Adam Gardiner
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2393 reviews/ratings
WINTERHORDE - Underwatermoon Melodic Black Metal | review permalink
SONIC PULSAR - Playing the Universe Progressive Metal | review permalink
STAR ONE - Victims of the Modern Age Progressive Metal | review permalink
BEYOND TWILIGHT - For the Love of Art and the Making Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Miklagard - The History of the Vikings Volume II Power Metal | review permalink
BEYOND TWILIGHT - Section X Progressive Metal | review permalink
IMMORTAL - At the Heart of Winter Black Metal | review permalink
DARKOLOGY - Altered Reflections Progressive Metal | review permalink
CRUACHAN - Folk-Lore Folk Metal | review permalink
ALICE IN CHAINS - Black Gives Way To Blue Alternative Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Final Experiment Progressive Metal | review permalink
BLIND GUARDIAN - Imaginations From the Other Side Power Metal | review permalink
EPICA - The Divine Conspiracy Symphonic Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Human Equation Progressive Metal | review permalink
EPICA - Design Your Universe Symphonic Metal | review permalink
ASTARTE - Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Melodic Black Metal
AVANTASIA - The Metal Opera Power Metal
AYREON - 01011001 Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Arise: From Ginnungagap to Ragnarök - The History of the Vikings Volume III Power Metal | review permalink
TO-MERA - Delusions Progressive Metal | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 343 4.14
2 Progressive Metal 247 4.10
3 Traditional heavy metal 206 3.85
4 Atmospheric Black Metal 162 4.10
5 Black Metal 145 3.81
6 US Power Metal 128 4.22
7 Folk Metal 106 3.92
8 Symphonic Metal 103 3.77
9 Hard Rock 94 3.85
10 Thrash Metal 91 4.02
11 Non-Metal 81 3.84
12 Death Metal 72 3.82
13 Technical Death Metal 65 4.16
14 Doom Metal 60 4.05
15 Gothic Metal 59 3.76
16 Melodic Black Metal 58 4.09
17 Melodic Death Metal 45 3.84
18 Metal Related 44 3.84
19 Speed Metal 40 3.90
20 Alternative Metal 34 3.44
21 Symphonic Black Metal 28 4.09
22 Groove Metal 23 3.63
23 Death-Doom Metal 22 4.14
24 Depressive Black Metal 20 3.85
25 Metalcore 17 2.94
26 Atmospheric Sludge Metal 16 3.88
27 Avant-garde Metal 16 3.81
28 Funeral Doom Metal 12 4.08
29 NWoBHM 12 4.46
30 Brutal Death Metal 11 3.18
31 Sludge Metal 7 4.14
32 Stoner Metal 6 4.00
33 Industrial Metal 6 3.25
34 Neoclassical metal 3 3.83
35 Deathcore 3 2.50
36 Drone Metal 3 3.50
37 Death 'n' Roll 2 3.00
38 Crossover Thrash 1 3.50
39 Hardcore and crust 1 4.00
40 Proto-Metal 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
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US funeral doom metal duo had released just two full-length albums, Longing (2012) and Four Phantoms (2015), when their line-up was split in two following drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra's departure. Bands change line-up all the time but this change was tragically made all the more profound when a year later, in 2016, Adrian Guerra passed away. Mirror Reaper (2017) is the group's, which now consists of Dylan Desmond (bass, vocals) and new member Jesse Shreibman (drums, vocals), first new recording since then. The monolithic, eighty-three minute long single song album can be seen as a eulogy to their fallen comrade, whose presence is still felt by the insertion of some vocals recorded before his untimely death at the age of just 35, credited under 'the words of the dead'.

Because Mirror Reaper is so long, physical versions of it have to split the song into multiple parts. The CD version has two discs with the track split into two (titled As Above and So Below) while the vinyl is also a double, with the track split into four parts. It's worth pointing out at this point that at least in the case of the CD version the physical pressing does NOT come with a download code so buyers can also obtain the full uninterrupted version of the album. Without confirmation, I'd assume that the vinyl is the same. This, while I won't allow it to affect my rating in this review, is a considerable omission to make in my view, making Mirror Reaper one of the extremely rare cases where the physical version can be deemed inferior to the digital (more so because the digipak packaging is one of the most shoddily made I've ever encountered).

In any form Mirror Reaper is a daunting journey, one that I'm certain most potential listeners will want to think hard about whether they even want to try taking it. Those that do will definitely need to find themselves in the right frame of mind, and set aside enough time to take the whole composition in during a single sitting regardless of whether you're listening to the seamless digital version or the four part vinyl version. A piece like this loses its impact if you decide to take a break of any length and while at least in the case of the CD version the split between the As Above part and the So Below part does make sense, So Below doesn't work near so well as a stand alone track.

Funeral doom metal is known for its plodding pace and atmosphere of misery and that's exactly what is delivered on Mirror Reaper, via some quite extended length non-metal sections, especially during the So Below part of the song. No idea is treated like a flash in the pan thing, but is drawn out for ages. The vocals range from growling to hypnotic chant to subdued singing. Despite the growls, there's no forays into actual death-doom like the works of Evoken or Esoteric, so it's pretty much a dirge from start to finish. In that sense, Mirror Reaper may just be an example of funeral doom metal at its most pure, though since there are no guitars and it's all done on bass the sound is a little difference to the average band. At least it's a pure funeral doom metal sound until one of the non-metal passages hits, then it's something else, yet still very much funeral and very much doom, just without the metal.

Mirror Reaper is not, understandably, an easy album. I expect that many who give it a go will find it to be too much in one way or another. To many, this will be far too long than any one song has a right to be. For others the length in itself won't be an issue but the snail's pace tempo will be. For more still it will be how it actually sounds. Mirror Reaper is certainly a dreary affair, even depressing at times, but that's hardly surprising given the genre and backstory and the death of Adrian Guerra. It's true that the point, musically speaking, could likely be accomplished in a much shorter yet still lengthy composition and that to some ears it may have been better for it. Those people will be entitled to their opinion, while I will remain steadfast in mine that they just don't get it. All things considered it seems highly appropriate that Bell Witch went all out with Mirror Reaper and produced something that will stand tall as a monumental work of what funeral doom metal is all about. This is their tribute to their fallen bandmate and it's certainly not found wanting. Even being so long there's definitely a coherence to the whole composition so that despite all the pitfalls it could fall into it never actually feels aimless.

Mirror Reaper will not go down as an album that will grace my speakers with any kind of regularity, but it's one I'm pleased to have taken the plunge on for when the mood strikes. Bell Witch have crafted a quality, well thought out work here.

LOVEBITES Awakening from Abyss

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
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Pairing the phrases 'heavy metal' and 'fashion' invokes a certain kind of mental image. Denim and leather. Lots of black. Maybe some corpse paint and a lot of spikes if you're thinking of black metal. It's a stereotypical enough look that, much like with progressive death metallers Akercocke in their (now abandoned post-reunion) tweed suits, when you see a promo picture of new Japanese act Lovebites and try to put it in context with the above, the band can't help but seem out of place. This five-piece all female band presents themselves in near-matching white dresses, with what may just be the shortest skirts that an all female metal band has uniformly worn. They honestly look like they're more likely to be playing j-pop than metal. The band name doesn't do much to dispel that initial impression. Lovebites. Definitely not the most strikingly metal name going. They're not the first to use it (or Love Bites), as several other pop and rock bands have had it before them, likely more fittingly.

This is of course a preconception, which where music is concerned is never a good thing to form based on image (you listen to music with your ears and not your eyes, after all). Even when it's completely unintentional, long exposure to something, in this case metal music, can cause people to have them. I'd call it human nature. This one is possibly influenced by cultural differences, since Japan has quite a prevalent scene of all female acts, including but not limited to Mary's Blood, Aldious and Destrose (who Lovebites share members with), who regularly challenge the usual stereotype (even for all female acts) when it comes to image. But over here in the western hemisphere Lovebites' image seems to go just that bit further than most and speaks of sex appeal turned right up to the max, which popular culture over here has subconsciously instilled to associate with pop music. And since Japan's growing scene of all or near female acts does have an association with j-pop, it's maybe not too out of line to assume that Lovebites will fit into that niche as well.

Dead wrong. Despite the band name and image, it's an illusion Lovebites are quick to dispel. How they present themselves and how they actually sound may just be the most paradoxical thing in metal you'll encounter all year. Naturally, these five ladies just challenged all preconceptions and delivered what may be the heaviest and most aggressive power metal album of the year with Awakening from Abyss (2017). The album follows closely on the heels of The Lovebites EP (2017), all songs of which reappear here in re-recorded forms. It's an album that shows the band to have much more in common with the classic German scene that spawned the likes of Blind Guardian and Rage than anything else. Certainly there's nothing to do with j-pop here or heaven forbid, Japan's so called Kawaii (cute) metal scene (and yes, that term is a thing that someone's felt the need to coin) that's given the world the likes of Babymetal, Ladybaby and arguably even Aldious. Within Awakening from Abyss listeners will hear an hour's worth of power metal spread across twelve tracks, displaying a varied sound that can go from giving even the likes of Rage a run for their money for the year's most aggressive power metal album to epic symphonic backed parts which pack no less of a punch.

After the intro track The Awakening is out the way it only takes the first full song The Hammer of Wrath to be impressed by the band and hooked into the album until it closes with Bravehearted. The band rarely lets up the pace throughout that whole time. Liar and Inspire both start like they're going to be ballads, but the band are quick to kick things back into gear, firing on all cylinders. The album is very guitar based with the riffs also delving into speed metal as well as power metal. The Apocalypse, which is one of the re-recorded songs from the EP, has riffs that summon memories the first two Blind Guardian albums. The Hammer of Wrath even comes close to full-on thrash metal at times. The symphonic elements are used sparingly and are rarely dominating when they are present, Edge of the World towards the end of the album being the most overtly symphonic track, as well as the album's only actual (semi) ballad, which is still incredibly heavy once it gets going and has sped back up into power metal long before it's end. They're incredibly effective when they are used though. Take Shadowmaker as a key example. The symphonic part is audible, and would be missed if not there, but it's still really just for flavour, augmenting the aggression of the guitars. The song just oozes blazing riffs, incredible lead melodies and blistering soloing, just like a good power metal song should do. It may just be the best power metal song of 2017, it's that good.

Aside from having a powerful sound, what makes Awakening from Abyss a really special release is how strong the actual musicianship is. Those blazing riffs and incredible leads I mentioned in relation to Shadowmaker? Lovebites have those in every song here. If Shadowmaker isn't the best power metal song of 2017, then one of these others is, because there's never a moment where the quality of the record drops even a little, not even the half ballad Edge of the World or the intro track, which still manages to get some great riffs in despite only lasting a little over two minutes. Both the riffs and leads from the guitarists Midori and Mi-Ya (also keyboardist) are among the best the power metal genre has ever delivered. Destrose alumni Miho (bass) and Haruna (drums) provide a rock solid rhythm section. And then there's the vocals. Singer Asami certainly brings equal amounts of power to the mix as the instruments. Her tone is a bit deeper than most female vocalists in power metal bands, but she keeps her vocals completely melodic throughout and displays an impressive non-operatic range with plenty of wails that many a classic metal singer would be proud of.

As I count power metal among my favourite forms of metal, it isn't often that a new (or at least new to me) power metal band blows me away. In fact it's typically a once per year thing. Last year for instance it was Eternity's End who did it. The year before that, Unleash the Archers. This year, despite some strong efforts from bands familiar (MindMaze, Iced Earth) and new (Palantír), I had started to think that maybe it wasn't going to happen. Then Lovebites came along. I did not manage to pick up on The Lovebites EP earlier in the year; if I had then such thoughts would never have had time to form, since I went back and checked out the EP as well and it promised a lot for this debut full-length, which Awakening from Abyss absolutely delivers on and more.

Do not make the all too easy mistake of prejudging this band. They're the real deal. And Awakening from Abyss looks like an unbeatable record for the title of best power metal album of 2017. Maybe even best metal album period.

PALANTÍR Lost Between Dimensions

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
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I think it's fair to say that 2017 hasn't been the best year for the power metal genre. Yes, there have been several good, great and even excellent albums: Iced Earth delivered their best in over ten years with Incorruptible. MindMaze currently sits at number two on my overall 2017 reviewed releases list with Resolve. Their labelmates Vandroya also delivered a good one with Beyond the Human Mind. Rage, of course, were reliable as ever with Seasons of the Black. But otherwise this year bands such as Unleash the Archers, Seven Kingdoms and Grave Digger all released solid, but not as good as their previous, albums. Further still some bands who have previously played power metal like Pyramaze and Xandria largely even dropped the element on their 2017 albums and I for one was definitely relying on the former to produce a genre highlight for the year.

One thing 2017 seems to have failed to serve up so far is an excellent power metal album that fits into the traditional melodic and/or symphonic European brand sound. While there's certainly an argument for records of that persuasion not being a necessity in 2017, after all it's a sound that has been done to death since really taking off in the nineties, such albums shouldn't be understated either. Enter Palantír and their debut record Lost Between Dimensions, a Swedish band who fly the flag for the traditional, highly melodic and symphonic, speedy European power metal sound, who seem tailored made to correct this oversight, something someone else definitely had to do this year what with Rhapsody of Fire regulating themselves to a re-recordings album, which I'm not sure anyone wanted even if the band does have a new vocalist.

Speaking of Rhapsody of Fire, they're the first band that springs to mind when Lost Between Dimensions starts up with opener To Valhalla. Palantír play about with a lot of the same ideas that the other band is known for, including neoclassical and progressive elements within their symphonic power metal sound, as well as touching on some medieval sounding melodies, which they really use to effect in some of the tracks here, including the opener. Lyrically Palantír throw more of a science fiction slant on this kind of sound, but they certainly seem to be cut from the same cloth. The band is maybe a bit less grandiose than later Rhapsody of Fire works especially, but that actually works in their favour to create a more accessible record: one that's epic but not so over the top that it becomes overwhelming.

Lost Between Dimensions is a record which is also packed full of quality power metal compositions that are sure to please any fan of the genre. All the boxes are ticked from speedy riffs to epic symphonic elements, progressive intricacies to strong melodies and good production to great vocals. Vocalist Marcus S. Olkerud brings a really pure and melodic voice to the album, which fits in perfectly with the instruments (all of which bar E-man Lindberg's drums are played by Fredrik Erixon-Enochson). The tone of his voice is quite different, but I'm certain a comparison to Falconer's Mathias Blad isn't inappropriate to make due to the crystal clear delivery he brings to Palantír's music, which certainly helps keep the choruses get stuck in your head long after the album has drawn to a close. To Valhalla, War of the Worlds, Warriors of the Sun, Tragicomedy and the ten minute closing title track are all key tracks to my ears.

While it's possible that there's a few gems out there that I haven't had the opportunity to hear yet and still over a whole month of the year to go, as things currently stand for me I reckon it would be a tough job to find a better 2017 melodic/symphonic power metal album than Lost Between Dimensions. With it Palantír have set the bar high for themselves early on, but I've no doubt we'll be hearing more quality work from this trio in the future. This record is packed full of the same kind of 'right stuff' that graced Rhapsody's debut Legendary Tales twenty years prior and the sound is no less valid today as it was then.

WODE Servants of the Countercosmos

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
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Black metal may have got its true start in Norway, but in recent years the United Kingdom, metal's birthplace, has become it's own little hotbed of quality acts making names for themselves. A few notable names being A Forest of Stars, Fen, Wodensthrone (sadly now defunct) and Winterfylleth. The latest band who are set to follow in their footsteps is Wode, who, like A Forest of Stars and Winterfylleth, hail from Manchester. Although their debut album, the self-titled Wode (2016), was released only a little over a year prior, this young act has wasted no time in delivering a follow-up. With their line-up expanded to four members, Servants of the Countercosmos (2017) has been unleashed and with it, Wode really make their mark.

The first thing anyone who picked up on these guys with their debut will notice is, before they've even started the music up, that even though Servants of the Countercosmos features the exact same amount of tracks as its predecessor (six), that the running time of the album is actually considerably shorter. We're talking a total time of 31:24 opposed to Wode's 47:51. The rather more atmospheric influenced debut was mainly made up of mostly long songs while for this second effort, Wode have trimmed up their writing style, leaving only one long track among Servants of the Countercosmos' number, Chaosspell, which is effectively the finale not counting the acoustic outro piece Undoing, which to me sounds as if it's actually part of the same song with an unnecessary track divider.

While the self-titled debut was a very good effort, I have to say that Servants of the Countercosmos makes for a much more instantly compelling release from Wode. The more concise writing certainly helps in that regard, but it's the more aggressive playing style the band has employed that really does it. The music is largely lacking the more atmospheric black metal elements of the debut, favouring the direct approach in every aspect. Far from a one trick pony release despite the fairly traditional style they play, Wode more than make up for the lack of additional influences this time by jam packing the album with hard hitting riffs and songs that use them to quickly establish themselves as distinct compositions. The lead growling vocals are also delivered with a similar power as the riffs, coming across like an oppressive presence that commands the sounds of blackened brutality. Though not exactly polished to melodic black metal standards, the album certainly benefits from a decent production job that avoids the excessively raw and/or cold sounds associated with the style, which really allows the guitar riffs to stand out and make their mark.

It's an experience that is over all too soon of course, but that also makes Servants of the Countercosmos a very easy album to keep going back to, one that also stands out for me as one of 2017's best traditional black metal offerings. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from Wode, because if their evolution so far is anything to judge by, album number three will be a real monster.

ARGUS From Fields of Fire

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
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I'm sure that most metal fans, like myself, when they think of the genre's base sound, traditional heavy metal, their first thoughts are drawn to the classic acts from the seventies and eighties. Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Judas Priest. Accept. Motörhead. The list could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea. If you go on music rating websites and call up a chart of traditional heavy metal releases it'll be the rare album that is newer than being from 2000 and most that are will be by the long established groups. Newer traditional metal acts may obtain a small but loyal following, but seem to be doomed to forever sit in the shadow of their forebears. As good as the classics are this is a shame, because there's quite a few bands formed this side of the year 2000 that proudly fly the flag for unmodernised traditional heavy metal and play the style convincingly. The latest of these to make my shortlist for being the 'real deal' is US act Argus, whose fourth album From Fields of Fire (2017) is ready to assert them as one of the contenders to be heir to this classic genre's crown.

I first became aware of Argus with their second album Boldly Stride the Doomed (2011). Back then, they had a sound that was more of a blend of heavy metal and traditional doom metal, leaning more on the latter to my ears. But with their next album Beyond the Martyrs (2013) the group focussed more on their heavy metal side. Rather than being the kind of coincidental writing fluke that can happen with acts who blend two genres more or less equally it looks like the change was intentional, since From Fields of Fire features a similar approach; occasionally doomy traditional heavy metal played with distinctive, meaty guitar riffs and topped by powerful vocals from Brain 'Butch' Balich.

After a brief intro instrumental, the first full song Devils of Your Time starts up and it's an instant winner that sets the tone for the album. Argus must have been recording in these fields they keep harping on about because they really are on fire here! This is classic sounding heavy metal done with such strength and conviction that had Argus been around in the eighties they'd surely have been a major name today alongside the other eighties greats. And it continues through another seven songs, including the eleven minute epic Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors without skipping a beat, finally drawing to a close with a similar instrumental to what it opened with. Though very classic in style, the album does benefit from modern production standards, which makes it sound all that more potent.

While I didn't like the predecessor Beyond the Martyrs quite as much, I have to say that From Fields of Fire certainly represents a step up for Argus and while it hasn't topped Boldly Stride the Doom as the band's best album for me, it certainly provides ample proof that Argus has a future playing this semi-doomy style of heavy metal and also elevates the band in my regards in relation to other newer heavy metal acts such as Dark Forest (the UK band) and A Sound of Thunder. Undoubtedly this album is the best heavy metal album I've heard from 2017 so far or am likely to for the remainder.

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