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2226 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
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
DARK MOOR - Ancestral Romance Power Metal
DAWN OF DESTINY - Praying to the World Power Metal
DREAMTALE - Epsilon Power Metal
MINDMAZE - Back from the Edge Power Metal
VANDROYA - One Power Metal
DALRIADA - Jégbontó Power Metal
DALRIADA - Kikelet Folk Metal

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Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 865 3.99
2 Progressive Metal 329 3.90
3 Symphonic Metal 221 3.91
4 Heavy Metal 160 3.53
5 Thrash Metal 93 3.63
6 Gothic Metal 92 3.91
7 Folk Metal 69 4.26
8 Melodic Death Metal 67 3.84
9 US Power Metal 37 3.78
10 Alternative Metal 34 3.38
11 Hard Rock 32 3.67
12 Non-Metal 29 3.48
13 Death Metal 18 4.00
14 Metal Related 16 4.06
15 Melodic Metalcore 15 3.27
16 Groove Metal 14 2.89
17 Symphonic Black Metal 13 4.38
18 Metalcore 11 3.82
19 Technical Death Metal 11 4.00
20 Technical Thrash Metal 10 4.45
21 Heavy Alternative Rock 9 4.67
22 Trance Metal 9 3.50
23 Industrial Metal 8 4.50
24 Atmospheric Black Metal 8 4.06
25 Speed Metal 8 3.94
26 Doom Metal 5 4.00
27 NWoBHM 5 4.50
28 Melodic Black Metal 5 4.00
29 Heavy Psych 4 3.75
30 Death-Doom Metal 4 3.88
31 Deathcore 4 3.38
32 Glam Metal 4 3.88
33 Nu Metal 4 3.75
34 Traditional Doom Metal 3 3.83
35 Avant-garde Metal 3 3.67
36 Black Metal 1 0.50
37 Brutal Death Metal 1 4.50
38 Crossover Thrash 1 3.00
39 Stoner Metal 1 4.00
40 Sludge Metal 1 4.00
41 Neoclassical metal 1 4.00
42 Viking Metal 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

DYNAZTY Firesign

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
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Sometimes a band will make an album that’s so game-changing, it can earn the band a ton of new fans who would have otherwise not been interested in their music. For me, one such album is Renatus, the fourth full-length album from Swedish melodic metal band Dynazty. The band had started out as a melodic hard rock band, which isn’t a genre I follow too much, but when Renatus came around I heard people talking about it being a change to a much more modernized power metal sound, mixed with some prog, which of course is right up my alley. I gave it a few listens, and the rest is history. The band immediately became one of my favorites, so much so that I went back to hear some of their previous releases and was surprisingly impressed by them, as well, with vocalist Nils Molin, in particular, proving to be equally amazing singing both power metal and hard rock. When their fifth release, Titanic Mass, came around, I was excited to see how the band would progress, and while that release wasn’t the revelation its predecessor was, it was instead a very fun album that kept the momentum going, simplifying their sound just a bit, while still keeping everything that had worked previously. More importantly, it proved the previous release wasn’t a fluke, and so it left me excited to hear any future releases from the band. The band is now set to release their sixth album, Firesign, later this month, and while at this point it feels like they’ve settled into following an established formula, they’re doing such a good job of it, I can’t help but enjoy every second of the new album, just like with the two previous releases.

The biggest difference between Renatus and Titanic Mass, was that the former felt a bit more complex, with one particular track being much longer and more advanced than anything else they’ve done in their career, while the latter felt more simplified, relying on super catchy choruses and pretty much following the same formula for every track, just with varied sounds and tempos. Firesign is somewhere in the middle, in that the songs are still very straight-forward and extremely catchy, but there are a couple of longer ones, and there are times where the band gets more epic than they’ve ever been before, with an increased use of symphonic elements. At the same time, this is very much a formulaic album in the same way its predecessor was, with the verses being simple and fun and the choruses having huge vocal melodies, with the last run through always being especially epic, giving Nils a chance to steal the show right at the end. Every song on the album does this to great effect, just like on the last album, and while on the one hand, I can see it getting a bit repetitive, the band does it so well, I really can’t help but enjoy it every time. One slight difference I’ve noticed going from album to album is that the previous two were a bit heavier than this one, with the guitars having a more dominant presence, especially on Renatus. There’s still some good riffs and nice melodic solos here, but none of the tracks are quite as rocking as the likes of “Starlight”, or “Divine Comedy”. Instead, there’s an increased use of keyboards, with the light trance elements of Renatus feeling much more prominent on this album, especially on the title track, which almost feels like it could have come from Amaranthe, who of course now have Nils Molin in their ranks. One last change I notice is while Titanic Mass, in particular, leaned heavily towards faster-paced tracks, Firesign goes completely the other way, with the majority of the tracks being more mid-paced. This combined with the reduced guitar work makes for a very relaxing, very melodic kind of metal album, where the melodies truly shine, and so anyone looking for a hard-hitting kind of power metal may be disappointed. Personally, I took some time to adjust to this album, but once I did, I found myself loving it about as much as its predecessor, and almost as much as Renatus. Obviously, the performances are amazing across the board, and the production is quite good, as expected.

The best thing about Dynazty through the years has always been vocalist Nils Molin. Whether he’s singing an aggressive, modern power metal track or a softer melodic hard rock track, his voice is absolutely amazing, striking a perfect balance between being intense and powerful, and soft and melodic. He sings very smoothly when needed, and can deliver a chorus as well as anyone, but at the same time, when the intensity picks up, he absolutely kills it with some extremely powerful vocals, and he puts an incredible amount of emotion into his performances, especially in the later parts of tracks, where he gets to go all out. All of this is as true as ever on Firesign, and he once again delivers an incredible performance, that helps make some already great songs even better. He may very well be my favorite singer in all of metal, right now. He’s certainly high up there.

Another area where the band tends to excel is in the songwriting. I was initially a bit disappointed by Firesign, as the band seemed to be losing a bit of their intensity, but over time the album has grown on me a lot, as I’ve realized it still hits hard in place, but it’s definitely more focused on being an extremely, fun catchy and melodic metal album. It’s almost relaxing, in a weird sort of way. The album gets off to a strong start, with lead single “Breathe With Me”, an energetic, up-tempo track which does a great job of indicating what to expect from the album on the whole. It has the speed of the previous album, as well as some good riffs, though it instantly shows a greater focus on keyboards and symphonic elements, which are especially prominent during the chorus, while Nils shines as always, getting particularly intense during the final run of the chorus. It’s not quite as intense as some of the faster songs on the two previous songs, but it’s definitely just as catchy and even more epic, so it makes for a great start to the album.

Next is one of the tracks that took some time to warm up to me, that being “The Grey”, the second single from the album. It’s a slower paced track, and is very heavily reliant on keyboards, especially during the verses. It’s a very melodic track, with some rather unique vocal lines during the verses, before opening up for the unsurprisingly epic chorus. There’s some nice guitar work hidden in there, especially during the guitar solo in the second half, but it’s definitely a softer track overall, and a great indicator of what the overall album sounds like. The pace picks up again with “In the Arms of a Devil”, one of my personal favorites. It’s a hard-hitting, super fast track, which still shows off some flashy keyboards in spots, while overall being one of the heavier and more explosive tracks on the album, with fun verses and a very powerful chorus, especially the last time through, where Nils delivers some of his best vocals I’ve ever heard. It’s a super addictive track overall, and one of my personal favorites from the band.

Once again, the pace drops off immediately afterward, and this time it doesn’t really pick up again for a while. Next is “My Darkest Hour”, a very slow paced and heavily keyboard driven track, with some nice beats to it. I initially wasn’t too thrilled with it, but the vocal melodies eventually won me over, and Nils is amazing as always, while the guitar solo is also very nice. The first longer track is next in the form of “Ascension”, a track I already liked on first listen, though it has grown on me quite a bit over time, as well. It’s faster than the previous track, moving at a nice gallop, without fully speeding up, and it is perhaps the most epic track on the album, with the symphonic elements being especially noticeable throughout, and it has one of the strongest choruses on the album, which of course only gets even better at the end. It’s a fairly straightforward track but has some complex symphonic arrangements, as well as an excellent solo in the middle. It manages to be one of the heavier tracks here, while still showcasing the more melodic and epic and slightly calmer sound the band has gone for on this album. Next is a track which took several listens to impress me, which is the title track. It opens up with some very bouncy keyboards, and it’s definitely a more playful, very accessible track where the keyboards are extremely dominant. It’s by far the most trance infused track here, and has a chorus and vocal melodies that would not feel out of place on an Amaranthe album at all. I initially thought it seemed out of place here, but over time the stupidly catchy chorus and fun keyboard leads have grown on me, and I now find it to be extremely fun and addictive.

There aren’t a ton of surprises in the back half of the album, though everything is excellent. One of my favorites is next in “Closing Doors”, a speedier track, which still stays fairly calm and melodic through, aside from an intense and powerful chorus, which stands out as the highlight of the song, along with the excellent guitar solo. The next three songs are all more mid-paced, with “Follow Me” being particularly heavy and having some great leads, as well as a fun and upbeat chorus, “Let Me Dream Forever” is one of the most melodic tracks on the album, with an extremely strong chorus, and “Starfall” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, having some very chunky guitar work in quick bursts, while having a nice melodic chorus and overall striking a nice balance between the band’s two extremes of super heavy and super melodic. I initially wasn’t impressed by the last of these, especially the very chunky instrumental section later on, but it has grown on me a lot over time. Closing out the album is “The Light Inside the Tunnel”, one track which certainly did not need to grow on me much. It opens up with some beautiful keyboards and symphonic elements, before settling into a nice groove. It strikes a nice balance between some heavy guitar work and very melodic keyboards while moving at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It has one of the most addictive choruses on the album and is certainly one of the most epic, as well as the longest by a couple of seconds. It was one of my favorites right away, and it’s certainly an excellent way to close out the album.

Overall, Firesign is another excellent album from Dynazty, which once again continues with the sound they began back in 2014 with their breakthrough release, Renatus. The pace is a bit slower than I expected, and many of the tracks don’t hit quite as hard as I expected, but it’s yet another very fun and catchy album, full of huge vocal melodies, excellent keyboards and one of the best vocal performances of the year, as expected from Nils Molin. Fans of the previous two releases are sure to enjoy this as well, while any fan of modern melodic metal or power metal is highly recommended to give this and its two predecessors a listen, as Dynazty has become one of the best in the game over the past half decade.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/08/dynazty-firesign-review/

GRAVE DIGGER The Living Dead

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
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Few bands can claim to be either as prolific or as consistent as German heavy/power metal band Grave Digger. They’re up there with Rage as two of the most active and consistently great power metal bands, over an extremely long career. Celebrating their 38th anniversary earlier this year, Grave Digger has released 18 albums to date, managing to fit in at least once every two years since 1993’s The Reaper. They technically missed one in between 2014 and 2017 but did release a re-recordings compilation at that time, so one can hardly accuse the band of slacking off. Less than two years after the release of Healed By Metal, the band is back with their nineteenth full-length release, The Living Dead, set for release this week. Their past few releases have been very strong, with the band seemingly turning back the clock to produce music every bit on par with some of their best work in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so I was excited to hear what this new release would bring, and it’s safe to say: Grave Digger isn’t just surviving, they’re thriving, in a big way!

The band has developed their own signature sound over the past 38 years, playing one of the heaviest, most hard-hitting brands of power metal out there, with all their albums having some excellent guitar work and the ever rough and powerful vocals of Chris Boltendahl. Their past few releases, in particular, felt very similar to some of their classics from the 90’s, bringing back a lot of the raw intensity of those releases while adding in a bit more melody to make it just a bit more accessible and more modern sounding. All of this continues with The Living Dead, which once again contains a seamless blend between the band’s speedy power metal and slower heavy metal tracks, striking a perfect balance between the two, while also balancing nicely between heavy and melodic passages. I found Healed by Metal, in particular, had some huge choruses, and it generally felt like the band was making an effort to make their music just a bit more melodic, without sacrificing any of the riffs, and if anything The Living Dead has gone even further in that direction, featuring some of their biggest, most epic choruses ever, while still being as heavy and intense and fans of the band would expect. There’s certainly a ton of tracks here that will instantly remind fans of the band’s classic works while being just a bit more epic and catchy than usual. There are a few passages throughout the album that feel particularly fresh, and then there’s one specific track at the end that really takes things to a whole new level when it comes to surprising listeners, and I’ll get to that one in a while. Suffice to say, it surprised me in a great way. Performances are obviously strong across the board, and though longtime drummer Stefan Arnold parted ways with the band before the release of the album, he delivered one last great performance before doing so.

Obviously, one element of Grave Digger that will never change, because it just wouldn’t be Grave Digger without it at this point, is the voice of Chris Boltendahl. He has a very raw, raspy voice that sounds rather unique within power metal, and he brings a level of aggression and intensity not often found within the genre, yet he manages to make it work equally well on the faster, more power metal focused tracks, as well as the slower, more heavy metal tracks. His voice sounds as strong as ever on Fear of the Living Dead, and he does an amazing job on some of the bigger choruses, proving he still has what it takes to carry a band as well as anyone in the genre.

For a band that’s been around so long, you’d expect Grave Digger to struggle with songwriting at least a little bit, and yet that really isn’t the case. They had a bit of a rough stretch from 2005-2009 with a couple of slightly weaker albums, but they returned to form nicely in 2010 with The Clans Will Rise Again, and have been on another great run ever since. The streak continues with The Living Dead, which is consistently excellent from top to bottom, while still having a few particularly strong tracks that rank among my favorites by the band. First up is one such highlight, that being the title track. The track opens with a baby’s lullaby gone wrong before the riffs kick in and it turns into the kind of hard-hitting, speedy opener the band excels at. It slows down during the verses but still keeps the energy up with some great riffs, before speeding up again, for a huge, extremely epic chorus, which certainly stands among the band’s best in that department in quite some time. It manages to be equal parts, intense, epic, melodic and super catchy, and definitely gets the album off to an amazing start.

Next is “Blade of the Immortal”, a slower but equally hard-hitting track, with some very punishing riffs right off the bat, as well as another super epic and fun chorus, and an excellent instrumental section which has some rather unique melodies coming from Grave Digger. Overall, it’s an excellent track which blends classic Grave Digger with some fresh sounds in a great way. After that, the pace picks up again with “When Death Passes By”, another heavy track which stays pretty fast-paced throughout, delivering another fast and super fun chorus, as well as some excellent lead riffs and very fun verses. It’s certainly one of the more classic feeling songs on the album, in a great way. Some surprises come on “Shadow of the Warrior”, an epic track which starts out with a soft acoustic section, featuring some surprisingly calm vocals from Chris, before the riffs kick in and it starts moving at a nice pace, without going full speed. It has another very melodic, super catchy chorus, which ranks as one of the best on the album, and it has some more rather unique and awesome melodies during its solo section. Another excellent track.

There’s a couple tracks here will silly lyrics, as expected. The first of these is “The Power of Metal”, a fairly fast and hard-hitting track, which again mixes classic Grave Digger riffs with a big chorus. The lyrics get in the way slightly during the verses but are funnier than anything, and the chorus is amazing, so it’s still a great track overall. The other track with kinda silly lyrics is “Fist in Your Face”, which stays silly throughout, but thankfully it’s an excellent track musically, with some extremely powerful riffs and is an example of the band playing slow paced but energetic classic heavy metal at its best. In between those two are two more excellent tracks in “Hymn of the Damned”, another very classic sounding speedy power metal track with raw sounding riffs and a huge, epic chorus, and “What War Left Behind”, a very thrashy power metal track, which may be the most classic sounding track on the whole album It’s certainly very raw fast and energetic, in an awesome way.

Moving to the final stretch of the album, “Insane Pain” is another very raw and heavy track, which stays fairly fast during the verses, but slows down for a fun chorus. It’s not one of my favorite tracks here, but it’s still excellent and has some great riffs. There’s a very good bonus track called “Glory or Grave”, which is very speedy, hard-hitting and has an extremely epic and catchy chorus, so it definitely fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. One song that doesn’t quite fit in, but is a pleasant surprise, is the closing track “Zombie Dance”, released as the second single, after the title track. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat heavy metal track with some heavy riffs during the verses, and a stupidly catchy chorus, but what really makes it stand out is the fact that the band called in Austrian Russkaja to provide some folk influences to the music, delivering some epic chants as well as some backing music that strikes a balance between folk and polka, giving the song its aforementioned “Dance”, which also factors into the lyrics during the chorus. It gets even weirder during the middle section, and overall it’s a very bizarre experiment, which somehow works out perfectly and is probably the most unique and surprising thing the band has done in at least 15 years.

Overall, The Living Dead is an amazing album from heavy/power metal veterans Grave Digger, which continues a big resurgence they started eight years ago, and if anything, takes things even further, thanks to a delightful mix of the kind of classic, hard-hitting power metal and heavy metal the band excels at with some of the more melodic tendencies the band has picked up on more recent albums, as well as one hell of an epic surprise in the closing track. Obviously, it’s a must buy for any existing fans of the band and in case there’s anyone looking for an aggressive mix heavy/power metal who hasn’t heard of Grave Digger yet, this would certainly be a great album to start with.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/22/grave-digger-the-living-dead-review/


Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
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It can be interesting to see what happens when members of big-name bands are given a chance to spread out and try something else for a while, either because the band is on hiatus or taking an extended break between albums. One recent example of this is German melodic metal band The Unity, formed in 2016, with Gamma Ray leader Kai Hansen busy reuniting with his former band Helloween, allowing for relatively new drummer Michael Ehré and longtime guitarist Henjo Richter to join a new band. The rest of the lineup features four members from the long-defunct hard rock/melodic metal band Love.Might.Kill, who was a pretty solid band in their own right. With such a strong pedigree, The Unity showed promise right out of the gate, and their self-titled debut impressed many when it released in 2017. Personally, I missed out on it at the time, but I have since checked out some songs from it and found it to be quite enjoyable, so I was interested to see if the band could keep the momentum going for the follow-up. Well, almost a year and a half later, their sophomore effort, Rise, is set for release, and it is another killer, containing 12 excellent songs, which offer up a ton of variety, while each being consistently entertaining in their own way.

The first thing that has to be addressed, for new listeners, is the musical direction on Rise. Anyone expecting a pure, classic power metal sound in the style of Gamma Ray is probably better off looking elsewhere, as while that does show up in bursts, it’s certainly not the main focus on this release, or for the band in general. In fact, for the most part, the music here can be described as a logical follow up to what Love.Might.Kill had been doing on their two full-length albums, and many of the songs on this album sound more comparable to modern hard rock like the past few Kissin’ Dynamite releases, than to any kind of power metal. Everything is executed wonderfully, though, with some hard hitting, classic sounding guitar riffs, mixed with some more modernized keyboard melodies and some strong vocal melodies. There’s definitely a classic feel to the guitar sound at times, but many of the tracks have a more modern hard rock/melodic metal vibe to them, with a few even being rather radio-friendly, while others hit a bit harder, without losing the melodies or catchy choruses. This is a very vocal driven album overall, though every musician in the band has given a great performance, as expected, with both guitarists keyboardist Sascha Onnen, in particular, being given plenty of chances to shine. Songwriting is quite varied, with a couple of speedy tracks that come close to power metal, while having some slight modern hard rock twists to them, some tracks that almost come close to radio rock territory, one ballad, and a bunch of nicely paced, heavy but suitably catchy and relaxing melodic metal numbers. It’s the latter that dominates the album, and the band excels at them, for sure.

It had been a while since I had last heard anything by Love.Might.Kill, and I didn’t check the full lineup before playing the album for the first time, so initially, I felt vocalist Gianbattista Manenti would be a perfect fit for a melodic rock band, so when I looked up the full band info and discovered his identity, I wasn’t surprised in the least. He has a very smooth voice, which excels during the melodic portions, but he can also sing with a ton of grit and power, with a very deep voice that works perfectly for a hard rock or heavy metal sound. He especially excels during the slower tracks, though he still sounds great on the few power metal portions as well, and simply does a great job throughout the album, being one of the band’s biggest assets.

One of the biggest strengths of Rise is in its songwriting, as it manages to be varied enough to constantly keep the listener guessing as to what will come next, as well as being consistently entertaining throughout, no matter what style the band is playing at the time. Following a brief intro track, the album kicks off with “Betrayal”, an up-tempo, high energy track that combines the speed and vocal melodies of a power metal track, with some decidedly classic hard rock sounding guitar riffs, which makes for a nice combination. It’s a fast-paced, very fun track with energetic verses and a huge, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Gianbattista gets to shine. It gets the album off to an excellent start and is a great track on its own. Next is “You Got Me Wrong”, a slightly upbeat, though more restrained track, which has more of those classic hard rock riffs, while being more melodic overall. It moves at a nice pace, without really speeding up, and definitely falls into more of a typical melodic metal sound, with another excellent chorus. Perhaps the most accessible track on the album is next, that being the second single “The Storm”. It’s a slower, very relaxed track, driven largely by keyboards and vocals. It’s a very melodic track, with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies throughout. There’s a slight hard rock edge to it, but it’s definitely a very accessible track, which I could easily imagine being played on the radio.

The longest track on the album is “Road to Nowhere”, which has a pretty cool voiceover intro, before the band kicks in and it turns into a hard-hitting, mid-paced melodic metal track, which moves at a nice tempo, without quite going full throttle. The riffs hit harder than on most tracks here, and it’s definitely a darker feeling track compared to most, while still having an excellent chorus. It’s definitely one of the tracks where the two guitarists get a chance to shine and are one of my favorites on the album. Next is the fast-paced, rather playful track “Welcome Home”, which has a slight power metal feel to it, while also still having some hard rock in its guitars sound. It’s another fairly accessible and fun track, with fun verses, a great chorus, and a sense of disrespecting the listeners’ intelligence, in a sort of tongue and cheek way, having to remind them when the second verse is about to come in. Aside from that oddity, the track is actually great overall, and of my favorites on the album. As expected, after a couple heavier tracks the pace slows down once again, with the very melodic, slow paced “All That is Real”, a largely keyboard-driven track, with a great guitar solo in the second half, though overall it’s another very accessible and radio-friendly track.

Moving towards the end, lead single “No Hero” is a hard-hitting, classic heavy metal track, with some slight modern touches. It moves a nice pace, features some very heavy riffs and a fun, catchy chorus, and is definitely one of the most instantly engaging, classic metal feeling tracks on this album, sure to please fans looking for something a bit heavier compared to most of the album. Following that, the band once again changes direction completely, offering up the lone ballad of the album, “The Willow Tree”. It’s a fairly simple track, with soft guitar work accompanying the vocals most of the way through, though it has an excellent solo in the middle, and overall it’s a very nice track which serves as a great showcase for Gianbattista, with the chorus, in particular, being amazing. Next is “Above Everything”, which is another nice mid-paced melodic metal track, with some great keyboards and a great chorus, and then comes the last speedy track of the album, “Children of the Light”, a very heavy guitar driven track, which is the closest the album comes to sounding like classic power metal, especially during the chorus. The band brings a harder rock infused sound back for “Better Days”, an upbeat track which moves at a decent pace, and it has a lot of energy to it, with some very smooth and fun verses, and one of the best choruses on the album, helping to make it one of my favorites. Lastly, we have the closing track “L.I.F.E.”, a slow-paced melodic metal track, with some excellent vocals, especially during the chorus. It’s a fairly soft and melodic track, relying heavily on the vocals, and Gianbattista delivers a great performance as always, helping to end the album on a high note.

Overall, Rise is an excellent sophomore release, which proves The Unity is here to stay, and that they’re capable of standing on their own and releasing some excellent music. In fact, while I enjoy classic Gamma Ray as much as anyone, I’d go as far as to say I enjoy this more than anything that band has done is well over a decade, maybe even going as far back as 1999’s Powerplant, as I find the songwriting here to be far more consistent and engaging, and the performances are just as strong all around. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some nice hard rock infused power metal, some mid-paced heavy metal crunchers, some slow paced melodic metal, a ballad and one track which I’d describe as classic power metal. Fans of melodic metal and hard rock with a slight power metal touches are sure to enjoy this, and overall I find it to be a very pleasant surprise. With Kai Hansen seemingly busy for a while yet, I hope The Unity can continue to produce more great albums in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/23/the-unity-rise-review/

MICHAEL ROMEO War of the Worlds / Pt. 1

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
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Whenever I listen to a metal album, the one instrument I tend to pay the most attention to is the guitar, as I’ll always love a good, crunchy riff, a killer solo or some awesome melodic leads whenever I hear them. One of my favorite guitarists of all time is Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo, who has established his own signature sound over the past two and a half decades, and while his style has certainly evolved quite a bit over time, becoming a bit meaner and crunchier and a bit less neoclassical, whenever I hear anything with him performing on it, I can notice his distinct sound immediately. So obviously, I was beyond excited when I heard he was working on a new solo album, with his main band being on a bit of a break at the moment. He did previously make a solo record titled The Dark Chapter, back in 1995, but that was right at the start of his days with SX, and so his sound has changed a lot since then, making a new solo album all the more appealing. He has brought together a talented supporting band to create his new release, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1, an amazing release which promises more to come, based on that title.

Anyone who’s heard a Symphony X album before should have a good idea of what to expect here, as Michael hasn’t strayed too far from his normal style here, offering up the kind of aggressive, epic and at times melodic and relaxing progressive metal his band has become known for. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some crunchier, fast-paced tracks with power metal influences, which could have easily come from any of the past few SX albums, while other tracks in the second half of the album are a bit softer, some of them being more complex and having more layers to them, as expected. There’s a couple of tracks in particular that probably comes the closest to Michael’s classic sound than anything else he has done in recent years, which is pretty awesome. At the same time, there’s definitely some new elements here as well, with the album being surprisingly a bit more symphonic than anything he’s done in the past, even getting a bit cinematic at times. There are quite a few softer instrumental portions that have very little to do with metal, instead of being dominated by keyboards, orchestral sounds, and even some electronic effects, so those sections offer up a nice change of pace from the usual material. While Michael is clearly the star here, the other two musicians do a great job as well, with the drums especially sounding excellent, and everything is performed flawlessly, and of course, the production is perfect. Songwriting is quite varied and offers up a nice mix of more straight-forward material with strong vocal melodies, as well as some more complex tracks and a few tracks that are mostly instrumental, including two full instrumentals (one of which is the expected intro track, of course.)

Perhaps the most surprising and impressive thing about this release, though, is the vocals. It’s not like the vocals here are anything radically different from what fans would expect with this sound or anything. In fact, vocalist Rick Castellano manages to channel all aspects of Russell Allen’s vocal style so well, it almost feels like Michael specifically told him to listen exclusively to SX for several hours, focusing mostly on the vocals, so he could perform the vocal melodies on this album exactly how Russell would have. I’m not sure if that actually happened, but either way, Rick certainly pulls it off perfectly, with everything from the gruff, aggressive vocals on heavier sections, to the softer, more emotional vocals during more melodic portions, as well as even the huge backing vocals towards the end of tracks, all being performed to perfection, and certainly sounding familiar but in an amazing way. If I hadn’t been told this was a solo album, I probably would have mistaken it for a new album from Mike’s main band, that’s how similar the vocals sound at times, which is highly impressive, considering Russell Allen is one of my all-time favorite singers.

Of course, the quality of the performances wouldn’t matter a whole lot if the actual songs were no good, but thankfully that isn’t the case here, not in the least. Michael has produced an excellent batch of songs here, which flow together perfectly and certainly feel like they belong together, as expected from the first part of a multi-part concept album. The intro track is pretty impressive, opening up with epic orchestral pieces that certainly have a very cinematic feel to them before the full band kicks in and unleashes a couple minutes of epic instrumental metal. After that, the first full track comes in the form of “Fear the Unknown”, the shortest but also the most explosive of the full-length tracks on this album. It comes firing out of the gates with some epic shredding from Michael before Rick quickly steals the show with some excellent soaring vocals, which carry over into the chorus. There are some excellent riffs and shredding throughout the track, and it’s a very fast-paced, energetic track with a perfect mix of heaviness and great melodies, as well as an excellent instrumental section, as expected. Next is “Black”, the first single of the album, which starts off slowly with some heavy guitars and epic orchestral elements in the background, before the guitars take over after a bit and the music speeds up, becoming another hard-hitting and speedy track. This track is a bit more complex than the opener, mixing in some slower sections to go along with the frantic verses, as well as having some excellent rhythm guitar work at points, but it’s still a pretty speedy track with an excellent chorus, while having several sections where Michael gets to steal the show with some awesome guitar work, as expected. It’s probably the most aggressive track on the album, as well as my personal favorite.

The first surprise of the album comes in the form of “Fucking Robots”, a hilariously named track, which isn’t at all what I would have expected based on its name. Instead of being overly heavy or filled with profanity, it’s actually a fairly light, largely instrumental track with a very cinematic feel to it, as well as having some futuristic sounding keyboard effects and quite a bit of electronic elements. There’s a couple of very melodic vocal sections in the middle, but for the most part, it’s largely instrumental track which doesn’t feel particularly metal, though it’s definitely nicely done and serves as an interesting change of pace. Next is “Djinn”, the most complex and most progressive track on the album. It starts out pretty heavy, with some aggressive riffs, and it stays rather mid-tempo for a bit, before opening up with some huge vocal melodies, and then shifting gears with an extended instrumental section in the middle, which alternates nicely between soft and heavy sections. The track goes through different moods throughout and certainly brings to mind some classics from around the middle period of SX’s career. Speaking of which, “Believe” is a very classic SX feeling track, except with a slightly more cinematic feel to it than normal. It opens up with some nice piano work, which stays there throughout the track, and it’s easily the softest and more emotional track on the album, with some very powerful vocals from Rick. It stays mostly soft throughout, without feeling like a full ballad, instead of being a relaxing track with just a slight metal edge to it, while being very vocal driven, with the guitars mostly playing a secondary role, aside from an epic solo towards the end. Basically, the track reminds me a lot of the two “Accolade” tracks, which have always been among my favorites, and this one is definitely worthy of being mentioned alongside those masterpieces.

The heaviness picks up again with “Differences”, a slightly speedy track with some pretty heavy riffs, which alternates between speedy, energetic verses, and a softer but very powerful chorus where Rick really shines, once again. Next is the full instrumental track “War Machine”, which has some epic guitar work early on, though it’s mostly a very symphonic track, where the orchestral elements dominate and it again has a very cinematic, almost film score like feel to it, particularly reminding of Star Wars at a couple points, except with some heavy guitars added in to make it feel even more epic. The last heavy track is “Oblivion”, a slow but hard-hitting track which feels along the lines of “The Serpent’s Kiss”, with a dark atmosphere as well as some very crunchy riffs and aggressive vocals, mixed in with an excellent chorus, and of course an excellent solo section in the second half. The speedy part in the middle is my favorite moment, but the entire track is excellent. Closing out the album is “Constellations”, a soft and largely instrumental track, which brings back some melodies from the intro, and while Rick doesn’t sing a lot on this track, when he does he sounds incredible and gives perhaps his best performance on the entire album. It’s a very epic and beautiful track, which closes out the album on a definite high note.

Overall, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 is an excellent solo album from Michael Romeo, which delivers plenty of great riffs and plenty of great moments that will remind listeners of his main band, while times stretching out a bit and going for a more cinematic sound than expected. While Michael is clearly the star, the album also represents a major breakthrough for Rick Castellano, who really excels throughout, and I’d certainly love to hear more from him in the future. The album is obviously recommended for all fans of Symphony X, as well as for anyone looking for some aggressive and fun prog, with some nice melodies to go along with the expected huge instrumental sections. I certainly look forward to hearing Pt. 2, whenever it comes, and hope for it to be on par with this one.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/20/michael-romeo-war-of-the-worlds-pt-1-review/

REDEMPTION Long Night's Journey Into Day

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
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Sometimes, I’ll be excited for a new album not because of the name of the band releasing it, but because of something particular about the album itself. Either an interesting concept, a guest appearance or the inclusion of someone I’m a fan of, or it could just be that a hear an early single and it gets me excited. In the case of Long Night’s Journey Into Night, the seventh full length release from American prog band Redemption, I was excited as soon as I heard it would be the band’s first release with new lead singer Tom S. Englund, the mastermind behind Evergrey, one of my all-time favorite bands in the genre. I previously heard the band’s previous two releases, In This Mortal Coil and The Art of Loss, and while I found them both enjoyable, neither of them really blew me away initially nor stuck with me much over time. I was hoping the addition of Tom would help the band to finally realize their potential and produce an album that would hook me, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened, as Long Night’s Journey Into Day isn’t just by far my favorite Redemption album I’ve heard: It’s one of my favorite prog albums of the last few years!

Redemption has always been on the heavier side of the genre, with In This Mortal Coil in particular feeling like a very raw sounding prog album, so it’s no surprise there are some hard-hitting riffs on this new release. Alongside being notably heavy, the band is also known for having some outstanding musicianship, with guitarist Nik van Dyk in particularly being very technically proficient, and of course the keyboards and drums are excellent as well, with the former in particular being very prominent in this album, and adding some extra flavor to the music. Their music is known to be equal parts complex, emotional, introspective and accessible, and all of those definitely apply to Long Night’s Journey Into Day. Obviously, considering who the new singer is, it’s no surprise to know this album deals with some fairly dark lyrical themes at times, and the music itself is very atmospheric as well, with the guitar tone at times coming fairly close to Evergrey, but one of the biggest differences between the two bands is actually something both the name of the band and album would suggest. Where the former is very dark, with any hints of light being very short lived and outweighed by darkness, Redemption do heave their dark themes, but they often offer up some hope and optimism as well, and tracks like “Indulge in Color” and the title track of this album are a perfect example of that, with the mood changing subtly throughout the tracks, in a very effective way. While the tracks are often fairly lengthy, the majority of the tracks here are fairly direct and simple, with a few big instrumental moments to give them an extra edge. Obviously, the title track is much more complex, but it too has plenty of memorable melodies and hooks to grab onto, while at the same offering up plenty of details to look for on subsequent listens. Production is absolutely perfect as expected from Jacob Hansen, and this is definitely the most polished sounding Redemption album to date.

The one element of this album I was most excited for, was, of course, the vocals. While I enjoyed the two previous albums I’ve heard from the band, I found that Ray Alder’s vocals didn’t quite have the same spark there as they usually do with Fate’s Warning, and that was one of the reasons I was hopeful the change in singer would help me appreciate this band more. While I was initially concerned after hearing the lead single “Little Men”, as soon as I heard the full release I knew without a doubt Tom was given plenty of room to work with, and he excels just as much here as he does with Evergrey. He’s especially great at singing with emotion, and so the tracks where he has to alternate from themes of fear and doubt to themes of hope and optimism are where he especially shines, and he sings with as much power and emotion as ever. There are times where his voice gets a bit deeper than usual, and while it took some time for me to used to, these deeper vocals also sound quite good and definitely fit the rougher sound found on some of the heavier sections of this album.

One area where I was especially interested to see if the band would deliver was in the songwriting, as I found their previous two albums to consistently enjoyable, but they lacked anything truly memorable. Thankfully, that is not the case here, as there’s a nice mix between heavier, more instantly engaging tracks, as well as some more complex tracks and some subtler, more emotional tracks that take some time to open up. Everything is very well done, though, and the album, on the whole, is excellent. Opening track “Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams” pulls a nice trick at the beginning, starting with some electronic effects that give the feeling it will be a rather slow and melodic track, but then the guitars quickly kick in and the music speeds up, turning into a fast, hard-hitting track with some power metal elements. It has fun verses, where Tom really excels, as well as a great melodic chorus, and the riffs and drums are energetic throughout, making it easily the most immediately engaging track I’ve ever heard from the band. At the same time, it has some really nice melodies mixed in as well, and it does still have signs of the band’s prog tendencies. It’s an excellent opening track, and one of my personal favorites on the album.

Next is: Someone Else’s Problem”, which again kicks off with an extended electronic intro, before the guitars kick in, though this track is a bit more relaxed. It still has some heavy riffs, but the keyboards are a bit more prominent here and there are some slight symphonic elements as well. It’s a more laid back track, moving at a mid-paced tempo, and it has a soft and very strong chorus as well as an excellent instrumental section in the second half. In similar territory is “The Echo Chamber”, which has an extended intro once again, though this time the guitars are out right at the start, and the track settles into a nice groove, moving at a slightly slower pace than the previous track. Again, it has a really big and melodic chorus, where Tom sings with a ton of emotion, and this is definitely one of the tracks where he shines the most. The track overall does a great job of alternating between heavy and melodic sections and is complex while still begin engaging and fairly accessible. Next is the heavier track “Impermanent”, a faster pace track where the guitar tone is especially dark and reminds me quite a bit of Evergrey at times, and while the verses are fast and fun, the chorus also feels familiar, in a good way, and Tom clearly excels again throughout the track. The instrumental section is quite intense, frequently shifting between guitars and keyboards, and overall it’s a fun and very engaging track, while still having excellent musicianship throughout.

The first two singles of the album are next and placed together, with the second single “Indulge in Color” coming first. This track absolutely blew me away the first time I heard it and is certainly one of the most complex and most beautiful songs on the album. It starts out softly, with some rather ominous sounding acoustic guitars and the soft voice of Tom, but after a while, it gets heavy, and turns into one of the most complicated tracks on the album, with a lot of layers to it as well as plenty of shifts in mood. Tom executes these shifts brilliantly, with the first half of the track being fairly dark, but by the end of the track the tone has become much more hopeful, and Tom sings the lyrics absolutely perfectly, helping to make it one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve heard from a prog band. Everything is perfect, from the vocals to the shifts in guitar tone and keyboard sound throughout, and once the music gets more upbeat later on, it just sounds incredible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Little Men” is a much darker, heavier track throughout, moving at a fairly fast paced. It’s a very impressive track musically and is very hard hitting, but I find Tom’s vocals don’t quite work as well as usual here, in large part because the vocal melodies feel a little bit lazy compared to on the rest of the album, but it’s still a fun track overall, if not one that sets a very favorable first impression for people who listen to the singles first.

Moving towards the end, the lone ballad of the album is “And Yet”, another track which shifts between moods very nicely, and it has some more very powerful vocals from Tom, as well as a nice guitar solo in the second half. It’s a more subtle track but still manages to hit quite hard in its own way. Next is “The Last of Me”, another faster-paced track with heavy riffs, a great chorus and excellent instrumental work throughout. It’s another fun and more instantly engaging track, which alternates nicely between being heavy and melodic. The next track, “New Year’s Day” is a bit more surprising, being a fairly light track with a strong emphasis on the keyboards. It almost feels like a pop/rock track at times, aside from the riffs and dark guitar tone. It’s certainly a more melodic track and one of the more accessible songs here, with a great chorus, as usual. Lastly, we have the epic 10-minute title track, which is definitely not one of the more accessible tracks here. It starts off softly, with an extended intro largely focused on vocals and soft guitar work, before the music fakes a sinister turn and gets much heavier. The track alternates between heavy and soft several times throughout, and goes through several mood swings, pretty much feeling like a perfect summary of the album on the whole. It’s a very complex track, which manages to throw in a ton of epic, technically impressive instrumental sections while still leaving tons of room for big vocal melodies, and memorable moments. It’s another very emotional track, and stands alongside the opener and “Indulge in Color” as one of my three favorites on the album.

I was cautiously optimistic before hearing Long Night’s Journey Into Day, and thankfully it managed to exceed my best expectations and has become both my favorite album from Redemption, as well as my favorite album involving Tom S. Englund in quite some time. It retains the complex musicianship and heavy riffs of past albums, while at times being very melodic and having some very powerful lyrics and amazing vocal melodies. It manages to be equal parts complex and accessible and is definitely one of the best prog albums I’ve heard in recent years. A must hear for any fan of Redemption or Evergrey and highly recommend for all prog fans in general.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/29/redemption-long-nights-journey-into-day-review/

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