation in this song. Soft symphonic backing increases the feelings of sadness and sorrow.

Sharp, aggressive riffing (sounding a bit Thrashy, and I like it a lot) and a pounding drummer, what more do you need? Oh yes, a vocalist who seems to be a bit angry, too. "Black Sails At Midnight" is another pearl on this album. The chorus is one of power and balls and when you look at the cover, it makes more sense. Musically this reminded me of "Set Sail And Conquer". Speaking of Thrashy riffing, at some point Ian decides to play a bit faster to make that impression come more alive. More of this, I say. As far as orchestral input is concerned, trumpets in the chorus, but other than that it's more about the guitars.

Going back to what makes ALESTORM so popular: the accordion and happy melodies. That's where "No Quarter" plays a significant role. The leading melody is one that can make your day a lot better when things aren't going smoothly and you want to get a break. And what's even better, is that this song is fully instrumental! Guitars and keyboards take responsability and do so with splendour. Even Ian's drumming is very good and the variety in his pattern is well done. Trumpets and strings give the song a more epic feel and film-score touch. Scotland, twelve points. L'Ecosse: douze points.

A tempo decrease, accordion back in the front, here's the "Pirate Song". Gavin's guitar role is one of power and rhythm, though it's not the most important instrument. Ian adds his toms for the sake of diversity and to make the atmosphere come more alive. Although low in the mix, the band used a vibraslap again. Guitar and keyboards offer another round of solos, which makes the song complete. As good as everything is executed, I do think that this song is to be played every x times or depending on the moment. Playing it a few times in a row isn't advised.

Two more songs, starting with the epic "Chronicles Of Vengeance". Pounding drums, trumpets leading and sharp riffing are the main ingredients to start with. When the trumpets fall away, it's the strings that take over. Christopher still sings in a vicious and rougher way. The trumpets in the chorus again give the song a TURISAS character. But wait, that's not all. You get the solos, as usual, and at some point... blastbeats! Yes, blastbeats. That's a typical element in Death and Black Metal, but it does work very well here, too. It wouldn't fit everywhere, but I'm sure it won't be the only time you'll hear blastbeats in an ALESTORM song. Well done, I say.

"Wolves Of The Sea", one of the songs on the "Leviathan EP", ends the album in typical ALESTORM style: trumpets, gallopping rhythm and sing-along chorus to increase the group feel. This one, too, is one of those positive songs to improve your mood, to give you power to get through life or other tasks. Solos as usual between the keyboards and guitars. What follows is something unexpected: an exotic break, but exotic as in the local kind of music of some exotic island, totally un-Metal.

ALESTORM is no stranger anymore, especially after their very nice "Captain Morgan's Revenge". "Black Sails At Midnight" offers more of the same, though with increased power through the guitars and drums and that is a very good and positive change, if you ask me. Important in the Folk/Power Metal these Scotts deliver is the feel, the atmosphere, the songs as a whole. Not each member on his own, although each does bring his own influences to the table. The music is very much KORPIKLAANI, TURISAS and THYRFING (mainly first three albums) influenced, which can be useful if you seek similar stuff. Either way, ALESTORM fans can buy "Black Sails At Midnight" unheard. Fans of Folk meets Power Metal should give this release a chance, too. Limited Edition lovers will find a DVD with the band's Wacken 2008 performance in the box.

More info at www.myspace.com/alestorm.

Line-up:
Christopher Bowes - vocals, keyboards
Gavin Harper - guitars
Gareth Murdock - bass
Ian Wilson - drums


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ROB ROCK – The Voice Of Melodic Metal - Live In Atlanta (AFM Records 2009)

ROB ROCK - The Voice Of Melodic Metal - Live In Atlanta
  1. Garden Of Chaos
  2. First Winds Of The End Of Time
  3. Rock The Earth
  4. In The Night
  5. Slayer Of Souls
  6. Judgment Day
  7. Only A Matter Of Time
  8. This Time Is The Last Time
  9. Savior's Call
  10. Metal Breed
  11. I'm A Warrior

Rob Rock has been singing for many years and not only in his own band, ROB ROCK, but also as guest in projects like AVANTASIA, WARRIOR, JOSHUA, DRIVER, ... With his own band he has released four albums so far: "Garden Of Chaos" (2007), "Holy Hell" (2005), "Eyes Of Eternity" (2003) and "Rage Of Creation" (2000). I had seen the last two in the shop (at least the one where I get most of my albums) when they came out, but never considered buying them, fearing I wouldn't play them a lot. Considering his second live release, the CD/DVD "The Voice Of Melodic Metal - Live In Atlanta" (out since the 22nd of May), could be reviewed, it was as good a chance and start as any to find out about Rob's solo work. The recorded show is the one at the ProgPower Festival.

The DVD/CD was produced by Ken Young and Rob Rock and was mixed by his guitarist CJ Grimmark. Beside the concert recording from Atlanta the DVD is filled with bonus material like recordings of the festival CRN in Germany from the year 2000 and some concert cuttings which were used in 1996 particularly in Japan for the television commercials. Next to that there are recordings of the club show in Rob Rock's home region Springfield from 1991 as well as the cuttings of some rehearsals in 1987 in Torrance, California. On top you can find a biography with rare and new photos and all album covers from 1986 to 2009.

The setlist consisted of songs off all four albums: two off "Rage Of Creation", one off "Eyes Of Eternity", three off "Holy Hell" and obviously the majority (five) off "Garden Of Chaos". First there a mysterious intro and then we're off with the thundering "Garden Of Chaos". An absolutely stunning song, also because the sound is very very good! Power, melody, atmosphere, everything comes out splendidly. Even Rob Rock's singing is actually top notch. He can fulfill the expectations both in the studio and live. The set continues with the equally powerful "First Winds Of The End Of Time". It's even heavier and fiercer than "Garden Of Chaos". The higher notes in the chorus are no problem for Rob. Due to this all sounding so damn good, it makes you want to be there or at least attend a ROB ROCK show.

Time for some faster material. "Rock The Earth" is an excellent track to kick energy into the show. Musically it reminded me of AT VANCE, EDGUY (and a bit more precise the "Return To The Tribe" song off the "Rocket Ride" album. Did Tobi copy Rob?) and similar European Power Metal bands. In any case, this is one of the highlights of the show and not in the least because of the great guitarwork. Everyone's doing a very good job, but since the drums aren't that technical here, it's the guitars that do most of the work. The dual guitar solo is simply outstanding. To prepare for the rest of the setlist, Rob and co. decided to add a ballad at this point: "In The Night". But it's a powerful ballad... powerballad. I think this live version sounds heavier and more Metal than the CD version, but I'll need to check that.

So, everyone ready for more energetic Metal? Buckle up for "Slayer Of Souls", a firm midtempo song with a melodic injection in the chorus. This song as well is a highlight. And once again the guitarwork really shines. Great soloing. The drums stand high in the mix, in each track, but it doesn't prevent the rest of the instrumentation to be properly heard. Kudos for that. The crowd is really loving it, that's for sure. Heavy riffing come rolling in for the equally heavy "Judgment Day". Midtempo, low sound of the guitars, great addictive rhythm... One of my favourite songs. "Only A Matter Of Time" seems like a typical ROB ROCK song, compared to what's been played so far. Midtempo, firm, ballsy, rocking! And lots of attention for guitarsolos.

"This Time Is The Last Time" takes the tempo down again and offers a sort of "resting point". Personally I find this one of the less good songs. Musically there are some good things, but mainly the chorus annoys rapidly. At least, in my opinion. "Savior's Call" is a heavy midtempo track with a firm pace, slowing a little down in the chorus where a shot of melody has been added, especially in the singing. "Metal Breed" needs no real explanation. Metal will forever stand tall! This is a song in true European Power Metal style: dual leads, firm riffing, uptempo drumming and Rob adding a ballsy touch in his own manner. The dual guitarsolos are once again a true delight for the ears. "I'm A Warrior" closes the setlist in true European Power Metal style, the midtempo way. In short: another great track.

"The Voice Of Melodic Metal - Live In Atlanta" is my first proper encounter with ROB ROCK and although this review is way overdue (it's August when I'm writing this), I can only do one thing and that's HIGHLY recommend this release (the live album in my case) to anyone into Melodic Metal from HELLOWEEN over PRIMAL FEAR to STRATOVARIUS. Or European Power Metal in general. This is pure quality, soundwise, musically, vocally. It's so addictive that even after having played the album, you'll played it at least one more time. Besides that, this is an excellent way to find out about ROB ROCK's music and check out the albums according to the songs you particularly like.

More info at www.robrock.com.

Line-up:
Rob Rock - vocals
Carl Johan Grimmark - guitars
Peter Halgren - guitars
Andreas Passmark - bass
Tracy Shell - drums


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SLOUGH FEG – Ape Uprising! (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Slough Feg - Ape Uprising
  1. The Hunchback Of Notre Doom
  2. Overborne
  3. Ape Uprising
  4. Simian Manifesto
  5. Shakedown At The Six
  6. White Cousin
  7. Ape Outro
  8. Nasty Hero

SLOUGH FEG, formerly known as THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG, was formed back in 1990 and have since then released quite a back catalogue, mainly demos at first, but the self-titled debut album finally saw the light of day in 1996. Since then these Americans have been very regularly putting out new stuff. I found out about them only two years ago, as I got to review their sixth album, "Hardworlder". The music was a little different than before, but still had the SLOUGH FEG stamp. Lengthwise the albums I've heard so far were always around 37-40 minutes, with "Traveller" peaking at 44 minutes. Or better, after "Down Among The Deadmen" of 2000 the playtime has dropped from 50 minutes to +/- 40. Nothing superimportant, just some extra info.

SLOUGH FEG plays a type of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal that has its roots in the 1970s, though adds a Folk touch here and there. The latest release, "Ape Uprising" (out since the 8th of May), has two significant changes: musically the band went back to their roots and sound very 70's again, which is a very nice move. On the other hand, another line-up change occured, as Harry Cantwell replaced Antoine Reuben-Diavola on the drums. Not that that has a big influence on the songs - or maybe it has, only the band can really tell - as SLOUGH FEG stays true to its ideas and influences.

"Ape Uprising" kicks off with a Doom Metal kind of song ("The Hunchback Of Notre Doom"), Traditional Doom Metal to be more precise. The kind of Doom Metal that lies very close to traditional Heavy Metal or even NWOBHM, if you like. See WITCHFINDER GENERAL for one example. Even though SLOUGH FEG is not such a band, adding such a song to the album makes the listening experience all the more interesting. And it must be said that the Americans know what they were doing when they wrote this song, for it would not have misstood on albums by CANDLEMASS, REVEREND BIZARRE, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, SAINT VITUS, and similar. The Bluesy solo is the final touch and fits in very well.

"Overborne" is next and immediately adds a good slab of powerful Metal to the whole. This track has more punch, more drive, more tempo. The guitarsound also appears to have been fatten a bit more, which not sounds well, but does not disturb the overall feel of the song or album at all. All things considered, I'd say "Overborne" sounds as if the lads are jamming, something I find very positive. The quality level is high and it will remain like this for the remainder of the album.

On the previous album, "Hardworlder", SLOUGH FEG added a few cover songs. Although there are none this time, the recurring part of "Ape Uprising", played by the toms and guitars, made me think of RAM JAM's "Black Betty" song. The song starts kicks off with that composition, but as the music advanced you feel this is going to be fun ride. And so it is! The midtempo Metal features dual guitars, a very rhythmic pattern and foremost a key role for the drums (rolls, toms, ...). SLOUGH FEG holds instrumentalism high, hence short lyrical parts and long(er) instrumental ones (very nice ones, even switching to Power Metal at some point), which is another element that makes this band worth checking out. Luckily Michael is a guitarist, too, else he'd have to leave the stage after a few minutes during each song. ;-)

Speaking of Michael, it's very well known - ok, maybe I'm exaggerating - that he's a good singer and if there is one song on this new album where he shines in that domain, it's "Simian Manifesto". Not that his input in the other songs is bad, not at all. His voice is also an important element in SLOUGH FEG's music. But in this fourth track his singing impresses me (a little) more. The music is pure and simple Rock 'n' Roll. Well, it's got that feel. Think THIN LIZZY and similar and you'll get the idea. The stop-start playing in the verses and full power in the chorus works very well, as the change flows very smoothly. A very nice move, I must say. What's even better is the long instrumental part (including solos, and varied drumwork) that takes up the rest of the playtime. So far, so very good.

"Shakedown At The Six" starts in a way that sounds similar to what MANOWAR has been doing on their last few albums: simple pattern, simple guitarwork, straight-forward Metal. Only, MANOWAR is a heavier band, sounds heavier, etc... On the other hand, SLOUGH FEG makes it more intricate afterwards, more interesting, more diverse and more passionate. Very nice is the turnaround at 01:30, changing the rhythm and general pace into something more firm and ballsy. Of course, as the song turns instrumental for the rest of the time, it's clear that this is solotime. This is very good Bluesy Heavy Metal you get here. It's fierce, energetic, honest and real. But maybe it's a bit too short, no?

Three more songs to go and strangely enough they each are a bit different in quality/attractiveness/(similar term). "White Cousin" is a midtempo, funky kind of song where the accoustic guitar plays an important, or better, key role, occupying the biggest part of the track, although there is electrical power in between. The guitarsolo is present, but it's much shorter than before. This is a good song, but somehow I found the previous ones better. "Ape Outro" is a confirmation of that, of the quality that lies in the first five songs. What you get here is a wild rocker of a song with once again very good musicianship (both guitars and drums). The closing track, "Nasty Hero", is a Bluesy Rocksong. In general quite alright, but in my humble opinion the least good/interesting song of the pack. Best part is the solo one. Then again, what are one or two less good songs when the big majority is very much worth hearing?

I've heard a few SLOUGH FEG albums so far (including some under the THE LORD WEIRD SLOUGH FEG name) and each album holds the same stamp. These Americans love the Heavy Metal of the 1970s (THIN LIZZY, RAINBOW, DEEP PURPLE, ...) and try to keep that feel, passion, energy and whatever more alive by bringing it to the 21st century. SLOUGH FEG is not the world's best known band, but they deliver the goods very much and "Ape Uprising" is a clear and firm indication/confirmation of that. Honest, true and standing their ground (i.e. making quality Metal) regarding this genre... you can only have deep respect for that. So anyone seeking such Metal, like in the olden days, SLOUGH FEG is one band that you need to check out. Very much recommended!

More info at www.sloughfeg.com.

Line-up:
Michael Scalzi - vocals, guitars
'Don' Angelo Tringali - guitars
Adrian Maestas - bass
Harry Cantwell - drums


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CROWN THE LOST – Blind Faith Loyalty (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

CROWN THE LOST - Blind Faith Loyalty
  1. Defame The Hypocrites
  2. Drawing The Parallel
  3. Bound To Wrath
  4. Symbiotic
  5. Finality
  6. Dreaming In Reverse
  7. Privation
  8. Impose Your Will
  9. Hollow Refuge
  10. Blind Faith Loyalty

CROWN THE LOST is an American Melodic Thrash Metal band, formed in 2005, and so far they have two releases out: "Reverence Dies Within" (self-release, 2006) and "Blind Faith Loyalty" (2009). The latter came out on the 8th of May via the Italian label Cruz Del Sur Music. The name CROWN THE LOST seems to have been taken from the same-titled song off "Signs for the Fallen" by SUIDAKRA. As far as line-up changes are concerned, the band has had its share on all but two spots, rhythm guitar and vocals.

When looking at the band's logo and name, I thought I was dealing with a Metalcore band, although Doom would also have been an option. As my taste regarding Metalcore is known, I was glad to find out that CROWN THE LOST is no such band. Their Melodic Thrash is worth hearing, although I wouldn't have mind them being a Doom Metal band. Either way, their style is right up my alley and that's already a good start.

Speaking of the start, it's wild! "Defame The Hypocrites" has two main elements: raging guitars and pounding drums, at some point going for a Thrashy approach. The singing is clean, though there's a grunting touch to them in the chorus. After this very nice first course, "Drawing The Parallel" kicks in, offering a perfect mix of heaviness and melody. This song is even more Thrashy, though that changes with the melodic chorus. Pluspoints go to the drumwork and the guitarsolos. Closing the first trilogy is "Bound To Wrath", a title which surely indicates something ferocious. And that's what you get via the riffing and drums, especially in the chorus, where the tempo is set a few gears higher. The solo moment is again quite qualitative. What's even more interesting is the accoustic ending of the song, forming an enormous contrast with what preceded.

And then the middle section, which takes up the biggest space, from "Symbiotic" to "Impose Your Will". Personally, I thought these songs were good, but somehow a bit less than the rest. "Symbiotic" starts with furious riffing, followed by the drums, flowing out into midtempo pounding for the verses. The bridge is where the pace is quickened, but all falls back as the chorus is there. That's when melody comes to the front. You get solos, too, no worries. First it's slow, but heavy. A serious tempo increase takes over and paves the way for a proper solo. Overall, a nice piece of Metal. "Finality" begins with growling guitars, flowing into a more melodic stream, pushed onwards by variable drumming. Once the vocals join in, it's straight-forward power that is delivered. Even when the chorus is played, or the short solos intervene, everything is alright. BUT! Further down the track Chris all of a sudden goes for the high notes and honestly, this instantly killed my positive thoughts about this song. I don't have anything against his clean singing, which surpringly enough fits with the aggressive instrumentation. But high-pitched singing is absolutely not necessary here. It does more bad than good. Well, it doesn't go any good, in my humble opinion.

Up next is "Dreaming In Reverse", also starting in a direct manner. The guitars have the chugga-chugga kind of riffing. Between the different parts a Thrashy, uptempo composition fills the spots, even adding blastbeats. The tempo drops in the chorus. Once again there's a solo moment, wild and fast(er). Another good song, all in all. "Privation" changes things a little, as the music rolls here, especially via the drums. Heavy riffing and variable drumming (even in the verses, going from normal to blasts, ...) are the key elements. BUT! Yes, once again the vocals form the black spot. I have no real complaints about the music. I particularly like the heavy guitarmoment further down the track. Vocally you even get grunts (bridge), but the high screams in the chorus are a bad move. You can consider this a personal taste issue, but even trying to remain objective I cannot see why you need high screams here. Quite a shame that one element can have such an impact on the whole. Last song of the middle section is "Impose Your Will". There is a build-up here, in short bursts, seeking the right, flowing pace. Midtempo Thrash is what's being delivered, with clean vocals in the verses, grunts in the bridge, and another melodic approach in the chorus. The drumming is again varied in terms of tempo, rhythm, fills, etc. while the guitarsolo is once more of the wild kind. This is actually one of the better tracks and one of the best of the middle section.

Last and certainly not least, the other two tracks that make up the shortlist of highlights: "Hollow Refuge" and "Blind Faith Loyalty". Although it must be said that there are tracks in the middle section that make the majority of the songs stand out. The first adds a tempo increase to the tracklist, obviously via the guitars and drums. The verses are where pounding Metal can be discovered, while the chorus remains the domain of melody, yet at a slower pace. Later on there's a very nice heavy guitar moment, followed by the solos. This is one of the longest songs and a longer playtime obviously gives the music more room. More pounding Metal is found in the title track. Midtempo is the set pace, but in a firm manner. Drums once again shine. At some point there's a slow moment, which is very different than what came before, but also nice to hear. The solos follow soon after that. In short, a very good song to end an overall solid album.

"Blind Faith Loyalty" has been a very interesting listening experience. At least five outstanding tracks, to which three more can be added. That gives a total of eight songs, when discarding the two others where the high-pitched vocals are a problem. Overall, though, it is clear that CROWN THE LOST has created a solid album and should appeal to anyone seeking a more melodic approach of Thrash Metal. Don't worry about the clean singing, as it may positively surprise you. Aside from the specific vocal issue, I do want to add that the production sounds a bit too compact, too compressed, something I hope will be resolved on the next album.

More info at www.crownthelost.com.

Line-up:
Chris Renaldi - vocals
Joe Bonaddio - guitars
David E. Gehlke - guitars
Dom Scarano - bass
Kevin Antonacci - drums


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CRESCENT SHIELD – The Stars Of Never Seen (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Crescent Shield - The Stars Of Never Seen
  1. Under Cover Of Shadows
  2. The Grand Horizon
  3. Tides Of Fire
  4. 10,000 Midnights Ago
  5. Temple Of The Empty
  6. My Anger
  7. The Bellman
  8. The Endurance
  9. Lifespan

CRESCENT SHIELD is an American Heavy/Power Metal band, founded by ONWARD vocalist Michael Grant and DESTINY'S END guitarist Dan Delucie (ex-NEW EDEN, ...). This was originally a side-project, starting in 2000, but after a few years it turned out CRESCENT SHIELD became more than that. As both aforementioned bands split, Michael and Dan could now focus even more on their collaboration. Two demos were released, in 2002 and 2004, before signing a deal with Cruz Del Sur Music for their debut, "The Last Of My Kind", in 2006. By then the other positions were filled by Melanie Sisneros (bass, ex-NEW EDEN, ...) and Craig Anderson (drums, ex-SEVEN WITCHES, ...).

Gerry Alanguilan did the cover art for the debut album and somewhat logically also on the new one, "The Stars Of Never Seen", out since the 8th of May, again via Cruz Del Sur Music. I briefly listened to some samples when "The Last Of My Kind", but didn't do any further following-up, although I kept the name of the band somewhere in the back of my memory for future reference. Having received the promo copy of "The Stars Of Never Seen", I was very delighted to get a proper chance to listen to CRESCENT SHIELD. And already did the first listen positively surprise me.

As the press text says, CRESCENT SHIELD play "melodic Heavy Metal in the style and spirit of 80s legends like MERCYFUL FATE, MANOWAR, FATES WARNING, and of course PRIEST and MAIDEN." Strangely enough, those weren't the first bands I thought of when hearing the songs. I was thinking more of HELSTAR, SEVEN WITCHES, ICED EARTH and so on. But I do agree with the aforementioned bands, as far as I'm familiar with their works. Since "The Last Of My Kind" was well received, CRESCENT SHIELD got to play on the Keep it True metal festival in Germany, where the colleagues from HELSTAR, OMEN and JAG PANZER also occupied the stage at some point. The limited edition of "The Stars Of Never Seen" has a DVD with the band's performance on this festival.

The lyrical aspect of the new material deals "with journeys of discovery: from mundane tales of personal revelation ("10,000 Midnights Ago", "Lifespan") and emotional exploration ("My Anger" and "Temple Of The Empty") to epic tales of space travel ("The Grand Horizon") and humankind's resurgence after global annihilation ("Tides of Fire"). These mighty musical explorations culminate in the 9 and a half minute "The Endurance" which tells the tale of Ernest Shakleton's doomed 1914 expedition to cross the frozen continent of Antarctica."

What is instantly clear when hearing the songs is the production. Nowadays lots of bands have a clean, polished and powerful production, which is good, but in several cases it doesn't allow spontaneity to come out. It's different with "The Stars Of Never Seen", where the sound is more organic and realistic, thanks to producer/engineer Bill Metoyer. It starts with "Under Cover Of Shadows". Michael sort of welcomes you through clean, hymnic singing, while in the back the musical storm is building. Once the right level is reached, a gallopping rhythm is set in at midtempo. Craig and Melanie, drums and bass, form a powerful and strong unit in this whole. Everything is of high quality here. In the middle you'll be confronted with a solo part that sort of forms a bridge into the next outbreak. But first we're in the eye of the storm, with just vocals and building backing. Although there are many vocal lines, there is enough attention for instrumental focus (rhythm and tempo changes).

The fast starting riff in "The Grand Horizon" announces a tempo increase and so it happens, as drums add their pounding stamp. This is a great song to headbang to. Or just play airdrum along with Craig. Double-bass kickdrums activate your every leg mussle. Vocal performance, instrumental elements... first class material, in my opinion. Sure, Michael's clean singing might use a rougher tough, but I can't complain at the moment.Halfway the drums fall away, leaving just the vocals and guitars, though the power continues at midtempo afterwards, in preparation for the solo moment, which again is backed the normal pounding rhythm. More needs not be written, as this is another very good track.

"Tides Of Fire"'s first sounds are far from being Metal, more Bluesy, though. Michael hymnic voice comes in while the guitar plays on. A moment later drums and bass set in for a short moment. That was the first part. The second one is one of power, drive and majesty. That's right, full instrumentation, full power. Pounding Metal, apparently something typical for CRESCENT SHIELD. Lots of guitartime here, not just leads, but also solowise. Still going strong, no weaknesses yet. But... that might change a little further down the tracklist.

The tempo drops in "10,000 Midnights Ago". Michael's voice is very prominent and contrasts heavily with the heavy riffs.As good as his singing is, I personally think someone like Matt Barlow (ICED EARTH) would fit more here. Overall the music is good, but somehow it's a bit harder to stay focused at this stage. It's not because this isn't a pounding song that it's not good, because it is. But I think it's best to play this among other songs (from other bands/styles). "Temple Of The Empty" is a bit different. The mandolin (I think), which returns later, in the intro adds some suspense, while the guitars and drums create a dark atmosphere before the full potential is unleashed. The tempo is a bit higher again, there's more drive and Michael has been given a new battery. The instrumental semi-accoustic ending is well done and a nice element here. Once again, all is well executed, but the high singing can get a bit annoying. A rougher voice would have been better, in my humble opinion. Also, this is a song, though better than "10,000 Midnights Ago", that needs a few listens to fully capture it all and that is both good and bad. Depending on the moment and your mood, it can either make you hit the "replay" button or the "next" one. I didn't have that with the first three songs.

Time for another ballsy song again and the title says it all: "My Anger". Already the building of the song indicates it will be a pleasure to listen to this. Pounding Metal, power and drive, vengeful aggression. Epic feel. Truly one of the best tracks on this release, next to the first three tracks. The only criticism I have is: why always odd time drumming? Why not go with the flow, as European Power Metal bands do? Sure, CRESCENT SHIELD is a American band, but I'm talking about the music. Wouldn't it be beneficial for the sake of variety? Just a suggestion.

More fast riffing, but midtempo pounding, in "The Bellman". This is a more hymnic song and very nice, I must add. Another highlight discovered. Play this loud(er) and let the positive vibe from the music get you through the day or whatever difficulty you're experiencing. And to break the drumpattern a bit, Craig did good to throw in his toms, for they do make the song more interesting and attractive and different than anything that preceded it. That's the way to go, variety. Keep it going. More of this kind of music, please. But sadly it's over too soon, with a playtime of barely 3 minutes and a half.

Before "Lifespan" takes up the last couple of minutes, it's "The Endurance" that asks for almost 10 minutes of your time. Heavy riffing, pounding drums, very nice leads. And it's the guitars that play a major role here, being both calm and wild in the verses, while adding a nice accoustic connection to the next composition. Obviously Craig adapts his drumming to the moment of calmness of heaviness. Tempo and rhythm are the changing factors here, logically with such a long playtime offering room for variation. Michael's singing is very good and he doesn't always reach for the high notes, but also keeps it at a normal level.

And then, "Lifespan". Fast riffing, drums preparing for the final attack. And then Craig plays the pattern I had in mind before: straight-forward, Thrashy and efficient. Pure pleasure! This is also the style you can use with double kicks, but what he does already fits very well. "The Stars Of Never Seen" started very well, it ends very well. I could play this song several times in a row without boredom setting in. From start to finish, quality assured.

Somehow I regret not having checked out CRESCENT SHIELD sooner, although the YouTube stuff was a bit of a help, but such uploads are just good as indication. It's best to have the album in your hands and play it on your stereo or discman or ... But that has been corrected with "The Stars Of Never Seen", the band's second album. The Heavy/Power Metal they play is one of high quality, let's be honest. The production, as realistic as possible, also adds to that and makes CRESCENT SHIELD stand out from most of the (signed) bands that release an album nowadays. The similarities with or influences from bands like IRON MAIDEN, MANOWAR, ICED EARTH and others are great as guideline, but this fourpack manages to make it all their own and that's what matters. I've said a few times, but CRESCENT SHIELD stands for qualitative Metal and "The Stars Of Never Seen" are a confirmation of that.

More info at www.crescentshield.com.

Line-up:
Michael Grant - vocals
Dan DeLucie - guitar
Melanie Sisneros - bass
Craig Anderson - drums


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ANGELI DI PIETRA – Storm Over Scaldis (CCP Records 2009)

Angeli Di Pďetra - Storm Over Scaldis
  1. The Tempest - Intro
  2. Ride Into Oblivion
  3. For Us, Fallen Ones
  4. Manannan Mac Lir
  5. Frost
  6. Storm Over Scaldis
  7. Lindisfarne
  8. Medusa
  9. Torquemada
  10. Forlorn
  11. Legendary Forest

ANGELI DI PIETRA, the Belgian Folk/Power Metal band, has been in existence for little more than six years so far, recorded a few demos and even an EP called "The Almighty MySpace EP" which they gave away at gigs last year, and finally got to sign with a label, i.e. CCP Records, for three albums. The first being "Storm Over Scaldis", which was presented this past Friday. The other two are planned for the coming two to four years. For the presentation of their debut full-length the band didn't hold a release party in the sense that they played the entire album themselves, rather held a small listening session for a small group of press people at the Metal Zone in Antwerp, Belgium. You can read more about that by clicking here.

But on to "Storm Over Scaldis", out since the 8th of May. On this album you'll find eleven tracks, an intro included. ANGELI DI PIETRA decided to cross the borders and occupy the Excess Studios in The Netherlands, a location where big(ger) acts like AFTER FOREVER, AYREON, GOREFEST, SINISTER, ELEGY, and many others have stayed for one or more albums. This resulted in a clear and powerful sound that fits the Folk/Power Metal of this Antwerp band. Although honesty obliges me to say that there is still room left for improvement.

The lyrical themes of "Storm Over Scaldis" range from historic battles between the Saxons and the Romans over Celtic mythology in the form of Manannan Mac Lir to fantasy-based events. Scaldis is the Latin word for Schelde, which is a Belgian river and flows through a.o. the home town of ANGELI DI PIETRA, Antwerp. Other than that there's is no song on the album that deals with this river or any folkloristic meaning that may be connected to it.

The album starts with a storm at sea or better yet, imagine the album cover coming to life and the band really floating on the waves, followed by a solid outbreak delivered by "Ride Into Oblivion". Lyrically this song deals with the battle between the Saxons and the Romans, viewed from the Saxons' perspective. The intro is therefore adapted to that atmosphere with marching drums, Folkish guitarleads, all building the tension until the cord snaps and pounding Metal comes rolling out of the speakers. Dual vocals, grunts (Guy) and operatic-ish singing (Sjoera), one handling the English words, the other the Latin parts, though the Latin lyrics are not the translated version of the English ones. The music is clearly Folk/Power, Power at the base, but the Folk influences are neatly woven into the compositions. Not only via the guitars, but also the humpapa-rhythm in the bridge. As the guitars are a key aspect, you also get solos as Gael and Quevin take turns or even combine forces. This results in a very entertaining moment, obviously, but it needs to be said that overall this is a very strong song to begin with.

The beginning notes and Vincent's cymbal ticking in "For Us, Fallen Ones" indicate a fast song. This is, lyrically, a sort of sequel to "Ride Into Oblivion", but can be applied in general to any fallen soldier who fought for the right cause. Guy and Sjoera take turns again with the lyrics, with the Sjoera also occupying the chorus. The start of the song is fast and pounding, with grunting Guy in the spotlights. Sjoera's parts are calmer, though still heavy, and that contrast is well thought of, also because each type of voice gets to shine with the right kind of music. The chorus is more active, Folkish, but also with a sad undertone as Sjoera sings the sad tale with accustomed music. Rest assured, things speed up and get more vicious, too. In short: another very entertaining track. Very good live, very good on CD, obviously.

Since ANGELI DI PIETRA took their name from one of RHAPSODY's - since 2006 known as RHAPSODY OF FIRE - songs, i.e. "Gargoyles, Angels Of Darkness" and more specifically the first part, "Angeli di Pietra Mistica", why not pay some sort of small tribute to this great band? At least, that's how my ears perceived the violin intro of "Manannan Mac Lir". This is one of the very few occasions where you'll hear a Folk instrument on "Storm Over Scaldis", since - as said before - the band relies heavily on the guitars to deliver that atmosphere, like e.g. the Faroese band TÝR does. Lyrically this song is about the god Manannán mac Lir, the god of the sea in Celtic mythology. But back to the intro. This is comparable to what the Italians have done on their last few releases, but in a more rudimentary form, I would say. And I like it. It instantly teleports you back to the Middle Ages or better, you can picture yourself (thanks to a.o. films and books) some scenes that would fit with the music. But then the power of Metal kicks in and prepares you for a bumpy, but joyful ride, also thanks to its galopping rhythm. Vocal duties are again neatly divided between grunts and clean singing (incl. some operatic-ish touches): Guy doing the verses, Sjoera the bridge and chorus. The solo is the extra spice on this tasty dish.

The starting riff of "Frost" vaguely indicates the tempo will remain high, but that's not the case, even though the music does roll on pretty neat. What you instantly should detect is the great guitar leads, which is one of the strong points of ANGELI DI PIETRA: the axe wielders Gael and Quevin. Sjoera handles the verses this time and more, including the bridge and chorus, which means Guy's input is reduced to a few words to assist or counter Sjoera's clean singing. Not only are the leads a very nice element, but there's even a heavier outbreak during the what you can call the pre-chorus. And that part is great to headbang to.

The title track is fully instrumental, and started by Kurt's vicious bass strings. Guitars and drums follow soon enough. Somehow you feel that vocals would fit, but it's nice to have something instrumental for a change, as it also offers a sort of break, so to speak. Further down the track things get more funky, with Kurt again in the spotlights, before returning to business as usual. My only remark here, and I also noticed it at the listening session, is that the song is too short, or in other words, it ends too abruptly.

Up next is a track that kicks back a serious slap of Metal into the musical flow: "Lindisfarne". Lyrically this song deals with the Viking Raid in 793. Guitars lead the way again and Vincent's powerful hits push the band towards victory. Needless to say that this midtempo song, also looking at the lyrics, is one of epic proportions. Or at least, it's epic in its content. Although musically not that similar, you do can put it in the same bowl as what bands like TÝR, AMON AMARTH, ARKONA, etc. have produced over the years. Melody continues to play a big role, not only via the guitars, but also Sjoera's interventions. The vocals department is for the biggest part occupied by Guy, while Sjoera only steps to the forefront in the bridge. The two short solo moments are a good addition, as they sort of spice up the song a little more. As good as everything sounds and is composed, I have to admit that the ending here also came a bit too soon. But that's just my humble opinion.

Time for something non-Viking then and more Eastern-influenced music with "Medusa". Lyrically the band Guy and Sjoera, both of which having written the lyrics for all songs, placed her in the Sahara, even though she was known in other places, too, like Greece and North Africa. Once again bassist Kurt has the honour to start the song and lays out the rhythm-to-follow, which the guitars perfectly do. The violin also makes a return to increase the Eastern atmosphere, reinforced by the guitars. The drums pattern is adapted to make the sound complete. Vocally the roles are divided again, but with the right kind of music backing them: Guy during the heavy and ferocious verses, Sjoera in the more tempting chorus. Another qualitative track, what else is there to say?

Going from the Sahara to Spain isn't that far. "Torquemada" is not only a place in Spain, it's also the name of an important person during the Inquisition period in Spain, i.e. Tomás de Torquemada. Allow me to copy-paste from Wikipedia: "He was famously described by the Spanish chronicler Sebastián de Olmedo as "The hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order". He is known for his zealous campaign against the crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims of Spain. He was one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree, which expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492." The music is obviously adapted to better express what exactly took place at that time. Heavy and fast riffing, pounding drums, gutteral grunts (verses) contrasting with angelic singing (chorus). To make the song even more special, Sjoera even added a spoken Spanish prayer. Afterwards both Gael and Quevin can give their all with some solos, another cherry on this tasty cake. One remark, though: Vincent's accents near the end (cymbals, toms) may be a good idea, but to my ears - and I'm nitpicking, I know - it would have been better if he just kept silent and let the guitar(s) play the final notes. Other that that, all is well.

"Forlorn" is one of the more Folky songs, not only because of the guitar leads, but also the humpapa-like rhythm, which is very nice! Sjoera takes on the majority of the singing, although Guy does join in occasionally, and eventually both form a symbiosis in the chorus. And I have to give lots of kudos for Sjoera's input. Absolutely great singing! The dual guitarsolo is again very much flawless, but has a THIN LIZZY-ish feel (to my ears) and that gives the song an extra special touch. Lyrically it's about you being the only creature on the planet, no one to talk to, no one to shout at, no love to share, etc... This track is so good on CD that will surely be killer live as well.

And as we near the end of the storm, why not finish it with a blast? Hence the pumped-up Folk/Power tune "Legendary Forest", which is based on the Oberon setting. There appears to be a party in the woods, but visitors (or intruders) are not welcome and anyone daring to approach will face the consequences. Musically the pace is fast, headbang-inviting and has a better humpapa-rhythm than "Forlorn", especially in the chorus. Both Guy and Sjoera fulfill their tasks with splendour, as usual. And even to the last minute the Antwerp Metallers provided quality entertainment.

I've said it several times, always after having seen them live, that ANGELI DI PIETRA is a band one must see live, for their music is very entertaining. I only had the "The Almighty MySpace EP" to listen to, which was too short, but that's inherent to an EP. Now that the debut album, "Storm Over Scaldis", is finally out, my sayings are more than confirmed. "Powerfolk for the masses!" as this six-pack says it and that's very much correct. I have to add that there is room for improvement (though it's in the details), but the music sticks and (at least) I (emphasis on I) had trouble leaving the album aside. The potential is clearly there - CCP Records saw and heard that, too. As far as I'm concerned, and I'm trying to stay objective, this is one of the better albums (in its genre) of 2009.

More info at www.angeli-di-pietra.com.

Line-up:
Sjoera Roggeman - vocals
Guy Van Campenhout - vocals
Gael Sortino - guitars
Quevin Smeyers - guitars
Kurt Hermans - bass
Vincent Pichal - drums


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GRANTIG – Medizin (Drakkar Records 2009)

Grantig - Medizin
  1. Medizin
  2. Dein Paradies
  3. 24 Jahre
  4. Warum Geth Es Mir So Dreckig
  5. 11 Minuten
  6. Guten Appetit
  7. Du Bist Nicht Allein
  8. Wie Fühlt Sich Das An
  9. Nur Für dich
  10. Zwiespalt
  11. Die Letzte Stadt
  12. Auf Wiedersehen

The German Groove/Thrash/Sludge Metal band GRANTIG was formed five years ago and have three releases out so far: "So Muss Es Sein" (Demo, 2005), "So Muss Es Sein" (album, 2006) and since the first of May this year, "Medizin" (album, 2009). Musically you could for the biggest part compare them with PANTERA, DOWN, MACHINE HEAD and similar. The band name means something like grumpy, grouchy. More cannot be said, unless you've followed the band around, know the guys and have better insight in their music and doings.

GRANTIG's newest and second album, "Medizin", is my first acquaintance with this band and their music. The man behind the buttons was producer Jakob "Jdawg" Bernhart, who gave the songs a powerful and clear sound. And that is clear from the start, with the title track. It starts calm, but then all hell breaks loose in a Thrashy manner. I can assure you, 't is wonderful! The Metal comes pounding out of the speakers. The overall feel is raw and you better stand aside if you prefer to live. A perfect start. And that sort of perfection can also be found in "24 Jahre". The start is Sludgey, but that's nothing compared to the assault that follows. Raging/growling guitars (going wild during the solo moment), raw vocals (clean in the chorus) and devastating drums that will make your heart pump ten times faster. The Thrash influences are so nicely implemented and it's clear that GRANTIG should not even dare to think to stop using them. Further down the tracklisting we find the last pearl, "Du Bist Nicht Allein". Also with a calm start before the slow/midtempo storm, which increases in power and velocity in the chorus. That part also contains very nice melodies and riffing and somehow makes me think of another song from another band. But damn it, I can name neither band nor title.

With the aforementioned three songs the best, some subjectivity here ;-), has been selected. But let it be clear that the rest is far from bad. Ok, it's a tie: 4.5 vs 4.5. The good stuff is found first of all in "Guten Appetit", which is one big ball of power. Not only needed at this stage in the tracklist, but also as stand-alone track. Raging guitars and violent drums are key ingredients, spiced with a good solo moment. A little later there's "Wie Fühlt Sich Das An", which is a more sluggish (as in tempo, dragging itself forward) song, though the powerful guitarwork is in contrast with the slowness of the drums. Sluggish isn't the right word. The music does roll on, but it could use a kick now and then. The PANTERA influences are clearly present. Directly after that it's "Nur Für dich", a Bluesy midtempo track with a bit more punch than before (keeping the song's position in the list in mind). The solo part is once again quite good and overall the song reminded me of METALLICA's "Reload" period. You can take that as a positive or negative comparison, depending on your taste. Still going good, as another good example is "Zwiespalt", a slow/midtempo pounding (at a steady rhythm, bam-bam-bam, bam-bam-bam, ...) song with a clean sung and very melodic chorus. The violent outbreak, including solo, towards the end is something this song really needed and obviously it's very good. But going back up in the list it's the TON, STEINE, SCHERBEN, a group from the 70s cover, "Warum Geth Es Mir So Dreckig", that also deserves a place here, even if it's only half of the song that's worth hearing. Why half? Because of the fast outbreak and solo. The rest is a slow, whiney kind of Metal. Again the PANTERA influences are present, but it's not the right kind. PANTERA has made many very good songs, but also songs that weren't exactly super, especially the slower ones.

And that leaves us with the remainder of the tracklisting: "Dein Paradies", "11 Minuten", that other half of "Warum Geth Es Mir So Dreckig", "Die Letzte Stadt" and "Auf Wiedersehen". What makes these songs less interesting? "Dein Paradies" is a Bluesy kind of song with a contrast in singing: rough in the verses, clean in the chorus. Jonathan's singing is better or more attractive in a rough version, although it can be good for the song to not let every vocal line by done in a rough way. Overall, this is an ok song and not even the guitarsolo can change that. "11 Minuten" may start gently with Jonathan coming in gently as well, after which the Metal kicks in, but the biggest problem here is the whiney chorus. The only highlight in this song is the guitarsolo. "Die Letzte Stadt" also has the contrast of a calm start and a raging following, as if a war has started. And that's a good thing, this change in heaviness (not the war, of course). But all things considered, this is an average song. It doesn't attain the level of the good songs, let alone that of the three songs I first mentioned. "Auf Wiedersehen" ends the album in a ballad kind of way: gentle singng, gentle guitar guidance, no signs of heaviness, no drums, no solos... and while such a kind of composition can result in a beautiful song, it's not the case here. Talking about the song, I can stick several words to it, but "boring" was one of the first.

Twelve tracks, 7.5 validated as worth hearing, which means GRANTIG did not that bad on their second album. The "Medizin" is good for intake. It's interesting to hear a mix of influences (Blues, Sludge, Groove, Thrash, ...) and with German lyrics, something pretty rare in a world where most sing in English to appeal to a broader audience. Maybe Jonathan and co. have their reasons (it's easier, we're not like everybody else, etc...), but it does fit with the music, so why not? I can't say if "Medizin" is a better album than "So Muss Es Sein", but anyone into PANTERA, DOWN and similar should at least check out GRANTIG, for the chance is big you'll add them (or better, their releases) to your collection. Fingers crossed for the follow-up (more Thrashy stuff, please ;-)).

More info at www.myspace.com/grantig.

Line-up:
Jonathan Schmid - vocals, guitars
Jonas Windwehr - guitars
Alex Negret - bass
Jan Vogelbacher - drums


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SONS OF SEASONS – Gods Of Vermin (Napalm Records 2009)

Sons Of Seasons - Gods Of Vermin
  1. The Place Where I Hide
  2. Gods Of Vermin
  3. A Blind Man's Resolution
  4. Fallen Family
  5. The Piper
  6. Wheel Of Guilt
  7. Belial's Tower
  8. Fall Of Byzanz
  9. Wintersmith
  10. Dead Man's Shadows
  11. Sanatorium Song
  12. Third Moon Rising

SONS OF SEASONS is a new group consisting of musicians that have earned their stripes in other bands and still do so. In fact, it's the brainchild of Oliver Palotai (guitars, keyboards). Playing in bands like DORO, KAMELOT and BLAZE helps you to be inspired to create own material and if own ideas cannot be implemented in the music of the bands one plays in, it's best to create your own band. And so it happened in 2007 when Oliver gathered people around him: Luca Princiotta (guitars) and Daniel Schild (drums). SILENT FORCE bassist Jürgen Steinmetz joined in the summer of 2007. At the same time OCEANS OF SADNESS vocalist Thijs Vanneste filled the last position. But due to scheduling conflicts he couldn't stay part of SONS OF SEASONS, but managed to have some of his suggestions and ideas be present on the debut album, "Gods Of Vermin", which came out on the 30th of April.

Oliver thus had to look for a new singer and found on in Henning Basse from METALIUM. He joined around the end of the year. It seems Oliver has a passion for Metal, Jazz and classical music and sees SONS OF SEASONS as the way to combine elements from these genres. On "Gods Of Vermin" you can also hear guest vocalist Simone Simons from EPICA.

The album starts with an intro in which the piano plays a key role. Dark, sombre, gloomy are the words that come to mind. As the music advances symphonic backing is added, as well as the accoustic guitar. All in all one can say that "The Place Where I Hide" is a very good track on its own and a very nice way to start an album. The transition to "Gods Of Vermin" happens very smoothly. It's as if a clock is ticking, but in a musical manner right before KAMELOT-like midtempo Metal takes over. Not only the sound, but also the music itself reminds heavily of Oliver's other band. The verses, mainly because of how the piano and vocals are combined, have a great SAVATAGE feel. Even the bridge could have been by the hand of Jon Oliva, not in the least in the way Henning sings. It's almost as if he's trying to impersonate the Mountain King. The chorus is one of Operatic Metal quality and symphonic elements are very much present here, whereas the guitars are responsable for the power. At some point there's a nice piano break, atmospheric and symphonic. The guitarsolo follows and so the song goes back to the chorus. The title track is a definite highlight. It has lots of layers - so have the other songs, but that doesn't mean all is well - that work very well together: accoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, drums, bass. Even the Jazzy influences are very nicely implemented. So far, so very good.

"A Blind Man's Resolution" is next and start in a direct manner, supplying heavy and sharp Metal at midtempo pace. The whole sounds quite vicious, though that is countered by the melody of the neo-classical keyboards (harpsichord). The guitars are more present and are again responsable for power and solos. The leads are provided mainly by the symphonic elements, which are extremely important on this album. Vocally it's ideal that Henning sounds aggressive, inline with the music, even in the chorus, yet a bit more moderate. Overall this feels very much KAMELOT-like again. The atmosphere isn't always happy, rather dark and at some point sad, thanks to the symphonic layers. The Jazzy break is not only welcome, but also very nice and connects smoothly with what preceded and what follows. It's very atmosheric, because of the dreamy keyboards, and contains a bit of soloing during which all instrumentation is adapted to the tempo and feel. The song ends like it started, i.e. direct Metal with neo-classical elements. "A Blind Man's Resolution" is another very good song, though personally I prefer the title track.

One more highlight follows, though much later, and that is "Belial's Tower". Starting with an Eastern intro consisting of symphonics, flutes, guitars and percussion. The Metal instrumentation comes bursting in a little later, creating a setting of power and aggression. And that, I have to say, is a very interesting, or better, welcome change. Especially at that stage in the tracklisting. The riffing reminds heavily of ICED EARTH or Jon Schaffer's vision of rhythm. The chorus sounds more like a crossover of Heavy Rock and Metal that rolls on. Vocally Henning has adapted his singing to something more melodic, but still rough enough. The Eastern part of the intro return later, followed by pounding Metal which carries the guitar solo. When the vocals come in the music twists a little into a dark and heavy, though dreamy, part. And that's where the singing gets a bit whiney, if you ask me. Henning's input is much better when rough. The piano takes up an important role in the last part of the songs. What makes this song stand out is particularly the Metal aspect, even if the added symphonics and melodies are good, too.

Three very good songs (plus the intro, making it four), three good songs then: "Fallen Family", "The Piper" and "Sanatorium Song". The first starts slow, in a Doom kind of way, yet the firm attack follows swiftly. Henning's singing is dark and rough, bears the Jon Oliva-stamp again, yet he diverts to more clean and dreamy singing in the bridge, while EPICA-vocalist Simone Simons occupies the chorus, in which the music goes on like a train like "Terror Train" from DEMONS & WIZARDS or quite simply Jon Schaffer's way of riffing. Henning does sing, sorry, scream in the second part of the chorus. And here he also reminds me of another singer, Gus Chambers (r.i.p., GRIP INC., SQUEALER A.D.). After the keyboard solo there's a Jazzy break with added electronic accents. But as fitting as a break may be at this point, the one at play here just comes in too abruptly and doesn't quite connect with that preceded. What you get is an amalgam of pieces: solos, a short bass moment, another symphonic/orchestral mixture... to lead back to the chorus. Though the pieces on their own sound nice, they form a very strange puzzle, which sounds misplaced. At least, in my opinion. For a song that's in general pretty good, this is a sad constation.

"The Piper" is not a cover of EDGUY's "The Piper Never Dies", a very nice song, by the way. Its first moments are accoustic, but the piano and symphonic leads follow soon enough. Once the right pace and feel is found, the drums and vocals are added. Gentle singing in vein of Mats Levén (AMASEFFER, ex-AT VANCE, ex-THERION, ...), drums high in the mix (loud and clear) and the accoustic guitar leading: a perfect combination. Henning's singing sounds more firm in the chorus, to fit the increase in power coming from the music. The tempo remains low. The obligatory guitarsolo sounds a bit strange, though. I can't really put my finger on it, but it's not that similar than the previous times. Typical for Oliver's way of composing there is a Jazzy break, lead by the piano and adapted drumming. The guitarsolo follows and until then all is well. But once the symphonics come in and collaborate with the piano this particular part sounds quite crowded. Why not leave the symphonic aspect aside and in that way let the guitar solo come out better? "Less is more" is a credo that should have been applied here (and elsewhere). After that, the full instrumentation, all falls away and just the piano and symphonics remain, leading back to the chorus and thus also the end.

Last of the trio is "Sanatorium Song". The intro consists of the piano in cooperation with the accoustic guitar, paving the way for the Metal instrumentation while the melody continues, offered by the piano and symphonic elements. Calm verse at first, later full-on power, with percussion. The chorus is a different thing with its heaviness and power. SAVATAGE comes to mind, also in the vocals. Symphonics play their role in the back, while the piano leads come to the front again at some point. As usual you also get some solos, be it coming the keyboards or guitars. All in all this is a pretty good song without any particular flaws, unlike the other two tracks.

And so we have come to the shortlist of songs that don't really cut it and have certain bad factors that prevent the album from being a jewel. In chronological order: "Wheel Of Guilt", "Fall Of Bynanz", "Wintersmith", "Dead Man's Shadows" and "Third Moon Rising".

"The Wheel Of Guilt" starts accoustically and Henning's singing is adapted, i.e. he's gentle and soft. It's a very long song, perhaps the longest of them all with more than seven minutes. A long playtime allows for better breathing of the music, but it's the composer who's responsable to make all pieces connect perfectly and create compatible pieces. All falls away after this first part and choir-ish singing takes over, backed by the piano and gentle triangle ticking - if that's the used instrument. The power of Metal comes in with a loud bang while the keyboards continue to provide a dark atmosphere. Symphonic elements are added next, during the raging of the guitars and drums. And then it's finally Metal time: guitars and drums all the way, woohoo! The singing still has the SAVATAGE, sorry, Jon Oliva-stamp. The chorus adds a good portion of melody and you'll find several layers here, too. the guitars remain the dominant instrument, though. Further down the track you get - yes, indeed - a Jazzy break featuring the bass, accoustic guitar and soft singing. Particularly the singing is an element I would mute first. It's ok to add vocals, it's NOT ok to add them EVERYWHERE. Why not let the instruments do the talking? It will only be beneficial for the song. You do get a guitarsolo in between, as if representing a second vocalist. After that the power and volume increase again. This is a heavy song, heavy to digest. There are too many layers here, too much stuff that slows the song, the progress down, too many things that suppress any form of excitement. It's basically too pompous.

"Fall Of Bynanz" then. This is a more normal, KAMELOT-like, song again with a lighter guitarsound. Midtempo, dreamy and atmospheric. Henning's singing is clean and that fits quite well with the symphonic music. Especially the chorus holds lots of symphony. Overall not a bad track, not super either. "Wintersmith" is another songs that's overdone, over the top and cheesy, so to speak. It starts with a cloud of mystery, atmospheric and almost out of this world. The piano takes over and along the way the drums and symphonic elements (mainly violin) are added. Vocal duties are fulfilled by Simone Simons and Henning. Oh yes, a duet. Think of KAMELOT's "The Haunting" or maybe PRIMAL FEAR's "Everytime It Rains", two songs in which Simone also sang with a male counterpart (Roy Khan and Ralf Scheepers). But like I said: overdone. I don't feel anything when listening to this. It's sterile and fake, even if the music is at times not that bad, though still average.

Metal! That's what I hear with "Dead Man's Shadows". Yes, the KAMELOT influence is present again, since the power and drive of the music sounds so similar with this band. Oliver decided to add some electronic touches instead of symphonic elements. To complement those electronic touches, effects were applied to Hennings singing. How great... not! This may be a taste matter, but effects on vocals may have their use, but most of the times it doesn't benefit the song or music. Musically it's heavier than what preceded and that's a good thing. The chorus holds the melody, as usual. Outside of that the atmosphere is quite cold and creepy. Soloswise you get a piano moment, a guitarsolo wth pounding drums and before I forget, there are symphonic elements. What a surprise. *cough* All things considered, this is another song that is easily forgotten.

"Third Moon Rising" ends this first album. The guitarstart, electric and accoustic variant contrasting each other, is backed by keyboards in the back. Little by little the symphonic come to the front before Metal takes over. The pace remains slow during the entire playtime. The singing in the bridge and chorus is - in my humble opinion - quite whiney, especially since the chorus sounds like a ballad. The overuse of symphonics has really become a drag. Oliver has a passion for Jazz, so such a break cannot be missed here. It's accoustic at first, but then electricness takes over for the solo. Sorry, it's a boring song to my ears.

When I read the news about this new band back in 2007 I had high hopes. Having the chance to review this album kept those hopes intact, but as time passed by (it's July now) I felt I would have a hard time commenting on "Gods Of Vermin". Several listens didn't help and if you read again you'll see that I can only commend a grand maximum of seven songs, including the intro. What bothers me is that the music sounds too similar with other bands (KAMELOT, SAVATAGE, a bit of ANGRA and ICED EARTH) and Henning's singing is too similar with Jon Oliva's. Both situations can be nice, but there are enough SAVATAGE-like bands out there (JON OLIVA'S PAIN, CIRCLE II CIRCLE, CHRIS CAFFERY). Another element that bothered me: too many layers, too much symphonic stuff, making the result overdone and crowded. Honestly, this is an album that makes me want to forget about symphonic Metal for a very long time. For fans of the mentioned bands, especially KAMELOT, this is something to check out. I'll give Oliver and co. another chance for the follow-up, though I won't cross my fingers.

More info at www.sonsofseasons.com.

Line-up:
Henning Basse - vocals
Oliver Palotai - guitars, keyboards
Jürgen Steinmetz - bass
Daniel Schild - drums


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JUNGLE ROT – What Horrors Await (Napalm Records 2009)

Jungle Rot - What Horrors Await
  1. Worst Case Scenario
  2. The Unstoppable
  3. Straightjacket Life
  4. State Of War
  5. Two Faced Disgrace
  6. End Of An Age
  7. Speak The Truth
  8. What Horrors Await
  9. Nerve Gas Catastrophe
  10. Braindead
  11. Atrocity
  12. Exit Wounds
  13. Invincible Force (DESTRUCTION cover)
  14. Black Candle Mass

JUNGLE ROT is an American Death Metal band, formed in 1994, having undergone many line-up changes and putting out a new release on a regular basis, be it a demo, EP or a full-length album. Speaking of the last, including the newest ("What Horrors Await", out since the 30th of April), the band hasn't had that much luck in terms of record labels, as one had to close its books, the other only offering a short term contract, etc... But since 2008 the band is signed to Napalm Records, for which album no. 6 has been put out. JUNGLE ROT released its debut, "Skin The Living", in 1996, following up with "Slaughter The Weak" one year later. The "Darkness Foretold" EP then came out in 1998, after which a sort of resting period was set in. 2001 was another important year then, as "Dead And Buried" became available to the masses. Another three years were needed for "Fueled By Hate", followed by "War Zone" in 2006. And then the band finally got the chance to record a live DVD, "Live In Germany", which also came out in 2006.

And so we have come to JUNGLE ROT's newest creation, "What Horrors Await". Despite their long career, I have to admit that my knowledge of this band and their music was zero up 'till now. Yet it seems I somehow didn't miss much in terms of music, as the band is said to have played the same style since birth. Or better said, heard one album, heard 'em all. You know what to expect. And that's simple, Groove-injected Death Metal, in vein of a.o. GOREFEST, (recent) KATAKLYSM, but on the other hand also reminding of BOLT THROWER, UNLEASHED, VADER and similar.

The first half of "What Horrors Await" is the least good, though only two of the seven tracks are mediocre to boring: "The Unstoppable" and "State Of War", both being too linear and not offering enough change in their midtempo range. "Worst Case Scenario" is a little better, though not exactly mindblowing. It's fast-paced, contains vicious riffing and has the rough/hoarse kind of vocals you also find in VADER or UNLEASHED or maybe even KATAKLYSM. The second half of the song slows down, after which the music drags itself forward until the end. "Straightjacket Life" is an even better song, as it's fast, frantic, and whatever other synonym you can find. And that faster pace really is a welcome element at this stage, although the song also contains some slower parts, or better said, the riffing speed has decreased. Then there is "Two Faced Disgrace", midtempo again, though with humpapa-kind of rhythm in the verses which is a nice element. Further down the track a breakdown awaits, followed by a solo. Yes, indeed. All things combined result in a fairly ok song. The real highlight of the pack is of course "End Of An Age". The pace is faster again and overall the music is more energetic, which results in a simply superb song. Even the solo fits in very well. The last one, "Speak The Truth" is in general a decent midtempo song. Nothing that makes a Death Metal fan get on his/her feet, but it's a solid song nevertheless.

The second part of the tracklisting, i.e. the other seven songs, contains at least 3 to 4 highlights. It starts with the uptempo "What Horrors Await", which slows down a bit in the chorus. "Nerve Gas Catastrophe" holds the level of quality high, starting in a fast, raging kind of manner before everything slows down and flows over into a Hardcore-oriented kind of Metal. Definitely not bad. Don't worry, it's still Death Metal, but the references to Hardcore (not to be confused with Metalcore) give the album a nice twist. Third is "Atrocity", which also has a Hardcore touch, but foremost a very nice rhythm. It's a highlight, but the original is of course far better: "Invincible Force", originally by the German Thrash veterans DESTRUCTION. JUNGLE ROT's rendition is good, though, and the band deserves kudos for it. What's left are a few less good tracks. Well, they're good, but not as good as the highlights, in my opinion. "Braindead" is a midtempo track, but also suffers a bit from linearity. "Exit Wounds" is an ok song in which especially the soloing stands out. And last, we have "Black Candle Mass". Nope, not CANDLEMASS gone Black Metal. This is another midtempo track, but a rather average one.

JUNGLE ROT's groovy Death Metal was something I was going to put aside quite rapidly, but I persevered and found better material on "What Horrors Await" the longer I listened. Although these Americans didn't create anything surprising, it must be said that, as simple as their Death Metal may be, this is the kind of album you'll put in your player to have a good time, not to hear technical riffing or drumming. The similarities with aforementioned bands (like KATAKLYSM, BOLT THROWER, GOREFEST, VADER, ...) may help to know what to expect if you're not familiar with JUNGLE ROT, like me. "What Horrors Await" is not the best Death Metal album of 2009 (better look at, for example, VOMITORY, LAY DOWN ROTTEN, OBSCURA, PESTILENCE, ... ), but it does deliver the goods when needed and that's what matters, regardless if the same style has been applied since many years and the band has been doing it for 15 years. By the way: congratulations, guys!

More info at www.myspace.com/junglerot.

Line-up:
Dave Matrise - vocals, guitars
Goeff Bub - guitars
James Genenz - bass
Eric House - drums


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FAIRYLAND – Score To A New Beginning (Napalm Records 2009)

Fairyland - Score To A New Beginning
  1. Opening Credits
  2. Across The Endless Sea (Part II)
  3. Assault On The Shore
  4. Master Of The Waves
  5. A Soldier's Letter
  6. Godsent
  7. At The Gates Of Morken
  8. Rise Of The Giants
  9. Score To A New Beginning
  10. End Credits

FAIRYLAND is a French Symphonic Power Metal band. Or at least, it was a band in the sense that it consisted of several members. Since the birth in 2002 it has been a band... until sometime 2007, though with changing positions and one hoped that with the line-up for "Fall Of An Empire" (2006), the follow-up to 2003's "Of Wars In Osyrhia", FAIRYLAND would be off for a long ride. Sadly this wasn't the case, since several months later Philippe (keyboardist and mastermind) was the sole member left. But that didn't bring him down. On the contrary, it fueled the fire to go on with FAIRYLAND and fight back harder than ever. The result is "Score To A New Beginning", out since the 30th of April.

There were plans to bring back Elisa C. on vocals (since many years in DARK MOOR), but scheduling conflicts were in the way. To be honest, you won't hear me complaining about that, since I wasn't too fond of her voice anyway. Who did return was bassist/drummer Willdric Lievin, who also played on "Of Wars In Osyrhia" and co-founder of FAIRYLAND. On the newest release he was responsable for the drums and choirs. Next to him several vocalists and instrumentalists helped to make this "New Beginning" a release to take the world by storm:

Marco Sandron (PATHOSRAY) - Lead Vocals
Georg Neuhauser (SERENITY) - Add. Vocals on tracks 2, 3, 5, 9, 10
Flora Spinelli (KERION) - Lead Vocals on track 10
Klaaire (SYRAYDE) - Add. Vocals on tracks 4, 5, 9
Geraldine Gadaut (BENIGHTED SOUL) - Add. Vocals on track 7
Jean-Gabriel Bocciarelli (BENIGHTED SOUL) - Add. Vocals on track 7
Fabio D'Amore (PATHOSRAY) - Bass, Add. Vocals, Guitar Solo on track 6
Willdric Lievin (HAMKA) - Drums, Choirs
Chris Menta (RAZORDOG) - Rhythm and Acoustic Guitars, Guitar Solos on track 5
Alessio Velliscig (PATHOSRAY) - Guitar Solo on track 2
Alex Corona (REVOLTONS) - Guitar Solos on tracks 3, 6, 9
Olivier Lapauze (HEAVENLY) - Guitar Solo on track 9
Hugo Lefebvre (ANTHROPIA) - Guitar Solo on track 4
Yann Mouhad (ANTHROPIA) - Guitar Solo on track 4
Remy Carrayrou (KERION) - Guitar Solo on track 7
Marc Rhulmann (WHYZDOM) - Keyboard Solo on track 9

When I bought "Of Wars In Osyrhia" I was very positive about FAIRYLAND and their debut album. But after a few months I started to doubt my purchase and was thus very sceptical about the follow-up. "Fall Of An Empire" sounded stronger and better, so in that context Philippe positively surprised me. Still, there were some elements that prevented me from cheering aloud and hailing the album. Needless to say that for "Score To A New Beginning" my level of criticism wouldn't decrease, although I must say that when I saw pictures of the recordings, including Georg Neuhauser (SERENITY vocalist), I was prepared to give Philippe another chance, as he also promised to improve the production and what not.

Having received the promo many weeks ago, it's only now, one month later than the release date that I managed to give the album some spins. And I can assure you, my criticism melted away quite rapidly. It did take me at least two listens, since there are many layers to be discovered. The elements that bugged me on previous works were completely gone. The keyboards are of course the main and dominant instrument, since that's also Philippe's choice of weapon. But rest assured that there's enough Metal to counter it.

"Score To A New Beginning" starts with a symphonic intro, one that is far better than any symphonic parts Philippe has ever come up with. The sound as well has greatly improved. The music flows neatly into "Across The Endless Sea (Part II)", where pounding Metal puts a big smile on my face. This pounding composition is in fact the chorus part. The verses dwell in a midtempo pace. Vocally it has never been better. Especially this element is a highlight on the album. As good as Max Leclercq is, he wouldn't have been the best candidate for the new songs. "Across The Endless Sea (Part II)" is also quite diverse in terms of heaviness and melody, and spiced with some guitar and keyboard solos. If you want comparable material, try RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), AVANTASIA (the first two albums), AYREON, etc.

The symphonics also start and lead the way in "Assault On The Waves". Now, this track may be less ferocious, but it's still powerful enough, especially in the chorus. Here we've got Georg Neuhauser (SERENITY) for the first time (in collaboration with others) and he really does a tremendous job. Keyboards not only lead, but also offer a solo moment, which is always a plus. Overall, the song could have been written by SYMPHONY X and that says a lot about the quality FAIRYLAND has delivered this time.

Everything still going strong, no flaws so far, none at all. So the album continues with another symphonic/orchestral intro, where strings and brass elements meet each other. You could almost think it's a piece from a filmscore track. "Master Of The Waves"'s start is that good, indeed. The Metal sets in neatly, at midtempo pace. The drums are a bit more important, as Willdric throws in his toms in the first part. While most of the songs are sung by male vocalists, Philippe also asked some female voices to contribute. Here it's Klaaire who can be heard in the bridge. And what a voice. Beautiful, I tells ya. But the chorus is even more so, sounding epic and somewhat hymnic. The Metal aspect makes the song more ballsy. In other words, the symphonics don't drown the guitars or drums. Solos are present again, both from guitars and keyboards. The track ends like it started, with strings and brass joining forces.

After all the bombast and epicness, it's time to cool down with a ballad, in FAIRYLAND style: "A Soldier's Letter". The piano is the key instrument this time, although backed by atmospheric sounds. Due to the better production and symphonic elements this song is easier to appreciate as opposed to previous efforts. The accoustic guitar also makes an appearance. And what's a song on the new album without any solos? Yep, you'll find them here, too.

Time to get back on your feet and provide power. "Godsent" is perfect for this, as the orchestral beginning (strings and brass) increases in power before the galopping rhythm of the Metal aspect comes breaking in. This is indeed Power Metal. Somehow it also reminded me of the song "Hereafter" from the Italian Progressive/Power Metal band DGM. Further down the track there's a nice symphonic break before full power is restored via the solos. In short: another excellent song! Like all the previous ones, though the ballad was a bit less, just a tiny bit.

At this point you would think "At The Gates Of Morken" also commence with a symphonic composition, but no. Fortunately not. The Metal comes pounding out of the speakers, in a furious manner. This song is massive, symphonic (obviously) and aggressive! Though there are some calmer moments, too. The chorus is once more of epic proportions and female vocals play another, though backing, role. All elements combined result in a track that's more than recommended to check out.

As keyboards and symphonic elements play a dominant role, why not give them some playtime without Metal interfering? That's what "Rise Of The Giants" is, a fully orchestral song, starting with the xylophone and flowing over into strings and brass power. And as a special treat, there are even some castagnettes as special spice. A very, very nice result, if I may add.

Back to business as usual then with the title track, "Score To A New Beginning". NIGHTWISH had "Ghost Love Score" ("Once" album, 2004) and that was one hell of a symphonic song. It's not different with FAIRYLAND, as this song is - according to your taste - perhaps the best song on the album. The symphonic start is slow and gentle, while Metal elements are added along the way. Georg Neuhauser comes in again, although he plays his role, while other vocalists play theirs. Even the female ones. The pace is set at midtempo while the chorus contains uptempo outbreaks and I have to stress that this is a heavenly (no link with that French band) moment. Absolutely stunning! Solos are provided by guitars and keyboards. Symphonic elements play, obviously, a very important role, else it would not be a score. Diversity helps to make this song attractive. If you listen carefully you'll also hear the accoustic guitar somewhere between the vocal and other instrumental layers. I don't have words for this, save that it's a wonderful piece of music.

FAIRYLAND's third album comes to an end with a calm track. Starting with a harpsichord and symphonic backing, which comes more to the front as the seconds pass by. This time it's female singing that takes the leading role, although the male variant does appear later on. Drums do get added, but don't disturb the overall gentle nature of the song. All in all a perfect ending for an almost perfect album.

Honesty obliges me to rectify my opinion on FAIRYLAND's music, though I still am not that fond of the two previous albums. Let it be clear that this time, with "Score To A New Beginning", Philippe Giordana managed to convince me of his songwriting skills. This third album is one I will gladly listen to again and again, without detecting anything annoying, bad, flawing or whatever along those lines. More than every is FAIRYLAND a serious candidate for the throne of Symphonic Power Metal. RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), beware! No, I'm kidding, yet it is a very strong album the French composer delivered this time. Highly recommended for fans of the genre and definitely one of the pearls of 2009. It might help if you like bands like RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), AYREON, MASTERPLAN, DGM, SERENITY, BEYOND TWILIGHT, SYMPHONY X, ... or Progressive/Power Metal with a (big) symphonic injection.

More info at www.fairyland-metal.com.

Line-up:
Philippe Giordana - keyboards, accoustic guitars, programming


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TRACY GANG PUSSY – Number4 (Apokalypse Records 2009)

Tracy Gang Pussy - Number4
  1. I Got To Move On To Be Free
  2. No Escape
  3. Miss Negativity
  4. I Have A Wish
  5. Dreaming
  6. Wide Open To The World
  7. Let's Burn This City Down In Flames
  8. You Dragged Me Down
  9. Teenage Years
  10. Remain
  11. We're Drowning In Pavements
  12. I Don't Believe In Happiness Anymore

While my focus or the scope of Thoughts Of Metal is Hard Rock and Metal, I sometimes get more commercial releases to review. Nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to keep it very limited. Mainstream releases are better reviewed on mainstream websites. Anyway, one of those more commercial bands is the French Punk Rock formation TRACY GANG PUSSY. The mastermind of the band, Revlon (guitarist) decided to seek some fellow musicians anno 2002 to form a band, influenced by - and I quote from the biography - "Scandinavian Rock & Roll and US Punk Rock".

The first releases are two demos, followed by the debut album "Born To Lose, Live To Win" in 2004. 2005 was the year of the "Black" album. A tour follows and the band plays in France, Germany, UK, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Switzerland and the Netherlands with the likes of SKID ROW, PSYCHOPUNCH, THE BLACK HALOS, THE EXPLOITED and BOMBSHELL ROCKS. Only SKID ROW and THE EXPLOITED are known to me, and solely for their name.

A new album, "Paris Sucks" hits the streets in 2007 and was mixed by Tomas Skogsberg (Backyard Babies, The Hellacopters...). TRACY GANG PUSSY shares the stage with AFI, JIMMY EAT WORLD, ENTER SHIKARI, NEW FOUND GLORY or AIDEN and goes with more than 100 dates all around Europe (Scandinavian, Germany, Russia, France, Czech Republic, Poland and many more...) with CRYSTAL PISTOL, RADIO DEAD ONES, FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND, REVOLUTION MOTHER or ENEMY ROSE. Here it's AFI, JIMMY EAT WORLD, NEW FOUND GLORY and FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND that ring a bell. A small bell, but still.

But now, "Number4" is ready and out on internet, Russia and France, while the UK and rest of the world has to wait until the 27th of April. Melodic Punk Rock with a big US influence. My knowledge of that scene and genre is very limited and taste-wise I can listen to it when the time and mood is right, but not on a daily basis. Unlike Metal, which is my daily musical food, hehehe. But if you need similar bands, I would say GREEN DAY, GOOD CHARLOTTE, JANEZ DETD and maybe some PENNYWISE. Some.

"Number4" contains twelve tracks, all or most in the characteristic uptempo style. Vocals are clean, yet have a dirty edge now and then. But let me just give a rundown of what stands out and what doesn't... in my opinion, of course. "I Got To Move On To Be Free", which sets the pace for the rest of the album. It's an energetic song, with clean and dirty-edged vocals. Pluspoints go to the guitar solo. The positive start continues in "No Escape" where melody is more important and the guitars have lessened their roughness. Drumwise there is more variation, mostly by making more use of the toms. "Dreaming" increases the tempo again, sounds rougher and heavier and rocks more than what preceded. Even the singing is adapted to this. "Let's Burn This City Down In Flames" is an efficient Punk Rocker, so no need to tell more about it. The same thing counts for "You Dragged Me Down", which even has some PENNYWISE influences, at least to my ears. The tempo also lies high or what's typical for the genre. And last, "Remain", another energetic Punk Rocker, yet with a melodic chorus.

Counting the aforementioned tracks that stand out (in my opinion), they make up half of the track listing. Is the other half that bad then? It depends. Let me clarify. "Miss Negativity" is a very US sounding Punkish song with some good music, but this time it's the vocals that bore soon and make it hard to appreciate the song overall. The uptempo "I Have A Wish" puts the stress on melody. The singing is clean, but screams follow later and give the song an emo-stamp, something which... is far from my likings, to put it politely. So again, the vocals are at fault, although the music itself is good, but nothing more. "Wide Open To The World" is a very and perhaps the most radio-friendly track on "Number4". All signs of heaviness have been toned down and the drums follow a standard pattern. What a contrast with the songs that stand out. But let's increase the pace with "Teenage Years". The element that makes the song hard(er) to swallow is again the singing. It's rougher, dirtier, but it just becomes boring too soon. The last two songs, "We're Drowning In Pavements" and "I Don't Believe In Happiness Anymore", both have a whiney character, which puts them in the other half of the track listing, the songs that didn't do that well.

It's always interesting to increase your musical knowledge and learn about new bands and whatever more. And of course it can't always be great. TRACY GANG PUSSY is nothing for those into Hard Rock and Metal. And I think some Punk fans will also avoid this band, since they play a commercial form of Punk Rock that feeds on mainstream attention to attract a larger audience, just like (most of) the above mentioned bands. Fans of the genre (incl. Emo, somehow) will like what these French play. Those with a broad(er) taste might find something interesting as well to add change to their playlists, but to cut things short: "Number4" has its moments, but will lose its shine (no matter how small or large) when played on a very regular basis.

More info at www.tracygangpussy.com.

Line-up:
Lucky - vocals, guitars
Revlon - guitars
8Balled - bass
Suicide - drums


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GRENDEL – A Change Through Destruction (Firebox Records 2009)

Grendel - A Change Through Destruction
  1. One Desire
  2. A Change Through Destruction
  3. Dialog With Pain
  4. The Deaf Cult
  5. Another Link In The Chain
  6. Forsaken Shell
  7. Quicksand
  8. Half-Life
  9. Trapped Inside
  10. Moment Of Silence

GRENDEL, one of those thousands of Finnish bands, is said to play Power Metal, yet Firebox Records and I seem to hear something that sounds more like Melodic Death Metal. In any case, it's not like STRATOVARIUS or SONATA ARCTICA. GRENDEL was born in 2000 and released several demos afterwards before finally having the means to go for a first full-length in 2006, "Lost Beyond Retrieval".Now, three years later GRENDEL unleashes its second album, "A Change Through Destruction". Having signed a deal with Firebox Records, this label released the album in Finland in the fall of 2008 and since the 27th of April it's available in the rest of Europe and elsewhere.

"A Change Through Destruction" was recorded and mixed in 2007 by Nino Laurenne at Sonic Pump Studios. The mastering happened in January 2008 by Svante Forsbäck at Chartmakers. Mikko Virtanen (vocals) worked on the cover art. The style is... Melodic Death Metal, even if there are some references to Power Metal. And yes, as boring as it may sound, genres are important. How else are you going to find bands in the same style? Either way, this is another new band to me, so comparisons with older material are out of the question, sadly enough.

Of the ten songs, there's only 40% that stands out and curiously enough they're all slow songs. "Dialog With Pain" is the first of the selection. Agressive guitarbursts, atmospheric backing and rough vocals are the main ingredients. The clean vocals in the chorus contrasts nicely with those in the verses and fit quite well with the music, which is more melodic-orientated in the chorus. The solo parts are divided between the guitars and keyboards, each taking a turn. "The Deaf Cult" adds a Doom touch to the album, comparable to Traditional and Epic Doom bands. As the music advances, similarities with DARK TRANQUILLITY and (old) IN FLAMES cannot be suppressed, but the pace remains slow. Vocally it's the opposite: clean in the verses, grunts in the chorus. Keyboards fulfill a backing role again. Bonus points go to the great guitarwork in the chorus (leads) and of course the soloing.

The other two outstanding tracks are totally not of the slow kind, except for "Moment Of Silence". "Trapped Inside" is a track that pumps up the pace enormously and that's more than a good thing, as the album is overall stacked with mid- and slowtempo songs. There's an increase in power and the hoarse vocals add to this. The slowness does show its presence in the chorus, where both vocal types are in use (clean and grunting/hoarse). The keyboards serve as melodic enforcer. "Moment Of Silence" is an instrumental and features calm guitarwork and slow drumming. Overall there's an ambient, ballad-ish feel to it. The keyboards/piano dominate in the second part of the song. All elements together form an excellent song as relaxing medicine.

With only 4 songs standing out, the end verdict is pretty clear already, but not all that's left is bad. "One Desire" is a slow midtempo song. Somehow it reminded me of BATTLELORE's "Third Immortal" - not only musically, but also vocally - but played a bit faster. The rhythm is also an element that deservs to be mentioned. Overall this is a good track, though not as good as the awesome four, so to speak. "Dialog With Pain" is an even better song, to my ears. The pace is still not that fast and Mikko sounds very angry here, with all this yelling and screaming. Don't worry, it's an appropriate form inline with the music, not as if you're yelling at your partner or parents or whomever. The chorus contains both clean and hoarse singing. The guitarwork, especially the rhythm, is a positive element, just like before and I could in general compare the song to two bands: BRAINSTORM and METALLICA. BRAINSTORM because of the riffing itself, as the guitarists from this German band have given their band's music an own stamp via that element. On the other hand, I chose METALLICA because of audible similarities with "Sad But True", one of their many excellent classics. But here as well, it lacks something to be added to the shortlist. And then there's "Another Link In The Chain", where especially the direct rhythm and pace in the verses form the best part of this song. The power has increased and that's good, also thanks to the NIGHTWISH-ish riffing, comparable to that in "Dead Gardens". The contrast is shown in the chorus, which is slower and more melodic and has clean singing, giving the song an emotional character at that point. The middle section offers a nice twist, in a way, as the tempo drops and the music becomes more atmospheric and haunting before picking up the power and chorus again.

Three more songs and those really are the least good, not to say even boring, on "A Change Through Destruction": "Forsaken Shell", "Quicksand" and "Half-Life" (no, it's not about that famous First Person Shooter game). The first is a slow midtempo song with an emphasis on emotions. Nothing wrong with this theory, but practice shows a different result. The second track is another emotional song, but with more power. Similarities with, for example, TRIVIUM do more bad than good. And finally, the third, is also, indeed, an emotional song, though not slow. There is power to be found. The dual vocal types are good, but can 't turn the situation around.

GRENDEL may mix influences from both Power Metal (the rough version) and Melodic Death Metal and they succeed... barely. As I mentioned earlier, with four songs out of ten you're not going to score high marks and end up in several Best Of lists. I'm going to be generous and even add the first two songs to the list if needed, but even then that has nothing to do with the songs themselves, more with my Metal taste. What lacks here is a good mix of speed. There are too many slow or midtempo tracks and even if some kick some energy into the album, depending on their place in the tracklist, it doesn't help to hold the interest of the listener. "A Change Through Destruction" will most likely appeal to fans only. It could have been a very good EP, though.

More info at www.grendelband.com.

Line-up:
Mikko Virtanen - vocals
Mika Kivi - guitars
Jussi Kraft - guitars
Kari Martikainen - bass
Juha Terrilä - keyboards
Jarkko Piipari - drums


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DARK THE SUNS – All Ends In Silence (Firebox Records 2009)

Dark The Suns - All Ends In Silence
  1. Unbroken Silence
  2. Everlasting
  3. The Dead End
  4. All Ends In Silence
  5. Sleepless Angels
  6. Cold Dawn
  7. Rimed With Frost
  8. The Rain
  9. Guardians
  10. Gone

The Gothic Metal formation DARK THE SUNS released its debut album, "In Darkness Comes Beauty", two years ago and two years after Mikko Ojala (vox, guitars) started DARK THE SUNS as solo project. This album was well received, as the band played a Gothic Metal with Melodic Death influences, meaning you could think of bands like PARADISE LOST and DARK TRANQUILLITY. In the autumn of 2008 the MCD "The Dead End" came out and even made it onto the Finnish singles chart. The 27th of April is the date when the follow-up for "In Darkness Comes Beauty" came out, titled "All Ends In Silence". If you believe in superstition, then this title better not be a forebode of DARK THE SUNS's destiny.

Like before, the album was recorded by Juha Kokkonen at Nightmare Workshop and Arttu Sarvanne at Studio Watercastle (where the mixing was done, once again), and the mastering was handled by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios. The result is of course of high quality, though I would have liked the drums to sound stronger, especially the kickdrums.

The line-up has changed a bit. Juha Kokkonen took up the guitar and left the keys to newcomer Pinja Haikala and drummer Markus Lehtinen was replaced by Eino Kauppila. Was this a good move? To my ears, yes. The guitars are now more prominent, but the keyboards still are a key element in the compositions. The female backing vocals were delivered by Eliisa Tuomanen.

"All Ends In Silence" starts instantly with the guitar-driven "Unbroken Silence". Eliisa offered vocal assistance in the intro, but once the band's moment is there, it's Mikko growling the lyrics through the microphone. Keyboards provide atmospheric and linear backing in this midtempo song. Next to the backing, you'll also be presented with gentle piano accents in the bridge and chorus to accentuate the drama, sadness and sorrow. Eliisa's angelic backing vocals are quite simply stunning and fit perfectly with the atmosphere. A beautiful song to start with.

"Everlasting" takes it a notch higher. The piano is more active, though this is still a guitarsong. Mikko whispers the verses, backed by gentle playing, but grunts out his feelings of grief and frustration. The chorus holds all power, with the guitars providing sad melodies, though in a heavier canvas. Truly magnificent what these Finns have done here. This is one of my favourite songs on this album.

"The Dead End" increases the pace even more, even though the piano touches and atmospheric backing are in contrast and would fit very much in a slow song. But that contrast works very well here, perhaps even more than expected. Female singing (by Inka) in the verses, Mikko's grunts in the chorus, even together with Inka (or is it Eliisa?). The guitarsolo is a welcome element and would also fit in a slower version, then also played a bit slower. This song as well is a pearl.

Forget fast pacing and let the melodies and gentle drumming of "All Ends In Silence" take you away. All is calm at first, but then the heavy guitars come bursting in, though the tempo remains the same. Mikko grunts the feelings of loss, sadness, sorrow and grief out of his lungs. Eliisa again offers light assistance in the chorus. I could listen to this track several times without being bored. At some point I would need some Power Metal, for example, but this is just so damn beautiful no words can do it justice. Put on your headphones, don't let anything disturb you and listen to this song. Sheer musical beauty! Even the guitarsolo fits in perfectly. Obviously there's a key role for the keyboards.

"Sleepless Angels" is a typical Gothic Rock/Metal song, like what LACRIMAS PROFUNERE, ELUSIVE and others have been doing since several years. Only here, the focus lies on sad melodies, slow/midtempo and guitars contrasting with that. The tempo increase lies in the chorus, the verses are slow(er). Further in the song, towards the end, there's a symphonic moment before the solo kicks in and normal pace is taken up again.

With the next track, "Cold Dawn", I had to think of two bands: DRACONIAN (Swedish Gothic/Doom Metal) and GATES OF WINTER (Canadian Progressive Metal). The piano is the leading instrument, the Metal goes on at midtempo pace while the guitars groove more than before. The verses are again quite calm with whispered lyrics, while the second part the power increases and Mikko switches to grunts, and that's where the DRACONIAN comparison can be made. But the instrumental Metal parts are what reminded me GATES OF WINTER. "Cold Dawn" ends like it started, with the piano.

A mystical start with atmospheric/symphonic leads, rhythmic toms - returning later, then with calm guitarwork - to end or proceed with slow, piano-lead Metal. That's "Rimed With Frost". Mikko's agonizing grunts are adjusted to the pace and even come more to life with the backing keyboards in the chorus. The pace remains slow all the while. This is a happy song about being snowed under, not being able to move, to resist and just face death. All you can do is cry for life, for what you're leaving behind, your beloved one(s), ... Eliisa's angelic chanting is again a wonderful element in the compositions and makes this song better and stronger. Tears were being repressed/suppressed when listening to this track. Metal can, sorry, is beautiful and DARK THE SUNS have done a wonderful job here.

After the frost, it's "The Rain" that falls. Gentle piano touches contrasting with the rapid pace of grooving Metal. It's similar to "Everlasting" and similar in quality. The guitarsolo is not too long, but that's not important. It fits the melodies, the atmosphere... and that's what matters here. Also, due to the shortness of each song (3-4 minutes) and the genre, there's not much room or need to have extensive solos. Rapid pace? "Guardians" does have it and more than the faster songs preceding it. That's the start, but the verses are in midtempo. Inka's voice is the keeper of those parts, while Mikko's grieving grunts occupy the chorus. Not only do the vocals contrast, the music also plays that game. Calm and piano-driven in the verses, heavier, though still melodic in the chorus. Over halfway there's a piano moment and along the way the songs gets rebuilt again.

And last but not least, certainly not least, is the beautiful ballad "Gone". Slow grooving guitars, a steady drumbeat and the keyboards/piano doing the work in terms of melody and atmosphere. At least, at first and in the chorus. The verses are calm, gentle and feature both instruments (guitars, piano). Once Mikko joins in, the power is upped via the guitars, who offer both rhythm and lead. The chorus is occupied by Mikko and Eliisa grunting respectively singing a duet. Mikko does switch to whispering once the verses pop back up, lead onwards by the guitar, although there is piano assistance. Like all other tracks, this one is of high quality, musically and vocally and confirms very much that DARK THE SUNS have done a terrific job.

"In Darkness Comes Beauty" was a very good release, although things could still improve and I was curious to hear how the follow-up would sound. I didn't check out the "The Dead End" MCD, though. When I received the promo of "All Ends In Silence" I was very enthusiastic to hear the new material. Listening one time made me positive. And the album stayed for several days, even weeks, in a row in my CD-player. It's that good! From start to finish the Finns have delivered an album of high quality Gothic Metal and it will be hard to top this one, although I have all confidence in Mikko and co. If you're into Gothic Metal - or if you prefer, Dark Melodic Metal -, then DARK THE SUNS is a heavily recommended band and "All Ends In Silence" one of the pearls of 2009 you need to check out.

More info at www.darkthesuns.com.

Line-up:
Mikko Ojala - vocals, guitars
Juha Kokkonen - guitars
Pinja Haikala - keyboards
Inka Tuomaala - bass
Eino Kauppila - drums


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ROXXCALIBUR – NWOBHM For Muthas (Limb Music Products 2009)

Roxxcalibur - NWOBHM For Muthas
  1. Big Ben (Intro)
  2. Running For The Line (Original by JJ'S POWERHOUSE, 1983)
  3. The Gates Of Gehenna (Original by CLOVEN HOOF, 1982)
  4. Seven Days Of Splendour (Original by JAMESON RAID, 1979)
  5. Rainbow Warrior (Original by BLEAK HOUSE, 1980)
  6. Axe Crazy (Original by JAGUAR, 1982)
  7. Lady Of Mars (Original by DARK STAR, 1980)
  8. Destiny (Original by TRIDENT, 1984)
  9. War Of The Ring (Original by ARC 1981)
  10. Witchfinder General (Original by WITCHFINDER GENERAL, 1982)
  11. Let It Loose (Original by SAVAGE, 1981)
  12. Angel Of Fear (Original by RADIUM, 1981)
  13. Spirit Of The Chateaux (Original by CHATEAUX, 1983)
  14. See You In Hell (Original by GRIM REAPER 1983)

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, NWOBHM in short, has been a great period and still several bands from that period keep it alive. This era of Heavy Metal, which has been extremely important for the rest of Metal's history (Bay Area bands, Thrash, Power, and so on), or better, future, had bands like IRON MAIDEN, SAXON, DESOLATION ANGELS, JAGUAR, SAVAGE, SWEET SAVAGE, CLOVEN HOOF, SAMSON, MORE, TYGERS OF PAN TANG, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, GIRLSCHOOL, DIAMOND HEAD, ANGEL WITCH, BITCHES SIN, BLITZKRIEG, GRIM REAPER, TOKYO BLADE, and many many MANY more. I have some of those bands and releases in my collection, but the number is nothing compared to the amount of bands and releases that were made in that period (end of 1970s - almost whole of 1980s).

ROXXCALIBUR saw the light of day under the watchful eye and thanks to the passion for NWOBHM of VIRON drummer Neudi, who asked fellow musicians in 2007 to create a tribute band to present some of the songs to the Metalheads unfamiliar with that period or those bands. These Germans didn't go for the logical choices, rather picked the less know bands and the less known songs. But it's not only because Neudi loves this kind of Metal that ROXXCALIBUR was born. The fact that it has been 30 years since this style came up is the main reason. The name is based on the compilation from 1982 (click here) bearing the title "Roxcalibur". Next to Neudi, there's also Alex Stahl (vocals, VIRON), Roger Dequis (guitars, VIRON), Eric "Kalli" Kaldschmidt (guitars, ABANDONED) and Mario Lang (bass, ex-INTO THE ABYSS).

This tribute formation has already played some gigs, like at the Headbangers Open Air festival (2008) and sharing the stage with NWOBHM bands like SWEET SAVAGE and PRAYING MANTIS.

The five joined forces and started working on the songs in 2008, asking REBELLION guitarist Uwe Lulis, together with Paul Williams, to produce the album titled "NWOBHM For Muthas", out since the 24th of April. The band recorded the basic tracks live and partially without a clicktrack. nothing about the original arrangements was altered and to be able to maintain the feel and passion of those days Uwe and Paul made no use of triggers, Pro Tools or amp simulations - yes, I'm taking this from the press text, how else would I know about these things? ;-) - yet still tried to give it a proper and more or less up-to-date sound. To make the info more complete: the booklet contains liner notes from members of the original bands and artwork by Rodney Matthews, who has worked for DIAMOND HEAD, PRAYING MANTIS, TYGERS OF PAN TANG, SCORPIONS, THIN LIZZY, MAGNUM, ...

The first track - after the chiming of the Big Ben -, is "Running For The Line". This can be found on JJ'S POWERHOUSE's "In More Rock" album from 2003 and more specifically the 7" "Running For The Line" from 1983. It's an uptempo, energetic track and typical for Metal since the last couple of years, the drums are high in the mix. I don't know if that was the case on the original recordings, but it doesn't form a problem here or in any of the other songs. CLOVEN HOOF's "The Gates Of Gehenna" are next. You can find the original on the "The Opening Ritual" EP from 1982 and of course the self-titled album from 1984. The guitars kick off the song, the rest of the instrumentation and vocals follow soon. The tempo is a bit slower here, as you get a Bluesy midtempo song. The musicianship is very good, making you feel back in the 80s again. The drums may be high in the mix, but because Neudi needs to use his entire drumkit, it's good that you don't need to put your ear against the speakers for that. The solo part is also well done. As much as I like NWOBHM, this song is a little less good to my ears. In other words, I'm sure CLOVEN HOOF has better songs than this one. In addition, Alex's voice lacks power and roughness, something David Potter did have.

Up next is a song from a band I have never heard of before: "Seven Days Of Splendour" by JAMESON RAID. This, too, is a Bluesy, but pounding track and can be found on the dito titled single from 1979. While Terry Dark had a clean voice and sometimes went for the high notes, which sounded a bit nerve-wrecking, Alex's voice fits much better here and the modern production gives the song more power, even if the original sounded pretty good, too. Or simply put, Terry fits best in the 1983 version, Alex in the 2009 one, although I must say that the live version (see here) with Terry sounds very much ok, too. The man still has a voice many younger singers would be jealous of. Respect! The next track, "Rainbow Warrior" from BLEAK HOUSE, starts calm and the guitarline made me think of METALLICA's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)". It also ends that way. I don't know if METALLICA was inspired by BLEAK HOUSE or not, but considering the similarity between the two songs, I'm guessing Lars and James knew about the existence of BLEAK HOUSE and the "Rainbow Warrior" single in 1981. It's a slow song, though the drums already add a steady beat for when the full guitar power comes (chorus). Very nice is the heavy, faster twist around 01:35. A very ballsy moment, also including solos (very well done, by the way) before returning to the calm part of the beginning of the song. This is one of the best, if not the best, songs on this album.

While up until now solid songs were chosen, there wasn't that much speed involved. Rest assured that "Axe Crazy" will surely kick your ass awake, also because of the modern production. This track comes of JAGUAR's 1982 single "Axe Crazy". Raging and screaming guitars, fast drumming, an overall solid rhythm section and fierce singing, the key ingredients for another great cover. It's hard to sit still when hearing the kickdrums and guitars. There's a sort of resting point after one third of the playtime, but then it's back to full power. This musical equivalent of fast-food barely devoured, the fun and happy tunes of "Lady Of Mars" will make the digestion process pass by more easily. Midtempo, THIN LIZZY-ish guitarwork, very fitting vocals... what more do you need? This DARK STAR song can be found on the same-titled single from 1980, and the self-titled album from 1981. Another highlight on an overall very interesting tribute release.

TRIDENT is another obscure band on the list and also one I have never heard of. The chosen song, "Destiny", comes off their 1984 single carrying the same title. It's a pumping midtempo track that just makes you want to headbang along. Alex's voice fits quite well, though he has a somewhat higher timbre than TRIDENT's vocalist at the time. I can't seem to find anything regarding the line-up, strangely enough. Fact is that ROXXCALIBUR stays again true to the original and you could basically say that the more modern production - though also trying to keep the feel and magic of before alive - injects the song with new found power. Or in other words, this is another splendid track and one of my favourites. Another song that really benefits from being covered anno 2009 is ARC's "War Of The Ring". Vocalist John Whitbread has a voice similar to, for example, Michael Kiske in terms of timbre, though John's has a bit of a rougher edge. The song kicks off with tribal drumming, followed by the guitars creating a tension and little by little the music moves towards full opening. Alex's voice fits in very well and sort of lies between the two, John's and Michael's. "War Of The Ring", coming off the same-titled single from 1981, is a slow/midtempo song, yet feels quite ballsy and Neudi's drumming helps to give it more power. The original track didn't do me much, the 2009 version all the more.

And then the powerful Doom-meets-Heavy-Metal or Heavy-Metal-with-a-good-slab-of-Doom of WITCHFINDER GENERAL. The chosen track is the self-titled one, coming off the "Death Penalty" album from 1982. You could compare it to BLACK SABBATH, even though both are still different kinds of bands. As you see the description it's obvious that the tempo is not high at all and to be honest, it's good that Neudi and co. chose this song to show that NWOBHM wasn't always about flashy guitars and pounding drums. However, ROXXCALIBUR's rendition sounds more Heavy Metal, and a little faster than the original. The Doom aspect has been lost somewhere in the studio, it seems. That's a sad and most likely due to the tuning of the guitars and how the album was produced. Nevertheless, the 2009 cover version does sound good. SAVAGE's classic hit, "Let It Loose", was covered back in the 80s by METALLICA and you could find the song on the demos "Hit The Lights" and "Ron McGovney's '82 Garage Demo". In addition, there was a compilation of the original tracks that METALLICA covered, released in 1996: "The Metallic-Era, Vol. 1". The guitarriff is very recognisable and typical for SAVAGE. The energy this song possesses is amazing and puts in such a mood you'll be sure to have a good time. You can/could find it first on the "Scene Of The Crime" split album from 1981. It did appear, obviously, on SAVAGE's debut album, "Loose 'n' Lethal", in 1983.

Three more songs to go, starting with RADIUM's "Angel Of Fear" from 1981, coming off the "Through The Smoke" EP. This is one of the heavier bands of the NWOBHM period, as far as I can hear. Yes, hear, as RADIUM is another band new to me. Heavy guitars, a rather slow tempo (in the verses) that gets a kick in the ass for the rest of the song and quite epic, you could say. The original sounded quite crappy, due to the technology of those days, so it's good that today you can give the song the sound it deserves. And let me tell you the Germans have done a very good job here. CHATEAUX is another obscure name of which Neudi thought it would be best to choose a song from these guys, too. "Spirit Of The Chateaux" it was, found originally on the debut album, "Chained And Desperate", from 1983. Steve Grimmett from GRIM REAPER even sang on that album. "Spirit Of The Chateaux" is a dark and slow song featuring Steve's high-pitched vocals that form a strong contrast with the heaviness of the music. ROXXCALIBUR did give the track a different twist, meaning a tempo increase during the last minutes when the solo part is being played. That was not the case in the original, but it does fit and gives the song an extra boost.

Last but not least there's "See You In Hell" by GRIM REAPER, coming off the same-titled debut album from 1983. A pounding, powerful song filled with dark, rough vocals and sharp riffing to fit the image of the reaper. Steve sang with a rather low voice, though reaches for the high notes in the chorus. Alex has a more ballsy voice and I can only think of a few names that would also be able to properly sing this song. ROXXCALIBUR's version has bit more power, is faster and bit more diverse in terms of drumming. Overall the execution is flawless, on every level and a perfect closing song for a very very good tribute album.

You might be wondering why and how I made comparisons. Thank you, Youtube. ;-) I knew some of the bands, knew only a few of the songs, so I had to check at least that source for reference reasons. How else would you know if ROXXCALIBUR have done a good job at keeping the original spirit, feel and power of the olden days alive? Well, it is without the smallest doubt clear that ROXXCALIBUR is probably the best NWOBHM tribute band - I'll gladly change my opinion once I've heard others - at the moment and with "NWOBHM For Muthas" they have made a highly recommended album for anyone who's looking for NWOBHM material, who wants to know what other bands were part of the scene, who likes the music but wished it to have a better production... and of course for those new to Metal and seeking material about the earlier days. "NWOBHM For Muthas", one of the several highlights of 2009!

More info at www.roxxcalibur.de.

Line-up:
Alexx Stahl - vocals
Kalli - guitars
Roger Dequis - guitars
Mario Lang - bass
Neudi - drums


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MISERY SPEAKS – Disciples Of Doom (Drakkar Records 2009)

Misery Speaks - Disciples Of Doom
  1. Out Of The Unknown...
  2. Burning Path
  3. End Up In Smoke
  4. A Road Less Travelled
  5. Disciples Of Doom
  6. Obsessed
  7. Black Garden
  8. Fragile
  9. The Swarm
  10. Into The Unknown

MISERY SPEAKS is a German band that combines elements from Melodic Death Metal and Metalcore. The band was formed in 1999 and has over the years put out a number of releases as well as underwent a few line-up changes. Speaking of line-up changes, vocalist Claus Ulka was replaced last year by Przemek Golomb, who already has played with MISERY SPEAKS at, for example, With Full Force, Summer Breeze and Metalcamp. Since this is my first encounter with MISERY SPEAKS, I can't compare Przemek's input with that of Claus.

In terms of releases, the band recorded two demos to start with before releasing their debut, "Things Fall Apart", in 2004. To bridge the gap towards the self-titled follow-up in 2006, another demo was made. 2008 was then the years of album no. 3, "Catalogue Of Carnage". It seems that with a new singer a new energy shot was given as this time the band only needed one year (or a bit less) to complete their newest output, "Disciples Of Doom" (out since the 24th of April). Of course, it could also be that Jonas Kjellgren (production, mixing, mastering) inspired the guys so much that the studiowork was soon over.

Going from "Out Of The Unknown", an instrumental intro, onto the "Burning Path" is the first step into being faced with low growling riffing, pounding drums and hoarse vocals that are typical for many Metalcore bands. The chorus reminds of DARK TRANQUILLITY's classic "Monochromatic Stains", which is a nice thought. Drumwise this is also a diverse song, as Janosch adds good accents and fills and certainly does not forget his kit has toms. Furthermore the guitarsoloing also deserves praise.

And after your threading on the "Burning Path" you are going to "End Up In Smoke". This is a track where the tempo has been upped a few levels and everything just is more powerful, aggressive, and ferocious. In a way this reminded me of DARKEST HOUR "Undoing Ruin" album, though both bands are not alike. Variation is present again in terms of rhythm and tempo and helps to make the song more interesting. And interesting it is, for this is the first of several more highlights.

Following "A Road Less Travelled" you'll first come accross calm guitarwork, which gradually unfolds into something more volumenous and powerful before it really gets devastating. The verses present the song as an aggressive roller, while the tempo goes down in favour of more melody in the chorus. That melody also serves to address your emotions and feelings. And no, it's not an Emocore song, don't worry. Next to the hoarse singing, Przemek throws in some (greasy) screams now and then. As the music rolls on, there better be some change to avoid linearity and about halfway the tempo drops to let a gentle guitarsolo come through, backed by a chugga-chugga rhythm before full power is restored.

And then it's time for the title track, the first of two songs that have some Doom injected. In "Disciples Of Doom" the Germans sort of mix elements from Traditional/Epic Doom, Death/Doom and even Funeral Doom while steadily increasing the pace towards midtempo sludgeyness, based on fat grooving guitars. Vocals are a inline with the slow pace and Przemek adds a greasy, growling touch to it. This is the second highlight on this new release. The other Doom song, or song which has a Doomy influence is "Black Garden". Its start is more similar to the Hard Rock of bands like AC/DC, SHAKRA, THUNDER, ... which of course adds a surprising element to this otherwise aggressive album. After this first part the music transits to something more Sludge-like, like in the title track. And that's not all, for even Black Metal has been of influence. There was a certain guitar riffing that reminded me of UNHOLY RITUAL's "Vae Victus" chorus, although the tempo suddenly increases and with Przemek's greasy vocals DARK TRANQUILLITY comes to mind. All this incorporating of different elements sure makes the listening all the more pleasant. And to top it, there's a nice melodic part between the 4th and 6th minute on a bed of tribal drumming, meaning Janosch makes good use of the toms. After that the chorus comes back and it's Sludge all the way again. With a playtime of over 8 minutes the band made good use of it and offered change where appropriate to avoid boredom. Therefore another thumbs up from my part.

Between those Doomy songs, there's "Obsessed" to break the chain of slowness and offer a serious kick in the nuts in case you might have fallen asleep or your attention has weakened. Ferocious riffing, pounding, uptempo drumming (including blastbeats), angry vocals and more of such stuff. Furthermore, this song has got a great rhythm. Drums continue to be varied (fills, tempo). This track is more than a highlight, you can be sure of that.

"Fragile" is another track in which MISERY SPEAKS fights with full power. It may start slowly as if preparing for the real attack and that ones does come not much later. How Przemek's sings certain parts reminded me of - I think, since I've heard so many bands over the years, I can't remember all of them, but there's always something musical that lingers inside my head, hehehe - EXODUS and then more specifically off their most recent releases. Well, since Rob Dukes became the new vocalist. But it's only a small portion of this song that is responsable for this reference. Aside from the raging guitars you also get melodic interventions, mainly in the chorus, where the tempo is a bit lower. The guitarsolos are again very good, though sound pretty wild.

"Obsessed" had blastbeats, so has "The Swarm". Fast riffing, dangerous and crushing drumming, a venomous Przemek and you know this is a lethal song. Fast mid- and uptempo take turns to spin your head around, throw you from one corner in the room to the other, until you can no longer escape and surrender to the whirling waves of mad Metal. Absolutely great song!

Going from "Out Of The Unknown" back "Into The Unknown" as final stage or to complete the circle. Toms play a big role here, giving the music a more pounding character than before. Midtempo grooving Metal is what you get, still within the boundaries of Melodic Death Metal and comparable to DARK TRANQUILLITY and ARCH ENEMY, in a way. Another nice surprise has been added in the form of Hard Rock and that is one that carries on until the end: a THIN LIZZY-like solo part. It contrasts with what preceded and yet it fits so perfectly.

Label mates AKREA pleasantly surprised me with their "Lebenslinie" and I have to admit that MISERY SPEAKS' "Disciples Of Doom" is actually also worth checking out. Even if Metalcore isn't my cup of tea, this band isn't one 100%, rather play Melodic Death with Metalcore influences here and there. Four albums so far and I can't tell which is the best - since this new release is my first encounter with this band -, only that "Disciples Of Doom" is certainly not a bad album. On the contrary even. MISERY SPEAKS manages to mix several influences (see mentioned bands) into something very entertaining, for which you can only offer congratulations. Recommended for open-minded Melodic Death Metal fans.

More info at www.miseryspeaks.com.

Line-up:
Przemek Golomb - vocals
Florian Füntmann - guitars
Stephan Gall - guitars
Martin Grossmann - bass
Janosch Rathmer - drums


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AKREA – Lebenslinie (Drakkar Records 2009)

Akrea - Lebenslinie
  1. Aufbruch
  2. Imperium
  3. Schwarzer Kern
  4. Dieser Klang
  5. Sigmea
  6. Trugbild
  7. Rachsucht
  8. Bis Zum Ende Der Welt
  9. Tribock
  10. Ein Leben Lang
  11. Verlust

AKREA is a young German Melodic Death Metal band and has recently released its debut album, "Lebenslinie" ("Lifeline") on the 24th of April via Drakkar Records. AKREA was founded as INNER AGGRESSION in 2005 by Jonas Nelhiebel (drums), Fabian Panzer (guitar) and Christian Simmerl (bass), but vocalist Sebastian Panzer and second guitarist Stephan Schafferhans joined respectively in 2005 and 2006. 2007 was the year of the self-released "Beginning Of An Inner War". Seeing the potential in this band, Drakkar Records signed them in 2008 and the first release is now available.

"Lebenslinie" was produced by Victor Bullok aka V. Santura (ex-CELTIC FROST, DARK FORTRESS), a name not ringing a bell with me. Then again, I've never followed both mentioned bands.

The album commences with a piano intro, followed by slow melodic Metal. But it's a composition that differs a lot from what follows after those nearly two and a half minutes. Starting with "Imperium", a raging uptempo track that reminds of bands like AMON AMARTH, ARCH ENEMY, DARK TRANQUILLITY. And that's a similarity you'll hear throughout the entire album, though not all songs sound like copies. Actually, none sound like copies, since each of those bands does add their own stamp to their songs and obviously so does AKREA to their own songs. Next to the mixed vocals (shrieks, screams, growls) there's also enough attention for instrumentalism, which is a good thing.

"Schwarzer Kern" is next, in midtempo format. Melody is a very important ingredient, not in the least in the beginning. But the tempo goes up soon enough, flowing over into pounding Metal. The rhythm has that nice galopping touch and makes the listening pleasure even greater. And with "Black Core", to translate the title in English, the first two proper songs that really stand out have been played.

Other songs that complete the shortlist of highlights - although there's no real bad song here, save for "Bis Zum Ende Der Welt" ("Until The End Of The World"), which is a track where the Metal rolls on in an aggressive manner, with a harsh feel, but just doesn't sound as attractive as the majority of the other songs - are "Trugbild", "Rachsucht" and "Tribock". "Trugbild" is a darker, heavier kind of song, with the tempo held high and reminding of the three above mentioned Swedish bands. The vocals consist of growling, while the guitarsolos are more than good enough. "Rachsucht" starts with calm guitarwork, followed by midtempo melodicness. The pace is direct and firm, though interrupted every now and then by slower melodic passages. Last but not least, "Tribock", is one dangerous and aggressive monster of a song with its blastbeats (only for a short while) and galopping rhythm. The cherry on this cake is the chorus: uptempo and double bass. Finally!! That put a big smile on my face. Oh yes, the solos are good, or what to expect? There's nothing wrong with "Tribock" at all.

After the highlights, or first choice songs, you get the second choice category. And that's the rest of the tracks. Does that make them not as good as the shortlist? Obviously not, but these songs are still very qualitative. "Dieser Klang" kicks off - well, takes a gentle start, since the kick comes later - with a bass intro, after which the music unfolds its features in a slow way, letting everything come to fruition in preparation for the real outburst. It's a heavy, groovy kind of midtempo track with a riffing that reminded me of another band's song, but I can't put my finger on it. Sometime later the song takes a break, offering the same melody as the intro to rebuild everything as before.

AMON AMARTH was also of influence for "Sigmea", consisting of slow Melodic Death Metal. Calm verses, whispering vocals, harsh vocals later on and the music increasing in power as the notes fly by. You'll find guitarsolos here, too, with Fabian and Stephan taking turns. This is the fifth track and I'll jump to no. ten and eleven for the last still to mention tracks: "Ein Leben Lang" ("A Life Long") and "Verlust" ("Loss"). The first is a typical midtempo song, but one with great guitarwork, to say the least, especially the main riff in the beginning. Solos? Yes. Good? Of course. "Verlust" consists of two part: one being mysterious, ambient, atmospheric and whatever more, followed by rolling toms and accustomed guitarwork. The second part contrasts heavily with its Death/Black Metal characteristics. And this works quite well.

So, a new Melodic Death Metal band is added to the already extensive list. Does it add anything new to the market? No, you have to be honest about this as you have to be honest about these Germans ding a very fine job with "Lebenslinie". Sure, you can hear similarities with (or influences from) big Swedish names like AMON AMARTH, ARCH ENEMY, DARK TRANQUILLITY, but AKREA is no clone band and deserves praise for what they've created so far. Pluspoints go to the musicianship, the songmaterial overall and not in the least the vocal types. "Lebenslinie" isn't the next best thing, but it sure is a qualitive thing.

More info at www.akrea.de.

Line-up:
Sebastian Panzer - vocals
Fabian Panzer - guitars
Stephan Schafferhans - guitars
Christian Simmerl - bass
Jonas Nelhiebel - drums


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MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE – Sound Of God's Absence (Off Records 2009)

MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE - Sound Of God's Absence
  1. Intro
  2. Maggot Infested
  3. Mind And Machine
  4. Murder Mandate
  5. On The Eve Of Tempest
  6. Adeptus Satanicus
  7. Waste In Flesh
  8. Dahlia
  9. Absence
  10. Stillborn Messiah
  11. My Becoming
  12. Departure

MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE started as PRODUCT OF RAGE and one album was released, "Myphenomenon". Afterwards the foundations were starting to fall apart, each focussed on other projects, but eventually most of them got together again and gave birth to MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE. This new band released its debut album "Faustian Evangelion" in 2007, after having signed a deal with Off Records. That same label also released the band's second album, "Sound Of God's Absence", on the 20th of April this year. Oh yes, MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE plays Melodic Death Metal. Or Atmospheric Death Metal, as it says in the press text.

Melodic Death, ok, but at the same time you'll also find that these Finnish add a lot of groove to it. One example is "Maggot Infested", which kicks off after the "Intro" (water, ocean sounds, a cracking ship?, bells...). The keyboards add a depressive touch, especially in combination with the hoarse/grunting vocals during the bridge. In the chorus the keys lead in a symphonic way, while the vocals have switched to a clean version. And this is a very nice part. Overall and thus also rhythm-wise, this is a pretty good song to start with. "Mind And Machine" is an even better one, as it also ups the pace a bit. Somehow, due to the grooves and what not I couldn't help thinking about bands like THE HAUNTED, HATESPHERE and even some IN FLAMES. The atmospheric and Industrial touches give the song a rather sad character. No keyboard leads this time, it's the guitars that drive it onwards, although for the sake of melody the keyboards play their smaller role, even in the form of a piano.

"Murder Mandate" rolls on in the same style as THE HAUNTED, HATESPHERE and similar. Sure, they're not Melodic Death Metal bands, so but they do have elements that to some extent make them crossover, so to speak. The keyboards provide their atmospheric sounds to complete the compositions and they really do. Without them it feels different. Not bad, but you know something's missing then. The vocals are of the dual kind: hoarse in the verses, clean in the chorus. All in all, not a bad song, though not super either.

The situation improves again with "On The Eve Of Tempest", which promises to be sweet. If it would tempest itself, you would be in for one hell of a ride. The tempo has dropped a lot, floating between slow and midtempo with of course the necessary amount of Groove. The singing is of the rough kind. Musically the keyboards provide some symphonic additions, while overall this could have been a SWALLOW THE SUN kind of song, only it's a bit faster here. The result is commendable, a job well done. "Adeptus Satanicus" is another more than alright kind of song, clearly driving in the midtempo section. The verses are devoid of heaviness and it's then best to have clean singing for the lyrics. The instrumental power comes to life afterwards, with the keyboards being added in the chorus. Interesting is the sudden twist, as if damnation is near, followed by a musical change resulting in a Jazzy moment. And that is not only a surprise, but a very nice one, I have to say.

The curve continues to rise and another recommended track is ready to be played: "Waste In Flesh". The pace is seriously upped again and you can hear the music's back on the track of THE HAUNTED, HATESPHERE, TESTAMENT, etc. Highlight here is the chorus, which contains an excellent example of melody (symphonic) meets heaviness (guitar grooves). Further down the track a dangerous breakdown pops up and neatly connects with the other compositions.

But then there are two tracks that drag the positive score down: "Dahlia" and "Absence". The first is a midtempo groover, though with a slow chorus. Keyboards still fulfilling a backing role and both vocal types taking turns, with the clean one having the monopoly in the chorus. As good as the execution is, "Dahlia" just isn't such an attractive song, in my opinion. I can't put my finger on it, but the previous - and what follows towards the end of the album - deliver the goods in a better way. "Absence" is an atmospheric/ambient track with vocals, which are on repeat, so to speak. The overall atmosphere is of the sad and depressing kind, as if the world is going to smithereens. And this song would have been so much better without the vocals. You don't need vocals in every song. Sometimes the instruments do a better job at conveying a message or addressing your emotions.

But luckily MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE managed to manufacture three more songs to rectify the negative state: "Stillborn Messiah", "My Becoming" and "Departure". The first is a midtempo grooving song, with atmospheric elements playing an important role, especially during a specific break. The chorus once more hides a feeling of sadness, with the obvious clean vocals to express that even more or complement it. The contrast couldn't be bigger then in "My Becoming", which also has a melancholic sort of chorus, but outside of that kicks serious ass since the tempo lies higher and the guitars rage in a vicious manner. Last but not least, there's "Departure", which already sounds sad before you heard it. It starts calm, with a guitarline that would nice to relax to, followed by heavier bursts. Midtempo rules in the verses, everything slows down in the chorus. Later the calm guitarpart returns, as well as those bursts.

MANUFACTURER'S PRIDE's atmospheric Death Metal or Melodic Death Metal is in general well done. The production is good - although a bit clinical -, and the majority of the songs are entertaining enough to listen to, the two kinds of singing work very well, but I do want to add that "Sound Of God's Absence" is not an album that puts words like "wow", "amazing" and "masterpiece" in your mouth. At least, not in mine, as the album gave me mixed feelings. It's one of those albums that you take out when the time is right, when you want something that combines Groove and melody. For everyday use it's best to check out other bands and albums. For those who are fast enough, there's a bonus DVD containing live recordings and video clips, including a making of.

More info at www.manufacturerspride.com.

Line-up:
Mikko Ahlfors - vocals
Teemu Liekkala - guitars
Janne Niskanen - synths
Antti Lampinen - programming
Ristomatti Rinne - bass
Ville Sivonen - drums


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SHAKRA – Everest (AFM Records 2009)

Shakra - Everest
  1. Ashes To Ashes
  2. Love & Pain
  3. Let Me Lie My Life To You
  4. The Illusion Of Reality
  5. Why?
  6. The Journey
  7. Regressive Evolution
  8. Anybody Out There
  9. Right Between The Eyes
  10. Dirty Money
  11. Insanity
  12. Hopeless

The Swiss Hard Rock band SHAKRA has been rocking the world since 1997, consistently putting out a new release. Line-up changes are very few in number: Mark Fox replacing Pete Wiedmer in 2003 (the latter leaving due to health reasons) and thus debuting on the very good "Rising" album. Since then and thanks to a deal with AFM Records, the albums followed each other every other year: "Fall" in 2005, "Infected" in 2007 and since the 17th of April 2009 album no. 7 is available: "Everest". The other line-up change is bassist Oli Linder having left the band last year and being replaced by Dominik Pfister.

In terms of gigs the Swiss have shared the stage with several great acts like HAMMERFALL, STRATOVARIUS, IRON MAIDEN, GREAT WHITE and URIAH HEEP. And of course several more, be it as support or at festivals.

I got to know the band's music with "Fall", which was to my liking, also because it was something refreshing, I might say. Since then I've bought all albums since "Rising" (this one included). "Infected" was a very nice follow-up, though perhaps a bit too many softer songs. Having heard "Everest", it seems the band decided to step on the gas again and offer solid guitar-driven Hard Rock. Needless to say that for some it might be the same as usual, but I like the usual as it makes SHAKRA to what it is, with an own sound and vibe. Comparing the new material or the Mark Fox period with the first few albums is something I cannot do, yet I'm curioous to hear how the band's old material sounds.

"Everest" kicks off with a direct, typical straight-forward SHAKRA song, one that rocks and has the balls to offer one hell of a time in a live setting in one of those many venues/clubs on the planet: "Ashes To Ashes". Everything is just perfect, be it vocals or instruments. Yes, the soloing is inline with that. And yes, as said before, it sounds familiar, a bit like "Too Good For Me" (from the "Rising" album). "Love & Pain" is a bit slower, groovier in a way and reminds of tracks like "Rising High" or "She's My Ecstacy", to be found respectively on the "Rising" and "Fall" albums.

Time for something with more punch, yet the groove remains: "Let Me Lie My Life To You". The chorus contains the majority of the melody, whereas the verses rely on the heavy guitars and simple but effective drumbeat pushing it onwards. "The Illusion Of Reality"'s first guitarsounds indicate a slower, almost powerballad-ish song. The pace is accordingly, with heaviness lacking in the verses, though being added in between and in the chorus, which is again dominated by melody. It's somewhat similar with "Love & Pain" or the other referenced tracks.

With "Why?" the first semi-accoustic song has come into play. It's a ballad, like the band has done before. Nothing exciting, though not exactly bad either. "Hopeless", the last song, is the other ballad, also semi-accoustic but with the piano. This one as well is pretty decent. That's the thing with ballads: you like 'em or you don't. And even if this isn't what SHAKRA does best, they still do a good job at creating something non-heavy. To get back on the semi-accoustic aspect, "Anybody Out There" is the last one and is a normal song, midtempo and very radio-friendly.

The longest song then, "The Journey", with its almost 8 minutes of variable Rock tunes. A heavy moment, a drop in tempo, but especially the faster part in the middle - a twist in the compositions - is the cherry on the cake that this song is. Despite the lengthy playtime, it just never bores. Same for the much shorter, firmer "Regressive Evolution". Roger added an extra beat to his drumming, during the bridge I think, which is a good thing, as trivial or small as it may be. The balance between heavy riffing and melodic elements is very well composed and executed and I cannot exclude this song from the list of highlights, because this is more than one.

And it gets even better with what is probably the heaviest track on "Everest": "Right Between The Eyes". This one quite simply ROCKS! Though at midtempo and simply drumming - typically SHAKRA, but oh so effective - sharp riffing, a melodic chorus, a greasy voice to express the right feelings... what more do you want? Even when you think not a lot is going to happen and the song will just carry on like before, the Swiss give the song a turn in the last few minutes, offering solos and a break. First class material!

"Dirty Money" is another groovier song, fatter you could say, as the music rolls on. Think of bands like AC/DC, THUNDER, SAXON, and so on. SHAKRA is very much worth being named among these big names. And last but not least there's "Insanity" that cranks up the pace once more. Melody prevails over heaviness, but that doesn't mean there has been a compromise. The music still rocks!

SHAKRA stands for qualitative Hard Rock, since more than 6 years. Well, at least 6 years, since I haven't heard anything of the pre-Mark Fox era. The Mark Fox era sure is a very good one, as each album is a worth checking out, one more than the other. There has been a slight change with each release in terms of production and sound, but overall the band has stayed true to themselves and put out another album, "Everest" in this case, that has the SHAKRA stamp that assures your money's worth. With "Everest" you get a good deal of rocking tunes - this is perhaps the heaviest album since "Rising" -, yet with a good melodic injection. Everything fits, there are no flaws, no fillers and the band is ready to hit the international stages again and continue the quest for the throne of Hard Rock. It's still a long road, though, with fierce competition.

More info at www.shakra.ch.

Line-up:
Mark Fox - vocals
Thom Blunier - guitars
Thomas Muster - guitars
Dominik Pfister - bass
Roger Tanner - drums


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GAE BOLGA – Drink 'till Death (Gae Bolga 2009)

Gae Bolga - Drink 'till Death
  1. Prelude
  2. Mambo N° 666
  3. He's Not Gay (Let's Thrash Him Anyway)
  4. Drink 'till Death
  5. Smell My Jacket
  6. Spit On Your Grave

GAE BOLGA is first of all a mythological object. Quoted from Wikipedia (click here): "The Gáe Bulg (also Gáe Bulga, Gáe Bolg, Gáe Bolga, meaning "notched spear", "belly spear", "swelling spear", "bellows-dart", or possibly "lightning spear"), was the spear of Cúchulainn in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It was given to him by his martial arts teacher, the warrior woman Scáthach, and its technique was taught only to him." Next to that, it's also the name of a Belgian old school Thrash Metal band. And that band was formed back in 1998 or 1999, as even the band's biography isn't clear on that element. Line-up changes were inevitable, as it's a classic disease that affects many bands.

GAE BOLGA plays old school Thrash Metal and that is even more obvious when listening to the "Drink 'till Death" MCD. Or as the band itself puts it: "Bolga plays: SLAYER meets (old) GRAVE DIGGER meets ATROPHY meets MOTÖRHEAD meets (old) RUNNING WILD meets SODOM, only better and faster!" and "Any pure Thrash and/or Heavy Metal band between '81 and let's say '92. Examples: EXODUS, ATROPHY, DESTRUCTION, SODOM, DEATH ANGEL, MORBID SAINT, RUNNING WILD, GRAVE DIGGER, ATOMKRAFT, WHIPLASH, VENOM, ... all mixed and lined up, topped with a mainly German attitude." The MCD came out on CD around mid April of this year, while it was first available on cassette in 2008. Six tracks totalling a playtime of around 25 minutes.

It starts with "Prelude", an uptempo, raw sounding intro, which takes an immediate jump to "Mambo N° 666". The title could be a parody to LOU BEGA's "Mambo No. 5" when you think of it. Anyway, this is the first proper song and it's indeed pure and raw old school Thrash in vein of EXODUS, DESTRUCTION, METALLICA ("Kill 'Em All" period), KREATOR and more. Even the vocals are raw and high-pitched. But as good as that song is, "He's Not Gay (Let's Thrash Him Anyway)" - written back in 2000 - is an even better one. Starting with a bass doodle, the Thrash attack soon commences. The band even added sounds of thrashing the place by destroying glasses, bottles, tables and chairs, as if a fight in a bar was going on). And surprisingly, or not, there is a guitar solo before turning to midtempo Metal with a more normal flow, but stepping on the gas later on. Very entertaining, I must say.

"Drink 'till Death" is another raging track, yet adds a bit more melody in the chorus, according to my ears. To give the song a bit more depth, laughter was added and for the reality of the situation (see the title), the guy quite simply throws up. As an entertainment element, it sure isn't the best one. But when you see the humour behind GAE BOLGA, though the guys do play with passion for Thrash - then it all makes sense. "Smell My Jacket" also has the bass laying out the first notes, followed by midtempo Metal, but the tempo boost is set for the chorus, which is fast Thrash and as raw as possible. The quality of the recordings also helps to create that old school vibe and feel, of course. This track sounds/feels darker than what preceded and offers more diverse guitarwork.

"Spit On Your Grave" is the last track and also the longest one, at least with the hidden track included. The song itself lasts about 2 to 3 minutes, taking off in a Doomy fashion, plodding along until it gets a kick in the rear, resulting in the fast Thrash that can be found in the previous songs as well. Soundwise it's again METALLICA and similar that come to mind. After that a silence sets in before an even rawer recording starts. And if (!) I listened carefully enough, it's a rehearsal session for "He's Not Gay (Let's Thrash Him Anyway)". But the recording microphones stood too far off to clearly identify the song. Afterwards the guys start a small chat, though what was said is even less hearable. Unless you turn up the volume really high, I think. I haven't done it yet. Either way, the last song confirms the direction the guys wanted to take and have taken.

It's always interesting to get to know bands from your own country and especially from your own region. Despite GAE BOLGA's very small discography in those past ten years, it's clear the guys have a passion for old school Thrash, even if they like the modern Thrash bands, and show with this first release that they're serious about it. Of course, with a good slab of humour. "Drink 'till Death" is logically a self-release and anyone seeking raw sounding Thrash sounding like back in the days is of course advised to check out these Belgians and support their cause by buying this MCD. A full album is already in the making and should come out sometime in 2010, if all goes well.

More info at www.myspace.com/gaebolga.

Line-up:
Danny Copperwire - vocals, bass
Ian MacNamara - guitars
Marnix Jr. Schwarzkopf - guitars
John Berry - drums


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FLASHBACK OF ANGER – Splinters Of Life (Limb Music Products 2009)

Flashback Of Anger - Splinters Of Life
  1. By The Gates Of My Dreams
  2. All I Have
  3. Time Can Answer
  4. Stars
  5. A Void Within Me
  6. Splinters Of Life
  7. Strange Illusion
  8. Outer World
  9. Back In The Nightmare
  10. Off With My Heart
  11. Flashback Of Anger

The only Progressive Italian bands I have in my collection are EMPYRIOS and DGM, both recommended, if I may say so. But since early this month (9th April), the German label LMP has released the debut album of FLASHBACK OF ANGER. Titled "Splinters Of Life", it contains songs that fit only in the Progressive category, others in the Power Metal category and what's left is a combination of both.

FLASHBACK OF ANGER came to life in 2003 and released a first demo, "Pant Rei", one year later. By 2005 the line-up was stable again (after the several changes, so is told) and the demo "Off With My Heart" was recorded. This was also another step in the direction of finding an own sound and style. Two years later the band entered the High Gain Recording Studio in Hamburg to work on the debut album, "Splinters Of Life". Helping with that would be Arne Lakenmacher (tour manager of AMON AMARTH and NEVERMORE), Dirk Schlächter and Kai Hansen (both of GAMMA RAY). Before starting the recordings FLASHBACK OF ANGER played at the Evolution Festival in Italy together with NEVERMORE, KAMELOT, FATES WARNING, VIRGIN STEELE and others. But even after this event the recording had to be postponed again, as Alessio Gori was invited to accompany GAMMA RAY on their tour as their official keyboardist.

"Splinters Of Life" starts with an orchestral intro, but then a mix of Power and Progressive Metal breaks loose ("All I Have"). The first bands I had to think of were VANISHING POINT (not just the music, but also the vocals), (old) EDGUY, BLACK MAJESTY and SERENITY. All very good bands in their own league. The song itself is a midtempo one, but in the chorus the tempo goes up quite a bit. All in all a very decent track to start with, although the best is yet to come.

"Time Can Answer" is next and starts with a intro that builds up the tension until it snaps and Power Metal takes over... with a punch! This is a heavy, galopping song, spiced with keyboards twinkles (so to speak). As good as the vocals were previously, I must add that Alessio also hits the high notes from time to time and that can be annoying, depending on what your ears are used to. It is interesting, though, how the band manages to slip a piano solo in between the compositions without disturbing the flow of the song or creating a too big contrast with the Metal aspect. It even works great with the melodic Metal these guys bring. "Time Can Answer" is also more Progressive than "All I Have".

After these two tracks, it's time for something of a higher level of quality: "Stars", "A Void Within Me" and "Splinters Of Life". The first has the piano as starting and leading instrument. Orchestrations come in a little later, followed by the vocals. The first part of the song might easily bear the tag "ballad", but that soon changes when the full instrumentation comes into play, particularly in the chorus. And I can assure, that is one hell of a moment. Absolutely beautiful! And with the piano accents the guys know how to make their music touching. The piano is a key instrument in practically all songs and this is stressed once more in the last part where it gets the full attention until the end.

"A Void Within Me", the second outstanding track, reminds at first of the melody of Céline Dion's song she sang for the film "Titanic". Here as well you might think it's a ballad, but once each member plays his parts, it's Metal to the bone, in ProgPower style (VANISHING POINT, BLACK MAJESTY, ...). The piano solo in combination with the guitar, or better said, both instruments taking turns to to solo and even doing it together, is the cherry on the cake.

And the third outstanding song, the title track, is one of power and aggression. Of course, the keyboards take the lead, but the similarities with bands like ICED EARTH, BLIND GUARDIAN and SAVATAGE show that the music has taken a somewhat different direction compared to the references to e.g. VANISHING POINT, EDGUY and others. The solo part this time is purely guitars, each in turn, but the keyboards also get a chance to show their potential. Over halfway the vocals switch to operatic style. Add everything together and the result is definitely worth hearing.

Another jewel is added to the tracklisting, but you'll first have to go through the Progressive "Strange Illusion", which bears reference to music of the Swedish band EVERGREY. Keyboards keep on playing a dominant role in this midtempo track. All in all it's a good song... were it not for those damned high-pitched screams. Sad but true.

So, that other jewel then. It's not there yet. "Outer World", out of the illusion, into the world... a piano interlude, you might say. Nice as a resting point or preparation for what's to come. Oh yes, There are vocals too. "Back In The Nightmare" is that fourth song that completes the shortlist of best songs on "Splinters Of Life". What you get is Progressive Metal with influences from DREAM THEATER, VANDEN PLAS, PAGAN'S MIND, DGM and similar. It's a song with power and drive and what's even better is that halfway you get Power Metal in ANGRA-style, including the solo. Once again, kudos to these Italians. A very good job, guys.

"Off With My Heart", the song off the dito-titled demo, comes as before-last track. I don't know how different it is from the original, but it sure is a diverse in compositions. The song starts with the piano (duh!) and slowly let's the music come. Symphonics come flowing along. What follows is Power Metal with a Progressive twist. So far, so good. But then, part three, is a funky/Jazzy piece where the accoustic guitar suddenly plays an important role, also building the tension for the electric solo. Before providing the listener with a last outburst of Metal, you get a ballad-ish moment, again with the accoustic guitar. All things combined I have to take my hat off for what the band presents here. It's a very good song and also deserves to be on the shortlist, but somehow the other four songs have that little extra that makes them better candidates.

Last is the epic "Flashback Of Anger", a melodic Metal song featuring high vocals, who seem to miss a note sometimes. But pluspoints go to the solo, which is very good, and the loungy piano/ballad moment, also very much worth hearing.

It's all been done before, blablabla. Fact is that these Italians, known as FLASHBACK OF ANGER, do have the potential for the Progressive league. Mixing influences from, for example, VANISHING POINT, SYMPHONY X, (old) EDGUY and even RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) into a coherent and solid whole titled "Splinters Of Life" deserves praise and applause. Positive about this release is the material (overall), the production, the musicianship. Sadly it's mainly the vocals that form the biggest (black) spot on the compositions, especially when reaching for the high notes. Is this a recommended release? If Progressive/Power Metal is your cup of tea, then you should give this band a chance, definitely.

More info at www.flashbackofanger.it.

Line-up:
Alessio Gori - vocals, keyboards
Matteo Bonini - guitars
Giulio Cercato - guitars
Emanuele Giorgetti - keyboards
Francesco Masini - bass
Antonio Sigismondi - drums


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DEBAUCHERY – Rockers & War (AFM Records 2009)

Debauchery - Rockers & War
  1. There Is Only War
  2. Primordial Annihilator
  3. Honour And Courage
  4. Savage Mortician
  5. Killing Ground
  6. Wolves Of The North
  7. 3 Riff Hit
  8. New Rock
  9. Hammer Of The Blood God
  10. Demon Lady
  11. Rocker

The German Death Metal band DEBAUCHERY started in 2002 as a solo project of vocalist Thomas Gurrath. Throughout the years he surrounded himself with several musicians, but at the same time did it turn the band into a revolving door, as the line-up of the last three albums decreased each time. Even now it's unknown who recorded the guitar parts. Present for the recordings were certainly Thomas himself (vocals) and ex-BELPHEGOR drummer Tomasz Janiezewski. Dennis Ward co-produced again, like before.

Six albums to date, including the recently (3rd of April) released "Rockers & War". I don't know if DEBAUCHERY mixed Death Metal and Hard Rock since the start, but certainly since "Back In Blood" (2007) did the band put a lot of stress on Hard Rock (AC/DC-like) material. On the follow-up, "Continue To Kill" (2008) Death Metal formed again the majority of the tracklist, while the rest was much lighter stuff. However, that did make me form a positive opinion about the band and overall this last album was quite listenable and kept hope alive DEBAUCHERY would make the next album even more Death Metal. Titled "Rockers & War" it's pretty obvious those hopes would be smashed to pieces.

"Rockers & War" is an indication of what kind of songs to expect, or simply put, the same as usual. The album is divided into two parts, with the Death Metal songs again forming a light majority (6). The others and last five tracks form the Hard Rock part. As good as it was previously, such a change can become boring, but that also depends on the songs themselves.

It starts with the brutal, but slow "There Is Only War". At least, that's the first part before hell is unleashed. Pounding drums, brutal, raging growls, fast riffing and melodic backing by keyboards, especially in the chorus. A very good start. "Primordial Annihilator" takes the fast pace even further and gives you a firm kick in the nuts. Now that's what I'm talking about when saying DEBAUCHERY needs to add more Death Metal to its albums. This is like CANNIBAL CORPSE-meets-BENEDICTION. Excellent song! "Honour And Courage" may contain soft piano melodies, but it's the brutality and aggression that toakes over soon. The keyboards do return in the chorus as pseudo-symphonic backing. In terms of speed and power, it's even more deadly than what preceded and even has a Black Metal feel. In the middle of the song you'll hear a flowing guitarsolo before the return to form kicks in again.

And if you can't get enough of monstrous Metal blasting out of the speakers, here's "Savage Mortician". Straight-forward, deadly, destructive and pounding. Not for the weak-minded. Luckily "Killing Ground", not a SAXON cover, takes a somewhat slower approach, although the double bass rolls are like that of automatic gunfire. Artillery like PANZERCHRIST. The keyboard melodies do form a strong contrast in the chorus with the aggressive guitarwork. Still, this is overall also quite a good track. And yes, it does get uptempo on certain intervals. This is perhaps the most diverse song on "Rockers & War" in terms of drumming. "Wolves Of The North" ends the Death Metal shortlist and start with an orchestral/eastern-like intro before the Death/Black Metal is let loose, backed by symphonic keyboards. What follows is business as usual and you better buckle up to follow the pace. Thomas sounds aggressive, angry and more while the music uncovers its destructive and devastating force. The chorus is where the pace is less important (it's gone down a bit, too) and the melodies and atmosphere are key aspects. Overall another very nice song, in my opinion.

The Hard Rock part starts with the AC/DC-like track "3 Riff Hit". Only instead of high screams, you get snorting growls... in combination with Brain Johnson-ish screaming/singing. Not bad and actually a no-brainer. Just hit "Play" and enjoy. One of those songs to cruise to. "New Rock" on the other hand has a more direct pace and the same vocal combo. In short: another entertaining track, but it might bore after a few listens. And the tempo goes up even more with "Hammer Of The Blood God". A simple song, but effective, even with the piano accents in the chorus.

"Demon Lady" and "Rocker" close the Hard Rock part and the album as well. The first of these two songs is another AC/DC-ish song, like "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You". Both vocal types are present again. The last song is one where the piano plays a leading role. It's a slow song and although not exactly bad, it's nothing super either and bores rapidly.

DEBAUCHERY does it again, successfully putting both Death Metal and Hard Rock songs together on one release. And it turned out better than I expected, as both parts contain good to very good songs. However - and I realize it can sound contradictory -, I must also admit that "Rockers & War" is an album that will do well depending on the moment. In my opinion, the magic will fade when played a few times in a row. But in general, Thomas and Tomasz made an album to be proud of and that's what matters, no?

More info at www.debauchery.de.

Line-up:
Thomas - vocals
Tomasz - drums


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AFTER ALL – Cult Of Sin (Dockyard 1 2009)

After All - Cult Of Sin
  1. Another False Prophecy
  2. My Own Sacrifice
  3. Scars Of My Actions
  4. Betrayed By The Gods
  5. Devastation Done
  6. End Of Your World
  7. Land Of Sin
  8. Doomsday Elegy (2012)
  9. Embracing Eternity
  10. Hollow State
  11. Release
  12. Holy Diver (DIO cover)

The Belgian Thrashers from AFTER ALL have been active since many years, but it wasn't until 2005's "The Vermin Breed" that their popularity got a serious kick, also thanks to Dockyard 1. The follow-up, "This Violent Decline", came out in 2006 and was an even better album and got the Flemish companions on the road throughout all of Europe. They have shared the stage with bands like HEATHEN, KING DIAMOND, CANDLEMASS, DESTRUCTION, AGENT STEEL, ABATTOIR, TESTAMENT, SEPULTURA, LAAZ ROCKIT, SAXON and many many others.

Having had the luck to have seen the band a few times live, I can tell you that you can be sure you'll have a great time should the CDs not fully satisfy you. Three years after "This Violent Decline", a new album is out. "Cult Of Sin" is the title and the release happened on the 29th of March. The band once again recorded with their live engineer Dee J. and sent everything to Dan Swanö for the mixing and mastering. "This Violent Decline" was mixed by Fredrik Nordström and mastered by Tue Madsen. I guess this time Dockyard 1 and/or AFTER ALL wanted to save some money by letting one man do these two tasks.

Musically "The Vermin Breed" and "This Violent Decline" differed and also the production was different. "Cult Of Sin" continues where "This Violent Decline" left off and the sound is pretty much similar, considering Dee J.'s input. But of course, having someone like Dan Swanö gives the songs extra power. On this album you'll also hear a couple of guests: Juan Garcia (lead guitar, AGENT STEEL), Joey Vera (lead bass, ARMORED SAINT) and Bernie Versailles (lead guitar, AGENT STEEL) in "Betrayed By The Gods", Andy Larocque (lead guitar, KING DIAMOND) in "Land Of Sin" and James Rivera (lead vocals, HELSTAR) in "Embracing Eternity".

It all starts with the accoustic intro ("Another False Prophecy") that builds the tension and lets the electric instrumentation fade in. A news report is being played meanwhile and it doesn't take long before the drums are also present. Musically, at some point, it made me think of DIAMOND HEAD's "Am I Evil?" song. I don't know if that's a coincidence or done on purpose. What follows is a fierce Thrash attack, beginning with "My Own Sacrifice". It's fast, it's furious, it pounds and Kevin even added some blastbeats. Piet sounds as rough as ever. Great song overall, nothing more to add. "Scars Of My Actions" is even more powerful, faster, wilder and more savage. The guitars really rage on and on and the drums are bonecrushingly hard. Yes, you get a guitar solo, too, but it's rather short.

Before continuing the Thrash assault, the band takes it a bit slower with "Betrayed By The Gods". It does start ferociously, but then the tempo drops to a rolling midtempo. Speedier drums would fit here, when listening to the guitars, but by playing something slower it offers a nice change among the rest of the songs, which are basically faster than this one. Piet's singing has been adjusted to the slower pace, as he sounds like he's moaning. Overall the song has a dark atmosphere and generally speaking, this isn't a happy album. This is the longest song so far (and the third overall), offering room for a long solo moment. A dead moment follows with just the bass and slowly the song is being rebuilt towards the last part. A "resting point" is nice, but AFTER ALL is a Thrash band and that's what they do best. Buckle up for "Devastation Done".

That's what I'm talking about. "Devastation Done" is Thrash, it's fast, it's mean,it's vicious and it pounds like hell. The DESTRUCTION feel is very much present here. Or is it EXODUS? Or maybe KREATOR? Whichever band you can compare it with, this is a pearl of a song and one that instantly kicks you awake. Very nice is the slow rolling middle part followed by an atmospheric piece, though with heavy, grinding guitars and them *bam!* tempo increase, solo outburst and one final outing of aggressive music. Very well done. After the devastation, it's the "End Of Your World". Firm riffing, dito drumming and going faster as the chorus comes into sight where a couple of blastbeats are unleashed. The stress doesn't lie on speed, but on heaviness, on aggressive guitars, even if Kevin can't control the urge to keep the pace high, something I don't dislike. ;-) It also fits with the solo and the pounding part that comes afterwards. Over halfway all falls silent and the guitars and drums try to find the right track again, but are stuck in the mud, preventing them to go as fast as before. As a result it's clear the solo is the connecting factor between the fast first part and slow second part. Making such a distinction is of course a good thing, as it prevents the song from being monotonous and too linear, but on the other hand I would not have mind one more uptempo moment. But that's a taste-related matter. So far the quality remains high, each song is very solid.

"Land Of Sin" has the same tempo and groove like "Betrayed By The Gods". Slow overall, especially in the chorus, yet going a bit faster for the instrumental moments (incl. double leads and solo) before flowing back into the slowness of before. Another good song, though not the best of the pack, in my humble opinion. What an interlude like "Doomsday Elegy (2012)" does at this spot in the tracklist is beyond me and I also fail to see the connection with, for example, "Embracing Eternity". The interlude is accoustic first, then electric, but very calm, though the volume does increase over the middle. I can understand (or try to, at least) the link between the title and the music, but it feels awkward and out of place. Maybe it would have made more sense as intro track or as part of, in this case, "Embracing Eternity", which is a typical AFTER ALL Thrash song. Again some terms can be used here: (midtempo) pounding, ferocious, destructive. James Rivera's screams are very fitting as backing and are almost demonic compared to Piet's rough voice. The tempo does seriously increase in the last part of the song. Thumbs up, once again, but the song is just too short, not even 3 minutes long. I agree that not everything needs to be 5 minutes long, but here it's as if the band didn't know what to do and just put and end to it.

"Hollow State" then. A looped guitardoodle to start with, morphing into a bigger force and then we're off. Firm midtempo Thrash. What instantly highlights is the riffing. While acting like a tough guy in the verses (as usual), Piet actually adapts his input to proper singing (meaning cleaner than what he usually does). Don't worry, there's still a rough edge to it. Interesting move and it shows potential for future albums. The music is heavy, but somehow dark and sad. After the solo all falls silent, the intro returns and the song is carried towards the end. Slow, grinding and with a feeling of nothingness, of feeling lifeless. "Release" puts an end to the tracklisting. It's the longest song with more almost 8 and ½ minutes. Uptempo Thrash verses and bridge, a slow and melodic chorus: excellent contrast. Of course, with a long playtime instrumental attention is key and the heavy bursts at the end of the first 1/3 are great to headbang to. You also don't have to wait long for a solo. After another verse-bridge-chorus round you get a sloooow instrumental part that drags itself into a calmer area. Semi-accoustic, flowing in a relaxing manner... what a suprise! and at the same time the song ends there as the last minute and a half is silence.

There is a hidden track and it's called "Holy Diver". Yes, it's the DIO classic. Covering is always a tricky business, but AFTER ALL has done a good job. But once again, the original is still so much better. On the other hand, this version wouldn't misstand on a DIO tribute. Next to this hidden track, the album also contains a video documentary ("Scars, Booze And A Bad Case Of Cabin Fever") of the band's experiences on the road, on stage, in the studio and more. You get to see the serious, but foremost the playful side of the band. And playful it is. At some point you just cannot help but laugh and enjoy this compilation. Especially bassist Erwin Casier knows how to entertain an audience. Great stuff!

As said before, "Cult Of Sin" continues where "This Violent Decline" left off, only with a less polished sound, making the material rougher, sharper, deadlier. That's Dan Swanö's job. Compare it to two razor blades: one all polished and sharpened, the other one showing signs of rust, a little sharpening wouldn't hurt, but its power is more important to cut away anything blocking, obstructive and whatever else along those lines. "Cult Of Sin" has the typical AFTER ALL stamp and is nothing less but recommended for Thrash fans who appreciate a bit of melody amongst the aggressiveness of the guitars and drums. AFTER ALL still holds the (Belgian) throne and defends it fiercely.

More info at www.afterall.be.

Line-up:
Piet Focroul - vocals
Dries Van Damme - guitars
Christophe Depree - guitars
Erwin Casier - bass
Kevin Strubbe - drums


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HATESPHERE – To The Nines (Napalm Records 2009)

Hatesphere - To The Nines
  1. To The Nines
  2. Backstabber
  3. Cloaked In Shit
  4. Clarity
  5. Even If It Kills Me
  6. Commencing A Campaign
  7. The Writing's On The Wall
  8. In The Trenches
  9. Aurora
  10. Oceans Of Blood

HATESPHERE, one of Denmark's most popular/well-known bands has just (since the 27th of March) unleashed a new fury that is called "To The Nines". Next to that, it's also their debut on Napalm Records, after having been with SPV for several years, resulting in two albums ("The Sickness Within" in 2005 and "Serpent Smiles And Killer Eyes" in 2007). Prior to those, the band released their first three albums via Scarlet Records: "Hatesphere" (2001), "Bloodred Hatred" (2002) and "Ballet Of The Brute" (2004).

The Danish Thrash band was formed back in 2000 by guitarist Peter Hansen. Over the years they got to share the stage with THE HAUNTED, EXODUS, KREATOR, MORBI ANGEL, SOILWORK, DARK TRANQUILLITY, CHIMAIRA, GOJIRA, VOLBEAT, ABORTED, DAGOBA and several others. In terms of festivals, the following were visited and played at: Wacken Open Air, With Full Force, Hellfest, Metal Camp, and Roskilde. Not only Europe, but also Japan and China are on their list of visited countries and especially regarding China did HATESPHERE write history, being the first Danish band to play over there.

Two years ago, some time after the release of "Serpent Smiles And Killer Eyes", vocalist Jaboc Bredahl left the band to focus on other musical projects. Joller Albrechtsen from the Thrash/Metalcore band SCARRED BY BEAUTY replaced him and the new line-up secured a place to tour with DISMEMBER.

With renewed energy HATESPHERE entered the Antfarm Studios, under the guidance of producer Tue Madsen, to record their sixth album, "To The Nines". Ten songs totalling a playtime of little more than 34 minutes. That's a bit longer than "Bloodred Hatred" (31-32 minutes), but still a bit shorter than "Ballet Of The Brute" (at least 36 minutes). The last few albums were at least 40 minutes long. While I have been planning on checking out the band's repertoire more thoroughly, it never came to that due to other bands' releases having a higher priority. But having received the promo of "To The Nines", this is as good an opportunity as any.

What is instantly clear, is the killing effect of the new songs. Both "To The Nines" and "Backstabber" take you by the throat, slice it, kick it and more so your head doesn't know anymore where it is and how to counter the brutal attack. Pounding uptempo drumming, fast and sharp riffing, aggressive vocals... the key ingredients to a successful modern Thrash song. Pluspoints go to "Backstabber" for the guitarsolo. The title track on the other hand is a bit too short with its 02:30, as the ending comes too abruptly.

"Cloaked In Shit" also kicks off with uptempo Metal, but then switches back to a midtempo pace. The sharp riffing is present again and overall the song has balls and a touch of greasiness, so to speak. While the previous track sounded a bit like THE HAUNTED (logically, as both bands have worked with Tue Madsen and play in the same league), "Cloaked In Shit" reminds more of ONE MAN ARMY AND THE UNDEAD QUARTET. There is nothing wrong with that, of course.

More uptempo anger and aggression can be found in "Even If It Kills Me" (sadly a bit short) and the closing "Oceans Of Blood", where a slow moment at some point breaks the flow, but the band strikes back with full force. Absolutely killer material! HATESPHERE have something new to show and have recharged their batteries, so that means that a lot of stuff is played at a high pace, though not always during the entirety of the respective songs. Examples of that are the midtempo "The Writing's On The Wall", introduced by the hymnic guitarlines of "Commencing A Campaign". The tension is being built by the guitars and drums (toms in this case), which is already a great start. The midtempo power then comes bursting out of the speakers, offering a nice mix of aggressivity and melody, but at some point the tempo increases seriously, presenting grinding guitars this time. The diversity in rhythm and melody here makes this one of the best songs on the album. The uptempo part in "In The Trenches" is reserved for the solo moment, which is needless to say a lust for the ear. Other than that this is a pounding, aggressive, dark and vicious song.

Two more songs left unspoken: "Clarity" and "Aurora". The first is a slower song, based on METALLICA's "Bad Seed" riffing. No, it's not, but it does sound like that. EKTOMORF also applied it on their latest album, "What Doesn't Kill Me...". It's a slower song compared to the others, but still played with in a firm manner, even hinting at Hardcore. Of course, as HATESPHERE also incorporates groove into their music, you'll find a sniff of this here as well. At a given moment all heaviness falls away to steadily let the power come back... IN FLAMES-style, and more specifically the new IN FLAMES, not the Melodic Death Metal version. Despite this similarity the overall result turned out pretty good. "Aurora" is a midtempo groover and a simple one, but nevertheless effective. Joller's vocals sound demonic, monstrous, but also have some effects applied to them and that's something that should have been avoided, in my opinion.

Love 'em or hate 'em, but HATESPHERE once again show what power and might they have, that no obstacle cannot be dealt with, especially with the renewed energy and recharged batteries anno 2009. "To The Nines" is an album to be proud of and one of which the songs will make the ground shake and roofs coming down. Tue Madsen's powerful production work certainly helped to create another worthwile Danish Thrash Metal album. This might not be the band's best album (depending on your view and knowledge of the band's discography), but it delivers the goods and that's what matters in the end.

More info at www.hatesphere.com.

Line-up:
Jonathan "Joller" Albrechtsen - vocals
Peter "Pepe" Lyse Hansen - guitars
Jakob Nyholm - guitars
Mixen Lindberg - bass
Dennis Buhl - drums


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TO HATE – Different Faces (To Hate 2009)

To Hate - Different Faces
  1. Beginning To Hate
  2. Break A Spell
  3. Key To The Suicide Area
  4. Programme Zero
  5. Step Of Truth
  6. Silence Implies Consent
  7. Panic Disorder
  8. Zirberck 1329
  9. Useless Device
  10. Black Hole Of Miracles
  11. Burn Down With My Existence
  12. Micron

Little by little I'm getting to know more and more Slovenian Metal bands. First there was MOR ZABOTH (see review), then SOMRAK (see review), followed later by 7TH ANGEL (see review). TO HATE is the fourth band who has asked for a review. Instead of Black Metal or Hard Rock, these guys play Melodic Death Metal, the Gothenburg way. TO HATE was formed in 2007 by guitarist Marko Strnad and vocalist/guitarist Jure Vandur joined forces. Looking for a bass player, they asked Oliver Cepek to fill that position. Oliver also plays (or played?) with MOR ZABOTH at that time. For the drums they asked Saso Corso (also from MOR ZABOTH) to join the band. Pretty soon the band was working on own material and after a few gigs the work for a full album had started.

That full album is "Different Faces" and out since sometime in the spring of 2009. Most of the songs are new, but at least "Step Of Truth" comes off the demo the band recorded prior to the writing sessions for the debut release. The mixing and mastering was in the hands of Matic Mlakar, a name unknown to me, but who knows what other bands he worked (or will work) with. (?)

TO HATE thus plays Melodic Death Metal, reminiscent of - and the list is quite extensive - DARK TRANQUILLITY, IN FLAMES, AMON AMARTH, CENTINEX, ARCH ENEMY, SUIDAKRA (mainly the vocals), MADE OF HATE, DRED, and anything similar to the aforementioned. A very interesting list, but how does it sound on CD?

"Beginning To Hate" is an intro, beginning with the organ and atmospheric backing. The drums are the first to come fading in, followed by the entire Metal instrumentation, building towards something bigger and vicious. The sharp riffing flows over into "Break A Spell", a short instrumental song, where melody plays an important role among the sharp, chugga-chugga riffing. But despite the shortness, this is a very nice track.

Now that the band is warmed up, it's time to add vocals to the music, starting with "Key To The Suicide Area", which isn't exactly the most cheerful title. This is a midtempo track, building the tempo, sounding like IN FLAMES. The Melodic Death Metal version, not the IN FLAMES of the last five years. The production is, although clear, quite raw. That may sound contradictory, but you know what to expect. The hoarse vocals fit in very much, even if one would expect growling. The chorus also contains recognizable influences, mainly from IN FLAMES, AMON AMARTH and DARK TRANQUILLITY. So, in general, another interesting track has come along.

Vicious riffing and rolling drums are what cause "Programme Zero" to kick in. The midtempo is of a faster kind, which is noticeable by the drums and riffing. Speaking of vocals, it's not hoarse singing or growling all the way. This song's chorus contains clean vocals, which isn't a common thing in Melodic Death Metal. But it doesn't disturb the music or even conflict with the rougher singing. It's also not overdone and adds a nice touch to the whole. The tempo increases during a fast outbreak, but that doesn't last too long, even if I personally would have preferred it differently. "Programme Zero" is far from a bad song, but somehow the majority of the tracks are better, more interesting.

And that majority continues with "Step Of Truth", which comes pounding out of the speakers before hitting the midtempo button. Not a lot can be said about this track, save that there is a fine change between the different parts (verses, bridge, chorus) in terms of melody, riffs, drumming, and more. This is, plain and simple, a qualitative song. End of story. Next stop is "Silence Implies Consent", where fast and sharp riffs dominate the track. The drums pound on at an uptempo rate, although this drops to midtempo in between, with a big drop in the chorus. Aside from that, kudos must be given to the guitarists, for they deliver a fine performance.

The "Panic Disorder" starts with a flute melody, a very unexpected, yet interesting choice. But soon after that you get pounding Metal taking over with a great deal of familiarity. Aggressive, yet melodic riffing, pounding drums and monstrous vocals are the key ingredients. The SUIDAKRA feeling is very big here. The singing changes to clean in the chorus and the music also takes a few steps back in terms of ferocity. Instead, you get something more emotional and this of course fits well with the song title.

Time for another uptempo track: "Zirberck 1329". This one goes straight for the kill with its heavy riffing and rolling drums. Pluspoints go to the changes in rhythm and tempo. The solo moment is slow, melodic (obviously), but with a sad undertone, which forms a nice contrast with the normal riffing and pounding. Musically you could compare it to AMON AMARTH, ARCH ENEMY and similar. Hence it's also one of my favourite tracks.

"Useless Device" stats instantly, no need for an intro or build-up. It also seems to be an extension of "Zirberck 1329", as the music sounds pretty similar, also in terms of (mid)tempo. The musicianship remains qualitative, the melodic aspect reasonably high, and the accoustic break (piano and accoustic/electric guitar) later on forms a nice twist to help keep the attention alive. But I have to admit that this is one of the less captivating songs. Or in other words, as the music goes on, there's not much happening, but luckily there's Saso to add fills and accents.

Aha, back to tension-building with "Black Hole Of Miracles". One ball of energy, though with melodic slowdowns like ARCH ENEMY has done before. The chorus is again the domain of the vocals, as both clean and rough take turns. The clean singing has been good so far, but this time it's the rough version that is the better. Adding clean vocals here gives the song a more mellow, whiney character and that's a bit of a shame, as the music is actually quite good.

Thrashy Melodic Death Metal, always a treat, is what you get in "Burn Down With My Existence". Jure handles both kinds of singing again, rough in the verses, clean in the chorus. Again very well done, but the clean version again adds a rather whiney touch to the whole. Especially singing the title would make you think of a more fiercer voice aka the growling. But overall, it's not that much of a problem as the music largely compensates for that. This is another jewel on an very good debut album.

Last but not least, there's "Micron". Accoustic guitar, atmospheric backing and distorted drums occupy the first part, while you hear people arguing like small creatures. Smoothly the electric guitar joins in, playing the lead melody and soon all expands to one big powerball, to fall silent again and have the accoustic guitar end it all.

The Slovenian TO HATE made a fine album with "Different Faces". Even if their Melodic Death Metal has a lot in common with AMON AMARTH, ARCH ENEMY, SUIDAKRA and similar, the material sounds good (also helped by the production, which doesn't need to be as polished as with those bands) and honest. No matter how good this debut album is, TO HATE still has a long way to go. The musicianship is good, the diversity in terms of rhythm, tempo, melody, fills, etc. is also worth mentioning, though composition-wise they need to work on it a bit more. My biggest points of criticism are the short playtime of the songs, as I sometimes feel they're over too soon and maybe trying to write some faster songs. Not that fast equals quality, but it would make the album even more interesting. But until then, I can safely say that anyone into the aforementioned bands should definitely give TO HATE a chance. As this is a self-released album, you'll have to contact the band for your copy.

More info at www.myspace.com/tohateband.

Line-up:
Jure Vandur - vocals, guitars
Marko Strnad - guitars
Oliver Cepek - bass
Saso Corso - drums


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XES_1 – InsaneVoice (Batbaby Records 2009)

Xes_1 - InsaneVoice
  1. Intro
  2. Turmoil
  3. Self Abuser
  4. Deep Scar
  5. Self Destruct
  6. In The Mouth Of Madness
  7. Wild Boys
  8. Linish
  9. Recluse
  10. J4C
  11. Confidence
  12. Naivety

XES_1, XES-1, XES 1, XES1, however you write it, is described as an Irish Industrial Metal band, founded by Brian (guitars, samples). He gathered three people around him to fill in the other positions and make some tunes together: Stitch on vocals, Lynke on bass and Kelvis behind the drums. Each comes from a different band, where they gained experience in both the studio and stage domains. Vocalist Stitch even was a guitarist in his previous band, but as Brian already occupies that position and there seems to be no need for a double axe concept, Stitch can fully concentrate on his singing.

No further biographical information or that regarding older releases is in my possession, so I've got just the band's latest output, "InsaneVoice" (released on the 23rd of March), to concentrate on. XES_1 is said to play Industrial Metal and throughout the songs you'll hear several electronic touches, although the emphasis lies on the normal instrumentation (guitars, bass, drums).

The album starts with a intro of droning guitars and electronic accents. What follows afterwards is a pounding, grooving song with a fitting title: "Turmoil". The bass is high in the mix and sounds thin, so to speak. You could compare it to Fieldy's playing in KORN. No, I'm not a KORN fan, but when you've seen their videos on television a gazillion times or heard their songs on the radio, you know what draws your attention or what's typical about the music. Stitch's vocals are clean/clear. "Turmoil" is very much guitar-driven and unleashes its full power in the chorus, where the electronics play their role as well. All in all, a very decent song to start with.

Up next we have some spacey, electronic leads beginning "Self Abuser", followed by dancy beats. As the music flows onwards, power and groove are added. The bass is again very audible, but is a disturbing factor here. I agree that the bass guitar should be present, but not like the rattler it is here. "Self Abuser" is one of the very few radio-friendly songs on the album and would do well as a single, from that perspective, even when I'm no fan of singles. Honestly, this track was a bit less good to my ears, although I must admit that the guitarpart before the musical change did sound nice, heavy and pounding. But that part alone isn't enough to hail the song.

"Deep Scar" is a midtempo, funky kind of song. The guitarwork is as usual/as before and is the dominant element here. furthermore, the song also has a Nu-Metal kind of feel. At some point there's a breakdown, everything slows down and it's up to the Kelvis (drums) to add some accents, though that doesn't happen in a very smooth manner. Main problem with "Deep Scar" is the chorus, for it bores very rapidly. So does the last track, "Naivety". But the situation improves with some of the following tracks.

In addition, you'll find some other radio-friendly songs here, next to "Self Abuser". One being the dancy song "Self Destruct", not exactly the most happy title and not really one you would associate with a dancy kind of song. It is another highlight. It sounds a bit like ROB ZOMBIE material (though in a more dancy/funky manner. Electronic touches are looped throughout the heavy guitarwork. "Linish" is another example, even if it's more energetic and heavy than "Recluse", where the tempo has been lowered a bit. Last, but not least, there's "Confidence", with a key role for the bass and drums.

Next to those pumped-up tracks, influences from e.g. Doom Metal have been implemented into "In The Mouth Of Madness" (think CANDLEMASS, BLACK SABBATH, HEAVEN AND HELL, ..., but in a more sludgey manner) and "J4C" (the verses).

Next to own material, XES_1 decided to add a cover: "Wild Boys" from DURAN DURAN. The bass guitar rattles again and it's interesting to hear a heavier version of this classic hit. But interesting doesn't mean the result is as good as the original or even better. It's actually a nice try, but it doesn't have the same feel and atmosphere of before.

As the songs play, one after the other, I do get mixed feelings. At first I didn't think too much of "InsaneVoice". A second listen made me more positive, but since then each listen I take is hard to sit through, despite this not really being a bad album. XES_1 isn't an Industrial band, because there aren't enough electronics/samples/whatever that dominate or make the music deserve that term. Alternative Rock/Metal would be better. Sure, it's just a tag, but one that's important to find out about similar bands, for example. Looking at this band as an Alternative Rock/Metal one, they have shown what ideas they have and how they use them to create songs, even if not everything can be called a success. For fans of the genre, I think they'll find their money's worth here. Metal fans or at least those with a broad taste might find something here as well, but all in all I find it hard to recommend "InsaneVoice". Personally I find this one of those "once in a while" albums.

More info at www.xes1.com.

Line-up:
Stitch - vocals
Brian - guitars, samples
Lynke - bass
Kelvis - drums


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MARCHE FUNÈBRE – Norizon (Marche Funèbre 2009)

MARCHE FUNEBRE - Norizon
  1. The March
  2. The Silent Watcher
  3. Benighted
  4. On Wings Of Azrael

MARCHE FUNÈBRE is a Belgian Death/Doom Metal band that saw the light of day in 2008. I had already read about them, mainly on www.doom-metal.com and its forum, which I visited more frequently back then. "Norizon" is their first release, came out on the 21st of March and like some other reviewers I thought the band had been dooming the world a lot longer than the nearly one year its members joined forces. Speaking of members, the line-up is fronted by the ex-vocalist of HERFST (AUTUMN in English, playing Blackened Death Metal), though Arne still is part of the Black Metal formation MORTIFER.

I got a copy to review a few months ago and that was a pleasant surprise. My knowledge on the Belgian scene is far from big, let alone complete, which is a pity. The number of Belgian releases in collection isn't nearly as vast as e.g. German, American, Scandinavian, or other European releases, especially when there is enough material to discover, yet not all of them have the luxury to be signed to an international label or benefit from a wide distribution or promotion. So in that context, it's great to be able to hear something new. My last Belgian review was AFTER ALL's "Cult Of Sin", which you'll find above this one.

"Norizon" contains four tracks, totalling a playtime of almost 30 minutes. It starts with an intro ("The March") featuring an extract from the film "Un Long Dimanche De Fiançailles" ("A Very Long Engagement") from 2004, which is set in the period of World War I. A French guy (soldier?) is singing a hymn about life, about saying goodbye to it and then gets shot. Slow, distorted guitars come in with a slow drumbeat (toms), while there's chord picking of the same melody. It sounds, indeed, like a funeral march (see also the band name). The whispering vocals towards the end transcend into growls and little after "The Silent Watcher" smoothly plays its first notes: guitars and drums (kick and toms, more flowing drums to follow later). All in an atmosphere of death and despair, of evil, filth and more. The brdige offers a tempo increase, but it all drops again once the chorus is there. The leads sounds a bit like crying, which fits the overall mood even more. Arne's singing in the verses consists of growling, but he changes to filthy singing, screaming if you like, near the end. "The Silent Watcher" is a long song, almost 8 minutes, so stay focused. Else you might want to skip to the next track too soon.

One short song, one long and "Benighted" is even longer, ending after the 8 minute marker. The guitar is the welcoming instrument with the drums soon assisting. The mixing is well done, since the bass also has the chance to be heard. The rhythm is definitely a pluspoint and also makes the song flow very well. The verses have dark and heavy riffing and lyrically the song follows "The Silent Watcher", but they're still two different songs in terms of content. Due to the length of the song a lot of attention was given to instrumental moments. Before the chorus, where the drumming varies a bit more, the overall tempo increases and then falls back afterwards. Also because of the length one can play with varied rhythms and tempos and that is only beneficial to the song and listening experience. But since we're dealing with a Doom Metal band, things can go slow, are supposed to go slow and like before you'll need to stay attentive, if you're not used to it. Musically I could compare it at some point with the Belgian Heavy Metal band CRUSADER (at least their first two albums), only MARCHE FUNÈBRE plays much slower. Vocally Arne throws in growls, but much later on even tries the clean way, unless that's guitarist Peter's input. Both types are fit in very well and I can't say which I prefer. Though with a Death/Doom band, growls are the best option and also the most expected/logical.

And last but certainly not least and in my humble opinion, the best or most attractive song on this EP: "On Wings Of Azrael". It's the longest song with more than 9 minutes. The lyrics are based on and taken from Edgar Allen Poe's "Ligeia". Starting with chord picking and flowing over into full electric instrumentation. At a slow pace, of course. Heaviness is left out in the verses and it's just the bass and drums that can be heard. The guitars come in a little later. The singing is split into growling and clean singing. For the chorus the band changes into a higher gear. Well, more than one. After that the band returns instantly to the verses and that change is perhaps a bit too sudden. Here as well you'll be faced with lots of diversity in terms of rhythm, speed, leads, atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, tit's reminiscent of "The March" in that it's filthy, dark, creepy, evil and haunting (helped by the toms).

Belgian Death/Doom of high quality, that's what MARCHE FUNÈBRE has to offer. Sure, "Norizon" is only the first release, but it shows a band that has the potential to become the country's best Doom band. But that's perhaps precarious to say, as the road is still long and I, for one, need to upgrade my knowledge on Belgian Doom. Anyway, anyone into Doom Metal (and more specifically Death/Doom) with a honest and pure production (i.e. not as polished as the big names out there) is advised to check out this band and order a copy of "Norizon". Now, when's that debut album coming out?

More info at www.myspace.com/marchefunebretheband.

Line-up:
Arne Vandenhoeck - vocals
Peter Egberghs - guitars, vocals
Kurt Blommé - guitars
Roel Van Doorsselaere - bass, add grunts
Dennis Lefebvre - drums


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IZEGRIM – Point Of No Return (Rusty Cage Records 2009)

Izegrim - Point Of No Return
  1. Point Of No Return
  2. No Place Like Home
  3. End Of Time
  4. Angel Of Demise

First some bio introduction, as this band has been around for several years, with its ups and downs. You can skip to a few paragraphs lower if you must. IZEGRIM is a Dutch female-fronted Thrash Metal band, founded in 1996 by ex-SOLSTICE members Joep van Leeuwen (drums) and guitarist Jeroen. After some time a stable line-up was completed: Anita B. (bass guitar and backing vocals), Anita L. (keyboards), Kristien (vocals) and Niels (guitar) joined early 1997. The band's first demo, "Most Evil", was born in 1998. At that time the music could be catalogued under Symphonic Death Metal. That same year keyboardist Anita L. left the band due to her writing for the Dutch magazine Aardschok and so the melodic element was cut off, leaving the rest of the band no choice but to go for Death/Thrash. The following year the EP "Bird of Prey" came out. Shortly after IZEGRIM lost their second guitarist, Niels, as he wanted to focus on his other band, GODDESS OF DESIRE.

Corvin came to the rescue, but he too didn't stay long. All these member issues aside, a full-length did see the light of day, eventually, under the title "Guidelines For Genocide". Lots of praise was given by the fans and media and so IZEGRIM ventured forth deep into the caves of... oh, sorry, wrong band. ;-) But it definitely didn't hurt the band's will and desire to carry on. On the contrary. After Anita B. left her bass position, this was filled in by Marloes, who used to play guitar in DELUZION. The new formation completed the work on the new release, "New World Order", which was put out in 2005. It took the Dutch another three years and Carsten's leaving (replaced by Bart) on guitars to unveil the second album, "Tribute To Totalitarianism". Still nothing was certain, even after all those years. Joep (drums) and Kristien (vocals) left after the European and Dutch mini-tour. Ivo was then recruited to hit the skins and Marloes (bass) also then became the new singer.

Anno 2009 the band is now only a four-piece, but the delivering of power and energy is no less than before. The first release came out in March and is called "Point Of No Return", an EP sort of in preparation for the full album that is due to be recorded in the summer of 2010. I had heard a lot about IZEGRIM this past year and secretly hoped to see them at work some day. Seeing their name on the poster for the Metal Against Child Cancer (5th of December) instantly brightened my day. I could make it to the Metal Female Voices Fest, but the band playing in my backyard (so to speak) was an even better occasion. But sadly the gods didn't allow me to stay until the end and I could barely see some moments of CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES that day, as health reasons were the cause of my early leaving. Anyway, I managed to talk to Marloes and Jeroen, two sympathetic people, hours before their show thus acquired a copy of the band's latest release, "Point Of No Return" for this review. A live review will be for next year, I hope.

The EP contains four tracks, totalling a playtime of a good 15 minutes. No intro, only full songs and instant sound. The first example if the title track, for which a video was shot. Thrash to the bone at a high tempo, excellent for headbanging. Marloes's cat-like (big cat, tiger and the like) screams are perfect for this kind of music. Blunt riffs and heavy basslines form the wall of sound while Ivo provides the right hits to push it all onwards. Sure, there are similarities with ARCH ENEMY, mainly because of the vocals, but the Swedes (yes, Angela is German) incorporate more melody. "Point Of No Return", a short but powerful and efficient track to start with. "No Place Like Home" follows soon, offering pounding Power/Thrash verses with the aggressive vocals of before. Contrary to the fast(er) verses, the chorus takes it slow(er), but is full of guitar waves. This second is also to the point and somehow more linear than the first one.

On to another great track then: "End Of Time". Well, that's for after the last song, but this 3rd one also kicks in instantly and already sounds better than "No Place Like Home". Better in terms of compositions, of attractiveness. The riffs are blunt, but kill nevertheless. Marloes's anger knos no boundaries and here too you better not stand in her way. Looking at the title, there is a sad undertone and that is perfectly reflected in the chorus, where the tempo has dropped a lot and the music adapted to fit a more dramatic and despairing mood. The obligatory solo was not forgotten either. After a good four minutes everything fades out... "End Of Time". But fear not, there's still a good five minutes on the counter and those are filled by "Angel Of Demise", who comes a bit late, after the "End Of Time", unless it's to overlook the damages. This is not a new song, but a re-recording of teh one on the band's debut album, "Guidelines For Genocide". I don't know the original, so I can't compare. I do can tell it takes a rolling start, advancing towards something bigger and dangerous. Slow but heavy and aggressive at first, uptempo in the bridge and pounding its way through the chorus. The sound/production is a bit lighter than the previous songs. Perhaps this was done on purpose to make it stand out from the new ones. In any case, this is not a "happy happy joy joy" kind of song, but rather depressing. No, it's not Doom Metal, let alone Funeral Doom. The slow pace is luckily broken, or better, speeded up in the chorus, as that kicks your hearing back to life. All in all a decent song.

EP, (self-titled demo), album, EP, album, EP... and next year a new album. Woohoo! Anyway, despite not having seen IZEGRIM live yet, "Point Of No Return" offers a (very) nice compensation and makes me look out for the band's planned third full-length. While I'm at it, I might as well buy the previous releases to complete my collection. This EP, though short in terms of tracks and playtime, is to be considered a sort of promotional tool for the band's live performances, plus it offers a pre-taste of how the new material might sound. It's also a presentation of the new line-up, as each previous release was recorded with different people. But enough of this random talk. If you're into rough, ballsy, aggressive Death/Thrash Metal (in a way comparable to LEGION OF THE DAMNED and similar), do not hesitate, check out IZEGRIM and do yourself and the band the favour of buying this EP.

More info at www.myspace.com/izegrim.

Line-up:
Marloes - vocals, bass
Jeroen - guitars
Bart van Ginkel - guitars
Ivo Maarhuis - drums


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EKTOMORF – What Doesn't Kill Me... (AFM Records 2009)

Ektomorf - What Doesn't Kill Me
  1. Rat War
  2. Nothing Left
  3. What Doesn't Kill Me...
  4. Revenge To All
  5. Love And Live
  6. I Can See You
  7. I Got It All
  8. New Life
  9. Sick Of It All
  10. It's Up To You
  11. Envy
  12. Scream
  13. Breed The Fire
  14. Born For Destruction (digipack bonus track)

EKTOMORF, seen as the Hungarian version of SEPULTURA and SOULFLY, was founded over 15 years ago by mastermind of the band Zoltán "Zoli" Farkas. Up to today he is the only surviving founding member. His background was the subject of several forms of racism and prejudice, which is not only a source of inspiration, but also fuel to the fire that keeps the band going. Hard work and commitment were key and since the collaboration with producer Tue Madsen the band became very noticed in the world of Metal.

EKTOMORF has so far five albums and one live album on their palmares, including several gigs on international stages. The band's last output was "Outcast" in 2006. Now, three years later the follow-up is available and titled "What Doesn't Kill Me...". The release was scheduled for the 20th of March. Next to the regular edition, there's also a digipack that comes with an EKTOMORF necklace and sticker. In addition there is the chance to win a "Zoltán Signature Career Guitar". Each edition of the new album includes an interactive part to access this competition.

I've hear a few of the band's songs in the past, saw some footage on Youtube.com, and so on, but they never succeeded in convincing me, in bringing a solid dose of variety and stickiness, so to speak. I guess this is one of the bands whose records are "heard one, heard 'em all". Now, DRAGONFORCE, for example, also makes albums that are of this principle, yet they do manage to offer change, be it melodic, rhythm or tempo. Not to mention the crazy solos, hehehe. Anyway, the comparison doesn't hold in terms of Metal style, as both are completely different. And yes, there are other bands that also hang on to the same style, be it in Death Metal, Heavy Metal or other genres.

So the Hungarians have a new album out, "What Doesn't Kill Me...". This is my first proper acquaintance with the band and their music, so in a way I was set for an entertaining and filled-with-anger moment of Metal. Fact is that it soon became monotonous, also because this Groove Metal or at least the sort that EKTOMORF brings is simple and void of anything technical or intricate. It starts with "Rat War", a direct and straight-forward song which just screams SOULFLY - just like the faster paced "Scream", which includes references to MACHINE HEAD as well, and the direct paced "Breed The Fire", which somehow could have been a SLIPKNOT song. The accoustic guitar moment in the middle might be a nice idea, but it doesn't make the song anymore special -, followed by "Nothing Left", for which Zoltán seemed to have listened to METALLICA's "Bad Seed" song. The riff sounds very similar. Dito in "Love And Live" which does have an uptempo moment near the end.

The title track contains some drum bombast, but thrives heavily on the typical guitar grooves. Midtempo is the pace and despite a short guitarsolo, it's a song to easily forget. The elements that make it not so attractive are the simplicity of the song, the drums, but especially the chorus that gets repeated too much.

The MACHINE HEAD similarities can also be found in "Revenge To All", where it's only a twist in the compositions and especially in the last part before the song drags itself towards the end. Other than that there's a chugga-rhythm, while the tempo gets upped in the chorus, but not much. The midtempo "I Got It All" has the same "wanking" element that can be found in several MACHINE HEAD songs. It's not a bad song, though. Time for something slow then, just to break the monotonous stream of grooves. "I Can See You" is like one of the slow SEPULTURA songs, the "Roots" period or something. Not bad, but bores very rapidly. "New Life" is a little faster, but is comparable to "I Can See You". And it gets worse, yes. How about some rapping in "Sick Of It All"? That totally made me want to hit the "next" button and the doomy piano accents won't prevent that. I prefer the SOULFLY-ish monotony any day instead of hearing rap mixed into the music. Luckily there is still "It's Up To You" to bring salvation. This track offers more drive again, which is always good when you need a push.

Being active for so long, not budging and continuing the path you always followed. Some bands succeed in keeping the quality high, in general, some should have added some change a long time ago. EKTOMORF, as good as the band may be and as much fun as they may bring at festivals, for me personally they are not the kind that made me cheer and bang my head or whatever. There's just too much of the same, too much simplicity, etcetera etcetera. And making the songs as short as 2 to 3 minutes obviously doesn't help to keep things interesting. If you like what these Hungarians do, by all means, go out and buy "What Doesn't Kill Me...", also to prepare yourself for the coming festivals the band will be at. Other than that, if you're in search for Groove Metal, do seek elsewhere.

More info at www.ektomorf.com.

Line-up:
Zoltán "Zoli" Farkas - vocals, guitars
Tamás Schrottner - guitars
Szabolcs Murvai - bass
Jozsef Szakács - drums


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BLACK MESSIAH – First War Of The World (AFM Records 2009)

Black Messiah - First War Of The World
  1. Prologue - The Discovery
  2. The Vanir Tribe
  3. Gullveig
  4. Von Rachsucht Und Lüge
  5. March Of The Warriors
  6. Vor Den Toren Vallhalls
  7. The Battle Of Asgaard
  8. The Chase
  9. Burn Vanaheim
  10. Das Unterpfand
  11. Peace At A High Price
  12. Andacht
  13. Söldnerschwein (bonus track)

BLACK MESSIAH is a German Black/Folk/Viking Metal band, formed in 1994. At that time the band played pure old school Black Metal, with references to VENOM, CELTIC FROST, BATHORY and POSSESSED. The 1995 demo "Southside Golgotha" was the first step towards bigger things, like the debut album "Sceptre Of Black Knowledge", which took the band three more years to complete it. This album was made with a new line-up, as Zagan, who has a classical music education, was the only member left to continue the band. As a result classical and pagan influences found their way into the compositions. Former SODOM and KREATOR guitarist Frank "Blackfire" Gosdzik even made a guest appearance.

Mid 1999 was the time of Last Episode and BLACK MESSIAH to part ways, as certain aspects were not agreed upon and not everything was dealt with in an honest manner. Einheit Produktionen saw the potential of the Germans and offered them a contract in 2005. The 3-track demo in 2001 was followed by another line-up change, as Zagan wants to tour with BLACK MESSIAH, whereas then-drummer Nabahm preferred the band as a studio project. But the gods were on Zagan's side, as he found new members. The band's second album, "Oath Of A Warrior" comes out in 2005 via Soulfood and gets lots of positive comments and even a support slot for the Irish Folk/Pagan Metal band CRUACHAN. Another line-up change occurs, on bass now.

Album no. 3, "Of Myths and Legends", released three years ago, was the first under the wings of AFM Records. Keyboarder Hrym left the band later on and was replaced by Agnar. And finally, session drummer Bröh joined the band in the beginning 2007 as a full band member. This again renewed line-up got their heads together to create the band's fourth full-length, "First War Of The World", for which the release was set on the 20th of March.

The theme of the album refers to the war between the Aesir and Vanir, with the Vanir goddess and witch Gullveig being the key character for the cause of this terrible event. I'll direct you to one source, not only to avoid this review becoming too long, but also because you can read there in brief about this war and more. Click here to go to TimelessMyths.com.

The central figure on the cover depicts of course Gullveig, in her purest glory, hehehe. On both sides the two fighting tribes are represented. Somehow you could consider "First War Of The World" the third album in a series about mythology and folklore, as the previous two album also dealt with these subjects. The music is of course still Black/Viking Metal with lots of Folk elements and symphonic layers here and there.

The first thing and what also makes this album so special is the use of spoken interludes, like what RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) did with their, for example, "Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret" and "Triumph Or Agony" albums or MANOWAR with their song "The Warrior's Prayer". The telling is professionally done, with the right sounds and creating an atmosphere that almost makes you see what's happening. It's almost like an audio book and based on what BLACK MESSIAH have chosen as theme this time, I'd gladly listen to this audio book. The spoken tracks divide the album into four parts.

It starts with "The Discovery", where Odin discovers/spies on the Vanir tribe, who use magical powers for their own benefit. "The Vanir Tribe" is a furious Black/Viking Metal track, containing lots of melody, coming from the guitars and keyboards. Epic is a word that fits very much. Zagan doesn't have a typical Black Metal voice (shrieking), rather screams/sings in a hoarse way, which fits very well with the music BLACK MESSIAH plays or any other Viking Metal or even Death Metal band. Musically the tempo changes, meaning the difference between the verses, bridge and chorus, is a plus that makes song more attractive.

Folk is the way to go in "Gullveig", the song that talks about the main character. The violin and flute are key instruments. At some point the Black Metal aspect kicks in for a furious twist, during which the keyboards provide the right support, including symphonic elements. This song, too, is varied in temo, melody and rhythm and all things combined turn it into pure perfection. Like before, Zagan sings a couple of songs in his mother tongue, and "Gullveig" is one of these songs.

"Von Rachsucht Und Lüge" turns up the pace with a combination of Power Metal and Black/Viking Metal. This song is very much guitar-driven. Epicness can be found in the chorus, which consists of a slow and fast part. Overall, this is another entertaining track. Also sung in German, this is the last song of the first part of the album.

"March Of The Warriors" introduces the next step in the war, being the battle between the Aesir and Vanir, because of what happened to Gullveig. Both tribes prepare for a deadly confrontation at the gates of Valhalla, hence the title of the next track, "Vor Den Toren Vallhalls". Midtempo power with music being a mix of AMON AMARTH, MOONSORROW, MÅNEGARM and similar. Melody once again is vital and the keyboards fulfill a backing role. Naturally the symphonic touch must not be forgotten. As the title shows, the singing is again in German, a language also quite suited for firm and fierceful expression of thought. Regarding the tempo, there is an increase for the solo part, which again is only beneficial for the rest of the song.

The music of "The Battle Of Asgaard" continues in about the same way as "Vor Den Toren Valhalls", in terms of rhythm and melody. At least at first, since after that orchestral bombast takes over in the form of trumpets. This is without doubt a battle song. The Black Metal fury occupies the verses, while a slower and melodic part forms the bridge to the chorus. The bombast returns later, around halfway, to pave the way for another load of Black Metal. The keyboards are present as well, as backing support. Following is a dramatic piece by the violin and flute, including a serious drop in tempo. This moment creates a "WOW!" effect and "beautiful" isn't the even right word to describe how good it is. It is that good, indeed! As the melody flows on, the tempo rises again, everything goes faster and keyboards gain in power. Majestic! Epic! and more.

Time for part three: "The Chase". Will Valhalla fall? How are the Aesir doing in the battle with the Vanir? It sure is a fact that Vanaheim must suffer the consequences, as Thor and Tyr lead the charge towards Vanaheim to teach the Vanir a lesson to never forget. That's when "Burn Vanaheim" kicks in with fast Black Metal, pounding and unleashing a fury to reflect the event. The tempo is high, the overall feel and atmosphere epic. The vocal layers consists of screaming and clean, in a way, especially in the chorus. Further in the song a slow, dramatic and emotional piece can be heard, probably indicating the tragedy that took place at Vanaheim. This contrast is well executed and there is no disturbance at all for this transition.

"Das Unterpfand" is the song that adds another Folk touch to this album, as the violin and keyboards take on the melodic roles, but all flows still in a gentle and relaxing way. Also Power Metal shows its influence again, mainly in the uptempo verses. The lyrics are again in German, sung in a firm and determined way. In the chorus it's a hymnic kind of singing that takes over. It must be said, though, that the guitars are overly present here, both for power, rhythm and melodic leads. Symphonic bombast is added around the middle, before Zagan's hoarse voice continues the tale. This song is, if I understood well, about the exchange of members between the Aesir and Vanir, although it's a bit hard to tell as I hear no reference to Njord, Freyr, Hoenir and Mimir. Still, it's another qualitative song, and that's also something that matters.

At Valhalla's gates Odin and Mimir meet on the battlefield on the evening prior to the exchange. Gullveig also died on the battlefield. Odin sees Mimir and looks sorely Odin and Mimir stand on the field in memory of their departed brothers. That's roughly how "Peace At A High Price" goes.

Accoustic guitar playing on melody, violin leading and gently an operatic voice singing the hymn of the lost, you could say. Emotional, touching, tears-producing... that's the first part of the almost 10 minutes long "Andacht". And the German singing actually gives it a special touch. Usually German is a firm and strict language, but for such emotions it also has its use. The melodies are quite simply mindblowing, rendered me speechless. Stunning material, I say. Halfway drums and guitars come in, but the violins keep on producing the melancholic and sad melody, while the chorus now also contains the drums and guitars. Fear not, for in the last part of the song, Black Metal suddenly kicks in, while the symphonic elements keep on playing and providing the same sad and touching melody. The between the slow symphonies and fast Black Metal elements works very well and makes the song of course extra special. Valkyries and nordic winds blow in the back, while the accoustic guitar carries the lost souls to the afterlife.

"Söldnerschwein" is a bonus track that has nothing to do with the story being told via the previous songs. German lyrics, Folk Metal, and a drinking atmosphere and feel. A fun song and one that can have its purpose to lift your energy again after the sad "Andacht". Guitars and drums push the music onwards, while the flute and violin take turns to add joyful melodies. Oh yes, there's also a bouzouki. Quality Folk Metal and a perfect one to end a splendid album, what more can one ask for?

I got to know BLACK MESSIAH via their previous album, "Of Myths And Legends". What I heard was qualitative Black/Folk/Viking Metal. Never could I have hoped that "First War Of The World" would make the preceding albums (yes, plural) turn pale in comparison, so to speak. For the new release is one that shows a powerful force of mythological proportions, one that would make both the Aesir and Vanir proud. This is the soundtrack of a never made film, but one I would gladly like to see or if this were an audio book, one I would gladly like to hear. Anyone into Pagan Metal and into the history of the Vikings, I cannot do anything else but highly (!!) recommend BLACK MESSIAH and "First War Of The World". Maybe you didn't learn much in school about this subject (Northern mythology) - neither did I, sadly enough -, but at least there are bands like this German one to teach us bits and pieces.

More info at www.black-messiah.de.

Line-up:
Zagan - vocals, guitars, violin
Zoran - guitars
Meldric - guitars
Agnar - keyboards, synths
Garm - bass
Bröh - drums


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ETHEREAL COLLAPSE – Categories (Ethereal Collapse 2009)

Ethereal Collapse - Categories
  1. Category I: Slave To The Empirical
  2. Category II: Discovering The Absolute
  3. Category III: Architect

After the full album "Breaching The Citadel" (click here for the review and more background info on the band), ETHEREAL COLLAPSE continued working on new material and two years later the "Categories" EP came out. Some dates on the internet say it was August 2008, but apparently it was never officially released. Vocalist/guitarist Ryan Klubeck then put a date on it, telling me it was March 2009. The line-up that made the album also made the EP with the sole difference that bassist Jimmy O'Malley didn't record his parts. Ryan did. Since some time the band is looking for a new bassist (it's September 2009 when I'm writing this). And it's not the first time the line-up is undergoing changes.

"Categories" is, according to Metal-Archives.com, a conceptual piece dealing with different branches of philosophy. This piece was poured into a trilogy, consisting of the band calls "categories". Each title starts with the category indication, hence the title of the EP. The first is "Category I: Slave To The Empirical". Melodic leads come fading in and continue while heavy grooves are added. The tempo lies quite high and that's good. I mentioned the sound issue in the review of "Breaching The Citadel" and it seems the band was aware of this at the time or when recording "Categories", as on the EP the mix is better, letting the bass come out as well. The overall sound is warmer. Ryan's aggressive vocals are still present and he too has improved over the period of two years. There is a contrast between the verses and chorus in terms of speed, as everything slows down in the chorus. Musically the verses sound like a mix of Power Metal, Melodic Death Metal and Thrash Metal. Or in other words, a very nice combination. The musicianship remains very good, the guitarwork is absolutely a highlight (even the solos) and I cannot do anything else but find "Category I: Slave To The Empirical" a great song.

"Category II: Discovering The Absolute" takes a pounding, grooving and melodic start, which isn't a surprise. Like before the melodic aspect remains an important characteristic in ETHEREAL COLLAPSE's Metal. Again the pounding verses and slow chorus structure is present, just like Ryan's typical singing. Matt's input is very active and energetic, keeping the tempo high enough and adding fills where possible. The guitarwork is once more pretty much flawless and the soloing stands out, like in the first song. Overall the IN FLAMES influence can easily be heard and more specifically the "Whoracle" period, at least to my ears. This is thus another very good track, though my preference goes to "Category I: Slave To The Empirical". I find that one a bit more attractive.

"Category III: Architect" is the last track and starts with a very melodic build-up. The drums unfortunately sound a bit more muffled than before. Why? You give everything a proper sound in the first two tracks and for the last one this changes, even for the guitars, which sounds heavier, thicker. Midtempo rolling, Ryan sounding as aggressive as before, though his voice isn't as sharp as before. Unless that's not Ryan. The tempo does increase later on, but only for a brief instant. The track runs to its end on guitarsoloing and I can't say that's a wrong move. Not at all. The previous two songs were good to very good and this last one can also be considered like that, despite or maybe thanks to its more demo sounding production. Here too, I had IN FLAMES in mind, the "Colony" period.

"Breaching The Citadel" was a very decent release, showing a band with the right potential. "Categories" is an improvement, both in terms of sound and compositions. I just wonder why the last track sounds more demo than the others. It cuts off the link between the three, no matter how good the song in question is. Anyway, quality material, that's what you get with ETHEREAL COLLAPSE. Fans of particularly the Swedish Melodic Death Metal should get this release. And they can do so by contacting the band, as it's another self-release.

More info at www.myspace.com/etherealcollapse.

Line-up:
Ryan Klubeck - vocals, guitars
Dave Kline - guitars
Jimmy O'Malley - bass
Matt Rodriguez - drums


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THEE ORAKLE – Metaphortime (Recital Records 2009)

Thee Orakle - Metaphortime
  1. Knowing Anguish
  2. All Way Down
  3. Ghost Memories
  4. The Great Masterpiece
  5. Quimera Metamorphosis
  6. Never-Ending Dilemma
  7. White Linen
  8. Alchemy Awake
  9. Unexpectable Conformity
  10. Feeling Superior Knowledge

THEE ORAKLE, the Portuguese Metal band, released the "Secret" EP two years ago and got positive comments for it, showing clearly they have the potential go take it far. You can read a larger biographical part in my review of the EP. Musically it was a a mix of Gothic/Death/Doom, or Gothic Doom meets Death/Doom. Five years after the forming of the band, THEE ORAKLE is ready to show the world their first full-length, "Metaphortime", out via Recital Records since the 16th of March. I read somewhere (e-mail or MySpace) that the music would be Progressive Death/Doom, but after listening to it a few times, I have to admit that I actually heard much less Doom, and more Gothic-styled Metal. While the EP reminded me of bands like PARADISE LOST and DRACONIAN, with "Metaphortime" the list looks a lot different and contains more Gothic bands or something along those lines: LACUNA COIL, AFTER FOREVER, DRACONIAN, BATTLELORE, WITHIN TEMPTATION, LA-VENTURA, ...

"Metaphortime" starts with a guitar intro ("Knowing Anguish") after which the Metal breaks loose in "All Way Down". At midtempo pace it's especially Frederico's skills on the drums that come out, as he plays with the pedals and cymbals to add fills and accents. Pedro and Micaela take turns in the vocal department, with grunts dominating and sweet, angel-like vocals contrasting in the chorus. Symphonics take the lead at a given moment and even offer a twist before the guitar solo comes flowing out of the speakers. During that moment, the one before the solo, the whispering voice included made me think of DRACONIAN, who also have some songs where Anders Jacobsson then holds a little speech. All things combined, music and vocals, make "All Way Down" one of the best tracks on the album.

"Ghost Memories" is where you'll find more pounding music, again with symphonics playing their necessary role. And this is also a song that could have been written by LACUNA COIL or AFTER FOREVER, at least based on what I've heard from them so far. To spice the compositions a litte, the Portuguese added some Eastern influences. Again it's the grunts that dominate, the female vocals occupy the chorus. Around the middle there is a nice Jazzy piece, with a key role for the drums. A solo follows, the tempo being slow and the atmosphere being quite sad and dramatic. But soon the pace is picked up again as the heavy riffing returns, the tension rebuilt and another guitar solo takes it further. Here as well you'll hear a varied drum pattern and overall the song is quite Progressive, so at this point I have to agree with the earlier mention that the music would be Progressive. "Ghost Memories" ends with some sort of speech or preaching, but I can't understand why. Maybe the answer lies in the lyrics. Either way, this song is another candidate for the list of tracks that stand out.

Next up is "The Great Masterpiece", flowing at midtempo. Mika's vocals lead the way and take the majority of the singing, although clean male vocals (Pedro) join in as well. To add some darker accents, Pedro throws in some grunts in the stream of sounds, including the chorus, where the full power lies, backed with symphonic waves. Truth be told, Micaela's input really is first class and a great improvement since the EP. Variation is key, as there are some twists in the rhythm and tempo for a solo moment during which the guitar (obviously) and the drums come into the spotlights.

"Quimera Metamorphosis" continues in roughly the same manner as "The Great Masterpiece". The guitars are the leading element, but also add some Eastern touches. Together with the soft symphonic backing this creates a nice atmosphere. Power and energy are very much present here, which is a perfect opportunity for Pedro to grunt his way through the lyrics in the chorus, contrasting with the female vocals. Although this is one of the shorter songs on "Metaphortime", it's great to hear how the band made the music quite varied again, especially when it's time for the guitarsolo. Right before that moment the music takes a turn into a different direction, and always in a smooth way, never forming an obstruction in the flow of sound.

Going a bit slower, darker, rougher, heavier in "Never-Ending Dilemma". Pedro's grunts contrast heavily with Mika's chanting, which have a more sad/dramatic character. While the previous song had lots of grunts, this is also the case here and that can become a bit too much. But that's when Mika's singing brings salvation, so to speak. Around the middle there's a nice atmospheric part, where heaviness has no place. Gentle guitarwork, the piano and soft female singing... a beautiful resting point. Afterwards the full power is restored and the solo kicks in. After one more vocal intervention from both singers, the music takes it further towards the end, in a serene manner.

"All Way Down" and "Ghost Memories" were the first to be on the list of tracks that stand out, "White Linen" and "Alchemy Awake" are the second duo. The first being a slow midtempo track, again very much guitar-dominated with symphonics (strings) reinforcing the melodies. Female vocals in the verses where the band made use of samples, which to my ears is to be avoided. Luckily it doesn't last long as Frederico takes over with much better playing. The guitarpower breaks out for the chorus, which is filled with a beautiful leading melody, and great vocal performances by both Mika and Pedro who form a splendid duo. No grunts here and that's a good thing, because it would ruin the song's feel and atmosphere seriously. Furthermore, this ia a perfect song to let the music do lots of talking and not just during the solo. May I add that, especially the chorus, reminded me in a way of what PARADISE LOST did in the past? "Alchemy Awake" starts with atmospheric/ambient sounds before full power is unleashed. Eastern influences - that's the bouzouki, played by Yossi Sassi Sa'aron from ORPHANED LAND - dominate the verses, in cooperation with symphonic backing. At least in the first part, where Mika takes the vocal leading. She also can be heard in the chorus. Metal power in the verses and beyond is added when it's Pedro's turn to sing, eh, grunt. As usual the music is diverse and rich in melody. The production, a lot better than before, helps to bring out the atmosphere and sound in far improved way.

Time for another slowdown with "Unexpectable Conformity" and not just for the sake of variety. Mika's singing together with the gentle playing of the instrumentation reminds of the Dutch band LA-VENTURA. Don't worry, metallic power is added in a groovy way and this fits very well. The grunts are also present and while it's quite logic to hear one with the other (Mika and Pedro), I do feel that maybe it would have been better if this was a Mika-only song. Nothing against Pedro or his input, but grunts aren't always needed or appropriate, even if the music increases in heaviness or if there's a more dramatic piece. Halfway the symphonics come to the front, with the guitars and drums adding accents before the solo is played, pushed onwards by the toms. And then you've got the grunts again, this time totally unnecessary and not doing much good at this point. Even Mika's high-pitched chanting isn't really needed, even if it fits better than the grunts. The last minute is fully instrumental, fortunately, and one big solo, you could say, inline with the melancholic feel. To cut things short, the music is good to very good, but there are a bit too much vocal lines and when those couldn't be reduced, at least decrease the quantity of grunts. That would be an improvement, if I may be so honest and direct. Of course, this is just my humble opinion. ;-)

"Metaphortime" ends with an accoustic instrumental ("Feeling Superior Knowledge"), where strings and flute are key elements in the compositions. In that context I had HAGGARD in mind, but then without the Metal and vocals, of course. Either way, the track may be short, but the band does deserve kudos for creating it.

After the demo in 2005 THEE ORAKLE released the "Secret" EP, which showed a band that knew where to go, even if not all songs were equally good. The production wasn't a very helpful element either, but all that has been dealt with on "Metaphortime", the band's debut album. The sound is so much better, the compositions dito and the overall musicianship took a (big) jump forward as well. The PARADISE LOST influences are still present, but as you could read in the beginning, there are other Gothic bands that came into view as comparable material. Nevertheless, THEE ORAKLE have progressed and the time has come to start crossing the borders of Portugal into foreign lands to help spread the word about Portuguese Metal and THEE ORAKLE in particular. "Metaphortime", for fans of Gothic/Doom Metal with a good symphonic touch, although the Doom aspect has faded, yet still lingers here and there. As far as lists are concerned, this is one of the surprises of 2009.

More info at www.theeorakle.com.

Line-up:
Pedro Silva - vocals
Micaela Cardoso - vocals
Romeu Dias - guitars
Ricardo Pinheiro - guitars, vocals
Luis Teixeira - keyboards, samplers
Daniel Almeida - bass
Frederico Lopes - drums


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DEPRESSED MODE – ..For Death.. (Firedoom Records 2009)

Depressed Mode - For Death
  1. Death Multiplies
  2. She's Frozen
  3. Loving A Shadow
  4. The Scent
  5. Prologue To The Thousand Skies
  6. Tunnel Of Pain
  7. A Glimpse Of Tomorrow
  8. A Sigh
  9. ...For Death

Two years ago the Finnish Doom band DEPRESSED MODE unleashed its dark, depressing and monstrous debut album "Ghosts Of Devotion", two years after the band's forming. It was hailed and praised and with reason, as Ossy Salonen (vocals, keyboards) gathered a group of skilled musicians around him to give his compositions more power, depth and atmosphere. Among those members are Natalie Koskinen (vocals) from SHAPE OF DESPAIR and Jori Haukio, ex-guitarist from the Finnish Melodic Death Metal band MORS PRINCIPIUM EST. He not only played cello parts, next to his guitar input, but also produced, mixed and mastered the album.

A new album is now out since the 16th of March (in Europe, a bit earlier in Finland): "..For Death..". Not only was there a change in line-up, but also a change in style. Whereas "Ghosts Of Devotion" was keyboard-driven Funeral Doom, Ossy and co. went for Death/Doom this time, not forgetting to add massive layers of symphonics and melody. Jori Haukio again produced and mixed the album, while Mikka Jussila from Finnvox Studios mastered it and I can tell you this resulted in a massive, powerful and destructive sound!

Regarding the line-up change, the new faces are Teemu Heinola (guitars, plays bass in MORS PRINCIPIUM EST) - don't worry, Tomppa is still in the band -, Henri Hakala on bass and Iiro Aittokoski behind the drumkit, coming over from the Metalcore band FOR HER ICON. The members that were replaced, but can be heard on the debut album, are Jani Lamminpää (bass) and Marko Tommila (drums).

When I read the announcement that the style would be Symphonic Death/Doom, thus increasing the pace a bit, my mind was set for something fantastic, but at the same time I somewhat feared the new material would sound too much like MOURNING BELOVETH, NOVEMBERS DOOM and others. Not that these bands are bad, not at all. They're even among my favourite Doom bands. But anyway, the first thing you hear when playing "..For Death.." are the haunting keyboards of "Death Multiplies" after which hell breaks loose and the earth starts to shake (due to the massive forces of guitars and drums) as if the end is near. Simply amazing piece of Metal and especially the sound makes you stand in awe and enjoy this moment of Doom. Or you can just bang your head along. More Death Metal (incl. blastbeats), Ossy was right. The pace is also a bit faster. Keyboards still are a key element and float along, safely behind the thick guitar layers, although their doom-announcing melodies/symphonics do come through to let the drama be unfolded. Ossy sounds as demonic as usual, perhaps even more. His growling also fits the music a lot. Dark, gloomy, aggressive, destructive and mindblowing. And this is just the first track. The creatures from hell are devouring any living thing.

The strings, as dramatic as can be, neatly find a connection with "She's Frozen". The tempo has been adjusted and the music has a lot of difficulty to advance at the pace of before. Slow Death Metal, the term Death/Doom if you want, finally can be used here, but be sure you won't find rest as the tempo soon increases, as the double bass rolls on in cooperation with chugga-chugga riffing. The piano is the bringer of melody, in short accents-format, in the chorus. Natalie makes her entry for the first time here, the chorus. What makes this song great as well, is when everything comes to a halt after the first time the chorus has passed by, as if all power is drained. What follows are the vicious, sharp-edged and ferocious guitars to let another burst of pounding apocalyptic Metal fill the room. Another brilliant track and one I tend to play a lot, together with "Death Multiplies".

The piano gets more prominent in "Loving A Shadow", where heavy guitars and drums once again push everything onwards, paving the way for the rest of the music to follow, pass through. Ossy's low, gutteral growls are also present. The tempo is slow, but not Funeral Doom slow, rather slow to midtempo. Natalie adds more atmosphere by adding some backing vocals and even duets with Ossy in the bridge and chorus, in the typical beauty-and-the-beast singing. Change is brought by putting a halt to all forms of heaviness and just have the piano tell the tale, express feelings of sadness, solitude and melancholy. Natalie soon adds her enchanting vocals after which a short moment of silence is added to let everything sink down and have it blown double as hard back into your ears as guitars and drums come back. One more remark about the bridge and chorus: the symphonics rise in fullness and majesty here, just like a flower opens up for the rays of the sun. Despite this song lasting almost 7 minutes, it's over before you know it.

Droning atmospheric keyboard tune with Metal bursts added in a firm pattern. Of course the tempo has dropped even more, and the band's entering the Funeral zone again. Think WORSHIP, TYRANNY and similar. That's in a nutshell how "The Scent" sounds... at first. Then haunting keyboards come rising from the depths of the abyss to spread suffering and more. But all falls silent to create suspense and the unexpected... that comes with a big bang! Ossy changes to melancholic clean singing this time as if telling about his agonies. But these agonies and fears have a dark and evil character, expressed via growls. Soft cello sounds stress the drama of it all. Hell breaks loose with chuggish guitars and drums at a given moment, after which the sloooooow pace and pressing keyboards in collaboration with the massive guitarpower futher develop the chaos, once interrupted by the cello while the piano continues to play a looped melody in accordance. All in all you can add "The Scent" to the list of songs that stand out, but know that it's heavy on the mind and offers a perfect mix of the Funeral Doom of before and the power of "..For Death.." and should not be played when you're alone, in the dark, cut off from civilization.

"Prologue To The Thousand Skies" is an instrumental track consisting of symphonic layers and the piano as leading instrument. As it's a prologue, the playtime is also very short, little more than two minutes. But it offers a nice resting point, so to speak. But be sure to be ready for what powers are hidden in the "Tunnel Of Pain". It starts gently with the piano and rhythmic section that is the bass and drums. Following is the chorus, consisting of the characteristic DEPRESSED MODE power, including screaming keyboards. Waves of guitar violence try to hide the everplaying piano melody. Ossy's growls out his pains and torments, while the chorus contains more dramatic singing (in contrast with the full instrumentation) as if it's a cry for help, a cry of one going under, of his life coming to an end soon. The band adds the perfect sounds to this not so pleasant dream.

No heaviness in the verses of "A Glimpse Of Tomorrow" and clean vocals again tell the tale. The way the music is composed gives the song a Gothic touch and feel, while the typical keyboards and full instrumentation come alive in the chorus. Drama, sorrow and more along those lines come through via the symphonic additions. The pace is obviously slow, inline with the character of the music.

Natalie's input hasn't been that much so far, mainly when it comes to singing the leads. She gets a great chance in the ballad "A Sigh", in which the only instrumentation is the piano and the cello. Her singing has a ghostly feel and that suits the general character of the album. Of course the music sounds different without the violent and dominant guitars and drums, but that's also the beauty of it all, that you can have such a contrast and still create depressing, sorrowful, gloomy Metal, sorry, music. Just the piano isn't exactly Metal, is it?

Last, but certainly not least, is the longest track, clocking in around 07:15: "..For Death". This is the most Funeral Doom Metal song of the pack, with its sloooooow pace, its enormous wall of heaviness, the pressure it creates, the loudness, just everything. Even the sad orchestrations and the monstrous growling. Nice to hear is Natalie's angelic singing in the chorus to counter Ossy's input in the verses. When reading the lyrics and listening to the music, this is a song that drains all lust for life, there's nothing left to hold on to, nothing worth spending time for... save for the end. After 4 minutes there's a gentle piano break - before the force of before kicks in again - as if the mind carries off to a place unknown, lost for all eternity. Mindblowing song!

"Ghosts Of Devotion" was a very good Funeral Doom album and my appreciation has grown since I have listened many times to "..For Death..". DEPRESSED MODE sure as hell haven't made the same album twice, but once again took the world by storm, me included. Or better said, they more than fulfilled my expectations. Let it be clear that Ossy and co. succeeded over the entire line, creating a massive-sounding, skull-crushing, soul-wrenching and mindblowing Death/Doom release. I cannot add anything more but highly recommend this to fans of the genre and anyone into extreme Metal. This is one of the highlights in Doom Metal this year!

More info at www.depressedmode.net.

Line-up:
Ossy Salonen - vocals, synths
Natalie Koskinen - vocals
Tomppa Turpeinen - guitars
Teemu Heinola - guitars
Henri Hakkala - bass
Iiro Aittokoski - drums


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ABLAZE IN HATRED – The Quietude Plains (Firedoom Music 2009)

ABLAZE IN HATRED - The Quietude Plains
  1. A Walk Through The Silence
  2. Perfection Of Waves
  3. The Wandering Path
  4. Beyond The Trails Of Torment
  5. The Quietude Plains
  6. My Dearest End
  7. Therefore I Suffer

Finland and Doom Metal, it will always be a success story, for a big part. Especially the national label Firebox Records is specialized in finding and signing Doom Metal bands (Death/Doom, Funeral Doom, ...). One of those newcomers, although they've been alive since 2004, is ABLAZE IN HATRED. This young band has put out one demo (2005) and two albums ("Deceptive Awareness" in 2006 and "The Quietude Plains" in 2009) so far. ABLAZE IN HATRED is the brainchild of Juhani Sanna (guitars) and Mika Ikonen (vocals, guitars). Next to them there's drummer Antti Hakkala and bassist Miska Lehtivuori, who both joined in 2005. Keyboardist Eve Kojo was added later. Next to this band, each member is or was active in other bands, such as SEARING MEADOW, DEATHRE, MYGRAIN and EMBERS LEFT.

Musically these Finnish bring the sort of Melodic Death/Doom, with an emphasis on melody, that can be compared to several other Doom bands: SWALLOW THE SUN, SATURNUS, DRACONIAN, SHAPE OF DESPAIR, COLOSSEUM, DOOM:VS, INSOMNIUS DEI and so on. And this is due to both the vocals and the music, as you can hear certain melodies or guitarparts that instantly make you think of one of the mentioned bands, depending on the piece. Not that this is a disturbance, as it makes the search for similar-styled bands much easier and I also don't think that the band deliberately composed their music in that way, although one never knows, of course.

It seems the debut got a lot of praise (not by me, since I haven't heard it yet), but the focus now lies on "The Quietude Plains", out since the 16th of March. All of the songs have the same kind of atmosphere and feel, but don't let that make you think you're listening to the same song again and again. "A Walk Through The Silence" does have a sinister undertone and the overall tone of the music is one of sorrow, sadness, mental suffering, agony and more along those lines. Mika Ikonen's growls sound very melancholic. Pluspoints in this song go to the main melody, which is absolutely beautiful! (thanks to the symphonic intervention (flute first, followed by strings) by Eve Kojo on keyboards). Towards the end of the song there's just the non-Metal instrumentation before going back to the chorus one more time. That break, as you can call it, reminds in a way of what COLOSSEUM did on their debut "Chapter 1: Delirium".

As we're dealing with a Doom Metal band here, and more specifically a Melodic Death/Doom one, it is characteristic that the tempo is slow, very slow, but not yet as slow as Funeral Doom. "Perfection Of Waves" continues the sad and depressing waves of Doom, although the guitars seems have a bit more power this time, while strings (violin or cello, haven't figured it out yet) can be heard in the back. There's no need to add anything more, save that this is also one of the highlights of "The Quietude Plains".

There aren't any real flaws on the album, but there are a few songs that - although also good - just don't have that extra that makes, for example, the first two stand out. "The Wandering Path" is also slow, obviously, but here it's the drums that were given a shot to quicken the pace a little, even if that is to be taken with a grain of salt, as it never gets really quick. Guitars are the dominant instrument, while the keyboards come in with strings (in the chorus) or offer some contrast in terms of gentle, relaxing melodies.

In "Beyond The Trails Of Torment" you get some dark, heavy, slow-grinding grooves and gentle piano accents in the back. The feelings of sadness, sorrow and more are very strong, while the atmospheric keyboards make this a serene song. The title track on the other hand increases the level of guitar melody, but not without atmospheric backing. This is another song that's dark, depressing, mournful and the symphonics in the chorus only stress those sad feelings even more. To top it all it's the piano that puts an end to it all.

One of the bands you can compare ABLAZE IN HATRED with, and that depends on the song, is DRACONIAN, the Swedish Gothic/Doom band. Especially "My Dearest End" could have been written by Johan Ericson (mastermind of DRACONIAN and DOOM:VS). It's slow, as usual, with all of the sad/depressing/mournful/(feel free to add more synonyms) DRACONIAN-like melodies claim all attention. It's basically an instrumental song, but there are lyrics, spoken in the back and with effects as if Mika used a megaphone. You do have to listen carefully, since the music is much more in front than the vocals. In short: this is another beautiful, touching Doom song.

And last but certainly not least and even part of the shortlist of highlights (together with the first two songs), it's "Therefore I Suffer" that closes the album. It's a long song - well, most are - and that gives the band the time to unfold the several compositions. Melody plays a key role, coming from both the guitars and keyboards and the overall atmosphere is perhaps even more depressing than before. Even the growls are a proof of that. Of the suffering. Great stuff!

Melodic Death/Doom Metal bands are legio in number, and for some it can almost be seen as a trend, but as long as everything is well executed and has the right spirit, it's fine by me. If you look at the above-mentioned bands, you know what to expect from ABLAZE IN HATRED and that is both good and bad, as these Fins will also have to struggle to reach above the many other bands in this genre to to not be considered a clone or average. Anyway, is "The Quietude Plains" as good as "Deceptive Awareness"? I can't tell, that's up to those who do have this debut album. This new release isn't perfect - mainly the constant slowness can make it a bit hard to listen from start to end -, but (at least to my ears) it contains qualitative Melodic Doom Metal with roughly half of the tracks sticking out as recommended to check out. If you like this style, then you can safely add ABLAZE IN HATRED to your collection.

More info at www.ablazeinhatred.com.

Line-up:
Mika Ikonen - vocals, guitars
Juhani Sanna - guitars
Eve Kojo - keyboards
Miska Lehtivuori - bass
Antti Hakkala - drums


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DOMAIN – The Chronicles Of Love, Hate And Sorrow (Limb Music Products 2009)

Domain - The Chronicles Of Love, Hate And Sorrow
  1. Picture The Beauty
  2. Sweeping Scars
  3. Angel Above
  4. Circle Of Give And Take
  5. He's Back
  6. My Inner Rage
  7. Digging Their Graves
  8. Haunting Sorrows
  9. The Last Dance
  10. Twelve O'Clock
  11. Two Brothers & The Sinners Chess (Bonus Track)

DOMAIN is a veteran Melodic Metal band from Germany, first known as KINGDOM, later and still as DOMAIN. The band has eight full-lengths up its sleeves so far, with the long-awaited "The Chronicles Of Love, Hate And Sorrow" being no. 9 and out since the 13th of March. There was a period of silence after "Crack In The Wall" in 1991, lasting until a return about 10 years later with "One Million Lightyears From Home", after which the band continued to make Metal. In terms of line-up changes DOMAIN has had its share over the years and even several months after the release of the anniversary release "Stardawn" (2006), in 2007, was mainman/guitarist Axel Ritt forced to look for a new vocalist (to replace Carsten Schulz, who chose EVIDENCE ONE as primary band), a new drummer (to replace Stefan Köllner) and a new bassist (to replace Jochen Mayer). The respective replacements are called: Nicolaj Ruhnow, Jens Baar and Steven Wussow. Regarding the vocalist position, it was first Chity Somapala who got the job, but it soon became clear that his staying wouldn't last long.

"Stardawn" was all in all a very worthwhile release, solid musicianship and well constructed songs. However, you did/do need to give the album a couple of spins to hear it all, to get it all. The Limited Edition contained the Best Of "The Essence of Glory" and a DVD with live footage.

The sole question remained if "The Chronicles Of Love, Hate And Sorrow" would be as good as or even top "Stardawn". Lyrically the new album is based on the epistolary novel "Die Leiden des jungen Werther" ("The Sorrows of Young Werther") by the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I'm not familiar with Goethe's works, even if his name obviously is known to many. But things will become much clearer when reading the lyrics from the booklet.

Now, the songs themselves. As much as Axel hails Nicolaj's 5-octave voice and even made some outdoor recordings (see here), it is clear that Nicolaj isn't exactly the biggest highlight on this album, although he does a good job, in general. Another element I would like to comment on is the production. It took me several listens to get used to it... and to the songs, too, but that's something else. I understand that Axel wants to make sure the DOMAIN sound/stamp remains intact and that he likes the 1980s, but somehow I found it a bit too flat, which is not the most suitable term, but I can't find a better one. Well, mechanical comes closest.

"Picture The Beuaty" is the first chapter. It's a midtempo Rocker, so to speak, with the required symphonic bombast, assisted by the keyboards. Nicolaj's clean vocals are alright, but don't stand out, not like Carsten's did. The biggest difference is that Carsten's had more power, more roughness, if you will. The music is of course good, especially at full power and that includes the chorus, which made me think of EDGUY's "Tears Of A Mandrake" in a way. Axel's soloing is an element that manages to capture or hold the attention. So, a good start, but not the kind of song that made me feel overjoyed.

The two songs that follow really are the least good and that's because of the music/compositions and the vocals lacking power/roughness. Sure, you don't a raspy or rough voice in every song, but if the song sounds better... or if the compositions require such a voice, then it's logical to use them. Anyway, "Sweeping Scars" has a pounding rhythm, remains in the midtempo lane and relies heavily on melody, which contrasts with the dark and heavy verses. The chorus is ok, nothing more. Musically I had to think a bit of AT VANCE or HARTMANN, but that were just moments, short flashes. Structure-wise you could say that "Sweeping Scars" is quite varied, especially before the solo moment when Axel tries to add a classical touch to his guitarwork. Honesty obliges me to add that it does sound a bit messy, as if he tried to do it too fast or too rough. The song's running time of over 7 minutes doesn't help either to keep one clinged to the speakers.

"Angel Above" is a title that could hide a ballad, but it's not the case here, even if it's a slow song, also containing lots of melody and sounding very 80's. The production here is the biggest culprit, especially on the drums. No, sorry, make that the vocals being the element that is the weakest link. You need someone like Jorn Lande, or maybe Fabio Lione, here. The choirs like in, for example, "Temple Of The Earth" (on "Stardawn") were used here and although that helps to add a feeling of familiarity, it doesn't help to make the song stand out. In fact, the chorus this time is quite boring, if I may say so.

But fear not, the worst part is over, since with "Circle Of Give And Take" you get nothing but good to very good material, although no song is free from bad/less good elements. "Circle Of Give And Take" is a song that injects more power and energy into the album, especially after the previous two tough nuts to crack. The double bass is therefore a perfect option. Musically you could think of a marriage between AT VANCE and AVANTASIA (the "Metal Opera" albums). So, besides the vocals again not being the best aspect, the music is very much worth hearing. The exotic solo around the fourth minute is the cherry on the cake.

"He's Back" starts with a long build-up, flowing over into double-bass Power Metal. Rejoice! The tempo and power is also present in the pounding verses. The keyboards fulfill their normal backing role and show how they complete the song. Axel's moment of glory sounds a bit wild, which makes me wonder why. Other than that, no complaints from my part.

I do have one for "My Inner Rage", where the drums come smashing in and the guitars sound dark in the verses, backed by evil sounding keyboards. Nicolaj does a good job here, but the short moment where effects are applied to his voice made me frown, since they aren't necessary at all, unless it's a way to express a form of anger or rage. If so, then the wrong effects were applied. Musically it's a fast midtempo track that would fit in the same category as AVANTASIA, AINA, STRATOVARIUS, EDGUY, and similar. The overall musicianship is spotless, obviously, and especially the guitarwork stands out, not just because it's high in the mix, but also because Axel knows how to play.

Time for another pedal to the Metal song. Buckle up for "Digging Their Graves". It's fast, it's got raging guitarwork and the galopping drums do get your feet moving. Well, they did with mine. I can't add anything more, except that this is one of the best tracks on the album.

"Haunting Sorrows" starts with a xylophone-based riddle before the Symphonic Metal comes bursting in. The verses are slow with lots of keyboard backing. Overall not that special, though, until the chorus is there. Everything flows better, direct and straight-forward. Sorry for the name-dropping, but I had a DIONYSUS/SYMPHONITY/LUCA TURILLI/... moment at some time, which also means that the music resembles that of the mentioned band, plus that Olaf Hayer could easily sing this song as well. But in short: quality stuff.

Prepare for "The Last Dance", even if it's a wild one. Pounding rhythm, raging guitar sounds, fast pace... standard ingredients for another killer track. However, there is a break little over halfway to create some tension and rebuild the song towards the chorus and so the music flows until the end. KAMELOT anyone? No, seriously, another very nice song.

When the clock strikes midnight, or "Twelve O'Clock", it's time to go to bed. Hence the music being reduced to accoustic instrumentation, while Nicolaj softly sings the lyrics. It's a ballad, indeed. There is electric instrumentation, but that's for the chorus, at which point the symphonic elements come from behind the curtain, but remaining in the back. The second half of the song is partly occupied by a music box or it's the xylophone again, hard to tell. But then the chorus comes back in as if ripping the dreamy thoughts to shreds.

And finally there is "Two Brothers & The Sinners Chess", a bonus track that has nothing to do with the other songs and story of Goethe. Trumpets, battle feelings.. it's almost as if I'm listening to TURISAS's "Battle Metal" album or EUROPE's "The Final Countdown". Two different kinds of music, I admit. This bonus track is a midtempo Rocker, with of course a nice dosis of melody, while in general the music is very much guitar-driven. And yes, Nicolaj does a very good job here. Even if this song has nothing to do with the story and previous tracks, it is a very nice one.

And so we have come to the end of "The Chronicles". Is it better than "Stardawn"? It's different, as "Stardawn" wasn't a Metal Opera album. With the bands I mentioned it's clear which sort of Metalfans are to feel addressed to, as it can help expand their collection if they haven't gotten any DOMAIN album yet or are seeking something new in terms of Symphonic Metal. But it's also obvious that it's for DOMAIN fans in the first place that "The Chronicles Of Love, Hate And Sorrow" were written. Although I picked on the production problem in the beginning, it's reasonably good in the majority of the songs, if you put it in the right perspective. Nicolaj, the new vocalist, is a good addition, but there are many times that you (well, I) wish(ed) for a more rougher kind of singing and that's unfortunately not his style. Regarding the instrumental aspect I have no complaints at all, as each member has enough experience to handle their parts. Despite the bad start (first few songs) - let's just say it like that - the band did manage to find the right path and continue the positive direction until the end, offering a story-telling opera of a good 60 minutes. Again, multiple listens are required, otherwise you won't hear it all.

More info at www.domainband.de.

Line-up:
Nicolaj Ruhnow - vocals
Axel Ritt - guitars
Erdmann Lange - keyboards
Steven Wussow - bass
Jens Baar - drums


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GWYLLION – The Edge Of All I Know (Black Bards Entertainment 2009)

Gwyllion - The Edge Of All I Know
  1. In Silence Enclosed
  2. Entwined
  3. Void
  4. Rage
  5. Beyond Goodbye
  6. The Night Awake
  7. Closure
  8. A Thousand Words
  9. Roots Of Reality
  10. Angelheart

From Wikipedia: "Gwyllion or gwyllon (plural noun from the singular Gwyll or (Yr) Wyll "twilight, loaming") is a Welsh word with a wide range of possible meanings including "ghosts, spirits," "night-wanderers (human or supernatural) up to no good, outlaws of the wild" etc. Gwyllion is only one of a number of words with these or similar meanings in Welsh. It is a comparatively recent word coined inadvertently in the 17th century by the Welsh lexicographer Dr John Davies (Mallwyd)."

GWYLLION is also the name of a Belgian Symphonic female-fronted Metal band, who has been alive since the fall of 2003, thanks to the uniting forces of Annelore Vantomme (vocals) and the brothers Debonnet (Martijn on guitar, Joris on keyboards and Wouter on drums). It seems that bassist Thomas Halsberghe has also been around since the beginning, so let's count him as well. The first output was a demo, "Forever Denying the Never", recorded with Valerie Vanhoutte on vocals, as Annelore had personal obligations, after which she returned in 2006. At the same time a second guitarist was brought in, Steve Deleu, and the renewed line-up made a first album, "Awakening The Dream", self-released in 2007. This got the band support slots for acts like AFTER FOREVER, HAGGARD, D:S:O:, a consignation deal with LSP Records, and a licensing deal with Rubicon Music in Japan.

I had the honour and pleasure to see the band live for the first time in 2008 at Frostrock. And I was sold afterwards, as you could read in my report. That's also when I bought their album, which hasn't disappointed me yet and never will (I hope). The second time was a few months later, in a local bar, and that too was very much worth it. But of course lots of people were on the lookout for a new album.

GWYLLION entered the studio in the spring of 2008 to record the second album, "The Edge Of All I Know", which was recently released (6th of March). The production/mix/mastering took place in Sweden at the Fascination Street Studios, domain of Jens Bogren (OPETH, AMON AMARTH, KATATONIA, PARADISE LOST, OCEANS OF SADNESS, ...). For the release the band signed with the German label Black Bards Entertainment and Rubicon Music in Japan will deal with it over there. On the 6th of March there was also a listening session at a local bar, Den Deugniet. The chatter with the band members was of course an entertaining and informative and it was nice to meet the new vocalist Ann Van Rooy. The first gig, also a release party, is scheduled on the 21st of March, so that also puts a lot of pressure on Ann's shoulders, replacing the beautiful (it must be said, yes) and amazing vocalist Annelore Vantomme, who again left the band due to not being able to tour.

Several months before the release and before having signed a deal, the band put a teaser on their MySpace page. "The Edge Of All I Know" was a highly anticipated album and already from that teaser you, well, I could tell GWYLLION would take the world by storm, so to speak. The quality of the material was astounding, even if the snippets were very short.

"In Silence Enclosed" opens the album with a symphonic/orchestral intro, including dark piano accents, slowly working towards a bigger outcome. Choirs are added and little by little the majestic feeling grows, building a tension that will soon snap. That alone is an indication of the splendor that awaits... the uptempo, guitar-driven "Entwined". Aggressive riffing, epic keyboard backing and a tight force to push it all onwards, lead by Annelore's heavenly, yet powerful voice. But she also goes for a softer approach in what you could call the bridge. Musically this isn't straight-forward Metal, since the band added enough elements to break the tempo, but keeping the flow intact, for the better of the song. The symbiosis of guitars and keyboards - or heaviness and melodies - is very well worked out and the several layers require you to listen several times to discover it all. GWYLLION already played this song live on several occasions, and it definitely is one of the best tracks on this album.

Next is the midtempo "Void" (also played on several occasions), again providing a nice contrast between the aggressive guitars and playful melodies. Wouter is an extremely skilled drummer and he knows how and when to add accents and fills without overdoing it. At first I thought he could add some more, but after a few listens it became clear this would disturb the flow and overall feel of the song. Annelore's singing gets neatly backed in the chorus by Martijn and Joris. Very nice around halfway is the sudden drop in heaviness, a sort of moment of peace before htting back ever so hard, and at the same time giving the instruments the chance to do the talking (piano, guitar leads). The drums are high in the mix, and that's both necessary for the music GWYLLION plays and totally not disturbing for the rest of the instrumentation. Everything comes out very well, melodies, riffing, bass, vocals. And I garantee you, this is more than first class material. Absolutely stunning!

"Rage" is an all-explaining title. The guitars rage on like a madman, the drums thunder as if hell broke loose and Annelore sounds like a furious amazone and you don't want to mess with a furious amazone, oh no. Don't worry, she doesn't yell, rather sings firm and with dignity. The piano doodle in combination with the rolling Metal is well thought of. The bombastic symphonic moment together with the solos (guitar and piano taking turns) forms a beautiful intermezzo before the chorus comes back. Over halfway you then get a break of epic proportions in an atmosphere as if the character is gasping for air, finding a way out of the insanity, which takes control again in the last part of the song. I have played this song many times after in a row and it just doesn't bore. In fact, I really would like to see how the band pulls this one off live.

After all this expression of insanity, solitude, misery, frustration and similar, it's time to calm down... musically. "Beyond Goodbye" is one of those resting points, at least for a little while. Electric guitars are replaced by accoustic ones, the singing is much more toned down, softer. That's the first part with the verses in which a gentle but sad symphonic layer is added (violins, cello), once the chorus is there more power is added as the electric instrumentation takes over. The singing then also sounds like a cry for help or even a last cry before the life's flame is extinguished. Martijn's and Joris's backing vocals make the vocal parts more complete and when the middle-section is reached the drama level increases, when readng the dark lyrics. All things considered, this is probably the saddest song on the album, in high contrast with the heaviest/most aggressive, "Rage".

The special element about "The Night Awakes", a track that brings back power and majesty, is the mandolin (played by Martijn) in the intro, after which the melody is carried on by the rest of the band and of course electric instrumentation. "Beyond Goodbye" was a very emotional song, but so is this song here, especially in the part around the middle of the playtime. Guitars play a very important role, not only for the fullness of the music or the power, but also when it comes to offering some melodic leads when there's need to take it more easy. The mandolin also ends the song, helped by the symphonic assistance.

A song with balls, "Rage". But it's best to have two balls, so in comes "Closure". Pounding drums, heavy, growling guitars and dark piano melodies. Key elements that help Annelore bring out the best of her capabilities. The piano is, by the way, a key instrument in this song. Mind you, Joris can keep up with the rapid pace and active playing. Another positive aspect is that everything flows smoothly into each other, by which I mean that the tempo changes, the rhythm, the progressiveness (so to speak) is quite simply perfect. Add a double guitar solo, after which keyboards get their moment of fame, to spice the song for a taste you can't get enough of.

A picture says more than "A Thousand Words", as the saying goes. This is another of my favourite tracks on "The Edge Of All I Know". A weeping cello playing the lead melody, while short bursts of heavy guitars and drums (Wouter keeping a steady and tight beat) heavily contrast and at the same time are compatible with the cello. Both options work: make it a sad song from start to finish and it's very good. Make it a sad song with added power to make the burden less painful and it's also very good. The guitars an drums do reinforce/stress the feeling of sadness, melancholy, depression, no matter how active and Casey Grillo-like Wouter drums. This is a song that can easily bring tears to my eyes and the drop in heaviness in the last few minutes - where it's just the piano, drums, bass and Annelore's divine voice - makes me speechless. "A Thousand Words", and I can't find any that are good enough to describe or tag this song.

By now it's obvious that nothing can go wrong anymore, that GWYLLION isn't the band to suddenly add a filler. "Roots Of Reality" is the last one to add a new load of energy and power, although it's more about the feel, the atmosphere than really give the music another boost before putting an end to it. This track would do well as final song on a setlist. Everyone is playing aat ease, even Wouter, who does add some accents here and there. Special element here are the vocals, as Annelore even tries some operatic singing, reaching for the high notes. It's a surprise, and one that can only be commended. But to be honest, I prefer her normal voice, which sounds fuller and more attractive. "Roots Of Reality" is also the longest song on the album, clocking in shortly before the 8th minute marker. Around the 5th minute all heaviness falls away and is replaced by gentle symphonics and accoustic guitarwork, of which the melody is picked up by the eletric instrumentation. At the same time there's Annelore adding angelic chanting. But this doesn't last too long, as the accoustic part takes over again until the end. Since this is another strong song, the Belgians show they can write long songs, too, offering the same level of quality as with the shorter ones.

Full-on Power Metal is a no-brainer for Annelore, but what can she do without electric backing? The piano ballad "Angelheart" - very different from what preceded, perfect as ending song and for once putting Joris in the spotlights - is the clear proof that this kind of songs demands an effort, as the voice is not surrounded/covered/masked by instruments. Both members do a very good job. The soft and gentle singing comes out very well and shows a different side of Annelore's singing. Even if I prefer the Metal songs, this last track fits quite well: begin the album with a tension-building intro, end with a tensionless song.

It's been some time since I last heard an album that held my attention for days in a row - meaning playing it every day, even two, three times in a row without signs of boredom or similar - and it makes me all the more happy it's a Belgian band, even from my region, that succeeded this time. "The Edge Of All I Know" has been played like hell, even in my head, since in several songs there are melodies or rhythms that keep sticking. GWYLLION has more than fulfilled my expectations. I said in my report of Frostrock 2008 that "GWYLLION is a must to see and hear, and have great potential to become bigger.". The new album, with deserved credit to Jens Bogren for the excellent production, cannot be a bigger proof of that. The signing to Black Bards Entertainment, as small as the label may be, should help to get the word out and make GWYLLION score at least a European tour with bigger acts. Symphonic Power Metal with a Progressive touch, for fans of KAMELOT, AFTER FOREVER, RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), NIGHTWISH, AYREON and more, but definitely as worth the investment as these bigger bands. I don't dare to make decisions or predictions in terms of the Best Of 2009, but this is one hell of a candidate.

More info at www.gwyllion.com.

Line-up:
Annelore Vantomme - vocals
Martijn Debonnet - guitars
Steven Deleu - guitars
Joris Debonnet - keyboards
Thomas Halsberghe - bass
Wouter Debonnet - drums


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SOULFALLEN – Grave New World (Off Records 2009)

Soulfallen - Grave New World
  1. A Hearse With No Name
  2. Devour
  3. To The Wolves At My Door
  4. This World Is Bleeding Flies
  5. Grave New World
  6. Towers Of Silence
  7. Embrace The Scythe
  8. Serenity's Throne
  9. We Are The Sand

SOULFALLEN, from 1996 to 2003 known as BLACKSMITH - having released two demos, "Beneath A Thick Satin Moon" (1999) and "Outcast/Forlorn" (2000) - is a Finnish Melodic Death/Black Metal band. Under this name the band first put out the "Dark Remains" demo in 2004, followed by the "Death Of The Tyrant" demo in 2006 before signing with Off Records, who released the debut album "World Expiration" the following year. Now, two years later, the follow-up is out (since the 4th of March) and titled "Grave New World". IRON MAIDEN released "Brave New World" back in 2000. There's no connection between the two, just the almost exact same title. Or could there be more to it?

Although the band's website mentions Matti Auerkallio as drummer, he only joined this year (2009) to replace Jimmy Salmi who can be heard on "Grave New World". It seems he left the band not too long after the recordings. Speaking of those, they were done under the watchful eye and ears of Arttu Sarvanne at Studio Watercastle. The mastering was handled by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios. As SOULFALLEN has no keyboardist, they used the services of Hannu Honkonen at Noisework Productions for the orchestral input. Lars Eikind made a guest appearance to add clean vocals to "We Are The Sand".

"Grave New World" starts with "A Hearse With No Name", where a violin melody, in collaboration with snare plucking plays the first notes while building the tension. The same melody also forms the outro. The violin falls away, leaving everyting to the guitar, but returns with full force once the entire instrumentation is at play. It takes about two minutes before the song really has taken off, but what you get is absolutely amazing: dramatic keyboard melodies, the guitars leading and Kai grunting as if having a painful experience. The agony that is expressed is unbelievable. This midtempo song knows a break not long after the fourth minute marker. All falls silent, save for the violin to remain in the spotlights, building the song again with the help of the drums (toms). Pounding, yet dramatic and sorrowful, Metal then takes over. "A Hearse With No Name" is one of the longest songs on this album, clocking in after eight minutes, and it's well worth hearing. The overall mood and atmosphere gives it a (Melodic Death/)Doom Metal character.

Heavy riffing, rolling drums and symphonic input (incl. choir) that makes the sound fuller and complete, resulting in something comparable to what GOD DETHRONED has done at some time in the past. No grunting this time, but shrieking vocals occupy the verses. With a title like "Devour" I think this is very appropriate. They (vocals) change into growling in the chorus, while the music turns more melodic then. The guitar and piano leads add a very nice touch to the whole and here as well you can say that, in general, the Finnish have done a marvellous job. And beware of the ending, for the transition into "To The Wolves At My Door" goes very smoothly...

...with pounding, ferocious Metal, lead by the orchestral elements. Midtempo is the chosen pace, growls the singing type. This time it's the other way around, as the shrieking vocals are used in the chorus, where the music is slow, melodic and with a dramatic touch. Later a faster outbreak occurs, and that can only be applauded for. Sadly - and that's my opinion - it's too short. The verses come back into view, eh, hearing, but the music does increase its pace once more and heavy, orchestral leading takes everthing to the end.

Since SOULFALLEN is basically a Metal band, it's time to let the Metal instrumentation do the talking. "This World Is Bleeding Flies" is a slow/midtempo track, very much guitar-driven and sounds somewhat similar to IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY and maybe some OPETH. The orchestral elements (brass, strings) are also present, but more in the back, only coming out when needed. The growling-shrieking couple divides the roles: the first gets the verses, the other fulfills its duty in the chorus. Although the music is dominated by the guitars, for the sake of melody and diversity you get orchestral and piano touches in between. Further down the track there's a nice calm break, slowly morphing into a heavier, darker, creepier force, clearing everything to let the solos get through. Once again, a very nice piece of Metal, but somehow a little less attractive. At least, in my humble opinion. Most likely it's a taste matter.

"Grave New World", or the title track, puts the bar again a notch higher. A calm start provided via the toms and guitars, after which full power bursts loose, though at a slow tempo. Obviously the symphonic aspect is present again and very much so even, including the piano. The composed melodies not only sound well, they're also well chosen. This reminded me a bit of AMON AMARTH and in a way OPETH. The vocal duties are like before, meaning growls in the verses, BUT! this time both shrieking and growling join forces in the chorus. I must say, though, that this part sounds quite sad, sorrowful, depressed and more along those lines. Not in the least thanks to the symphonic and piano lines. The cherry on the cake - the cake itself is already tastey enough without the cherry - is a great heavy moment with dito orchestral leads, taking up the last few minutes of the song.

The direct start (with orchestral leads) of "Towers Of Silence" might mislead you, as it only serves as build-up. The real deal comes afterwards: uptempo Metal. Finally! This is a well-done move, one that was gravely needed. Not that the previous material was not good, but for the sake of change and keeping the attention of the listener, it's imperative to play with the drums and overall speed/tempo of the music. Vocally, the roles have changed again with shrieking in the verses, growling in the chorus. The chorus is also the place that holds the full musical power, provided by the growls, the guitar leads and dark orchestral backing. Rest assured, the quality level remains high.

Three more songs are on the list. "Embrace The Scythe" is a song of power, drive and punch. The start alone is an indication of that, heavy and pounding. Orchestral leads show their splendour and majesty and work very well together with the Metal instrumentation. Vocals? Yes, the roles have changed again. Regarding the solo moment, it's shorter than before, but not less good. "Serenity's Throne" also starts with pounding Metal, bombastic even. The verses are short and few in number. The chorus melody and vocals lines (all shrieking, no growling, save for one line), are used several times, though not always with the same text. The music, however, is very nice and could do without the atmospheric/choirish keyboards, which add a sad and dramatic touch to the song. So in that context, they're very much needed and useful. As a conclusion, it's clear that this track is another highlight.

Last but not least, there's "We Are The Sand". This one starts with calm guitarwork in accoustic form. Little by little other elements are added, like spoken vocals, the piano and the symphonic elements. When (slow) Metal takes over, I get a feeling of PARADISE LOST (or a similar band), as the music creates a wave of melodic tunes in an atmosphere of sadness, feeling lost and so on. The growls add to that. And then they're there, the clean vocals. No shrieking in the chorus this time, it's the clean singing that occupies that spot now. And strangely enough, it fits! At some point there's a piano break, in which also the accoustic guitar and flute (German flute) are added. The symphonic power increases after that before the Metal comes breaking in with a bang.

It took me a while to review "Grave New World" (it's July now). Listening to the album several times, putting it aside and taking it back is needed to form a proper opinion, as there are many layers here. The mix of Melodic Death/Black Metal with symphonic elements works very well, but you cannot hear it all after one listen. At some point my positive thoughts lessened, but since a few days I'm more than convinced that SOULFALLEN is a band anyone into this genre simply must check out. This is not an album that will make you happy when you're feeling down, but it does contain symphonic Metal of high quality and I cannot do anything else but add it to my list of highlights of 2009. This is an amazing album!

More info at www.soulfallen.com.

Line-up:
Kai Leikola - vocals, bass
Aapeli Kivimäki - guitars
Simo Rahikainen - guitars
Jimmy Salmi - drums


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DAWN OF TEARS – Dark Chamber Litanies (Dawn Of Tears 2009)

Dawn Of Tears - Dark Chamber Litanies
  1. Cadent Beating
  2. Since They're Gone
  3. Winds Of Despair
  4. As My Autumn Withers
  5. Mr. Jarrod

The underground in Spain still has many jewels that need to be uncovered. One of those hardworking bands is the Melodic Death metal formation DAWN OF TEARS, which saw the light in 1999. At least, it was guitarist J.L. Trebol who had the idea of setting up a band, but it wasn't until 2001 that he got the help of vocalist J. Alonso. There was a first demo, "Blood On Verona", but it never came out. Many gigs and a few contest victories later - we're then in 2005 -, the demo "Echoes Of Eternal Life" is released and receives the deserved positive feedback.

A full album is a must and so it happens that in 2007 the debut, "Descent", is ready and available to the masses, as the band offers it as download on their website (and they still do). But the recording had to be postponed due to the first drummer's long illness period, and mainly because of the unexpected death of the producer. This album is crowned as best Melodic Death Metal album of the year by MetalStorm.ee and stays firmly ahead of bands like ARCH ENEMY and DARK TRANQUILLITY.

More gigs follow and DAWN OF TEARS even gets to share the stage with DIMMU BORGIR, CHARON, DEW SCENTED and STRAVAGANZZA. But fate strikes again and the line-up changes seriously: J. Sierra (drums), J. Alvarez (bass) and J. Astur (guitars) leave the band in December 2008. They are replaced by respectively Israel Pérez, Konrad and Andrés Pérez. The new line-up combines forces and the first result is the EP "Dark Chamber Litanies", again self-released and available on the band's website since the 1st of March.

"Descent" was quite a nice album with several riffs and melodies beng able to nest themselves inside your mind. The guitarwork was very good, so was the drumming, the hoarse/grunting kind of singing, the melodies (there were even some neoclassical touches). Thrashy Melodic Death Metal comparable to the typical Swedish kind with several keyboard layers and those made the songs complete, though they always let the guitars and drums take the lead. The only sad thing about this album was that it was not released via a label, though I take it several people (also thanks to MySpace and similar) heard about DAWN OF TEARS and spread the message. "Descent" was an album worthy to be released by labels like Century Media, Nuclear Blast, etc. Then again, they would be a small fish on a big label. Why for example Locomotive Records (a Spanish label) didn't pick up the band is a riddle to me, unless there never was a contact or an agreement couldn't be reached.

Either way, seeing the line-up had partly fallen apart, so to speak, I feared for the band's survival, though J.L. Trebol made it clear DAWN OF TEARS was far from over. And soon enough a new EP was in the making. I never planned to review it, until Adrian from Lugga Music sent me a copy (thanks for that ;-)). While "Descent" had a running time of almost 60 minutes, this EP is about half of that. But the track listing is also about half as short.

A nice orchestral piece welcomes you. It's almost as if listening to an interlude from something from the following bands: TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, LE GRAND GUIGNOL, THERION, and similar, as this piece is quite theatrical. But then the Metal comes smashing in with a bang, following the melody and steadily building the tension. The "Cadent Beating" follows soon after. The verses are at slow midtempo. The guitars deliver soft power, while the keyboards are quite audible in their atmospheric format. Once the bridge and chorus come into sight, the guitar and drum power increases a lot, but fall back a bit in favour of a slower and very melodic chorus. Not in the least because of the keyboards, although the guitars do add to that, too. The solo moment is where things get wild again, while the keyboards remain in the back, making the melodic aspect stronger, but at the same time adding a rather sad touch to the whole. Take away the aggressive guitars and drums and that's what's left: a sad, atmospheric melody. That's also the stamp you could put on the chorus. Like before, a female singer joins J. Alonso and this last part reminds a bit of what EVERGREY did on their "The Inner Circle" album. The music is also different from what preceded, as it's more straight-forward, less bombastic and more normal, so to speak, Melodic Death. The real ending is identical to the beginning, only it stopped a bit too soon. Overall, this is a very decent track, although maybe a bit too long.

The keys play another important role, this time as piano, and starting "Since They're Gone". It's a soft melody you could use for an entire song, but the Spanish chose to keep it short and have Metal take over. Slow, rolling midtempo Melodic Death Metal, why not? The guitars are the main instrument for the melodic aspect and although the playtime is shorter, the instrumental aspect is quite high. J. Alonso only comes sighing in after about a minute and a half. "Since They're Gone" is more simple, more accessible than "Cadent Beating". The tempo drops in the chorus, in favour of again melody, delivered by guitars and (atmospheric) keyboards. And the title also is appropriate for this, but the sad undertone is present here as well. The production is a bit different for this song, better for the guitars and drums, and especially these last ones are given a more powerful and pounding sound, which is especially audible via the kickdrums. Or is it Konrad's bass in collaboration with Israel's kickdrums? Overall, another very decent track, no particular problems were noticed.

Blastbeats! And a Thrashy rhythm with backing keyboards. You better have buckled up, as the "Winds Of Despair" blow without mercy. The speed has increased, though at some point you're in the eye of the storm. The pace drops to midtempo and we're barely one third far. Female backing chanting adds to the atmosphere and feel, especially in contrast with J. Alonso's hoarse vocals. This track is about 30 seconds longer than the previous one, but it's ten times as diverse. Changes in tempo, rhythm, melody... the first three minutes have already offered more than the first two tracks on their own. Next to the female singing, J. Alonso's rough singing, there's a third voice that adds a clean touch to the vocal lines. I don't know if it's J. Alonso again, but this works very well. Sadness and sorrow is again of importance. Though the production isn't perfect - somehow it does add to the sound of DAWN OF TEARS - the material is very good so far and I even think some of it comes out better in a live setting, but as the band almost never leaves their country, it's a bit hard to see a confirmation of my thoughts.

The transition into "As My Autumn Withers" is smooth, very smooth, making this song start as if a few seconds were cut off. Anyhow, the drums roll on, with lots of toms and double-kicks, while the keyboards offer the leading melody. The guitars offer the rough power. That changes a bit as the right pace (midtempo) is found before the vocals are added. But then it's back to keyboards providing the melody and guitars the power. Without the keyboards, no matter which part of the song (verses, bridge, chorus), you would sense a lack of melody or backing in general. "As My Autumn Withers" is like "Winds Of Despair" a title that would very much fit with a Doom Metal release (preferably Gothic, Death or Funeral). But DAWN OF TEARS know how to create an appropriate atmosphere in a Melodic Death Metal context. And the chorus is the part where these feelings are best outed. This is qualitative material, just like the other songs. But you need to listen to it, not just to have something to listen to.

And finally, one last time to start with the piano in collaboration with the guitar: "Mr. Jarrod". It starts calmly, but then the sonic storm breaks loose in what you could call "typical DAWN OF TEARS style", which is raging guitars (with melody) and pounding drums. The majority was midtempo, this is totally different: uptempo and a very ferocious song. J. Alonso even tries for some screams like Maurizio Iacono from the Canadian Death Metal band KATAKLYSM. The guitarwork is once again of good quality and during the solo moments the tempo drops a bit and Israel adjusts his drumming to something lighter. The song ends with a sad note: female vocals duetting with a soft J. Alonso, backed by the mix of symphony and piano.

In the world of Melodic Death Metal the Spanish band DAWN OF TEARS have proven their worth with a very good debut, titled "Descent", even though it was an album that needed several spins to fully open up. That also counts for the EP "Dark Chamber Litanies". The first few listens could leave you with a double feeling, but once you have some free time, it's clear that the line-up changes haven't affected the musical results. You could say the change has been for the better, as the quality this band offers cannot be denied. Aggressive, though varied, guitarwork, diverse drumming (no standard patterns), fitting hoarse vocals (sometimes reminding a bit of Thebon aka Torbjørn Schei from KEEP OF KALESSIN, although J. Alonso still has a voice of his own, obviously), and all in all well composed songs. The sadness I kept mentioning cannot only be linked with the cover art, song titles or music, but come to think of it, the bandname also plays a role. Strangely enough, I never put the two together that way. But anyhow, DAWN OF TEARS deserves to be signed, to go on tour with bigger bands and gain recognition abroad. Melodic Death Metal fans, as "Descent" and "Dark Chamber Litanies" are downloadable on the band's website, you have nothing to lose.

More info at www.dawnoftears.com.

Line-up:
J. Alonso - vocals
Andrés Pérez - guitars
J.L. Trebol - guitars
Konrad - bass
Israel Pérez - drums


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MIND ODYSSEY – Time To Change It (Napalm Records 2009)

Mind Odyssey - Time To Change It
  1. Riding And Ruling
  2. Enemy Daggers
  3. I Want It All
  4. Face In The Rain
  5. Final Fight
  6. Higher Ground
  7. Storm Warning
  8. Time To Change it
  9. Raven And Swan
  10. Under The Moonlight

MIND ODYSSEY is the result of members of two bands (MERLIN and GRACIOUS VIOLENCE) joining forces in 1993. There was a demo first, well-received especially in Japan. The debut album, "Keep It All Turning", was barely out and the line-up underwent a serious change with Victor Smolski (RAGE) becoming responsable for the guitar and keyboard parts. 1995 was the year of "Schizophrenia", for which the band worked with Hermann Franks (ACCEPT, VICTORY, ...). One year later the line-up changed again as Jan Keller (bass) and Andreas Dirksmeier (keyboards) came in. The third album was finished in 1997 and titled "Nailed to the Shade". And it seems the stream of inspiration kept running and running, since one year later the band put out "Signs", which contained a mix of Power Metal and Symphonic Metal. But then other matters had to be dealt with and a.o. Victor Smolski had a lot of work with RAGE. Last year, he, Mario Le Mole and Dan Uhden, returned in 2008 with renewed inspiration and energy, deciding that MIND ODYSSEY's time wasn't over yet.

Victor Smolski is no stranger in the world of Metal, since especially with RAGE has he made name and increased his popularity. Besides that, he also has his solo career and MIND ODYSSEY, the Melodic/Progressive Metal band from Germany. And that was the only thing I know about this band, that Victor Smolski is one of its members. But how the music sounds, I hadn't the slightest idea. Receiving the promo of the band's newest release, "Time To Change It" (out since the 27th of February), was therefore an interesting situation.

Obviously I had to listen a couple of times to get an idea of the music and to find out if it fits my taste and consider checking out the back catalogue, which Napalm Records also re-released.

"Time To Change It" has only a small majority of songs that stand out, while the rest is rather average or doesn't cut it. Besides the similarities with other Progressive bands, it seems MIND ODYSSEY took notice of, for example, several Power Metal bands. The best songs forming the shortlist have the following titles:

- "Riding And Ruling", a midtempo rocker with keyboards playing an important role. The drumming and solo are more functional than technical and that's good for a change, even if technicality in Progressive Metal is no exception.
- "I Want It All" and it's not a QUEEN cover. It's a direct paced track containing heavy riffing, while the sing-along sauce was nicely draped over the chorus. Keyboards are present in electronic outfit, and come in every now and then. Nothing is overdone, rather well selected. Overall I detected a PRIMAL FEAR influence. And that's a good thing, if you ask me.
- "Final Fight", for it's "monstrous" riffing. This track adds power and drive, even at midtempo. Pluspoints go to the chorus. However, the effects on the vocals (though not constantly) are utterly bad and do more damage and contribute in a positive way. In terms of comparisons with other bands, AT VANCE was the first that came to mind.
- "Higher Ground", where the piano and guitar form a perfect duo, with one leading and the other supplying the rhythm. This collaboration has a SAVATAGE touch to it, if I may say so. But that's a personal impression. The tempo is slower here, although there's an increase for the solo part, occupied by the piano, guitar and keyboards... which overall could have been an idea from DREAM THEATER.
- "Storm Warning", a title that basically says what the music will be. It's another heavy song,at a higher tempo. The PANTERA-like rhythm when the tempo drops before the solo (by guitar and keyboards) kicks in, is a very nice element here.
- "Raven And Swan", the best song on "Time To Change It", if you ask me. The similarities with bands like PRIMAL FEAR, RAGE, AXXIS and others could have something to do with it. Oh yes, the pace is fast as well. My apologies for the name dropping, but sometimes it's better to name some comparable bands as it gives an easier understanding of what to expect.

"Enemy Daggers" and "Face In The Rain" are the first proofs of where MIND ODYSSEY is less successful in keeping the music interesting over the entire line. The first is a slower, darker song, containing gentle electronic elements. To be honest, the chorus is the best part. Sadly the vocals make it hard to excerpt proper appreciation. The second song consists of heavy, grooving guitarwork while this time the electronic keyboards take the lead. The tempo is slow here as well. Not the chorus, but the guitarsolo - more a solo than before - is the best part. Once again the vocals ruin the song.

And last and certainly least, "Time To Change It" and "Under The Moonlight", both slow songs. The title track start with symphonic Metal, awaiting the full power to kick in later on. In short, it's a dull song and the chorus even enforces this impression. The ballad that ends the album has two parts, one accoustic, the other electric. But neither of them could lift the song, let alone the album, to a higher level. Pardon my vocabulary, but "boring" is the only term I can stick to this song.

When checking out or being introduced to a new band (new to you, even if this band has been active since several years), you've got to start somewhere when you're without advice. "Time To Change It" may not be the best start to get to know MIND ODYSSEY. All things considered it's definitely not a super album and mainly the vocals are at fault for this. Take out the six songs above and you've got an interesting EP or MCD. Are the previous albums better? Probably so, but I would say that "Time To Change It" is more an album for the fans, for those that have followed the band through the years.

More info at www.mindodyssey.de.

Line-up:
Mario Le Mole - vocals, bass
Victor Smolski - guitars, piano, keyboards
Dan Uhden - drums, programming


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ISOLE – Silent Ruins (Napalm Records 2009)

Isole - Silent Ruins
  1. From The Dark
  2. Forlorn
  3. Nightfall
  4. Hollow Shrine
  5. Soulscarred
  6. Peccatum
  7. Dark Clouds

The Swedish Traditiona/Epic Doom Metal band ISOLE was first known as FORLORN back in 1990 and consisted of two members, Crister and Daniel. Their demo tapes are considered valuable recordings. As usual the line-up changes occured and it was in 2003 that the band signed with I Hate Records to not only change the name into ISOLE, but also release their debut album "Forevermore" in 2005. This one was re-released in 2007 by I Hate Records with new cover art/layout and one bonus track (recorded in 2006): "Tears of Loss". The follow-up, and also my first ISOLE album, was "Throne Of Void" in 2006. Both releases are quite simply must-haves for any Epic Doom Metal fan (see also CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, ...).

Several gigs and festivals aside, album no. 3, "Bliss Of Solitude", was released in 2008 as the band had signed with the Austrian label Napalm Records. This showed an ISOLE that continued the positive line in terms of quality Doom Metal. The production was a little different, more powerful you could say and the songs were in general a bit faster paced. Personally speaking, this was one of my favourite Doom releases of last year.

And now, little more than a year later (27th of February), a new album is available: "Silent Ruins". Seems like ISOLE have an overload of inspiration all of a sudden, which sort of contradicts with the typical slowness of Doom. But you don't hear me complaining as this new album is once again a joy to listen to and to own. According to guitarist Crister, the tracks relate the story of someone waking up without any recollection of how the world came to an end. Each of the songs provides this person with more details and memories that lead to a devastating conclusion. The music is still very much ISOLE-stamped, but this time there is more change and variation. Going from fast midtempo to a full slowdown and coming back to the faster compositions of before.

The artwork comes from the skillfull hands of Gustavo Sazes (FIREWIND, SERENITY, ...), while Peter In de Betou (AMON AMARTH, DRACONIAN, ARCH ENEMY, ...) was asked to master the album.

And the above mentioned change can easily be heard in "From The Dark", which is the entry to the "Silent Ruins". It's a faster paced song with double bass moments rolling on, but not really interfering with the tempo. The start of the song is one of despair and slowly the band crawls towards the verses, where the double bass is hiding. Moreover, it's the connecting parts that are used as a means to kick more power into the song. After 1/3 everything slows down so you a normal ISOLE moment with hymnic, but melancholic singing. There's a CANDLEMASS touch to it, from the 80's when Messiah was the vocalist. An organ is added to increase the darkness, the despair, the depressing feelings. "From The Dark" clocks in at a good 11 minutes, so you can imagine there's lots of room for variation. It is clear, however, that enough attention was spent on giving the microphone to the instruments and have them do the talking. The faster double bass part of the first few minutes returns and forms the tale of this first very nice track.

"Forlorn" is a slower midtempo paced song, despite the pounding start, as if a giant is knocking on the door. The music is hypnotic and Daniel's hymnic singing definitely fits and helps to intensify this feeling. I got a feeling of "Autumn Leaves", although this isn't a copy of that song, it does have the same atmosphere and feel, in my opinion. Despite being almost half less long as "From The Dark", there's a change to an even slower moment with the sadness reaching new heights, eh, lows. And what does one hear then? A guitar solo. I like solos a lot, but somehow I'm having difficulties accepting it in this song. It sounds out of place and not really fitting. It's a bit too harsh compared to the smoothness of the general riffing.

With "Nightfall" it's not much different, save that the pace is upped a bit more again and the double bass rolls are implemented as well. I do have to add that the riffs rock more and Daniel sings higher, Robert Lowe-style. Naturally this song has a big SOLITUDE AETURNUS touch and not just because of the singing. I like it. A lot! When his voice gets doubled, or Crister adds backing, the result edges towards what FUNERAL has done on "From These Wounds" and "As The Light Does The Shadow". Halfway the tempo drops a lot and the chorus is repeated much slower. The music also drags itself forward, fighting against a counterforce. With a complete lack of joy and perseverance, the song ends in sadness and despair. What more can I add than declare this as one of the best songs on "Silent Ruins"?

"Hollow Shrine" has SOLITUDE AETURNUS and CANDLEMASS written all over it. And there's even a hint at NOVEMBERS DOOM's material (not "Novella Reservoir"). The double bass accents have returned and the use of the accoustic guitar breaks the heaviness and adds calmness to the wild stream. Everything is quite simply first class here and particularly the chorus is remarkable.

The accoustic guitar is also the first instrument you hear in "Soulscarred", with a looped melody while Daniel sings his hymns. Slowly heaviness comes pounding in and increases its power. The verses contain a steady pace, while the chorus is the place where the tempo drops a lot. Around halfway the second accoustic part sets in and the music flows more gently until a dangerous and crushing burst of heaviness disturbs this peaceful moment. All things considered, another top quality ISOLE song, although I do want to add that the fade-out ending happens too soon and too fast. The song ends like you would fast turn down the volume. And that's my only complaint.

Piano touches, dark, depressing and full of despair. All is lost in "Peccatum" and there's no solution at hand. Daniel's singing is also adapted to this, as he sings slower than before and with a tone that perfectly expresses the right feelings. The overall solitude is enforced by the accoustic guitar melody. Even if this is the shortest song on the album, the band didn't compromise on quality and shows you don't need the 6-7 minutes of the other songs to make solid Doom Metal, even if this particular song doesn't contain much Metal.

As we near the ending of the first part through the "Silent Ruins"... - yes, the second part is on its way, as the promo voice called this release "Silent Ruins - Redemption Part I" - "Dark Clouds" gather above our doomed heads. And they gather with a bang and remain present for almost 12 minutes. Let me tell you variety was a vital issue when composing this juggernaut. Firm bangs of thunder announce uneasy times. Midtempo Doom with double bass accents, and very nice melodic leads. Vocalist Daniel reaches new heights in this song, again reminding of Robert Lowe somehow. And surprise, guitar solo! It's almost as if you're not listening to Doom, but Melodic Death or something close enough. Jonas, on drums, is another member that has the spotlights on this actions, as he doesn't limit himself to play standard beats, yet adds enough colour via e.g. tom fills. At some point all falls silent and all you hear is gentle chord picking when all of a sudden...*BAM!* slow, Funeral-ish Doom takes over, and either Daniel or Crister throws in demonic growling. This part is so different from what preceded that musical references to, for example, COLOSSEUM, SHAPE OF DESPAIR, MOURNFUL CONGREGATION and WORSHIP - all Funeral Doom bands - are not out of place. Epic Doom Metal? Hell yes! And I welcome this change, but as long as ISOLE continues to play what they play best.

Swedish Doom Metal, just like Swedish Death Metal, is something you can't go wrong with. And if the band is called ISOLE, then quality is more than assured, no matter if the album title is "Forevermore", "Throne Of Void", "Bliss Of Solitude" or like the newest output, "Silent Ruins". Each of these releases are pure gems of Epic Doom and more than highly recommended for fans of CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS and alike. ISOLE continues where it left off with "Bliss Of Solitude", adds some influences from (mainly) Funeral Doom, making the music more diverse and exciting that way. In short: The Swedes have converted their experience and skills into something that raises the bar not only for themselves.

More info at www.forevermore.se.

Line-up:
Daniel - vocals, guitars
Crister - guitars, vocals
Henrik - bass
Jonas - drums


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LUNATICA – New Shores (Napalm Records 2009)

Lunatica - New Shores
  1. New Shores
  2. Two Dreamers
  3. The Incredibles
  4. The Chosen Ones
  5. Into The Dissonance
  6. The Day The Falcon Dies
  7. Farewell My Love
  8. Heart Of A Lion
  9. My Hardest Walk
  10. Winds Of Heaven
  11. How Did It Come To This

The Swiss Melodic Metal band LUNATICA was born in the winter of 1998, thanks to Alex Seiberl (keyboards) and Sandro D'Incau (guitar) joining forces. Vocalist Andrea Dätwyler joined two years later and the year after the debut release, "Atlantis", was ready and out. One of the concerts at that time was at the Metaldays festival, said to be the biggest open air festival in Switzerland.

Sascha Paeth and Miro (RHAPSODY, KAMELOT, EPICA, AINA, BRAINSTORM, ...) helped with the production of the follow-up release, "Fables & Dreams", in 2004. The Italian label Frontier Records helped made this release available on a wider scale. With this new album the band's popularity also increased. And then, in 2006, "The Edge Of Infinity" became available to the masses. LUNATICA even got played on the radio with their single "Who You Are". Before LUNATICA signed with Napalm Records, guitarist André Leuenberger left the band and was replaced by Marc Torretti.

And so the band worked on "New Shores", the follow-up of 2006's "The Edge of Infinity" and out since the 27th of February. John Payne (ex-ASIA) seemed to have helped again with guest vocals, while Hollywood soundtrack composer Michael Levine was hired to add his touch and experience on "an exclusive song", according to the press release. Like before, Sascha Paeth was the man behind the desk to give the album the right sound.

It must be clear by now that LUNATICA is a band I'm not really familiar with, but luckily there are sites like MySpace, where the band uploaded enough songs to offer a decent view on what kind of Metal they play and how the new material compares to the old, to a certain degree. Listening a few times to the promo of "New Shores" also helped, of course. And in general I have to say what the Swiss bring isn't bad at all, even if it's Light Metal (i.e. not heavy, crushing, pounding, ...). The majority of the songs are easily digestible and don't bore after a few listens.

Let's seperate the best from the rest. It starts with the first track, "New Shores". This is a midtempo song with the a slow build-up by gradually adding more power and instruments, especially symphonic elements. The verses are soft and poppy, in a way. the full majestic power lies in the beautiful sing-along chorus. And coincidence or not, I had to think of KAMELOT's "When The Lights Are Down" song off the "The Black Halo" album (2005). Andrea's vocals are clean and fit very well. It's a kind of voice that's nice to listen to, on many occasions. Of course it's best when she's surrounded by her mates in the band, since I had a T.A.T.U. thought when she sang during the calm piano-moment. Overall, though, this is a very nice song.

"Two Dreamers" is the next track that can be counted among the better/best. The piano dominates in the beginning with a melody that gets carried on even when guitars, drums and trumpets are added, with the latter one taking over the melody. Again the verses contain no real heaviness, but there's more drive. And the music is very much radio-friendly. Again the chorus holds the key and consists of simple but effective melodies that don't require you to dig through layers of guitars, keyboards and what more. Somehow KAMELOT comes to mind again in terms of melody and that's a good thing, even when KAMELOT's songs are more technical overall. The guitarsolo is a nice addition and takes your mind off the radio-friendliness of the music. On a sidenote: I think this song could very well be one for the Eurovision song contest. Let's hope not, though.

Well, it's in fact the first 6 songs that are very much to my liking, even if in a review you're supposed to stay as neutral as possible. So let's carry on. "The Incredibles" also has a Pop stamp in the verses, not in the least due to the drumsamples, but soon the Rock aspect comes to the surface and the chorus is contructed as a hymn-like piece. The lyrics deal with environment issues and how mankind should act for a better future. That is, if I listened and interpreted them well. The power comes from from the drums and guitars, but the symphonics offer a melodic contrast that completes the song.

Time for something more ballsy: "The Chosen Ones". Heavy riffing is key here, giving the song a more dark character. And I can say this is very welcome at this stage. However, the chorus breaks away from that and adds melody (symphonic elements), a drop in tempo and a more emotional touch. The guitarsolo is again very well done and fits a bit better with the rest of the compositions than before. Further in the song you'll also detect a keyboard solo backed by tribal-ish drumming, which soon goes back to more normal playing. This piece, however, has something DREAM THEATER-ish. A symphonic part comes in afterwards, while the rest of the instrumentation falls silent, and takes the music back to the chorus.

A mysterious atmosphere is created as backing in "Into The Dissonance" while Andrea expresses her feelings through the lyrics. Softly the music carries her voice, when all of a sudden the power of the chorus bursts loose. And with this a recurring pattern is heard: soft verses, powerful chorus. It's a slow song, almost ballad-ish. But fear not, for the Rock level increases when the solo kicks in, although it sort of sounds out of place as it contrasts with what preceded. Or that's probably the idea. Still, a very decent song. I do have to say I'm not fond of the drumsamples at all.

Twinkling sounds from the keyboards announcing "The Day The Falcon Dies", joined by the guitars, drums and symphonic elements. This track offers another round of Metal and overall contains more power and drive. The contrast between the verses and chorus is also present, as the first are more atmospheric with the piano as guiding instrument, while the guitars come in in the second part of the verses. The chorus is all about melody and emotion, but this time it's not that special compared to the previous efforts. Overall this is a decent song, nothing really wrong here. Think AFTER FOREVER, WITHIN TEMPTATION, EPICA, ... at least in the last part of the song.

The last two tracks that help give "New Shores" a positive score, so to speak, are "Heart Of A Lion" and "My Hardest Walk". The first is no super song, very radio-friendly and a chance to hear something calmer, or better, accoustic. Accoustic over the entire line. It's got a good rhythm, is easy to listen to and the usual symphonic backing when needed. It's a love song, actually. Good for when you need a break from any heavier music you've been listening to. "My Hardest Walk" on the other hand is again about metallic power, assisted by the piano or the other way around. Eletronic keyboard sounds take over soon enough, while the Metal part gains in power and strength. KAMELOT again comes to mind somehow. The playing is more direct and there finally is more drive and push again. The guitars play an important role, even if symphonics offer countermelodic input. Around the third minute the music flows over into an atmospheric break before returning to power. Quality material, to be honest.

So far the good songs, i.e. 8 out of 11, resulting in a score of about 73%. But numbers don't say much about the music and are subject to personal views and tastes. So what makes the following songs - "Farewell My Love", "Winds Of Heaven" and "How Did It Come To This" - less good? The first for being a boring ballad, even if there's a male singer involved. I get a "Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue" kind of feeling. The second is another ballad with Andrea and piano backing. Oh sure, the rest of the band falls in at some point, but it still remains a dull song. This might be nice to listen to when you really feel in the mood, but if you listen to "New Shores" in its entirety, the last kind of songs you want to hear near the end are such ballads. It's got something TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA-like, but overall it's not nearly as good. And finally, the last track. Another ballad, with samples, with lots of WITHIN TEMPTATION influences. Still, it's boring. I can't find another word but that one. It doesn't matter if both guitars (accoustic and electric) are used together, if the production is very good or not. It's one of those songs make me want to play something extreme (e.g. DECAPITATED, DESTRUCTION, WORSHIP, DEPRESSED MODE, etc...). Oh look, the three songs that fall off are all ballads. Coincidence?

"New Shores" is my first proper encounter with LUNATICA's symphonic Rock/Metal, even if I knew before that the music isn't as heavy as many other bands in this league. LUNATICA aims for a large audience, thus the music must be easily digestible, easy to listen to, not be technical, not have many layers, not be too intense/aggressive/whatever. In short, it's Pop Metal or Light Metal, however you wish to label it. And that is in itself not a bad thing if well composed and executed. LUNATICA will always be criticized for that, but as open-minded as I try to remain I did find the majority of the songs good enough and a few of them are actually very good. The ballads are the ones that drag the score down and it's as if the band is better at making songs that "rock", even if it's better to have some diversity on the album. Fans of Symphonic Metal will most likely look elsewhere since LUNATICA lacks proper Metal power, but if you can look/listen past the radio-friendliness, then LUNATICA can provide some nice listening moments.

More info at www.lunatica.ch.

Line-up:
Andrea Dätwyler - vocals
Sandro D'Incau - guitars
Marc Torretti - guitars
Alex Seiberl - keyboards
Emilio "MG" Barrantes - bass
Ronnie Wolf - drums


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CRIMFALL – As The Path Unfolds... (Napalm Records 2009)

Crimfall - As The Path Unfolds...
  1. Neothera Awakening
  2. The Crown Of Treason
  3. Wildfire Season
  4. Where Waning Winds Lead
  5. Sun Orphaned
  6. Ascension Pyre
  7. Shadow Hearth
  8. Non Serviam
  9. Aubade
  10. Hundred Shores Distant
  11. Novembré

A new Folk Metal formation has risen from the underground of Finland's territory: CRIMFALL. Born from the mind of guitarist and mastermind Jakke Viitala, a 3-track demo was made by and for him personally, but he would need other people to bring everything to the masses, to make a proper album. And that's where Mikko Häkkinen and Helena Haaparanta come in, being both vocalists, he for the grunts and screams, she for the angelic contrast.

A first album, "Burning Winds", came out not too long afterwards, but it's thanks to the signing to Napalm Records that CRIMFALL has the means to evolve, advance. The trio invested a lot of time to create new material and with several session musicians they entered the Adamantium Studios to record the new release, "As The Path Unfolds...", which was mastered at Finnvox Studios. The release was set for the 27th of February.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the use of symphonic elements is a key part of the music and this helps a great deal to make the music bombastic and at the same time play strike you in the heart. It's how the albums starts ("Neothera Awakening"): a symphonic piece reminding of pieces by Howard Shore or even of games like "Return To Castle Wolfenstein". Simply magnificent!

"The Crown Of Treason" appears immediately in midtempo ProgPower format, containing the beauty and the beast vocals. Further down the track a beautiful violin moment is added and the whole takes on a Folky style, which is more the case in "Wildfire Season". The power increases and MOONSORROW comes to mind, right before the Metal kicks in. But that's not the only element, as the violin and accordion play an important role as well. Obviously there's a thick symphonic layer, without it the song would clearly miss/lack something. The flow of the music is nicely divided between calmer and more aggressive/wild parts. In the vocal department it's mostly Mikko who's in charge, yet Helena's turn is not forgotten and comes in later. All things combined make "Wildfire Season" one of the best songs here.

With "Where Waning Winds Lead" contains one of the most beautiful choruses I've heard in the last couple of years. The song starts with the orchestra leading while guitars and drums add tension and suspense before all falls silent and Helena's voice welcomes you. Soon the power and aggression increases and it's Mikko who takes over. But fear not, as Helena's soft voice guides you through that touching chorus. The music in general is fast midtempo and the pace is kept steady enough, with bursts for Mikko's intervention. At a given moment the dark atmosphere transitions into a certain calm to let gentle, Folk melodies offer a moment of peace carried further by the guitars to end with a bombastic clash.

"Sun Orphaned" is an interlude, gloomy and dark and perfectly expressed via a cello. Fitting the atmosphere is a soft angelic chanting. It's as if you're witnessing a town (or battlefield, for that matter) that's been completely destroyed while the robbers, bandits and warriors are long gone. A bit like in the "Lord Of The Rings" films.

The symphonics also forms a bridge to "Ascension Pyre", where the Eastern melodies remind of the soundtrack of "The Mummy" or "The Mummy Returns" films. When the Metal kicks in, it's all about aggression, power, violence, in a Power-meets-Black Metal-ish package. This is contrasted by the melodic connecting parts (like the chorus), waved onwards by Helena's vocal input. The drama aspect is upped a bit by Mikko's demonic and agonizing screams. It's a short song, with a sudden ending if you don't pay attention. Somehow I feel more could be done with it, but I guess the shortness will have a reason.

"Shadow Hearth" has a different start, there aren't any melodies or riffs that came over from "Ascension Pyre", but as can be expected the symphonic layer comes first, in a bombastic way and choirish accents. The verses are calm, dominated by soft female vocals. The level of aggression rises towards the chorus where everything slows down, symphonics take the lead and inline with them Helena tells the tale. At some point you'll hear the xylophone claiming a moment of glory and it will carry the melody with the backing by the orchestral elements and the rhythm of the Metal input. This is the second track that can be considered one of the best on "As The Path Unfolds...". Not that the previous ones were bad, not at all. They also are very much worth hearing, but so far there are two songs that have that little extra to rise above the others. But that's mainly due to my taste.

Up next is a cover of METALLICA's "Wherever I May Roam". No, just kidding. The starting bang on the china does remind of the one that introduces "Wherever I May Roam". This sets the tone for a dark, creepy atmosphere. You don't know what will happen and it's as if the most cruel demon will suddenly attack you from out of nowhere. Passing by are a group of knights/warrios on horses...and *BAM!* Metal all the way. No symphonics to be heard (save in the operatic chorus, also home to Helena's voice), just pure and ruthless Metal. This time it's all about the band itself, about the guitars mainly, and the symphonic input has been reduced to offering accents, nothing more. Due to the change in melodies and rhythm, there's a certain Progressiveness about "Non Serviam", and that sure isn't a bad move. In addition, it doesn't make the song stand apart from the rest of the tracks, they all fit together.

As beautiful and powerful the previous songs were, a break, a resting point would be nice and avoid a certain montony. "Aubade" is the ballad that provides some peace for the ears. Accoustic guitar, cello, the flute a little later... guided onwards by soft angelic singing... and not to forget the piano in the bridge in preparation for full orchestral chorus power makes it song very much worth listening to.

The MOONSORROW influence returns in "Hundred Shores Distant", again in the intro. The accordion provides the melody, the drums help with the build-up. Mikko dominated the verses previously, this time it's Helena's turn again, while power and aggression increase in (on?) the symphonic bridge, where the screams are a bit more dramatic. The chorus naturally contains the full symphonic power, backing the angelic singing. The solo moment is reserved for the violin, while the guitar carries a countermelody. All in all another well-done midtempo track.

"As The Path Unfolds..." or perhaps it's been unfolded, the ending "Novembré" consists of winds. Not only that, but also the accoustic guitar and soft humming. Here it's the music that does the talking, as soft and gentle as it may be.

Some may say CRIMFALL are trend-followers, considering the sudden increase in Pagan/Folk Metal bands, especially since the last few years and also with the help of events like Paganfest or Heidenfest, but I don't hear that with this new Finnish band. Jakke and co. have provided a very solid and equally beautiful album that is - simply put - a must-have if you like the combination of Power Metal, Folk, symphonic music, power, aggression, a balance between soft and hard (incl. vocals). Or to mention some bands, if that works better for you: MOONSORROW, TURISAS, NIGHTWISH, RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), LUCA TURILLI, EQUILIBRIUM, FINNTROLL, EDENBRIDGE, SUIDAKRA, and similar. Napalm Records has once again proven their right by signing CRIMFALL.

More info at www.crimfall.com.

Line-up:
Mikko Häkkinen - vocals
Helena Haaparanta - vocals
Jakke Viitala - guitars, orchestrations
Maija Arvaja - violin (session)
Esa Korja - cello (session)
Terri Kunnaskari - accordion (session)
Henri Sorvali - bass (session)
Janne Jukarainen - drums (session)


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ENSOPH – Rex Mundi X-Ile (Cruz Del Sur Music 2009)

Ensoph - Rex Mundi X-Ile
  1. Evil Has Found A Servant
  2. Dance High & Shine, Shiva!
  3. Shame On You!
  4. Splendour & Majesty
  5. In Cincere Et Cilicio
  6. The Whore & The Ashetist
  7. Thir(s)ty Pieces Of Silver
  8. ...And I Hear A Voice
  9. 9XS
  10. Disciplina Arcani (Un Canto Per L'Esilio)
  11. Come In Uno Specchio
  12. Would? (ALICE IN CHAINS cover)

ENSOPH is an Italian band that mixes elements from different styles, but mainly makes a mix of Industrial and Gothic Metal. Formed in 1997 the band has of course put out some demos and full-lengths, starting with an EP in 1998, "Les Confessions Du Mat". A few years later the demo "Ananke or The Spiral - Trinity beyond Alfa & Omega" came out in preparation for the debut album "Bleeding Womb Of Ananke - Il sangue e l'inchiostro di Fredegisio" (2001). The following year another demo was made, "Sophia - An Apocryphal Prophecy" and it took the band another two years to release the follow-up to "Bleeding Womb Of Ananke - Il sangue e l'inchiostro di Fredegisio", titled "Opus Dementiae - Per Speculum Et In Aenigmate". ENSOPH's last album was 2006's "Project X-Katon". Anno 2009 album no. 4 is out, since the 20th of February and titled "Rex Mundi X-Ile".

To quote from the biography regarding the context of the music and lyrics, "Their aesthetic research has its roots in the attempt to read and interpret the modern inquietude for an un-thinking future with suggestions coming from esotericism, philosophy, apocryphal literature and tragical theology. The result is a perfect soundtrack for the nowadays (yet ancient) neurotic, insatiable, desperate hunger for apocalypse." Sounds pretty happy, doesn't it?

Comparable bands mentioned on their MySpace page are ARCTURUS, THE KOVENANT, WUMPSCUT, SOPOR AETERNUS, TIAMAT and DAS ICH, of which THE KOVENANT and TIAMAT ring a bell with me, though a little one. Gigwise ENSOPH has shared the stage with numerous acts, like KATATONIA, ARCTURUS, LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE, EPHEL DUATH, LAKE OF TEARS, NOVEMBRE, DEATHSTARS, RED HARVEST and many more.

Industrial Metal... it's very rare that I get to review such a release and in general I'm not too fond of electronic music, yet I can appreciate some elements when integrated into Metal songs. And when such an album is to be commented, it's somehow harder to find the words than with, say, a Funeral Doom Metal album. Listening to ENSOPH's newest, "Rex Mundi X-Ile", was both interesting and hard, hard when listening from the first second until the last one.

The album starts with a looped Industrial intro ("Evil Has Found A Servant"), backed by a steady drumbeat, followed by the techno sonds of "Dance High & Shine, Shiva!". Metal power is added soon, reminding a bit of RAMMSTEIN in a way, even if RAMMSTEIN is a more commercial band, yes. Shrieks and female vocals occupy the vocal department. Those female vocals come from Antonella Buosi from the Gothic band SCARECROWN. She also made a guest appearance on ENSOPH's previous album, "Project X-Katon". As with Industrial Metal, everything sounds metallized and so do the drums. But the Italians also neatly integrate Gothic elements into the compositions. You'll find a solo here, coming from the keyboards. The guitars serve only as an element of power.

Keeping the power rolling is "Shame On You!", with especially the drums and guitars coming out more and the eletronics picking through the fence now and then. N-Ikonoclast swtiches between shrieks and clean vocals, during which you can hear he has an accent, but that's nothing to pick about, as it's not a disturbance. The shrieks remind of Dani Filth's (CRADLE OF FILTH), in a way. In between the Metal power the keyboards claim the throne of authority. You could - depending on the moment - summarize this song by saying it's "PARADISE LOST goes Industrial". All in all a very decent song.

Samples introduce "Splendour & Majesty". Woohoo!... Not! Luckily real drums kick in soon enough. But all is calm at this stage and it isn't until the chorus comes into view that guitar violence is added and the tempo gets a small increase, as the drums suddenly start to pound more. Chaos reigns here and that is expressed via the drums in combination with the electronics. Musically this is far more Gothic than before, but Industrialized. The tempo varies and that's a pluspoint, especially as the Italians succeed to put everything together with smooth connections. Antonella makes another appearance, too.

More drumsamples in "In Cincere Et Cilicio", plus Industrial sounds. Samples play a key role in this midtempo track in which the drumbeat sounds like you're listening to the radio instead of a CD. This is one of the least good/interesting songs here, despite an accoustic moment around the middle. Nice try, but I'll pass.

Electronic sparkles welcome you in "The Whore And The Ashetist", followed by a metallic blast and N-Ikonoclast's demonic shrieks. his clean vocals also get a serious load of lyrics to sing. Musically melody is key and the keyboards have to be active with several interventions, both leading and backing while guitars and drums blast in between. The least you can say that this is quite an eclectic piece of music. Again variation is key, both in rhythm and melody. Depending on your mood and the listening circumstances, this song is either easy to listen to or it cannot be over quick enough, especially the last few tens of second can be irritating.

"Thir(s)ty Pieces Of Silver" is another track that mixes Gothic and Industrial Metal, with the typical low clean vocals being very much present again. Shrieks are also used, but in a secondary role. Musically there's even some DEPECHE MODE to detect and at some point, I believe it's the chorus, PARADISE LOST. And why not add another name: AYIN ALEPH, but that's based on a very short moment when N-Ikonoclast sings in a mad way. Either way, this is another very decent track, for the majority of the running time.

"...And I Hear A Voice". I hear samples first, then the heavy and crushing guitarpower like before. Shrieks are the dominant vocal type. The samples are woven into the rest of the compositions. The song overall sounds very aggressive, violent, cold, futuristic and devoid of any warmth, any positive feelings. It's as if one's going mad, as if all hope is lost, no recovery is possible. Demons are feasting on your flesh and soul, so to speak. I don't know what the lyrics are about, but that's the impression I get when listening to this track. But well, as much effort the band put into this, one can't really call this kind of music attractive, right?

"9XS" is back to business as usual, Metal with electronic elements. Vocals again consist of clean singing and shrieks. and overall the music is more normal again, after the crazy "...And I Hear A Voice". But it must be said that the atmosphere is still old and dark. This song won't bring you solace. In the last part of the song there are some mad electronic accents before the speed is increased. Overall nothing brilliant, but not that bad either. That makes it average, no?

And with "9XS" we've come to the end of the good or acceptable songs. The last three on "Rex Mundi X-Ile" just don't cut it. "Disciplina Arcani (Un Canto Per L'Esilio)" contains drumsamples behind a gentle piano melody. You know, the kind of melody that can be heard while dining in a fancy restaurant. The guitars and drums are added quite rapidly, but the flow of the music is slow, almost ballad-ish. And you could call this track the ballad of the album, but that's without the power increase around the middle. It's good to have such a song to break with the usual stream of electronics, but in itself this is a rather weak track. "Come In Uno Specchio" has the accoustic guitar as key instrument, while atmospheric sounds can be heard in the back. To be honest, leave those samples away and the accoustic guitar itself will make this track a million times better. There is no singing, more something that can be described as whispering. I repeat, remove those damn samples and the accoustic guitar alone will make this a track that stands out (in a positive way). Last there is the ALICE IN CHAINS cover "Would?". I'm not familiar with the original - rapidly checked it on YouTube -, but ENSOPH's rendition isn't that fabulous, to be honest. And it's mainly the electronics that destroy the atmosphere, that make it quite unlistenable.

As I said above, listening to "Rex Mundi X-Ile", was both interesting and hard, hard when listening from the first second until the last one. Interesting to hear new material in the Industrial genre, hard because it's not a style I listen to regularly and my preference for electronic influences is low. ENSOPH's new album is something that will please - to a certain extent - the fans of futuristic sounding Metal, people who love electronic sounds and love it more with heavy guitarwork producing a massive amount of power. For me, it's a release that will work once every x months, but as a whole there's not enough material that will make it a must-have, save for the fans of the band. To make a long story short: it's not a bad release, but nothing super either.

More info at www.ensoph.it.

Line-up:
N-Ikonoclast - vocals
Xraphæl - guitars, programming
Next-X@nctum - keyboards
KKTZ - bass
Xenos - drums


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ABINAYA – Corps (Brennus Music 2009)

Abinaya - Corps
  1. Corps
  2. Enfant D'Orient
  3. L'Homme Libre
  4. Regarder Le Ciel
  5. Algo Mais (Quelque Chose De Plus)
  6. Les Labels
  7. Testament
  8. Les Chars De Police
  9. Partir Puis Revenir
  10. La Morts Des Amants
  11. Résiste

ABINAYA is a French Rock/Metal band combining influences ranging from Zakk Wylde over DOWN to SOULFY. As their line-up is very basic (vox, guitar, bass, percussion and drums), you can expect a very rhythmic kind of music. The band name comes from Sanskrit and means "passing on". ABINAYA has been around for a number of years (how many I don't know) and released their second album, "Corps", on the 10th of February this year. What was their first album? I don't know either, for the attached press text didn't provide that kind of info. Looking on websites like www.brennus-music.com or www.replicarec.com didn't help me either. Speaking of Replica Records, they were chosen for the promotion, but it seems their website is either down for renewal or down completely. And that makes me wonder if this label still exists at all, since neither Facebook nor MySpace could help to find a page on their servers.

Since ABINAYA is from France the lyrics are in French. Now, this may seem logical, but it isn't as several other French bands (GOJIRA, NIGHTMARE, FAIRYLAND, SYMBYOSIS, AGRESSOR, ATARAXIE, CARCARIASS and more) write their lyrics in English to attract a broader audience and gain international appeal more easily. One other band that keeps it French, and one of my favourites, is MANIGANCE, who play Progressive Power Metal. "Corps" contains eleven tracks, totalling a playtime of almost 50 minutes, which is one's money's worth, in my opinion. But lots of music doesn't necessarily mean good music. But coming back to the French lyrics: this gives the album a special touch, because there's already enough English-sung Metal on the market and keeping it national makes the listening experience more interesting.

It starts with the aggressively grooving "Corps". You first hear the same kind of guitar intro like PANTERA's "Cowboys From Hell" before the power is unleashed. Percussion makes the intro extra spicey and rhythmic. Igo's singing is clean and that offers a nice contrast with the music. Drums stand high in the mix and that is necessary in this kind of Metal. The bass rattles a bit like in KORN's older works. The percussion returns in the chorus, which also allows for some melody to enter and this mainly through the vocals. A guitar solo would not have hurt at all. Oh well. "Corps" is a solid song, no more needs to be said. Fans of PANTERA, SOULFLY, and similar would be pleased with this track. "Enfant D'Orient", a song about war, starts with a raw riff that reminds heavily of DREAM THEATER's "The Mirror" entry riff. That alone is a lust for the ear, as basic as it may be. That soon changes into the part that METALLICA played in "The Unnamed Feeling" when Lars attacks his cymbals with short hits. The pace picks up a little later, once the verses kick in, or better, in the connecting parts. The verses are of the stop-start kind. Full power is reserved for the chorus. Igor's clean singing contrasts even more now with the rawness of the music. And while that works fine, a bit of roughness in the singing would make it even better. But be sure this is not a linear song, as there is room for instrumental talk, where drums and percussion play a key role, while the guitar does the talking. Overall, a job very well done. References could be PANTERA, METALLICA, SEPULTURA and the likes. ABINAYA know how to take those elements and form something of their own, though, and the percussion does have its use and importance.

"L'Homme Libre" features faster guitarwork, more pounding rhythm, more flow. The music sounds liberated. The verses are about the vocals, while heaviness takes a few steps back, yet return with full force in the chorus. The percussion is now omnipresent and saved for a specific part, although the chorus is where it comes out the best. And what have here? Indeed, a guitar solo. Igor doesn't sing a lot here, rather lets the music do the talking and that's a nice move for a change. Solid track, no more needs to be said. "Regarder Le Ciel" brings back more Metal to the table. Slow first, as if dragging itself forward, more power is found as electronic accents are added in the intro, but once the singing begins this element falls away. The chorus is where the groove, aggression and pounding percussion are to be found in the chorus. Looking at the lyrics, you can deduct several meanings from them, but my guess is they're about life, about being more to life than just working for your money and being focused on your job and your job alone.

"Algo Mais (Quelque Chose De Plus)" breaks with the heavy grooves as it sounds very light, very playful, very Pop-ish. At least, in the verses, because the chorus does contain more guitar and drum power and that kicks in all of a sudden. Gone is the tranquillity of the verses. But don't worry, it does come back. The percussion is not really necessary, but makes the song more attractive and it also makes one curious about seeing the band at work on stage. "Algo Mais (Quelque Chose De Plus)" offers a nice change between calm and melodic passages and heavier, more grooving ones without one disturbing the other or the flow being too radical. The fade-out does occur too fast, though. Then a song about labels, "Les Labels", is on. Against their corrupt way of working, of choosing bands that sound like other (bigger) bands, not choosing those that seek to be themselves and not a clone of band X or Y. In short, of not wanting to take risks. It starts with the main riff on bass. Andreas has the honour to play that line. Igor soon picks up the rhythm and the two Nicolas follow. Midtempo, quite a radio-friendly song, despite the heavy grooves. Full power and melody is offered in the chorus: clean vocals, heavy guitarwork, pounding drums and percussion. Solid work, all things considered.

Bass as starter in "Les Labels", drums in "Testament". It sounds a bit Jazzy, but once heaviness kicks in that thought is directly wiped away. Percussion sounds more powerful than ever here. But Nicolas is helped by the other Nicolas to give that aspect more power and presence. This song is very much grooving, but at the same time quite Rock 'n' Roll. Quite good, but on the other hand one of the less attractive songs on this album. Time for more Metal then with "Les Chars De Police", a song about cops. Firm playing, powerful grooves, aggressive vocals (that's what I'm talking about when I said Igor needs to add some roughness now and then). This is a linear song, simple but effective and with a solo. In the last part the tempo goes up and it's as if the police is chasing someone, who running for his life.

Putting the Metal aside, ABINAYA shows its lighter side with this accoustic song called "Partir Puis Revenir". They even added symphonic backing to create the right atmosphere. No drums here, but the percussion did remain. It's ok to add a resting point in the tracklist, but why make it so long? Personally, this accoustic song doesn't do me much and I think ABINAYA are better at expressing their thoughts and feelings through the heavier songs. So let's get to that again. "La Mort Des Amants" first parts sound like what METALLICA did several years ago, before "St. Anger", the "Garage Inc." period. The verses are devoid of heaviness, which is saved for the connecting parts and the chorus. But as good as the music may be, Igor's singing sounds a bit thin, lacks power, passion. It's as if he's whining, although I can understand one doesn't need to growl here. In short, not a bad end result, but nothing outstanding either. "Résiste" ends this second album in style with vicious guitarwork and percussion, reminiscent of SOULFLY and SEPULTURA. The drums add a dancy beat. This is firm Groove Metal with a vocalist that knows a powerful voice was needed here, even if the music does most of the talking.

And so a new band, for me, has presented itself. ABINAYA would have remained unknown to me had Igor not contacted me for this review, something I'm grateful for. The kind of Groove Metal with percussion these French play is definitely worth checking out as it's something fresh in this genre. Yes, the Brazilians from SOULFLY and SEPULTURA, to name just these, have done it before. So have ANGRA and several others, but from FRANCE this is the first band (to my ears) that does it. "Corps" is overall a very solid release, despite a few (very few) less good songs. The execution is well done, the songs are well put together and you can feel these guys added their own touch to it, their own passion for Rock and Metal. If the language is not a problem to you, I recommend you to check out ABINAYA and order this album. Seeing them live would complete the picture, though.

More info at www.myspace.com/abinayarockpage.

Line-up:
Igor Achard - vocals, guitars
Andreas Santo - bass
Nicolas Heraud - percussion
Nicolas Vieilhomme - drums


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DORO – Fear No Evil (AFM Records 2009)

DORO - Fear No Evil
  1. The Night Of The Warlock
  2. Running From The Devil
  3. Celebrate
  4. Caught In A Battle
  5. Herzblut
  6. On The Run
  7. Walking With The Angels
  8. I Lay My Head Upon My Sword
  9. It Kills Me
  10. Long Lost For Love
  11. 25 Years

The Metal queen still has no plans to retire. Recently (13th December of 2008 she celebrated 25 years of Rock and Metal in her hometown, where many guests were invited for a small performance. Needless to say that many fans also made the trip for this event. 25 years of activity, first in WARLOCK, later in DORO. And to celebrate this, a new album was put out recently (30th January): "Fear No Evil". This is the follow-up to 2006's "Warrior Soul".

Like I said in the "Warrior Soul" review, I'm not really familiar with DORO's dicsography and I've never felt like expanding my knowledge on that front. "Warrior Soul" was actually the first DORO album I properly listened to. And I thought it was a decent album, in general, but the production wasn't of te same quality as the songs, meaning I would have been more enthusiastic if the sound was better. To tell you the truth, after the review I put the promo CD aside and haven't listened to it since, or maybe once. That should tell you how good it was or at least that DORO will never be among my favourite artists/bands.

However, at last year's first edition of the Alcatraz Festival in July in Deinze, Belgium, Doro was there and headlined with her band. Between the previous gig and the band's performance in Deinze weren't that many hours, as especially guitarist Joe Taylor was very tired. His eyes were very clear about that. But since DORO on CD didn't do me much, I was eager to know how they pull it off live. And I can assure you, it was GREAT! My doubts vanished instantly. DORO live is definitely worth experiencing.

Now, with the new album, "Fear No Evil", being released my hopes for a kick-ass album were obviously high, even when thinking back at "Warrior Soul". And my hopes crashed upon the first few listens. So I let the mp3s - since that's the new promo policy at AFM Records, no more CDs - rest for a while. And that turned out for the better.

The majority of the songs stands out, but it's a small majority. Let's seperate the best from the rest. "The Night Of The Warlock" is the first to score high. This midtempo rocker clearly indicates that the new album is heavier, ballsier than "Warrior Soul". But in my opinion, Doro sings the line "... of the warlock" - where the ... can be replaced by name, night, time - a bit too often, as if not having had any more inspiration for other lyrics or for the music to do the talking. But it's a good start. "Running From The Devil" heavily reminds of MANOWAR's "Warriors Of The World United" song, due to the riffing (in a way), the rhythm and the simple drumbeat. The production also contributes to this comparison. But it's a ballsy song and one of the better on "Fear No Evil".

The song "Celebrate", of which a single came out last year, also is one that stands out. It's a slow but heavy track and with a different production, softer I'd say. Plus, Doro's vocals stand high in the mix. The midtempo "On The Run" also has a simple drumbeat, but a rather flat production. The music is good, but its power is limited due to wrong button work, so to speak. The last rocking song to stand out is "I Lay My Head Upon My Sword". A very direct pace in the verses, while the band takes a slower approach in the chorus.

Next to the heavier work - of which there is more - the album also contains three ballads: "Herzblut" (of which was made a single, too), "Walking With The Angels" (with a light rock touch and with guest vocals by Tarja Turunen, ex-NIGHTWISH) and "It Kills Me" (very 80's, but chained by a not so good production). The first two of these three finalize the list of tracks that are worth checking out.

Three songs still unspoken of and they are the least good - or the worst, if you prefer - of the pack: "Caught In A Battle", "Long Lost For Love" and "25 Years". The first is a hard rocksong, has punch and takes no prisoners. Sadly the biggest problems are triggered kickdrums (and do they suck?!) and a distorted production. But foremost it's the crappy drumsound that ruins everything. "Long Lost For Love" has a sludgey chorus and is overall a rocking song with a melody that could have been taken from that of another band's song. But I can't put my finger on it. The end result is decent, but nothing mindblowing. And finally "25 Years", which is sort of a celebration song, is the fourth ballad. I forgot to mention it earlier. Atmospheric keyboards are very important here, but in general this is actually a boring song, in my humble opinion.

As said before, "Fear No Evil" is a far more rocking album than "Warrior Soul", and contains a reasonable amount of good songs. Sadly the production ruins it for the biggest part, be it because too soft or even too distorted. It made me think of METALLICA's "Death Magnetic" album, in terms of distortion. Doro may be doing this kind of music for a quarter of a century, it's just unforgivable to not pay attention to the production. Even much smaller acts manage to release better sounding albums, so why can't a big act like DORO do this? Live everything sounds so much better, but that doesn't mean one should ignore the studio recordings. Else what's the use of booking expensive studios? Anyway, the fans of DORO will once again be pleased with this, but "Fear No Evil" is just decent. Nothing more.

More info at www.doromusic.de.

Line-up:
Doro Pesch - vocals
Joe Taylor - guitars
Nick Douglas - bass
Oliver Palotai - keyboards
Johnny Dee - drums


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RICH FORTUNA – Burnt Shadows (Rich Fortuna 2009)

Rich Fortuna - Burnt Shadows CD 1:
  1. Zombie Sector
  2. Disaster Experience
  3. Sorrows Of The Earth
  4. Exodus
  5. Skirmish Lines
  6. Burnt Shadows
  7. Assassins
  8. Dissect
CD 2:
  1. Nubian Sea
  2. Coffin Nail
  3. Shaken Not Stirred
  4. Ming's Daughter
  5. Possible Felons
  6. Bitterest Man
  7. Saviors And Creators
  8. Smoke N Mirrors

RICH FORTUNA, guitarist since long, contacted me around the end of 2007 for a review of his latest album at that time, "Heathen Machines", which came out in September 2006. I had never heard of the man, but I was pleasantly surprised by what he had composed on his first album. All songs were instrumental and that's both good and less good. Good, for there is already enough material out there WITH vocals. Less good, for vocals may somehow be needed after all, depending on the song. Rich used influences from METALLICA, SEPULTURA, and others very nicely to the point where I even could compare some of his stuff with DEATH. Since he does it all himself, it's a bit hard to get the name out, save for the area where he lives and plays. So, "Heathen Machines" out in 2006, but then it became silent around Rich Fortuna, although he did play gigs with, for example, THE SMALLTOWN WARLORDS, a band unknown to me. Anyway, as I was browsing through my list of reviews, I wondered what was going on in the FORTUNA camp and his MySpace player told me he had a new album out. "Burnt Shadows" was the title and in those three years Rich apparently found the time to even make it a double album.

Given the fact no news was spread about this new release, I decided to contact the dear man himself for a review and he happily obliged. For this I'm of course very grateful, also because the new material sounded even better than "Heathen Machines". Truth be told, I'm a little/very late with the review and that's entirely my fault, due to circumstances, but anyway... let's get to it. "Burnt Shadows" came out on the 22nd of January and this time only three people are part of the line-up: Rich Fortuna (guitars), Rock Graziano (bass) and Dave Snediker on drums (also played on "Heathen Machines"). The debut album had Carmen Caramanica adding an accoustic guitar solo, Jose Lopez on bass and Ben Saltzman helping out with the drumwork. But as the inside of the album tells me, Carmen Caramanica played some guitar solos in "Smoke N Mirrors", while Monk Rowe played a flute solo in that same song. Other than that several people helped with adding voice or instrumental intros to several songs.

Two CDs, the first lasting for almost 30 minutes, the second a bit less. And somehow all 16 songs could have been put on one disc, but that could have affected the listening experience in a bad way. Plus, there's probably a logical reason for the split, be it indeed the listening itself or songwise that there is a difference between the two groups. "Zombie Sector" is the first track and has the bass as key instrument to start with. There's also a spoken intro flowing along, as if the pilot is addressing the platoon that will be deployed soon. The Metal instrumentation kicks in suddenly and you could see that as the moment when the soldiers have landed and are checking out the area, ready to annihilate any zombie around. The backing keyboards create the right atmosphere and really make the action come to life. David's drumming is firm, not too technical, but active and powerful enough and adaptatble to the situation. Rich's guitarwork is obviously faultless and fits in perfectly. Overall, this is a short but pretty simple song, and you can differentiate each part. The production is, as I mentioned earlier, better than before. Everything sounds better and the whole is given more punch.

The same radio voice speaks in the beginning of "Disaster Experience", but this parts sounds a bit like zombies took over. Something that could have been taken from the "Alien" movies. When all falls silent, that only makes the idea more vivid. The music is a bit slower now and darker. A bit Stoner-ish, if you will. Vocals are not needed, as Rich's leads perfectly fill that position. The drums are high in the mix, maybe a little too high, just a little bit, but they help the rhythm section to have equal power compared to the leads. In those 3 and a half minutes a lot happens in terms of rhythm and leads. It also doesn't feel as a short song. But clearly images are needed to complete the picture. "Sorrows Of The Earth" is next and features a sad guitartune in the intro, fitting perfectly with the title. All the while a clock is ticking, like a time bomb, and the radio transmission is distorted. The powerful music that follows makes this track one of the highlights. Clean leads versus grooving rhythm guitarwork, a marriage that works very fine. The drums proove to be an important factor, not just for its hits, but its general presence as well.

The connection with the outside world is totally down now, as there's nothing but distortion. And the clock is still ticking. "Exodus" is a more relaxing song, very Jazzy and it's nice to such a song at this stage. Everyone left the place. Or did they? Yep, the fight continues and the connection is restored, though still distorted. Dark and heavy grooves with firm drumming set in a little later. The higher notes are reserved for the chorus, something you cannot miss. Over halfway all falls silent... tension is created, percussion now instead of regular drumming. Little by little it's growing towards something bigger and that shows itself once the full power is activated again and the guitar demands full attention, as if expressing a dangerous situation. All comes to an end with brutal forces, expressed through the heavy grooves and angry drumhits. It's music in the first place, but film footage or pictures would be a helpful tool here.

The title track offers another dose of Jazz, right after the clock has stopped ticking. The bass is again the main instrument, while guitar leads in various flavours are added on top of that. All the while David is keeping a steady drumbeat, slow but on the spot. "Exodus" was a relaxing track and to some extent "Burnt Shadows" as well. Time for another power booster then with "Assassins", where Hidetosha Hama gives you a short welcome, or an order, I don't know. My Japanese is only limited to "Konnichiwa", meaning "Hello" or "Good afternoon". An evil sounding, growling rhythm guitar, a more vicious lead layer on top of that. The drumming remains simple, but tight, especially in the verses where David plays in a stop-start style, inline with the rhythm guitar and bass. The music flows more freely in the chorus. This is the second shortest track on the first disc, but it's amazing how Rich and his friends managed make this as interesting as possible.

"Dissect" puts a very nice end to the first part of "Burnt Shadows". Radio connection once more before the music takes over. Slow tempo, very melodic and a stop-start rhythm (incl. the drums). The overall atmosphere is very strange, suspicious, hypocritical in a way. The guitarwork is very well done, both rhythm, leads, effects, the whole package. In the last minute or so the keyboards have their say in short waves. The radio is once again disturbed, while gentle guitarplucking carries the last notes. On all levels did Rich progress: compositions, production and even the vocal problem I mentioned in the review of "Heathen Machines". He managed to let the guitar take that role better than before. This first disc is full of very good Rock/Metal tunes which you listen to like that, but somehow it feels a story is being told, if you really concentrate. Let's see for disc two.

And the music comes tumbling in with "Nubian Sea". Midtempo, grooving Metal and a catchy chorus. That's a key factor whe going fully instrumental, adding catchy melodies, hooks and more. Rich very much succeeds in doing so. "Nubian Sea" is also one of the better tracks, but somehow its ending is comes quite sudden. I mean, the music is rising to a height and with two quick hits the song's over, not even allowing +/- two seconds for "Coffin Nail" to start. This one follows instantly, no time to waste. Ah, the accoustic guitar, finally getting more attention. It was used previously, but only very faintly. Now it's given a spot in the intro. Soft, gentle and relaxing. But then it's all about electric instrumentation, which comes bursting in. Double bass, high energy, dark atmosphere. The double bass is a nice change and honestly, it should be used more often. Perhaps on the third album. The music is very much listenable, also quite moving in the way that at least I want to play along on drums. The accoustic guitar does return in the chorus, playing nicely together with its electric equivalent. "Coffin Nail" is a short, linear song, but sounds oh so good.

Direct start for "Shaken Not Stirred", too. At least after Zachary Kane's welcoming ("No one beats the man."). Firm grooves, Jazzy drumming, melodic leads as far as the verses are concerned. The material gets less heavy, more melodic and more smooth as the bridge and chorus come in sight. That's also the moment where the accoustic guitar falls in, offering gentle assistance. Full power is of course reserved for the chorus. And again the guitarwork is simply splendid. Very nice melodies. The drums, while high in the mix in the previous songs, has been pushed a bit to the back here. They sound less loud. We go to France then, in "Ming's Daughter". Or better, the spoken intro is in French: "Chaque ville a ses secrets, chaque ville a ses seigneurs de la guerre." ("Each town has its secrets, each town has its warlords"). Drums alone to start with and that gives the song a special feel. Gentle guitar and bass fall in neatly. A very Jazzy track, but a very nice one. Strangely enough, Rich and co. decided to let the music fade out instead of playing on and adding a proper ending. They may have had their reasons, but personally speaking, it feels strange.

Same intro for "Possible Felons", only now it's Zachary again doing the talking: "Every town has its secrets, every town has its warlords". This time the music sounds bigger, more melodic, more powerful. But that soon softens down to straight-forward Jazzy Rock, although the full power of a few seconds ago is in fact the chorus, which does come around very rapidly each time. The solo part has the accoustic guitar trying to push through the barrier, but only during that moment. The last tens of seconds are devoid of heaviness and form one relaxing part that puts the song to sleep. A flawless track, if you ask me. Very well done. Guitars fading in in