Metal Music Reviews

DOKKEN Breaking The Chains

Album · 1981 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.18 | 10 ratings
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The band DOKKEN grew out of a solo career of lead singer Don DOKKEN who found himself in Germany supplying the backup wailing heard on the Scorpion’s classic rocker “Blackout.” Producer Dieter Dierks basically gave Don free reign to record some demos in leftover studio time which resulted in the what would become the band DOKKEN’s first album BREAKING THE CHAINS. At the time Don DOKKEN invited guitarist George Lynch, drummer Mick Brown and bassist Peter Baltes to round out the slots. Juan Croucier would rerecord the bass tracks for the 1983 US release but would immediately jump ship and join Ratt but left his mark on this debut album released as a Don DOKKEN solo album in 1981 in Europe and then reconfigured to be the band’s debut album in the US in 1983.

With BREAKING THE CHAINS, Don DOKKEN and crew found a unique niche in the up and coming glam metal market that was quickly becoming the next big thing in the US. While the band would quickly find success with their followup “Tooth And Nail,” on BREAKING THE CHAINS the band was still somewhat of a studio sensation and not a true band unit yet therefore this album sounds a bit polished and designed to be fairly commercial with catchy pop hooks laced with a crunchy metal bombast. Despite the rather tenuous circumstances which brought BREAKING THE CHAINS into existence, it still pretty much displays the sound that would become DOKKEN’s staple for the rest of the 80s where they would churn out several multi-platinum albums.

The best known track is the opening title track which showcases Don DOKKEN’s smooth vocal style set above Lynch’s metal bombast and Croucier and Brown’s strong rhythmic drive. DOKKEN excelled at exceedingly melodic hooks and BREAKING THE CHAINS delivers those in abundance. The band would quickly score as openers for Blue Oyster Cult but the album itself was a flop and almost got the band dropped from its label who held out for the sophomore which proved to be a big ticket item. While overall BREAKING THE CHAINS is a stellar batch of catchy pop metal tracks, the production is a little less than desirable and the band would go on to create more interestingly designed hooks. While this debut is an ok listening experience, it neither displays the band’s best songwriting nor the over the top instrumental antics that the members would be allowed to show off on future albums.

JASON BECKER Triumphant Hearts

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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JASON BECKER has become one of the more memorable talents of the rock universe. While beginning as a child prodigy and dazzling the world with his insanely technical and lightning fast guitar chops in the 80s with his band Cacophony, BECKER easily caught the attention of the guitar nerd’s universe and scored the highly sought after position of becoming guitarist for David Lee Roth following in the footsteps of such greats as Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. He managed to record on album, “A Little Ain’t Enough” with Roth before a tiny little pain in his leg was diagnosed as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease which would soon rob him of any future as a guitar player. His destiny would change quickly.

Suddenly BECKER was forced to enter a new chapter of his career long before its time. He would turn to the computer to crank out a magnum opus with what little physical ability he retained and after several years released his album “Perspective” which displayed BECKER’s many possible paths that his career could’ve taken him. Despite being condensed into a mere album’s length, BECKER displayed new aspects of his compositional creativity which seemingly were as vast as his fingers were fast. By the time the album was released in 1996, BECKER had been relegated to a wheelchair with only the ability to move his eyes. His diagnosis was to survive five years but now nearly 30 years later, he’s still alive and has finally released a new album.

While remaining out of the public eye, BECKER released the 2012 self-documentary “Not Dead Yet” which showcased this warrior’s longtime battle with ALS and how his family’s dedication had kept him from an early grave. He announced in 2016 that he would launch his TRIUMPHANT HEARTS project in the form of a crowdfunding campaign which ultimately raised more than $100,000. Once again, BECKER wrote all 14 tracks on TRIUMPHANT HEARTS on computer which display his love of classical music. Unlike his 1996 album “Perspective,” the tracks on this one are performed by a lengthy list of guest musicians including Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Neal Schon, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Mattias IA Eklundh, Greg Howe, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G., Steve Hunter and Ben Woods all of whom perform together on the opening single “Valley Of Fire.”

TRIUMPHANT HEARTS is quite a diverse ride through its 78 minutes of music that traverses 14 tracks. Much of the music is heavily fortified symphonic classical music as heard on the outstanding opener “Triumphant Heart” which takes a seductive folk melody and orchestrates the hell out of it, however there include several vocal tracks which include the sappy ballads “Hold On To Love” (2 versions) and a more funkified rocker “We Are One” featuring Steve Knight. “Magic Knight” is a tender acoustic guitar track that features both Uli Jon Roth and Chis Broderick. “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies” are the only two heavy metal rockers and are both instrumental.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is a rather sappy Bob Dylan cover and both versions of “River Of Longing” once again gets a little too sentimental although it features some outstanding guitar work by the guests on board. Overall i’m surprised there’s not more guitar shredding given the guest talent on board. While the one track “Valley Of Fire” does feature some finger breaking workouts, it is also quite generic in how it provides a rather basic rhythmic groove that the soloists work around. While the music itself may be a mixed bag, the production is actually really, really well done and BECKER obviously paid a lot of attention to the details.

Ah, i was hoping this would be more like “Perspective,” an album that i really love. TRIUMPHANT HEARTS while it has its merit doesn’t really take me anywhere that i want to go. This is more like a heart tugging tribute or something. While it’s cool to see BECKER still working behind the scenes in his perpetual state of paralysis, it seems perhaps his creative edge has been left somewhere in the past as well since TRIUMPHANT HEARTS doesn’t really seem to get airborne. I was really hoping for a better product and i’m a lenient critic when it comes to an album released under such circumstances but unfortunately i can’t seem to find much to latch onto on this one. While the album kicks off with an interestingly (mellow) opener, the second track as a cheesy ballad throws it off track quickly. Standout tracks are the opener, “Valley Of Fire,” “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies.” Hopefully BECKER can find a new lease on a creative edge in the future but this one is somewhat of a disappointment.

JASON BECKER Perspective

Album · 1996 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Tragedy is certainly no stranger to musicians across the centuries whether it be the untimely demise of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or the much larger list of modern rock guitarists ranging from Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Randy Rhoads or Kurt Cobain who met an untimely death before their time. Being snuffed out in your prime is one thing and as bad as it is, it has to be even monumentally worse when an artist is perched to be the best thing in his game only to suddenly be stricken with a disease that leaves him alive yet paralyzed and unable to play for the rest of his remaining life.

Such is the case of a young JASON BECKER who had taken the guitar world by storm with his insane technical shredding that found him on virtually every guitar magazine in the 80s. While creeping into the scene with Marty Friedman and their band Cacophony, BECKER cemented his status with his pyrotechnical guitar wizardry on his Shrapnel Records debut “Perpetual Burn” which found his neoclassical compositional prowess coupled with blitzkrieg guitar soloing taking him to the world of Ygnwie Malmsteem and beyond. The late 80s saw this fast riser at the mere tender age of 16, to be chosen as the next coveted guitarist for David Lee Roth following hot in the heels of Steve Vai.

BECKER’s success was all but guaranteed but then fate dealt a strange blow to this modern day Mozart. He quickly began to lose his motor skills and was soon diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This could not come at a worse time and despite his efforts to record on Roth’s “A Little Ain’t Enough,” lost mobility so quickly that he was unable to tour. Struggling to comprehend his impending doom, BECKER was forced to make sobering decisions beyond his years and race the clock before his body would completely shut down and he would be unable to move even a single finger. 
That’s where this album PERSPECTIVE comes into the scene. Faced with his entire career stolen from him, BECKER had to take the little time he had left and dish out his magnum opus in a rather short time. This album displays an artist’s love of music and the process of losing his physical ability to move all the while the music keeps churning inside. At the beginning of recording PERSPECTIVE, BECKER had already lost a significant portion of his physical ability to play guitar and therefore took the show to the computer where he painstakingly composed the album and allowed other guest musicians to lend a helping hand.

What normally should’ve been divvied up into a lifetime of work suddenly had to be condensed into a single album and therefore PERSPECTIVE displays a completely different aspect of BECKER’s musical abilities. While already a proven composer albeit submerged beneath the cacophonous din and speed of his guitar shredding techniques, PERSPECTIVE finds BECKER in a much more relaxed and contemplative mood with not only the neoclassical leanings on display but a plethora of disparate musical genres joining in for good measure. The album includes a veritable who’s who in the music world with guests ranging from Steve Perry of Journey on guest vocals to fellow David Lee Roth drummer Gregg Bissonnette.

The album starts of with the rather odd sounding “Primal” which is about as non neoclassical guitar leaning as one could’ve imagined but instead an rhythmic African music inspired track that adds various strains of ethnic music from around the world. The guitar playing showcases BECKER’s last ability to play simple power chords before he would lose all guitar playing ability completely. The following “Rain” borrowed a guitar riff from the vaults and orchestrated it whereas the three tracks “End Of The Beginning,” Life & Death” and “Serrana” display BECKER’s love of classical music in his own unique compositional flair with multi-suite parts and outstanding musical dynamics, tempo changes and excitement. They are the crown jewels.

The album is rounded out by an outstanding a cappella version of a track BECKER had in the vaults called “Higher” and inspired by Bobby McFerrin, whose back up group Voicestra would find two members joining in for recording. “Blue” is a rather basic blues track which lightens up the thick atmosphere of the album and “Meet Me In The Morning” is a vocal led Bob Dylan cover. “Empire” is a Japanese soundtrack sounding piece. The album took nearly six years to finish and finally saw the light of day in 1996 well after the disease had completely crippled a young BECKER and left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his days but much like Stephen Hawking, his mind remained alert and continued to crank out music through his computer albeit at an infinitely slower pace than before.

PERSPECTIVE is point blank a testament to the human spirit. This album symbolizes the sheer will power to complete a project before the point of no return. It could be argued that this could be a better album than it is and those arguments would be quite valid however the point of PERSPECTIVE is not to display the talents of a normally talented composer but rather one who has been compromised beyond human comprehension. While not perfectly executed, PERSPECTIVE dishes out nine outstandingly brilliant tracks but most of all conveys his most tragic chapter in full emotional regalia.

Most of all, PERSPECTIVE displays what could’ve been. Once BECKER matured past his shredding stage, he was primed to become one of the best musicians on the scene whether it be for film soundtracks, classical performances or a continued interested in metal. This is one of the few albums that can literally bring me to tears as the notes touch deep in the soul. A perfect album perhaps not, but considering all that went into making it, the best possible album under the horrific circumstances at play. I’ve always loved this album for its uniqueness as it single-handedly unleashes nine distinct paths BECKER could’ve continued his musical talents. While only a teaser of what could have been, this is a brilliant life’s work for such a young artist faced with the impossible.

SUBJECT ESQ Subject Esq

Album · 1972 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Starting out as one of the many 60s beat music groups that looked towards England rather than their homegrown German underground scene, SUBJECT ESQ started out humbly in 1966 as The Subjects but would change their name in 1968 to SUBJECT ESQ. The band would release this sole album under this moniker in 1972 before switching gears one more time and changing their band name to Sahara under which they would release two additional albums. Based in Munich, The Subjects turned SUBJECT ESQ were more interested in creating a hard rock tinged melodic guitar driven sound that utilized English lyrics and incorporated touches of more progressive elements such as jazz-rock and some psychedelic features.

The band spent many years on the local scene honing their skills before they got around to recording and releasing this eponymously titled SUBJECT ESQ release and therefore this debut album sound like it was delivered from a well-seasoned band that had successfully honed their Beatles melodies, their Who inspired heavy chops and incorporated a more local flavor with Embryo styled jazz-rock that offered interesting extended progressive workouts that spread out beyond the strongly melodic songwriting process. The band at this stage consisted of Michael Hofmann (flute, alto sax, vocals), Peter Stadler (keyboards), Stephan Wissnet (bass, vocals), Alex Pittwohn (mouth harp, 12-string acoustic guitar, vocals) and Harry Rosenkind (drums) but the band would add even more musicians as they continued to tour.

SUBJECT ESQ is a very strong example of completely unknown music by today’s standards was ridiculously good and leaves me wondering why these guys haven’t been relegated to a higher level of historical standing. The melodic hooks are solidly addictive as they immediately reel you in before the arrangements are allowed to develop into more intriguing complexities. While not exactly jazz-fusion, the jazz elements are wickedly strong as they accompany the hard rock guitar parts but are just as integral to the band’s overall sound as are the guitar and bass. The vocal performances are outstanding. Vocals in German bands of the era can be less than optimal for the musical style but several vocalists exhibit very strong harmonies as well as instrumental command that ranges from technically adept to ridiculously playful.

SUBJECT ESQ was one of the underground prog legends of the Munich area in the day but never really broke beyond the German market unfortunately. With an eclectic sound that sounded part English rock including a Jethro Tullish flute performance, a jazzy rock dominance and a strong American folk element that reminds a bit of Crosby, Still and Nash, it’s no wonder the band were quite popular in their region for their day as all members maintained a strong command of the instrumentation and musical delivery. This is one of those albums you can drift into decades later and the melodic hooks are so strong that it will instantly drag you in and leave you wondering why you haven’t heard of them before and even worse make you wonder how many other excellent bands of similar ilk have also been lost to the bulk of product in the historical bins. This was a surprise but a pleasant one. A super strong album that deserves rediscovery.

FARMER BOYS Born Again

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
In the 90’s they played some of the world’s largest festivals, toured with the likes of Rammstein, Deftones and Metallica and were highly regarded in the German music scene for this ability to mix metal with pop melodies, but since their fourth album ‘The Other Side’, which was released in 2004, things have been relatively quiet. However, three of the founding members Matthias Sayer (vocals), Alex Scholpp (guitar) and Ralf Botzenhart (bass – Ralf actually left the band before they became well-known, only recently returning) brought in two new members in Timm Schreiner (drums) and Richard Düe (keyboards) and started playing again in 2017, and this is the first album since then.

The album starts really quietly, with gentle keyboards, but when the guitars come in then the listener knows the band aren’t straying too far away from their roots. Although they are a metal band, I found that the act they reminded me most closely of was My Chemical Romance, with a strong dose of alternative melodies being mixed in with the guitars. Sayer has a great voice, and the album contains hook after hook, and has been very well produced, so even though I don’t normally listen to this style of music I found that it was making me smile. The arrangements contain many elements, and one is never quite sure where each song is going to lead, as there are times they come across as Machine Head with a furious groove, and others Linkin Park, while always maintaining that melodic sensibility. Solid.

MASTODON Remission

Album · 2002 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 45 ratings
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The Crow
Debut full length of the Atlanta's kings of trash-death-technical-prog-metal!!!

This album contains the typical hoarse vocals of Troy Sanders and his saturated bass playing, great and technical guitar playing by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and the well-known amazing drumming by Brann Dailor and tons of heavy and progressive tracks.

Sadly, the songwriting is not so compelling like in the similar but much better Leviathan or the proggier Crack the Skye, making this record a bit dull in the long term despite some tracks where the band tries to make something differing like the sludge-prog Trilobite and the much more melodic and very interesting Elephant Man.

Best Tracks: March of the Fire Ants (typical Mastodon power), Where Strides the Behemoth (great riffs and a classic in live concerts), Trilobite (one of the most progressive tracks of the album with excellent guitars on it) and Elephant Man (melancholic and meditative guitar work, which shows the band's versatility which would make them great in the future)

Conclusion: this first album of Mastodon is much in the vein of the later Leviathan, but with a songwriting which is not so refined yet and some repetitive ideas which makes the hearing of the album a bit boring in the long term.

So, although Remission is a good tech-metal album with some killer tracks and passages on it, if you are new to Mastodon, I would recommend you to start with one of their later albums!

My rating: ***

MASTODON Lifesblood

EP · 2001 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.10 | 8 ratings
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The Crow
So, I'll finally start to review the Mastodon's albums, a band that I've followed for years. This little EP, their first official release, is their least worthy work!

Mainly because the true style of the band would be later developed. While in this album the dominant key is death metal, with some trash and stoner rock elements, and a bit of experimentation. Ok, this mixture is the Mastodon's trademark, but in Lifesblood the direction of the tracks is not really clear, and a bit too chaotic. The poor production doesn’t help to improve the sensation these five tracks give. The vocals are poor in comparison with later Mastodon's albums, and they are too synthetized and artificial.

But if you are a Mastodon fan, of course you'll find some interesting things here. Like I found! We Built this Come Death has some of this macabre and odd ambience that Mastodon can give to their songs. The little initial riff of Hail to Fire has the typical sharp and special Mastodon's guitar sound, and Brann Dailor was impressive behind the drumkit. And of course, Battle at Sea is a worthy track, a little Mastodon's classic.

Nevertheless, if you are new to the band, I recommend you start with one of their full-length albums (specially Leviathan or Crack the Skye).

Conclusion: if you are not a Mastodon's fan, you will hardly find anything interesting here. Because this album is maybe too rough, and the later Mastodon's style is almost invisible here and yet to be developed.

So, in my humble opinion, Lifesblood is only recommended for fans and the band’s completionists.

My rating: **

PAIN OF SALVATION Linoleum

EP · 2009 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.12 | 13 ratings
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The Crow
Prior to the release of Road Salt One and Two, Pain of salvation released this EP called Linoleum as an aperitif

It contains one song of Road Salt One (the fine Linoleum), one of Road Salt Two (the repetitive and disjointed Mortar Grind) and four tracks which were not included in these discs.

Sadly, If You Wait is a short blues-rock track with no interest. Gone is better but the production is too raw (just like the Road Salt albums) and it is boring and repetitive in the long term.

Bonus Track B is a curiosity just for fans, and finally Yellow Raven is a very dramatic version of an Uli John Roth song which is not enough to make this EP interesting if you are not a die-hard fan of the Road Salt era of this band.

My rating: **

ATREYU In Our Wake

Album · 2018 · Melodic Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I first really started paying attention to Atreyu with the release of 2004’s ‘The Curse’, but although I grabbed all their albums up to 2009’s ‘Congregation of the Damned’ I hadn’t realised they had got back together after the hiatus following that to release an album in 2015, and here they are now back with the next, the seventh in their career. It is hard to believe that Atreyu have been together for twenty years now, as they still sound as angry as ever, mixing that aggression with melody and metal to create a sound designed to throw a mosh pit wherever they play. I also put them into the same category as Killswitch Engage and Avenged Sevenfold, all bands out there creating their own masterpieces and not worrying about the rest of the scene. There are parts of “The Time Is Now” which one would say belongs far more in the canon of their recent touring partners Slipknot than Atreyu. These guys have been turning it up and cranking it even harder than they used to, and took inspiration from their classic ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ as they experimented and brought all the ideas under the Atreyu banner.

There is a freshness, which has been brought about by the way of working. “Every song with the exception of two was fully written in the studio,” says Brandon Saller (drums, vocals). “We’d split off into groups and crank out two ideas per day. We’d never written a fresh idea from scratch every day. Spontaneity makes things flow so much better though. We also never spread an album out like this either. We laid the foundation with five recordings, sat with them, and finished with a better picture of where we wanted to go.” Atreyu are very much back, and this reminds me so much of why I loved ‘The Curse’ when it was released. Methinks I need to dust that one off and put it on, as this has reminded me of what a poweful band they are. Superb.

AMARANTHE Helix

Album · 2018 · Trance Metal
Cover art 2.67 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is a long time I last heard Amaranthe, and the only other album I have in my collection is their 2011 debut, but f our albums into their career, they have apparently racked up north of 118 million YouTube views, half a billion song streams, are the three-time holder of BillBoard Heatseekers Chart #1 position and possess a panoply of Gold discs for albums and singles alike. I can only think that the other releases contain far more emotion than this one, which manages to be heavy and sanitised all at the same time. They are mixing symphonic with techno, strong female vocals with death growls and male rock, and it all comes across as rather bland and clinical.

I get the impression there are some good songs in here waiting to burst out, but the album has been layered, polished and honed so that any soul is long gone, driven out from the pressure of yet another run through the mixing desk and further tweaks. Some of the songs are incredibly catchy, such as “Countdown” which has Avril Lavigne-style hit single written all over it, but I would love to hear this album with the guys just performing it from start to finish, with a sympathetic ear at the sound desk. It would be far different to something that shows promise but eventually fails under the weight of all the varnish.

QUEENSRŸCHE American Soldier

Album · 2009 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 2.97 | 36 ratings
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UMUR
"American Soldier" is the 11th full-length studio album by US hard rock/heavy metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through Rhino Entertainment in March 2009. After playing on "Tribe (2003)", and becoming a permanent member of the band on "Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)", guitarist Mike Stone made his last appearance on a Queensrÿche album on the covers album "Take Cover (2007)". Therefore "American Soldier" was recorded by the four-piece Geoff Tate (vocals), Michael Wilton (guitars, backing vocals), Eddie Jackson (bass, backing vocals), and Scott Rockenfield (drums, percussion).

Stylistically the music on the album is hard rock/heavy metal and unmistakably the sound of Queensrÿche. Although there are many differences, there are also some similar traits to especially two of the band´s previous releases and in some ways the music sounds like a combination of the music style "Promised Land (1994)" and "Tribe (2003)". The use of saxophone on a couple of the songs of course leads my thoughts toward the former while the dark mood and heavy riffing remind me of the latter.

"American Soldier" is a concept album where the lyrics (as the title suggests), are about American Soldiers in times of war and peace. As the liner notes say: "This record is dedicated and was inspired by stories from soldiers who have served America during times of war and peace. Thank you!". A celebration of the men and women who have made sometimes great sacrifices to keep America safe. The stories are generally melancholic and are meant to bring awareness to the problem that many war veterans have a hard time adjusting to society when they return home after serving their country in foreign lands. There are also some tracks about having to deal with a bad conscience having killed people in the line of duty. The songs are centered around the powerful vocals and strong vocal lines by Geoff Tate. There´s a guest appearance on the song "Home Again" when Geoff Tate sings duet with his 10 year old daughter Emily Tate. The tracks feature many samples with soldiers speaking about their experiences which works well for the atmosphere of the album.

Not surprisingly the musicianship is top notch and "American Soldier" also features a professional and well sounding production, but in the end the album becomes a bit too predictable and formulaic vers/chorus styled and a slightly more playful and adventurous songwriting approach could have elevated the album to a higher state, because "American Soldier" definitely has the potential to be something special. As it is it´s an album featuring some moments of excellence, but also quite a few more unremarkable parts. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

W.A.S.P. School Daze

Single · 1984 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"School Daze" is a single release by US heavy metal act W.A.S.P.. The single was released through Capitol Records in 1984. The A-side is lifted off the band´s self-titled 1984 debut full-length studio album, and the B-side of the single features a cover of "Paint it Black" by The Rolling Stones.

Both tracks are well performed and W.A.S.P. manage to put their own identity into "Paint it Black", while still staying fairly true to the original. Both tracks are also well produced featuring a raw yet detailed production. It can always be argued how much value a two track single represents, when you already have the A-side featured on an album, but quality wise "School Daze" is a fine release by W.A.S.P., and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

TREAT Tunguska

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Treat may have taken a break at one point during their career, but the current line-up of Robert Ernlund (vocals), Anders Wikström (Guitars and backing vocals), Patrick Appelgren (keyboards, guitar and backing vocals), Jamie Borger (drums), and bass player Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) features just one person, Egberg, who wasn’t on their 1985 debut ‘Scratch and Bite’. This is the first album I have heard from the Swedish group, and there is no doubt that there are some fine hard rock musicians here, just a shame that the arrangements and production let it down so much. Here is an album where every attempt has been made to sanitise and polish it out of existence, and while there may have been some punch and threat in there when they recorded it that is unfortunately now long gone. I am sure that there are going to be some very happy fans of the band out there, and certainly this album is being raved about on the web, but there just isn’t enough variation and power in this for me and it soon fell into the background. Fans of bands such as Eclipse, Hardline, Pretty Maids, Harem Scarem and Danger Danger may well find plenty here to enjoy, but there isn’t enough edge for me.

URIAH HEEP Living The Dream

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
It is hard to imagine in this world of 24/7 connectivity, but there was once a time where there was no such thing as internet. Consequently the only way to discover information was by buying books, and I have just gone to bookcase and brought out ‘The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock & Heavy Metal’, written by Tony Jasper and Derek Oliver and published in 1983. Why? Because the front cover is a picture of Mick Box in his natural environment, on stage, and nearly fifty years on from when Uriah Heep were formed he is still there. True, there have been some line-up changes over the years, but from 1986 to 2007 they were the same five guys treading the boards wherever anyone would have them play, often without record label support. Phil Lanzon (keyboards) and Bernie Shaw (vocals) have been in the band since 1986 (although they started working together in Grand Prix before that), while drummer Lee Kerslake had to retire in 2007 due to ill health, and was replaced by Russell Gilbrook while bassist Trevor Bolder sadly passed away in 2013 and was replaced by Davey Rimmer.

When they released their debut album in 1970, it was famously reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine's Melissa Mills who began her review by saying, "If this group makes it I'll have to commit suicide. From the first note you know you don't want to hear any more." Well, with one classic album after another in the Seventies, and various “return to form” albums such as the mighty ‘Abominog’, it is safe to say that Heep have not only made it but have thrived. This is their 25th studio album, and although they have become more polished over the years, there is still a Hammond Organ as the backbone, while Mick Box is refusing to settle into his dotage. Apparently he is 71 years old now, and is still teaching young ‘uns a tricks or two.

Any fan of the band will listen to the harmonies at the introduction to “Rocks In The Road” and smile, as it is exactly the same sound they were producing more than 40 years ago. To celebrate the album they are undertaking a world tour which will encompass 61 countries, again putting bands half their age to shame.

Uriah Heep, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble, still hitting the road, producing great music as they continue to keep living the dream. Essential for any fan, and if you have never actually heard any of their albums (and I guess that is a possibility, maybe) then start with this one and then head back to the early Seventies and give yourself a treat. All together now, “Was only seventeen, I fell in love with a gypsy queen…”

H-BLOCKX Discover My Soul

Album · 1996 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Ah, the early 90’s. Shell suits, techno pop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A bright, vibrant time, it was colourful, innocent and fun. Until around the mid-90’s, things changed. “Attitude” became cool. Bands were rebelling. TV was becoming bleaker. Everything suddenly became “darker” and more serious. And much like H-Blockx’s second album, while the music is still similar to their 1994 debut, there’re much more serious undertones to the album than before.

1994’s ‘Time to Move’ was a fun, quirky and very energetic album, with its daft, not-a-care-in-the-world lyrics and brightly coloured artwork, music videos and imagery, it was a sure reflection of the times. However, by 1996, the youthful enthusiasm was gone, and in its place was a more polished and mature band.

H-Blockx, Germany’s answer to the rap-rock movement that was being spearheaded by bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Body Count and Stuck Mojo, managed to incorporate more serious aspects to their music and lyrics, while still delivering an album full of vigour and exuberance. With their punchy guitar riffs, tongue-in-cheek rapping and anthemic choruses, they managed to adapt to the shifting social climate while producing an album that stays true to their own sound.

Underrated and always overlooked, guitarist Tim Tanambergen has some incredible chops in him, with some impressive guitar riffs that can be interesting without having to resort to mindless shredding, and they’re complimented well by two vocalists, Henning Wehland and Dave Gappa, who’s combination of melodic singing and aggressive rapping gives the music a great dynamic, years before Linkin Park were doing the same.

While this album does seem a little more disjointed than ‘Time to Move’, it’s still a worthy follow up and shows a band with so much potential, who just never really were in the right place at the right time. Songs like ‘Try Me One More Time’, ‘Gimme More’, ‘Discover My Soul’, ‘I Can’t Rely on You’, ‘I Heard Him Cry’, ‘Duality of Mind’ and one of my personal favourite rap-rock songs, ‘This is Not America’, show a band with a vast pallet of influences and styles. Ranging from soft and melodic, to energetic pop and downright fist-pumping rock, ‘Discover My Soul’, like its predecessor, serves as a great example of why rock and hip-hop fits together perfectly, and shouldn’t be as nonchalantly discarded as it is.

TERROR Total Retaliation

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
LA based Terror have always been a name synonymous with hardcore, sticking hard to the faith since their inception in 2002. After six studio albums, a series of live albums, splits, compilations and EP’s under their belts, the scene veterans are back with their latest album. Thirteen songs, less than thirty minutes in total length, they toy with rap on “Post Armageddon Interlude”, but the rest of the time this is abrasive old school hardcore punk mixed with plenty of thrash tendencies. There is nothing pretty about this, this is all about turn it up and disappearing into a mosh full of violence and sweat. More than fifteen years in the scene and they show no signs at all of slowing down yet, if you want true original hardcore then look no further.

PIAH MATER The Wandering Daughter

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Brazilian-based progressive death metal outfit Piah Mater was formed in 2010 by guitarists Luiz Felipe Netto and Igor Meira, as an outlet for their personal approach to sombre melodies, high-energy riffs and unconventional song structures. 2014 saw the release of their debut album ‘Memories of Inexistence’, since when they have brought drummer Kalki Avatara onboard, and they are now releasing their second album. These guys move between some progressive and melodic rock elements, as well as going full into death and even atmospheric black metal. There are times when the vocals are melodic and softly sung, others when they have been influenced more by Dio, and then others where they are incredibly gruff and unintelligible.

Now, I like my metal to be complex, and there is no doubt that these guys really know what they are doing, with some incredibly complex passages. The issue here is that they are so good at the multiple different styles on show, that it actually detracts from the music as a whole. They jump around from one style to another within the same song, multiple times, and it becomes quite hard to listen t. It is undoubtedly clever, and there is no doubting their skills, but there are times when “less is more” and I know I didn’t enjoy this album nearly as much as I would have done if there had been more focus on what they were doing.

Eclectic in many ways, I found this a really difficult album to get inside, and even playing it multiple times just got me more annoyed with it, and I just can’t warm to it at all which is a real shame as they certainly know what they are doing

PAIN OF SALVATION Road Salt Two

Album · 2011 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 27 ratings
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The Crow
Road Salt One was a strange album... Not pleasant for old fans of the band while having also a difficult style to find a new public, very much 70's oriented and with a rather dry production.

This second part is an exploration further in this direction, but luckily it also contains more links to the past in the form of some symphonic elements (Road Salt Theme, End Credits, To the Shoreline), a bit more of prog (The Physics of Gridlock, although I find the end of this song rather boring), an homage to the sound of their album 12:5 (Healing Now) and a better singing from Gildenlow.

Nevertheless, they continued to explore this strange 70's oriented rock (Conditioned, Eleven, Mortar Grind') which makes them sound like some kind of revival band of this decade like Ocean Color Scene or the more modern Greta Van Fleet. Not bad, but just not my cup of tea and definitely not what I expect from a band like Pain of Salvation.

However, like I said this album contains more pleasant moments than the previous one and is also a bit better in terms of songwriting.

Best Tracks: To the Shoreline (beautiful orchestral melodies for the best track of the album), 1979 (beautiful lyrics and good songwriting) and The Deeper Cut (a song which retrieves the old style of the band from the 90's and 00's)

Conclusion: Road Salt Two is better than Road Salt One in general terms and although it does not get back the old prog-metal style of the band, Gildenlow was able to replicate part of the incredible atmosphere of the first (and best) four albums of the band with a pair of really good tracks.

Sadly, despite being the best album of the band since Remedy Lane, this record also felt in no man's land being not adequate for metal fans and not really satisfying for prog-rock lovers, making Pain of Salvation to travel further into oblivion.

My rating: ***

PAIN OF SALVATION Road Salt One

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 48 ratings
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The Crow
After the confusing and too experimental BE and the directly horrendous Scarsick, Pain of Salvation (or Daniel Gildenlow) returned to a better path with Road Salt One!

But fans of the older material of the band be aware, this is not a return to their roots. Some trademarks of Pain of Salvation are here, like some syncopated rhythms, a pair of polyphonic vocals and a bit o prog (No Way, Innocence), but the album is mainly blues-rock influenced by acts like Link Wray or Robin Trower with some experiments like cabaret music (Sleeping Under the Stars) and a pair of ballads (Sisters, Road Salt)

And another curious fact that this album has is some different singing of Daniel. I don't know if this man lost his voice or he just uses it differently here... But I think he shouts too much. It's even a bit unpleasant sometimes.

Nevertheless, the album has enough good moments to be considered a return to form for the band after some obscure years following the release of the grandiloquent (and maybe best work of the band) Remedy Lane.

Best Tracks: No Way (cool blues melody with a surprising instrumental interlude), Sisters (pure Pain of Salvation magic, melancholic and touching), Darkness of Mine (dark, like its title), Linoleum (will please old fans of the band) and Road Salt (truly beautiful singing here and great lyrics)

Conclusion: Road Salt One supposed a return to form for a band which lost its way with BE and Scarsick. Nevertheless, die-hard fans of the old Pain of Salvation albums will maybe also dislike this one, because it's not prog, and it's not metal.

It's another experiment of Gildenlow with new sounds for the band in the form of blues, soul, cabaret and country. It's not overall excellent, but good enough to be considered a worthy addition to the band's discography.

My rating: ***

TEN Illuminati

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
2018 see the band back with their second consecutive album with Frontiers, the fourth with the same line-up, and their fourteenth overall. Straight away one is reminded of ‘Isla De Muerta’ as the album starts with cinematic sounds (this time of birds), before Darrel starts off with keyboards and piano to set the scene. As the refrain is repeated the acoustic guitars make an entrance, and the listener starts to settle down for what is surely going to be an interesting ride. The band are confident enough to let the music move and swell, there is no need to start with a massive roar, but instead to build the framework in readiness for what is to come. The introduction lasts for more than two minutes, before the arrival of the drums lets the listener know that the band is about to change attack and in come the three guitarists. They interweave, mix and move, again setting the stage for Gary. But, from the beginning of the first song on the album until the vocals make an entrance is more than three minutes, quite some time for any band.

When the guys turn it up and go for gold, then they really elevate the music to a new level. There are some blistering shreds on “Shield Wall” that Malmsteen would be proud of, yet there is still restraint within the piece as a whole, which makes it work far better than if it was just heads on and meet up at the end. Gary seems to be holding notes for longer, while musically there is a lot of complexity in what is being delivered. The band can go from hard rock onslaught to piano and keyboards and make the transition seamless, and aren’t afraid to bring in female vocals if that is what is required, or sound effects if that is what is required. Dennis Ward continues to provide superb production, as he has done so since 2011’s ‘Stormwarning’, while the arrangements left Ten far above many of their contemporaries. This is hard rock with substance and real melody, much more than just turning it up and blasting it out, and while they will appeal to fans of AOR, this has way more depth and contrast than one would expect from that genre. Ten continue to deliver melodic hard rock albums of the highest order, well worth investigation.

TEN Gothica

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
2017 saw Ten back with their thirteenth studio album, and the third with the same line-up. It also saw their return to Frontiers Music, and straight from the off it was obvious that the band again really means business. Their hard rock pomp swagger has seen them compared with the likes of Magnum over the years, but that really isn’t a fair comparison at all. I am a huge fan of Magnum, having first purchased some of their music more than 40 years ago, and seeing them live multiple times (including the Storyteller’s Night tour), but to be honest Magnum have never managed the sheer presence and power that is obvious in all of Ten’s albums. Mind you, Bob Catley did play the part of Merlin on Gary’s superb ‘Once and Future King’ albums so does have a small part in their history.

This is a hard rock band who are all about playing to everyone’s strengths, and ensuring the music is always there to support Gary’s vocals. There may be three guitars, but there are times when the bass is mixed above all of them, while Darrel’s contributions on keyboards can never be overstated. His innate sense of melody and style is always apparent, and even on this album where he seems to take more of a back seat than on ‘Isle De Muerta’, his contributions add real polish and finesse (if you haven’t heard his solo work, or with the prog band Nth Ascension, then you should seek them out as well).

Since Ten first burst onto the melodic hard rock scene with their debut ‘X’ back in 1996, I have been a fan. There have been quite a few line-up changes since then, but Gary has always been at the vocal helm, steering the good ship where it needs to go, and with a highly settled line-up they continue to deliver wonderful albums. Well worth investigating for any fan of the genre.

TEN Isla de Muerta

Album · 2015 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Quickly following on from the success of 2014’s ‘Albion’, Ten returned the following year with ‘Isla De Muerta’, again with the three-guitar line-up. When I saw the artwork, and then heard the storm crashing the waves on the rocks followed by Darrell Treece-Birch providing us with a Celtic/Pirate shanty I wasn’t too sure if Ten had moved into the world of Pirate rock, especially when the guitars started providing support (special mention must also be made of the highly emotive drumming which accompanies this). Soon this is back to just Darrell and flowing melodic keyboards, until Gary makes an entrance with his powerful vocals, and gradually this turns into much more of a rocker. Straight from the off there was the impression that this was quite a different album from Ten in many ways, with DTB having a more prominent role to play.

Songs like “Tell Me What To Do” show Ten at their majestic best, with Gary accompanied for the first verse just with keyboards and drums until again they bring in the guitars and turn it into a hard rock masterclass. The chorus has gentle harmony vocals, but what lifts it is the way the DTB mimics Gary’s lead vocal, but in a higher register. This is class, sheer class. There are some great guitar solos on this album, but what makes this work so well is the way the whole band are pulling together in the same direction. I have loved Gary’s vocals for twenty years or more, and this line-up of Ten is incredibly consistent with arrangements that show the depth in strength. It never comes across as a three guitar line-up, but one where guitars are important yet it needs the foundation of a superb rhythm section and a keyboard player who is far more upfront and leading the melody than is normally expected in a hard rock band. Ten work best when they are either powering strongly ahead at pace, or are emotional and reserved, and there are plenty of both of those elements here. This is probably my favourite album of theirs so far.



PAIN OF SALVATION Scarsick

Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.22 | 51 ratings
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The Crow
After the disappointing and unsatisfying BE, the fans of Pain of Salvation were waiting for a redemption and an album which were able to retrieve the band to the prog-metal Olympus... But then Scarsick came.

We knew that this album was secretly called The Perfect Element Pt.2, so the expectations were very high at first. But after a couple of hearings, I just could not believe my ears. What happened to our beloved technical, atmospheric and intimate prog-metal band? Where were this challenging and innovative songwriting? Where were the intricate rhythmus and nervous drums? Where the hell were all the magic gone?

Because Scarsick is an insipid collection of rap-metal songs with lousy exceptions like the ridiculous America and the horrible Disco Queen (this song is really a shame not only for Pain of Salvation. It's a shame for the music) where the prog-metal is almost gone, being replaced for a lazy and reiterative songwriting where almost all the songs starts and ends with the same bad riff and insipid vocals.

Just bad, my friends. And with the perspective given by the years, Scarsick has not improved. It's still the same lame album now as it was back in 2007.

Best Tracks: Flame to the Moth (the only track of the album which is actually good and diverse) and Enter Rain (powerful despite its repetitiveness)

Conclusion: Scarsick is the worst Pain of Salvation album. The band tried to retrieve their fan base after the dividing experiment of BE, but they just made a step further in the wrong direction, demonstrating that Daniel Gildenlow had definitely lost his grip.

It's not a surprise that Kristoffer Gildenlow gave up before recording Scarsick... And he did well in my opinion.

My rating: *

PAIN OF SALVATION BE

Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 62 ratings
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The Crow
After two masterpieces of prog-metal, The Perfect Element Pt.1 and Remedy Lane, Pain of Salvation released the most ambitious album of their career!

Which sadly was a big step back for them, dividing the opinion of fans and critics equally.

What I think of this BE? I consider this album a boring and disjointed attempt to create a concept bigger than life, which revolves around philosophy, religion, God, apocalypse and tons of other ideas inside Gildenlow's head at that time. I cannot say that Be is a bad album, but it's too irregular and full of disposable tracks to be a worthy follow up of their previous four records.

There are fifteen tracks here, and I would say that only four or five are really worthy of Pain of Salvation. The rest are a repetition of ideas, melodies, simple instrumentations and tons of voices and dialogues in service of the history, forgetting what a good and enjoyable album really is... Moreover, that makes the hearing of BE on its integrity an odyssey by itself.

Even the fine folk and orchestral elements cannot hide the lack of more consistent and hearable songs.

Best Tracks: Imago (fine primitive and folk melodies), Lilium Cruentus (very cinematic), Nihil Morari (one of the few songs which reminds to the true Pain of Salvation of previous albums), Iter Impius (incredible vocal performance by Gildenlow)

Conclusion: BE is an irregular, pompous and pretentious album where Pain of Salvation tried to make something different and ground-breaking forgetting almost all the trademarks which made them big in their first four albums. Gildenlow set the history above the music and the result is an album with lots of fillers, absurd tracks and just a few good moments.

Sadly, BE supposed the end of a glorious era for the band. And I think that they never really recovered themselves of the flop of this strange and messy album.

My rating: **

PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 67 ratings
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The Crow
Which is better, The Perfect Element Pt.1 or Remedy Lane?

I think it depends of personal tastes. The Perfect Element is darker, harder and more difficult to appreciate. However, once you are into the world of this album it takes you forever. Remedy Lane is melancholic and dark sometimes, but also shows a more romantic and sentimental side of the the band (or Gildenlow). For this very reason, I think it is also more accessible while maintaining all the elements that made this band so great back then, marking the peak Pain of Salvation's career.

The production is crystal clear, especially the incredible vocals mix from Gildenlow who has in absolute top form here (producing also the album together with Anders Theander), and everything sounds just perfect. The concept of the album is autobiographical and very touching, giving the best lyrics of the whole band's career in my opinion, and as I said, this is one of the few prog-metal album that is instantly accessible (This Heart of Mine, Waking Every God) and very complex (Fandango, Rope Ends) at the same time.

Best Tracks: Of Two Beginnings, Ending Theme, Fandango, A Trace of Blood, Undertow, Chain Sling, Second Love... There is no weak moment to be found here. Really!

Conclusion: Remedy Lane marked the creative peak of Pain of Salvation in my opinion, being of the best prog-metal albums of the last decade. Intricate but accessible, dark and romantic, soft and fierce, and with a beautiful lyrical concept which deserves to be delighted slowly and many, many times.

Sadly, after this masterpiece nothing would be the same for Pain of Salvation again.

My rating: *****

PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element, Part 1

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 80 ratings
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The Crow
Prog-metal for the new millennium!

After two excellent albums, Pain of Salvation released one of the best prog-metal records ever made with their third effort. Deep, catchy and challenging, with a dark concept full of meaning and mixed feelings. This is the natural evolution of acts like Dream Theater and Queensryche.

The only complain I have with this album is that it's a bit too dense, maybe also too long sometimes. But this is a minor fault when you are enjoying tracks so splendid, diverse and well produced like these. Perfect mixture between virtuosity, great songwriting and accessibility.

And I want to give a special mention to Daniel's vocals... One of the best singers in metal history in top form here! Just awesome.

Best Tracks: there is no filler here. Really!

Conclusion: dark, melancholic and complex prog-metal with an incredible songwriting, very good production and lots of new ideas and influences (rap, industrial, jazz...) very well crafted in a collection of great songs which helped to create the path to follow for tons of new metal bands in the new millennium.

Not for every day, but perfect to be enjoyed every so often. A true prog-metal masterpiece!

My rating: *****

THE ORDER OF APOLLYON Moriah

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
This album may start with strummed acoustic guitars, but there is a feeling of menace contained within it, and soon the guys are blasting off into the blackened death metal with which they have built their reputation. Originally formed in 2008 by then-Aborted members, guitarist/vocalist BST (ex-Aosoth, VI) and drummer Dan Wilding, the band built a strong reputation with their first two albums, but Wilding was asked to join Carcass in 2012 and later decided to leave The Order Of Apollyon to concentrate on that band. With the other members also having conflicting schedules it was left to BST to restart the band, and to do this he recruited veterans of his native black metal scene, including members of Temple Of Baal, Hell Militia and Merrimack.

So, some three years on from ‘The Sword and the Dagger’, the new band is back with the third album, and shows no sign at all of moving away from their roots. The main issue for me is that the mix means that it really is a solid wall of sound, which means that there just isn’t enough in the way of dynamics, and it comes through all very much at one level, which is a real shame, as there is actually quite a lot going on in here. If would have liked the lead guitar to have been higher, and for the band to come through with more contrast. As it is, it is an enjoyable example of the genre without being essential.

SIRENIA Arcane Astral Aeons

Album · 2018 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s no secret, I’ve been a big fan of Sirenia mastermind Morten Veland for a very long time, probably well over a decade, at least. When I was first getting back into metal after a long break in the mid-2000’s, Tristania was one of the first bands to impress me, and they introduced me to the whole gothic metal scene. Obviously, Morten left the band shortly after their breakthrough album, Beyond the Veil, and has since gone on to create Sirenia. His current band has gone through many phases, including some ups and downs, but one thing that has always remained true is that Morten Veland has always been a master of his craft, and when it comes to knowing his genre in and out and being able to create some of the best songs possible, while being willing to push his sound further with each release, Morten has never disappointed. While the band had largely been just a female vocalist and Morten himself doing pretty much everything for a long time, they’ve become more of a full band in recent years, with other members being given a bit more room to work with. Obviously, Morten remains the main songwriter and leader of the band, but their previous release, Dim Days of Dolor, felt more like a team effort, and the same can definitely be said for the band’s ninth full-length release, Arcane Astral Aeons. Where its predecessor felt like a great beginning to a new era, Arcane Astral Aeons feels like a full leap forward, combining the best elements of previous releases, while continuing to push things further, especially when it comes to the epic symphonic elements, to create possibly the band’s absolute best release to date!

I mentioned before that Sirenia has gone through many phases, and while part of that was due to frequent changes in vocalist, a lot of it also has to do with the musical direction itself. The first two releases felt like a direct continuation of Morten’s work with Tristania, while The 13th Floor and The Enigma of Life felt much more accessible, even coming close to pop sensibilities, at times. More recently, he’s done a great job of blending aspects of different releases together, and that’s once again true for Arcane Astral Aeons, except this time it feels like he’s made a strong effort to push things even further, to create his most diverse, most epic and possibly best release yet. The previous two releases had already gone pretty far with incorporating epic symphonic elements, with strong orchestral sounds throughout, and at times this release goes even further with that, with choirs and orchestras being used to even greater effect than ever before, to give the music an epic feel, while still maintaining the dark, gothic atmosphere of the past. Keyboards are obviously still very prominent, used largely for atmosphere and to give the music a suitably dark tone, which is done very effectively, as always. At the same time, I notice the presence of guitars very strongly, perhaps even more so than on Dim Days of Dolor, as some of the solos are very melodic and absolutely terrific, and almost every track has some hard-hitting riffs, to help add to the already very full sound.

In fact, this release is quite perplexing at times, in that the songs initially seem straight-forward and are generally very easy to get into, but there’s actually a lot going on at all times, with many different layers to the music, as well as most songs having a ton of different passages, sometimes tempo changes, and quite a few explosive sections that switch between vocal styles. Basically, it’s Morten Veland working at his absolute best, using vocal and music dynamics to constantly surprise the listener, while still writing consistently engaging tracks with very catchy choruses, great riffs, and some outstanding melodies. The overall songwriting is fantastic, as usual, with many songs having some of the lighter, catchier choruses found on some of the more accessible Sirenia albums, except now they’re accompanied by some much more complex arrangement, more interesting verses, and a ton of extra layers and surprises that add up to make the songs more complex and dynamic, just like on all of Morten’s best albums.

As always, vocals are a very important part of why Arcane Astral Aeons works so well. After an impressive debut on the previous album, Emmanuelle Zoldan is even better here, sounding fully at home at this point, and she once again does an excellent job of utilizing her different vocal styles, fluidly switching between epic operatic vocals and lower clean vocals on many tracks. She mostly uses a lower register on this album, which works well and especially helps her clean vocals to stand out, as opposed to the mainly higher pitched vocals used by previous singers. A lot of the time, her vocals have a pop sensibility to them, being very smooth and carrying the melodies flawlessly, but she can get fierce at times and does powerful vocals very well. Her operatic vocals are again used in bursts and help bring a classic Sirenia feel to some tracks, along with Morten’s growls, which are again not used as much here as on older albums, but do show up from time to time, mostly in quick bursts, and they’re still just as powerful and intense as ever. I’d say he shows up slightly more than on the previous album, but perhaps still not as much as some would like. There’s also a ton of choir vocals here, as well as a couple of surprises, and everything is done very well while offering a ton of variety.

One area where I can always count on Morten to deliver is the songwriting, and if anything Arcane Astral Aeons is one of his absolute most consistent releases ever, with every song being nothing short of amazing, while still being quite varied, and each having their own amazing moments, as well as quite a few surprising moments. Opening track “In Styx Embrace” is exactly what one would expect from the band at this point, kicking off with some atmospheric keys and huge choral vocals, before the guitars kick in and it turns into a heavy, epic and upbeat track, enhanced by orchestral arrangements and some excellent operatic vocals from Emmanuelle, as well as quick flurries of growls from Morten, especially during an intense part in the middle of the track, which gives way to a beautiful softer passage, followed by an amazing, very melodic guitar solo. Overall, it’s an amazing track and the perfect way to start the album. Even better than that, though, is the stunning second single “Into the Night”, a full-on speedy symphonic power metal track, with some excellent atmospheric keys giving way to some very intense orchestral arrangements, more choirs, and some fun verses, where Emmanuelle sings more normally, but very smoothly. The chorus is the highlight, though, as it’s an excellent mix of choir vocals and Emmanuelle’s lead vocals, and it manages to be equal parts epic, beautiful and extremely catchy. The song honestly feels closer to classic Nightwish than it does to any Sirenia track, but it’s done so well and still manages to fit the album perfectly. It also has an absolutely stunning solo in the second half, that helps take it to an even higher level. My favorite on the album, and one of my personal favorites from the band, for sure.

Next is the lead single “Love Like Cyanide”, a seemingly simple track which manages to pack in a ton of ideas, all of which work surprisingly well together. The track opens with a brief tease at the very radio friendly, somewhat pop-infused chorus, before the guitars kick in and the track settles into a nice groove, with some great work from the rhythm section, while the biggest surprise of the track comes in the form of some aggressive, but non growled male vocals, performed by Beast in Black vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, which help add an extra dimension to the track. The chorus is super catchy, and there’s an especially dark, intense growled section in the second half, leading to a complex instrumental section, and so the track manages to fulfill every criteria of what fans would expect from the band, while also throwing in a cool surprise, to help it make it another stellar track. Next is the slightly more typical “Desire”, a more classic sounding track, which has some very eerie, but cool keyboard effects leading the way, along with some very smooth, clean lead vocals. For the most part, it’s a fairly calm mid-paced track, with heavy riffs in bursts, but its biggest surprise comes in the second half, as the music suddenly becomes more theatrical, and the vocals change the style to follow suit. Eventually, Morten’s growls kick in, during a very heavy section, and so once again, the track manages to pack a lot in, while initially seeming simple and having a catchy chorus. This trend continues with “Asphysxia”, a track which starts out with an extended atmospheric softer section, before the guitars kick in and it settles into a nice groove, with heavy guitar work accompanying some creepy atmospheric keys, and some powerful lead vocals, which eventually gives way to an upbeat, super catchy chorus. It’s yet another track where the instrumental arrangements are rather complex and very eventful, filled with little tempo changes, but the vocals manage to be engaging and the chorus is super melodic and catchy, making it both challenging and accessible at the same time, in a kinda warped way.

A more classic Sirenia track follows next, with “Queen of Lies”, the most old school sounding track on the album. It still has some heavy orchestral work, but it’s a more guitar driven track overall, with some heavy riffs and a ton of atmosphere, as well as being the one track where Morten’s sinister growls lead the way, eventually paving the way for an epic, upbeat chorus where Emmanuelle uses some of her best operatic vocals. It’s a very fun and intense track, overall, and is sure to please fans of Morten’s older works. After that is the softest track on the album, “Nos Heures Sombres”, a more mid-paced, very melodic track, which has some bouncy keyboards and it very much would have fit in on The 13th Floor, is a much more accessible track, where Emmanuelle sings in French, her native language. It’s an excellent vocal showcase while being a fun and catchy track as well, with an excellent instrumental section in the second half. As expected, the band follows the softest track up with one of the heavier tracks, as “The Voyage” is a slow but hard-hitting track, filled with some crushing riffs throughout its verses, along with some very powerful, yet beautiful lead vocals, which give way to an excellent, very melodic chorus. This is one of the tracks where the instrumental work is the highlight for me, though, as the guitar work is amazing throughout, especially during the solo section in the second half, as it manages to be equal parts heavy, intense, technical and very beautiful at different points.

Moving towards the end, “Aerodyne” is another lighter track, which moves at a pretty nice pace, and the verses have a nice rhythm to them, as well as some very light, but fun vocals, while the chorus is upbeat and very catchy. It largely feels like a simpler, more accessible track, but it has some interesting passages in the second half, as first there’s a very nice acoustic section, featuring some low clean vocals from former Tristania vocalist Østen Bergøy, and then there’s a very heavy section, with some intense growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which again shows the many different sides of Sirenia, all in one go. Next are another fun and upbeat track in “Twilight Hours”, which has some excellent melodic lead guitar work, along with some very epic orchestral arrangements, and some excellent operatic lead vocals. The verses fly by quickly and are a lot of fun, while the chorus is epic and very catchy, again coming close to power metal territory, and the guitar solo in the second half is amazing, as expected. Closing out the album is “Growing Embers”, a slower paced track, which alternates between soft and heavy passages brilliantly. It starts off with a beautiful acoustic section before the choirs, orchestras, and guitars kick in, and it turns into a heavy, epic and very melodic track, where Emmanuelle especially shines during the chorus, with some of her most beautiful and highly emotional clean vocals on the entire album. There are a few surprises, first with a sudden fast-paced, heavy instrumental section coming towards the middle, and then with another slow, but also very heavy section later on, with some of the best riffs on the album, before the track closes off with another run through its amazing chorus. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album perfectly. There’s an edited version of “Love Like Cyanide” as a bonus track, which I personally never even listened to once, as I find the original is perfect as is, and I generally only listen to edits if I feel there’s any filler that could be cut from the original version, so I have no clue as to any differences between the two versions.

Overall, Arcane Astral Aeons is yet another excellent album from Morten Veland, and it very well may be the best Sirenia album to date! It’s certainly by far the best symphonic/gothic metal album I’ve heard in years, and it manages to deliver everything I could possibly ask for, with a perfect mix between the heavier, darker sound of older albums, along with the lighter, super catchier sound of some of the middle albums, the more complex arrangement of the previous three albums, and even a few surprises along the way. It’s certainly a very diverse and explosive album, with tons of memorable moments throughout, and it shows the band at their absolute best. Obviously, a must hear for longtime fans of Sirenia, as well as anyone looking to hear the absolute best albums in the genre, as this release certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/11/04/sirenia-arcane-astral-aeons-review/

NICKELBACK The Long Road

Album · 2003 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 2.86 | 10 ratings
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martindavey87
Nickelback’s fourth studio album, 2003’s ‘The Long Road’, sees the band finally do away with the post grunge sound of their earlier days and fully embrace the mainstream, radio-friendly hard rock vibe that gave them worldwide superstardom on 2001’s ‘Silver Side Up’ (which featured THAT song).

And to be honest, the band pulls it off perfectly. The songs are all well-written and catchy, yet rocking enough to get heads banging too. Unfortunately Nickelback would fall into that gray area where they’re not “metal enough” for metal fans, and too heavy for casual radio-listeners, however, the bands singles, which usually tend to be on the softer side, gives the band huge mainstream appeal, and it’s for this reason that fans of heavier music probably despise them.

However, with that said, when the band wants to rock, damn, they can rock hard! With pounding guitar riffs accompanied by a solid drum beat and bass line, the band can no doubt hold their own when it comes to heavier music, and their ballads... well, hell, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a catchy melody... and the Canadian four-piece are pretty nifty at that too. The production is also top-notch, giving the music a massive, driving sound, with every riff getting the punch it needs.

Frontman Chad Kroeger, one of the most hated rock stars on the planet, seems undaunted by his reputation, and delivers a fantastic performance, with a great range that emits power and emotion. Whether bellowing at the top of his voice or reflecting melancholically, the man has a great voice and is hugely underrated as a vocalist. (There, I said it).

Featuring guest appearances by Kid Rock and, surprisingly, Dimebag Darrell of Pantera fame (yep, you read that right), and with highlights including ‘Because of You’, ‘Flat on the Floor’, ‘Someday’, ‘Do This Anymore’, ‘Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good’, ‘Should’ve Listened’ and a bonus track cover of the Elton John classic ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’, ‘The Long Road’ is a fantastic album, which is neither too ambitious or complicated, but revels in its hard rocking simplicity, and is all the more better because of it.

RAMMSTEIN Rosenrot

Album · 2005 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.03 | 22 ratings
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martindavey87
2001’s ‘Mutter’ solidified German industrial rockers Rammstein as global megastars, and while it’d be an impossible task to top, 2004’s ‘Reise Reise’ was a more than worthy follow-up which maintained the bands high standards. So what went wrong here?

‘Rosenrot’, released just one year later, is essentially a “leftovers album”. Despite containing a number of singles which were given music videos, the album, mostly consisting of tracks that didn’t make it onto its predecessor, came out to minimal promotion and advertising. But understandably, when the quality of the material doesn’t live up to what the group had released prior, perhaps that’s why.

The thing is, while ‘Rosenrot’ isn’t a terrible release, it’s just not very memorable. Most of the tracks are pretty generic and bland, and they all tend to sound pretty similar. The monstrous anthems of ‘Mutter’ or the electronic dance grooves of ‘Sehnsucht’ are nowhere to be seen, and there just generally seems to be a huge lack of keyboards here, compared to earlier albums, anyway. Most of the songs tend to plod along with the same monotonous guitar riffs and baritone vocals. Still, the music itself is heavy and pounding, and when the band is on top form there’s a couple of decent numbers here.

‘Benzin’, ‘Rosenrot’, ‘Mann Gegen Mann’ and ‘Te Quiero Puta!’ are all respectable highlights, and fit well in the bands discography, but none of these hold up all that well to the likes of ‘Sonne’, ‘Du Hast’ or ‘Mein Herz Brennt’. Arguably the weakest album the band have put out at this point, ‘Rosenrot’ is still worth a listen or two if you’re a fan of Rammstein, but if you’re a newbie then you’re better off going with anything the band released prior to this.

ICED EARTH The Blessed and the Damned

Boxset / Compilation · 2004 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.77 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
‘The Blessed and the Damned’ is a 2004 compilation album by American power metal band Iced Earth, and was compiled by their former record label, Century Media, after the band had left to sign with SPV. Consisting of highlights from all the bands albums between 1990 and 2001, including the ‘Alive in Athens’ live album, this is a solid release which still holds up pretty well today, and is a great summary of the bands first eleven years, serving as a great starting point for newcomers.

As is always the case with these types of collections, there’s always going to be a couple of tracks missing and a few I’d have excluded, but none-the-less, all the major hits are here. From the early days with ‘Iced Earth’, ‘Written on the Walls’ and ‘Angels Holocaust’, to later, more polished tracks like ‘Burning Times’, ‘Wolf’, ‘Watching Over Me’ and ‘Burnt Offerings’, there’s a good, varied track list here to please most fans.

In particular, I’m happy the earlier releases were featured here, as the band re-recorded most of their early tracks with third vocalist Matt Barlow on 1997’s ‘Days of Purgatory’, but to be honest, I actually prefer the original versions, so it’s great to see them get some love.

While there’s a good variety of songs, from fast, intense and aggressive to melodic and epic, a lot of the songs do sound pretty similar, and this can be a little tiresome if listened to in one sitting, especially at just over two hours in duration. But regardless, ‘The Blessed and the Damned’ is a good compilation that does the band justice, and is great as a starting point for new fans or as a collectible for old ones.

QUEEN Jazz

Album · 1978 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.58 | 29 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
QUEEN unleashed their last album of the 70s at the height of their popularity after releasing four hit albums in a row, countless sold out shows around the world with an equally impressive series of hit singles as well. By the time the band got to the 7th album JAZZ, it seems that the band was doing a little assessment of where they had been musically since their debut “Queen I” was released in 1973. While the title of the album may suggest that the band were embarking on yet another left turn into a new genre of music where perhaps they would tackle Miles Davis covers with a swing band or something, the band was really just pulling an old Jedi mind trick and creating an album that took elements from the six albums that preceded and then turning it all into one of the biggest parties of their career.

At this point, it seemed QUEEN could do no wrong with one hit after another and album sales going the multi-platinum status. On JAZZ once again QUEEN tackles a dizzying number of musical genres with their four man democracy finding the whole team stoking the flames of the songwriting process. Two songs for bassist John Deacon, two for drummer Roger Taylor, four for guitarist Brian May and five numbers for the charismatic frontman and pianist Freddie Mercury. Best known for its two flamboyant but gleefully hilarious Single / B-Side combo “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls,” JAZZ remains one of the bands funnest and most memorable albums of their career that runs the gamut from the usual piano ballads to the heavy rockers. In fact, JAZZ is one of QUEEN’s heaviest albums that takes the hard rock of the earliest albums and even brings back the some of the progressive experimental touches.

JAZZ consisted of thirteen tracks that bounce all over the place with each taking a 180 from its predecessor. Although Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar (part of Tanzania in Africa) and raised both there and in India, he had mostly eschewed any ethnic and folk heritages of his youth in his music and instead swallowed the Western world’s pop pill paradigm completely. Surprisingly, JAZZ begins with a tribute to his past with the opening “Mustapha,” that consists of a mix of English, Arabic and Persian lyrics. It starts off as exotic Middle Eastern music but then incorporates the expected QUEEN pop rock bombast with Mercury belting out his famous “Allah, Allah, Allah we pray for you” in fine form. The track was a single in some countries and the intro was often used in live settings as a variation of segueing to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

After the QUEEN’s version of silk road magic ends, the hilarious and bizarrely performed “Fat Bottomed Girls” finds the band in great harmony with Mercury and May sharing lead vocals. The official video featured a large number of naked girls riding bicycles since “Bicycle Race” was the single and this was the B-side. The track displays a standard bluesy hard rock sound that keeps the arena rock appeal while adding a more heavy metal feel with a drop D guitar tuning. The track is followed by the piano ballad “Jealousy” which begins with a bizarre sitar sound that is created from the strings of the piano, another technique dating back to the track “White Queen (As It Began)” from QUEEN II. The album takes many elements from the first album to the previous “News Of The World.”

The most recognized track on the album “Bicycle Race” is one of the most complex on the album and was inspired by the 1978 Tour de France when passing through Montreal where the band happened to be recording JAZZ at Mountain Studios. The track effortlessly fuses traditional pop music’s two verses and a chorus but adds a bicycle bell solo, unusual chord progressions and progressive time signatures that jump around. The multi-tracked vocal harmonies just kill it as do the multi-layered guitar antics of May. This is one of the most infectiously addictive songs ever, a true sing-along song if there ever was one. May also cranks out some very idiosyncratic guitar solos and the effortless deviation into an unrelated style seems like divine intervention.

Tracks like “If You Can’t Beat Them,” “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dead On Time” are more hard rockers mixed with soft parts while “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “In Only Seven Days” are lighter numbers. “Dreamer’s Ball” and “Fun It” are something completely different. The former, a tribute to Elvis Presley who had died the previous year of recording JAZZ, is a tasty bluesy number which is May’s baby with prominent guitars and has a rather dreamy high school ball charm. “Fun It” debuts QUEEN’s first foray into disco with a funky simple groove. While Taylor wrote it, he and Mercury perform shared lead vocals and while it may be the weakest track on the album, it clearly represents the direction of the future beginning with the following album “The Game’s” huge hit “Another One Bites The Dust” as the drumbeat is nearly identical.

The album ends with “More Of That Jazz” which is loop based performed entirely by May. While it’s a bona fide separate track, it morphs into a recapping medley that contains snippets of "Dead on Time", "Bicycle Race", "Mustapha", "If You Can't Beat Them", "Fun It", and "Fat Bottomed Girls” which perfectly sums up the entire feel of the JAZZ album, namely a recap of the entire 70s QUEEN experience. Hard rock with prog elements from the first two albums? Check. Sophisticated overdubs and multi-layered tracks of the “Days At…” albums? You bet. Pop based arena rock digestibility of “Sheer Heart Attack” and “News Of The World?” Oh yeah. QUEEN dished out their last great album with JAZZ and it truly feels like an end of an era in retrospect. It seems like they had already planned their next move which would be to nurture the pop elements and drop the heavier, the progressive and outlandish elements that made them, well QUEEN. Personally i never cared much for the albums that follow save a few tracks but on JAZZ they crafted another excellent assemblage of quirky catchy songs, which sadly ended here.

QUEEN News Of The World

Album · 1977 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.71 | 27 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
From the very beginning, QUEEN cleverly walked that line that skirted a pigeonholed genre definition and rather crafted a unique mix of hard rock, piano pop ballads, touches of jazz, Victorian music hall and subtle and not so hints of progressive rock which culminated on their hugely successful album “A Night At The Opera” which continued on the followup and sequel “A Day At The Races.” While the progressive rock scene was fading and then suddenly practically obliterated once the Sex Pistols detonated their punk rock bomb onto an unsuspecting music industry which once unleashed, the world would never be the same. Wise bands either folded completely or adapted. QUEEN wasn’t going anywhere and found a way to sally forth without completely abandoning their signature idiosyncrasies but by merely streamlining them into more digestible packets that would find them in a more commercial mood on their sixth album NEWS OF THE WORLD.

The punk rock scene was predominantly a backlash against the pompous fantasy bands that were more engaged in escapism than confronting the realities and injustices of the world that surrounded them. While the true prog acts were the most greatly affected, pseudo-prog light bands like QUEEN felt the impact as well but had less of a problem adapting since they were already half way there. Indeed, the relevance of the early 70s arena rock bands was fading and a new brand of ugly in-yer-face stripped down errancy was in the works ranging from the angry anarcho-punk of the Sex Pistols to the more artistic post-punk that followed. Adding to the pressures of change were also the more funk fueled bass grooves of the disco scene. The new audiences either wanted the world go down in flames or they simply wanted to usher in a new form of simplified escapism in the form of the dance floor. Either way, QUEEN was due for a makeover and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered and delivered with NEWS OF THE WORLD.

The irony of QUEEN’s situation was in that their music was about as far from punk as possible. It was multi-layered, slick and often had more in common with a ballet recital than a rock band but as luck would have it they would record their sixth album in the same studio that the Sex Pistols were working on their landmark punk album “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here Comes The Sex Pistols.” Joining the ranks of the once complex bands who were watering down their sound in response to the new wave reality, QUEEN tamed their musical compositions significantly and focused on more straight forward arrangements that kept the tracks more easily categorized with infinitely easier to swallow hooks. The tracks ranged from straight forward blues rock to funk and even a punkish metal guitar driven fury in the form of “Sheer Heart Attack,” an unfinished track during the sessions of the album of the same name that was revived for a modern day adaptation.

While QUEEN tamed the complexity, they made no attempt to decrease the diverse elements that made them stand out from the rest of the rock world. NEWS OF THE WORLD finds just as many musical genres nestled into the mix and while the over-the-top production had been tamed and used to create subtleties that weren’t so overweening, they were still there to be found. The music on the other hand was a new form of sing-along arena rock that was designed to be played in a live audience setting and nothing conveys this more than the album’s opening dynamic duo powerhouse combo of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions,” which have been literally played somewhere ceaselessly since they emerged back in 1977, especially after having caught on as being as mandatory as the national anthem at stadium sports events. Although played to death, the anthemic stomp and dripping with attitude lyrical content has guaranteed that the band probably made a billion dollars in royalties off these two tracks alone.

While the two openers are the sounds of dread for many including myself, the rest of the album isn’t quite as bad if taken in an arena pop rock context. “Sheer Heart Attack” is a feisty heavy metal punk infused rocker that proves that QUEEN didn’t wimp out while they were strolling down simplicity alley and an equal middle finger back to the punk crowds that made fun of their musical style. NEWS OF THE WORLD also became more a democracy for the band with both Roger Taylor and John Deacon composing two songs each. Taylor crafted the heavy ball busting “Sheer Heart Attack” and “Fight From The Inside” whereas Deacon contributed with “Spread Your Wings” and “Who Needs You.” May would write four tracks and Mercury only three making this the least Mercury dominant album up to this point in their career.

NEWS OF THE WORLD is a fairly decent set of pop rock tunes laced with other genres minus the first two overplayed tracks that i can no longer tolerate in any way shape or form. The tracks range from the same operatic piano led rock such as “All Dead, All Dead” and “Fight From The Inside” to the more funk and jazz laced tracks like “Get Down, Make Love,” “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” and “My Melancholy Blues.” Some of the music hall tendencies of the past still emerge briefly in tracks like “It’s Late,” but have mostly been replaced by bluesy rockers that are more suitable for a live arena rock setting. This was the period when QUEEN were on top of the world as far as playing in live venues.

While most fans of QUEEN’s earlier music won’t find NEWS OF THE WORLD to be anywhere near the top of their favorite QUEEN albums, the album has remained their most successful commercially speaking with sales exceeding 10 million as well as making them one of the most successful arena rock bands of all time. While i rarely listen to this one, mainly due to the two opening tracks, this is not a bad album for a once mighty progressively infused rock band in simplified form but in terms of sophistication a clear step down the totem pole. The artwork was also a stroke of genius in that it cleverly latched onto the sci-fi themes in the same year that Star Wars stole the public’s attention, so no matter what you may think of the music on NEWS OF THE WORLD, one can only gaze back in time in admiration as to how cleverly QUEEN played their cards in terms of a business oriented brand name and laughed all the way to the bank a mere four years after they were in utter poverty. Now that’s a true tale of rags to riches if i’ve ever heard one.

QUEEN A Day At The Races

Album · 1976 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.77 | 38 ratings
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Oh how the tides had turned for QUEEN in two short years. After completing the “Sheer Heart Attack” tour the band was destitute despite cracking the top 20 with two singles, having a high charting album and a successful world tour that consisted of 77 live performances. This was mostly due to the miscreancy of their manager Norman Sheffield. After firing the shady bloodsucker, the band hired Elton John’s manager John Reid who would instill in them the confidence to sally forth and crank out the best album possible. Lo and behold, QUEEN did just that with the lauded classic “A Night At The Opera,” a behemoth work of massive proportion that took everything QUEEN and put it on steroids. The album was considered the most expensive ever to make at the time with lavish production and countless studio time to make it one of the most classic albums in recorded music.

So how does one follow “A Night At The Opera?” Well, with A DAY AT THE RACES of course. Realizing that they had at last found the limelight they deserved with shady managers well behind, QUEEN went the logical route and created a sequel to their 1975 masterpiece with basically the same exact album cover albeit with a black background substituting for a white and yet another Marx Brothers film title which prompted Graucho Marx to contact the band and congratulate them on their success and excellent choice of album titles! The one two punch of Marx Bros film titles prompted the band to promise that there would never be any albums titled “Duck Soup” or “Room Service” in the future and that a new chapter of QUEEN would begin with the very next album.

QUEEN’s fifth album was eagerly anticipated and basically went platinum before it even went on sale but it when it did hit the market it shot up to #1 in various countries like the UK, Japan and the Netherlands as well as hitting #5 on the US Billboard 200. QUEEN were now superstars a mere two years after being on skid row and dangerously close to having no future as a band at all. Commercially A DAY AT THE RACES continued all the fortune and fame that “A Night At The Opera” had won this eccentric English quartet however despite the attempt to create a sequel which finds a similar musical approach of incorporating bluesy heavy rock, piano pop, waltzes and Victorian music hall themes with other disparate genres, the album comes off with a completely different feel. Unlike the previous album, this one also has gospel and jazz elements but tends to have less of the progressive rock nuances more present on the first four albums despite the many time signatures that do occur.

While A DAY AT THE RACES very much uses its predecessor as the template, there was a deliberate attempt not to merely carbon copy and paste onto a new album despite the almost identical album covers. Once again the entire band lent a hand in both the songwriting process and multi-instrumentalism with the usual Mercury and May tracks receiving the most exposure. Predictably the May penned tracks are heavier and guitar oriented. The feisty opener “Tie Your Mother Down” actually dated back to 1968 at the time when when May was working on his PhD in Astronomy and wrote the track on a Spanish classical guitar while vacationing in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The track was resurrected and given the heavy metal treatment and one of the better track on the album which made the perfect opener to SHOUT to the world that QUEEN was back.

Likewise, May’s other contributions included “Long Away” on which he not only played guitar but sang as well as the closer “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” which has two choruses sung in Japanese. The best May penned track is sure the heavy “White Man” which tackles the sticky subject of the atrocities that Native American populations were subjected to by the conquistadors of Europeans who stole and killed with impunity and how they continue to do so. This is one of the heaviest tracks the band has ever cranked out with chunky guitar riffs and rough and tumble harmonic vocal delivers by all the members.

Both Deacon and Taylor contribute a song each just as on the previous album. Deacon’s was “You And I” which is a piano driven track where Deacon himself plays acoustic guitar but not nearly as memorable as his outstanding “You’re My Best Friend” on “Opera.” Likewise Taylor delivered the guitar slide heavy “Drowse” which utilized the same 6/8 time signature that he used with “I’m In Love With My Car” although it sounds nothing like that track. Instead it is a mid-paced rock track with a very bluesy feel. Likewise, while decent not as memorable as “I’m In Love With My Car.”

The rest of the lion’s share was written by Freddie Mercury who implement this piano jangles as the basis for the songwriting process. He cranked out the expected similar ballads such as “You Take My Breathe Away” which began with a rather cool multi-tracked vocal intro turned piano ballad and outroed the same way. While Mercury would spew with vitriol on “Death On Two Legs” about his former business manager, on “The Millionaire Waltz” he would do the exact opposite by dedicating this one to his current manager John Reid who helped turn the tides. The track is noticeably similar to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in that the piano arrangements utilize the same multi-key and multi-meter elements as well as the multi-tracked guitars and vocal styles. The track also has many time signature changes making this one the most progressive on the album. The tasty “Somebody To Love” was influenced by the gracious gospel work of Aretha Franklin and become the big hit of the album.

While QUEEN was riding high by 1976 as they quickly became one of rock music hottest musical acts, it was also clear that there seemed little they could do to top the majesty of their miracle album “A Night At The Opera.” While all the elements were recycled for the following A DAY AT THE RACES, this sequel is clearly not up to par with the magnanimous and outlandishness of its predecessor. While there are many great tracks on board, none have the graced by the hands of god effect that “Opera” delivered with ease. At this point QUEEN was becoming formulaic as a pop rock act and would become more of a brand name rather than a true art rock band that had launched them into the limelight. Despite not living up to the magnitude that “Opera” delivered, A DAY AT THE RACES is still a stellar QUEEN album that delivers all the expected eccentricities, musical diversity and of course seas of overdubs to infinity. While Mercury’s wings may have become singed because he flew too high too quickly, at this point he and the rest of QUEEN were still airborne at least.

INVOCATOR Weave the Apocalypse

Album · 1993 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 7 ratings
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"Weave the Apocalypse" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Danish thrash metal act Invocator. The album was released through Black Mark Productions in 1993. Invocator were quite the prolific act on the Danish metal scene in the late 80s/early- to mid- 90s, and they had released a couple of well received demo tapes and their debut full-length studio album "Excursion Demise (1991)" before the release of "Weave the Apocalypse".

Compared to the furiously fast-paced and aggressive death/thrash played on "Excursion Demise (1991)", quite a few things have changed on "Weave the Apocalypse". While both albums can be labelled technical thrash metal, they sound very different and if you didn´t know it, it wouldn´t necessarily be obvious that it was the same band playing. There have been two lineup changes since the debut album as guitarist Jacob Schultz has been replaced by Perle Hansen and bassist Jesper M. Jensen has been replaced by Per Jakobsen. The two remaining members of the lineup from the debut are drummer Per M. Jensen (later of The Haunted), and guitarist/lead vocalist Jacob Hansen (who would later become quite a prolific producer).

While the two new guys bring much to the music (both get to shine several times during the album´s playing time), it´s in the basic songwriting department that the major changes have taken place. Instead of the fast-paced aggressive death/thrash of the debut the listener is treated to a predominantly mid-paced, heavy, rather sophisticated, and technical type of thrash metal. It´s quite original sounding and the obvious Dark Angel worship of the debut is now completely gone. The vocals by Jacob Hansen are still relatively raw although they are far removed from the caustic snarling vocals of the debut.

Another thing that seperates "Weave the Apocalypse" from "Excursion Demise (1991)" is the much shorter song lengths. While the tracks are generally pretty sophisticated and on occasion relatively technical/progressive, they are more conscise and don´t wander off into long blistering solos or adventurous structures like the case often was on the debut. The 10 track album is with it´s 34:25 minutes long playing time relatively short, but that format works well here.

The album features a powerful, clear, and well sounding production, so upon conclusion "Weave the Apocalypse" is a high quality sophomore album by Invocator. It´s up for discussion if it´s a better release than "Excursion Demise (1991)", but there´s no arguing that Invocator have developed their style greatly since the debut and that always takes great courage and an adventurous attitude (especially this early on in a career), which are both positive characteristics in my book. If I have to mention something that might be an issue to some, it would be the semi-raw vocal delivery by Jacob Hansen which I suspect won´t appeal to all listeners. The instrumental part of the music is quite brilliant though. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

QUEEN A Night At The Opera

Album · 1975 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 54 ratings
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By the time their third album “Sheer Heart Attack” had been released and run its course, QUEEN found themselves perched on a rather peculiar precipice. Not only had that album launched them onto the world’s stage with two huge hit singles, a Billboard top 20 album charting and a successful debut headlining tour that took them across the world on a 77 show live circuit that lasted several months but due to the rather unscrupulous shadiness of their business manager Norman Sheffield, the band was left in a state of unthinkable poverty despite the new found success, a state of affairs so utterly dismal that drummer Roger Taylor was even advised not to drum too hard because they couldn’t even afford to replace the drum sticks if they happened to break.

This left QUEEN in a very strange position where they would either soon become irrelevant and fade into history as a mere footnote of obscure 70s flashes in the pan or on the contrary go back into the studio and create one of the best albums of all time. After acquiring the management skills of John Reid who had helped Elton John become one of the top stars of the 70s, the band went into many studios and cranked out their fourth album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, which took the name of the famous Marx Brothers film and it should go without saying created their most successful and revered album of their entire career. Fate was truly on QUEEN’s side as EMI Records not only welcomed the band’s return to the studio but had enough faith to grace it with a lavish production job which would make A NIGHT AT THE OPERA the most expensive album ever recorded at the time.

With this do or die situation at hand, the 70s version of the Fab Four: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Deacon and Roger Taylor spent months in various studios crafting their most ambitious album yet and in many ways, the album that the previous three had been hinting at all along. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA took QUEEN’s eclectic styles of genre skipping with a lush complex production that implemented unthinkable layers of overdubs and multitrack recording techniques. All the efforts proved successful of course with A NIGHT AT THE OPERA going platinum on both sides of the Atlantic and spawning the band’s most successful single of their career “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a multi-segmented song so magnanimous in nature that it single-handedly made QUEEN one of the most popular rock bands in history.

Like the albums prior, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA continued QUEEN’s signature mix of catchy pop hooks, classically infused piano riffs, heavy rock bombast and progressive rock nuances. This fourth album puts all those attributes on steroids and finds Freddie Mercury’s operatic flamboyancy reaching its apex. In addition to the expected styles, QUEEN added even more disparate genres such as skiffle, Victorian music hall and even Dixieland jazz which gives A NIGHT AT THE OPERA the ping pong ball effect where one track cedes into another seemingly unrelated one that often gives the impression that tracks were recorded by completely different bands however careful listening will reveal a few underlying themes. The tracks segue together in the same key, May’s ubiquitous harmonic guitar overdubs and an extreme appetite for pomp and awe where no limitations are considered.

The state of affairs that found QUEEN starving while the bigwigs running the show got rich off their efforts found Freddie Mercury in a less than happy mood where he lashed out in the form of the album’s opener “Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To….)” which once the story is understood about the bloodsucking management makes perfect sense as the name Norman Sheffield can easily be inserted in the missing credit. The track opens with Mercury’s infamous piano style which quickly finds May’s equally eccentric guitar parts joining in. The track is a vituperatory heavy rock format with a catchy melodic development. While no names were mentioned, the thematic delivery ruffled feathers and found a lawsuit for defamation that was settled out of court.

Starting with the second track “Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon”, the album begins to alternate between heavy rock tracks and more piano driven music hall styles which are rather short little ditties that offer the spirit of the variation experienced in the music hall era of English musical halls that remained popular from the 1830s well into the 1960s. QUEEN joined bands like The Beatles and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in implanting this traditional form of music into their format. After track two’s short stint, it is quickly followed by the outstanding Roger Taylor penned “I’m In Love With My Car” which not only remains one of QUEEN’s most recognizable tracks with its heavily produced series of guitar sounds and unmistakable hooks but adds the humorous touch that fits in with the album titles Marx Brothers theme. While Taylor wasn’t a main songwriter, he was sort of the George Harrison of the band meaning when he was allowed to contribute he only delivered top quality.

Next up is “You’re My Best Friend,” a tender ballad that allowed bassist John Deacon to shine where he not only wrote the song but played the Wurlitzer piano as well as his usual bass. This would prove to be another huge hit for QUEEN which hit the top 10 and has remained one of the band’s most popular having appeared on every sort of Greatest Hits compilation conjured up over the years. Like Taylor, Deacon proved to be a vital ingredient to the band’s overall chemistry even if his contributions to songwriting were overshadowed by the dualistic prowess of the formidable Mercury and May team.

The next two tracks were all written by May with the self-described sci-fi skiffle track “39” being written and sung by Brian May. This acoustic guitar tale of a group of space explorers who engage in a time defying journey finds Deacon playing a double bass and Mercury and Taylor relegated to only serving as backup vocalists. Contrast ensues when the next heavily distorted and heavy rocker “Sweet Lady,” also a May construct, zigzags in waltz timing but finds a more 4/4 rich timing in various segments giving the true rocker of the album a rather progressive feel with one of May’s heaviest off-the-leash guitar solos on the entire album.

After the honky tonk jangle piano flashback of the Mercury piano driven “Seaside Rendezvous” which found a wealth of wind instruments such as clarinet, tuba, trumpets and kazoo and even a thimble induced tap dance section, the second side of the album finds May’s outstanding “The Prophet’s Song” adding some progressive rock touches, which is one of the album’s most ambitious tracks as well as longest as it extends past the eight minute mark. Graced with a toy Japanese koto, a strong guitar driven melody, passionately delivered lyrics and an unusual vocal canon that is bathed in psychedelic production techniques, this track displays a wild display of ever-changing dynamic shifts as it refers to the Book of Genesis with the famous line “return like the white dove” in reference to the tale of Noah’s Ark. It also showcases some of the band’s most outstanding vocal harmonies on overdrive. Probably one of my all time favorite tracks by QUEEN.

While the Mercury piano ballad “Love Of My Life” and the May banjo / ukulele Dixieland score “Good Company” are more of brief intermissions than actual serious compositions, they prove to be more like mood generating fluffers for the larger than life “Bohemian Rhapsody” which has remained QUEEN’s most recognizable contribution to the music scene in all of history. This idiosyncratic behemoth was developed as Mercury’s classic piano runs which dictate the other instrumentation but the score runs the gamut from tender piano ballad music to the famous ending opera segment that exhorts operatic themes in true Wagnerian pomp with references to Scaramouche, Galileo, Figaro, Beelzebub, Bismillah and of courses the fandango. The famous heavy metal ending and reprise to the piano melody have made this standout track immortal and entire books could be written about it. The track hit the top 10 once again in the 90s when it appeared on the film “Wayne’s World” proving that the track had multi-generational appeal.

As the album ends with the short reworked cover version of “God Save The Queen,” the British national anthem, it signifies that a new royalty had arrived with the release of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and with a new royal seal appearing on the album cover, it was clear that indeed a strange updated musical act had usurped the rock and roll crown and delivered one of the most ambitious, most expensive and most outlandish albums to have emerged in the 70s. While i find this album to the masterpiece that most deem it to be, it doesn’t necessarily start out that way. While some tracks are clearly stronger than other, a masterpiece isn’t about every track existing on an equal playing field but rather how they are juxtaposed next to each other and what their purpose is. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA has instantly lovable tracks but once the instant flash wears off, allows repeated listens to unleash new magic. That’s exactly what A NIGHT AT THE OPERA offers. An ever changing series of reactions that allows this to remain a classic in modern times just as it must’ve been when it was released. The only downside to this album is that the band was never able to replicate its grandiose heights again but nevertheless it made QUEEN a household name for the rest of time and continues to have new periods of interest.

ASTARTE Quod Superius Sicut Inferius

Album · 2002 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.52 | 6 ratings
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Warthur
This is the last hurrah from the original Astarte trio of Kinthia, Tristessa and Nemesis; Tristessa would keep the band going after this for a couple of albums before succumbing to leukemia complications. Whereas those later releases had Tristessa working with a clutch of allies, the early Astarte releases stood out from the black metal pack by having a woman-dominated lineup, which was uncommon in metal in general and just about unheard-of in black metal.

Not content with kicking down gender barriers in black metal, on Quod Superius they also kick down musical barriers, with a melodic black metal sound which deftly works in a few symphonic elements here and there, with pieces like the instrumental Sickness showcasing the band's technical capabilities whilst still remaining emotionally engaging and atmospheric. Black metal bands who shift from a raw style (as Astarte had on their earliest albums) into a more clean style of production are taking a bit of a risk, because that's when their true instrumental capabilities become apparent, but in this case Astarte are unveiled as a more than competent trio. It's something of a shame that Kinthia and Nemesis seem to have dropped out of the scene after this, and we can only hope to hear more from them in the future.

LIVING COLOUR Vivid

Album · 1988 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 12 ratings
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Warthur
Regardless of whether you were in on the Living Colour bandwagon from the beginning or came to them late because you happened to hear Cult of Personality used as CM Punk's entrance music, there's no denying that Vivid delivers exactly what its title promises: a bright, vibrant new musical sound.

Taking funk metal a bit further than fellow pioneers like Faith No More had managed and adding a few honest-to-goodness jazz fusion influences allowed Living Colour to achieve a sound that's truly ahead of its time; I was astonished to discover that this came out in 1988 when it sounds like it'd have been just as fresh and new had it come out any time in the coming decade. With socially conscious lyrics matched with excellent musicianship, Living Colour's debut might start flagging towards the end, and the rest of the album never quite hits the heights of Cult of Personality - but I'd describe that as a five-star song leading off a solidly three-and-a-half to four-star album.

QUEEN Sheer Heart Attack

Album · 1974 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 43 ratings
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Sometimes an artist’s trajectory is forged more by sheer luck rather than clever navigation and such is the case for one of rock history’s most celebrated and popular bands, namely QUEEN who having arrived rather late in the game in both the hard rock and prog scenes still managed to find themselves at the top of the world by decade’s end. After the power quartet of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon formed in 1970 after the disbanding of May’s previous band Smile, the Fab Four of the 70s would continue together uninterrupted until Mercury’s untimely passing in 1991. The debut QUEEN I showcased a unique mix of hard rock and glam imagery all dressed up with slightly progressive touches whereas QUEEN II took those attributes even further and projected an image of going yet further down the prog pike as the fantasy themes became more enriched as did the pomp and awe of musical flamboyancy.

But that’s exactly where fate stepped in. After QUEEN II was released in March 1974, the band embarked on a promotional tour with Mott The Hoople and even had a minor hit with their single “Seven Seas Of Rhye.” As luck would have it, Brian May was stricken with a case of hepatitis in the middle of the tour and the band was forced to cancel their remaining gigs. So as not to waste the time away, the other three members sallied forth minus May and began the process of crafting the next album. Without May’s input, the balance suddenly shifted to Mercury’s more pop infused piano led dynamics that offered more catchy melodies and crazy deviations from the norm of the 70s rock paradigm. While May was down, he wasn’t complete out as the rest of the band instead delved into the vaults and rescued forgotten May penned songs that dated back to the first album.

The result was the second album of 1974, SHEER HEART ATTACK which emerged in November and offered a completely different style than projected on the first two albums, a style that would dictate the classic QUEEN sound and would catapult them into superstar status. SHEER HEART ATTACK was an awkward album that provided the bridge between the overdub rich guitar attacks of the first two albums and the streamlined production heavy and more commercial sounding albums that follow. While tracks like the opening “Brighton Rock” exemplified May’s love of the delay pedal and rich tapestry of guitar overdubs, other tracks like “Killer Queen” and “Lily Of The Valley” were pure unadulterated Mercury crafted pop songs enriched with his unique crafty style that found his piano playing and vocal range shoot through the roof.

As a result of their Led Zeppelin meets Jimi Hendrix style of rock adding more slick elements of the more pop oriented hard rock bands such as The Sweet, QUEEN experienced instant success as “Killer Queen” sailed up the charts as a pop single and the album followed with sales going through the roof. The crown had been placed and QUEEN found its way into the royal rock hall of fame in no time. Despite SHEER HEART ATTACK sounding like a rather disjointed collection of unrelated tracks, QUEEN pulled it all off with gusto and proved that they had what it took to boldly delve into disparate genres of music without a second thought, a feat that hadn’t been attempted in popular rock music since The Beatles dominated the decade prior and a testament to the explorative power and ambition that set QUEEN apart from the plethora of “stuck in the blues” rock bands that cluttered the music scene.

It doesn’t take long to discover as “Brighton Rock” cedes into the following “Killer Queen,” a sultry swinging piano based pop hit about a high class prostitute, that SHEER HEART ATTACK was an album that hops, skips and jumps all over the musical spectrum looking for the next good time and perpetual party to crash. The lyrics had been brought back down to Earth and infused with both more serious and more lighthearted subject matter. Next up was the Roger Taylor penned “Tenement Funster” that tackled youth and rebellion and he even sang lead vocals before the tracks once again cede into a double whammy of Mercury’s melodic charm on “Flick Of The Wrist” and “Lily Of The Valley,” a triumvirate of tracks that created a larger medley.

Despite a more pop appeal, QUEEN still dished out the machismo with the ball busting guitar riffing frenzy of “Stone Cold Crazy,” a clattering track of distortion and bombast that presaged both speed and thrash metal by nearly a decade however the biggest surprise of the album comes from Mercury’s interest in vaudeville kitsch in the form of the piano driven blast from the past “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” which showcased a ukulele and banjo section as well as Deacon tackling the double bass. While May was down and out for much of the album’s development, he returned in time to tack on the superb “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos) where he wrote and sung the lyrics and provides a wealth of not only the expected overdubs but field samplings from busy New York City gloom and doom. “In The Lap Of The Gods” provided a two part theme revised bringing the QUEEN II era of just a few months prior to mind.

While there is no denying that QUEEN was a formidable talent, there was no guarantee as to how they would direct this talent much less become one of the biggest bands of all time. SHEER HEART ATTACK displayed how both talent, audacity and sheer luck melded together to create a more tangible and unifying style that would attract an infinitely larger listening audience. While not as stylistically slick or as unifying brilliant as QUEEN II and not nearly as accomplished as the followup “A Night At The Opera,” one can easily hear the nascent birth pangs of many of the ideas that would continue to evolve and dish them out in small rations. SHEER HEART ATTACK despite its rather awkward nature is nevertheless utterly infectious with a staggering amalgamation of groovy rhythms and ever changing dynamics with instantly likable melodies and just enough avant-garde pomp and awe to rival the most outrageous bands of the day. A transition album perhaps, but a really good one.

BORISLAV MITIC Borislav Mitic

Album · 1999 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Serbian born BORISLAV MITIC caught the guitar bug early on at the age of 11 when he began to emulate his influential guitar gods that ranged from Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore to Jimmy Page before discovering the new bars raised that started with the shredding wizard of Yngwie Malmsteen and subsequent army of faster-than-the-speed-of-light shredders that ranged from the neoclassical prowess of Jason Becker and Marty Friedman to the more bizarre guitar freakery from Bumblefoot and Todd Duane. After setting his homeland on fire with his debut album “Fantasy,” he caught the attention of the never-ending searcher of guitar virtuosity in the form of Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records who offered him a chance to join the big boy’s club and enter the world stage. Fearing missed opportunities in a then recently collapsed Yugoslavia, MITIC relocated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and so he could work on his first self-titled international release.

Whilst the “Fantasy” album showcased MITIC’s uncanny finger dexterity and militant command of classical scale manipulation, this eponymously titled album finds MITIC adopting a wider palette of influences many of which were taken from the fertile crossroads of his homeland in the Balkan area of southeastern Europe. While BORISLAV’s technical chops had been honed perfectly on “Fantasy,” on this album they find their way into a more meaningful mystic journey through various styles ranging from not only the classical leanings of the previous album but incorporate many folk elements that range from Balkan gypsy swing, Celtic Irish jigs, caffeinated waltzes and Middle Eastern rhythms that are sifted from a plethora of regional cultural and religious imprints from his youth. All of which conspire to embark on a fascinating mix of ethnic folk music amplified by the extremities of neoclassical shred metal gone wild.

The album starts off with the opening tracks “Sky Rider” and “Chasing A Dream” which furiously erupt into shredder’s paradise with blitzkrieg finger breaking antics that not only showcase MITIC’s guitar shredding talents and ability to compose brilliant material to solo over but also the two other members who join in to make this more of a band sound. Jacques Roy joins in on bass and although not as funk rock oriented as the bass player on “Fantasy,” finds a unique role in the rhythmic performances. This album also finds a real human drummer in the form of Marc Bonneau who is equally talented with more tricks and trinkets than simply keeping the beat while the guitarist goes nuts. These three provide a well-balanced rhythmic drive although it’s true that the star of the show is of course MITIC whose shredding skills are on full display although he carefully crafts the compositions so that they are climax producing crescendos for the most part rather than a ceaseless cannonade of blitzkrieg bombast.

In addition to the expected guitar shredding excellence par none are atmospheric and even ambient segments that build emotional portraits before the more aggressive elements kick in. Three sets of tracks provide a slow and brooding swarm of atmospheric build up before a more folk oriented metal track is allowed to unfold. These include “Mystic I & II” with its sizzling Hendrix inspired riffing, the metal jig “Celtic Legends I & II” as well as the more progressive metal oriented “Light Of 7 I & II” which runs the gamut of emotional connection before adding the technical wizardry. It begins with an Indian sitar inducing raga to usher in a bombastic time signature rich sizzling riff and solo frenzy. While heavier metal is the king of the roost here, MITIC also implements the slower number “Ballade Pour Elle” which complements the ambient and more chilled out intros.

BORISLAV MITIC found his happy zone on this international debut where his pyrotechnic shredding skills integrate perfectly into not only the bluesy rock and parades of wah-wah rich riffing but especially in the mystic folk laden journey in which he rides the caravan and adds his own guitar sounds on top of. This is a brilliant album that works on many levels. Highlight tracks are the two openers “Sky Rider” and “Chasing A Dream,” “Celtic Legends,” the feisty facemelter “Bird Dance” and my favorite gypsy swing inspired “Southern Wind.” Every track fits together perfectly with the exception of the rather tediously generic closer “Fairytale’s End” which i find quite weak in comparison but since it’s the last track i just pretend it doesn’t exist. While neoclassical instrumental shredding albums are surely not to everyone’s liking, for those who find this stuff exhilarating, BORISLAV MITIC offered one of the best of the genre with this self-titled gem.

ALIEN WEAPONRY

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
You know how thrash metal died in the early 90s, and it’s only produced rehashes of it’s glory days over and over again ever since? Yeah? Well, you don’t know shit.

In the past few years there have been a number of fresh, new, young bands revitalising the genre. Warbringer, Nervosa, Power Trip, and Vektor have done more than reanimate thrash’s mouldy corpse. Bands like these have taken the vital building blocks and constructed something new, keeping the foundations in the 80s, but the superstructure is something fresh and new. There is another name to add to that list of bands: Alien Weaponry.

Three lads of Maori descent from the Far North of New Zealand have been making a huge racket for a good few years now, and still aren’t out of their teens. For those unfamiliar with Alien Weaponry, the band is made up of brothers Lewis and Henry De Jong and their good mate Ethan Trembath, and formed in 2010. Henry was 10 and Lewis was 8. Ethan (the same age as Lewis) joined a little later, knowing Lewis from Primary school and then clown school. A former ukulele player, he got the job as bass player because he was the only one who’s arms were long enough to reach the end of a bass guitar. Yup. This is truly a 21st century band.

The martial spirit of Maori culture has been crying out for a full metal release for decades. Every Man For Himself came close with their 2010 EP “Te Pae Mahutonga”, but it was more a hardcore release steeped in self-help and wellbeing philosophy from a Maori spiritual perspective, and the lyrics were in English. “Tu” on the other hand is a bilingual tour de force.

So what’s the meaning behind “Tu”? Well, that’s open to interpretation. Maori is an expressive rather than strictly descriptive language, and meaning is often dependent on context. The album title is an example. The word tu can mean to stand, to stop, to be established, to be wounded, to remain, sort, or to take place. Which meaning is appropriate here? It’s up to the listener to decide. [Note: any translations from here on are my own interpretations and might be light years distant from what the band meant. I’m not a native Maori speaker, so any mistakes and limitations with the language are all mine. I also don’t have macrons on my keyboard, for the written language.]

Introductory first track “Whaikorero” (formal speech) opens with the eerie moan of the purerehua (bull roarer) and the otherworldly voice of the koauau (flute) accompanying the verse of the whaikorero. It is a short story about a nineteenth century encounter between the band’s ancestors and invading/colonising British forces. It was recorded in the Waipu caves, near the boys’ home, further enhancing the atmosphere. It is one of several tracks recorded by Tom Larkin, New Zealand metal royalty, better known for his role as drummer for Shihad.

And then into “Ru Ana Te Whenua” (Shaking my homeland). It starts with a chanted challenge, and then rips into an introductory riff, pounding drums, and suddenly it’s like Pantera reborn and singing in a different language. The guitars are fucking massive! The vocal melody and chanted breakdown are familiar to anyone who has experienced the Maori culture, with the call and response style chants, only it’s never been done before with chunky metal riffs and double kick bass drums.

“Holding My Breath” is written in English. It shows the maturity of songwriting of these young men. It could be considered a teen angst song, but that would be selling it well short. These lyrics apply to anyone suffering anxiety or depression at any age. This trio has already won song writing awards, competing against much older and more mature songwriters.

“Raupatu” (Conquest) goes fully political. To simplify a very complicated story, the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding constitutional document, a treaty signed between the British crown and Maori in 1840. There were problems right from the outset, as the treaty dealt with Maori as a united entity, when really it was a fractured, tribal society. Some tribes signed on behalf of others without their knowledge, giving away rights which weren’t theirs to give. What’s worse, there were problems in translation. The Maori word “rangatiratanga” and the English word “sovereignty” mean quite different things, but were used to mean the same thing in the treaty. The British settlers merrily confiscated huge tracts of prime land all over the country, while Maori thought of it as a loan, or thought they retained ownership. This led to armed conflict, and a number of wars between the Crown and Maori, including the massacre of unarmed civilians at Parihaka in the Taranaki region. The wars led to more confiscations by the crown, a shameless land-grab disguised as punishment. Much of the land confiscated came from tribes not even involved in the fighting. Right… Get all this straight in your head, and a lot of the songs here start to make more sense.

“Kai Tangata” (Human Food) sounds more disturbing than it really is. It’s not a Cannibal Corpse-style slasher cannibal story. It describes a pre-European war party, as they prepare for battle. Their goal is to take the enemy’s heads or liberty. Maori warriors defeated in battle expected their foes to eat their bodies, to incorporate their spirit, or to become passive slaves, who could also be killed and eaten at any time. It was a brutal, uncompromising custom, while the song veers between the brutal and the melodic.

And really, brutal but melodic is the prevailing theme for this entire album. “Rage – It Takes Over Again” could be about teen angst, online bullying, or just good old-fashioned rage-fuelled violence. “The Things That You Know” looks on the surface also like it could be another angst anthem, but a slightly deeper examination points at how some people have problems leaving behind preconceptions.

The whispers of “Whispers” are governmental promises made and broken. There is a sample of former conservative politician and reserve bank governor Don Brash (think Donald Trump minus the rampant ego and dead cat hairpiece), parroting anachronistic, patronisingly racist attitudes to Maori and their culture. Those attitudes almost brought Brash to political power in 2005. Almost… The lyrics pull no punches, in both English and Maori, and point out how the government of New Zealand does not look out for Maori interests, despite the Treaty of Waitangi.

The lyrical and musical maturity on show throughout this album belies the tender age of these three young men. For a debut album, “Tu” is highly impressive. It doesn’t go off the rails by the band trying too hard to impress. While there are a couple of missteps, these are minor issues. Thrash metal is far from dead, and has a bright future. The future has arrived already.

TERRORIZER Caustic Attack

Album · 2018 · Grindcore
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Back in 1989, Terrorizer showed the metal world that grindcore didn’t have to be mired in shoddy D.I.Y. hardcore production and sounds, and could have a metallic sharpness to it. The band has rightly been praised and idolized for their influence on grind and death metal. Lyrically, they straddled the line between the political early grindcore, like Napalm Death and Sore throat, and the gore and horror of early death metal, like Autopsy and Necrophagia. Terrorizer was also famed for the high levels of musicianship demonstrated too, with the Morbid Angel pairing of Pete Sandoval and David Vincent showed that simply abusing the hell out of the kick and snare drums, and distorted blown-out weren’t the only way to play grindcore. Jesse Pintado’s breakneck riffage saw him fit in perfectly to Napalm Death.

For many years, it seemed “World Downfall” would be a one-off, treasured by fans of extreme metal the world over. Until 2006 it was. And then something happened to change history. Terrorizer dared “reform” and record a second album! “Darker Days Ahead” was poorly received, and was somewhat overshadowed by Pintado dying only days after it’s release. Another album “Hordes of Zombies” was released in 2012, and a fourth album, “Caustic Attack”, arrived in 2018. The three 21st century albums have been criticised for ruining the legacy of the band, and are supposedly pale imitations of the ’89 original.

The observant reader out there might have noticed the word “reform” was in “quotation marks”. It was like that for a “reason”. The criticism levelled at the “reformed” Terrorizer, and the three subsequent “albums” really is moronic. It is proof that those voicing these criticisms are elitist fools of the highest level, and have no idea of the true legacy of Terrorizer. A bold claim? Perhaps. But then, consider this:

TERRORIZER BROKE UP IN 1988.

Yep. There was no such band as Terrorizer in 1989 when “World Downfall” was released. What’s more, some of the songs on “World Downfall” weren’t even Terrorizer songs. Explanation time.

After Terrorizer broke up, Sandoval joined Morbid Angel, and vocalist Oscar Garcia continued to work with his other band Nausea. Bass player Alfred Estrada ended up in jail. Enter one Shane Embury. Napalm Death’s four string grind maestro Embury loved Terrorizer’s demos and the split they had shared with the aforementioned Nausea. He pestered Earache Record’s main man Dig Pearson into funding a posthumous Terrorizer album. And the rest is history? Well, not quite. There was the matter of recording the album.

Sandoval was ensconced in Morrisound Studios in Florida, busy recording Morbid Angel’s incendiary debut “Altars of Madness”. Garcia and Pintado arrived at the studios to put the album together. Busting Estrada out of jail was a bit beyond the resources of the band, so Sandoval’s band mate Vincent was pulled in to cover bass and some vocal duties. Right so time to rip into it? Er, not quite… Garcia had also played guitar in the original Terrorizer, but realised he couldn’t remember how to play most of the songs. No matter, Pintado had that covered. And away we go… almost. There weren’t actually enough Terrorizer songs to fill an album. What to do? Well, why not borrow some Nausea songs. So they did. Eight hours in the studio, with Vincent and Scott Burns twiddling the knobs in the studio, and “World Downfall” and Terrorizer were done.

So, a band which no longer existed recorded a single album of songs that weren’t even all theirs in super quick time, and what happened? Well, basically everyone fucked off to their respective new gigs, “World Downfall” hit the shelves, and extreme metal fans went mad for it.

So, back to the present day. 29 years after the band’s debut, a fourth Terrorizer album has arrived. There will be the usual naysayers and elitists going on about how it won’t be as good as the original, and that present day Terrorizer isn’t Terrorizer, that it’s a cash-in, a rip-off, a fake, or whatever else. Let them fester in their smug elitist stink. Anyone who takes the time to actually listen to “Caustic Attack” will be rewarded with what Terrorizer has always produced – sharp, intelligent metallic grindcore which is both thought provoking and fun at the same time.

The biggest difference between “Caustic Attack” and “World Downfall” is the improvement in production and sound quality. While “World Downfall” set new standards for grindcore clarity, “Caustic Attack” is sharper still.

Sandoval’s performance in particular is stunning. He has more room to explore looser high speed rhythms than he did in Morbid Angel. Three decades have not dulled the man’s skills in the slightest. From the first moments of lead-off track “Turbulence” he’s straight into his trademark machinegun double kick drums and rattling the snare like a man possessed. What is also instantly obvious is that the trademark Terrorizer riffs are there in bucketloads, and that the new line-up of Sandoval, bassist/vocalist Sam Molina and guitarist Lee Harrison are a match of any previous line-up of the band.

In the past, Terrorizer has mainly produced on short songs, with only a few making it past the three minute mark. Hell, the legendary “Dead Shall Rise” only just clocked past that mark at 3:05. This time out, there are a few longer songs. Does it mean the band has slowed down at all? Nah, you definitely haven’t been paying attention. Five songs come in over four minutes long. This is not a bad thing at all. It just means there’s more Terrorizer to savour. “Crisis” is the first of the longer tracks, but it doesn’t seem like it.

That’s not to say that the hardcore blasts of the past have disappeared either. The title track and “Poison Gas Tsunami” are sharp and, well, caustic and leave the listener salivating for more.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or new on offer here. That is not why you listen to Terrorizer, because the band broke that ground already, in 1989. This is simply the fourth installment from a highly influential band which never managed to record an album in it’s original incarnation. Anyone unable to get past that is a fool to themselves. Extreme metal, grindcore, deathgrind, or whatever other label you want to slap on this band, simply doesn’t get much better than this.

ANAL TRUMP The First 100 Songs

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Grindcore has a reputation for covering some really sick shit sometimes. Shit is the preferred thematic matter for many bands, but there’s other subjects, like sexual perversion, necro-sadism, extreme violence, and all manner of gore, viscera, bodily functions and excretions, and general dark fucked-upped-ness which pervade the various grind subgenres. However, look back at grindcore’s roots, at bands like Napalm Death, Sore Throat, or Electro-Hippies, and what was a big chunk of the subject matter? It was politics.

Back in the day, it was raging against Thatcher and Reagan. Today, chaotic grind duo Anal Trump has realised that the sickest shit going now is the one man idiot show of the current American president.*

“The First 100 Songs” is unashamedly political. It was released on the day of the 2018 mid-term elections. It is a compilation of Anal Trump’s previous EPs, with 30 new songs added. All 100 are “songs” in the same way that namesake Anal Cunt’s “5643 Song EP” really has 5643 songs. These are short, chaotic, incoherent blasts of noise lasting anywhere from fractions of a second to a few seconds. If you sit and watch carefully, your media player might show you when one song ends and another begins, but you’re not going to hear it yourself. It’s all done in about 11 minutes. The song and EP titles are politically biting and highly offensive, but the most offensive thing about them is a lot of them came directly from Donald Trump’s own mouth. Just to remind you of how repulsive a human being Trump actually is, this is interspersed with samples of The Donald, in all his grammatically incorrect, politically illiterate, and morally reprehensible glory.

The duo of Travis Trump and Rob Trump are not doing this for money. Both have day jobs in real bands. Any profits from previous recordings have gone to various socially worthy charities.# “The First 100 Songs” is pure novelty and sick parody. Shit, even the cover has a picture of Trump’s face attached to a naked fat masturbating body. It can’t be taken seriously, but it’s making a serious statement. This is shit which needs saying, sadly, because it needs saying.

*Please note these are my own opinions of the person elected to lead the American people, and in no way reflect the attitudes, opinions, or editorial stance, of Metal Music Archives – V.F.

#As at time of writing it’s unclear if any profits are going to a charity this time, but personally I’d suspect so – V.F.

BORISLAV MITIC Fantasy

Album · 1996 · Neoclassical metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BORISLAV MITIC was merely one of the legion of guitar shredders who followed in the footsteps of not only the early guitar god pioneers such as Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker but quickly joined the new ranks of technically gifted neoclassical shredders that emerged in the wake of Yngwie Malmsteem who continued to ratchet up the technical skills to a ridiculously high bar. Born in Beograd, Serbia, at that time Yugoslavia, a young BORISLAV began his guitar training at the tender age of 11 and quickly joined the ranks of some of the world’s most extraordinary neoclassical guitar shredders by the age of 18 in his homeland.

His debut album FANTASY was recorded in 1992 and premiered his ability to shred in the big boy’s club. While this album was released in 1996 as a Serbian domestic product, it was this very album that got him signed to the Shrapnel Records label that specialized in snatching up all the virtuoso guitar talent of the world. MITIC would relocate to Montreal, Canada and after releasing his self-titled debut for Shrapnel, he would re-release this early recording turned Serbian debut again in 2000 for an international audience.

FANTASY is all about advertising guitar virtuosity. MITIC was a huge fan of classical violinist Niccolo Paganini and this debut finds his virtuoso guitar playing successfully adapting to many of the classical world’s greatest hits so to speak with from not only Paganini but also from Handel and Bach. This all instrumental neoclassical outburst of energy focuses on two completely different aspects. It allows MITIC to shred at the speed of light to the adaptations of the classical past masters and it also showcases MITIC as a songwriter in conjunct with the extraordinary bass work of Stevan Nimcevic and two tracks that are keyboard oriented and played by Bojan Isailovic.

Within the span of 14 tracks, MITIC runs the gamut of ridiculously mind-blowing interpretations of Niccolo Paganini’s “Caprices No. 24 in A Minor and No. 17 in E-flat Major” which is teased into the frenetic opener “Master Of Strings” to the ubiquitously mandatory version of “La Campanella” which has become rather cliche and less enthralling than the opener. The highlight of the entire album is the outstanding Handel inspired title track that not only offers the most technically adept shredding workouts but also excels in the creative dynamic changes that offer as much brilliance as the original piece. The other outstanding Paganini piece is the closer “Moto Perpetno” which features a melodic keyboard riff accompanied by MITIC’s finger breaking antics.

Classical reinterpretations aside, the rest of the album is more bass driven with a rather funky groove and hard rock feel which allows Nimcevic to shred on the bass which comes off as bad ass as the guitar. Extreme caution is implemented in the mixes here as MITIC, while able to shred a million miles per second is reserved as to when he unleashes his frenetic discharge. The melodic development and compositional flow supersedes any extreme episodes of wankery, however once the fingers are let loose they conjure up some of the most sophisticated shredding that can be heard.

While MITIC’s eponymous debut album on Shrapnel is far superior for its incorporation of various folk elements to his neoclassical shredding workouts, FANTASY is a decent slice of all instrumental guitar god magic that is a pleasure to listen to on occasion despite the album feeling a little lopsided between two disparate styles and a little heavy with sappy ballad type material that shows a more sensitive side than most shredders engage in. MITIC proves he was up to the task of competing with the likes of Paul Gilbert, Ron Thal, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai on this debut FANTASY but lacks enough creative prowess to push himself above the ranks of the already established shredders of the 90s.

KORPIKLAANI Noita

Album · 2015 · Folk Metal
Cover art 2.94 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
2015’s ‘Noita’ is quite a confused release from the Finnish folk metallers in many ways, as they often seem to have far more in common with the Viking Metal or Pirate Metal movement than for the one for which they are more well-known (in many ways I guess these are sub genres of the sub-genre of folk metal, so sub-sub-genres). They even include a cover, here called “Jouni Jouni”, which is actually “Mony Mony” (originally by Tommy James and the Shondells, I still like the version by Billy Idol). Like the rest of the album, it’s not bad, but it also isn’t what I really expect from the band. This is their ninth studio album so would have expected something a little better than this.

The most positive thing that can be said about this album is that it is decidedly average, with a distinct lack of consistency and an impression of a band both going through the motions and losing their way. Once can only hope that the next one would be better.

QUEEN Queen II

Album · 1974 · Proto-Metal
Cover art 4.44 | 54 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
While QUEEN has become one of the most respected and loved rock bands of all time, the first two albums don’t seem to receive nearly as much admiration as the blockbuster mega-hits of “Night At The Opera” and “Sheer Heart Attack,” however despite the debut not being quite as popular in more esoteric circles, QUEEN II definitely hits a high note in both the hard rock and prog crowds for its clever advanced musical developments from QUEEN I. Despite no catchy hit like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” QUEEN II is nevertheless a primo album experience that found the band riding the momentum from their first album tour and finding a new musical mojo with producers Roy Baker and Robin Cable adding all the art rock sensibilities to QUEEN’s already flamboyant take on hard glam rock of the early 70s.

While often thought of as a concept album of sort, QUEEN II is more of a collection of tracks that flow nicely together with “Side White” mostly composed by guitarist Brian May and “Side Black” constructed by Freddie Mercury with his larger than life fantasy worlds coming to full life and decorated by his signature piano playing style. QUEEN II offered a leap in production techniques which found catchy multi-layered overdubs that would become the band’s trademark as well as the more varied and textured vocal harmonies that were progressively strewn together with musical styles that amplify the energetic hard rock performances. This all finds the band performing not only one of their most heavy of albums but also their most majestic with intricate melodies slinking around and stitching together loose themes and heavy beats that is all graced with the famous album cover that band would use for their entire career in videos and advertising purposes.

The album begins with “Procession” which is a short funeral march displaying May’s famous multi-guitar track techniques but quickly morphs into “Father To Son” which finds Freddie Mercury upping his game with the more sophisticated piano tinkling that revolves around May’s heavy guitar bombast that he magically creates through his famous series of different amps and gear. Drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon are not only on top of their game instrumentally but the whole team is smoking hot with their some of their most intricately designed vocal harmonies that the quartet has ever pulled off. In addition to the standard rock instruments there are tons of acoustic guitar parts, harpsichord, bells, marimba and various percussive instruments. When all is said and done, QUEEN II finds the bombast of early heavy metal trading off with classically inspired piano riffs and Medieval folk sounding segments that are all teased out in a rich tapestry of progressive time signatures and art rock sensibilities.

While “Side White” showcases May’s contributions, “Side Black” finds Freddie Mercury letting loose like he never did on QUEEN I. One of his earliest songs that dated to 1971, “Ogre Battle” found Mercury expanding his vocal talents as well with dramatic screams, passionate heart-felt lyrical deliveries and a knack for his flawless high pitched vocals segueing into falsetto and back. While every track is stellar, the album’s absolute pinnacle of creativity and peak performance surely belongs to “The March Of The Black Queen,” which displays an early similarity to Mercury’s most outrageous track “Bohemian Rhapsody” as it shares not only a similar piano run but also the progressive complexities that include dueling polyrhythms in 8/8 and 12/8 time signatures with all the dramatic flair that would make QUEEN one of the most successful bands of the entire 70s.

While QUEEN II may lack the instantly sugary sweet addicting qualities of future albums, for those who have more refined tastes and crave a more subtle mix of savory, acrid and salty with their sucrose, QUEEN II is the absolute pinnacle of the band’s career with a sophistication of a progressive rock band without sacrificing the melodic driven developments that flashy virtuosic playing tended to sacrifice during the prog era. Luckily the decades that have passed have allowed future fans to learn to appreciate this second album by the legendary band whose goal was not only to rock your world but to take you on an unexpected journey along the way. While i’m a fan of pretty much all the 70s albums that QUEEN released before they stagnated into a world of mediocrity, QUEEN II remains at the top of my list for most cleverly designed and compositionally perfect albums of their entire canon. This was the album that opened the magic gates to the new kingdom where they would wear the crown for the rest of the decade.

MAYAN Dhyana

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has taken four years for MaYaN to come back with their third album, and given I was such a major fan of ‘Antagonise’ I was intrigued to see what they were going to come up with. That album took symphinc death metal to a new level, but I don’t think anyone expected them to record the next album with a full orchestra (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) and five singers! Jack Driessen and Mark Jansen are still at the helm of the multi-headed beast they have created, and their vision really knows no bounds. This is over the top, epic, cinematic, majestic, and quite incredible.

The orchestra has taken on many of the roles originally provided by keyboards, which gives the music more power and depth, with real brass and strings striving to be heard, really driving the symphonic element. Then this is combined with metal which refuses to take prisoners, moving between commercial elements and death with ease. Add into the mix some incredible female vocals combining with both rock vocals and death vocals, and it creates something very special indeed. It isn’t possible to fathom where the music is going to lead as they switch it up so much, with a full on death attack suddenly being replaced by a very high female soprano with just piano for accompaniment. This is the likes of Dimmu Borgir being taken to a whole new level, and then just when it feels that it couldn’t become more bombastic we are treated to the title cut with stunning female vocals and picked acoustic guitar with a cello coming in for support. It builds and builds, and shows both restraint and total understanding for contrast and dynamics, light and shade.

In some ways this band was originally almost an offshoot of Epica and After Forever, but the child has superseded the parents, as yet again MaYaN have released an album of incredible complexity and power which is simply stunning.

KORPIKLAANI Kulkija

Album · 2018 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Three years on from their last, Finnsih Folk Metallers Korpiklanni are back with their tenth album ‘Kulkija’, which means ‘Wanderer’. The band state that this album is the closest to their on stage sound, as for tracking they used their tour set up, so will be able to easily perform all of this live. As well as being their longest album to date, in many ways it is also a concept as the wanderer of the album title appears in every song, with each track representing one of his life experiences. For example, opening song “Neito” (which translates to “Maiden”) is about his woman. The road is a wanderer’s bride, a maiden who he misses and who he travels with. However, the real maiden is waiting for his return home. After a journey you may bury your carriage, but the wistful traveller’s songs and music will be carried where it lies. A traveller was born to wander.

It must be said that I am not always a great fan of the folk metal genre, as it often feels that both sides suffer, but this album is definitely one of those where it all works together incredibly well. Far more folk than “just” folk metal, the album has a musical continuity which allows it all to hang together, and although there are times when they allow themselves some metallic guitar, for the most part this feels far more about a logical progression of a musical form as opposed to two opposing styles being brought crashing together. There is a great deal here that pure folkies will find to enjoy, especially with the lyrical violin and the delicate accordion, and one has to wonder what metalheads will think of it. I can imagine this album getting far more play at Cropredy than Wacken, although for some reason I am sure there is more chance of them playing at the latter than the former. Of all their albums I own, this is the one to which I will most often be returning.

PAIN OF SALVATION One Hour by the Concrete Lake

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 53 ratings
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The Crow
Marvellous Pain of Salvation's second act!

If Entropia was a very eclectic (it's a great album anyway), One Hour by the Concrete Lake is fair to its concept, offering a diverse but very well structured and funny piece of prog metal, full with changes and surprises, but in a clear and personal direction. Every song fit perfectly in the concept, and the sound of the album is homogeneous the whole time. This was the main problem if always found in the debut album Entropia, and they fixed it perfectly with this second opus.

Mixing the typical Pain of Salvation's jazz influences with some folk elements, and the complex hard riffs parts, Daniel Gildenlow made another outstanding performance with his voice. You only have to hear Water, or Pilgrim... I will never be tired of saying this man has the best voice in prog metal ever. Just incredible singing. The rest of the band also makes well. Ok, I never liked the Johan Langell's drum sound, a bit empty and too noisy, but it is not a big problem anyway. The production of the album is crystal clear, and a special mention deserves the keyboards sound, very well accomplished.

Best tracks: New Year's Eve (great guitar melodies), Water (what a way of singing!), Black Hills (dark, complex, and complete track), Pilgrim (the most beautiful Pain of Salvation's acoustic?) The album is full with good tracks, and except a few dull parts, the level is outstanding. The short length also helps to enjoy the full album without avoiding any song.

Conclusion: after the very good Entropia, Pain of Salvation improved their style to making their first full conceptual album. Their personal, dark and complex way to understand prog metal is here yet. And even this album doesn't reach the levels of The Perfect Element or Remedy Lane, is an excellent addition to any prog collection, without a doubt.

My rating: ****

P.S.: this review was originally written for ProgArchives.com, and rewritten to be included here.

PAIN OF SALVATION Entropia

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 54 ratings
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The Crow
Very good debut form this fantastic progressive metal band!

This album has very good ideas and instrumental development for being a debut. Here we can hear very mature compositions with a good production too (only the drum’s sound it's a little weak in my opinion, the double pedal it's almost indistinguishable) I think the most important fact for what this band should be heard by everyone it's the Daniel Gildenlow's voice: he is probably one of the best singers in prog-metal history!!! His voice it's simply incredible, powerful and with a lot of variety and interpretation's possibilities. And he sings with a lot of sentiment, really feeling and interpreting the lyrics.

Another important fact of this debut album it's the former member Daniel Magdic's presence, because on the contrary of later POS's releases, the music isn't composed only by Daniel. Magdic composed part of some songs of Entropia, and it's great, because his influence made this songs variated and this fact rest a little of the melancholy and sadness of the Gildenlow's compositions. This fact makes this album a little different, it has its own personality. The Daniel Magdic's way of composing music is a little Drean Theater oriented, and it can be heard in songs like ! (Foreward) and Stress. For me, it's a pity that this is the only POS's album where he played, because I think his playing and compositions are very good.

And I love the bass's playing and sound too. The bass sounds amazing in songs like People Passing By and Nightmist. Better than other Pain Of Salvation's albums! It's a little mysterious... Maybe the Magdic's influence too?

Best tracks: Winning a War (funny and hard-rocking tune), Oblivion Ocean (a precious one), Nightmist (this songs has all that a good POS's tune should have) and Leaving Entropia (beautiful acoustic song with a kind of medieval feeling on it)

Conclusion: very recommended album for melancholic-but-powerful prog metal lovers!

My rating: ****

This review was originally written for ProgArchives.com, and rewritten to be included here.

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