Hollenthon – Opus Magnum – 5/5
I’ve always stated that in order for a band to attain a perfect 5 out of 5, they need to create a perfect album, being both unique and original, whilst remaining flawless in its conception, production, and finish. It’s no wonder so few bands attain it from me, but if anyone deserves it, these guys do. Ive literally been listening to it for two weeks now, looking for something I don’t like, and every time I think a particular section has been going on too long, it changes. Every time I think it needs a more kick, or bite to it, heavily distorted guitars will come in with a killer riff. Its like they're inside my head, responding to my wishes, and doing a far better job of it than my mind could.
The sound is a fairly unusual sounding blend of Folk, Melodic Death Metal and Orchestral work. Folk/Melodeath is becoming more common with the likes of Ensiferum and Finntroll, but this is a whole different breed from all that, with orchestral chanting, deep deathly growls, and quick addictive riffs transitioning into a superb orchestral symphonic piece, affirming the mood of the track. The closest I can come to comparing this band is Disillusion meets Opeth meets Eluveitie meets Wagner, and even that makes it sound far more awkward than the reality. In truth, it’s so wonderfully worked together that at no point does anything feel out of place, or unusual. It retains a sense of familiarity whilst being unique enough to stand out of any crowd someone tries to place them with.
The first track opens with a combination of carefully orchestrated violins, double bass (?) and blast beating drums, before swiftly changing into a satanic sounding chant and the first addictive riff of the album. And right before it gets old, it stops suddenly, fading into the main verse, where more demonic sounding spitting-at-you aggressive deathly growls with superb elocution (you can hear every word said with ease) over the main riff. Half way through, we get more orchestral symphonies over choral singing before ending with the lead vocals. This track was based upon the concept of nuclear war, beyond that im unsure as to the full meaning, but this doesn’t detract from the lyrics themselves. They’re graphic and detailed, and serve as good imagery. In fact, I like the mystery to them.
The guitars are atmospheric and fitting, remaining interesting whilst not focussing on a virtuosic style of playing (with the exception of the guitar solo in ‘Dying Embers’). The drums do an excellent job of providing an interesting beat without overpowering the overall sound of the track, the orchestral work adds a layer of atmosphere beyond anything a keyboard can do alone, and the vocals retain a clarity of expression whilst sounding demonic and aggressive. Often raw (e.g. Son of Perdition), sometimes catchy, almost poweresque in that sense (e.g. Once we were kings), mixed with choral chanting (e.g. On the Wings of a Dove), even using female power vocals in one track (Son of Perdition). Every song sounding different from the last retaining the same core sound, with so many options and influences working together in each track the amount of ground they can explore is impressive.
This album is quite simply phenomenal, and I don’t expect to tire of it any time soon.
Highlights: Son of Perdition, Once we were kinds, Misterium Babel
By T. Bawden
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Buffalo – Volcanic Rock – 4.5/5
Are you getting tired of your old Deep Purple and Sabbath CDs? Fear you may be over-listening them? Or wish people would remember to solo as well as they used to? Then you probably need this.
Hailing from the land of the aussies, only a few years after Sabbath formed, comes what quite possibly might be the first Australian heavy metal band. With Sabbath-esque riffing, solo’s to put blackmore in his place and a perfectly capable vocalist this band kicks off with A quick introductory solo to a decent beat and bass line before getting underway with heavy metal bliss.
The classic rock sound is prevalent, with a dollop of stoner rock (which is actually really odd, as this came out 15 years before the first stoner bands started emerging. But it describes the sound) and maybe a hint of prog at times, there isn’t really a weak point to mention.
Their heavy blues-crunch (see the start of freedom) works wonderfully with the beefy, gritty rock vocals. And right now, im honestly running out of things to say. The riffs are at times reaching Iommi level of good, the composition is like an overly aggressive Zeppelin, the solo’s are approached in a similar style as Deep Purple, and the vocals are best described as like the vocalist for clutch. In fact, the only negative I have is that the opening track neither acts as a slow intro track, nor an all out fit of aggression. It sounds like your coming into the album halfway through.
This album should be up there with the best from Sabbath or Zeppelin, and anyone reading this who’s failed to mention this band to me, you really suck. Hard.
Highlights – Sunrise, Pound of Flesh, Shylock.
Buffalo – Only Want you for your body – 4/5
Here we have more of the same hard rock attitude, with less emphasis on the prog. It doesn’t slow down in pace, but this leads it to get a little bit repetitive at times, and something wasn’t as memorable as on volcanic rock. Still, good album, if not terribly very different from their last.
Highlights: Im a skirt lifter not a shirt raiser, Whats going on, United Nations
By T. Bawden
Adhur/Aiumeen Basoa/Illbetz – Triarchy of Vasconia 4/5
All the bands are claimed to play some combination of Folk/Pagan/Black metal. Now all the bands have huge folk influences, and I’m no expert of pagan stylings, but I think there is some of those hanging around as well. There are even a few moments of black metal here and there on most songs. Yet, I would hesitate to call this heavy metal. None of the bands are guitar driven all the time, and only one is mostly guitar driven. I suppose I just think this is too ‘pretty’ to be metal. Sure, power metal is pretty, symphonic bands can be quite heavy, and doom certainly isn’t driven by relentless guitar licks, but I still think these bands lack some defining metallic element.
Not to say these guys aren’t good, they’re freaking great! The melodies and the constant changing of leading instruments are fantastic. In one singular piece, the song is led in different sections by Flutes, Bells, Trumpets, even a Harp. I’m not sure about you, but where I come from, using a harp as a lead instrument without it feeling tacked on or over-driven is the definition of ballsy-great.
The traditional instruments are good too. The vocalists for all the bands are strong, with lots of variation. Adhur’s vocalists has enough techniques to match all the symphonic elements, Aiumeen Basoa’s vocalists’ range had me thinking he was a she (or she’s a he, I’m still a little confused), and Illbetz vocalist certainly is no slouch at growls. Most of these vocalists appear in each other’s bands.
The guitarists are relatively weak in all the bands, but AB’s actually manages to drive the songs for the majority of the time, and whips out a killer solo as well. The bass is hidden, but decent when it’s audible. The drummers are all pretty good, though nothing really stands out with the more interesting folk/symphonic elements in the way. The violinist of AB is especially culpable.
All bands sound very similar in theirs styles, with each group focusing on different aspects to create a different sound. Adhur focuses on making especially pretty melodies, AB is the most guitar-driven, and by extension, most ‘metal’, and Illbetz is the most energetic, and has the quickest tempos.
An interesting side-note: All bands are centered around the pre-Christianity religion of their area of Spain, and the titles are derived from this Basques regional religion.
This is for anyone who wants something ‘nice’ to listen to who doesn’t mind occasional growls. So, in short, I expect all of you to go check this out.
By C.J Ulferts.
Vlad Tepes/Belketre – March to the Black Holocaust 5/5
This is the album that’s responsible for re-sparking my interest in black metal. I’ll be honest, the original Norwegian got a little stale on me, and I nearly forgot about the genre completely. However, with the days getting shorter, and the temperature diving ever lower, I thought it was time to give a few new bands a chance, and I was lucky enough for this to be one of the first albums to fall into my lap.
This split is widely considered one of the best to come from the LLN (Les Legionaries Norte, or the Black Legions), and rightly so. The two bands here come from the same area, share members, even play in a similar style, yet manage to sound completely different. A worthy feat in my eyes.
Vlad Tepes starts the album with a short instrumental track. Normally, I’d refer to something like this as an intro, but this is one of the finest songs I’ve heard and deserves more respect then being mistaken for some ambient clip that should be skipped over. Wladimir’s March is an easily accessible piece of Black metal that’s both coarse and grainy, as well as ‘rockin’. It sounds like the band might be tuning up for a show or just shredding in a garage. An admirable attitude in these days of ‘I’m kvlter then u’ faux-demonicness.
The members all pull their weight. The vocalist performs a sighing growl that properly demonstrates the type of mournful hatred that black metal is based on. The guitarist is a driving taskmaster that pushes the songs along at a quick pace, especially evident on Diabolical Reaps. He also breaks out a few solos, another energizing change from the popular styles. The drummer is strong, but his performance is a little shy of being spectacular. The bass even has a few audible lines!
The majority of VT pieces are strong, with a few fillers thrown about. Most songs are short, clocking in between 30 seconds to 4 minutes, with the exception of the epic 11 minute DtPotCD. While the lyrics quite indecipherable, the song titles due for a few laughs. ‘In Holocaust to the Natural Darkness’, and ‘Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple’ are both prime culprits, but the songs themselves make up for the ridiculous titles. Almost FEKTHREROENNUERM-esque, eh?
Vlad’s closer ‘Under the Carpathian Yoke’ deserves mention as it’s one of few Black metal pieces that I can honestly call ‘groovy’. The fact that this band possesses the ability to simultaneously inspire homicide by arson and light-hearted drunken debauchery is astounding.
Highlights on Vlad’s Side: If I mentioned it, it’s a highlight.
Belketre, on the other hand, is a far more traditional black metal group in that the members seem much lass set on having fun, and more occupied with making insane tunes. Much more distortion is used here, and the small amount of bass heard earlier has now disappeared. The band likes to follow a pattern of using a mostly ambient or non-linear pieces with clean samples to build tension, which is capitalized on in the next one or two pieces. It’s repetitive, and predictable, but effective to building the pieces up, one after another. These guys also know their way around a tempo-change.
Vocals are shrieks with a lot of good variation. The drumming has much improved from the earlier side, but the guitarist seems to have suffered a severe loss of skill. Not to mention the guitar is now so distorted, it sounds almost synth-like. On some of the slower parts, such as part through ‘A Day Will Dawn’ it’s noticeable how similar the styles of these two bands are, no matter how differently they are played.
Highlights on Belketre’s side: Those of Our Blood, The Last Sigh of God.
By C.J. Ulferts
Rolo Tomassi – Hysterics – 3.5/5
Ok, So I lied about finishing my non-metal stint. But these guys are worth mentioning.
I first saw them last weekend supporting Behold the Arctopus and Genghis Tron, and my reaction to a group of kids who didn’t look old enough to have pubic hair was along the lines of “Roadies sure are getting younger,” but alas, this was the band. Playing an odd combination of synth-heavy technical hardcore with jazzy breakdowns, to call these anything but unique would be an understatement. Quite frankly, there’s little I’ve heard that really compares in terms of sound. Like a crazy lovechild between the older Dillinger Escape Plan, Genghis Tron with To-Mera style jazz ‘breakdowns’ this doesn’t sound like it could ever work. But somehow amidst the chaos, comes a catchy tune, proving once again a standard 4/4 beat structure isn’t required to make memorable music.
Opening with a minute of odd electro static, progressing into soft vocals (both male and female) with a steady bass line, this is very much ‘the calm before the storm’ and doesn’t really represent what the band has to offer. In all fairness, its not until the last 30 seconds that anything really happens. And even then it’s a bit of repetitive screaming over a unenthused guitar riff. But move beyond the horrendous intro and we find ourselves presented with one of the best technical riffs on the album that remains catchy, whilst adding layers of hardcore vocals, mixed with slower sections with a soft choral style of singing. I could go on describing the song, but I’d never cover it all concisely, this gives an idea of what to expect. (I plan to upload one of the tracks, as this will give a better idea of their sound than I could ever state in writing).
The drumming is fairly basic, but manages to keep the rhythm of the inter-changing sections wonderfully, and serves as a decent backbone structure for the pace of the song at various times. The guitars again aren’t anything special, but create some incredibly catchy riffs, the bass doing a lot more of the setting the tone for the section, with the guitars adding the aggression or jazz stylings, and the synths aren’t overdone. They’re present, but not dominant. Much like a keyboard can add a layer of atmosphere, they often to a similar job.
And now onto the vocals, which are something of a mixed bag. The male vocals are rarely utilised, which is not a bad thing as they tend to be fairly bland, and the female vocals often seem fairly artificially produced. There’s little character to them, little individuality. Standard synthesised choral work, and the hardcore vocals whilst impressive considering the source (a delightful 5ft4-ish blonde girl) often feel monotonous and void of emotion. But despite this, there are odd glimmers of a unique style emerging (Most of Fantasia for example).
Don’t forget the youth of the band. Their abilities as musicians are hampered by lack of experience and technical prowess, but they’ve succeeded in diving in at the deep end, producing not only an album approaching as technical as you’re likely to find, but creating their own style within a dying genre, and not doing a bad job of it, its bizarre nature keeps things interesting through repeated listenings, and is not something that bores me quickly. This album is by no means a masterpiece, but perhaps this is a band we should watch out for.
Highlights: I love Turbulence, Scabs, Fantasia
By T. Bawden
P.S. Im finished on non-metal for now. I swear >.<
Tyran Pace – Long Live Metal – 3.5/5
And back on track with a ballsy old school Heavy Metal album. Kicking off “Shockwaves” with a great riff reminding me somewhat of riot – undervalued and well executed, but unlike riot it doesn’t let up with subsequent tracks. In fact, if theres a weakness to be found here is that there aren’t enough of those toe-tappingly good riffs. The choruses tend to end up with an attempt at a catchy vocal work over a few chords, and unfortunately it doesn’t really do it for me.
The drumming is good, if not spectacular, the vocals are very reminiscent of helloween in that poweresque high pitched catchy tone, and as previously mentioned, the guitar work is excellent, and that includes the solos. There’s nothing here that’s done badly, but it overall has a feeling that you’ve heard it all before. There’s nothing that stands out, no especially good, or quick paced – or even slow paced – track. It quickly turns into background music. The highlights come from how easily it sticks in your mind, of which “Wheels of Love” easily comes out top, with a quick riff, amongst the best on the album and a chorus which will stay in your mind for a while this is an example of the best the band has to offer.
This isn’t a bad album, its just not terribly original. Recommended for those in need of a nostalgia kick, or getting tired of their old helloween collection.
Highlights: Red Sweat, Wheels of Love, Night of the Wolves
By T. Bawden
The second section of the result of my re-listening to my old ska cds, we have the discography of capdown. But don’t worry, its fairly short.
Capdown – Civil Disobedients - 4/5
It should be noted that one of the things that draws me to metal more often than not is prevalent here – the ability to actually play your instrument. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no hidden Satriani’s or Bonhams in this line-up but it’s a far-cry from the 3-chord wonders we see cropping up far too frequently.
This ska/hardcore band has two distinct styles present, either swaying quite heavily on the ska side of things (e.g. Ska Wars) or heavily on the hardcore punk side of things (e.g. Kained but able) and they tend to sway between the two sides, never leaving sight of each other but that perfect medium between the two never seems to have been attained. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as it lends some variety to the album.
The whole thing kicks off with a bang in “unite to progress” letting wild with one of the quickest paced tracks on the album, refusing to let up as it bleeds through into “Kained but Able” – A track based upon the rights of the individual to smoke marijuana – and its only until “Ska Wars” we truly see what they can do on the ska side of the genre, and it doesn’t disappoint, producing a sound both aggressive yet infused with that odd sax-infused groove you cant help but be drawn in by.
The bass is often audible, the guitar adding either a basic chord framework or ska-tune, and the drumming is often varied and better than most of what ive heard within the genre, and all this layered upon by the focal point – the vocals. An almost super-aggressive Ramones or Clash style of vocals, they sound upbeat and serve to add to the fury and intensity present in each track, but most importantly are the lyrics. They actually have a point. Every track has its own purpose, its own message representing the views of the band, from the legalisation of marijuana (Kained but Able), the cry to ask for change from the government (Neverlution) or possibly my favourite of their tracks, a song about people using their freedom of speech (Bitches and Nike Shoes). To quote the latter track:
“Ready to judge but unable to listen
To real fuckin' people with their own set of views
Not just some noise about bitches and nike shoes”
Usually I pay little attention to lyrics, as they rarely seem to have much of a point, but that is not the case here.
This is an album where they manage to fuse two genres and do it well, but its that lack of a happy medium – too often it feels the tracks are too separate from each other, that the whole thing plays less like an album and more like a simple collection of tracks.
Highlights: Kained but Able, Cousin Cleotis, Bitches and Nike Shoes
Capdown – Pound for the Sound – 4.5/5
If their biggest problem before was creating that perfect balance between two genres, they’ve eradicated that here. From the get go we get what could sound like a typical hardcore punk song, if not for the ever-present sax melody, not only adding something brilliant to the opening track of this song but proving his ability as a musician – something I felt was lacking last time round. It should be noted that this album takes on a more progressive direction, switching between two styles – mainly utilizing the drums and the guitars in order to create the sound change.
Largely this similar to their previous album, but it seems they tried to bridge the flaws in their last piece, adding more sax-jazz, transitions between styles within songs, and keeping the same level of morality to each song, there is nothing on their debut that hasn’t both been matched and improved upon with this release.
So why not the perfect score? Something seems lacking, something that gives them that unique bit of individuality, to separate them from others and really add their own brand on the genre, that forces you to pay attention to every word, to every riff, every drum beat and it’s a shame they never will find that missing ingredient.
Highlights: Faith No More, Strength in Numbers, Pound for the Sound
Capdown – Wind up Toys – 2/5
Its been a long time since they released an album, so I was expecting a change in their sound but this was not expected. I have difficulty in even calling this ska or hardcore anymore. Rarely will a sax be heard, the vocals now sound largely unenthused and more akin to pop/rock, the guitarist parts have turned into 3-chord wonders! ARGH! We have a band who have turned into every other generic pop/punk band around.
There are glimmers of hope, indications of their roots, such as the ska-like verses in “keeping up appearances” or the heavily toned down style in “Surviving the Death of a genre,” which is fairly self explanatory as to its lyrical theme, but they haven’t really survived. They’ve changed into a different band in order to survive. Given the difficulty they had getting re-signed, I was expecting all out fury, anger at their genre having died in popularity, and I’m left with sing-a-long content sounding chorus’ that simply fail.
They should have taken the hint when they were dropped by the label and called it day. This really is one for those who like to own discographies, as there’s maybe one or two tracks on this album that promotes it from the status of ‘something to rest your beer on.’
Highlights: Surviving the Death of a Genre, Thrash Tuesday, Keeping up Appearances
By T. Bawden
So, of late I’ve been on a ska kick. Growing up there was a distinct presence of fans for the genre, though excluding local bands, I was never able to discover the more underground bands as I now manage with metal. So here we have the first of two ska bands to be reviewed in this brief genre-hop.
Sublime – Greatest Hits – 4/5
Rather than choose an individual album, I chose to review their best of, as unfortunately my collection of their work appears to be elsewhere. Lost over time, or forgotten in some cupboard somewhere.
Sublime are not underground by any stretch of the imagination. They were one of the largest bands in the genre back in the 90’s along with the likes of No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, but somehow I felt they got left out somewhat - the “Anthrax” of the big ska bands if you will. Rather than play a straight up style of ska, they took heavy reggae influences leading to a wonderful hybrid of melodic sax sections, with a laid back yet oddly annoyed situation. This is what you’d expect the average ska band to sound like after they’d had a joint too many, oddly exemplified in the track “Smoke 2 Joints.”
Its fairly bizarre even now to me listening to it some 8 years after I first was shown to them, how does it work? Its so laid back, so simplistic, that I don’t understand how it works, but it does. The bassist helps to keep the beat, working alongside the drumming. The guitar has the typical ska twang to it, and he has the odd solo, but nothing of note.
No, quite simply they succeed in what they set out to do. For example, “Santeria,” and “Badfish” succeed in creating a chillout atmosphere which isn’t just something to put on in the background and forget about, “Wrong Way” and “Date Rape” succeed in telling a amusing story mocking two commonly found situations, then the story of the 1992 Miami Riots told in the closing track, every song has some sort of clearly defined point to it, and their opinions aren’t expressed in a way that’s in your face, it often cleverly mocks it in order to persuade the listener. Its quite refreshing from the political hardcore and metal which seem to be calling any differing opinion retarded by comparison.
It only scored the 4 out of 5, as its 40mins long. There are a LOT of good tracks missed out, but then whittling down the tracks to the best dozen cant have been easy. Still, a few more couldn't have hurt.
This is to serve as an introduction to the band. If you already know them, this is a fairly redundant review, as there’s nothing here that you shouldn’t already have. If you don’t, and are interested, this is something you could do with listening to.
Highlights: Date Rape, Greatest Hits, Santeria
By T. Bawden
Beautiful Sin – The Unexpected – 4.5/5
The album is so good it made me post it on the forums before finishing the review. If you’d asked me for an example of a ‘super-group’ as good as the sum of their individual parts id have a real hard time answering. Now, the answer is here, boasting the bassist and guitarists from pagans mind, the drummer from Mekong Delta/Helloween/Gamma Ray/Holy Moses, Gamma Rays keyboard player, another guitarist from Narnia, and a previously unknown vocalist by the name of Magali Luyten.
The problem with a lot of super-group’s is there is frequently a fight for attention, leading to a convoluted end result, it doesn’t feel coherent, doesn’t gel, and as a result sounds severely lacking compared to their previous work. This doesn’t happen here. Everyone knows their place, and don’t overstep their bounds whilst retaining plenty of spotlight. The guitarists get their virtuistic riffs and solo’s, the bassist gets a strong presence, the drummer manages to provide multiple fill ins and changes keeping the song sounding interesting and the keyboard adds synth affects to create a melody that sustains repeated listening.
But no question (at least in my mind) would this album be anywhere near as good if not for the vocal talents of Megali Luyten. She isn’t pretending to be an opera singer, or trying to be over-feminine, as if to say “females can be in metal too!!!” and neither is she trying to growl and sound like a man in the Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy 2006-Present) style. No, she sings powerfully with a touch of rasp when needed (e.g. Spark of Ignition) or cleanly and emotionally (e.g. Closer to my Heart). The range in her vocal abilities should be commended, certainly up there with the best of them, and the fact that she is female lends a certain slight unique twist to the sound.
The album is introduced with a tribute to Helloween, covering their song “The Departed.” Whilst the original was a good song, this is definitely a worthy cover, sounding different and unique whilst retaining the core sound. In fact, its not taken long for me to prefer the sound of Luytens sweeping vocals and the harsh layered vocals in the background with the more heavily synth laden cover than the original. Blended seamlessly with the album – you might have difficulty telling it was someone elses brainchild – it only gets better from here.
There really isn’t a weak track present on this album, from the sweeping vocals in “Im Real” to the aggressive “This is Not The Original Dream,” even the closing instrumental track feels carefully thought out. The only real negative that can be said is with the exception of the vocals, its not too unique. Nothing especially stands out as being original, its simply Power Metal done about as perfectly as I believe I’ve heard, and the fact their so poorly known is just criminal.
Highlights: Spark of Ignition, Give up once for all, Metalwaves.
By T. Bawden
Catamenia – Location: Cold – 4.5/5
So after the depression of Viking Skull, I set my more recent acquisitions to shuffle to see what grabbed me. Enter Catamenia. I heard them described as melodic black metal, but this is not accurate of what this album presents me with. If we took some finntroll-esque folky passages, and placed them in a melodic black metal band with an overdose on the melodic, and garnished with the odd power metal style vocals, the result would probably sound something like this.
Once you overcome the cheesy name, you quickly realise this is band able to produce a wide variety of tones, from the catchy poweresque “Coldbound,” to the more aggressive “Tuhat Vuotta” to the oddball “Location: Cold” which combines the two in a weird blend of addictive evil, there isn’t a single weak track on this album, constantly presenting something new without compromising their core sound.
Take the opening track for example, “Tribe of Eternity” opens strongly with an epic tone before exploding into one of the most aggressive points in the album. With a kick and growl the verse gets under way in a highly melodic black metal style, until the chorus, where suddenly it turns into a far more anthemic power metal influences style. This transition is done well and doesn’t feel at all out of place.
And all this is only made all the more impressive when you consider the abilities of the musicians. No one section stands out as being done especially well. The drumming is fairly bland, the guitar work is relatively simple, and vocal work (both clean and growls) could be more aggressive/powerful respectively. Everything simply fits, it blends perfectly in a cacophony of twin guitar melody, often overlayed with keyboard whilst the vocals do their thing.
But sometimes there’s too much melody, it takes control and whilst well done, it leaves the song feeling somewhat lacking in aggression, lacking in its dark, evil tone. It is this that for me, gives most black metal its identity, and whilst many of the same techniques are presented here, the blast beats, tremolo picking and so on, I struggle to really think of this as black metal – melodic or not.
This is a band that have taken multiple influences and produced a great album, both unique and addictive, and is only really hampered by its difficulty in accurately describing them, and the lack of standout tracks.
Highlights: Tribe of Eternity, Coldbound, Location: COLD
By T. Bawden
Viking Skull – Doom Gloom Heartache and Whiskey - 2.5/5
Ok, so a break from those unheard of bands, this band – whilst not popular – is certainly not unknown. I first heard their song “Skull Heaven” with the release of their EP Chapter One, and ended up having to import both Chapter Two and Born in Hell. Whilst Born in Hell was everything I wanted from them – gritty, joke-filled songs about drinking too much, sleeping around and generally living the metalheads dream, the release of their second album was a major disappointment, as despite a couple of strong tracks it took on a more serious tone which didn’t work so well, despite often better riffs being present. Both albums cover nothing new with regards to sound, but it was never intended to. Starting out as a side-project of the metalcore band Raging Speedhorn (though as of their second album, completely Speedhorn free), the intention was to make old-school heavy metal and have fun with it.
So that brings us to the third helping of ballsy all out old school heavy metal, opening with “Lets start a War.” This dispenses of an introduction and goes into full-on headbang mode. With the gritty vocals screaming the title of the track, and featuring a solo far more impressive than anything ive heard from them thus far, this started off the album with a real kick, which only harshened the blow when the second track arrived. With a slow, palm muted riff, this sounds content and melancholy. It doesn’t make me want to drink, it doesn’t make me want headbang, it fails to produce the sound desired.
Not all the tracks are this bad though, in particular “in hell” and “In for the kill stand out as well thought out tracks with plenty of attitude. The drumming is largely bland, rarely will I say this, but he needs to use the bass more. Its barely audible, and a nice loud bass drum would work wonders in giving many of the tracks a harder edge. Same goes for the bass guitar, it needs to stand out some more. Its not bad production, its badly done production.
The vocals are as ever consistent, not spectacular but unique and fitting with the sound their trying to create, and the guitarist has improved in the soloing department, creating the best solo’s of the bands career to date, yet the riffs have suffered, and often were turned into a palm muted section followed by a chord or two.
This is an album I really wanted to enjoy – I still love their debut “Born in Hell” – but there are simply too many flaws to warrant a decent mark.
Highlights: Start a War, In Hell, In For the Kill
By T. Bawden
Area51 – Daemonicus - 4/5
And onto the final new band of the week that’s been getting regular play. Have you ever got tired of the number of blatant Nightwish clones? Well apparently this Japanese band have, and whilst the female vocals and symphonic aspect remain intact, the gothic ideals have been replaced with neo-classical guitar riffs and solo’s, and even the odd bit of keytar (keyboard guitar-style soloing) and for the most part, they succeed in putting a fresh spin on a stagnating style.
The album opens with an introduction which sounds like it could have been plucked straight out of one of Beethoven’s symphonies, but they keep it short at under two minutes, so as to not get bogged down and repetitive. My only gripe is that it doesn’t represent what’s to come and feels a bit out of place. Though since its such a good piece I’m rather glad it was. Its not until the second track we get a full blow of what they can do musically, similar to that of Ark Storm or Alejandro Silva (Read: quick, interesting, short-lived but lacking in emotion), mixed in between the vocals, where they play a quick but deep sounding riff.
The vocals here need their own explanation. She sings almost entirely in Japanese, and has a very high pitched voice which reminds me at times of Japanese pop (or the singing in the intro for many anime TV shows for anyone who’s into that). Its distinct, and can either be upbeat or slow and calm, depending on what’s required of them, and they either have a upbeat catchy tone to them, or in the ballad tracks, a soft emotion which carries surprisingly well.
Track four, “Venus,” arrives. Enter the first ballad track. I was apprehensive when I first saw how this was heading, little guitar work, a simple symphonic aspect, and a vocalist Ive only heard do upbeat. The truth is this song keeps up the high quality already set, even if calling it ‘metal’ of any sort remains a bit of a stretch, with a thick atmospheric emotion behind it which wouldn’t feel out of place in the love scene of a musical.
Enter the second-half slump. After a truly interesting and diverse selection of tracks, we have another 5 which do little to build on that. “Just Like a Prayer” has a fantastic riff and stands out from the rest,” and “Lord Knows” seems to roll up the entire albums sound into one huge epic, and add some male vocals (sung in English, and very good might I add) to the mix. Too often for the verse they simply play a quick low riff which tends to blur and sound like all the other riffs they’ve done. They performed some good solo work, and some truly excellent riffs, and it’s a shame they couldn’t do more of the same.
This is definitely one to appeal to fans of both neo-classical and symphonic power, looking for something new. Fans of one and not the other may be better served leaving the two styles separate. Nonetheless, this is a decent stab at producing something original, and results in a worthwhile album.
Highlights: Les Anges, Venus, Just Like a Prayer
By T. Bawden
The Bittencourt Project – Brainworms I – 3.5/5
Ok, so this is a recent prog rock release by the guitarist from Angra. Whilst not a huge fan of Angra, I respected them as musicians and was intrigued as to what he could come up with. What I found was something of a mixed bag.
Hes taken the other guitarist with him, and managed to get a band together, though it must be noted this really is all about bittencourt himself. He’s taken over the vocal duties as well as the soloing and some guitar riff work.
Now, when there is only one songwriter in a band, there are two things that tend to happen; the diversity within the album flags and some songs begin to sound similar, but the song becomes more coherent, being the vision of a single person determining whether the sound and tone is as he wants it to be. This is certainly true here.
The album opens with ‘dedicate my soul’ which is a fairly good song, showcasing his ability to write a solo which is done very well here. However, much of the song feels a bit bland. Its not until the second track we really hear what he has to offer vocally. Technically, he’s not as strong a singer as from Angra, but emotionally he’s far superior, and its this ability that would make or break a track. Largely the riffs are standard backing, and largely uninteresting, with the notable exception of ‘torment of fate’ and ‘comendo malancia,’ the latter being an instrumental track.
Unfortunately, there are a number of tracks where the emotion behind his voice seems to have disappeared, and quickly the track descends into mediocrity. This inconsistency is his major downfall. But nonetheless, if you’re a fan of prog rock, and/or a fan of Angra this may be worth a spin.
Highlights: Holding Back the Fire, The Dark side of Love, O Pastor
By T. Bawden
EDIT: Yes, I still listen to all the albums I've posted, (unless really dire) and I felt I'd been too harsh on this album. All my previous points still hold, but he manages to create catchy riffs, and a number of the songs are consistently addictive, and cause you to be unable to stop yourself from singing along. Its still nothing unique, but the emotion drives it above most bands in this genre. The mark has been changed to 3/5 to 3.5/5.
So my musical voyage of discovery finds me listening to yet another band id previously not heard of, but am pleasantly glad to have stumbled upon them. Their sound seems like a wonderful hybrid of various folk bands, though it should be noted there is a heavily power influence here too.
Firstly, I should note im not a fan of the “folk” metal bands that incorporate no folk instruments in their music (Finntroll, Ensiferum, etc). Proudly I can state that this band boasts the use of bagpipes, tin pipes and a violin in addition to the guitar solo’s and everything else you’d expect. All in all, the band has seemed to combine the catchy ‘riffs’ from Eluveitie’s use of the hurdy-gurdy and violin and used bagpipes and tin pipes to reproduce a similar effect, they often have a similar tone to Skyclad, whilst soloing and singing like Elvenking, yet despite this somehow retain a sense of individuality. For one thing, they take influence from Scottish folk (which is rather odd seeing as its an Argentinian band), as opposed to Eluveitie’s Celtic Folk or Korpiklaani’s Finnish Folk, lending not only a theme (Scottish war of Independence) but also a distinct twist within this rapidly expanding genre.
The drumming and bass guitar is fairly inaudible, and adds nothing spectacular to the music beyond a framework to build upon. But build upon this it does. They don’t use the folk instruments in a gimmicky way – with a guest violin player, and a permanent bagpipe player and tin pipe player, not to mention the use of the mandolin in places, they consistently produce material which makes you wonder if you should bang your head or do a folk jig – as all folk metal should in my opinion.
It doesn’t take long from the start of the album to discover what you should expect. With a slow melodic start with the vocalist speaking over a simple mandolin riff, before kicking off into a harmony between the bagpipes and a chord based guitar riff, this is a great opening to the track which ends up being one of the stronger tracks present. The vocals – unusually for power metal – take much of a backseat to allow alternating bagpipe and guitar solo’s (who else would think a bagpipe solo would ever happen?). This trend if anything improves the result, as there is plenty in the way of sounds present on the album, and this allows for a tremendous variety of songs that could be produced.
And largely, this succeeds in doing just that, but this also results in some tracks being fairly sub-par. “Calling out” is a perfect example of just that. Here much of the instruments that were used have been removed for the ballad, and a heavily vocally orientated track. The vocalist is able to carry it remarkably well, but it simply sounds unoriginal. Luckily, this is quickly offset by “The vision of blind Hary” with a great epic feel to it, bagpipes abound and plenty of instrumental bits in between the emotional vocals, and a tremendous pan pipe/guitar solo, only to be followed up by “Hate Dance.” An instrumental track full of catchy riffs, and even more tin pipe/guitar solo work.
This is an album people seem to have missed amidst the Eluveitie and Turisas fan worship. They manage to do something new whilst retaining a unique epic feel to it. Highly recommended to those who enjoy their metal with a side order of Folk.
Highlights: Fast and Wild, The vision of blind Hary, Hate Dance
By T. Bawden
Warcry – Revolucion – 4/5
This band once again unites the concept of NWOBHM and power to result in something that carries both a force behind it, as well as the melodic riff work we would come to expect. The opening track shows the bands capabilities in a perfect marriage of melodic guitar riff work (and a brilliant solo might I add) and chorus that remains incredibly catchy despite being sung entirely in Spanish (like the rest of the album). It rivals Riots “Fire Down Under” (song), or UFO’s “Rock Bottom” in ability to find yourself listening to it for the 10th time that day and still not get tired of it. Its simply a shame the rest of the album doesn’t match up.
The bassist is rarely audible, and when he is, he tends to work playing a VERY simple riff to accentuate the work done by the drummer. The drummer is good, he varies things but is largely there just for the rhythm – The majority of the sound unmistakably comes from the vocalist and guitarist, but this is by no means a bad thing, as both should be considered top flight in ability.
The vocalist is much more on the NWOBHM style of things, with a far deeper and grittier sound than we’d expect compared to say, Maiden or Iced Earth, but what makes him unique is the language he used. Often ill say language doesn’t matter as I don’t listen to the lyrics much anyway – it’s the tone and emotion behind the voice that catches my attention. Here, id go as far as to say it is a benefit, as it adds a unique twist to their sound, separating them from the classic greats. And yes, often he succeeds in conveying a sense of power, aggression, and emotion.
The guitarist is where the power influence comes from, particularly in the solo’s (though some riffs show clear influence as well, e.g. El Cazador). The riffs are often relatively simple, so as not to detract from the vocalist but perfectly fitting to provide the tone required. The solo’s are however where he has his chance to shine. They are impeccable. They have speed, neo-classical influence without sounding he’s just playing the scales up and down, little wankery (playing fast for the same of it), their not overly long and every song contains one, if not more. There aren’t many guitarists with this level of consistently high quality ability in writing solo’s – for most of the great solo’s you need to look back 20 years to the Schenker, Rhoads, Blackmore or Gilmour. They aren’t quite that level of quality, but they’re definitely getting there.
The whole album ends up being a little hit or miss. There are no weak tracks as such, only some superb tracks, and some merely good ones. Its got plenty of variety, in aggression, riff style (lots of palm muting/pedal noting?), even the odd bit of symphonic, or acoustic guitars, however, there is little here that hasn’t been done before. Its simply done bloody well. Anyone thinking their old Priest or Maiden cd’s are perhaps getting played a little too much would do well to get this.
Highlights: La ultima Esperanza, La prision invisible, Abisimo
By T. Bawden
HB – Frozen Inside – 3/5
So I came across this band whilst randomly searching, they were advertised as symphonic/power. The nightwish shebang, so I picked it up to see what it was like, knowing I have something of a fetish when it comes to this genre.
Upon quick listening I noted it wasn’t like most bands in the genre, taking a very basic approach akin to the early Within Temptation. The guitar work is very basic, drumming simple and keyboards atmospheric. There are times where the guitarist gets to play a solo, which works quite well as something to fill in between the vocal work and adding a bit of diversity to the track – even if the solo’s themselves aren’t especially brilliant, they serve a good purpose.
The vocals are clearly the main focus of the album, as expected, but they aren’t what I expected. Firstly upon listening properly you realise this is heavily Christian lyrically. In fact, “HB” is meant to stand for “Holy Bible.” If I saw this I probably wouldn’t have bothered at all. I feel here it appropriate to draw a comparison with Angtoria – another Christian band in the same vein as HB. The lead vocalist for Angtoria had a very strong and powerful operatic vocal style – It was a joy to hear – but at the same time you could hear every word she spoke, and it sounded like she was preaching, yelling at you, like a TV evangelist. I don’t enjoy being preached to. I’m not religious, and listening to Christian music isn’t going to make me want to go to church anymore than Black metal will make me want to go to church and burn it. Thankfully, this isn’t the case here.
Her singing is not operatic in style, its clean but has a delicate emotion to it, and the result is something that sounds more romantic, more artistic and uplifting than a sermon. Its also comparatively raw. A lot of the time you can hear just how much production has occurred in attaining their ‘perfect’ voice. Here, you can hear her choral style singing, her almost talking-to-you singing, and her almost bitter style. Even the lyrics are done well, for example:
He mends your wounds and whispers:
“I’ll be with you every day.”
He has all the answers to your questions;
Let Him touch your heart now!
(Taken from the song “Way”)
I may not be a member of the religion, but I can see the comfort and poetry in the lyrics.
The album varies in style a fair amount, from the aggressive tones in “It is Time” to the intro track which consists entirely of her singing, to the Power/Rock style in “Frozen Inside,” the the choral chanting in “God Has All glory” to the very melodic and emotional closing track “Way,” they manage tread down a well explored genre and, whilst they add nothing new, are able to produce a range of memorable tracks. There are times where the Christian-lyrics do annoy me, and im sure it will do with other people, but nonetheless this isn’t a bad effort.
Highlights: It is Time, Frozen Inside, Way
By T. Bawden
EDIT: On further listening it does begin to sound annoying, repetitive and as though she's issuing a sermon. The manner in which they are sung works well, but subtlety is needed, so as to still get the message across without becoming annoying on repeated listens. Because it is so easily understood, it doesnt take too long to reach this stage. Mark lowered from 3.5 to 3.0 due to this gradual decline in playability.
Also, turns out Angtoria are anti-religion, taking a cynical approach to religion. I apparently missed all the subtle references amidst the cliche sounding christian lyrics. Way to miss the mark Angtoria!
I would hesitate to call this black metal, of any variety. The album is definitely melodic, and has big symphonic, or at least folk, traits. However, black metal this is not. The only part of this that could even begin to be called black is the vocalist, and he employs death growls almost as often as black shrieks. He also does a better job at the growls.
With that out of the way, this is a great album. I have some minor complaints, but these Canadians do a great deal more right then they do wrong. The vocalist I mentioned earlier is full of energy and enthusiasm, and pulls off this really well. It's my opinion that black metal shouldn't sound this excited, but that is irrelevant to how great he is and what he adds to every piece.
Do you know that old adage " A keyboard can add a thousand different layers to your band; pick two and use them on every song"? Not this guy. He is constantly present, which I would normally frown on, but is being dozens of different instruments, which not only give this extra depth, but receive certain spotlights that accentuate just how good this guy can be.
The violinist (yeah, the band has an actual violinist, which is why I think flok metal is a better label) is f5rankly astounding. I'm no judge of violin technicality, but he seems to put the guitarist to shame. Actually, compared to the violin/keyboard/vocals, the rest of the band is rather superfluous.
The bass is generally unheard, and even the drums are rather buried for my taste. This doesn't take away from what's going on, that's just my reason for a lack of commentation. The other complaint I have is the track layout. I truly wish that the band had place the first two tracks as filler tracks through the rest of the album, because they are the weakest here. The main reason for the delay in this review was how hard it was to get into this band with those two significant roadblocks.
By C. J. Ulferts
Ok, so I was looking forward to this, being both a Power Metal and Lord of the Rings nut. So far, so good with the obligatory strings-laden intro out of the way, and into the opener and title track Illusions.
The male vocal immediately grabbed me, with a powerful style similar to that of Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot). The rythmic riffing also blend suitably well with the keys and the vocal melody. The female vocals are slowly eased in, harmonising with the male vocal line nicely. The thing that struck me about the female vocal style is the eerie sound to it. Nothing bad, but it didn't sit well with me. Neverless, with the opener out of the way and having impressed, I looked forward to Riding Alone, the next track.
The keyboard intro instantly hooks me, giving an excellent feel of triumph. Some might say having two keyboard players is gratuitous, but not if they're utilised this well. So far, so good then. The female vocals kick in, and there it is again, that shiney, ethereal voice. Then it hits me - the dreaded auto-tune studio effect. Now stay with me, you're undoubtably thinking "What do you know about auto-tune, dickwad?!". Well I'll tell you. When a friend of mine (a talented singer no less) was invited to sing on a dance compilation (stay with me), they insisted they use auto-tune on his voice, as was the norm in all dance tracks. He played me the finished article, and pointed out the characteristics. These characteristics match those in this female vocal effect. Now, coming off that tangent, I have come to a number of conclusions: the obvious one being that this female vocalist cannot hold a note (I doubt this one the most, there is nothing to be heard here that would push a female register), the other that this is used to deliberately give this effect. Either way, some notes made me wince slightly. Anyway, the song, on the whole is very good, with some nice melodies and a great chorus.
I won't go into as much detail with the remainder of the album; it continues in the same fashion, with powerful male vocals and rythmic (but slightly supressed) guitar work. The keyboards run the show, and don't disappoint, which great use of the strings effect. The drums are tight and do their job.
One last track that hooked me is Lullaby. This, as expected, was a female vocal-driven ballad. This is very well written and executed well (still reeks of that auto-tune). Fantasy or Reality features some great, melodic, lead guitar which proves the guitarists' pedigree.
Though my review may sound negative, that isn't the case. If you like your keyboard-driven symphonic/power metal, then this is definitely worth a look. I enjoyed it on the whole. It's stuffed with pulsing, swelling and generally excellent chorus' which carry very well. All musicians are showcased brilliantly in this well-made and shrewdly produced album.
Stand out track - Dance of Souls (or Riding alone, if just for the female vocal production)
By C. Bidwell