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TANKARD – Vol(l)ume 14 (AFM Records 2010)

Tankard - Vol(l)ume 14
  1. Time Warp
  2. Rules For Fools
  3. Fat Snatchers (The Hippo Effect)
  4. Black Plague (BP)
  5. Somewhere In Nowhere
  6. The Agency
  7. Brain Piercing Öf Death
  8. Beck's In The City
  9. Condemnation
  10. Weekend Warriors

Almost 2 years after album no. 13, "Thirst" (released on 19/12/2008), the German beer Thrashers of TANKARD release the follow-up under the fitting title "Vol(l)ume 14" and this on the 17th of December. Contrary to their colleagues of DESTRUCTION, SODOM and KREATOR, these guys always had a central theme for their albums, beer. Next to that some serious songs would complete the track lists. Founded in 1982 they always thrashed on, never giving in to trends. "The Beauty And The Beer" was my first proper encounter with the band's music, followed by their "Best Case Scenario: 25 Years In Beers". "Thirst" was a bit of a letdown, compared to "The Beauty And The Beer", although it was far from bad. Two years later, a new album and also a new production, lighter somehow. No Andy Classen this time, who produced several of TANKARD's releases. Who handled it all this time, I don't know.

The album starts with the acoustic intro of "Time Warp", a very soothing one. But you can feel heavier stuff is on the rise and once the Thrash sets in, you better be ready, because sitting still is not part of the rules. As with several TANKARD songs, singing along is not an obligation, but you may. At some point there's even a bass moment before the Thrash takes over again. Simple and effective, what more do you need? "Rules For Fools" was used for a video shoot. Here you get Heavy Metal, but with a Thrash touch. It feels and sounds very fun, unlike the works of DESTRUCTION, EXODUS, KREATOR, etc... It's an easily digestable song, very listenable. The obligatory solo is present and for the better, let that be clear. It really helps to make the song more attractive.

"Fat Snatchers (The Hippo Effect)" takes a sluggish start, moving into fast(er) verses and a Thrashy chorus. A typical catchy TANAKRD song, but nothing super. "Black Plague (BP)", about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year is a chugging midtempo Thrash track with a rather monotonous drum pattern, as if Olaf wanted to keep it simple this time without too many fills and such. Ok, there's a slower middle section, but still... The guitar riffing reminded me of "The Four Horsemen" (METALLICA), which was nice. Despite being 2010, it's good to see veteran Metal bands still incorporating old school elements. The uptempo Thrasher that is "Somewhere In Nowhere" is however badly needed after the slower preceding song.

"The Agency" is another midtempo song, dark and edgey. However, the band does shift into higher gear for the chorus and in between. A decent result, like the others. In "Brain Piercing Öf Death" a more straight-forward pattern and rhythm is chosen, at high speed. The typical humpa-rhythm is applied to the drums. All in all a cool song, just like the very entertaining "Beck's In The City", where fast and raging Thrash reigns. "Condemnation", another solid song, is a chugging Thrasher, while the long "Weekend Warriors" (07:25) offers another marriage between Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal, with the first delivering the melodies, the second the typical rhythm.

"Vol(l)ume 14" is certainly not TANKARD's best effort to date or of the 21st century. It seems to me that since "The Beauty And The Beer" the band is having a hard time to make another such album or like before. However, there's variety on this newest release, the band still have fun with making music, so to keep it short: it's not a must-have, but it's an entertaining album nevertheless.

More info at www.tankard.org.

Line-up:
Andreas Geremia - vocals
Andy Gutjahr - guitars
Frank Thorwath - bass
Olaf Zissel - drums


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PREACH – Path To Solace (Preach 2010)

Preach - Path To Solace
  1. Call Me Escaper
  2. Path To Solace
  3. Colour Blind
  4. Entropy
  5. Satellite To Everything

PREACH is a Swedish Melodic Death Metal band, formed in 2006 by Edvin Settervik, Carl Lundvall, Jimmy Axelsson and Niklas Eriksson. Two years later guitarist Magnus Grönberg completed the line-up. The main focus was on playing live and that got the band a support slot for their colleagues from DEGRADEAD that same year. In terms of releases, a first one was made under the title "Weight Of This" in 2008, while "Melt To Sand" was the follow-up, out in 2009. This led to sharing the stage with the German band SNIPER. Last year, February 2010, the Swedes got to support their Finnish colleagues of SOULFALLEN. DESCEND was the other lucky band. And so, with new inspiration and experience, the work commenced for release no. 3, "Path To Solace". This is a 5-track EP, self-released and this on the 4th December 2010.

The EP kicks off with a rather simple, but enjoyable track called "Call Me Escape". A direct attack via double bass and powerful, yet groovy Melodic Death Metal. The singing is split between growls and clean interventions, while screams are reserved for the chorus. This song relies heavily on the rhythm guitar. A solo was added, too, albeit a short and functional one. All in all, decent stuff. "Path To Solace" is, in my opinion, then a better song. Here as well, a direct start. Pounding verses and growls, while the chorus is filled with melody. IN FLAMES (the old one) comes rapidly to mind. The solo part remains short, no signs of anything spectacular here. Although that's not a must. As long as the overall end result makes all elements fit together.

"Colour Blind" is another strong track, taking a pounding, midtempo start where melody is already in place. Thrashy verses follow with growling vocals. What stands out here are the rhythm and drumming, both being nothing less than great! A lust for the ears! Screams and clean singing take over in the chorus, as do guitar leads. After the obligatory short solo, it's back to the chorus and done. And this is apparent for each song: going all the way, chorus included, then a solo, then the chorus and done. Not that this is a bad thing, as it also depends on how the song is written (rhythm, melodies, etc...), but it's something you cannot ignore. Once "Colour Blind" is done, the band almost instantly continues with "Entropy", where a galopping rhythm is applied. However, either it was my cd-player or something went wrong in the mix, but the sound volume suddenly dropped a bit. Still listenable, of course, but the drop didn't occur subtle enough, if you know what I mean. But let's carry on. The verses have the typical Thrashy humpa-rhythm and Carl growls his way through the lyrics again. The melodic aspect comes to life in the chorus, which again reminds a bit of IN FLAMES (for example). Here Carl switches to screams again, like before. Speaking of solo time, here the part was extended, although first preceded by a bass and drum moment. All in all, another solid song.

Last but (not?) least, there's "Satellite To Everything". This song begins with a clean guitar lick and drums. The whole sounds quite atmospheric, radio-friendly even. Carl's clean vocals form a big contrast with his extreme input of before. Furthermore, the music grows in volume (power is not exactly the right word) in the chorus, but it's not the Melodic Death Metal one would expect. Instead you get something that sounds close to Pop Rock. At least, to my ears. Is it that the Metal is not so outspoken as before? Deliberately or not? But in itself it's not a bad song, just not as Metal as the previous ones.

It's always nice to hear/encounter new bands like PREACH, even if they've been around since some years. One has to start somewhere and especially with unsigned bands one won't always be up to date. With PREACH and their Melodic Death Metal it has been an interesting and entertaining experience. This genre has spawned and continues to spawn many bands. Several are signed, others are still hidden in the underground. PREACH is slowly coming to the surface, but needs that extra push to reach it. In any case, if Melodic Death Metal is your thing and you like, for example, the old IN FLAMES (and similar, obviously), then "Path To Solace" is a release that will please your senses.

More info at www.preach.se.

Line-up:
Carl Lundvall - vocals
Edvin K. Settervik - guitars
Magnus Grönberg - guitars
Jimmy Axelsson - bass
Niklas Eriksson - drums


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DYSCORDIA – Reveries (Dyscordia 2010)

Dyscordia - Reveries
  1. Reveries
  2. Locked Within
  3. Black Clown
  4. Ache Of Hearts
  5. The Empty Room
  6. Realm Of Night

Flanders (in Belgium, yes) has spawned many great bands, though not all of them managed to acquire the deserved recognition and fame. Some of the last jewels in the region of Kortrijk are ARTRACH and GWYLLION. The first put out three demo CDs, one better than the other. The potential was clearly there to go for it big time. Sadly, ARTRACH had to quit its activities last year. GWYLLION put out a diamond of an album, "The Edge Of All I Know". But as the search for a new female vocalist has been suspended, the band sort of split (not really, but GWYLLION is not doing anything, so each is free to pursue other activities) and three other bands were linked: DYSCORDIA (with members of a.o. ARTRACH and GWYLLION), FIREFORCE and IMMANENT DISTANCE. The idea for DYSCORDIA was born last year, if my knowledge is right and the band was formed earlier this year (2010).

The music: Progressive Power Metal or what you could call ARTRACH-meets-GWYLLION. Add a more aggressive touch and more technical influences and it's not just like any ProgPower band. That became clear after having heard pre-production versions like that of the track "Black Clown". "Reveries" is the title of the band's first release, a self-release as no label has been found yet to sign the band. But it shouldn't take that long, should it? The MCD/EP contains 6 tracks, totalling a playtime of a good 30 minutes. And it's not over before you know it, as the lads packed the songs with lots of music. The material was recorded at the Road Mark Studios in Belgium and mixed and mastered by Wouter and Martijn Debonnet. Guitarist Guy Commeene took care of the artwork.

It all starts with the title track, which goes for instant satisfaction. No intro, no building, a direct attack of power and melodies. Drumming is at midtempo, but Wouter manages to add more hits than a standard pattern. This is good, as it shows his skills and somehow the music also lends to such activeness. Both vocal types, clean and grunts, are given time here, though it's Piet's voice that prevails. The verses are definitely calmer than the chorus, that's without question. The toms and clean guitar help to create a certain atmosphere that is welcome after the aformentioned start. "Reveries" is a very diverse track, where enough catchiness was added. The solos are saved for the second half of the song and at some point there's even two of them, which helps explain why 3 guitarists are in the line-up. However, drums form a key element here. Is this the best Wouter has done so far?

"Locked Within" is a little slower, darker and more atmospheric, at least in its intro. The overall feel is a sad one, as Piet's singing indicate, as does the music. Even in the chorus there's not really a sign of happiness. Stefan's grunts cannot change that and have to follow suit. And yet the music is quite powerful. You could, in a way, compare this feeling with GWYLLION's "A Thousand Words". This contrast is well done, but I wouldn't mind the music taking indeed a more calmer direction. Drumwise it sounds as if Wouter is refraining himself. Again, just an impression, but on the other hand it doesn't have to be all that technical everytime. Better to drum in function of the music than try to show off and throw in fills that don't really fit anyway. By which I'm not saying that Wouter doesn't know what he's doing. Just to be on the clear side. Vocally both clean and growls are used and the latter even become the leading ones for a while. Th atmospheric keyboards deserved more attention, in my opinion. Now they're too far in the back. Despite a playtime of under 5 minutes, DYSCORDIA crammed so much music in here that one really needs to take his/her time to grasp it all, as it might become a bit tedious after a first listen.

The first song that was put online was "Black Clown", first the pre-production, the final result. It contains a guitar lead that is so damn catchy and tastey, one could never get tired of it. Also present are double bass power and Piet singing with a more rough-edged voice. Musically it's totally GWYLLION, only with a male vocalist. Grunts are done in the bridge, while Piet's cleans reclaim the throne in the chorus and Stefan's grunts are pushed to the back. Straight-forward melodic Metal is what is brought then. Three guitarists, it must be for a reason, if not just for the solo moments. And yes, it's precisely this (the guitarwork, incl. the solos) that is the center of attention, although the drums cannot be ignored, since they were put high in the mix. Quality material from start to finish! Now, how about a resting point? The intro of "Ache Of Hearts" certainly fits the description (calm, atmospheric, clean guitar plucking, ...). But then the power breaks loose, slowly and dangerous, shifting into straight-forward Heavy Metal.... when everything all of a sudden stops! For the clean verses, of course. I have to say, that sudden halt is indeed sudden. The song itself is another sad one and the grunts help to stress the drama of it all. The music is not as variable as before and therefore flows very well, which in turn helps easen the listening experience. The solos are well done, as usual. So, yes, another solid track in the bank.

And when "Ache Of Hearts" is put to rest, the blasting melodies of "The Empty Room" come thundering out of the speakers. That resting point is still far away, it seems. Melodic guitarwork is key, dual even. Grunts and clean vocals again, like before, and Piet's taking the lead...like before. Probably because Stefan also has to concentrate on his guitarwork. Speaking of music, Power Metal! Woohoo! Talk about not sounding like the preceding songs. But it doesn't last that long. When the break kicks in, someone needs to explain to me what the idea was. There's just the drums, clean vocals and a clean guitar. This combo sounds so out of place, it even came into view too sudden. Judging by the return of the chorus much later, this strange part is either the middle-section (again, why so different?) or it's the second half of the song. While everything is well executed and sounds very good, I found it hard to see a structure here, so to speak. There's a bit too much music in the 6 and a half minutes of playtime. The song's too active, too diverse, to energetic to be considered mere background music. Whether or not multiple listens will help to appreciate it better is to be seen. "Realm Of Night" ends the "Reveries" with straight-forward Metal, where grunts get a little more attention again. To stay inline with the other songs, this is another powerful track, with diversity in terms of clean stuff. There are uptempo outbreaks, though, for which the drums take the main responsability.

Discord, as the dictionary says:
"a (1) : a combination of musical sounds that strikes the ear harshly
(2) : dissonance
b : a harsh or unpleasant sound "


But it can also refer to the Greek goddess Eris (see Wikipedia), who was also known as Discordia. This new band made DYSCORDIA of it, as there are already several bands out there called DISCORDIA. What does this new Belgian band has to offer? Two vocalists, three guitarists (like IRON MAIDEN, allowing for more power and melody), lots of diversity musically... all given a very solid sound that is perfect for this kind of Progressive Power Metal. Joining forces (ARTRACH and GWYLLION) was somehow bound to happen, as both bands played in the same league. The fusion resulted in a more extreme version of either of the seperate elements. The band is on the right path towards Benelux and European domination, no question about that. However, there are still some minor details to take care of, as not each song is bull's eye. To keep it short: "Reveries" is a release to be very proud of, especially considering the material was written on a relatively short notice, even if each member has years of experience behind him. So, do purchase this EP, support your Metal scene and help launch another Belgian band into Europe and abroad.

More info at www.dyscordia.com.

Line-up:
Piet Overstijns - clean vocals
Stefan Segers - growls, guitars
Guy Commeene - guitars
Martijn Debonnet - guitars
Wouter Nottebaert - bass
Wouter Debonnet - drums


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WHILE HEAVEN WEPT – Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence (Cruz Del Sur Music 2010)

While Heaven Wept - Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence
  1. Vast Oceans Lachrymose
  2. The Furthest Shore (1-3)
  3. Soulsadness
  4. The Drowning Years
  5. Of Empires Forlorn
  6. Thus With A Kiss I Die
  7. Vessel

The American Progressive/Doom Metal band WHILE HEAVEN WEPT released its third and brilliant album, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose", in 2009. This was 20 years after the founding of the band as DREAM WYTCH (1989). The band toured to promote this new release and their performance at The Hammer Of Doom festival in February 2010 in Germany was recorded for a live release, on CD and DVD. I can't say anything about the DVD, for I only have the audio files for reviewing. After all these years and three solid studio albums, it would be interesting to hear how the band sounds live, although perhaps one need not worry about it. And so, the band's last release on Cruz Del Sur (WHILE HEAVEN WEPT signed to Nuclear Blast in November) is titled, in full, "Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence (Live at The Hammer of Doom Festival)" and came out on the 19th of November.

As you might expect, all albums are represented, though the last two ("Of Empires Forlorn" and "Vast Oceans Lachrymose") occupy the lion's share. Starting with the title track of the latest release, one can only applaud for the live rendition. The dual guitarwork comes out really well. But the keyboards don't and for the melodic side this leaves a bit of a dent. Other than that, solid stuff. "The Furthest Shore (1-3)", here only the first three parts, is one of my favourite songs on "Vast Oceans Lachrymose". It's sad they only played half of it here, but I guess the band only had so much time to play their set. Is it me or did Tom and co. play it a little faster than the studio version? However, the song remains awesome, even if this small speed increase lightly damages the song, in my humble opinion. The transition between the several parts also occured a little too quick, too direct. I had the impression the band was a little nervous here, but it's probably just an impression. The vocal work is well done and once everyone's playing together, the music also flows more smoothly. When Rain stops singing, to let the music do the talking, the aforementioned (impression of) nervosity pops up again. But in general, the Americans stand their ground.

Time for an older song then: "Soulsadness". This is of course slower and Doomier. "The Drowning Years" on the other hand has the band shifting into a higher gear again, though keeping it Doom enough. "Of Empires Forlorn" closes the trilogy coming off that album. Heavy guitars, atmospheric keyboards delivering the sad and dramatic touch... a pure delight. "Thus With A Kiss I Die" is a song off the band's debut full-length, "Sorrow Of The Angels" from 1998. Clean vocals here as well, obviously and very well done. This song also contains lots of instrumental talk. Fast-forward then to 2009 again with "Vessel", which also closes the band's set. Pure awesomeness and it's great to hear the crowd's support here, too.

On this promo the tracks were cut. It was said this would make it easier to skip a song, at least for the reviewers. I hope on the retail copies the songs are connected, if you know what I mean, so you get a proper live experience. For fans of WHILE HEAVEN WEPT, I have to say that "Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence (Live at The Hammer of Doom Festival)" is a very fine release and somehow a must-have, as it's the first from the band. With the signing to Nuclear Blast more could follow, of course. People not familiar with the band's works, check out the studio releases first.

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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ORDEN OGAN – Vale (AFM Records 2010)

Orden Ogan - Vale
  1. Graves Bay
  2. To New Shores Of Sadness
  3. Winds Of Vale
  4. Farewell
  5. Reality Lost
  6. This Is
  7. This Was
  8. Something Pretending
  9. The Lords Of The Flies
  10. ... And If You Do Right
  11. What I'm Recalling
  12. A Friend Of Mine
  13. The Candle Lights
  14. We Are Pirates! (Folk version, bonus track)
  15. Winds Of Vale (demo, bonus track)
  16. Welcome Liberty (Orchestral version, bonus track)
  17. The Yearning Remains (bonus track)

My first proper acquaintance with the German Power Metal band ORDEN OGAN occured earlier this year, when I reviewed their third album, "Easton Hope". See lower on this page for more info. Its predecessor, "Vale" (follow-up of 2004's "Testimonium A.D."), was also critically acclaimed, but I never checked it out. AFM Records decided to re-release it with bonus material on the 12th of November. An excellent chance for me to hear this album, in other words. The remastering was done by Michael Schawbe (Monoposto Studis), who also worked on "Easton Hope". In other words, the sound this time would be similar on both albums, but for the better. "Vale" originally sounded a bit lighter.

"Vale" starts with an acoustic intro called "Graves Bay". Instruments used are the guitar and violin. Add backing chanting and you've got a very nice hymnic start. The melody reminds of "We Are Pirates!". Or is it the other way around? Hm... :-) Electronic keyboards are the first to begin "To New Shores Of Sadness", followed by double-bass uptempo Metal. Add to that heavy riffing and you've got a very tastey dish. Seeb's vocals sound cleaner than on "Easton Hope" here in the verses and thus contrast with the heavy guitarwork. The piano touches in between are a nice idea. The guitar melody also sounds similar to another song, i.e. "Nothing Remains" from the "Easton Hope" release. Variety was also applied here, especially in the solo moments. A great track to say the least!

In "Winds Of Vale" a tension is created with the violins and Metal accents. And that's when something sounding like "Welcome Liberty" breaks loose into the verses. The chorus sounds quite modern for Power Metal. The singing is this time more powerful and inline with the last studio album. This song is more straight-forward, but the quality is certainly not less. "Farewell" is a sort of resting point, being a power ballad. The piano, symphonic elements... perfect for this kind of song. The piano leads in the verses, while the metalic power comes to life in the (sad) chorus. A very nice result, including the choir parts. ORDEN OGAN activate the Metal button again in "Reality Lost". The riffing sounds angry, the drums roll on... something's about the break and so it happens. Uptempo, fierce Metal with firm verses and a powerful chorus. The keyboards add a Folky touch. A piano break puts the Metal to rest and paves the way for a keyboard solo. The heavier music awakens afterwards, as if the second part of the song has started. The music also sounds fiercer then, with the drumming being quite varied. Excellent song.

After this highly entertaining quartet, a rather mediocre trio comes along: "This Is", "This Was" and "Something Pretending". The first is a semi-acoustic midtempo song, somewhat power ballad-ish, only heavier this time. It's radio-friendly, too. The second one has double-bass and more punch. Heavy, firm verses contrast with a sad and slow chorus where orchestral elements were added. An ok part, but a bit whiney. The solos are good, also for the song's sake. "Something Pretending" is an interlude, occupied by the piano and soft symphonic elements. That symphonic/orchestral stuff (wood, strings) forms the bridge with "The Lords Of The Flies", for which a video was shot. The song sounds modern with a dark edge. Clean vocals go well with powerful music and the solemn chorus. The orchestral break adds to the listening experience. Yep, the Germans know how to write a qualitative song.

"... And If You Do Right" is another resting point. It's an acoustic track (guitar, piano) with vocals. Very relaxing and excellent for the last few heavier songs. "What I'm Recalling" starts with the piano, whose melody continues even as the Metal is added. An epic Metal track, dark and powerful. Another job well done. One track that now did amaze me was "A Friend Of Mine". Dark, aggressive, growling guitars.. It's slow at first, but once the vocals and full band fall in, everything falls better. This is definitely one of the better songs. The regular tracklist ends with "The Candle Lights", an acoustic song where the flute plays a key role. Orchestral elements come in later. All in all quite alright, but the vocals make it whiney.

The re-release contains bonus tracks, the video for "The Lord Of The Flies" and a pdf wth the "Vale" comic story. "We Are Pirates!" (Folk version) is the first track. It's nice, all in all. The original can be found on "Easton Hope". The demo of "Winds Of Vale" is without vocals. It sounds alright for bonus reasons. It's somehow always nice to hear demo versions and in some cases these are better than the fully produced ones. The orchestral version of "Welcome Liberty" is not as good as the Metal version, though. "The Yearning Remains" is an acoustic, Folky song. Ok, but nothing more.

"Easton Hope" is in my opinion one of the best releases of 2010. "Vale" was also said to be worth checking out and thanks to the re-release this is now possible (again). I can only say that ORDEN OGAN indeed delivered the goods on their second album (and label debut). "Vale" is definitely worth checking out and the bonus material is a nice addition to hear songs in a different version, something that's not done with each band or album. So, go out and get "Vale".

More info at www.myspace.com/ordenogan.

Line-up:
Sebastian Levermann - vocals, guitars
Tobias Kersting - guitars
Nils Weise - keyboards, vocals
Lars Schneider - bass, vocals
Sebastian Grütling - drums


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LEMURIA – Chanson De La Croisade (Lemuria 2010)

Lemuria - Chanson De La Croisade
  1. Occitania, Anno 1209
  2. The Cross And The Crusade
  3. The Slaughter Of Innocence
  4. Carchachouna
  5. Death & Submission (Requiem Aeternam)
  6. A Coming Storm
  7. Fields Of Toulouse
  8. The End Of A Reign
  9. The Conflict Of Toulouse
  10. Court Music
  11. Crusher Of Souls
  12. Als Catars

The Belgian Folk/Black Metal band LEMURIA released its second full-length back in November 2010, on the 11th. It's February 2011 as I'm writing this, and I got a promo copy of this new release at the end of 2010. LEMURIA, the band and not the (hypothetical) lost land, was founded in 1999 under the name SPINAL CHILL. At that time it is said the musical style was primitive Death Metal. A line-up change led to the name LEMURIA. The style also changed to Folk-influenced Black Metal. After the next line-up change, the band was set for their debut full-length, "Tales, Ale & Fire" (2004). The gigs followed and LEMURIA was to be reckoned with. Two years after the release, however, and like the lost land, LEMURIA ceased to exist, returning to the darkness whence it came. But not all hope was lost. The remaining band members (Vincent, Siegfried, Bart and Niklaas) stayed in touch and thanks to Vincent and Siegfried becoming full-blown music producers in 2008 and as a graduation assignment, they had to produce their own material, the idea to let LEMURIA arise from the depths popped up easily. SHADOW'S VEIL (unknown to me) guitarist Jan Bergmans helped the lads. Roman Samonin (known from MORITURI and FOLKEARTH) filled the second guitarist position.

This formation recorded the new album, "Chanson De La Croisade" ("Song Of The Crusades") at Midas Studios and Red Left Hand Studios. Keyboardist Siegfried edited, mixed and re-orchestrated the album, the artwork was done by acclaimed Flemish artist Kris Verwimp and the CD was mastered by Peter in de Betou in Sweden. And still the band was not free from seeing people come and go. Guitarist Roman had to focus on his day job and so ANGELI DI PIETRA mastermind Gaël Sortino took his axe with him to complete LEMURIA. Which makes him the second ANGELI DI PIETRA member in this band, next to drummer Vincent Pichal. The chosen subject, the Crusades, is an interesting one. Many books have been written about this, also in the genre Historical Fiction. And yet, I never really delved into this topic. However, like with the theme of Vikings (see AMON AMARTh, TÝR, ENSIFERUM, MOONSORROW, REBELLION, and many more), it's always great to see Metal and history (or eduction) go hand in hand. And this may then also lead to the purchase of one or more books about the Crusades (Historical Fiction ones or not).

"Chanson De La Croisade" begins with an orchestral intro, sounding quite film score-ish. The Eastern touch is nicely expressed, also because the Crusades took place there. It's almost as if you're listening to the soundtrack of e.g. "Kingdom Of Heaven". The orchestrations flow neatly over into "The Cross And The Crusade", which at first sounds like it could have been composed by RHAPSODY OF FIRE. The Metal comes in in bursts, then with full power. The orchestral elements are of high importance, throughout the album, while the guitars and drums provide the countering power. Niklaas's vocals are rough, growling even. He also manages to sing in different ways, changing the tone as if to represent different characters or perhaps feelings. It's amazing what these guys polled off already in this first song.

"The Slaughter Of Innocence" takes a direct start. This is another song where the orchestral elements (brass, flute, strings) dominate. The singing is rough/shrieky in the verses, while you get growls in the chorus. The music is also more direct, the whole rocks more. At some point an orchestral and yet soothing break comes along, during which a choir sings. What follows contrast heavily with the preceding: wild and blasting Metal. This song stands out mainly because of the great melodies and general atmosphere. The guitar power adds to the greatness. Diversity is present in the form of rhythm and tempo changes. The orchestra also shows the context is quite emotional at a given moment. Furthermore, the guys added an Eastern break (with brass support), again to bring the scne to life. But it doesn't take long to return to damnation. The guitarsolo is well done, supported by regular Heavy Metal and the orchestra in the back, playing a counter melody. To emphasize the film score approach even more, there's narration included, telling about the event. This makes the material all the greater.

"Carchachouna" and "Death & Submission (Requiem Aeternam)" actually form one song, but for some reason they were split into two tracks. In any case, as you might expect, the first is an instrumental and symphonic interlude/intro. Strings and choir are the main elements and remind of films like "Kingdom Of Heaven", "The Mummy", "Lord Of The Rings" and so on. This connects with the Blackened Power Metal of "Death & Submission (Requiem Aeternam)" which has Niklaas shrieking. The guitars vs the orchestral elements is the battle at hand, with the latter sounding quite dramatic. Not the production, just how they fit in the song. The pace does go up as well as the song progresses. The brass elements come out strong in the chorus, again showing who's in charge. The piano break later on, although coming in suddenly, is nice. The music that follows could have come off MORTEMIA's "Misere Mortem" album. In other words, first class material.

The piano is the first instrument you hear in "A Coming Storm", with a melody that reminds heavily of SAVATAGE's "Edge Of Thorns" song (off the same-titled album). It gives a happy touch to the song, somehow. Further building occurs with Metal music. pounding Folk Metal with symphonic support is the consequence, transcending into straight-forward Metal in the verses, going calmer for the narrations (siege, burnings, slaughter) later. The orchestra expresses the sadness of it all then. When the Metal returns, it's as if something good is bound to happen. The chorus is where the lads go for some blasting and viciousness. The ending is like the intro, same melody and rhythm. And the level remains high! More orchestral instrumentality can be heard in "Fields Of Toulouse", which connects perfectly with the TURISAS-like "The End Of A Reign". The orchestra is present in the form of flute, strings and brass again. This aspect also accompanies in a very beautiful way the vocals and guitars in the chorus. This is absolutely top quality, on a general level. The song is also very lively (story-wise). It's dark where needed. Aside from the dominating factors, the neo-classical keyboards (i.e. harpsichord) get a moment to shine, though the support sounds violent. I detected some DIMMU BORGIR-like influences. Those same keyboards get another round, in the form of a solo, followed by a guitar one. Different vocals represetn different characters. This spectacle (if only audio) is well done!

No intro for "The Conflict Of Toulouse", which beings in a pounding and direct manner. The symphonic leads vs the guitars and drums forms another interesting marriage or battle. The TURISAS similarities cannot be ignored, but that's definitely a good thing, in my book. Folk/Eastern melodies create a very entertaining setting in "Court Music". Add some zils (tambourine), a flute and the image is complete. Metal instrumentation is added along the way and then we can really speak of Folk Metal. And to make it entirely eclectic, the acoustic guitar is also used, next to trumpets. It's a fully instrumental track, though with a sudden ending. Nevertheless, the band keep on amazing me. Like KALEDON, RHAPSODY OF FIRE and others have done, LEMURIA found it appropriate to get some horses to walk into "Crusher Of Souls", during which hymnic music is played. But you sense something about to give, as it feels mysterious. The verses are dark and heay, but slow. The melodic level rises in the vicious bridge. In this track and perhaps more than before, Vincent's drumming stands out. Things get a little emotional as the general shouts at his troops (or whatever's happening then in the context of the story). This very active song, as epic and bombastic as it is, meets its end by means of the piano... masterfully done.

Last but certainly not least there's "Als Catars" with its slow, but direct orchestral Metal. It's a ballad. the music sounds solemn, humble and all the while the narrator tells of the Cathars, of the battles they fought, the sacrifices they made. The sad events and consequences are expressed through the brass instrumentation, while harsh vocals were used in the verses. But then uptempo Power Metal kicks in with a Folky guitar lead (cf. EPICA goes FALCONER, or something like that). The bridge is where the melody comes out (flute), flowing over into the orchestral chorus. It's catchy and simple. The narrations continue later on, followed by the chorus, a guitar solo and a return to the ballad-style of the beginning.

LEMURIA was not an unknown band to me, though the music was something I had yet to thoroughly listen to. With the promo copy of "Chanson De La Croisade" this has been corrected. It took me a while to write something, but I did listen to this release several times and there was not one time I felt the need to skip a song or simply listen to something else. LEMURIA have begun a new era with a new line-up, a new album, a (small?) change in style. And how! Joining all forces to create nothing less than a true masterpiece. The promo copy came in a little too late for my Best Of 2010 list, otherwise it would have found a place there. The Blackened Power Metal forms a wonderful couple with the orchestral input. Compositions, musicianship, the chosen theme... the result is outstanding! My sole complaint is just that the production should have been a bit more powerful. But this critique is trivial when looking at the overall, majestic end result. In short: "Chanson De La Croisade" is an album you simply MUST have in your collection. So far only available via the band's webshop and iTunes. Now, what are labels waiting for to sign these guys?

More info at www.lemuria.be.

Line-up:
Niklaas Reinhold - vocals
Jan Bergmans - guitars
Roman Samonin - guitars
Siegfried Mercelis - keyboards, orchestration
Bart De Prins - bass
Vincent Pichal - drums, percussion, orchestration


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NICHT – Part 1: Catalepsy Sinks (Nicht 2010)

Nicht - Part 1: Catalepsy Sinks
  1. Paralysis
  2. Out Of Reach
  3. Last Breath
  4. Hope
  5. Room 19
  6. Head Trip
  7. Dark Blight

Several months ago I was sent a review copy of a band called NICHT, which means "not" in German and "niece" in English. But here the name is linked to a French band, that plays Gothic Metal with Doomy influences. They've been around since 2009 and earlier this year, 5th of November, they put out their debut release, the EP "Part 1: Catalepsy Sinks". What catalepsy is, can be found on, for example, Wikipedia (click here to read). NICHT was founded by Eudes and Laetitia. After the release of this EP the band parted ways with their vocalist.

So, Gothic/Doom Metal. Should be good, as I like some bands in this genre. The EP starts with an atmospheric intro ("Paralysis") in a sad and Doomy way. A sort of tension is created where heartbeats only stress that feeling. The guitar start of "Out Of Reach" sounds very much like PARADISE LOST. Vocals are rough in the verses and again the British band comes to mind. Musically you get pounding midtempo Metal with symphonic backing to create the right atmosphere. In the chorus both male and female vocals (by Sombr I Yahn) come to life. In the musical department the piano is the key instrument and the tempo also dropped a bit. Anyway, for a first proper song the result can be considered as good. The "Last Breath" is in- or exhaled calm first, before all vents are opened. The overall feel remains dark and with a dramatic touch. Vocals change from cleans over rough to screams as the song advances. At some point all falls silent, paving the way for a classic moment: piano, cello and soft vocals, which sound as if in agony. The power is restored via the chorus, where the piano helps to keep the sad character intact. However, the combo cello-piano do return afterwards and for the betterment of the song. All in all, a decent result, but not as solid as the previous song.

And it's as if there's a pattern, for "Hope" raises the bar again. The spoken intro introduces you to the underworld. Or better, it feels like that, it feels creepy. It's a slow song with the piano leading. Add guitar and vocal power and you get a Doom song. Monotonous it is not, thanks to the contributions by everyone. Especially the drums get more active later on and that helps to keep the attention. Whatever "Room 19" may be or where its title may come from, all you hear is a baby crying, windowd being broken (shattering glass) and spirits... all of course in the dark and creepy context of catalepsy. Now the question is, what's the meaning of this? What's its purpose? Perhaps one needs to see things in a whole, which will consist of two releases. So, yes, there will be a "Part 2". "Head Trip" is another qualitative track, again leaning towards PARADISE LOST with its midtempo groovy power. No clean vocals this time, but venomous grunts. The music gets more melodic and symphonic in the chorus, at which time Sombr I Yahn and Iggy share the vocal parts. What is good about this track is the balance between the calmer pieces and the rough stuff.

"Dark Blight" puts an end to this first part. Groovy Metal with added melodic input via the piano and symphonic layers, again reminding of the well-know bands in the genre. Guitars provide the power and are also the main instrumentation, especially in the start-stop verses. Iggy's singing is clean. To spice the music a bit more, the band used - I think - a metallophone (real or keyboards). The piano-dominated chorus is as one might expect on such a release. In other words, no different from the other tracks. The cello-piano break is also applied here before the band comes back to business as usual (similar to the intro piece). But that was without looking thinking of the metallophone, which puts a lid on the Metal, so no sound escapes anymore. This way an atmospheric moment arises, focusing on the vocals, which remain a means to excert feelings of agony, for example. As Wikipedia (click here) puts it: "Blight refers to a specific symptom affecting plants in response to infection by a pathogenic organism. It is simply a rapid and complete chlorosis, browning, then death of plant tissues such as leaves, branches, twigs, or floral organs. Accordingly, many diseases that primarily exhibit this symptom are called blights." And this is obviouosly a very fitting description for what happens in this song, only in a different context.

Next to Sombr I Yahn, who delivered the female vocals, Djé handled the bass parts while Dam provided electro samples. Now, about NICHT. All in all some pretty good ideas and some good tracks, despite the similarities with other bands. But that's inevitable, no matter which genre you can be catalogued under. TheFrench have delivered a very decent first release with "Part 1: Catalepsy Sinks". It's a dark and Doomy release, certainly far away from the a sunny day in the park. The sound is also taken care of. But not all is perfect, so to speak. My main concern was: where do the songs go? I didn't have the impression of listening to a whole, a unity, only seperate tracks which might fit in a certain context. Perhaps if I had the lyrics I could unite the two (lyrics and music) and see (or try to) what it's about, perhaps understand better why this or that was done. As an EP to just listen to, it's quite ok. However, "Part 2" is needed to complete the story. We'll see.

More info at www.myspace.com/nichtmusic.

Line-up:
Iggy Sharpe Blake - vocals
Laetitia - compositions, guitar arangements
Eudes - compositions, guitars, drums


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HELSTAR – Glory Of Chaos (AFM Records 2010)

Helstar - Glory Of Chaos
  1. Angels Fall To Hell
  2. Pandemonium
  3. Monarch Of Bloodshed
  4. Bone Crusher
  5. Summer Of Hate
  6. Dethtrap
  7. Anger
  8. Trinity Of Heresy
  9. Alma Negra
  10. Zero One

Anno 2007 the American Power/Thrash Metal band HELSTAR (founded in 1982) returns with a re-recording of old material under the title "Sins Of The Past", which also contained two new tracks. This was my first introduction to the band and its music. And it was a very nice one. The band's last studio output, "The King Of Hell" (2008), was a confirmation of my expectations. This too showed James Rivera and co. are still a force to reckon with, although I have the impression this band isn't as big as one would think. Live as well these guys know how to deliver the goods, as they showed at last year's Alcatraz Metal Festival in Deinze, Belgium. Killer stuff! I then last saw James at work with his other band, SABBATH JUDAS SABBATH, on the 2nd of October in Oudenaarde, Belgium. With this band he covers songs from BLACK SABBATH and JUDAS PRIEST, hence the name. This too was a very pleasant experience. Now, HELSTAR was also working on new material and this will see the light of day on the 5th November under the title "Glory Of Chaos". To be clear, I didn't expect anything, or at least nothing bad. The playing of the album at Oudenaarde already indicated that the band worked hard on this new release to make it as killer as before and make the songs fit for live performances.

On "Glory Of Chaos" no Russel DeLeon on drums, but Michael Lewis, it seems. I saw this change when lookin on Metal-Archives.com and HELSTAR's MySpace page. The iPool files didn't contain a bio file, so I guess that's the only news worth mentioning. Ten tracks on this new release. Well, nine proper songs and one outro, which is - as James Rivera revealed on YouTube - the beginning of the next studio album. The follow-up of "Glory Of Chaos", indeed. This is an acoustic, atmospheric song and hymnic singing. Lyrically it's about the new world, a bit similar to the film 2012. The world has come to an end, all has perished, etc... so what happens after that? In what kind of world will we have arrived? "Zero One" stands for the year, 01. It's both strange to hear such an outro in connection with the previous songs, which deal each with a different subject, yet in the context of chaos, and have already the start of a new album. This makes you wonder if perhaps it would have been better to release a double album. Unless 2011 is also a HELSTAR year. But that remains to be seen, let's first enjoy "Glory Of Chaos" and the gigs.

"Glory Of Chaos" begins with "Angels Fall To Hell", a song about the abusing of kids by priests being denied by the latter or the church in general. A very actual theme. The song starts melodically, building the tension. Thrashy Power Metal breaks out in an aggressive manner. James sings with his typical powerful voice, even screams out his lungs in the uptempo chorus. Excellent material! Before the solos the band even put a bridge where James can have another go at screaming his rage and anger. Very good starting track and catchy as well. Time for the bad news then. No, don't worry. HELSTAR know what they're doing. "Pandemonium" is about the media blowing up bad/negative news like it's the end of the world. There's lots of sh*t going on in the world, some worse than the other, but the media always take an item and report about it out of proportion, in this way also indoctrinating the public. I couldn't agree more here. Musically it's about destructive, aggressive Metal. The beast has been unleashed, you might say. No real melodic input in the pounding chorus, save for James's voice. Other than that, he sings in a vicious, venomous way. Before and during the solos it's headbang time, as the rhythm is very well written for that. Afterwards it's back to business as usual.

On to "Monarch Of Bloodshed" then, which is lyrically similar to KREATOR's "Suicide Terrorist" (2005). In other words, a song about terrorists blowing up people and stuff in the name of their religion, which then makes them believe they'll be an angel, a god or similar. Needless to say, heavy guitarwork with straight-forward drums building towards the verses. Firm midtempo, though a little slower than before. Vocally James keeps it low one time, screams another time. At some point there's a calm break with guitars fading in, transcending into a Doomy moment (see CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, etc.), after which the band restores the power and unleashes the solos. All in all another solid song, yet a little less interesting than the previous ones. "Bone Crusher" inceases the pace again and is quite simply about moshpits. When James screams in the bridge, it's as if Rob Halford (JUDAS PRIEST) is doing a guest performance. No, it's not identical, just similar and this adds to the talent that James has.

In "Summer Of Hate" the band goes back in time and tries to find out what went on in the mind of Charles Manson (Wikipedia page), leader of the Manson family. The song starts with a spoken sample accompanied by the acoustic guitar. Once power is added the midtempo verses are on track. Somehow the guitars create a wall, which means input of melody is desired. Luckily James's voice can handle it. Again the rhythm is what stands out here, musically. The bridge is also of the headband-type during which James holds a speech, which gives this part a dark, vile and vicious impression. After the solos it's back to verses, chorus and done. Solid song, but here as well, a little less interesting compared to other tracks. Still, it's far from bad, so don't misinterprete my words, hehehe. "Dethtrap" was written during the recording sessions for "The King Of Hell". James then stayed at the studio to avoid having to travel back and forth. He said you can compare it with the film "Cube" (IMDB page), where several persons are locked in a house/building and have to get out via different little rooms, though each has danger awaiting them (guillotines, knives, etc.). Apparently the studio is also constructed in such a way. The song itself consists of direct, fast-forward Thrash. Sheer greatness! James's vicious and screamy vocals fit perfectly and even his clean singing in the chorus is pretty flawless. The midtempo drumming during the guitar solo does sound strange, as the guitars rage on. But that's trivial, as the end result is eargasmic.

"Anger" is about a person in the band's life (or is that Larry's life?) who's done something not so nice, hence causing anger. The pounding Metal continues to rush onwards with firm TESTAMENT-ish verses (riffing and vocals). The title is screamed by the band in the chorus. And at some point HELSTAR kicks into higher gear, also during the solo that follows. Another song for live performances. "Trinity Of Heresy" is another religious track. Satan used to be friends with God, but the latter kicked him out. Now he/Satan wonders why, is angry because of this event and thus the music is inline with that. The high-tempo Metal is this time more Power than Thrash, but that doesn't prevent the band from pounding with full force. Surprisingly all then stops to let an acoustic break come in. James's fierce singing also changes to soft singing and this whole just sounds out of place, at least to my ears. When the level of aggression is restored, all's well again. Despite the break, this is another highlight.

Black soul or "Alma Negra" is another song about serial killers, and more specifically about the evil that entered them, that took over their mind, their thinking, their way of acting. This is a pounding, raging track, all the way. It's also something HELSTAR's very good at. The vocal department is well done as James lets out agonizing screams, shrieks you could almost call them. Further down the track the band offers some change, yet still heavy and powerful enough before returning to the screamy Thrash. Top job, if you ask me. "Zero One" was mentioned several paragraphes ago. But it still is a strange way to end this album.

In my review of "The King Of Hell" I mentioned that speed was an issue, though trivial. On "Glory Of Chaos" the band rectified this error - though an error it was not - and wrote a very nice concept album. That is, if you can consider this new album a concept one. Since all songs have something to do with chaos, it's therefore logic to catalog it like that. But anyway, HELSTAR keeps on spewing out quality Power/Thrash, even after all those years. The production is very good, the songs are catchier than before, everyone's in top shape... In short, "Glory Of Chaos" is an album you simply cannot ignore and thus highly recommended!

More info at www.helstar.com.

Line-up:
James Rivera - vocals
Larry Barragan - guitars
Rob Trevino - guitars
Jerry Abarca - bass
Russel DeLeon - drums


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SINOCENCE – Scar Obscura (Metalbox Recordings 2010)

Sinocence - Scar Obscura
  1. Perfect Denial
  2. Metalbox
  3. God Complex
  4. Ultraviolent
  5. Art Of Seperation
  6. Eviscerate
  7. Rule As One
  8. All New Revenge
  9. Scar Obscura
  10. Terminus

Several weeks ago I was sent a copy of "Scar Obscura", the second album by the British Thrash Metal band SINOCENCE. This album was originally released in 2009, but as the band was not satisfied with how the label handled everything, they started their own label under the name Metalbox Recordings and re-released this album again on the 1st of November 2010. Prior to that, several demos and the debut album, "Black Still Life Pose" (2005), were made and put out. SINOCENCE was founded in 2000, by the way. Especially for this re-release the guys were filmed for an interview about the band and other related matters. I can be short about this: the idea is good, the execution and sound is not. The guys have an accent and you have to turn up the volume or press your ear against the speakers to understand what is being said. Of course, if you're from the region, you won't have trouble with it. Maybe it would have been better to have the band talk in a closed space, a living room or something in that vein, so the spoken words comes out better. Now it was filmed in a warehouse, I think.

"Scar Obscura" kicks off with "Perfect Denial", the first of the ten tracks. It starts calm...heaviness is added, though still at slow tempo, but then the power kicks in and we're off. The heavy guitarwork is injected with a dose of melodicness, to also complement the clean vocals, which do have a rough edge. The music is comparable to IRON MAIDEN, though with a modern touch and influences of e.g. Punk Rock. The chorus is slow and the vocals are clearly in the spotlights here. Add a groovy part and a solo and the song's complete with an end result that's all in all very decent. This grooviness of the guitars is also of importance in "Metalbox", where the music advances at a firm pace. The vocal lines are reminiscent of how Zak Stevens sang in SAVATAGE, for example. I'm not saying they're identical, it's just this was the first comparison that came to mind. Powerful music contrasts with melodic vocals in the verses and bridge. After the solo, those who want to bang the head that doesn't bang can enjoy some headbang time. Here as well, a very decent result.

The "God Complex" also takes a calm start, steadily increasing in power and volume. However, that power only comes after a Pop-ish intro. The groovy, modern kind of Metal (Thrash/Metalcore) creates quite a contrast then and it's the melodic leads that give the music a Metalcore-like edge. Larry's drumwork stands out here, as mainly he is responsible for variation. But there's more variaton than that, as the verses... are Power Metal-style, the RAGE way. You know, the German Metal band. "God Complex" is an energizing song, one with balls. Furthermore, you get a Bluesy solo (backed by slow music). The chorus is (of course) groovy and melodic and spiced with a string-bending sound in vein of MACHINE HEAD. In short: the complex is complex indeed, as SINOCENCE didn't write a straight-forward song here. Kudos for that, also because it's one of the best songs on "Scar Obscura".

A title like "Ultraviolent" needs no explanation. The music is accordingly with heavy grooves and the band even threading on Stoner Metal ground. The melodic input here comes not from the guitars (except for the leadwork), but mostly from Moro's voice, which is the most vital element here, it seems. You could compare it with several of MUSE's songs. Like before, you get a diverse dish in terms of rhythm, tempo, leads, ... To offer a 180° change, "Art Of Seperation" begins acoustically! The clean vocals are inline with the guitars, forming a nice combo. Female backing vocals fall in, tension is growing...and despite the music becoming heavier and electric, due to its emotional touch it does come over as whiney. In other words, it's boring (in my humble opinion). The song also sounds very American, if you know what I mean. And no, that's not a good thing. The typical groovy Metal of before also is played here before the (melodic) chorus. The female vocals return once the Metal is silenced. Moro's voice sounds rather similar to that of Gavin Rossdale from the Rock band BUSH. To round off, the guys play well and what not, but the song just isn't as attractive as the others and tends to bore quite rapidly. First song down, any more to go?

The second half of the tracklist starts with "Eviscerate", a song where the band found a higher gear as the Metal rushes onwards at speeds not reached in previous tracks. This speed injection was sorely needed, by the way. Melody is more prominent here and the funky, yet dark and mysterious verses give the song a special feel. The aforementioned diversity the band incorporated in each song result in taking a Punk Rock direction at some point. Vocally you get clean and rough singing, but when hearing the album from the first track to this one, this is one element that is hard to digest. The song in general is good, though, but nothing spectacular. "Rule As One" is another pounding, groovy Metal song, which sounds like Punk Rock meets Metal. Yeah, that's close to Thrash. The clean singing in combination with pounding drums sounds very familiar, as this pattern was used before. The breakdown chorus is powerful, including with backing vocals. There is a calm break before letting out full power again for the solo. All in all, a decent track and better than "Eviscerate", but not on the list of highlights (unlike the first few tracks).

"All New Revenge" is a midtempo track, but a wild groover, indeed. The verses are done in a calm manner at first, but when it's time to break out, it sounds as if the guys listened to GREEN DAY. In the chorus Moro's vocals are of the aggressive kind. In combination with the ballsy Metal I can only say: I like it!!! The clean vocals, however, are too whiney for my ears, and thus don't do much good here. The guitar solo is well done, too. So, despite this one detail, another reasonably fine song in the bank. Time for the title track then ("Scar Obscura"). This is nothing more than a short acoustic interlude with short lyrics on repeat. Honestly, it's boring. there's no other way to say it, but I find this absolutely superfluous. The album then logically ends with "Terminus" with also continues with the acoustic guitar, toms and clean singing. It sounds like Pop music, but the vocals are comparable to how James Hetfield of METALLICA sings in the chorus of "The Unforgiven II". Don't worry, the acousticness makes way for pounding, melodic Metal. Heavy enough to side with Thrash, but melodic to keep it interesting. The female vocals (done by Mary from THE WINDING STAIR) of before make a return here in the chorus. She does a fine job here, comparable with Sharon Den Adel from WITHIN TEMPTATION and similar. The chorus itself, however, is whiney. Yep, I've used this word before here, but it's a term that is appropriate here. I could also use the word dull. This last song also contains two calmer breaks before allowing for another power outbreak. The second time, it must be said, sounds like an emo-chorus. Maybe it's my ears, but what does this do on a Groove/Thrash Metal album?

I was pretty enthusiastic when I received my copy of "Scar Obscura". SINOCENCE was unknown to me, despite their earlier abum, "Black Still Life Pose" (2005). One can't keep an eye on everything out there. Everyone's in a band nowadays and lots of them put out demos and stuff before they can even properly play their instruments or take the time to work on material, recording issues, etc... Not with the Nothern Irish band SINOCENCE. These guys can play their instruments and made sure the new album sounds good. Thrash Metal it is not, the material's too groovy for that and has more in common with Modern Metal (a broad term, I know). My ears also told me after several listens that the first part of the tracklist is the best, as there are the highlights. Further down you'll find decent stuff here and there. This results in "Scar Obscura" being a fairly decent album. It's not bad, but it's not super either - I try to remain as objective as possible, even if reviews always contain elements of personal taste. Perhaps the songs come out better live, which I can't verify (so far). If you're fan of a more modern approach of Thrash or Metal in general, then you can give SINOCENCE a try.

More info at www.myspace.com/sinocence.

Line-up:
Moro - vocals, guitars
Anto - guitars
Jim - bass
Larry - drums


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ROSS THE BOSS – Hailstorm (AFM Records 2010)

Ross The Boss - Hailstorm
  1. I.A.G.
  2. Kingdom Arise
  3. Dead Man's Curve
  4. Hailstorm
  5. Burn Alive
  6. Crom
  7. Behold The Kingdom
  8. Great Gods Glorious
  9. Shining Path
  10. Among The Ruins
  11. Empire's Anthem

Two years ago, in 2008, Ross The Boss made a comeback under his own name, a band formed with members of the German Heavy/Power Metal band IVORY NIGHT. The debut album was titled "New Metal Leader". While Ross has been out of MANOWAR for a long time, he did play in other bands, like THE DICTATORS, but somehow it was nice to see him back, playing solid Heavy Metal. At least, those were the expectations. Sadly enough, "New Metal Leader" was dangerous title and Ross and co. never managed to deliver something that would justify this title. There were a few solid songs, though, but the rest of the album wasn't exactly that, despite the material overall being quite listenable. As could be expected, the album was aimed mainly at fans of, for example, MANOWAR, HAMMERFALL and similar. Afterwards the band toured with SINNER and played at festivals like Bang Your Head and Bloodstock. Anno 2010 the follow-up is out, since the 29th October. Its title: "Hailstorm".

Like on "New Metal Leader", the album starts with an intro, its title also abbreviated to three letters, which stand for... Well, one can only guess. "I Am God"? ;-) Musically it's fully acoustic, guitar only, a tension is sort of created towards "Kingdom Arise", which also starts with the guitar. A power attack follows with galopping midtempo verses. You can easily compare the music with MANOWAR, GAMMA RAY and similar. The chorus is of the epic kind, quite hymnic as well. This song alone is already a step in the right direction, the material better than on "New Metal Leader". However, as good as it is, "Dead Man's Curve" is rather mediocre with its MANOWAR-meets-IRON MAIDEN kind of Metal. It's simple and straight-forward. Alright to listen to, no doubt, but it doesn't give me shivers or make me excited.

Luckily there's "Hailstorm", the title track, to deliver the goods. Uptempo, MANOWAR on speed, riding along STORMWARRIOR, GAMMA RAY and old FREEDOM CALL. This song has it what is needed: power, balls and a dark feel. Probably the best track here. "Burn Alive" is a Bluesy rocker, typically (old school) Heavy Metal with a Glam touch, in a way. Again, simplicity was key in order to have a sing-along chorus like HAMMERFALL makes them, for example. Sorry for the comparisons, but if they can be made, why not. "Crom" (no, not the band) is another such kind of song, albeit slower. The riffing is reminiscent to bands like BLACK SABBATH, CANDLEMASS and so on. Of course, with a different tone/sound. Still, kudos for the variation so far.

Next is "Behold The Kingdom". This is a slow song with lots of soloing. As good as the execution is, the overall feel and attraction isn't all that much. But then Ross composed an instrumental track, "Great Gods Glorious". It's got balls, the hymnic touch and epic feel, all perfectly done. It's good to hear Ross in the spotlights this way. And yes, this is also a highlight on "Hailstorm". Other than that, no more of those. "Shining Path" is a midtempo track, typical for this style. You could consider it as a ZZ TOP-meets-MANOWAR kind of song, musically speaking. Organ in the back for the sake of atmosphere and done. This is classic stuff to enjoy without thinking, else the soup won't taste as good, by manner of speech. Shifting once more into lower gear, "Among The Ruins" is played, taking off slowly via the piano. The Metal does kick in at some point, but never does the pace increase. In general, this song is rather sleep-inducing, if you don't mind me saying. The storm ends with a typical MANOWAR-style track called "Empire's Anthem". Listen to "Blood Of My Enemies" as one comparable example.

"New Metal Leader" was not exactly the album one would expect from someone who formed MANOWAR and helped bring it to the world's attention. It was rather average, despite a few good songs that stood out. Therefore it appealed more to MANOWAR fans and alike. Not that "Hailstorm" seeks another audience, it still looks to attract the interest of the same people and those who like Heavy Metal in general. Vocalist Patrick Fuchs improved his singing, that must be noted. Then again, this made him sound (depending on the song) a bit like HAMMERFALL singer Joacim Cans. Which is very compatible with the music. All in all "Hailstorm" is a pretty decent album if you just seek something to listen to, something that's very easy to digest. Otherwise, I'm sorry to say, it's best to look elsewhere if you need more intricate stuff, music that will stick with you for many listens.

More info at www.ross-the-boss.de.

Line-up:
Patrick Fuchs - vocals
Ross The Boss - guitars
Carsten Ketterling - bass
Matthias Mayer - drums


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MAGIC KINGDOM – Symphony Of War (Limb Music Products 2010)

Magic Kingdom - Symphony Of War
  1. Symphony Of War
  2. We Rise
  3. Million Sinners World
  4. Evil Magician
  5. In The Name Of Heathen Gods
  6. Monte Cristo
  7. I'm A Lionheart
  8. Unholy Abyss
  9. Metallic Tragedy - Chapter 2: The Holy Pentalogy
    I. Through The Sea Of Ice / Quest For The Holy Light
    II. Before The Apocalypse / War Of The Black Angels
    III. At The Gates Of The Last Mystic Dragon Land
    IV. Resurrection Of The Wizard / With The Gods Of Egypt On Our Side
    V. Tournament Of Hell

MAGIC KINGDOM, the Belgian Epic Power Metal band, first came to my attention in 2004, the year of their second album, "Metallic Tragedy". I heard one song, thought it was good, but not enough to buy the album. As the market has been flooded for years with releases from each genre and across the globe, one has to make choices in purchasing. It also seems the name MAGIC KINGDOM is related to one of Disney's theme amusement parks in the USA. I only relate it to Metal. ;-) Anyway, it's not since the 21st century that the band exists. Mastermind and guitarist Dushan Petrossi (also in IRON MASK) founded MAGIC KINGDOM in 1998. He wantd to combine the influences of e.g. SYMPHONY X and YNGWIE MALMSTEEN with those of classic composers BACH and HÄNDEL. Anno 1999 "The Arrival" came out, but it didn't catch my attention. As I said above, it's only in 2004 that I first was aware of the band's existence. Ex-AT VANCE vocalist Oliver Hartmann appeared on two tracks.

Two years later, MAGIC KINGDOM underwent a serious change: singer Max Leclerq (ex-FAIRYLAND) left, followed by rumours about Lance King (ex-PYRAMAZE, ex-BALANCE OF POWER) maybe joining the band. As Luca Turilli has enough work on his hands with RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), and DIONYSUS closing its books, vocalist Olaf Hayer was more free for a new adventure. And so he became the new singer of MAGIC KINGDOM. FAIRYLAND mastermind Pillippe Giordana became the new keyboardist. This new line-up worked on the third album, "Symphony Of War", which was mixed and mastered by Uwe Lulis (REBELLION, ex-GRAVE DIGGER). Limb Music released it then on the 29th of October, as a regular and limited edition, which contains a second disc with two bonus tracks, a video clip and wallpapers. The lyrical themes are traditional for European Power Metal - it's about honour, battles, warlords, dragons, and demons - but then again, one can also interprete it in a metaphorical way.

The symphony kicks off with the title track, where neo-classical keyboards set the tone, followed by furious uptempo Power Metal. Bombast via orchestral elements makes the attack complete. Olaf sounds as epic as ever, showing he's one of the best vocalists for this kind of job. Similarities with e.g. RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) - well, mainly their RHAPSODY period - can be found in the hymnic bridge and fast chorus. Raging guitars also play an important role here. It's a symphony of war (!), of course. And war is not something fluffy. As guitars are of high importance, along with the neo-classical influences, there's plenty of soloing here. Something I have absolutely no problems with. From start to finish, a very good first song.

In "We Rise" the overall feel is darker and the guitars sound rougher. Speed is high in the verses, where Olaf sings his lungs out, backed by Roma Siadletski's (also in IRON MASK) extreme vocals in the chorus. The chorus, a classic recipe, epic and catchy as hell! Epic choir vocals were also added during a first short solo, after which Dushan lets himself go. During this event, drummer Freddy Ortscheid adds variation in terms of tempo. Keyboardist Phil also gets his moment of glory at some point. And if that wasn't enough, symphonics come to the front, followed by another (uptempo) neo-classical solo. Lots of guitarwork here, too, but it's oh so tastey! Definitely one of the best tracks here.

Neo-classical guitarwork also introduces "Million Sinners World", followed by fast drumming and atmospheric backing. This neatly transcends into midtempo verses to flow into a hymnic bridge and rather emotional, but catchy, chorus, which again features Roman's extreme vocals next to Olaf's. Solos were not forgotten either, even that of the (symphonic) keyboards. The song ends like it started: uptempo. The quality remains high, let that be clear. With six minutes, this wasn't fastfood. Neither is the "Evil Magician"'s 8 minutes. Symphonic keyboards and guitar playing the first tunes. With a big bang, melodic Power Metal sets in. Dushan's input is the dominant factor, though Phil's assistance cannot be denied as it helps to make the whole more bombastic. Choir vocals (by Oliver Hartmann) occupy the chorus, with pounding Metal and symphonic leads. Olaf's clean vocals are spotlighted in the pounding bridge. At some point, there's a dark piece, which (musically) sounds perfect for headbanging. The solo follows, guitar and keyboards take turns. Etcetera, etcetera... MAGIC KINGDOM is indeed magic(al). The compositions, the guitarwork... I'm enjoying it all like a child who was given a new toy.

Since lots of music has been played thus far, it would be nice to have something that's less lengthy. "In The Name Of Heathen Gods" (about Thor) is the first of those songs. The music takes a direct start, in a galopping way. The verses are firm in one instant, galopping with symphonic backing in another. The chorus is, as usual, of the epic kind (symphonics, choir, ...). The fast solo is the finishing touch. "Monte Cristo" is another short track, starting with sounds of a battle (swords, cries, and more). And then the violence breaks loose! Fast, melodic Metal, first class material. The verses are guitar-driven, the chorus is epic and hymnic. And played at uptempo. Solos (neo-classical and normal) remain the cherry on the cake. And not to forget, the keyboards get their solo time, too.

Choir vocals begin "I'm A Lionheart" and those vocal lines are the same as the chorus ones. After a shortwhile, uptempo Metal sets in. The galopping verses contain enough epicness and melody, which is only normal with a band that plays melodic/neo-classical Power Metal. The drums in the chorus are double-bassed, but the speed isn't that high. Solos come from the guitar and keyboards. Composition-wise this song is more complex again, compared to the previous few tracks. That's also beneficial to the diversity on this album, of course. And from here we enter the "Unholy Abyss". Now, isn't the abyss always unholy? It's not exactly the gardens of Eden, is it? The storm sets in, blasting Power Metal follows with a dark, vile voice. Neo-classical Metal mingles in, at high speed. The keyboards-lead verses are Olaf's domain. Those keyboards present a whirlwind of sound in the bridge while the said speed remains a constant or as good as. Very nice here and something that makes this song stand out from the rest is the choir piece, sung in Latin. It's dark, epic, and majestic. After that it's solotime (again). The "Unholy Abyss" is left for the juggernaut on this album: "Metallic Tragedy - Chapter 2: The Holy Pentalogy".

This almost 30-minutes lasting epos consists of five parts. "Through The Sea Of Ice / Quest For The Holy Light" starts dramatically with the organ and choir. Orchestral music is played, like a soundtrack from e.g. "Lord Of The Rings", "The Mummy" and so forth. A female vocalist sings the lyrics here, not Olaf or Roma. Who she is, I don't know, but she does a fine job. There's even a spoken part, like RHAPSODY OF FIRE has done on several of their albums. It adds to the story behind the song(s). The guitarsolo and symphonic countering give the song a Middle Ages touch, and I can only applaud for that. As this chapter is one big song, divided into several parts, the connection is always smoothless and thus slow, symphonic Metal forms the beginning of "Before The Apocalypse / War Of The Black Angels". The choir and symphonics are of course the main actors here, else such an epic construction would not have been assembled. Diversity is key here, that's what makes this second part stand out. Be it the symphonics, the drums, the vocals. Also, as "War Of The Black Angels" is played, Roma's extreme vocals come in very handy. But he then goes into duel or dialogue with Olaf and the female vocalist.

The arrival "At The Gates Of The Last Mystic Dragon Land" lasts very shortly. Calm at first (like IRON MAIDEN has done in many of their songs) with symphonic assistance, but it doesn't take long for the power of Metal to be activated. Roma's demonic vocals contrast with Olaf's, as the latter sings during the dramatic moments. Orchestral elements make the connection with "Resurrection Of The Wizard / With The Gods Of Egypt On Our Side", where tension is created. Trumpets announce what exactly? The arrival of the king? The ride to victory? Musically you get slow, hymnic, Eastern-influenced Metal. At least, it feels like this and female chanting adds to it. Roma's growls wouldn't sound bad on a BOLT THROWER album, though. Once the choir comes in again, the last part, "Tournament Of Hell" has begun. In fact, they sing this line, so it couldn't be easier. Bestial vocals stress it once more, you're in hell. The king or whoever is talking, states that he's only seeking a champion, not a war. And so, the fighting begins. Sad, atmospheric chanting is played in the back, together with strings to stress the drama of it all. The music takes on a military character with marching drums (and guitars). Brass and strings are the leading instruments. Galopping Metal takes over with a fierce Olaf. Midtempo, double-bass verses, while the music pounds onwards in the chorus. Choirs add to the epicness of the music. Solos are delivered by guitar and keyboards. This force is put to a halt for the solemn moment where no heaviness is allowed. Olaf thus adapts to this softer kind of intervention. The pentalogy is completed or finished by means of a hymnic guitar lead. A very nice ending in quite a traditional melodic Power Metal way.

MAGIC KINGDOM, IRON MASK... it's not always clear why Dushan created both bands, as there are several similarities. However, thanks to a new line-up and perhaps the clear mind of the master (he alone can tell why both bands exists) this Belgian band created a true masterpiece, if not jewel, with "Symphony Of War". Neo-classical Power Metal of very high quality, similar - inevitably - to bands like SYMPHONITY, RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), SYMPHONY X, THY MAJESTY, KALEDON, FAIRYLAND, IRON MASK (yes, though the music is less bombastic here) and more. And I just mentioned one important element that distinguishes MAGIC KINGDOM from IRON MASK: the orchestral bombast. Anyway, "Symphony Of War" was an album I wasn't exactly looking forward to or had any expectations for. The promo has been played many times since I obtained it and from the start I was amazed - yes, that's without exaggerating - of the musicianship, the power, the honesty behind it all. With "Symphony Of War" MAGIC KINGDOM shows that small bands are capable of big achievements. This release is more than highly recommended!

More info at www.myspace.com/magickingdommetal.

Line-up:
Olaf Hayer - vocals
Roma Siadletski - "extreme / death" vocals
Dushan Petrossi - guitars
Phil Giordana - keyboards
Vassili Moltchanov - bass
Freddy Ortscheid - drums


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KATRA – Out Of The Ashes (Napalm Records 2010)

Katra - Out Of The Ashes
  1. Delirium
  2. One Wish Away
  3. If There Is No Tomorrow
  4. Vendetta
  5. Out Of The Ashes
  6. Envy
  7. Mirro
  8. Anthem
  9. The End Of The Scene
  10. Hide And Seek

The Finnish Gothic Metal band KATRA released its sophomore album, "Beast Within" (see review), to years ago. Back then I found it worthwhile, despite (or thanks to?) similarities with bands like NIGHTWISH and WITHIN TEMPTATION. Many gigs and two years later the follow-up album is out under the title "Out Of The Ashes" (out since the 29th October). Probably a more personal title, or maybe related to the period before KATRA? Speculation from my part. The important thing is that Katra (vocals) and her same-titled band are back with new material. The line-up changed in two places: no more Jani Wilund and his keyboards. But perhaps he did play the parts as a guest musician, I don't know. In his stead came Teemu Mätäsjärvi as second guitarist. Matti Auerkallio replaced Jaakko Järvensivu on drums.

It all starts with "Delirium" and its guitar intro, in wah-wah form. Midtempo, galopping Rock sets in while this tune continues to flow over into calm verses and Katra's clean, soft vocals. There's a bit of a happy feel here. Full power is let out in the chorus, where keyboards can be heard in the back and guitars provide the melody. Needless to say that this part is a true highlight. You could compare it with LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE, but happier and more melodic. The piano plays a key role in "One Wish Away", for the main melody. It's picked up by the guitar. Again the contrast between clean verses (acoustic here) and full powered chorus (with symphonic backing) is applied. This song is also a good example of the frailty of Katra's voice versus the power of rocking guitars and drums. And the result is very much alright.

No intro for "If There's No Tomorrow" which takes of immediately. Melody is again a vital aspect (delivered by both guitars and keyboards) and Katra's soft voice battles, or better, joins forces with the rest of the band. Fullness in the chorus with a melody line that is the same like the one in the beginning of the song. This time, vocals were added to complete the pattern. On to the more rocking "Vendetta" and with such a title the music must follow. The drums wait to attack until the chorus and beyond. With every instrument in place the music develops a dark character and a little sad too somehow. However, the result is catchy... again. The title track answers the call for a heavier song more clearly with its pounding music. The guitars sound fatter, the whole comes across as ballsier, more massive. Clean calm verses opposed to a fully activated chorus (incl.symphonic backing) creates a very nice contrast. This pattern seems to have been the easy way on this album.

Ballads were a weak point on "Beast Within" and it's not different on the new album. "Envy" is piano-driven with acoustic verses (semi-acoustic in the next instants), but here the chorus is the best part compared to those verses. However, it's not really bad, though very listenable. "Mirror" puts the band back on the Rock/Metal track. The similarities with LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE (again, but I find it a very good band to compare with) can be made for the heavy verses. Katra's vocals add a touch of drama to the chorus, which also thrives on melody, particularly in backing sounds. "Anthem" is a melodic Rocker and a very radio-friendly one. The verses do rock, but it's the chorus that holds all power and has the guitars fulfilling a key role. I did notice a spheric Rock moment before the solo. This adds a special touch to the song, which is well done.

"The End Of The Scene" is the second ballad. Katra sings with a more fragile voice here and to be honest, it's toe-curling. The music is alright, going semi-acoustic for the solo. But vocally, no offence, Katra's not the right vocalist to sing such soft and gentle parts. Someone like Simone Simons (the first one that comes to my mind) is better. Last but certainly not least, "Hide And Seek" ends the album as it should: in style. Drums set in, followed by the rest of the rocking pack. Symphonic backing makes the song fuller, more complete. And as you might expect, you get clean verses and a full, hymnic chorus. In short, another very good song that helps put KATRA on the map, more than before.

"Beast Within" was a good album and showed the potential of KATRA. "Out Of The Ashes" turned out to be a very good, perhaps better, album which wonderfully combines melody and Rock/Metal in such a way they've become a force to reckon with and one can only wonder how it sounds on stage. There are improvements on several levels and particularly the production is very good. So, trivial issues aside, if you're seeking a (melodic) Gothic Rock/Metal release, "Out Of The Ashes" should be on your list.

More info at www.katra.fi.

Line-up:
Katra Solopuro - vocals
Kristian Kangasniemi - guitars
Teemu Mätäsjärvi - guitars
Johannes Tolonen - bass
Matti Auerkallio - drums


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SLOUGH FEG – The Animal Spirits (Cruz Del Sur Music 2010)

Slough Feg - The Animal Spirits
  1. Trick The Vicar
  2. The 95 Thesis
  3. Materia Prima
  4. Free Market Barbarian
  5. Lycanthropic Fantasies
  6. Ask The Casket
  7. Heavyworlder
  8. The Tell-Tale Heart
  9. Kon-Tiki
  10. Second Coming
  11. Tactical Air War (feat. Bob Wright of BROCAS HELM)

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 previous release, "Ape Uprising!" (2009), 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.

And yes, the above two paragraphes are 99% the same as in the review of "Ape Uprising!" (2009). Also because nothing much has changed since then and I just wanted an intro for the sake of completion. With "Ape Uprising!" the Americans pleasantly surprised me, more than before, and delivered one of the best releases of 2009. The songs consisted of 1) Doomy stuff in vein of the classic names in the Traditional style, 2) Heavy Metal like MANOWAR and similar bring it, 3) 70's Rock/Metal similar to the likes of THIN LIZZY (for example) and of course 4) a bit of Bluesiness here and there. Anno 2010 SLOUGH FEG celebrates its 20th anniversay, as the band was founded in 1990. And as many bands, SLOUGH FEG also puts out an album in this specific year. "The Animal Spirits", out on the 22nd of October, contains 11 tracks, though clocks in under 40 minutes. So, it's over before you know it. But then you just play it again.

It starts with "Trick The Vicar", an uptempo Rocker in vein of NWOBHM and somehow comparable to the fast part in DIAMOND HEAD's classic hit "Am I Evil" (previously covered by METALLICA). This song rocks, it's got vibe, feel and rhythm. Success guaranteed. "The 95 Thesis" is a midtempo track, a bit Folky in melody I dare say. But it's in fact very well done 70's Metal like it was done by e.g. DIO, BLACK SABBATH, RAINBOW, DEEP PURPLE, ... "Materia Prima" continues in the same style, though has more connection with the NWOBHM of the 1980s. However, the Americans neatly shift from something Bluesy to solid and firm Heavy Metal in this instrumental track. Pure craftsmanship! And so we arrive at "Free Market Barbarian", which takes a direct start and this mainly by the vocals. It's another midtempo rocker, Bluesy again and quite groovy, especially on drums. The same thing can be said about "Lycanthropic Fantasies", though this song's a bit calmer. The main difference is that here you get more solos. All well done, of course. So far I've got no complaints at all. SLOUGH FEG sure have their things well arranged.

Those were the first five tracks, how do the 6 other compare? "Ask The Casket" begins with calm, Bluesy Rock. It's rather catchy and you could consider this a feel-good, drinky song, so to speak. Solos are again aplenty here. "Heavyworlder" follows directly after "Ask The Casket". This midtempo rocker has the drums as variable and therefore key instrument, as the guitarlines remain linear all the time. But that doesn't mean the band invested less time and effort in the song. "The Tell-Tale Heart" offers the push and drive that is very welcome at this point. Groovy and rhythmic until a slowdown and silent moment with just the bass and drums in the spotlights, continuing in a Jazzy manner. Guitars come in again little by little to complete this relaxing piece of music. But to all good things comes an end, and so SLOUGH FEG strikes back with powerful 70's Rock. "Kon-Tiki" is a midtempo rocker where melody cannot be unnoticed. A classic song for this style.

"Second Coming" could be about Christ, but I don't have the lyrics with me to verify that. Anyway, musically or better instrumentally it offers a 180° shift in favour of acousticness, but that's good! This also gives, together with the toms, the song a Folky touch. I know, it's not because the acoustic guitar is present that it's Folk. But it's how everything sounds and to my ears the link with this style was easily made. "Tactical Air War" features BROCAS HELM vocalist/guitarist Bob Wright. I never heard of BROCAS HELM, did a quick check on MySpace (click here) and found out this Heavy/Power Metal band has been around since my year of birth and released four albums and several other releases throughout the years. Also, Bob's voice fits SLOUGH FEG's music perfectly. In this track the music comes rushing out the speakers at high tempo with double-bass, double leads and all this wrapped as a straight-forward song. Short and powerful, nothing more to add.

I started this review with a copy-paste from the previous SLOUGH FEG review I made and I think I can use much or all of its ending as well. Here we go. 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 "The Animal Spirits" is a clear and firm indication/confirmation of that. Honest, true and standing their ground... 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. Is "The Animal Spirits" better than "Ape Uprising!"? I really don't know, both are very much recommended! It's as simple as that.

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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CRYSTAL VIPER – Legends (AFM Records 2010)

Crystal Viper - Legends
  1. The Truth (Intro)
  2. The Ghost Ship
  3. Blood Of The Heroes
  4. Greed Is Blind
  5. Sydonia Bork
  6. Goddess Of Death
  7. Night Of The Sin
  8. Secret Of The Black Water
  9. A Man Of Stone
  10. Black Leviathan
  11. TV War (ACCEPT cover, bonus track)

No need for an introduction on the Polish Heavy Metal band CRYSTAL VIPER, as they released their first live album earlier this year under the title "Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany". See the review lower on this page for more info. A few months later, on the 22nd of October, CRYSTAL VIPER will put out their third studio album, "Legends". The lyrics deal with Polish sagas of the Middle-Ages, which makes this album already something to look forward to: history and Metal go hand in hand again, as previously done by GRAVE DIGGER, AMON AMARTH, SABATON, REBELLION and so many more. I previously said the following about the live release: "this is not the most perfect or best live recording/release, but what CRYSTAL VIPER presents here shows they stand their ground firmly both in the studio and live. They also show that classic Heavy Metal is far from dead and still is a key style that is timeless and can be enjoyed no matter which direction Metal heads into or which music genre is most popular." Let's hope I can be as positive about "Legends". On a side-note, the cover artwork has been created by Chris Moyen (SLAYER, TRIVIUM). You can also hear some guest musicians on this release: Stefan Kaufmann (U.D.O., ex-ACCEPT), Mat Sinner (PRIMAL FEAR, SINNER), ex-MANOWAR Rhino and Sven D'Anna and Dano Boland from WIZARD (Wizard).

This new album starts with a spoken intro ("The Truth"), backed by a spacey atmosphere. Next we enter "The Ghost Ship", where you get galopping Heavy Metal with rather Folky leads. A bit like FALCONER or TÝR or similar. This changes into double-bass uptempo Metal before the galopping rhythm returns for the verses. Marta's clean, yet rough-edged, vocals fit perfectly. Musically the song's comparable to HAMMERFALL, GAMMA RAY, (old) STEEL ATTACK, and so forth. Yes, the obligatory solo wasn't forgotten either. In short, a very solid song to start with. "Blood Of The Heroes" also contains a galopping rhythm and twinleads. The pace also lies a bit higher than in the previous song. This is countered with a slow, yet catchy chorus, where the tempo increases in a second instant. The solo is of the epic kind. On a vocal level, Marta is at some point assisted by a male singer, who adds a more rough voice. All this combined creates one of the highlights on this album.

Epicness with a Folky touch can also be heard in the intro of "Greed Is Blind", which is a midtempo track where the bass comes through quite well. This is a good song, however, it can get a bit monotonous after a while. The ballad that is "Sydonia Bork" doesn't turn that situation around. If nothing else, it's in fact the least good/attractive song on this album. You have the piano with organ backing. The Metal instrumentation only kicks in much later for the solo. Ballads are good to break the stream of heaviness and create a resting point, but it's clear that this is not where CRYSTAL VIPER's strength lies. "Goddess Of Death" is a better example of that, starting with the lead guitar before the Metal kicks in. Slow, again somewhat Folky leads follow. Musically - nope, none are Folk, but one - you could compare the song with HAMMERFALL, MANOWAR, TÝR (ah, here's the Folk band) and similar. The backing organ clearly stresses the MANOWAR similarities. Another solid track, but there's better material coming up.

One example is "Night Of The Sin", which sounds a lot like IRON MAIDEN, GAMMA RAY and similar, especially in its intro. Firm midtempo rocking then sets in. Add a catchy chorus, lots of leadwork and a solo and you've got already a very nice end result. However, at some point all falls silent to let the spotlights shine on Marta's vocals, while a faint guitar lead can be heard as well... until the end. "Secret Of The Black Water" is another solid track, though in my humble opinion not among the highlights. Here you get slow, atmospheric Metal of epic proportions. Add a hymnic chorus and the result is more than satisfying. All that's left now are three more highlights: "A Man Of Stone", "Black Leviathan" and the ACCEPT cover "TV War". The drums are the starting point in "A Man Of Stone", which sounds a lot like GAMMA RAY and FREEDOM CALL, not only because of the guitarwork. The verses are firm and before the chorus Marta throws in some high-pitched screams. That chorus is catchy and melodic with very nice vocal lines. As far as the rest of the song is concerned, the oligatory soloing is included and that makes the package complete. "Black Leviathan" has a calm intro, again IRON MAIDEN-like, before the kick-off, i.e. double-bass midtempo Metal. Another epic song, nothing more to add. "TV War" is an uptempo, double-bass track, originally by ACCEPT. CRYSTAL VIPER comes close and made a very enjoyable rendition.

"Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany" was a very nice way to get introduced to this Polish band's music. Even with those few studio tracks CRYSTAL VIPER gave a positive impression. Hearing one of their studio releases - and it's the newest one, "Legends" - properly confirms my earlier thinking: this is a solid piece of old school Heavy Metal in vein of (old) HAMMERFALL, GRAVE DIGGER, PARAGON, a bit of IRON SAVIOR and so on. Or more specifically, the German way. Fill in other bands which might suit your taste more, but this serves just as indication. CRYSTAL VIPER keeps the flame burning and managed to create an album that sounds energizing, encouraging, catchy and more. Several of these tracks will do very well live, no doubt about that.

More info at www.myspace.com/crystalviperofficial.

Line-up:
Marta Gabriel - vocals, guitar
Andy Wave - guitar
Tom Woryna - bass
Golem - drums


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SYMPHORCE – Unrestricted (AFM Records 2010)

IRON FIRE - Unrestricted
  1. The Eternal
  2. Until It's Over
  3. Sorrow In Our Hearts
  4. Whatever Hurts
  5. The Waking Hour
  6. Visions
  7. The Last Decision
  8. The Mindless
  9. Worlds Seem To Collide
  10. Do You Ever Wonder

The German Power Metal band SYMPHORCE was founded back in 1998 and soon had a first album ready under the title "Truth To Promises" (1999). Being very consistent, the band released a new album with a delay of 1-2 years. I saw all of them in the shops throughout the years ("Sinctuary", "PhorcefulAhead", "Twice Second", "GodSpeed" and their last one, "Become Death", from 2007), but never properly checked them out, also because back then vocalist Andy B. Franck, founder of SYMPHORCE, had become the new singer of BRAINSTORM, which was a band I instantly liked when hearing their "Unholy" release in 1998 and Andy's debut, "Ambiguity", in 2000. I did hear a few songs here and there of the various SYMPHORCE releases. Somehow this band failed to catch my interest as much as BRAINSTORM did. Hearing and reading how "Become Death" would be a heavier album, perhaps their heaviest, I checked it out at the shop. Some good songs, but as a whole not interesting or diverse enough. I also noticed that - or it's just my ears - SYMPHORCE changed their music from a more positive, so to speak, attitude to dark and gloomy.

As BRAINSTORM is in need of another solid album - "Memorial Roots" from 2009 wasn't exactly the powerball that was expected and the band has been going downhill somehow since "Liquid Monster" (2005), which did have a fair majority of strong songs - Andy could once again concentrate on SYMPHORCE. Anno 2010 album no. 7 is out since the 15th of October. I didn't have high expectations, but somehow one hopes the result will be worth it. Several listens later... nope, SYMPHORCE won't be playing for European domination. "Unrestricted" is a clear title with a fitting cover art (hand breaking chains), but the aforementioned dark and gloomy influence can be deduced from the song titles. And of course Andy's singing, which seems to have turned more and more emo (read: whiney) over the years. The album contains ten tracks and "Am I Am" as bonus track on the limited edition digipack.

It all starts with the (dramatic) piano intro of "The Eternal". When the Power Metal sets in, you can be sure it will rock. The rhythm's nice, the chorus is where melody comes out (incl. electronic backing), though this part sounds whiney. Starting with the piano, ending with the piano. Head and tail well done. All in all not such a bad song, though. "Until It's Over" also has electronic accents and vicious Metal. In se, nothing wrong with that, but again the chorus is the weakest link. It's repetitive and annoying. Contrast between heavy, groovy guitarwork and a melodic chorus is what you'll find in "Sorrow In our Hearts". More electronics then in "Whatever Hurts", followed by midtempo, groovy Metal. As good as the execution is, the end result fails to captivate me, fails to stick around. "The Waking Hour" is then a better track, mainly because the music not only rocks, but the band has shifted into higher gear.

In "Visions" it seems MEGADETH was of influence. Or better, I heard some similar stuff. And yes, again the chorus comes across as whiney, for lack of a better or alternative word. Keyboards or samples help to give the song a melodic touch. "The Last Decision" is a midtempo rocker, dark and groovy. An alright song, but nothing more. "The Mindless" consists of calm verses and Andy's fierce vocals, which are a laugh, really. Especially in this song. Add a melodic chorus and you're done. "Worlds Seems To Collide" is a weird song, but again quite emo. "Do You Ever Wonder" fits perfectly with the rest. Andy sings once more in a ballsy manner, but - sorry to say - with zero credibility. I don't know how the band worked on this album, how the recording sessions went, etc... but seriously, they've made better material in the past and Andy has sung much better before this album, be that in SYMPHORCE or BRAINSTORM.

Since SYMPHORCE was never on my list of bands to check, they sure won't be now. But maybe I should give their older releases (especially their first ones?) a try. What is wrong with "Unrestricted"? Oh, it's powerful, that's no problem. What is wrong, is that Andy's vocals annoy after a while. Also, I said that SYMPHORCE's music turned darker and gloomier and that's definitely true at this point. "Unrestricted" is one whiney album. Ok, I overused that word, but it's appropriate here. The new album doesn't have enough variety in terms of tempo, in feel, in anything else. It's all about dark, emo, sad stuff to an extent that listening to this album becomes a chore, tedious, boring. The whole lacks credibility. Why not go in the opposite direction, a more positive one, in terms of lyrics and then of course music (without cutting on powerful riffing and drums). There's Funeral Doom Metal out there that's way more uplifting and inspiring than "Unrestricted". With a title like this one expects powerful, epic stuff. Here, it's the opposite.

More info at www.myspace.com/symphorcepower.

Line-up:
Andy B. Franck - vocals
Cedric Dupont .- guitars
Markus Pohl - guitars
Dennis Wohlbold - bass
Steffen Theurer - drums


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ATLANTEAN KODEX – The Golden Bough (Cruz Del sur Music 2010)

ATLANTEAN KODEX & Side Effects - The Golden Bough
  1. Fountain Of Nepenthe
  2. Pilgrim
  3. The White Goddess
  4. Temple Of Katholic Magick
  5. Disciples Of The Iron Crown
  6. Vesperal Hymn
  7. The Atlantean Kodex
  8. A Prophet In The Forest
  9. The Golden Bough

ATLANTEAN KODEX, quite an intriguing name by the way, is a German Metal band combining elements from Heavy and Doom Metal. Simply put, the music is like a combination of (old) MANOWAR and (old) CANDLEMASS. This also means long and slow songs. Anyway, the band was formed back in 2006 and have also had their share of line-up changes: the vocalist and drummer positions seemed very subject to alterations. In terms of releases, they started with a split ("Vestal Claret / Atlantean Kodex") in 2007, followed by two EPs ("The Pnakotic Demos" and "A Prophet in the Forest"), which led them in 2010 to their debut album, "The Golden Bough", which was released via Cruz Del Sur Music on the 4th October. However, this album is enclosed by two live albums as well.

Now, what is "The Golden Bough" about? According to the press release and the band's words, it's "a journey through 12.000 years of European mythology. Based on Sir James George Frazer's (1854-1941) homonymous scholarly epic, "The Golden Bough" deals with his thought-provoking thesis that all forms of religion in Europe (including Christianity) originate from magical cults and fertility rites, which date back to the Stone Age. Neolithic magic as the root of Christianity, Europe's culture-defining religion? In the footsteps of Frazer we tried to unveil relics of ancient magic in Christianity by broaching the issue with aspects like medieval christian occultism and fanaticism ("Temple Of Katholic Magick"), local folklore ("Disciples Of The Iron Crown") or popular European folk-legends like the one about the sacred king sleeping under the mountain ("Pilgrim"). By uncovering these archaic roots in Europe's predominant religion, Christianity for us becomes a living link to an age, 12.000 years ago, when the peoples of Europe were still undivided by modern concepts like race, nationalism or social status. An ideal utopia forged by one shared religion as a unifying bond and based on tolerance, equality and common wealth.

The romantic longing for this lost and idealized Utopia, which quite possibly never existed, is the second big theme on "The Golden Bough". Clad in the metaphor of the forlorn island of Atlantis - a story everyone can relate to - the songs on this album invoke feelings of loss, estrangement and melancholy ("A Prophet In The Forest"). They express a yearning for the lost innocence of childhood ("The Golden Bough"), but also of hope ("Vesperal Hymn") and power ("The Atlantean Kodex"), culminating in the wish to leave this world for a better place, where dreams are understood and the dictatorship of intellect makes way for the spiritual nature of life ("Fountain Of Nepenthe"). A new European mythology for the 21st century by doing a bricolage of religion, magic and folklore, is what we were trying to achieve.

We don't consider "The Golden Bough" to be a political or scholarly statement - Frazer's theories by now have been widely rejected by modern anthropologists. We would rather like to see it as an exercise of imagination, a fascinating "What if?" which is - due to its mythic tone - open to thousands of interpretations and answers. You decide what is real! Like the golden bough in ancient Greek mythology was the key to the otherworld, we hope that our album will work as a vehicle to help you transcend the boundaries of this dreary modern age for a while."


ATLANTEAN KODEX also added a bit of technical info in a certain way of writing: "The Golden Bough" was recorded, mixed and produced by ATLANTEAN KODEX at the Boar Cult Studios, Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Kingdom of Bavaria, in the Days when the Tree of May was Raised in the Villages of the Upper Palatinate, Year of our Lord 2010. No triggers and quantization used while recording the drums. No Dolby used in the mix. Mastered at Rosenquarz Tonstudio (website), Lübeck, by Michael Hahn when Harvest Time drew near and Fear of the Bilmesschneider was strong among the People of the Upper Palatinate, Year of our Lord 2010. Cover artwork "Die Toteninsel" (Version IV) by Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901). Used with kind Permission of Nationalgalerie Berlin, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Layout by Trummer.

There you go, some background information. I found the explanation well done that I had to add it to the review, not only for the sake of completion. But most important are the songs, of course, which are mostly of the long kind and speed isn't really an issue either. The tracklist consists of 9 songs, totalling a playtime of a good 60 minutes. So, be sure to take the necessary time to make the trip.

It starts with the "Fountain Of Nepenthe", which is accessed through the sound of water waves (sea waves/ocean waves), followed by chugging Metal in vein of old MANOWAR (e.g. "Blood Of My Enemies") and old CANDLEMASS. The vocals are clean and somehow remind me of FATES WARNING ("Awaken The Guardian"). Not identical, just similar to some extent. The chorus is also slow, yet melodic and hymnic. Guitars are the dominating factor in the song, providing also nice leads and solo work. All in all, a very good starting track. "Pilgrim" is another solid song to my ears. Again the waves are there, accompanied by the flute and atmospheric sounds, making this intro a very relaxing piece of music. The organ can be faintly heard in the back. A spacey touch is added after which, indeed, the Metal comes flowing in at a slow pace. The guitars are so put together it sounds like a big goo of distortion, so to speak. The recipe is the same as the first song, only with a slower tempo. Guitars are the focal point, the drums follow. "Pilgrim" is very Doomy and spheric, massive even. ATLANTEAN KODEX added a singing part ("aaah aaah aah") near the end and it sounds like a 1 on 1 copy of "Child In Time" from DEEP PURPLE.

"The White Goddess" is an interlude, with a Folky guitar tune. And yes, the ocean's still there, it's not going anywhere. An ok track, though nothing special, in my opinion. "Temple Of Katholic Magick" starts with ghostly backing. No wait, it's church-related, so a comparison with a choir is better. The atmosphere sure isn't one of the birds and the bees. The Metal kicks in with a bang! Church bells were used for accents and bombast, but overall you get melodic Heavy Metal with a Doomy touch. The similarities with CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS or even (old) TÝR are easily made. Aside from that, this is another solid track, like the first two. But after this one, two less interesting ones are due. "Disciples Of The Iron Crown" is a double-bass midtempo track, which reminded me of the Brazilian band STORMENTAL, only heavier here. The tempo was also increased and this is the fastest song so far. One of the main aspects for ATLANTEAN KODEX, when comparing with the preceding songs, is melody. Each song has it and for the better, obviously, especially with this kind of albums. But it doesn't mean that the end result is super. "Vesperal Hymn" is a Doomier song, which also has the church bells sounding lively, as if the mass has just ended. The verses are acoustic, while the power was (mainly) kept for the chorus. Overall an alright song, though here as well, nothing spectacular.

The band's own song, "Atlantean Kodex" is a firm Heavy Metal one with lots of soloing. To make it more alive, to create a certain image/scene, samples of a crowd were added. A very solid song, nothing more to add. "A Prophet In The Forest" is another Doomy song, where the combo MANOWAR-CANDLEMASS comes along again. However, WHILE HEAVEN WEPT mingled in as well. No complaints here from my part. All ends with the title track, which is acoustic, floating on the aforementioned waves while a woman is speeching/preaching.

MANOWAR and CANDLEMASS both made good to very good albums in the 1980s and there are other bands out there that put together Heavy Metal and Doom Metal that makes it comparable to these bands. Or better, these are the two bands with which it's easiest to compare with. ATLANTEAN KODEX is a new band, especially when they're releasing their debut album only now, 4 years after their founding. But better later than not. It's best not to rush things and only release when once's ready and sure. The old school Metal trip was quite entertaining and enjoyable, but I have two remarks, which surely have been made by other reviewers as well: 1) several songs are long, very long, around 10 minutes. Doom Metal is known for long songs, but at least it's inherent to the genre and many bands succeed in keeping it all interesting and listenable. ATLANTEAN KODEX makes long songs and depending on this or that song it feels stretched. In other words, make them shorter. 2) the production is a bit too light (flat?) or not powerful/sharp enough, especially on the drums. Other than that, "The Golden Bough" is a decent effort, all things considered.

More info at www.atlanteankodex.de.

Line-up:
Markus Becker - vocals
Michael Koch - lead Guitars
Manuel Trummer - rhythm Guitars
Florian Kreuzer - bass
Mario Weiss - drums


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SEVEN DAYS REMAIN – Seven Days Remain (Seven Days Remain 2010)

Seven Days Remain - Seven Days Remain
  1. Leaving This Life
  2. Close The Door
  3. Kingdom Come Undone
  4. Introduction To Hate
  5. The Stampdown

SEVEN DAYS REMAIN is a Dutch Death/Thrash/Groove Metal band, formed in 2008. They are said to be inspired by KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, SOILWORK, MACHINEMADE GOD, HATESPHERE and similar. Anno 2010, early October, the band put out its first release, a self-titled EP. This EP was recorded at TomsterProject, which belongs to Tommie Bonajo from the band BLINDSIGHT. To promote the release, SEVEN DAYS REMAIN toured in their own country for the "Overzeas Defiance Tour". While playing shows here and there, the band is currently working on new material, which should see the light of day in 2011. At least, based on the quote "The band has great plans in store for 2011, so be sure to keep an eye out for SEVEN DAYS REMAIN!". The line-up consists of 5 members, but drummer Roel Pieters recently (March 1, 2011) left the band, due to not having the desire to carry on. So, a new drummer is being looked for. But let's focus on "Seven Days Remain", the EP, on which not Rik Janssen played bass, but Marcel Hendrix, guitarist in the Black Metal band CARACH ANGREN.

You'll find 5 tracks on this release and the tracklist itself is doubtful, if I may say so. Metal-Archives.com and some review sites display it as follows:

1. Introduction To Hate
2. Kingdom Come Undone
3. Leaving This Life
4. The Stampdown
5. Close The Door

The band itself ordered the songs like this:

1. Leaving This Life
2. Close The Door
3. Kingdom Come Undone
4. Introduction To Hate
5. The Stampdown

Now, which one is the right one? What caused the error, if one can call it that? You could argue that it's of no importance, but it is, very much even. Yes, you could play the songs in random order without much problems in terms of continuity, but that still would not solve the issue. So let's assume the right order is the one that band indicated, thus starting with "Leaving This Life". This is definitely my favourite on this EP. You get a fury of Death/Thrash riffing and drums. Along the way a powerful breakdown is added. Melody comes out in the bridge, where vocalist Steven Leijen sings in a clean way, though with a rough edge. Atmospheric backing makes the music complete. The music in general is very much comparable to the defunct Swedish Death Metal band CENTINEX (where a.o. Jonas Kjellgren from SCAR SYMMETRY used to play in), but also, to my ears, the Italian Melodic Death/Deathcore band STIGMA from Italy. The chorus on the other hand is on the slow(er) side, but also quite melodic and with clean vocals. The verses are of course as violent and aggressive as can be, which make for a nice contrast throughout the song.

"Close The Door" is next and it is a title that could easily serve for the last track, to end the EP. This is an aggressive, Metalcore-ish song, where screams and cleans each take turns. Solid material, though, in my opinion, the least good song. "Kingdom Come Undone" starts with rolling drums, groovy guitars and growling vocals. Uptempo Death/Thrash is the chosen direction. The growls soon enough make way for screams and shrieks in this whole that can be seen as dark, violent and more. Compare it to a more aggressive IZEGRIM or HATESPHERE, for example. Standing out here is the catchy riffing. All in all another very nice piece of Extreme Metal. And so is "Introduction To Hate", which commences instantly. Groovy Death/Thrash is on the menu with appropriate vocals. This is one big violent thunderstorm, devastating and destructive in all places. Save in the melodic chorus, where the tempo goes down a bit (to let the band strike back as fiercely as before). Last but not least there's "The Stampdown", also kicking in in a direct way, albeit a liiiitle slower. The growls go very well with the violent character of the music, where the tempo is fluctuates. Furious as a typhoon in the verses, more melodic in the chorus and with clean vocals. The created contrast is big, perhaps too big, and maybe it wasn't the best idea to go clean here, or better, keep some roughness in the singing. But that's a trivial element, as the end result is worth checking out.

And once again an unsigned band comes to the surface to show what's it got on offer. SEVEN DAYS REMAIN have invested a lot of time and effort to write own material, with the needed dose of catchiness and diversity, as hard as it may be when playing Extreme Metal and especially a mix of Death, Thrash and Groove Metal. The production certainly is well done. Of course the music is comparable to other bands and of course this prevents the Dutch from putting an own stamp on the songs, but one has to start somewhere. SEVEN DAYS REMAIN may be proud of what they've achieved so far, but no doubt that there's still a way of (un)certain length to go, which is the case for many young bands. Practice makes perfect and over time it can only get better. Fans of extreme Metal should in any case check out "Seven Days Remain". 21 minutes of relentless aggression and destruction. Well, not all the way, else it would be tedious, but you get the point. Let's see what this band has indeed in store in 2011.

More info at www.sdrband.com.

Line-up:
Steven Leijen - vocals
Etienne Meessen - guitars
Tom Keulers - guitars
Rik Janssen - bass
Roel Pieters - drums


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IVAN MIHALJEVIC & SIDE EFFECTS – Destination Unknown (SG Records 2010)

Ivan Mihaljevic & Side Effects - Destination Unknown
  1. Instant Star (Add Water)
  2. The Curse
  3. Choosh Pies
  4. Post-Apocalyptic Images
  5. Dreamscapes
  6. Shadows
  7. The Pirate Song
  8. Sorry Pt. I
  9. Your Plane Flew Away
  10. Sorry Pt. II
  11. Hollow Wish

Last year I was presented, by Paola of the Ivan Mihaljevic Street Team (MySpace page), an album of this young Croatian guitarist. This album was "Sandcastle", which was released on the 23rd of July 2008 (see the review for more info on Ivan and the album itself. Ivan was of course assisted by other musicians to complete the bass and drum parts. Since then he has played several concerts and gained inspiration for a new album as well, this time not completely under his own name. IVAN MIHALJEVIC & SIDE EFFECTS is the new monniker. The reason is unknown to me, as the only line-up change is on the drums: Alen Frljak instead of Craig Devine. Perhaps because Craig couldn't make time for it or... because Ivan got help from several guest musicians, which might explain the SIDE EFFECTS. And that's correct, as SIDE EFFECTS is a band on its own. At least, that's what the press text told me. Since Ivan's also part of the Heavy Metal band HARD TIME, there too he's working on new material.

Earlier this year, in April, Ivan signed a deal with the Italian label SG Records for the release (on the 1st of October) of his new album, "Destination Unknown", where Ivan again is in the spotlights with his guitarwork and vocals here and there. It starts with "Instant Star (Add Water)" and a talking in a house, with a news report being played on TV. Or was it the radio? Which is then switched off and Ivan sets in the song. Clean vocals with a rough edge, perfect for this kind of Hard Rock. When the chorus is due, the fullness of the music comes to life. This is, in short, a very catchy and rocking song with radio potential. However, isn't it (lyrically) about star shows? The guitar solo is in vein of the likes of Joe Satriani, Kiko Loureiro, etc... The bass guitar then also comes through better. Last but not least, kudos to Alen for his firm drumming. This heaviness contrast firmly with the calm and clean beginning of "The Curse", where (in my opinion) the vocals are the weakest element. The music's fine, kind of slow, its style reminding in a way of THIN LIZZY (for example), but Ivan's vocals don't really fit here. Then again, he's more a guitarist than a singer. Full power is again reserved for the chorus, which sounds even more radio-friendly than the first song. But that's due to the composition itself. It's not a bad song at all, just not that super. The solo is needed, however, and seems to save the day, eh, song.

Up next is another great song ("Choosh Pies"), its intro again along the lines of Kiko Loureiro, Joe Satriani, ... But once all is in place, the rhythm and melody are a blessing to the ear. Ok, some exaggeration here, but let's just use the typical term: catchy. This is also a fully instrumental track, perhaps another reason why I'm so positive about it. Sorry, not fully, as there are a few accompanying words being sun, but this element is so trivial here when speaking of an instrumental song. And once again thumbs up for the varied drumwork. Time for a resting point then with the piano-driven "Post-Apocalyptic Images". Cheesy symphonic keyboards in the back and Ivan's clean vocals. Ok, next! To me this is just not good enough, although the idea for such a song is good. It's cheesy in the mainstream sense. I can already imagine the audience with their lighters. Luckily it's a short track. All signs of misery are wiped away with the orgasmic guitar sounds of "Dreamscapes". This is also an instrumental track, like "Choosh Pies", only heavier, slower and darker. This is the kind of songs Ivan should concentrate on, although that would not fit the plan of making a varied album or making the songs themselves varied, would it?

"Shadows" is a tribal/folky song, fully acoustic and Ivan's clean vocals, which - surprisingly enough - seem to sound a bit like those of Zak Stevens (CIRCLE II CIRCLE, ex-SAVATAGE). Again the music is made so that it's easy to listen to, standing the test of several spins. "The Pirate Song" does have a bit of a Folky touch, but it's still very much Hard Rock and instrumental. Again I would like to compare it with the aforementioned guitarists and specifically Kiko Loureiro's "No Gravity" album. In short, way to go, Ivan! Which brings us to "Sorry Pt. I", a calm and relaxing instrumental, which is nice after a more rocking ride preceding this one. You could put vocals to the music, but personally speaking, I am glad Ivan and SIDE EFFECTS kept it instruments only. "Your Plane Flew Away" is one of those songs, with vocals, that kick back a load of energy into the album. It's a Funk Rock song with an organ interwoven among the guitar and drum parts. Ivan sings the verses, while Marko Osmanovic is in charge of the vocal lines in the bridge and chorus (together with Ivan). His voice is cleaner and higher than Ivan's, but it fits. It must be noted that the drums do stand high in the mix, maybe a bit too much? But overall this is also a killer track, no doubt about that. Catchy, entertaining, pleasant vibe. The guitar solo makes the song complete.

"Sorry Pt. II", in contrast, is all about humble, solemn music. It's an acoustic track where the guitar and piano reign. Ivan indeed sings here and he better had not done that. Let the music do the talking and it's a much stronger song. Now, I'm sorry to say, adding vocals makes it a bit cheesy, no matter the lyrical content. "Destination Unknown" ends on the beach where you hear sea gulls, someone walking on the sand... when the music kicks in you get slow and powerful (not only the music, but also lyrically) Hard Rock with enough change to keep the attention, which it must with a playtime of 7 minutes. Ivan's singing is alright here.

In my review of "Sandcastle" I said that Ivan Mihaljevic was a fresh addition to the collective of Hard Rock/Metal guitarists that make instrumental albums. Like before, this new album, "Destination Unknown", contains both instrumental songs as sung ones. And while previously I said that Ivan better focus on instrumental tracks, I have to admit that anno 2010 he has improved on both levels and that vocals can be a positive element, depending on the song. This time he did write songs where his vocals are appropriate. As a whole, Ivan made a big step forward, musically and in terms of production. To conclude, I can only recommend "Destination Unknown". It's great to see/hear a band/an artist evolve in a positive direction.

More info at www.ivanmihaljevic.com.

Line-up:
Ivan Mihaljevic - vocals, guitars keyboards
Majkl Jagunic - bass
Alen Frljak - drums


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IRON FIRE – Metalmorphosized (Napalm Records 2010)

IRON FIRE - Metalmorphosized
  1. Reborn To Darkness
  2. Nightmare
  3. Still Alive
  4. Back In The Pit
  5. The Underworld
  6. Crossroad
  7. Riding Through Hell
  8. Left For Dead
  9. The Graveyard
  10. My Awakening
  11. Drowning In Blood
  12. The Phantom Symphony

Anno 2010 the Danish Heavy/Power Metal band IRON FIRE celebrates its 15th anniversary (10th if you count from the debut album "Thunderstorm" from 2000), since the founding occured in 1995. And what better way than with a new album? The sixth studio album was titled "Metalmorphosized" and came out on the 1st of October, again via Napalm Records. This label also released the previous ones: "Revenge" (2006), "Blade Of Triumph" (2007) and "To The Grave" (2009). I had the chance to review all of those and it feels good to do the same with "Metalmorphosized", even if IRON FIRE will never be among my favourite bands. To recapitulate my views on the aforementioned albums, also because I don't own the band's first two albums, though I heard bits and pieces of both: "Revenge" was a fairly decent release, though not among the best in its genre, but it was definitely not bad. "Blade Of Triumph" was a big step forward, also thanks to the production. "To The Grave" was another decent release, though it too lacked to make it killer. In that review I said that if you would take the best songs from those albums, then you might have the ultimate IRON FIRE album to date (anno 2009). So how does nr. 6 (nr. 4 in terms of reviews) fit that pack?

Soundwise the band worked again with Tommy Hansen, who also took care of the sound on "To The Grave", whereas Fredrik Nordström sat behind the desk for "Blade Of Triumph". The line-up changed once more as drummer Jens Berglid made way for Fritz Wagner. However, according to the band's website, he also played on "To The Grave". Must have been an error in the press text then, where Jens's name was mentioned. Anyway, regarding the songs on "Metalmorphosized", it seems the majority is actually not new, but re-recorded (and maybe reworked) songs off the two demos IRON FIRE made in 2003: "Demo 2003" (see here) and "The Underworld" (see here). I'm not familiar with those releases, so I can't compare the result anno 2010 with that of anno 2003. Next to the 12 regualr tracks, the limited edition has a bonus track called "Afterlife".

IRON FIRE wouldn't be IRON FIRE if they - well, vocalist Martin Steene - wouldn't hail Metal, just like MANOWAR, GAMMA RAY, HALFORD, IRON SAVIOR and many more. The album starts with "Reborn To Darkness", where you'll find midtempo verses and a typical Power Metal uptempo bridge (double-bass), though the chorus is played at both speeds. This is a classic song, as in by the book. However, the guitars sound rougher, more powerful than before. This is a good choice, as I believe that was sort of lacking on the earlier releases: Power Metal with balls, especially those balls. Martin's vocal input also sounds stronger, less clean. There's even an occasional scream. The obligatory solo is included. In "Nightmare" the Danes continue to deliver quality Metal. This song starts with a slow, melodic intro, after which you get direct midtempo stuff with rolling guitars and drums. It's almost like a tank. The chorus is another aspect where melody is of importance. Overall the music takes a more straight-forward approach.

"Still Alive" is a heavy, grinding song, almost as if IRON FIRE is going Thrash in some way, albeit at midtempo. The general feel/atmosphere is also darker than the previous two songs and Martin sounds fiercer. The chorus, epic to some extent, can become whiney and overall the song can bore after a few listens, but the general rhythm is good. At some point there's a pounding Metal moment, excellent for headbanging. This part is played twice. A decent song, but so far least good of the pack. "Back In The Pit" has the band shift into higher gear with its uptempo, double-bass drumwork and bass. You could regard it as MOTÖRHEAD in a Power Metal version. Again the rhythm is of very good quality. The whole is played at midtempo, but at a solid pace and with the right amount of power. This is definitely one of the better songs on this album and will do great in a live setting. This is indeed food for Power Metal fans.

"The Underworld" is entered at midtempo pace, though that soon increases with the typical double-bass addition. Here as well the rhythm stands out. To create a special setting, the band added atmospheric/choirish backing. Martin's bestial vocals add the mystic of it all. The band takes back some speed in the bridge, to then continue full on in the chorus, adding neo-classical keyboards in vein of STRATOVARIUS or SONATA ARCTICA. All of this sounds very enjoyable, even the hymnic solo moment. Following that is a speech by - I don't know - a priest or president or... definitely someone with power. From where this speech part comes from, I don't know. Another solo is played afterwards. But to cut it short: this is another qualitative song. Of course, a ballad is a must. Here it's "Crossroad", with a calm guitar intro, sounding quite like old school Heavy Metal. Martin gets assisted by a female singer, whose name I don't know, as it wasn't mentioned in the press text. Musically this song's alright, though nothing super. It's especially the vocal lines that bothered me, more than before.

With a title like "Riding Through Hell" - as cliché as it sounds - you of course expect something worthy of that title. The music, as Martin and co. have understood, is fierce and pounding. This is Power Metal with a capital P (and M). Firm midtempo verses, an uptempo/fast brige and a powerful, though simple and effective, chorus. Yes, the solo comes later. In short: pure quality! "Left For Dead" follows logically as a firm midtempo and straight-forward track. It contains the same sort of power, aggression and epicness of previous tracks. The tempo goes up in the chorus, to stand out from the verses. Solidness all the way, that's for sure. Time for another uptempo boost then, which is very welcome. Titled "The Graveyard", IRON FIRE keep the tempo high enough. No time for slow stuff. No, sir, the band is celebrating its (15th/10th anniversary), so it has to be worth it. This song might be another one by the book, but it sounds very tastey and contains all elements to make it a very worthy Heavy/Power Metal song (solo, rhythm, power, ...).

"My Awakening" is a pounding, dark midtempo track (yet with an uptempo chorus). It fits on this album with the rest of the pack, though it's one of the less good/attractive songs, in my opinion. The same counts for "The Phantom Symphony", the last track, which starts with an orchestral/neo-classical intro, followed by midtempo, galopping verses. An uptempo/pounding chorus makes the listening a little more exciting. But somehow it's not a super song. "Drowning In Blood" lies in between and is another fast track with fast riffing, double-bass drumming. The chorus is also played at a higher tempo. An instrumental midtempo Metal moment allows for change and spice, followed by the solo. This is the last highlight on "Metalmorphosized".

IRON FIRE improved with each consecutive release, though it never made an album of which you could say it was a must-have, a jewel in its genre. It does seem that Martin and co. don't care for that, as long as their material is solid and powerful enough to stand several listening sessions, even if not every song is a hit. Sure, even "Metalmorphosized" the Danes don't deliver anything groundbreaking, but to me they now DID release their best album to date. The large majority of the tracks sounds very good, is catchy, energizing, encouraging, empowering. This album contains the power, the epicness, the fierceness that was lacking all those years. Better late than never, of course. This is an anniversary album and even if older songs were re-recorded, it shows that they were good enough to be put out and not left on the shelves as demo material. On "Metalmorphosized" IRON FIRE is like HAMMERFALL with more balls, MANOWAR on speed, GAMMA RAY, FREEDOM CALL, SILVER FIST (the "Tears Of Blood" album) and similar. All I can add is: congratulations, IRON FIRE. May you continue to put out releases as strong as this one and foremost enjoy what you do.

More info at www.ironfire.dk.

Line-up:
Martin Steene - vocals
Kirk Backarach - guitars
Martin Lund - bass
Firtz Wagner - drums


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GRAVE DIGGER – The Clans Will Rise Again (Napalm Records 2010)

Grave Digger - The Clans Will Rise Again
  1. Days Of Revenge
  2. Paid In Blood
  3. Hammer Of The Scots
  4. Highland Farewell
  5. The Clans Will Rise Again
  6. Rebels
  7. Valley Of Tears
  8. Execution
  9. Whom The Gods Love Die Young
  10. Spider
  11. The Piper McLeod
  12. Coming Home
  13. When Rain Turns To Blood

The German Heavy/Power Metal band GRAVE DIGGER has been around since 1980. These veterans underwent many line-up changes, even considered a name change to DIGGER for a more commercial direction, yet it became clear that GRAVE DIGGER and Heavy Metal was the right path to walk after all. Until last year, the band around sole surviving founding member Chris Boltendahl released its 13th album, "Ballads Of A Hangman", preceded by the EP "Pray". Both were reviewed at the time (here and here), so feel free to read my findings on them. Last year I also expanded my collection with "The Middle Ages Trilogy", consisting of "Tunes Of War", "Knights Of The Cross" and "Excalibur", and the 2-CD release of "The Grave Digger" and "Rheingold", with both these albums put together with a slipcover. Anno 2010, album no. 14 is out (since the 1st October) under the title "The Clans Will Rise Again". This release is to be seen as loose sequel of the "Tunes of War" album, but this time not a concept album about the Scottish history, rather a work about Scotland, its mysticism and its people.

Since their transfer from the now defunct Locomotive Records to Napalm Records, GRAVE DIGGER seem to have refound the required energy and inspiration to deliver solid Heavy Metal that can withstand multiple listens. Line-up wise the biggest change was not only that longtime guitarist Manni Schmidt left (and with him Thilo Hermann, ex-RUNNING WILD), but also that DOMAIN guitarist/mastermind Axel "Ironfinger" Ritt was hired as replacement. Not only did he bring a good dose of energy with him, he also helped create a strong album in the year the German band celebrates its 30th anniversary! From the looks of it, it seems the Resetti brothers were again present for sound reasons, judging by the fact that this new album was also recorded at the Principal Studios in Senden, Germany, like before.

As the album's context is Scotland, it's logical that you hear bagpipes on this album, starting with the intro "Days Of Revenge", which is all about this instrument. Marching drums make the compositions complete. This hymnic/epic track is so well done, I wouldn't mind more tracks like this. "Paid In Blood" then sets in with powerful riffing and pounding drums, double-bass uptempo pounding! Chris's typical rough vocals are also present, fitting very well here. The melodic bridge is a little slower to allow a smooth transition to the hymnic chorus. As Axel is a very good guitarist, it would be a pity not to let him solo, so that aspect is also taken care of, oh yes. A very solid song to start with, indeed. Directly after the last note the "Hammer Of The Scots" is falling down. Starting with a calm guitar intro, then adding more power and going for a heavy riffing style in vein of "Excalibur" (the song). Dito for the drums. The verses contains firm double-bass battering by Stefan. Powerful is also the chorus, where small touches of electronic backing were added. As this is an epic song, sounds of a battle were added to make it all more lively. Solos weren't forgotten either. In short: a very catchy and strong track!

After the battle comes "Highland Farewell". The bagpipes return and in combination with Metal instrumentation the song is built, tension created to then fire away into pure and midtempo Heavy Metal, where riffing is dominant. Chris's voice sounds dark and rather mysterious here, in lack of a better word. The chorus has Stefan using only his toms to assist the bagpipes, which creates a very nice result. Those same bagpipes were even used for a solo, before Axel can show off in his. No complaints at all here, great work by the German Scots (or is that Scottish Germans?). The title track is a slow one, power ballad-ish even. The verses are clean and devoid of anything Metal, save then in the second instant. The chorus is inline with the rest of the songs and context, i.e. hymnic and with bells in the back. Axel then at some point gets his moment of glory and while that sounds quite calm, it still sounds very Metal. A proper solo is played afterwards before returning to the chorus and so towards the end of the song. All in all another decent result, albeit a little less interesting/attractive than the others.

In "Rebels" GRAVE DIGGER crank up the pace again with fast riffing, power and epicness, a classic GRAVE DIGGER cocktail. Killer stuff! Over the pounding bridge into the melodic chorus that reminds heavily of the second song on this album, "Paid In Blood". And musically there are similarities with... DOMAIN, Axel's own band. Before the solo there's a nice headbang moment. I call it that because you get the typical heavy guitarwork to allow your head to make this particular movement. That first solo is a solemn one, the more active one follows soon enough, during which uptempo Metal comes rushing out of the speakers. Eargasmic! "Valley Of Tears", however, is one of the less attractive songs, like the title track. Here you get simple, straight-forward Heavy Metal as the band, ACCEPT and others have played before in the past. Nothing against that. Not all songs have to be technical, fast or aggressive. The overall result is still very decent. I.o.w., both of the lesser songs are still good enough. The melodic, epic chorus was written in this way that fans can chant/sing along at gigs. A melodic break pops up, a very nice one even, followed by a solo backed with Bluesy Metal.

"Execution" is another song where thoughts of a ballad arise. Chris's singing is also of the slow kind, but then vicious riffing and uptempo double-bass break loose. The contrast couldn't be bigger. But I like it a lot! This is Power (!) Metal indeed. Flawless, nothing more to add. The piano is take out in "Whom The Gods Love" where it plays a key role. Slow, Doomy Metal is added, in vein of CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS and so on. The chorus is again a hymnic one, yet sad. The weeping guitar solo also emphasizes the dramatic character of the music. When the Metal falls away, it's just Chris's rough voice. While he's good at singing faster, more aggressive parts, this kind of singing does so not fit here. His vocals need heavy music, else it just doesn't work.. And that's a pity as it doesn't do the song any good now. Luckily there's "Spider". No, not a new version of DIO's "Along Comes A Spider", but a full-on Power Metal song. Ok, the music's a bit slower in the bridge, but it's back to full speed in the chorus. The solo finishes it off. Absolutely entertaining material! It's great to hear that after all those years such songs can still be made. Axel did indeed add the required energetic boost.

After this whirlwind of Metal, time to relax with the interlude "The Piper McLeod", dominated by the bagpipes and winds. This neatly connects with "Coming Home", a midtempo, straight-forward song. The bagpipes can be heard in the chorus, which again is first class material, if you ask me. Axel's solo might be necessary, but it sounds strange and rather forced. Especially when you compare it with not just the rest of the music, but his other solos on this album as well. Still, GRAVE DIGGER continue to produce quality here. The ballad "When Rain Turns To Blood" ends the band's 14th album, starting with calm guitarwork and Chris's vocals, which - like before - don't fit when the music's not ballsy. All in all, an ok track, though nothing super. Perhaps one needs to be in a more humble/solemn/.. mood to really appreciate it.

GRAVE DIGGER made a very solid and recommended release with "Ballads Of A Hangman" (2009). Two guitarists delivering the required power and balls. Despite their leaving the band last year, DOMAIN mastermind Axel Ritt was found more than worthy to step up and become the new axemaster. His entry will not be forgotten, as "The Clans Will Rise Again" shows a GRAVE DIGGER that can add another 10 years to its existence, based on the sheer energy boost Axel brought along. This album brings back the power of old and therefore this is nothing less than a highly recommended purchase. 30 years in business, congratulations! Here's to many more years. Cheers! \m/

More info at www.grave-digger.de.

Line-up:
Chris Boltendahl - vocals
Axel Ritt - guitars
Jens Becker - bass
Hans Peter Katzenburg - keyboards
Stefan Arnold - drums


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REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE – Trinity (Napalm Records 2010)

Atrocity - After The Storm
  1. Marching With The Fools
  2. Falling To Rise
  3. A Lot Like Me
  4. The World Doesn't Get To Me
  5. Crossing The Rubicon
  6. Just Let It Rain
  7. Dreamchild
  8. Trinity
  9. Frozen Winter Heart

Guitarist Timo Tolkki is no stranger in the world of Metal. His works with STRATOVARIUS have made him and the band very popular and even among the best Power Metal bands in the world. But a few years ago the commadery within STRATOVARIUS had come to its limits and so the band split. Or better, Timo left and pursued a solo career. In a drastic move, he gave away all rights to the entire STRATOVARIUS catalog, including all the rights to the name he owned, to his former bandmates. He did it in protest, upon hearing that the former members would continue without him under the STRATOVARIUS moniker.

Under the new name REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE, a first album was recorded under the title "New Era". Guests on this album were Michael Kiske (ex-HELLLOWEEN) and Tobias Sammet (EDGUY, AVANTASIA). But after this album the line-up changed drastically. Welcome to Gus Monsanto (vocals, ex-ADAGIO), Bruno Agra (drums), Mike Khalilov (keyboards) and Justin Biggs (bass). They created "Age Of Aquarius". I have heard only a few samples of "New Era" and totally missed "Age Of Aquarius". But as Napalm Records signed the band and released album no. 3, "Trinity", on the 24th of September, I could finally hear a full REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE album. And for this one as well, new members were asked to contribute: Magnus Rosen (ex-HAMMERFALL) on bass and Bob Katsionis (FIREWIND) on keyboards. In the meantime REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE is no more. Timo formed (yet again) a new band, SYMFONIA.

"Trinity" starts with "Marching With The Fools", which is introduced by a screamy guitar, after which rolling Power Metal comes out of the speakers. This in typical Tolkki style with a solo. Gus's vocals are clean, yet have a rough edge. In the verses you get powerful Metal. The STRATOVARIUS-touch can be found in the uptempo bridge, while the hymnic chorus has a crazy melody, which, in my humble opinion, is annoying! Solos are obviously also there, delivered by the keyboards and guitar. All in all, not such a bad song, but vocals are the weakest link here. The situation improves however with "Falling To Rise". This track starts with a weird, mysterious intro. Once the music breaks loose, it sounds pretty light, straight-forward and with a simple pattern. Listenability is key. Gus's vocals are clean again, this time without the rough edge. The chorus, though not really heavier, is very nice and good to sing along to. Yep, definitely an overall better result than the first song.

Which brings us to another less good song, "A Lot Like Me". This is a midtempo Heavy Metal track, in vein of SAXON, IRON MAIDEN (a little), and similar. Clean verses with dito vocals vs a more powerful/volumenous chorus, which sounds rather sad. In itself, it's a decent song, but the chorus was sung/played too many times, as if not knowing what to do with the extra minutes. Luckily there's another very enjoyable track called "The World Doesn't Get To Me". Let's hope this pattern doesn't continue (less good, very good, less good, very good, ...). But anyway, track no. 4 kicks off with powerful beating on the drums, followed by well-flowing melodic Metal. The riffing is a strong point here. And the whole could have been a STRATOVARIUS song. The bass gets a prominent role in the verses, while the vocals are ok here, though sound better in the chorus (once again quite catchy). It's only STRATOVARIUS you could compare it with, but also FIREWIND. The solo is well done, but why must it be so high in the mix?

Apparently the pattern does continue, since "Crossing The Rubicon" is another less good song. Sure, it sounds firm and solid, but the limits of Gus's singing is reached when he alone has to take care of the melodic side in the chorus. Keyboards could have assisted him, but they are very absent. Or hidden in the back, I don't know. On to the next song, "Just Let It Rain". This is another uptempo, double-bass song with a very recognizable melody (I can't put my finger on it, but it's from another band and not STRATOVARIUS). But it's a trivial similarity. The tempo lies high enough for a midtempo track. The STRATOVARIUS influences are injected in the vocal lines of the chorus. Speaking of which, Gus reaches his limits again here. Or better, higher notes are not his domain. Other than that, a very decent end result.

"Dreamchild" is a Hard Rock-ish song, straight-forward, but with STRATO-influences (it seems Tolkki will never be able to get rid of those. Not that I mind, but it's also a;limit for him, no?) in the verses, where the bass is again prominent. The power is reserved for the bridge and chorus. The in general 80s' touch is well done and helps to make this album more diverse. This brings us to the epic track that is "Trinity". A pounding intro at first, building the song with bombast. Midtempo Metal then takes over, shfting into higher gear for the bridge. The chorus, however, is in vein of STRATOVARIUS's "Infinity" song or maybe even "Elements". Yep, this might be a left-over from previous STRATO song writing sessions. I don't know, only guessing. But it's good, so why complain? Because of the vocals. Again, yes. Gus might be a good singer, but such songs are not his thing. The last REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE comes to a close with "Frozen Winter Heart". It's an acoustic ballad and a very nice one, indeed.

My first proper encounter with REVOLUTION RENAISSANCE, yay! I liked Timo's work with STRATOVARIUS, although the last few albums weren't exactly super and perhaps indeed, it was better he and the band parted ways. "Trinity" contains many influences from his period in the Finnish band and can probably be considered his best RR album. Only those who heard all three can confirm or deny it. Timo's best works, in my opinion, were made with STRATOVARIUS. RR is - sorry, was - a nice attempt to try it on his own, but it was never like before. Too much willing and therefore forcing to write songs? "Trinity" is all in all a very decent melodic Power Metal album and it's perhaps indeed best to stop here (at a height) than continue and have a big chance of going downhill again. Let's hope SYMFONIA can provide better result.

More info at www.revolution-renaissance.com.

Line-up:
Gus Monsanto - vocals
Timo Tolkki - guitars
Magnus Rosen - bass
Bob Kastionis - keyboards
Bruno Agra - drums


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JALDABOATH – The Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts (Napalm Records 2010)

Jaldaboath - The Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts
  1. Hark The Herald
  2. Calling On All Heraldic Beasts
  3. Bash The Bishop
  4. Seek The Grail
  5. Axe Wielding Nuns
  6. Jaldaboath
  7. Bring Me The Head Of Metatron
  8. Jacque DeMolay
  9. March To Calvary
  10. Da Vinci's Code

JALDABOATH is a Folk Metal band from the UK, founded in 2007. One year later the EP "Hark The Herald" was put out, which drew attention to this weird (in a positive way) band and a deal with Napalm Records was soon made. On the 24th of September the band's debut full-length came out under the title "The Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts". Musically this trio combines Metal, Middle Ages and Monty Python. Main and most vital ingredient in JALDABOATH's songs is humour. Taking things with a grain of salt, laughing with various subjects and so forth, while wrapping it in a Folky Metal package. Or, not to be taken seriously but rather enjoyed over some drinks. Just look at the track titles. Even their self-proclaimed titles indicate this

Grand Master Jaldaboath - Grand Guitarist Inspector, Knight of the Keyboard Realms, Officer of Oratory, Sovereign Grand Songwriter General
The Mad Monk - First Drummer Deluxe
Sir Bodrick - Knight of the Brazen Bass

"The Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts" starts with the title track of their 2008 EP, "Hark The Herald". You get trumpets, group singing and a hymnic kind of music. It's a battle song, alrighty! Playful trumpets provide the melodic leads, while guitars and drums deliver the rocking power. There's even a keyboard solo put in there. In short, you can consider this song as a musical marriage between bands like ALESTORM and TURISAS. It definitely feels that way. "Calling On All Heraldic Beasts" also consists of playful Metal, almost Kiddies Metal, one might say. It's Folky, upbeat, happy. The production is a little better than the first song. Grand Master Jaldaboath sings in a talking way (no, it's not rap), while the music is played in a galopping fashion. To break the stream a little, an atmospheric moment was built in. "Bash The Bishop", something that's quite actual these days with the abuses by priests and such. Hell, this could even be a song dedicated to what bishop Vangheluwe (in Belgium) did. This is a party song, or it has that feeling. Bass, drums and bells set in and when all levers are activated, it sounds like a town's feast or similar.

The grail, many books have been written about it. Many songs as well? Don't know, but JALDABOATH did write one ("Seek The Grail"). With such a subject, you need something that sounds as if going on a quest, hence the marching drums and trumpets. The first then change to the typical humpa-rhythm, while the Grand Master sings rougher than before. Keyboards (in an organ-ish style) lead the way. An Epic Metal track, why not? It fits. Another funny title is "Axe Wielding Nuns". The secret force of the Church? ;-) Obviously a church choir could not be ignored and that's what you hear at first. What follows is galopping melodic Folk Metal, though the organ adds a dark touch to it, as if to represent the danger factor. Ever seen nuns executing God's wrath? Better not underestimate these calm people. Wolves in sheep clothes. "Jaldaboath" is another Epic Metal song with battle sounds. Musically you get firm Heavy Metal.

A harp is introduced in "Bring Me The Head Of Metatron", next to grunting vocals. First I thought it was a cartoon or game character, but it appears to have been an angel. See here. Double bass provide a galopping rhythm while keyboards provide the right backing. Next stop in history is for "Jacque DeMolay", a Templar Grand Master. Who was he? Another unknown to me, but Wikipedia brings salvation. See here. The song is one where the organ leads, while guitars and drums counter with power. The melodic side is strengthened by the use of the flute in the chorus. Or was it a trumpet? The whole sounds dark and epic and reminded me, to some extent, of SVARTSOT's Folk Metal. And so the band gets ready for the "March To Calvary" where a Middle Ages touch is added by the drums and trumpets. It's an interlude, there's no sign of anything Metal. But the result is nice. "Da Vinci's Code" ends the album with dark and Doomy midtempo Metal. Backing sounds are in charge of the atmosphere. All in all not bad, but nothing super.

I listened to this album with an open mind, but unfortunately "The Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts" didn't survive long in my cd-player. JALDABOATH play Folky Metal with a big fun factor by means of singing, titles and lyrics. The songs are simple and should be taken lightly, in the context of enjoying a beer or another beverage and whilst hanging around with mates and so on. For background music it's quite alright. For active listening, it's not. mainly because of the production, which should have been much better and still it would not have ruined the fun aspect. Now, in my humble opinion, it's a drag to listen to the album. There are younger bands out there who have a better sound. There are demos out there that sound ten times better. So, if you're seeking an album just for the fun of listening to some light Metal, then JALDABOATH might fulfill that wish.

More info at www.myspace.com/jaldaboathofficial.

Line-up:
Grand Master Jaldaboath - vocals, guitars, keyboards
Sir Bodrick - bass
The Mad Monk - drums


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CIRCLE II CIRCLE – Consequence Of Power (AFM Records 2010)

CIRCLE II CIRCLE - Consequence Of Power
  1. Whispers In Vain
  2. Consequence Of Power
  3. Out Of Nowhere
  4. Remember
  5. Mirage
  6. Episodes Of Mania
  7. Redemption
  8. Take Back Yesterday
  9. Anathema
  10. Blood Of An Angel

CIRCLE II CIRCLE, the band around ex-SAVATAGE vocalist Zak Stevens, is to release its 5th studio album this year under the title "Consequence Of Power", and again via AFM Records. No need for an intro anymore, as this is another band to enjoy since SAVATAGE was put on hold and from which JON OLIVA'S PAIN, CHRIS CAFFERY and CIRCLE II CIRCLE spawned. I last reviewed their very nice concept album "Burden Of Truth" (2006). Two years later, the Americans released "Delusions Of Grandeur", an album that brought back more power and aggression, yet keeping it inline with the previous albums in terms of style. Or in short, another album for SAVATAGE fans. In that same year guitarist Bill Hudson joined the fold, replacing Evan Christopher. But it seems that marriage didn't last long, as the line-up now features only one guitarist, Andrew Lee. Drummer Tom Drennan also left the band, but in 2009. His replacement is Johnny Osborn.

"Consequence Of Power" will be released on the 24th September, features 10 tracks and a playtime of 50 minutes, so get set for a good time of Metal. "Whispers In Vain" is the starting track, which is being built with the guitars until the gates are opened and a midtempo outbreak occurs. The verses are rather calm with Zak singing in a soft manner. The chorus contrasts nicely with a good dose of power, and that includes the vocal input. Musically it reminded me a bit of "Heal You" from the "Burden Of Truth" album, which is, so far my favourite CIIC album and that song is one of the best, in my opinion. Rhythm-wise I found "Whispers In Vain" a bit monotonous/simple, though the drums are spiced with a few fills. The guitar solo is ok, yet nothing special. All in all a decent song. The title track is of better quality. This song takes an uptempo start with guitar leads, sounding very much like IRON MAIDEN in a Power Metal version. This speed increase is nice and truth be told, very welcome at this point. All's well here, from vocals over guitar solo (which helps to keep the attention) and the music in general. One extra remark about that solo: it sounds rather improvised, not like Andrew played something to fit the song, the whole. But it's good, so nothing to worry about.

In "Out Of Nowhere" it's the bass that sets in the song, followed by slow/midtempo drumwork. The music is relatively heavy, groovy even. To make it sound grander, atmospheric backing was added in the chorus, which has Zak singing in a rather hymnic way. After the solo, the chorus comes back and the band works its way towards the end. Solid material, though not really a song that makes you crave for more. The slow "Remember" is even less good, in my humble opinion. The guitarwork is heavy, as it should and Johnny plays some variable beats, which is nice, as it adds more variety to the song. But due to the mixing (or production in general) this sounds strange in combination with the rest of the instrumentation. Melody is key in the chorus, mainly thanks to Zak's vocal work. Here as well, a recurring pattern of solo, chorus, done. As skilled as the CIIC members are, to me this song sounded a bit boring.

Another solid song is "Mirage". This is a midtempo track which offers space for the bass and creates a contrast between the slow verses and midtempo chorus. To make things extra special, two solos were added, though not directly after one another. In "Episodes Of Mania" the tempo goes up again, and for the better, as this is another highlight. The song also sounds similar to "Consequence Of Power", the title track. Heavy riffing again, but very good. Overall there's a good feel/vibe here. Vocally you hear the biggest difference with Zak singing softly in the verses, but more powerful in the chorus. Another job well done.

"Redemption" starts with heavy guitar input and reminds of (old) SAVATAGE. Once the drums fall in, all's well in this midtempo song. Vocals, solo, rhythm, chorus, ... No complaints whatsoever. Now, what with ballads? Yep, that's the first impression I got during the first part of "Take Back Yesterday", where the piano is the key instrument. But then the guitars and drums are added and you get a straight-forward Rocksong. Add symphonic backing and the picture's complete. The whole also sounds quite radio-friendly, though with the added heaviness. This is definitely one of the better tracks, when considering radio-friendly type of songs. Metal doesn't get much radio time, at least not with mainstream acts, so let's increase heaviness again, this time in "Anathema". The tempo lies lower, though the verses are in midtempo. Add a hymnic chorus and the obligatory solo and you get another decent result. The real ballad is saved for the end: "Blood Of An Angel". Key instruments: piano and guitar. The result: not bad at all, but nothing super exciting either.

CIRCLE II CIRCLE got better with each album and reached a peak with "Burden Of Truth" in 2006. Anno 2008 "Delusions Of Grandeur" came out, a heavier album I would say. Also solid, but for me personally not as good as "Burden Of Truth". Expectations were relatively high for "Consequence Of Power", but they were only partially fulfilled. Sure, you get heavy Power Metal and it still is CIRCLE II CIRCLE, but somehow I found certain tracks too uninspired, lacking passion. I get the impression, on a general basis, that this album had (!) to be made, for the sake of having a new album out. Mind you, there are some very good tracks here, but as a whole "Consequence Of Power" is mediocre, somehow.

More info at www.circle2circle.net.

Line-up:
Zak Stevens - vocals
Andrew Lee - guitars
Paul Michael Stewart - bass
Johnny Osborn - drums


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AUVERNIA – Afraid Of Me (Auvernia 2010)

Auvernia - Afraid Of Me
  1. Meeting
  2. Throw Your Fear Away
  3. And So It Starts
  4. Anguish
  5. No Time For Time
  6. Interludio Porteño
  7. Self Reflective Fear
  8. Out Of My Hands
  9. Your Own Universe
  10. Ode To Life
  11. Another Conscience
  12. We Are Complete

I got acquainted with the Argentinian Progressive Power Metal band AUVERNIA in 2008 when they released their debut album "Towards Eternity". They way they used influences from Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Death Metal and more with the added bombast of classical arrangements amazed me. Sure, it had been done before by several bands, one good example being DIVINEFIRE, with whom I sort of compared AUVERNIA. A good ten years after the founding, the band releases its second full-length, "Afraid Of Me", on the 20th of September (at this time still as a digital release). You can imagine the hopes were high and my enthusiasm knew no boundaries when I heard of it. However, as the line-up grew as years passed by, it was also reduced again to the core of the band for this sophomore album: just Fernando Héctor Varela and Juan P. Verni. No Leonardo G. Boan Adam anymore on bass. At least, he did play those parts, but he no longer is a fixed member of the line-up. The keyboards were divided between the core members, Fernando and Juan.

The first few tracks of "Afraid Of Me" on the first listen gave me the same positive impression of the debut album and if all the tracks would be in the same vein, then AUVERNIA had released another serious candidate for my Top 10 list of 2010. "Meeting" is the first track and to start with a perfect title. Musically you get bombastic, orchestral Metal where keyboards are the dominating factor. The guitars and drums are in charge of the power and rhythm. However, Fernando did add an occasional solo, while Juan added blastbeats. Singing-wise it's not all about clean, high-pitched vocals (verses and chorus), but also about growls (bridge). Overall it's clear that diversity still play a major role in the compositions (tempos, rhythm, melodies). In one word: amazing!

The start of "Throw Your Fear Away" reminded me a bit of the bands EMPYRIOS and DGM. Electronic keyboards were added for the atmosphere. This is a dark song. Well, it must be, judging by the title. This is also emphasized by the spooky backing and grunting vocals. The melodic input is assured by te keyboards, be that in orchestral format, the piano, or otherwise. The song is, in general, also more progressive, comparable to DREAM THEATER, DGM and the likes. Then again, the clean-sung chorus is a fast one in vein of e.g. FREEDOM CALL. And of course guitar solos were not forgotten either.

With "And So It Starts" the band takes a calmer approach, beginning with the piano. Its melody gets picked up the keyboards, after which guitars and drums fall in. The verses this time are guitar-driven, but the keyboards aren't far away. The melody played in the intro returns in the chorus. At some point a blasting piece of Melodic Death Metal is played, followed by uptempo music during the solo before the band returns to the chorus. And still the song's not over, as an atmospheric spacey part comes in, and no sign of Metal can be detected. This is similar to the calmer stuff of e.g. AYREON or STAR ONE. And slowly the song advances towards the chorus again.

Contrasting with the calmness of the previous track is the chaotic, hectic and pounding song "Anguish". AUVERNIA's orchestral Metal simply sounds awesome! Fernando's vocal input consists of growls and screams, though he reverts to his clean voice in the bridge. Musically the tempo is set high in the pre-chorus, while keyboards dominate the chorus. The musical change in the form of a xylophone and other orchestral elements is absolutely wonderful! A keyboard solo is next, followed by the bridge-chorus combo. A bit later the band shifts into higher gear for the guitar solo, which is also a delight for the ears. Then one more time a shot of bombast, to eventually end with a music box. If I may say so, this is one of the best tracks on this release.

The same kind of intro is also applied to "No Time For Time", giving it a very progressive feel. This hectic touch is actually perfect when you consider the title. On a musical level the verses are of he melodic Black Metal type, haunting and pushy, whereas the uptempo bridge and chorus (incl. keyboards backing) are in vein of ANGRA. As the keyboards are a vital ingredient in the compositions, the are once again the providers of melody and leads. Instrumental talk is also a major factor here, giving Fernando's throat a rest. AUVERNIA like to surprise in most of their songs and here it's done by switching everything off and opting for a Jazzy moment, guided by the piano. Fernando sings with a softer voice while symphonic elements play their role from the back. But rest assured that the melodic, dark Metal returns afterwards. No flaws so far, or nothing worth mentioning or worrying about. Fernando and Juan know what they're doing.

Or do they? After all this powerful and bombastic music, it's nice to have something break that flow and create a resting point, here named "Interludio Porteño". This acoustic track brings the necessary tranquillity, reminds of the Dutch cabaretier Youp Van 't Hek when he sings one of his songs in this soft style. When the piano and symphonic backing fall in, the whole gets a Jazzy or theatrical feel, which is well done. It also gave me the impression "is it a madhouse?". And there's more variety, as a choir is added, orchestral power increases, a raw guitar solo is played and the accordion makes an end to it all. Now, as very good as the previous tracks were, I found this interlude less interesting, however good it's played and all.

Time for more ferocious Metal, no? "Self Reflective Fear" will surely meet the expectations and fulfill the needs in that context. This track takes a Thrashy, pounding start. Bombast is secured by the choir, assisted by the guitar leads, transcending into uptempo verses with keyboards leading, guitars and drums keepers of power. The midtempo bridge and chorus also hold enough power, but let melody come forward a bit more, while at the same time making sure emotions are present. Guitar soloing demands here too attention from the spotlights. Following this is a haunting choir, grunts and orchestral input. Inline with the title and the musical beginning, this track is also more Metal-oriented than before, when keyboards were the rulers. Speaking of which, there's room for such a solo, too.

"Interludio Porteño" was the first least good - well, less interesting, but still good - song, "Out Of My Hands" is the second, but here my impression is less positive. The song takes a funky (piano and acoustic guitar) start, followed by midtempo symphonic power Metal. This funky, exotic piece serves as connection piece, as it returns later on, especially as outro. Fernando sings in both a clean and rough way. What bugs me a bit is the Poppish chorus, even if it includes orchestral support. Sure, there's a fast outbreak after that, flowing over into a ballsy midtempo part, though that's very short. The whole still fits in the Progressive category, as melodies, rhythm and tempo are submitted to the required adaptations. And yet the end result just doesn't live up to the expectations, doesn't give the same impression, the same satisfaction as the other songs.

Attention DRAGONFORCE fans (or fans of fast, melodic Metal), here's "Your Own Universe", a fast track full of symphonic elements (strings, brass and more). Rough vocals fit perfectly with the rough Metal compositions, midtempo in the verses, uptempo in the chorus. Here the feeling is rather emotional in an epic way, if you understand what I mean. Think of ADAGIO, that French Progressive Metal band, and you'll have a good idea of what to expect. The orchestral input is again of vital importance, like before. Quality assured, from start to finish. "Ode To Life" is another song where the beginning is calm, and not to say very beautiful, even if it sounds sad (the composition, I mean). No rough vocals, but clean ones. Musically AUVERNIA listened to bands like RHAPSODY OF FIRE, ANGRA, SHAMAN and similar for this song. When the drums are added, the music changes into a heavier version. The orchestral keybords sound more volumenous later on, at which point growls replace the clean singing. The created contrast again made me think of AYREON. Solos are included in this song, plural indeed. The intro was calm, and so is the (gentle) outro.

Two more songs, one more than on "Towards Eternity" (the previous album): "Another Conscience" and "We Are Complete". The first has a Jazzy/Funky intro, played by the organ, guitar and drums. This serves indeed as a first step, teasing the listener, to then unleash the powerful sounds of Metal. Clean vocals here, the extreme ones are stored later use. The xylophone of before makes a return here in the bridge, which leads to enjoyable results. The grunts come out in a next instant, while the music takes on a Thrashy form with orchestral assistance. Think of bands like HOLLENTHON and RED DESCENDING, for example. The chorus is then sung in a clean way. A guitar solo completes the structure. Like before, high quality output. "We Are Complete", the ending song, is again one where AUVERNIA opts for fast, furious Metal where all elements are of importance. The verses are firm and powerful, the lyrics grunted. Orchestral input cannot be ignored. On the contrary, it just wouldn't be the same without this aspect. The pace is definitely not that of a snail. As example: DIVINEFIRE. During the guitar solo, brass instrumentation is added, which gives it a funky, ballroom feel. And you could even draw a comparison with the Swedish band DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA. Melody also plays a (key) role in the chorus. After about 2/3 of the song, the Metal falls silent in favour of a Jazzy interlude, which breaks the stream of aggression and bombast, but only for a short while. To put it short: Fernando and Juan (and Leonardo, yes) have done it again!

"Towards Eternity" was already a very interesting, entertaining and high quality release. On "Afraid Of Me" the Argentinians continue to deliver a bombastic mix of Power, Progressive and extreme Metal that is mindblowing (extremely put). You really have to listen to this album several times to grasp it all, but fact is that each time you discover something new. And somehow it all fits, one way or the other. So, for all those into Progressive Power Metal with a good dose of orchestral/symphonic bombast, AUVERNIA is a band to keep an eye on and their newest output "Afraid Of Me" a highly recommended release. In my humble opinion, of course.

More info at www.auvernia.com.

Line-up:
Fernando Héctor Varela - vocals, guitars
Juan P. Verni - drums


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ELVENKING – Red Silent Tides (AFM Records 2010)

Elvenking - Red Silent Tides
  1. Dawnmelting
  2. The Last Hour
  3. Silence De Mort
  4. The Cabal
  5. Runereader
  6. Possession
  7. Your Heroes Are Dead
  8. Those Days
  9. This Nightmare Will Never End
  10. What's Left Of Me
  11. The Play Of The Leaves

The Italian ELVENKING is one of the best-known Folk/Power Metal bands. Or better, it was known for that style. Albums like "Heathenreel" and "Wyrd" helped rapidly increase the band's popularity. Anno 2006 "The Winter Wake" came out and this was my first proper encounter with the band's music. All in all this was not such a bad album, especially for the fans, but for me it didn't quench my thirst, by manner of speech. Or, it didn't make me long for more, despite some good songs. After that I lost track of them, despite AFM Records releasing the follow-up, "The Scythe", in 2007. I still haven't heard that one. Nor the 2008 release "Two Tragedy Poets (...And a Caravan of Weird Figures)". However, this year the Italians are back with a new album called "Red Silent Tides" and this gave me the opportunity to hear if they're still on the Folk track or not, let alone Power Metal.

"Red Silent Tides" was released on the 17th September, contains 11 songs and about 50 minutes of playtime. It begins with a spoken intro in "Dawnmelting", after which firm Folky Metal kicks in. Well, they didn't throw away that aspect or not entirely. Heavy guitars and pounding drums complete the picture. Add clean vocals and it's perfect. Pluspoints here are for the catchy and energizing aspects. The verses are quite powerful, whereas the bridge and chorus hold the melody. The violin takes the lead in the chorus, inline with the guitars. All this in a more modern Rock jacket. Next is "The Last Hour", a modern Rock song with the violin as lead instrument. There's nothing Folk or Power Metal here. The bridge and chorus sound rather emotional, though the chorus adds power and groove. At some point there's an instrumental part sounding like CHILDREN OF BODOM (in a light version), which is nice, though. Two songs done, both being quite decent if you're open-minded enough.

Things get darker and sadder in "Silence De Mort". Looking at the title, this musical change is normal. There's also a feel of mystery, stressed or helped by the symphonic backing. But then heavy guitars and drums fall in and the train has taken off. Melody can again be found in the bridge and chorus, which once more adds power to the whole. But thé surprise is: ELVENKING goes EDGUY? And specifically the last EDGUY releases are referred to, since they too abandoned their Power Metal roots. The solo moment is a highlight here. Despite the modern Rock compositions, there's still a faint feel of Power Metal, but that's very small. To break the stream of heaviness a bit, a powerballad under the title "The Cabal", was added next. It's catchy, has single-potential and the violin and keyboards are of importance for the melodies here and there.

Time for something calmer (i.e. acoustic) now with "Runereader". It starts like that, with the violin adding a sentimental touch. However, this moment is soon obliterated as Rock takes over with melodic help from the keyboards (symphonic accents). The result is good, though. More acoustic material can be found in the semi-acoustic rocker "Possession", which has ballad verses and a powerballad chorus. This song is also slower than what preceded and somehow sounds more whiney. In other words, not the best song of the pack. All tears aside, time to rock again. With "Your Heroes Are Dead" ELVENKING added a pounding Power Metal song. Yes, Power Metal among the modern Rock songs. Strange, but this change gets all thums up from my part. Even the guitar solo is well done. More like this and I'd be even happier.

And so we come to "Those Days", a midtempo, Folky song. Again the violin occupies a lead position, though the Rock instrumentation counters it. What follows is mostly rocking, be that verses, bridge or chorus. Solos are definitely needed here and again the Italians do not disappoint. The same violin can be heard in the semi-acoustic "This Nightmare Will Never End". At first you would think it's a ballad, but then the chorus comes in, followed by a wa-wa solo and the whole turns into a Punk Rock-like track, something a band like PARAMORE could have written. But this path is left for what it is and ELVENKING returns to EDGUY-ish (Hard) Rock in "What's Left Of Me". This is a midtempo, again semi-acoustic, song in vein of "Lavatory Love Machine" (EDGUY) and similar. I like it! "The Play Of The Leaves" is the last of the "Red Silent Tides". It's a midtempo Folk/Rock song that catchy enough and overall very decent.

Let's make this overview: "Heathenreel" and "Wyrd" helped rapidly increase the band's popularity. "The Winter Wake" should have been another peak, but it never got to the heights of the previous two albums. To some extent, that's where ELVENKING started to look for another direction. Especially on "The Scythe" (according to what I read in reviews) the Italians chose a more modern direction, leaving their Folk/Power Metal roots aside, though not completely throwing them away. With "Red Silent Tides" the band won't convince fans of the old material, rather has to focus on those that welcomed a style change that was set in a few years ago. It's then also best to judge this album not by who made it - that's analogue to saying the VW Phaeton is an ugly and sucky car because it's not a BMW, Audi, Mercedes, etc... - but by its content, i.e. the songs. And when I do not look at the bandname, I heard a fairly decent modern Rock album with Folk-ish touches. Nothing super, but qualitative enough nevertheless.

More info at www.elvenking.net.

Line-up:
Damnagoras - vocals
Aydan - guitars
Raffaello Indri - guitars
Gorlan - bass
Elyghen - keyboards, violin
Zender - drums


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DARKER IT GETS – Hurricanes (Darker It Gets 2010)

Darker It Gets - Hurricanes
  1. Sedo Pro Tempestas...
  2. Monsters Or Victims
  3. Hurricanes
  4. Live The Fight
  5. Faded Dreams
  6. Darker It Gets
  7. Erase The Name
  8. Abao (Ruler Of The Dark)

DARKER IT GETS is a Belgian Metal band combining elements from Thrash, Melodic Death and Hardcore. Or to a large extent you can consider them a Metalcore band. Several weeks ago I got a request by guitarist Geert Verthé to write something about his band's debut album, "Hurricanes", which was released in September 2010. The band itself was formed in 2009, though its members had acquired experience in other bands before joining forces in DARKER IT GETS. The summer of 2010 was devoted to recording the album and it must be said that, despite this being a self-release (DARKER IT GETS is still unsigned), the release occured very quickly.

In terms of line-up it's quite even: six members; two vocalists, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. Two vocalist to create a contrast of clean vocals and screamy vocals. For obvious reasons, one guitarist would then not be enough. However, nowhere did I find a mention of who sang which vocal lines. In other words: is Laban the clean vocalist? Is Thomas the screamer? Or is it the other way around? And who did the growls?

"Hurricanes" starts with a spoken intro which consists mainly of the lyric "Darker it gets..." on repeat. I guess if you really need an intro and can't fill it in musically, then this is an alternative. But the real deal is of course to be found in the songs, beginning with "Monsters Or Victims". Here you get fast, furious and aggressive Metalcore. Well, more precisely the aforementioned mix of styles. Both vocals types (i.e. screams and growls) are present. The bridge is filled with a breakdown, while the verses contain that typical humpa uptempo rhythm. Vocal type here is growls. The chorus is played at midtempo. That way you get a nice contrast between these three parts. All in all a decent result.

The title track, "Hurricanes", starts with a movie sample, but I don't know from where this spoken part is used. The band continues with leadwork, creating a sort of tension, all in AMON AMARTH-style. After that a higher gear is selected and Thrashy Metalcore is the consequence. Both vocalists scream and growl their lungs out. The midtempo chorus makes the band decrease its speed a little. Melody is again of importance and to me it seemed more present than in the previous track. Drumwise Dries is quite active, adding fills here and there. As drums are my favourite instrument, it can be hard not to criticize it, but here I found his activeness a bit too much. Nothing against fills and variety, but one also has to know when it's enough.

Another track with fast humpa Metal and screams is "Live The Fight". However, that fast pace is stopped/held back by a midtempo bridge and dito chorus, where growls take over the vocal lines. Diversity is kept in terms of rhythm and tempo. "Faded Dreams" starts instantly after "Live The Fight" has ended. And this with marching drums and growling vocals, followed by midtempo Metal and screams. The pace then quickens. The growls are good, but the screams and cleans (especially those) in the chorus are - and to each his/her own - annoying! I just can't think of another word here. I know this is a classic way to sing in Metalcore, but here it just ruins the listening experience. At bit later there's a musically aggressive part, which includes blastbeats. This makes you forget those vocals a bit. However, the song's ending is too abrupt, if you ask me.

The band's own song, "Darker It Gets" starts with vocals and blasting, creating a tension - this part returns later - and when the cord snaps, the six-pack is on the loose. The classic humpa-rhythm is set in and growls take the lead. There are screams too, in the breakdown, and contrary to the growls, they do annoy. As fast as the verses are, the chorus is straight-forward with both vocal types. Musically I don't have much or any complaints. It's the vocals, again. "Erase The Name" offers a direct attack of uptempo Metal with growls and blastbeats. These growls are joined by cleans in the chorus. The guitar solo completes it all. All in all, a decent result. The final track, "Abao (Ruler Of The Dark)" takes a direct start, with the whole flowing quite well. What instantly jumps out is the catchy guitarwork. The verses are sung in a growling and screamy way, while the screams are replaced by cleans in the bridge, yet come back in the chorus. The track ends instrumentally, but the playtime of my discman stopped at 06:35 while there were 3 minutes left on the display. Strange. Must have been a glitch inside.

Metalcore is a popular genre in Belgium and abroad, but especially the younger fans of Metal can appreciate this style. DARKER IT GETS shows with its debut release "Hurricanes" that the potential is clearly present to take it further. The band didn't opt for a purely Metalcore album, rather mix elements from Thrash, Melodic Death Metal and Hardcore, although I do find that Hardcore sounds different from Metalcore. What I liked about this release is: the catchiness here and there, the musical ideas and variety. However, downside - in my humble opinion - is the screams, which tend to annoy. It might not just be the screams themselves, rather the guy's vocal timbre. Also, as good as it all sounds (not perfect, but it does the job well enough), listening to this album from start to finish can get monotonous after a while. So, to cut it short: kudos to DARKER IT GETS for this first release, which should conquer several souls.

More info at www.myspace.com/darkeritgets.

Line-up:
Laban Carlier - vocals
Thomas Vervaeke - vocals
Bjorn Coysman - guitars
Geert Verthé - guitars
Toon Vanhoutte - bass
Dries Claeys - drums


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ATHORN – Phobia (AFM Records 2010)

Athorn - Phobia
  1. Angel Of The Fall
  2. Emperor Of Ruins
  3. Humanize The Demon
  4. Phobia - Prologue
  5. Phobia
  6. After The End
  7. A Matter Of Time
  8. From Beyond
  9. The Ferryman
  10. Schizophrenia

ATHORN is a new band, formed in 2008. The line-up consists of singer Carsten Frank, guitarists Stefan Schönebeck and Tobias Liedke, drummer Sören Becker and bassist Thomas Maiwald. Carsten Frank is of course known for his work with GALLOGLASS and HUMAN FORTRESS. While each has different tastes and influences, all is thrown together into a melting pot of groovy rhythms in a modern jacket. Release-wise an EP, "Livable Hatred", was put out in September 2009 by the band itself. This led to a contract with AFM Records, which will release the band's debut album, "Phobia", on the 17th September. Lyrically this album deals with, as you might expect, human fears and phobias.

"Phobia" is a well-known KREATOR track, but with ATHORN the music is very much different. "Angel Of The Fall" opens with a calm guitar intro, after which the Metal breaks loose at slow/midtempo. Heavy, grooving music is key and not just here. Carsten throws in some ballsy vocals, while he reverts to growling in the chorus. The music, logically, also contains the necessary power to complement the vocals and the other way around. All in all it's a solid song - though nothing super - with the solo completing it. "Emperor Of Ruins" takes a direct start with leads. Once that is past, the Groove Metal kicks in with an important role for the pounding drums. Double bass is also added, though these sound rather soft compared to the heaviness of the music. The leads made me think, to some extent, of MACHINE HEAD. Again you get dual vocals: growls in the verses, more melodic singing in the chorus. Both musically and vocally you get a clear distinction between the different song parts. While the song's played very well and sounds good, I felt boredome setting in at some point.

"Humanize The Demon" has a mysterious intro, very atmospheric too. Guitar leads are added, but it's the toms that get most of the spotlight attention. Grooving Metal is the way to go (again), though not at a rapid pace at all. Vocally the roles are divided between growls in the verses, clean in the chorus. But all things considered, I find this a pretty boring track. Ok, they do try to add some diversity with, for example, the solo during which calmer music offers support and Carsten sings with a clean, somehow Gothic-ish voice before another solo is thrown in. Why is this song boring? Because there's not much that ctaches my attention, or better, the whole feels stretched as if they didn't know how to end and just played until a fitting moment popped up.

"Phobia - Prologue" is what it says it is, an interlude/intro to "Phobia". This begins in a spacey way, followed by guitar soloing with symphonic backing and faint drumming. Furthermore, there's a speech sample, coming from a film or tv. But who or what, I don't know. And so all flows over into "Phobia", which starts calm, though once the musical power increases, one might think it's a power ballad. Nothing of this sort later on, as things do get heavier and violent, but never like in the previous tracks. To be honest, my interest has decreased quite a bit at this point. "After The End" brings hope, albeit just a little bit. You get a nice plucking guitar start with drum accents, building the tension until vocals and guitar can properly add their input. Yep, Groove Metal is again the chosen direction with ballsy vocals. The obligatory solo is played as well. All in all, an ok song. Same thing counts for the Thrashy "A Matter Of Time", where you get pounding Metal with vicious singing in the verses and cleans in the chorus. The solo is good.

Alright, three more tracks, is there still something worthy there? "From Beyond" offers a violent start, countered with nice leadwork. Throw in a catchy chorus, ballsy vocals and the usual groovy Metal and you've got a very decent result. "The Ferryman" is a slow/midtempo track, more melodic than before. Carsten's singing is also cleaner, there's less growling, but that also accounts for the rather whiney chorus. Last, but not least, there's "Schizophrenia", a firm and groovy Metal song. The couple ballsy music-ballsy vocals performs here as well, though the singing focus lies on the clean version. To not make the music monotonous, a calm break was added in between.

ATHORN and its debut album "Phobia"... what to say? I noticed other reviewers being quite/very positive about it. I was at first too, but after several listens it became clear that this album would never be a candidate for the Best Of 2010. The production is more than fine, the musicianship dito. All is played very well, but somehow there's not enough variety on this album in terms of speed, melodies, rhythm. It's all about groovy guitarwork and the same tempos. There are a few tracks that are good, but overall "Phobia" is too much of the same. Does the band have a phobia of making an album diverse? I mean, surely they have enough skills and experience to make it worthwhile? The press text referred to SANCTUARY and NEVERMORE (my ears whispered names like BRAINSTORM, MANTICORA, ICED EARTH and others, depending on the song and composition), but these bands' albums are far better and more varied than what ATHORN presents anno 2010. Music is somehow a subjective matter, but trying to remain as objective as possible, this is, in my humble opinion, one of the letdowns of this year.

More info at www.myspace.com/athornband.

Line-up:
Carsten Frank - vocals
Stefan Schönebeck - lead guitars
Tobias Liedke - guitars
Thomas Maiwald - bass
Sören Becker - drums


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DARK SPHERE – Ophiuchus (Dark Sphere 2010)

Dark Sphere - Ophiuchus
  1. Ophiuchus
  2. Narrow Gates
  3. Temacnost
  4. Beyond Horizon
  5. Ultimatum Darkness
  6. Darkness Enthroned
  7. Astral Purification
  8. Undead Madness
  9. Serpentis

After 7TH ANGEL, TOXIC HEART, MOR ZABOTH, SOMRAK and TO HATE the Black Metallers from DARK SPHERE sent me a cd to review. Of the aforementioned MOR ZABOTH and SOMRAK also fit that genre. DARK SPHERE was formed in 2008, then consisting of three people: Gothmog, Kain and Jumbo. Personal and musical differences led to Jumbo leaving the band. Gothmog took over on vocals, though kept playing the guitar. A drummer was brought in: Zli. But even then another change occured, as Kain (bass) left in pursuit of a solo career. His replacement was Butcher. And then there's Crow, adding atmospheric and symphonic(-ish) touches on keyboards. Funny somehow, how each member uses a nickname. Then again, this is not unusual in the world of Black Metal.

DARK SPHERE is currently not signed, though released their self-titled debut album in 2008. This contained 8 tracks, totalling a playtime of about 30 minutes. I cannot tell how the songs sound, since their second album, "Ophiuchus", out since the 10th of September, is my first encounter with this band. Lyrically this new release is about the constellation Ophiuchus. As the band puts it: "The constellation, Ophiuchus, has been known since ancient times, and is better known as Serpentarius, the Serpent Holder. It is included in the list of 48 constellations described by Ptolemy and later Nostradamus who connected it with the Great apocalypse. Ophiuchus is depicted as a man handling a serpent; his body dividing the large snake into two parts, giving way to the symbol used today as an Asclepius - the medical staff. Astrologers have not included Ophiuchus in the wheel of Astrological signs because the Sun spends only about nineteen days in this 13th sign of the Mazzaroth. Not that there wasn't a 13th sign in the Heavens, but as far as Astrologers were concerned, the Sun traveled from the constellation Scorpius and then proceeded directly into the sign of Sagittarius. In reality, this was not the case. The Sun, for 19 days of the year, travels through the star constellation Ophiuchus before entering Sagittarius from Scorpius. Thus the sign of Ophiuchus is patterned after the original Serpent Holder, Enki, a Sumerian god." And for more info, there's always search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and others. And Wikipedia. Just follow this link.

The album starts with a calm intro, full of mysticism. The sole intrumentation is the piano, while the organ offers backing support. That same atmosphere can be found in "Narrow Gates", here with the guitars and drums added. The whole continues at midtempo with hoarse vocals, which sound rather monotonous. They lack diversity. The bridge is reminiscent of (old) DIMMU BORGIR. The guitar input is of highest importance, but the keyboards help to complete the dark and despairing scene. A higher pace is chosen for the chorus, in which piano accents are added as spice. All this is finished off with a guitar solo. All in all, a decent track. The first sounds of "Temacnost" come from the atmospheric keyboard intro. Blasting Black Metal follows neatly. The vocals sound similar to those of Gothmog the from the "Lord Of The Rings - Return Of The King" movie, in that catapult scene at Minas Tirith. I guess that's where DARK SPHERE's vocalist got his nickname. Piano accents assist the guitar in the chorus. In between, the atmosphere is of the haunting kind. Over halfway a nice change occurs: a Thrashy piece with keyboard support, before letting the solo come in, at which point the pace falls back to midtempo. Here as well, the end result is decent.

And the keyboards remain a dominant factor, as shown in the atmospheric intro and verses of "Beyond Horizon". Without this instrument, the song would sound quite dull, in my humble opinion. Ok, there are uptempo outbreaks with piano touches and even some blastbeats before the solo, so there the Metal does offer some kicks. However, we're not dealing with birds-and-bees Metal, so the whole feeling is one that is dark, despairing and similar. As good as the previous two songs were, this one is on the mediocre side of the fence. Beyond the horizon into "Ultimatum Darkness" where you'll find blasting, keyboard-lead Black Metal, certainly not of the happiest kind. It sounds dark, filthy and fast, though the chorus is done at midtempo. Atmospheric keyboards are vital in this song. The guitar solo sounds strange and out of place, but despite this error - by manner of speech - the overall result is better than "Beyond Horizon".

"Darkness Enthroned" sets in immediately after the last note of "Ultimatum Darkness". The guitar is the starting point and it sounds more powerful than before. The use of the piano gets tedious at some point. The verses are of the midtempo kind and atmospheric, while the chorus is the place where melody is let loose freely. The keyboards get their moment of glory before the guitar solo and some blastbeats. How good this song is? In my (humble) opinion... not. Didn't really like it, it never caught me. "Astral Purification" on the other hand did a better job at that. Keyboards as starting point, followed by blasting Melodic Death Metal, a piece that returns later on. Keyboards are dominant factor in this song. A contrast in speed is created between the verses (mid) and chorus (up). The music also sounds quite Power Metal-ish. And to make it extra special, the band added a Neo-Folk break. Thumbs up for this variety.

From symphonic Black Metal to Power Metal to Heavy Metal in "Undead Madness". And yes, the piano accents are used here, too, as well as the atmospheric keyboards, albeit in the chorus and with blasting drums. Keyboards are clearly present here, you just can not avoid them. To compensate for that, a guitar solo was added. The end result is decent. "Serpentis" ends this trip to "Ophiuchus" with the piano and keyboards, which again... indeed. I say no more. The atmosphere itself is dark and haunting, inline with the intro of this release. But like "Darkness Enthroned" the song didn't do me much.

Most of the bands whose releases I've reviewed so far did a pretty to very good job. Discovering something new is always interesting, the experience itself, I mean. It's nice to hear that Metal is from everywhere and doesn't always have to come from Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, etc... which is full of these bands (from Heavy Metal to Doom Metal). DARK SPHERE is basically a (symphonic/melodic) Black Metal band, in vein of e.g. DIMMU BORGIR, DARK FUNERAL and similar. The band deserve kudos for trying, for doing their thing, despite limited means. Those limitations are shown in the production, which fooled me in thinking they used a drum computer and midi sounds. But no, a real drummer played the parts. Still, the overuse (abuse?) of the keyboards does make the listening tiring at some point. To me, points to work on: 1) sound, 2) less keyboards, 3) more guitar input to break the dominion of the keyboards.

More info at www.myspace.com/darksph3re.

Line-up:
Gothmog - vocals, guitar
Crow - keyboards
Butcher - bass, backing vocals
Zlatko Skrlec - drums


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ATROCITY FEAT. YASMIN – After The Storm (Napalm Records 2010)

Atrocity - After The Storm
  1. A New Arrival
  2. Call Of Yesteryear
  3. After The Storm
  4. Silvan Spirit
  5. Black Mountain
  6. As The Sun Kissed The Sky
  7. Transilvania
  8. The Flight Of Abbas Ibn Firnas
  9. Goddess Of Fortune And Sorrow
  10. The Otherworld
  11. Eternal Nightside

The German Metal band ATROCITY has long abandoned its Death Metal roots and gone for a Gothic/Industrial style of music. The band also exists as LEAVES' EYES, under which banner they last released a very nice album called "Njord". The band's last output as ATROCITY dates from 2008: "Werk 80 II". On this album they covered hits from the 1980s. Depending on your taste, you either liked the result or you don't. I didn't. Seeing they've got a new album out now, since the 3rd September, it didn't make me jump a hole in the sky, so to speak. I knew it wouldn't be heavy, but I somehow hoped it would at least rock. Yasmin Krull provided lead vocals again, something she did on "Calling The Rain" in 1995. I'm not familiar with her voice, but after hearing "After The Storm" I can't say I would like to hear it again.

The songs on "After The Storm" are mostly of the atmospheric kind, from tribal-ish over Celtic-like to Rock songs indeed. There are a few here: "Call Of Yesteryear", "Black Mountain", "Transilvania" and "The Otherworld". Let's look at them more closely. "Call Of Yesteryear" starts in a Folky/Eastern way with the flute and Rock instrumentation. It's got a dancy rhythm, which is nice, which also counts for the melodies. So, musically all's quite well. But vocally it's not. Alex and Yasmin actually do more harm than good, mainly because the sound of their voice, the timbre, is not suited here. If you're going to sing in a hymnical way, I would have preferred someone like John Two-Hawkes. Both Alex and Yasmin just fail, if I may be so direct. "Black Mountain" starts with the guitar and a MOTÖRHEAD-like bass line. Once the percussion is added, the whole rocks more. Alex uses his rough voice here, Yasmin's "heyla, heyla..." annoys. Again, the music is fine, the vocals aren't. At some point, this being the chorus, the music does turn into a fairly Industrial direction. "Transilvania" rocks, this time with clean vocals. An ok song, nothing more. "The Otherworld" is another Rock song, more Gothic-inspired. The cello works well here, as do the drums. But do ignore the vocals if you wish to enjoy the song.

The others are Folky, like "A New Arrival", which is a dark and sorrowful song. Yasmin's voice is too raw, her timbre sure is not right for this song. Eastern influences (incl. percussion) can be detected in "After The Storm". If this were an instrumental track, it would be a highlight. Now it's not, due to the vocals. Yep, the vocals again and again are the black mark on this album. Eastern influences and percussion are also present in "Silvan Spirit". Same conclusion regarding music versus vocals. And so it goes on for the other tracks. One final remark about the two instrumental tracks, "The Flight Of Abbas Ibn Firnas" and "Eternal Nightside": they are highlights, together with the more rocking songs.

I can be short about "After The Storm". If you seek Folky, atmospheric and Eastern-influenced music, this is listenable. If however you seek it with appropriate vocals or fully instrumental, skip ATROCITY and look for other bands/artists, which are far better candidates in this field. "After The Storm" is a failed attempt at creating something interesting and enticing, in my humble opinion. If I could cancel out the vocals, what would be left is a very decent atmospheric and Folky album.

More info at www.atrocity.de.

Line-up:
Alexander Krull - vocals
Yasmin Krull - vocals, flute
Thorsten Bauer - guitars
Sander van der Meer - guitars
Alla Fedynitch - bass
Roland Navratil - drums


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TRISTANIA – Rubicon (Napalm Records 2010)

Tristania - Rubicon
  1. Year Of The Rat
  2. Protection
  3. Patriot Games
  4. The Passing
  5. Exile
  6. Sirens
  7. Vulture
  8. Amnsesia
  9. Magical Fix
  10. Illumination

TRISTANIA is not a stranger in the world of Gothic Metal. Founded in 1997 they quickly became one of the best bands in this genre, mainly thanks to vocalist/guitarist Morten Veland, who left the band in 2000. He focused on SIRENIA and since last year his solo project MORTEMIA saw the light of day. I'm not really familiar with TRISTANIA's music, save for a brief check of their 2007 release "Illumination". I listened to this album in the record store, but somehow it just couldn't satisfy my taste, mainly due to Vibeke Stene's vocals. Not that she's a bad singer, but such frail voices are not my cup of tea. And apparently the musical style also was very different from that of Morten's period in the band. Not bad at all, as far as I'm concerned, but even if the music is good, if the vocals are not appealing, then it's pointless to buy the album.

Speaking of line-up changes, this is something even TRISTANIA has not been free from. Long-time vocalist Vibeke Stene left in 2007. Bassist Rune Østerhus, also in the band since 1997, left one year later. Even this year the Norwegians had to look for a new vocalist for the cleans, which they found with Kjetil Nordhus (ex-TRAIL OF TEARS). When Vibeke left, Mariangela Demurtas became the new frontwoman, as is shown on the band's newest album cover, that of "Rubicon". Other members were replaced in 2009. The only suriving members from the year of birth are Anders Høyvik Hidle (guitars, harsh vocals) and keyboardist Einar Moen. TRISTANIA released its debut album, "Widow's Weeds", in 1998 under the wings of Napalm Records. Each consecutive studio album was released by Napalm, though "Ashes" (2005) and "Illumination" (2007) were put out by SPV/Steamhammer. For the newest album, "Rubicon", the band returned to Napalm Records, who will put it out on the 27th August. A new start? I mean, a new line-up, a new female vocalist, a new album.

To give the whole that extra touch - not that such a thing is needed, but it can help - a few guests can be heard on the band's sixth album: Østen Bergøy, who left the band earlier this year, on (clean) vocals and violin additions by Pete Johansen. TRISTANIA will go on tour in October, crossing 9 European countries in a good forthnight. But let's look at "Rubicon" now.

It all starts with the piano intro of "Year Of The Rat", which sounds typically Gothic. The last year of the rat was 2008, according to the Chinese zodiac (see more here and here). In this song the verses were kept acoustic, while full power was set for the chorus. Add a good dose of catchiness to this and you've got a great result, especially when dual vocals sing the lyrics. Mariangela is from Sardinia, thus she stands out from the line-up in a visual manner. Her voice also differs from Vibeke's in that she doesn't sing in an operatic manner. And this fits very well with the softer music. "Year Of The Rat" is a light and rather playful (if that term can be used here) song, showing that you don't need to go heavy in this style to create something good. Symphonic input is an important ingredient, generally speaking, and although it's not of high importance here, there is a moment where it's used with heavy guitarwork as if to stress a less positive event. I think one will need the lyrics for confirmation. After that it's back to the chorus and heading for the end.

Next is the slower and even sadder "Protection", a semi-acoustic track. Again the contrast of calm and atmospheric verses vs a powerful chorus was created, though tempo-wise nothing changed. Mariangela again sings the lead vocals (she's the band's new female vocalist and one the album cover, after all). Later on things get heavier, though with a dramatic touch, with grunts from Anders. The song ends in a symphonic manner. All in all, another job well done. "Patriot Games" sets in with a playful intro, after which power is added while the same melody continues. Guitars are key instruments here. Kjetil this time sings the leads, yet allows for Mariangela to join him in the chorus, which again is injected with the right dose of catchiness. At some point Pete's violin can be heard in a rather mysterious moment. Once the Metal kicks in again, it's time for the guitar soloing and, if I may say say, furiouos drumming. Another highlight on "Rubicon". Where TRISTANIA managed to not really entice me, they sure are doing a very good job so far.

The beginning of "The Passing" is also slow and sad and more along those lines, but it also sounds quite Doomy (as in Doom Metal-ish). The structure acoustic verses-powerful chorus can be found here, too, like before. Female lead vocals again, with assistance of the guitar. Even if the entire band then plays the chorus with all vents open, the tempo remains low, the music sad. Steadily the song advanced to the point where vocals are kept silent and instruments do the talking. Still slow, but with the emphasis on the Rock aspect. For melodic purposes, Pete adds his violin composition. Afterwards it's back to business as usual. With "Exile" the Gothic Metallers present a wonderful power ballad. It starts acoustically, but then Metal takes over before the semi-acoustic verses are activated, in which with male lead vocals. However, Mariangela does fall in in the bridge, or better, she owns that part with the help of symphonic keyboard input. Both vocal types join forces in the splendid and touching chorus. Later on there's a slow symphonic Metal moment to spice things a little more. This is, in short, pure brilliance. I love it!

Slow Metal and low male vocals (PARADISE LOST-ish) can be found in "Sirens", building the tension before the power is activated and dual vocals (incl. Mariangela) are added. In the chorus you get male lead vocals, while Mariangela sing backing vocals. I can be short about this track: great singing, great music, great symphonic leads (incl. Pete's violin). All's been great so far, from the first song to and including "Sirens". "Vulture" is the first and, in my humble opinion, only track where things are a little less attractive. The music rolls on, ready for take off and it's this part that also is played in the verses with male lead vocals. Full midtempo power is turned on in the chorus where rather spacey (by lack of a better term) keyboards help with the melodic aspect. Those keyboards also play a weird role later on during the heavier moment where clean vocals are replaced by screams. Afterwards it's back to the chorus and heading for the end. It's exactly that element, the screams, that - at least for me - makes this song less attractive. Musically all's quite fine, but those screams don't really fit. But it's only one song, so the problem is quite trivial, no?

Three more songs, so let's carry on, because "Amnesia" is setting in and I would not like to forget to write the last phrases for this review. It's a slow track with a piano-led intro while guitars take care of the rhythm. The violin also plays a role here. The verses are slow and sleepy somehow. Mariangela is on lead vocals. All this is opposed to the chorus, which in general doesn't really differ that much from the verses in terms of slowness. The main difference is you get guitar power here and the addition of male vocals. Oh yes, the piano is vital, too. However, the music does flow better, smoother with just the male lead vocals. The violin played a part in the intro and it does the same in the outro, though with Metal assistance. An overall very good result. "Magical Fix" starts in a theatrical way, which is nice and not just for the sake of diversity. Previously the music was slow and sad and all of that, but this time pounding Metal takes over. But not without neglecting the importance of melody. Male lead vocals in the verses while Mariangela adds backings is the chosen option again. When hearing the catchy, pounding chorus, I have to say it sounds rather happy compared to the lyrics. Maybe it's my impression or the band intended it to be like that. As a contrast, there is an evil part further on with grunts. Here as well, no complaints whatsoever.

And so we come to the last song, the longest one as well, the title of TRISTANIA's previous album: "Illumination". With more than 8 minutes you're in for a treat. First off, there's an angelic intro with the typical chanting. Writing it down would look silly and not do it justice. Just listen to the song or any other song to get the idea. To not continue in a direct way, calm, atmospheric verses are sung by - yes, indeed - Mariangela. This alone sounds beautiful and you just hope it will stay that way. Well, no. Male leads sing the lyrics then, assisted by the acoustic guitar. These clean male vocals (I take it it's Kjetil, as well as in most previous songs, considering Østen Bergøy also added cleans, but I don't know precisely in which tracks) also occupy the semi-acoustic chorus. Due to the lengthy playtime, a break is added, a guitar moment. Afterwards the song is rebuilt with acoustic music and low male vocals, though they're not that attractive here. Personally speaking, I would let Mariangela handle the singing here. She does indeed make a return a little later. And just when you think the band will continue to play what's to be played until the end, all falls silent, save for low male singing... in Norwegian. Talk about a nice surprise.

As I said in the beginning, my only proper encounter with TRISTANIA's music was their last album, "Illumination" (2007). Having the chance to review the follow-up, "Rubicon", I was kind of hoping... Well, I was not hoping, didn't have any expectations and it seems this paid off. I have nothing against operatic vocals and like them in Metal (even if they're in many cases overused, especially in Gothic Metal), but it also depends on the person's timbre (Vibeke in this case). Anyway, no operatic singing this time. The music also is not really written for them, if you ask me. Mariangela's clean vocals fit perfectly, as do Kjetil's, who previously did a very good job in TRAIL OF TEARS and other bands. "Rubicon" features a new line-up, a strong one. The song material clearly demonstrates that, as there's not one bad track here on this album. Fans of the band may have divided meanings, but I can only (highly) recommend this album to anyone into Gothic Rock/Metal (yes, there's a difference between the two, but TRISTANIA sort of float between the two). My list of highlights of 2010 sees the addition of "Rubicon". Nothing more to add.

More info at www.tristania.com.

Line-up:
Mariangela Demurtas - vocals
Kjetil Nordhus - clean vocals
Anders H°yvik Hidle - guitars, harsh Vocals
Gyri Smørdal Losnegaard - guitars
Einar Moen - synthesizer
Ole Vistnes - bass, vocals
Tarald Lie - drums


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SHADOWGARDEN – Ashen (Napalm Records 2010)

Shadowgarden - Ashen
  1. Shadowplay
  2. Last Summer
  3. With Love And A Bullet
  4. The Whithering Of Mine
  5. Sorrow's Kitchen
  6. 140 AM
  7. Murky Waters
  8. Way Down Low
  9. Empty Days
  10. Slowmotion Apocalypse

Johan Ericson is back. The DRACONIAN guitarist teamed up with ex-DRACONIAN guitarist Andreas Hindenäs to create a new Gothic Rock/Metal formation called SHADOWGARDEN. This is Johan's third band/project, next to DRACONIAN and DOOM:VS. The seeds of SHADOWGARDEN were sown back in the mid 1990s as a side-project, since the Gothic/Doom Metal band DRACONIAN was the main focus. Both guitarists wanted to create something influenced by bands like CEMETARY, SENTENCED and the like. Demo tracks were recorded, but it's only last year that a full-length was recorded. Napalm Records saw potential in it and signed the Swedes. "Ashen", the title of this album, is available since the 27th August.

Two guitarists, but what about the other positions? DRACONIAN vocalist Lisa Johansson took up the mic, drummer and sound engineer Daniel Flores (MIND'S EYE, XSAVIOR, TEARS OF ANGER) was asked for percussion and Björn Johansson (a live session member for DRACONIAN) played the bass parts. Production was done by Johan Ericson, but mixing and mastering was in the hands of Jens Bogren (DRACONIAN, OPETH, PARADISE LOST, AMON AMARTH, GWYLLION, and many more). I've listened to "Ashen" several times the past few weeks and to be honest, mr. Ericson amazes me again, as he did with his other two bands. So let's see how good this album is.

"Ashen" begins with "Shadowplay" and its acoustic intro, featuring a sort of howling sound adding a touch of mystery. Clean vocals come in first in a gentle way before the Rock breaks loose (with leadwork). It's powerful and catchy track where the aspect of sadness is well implemented. Nothing too complicated, though. "Last Summer" takes a direct start and sounds firmer than the previous track and faster. A contrast is created between the acoustic verses and electric bridge and chorus. All in all again good compositions (rhythm, melody, ...). Instant power is also delivered in "With Love And A Bullet". The whole flows at midtempo, but somehow a little slower again. This time no male vocalist (aka Johan Ericson), but Lisa Johansson (DRACONIAN). Ok, Johan does sing at the end of this song. Full musical power is again reserved for the chorus. At some point the piano gets its moment of fame during a more atmospheric phase before the chorus comes back and so forth. Here as well, no complaints whatsoever.

Atmosphere is also of importance in the beginning of "The Whithering Of Mine", after which the music sets in with a bang and at a relatively high speed. A very nice change, if I may say so. Ballsy guitarwork, though with somewhat sad leads. The acoustic verses (contrasting with the powerful chorus) and keyboard backing confirm that. But as it sounds so direct, a certain happy effect is created. Think of LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE and you'll know what to expect. The tempo goes down again in "Sorrow's Kitchen", which is a typical Gothic Rock song. Here too, acoustic verses and full power in the chorus, obviously with the obligatory dramatic touch. A piano break offers a moment of change, helps to keep you focused. In the last part female backing vocals are added, though it's unknown to me why that is, as you don't hear Lisa's voice prior to that. In any case, Johan and Andreas know what they're doing.

And so the pace increases again, this time with "140 AM". A rather strange title. Is this the AM as in Ante Meridiem? And what's the link with 140? This song does show a nice change when it comes to drums, as toms are heavily used in the verses. Always playing a standard pattern can be boring, so it's a good thing to hear something different for a change. They're overall also more varied than before, I have the impression. While the verses aren't really heavy, it's again the chorus that is so. In short: it's another decent track, but a little less attractive than the preceding ones. The "Murky Waters" flow out of the speakers with direct power, lead by the piano and violin. The usual musical contrast was also applied here, while the vocals sound calmer, more relaxed. The biggest surprise however is the guitar solo, something that wasn't added in the previous songs. What can I say? It's good. It's like - when specifically referring to Johan Ericson - this guy can't do much wrong with his guitar (if it's him playing the solo, of course).

"Way Down Low" is a lighter song, but it rocks. Here I would compare it with what the Norwegian Gothic Rockers from ELUSIVE have done on, for example, "Destination Zero" (2001). Melody is again an important factor, particularly in the chorus. And yes, there's a guitar solo here as well. Overall, a decent track, lighter and somehow less good that the others. "Empty Ways" starts slowly with enough melodic input, steadily building the pace until all is set free in a firm and solid manner. Melodic verses are opposed to a chorus containing sad backing, despite the guitar and drum impact. The leadwork is very nice here, that is without question. The solo represents the finishing touch. No complaints, another job well done. And last but not least there's "Slowmotion Apocalypse", the longest song (06:30) on this album. At first your hear cracking sounds like those of a vinyl record, but here those cracking sounds are of the haunting type. Slow, dramatic (doom and gloom) kind of Rock sets in. It's indeed in slowmotion and it does indeed sound not too happy. The slow, Doomy verses feature choir-ish backing vocals, adding a nice effect to the whole. This definitely fits. The result wouldn't be as attractive without them as it is now. The musical power increases (obviously) in the bridge, where the clean vocals are traded in for growls, while the chorus is done at slow pace and with melodic and despairing input. The weeping guitar solo emphasizes the dark character of this track.

DRACONIAN, DOOM:VS and now SHADOWGARDEN. Johan Ericson and Gothic Rock/Metal, a marriage that knows no problems. Sure, he's got Andreas Hindenäs as his partner in crime for SHADOWGARDEN, also because this band was born when both played together in DRACONIAN. "Ashen" finally is out after all those years. Or better, the band/project finally sees its discography expanded with a full-length. This is by far not as Doomy and gloomy as the other two bands, which is good, as it shows both guitarists can take it from a lighter side and still keep it dark enough. Jens Bogren mixed and mastered the album, so in terms of sound all is more than well. As most songs sound quite catchy, there was no need to write lengthy songs. So, in short: another positive surprise from the cold north.

More info at www.myspace.com/shadowgardenmusic.

Line-up:
Andreas Hindenäs - guitars
Johan Ericson - guitars


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MADE OF HATE – Pathogen (AFM Records 2010)

Made Of Hate - Pathogen
  1. Friend
  2. Russian Roulette
  3. You, Departed
  4. I Can't Believe
  5. Lock'n'load
  6. Pathogen
  7. False Flag
  8. Questions

The Polish Melodic Power/Thrash/Death Metal band MADE OF HATE, founded in 2007, released its debut album, "Bullet In your Head" two years ago. Before the name change they were known as ARCHEON (°2001), under which banner they put out two releases: "Dead World" (single, 2002) and "End Of The Weakness" (2005). For me it was nice to hear something melodic coming from Poland, instead of the classic extreme stuff from VADER, BEHEMOTH, DECAPITATED and the likes. Not that these three bands are bad, far from it even. "Bullet In Your Head" sounded similar to e.g. CHILDREN OF BODOM, and yet MADE OF HATE managed to put their own stamp on the music in terms of guitarwork mainly. One of the highlights related to the release was then a support slot for IRON MAIDEN in Warsaw.

Now, since the 27th August, the follow-up is out: "Pathogen". Lyrically it deals with everyday life experiences and the fascination of serial killers and their point of view, feelings and an attempt to try and understand their twisted thoughts. The music hasn't changed that much and it's still Michal Kostrzynski who's responsible for this and the lyrics. However, he decided to step down as vocalist (and just offer his screams as backing vocals) and let rhythm guitarist Radek Polrolniczak take up the microphone, while at the same time leaving the guitar aside. Radek's voice is not like Mike's, it's lower, darker, rougher. Whether or not that's a good choice, is a personal preference, but the band decided it was for the better.

This review, as you can imagine is way overdue for the obvious reasons (it's November when I'm writing this). But let's get to it. From the start the music comes out of the speakers with a big burst, the first thing you hear of "Friend". An intro, of course, and once the right gear is chosen, we're off for a solid ride with again very catchy leadwork standing out. Drums follow, though don't add any special touches. Nevertheless, they do make the compositions complete. Radek's hoarse vocals are something to get used to, even after several listens. However, it must be said that his voice sounds fuller than Mike's screams. His (Mike) guitarwork, at least the rhythm parts, sounds a little heavier than on "Bullet In Your Head". Perhaps this is due to the production, or Mike adjusted his equipment accordingly. Like before, lots of attention was given to instrumental time, which is also a characteristic of this band's music. So far, so very good.

"Russian Roulette" cranks up the speed with more double bass. The Metal comes rolling out of the speakers and again melody is of high importance. In fact, Mike's leadwork is so vital that it's the basis of every song. The midtempo verses remind a bit of TESTAMENT, at least in the vocal department. The bridge offers headbang time, while the band opted for a sharp and aggressive chorus. Mike plays solos too, not just leadwork. Also, Tomek chose to play a more diverse pattern here. All in all, "Russian Roulette" sounds a bit METALLICA-like, more specifically the "Black Album" era, only heavier. But here as well the Polish did a very good job. "You, Departed" also starts with a tension-building intro, where Mike throws in the classic catchy type of riffing and Tomek completes with a nice groove. The verses are dark and the guitarwork is a clear indication of this. Radek sings/speaks with a low voice as if not to strain himself. He does use a fuller voice in the chorus, which is of the emotional kind. Again, by this I don't mean the emo as in Emo or Screamo. This track is not as technical as the others, it's thus rather simple, though with the added catchiness, Mike made it fit the rest of the pack.

"I Can't Believe" is the instrumental track. Well, that's the first impression. Again, musical talk is key in MADE OF HATE. Speaking of which, you get the powerful riffing with the added catchy leads. It's indeed the guitarwork that makes you listen to this song again and again. The verses are of the Thrashy kind, while the chorus has Radek screaming rather than growling. Or wait, is that Mike after all? After the solo, variation is brought in terms of rhythm and drumming. Another very good result. And so it's time for what I consider the best or most attractive song, "Lock'n'load". It's got drive, power, vibe, tempo. Its dancy rhythm is thé element that distinguishes it from the rest, though this is only in the chorus. The verses are straight-forward Metal. Nevertheless, the end result is very tastey!

In "Pathogen" the band changed to a lower gear to play a linear midtempo song without forgetting the necessary ingredients to make it a MADE OF HATE song. Due to its straight-forwardness and the production fooling you - well, me - a little, this track can be considered a Heavy Metal one in a more powerful jacket. As good as it all sounds, I found the solo moment the best part. Slow(er) songs are good for the sake of variation and flow, but if it's not one's speciality, it's time to crank it up again. Like in "False Flag". At least, the guitarwork is speedier than before, but the drums don't follow and that's a pity, as a fast(er) track would have fit perfectly here. While "Bullet In Your Head" had several songs with neo-classical guitarwork, "Pathogen" has less of them or less songs where this aspect coems through. "False Flag" is the best song to hear this influence again. At this point Radek's low vocals become a bit annoying, in the sense that they sound similar in each song. The aforementioned request for speed is answered in the solo part, but it's not enough to make (me) amazed. Last and perhaps least is "Questions", where the first impression is: yes, a fast rocker! The drums are faster than before, the verses are of the Power/Thrash kind, but the screamy chorus is rather mediocre. it's not bad, but definitely not super either. Overall, it's another decent song, but after what preceded (= listening to the album from track 1 to track 8) it comes across as boring. The solo is a small compensation for that.

"Bullet In Your Head" was not a perfect album (yet very solid), but it did make me want to hear the songs many times. That was to a large extent due to the guitarwork and overall instrumental attention. My expectations for "Pathogen" were logically high, but after all those listens and considering the small line-up change, I have to admit that the debut album is the better one (more tempo/speed changes, better fills, ...). Then again, "Pathogen" also contains Mike's wonderful guitarwork, which is the center of it all, the most vital element. Take that away and MADE OF HATE is no more. That is then also the band's problem, in a way. That's the backside of the medal. My biggest problem with "Pathogen" is Radek's singing. Sure, his growls make the listening experience different and create a different atmosphere, but somehow he sounds very limited, sings too much in the same manner. It's then good that the music is catchy enough to allow multiple spins of the album, but a bit more variation in the vocal department wouldn't hurt.

More info at www.madeofhate.net.

Line-up:
Radek Polrolniczak - vocals
Michal Kostrzynski - guitars
Jarek Kajszczak - bass
Tomek Grochowski - drums


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GHOST MACHINERY – Out For Blood (Limb Music Products 2010)

Ghost Machinery - Out For Blood
  1. Face Of Evil
  2. Out For Blood
  3. Guilty
  4. Blood From Stone
  5. Name Remains In History
  6. The Fortuneteller
  7. Lost In Time
  8. Sentenced To Life (In Paradise)
  9. Mask Of Madness
  10. Eternal Damnation
  11. Send Me An Angel (BLACKFOOT cover)

GHOST MACHINERY, founded in 2002, is the other band of BURNING POINT vocalist/guitarist Pete Ahonen. With this band he released a first album in 2004 under the title "Haunting Remains" (released via Sound Riot Records). I had heard BURNING POINT's music when the band was still signed to Limb Music Products. And it was a pleasant experience, though my collection does not contain any BURNING POINT release. As a consequence it would be interesting to hear if GHOST MACHINERY's material would be as good. Here the emphasis lay more on 80's influences, including the production. This, by itself, was a nice aspect, but as a whole the "Haunting Remains" album was above mediocre (in my humble opinion). Since then BURNING POINT became the focal point and released two more albums, the last being "Empyre" (2009). Now, anno 2010, GHOST MACHINERY returns with a sophomore album called "Out For Blood". And it was released on the 27th August via... Limb Music Products, although it is said that several more labels showed interest.

"Out For Blood" is the first album with a bigger line-up. Previously the band consisted of three members:

Pete Ahonen - vocals, guitars
Tapsa Pelkonen - bass
Jussy Ontero - drums, keyboards

This time the line-up looks like this:

Taage Laiho - vocals
Pete Ahonen - guitar
Mikko Myllylä - guitar
Sami Nyman - bass
Jussi Ontero - drums, keyboards

Keyboards are a vital element in the compositions, as they contribute heavily to the melodic aspect of the songs. The start of, for example, "Face Of Evil" clearly indicates this. The tune is good for an intro. The verses are guitar-driven, all at a firm tempo with the appropriate ballsy vocals. The keyboards increase in volume in the bridge, while stepping back in the chorus. Vocal power is another very important aspect here, throughout the song. Guitars and drums add the required basis. No Heavy Metal without a solo, which makes the picture complete. All in all this is a solid track to begin with. The title track is one of the highlights. It's got sharp guitarwork, typical for the style. See also U.D.O., GAMMA RAY, KAMELOT (specifically the albums "The Fourth Legacy" and "Karma"). Speaking of KAMELOT, the bridge here reminds a lot of the bridge of "Wings Of Despair", where Roy also sings in a lower voice before going into "Flying on the wings of despair, no one is holding you back...". In addition, the chorus of "Out For Blood", as epic as it sounds, made me think of MANOWAR's "Return Of The Warlord" chorus. All in all, nothing but positive commenting, especially on the guitar input (rhythm, leads, solos).

"Guilty" is next, letting the combo guitar/keyboards play the same melody, while bass and drums are added slowly. This group of instruments works towards the verses, which don't exactly fall in with a bang, rather continue at the same (slow) pace, yet with the gutiars in the forefront, the keys in the back, reduced in power and volume. It's a powerballad, though with powerful singing, which is nice. The chorus sounded a bit like what POWERWOLF has done the last few albums, also vocally. All in all another solid track. the guitar solo, by AT VANCE guitarist Olaf Lenk, is a needed element. As I said before, GHOST MACHINERY's sound is mainly 80's influenced and especially the song "Blood From Stone" could have been taken from that period. More specifically the Glam era. Keyboards are obviously of vital importance in this radio-friendly and catchy track. The guitar solo makes it complete.

The second highlight is "Name Remains In History". Here you get firmer Metal, yet there's still a large dependence on the keyboards for the melodic aspect, although the guitars lend a hand or string. This powerful midtempo track is also heavily 80's influenced. The acoustic guitar is used on a limited basis and just in "The Fortunetellers", where it has the honour to start the song. Once the electric instruments take over, the then added keyboard accents sound like they come off NIGHTWISH's "Oceanborn" or "Wishmaster" albums. "The Fortunetellers" is a slow, somewhat bumpy song with a very melodic chorus. Vocal power is present, too. And yes, another ballad has been added to the tracklist. But it's good, no doubt about that.

"Lost In Time", powerballad no. 2. The lead tune is a sad one in this rather mediocre song. The guitar solo proves its importance again, if only to make the song a bit more interesting that it is. Mind you, all's well executed and produced, but it just doesn't have the means to keep the listening attention, at least not in my case. But that problem is soon solved with "Sencted To Life (In Paradise)", which provides another solid dose of Metal! And this is much needed at this point. The 80's touch is delivered by the keyboards. All's played at a higher tempo, also to follow the increase in power. If a comparison is allowed, I'd say SILENT FORCE is one of those bands. Another solid song, full stop.

No keyboards, but the bass and drums in the intro of "Mask Of Madness". This is another midtempo track where guitars provide the power, the keyboards the leads. It's catchy, to say the least. Clean vocals fit most appropriately here. The third highlight, in my opinion, is "Eternal Damnation", an uptempo, SONATA ARCTICA-ish song, in vein of the material on "Silence". Melodies are what makes this song stand out, coming both from guitars and keyboards. Other than that you get raging, straight-forward speed Metal in the verses, while the whole becomes fuller in the chorus. Here terms like epic and hymnic can be easily applied. The solo rounds it off. The final track, "Send Me An Angel", is originally a BLACKFOOT song. I checked it on YouTube and I have to say GHOST MACHINERY has done a very fine job in covering in. They come close to the original. It's a midtempo track, catchy and somehow inline with GHOST MACHINERY's material.

While "Haunting Remains" was above mediocre back in 2004, and Pete Ahonen having his hands full with BURNING POINT, this gap of 6 year proved to be beneficial to the songwriting process for the new GHOST MACHINERY album, "Out For Blood". The production has improved, though still keeps the connection with the 1980s. Also, Pete and co., now with a proper line-up managed to come up with very solid Heavy/Power Metal, both catchy and entertaining. The end result is definitely worth checking out, especially if you're into bands like (old) KAMELOT, SILENT FORCE, SONATA ARCTICA, GAMMA RAY, POWERWOLF, (to some extent) SABATON, and similar.

More info at www.myspace.com/ghostmachinery.

Line-up:
Taage Laiho - vocals
Pete Ahonen - guitar
Mikko Myllylä - guitar
Sami Nyman - bass
Jussi Ontero - drums, keyboards


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FATAL INJURY – The Dictatorship Of Blindness (Fatal injury 2010)

Fatal Injury - The Dictatorship Of Blindness
  1. Broken Lethargy
  2. Killing For Profit
  3. Sick
  4. Echoes Of Agony
  5. Inert Existence
  6. Psychorporation
  7. The Theory Of Terror
  8. Isolation 101
  9. Inner Madness
  10. Oblivion's Black Hole
  11. Leave Me To Die

In 2007 I got a review copy of FATAL INJURY's self-titled debut, which was released via Aural Offerings Records, a French label with distribution in Germany, Benelux, France and other European countries. The Death/Thrash Metal this Spanish band plays was, on their first album, fairly good, but improvements could be made on several levels. As we're dealing with a young band, such things are normal and in my review I gave them the benefit of doubt, because you could clearly hear the potential. Afterwards nothing much was known about new writing sessions, gigs abroad, etcetera. But three years later, anno 2010, you register on Facebook and by coincidence you see a FATAL INJURY group. As the band offered a few demo tracks of its upcoming album, "The Dictatorship Of Blindness", as free download, the step was taken to ask for updates. And when I was sent the demo cd of "The Dictatorship Of Blindness".

FATAL INJURY is currently looking for a label, hence the album still being in demo phase, but I don't care about that, as it makes the listening experience all the more worthwhile and intense. It's almost like back in the day when bands still released demos instead of fully produced/mixed/mastered albums with a polished sound and whatever else (effects, samples, ...). But in any case, these Spanish deserve to be signed to a label that has the tools to properly promote their music and get them to play outside of Spain.

The 6-track free demo sounded, sorry, sounds very promising, catchy, brutal and more. I've been playing it many times was anxious to hear how the rest of the tracks (on the full-length) would sound. Needless to say the anticipation grew to enormous proportions as I took it with me on the train to work. This is great stuff to wake up to in the morning or just listen to when you need a kick in the arse. Anyway, eleven tracks, like on the debut album, and a total playtime of close to 50 minutes, starting with an intro and ending with a long track of 10 minutes. It's indeed an uncommon thing in Death/Thrash Metal to have long songs, but if the end result is good, why not?

It starts with the intro "Broken Lethargy", where you can hear the sharp guitarwork and the whole being sprinkled with a little suspense to then unleash all power in "Killing For Profit", which kicks in with furious Death/Thrash. Vocally two extreme types are used, growls and screams (à la Christian "Chrigel" Glanzmann from ELUVEITIE). They fit perfectly with the sharp riffing and accurate hits on the drums. As we're dealing with a demo, the sound is still pure enough to allow those drums to sound very punchy and direct. To counter the fast verses, the chorus was done at midtempo. Mix-wise the bass comes through now and then, which means even in this department all is well. Getting "Sick" is out of the question and also impossible with such music. Anyway, this song has the guitars and drums rolling in, paving the way for the fierce and vicious attack. The uptempo stuff is just killer, without question. Again the chorus was played at midtempo to avoid a monotonous stream of Metal. Things get wild and fast during the solo moment. Again a very good track, but a bit pity it ends so abrupt.

"Echoes Of Agony" begins with a creepy intro - what could be out there? - followed by blasting Death Metal with bestial screams/growls. Midtempo verses vs an uptempo bridge, flowing over into a slow chorus. Could the contrast be any bigger? The bridge does sound so tastey while the chorus comes close to the environment of Doom Metal. The solo wasn't forgotten and I can't say it's a bad choice, even if it's not always necessary. Like the previous track, this one as well ends in a rather abrupt way. "Inert Existence" brings back the catchy guitarwork in an uptempo Death/Thrash jacket. Both vocals types remain a constant. In the bridge the lads introduce a more melodic approach. The bass again shows its face now and then, which is a good thing. It shows the band paid attention to such details. The chorus should follow next, but is trapped between two solos. It manages to break free from that position, but the end then comes fast, albeit it through a fade-out.

The guitars and drums also roll in "Psychorporation", though with a melodic accent, before the Death Metal comes crushing in. Firm verses opposed to a melodic bridge and chorus. Growls as dominant vocal type, yet allowing the screams to be present in the chorus. While this song is abou corporations dominating our lives, guiding us into directions they want us to take... sort of taking over our consciounce, so we don't have to think what to do, wear, eat, ... it also gave me the impression it was a military song. Context-based I guess you could indeed get the military involved who's then on the side of the corporations of course. Solid song again, but a little less interesting than the others. The next title, "The Theory Of Terror", should promise a violent, destructive and ferocious piece of Metal. That's indeed what you get. However, the band went for a melodic chorus in vein of DARK TRANQUILLITY, (old) IN FLAMES, and similar. This might be a questionable decision, but this way the Spanish manage to keep everything diverse enough so as not to play the same song multiple times. Variety is also offered by the guitar- and drumwork.

"Isolation 101" is a typical Death Metal track. The verses are slow and somehow I felt that making the drums a bit faster would be more appropriate. On the other hand, fast is not always a good option. It's the song as a whole that matters. Needless to say, Oscar keeps it interesting enough, by which I mean he didn't stick to a standard pattern. In the vocals department it's the growls that live here. At some point the riffing morph into something comparable to the haunting sounds of the film "Jaws", followed by the solo and then going back to fast Death Metal. Awesome material, no doubt about that. "Inner Madness" kicks in with catchy and fast Death/Thrash Metal, spiced with a melodic touch. Screamy vocals are now the dominant kind here. Solos are present and afterwards the music slows down to let the bass have its moment of glory, so to speak. As good as this all is, key about this song is the rhythm guitarwork.

"Oblivion's Black Hole" is another rolling Death Metal track where heavy riffing is key, though with the melodic touches it could have been written by ARCH ENEMY. This again shows FATAL INJURY has learned in those three years to not stick to one specific structure or pattern. And last but not least, "Leave Me To Die" is a midtempo track with the occasional blastbeats. When uptempo, the music is obviously a sticker. No, not those paper thingies with glue, but in the sense of catchy. The chorus is reminiscent of DARK TRANQUILLITY. After the solo the song is over. But the clock continues to tick as there are at least 3 more minutes to go. They couldn't all be silent, right? Nope, because about 1 minute or so later you get an instrumental song. It's acoustic, Spanish-tinted and is comparable to DEATH's "Voice Of The Soul", one of the best instrumental tracks ever! Of course FATAL INJURY's instrumental is different, but it's very good nevertheless. Looking at the title of this long track, the acoustic ending makes more sense.

FATAL INJURY delivered a fairly good debut album three years ago. Afterwards it got silent around them, unless perhaps you live(d) in Spain. Either way, I was more or less expecting them to make another album sooner than later, but if it takes time and you want to do it right until you're satisfied, then waiting is no problem for me. Stumbling upon their group on Facebook proved to be a positive occurance. The free demo tracks are a good teaser/pre-taste for the full album. "The Dictatoship Of Blindness" is still in demo phase and the band is waiting for a label to release it and with a proper production. But to my ears there's is nothing (!) wrong with the sound. With this second album the Spanish Death/Thrash band has more than fulfilled the expectations. Pluspoints are for the passion, the balance between vocals and music, the overall sound, the dual vocals (growls, screams). One minus point however: the abrupt ending of a few songs. But that's peanuts here. "The Dictatorship Of Blindness" is, to conclude, one of the best extreme Metal releases this year. In my humble opinion.

More info at www.myspace.com/fatalinjuryband.

Line-up:
Manuel - vocals, guitar
Raul - guitar
Fidel - bass
Oscar - drums


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KICKHUNTER – All In (AFM Records 2010)

Kickhunter - All In
  1. Mine All Mine
  2. Revolution
  3. Another Tear
  4. Feels Like Home
  5. All In
  6. Shy Shy Shy
  7. Checks In The Mail (VICTORY cover)
  8. Boogie Town
  9. Deep In My Heart
  10. Call Me (BLONDIE cover)
  11. Ocean

KICKHUNTER is a German Rock band blending influences from Blues Rock, Hard Rock and Southern Rock. The band rapidly gathered success after their founding a good 7 years ago, as they supported DEEP PURPLE and LYNYRD SKYNYRD in Germany, Portugal and Scandinavia. That same year the band's debut album came out: "Hearts And Bones". The follow-up, "Little Monsters", was released in 2007. Anno 2010 (23rd July to be precise) album no. 3 is out: "All In". KICKHUNTER features HELLOWEEN bassist Markus Großkopf. While this album is barely out, the band has already booked the studio for the next release. They'll hit Rickey Medlocke's (LYNYRD SKYNYRD guitarist) studio in Fort Myers, Florida, in January 2011.

Next to the fixed line-up, "All In" features some guest musicians: Axel Mackenrott (MASTERPLAN, keyboards), Jan S. Eckert (MASTERPLAN, bass), Hermann Frank (ACCEPT, guitar) and Pascal Kravetz (SPRINGSTEEN, ROBERT PALMER, JOE COCKER, etc..., Hammond B3 and piano). The album was produced by Dennis Ward, who previously worked with SILENT FORCE, ANGRA, VOODOO CIRCLE, PINK CREAM 69, SINNER, PRIMAL FEAR, AXXIS, KROKUS, HUMAN ZOO, and many more.

"Mine All Mine" is the opening track, comparable to AC/DC's Bluesy Hard Rock. Yet, KICKHUNTER give it a Poppy edge. Still, it's a good song with a nice rhythm. "Revolution" is a Power Rocker like AXXIS (and similar) makes them. All's well here - rhythm, vibe, solos, ... - although I thought Jörg's vocals lacked power and depth a bit. The backing vocals by Ela or Melanie are good. Still, for those details, the music compensates them more than enough. What makes this song more attractive or interesting is the middle section, where you'll find a funky/Jazzy piece. The organ solo prior to that fits in very well, as does the guitar lead at the end of the song. "Revolution" is one of the highlights on this album. So is "Shy Shy Shy", a Southern Rocker in vein of ZZ TOP and similar. This song is actually a continuation of the piano interlude in "All In", but then with all instruments, of course.

"All In" contains two more highlights, in my humble opinion: "Checks In The Mail" and "Boogie Town". The first is a cover of VICTORY and even though I'm not familiar with the original, KICKHUNTER does a pretty good job here. It all starts with the organ, after which the Rock breaks loose. Firm Hard Rock with female lead vocals. Even the solos are well done. No complaints here. "Boogie Town" is a boogie song, what else? It starts with a funky bass line, followed by the organ and drums. The guitars come in a little later, adding very nice leads and dito rhythm. The Bluesy Rock 'n' Roll works very well here. The only thing that annoyed me was the endless repetition of the chorus towards the end. Cut out some of those, let the music do the talking and the result will be much better.

Then come the what I would call normal songs. Not highlights, but not bad either. "Deep In My Heart" and "Call Me", the BLONDIE COVER. The first starts in an acoustic way, with both male and female vocals. It's a ballad. Electrical power and symphonic backing are added later one. It's a good song, but a bit mellow. "Call Me" is a classic hit, and KICKHUNTER present it with a more rocking touch. This midtempo track is good, as are the lead vocals. But it's far from being a highlight. And this brings us to the remaning three tracks, which are, in my opinion, weak. "Another Tear" starts with the organ, which creates a sort of tension. You feel something's about to break loose. Well, not exactly breaking loose, as slow Rock follows, though with a dark atmosphere. Full power lies in the chorus. All in all not bad, certainly not super. "Feels Like Home" is an acoustic Country / Southern Rock track in vein of LYNYRD SKYNYRD, KID ROCK and so forth. Alright for once, but it bores rapidly. "Ocean" is, forgive the frankness, a boring acoustic ballad. If you like this kind of songs, fine by me. But for me it's... boring.

KICKHUNTER may gather many Rock/Southern Rock fans and perhaps their previous releases really were good (I can't tell, as I've never heard of KICKHUNTER until now), but "All In" certainly is a weak album, at least to my ears. Sure, the production is well done and I don't doubt the members' musical skills at all. But the compositions just don't cut it for me. Then again, Southern Rock doesn't score high in my book, so taste is one element in this review process. If however you do appreciate the Southern touch of Rock combined with Bluesy Hard Rock (which does relatively score well with me), then I'm sure KICKHUNTER will quench your thirst.

More info at www.kickhunter.com.

Line-up:
Jörg "JC" Wesenberg - vocals
Melanie Black - vocals
Ela - vocals
Rollie Feldmann - guitar
Stefan Aurel - guitar
Ansas Strehlow - Hammond, piano
Markus Großkopf - bass
Karsten Kreppert - drums


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LIFE OF AGONY – 20 Years Strong - River Runs Red: Live In Brussels (I Scream Records 2010)

Life Of Agony - 20 Years Strong - River Runs Red: Live In Brussels
  1. This Time
  2. Underground
  3. River Runs Red
  4. Through And Through
  5. Words And Music
  6. Bad Seed
  7. My Eyes
  8. Respect
  9. Method Of Groove
  10. The Stain Remains
  11. Other Side Of The River
  12. Love To Let You Down
  13. Weeds
  14. Lost At 22

LIFE OF AGONY is a big name in the world of Hard Rock. This American band has been around for 20 years now, hence the special live release "20 Years Strong - River Runs Red: Live In Brussels", out since the 19th July. The title is based on the band's debut album, "River Runs Red", from 1993. The band was founded back in 1989, having musical roots in Hardcore and Punk. Over the years they released a steady stream of albums. The only one I have heard and very briefly was "Soul Searching Sun" (1997) and although it was far from bad, it just wasn't my cup of tea. In other words, I saw the name passing by now and then, but never properly checked out the band's music, although it seems they changed style to something more modern, less Punk/Hardcore-influenced.

Over the years LIFE OF AGONY toured with the likes of OZZY OSBOURNE, KORN, LIMP BIZKIT, SYSTEM OF A DOWN, INCUBUS and others. Even for the celebration of their 20th anniversary this 4-piece played a few gigs and plans to tour this summer and fall in support of this new live album, which consists of a CD and DVD. The gig in Brussels, Belgium, was recorded in the Ancienne Belgique venue on the 3rd April 2010. As this is such a popular band, the place was packed with fans cheering and singing along to their favourite band's tunes.

No proper listening experience before this live release is usually not a good idea, depending on the band and style they play. And when it comes to a band you haven't actually followed or checked out now and then, commenting on a live release then makes it more difficult. But as I was given the chance to hear how the band sounds 20 years after its founding, it makes the listening a bit more special.

Yes, it's indeed a live performance. Hearing the drums, the crowd (though one can easily add those to a studio recording as well, like it happened with DIO in the past) cheering and singing along, almost making Keith Caputo redundant, the distorted guitar, ... That aspect has been clearly preserved. Mind you, the distorted guitar does indeed sound distorted and perhaps a bit too much to sit through the entire concert. On the other hand: where's the bass? I had the impression the guitars suppressed the sound of it. Fans of the band will probably have less problems with that. Vocally, instrumentally... everything's is very well executed and you can clearly hear it's not LIFE OF AGONY's first gig.

Songwise however not all is well, at least in my book. Yes, I'm a Metalhead, so I may listen to the songs with a different ear. Let me put it this way: there's too much slow stuff here. Doom Metal also has slow stuff, but that's typical and differently arranged. Here, I find the setlist not diverse enough in terms of slow and speedier tracks. "This Time" is a first example of the slowness. Thing speed a up for the chorus and the whole rocks more, but when the slow verses return, I'm left hungry for more power. "Underground" is also a slow rocker, but I find this one better and one of the very few highlights, if not the only one. In "River Runs Red" the band delivers the required power and tempo, despite its shortness. Following are a bunch of slow to midtempo track, which offer change in rhythm, but as a whole don't stick, don't leave their mark. Ok, "Love To Let You Down" is another of the fast(er) tracks, so it gets a thumb up as well. No, faster isn't always good, but my impression is that LIFE OF AGONY does a better job with those songs than with the slower ones, especially an emo-like one (to my ears) like "The Stain Remains".

To summarize and conclude, as an experience, it's nice to hear new things (e.g. bands you didn't know before or hadn't checked out before). But if I'm to comment on this release, "20 Years Strong - River Runs Red: Live In Brussels", itself, for what it is, then I can only say that is pure and only a fans' release. I found it hard to sit through the entire performance and never felt a connection, being part of it, being there. Those who are familiar with LIFE OF AGONY's back catalogue will, under normal circumstances, have a nice treat with this CD/DVD recording. Those who would like to know LIFE OF AGONY's music, old or more recent, are advised to go for the studio albums and find out if it's their cup of tea.

More info at www.lifeofagony.com.

Line-up:
Keith Caputo - vocals
Joey Z - guitar
Alan Robert - bass
Sal Abruscato - drums


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NOX AUREA – Ascending In Triumph (Napalm Records 2010)

Nox Aurea - Ascending In Triumph
  1. Ascending In Triumph
  2. The Loss And Endeavour Of Divinity
  3. The Shadowless Plains
  4. Mother Aletheia Chapter II
  5. The Delight Of Autumn Passion
  6. My Voyage Through Galactic Aeons
  7. To The Grave I Belong
  8. Emendare

NOX AUREA is a Swedish Doom Metal band, formed in 2005. It wasn't until 2007 that the line-up was completed. According to their bio, the band "presents an abstract approach to the darker emotions of the human mind and soul and a search that extends beyond the physical world to the realm of Chaos theorists and Gnostics. For NOX AUREA life is not a gift of truth, but a curse of illusions and an offending imprisonment of the higher spirit. Nox Aurea, in Latin "golden night", symbolizes the dark eternity of freedom and chaos. Their name, however, can also be interpreted to mean "nightly gold", reflecting the Luciferian enlightenment." In 2009 the Russian label Solitude Productions released the band's debut full-length "Via Gnosis". This made the band known on an international scale and the Austrian label Napalm Records decided to offer the Swedes a contract. The result is "Ascending in Triumph", out since the 2nd July.

Also according to the press text, "The lyrical concept is Gnostic in nature and removes itself from the gothic romanticism and grandiloquence of vampire tales to achieve a truly menacing and creeping darkness." This second album contains eight tracks, totalling a journey through the dark of at least 60 minutes. So be prepared. The title track stands first and takes a rather direct start with (obviously Doomy) leads and slow drumming. This sounds very much like DRACONIAN, SWALLOW THE SUN and similar. Growls are the dominant factor in the vocal domain. The music does get firmer and a bit faster later on, like in the chorus. Bombast is added at some point to flow back into the slowness of the first part near the end. This is massive Doom Metal, creating a world of loss and darkness. The symphonic elements sure emphasize this. All in all a very solid opening track.

Next is "The Loss And Endeavour Of Divinity", which opens with a sad melody coming from the strings (keyboards). Once the Doom Metal is added, SWALLOW THE SUN comes to mind again. But like before the tempo does increase, this time around 1/3, but only for a short while. Slowness is the main element here. NOX AUREA also have a female vocalist, Alice Persell, who comes in with symphonic music backing her input. This occurs in the last couple of minutes of the song. However, it's Patrick's growls and the Doomy Metal of before that put an end to it all. This is another step in the right direction and to me a better one that the opening song. And so we arrive at "The Shadowless Plains", which again feature deadly slow and gloomy Metal, where instrumental talk is of high importance, despite the presence of growls and fragile female chanting. The music is also adjusted to the vocal type, for obvious reason. All ends calmy with the use of symphonic elements. The Swedes keep it going regarding qualitative Doom Metal, that's for sure.

"Mother Aletheia Chapter II" is another highlight. It has an acoustic intro with just the guitar and cello, which is in charge of the leads. When slow, dramatic Metal kicks in, both vocalists come in, though Patrick's growling prevails. The overall fell is depressive, sad, gloomy and more. Around the middle the music gets more active, dynamic. Alice also sing more in this song compared to previous tracks. And that's a good thing, because the frailty of her voice fits well with the music and atmosphere. Yes, the similarities with DRACONIAN cannot be denied, but it works, and that's what matters. She also gets more input in "The Delight Of Autumn Passion", another very nice song. When Patrick growls, the music is adjusted and it sounds like AMON AMARTH in a slower version. I noticed this in previous songs as well and I have to say this does sound very cool. Guitarwork and drumming are well done. There's a backing choir (keyboard-ish) to emphasize the despairing character of the music.

Get set then, if you're still there, for the long track that is "My Voyage Through Galactic Aeons". It begins softly, in an atmospheric manner and this alone is already beautifully done. But the Metal instrumentation is to set in soon and when it happens, it's as if hell is unleashed, though not the Death or Black Metal way. Agony and suffering seem to be fitting words here. While the keyboards are the main providers of this feeling, the guitars also do an effort in this context. When the keyboards hold their peace, the music logically sounds heavier, but here the guitar input is indeed heavier. It's not just the same stuff without keyboards. Things do get more Death Metal-ish later on, as the music makes the whole sound bigger. Even Joakim's drumming is wilder. And we're not even at 70% of the track. In other words, there's a lot going on here. However, the heaviness of Metal must make way for a piano-lead piece and Alice's vocal input, which offers a nice contrast with what preceded. "To The Grave I Belong" is a song where guitars are the dominating factor and both Patrick and Alice share the chorus vocal lines. Overall, instrumental talk again is of high quality. The album ends with an instrumental, "Emendare" that is devoid of anything Metal, leaving just the piano and cello. A nice track, though not really a highlight, in my opinion.

A few years ago Doom Metal was a genre that came into focus, more than before. It's also a genre where it's hard to seek new stuff and find interesting and worthy bands and releases. If bands are signed to big(ger) labels, then this gets easier. One of those examples is Napalm Records with e.g. DRACONIAN, AHAB, and others. Or Firebox with ABLAZE IN HATRED, DEPRESSED MODE, ... Napalm Records recently released another Doom album, "Ascending In Triumph", by the Swedish band NOX AUREA. While the songs sound similar to DRACONIAN, SWALLOW THE SUN, SATURNUS, MOURNING BELOVETH, SHAPE OF DESPAIR, and many more, the band did record a more than solid album that is worth checking out. No doubt about that. There are several highlights on this album, but as well as NOX AUREA did to keep things dark, depressive, sad, gloomy and whatever other term you can stick on it, this album doesn't stick as much as with the aforementioned Doom bands. Maybe that's because of the compositions, maybe it's a taste-related matter. In any case, for fans of Melodic Death/Doom Metal, NOX AUREA is a safe case.

More info at www.myspace.com/noxaurea.

Line-up:
Patrick Kullberg - lead vocals
Alice Persell - vocals
Peter Laustsen - guitars, keyboards
Grim Vindkall - guitars, keyboards, vocals
Robert Persson - bass, keyboards, vocals
Joakim Antonsson - drums


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RAZORWYRE – Coming Out (Razorwyre 2010)

Razorwyre - Coming Out
  1. Party Of Five
  2. Fuck You Tonight
  3. Operation Market Garden
  4. Suspiria
  5. Battleshark

I recently (February 2011) got contacted by Chris Calavrias, guitarist and co-founder of the New Zealand band GAYWYRE, since 2010 known as RAZORWYRE. He and James Murray (guitar) joined forces in 2008 with the objective to write and perform Heavy Metal as it was done in the 1980s. So, in december 2009 the EP, downloadable for free from the band's website, "Coming Out" was released. It was re-released in July 2010 under the monniker RAZORWYRE. Lots of gigs followed and the band's fanbase started to grow bigger and bigger. However, labels haven't noticed the band yet.

"Coming Out" is thus a self-release, consisting of five tracks, with various lyrical themes. It starts with "Party Of Five", also because the band consists of five members. Speaking of which, bass player Simon Smith, who played the bass parts on this EP, was replaced later by Tim Shann. But back to the song. It's an old school Thrasher in vein of METALLICA's "Kill 'Em All" songs or EXODUS's "Bonded By Blood", and so on. Clean vocals counter the rough riffing, even adding a few hig-pitched screams (see KING DIAMOND or MERCYFUL FATE, for example). The old school vibe is clearly present, also in the solos. The Thrash is accompanied by IRON MAIDEN-ish Metal. In short, quality material!

Next is "Fuck You Tonight", which takes midtempo start, with a solo. Then the power breaks loose with the typical humpa-styled Thrash. In the chorus the band takes a small step back in terms of speed with simple and sing-along material. "Operation Market Garden" is a war-themed track, judging by the title and the plane flying over in the intro. Musically you get a nice portion of Thrash, where the indeed the guitar work stands out (riffing, melodies, solo). The same counts for "Suspiria", where a higher tempo is selected. The music is more aggressive, again similar to "Kill 'Em All" and others. The second part of the song, however, where the solo can be found, is a slower. The EP ends with "Battleshark", building the track at first and continuing at a slow pace, Doomy like (old) CANDLEMASS. But that's without keeping the tempo increase in mind later on.

In short, RAZORWYRE is a must for anyone into old school Heavy/Thrash. If you like (old) EXODUS, METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN, SPELLBOUND, LAAZ ROCKIT and so on, then you can safely add this New Zealdn band to your collection, especially when the production also breathes the past era. "Coming Out" sounds like an album that's indeed coming out after all those years.

More info at www.razorwyreband.com.

Line-up:
Zane "Z Child" - vocals
Chris Calavrias - guitar
James Murray - guitar
Tim Shann - bass
Nick Oakes - drums


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EDENBRIDGE – Solitaire (Napalm Records 2010)

Edenbridge - Solitaire
  1. Entree Unique
  2. Solitaire
  3. Higher
  4. Skyline's End
  5. Bon Voyage Vagabond
  6. Come Undone
  7. Out Of The World
  8. Further Afield
  9. A Virtual Dream
  10. Brothers Diamir
  11. Exit Unique

The Austrian Symphonic (Power) Metal band EDENBRIDGE is back with a new album. I'm going to skip the usual intro of who they are, which albums they've put out so far, etc... since I largely did that in the review of their last album, "MyEarthDream" (2008). However, a live release, "LiveEarthDream", was put out last year (2009). The disc was recorded at various concerts in 2008 and could/can only and exclusively be ordered through the band's fanshop. The album will be/was limited to 1,000 copies and will not/won't be available anywhere else. On their last studio album, the Austrians worked with the Czech Film Orchestra, which had already done some work for Hollywood productions. On the newest effort, "Solitaire" (out since the 2nd July), the orchestra is nowhere to be heard. It must be said, though, that most of the album was recorded by Frank Pitters at Lanvall's studio (Farpoint Stadion Studio) and to cut costs, you could say, Lanvall studies meticuously the scores of Anton Bruckner, allowing him to take care of the orchestral arrangements for the new and previous albums.

Graphically the band worked again with Anthony Clarkson, who also designed the cover for "MyEarthDream". Its meaning: a Celtic triad symbolizing the questioning of old beliefs and the resulting paradigm change experience in the world today. The eye, taken from a photo of vocalist Sabine, symbolizes the process of remembering the wisdom, which lives inside us all. More and more we are reminded of this diamondlike and completely indestructible connection. Soundwise "Solitaire" was in again the hands of Karl Groom (THRESHOLD), who mixed the album, and Mikka Jussila (Finnvox Studios), who mastered it.

A few guests made it onto the new release:

Robby Valentine (www.robbyvalentine.com): backing vocals, choirs
Dennis Ward (www.dennis-ward.com): backing vocals, choirs
Astrid Stockhammer (played previously on the album "Shine" from 2004): solo violin on "Skyline's End"

Expectations from my part were very high, considering the fact that "MyEarthDream" was the first EDENBRIDGE albums I really liked. I also consider it their best, musically and vocally. Sabine positively surprised me there. After a few listens of "Solitaire" it became clear that "MyEarthDream" would not be topped. In fact, this review is many weeks overdue, simply because I needed more listens than expected or desired to form an opinion. But let's see what's good and what's not about "Solitaire".

It's got an orchestral intro and outro, comparable to how Phil Giordana from FAIRYLAND handles it. Logically these two tracks have fitting title: "Entree Unique" and "Exit Unique". Of course, since "Entree" is a French word, something like "Sortie Unique" would have been better, no? But that's trivial. The music itself is very decent and perfect for that purpose. In then comes the title track. This is a bombastic midtempo track. You get heavy guitars contrasting with the angelical voice of Sabine. Add to that the firm drumwork by Max Pointner and the Metal aspect forms a tight force. Orchestral input is of vital importance and not just here. However, it's Metal that commands in the verses and bridge. The rhythm galops onwards in the chorus. At some point there's a nice instrumental part where brass and strings create a sort of tension, while the guitars wait for the attack in solo format. Afterwards it's back to the bridge and chorus until the end. A very nice result, overall.

Next is "Higher", a less good song, in my opinion. The band shot a video for it. It starts with the piano, followed by the guitars and drums. Here the Gothic touch is bigger than before. Orchestral accents spice the song here and there. Verse-wise the music's pretty atmospheric at first, but the heavy guitars come in in a second instant. The chorus is rather groovy and flows well enough. But it's Sabine's vocal work that stands out here, backed by waves of guitar... eh, growling? The piano melody from the beginning does return and choirs come in later, assisted by the orchestral elements. After that the chorus is played one more time and the song is put to rest. You can see Lanvall and co. used a certain pattern for almost each song, i.e. the same for all, not one pattern per song. "Skyline's End" starts slow, in a power ballad kind of way. Heavy guitars contrasst with soft, flowing strings. But considering the power of the guitars, I found this contrast too big. It's not contrast itself that is the problem, only the big difference in power, in roughness. The guitars sound too monstrous, so to speak. Lanvall's playing on the bouzouki helped give the music in the verses and exotic touch. The chorus is a soft one, sounding emotional. The guitars don't fit here, due to their monstrous power. Astrid's violin input can be heard here, in a Folky part that comes accross as playful. Heaviness retracts in favour of acoustic music before full power is let out again, with Sabine being in the spotlights. And so the band works its way to the end.

"Bon Voyage Vagabond" sets in with an atmospheric/spacey intro. Guitars fall in shortly before the full outbreak. Melody is key, though the contrast between the guitars and vocals is again present. The pace is set at midtempo, though the band shifted into a lower gear for the chorus. All in all the song's got a good rhythm, dito melodies, solo. Even the orchestral part is well done, together with Metal instrumentation. The ending is like before. The importance of symphonic implementation can also be discovered in "Come Undone"'s intro. The guitars here sound like heavy cellos following the lead melody of the orchestra. The verses are calm, which lets the vocals come out better. Powerful guitarwork is added in the (emotional) chorus. But the same problem arises: the gutiars sound too rough. To break this stream of heaviness, a solo was added. But more important is the calm, relaxing backing music. The chorus comes in one more time before the plug is pulled.

Symphonics in one song, spacey stuff in another and electronics in the intro of "Out Of This World". The acoustic guitar is the instrument that demands most of the attention here, especially in the verses, though it gets help from its electric cousin in the chorus. Sabine's singing is flawless and speaking of guitarwork: the soloing is lenghtier than before, yet it remains inline with the overall slow tempo. A solid result, tout court. "Further Afield" sounds quite exotic, or even Japanese, to start with. What then comes sounds pleasant to the ears: Thrashy Power Metal at a firm midtempo pace. String accents are postioned in the verses, flow more freely in the chorus. This is quite a happy song, enouraging even. You could say it's got a good vibe. The chorus is of the hymnic kind. Another splendid result from the Austrians.

"A Virtual Dream" is evne Thrashier than before. The music is bombastic, speedy, powerful and firm. It's got the required balls to keep the listening attention and provide an entertaining listening experience. No hymnic chorus, but hymnic chanting in the bridge. At some point there's a guitar break, followed by choir/orchestral stuff preceding the solo. Afterwards it's chorus time again until the end. Double kudos here. A job very well done. "Brothers Diamir" is the last song before the outro. It starts in a symphonic way, but you'll never get any Metal music here. What you are served is acoustic, calm, peaceful and ballad-like. But somehow it's got power, yet in a different way. The acoustic guitar and piano also put the song to sleep. Since it's a rather soft track, it helps to appreciate the outro, else the contrast/transition would be too big.

As I said above, "MyEarthDream" was a very good album and to me, the best one EDENBRIDGE has put out. I also said that this new release, "Solitaire", did not top it and I still stand by that statement. Sure, the Austrians keep it qualitative on a general level. However, as good and enjoyable (both important, of course) as the majority of the songs are, my major concern with "Solitaire" is this: the distortion of the guitars and the fact that they sound too rough, too monstrous (to use that term again). The overall production is well done. And the musicianship is without question. In short: it's about balance and here it's unbalanced in favour of the distorted guitars, which is a pity, considering the songs themselves. The new album, however, is (still) recommended for the fans and those liking what EDENBRIDGE did on the previous album.

More info at www.edenbridge.org.

Line-up:
Sabine Edelsbacher - vocals
Lanvall - guitars, bass, keyboards, piano, bouzouki, mandolin, percussion frog
Dominik Sebastian - guitars
Max Pointner - drums


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KALEDON – Chapter 6: The Last Night On The Battlefield (Scarlet Records 2010)

Kaledon - The Last Night On The Battlefield
  1. The Way To Home
  2. Last Days
  3. Power In Me
  4. Coming Back To Our Land
  5. Sorumoth
  6. Surprise Impact
  7. Black Clouds
  8. Demons Away
  9. May The Dragon Be With You

Two years ago the Italian band KALEDON surprised me (both in a positive and negative) way with their album "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins". "Chapter 3: The Way Of The Light" and "Chapter 4: Twilight Of The Gods" were very solid releases and certainly no clones. But then the band took a somewhat drastic turn and the result was an album that contained more Hard Rock than Metal songs. This was not only due to having a new vocalist, Marco Palazzi instead of Claudio Conti, but also because of the - I think - a general agreement, perhaps related to the background story. On the other hand, KALEDON was formed in 1998, so in a way you could consider "A New Era Begins" as an anniversary album.

Anno 2010 a new label deal is made with Scarlet Records, coming from Hellion Records previously, and of course a new album, "Chapter 6: The Last Night On The Battlefield", out since the 27th June. This is the last part of the self-written "Legend Of The Forgotten Reign". As is required, good defeats evil and they lived happily ever after. Or something along those lines. Prior to this release, KALEDON played many gigs to make the band stronger, to gather new ideas and make this last part worth the wait. The many live gigs also resulted in a live album, "Roaming The Land - Ten Years Later", which was released last year as mp3. A DVD was also to come out, but so far nothing happened. Just see the Reviews page for the review of this and KALEDON's previous albums.

So, what does "Chapter 6" bring? More Hard Rock? It starts with the general gathering his troops in "The Way To Home". The band falls in with Marco singing the chorus line and Daniele offering backing with the organ. Obviously, this is just an intermediate step to let the real power be unleashed seconds later. Uptempo Metal with neoclassical keyboards... great stuff. The midtempo verses sound firm and melodic input comes from the piano. Full power is reserved for the chorus, which is done in typical KALEDON style, reminiscent of previous works. It's catchy and quite simply excellent, if I may say so. Solos are present too, and it seems the lads have been working on this. Both Daniele (keyboards) and Alex (guitars) are the providers. However powerful and positive (in terms of feel) the song has been so far, drama occurs in the last part, as heavy guitarwork countered by sad symphonic input clearly demonstrates. Logically Marco adapted his singing to follow suit. And so the song is concluded.

On horseback the band start "Last Days", a song that rocks! It sounds dark and powerful to begin with. Again you get firm midtempo verses with organ leads - the organ was used heavily on the last album, "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins". Melodic input is delivered by the keyboards and vocals. The chorus is also done at midtempo, but before the solos come along, the music breaks out in a raging fury to spice things up a bit. No complaints from my part. Contrasting with that is the slow, but pounding, start of "Power In Me" with agonizing guitars, as it seems one the general was hit (or was it the dragon's power coming out?), judging by his scream in the first seconds. Neoclassical keyboards offer leadwork in the build-up. Afterwards the verses are set in with more schwung, so to speak, a more positive, lively vibe. "Screaming my rage and fury to the sky..." is what Marco sings in the chorus, but there's no screaming at all. In fact, he sings in a sad way, also because the symphonic Metal isn't exactly FREEDOM CALL style (= happy), though all of that changes somehow in a later instant, when the music speeds up. That's more like it! David's drumming also isn't of the standard kind, as he nicely adds accents and fills and feels like a fish in the water. I really enjoy this! And that includes the solos, both from guitars and keyboards. All is well here: rhythm, leads, drums, singing, ...

The previous album ended with "Return To Kaledon". The new one begins with "The Way To Home" and there's also "Coming Back To Our Lands". Maybe I should read the story - I admit it, haven't done it yet - to see the difference, but three songs to describe the army returning to Kaledon? The beginning of "Coming Back To Our Lands" is piano-driven, calm and very listenable. Guitar power is added along the way, but doesn't disturb the flow or feel. The result is just splendid, in my opinion. The ballad-ish verses, devoid of heaviness and full of atmosphere (that is, at first, later the guitars do form part of them), are a lust for the ear. I never expected this Italian band to write such compositions, honestly. Mind you, since "Chapter 3" each album contains one or more songs that show a different side of KALEDON, regarded as a symphonic/melodic Power Metal band applying all rules of the book. The chorus is where the music really flows well. The atmosphere/feel is sad, however, and that is not only shown by Marco's singing, but the keyboard/organ leads as well. Even the solos fail to offer a glimmer of hope, but they sound so good.

David (drums) also plays in STORMLORD, a Melodic Black/Power Metal band. Or, more extreme Metal than KALEDON. His experience is most convenient then in "Sorumoth" (hm.. Saruman? ;-)), where KALEDON goes Black Metal. Yes, indeed. Of course the core is remains Power Metal, but the guitars rage on, the drums blast away all in their path, the keyboards create a deadly atmosphere and demonic vocals play the role of Sorumoth (or is it Mozul?), a good wizard that joined the forces of evil. I wonder who is responsible for those vocals. Other than that, the chorus is sung by Marco and the music cools down a bit, creating a nice contrast, before the aggressive tunes kick in again. Another pleasant musical surprise. Heavy riffing and fast drums are key then in "Surprise Impact", a typical KALEDON track and definitely one of the best not only on this album, but of the band's entire discography. It's catchy, powerful and gives you energy. Classic food for Power Metal fans, no doubt about that. This also shows that Marco, despite coming from a Hard Rock background, is also capable to sing fast Power Metal tracks. The lead and solo aspects are flawless, to my ears, at least. More of this, more.

"Black Clouds" and "Demons Away" are two songs I personally like less. The first starts with stormy weather and battle sounds, logically when you look at the title. Keyboards and guitar leads fall in, but revert to a slow, organ-driven verses. All's well at this point. The chorus also contains the organ, but the music flows better and sounds better than the verses. The obligatory solos are more than welcome, in my opinion, otherwise the overall result would be rather mediocre. All is well executed and sounds good, but somehow fails to catch or keep my interest as much as the previous tracks. The second one, "Demons Away", is not better off. The battle sounds are present here, too, and once the slow (Doomy in a sense) music sets in, it seems to carry on and on and on... Where's the end? Melody comes from the organ (again), but rhythmic guitarwork counters it. Marco's vocal lines, however, are boring. I can't find another word now, but boring also applies here. Even the chorus is of the whiney kind. It might have been a good idea, depending on the lyrical content and such, but still... No, better not do it anymore. Solos? Yep, present, but can't save the song.

"May The Dragon Be With You" is a phrase Alex ends his interviews with and it also concludes the "Legend Of The Forgotten Reign". Tension and power occupy the intro, as if to indicate the heat (height?) of the battle, or something else. In any case, the verses consist of superfast Power Metal with leadwork from the keyboards, while the chorus is more of the epic/hymnic kind without giving in on velocity. All things considered, this is another solid song, though not of the best. The solos are a vital element here as well. KALEDON wouldn't be KALEDON without solos. They're a key ingredient in the songwriting process. But as the majority of the song is pretty flawless, its ending is just... not. The band used a story to write songs and it ends the story (or album) with a dialogue similar to what MANOWAR did in "The Warrior's Prayer". While that of MANOWAR was nice, KALEDON's version is not good in any way. Both characters have their Italian accents and the dialogue is rather poor. It's therefore sad to hear that "Chapter 6: The Last Night On The Battlefield" ends in such a way. In my (humble) opinion, Alex and co. should have left it off or used something else.

Story ended, all six albums reviewed. Final conclusion? "Chapter 1: The Destruction" was relatively good, but lacked a proper production and coherence. Furthermore, improvement was necessary on several levels. "Chapter 2: The King's Rescue" was better in terms of production and the songs sounded tighter and KALEDON managed to create their own style of fast Power Metal. "Chapter 3: The Way Of The Light" was a leap forward, both in production and musicianship. Claudio's singing had also improved a lot. It showed a more mature KALEDON. "Chapter 4: Twilight Of The Gods" was a very tight sounding, fast Power Metal release. Another step forward. "Chapter 5: A New Era Begins" introduced Marco Palazzi as new vocalist and the band also adopted a new style: Hard Rock in favour of Power Metal. This was quite a turn-around, but showed KALEDON managed to pull it off quite well. As long as they wouldn't neglect their Power Metal roots, all would be well. And now, "Chapter 6: The Last Night On The Battlefield", the fourth album handled by Giuseppe Orlando, and one that - you could say - perfectly combines the Power Metal and Hard Rock elements. This not only completes the story, but in my opinion also the maturing process of KALEDON, considering the band evolved with each new album. Hail to KALEDON. What's next? Only the band knows. How about a European tour?

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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HUNGRYHEART – One Ticket To Paradise (Fastball Music 2010)

Hungryheart - One Ticket To Paradise
  1. Stand Up
  2. One Ticket To Paradise
  3. Let Somebody Love You
  4. Boulevard Of Love
  5. A Million Miles Away
  6. Angela
  7. Love Is The Right Way
  8. Let's Keep On Tryin'
  9. Just A Little Closer
  10. Get Lost
  11. Man In The Mirror
  12. You Won't Be Alone

HUNGRYHEART is an Italian Hard Rock band, formed at the end of 1990, mainly playing in Italy and also supporting bigger (international) bands there. They are said to be influenced by bands like BON JOVI, JOURNEY, WHITESNAKE and similar. In all those years no plans were made to put out an album, or maybe they were made but never realized. It wasn't until 2008 that the band's debut album came out under the title "Hungryheart". International media instantly loved it. Last year the line-up changed as Steve Lozzi and Paolo Botteschi became the new bassist and drummer. Renewed and reinforced HUNGRYHEART started working on the follow-up release, "One Ticket To Paradise", which came out on the 16th June. Some guests can be heard on this release. Among them are Paolo Fragile (GOTTHARD) and Alessandro Del Vecchio (GLENN HUGHES, EDEN'S CURSE), who mixed the album.

"One Ticket To Paradise" starts in a direct way with the midtempo "Stand Up". Josh's singing is clean and rather muggy, if I may say so. Melodyic input is delivered by the keyboards and guitar, which also gets its solo moment.The drumming is linear and standard for this style. All in all a very decent track to begin with, helped by a nice dose of catchiness. The title tracks follows with the bass and drums fading. Once full power is set, direct Rock kicks in with a great and classic rhythm. JOE SATRIANI came to mind somehow. Atmospheric keyboards complete the picture. At some point there's a Jazzy break, followed by renewed power and a guitar solo. Drumwise I would like to have heard more accents and fills. Nevertheless, the Italians continue doing a solid job.

That somehow changes a bit in "Let Somebody Love You", where Mario (guitars) takes over lead vocals from Josh. His voice is more hoarse, almost Rod Steward-ish, if I may say so. Though he doesn't do all the work, as Josh's clean vocals take over now and then.All is acoustic at first, verses and chorus (incl. violin backing), but afterwards electrical power is added and the chorus then also rocks more. The guitar solo made me think of SAVATAGE. Yep, a strange reference here indeed. "Let Somebody Love You" is a decent song, just (in my opinion) not as good as the previous two. Another highlight is "Boulevard Of Love", a great rocker with pounding toms and full power and smooth flow in the chorus. Guitarwork is vital, which is no different with regards to the solo.

"Let Somebody Love You" may have been less attractive, "A Million Miles Away" is certainly not better off. This song starts slow and somewhat Jazzy with the piano leading and the guitar adding accents. The whole, once all is set, sounds like a powerballad and also a bit out of place when hearing the other tracks that have the typical 80s' feel. Vocals stand high in the mix, a decision I don't understand. Musically all's pretty alright, including the two short Jazzy breaks, followed by the obligatory solo. Why is this song not better off? Because of catchiness, attractiveness, but most certainly because of the long playtime. For what the band presents here, the end result is just too long to be (fully) enjoyable.

But those grey clouds disappear when "Angela" comes in. This is a gentle rocker of a song with a the typical 80s' atmosphere and feel. Josh's muggy singing is present again and musically all gates are opened in the chorus. This, including the rather funky guitar solo, is, in other words, good to hear after the rather weak "A Million Miles Away". Alas, the clouds are persistent and show up (in small formation) in "Let's Keep On Tryin'", after the calm and soothing interlude that is "Love Is The Right Way". It's a slow Rock song where the organ come in now and then. Overall quite decent, but the real highlight is the solo moment, which could have been a jam session. Again JOE SATRIANI came to mind. Vocals sets in "Just A Little Closer", after which the rock breaks loose in vein of Y&T, SHAKRA and similar. Calm verses are opposed to a Bluesy chorus, but somehow it does the job. The solowork is flawless, as usual.

Three more songs and you would think now all is free from any disturbances, problems, nuisances, etc... Well, no. "Get Lost" is a heavy Rocksong like for example SHAKRA makes them. Drums play a more important role here. Full flow is reserved for the chorus, where the 80s' atmosphere was applied as well. Yep, Mario also added a solo. No worries in that department. "Man In The Mirror" is another good song, but slower than the previous track. It's in fact a more Rock version of the MICHAEL JACKON classic. His version was good, but HUNGRYHEART's rendition is more pleasing to my ears. "You Won't Be Alone" ends the album in an acoustic way with a ballad. In all honesty and frankness: it's boring. No, seriously, it is.

In general old school rocks, especially with Metal. AOR and Hard Rock alsow spawned many great bands (like the ones mentioned above) and continue to do so. HUNGRYHEART keeps the old school vibe alive on their second album. I can't compare "One Ticket To Paradise" with their debut release, but all in all fans of melodic Hard Rock can check out HUNGRYHEART without problems. Their sophomore release is a pretty solid one, left aside a few weaker tracks.

More info at www.hungryheart.it.

Line-up:
Josh Zighetti - vocals
Mario Percudani - guitars
Steve Lozzi - bass
Paolo Botteschi - drums


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KORZUS – Discipline Of Hate (AFM Records 2010)

Korzus - Discipline Of Hate
  1. Discipline Of Hate
  2. Truth
  3. 2012
  4. Raise Your Soul
  5. My Enemy
  6. Evolution
  7. Never Die
  8. Slavery
  9. Last Memories
  10. Under His Command
  11. You Reap What You Sow
  12. Hell

KORZUS is one the oldest bands in Brazil. Formed in 1983, these Thrashers have kept the flame burning, despite numerous line-up changes. Their discography starts in 1984 with the demo "Korzus 1984". One year later they even put out a live album, "Korzus Ao Vivo". But the debut album sees the light of day in 1987 under the title "Sonho Maníaco". Each time with a few years in between a new release is put out, whether EP or full-length. After 1995 nothing happens until the "Live At Monsters Of Rock" live album in 2000, after which it takes another 4 years for the band to make a new studio album, "Ties Of Blood". In 2006 KORZUS found the time right for a DVD and another 4 years later the Brazilians are back with full force to bring the masses aggressive, destructive Thrash Metal in vein of (mainly) SLAYER.

"Discipline Of Hate" is the title of KORZUS's fifth studio album. It was released on the 11th June via AFM Records. Twelve tracks of pure and ruthless Metal. The title track is set first, its intro being dark, hellish. That creates a tension that grows until all cords snap and pounding Thrash is unleashed! Typical Bay Area Thrash or Thrash in general with the humpa rhythm. The chorus is simple and to the point: "Di-sci-pline of hate!". A classic, old school track that's as efficient as can be. The guitar solo wasn't forgotten, fortunately. "Truth" also advances in a building manner, this time through the guitars, followed by a thundering outbreak. Midtempo verses here and somehow I was reminded of PANTERA. The music is obviously aggressive and dark, to the point of venomous. The solo completes the picture.

2012 promises to be a special year, considering all the blogs, articles and books that have been written about this year or the events that are said to take place then. Brazil is an exotic country, hence the special intro of this song being played on a kind of bongos. Meanwhile a news message is played. The Thrash that follows couldn't create a bigger contrast: pounding, devastating, brutal and more along those lines. It's great, to the point and very tastey! Think of SLAYER, SPELLBOUND and similar. The chorus is basically one big obliterating, annihilating assault. The wild guitar solo is inline with the overall feel. Hm... seems like 2012 will be a tough year. For the sake of change and variety, you need something slower if all previous songs were of the fast kind. Hence "Raise Your Soul", a midtempo track for which the band didn't compromise in terms of aggression and power. It's not the best song on this album, but it's solid nevertheless.

And so the velocity increases again with "My Enemy", one of the best tracks here, no question about it. Fast riffs to start with, incl. automatic fire assault by the drums! Stunning! The Metal then pounds onwards, flowing into midtempo verses. The pounding character returns in the chorus. Key aspects here are the awesome rhythm guitarwork and drumming. Guitars and drums set in "Evolution" (hm... a tribute to Darwin? ;-)), after which all buttons are activated for a full speed attack! The music rages on, wiping everything in its path. Seek and destroy, wild and vicious. Absolutely great stuff and that counts for the solo as well. While IRON SAVIOR has "Never Say Die", KORZUS is more direct with "Never Die". Guitar riffing, marching drums... tension is created and then *bang!*, midtempo power is set. The drumming stands out here, as Rodrigo makes good use of his kit. The melodic chorus is another element that makes this song different from the rest. And somehow if you make the comparison, this could easily have been a BRAINSTORM (that German Power Metal band) song. While the majority of the song is done in midtempo, you do get raging Thrash for the solos. Again, executed flawlessly.

"Slavery" is another fast, raging, devastating piece of Thrash and very SLAYER-ish. Strong drums are a vital element. Even in the chorus the Brazileans won't give in, though there is a slowdown at some point early in the song, which includes a solo later on. Near the end of the track the band shifts into 6th gear for the last outbreak. One of the last highlighted tracks. The last one is "Under His Command" which starts with nice leadwork, while Rodrigo adds some accents with the ride cymbal, creating a sort of tension again. Once the beast is unleashed, it's unleashed, alright! Fast, aggressive and more, all the way. Excellent stuff! This time the band also spent more attention to the length of the solos, which I can only applaud for.

The following three tracks are also very solid, but somehow, and in my humble opinion, just a little bit less attractive than the previous ones: "Last Memories", "You Reap What You Sow" and "Hell". "Last Memories" is a midtempo track, yet brutal, firm and solid enough to show the musicianship on offer. "You Reap What You Sow" is also a firm midtempo song, though quite linear. Slow verses are opposed to a rolling chorus. Overall, a solid result, but nothing more. Yes, solos are included. Last but not least, there's "Hell". Her you get venomous, sharp riffing and pounding drums. Well, pounding Thrash overall! As good as it is, I did find this track a bit too simple. Not that everything needs to be super technical, as simple can also yield great results. But still... Let it be clear, however, that none of the lesser tracks is to be disposed of. They are part of "Discipline Of Hate" and show that KORZUS doesn't only play fast and aggressive Thrash.

Thanks to the deal with AFM Records I could listen to what KORZUS have to offer anno 2010. Reading that they've been around since 1983 makes it even more special and it shows that the oldies, by manner of speech, still know their Metal and can still kick young bands' asses. While I cannot compare with their previous releases, I cannot deny that "Discipline Of Hate" is nothing less than a must-have for any serious Thrash fan out there. If you're into Bay Area Thrash meets European Thrash, go for it. If you think SLAYER's latest outputs have been less than what these veterans released in the past, then "Discipline Of Hate" is what you're in need of. It's easy to put KORZUS in the same jar as ONSLAUGHT, PRO-PAIN, SLAYER (easiest comparison), ANNIHILATOR, (old) BRAINSTORM and so on. No minuses here, only pluses: musicianship, production, power, compositions, passion.

More info at www.myspace.com/korzus.

Line-up:
Marcello Pompeu - vocals
Antonio Araújo - guitars
Heros Trench - guitars
Dick Siebert - bass
Rodrigo Oliveira - drums


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THULCANDRA – Fallen Angel's Dominion (Napalm Records 2010)

Thulcandra - Fallen Angel's Dominion
  1. In The Realm Of Thousand Deaths
  2. Night Eternal
  3. Fallen Angel's Dominion
  4. Frozen Kingdom
  5. Everlasting Fire
  6. Spirit Of The Night
  7. Legions Of Darkness
  8. In Silence We Eternally Sleep
  9. The Somberlain (DISSECTION Cover)

THULCANDRA is a Melodic Black Metal, well, Black/Death Metal band from Germany, founded in 2003. This is one year after the founding of the Technical/Progressive Death Metal band OBSCURA. Coincidence or not, but both bands feature Steffen Kummerer (vocals, guitar) in the line-up. He also lies at the basis of both bands. Jürgen Zintz (guitar) helped create THULCANDRA, but committed suicide in 2007. Stefan got the help from fellow HELFAHRT members to complete the line-up in terms of bass and drums. THULCANDRA made a demo tape in 2004, but as OBSCURA became more important and the line-up changed a few years later, the release of the first full-length only occured earlier this year, on the 4th June. Napalm Records saw the potential and offered the Germans a contract. "Fallen Angel's Dominion" is the title and contains 9 tracks, including a DISSECTION cover. THULCANDRA - according to other people, sounds close to DISSECTION and can be considered a clone, apparently. The cover for this album was done by Kristian Wåhlin, who previously worked with DISSECTION, EMPEROR and DARK FUNERAL.

The album starts off with an intro, "In The Realm Of Thousand Deaths". Already here you can hear the cold and harshness of the music. While drums are absent, it helps to create a dark and gruesome atmosphere, thanks to the Doomy melody. "Night Eternal" then follows with the typical blasting Metal, which sounds very tastey. The verses are uptempo, the chorus is less fast. Before the middle of the track there's a nice acoustic break to not let the song be one constant stream of Black Metal blasting. It also helps to keep your attention. Midtempo instrumentalism follows, preceding the solo moment, which is flawless. At some point I even was reminded of METALLICA's "Orion", when James and co. are keeping it going. Afterwards THULCANDRA continue the instrumental path. Despite the lengthy playtime, the band do keep it diverse through rhythm and tempo changes.

The title track is next. Here as well, blasting Black Metal with cold and ruthless guitar input. This certainly is no birds-and-bees kind of song. There is a Melodic Death/Black piece that connects all the parts, while the band plays at full throttle in the chorus. The drumwork stands out in this song, as it's very well varied. "Frozen Kingdom" is one of the two tracks with an acoustic intro. This melody is carried on while (slow) Black Metal is added, flowing over into the midtempo verses and to properly distinguish each part, the chorus is a fast one. The acoustic piece returns later on, though only briefly, followed by the guitar solo. However, it's again the acoustic guitar that gets the honour to end the song, like it began. The other song with an acoustic intro is "Spirit Of The Night". Black Metal takes over from the acoustic guitar with cold and despairing leadwork, changing into firmer Metal a little later. The blasts and devastation are held way over halfway the track. It's hell unleashed, one might say. The song ends with midtempo Black Metal. All in all another very good track, where guitar leads are a central and key element.

Between the two aforementioned tracks, there's "Everlasting Fire", where the lead guitar sets in the song. As one would expect, the tri then blasts its way onwards. The guitar input remains a vital element, though Seraph makes the song more interesting through his drumming (blasting, humpa-style, pounding, ...). Around halfway the music changes, sounding very much unlike what preceded, as if two songs were glued together. Things are more groovy and instrumental talk is chosen above sung parts. All ends with a blast. "Legions Of Darkness" is another song featuring cold, harsh and heartless Black Metal, though that mainly comes out in the fast chorus, as opposed to the slow/midtempo verses. "In Silence We Eternally Sleep" is nothing Metal-like. Here you just have the piano, playing a very nice melody, which sounds as if it was written by one of the composers from the past (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bach, this kind of guys). "Fallen Angel's Dominion" ends with the DISSECTION cover "The Somberlain", which is a fast track with enough variation to keep it first class material.

THULCANDRA are hailed and bashed for sounding so close to (mainly) DISSECTION. I'm not familiar with DISSECTION's discography, but I like what THULCANDRA does. Which then also means I may like DISSECTION, right? Since this Swedish band is no more, I don't see the trouble of sounding alike. This happens all the time, even in Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Death Metal, Thrash Metal, and so on. Somehow I can understand this, but it's not like THULCANDRA does a bad job. Not at all. So for fans of Melodic Death/Black Metal (in vein of DISSECTION and similar), "Fallen Angel's Dominion" is the album you can blindly purchase. Anyone else into this style is obviously also free to check it out and add it to his/her collection. However, one remark: as good as it all sounds and is played - the quality's there, no doubt about that -, I missed a bit of a spirit in the songs. Maybe there was a certain pressure for Steffen to write the new material all by himself?

More info at www.myspace.com/thulcandrametal.

Line-up:
Steffen Kummerer - vocals, guitars
Sebastian Ludwig - guitars
Tobias Ludwig - bass
Seraph - drums


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NECRONOMICON – The Return Of The Witch (Napalm Records 2010)

Necronomicon - The Return Of The Witch
  1. Into The Fire
  2. The Awakening
  3. The Time Is Now
  4. Necropolis
  5. The Order Of The Moon
  6. The Return Of The Witch
  7. Lilith
  8. Alpha And Omega
  9. Seven

NECRONOMICON is a Canadian Black/Death Metal band, formed many years ago. Their debut release, "The Silver Key" EP, came out in 1994. The first full-length was "Pharaoh Of Gods", which apparently made them known in the international media. "The Sacred Medicines" followed and was distributed in several countries. This album also led the band on their biggest and longest tour so far. On the live front the Canadians have shared the stage with MORBID ANGEL, MERCYFUL FATE, CANNIBAL CORPSE, CRADLY OF FILTH, DIMMU BORGIR, BEHEMOTH and more. Last year, 2009, NECRONOMICON recorded their latest album, "The Return Of The Witch", which Napalm Records released on the 4th June.

And this is another new encounter for me, though I had heard the name in past times. "The Return Of The Witch" is a filthy, dark, evil and gruesome album. Not in the least because of the cover, showing signs of offerings, death, sacrifice, diabolical happenings, in which case the classic goat's head is again present. The music, obviously, is of the aggressive and ferocious kind, inline with the overall atmosphere and feel.

"Into The Fire" takes a direct start with aggressive, dark and ferocious riffing. Add thunderous blasts and you've got a heavy stew. Rob's growls fit in nicely and are somehow understandable. This is a great track in any aspect: rhythm, tempo changes, instrumentalism, ... Halfway there's a choir-ish intervention to stress the hellish experience. "The Awakening" isn't less dangerous, if not more. The aggressive, venomous riffing adds to the demonic atmosphere, as do the thundering drums and choir input, which makes it sounds like THERION or EPICA (to name just these) went Death Metal. Simply wonderful. Now, THERION was originally a Death Metal band, but I meant the THERION of the last number of years. The blast are put aside when the midtempo chorus kicks in. Oh yes, there's also room for a solo. The hellish Death Metal with choir does return later on.

Direct blasting is also on offer in "The Time Is Now", which reminds of IMMOLATION. The classic humpa rhythm was used in the verses for some time (later replaced by normal drumming). Also noticeable are the heavily triggered kickdrums, like an automatic fire assault. Aside from that, the drums once again offer a very nice and diverse pattern while the guitarviolence carries on. The guitar solo is also present, though very short. As good as this song is, it felt a bit too monotonous in terms of rhythm guitarwork. On to "Necropolis" then, which starts with an Industrial-like setting. Drums are added, slowly, adding tension. Horrific sounds are thrown in with added Black Metal riffing. The verses are devoid of guitars and instead you get a piano. Rob's vocals are reminiscent of Shagrath's (DIMMU BORGIR), however they turn to growls in the second part of the verses. Full power and flow is set for the chorus. So far this is the most scary song of the pack, helped by the piano to give it a sort of Gothic character. In the last part a female guest singer joins the band.

A radio effect is applied to the intro of "The Order Of The Moon", which is another highlight, but once hell is unleashed, step out of the way. Ferocious Death Metal is served hot with obvious variable drumwork, including blasting. The rhythmic aspect does have a suprise, as I fail to see a connection. It's as if it's a totally different part, like the band switches from day to night, by manner of speech, in a split second. But all's well executed. At some point a piano break takes over. Slow/midtempo Metal falls in then with guitar leads and atmospheric backing. All this happens at about halfway the track. However, fear not, for the level of aggression soon rises again with the stress on instrumental talk. As "The Return Of The Witch" has come, the music also follows in that vein: it's fast, angry, destructive and devastating, both in terms of guitar- and drumwork! And that includes the chorus, with an added demonical touch. Rob's hoarse growls remain a constant on this album. The obligatory solo can be found here as well, next to some sort of breakdown, yes indeed.

While writing draft comments I didn't pay attention to the display of my discman and thought "Lilith" was the intro of "Alpha And Omega". It's only afterwards that I saw the next track was already playing. "Lilith" is an interlude, atmospheric, loungy, exotic, to use just these terms. "Alpha And Omega" couldn't offer a bigger contrast with its devastating power. The atmospheric keyboards/samples increase the hellish and horrific atmosphere. The solo, short and functional, cannot be missed, but other than that this song is one big assault with lots of automatic firing kickdrums. "Seven" makes "The Return Of The Witch" complete in a way that isn't any different from the preceding tracks: brutal, suffocating, destructive and massively powerful!

NECRONOMICON stays true to the old school vibe and sound, although nowadays in extreme Metal triggers are a common feature. The band's aggressive and powerful Black/Death Metal (more Death than Black, though) is for fans of BEHEMOTH, IMMOLATION, DYING FETUS, SUFFOCATION and to some extent DIMMU BORGIR, NILE, and similar. I don't know how the band's previous works sound, so a comparison is for those who do know. But all things considered, the Canadians' latest output, "The Return Of The Witch", is one heavily recommended album, if I may say so.

More info at www.myspace.com/necronomiconmetal.

Line-up:
Rob the Witch - vocals, guitars
D - bass
Rick - drums


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JUVALIANT – Inhuman Nature (Limb Music Products 2010)

Juvaliant - Inhuman Nature
  1. Into The Abyss
  2. Heroes (We Will Be)
  3. Doomsday Machine
  4. Live To Die
  5. Hell's Roundabout
  6. Killing Child
  7. On Wings Of Steel
  8. Silent Agony
  9. Cold Distance Of The Universe
    I. The Search
    II. The Call
    III. Understanding

JUVALIANT hail from Austria, the country that spawned bands like EDENBRIDGE, SERENITY, DIGNITY, BELPHEGOR, HOLLENTHON, SUMMONING, VISIONS OF ATLANTIS and many more. The bandname consists of two parts: Ju from Juvavum, which is the Latin name for Salzburg, and Valiant, which is English and means courageous, bold, brave and so on. The forming of JUVALIANT occured in 2003. At that time the band was known as FALLEN FATE, though. But as the line-up didn't remain stable and musical tastes differed, a new monniker was adopted, hence JUVALIANT. In 2008 the band recorded their debut album, "Inhuman Nature", under the watchful eye of Jan Vacik (LANFEAR, SERENITY, VISIONS OF ATLANTIS) at the Dreamsound Studios in Munich, Germany. "Inhuman Nature" was originally a self-release, as the lads didn't have a label deal yet. But Limb Music saw potential in this band and offered them a contrast, which led to the re-release or better a proper release for this debut full-length on the 4th June. The artwork was done by Felipe Machado Franco, who has worked with ICED EARTH, MIND ODYSSEY, ROB ROCK, RHAPSODY OF FIRE, POWER QUEST, and more.

This review is a bit overdue, but trying to work on this in the train or during lunchtime at work is just not done. I listened many times to the album, but never could I put anything to paper. The added advantage of this is that one at a later time can write something and that the album does show all its goods. Several weeks ago I didn't think that highly of "Inhuman Nature". Today is a different case. The album starts off with an orchestral intro and it's not the only track where orchestral input is of importance. It's in fact a key element in the compositions. "Heroes (We Will Be)" follows directly with heavy guitarwork and bombastic Metal, tout court. With thundering, double-bass drums the song is built to a certain height until the midtempo verses are set in. The music is symphonic from start to finish, so to speak. The chorus has a hymnic character, also helped by the orchestral input. With such bombastic music it's hard to find a decent balance between Metal and symphony and although the guitars could use a bit more power, one has to see things in their context. In that perspective I have no complaints, as the lads found a balance that works, that lets both Metal and symphony get their share of the song.

"Doomsday Machine" is the title of an ARCH ENEMY album, but here it's one of the heaviest tracks. It starts with the guitar, sounding quite ferocious. Add pounding drums and this combo is just deadly aggressive. The symphonic accents stress the danger of it all. All together this results in bombastic Metal that is a joy to listen to. You even get choir-ish singing in the bridge and chorus. And yes, solotime for the guitar is included. "Live To Die" also is a midtempo track. Here you get keyboard leads from the beginning as well as choir accents. The Metal instrumentation dominates, but the orchestral elements linger in the back. Sebastian's pounding drumwork is again very well done. Compared to the pounding verses, the chorus (where the level of melody reaches a higher point) is rather straight-forward. Around the middle of the song there's a nice choir-orchestral moment, which should have lasted longer, if you ask me. After that the guitar solo takes over before the band returns to business as usual. So far so very good.

Carrying on with "Hell's Roundabout", which sets in with a very nice guitarlead and orchestral support. It's almost as if I'm listening to RHAPSODY (OF FIRE). And so the intro transcends into the verses where the orchestral elements are the main factor, though the guitarleads demand their place as well. Midtempo verses are opposed to a pounding and uptempo chorus, which is nothing less than great stuff! Perfect Neo-Classical Metal, especially that moment, over halfway, before the guitar solo. For the sake of diversity and keeping the attention alive, it's best not to have another song like that or like before. That's when "Killing Child" comes to the rescue as a solid rocker, offering pure Heavy Metal. The tempo lies lower than before, but the orchestra could not be rejected. Then again, its sad melody does make it worthwhile. The verses rock, that's for sure, but full power and bombast is activated around the middle. At some point all falls silent, save for the piano and vocals, which makes it sound like VANDEN PLAS made it. Once the Metal is added again, business as normal is resumed.

"On Wings Of Steel" sounds like a typical Metal song, something bands like MAJESTY, MANOWAR, SAXON, RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), IRON SAVIOR, GAMMA RAY, DRAGONFORCE, and several others would create. And let me tell you, this is one beauty of a Metal song! It pounds, it's powerful and aggressive. It's got violin leads and the typical bombast. This is like NIGHTWISH with more power, from start to finish. Pure awesomeness! "Silent Agony" on the other hand is a firm rocker with orchestral bombast, though the Metal instrumentation is still key. For the solos I direct you to the guitar and keyboards. Solid song, nothing more to add. Last but not least there's the long cracker "Cold Distance Of The Universe", with 11 and a half minutes of orchestral Metal. And there's lots of orchestral input here. Solos as well, but the band didn't forget to make this first of all a Progressive Metal song. Lots of attention was given to instrumental talk. Like before a piano break with vocals was added, as well as the choir singing.

JUVALIANT, Symphonic Progressive Metal from Austria, recorded a very fine debut album with "Inhuman Nature". The press text even catalogued it under Power Metal, but that influence is hard to be found here. The songs are far more Progressive than Power. This detail aside, this album is one to check out if you're into Symphonic and/or Progressive Metal in vein of NIGHTWISH, ADAGIO, GALLOGLASS, VANDEN PLAS, ANTHROPIA, EDENBRIDGE, maybe even some AFTER FOREVER and similar. The musicianship is very good already, and while vocalist Thomas Strübler has a clean voice (a bit reminiscent of Carsten Frank, ex-GALLOGLASS, ex-HUMAN FORTRESS), he does keep it under control as not to throw in high-pitched screams. And it works fine with the song. One final remark for the drums: they could use a bit more punch (soundwise) next time, even if Sebastian didn't brush the skins. ;-)

More info at www.juvaliant.com.

Line-up:
Thomas Strübler - vocals
Robert Schönleitner - guitar
Saso Gacnik - keyboards
Aleksandar Vešic - bass
Sebastian Lanser - drums


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CRYSTAL VIPER – Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany (AFM Records 2010)

Crystal Viper - Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany
  1. Breaking The Curse **
  2. Metal Nation **
  3. Legions Of Truth **
  4. The Island Of The Silver Skull *
  5. Shadows On The Horizon *
  6. The Last Axeman *
  7. Secret Of The Black Water (taken from the forthcoming studio album)
  8. The Wolf And The Witch (first time on CD)
  9. Stronghold: Under Siege (taken from the limited edition CD single)
  10. Obsession (It Burns For You) (Virgin Steele cover song, previously unreleased)

CRYSTAL VIPER hails from Poland and have a female singer to front the band. This is common in Gothic Metal, but seeing it with Heavy Metal bands is rarer, though very much worth checking out. The band was formed in 2003 by Marta Gabriel (vocals, guitars), and her husband Bart Gabriel (producer, manager). Several demos were recorded and the debut full-length, "The Curse Of Crystal Viper", came out in 2007, followed by the MCD "The Last Axeman" one year later. This Polish formation didn't sit still, as last year another album and two singles saw the light of day, respectively "Metal Nation", "The Wolf And The Witch" and "Stronghold". Next to those, CRYSTAL VIPER were also featured on many compilations and tribute albums for CIRITH UNGOL, W.A.S.P., MANILLA ROAD, ANGEL WITCH, WARLOCK, RUNNING WILD and VIRGIN STEELE. With the signing to AFM Records a live album was put out: "Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany". The release was set on the 4th June. The disc contains ten tracks, 6 of which are live, the rest are studio tracks.

As the band has two full-lengths out and only a short playtime was given to them, they made the perfect selection of 3 tracks per album, the * coming off "The Curse Of Crystal Viper" and ** coming off "Metal Nation". CRYSTAL VIPER is another new band to me, and I had to make an effort for this release, as it's not the most perfect live album or recording. Still, it was a bit like wine: give it some rest and it will show its goods. "Breaking The Curse" is of course an atmospheric/symphonic intro, nothing really going on there except serving as nice background music warming up the crowd. Once "Metal Nation" sets in, you know you're in for a Heavy Metal feast. Pounding drums at first, a hymnic guitar lead being added and then the band takes off! Uptempo Metal, classic stuff and very tasty. Nothing more to add, this is just solid stuff. "Legions Of Truth" starts directly after the last note of "Metal Nation" is played. This too is a fast track with lots of double bass and the obligatory, but flawless solos. Later on, Marta tries some operatic-ish singing. To be honest, nice try, but stick to your regular voice, please. It just fits better with the music.

On to the material off the debut then, with "The Island Of The Silver Skull". This is a slow song with nice, hymic guitar leads. Here the band shows the music doesn't have to be fast to be good. And the result sounds good, indeed. But with more than 6 minutes it does feel long, perhaps a bit too long. "Shadows On The Horizon" ups the level of speed again and for the better. The result sounds similar to IRON MAIDEN. No complaints whatsoever. That also counts for the uptempo "The Last Axeman", where solos are a key element. The live part is now over, what about the studio tracks? "Secret Of The Black Water" comes off the band's forthcoming album, which is to be recorded this summer and released this coming autumn. It's a slow song with atmospheric backing, sort of MANOWAR-like (to name one example). The mix is good, as it lets the bass come through as well. If this is only a pretaste of what's to come, then CRYSTAL VIPER are making another album to be proud of. I wonder how the other tracks will sound. "The Wolf And The Witch" is a song that wasn't released yet on CD, but on a 7" single. Guitar leads set in, rhythmic power is added and then the VIPER is off on a midtempo, IRON MAIDEN-ish quest. A firm sounding song, no complaints at all. "Stronghold: Under Siege" is taken from the limited edition CD single and here too, the lead work stands out, together with the classic Metal riffing. The fast drumwork completes the picture. These Polish know their Metal, that's for sure. Last but not least, we have the VIRGIN STEELE cover "Obsession (It Burns For You)", which can be found on the re-release (!) of "Noble Savage". I'm not familiar with the original, but rest assured that Marta and co. made a very nice rendition.

As I said above, this is not the most perfect or best live recording/release, but what CRYSTAL VIPER presents here shows they stand their ground firmly both in the studio and live. They also show that classic Heavy Metal is far from dead and still is a key style that is timeless and can be enjoyed no matter which direction Metal heads into or which music genre is most popular. "Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany" is all in all a very nice combination of live and studio tracks, showing what CRYSTAL VIPER is about. I can't add anything else, but recommend this release to any Heavy Metal fan. Be sure to keep an eye on their forthcoming studio album.

More info at www.myspace.com/crystalviperofficial.

Line-up:
Marta Gabriel - vocals, guitar
Andy Wave - guitar
Tom Woryna - bass
Golem - drums


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SHATTERED HOPE – Absence (Shattered Hope 2010)

Shattered Hope - Absence
  1. Amidst Nocturnal Silence
  2. Vital Lie
  3. Enlighten The Darkness
  4. Yearn
  5. A Traitor's Kiss
  6. Lament, In F# Minor
  7. The Utter Void

It's been a while (since July, to be exact) since I last reviewed a Doom Metal album, that being NOX AUREA's "Ascending In Triumph". I received a promo copy of another band I had never heard of: SHATTERED HOPE. This Greek band plays a Death/Doom variant that leans towards Funeral Doom. Founded in 2002 this six-pack put out a demo CD in 2005 under the title "A View Of Grief", which is downloadable from their website. Two years later the "Promo 2007" CD was ready. However, that didn't lead to a label deal, but gave the band the opportunity to share the stage with SATURNUS, MOURNING BELOVETH, ATARAXIE, MAR DE GRISES, MOURNING DAWN, AHAB and more. Anno 2010 the band's first full-length is available (since the 30th of May) under the title "Absence", featuring 7 tracks. I've had this review copy in my possession since several months, yet never found the time to properly work on the review. News on the band's MySpace blog shows that the Russian Doom label Solitude Productions will release "Absence" later this year, so it becomes available on a larger scale.

"Absence" is of course not an album to happily run across the room or sing of epic adventures over several pints of beer. "Amidst Nocturnal Silence" does not bombard you with crushing guitarwork or thundering drums, but starts gently with calm music, though with a dark edge and perfect in terms of Doom. It's after this intro that the slow, melancholic and depressing Death/Doom falls in. Keyboards are a dominant instrument at this point. These hold their peace in the verses, where guitars and drums dwell. Vocally, as one should expect, it's growls you get. The calm guitarwork of before returns now and then, accompanied by the piano, which creates a beautiful piece of music. Through its chorus, SHATTER OF HOPE becomes a Funeral Doom band, like THE FUNERAL ORCHESTRA, AHAB, TYRANNY and so on. To not have the same slowness again, the guys crank it up a little for the soloing before all reverts to normal. The outro is then also equal to the intro. Flawless piece of Doom to start with.

The melodic beginning of "Vital Lie" made me think of (old) PARADISE LOST-meets-SWALLOW THE SUN. Melody also plays a role in the verses, thanks to the keyboards. The music becomes more aggressive, dark and venomous after those, to then be replaced by calm guitarwork, serene and almost out of this world. The result is comparable to bands like MOURNERS LAMENT, EA and FUNERAL. With winds blowing in the back, I cannot correctly describe how good it sounds. Once the heaviness has returned, "Vital Lie" sounds very underground, excerts an agonizing atmosphere. Here as well, the intro melody returns as outro, although the use of piano and cello in this song makes it sounds like APOCALYPTICA going Doom, which of course gives the song an interesting touch.

"Enlighten The Darkness" is a somewhat classic title for a Doom song. This song takes a direct start, though in the typical slow, atmospheric and despairing manner. Melody (incl. symphonic elements) are once more of importance at first. No such input in the guitar-driven verses, although piano accents are added to keep that atmosphere intact. The result is obviously good, very good even. Vocally it's still about growling. The melodic intro returns as connecting element, this via the keyboards. Nick leaves his growls aside and whispers in the chorus, which sounds sorrowful, dark and gloomy, helped by the input of the piano and guitars. Speaking of the piano, it gets its moment of fame at some point. At the same time chanting helps create a ghostly feel and I can only say this is one stunning piece of music! The whispering is in vein of how Thomas Akim Grønbæk Jensen from SATURNUS does it. Afterwards the melodic Doom Metal kicks in again and it's the music that takes the song to its end.

"Yearn" is a short and powerful track with direct midtempo Metal, dark and vicious. It's in the chorus that the doom and gloom comes out of the speakers, in a haunting manner. But shorter doesn't mean it's less good. On the contrary. "A Traitor's Kiss" start in a classic way: slow, despairing, tristesse... both guitars and keyboards are responsible for this. Nick's growls are assisted by guitar leads, but the influence of the keyboards cannot be denied or ignored. The chorus again has spoken parts, SATURNUS-style. At a given moment, a wild piece follows with lots of (atmospheric) keyboards and screamy vocals. This combination made me instantly think of the Finnish band SOULFALLEN. Next stop is a headbang-friendly moment where the music indeed sounds and is Metal! The song ends in a dramatic manner. Or better, as it started, so it ends. "Lament, In F# Minor" is another short track, serving as an interlude, an intro to "The Utter Void". In this interlude the piano and violin are the main players of the sad melody. This sounds very touching. The APOCALYPTICA-cello makes a comeback here; or is it a second violin?

"The Utter Void" is the longest track, clocking in after 18 minutes. Inline with the other tracks, the music is primarily slow, dramatic and agonizing. Sunrays and flowerfields are far from reach. You're in a dark environment and the Funeral Doom influences á la COLOSSEUM, for example, help to emphasize this. Other than that it's melodic Death/Doom in vein of SATURNUS, MOURNERS LAMENT and similar. Variety is also on offer, as with 18 minutes there's lots of room for that. After the beautiful yet sad melody from the intro (by the violin and piano), the aforementioned slow and dramatic Metal sets in. After a few minutes the pace picks up through the use of double bass drums to reach a more normal flow in the chorus, or what you could call a chorus. I don't have the lyrics with me, so I can't properly check this. The piano also gets full attention at some point, when guitars have to shut up. Little over halfway clean guitarchords bring a sort of rest over the song, while whispers fit this calmer atmosphere. The chorus kicks in afterwards and so the void is left for what it is.

SHATTERED HOPE recently signed with Solitude Productions to properly release this album, "Absence". You really need to listen it a few times to grasp it all and foremost, be in the mood for it. If you're too happy or too depressed, the trick won't work. The Greek show that Doom Metal can be produced there as well, despite the nice climate. You don't need dark and cold environments for that. The similarities with SATURNUS, MOURNERS LAMENT, MOURNING BELOVETH, SHAPE OF DESPAIR, COLOSSEUM and other Death/Doom and Funeral Doom bands only shows that SHATTERED HOPE is a band to reckon with and already are on the right path in this genre. Fingers crossed for the follow-up, but that shouldn't be a problem, right?

More info at www.myspace.com/shatteredhopegr.

Line-up:
Nick - vocals
Sakis - guitars
Thanos - guitars
Eygenia - keyboards
Thanasis - bass
George - drums


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PERPETUUM – Gradual Decay Of Conscience (Australis Records 2010)

Perpetuum - Gradual Decay Of Conscience
  1. Arquetipos
  2. Monoliths
  3. Unmerciful Despair
  4. Into The Deepest Darkness
  5. Stigmata
  6. Scourging The Foe
  7. Through The Path Of Eternity
  8. Grunts Of The Shoggoths
  9. Psicosis

Before the name PERPETUUM was chosen, the band was known as NOCTURNAL BLASPHEMY, whose history started in 2003. The aim ws to play raw and dirty Black Metal. But different influences and tastes lead to a new plan and so a new name needed to be chosen. Working hard to have own material ready the Chileans played several gigs to gain experience and get their name out. In 2006 the promo was created to be released in 2007. If I am not mistaken, you could download it from the band's website. Someone must have been aware of the potential of PERPETUUM, because in 2009 the band signed with Australis Records. And now, since the 30th May, a debut album is available for the masses: "Gradual Decay Of Conscience".

Thanks to Adrian De Buitléar from Lugga Music I obtained a review copy. "Gradual Decay Of Conscience" is concept album about human behaviour. As the text puts it and I partly quote: "The human being is brutal, violent, aggressive, a purchaser, competitive and has created a society under that structure, causing choatic, regressive and destructive situations and there's a true reasoning about the fact that our personal integrity is related to earth, life and others' integrity." The music, consequently, doesn't sound like the birds and the bees, of course. PERPETUUM mixed influences from Death, Black and Doom Metal.

To show that you're going to get sunny atmospheres and nature joyfully going its way, "Arquetipos" (= "Archetypes"?) is an atmospheric intro that shows all signs of darkness, abyss, despair and more. "Monoliths" takes over with harsh, demonic shrieks and Death/Doom kind of verses. The music speeds up in the bridge, but shifts back for the slow, but somehow wild, chorus. A first proper song showing PERPETUUM didn't take the writing process lightly. Great stuff, in other words. "Unmerciful Despair" also incorporated slowness, and speeds up in the bridge - well, you get blasts and everything sounds wild and mad - to slow down a little bit in the chorus. "Unmerciful Despair" is definitely the kind of song that offers no hope for salvation at all. It even sounds quite hellish, to be honest. But it's good!

"Into The Deepest Darkness" is another proof of the dark character of the music and concept. It's a is a socio-political song that - and I quote - "shows the managements from world leader and reflecting the weakness of the conscience". Guitar leads set in, followed by fast verses. Here as well the tempo drops in the chorus (seems to be a constant) to express better the signs of despair, gloom, death and similar. Over halfway, to break the flow, the band opts for a Jazzy side-step. That, of course, is a bit strange to hear here, but I can't say I don't like it. Aferwards it's back to Metal madness and the chorus. Even if it's not a happy album, the Chileans know their Metal. In "Stigmata" PERPETUUM takes a break and instead you get an interlude, atmospheric and somewhat Industrial to create a horror effect and make the bridge to "Scourging The Foe", a track served as midtempo Death Metal with the typical growls. The rhythm is a highlight and the bass was set high in the mix. All this however does not disturb anything. Each instrument gets its room to breathe, to come out. Even the sad leadwork. The Metal gets jumpy (in lack of a better word) in the bridge, but blasts in Death Metal/Black Metal style in the chorus. The last 1/3 of the song is calm, yet with heavy building through the toms, snare rolls and guitars leading to a fast outbreak which drops in tempo again a bit later. Overall, despite the changes in rhythm and tempo, a Doomy atmosphere/feel was maintained.

In "Through The Path Of Eternity" you get Blackened Death Metal á la IKUINEN KAAMOS, who released their second album, "Fall Of Icons", earlier this year. The structure slow verses-blasting bridge-slow chorus is also applied here, all the while offering varied guitar- and drumwork. Like in "Into The Deepest Darkness", a Jazzy break was added, to continue with Metal later on. Wild drumming and appropriate guitarwork is then of certain importance. Let it be clear that so far, the Chileans kept the quality intact. And it remains so for the last two tracks, "Grunts Of The Shoggoths" and "Psicosis" (= "Psychosis"?). What are Shoggoths? One could think, if ignorant of the correct answer, that it's a tribe like the Visigoths and Ostrogoths from the Roman period. A shoggoth is a fictional creature from the "Cthulhu Mythos" by H.P. Lovecraft, a quick Google search told me. "Grunts Of The Shoggoths" therefore promises to be quite a brutal track then. Its blasting beginning couldn't be a clearer indication, though midtempo verses follow. The blasting returns in the bridge and carries on at high velocity in the chorus. Instrumentalism is important here and the diverse rhythm and tempo changes are quite simply first class! The Progressive-like character also allows for the drums to be in the spotlights and I can only hail the band for this. Superb stuff! "Psicosis" ends this dark, aggressive and despairing experience in an instrumental way. It's slow and Doomy like EVOKEN, MOURNING BELOVETH and similar. The sad but nice guitarleads help stress the character of the music.

PERPETUUM, a Chilean Death/Black Metal band that instantly goes for the kill on their debut album, "Gradual Decay Of Conscience". The title isn't happy, but so is the music. The production is rather raw, old school, but that is not a hindering element at all. It's beneficial to the music, to the dark and destructive character of the songs. Fans of extreme Metal are highly recommended to purchase this album, as I can only be positive about it: the passion, the musicianship, the diversity, ... This is Death/Black Metal with Progressive touches, all of high quality! Another highlight of 2010, in my humble opinion.

More info at www.myspace.com/perpetuumchl.

Line-up:
Alejandro Ruiz - vocals
Cristóbal González - guitars, vocals
Diego Ilbaca - guitars
Juan Díaz - bass
Carlos Fuentes - drums


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MISTWEAVER – Tales From The Grave (Casket 2010)

Mistweaver - Tales From The Grave
  1. Fairytale
  2. Sons Of Darkness
  3. Into The Realms Of The Dead
  4. Siren Of The Hellish Seas
  5. Voices From The Grave
  6. The Pestilence
  7. Smell Of Death
  8. May God Deliver Death
  9. Through The Gate Of Timeless Departure
  10. Another Endless Night
  11. A New Vision Of The Apocalypse
  12. 666 - The Call
  13. A Madman's Epitaph

MISTWEAVER is a Spanish Melodic Death Metal band, formed in 1997. At that time they played Death/Doom Metal, or as they put, a mixture between Doom and Death. Anno 2000 the EP "Sol Obscurabitur" was released. The following year the band's debut album hit the streets under the title "Dream's Domain". Several gigs and two years later album no. 2 is done: "The Aftermath". This resulted in MISTWEAVER playing gigs in the USA (incl. the Milwaukee Metalfest), thanks to a label deal with Deepsend Records. A new label deal in 2004 and thus a new release: "Age Of Darkness". Problems with the line-up and the label lead to a dead period, although the band does want to carry on. MISTWEAVER's newest album, "Tales From The Grave", recorded in 2007-2008, came out on the 30th May through Casket Records. This summer the band will go on a European tour.

So, "Tales From The Grave". The artwork looks good and very classic or typical, of course. Lyrically it's all about death, destruction, demise, devastation, doom and gloom. One track after the other and while I was listening to the album I was reading the lyrics. Sure, with a (Melodic) Death Metal band and a title like "Tales From The Grave", you know what to expect in terms of lyrics, but somehow I have the impression that Raúl (vocals, guitars) didn't have much inspiration. Several songs have the same kind of lyrics and it's as if he had the same kind of context/situation in mind and tried several versions of how to sing the same kind of words. You know, looking for synonyms. Sure, it's all about death and evil and against God (most likely the Christian one), but reading such lyrics one after the other becomes boring, so all there's left to do is focus on the song itself.

"Tales From The Grave" contains 13 tracks, including an intro with the title "Fairytale". As we're dealing with dark atmospheres and not exactly the happiest ones, the music is atmospheric, symphonic and with a sad touch, as soothing as it may sound. Adding piano leads increases that feeling. Once the tale is over, the "Sons Of Darkness" take over. Heavy guitars and uptempo continuation, thugh with the keyboards in the back, for the sake of atmosphere and melody, while guitars and drums deliver the power. Raúl's growls are reminiscent of that of bands like AMON AMARTH, INSOMNIUM and similar. Musically the song contains a lot of energy and drive, while the dark atmosphere comes out better in the midtempo chorus. The keyboards remain in the back, also because of the mixing, hence giving the guitars and drums key roles. Another positive aspect about this track is the variety in tempo and rhythm. No birds and bees here, once more confirmed by the last minute where the music first is acoustic and calm before flowing over into slow, dramatic Melodic Death Metal and that until the end.

"Into The Realms Of The Dead" is where you the band is taking you next. The song takes a heavy but energetic start with keyboards leading the way. They remain present in the slow verses, which are dark and atmospheric, although the guitars lend a hand. The riffing from the beginning returns in the bridge, while the chorus is where the band blasts out its music. This creates a blend of Melodic Death and Melodic Black Metal. The keyboards remain the biggest provider of melody (incl. piano input), but the guitar leads turn into a very decent Melodic Death Metal song. There is a calmer part later on, non-Metal and with vocals similar to how Anders Friden from IN FLAMES sounded in "Whoracle". After that it's back to business with solos. All in all a decent track, but not as good as several other ones.

In the aforementioned realms the "Siren Of The Hellish Seas" sings her song and creates more demise and gloom. After this dark intro, the music rises in tempo, heaviness and melody with, as usual, a key role for the keyboards. You'll detect more metallic drive in the verses. What is nice to hear is it's not just a Melodic Death song, but Gothic influences also made it into the compositions. Here it's the bridge that was injected. Power and aggression can be found in the chorus, though the guitars help with melodic input. Solos are another distinctive part, just like the atmospheric piano break. Another highlight is "Voices From The Grave". Its start is melodic and fast, faster than before. Due to the high pace, the band doesn't really slow down in the bridge and chorus, rather pound their way along. Raúl's growls are even more ferocious than before and come close to that of KRISIUN's vocalist, whose name I can't remember. Guitars are key here, and that is good for a change. Variability was once more applied, mainly regarding the rhythm and tempo. The drums have the most impact in that context.

Another ugly title is "The Pestilence", where the music is as can be expected: vicious, aggressive and fast. The drama (expressed via the keyboards and guitars) comes to life in the slow chorus. The solo moment includes the accoustic guitar to stress the misery and sadness of it all. In short, no flaws here. What follows, somehow logical, is the "Smell Of Death". The acoustic guitar is set first, though the piano and backing keyboards complete the melodic picture, one that's again quite sad. The Metal kicks in later, though the speed increase follows several steps after that. Pluspoints go the rhythm. The growls are also very well done, while the guitars offer melody in the galopping chorus. One more highlight for the list. More death can be found in "May God Deliver Death". This is another good, but not very good song. The keyboards and piano set in the song and with the added Metal support, or Gothic verses, it feels like I'm listening to DARK THE SUNS. The symphonic addition is more prominent here (bridge), although it has been used before. The slow/midtempo chorus is in general ok, but not really super. Drums offer variable input, as usual, though all shifts into higher gear when it's solo time.

"Through The Gate Of Timeless Departure" starts acoustically, but vicious Melodic Death Metal takes over soon, but what a contrast! The verses are done at uptempo, while heaviness remains an overall constant. Gothic influences can be found in this song, too. To break the flow a little, a keyboards/piano break was added, and this helps to keep the listening focus intact. "Another Endless Night" is the first and only track where the band uses its Spanish roots. The intro couldn't be more clear. There is even a female vocalist (Mija Anderson) to counter Raúl growls. Even the music is adapted likewise: calm and melodic for Mija, aggressive for Raúl. All in all, a decent result, but sadly not a highlighted track. That also counts for "A New Vision Of The Apocalypse", which is where the music sounds more energetic again. Keyboard melodies are important, else the song would feel empty. Around the middle, the band speeds it up for the solos and that makes the listening more pleasant, which is also true for the blasting moment later on.

The last track, "A Madman's Epitaph", is totally non-Metal. Atmospheric, piano- and guitar-driven music is what you get. Or in other words, a ballad. It sounds alright, but nothing to write home about. However, "666 - The Call" is one to write home about. It's a fast track with the classic humpa rhythm. The music pounds in the bridge, but becomes dramatic in the chorus. Even if the solo part is done at uptempo, the connection with what preceded sounds weird. Almost too abrupt, you could say. But the song itself is worth checking out.

Melodic Death from Spain. This genre has its characteristics and they are used by every such band all over the world for the sake of recognition. But when you live in a country that has a certain culture and identity, why not make use of them to make your band stand out from the rest? Even if you're not using music instruments, try for a different approach in terms of lyrical content. "Tales From The Grave" could have been great, but Raúl and co. failed to create enough interesting material (also lyrically), despite a small majority being worth checking out. Fans of AMON AMARTH, INSOMNIUM, DARK TRANQUILLITY, DARK THE SUNS and similar may check out MISTWEAVER, because the Spanish do have the skills and potential, but "Tales From The Grave" is, in my book, only a very decent release, not one you must (!) have. I cannot tell how it compares with the previous albums, since this is my first encounter with MISTWEAVER.

More info at www.myspace.com/mistweaver666.

Line-up:
Raúl Weaver - vocals, guitars
Eduardo Alonso - guitars
David de Pedro - bass
Eduardo Navazo - keyboards
Simon Cordero - drums


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A. LOSTFIELD – Internal Affairs (a. Lostfield 2010)

a. Lostfield - Internal Affairs
  1. Dreaming About Scars
  2. Forgotten Story
  3. I Still Pretend
  4. Internal
  5. Hide Your Face
  6. Marks From The Past
  7. Just The Things You Know

A. LOSTFIELD actually stands for Ash Lostfield, the mastermind and composer of the songs. He is a musician, composer and producer from Colombia, but for the execution of his music Ash appealed to two other people: Daniel Góngora (musician, owner and main egineer of the A7N studios) and Iván Amaya (musician and frontman of OPENSIGHT). At the moment A. LOSTFIELD is only a studio project. The music can be catalogued under Alternative Rock/Metal. This Colombian trio adds some Latin influences, but their Metal is mainly drenched in Nu-Metalness.

The band is not signed to any label, which makes their debut release, "Internal Affairs", a self-release, out since the 30th May. The disc contains seven tracks, totalling a playtime of about 24 minutes. It starts with "Dreaming About Scars". This is a midtempo track , a solid rocker, you might say, with mainly the chorus being of the melodic kind. But it's the vocals that take care of that, to counter the heavy guitarwork. There's also room for a solo. Nothing grand, just typical for this style. Speaking of vocals, both Daniel and Ivá sing, but it's not known who has which vocal type. Neverthless, both have an accent. And that's one of the major problems on this release. All in all, a very decent song to start with.

"Forgotten Story" is next, starting slowly with a solo. Afterwards the midtempo Rock breaks loose. Again, the music sounds typical for this genre and the rhythm guitarwork stands out. But as there are no keyboards here (or very faintly in the back perhaps) the song does sound in dire need of them. Especially in the chorus the vocals are fighting a tough battle with the heavy guitars. As good as the first track was, relatively ok is this song. And it gets worse with "I Still Pretend". This is a midtempo track with verses devoid of heaviness. Therefore, all power is reserved for the chorus. The vocals form the biggest problem, due to the accents and contrast with the guitars. At some point there's a heavy break: only guitars and samples. Why samples? It doesn't make any sense to me. It's like Ash thought something was needed to add change and diversity to the song, but in my humble opinion, he failed. Also, the contrast between the vocals and heaviness of the music makes it hard to sit through this song. Last but not least, it's too long. In other words, no need to pretend. The result just isn't that good.

Time for some vocal rest then, alright? "Internal" is a fully instrumental track with Bluesy guitarwork and overall it sounds quite easy, easy like calm, enjoyable, etc... Plus, the band added percussion in the back for the sake of atmosphere and feel. Only one word is needed: excellent! It's also the one best track on this entire release. And the band didn't go Metal here. Hm... what does that say about the rest of the songs then? "Hide Your Face" brings back the heaviness of before. It's another midtempo song where full power and flow is again reserved for the chorus. Vocally the problem persists. And Ash found it necessary to apply samples here as well, in the semi-acoustic break. Like before, this made me frown. Anyway, "Hide Your Face" has a good rhythm, but all else is pretty weak.

"Marks From The Past" also is a midtempo song, though this time with more aggressive vocals. Either the melodic input comes samples or the keyboards don't sound strong enough. As a result, it just doesn't sound or feel good at all. A solo might save the day, but no. Yes, there's a guitar solo, but it's short. "Just The Things You Know" closes the list. No sings of Metal here. The Bluesy verses are nice and slow, the singing is clean again and for the solo the acoustic guitar was used. All in all, not that bad.

It's always a nice to hear new bands, especially South America has several pearls hidden in the underground. When I see the label Alternative Rock/Metal, it usually means there's Nu-Metal involved. Usually. Here it's definitely the case. Sure, this is a self-release and the pure production clearly shows that. But that's alright for me, even if it's not perfect. What bothers me here are the vocals (too weak, the accents), the lack of keyboard input (if there is any, you barely hear it), the compositions overall (incl. the samples). Is there anything positive to say? Well... I like the overall rhythm of most of the songs. That is a domain the lads have more or less mastered. But other than that, this is an album to quickly forget. There are some good ideas here and there, but overall "Internal Affairs" is a pretty weak album (in my humble opinion, of course).

More info at www.myspace.com/alostfield.

Line-up:
Ash Lostfield - composer
Daniel Góngora - rhythm guitars, vocals, keyboards, drum programming
Iván Amaya - lead guitars, vocals, keyboards, bass and drum programming


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TRIOSPHERE – The Road Less Travelled (AFM Records 2010)

Triosphere - The Road Less Travelled
  1. Ignition (Intro)
  2. Driven
  3. Human Condition
  4. Death Of Jane Doe
  5. Marionette
  6. The Road Less Travelled
  7. The Anger And The Silent Remorse
  8. Watcher
  9. Twenty One
  10. Worlds Apart
  11. The Last Haven (Outro)

TRIOSPHERE hails from Norway, the country where several Black and Gothic Metal bands were founded. However, this country also has spawned Progressive Metal bands like PAGAN'S MIND and CIRCUS MAXIMUS, to name a few examples. TRIOSPHERE is another example and this since 2004. In that year guitarist Marcus Silver and vocalist/bassist Ida Haukland joined forces. The debut album, "Onwards", saw the light of day in 2006. The rest of Europe got it in 2007 thanks to Plastic Head's distribution work. In terms of gigs the Norwegians have toured in Norway with W.A.S.P. in 2006 and 2007. On the European mainland the band shared the stage with KOTIPELTO, CHRIS CAFFERY, KAMELOT, JORN, W.A.S.P., ARCH ENEMY and DESTRUCTION. And still the list is not complete: SEBASTIAN BACH, MAYHEM, THRESHOLD, ENSLAVED, SOILWORK, VOLBEAT, DIMMU BORGIR, DIO, AFTER FOREVER, etc...

Anno 2010 and a new label deal with AFM Records later, a new album is out since the 28th May: "The Road Less Travelled". This too is a new band for me. One of the advantages of this, eh, hobby. The regular album edition contains eleven tracks, but the first pressing adds a twelfth one: "Echoes". How that one sounds I cannot tell, as the promo only consisted of the regular eleven tracks.

"The Road Less Travelled" starts with an aptly titled intro called "Ignition". It's atmospheric and soft, just the guitar and symphonics. Drums fall in shortly before the music becomes a bit wilder and the Progressive touch comes out. As a result, it's as if I'm listening to PAGAN'S MIND. No problem whatsoever with that. "Driven" is the first proper song. Pacing at midtempo, though with pounding drums and heavy riffing, as is common. Ida's singing is not of the Gothic kind, rather powerful and ballsy. Think of vocalists like Magali Luyten (VIRUS IV, BEAUTIFUL SIN), Veronica Freeman (BENEDICTUM), Doro and others. The guitars are the central element, though Orjan's drumming should not be ignored, as he makes the song more interesting with accents and tempo changes. Melody is an important factor, not in the least in the chorus. A wild solo follows later on, completing a very good song.

"Human Condition" is an even better, more attractive song, at least to me. Its beginning is calm, almost ballad-ish. But heaviness is not far off, despite the tempo lying lower than "Driven". The bridge certainly is dark and heavy, next to an amazing chorus. "Human Condition" is an epic song, hymnic in some way. Halfway there's a Progressive break for the soloing, in vein of DREAM THEATER and PAGAN'S MIND. "Death Of Jane Doe" is one of the lesser tracks. Well, it's the only one. Less in terms of less attractive. It's a violent rocker of a song with a key role for heavy guitarwork, in a dancy rhythm. This has a nice result, though. Full flow and power is found in the chorus: midtempo with double bass attacks. On the other hand, the music creates a sad feel, especially in the chorus. Over halfway the whole becomes more aggressive, reminiscent of PAGAN'S MIND or even MEGADETH. The solo part that follows is inline with that.

TRIOSPHERE also creates the impression of a ballad in "Marionette", but that is soon made undone when the metallic power breaks loose. Still, it's a slow song and again emotions play a role in the chorus. Pluspoints go the vocal input, a job very well done. The middle of the song holds the solo, as usual, but here the music morphed into something more Jazzy. And so we arrive at the title track, in which the band returns ballsy melodic Metal. Think of old DREAM THEATER, for example. The verses are devoid of heaviness, which makes the singing come out better. The chorus is of the hymnic kind and solos are set over halfway. "The Anger And The Silent Remorse" looks like the title for a theater production. Happiness is not what you'll find here, as the sad and dark intro clearly indicates through the guitar and cello instrumentation. The piano stresses the feeling of despair and loss. Add a touch of Metal and you get a powerballad, at least in the chorus (very nice, to say the least). The verses are direct, thus contrasting with the chorus. After the obligatory solowork, you get a symphonic break to stress the general atmosphere and feel of before. This is, like "Human Condition", one of the best tracks here.

And so is "Watcher". The rhythm stands out here, for which the linear (but melodic) verses are responsible. With two guitarists a lot is possible. Hence the outstanding work from Marius and T.O., who let out full power in the chorus, while going for general heavy stuff in the middle of the song. That's also when keyboard input is added, in a spheric way. The guitar solo follows later, but it's kept long enough, perhaps longer than before. And that's a very wise choice. The last three tracks are also highlights, but a little less that the other aforementioned three. "Twenty One" is another track where power is vital, thanks to the guitars. Ida's singing is adapted to that style, i.e. more ballsy. Orjan's varied drumming is as important as the guitar input, which include the solos. "Worlds Apart" is the last powerful track with heavy guitars and pounding drums. The verses are ballsy, while the chorus is slow and melodic. Solos were given enough space to be unwrapped and contribute to the listening experience. No complaints whatsoever. "The Road Less Travelled" started off with an intro and it ends with and outro. "The Last Haven" is obviously instrumental and coherent with the intro. In fact, you could make an entire of it, or at least longer than the two minutes it is long now.

TRIOSPHERE's newest output, "The Road Less Travelled", is a very nice addition to anyone's Progressive/Power Metal collection. If you're into bands like PAGAN'S MIND, CIRCUS MAXIMUS, BEAUTIFUL SIN, DREAM THEATER, SYMPHONY X and similar, do not hesitate and get your copy of this album. Personally I find this one of the surprises of this year. The fact that Ida does not sing with an operatic voice like so many others (mainly Gothic) is a plus. Sure, a male vocalist could fit here, but as Ida does an equally splendid job (clean voice with added rough edge) it gives the songs a more integer and powerful touch.

More info at www.thetriosphere.com.

Line-up:
Ida Haukland - vocals, bass
Marius Silver Bergesen - guitars
T. O. Byberg - guitars
Orjan Jorgensen - drums


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MAGICA – Dark Diary (AFM Records 2010)

Magica - Dark Diary
  1. Anywhere But Home
  2. Tonight
  3. Never Like You
  4. Wait For Me
  5. Need
  6. Release My Demons
  7. On The Side Of Evil
  8. My Kin My Enemy
  9. Use To Be My Angel
  10. We Are Horde
  11. Dear Diary

MAGICA is a Romanian female-fronted Melodic Power Metal band, founded in 2002 by guitarist Bodan Costea and very active in terms of releases. The bandname comes from DIO's "Magica" album. In the same year the Romanians released their debut album, "The Scroll Of Stone". This gave them the time for the necessary gigs and songwriting process for the follow-up, "Lightseeker" (2004). Three years later, no. 3 became available: "Hereafter". Prior to that the band toured with NIGHTMARE and AFTER FOREVER. Later they had the opportunity to share the stage with LEAVES' EYES, VANDEN PLAS and APOCALYPTICA. The band's last album was "Wolves And Witches" from 2008. And it's from that album that I first heard what MAGICA sounded like, thanks to the MetalCast. But even if the music sounded good, it just lacked depth and integrity, so to speak. One element that made me doubt whether to buy the album or not was Ana's voice, even if she's a classically trained vocalist. Her tone was not always fitting with the power of Metal.

Anyway, anno 2010, the band is back with a new album. No. 5 is titled "Dark Diary" and came out on the 28th May. Ronny Milianowicz (DIONYSUS, SAINT DEAMON, WOLF) produced and mixed the album, while Jens Bogren (AMON AMARTH, SYMPHONY X, PARADISE LOST, GWYLLION, OPETH, DRACONIAN, ...) mastered it. The previous two albums already sounded decent - I'm basing my opinion on YouTube samples, which are not the best source, but it's something - but this time it sounds even better. Eleven tracks made it onto the album, totalling a playtime of almost 43 minutes.

"Anywhere But Home" is the opening track, sounding quite neo-classical at first, but soon the proper flow is found and a very nice blend of Metal power and melody (guitars and keyboards) speeds along. The pace increases then, allowing the great rhythm and melodies to activate your senses. The production, flawless by the way, helps a lot. Ana's clean opera vocals sound good, although I wouldn't mind them sounding a bit rougher. But as this is not her kind of style, it is what it is and to me it's more than alright. Male vocals would fit, too, but somehow it feels different with female ones. The chorus is at midtempo, but still active enough. Solos are also present, coming from the guitars and keyboards. All in all, a very nice starting song. Which cannot be said of "Tonight". This one has an atmospheric, spacey intro, followed by active, midtempo Metal. This time it's the mainly the keyboards that deliver melodic input, albeit from the back. Ana's vocals are annoying - I can't put it differently - in the verses, which are slow and ambient. The guitarwork is good, though, both in terms of rhythm and leads, but it's the keyboards that are almost omni-present. The whole doesn't sound bad, but it's just not as attractive as the first song. Once the band plays at full power, the situation improves, but only faintly. Even the good solowork can't save this track.

Luckily the majority is worth checking out, like "Never Like You". This one is a song of power, of punch! Keyboards provide melodic input, but the guitars follow (or counter) with heavy rhythm work. The singing is more normal in the verses, meaning Ana doesn't reach for the high notes, and that's a good thing. She does go after them in the bridge and chorus, where male backing vocals were added due to necessity, I suppose based on the lyrics. Nothing more to say than that the song is a highlight, with mainly the guitarwork standing out. "Wait For Me" is a slow, heavy song with crushing guitarwork, though you get some very nice leads in the beginning. Ana sings with an even lower voice, which isn't had. But when she sings slowly, you can more clearly hear she has an accent. But many not-English vocalists suffer from this. "Wait For Me" is a guitar-driven track, though keyboards linger in the back. Ana opts for high-pitched singing (what's it called, alto?) in the chorus. Musically you could call it a powerballad and the result is pretty alright. The keyboards make it complete, though without them it's not like the end result would be bad, not at all. And yes, you get solowork here as well, from both guitars and keyboards.

If you're in need of more rocking stuff, then... "Need" is what you, well, need. Despite being a midtempo track - it doesn't always have to be fast to rock - the guitarpower fits perfectly with the melodic keyboard interventions, which even allow for the guitars to add some leadwork. Everything's alright here: singing, rhythm, chorus, solos... a flawless song. More of this please! "Release My Demons" is another powerful song, here with spacey keyboards in the intro. The melodic aspect is delivered again through the guitars and keyboards (backing), but in a dark atmosphere to which the keyboards contribute a lot. Here as well, solid work from the Romanians. "On The Side Of Evil"'s beginning sounds like a Rock song in vein of DIO. At least, that's the impression I had. But that soon fades once the aggressive and firm Metal kicks in. Ana sings with a high voice again and it's quite alright here. The atmospheric keyboards complete the picture by creating the right atmosphere. There was male vocal support before, here they are the lead vocals in the chorus. Solos come in at a later instant, again from guitars and keyboards. The previous two tracks were highlights, this one is a little less highlighted.

"My Kin My Enemy" takes a wild start, but soon the reigns are held tight for the verses, which are hence very calm. Once the chorus is there, the reigns are loosened and proper power can be unleashed. You could almost consider it a marriage of ICED EARTH and NIGHTWISH, to use these two examples. It's a slow song, but with variable tempos and dito drumming, which is a plus here. Solos are very good, no comments here. Another solid song, no question about that. "Use To Be My Angel" has Ana and guiding guitar as elements that set in the song. While the song only takes off later, this first part isn't that attractive, to be honest. But when the entire band can freely add power, melody and more, all sounds and flows much better. The leadwork is very well done and heavy guitar input can be found in both verses and chorus. Over the middle of the track, the piano gets its moment of glory as leading instrument, though the guitars show who's in charge. The tempo then also has slowed down, which results in slower drumming and singing. The obligatory solo comes afterwards, but it's a very short one here. To spice it up, Cristi has adjusted his drumming and for the better.

Two more songs: "We Are Horde" and "Dear Diary". The first is one where the Metal pounds onwards. And I can only applaud for this. It's power to the bone! and the bass stands high in the mix, which is pretty cool. Keyboards are set in the back, providing the atmospheric touches. Ana's singing is high in the verses, but she gets assistance, or better, the entire group sings in the chorus. Epicness garanteed. This is one of those songs that give energy and courage. Great stuff! "Dear Diary" is the second track you can ignore. Pages are being turned - it's a diary after all - and all you'll hear is Ana's singing and piano support. This is, in other words, a soft song which is devoid of anything Metal, of anything epic, energetic, touching even. It's, for lack of a better word, boring in every aspect: singing and music. It's somewhat sad to end an otherwise very decent album this way. But perhaps the RUNNING WILD cover "Victory" (on the Limited Edition digipack) can save the day, but I can neither confirm nor deny this.

As I said in the beginning, the previous two albums already sounded decent - I'm basing my opinion on YouTube samples, which are not the best source, but it's something - but this time it sounds even better. I've got the impression that MAGICA is a band that improves with each album, but never manages to score as high as several other Melodic Power Metal bands (with or without a Gothic touch). For the largest part I'm positively surprised about the material. It sounds powerful, it moves you (depending on the song) and the band deserves kudos for their time and effort put in creting "Dark Diary". This album can stand the test of several listens and that says a lot. If you skipped MAGICA in the past, now's the time to revisit them. Fans of the band can buy this unheard, of course. Who could you compare them with? GWYLLION, VISIONS OF ATLANTIS, EDENBRIDGE, ARWEN, NIGHTWISH (to some extent), RHAPSODY, ANCIENT BARDS, and so on.

More info at www.myspace.com/magicaband.

Line-up:
Ana Mladinovici - vocals
Bogdan Costea - guitars
Vali Zechiu - bass
6Fingers - keyboards
Cristi Barla - drums


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MASTERPLAN – Time To Be King (AFM Records 2010)

Masterplan - Time To Be King
  1. Fiddle Of Time
  2. Blow Your Winds
  3. Far From The End Of The World
  4. Time To Be King
  5. Lonely Winds Of War
  6. The Dark Road
  7. The Sun Is In Your Hands
  8. The Black One
  9. Blue Europa
  10. Under The Moon

We write the year 2002 when ex-HELLOWEEN members Roland Grapow (guitars) and Uli Kusch (drums) form their new band, MASTERPLAN. With Jorn Lande (ARK, MILLENNIUM, THE SNAKES, JORN, ...) the band is set for a great voyage in the world of Metal. The self-titled debut album comes out in 2003 and receives lots of praise. The same thing counts for the follow-up, "Aeronautics". But in 2006 the line-up undergoes a serious change: Jorn and Uli leave the band, due to musical differences. Luckily Mike DiMeo from RIOT and THE LIZARDS is found to fill the position of vocalist, while Mike Terrana switches from RAGE to MASTERPLAN and occupy the now vacant drum position. His position in RAGE was quickly filled by André Hilgers from SILENT FORCE. While the music is still composed by the same people, the album, "MK II" (out in 2007), shows how badly the band is hurt by the absence of (mainly) Jorn Lande, despite some good tunes here and there. The Norwegian wanted to focus on his solo career at that time. As the years passed by he also was hired for Tobias Sammet's project AVANTASIA, where he became one of the most important vocalists.

Last year, 2009, Jorn and Roland got in touch regarding a return of Jorn to the MASTERPLAN camp and so it happened. Mike DiMeo, although a good vocalist, but not enough to fill the heavy shoes of Jorn, found a new home in the Australian Heavy/Power Metal band ILIUM. With Jorn back, it was clear that the return of this German band to the battlefield and present the fans with another qualitative load of Melodic Power Metal. Anno 2010 a new album is ready and will see the light of day on 21st May. Prior to this date, a single, "Far From The End Of The World", as released on the 16th April. This contained the title track in full and edit version, plus the track "Lonely Winds Of Far", not featured on "Time To Be King". Or so it was said. "Far From The End Of The World" is a pounding and powerful track with heavy riffing, an important role for the keyboards and pounding drums. Musically it's comparable to "Kind Hearted Light" on MASTERPLAN's debut album. "Lonely Winds Of Far" starts with a nice and seren Folkish intro, comparable to some of EMPYRIUM's music or even SUMMONING. Then slow Metal kicks in, with gentle symphonic backing. It's almost a powerballad. Jorn also sings with less roughness. Plus Roland has several occasions to throw in a solo. All in all, two very nice tracks.

But let's focus on the new album, "Time To Be King". It contains ten tracks, totalling a playtime of almost 45 minutes. Roland again did the production, like on "MK II", while the mixing and mastering were done at the famed Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, Finland. The album starts with a very nice opening track: "Fiddle Of Time". The music fades in with the keyboards bringing a playful melody, countered by powerful Metal! It's hard to sit still her and not headbang along, for example. The compositions are heavy verses at a firm pace and unstoppable drive. The train slows down just a tiny little bit to continue its ride in the chorus, where you'll find symphonic backing. The keyboards deliver melodies on several levels, but allow Roland to add a guitar solo. Drummer Mike Terrana does a very good job here and it sounds as if he had more freedom than before ("MK II"). To summarize, this track shows a revigorated MASTERPLAN. Everyone seems to feel more alive again, more energized now that Jorn Lande is back.

On each album the band has set a slow(er) song as second and it isn't any different here: "Blow Your Winds". Now, I have to confess that not all those slower songs were as good as the more active ones. MASTERPLAN's best works are not these kinds of songs. But anyway, "Blow Your Winds" starts with a piano intro and gives the impression of a powerballad. The bass is high in the mix in the verses, which is nice to hear, despite Roland delivering most of the guitar power. The keyboards do offer faint backing as the bridge nears, where the melodic outlets are opened more and Jorn reverts to calmer singing. The chorus is where the metallic power is let out, but Jorn remains rather calm in his singing. Overall, it's a good song, but not among the best tracks on this album. You could, to some extent, compare it with "Back For My Life", only heavier.

And so we arrive at the single track, "Far From The End Of The World", which I described above. Let it be clear that this is another highlight on this album. So is the title track, "Time To Be King". A church bell is the first element you hear, followed by choir chanting. Musically and with the choir, which only is used in the intro, a dark atmosphere is created. The Metal instrumentation falls in with the keyboards adding a "danger touch". The tempo lies high in general, with heavy guitarwork in the verses. Again, all done at a firm pace. Mike adds some double bass in the bridge and Axel (keyboards) also gets into the spotlights then. However, all slows down in the chorus, but still sounds quite massive. Jorn also sings with power, passion and energy, like we're used to hearing from him. Roland's obligatory solo is not forgotten and sounds wild and insane, by manner of speech.

Yes, the "Far From The End Of The World" single contained two non-album tracks. The edited version and "Lonely Winds Of War"... which happens to be part of the albums tracklist after all. Hm, strange, isn't it? This one was described as well a few paragraphs higher. "The Dark Road" present us with another load of more active melodic Metal, "happier" than the previous track despite the title. Lyrically the verses are rather nostalgic, but the music is not heavy or rough at all, but Pop-ish with the adapted guitar- and pianowork. Heaviness is added with a symphonic feel, though the music remains inside the boundaries of ballad-like compositions. But it's heavier than a ballad, of course. The chorus is very emotional and Roland's guitar solo sounds as if it's crying. Mike Terrana adds faster drumwork to the whole and a bit later Roland gets assistance from Axel's symphonic keyboard input. All things considered, another quality song.

Another dark song is "The Sun Is In Your Hands". Keyboards and piano being with the first notes and melodic lines, creating tension and mystery. Guitar and drums add power through burst attacks. Afterwards the song takes off at a firm midtempo with a leading role for the keyboards while guitarpower counters. The verses are once more heavy, rocking and quite groovy. Melody is used in the bridge and even more in the chorus, which again was given an emotional injection. The guitar solo is wild, but has the support of uptempo Metal and keyboard backing. Here you get a big melodic stew, but it tastes very good! "The Black One" is another good song, but in my opinion not among the highlights. It's a midtempo track where the keyboards offer the leads and instantly fulfills a major role in this song. The verses are very bassy again, though with atmospheric backing, while full Metal power is reserved for the bridge and chorus. In terms of appeal, the bridge scores better in my book, mainly because of the "pushy" keyboards input in the chorus. The guitar solo, a necessity in this genre, screams it out during which the Metal kicks into a pounding/bombastic format before all returns to business as usual, like the chorus.

Two more songs then: "Blue Europa" and "Under The Moon". "Blue Europa" is a song about a united Europe. As Jorn stated in the press text: "There is a vision behind this song. Economically we already have a united Europe, but it will not turn into reality until people realise it and tear down the borders in their own way of thinking as well!" The song itself is perhaps the best song on this album and definitely one of the best MASTERPLAN songs ever! The keyboards, them again indeed, fade in, create the right tension and carry on with the main melody. The Metal is added before all falls into place regarding full power and decided flow. And it flows nicely with lots of melody from the keyboards and guitar. In fact, it's a typical MASTERPLAN song. Though here as well a sort of sad/melancholic touch was given to the whole, no matter how powerful the music sounds. And power can be found in the bridge and chorus. The second part of the song contains an instrumental twist, including the solo. An absolutely great track! "Under The Moon" ends the album with a leading role for Axel. Again yes, again. Despite the guitar and drumpower on this album, it's Axel's keyboard work that gets a lot of the credit for the greatness of this album. So here he starts the track in a serene and wavey manner, almost suited for ballet, to name just a quick example. Other than that the music is slow and heavy, but almost enters the ballad zone. The keyboards remain a constant element in the back, except in the verses, where heavy music reigns. The chorus contrasts a great deal with those. As usual, the guitar solo is not forgotten. Overall, a good track to end with.

MASTERPLAN's debut was a very good one, very refreshing even. The follow-up, "Aeronautics" was also very solid, but without Jorn Lande's powerful voice, "MK II" wasn't as good as its predecessors. Mike DiMeo just lacked power in his voice, despite him being a good singer. Songwise not all was a success and it was an album where Mike and Mike (Terrana) had to find their way somehow. With Jorn back in charge of singing, MASTERPLAN sounds revived, re-energized. The inspiration is back, the joy is back. All is well again. "Time To Be King" continues where "Masterplan" or "Aeronautics" left off. However, I do have one criticism: the distortion of the sound levels in some songs. Is this only for the mp3 promo or was the album produced (or mixed) like that? But not worries, it's not as bad as on METALLICA's "Death Magnetic" album.

More info at www.master-plan.net.

Line-up:
Jorn Lande - vocals
Roland Grapow - guitars
Jan S. Eckert - bass
Axel Mackenrott - keyboards
Mike Terrana - drums


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ANIHILATED – Scorched Earth Policy (Killer Metal Records 2010)

Anihilated - Scorched Earth Policy
  1. Blood Of The Martyr
  2. Scorched Earth Policy
  3. Dark Eyes Of The Mind
  4. Predator
  5. The Burning Of The Southern Cross
  6. A Cruel Twist Of Fate
  7. Full Circle
  8. Despair And Retribution
  9. Death And Decay
  10. Until The Bitter End

The British band ANIHILATED started as a Punk band called PROSPEX, but evolved into a Thrash Metal one back in the day when bands like METALLICA and SLAYER were on their way to conquering the US Thrash scene. In terms of releases the band did pretty well in the 1980s: two demos, one EP, one split release and two full albums, i.e. "Created In Hate" (1988) and "The Ultimate Desecration" (1989). Both albums were re-released in a box set in China, Japan and Brazil a few years ago. Once the 1990s were there, ANIHILATED disappeared off the map of Metal, although a live EP saw the light of day in 2005. In 2008 the band made its comeback, also due to demand by the fans. Two years later (2010) a new album is out for the masses: "Scorched Earth Policy". ANIHILATED's third studio album was released on the 21st May via Killer Metal Records in Europe and Marquee Records in Brazil.

It's thanks to an everbusy and dedicated person called Regina Mitchell that ANIHILATED came to my attention. Checking out some songs on MySpace was very pleasing. Guitarist Mark Beuchet was kind enough to supply me with a promo copy of "Scorched Earth Policy" so I could listen to and enjoy the songs at ease. And enjoyed I have over the course of several days. The ten tracks total a playtime of 40 minutes, which is enough for this kind of Metal, as ANIHILATED keep it direct and to the point. A big difference with EXODUS's latest output, "Exhibit B: The Human Condition", for example, which is certainly a very good Thrash album, as EXODUS continue to put out quality. But let's get back to ANIHILATED. Looking at the lyrics, they're reality-based with themes like the Jonestown suicides, how we treat the earth and fellow human beings, religion, man's destiny, etc... In short: socio-political items, as is classic in Thrash. Or again, intelligent Thrash, one might say.

"Scorched Earth policy" begins with "Blood Of The Martyr", whose intro sounds chaotic, distorted (due to the radio effect) and actually unpleasant. Once the band takes over, it's Thrash to the bone. Fast tempo, aggressive guitarwork and vocals... what more do you need? Oh yes, drums. Nothing to say here, Bod does what's needed. Simon's vocal input is direct, rough-edged and quite clear in that you understand what he's saying/singing. The band does change to a lower gear to make the bridge to the obligatory solo, which of course makes the band go into 6th gear again. All's well in this first track. The title track, "Scorched Earth Policy", takes a slower start, building the tension and then all power is unleashed. The typical elements are present to make this a highly enjoyable Thrash track. Adding Simon's Punkish vocals gives it a different character than what's done in other Thrash bands. Here as well the band takes back some speed before accelerating again for the solo.

"Dark Eyes Of The Mind" has an appropriate beginning: slow, a touch of suspense, tension being created... and you know that the band is bound to fall in soon enough. When they do, the selected velocity then lies higher than before. No mercy, kill all in your path. The general structure was applied here, too: midtempo break before going faster again during the solo. Nevertheless, quality assured! That also counts for "Predator", where the guitars are brought in in wave form, building and growing to be let loose in classic humpa style. Yep, the midtempo moment before the solo also occurs here. Was there a blueprint for this album? I mean, it gets predictable after some songs. A bit more varied compositions wouldn't hurt. Luckily Si and co. know how to keep the music interesting and catchy enough. No intro in "The Burning Of The Southern Cross". Nope, instant attack with a solo even and no, the band carries on at full speed. No slowing down, not even before the solo. Ready, set, go! Can't say I mind this decision.

On the other hand, "A Cruel Twist Of Fate" continues the use of an intro, which again creates a sort of tension and it builds to the point where the Metal does not come rushing out of the speakers. Rather, it's powerful, indeed, but the pace lies lower than before. This is beneficial to the listening experience. Getting one fast track after another can get tedious, so it's good to have a song that isn't fast, but still direct and firm enough to not completely stand out from the rest like an ugly duckling, if you know what I mean. But the thing is, ANIHILATED doesn't want to go slow(er) all the way, hence the uptempo verses. There you go. The bubble has burst. Oh well, as long as monotony is disabled, things continue to go well. I almost forgot the midtempo stuff before the solo. "Full Circle" adds a special touch to the album, due to its semi-acoustic intro. The rhythm guitar parts are for the acoustic guitar, the leads for the electric one. The pace was set low and that's how the whole continues. Applause! The tempo does increase once the solo draws nearer, of course. It must be said, though, that the solo sounds rather sad, which fits perfectly with the lyrical theme of how the world decays, how crimes and similar affect (infect?) our lives. After the solo everything returns back to normal, i.e. slow.

Three more songs, which don't really stand out as they're inline with what preceded. "Despair And Retribution" starts slow, but the the chains are broken, which indicates it's Thrash time! "Death And Decay" is different from "Birds And Bees" of course, where the music rolls on relentlessly. No mercy, destroy what can be destroyed, maim what can be maimed. Seek and destroy, you could call it. Just the terms, not a reference to METALLICA's classic hit. And last but certainly not least there's "Until The Bitter End". If that's a forerunner of what's to come in terms of ANIHILATED releases and gigs, do carry on. This is a catchy and fast Thrash track. It's also an excellent closing song for a very good and very solid comeback album. And it has the midtempo part before the solo as well.

I checked a few old ANIHILATED songs, and it's typical 80s' Thrash, yes, but somehow I'm not that excited as with other old Thrash releases. Hearing how this band after all those years pulled it off anno 2010... I can only say: respect! I don't know how they went about writing the new tracks and whatever more, but "Scorched Earth Policy" shows an ANIHILATED whose time is not over yet. How long they will or can carry on, is a riddle to me and many others, I believe. But let's rejoice this comeback in the meantime! "Scorched Earth Policy" is a fast album, from start to finish, even if there is some slowing down here and there. It would have been nice to have at least one or two midtempo tracks to break that fast stream a bit, but then again: Who needs slower stuff, especially when the guys haven't thrashed in years?! They're so excited to be back, to show the world they still have it, to show the world what a f-ed up place it is. It's their way to spend quality time together and also make people aware of what's going on in the world, in their lives (in general). To some extent it's a wake-up call, like KREATOR, MEGADETH and several others have also been doing for years. Therefore I can only conclude with a cliché phrase: do you like (old school) Thrash (in vein of SLAYER, KREATOR, ONSLAUGHT and others) where you can feel the passion, the energy, the honesty of dedicated musicians? Then by all means, get "Scorched Earth Policy". Ok, it's not the best album of this year, but it sure does the job and that's what matters.

More info at www.myspace.com/anihilated.

Line-up:
Si Cobb - vocals, bass
Mark Beuchet - guitar
Todd Manning - guitar
Bod - drums


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SNATCH MAGNET – Screw, Nut & Bolt (Snatch Magnet 2010)

Snatch Magnet - Screw, Nut & Bolt
  1. The Widow
  2. Multi-Girl
  3. Call Of The Maiden
  4. The One
  5. Games
  6. You Will Be Mine
  7. Hybrid

I've reviewed many bands so far, each playing a different style: Heavy Metal, Progressive Metal, Death Metal, Thrash Metal, etc... you know what I mean. And then there's a band that plays a rather light sort of Metal, close to Heavy Metal, Hard Rock and Classic Rock, but in a way that it's very well fit for radioplay. That, however, depends on those radio stations. Anyway, that particular band is called SNATCH MAGNET. A very funny/original name, if you ask me. Lead by vocalist Josh Weekley, this American formation released its debut album, "Screw, Nut & Bolt", by themselves in May of this year. Consisting of 7 tracks, the fun is over before you know it. And then you play it again. The music is very diverse, from Jazzy Rock songs over Funk Rock to Heavy Metal.

It starts with "The Widow". A calm intro first (a same outro later), then full power. And you can be sure these guys know how to rock! Think of something more funky. The whole also sounds American and not only because they're Americans. Josh's clean vocals fit perfectly here, they have an impact on the song, which is catchy and feel-good material. Very nice music to start with. "Multi-Girl" is a slower, more humble song. As you can deduce from the title, it's a love song. The guitar melody is very recognizable, but I can't put my finger on it. On a more general level, I have to stress the song is very very tastey...and touching at the same time, somehow. The guitar solo adds to the rocking aspect. No complaints whatsoever. This song has lots of radio potential, but somehow (in my humble opinion) the always ruin it (for example, by overplaying it).

And this brings us to the IRON MAIDEN-ish "Call Of The Maiden". Or you could compare it with BLAZE (BAYLEY) or DIO, for example. The verses are also adapted to this style change, i.e. galopping with an epic voice, like Bruce Dickinson or Tobias Sammet. This also shows Josh can do more than regular clean vocals. The chorus is done with an outcry. It's a simple song, but o so effective! The guitar solo finishes it off. Going back to something more Funky (see also DAVE WECKL or maybe STANTON MOORE), SNATCH MAGNET brings "The One", a song that is very welcome after the energetic "Call Of The Maiden". The mysterious-sounding guitarsolo is along the lines of - and perhaps I'm exaggerting - JOE SATRIANI. This all goes to shows how diverse this release can be.

"Games" is another straight-forward Rock song that's as effective as can be. Clean vocals in the verses, sounding higher in the chorus. Before the guitar solo a Funky break was added. Again the MAGNET delivers, focussing mainly on the guitars. "You Will Be Mine" begins in a calm way, Jazzy even with an oldies touch in terms of vocals. And especially this elements jumps out, in a positive way, of course. The song also has a special atmosphere and feel, with which the guitar solo is inline. Last but not least there's "Hybrid". Here it's the bass that has the honour to be the first instrument. What follows is a serene music with symphonic backing. This melody carries on while drums are added along the way. And Les keeps it interesting on the kit: from simple beats to Funky drumming. This first part is more than fine, but once the solo is over, it's time to rock! And then you get Metal, 70s-style. Brilliant!

SNATCH MAGNET..."Screw, Nut & Bolt". Two strange, yet funny choices in terms of name and title. And I guess that's one indication of how much fun the guys have playing music, writing songs and keeping it diverse (lyrically and musically). Before I obtained a review copy, I checked out some songs on the band's MySpace page and I was instantly hooked, honestly. This is the kind of Rock release you pay when indeed you're having a great day or you wish to be cheered up. I can only be positive about this album: the production, the songs, the fun touch, the diversity (several types of Rock with influences from Funk, Jazz, etc...). SNATCH MAGNET's music works effectively and sticks like a magnet, oh yes. The only thing that's missing for a complete experience is seeing the guys bringing it live.

More info at www.snatchmagnet.com.

Line-up:
Josh Weekley - vocals
Steve Benton - guitars
Igal Kaplun - guitars
Adam Dodson - bass
Les Mayhew - drums


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BLACK MAJESTY – In Your Honour (Limb Music Products 2010)

Black Majesty - In Your Honour
  1. Far Beyond
  2. God Of War
  3. Millenium
  4. Break These Chains
  5. Further Than Insane
  6. End Of Time
  7. Wish You Well
  8. Follow
  9. Witching Hour

Three years after the very nice "Tomorrowland", the Australian Melodic Power Metal formation BLACK MAJESTY returns to present the follow-up, "In Your Honour". The band's fourth album came out on the 14th May, again via Limb Music Products. It appears that the title refers to the "numerous fans who have stuck by them during their career". While Endel Rivers was the man behind the desk on previous releases, the Australians this time appealed to MASTERPLAN guitarist Roland Grapow for the producing and mixing. Uwe Lulis (REBELLION, ex-GRAVE DIGGER) mastered the album. The cover artwork was carried out again by Dirk Illing, who has previously worked with PARAGON, WIZARD and others. One of his most recent works is the cover of "Sting In The Tail" by the SCORPIONS. While promoting "Tomorrowland" the Australians also came over to Europe to perform at Wacken Open Air in Germany, Masters Of Rock in Czech Republic and Metal Universe in Slovakia. In their home country they supported HELLOWEEN, SAXON, PAUL DI'ANNO, EDGUY, and others.

"In Your Honour" opens with "Far Beyond". A melodic start, building with power bursts until our vents are opened and the Metal can flow freely. Uptempo Power Metal, woohoo! You get powerful guitarwork and the drums pushing it all onwards. As usual, melody is a very important aspect, coming from practically everywhere: vocals, guitars and keyboards. The latter plays a rather small role, in the back. Halfway the obligatory solos are due before continuing like before. This is definitely a great song to start with. "God Of War", the title already indicates it, brings even more Metal with a capital M. The music comes pounding out of the speakers in a straight-forward manner. The transition from verses to chorus occurs rather weird. I mean, you can clearly distinguish both parts as the drums and rhythm switch to a different pattern. It requires some listens to properly grasp this change, though. Here as well, the solos lie in the middle. It's a solid song, but the best ones - aside from "Far Beyond", are found a bit farther down the tracklist.

First there's "Millenium", an active and heavy midtempo track with melodic backing. It's in the chorus that the music takes on a pounding character. But it's not only in the back that melody is to be heard, as the guitars' input can be found throughout the song, except the verses. This is another solid song, but somehow not as attractive as the previous or following ones. "Break These Chains" is another highlight, taking off in a melodic way, at a slow pace. It's a ballad with accoustic verses, though electric power (including symphonic backing) is used in the chorus. In general, it's a nice song where the guitarwork stands out with short and longer solos. "Further Than Insane" is another fast Power Metal track, in typical BLACK MAJESTY-style. Keyboards offer backing in the verses, but it's the guitars that are the providers of melody in the chorus. The solos are once again flawless, just like everything else. And I haven't mentioned it, but John's singing obviouosly adds to the splendour of it all.

"End Of Time" is another track of which you can say "Metal!". It's a midtempo song, but pretty classic stuff with bombastic backing. Here as well, the solos come at a later point and complete the beautiful picture. In "Wish You Well" the Metal rolls onwards with the right dose of melody and changes into a powerful, pounding force in the chorus. The solos complement in a wild manner. The quality remains high! But it can also decrease a little, as shown in "Follow". Symphonics play a bigger role here, although the music still rocks. Even if it's different from what preceded, it's nice to hear the diversity delivered so far. Melody remains a key factor in the compositions and in that perspective, John's singing can become a bit tedious after a while. In this song here, yes. But fear not, for "Witching Hour" closes the album in absolute greatness. Building with melody, sort of teasing as if a fast outbreak will follow. And indeed, all switches are activated and pounding Metal comes rushing out of the speakers and into your ears. Sure, Roland Grapow produced and mixed it, hence logical comparisons with MASTERPLAN, but this song could in fact have been a MASTERPLAN song. It's one of the best tracks on this album and everything about it is first class.

BLACK MAJESTY continue to spew out quality Power Metal and with "In Your Honour" it's not different. Each album shows a step forward and while "Tomorrowland" was a very solid release, I have to admit that - to some degree - "In Your Honour" is even better. The production obviously plays a role in this thought, but it's obviously all about the compositions. Still, one thing is very clear here: predictability in the structure. It goes like this: intro/start, verses, chorus, verses, chorus, solos, chorus, ... end. In each song, if you listen well, you can detect this and know when, for example, the solos will come. Not that I mind, because the end result sounds very good, but it's a bit too apparent if you ask me. Anyway, like before, you absolutely cannot go wrong with BLACK MAJESTY. Fans of the band can buy this unheard. By the way, the limited edition digipack contains two bonus tracks, a poster, a sticker and liner notes. Power Metal fans in general should check out "In Your Honour" as well. For comparison reasons, if you're into MASTERPLAN, HELLOWEEN, GAMMA RAY, EXCALION, (old) EDGUY, and similar, BLACK MAJESTY is another band for your collection.

More info at www.blackmajesty.com.

Line-up:
John Cavaliere - vocals
Stevie Janevski - guitar
Hanny Mohamed - guitar, keyboards
Pavel Konvalinka - drums


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CANOBLISS – Man Is The Enemy (Canobliss 2010)

Canobliss - Man Is The Enemy
  1. Hit The Floor
  2. Pale Rider
  3. Man Is The Enemy
  4. Derrama Tu Sangre
  5. Comatose
  6. No Angel
  7. Black Cadillac
  8. Zombie Parade
  9. Coffin Case Passion
  10. Tools Of The Trade
  11. Earth A.D.D.

Two summers ago (2008) the American Metal band CANOBLISS released the EP "Psychothermia", after three albums: "Wicked Necessary" (1998), "Demon Angel" (2004) and "Liberation Of Dissonance" (2007). Several gigs and hard work later, release no. 4 is out. Titled "Man Is The Enemy" saw the light of day on 8th May. Like before, all was in the hands of CANOBLISS, which means that this new album is also a self-release. But let's go back in time, very briefly. CANOBLISS was founded back in 1997 by Samson Pedroza (guitars) and Chenzo Vidalez (bass). It wasn't until 2004 that Mike and Jon Russo (drums and guitars respectively) were added to fill the vacant positions. Two years later vocalist Johan Maldonado became the band's new singer. And the rest is history, as they say.

Several themes were used for the lyrics. For example, the band's studio getting robbed in "Zombie Parade", losing a loved one in "No Angel", manipulating politicians in "Comatose" and even the destruction of nature in "Earth A.D.D.". This is thus another full-length and most likely the band's strongest effort to date, something the band themselves are convinced of, according to the press text.

"Man Is The Enemy" is a title that can be used in many situation, be them political, environmental, social, and so on. And this is also reflected on the album cover. The first song is "Hit The Floor", which starts with a guitar intro, creating a sort of tension, after which midtempo Metal breaks loose. And you instantly know this is a hit, indeed. Especially the bursting bridge and pounding chorus stand out. Speaking of the chorus, it sounds emotional, but in the power sense. It's not Emo Metal, rather "power" Metal, only not like what one usually understands by that. Johan's singing is clean, but powerful and fits this music perfectly. Musically - like before - bands like CIRCLE II CIRCLE, DISTURBED and KORN come to mind. Things get less heavy at some point, you can even call it a clean break, followed a bit later by the required soloing before letting the chorus kick in again and put the song to sleep. It's a hit, it's a very good opening track.

"Pale Rider" builds with rhythmic drumming and guitarwork. The verses are reminiscent of KORN, as the bass- and drumwork are in that vein, while Johan's vocals are covered with an effect that made me frown and of which I can only say "yuk!". Definitely not a good move, in my opinion. The chorus is where the power is and the singing more normal. And that result sounds much better than the verses. But all in all I can only be positive about the music (to some extent), while the vocals ruin the song. One very good song and one, well, pale song indeed. But fear not, there's still enough material coming up.

The title track is another highlight. "Man Is The Enemy" has an calm intro that is in the same style as METALLICA's "Nothing Else Matters", which by itself is already well done. But then the power breaks loose, power coming from the guitars, but Mike's drumwork provides a perfect and variable answer to it. The vocals sound like that of PLACEBO's vocalist, to some extent. Yes, it shows what Johan's capable of. Pluspoints for this song go to the rhythm (a bit AMON AMARTH-ish) and mainly the very nice drumwork, which is a key factor. The bridge holds musical power and angry vocals, while the chorus is clean and again emotional with slower, more melodic music. As if to show the other side of emotions, expressed through both vocal input and music. Oh yes, there's room for a guitar solo, too.

Johan Maldonado most likely has Spanish roots, hence singing "Derrama Tu Sangre" in Spanish (and English). What the title means, I don't know, but I do know that this song rocks! It commences with a melodic power part, though at a slow tempo, which is basically the chorus melody. The verses that come afterwards sounds very hyperactive and mainly the drums are responsible for that. The Spanish influence comes out in the bridge, in a powerful manner, and in the chorus, where the music sounds more melodic. The part before, most likely the pre-chorus, is what most understand by Power Metal: fast, double bass drumwork typically for e.g. European Power Metal, to name one element. The solo moments are wild, also to reflect some sort of emotional expression. The acoustic moment with Rock influences, to break he heavy flow a bit, sounds absolutely great and helps to keep the listener's attention. Other than that, no complaints.

And the highlights keep piling up, as "Comatose" and "No Angel" are the next in line. The first of these tracks has a guitar intro, of which the melody continues as more instrumentation is added. The verses are rather calm with Johan again using a PLACEBO-style voice, set high in the mix. The musical power is let loose in the bridge and the (straight-forward) chorus. Emotion plays another role, especially when you consider the lyrical theme. Frustration is one word you could use here. Melody is another important element in the chorus, and all together form a very good result. The drums play a very vital role, especially since it's from that instrument that playfulness and variability comes. The obligatory guitar solo wasn't forgotten. "No Angel", although it's about a sad event, starts with the verses in an active and heavy manner. Clean vocals here, nothing brutal, so to speak. The sadness can be heard in the bridge. Well, anywhere in this song, but particularly in the bridge. The chorus is where power is set, from both the music and vocals. The solo comes later, during which the bass comes through the speakers at a louder than normal volume, a decision I have nothing against.

In "Black Cadillac" CANOBLISS lower the bar a little. It starts with a fading guitar riff, building and creating a tension with the drums following by providing a beat. Meanwhile Johan comes in with some vocal work. It's another dark song, but somehow there's never a real outburst or powerful drumming, though Mike does use his kit sufficiently through a.o. the toms. Wait, forget that. The music does break out later on and there's even a ballsy chorus. While this song is not a highlight like the others, it is a lot better than "Pale Rider". There's one more song like "Black Cadillac", i.e. good but not a real highlight. And that is "Coffin Case Passion". This is a dark, groovy and powerful track. The verses are devoid of that (power), but the bridge and chorus offer it all the more! The music reminded me of DISTURBED, which is not unusual, as on the "Psychothermia" the Americans also had songs that sounded like that. However, it's less wild than the other songs.

With those songs out of the way, the road is clear for the last three, all highlights. "Zombie Parade" is a song that has power and speed! Woohoo! At this stage in the tracklist it's more than welcome! It's a bit dancey, like old KORN, but with better music and vocals, obviously. This changes into a melodic bridge (through guitars and vocals), followed by an uptempo Power Metal chorus. The solo is a must and can be found later on. Overall, top notch result! Mike (drums) sets in "Tools Of The Trade", after which the music turns to Thrash. A very nice continuation, if I may say. Very nice. The verses are done at midtempo and with powerful riffing, while the Thrash influences come back in the bridge, but all slows down in favour of melody in chorus, which is also when the dark and emotional aspect comes out. Other than that, it's an energetic song with lots of drive. But where the other songs have a solo, this one lacks it. Fine by me, as it helps to distinguish songs and compositions. But of course, a solo is mostly better, in my opinion. Last but not least there's "Earth A.D.D.". The music fades, but before the song really takes off the created tension should make you extra hungry. Once the music does advance at full power, you get a ver nice midtempo, energetic song. The band speeds it up for the bridge, but shifts back a few gears in the chorus where, again, an emotional touch was injected.

"Psychothermia" was my first acquaintance with CANOBLISS' groovy/Progressive/Nu-Metal vision on Metal. And it was a positive experience, for the largest part. After that I was hoping to be hear more and checking out some samples on MySpace a few months ago made me even more excited than two years ago. "Man Is The Enemy" arrived several weeks ago (thank you, Mike) and I've been listening to it many times. I took it with me to work, listened to the album at work, several days in a row. And I can't do anything else but highly recommend the album to anyone who's into groovy, modern Metal with a Progressive touch. Yes, there's a Progressive touch to the compositions. And yes, it's the band's best album to date. Just head over to the band's MySpace page and convince yourself of the quality of CANOBLISS. Then contact the band to purchase your copy of "Man Is The Enemy", one of the highlights of 2010.

More info at www.myspace.com/canobliss.

Line-up:
John Maldonado - vocals
Samson Pedroza - guitars
Jon Russo - guitars
Chenzo Vidalez - bass
Mike Russo - drums


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PRO-PAIN – Absolute Power (AFM Records 2010)

Pro-Pain - Absolute Power
  1. Unrestrained
  2. Destroy The Enemy
  3. Stand My Ground
  4. Road To Nowhere
  5. AWOL
  6. Hell On Earth
  7. Divided We Stand
  8. Gone Rogue (I Apologize)
  9. Rise Of The Antichrist
  10. Hate Coalition

PRO-PAIN has been active in the Hardcore scene since 1991 and built up quite a back catalogue (12 studio albums) over the years. In that period the band also had its share of line-up changes, but since many years all's stable there. Personally I'm not that familiar with the Americans' works, though I have heard some songs here and there over the years. In short: "Absolute Power" is my first proper encounter with PRO-PAIN. Yep, album no. 13, but one has to start somewhere. "Absolute Power", out since 5th May, is said to be a true crossover album.

Founder/vocalist/bassist Gary Meskil explains: "I began my musical career in 1982 as founding member and bass player for a pioneering New York "Crossover" band called CRUMBSUCKERS. I knew back then that we were on to something important, as fans of our music would ultimately include the likes of METALLICA, MEGADETH, JOE SATRIANI, ANTHRAX, PANTERA, etc... Upon founding Pro-Pain in 1991, it was important for me as an artist to further enhance and expand the "Crossover" style, and we have continued that pledge by incorporating more and more unique and tastefully applied influences throughout the course of the past 19 years and 13 PRO-PAIN studio albums. I think that we succeeded in spades on "Absolute Power" by creating a true "Crossover" album in 2010 in the modern day sense, not the retro sense". The band's newest release was recorded at Little Creek Studio in Gelterkinden, Switzerland and was produced, engineered, and mixed by V.O. Pulver (GURD). This apparently changes the band's way of working, as they have produced every album since 1996.

A new album and again (like in the past) some guests were asked for (additional) vocal input. Schmier from DESTRUCTION can be heard in "Stand My Ground", while Gianni Pontillo (PURE INC., THE ORDER) and Inga Pulver (PULVER) can be heard in "Gone Rogue". Practically all PRO-PAIN album have a playtime of +/- 40 minutes. "Absolute Power" clocks about three minutes below this marker. Not that time should be an issue, but sometimes it's nice to have a longer listening experience, so to speak.

The first track says it all: "Unrestrained". This is a typical Hardcore track, uptempo, aggressive and pounding. A great way to open the album. Fast verses contrast with a slower chorus, but the music remains energetic and powerful. There's even room for a solo, which is well done. The angry vocals of Gary and appropriate guitar- and drumwork account for an excellent result. "Destroy The Enemy" takes a melodic start with powerbursts being added. This way a sort of tension is created before all power is unleashed. Again, aggressive singing, dito guitars and variable drumming, in a rhythmic way. It's in the chorus that one can hear and feel a more normal flow of the music. At some point percussion was added to make it all grander and epic, somehow. Or was Gary merely tearing his bass strings harder than usual? The fact remains that this song as well is killer.

"Stand My Ground" features a Thrash vocalist as guest, and if the music is adjusted to that... Yep, fast riffing, pounding drums, this is a very nice Thrash/Hardcore songs indeed. Furthermore, it's catchy and energizing with once again the guitarwork standing out. Not only do you you get the usual rhythm and grooves, but the leadwork wasn't forgotten either. Top job. "Road To Nowhere" is where a lower gear was chosen. The tempo lies lower and melody plays a bigger role here (leads and solo). At some early point PANTERA comes to mind. However, the music does become more pounding in the chorus. Speaking of the solo, it's good to have it, as the song would not feel complete otherwise. It's all in all a solid song, but somehow not as attractive as the preceding ones. "AWOL", whatever the title may mean or stand for, direct, is another highlight. The music is straight-forward and aggressive, as it should be, but it's also a welcome element after "Road To Nowhere".

"Hell On Earth" is another song where melody was put in the beginning. Its midtempo start flows along like Formula 1 cars exploring the circuit while driving to the starting grid for the real race. The percussion element is present again and while the whole pounds along, the band did give the song a dark character to match the title. And it sounds great. The melodic input may come from the guitar, but Gary's singing also adds a bit of it. Before the solo moment, Rick (drums) throws in some blastbeats, which helps to make the drumpattern more varied. "Divided We Stand" is another typical uptempo Hardcore track. Very rhythmic overall, but with a melodic chorus. It's also the shortest track where no room was reserved for the solo. But that's alright, else it would have become predictable. Hence a track that's short, powerful and to the point.

And so we have come to the worst track on this album. A few preceding ones were maybe not as good as the more aggressive tracks, but this one beats them all: "Gone Rogue (I Apologize)". The songs builds with bursts, but once all's in place, you feel and hear the lack of power and energy. Instead you get more melodic music and the whole sounds like an attempt go to mainstream. Sorry, but I'll pass. Luckily it's just one track that is the rotten apple, as "Rise Of The Antichrist" brings back the balls in the music, despite the melodic input through leads and solos (twice, early on and in the last few minutes). "Hate Coalition" is a slow, but devastating song, featuring some Death Metal influences in the chorus.

As I said in the beginning, "Absolute Power" is my first real and proper encounter with PRO-PAIN's view on Hardcore. Hardcore is still a relatively new terrain for me, though I've heard a few bands that are Crossover, so to speak, like PRO-PAIN, using influences from Hardcore, Thrash, Death, ... so I can't compare this to previous works. All I know is that on "Absolute Power" the Americans deliver the goods, all things considered. It's a very solid album that should please any PRO-PAIN fan of the old material - since "No End In Sight" (2008) was said to be more melodic than before - or Hardcore fan who likes his music to be aggressive, groovy and powerful.

More info at www.myspace.com/propainspace.

Line-up:
Gary Meskil - vocals, bass
Tom Klimchuck - guitars
Marshall Stephens - guitars
Rick Halverson - drums


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STIGMA – Concerto For The Undead (Pivotal Rockordings 2010)

Stigma - Concerto For The Undead
  1. Chop His Head Off!
  2. Prove You Are A Man!
  3. ...And They Died Happily Ever After!
  4. A Monstrous Feeling
  5. The Undertaker
  6. What About A Terror Ride
  7. 3000 Years And Still Keeping It Real
  8. A Grave Situation
  9. Beat Me Maestro, Eight To The Dead!
  10. Doctor Skeleton

The Italian Deathcore band STIGMA released its second album, "Concerto For The Undead" on the 30th of April this year. This album is the follow-up to 2008's "When Midnight Strikes!", which showed the band was they were about and got them to tour extensively, including playing at the well-known Ieperfest in Belgium. Prior to that they had shared the stage with bands like MARDUK, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, JOB FOR A COWBOY, ENTOMBED, NAPALM DEATH, SOULFLY and others, and this at festivals like Wacken Open Air and Slovenia's Metal Camp. Yes, this is a repeat from the other review. Anyway, "When Midnight Strikes!" was an interesting experience (for me), although I didn't hail it as much as other reviews, yet recognized the skills and passion these guys put into their work. Musical influences ranged from a.o. THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, ARCH ENEMY, AT THE GATES, CARCASS, a sniff of MORS PRINCIPIUM EST and more, obviously Metalcore bands. But STIGMA played it differently and hard.

Getting a review copy of "Concerto For The Undead" in the mail, I was exicted to hear what these Italians would come up with now, if it would be inline with the debut album or not. In terms of recordings, production, mixing and mastering, all was changed: recordings at Fear Studio, where bands like ANCIENT BARDS, EMPYRIOS, DGM and others have recorded one or more albums, production by BRING ME THE HORIZON guitarist Jona Weinhofen and mixing/mastering duties in the hands of Scott Atkins (BEHEMOTH, CRADLY OF FILTH, SYLOSIS, ...). This lead to a richer sound, fuller and a bit more polished to make the listening run smoother. Like before a few guests were asked to add some additional (vocal) input: Jamie Hope (ex-THE RED SHORE) and Jon Hunt (ex-DEAD TO FALL) were those candidates now.

Ten tracks, all songs, no intros or outros and again a playtime that is a little over 40 minutes. With one guitarist less, it's as if the band didn't feel hindered at all. If anything, I'd say guitarist Andrea Bailo had much more freedom to play some intricate stuff, now that Morgan Ferrua isn't part of the line-up anymore. The amount of leadwork and soloing has increased a lot compared to "When Midnight Strikes!". Several listens made that clear and I can only give massive kudos to Andrea for this, also because it was an element I thought needed improving on the previous album. It goes to show that for the recordings you don't necessarily need a second guitarist, but for the live performances I think it's useful to have that second guitarist anyway. From the looks on their Facebook page, the empty spot has been filled by Giacomo "Jack" Poli. Drumwise it's again a fest for the fans of this instrument: everything is played, from cymbals to toms, from snare to kick. Variety is key, speed is variable and Stefano fills most holes flawlessly. This also helps in getting your money's worth, as standard, linear patterns are avoided. Vocally you get growls and screams. No clean singing, which might occur in other Metalcore bands, only rough/aggressive vocal work.

It all starts with the straight-forward Deathcore track "Chop his Head Off!", which has screamy vocals that are listenable, though not the most attractive. Highlights here are the pounding chorus and melodic guitarwork. "Prove You Are A Man!" starts with some leadwork covered by a radio effect, but then the volcano erupt and pounding Deathcore comes blowing out of the speakers. There's also backing vocal input and I think it's here (as a first example?) that Jamie and John can be heard. The bridge consists of crazy guitarwork and is in fact the part that was played in the beginning. The chorus is of course aggressive, but forms one big breakdown at some point. Stefano's drumwork is diverse, to say the least. Time for a kick in the rear then with "...And They Died Happily Ever After!". Yes, the tempo goes up and you get the classic humpa-rhythm. This is a very energetic and diverse track with the guitar forming the basis, while the drums add the fills. The chorus made me think of IN FLAMES and their "Whoracle" period. This is definitely one of the better tracks.

So is "A Monstrous Feeling", which to some extent reminded me of DIVINE HERESY. The rhythm is a highlight and a typical Hardcore one. Drums are extremely active here, while Vlad screams his way through the lyrics. And the quality remains in "The Undertaker", despite a rather whiney chorus. The screams sound as if possessed. Musically it's CHILDREN OF BODOM-like, in terms of Metal, not the melodic side of the Finnish band's music. It was too good to be true, but "What About A Terror Ride?" disturbs the positive line. it's a midtempo song with gutteral vocals. Somehow it's not as attractive as the assault that preceded it and it came accross as a ballad, though in a heavier jacket. Still, not a song I would put on repeat, unlike several of the other ones. But let's not cry for one song, as "3000 Years and Still Keeping it Real" throws in some blasting drumwork and dual vocals (growls and screams). Again the wild guitarwork and dito drumming returns, which seems to be characteristic for this album. Anyway, STIGMA provide the listener with a destructive, thundering and violent track here, in which there's even room for solos. Kudos for the effort!

When you're in "A Grave Situation", you need to hold on to resolve it, to get out of it. Same thing here, as the variation in rhythm, tempo and leads requires your attention. And if you oblige, you'll be rewarded. Stefano's drumwork is key to dividing each part. Without him it would be less easy to hear it all properly. Solos are present, too. The "Concerto" is far from over, as "Beat Me Maestro, Eight To The Dead!" might be a midtempo track, but the drums and guitarwork aren't going to let you sit back and relax. Neither will Vlad's venomous vocals. And if you're still alive, buckle up for "Doctor Skeleton". Drums and bass begin the song, but after that a fury is unleashed. Devastating Metal overwhelms you as you try to find your way in the storm. Both vocal types were used (growls and screams). Heavy verses are opposed to a melodic bridge and chorus, where all power is let out. Again the music was written to be varied in terms of tempo and rhythm, including the solo part.

"When Midnight Strikes!" was good, but there was room for improvement and with "Concerto For The Undead" STIGMA have indeed made improvement on several levels: guitarwork, solos, overall sound, attractiveness of the songs, etc... The music has more Melodic Death Metal influences than Metalcore, though it still floats between the two. Let it be known that, despite only about 40 minutes of playtime, you get a lot of music for your money. An hour would be overkill. Considering the band is better than before, I can now really recommend this release to anyone into this style or bands like IN FLAMES, ARCH ENEMY, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, ARCH ENEMY, AT THE GATES, HIMSA, DARKEST HOUR, and so on.

More info at www.myspace.com/stigmahc.

Line-up:
Stefano 'Vlad' Ghersi - vocals
Andrea Bailo - guitars
Flavio Magnaldi - bass
Stefano Ghigliano - drums


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LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE – The Grandiose Nowhere (Napalm Records 2010)

Lacrimas Profundere - The Grandiose Nowhere
  1. Be Mine In Tears
  2. The Letter
  3. Lips
  4. I Don't Care
  5. Her Occasion Of Sin
  6. A Plea
  7. Not For Love
  8. The Fear Of Being Alone
  9. My Little Fear
  10. Side
  11. Dead Heart Serenade
  12. No Matter Where You Shoot Me Down

The German Gothic Rock formation LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE has released a new album, "The Grandiose Nowhere", on the 30th April and again with a 2-year gap after the last one, "Songs For The Last View", which came ot two years after "Filthy Notes For Frozen Hearts". And this latter one was my first acquaintance with this band and their music. After that I added "Fall, I Will Follow" (2002)and "Ave End" (2004). "Songs For The Last View" was the first album with the new vocalist, Rob Vicatta, since Christopher Schmid couldn't combine his work with LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE and his personal life anymore. But he remained active by writing the lyrics. Whether or not he helped with the lyrics for "The Grandiose Nowhere" is unknown to me. Soundwise the band worked with John Fryer again, like on the previous two albums. That way the sound is secured and recognizable. The artwork was done by Niklas Sundin (IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY), who had already worked with the band on "Ave End".

It also seems that the line-up changed a bit, as the following people aren't mentioned: Anja Hötzendorfer aka N (female vocals), Christian Steiner (keyboards) and Daniel Lechner (bass). Then who played the bass and keyboard parts? Unless the aforementioned people recorded those, but as guests.

The songs on "The Grandiose Nowhere" are again dark, sad and melancholic, as usual, but somehow they're also quite short. It starts with "Be Mine In Tears". A serene guitar start first with the rest of the music fading until full power is activated. The typical dark atmosphere is created, also thanks to the backing keyboards. The tempo isn't high, though. Rob's voice sounds low, which it should in this genre, but has a dirty edge, if you know what I mean. The chorus is where the melody comes to life, of course not with a happy touch. Speaking of Rob's dirty voice: it's as if he exaggerates in his pronunciation. Unless that's meant to be, in view of the lyrical context. Structure-wise this song is quite simple and linear.

"The Letter" is one of the highlights, in my opinion. You get a symphonic intro, including the piano. The Rock aspect is added while the keyboards continue the leads. The pace lies higher now and all in all this is a typical LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE track. A contrast is created between slow verses and indeed, the faster chorus with the piano leadwork. Rob sings a bit higher here, but still low enough to keep it true, so to speak. The heavy guitarwork remains a vital ingredient and despite the linearity, there is enough attention for instrumental moments. "Lips" is a similar track to "The Letter" with a firm and straight-forward pace. The whole rocks! Lyrically and vocally it also sounds ballsier somehow. Drama is added through the keyboards in the bridge. This is another dark song where especially the verses stand out.

Another highlight is due then: "I Don't Care". This is a ballad with adapted (= calm) vocals and music. But then the chorus kicks in and the music gets heavier. This includes a guitar solo, inline with the sad atmosphere. But it's not once that the guitar is used to express a certain melancholy and tristesse. The piano puts the song to rest. "Her Occasion Of Sin" is a pounding Rock song, featuring low, disgusted vocals. Full power is reserved for the chorus, while keyboards fulfill a backing role in electronic waveform. As good as these two tracks were/are, "A Plea" is one of the less good songs. It's a slow, heavy song with a massive-sounding chorus that contrasts with the calmer verses. Drama is key here and Rob's singing sounds almost like sighing. Overall this is a decent song.

Another typical LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE rocker bears the title "Not For Love". All's well here: tempo, rhythm, vocals, keyboards backing. "The Fear Of Being Alone" is a midtempo song where guitars deliver the power, the piano the leads. At least, in the chorus. The verses are devoid of heaviness, yet contain a certain tension, with a little help from the keyboards. More fear in "My Fear". Here you get calm guitarwork and gentle singing in an atmosphere of melancholy, gloom, despair. Full power comes to live in the chorus, though speed is not an issue. Keyboards provide the required, though bombastic, backing. Again solid work from the Germans, but not one of the best tracks here.

"Side" begins with the piano, followed by the rest of the band. Once more a firm rhythm and pace are characteristic. Rob sings most of the lyrics, but in the chorus he gets assistance from a female vocalist (Anja?). This is one of the heaviest songs on this record. As contrast, "Dead Heart Serenade", not exactly the most brutal title, offers calm guitarwork, slow drumming, Rob's typical low voice and keyboards completing the picture. The chorus was given a ballad-ish touch. The middle section of the track is pretty silent, save for the guitar, after which power is added to let the music do the talking. A job very well done!

Since "Filthy Notes For Frozen Hearts" LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE have positively surprised me, although Gothic Rock isn't a style I regularly listen to. But I can appreciate it. With "The Grandiose Nowhere" the band has made an album with songs that are linear and simple, but make the listening experience smooth and interesting. The created atmosphere of sadness, despair and similar is something these guys are specialists in and on this new album they do it again with splendour, although I must say I was more in favour of Christopher's voice. Nevertheless, fans of this band can buy this unheard. If you need a new Gothic Rock album for your collection, LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE will help you.

More info at www.lacrimas.com.

Line-up:
Rob Vitacca - vocals
Oliver Nikolas - guitars
Tony Berger - guitars
Korl Fuhrmann - drums


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KARMA TO BURN – Appalachian Incantation (Napalm Records 2010)

Karma To Burn - Appalachian Incantation
  1. 44
  2. 42
  3. 41
  4. 46
  5. Waiting On The Western World
  6. 43
  7. 45
  8. 24
  9. Two Times

Many people are aware of the existence of KARMA TO BURN, the American trio that plays instrumental Stoner Rock. The band was formed in 1994 as an instrumental formation, but were forced by the label to hire a singer on their debut ("Karma To Burn", 1997). After that they decided it was better to continue as originally planned. Two more albums came out afterwards, the last being "Almost Heathen" in 2002. That same year KARMA TO BURN was no more, due to differences and more. The Polish label, Metal Mind Productions, released a boxset with the band's first three albums under the title "Mountain Mama's" in 2007. In 2009 the band members got back together for a reunion tour, which is said to be very successful. A DVD was made of it: "Live 2009 - Reunion Tour" and came out in December. Anno 2010 (30th April) the band is back with a new album, "Appalachian Incantation". Most of the tracks are indeed instrumental, however, on two guest vocals were recorded. They are easy to find, as those are the only ones that were given a proper title, "Waiting On The Western World" and "Two Times". Guest vocals were delivered by Daniel Davies (YEAR LONG DISASTER). The first pressing (limited to 2000 copies) also includes a special bonus CD featuring a guest performance by John Garcia (KYUSS, HERMANO, UNIDA). Production was in the hands of KYUSS bass player Scott Reeder.

KARMA TO BURN is a name I have heard several times already, but never properly checked out. Until "Appalachian Incantation", which is thus my first acquaintance with this trio and their music. With a playtime of almost 43 minutes and 9 tracks, I'd say this is long enough in terms of instrumental Rock. Most tracks were given numbers, which was done on the previous two studio albums as well, albeit in words. "44" can be seen as an AC/DC-like Rock song, Bluesy and yet with a Stoner touch. As the band is pure in terms of instrumentation, it's clear the guitar stands out, while the drums help to keep things alive and energetic. Vocals would be useful here, but it's nice to hear how they pull it off without. "42" is slower, yet not less energetic. Vocals are badly needed here, in my opinion. This track also is more melodic and could easily find a place on the radio. The straight-forward rocking around halfway helps to create that impression. "41" is a midtempo song with slow passages and lots of guitarpower. But somehow it sounds rather monotonous to me. The linear "46", which contains more melody and drive, is then a better effort.

And so we arrive at the first of the sung songs: "Waiting On The Western World". It starts slow and heavy and builds its way onwards. That by itself is done very well, and so is the rest of the track. Clean vocals and somehow this could easily have been sung by JUDAS PRIEST vocalist Rob Halford, to name one example. "43" continues the instrumental voyage in a dark and underground-ish way. To spice things up a little, a tempo boost was implemented further on. "45" is the slowest and Doomiest of the pack, yet allows for more pulling and energy halfway. A very decent track, however. "24" is another highlight, like "Waiting On The Western World". It sounds more relaxed, though with enough distortion. BLACK SABBATH came to mind here. The second half of the song contains more power and drive. Last but not least, there's "Two Times", also with vocal input. This one's also a slow song and the BLACK SABBATH influence (or similar) is present here as well.

Fans of instrumental Rock and specifically Stoner Rock will be happy with another release by KARMA TO BURN. How "Appalachian Incantation" compares to the back catalogue, I cannot tell, but this new release does offer some pleasant listening times. That is, depending on the circumstances and your taste, obviously. Vocals are needed in several songs, if you ask me, but I can understand it if the band wishes not to add them. Avoiding to be like any other band is already a reason. Still, continuing like on this newest album would be good: songs without and songs with vocals would help in making an album more attractive.

More info at www.myspace.com/karmatoburn.

Line-up:
Will Mecum - guitar
Rich Mullins - bass
Rob Oswald - drums


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KINGDOM OF DEADMEN – Black Rhapsody (Black Rhapsody Productions 2010)

KINGDOM OF DEADMEN - Black Rhapsody
  1. Wildflower
  2. There Will Be Blood
  3. Falling Angel
  4. Faith Hope Love
  5. Bullet In The Head
  6. Losing Faith
  7. Judas Kiss
  8. All Good
  9. Black Rhapsody
  10. Lust For The Kill

KINGDOM OF DEADMEN is a British Classic Rock/Metal band that plays the style with a more modern production, though with the spirit of the 60's and 70's. All members have acquired the necessary knowledge and experience over the years while playing in other bands. Earlier this year (26th april according to RockRealms.com) they released their debut album, "Black Rhapsody", through their own label Black Rhapsody Productions, although Holier Than Thou Records (holierthanthou.co.uk) decided to give the release the extra push in terms of distribution, which is how I acquired a copy of the album. The album's lyrical aspect deals with issues like abuse, revenge, love, lust and addiction summed up in the sad tail of "Wildflower", but unfolds in more detail within the rest of the songs. You'll find 10 tracks on this release, totalling a playtime of over 60 minutes, which is actually very long for a Classic Rock/Metal album.

"Black Rhapsody" kicks off with "Wildflower". An atmosphere of exotic influence is created. Mystery is added through the violin and guitar (well, it's a guitar-ish instrument, but I can't think of the name now). Afterwards the entire band falls in with a type of Rock that is reminiscent of bands like THIN LIZZY, RAINBOW and perhaps even JIMMY HENDRIX. Tony's clea, yet dirty vocals fit in perfectly with this kind of Rock. All is done very well and the you can hear the lads have the knowledge to do it properly. Even the guitar solo is proof of that. Halfway there's a break to let the vocals come out better while the guitar shakingly adds some backing melody. Drums help to rebuild through heavy tomwork, creating a very nice rhythm. And so the whole rolls on and goes back to business. A solid track to open with. And so is "There Will Be Blood". This one has got more drive, more energy, sounds funkier. The rhythm stand out and the song was clearly given the stamp "Let's rock!". The vocals are rough-edged, as can be expected. Pure cleans would do damage, no question about that. It's Rock we're talking about, not Pop. The track's very linear, straight-forward with a simple chorus, i.e. the song title. Halfway there's a change, introduced by explosions. The music sounds Bluesier with a key role for the drums (toms). Guitar solos are not forgotten, thank goodness, and to make it more comple, light organ backing was added. Afterwards it's back to the chorus and so forth to the end. So far, so very good.

"Falling Angel" is next, introduced by the organ. Punchy Rock follows in a direct and groovy manner. The overall feeling is one of having a good time. Yes, it rocks! Halfway, indeed, once more, the band decides to hit a sideway: organ first, then guitars and drums following the same melody, yet with a Rock touch. What's next? The obligatory solo. In general, another THIN LIZZY-ish kind of song. Or any other band along those lines. "Faith Hope Love" commences in a calm way with just the vocals and a shakey guitar tune in a serene and soothing atmosphere. Accoustic elements are added, while the electric power (incl. leads) is reserved for the chorus. Join the two and you get a semi-accoustic song. As usual, the performance is 1st class and that counts for the solo as well. No change halfway, but in the last part: the Rock elements are put to sleep and it's just the violin that plays the last notes in a sentimental composition.

MADE OF HATE has "Bullet In Your Head", KINGDOM OF DEADMEN opts for "Bullet In The Head". Considering the bandname, not an unlogical title. The music brings back the Rock to the tracklist. It's a midtempo track that sounds energetic, full of drive and allows the music to flow more freely in the bridge and chorus. Melody is important, not in the least through the vocals. This is definitely a highlight on this album and should be killer on stage. Solid from start to finish! "Losing Faith" has a wobbly guitarstart to begin soft and not throw the heavy tunes out instantly. These do follow soon enough with clean vocals. The instrumental aspect is again of high quality and the guitars appear to stand out more than before, not forgetting the o so vital solo. With "Judas Kiss" KINGDOM OF DEADMEN goes into a more Metal direction. The guitars sound heavier, sharper and this makes the song stand out from the other, more Classic Rock ones. For the sake of variety this is of course a good decision. The drums help with rhythm, grooves and fills. No real complaints here.

Time for some more Rock 'n' Roll then with "All Good". The tempo lies much lower than before, although the guitars seem to advance at a higher rate. The singing is where the melody is. Linearity is key, but at the same time the whole sounds rather monotonous and with the absence of solos, this is a song to forget. So it's not "All Good". With all these rocking songs, did the band think of a ballad? Yes and it's called "Black Rhapsody". The beginning is as expected: calm and relaxing with symphonic elements. The accoustic guitar and piano join in a bit later. Even if the heavier elements are added, the whole still remains a ballad. Here you do get solos again and there's even time to let the organ add input. Accoustic guitarwork is also very much present here. All in all, I don't question the skills and capabilities of the band, but this is damn long for a ballad, which doesn't help to really appreciate the song itself. Last but not least, there's "Lust For The Kill". This one has a Japanese sounding intro (flute), after which the band falls in. Yep, music with balls! Tony's rough-edged singing spews out the lyrics once more. The keyboards come to the front to add accents, but overall it's the guitars and drums that dominate. Halfway the track all gets silent in favour of an atmospheric moment. The rebuilding occurs with guitars and marching drums and somehow I got an IRON MAIDEN feeling, which just goes to show that KINGDOM OF DEADMEN don't stick to one period, but traverse the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s... in terms of (Classic) Rock and Metal.

KINGDOM OF DEADMEN is a new band to my ears. It took me a while to appreciate their music and truth be told, I'm not entirely satisfied. Fans of this style (Classic Rock) might have a better ear or impression, but as good as it all sounds and no matter how solid the execution is - and it is! - many of the songs here are simply too long. Listening to "Black Rhapsody" from the first second to the last is a tough job, in my humble opinion. Picking out songs and adding them to a playlist with other bands wil of course make it easier to enjoy the tunes. Other than that, I've got no complaints at all. If you're into bands like THIN LIZZY, SANDSTONE, Y&T, and similar, the DEADMEN should be on your list.

More info at www.kingdomofdeadmen.com and holierthanthou.co.uk.

Line-up:
Tony "Mad Dog" Mitchell - vocals, lead guitar
Rob Bridge - vocals, guitars, backing vocals
Chris Hunt - lead guitar, backing vocals
Chris Grindrod...Bass guitar, backing vocals
Mike "Ghost" Beck - drums, backing vocals


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OVERMASTER – Madness Of War (Cruz Del Sur Music 2010)

Overmaster - Madness Of War
  1. Walking Back To Hell
  2. Marble King
  3. Spartan Warriors
  4. Overlord
  5. Revolution World
  6. Jungle Of Madness
  7. Nameless Hero
  8. Children Of The Sand
  9. Battle Prayer
  10. Prophet Of War
  11. Efialths

OVERMASTER is an Italian Heavy/Power Metal band, formed in 2006 by vocalist Gustavo Adrian Gabarrò after having spent six years in the band WHITE SKULL, where he made four albums. Gus had acquired experience prior to that in the band KAISER, in his home country, Argentina. In Italy he contacted Carlos Cantatore (drums) and Puno Sicari (guitars, ex-WHITE SKULL), after which bassist Dimitri Oldani and Alexandros (keyboards) completed the line-up. Anno 2009 a 4-track demo was recorded, which convinced Cruz Del Sur Music of the band's capabilities. And so OVERMASTER's debut album became a fact. Titled "Madness Of War" it saw the light of day on the 23rd of April. Everything, from production to mastering, was done at the Fear Studios (ANCIENT BARDS, EMPYRIOS, DGM, STIGMA, ...). Lyrically the album deals with the horrors of war and its different faces through the centuries, from the Ancient Greece era ("Marble King", "Spartan Warriors", "Battle Prayer" and "Efialths") to the modern Malvinas/Falklands war ("Nameless Hero") and the young suicide children in Middle East ("Children Of The Sand").

OVERMASTER puts it like this, regarding the band: "We all have a conscience, desires and the power to change the path of our lives and those of others. OVERMASTER holds these powers, is a part of us, lives with us, is the essence of human nature, his madness and his benevolence compete on a pair of scales favored by the weight of circumstances." At least, that's the quote on top of the press text. But let's get to the music.

"Madness Of War" starts by "Walking Back To Hell". Heartbeating is used to stress the increasing adrenaline, but also the fear and presence of death. Symphonic music is used to create a sad atmosphere, a feeling that is present throughout the album, no matter how Metal the songs are. "Marble King" is where the action is, with powerful Metal and sharp leads building towards a thundering roll-out of the troops. This is Power Metal, with a capital P! At midtempo, this track is very much guitar-driven while the drums stick to a typical double bass pattern. Gus's vocals are clean, though with a rough edge, which will come out more as more songs are played. You could, to some extent, compare it with Mats Levén's voice. Gus does have an accent, though, which either is a problem to you or you ignore it and let it blend with the music. Keyboards come in at specific intervals, but it's the guitar and drumpower that dominate. Drumwise things remain pretty constant with few to no fills. The obligatory guitarsolo is well done and a necessity in this kind of music. Without it, things wouldn't be the same. You would notice something's amiss. But anyway, "Marble King" is the first of several solid tracks.

"Spartan Warrior" offers heavy riffing and thundering drums. The Metal pounds its way out of the speakers and even shifts into higher gear! This will do great in a live setting! And I would really love to see the band pull it off. The riffing is firm, so is the pace. A tempo boost kicks in in the chorus, while the bridge was built at midtempo. Overall, this song screams "Metal!". Solowise no problems at all. "Overlord" has the helicopter flying over the battlefield. Marching drums and a sad melody (strings) make it seem as a ballad or something similar is coming up, but fear not, for the power of Metal is just around the corner! Pounding along, wiping everything off the map, this is a force to reckon with. Gus sings in a rougher manner now and almost sounds hoarse. The bridge contains melodic input from the keyboards while the Metal instrumentation (guitars, drums) pounds on. However, the aforemention ballad element does come out in the chorus, inline with the sadness of it all. Even Gus adapted his voice to it. Once the solo is there, the music also gets firm and powerful again. Quality Metal assured!

The onslaught lessens a bit with "Revolution World". The melodic input is higher, especially in the intro, but also in the chorus, which was given a somewhat hymnic touch. Once the Metal takes over, the tempo remains not too high, the music very headbang-friendly. The solo, a constant in every song, is once again well done. Overall, this is a decent track, but certainly not among the strongest on this album. "Jungle Of Madness" is on that shortlist. Guitar and drums build in the beginning, in vein of QUEEN's "We Will Rock You" song and particuarly the chorus rhythm. This then makes it sound as if something massive will follow. And indeed it does, as the Metal rolls on like a big juggernaut of a machine. Dark, evil and destructive are just a few terms you can stick on the music. The bridge is slow and melodic to counter that, but the chorus picks up that massive power again. Keyboards aren't present here or anywhere else in the song. "Nameless Hero" is the ballad on this album. Accoustic at first, electric later on and both combining forces at some point. To emphasize the sadness of the context, backing strings were added. In general, an ok song, but nothing more.

"Children Of The Sand" starts with calm music, building the tension. Then the cord snaps and the power breaks out! However, nothing fast or uptempo, yet with a thick sound. The keyboards once again come in at specific moments and particularly the chorus, which has a ballad-ish feel. After the solopart, the pattern of verse-chorus is done a last time before the plug is pulled. "Battle Prayer" brings back the force and tempo. Pounding and fast, double-bass Metal is what to expect. Keyboards fulfill their backing role without problems and the guitarwork is again at the forefront of it all. As usual, the soloing is flawless. All in all, another very solid track. And so is "Prophet Of War", where energetic and powerful Metal is on the menu, yet for the sake of flavour diversity the keyboards add a melodic touch in the chorus, where the pace is decreased with a few steps. After the characteristic solo, it's back to business as usual until the end. "Efialths" ends the "Madness" with the heartbeating of the very beginning of the album. Gus's soft voice and (symphonic) string assistance come in a few second after that. The title is probably a typo, as Google offered Wikipedia suggestions to Ephialtes (click here) and Ephialtes of Trachis (click here), two seperate entries regarding historical characters. Powerful Metal is what follows, firm and solid. The chorus again holds the melodic elements. Soloing is done twice here, which does the song a lot of good.

OVERMASTER has delivered a solid debut album with "Madness Of War", if you ask me. Quality musicianship, although Gus's voice is food for discussion, and a very powerful sound. Still, he did a good job here, even if he could work on his accent. The fact that this album scream "Metal!" is another positive element in the process of reviewing. There wasn't much that bothered me, except perhaps more drum variation (accents, fills, speed) and Gus's timbre not always being the right one. Nevertheless, fans of bands like NIGHTMARE, HELSTAR, MANOWAR, PARADOX, VICIOUS RUMORS and similar - hell, why not even ANGRA or MASTERPLAN? - could find something here to quench their thirst. Fingers crossed for the follow-up, which should show if there's a future for this band. For now, "Madness Of War" is a very fine Heavy/Power Metal release.

More info at www.myspace.com/overmasterband.

Line-up:
Gustavo Adrian Gabarrò - vocals
Pino Sicari - guitars
Alexandros - keyboards
Dimitri Oldani - bass
Carlos Cantatore - drums


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KISSIN' DYNAMITE – Addicted To Metal (AFM Records 2010)

KISSIN' DYNAMITE - Addicted To Metal
  1. Addicted To Metal (feat. Udo Dirkschneider)
  2. Run For Your Life
  3. Supersonic Killer
  4. High Enough (DAMN YANKEES cover)
  5. Love Me Hate Me
  6. Hysteria
  7. All Against All
  8. In The Name Of The Iron Fist
  9. Assassins Of Love
  10. Why Can't You Hear Me
  11. We Want More
  12. Metal Nation

KISSIN' DYNAMITE is a German Heavy Metal band, formed in 2002 as BLUES KIDS, under which banner they released two records: "We Go The Way Of Rock n Roll" (2004) and the single "Blues Kids" in 2005. Anno 2007 the name was changed to KISSIN DYNAMITE. In tha same year the band sends out some 4-track CDs to music journalists, showing their Metal, influended by bands like MÖTLEY CRÜE, HAMMERFALL, MANOWAR and similar. In the summer of 2008 the debut album, "Steel Of Swabia", sees the light of day. One of the people who seems to be very enthusiastic about the band's music and live performance is ex-ACCEPT, U.D.O. vocalist Udo Dirkschneider. He offers them a spot on the tour in 2009. Several gigs and ideas later, the sophomore album is out: "Addicted To Metal". EMI released it on the 26th of March in some countries (incl. Germany and Japan), but AFM Records saw hail in this band and offered to released it on other soil as well on the 26th of April.

And so, another band I can add to my list of "personal discoveries". "Addicted To Metal" is a cheesy title, we all know that and the saying goes that you may not judge a book (CD in this case) by its cover (title in this case). Open-minded as I try to be, it didn't take me long to write something. KISSIN' DYNAMITE's Metal is based on 80's Metal (a bit of Glam, but foremost classic Heavy Metal), but since we're 2010, the production was kept as modern as possible, without ruining the feel, the nostalgia of the past. It all starts with a simple and straight-forward track, "Addicted To Metal", which sounds very much like it could have been written by MANOWAR. Whether or not that's a compliment, is up to you. I'm merely drawing a reference here. Recent U.D.O. material could also apply to the similarity. On top of that, U.D.O. frontman Udo Dirkschneider sinds a few lines in this song. However, it's good to hear it once, maybe twice. More listens make it boring, if I may say so.

"Run For Your Life" is a better song, offering galopping midtempo Metal. It surely an stand the test of a few listens. The chorus is good and overall this is one of those songs that are well-suited to cruise along to. The guitarwork stands central here and is well done, including the soloing. "Supersonic Killer" adds a bit of tension in the beginning and you might expect a rather speedy track. Sadly it isn't so. But the Metal sounds ballsier and reminds of the classic list of bands (MANOWAR, GAMMA RAY, ACCEPT, ...). The overall rhythm is a highlight. The band slows down a bit in the bridge to hit the pedal again in the chorus. Simplicity is also key here, in terms of structure. The soloing is the cherry on the cake, but also very vital for the song itself. Repetition of the chorus is a classic composition in all the tracks on this album.

"High Enough" is a DAMN YANKEES cover. It's a slow rocker, a ballad even, despite some heavier guitarwork. It sounds good, but cheesy. Might be a contradiction, but it's not. "Love Me Hate Me" brings back the Rock aspect. The 80's atmosphere is omnipresent again and this could be one hell of a stadium anthem. It will certainly do well live, without a doubt. Here as well, the band added a small break before returning at full force. The chorus gets repeated in the last part, but since it's all written in sing-along style, no worries about that. "Hysteria", not to be confused with EDGUY's "Mysteria", is another ballsy Rock song. It's hymnic and actually quite energizing despite the slow tempo. The rhythm stands out and the chorus contains a small tempo boost. Musically this is similar to FREEDOM CALL, GAMMA RAY, HEAVENLY and the likes. The guitarwork is top notch, last but not least.

The bass gets the starting position in "All In All", while the Metal is added in bursts, creating a bit of tension. This is an epic song, not really fast, but again very MANOWAR-like. The epicness can be foremost be found in the chorus. Also, the song was given a hymnic character. The obligatory soloing wasn't forgotten and has so far always been a positive addition. KISSIN' DYNAMITE even added a historical touch to the tracklist: "In The Name Of The Iron Fist" is about the legendary Swabian knight Götz von Berlichingen. see Wikipedia (click here) for more info or Google his name and you'll find other sources with information. This song takes a slow start, but the power breaks loose once the Metal is added. The guitarwork sounds sharper than before and overall the music is ballsier again with a bombastic chorus. The characteristic, here hymnic, break was implemented as well before the force of Metal comes back. The soloing is as expected, flawless.

"Assassins Of Love" is indeed a love song, a ballad. But at the same time it's got a rather Folky rhythm, similar to ALESTORM, for example. The overall pace is slow and melodies are a vital factor, not only through the soloing. A pretty good song, yet nothing to brag about. "Why Can't You Hear Me" is another ballad with the musical power stored in the chorus. "We Want More" is a typical shout at events, gigs, and so on. Here the Germans used it for a ballsy Metal track. Vocally you get high-pitched screams, which do annoy rapidly, at least to my ears. And last but not least, there's "Metal Nation". Yes, hundreds of songs have been written about Metal, about being part of a community and so on. Obviously, you can't sing about Metal and not have the music follow along. Hence anothe powerful song to end with and hymnic at the same time, which is a must in such a case, no matter how cheesy it all is.

A new discovery and a pretty neat one. KISSIN' DYNAMITE plays 80's Heavy Metal reminiscent of bands like MANOWAR, GAMMA RAY (not the fast, Power Metal GAMMA RAY), ACCEPT, U.D.O., GRAVE DIGGER, and so on, with a touch of Glam. The production for "Addicted To Metal" was done properly for 2010, while keeping the 80's feel intact. KISSIN' DYNAMITE is not for Metalheads who like sophisticated or intricate Metal alone. If you seek something light(er) and simple (i.e. it doesn't require much active listening to dissect it all) to listen to from time to time, then "Addicted To Metal"can be a help. It's not the world's best release in this genre, but it does the job.

More info at www.myspace.com/kissindynamiterocks.

Line-up:
Johannes Braun - vocals
Andre Braun - guitar
Jim Müller - guitar
Steffen Haile - bass
Andreas Schnitzer - drums


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SOLUTION .45 – For Aeons Past (AFM Records 2010)

Solution .45 - For Aeons Past
  1. The Close Beyond
  2. Gravitational Lensing
  3. Through Night - Kingdomed Gates
  4. For Aeons Past
  5. Lethean Tears
  6. Bladed Vaults
  7. Wirethrone
  8. On Embered Fields Adust
  9. Into Shadow
  10. Clandestinity Now

SOLUTION .45 is a Swedish Metal band that is said to play Modern Metal. It does sound modern indeed, but the music consists of influences from several genres. The band was formed in 2007, thanks to the joining of forces by Christian Ävestam (ex-SCAR SYMMETRY, UNMOORED, MISERATION, TORCHBEARER) Jani Stefanovic (ex-DIVINEFIRE, MEHIDA, ESSENCE OF SORROW, MISERATION), Anders Edlund (ex-SOLAR DAWN), Rolf Pilve (ESSENCE OF SORROW), Tom Garinder (ESSENCE OF SORROW, ex-MORS PRINCIPIUM EST) and Mikko Harkin (ex-SONATA ARCTICA, KOTIPELTO). Lots of ESSENCE OF SORROW members here, no? This new formation recorded an 8-track demo, which caused lots of positive comments from fans and others. AFM Records saw the potential and signed the band, despite an album only being scheduled for recording in the fall of 2009.

"For Aeons Past" is the title of this album, which came out on the 9th of April. DARK TRANQUILLITY vocalist Mikael Stanne contributed in terms of lyrics and a few guest vocals. The release counts 10 songs and a total playtime of a good 60 minutes. In other words, you get a lot of music for your money. Christian is known for his dual-sided vocals (cleans and growls) and here he was, I gather, more free to use them whenever he saw them fit, whereas in previous bands he might have been constrained to a certain extent. But that's merely guessing from my part. I can only write down my own interpretations. I did find it strange to read that Christian didn't write the lyrics himself, but if I recall correctly he did mention in an interview he likes it best that way, as he prefers to focus on his vocal performance. Still, Mikael Stanne is a good lyrics writer, so no worries there.

It starts with the fading-in guitars of "The Close Beyond", but soon the power sets in and you're bound to feel it. Crushing riffing with slow, but dangerous drumming. Keyboards only come in for sprinkle some accents or backing here and there. Christian's clean singing sounds very good, but he manages to perfectly counter them with his typical growls. This joint-venture (vocals - music) works perfectly. Although it's a midtempo song, it contains a lot of energy and might. The chorus is powerful all the way and things get even more brutal over halfway, as the guitars sound almost DIVINE HERESY-like. But there's also a more melodic side to this specific part and for each part Christian uses either his clean or rough voice. There's even time for a proper guitarsolo to spice the song a bit more. All in all this is a good opening track and shows the catchiness that will characterize SOLUTION .45.

"Gravitational Lensing" offers pounding Metal with a bigger role for the keyboards. They remain silent in the verses, as that's where it's Metal time: ballsy music with (of course) growling vocals. The bridge and chorus are clean-sung and the music also allows for more melodic input. It all sounds rather emotional, maybe introspective even. It certainly does not create an image of a sunny day and everybody laughing and enjoying the beautiful weather. The massive guitarwork and pounding drums are however key ingredients here. Halfway it's solotime, followed by calm music and clean singing, as if to let the massiveness of it all come to rest, or let the listener properly grasp it all before the sad sounding Metal kicks in again. This sounds so good.

The main part of "Through Night - Kingdomed Gates" is actually copy-pasting from EVERGREY's "Blinded". The riffing, the melodies, the drumming. Either the band for permission from Tom and co. from EVERGREY or this is a rather, if not very, lame attempt to create a song. As I don't know how it all occured, I won't comment any furter on this. Not that it sounds bad, not at all. It's just that this creates a wrong impression. Clean vocals in the verses, growls in the bridge and cleans again in the chorus, as if a certain wave is set in motion. It sounds epic, and yes, massive! As we're dealing with extreme Metal, if you listen closely, you can hear Rolf (drummer) adding accents through various cymbals (splashes, stacks, those sort of things) to keep the music interesting enough. Around the middle of the track a demonic piece is played: heavy riffing, "danger" containing keyboards and bestial growls. The obligatory solo follows after that. Near the end, you may even hear a Metalcore breakdown, but not as extreme as some real Metalcore bands do it.

Title track time! And also one that gives a boost to the music at this stage, which is a very good thing. It's a fast(er) track with double bass and the Metal rolling on, unstoppable. Aggressive verses with the typical growls and atmospheric backing in a gentle manner. The bridge is where the melody comes out more and both vocal types are represented. The chorus on the other hand is short and brutal. Solotime is set around the middle, as seems to be custom in practically all the songs so far. A clean-sung, melodic part follows, but that soon gets covered by dark clouds represented in the form of heavy, dark Metal. Speaking of dark, "Lethean Tears" isn't eactly the most bright and uplifting title either, is it? The music is accordingly: gloomy, depressive, sad and more along those lines. Clean vocals are used, naturally, while keyboards provide the right backing and the guitarwork has shed its wolf skin, so to speak and the drums have shifted into a much lower gear. The power does come out in the chorus, but never to disturb to general flow or atmosphere. Somehow I got an EVERGREY vision. Keyboards later take on the lead while guitar counter and even insert a solo. All in all a good song, but not the best on this album.

"Bladed Vaults" brings back the Metal and how! At first it's as if the Swedes listened carefully to (old) DREAM THEATER and SYMPHONY X, but the vocal power (to name one element) is clearly different and bigger in SOLUTION .45. The music also is given a darker touch, despite the keyboard backing. The music flows more freely in the chorus, where it seems to breathe better. Plus, a good injection of catchiness was added. Christian's singing sounds sad, like a cry for help, but you cannot deny the impact it has. All deliver solid work, no doubt about that. Even the sweeping solo is well done. Mikael Stanne makes a guest appearance here, over halfway. The last part of the track is filled with Metalcore-ish guitarwork. Another solid track, but like "Lethean Tears" not among the best. The following four tracks are better positioned for that list.

In need of more aggression, brutality, devastation? Then you have to check out "Wirethrone". Its start contains exactly the aforementioned elements. The verses are calm at first, but guitars are added in a later instant, and sound like the calm before the storm, which follows not long after. Obviously, Christian must then use his growling vocals to fit the description. The guitarriffing is very tastey here, let that be clear. The chorus is dark and again sprinkled with an emotional touch. It's slow and melodic and the growls sound as if in agony. A job very well done! And yes, over halfway, it's solotime. "On Embered Fields Adust" felt like (old) DREAM THEATER on speed to me at first, judging by the keyboard melody. Not in terms of tempo, though. But still, this is another energetic and powerful track. Powerful Metal in the verses, yet with clean vocals, while brutality and aggression are kept for the bridge with Mikael Stanne and Christian joining forces, rather screaming the lyrics. The chorus is then for Christian's clean vocals, assisted by pounding, melodic Metal. The wild solo spices up the song a bit more. The music and vocal lines sound rather similar to that of "Bladed Vaults", but that only means this is another solid song.

Two more songs, one relatively short, the other the longest of the pack (over 16 minutes). Let's start with "Into Shadow". Guitars set in, covered by a radio effect, creating tension in that way. But then the effect is deactivated and full power is unleashed. Bursting Metal, pounding onwards with bombast. This alone sounds pretty eargasmic. The verses are slow, melodic and quite calm, featuring another great vocal performance. Emotional power is set to erupt in the bridge, while the growls are used in the chorus, home to core of the song's power. The guitarsolo this time is preceded by a spacey keyboard solo, which somehow serves as an intro, paving the way for the guitar. Overall, the tempo remains slow. But the song itself is another highlight on a very worthy debut album.

And last, but certainly not least: "Clandestinity Now". Keyboards lay out the first notes and melodies, with the Metal coming in in steps to finally found the proper gear and roll on. The power is devastating and the growls only confirm this. Atmospherically it's dark and almost futuristic. Clean vocals are used as if to express a certain drama of it all. The bridge is done in semi-accoustic manner, while the chorus is ballsier. And so split each part, a guitar solo was added. Mind you, the transition into each part of the song occures flawlessly. Spotless. To not let the guitars get all he attention, Mikko (keyboards) pushes to the front through the piano, for example. But SOLUTION .45 is mostly about the Metal instrumentation: guitars and drums. Clean and growling vocals take turns with appropriate music to guide them. With less than 6 minutes to go, all falls silent and atmospheric sounds take over. This part sounds soothing, tranquil, even meditational. The accoustic guitar comes into play once more for a sentimental piece. A solo follows, inline with the general feel of the previous part and gradually the song is rebuilt towards the bridge and chorus, before putting an end to it. The great thing about this song is that you don't even feel/hear it's so long, as the band manages to keep the situation as diverse, catchy and interesting as possible.

Often when I hear or read about Modern Metal, I get images of bands that incorporate/use/play Rap, samples, Metalcore, Nu-Metal, etc... But it's different with a band like SOLUTION .45. It sounds very modern, but its view on Modern Metal comes from combining elements from Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Metal, Metalcore (the few examples I mentioned above), Power Metal. Or, if you're into bands like (old) EVERGREY, DREAM THEATER, SYMPHONY X, DIVINEFIRE, SCAR SYMMETRY and similar, SOLUTION .45 is a band you must check. No desire to listen to young bands keeping old school alive, but willing to check new material anyway, then give "For Aeons Past" a chance, for it is, in my humble opinion, truly one of the highlights of 2010. The offered quality is undeniable!

More info at www.myspace.com/solution45.

Line-up:
Christian Älvestam - vocals
Jani Stevanovic - guitars
Tom Gardiner - guitars
Anders Edlund - bass
Rolf Pilve - drums


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SVARTSOT – Mulmets Viser (Napalm Records 2010)

Svartsot - Mulmets Viser
  1. Æthelred
  2. Lokkevisen
  3. Havfruens Kvad
  4. Højen På Glødende Pæle
  5. På Odden Af Hans Hedenske Sværd
  6. Laster Og Tarv
  7. Den Svarte Sot
  8. Kromandes Datter
  9. Grendel
  10. Jagten
  11. Lindisfarne
  12. I Salens Varme Glød

The Danish Folk Metal band SVARTSOT is back. Three years after their very nice debut album, "Ravnenes Saga" ("Saga Of The Ravens"), lots of gigs and the majority of the line-up seeking other endeavours, guitarist and main composer/lyricist Cris J.S. Frederiksen was left alone to find new members to keep SVARTSOT alive. That all happened in the fall of 2008, after the Ragnaröks Aaskereia tour. Whistler Stewart Lewis announced that he would be taking a break from the band for an indefinite period. The rest of the pack, except Cris, followed his lead: Claus B. Gnudtzmann (vocals), Michael L. Andersen (guitars), Martin Kielland-Brandt (bass) and Niels P. Thøgersen (drums). They were replaced by Thor Bager (vocals), Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen (whistles, accordion, mandolin), Cliff Nemanim (guitars), James Atkin (bass) and Danni Lypse Jelsgaard (drums). James Atkin contributed to half of the new album's lyrics.

This new line-up entered the studio of Lasse Lammert in October 2009, where "Mulmets Viser" was recorded, produced, mixed and mastered. Lasse earlier worked with the Scottish Folk/Power Metal band ALESTORM. The release date was set on the 26th March. Lyrically the songs deal once again with myths, history, feuds and more tales of Danish history, mythlogy and folklore. The Folk instrumentation makes the picture complete. The album's title can be translated as "Songs Of The Darkness". The tracklist is full of Danish titles, but in English it's something like below. The English translations of the lyrics can be found on the band's MySpace blog: here, here and here.

English tracklist:

01. Æthelred
02. The Ballad Of Enticement
03. Lay Of The Mermaid
04. The Mound On Glowing Pillars
05. At The Point Of His Pagan Sword
06. Vices And Needs
07. The Black Sickness
08. The Landlord's Daughter
09. Grendel
10. The Hunt
11. Lindisfarne
12. In The Hall's Warm Glow

"Æthelred" commences the album accoustically and already you can feel the Folk touch. Toms fall in to create that extra tension before full power is unleashed. The track is one of powerful midtempo Metal where guitars dominate, yet allow the flute to play its part more than enough, especially in the chorus. SVARTSOT is a (melodic) Death Metal band, so growls are needed, just like before. All in all a very decent starting song, but the flute is the element that is - to my ears - a bit overused here. "Lokkevisen" contains sharper guitarwork and the overall tempo was decided to be higher. In short: this song rocks! And offers a great atmosphere, ambiance if you will, in the positive sense. Like enjoyment. Over halfway there's an accoustic intervention before accelerating again with full power. No flute to discover here, which is good. Also because this instrument is not needed here. "Lokkevisen" is the first highlight.

With "Havfruens Kvad" SVARTSOT play the first humpa song of the album. Guitars and flute take on the leads. FINNTROLL comes to mind, not because of the leads, but the overall feel. In the intro or first part the accoustic guitar aids with the rhythm aspect. The flute returns in the chorus. Heavy guitarwork is key throughout the song, but halfway the track the music turns accoustic (incl. the flute) and you get "laylaylay..." singing, guided by the flute, to close off. No. 2 for the shortlist of highlights. Carrying on with "Højen På Glødende Pæle" then. Here you get heavy riffing and building via the toms. The tempo lies low and the flute leads once more. AMON AMARTH was one of the bands that came to mind on "Ravnenes Saga" and it's no different here. To avoid the music being heavy all the way, Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen added some mandolin input. In previous songs the flute played a role in the chorus, here it gets to lead in the verses and chorus, where it forms a couple with the mandolin. The bridge is all about the Metal instrumentation. One comment about the drumwork: it's solid and quite varied, to be honest, even if the guitars take the lion share in terms of spotlight attention.

"På Odden Af Hans Hedenske Sværd" sounds like a heavier version of AMON AMARTH. This song's firm and straight-forward, although it allows for a subtle melodic injection in the bridge and chorus, where the music goes into a humpa/Thrashy direction. The music here is all about pounding and heavy guitars or a very nice piece of powerful Metal! To make the setting more alive, sounds of a fire/campfire were used in "Laster Og Tarv" before heavy guitars and leads fall in. The flute has returned, oh yes. Musically FINNTROLL makes for another good comparison. The rhythm is of the humpa-kind, helping to create an overall good vibe. Musically, that is, because the lyrics..., well, you could indeed attach a good vibe to it. Lyrically it's about a man who can't be tethered by his wife. Although the basic instrumentation (guitars and drums) already do a good job, the flute leads complete the picture, even if this instrument isn't really that necessary. The verses are occupied by sawing guitars and growling vocals. The flute forms a couple with the guitars in the chorus. Somehow I think it would have been better to replace the flute by another Folk instrument, mainly because the high notes can annoy pretty rapidly.

The drums set in "Den Svarte Sot", which feels and sounds very ballad-ish. The accoustic guitar is used, the pace is slow and despite heavier guitars being added later on, it's indeed a ballad. The flute offers accents and leadwork. At this stage, it's good to hear a slow song. And yet I have to comment on the flute again: depending on this instrument alone becomes tedious, in my humble opinion. To break the flow a bit, a storm was added over halfway, making the music turn darker and ritualistic, so to speak. Growls then also are replaced by more venomous singing/speaking. All in all, another decent job. But...ditch the flute, guys. Seriously. Time for "Kromandes Datter" to add another powerful kick to the tracklist. It also incorporates melody for obvious reasons and not only to contrast the heavy riffing. Even the accoustic guitar is used to add accents. Pluspoints here are the rhythm and tempo and even if there's no flute or other Folk instrument, the music does feel very Folkish. There's even time for a guitar solo, something one can only applaud, even if, indeed, not all songs need solos. But here it gives that extra touch to the song. The chorus is, once again, reminiscent of FINNTROLL's music. This is highlight no. 4.

"Grendel" also contains the campfire or hearth. Guitarleads and growls are the first that set in, followed by the bass and then all levers are activated. Slow at first, but going into humpa-mode in true KORPIKLAANI-style, including the accordion. It's like KORPIKLAANI-meets-FINNTROLL. The drumming is of the active kind here. In fact, this is such an active song it's hard to sit still while listening to it. Unless you really have no feeling for music or rhythm in your genes. Unlike the other songs, this one's short, but powerful. And yes, another track for the list of highlights. So is "Jagten", another humpa Metal song with sharp and heavy riffing. The flute pops up in the chorus, where the Metal flows onwards at a slower rate. The verses are the best part, though, mainly because of the rhythm. "Lindisfarne", a song about the Vikings' attack on the monastery in 793 AD, is the last of the highlights. It's a midtempo Folk Metal track, the Folk touch being demonstrated perfectly through the basic instrumentation. Sort of like TÝR. The accoustic guitar is added for accents. Both guitar versions join forces around the middle in a great instrumental part before going back to business as usual. "I Salens Varme Glød" ends the album. This too is a midtempo track, sort of similar to "Lindisfarne", though with a slow flute-lead chorus. As good as the music is played, I felt the song being too long.

"Ravnenes Saga" was a very nice debut album and there were practically no elements that made me think of improvements. Obviously my expectations for the follow-up, "Mulmets Viser", were high, although I was a bit skeptic after seeing the line-up being changed drastically. My worries were partly right. "Mulmets Viser" has a very good production and musicianship. Nothing wrong there. But somehow I expected a bit more musical variation. Less flute would be good and perhaps more different Folk instrumentation. Even ELUVEITIE uses more different instruments and according to the song. However, even if the use of Folk instruments is limited, don't hang on to the same element too much. Anyway, if you're into bands like AMON AMARTH, FINNTROLL, KORPIKLAANI and so on, SVARTSOT will appeal to your taste. Still, I recommend "Ravnenes Saga" above "Mulmets Viser". Let's give the band the benefit of doubt and blame the freshness of this new line-up. In other words, the follow-up to "Mulmets Viser" should be better.

More info at www.svartsot.dk.

Line-up:
Thor Bager - vocals
Cris J.S. Frederiksen - guitars
Cliff Nemanim - guitars
Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen - whistles, accordion, mandolin
James Atkin - bass
Danni Lyse Jelsgaard - drums


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NEVERLAND – Ophidia (AFM Records 2010)

Neverland - Ophidia
  1. This Voice Inside
  2. Silence The Wolves
  3. Ophidia
  4. Will Of God
  5. Invisible War
  6. Places Unknown
  7. No One Leaves The Hive
  8. Speak To Me
  9. Ashes To Fall
  10. Final Odyssey
  11. Into The Horizon

In 2008 the Greek/Turkish Progressive Power Metal band NEVERLAND released its debut album, "Reversing Time". NEVERLAND is actually the Turkish Progressive Power Metalband DREAMTONE and the Greek vocalist Iris Mavraki. Since 2006 they combined their forces to create a new band. On the debut several guests could be heard: Hansi Kürsch (BLIND GUARDIAN), Tom Englund (EVERGREY), Mike Baker and Gary Wehrkamp (R.I.P.) of SHADOW GALLERY. For the new album, "Ophidia" (out since the 26th of March) the band asked Jon Oliva (SAVATAGE, JON OLIVA'S PAIN, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA), Edu Falschi (ANGRA, ALMAH) and Urban Breed (ex-TAD MOROSE, BLOODBOUND, PYRAMAZE) to be the guest vocalists.

Previously NEVERLAND wanted to create music based on Fantasy worlds, away from the daily lives they and we lead. But that changes as "Ophidia" tells the story of evil lurking within the society and in general the evil within mankind, according to the band. The fantasy touch of the debut is gone as the band is heading towards more reality-based topics with this new release. "Reversing Time" was a nice release, although I found the production a bit too compressed, mainly on the drums. Other than that, I didn't have any real complaints. Logically my expectations for "Ophidia" are/were high enough to expect a solid follow-up to the debut album.

The adventure kicks off with a Progressive song, "This Voice Inside". According to a blog post on the band's MySpace page (click here) the first song, "This Voice Inside" is about the main character of Robert Jordan's "Wheel Of Time" series. Ok, so the band did not entirely leave the Fantasy aspect behind them. The piano is the first instrument to come out of the speakers, laying out a ballad-ish melody. Iris adds a spoken part while the music turns more dancy, increasing in power and activeness as the Metal falls in. Keyboards provide the melody, the guitars counter with riffing. The chorus is rather sad and vocalist Oganalp Canatan creates that mood even more. The music is reminiscent of bands like DREAM THEATER. Solos were not forgotten and are present in a large enough quantity over halfway, on offer by both the guitars and keyboards. All in all a decent track to begin with.

"Silence The Wolves" takes a heavy, thundering start with dooming, twirling guitarwork. The pace is set at midtempo with faint keyboard backing. Oganalp takes the lead vocals, while soft piano leads linger in the back. What's important is that it's a heavier track than the first one. Melody reign in the chorus and all in all there are some nice harmonies to be found in this song. The contrast between the guitars and keyboards, which do sound soft (production or mix error?), is well done. Over halfway there's a keyboard break in the form of piano and harpsichord, assisted by the accoustic guitar. A dual guitar solo is planned for the next course. So far, so good. "Ophidia" is a longer track, starting with a keyboard intro, the Metal power is added a bit later. The overall atmosphere is dark and heavy with Oganalp's singing being more ballsy, if you can use that word here. The guitar solo over halfway adds a nice touch to the whole. But somehow this track isn't as appealing as the previous two. Mainly the production is the culprit of this feeling.

"Will Of God" puts all electric power aside and gives room for an accoustic side of NEVERLAND. Iris and Oganalp sing a duet and the whole sounds very ballad-ish. In this context the use of a flute can add a special touch, while the piano offers backing support. The band may have put lots of effort in this song, but for me it doesn't cut it. I had to avoid dozing off, despite the short playtime of barely 3 minutes. But things get a bit better with the Folky Power Metal track "Invisible War". Here you can clearly hear Jon Oliva on vocals. I didn't check where Urban and Edu can be heard (here or other songs), mainly because my overall impression of this album isn't high. The chorus of "Invisible War" sounds quite awkward. I mean, it fits if you listen well, but it sounds strange. Perhaps that was the idea. Symphonic elements make this part fuller. The "lalala" part with the guitar leading is nice, as it adds a positive touch to the song. In general, this is a pretty alright track.

Time for another accoustic intervention, this time in the intro of "Places Unknown". The epic touch comes later. Oganalp's vocal input is, simply put, weak! Not that it sounds pushed to the back, it just lacks balls, he isn't the right man for this song. Melody and atmosphere play overall another key role. Not only the intro, but also later on the band implemented some accoustic twists and at those occasions the spotlights are on Iris. "Places Unknown" is not a bad song, but it's exactly super either. In "No One Leaves The Hive" the Turkish added an Eastern touch in the intro, almost Chinese-like, if you know what I mean. Epicness in melodic form follows soon enough. Somehow, however, this song bores rapidly, despite the active music. The singing is a big annoyance here, while the instrumentation sounds...well...messy. "No One Leaves The Hive"? I couldn't be out soon enough.

"Speak To Me" is a bassy midtempo track with nice leads. But again the singing sounds weak. The verses are quite atmospheric, even contain accoustic twists. Both Iris and Oganalp occupy the chorus. Lots of attention was given to instrumental talk here, including solos. Overall, an ok song. We had Jon Oliva in "Invisible War". That was the first SAVATAGE-touch/influence. A second one can be found in "Ashes To Fall", which could have been an old SAVATAGE track. Here the band added orchestral backing. The guitars deliver nice work, together with the orchestral elements. The singing remains the weakest element. "Ashes To Fall" is a farily epic sounding song and to me one of the best tracks on this album, if it weren't for the vocals.

Two more tracks then. "Final Odyssey" sounds like a title that is promising quite a bombastic and epic song, almost like SYMPHONY X's "The Odyssey" (2002). But the first elements already destroy that thought: drum samples and piano leads. What the ...? Samples? Like in Pop songs? Yes, sad but true. It's one thing to use drum samples, it's another to do it like mainstream music. Once heaviness kicks in, things get a bit better, but never exciting. Mediocre over the entire line, I'd say, despite the Metal input from the guitars. This song is an example of how not to me an epic hymn. No, the accoustic accents don't help to change my impression. Can at least "Into The Horizon" end the album in style? Well, it's a fully instrumental track, so that already makes the weak singing of before a non-issue. The orchestrations add an epic touch to the whole, while the stop-start Metal acts as powerforce. As a whole, this is quite an alright song. No ending in style, but it's decent enough.

NEVERLAND released a follow-up to "Reversing Time" and it's called "Ophidia". Expectations were high enough after the fairly good debut album, although the production could have been less compressed. On the sophomore release the Greek/Turkish band tried to go for something more epic, symphonic without forgetting the ProgPower aspect that is vital in such songs. The production hasn't improved, as it didn't make the songs more Metal than before, rather chose to soften them or better, the instruments. There might be some good ideas here and there, but there's nothing memorable here, nothing that sticks. The singing lacks power in many cases, the drums sound like a kid's toy drum, the guitars were smothered and the keyboards... "Ophidia" could have been a great release, but in both domains, compositions and production (or overall sound), NEVERLAND apparently got mislead by their GPS system. For those who do like the album, the first edition contains two bonus tracks, "The Forests Of Hope" and "Dying Threads".

More info at www.in-neverland.com.

Line-up:
Iris Mavraki - vocals
Oganalp Canatan - vocals
Onur Ozkoc - guitars
Burak Kahraman - guitars
Guney Ozsan - keyboards
Can Dedekarginoglu - bass
Emrecan Sevdin - drums


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HEIDEVOLK – Uit Oude Grond (Napalm Records 2010)

Heidevolk - Uit Oude Grond
  1. Nehalennia
  2. Ostara
  3. Vlammenzee
  4. Gelders Lied
  5. Dondergod
  6. Reuzenmacht
  7. Alvermans Wraak
  8. Karel Van Egmond
  9. Levenlots
  10. Deemstering
  11. Beest Bij Nacht

HEIDEVOLK is a Dutch Folk Metal band, formed in 2002 and have so far three albums out: "De Strijdlust is Geboren" (2005), "Walhalla Wacht" (2008), which I reviewed in 2008, and the newest, "Uit Oude Grond" (2010), out since the 26th of March. To look back, I found their debut not that bad, but the vocals were a bit too monotonous for my taste. The follow-up was better and my impression thus positive, although I still had some minor, trivial problems with it. Hearing Metal in Dutch remains a weird experience, but HEIDEVOLK do it in such a way that you can only respect it. I managed to see the band live (my first HEIDEVOLK gig) at Frostrock last December and truth be told, I was amazed at not only the popularity with the crowd, but the band's performance as well. This was so much better than what I heard on the albums. It made songs more powerful, more alive. Hence my changed impression of how to look at HEIDEVOLK. Live gigs usually have this sort of impact, no?

Anyway, a new year, a new album: "Uit Oude Grond". In English: "From Old Soil". Like before, many of the songs are based on local history (Gelderland) or Norse/German mythology. The first track, "Nehalennia", is about a Germanic/Celtic goddess of which Wikipedia (click here) mentions the following (excerpt): "Nehalennia (spelled variously) is a Germanic or Celtic goddess attested by votive deposits discovered around what is now called the province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, where the Rhine River flowed into the North Sea, whose worship dates back at least to the 2nd century BC, and who flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Nehalennia is attested on 28 inscriptions discovered in the Dutch town of Domburg, a similar number discovered between 1971 and 1972 in the town of Colijnsplaat, and 2 others from the Cologne-Deutz area of what is now Cologne, Germany. In August 2005, a replica of the Nehalennia temple near the lost town of Ganuenta was opened in Colijnsplaat. Asteroid 2462, or 6578 P-L, is named after the goddess, as is a corona on Venus." The song itself takes a direct start and instantly puts itself in the Rock category. It's Heavy Metal with the Folk aspect coming from the guitars. The Metal itself can be compared to THIN LIZZY meets SAXON meets IRON MAIDEN. An accoustic and Folk-tuned break was neatly implemented, occupied by the violin and horns. Catchiness is important with a band like HEIDEVOLK as lots of their power lies in live gigs. Therefore the chorus was written so the crowd can sing along. Total epicness. After that the violin assists the guitarists with the Folk melodies. Dual singing is what makes HEIDEVOLK stand out from other Folk Metal bands and I have to say that Joris and Mark do an excellent job here. Contrary to the catchy chorus, the verses are rather firm. Another Folk break comes along, this time semi-accoustic with the violin on leads while the Metal instrumentation carries on slowly. To avoid a certain linearity the band shifted gears a bit and went for a galopping approach in the last few minutes, which is very well done. As the lyrics are about a sea goddess, waves carry the band to another goddess: Ostara.

Wikipedia (click here) mentions the following (excerpt): "Old English Eostre (also Eastre) and Old High German Ôstarâ are the names of a putative Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Eostur-monath, has given its name to the festival of Easter. Eostre is attested only by Bede, in his 8th century work De temporum ratione, where he states that Eostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honor during Eostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the "Paschal month." The possibility of a Common Germanic goddess called *Austron-, reflecting the name of the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, Hausos, was examined in detail in 19th century Germanic philology, by Jacob Grimm and others, without coming to a definite conclusion. Subsequently scholars have discussed whether or not Eostra is an invention of Bede's, and produced theories connecting Eostra with records of Germanic Easter customs (including hares and eggs)." About the song "Ostara": it starts with slow, heavy riffing, in vein of BLACK SABBATH. When leads fall in, FALCONER comes to mind. And then we're off at midtempo and dancy rhythm. The singing is low and drums were given lots of attention, especially because of the toms. Hence putting them high in the mix. Guitars are the main instrumentation, however, and the overall driving force. Around haflway there's a guitar break, also incorporating a bit of tension to unleash full intensity in the form of blasts. A move I can highly appreciate. Music is the big talker here, although vocals do get their chances. Once the blasts are over - well, before the reload a bit later -, it's back to midtempo Metal and hymnic singing. Intro and outro are alike and thus the goddess is left behind like she was approached.

You don't want to stay on flames too long, hence the speedier tempo in "Vlammenzee" ("Sea Of Flames"). It's a double-bass Power Metal song, but with added heaviness/roughness, similar to bands like FALCONER, ENSIFERUM, MÅNEGARM, and so on. The hymnic singing works well with this kind of fierce Metal. This sounds absolutely awesome! Guitars and drums provde the power, the vocals offer the melodic aspect. All flows on in a direct and powerful manner. And as you might expect, flames rise at the end. One of my favourite tracks here, without question. Sadly this fast pace isn't kept, as "Gelders Lied" sounds pretty Doomy and almost ballad-like. The guitar leads are very nice and the slooooow, hymnic singing matches very well. Here you can hear, once more, how well Joris's and Mark's voices match. Slow music means slow drumming and here Joost refrains himself from using his entire kit. This might form a problem in other cases, but here this monotony fits and personally I wouldn't change it or not that much anyway. The linearity and simplicity of this track isn't bothersome at all. The overall result sounds beautiful and I can only add that it ended too soon, at least to my ears.

"Dondergod" or "Thundergod" is, as you can guess, about Thor. But HEIDEVOLK calls him Donar. When I heard this, I wondered why, but (again) Wikipedia (click here) tells why it's like that (excerpt): "Thor (Old Norse: Þorr, Þunarr; Old English: Þunor, Þur; Old Saxon: Þunær; Frisian: Tonger, Old Dutch: Donar; Old High German: Donar; Proto-Germanic: *Thunaraz) is the red-haired and bearded god of thunder in Germanic mythology and Germanic paganism, and its subsets: Norse paganism, Anglo-Saxon paganism and Continental Germanic paganism. Most surviving stories relating to Germanic mythology either mention Thor or focus on Thor's exploits. Thor was a much revered god of the ancient Germanic peoples from at least the earliest surviving written accounts of the indigenous Germanic tribes to over a thousand years later in the late Viking Age. Thor was appealed to for protection on numerous objects found from various Germanic tribes. Miniature replicas of Mjöllnir, the weapon of Thor, became a defiant symbol of Norse paganism during the Christianization of Scandinavia." The song start in an accoustic way with just the guitar and toms, but soon the Metal instrumentation takes over with more power, more push, a higher tempo, especially compared to "Gelders Lied". This is anothe epic track. After the chorus, things slow down, while a little further, around halfway, there's a nice guitartwist. Here the rhythm and melodies change with the guitars in the spotlights. The end nears, so one quick chorus again and out goes the light. The offered quality remains high, let that be clear. Not one song deserves it to be dismissed so far.

Another song based on Norse mythology, at least that's what I think after reading a certain name in the lyrics on Metal-Archives.com, is "Reuzenmacht" or "Giant's Might". Wikipedia (click here) gave the following (excerpt): "In Norse mythology, Bergelmir (Old Norse, "Mountain Yeller" or "Bear Yeller") was a frost giant, the son of Thrudgelmir and the grandson of Aurgelmir or Ymir, the first giant, according to stanza 29 of the poem Vafthrudnismal from the Poetic Edda:

"Uncountable winters before the earth was made,
then Bergelmir was born,
Thrudgelmir was his father,
and Aurgelmir his grandfather."


- Larrington trans.

According to the Gylfaginning section of the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, Bergelmir and his wife alone among the giants were the only survivors of the enormous deluge of blood which flowed from Ymir's wounds when he was killed by Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve. They escaped the sanguinary flood by climbing onto an object and subsequently became the progenitors of a new race of frost giants."
The song starts with singing first, as a sort of announcement. Midtempo Folk Metal kicks in, though not as fierce as in "Dondergod", although HEIDEVOLK provide enough power and more hymnic input that the previous song. Toms are again important in the compositions, but so is are the guitars. It's been a little while, but you can hear another solo hee. The chorus is where all power is collected and applied. Halfway there's a break, allowing only the vocals and toms to be heard. Once the Metal falls in again, an excellent moment to headbang along is what you get. There are even three solos, nicely spread over the playtime. All in all, another qualitative track.

On the Belgian television there used to be a programme called "Johan en de alverman" ("John and the alverman"), but I doubt HEIDEVOLK took this programme as inspiration for "Alvermans Wraak" ("Alverman's Revenge"). I can't tell what it is about, only that it takes a Folky, accoustic start. Drums and violin are added and another dancy tune is played. This part comes back at the end of the song, only with handclapping then. This is a fully instrumental track, going Metal soon enough to boost the power and tempo. Soloing is now key here, in a Power Metal structure. The Dutch do a great job with vocals, but it's interesting and pleasant to hear the lads can make music without vocals, too. And does it sound enjoyable! Another one of my favourites here.

And we go on with the history lessons, this time with "Karel Van Egmond" ("Charles of Egmond"). Wikipedia (click here) had this to say about him (excerpt): "Charles of Egmond (9 November 1467 - June 30, 1538) was Duke of Guelders between 1492 and his death. He was the son of Adolf of Egmond and Catharina of Bourbon. He was a major protagonist in the Frisian peasant rebellion and the Guelderian Wars." There have been two dancy tracks so far, and "Karel Van Egmond" is the third. It sounds somewhat similar to "Alvermans Wraak", starting semi-accoustically before going fully Metal in a firm way. Both vocalists provide the melody again, the leads, but Joost (drummer) gets a spotlight as well. The danciness can be spotted in the chorus, which sounds great, noy only musically, but also and foremost vocally. Before halfway things change and the music gets a serious tempo boost. Power Metal is what you get! A composition that returns later on. While all is guitar-driven, keyboards wouldn't hurt. On the other hand, it makes the result all the more honest and pure.

"Levenlots" ("Life's Fate") is a sentimental track, accoustic and again the violin is represented. It sounds ballad-ish. Guitarleads are added, inline with the sad feeling of the song. Once the power is activated, the contrast couldn't be bigger. Somehow the music seems to flow a bit difficult, not as smooth as before, however heavy and Metal it sounds. Drumpower is another important element. All in all this is a dark track that gets wilder and fiercer in the last part. There the solos are switched on and drums pound their way towards the end. "Deemstering" ("Twilight") is the second instrumental on this album. Forest sounds in the form of owl, crickets and so on are the first things you hear. No electric instrumentation, all is accoustic: guitars, violin, cello... creating quite an emotional song.

Last but not least there's "Beest Bij Nacht" ("Beast By Night"), where heavy riffing and pounding drums hold the scepter! Beware of this force. The Power Metal comes galopping out of the speakers. The rhythm (a great one, by the way) contrasts with the clean singing, but it works well and you get another excellent time to headbang. The impact of the toms is not to be underestimated either. All flows better, more freely in the chorus and in the last part of the song. The middle section holds the soloing. While this is a very nice track to end with, I did miss some leadwork, unless the vocals were given that responsibility. Still, too much rhythmic guitarwork isn't always good.

"Uit Oude Grond" is a better album than the preceding ones. In fact, I find it the band's best so far. They have improved on many levels: power, honesty (production), singing, compositions. Plus, I could listen to the album several times before needing silencing the speakers. If you're looking for similar bands (the genre has a gazillion bands out there, but in terms of atmosphere, feel, melodies...) then I'd say TÝR, FALCONER, MÅNEGARM (the last few albums), KORPIKLAANI, ELUVEITIE (not all, but in general), ENSIFERUM and so on. Either way, any Folk Metal fan is advised to check out HEIDEVOLK and their newest release. The songs will (or should) sound even better when performed live.

More info at www.heidevolk.com.

Line-up:
Joris den Boghtdrincker - vocals
Mark Splintervuyscht - vocals
Reamon Bomenbreker - guitars
Sebas Bloeddorst - guitars
Rowan Roodbaert - bass
Joost Vellenknotscher - drums


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EREB ALTOR – The End (Napalm Records 2010)

Ereb Altor - The End
  1. The Entering (Myrding Prologue)
  2. Myrding
  3. Our Failure
  4. A New But Past Day
  5. Vargavinter (The End Part I)
  6. Balder's Fall (The End Part II)
  7. The Final War (The End Part III)

EREB ALTOR is a new band formed by two ISOLE members, Mats (Crister Olsson) and Ragnar (Daniel Bryntse). Both play guitars and offer vocal input in ISOLE, the Epic Doom Metal band similar to CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS and so on. Logically, somehow, EREB ALTOR can be catalogued with the same bands and particularly ISOLE. EREB ALTOR was founded in 1990, which is well before ISOLE (anno 2004). But the discography isn't long at all. In fact, the demo "The Awakening" came out in 2003 and the band's debut album, "By Honour", in 2008. Now, since the 26th of March, "The End" is out. While ISOLE has sorrowful songs about life matters and such, EREB ALTOR takes a different approach and goes for a Viking touch (Nordic mythology). The difference in style (lightly) and lyrics can be seen as influenced by BATHORY's Viking Metal albums, none of which I'm familiar with.

I Hate Records released the debut album, Napalm Records (where you'll find ISOLE) offered to release "The End". This new release contains seven tracks with a good 48 minutes of Doom Metal. It is said that the choirs and atmosphere of the first album were kept (I can neither confirm nor deny it, as this is my first acquaintance with EREB ALTOR) and that every song sounds like or is a hymn. Since ISOLE have rather hymnic Doom stuff, it's no wonder this also is applicable here. The last three tracks form one big song in fact, telling the story of Ragnarök.

"The End" begins with "The Entering (Myrding Prologue)". As a title, this is more than fine, because it clearly shows the beginning of the album. Accoustic instrumentation lays out the main trail, picked up by the electric instrumentation, stedily building and advancing. The pace is - what else to expect? - very slow, slower than ISOLE. No real lead vocals at this stage, rather backing ones and with a hymnic character. Repetition is key here, on a general level. Over halfway Ragnar speaks the words and with the music this sounds very much like how their Danish colleagues from SATURNUS do it. Drums fall away and the guitars are all that's left, creating quite an atmosphere. Feelings of loss, despair, solitude are typical. What a contrast with the first part of the track.

After the prologue, it's time for the real deal, "Myrding", which adds almost 3 minutes to the length of the prologue. The transition happened smoothly. The building is done very well and sounds like danger is around the corner. Heavy riffs, screamy leads as if calling out to anyone foolish enough to wander in the dark woods, driven onwards by the ultra-slow drums. Ragnar's clean singng flows well with the music and it's not different with his work in ISOLE. Speaking of which, the music is of course similar, but at the same time more linear. Despite the slow tempo, the band did shift into a higher gear compared to the prologue. Once past the middle, however, things turn back to slow, bombastic (keyboards and symphonics here), heavy and gloomy. The atmosphere of agony is very well expressed.

"Our Failure" is one of the best tracks on this album. Church bells, an accoustic tune and the music bursting in. Slowness is still the chosen pace, but the power and hymnic singing is pure and simple quality! Yes, ISOLE comes back to mind. Sadness, despair, loss, disappointment.. all words that easly fit here. The Swedes are masters of the craft. Before halfway things become heavier, sounding dark and not for the weak of mind. The choir-ish singing is of pure beauty with the keyboards backing. Simply masterful! The last part of the song offers another dose of slow and hymnic Doom Metal.

"A New But Past Day" is different, but still a decent track. Entering an obscure building, as the door creeps open. Directly after that the music kicks in. According to the info on Metal-Archives.com this is a re-recording of the same-titled track on the "The Awakening" demo from 2003, only here it's a bit shorter. The production sounds more polished than the preceding songs, but the overall slowness, hymnic touch, guitarwork, drumming, etc... was kept. There is linearity throughout the album, but this song here is just a bit too much of that. I had to think of TÝR and especially their old material on "How Far To Asgaard". Luckily there's a guitar solo that breaks the monotony a bit.

And so we've come to the trilogy on this album that got its title from this: "The End". "Vargavinter" An accoustic start, followed/replaced by slooooow Doom of despair, gloom and more of that. Melody is important, yet so is the aim for one's emotions. More than before even. An accoustic break is added around the middle before carrying on at a faster rate, expressing the feelings with more volume, more dare. The singing is, as usual, very good and forms a nice combo with the music. Explosions form the bridge to "Balder's Fall", while the accoustic guitar continues its tune. Spoken words tell the tale. The attack on one's emotions is still active and the midtempo Doom is very reminiscent of ISOLE, (old) CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS and so on. Rougher singing does come in, though. Halfway (a key point in EREB ALTOR's songs) there's a despressing slowdown, cryful, and whatever else you add along those lines. Considering the song title and its story, it's only normal. There's a power uprising (i.e. chorus) after that, but soon all falls back to the sadness of before. The wind carries the music into "The Final War", which ends the trilogy. Hymnic/echoing voices, accoustic music being added to complement it and then making way for the Metal, which plays the same melodies, but in a heavier version, of course. It's as if a funeral is taking place. Very well done, very beautiful! Let me add more terms: stunning, bombastic, powerful, touching. The music sounds more powerful, there's more push, later on, but as the last part is due, the guitars scream it out in bursts, during which the aforementioned explosions can be hear in the back, blown away by the icy winds.

EREB ALTOR or ISOLE in a slower, more hymnic version. Well, EREB ALTOR has been around longer than ISOLE, but this is just an indication of the music. "The End" is the band's second album and the first acquaintance for me. "By Honour" got positive comments overall, but I cannot offer mine as I'm not familiar with it. Fact is, however, that as a fan of ISOLE, CANDLEMASS, SOLITUDE AETURNUS, and similar I am very happy to have heard "The End". The Swedes know how to make qualitative Epic Doom Metal. While "The End" may contain some linearity here and there, the listening experience is very well worth it. Furthermore, the Viking theme makes it extra interesting, as it doesn't always have to be Melodic Death or Folk Metal bands that have to use it. Any fans of the aformentioned bands, including (old) TÝR, are advised to check out EREB ALTOR and their newest output.

More info at www.myspace.com/erebaltor.

Line-up:
Ragnar - vocals
Mats - guitars, bass, drums, keyboards


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DIVIDED MULTITUDE – Guardian Angel (Silverwolf Productions 2010)

Divided Multitude - Guardian Angel
  1. Resurrection
  2. Nowhere To Hide
  3. Senses
  4. Something For Someone
  5. Regrets
  6. Interludium
  7. My Dying Hour
  8. Promised Lang
  9. Pieces On The Floor
  10. Deeds Of Deception
  11. Guardian Angel

DIVIDED MULTITUDE is a Norwegian Progressive/Power Metal band, formed in 1995. In the long period of 15 years the formation started off with 2 demos, "Stranded" (1996) and "Tale Of Tomorrow" (1997). This resulted in a deal with Sensory Records, who released their debut, "Inner Self", two years later. Promoting this album happened a.o. with a tour in Norway and Denmark in the company of the Swedes from HOLLOW, a band totally unknown to me. It took some time to ready the follow-up, "Divided Multitude". Its release was done in 2001. A new release, a new tour with the ProgPower Europe festival as cherry on the cake. Another two years passed and album no. 3 was done: "Falling To Pieces". Whether or not that was a sign or bad omen, is food for discussion as the band's fourth and newest album only came out now seven years later. Silverwolf Productions saw potential in DIVIDED MULTITUDE and offered them a deal. "Guardian Angel" came out on the 26th of March.

"Guardian Angel" is my first acquaintance with the Norwegians and it took me some listens over a time span of several weeks to get through it, despite my liking for Progressive and Power Metal. The band's fourth full-length starts with an intro, "Resurrection". Only the guitar at first, in a very atmospheric, almost Industrial-like setting. A main melody is laid out and steadily the whole rises to a certain completeness or end, especially once the Metal instrumentation is added. The keyboards provide the melodic aspect through symphonic touches and the piano. The transition with "Nowhere To Hide" happens smoothly. Here you'll find lots of guitar power, contrasting with the keyboards' melodic role. Think of it as EVERGREY meets DIVINEFIRE meets KAMELOT. Something like that. Typical in a Progressive Metal band (a normal one, not the Death or Black kind) are clean vocals and the Norwegians followed that rule. It's nice to see how they composed the verses: clean vocals and keyboards backing at first, then more vocal power with added guitar input. The chorus is full-on melodic, coming from the keyboards and vocals. Yet it does sound a bit sentimental. All in all a very much alright song to start with. Guitarwork is key here.

In "Senses" keyboards lead again, in vein of CONCEPTION and KAMELOT. The verses are like before, first without guitars, then with guitars. The tempo lies lower, but the amount of melodic power is higher than before. The beat goes faster in the chorus, where drummer Anders Vinje adds double bass. Again, sentiment or emotion plays a role here, but (at least) I didn't feel any connection. It didn't do me anything, despite the band doing a proper job in terms of playing. Instrumental talk was a priority, it seems, when the guys wrote this song. Especially in the second part of the track, there's more playing than singing. Solos are very much present, both by the guitars and keyboards (AYREON-style). As good as that decision is/was, I somehow felt the song is a bit too long, as if the guys didn't know how to properly end it, thus adding a bit more music and then see if something end-ish can be reached. At the same time "Senses" is also one of the less good songs, in my humble opinion. But there are more, so it's not a stand-alone case.

The situation improves a bit with the following two tracks: "Something For Someone" and "Regrets". The first offers direct power, even in the intro. Guitars and keyboards work well together in contrasting ways: power by the first, melody by the other. That's the general agreement, altough there guitars are allowed to assist with the melodic input. What you get is typical Progressive Metal, as the verses show. The music flows better than in "Senses" and sounds happier, especially in the chorus. The guitarwork stands out again, be it the riffing, the solos, ... "Regrets" features heavy guitars and drums slowly advancing with a great rhythm. This already starts very well. Atmospheric backing is added, with guitar leads following. Keyboards take over, guitars revert to the typical bumpy (if that's a correct term here) rhythmic playing. All's going very well, if you ask me. The verses consists of vocals and backing/guiding organ (nice change), with the guitar smoothly added. The bridge is slow and heavy and so is the song overall, but there's no compromise in terms of power. The hymnic chorus is the (massive) jewel here. Guitars and keyboards provide solos, with the latter opting for a neo-classical touch. And that helps to appreciate the music more. Sort of like what PLATITUDE did.

So far so... not very good, regarding the following tracks. "Interludium" is what it says it is: an interlude, containing an extract from a film or something, as it contains explosions, dialogue, ... The whole feels dark and sounds as if danger is around the corner. Keyboards and drums are the key ingredients, creating a spooky atmosphere, which flows over neatly into "My Dying Hour". Pounding Metal is what you get and I personally find that a very positive decision. Sadly, it's only temporary as midtempo Prog takes over. As usual, melody from the keyboards, power (bursts) from the guitars. All power valves are opened in the bridge and chorus, allowing for a better flow of the music. Guitars are a very important element. The speech sample (is that Martin Luther King?) makes the chosen title more logical. Solos are present, too, coming from the usual instruments. In general, this isn't a bad song at all, but you have to be focused to listen, else it's a drag.

Setting foot onto the "Promised Land" happens with great caution. Keyboards check if all's safe, while guitars and drums are covered by a radio effect. Once the proper sound is activated, the whole sounds like old DREAM THEATER (their first few albums). The singing with organ backing makes another presence here, but this time it's just - sorry to say - boring. It's done too often. The backing vocals in the chorus aren't exactly super or attractive either. Not even the solos can save this song. So, all goes to ruin, until you find "Pieces On The Floor". A start full of Metal, followed by neo-classical touches. Here, too, you get pounding Metal, which is good and sounds a lot better than "Promised Land". Keyboards are the most important instrument now, as they also come under the guise of piano (or the other way around), which also puts this song to sleep. The obligatory solos are well done. All in all, a good step forward.

"Deeds Of Deception" contains a spacey intro provided by the keyboards. Ultra-heavy guitars and pounding drums won't allow the spotlights to neglect them, so they come storming in. The Metal touch has increased! More power, more push! Lots of solo stuff as well. And that's how short a song description can be. But nevertheless, this is one of the better tracks on the album. The title track, "Guardian Angel", is saved for last. This song starts heavy and for that the Norwegians listened very carefully to PANTERA's classic "Cowboys From Hell". It's as if the band quite simply copy-pasted Dimebag's riffing and used it in their Progressive canvas. To make it a bit more DIVIDED MULTITUDE-ish, atmospheric keyboards were added. In general the pace isn't that high, but as a whole this is a very nice song to listen to. Lots of guitarwork to please your ears and somehow the DREAM THEATER influences pop up again. All in all, a good song to end "Guardian Angel", which all things considered... didn't fulfill the expectations or desires. At least, not sufficiently.

The Progressive/Power Metal outfit DIVIDED MULTITUDE has been around for 15 years, with four albums out so far. How the new album, "Guardian Angel", compares to the previous one is unknown to me, but I sure hope at least one is better than what the Norwegians present here. Sadly, only a small majority of tracks offers enough listening pleasure. Maybe an EP or MCD with the best tracks would have been better. Then again, best tracks according to whom? Fans of bands like EVERGREY, PAGAN'S MIND, CONCEPTION, KAMELOT, SYMPHONY X, PLATITUDE and more might want to check out DIVIDED MULTITUDE's newest, but to my ears the aforementioned bands do a far better job at making their music attractive and interesting each album, or close enough.

More info at www.myspace.com/dividedmultitude.

Line-up:
Sindre Antonsen - vocals, guitar
Christer Harøy - guitar
Eskild Kløften - keyboards
Rayner Harøy - bass
Anders Vinje - drums


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BLACK THOUGHTS BLEEDING – Stomachion (Silverwolf Productions 2010)

Black Thoughts Bleeding - Stomachion
  1. Namaste
  2. Bloodred Struggle
  3. My Past, Your Fault
  4. Beloved Vampire
  5. Escape
  6. Set To Kill
  7. Stomachion
  8. Tragedy Of Evolution
  9. Hearts Got Broken
  10. Fade To Light
  11. Nothing Changes
  12. Icarus

BLACK THOUGHTS BLEEDING is a German Metalcore band, formed in 2007. The following year a 3-track demo is put out under the title "Tragedy Of Evolution". The reactions from the press are very positive and this leads to performances at festivals like Summer Breeze with bands like AS I LAY DYING, SOILWORK, CRADLE OF FILTH, ... Shows with WALLS OF JERICHO, GHOST BRIGADE and others follow soon enough. Silverwolf Productions saw potential in this band and offered them a contract in the summer of 2009. BLACK THOUGHTS BLEEDING could now work on their debut album, "Stomachion", out since the 26th of March. The Germans mix elements from Thrash, Melodic Death and Hardcore, resulting in well-produced Metalcore stew.

"Stomachion" kicks off with "Namaste", an accoustic intro dominated by the guitar and piano. A very soothing and calm track, so different from the aggression and devastation that will follow in, for example, "Bloodred Struggle". Dark, sharp riffing as weapon, Gutteral vocals mixed with clean ones to tell the tale. All at midtempo, but with lots of breakdowns. Somehow I got a CLAWFINGER vision. The clean vocals in the chorus might be nice for the sake of contrast, but its effect is missed as the result sounds... weak. It's totally out of place. The verses, however, are good. Near the end all slow down until it can't get any slower and has to end. "My Past, Your Fault" is a more active track, faster also. The Metalcore stamp is very obvious here. Good about this song is the rhythm, even if it's a typical one. The rough vocals are the dominant kind of singing, thoughout the entire album. The chorus here is sung by the entire band, you can really hear that. It also gives the song a different touch. Rhythm is important, not much lead or solowork to discover, if any at all.

"Beloved Vampire" is pedal to the metal. What a change! But as we're dealing with a Metalcore band here, breakdowns must not be left out. Vocally you get the gutteral ones, yet changing into slimey/venomous ones from time to time. The clean singing is done here as well and again it sounds like wankery. Nothing personal, though. The pace goes down in the bridge. Musically things are given a sad touch in the chorus, which might explain why the clean singing sounds like it does there. "Escape" takes a midtempo stop-start approach, building with uneven drumming. Main aspect of this track is the catchy, simply riffing. Breakdowns rule here, stopped by an uptempo chorus where, indeed, clean vocals reign. And yes, they still do more bad than good. Overall, this is asimple structured track that seems to be written to go in the one ear and out the other.

The situation improves a bit with "Set To Kill", which contains the typical Hardcore/Metalcore elements in terms of rhythm, drums, vocals, of course delivered at an uptempo pace. It all sounds catchy and the breaks are hit in the melodic chorus. Somehow this song is over before you know it. The title track is also a pretty good one. The intro fools you in believing something faster will follow, but alas, nothing like that. The tempo is stuck at a pretty low level. Rough vocals dominate the lyrical aspect. The bridge is good, powerful, as is the chorus where drummer Ben shifts into higher gear a few times. This is another very rhythmic track, of course with the necessary breakdowns. "Tragedy Of Evolution" is a short track which builds up slowly and is just slow overall. furthermore, it's fully instrumental. And although it doesn't sound bad, you can clearly hear this should have been a part of something bigger, longer. Now it really has the stamp of intro or interlude, which is a bit of a shame, in my opinion.

"Hearts Got Broken" could be a ballad, but it's not. It's one of those tracks where you'll find lots of rhythm, more punchy stuff and especially devastating breakdowns. Vocally it's business as usual, with the clean singing... indeed, as usual. The drumming is quite linear, although Ben did try to add a few accents and tempo boosts to break that impression. All in all pretty average. With "Fade To Light" BLACK THOUGHTS BLEEDING has made its least good (not to say worst) song so far. It starts calm and you may have the impression of a ballad. Yes, it is a ballad. Emo, if you like, but of course with clean vocals. Nothing interesting here. Rest assured, however, that "Nothing Changes" wipes this sad song off the map with uptempo, raging Metal. The breakdowns and typical vocals are Metalcore, no doubt about that. It's all done in a firm, aggressive and ballsy way and the band deserves kudos for the guitar- and drumwork. On the other hand, I did find it funny to hear a Power Metal-like chorus. Nice twist there. "Icarus" ends the album at a slow pace that soon shifts into uptempo Metalcore. The clean wankery could not be left out of the chorus, apparently (sad but true). But overall this is a pretty decent song, including the calm last minutes.

I don't regularly review Metalcore and I've said it a few times before why. Anyway, BLACK THOUGHTS BLEEDING's view on Modern Metal, so to speak, is good here than there. The production on "Stomachion" is polished and yet powerful. The rhythmic guitarwork is well done, but a bit more leadwork wouldn't have hurt. All the songs thrive on breakdowns, sometimes more than needed, even if it's a typical element in this genre. Vocally no real complaints, except regarding the clean singing, which just shouldn't be there in several cases. If it's to break the stream of aggression, then the decision can be understood, but still it doesn't make the clean vocals better. Fans of Metalcore and Melodic Thrash/Death with a large tendency to Metalcore will find something to their liking here. Other Metalheads are advised to steer clear and look for proper Melodic Thrash or Melodic Death. And those ponds are very big.

More info at www.blackthoughtsbleeding.com.

Line-up:
Dominik Szelinski - vocals
Christoph Budny - guitars
Dominik Göbbels - guitars
Sebastian Opelt - bass
Ben Overmann - drums


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BIG BALL – Hotter Than Hell (AFM Records 2010)

Big Ball - Hotter Than Hell
  1. Double Demon
  2. Porna Lisa
  3. Big Ball Crew
  4. Killdozer
  5. Free Fire Zone
  6. Hell Whores & High Heels
  7. Hotter Than Hell
  8. Shooter
  9. Plugged In
  10. Wrecking Ball
  11. Groove Monster Machine
  12. Rock N Roll Stomper
  13. Riding With The Devil

Not much is known about BIG BALL, except that they come from Germany and play the kind of Bluesy Hard Rock like the Australian masters AC/DC. Not only the music, also the vocals are copied from the Australians. Who plays what in the band is unknown, and when the band was founded is even less clear. Anyway, the 4-piece signed a deal with AFM Records who put out their debut album, "Hotter Than Hell", on the 19th of March. This full-length holds 13 tracks. Each of them lasts around 3-4 minutes, which means they're too the point, catchy and radio-friendly.

It starts with the pretty decent rocker "Double Demon". Straight-forward and efficient, nothing more to add. The tempo goes down a bit in "Porna Lisa", which sounds similar to AC/DC's classic "Back In Black". The simpleness continues in "Big Ball Crew", which has a rather vicious edge, so to speak. The guitars sound a little less loud, but once the chorus kicks in, the volume is adjusted. Catchiness is key. Hard Rock is not only midtempo songs, so BIG BALL added a speedier track: "Killdozer". Think of "Whole Lotta Rosie" or "Shoot To Thrill" and you'll get an idea of this song. And we carry on with "Free Fire Zone", a midtempo rocker where the mix was well done, as the bass nicely thumps along. "Hell Whores & High Heels" is a "Stiff Upperlip" kind of song, while "Hotter Than Hell" is one of the simplest, lightest and most radio-friendly songs on this album.

"Shooter" is a similar track to "Hotter Than Hell", but sounds firmer. "Plugged In" does what it says, cranking up the speed. The band hits the Bluesier direction again with "Wrecking Ball" and "Groove Monster Machine", while "Rock N Roll Stomper" does the same but with more leadwork. "Riding With The Devil" closes the album in typical AC/DC-style: pure Rock 'n' Roll.

BIG BALL is a nice alternative to AC/DC, when you consider the songs in general. Listening more often, however, will make you want to change to something else. "Hotter Than Hell" is actually an average album, filled with very simple Rock songs and very little diversity. After a couple of songs you don't need to hear the rest to know what you'll get. Monotony pops up very soon. Fans of bands like AC/DC, KROKUS, and similar might find something worthy here, but overall... just go for AC/DC's albums.

More info at www.myspace.com/bigballrocks.

Line-up:
?? - vocals
?? - guitar
?? - bass
?? - drums


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ANCIENT BARDS – The Alliance Of The Kings (Limb Music Products 2010)

Ancient Bards - The Alliance Of The Kings
  1. Prelude
  2. The Birth Of Evil
  3. Four Magic Elements
  4. Only The Brave
  5. Frozen Mind
  6. Nightfall In Icy Forest
  7. Lode Al Padre
  8. Daltor The Dragonhunter
  9. Farewell My Hero
  10. Faithful To Destiny

ANCIENT BARDS is a new Symphonic/Epic Power Metal band, hailing from Italy, the homeland of Italy's best-known band in the genre, RHAPSODY (OF FIRE). Formed by keyboardist Daniele Mazza in 2007, the line-up got completed soon enough and managed to produce a 5-track demo, "Trailer", which contained a mixture of Nordic sagas and Japanese stories taken from the "Final Fantasy" series as its underlying themes. Several gigs were planned next and the Italians shared the stage with bands like TURISAS, WHITE SKULL, ALMAH, DOMINE and more. Last year time was reserved for the recording of the first full-length, "The Alliance Of The Kings", which features guest musicians and the Toto Corde choir.

"The Alliance Of The Kings", out on LMP since the 12th or 16th of March, is the first part of the "The Black Crystal Sword Saga". Considering the band's influences come mostly from RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), LUCA TURILLI, and similar, you'll notice that ANCIENT BARDS's saga will be similar to the "Emerald Sword Saga". Musically as well there are several similarities, although it must be said that ANCIENT BARDS is not a clone. Daniele and co. didn't do half work here, as the alliance lasts for almost one hour.

Starting as it should, you get "Prelude" in which vocalist Sara introduces the story, backed by orchestral elements. Yes, very much comparable to RHAPSODY's "The Dark Secret" track on "Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret" (2004). And then the music bursts in with "The Birth Of Evil", its first melodies and bass lines reminding of the intro of DREAM THEATER's "Panic Attack" song (off the "Octavarium" album). Full power is unleashed after this with lots of guitar riffing, lead melodies and of course at an uptempo pace. Although the guitars are the dominant factor, the backing keyboards also offer light lead help. Sara's singing blends in very well, even though her range isn't big. It's nice to hear female singing this time, since the majority of Power Metal bands out there have a male singer. The aforementioned choir can be heard for the first time in the bridge, which sounds epic and hymnic, followed by the uptempo and catchy chorus. This also allows Sara to let out some extra power. Absolutely heavenly material! Guitars are the dominant factor and that is stressed through the (neo-classical) soloing as well. There's even a bass solo, in which Martino does some tapping like RHAPSODY OF FIRE bassist Patrice Guers. What can I say? You don't hear that too often in Power Metal, so kudos to the band for doing so. Last, a word about the drums: they are functional. Don't expect Aquiles Priester-like (HANGAR, FREAKEYS, ex-ANGRA) playing. Alessandro is good, but he focuses on the standard Power Metal drumming, while some fills here and there wouldn't hurt. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt the song at all, as the main focus lies on melodies and riffs.

The transition into "Four Magic Elements" goes smoothly. Trumpets, epicness and more in the intro, in typical TURISAS-style as main melody. Guitar-driven midtempo Metal with Sara's clean vocals: a very combination. The bass prooves to be important again, this time in the bridge. The neo-classical guitarwork is present, too. Full hymnic power lies in the chorus, which like before, sounds absolutely beautiful. An orchestral break comes at the right time, adding a film score-like touch. What follows is totally unexpected: playful melodies, uptempo, thundering Metal and solos! Happy Metal, you could call it. This is what makes Epic Power Metal so tasteful and ANCIENT BARDS have fully understood this. Then the chorus comes in once more before the band shifts to a higher gear in "Only The Brave".

Fast riffing, lots of melodicness and of course high speed drumming. Oh yes, and epic orchestrations to round it off. Cliché, but this is one catchy track! And one of the best on his album, no doubt about that. The beauty lies not only in the stunning bridge (how can you not fall in love with Sara here? ;-)), but also in the hymnic chorus. I get a GWYLLION vision here. Just listen to their "The Edge Of All I Know" album from 2009. Everything sounds like the gods made it, from riffs over melodies to vocal input. It's rare that a band gives so much attention to the bass, in many cases an underrated instrument. And yet, Martino can once again go his way in a solo. Next to the classic guitar and keyboard solos, this makes the song more diverse and puts the skills of the respective musicians even more in the spotlights. I can play this track several times without growing tired of it. This is the sort that gives you energy, determination and more. Superb stuff!

"Frozen Mind" is next, being one of the longer songs with its almost 7 and a half minutes. Trumpets and guitars joining forces in this epic story, followed by pounding drums, which roll on during the entirety of the song. The verses remind of RHAPSODY's "Rage Of The Winter" songs. The galopping bridge is short, but at least the rolling drums are changed a bit, which is then more the case in the chorus. And here the melody reminds of the bridge of LUCA TURILLI's "Black Realm's Majesty", off the "Demonheart" EP. Stealing? Nah, I wouldn't call it that. You could consider it a tribute. Besides, some similarities, be it here or elsewhere, cannot be avoided. You can't possible listen to every album ever released and then hope your compositions don't sound alike or similar. Solos are implemented neatly: first the keyboards, followed by the guitar and then both join forces. This stream is broken by a calm piano interlude, providing a soothing touch to the song and listening experience. A bombastic outburst of orchestral domination with added Metal power follows takes over all of a sudden. When Sara and the choir start to sing again, the whole (vocals and music) sounds, despite the touch of sadness, very majestic that you must have a heart of stone not to be touched by it. The singing rises to a climax and the power of before returns (pounding drums, dark riffing, verses, bridge, chorus...) and so towards the end. Hail for this wonderful piece of epic Metal.

Immediately after the final note or drumbeat from "Frozen Mind", the choir is the center of attention in "Nightfall In Icy Forest". EPICA (and of course RHAPSODY or LUCA TURILLI) comes to mind, as they also use(d) a choir in several songs and particularly on their debut album, "The Phantom Agony". Orchestral backing is provided through o.a. trumpets and kettle drums. To create the right atmosphere and be inline with the title, appropriate sounds/samples were added, which also forms the bridge to the ballad "Lode Al Padre". This track starts calm, with only accoustic instrumentation. Very much easy-listening music. Thanks to the orchestrations the overall feel is very touching. Sara did a good to very good job in the powerful tracks, and she shows that in calmer situations she also able to stand her ground. I don't think a male vocalist could do it better, as it depends on the man's voice and the compatibility with the music. Hence the importance of a woman's touch. But that was the first part, meaning the music doesn't stay as calm. Once the chorus is there, full majestic power comes to life in total grandeur, followed by a Folky, violin-driven part evolving into a wild and rough guitar solo. This is another example of contrast. ANCIENT BARDS also added a nice variable block then, shifting back and forth. It begins with the keyboards and guitar being one in the next solo, backed by Alessandro's uptempo drumming. Sara then has the chance to come in for an Italian-sung input, which leads back to the solo of before. And finally the keyboards (in the form of trumpets) are the sole solo survivors, while the rest takes care of backing support. Total epicness is what you get here. The chorus is played one last time, after which all cables are pulled out.

Three more songs to go and not of the shortest ones (all are close to or more than 7-8 minutes long!). "Daltor The Dragonhunter" takes a neo-classical start with the guitars and keyboards, after which uptempo Power Metal takes over. Bonus points for the great rhythm and melodies. Power and determination are terms you could easily use here. The guiding melody is provided by the piano. Chorus-wise things are like they've been since the beginning: epic and hymnic, a constant in ANCIENT BARDS's songs. That may be good to find characteristics, but it also helps to break the rapid flow. The harpsichord comes in afterwards, assisted by the bass and accoustic guitar. Instrumental talk is vital here. After the harpsichord, it's the trumpets that take over, playing a rather sad tune. Strings carry on then, playing their own melody, which is picked up by the guitars. Add the two together and you get a wonderful sound. All this aside, keyboards and guitars play solos that should make you cheer up again and ready to fight. Alas, drama sets in, and the music shifts in another direction: dark organ sounds, bestial warrior vocals... - similar to RHAPSODY's "Sacred Power Of Raging Winds" - and all rises to one big chaotic ball of music as if indicating a battle, but only shortly. This, in my opinion, is the weakest part of the song or even the album. The idea is good, how it sounds not. It leaves a bad taste on the song. other than that, no complaints at all.

"Farewell My Hero" has a symphonic start, building the tension, the drama, the epicness even. All falls silent for the vocals to come in (Sara sings a bit lower here, something that sounds a bit awkward compared to her previous efforts), supported only by keyboards. Later the full instrumentation is activated for the verses and Sara sings more out of full chest. The epicness comes from the chorus's melody: trumpets, toms and guitar power, advancing like a massive force. Add the choir and this part is complete, similar to what RHAPSODY and EPICA have done in the past. The stream is broken a bit by a symphonic interlude with added Metal power, flowing over into TURISAS-like Battle Metal and so until the end. Beautiful result. The main melody of "Farewell My Hero" is re-used in the start of "Faithful To Destiny", with its playtime of 08:45 the longest song here. The melody grows in volume until the bubble bursts and orchestral Metal jumps out. The epic touch is added! Like in the previous song, all falls silent to let the vocals come out with string backing. The chorus is as hymnic and epic as can be. Simply amazing! Orchestrations are the dominant element here, offering lots of leads and backing, occasionally letting the guitar do some of that work, too. But then, danger is ahead or at least the haunting organ and bursting guitars give that impression. And like in "Lode Al Padre" Sara sings in Italian afterwards. The pace is set first at midtempo, but then a furious tempo increase is turned on. Epic, fast, powerful, determined, revitalizing, empowering, encouraging and so on are terms that just need to be mentioned here. Diversity is key, and after this outbreak, only symphonic instrumentation survives before bombast sets in the last part with trumpets and more. A perfect apotheosis! And one shows the story isn't over yet, at all.

ANCIENT BARDS's music contains many similarities with RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) and similar. Due to the quality of the compositions and production, someone on RHAPSODY OF FIRE's forum said Limb could have found a new RHAPSODY. A bit far-fetched, I would say, but nevertheless it shows how advanced and grand the music is. Symphonic/Epic Power Metal of a high degree, not only thanks to the writing skills and musicianship, but also the qualitative production done at the Fear Studios, where bands like EMPYRIOS, DGM, STIGMA and more have recorded one or more albums. "The Alliance Of The Kings" is the first part of a number of albums and already the Italians set the bar high. But in a fast evolving world where every day a swarm of bands pop up and a gazillion albums are put out, it's great to see Daniele and co. put a lot of effort in this album. Fans of the following shortlist - RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), LUCA TURILLI, TURISAS, SYMPHONITY, SECRET SPHERE, and similar - are highly recommended to check out ANCIENT BARDS and their debut "The Alliance Of The Kings". The lyrics and story can be downloaded on their website. To end, I can only add that I've been playing the album many times the past few weeks without every growing tired of it, meaning this is a serious contender for my Best Of 2010 list.

More info at www.myspace.com/ancientbards.

Line-up:
Sara Squadrani - vocals
Claudio Pietronik - guitar
Fabio Balducci - guitar
Daniele Mazza - keyboards
Martino Garattoni - bass
Alessandro Carichini - drums


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VAN CANTO – Tribe Of Force (Napalm Records 2010)

Van Canto - Tribe Of Force
  1. Lost Forever
  2. To Sing A Metal Song
  3. One To Ten (feat. Victor Smolski)
  4. I Am Human
  5. My Voice
  6. Rebellion (GRAVE DIGGER cover, feat. Chris Boltendahl)
  7. Last Night Of The Kings
  8. Tribe Of Force
  9. Water. Fire. Heaven. Earth
  10. Master of Puppets (METALLICA cover)
  11. Magic Taborea
  12. Hearted (feat. Tony Kakko)
  13. Frodo's Dream

VAN CANTO is the world's only A Capella Metal band. Or better, there is no knowledge or news from another such band somewhere else in the world. The Germans joined forces in 2006 and in that same year the debut album "A Storm To Come" was released. All members are trained vocalists, so quality should be accordingly. Each member also acquired experience, vocally and/or instrumentally, in other bands. They amazed the world by showing an original approach to Metal, even if not everyone liked it. "De gustibus et coloribus non disputandum", as the saying goes. But credit where credit is due. Anno 2008 the follow-up was put out under the title "Hero". This also got VAN CANTO a spot on Europe's biggest Metal festival: Wacken Open Air. Next to own songs the band also adds cover songs to their repertoire. So far IRON MAIDEN, NIGHTWISH, DEEP PURPLE, MANOWAR, METALLICA, ANGRA and BLIND GUARDIAN have been chosen. Live the band has also shared the stage with e.g. NIGHTWISH, MANOWAR, RAGE and many more.

On "Hero" BLIND GUARDIAN vocalist Hansi Kürsch made a guest appearance in the song "Take To The Sky". For their third album, "Tribe Of Force", out on Napalm Records since the 26th of February, three other musicians can be heard: Victor Smolski (RAGE) in "One To Ten", Chris Boltendahl from GRAVE DIGGER in "Rebellion" and Tony Kakko from SONATA ARCTICA in "Hearted". As VAN CANTO's music is not that technical and ranges between Heavy and Power Metal, the guests feel like fish in the water. Napalm Records also re-released the band's first two albums earlier this year.

"Tribe Of Force" contains 13 tracks, totalling a playtime of about 55 minutes. The limited edition adds a DVD with the band's performance at WOA 2008, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. This third release starts with "Lost Forever". Soft humming at first, adding some "bababam" and then the music breaks out. Midtempo Metal with Sly doing lead vocals. The whole grows in power and volume towards the chorus, where the tempo gets a boost. Catchy melodies and vocal lines are key elements here. Over the middle of the track there's a heavy breakdown, followed by Inga's melodic chanting. And it's enchanting, indeed. Solos are a must and Stefan adds a typical "wah wah" one. "Lost Forever" is a typical European Power Metal track, nothing more, nothing less. But it does sound very good.

"To Sing A Metal Song" can be considered as one of the many tributes to Metal, which have been done a gazillion times by PARAGON, DESTRUCTION, IRON SAVIOR, GAMMA RAY, ACCEPT, MANOWAR and others. And it's a simple song, somewhat MANOWAR-like, or straight-forward and effective. During the solo the music does get a pounding character, but the solo itself is rather annoying. The song itself is decent, but nothing more. "One To Ten" is then a million times better, and not only because Inga takes the leads on vocals. The song's start is just great. Soon enough the power is let loose as fast, double bass Metal. Inga's doing a very fine job here and her voice really fits. Sly is not forgotten as he falls in in the bridge. This is another catchy song, which reminded me in a way of "Speed Of Light". It's epic, pounding and a lust to the ear. The solo this time is in dual format (is it here Victor Smolski can be heard?) and sounds awesome. This track can be put in the same basket as those of (old) HAMMERFALL, GAMMA RAY, BLIND GUARDIAN, etc... A true highlight on "Tribe Of Force".

As if the band had a pattern in mind - one good song, one less, one good, ... - another less good song (in my humble opinion) is on: "I Am Human". It's a slow song, the music is calmer, more atmospheric, so to speak. Sly is the main singer here, but Inga joins him in the chorus. Musically it's quite ok, though linear. Due to its simplicity it could very well be a radio single. I'll fast-forward to the last song, which I also considered one of the less attractive ones: "Frodo's Dream". Here you won't find any heaviness. It's all about softness, be it vocals or the orchestral support. The result is... well, I think there's a reason this track was put as last. This could be one of the band's weakest songs to date.

With this done, all the rest is pure quality. Starting with "My Voice", a Power Metal song that pounds like never before. "Rakkatakka" is key here. Another excellent song for Sly's voice. Catchiness remains the common ingredient. Dual vocals in the bridge and a slowdown/midtempo pace in the chorus, which sounds as epic as and similar to that of "The Mission". The pace slows down even more, going for a humble approach. Male vocals still lead, but Inga throws in some "aaah aaah" singing. After that heaviness kicks in again, sounding dark and evil. The solo moment - a great one, by the way - is where drummer Bastian is urged to hit the skins faster. Speaking of epicness, it's time for the first cover: "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)", originally by GRAVE DIGGER. And what better way to cover this than asking GRAVE DIGGER vocalist Chris Boltendahl to do the lead vocals. VAN CANTO's rendition sounds very good, close to the original, though of course it's different with proper instruments. Chris may have aged a bit since then, but he does a very good job. Even the marching part where Inga adds soft chanting sounds heavenly.

"Last Night Of The Kings" is another humble track, completely a capella. And it sounds similar to BLIND GUARDIAN's "The Bard's Song - In The Forest". The vocals are thus fully spotlighted. How it sounds? Awesome! "Tribe Of Force", the title track, is another midtempo track, filled with epic (vocal) Metal. It's catchy, but not exactly heavy, yet contains enough power. Sly has the main vocal lines, Inga falls in later (e.g. chorus). "Water. Fire. Heaven. Earth" could have been written by NIGHTWISH at the time of "Oceanborn" or "Wishmaster". Especially the melodies and Inga's singing create that impression. Midtempo is the set pace. No "rakkatakka" here, but lots of "dan-dan-dan". Overall pretty good.

With "Master Of Puppets" VAN CANTO have hit the jackpot. This classic Thrash Metal song is not only one of METALLICA's best, but Stefan and co. would have to sharpen their vocal chords to make this worth the while. From the first sounds, "ran!... dan-dan-dooo" you just know the result will be killer. The Germans come close to the original and especially drummer Bastian tries to copy Lars's drumming. Everyone delivers the goods, although I must say that the solo doesn't sound that good. It's a difficult one, after all, so kudos for trying. What does near the original is the ending, that specific guitar sound before the song is ended. Of all cover songs the band has done so far, this has got to be their best, together with "Wishmaster".

Two more songs, "Magic Taborea" and "Hearted". The first is another relaxed, BLIND GUARDIAN-ish song. When the Metal kicks in, epicness comes flowing out of the speakers. At the same time the song was given a hymnic character. The typical "wah wah" solo is also present, but keeps its wild sounds to its own and keeps itself inline with the overall atmosphere of this track. "Hearted" has Tony Kakko (SONATA ARCTICA) as guest vocalist. This is a more powerful and passionate song. Somehow it even sounds like SONATA ARCTICA, or better, melodic Power Metal with a happy touch. This description sounds better with FREEDOM CALL, but the reference to the Finnish is better placed.

Third time, best time? "Tribe Of Force" could be VAN CANTO's strongest album, although "Hero" was pretty good as well. Some might not like the A Capella Metal, as it's not with proper instruments, but personally, kudos to the band for trying a different approach and testing their vocal abilities this way. There's already enough singing, screaming, growling, grunting, and whatever more that gets supported by real instruments. VAN CANTO do it all with their voices (save for the drums) - and they do it very well! - and that alone makes it worth checking out. Fans of the band can of course buy "Tribe Of Force" blindly and anyone wanting to find out about this band can easily get this one as well (and then perhaps to back for the other two releases). I do have a few remarks: the solos are always the same "wah wah" style. Maybe Stefan can try to make a more normal solo, unless that's physically not possible or problematic. I'm no vocal expert, though. The second remark is about limits: the band's songs shift between Heavy and Power Metal, yet they seem to be able to thread on Thrash grounds as well (see the METALLICA covers). Hence my question: how far can they go? Death Metal? Black Metal? Doom Metal? It would be interesting to hear these kinds of songs being tried. Only time will tell, I guess.

More info at www.myspace.com/vancanto.

Line-up:
Philip Dennis "Sly" Schunke - lead vocals
Inga Scharf - lead vocals
Stefan Schmidt - lower "Rakkatakka" vocals, "Wahwah" solo guitar vocals
Ross Thompson - higher "Rakkatakka" vocals
Ingo "Ike" Sterzinger - lowest "Dandan" voice chords
Bastian Emig - drums


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THE RETALIATION PROCESS – Downfall (Silverwolf Productions 2010)

The Retaliation Process - Downfall
  1. Uprising
  2. Blindfolded
  3. Four Seasons Of Self Mutilation
  4. Bridge End...
  5. ...Prozac
  6. Carnal Addiction
  7. Down
  8. On The Way Back
  9. Written In Red Ink
  10. Uncertain

Not a lot of info could be found on the German band THE RETALIATION PROCESS. It was founded in 2008 and anno 2010 the band's first album is out. Titled "Downfall", Silverwolf Productions released it on the 26th of February. To produce this powerful debut the Germans entered the Eikey Studio with Eike Freese. Stylewise the band is hard to catalog under one specific genre, as they span the territory of Thrash, Metalcore and Nu-Metal.

"Downfall" starts with a direct attack that is perfectly titled "Uprising". Musicaly this floats between Melodic Thrash and Metalcore. Christoph's harsh vocals fit in neatly with the harsh verses, which are slow/midtempo paced. Opposed to these is the melodic chorus, where both vocals and guitars expose their melodic side. However, the result does sound a bit whiney, if you ask me. Nevertheless, "Uprising" is a pretty good song. "Blindfolded" has the band shifting into a high gear and offers pounding Metal to begin with. Afterwards, the midtempo verses take over, in an atmosphere that is dark, aggressive and evil. In terms of influence, I'd say that Metalcore fans will find something to quench their thirst, although it's not a full-on Metalcore song. The speed does increase in the bridge and chorus, which shows similarties with (present day) IN FLAMES. Still, all's going well.

VIVALDI has his "Four Seasons", THE RETALIATION PROCESS has "Four Seasons Of Self Mutilation". A building, melodic intro that flows over into midtempo Metal(core). Christoph's screamy vocals reign. At some point the music enters Hardcore territory, in the typical pounding style. A nice twist, I have to say. The chorus is where the aggressive vocals are left for what they are and clean singing takes their place. Somehow this style sounds like what Gothic Rock/Metal vocalists do. See e.g. PARADISE LOST, LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE and others. Not bad, as it helps to add variety. Overall, another quite good song.

Three songs done, all good, but honestly speaking, the best is due afterwards. A total of four songs in a row that are, in my opinion, much better and the real highlights on "Downfall". "Bridge End" has fast riffing and uptempo drumming, delivering raging Metal. The Metalcore feeling is more present now, and even though this is far from my favourite style, THE RETALIATION PROCESS did a very good job here. The bridge is done at midtempo, but sounds rather jumpy, or something to jump along to. Again the chorus is sung in a clean manner, PARADISE LOST-style, including the music. There is a guitar solo, yes, but it's short and rather functional. Similarities with e.g. Heavy or Power Metal are not to be made, as the Metal these Germans play has little room for solos, let alone putting these in the spotlights. But the song itself is very much worth checking out.

"...Prozac" is the resting point and instrumental on this album. Entirely accoustic, the played melody is simply one of the best tracks/interludes I've heard. At least in terms of being captivating. Only the accoustic guitar, no drums or other instruments. A result that makes you (well, me) crave for more. "Carnal Addiction" has its brutality taking over instantly. The contrast couldn't be bigger and the connection isn't smooth at all, rather harsh. But looking at the title, that's no surprise.. The midtempo attack is very direct, however. Pounding Metal in the bridge, but going for the melodic approach in the chorus. Instrumentally this song is quite alright and diverse, with the melodic implementations gaining the band bonus points.

The pounding start of "Down" transcends into midtempo, jumpy verses. Again they contrast with the melodicness of the chorus. Christoph once more outs himself in a screamy way, which dominate the entire song. The music remains qualitative. And so the tetralogy of highlights comes to an end. "On The Way Back" sounds as if the band indeed took some steps back regarding the quality and attractiveness. A soft, clean guitar start providing an atmosphere of mystery and humility. Rain and thunder wash it all away and clear the way for slow Metal, though with a melodic touch. Christoph's clean vocals are somewhat similar to Phil Anselmo's (DOWN, ex-PANTERA) and Rob Flynn (MACHINE HEAD), although his rough side takes over soon. As good as the clean singing was in previous songs, here it sounds boring, frankly said. The chorus sounds like before, the Gothic-ish style and has atmospheric backing. Musically it isn't that bad, but it's not exactly super either. Personally, I found this song too long. The end seems far away.

In "Written In Red Ink" the band brings back ferocity into the music. Pounding Metalcore is what is served. Midtempo in the verses, switching on the melodic button in the chorus. The guitarwork deserves a word of attention here, as it's well done. To break the stream a bit, a heavy diluded part was added, followed by a short solo before the chorus comes back. "Uncertain" puts an end to the "Downfall" of THE RETALIATION PROCESS. This sounds, in my opinion, both funny and contradictory (downfall...retaliation) when thinking of it. The last song has the drums as starting instrument. The flow is slow and little by little everything's coming to life, gradually speeding up. Pounding, aggressive verses stand opposed to a midtempo chorus one last time. And one last time Christoph shows his clean singing skills. Not only is this the last track, but it's the fifth highlight.

THE RETALIATION PROCESS is a new band, putting influences from several styles together. Extreme Metal it remains. "Downfall" is a first pretty solid assault of aggression, ferocity and anger. This is not an album to be played when you're feeling happy and "birds and the bees"-like. The power of the music will help if you're in need of stimulation or a means to vent your anger. For a debut album the result is quite good and with at least five highlights, the Germans can be proud of what they produced.

More info at www.myspace.com/theretaliationprocess.

Line-up:
Christoph Madarasz - vocals
Sascha Maskow - guitars
Jury Kowalczyk - guitars
Michael Konecny - bass
Andre Kummer - drums


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MORTEMIA – Misere Mortem (Napalm Records 2010)

Mortemia - Misere Mortem
  1. The One I Once Was
  2. The Pain Infernal And The Fall Eternal
  3. The Eye Of The Storm
  4. The Malice Of Life's Cruel Ways
  5. The Wheel Of Fire
  6. The Chains That Wield My Mind
  7. The New Desire
  8. The Vile Bringer Of Selfdestructive Thoughts
  9. The Candle At The Tunnel's End

Morten Veland is known for his work in TRISTANIA, the band he left to start with SIRENIA and still continues to maintain. Both bands are mainly known to me by name, though I've heard a few songs here and there. Nothing however that made me (want to) purchase one or more releases of either band. As usual, taste was an issue. And so the years pass by when all of sudden the name MORTEMIA pops up on the internet. Not really paying much attention to it, except that I did read it's a Gothic Metal band/project, I finally took the promo with me on the train to work.

The reason, so it is said in the press text, for Morten to create something new is to set it apart from his work in SIRENIA, which has female vocals. And this brings us to the second reason for MORTEMIA: not female vocals, only Morten's grunting and a choir, again to set it apart from the gazillion "beauty-and-the-beast" Gothic Metal bands that crowd the scene. "Misere Mortem" is the title of this debut, on which Morten composed and played it all himself. He also produced, engineerd and mixed the album. The choir, responsible for the a great deal of singing, hails from France and recorded their voices at the Sound Suite Studios in France. Representing the choir are Damian Surian, Mathieu Landdry, Emmanuelle Zoldan and Sandrine Gouttebel.

The nine tracks on "Misere Mortem" (i.e. mortal misery, deadly misery, ...) total a playtime of a good 40 minutes. All song titles begin with "The", something DIMMU BORGIR also did on their "In Sorte Diaboli" album (2007). If there's a reason for this, it's probably a trivial one. The first breath of music is a gentle one, as the strings, backed by piano, in "The One I Once Was" sound soft to the ear. The choir has the honour to sing the first Latin words before the Metal kicks in and takes over command. Slow drumming and heavy riffing, an excellent powerful force. The guitar does add leads now and then. Morten takes on the verses, the choir occupies the chorus (backed by orchestral instrumentation), a part they already sang when the song started. As you can judge by the cover and the title, don't expect happy melodies here. This is dark, sad, depressive and soulwrenching stuff. The mix of symphonic elements and Metal instrumentation is very well done, balanced in such a way both clearly fit together, also countering each other, and are related. Even the solo is an element that fits in perfectly. Think of RHAPSODY meets NIGHTWISH meets TRAIL OF TEARS.

The music comes fading in in "The Pain Infernal And The Fall Eternal", but with a radio-effect. Once that is switched off, the full sound flows out of the speakers, with added bombast, all at a slow pace. The power of the riffing stands in great contrast with the smooth and gentle symphonics. The choir is chosen for the verses and the music is adapted accordingly, meaning nothing aggressive or anything along those lines. This is however the case in the chorus, where Morten screams it out and lets the Metal instrumentation select a higher gear. Again TRAIL OF TEARS comes to mind. The atmosphere remains dark and emotional. When there's nothing to sing, Morten found it better to add a solo. A decision I have nothing against, if well-executed, in which case there's no need to doubt the man's skills and ideas. The orchestral input shows itself one more time for the ending.

No strings to start "The Eye Of The Storm", but woodwind instrumentation. The overall symphonic aspect grows in volume gradually, allowing the listener to prepare for the adding of Metal power. Firm verses require a firm and powerful voice, hence Morten laying out his grunts, but to avoid monotony and make the song more complete, symphonic backing fills the void. Musically this reminded me a.o. GWYLLION and the stuff on COVENANT's "Nexus Polaris" album. The choir is reserved for the chorus. To break the stream a bit, Morten added a moment of speech, so to speak before activating the power again, throwing in some drama (also through his screams). Like before and as a constant element throughout the album, the solo is not far away. It sounds beautiful and actually quite touching. Before showing off some more - just kidding, Morten has done an excellent job - the chorus is played to make a nice distinction between the first and second solo part. And so the song nears its end. Another quality job.

"The Malice Of Life's Cruel Ways" is next. The title indicates no bedtime music will be played, even though the intro is of the calm and atmospheric sort. The Metal comes in with bursts to carry on at a steady pace. Morten once again does the verses, which are dark and haunting (in lack of a better word), while the choir sings the chorus, assisted by syphonic input. No speech here, but a symphonic break (with the guitar sounding like a cello), followed by a rough, aggressive part with Morten's harsh vocals. This is done twice before returning to the chorus and rest of the song. The result remains interesting. But this fourth track also closes the first part of the list: highlights. The next two songs are far from bad, make no mistake. They're just a little less attractive, at least in my humble opinion. De gustibus et coloribus...

MANOWAR has "Wheels Of Fire", referring more to their motorbikes, MORTEMIA opts for "The Wheel Of Fire", not as vigorous or defying as MANOWAR's wheels. It's more life-threatening. Here it's Morten's guitar that plays the first notes, followed by midtempo bombast. Heavy verses with orchestral accents contrast nicely with the choir-sung chorus and violin backing. In terms of side-steps (as was done previously by speech or symphonic breaks, for example), it's a heavy piece this time. Morten made it more groovy, but without forgetting the orchestral elements, of course. Afterwards the solo kicks in. Overall this is a good song, but like I said, there's something missing or not done right to make it as attractive as the preceding tracks.

The other track that also falls besides the highlights is "The Chains That Wield My Mind". Also the guitar as first instrument with the rest (drums, symphonics) falling in along the way, while keeping a firm pace. Grunts in the verses and somehow more than before, or perhaps because it's a bit clearer here, the Gothic feel is bigger, more present. The bridge reminded me of LACRIMOSA, especially with the violin accents that appear in roughly the same way in "Kelch Der Liebe" on the "Lichtgestalt" album. The choirs occupies the chorus again, backed by a mass of symphonic elements. Before the obligatory solo all falls silent, or better, gets more humble. The end is then not too far away. In general, another good track, but not a highlight to my ears. Mind you, there is not one bad song on this album. All are worth checking out.

"The New Desire" is then the first of the other group of highlights, i.e. the last three songs. Morten starts with some high notes on his guitar and while this melody carries on, rhythm power is added. The verses are dark, heavy, but also mysterious, not to say cunning (if that word fits here). All bombast can be found in the chorus. Despite the marriage of symphony and Metal, this song is very much guitar-driven. The symphonic twist comes later with a spotlighted role for the piano. In that same part the speed all of a sudden goes up with Morten adding some vocals before focusing on the guitar solo. Afterwards it's chorus time again. A clear highlight, no doubt about that. And that also counts for "The Vile Bringer Of Selfdestructive Thoughts". Here the combo Metal-orchestra starts together, with the latter in a backing role. The pace is set at slow to midtempo in the verses. Morten grunts his way through it, while the backing violin neatly adds the contrast. Bombast and choir take up the mic in the chorus, like before. Even if this is one of the calmer songs, the guitar solo remains a must-add.

Last but not least there's "The Candle At The Tunnel's End" that also puts an end to the "Misere Mortem". A distorted guitar at first, but then the power is activated with a big stress on Metal and groove. And yet, a theatrical touch spices up the music. Morten added effects on his singing, so he would sound more beasty. The chorus however is where the choir comes in. And as in all the songs they do a tremendous job. Yes, the guitar solo (very nice, by the way) comes later, to be followed by the chorus again. The candle is then the bringer of light after the journey through the dark. Quality, I tells ya, quality! "Misere Mortem" started very well and it ends very well.

Morten Veland is no stranger to many Gothic Metal fans (see his work with TRISTANIA and SIRENIA), which means fans of his work should have no problem at all with MORTEMIA, also bearing the ending -IA. "Misere Mortem" contains Gothic Metal similar to his compositions in SIRENIA and that of his colleagues in TRAIL OF TEARS, but the use of a choir makes it indeed stand out. Also, Morten neatly divided the roles and didn't condemn the French to a mere backing role. The production and mix of this album is very good, allowing breathing room for each instrument and vocal input. The symbiosis of powerful Metal and orchestral input is well balanced and offers lots of enjoyable (despite the overall dark feel) listening time. It should be awesome to see this package live: Morten and band, the choir and an orchestra. "Misere Mortem", highlight of 2010.

More info at www.myspace.com/mortemiano.

Line-up:
Morten Veland - vocals, guitars, drums, keyboards


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CARACH ANGREN – Death Came Through A Phantom Ship (Maddening Media 2010)

Carach Angren - Death Came Through A Phantom Ship
  1. Electronic Voice Phenomena
  2. The Sighting Is A Portent Of Doom
  3. And The Consequence Macabre
  4. Van Der Decken's Triumph
  5. Bloodstains On The Captain's Log
  6. Al Betekent Het Mijn Dood
  7. Departure Towards A Nautical Curse
  8. The Course Of A Spectral Ship
  9. The Shining Was A Portent Of Gloom

CARACH ANGREN (= Iron Jaws) is a Dutch Symphonic Black Metal band, formed in 2003. As more time is put into making songs about legends, the original band VAULTAGE is put to sleep and CARACH ANGREN becomes the center of attention. With this band the Dutch want to tell stories. This results in unconventional songs. The first EP, "The Chase Vault Tragedy" (2004), was about tales of paranormal causes in 17th century Barbados. "Ethereal Veiled Existence" (2005) uses the same theme of paranormal activities. Anno 2007 Maddening Media gives the band a place on its roster. One year later the debut album is out: "Lammendam". This release tells about the Lammendam, a saga about the ghost of a lady in a white dress haunting the southern regions of the country.

Musically and vocally there were similarities with a.o. DIMMU BORGIR, but CARACH ANGREN clearly kicked the Norwegians' butts. And yes, CARACH ANGREN is far more theatrical and diverse in their compositions to bring a story to life through music and Black Metal in particular. When I first heard the new album, "Death Came Through A Phantom Ship" (out since the 26th February), I found it more progressive and story-telling than "Lammendam", where the songs were more like songs you can play each day. But it must be said that with the added screams, breaks, interludes and language changes (Dutch, French, German), the theatrical feel was there already.

"Death Came Through A Phantom Ship" also tells about a legend and this time the story of "The Flying Dutchman" was chosen. As Wikipedia (click here) puts it: "The Flying Dutchman, according to folklore, is a ghost ship that can never go home, doomed to sail the oceans forever. The Flying Dutchman is usually spotted from far away, sometimes glowing with ghostly light. It is said that if hailed by another ship, its crew will try to send messages to land or to people long dead. In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom." In other words, the theatrical Black Metal of CARACH ANGREN is ideal for this kind of stories, as any other musical way would not make it as cinematic and vivid. In my humble opinion, of course.

The voyage starts with an intro, "Electronic Voice Phenomena", where the orchestra already creates a haunting and horrific atmosphere. There's also an S.O.S.-call, so the backing sounds of danger are well chosen. The violin melody carries on as metallic power comes bursting in, which means "The Sighting Is A Portent Of Doom" has started. The power, the devastating sounds, the aggression... all key ingredients for the verses. Orchestral arrangements come to the front in the bridge and chorus, but other than that it's the Metal than dominates. With only a good 4 minutes long, you get a lot of music and diversity here: from fast to slow, from aggressive to melodic drama. Amazing how these Dutch pulled it off. As we're at sea, a storm is due. The music in "And The Consequence Macabre" perfectly shows that. The blasts and bombastic orchestrations form a powerful unity, not to mention the added shrieks. Dark sounding strings give the song a haunting feeling, where the demonic vocals fit tremendously. At some point the mood changes and the music opts for a dancy approach, swinging back and forth, creating a more positive feeling. The symphonics are more humble, but the choir sings as if doom is nigh. The piano intervention helps to complete the theatrical touch. This would certainly fit for a theater production. I can already see the actors and scenery. Anyway, after this side-step, it's back to the blasting power of before, indicating that for happiness you need to be elsewhere. Excellent stuff!

On to the captain himself then with "Van Der Decken's Triumph". The same Wikipedia article (see above) tells of this man. This song starts instantly, offering direct action as if the intro was cut off. Metal power versus violin leads (assiting the vocals), a very nice contrast. The earlier mood swing (the happy swinging back and forth) returns here. All responsibility for the mood swings lies with the orchestra, which is very listenable, despite the gloomy feel. The Metal instrumentation then either follows or holds its silence. One must be careful with these orchestrations, as they can easily put you to sleep or hypnotize you, thus making you unaware of any danger approaching. But once the power is restored, all senses are back on full attention. When you find "Bloodstains On The Captain's Log", something's fishy going on. The symphonics clearly indicate that and play a tune to warn for danger. This continues slowly, while blasting Metal counters it. It's almost as if you're listening to a film score track. Madness and devastation kick in, expressed through high speed and ferocious music. At some point there's a break where all slows down and the orchestration is the center of attention, yet the Metal instrumentation fights back in bursts. The pace gradually increases to be at full speed again, letting the madness get out of control and evolve into a wonderful headbanging part where the brass instrumentation fulfills its backing role with splendour until the end.

"Al Betekent Het Mijn Dood", which means "Even If It Means My Death", is a short track and not even a song. It's more of a firey dialogue between the captain and his crew. But the orchestral backing is needed to create a lively image of the situation. Or, this is also something that would do great in a theater. The music starts to roll out of the speakers again when the ship continues its journey in "Departure Towards A Nautical Curse". Haunting Black Metal then couldn't be better chosen. And yes, there's even a sirene. Well, not exactly, but a female singer does provide short, operatic backing vocals. No blasts here, as the overall tempo is quite low and the backing support very subtle. Over halfway the piano break and guitar solo offers a moment of easy-listening. Once the raw vocals are added, which accentuate the drama of the scene, the speed increases and those female vocals come into play again. Somehow the band then changes course and chooses the path of the verses, after which everything suddenly stops making a sound, which I found rather strange. Bang! Done! Schluss damit! As good as this song is, such details might be trivial, or could have a big(ger) impact.

Two more chapters in this dark, nautical journey, starting with "The Course Of A Spectral Ship". The orchestral input in the beginning is very nice, but clearly indicates something about to break loose. And so it happens: blasting, powerful Metal. There is danger, something threating out there. Speaking of the orchestrations, they are responsible for the different moods and events. With a good 5 minutes of playtime, the Dutch once again managed to create another progressive song. The end result... brilliant! Before the ship either vanishes or returns to the harbour, there's "The Shining Was A Portent Of Gloom" as a sort of follow-up/sequel to "The Sighting Is A Portent Of Doom". With almost 9 minutes, the ending is not in sight yet. It all begins with a soft piano and cello, steadily growing in volume, as if you're listening to film score made for grand productions. Stunning piece of music! The Metal and Seregor's typical demonic vocals kick in afterwards. What is instantly clear after a few minutes is the change in tempo (speed) and rhythm. CARACH ANGREN once again shift from gentle to rough, bombastic stuff. But then a guitar solo pops up (followed by the piano later on), and as good as it is, it sounds totally out of place. However, it did come accross as the sky clearing up before going completely dark again. Orchestrations are a vital ingredients in the band's compositions, allowing the strings or brass to get into the spotlights. Here it's the cello, playing a dark, despairing tune, whereas the violin is the perfect element to express emotions like sadness, feeling lost, and more. The piano is added and forms a nice trio with the previous two instruments. They carry the melody further and leave room for Metal power to be added. This new group of instruments bands together on a sacred journey... oh wait, wrong band. Anyway, this instrumental moment continues until the end. But moreover, it sounds so amazingly good. In short: an excellent apotheosis.

In 2008 I said about CARACH ANGREN and "Lammendam" the following: "(...) I can only be positive about CARACH ANGREN and their multi-layered debut "Lammendam". This is qualitative Symphonic Black Metal that shows the band doesn't have to fear the bigger bands in this league. (...) these Dutch here take a somewhat different approach for which you can only have the utmost respect." With a follow-up like "Death Came Through A Phantom Ship" the respect remains, for the Dutch have outdone themselves, prooving they could indeed do better than what was already very good. "Death Came Through A Phantom Ship" is highly recommended material for any Symphonic Black Metal fan, but foremost one that likes his Metal to encourage him to see/hear more than the music. You could call it Intelligent Metal, even if this doesn't not only apply to Black Metal. The story of "The Flying Dutchman" has been brought to life in a magnificent way.

More info at www.myspace.com/carachangren.

Line-up:
Seregor - vocals, guitars, bass
Ardek - keyboards
Namtar - drums


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BATTALION – Underdogs (Silverwolf Productions 2010)

Battalions - Underdogs
  1. Thrash Maniacs
  2. Headbangers *
  3. Running Alone
  4. Wings Of A Demons
  5. T.F.F.M. *
  6. Bullets & Death
  7. Stalingrad *
  8. Interlude
  9. Beggars Right
  10. Dictators Of Stone
  11. Defenders *

The Swiss Metal band BATTALION was founded in 2001 as CORPUS DELICTI, under which banner one demo was released, "The Story of the Immortal Knight". Once bassist Roland Isken left, the rest of the band found it appropriate to change the name into BATTALION. Under this new name, the Swiss put out their debut, "The Fight For Metal", in 2006. At that time they played Heavy Metal like IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, SAXON and similar. Four years and a label deal with Silverwolf Productions later, the follow-up is ready: "Underdogs". Upon receiving a promo copy I instantly knew this was the Swiss BATTALION. Not only the logo remained the same, they even re-used the cover art. On their MySpace page the band wrote that this was originally meant to be the cover for SAXON's "Metalhead" album, but things turned out differently.

When you compare the tracklists of both albums (on Metal-Archives.com, for example), you'll notice a few titles returning on "Underdogs" (see the * in the tracklist), which is to come out on the 26th of February. Stylewise BATTALION went from Heavy Metal to Thrash Metal, Bay Area Thrash to be precise. This came as a nice surprise, though I had hoped to hear more solid Heavy Metal tunes, since "The Fight For Metal" was all in all a decent album. But as long as the end result is good, what's to complain? It's not like they went for a more mainstream kind of style. And somehow you can hear the guys love Metal, no matter if their Thrash isn't that technical.

"Thrash Maniacs" is the opener and one that instantly puts a smile on your face or brings your energy level up some steps. The typical ingredients are present: fast riffing and uptempo drums foremost. It's reminiscent of EXODUS, HEATHEN, ABANDONED and so on, while the simple and powerful chorus could have been written by TANKARD. Rhythm is key here, you won't find any solos, but the band manages to compensate that by switching to firm midtempo at some point and gradually working towards another furious outbreak. Catchy stuff, great to hear.

Up next is a midtempo Rocker/Thrasher ("Headbangers") with a fat guitarsound. Again EXODUS comes to mind, though MEGADETH pops up, too. "Running Alone", not an ANGRA cover, brings back speed and tempo. Nothing more needs to be said, as it's another enjoyable songs in classic Thrash style. This leads to another midtempo Thrasher like "Headbangers", yet sounding rather dark: "Wings Of A Demon". Can you see the structure? Indeed, "T.F.F.M.", which probably stands for "The Fight For Metal", makes the band go into highest gear again with the big difference that there is a solo now and more than one. The other songs didn't have that. Musically it's more fast Heavy Metal than Thrash, but it leans towards Thrash. So far, so very good.

"Bullets & Death" starts with fast riffing, like Jon Schaffer from ICED EARTH does. Drums are added in pounding format, followed by the take off: Thrash it is, indeed. Fast, raging verses and a pounding chorus. At some point there's a slowdown with some leading touches, but it perfectly reflects the title, mainly the "Death" part. To some extent you could compare the rhythm part that follows with CANDLEMASS. Obviously not with their slowest material, but still. The Thrash attack returns soon enough. Solid material, as simple as it may be. The third returning song, "Stalingrad", is another more Heavy Metal track, in vein of IRON MAIDEN, SAXON and similar. It's also one of the longest tracks, over 7 and a half minutes long. Solid verses contrasting with a more melodic, though serene chorus. Humble the music flows on, without sounding violent or wild, while the vocals adapt to this moment. There is room for a solo as well, which fits in perfectly. As the pace quickens afterwards, the solo then is a wilder one. Over halfway, all falls silent and it's just calm guitarwork, with atmospheric backing to reflect the distaster of war. A sad and touching moment that includes a speech (in German), as if a survivor tells the tale. What a contrast with the Metal that preceded. But the Metal returns and adds power to the music, before going back to business as usual. Pure and relentless Heavy Metal. Very very nice song!

"Interlude" is what the title says, an instrumental. Atmospheric, serene, soothing. A perfect break for the Heavy/Thrash assault that is "Beggars Right". A fat guitarsound, ballsy vocals (like in all songs), thundering drums and rattling bass. Somehow this made me think of "MOTÖRHEAD goes Thrash", an entertaining thought. The band takes it a bit slower at some point to come back with full force during the solo moment. The rhythmic part afterwards reminds of IRON MAIDEN, HAMMERFALL (not the present version) and similar before changing into 6th gear and letting out another wild solo. "Dictators Of Stone" lets the fast playing for what it is and reverts to midtempo, though the pace remains relatively high enough. Rhythm guitarwork is very important here. In terms of attractiveness or catchiness, it's a bit less than the previous tracks. The chorus is once more short and simple ("Dictators Of Stone"). Time to instrumental talk is implemented, too, with a slow rhythmic part. But then it's solo time, which means fast guitarwork, fast drumming and wild soloing. Excellent twist, I must say and one this song badly needs to avoid monotony.

"Defenders" is the last track that was allowed to make the transfer from "The Fight For Metal" to "Underdogs". Calm guitarwork, thunder in the sky and the Metal adding a few hits along the way, sort of disturbing the peaceful stream of melody. And success is there: fast riffing, uptempo drums. Power/Thrash reminding, at least me, of STEEL ATTACK (their first two albums), HAMMERFALL, GAMMA RAY, STORMWARRIOR, IRON MAIDEN, HELLOWEEN, and so on. Yes, of course solos are a must then and your ears will be entertained. Happy, catchy and energizing. All in all, "Defenders" is a great track to end a very entertaining album that is "Underdogs".

"The Fight For Metal" was a fine Heavy Metal debut for BATTALION. "Underdogs" shows the band decided to go for more than just Heavy Metal and threw influences from Heavy Metal, Power Metal and Thrash Metal into the mix. The result prooved to be very tastey, entertaining, energizing and more. While the first couple of tracks may fool you in terms of just (Bay Area) Thrash, the Heavy and Power Metal elements come to life in the other tracks. BATTALION show with this album how closely related Heavy, Power and Thrash Metal are. In other words, they made an album that should appeal to the open-minded Metalhead. Even if it has all been done before, "Underdogs" is an album that is filled with qualitative Metal and that's what matters.

More info at www.myspace.com/battalionofficial.

Line-up:
Silvan Etzensperger - vocals, guitars
Cyril Etzensperger - guitars
Lukas Marti - bass
Samuel Riedener - drums


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ECLECTIKA – Dazzling Dawn (Asylum Ruins Records 2010)

Eclectika - Dazzling Dawn
  1. The End
  2. Dazzling Dawn
  3. Sophist Revenge
  4. Les Démons Obsédants Du Regret
  5. There Is No Daylight In The Darkest Paradise
  6. Experience 835
  7. The Next Blue Exoplanet
  8. Marble Altar
  9. Stockholm Syndrome
  10. 11 Corps Décharnés

ECLECTIKA is a French formation, led by vocalist/instrumentalist Sebastien Regnier, who also runs the band's own label, Asylum Ruins Records. The band was founded in 2001, but took its time to create own material, which resulted in the demo "Funeral Victorious March", released in 2005. Two years later the full-length "The Last Blue Bird" saw the light of day. Another three years later, or anno 2010, the follow-up came out and this on the 25th February under the title "Dazzling Dawn".

"Dazzling Dawn" consists of ten tracks, starting with the orchestral intro that is "The End". In itself, this track is very well done. Just like "Dazzling Dawn", where harsh and cold Black Metal riffing and blasts bursts out of the speakers in the first moments. Midtempo follows afterwards. The vocals sound demonic, though countered with female interventions. The chorus is of the slow and dramatic kind. There's even room for a solo. The rough beginning is not repeated, it's in acoustic style that the song is put to sleep. All in all, a very good track, though a bit of a pity that the drums are programmed and not in the best fitting manner. Up next is "Sophist Revenge", which also hs that Black Metal influence, building with riffs and bestial vocals. The drums are at midtempo, but somehow there's more drive than in the title track. Alexandra comes in in the chorus, though with short phrases. The overall feel and atmosphere is one of despair, sadness and similar, helped by the large attention for instrumental passages.

Two highlights done, the first of the less good songs - less good is a wrong expression, they're good, just a little less in some way than the highlights - which form a group of four tracks: "Les Démons Obsédants Du Regret". Its acoustic intro sounds rather happy compared to the previous songs. Alexandra sings the lead vocals while the (acoustic) music sounds quite Poppy. The chorus sounds more complete with symphonic backing. Ok, it's a ballad and a very decent one, even. The solo is nice, but not really needed here. The next of the pack is "Marble Altar", a song containing dark and gloomy Metal. The beginning is one where the song is being built, lead onwards by Alexandra's lead vocals. Afterwards the music pounds forth without any sign of happiness. The guitar input is key and sounds like a constant stream in the river of slow Metal. Bestial vocals fit best here, though Alexandra returns in the chorus, which is a bad decision. Not that she can't sing, but her voice does not fit in this part, as it forms too big a contrast with the music. Other problems or discussable elements are the fake drums (I can understand the reason, but real drums would have made this song much better) and the long playtime, plus a lack of variation.

"Stockholm Syndrome" starts with a symphonic intro, fading in and you can feel something's about to burst. An atmosphere of horror, terror comes to mind. Black Metal does burst in, slow at first, but then blasting its way forward. Bestial vocals dominate, though Alexandra's occupy the chorus. All ends with church bells and whispers, as if by a congregation. "11 Corps Décharnés", the last track, follows smoothly with an atmospheric intro, creating a dark setting devoid of surroundings. Sounds are added, like an alarm, hunting you and you need to be aware of what's going on. There's evil out there and it can catch you anytime. Screams of terror and agony make it seem like te setting is dark dungeon, where people are tortured until they truly don't know anymore what to do, what to scream, whether to scream or not. Spacey keyboards come in and take over much later, as if they stand for a new situation, a new dawn. Programmed drums sort of like on SUMMONING's albums help complete the compositions. No singing here, no guitars, only atmospheric sounds. The way the album ends, does give the impression the voyage isn't over yet.

And so I can return to the rest of the highlights, a total of three tracks: "There Is No Daylight In The Darkest Paradise", "Experience 835" and "The Next Blue Exoplanet". "There Is No Daylight In The Darkest Paradise" commences with a very nice piano melody and spacey backing, the whole sounding absolutely super. Metal is added in bursts before taking off, albeit slow and heavy. The bestial/demonic vocals are good, but I have difficulty connecting them with the music. When Alexandra takes over and the music changes to melodic Metal, the link vocals-music works better, but isn't that great either. The instrumental aspect of the song is very well done and makes the vocals actually redundant. Later on there's a fast outbreak, Power Metal-meets-Black Metal style, with the obligatory guitar solo. Very good, if you ask me. The track ends with a short acoustic moment. "Experience 835" is indeed quite an experience. One of mystery, fear, the unexpected... hell? Judging by the screams, it's not the Garden of Eden. Symphonic elements stress the desolation, the doom and gloom, the terror and devastation. It's indeed an interlude for "The Next Blue Exoplanet", which has more positive symphonic elements, as if the sun is coming through the dark clouds. Atmosphere and keyboards fulfill a key role here. And so it continues before the dark and gloomy "Marble Altar" comes into view.

Space Metal in Black Metal format, that's one way to describe ECLECTIKA's music. A new discovery for me. It took me a while, though, to get into it, but Sebastien, Alexandra and Aurelien have done a very good job on their second album, "Dazzling Dawn". Pluspoints go the compositions and diversity, while te programmed drums are best replaced by real drums or if that's not possible, a better version of programmed drums. If you seek comparable material, then I would direct you to KAMPFAR, DARK FUNERAL, (old) MÅNEGARM, ADOR DORATH, Norwegian Black Metal and maybe a touch of SUMMONING. And similar, obviously.

More info at www.eclectika.fr.

Line-up:
Aurelien Pers - vocals
Alexandra Lemoine - vocals
Sebastien Regnier - vocals, instruments


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THROES OF DAWN – The Great Fleet Of Echoes (Firebox Records 2010)

Throes Of Dawn - The Great Fleet Of Echoes
  1. Entropy
  2. Ignition of the Grey Sky
  3. Velvet Chokehold
  4. Soft Whispers of the Chemical Sun
  5. Chloroform
  6. Slow Motion
  7. We Have Ways to Hurt You
  8. Lethe
  9. The Great Fleet of Echoes
  10. Blue Dead Skies

This is how the Finnish band THROES OF DAWN describes its music (saves me some of the work ;-)): "THROES OF DAWN is a Metal band from Finland, formed in 1994 by Henri Koivula (vocals) and Jani Heinola (synth). THROES OF DAWN's music could be described as emotional and progressive dark Metal. Their sound is built on the combination of synths and guitars, laced with clean vocals and additional growling and screaming vocals. There is unique atmosphere and depth in their music that flows like an ominous soundtrack to a surreal and bittersweet end. The lyrical concept of THROES OF DAWN is often poetic, reflecting the deeper and darker aspects of the human psyche; solitude, feelings of loss, and the fears and pains of existence." There you go. The band's discography kicked off with 2 demos before unleashing the debut album, "Pakkasherra", in 1997. The sophomore album, "Dreams of the Black Earth", followed two years later. Before breaking up in 2001, "Binding Of The Spirit" came out (2000).

Anno 2001 Henri and Jani brought the band back to life with a totally new line-up. Together they worked on "Quicksilver Clouds", which saw the light of day in 2004. To promote this release THROES OF DAWN shared the stage with ANATHEMA, ORPHANED LAND, GREEN CARNATION and others and crossed the Finnish border to Germany, The Netherlands and Russia. Then the time came to collect the new ideas and use them to create something new. Since the band was also experimenting with new sounds, something useful had to come from that. The work on the latest release, "The Great Fleet Of Echoes" (out since the 19th of February), started in November 2007, but the band took its time to put the puzzle together.

"Entropy" begins the spectacle with soft atmospheric keyboards fading. A sad melody is played, while sounding quite soothing at the same time. Percussion is added to complement it, as do the breakable guitar accents. Gradually the whole assembly grows in size and volume, like a group of people grows as more join the fold, marching onwards to a certain goal, arrival point, ... But the real take-off is after a good two minutes, that's where the entire band can be heard. The vocals are clean, calm and sound lost, somehow. They fit perfectly with this clean kind of music, although disortion is added later to create a Doomy effect, helped by the keyboards. Things get a small boost in the chorus, where the band rocks more and throws in electronic touches. As the song started in a calm way, so does it end. All in all, a more than alright song.

Not that much with "Ignition Of The Grey Sky", where an image of doom and gloom comes to mind, just by looking at the title. Its first part is accoustic (piano, guitar for the rhythm, atmospheric keyboards for the leads). But we're dealing with a Rock/Metal band here, so that aspect is activated a little later, building towards the verses. Those are slow and contain hypnotizing singing, if I may say so. This track rocks more than the first one, although the sad melodies are a dominant factor. The flow goes up and down, switching between melodic and more rocking parts. After about 3 minutes, however, it's realy time to rock. Henri holds his peace in the last part, letting the music do the talking, in a typical slowness.

"Velvet Chokehold" is another very nice track. Tension is created through practially the entire instrumentation, with the keyboards sounding spacey. Midtempo Electronic Rock follows with two types of singing, clean and growls, in vein of Mikael Åkerfeldt from OPETH. The rhythm stands out here, making it hard to sit still. This is contrasted by the slow, melancholic chorus. Vocals are alright, but it's especially the (atmospheric) music that makes this song interesting. And it's as if THROES OF DAWN deliberately placed their songs in an order of good-less good-good-less good-..., since "Soft Whispers of the Chemical Sun" is another song that, at least to me, isn't as attractive as the previous one. Keyboards are the main element here, gving the song a spacey character, while letting the Rock aspect gets its share as well. The singing is calm in this Alternative Rock setting. The whole song sounds almost out of this world, mainly because of the keyboards. At some point it sounds like spiritual/meditational music, but with a rocking character. Over halfway the guitar does come into the spotlights, but it sounds more like Pop than Rock. Distortion is activated a little later, while the piano joins at the same time. If you're into more Pop stuff, this song might please you more than me.

And it can get... less good. "Chloroform" is an accoustic track. The guitar offers the rhythm, the piano/keyboards are in charge of the leads, often assisted by the guitar. This track too was given a futuristic/spacey feeling, sounding soothing, Post Rock-like. The overall fullness of the music is put aside for a little while at some point to let atmospheric sounds fill the room. Overall, this isn't exactly bad, but I found particularly the last minute sleep-inducing. "Slow Motion" then. What a title, especially considering the fact that there aren't any really fast tracks on this album. It's a rocking song with the required atmospheric backing. The verses however, are accoustic with bumpy drumming. It's in the chorus that the Rock comes out. Guitarwork is key in this song, although it allows for a calmer moment before turning it up again. In general, an ok song with enough diversity.

"We Have Ways to Hurt You" starts calm before the Rock kicks in with a certain power. It must be said, though, that the music is inline with the preceding songs and a feeling of sadness, melancholy and despair cannot be missed. Both vocal types are present again (clean and growls). This is probably the shortest track, but it's an active one, especially in the last part. And yes, it's better than "Chloroform". "Lethe" is another song where the quality level knows an increase. It's a calm one with key roles for the piano, accoustic guitar and drums. The atmosphere of sadness and tristesse gives it a Gothic touch. Clean vocals are very much appropriate. As a surprise, the band added an accordion to spice up the melodic side and I have to admit, a choice well-made. There's even time for some short soloing.

The title track, "The Great Fleet Of Echoes", was set near the end and is the longest one (playtime of almost 8 minutes) on this album. The piano is the first to start its playing. When the others fall in, Jani continues like nothing happened and this until the verses. Those are the domain of the guitars and drums. Henri shows his vocal strengths again, clean and growls. The obligatory atmospheric backing is present and the piano gives the whole a dark touch. THROES OF DAWN created a very nice song here, with lots of diversity in terms of heaviness, melody, rhythm... Kudos for that. Even the piano break makes the song worth checking out. "Blue Dead Skies" puts an end to the fleet with a calm guitarstart that sounds like SAVATAGE's "The Dungeons Are Calling" or METALLICA's "The Call Of Ktulu". The atmospheric, spacey keyboards comes in in waves. Musically this sounds pretty much like NEST. At least, that's the first name that came to mind. An accordion in "Lethe", a saxophone in "Blue Dead Skies". Overall this song has a good rhythm, dito feel and mood. As a whole it sounds very beautiful, very soothing and only one word can describe this: wow!

Atmospheric Rock/Metal is nice to listen to in contrast to the heavier genres like Power, Thrash, Death, Black, and so on. THROES OF DAWN holds on to a certain style, but I can't tell whether or not they improve by the album or "The Great Fleet Of Echoes" is their best. Fact is that the songs were given a very good and appropriate production, allowing the music to come out like it should. My only criticism would be - and this could be a taste-related issue - that the album contains a bit too much of the same. In other words, the attention could fade after a few songs. In general, "The Great Fleet Of Echoes" is a decent album.

More info at www.myspace.com/throesofdawn.

Line-up:
Henri "Kaamos" Koivula - vocals
Juha Ylikoski - guitars
Jani Heinola - keyboards, guitars
Harri Huhtala - bass
Jani "Martex" Martikkala - drums


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HELLCHIEF – Ignition (Hellchief 2010)

Hellchief - Ignition
  1. Ignition
  2. Endless Run *
  3. Subtract
  4. Street Loving
  5. Shifting Gear
  6. To Hell
  7. MOT
  8. Jack *
  9. Chief 2000 *
  10. Bloodclaude

HELLCHIEF, a Belgian Alternative Metal band, released its first demo, "Wave It Around", last year. This contained 3 songs (see the *) with a total length of about 6 minutes. Musically you could detect a mix of Thrash, Hardcore, Rock 'n' Roll and more. Not on the demo, but in their MySpace player, were three other songs: "Streetloving", "Plow" and "Bloodclaud". These were now added, with the demo's songs, to the band's debut full-length, "Ignition". This is another self-release, out since the 16th February.

Six minutes for the demo, just below the 30-minutes marker is where "Ignition" ends. As you can then calculate, the band sticks to the recipe of short songs. This new release starts with the title track, a midtempo rocker, almost Post Hardcore, Post Metal in some way. The bass was put high in the mix, while the guitar delivers power. There's a tempo increase for the chorus, which sounds like ZZ TOP on speed. But it's a very good song, no doubt. "Endless Run" is a track from the demo, so I'll just copy-paste what I wrote last year. Harsh vocals, uptempo music and to the point. The sound is good, for a demo, but in this re-recorded version the mix turns out better for the guitar, which was pushed to the back on the demo. 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.

"Subtract" is another highlight, next to "Ignition". Fast drums are opposed to slow, Doomy guitarwork. But at such a fast rate, there's little room for fills or accents, so the drums basically continue like nothing can stop them. In the vocal department all's clean. Speaking of the tempo, the band shifts into a higher gear for the chorus. I guess that's one way (the only way?) to distinguish verses from chorus. Musically it's sounds like (late) 90s' METALLICA or MOTÖRHEAD. Or similar, of course. In "Street Loving", one of those older songs (I suppose), the bass sets in, after which the entire band kicks in... at a high tempo, indeed. Dave's singing sounds more forced, sort of like in the first two songs. The loving doesn't last long, but is quite powerful.

"Shifting Gear" is not what the band does in this song. Bass and drums set in, and when full power is activated MOTÖRHEAD comes to mind. Or in short: no slowing down at all. The singing sounds forced again and close to whispering. The leadwork is a bit distorted, but it rocks! Ok, I admit, there's a slowdown at some point, but it doesn't last that long. So in that context the title makes more sense. And the race goes on with "To Hell". Why go slow if you can go fast? The guitarwork is what's key here, with a nice rhythm and groove. Seeing a title like "MOT" can be interpreted in at least two ways in Dutch: a moth and a punch (in the face, for example). And it's great to hear HELLCHIEF finally slowed down for a change. This is a Bluesy midtempo rocker, but it does go fast(er) in the chorus. A matter of distinction, I suppose. As good as it all sounds, I got the feeling the ending came too soon.

"Jack" is the second song from the demo. This is a fast Rocker with clean vocals, almost Elvis-like and a touch of forced whispering, so to speak. It's decent, but I don't count it as a highlight here. "Chief 2000" is the third and final demo song. The tempo is set high here, too, but the melodic aspect has increased. Dave's vocals are almost Hardcore-ish. But like before, the result is solid. And the last position is for "Bloodclaude", also an old song. It starts at midtempo, but soon shifts into a high gear. Dave's input sounds screamy and the forced whispering was used, too. Musically the whole does sound energetic and wild, which is rather characteristic for this album.

"Wave It Around" showed a HELLCHIEF with potential, but with the impression that the band's real power is on stage. The three songs were merely to show what music the band plays and how energetic it can be. With "Ignition" the production and mix were improved, though we're of course still dealing with a demo recording. What is positive about the album is the honesty and ambiance. The other side of the medal shows that 1) a better production would give the songs even more power and solidity, 2) most of the songs are fast, which can make the listening experience somewhat monotonous, but luckily vocals and guitars try to offer variety in terms of rhythm, groove and leads, and 3) the drumming is too linear overall (in my humble opinion), by which I mean that some fills or accents or even slower patterns could be beneficial. Again I stand by my earlier remark that, while I cannot confirm it (yet), the band's real power is to be witnessed and experienced live. Fans of the more Rock 'n' Roll side of Rock/Metal (the mix of Thrash, Hardcore, Punk, Rock 'n' Roll, ...) however should check out HELLCHIEF and "Ignition". What they do is good to very good, that's without question.

More info at www.myspace.com/hellchieff.

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


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SAVAGE MACHIINE – Sinister Redemptions (Savage Machiine 2010)

Savage Machiine - Sinister Redemptions
  1. I Am
  2. Un Palo En El Ocico
  3. Palido
  4. Cabeza Hueca
  5. 91
  6. No Sabra
  7. Salvaje
  8. Too Bad You're Dead

SAVAGE MACHIINE is an American (though with Mexican influences) Metal band, mixing elements from Punk, Latin and Death Metal. They formed in 2004 and released a demo, "Dementions", in 2005. It is said that their live performances show the band at work in their real habitat, as many excited people can confirm. Earlier this year, in February if I recall correctly, the trio released the EP "Sinister Redemptions". It contains eight tracks and a total playtime of about 21 minutes. Live-wise the band hs already shared the stage with bands like ARMORED SAINT, DIVINE HERESY, 3 INCHES OF BLOOD, NAPALM DEATH, CEPHALIC CARNAGE, BONDED BY BLOOD, WARBRINGER and many others.

"I Am" starts the redemption with a steady beat and rhythm. The Legend's gutteral vocals follow soon and obviously the instrumentation takes the same direction and feel. The music flows well and the brutality of it all is let out in the chorus. For a first part this sounds quite good. First part indeed, as this track is divided into two, with the second one being totally different. Here you get a fast Death Metal attack, contrasting enormously with anything that preceded. The rough vocals even had to clear room for clean singing, while the heavy guitarwork made way for more melodic input. "I Am"... schizophrenic? Dual-sided? Anyway, a fine job by this savage trio.

As the three have Mexican roots, Spanish titles and/or lyrics are an almost logical decision, and this for most of the songs. Starting with "Un Palo En El Ocico", which is nothing more than an interlude. Calm and with a Jazzy touch, it's so misleading that the Death Metal assault in "Palido" might stun you instantly. This is brutal, bestial even. Despite its short playtime there is time for a solo before pulling the plug. But it is a good track, no doubt. "Cabeza Hueca" brings back a bit of the calm and Jazzy atmosphere of before before transcending into Death/Thrash in vein of KREATOR, DESTRUCTION, BENEDICTION and similar. The midtempo verses are occupied by the drums and The Legend's growls, which made me think of Alex Camargo (vocals, bass) from the Brazilian Death Metallers KRISIUN. Devastation reigns here and after a tempo boost, the growls have changed into shrieks. As good as it may sound, I somehow couldn't really connect or feel as positive as with the previous song.

"91" couldn't bring salvation either. There's a movie sample in the beginning, judging by the music. Did this come from one of the "The Lord Of The Rings" movies? Or a similar one? The Metal comes rolling in and the growls are present as well. The chorus is on the slow side and has the growls sounding rather sentimental. A strange change, but if it works, why not? Another movie sample comes along and you'd think the track is done, but then brutality and blasts are (re-)activated and it's when they are silenced that all else holds its peace.

Three more tracks and those did revigorate my attention and interest. "No Sabra" is an uptempo, Punkish song with full force hiding in the chorus. Spanish lyrics, as you could deduce from the title, although that's never a certainty. Anyway, it shows SAVAGE MACHIINE is more than Death Metal. The drums set in in "Salvaje". This is a track comparable to "I Am". Another good track, mind you, but personally I fond the chorus being repeated a bit too often with the backing vocals ("heyeyey"...). Last but not least there's "Too Bad You're Dead". Quite a loving title, don't you think? Especially when you read the lyrics, which aren't about the blue sky, green fields of grass and colourful flowers. It's a midtempo rocker with a classic rhythm. Uptempo is switched on later at which point shrieks come in. The growling is done in the chorus. Rhythmic guitarwork is key in this song. That's an element you cannot miss.

SAVAGE MACHIINE are not a Death Metal band, they're not a Punk band, they're not a Jazz band. They are a mix of it all and never stick to one style or direction. That's, I think, one of the strong points of this trio. People who have seen the band live and known their work earlier than me, are in a better position to confirm this. "Sinister Redemptions" is a nice release in that it shows the ideas and passion of this band. However, and in my humble opinion, the shortness of several tracks make them sound more like extracts than proper songs, while the demo production (depending on the song) limits the band in letting out the right amount of power. This leads me to believe that, as I mentioned in the beginning, one can properly enjoy SAVAGE MACHIINE's songs in a live setting.

More info at www.myspace.com/savagemachiine.

Line-up:
The Legend - vocals, bass
Gach Loco - guitars
Tony B. Savage - drums


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FUELBLOODED – Off The Face Of The Earth (My Kingdom Music 2010)

Fuelblooded - Off The Face Of The Earth
  1. The End Starts Here
  2. Discontinued Dormancy
  3. When Passion Dies
  4. Recipe For Demise
  5. The Cult Of Ego
  6. Off The Face Of The Earth
  7. The Wrath Of A'ath
  8. Pandemic Persecution
  9. Demonized

FUELBLOODED is a at the same time an old and a new band, hailing from The Netherlands. It's new because the band's debut album, "Inflict The Inevitable", came out in 2006, four years after the name was chosen. Before FUELBLOODED the band was known as SACRAMENTAL SACHEM, who played Death/Thrash in the period 1989-2001. A new name, a change in style: Melodic Death/Thrash. Gigwise the band has already shared the stage with THE DEFACED, DARKANE, ARCH ENEMY, NILE, THE HAUNTED, FORBIDDEN, and several others. While "Inflict The Inevitable" was mixed and mastered by Jacob Hansen, it was SCAR SYMMETRY guitarist Jonas Kjellgren who handled those duties for FUELBLOODED's sophomore album, "Off The Face Of The Earth", which was released on the 5th of February.

"Off The Face Of The Earth" contains, next to 9 songs, the video for "The End Starts Here", which is the album's starting track. It starts heavy and dark, sounding Industrial-ish, after which the Metal rolls on steadily. The singing consists of two types, growls and cleans. The first obviously fit best with this kind of aggressive music, while the second contrast very much and give the music a modern touch. The pace for the verses is set at midtempo, while the chorus is done in a higher gear. The solo, too, can be found among the ruthless guitarwork. At some point the music gets a kick in the rear and rushes onwards for a very short while, in a way that sounds similar to "Terminal Liberation" from MORS PRINCIPIUM EST's "Liberation = Termination" album from 2007. All in all a good song, but nothing extraordinary.

"Discontinued Dormancy" takes a midtempo start, marching on like a massive Metal force. But then the situation escalates and the pace goes up. Aggressive vocals, ballsy guitarwork and pounding drums are the key ingredients. Growls in the verses, clean in the bridge and brutal again in the chorus. But somehow the cleans don't match that well are form more a disturbance than a valuable addition. Compare it with a bump in the road. Musically it's definitely better than "The End Starts Here", as the music sticks more, has a better rhythm and melodies, flows better and so on. This song reminds a bit of, for example, old IN FLAMES ("Whoracle", "Colony"). Let's slow down a bit. The melodic start of "When Passion Dies" is nice and should lead somewhere or grow into something bigger, more violent. Well, no, it doesn't. The expected outburst is nowhere to be heard. The pace lies relatively low, with clean singing in the verses and chorus, where the music turns more melodic. It made me think, in a way, of METALLICA's self-titled release aka the "black album" (1991). The first guitar solo is short, followed by a growl moment during which the Metal is twisted in a different direction, before coming back on the main track for the chorus. But fear not, for a new solo follows, a longer one this time. Like before, the chorus is done one final time before pure, aggressive Metal puts the song to sleep. It's overall a nice song, though not superb.

Track no. 4, "Recipe For Demise", is one of the few highlights. Not that the rest is bad, but to my ears only a few songs, two to be precise, really stood out. "Recipe For Demise" is the first, throwing its melodies in short bursts out of the speakers, followed by powerful riffing. The tempo and playing is firm and clean singing dominates the vocal department. This time the vocals do fit with the heavy instrumentation. However, growls are added in the chorus. Musically this is like (old) IN FLAMES, SCAR SYMMETRY, ARCH ENEMY and similar, with even a sniff of TESTAMENT. Solos are again present in a large enough quantity. It must be said, however, that despite its length of over 4 minutes, the ride's over before you know it. Or in other words, the structure is simple. But the 7 minutes of "The Cult Of Ego" should be different, right? The Metal comes fading, strolling on until ignition kicks in. Pedal to the metal with uptempo verses (clean vox first, growls following), slowing down a bit in the bridge where the melodic injection is bigger and letting out all aggression in the chorus, obviously with growls. The obligatory solos are neatly implemented. The Metal puts on a "core" jacket here, as in Metalcore. Fear not, it's far more Metal than Core. Not bad per se and it does provide a form of change. "The Cult Of Ego" is another decent song.

The title track starts ferociously, slowly advancing and then unleashing its poison. Pounding verses with growling vocals, flowing into a clean bridge and bringing devastation through a breakdown chorus during which both vocal types out the required words. Previously solos were used to spice up the song, being present in limited quantity and thus for a limited time. Here their time is far less limited, but for what reason? I mean, it doesn't feel like a proper solo, rather soloing for the sake of soloing or not knowing how to fill the gap after which the chorus comes again and the song nears its end. So, as a whole, this is a rather mediocre song. It sounds good, but it's forgettable. The short "The Wrath Of A'ath" starts calm with the riffing fading in, then further advancing at a slow pace, though focussing on melody. It's a fully instrumental track, barely 2 and a half minutes long and, to be honest, forgettable.

The aggressiveness and power of "Pandemic Persecution" is then very welcome. The contrast exists between the slow verses, in which the growls (or rather, hoarse and dirty) are the main vocals while the cleans serve as accents, and the pounding chorus, where both vocal types come together. Solos are present as well. A decent song, that's for sure. "Demonized" ends the second album. This is the second highlight I was talking about earlier. As you remember, "Recipe For Demise" is the first one. "Demonized" starts instantly. The power of this thunderforce is unstoppable. It sounds almost like bands like KATAKLYSM, ILLDISPOSED, PANZERCHRIST, ... The vocals are aggressive, the pace is slow. The feel and atmosphere is one of darkness, agony, devastation, guilt, self-pity. It sounds dirty. Clean vocals come in on a next occasion. The chorus is where the melody hides, and that's also where the clean vocals feel like a fish in the water. somehow METALLICA comes to mind again, and again the "black album" period. While "The Cult Of Ego" didn't do much with its 7 minutes, the situation is different here. The music is variable in terms of melody, rhythm, tempos. Even the soloing is better than before and fits in like never before. The part with the hoarse vocals from the beginning does come back at a later moment. A recommended track, all in all, and definitely worth calling it a highlight.

FUELBLOODED, another band new to my ears. This acquaintance was nice, but not something to boast about. "Off The Face Of The Earth" is filled with Melodic Death/Thrash that's up to date and provides food for fans of - and here comes the list - DARKANE, SCAR SYMMETRY, CENTINEX, ARCH ENEMY, (old) IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY and similar. On the other hand, FUELBLOODED is never a clone, its music just sounds similar to that of the aforementioned bands. Jonas Kjellgren has once again done a very good job at giving the songs the right power and balance. Is "Off The Face Of The Earth" a must-have? In my (humble) opinion, no. Unless this kind of extreme yet melodic Metal is your cup of tea. To me it's a decent album, all things considered. Nothing more, nothing less.

More info at www.myspace.com/fuelblooded.

Line-up:
Peter Brinkman - vocals
Michiel Rutten - guitars
Danny Tunker - guitars
Michel Steenbekkers - bass
Norbert Moen - drums


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TROLL – Neo-Satanic Supremacy (Napalm Records 2010)

Troll - Neo-Satanic Supremacy
  1. Til Helvete Med Alt
  2. Alt For Satan
  3. Ga Til Krig
  4. Burn The Witch
  5. Morkets Skoger
  6. Hvor Taken Ligger Sa Trist Og Gra
  7. Satanic Supremacy
  8. At The Gates Of Hell
  9. Smertens Rike
  10. Age Of Satan

TROLL is a Norwegian Black Metal band that was formed in 1992 by Nagash and several fellow musicians. But it turned out to be Nagash's band, solo project even, which would remain like that until 2007. In terms of releases, there first was the EP "TROLLstorm over Nidingjuv" in 1995. Nagash is said to have played all instruments for this release. The following year a first full album came out under the title "Drep de Kristne", meaning "Kill The Christians". Apparently this caused a conflict between Nagash and the Norwegian government; the latter blaming the musician for blasphemy and inciting violence against the religious institutions and its followers. Nagash was at that time a member of DIMMU BORGIR and THE KOVENANT and TROLL was put on hold until 2000. At that time a former founding member returned to help Nagash with vocals and lyrics and this for two succeeding albums. Further assistance came from musicians who had played as session musicians in MAYHEM, THE KOVENANT and STREET LEGAL / DA VINCI. This new line-up made "The Last Predators" in 2000 and "Universal" in 2001, although both albums were recorded on the very same day. Stylewise these were very different from the earlier and later TROLL records.

The following years steps were undertaken to make TROLL a full-fledge band again. At the basis of this decision was Vold (bassist), who talked to Nagash (vocals, guitar) and Ygg (drums). And so the band was back on track and composed Black Metal like in the beginning. Anno 2009 Napalm Records noticed the potential of the Norwegians and offered them a contract. The first output is to see the light of day on the 29th of January under the title "Neo-Satanic Supremacy". After having focused on Pagan and Folk and Power Metal the past few years, having another Black Metal band on its roster means Napalm Records is working on its core genres again, as in the past they had mainly Black and Gothic Metal bands under their wings.

"Neo-Satanic Supremacy" is a cliché title for a collection of 10 tracks, neatly composed of 5 English-sung and 5 Norwegian-sung songs. "Til Helvete Med Alt" is the opener, laying out its characteristic dark, atmospheric keyboard melodies. The guitars are added to stress the evilness, the underworld touch. The furious blasting attack follows soon after, while the earlier melody continues to play. Nagash's vocals sound raw and demonic. The guitars are the dominant factor, but the backing keyboards are a vital element in the entire structure, as without them the song would lose much of its magic and feel. Amongst this raging fury, TROLL manages to provide the listener with a nice combination of melody and rhythm. But foremost, this is not the kind of music for the weak of heart or devote christians.

"Alt For Satan" enforces that thought, as the keyboards show their dominance through the typical haunting and horrific sounds. The Metal rages even more and the blasts are intenser. Even Nagash has adapted his vocal input in favour of Satan. But Ygg does not blast all the time, as he knows that would not contribute to the song in general. The blasts are mainly reserved for the chorus, other than that Ygg keeps the tempo high and his drums pounding through, for example, the double bass. Overall this track calls for terms like horror, creeping death (no, not the METALLICA song), sacrifice. The music even sounds as if you're attending a ritual or mass. So in that perspective, the Norwegians have done a good job.

Two very good songs done, "Ga Til Krig" is the first less good one, in my opinion. The atmospheric keyboards are present once more, creating a horrific and creepy canvas. The Metal instrumentation comes bursting in, while the starting melody continues its way forward. Demonic shrieks make the picture complete. To add to the frightening feel, the piano offers some accents. The guitars remain the instruments of power, but cooperate smoothly with the melody. "Ga Til Krig" is a rather linear song, which isn't always a good thing, but it does provide enough room for instrumental talk. "Burn The Witch" is another track for the highlights list. Here no atmospheric intro, but instant raging Metal. The melody comes again from the keyboards, in piano form, while the dark powers of Black Metal contrast with their chilling touch. The chorus is where the tempo goes up and melody grows a bit stronger. This is another not really technical song, but at least the drum pattern contains some fills. Before the chorus is unleashed once last time, the keyboards play a theatrical piece, as if there's a play and what not that comes with the ritual of witch burning.

Speaking of theatrical, that's how the intro of "Morkets Skoger" sounds. The Metal comes in with short bursts and the fires away at full power. With blasts, indeed. The combination of the piano and the Black Metal reminds heavily of how THE KOVENANT (then known as COVENANT) did it on their album "Nexus Polaris". Somewhere that's logical, as Nagash was (or still is) part of that band. With "Hvor Taken Ligger Sa Trist Og Gra" another less good song is due. The same pattern will repeat itself for the coming songs. The sixth track offers the typical atmospheric keyboards, which again account for the dark setting. But somehow the music sounds rather happy compared to previous intros. Once the blackness of the guitars is added, that feeling of course melts away. The roles are clearly divided and each plays his with ease. The second part is where instrumental talk is put. All things considered, this is a good song, but in my opinion, not good enough for the list of highlights.

The title track is however another candidate for that list. As you can expect, you get blasting Black Metal with a very nice rhythm. The music sounds dark, evil, and even catchy. Yes, that might not be what Black Metal is about, but I find it interesting to hear how TROLL, despite their beliefs and interests, managed to make their Black Metal at some point... catchy. It's a short song, but an effective one. Then again, perhaps a few more minutes of compositions should have been added, no? And with that we come to another song that just didn't make it as "outstanding", namely "At The Gates Of Hell". It starts calm, but the pounding power soon kicks in. While previously the band focused on raging Black Metal, it seems that here the importance lies on the overall atmosphere and feeling, not pure blasting blackness. The end result is good and adds to the diversity of the tracklist, but compared to the majority of the other tracks, the latter are just a bit better or more interesting.

Two more songs, according to the pattern a very good and (less) good one: "Smertens Rike" and "Age Of Satan". The first has the raging guitars, the horrific keyboards and sounds like the kind of melodic/symphonic song a band like DIMMU BORGIR could have written. The blasting power is saved for the chorus. Melody is a key factor here and in short you can say this a very nice highlight. The last one is a more normal track, more Death Metal-ish than Black Metal. It's the keyboards and shrieky vocals that make up for that aspect. The piano leads and guitar power contrast here - more than before, or better, it's the only song where it's clear - in such a way they almost don't fit together. That contributes to a less interesting overall end result.

TROLL's Black Metal can be considered as a mix of (at least to my ears and as far as my Black Metal knowledge reaches) DIMMU BORGIR, DARK FUNERAL, HOLLENTHON, COVENANT/THE KOVENANT, BLACK MESSIAH and similar. This was my first acquaintance with this Norwegian band and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The grand majority of the tracks stands out, are highlights. The less good songs aren't necessarily bad, they're decent to good on their own, but that's not enough to be a highlight here. Even after several listens of "Neo-Satanic Supremacy" I didn't notice (m)any signs of boredom, but there's one remark I have to make: there's sometimes a bit too much linearity (and thus not many sidesteps/twists). On the other hand, the catchiness that is implemented here and there is an advantage to the listening experience. All this makes "Neo-Satanic Supremacy" one of the first qualitative Black Metal releases of 2010.

More info at www.myspace.com/troll.

Line-up:
Nagash - vocals, guitars
Tlaloc - guitars, vocals
Vold - bass, vocals
Exilis - keyboards
Ygg - drums


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THE KANDIDATE – Until We Are Outnumbered (Napalm Records 2010)

THE KANDIDATE - Until We Are Outnumbered
  1. Strength Through Diversity
  2. Give Up All Hope
  3. Shut 'Em Up
  4. Distress And Decay
  5. In Hell
  6. We Conform To The Unrighteous
  7. Live A Lie
  8. The Kill
  9. Enemy
  10. Yours Truly

Ex-HATESPHERE vocalist Jacob Bredahl is back. His new band is called THE KANDIDATE, which was founded as THE DOWNWARD CANDIDATE in 2005 by KB Larson and Allan Tvedebrink. Together with Kim Orneborg and Dennis Buhl the band recorded the demo "Distort & Confuse" in that same year and bring it out in 2006. Anno 2007 however, Kim Orneborg left due to other priorities. He was replaced by Kim Jarlhelt. The new line-up would then go for a full album. But Kim never recorded his parts, as he left the band prematurely. Since THE KANDIDATE recorded the music at Jacob Bredahl's studio, it was only normal he would fill the vacant vocalist spot. on the other hand, Dennis Buhl (drums), who joined HATESPHERE earlier, couldn't devote his time to THE KANDIDATE anymore. THE KANDIDATE is basically a new name for the band's new era. Earlier last year (2009) the band managed to sign with Napalm Records, which coincidentally also houses HATESPHERE.

Everyone knows how HATESPHERE sounds in terms of putting together elements from Thrash and Death Metal and some Hardcore stuff. They've managed to become one of Denmark's best bands and even last year they put out a very good album, "To The Nines". In one way, you could then consider THE KANDIDATE's newest output, "Until We Are Outnumbered" (set for the 29th of January), as Jacob's revenge. Anyway, this band too offers nothing but uncompromising brutality and aggression. Like HATESPHERE, yes. The album contains 10 tracks with a total playtime of barely 33 minutes. This shortness of the songs helps to gain radioplay in appropriate programmes, of course. Regarding the line-up: on drums we have TBA, or To Be Announced. The band's MySpace page shows Nik. Who that Nik is, I don't know, but I take it he either became a member after the recordings or helped record the drumparts. The press text says nothing about that, hence the TBA. Or did Dennis record his parts after all?

THE KANDIDATE is not a HATESPHERE clone, but sounds similar. Short songs, power to the core, pedal to the metal. The opener "Strength Through Diversity" is as a title a noble cause, and the music simply shows the power and force of this Danish formation. It's fast, raging, brutal, aggressive and also very linear. Instant killing, as they say. The same thing counts for "Give Up All Hope" and "Shut 'Em Up", which both have the typical humpapa rhythm, yet add occasional blastbeats as extra spice. "Distress And Decay" is the first where a proper injection of melody can be heard, as it builds towards the pounding, grooving Metal for which THE KANDIDATE stands, like their native colleagues. To break this wild stream and ongoing tempo, "In Hell" offers a more normal approach and not as fast. But that's only for a short time. "We Conform To The Unrighteous" is not really a song, rather an instrumental intro and a slow one for the power that's to be unleashed in "Live A Lie". "The Kill" advances slowly, evolving into something dark and evil and neatly combines mid and uptempo passages, while the pedal goes to the floor in "Enemy". This is the fastest song on the album, I think. But it's not all about brutality here. Slower melodic passages offer a nice twist. "Yours Truly" is an expression to end a letter or mail, here it's the last track. A slow/midtempo one, with the only highlight being the middle section, where you can find a nice and catchy rhythm.

Somehow I was surprised to see Jacob Bredahl leave HATESPHERE, since he was sort of the face of that band for some years. But they survived it (see "To The Nines") and Jacob could focus on other things. With THE KANDIDATE he has a new source of motivation to carry on his vocal career. THE KANDIDATE offers the sort of brutality that puts them in the same league as THE HAUNTED, ONE MAN ARMY AND THE UNDEAD QUARTET, HATESPHERE, a bit of SLAYER and so on. Thrash, Death, Hardcore combined. "Until We Are Outnumbered" is, in my humble opinion, not diverse enough. It's linear, the songs sound too similar, it gets too monotonous too soon. This new release is basically one big wall of grooving, pounding Metal, which is a good pond for Jacob's vocals, but overall I just cannot express any joy here. Those who do like Jacob's works will have little to no problem with it, but if you're seeking aggressive Metal that manages to keep your attention longer than a few songs, either look elsewhere (in terms of style) or visit the colleagues from THE HAUNTED, HATESPHERE, ...

More info at www.myspace.com/thekandidate.

Line-up:
Jacob Bredahl - vocals
Allan Tvedebrink - guitars
KB Larsen - bass
TBA - drums


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ORDEN OGAN – Easton Hope (AFM Records 2010)

Orden Ogan - Easton Hope
  1. Rise And Ruin
  2. Nobody Leaves
  3. Goodbye
  4. Easton Hope
  5. Welcome Liberty
  6. All These Dark Years
  7. Nothing Remains
  8. Requiem
  9. We Are Pirates
  10. The Black Heart
  11. Of Downfall And Decline

ORDAN OGAN is a German Power Metal band, that started as a Folk/Power Metal band. Three demos done, the debut album came out in 2004 under the title "Testimonium A.D.". This was 8 years after the band's founding in 1996. 2008 was the year of "Vale". Based on the samples on their MySpace page, I can't say their old material really made me crave for more, despite the German press being very positive about those releases and the band having shared the stage with several big names like DORO, IN FLAMES, METALLICA, TESTAMENT, AXXIS, RAGE, NAPALM DEATH, and more. But as I had the honour and pleasure to hear a rough mix of "Easton Hope" back in October 2009 at the listening session on the premises of Rock Inc., where ORDEN OGAN and MOB RULES afterwards performed, I was kind of looking forward to the end result of that mix. That end result came out on the 22nd of January in Germany, while Europe got "Easton Hope" on the 29th.

"Easton Hope" is my first proper acquaintance with the band's music. No more Folk this time, but Power Metal with a capital P. The album starts with a hymnic/orchestral intro called "Rise And Ruin", similar to what bands like RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) have done on their albums. It's short, but once the Metal of "Nobody Leaves" kicks in, this rising force sounds so good, it instantly makes you feel better and uplifted. Powerful riffing, pounding drums, rough singing (clean with a rough edge is a better description) and quite simply great melodies are key elements of this song. Catchiness can be found in the chorus, where the music sounds more hymnic and epic. Also worth noting here is the change in tempo and nice marriage between between heavy outbursts and more flowing melodic passages. Even with keyboards, the guitars prevail and dominate. The melodies (lots!) and backing (including orchestral accents) come through, but never direct, and it's indeed the guitars that deliver most of them. Epicness all around here and it sure promises for what's to come.

"Goodbye" takes a less furious start, but nevertheless contains a great deal of orchestral and melodic input. The Metal instrumentation perfectly counters it, while the two (melody and heaviness) get a long quite well. The contrast comes out nicely. And that also shows itself in the aggressive verses as opposed to the (rather sad) hymnic chorus. The drums remain a variable and active instrument. At some point all comes to a halt, leaving just the melodic flow intact. Little by little this has to make way for powerful guitar- and drumwork in the context of a dark moment before the chorus kicks in again. The ending of the song is delivered by a combination of brass and wooden instrumentation. Samples, of course, but they do the job well and that's what matters.

With the title track ORDEN OGAN has hit the jackpot. This is one of my favourites on "Easton Hope". Starting with an epic, orchestral intro that creates a sort of tension, as the real deal is still to come. And that comes in the form of dark, heavy verses where the Metal drips off. Melody and atmosphere are key elements in the chorus, making it hymnic and creating a stunning result. Over halfway it's solo time, dual solo time. At the same instant the Metal gets a serious boost, after which things turn back to a dark and atmospheric context. All slows down, tones down even and the accoustic guitar is added to emphasize the special effect. At a next instant the spotlights are aimed on the piano. The symphonic melodies grow in volume (adding a bombastic touch) and going for the cause of epicness, mainly expressed through the vocals. This is simply breathtaking. The chorus is let out one more time before another chapter on this album is closed.

Bad songs you won't find here. Even "Welcome Liberty" is proof of that. A slow, melodic building in preparation of the powerful, classic rhythm in vein of METALLICA's self-titled album, backed by a steady beat. Not an electronic one, I'm merely talking about the drums. Melody again comes through stronger in the bridge and especially the (though slow) hymnic chorus. Halfway you'll find a tranquil moment, sounding very soothing and relaxing, during which Sebastian delivers quite a vocal performance. Thumbs up for that! The music falls in again, though inline with the atmosphere and feel of what preceded. Of course the band didn't forget the obligatory solo. Afterwards the chorus is spiced, so to speak, with piano touches to stress the "change".

Time for Metal then, though melody (through the guitars, samples or keyboards) is practically omni-present on this album. The Metal kick in the rear comes from "All These Dark Years", which starts in a simple and effective manner. Atmospheric backing is added along the way until the verses. There the piano reigns, the tempo lies lower and the guitars are pushed to the very back, yet push forward again in the bridge and chorus, where (as usual) things sound quite melodic and hymnic. You could compare it with bands like NIGHTWISH, GWYLLION and others in terms of choir-ish singing, female vocals included. The piano remains a vital connecting element throughout the track. After the guitar solo, a heavy "rolling" moment is due, while a looped piano melody flows long.

The first sounds (by the piano) of "Nothing Remains" create the impression of a ballad, but once the Metal kicks in and builds towards something more powerful, all thoughts of that are wiped away. Melody comes from both guitars and keyboards this time, adding an epic touch, as does the choir. The verses consist of pounding heaviness, albeit with shifting tempos (drumwise), transcending into a bigger Metal input. Everything comes out more, sounds more alive in the chorus. What follows reminded me of BLACK MESSIAH, to some extent. Even for the solos the pace is set at a faster rate. Most melodic Power Metal bands have the trouble of maintaining the power of Metal, which means it's the keyboards that dominate and take away some of the guitars' power. Not here and that's a good choice.

But after all this metallic violence, boredom can set in, so it's useful to bring change to the tracklist and listening experience. What better way to counter than with a ballad? Oh, I almost forgot: did I say that "Nothing Remains" is another favourite of mine? It is. But back to "Requiem", the ballad. No, it's not a SAXON cover. ORDEN OGAN's song starts accoustically, sounding esoteric (by lack of a better word and I'm not even sure this one fits here), plus... there's a flute. That's an interesting twist/addition. The music overall sounds calm, soothing... simply beautiful! Orchestral input is very important, as it is better at creating the right atmosphere and expressing the appropriate feelings and emotions, especially with this kind of (sad) songs.

"We Are Pirates" is a track for which a video was made months before the release of "Easton Hope". It's a tribute to RUNNING WILD and a tribute it is, clocking in after 7 and a half minutes. Catchiness is key, epicness is added automatically. This is a happy song, one that can cheer you up again after a down moment. The build-up is very nice and once the right pace and rhythm is found, any dark feelings and thoughts melt away. It's a song that gives courage. It's a classic Power Metal track with a galopping rhythm, while guiding the ship through calmer waters in the (hymnic) bridge, to get back into wilder seas in the chorus. As classic as it is, the obligatory solos were not forgotten either. Having ex-RUNNING WILD guitarist Majk Moti making a guest appearance completes the picture.

Two more songs then, "The Black Heart" and the epic juggernaut "Of Downfall And Decline" (close to 9 minutes long). "The Black Heart" amasses a big ball of energy and lets it destroy everything on its path. Sebastian's vocal input is rough and quite passionate. The choir coming in at specific moments makes it all the more special. But musically it's not all pedal to the Metal. These Germans built in a very fine orchestral moment, sounding quite dark and sad to be honest. Despite the sharp and powerful riffing that follows, the leads carry on with the sad melodies, as does the chorus. The end result being very nice and leaving me speechless. "The Black Heart" is one of the songs that are a perfect example of how to combine melody, heaviness, slow and faster parts. Add the right vocal input and you've got a very tastey epic stew.

"Of Downfall And Decline" then, to end in style. An orchestral start, the Metal brutally unleashing its venomous power. Industrialish/electronic increases that effect even more. All power falls way and we're left with atmospheric/Jazzy verses. Even Sebastian's singing is toned down. That changes once the brige and chorus come in sight. Hymnic singing in choir form perfectly tells the tale. Don't expect tempo boosts here. The song's not about technical show-off, but atmosphere and soundwise representing what could have been assisted by visual elements are the main idea. Adding an accoustic interlude makes that even clearer.

Power Metal has been on a decline for some years, especially after the golden period 1997-2004 (?). What was released as Power Metal afterwards leaned more towards Hard Rock, as the Metal touch had softened and keyboards drowned the heavy riffs under layers of melody and bombast. It seems ORDEN OGAN also thought Power Metal deserved to be put under attention again and thus made sure the guitar- and drumwork was on par with how it was done before. "Easton Hope" is a very fine release that should help restore faith in the genre. Personally speaking, even if 2010 is still very young, ORDEN OGAN have convinced me to put this new release on my list of Best Of 2010. Or better, the list I'll use to make my Top 10. If you're into bands like BLIND GUARDIAN, SAVAGE CIRCUS, NIGHTMARE, NOSTRADAMEUS, FREEDOM CALL (up until and including "Eternity") - in other words, Epic Power Metal -, then you definitely need to add "Easton Hope" to your collection.

More info at www.myspace.com/ordenogan.

Line-up:
Sebastian Levermann - vocals, guitars
Tobias Kersting - guitars
Nils Weise - keyboards, vocals
Verena Melchert - flute, tin whistle, vocals
Lars Schneider - bass, vocals
Sebastian Grütling - drums


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EXCALION – High Time (Limb Music Products 2010)

Excalion - High Time
  1. Enter A Life
  2. From Somewhere To Anywhere
  3. Sun Stones
  4. The Flags In Line
  5. Bring On The Storm
  6. The Shroud
  7. Firewood
  8. Lifetime
  9. Quicksilver
  10. A Walk On A Broken Road
  11. Foreversong

The Finnish Melodic (Power) Metal band EXCALION is back. Founded in 2000, the band signed a record deal with Sound Riot Records in 2003 to have their debut, "Primal Exhale", see the light of day in 2005. Musically this was a good start, combining influences from e.g. NIGHTWISH, STRATOVARIUS and similar. But time was on the band's side to produce better material, or in other words, grow to become a better band writing better songs. Limb Music Products saw the potential and released their sophomore album, "Waterlines", in 2007. I had the chance to review both albums in their respective years and could thus see/hear the band evolve. For the better, of course.

After the necessary gigs each year, the band took a break and early last year (2009) work had commenced for a new album. EXCALION signed a new deal with Limb Music Products for this release, which was given the title "High Time" and set for the 29th of January. At the end of July, the band entered the Watercastle studio again to work with Arttu Sarvanne. "Waterlines" was a big improvement compared to "Primal Exhale", on several domains. Therefore the expectations for the third album were very high, perhaps higher than for "Waterlines".

The first thing one notices it the change not only of artwork, but also the logo. The fluent E is now inline with XCALION, as if the band wants to make clear a new era/chapter has begun and an evolution (musically and/or otherwise) has taken place. "Enter A Life" takes a direct, melodic start which sounds very promising. Heavy, though atmospheric, verses follow at midtempo. The melody, a key aspect of EXCALION songs, comes to life in the chorus, together with Jarmo's vocal input. Vesa counters with his guitar. Speaking of vocal input, it must be said that Jarmo already showed his talent on "Waterlines", here he sounds even better, more mature, more passionate. Further down the track there's a nice piano break, but that calm moment is soon wiped away by the guitar solo. All in all, the quality is high, higher than before.

"From Somewhere To Anywhere" also takes a direct start, but here it's as if a piece was cut off, as if the first notes were lost in the process. Nevertheless, the classic elements are there: heavy guitarwork, but foremost melodic power from the keyboards, here and there spiced with piano touches. Overall this feels very 80's. The chorus is catchy, although it's simple. The guitarsolo makes the song extra interesting. "Sun Stones" gives the listener time before surrendering him/her to the forces of Metal. With an atmospheric start that includes eastern/exotic accents, the Metal is added in bursts. This part alone reminds heavily of what CONCEPTION, the Norwegian Progressive Metal band featuring KAMELOT vocalist Roy Khan, did on either "Parallel Minds" or "In Your Multitude". At least, that's my first impression regarding that comparison. The organ this time is a key element in what follows. So, you could call this part Organ Metal. Anyway, the verses are calm (comparable to KAMELOT and indeed CONCEPTION), power is reserved for the bridge and chorus, where the level of melody obviously is much higher. It must be said that, even if the chorus is radio-friendly and catchy, it does sound rather sad. The backing piano/keyboard touches help to express that feeling. The importance of melody is shown or emphasized with an ambient break, after which the Organ Metal kicks in again. All things considered, a very nice song that revives the memories of many years ago, when I first heard CONCEPTION, thanks to my sister. But that's trivial info.

After this Progressive side-step, time to continue the earlier chosen path. "The Flags In Line" sounds like a political or military song, or carrying such a theme. The music does sounds heavier, more Metal again. Vesa's guitarwork lays out the first power lines, slow drums and keyboard melodies follow. This power falls away for the (semi-)accoustic verses, which are soothing and Poppish. The Metal injection is added in the bridge and chorus, but that doesn't change anything to the slow pace and melodicness. However, there is a (first) tempo boost before the guitar solo that includes piano backing. This one is not of the happy kind. Another tempo boost comes later, but here it's the piano that leads. Before that is made possible, kudos must be given to Jarmo for his tremendous singing. Four songs done, all flawless.

Would "Bring On The Storm" mean the band add a fast song at this stage? The atmospheric start is no indication of that, although the double-bass power that follows is a better proof. This first part alone is very nice stuff and more than welcome. The galopping rhythm in combination with the rest of the instrumentation reminds somehow of SAXON's recent material. The chorus continues to collect all forms of melody. Here as well, there's a keyboard break, which sounds quite epic thanks to choir-ish and symphonic additions. This is replaced by slow, piano-lead Metal - you could call it a solo, to some extent - followed by the chorus and so on. Quality stuff, no doubt about that!

"The Shroud" also starts calm and ambient, while drums add gentle rolls and beat. Full power (guitars, keyboards, drums) comes out next, but the pace is not that high. Again the verses are rather calm, while the melody and power come out of the closet for the bridge and chorus. And yes, the latter can be tagged as catchy. Vesa and Jarmo (guitar and keyboards) each play their own melody, thus countering each other. Before the solo is due, there's a nice calm, but epic twist. The ambient/choirish backing remains a constant. "The Shroud" disappears as it appeared, or, the outro contains the same ingredients as the intro. "Firewood" is a song that does provide a strong start, while a touch of danger is added through the keyboards. Probably the fire jumping over to other places. And that strong start is just a first step. Here it's the Metal that reigns and degrades the keyboards to a backing role. The latter do however occupy the verses, while the first counters in the bridge. The tempo drops in the chorus, being slow, sad and hymnic. Musically I had to think of LUCA TURILLI, DIONYSUS and similar. The solo aspect is once more neatly implemented. The strong start is not repeated in the ending, as this is more melodic and has a child's speech. What is said and why is a riddle to me. But again I have to offer applause for this song. A job very well done.

Not all songs are 4 or 5 minutes long. Another shorter track is "Lifetime", about 3 and a half minutes long. And be it a coincidence or not, but Metal plays another important part here. A heavy, galopping rhythm while the keyboards offer melodic assistance from the back. The guitar lets out its power in a second instant in the verses, while full melodicness and power are let out in the chorus, which sounds hopeful. By this I mean the way the song is composed, what rhythm and melody is used. Not an ambient break here, but a choir one. This does not disturb the flow of the music. All parts are nicely connected. The power does come back afterwards, logically. I did notice that the guitar solo was set low in the mix. In other songs you could clearly distinguish it, here it sounds as if its role was only minor. Other than that, EXCALION continue on the same level as how they started "High Time".

"Quicksilver" commences with a playful intro, which is also how the song ends. Tension is created, the tempo increases and when the right parameters are set, firm and straight-forward Metal is unleashed. The guitar provides the power, the keyboards the melody and backing support. The first is dominant in the verses, while the latter has the bridge as its domain. Here the pace has decreased, to be increased in the chorus. Epicness rules here. Jarmo's vocal lines reminded me of another song, from another band (probably SONATA ARCTICA), but I can't put my finger on it. The solo is well done, but rather short. All in all, another well-written song.

With two more songs to go, there's nothing that could go wrong anymore. However, as (very) good all songs have been so far, the ballad "A Walk On A Broken Road" is the first where my enthusiasm has to be dammed in a bit. Symphonic/orchestral input is what matters here, next to the singing, of course. You won't find any Metal here. The song sounds quite epic/hymnic and although it's far from bad, writing a ballad is always a dangerous undertaking. EXCALION succeed, but it's not their best song. "Foreversong" also contains a playful melody as starting point. Once the Metal instrumentation is added, the music turns into proper Melodic Power Metal. The pace is fast, faster than before. The verses are devoid of heaviness, but that is compensated in the (slow) bridge and particularly in the fast chorus. In the second part of the song all slows down to almost nothing, save for the piano and a soft guitarsound, creating a sad atmosphere. Overall, it's good to hear a fast song, not only on this album, but as it's very rare EXCALION do this, it makes the listening all the more pleasant, even if it's not as catchy as the previous songs. But I don't mind, this is a very nice song by itself and a perfect way to end what you could call a great album.

Having the chance to see a band evolve and then review each succeeding release makes the process of following very interesting and worthwhile, especially if each new release is an improvement over the other. "Primal Exhale" was good for a debut, but needed tuning in terms of sound (mainly the drums). "Waterlines" showed a big step forward, on several areas. With "High Time" EXCALION confirms the belief in their talent and show their capabilities to go from melodic Metal over Progressive waves to pure powerful songs, while keeping the listening experience interesting enough through breaks, musicianship, writing skills and more. Regarding bad elements/negative criticism, I didn't find anything worth mentioning, although perhaps a bit more Metal power instead of keyboard leads, but that's taste-based. To cut things short: "High Time" is a highly recommended album for anyone into Melodic Metal (KOTIPELTO, SONATA ARCTICA, DOMAIN, CONCEPTION, SILENT FORCE, ...) and one to keep in mind for the year's Best Of list.

More info at www.excalion.com.

Line-up:
Jarmo Pääkkönen - vocals
Vesa Nupponen - guitars
Tero Vaaja - bass
Jarmo Myllyvirta - keyboards
Henri Pirkkalainen - drums


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Reviews 2010

On this page
A. LOSTFIELD -
Internal Affairs
ANCIENT BARDS -
The Alliance Of
The Kings
ANIHILATED -
Scorched Earth Policy
ATHORN -
Phobia
ATLANTEAN KODEX -
The Golden Bough
ATROCITY
FEAT. YASMIN -
After The Storm
AUVERNIA -
Afraid Of Me
BATTALION -
Underdogs
BIG BALL -
Hotter Than Hell
BLACK MAJESTY -
In Your Honour
BLACK THOUGHTS
BLEEDING -
Stomachion
CANOBLISS -
Man Is The Enemy
CARACH ANGREN -
Death Came Through
A Phantom Ship
CIRCLE II CIRCLE -
Consequence
Of Power
CRYSTAL VIPER -
Defenders Of
The Magic Circle:
Live In Germany
CRYSTAL VIPER -
Legends
DARK SPHERE -
Ophiuchus
DARKER IT GETS -
Hurricanes
DIVIDED MULTITUDE -
Guardian Angel
DYSCORDIA -
Reveries
ECLECTIKA -
Dazzling Dawn
EDENBRIDGE -
Solitaire
ELVENKING -
Red Silent Tides
EREB ALTOR -
The End
EXCALION -
High Time
FATAL INJURY -
The Dictatorship
Of Blindness
FUELBLOODED -
Off The Face
Of The Earth
GHOST MACHINERY -
Out For Blood
GRAVE DIGGER -
The Clans Will
Rise Again
HEIDEVOLK -
Uit Oude Grond
HELLCHIEF -
Ignition
HELSTAR -
Glory Of Chaos
HUNGRYHEART -
One Ticket
To Paradise
IRON FIRE -
Metalmorphosized
JALDABOATH -
The Rise Of
The Heraldic Beasts
JUVALIANT -
Inhuman Nature
KALEDON -
Chapter 6:
The Last Night
On The Battlefield
KARMA TO BURN -
Appalachian
Incantation
KATRA -
Out Of The Ashes
KICKHUNTER -
All In
KINGDOM OF
DEADMEN -
Black Rhapsody
KISSIN' DYNAMITE -
Addicted To Metal
KORZUS -
Discipline Of Hate
LACRIMAS
PROFUNDERE -
The Grandiose
Nowhere
LEMURIA -
Chanson
De La Croisade
LIFE OF AGONY -
20 Years Strong -
River Runs Red:
Live In Brussels
MADE OF HATE -
Pathogen
MAGICA -
Dark Diary
MAGIC KINGDOM -
Symphony Of War
MASTERPLAN -
Time To Be King
IVAN MIHALJEVIC
& SIDE EFFECTS -
Destination Unknown
MISTWEAVER -
Tales From
The Grave
MORTEMIA -
Misere Mortem
NECRONOMICON -
The Return
Of The Witch
NEVERLAND -
Ophidia
NICHT -
Part 1:
Catalepsy Sinks
NOX AUREA -
Ascending In Triumph
ORDEN OGAN -
Easton Hope
ORDEN OGAN -
Vale
OVERMASTER -
Madness Of War
PERPETUUM -
Gradual Decay
Of Conscience
PREACH -
Path To Solace
PRO-PAIN -
Absolute Power
RAZORWYRE -
Coming Out
REVOLUTION
RENAISSANCE -
Trinity
ROSS THE BOSS -
Hailstorm
SAVAGE MACHIINE -
Sinister Redemptions
SEVEN DAYS REMAIN -
Seven Days Remain
SHADOWGARDEN -
Ashen
SHATTERED HOPE -
Absence
SINOCENCE -
Scar Obscura
SLOUGH FEG -
The Animal Spirits
SNATCH MAGNET -
Screw, Nut & Bolt
SOLUTION .45 -
For Aeons Past
STIGMA -
Concerto For
The Undead
SVARTSOT -
Mulmets Viser
SYMPHORCE -
Unrestricted
TANKARD -
Vol(l)ume 14
THE KANDIDATE -
Until We Are
Outnumbered
THE RETALIATION
PROCESS -
Downfall
THROES OF DAWN -
The Great Fleet
Of Echoes
THULCANDRA -
Fallen Angel's
Dominion
TRIOSPHERE -
The Road
Less Travelled
TRISTANIA -
Rubicon
TROLL -
Neo-Satanic Supremacy
VAN CANTO -
Tribe Of Force
WHILE HEAVEN WEPT -
Triumph:Tragedy:
Transcendence