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Travis Green
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Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 810 4.00
2 Progressive Metal 315 3.89
3 Symphonic Metal 210 3.90
4 Traditional heavy metal 148 3.52
5 Thrash Metal 98 3.70
6 Gothic Metal 90 3.91
7 Folk Metal 68 4.24
8 Melodic Death Metal 62 3.81
9 Hard Rock 41 3.96
10 US Power Metal 35 3.77
11 Alternative Metal 34 3.32
12 Non-Metal 29 3.48
13 Metalcore 23 3.50
14 Death Metal 19 4.00
15 Metal Related 16 4.03
16 Industrial Metal 14 4.11
17 Technical Death Metal 11 4.00
18 Groove Metal 10 2.95
19 Atmospheric Black Metal 8 4.06
20 Doom Metal 6 3.92
21 Speed Metal 6 3.92
22 Symphonic Black Metal 6 4.67
23 NWoBHM 5 4.50
24 Melodic Black Metal 5 4.00
25 Death-Doom Metal 5 3.80
26 Deathcore 4 3.38
27 Glam Metal 4 3.88
28 Nu Metal 4 3.75
29 Avant-garde Metal 3 3.67
30 Black Metal 1 0.50
31 Brutal Death Metal 1 4.50
32 Crossover Thrash 1 3.00
33 Sludge Metal 1 4.00
34 Stoner Metal 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

POWER QUEST Sixth Dimension

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
There have been quite a few comeback releases from well-established bands recently, and perhaps my most anticipated of all, Sixth Dimension, the sixth full-length release from the UK power metal band Power Quest, is set to be released in mid-October. I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time, with their previous release Blood Alliance, in particular, being one of my top power metal albums of this decade, so I was excited for anything the band would do in the future, which made it very disappointing when shortly after the release of that album, keyboardist and bandleader Steve Williams announced the band was done, because he didn’t think he could afford to continue with it anymore from a financial standpoint. Happily, six years later, through the help of crowdfunding, the band has been able to make a full comeback, first with the EP Face the Raven in 2016, and now with Sixth Dimension itself in 2017, set to be released by Inner Wound Recordings. I had high hopes for the album, and it certainly delivers!

In their early days, Power Quest played a very energetic brand of super speedy power metal, in the same style as DragonForce. In fact, Steve Williams actually formed the band after leaving DragonHeart, the original form of DragonForce, and guitarist Sam Totman was actually on the band’s first two albums, Wings of Forever and Neverworld. The one key element that has always set the band apart has been Steve’s very retro sounding keyboards, which have always dominated the band’s music and this was especially noticeable on an album like Magic Never Dies, a career highlight, which maintained some of the speed of their first two albums, while also showing the band moving to a lighter sound. This continued on Master of Illusion, the band’s least popular album to date, which dropped a lot of the speed and was a very light album overall, though I personally still enjoyed it a fair bit. After that, Steve fired all his bandmates and brought in an entirely new lineup for Blood Alliance, which brought back some of the speed, while also showing the band incorporating elements of classic Hard Rock and AOR, making for a varied but extremely melodic album which stands to date as my personal favorite by the band.

Which brings us to Sixth Dimension, with Steve again making some changes, this time keeping bassist Paul Finnie and drummer Rich Smith, while bringing in new guitarists Andy Kopczyk and Glyn Williams, as well as new vocalist Ashley Edison. The band made references to Neverworld while promoting the album, even calling their crowdfunding campaign Guardians of Neverworld, a line which appears on the track “Kings and Glory”, so it’s no surprise that a few of the tracks here have a very classic feel to them, complete with the speed and energy fans would expect from the band. At the same time, the more mellow hard rock and AOR elements from more recent elements are still very much in place here, with some of the tracks being very slowed down and more laid back, so there’s a nice variety of the songs here, and from a songwriting perspective, every song here is excellent, very melodic and very catchy, with a couple tracks having some harder hitting riffs than usual. Musically, there’s a bit more guitar presence than normal on this album, which makes sense because Steve apparently wrote the songs using a guitar this time around, but his keys are still very prominent on most tracks and still have a very 80’s sound to them, as always, which helps give all the songs that distinct Power Quest feel.

The one change I was most nervous about was in the vocals department, as I wasn’t too excited by Ashley Edison when I first heard him on the title track of Face the Raven, which also appears on this album along with “Coming Home”, but overall I think he does a pretty solid job. He has a deep and gritty voice, which helps give the music a bit of an extra edge., and he has a smooth delivery that works well on most tracks, with his mid-range vocals generally being excellent, but I find sometimes when he stretches for high notes his voice becomes a bit grating, and take away from the music. He does a nice job throughout the album, though, and those high notes only really bother me on “Face the Raven” and “Revolution Fighters”.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Lords of Tomorrow”, which has a quiet intro before those retro sounding keys kick in and the track quickly speeds up, turning into a classic Power Quest track, complete with a great solo section and an extremely fun and catchy chorus, making it the perfect way to open the album. Ashley does hit some higher notes on the chorus, but he sounds pretty good overall on this track and doesn’t bother me at all. Next is “Starlight”, a slightly slower though still relatively up-tempo track, which has some great riffs, epic vocal melodies, and another fantastic chorus, where Ashley stays in the midrange and really excels, getting the most out of the melodies. The guitar and keyboard solos are also amazing, and it’s another excellent track overall. After that is another very classic sounding track, “Kings and Glory”, which opens up with some characteristically cheesy but awesome sounding keys, before quickly going rapid fire and turning into the speediest track on the album, and also one which certainly brings the band’s early albums to mind. Again, the chorus is super catchy and excellent, the musicianship is great throughout, complete with a nice solo section, and the vocals are excellent throughout, making it another clear highlight.

The first oddball of the album is actually the aforementioned “Face the Raven”, which, aside from the keyboards, has a very different feel to it, with much heavier guitars the usual, and it’s a harder hitting, more mid-paced track, which really takes advantage of Ashley’s grittier vocals during the verses. The chorus is good, but not one of the band’s better efforts, and I find Ashley’s high notes really irritating on this track. The solos are excellent as always, though, and musically it is a great track if a bit different sounding for Power Quest. Next is “No More Heroes”, a lighter, more mid-paced track, where the keys once again dominate, and Ashley delivers a very smooth vocal performance. In fact, I’d say he gives his best performance of the album on this track, especially during the incredible chorus, which is one of the best on the album, and of course, the solo section is absolutely fantastic once again. My least favorite of the album is next, that being “Revolution Fighters”. It begins with a nice acoustic guitar section, then after a while there’s a nice guitar riff, and then the track settles into a mid-paced, hard rock influenced sound with some nice guitar work throughout and the chorus would be amazing, except I find Ashley’s high note’s extremely grating, more so than on “Face the Raven”, and his vocals here completely kill the track for me. It’s a nice track musically, but sadly I care too much about vocals to not be annoyed by how Ashley sounds here. Unsurprisingly, the band returns to a softer sound for the next track, “Pray for the Day”, the most AOR influenced track on the album, and definitely a softer, slow paced and very 80’s sounding track, with some excellent keys and a great performance from Ashley, where he stays in his mid-range and really carries the melodies well, especially during the fantastic chorus.

The best track of all is next, that being the absolutely glorious “Coming Home”, which has some of the best sounding keys on the album, and is another very fast paced, classic sounding track, which effectively mixes in some slower sections during the verses, before speeding up and becoming more epic for the incredibly catchy chorus, which stands as not only the best chorus on the album, but one of the band’s absolute best to date, and thankfully Ashley delivers it perfectly. As always, the solo section is amazing, and overall it’s simply an addictive, super epic track which stands alongside some of the band’s all-time best songs. Lastly, we have the title track, another more calmer, more mid-paced track where Steve’s keys sound a bit less retro than normal, and overall it’s a very melodic track with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies. There’s an excellent solo section towards the end and then former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon makes a brief but very memorable appearance, leading to some great keyboard work and then one last run through the chorus before the album ends. It’s an excellent song overall, and definitely a great way to end the album.

Overall, Sixth Dimension is an excellent comeback album for Power Quest, and it was certainly worth the wait for longtime fans! It delivers a little something for everyone, giving fans of the band’s early speedy power metal a few new songs to be excited about, while fans of the more hard rock and AOR influenced tracks on later albums also have a lot to look forward to. There isn’t much new to be found here, but the album really is everything fans could hope for from a comeback album, and aside from a couple sections where the vocals bother me a bit, I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I definitely hope the band can continue on for many years to come.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/10/01/power-quest-sixth-dimension-review/

NOCTURNAL RITES Phoenix

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Sometimes a band will release an album that at the time upsets their fans so much they want nothing to do with the band anymore, only for those same people to end up badly missing the band over time, hoping desperately that they will one day return with a triumphant comeback album. The latest band to fit into this description is Swedish power metal band Nocturnal Rites, who I was introduced to with their 2007 release, The 8th Sin, an album I actually enjoyed, but many of their longtime fan loathed it and criticized the band for falling into a more commercialized sound. After the release of that album, the band went quiet for several years, making fans think that could be the end. But now in 2017, they have finally returned, ready to release their ninth full-length album, Phoenix, but can they rise from the ashes, or should they have just stayed buried? I’ll go into full details below, but suffice to say, there isn’t a really clear cut answer for that one.

Nocturnal Rites actually started out as a death metal band in their very early days, releasing a couple of demos in that style before changing to a classic power metal sound with their full-length debut, In a Time of Blood and Fire, and they stuck with that sound for three albums, until current singer Jonny Lindqvist joined the band for their 2001 release, Afterlife, and they switched to a more aggressive, somewhat thrashy power metal sound. That album had a fairly mixed reception, but I personally consider it to be one of their best, but again they switched to a more melodic sound for their next few albums, with their 2004 release New World Messiah, in particular, standing out as a career high point. But again, they changed their sound in 2007 for The 8th Sin and that’s when everything seemed to come apart, as while the album still had some power metal elements, it had a much more modernized, very commercial sound that upset a lot of fans and while the songwriting was fun and catchy, it’s not hard to see why many folks felt betrayed by the band.

Which brings us to Phoenix, an album that largely continues with the more modern sound of The 8th Sin, but it comes across as a bit more metal sounding and does have small traces of their old sound. The band went through a couple different lead guitarists in between albums, before bringing in Per Nilsson, best known for his work with melodic death metal band Scar Symmetry. As soon as I heard he was brought into the band I was very interested in hearing what Phoenix would sound like, as while he’s an excellent guitarist, I wasn’t sure if his style would fit this particular band very well. It turns out, I was right to be concerned, because while he certainly does some great work on this album, including some incredible solos, there are many points where he resorts to modern sounding chugs which would fit in great with a band like Scar Symmetry, but they really feel out of place on a Nocturnal Rites album, and bring some of the tracks down.

Stylistically, Phoenix is a very modern sounding album, and I’d describe it more as melodic metal than anything else, as most of the tracks are slow to mid paced, and rely on huge vocal melodies above everything else. The chugs mostly come in quick bursts and most songs are fairly laid back throughout, with occasional heavy sections and bursts of speed, to remind fans they are listening to a metal album, but it’s clear the band has settled into a much more accessible, more radio friendly sound. There’s definitely still traces of power metal left in the music, and I generally find the heavier, speedier sections to be the highlights of the album, but the majority of the time the music is fairly slow paced and very melodic, just as the three pre-release singles would suggest.

I mentioned that the vocals were a huge focus on this album, so obviously the band requires a great singer, and thankfully they have one in Jonny Lindqvist. He has a rather animated voice that I’d describe as an odd sounding mix between Tobias Sammet and Chris Jericho (seriously, that may sound like a bizarre combination, but that’s what I think of every time I hear him,) and he does an excellent job of carrying some of the less interesting songs on the album. He may not be the best singer technically, but what he really excels at is singing with emotion. He always sounds very energetic in his delivery and it’s always easy to tell he’s very passionate about the lyrics, as he puts a ton of emotion into everything he sings, and he is definitely the band’s biggest asset at this point.

With the most positive aspect of the album out of the way, unfortunately, it’s time for a more problematic area, that being the songwriting. Things get off to a rocky start with “A Heart as Black as Coal”, a slow paced slog of a track which has some ugly modern sounding chugs throughout the verses, as well as vocal melodies that give it a strong pop feel, kinda like “Never Again” from The 8th Sin, except that while its chorus is decent, it’s nowhere near as fun or catchy as that song was, instead just kinda feeling like it exists and not doing anything beyond that. The track does have an excellent solo from Per, but that’s the one highlight on an otherwise forgettable track, and one I definitely don’t think works well as either a single to sell an album or as an opening track. Next is the first single, “Before We Waste Away”, another slow paced track, though it has some great melodies throughout and effectively builds to an excellent chorus that instantly got me excited for the album the first time I heard it. Again, Per delivers an excellent solo in the middle and overall this track is a great single and one that really set my expectations high for the album, so it’s a bit of a shame the entire album isn’t on the same level. The third, and so far last, single is “Repent My Sins” another slower track, but again it has some nice melodies and a very passionate vocal performance from Jonny, so while it doesn’t quite hit me as hard as “Before We Waste Away” it’s a pretty great track on its own.

In between that two track is “The Poisonous Seed”, the first real heavy track on the album, and one that offers brief glimpses of the band’s power metal roots. This track has some heavy riffs throughout and has a very dark feel, as well as feeling like a modernized take on their power metal sound, being much harder hitting than anything on The 8th Sin, while still sounding far more modern than any of their prior albums. It also has some light symphonic elements, which are used on a couple other tracks for some extra flavor, and it’s an all around excellent track, where Per really gets to shine with some great riffs and an excellent solo. I kinda wish there were more tracks like this on the album, as his style fits a heavier track like this perfectly, where on some of the slower tracks his chugs just don’t quite feel right. The only other consistently fast songs on the album are the closing track “Welcome to the End” and the bonus track “Used to Be God”. Out of those two, “Welcome to the End” is a very fast, heavy track which effectively uses some symphonic elements, and is definitely a highlight, but “Used to Be God” is actually even better, as it has by far the best riffs on the album, as well as an excellent solo section and an incredible chorus. However, I can see why they chose to make it a bonus track, as it has a thrashy sound to it which doesn’t quite fit the tone of the album on the whole, so if anything it just makes me even more disappointed about the direction they chose to go with many songs on the album, as I’d definitely be excited to hear the band do a full album in the style of this song and “Welcome to the End”, yet I realize that’s totally not what they were going for overall, so it’s obvious me and the band are not on the same page.

In between those tracks and “Repent My Sins”, we get a bunch of tracks that are solid but none of them do a whole lot for me, and they mostly blend together to just become forgettable. Tracks like “A Song For You” and “The Ghost Inside Me” do a nice job of mixing brief faster sections with mid paced verses and solid choruses, but neither track blows me away, while slower tracks like “What’s Killing Me” and “Nothing Can Break Me” feel like weaker versions of tracks from The 8th Sin, with the latter in particular having some modern sounding keys which are oddly distracting and give the track a slight pop feel. Lastly, we have “Flames”, a decent ballad where Jonny delivers some excellent vocals, but musically the track just does nothing for me at all. It has a nice chorus, but throughout the rest of the song, I just get bored, as the symphonic elements and vocals are far more interesting than the basic chugs and anything else that’s going on. Another track where Per doesn’t really fit in for me.

Overall, Phoenix is a pretty frustrating release for me, as there are brief moments where it teases at a modernized power metal sound that I could see working out great for the band, but there are far too many slower tracks where Per Nillson’s chugs don’t really fit the sound, and if not for Jonny’s excellent vocals, I’d probably be getting bored to death. For fans of Nocturnal Rites, this album is tough to judge, as it does have a few excellent tracks that feel fresh enough to stand out, while having some familiar elements, but anyone disappointed with The 8th Sin will also likely struggle with many of the lighter tracks on this album, and I don’t expect many pure power metal fans to be too thrilled, either. Fans of melodic metal who look for excellent vocals and melodies above all else are recommended to give this album a listen, and anyone else should try the singles to see if they have any interest, but again I have to point out for power metal fans, that all three of the tracks most likely to impress is hidden away, with one of them even being a bonus track. For me, personally, Phoenix is a solid album, maybe slightly behind The 8th Sin, but it definitely doesn’t come close to the band’s best works. So, it’s not a total disappointment, but it’s also not really the triumphant return I was hoping for, either. It just kinda exists.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/09/09/nocturnal-rites-phoenix-review/

ENSIFERUM Two Paths

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
With some bands, it’s hard for me not to be at least a bit nervous every time they put out a new album, whether it’s being worried they’ll do a misguided experiment that goes horribly wrong or just produce something that sounds so samey it comes across as a pointless retread. Then there are other bands, like Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum, where every time I hear they’re coming out with a new album, I feel nothing but extreme excitement, because every time they release a new album they manage to prove themselves as being the absolute best in their genre, sticking to tried and true elements while managing to add in a little something special each time, so that each album stands out from the pack. While their previous release, One Man Army, came across as a little familiar sounding compared to their past releases, it was still an excellent album with enough standout moments to make me confident they could keep their impressive run going, and now with their seventh full-length release, Two Paths, the band sounds more energized than ever and they’ve produced yet another album that contains all the expected elements, while managing to feel fresh and exciting at the same time.

Ensiferum’s lineup has remained very stable over the past several years, so it was a rare case when keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen left the band shortly after the release of One Man Army. Her replacement on tour was Netta Skog, who has gone on to officially join the band for Two Paths. Interestingly, Netta plays a digital accordion, which can be used to effectively recreate the kinds of keyboard sounds Emmi was using on the past three albums, while at the same time she can also use it as a normal accordion, which adds extra folk flavor to the music, something the band has done very effectively on this album. In fact, while albums like From Afar and One Man Army were pushing the band pretty far into a symphonic metal direction at times, on this album they have dialed those elements back a bit, and instead the majority of the album is dominated by folk melodies, with the accordion, in particular, being used very effectively to lead the way on many tracks, and there’s also the occasional use of violins and other folk instruments. Obviously, folk elements have always been a large part of Ensiferum’s music, but on this album, I notice them even more so than on their previous few releases, and they add extra flavor and energy to some already impressive music. While the folk elements dominate more than ever, though, there are still some very epic symphonic arrangements on a couple tracks, as well as the expected melodic death metal elements, which while again not as dominant as on some albums, are still very much present and are used as well as ever. The majority of the album is very fast paced and energetic, with most of the songs being written in such a way as to be extremely catchy and addictive, so fans hoping for some of the more complex and lengthy tracks found on the past few albums may be disappointed, as nothing here even approaches 5 and a half minutes. Instead, the songs are all simple, but extremely catchy and fun, which I personally don’t mind as a change of pace, since it allows the album to flow beautifully from one highlight to another, and it’s certainly an easy album to listen to several times in a row.

The band has always been known to use various different vocal deliveries on their albums, and Two Paths is certainly no exception to this rule. As always, harsh vocals are an important part of the music, and Petri Lindroos sounds as epic and powerful with his growls as ever. Also, as usual, the clean male vocals from bassist Sami Hinkka and guitarist Markus Toivonen are quite varied, sometimes even sounding a bit different from past albums, as they occasionally sound a bit more wild than usual, which fits in well on some of the more folk flavored tracks. Gang vocals and choirs are also used on many tracks, as always, and are as epic as ever, adding extra flavor to the music, and helping to make some already awesome choruses even better. Lastly, the band has used various different female vocalists throughout their past few albums, and this continues on this album. I’m not sure if the female vocals here are done by a guest or by Netta Skog, but either way they’re very impressive, sounding just a bit wild but also very pleasant and they add even more of a folk flavor to the music, whenever they appear, which mostly happens in short bursts as supporting vocals, but they do show up as lead vocals a couple times and are quite nice.

Songwriting is an area where Ensiferum has always excelled, so it’s no surprise that Two Paths is a consistently amazing album from start to finish, with none of the songs being anywhere near less than perfect. The album begins with an intro, which makes nice use of folk melodies and symphonic arrangements, while also having nice female vocals early on before we get the main melody that we’ll be hearing a couple more times on the album. In fact, while this intro track is very heroic and epic sounding, there’s also an outro track which feels like the reverse, as it uses the same main melody but it’s slowed down and sounds a lot sadder, which serves as a nice contrast. But those aren’t the only two times that melody appears, as it’s actually taken straight from the lead single and proper opener “For Those About to Fight for Metal”. In case anyone is like me and instantly thinks of AC/DC when seeing that name, it actually does feel like an intentional reference, as the chorus has a line that certainly reminds me of a famous track from that band and even the extended guitar intro is a little bit similar. Once the song gets going, though, it’s pure Ensiferum through and through, moving at a very high tempo throughout, with some explosive riffs, epic choirs, symphonic arrangements, folk melodies and an extremely epic chorus, dominated by choir vocals. It basically feels like a full representation of their sound and it definitely gives listeners an idea of what to expect, from the super energetic, more straightforward songwriting found throughout the album. It also has an awesome instrumental section in the middle where the guitars lead the way for a while, and then suddenly Netta takes over with her accordion and it gets really epic from there. Definitely an exciting opening track, but surprisingly not even one of my favorites on the album, as awesome as it is.

Next is “Way of the Warrior”, another explosive, fast paced track with an awesome chorus. This track uses more traditional keyboard sounds, but the actual melodies definitely have a folk feel to them, and it actually reminds me a little bit of “One Magic Potion” from Victory Songs, which was always a favorite of mine. In fact, while this album definitely has elements of all the band’s albums with Petri Lindroos, if I were to compare it most to one album in particular, I’d go with Victory Songs, due to the heavy focus on folk elements and also due to some of the gang vocal arrangements sounding quite similar to songs from that album. The title track follows and is the most folk infused of the first few tracks, with the accordion playing a very prominent role throughout and sounding quite impressive, and I also hear some violins during the verses, which adds extra flavor. Meanwhile, we get some very wild clean vocals throughout the track, especially during the chorus, and while it took a couple listens for me to get used to how they sound, I now think they fit the track very well, and it’s definitely a catchy and very fun track, which actually feels very fresh, as while it is fast paced, it isn’t overly heavy and has a more traditional folk feel to it at times. After that is a track which comes from the opposite spectrum, that being the super explosive “King of Storms”, a very heavy, super bombastic track which very much feels like it would have fit perfectly on From Afar or One Man Army. It’s the kind of epic, symphonic flavored melodic death metal that dominated those two albums, and on this track, it’s pulled off as effectively as ever, with some explosive verses, insanely epic symphonic arrangements and a huge chorus as always. It’s also one of the tracks where Petri most gets to dominate with his harsh vocals, though the very deep clean vocals during the chorus are also impressive.

And of course, the track right after that has to once again serve as a contrast to the track preceding it, as “Feast of Valkyries” is a more laid back, very folk infused track. Right from the start, the accordion dominates on this track, and it sounds very nice. While it’s still a fairly upbeat track musically, it isn’t as fast or as heavy as most other tracks on the album, instead of being more relaxed and very melodic. During the verses, we get some rather unique sounding female vocals, which lead the way through the track, before giving way to some epic gang vocals during the insanely epic and catchy chorus, which again brings back fond memories of Victory Songs. What we get next is a slight surprise, as “Don’t You Say” has more of a folk rock feel to it, being very upbeat but rather light and not at all heavy compared to most songs on the album. In fact, everything from the more simplistic drum patterns to the super catchy chorus, makes it feel like a more accessible, almost radio friendly track by Ensiferum standards. The track has no harsh vocals and is sung almost entirely by one singer, who does an excellent job and his voice fits the folk flavor of the track perfectly (the one exception is a brief use of female vocals as support right near the end.) I can see some fans being disappointed by this track, but I personally love it, as it serves as a nice change of pace from some of the heavier songs and the folk melodies are beautiful, especially the use of a violin throughout, while the chorus is an absolutely killer and super addictive. In fact, it’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, even if it is by far the least metal.

Heading towards the end, “I Shall Never Kneel” is another standout, which again has strong folk elements throughout, though it’s a heavier track, with varied tempos throughout. Its main riff is fast paced, and there are some explosive moments throughout, but the verses and chorus are more mid paced, and there’s also a very beautiful slower section in the middle where the keyboards take over and we get some nice female vocals. On the whole, it’s a very fun track and uses the full range of vocals fans can expect from the band, all in one track, which is cool. After that we get another very folk flavored track in “God is Dead”, which actually has my favorite use of the accordion on the entire album, as the lead melody is absolutely beautiful and adds a ton of folk flavor to the music, while the track overall is fast paced and is simply a wild, good time, with an insanely epic chorus, wild but awesome sounding clean vocals, and it’s simply one of the most wildly fun and addictive tracks I’ve heard all year, even if I’m not overly fond of the lyrics. This track is one case where the music and songwriting are simply so awesome, it wins out over the lyrics. Lastly, “Hail to the Victor” is the slowest track on the album, leading off with a nice guitar melody, before settling down and turning into a slow but epic melodic death metal track with strong symphonic elements, It has an amazing chorus, where clean vocals show up, but while the first half is very good, the track gets much better around halfway through, as the guitar tone suddenly changes, becoming more epic, and we get some huge symphonic arrangements, in a section that very much reminds me of the album Unsung Heroes and especially the track “Burning Leaves”, except dialed up to an 11. From there, we get some incredibly epic choir vocals, and the track ends in epic fashion. While that is the last proper song on the album, followed by the outro I mentioned earlier, the band also elected to provide alternate versions of the tracks “Don’t You Say” and “God is Dead”, with these versions featuring harsh vocals throughout. While some folks may prefer one version over the other, I personally think both songs work equally well with either clean or harsh vocal, as both are simply so incredibly fun and well written, they’ll work for me in either form, so having these alternate versions is certainly a nice treat, and I always listen to both versions of each track every time I play the album.

At this point, I never expect anything less than greatness from Ensiferum, and I’m never disappointed. Two Paths is once again no exception, as it’s yet another masterful album that has all the elements fans of the band have come to expect, while also having stronger folk elements than the band has had in a long time, as well as being one of their most energetic albums ever. It’s certainly yet another highlight in their impressive career and is easily my favorite folk metal album since at the very least Unsung Heroes, possibly even eclipsing that and going back to From Afar, which stands as my favorite from the band. Either way, though, I highly recommend it to all fans of folk, symphonic and melodic death metal, as it’s certainly a must hear, and one of my top three albums of 2017 so far.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/09/02/ensiferum-two-paths-review/

CRIMFALL Amain

Album · 2017 · Folk Metal
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There are many metal bands right now who can fluidly blend together elements of genres such as folk, symphonic and melodic death metal all in one package, so any band trying to pull off that kind of sound has their work cut out for them, trying to find a way to stand out. One band, I tried a few years ago but wasn’t overly impressed by, was Finnish band Crimfall. I barely remember anything about their second release, The Writ of Sword, except that I thought it had some good moments but wasn’t too enjoyable overall, so a new release for them wasn’t exactly on my radar. But now they’re back with their third full-length release, Amain, and I have to say, this time around they have definitely impressed me!

The band released their first two albums with two different labels, and have again changed labels this time, being picked up by Metal Blade, who of course also have Ensiferum in their lineup. I mention this, because the two bands definitely have some stylistic similarities, with both blending elements of folk, symphonic metal, and melodic death metal, using varying amounts of all those elements throughout their songs, and also mixing in varying amounts of harsh vocals, clean vocals, and choirs. However, the biggest difference between Crimfall and any similar band is that while they certainly do have their epic moments, at least on Amain I find their music to be a bit more complex at times, as many tracks on this release are a lot calmer and take more time to build up than one would expect from this style of music. Obviously, there are some huge instant winners like the two singles “The Last of Stands” and “Mother of Unbelievers”, where the music goes full out epic, with some explosive guitar work, epic orchestras, and some folk elements, but there are many extended quieter sections on this album, and many tracks take a few listens to fully click.

Vocally, the band offers the kind of approach one would expect from this mix of genres. Which is to say, there are the expected harsh vocals, which are done very well by Mikko Häkkinen, who has a very powerful voice that would work perfectly on a pure Melo-death album, as well as some epic choir vocals during choruses. And of course there are the clean vocals, which are handled by Helena Haaparanta, who mostly stays in a lower register, and has a very powerful voice that works great on the louder, more epic passages, but she also excels during the many softer sections, as her voice is very smooth and very beautiful at times. There are also some clean male vocals, most notably on “It’s a Long Road”. I’m not sure who does them, but they’re very good, slightly animated and pretty emotional, really adding to the feel of that particular track.

Moving on to songwriting, the album gets off to an excellent start. After a brief intro track, which has some voice overs, listeners are treated to the explosive opening track “The Last of Stands”, which opens up with a brief folk infused section where Helena delivers some beautiful vocals before the guitars kick in and we get our first taste of the epic growls. From there the track picks up the pace, leading to a section with epic vocals from Helena and then eventually a stunning chorus, sung by choirs. This is a very fast paced and explosive track which has some of the best guitar work on the album, and certainly gives listeners a taste of the band’s cinematic style, while also being possibly the most instantly enjoyable track on the album.

After that, the album takes a surprising turn, as we get the four part epic “Ten Winters Apart”, which feels like one song split into four tracks. Obviously, these tracks all flow into each other perfectly, and together they form a narrative, with the occasional use of voiceovers, though I find they add to the experience and aren’t distracting. Overall, the first two tracks are mostly fairly calm for the most part, with the occasional explosive growl section, but it’s mostly Helena dominating the vocal passages, especially on Pt. 2, where it turns into a ballad. Pt. 3 is the darkest, most explosive track, and has an exciting folk passage near the end, while Pt. 4 is probably the most upbeat track. On the whole, it’s a great sequence, though it does feel a bit odd to place it so early on the album, especially coming off such an explosive opening track.

Next is another standout in “Mother of Unbelievers”, which opens up with an extended folk passage, before giving way to the heaviest guitar riffs on the album, and the opening verse is very intense, with some powerful growls from Mikko, though the highlight of the track is the chorus, where Helena delivers some very epic and powerful vocals, probably her best work on the entire album. After that is another calmer track in “It’s a Long Road”, which starts off as a ballad, with some pretty solid clean male vocals early on, and going into the chorus, but the track builds up tension as it goes along, with growls kicking in around halfway through, and from there the track gets heavier and becomes pretty epic as it goes along. This track took a few listens to click for me, but once it did it ended up being one of my favorites. The following track “Wayward Verities” is probably the most folk infused track on the album, starting off with some epic group chants, before the growls kick in and then as the track gets heavier it certainly reminds me a lot of some Ensiferum tracks, though Helena’s vocals help it to stand out, and she does a great job as always. It’s definitely a fun, catchy song and one of the more instantly entertaining tracks on the album. Lastly, we have “Until Falls the Rain”, the longest individual track on the album. This track is mostly fairly calm and has some great melodies, as well as some excellent vocals, but I find musically there isn’t much to it and there aren’t really enough memorable moments to justify the near 8-minute running time. The epic vocals and voice overs help, but overall I find it to be the weakest track on the album.

Overall, Amain is an excellent release, which has a nice blend of folk, symphonic and melodic death metal elements, as well as a nice mix of heavier, more immediately satisfying tracks, and some calmer, slower building tracks. The closing track doesn’t do much for me, but everything else is excellent, and it’s an album I can easily recommend to fans of any of the genres I mentioned, as well as obviously fans of the band’s prior releases. Hopefully, Crimfall takes less time to release a fourth album and hopefully they can build on this release and produce something even better in the future.

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/08/26/crimfall-amain-review/

EAGLEHEART Reverse

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
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Upon seeing the band name Eagleheart, one can be excused for immediately thinking they must be heavily influenced by a certain Finnish band, but that actually wouldn’t be too accurate. Instead, the power metal band hailing from the Czech Republic have their own, much more modernized sound, which I was first introduced to on their sophomore release Dreamtherapy, back in 2011. I found that album to be flawed but fairly enjoyable, and it definitely showed promise, while not being anything special on its own. Almost six years later, the band has released their third album, Reverse, and it looks like they really took the time to polish their sound and step it up with their songwriting, because this time they’ve produced a much stronger, more memorable release, which certainly has most of the same elements, but has much stronger songs and a more polished sound overall.

The band has gone through some major lineup changes since Dreamtherapy, with new drummer Filip Smetana joining the band in between albums, but the biggest change was the departure of bassist Ji?í Fiala, which has led to former lead vocalist Vojt?ch Šimoník switching over to bass, while Roman Sá?ek has been brought into taking over the lead vocals. Musically, Reverse sounds fairly similar to its predecessor, with the band playing a pretty heavy guitar driven brand of power metal, with some prog elements and some especially aggressive sections that at times bring Symphony X to mind. While there’s no listed keyboardist, keys are used quite frequently throughout the album, mostly to add some flavor, and they’re used quite effectively, even becoming the main focus on softer tracks like “All I Am” and “Erased From Existence”. While the songwriting is fairly straightforward, there’s some excellent instrumental work throughout, with the guitar riffs in particularly being very hard-hitting at times, and there’s some excellent solo work throughout.

One area where the band’s previous album fell a bit short was in the vocals department, as Vojt?ch Šimoník has a strong voice, but isn’t the most capable singer on his own. This time around, things work out much better as Roman Sá?ek has a fairly deep voice and is much smoother in his delivery, which makes him much more pleasant to hear during long stretches, while Vojt?ch and guitarist Michal K?s deliver some nice backing vocals throughout. Overall, I think the band made the right decision by bringing Roman in, as he’s a very solid vocalist, able to provide the smooth vocals needed for the many softer passages here, while still being capable of some more aggressive vocals at times, and he does a very good job throughout.

After the expected intro track, opener “Until the Fear is Gone” storms in with a very fast paced opening riff, and it’s the kind of high energy, up tempo track you’d expect to hear at the start of a power metal album. It has excellent guitar work, including a great solo in the second half, some nice melodic passages, and a great chorus, and overall it’s very much an instantly satisfying track, making it the perfect way to start the album. Next is “Healing the Scars”, a much more aggressive track, which is more mid paced, though it does speed up at points and has a pretty nice tempo to it. This track is very guitar driven, with some of the heaviest riffs on the album, and it even gets a bit thrashy at times, especially during the chorus, where we get some screams, during a slower section, before it speeds up and the vocal harmonies take over and are quite good. This is the only song on the album where I really notice any thrash elements, so it’s a nice change of pace and adds some energy to the track, while the more melodic solo section in the middle is quite nice as well. Definitely one of the stronger tracks on the album.

With the previous track being so heavy, it’s only fitting that “All I Am” is one of the more melodic tracks on the album, with a much softer, more subdued chorus where the keyboards take over, and it’s a more mid paced track overall, with even the guitar driven sections not being as hard hitting. It’s a very nice track overall, though not really a standout. Next is “Palace of Thoughts”, a song which very much represents the album on the whole, as it’s speedy in bursts but stays fairly mid paced throughout its verses and chorus. It has a fast paced opening riff, before slowing down for a while, though it has one of the strongest and most memorable choruses on the album. Following that, is the title track, another mostly mid paced track with some heavy riffs early on, though it too has a very nice melodic chorus, as well an awesome solo section later on, where the music speeds up.

On the whole, I find a lot of the songs on this album fairly similar, as for the most part the songs are fairly mid paced throughout, with occasional speedy sections, and each track has a mix of heavier sections where guitars dominate, melodic choruses where the vocals shine and occasionally some more keyboard driven sections. There aren’t any weak songs on the album, though, and there are enough standouts to make it a satisfying album overall. One song in the second half that really stands out is “Mind to Decipher”, which starts out with some nice folk melodies before speeding up with some aggressive riffs, which carry on throughout the verses, and then it has an absolutely beautiful chorus where Roman really steals the show, and the solo section in the second half brings back the heavy riffs and speeds up even further, making for a very memorable sequence.

Next are “Endless” and “Enemy Within”, too fairly upbeat tracks, which still aren’t terribly fast, but both move at a nice pace and have great choruses, with the former especially getting epic during the final run of its chorus, while the latter has an excellent speedy section in the second half. Closing track “Painting the Shadows by Light” is one final standout track, as it’s the most consistently fast paced track on the album and has some truly excellent melodic guitar work, as well as a fantastic chorus, and some memorable instrumental sections in the middle. This track feels like it has more energy than many other tracks on the album, while still being very melodic and having some great vocal work, and so that makes it easily one of the best on the album. Lastly, as a bonus track, we have “Erased”, which is basically a ballad version of “Erased from Existence”, and if anything it stands out a bit more and allows Roman to really show off his vocal capabilities.

Overall, Reverse is a very good power metal album with occasional prog elements, some excellent musicianship, and some very strong lead vocals.It represents a big step up for Eagleheart, and while the songwriting could perhaps use a bit more variety, every song is very enjoyable and there are no weak moments on the entire album. It’s definitely a more consistently satisfying album than their previous release, Dreamtherapy, and is one I can easily recommend to any power metal fan looking for something with some heavy riffs as well as some prog elements, to go along with the expected big choruses and epic vocal melodies.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2017/08/18/eagleheart-reverse-review/

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