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.