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metal music reviews (new releases)

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"For The Fallen" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based death metal act Memoriam. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2017. Memoriam consists of former and present members of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Cerebral Fix. The band was formed in 2016 as a tribute to late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin "Kiddie" Kearns. Memoriam released three demos before being signed to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of "For The Fallen".

Listening to the material on the 8 track, 43:36 minutes long album, it´s no surprise that the lineup consists of former (and present) members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, because there are several stylistic similarities to those two acts on "For The Fallen". The music is predominantly mid-to slow paced old school death metal (with the occasional nod towards faster-paced hardcore punk riffs and rhythms like on "Corrupted System") and with Karl Willetts distinct sounding intelligible growling vocals in front (he has a hoarse almost talking type of delivery, which is pretty unique), it´s almost impossible not to think of Bolt Thrower. When that is said Memoriam are not a clone act by any means, and while they don´t have the most distinct or original take on the old school death metal sound, they still manage to deliver a fairly memorable product, that is of a relatively high compositional quality for the genre. Personally I think the best tracks on the album are the most heavy slow ones, which often features an epic feeling. Examples of that are tracks like "War Rages On" and "Last Words". When Memoriam pick up the pace they are generally less interesting.

"For The Fallen" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which further enhances the listening experience, and which is generally a great asset to the album. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Not that there is anything technically challenging being played, but Memoriam are still a tight playing unit, who know how to deliver their parts in the most effectful way. It´s for example an absolute joy listening to the drumming by Andrew Whale. Personally I haven´t heard him play since his days with Bolt Thrower, and he brings an important personal touch to the music with his playing.

So upon conclusion "For The Fallen" is a good quality debut album by Memoriam and finally a sign that the UK death metal scene hasn´t died out completely. It was never the most prolific scene with arguably only a handful of artists deserving being mentioned among the death metal elite (artists like Carcass, Napalm Death, and the two above mentioned acts Bolt Thrower and Benediction being some of them), and it´s always been a bit perculiar to me, why the UK couldn´t produce more quality death metal acts (I guess early Cancer and probably a few more could be mentioned among the artists above too). Memoriam thankfully belong in the better quality end of the scale, and "For The Fallen" deserves a 3.5 star (75%) rating.

LOCK UP Demonization

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demonization" is the 4th full-length studio album by multi-national death metal/grindcore act Lock Up. The album was released through Listenable Records in march 2017. It´s the successor to "Necropolis Transparent" from 2011 and features one lineup change compared to the predecessor as lead vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) has been replaced by Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth). The remaining members of the lineup are Shane Embury (bass), Nicholas Barker (drums), and Anton Reisenegger (guitars). All prolific musicians on the extreme part of the metal scene.

"Demonization" opens in great deathgrinding assault mode with "Blood and Emptiness", and pretty much continues down that road all the way through the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album. It´s a highly energetic and fast-paced release featuring elements from both hardcore punk, grindcore, and death metal. The pace is lowered a couple of times during the album´s playing time, but it doesn´t happen that often, and when it does (like on the title track), it´s usually only for short periods of time before the deathgrind assault continues. Kevin Sharp is a suitable replacement for Tomas Lindberg, and his performance here is solid, although he doesn´t bring anything special to the vocal part of the album. His delivery is somewhere between death metal growling and a distorted shouting hardcore type vocal style. The instrumental part of the music is very well performed. Especially drummer Nicholas Barker stands out with his powerful and creative approach to extreme metal drumming.

"Demonization" is well produced, and features a sharp, clear, and powerful sounding production, which suits the music well. So upon conclusion "Demonization" is a quality release by Lock Up. The only minor issue is that not enough of the tracks on the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album stand out, and few are easy to remember when the album ends, but it´s still a very enjoyable release while it plays, so a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

WITHERFALL Nocturnes and Requiems

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Based out of Los Angeles, Calif., Witherfall is the collective brainchild of guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth, Kobra And The Lotus, White Wizzard), singer Joseph Michael (White Wizzard) and the late Adam Sagan (Circle II Circle, Into Eternity). The recording line-up is rounded out with the addition of acclaimed bassist Anthony Crawford (Allan Holdsworth, Virgil Donati). Adam Sagan passed away on December 7th, 2016, during the final stages of production, and the rest of the band have released this album in tribute to him.

This doesn’t sound like a debut, but also doesn’t sound like a project. This is a band where everyone is kicking in out at full blast. Adam was obviously fond of his double bass drum pedals, and used every opportunity to show them off, while Anthony calmed down his more progressive and fusion influences to tie it all together and let the other stake centre stage. Jake is a fine guitarist who knows when to riff, when to shred, and when to double-track his lead lines, but can also bring an acoustic guitar into the mix for a few bars when it is the right thing to do. Then on top of it all we have the vocal prowess of Joseph Michael who can calm it down when it is necessary, or can power through like Ripper Owens if that is the right thing to do.

Prog Metal? Power Metal? A mixture of both? Well, they have more in common with Stratovarius than Dream Theater, but it is the polish, professionalism and power that really makes this album shine. It is impossible not to fall in love with on the very first time of playing, and repeated listenings only make it that much better. This is definitely worth seeking out.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Obituary" is the eponymously titled 10th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Obituary. The album was released through Relapse Records in March 2017. It´s the successor to "Inked in Blood" from 2014 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. According to the band it marks the first Obituary release with noteworthy songwriting contributions from bassist Terry Butler and lead guitarist Kenny Andrews. The release of "Inked in Blood (2014)" was followed by heavy touring activities, which subsequently led to the release of the live album "Ten Thousand Ways to Die (2016)". A live album which also featured two studio tracks in "Loathe" and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die". The latter track is also included on this album, while "Loathe" has been left off.

Releasing an eponymously tited album is usually something artists do to send a signal to the world. Sometimes to signal that the artist feels that the album is the essence of what the artist is about, or to signal that it´s the strongest material that they´ve written, a return to the roots, or a shift in sound. It can basically mean a lot of different things, but in the case of "Obituary", it´s probably a celebration that it´s the now 10th album release by the pioneering Florida death metal act. In this case it certainly doesn´t mean a shift in sound or a return to the roots, because Obituary never really left their roots, and stylistically the material on the 11 track, 36:28 minutes long album pretty much continues down the same old school death metal path as the one tread on "Inked in Blood (2014)" and as such on all the preceeding releases. Obituary have always been remarkably consistent in sound and style, and while it´s not always a strength that an artist doesn´t develop their sound much over the years, there are a few exceptions to that rule, and one of those exceptions are Obituary.

So every Obituary trademark element is in place as usual, from the distinct sounding guitar tone, to the well played guitar solos, to the heavy brutal grooves, to John Tardy´s unique and ultra brutal growling vocals. The material is well written and quite effective, but also a bit one-dimensional. The pace is changed a couple of times, and there are a few faster paced tracks on the album, but mostly we´re treated to heavy mid-paced and ultra heavy tempi. The trademark Obituary grooves are here in abundance, and tracks like "Turned to Stone", "Betrayed", and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die" represent that part of the band´s sound. As it´s almost always the case on Obituary´s releases not all tracks stand out equally much. It´s not a major issue, but the overall quality of the album would have been higher if all tracks were as catchy as the best ones.

That´s about my only gripe with this self-titled release, that is otherwise another high quality brutal kick in the nuts by one of the legends of the genre. The sound production is also powerful, raw, and brutal, and although I don´t count the sound among their best productions, it´s still well sounding and suits the material well. The band are as well playing/singing as ever, so upon conclusion this is another quality death metal release by Obituary. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

AXEL RUDI PELL The Ballads V

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
So, here we are with the latest in APL’s long-running compilation series. This one takes in the last six years, along with a couple of new songs, and some live ones to close with. I first came across his singer, Johnny Gioeli, when he was part of the Hardline project and he has always had an incredible voice, which is an essential element when performing a power ballad, and this album is packed full of them. If you haven’t come across this series before, it is a Ronseal album, namely it does exactly what it says on the tin. Axel had always produced some ballads on his albums, and then when the time is right he releases an album that brings the latest ones together. That they are popular among fans is never in doubt, as the last one entered the German charts at #29, but for me it is just too much sugar at once.

I have never enjoyed albums when the songs are all performed at the same level; no matter if it is heavy or soft, there must be light and shade. When one ballad follows another for a whole album, no matter how well performed, it is just too much for me. Now, that’s a shame, as while I do have some problems with the album, there are also some real highlights contained within it. Undoubtedly, one of these is opener “Love’s Holding On” which he wrote for Bonnie Tyler, and here she performs it as a duet with Johnny. I have always felt that she has been an incredibly overlooked artist, and that she should be given far more credit than she has ever received, and yet again she proves that she is a wonderful performer. The second song is a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”, which I found okay as I don’t know the original, but it was the next cover I found most interesting, “Hey Hey My My”. This begins life as a solo performance, with Johnny being accompanied only by piano, and it is quite something. It is a more measured and less fraught version than the original, but the way it builds and stays true, while also being something that has been re-arranged and developed is definitely of note. The other song that should be mentioned is “Mistreated”, which was recorded at his twenty-fifth anniversary show in Balingen in July 2014 with Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, MSG) on vocals, and erstwhile Rainbow keyboard legend Tony Carey. Axel shows that he knows how to provide the perfect Blackmore blues-soaked guitar riffs, while Tony is channelling Jon Lord. Doogie does a fine job, but it must be said that he doesn’t have the same breadth and depth as Coverdale.

Although the compilation itself isn’t really to my liking, there are some great songs and performances contained within it, and is worth seeking out.

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GOLDEN EARRING Eight Miles High

Album · 1969 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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aglasshouse
You know, I've been an active seeker of 60's and 70's music for a while now, and through this experience I've come to realize just how many bands came into being during the late 60's hard rock boom, specifically 1968, 1969, and 1970. Of course you have the obvious like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Atomic Rooster, etc., but underneath these goliaths there existed a massive scene full of bands that, while being of similar caliber, often were to remain shrouded in obscurity and eventually fade into the musical ethos. There were countless bands to name that were considered a part of this, one of my personal favorites being the Dutch-based Golden Earring. Golden Earring came about in 1961, but didn't come to surface until 1965 with their debut "Just Ear-rings". This album followed the then-popular Dutch garage pop style (which would be coined 'nederbeat' in reference to merseybeat, a genre which heavily influenced the Netherlands' music culture at the time), but in a whole wasn't very groundbreaking. Golden Earring continued this style for a few years, akin to how The Guess Who continued relying on merseybeat for several years until their sound change (ironically, The Guess Who made their debut and had a tonal shift at practically the exact same time as Golden Earring), until eventually they shifted into another genre growing in popularity at the time- progressive hard rock. It should be noted that the 'progressive' part of this was vastly dwarfed by the much more popular clear-cut blues rock sans lengthy and ostentatious compositions, and there was a much lower number of bands who would foray into this particular direction than those who would just rock in short bursts. Nonetheless Golden Earring took this road and in 1969 released an album titled Eight Miles High which, adorned with dried clay-covered hands reaching for floating rings, would serve as the band's biggest breakthrough in eight years.

A mess of distortion, abstract ad-libbing and twisted songwriting, Eight Miles High is perhaps one of the best examples of albums of the era. Not only does it break boundaries for Golden Earring as an outfit, it also presents a fantastically insane balance of cheesy psych and booming intensity. The most prolific tracks on this album I believe are the last two. 'Everyday's Torture' is a mysterious, haunting chantey of a desolate soul who, although speaking in pretty blatant terms, has lost hope in the idea of love, and is accompanied by a fantastic one-two punch of a hook and an equally fantastic guitar solo. As the closer we have the title track, staggering in at a massive runtime of nineteen minutes. Although a recounting of the entire track would be a bit too labor-intensive, I will say that the track goes through a variety of phases that include but are not limited to: hearty blues rock, wicked drum solo, an insanely distorted guitar solo (VERY distorted), and much, much more. Other tracks like 'Song of a Devil's Servant' in particular are a great change of pace and help to shift the tone of the album in crucial moments.

But there is a real question that should be asked, and that is to who do we owe an album with such great musicianship? The musicians, of course. George Kooymans as a vocalist channels a lovechild hybrid of Ian Anderson and Jim Morrison, making for the ideal 60's voice. On the flip-side his guitar-playing as previously mentioned is heavy, crushing and intense, and sometimes rather meek and distant (when played in a steady balance these two styles work wonders). Rinus Gerritsen works both in the percussion section as a bassist and as the keyboardist, both of which he excels at well. Sieb Warner, a one-time drummer for Golden Earring makes his sole appearance on this album, never to return, which is a shame because he is highly talented, seen especially during his solo on 'Eight Miles High'. Of course Barry Hay should be mentioned as he does a good job backing up Kooymans as rhythm guitar and backing vocalist, making the overall sound much fuller.

If you're looking for a zesty, above-average example of what the British, or in this case Dutch 60's blues scene could deliver you, I say look no further than Golden Earring's Eight Miles High.

IRON MAIDEN Somewhere In Time

Album · 1986 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.20 | 146 ratings
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aglasshouse
Guys, I've got a confession to make.

I don't like Iron Maiden.

I know this statement is akin to dousing a puppy in kerosene and overhand lobbing it into a raging bonfire, but it's true. I've tried my very hardest for almost four years now to enjoy them, to see the awe-inspiring craftsmanship everyone proclaims is prevalent on so many of their classic records...but I just can't. Not only do I think both drummers on Iron Maiden, Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain, plod out some of the most boring and repetitive rhythms of all time, but the songwriting of so much of their work may have worked wonders back in 1980, but like a joke it got extremely old extremely fast with each successive release following their self-titled debut. I think the revolutionary label slapped to Iron Maiden is quite reputable, but at the same time the asserted quality to match that is repudiable.

But, and I do mean a HUGE but -- Iron Maiden's 1986 work Somewhere In Time is one of my all-time favorite metal albums. Period. Strange, right? A band I dislike making one of my favorite albums? It's true though -- I think that Somewhere In Time is a precision-made, calculated masterpiece that distances itself so far from the band's discography that it might well be from a separate artist.

Somewhere In Time is a dystopian-based, Blade Runner-inspired record that came two years after 1984's Powerslave, an album that showed a lot of promise and had a few great tracks, but didn't nearly harness the same effect as it's successor. The Powerslave supporting tour ate up a whopping 187 concerts and excreted a whole lot of exhaustion onto the band following it, specifically Dickinson, who thus was not able to produce quality songwriting contributions. Dickinson had written some acoustic songs, in fear that if they didn't step up their game to a different level, that the band would "stagnate and drift away" (see even the band recognizes their sameness to a certain degree). Although these acoustic songs were not featured, this attitude continued into the eventual recording process, causing Somewhere In Time to be the first Iron Maiden album to harness synthesizers. While this might seem like a big no-no, considering that often it's the case that once a band starts leaning on the synths it's akin to them just committing creative suicide, but it's quite the contrary; Somewhere In Time's utilization of synthesizers gives a wondrous air of mysticism to the album, as it acts as a supreme background element to the its futuristic setting. It's also a key component in the massive epics that permeate the album. The title track opener, for instance, is a blazing fireball of a gallop that is one of the most prime examples of a perfect setting of the mood on any album, unheeded by the furious scream of synthesizer bursts. 'Wasted Years' is one of three contributions by guitarist Adrian Smith, and is the most lasting relic of this album's legacy. It does have a slightly poppier vibe, which may owe to this fact, but Dickinson's beautiful chorus and the magnificent guitar hook is nothing short of a knockout punch. One more highly recommended track is 'Stranger in a Strange Land', a bass-heavy, groovy romp which acts, in a way, as a better track representative of the theme of being "caught somewhere in time" than, well 'Caught Somewhere In Time'. Perhaps this is because of the lyricism of being in a mysterious world in which the rules are unknown, which I believe the album was trying to tackle. 'Caught' is still the best track, though. Not taking that back.

The band took their biggest step forward with this album, talentwise. McBrain, who I criticized previously for being extremely repetitive and leaning too hard on a a few stagnant drum patterns, is absolutely mindblowing on this release. His constant shifts between the groovy steel heel-click of the slower songs and the fast-paced explosiveness of the faster ones makes for one of his all-time best work. Steve Harris as always is extremely present and upfront, especially for a bassist. The neat thing about him is that, as a part of the percussion section, actually works off of McBrain to create this almost machine-like twang that follows his groove. Twin guitarists Smith and Murray are of course better than ever, offering extremely intricately-woven shredding that did well to pique my interest. Dickinson, although I'll always prefer Di'Anno, is at his zenith on Somewhere In Time, belting out a sort of sophisticated type of melodic yell that few of his peers have been able to accomplish. Absolutely stunning, all of them.

Many critics readily dismiss Somewhere in Time as being "half-baked", or "a hurried coverup of an atrophying creative muscle". These same critics will turn around and praise Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, an album I believe to be leagues below this one, and compliment it for factors they would say that Somewhere in Time wrongfully utilized. I say, pay no attention to them and embrace this one just like you would say Number of the Beast or Powerslave, because it's definitely up there with the best.

DREAM THEATER Falling Into Infinity

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.19 | 116 ratings
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martindavey87
Most fans of Dream Theater will know what was going on behind the scenes during the making of this album. If you don't, I'll give you a moment to quickly research it.

Done?

Never mind, I'll explain it to you.

The bands label, Atco Records, had been bought out by the Warner Music Group. The fine people at Warner didn't know anything about Dream Theater, their music or their market, but had only one thing in mind, and that was hit singles. Musical integrity aside, Dream Theater were being forced to write "hits", and it was putting the band in a situation that almost tore them apart.

With all the industry nonsense getting in the way of this album, and with the change of sound giving it a stale taste of a band "selling out" to make a quick buck, 'Falling Into Infinity' often finds itself being overlooked. It may not be as musically technical as 'Images & Words', or as heavy as 'Awake', but this album still maintains a lot of Dream Theater's trademark sounds, but with a lighter tone that might appeal to fans of old progressive rock, or even hard rock fans in general. In this regard, it's actually a pretty unique release in the groups discography.

As always with this band, the musicianship is unmatched. Petrucci, Portnoy, LaBrie (who damaged his vocal chords prior to recording this album) and Myung are all masters of their respective instruments. Keyboardist Derek Sherinian, making his only studio album appearance, may have seemed like an odd choice to replace Kevin Moore, but his style, mixing elements of hard rock and jazz fusion, makes him a perfect fit. And his flamboyance and showmanship really shines through on some of the more upbeat songs.

There's hard rock tracks such as 'You Not Me' and 'Burning My Soul', pop singles like 'Take Away the Pain' and 'Hollow Years', and all-out prog gems like 'Peruvian Skies', 'New Millennium' and 'Lines in the Sand'. With such an eclectic mixture of songs, this really is an exceptional album, which shows a band that can adapt to any circumstance, and overcome any challenge.

DREAM THEATER A Change of Seasons

EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 86 ratings
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martindavey87
Considered by fans to be one of Dream Theater's best songs, 'A Change of Seasons' is the bands first venture into an old prog standard; the 20-minute epic! Clocking in at 23 minutes long, the title track of this release was originally intended for the 'Images and Words' album, but left off due to time restrictions.

No problem! Chuck a few live covers in there, and here we have arguably one of the greatest EP's of all time.

With such a lengthy track, you know that each musician will get the chance to show off their skills, and indeed they do! All five members (including newcomer Derek Sherinian on the keyboards), flawlessly show their mastery of their respective departments, with the song twisting and turning through all kinds of time signatures and dynamic changes, crafting a wonderful tale that takes us on a journey through life and reminds us of how quickly it passes by.

As for the other "half" of this EP, there are four live covers that I don't mind, but are kind of hit-or-miss for me. Covering Elton John, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and a medley consisting of Kansas, Queen, Journey and Genesis, none of them are terrible, but in fairness none of them are overly memorable either. Blatant filler.

As a whole, it's a great record, and an absolute must-have for fans of Dream Theater, and whilst the title track itself is entirely worth hearing, it's the covers that prevent this from getting a five-star rating. Still, it's as essential to your collection as any of the bands studio albums.

VILLAINY Villainy I

Album · 2013 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Villainy I" is the debut full-length studio album by Dutch extreme metal act Villainy. The album was released through Inverted Inhumation Records in December 2013. Villainy was formed in 2010 and released a couple of demos before releasing this debut album.

The music on "Villainy I" is at it´s core raw and old school thrash metal, but there is the occasional blackened edge to it and also both traditional heavy/speed metal/doom metal influences and crust/punk elements. So there is a bit of everything in there, but while Villainy take elements from all those musical styles and put them in their music, "Villainy I" still comes off as a consistent release, where you are never in doubt that it´s the same artist playing. In fact the diversity of the material is a major contributing factor to the fact that "Villainy I" is an entertaining release all the way through the 40:19 minutes it lasts.

It isn´t necessarily what you´ll think after listening to the two opening tracks "Through Whispering Eyes" and "Maker", because those are pretty short, raw, and to the point aggressive thrash metal tracks, but already on the considerably longer (7:07 minutes long) "And Now She is Perfect...", Villainy start showing variation as it´s a brick heavy tracks with a slow doomy pace. Then we´re treated to "Charlatan", which is a mostly instrumental track featuring quite a few traditional heavy metal influences (an some eerie organ), and the diversity of the material just continues like that throughout the album.

So the songwriting is inspired and relatively adventurous within the core thrash metal sound, but the music is also delivered with great conviction and a burning passion. Villainy are an organic sounding trio with a strong rhythm section and a lead vocalist/guitarist in Reinier Vrancken, who is positively on fire, churning out one badass riff after another and delivering a caustic snarling vocal performance in the process. His guitar solos are worth a mention too as they are very well played. There aren´t that many of them though, but when they appear they add a lot to the music.

The album features a raw and organic sound production, which suits the music perfectly. It´s not a murky and dark sound though and you are fully able to hear every instrument clearly. So all in all "Villainy I" is a great debut album by Villainy. Diverse songwriting, skillful playing, and caustic aggression. How can you go wrong with that? A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

RAUNCHY Velvet Noise

Album · 2002 · Metalcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Velvet Noise" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish metal act Raunchy. The album was originally released through the Mighty Music sub label Drug(s) in 2001, but saw a reissue and a wider distribution through Nuclear Blast Records in 2002. Raunchy was formed as far back as 1992 and released three demos before being signed.

Stylistically the music on "Velvet Noise" is a melodic metal style combining elements from melodic death metal, industrial metal, metalcore and alternative metal. It´s actually not easy to pin down, but no matter what genre tags you put on the music, the band´s main focus is melody, melody and more melody. Even the most harsh parts on the album are melodic tinged or feature hooks of some sort, and that´s basically the story of Raunchy in a nutchell. Call it pop metal, death pop or whatever you like, but no one can deny that the music is damn catchy, instantly memorable and relatively sing along friendly, considering that this is still extreme metal of some sort.

The tracks are predominantly vers/chorus structured and the vocals are typically raw "core" tinged and aggressive in the verses and clean and melodic in the choruses. Keyboards are a dominant element in the band´s sound in addition to the regular rock/metal instrumentation of guitars, bass and drums. I´m often reminded of contemporary Soilwork and even Fear Factory, although Raunchy are not nearly as brutal or aggressive as any of those artists. "Velvet Noise" features a well sounding, clear and powerful sound production, which suits the material well.

And when the whole thing is delivered by skilled musicians and obviously written by composers who understand how to write memorable material, "Velvet Noise" ultimately comes off as a quality release. It´s also the band´s most raw sounding release and not nearly as polished as some of their later output, which is pretty great actually. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

AT WAR WITH SELF Torn Between Dimensions

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Torn Between Dimensions" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Indianapolis, Indiana based progressive rock/metal act At War With Self. The album was released through the Free Electric Sound label in February 2005. At War With Self was founded in 2002 by multi-instrumentalist Glenn Snelwar (also known for his work with Gordian Knot) and is essentially a one-man project. "Torn Between Dimensions" does however feature session work by drummer Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord, Slavior) and bassist Michael Manring (Windham Hill, Jeff Loomis, Jim Matheos...among others).

And with a trio like that playing together it´s no wonder the musical performances on the album are of a high quality. Stylistically the music on the album is instrumental progressive rock/metal with strong jazz rock/fusion leanings and more than one nod towards latin music. While At War With Self is widely considered a metal oriented act, the metal elements are limited to some heavy riffing and occasional distorted guitar sections. A couple of darker tinged tracks also contribute to the metal sound, but it´s actually 90s Al Di Meola releases like "Orange And Blue (1994)" and "The Infinite Desire (1998)", that I´m mostly reminded of. So there are as many latin influenced acoustic guitar sections, jazzy guitar solos, fusion influenced drumming, and ambient keyboards featured on "Torn Between Dimensions", as there are heavy distorted riffs.

The balance between the different stylistic elements is an important element in At War With Self´s sound. At times the dynamic music works well and other times the transitions between sections are a bit more awkward sounding. There´s is no doubt that Glenn Snelwar is both a skilled musician and a skilled composer when it comes to the techncial aspect of playing and writing music, but listening to "Torn Between Dimensions" there´s very little on the album that really grabs me and pulls me in. I find myself more interested in the music from a musician´s point of view than from a music listener´s point of view, and although that sort of "musician´s music" is always interesting from a technical perspective, the music generally lacks emotional impact and memorability.

The sound production is also a bit disjointed and although all instruments individually feature a relatively good sound (the distorted guitar tone isn´t that well sounding though), the instruments don´t always work well together in the mix. So "Torn Between Dimensions" is an album with quality assets and some issues and therefore a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

THE BLACK MAGES The Black Mages: Battle Music of Final Fantasy

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
I've never played any Final Fantasy games. Yet, this hasn't hindered my enjoyment of listening to the Black Mages one bit.

I've always had an appreciation for video game music, even though my gaming days may have died out around the same time the PS2 did, the moods and atmosphere in the music, as well as the nostalgia they incite, always struck a chord with me.

I had a keyboard player friend who was a fan of the Final Fantasy series (of which I've never played), and he turned me on to the music of Nobuo Uematsu, the games composer. In particular, he played me the song 'Clash on the Big Bridge'. I loved it! It was catchy, energetic and fun to listen to, taking me right back to my childhood days playing my Sega Master System, Super Nintendo and my Game Boy (the original, big white brick with a green screen. I still own it, it still works. Nostalgia rules!).

So who are the Black Mages?

Formed by Nobuo Uematsu, the Black Mages are essentially an instrumental band who do progressive metal versions of Final Fantasy soundtracks (Not that I'd recognize them anyway, I've never played the games). Video game music and prog? Yes please!

Overflowing with vibrant energy, excellent musicianship and lavish orchestrations, the Black Mages self-titled debut album is just a fun listen from start to finish. 'Those Who Fighter Further', 'Clash on the Big Bridge', 'Fight with Seymour', 'Battle Scene' and 'Dancing Mad' are some of the highlights on this record, but in all fairness every song is pretty much an amazing musical adventure!

And the great thing is, I've never even played any Final Fantasy games! Just goes to show you don't need to be a fan of the source material to enjoy something.

WINGDOM Reality

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Here's a band called Wingdom. Let's take a moment to let that sink in...

...

Wingdom?

Bwahahahahahahahaha!

Back in 2010 I was living in Germany and enjoying the vast landscape of obscure progressive/power/symphonic metal bands that Europe has to offer, and as such, I stumbled across this album on eBay for the measly sum of €1. Wingdom? Ha! "What an awful name for a band". But hey, the seller listed it as progressive metal, and it was a Euro, so I decided to give it a chance.

I'm glad I did.

This album is absolutely fantastic, and incredibly underrated. Sadly, Wingdom have since split up and never released a follow-up, but 'Reality' shows so much potential for a band that could have gone on to make some really good music.

Similar to bands like Platitude (who nobody has heard of) and Red Circuit (who approximately seven people have heard of), Wingdom have that very distinct and recognizable progressive metal sound of heavy, groove-laden guitars and melodic keyboards, intertwined with some fantastic male vocals of a pretty high range, but without the ten-minute songs and constant time changes. It's a sound any fan of prog or power metal can instantly appreciate, and it won't take countless listens to familiarize yourself with every song!

It's radio-friendly progressive metal that you will never hear on the radio!

In fact, within seconds of putting this album on, opening track 'Time' had won me over! It doesn't mess around with three-minute long intros, it gets straight to the punch, and sometimes that's just what progressive metal needs! It doesn't have the crazy level of musical virtuosity that'd you hear in bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X or Time Requiem, but songs like 'Never Stop', 'Lighthouse', 'The Essence', and the aforementioned 'Time', are all reasons why this album shouldn't be left to linger in musical obscurity.

If you can look past the silly name (challenge: tell a friend you like a band called "Wingdom" and see how daft you feel afterwards) then there really is some solid music here, which goes to demonstrate the old cliché of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

SYMPHONY X Symphony X

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.76 | 37 ratings
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martindavey87
After his 1994 solo release, guitarist Michael Romeo was met with a proposal from a record label to form a band and record an album in the similar vein to his solo material. "Sure, why not?"... and thus was born one of progressive metals most popular and influential bands.

Borrowing heavily upon the neoclassical style of shred made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen, Symphony X's self-titled debut release is a humble album that shows a band with the potential for big things, with the only major setback being the rather subpar production. While it's certainly not terrible, it just lacks that little bit of punch that the music really needs. It's a punch that would be added to future releases, and the difference is immediately noticeable.

As for the music itself, it's nowhere near as ambitious as the bands later releases, which would go on to utilize massive orchestrations, but it's still pretty good, and lays down a solid foundation upon which the band would establish their defining sound. As expected, Michael Romeo's guitar playing is the star of the show here, with his neoclassical virtuosity matched perfectly by keyboardist Michael Pinella, both displaying enough talents to secure their careers in a post-grunge metal scene. Vocalist Rod Tyler does a good job, and is vastly underrated for his work on this album, but it's his only appearance with the group and he will soon be overshadowed by his replacement, powerhouse singer Russell Allen.

'Symphony X' overall is a good debut, with early signs of greatness evident. 'Masquerade', 'The Raging Seasons', 'Premonition', 'Thorns of Sorrow' and the ballad 'Shades of Grey' are all notable reasons why this should be in your collection, and if you're a collector like me, it's certainly not one you'll regret having to own.

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