Metal Music Reviews

HATE Tremendum

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Hate was formed in Warsaw, Poland, in 1990 by guitarist and vocalist Adam The First Sinner (real name Adam Buszko, now normally abbreviated to ATF Sinner), guitarist Qack and drummer Mittloff. Between 1990 and 1995 they recorded three demo tapes before signing their first record contract. Over the years, they have been through various line-up changes, but the death of bassist Slawek "Mortifier" Arkhangelsky from natural causes while on tour in 2013, and the departure of drummer Stanisław "Hexen" Malanowicz the following year had a major impact, with just AFT Sinner and guitarist Konrad "Destroyer" Ramotowski left. Paweł "Pavulon" Jaroszewicz joined on drums for the 2015 album, ‘Crusade: Zero’ but things were still not right within the band, and ‘Tremendum’ finds just ATF Sinner and Pavulon from the last album, with two session musicians in Paweł "Apeiron" Michałowski on bass and Dominik "Domin" Prykiel on guitars.

Hate have been known for playing a type of blackened death metal that has also found favour with countrymates Behemoth, but for me this album finds them far more solidly within the black metal genre, but with some death influences. It perhaps isn’t surprising that even though they have been through some trauma, that all these guys know what they are about, and this feels like a major release from a major band. The production is superb, capturing a band that are tight and firing hard. Some black metal relies too much on pomp and ceremony, but here the balance is just right, with the reverb allowing the mid to think of black candles and ceremonies, but the guitar and drums are there in the foreground to keep bashing the listener on the head while ATF’s growls are perfectly pitched to work with the music, not against it.

They have been releasing albums for more than twenty years, have had more than that in terms of musicians in their ranks, but let’s hope that this quartet can hit the stage and show everyone that Hate are a force to be reckoned with, as they have come of age with this album.

DIMMU BORGIR Forces of the Northern Night

Live album · 2017 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


It has been way too long since we last heard from Dimmu Borgir, and they have returned with a double DVD set, of which I have been sent the audio (and surely will be released on CD as well). Back in 2010 they performed with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and a full-scale choir in their hometown of Oslo, and this release contains that entire show plus their performance at Wacken Open Air with the National Czech Symphonic Orchestra (as well as an in-depth documentary with behind-the-scenes footage of the massive stage production in Norway). By now the band was down to just a trio, with Shagrath (vocals), Silenoz (guitars) and Galder (guitars) joined by session musicians Daray (drums), Cyrus (bass) and Geir Bratland (keyboards), plus of course everyone else! I always felt that ICS Vortex was a key part of their sound, with his vocals complementing those of Shagrath, but he certainly isn’t missed here with everything else going on.

Their over the top symphonic black metal sound lends itself to the orchestral treatment, and the result is something that is quite extraordinary. The crowd also know that they are seeing something very special indeed, and are vocal in their support of what they are seeing and hearing. It is over the top, it is bombastic, and simply excellent. It is hard to pick a favourite moment among the seventeen songs on offer, but one must admit that “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” has been lifted to even greater heights with the combination of Dimmu Borgir’s attack, the orchestra providing the backdrop, and Shagrath riding the maelstrom to its natural conclusion. This type of music just doesn’t get any better than this, and this will tide over the fans until the new album is released that they are currently working on.

ROYAL THUNDER Wick

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Royal Thunder’s second album Crooked Doors, released in 2015, was an object lesson in how to release a hard rock album in this day and age by retaining a sense of originality without adopting tired clichés. Of course vocalist Mlny Pasonz immediately set it apart from the pack with her visceral emotive delivery marking her as one of the finest singers today in rock. Also of note was the clean organic guitar tone of Josh Weaver, prevalent much of the time, who despite the lack of effects still packed considerable punch into his intelligent riffing. Most of all though it was the great songs that made it such a compelling return to time and time again album. Packed with strong melodies and inventive riffs it was one of the best albums released that year.

Forward to 2017 and whilst Wick retains much of what made Crooked Doors so great the band have clearly tried to diversify their sound. The first thing you notice is that Wick doesn’t rock as hard, not necessarily a bad thing but with songs like Tied they have got a little more experimental with its swirling chorus and syncopated rhythm but its lack of a strong hook lets it down. The same can’t be said of We Slipped, Burning Tree and The Sinking Chair to name three, all songs with strong melodies and plenty of drive, in keeping with the best moments of Crooked Doors. Unfortunately about a third of the album just doesn’t connect with me, usually the mellower tracks as it happens. Crooked Doors had its share of these, One Day immediately springs to mind, its insistent hook making it an album highlight, but here some of these songs fall a little flat like Plans for example. When it’s followed by a song as strong as Anchor though it’s soon forgotten.

Once again Mlny Parsonz voice is stunning and the band all play well with some inventive drumming from Evan Diprima. Josh Weaver, this time aided by new man Will Fiore keep the guitars largely clean sounding but still kick ass when required. The production is clear but could do with more bottom end and the drums sound a bit boxy with the kick drum a bit low in the mix.

So whilst Wick has some truly excellent songs and whilst there’s nothing bad here its lack of consistency robs it of greatness. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed the first two albums then there’s still much to recommend, though sadly not quite the follow up I was hoping for.

VIOGRESSION Expound and Exhort

Album · 1991 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Expound and Exhort" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Milwaukee, Wisconsin based death metal act Viogression. The album was released through Tombstone Records in 1991. Viogression were a relatively shortlived act who were active in the years 1988 - 1992. In that period they recorded two demos and two full-length studio albums. After Viogression disbanded several of the members went on to form the even more shortlived industrial/thrash metal act Medusa Oblongada.

The music on "Expound and Exhort" is a simple old school style of death metal. You probably won´t find a review of Viogression´s releases without the mention of Obituary as a major influence, and to my ears those mentions are pretty valid. This is brutal to the core and the growling vocals deliver very few lyric lines in an unintelligible manner, which makes them work more like an instrument than vocals usually do.

The vocals are actually one of the highlights on the album, because the instrumental part of the music is predominantly painfully simple, features awkward rhythm changes, lacks groove, and seriously lacks hooks of any kind. Add to that playing which sounds a bit uninspired and a relatively poor and powerless sound production and "Expound and Exhort" doesn´t exactly come off as a quality product. The many short intros and interludes between tracks are also rather ridiculous. I´m not sure if they are meant to be funny or if they are meant to create an eerie atmosphere, but they succeed in being/doing neither. Instead they are hilarious in an amaturish Ed Wood fashion, and it´s safe to say that I´m not impressed by this particular part of the album.

In fact there is very little to be impressed about on "Expound and Exhort", which is through and through an amaturish sounding death metal release. There are moments that catch my attention and when they occur I feel slightly bad that I´m rating "Expound and Exhort" this low, but when it comes down to it, there are not enough of those good quality moments on the album to save it from receiving a 2.5 star (50%) rating.

VOODOOCULT Jesus Killing Machine

Album · 1994 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Jesus Killing Machine" is the debut full-length studio album by German industrial/thrash metal project Voodoocult. The album was released through Motor Music in February 1994. The Voodoocult project was founded by Phillip Boa, lead vocalist in Phillip Boa & The Voodooclub. A German alternative rock band, who was relatively successful in the late 80s/early 90s. After releasing their 7th full-length studio album "Boaphenia" in 1993, Phillip Boa opted to pursue a more metal oriented style and created the Voodoocult project as a vehicle for that ambition. He teamed up with prolific musician/producer Waldemar Sorychta (Despair, Tiamat, Grip Inc.), who plays guitars on the album, and also enlisted drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Grip Inc., Philm), and bassist Dave Ball. In addition to that Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied) and Mille Petrozza (Kreator) also make guest appearances on the album.

Stylistically the music is industrial oriented thrash/heavy metal with quite a few nods towards punk. The latter is especially heard in Phillip Boa´s vocal delivery, which is raw and at times sounds like Snake "lite" (Voivod), but there are also riffs and even whole tracks to back up that description. Ministry is another obvious influence, but the music on "Jesus Killing Machine" is a bit more easily accessible and for the most part vers/chorus structured. Repetition is a major part of the sound too though, and typically lyric lines are repeated a lot during a track. Regarding the lyrics they are for the most part pretty silly which song titles like "Metallized Kids", "Albert Is a Headbanger" and "Blood Surfer City" are also a testimony to. It could have been kitchy and funny, but it comes off awkward and slightly ridiculous instead.

The input by the above mentioned guests is mostly heard in the drumming (although Chuck Schuldiner´s solo is clearly recognisable too), which is in classic Dave Lombardo style. The sound on the drums is a bit less organic than his usual sound, but his playing is as organic and busy as ever. When the tracks are less interesting, I focus on the drums and get something out of the listening experience anyway. And there are several tracks that aren´t that interesting and a few that are. So the material are overall of a varied quality. The album is consistent enough when it comes to style and sound, but there are simply tracks on the album that don´t stick or become tedious while listening to them, either because simple ideas are drawn out and repeated too much, or because the basic songwriting isn´t that exciting.

The sound production is genre- and time typical with a lot of industrial tinged effects, distortion, and relatively thin sounding drums and guitars. It suits the music well, and while the production sounds a bit old fashioned these days, it should be evaluated from a contemporary point of view.

Most people are probably familiar with Voodoocult because of the many prolific guests on the album, and while it may be a bit unfair to say it, that´s also the most interesting feature on "Jesus Killing Machine" (particularly the drumming by Dave Lombardo). It´s not a terrible album by any means, but it´s not a great one either and a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

WITHERING DIVINITY Tragical Endings

Demo · 1994 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Tragical Endings" is the first and only demo cassette tape by US, Franklin, Wisconsin based doom/death metal act Withering Divinity. The demo was independently released in 1994.

The band play a brick heavy doom/death metal style with occasional gothic metal leanings. The vocals are either growling (higher pitched snarling type growling), clean (monotone), or spoken vocals. Whenever the growling vocals appear the music reminds me of German doom/death metal act Dark Millennium. There´s the same raw aggression and desperation about the vocal delivery. The material are relatively well played and quite varied with both heavy riffs, clean guitar parts, and the above mentioned varied vocals.

The demo features a rather lo-fi and distorted sound production, but it goes well with the rawness of the music. Overall "Tragical Endings" is a pretty adventurous doom/death metal release, and while the compositions aren´t without flaws and not all ideas are as well executed as the most successful ones, it´s generally a good quality demo release. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 263 - Glacier

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 263 - Glacier / 20th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 5 tracks / Clocks in at 30minutes 57seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Glacier” (13:50) slowly begins things with a nonchalantly unfolding guitar riff that becomes joined by bass and drums and then the riffing becomes a bit heavier. All stays mid tempo but after a while a cool echo effect takes over for a bit but reverts back to the alternative riffing that is punctuated by slower clean guitar segments. Melodically this track doesn’t change it up too much and is remnant of countless other PIKEs that have come before but the dynamics are mixed up a bit with riff changes and tempo shifts. Nothing is jarring with this one and all is smooth as silk with riffing segments, soloing and predictable chord changes. One of those tracks that’s perfectly listenable and unobtrusive but at the same time has been done many times before and has absolutely no luster to loose not to mention it becomes quite repetitive and outstays its welcome. Nice but not outstanding unless this is the first BUCKETHEAD track you’ve ever heard

“Relic” (4:03) begins soft and sensual sounding like a new wave guitar track but with also sounds a little flamenco in guitar strumming with a little surf guitar style mixed in. Sort of a new sound for BH actually. All stays subdued with clean guitar and a little Spanish guitar flair but never bursts out into anything energetic. The percussion remains light and fluffy and just when it all sounds like it’s ready to burst into a full-fledge production, it steps back and becomes super mellow. Nice track though

“Food” (5:19) completely shifts gears and immediately pumps out blistering adrenaline fueled metal riffs at light speed. The riffs are a bit thrashy as they gallop along with alternative grungy distortion turned up. Between the gallops is a little dance of progressive licks but never hang around too long and jump back into the steady stream of metal madness. Nice melodic development that combines heaviness with a heady flow. Nice track

“Evaporate” (4:06) begins with clean guitar and ambient background. As the melodic flow unfolds it morphs into different riffs and then picks up steam after a while by incorporating a more energetic percussive drive but the ambience remains thick and the clean guitar tone never changes. It never picks up past mid tempo and then slows down again. Pretty mellow track and fairly average actually

“Plate” (3:39) jumps back into metal with jittery riffs and a bouncy rhythm. Sounds like something from the 80s hard rock scene but i can’t put my finger on exactly what. Maybe a tad Van Halen but not quite. The riff dances around for a while and then a sizzling solo takes over until it derails and then the bouncy riff is back. Nice track but nothing OMG original

This is an average PIKE. Lots of nicely delivered tracks with a little bit of originality but for the most part rehashes of ideas already well covered on previous PIKEs. Nice to listen to but not one that compels me to return for future listens. Well played and good but nothing more

INCANTATION Onward to Golgotha

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 6 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Following in the wake of Morbid Angel came a whole drove of old school death metal bands who were driven to outdeath each other and turn up the brutality and gore to 11 and beyond. While the whole world was taking notice and following suit, the New York City area produced some of the most brutal old school death bands of the early 90s with Suffocation and Mortician ratcheting up the shock value manyfold. Likewise other bands were focusing on the evil as fuck sound and bands like Immolation and INCANTATION were the top dogs in this department. INCANTATION was probably the most evil as fuck of all as heard on their blasphemous debut ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA. This Biblical reference points to the location where Jesus was crucified which shows the early as of yet unseparated aspects of black and death metal and this album very much reflects that fluidity between early black metal Satanism with all the anti-Christianity mixed with the macabre imagery wrapped up in a death metal package as down-tuned riffs churn out walls of distorted sound while blastbeat drum rolls threaten to obliterate any eardrums that stray to close for comfort.

INCANTATION really delivered the goods on ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA. This album is the epitome of morbid, muddy and evil death metal. Everything about this one is scary and sounds like a very bad trip through the blackened tubes to the underworld where any attempt at escape is futile. While the guitar and bass predominantly chug along at frenetic paces all muddied together in a swirl of atmospheric despair, INCANTATION were masters at altering the tempos between the frenetic and super slow creeping style that would become the sounds heard in funeral doom metal as heard from bands such as Esoteric where all is slowed down to a brooding dread that fully allows the terrifying din to unfurl its horrific sonic assault all the while accompanied by the totally unintelligible low-pitched growling vocals of Craig Pillard. The unrelenting hellish soundscapes pummel the senses and leave the listener bereft of any sense of song structure as the riffs whizz by in unpredictable packets of distortion with occasional Morbid Angel type guitar squeals culminating in a lightning fast solo.

While Suffocation clearly won the brutality war as they turned up the extremities like none other, INCANTATION were the dominators of deathened doom where the hellish eddies of sound terrified like no other band of this period. ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA remains a death metal classic for achieving all the aspects that make death metal ever so addicting with the technicality of the musicians impressively wailing away while atmospheric bleakness peaks through at rare moments when the distortion ceases. This remains a highly influential album as it was a clear reference point for bands like Nile on their similarly styled “Seeds Of Vengeance” and newer 21st century tech bands like Portal and Mitochondrion who focus on a bleak and unforgiving atmospheric soundscape punctuated by pummeling riffs and periods of frightening contemplation. Perhaps too muddy for some but that is the aspect i really love about INCANTATION at this stage. The blurring of boundaries between the guitar and bass add a unifying element of gloom that when mixed with the sombre atmospherics deliver the most oppressing extreme metal albums of the early 90s.

SIKTH Opacities

EP · 2015 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
After a near decade absence after their 2006 album “Death Of A Dead Day,” the English progressive metalcore outfit SIKTH dropped a little EP out as an appetizer to keep their fans salivating for yet another full album. Despite only having released two full-length albums, OPACITIES is actually the fourth EP following the twin EP output of 2002 and the 2006 release “Flogging The Horses.” The band members are exactly the same as their previous lineup, so this is very much a genuine SIKTH release and once again the band delivers an outstanding cross-pollination of hard and heavy metalcore fused with their brand of extreme progressive metal that often reminds me of the type Enslaved weaved into their albums such as “RIITIIR.” OPACITIES is a short but sweet EP with six tracks not quite reaching the half hour mark.

OPACITIES pretty much continues the well-known style that SIKTH unleashed on their full-length albums, that being highly caustic core type riffing mixed with progressive song structures. While on the full albums Mikee Goodman utilized his frenetic screaming vocal effect as his main sonic instrument of torture, on this one there is a lot more emphasis on clean vocal delivers. The opening tracks “Behind The Doors,” “Philistine Philosophies” and “Under The Weeping Moon” are the most recognizable SIKTH tracks sounding very much like the noisiest and obnoxious tracks heard on the earlier albums, however the core elements are somewhat toned down and progressive metal riffing is just as and often more prevalent and sometimes it actually sounds more akin to heavy alternative metal styled riffs.

The biggest surprises are the spoken word “Tokyo Lights” which utilizes a poetic approach along with vocalized shadow and sound effects to create a very memorable and bizarre track. With no instruments to be heard. “Walking Shadows” returns with the full furry of progressive core riffing and metal intensity including some trademark frenetic vocals akin to the opening tracks but “Days Are Dreamed” completely changes things up with an etheric atmosphere that introduces a clean vocal track that is not metal at all but rather a progressive rock composition that will probably remind more of the newer Opeth albums than of earlier Sikth releases as the mood is thick and the symphonic touches dominate.

OPACITIES is a quirky little mix of old and new for SIKTH but still manages to deliver a satisfying shot of their unique hybridization of progressive rock, metal and the core elements that they belt out with all the technical precision one would expect. This band has maintained a very high standard and is fairly consistent from one release to another and in that regard OPACITIES will not disappoint especially if you can appreciate the diversity of styles as heard on albums such as “The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild.” This EP rekindles the past but also points to newer directions that the band could possibly carve out and expand on future releases, so it is indeed a satisfying whetting of the appetite for fans to anticipate.

PYRAMAZE Contingent

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
April 2017 is a very crowded month for new metal releases, with three of my most anticipated releases of the year all coming on the same day, and so it would be easy for something to get lost in the shuffle. On the same day as those three releases, though, we have what is sure to be a highly anticipated release for many other people, which is Contingent, the fifth full-length release from Danish progressive power metal band Pyramaze. Fans were excited two years ago, as after releasing three well-regarded albums in the previous decade, the band was dormant for a while, only to return with a slightly different lineup to release Disciples of the Sun, which ended up being a very well-received comeback album and seemingly triggered the start of a new era for the band. Now, two years later, the band has retained the same lineup and are ready to release their next album Contigent, which very much feels like a natural evolution, though it does take the band into slightly new territory compared to past releases.

In their early days, Pyramaze were a fairly traditional power metal band, though their 2008 release Immortal included some prog elements and stands as their most aggressive album to date. With Disciples of the Sun, the band modernized their sound quite a bit, featuring a mix between harder guitar riffs, more atmospheric keyboards, and some huge vocal melodies. The release still maintained elements of their old power metal sound, but it laid the foundation for the band to switch to more of a melodic prog sound, which is exactly what has happened on Contingent. There’s still the occasional speedy sections, but for the most part this is a very laidback album, more focused on the huge choruses and vocal melodies than anything else, with the instrumental sections mostly being dominated by some effective but rather simple riffs, while keyboards are paired with orchestration to add some flavor and to give the album a slight symphonic feel at times. There are some nice guitar solos at times, though nothing overly flashy or technical. I’d say, on the whole, fans should expect the majority of the album to sound something like “Genetic Process” from the previous album, with only a couple tracks even coming close to speedier territory like “Fearless”, and there’s nothing overly challenging or complex, either. From a production standpoint, everything sounds amazing, as always from Jacob Hansen, who also serves as the band’s bassist and second guitarist currently, and I’d say the performances and overall sound are definitely the biggest strengths of the album. The mix between modern riffs and big vocal melodies is quite addictive, though I’d say this album is a case where the overall idea is better than the execution at times,

Pyramaze have been through quite a few vocalists over the years, with Lance King performing on their first two albums, before being replaced by Matt Barlow on Immortal. Things got complicated from there, as Matt left and was replaced by Urban Breed, but somehow the band never recorded an album with him, and for a while it seemed like they might be done until they finally returned in 2015 with new vocalist Terje Harøy, who I had previous heard with his old band, Teodor Tuff. He has a very strong, clear voice and definitely gives the music a unique feel, with a vocal approach that really gets the most out of the melodies, and I’d say he brings a high level of accessibility to the music, almost sounding radio friendly at times. His vocals are a definite highlight of both this album and Disciples of the Sun.

The one area where I’m not really blown away is the songwriting. I actually have a similar problem with this release as I did with the Seven Kingdoms album I reviewed recently, except on the opposite end when it comes to speed, where I don’t think there are any weak songs here, but I definitely think the album could use some variety, as there simply aren’t enough tracks that change the formula up in a meaningful way. For the most part, the tracks alternate between slow, heavy guitar driven verses and big melodic choruses, with some tracks going a little bit lighter during the verses and emphasizing the keyboards. Either way, though, it’s a very formulaic approach to songwriting, with even speedier tracks like “20 Second Century” and “Symphony of Tears” being pretty similar, except that they have faster-paced choruses than the other tracks, which makes them stand out at least a little bit. I find that can be a problem with melodic prog in general, though, where the overall sound is excellent, but the bands can sometimes struggle to come up with fresh ideas for songs as they don’t want to get overly complicated with their musicianship but also don’t want to push too far into other genres, and so it’s like they deliberately limit themselves in the songwriting department.

I will say, though, the album leaves a strong first impression, as opening track “Land of Information”, while still falling into the same basic melodic prog formula, somehow feels a bit fresher than the rest of the album, like the band dialed up their performances to the next level and everything feels more energetic. Even the verses hit just a bit harder than on the rest of the album, the solo section seems just a bit stronger and more memorable, and the chorus is awesome as always. While the track is still more mid-paced, I would say it moves at a slightly better pace than most of the album overall, with the verses being a bit faster than even “20 Second Century”, though it never gets as fast as that song does during its chorus.

For the most part, the rest of the album feels like it falls into a basic formula, with tracks like “Kingdom of Solace”, “A World Divided”, “Nemesis”, “Obsession”, “and “Under Restraint” being hard to tell apart due to how they all rely on slow, chunky modern riffs and big choruses, while more keyboard driven tracks like “Star Men” and “Heir Apparent” simply lack energy in the verses and don’t give the album the change of pace it needs. Basically, for the most part, I’d say the verses are kinda boring throughout most songs, but the choruses are amazing and save the day, so it’s like, I certainly enjoy listening to the music a lot, and Terje really carries most of the songs, but I can’t help but feel as if the band has the potential to do better things in their current form. One weird thing is how the album has two title tracks, scattered in different parts of the album, but these are both very brief orchestral pieces, that while being very nice, feel more like interludes than anything else, so making them title tracks feels very weird. One track that stands out in a positive way is the ballad “The Tides That Won’t Change”, which features some very nice female vocals from guest Kristen Foss, who I’d even say slightly outshines Terje on that track, though both singers sound very good and it’s definitely my second favorite on the album, behind only “Land of Information”.

I’ve been a bit hard on Contingent, but I will say I think it’s a very solid album overall and on an objective level everything about it is top tier and I really can’t complain. I was simply hoping for the songwriting to be just a bit more varied and more interesting, and I hope on future releases Pyramaze can find a way to bring back some of the speed and variety of previous albums, while still building on the melodic prog sound they have going on, because the overall sound is very good and I think they can do great things with their current lineup, but they need to push just a bit further out of their comfort zone in the songwriting department. Overall, a solid album I can easily recommend to fans of melodic prog, while power metal fans may be a bit disappointed, but there’s still enough good points here for it to be worth a shot for any fans of the band.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/14/pyramaze-contingent-review/

PRIMUS Frizzle Fry

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 23 ratings
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martindavey87
It would be an absolute understatement to say that Primus is an acquired taste. Their music is incredibly obscure, with some of the most random musical passages and the most quirky lyrics you could think of. And so it is, that their debut album is a convoluted mess of ideas thrown together with no real sense of direction, other than being random for random's sake.

While the musical ability between all the members is of a high caliber, especially bassist, singer and all-round main man Les Claypool (story goes that he was once turned down to join Metallica for being "too good"), the general compositions seem rather unfocused and boring. Nothing really stands out in this 52-minute smorgasbord of random guitar riffs and vocal melodies, which usually are delivered via something more akin to talking or just completely random noises.

If I really had to pick out any notable highlights, 'John the Fisherman', 'Too Many Puppies' and 'To Defy the Laws of Tradition' could be considered alright, but honestly, this album as a whole just gets rather boring and repetitive fast. I'm sure there are people that love songs that randomly go into renditions of 'Humpty Dumpty', but to me, it's just not cool, it's not funny, and it's not really all that clever either.

SHADOW GALLERY Carved In Stone

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 16 ratings
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martindavey87
'Carved in Stone' is Shadow Gallery's second album, in which the performances as a whole seem a lot tighter and polished, but the quality of the compositions don't quite surpass that of their debut. However, fans will instantly notice the improvement in production, which sounds a lot richer and "cleaner", giving the music the punch it needs, and which would go on to become the bands somewhat "signature" sound.

However, despite the improvements in production, the album is still fairly average at best. While it may contain one of Shadow Gallery's best songs ('Crystalline Dreams' is just so damn catchy!), the rest of the music can seem fairly lackluster at times. The biggest letdown has to be 'Ghost Ship', which, similar to the group's debut, is the "epic" of the album (clocking in at a total of just over 20 minutes). Broken into seven smaller parts, most of the highlights last no longer than a minute or two before going into the next section, making the whole piece feel mostly disjointed.

As for the other tracks, we have 'Cliffhanger', 'Don't Ever Cry, Just Remember', 'Warcry' and the previously mentioned 'Crystalline Dream', as well as a couple of highlights from the 'Ghost Ship' piece. These are all good songs that definitely make this album worth getting, but honestly, most of them just pale in comparison to some of the bands later material.

As per usual with Shadow Gallery, the musicianship is spectacular and Mike Baker's vocals are truly a thing of beauty. Overall though, it's just a "good" album. Nothing to write home about, but a worthy addition to the collection if it can purchased cheap enough.

BLACK SABBATH Black Sabbath

Album · 1970 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.26 | 151 ratings
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martindavey87
Music fads come and go so quickly that it's hard to keep up with a lot of them. That's why when Black Sabbath firmly established the genre of heavy metal (whether they solely created it or not is a different debate for another time) back in 1970, it's amazing that's it's stood the test of time and is still going strong today as one of the most popular genres of music in the world.

With that said, I'm not a massive Black Sabbath fan. I respect their achievements, and rightfully so, as the genre I hold so dear wouldn't exist without them, but that doesn't change the fact that their music just doesn't quite "do it" for me.

I can appreciate how revolutionary this was back in the day, nothing as heavy, dark or doom-laden had come before. However, by the time I came around to owning this CD, it sounded rather dated and didn't quite measure up to a lot of the stuff I was listening to at the time (I was born in 1987 to put that in context). Ozzy Osbourne's vocals are very primitive and somewhat annoying to listen to (story goes that he was only invited to join the band as he owned a PA), and Tony Iommi's guitars were never quite heavy or interesting enough for me.

That being said, there are one or two decent tracks, most notably 'N.I.B.' and the title track, but in all honesty I could think of thousands of other songs I'd rather listen to.

When it all comes down to it, it's just a matter of taste. While this is arguably one of the most influential albums of all time, I respect it for that, it's just not something I enjoy listening to. The record's status as a classic is certainly not in any danger due to my opinion, and hell, if you think this is blasphemous, you should check out my review for 'Paranoid'...

DREAM THEATER Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 165 ratings
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martindavey87
They say an animal is most dangerous when backed into a corner, and that could not be any more evident than Dream Theater recording their magnum opus, 'Scenes from a Memory'.

With record label pressure and the business side of the music industry taking its toll on the band (and most specifically on drummer Mike Portnoy) during the release and touring of previous album 'Falling Into Infinity', it was now a time to go hard or go home. Dream Theater wanted to be left alone to write their own music, that would appeal to their own fan base, without the interjection of any record label executives who didn't understand the band, their fans, or their genre of music. It was do-or-die as the band stood on the brink of self-implosion, but they stood tall and delivered an album that is highly regarded as not only their finest work, but one of the greatest albums progressive metal has to offer.

Based around the story of a man who is a reincarnation of a girl that was murdered, and how he revisits his past life in his dreams (or something like that!), the concept is highly ambitious and complex, especially with all the different characters being voiced by James LaBrie. But it doesn't detract from the quality of the music, and with the usual awe-inspiring prowess you'd come to expect from progressive metals most famous band, this is an album where the band fire on all cylinders.

'Home', 'Fatal Tragedy', 'One Last Time' and 'Strange Déjà Vu' are some of many highlights on this album, although it's hard to pick just a few, as the album from start to finish is one giant highlight reel. And of course, the absolute peak of Dream Theater's technical ability, instrumental track 'The Dance of Eternity', will encourage listeners to throw away whatever instruments they're learning as they slowly realize how they'll never be this good.

A record that belongs in any metal or prog collection, 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory' started the upward momentum that truly put Dream Theater's careers and lives in their own hands, and has endured as one of the greatest concept albums of all time.

IRON MAIDEN Somewhere In Time

Album · 1986 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.20 | 146 ratings
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aglasshouse
Guys, I've got a confession to make.

I don't like Iron Maiden.

I know this statement is akin to dousing a puppy in kerosene and overhand lobbing it into a raging bonfire, but it's true. I've tried my very hardest for almost four years now to enjoy them, to see the awe-inspiring craftsmanship everyone proclaims is prevalent on so many of their classic records...but I just can't. Not only do I think both drummers on Iron Maiden, Clive Burr and Nicko McBrain, plod out some of the most boring and repetitive rhythms of all time, but the songwriting of so much of their work may have worked wonders back in 1980, but like a joke it got extremely old extremely fast with each successive release following their self-titled debut. I think the revolutionary label slapped to Iron Maiden is quite reputable, but at the same time the asserted quality to match that is repudiable.

But, and I do mean a HUGE but -- Iron Maiden's 1986 work Somewhere In Time is one of my all-time favorite metal albums. Period. Strange, right? A band I dislike making one of my favorite albums? It's true though -- I think that Somewhere In Time is a precision-made, calculated masterpiece that distances itself so far from the band's discography that it might well be from a separate artist.

Somewhere In Time is a dystopian-based, Blade Runner-inspired record that came two years after 1984's Powerslave, an album that showed a lot of promise and had a few great tracks, but didn't nearly harness the same effect as it's successor. The Powerslave supporting tour ate up a whopping 187 concerts and excreted a whole lot of exhaustion onto the band following it, specifically Dickinson, who thus was not able to produce quality songwriting contributions. Dickinson had written some acoustic songs, in fear that if they didn't step up their game to a different level, that the band would "stagnate and drift away" (see even the band recognizes their sameness to a certain degree). Although these acoustic songs were not featured, this attitude continued into the eventual recording process, causing Somewhere In Time to be the first Iron Maiden album to harness synthesizers. While this might seem like a big no-no, considering that often it's the case that once a band starts leaning on the synths it's akin to them just committing creative suicide, but it's quite the contrary; Somewhere In Time's utilization of synthesizers gives a wondrous air of mysticism to the album, as it acts as a supreme background element to the its futuristic setting. It's also a key component in the massive epics that permeate the album. The title track opener, for instance, is a blazing fireball of a gallop that is one of the most prime examples of a perfect setting of the mood on any album, unheeded by the furious scream of synthesizer bursts. 'Wasted Years' is one of three contributions by guitarist Adrian Smith, and is the most lasting relic of this album's legacy. It does have a slightly poppier vibe, which may owe to this fact, but Dickinson's beautiful chorus and the magnificent guitar hook is nothing short of a knockout punch. One more highly recommended track is 'Stranger in a Strange Land', a bass-heavy, groovy romp which acts, in a way, as a better track representative of the theme of being "caught somewhere in time" than, well 'Caught Somewhere In Time'. Perhaps this is because of the lyricism of being in a mysterious world in which the rules are unknown, which I believe the album was trying to tackle. 'Caught' is still the best track, though. Not taking that back.

The band took their biggest step forward with this album, talentwise. McBrain, who I criticized previously for being extremely repetitive and leaning too hard on a a few stagnant drum patterns, is absolutely mindblowing on this release. His constant shifts between the groovy steel heel-click of the slower songs and the fast-paced explosiveness of the faster ones makes for one of his all-time best work. Steve Harris as always is extremely present and upfront, especially for a bassist. The neat thing about him is that, as a part of the percussion section, actually works off of McBrain to create this almost machine-like twang that follows his groove. Twin guitarists Smith and Murray are of course better than ever, offering extremely intricately-woven shredding that did well to pique my interest. Dickinson, although I'll always prefer Di'Anno, is at his zenith on Somewhere In Time, belting out a sort of sophisticated type of melodic yell that few of his peers have been able to accomplish. Absolutely stunning, all of them.

Many critics readily dismiss Somewhere in Time as being "half-baked", or "a hurried coverup of an atrophying creative muscle". These same critics will turn around and praise Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, an album I believe to be leagues below this one, and compliment it for factors they would say that Somewhere in Time wrongfully utilized. I say, pay no attention to them and embrace this one just like you would say Number of the Beast or Powerslave, because it's definitely up there with the best.

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"For The Fallen" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based death metal act Memoriam. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2017. Memoriam consists of former and present members of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Cerebral Fix. The band was formed in 2016 as a tribute to late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin "Kiddie" Kearns. Memoriam released three demos before being signed to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of "For The Fallen".

Listening to the material on the 8 track, 43:36 minutes long album, it´s no surprise that the lineup consists of former (and present) members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, because there are several stylistic similarities to those two acts on "For The Fallen". The music is predominantly mid-to slow paced old school death metal (with the occasional nod towards faster-paced hardcore punk riffs and rhythms like on "Corrupted System") and with Karl Willetts distinct sounding intelligible growling vocals in front (he has a hoarse almost talking type of delivery, which is pretty unique), it´s almost impossible not to think of Bolt Thrower. When that is said Memoriam are not a clone act by any means, and while they don´t have the most distinct or original take on the old school death metal sound, they still manage to deliver a fairly memorable product, that is of a relatively high compositional quality for the genre. Personally I think the best tracks on the album are the most heavy slow ones, which often features an epic feeling. Examples of that are tracks like "War Rages On" and "Last Words". When Memoriam pick up the pace they are generally less interesting.

"For The Fallen" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which further enhances the listening experience, and which is generally a great asset to the album. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Not that there is anything technically challenging being played, but Memoriam are still a tight playing unit, who know how to deliver their parts in the most effectful way. It´s for example an absolute joy listening to the drumming by Andrew Whale. Personally I haven´t heard him play since his days with Bolt Thrower, and he brings an important personal touch to the music with his playing.

So upon conclusion "For The Fallen" is a good quality debut album by Memoriam and finally a sign that the UK death metal scene hasn´t died out completely. It was never the most prolific scene with arguably only a handful of artists deserving being mentioned among the death metal elite (artists like Carcass, Napalm Death, and the two above mentioned acts Bolt Thrower and Benediction being some of them), and it´s always been a bit perculiar to me, why the UK couldn´t produce more quality death metal acts (I guess early Cancer and probably a few more could be mentioned among the artists above too). Memoriam thankfully belong in the better quality end of the scale, and "For The Fallen" deserves a 3.5 star (75%) rating.

LOCK UP Demonization

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demonization" is the 4th full-length studio album by multi-national death metal/grindcore act Lock Up. The album was released through Listenable Records in march 2017. It´s the successor to "Necropolis Transparent" from 2011 and features one lineup change compared to the predecessor as lead vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) has been replaced by Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth). The remaining members of the lineup are Shane Embury (bass), Nicholas Barker (drums), and Anton Reisenegger (guitars). All prolific musicians on the extreme part of the metal scene.

"Demonization" opens in great deathgrinding assault mode with "Blood and Emptiness", and pretty much continues down that road all the way through the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album. It´s a highly energetic and fast-paced release featuring elements from both hardcore punk, grindcore, and death metal. The pace is lowered a couple of times during the album´s playing time, but it doesn´t happen that often, and when it does (like on the title track), it´s usually only for short periods of time before the deathgrind assault continues. Kevin Sharp is a suitable replacement for Tomas Lindberg, and his performance here is solid, although he doesn´t bring anything special to the vocal part of the album. His delivery is somewhere between death metal growling and a distorted shouting hardcore type vocal style. The instrumental part of the music is very well performed. Especially drummer Nicholas Barker stands out with his powerful and creative approach to extreme metal drumming.

"Demonization" is well produced, and features a sharp, clear, and powerful sounding production, which suits the music well. So upon conclusion "Demonization" is a quality release by Lock Up. The only minor issue is that not enough of the tracks on the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album stand out, and few are easy to remember when the album ends, but it´s still a very enjoyable release while it plays, so a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

DREAM THEATER Falling Into Infinity

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.19 | 116 ratings
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martindavey87
Most fans of Dream Theater will know what was going on behind the scenes during the making of this album. If you don't, I'll give you a moment to quickly research it.

Done?

Never mind, I'll explain it to you.

The bands label, Atco Records, had been bought out by the Warner Music Group. The fine people at Warner didn't know anything about Dream Theater, their music or their market, but had only one thing in mind, and that was hit singles. Musical integrity aside, Dream Theater were being forced to write "hits", and it was putting the band in a situation that almost tore them apart.

With all the industry nonsense getting in the way of this album, and with the change of sound giving it a stale taste of a band "selling out" to make a quick buck, 'Falling Into Infinity' often finds itself being overlooked. It may not be as musically technical as 'Images & Words', or as heavy as 'Awake', but this album still maintains a lot of Dream Theater's trademark sounds, but with a lighter tone that might appeal to fans of old progressive rock, or even hard rock fans in general. In this regard, it's actually a pretty unique release in the groups discography.

As always with this band, the musicianship is unmatched. Petrucci, Portnoy, LaBrie (who damaged his vocal chords prior to recording this album) and Myung are all masters of their respective instruments. Keyboardist Derek Sherinian, making his only studio album appearance, may have seemed like an odd choice to replace Kevin Moore, but his style, mixing elements of hard rock and jazz fusion, makes him a perfect fit. And his flamboyance and showmanship really shines through on some of the more upbeat songs.

There's hard rock tracks such as 'You Not Me' and 'Burning My Soul', pop singles like 'Take Away the Pain' and 'Hollow Years', and all-out prog gems like 'Peruvian Skies', 'New Millennium' and 'Lines in the Sand'. With such an eclectic mixture of songs, this really is an exceptional album, which shows a band that can adapt to any circumstance, and overcome any challenge.

DREAM THEATER A Change of Seasons

EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 86 ratings
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martindavey87
Considered by fans to be one of Dream Theater's best songs, 'A Change of Seasons' is the bands first venture into an old prog standard; the 20-minute epic! Clocking in at 23 minutes long, the title track of this release was originally intended for the 'Images and Words' album, but left off due to time restrictions.

No problem! Chuck a few live covers in there, and here we have arguably one of the greatest EP's of all time.

With such a lengthy track, you know that each musician will get the chance to show off their skills, and indeed they do! All five members (including newcomer Derek Sherinian on the keyboards), flawlessly show their mastery of their respective departments, with the song twisting and turning through all kinds of time signatures and dynamic changes, crafting a wonderful tale that takes us on a journey through life and reminds us of how quickly it passes by.

As for the other "half" of this EP, there are four live covers that I don't mind, but are kind of hit-or-miss for me. Covering Elton John, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and a medley consisting of Kansas, Queen, Journey and Genesis, none of them are terrible, but in fairness none of them are overly memorable either. Blatant filler.

As a whole, it's a great record, and an absolute must-have for fans of Dream Theater, and whilst the title track itself is entirely worth hearing, it's the covers that prevent this from getting a five-star rating. Still, it's as essential to your collection as any of the bands studio albums.

VILLAINY Villainy I

Album · 2013 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Villainy I" is the debut full-length studio album by Dutch extreme metal act Villainy. The album was released through Inverted Inhumation Records in December 2013. Villainy was formed in 2010 and released a couple of demos before releasing this debut album.

The music on "Villainy I" is at it´s core raw and old school thrash metal, but there is the occasional blackened edge to it and also both traditional heavy/speed metal/doom metal influences and crust/punk elements. So there is a bit of everything in there, but while Villainy take elements from all those musical styles and put them in their music, "Villainy I" still comes off as a consistent release, where you are never in doubt that it´s the same artist playing. In fact the diversity of the material is a major contributing factor to the fact that "Villainy I" is an entertaining release all the way through the 40:19 minutes it lasts.

It isn´t necessarily what you´ll think after listening to the two opening tracks "Through Whispering Eyes" and "Maker", because those are pretty short, raw, and to the point aggressive thrash metal tracks, but already on the considerably longer (7:07 minutes long) "And Now She is Perfect...", Villainy start showing variation as it´s a brick heavy tracks with a slow doomy pace. Then we´re treated to "Charlatan", which is a mostly instrumental track featuring quite a few traditional heavy metal influences (an some eerie organ), and the diversity of the material just continues like that throughout the album.

So the songwriting is inspired and relatively adventurous within the core thrash metal sound, but the music is also delivered with great conviction and a burning passion. Villainy are an organic sounding trio with a strong rhythm section and a lead vocalist/guitarist in Reinier Vrancken, who is positively on fire, churning out one badass riff after another and delivering a caustic snarling vocal performance in the process. His guitar solos are worth a mention too as they are very well played. There aren´t that many of them though, but when they appear they add a lot to the music.

The album features a raw and organic sound production, which suits the music perfectly. It´s not a murky and dark sound though and you are fully able to hear every instrument clearly. So all in all "Villainy I" is a great debut album by Villainy. Diverse songwriting, skillful playing, and caustic aggression. How can you go wrong with that? A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

RAUNCHY Velvet Noise

Album · 2002 · Metalcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Velvet Noise" is the debut full-length studio album by Danish metal act Raunchy. The album was originally released through the Mighty Music sub label Drug(s) in 2001, but saw a reissue and a wider distribution through Nuclear Blast Records in 2002. Raunchy was formed as far back as 1992 and released three demos before being signed.

Stylistically the music on "Velvet Noise" is a melodic metal style combining elements from melodic death metal, industrial metal, metalcore and alternative metal. It´s actually not easy to pin down, but no matter what genre tags you put on the music, the band´s main focus is melody, melody and more melody. Even the most harsh parts on the album are melodic tinged or feature hooks of some sort, and that´s basically the story of Raunchy in a nutchell. Call it pop metal, death pop or whatever you like, but no one can deny that the music is damn catchy, instantly memorable and relatively sing along friendly, considering that this is still extreme metal of some sort.

The tracks are predominantly vers/chorus structured and the vocals are typically raw "core" tinged and aggressive in the verses and clean and melodic in the choruses. Keyboards are a dominant element in the band´s sound in addition to the regular rock/metal instrumentation of guitars, bass and drums. I´m often reminded of contemporary Soilwork and even Fear Factory, although Raunchy are not nearly as brutal or aggressive as any of those artists. "Velvet Noise" features a well sounding, clear and powerful sound production, which suits the material well.

And when the whole thing is delivered by skilled musicians and obviously written by composers who understand how to write memorable material, "Velvet Noise" ultimately comes off as a quality release. It´s also the band´s most raw sounding release and not nearly as polished as some of their later output, which is pretty great actually. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

AT WAR WITH SELF Torn Between Dimensions

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Torn Between Dimensions" is the debut full-length studio album by US, Indianapolis, Indiana based progressive rock/metal act At War With Self. The album was released through the Free Electric Sound label in February 2005. At War With Self was founded in 2002 by multi-instrumentalist Glenn Snelwar (also known for his work with Gordian Knot) and is essentially a one-man project. "Torn Between Dimensions" does however feature session work by drummer Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord, Slavior) and bassist Michael Manring (Windham Hill, Jeff Loomis, Jim Matheos...among others).

And with a trio like that playing together it´s no wonder the musical performances on the album are of a high quality. Stylistically the music on the album is instrumental progressive rock/metal with strong jazz rock/fusion leanings and more than one nod towards latin music. While At War With Self is widely considered a metal oriented act, the metal elements are limited to some heavy riffing and occasional distorted guitar sections. A couple of darker tinged tracks also contribute to the metal sound, but it´s actually 90s Al Di Meola releases like "Orange And Blue (1994)" and "The Infinite Desire (1998)", that I´m mostly reminded of. So there are as many latin influenced acoustic guitar sections, jazzy guitar solos, fusion influenced drumming, and ambient keyboards featured on "Torn Between Dimensions", as there are heavy distorted riffs.

The balance between the different stylistic elements is an important element in At War With Self´s sound. At times the dynamic music works well and other times the transitions between sections are a bit more awkward sounding. There´s is no doubt that Glenn Snelwar is both a skilled musician and a skilled composer when it comes to the techncial aspect of playing and writing music, but listening to "Torn Between Dimensions" there´s very little on the album that really grabs me and pulls me in. I find myself more interested in the music from a musician´s point of view than from a music listener´s point of view, and although that sort of "musician´s music" is always interesting from a technical perspective, the music generally lacks emotional impact and memorability.

The sound production is also a bit disjointed and although all instruments individually feature a relatively good sound (the distorted guitar tone isn´t that well sounding though), the instruments don´t always work well together in the mix. So "Torn Between Dimensions" is an album with quality assets and some issues and therefore a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

THE BLACK MAGES The Black Mages: Battle Music of Final Fantasy

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
I've never played any Final Fantasy games. Yet, this hasn't hindered my enjoyment of listening to the Black Mages one bit.

I've always had an appreciation for video game music, even though my gaming days may have died out around the same time the PS2 did, the moods and atmosphere in the music, as well as the nostalgia they incite, always struck a chord with me.

I had a keyboard player friend who was a fan of the Final Fantasy series (of which I've never played), and he turned me on to the music of Nobuo Uematsu, the games composer. In particular, he played me the song 'Clash on the Big Bridge'. I loved it! It was catchy, energetic and fun to listen to, taking me right back to my childhood days playing my Sega Master System, Super Nintendo and my Game Boy (the original, big white brick with a green screen. I still own it, it still works. Nostalgia rules!).

So who are the Black Mages?

Formed by Nobuo Uematsu, the Black Mages are essentially an instrumental band who do progressive metal versions of Final Fantasy soundtracks (Not that I'd recognize them anyway, I've never played the games). Video game music and prog? Yes please!

Overflowing with vibrant energy, excellent musicianship and lavish orchestrations, the Black Mages self-titled debut album is just a fun listen from start to finish. 'Those Who Fighter Further', 'Clash on the Big Bridge', 'Fight with Seymour', 'Battle Scene' and 'Dancing Mad' are some of the highlights on this record, but in all fairness every song is pretty much an amazing musical adventure!

And the great thing is, I've never even played any Final Fantasy games! Just goes to show you don't need to be a fan of the source material to enjoy something.

WINGDOM Reality

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Here's a band called Wingdom. Let's take a moment to let that sink in...

...

Wingdom?

Bwahahahahahahahaha!

Back in 2010 I was living in Germany and enjoying the vast landscape of obscure progressive/power/symphonic metal bands that Europe has to offer, and as such, I stumbled across this album on eBay for the measly sum of €1. Wingdom? Ha! "What an awful name for a band". But hey, the seller listed it as progressive metal, and it was a Euro, so I decided to give it a chance.

I'm glad I did.

This album is absolutely fantastic, and incredibly underrated. Sadly, Wingdom have since split up and never released a follow-up, but 'Reality' shows so much potential for a band that could have gone on to make some really good music.

Similar to bands like Platitude (who nobody has heard of) and Red Circuit (who approximately seven people have heard of), Wingdom have that very distinct and recognizable progressive metal sound of heavy, groove-laden guitars and melodic keyboards, intertwined with some fantastic male vocals of a pretty high range, but without the ten-minute songs and constant time changes. It's a sound any fan of prog or power metal can instantly appreciate, and it won't take countless listens to familiarize yourself with every song!

It's radio-friendly progressive metal that you will never hear on the radio!

In fact, within seconds of putting this album on, opening track 'Time' had won me over! It doesn't mess around with three-minute long intros, it gets straight to the punch, and sometimes that's just what progressive metal needs! It doesn't have the crazy level of musical virtuosity that'd you hear in bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X or Time Requiem, but songs like 'Never Stop', 'Lighthouse', 'The Essence', and the aforementioned 'Time', are all reasons why this album shouldn't be left to linger in musical obscurity.

If you can look past the silly name (challenge: tell a friend you like a band called "Wingdom" and see how daft you feel afterwards) then there really is some solid music here, which goes to demonstrate the old cliché of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

SYMPHONY X Symphony X

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.76 | 37 ratings
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martindavey87
After his 1994 solo release, guitarist Michael Romeo was met with a proposal from a record label to form a band and record an album in the similar vein to his solo material. "Sure, why not?"... and thus was born one of progressive metals most popular and influential bands.

Borrowing heavily upon the neoclassical style of shred made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen, Symphony X's self-titled debut release is a humble album that shows a band with the potential for big things, with the only major setback being the rather subpar production. While it's certainly not terrible, it just lacks that little bit of punch that the music really needs. It's a punch that would be added to future releases, and the difference is immediately noticeable.

As for the music itself, it's nowhere near as ambitious as the bands later releases, which would go on to utilize massive orchestrations, but it's still pretty good, and lays down a solid foundation upon which the band would establish their defining sound. As expected, Michael Romeo's guitar playing is the star of the show here, with his neoclassical virtuosity matched perfectly by keyboardist Michael Pinella, both displaying enough talents to secure their careers in a post-grunge metal scene. Vocalist Rod Tyler does a good job, and is vastly underrated for his work on this album, but it's his only appearance with the group and he will soon be overshadowed by his replacement, powerhouse singer Russell Allen.

'Symphony X' overall is a good debut, with early signs of greatness evident. 'Masquerade', 'The Raging Seasons', 'Premonition', 'Thorns of Sorrow' and the ballad 'Shades of Grey' are all notable reasons why this should be in your collection, and if you're a collector like me, it's certainly not one you'll regret having to own.

WITHERFALL Nocturnes and Requiems

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Based out of Los Angeles, Calif., Witherfall is the collective brainchild of guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth, Kobra And The Lotus, White Wizzard), singer Joseph Michael (White Wizzard) and the late Adam Sagan (Circle II Circle, Into Eternity). The recording line-up is rounded out with the addition of acclaimed bassist Anthony Crawford (Allan Holdsworth, Virgil Donati). Adam Sagan passed away on December 7th, 2016, during the final stages of production, and the rest of the band have released this album in tribute to him.

This doesn’t sound like a debut, but also doesn’t sound like a project. This is a band where everyone is kicking in out at full blast. Adam was obviously fond of his double bass drum pedals, and used every opportunity to show them off, while Anthony calmed down his more progressive and fusion influences to tie it all together and let the other stake centre stage. Jake is a fine guitarist who knows when to riff, when to shred, and when to double-track his lead lines, but can also bring an acoustic guitar into the mix for a few bars when it is the right thing to do. Then on top of it all we have the vocal prowess of Joseph Michael who can calm it down when it is necessary, or can power through like Ripper Owens if that is the right thing to do.

Prog Metal? Power Metal? A mixture of both? Well, they have more in common with Stratovarius than Dream Theater, but it is the polish, professionalism and power that really makes this album shine. It is impossible not to fall in love with on the very first time of playing, and repeated listenings only make it that much better. This is definitely worth seeking out.

CRIMSON GLORY Transcendence

Album · 1988 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 40 ratings
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martindavey87
'Transcendence' is the album that many Crimson Glory fans (do these still exist???) consider their finest work. And it'd be hard to disagree. Good, quality metal riffing with some nice melodies and interesting twin-guitar harmonies is something I feel that modern metal seems to be lacking, but this album has in abundance, showing you how to get the most out of two guitars.

Everything about this album is a huge improvement upon the groups self-titled debut (which is an album I struggled to enjoy, for no reason in particular). The songwriting is a lot more mature and the guitar harmonies are more consistently interesting than before. Midnight's ungodly vocal range truly shines here with a much more precise production that perfectly suits the music and the era in which it was released.

Guitarists Ben Jackson and Jon Drenning really are two sides of the same coin, with their twin-guitar assault being highly reminiscent of metal greats such as James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, or Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman... or pretty much any other guitarist who's been in Megadeth... the chemistry between the two really is that good, and it's a travesty that they would have such a limited output over the years.

Almost every track offered here is a hit, with only a couple towards the end feeling like they were chucked in to extend the duration of the album. 'Lady of Winter', 'Red Sharks', 'Masque of the Red Death' and 'Where Dragons Rule' are some of the finest, most energetic and enthusiastic power metal songs you can find, and of course, there's also the hit single 'Lonely', which is the song that originally led me to purchasing this record in the first place!

It's a shame that a band such as Crimson Glory never truly lived up to the potential that they had in their prime, but if 'Transcendence' is forever to be considered their finest work, then that's a pretty damn good achievement.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Obituary" is the eponymously titled 10th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Obituary. The album was released through Relapse Records in March 2017. It´s the successor to "Inked in Blood" from 2014 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. According to the band it marks the first Obituary release with noteworthy songwriting contributions from bassist Terry Butler and lead guitarist Kenny Andrews. The release of "Inked in Blood (2014)" was followed by heavy touring activities, which subsequently led to the release of the live album "Ten Thousand Ways to Die (2016)". A live album which also featured two studio tracks in "Loathe" and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die". The latter track is also included on this album, while "Loathe" has been left off.

Releasing an eponymously tited album is usually something artists do to send a signal to the world. Sometimes to signal that the artist feels that the album is the essence of what the artist is about, or to signal that it´s the strongest material that they´ve written, a return to the roots, or a shift in sound. It can basically mean a lot of different things, but in the case of "Obituary", it´s probably a celebration that it´s the now 10th album release by the pioneering Florida death metal act. In this case it certainly doesn´t mean a shift in sound or a return to the roots, because Obituary never really left their roots, and stylistically the material on the 11 track, 36:28 minutes long album pretty much continues down the same old school death metal path as the one tread on "Inked in Blood (2014)" and as such on all the preceeding releases. Obituary have always been remarkably consistent in sound and style, and while it´s not always a strength that an artist doesn´t develop their sound much over the years, there are a few exceptions to that rule, and one of those exceptions are Obituary.

So every Obituary trademark element is in place as usual, from the distinct sounding guitar tone, to the well played guitar solos, to the heavy brutal grooves, to John Tardy´s unique and ultra brutal growling vocals. The material is well written and quite effective, but also a bit one-dimensional. The pace is changed a couple of times, and there are a few faster paced tracks on the album, but mostly we´re treated to heavy mid-paced and ultra heavy tempi. The trademark Obituary grooves are here in abundance, and tracks like "Turned to Stone", "Betrayed", and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die" represent that part of the band´s sound. As it´s almost always the case on Obituary´s releases not all tracks stand out equally much. It´s not a major issue, but the overall quality of the album would have been higher if all tracks were as catchy as the best ones.

That´s about my only gripe with this self-titled release, that is otherwise another high quality brutal kick in the nuts by one of the legends of the genre. The sound production is also powerful, raw, and brutal, and although I don´t count the sound among their best productions, it´s still well sounding and suits the material well. The band are as well playing/singing as ever, so upon conclusion this is another quality death metal release by Obituary. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

AXEL RUDI PELL The Ballads V

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
So, here we are with the latest in APL’s long-running compilation series. This one takes in the last six years, along with a couple of new songs, and some live ones to close with. I first came across his singer, Johnny Gioeli, when he was part of the Hardline project and he has always had an incredible voice, which is an essential element when performing a power ballad, and this album is packed full of them. If you haven’t come across this series before, it is a Ronseal album, namely it does exactly what it says on the tin. Axel had always produced some ballads on his albums, and then when the time is right he releases an album that brings the latest ones together. That they are popular among fans is never in doubt, as the last one entered the German charts at #29, but for me it is just too much sugar at once.

I have never enjoyed albums when the songs are all performed at the same level; no matter if it is heavy or soft, there must be light and shade. When one ballad follows another for a whole album, no matter how well performed, it is just too much for me. Now, that’s a shame, as while I do have some problems with the album, there are also some real highlights contained within it. Undoubtedly, one of these is opener “Love’s Holding On” which he wrote for Bonnie Tyler, and here she performs it as a duet with Johnny. I have always felt that she has been an incredibly overlooked artist, and that she should be given far more credit than she has ever received, and yet again she proves that she is a wonderful performer. The second song is a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”, which I found okay as I don’t know the original, but it was the next cover I found most interesting, “Hey Hey My My”. This begins life as a solo performance, with Johnny being accompanied only by piano, and it is quite something. It is a more measured and less fraught version than the original, but the way it builds and stays true, while also being something that has been re-arranged and developed is definitely of note. The other song that should be mentioned is “Mistreated”, which was recorded at his twenty-fifth anniversary show in Balingen in July 2014 with Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, MSG) on vocals, and erstwhile Rainbow keyboard legend Tony Carey. Axel shows that he knows how to provide the perfect Blackmore blues-soaked guitar riffs, while Tony is channelling Jon Lord. Doogie does a fine job, but it must be said that he doesn’t have the same breadth and depth as Coverdale.

Although the compilation itself isn’t really to my liking, there are some great songs and performances contained within it, and is worth seeking out.

TREPONEM PAL Higher

Album · 1997 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Unitron
Few industrial metal bands really broke through into the ears of other music scenes, hence why you will rarely hear mentions of bands in the genre apart from the big-name acts like Ministry, Godflesh, Rammstein, and Fear Factory. This is always unfortunate, as one of the best releases in the genre came out in the year of 1997 from one of the more obscure acts when the golden age of industrial metal was nearing its end.

That band was the French group Treponem Pal, with their 1997 album Higher. Higher is probably one of the most varied industrial metal albums out there, with a blend of all sorts of stylistic elements that work side by side one another. There's jagged thrash and groove riffing that hits you like a slab of concrete, delivered with the rhythmic groove of funk and tribal music. Some of the electronics have a strong almost Orbital-esque beat to them, which fit perfectly alongside the guitar riffs, making sure that these songs never leave your head. Add in some middle eastern instrumentation and killer soloing, and you got all the elements of this record.

Michel Bassin is an unsung hero of industrial metal guitarists, as few bands have the pure forcefulness that he has here. His guitar hooks are catchy as all hell, but pummel you to the ground at the same time. It's like getting beaten over the head with a sledgehammer, and when his power riffing combines with Marco Neves' commanding vocal attack it packs a real mean punch. This pure groove/thrash crunch is contrasted well with the rhythm section. The bass is often funky, while the drums usually have a tribal sound to them. Most industrial solos are screechy and distorted, but Bassin's solos are surprisingly clean and traditional sounding. As good as a screeching solo can be with some gritty guitar, it's refreshing to hear more traditional sounding metal solos incorporated into industrial metal.

It's almost impossible to pick highlights with albums like these, because the whole album is equally catchy and crushingly heavy. I would say The first five songs as well as "Funk Me", "Sick Train", and "Psycho Rising" are the main highlights if forced to choose. "Unchained" shows some excellent syncopation with the main riff, while the same riff switches to more of a straight thrashing during the chorus. "Lose Control" has the perfect punchy hook that swings you into the song's groove, and may very well be the best on the album.

Despite being released near the end of industrial metal's golden age, Higher is one of the best albums in the genre. It has both the crushing heaviness and the catchy hooks to make it very memorable. It was produced by KMFDM frontman Sascha Konietzko, and I certainly see why one of the industrial metal spearheads would want to produce this album. If you're looking for a heavy, catchy, and unique underrated classic, nothing fits that better than this. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

SATYRICON Dark Medieval Times

Album · 1993 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 19 ratings
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adg211288
Often overlooked in favour of the later Nemesis Divina (1996), Dark Medieval Times (1993) is the debut studio album by Norwegian black metal act Satyricon. Some sources insist that the album was actually released in 1994, but evidence, including the band's official website, suggests against this. On this album the long time duo of Satyr (vocals, guitars, bass) and Frost (drums) were joined by Lemarchand (guitars), albeit uncredited due to parting ways with the band and Torden (session keyboards).

I mentioned Nemesis Divina, the group's third album, right off the bat because it's often credited as their best release, but I'd like to refute that notion on behalf of Dark Medieval Times, which actually is the only Satyricon release that's ever really grabbed me as being something special. Of course I will advise to take that statement with a pinch of salt because there are a good number of Satyricon albums that I haven't tried yet. So far though, Dark Medieval Times is the first and only one that's caught my attention instantly.

Albums are made up of many things. First and most important is the music, of course, but the complete package of an album also includes it's title and artwork. Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times is an example of where the artwork, title and music contained within all fit together into one big picture. Rather than a straight black metal album of its time period, we find Satyr and Frost combining the genre's traditional aspects of raw, unpolished guitar and raspy vocals with heavy influences of dark/medieval folk, and even a touch of ambient.

They are sounds from two completely different walks of music, that somehow have always gone very much hand in hand with each other, this album no doubt being an early example. This symbiosis is likely what has resulted in many black metal musicians producing side projects in the ambient, dark/neofolk and neoclassical darkwave styles, including Satyr's own Wongraven album Fjelltronen (1995), an album whose roots are easily heard during Dark Medieval Times seven tracks.

I digress, the combination of the two creates an atmosphere that just fits the title so well. It's dark and it's medieval. And the album as a whole is an excellent experience to take the time to enjoy. Things are achieved no better than during the album's 8:12 minute long title track, where the band trade off sections of black metal and dark medieval folksy atmospheres for a lengthy instrumental closure.

Speaking of atmosphere there are some places where Dark Medieval Times almost becomes an actual atmospheric black metal album. Its black metal parts tend to be a bit too traditionally structures for that to really be the case but when it does have those moments, such as the opener Walk the Path of Sorrow, Satyricon actually do a better job of realising the sound than Burzum ever did.

Satyricon haven't yet managed to become one of my favourite black metal acts but Dark Medieval Times is a different matter. This album is one I'd count among the essentials of the genre, one that everyone who claims to be a fan should be paying attention to and hopefully adding to their collection. Those who prefer their black metal guitar to have a bit more gloss on the production may find it a bit raw of course, but even a little more spit and polish would have resulted in part of the album's special atmosphere being lost, and special atmosphere's like this are usually what makes a true gem of black metal come to life. It certainly does here, not only capturing it's title and artwork but also the sound of the early 90's Norwegian black metal scene. To my ears, Dark Medieval Times is one of the most creative releases to come out of that scene, light-years ahead of what groups like Mayhem, Darkthrone and even Immortal were doing on their first albums.

METALLICA St. Anger

Album · 2003 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 1.78 | 116 ratings
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mlkpad14
St. Anger gets hate, but if someone were to forget Metallica's older releases maybe they would more so appreciate the album.

Actually, "St. Anger" happens to be one my favorite alternative albums and one of my favorite albums by Metallica.

James Hetfield has supported on many occasions the amount of anger and emotion that went into the album's making. He has stated that, "There's two years of condensed emotion in this. We've gone through a lot of personal changes, struggles, epiphanies, it's deep. It's so deep lyrically and musically."

To me, that is what this album stands for, and that is what the mood it conveys. So this album fits at times when I am really angry, or at times when I am, ironically, really happy.

The album, in my opinion, can be paired with other similar alternative albums such as Slipknot's ".5: The Gray Chapter" and Korn's "Path of Totality." At the same time though, it can be paired with thrash metal releases in the same category as most of Metallica's other albums.

The album is no doubt timeless, but it looks like nobody will ever realize so. Sad to say the least.

SHADOW GALLERY Shadow Gallery

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.38 | 16 ratings
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martindavey87
It's the early years of progressive metal, Fates Warning and Queensryche have been going from strength to strength over the years and Dream Theater have released their debut album, but are yet to unleash its follow-up 'Images and Words' upon the world, which would pretty much lay out the blueprint for every prog metal album to follow. So with that, Shadow Gallery's self-titled debut release came at a time when the genre was still establishing itself.

All the enduring qualities of the genre are here in their infancy, and they work well. Lengthy songs with complex structures and vast musical passages, Mike Baker's incredible vocals, which add so much depth and credibility to the band, their trademark vocal harmonies (which would be expanded upon and perfected on later releases) and some of the finest musicianship around. It's no wonder they would go on to become one of prog metals most beloved cult bands.

In fact, the biggest detriment is the "epic" of the album, 'The Queen of the City of Ice'. Perhaps the metal world just wasn't quite ready for these 20-minute odyssey's just yet, or perhaps it was a trait best left to the old-school Yes's and Genesis's of the music world, but either way, this song is BORING!!! It's slow, uninteresting, and features a spoken dialogue section which goes on for way too long. It's a massive blow to what would be an otherwise stellar debut, as 'Darktown', 'Mystified', 'Say Goodbye to the Morning', 'Questions at Hand' and 'The Dance of Fools', in fact, all the songs on this album are early classics that really makes this a solid release, but it's all hindered by that 17-minute track that completely brings everything to a standstill.

Still, don't be deterred by that, as otherwise this is a great album that helped lay the foundations for progressive metal by firmly distinguishing all the early traits the genre would adhere to.

CRIMSON GLORY Crimson Glory

Album · 1986 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 25 ratings
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martindavey87
We all have those albums, right? You know the ones? The ones we SHOULD like but just can't get into. Doesn't matter how much you like the band or how many listens you give it, you just cannot get into the album. This is THAT album.

Now, I love Crimson Glory (the band), and it's a huge shame that they never truly lived up to the potential they displayed in their short-lived prime. But that "prime" consists of their self-titled debut release, which seems highly revered by fans, but I just can't seem to enjoy, no matter how hard I try to.

The songs just don't work for me, and I can't place my finger on why. Are the compositions lacking the polished feel of their later hits? Is the production too primitive? Am I just being picky? Or is it a combination of all three? The musicianship is top-notch, and it's easy to see how this band were so influential upon the power metal genre, and along with Fates Warning and Queensryche, how they laid the early foundations of progressive metal. Midnight's incredible vocal range is truly unmistakeable, although, indeed the production here doesn't do it justice and at times it just sounds incredibly tinny.

Overall though, I just can't enjoy this album, for no legit reason, really. 'Dragon Lady', 'Queen of the Masquerade', 'Heart of Steel' and 'Valhalla' are all good songs, but they all lack something that prevents me from ever truly going out of my way to listen to them. I could listen to 'Transcendence' or 'Astronomica' any day, but there's just something missing from 'Crimson Glory' that makes it a record I endure, instead of enjoy.

STRATOVARIUS Fright Night

Album · 1989 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.46 | 20 ratings
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martindavey87
Like so many other early power metal bands from the 80's, it took Stratovarius a few attempts to truly find their sound, leaving this, their debut, as nothing more than a by-the-numbers speed metal album.

Credit where credit's due, band leader Timo Tolkki shows some incredible skill on the guitar with his fast-paced neoclassical runs and galloping riffs, and to handle the lead vocals on top of that is quite impressive. Sadly, the song-writing itself isn't really anything inspiring and the vocals certainly aren't kind to the ears either. A+ for effort though! I can barely play and sing 'Wonderwall' without messing up!

Lacking the keyboard-driven compositions of later releases, 'Fright Night' is really "just there". It's nothing to shout home about, and really doesn't feel like the same Stratovarius that would one day go on to conquer the genre. Still, it's a good effort that shows a band in their early stages who have yet to fully develop their own style.

Highlights include 'Future Shock', 'Witch Hunt' and 'False Messiah', although I wouldn't be upset if these were excluded from future compilations, all are about as memorable as the album itself.

DARK MILLENNIUM Ashore the Celestial Burden

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Ashore the Celestial Burden" is the debut full-length studio album by German death/doom metal act Dark Millennium. The album was released through Massacre Records in 1992. Dark Millennium was formed in 1989 and disbanded in the mid-90s after releasing two demos and two full-length studio albums. The years leading up to the release of "Ashore the Celestial Burden" were quite busy with both lineup changes and the release of the band´s two demos taking up Dark Millennium´s time. Lead vocalist Christian Mertens was out of the band for a couple of months and didn´t participate in the recording of the "Of Spectre Their Ashes May Be (1992)" demo, but he is present on "Ashore the Celestial Burden".

5 out of the 10 tracks on the album are re-recorded versions of tracks from the two demos. "Black Literature" was originally featured on the "The Apocryphal Wisdom (1991)" demo and "Below the Holy Fatherlands", "Spiritual", "Wizardry Assemblage" and "Medina's Spell" were originally featured on the "Of Spectre Their Ashes May Be (1992)" demo.

Stylistically the music on "Ashore the Celestial Burden" is a doomy type of death metal with occasional progressive leanings. Haunting and melancholic guitar leads, brick heavy doomy riffs and rhythms, and some very aggressive and snarling growling vocals on top. But that´s not all, because this is not solely a doom/death metal album and there are usually several tempo changes in the tracks and the band often play mid-paced (and occasionally slightly faster) old school death metal parts, which adds to the brutality of the music. When they do that they remind me slightly of their fellow countrymen in Morgoth. Dark Millennium also bring progressive ideas and song structures to the table and to my ears a track like "Beyond the Dragon's Eye" is a fully fledged progressive death metal track. The tasteful and clever use of acoustic guitars and piano on that track works really well. The addition of clean vocals sung by Gerhard Magin, also make that particular track stand out.

The musicianship are obviously on a high level and "Ashore the Celestial Burden" is also packed in a raw and suitingly dark sound production. It could have been slightly more powerful and well sounding, but it´s a minor issue, and it´s pretty great as it is.

While I mention progressive ideas and structures above, "Ashore the Celestial Burden" is an album where Dark Millennium successfully balance death metal brutality, doomy melancholy, and progressive sophistication. Which means that the progressive ideas never come in the way of the death metal brutality or the doomy melancholy and visa versa. And along with the skilled delivery of the music, the decent sound production, and the adventurous songwriting, that´s probably the album´s greatest strength. A 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

ÆON SPOKE Æon Spoke

Album · 2007 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Æon Spoke" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US alternative rock act Æon Spoke. The album was released through the SPV GmbH label in April 2007. 7 out of the 10 tracks featured on the album are re-recorded versions of tracks originally featured on the band´s debut full-length studio album "Above the Buried Cry (2004)". So this might be the band´s 2nd studio album, but it´s so and so with how much new material you are gonna get by purchasing this album if you already have "Above the Buried Cry (2004)". The versions on this album are of course re-arranged and re-recorded, but still. Æon Spoke was founded and is led by lead vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer/keyboard player Sean Reinert, who are also known for their work with Death, Cynic, and Portal (among others).

The music on the album is alternative atmospheric rock with Paul Masvidal melancholic, mellow, and fragile vocals as the focal point. The instrumental part of the music is slightly more active and also more interesting compared to the debut album, and that´s a great positive step for Æon Spoke. The sound production features an increased organic tone, which suits the band´s music well and "Æon Spoke" is overall a very pleasant and well sounding album. Within it´s vers/chorus structured form, the music is also relatively sophisticated with intriguing details popping up from time to time. So the material are for the most part pretty well written albeit slightly formulaic in structure.

While my initial reaction to releasing an album with 7 tracks already featured on another album wasn´t the most positive, I´ve been forced to think otherwise of that reaction after having listened to the re-recorded versions of the tracks. It´s not that they are significantly different from the original versions featured on "Above the Buried Cry (2004)", but the improved sound production and the better flow of this self-titled release, make the tracks shine more than they initially did. The 3 "new" tracks are also pretty great, so all in all this is a step up from the debut album and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ÆON SPOKE Above the Buried Cry

Album · 2004 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Above the Buried Cry" is the debut full-length studio album by US alternative rock act Æon Spoke. The album was released through the Mercy Stroll label in October 2004. 7 out of the 10 tracks featured on the album were re-recorded and included on the band´s 2007 self-titled sophomore album. Æon Spoke was founded and is led by lead vocalist/guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer/keyboard player Sean Reinert, who are also known for their work with Death, Cynic, and Portal (among others).

The music on "Above the Buried Cry" is very different from any of the above mentioned acts though and doesn´t feature anything that reveals that the two mainmen behind the project are usually associated with metal. The tracks on the album are vers/chorus structured and predominantly mellow alternative rock songs with Paul Masvidal´s pleasant and fragile vocals in front. It´s very straight forward with a slight melancholic edge, and it´s safe to say that this is as different sounding as it can be from the involved parties earlier output. The material are generally catchy and some tracks stick after the album is over, so there is a longivity to some of the tracks. It´s only some tracks that manage to stick out though ("Pablo at the Park" especially comes to mind) and there are quite a few that are forgotten as soon as they are over.

The sound production is clear and suits the material and all in all "Above the Buried Cry" is a professionally made album with a pleasant sound, but that´s about it. I´m not wildly impressed by the instrumental part of the music. There are little details here and there, that elevate some tracks to a higher level, but the instrumental arrangements are generally a bit dull and only seem to be there to back up the vocals. That´s of course the premise of much pop and rock music, but it´s a bit unusual to hear musicians of this caliber tone down their performances as much as they do here. For the style it´s a decent release and a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted, but don´t come to the album expecting anything else than a subdued alternative rock album with a slightly melancholic atmosphere featuring relatively simple arrangements and you won´t be disappointed.

MY DYING BRIDE Symphonaire infernus et spera empyrium

EP · 1991 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
SYMPHONAIRE INFERNUS ET SPERA EMPYRIUM is the very first release from MY DYING BRIDE released as an EP way back in 1991 as well as their first on their long lasting Peaceville Records label. While the 12 “ vinyl edition released in 1991 consisted only of the 11:38 title track, the CD edition released the following year contained the tracks “God Is Alone” and “De Sade Soliloquay” which were released as a two sided 7” vinyl single limited to 1000 copies the year before. Due to startling originality of the inclusion of the melancholic session violin contributions of Martin Powell on the title track, MY DYING BRIDE gained instant recognition as a major innovator in the nascent death-doom metal sound that only Anathema and Paradise Lost were also developing at the same time period.

It’s no doubt that MY DYING BRIDE caught the attention of the world with the track “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” as it remains one of their most masterful compositions of their entire career exquisitely melding the elements of doom and death metal along with neoclassical darkwave with the addition of the soul piercing violin and highly sophisticated compositional conceptualization. With its humble intro it almost sounds like we’re going to the Renaissance fair with its medieval violin setup but soon the down-tuned doomed distortion of heavy guitar riffs enter as does the death growls of Aaron Stainthorpe. The track deftly walks the tightrope of the classical and metal worlds with grace but also carefully paces the fusion effect with pure down and dirty death metal outbursts however the violin never strays too far for too long and always brings the listener into the eternal cauldrons of dread.

The remaining tracks are less symphonically complex and are rooted more in heavier death metal with elements of doom percolating through. “God Is Alone” and “De Sade Soliloquay” are perhaps the heaviest tracks that MY DYING BRIDE has ever released as they are blistering fast in tempo and eschew the violin trademark sound that pretty much defines them on every full length album that follows. These were siphoned from the cauldrons of their earliest demo material therefore sounds as primeval and raw as could be expected. SYMPHONAIRE INFERNUS ET SPERA EMPYRIUM is an excellent debut from MY DYING BRIDE and only one of two where Stainthorpe exclusively utilizes his death growls (the other being the following full-length “As The Flowers Wither.” While the title track has gotten around on many of the compilations, the other two have not and can only be found on this EP as well as the collection of the first three EPs “Trinity.” This debut release showed great talent that has been successfully in staying relevant for decades after this first hit the market.

MY DYING BRIDE As the Flower Withers

Album · 1992 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 16 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
After the attention getting debut of their first EP “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium,” MY DYING BRIDE released their first full-length debut AS THE FLOWER WITHERS the following year in the vein of that EP’s title track. This album is by and far the heaviest and most brutal of any in the MY DYING BRIDE discography with heavy emphasis on the blistering guitar riffing and pummeling bass and percussive attacks. The trademark lugubrious violins of at-the-time session musician Martin Powell are a vital part to the band’s sound at this stage but all hasn’t integrated together seamlessly quite yet. At this stage the classically oriented sounds as heard in the symphonic intro “Silent Dance” as well as segments within the larger tracks such as “The Bitterness And Bereavement” and “The Return Of The Beautiful” are more than present but it is quite apparent early on in “Silent Dance” that MY DYING BRIDE was very much an early pioneer of the death-doom metal sound along with contemporaries Anathema and Paradise Lost. AS THE FLOWER WITHERS is also the only full-length release where lead vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe exclusively utilizes his death growls which contribute to the overall soundscape giving a more dirty and raw metal feel as opposed to the slicker, more romantic Gothic utterings of his later clean vocal style.

While the longer tracks tend to portend the future of where the band was heading, some tracks like “The Forever People” are exclusively rooted in the death metal past with unapologetic heaviness and aggressive bombastic ear assaults sans any trace of symphonic effects of wailing violin. On the more progressive tracks like “The Bitterness And The Bereavement” the band utilizes all of their magic in one behemoth of a composition with sensual tear inducing violin wails meeting Sabbath inspired doom guitar chords stomping so hard that it registers on the Richter scale while the suffocating atmospheres deplete all the remaining oxygen from the room. As if the sophistication of their dread-inducing instrumental talent wasn’t sufficient enough, MY DYING BRIDE has always delivered the most thought provoking lyrics based in painful romances, utter despair and complete collapse of faith and all of that was already present from the beginning having been fully developed at this stage as perfectly heard on some of the most sophisticated tracks such as the outstanding masterpiece “The Return Of The Beautiful” where all of their early and later sounds play together in perfect harmony.

AS THE FLOWER WITHERS is one of the most woefully underrated albums of MY DYING BRIDE’s entire discography. While they pretty much steered their distinct sound exclusively into the atmospheric doom metal arenas starting with “Turn Loose The Swans,” there is something mysterious and profound about this one. Not only does it retain the primeval ooze effect of nascent metal’s birth pangs but has an intense energetic delivery absent from subsequent releases. The exclusive use of death growls may dissuade the fans of the romantic clean approach but i find this early sound of MY DYING BRIDE to be equally as compelling to experience upon returning visits. The progressive touches and the sophistication of the compositions puts this on a whole other level of the day and the dual guitar assaults of Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw are allowed to shine like on no other album that came after and even delved into Morbid Angel territory with blistering riffs and squealing solos on “Vast Choirs.” While i’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite album from MY DYING BRIDE being that their canon is so incredibly consistent, i ,in no way, can rank AS THE FLOWER WITHERS as an inferior product. On the contrary i find this to be a stimulating attack of the senses that offers a higher octane value than anything that would soon follow.

MY DYING BRIDE The Thrash of Naked Limbs

EP · 1993 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 4 ratings
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MY DYING BRIDE had such positive reaction to their innovative use of symphonic embellishments and violin in their unique signature sound that by the time they got to their 2nd EP they made violinist a full-fledge member of the band and steered their sound incrementally away from the aggressive death metal world more into atmospheric doom metal arenas. THE THRASH OF NAKED LIMBS followed the debut full-length “As The Flower Withers” and was the turning point where heavy guitar assaults were deemphasized and the dread inducing atmospheres accompanied by poetic visions of woe became the dominant force. While Aaron Stainthorpe utilized his death growls exclusively on the title track, for the first time he introduced his clean Gothic styled vocals which offered a new mood setting feel to their music.

While the title track is an expected death-doom track with heavy Sabbath inspired guitar in slowed down splendor, “Le Cerf Malade (The Sick Stag)” introduces a new aspect of the band, namely a propensity for thick brooding dark ambient passages. This track is exclusively instrumental with no metal to be found and has brief lyrics in French that are a fragment from a poem of the same name from the 17th century Frnech poet Jean de la Fontaine. “Gather Me Up Forever” proves they indeed a metal band and jumps back into the death-doom metal pattern that the title track dished out only some harder driving uptempo passages. This track is quite successful at showing how MY DYING BRIDE was masterfully composing doom metal with ambience and progressive touches and lots of attention paid to the most minute sound dynamics.

As heard on THE THRASH OF NAKED LIMBS, the transition was near complete but remnants of the early death metal stage of the band was still a significant part of the band’s sound although less emphasized than on the previous releases. MY DYING BRIDE was cautious about morphing too quickly from one world to the next and only proceeded as it made sure that nothing sounded stilted or done so without a satisfying unification of the styles at hand. Personally i find THE THRASH OF NAKED LIMBS to be yet another exemplary and satisfying listen with three tracks equally interesting as they place emphasis on different aspects of the band’s different strengths. As with the “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” EP, this one can be found on the box set “The Stories” or the much easier found “Trinity” compilations.

MY DYING BRIDE I Am the Bloody Earth

EP · 1994 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 2.54 | 3 ratings
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After the success of their second album “Turn Loose The Swans” where MY DYING BRIDE finally found an equilibrium between the intense death-doom metal guitar and growls with their neoclassical dark darkwave, they quickly released yet another EP. The third of these titled I AM THE BLOODY EARTH pretty much followed up the formula of “Swans” with a slow and plaintive pace that would become the band’s own for the rest of their career finally breaking complete ties with death metal riffs and aggressive outbursts. Whereas the previous EPs could be considered albums in their own right for having a distinct feel, this one sounds more like a collection of three tracks that were released between albums.

The title track is a slow stomping doom metal number with lugubrious symphonic violin parts wailing away. Aaron Stainthorpe employs only death metal growls despite no death metal riffs entering the scene. There are also extra guest vocals from Ghost of the industrial band GGFH. Interest in industrial music is much more prevalent on the second track “Transcending (Into The Exquisite)” which is indeed a House remix that contains different elements from “Turn Loose The Swans” and utilizes a hypnotic beat and Nine Inch Nails type drive accompanied by a remix type of aesthetic to it making it sound more like a Ministry track than MY DYING BRIDE. Although death metal growls are mostly used there are also moments where Stainthorpe sounds like Marilyn Manson a little. This one is a little repetitive and obviously an experiment that they never tried again. In fact this track was removed from the compilation “Trinity” which featured the band’s first three EPs and replaced with the single “The Sexuality Of Bereavement.”

The remaining track “Crown Of Sympathy” from the “Turn Loose The Swans” album is also an alternate remix version but not industrial oriented. This retains the classic sounding of the album version and sounds simply like a different version with some nice atmospheric extensions. Personally i find this to be the weakest of the early EPs that were released during the early years of MY DYING BRIDE. While the three tracks are all decently done and quite pleasant to listen to, they just don’t have the oomph or continuity that the previous releases did. The title track and the “Crown Remix” can be found on compilation “Trinity” while the entire EP as originally released can also be found on the limited “The Stories” boxed set. Personally the missing track on “Trinity” is not the most interesting of the lot so i would recommend that as a one stop shop for the first three EPs.

MY DYING BRIDE The Stories

Boxset / Compilation · 1994 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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THE STORIES was the first compilation / boxed set from MY DYING BRIDE that released their three earliest EPs “ Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium,” “ The Thrash Of Naked Limbs “ and “I Am The Bloody Earth“ all in one handy one-stop shop product. This comp was released in response to the sudden popularity MY DYING BRIDE was experiencing as a result of the success of their very first albums “As The Flower Withers” and “Turn Loose The Swans” as well as growing demand from the heavy exposure during their early tours.

The only difference between THE STORIES and the following compilation called “Trinity” which was released a year earlier which also featured all three early EPs is that THE STORIES features those three EPs exactly as the original releases whereas “Trinity” removed the track “Transcending (Into The Exquisite)” and replaced it with “The Sexuality Of Bereavement” which was originally released as an EP in its own right (along with the other track “The Crown Of Sympathy (Remix)” but was only available to members of the short lived Peaceville Collectors Club Series.

THE STORIES was released in a green cardboard box with new artwork and an additional booklet with lyrics but was limited to only 3000 copies and has become somewhat of a collector’s item over the years. This is truly one only for the most hardcore of completists since every track except “Transcending…” can be found on the much more readily available “Trinity” while the original “I Am The Bloody Earth” with that track is much easier and less expensive to track down. Personally i’ll give it a pass. Rating is based on value as a compilation. See reviews for each EP separately.

MY DYING BRIDE Trinity

Boxset / Compilation · 1995 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 5 ratings
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TRINITY is one of the earliest compilations albums from MY DYING BRIDE released the year after their very first “The Stories.” It is in fact basically the same album as “The Stories” which compiled the band’s three earliest EPs “ Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium,” “ The Thrash Of Naked Limbs “ and “I Am The Bloody Earth“ all in one handy one-stop shop product. While “The Stories” was more of a collector’s boxed set of sort with special packaging and limited to 3000 copies, TRINITY has been the easiest way to obtain all three EPs without resorting to great expense. The two comps are essentially the same product musically speaking with one glaring exception and an important one it is.

Whereas “The Stories” contained the EPs “ Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium,” “ The Thrash Of Naked Limbs “ and “I Am The Bloody Earth“ in their authentic original forms, for some strange reason MY DYING BRIDE decided to jettison the track “Transcending (Into The Exquisite)” from the “I Am The Bloody Earth” EP and replace it with the track “The Sexuality Of Bereavement” which was a non-album single that was released the previous year. While i am in agreement that “Sexuality” is a far superior track to “Transcending” i’m left a little perplexed why the former was nixed instead of simply adding the former to the authentic trilogy of EPs from this early stage of the band’s career thus not making it a completely authentic experience. Unfortunately the “Transcending” track has been completely written off and hasn’t even found a home on the following comps including the “Meisterwerk” releases.

The reason for disowning this track seems a little disheartening since despite not being the highlight of the band’s career nevertheless is an authentic part of it even though it does have more of an industrial metal feel and is different than most of their other material. Despite this slight irritation i have to accept this album for what it is and what it is happens to be an outstanding display of a very talented death-doom metal band who knew how to construct some of the most beautifully depressing compositions of the day with such masterpieces as the track “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium.” TRINITY remains the most readily available way to obtain all the early EPs minus one track and is an interesting way to experience the band evolution from the early doom metal band with death metal outbursts to the more familiar symphonic death-doom band as heard in their early years. Still a brilliant flow of music despite the faux pas of a single track exclusion.

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
All music fans have certain bands or certain musicians, who whenever they announce a new release, they’re instantly excited and immediately consider hearing it as soon as it’s available their top priority. For me, that musician is Arjen Lucassen, and especially his Ayreon project, which first blew me away with the 2004 release The Human Equation, my all time favorite album, and has yet to let me down ever since. I’ll admit, after the rather lengthy break and several side projects Arjen made in between 01011001 and The Theory of Everything, I was actually a bit surprised when he announced the eighth Ayreon album, The Source, less than three years after the release of its predecessor, with the release coming roughly three and a half years after that one, only doing one side project in between. I can’t complain, though, because while I have enjoyed all of Arjen’s other works in the past, I find I prefer him when he’s at his most dynamic and using the widest range of sounds he can, which is exactly what he does with Ayreon. After The Theory of Everything ended up being one of my all time favorite releases, I was excited to see if The Source would be yet another masterpiece, and suffice to say, it is!

As always with Ayreon, I’ll talk a bit about the concept of this release first, before going into the music. I find lately Arjen has fallen into a bit of a pattern, where one release will be focused on the overarching Sci-Fi concept he has going on, while the next album will be more of a side story. For example, The Human Equation was totally it’s own thing, then 01011001 ended up feeling like the end of the main Forever/Planet Y arc, which led me to think all future Ayreon releases would have to either side stories or a whole new story, and indeed The Theory of Everything was another side story, but to my surprise he has actually gone back to the main story this time around, with The Source being a prequel to 01011001.

As always, there’s a lot going on here, but the basic gist of the plot is that a planet called Alpha has been overtaken by machines, with the main beings of the planet, ancestors to humanity, losing control to the point where a group of them (the main characters of the album) make the decision to leave on a spaceship, to seek out life on another planet. This, of course, leads to the beginnings of Planet Y, which longtime Ayreon fans should be very familiar with by now. While the album still has its fun moments, including several references to various prior Ayreon releases, I find the tone to be a bit darker than usual, as many tracks talk about the guilt the characters feel over having to leave the rest of their people behind on a dying planet while they survive somewhere else. It’s a compelling tale as always, and of course there’s some great back and forth exchanges, most notably between Russell Allen’s “The President”, who made a mistake which led to the machines taking control, and Tommy Karevik’s “The Opposition Leader”, who claims to have been against the machines from the start. Though overall, I find the characters don’t conflict with each other as much as on previous releases, probably because there’s a common goal for all of them this time around.

Speaking of which, while previous Ayreon albums have had some impressive casts, this has to be the best one yet! There’s some great returning singers here, such as James Labrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Simone Simons (Epica), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Mills (Toehider), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), with all of the above having prominent roles and being given a ton of room to work with. Simone Simons, in particular, has a much larger role than she had on 01011001, which is great as I had thought she was underused there, where on this album she gets to showcase her voice a ton more, including some operatic vocals on “Deathcry of a Race”. The real show stealer may be Michael Mills, though, as he plays the machine “TH-1”, which allows him to show off his crazy vocal range in some impressive ways, and he’s often used for some background effects which is also pretty cool. Moving on to newcomers, we have Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me”), which at first glance may not be a choice some folks would expect, but he actually has a very clear, soft singing voice which works great for an Ayreon album and he sounds great here, especially on “The Source Will Flow”. Less shocking choices include Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), who has a very deep and powerful voice that fits his part well, especially shining during the chorus of “Sea of Machines”, where he really gets to show off his power, Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), who has a very emotional delivery that fits his character perfectly, and has his shining moments on the opening track and “Into the Ocean” and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), who only has a very brief part on “Deathcry of a Race”, though he does a very good job on that part.

Perhaps the most shocking of all, though, has to be Tobias Sammet, and there’s an actually a bit of a story there as in the past some people assumed there was some kind of rivalry between the two because they were both doing rock opera projects, but it turns out they actually enjoyed each other’s music a lot and even did a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Elected” together in 2008, then Arjen contributed some guitar work to the 2013 Avantasia release “The Mystery of Time” and now Tobias has been given a fairly prominent role on this album. I was excited when heard about this as I’ve long been a fan of both men and their projects, so seeing them work together feels very satisfying, and the result is as great as I would have hoped for.

Musically, The Source is a diverse album as fans would expect, though I find in comparison to The Theory of Everything it’s definitely a much more metal oriented album, with a lot of more guitar-driven sections and some of the heavier sections remind me of the Star One album Victims of the Modern Age, with some of the chunky, groovier guitar sections. There’s also some a couple surprisingly speedy tracks, with small traces of power metal on one track in particular. Obviously, though, this is still an Ayreon release, and so fans can still expect tons of synth effects, as well as unusual metal instruments like violin, cello, and various wind instruments, and there are certainly some nice softer sections and some more prog rock moments as always. Where the last Ayreon release was a departure in terms of structure, this one feels more traditional, in that while it can still be divided into four different phases, there’s a much greater focus on individual tracks here, and the songwriting is more fun and catchy, while still giving room for the plot to develop. If anything, I’d say the release feels like a more focused version of 01011001 and is basically what that album would have been if it didn’t take any weird detours, seemingly to fit in as many side roles as possible, but instead focused entirely on the main plot. Basically, it has a slightly smaller cast, but I find everyone has an important role and no one feels underused, aside from the one exception I noticed, and Arjen has stated he’d like to give that person a larger role sometime in the future, which would be great.

Moving onto songwriting, and that’s an area where Arjen has never been anything short of brilliant, with The Source being especially impressive even by his standards. First up, man is “The Day That the World Breaks Down” ever an impressive opener! Like, you could pretty much consider that track its own EP or mini album, it has that much going on! The track opens up with some calm but somber sounding synth effects before James Labrie introduces us to the concept of the album, and from there the violin, cello, and flute all kick in, before the guitars eventually take over we get some pretty killer riffs early on. From there, the track feels like highlight after highlight, with both Tommy’s and Simone Simons getting into a great vocal section early on, then Nils K. Rue appears to steal the show for a bit, and after that we get one of the best parts of the track, where heavy guitars collide head on with a hammond for an incredibly epic sound!

After this, we get a bass-heavy section where Tobias Sammet makes his first appearance and does a great job, then Michael Mills adds in some vocal effects, in his first appearance before he reappears a bit later on and sings the binary code for “trust TH1”, but he uses his own creative vocal melodies, adding in an epic deep voice at the end, and he shows some incredible vocal abilities on just this one section. In between that, Hansi Kürsch shows up for a bit, sounding awesome as always. Early on in the track is a beautiful violin solo, which Arjen later recreates on his guitar, to amazing effect. Moving along, past the epic Michael Mills section, we get a bluesy section, where Russell Allen makes his first appearance, Fans of later Symphony X may be in for a shock, as on this album Russell mostly uses a more soulful, kind of bluesy hard rock approach to his vocals, which is actually refreshing as he sounds more like he did on older albums and does a great job. This section is mixed in with a softer section where Michael Eriksen sings beautifully, and then after that, we get one of the most gorgeous sounding guitar solos I’ve ever heard, performed by Arjen himself, and then finally a return to a heavier section where Floor Jansen appears and knocks it out of the park. She’s another singer who seems to be given more to work with every time she works with Arjen, and on this album, she really gets to showcase her power on some tracks and does an incredible job.

After that track, “Sea of Machines” starts off quietly, before picking up once the chorus kicks in, and it’s a pretty awesome one, then, later on, we get a section that starts off calmly before building up intensity, and turns into one of the better vocal sections, as well as the foundation for a later track. The next big standout track is “Everybody Dies”, where Michael Mills shows his insane range for the first minute, with everything from the usual effects, to epic high notes and some incredibly menacing deep vocals, then both Tommy’s show up and we get to the foundation of the track, which is to say some verses that are seriously catchier than most choruses on some albums, though the actual chorus is also amazing, performed first by Russell, then Hansi and then finally Floor right near the end. An epic, incredibly catchy track that alternates between fun and cheesy with the keyboards, to some pretty heavy riffs. An instant prog classic, for sure. We have a couple slower tracks after that, with “Star of Sirrah” starting off quiet before picking up the intensity after a bit and getting pretty heavy later on, reminding me of a Star One track, then later on it has an impressive guitar solo by Paul Gilbert. Meanwhile, “All That Was” is a calmer track with some slight folk elements. It has some impressive instrumental sections in the second half, while early on Simone Simons is given a chance to show off her always beautiful voice.

We then get into another big standout in “Run! Apocalypse! Run!”, probably the speediest track on the album and one that has some clear power metal elements, though the way the synths are used still give it a prog feel, and it certainly has the same addictive quality as the rest of the album. Tobias provides some great vocals during the chorus, and it’s a really fun track overall. Closing out disc 1, we have “Condemned to Live”, a darker track filled plenty of epic vocal sections, most notably from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, though Tommy Karevik and Floor Jansen also get some great moments right near the end, and the instrumental part at the end is epic. Disc 2 gets off to a theatrical start, with some epic vocals from Michael Mills out of the gate on “Aquatic Race”, and then the track gets heavier and darker, again bringing Star One to mind. It’s actually a fairly calm track overall, though, and Michael Eriksen and Russell Allen have some great vocals in the middle, then Tommy Rogers takes over later on. Next we have a couple more ballad type tracks, first with “The Dream Dissolves”, where the beginning parts give us a nice duet between Simone Simons and Floor Jansen, as well as nice folk music, then later one we get two great solos, first a nice synth solo from Mark Kelly and a great guitar solo from Marcel Coenen. I already mentioned the two big moments on the next track, so after that, we have “Into the Ocean”, more of a hard rocking track where Michael Eriksen gets some big moments and Hansi Kürsch delivers big time on the chorus. Later in the track, Tobias Sammet and Nils K. Rue both get big moments and the instruments pick up big time, turning into a pretty epic prog track, with some huge vocal melodies. Next is “Bay of Dreams”, another ballad with some great synth sounds and great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, before the track eventually gets heavier later on and Nils K, Rue delivers some epic vocals.

Following that, we get to perhaps my favorite sequence of the album, which brings us to the end. First up, “Planet Y is Alive” is another speedier track, which features a great exchange between Russell Allen and Tommy Karevik early on, as well as an epic chorus, though I prefer the later version of it when Floor Jansen takes over. In the middle, we get a calmer section with the last big guitar solo of the album, performed by Guthrie Govan. After that, “The Source Will Flow” is another ballad, starting with great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie before it picks up a bit of steam later on and Simone Simons gives us some of her best vocals on the album. The last full song on the album is “Journey to Forever”, an upbeat track which alternates between softer parts and a fast paced, epic chorus, starting off performed by Michael Mills, then later on performed by a group of singers. It’s definitely refreshing to hear such an upbeat and happy track on an album that can be very bleak at times, and it’s a very fun track that certainly stands out as a favorite. After that, we get “The Human Compulsion”, which takes a section from “Sea of Machines” and using it as the building block for the kind of section Arjen always loves to include, where all the main singers get one last chance to shine with some epic vocal moments. The song starts off calm before gradually picking up the intensity with each vocal line, and Floor Jansen’s final line is simply stunning. After that brief but awesome track, the album ends with “March of the Machines”, an outro track which uses some heavy synth effects and robot sounding voiceovers, as well as some more binary code in the background, before Michael Mills takes delivers some epic vocals near the end and closes the album with a big reference, sure to excite fans of a certain Ayreon album, and it makes this album’s place in the story all the more obvious.

I’ve said a lot already, so I’ll cut make this conclusion short: The Source is yet another outstanding rock opera that once again proves Arjen Lucassen’s ability to tell a compelling story, while still giving his fans memorable songs and some excellent instrumental work, to go along with a truly impressive cast of singers. It falls on the heavier side of Ayreon, while lining itself up well with past albums in the story, and is certainly up there with some of Arjen’s best work to date. Easily my 2017 album of the year so far, and highly recommended for all Ayreon fans and prog fans in general.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/11/ayreon-source-review/

SEVEN KINGDOMS Decennium

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
American power metal act Seven Kingdoms have certainly left it a long time to come up with their fourth full-length album Decennium (2017). The follow-up to The Fire is Mine (2012), the album release marks the ten year anniversary of the band. I believe I read somewhere a few years back that the band were aiming for their next album to be released to coincide with the milestone. Don't quote me on it however, though I do have a recollection of feeling great disappointment at finding out that there were still years to wait for the follow-up to the excellent The Fire is Mine. Most bands would probably have been able to make their fourth album in the meantime and then lined up their fifth for the ten year anniversary rather than wait a whole half of their existence to release a follow-up. Finally the ten year anniversary of Seven Kingdoms is upon us, and the long wait, no matter its actual reasoning in case I dreamt that last bit, means that a lot is riding on Decennium to deliver.

Whether it does or not will really depend on what each listener is expecting or wanting to hear from it. If more of the same as The Fire is Mine sounds good to you, then Decennium is just that. It's polished yet guitar driven melodic power metal, topped off by Sabrina Valentine's excellent vocals. As far as a straight up power metal album goes you can do far, far worse than what Seven Kingdom's have served up here. It's basically like The Fire is Mine Part II, it's that similar in style. It's the kind of sound that makes me smile and it's undeniably a cut above the norm for the genre, with tracks such as In the Walls, Castles in the Snow and Neverending quickly establishing themselves as highlights. They also never resort to any balladry or slower songs, which is an area where many power metal albums trip up and lose their momentum. Just fairly hard yet melodic power metal from start to finish. In many cases for this genre, it's exactly what the doctor ordered.

However if you recall that over the course of their first three albums Seven Kingdoms were able to produce releases that each had their own identity from each other then Decennium may instead come across as a stark disappointment, as you'll find that trend has come to an end with this album. I shouldn't really be too surprised by this outcome as the band's sound has most certainly become more streamlined power metal since the debut album Brothers of the Night (2007), which featured male vocalist Bryan Edwards, gradually losing influences from melodic death metal and thrash metal, but I supposed a part of me hoped that I'd be proven wrong that this would be the case when album number four eventually arrived, especially given the amount of years the band have made their fans wait for Decennium. It leaves me with a single thought: 'they made us wait five years for this?'.

Or you could be in the middle group, which is where I find myself, where you acknowledge that both the above arguments have merit. I have to give credit where credit is due, because Decennium is a very well made power metal album, but I also have the unshakeable unfulfilled expectation of it being something more, preferably adventurous (this feels very safe) but at least something with its own feel once again. It's excellent, though perhaps a bit less memorable overall than The Fire is Mine due to the songs tending to blend into each other more. I'd even go as far to say that for a straight power metal album Seven Kingdoms have delivered a benchmark release for 2017 that others will have to beat, but that doesn't change that I've heard all their prior work and know that they can and have done better albums.

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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Nightfly
I doubt there’s anyone with even a passing interest in death metal who doesn’t know of the sad premature death of Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns in 2015 bringing to an end perhaps the greatest death metal band to come out of the UK, the band feeling they couldn’t continue decided to call it a day. Memoriam is the next venture of vocalist Karl Willetts who has teamed up with Benediction bassist Frank Healy who suffered a loss of his own with the death of his Father not long after Kearns’ death. Completing the line-up is original Bolt Thrower drummer Andrew Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax.

Neither Bolt Thrower nor Benediction had released anything new for years so For The Fallen is a welcome return for these guys. It follows in their tradition of old school death metal , more akin to the sledgehammer no nonsense approach of Bolt Thrower than the busier and generally faster sound of Benediction it’s a very good solid release which whilst not the equal of the best Bolt Thrower had to offer I prefer to anything I ever heard from Benediction. In the Bolt Thrower tradition the riffs are solid as a rock with an excellent performance from Fairfax throwing in a few Zack Wylde style licks, demonstrated no better than on War Rages On, the second track in after the underwhelming and ordinary opener Memoriam. Fortunately after this things only ever really dip again for the more simplistic punk injected Corrupted Sysytem with most songs having strong and memorable hooks, with a doom element creeping in at times. Some of the songs are pretty long though fortunately there are enough twists and turns with changes of tempo to keep things interesting.

Overall then, For The Fallen whilst treading old ground with no pretence of originality, not necessarily a bad thing, is a promising start with a strong performance from all which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 262 - Nib Y Nool

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 262 - Nib Y Nool / 19th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 10 tracks all titled “Nib Y Nool” / Clocks in at 29minutes 18seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead. Like most PIKEs with identical track names, this one pretty much seamlessly flows as one giant track with only minor changes between them for the most part but surprises do occur

“Nib Y Nool 1” 4:02) ferociously attacks the listener with instant frenetic metal riffing that are jangled and highly caffeinated. Some little solos break through the din and then the fast riffing returns for a while. There are little breaks of jangly slowdowns and more licks and solos that jump in randomly. It sounds like the music is somewhat dissonant and has a sludge metal feel to it at times. Drums are quite well performed

“Nib Y Nool 2” (2:56) picks up without missing a beat and jumps into another series of heavy riffs that trade off with licks. Sounds much like “Nool 1” but has some more thrashy parts dispersed throughout

“Nib Y Nool 3” (5:24) also picks up imperceptibly but becomes a little more progressive in its erratic time signatures until the solo erupts then it’s more of a smooth flow. It continues to trade off in a series of heavy riffs, feisty licks and more extended solos. There are also moments of little licks that remind me of early Van Halen as well as industrial type metal riffs

“Nib Y Nool 4” (2:24) seamlessly transitions only creating more progressive sludgy riffs while the solo erupts fairly soon. It slows down into a strange sliding frenzy and then back to heavy distorted riffs and solos

“Nib Y Nool 5” (2:06) likewise picks up with heavy riffing but then becomes extremely erratic with angular rhythms and heavy staccato breaks before jumping back into scorching solos and slower jangly segments

“Nib Y Nool 6” (2:13) offers the most abrupt change between tracks as the previous solo changes into a bassier riff line but then jumps into the same proggy sludge metal attack again and then solos and then more riffs

“Nib Y Nool 7” (2:57) offers another interesting change. Tempo slows and jangly chords appear and disappear before bursting into a thrashy heavy riff much like Pantera cranked out in their heyday but then it all follows the general gist of the PIKE and alternates heavy riffs with solos and guitar licks all delivered as blistering speeds

“Nib Y Nool 8” (1:53) slows down a little and sounds like doom metal for a little ways but becomes more progressive and avant-garde with finger acrobatic riffs and squeals then back to just plain riffing. Then a nice feedback finish that begins a new melody only to change to…

“Nib Y Nool 9” (2:30) …. a heavier thrashy riff track like many other tracks of this PIKE. The usual riff, solo, jangle parts alternate in varied shuffled ways. “Nib Y Nool 10” (2:53) pretty much picks up only with more of a bluesy shuffle for a little segment but then starts breaking down more syncopated and progressive time sig chops erupt and then the regular riffs, solos etc. After a while an unexpected acoustic guitar (?) or some strange stringed instrument that steps out of the Halloween series and becomes one of those bizarre dark ambient tracks out of the blue and that’s the way it all ends

I have absolutely no idea what the title NIB Y NOOL means but it is a strong PIKE that is adventurous all the way through if not a little one-dimensional in terms of the tones and timbres at least until the very end. While the riffs, licks and compositions are fairly well done, there is a lot of repeating the same ideas and just shuffling them around. I would classify this one as an adventurous album with experimentation aplenty but there’s something about this one that just isn’t as much of a wild ride as other PIKEs that delve into this territory and i’m not sure exactly why some of these work for these more than others. Subtle variations are often the deciding factor. This one is well performed and a true proggy head banging experience but probably needed a little more variation to be in the top tier of the PIKE world

OVERKILL The Grinding Wheel

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"The Grinding Wheel" is the 19th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash/heavy metal act Overkill. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2017. It´s the successor to "White Devil Armory" from 2014 and it features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Since the release of "Ironbound (2010)", Overkill have been on a roll. Not that the releases before that album aren´t worth a mention, but it was like they stepped it up on that album, and the high quality of "Ironbound (2010)" was continued on "The Electric Age (2012)" and on "White Devil Armory (2014)". In fact the quality has been so high that I was beginning to worry when a fall would come. Most artists have streaks of great albums and streaks of not so great ones, and Overkill are no different in that regard, although they generally have very few albums in their by now major discography, which aren´t at least of a relatively high quality.

Thankfully Overkill have decided to prolong the streak of high quality albums with "The Grinding Wheel". Stylistically the material on the 10 track, 60:12 minutes long album is the sound of Overkill as we know them. Thrashy riffs and rhythms, a high in the mix metallic toned bass, occasional traditional heavy metal leanings, an attitude filled "Fuck You" attitude, and Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth´s raw rusty vocals in front. The energy and the conviction and passion behind the delivery are infectious, and it is not audible that this is a band almost 40 years into their career (Overkill was formed as far back as 1980). Overkill sound as hungry and ass kicking aggressive as ever.

There is not a single sub par track on the album, but there are a couple which stand out a little more than the rest and I´d mention "Mean Green Killing Machine", "Goddamn Trouble" (which sounds like Nashville Pussy on speed), "Our Finest Hour", "The Long Road" (a brilliant track with both epic and melodic moments, but also some hard edged thrashy riffing), "Come Heavy" (a Black Sabbath influenced track), "Red White And Blue" (a scorching thrasher), and the closing title track (an epic heavy song, which also features a faster paced thrashy section), as some of the highlights.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Powerful tight drumming and bass playing, strong guitar playing and great soloing, and a "Blitz" in top vocal form. "The Grinding Wheel" is incredibly well produced, featuring a powerful, clear, and detailed production, which brings out the best in the material. So upon conclusion "The Grinding Wheel" is yet another high quality release by Overkill. Therefore my fear of a fall after greatness didn´t hold true this time around, and I just have to bow in the dust for the thrash/heavy metal kings of New Jersey. They´ve done it again. A 4.5 star (90%) is fully deserved.

MY SILENT WAKE Invitation To Imperfection

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Oh. My. God. I just have no idea to where or how to write about this album, which is one of the most incredible releases I have ever come across. My Silent Wake have been around for quite a few years now, making quite a reputation for themselves in the doom field, although I have managed somehow to totally bypass all their other albums, so I have no idea if this how they normally sound. What I do know, is that from the very first song to the very last twenty-one-minute epic I was entranced. It’s not doom as such, or dark ambient, or atmospheric black metal, but somehow brings all those influences and many more into something that is completely engaging and essential.

“Volta” starts life with a harpsichord, then turns into a dance were the black masses congregate: it certainly doesn’t sound how a Volta normally does (which as you all know originated in either Italy or the medieval Provençal courts, was introduced in Paris in around 1556 by Catherine de Medici, and required highly intimate contact between two partners of the opposite sex.). Then there are others where the music is far about creating an atmosphere than creating melody. I firmly believe that the only way to play this album is as a solitary adventure, either played when there is no-one else around to interfere with its enjoyment, or on headphones when the rest of the world can be shut out. To my ears, it is an incredible achievement, and one of the most perplexing and entrancing albums I have ever come across.

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