DippoMagoo

Travis Green
MMA Special Collaborator · Power, Symph and Prog Metal Teams
Registered more than 2 years ago · Last visit 5 hours ago

Favorite Metal Artists

All Reviews/Ratings

2021 reviews/ratings
DYNAZTY - Renatus Power Metal | review permalink
DRAGONFORCE - Maximum Overload Power Metal
ADRANA - The Ancient Realms Power Metal
EVERGREY - The Inner Circle Progressive Metal
EVERGREY - In Search of Truth Progressive Metal
BLIND GUARDIAN - Imaginations From the Other Side Power Metal
ANCIENT BARDS - Soulless Child Power Metal
ARMORY - Empyrean Realms Power Metal
SABATON - Primo Victoria Power Metal
SABATON - The Art Of War Power Metal
SABATON - Carolus Rex Power Metal
SABATON - Heroes Power Metal
FREEDOM CALL - Beyond Power Metal
FREEDOM CALL - Eternity Power Metal
FREEDOM CALL - Stairway to Fairyland Power Metal
CIVIL WAR - Saint Patrick's Day Power Metal
XANDRIA - Neverworld's End Power Metal
POWER QUEST - Blood Alliance Power Metal
DARK MOOR - Ars Musica Symphonic Metal
DARK MOOR - Ancestral Romance Power Metal

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 801 4.00
2 Progressive Metal 300 3.90
3 Symphonic Metal 205 3.90
4 Traditional heavy metal 141 3.50
5 Thrash Metal 96 3.69
6 Gothic Metal 89 3.90
7 Melodic Death Metal 57 3.84
8 Folk Metal 57 4.28
9 Hard Rock 42 3.96
10 US Power Metal 36 3.81
11 Alternative Metal 27 3.39
12 Non-Metal 25 3.56
13 Metalcore 22 3.55
14 Death Metal 20 3.95
15 Metal Related 16 4.03
16 Industrial Metal 13 4.12
17 Technical Death Metal 10 4.10
18 Groove Metal 9 3.00
19 Doom Metal 6 3.92
20 Speed Metal 6 3.92
21 Symphonic Black Metal 5 4.60
22 NWoBHM 5 4.50
23 Melodic Black Metal 5 4.00
24 Death-Doom Metal 5 3.80
25 Deathcore 4 3.38
26 Glam Metal 4 3.88
27 Atmospheric Black Metal 4 3.88
28 Nu Metal 4 3.75
29 Avant-garde Metal 2 4.25
30 Black Metal 2 2.50
31 Brutal Death Metal 1 4.50
32 Crossover Thrash 1 3.00
33 Sludge Metal 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

SECRET SPHERE The Nature of Time

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
As much as I enjoy reviewing music, there are times where I initially struggle with an album and wonder if it’s even worth it to keep trying and see if it will open up for me, or if I should just give up on it. Often times, situations like this can ultimately be rewarding, though, as albums I usually wouldn’t have the patience for if I wasn’t committed to reviewing them can often end up winning me over in the long run, and such is the case with The Nature of Time, the eighth full-length release from Italian progressive power metal band Secret Sphere. I’ve had some experience with the band in the past, being immediately blown away by their 2010 release Archetype, which ended up being the last album with their original vocalist Roberto Messina, and being fairly disappointed by their 2012 release Portrait of a Dying Heart, which marked the beginning of a new era for the band. Between being disappointed with that album, being unimpressed with the samples I checked for 2015 re-recording of their 2002 album A Time Never Come and initially being fairly bored with this new release, I was just about ready to give up on the band for good. And then it suddenly clicked on the third listen, completely out of nowhere!

Portrait of a Dying Heart was quite the change in sound for the band, as earlier releases like Mistress of the Shadowlight and A Time Never Come featured more of a classic power metal sound, while Archetype was their most modern sounding, hardest hitting blend of prog and power metal to date, with some very aggressive riffs at points, where Portrait of a Dying Heart was a much more laid back album, with the prog albums taking on more of a melodic prog style compared to their past releases. This approach has only continued further on The Nature of Time, as this is very much a stripped down, less explosive album than anything they’ve done in the past, which is probably part of the reason for why it initially didn’t impress me much. The one lineup change on this album was the departure of guitarist Marco Pastorino, and I wonder if that affected the music in a big way, because the guitars are certainly less punchy on this release, even compared to its immediate predecessor, and instead the leads are mostly very melodic and guitars are used more to set the tone than to be particularly heavy, aside from on a couple tracks. One thing that hasn’t been reduced is the use of symphonic elements, which are quite prevalent throughout the album, both on softer tracks like “The Calling” and more speedy tracks like “Courage”.

Speaking of which, this release is a concept album, which seems to be about dealing with your inner feelings. Just by looking at the track listing, you can see 8 of the 11 tracks have to deal with positive emotions and personality traits, such as “Love”, “Courage”, “Honesty” and “Commitment”, and so lyrically it’s no surprise that this is a very emotional album and one that impresses more with its overall feel than it does with exciting musical passages. Indeed, there are quite a few tracks here that are fairly tame for the genre, as well as probably more balladry than the typical power metal fan is willing to put up with, which again is a reason I struggled with the album at first. At the same time, once you get a bit deeper into the album there are a few more upbeat and catchier tracks, and the power metal elements are very much still an important part of the music, even if they aren’t as dominant as on past releases.

Another aspect I wasn’t too impressed by at first is vocalist Michele Luppi. In fact, I’ll be honest here: I’ve heard some of his work with Vision Divine as well as obviously his previous work with Secret Sphere, and for some reason, I just never cared much for his voice. He’s definitely a great singer, with a very impressive range, able to hit all kinds of high and low notes with seemingly little challenge at all, and he can be very emotive at times, but for some reason there’s just something about his voice that prevents me from liking him as much as I should and I can’t figure out what it is. With that being said, I definitely enjoy his vocals more on this release than I have on anything else I’ve heard him on, and I do think he sounds terrific throughout, whether it’s on the more powerful, speedier tracks like “Courage”, “Faith” and “Reliance” or slower, lighter tracks like “Love”, “Kindness” and “The New Beginning”.

Moving onto songwriting, things get off to a rather slow start. Contrary to what its name would suggest, “Intermission” is, in fact, the beginning of the album, and is a fairly typical orchestral opener, with some nice piano parts in the middle, and a very brief voiceover at the end. One thing I will say right away, while this album uses narration throughout, it’s done rather tastefully, usually at the beginning or end of tracks and doesn’t really get in the way like it does on some albums, but instead just adds a bit of context to the overall concept, so this is one case where I can actually appreciate it. The first full song is “The Calling”, a rather slow paced track which has some nice melodic leads, including a nice guitar section at the beginning, before the orchestral elements take over, and it settles down into a fairly nice melodic prog track. The verses are a bit tame for my tastes, but the chorus is excellent and showcases Michele’s voice nicely, and I love the more emotional vocal section that comes towards the end and how it sets up the excellent guitar solo and epic final run through the chorus that closes out the track. Basically, it’s a track that starts out kinda boring but gets better as it goes along, and by the end, it’s really good.

After that, though, things slow down further with “Love”, a ballad mostly dominated by light keyboards and vocals. It’s a nice enough song, and the symphonic elements are again effective, but it’s not exactly the most exciting track and doesn’t really do much to help the momentum of the album early on. Thankfully, things pick up big time with “Courage”, the first speedy track on the album, and one of the best. While not quite as intense as anything on Archetype, this track is very fast paced and has some solid riffs, moving along at a great pace throughout, and delivering another huge chorus, as well as excellent instrumental second in the second half, and then the final run through the chorus is simply incredible. Easily the best song on the first half of the album. As expected, “Kindness” is another ballad, roughly on par with “Love”, meaning another solid, but unspectacular track, with some decent vocal melodies, but nothing really special. The first oddball of the album is next, that being “Honesty”. Right out of the gate it has some very modern sounding riffs, mixed in with epic orchestral arrangements, making for quite the weird contrast. This track took some time for me to get used to, as initially, the chugging riffs were bothering me, but over time I’ve come to appreciate them and how they contrast nicely with the very melodic and uplifting chorus, which is definitely the highlight of the track. There’s an epic instrumental section, later on, enhances both of these elements further, and the second half of the track is pretty amazing on the whole. Excellent track, overall, though it definitely requires a few listens to fully appreciate it.

Moving towards the final stretch, “Faith” is another fairly straightforward power metal track, with some solid riffs and a big, epic chorus. Definitely one the more fun and upbeat tracks on the album. Next is “Reliance”, another fairly uptempo track, though this one is much harder hitting than the others, with some pretty explosive riffs as well as a nice use of epic symphonic elements. The chorus is slower and brings in some of the prog elements, while later on, we get some pretty intense instrumental sections. This track is a bit all over the place, but it’s all very well done and it certainly makes for one of the more exciting and complex tracks on the album. After that, we have the fairly calm instrumental “Commitment”, which starts off with some heavy riffs, but quickly turns into a more melodic track, with some great keyboard work as well as some nice melodic solos throughout. It’s a pretty solid instrumental and serves as a nice lead-in to the climax of the album.

That climax comes in the form of a near 9-minute epic, titled “The Awakening”, which starts off with some epic orchestral arrangements during the first minute before the guitars kick in and it speeds up and turns into another epic, fast paced power metal track. I find this track takes all the elements found throughout the rest of the album and kicks it all up a notch, leading for one of the fastest tracks on the album, as well as easily the most epic and most memorable. Michele is also at his absolute best on this track, delivering easily the best performance I’ve ever heard from him, and there’s some great instrumental passages throughout, as well as a catchy chorus. Easily the highlight of the album, and along with “Courage”, and “Faith”, I’d say it’s one of a few tracks should leave listeners impressed right from the first listen. Lastly, “The New Beginning” is another ballad, but it steps things up a bit, by reusing lyrics from previous tracks but in a more emotional way, and again Michele delivers some great vocals, making it a nice way to end the album.

Overall, The Nature of Time is a great release, which shows Secret Sphere continuing to move towards more of a melodic prog sound, without sacrificing their power metal elements entirely. It’s an album that likely won’t blow many people away on first listen, but given some time it should open up and prove itself to be a very rewarding release, with some great tracks and some excellent vocals. I still prefer the more aggressive approach of albums such as Archetype, but I will admit this release has won me over in the end and has made me want to revisit its predecessor, as well as making me excited for any future releases the band puts out. Recommend for fans of power metal and melodic prog, and especially for those who like concept albums that are more about the lyrics and overall feel than about individual tracks.

originally written for myglobalmind.com (http://myglobalmind.com/2017/06/10/secret-sphere-nature-time-review/)

UNLEASH THE ARCHERS Apex

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Being from Canada, there aren’t a ton of quality power metal bands around, but one of the best and perhaps the most prolific in recent years has been Vancouver’s Unleash the Archers. They started off in 2007 and were more of a melodic death metal band on their 2009 debut Behold the Devastation, with a more aggressive sound and with very prominent harsh vocals, while their second album Demons of the AstroWaste, released in 2011, showed them moving into a blend between melodeath and power metal, with clean vocals starting to become much more important. But their biggest shift happened on the excellent three track EP Defy the Skies, released in 2012, which showed the band completely ditching the growls and utilizing a full power metal sound, for a release that still stands as my favorite by the band to date. After that came their third album Time Stands Still, which mostly continued with their new power metal sound, though harsh vocals were still used at times and it was another high-quality release overall. Now in 2017, the band is celebrating their 10th anniversary with their fourth full-length release, Apex, an album which continues to push their sound forward towards a more pure power metal sound, while still containing small traces of their melodeath elements, as well as occasional elements of classic heavy metal.

Compared to the band’s past few releases, which each felt pretty different from each other and showed the band continuing to evolve their sound, Apex feels like they’re standing firm with the musical direction they took on Time Stands Still and are just making subtle tweaks at this point. As a result, most tracks on this album are very speedy power metal tracks with some great guitar work, excellent riffs and solos, and some huge vocal lines and choruses, where vocalist Brittney Slayes gets to shine. For the most part, the melodeath elements are very minor, sometimes found in some of the heavier, more modern sounding riffs, but it’s clear at this point the band has largely moved away from that sound. There are still some growls on the album, but they are few and far between, mostly used in quick bursts to add just a little bit of extra power to certain sections. For the most part, this album is heavy, guitar driven power metal, with only minor elements from other genres. At the same time, the songwriting is still rather varied and there’s enough going on musically that the album never feels too samey or one dimensional.

Perhaps the most important aspect of any Unleash the Archers release at this point is lead vocalist Brittney Slayes, who has been with the band since the beginning, but where she played more of a supporting role on early releases, she has now become the star of the band, utilizing her very powerful voice which she mostly keeps in a lower register on most tracks, though she can hit some pretty high notes at times, and sounds excellent throughout the album. She especially excels during some of the epic choruses, which feel like they were written perfectly to showcase her skills, and for sure her voice is the one element that stands out the most on Apex. While growls aren’t used nearly as often as they were on earlier releases when they do show up they are quite powerful and help add an extra dose of energy to the tracks, so I’m glad they still get used from time to time, especially during the first half of the album.

In the songwriting department, things get off to an amazing start with my personal favorite track coming right at the start, that being the 7-minute opening track “Awakening”. After a brief intro, featuring the album’s only instance of keyboards, the guitars kick in and are hard hitting out of the gate, and the track quickly speeds up and become the kind of epic up-tempo track one would expect to hear at the start of a power metal album. The chorus is excellent and does a great job of showcasing Brittney’s powerful vocals, and musically it’s an excellent track all around. Just past the 4-minute mark, the riffs get a bit more extreme, and we get some pretty epic guitar work, and then the growls make their first full appearance (they’re used in the background during the chorus) and this section is pretty awesome and gives way to a great solo section. Awesome opening track overall!

After that comes “Shadow Guide”, a rather straight-forward, fast paced track with more hard hitting riffs and another great chorus, though this time the growls are used a little bit earlier on, coming right at the tail end of the chorus, and are again pretty cool. Quite a few tracks follow roughly the same pattern as that one, being fast paced power metal with some hard hitting riffs and allowing Brittney to lead the way with her excellent vocals, while only using growls briefly. Songs that fit that description include “The Matriarch”, a very fun track and good pick for second single, “The Coward’s Way”, which has one of the best choruses on the album, and “Earth and Ashes”, a track which starts off a bit slowly with a nice acoustic section, before speeding up after a bit. It has a bit of twist, though, in that it doesn’t have any growls, but instead in the second half there’s a brief section with some pretty decent sounding clean male vocals, which offer up a nice change of pace, though obviously the singer there isn’t as good as Brittney

There are three slower songs on the album, all coming towards the middle. First up is “Cleanse the Bloodlines”, the hardest hitting of the three, with some epic guitar work during the verses and it has some nice melodies throughout, as well as an excellent chorus. Its highlight, though, comes in the middle as the track speeds up and becomes super epic, while just before that is a pretty cool extreme metal section where the growls kick in. Definitely the strongest of the three slower songs. Next, we have the 8 minute “False Walls”, a more relaxing and melodic track, which also has some nice melodies and Brittney sounds absolutely fantastic during the chorus. My only complaint is that the song probably could have benefited from being about two minutes shorter, as there isn’t a ton of material here, no growls sections or nothing really memorable to justify its length, but otherwise, it’s a pretty solid track. The weakest of the three is “Ten Thousand Against One, which has the only bland chorus of the album and is hurt further by the fact that it comes after the already slightly overlong “False Walls”. It does have growls, though, and is a pretty nice track instrumentally, but that weak chorus sinks it.

The last two tracks are completely dominated by power metal elements. First up, “Call me Immortal” is another up-tempo track, though not quite as fast as some of the other tracks on the album, and it consists entirely of clean vocals, featuring possibly the best chorus on the album, as well as some excellent guitar work. Definitely one of the highlights of the album. Lastly, we have the 8 minute title track, which starts off slowly and has a nice extended acoustic section at the beginning as well as at the end, and in fact these sections and some of the guitar leads early on remind of some of the longer Iron Maiden tracks, and give the song a slight classic heavy metal feel. Once the song gets going, though, it turns into an epic speedy power metal track, where Brittney once again excels and delivers another epic chorus, while musically this is perhaps the most melodic of all the faster tracks, with some excellent guitar work as always. Easily my second favorite track on the album, just behind “Awakening”, as that one slightly edges it out for me with its epic growl section.

Overall, Apex is a high-quality album from Unleash the Archers, which continues with the power metal sound they’ve established on their past two releases, while still having bursts of their old melodeath sound. A couple slower songs in the middle kill a bit of momentum, but otherwise, it’s a great release which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, and I’d highly recommend it to any fans of hard hitting guitar driven power metal looking to hear some great riffs and excellent vocals.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/06/03/unleash-archers-apex-review/

DRAGONFORCE Reaching Into Infinity

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
There are many ways for bands to evolve their sound over a long career. Some bands change their sound up a lot from album to album, always keeping their fans guessing, while others follow along a predictable path for a while, then suddenly decide to move in a completely different direction after a few albums. Still, others prefer to stick to an established sound while adding minor tweaks from album to album, which is where British power metal band Dragonforce currently stands. After their first four albums were all fairly similar and each had their share of highlights and low points, “The Power Within” and “Maximum Overload” both showed them streamlining their sound a bit and adding in some new elements, while still keeping all their trademarks and their overall sound in full force (no pun intended.) Now with their seventh full-length release, Reaching Into Infinity, it feels like the band is looking to push their sound even further than before, providing listeners with quite a few surprises, while still delivering many tracks filled with their unique brand of super speedy, hard hitting power metal with extremely epic choruses and guitar solos.

Longtime fans of the band should know what to expect from them at this point, as their brand of over the top, super fast power metal is still as much intact as ever, and the blistering duo guitar leads from Herman Li and Sam Totman are still very much the main focus, while Vadim Pruzhanov’s keyboards are impressive sounding as well and still play a big role at points, often sounding rather cheesy and giving the music a retro, sometimes slight pop feel as usual. The faster tracks on this release very much follow in line with the band’s past two releases, as they’re still as over the top and fun as ever, but they aren’t stretched out quite as much as most songs on the first four albums, and there are some heavier riffs at times, sometimes giving the music a slight thrash feel. Obviously, though, the huge choruses, epic melodies, and impressive extended solo sections are still present and as impressive as ever, and for the most part, the speedy songs on this album continue to feel like classic Dragonforce, except streamlined just a little bit. However, there are a few tracks where the band experiments more than ever before, and while I’ll go into full detail later in the review, there are at least three songs here that may surprise listeners, bringing in unexpected elements and sometimes going in directions fans probably wouldn’t expect from the band, so it’s definitely an even more varied and interesting release than Maximum Overload was in the songwriting department.

In the vocals department, Marc Hudson remains as strong a vocalist as he was on the previous two albums, and if anything he sounds even more in his element on this release than ever before. He has a fairly high pitched voice that fits the genre well, and he does an excellent job during the very melodic choruses, but he can also sing with a deeper voice at times and with a bit more grit and power than before. On a couple tracks, he even adds in some thrash style vocals as well as some pretty solid harsh vocals. This is most definitely the most varied Dragonforce ever when it comes to vocals, and everything works very well.

When it comes to songwriting, fans know what to expect from the band, and for the most part Reaching Into Infinity does deliver more of the same. The title track is a typical intro, with some nice keyboard sections and some very nice guitar melodies, and then “Ashes of the Dawn” starts out with some heavy guitar riffs and slight symphonic elements before picking up the pace and turning into the kind of high-flying opener fans would expect from the band. Right out of the gate, it has some excellent guitar leads, as expected, and it’s a very fast paced track with a super catchy chorus and fun instrumental sections, enhanced even further by having more of a symphonic presence than their songs usually do. It’s definitely a perfect example of the more simplified take on their classic songwriting that their recent albums have been delivering. Other speedy tracks on the album follow suit, including “Judgement Day”, which has a very cheesy, pop-styled keyboard intro before speeding up and turning into a classic Dragonforce song, with a super fun chorus, “Astral Empire”, which has a cool intro that showcases new drummer Gee Anzalone’s skills, before turning into a very straight-forward and fun power metal track, “Curse of Darkness”, which has a nice slower section in the middle, but mostly follows the band’s formula neatly and is another excellent example of their modern sound, “Midnight Madness”, which may actually be the most traditional Dragonforce song on the entire album, with no real gimmicks, but instead just being awesome all around, “Land of Shattered Dreams”, which is slightly darker and harder-hitting, and the closing track “Our Final Stand”, which has an amazing chorus and one of the best guitar solos on the album, making it a perfect closer. All these tracks are excellent, fast paced and have a nice balance between catchy vocal sections and impressive instrumental work, giving listeners everything they could ask for from the band. Bonus track “Hatred and Revenge” very much fits in line with all these tracks, and is another instant winner, with some of the best guitar work on the album and an absolutely incredible chorus.

Mixed in with all those tracks are a few surprises, the first of which is the ballad “Silence”. They have done one ballad before, that being the awesome yet super cheesy “Trail of Broken Hearts”, but this one feels much more serious and more sincere than that one did, using some nice acoustic guitars during tits verses and allowing Marc to really showcase his talents during the chorus. The solo section is also very nice and features an absolutely beautiful guitar solo at one point. A very surprising but excellent track. Another surprise is “WAR!”, a speedy but surprisingly hard hitting track which very much has a thrash feel the whole way through, especially during its verses and its chorus, with some aggressive riffs, thrashy vocals from Marc and some pretty angry lyrics. The pre-chorus section is nice and brings in some melody, but otherwise, it’s a surprisingly hard hitting track coming from Dragonforce. On the one hand, I think they did a great job with it and pulled it off very well, but on the other hand, because I listen to these guys to have a good time and enjoy the happy sounding melodies, this track does stick out a bit. Still, I can appreciate them trying something different and while it’s not one of my favorite tracks here, I do think they pulled off what they were trying to do with it.

Also on the thrashier side, the band included a cover of the classic Death track “Evil Dead”, where the guitars feel surprisingly close to the original and Marc’s vocals are great, while the keyboards are mostly used to add in a bit of atmosphere and are pretty interesting. It’s actually a really good cover, and the only part that feels a bit out of place, but still awesome, is the classic Nintendo style keyboard outro. Lastly, “The Edge of the World” is the band’s longest and most ambitious track to date at just over 11 minutes. The track is mostly mid-paced and has a very prog feel to it, with some epic sounding guitar work and the verses feel more calm and relaxed compared to most of their tracks. The chorus is impressive as always and there’s a very nice solo section, but musically I have to say the band didn’t really throw in as many tempo changes as I would have expected and the lack of any real speedy sections is a bit surprising. Still, it’s a great track and one section that really stands out comes a little more than halfway through, where the guitars get heavier and we get some pretty cool death growls. Overall, the track isn’t what I would have expected from Dragonforce and is quite interesting in that they went for more of a prog sound, which I feel they pulled off quite well. I think one or two speedier sections would have really pushed it over the top, but I guess they wanted to make it a fully experimental and different sounding track, so it still works great as it is.

Overall, Reaching Into Infinity is another excellent album that shows Dragonforce continuing to deliver a more streamlined version of their classic sound, while also throwing in some surprises, with two of their most experimental tracks to date. I think I still slightly prefer Maximum Overload, but it’s definitely an excellent album which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, and any power metal fans who doesn’t mind a bit of cheesiness, is highly recommended to give this one a listen.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/05/20/dragonforce-reaching-infinity-review/

WIND ROSE Stonehymn

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
One of the most surprising albums for me in recent years was Wardens of the West Wind, the 2015 release from Italian power metal band Wind Rose. I had been intrigued by the band after their 2012 debut Shadows Over Lothadruin, which was an interesting prog album that showed potential, but also had a lot of things wrong with it that really brought it down. So while I was interested in Wardens of the West Wind when I got a promo for it, I was absolutely shocked, both by how much I loved it and by how all the flaws from the previous album were fixed and the band had shifted styles quite impressively, going with more of a symphonic power metal sound, while still keeping elements of their debut. After how good that release was, I was excited to hear what they would do next and expected them to continue along the same path, but now their third release Stonehymn is set to come out later this month, and I have to say, the band has surprised me in an awesome way once again!

Wind Rose is an interesting band, in that so far each release has taken a fairly minor element from the previous album and expanded upon it greatly, making it the primary focus. For example, Shadows Over Lothadruin was primarily a mix of symphonic metal and prog, somewhat similar to Symphony X, but it contained brief bursts of power metal, which ended up becoming the main focus on Wardens of the West Wind. Meanwhile, that album was primarily a symphonic power metal release in the vein of Rhapsody of Fire, but it contained folk elements on a couple tracks, most notably on its closing track “Rebel and Free”, and on Stonehymn, this sound has taken over and become the main focus.

I’d say the best comparison to this album would be if you were to take the faster, more epic sections of bands like Ensiferum and early Turisas, remove the growls and then make that into an entire album, then you’d end up with something similar to Stonehymn. Of course, Wind Rose have still kept their own sound intact here, so the symphonic elements from previous releases are still used at times, choirs are still used a ton, power metal riffs remain a driving force and even the prog elements from the debut are still there in bursts, but the overall sound feels very fresh and new, with much more of a folk element than past releases. There’s a ton of epic gang vocal sections, group chants and all kinds of folk instruments used throughout, with many instrumental sections that would usually give way to guitar solos on most albums instead turning into interludes where various folk melodies are played, and this adds quite a lot of flavor to the music. The metal elements are still as present as ever, though, with the guitars still playing a big part, and there are some great riffs here for sure, especially during some of the mid-paced sections where the prog elements come in, and there are some nice sections where keyboards take over as well, but I find the folk elements add an extra layer to the music and are certainly much more prominent and more effective than I would have ever expected.

Vocals remain a strong point for the band, and if anything I’d say lead singer Francesco Cavilieri sounds even more comfortable with this sound than he did on either of their first two releases. He has a very deep voice with just a bit of a wild edge to it that fits in perfectly with folk music, and he’s equally effective at reining it in a bit for softer sections or going full out for epic, heavier sections. There’s still some epic choir vocals as on the previous album, though I find on this album gang vocals play a much bigger part, with most choruses and other big vocal sections having a ton of supporting vocals from the other band members, and there’s lots of fun chanting style vocals as well, which bring a lot of energy and fit in great with the folk elements. It really does feel like the band fully committed themselves to the sound they wanted on this album and did everything they could think of to pull it off perfectly.

The songwriting on Stonehymn is interesting, in that it’s a rare case of me not being at all bothered by a lack of variety in the tracks. Honestly, most songs here do follow a formula, where they tend to start out quietly, with soft sections where the folk elements dominate, then the orchestral elements and metal instruments kick in the and the music speeds up, which tends to happen at the start of almost every track here. No songs stay slow throughout, and there are also no songs that are really speedy every second of the song either. Usually, this kind of approach to songwriting would bug me, but there are a few reasons why it doesn’t in this case. The first and most obvious is that the folk elements are used so effectively, even if the songs themselves are all similar, there are so many interesting sounds here and so many epic melodies, I find myself enjoying every second of every track. Secondly, the band plays with so much energy, especially during the faster sections, that I simply can’t help but love it. And lastly, every song on its own is just so well written, with the right mix of catchy choruses, epic vocal sections, fun verses, great folk and symphonic sections, and just a ton of great surprises, that the lack of variety in songwriting ends up not hurting it at all. There’s also a lot going on in each track, as well as tons of tempo changes, with most tracks seamlessly going from slow to fast or mid paced to fast pretty much out of nowhere, and the band pulls this off extremely well, so the songs all flow perfectly.

Because of the approach to songwriting, it’s hard to do a full song by song breakdown, but I can say every track is fantastic and they all have plenty of memorable sections. There’s two brief instrumentals here, the intro track “Distant Battlefields” and “The Animist”. The latter is a nice folk interlude, while the former has a nice mix of orchestral and folk elements, with its main melody being very memorable and returning throughout the first full track “Dance of Fire”. In fact, one early highlight is during the first verse of “Dance of Fire”, where after a fun speedy intro, it slows down and brings back the main melody of the intro track, except here Franceso sings and it makes the music feel all the more epic, Then after that, the track speeds up and continues switching tempos throughout, with many epic vocal sections and a huge chorus.

Tracks like “Under the Stone” and “Fallen Timbers” use the folk elements to enhance the music throughout, with the former in particular having an epic use of gang vocals and folk elements leading into its chorus, while has nice folk melodies in its intro, but they mostly move along at a very fast pace throughout, with power metal elements being dominant, only occasionally slowing down a bit for some more progressive sections. Both tracks are awesome, fluidly mixing elements of folk and power metal, with the latter in particular having possibly the best chorus of the album and being probably my favorite track on the album. Other tracks like “To Erebor” and “The Eyes of the Mountain” use more extended slower sections, with the latter in particular probably being the most symphonic track on the album, using big choir vocals during its chorus and the orchestras have a much bigger presence on that track, though folk elements are still there at times. Meanwhile, “To Erebor” is probably the most folk-infused track on the album, with everything from its intro to the epic chanting vocals of its chorus and the tribal-like sounds used at various points, all giving the track a strong folk feeling. One point early on even reminds me of a certain Turisas track from their second album, though this doesn’t last very long, and gives way to the epic chorus.

On the softer side, “Returning Race” is the longest track on the album and also one of the more interesting tracks. It uses acoustic elements effectively early on, with the music giving the feeling of a sort of a tavern song during its early sections, and it effectively mixes these sections with speedier sections, with the tempo changing throughout and there’s quite a lot going on. It’s definitely a track that showcases how well Francesco’s vocal fit in on a more folk-infused album, as he sounds amazing during the softer sections here. Also on the softer side, lead single “The Wolves’ Call” starts off slow and the whole track makes very good use of extended calmer sections to build up to brief explosive moments, with the chorus, in particular, starting out very calm and then speeding up and becoming more and more epic as it goes along. The final run through the chorus is stunning and one of the highlights of the album.

Wind Rose surprised me big time in 2015, and they have done it once again in 2017! Where Wardens of the West Wind showed a promising band fully living up to their potential and then going much further to fully blow me away, Stonehymn is in some ways even more impressive, as it shows the band willing to move a bit away from what worked so well previously, and into something new, but manages to pull it off just as impressively. Fans looking for another symphonic power metal release may be disappointed, but as someone who always enjoy hearing power metal and folk mixed together and has been sad to see this mix of genres not being used too often in recent years, this release is just as pleasantly surprising for me as the band’s previous release, and stands as one of my top two albums for the first half of 2017. Fans of power metal and folk metal are highly recommended to give this album a listen, as it pulls the two styles off brilliantly and is one of the best releases I’ve heard from either genre in the last few years.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/05/14/wind-rose-stonehymn-review/

MINDMAZE Resolve

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
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One of the most promising bands in all of metal right now is American progressive power metal band Mindmaze, led by the brother/sister team of Jeff and Sarah Teets. The band made their debut in 2013 with Mask of Lies, a self-released album that blew me away, as well as being impressive enough that the band was quickly signed by Inner Wound Recordings around a year and a half later, in time for their follow-up release, Back From the Edge, an album that took everything that worked on the debut and changed things up just a bit so it could be a somehow even more impressive sophomore release. With such an impressive start to their career, it seems there’s no limit to their potential, and now with their recently released third full-length album, Resolve, the band has done it once again, kicking into a higher gear than ever before and producing easily their best album to date!

The music of Mindmaze has always consisted of three main elements, those being classic heavy metal riffs and melodies, often along the lines of classic Iron Maiden, energetic power metal riffs and speedy tempos, and complex arrangements that lend a progressive metal feel to their music. The band’s evolution has proven to be quite interesting and unique, in that they haven’t released the same album twice, but they also haven’t completely reinvented their sound on any of their albums either. Instead, it seems with each album they focus more on a different one of their main elements. More specifically, where Mask of Lies seemed to focus more on the heavy metal riffs and melodies, while having touches of power metal and prog, and Back From the Edge pushed the power metal elements to the front while keeping some prog arrangements and using the classic metal elements in bursts, Resolve feels like a full-fledged prog album, but with the energy of a power metal album and at times the feel of classic heavy metal.

In short, this is by far the band’s most ambitious and most complex work to date, featuring some very complicated arrangements on some of the tracks, as well as their best musicianship to date. In fact, some of the instrumental portions on this album are nothing short of stunning, as guitarist, keyboardist and main songwriter Jeff Teets has really gone into overdrive with his solo work, producing solos that are both incredibly impressive on a technical level and yet also very melodic and at times even giving off some emotion, which can be a tough thing to pull off. At the same time, he plays some very heavy, thick sounding riffs, and uses a more down tuned guitar tone than on previous albums, which gives the riffs a very powerful sound, particularly on tracks like “Abandon” and “Twisted Dream”. Obviously, guitars are his main focus, but he does some impressive work on keyboards at times as well, and uses the piano as a driving force behind some of the softer moments on the album, like the power ballad “One Final Moment”. The rest of the band does a great job as well, as bassist Rick Pasqualone is given a ton of space to work with, and even provides some great bass solos, most notably on “Sign of Life”, while new drummer Mark “Truk” Bennet does a great job and fits in nicely with the band. Resolve is the band’s first concept album, and this shows as it’s by far their most cohesive feeling album to date, with the tracks flowing together seamlessly, and there’s some very smooth transitions between tracks, as well as some great interlude tracks. Lastly, the production is again very raw sounding as on Back From the Edge, but this works great as it gives the guitars a very powerful sound, and everything still sounds clear and very well balanced.

As much as this album features some of the best musicianship I’ve heard on a metal album in recent years, vocals remain as important as ever, and once again Sarah Teets has done an amazing job. As on the first two albums, she never sounds showy, but instead, sings with a very natural sounding style that fits the music perfectly, and she does an equally great job on heavier and sections and calmer sections. There’s an increased focus on heavy sections on this album, which means she uses her powerful lower register quite often on verses and sounds as great as ever, while she gets to sing a bit higher on some of the choruses, and there’s also many sections where the lyrics allow her to put in a more emotional performance, and she does all these things equally well.

Perhaps the area where Resolve shines the most is in its songwriting. Mindmaze have shown impressive songwriting skills since their debut, but this time it feels like they’ve really stepped up their game to a new level, with an album that flows perfectly and has the focus of a concept album, while still managing to feature a wide variety of songs, all of which are equally enjoyable and well crafted. I think it says a lot, when brief interludes like “In This Void”, an atmospheric piece is mostly driven by pianos, and “Sanity’s Collapse”, a dark and heavy guitar driven piece, with some excellent solo work in the middle, can stand out just as much as the full-length tracks. The latter in particular is absolutely stunning, and yet it’s not even the best instrumental track on the album. That would be “Reverie”, the four minute opening track that starts off with a nice acoustic section, which is soon recreated on electric guitars, then a little bit later the track speeds up, and from there it turns into a very complex and progressive piece with several tempo changes and some great solo work, with some especially impressive power metal sections in the middle, that have a slightly darker feel to them than similar section on the band’s previous album, and the way track flows seamlessly from moment to moment is truly impressive. Honestly, while it’s only an intro track, it really is one of the best tracks I’ve heard on a metal album all year, and so it immediately sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the album.

After that incredible opening, the first song with vocals is “Fight the Future”, a speedy power metal track which kicks in with some energetic guitar work, before slowing down and getting pretty heavy during the verses, where Sarah makes her first appearance and instantly steals the show. From there, the track picks up the pace again, leading to an excellent chorus, and then, later on, we get some more impressive instrumental sections and some great solo work from Jeff. Next is the previously mentioned “In This Void”, a pretty nice interlude track, and then we get another more prog-driven track in “Drown Me”. This track opens up with a nice keyboard section, which carries over nicely from the previous track, before turning into a fairly heavy mid-paced prog track, with some powerful vocals during the verses and a memorable chorus, and then halfway through we get a nice softer section with some very emotional vocals from Sarah, which leads into a very impressive extended instrumental section that closes the track out. The first single from the album is “Sign of Life”, a track which uses mid-tempo verses with fairly simple guitar work, before speeding up for a very catchy and addictive chorus, but again it’s the instrumental section that really takes the track to next level, as both Rich and Jeff provide some excellent solos. Next, we have “Abandon”, one of the speedier tracks on the album, as well as one of the heaviest. It features some slightly thrashy guitar riffs during the verses, as well as some of the most powerful vocals from Sarah, especially during the chorus, while the solo section is again amazing and has a very classic heavy metal feel to it at one point, which is probably the highlight of the track. Moving into the second half of the album, the amazing interlude track “Sanity’s Collapse” gives way to “One Final Moment”, a piano-led power ballad which starts off very soft, before getting slightly heavier in the second half, and it features some very impressive vocals from Sarah, while the second half as always features an excellent guitar solo, and this is one of the sections in particular where I feel Jeff really managed to pour some emotion into his guitar work, which serves as a great lead-in to the next section, where Sarah gives a very powerful performance. Perhaps the heaviest, most guitar dominant track on the album is “Twisted Dream”, where the intro section very much feels like it comes from a particularly heavy Dream Theater track, and from there the track takes off and turns into a very aggressive sounding mid-paced track, which gives way to one of the most beautiful and melodic choruses on the album. One thing about Mindmaze that’s always been true, they can contrast between very heavy and very melodic sections extremely fluidly, never spending so much time on one or the other that it starts to drag, and this track is a perfect example of that. The instrumental section is, of course, stunning as always, and very heavy.

Starting off the final stretch, “True Reflection” is a fairly calm mid paced track, which has another nice chorus, though once again it’s the instrumental section that really stands out, as this time it starts off feeling like a classic prog instrumental section, before suddenly speeding up and bringing in some power metal elements, which is the kind of thing most prog bands would never do, and yet Mindmaze can pull it off brilliantly. The constant change of tempos on many tracks is a definite highlight, and the second half of this track does that extremely well. The end of the song transitions wonderfully into “Shattered Self”, a brief but very hard hitting speedier track, with some excellent guitar work and vocal sections once again. And of course, because that track is one of the heaviest on the album, it makes since they’d follow it up with “Release”, a vocal driven ballad, which represents the soft end of the album wonderfully. Sarah puts in very emotional and powerful performance, and of course, Jeff provides an excellent solo near the end. Lastly, we have “The Path to Perseverance”, an 11 and a half minute epic, which starts off with a nice guitar solo before speeding up for a wonderful instrumental section, until Sarah comes in the and music slows down for a while. As expected, it’s a very complex and progressive track which covers all the elements of the album wonderfully, with plenty of tempo changes, great riffs, and guitar solos, as well as some nice piano sections, and Sarah delivers some of her best vocals on the entire album. It’s an amazing track which shows off all elements of the album perfectly. And of course, the excellent acoustic piece that opens “Reverie” is used again for the ending, and it closes the album in the best way possible.

In a way, Mindmaze can be tough to review, because it’s like every time they put out a new album I’m blown away and feel like they couldn’t possibly do anything better, then when the next album comes around it ends up somehow proving me wrong. This has happened once again with Resolve, their most complex and progressive album to date, and one which has some absolutely stunning musicianship, to go along with the great power metal elements of their previous album, as well as some awesome vocals as always. Longtime fans of the band should be very happy with the album, and I’d highly recommend to all fans of prog and power metal who want to hear the very best those genres have to offer. This is one release I really don’t see them being able to top, but I can’t wait to hear them give it their best go.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/05/07/mindmaze-resolve-review/

Latest Forum Topic Posts

  • Posted 9 hours ago in Now -- what are you listening to? V2
  • Posted 16 hours ago in Now -- what are you listening to? V2
    [QUOTE=DippoMagoo][/QUOTE] Just finished reviewing it and I think it's a case where my review will probably make it seem like I enjoy it much less than I really do. The problem is, I felt the need to be hard on it because I know how much I love the band when they're firing on all cylinders, and this album simply doesn't reach that level outside of a couple tracks, so it'll look like I'm not really into the album, when I actually am, but the fact is the band can do and has done much better. DippoMagoo2017-06-22 15:00:37
  • Posted 18 hours ago in Now -- what are you listening to? V2

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