Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unisonic - Light of Dawn

When Michael Kiske left Helloween (and metal) in 1993 it seemed to have caused an unbalance in the universe. Sure, Helloween had just released a ghastly album that was as far from metal as anything could be, but we at least thought he would resurface in something metal. He has the voice for metal. His vocals on the two Keeper of the Seven Keys albums were textbook metal. Those two albums alone pretty much created what would become power metal. But, instead, he removed himself from the music he was born to sing...the music he was destined for. He did some guest spots teasing us as if he would return to metal but it appeared his future in metal would be just guest performances.

However, in 2009, the planets seem to align and balance returned to the universe as Mr. Kiske decided to form a band with Dennis Ward from Pink Cream 69. Funny thing is that Kiske's replacement in Helloween  was from that very band. So Unisonic was formed and played the first onstage performances for Kiske since leaving Helloween. Then he brings in Kai Hansen, of all people, on the guitars. Could this be? Could it be that Michael Kiske is going to return to heavy metal after all? Well yes he did, folks. The first Unisonic album was the beginning of something quite incredible as we hear Kiske singing as if this was 1989 all over again. It was as if the split between Helloween, Kai Hansen, and Michael Kiske never happened. Are we in the Twilight Zone? No, this was really happening and it was beautiful. Now the question on everyone's mind was, is this a fluke or would they keep this momentum going?

Well folks, I'm happy to say that not only did they keep the momentum going, they surpassed the debut by leaps and bounds with their second full length, Light of Dawn. They teased us with an EP earlier this year so it was no secret that they were working on new material but I had no idea it would superior to the debut. As a matter of fact, the more I listen to this album, the more likely this will become one of my favorite power metal albums of the year. Then again, to call this merely power metal would be a bit inaccurate. Instead, what we have here is a fusion of power metal with arena rock with straight up heavy metal. And it doesn't stop there as there are so many dimensions to this album. Sure, there is some straight up power metal on here like the album opener, "Your Time Has Come." It is here that we see that Michael Kiske is capable of sounding better than he did 25 years ago! This song could have been on Keepers I or II. We have all the elements here: double bass, speedy riffs, neo-classical dual lead riffs, and a monster solo. And we have Mr. Kiske's amazing vocals delivery.

"For the Kingdom" was part of the EP teaser they released earlier this year and this is another power metal song that has some interesting tempos and riffs. It also has a chorus that is catchy and just outright amazing. The solo on this song is just a shred fest, as you would expect on a power metal album. "Find Shelter" is probably the third and final song on this album that would fit into the typical power metal mold. Kiske is hitting high notes that are so massive and perfectly pitched. Although not as fast and heavy as the previous two, this is an amazing power metal song with so much melody and atmosphere. But it is also full of the other components that are visible on this album. Yeah, the typical double bass and fast riffing is present. Yeah there are monster solos on this song. But there is some melodies on here that tend to go in a more arena rock direction. I won't use hard rock because nowadays that just means something totally different than it did back in the day.

Of all the songs that would not really fit into the power metal mold, "Exceptional" is one of the best. Kiske's vocal delivery goes from his lowest register to his highest in this song. The song is driven more by a quirky guitar sound looping through the song. There are some metal riffs going on and the song has pretty much the same mid paced tempo throughout but it's the melodies that are just infectious. The chorus is catchy and melodic that you can't help sing along. Towards the end when the chorus repeats to the end, Kiske hits this fucking high note in the background that is out of this world. Time has been very good to this man, yes it has. Then you have "Night of the Long Knives." This is a monster of an epic song. This may not be the heaviest metal but this is one of the best songs that Kiske has ever been involved in. It has some nice riffing and monster solos but the melodies are what drives this song. They're beautiful...that's all I can say. This is the best song on the album, hands down. You have to listen to get it, there's no other way to describe it.

"Throne of the Dawn" is a straight up metal rocker. No power metal and nothing flashy, just a kick ass metal song. Kiske is in top form, as he is with the rest of this album. The riffing is crunchy and metallic. The solos shine once again on this song. This is just fun heavy metal almost reminding me of a Gamma Ray song in places. I guess Kai had more of a hand in this one. In contrast, the band slows it down a bit on two songs here, "Blood" and the album closer, You and I." I think "Blood" is the better of the two since it's not just a slow meandering song but has some catchy melodies after a slow opening. Kiske's range is, again, on show here as the song begins with him singing some really lower register notes. He reaches a higher register on the chorus but not like some of the others on here. I'm not sure why I'm drawn to this song rather than the other but I am. Maybe it's because "You and I" just doesn't go anywhere.

So, yes, all is right with the world. We can be rest assured that Michael Kiske has returned to heavy metal where he belongs. With two albums in, it appears that Unisonic is a band that will keep gaining momentum. This album is much stronger than than the debut with better and stronger songs. If you loved the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums then you should love this because, in my eyes, this is the true follow up to the two.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dark Tranquillity - Construct

I think that Dark Tranquillity is one of the most consistent bands in metal. No, they may not have always released albums that appealed to all fans. No, they may not have always been as heavy as a melodic death metal band should be but their creativity should never be called into question. As a matter of fact, I think there are some albums by these Gothenburg originals that get way more shit than they deserve. Their tenth full length, Construct, is one of those albums. It's taken me a lot of listens to actually come to appreciate this album for what it is. There is some really good music and a killer atmosphere on this album and it's time people recognize it. It's not without flaws but it's not the abomination some make it out to be.

Some people think that the band was trying to create another Projector here but I don't see it that way. What I see is the perfect successor to We Are The Void, an album that I enjoyed. It didn't blow me away like Damage Done or Character but it was filled with an atmosphere that had me drawn to it for some reason. Don't get me wrong, Construct is not without its flaws as I feel the album opener, "For Broken Words," is a weak track that should not have opened the album. "The Silence of Noise" is a much better song where the keys provide melody and the riffs are pure Dark Tranquillity. Mikael Stanne's voice is as solid as it's ever been. The leads towards the end of the song are nice and melodic even if they don't provide anything else. "The Silence In Between" is another that has some decent riffing as well as some really melodic parts provided by the keyboards. The softer passage in the middle adds atmosphere adding another dimension to this album. "Apathetic" is a beast of a song that just kicks your ass. This song has some of the heaviest riffing the band has done in year as well as a godly solo.

I will admit that "What Only You Know" would not have been out of place on Projector or Haven. It's a good song with some wonderful melodies provided by the keys. Mikael Stanne's clean vocals are better than they were on any previous release. It appears that he has been working on his vocals because they were not flat in any place. I've never been a huge fan of his cleans but I can't deny that they work here. They tried their hand at it again on "State of Trust" but it did not work near as well as on "What You Only Know." The song is quite chaotic trying to go in too many places at once. Stanne sounds good but not enough to save the song. Then you have a song like "Endtime Hearts" that is a nice mix of the aggressive riffing and melodies. The chorus has a catchy melody that makes the song that much better. The keyboards in the background create a nice atmosphere that mixes well with the rest of the sounds on this song. There is a nice solo going on in this song making it that much better. "Weight of the End" is another song that has some nice riffing as well as those signature DT keys providing the melodies. This song could have been on Character. It's heavy in places and melodic in others but the mix of both has always worked for this band and it works on this song as well.

It's funny that this album is a culmination of everything that makes Dark Tranquillity the great band that they are but it takes some serious heat. I'm not afraid to admit the album's faults because there are a few. "None Becoming" is one of these moments. This is a song that just does nothing for me. It's slow and plodding. It could have been much more because the keys provide a nice atmosphere. However, I think the highlights I have mentioned here is enough to not disregard the album as a whole. Even the worst moments here are not horrible. I suggest that you get the limited edition 2 CD for "Immemorial" alone. Even though this is a slower song it's got some beautiful melodies, nice riffing and a melodic solo that just makes the song a nice addition as a bonus track. The second disc is a live disc and if you have ever heard this band live you know that it is a nice treat. Love them or hate them, they can pull it off in the live setting.

So here it is, I have made my case for this album. With all it's flaws and given the fact that they have moved away from the sound that a lot of DT fans have come to love, this album has some damn fine moments and should not be disregarded in any way. This is the direction the band seems to be going in right now. Who knows what the next album will bring. This band seems to reinvent itself every few albums so the sky's the limit for this band. But in the mean time, I'm not afraid to admit that I like this album. I suggest a few more listens as I have done. You may see that it can grow on you.


Serpent Warning - Serpent Warning

There seems to be a huge classic doom movement in Finland in the vein of Saint Vitus and Count Raven. Serpent Warning is one of those bands but the band has enough of their own identity to make them quite unique. Vocalist Samuli Pesonen has a great baritone sound to his voice giving this band it's unique sound. Sadly he jumped ship right before this, their self titled full length debut, was released. His replacement is a female vocalist which is quite the other end of the spectrum. We'll see what the future brings for this band but for now the focus is on this debut. What we have is some really well done classic doom that is loaded with killer riffing and enough atmosphere to make this thoroughly believable.

As I mentioned before, the vocalist on this album has this really cool eerie sounding baritone voice that just fits the music perfectly. The atmosphere of the album just screams doom and gloom. The riffing is eerie and dark and with those deep chanting vocals I could see this being the music played at my requiem mass. One look at the album art should tell you where they are going with this. "Evil River" starts things off on the right foot with it's fuzzy and slow riffs. The production helps create the atmosphere here. The title of the song is perfect for the feel of the song. These guys know how to make you feel the vibe they are putting out. "Beyond the Wisdom" keeps it going with it's fuzzy riffing and eerie sounding atmosphere. Each song on here seems to have it's own personality but without making the album incoherent or lacking a direction. Instead the music creates an experience that actually sets a mood. A couple of bong hits and some headphones would probably make the experience more intense.

Usually with these (and I hate to using this word) retro doom bands they try to be slower and plodding and make the longest and most epic songs on the planet...meaning they bite off more than they can chew. Not this band. Each song is the perfect length and, thank the GODS, not just some plodding slow doom but actual riffing and melodies. The perfect example of this is "Luna" which is just over six and a half minutes long but is loaded with riffs that there is no time that where you would start to doze off or become uninterested. Instead it is catchy and has a chorus that is melodic and catchy. This could easily by my favorite on the album. I keep saying atmosphere because it's the only way to describe the feeling here. "Thousand Names" actually speeds things up a bit adding another dimension to this album. It has a Saint Vitus vibe to it in places but at the end of the day this album has it's own identity. This being the shortest song on the album at just over three and a half minutes it leads right into the final and longest song on the album, "Ceremonies of the Sun." This song is epic as fuck and loaded with riffs and melodies.

My only true complaint about this album is it's lack of solos. As with most classic or epic doom bands they include some shredding solos. This album has solos but not that many and they don't have the technical aspects that I look for. Yes, I think wankery in metal is essential sometimes. However, it does not take that much away from this album because the songs are good, the riffs are plentiful, and the melodies are infectious. Doom is usually not my go to genre and I am picky about it but this is an album that satisfies everything I look for in doom metal. I think that this album could transcend genres and appeal to any fan of old school classic metal.

A special thanks to I Hate Records for the promotional copy.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Dust Bolt - Awake The Riot

Germany's Dust Bolt is a band that was formed in 2006 and released an EP and two full lengths, the most current being Awake The Riot, the subject of this review. I'm not sure why they have flown under the radar since both of their full lengths were released by Napalm Records. Nevertheless what we have here is old school German thrash for the modern age. It seems that a lot of metal heads are not big fans of the throw back thrash bands and I can see why in some instances. However, Dust Bolt is not that band. As a matter of fact the riffing and tempos on parts of this album reeks of Kreator, however, they also have their own identity.

You can tell right out of the gate that this band is not fucking around and are here to annihilate you. "Living Hell" sounds a lot like Kreator in the riffing but the vocals sound nothing like Mille Petrozza. In fact, guitarist and vocalist Lenny B. has more of a mix of a shout and a rasp. At any rate, the end result is that this song kicks ass. The riffs are monstrous and the solos are fucking godly. There is a touch of melody thrown in to make the balance perfect. This is thrash at it's finest. "Soul Erazor" follows with more pummeling riffs and neck breaking speed. The solos, once again, are just amazing and add so much to this song. Two songs in and you'll need a neck brace. These guys may not be doing anything groundbreaking or earth shattering but that's the beauty of it. They play thrash metal as though they were right out of 1984 with all the ingredients and more. The tempo changes and constant riffing will make you stand up and take notice.

"Agent Thrash" is just a beat of a song that comes along and just pounds you with the riffing and the speed. They change the tempo a bit in the middle to sound like some of the mid tempo Slayer riffs then back to the breakneck speed and a killer solo. That's the beauty of this band, that they can throw these time changes at you without making it sound too technical or pretentious. Instead they just throw more riffs at you along with catchy melodies and awesome solos. But then they also hit you with a song like "Awake The Riot - The Final War" which is just under two and a half minutes of pounding riffs. Mostly mid tempo they throw some speed in there but the riffs just keep coming. "Drowned in Blind Faith" is another one of those short but right to the point songs that manage to kick your teeth in and do it in under three minutes. Another mid tempo number, the riffing is not as intense as on other songs making it the weakest track on this album....if such a thing exists.

One thing that made me really enjoy this band is how they don't confine themselves to German thrash worship. They know how to mix it up a bit and show us that they also are influenced by the thrash from this side of the pond. "Eternal Waste" borders on Slayer worship but they do tend to add their own identity to the song. It's the riffing and the time changes that give it that vibe. I have to say that I do like the soloing on this song, as well as the rest of the album, more than most Slayer songs. The solos are just better constructed and add melody than just being chaotic trying to hit every note on the fret board. "Distant Scream (The Monotonous) is the perfect example just how well the soloing is on this album. This song is a longer song and it seems the band is trying to be epic with this one. And works in places and not in others. It could have had some parts shaved from it but it's still a good song. There's a really good solo in the middle that is awesome and it actually saves the song.

There is a huge divide between metal heads when it comes to the retro thrash bands that seem to be popping up all the time. I agree that not all of them are that great but that doesn't mean that the whole movement is shit. Dust Bolt is one of those bands that stand out because they know how to use the riff, the tempo, the time changes, and the solo in a way that makes for a most enjoyable thrash album. I think that one listen to this album might put some of you skeptics to rest. Go ahead...I dare ya!