Monday, September 28, 2015

Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud

Let me cut right to the chase, I've been listening to Amorphis' thirteenth full length, Under the Red Cloud, non stop since I got my grubby little paws on it. I've listened to it at work a lot, I've listened to it with headphones on, etc. I know this album quite well and the reason that it's resonated so well with me from my first listen is that it is, simply put, the epitome of the perfect album. Yeah, I know that I'm quite liberal with giving scores that are perfect but for good reason...and this album is no exception. This is a band of amazing musicians and songwriters creating an album that just fits together in perfect harmony from the opening note to the closing.

This album is the culmination of everything that this band has done since the arrival of front man Tomi Joutsen. His growls are deep and harsh while his flawless baritone cleans have become the signature for this band. But a front man alone can not carry an entire band and it's the songs that this amazing front man gets to sing and how he uses his voice to create the atmosphere for the songs is what sets this band apart from the rest. These songs are just flawless and flow from one to another making this an album that must be listened to in full to properly feel the atmosphere. From the opening piano notes of the title track you know that this is a special album. As the song flows to some acoustic guitars with a clean solo mixed in over the piano the song picks up momentum leading to opening riffs where the melody is reminiscent of folk melodies. The majority of this song is sung in Joutsen's amazing cleans with a chorus that is just infectious. This will not be the only time I mention the choruses on this album because every song has these amazing choruses.

My favorite song on this album is "Bad Blood." It begins with some cool sounding keys playing a sort of folk melody leading to this simple but really cool main riff. Joutsen shows his growling skills here but the fucking chorus just gives me chills. His cleans are so full of emotion and feeling you can't help but feel this music while listening. There's a cool bridge in the song that has a single note lead melody over Joutsen's cleans that is absolutely beautiful. This is goosebump shit here. "Death of a King" is another one of these amazing songs that infuse folk elements into it by both modern means such as keys and traditional means such as a guest appearance by Chigrel Glanzmann of Eluveitie. The verse is growled over the folk elements leading to a nice bridge that flows to another one of those choruses full of emotion and atmosphere. The solo on this is very melodic and it helps the flow of the song instead of being just a solo. Just another example of creating a song where all the pieces fit perfectly.

The lyrical content on a good bit of this album is quite spiritual with a couple of references to "the skull of a bear" in a spiritual or something of an ancient religious nature. The opener and title track mentions this as well as "The Skull." "Sacrifice" is another that has a deeper spiritual feeling, and even being probably the most rock oriented song on this album it still reflects the sheer brilliance of this album with it's deep spiritual meaning and amazing musicianship. "Tree of Ages" also has a spiritual feel to it with more of the flutes and traditional folk melodies but still having some serious riffs in there. This is another song that has that infectious chorus and amazing solo. "White Night" is the perfect ending to an absolutely brilliant album. It begins melodic but with an epic feeling to it. Soft female vocals begin the verse with Joutsen's growls coming in. Once again, the chorus is the star of the show here. This song just feels like it should end this album and I'm not sure why I get that feeling and I'm sure that was the artists intention.

I have the digipak version which has two bonus songs, "Come The Spring" and the amazing "Winter's Sleep." The latter is a monster of a song that shows all of the elements of this amazing band. In it's 25 year existence this band really hasn't released anything that could be considered a bad album. However, they seem to have finally found a sound that truly compliments this truly talented band. Everything they've ever done has led up to this album. I'm even going to go out on a limb here and say that could easily be album of the year. This album is a musical journey where you feel the music instead of just listening...and that is why this is the perfect album.


Iron Void - Doomsday

The modern doom movement has been flourishing for a few years now and has given us some truly great bands that pay homage to classic doom. Enter Iron Void from the UK. They actually date back to 1998 but it has just been recently that the band has been given the chance to release their music to the masses. 2014's self titled full length debut was a great slab of classic doom and they seemed to waste no time in creating a follow up album set to be released on October 5 titled Doomsday. The band so graciously gave me a sneak peak into this album for a review and I am glad they did because this solidifies them as a band that will leave it's mark on doom metal.

The opening and title track kicks things off epic style with seven and a half of slow pounding doom. Heavy riffs are what you find here along with vocals and a melody that is rather eerie feeling. The tempo picks up a little for a some nice 70s style soloing in the middle and a riff that has a really cool groove to it. "Path to Self Destruction" is an even stronger song that begins with some clean guitars that sound like something from an early Rush tune to this monster riff and eerie melody. This song could wind up being a top doom song for me. The solo is another one of those fuzzy 70s style solos that fits this music well. "The Devil's Daughter" comes right in after and just slays from beginning to end. Once again it starts off with some cool clean guitars before going into this infectious riff that brings to mind early Pentagram. This song has elements of proto-metal as well as traditional doom. This band is not afraid to show where it's roots lie.

To keep things interesting, this band does not confine itself to just slow epic doom. Songs like "The Gates of Hell" and "The Answer Unknown" actually have more in common with Venom or Motorhead than Cathedral but it still doom in it's atmosphere. Both are rather energetic numbers for doom songs but the riffs are heavy as fuck and the solos could have been done by Fast Eddie Clark 35 years ago. Normally something like that would not work but for some reason that radical shift in sound for a couple of songs gave this album some depth. I thought it worked well. "Colesseum" gets right back into the doom with it's heavy as fuck doom riffs and overall eerie atmosphere that dominates this album. The lead riffing is very melodic giving the song another element. This song could wind up being considered classic doom 20 years from now.

The album closes epic doom style with a seven and a half minute opus that just screams epic doom. As with a lot of this album, the different elements that make this band show, from the 70s proto-metal riffs and solos to the all out heavy as fuck epic doom riffing. This band's previous album made me take notice but this album has made me a fan. Putting two strong albums out with just over a year between releases shows that this band is on a mission. Anyone who loves classic doom or traditional metal should take notice of this band. I expect bigger things to come.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Symphony X - Underworld

I remember the first time I heard Symphony X. It was their New Mythology Suite and I was blown away. I must have played that album continually for six months. The fusion of progressive metal and power metal was incredible and the musicianship was top notch. However, the albums that followed did not seem to grab me like that album did. And of their previous works, Only Divine Wings of Tragedy seemed to grab me like the Mythology Suite. The musicianship was still there but the songs were not that catchy and did not make me feel the way I did when I first heard this band. With their newest full length, Underworld, they finally brought back that magic that drew me in the first time I heard them.

From the beginning of the first track, an instrumental simply titled "Overture," I was transported back to the first time I heard them. But it being only an intro, I was not getting myself worked up thinking this was the Symphony X I remembered. Then "Nevermore" fills my ears with speed and riffs that just rolled right over me. This song kicks ass and my hopes for this album went through the roof. Vocalist Russell Allen seemed to know how to balance his vocals with some of his signature gruff sounding vocals to some really melodic cleans. As a matter of fact, the chorus of this song is some of his best singing. Clean and melodic it seems he's lost nothing when it comes to his ability to be a world class vocalist. Then comes Michael Romeo's monstrous solo and at that point all was right in the world. If the rest of the album sounded like this then we have a true masterpiece on our hands.

One thing that has always struck me about this band was when they were on they had this uncanny ability to merge melody, progression and aggression without it sounding forced or pretentious. Songs like "Without You" or "Hell and Back" feel almost like ballads in places without being sappy. Instead they come off as epic tracks, especially the latter. What a beast of a song. The intro makes you think ballad but then the verse comes in and you realize this will be much more. The riffing is catchy, the keys are just enough to provide atmosphere, and the chorus is so melodic and catchy. Again, the solo is fucking godly but so much more than just a wank fest. Instead there's feeling and emotion. This song is almost nine and a half minutes but none of it is lost or dragging. Halfway through the aggression picks up a bit and it's at this point that I feel like this song is a musical journey showing all sides of this talented band.

There is no shortage of powerful tracks on this album. "Kiss of Fire" fucking slays with powerful riffing and aggressive speed even throwing blast beats into the song. The keys provide an eerie atmosphere and take the song to a new level. Mr. Allen makes you feel his aggression in his gruff vocals but they are still not overused as been the main complaints of their latest offerings. The solo is as awesome as ever. This is actually becoming one of my favorite songs on the album. In contrast you have "Swansong" which is a real melodic song with nice riffing. The piano is also quite prominent in the song. This is the closest to what would be considered a ballad on the album. There are a lot of emotions on display here and it seems that the title is quite fitting.

I honestly did not know what to expect with this album and I had doubts whether or not I would enjoy this album. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. They seemed to hit all the marks and create an album that not only showed their incredible talent but still contain great, memorable songs. Will this album be stuck in my CD player for the next six months? We'll have to see about that....


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ancient Rites - Laguz

Ancient Rites has had a long and illustrious career spanning more than two decades. Starting out as a black metal band with really early material bordering on Celtic Frost worship they seem to be overlooked when it comes to early black metal, and that's a shame because they were doing it right around the second wave was in full bloom. The future would hold something quite different for these Belgians as they went into a more epic viking metal direction starting with 1998's Fatherland and peaking with 2001's Dim Carcosa. It's been almost a decade since their last album, Rubicon, has graced our ears and finally we have their newest opus, Laguz, and man was it worth the wait.

Sometimes, you never know what you are going to get when there is such a long time between releases. It could either be really good or really bad. In the case of Ancient Rites, the result is an excellent epic metal album that picks up where the last album left off without it ever feeling like there was a nine year lull in hearing from this band. The band's consistency is due to the one constant in the band, bassist/vocalist Gunther Theys. It shows that his influence in the songwriting is all over this album. After an instrumental into we have "Carthago Legenda Est." This song is proof that, once again, we will get another history lesson from this band as this song is about the Punic wars that waged for over one hundred years in the third/second century B.C. As one would expect with this kind of lyrical content that this would be another killer epic from this band. The song is brilliant in it's epic feel as the orchestrations are real. The musician ship is just top notch here. The orchestrations are prominent but the riffs and the blast beats drive this song. Gunther's vocals are a cross between a black metal rasp and an almost narrative tone. He's telling a story set to music. The melodies in this song are quite infectious and culminate with a nice solo at the midway point in the song.

These guys also prove that you don't always have to write eight or nine minute songs to be epic as fuck. Most of the songs on this album straddle the five minute mark but seem to pack so many elements into these songs. Each one tells it's own story but the music stays within that epic theme. "Under the Sign of Laguz" brings us back to the viking age with killer blasts, serious tremolo riffs, and bombastic orchestrations. There's a lot of metal out there labeled as symphonic metal but, in my opinion, this is the epitome of symphonic metal. Less than five and a half minutes long, this song takes you on a musical journey through the ancient north lands and ancient Nordic mythology with Gunther's signature way of "narrating" the story that this song tells. It is at this point that it hits me that even the band's name matches their music. "Apostata" starts off with an almost eastern feel in the orchestrations then kicks in with the heavy guitars and some killer eastern feeling lead riffs driving the song along with the bombastic orchestrations. This is the longest song on the album and is just epic from beginning to end. There are so many elements to this song that a proper description would be pointless, let alone impossible.

"Umbru Sumus" is another song that needs mention here shut due to it's sheer brilliance. From the opening riffs you get the feeling that this song is something special. It opens with some serious tremolos and blasts but transitions to be so much more. As with every song on this album, the orchestrations are there and this song adds another layer with some prominent piano involved. This is one of those songs that just defines this band and their own special brand of epic metal that only these guys can do. This song is heavy, melodic, bombastic without being pompous or pretentious. It leads right into the last proper song on the album, "Frankenland." This song is less than four and a half minutes but seems to pack just as much bombastic epic metal as the longer songs. This song has that special something that makes it one of those songs that gives me chills while it is playing. Gunther's narrative giving us another history lesson is part of the magic that is Ancient Rites. A brief narrative over piano and acoustic guitars rounds out the album with a short song, "Fatum." It's the perfect way to end a perfect album.

Once again, this band has not let me down. There is no song on this album that is out of place or drags this album down. Each song flows to the next with precision and sheer brilliance. Hey, how can you go wrong with an album that has a photo of the original Sutton Hoo helmet as it's cover art? If you are a fan of this band and have been wondering where they've been for the last nine years, this is your answer. Does it take nine years to create perfection? Maybe it does because this album is just that, perfect.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Well here we have the return of Nightwish with their newest vocalist, Floor Jansen, best known for her vocals in the symphonic power metal band After Forever. Now I know that this band is basically under the dictatorship of eye liner wearing Tuomas Holopainen; who I will henceforward call Uncle Scrooge since he made a symphonic rock album called The Life and Times of Scrooge that had a picture of Scrooge McDuck on it; so I did not have high hopes for this album. I mean, Uncle Scrooge? Seriously? But I did have higher hopes for the performance of Floor Jansen. Her work with After Forever was nothing short of brilliant so maybe we would have the return of operatic vocals in Nightwish....

....or not! Now, this album is actually not as bad as I thought it would be. I truly thought that Uncle Scrooge would continue on the road of lifeless, riffless goth metal. It's no Oceanborn but it really is not as bad as the two last turds produced under the Nightwish banner. Is it worth the circle-jerk it's receiving? Absolutely not and I'll tell you why. Because Scrooge McFuck and his dictatorship decided on Floor Jansen's sound instead of allowing her to use her full potential. Do we see a pattern forming here? He did the same thing to Tarja staring with Century Child. She's a thousand times better than Anette Olson, who I just recently found out could sing better than Scrooge "allowed" her to. This reminds me of Gene Simmons humming lead guitar solos to Vinnie Vincent because they did not want anyone to take the spotlight off of Gene and Paul. Floor is better than this, much better than this. "Shudder Before the Beautiful" is the opener and a rather good epic metal song. It's got good hooks, a nice chorus, and a bad ass solo. But Floor sounds like she's holding back. Again, where's the operatic vocals that she is capable of? That would have sent this song over the top to make this a true return to form. I'm sorta pissed by this point.

Like I said, a few of the the songs appear to have much more meat to them than anything on the two previous albums. "Weak Fantasy" is another good song with some crunchy guitars and a nice acoustic section during the verse but Floor is sounding like a fucking rock singer you'd hear on the radio rather than being part of a band that once had the voice of Tarja Turunen. Hel, she sounds more like Lita Ford in places than herself on this song. It does not make sense to me. She hits some cool notes here and there but other than that, it's nothing special. Then you have the single, "Elan" which is a snoozefest from beginning to end.  It's not one of their better songs and Floor sounds like she is phoning it in. Again, I heard this voice do much better. If you have a voice like this in your band, why the fuck would you hold her back? Ahhhh, that's right, the keyboard player is the leader. Who pays attention to the keyboard player, unless he wears eyeliner? I could be drawing conclusions here but anyone that dictatorial in a band down to the point where he actually dictates the vocalist's sound must be seriously questioning their own importance in this band.

I must mention the song "Alpenglow" since it could be one of the best songs Nightwish has made in over a decade. It's riffy and catchy with some serious hooks. Uncle McFuck is almost making her whisper on this one but that only takes a little from this song. I can only imagine how powerful this song would have been if Floor were allowed to...well allowed to actually be Floor! To listen to this you would almost not recognize her as the same person who sang "Monoliths of Doubt." I just don't understand it. Musically this is the best album Nightwish has written in years but with the lackluster vocal performance, by an artist I know can do better, just makes it obvious that she was reigned in by design and that just lets out all the air I had in my tires for this album. What a shame because this could actually have been the comeback of the year. Nice going Uncle Scrooge. Which leaves us with the elephant in the room, the twenty four minute closer, "The Greatest Show on Earth." There's maybe nine to ten minutes of this song that is actually worth anything and Floor actually gets to belt some shit out. Nine minutes out of twenty four minutes that actually do anything. It actually does almost nothing for the first six and the last seven fucking minutes of the song!

Wow, just wow. If only the person dictating what goes on in this band had an actual clue. This album could have been so good if Toumas would have just stuck with the songwriting that made them great. He almost did it in some places here but you do not put the brakes on the best vocalist you've had in this band in over a decade. If you have Floor Jansen singing in your band don't fucking hold her back! What the fuck was he thinking? And you do not put a twenty four minute song on your album that has less than ten minutes of anything remotely musical. I don't want to hear five minutes of narration. I'll get an audio book for that. This is the best they've done since they booted Tarja, but unfortunately that's not saying much. Don't be fooled by the hype, it's nowhere near as good as it could have been.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Enslaved - In Times

The release of an Enslaved album is pretty much an event for me, as these guys are quite possibly in my top 5 favorite bands of all time. In my eyes they have done no wrong in their impressive 24 year career. From the very start you could tell that these Norwegian's were something truly special. And to think that these guys were merely teenagers when they recorded their demo and not much older when they released their legendary debut, Vikingligr veldi. Over the years their sound has matured and the band has managed to outdo themselves with each release while expanding their fanbase.

So here in 2015 we have another event, the release of their thirteenth full length album, In Times. As always, this band has reinvented themselves to release an album that is more magical than the last but still subtly hanging on to some of the older elements that have been in this band since the beginning. Their uncanny ability to meld blasting aggression and haunting melodies has been something this band has always been able to do, and this album is no different. From the immediate blasting of "Thurisaz Dreaming" you hear the familiar sounds if blasts, tremolos, and Grutle's signature rasp...that seems to sound much better here than on the previous couple of releases. But then the haunting melodies come in and create such an atmosphere. I've heard some say that they are not all that keen on Herbrand Larsen's clean vocals but I find them to be the perfect contrast to Grutle's rasp. He reminds me of Mikael Akerfeldt a lot and on here it not much different. He seems to actually expand his range a bit here showing us what he truly is made of. But if you think you have this album figured out based on this song, think again.

"Building With Fire" is unlike any Enslaved song I've ever heard. If the tempo and melody could be compared to anything, maybe Isa would come close. It's a mid tempo song and has an almost straight ahead rock riff going on to start it off. Clean vocals introduce the melodies. Then it goes into some interesting riffing with the keys providing another layer to this song along with Grutle's rasp. This song seems to actually build from it's rather simple opening to become a favorite song by this band. Atmospheric lead guitars provide another layer to enjoy. This is the band doing what they do best, not allowing themselves being put in any genre box but, instead, choosing to just be Enslaved. Each song is an epic composition that has it's own personality but at the same time is also absolutely necessary for the flow of this album. "One Thousand Years of Rain" shows this band's progressive side with the multiple time changes and some strange tempos. Mostly a mid to fast paced number with the vocals alternating with Grutle's rasp leading the way and Herbrand's cleans adding melodies there are some strange riffs and time signatures thrown in. Once you think you know what direction they are taking a song, they take into another.

The title track needs some special mention because, I think, this is quite possibly the most ambitious song the band has created since "793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)" from their 1997 masterpiece, Eld. As a matter of fact, you can hear Grutle's chants in there as the song builds almost reminding me of said song. Then some interesting riffing takes over giving this epic life. It's all the elements combined that make this song truly special. A strange melodic part with vocal harmonies comes in in the middle of the song taking you further on the journey as it then slows with piano, acoustic guitars and atmospheric leads that give it an almost psychedelic feel. Then you have this blast that builds to take the song to it's bombastic completion. "Daylight" rounds out the album and is song with so many layers that it's hard to give an accurate description. The contrast of aggression and melody is profound on this song as spaced between blasting and harsh vocals are some soft acoustic moments that lead into beautiful melodies and atmospheric leads. This is the quite the fitting way to round out this musical journey.

Enslaved is a band that has never disappointed me and this album is another masterpiece that they should be proud of. Their progression never seems to stop and with each release they seem to raise the bar even higher than the last.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Storyteller - Sacred Fire

It's hard to believe that it's been almost 15 years since I discovered The Storyteller, a great metal band from Sweden that played heavy metal the right way! I instantly fell in love with their first album and followed their career for a bit before they kind of fell off the radar after 2005s Underworld, which seemed like the apex of their career. They returned in 2013 but, for whatever reason, that album completely blew by me. Imagine my surprise when I see that they released their sixth full length, Sacred Fire, last month. And what a release it is. When most of the European heavy/power metal bands are experimenting with their sound...and sucking at it, these guys delivered!

When they first arrived on the scene, some of their detractors were saying that they were nothing but HammerFall clones. My thoughts were, "What's so wrong with that?" Up until that time, HammerFall were one of the leading bands putting out speedy riff laden heavy metal. The difference is that the hammer fell hard and The Storyteller still has a few more stories to tell. This album comes out of the shoot strong with the riff heavy "As I Die." The lyrics are cheesy as fuck stories about dying in battles, Northmen, etc. and man do I love that shit! But it's the riffs and the hooks that pull you in here. And those gang "whooooaaaaa" backing vocals in the chorus are metal as fuck. The solos are just incredible and L.G. Persson's vocal delivery sounds better than ever. Then you have the galloping tempo, dual leads and catchy riffs of the title track. The verse has a nice melodic clean part in it adding to the old metal feel. Once again, the solo here is just awesome and the guitar tone is just perfect. The chorus is catchy and the gang backing vocals are just beauty to this old metalhead's ears.

"Serpent Eyes" just fucking slays with it's speed and overall guitar work. The chorus has wonderful melodies and just pulls you in. These songs are so well written and that it's just so refreshing. Once again, these guys are living up to their name because each song seems to tell a story. But nothing can compare to the epic "Sons of the North." This song just reeks epic metal. Going from slower to mid paced in places this song is the perfect metal song. All the elements that make this the perfect song are here. The chorus is slow, epic with choir backing vocals and a feeling that you are going into battle. This song gives me the chills. The speed picks up with the dual leads in the middle all culminating into a solo that is just amazing. This is the best song on the album let alone one of the best metal songs I've heard in a while. Then you have another galloping metal anthem, "Curse of the Seven Seas." this is another stand out track just because of the riffs and melodies and, once again, those gang vocal "whoooooaaaas" coming in at the beginning of the chorus and after the solo. I don't know about you but I fucking love that shit.

There are a couple of moments on this album that are weaker than others. "In Search for Treasures, Stones and Gold" comes after "Sons of the North" and, maybe because it does follow such an epic, it just doesn't stand out to me. Not that it's a bad song but after such an epic you need something to stand out. Maybe they could have something that stands out more after that epic like "Let Your Spirit Fly," which is a speedy number with all the aforementioned metal as fuck elements. Then you have "Coming Home," which is your obligatory metal ballad and even though it's not horrible as some of the more recent metal ballads have been, it just didn't seem necessary on an album like this. "God of War" rounds it out and does so in the best way you could possibly end and album like this. Speedy and melodic this is another song that is a stand out that just screams "metal" when you hear it.

This album slays, there is no other way to put it. This is the definition of heavy metal. Maybe this can put this band at the forefront of metal, where they have always belonged. No experimenting with more progressive or modern sounds, this is how metal is done...period!


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tanagra - None of This Is Real

Fantasy themed power metal of the European variety is not something that we, here in the States, are used to. Even more so, there seems to be a shortage of this in the genre altogether since a lot of the European bands that started out playing power metal have abandoned their power metal roots for a more "artistic" approach. In other words, they suck now. To me, there is nothing like some speedy, riff driven power metal with soaring vocals and lyrics about fantasy, history, chivalry, etc. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Portland, Oregon has been trying to keep this incredible young band, Tanagra, all to themselves. Well sorry Portland. I found them and I'm about to tell the world about them.

I love a band that can be ambiguous when it comes to their lyrical approach as well as the meaning behind their name. The band could be named after an island from the original Star Trek series or it could be named after the town near Athens, Greece where ancient terracotta figurines were found dating back to the fourth century BCE. What I can say about this band is that their music speaks volumes about who this band truly are. Their debut album, curiously titled None of This Is Real, is some epic, riff laden, melodic power metal that is a breath of fresh air to a metal fan like me. Not since my discovery of Noble Beast has an album impressed me like this. Coming right out of the gate with "The Undying Light" we have a speedy intro to the song with an infectiously melodic lead guitar working it's way to the verse. At that point the song the riffs do the talking while the galloping rhythm is the just the perfect hook to make this song stand out. There is some keyboards just slightly in the mix during the chorus to provide atmosphere. The vocals are a nice and clean, very melodic, and remind me of Atlantean Kodex in places. If this song is any indication of the rest of the album then I am in for a real treat.

And what a treat it is because the rest of the album is pure gold. The riffing never lets up and those incredibly infectious melodies never let up. The verse from "Tyranny of Time" is catchy as fuck and the melody of the chorus is even more catchy. There are some gang vocals that seem slightly out of place but they make up for it with the "whoa" choirs that remind me of early HammerFall. The soloing is godly...and that carries a lot of weight with me. The guitar work never lets up whether it's the awesome riffs, the solos, or the harmonized leads, these guys are good. They have an epic side that they pull off quite well as seen on the eight plus minutes opus, "Antietam." As someone who not only loves history but has lived near this historic place and toured the battlefields where so many lives were lost in the bloodies day in American history, this song does it justice in it's lyrical approach as well as in the melodies...enough to give me goose bumps. Starting out with some clean guitars and the snare drum sound that you might hear in a battle of old, the epic dual lead guitars come in and begin the song. The riffs are as solid as always and keep the song flowing. The vocalists emotions are all over this song going from clean to gruff when he gets really emotional. The slower, more ballad sound towards the end is emotional with a clean guitar solo adding another layer of atmosphere. This band knows how to tell a story in a song.

And they don't stop there with the epic sound. "Bitter Earth" is another eight minute epic that never lets up and has enough layers to keep you interested. Some might have issues with the song lengths but these songs are telling stories. A song like the album closer, the monstrously epic "The Path to Talmor" is a song that is telling a specific story and I think that if they cut anything out of it then that would compromise the integrity of the song. I guess my attention span is great than some because these long epic songs are perfect the way they are. Maybe :10:04 Pm" could have been trimmed down a bit but even there it just seems right for what the band is trying to say. I guess that I grew up on 70s prog rock and some of those songs were entire album sides so long songs are just fine in my book...if they are done right. This band is ambitious and this album is proof that ambition will take you a long way. I'm already looking forward to a follow up.

So what we have is a damn fine debut by a band that seems intent on putting the USA back on the power metal map, and that's just fine with me. If you like riff heavy epic power metal then you must get this album. This is one of those albums that, I think, should be a classic one day.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hæthen - Shaped by Aeolian Winds

Black metal from the USA usually has a target on it's back, and rightly so for some bands but to lump them all into the hipster or post-black metal mold does not do the genre justice. Neither does lumping them into just being Norwegian scene worship bands because there are some bands that actually create memorable and honest black metal without being pretentious or going to the other extreme and being so "bedroom" it's not listenable. One of those bands is New Jersey/Philadelphia based Hæthen. This is a band that actually plays epic black metal with a touch of melody and monstrous riffs. Formed in 2009 they released their debut full length in December and it is a breath of fresh air.

After a rather interesting intro, they come open the album with "Taking the Auspices" and it become immediately apparent that we are actually dealing with a talented band who fuse entrancing tremolo riffs with an eerie atmosphere, creating a feeling of darkness and despair...all the things we love about black metal. Not intent on blasting their way through their songs but instead slowing it down in places to add more to the atmosphere. There's actually a melodic feel to this song and this album even though it's not right in front of you. It's in one of the layers that this band incorporates into it's music. There is even a progressive feel in some of the riffing. they have an epic air to them as well as they have a couple of songs on this album that are over ten minutes long but never lose your interest or become cumbersome to listen to. Instead this album flows between songs to be an album that is complete. "Amongst the Forlorn Larch" is one of those songs and is the perfect example of how this band can pull off epic with excellent hooks and more of those entrancing melodies provided by the riffs.

What I really admire about this band is the consistency in which they can write songs. As I mentioned previously, this album flows between songs as if this whole album tells a story but they allow the atmosphere of the music to tell that story. "Fragments of Spectral Uncertainty" is eleven minutes but only two short verses of lyrics coming at the last minute and a half of the song, but you can still feel what the band is trying to convey. There's a section in the middle of this song that slows down and really reminds me of very early Opeth with how they incorporate clean guitars and an almost psychedelic feel to the song only to fade the metal back in and finish the song with their brand of riffing with the tremolos talking. The title track is an instrumental that, for me, interrupts the flow slightly but doesn't make it take that much away from this album because, even though it does interrupt the flow slightly, it provides the perfect segue for "In Absence of the Eternal" which, when the two are put together, is then you can actually get why it's included where it is.

"Captured Within the Annulus" is an interesting song that starts with a very melodic folk vibe as you hear mandolins but then the tremolos kick right in without missing a beat. That's not the only part that makes this song interesting as there are so many layers to the song that it seems to go in different directions but seem to stay the path at the same time. Once again, this band seems to be able to go off into different directions with each of these epic numbers without ever losing focus on the song itself. They're not biting off more than they can chew. That's a testament of the talent and the abilities of this band. In fact, even though this is an album that should be listened to as a singular unit, I will actually say that this song should be pointed out as a standout track because it conveys everything that makes this album great one song.

So here we have an album that actually can be black metal without having to be singled out as USBM. The country of origin is actually irrelevant here except maybe to give some background to introduce the band. Bottom line here is that this is one impressive release by a band that has piqued my interest into hearing what else this band can do. I'm already awaiting their next album with great anticipation.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Marduk - Frontschwein

Marduk are among the black metal elites, forming in 1990 during the formative years of the second wave. Although they were from Sweden and not Norway, they still managed to fit in with the bands that were forming en masse during that time. After their 1994 masterpiece, Opus Nocturne, the quality of their albums seemed to slip as they appeared to have wanted to be more brutal and more aggressive than the rest of the pack. Their style of blasting till the cows come home would go on to be dubbed norsesore, a silly name in my opinion, but it nonetheless left a bad taste in the mouths of those who were more into the traditional black metal of the time.

They seemed to have made a rebound beginning with 2009's Rom 5:12, which saw the band actually incorporate more melody into the bedlam of blast beats. 2015 brings their latest and thirteenth release, Frontschwein. This release is a rather solid release that, for the most part, delivers some ass kicking, riff laden black metal but is somewhat inconsistent and doesn't always flow. The opener and title track is a monster of a song and everything a Marduk fan would want. It has a fast tempo and pummeling riffs. Possibly the best song on the album it has the right combination of speed, melody, and ripping aggression. "Afrika" is another rip roaring black metal number with massive riffs and lots of speed. The vocals on this album are gruff and gritty snarls, almost sounding like Grutle from Enslaved. This song rips from beginning to end with not much in the way of melody. Then you have mid paced songs like "The Blond Beast" and "Wartherland" that aren't bad songs but they interrupt the flow just a bit because they don't seem to go anywhere. They don't build to up to anything.

"Rope of Regret" is a song that is fast and aggressive but manages to put some melody into the riffing. A lot of tremolos are in this song but, once again, it doesn't build to anything. "Between The Wolf Packs" is a song that combines blasts with some mid paced parts thrown in and is actually a really interesting song. When it does slow down the riffs are cool and there's some cool hooks. Then you have the monstrous "Doomsday Elite", which is a little over eight minutes and is a really good song. It has speed and brutality but also some melody and an epic air to it that makes it really catchy. It builds to a climax instead of being directionless. However, that song does not help with the flow of this album because there are songs on this album that are really slow and while one, "Nebelwerfer," plods on and is just out and out boring, no matter how brutal the song tries to come off and the other, "503" seems to work a lot better. However, this song is over five minutes and could have a couple minutes trimmed off to make this song a bit more listenable. Not near as bad as "Nebelwerfer," it's just seems to never end. The album closer, "Thousand-Fold Death" is actually not a bad way to round out the album. The vocals get a bit silly towards the end because it sounds like he's talking real black metal voice.

So here we have a somewhat solid effort from this notorious band. I don't think it has the quality of Rom 5:12, which I think is the best thing they've done since Opus Nocturne, but does have some songs on here that are truly great modern black metal songs. I do think this band is capable of making more consistent albums and I hope that they will work on that for their next release.


Thulcandra - Ascension Lost

Germany's Thulcandra have become one of my favorite bands. They began as sort of a Dissection worship band, but with enough of their own identity to stand out among their peers. They recorded an unreleased demo in 2005 but with the untimely suicide of original member Jurgen Zintz, the demo was never released and the band went on hold until 2008 when founding member Steffen Kummerer listened to the demo and decided to begin again. Their brand of blackened melodic death metal has a really nice atmosphere with excellent musicianship and plenty of hooks. They've actually put Germany on the map of a sub-genre of metal that consisted mostly of Swedish bands.

Fast forward to 2015 and we see the release of their third full length album, Ascension Lost. And it is with this album that, I believe, the band has realized their full potential to become a true contender in the metal world. Aggression mixed with melody, atmosphere, and the ability to write great songs, this album is slowly becoming one of my favorites of this little sub-genre and will, no doubt, be considered a classic one day. With the melodic guitars setting the atmosphere of the album opener, "The First Rebellion" you get the idea of what this album is going to sound like. The riffing is in full swing with thrashy power chord riffing mixed with some melodic tremolos, this song is the band showing one of the elements that has always made them great, their epic side. The vocals sound a bit like Ihsahn's early style, though they remain consistent and never become overbearing or annoying. There are a lot of elements to the song adding to the overall atmosphere. In contrast, the follow up song, "Throne of Will," is a straight up mid-paced blackened melo-death number that doesn't bring anything new to the table but is just an enjoyable song. The solo is killer and the contrast between the chords and tremolo riffing makes this a great song even if it doesn't display the epic side of the band.

Some songs do stand out as the opener did. After a short interlude, "Exalted Resistance" just slays with monstrous tremolos and an atmosphere of sheer cold and darkness. Dare I use the cliche grim and frostbitten? Yeah, it's like that. In just a little over four minutes, this track manages to show the band's strengths without having to pull the epic card or create many layers. At the same time, this song, when combined with the rest of the album, instantly makes this an album that is one that needs to be consumed whole. I'm the type who always listens to albums as a whole and I enjoy albums that are coherent and flow from one song to another, even if the songs contrast in style. "The Second Fall" comes right in after "Exalted Resistance" and is different in style without interrupting the flow of the album. To me, that's impressive. It's more mid-paced and straight ahead with a nice atmospheric part in the middle with a great melodic solo. The title track is another song with many layers and dimensions but with the same atmosphere as the rest of the album. This is another song that borders on epic with killer tremolos providing melody and atmosphere while not sacrificing the aggression. This is the last proper song on the album as the closer is a short instrumental so this is truly a great way to close out a truly amazing and coherent album. But the end is only the beginning.....

....because the real treat here is that the album contains, as bonus tracks, the original unreleased demo from ten years prior. Not only are these great songs but it also shows how much this band has truly grown to become the band they are now. "Perishness Around Us" could actually be a blackened death/thrash song. It actually has a bit more in common with thrash with the crunchy riffing and contrast between speedy and mid-paced tempo. The vocals are bit lower and a little more guttural than they are now and actually fit the music perfectly. Even then they were still able to add melody and atmosphere into their music keeping it from being one dimensional. There's actually not as much Dissection worship here making one wonder why they didn't stay with this sound. I actually like what they became but enjoy hearing how they truly started. "Frozen Kingdom" and "Immortality" lean more to a melodic death metal with a little black metal influence. The Dissection influence does rear it's head in places with these two songs but they are mainly melo-death but with more atmosphere than what one is used to hearing in the genre.

At the end of the day, this is one thoroughly enjoyable album that truly shows how far this band has come. It shows their original sound as well as their refined, more atmospheric sound of the new album. One thing is for sure, this is a band that keeps on surprising me and exceeding expectations each time they release an album. If they keep going in this direction, they will be a force to be reckoned with.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Angelus Apatrida - Hidden Evolution

I love thrash metal. I watched it form and become a genre that, at the time, was the most extreme metal out there. Bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Kreator, Dark Angel, etc. played brutal music but at the same time played it with precision and talent. Thrash fell off towards the beginning of the 90s where most bands went the groove metal route. There has been a resurgence of the genre and, depending on who you talk to, it's the best thing that ever happened or an abomination. I'm not sure if it's because they think these bands are just ripping off the originators without the true feeling of what thrash was all about in the beginning or if they don't like the modern production because it makes the music seem sterile.

To all those who thinks the modern thrash bands are just  rehashing 80s thrash riffs I say so fucking what! I say good on them. Spain's Angelus Apatrida are one of the bands that are kicking ass and taking names by playing riff laden, head banging thrash metal. I must say that I have just recently started to discover some of these bands, I'm not sure why. Maybe because I was afraid of anything labeled thrash because you could wind up with any tripe from groovy mallcore to shitty metalcore mislabeled melodic thrash or crossover. I learned that I need to take each band on a case by case basis because this band has been around since 2000 and their latest and fifth full length, Hidden Evolution, is one bad ass thrash album. Coming right out of the starting gate with a song like "Immortal" these guys are taking no prisoners. The riffs are monstrous and they are plentiful. The vocals are your typical 80s thrash style that fit the music perfectly. The solo is fucking godly as is expected from any thrash band that's worth a fuck. Yeah, the production is modern but, seriously? Is that such a bad thing? I hear every riff, every drum beat, every cymbal, and the bass perfectly. Sometimes that production can make the music that much better. I wish some of those thrash classics of the 80s, whose production was muddy and chaotic, would have had access to the technology we have now.

After starting the album off they way they did, I was hoping that the album wouldn't fall off or run out of steam. Nah...these guys are the real deal. Songs like "Architects" and "Speed of Light" are future thrash classics. They are songs brutal, fast and the riffs, the riffs, the riffs...did I mention the riffs? This is what makes a 30 plus year thrash fan like me happy that thrash is not only alive but being made with skill and balls, just like it's supposed to be. And "Serpents on Parade?" That song is one of the best thrash songs written in a long time. The riffs are fucking killer, plentiful, and they kick your fucking teeth in! Slightly contrasting those songs comes "Wanderers Forever," which is more mid-paced and actually has a slight early Iced Earth feel to it. It's melodic and catchy but still maintains that brutality and riff heavy thrash. For some reason the vocalist here is going for Matt Barlow's gruff sound. Not their most original song but the solos are bad ass and it's still an enjoyable song. Rounding out the album is the nine minute title track. This song reminds me of Testament in so many ways. It's mid paced and the chorus almost reminds of Testament's "Time is Coming." The solo is fucking killer and leads to a slower cleaner guitar part before more amazing solos come in. It's one of those cases of the never ending solo...and that's fine by me.

So what this album proves is that thrash is alive and well. They are not reinventing the wheel or redefining the genre. What they are doing is playing good thrash metal. Their songs are catchy, their musicianship is top notch, and they seem to have the right attitude. They take the best of what thrash always was and molded it together to make one fine album.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Solefald - World Metal.Kosmopolis Sud

Norway's Solefald is pretty well known in the metal world. Their brand of avant-garde blackish metal seems to part of the so called "post-black metal' era but I find them to have much more in common with Arcturus than with Deafheaven. Formed in 1995 by Cornelius Jakhelln and Lars Are Nedlund the latter is also well known to be one of the most recognizable voices in the extreme metal world being the backing vocals in Borknagar since 1999 and also provided the clean vocals for what I consider to be the best folk metal album ever made...Asmegin's Hin vordende Sod & Sø. So now with their eighth full length album, World Metal.Kosmopolis Sud, Solefald seems to have reinvented themselves yet again.

This album is all over the place and seems to remind me more of Frank Zappa's early work and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper than a "metal" album. There's also hints of house and techno but with metal riffing and black metal elements thrown in. Lars' signature vocals are all over this album as well and what's even more cool is that his brother, Sindre Nedlund, who was a guest on Myrkgrav's Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning is part of this. He actually sounds so much like Lars that I actually thought the backing vocals were on that album Lars until finding out it was his brother. The opening song, "World Music with Black Edges" is exactly what the title implies. There are so many elements to this song that an exact description is virtually impossible. All I can say is that the song title says it all. "The Germanic Entity" is another song that has layers and layers of instrumentation and rhythms that it does remind me of Zappa's poly-rhythmic 70s era to the point that the vibraphone parts on this song made me think that Ruth Underwood was a guest for this one. "La Soliel" is another song that seems to be some twisted love child of Zappa and black metal. But there's also monstrous riffing on here as well as infectious melodies making this on of the coolest songs I've heard in quite some time.

Then you have a song like "Bububu Bad Beuys" that reminds me of everything from African tribal music to Rammstein. But once again, they managed to add some killer riffing into the song to add another dimension to the song. Then you have a slightly more straightforward song like "2011, or a Knight of the Fail," which is a song about Anders Breivik, the coward who committed terrorist acts in Norway, including opening fire on a youth camp in Oslo. This is one of the more "metal" songs on the album, along with "String The Bow of Sorrow" and is riff laden and angry. Given the subject matter, the music fits the atmosphere of the lyrics. The latter song is another great epic metal song that combines layers and layers of melody with aggressive metal riffing. Again, there is not much straightforward about any of these songs because there is just too many elements to them. "Oslo Meloncholy" rounds out the album and this is another song that lives up to it's name. Very eerie and atmospheric is never gets more off the ground that some eerie guitars and almost spoken vocals. A cool way to end an amazing album.

So what we have here is basically the Sgt. Pepper of metal. There is instrumentation from almost every music genre known ti man mixed with some killer metal riffing in places to create one of the most musically diverse albums released in a very long time. This was definitely not what I expected from this band, but it was a most pleasant surprise.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Visigoth - The Revenant King

When I reviewed Salt Lake City's Visigoth's 2012 EP, Final Spell, I knew this band would turn out to be something very special. I was vaguely familiar with front man Jake Rogers' blackened folk metal project, Gallowbraid so I thought I knew what this guy was made of. The EP was actually quite surprising because it was not folk metal or black metal but straight up old school heavy metal and it was really good. So when I heard that Visigoth got signed to Metal Blade Records I was awaiting their full length debut with great anticipation. The Revenant King is the name of this monstrously epic debut and not only did they live up to my expectations, they went way beyond anything I imagined.

I expected more of the same from this band because it seemed that they had a great formula and I assumed they would stick to that formula. They didn't....the threw some shit into the game. They went full on epic with a sound that could only be compared to Manilla Road's classic era. They took a huge chance on this album going for long epic songs that have many layers, instead of going straight up metal, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. Coming right out of the shoot is the title track clocking in at just over eight minutes. That could have been hit or miss for a young band like this but they not only find a way to use all eight minutes to their advantage, they created a new formula that gives this band a new identity. The song is multi-layered with great riffing, great solos, a rhythm that drives the song and melodies that are truly infectious. Vocalist Jake Rogers is a gifted singer with a great baritone that compliments the song, especially the chorus that just sucks you in. Every second of these eight minutes will have you spellbound as they take you on a journey, pulling you inside the story that they are telling.

But wait, they throw another twist into this album as the follow up song, "Dungeon Master". This song doesn't bother to be over the top epic but instead just kick your ass with major riffage all the way through, kicking it up a notch with a more speed metal oriented song. This is another song that has a great chorus as well as great guitar work. It slows down in the middle only to kick your ass with dual lead solo battles that are nothing less than godly. Another song that has this driving speedy rhythm is their cover of Manilla Road's "Necropolis." They not only did this song justice but just they killed it. It was this cover that actually made me go back and have a new found appreciation for Manilla Road. They also re-recorded "Creature of Desire" from the EP but for some reason I prefer the original. That song seemed to work better for the production on that EP and may be the only song on this album that did not seem to fit in with the rest.

For the most part, though, this album is just plain epic metal. You have songs that are metal anthems like "Mammoth Rider" with it's slower tempo and crushing riffs that even touches on doom with the riffs towards the end. You also have the absolutely heavy and pounding "Iron Brotherhood" that is the metal anthem for this generation of metal heads. Then you have a song like "Blood Sacrifice" that begins slowly, almost as if it was a ballad with clean guitars with a lead part and Jake Rogers' incredible vocals building up to an all out speed metal assault. This song just slays from beginning to end with it's catchy chorus, pounding rhythms, monster riffs, monster solos, and melodies towards the end that grab you and never let go. To round out the album they end it as they started it...with an almost 10 minute epic monster of a song, "From The Arcane Mists of Prophecy." If you thought the opener was as epic as they could get, think again. This song has so many layers and twists but never becoming chaotic or falling apart. The riffs, the melodies, and just the overall triumphant feeling of this song will make you want to pound your fist in the air.

As I said, this band took a chance it it paid off, in spades. They aren't showing off or over reaching and there is nothing here could be construed as pretentious. This band is the future of traditional epic heavy metal. The torch has been passed, they ran with it... and they will make heavy metal history. I predict only great things for this amazing band.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Satyrasis - ...of the Dead

Sometimes you make a discovery that changes the way you look at certain things. That is how I feel about Lansing, Michigan's Satyrasis. They play a mixture of progressive metal with thrash and melodic death and tech death thrown in. They are as all over the place as you can get. A member of the Metal Archives forum posted a song from their second full length album ...of the Dead and I found myself in awe. This band, formed in 2003 has only one other full length under their belts from 2008 and it took them seven years to follow it up...and I can see why. They were not about to release anything that they did not feel was pure perfection.

And it's that sheer perfection in this release is so apparent in each and every song on this album. As soon as you hear the opener, "A Foot in Each Grave" you get the idea where this album is going. Sheer technicality that does not sacrifice the riffs. Instead, the riffs on this album are plentiful and are crushing. Opening the song with pummeling thrash riffs and a death/thrash vocal sound that kinda reminds me of King Fowley of Deceased, the song goes in a different direction midway through with some blackish metal riffs and keys that sound like a mellotron. The riffs kick back in only to give way to another shift in direction with an acoustic guitars and keyboards adding a new dimension and some nice melodies. The song winds up with some dual lead riffing and more thrash riffs that abruptly end and the rest of the song is some eerie keyboards that fade out. "The Foreman's Face" kicks right in with more of the same, bad ass thrash riffing but with a technicality of tech-death. What sets these guys apart is there is emotion in their songs as well as the different directions that each song takes. This is what technical metal should be, showing your musical skills without sacrificing the riffs.

Of course there is wankery but it's done in such a way that it's not pretentious or give the appearance that they are showing off. The songs are not just one long solo or djenty odd time signatures just to show that they can do it. The ability of this band to write a great song sets this band apart. Most of the songs are over six minutes but you'll never know it because there is so many levels to them. The song that I was first exposed to and that was released as a sample, "Excision," starts off sounding like 8-bit midi then kicks in with a full on ass kicking riff fest. This song has so many riffs and is possibly the most straight forward song on this album. Mostly straight thrash/speed metal with the gruff vocals the song does deviate slightly to let you never forget that these guys are technically brilliant. At seven and a half minutes, if I had to pick this would be the best song on the album. It has that epic quality to it as well. But as you will see, this is one of those albums that is not a song album but something to be consumed in it's entirety.

The biggest surprise for me was their cover of Rush's "Circumstances." I was actually put off by it at first. The verse has a thrash/punk vibe to it with the chorus being just slightly faster than the original. The vocals are still that gruff death/thrash style. They throw their own spin in there in the middle as it doesn't seem to resemble the original at all but goes right back to the chorus. After a few listens, I finally got what they were doing and the album would not be the same without it. "In Ruins" rounds out the album and is the longest song on the album clocking in at just over eleven minutes. This song is slightly slower and less thrashy than the rest in most places, almost going off in a progressive doom direction. The riffs are there along with some dual lead riffing but with a slower tempo. The mid section starts with some bass leading to some seriously demented chaos only to begin the riffs again, this time sounding like some good prog metal.

Once in a while you come across something truly spectacular and this is one of those times. This album is nothing short of perfection. It has something for everyone. There's riffs, there's wankery, there's brutality, there's melody. This is essential for any and all metalheads!


Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror

In it's close to 30 year history, Blind Guardian has never released a bad album. That's right, you read that correctly, not a one. Every album the band has released, including their post-Imaginations albums were nothing short of spectacular. Yeah, their sound became more progressive, symphonic, even over the top. But that never got in the way of the sheer brilliance of their songwriting. With the release of their tenth full length, Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian has taken all the elements that made them great and combined them in an album of sheer brilliance that one would expect from a band of this caliber.

This is epic as only Blind Guardian can do. We have orchestras and choirs, namely the Hungarian Studio Orchestra and Choir Budapest and the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir Prague as is evident on the album opener, the monstrously epic "The Ninth Wave." This song seems to be a continuation of "Sacred Worlds" from the previous outing, At The Edge of Time. However, instead of just mirroring that song they expanded on it and created something even more over the top but brilliant. Starting with male choirs, gradually adding the female choirs as the song builds. As the choirs build the orchestra arrangements builds as well until the guitars kick in and Hansi's unmistakeable voice. He sounds better than ever as he always seem to sound as if he is a bard singing a tale of old. The chorus is bombastic and catchy. The background vocals are impeccably done complimenting Hansi's tone. This is not the most riff centric song but instead they use the melodies to make this song what it is. When the riffing is used it's typical Blind Guardian as with the leads. The dual harmonized leads are Andre Olbrich's signature sound and add to the melodies. The song ends with the same choirs that opened it...and this is just the first song!

In contrast to the epic opener we have a lot of metal here that reminds me a lot of Imaginations from the Other Side and even Nightfall in Middle Earth. The opening of "Prophecies" reminds me of "Blood Tears" from Nightfall but when the riffs kick in this song is all business. Moving between mid paced rocking riffs and some speed metal riffing, it's the melodies that draw you in. The leads are also highly on display here. "Ashes of Eternity" is another riff monster that pummel you but with tons of melody, especially in the choirs, which are just incredible. Olbrich's signature solos are the icing on the cake with this song. This is actually one of the heaviest songs they've done in a long time, second maybe to "The Holy Grail", which is another riff fest with the band showing their speedy side once again. This is a Blind Guardian speed metal song that could have been released on any of their 90s albums. The vocal melodies are, again, just pure perfection.

"Sacred Mind" starts off slow but picks it up after a bit with more of the band's signature riffing. At first listen it seemed that this would be a slight disappointment but it actually builds to be a really strong song. Speedy and riff laden with great vocal melodies and monster guitar work, this song could actually be on the epic side of this album. "Miracle Machine" might be seen as a weaker song as it's just a piano, strings and vocals and isn't the strongest Blind Guardian of this type, but it is necessary as a prelude to the album closer "Grand Parade", another monster epic song. In contrast to the opener, this is a long epic number with all the pomp of the opener but more riff oriented and the perfect way to close the album.

The version I have is the two disc mail order earbook edition. This version has two bonus tracks that are just as strong as the rest of this album with "Doom" being the strongest of the two. This song is a rather epic song going in several directions without being muddled. Mid paced in places, speedy in others the melodies are infectious and the chorus is really strong. This song closes this version of the album and actually adds another dimension to an already amazing release. All in all this is the best Blind Guardian album in two decades. As I said, I don't think they've ever released an album that is not worthy of this band's name but this album pushes the limits. It just gets better with each listen and has that magic and intensity that made me love the band to begin with. This album shows that Blind Guardian are still leaders in the metal world.


Venom - From The Very Depths

We all know Venom, the band that spawned a lot of what would become the extreme metal genres. They were thrash before there was thrash. They coined the term black metal. They influenced many of metal's heaviest bands all the while being part of the NWOBHM that sprung up in the UK during the late 70s. Although Conrad (Cronos) Lant is the only original member left, he has decided to carry on the Venom torch an astounding thirty-six years after their formation even though the band has disbanded and reformed several times over the years. Their most recent releases have been hit or miss and even though it seems that some have written them off....I haven't quite yet.

So 2015 brings us Venom's fourteenth full length album, From The Very Depths and it is this album that gave me some hope that this legendary band still has some life left in them. Now, granted, I have not heard anything since Metal Black, which was not a bad album, just not as strong as I would like. That said, I saw them in September of 2006 and they slayed, although the set was extremely short, so they have yet to put a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it's that bad taste that will prevent listener from even giving a band's new releases a chance. But when you have a song open an album (there's an intro that seems useless) like the title track to this album, it might be time to give the band another chance. This song just kicks your teeth in from the start. This is the Venom we all know and love, pummeling riffs, screaming solos, and Cronos's gruff vocals screaming about worshiping Satan. "The Death of Rock N Roll" shows the band's punk/metal hybrid roots with much more emphasis on the metal but maintaining the punky vibe. To round out the opening trio of crushers is "Smoke." This is a slow pounding song that just pummels you with a doomy heaviness. This is Venom doing doom rather well.

There's more to this album than that trio, though. "Stigmata Satanas" is another evil sounding crusher of a song. The riffs are just pounding on this song and it is just sheer heaviness. Cronos is sounding as evil as ever. "Crucified" is another song that just slays with pounding rhythms and evil riffs. These might not be the most innovative songs that the band has done but that does not take away from the sheer enjoyment of the songs. These are headbangers, through and through. "Grinding Teeth" is a Venom speed metal song that has that punk vibe just hanging there but it's mostly crushing metal that only Venom can produce. It;s after that song that the album seems to run out of steam a bit. The useless "Overture" that leads into "Mephistopheles," a song that starts off strong but falls away as it goes. This isn't a horrible song, but with the intro build up this should have been better. It just doesn't seem to go anywhere but leaves you hanging like there should have been more. "Wings of Valkyrie" plods along and is a skip worthy song. Sad because with a name like that it should have been better. "Rise" finishes the album and lifts it up just a bit after the plodding before it.

So what this album shows is that Venom is capable of writing really good songs. They should have cut their losses and released the album without the last four tracks. This album is far from perfect, but it's no turd either. Listen to songs two through ten, skip the rest.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Auðn - Auðn

When it comes to Scandinavian metal, especially black metal, most people automatically think Norway. Although not technically part of Scandinavia, Iceland is starting to produce some good metal bands.  Auðn, an atmospheric black metal band is a new band that I discovered  while scanning Bandcamp and my life is much better because of it. They seem to remind me of Vinterbris as they are quite good at producing some great atmosphere without the use of keyboards or effects. Their debut self titled album is a blast of melody, aggression, and atmosphere that makes this band one to watch for because I predict big things for them.

The atmosphere of this album sets in immediately with the album opener "Klerkaveldi." Clean eerie sounding guitars set the mood then lead into some heavy riffs. This band doesn't seem to need to rely solely on blast beats because this is a mid paced song with loads of heaviness but also with plenty of melody that provides an eerie atmosphere. The English translation of this band's name is Desolation and that's the atmosphere they are pulling off. The vocals are a black metal rasp that's not too screechy but also add to the atmosphere they are trying to convey. "Sífreri" uses some blast beats and killer tremolo riffs in the beginning but slow it down in the middle with some softer clean guitars that build to some epic riffs to wind up the song. It's that type of atmosphere that makes you actually feel the cold and grimness of this album. Being from a cold and grim place this bands is a perfect representation of what Icelandic metal should be.

"Feigð" is just over five minutes long but shows the bands entire dynamic in this epic song. Clean guitars that display that cold and eerie atmosphere kick this song off as it builds to some blast beats and tremolo riffs while still having those beautiful melodies that gives this song such and epic feel. The middle of the song blasts faster with some awesome tremolo riffs that just add more to the epic atmosphere of this song. As I listen further to this album it is becoming more apparent that, although this may not be a concept album, this is an album that must be listened to in it's entirety rather than focusing on individual songs. This band seems to put all they have into each song making them more like compositions than songs. "Þjáning Heillar þjóðar" is another of those epic numbers that flow with all the beauty and all the aggression of the previous songs but with something extra that I just can't pin point to really go all out for the "goose bump" effect. Once a band gets me to that point, I'm hooked.

The album closes with the title track and they just go balls out epic on this one. Clocking in at close to nine minutes, this song just grabs you from the very star, holding nothing back. This is epic, this is aggressive, and this is absolutely beautiful. The melodic lead guitar that enters the song about a third of the way in is the icing on the cake. This band is capable of adding so many different elements into each song and that, to me, is a sign of great songwriting. My only complaint about this album is it's length. I feel like an album that is this epic should last a bit longer than thirty-six and a half minutes. If you enjoy epic, melodic black metal than this album is essential. It has all the ingredients of a classic. As I said, I am predicting big things for this talented band.


Night Demon - Curse of the Damned

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in some cases it's true and in other cases it's not. There has been a major influx of metal bands that are considered "throw back" because of the stripped down productions reminiscent of the 80s as well as the actual music itself. Some bands pull it off real well while others are an epic fail. So it is with pleasure that I introduce you to Ventura, California's Night Demon. They pay homage to the NWOBHM with a sound that is a lot like a mix of early Diamond Head and early Iron Maiden but with their own identity and sound. The songs range from speed metal to straight up rockers with massive riffs and infectious melodies that make this one enjoyable album.

Curse of the Damned is their debut full length album and there is a major punch packed into this just under 45 minute slab of true metal. "Screams in the Night" kicks it off with a speed metal sound and with a vocal sound that sounds a bit like Sean Harris while not being a total rip off. The melodies compliment the speed metal riffs to create a fresh take on a classic sound. There is no shortage of speedy numbers like this as "Full Speed Ahead" keeps it going with a riff that almost sounds like they are ripping off "The Prince"....almost. Instead it pays homage without being lazy. There is some nice dual leads sounding like it could have been on Maiden's first two. The title track slows it down to a mid pace but with some really nice riffing and catchy melodies. The lead work on this and the rest of the album is old school almost going in a proto-metal direction. There is very little wankery here hearkening back to the days before everybody was trying to sound like Malmsteen. Yes, you heard that saying that wankery is not always needed to be a good solo.

"The Howling Man" is a track that would be considered the epic track on the album, clocking in at almost seven minutes. It starts slow and eerie with a bombastic sound before it picks up the speed with the riffs kicking in after about a minute and a half. Once again the vocal melodies are catchy as fuck. Jarvis Leatherby, who provides the vocals as well as the bass, has a good voice that gets the job done without having to have a ridiculous range or having to hit the highest notes known to man. Instead he lets his melodies do the talking...I mean singing. The song slows down with a clean melodic part then leading to a bombastic finish with some really cool old school riffing. "Heavy Metal Heat" is your typical "metal" anthem that should grace any album of this kind. I'm sorry but as cheesy as this may seem, this does not get old. Massive metal riffs, gang vocals, and lyrics about metal...I fucking love it!

"Masterrmind" is a song that sounds like it's been done a billion times over but these guys seem to do it with a class and style that makes that just fine with me. From it's strong intro to the opening riffs to the vocalist singing over just the bass before the riffs kick in again, it's the melodies of the verse that shows the abilities of this band to do something that has been done plenty of times before but also sounding fresh and new. This is actually becoming my favorite song on the album. The album closer, "Save Me Now," starts off with some eerie keyboards leading into some mid paced epic riffing. The chorus is catchy with some great melodies.

Yes, this is a case of imitation truly being a sincere form of flattery. This album is just pure 80s metal fun. No frills and nothing over the top. Instead you get heavy metal that may sound dated to some but in actuality is full of hooks and melodies that make this album irresistible to any fan of classic metal.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year in Metal 2014

2014 was a great year for metal. I was exposed to some incredibly good new bands that just blew me away with their sound and their ability to execute amazing metal songs. Other highlights do actually include some great albums by established metal heavy weights. There were even more albums that I listened to and did not get to review but were very solid. This was actually a hard decision to make because of the quality year it's been. There were a few disappointments but not enough to make a huge difference. Due to so many great releases that not only will there be a top 10 but I'll expand to 25. But first, the top 10 albums of 2014...

10. Falconer - Black Moon Rising

Falconer seems to have found that magic that made their first two albums so special. The riffing, the solos, the melodies...all the things that defined this band are here.

9. Anubis Gate - Horizons

This was my first exposure to this band and what a great thing I found them. This album is prog metal done properly. The balance between melodies, song structure and wankery is perfect. This is still a regular in my play list eight months later.

8. Stormwarrior - Thunder & Steele

This album is just plain kick ass speed metal. Nothing flashy or innovative...and they have not gone over to the pretentious side to become something they are not. Instead they do what they do best, they play kick ass speed metal and they are one of the best at it...period.

7. Halberd - Remnants of Crumbling Empires

So what do you get when a few guys from the Metal-Archives forum, living on different continents, get together to make some music? In this case, perfection. This is some bad ass death/doom. The songs are excellently written and the execution is flawless. Some of the best solos of the year are on this album.

6. Vinterbris - Solace

This is another one of my 2014 discoveries. This album is really good. It's melodic blackened epic metal. Damn, a new genre? Seriously this is an album that caught me by surprise. One of a on...

5. Hoth - Oathbreaker

So here we have another band and album that completely caught me by surprise. This is epic as fuck and another album that I would throw into the epic blackened metal category. Actually it is quite hard to place this band into any one genre because they are all over the place. This album is nothing short of brilliant.

4. Vader - Tibi et Igni

This band is so consistent that you could almost guarantee that a new Vader album will be just a brilliant slice of death/thrash. It's almost as if they are incapable of putting out a truly bad album. All these years later and Vader is still creating top 10 worthy albums. That's consistency.

3. Galneryus - Vetelgyus

Symphonic Euro-power metal has always been one of my favorite genres of metal and when the bands that defined the genre are letting me down, leave it to these talented guys from Japan to deliver. This is fast and melodic with a truly classy neo-classical sound. 

2. Vintersorg - Naturbål 

Everything that Andreas Hedlund (Vintersorg or Mr. V as he is commonly known) touches turns to gold. His ninth solo album is no different. This album is truly a masterpiece that only Mr. V. can produce. Haunting and beautiful with just enough of the folk element this album touches on the darker forces of nature.

1. Opeth - Pale Communion

When Opeth announced that they were giving up on the death metal elements to concentrate on the prog rock sound that they have always had buried beneath the metal, this shit storm that followed was partially justified when they released Heritage. However, they redeemed themselves a hundred times over. This is nothing short of a brilliant album and is officially my album of the year for 2014!

11 though 25 was a bit harder for me because, although the top 10 are untouchable, these were very close to being as good and in no way means they are any less essential.

11. Primalfrost - Prosperous Visions
This is amazing shit! This actually could be my Find of the Year...of there was such a thing. This young Canadian is a seriously talented guy and I would love to see what comes next for this band.

12. Noble Beast - Noble Beast
Another of of the fantastic new bands that I discovered in 2014. I still stand by everything I have ever said about this band. They are talented songwriters and they execute it brilliantly.

13. Unisonic - Light of Dawn
This marks the second album of Michael Kiske's return to metal. I actually think this is better than the debut and possibly Kiske's best performance.

14. Abigor - Leytmotif Luzifer (The 7 Temptations of Man) 
This marks a return to form for this Austrian band. This band once had Silenius of Summoning fame and this album actually has him and his Summoning partner Protector providing guest vocals. This is pure evil black metal.

15. Accept - Blind Rage
This reaches back to the 80s and shows that this band still has a lot to say. This album is a bit more laid back than the previous two but still a great release from one of my all time favorite bands.

16. Misery Index - The Killing Gods
This is a great album by a band that went unnoticed by me for years even though they are from my hometown of Baltimore. There is more death metal in this album and sees a departure from their grindcore roots.

17. Behemoth - The Satanist
This album caught me by surprise. I was not expecting to like it since I'm not the biggest fan of later era Behemoth but this album is very good. This is epic and full of killer riffing.

18. Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall
Another new find, Dead Congregation play old school death metal and they do it really well. This album is loaded with riffs and solos and down right evil vocals. This is death metal how it's supposed to be done.

19. Iskald - Nedom og nord 
This is some really good black metal that teeters on the edge of progressive black metal. The riffs are huge and the songs are really good. I've become a huge fan of this band.

20. Alvenrad - Habitat
This band adds a new dimension to folk metal. They infuse traditional metal as well as prog rock and, of course, folk music to create a really cool album. I'm looking forward to what comes next for these guys.

21. Iron Savior - Rise of the Hero
Another quality release from a veteran of the business. There is not much in the German metal scene that does not have Piet Sielck's fingerprints all over it. This band has released quality albums time and time again and this album is no exception.

22. Kampfar - Djevelmakt
This Norwegian pagan metal band his been quite consistent and this album is more proof of the quality of songwriting that shows on each of this band's albums. A bit more progressive than their previous releases, this is still a damn fine album.

23. Elvenstorm - Blood Leads to Glory
This was an unexpected find but Elvenstorm's sophomore release was very good. This is a female fronted band but not in the Nightwish style but more in the Crystal Viper/Warlock style. Piet Sielck has a hand in the sound of this album as does Lars Ramcke since they are both behind the knobs for this one.

24. Grave Digger - Return of the Reaper
The name Grave Digger is synonymous with heavy metal and this album actually solidifies that. This is such a great album of in your face heavy metal riffing. There is still a lot of life left in this band and this album proves it.

25. Helstar - This Wicked Nest
Last, but in no way the least, is Helstar's ninth full length album is a crushing collection of in your face heavy metal. James Rivera is an absolute GOD....he just can not stop sounding in top form. Another great album from a criminally underrated band.

Disappointments of 2014

Of course, the year wasn't perfect. There were a few disappointments this year. I was really looking forward to the new HammerFall album after they released the teaser clip, "Hector's Hymn" but what the album wound up being more of the same shit they've been releasing but with Hector's Hymn thrown in to make us think they released a good album. Same with Sonata Arctica. They hyped up their latest as a return to form but instead the just fell flat. Judas Priest released another album of them trying to hard to be true metal rather than making good songs. Timo Tolkki's Avalon was just horrible...but, just like Judas Priest, I wasn't expecting it to be much. So what was the most disappointing album of 2014?

Turd of the Year...

Harmony - Theatre of Redemption

This album should have been incredible. This is my first exposure to this band and even though Harmony are a third rate prog metal band, this album could have been much better. Why such disappointment in an album by a band that I've never heard? Daniel Heiman was the guest lead vocalist on this album. His melodies and range is one of the best in metal but it was not enough to make this album good. In fact, it's down right boring. The product did not match the hype.

Well there it is, the year in metal 2014. From what I understand, 2015 may turn out to be just as good. We shall see.