Ok, so why the lengthy discography post? Well, the reason is two-fold. Firstly, it’s a consolation prize for my special, which in all likelihood will be delayed. I have one last band I wish to review, and haven’t fully absorbed. The second, is because I realised when I saw this band live that not only are they incredibly good, unique, but are mentioned far too little.
The regulars will no doubt know them well, but for you newcomers, this is a highly atmospheric Progressive Folk/Doom band that have used as many clean passages as more Viking-esque passages to succeed in putting out solid releases for over a decade. If you are a newcomer, ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ should as of this point become the must-have for your collection. (As a side-note, bear in mind I am being very critical in these reviews, to attempt to distinguish between the better releases. The truth is, you can dive into just about any of these and come up with brilliance).
From Which of this Oak (Demo)  – 4/5
Describing their sound is made difficult by the lack of bands to compare to. The vocals are largely mid-ranged growls here, perhaps lacking in impact compared to some later releases but are by no means weak. The keyboards are lower in the mix than I would like, barely being noticeable at times, and the drums feel basic but consistent.
Where this demo really shines is the use of guitar, possibly some of the best of all their work, melodic and upbeat enough to draw focus, which given their prominence is of vital importance. Lengthy doom-filled passages will have you captivated for its entire 35 minute length. Opening with a piece more upbeat than their latter material, with prominent tremolo picking and excessive use of vocals it gives indication of the band they would become, without perhaps as much refinement – they have yet to fully realise their own specific style.
The unquestionable highlight in this epic demo is ‘As embers dress the sky,’ quickly transitioning from addictive aggressive riffs and vocals, overlayed by keyboard harmonies, to an almost Floyd-esque dream-like sequence, with use of airy distant vocals adding a haunting feel, this is the level of musicianship we can expect from them in the future.
Despite being a demo, its considerable length, lack of ‘filler’ and comparatively brilliant production makes this one well worth owning.
Highlight: As Embers Dress the Sky
Pale Folklore  – 4/5
Welcome to the debut full-length by these epic titans of their genre. Featuring a new version of ‘As embers dress the sky’ they succeed in polishing an already strong track, fixing the production issues and fleshing out the track, so as to feel richer, and more vibrant. This version even includes prominent operatic female vocals, which serve to add another layer and provide another highlight of the album.
The second highlight comes from the epic - 18 minute - opening track, which not only serves as a perfect opener, as you hear the icy wind blow past and the quiet yet somehow energetic feel of the guitars, before exploding and expanding into the tale that is to unfold. Writing a track of this length and maintaining interest is a difficult task, and whilst they perform exceptionally well I couldn’t help but feel like particular riffs were lasting longer than necessary.
This is still very much a guitar driven piece, and once again they perform, with greater acoustic prominence, breathy growls as well as the more prominent form, combine with clean vocals to lend plenty of variety, not overused in this albums duration. The keyboards are still largely unheard, though the drums are now more notable, thundering away to lend a primal sound at times, and lend a new and improved dynamic.
Unfortunately, for all its strengths lies weakness as well. The number of tracks that feel out of place, the ambient ‘Misshapen Steed,’ whilst beautifully crafted feels as though it was placed in the album for that reason alone, feeling like an unnecessary interlude. This is an album that shows their potential, but ultimately feels inconsistent.
Highlights: She Painted Fire Across the Skyline, As Embers Dress the Sky
Of Stone, Wind and Pillor (EP)  – 4/5
And after their debut album we receive their debut EP. Much in the same vein as before, they use more folk tones here, and succeed in being far more consistent throughout the album. The comparatively aggressive opener presents a blackened touch to their sound, followed by far more ambient like folk in proceeding tracks.
Vocals only appear twice in this short album, the growls in the opener and the superb cleanly sung ‘Kneel to the cross,’ the latter of which utilises a repeated chant to great effect. This is overall a far less guitar-driven offering, with far simpler, more subtle tones used, often to great effect, this is the equivalent of Opeth’s ‘Damnation,’ in their back catalogue, and it goes to show just how versatile this artist is, something which will be seen again in ‘The White.’
Unfortunately, whilst nothing feels out of place, and the atmosphere is wonderfully worked, nothing feels either exceptionally good or bad. This is an EP that is the first to show them in a new light, and whilst not the gem in their discography is one that is perhaps too often overlooked.
Highlight: Kneel to The Cross
The Mantle  – 4.5/5
Three years since their last full-length and this does not disappoint. The culmination of all their hard work thus far, delivering crashing drums over acoustic riffs and slow guitar riffs. With each track as strong as the strongest from their previous work, from the sublimely addictive acoustic interludes in ‘Odal’ to the psychedelic feel in ‘Hawthorne passage,’ this is an album just a few short steps away from greatness.
The clean vocals display him at his best, being both cleanly heard yet distant and breathy, giving the track an odd melancholic life, a dim and dark atmosphere lending a truly earthy feel, as though in a forest of fog. The harsh feel monotonous at times, but are used infrequently enough that this becomes a barely noticeable issue. But what makes this album all the more incredible, is that this is the first work by them without the inclusion of the keyboard player (who decided prior to recording this to take a break from music for an undetermined period of time).
Whilst the drumming is still present, it feels underused. Some of the primal style drumming used in earlier works often feels missing in its presence, and instead were left with brilliant, but occasionally bare guitar work drawing most of the attention. If the creativity of both of these guitarists in creating overlaying melodies was anything short of excellent, this could well have been their downfall. Instead, I welcome another worthy addition to an already impressive discography.
Highlights: In the Shadow of our Pale Companion, Odal, Hawthorne Passage
Tomorrow Will Never Come (EP)  – 2.5/5
More for the collectors amongst you, featuring only two tracks, the first of which is an alternate version of the intro featured in ‘The Mantle,’ which felt rather poorly produced by comparison, leaving only the one track remaining. This track features spoken, almost acted lyrics over a simplistic, yet heartfelt acoustic riff, its perhaps an interesting listen, but overall rather disappointing.
The Grey (EP)  – 2/5
And once again, we have a collectors EP. Featuring two more tracks featured in ‘The Mantle,’ this is a period in their catalogue where it appears they have written nothing. The first track is ‘The Lodge,’ which has been stretched out to 13 minutes, and whilst still fairly enjoyable definitely feels stretched. The second is a remake of ‘Odal,’ or more specifically the same track if only the ambient noise in the background was present. This may be a departure from their usual style, opting for a more, ambient post-rock doom feel, but personally, id rather they hadn’t.
Ashes Against the Grain  – 5/5
After four arduous years of sub-par EPs of rehashed material we are finally delivered another full-length release, which is to be the magnum opus of their back catalogue, the brightest shining star in the night sky, and god-damn, if this is the way things are going then with their next I may well have to eat my own words next time around in defining this as a ‘perfect’ album.
It doesn’t take long to realise that with an opening track as strong as the iconic ‘Limbs’ that they have finally perfected their art, slow guitar harmonies powerfully cutting through the music, with loud and bombastic drumming keeping the pace slow and atmospheric, this is one 10 minute epic that at no point feels too long or sub-par. Its given enough time to develop without becoming long-winded, and this is true of every track to be found here.
The drums are more prevalent than ever before, feeling like another layer than the standard ‘keep the timings’ affair, bombarding you with tones to give a real sense of distinction between the levels of aggression during each passage. The guitars are as melodic as ever, with a more prominent use of electric than in past releases to give a sense of power, without ever feeling too dominant, and the sparsely used vocals have an energy about them, a distinct flavour as he spits at you aggressively, in an almost ‘black’ tone reminiscent of the opening track for their 2001 EP (‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor), or the almost chanted vocals, the whispers in ‘Fire Above, Ice Below,’ the vocals have been improved in every conceivable way.
But beyond the impeccable production, the ever present soaring riffs and the outstanding vocals, is the sheer ability for this to be remembered. Unlike with past works, the sheer simplicity of the music is wherein the beauty lies; once you hear that opening track you will never forget it.
Highlights: Limbs, Falling Snow, Not unlike the Waves, Our Fortress is Burning… II
The White (EP)  – 4.5/5
Two years on and we are given a completely different offering from their last work. For whatever reason they decided upon writing an ambient, acoustic album to follow their two year absence, it makes a wonderful surprise. No longer does it feel quite as half-done as with their 2001 EP (‘Of Stone, Wind and Pillor’), they have gone all out to provide a similar tone to their more subtle and melancholic style.
Whilst this presents a wonderful change of pace compared to their last offering, and at almost 40mins feels like a full length release, the often similar tones presented do eventually wear thin. Without such a prominent contrast it doesn’t feel as memorable or addictive, and suffers as a result of that. The slow paced primal drumming is once again present, though to a lesser degree and the use of vocals are entirely comprised of the softer and cleaner style, almost spoken in a neo-folk manner in ‘Birch White,’ and just used as melody in ‘Pantheist.’ This is for the most part an instrumental offering.
Their most recent work has delivered to us a new side to their sound, and one which has been performed incredibly well, though perhaps not quite up there with the impeccable standard they have set for themselves already.
Highlights: The Isle of Summer, Birch White
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
Ok, so why the lengthy discography post? Well, the reason is two-fold. Firstly, it’s a consolation prize for my special, which in all likelihood will be delayed. I have one last band I wish to review, and haven’t fully absorbed. The second, is because I realised when I saw this band live that not only are they incredibly good, unique, but are mentioned far too little.
Album: Stainless Style
Artist: Neon Neon
Neon Neon is a collabaration between producer/DJ Boom Bip and Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys. Their album, Stainless Style, is a concept album about John DeLorean, the auto industry guru who designed futuristic cars (you may remember that Marty McFly drove a "DeLorean" in "Back To The Future") and was arrested in 1982 for drug-trafficking. If this all sounds a bit silly on paper, the album is performed seriously, charting DeLorean's rise and fall without a hint of irony (well, maybe a hint here or there).
Boom Bip and Rhys create the kind of music fitting of a concept album set in the late 70's/early 80's: the sort of early early electro-pop and new wave that was hitting the charts at the time dominates the album (there are a few guest spots from rappers Fatlip, Spank Rock, and Yo Majesty, but those raps only appear on 3 of the 12 tracks, making them the exception to the rule, and even those have pretty retro production). On the electro throwback tracks, slick synthesizers and drum machines back light vocals from Rhys, who often harmonizes with his own overdubbed voice, like in the insanely catchy "Dream Cars". Meanwhile, the more new wave tracks feature jangly guitars in place of the synthesizers, although the harmonies and drum machines are still in place.
While the music on Stainless Style is all catchy, there is a sense of melancholy throughout the album. The lyrics paint a picture of an obsessed, lonely man, one who can never get enough power or drugs, whose downfall is inevitable. That's another thing, that Rhys and Boom Bip actually took the time to pay attention to the lyrics, so what seems like a silly concept becomes a fairly engaging if not always clear character study.
Stainless Style is a catchy, engaging album, worth checking out.
Highlights: "Dream Cars", "I Lust U", "Luxury Pool"
By P. Segal
Artist: The New Bomb Turks
The New Bomb Turks are four guys with English degrees from Ohio State University. They also happen to have released one of the best punk albums of the 90's. Not what you'd expect from English majors, but whatever.
Destroy-Oh-Boy! was recorded for a couple hundred dollars overtwo days and the low budget is evident in the stripped-down, back to basics production. The album is a very lo-fi, noisy affair that is as influenced by cheaply recorded garage-rock hits from the 50's and 60's as it is by punk. Due to the recording quality, the drums sound like nothing more than cardboard boxes, the guitar is a layer of fuzz, the bass is a distant rumble, and the vocalist is left shouting under all this. What I'm trying to say is that it sounds like a punk album should, a nasty, angry din that a producer hasn't cleaned or polished at all.
Musically, it's influenced by early garage rock from the 50's and 60's, punk from the 70's, and hardcore from the 80's. To explain that a little better, it's recorded garage-rock style (the low budget and short recording time), it's fairly basic three-chord punk mostly (that's the 70's part), but it's mostly minor chords and it's really fast (the hardcore influence). What sets TNBT apart is the actual sound of their music. The guitar contributes an unstoppable wall of fuzz which actually contains great hooks, the bass rumbles and shakes away beneath, when it's audible, anyway, the cardboard drums go wildly ahead, bashing away, and lead singer/smartass Eric Davidson shouts/talks away, slipping in wordplay and self-depreciating asides.
All of these elements come together to form a raging monster of brilliant garage-punk done right. Alsso on the album is the band's cover of the old Wire song "Mr. Suit", which is played at half the speed of the original.
One of the greatest punk albums of the 90's.
Highlights: "Born Toulouse-Lautrec", "Runnin On Go", "Mr. Suit"
By P. Segal
Freak Kitchen – Freak Kitchen III 4/5
As much as I love listening to experimental bands, writing them up is excessively hard. Especially with bands like Freak Kitchen, who play a genre I can safely call pop/rock, and that’s about it, for their influences, techniques, and the way they present their own personal style make them almost incomprehensible. I’m tempted to talk about the way they combine their diverse range into simple, catchy, and fun songs, but to do so in depth would counter-act the concept of a ‘brief’ review. So I’ll simply say, if you haven’t heard these Swedes yet, it’s time to do you ears a favor.
Even though what sets this band apart from other bands is their experimentations for what is possible in pop/rock, their core of musicians is extremely solid. The guitarist has that brilliant combination of technical skills, soulful playing, and enough humility to know where he is supposed to be the center, and when he’s not. The mains sections are normally reserved for a simple beat combo of guitar bass and drum, along with whatever crazy idea FK threw in to make the song special. The drumming is solid and acceptable, and the bass is often audible and quite groovy, making for a great rhythm section. The vocalist really earns his place as the front man for his diverse range of emotion and his keen ability to write lyrics completely from another’s view, and dissect himself with keen introspection. Key examples would be Vaseline Bizinezz, written from the view of a young girl upset at the news of her boy band crush coming out of the closet, and Broken Food, where he plumbs the depths of his own depression and search for acceptance and acknowledgment.
Still, the greatest strength this band has, beyond experimentation, beyond song writing, beyond technicality, beyond a great sense and depth of emotion, is their catchiness. There is rarely a track where I don’t feel compelled to sing along or at least lose myself in their music. The numbers of times I’ve wondered what that weird buzzing messing with the songs, only to realize that it is myself humming along, astound me. However, this is not an album without problems. A number of the tracks are hit and miss in memorability, and I don’t feel a lot of flow from track to track, and there is a noticeable lack of endurablity when the album gets the plays that its catchiness earns. These might be minor complaints, but significant in the scope of an album that could have been better.
Favorites: We've Heard it All Before, Entertain Me, Broken Food, A Regular Guy,
Shellac is Steve Albini's current band, featuring Albini on guitar and vocals, Bob Weston on bass, and Todd Trainer on drums. Uranus was their second single (after "The Rude Gesture: A Pictorial History"), and remains a high water mark for the band. Uranus was originally a limited-release vinyl only single, and the digital hating Albini has made it clear that he has no plans to release Shellac's early singles on CD (I had to use a USB turntable to get it on my computer), so grab it while you can.
There are only two tracks on Uranus, but both of them are incredibly strong. The first, "Doris", is a somewhat math-rock-ish love song, with all the instruments angrily interlocking and building distortion before suddenly bursting as Albini screams. Everyone is very focused and tense here, giving even more force to the violent explosions that punctuate the song. Albini's lyrics are as dark as usual. For example:
"miracles happen when Doris sings,
couples in love stop dead in their tracks,
dishes clatter to the ground unbroken,
The other song, "Wingwalker", is just as good, and finds the band cutting loose a little more. The rhythm is a little more off kilter and everything is held in place by a rumbling two-note bass line. On top of this Albini slashes and scrapes away with his guitar, talking about "a girl of the skies" and screaming "I'm a plane!" at the top of his lungs. Best of all is his deranged rant 3:15 in.
Album- The spear of the lily is aureoled
sorry for the rapidshare
Gothenburg take notes, this is how Melodic Death metal should sound. I realize many of you may write this album off as soon you hear Melodic in the description but please for your own good give this a chance. This album is a great example of melo-death and so much more. The progressive aspect of this album is far and beyond what most fans consider Prog, dancing dangerously close to Avant-garde at times but without the sometimes forced feeling that certain Avant-garde bands bear with them.
Off the top I’ll discuss the vocals and lyricism. The vocals vary between very crisp, decipherable growls and clean, not quite operatic, but clean vocals. Here are an example of the lyrics off the song “Almond Beauty”,
“ The harsh winds, began to chill
But with her warmth, my heart she did fill
The night's crystal showers had ceased to be
The snow was no match for her almond beauty.”
As you can see romance and love play a large part in the lyrics, with many great metaphors used to describe the high points and unbearable lows of love. Again don’t come into this album expecting standard ANYTHING whether it be vocals, instrumentation or lyrics.
On to the guitar and drums. The first thing you hear in the whole album is a brilliantly melodic yet not at all cliché guitar riff though not overly technical conveys such emotion that you cant help but like it. The rest of the album is similar with the guitarist playing high register, unique riffs though some are a bit more on the death metal side with palm mute a plenty. The drums do more than keep a beat but are fairly low in the mixing, audible but not taking centre stage. You’ll hear some nice fills every once in a while but nothing breathtaking.
Here’s where I mention the parts of this album that really take it to a whole new level of uniqueness. Occasionally you’ll hear sound clips from movies, usually of people talking about their relationships which of course fit’s the lyrics quite well. Then there’s the impromptu jazzy saxophone moments and the flamenco guitar interludes. The most refreshing thing about these aren’t the actual musical parts themselves but to hear how well they blend with the songs as a general rule. Many avant-garde bands using unusual instruments feel kind of stale or forced, not here, the saxophone solos fit beautifully into the album adding that much more to admire.
Overall this album is a must listen for any prog, melodic death metal, or avant-garde fan and I hope you give it an honest listen.
By Y. Mormil
I love when this happens to me. I'm searching around for obscure or rarely talked about bands, and then something like TWYSTER falls into my lap. I had never previously heard of them, so I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the metal contained within their third release, 2002's Lunatic Siren.
Highly melodic power metal is the style that TWYSTER serve up, and serve it well they do. Sterling production(they're German for God's sake!!) accentuate the cruise and glide of the tasty treats that this album puts forth. Tons of guitar crunch, copious drum cannonades, and the soaring siren call of one Kordula “Coco” Voß lift each and every track up and away into the stratosphere of power glory. Hell, they even rev up A-HA's "The Sun Always Shines ON TV", and pull it off!!!!
And Coco really is this bands trump card. I was stunned at the similarity between her voice and that of metal's all time Metal Goddess, Doro Pesch(sorry Tarja fans). And this is of course not a slight in any way. If I wished to have a female vocalist sound like any other, Doro would be my pick every time. Coco makes every track her own, stamping them with the authority of her exceptional vocal prowess. Sexy, powerful, and expressive.
Ultimately, the comparisons with Doro and her old band WARLOCK do not end with Coco's voice. Lunatic Siren really sounds like a quality WARLOCK release. I was awash with nostalgic memories as I cycled through the albums cuts, remembering the initial thrill of hearing WARLOCK's Burning The Witches, or Hellbound for the first time. And I feel that this band equals them in most ways, indeed surpassing them in the realm of production and track consistency.
Great find, great treat for fans of both power metal and female led groups. Triumphant and exhilarating at every turn.
Standout tracks: May Day, Valhalla, High Noon, Dark Destiny.
By J. Costigan
SYRIS – Unseen Forces – 3.5/5
A nice power/thrash hybrid, SYRIS are a now defunct outfit who only released two albums, this one plus a self titled debut(with different vocalist) three years earlier. If you like a raw, crunchy style of power along the lines of TIMELORD or HELSTAR, then this album is sure to satisfy.
Typified by a torrent of thrash infused riffs, Unseen Forces cuts to the chase immediately and never relents (exception being semi ballad “Beautiful Lies”). Track after track of hard charging power is the bands forte, reminding one of the finest moments of HELSTAR’s catalog. ARMORED SAINT are also a touchstone for SYRIS’s sound, lead throat Scott Huffman instantly recalling John Bush as well the aforementioned HELSTAR’s James Rivera.
The guitar work is solid, if not spectacular. Mathematically constructed at times, the progressive leanings of the band are also readily apparent. Many time signatures are on hand, be it a groove oriented chug or speed metal flourish. Melodies are not always readily apparent, but do come at you from various angles. Drums are flashy and well mixed. Overall, the tracks on this album are of uniform good composition and decent production.
One complaint I do have about the album is the rather sparse to non-existent bass. It’s one of those cases where the bassist shadows the guitarist, and thus basically disappears in the mix. And little to nothing was done to push the bass forward in the mix, so it is usually indiscernible from the rest of the guitar work. A small gripe I know, but I like a lot of bottom end in my production jobs, and Unseen Forces is a bare cupboard in this department. It’s there, just not there enough.
So overall, a fairly competent release put together by a gathering of good to excellent musicians. Always heavy, always challenging, and always entertaining. A nice addition to any USPM or thrash fans collection to be sure. If you fall into either of these categories, then by all means, partake.
Recommended Track: Tonic Sounds
By J. Costigan
Artist: David Bowie
There are 213 David Bowie songs currently on my iTunes. Still, if I had to pick one David Bowie album as my favorite, "Heroes" would be it.
In 1977, the punk revolution was in full bloom over in England. However, David Bowie and Jim Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop), two of the men who had had a major influence on punk, weren't there. Instead, they were sharing an apartment in Berlin, cleaning up their acts after both having crashed from addiction to heroin and cocaine. It was here that they would record their masterpieces.
David Bowie teamed up with Brian Eno for what would become known as the "Berlin Trilogy" (for obvious reasons), starting with Low, followed by "Heroes", and ending with Lodger. Eno produces and contributes synth, giving the album a dense feel throughout. Each song contains layers and layers of sound, and it takes multiple listens to sort them all it. Robert Fripp (from King Crimson) contributes guitar throughout, showing off his abilities throughout whether it's with the solos on "Joe The Lion", the drones on "Heroes", or the scrapes on "Beauty and the Beast". Eno uses his production skills to coax even more wonderful tones out of Fripp's guitar. Bowie also shows off his considerable range as a vocalist, most notably on the title track, where he begins conversationally but by the end is nearly operatic. Side two of the album contains four moody instrumentals but ends with "The Secret Life of Arabia", another chance for Bowie to show off his vocal chops.
The album is mostly upbeat as Bowie's life had started to get back on track at this point (he was starting to kick his drug habit, "Sound and Vision" off of Low had bewen his biggest hit in years). The overall sound of the album is heavily indebted to motorik and krautrock, although with a much better pop-sense than any of those bands had.
A classic of experimental pop.
Highlights: "Beauty and the Beast", "Heroes", "V-2 Schneider"
By P. Segal
Album- God Loves Ugly
Released- 2002, but remastered 2009.
Atmosphere is a duo, ANT is the producer, Slug the vocalist. These two have created a catchy, deep and unique album here in "GodlovesUgly". First of all the most unique thing about this album is not so much in the music but in the attitude.
A lot of rappers act like they're the best at what they do and everyone else is below them. There cockiness translates into battle rap style verses but not so much here in GLU. Slug comes off as likably and human, painting himself as a flawed and confused individual. His lyrics are often bleak and show very little strong emotions. His attitude is self-loathing and cold almost the whole time.
The topics of his lyrics range from relationships with women "Fuck you Lucy", post 9-11 paranoia "Vampires", and his after death legacy "Love Life". Slug is at his best when he is talking about relationships between people, showing his passion in Fuck you Lucy. Making it obvious he has had many issues with women and people in general. The only people that really get along in the whole album are him and another random women and they both die ironically in the last lines of the song.
ANT's production is varied but keeps a smooth flow through the whole album not getting in Slug's way but adding layers to the musicality of the album. Slug seems to be deeply conflicted on the inside but his rhymes stay fairly melancholy and stone cold. That's why it interesting that he ends up making himself likeable the longer he puts himself down.
Overall, a fantastic album that all of you should listen to a few times with an open mind.
By Y. Mormil
SILVER MOUNTAIN - Breakin' Chains - 4/5
Known as an early vehicle for Yngwie Malmsteen, Silver Mountain were a Swedish Neo-classical band that unleashed two very well respected albums in the early '80's that helped define the burgeoning scene in that country. These albums - namely "Shakin' Brains" & and "Universe"- were at the apex of the Swedish metal scene in terms of quality and pound, leveling the band up to their peers 220 Volt, Overdrive, and indeed Malmsteen himself. After a bit of a fizzle with their third release, "Roses & Champagne"('88), the band imploded with its various members splintering off to other projects.
Well, in 2000, the original "Shakin' Brains" line up - including the Johansson bros., Anders(Malmsteen, Hammerfall) & Jens(Malmsteen, Dio, Stratovarius) - decided to reform and record mostly songs left over from their halcyon period. Well, I for one am eternally grateful that they decided to do this as they have made a definitive statement in neo-classical metal.
Brightly recorded, the album features bursts of Swedish frost that could only be the product of that countries particular blend of Euro-blight. Soaringly arcane melodies highlight stunning interplay between the guitars and keys. Anyone familiar with the original recordings of the band will understand fully what I mean when it comes to this dueling style. Indeed, the entire album is really a vehicle for brilliant musicianship.
Ultimately however, this album is really a showcase for front man Jonas Hansson, whose fleet fingered axe-werk is the stuff of legend. Superb riffing, interspersed with the most incredible soloing this side of Michael Schenker in his prime, show that Hansson is a guitar God in his own right. Direct, attacking, ultra tuneful, and well constructed, this man's craft should have him entrenched firmly in the pantheon of the all-time greats. Why his name doesn't get more mention among guitar greats is beyond me. Masterful.
If the album has a weakness that should be mentioned, I would venture to say that it comes in the form of Hansson's vocals. Not the most powerful voice, but adequate and indeed complementary to the style of metal on display. One usually equates an operatic vocal to this type of neo-classical bombast(think Soto, Boals, Kiske, etc....), but I think that Hansson's understated(thankfully mixed back a little) stylings do just fine thanks.
So I heartily recommend this playful, exciting display of artful musicianship. It's grooves lift the spirits and crack a smile. And if you are a fan of guitar, DO NOT pass this up. You won't be disappointed.
Standout tracks: Before The Storm, A.S.W.A.S.T.
By J. Costigan
Album: No Questions Asked
Artist: The Flesh Eaters
No Questions Asked, the debut of The Flesh Eaters, was released in 1980, containing 14 tracks and having a total runtime of 25 minutes. It was pretty much completely ignored and went out of print. 24 years later, the good people at Atavistic decided to reissue it with 10 bonus tracks, bringing the album's runtinme to around 45 minutes.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Flesh Eaters, they're made up of Chris Desjardins (usually referred to as Chris D), and whoever is currently backing him at the moment. On No Questions Asked, his backing band consists of most of LA punk legends X, who in 1980 were at their prime.
Musically, this album explores the same sort of punk/blues that X were exploring on their albums, but with a touch of The Germs' hardcore. Songs tend to be short, with few making it past the 2:00 mark. The songs are fairly simple, but the band all know how to handle their instruments well. The guitars usually bounce along in a rockabilly sort of way, occasionally going into harcore frenzies. DJ Bonebrake's drums anchor all the songs, keeping everything nice and steady throughout. The music is pretty downbeat, which fits Chris D's lyrics, which are obsessed with death and dying. Chris D's voice isn't your standard hardcore shout, instead, it's a little higher pitched but it gets the job done. It can seem occasionally annoying, but he avoids the problem for most of the album.
The only problems with No Questions Asked is that at 24 tracks, it's too much. It's nice to have all the singles added on, but by the end it starts to grow tiring. The terrible recording quality of the album doesn't really help.
Stil, for fans of west-coast punk, this one's a must.
Highlights: "Police Gun Jitters", "Ten Inch Razor", "Disintegration Nation"
By P. Segal
Desolation – The Stone Oracles – 4.5/5
Sweden gave us Opeth, Germany gave us Disillusion, and now good ol’ England has delivered to us Desolation. Loosely taking progressive/melodic black metal they have created something unique, something beyond what we would normally expect, and produced something to behold. Only really held back by its sub-par production this nevertheless is an artist that deserves its place on a pedestal besides these champions.
Whilst nothing is done poorly here, this is very much a guitar driven piece. Featuring dual harmonies working together to provide complex yet addictive riffs, they meander through Opeth inspired soft melodic passages, unafraid of the acoustic guitar, working with the clean vocals to create an interesting break from the more upbeat riff’s and growls. Solos are used sparingly but where they are used you can expect a work of genius. Slow, melodic and emotional yet with all the fire you could want, nothing about them feels generic or unoriginal.
The vocals vary from the mid-ranged to high pitched growls, bridging the gap between Dark Tranquility and Wintersun, they add to the atmosphere by providing another layer to their sound. Frequently finding themselves bouncing to a cleaner tone only serves to provide yet another means to draw attention, and works well at keeping the sound interesting. They also have no problems taking a step back, and indeed, frequently do allowing the rest of the instrumentation to carry the music forward. Even the drums are easily heard doing more than simply keeping a beat, and frequently add fill sections, varying the pace and aggression between sections.
But as was previously said, the sub-par production hinders this album, and is the main reason for it not attaining a perfect score. Whilst everything is clearly heard, it all feels a little thin, barren, it’s cleaner than needed. When black metal utilises this it creates a cold atmosphere, but here it sounds like its trying to be upbeat and provide a warmth without this thick tone. The bass could really do with a more notable part and it’s a real shame that such a minor oversight detracts from an otherwise excellent album.
No longer when I see Opeth get given recognition beyond what they deserve am I limited to just suggesting Disillusion, this band has not only for me reached the level of creativity and musicianship showed by the genre giants (Opeth), but surpassed anything they have produced. If you are willing to take the time to become accustomed to the underdeveloped production, which will become less noticeable, then prepare for perhaps one of the better of my discoveries.
Highlights: Enlightened Oblivion, Wraith, Legacy
By T. Bawden
Black Tape for a Blue Girl – As one Aflame, Laid Bare by Desire – 4.5/5
Dark, disturbing yet melancholy. This is the atmosphere that typifies this ambient musician who succeeds in expanding into a more gothic post-punk style at times, with perhaps a touch of neofolk. With slow violin melodies and harsh piano, enriching the tone utilised so effectively, the sounds of oceans and distant female vocals used to further this, welcome to an album that has done everything in their power to present a doom-filled depressive tone, and have done it well.
What makes this album precisely so good is the manner in which it is done. No one feature is overused, but rather it all gets used in turn to produce a continually improving array of emotions, from the multi-layered vocals in ‘Russia,’ proceeding from a beautiful piano solo, with violins wonderfully worked in to take you into dark, almost classical music like territory, to the rather more distant style in ‘Your One Wish,’ with the tone largely set by piano as the ghostly vocals fade in and out.
The use of vocals are particularly done well, easily capable of overpowering the gentle music, or drawing focus to the lyrics more importantly than that they maintain the rhythm and flow of the piece. They glide as effortlessly through as the violins, or the flutes and do nothing to detract from the atmosphere created. Capable of sounding epic or calm, distant or close, aggressive or passive it all results in an unsettling variety of melancholic gloom.
Featuring vocals as often as not, this album has succeeded in producing a broad spectrum of styles upon their specific tone. At times feeling fit for the epilogue of a tragic film noir (Apotheosis), at others conjuring images of the fall of a hero in a dramatic samurai film (Green box), they have succeeded in displaying a tone in every moment that passes beyond what most are capable of, and it never lets up. It never slows down, it never feels sub-par. If you’re a fan of ambient, or even doom, this may well be worth your time.
Highlights: Given, Apotheosis, Green Box
By T. Bawden
Artist: No Age
Hype is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can bring you some really great bands, like Vampire Weekend or LCD Soundsystem, who lived up to their hype in my opinion (if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm Lifer's new pretentious indie kid). On the other hand, it can give you undeservedly high expectations of merely average bands. Guess which side No Age are on. I was really looking forward to this debut full-length by the duo (Randy Randall on guitar, Dean Spunt on drums/vocals), since everything I'd heard about them had suggested that they were the second coming of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, Loveless-era MBV, and Psychocandy-era JAMC, all rolled up into the best noise-rock/pop/shoegaze album of 2008.
While No Age may be derivative of all the afore-mentioned bands, they don't come anywhere near capturing any of the magic present on those albums. The music on Nouns is noise-pop by numbers throughout. Spunt bashes away in a basic fashion while Randall does some oddly tuned strumming and riffing, this continues for 2-3 minutes. None of it is really very memorable and by about track 5 or 6 it all starts to blend together. Occasionally they manage an interesting riff or two, but then they spend the next two minutes beating it into the ground. Apparently no one ever told them that being loud doesn't automatically make you interesting.
Another problem Nouns faces is that the new millenium has been filled with noise-pop, much of it great, and while No Age may be an adequate band, they just can't compare with the better bands and albums out there now. Bands like Times New Viking, The Legends (first album), Women, Jay Reatard, Japanther and many others are all doing the same thing much much better.
To quote Public Enemy: "Don't believe the hype."
Highlights: "Teen Creeps", "Eraser"
By P. Segal
Album: Rubber Factory
Artist: The Black Keys
The Black Keys play The Blues. The capitalization is intentional. It's also important, because while there are many bands claiming to play the blues now, few keep their blues as undiluted and well-played as Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney aka The Black Keys. Many of todays so-called blues bands claim to be "revivalists" or "deconstructionists", which really means they're going to play a different type of music with a slight blues influence. Not so with The Black Keys. Auerbach and Carney are just two guys who really like the blues.
Getting to the actual album, the duo (Auerbach on guitar/vocals, Carney on drums and also in the producer's chair) whip up one hell of a racket in the studio. Auerbach has a gravelly, throaty, howl which he uses to full effect throughout the album, whether he's shouting his head off about a lost girl or quietly moaning about, well, a lost girl (okay, so the blues don't exactly have the widest subject matter). Still, both he and Carney are aware of his limited vocal range (a gravelly throat only takes you so far), but they easily work around it. Carney occasionaly buries Auerbach's voice in the mix, but more importantly, Auerbach's voice isn't his main form of expression.
No, like any good bluesman, Auerbach really expresses himself with his guitar. He's constantly able to shift styles from song to song and always able to express the right emotions with it. He can conjure up dark atmospheres on the opener "When The Lights Go Out", play funky tones with sudden stabs of distortion on "The Desperate Man", play gentle acoustic guitar on ballad "The Lengths", and everything in between. Through it all Carney keeps a steady beat, never letting his drumming get in Auerbach's way, just providing the kind of solid backbone that The Blues needs.
The Black Keys also throw two covers onto the album. There's "Grown So Ugly", a Captain Beefheart cover, which is played pretty much the way it was, since it was a blues track to begin with, and "Act Nice And Gentle" by The Kinks, which is turned into southern-tinged pop-rock.
All-in-all this is probably the best blues album of the new millenium thus far.
Highlights: "10 A.M. Automatic", "The Desperate Man", "Act Nice And Gentle"
By P. Segal
Cibo Matto – Pom Pom: The Essential Cibo Matto – 4/5
A band that I’ve mentioned a few times in passing, but never seems to garner much attention. This, I have always considered a shame, as what we have is a Japanese band as crazy as it is intriguing. Now usually, I’m set against reviewing ‘best of’ albums, but seeing as they’ve only written 25 tracks, where 19 appear on this album, you’ll forgive me this once.
I feel I say this all too often with Japanese bands, but describing their sound is no easy task. Take influences from Trip-Hop (notably on ‘Sugarwater’), along with indie-rock, hip-hop and Jazz, as well as a number of other genres they produce a sound weird and unique, which their choice of subject matter doesn’t assist with. Cibo Matto (pronounced cheebo-marto) is Italian for ‘crazy food,’ which as you may have guessed, is a prominent feature in many of their songs. Titles such as ‘Beef Jerky,’ ‘Know Your Chicken,’ and ‘White Pepper Ice-Cream,’ leave no illusions in that regard.
The vocals are all in English, and actually sound less foreign than many bands from this country. And I don’t mean some Japanese-English, these girls are fully fluent and speak the language well, which leaves them capable of providing us with insightful lyrics such as:
“There was a man,
Selling chicks in a box.
He said, 2 for 1, but 3 for 2.
I said, thats not bad,
Heres money for you.
One was magenta,
The other was blue.” – Know Your Chicken
Did I mention they were crazy?
The vocals form the most prominent part of their music, with the use of synths, African style drumming, keyboards, the occasional saxophone and guitar work forming the backing. Normally, an album of this length (74mins) is likely to bore me relatively quickly, but the sheer number of styles successfully utilised makes each track left feeling fresh and independent of the rest, whilst retaining a sound that identifies them. From the soft, and trip-hop-esque ‘Swords and a Paintbrush,’ the electronic ‘White Pepper Ice-Cream,’ the hip-hop ‘Sci Fi Wasabi,’ the rock infused ‘Birthday Cake,’ or the slow jazz stylings in ‘Spoon,’ it should go without saying that it continually finds new ways to spark my interest.
This is the culmination of two young artists who have long since gone their separate ways. Nothing I’ve heard of them since has managed to captivate me like their early work, and I’ve failed to find another artist who has even attempted to do something similar. There is no pretentious styles here, no feeling of trying to ‘out-do’ another artist, this is pure and unadulterated Japanese brand insanity.
Highlights: Spoon, Sci-Fi Wasabi, Birthday Cake, Beef Jerky, Swords and a Paintbrush
By T. Bawden
Album: VSNARES: 2370894
Artist: Venetian Snares
When I recommended this album to Collin Ulferts, I described glitch, which is the genre inhabited by Aaron Funk aka Venetian Snares, as techno/electronica's equivalent of noise rock. This is a passable description, since both genres are often abrasive for the sake of being abrasive and glitch often uses noises played at frequencis that are intentionally unpleasant to the human ear, but it doesn't do justice to the skill and stylistic diversity present in Aaron Funk's work. The usual practice in glitch is to just program drum machines incredibly fast and try and cram the most bpm's into a song, with no regard for structure, melody, or anything else, leading many detractors to call the genre a one-dimensional programmer's showground. While the detractor's are right most of the time, Aaron Funk is different.
2370894 is a collection of songs not included on regular Venetian Snares albums for unexplained reasons. Funk's skill is apparent throughout, as he manages to balance abrasive drum attacks with melodic passages of keyboard and occasional horns. Songs rarely go in expected directions, self-destructing when they begin to repeat and then reemerging as something entirely different. Throughout most of the album, Funk keeps everything unrelentingly intense and assaultive, although his sense of humour is also apparent in song titles like "Happy Morning Condom Factory", "Fuck Toronto Jungle", and "Underground Circus Jesus".
Although Funk's signature style is hyperspeed drum assaults, he does vary things up throughout, sometimes in unexpected ways. There's the faux-metal throwaway "Sybian Rock", the jazz throwbacks "We Are Cesspools" and "2 Dollars", and, most unexpected of all, the practically drumless "Stamina Feat. Cex (Instrumental)", which sounds like it could be from the score of a suspense film. Best of all, though, is the ten-minute, multi-part epic, "Twisting Ligneous", which finds Funk stretching out and trying a bit of everything.
This album obviously isn't for everyone, but for adventureous listeners looking for something new, it'll keep you occupied for a while, and you might even like it.
Highlights: "Twisting Ligneous", "2 Dollars", "Stamina Feat. Cex (Instrumental)"
By P. Segal
Diablo Swing Orchestra – The Butcher’s Ballroom - 4.5/5
With the news of a second album by this genius group of artists due in September, I suppose that a review of their debut should be done sometime soon. For those unaware, DSO is an avant-garde metal band, which means that they play really weird heavy metal with many outside influences, in this case, swing and opera. Now wait, before you mark this off as a Nightwish-esque group; take a listen to just what is going on.
DSO plays a complex type of music in a simple fashion. They have a lot of elements that blend perfectly together in a way that covers up the relatively simple rhythms; the result is heavy metal that you can dance to. If you want to stay in your seat, beyond that relatively rare quality of dance-ibility, the sheer numbers of neat little bits of influences make this an exciting and eye-opening listen. From the token Egyptian scales of Gunpowder Chant to the Spanish guitar and trumpet of Poetic Pitbull Revolutions, the album just makes you want to say “Wow”.
Now, instead of going into depth with this LP, let’s take some time to attack some unfounded criticisms of this album. “It’s silly”. No your mom is silly, genocide is silly, the concept of proving God is silly. This is fun and interesting music going in an untouched direction, and if you can’t get that, it’s your loss. “It’s not metal enough”. Dude this is avant-garde, it doesn’t have to be *insert* enough, it just has to be explorative. “The vocalist is annoying”. What? You listen to all those wanna-be opera-esque bullshit vocalists, and the real deal is annoying? Your opinion is invalidated.
Not to say the album is perfect. Its main problem isn’t with the music, and it’s the precise lack of memorability. Sure the songs are different, but a band like this needs to do more then than that. The problem is that the ‘stand-out’ tracks don’t stand out enough, and the few filler tracks could have easily been put into the tracks they precede. Gunpowder Chant and Qualms of Conscience could have been integrated easily. If they did that, or gave songs in the first half some intros, the album would feel more balanced. As it stands, the first half feels loaded with singles, and the back half feels like an album that flows together as a whole. An interesting idea, but give the impression the band can’t do one or the other whole-heartedly.
If you haven’t given this a go yet, you really should. Love them or hate them, Diablo Swing Orchestra are doing something really cool, and if you don’t dig them, you’ll still have to talk to your friends about them when the rule the Earth. Sing Along Songs for the Damned and Delirious, September 2009.
Choice songs: Ballrog Boogie, Ragdoll Physics, Infralove, though there isn’t a bad song here.
By C. Ulferts
Stratovarius – Dreamspace - 3/5
Stratovarius has a lot to answer for, namely the couple hundred ESPM who base their entire works off over-done cheese-boards, or so they story goes. Personally, when I took this review, I prepared myself for enough annoying keys that I’d never want to go near another ESPM for a long, long time.
I really need to stop preparing myself, because I’m always wrong. Stratovarius’ problem isn’t their keys, which are done with class and dignity. They appear here and there, add atmosphere, and emphasis, and do their job well. The vocalist is above average, but sings in an almost whiny fashion; not great, but not bad, a moot point. Their drums far exceeded my expectations, and might be my favorite part of the album, as they are energetic, varied, consistent, everything I could ask for. No, the problem with this band lies in the guitarist.
After all, this is heavy metal, based off riffs, not chords and chugging. I know this guy is capable of more then this, his solos, and the entrances to several songs stand as testament. Yet he is constantly pushed into the background for the vocals and drums. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece of riffs and technicality (though it would have been a welcome surprise), but on a whole the sound of the bands comes off as lacking, perhaps not as fleshed-out as it could have been. Disappointing.
On the other hand, they do some things right, and by right, I mean next to perfect. These songs are memorable, catchy, and I have found myself singing (poorly) along. They can create an atmosphere, and I’ve found little that annoys me about the songs. I just wish the songs had more depth, layers, something. While the melodies from the vocals are good, they just aren’t enough to base an entire LP off of, unless they were all like Tears of Ice.
Historically, many fans will say that this is the album where Stratovarius came into their own, and I can see where they might be coming from. The songs here have their flaws, but I chalk that up to more the separate taste of the band and myself than flaws in song-writing or a poor idea of melody. Nope, this band knows what they wanted to do with the album, and I think they accomplished it. It’s just a shame that it is not what I would have loved.
Choice Songs: On second thought, most of the songs are pretty solid, and relatively consistent. Just go get it if you haven’t already, it’s an ESPM classic for a reason.
(END REVIEW NOTES: A little rusty from the time off, but there ya go. My honest opinion.)
By. C. Ulferts
Album: Two Nuns And A Pack Mule
Rapeman only lasted for one album, but what an album it was. The trio, made up of Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac, famed/hated producer), Rey Washam (Scratch Acid, Big Boys), and David Wm. Sims (Scratch Acid, Jesus Lizard) and named after a Japanese comic book character, may actually have been the best of Steve Albini's bands. They were fulll of inside jokes of which the band name was only the first (the album title came from a 70's German bestiality magazine, the song "Kim Gordon's Panties" is about a Sonic Youth concert Steve went to where Kim threw her panties into the crowd and is performed as a Sonic Youth homage, etc.).
Fans of Steve Albini have an idea of what to expect from this album, but for anyone new, here's a briefing. Assaultive, unrelenting guitar noise over pummeling drums. However, Big Black fans will notice a few differences this time around. For one, there's a real, live drummer in the band. David Wm. Sims provides off-kilter, irregular drum attacks that push everything forward as Albini lays down all his noise. Another difference is that Albini's vocals are, well, more vocal now. In Big Black, he just spoke his vocals in a monotone with no feeling or emotion. Here he cuts loose, some songs screaming away and others nearly (but not quite) singing. Albini is hailed as a guitar god in the noise rock world, and this album may give you some idea why. It's not because he solos or gets technical or does any extended wankery. No, Albini has the ability to coax sounds and tones out of a guitar that you weren't aware could come out of it. The guitar on this album alternately scrapes, grinds, drones, and twists in ways I haven't heard since. The album also contains one of my favorite covers, a surprisingly straight interpretation of "Just Got Paid" by ZZ Top. Essential.
By P. Segal
Album: The Obliterati
Artist: Mission Of Burma
Mission of Burma have always walked the line between punk and post-punk, never quite fitting in with either. Ever since the release of their debut EP Signals, Calls And Marches in 1981, they've been outsiders in their own scene. After Signals..., they released Vs. in 1982, a true classic of the punk/post-punk era. However, for a long time it looked like Vs. would be their only album after the band was forced to disband in 1983 due to guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus (deafness) caused by the noise of their live shows. However, 20 years later, a strange thing happened. Thanks to modern technology and medicine Roger Miller was able to hear again and in 2003 they began playing shows together again. A reuinion album, ONoffON, followed. Strangely enough, ONoffON was actually very good. This brings us to the record I'm reviewing now.
The Obliterati, produced by Bob Weston (the bassist of Shellac and closest thing to a friend Steve Albini will ever have), may actually be the best thing MoB has ever recorded. It all starts with "2wice", with drummer Peter Prescott bashing on his set for a bit until suddenly someone shouts and the instruments launch into a buzzing, rumbling assault. Bassist Clint Conley warns "don't make me say the same thing twice", and "you run, I'll follow, you hide, I'll fuck you up". The next track is "Spider Web", with stop-start guitart riffs providing a tense backdrop as Roger Miller says he "wants to shred that spider's web". This is followed by "Donna Sumeria", a quick bit of humor. The band rewrote an old Donna Summer disco hit with lyrics about political crises in Sumeria. "Let Yourself Go" is a quick, punky attack with distorted vocals. "1001 Pleasant Dreams" features warped guitar and the kind of dadaist lyrics that the band was known for. Other highlights include the relatively straghtforward "Man In Decline", the cleverly titled instrumental "The Mute Speaks Out", and the assaultive "Period", where Roger Miller shouts about "a spot, a black dot, a full stop" as the band jworks itself into a frenzy behind him.
Overall an essential listen for anyone the least bit interested in punk or post-punk
By P. Segal
Marco Sfogli – Theres Hope – 4/5
There will no doubt be many who won’t read more than the first couple of lines, so allow me to once again summarise this album in a single line. This is a guitarist who should be mentioned in the same breath as Satriani, Cooley, Vai and Becker. I first heard of him through his work with Magni Animi Viri, and then discovered his work in James LaBrie’s (Vocalist for Dream Theatre) solo project, before noticing his solo work.
It should be noted this is a musician who opposes the trend of simply playing quickly, believing that along the way emphasis on melody has been lost, and attempts to “make it very melodic with just the right amount of fire,” in his own words. In all honesty, I couldn’t agree more, with a recent rise in the popularity of speed over style (Dragonforce? Behold…the Arctopus?), this comes as a refreshing change. Not to imply that he unable to play quickly, quite the contrary in fact. The fluidity in legato is some of the best I’ve heard, it is simply not his focus.
The main problem with many instrumental albums is the problem of longevity. A single man playing a single instrument can often get old fairly quickly, but this is not the case here, successfully combining a multitude of styles each track lends something a little different. The southern country twang in ‘Texas BBQ,’ the smooth, satriani-esque riffs in ‘Still hurts,’ the more metal-like tones in ‘Theres Hope’ reminding me a little of Alejandro Silva, the bluesy ‘Spread the Disease’ or my personal favourite, the neo-classically toned ‘Andromeda’ the range of sounds he presents is phenomenal, and puts most full-sized bands to shame.
He at no points works totally alone, often using simple drums and keyboards for backing, occasionally intertwined with keyboard sections it comes across quite full, and rather polished and finished, as opposed to some instrumental albums. Worked in well, they clearly aren’t the focus, but succeed in fleshing out the sound in each track. This is the first in a new generation of guitar legends, the next Malmsteem or Satriani, and I hope to hear more from him sooner rather than later.
Highlights: Andromeda, There’s Hope, Spread the Disease, Texas BBQ
By T. Bawden
Fjoergyn – Sade et Masoch – 4.5/5
Take a healthy dollop of Agalloch’s epic tone, a shot of a German-inspired riffing and a splash of Moonsorrow’s use of Viking imagery and you get some way to understanding the sound this band has succeeded in producing. Not one to shy away from soft piano sequences, the range of tones and atmospheres produced will leave in an enchanting dream world, before bringing you crashing down to earth in what seems like a far harsher reality, filled with evil and despair.
Everything present in this album is done to an impossibly high standard, each track seemingly meandering into one another, to produce a constant flow of addictive riffs and folk tones that has you wondering whether to nod your head or simply sit back and relax. Even on the lengthier tracks, it fails at any point to feel unnecessary or repetitive, keyboards often used in a similar style as ‘Equilibrium’, providing tone over the main body of the work, and adding sections of melancholy between passages, serving to keep things refreshing.
The guitar work is inventive, and anything but unoriginal, acting as more than simple filler, often sustaining the tone in an interesting manner as they supply simplistic deep riffs to draw you in. The vocals are worked wonderfully, frequently displaying an aggressive gravely tone, best described is ‘clean’ death growls perfectly fitting with the Viking atmosphere, but often varying between clean vocals, whispers, and other styles to add variation.
But what is superbly done here, beyond any individual contribution is the standard of composition, presenting an array of layers and tones to sustain repeated listens, and frequent rhythm changes between levels of aggression seamlessly worked into the main body of the song. Retaining a similar tone, you could listen to any individual member and notice his time to shine, despite it being all to easy to sit back and enjoy the clever manner in which they are all integrated to form a coherent sound, none drawing too much focus so as to dominate. Real credit must be given to those responsible for the production of this album, who have succeeded in retaining an earthy tone, whilst yielding a high level of clarity for every instrument present.
Once again we have an album that I believe deserves more credit than they receive. Despite the lack of ‘folk’ instruments, which is usually something of a turn off for me, they have successfully embodied a sound and created a work as unique as it is intriguing. This one no fan of folk metal should miss.
Highlights: Prolog, Katharsis, Sade
By T. Bawden
Seven Dark Eyes - …Across Oneiric Lands – 4/5
Labelled as gothic metal on metal archives, likely due to the fact they have a female fronting them, and a keyboard player. The truth is there is little gothic influence in them, sounding more akin to what would happen if the Edenbridge vocalist formed a Euro-Power Metal band. But despite the excellent and gratuitous use of keyboards, the guitars retain a hard edge, so as to never let it feel too soft and flowery.
Most of the band do nothing wrong, but nothing special either. The drums provide a very basic beat, and along with the bass are largely hidden in the mix, which is just as well, as they add little to the end result. The guitarist gets limited opportunity to solo, though when he does he doesn’t disappoint, but more often than not has a far more important job to do in this band. He provides the main body of the song, whether that is the hard hitting crashes displayed in ‘Lost Souls,’ the acoustic atmospheric section in ‘senses,’ or simply the melody, he is integral in filling out the sound, and allows the keyboards and vocals to add interesting layers.
The vocals come out softly, with little use of vibrato and a heavily distinct Italian accent which she makes no attempt to hide. This serves to create a slightly unique tone to her voice, which whilst wont give her a place amongst the best, often failing to truly power through the rest of the sound present, has great diversity, and at times performs to perfection (e.g. the chorus for both ‘Futile’ and ‘Red Moon’). But all this would barely make this band above average if not for the keyboard work. Performing dual function, creating both an atmosphere, at many times working alone, and with more solo’s than the guitarist, upbeat neo-classical riffs in places he lends something truly excellent wherever he goes.
Whilst there is perhaps little incredibly unique about this band, this is another one that should certainly be better known that it currently is. This is not your standard affair power metal band, with atmospheric and emotional tracks, harder hitting bombastic tones and neo-classical shredding all working effectively to produce an album diverse and interesting. Particularly recommended for those who enjoy female vocals, this is one Italian band that any fan of the softer side of power metal could do well to look into.
Highlights: Lost Souls, Futile, Red Moon.
By T Bawden