Metal Music Reviews from Pelata

VICIOUS RUMORS Razorback Killers

Album · 2011 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 14 ratings
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Since losing vocalist extraordinaire Carl Albert in 1995, Vicious Rumors has attempted to carry on with no less than four other singers: Brian O’Conner (on 1998′s Cyber Christ), Morgan Thorn (for 2001′s Sadistic Symphony), James Rivera (of Helstar for Warball in 2006) & Ronnie Stixx (who toured with the band but never recorded). At one point, even guitarist/band founder Geoff Thorpe handled lead vocals (on the first post-Albert album, 1996′s Something’s Burning). To varying degrees, the albums worked. Each one had moments of passionate intensity. Each one also had moments that may not have lived up to the VR name. I thought they had struck gold with James Rivera as Warball was easily the best thing they had done to date since Albert’s untimely demise. I am, however, happy to report that the new album (which also sees vocalist #5 attempt to fill Carl Albert’s shoes) is even better.

Brian Allen is taking his turn at the VR mic in true, aggressive metal spirit! Not taking anything away from the other guys who’ve stepped in here, Allen is without a doubt THE man for this job. He packs an intense, absolutely (forgive me) vicious punch! Musically, Thorpe and company have cranked everything up a notch, and the result is, from my view, the best thing the band has done since 1995′s Word of Mouth.

The band has buckled down and put out a very, very strong album. Tracks like “Razorback Blade” and “Axe To Grind” call to mind the glory and speed of classics like “Hellraiser” (from the 1990 self-titled album). Allen proves his mettle here with some seriously impressive vocal acrobatics and soaring wails…absolutely blistering. He comes down out of the stratosphere and puts in a brooding, impassioned performance on “Black”. “Rite Of Devastation”, “Murderball” and “Blood Stained Sunday” all boil over with patented VR rage and spirit, the likes we haven’t heard in a long time. Crowd-rousing track “Let The Garden Burn” is an homage to the European, open air metal festivals held every summer and is sure to get crowds headbanging and chanting back. There is simply not a bad song to be had here, people. Guitar solos are something the band is known for and a couple of returning heros turn out some gems. Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) makes his second appearance on a VR album. Former VR guitarist Mark McGee (who played on all the band’s albums from 1988 through 1995) is welcomed back for a few guest shredders in tandem with Thrope. Testament‘s Eric Petersen even puts in some harmonized solo runs on “Murderball”.

This is the album that I, as a Vicious Rumors fan, have been waiting for since Albert’s passing. Putting a few past missteps aside, because the band has released some strong material over the years. But they have hit a home run with Razorback Killers! This album feels like a natural follow up to Word of Mouth and easily ranks among the Albert years’ material. Get it!

STRATOVARIUS Elysium

Album · 2011 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 25 ratings
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Stratovarius is iconic within the power metal scene. Having released their first album, Fright Night, 22 years ago, they have been a near-constant presence releasing 13 studio albums, a live album and no less than five (5) compliations in that time. Founding guitarist Timo Tolkki left in 2008 after a good amount of dramatic press. He was replaced by Matias Kupiainen (also, longtime bassist Jari Kainulainen was replaced by Lauri Porra) and the band has now released its second album with the revamped lineup―with vocalist Timo Kotipelto, keyboardist Jens Johansson and drummer Jorg Michael still filling rest of the spots―called Elysium.

While not sounding exactly like they did on Episode or Destiny, Stratovarius sticks to the tried and true power metal formula they’ve been championing for all these many years. While Kupiainen has a different feel and delivery than that of Tolkki, the music retains the melodic, epic nature the band is known for. If anything, they’ve foregone some of the more fast-paced moments in favor of a little more groove and more mid-paced, headbanging tempos. Johansson’s keyboards carry a good portion of the melodic weight and Kotipelto further cements his reputation as one of the premier vocalists in the scene ― despite the fact that the higher he climbs, the more grating he tends to be come…but that’s just a taste thing. Regardless of the talent on board, its the songs that matter and, ultimately, Elysium delivers.

Opening track “Darkest Hours” is a driving, energetic number with a strong chorus and nice keyboard layering. The lyrics get a little predictable (“I’ve left the past behind, I’m reaching for the light”) but they work in the context of what they’re doing. “Fairness Justified” starts off somber and airy before adding the obligatory “heavy power ballad” layers, complete with an epic chorus. Classic Stratovarius comes roaring back to life on “Event Horizon” which is chock full of neo-classical speed and shredding. This one has tons of double-kick drumming and a soaring chorus. Johansson and Kupiainen also have some cool interplay. “The Game Never Ends” is another strong, driving number with more incredibly nimble playing from Kupiainen. Of course, any self-respecting power metal band has to deliver the 18-minute epic at some point of their careers, and here, Stratovarius does so with the closing title track. Deftly blending many differing elements of the Strato-sound, it’s grandiose and diverse, loaded down with more good melodies and impressive playing but it gets a little exhausting toward the end.

This was the first Stratovarius I had heard front to back since 1998′s Destiny and while I am still not totally sold on Kotipelto’s voice, I was reminded of what a formidable unit this band is. I don’t see any reasons why any Strato-fan wouldn’t eat it up.

SAXON Power & the Glory

Album · 1983 · NWoBHM
Cover art 3.77 | 25 ratings
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Why, oh why have I never bothered looking into Saxon??! My first exposure to Saxon was having to learn this title track for my tenure in October 31 (and even then, I learned it from their version, not Saxon's). It was a fun song to sing and people seemed to get into it, but I never took the time to get Saxon albums. Even after getting a promo for their last album Labyrinth AND giving it a good review, I never bothered to look into Saxon...well, all thats is about to change.

The title track on this album is untouchabe! It's a fantastic slice of Metal from the NWOBHM era that, honestly, defines the term Classic Heavy Metal. "Redline" has a sort of Deep Purple, boogie vibe to it. In fact, Biff Byford sometimes reminds me of Ian Gillan. The guitar playing on this album is great! "Warrior" is a headbanging monster while "Nightmare" has a cool, brooding chorus. Another fave is "Watching The Sky"...what a great opening riff!! The same can be said for "Midas Touch" which, to my ears, has a little bit of Accept in it. The final track, "Eagle Has Landed" has a sort of Pink Floyd, "Have A Cigar" vibe complete with blusey, Stratocaster, David Gilmour-styled soloing during the intro and instrumental section...the vocal parts on this song are intense!

Verdict: Looks like I've named just about every song on the album...which I guess is a good sign. This IS Heavy Metal and I could kick myself for never hearing this album before! What an idiot!! Ha! Needless to say, I am going to begin collecting Saxon albums...beginning with this one!

MEGADETH Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good!

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.43 | 93 ratings
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I have a love/hate relationship with Megadeth. I love the music I have heard, but depending on my mood I hate Dave Mustaine's voice (sometimes I can tolerate it, other times not). I have owned different CDs of theirs over the years (most notably Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction) but have never even heard Killing...; until now, that is.

It's only 8 songs, which as it turns out, is kind of a blessing. There are a few cool tracks here, "Rattlehead", "Skull Beneath The Skin" and the title track...but the other songs do nothing for me. I listened 3 times to this album and "Mechanix" is better as "The Four Horsemen", "These Boots" is flat out stupid, and the others suffer from a combo of Dave's voice and kind of boring (to me) riffs. I admit though, that the three I like, I happen to like quite a bit.

Verdict: I can understand Megadeth's place in the Metal pantheon, I just can't really get into them overall in terms of buying their albums. I think I'd be content with a good anthology.

UFO Lights Out

Album · 1977 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.12 | 18 ratings
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UFO always escaped me. I knew Michael Schenker used to play guitar with them. I knew that they are revered in UK Rock and Metal circles. I even used to own a found copy of Obsession on vinyl when I was in 10th grade, but can only recall "Only You Can Rock Me" (cool song) from it (it was stolen from me in later years). So, in my quest to discover bands and albums I overlooked early on, this time I chose Lights Out.

I first heard the title track when it was covered by Fifth Angel, and I only heard that 6 or 7 years ago. The original version here rocks! It kind of reminds me of Rainbow with its organ and galloping tempo. What a nice slice of Heavy Metal that is! "Love To Love" is another standout track to my ears. It has a cool, dark and moody vibe to it and kind of reminds me of Pink Floyd in places with the moody build-ups and airy atmosphere. Song to song, it's a pretty diverse album...which is cool. "Just Another Suicide" and "Getting Ready" are solid, radio-friendly Classic Rock ala BTO (former) and Tom Pertty (latter) while the somber "Try Me" is a really good melancholic piano ballad. "Electric Phase" has a strong attitude and vibe as does "Too Hot To Handle". Then there's "Alone Again Or" which I thought was an odd sock in the basket, sounding like some old 60s tune (til I looked it up and saw it was a Love cover). I liked it though.

Verdict: Strong record with good songs and loads of variety.

ANTHRAX Fistful Of Metal

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 35 ratings
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All I have ever known of Anthrax was the Ninja Turtle, Judge Dredd, surfer-shorts wearing "NOT!" thing from the late 80s and early 90s. I liked some of it. Among The Living and Spreading The Disease had some great stuff on them. State Of Euphoria and Persistence Of Time a little less so. Then the John Bush era happened and I loved Sound Of White Noise but was left cold by most of what came after. All during this time, and as recently as a week ago, I heard people make reference to how Fistful Of Metal was the "best thing they ever did". After years of never paying attention, I decided to listen to this album from start to finish. After 4 spins front to back, I can now agree that, yes...Fistful Of Metal is the best thing Anthrax ever did.

Recorded in 1983 and released in 1984, Fistful Of Metal is pure, undiluted American Power Metal up there with early output from Savatage, Lizzy Borden, Fates Warning and Metal Church. Remember, the term "Thrash Metal" didn't really take hold until later on, and this album doesn't really bear all the traits of what would later be dubbed Thrash. This stuff is like Judas Priest after lifting weights and getting pissed off. Angry, aggressive, powerful Heavy Metal. Vocalist Neil Turbin is a wailing melodic maniac blending Paul Stanley-like NY attitude with Halford-esque screams. The guitars riffs and tempos move along at driving mid to fast speeds. This is not "get your ass kicked in a pit" Metal, this is "wreck your neck on the front row" Metal complete with denim vests, leather gloves and sweaty, tangled hair!

Verdict: I love it! Old school, ass-kicking Heavy Metal from one of America's most lauded Metal bands. They may have gone on to make some questionable moves and so-so albums, but Fistful Of Metal proves that at one time, Anthrax had the goods!

CHASTAIN For Those Who Dare

Album · 1990 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.50 | 5 ratings
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The band Chastain, home to virtuoso guitarist and label owner David T. Chastain and female vocal goddess Leather Leone, was one of the most grossly overlooked, underappreciated Heavy Metal bands of the 1980s. Combining US Power Metal along the lines of Sanctuary and Metal Church with a neo-classical flair, they released five albums by 1990, the last of which (before the departure of Ms. Leone) was 'For Those Who Dare'. Jumping from the guitarists own label Leviathan to the waiting arms of Roadrunner, the band had high hopes for 'For Those Who Dare'. Sadly, apart from a video for the title track getting decent play on Headbanger's Ball, the Roadrunner partnership yielded the band very little. I say sadly because this album is really good! Now David T is a monster guitarist; an arpeggio wielding technician if there ever was one. The real star of this album, however, is one Leather Leone. This woman carried twice the power and range of any other female in Metal. Forget Betsy Bitch, forget Doro...Leather Leone is an absolute powerhouse! Equal parts Dio, Dickinson and Ann Wilson, she didn't sing songs so much as she attacked them. The soaring chorus of the title track, the hateful snarl of "The Mountain Whispers", the piercing wail of "Please Set Us Free"; all testament to the fact that this woman IS Heavy Metal. Musically, the riffs chug, grind and fly in all directions. The lead playing of Mr. Chastain is especially deft, easily rivaling Malmsteen, Friedman or any other Shrapnel Records shredder. The vibe of the album is dark, angry and passionate. Moving seamlessly from headbanging tempos ("Secrets Of The Damned"), to slithering, pounding groove riffs ("Not Much Breathing"), to more ambient intros ("Night Of Anger") there isn't a bad song to he had. There's even a pissed off cover of Heart's "Barracuda". The tones and edge are all given new life by Jamie King's (Between The Buried And Me producer) impressive remastering job. For fans of US Power Metal, this album is essential. If you missed it the first time around, or want to hear it in its newly remastered glory, definitely pick it up. This will turn out to be my favorite reissue of 2010!

JAG PANZER The Scourge of the Light

Album · 2011 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 11 ratings
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Jag Panzer certainly need no intoduction to Heavy Metal fans. Stalwarts of American Heavy Metal for going on 30 years now, Jag Panzer has never failed to deliver epic Heavy Metal to its awaiting fans; flying under the mainstream radar (due largley, no doubt, to the 10 year gap between it's first and second albums), yet always retaining a true, dedicated sound. The founding, core trio of Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin (vocals), Mark Briody (guitars) and John Tetley (bass) have always worked hard to establish Jag Panzer's place in the Heavy Metal pantheon.

The band's latest effort, The Scourge Of The Light, is a testament to that hard work. After several spins, I have concluded that The Scourge Of The Light is ranks among the band's best work like 1986's Ample Destruction and 2001's Mechanized Warfare. From start to finish, the songs never fail to deliver the Jag Panzer trademarks with seemingly evergreen vigor. The riffs can go from gallopping and heavy ("Overlord") to grooving and masterful ("Cycles"). Losing Chris Broderick to Megadeth certainly did not slow things down in the lead guitar department as it paved the way for the return of Christian Lasegue, who does a brilliant job carrying melodic flair while shredding with the best of them. Melody, as is stands, is the order of the day with Jag Panzer. In addition to Conklin's soaring vocal phrasing, which is always impressive, the band adds single violin passages and layers to add to the earthy nature of the music without trying to masquerade as a "symphonic" band. "Let It Out" and "Condemned To Fight" find the band in full on headbanging mode, while the 8-minute closing epic "The Book Of Kells" is an intense, brooding journey. The subtlety of the violin goes a long way in creating the mood for this one. Other tracks like "Call To Arms" and "The Setting Of The Sun" carry the classic Jag Panzer trademark with glory and honor. "Bringing On The End" has a giagantic groove riff intro before delving into an almost creepy, subdued verse.

Fans of Jag Panzer and classic Heavy Metal in general have a lot to enjoy on The Scourge Of The Light. The vocals are great, the riffs are strong, and the solos are quite impressive. The overall mood and vibe of the album is one of dark, epic mystery and imagination. It feels great and will no doubt bring about repeated spins. Jag Panzer proves itself as one of the more consistent bands in Metal, delivering the goods time after time. I love it!

COLOSSUS Drunk On Blood

EP · 2009 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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You gotta love a band who writes songs about killing zombies and transforming into bloodthirsty monsters. Especially when it’s combined with NWOBHM influences and nimble musicianship. Such the case with Raleigh, NC’s Colossus. Abandoning their punk rock aspirations, these five young men fully embraced their love of all things Heavy Metal with the EP release Drunk on Blood, the follow-up to their full length release …And The Rift Of The Pan Dimensional Under-Gods.

I know there are lots of NWOBHM influenced bands seemingly appearing out of thin air these days. But, don’t lump Colossus in with all the bullet-belt wearing 21 year-olds playing dress-up and pretending to be more metal than thou. These guys play with heart and sincerity while still maintaining a fun attitude. I mean, how serious can you be with lyrics like “Man-flesh between my jaws…” (from track number five “Wendigo”) or “Burn the brain, make them stay down” (from the fist-raising, zombie-vanquishing “Kill More Better”). Galloping, harmonized guitars, head-banging tempos, ripping solos, clear vocals and fantasy lyrics…somebody get me a beer! The five tracks here, those mentioned above as well as “The Mountain That Rides”, “A Year Later (There’s Still Meat Left In The Skull)”, and “The Operative” (a lyrical homage to the sci-fi series Firefly) are a full-on heavy metal good time!

If forced to complain, then its too short. Five songs isn’t enough. Colossus isn’t out to play the “stone-faced artist” routine. They’re honoring the spirit of metal, spreading blood, sweat & guitars! Fans of early Maiden, Witchkiller, Saxon & Thin Lizzy‘s heavier moments should be all over this. While a glance at their band picture calls to mind a gathering of hipster-doofi, Colossus is all metal, all the time. You can keep Enforcer, Black Tide and whatever other band is currently trying on the spike-wristed skin of the past, I wanna get Drunk on Blood!

BLATANT DISARRAY Everyone Dies alone

Album · 2010 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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There have been a lot of thrash metal records to come out over the last few years. Some good, some bad, like anything else of course. While a lot of what I’ve heard draws from the crossover, “zombies and beer” type thrash, I haven’t noticed as many new bands playing more in the Testament, Megadeth vein… until North Carolina’s and Tribunal Records’ Blatant Disarray came across my desk.

Sporting a heavy, mid-to-fast tempo vibe with melodic harmonized riffing and “ode to Chuck Billy” vocals, Blatant Disarray proudly bring you the other side of thrash—the social commentary, human condition, religion questioning side. They deliver a more “serious” vibe (if that makes any sense) than a lof of newer thrash oriented bands. I’ve already mentioned Testament & Megadeth, but one can also find hints of early Metallica in the mix. Highlights would include “Undetermined”, “Question”, “Faithless” and “Hourglass”… classic thrash metal, every one of them.

Blatant Disarray does nothing to reinvent or reinterpret the genre, but they do everything to keep the thrash tradition alive and well. Fans of the genre will no doubt find a nice place on their shelves for Everyone Dies Alone right alongside The New Order and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?

Oh, and do buy the physical CD because it’s the only place to get the 3 bonus tracks.

TOURNIQUET Where Moth and Rust Destroy

Album · 2003 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.99 | 3 ratings
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Since Tourniquet's 1990 Intense Records debut 'Stop The Bleeding' the band has striven to do anything and everything within their chosen genre except make the same album twice. In a nutshell, the band plays melodic, technical thrash. But if you really got into the nuts and bolts of the band's sound, you'd be hard pressed to find a nutshell big enough for all of the influences Tourniquet pours liberally into their music.

'Stop The Bleeding' found the band utilizing 2 vocalists (1 clean and 1 shouting) and forging a sound somewhere between King Diamond (the band) and Slayer. 'Psycho Surgery' (1992) found them using the dual-vocalist approach even more as well as being one of the first bands (behind Anthrax) to incorporate rap into thrash. 'Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance' (1992) saw Tourniquet expand to 4 vocalists (everyone but the drummer singing/shouting) while creating their most diverse, expansive album to date blending death metal, thrash, traditional metal and classical arrangements into one gigantic technical metal onslaught. Since then, the band has gone through numerous line-up changes (gaining current vocalist Luke Easter in 1994 and, most recently, losing guitarist Aaron Guerra last year), and have been without a permanent bassist until this current album. Over the years Tourniquet has released a multitude of albums, all exploring something new while retaining a sound that is unique and identifiable.

The main reason for that consistency being founding member/drummer/guitarist/sometimes bassist Ted Kirkpatrick. This man simply has too much talent for his own good. Handling writing and guitar duties to varying degrees on every Tourniquet release, not to mention his amazing skills as a drummer, he is the glue that holds this band and this sound together. Some of the material he has released under the Tourniquet moniker has been better received than others. However, let me be the first to say that this new album 'Where Moth And Rust Destroy' has to be their most complete and awe inspiring album since 1992's 'Pathogenic'. It incorporates everything Tourniquet has used in the past (minus the rap) and melded it all into one blistering 60-minute sonic experience! I hate to directly quote a band bio in my review, but "Beethoven meets Frankenstein" pretty much hits the nail on the head.

Thrash, classical, prog, super-tight riffing, superb technical prowess, and one of the widest arrays of vocal styles to come out of one man (this is only the second album release by Tourniquet to only utilize one vocalist) I have ever heard. Not to mention the searing lead work of guest players Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) and Bruce Franklin (Trouble) and the excellent violin work of Dave Bullock.

There is so much music on this album that I have had a really hard time knowing where to start reviewing it (hence the preceding history lesson), so lets just start with my personal favorite song. "Drawn And Quartered" begins with a masterful violin / guitar theme harmony set to a driving drum groove. At about the 2-minute mark in this 8+ minute track, the band takes off into neck-snapping Thrashville calling to mind the bands early material. The tempo changes and mood swings that incur afterwards are yet another testament to the band's abundance of talent. The nearly 10 minute "Healing Waters Of The Tigris" is another jaw-dropper. After the nearly 2 minute Middle Eastern flair of the acoustic intro, we get a melodic progressive thrash fest! The opening riff and overlaid guitar harmonies are dark and wonderful. Easter's quiet voicing over the staggered riffing is a great example of the band's dichotomy of sounds. The chorus is one of the albums most melodic. The lead work on this song, and all over the album, is absolutely top notch. Some of the best lead work on any Tourniquet album (Oh yeah, I forgot that was Marty Friedman...I should have expected no less).

Other stellar moments include "Melting The Golden Calf", the 7+ minute doom instrumental "In Death We Rise" (with its mournful violin work) and "A Ghost At The Wheel". There is a lot to take in on this record, so spin it a few times before forming a final opinion. 'Where Moth And Rust Destroy' surpasses the band's ripping 2000 release 'Microscopic View Of A Telescopic Realm' and is undoubtedly one of the best metal albums released in 2003.

SYMPHORCE PhorcefulAhead

Album · 2002 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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After 2 albums with SPV, Symphorce releases its Metal Blade debut with 'phorcefullAhead'. What strikes me odd is that the band usually ends up being lumped into the Power Metal category, but are much closer to being Prog Metal than anything else. There's not a single riff, drum pattern or lyrical reference that even comes close to what many consider to be Power Metal. In other words, Symphorce has more in common with bands like Vanden Plas and Threshold than Gamma Ray and Helloween.

But anyway, 'phorcefullAhead' is a good album, whatever genre you wish to shove it into. There are a boatload of heavy riffs, engulfing synth layers, and metal aggression to be had here. "Unbroken" is the first gem to stand out. The vocal lines are very convincing on this one and the rhythms are pounding and heavy. The lead guitar lines are also extremely well played with a heaping helping of ferocious fluidity. "Longing Home" has a strong, strict time groove on the opening before delving into a synth/clean guitar verse that is quite cool. The chorus on this one is another highlight. The guitars stand out on this tune. I really like the rhythm guitar crunch tone on this album. It's fat and heavy without being overbearing and is in just the right spot in the mix. Another track I am digging is "Your Blood, My Soul". I like the overall delivery of this one. There's a strong verse groove and a melodic, grabbing chorus and bridge. Great tune. The vocals are really well done here, just like the rest of the album.

My only complaint on the whole is that sometimes, on a few tunes, the band sounds stiff. It's like they're not feeling what they're playing. But those parts are few and far between and overall this is an album that fans of Prog Metal can pick up and enjoy on a regular basis.

SYMPHONY X The Odyssey

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 76 ratings
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With 'The Odyssey', New Jersey prog metallers Symphony X have undoubtedly delivered their masterpiece! It's heavier, more aggressive, and more "to the point" than anything else in the band's catalog. Not to mention the endless energy with which the songs are delivered.

Guitarist Michael Romeo is on fire letting loose a barrage of stunning riffs and even more stunning lead work. The more guitar intensive approach on 'The Odyssey' allows him to do more that usual in the rhythm department. Don't worry, Pinella's keyboards are still in place and as good as ever. He just seems to have taken on more of a supporting role here.

Vocalist extrordinaire Russell Allen is the absolute star of this album! I hate to say it, but without Allen, Symphony X may well be just another prog metal band lost in the vast depths of the genre. Not trying to take anything away from the band, but it's Allen's melody, and power, and charisma that defines Symphony X and sets them squarely alongside some of the best bands in the scene. He's one part Ronnie James Dio, one part Steve Walsh, two parts power and a future legend in metal! Listen to "Incantations Of The Apprentice" and try and challenge anything I have said about him.

Speaking of Steve Walsh, Symphony X at times remind me of a heavy metal Kansas with their blending of classical melody and massive guitars. And when the piano gets overlaid with the violin, forget about it. Listen to "Accolade II" and hear what I mean. Getting back to the album itself, it is heavier than the band's previous work. And while the arrangements are more solid, there is still more than enough technical ecstasy to be had. The closing 24-plus minute title track is enough of a testament to that. Fans of symphonic prog metal have an absolute gem to pick up here!

PROTOTYPE Trinity

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 3 ratings
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Anyone who thinks Dream Theater is cool but not heavy enough needs to get their mitts on the new album by Prototype.

This is some really good, guitar-oriented prog metal. The riffing is reminiscent of older Metallica circa 1986 and even a bit of Nevermore both in feel and tone. This is combined with some complex structuring and melodic vocalizing making for a very cool listen. The clean guitar textures coming in and out of the songs add a good deal of depth and scope. I really like the feel of the melodies delivered by the singer and the guitarist. The drummer, like many prog metal drummers, is phenominal.

"What about the songs," you ask? Have no fear. These guys can write a memorable hook and go balls-out shred-happy with the best of them. Opening cut "Live A Lie" begins with a big, biting riff before diving into a stellar melodic verse with great vocal layers. The lead guitar work here is simply excellent and drives into a prog free-for-all instrumental section. One of the cool things about this band is that, despite their chosen genre, they tend to stick to relatively short songs. The longest track comes in at a modest (by prog standards) 6 minutes and 51 seconds. That track being "Dead Of Jericho." Most of the others float around the 4 or 5-minute mark, which is ample time for Prototype to prove itself. There are so many riffs in "Dead Of Jericho" you could get dizzy keeping up; the Tool-like breakdown is a nice touch as well.

So many of the songs are loaded with tasty, technically superb playing that I'd probably get a bit redundant trying to describe them all. The quiet feel of "I Know You (Part 1)" breaks things up a bit with a great vocal melody and nice acoustic picking.

The overall feel of the album is dark as well as aggressive; not as brooding as Zero Hour, but not as blithe as Dream Theater. Fans of prog metal should give this record a spin. The combination of thrashy riffing, melodic vocals and progressive arrangements should please fans of the genre worldwide.

PLANET X Live From Oz

Live album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.04 | 3 ratings
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Shred freaks rejoice! Prog's resident rock star Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Platypus, Kiss, Alice Cooper) returns with another installment from his prog/fusion band Planet X. This time around it's a live album called 'Live From Oz' which was recorded on the band's Australian Tour in 2001.

Sherinian and fellow X-er's Tony MacAlpine (guitar) and Virgil Donati (drums) as well as guest bassist Dave LaRue (Steve Morse Band, Dregs) absolutely tear it up on this record! There is more than enough virtuoso musicianship here to please even the most jaded skeptic. Sure, it's over the top, self-indulgent and at times ridiculously fast, but that's what makes bands like Planet X so cool. Heck, for fans of the individual members, there are separately tracked solos from Sherinian, MacAlpine and Donati so you can hear your favorite go off at any point you like.

Now, just because this is a shred record, doesn't mean there is no melody to be found. "Inside Black" is an exquisite display in melodic composition as well as amazing chops. "Warfinger" has a cool groove, which MacAlpine uses well to his advantage. This guy is an absolute legend on guitar going back to the mid-80's with solo albums like 'Maximum Security' and 'Edge Of Insanity'. His solo on this album is absolutely stunning. Virgil Donati has got to be one of the scariest drummers on the planet to boot, as evidenced by his solo. And what can be said about Derek Sherinian? He is without a doubt one of the greatest keyboardists of this generation.

If you're into prog or fusion at all, or bands like Liquid Tension Experiment and Dixie Dregs are your thing, pick up Live From Oz. Your CD player will thank you.

JORN Worldchanger

Album · 2001 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.98 | 12 ratings
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Boy, Jorn Lande gets around doesn't he? The man can be spotted all over the melodic/prog/power metal landscape. Whether it be with prog wunder-band Ark, the darker yet still progressive Beyond Twilight, singing a part on Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus metal opera, fronting an Yngwie Malmsteen tour, or in this case releasing a solo album. Roland Grapow has even recruited him for his post-Helloween outfit Masterplan. But, we're here to talk about Jorn's newest solo release 'Worldchanger' (2010 edit - this review was written in 2001).

Let me begin this by saying that if you've never had the extreme pleasure of hearing Jorn Lande sing, then you have my deepest, most heartfelt sympathies. This man is a modern vocal god! In fact, I would say that he and Symphony X's Russell Allen are the top 2 "next generation" vocalists in metal. 10 years from now, they will be revered and worshipped just as Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan are today. He's that good! That being said, 'Worldchanger' is an amazing album!

This is some of the best melodic metal I have heard in a long time. There is a rich, soulful feel to not only the vocals but also the melodies, the guitar solos, the production, everything! It's a darker, heavier album than his AOR laden 'Starfire'. There are also no covers ('Starfire' was half covers). This one has a moody, slightly bluesy, early Rainbow feel to some of it. "Sunset Station" has a great, throbbing groove and a grabby chorus. There is some killer guitar work as well, courtesy of Tore Moren. The guitars all over the album have a dense, rich tone on both rhythms and leads. This tune finds Jorn showing a bit of David Coverdale influence. The Dio-era Sabbath strains of "Glow In The Dark" will have metalheads the world over bowing in reverence with it's big, droning opening groove riff. Moren is on fire here with some great wah-pedal work. The title track begins with some spacey synth textures before heading into it's near-prog riffing. This track is the most Ark-like of the record, complete with the big, singable chorus. Jorn's vocals totally shine in a setting like this. His melodies and harmonies are superb. I dare anyone not to sing along with this chorus. "Bless The Child" has an aggressive, angry, pseudo-thrash feel to the verse before heading into another melodic pre-chorus. The chorus is chock-full of double bass and stellar vocals. This is undoubtedly the most aggressive track on the record. Like every other tune here, we're treated to more of Moren's stunning lead work.

I cannot say enough good things about this record. Every song deserves mention as there is not a clunker in the bunch. Fans of any of the bands mentioned in this review, or melodic metal in general, owe it to themselves to seek this record out. Not only is it one of the most outstanding melodic metal releases in recent memory, but it's also a glimpse of a future legend.

FIREWIND Between Heaven and Hell

Album · 2002 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.71 | 5 ratings
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Woah! Not what I expected at all! This is an aggressive, fire-breathing monster of a power metal record! Honestly, I was a bit amused at the name "Firewind". It struck me as typical, cliche, and almost immediately jaded my opinion before even hearing the album. But as soon as the opening track began barreling out of my speakers, every bit of humor I got from the band name got incinerated by the intense riffing of Gus G.

Gus, also a member of Dream Evil (2010 edit - now Ozzy's right hand man), is the star of this record not only with his riffs but with his passionate, way-beyond-skilled lead playing to boot! Listen to the harmonized dual leads on "Warrior" and try to not raise the horns in metal praise! Gus isn't the only killer to be found in Firewind though. Vocalist Stephen Fredrick (Ken Ziner) is phenomenal with his gutsy, melodic performance. He's a breath of fresh air in modern power metal. Far from a Kiske-clone, his raw, low-end melodic delivery is powerful and inspiring. Brian Harris (drums) and Honstantine (bass) prove to be a powerhouse rhythm section as well handling all the double kick-drum galloping and driving grooves with ease.

Every tune on 'Between Heaven And Hell' is worthy of mention, but that'll spoil the surprise. I already mentioned the opening title track and "Warrior", so I'll give you a couple more to whet your appetite. "Pictured Life" is a strong, mid-tempo number with hooks the size of Texas. "Northern Sky" begins with a beautiful clean guitar and lead theme before diving into a river of molten metal giving this instrumental piece a serious kick in the ass! Even without vocals, Gus G. manages to drive the guitar hooks directly and permanently into your brain. "Destination Forever" is a speedy, melodic killer with breakneck power and a very memorable chorus.

Ok, that's all I'm giving away (2010 edit - assuming you haven't heard this album by now). This is quite possibly the Power Metal record of the year for me (2002). Its not just melodic, not just loaded down with amazing guitar work, not just sporting killer vocal melodies, it's also heavy! The production of David T. Chastain is strong, clear and rich making this one incredibly fun to crank up. Believe me, I'm the first guy to call the Cheese Police on a power metal record so if I tell you this one is worthy of your 15 bucks, you gotta believe me!

ENCHANT Blink Of An Eye

Album · 2002 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.67 | 11 ratings
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Enchant is a band that cannot be denied. The talent and songwriting of this band is stunning. Their combination of melody, mood and technical excellence is unlike any other. They're dark, yet hopeful. Subtle, yet brimming with virtuosity. Soothing, while still conjuring moods heavier than some metal bands. 'Blink Of An Eye' sports all of the elements that have caused Enchant's industry buzz for several years now while bringing in a few surprises that do nothing but add to their arsenal.

One of the most noticeable changes is the subtle upping of the guitar crunch. This newest offering boasts some of Ott's heaviest riff work to date. Not that Meshuggah is in any danger, mind you, but the guitars are certainly more present. There is simply not a bad song on this album. Opening track "Under Fire" is classic Enchant. It's melodic, provocative, emotional and extremely catchy. Vocalist Ted Leonard is very convincing in his delivery here and on every record I have heard him on. His smooth, high-end vocals lend themselves perfectly to Doug Ott's moving, heart-wrenching musical weavings. These two guys are the perfect combo. Together they create the Enchant sound. "Flat Line" starts out with some great staccato shredding on the intro before delving into another passionate melody from Leonard. The chorus here is one of the record's strongest with its deep hook and smooth backing vocals. "Despicable" begins with a Police-like jumping rhythm before cascading into an airy vocal melody on the verse. Another great chorus makes its way into your heart with this one.

One of Enchant's many strengths has been their lyrics, and 'Blink Of An Eye' is no exception. The aforementioned "Under Fire" speaks of one man's personal guilt and scars of war. "All's fair in war they say, but later as I try to sleep I just can't help but replay...in the blink of an eye, I took someone's life". "Monday" is an ode to those who sacrifice their dreams for "real life". "I don't want to be one more calf who's suckling the Cash Cow...dressed like a corporate freak, begging the clock to give me the chance to be me...when dreams die you can chalk it all up to a Monday...and all that used to define you serves only just to remind you of the man you'll never be...".

To put it as simply as possible, I love this band and 'Blink Of An Eye' is a marvelous record. The world of prog rock/metal is a better place simply by having Enchant as a part of it.

AXEL RUDI PELL Shadow Zone

Album · 2002 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.09 | 4 ratings
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A few years ago when I heard Axel Rudi Pell's 'Black Moon Pyramid' I dismissed it as a second-rate Yngwie record. Pell seemed to be trying too hard to be the German version of the Swedish guitar legend complete with having Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals. Consequently, I avoided every ARP album since. When I received his new opus 'Shadow Zone' to review, I chuckled at the prospect, expecting more over-wrought Yngwie-isms and neo-classical shenanigans. While not what I was initially expecting, the record still falls short of impressive in spite of the collective pedigree of the current line-up.

Pell is unquestionably a great guitarist. He has shed his Yngwie imitations in favor of a more melodic, less shred-happy approach and it is definitely to his advantage. The riffs even have a bit of an AOR style to them in places calling to mind Joe Lynn Turner era Rainbow. Drummer Mike Terrana is also present, lending his undeniable skill to the record as is Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioeli. Gioeli has a great blend of rock and roll grit and melodic power and is surely one of the most underrated singers in music. Despite all of this potential power, 'Shadow Zone' still, sadly, fails to hit on all cylinders.

There are some definite hot spots, like "Coming Home" with its killer chorus hook and Pell's melodic solo. If they trimmed a bit off of this near 7-minute number they'd have a sure-fire AOR hit. Gioeli is in top form here. Opening instrumental intro "The Curse Of The Chains" is another example of Pell's talent as a lead guitarist. Its haunting melody and melancholy mood serve as a nice beginning to the record. "Follow The Sign" is another highlight of the album with a driving tempo and another stellar vocal from Gioeli. Other than these few moments, the rest of the record simply falls flat and lifeless.

It's almost like Pell didn't successfully capitalize on the talent at his disposal. The majority of the songs on the record are easily forgotten almost immediately after they're over. There are just not enough hooks to rightly cement the music into your brain. That coupled with the stale lyrical cliches that permeate the album just add up to an ultimately boring listen. Again, I have to say that the talent within the band, including Pell himself, is undeniable. However, talent and a few good ideas are sometimes not enough to save an entire album.

ANGRA Rebirth

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.63 | 33 ratings
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I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Angra. Mainly, I think, because of the vocals. Andre Matos was never my cup of tea. I will say, however, that Fireworks had some more-than-promising moments on it. Because of this I was not very enthusiastic about hearing Rebirth. Even in the face of friends of mine who were praising the album highly, I remained skeptical. I am the first to admit when I'm wrong, so, I'm wrong.

This album is a whole new Angra! Partly due, at least, to the addition of new vocalist Edu Falashi. This guy has an outstanding voice; Clean, powerful and full of emotion. The songs as well seem to have a renewed vigor and fire about them. This now is a band that could potentially give Symphony X a run for their money in the symphonic metal field. There is so much energy and power on Rebirth that it could truly be considered a debut album. What I mean is that the band sounds hungry again. "Acid Rain" is a big, strong track with a good mid-tempo drive and excellent melody. The drumming of Aquiles Priester is fluid and flawless! His tasteful licks add a fantastic texture to this and the rest of the songs on the album. The syncopation on the pre-chorus is a perfect pre-cursor to the double kick-drums on the chorus. Edu absolutely shines on the chorus, too. No lead credit is given, so I am unsure whether it is Kiko Loureiro or Rafael Bittencourt providing the stunning lead work, but regardless it is a super high point of this already stellar track. The 8-minute "Unholy Wars" begins with some tribal chanting and percussion as the matching guitar rhythm slowly rises in the mix. This is one of the tracks on the album where you are positive this is not just another power metal album. After the rhythmic feel is carried for a few bars, the band comes crashing through the door with a high-speed metal riff. This epic is the centerpiece of the record as its grabbing melodies coupled with the band's spot-on playing will have your jaw on the floor. "Judgement Day" begins with a driving drum patter before the aggressive riff takes over. There is a piano overlay on the intro that is simply perfect. A typical synth overlay would have been too predictable. A great example of the band establishing their own sound.

It's hard to stop here, but this review is getting a bit lengthy. From the beautiful strains of the title track, to the symphonic grandeur of "Nova Era," Rebirth is a record no power metal fan will want to be without. Angra's Rebirth combines tradition with ambition and walks away completely successful.

ZERO HOUR Dark Deceiver

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.76 | 8 ratings
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I tell you, if you don’t know what to expect from Zero Hour, it can be a somewhat overwhelming experience. They’ve gotten a new singer since I last heard them (which was the amazing Towers Of Avarice album) and seem to have really cranked up the intensity level. They were already heavier than most other Prog Metal bands out there, at the time, and they seem to have only gotten more so since.This new album Dark Deceiver is a ferocious exercise in controlled chaos.

Technically, it’s absolutely stunning. Throwing convention out the window, the band has delivered an album that comes off as a rabid blend of Nevermore, Meshuggah and Fates Warning. When it’s heavy, it’ll bash your skull in. When it’s technical, it’ll nearly cause seizures. When it’s melodic, it’ll move your soul. Opening cut “Power To Believe” is a mind-scrambling beast of a track. I can’t remember the last time I heard so many notes from a bass guitar. 12-minute epic “Inner Spirit” has tons of twists, turns and more twists from beginning to end, containing simultaneously some of the albums most melodic and most vicious moments. The two instrumentals on offer here, the bass solo “Tendonitis” (aptly named) and full-band freak out “Severed Angel”, are mini-clinics that will either inspire musicians to get better or cause them to give up entirely.

Don’t come here looking for short and sweet hooks. You won’t find them and you’ll end up lost in a wicked, woven labyrinth of creepy melodies, atom-smashing heaviness and triple-jointed musical dexterity. Enter at your own risk, miss at your own peril.

ZERO HOUR The Towers of Avarice

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 8 ratings
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This is quite possibly the best American prog metal record I have heard since Dream Theater’s Awake. Dark, brooding melody, aggressive staccato riffing, excellent vocal delivery and an urgent intensity all come together in a record of massive proportions.

Now, let me clarify Zero Hour’s definition of “prog metal.” There is absolutely no, I mean no, European power metal influence on this record. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (as aptly proven by the mighty Symphony X), but the world just didn’t need that again. Nor are we presented with yet another attempt at blatantly copying Dream Theater’s style. If there is any one band one can point to as Zero Hour’s closest relative, it would probably be Fates Warning. But even that comparison wouldn’t be totally accurate.

I’m reminded of Spiral Architect and the legendary Watchtower with all the syncopation, odd-time and signature changes that run through every moment of this disc. Drummer Mike Guy is simply inhuman, at times. His double kick-drum skills are relentless, and his feel for odd time is impeccable. Troy Tipton’s bass is cemented to Guy’s drumming with a round, tight tone and heavy bottom end. Guitarist Jasun Tipton really stands out as a major talent here. Combining the minimalist, melodic riff style of ’90s-era Jim Matheos with dynamic lead technique he helps create a deep, emotional landscape of sound.

Where many bands seem to fall short at times, Zero Hour excels with an exceptional vocalist. Erik Rosvold has a thick, melodic, powerful voice that delivers the lyrics with authority and conviction. His melodies are passionate, his harmonies are intense, and his tone is rich and soulful. Rosvold also serves as the bands keyboard player on this release adding dense, atmospheric synth tones.

For me to try and describe the songs individually would, I feel, do The Towers of Avarice a great injustice. This album has more gripping melody, intricate dynamics, stunning musicianship and unbridled intensity than I have heard from an American band in several years! Highlights include the musically staggering “Stratagem” whose 2-plus minute intro alone is worth the price of admission! Also, the somber yet riveting “Reflections” with it’s arid clean tones and captivating vocal melody. The 15-plus minute “Demise and Vestige” must be heard! The emotional journey that the band takes the listener on with this song is an epic one full of stratospheric peaks and desolate valleys.

To sum up, you need to go buy this record now! Zero Hour are quickly closing in on the reigning “Holy Trinity” of American prog metal (Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Symphony X) and are already establishing themselves as legends in the genre.

YOB The Unreal Never Lived

Album · 2005 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 6 ratings
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Come with me, if you dare, into the uncharted sonic depths of the dense, murky musical ocean that is Yob. With every new release, Yob grows increasingly dynamic, layered and interesting to delve into. The Unreal Never Lived finds the band at it, dare I say it, most melodic to date. Not that they’re in any danger of being mistaken for Journey or anything, as there is still the bottomless mass of low end tonnage the band is known for.

But I do find bits of this album throwing dim shafts of melodic light from its plodding, hulking mass.”Quantum Mystic” is an instant doom metal classic! A strong, grooving tempo, plenty of slow staccato dynamics and a guitar sound like a gurgling tar pit get this album started off on the right, freakishly large, foot. “The Mental Tyrant,” a 21-minute gargantuan track, is like something the size of, say, The Great Wall Of China slowly oozing forward, unknowingly and uncaringly crushing everything in its path.; a monstrously heavy track that builds, epically climaxes and slithers back down again and the absolute highlight of the album.

Vocally, we’re pummeled with everything from unearthly death growls, to piercing shrieks, to somewhat decipherable enunciations all coming at you at any given time. The guitars are insanely heavy and possess a very wide, warm tone. The drums are, to coin an overused metal review cliche, truly like cannons exploding amidst the dirge. The bass? Forget about it – there are no words.

This album will sedate you, crush you and ultimately swallow your flattened, bloodied corpse all at once! Fans of Sleep, Neurosis, Electric Wizard and of course the almighty Black Sabbath drop whatever it is you’re doing right now and go get this album – and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

WHITESNAKE Good To Be Bad

Album · 2008 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.78 | 19 ratings
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How many years has it been since Mr. Coverdale & Co. graced us with a new album? Well over 10, I’m sure. They’ve been back on the touring circuit now for a few years and have given us a live album & DVD, but this is the first album of all new material since 1997′s Restless Heart…and even that was billed as David Coverdale & Whitesnake (much like Sabbath’s Seventh Star, it was supposed to be a solo album). Since striking out on his own with 1978′s Snakebite, David Coverdale has put out some of the best Hard Rock the world has been privileged to receive. His bluesy, smoky voice is it’s own trademark and he’s instantly recognizable no matter where he pops up.

So what does Whitesnake 2008 have to offer? Judging by Good To Be Bad, I’d say plenty. This is a pure, timeless Hard Rock album of the highest caliber. It’s easily the band’s most raw, aggressive album since…well, probably ever. There is plenty of classic ‘Snake to go ‘round without all the slick production tricks that made many longtime fans roll their eyes in collective disgust on 1989′s Slip Of The Tongue. If anything, this album is like a blend of Slide It In and the self-titled 1987 offering, only more muscular.

“Best Years” comes flying out of the speakers sounding like a meaner Coverdale Page offering, nice and bluesy. Those wanting more song oriented fare from the boys fear not, “Can You Hear The Wind Blow” offers a mid-tempo swagger that only a veteran band can deliver. “All I Want, All I Need” is the closest the band comes to “Is This Love” with it’s Sykes-like melody and smooth delivery. The title track is patented Whitesnake with a hip-shaking groove and air-guitar riffing, as is “Lay Down Your Love”. The whole album explodes with the bluesy Hard Rock the band is known for. While the entire band is in top form, Doug Aldrich is the star of this album. His riffing & soulful solos are as big a part of this album as Coverdale’s pipes. There is honestly not a bad song on this entire collection.

So many bands who come back after a long absence simply fail to deliver. It’s not for lack of trying in most cases, it’s just that the magic is just gone a lot of the time. What made a band resonate with fans in the first place is gone and many times these “comeback” albums disappoint long time fans and tarnish a band’s legacy. Not so with Good To Be Bad…not at all. This is Whitesnake being Whitesnake, down to the bone. Kudos to Coverdale & friends for taking their time & giving fans a monster album.

WEEDEATER God Luck and Good Speed

Album · 2007 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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North Carolina’s purveyor’s of Doomy, Sludge-filled goodness return on Southern Lord with their own brand of organized noise (self-dubbed “Weed Metal”). The music on this record sounds like a leaky riverboat drifting down a muddy river. You can see a big storm looming over the tree tops in the distance. The smells of stagnant water, algae, alligator feces & soon-coming rain fill the air and the humidity makes it all stick to your skin like stale honey. With a bottle of Jack in one hand, and a hand-rolled “cigarette” in the other, you lay on your back, staring at the coming storm, knowing that there’s nothing you can do otherwise but take it all in. Yep, that’s exactly what this sounds like…swampy, dark, ominous and heavy!

The sonics are typical of the genre, without forsaking clarity. It’s muddy, but it’s the good kind of muddy. The guitars & bass are like hot tar bubbling out of the speakers & the drums sound like that fat, angry drunk guy at the bar with tattoos on his face lumbering over to kick your ass. The vocals, a blend of shredded growls & drunken stammering, fit very well amidst the din.

The songs are slow & angry…packing enough punch to level an elephant (or that fat, angry drunk guy at the bar with tattoos on his face), they never overstay their welcome. At times it’s the loudest, most oppressing thing you’ve ever heard, other times it’s subtle & cold…like they got the Iron & Wine guy way too drunk & wrote a song with him.

Records like this aren’t about songwriting, they’re not about guitar tones, they’re not about musical ability…they’re about vibe. The kind of vibe that makes you want to listen over and over again just to keep it going. The kind of vibe that feels like impending doom, but you like it. That’s Godluck And Good Speed. That’s Weedeater.

VIRGIN STEELE The House Of Atreus: Act II

Album · 2001 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.18 | 10 ratings
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Virgin Steele is a band that has been around for many years. With now eight albums under their belt, they are apparently loved worldwide by power metal fans. Well, after suffering through the painfully longwinded double CD release The House of Atreus Act II, all I can say is I’m amazed at the fact that they even have a record deal at all! I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard an album so unmercifully boring.

Ok, first the good points: the album is a concept piece, and the story is very detailed. Kudos to singer/keysman/writer David “The Lion” DeFeis for he obviously labored long hours over the story line, which is based on Greek mythology. Some of the musical parts here sound as if they were written for the stage, and are performed as such complete with a choral sound to some of the vocals. However, it’s delivered with all the passion of a middle school drama club. He and fellow band members Edward “Van Dorian” Pursino (all guitars and bass) and Frank “The Krakan’”Gilchriest (drums) are all technically skilled musicians based on the playing I hear. Lots of double kick drum work, speedy guitar and keyboard licks.

However, the flat production sucks any and all life out of their work. It sounds as if everything was recorded at a very low volume. There is no energy or punch to any of it. Also, the tones the band captured are somewhat amateurish, especially in the keyboard department. One key solo sounds like the “horns” preset on a $200 keyboard you’d pick up at Sears.

Vocally, “The Lion” is simply annoying. He sings in key, and knows how to stack his harmonies, but it’s his tone that turns me off. He sounds fine on some of the albums softer moments, but once they try to get heavy he sounds downright bad. His smooth voice is very thin, making him sound weak most of the time. Then his “heavy” voice mainly consists of a gruff, almost spoken delivery.

To make it even worse, he sprinkles overused exclamations, complete with cheesy delay (“YOW! YOw! Yow! yow!,” ya know?), at the end of many lines. And even though he’s playing the album’s many characters himself, he uses only these two vocal styles making it impossible to follow the story without reading the lyric sheet.

I can’t point to any song in particular as being a highlight, because they all basically deliver the same bad vocals and lifeless performances. This being the band’s eighth album, they obviously have some fans somewhere.

So, I would say that fans of Virgin Steele would probably like this, if this is what they’ve always sounded like. But to me, this album is another example of how to waste time, money, plastic, paper, and ink on a record contract.

Avoid it at all costs.

VIRGIN STEELE The Book Of Burning

Boxset / Compilation · 2002 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.05 | 4 ratings
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This one consists of all unreleased and re-recorded material. Opening track “Conjuration Of The Watcher” comes out of the gates at full speed. This is an energetic, up tempo tune with driving guitars and good vocal melody. “Annihilation” is a nice, intro-like track with some great acoustic work and nice synth layers. The “horns” pre-set on the keyboard almost kills it, but it’s saved by short track length. Another highlight is the high speed “The Succubus.” Good, speedy power metal here with a strong mid-tempo bridge.

This one had to have a clunker, and as soon as I heard the squealing tires at the beginning of “Hot And Wild,” I knew this one was it. This is Virgin Steele does KISS. Total party rock with DeFeis doing his best Paul Stanley impression. Like “Saturday Night” from Hymns To Victory, this type of song just seems so out of place amongst tales of noble savages and flame guardians. You can almost picture the smoke bombs and Maybelline abuse when this one plays.

There are a few other good ones here, like “Minuet In G Minor,” “I Am The One” and “Guardians Of The Flame,” all newly re-recorded.

VIRGIN STEELE Hymns To Victory

Boxset / Compilation · 2002 · US Power Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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My first exposure to Virgin Steele was last years godawful The House Of Atreus Act II. I still place that record high on my “Worst CD’s I have ever heard” list. Had I heard their older material first, not only would I have been just as scathing in my review, but I would have been a bit saddened because judging by their pair of new rarities collections, the band was way better back then.

Am I back peddling? Nah, I don’t think so. I still find David DeFeis vocals thin and weak in many places, but the music, coupled with the updated production, on this older material is leaps and bounds above what I heard before. Let’s take them one at a time, shall we? On Hymns To Victory, we find mostly re-mixed/re-mastered tracks with two new/unreleased songs and an unreleased acoustic version of “The Spirit Of Steele.” Several standouts here, including the re-mastered House Of Atreus track “Through The Ring Of Fire” – much better mix and good vocal stacking in this one. DeFeis comes close to a King Diamond-ish vocal mix here with his layering of harmonies. I’ll say it again, although I think DeFeis is a bit on the thin side vocally, he knows how to stack his harmonies. They are all in perfect unison and dead on.

The aforementioned “The Spirit Of Steele” has some absolutely beautiful piano and violin work. DeFeis sounds good in this softer setting. The melody is emotional and heartfelt as well. “The Burning Of Rome” is a killer! I love the chorus hook and the overall melody of the song is good and catchy. One song I could do without is the previously unreleased “Saturday Night.” This sounds like a bad attempt at an old school party rocker ala Autograph or Summertime Girls-era Y&T. This song should have stayed in the vaults because it was obviously there for a reason. Now, the other “new old song” here, “The Mists Of Avalon,” is a gem. The acoustic textures and the flowing melodies make this the standout cut of the disc. Other notable tracks include “Crown Of Glory,” “Noble Savage” and “Emalaith.”

VANISHING POINT Tangled in Dream

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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The sticker affixed to the jewel case of the new Vanishing Point CD describes its contents as “Melodic Progressive Metal.” After several spins of this Australian sextet’s sophomore release Tangled In Dream, I can honestly say, “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.” In smaller print the same sticker reads “…brilliant second album…” Excuse me, “brilliant?” I just can’t find the evidence to substantiate this claim. Good? Yes. Very good? Yes, in places. Brilliant? Hardly. Brilliant would be Dream Theater’s Awake, or Pain of Salvation’s Entropia, or better yet Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The word “brilliant” implies sounds and textures combined in such a way as to surprise and astound the listener, a work of sheer musical genius. What I find in Tangled in Dream is a solid offering of exactly what the first part of the sticker said. A collection of memorable melodies, progressive tendencies, and AOR influenced metal that most any fan of the genre should find enjoyable. However, “brilliant” is a bit too lofty a claim.

Vanishing Point, as I mentioned, are from Australia and, to my knowledge, the only band of its kind to hail from the lower continent. I have heard of more extreme forms of metal emerging from “down under” (I promised myself I wouldn’t say that…damn.), but none so melodic and smooth sounding as Vanishing Point. At first glance, one may be tempted to write them off as another in a long line of junior Dream Theater’s. But upon further investigation a skillful, seasoned band is uncovered. Vocalist Silvio Massaro has something of a unique timbre to his voice. I find it to be a little deeper than your average prog-metal singer. This is a welcome change from the high-pitched squealers that too often come as standard issue in this kind of band. He really does justice to the melodies here, without over-singing them. He simply puts in a good, well-rounded performance shining on songs like “Surreal,” “The Real You,” and “Closer Apart.” Guitarists Tom Vucur and Chris Porcianko, while not offering anything mind blowing or out of the ordinary, both turn in worthy performances. I especially enjoyed the acoustic guitars peppered throughout the record. Their rhythm playing is good, and their lead playing is skillful without overdoing it. They both can be proud of their work on this record. Remaining members Joe Del Mastro (bass), Jack Lukic (drums), and Danny Olding (keys) all pull their weight here. While they’re not likely to incite any obsessive hero-worship, they all get the job done with style and grace.

This is a band that is not afraid of taking a radio friendly melody and running with it. While most of the songs here are well over the 5-minute mark, they all contain catchy, singable melodies that hold their place in your head long after the CD is put back in its case. Highlights include “Surreal,” “Father (7 Years),” “Bring on the Rain,” “Dancing with the Devil” and the ‘hidden’ track, an energetic cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away.” This is a band that, in time, could put out a “brilliant” album. Until then, Tangled in Dream is an album the band can be proud of, and they should be.

VANDEN PLAS Spirit of Live

Live album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 4 ratings
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Captured at the famed Elysee Montmarte in Paris during a sold-out performance in February of 2000, Vanden Plas’ Spirit of Live is a powerful, energetic live album!

Live albums, for me, are usually hit and miss. Either the mix is bad, I don’t like the song choices, the vocals are way below par or, sometimes, all of the above. The first thing that jumped out at me with this disc is that the mix is huge! Thumping kick drums, thick guitars, omnipresent keyboards and a solid bottom end allayed any fears I had about the sonic quality of Spirit of Live. Test 1: passed.

The songs here paint an accurate picture of what Vanden Plas is. In case you don’t know, Vanden Plas is a melodic prog metal band from Germany along the lines of a more European styled Dream Theater minus the tendency toward 30-minute songs. Everything about this band just screams maturity! The song arrangements, the dramatic melodies, the emotional and spiritual lyrical themes, even the way they use their progressive qualities all flow effortlessly and seamlessly together into an all-around great aural experience! Probably the best band of their kind to emerge from Germany, ever! The songs here are drawn from their three studio albums, plus two new instrumentals. From the band’s ’95 debut Colour Temple, we’re treated to “Soul Survives” and a newly re-arranged version of “How Many Tears” complete with a crowd sing-along of the songs chorus led by vocalist Andy Kuntz, en Francais! Tres cool, if I may say so! From The God Thing, the album many Vanden Plas fans consider their best, we get “You Fly” and “Rainmaker.” The latter features a guest appearance by newly christened Elegy axe-man Patrick Rondat. And lastly from their last studio disc Far Off Grace we get show opener “I Can See,” “Into the Sun,” “Iodic Rain” and the albums title track. All in all a good cross section of the band’s strong points. Test 2: passed.

Now the main problem I have had with live albums in the past: the vocals. Usually, a live album is recorded near the end of a tour. This is great for the band, because by the end of a tour, they are usually about as tight and precise as they can possibly be. That is certainly evident on Spirit of Live. Each member of the band gives a stellar performance. Guitarist Stephan Lill is on fire! He balances fury and finesse like few guitarists can. Just listen to his instrumental spotlight “Spirit of Life” for confirmation of that statement. Keyboardist Gunter Werno pulled away from his many guest fill-ins long enough to prove why he is in such high demand as a session and tour player. His own solo piece, “Journey to Paris,” starts off with a blazing synth lead before an almost tear-jerking piano melody makes you want to close your eyes and just listen. Bassist Torsten Reichert and drummer Andreas Lill are both at the top of their game this night. What about the vocals? Well, Andy Kuntz has done what I thought to be almost impossible! He actually sounds just as good on this live album as he does on the band’s studio offerings! Each song is delivered true to form with apparent ease. He holds all his notes in the right places, his feel and range are good, and he shows virtually no signs of fatigue. It’s also cool to hear him speak to the audience in English and French, stirring them into a frenzy! The live background vocals are also on the mark, even if a little low in the mix. Test 3: passed with flying, vivid colors!

Vanden Plas has delivered a live album not only for their fans, but one that could easily serve as an introduction to their powerful music. Bravo!

VANDEN PLAS Beyond Daylight

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 16 ratings
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Vanden Plas is a band I latched onto back when their second full-length The God Thing came out. At first listen, I thought it was pretty similar to Dream Theater, but different and good enough to warrant plopping down my hard earned cash. Further listens revealed a band with their own sound, their own style, their own feel and that is creating their own distinct mark on the prog metal scene. I have been hooked ever since. Their last studio effort Far Off Grace garnered them even more positive attention, while finding the band simplifying their approach just a bit. It was a little heavier, and a bit less complex arrangement-wise. Not to say that is was a bad record, it was very good and still quite enjoyable, but it was different.

However, with the release of their fourth full-length release Beyond Daylight, the band takes the heavier direction of Far Off Grace and steers it into the more progressive territory of The God Thing, thus creating their most complete work to date. This record is nothing short of stellar! From the dense, Stephan Lill’s wide rhythm and velvet acoustic guitar tones, to the mood-creating keyboards of Gunter Werno, to Andy Kuntz’s rich and powerful vocals, this is an album that screams quality. Opening cut “Nightwalker” has a slow burn verse before a strong, emotional chorus, which gives the record’s first real taste of Kuntz’s vocal skills; strong, soaring melodies. The instrumental section is proof positive that the band is back on a prog playing field and showing their abilities superbly while not firing a barrage of notes at the listener. “Free The Fire” is a straight up metal burner with headbanging tempos and lots of cool double kick-drum patterns. Lill’s soloing here is spectacular as well. The nearly 11-minute title track is yet another jewel in Vanden Plas’ crown. Beginning with beautiful piano work by Werno, it delves into a strong, syncopated riff overlaid with nice keyboard color. The verses have a good, intense feel with Kuntz’s vocals once again taking center stage in the chorus. This is a band that can take you on a journey and not have you wanting to hit the ‘skip’ button.

For me, the highlight of the record is the third track, “Scarlet Flower Fields.” Beginning with an ambient acoustic/vocal melody it builds into a deep, moody piece of melodic metal mastery. Werno’s keys add the right nuances on the breaks and transitions throughout the nearly 6-minute piece. The mood creation in this tune is among some of the best I have heard, giving the listener a sense of desperation and longing every time that impeccable chorus comes in. The instrumental section is another hot spot for the band, building, twisting and turning through catchy syncopations, grand melodies and more excellent soloing by Lill. I’ll go ahead and say it flat out, Stephan Lill is a totally underrated and unrecognized player. His soulful feel combined with his top-shelf chops make for one intimidating guitar slinger! Let’s hope this record helps bring him, and Vanden Plas, into more of a prominent place in prog metal. Beyond Daylight finds the band combining their collective and individual strengths into a record that will not only make a strong first impression, but is sure to be remembered many years from now as one of the best releases in the genre.

VAINGLORY 2050

Album · 2001 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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As soon as I saw “Produced by David T. Chastain” on the back cover of 2050, I knew it was to be a total shred-fest! He is truly one of the most underrated, unsung guitar demons in metal history so I knew that if it had his name on it, it would have to be of exceptional quality.

Fortunately, my expectations were left intact upon playing 2050 seven or eight times now. This is one powerhouse band! I’ll cover the guitars first since they are impossible to ignore. Corbin Kings is outstanding! From his skillful and intricate riffing,to his uncannily fluid shredding, this guy is an all-around metal virtuoso. Just listen to the dual-lead harmonies in the beginning of “The Executioner.” Yngwie who? This guy is blistering! He goes from this harmonized frenzy into a tight, crunchy riff reminiscent of Nevermore. Vocals are handled very well I might add by Ted Braser. Ted has a dense, lower register tone with the right amount of edge. He relies on his strengths as opposed to aiming for the stratosphere with his vocal chords. What are his strengths? Strong phrasing, confident delivery and convincing vibe, that’s what. I don’t care how wide the range of notes is, without these three elements in place a singer will fall flat on his face. Ted has these in spades! Drummer Brian Harris and bassist Kevin Kekes are a super-tight machine delivering the staccato rhythms and hairpin changes with apparent ease.

Don’t be mistaken though, this is not an “all-chops-no-songs” effort here. The song structures are as solid as they are adventurous. “The Lost And Found,” the furious instrumental “Cast The Glamor,” opener “Fight Till The Death We Must” and “Directive 65,” with its exquisite guitar harmonies and somber acoustic picking are all definite highlights on this stellar disc. The lyrics, all penned by producer/guitar-god Chastain, are a futuristic, sci-fi tale.

Vainglory deserve mass amounts of attention in the metal world, and it’s my sincere hope that they get it. It would be a shameful thing for a record of this massive caliber to go unnoticed. These guys should be standing next to Nevermore, Iced Earth, and any other American metal heavyweight for they could easily hold their ground

ULTIMATUM The Mechanics of Perilous Times

Album · 2000 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.57 | 2 ratings
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Ultimatum is a New Mexico-based metal outfit that cranks out straight up, old-school thrash metal. Or, as it states on the album packaging, “Unrestrained, fist clenching, neck snapping, head banging Heavy Metal!” I can’t think of a more fitting description, so we’ll just leave it at that.

This is an album full of double kick-drums, thrashy guitar riffs, cool, screaming solos and raspy vocals. Vocalist Scott Waters sounds like a mixture of Exodus’ Steve Souza and Bobby “Blitz” from Overkill with his gritty, reptilian tone and the occasional death growl. Guitarists Robert Gutierrez and Steve Turjillo both sport heavy, distorted rhythm tones and good feel on the solos. Their riffs are a mix of classic heavy metal and Bay Area Thrash with plenty of head banging and mosh parts. Drummer Sean Griego and bassist Tom Michaels are the quintessential metal rhythm section, driving the tempos and gluing the whole works together nicely.

“Crash Course” starts off with a driving, strict-time double kick-drum riff and cool melody into a good, thrashing verse. The cut-time groove on the instrumental break is a nice foundation for the slithery lead work found here. The syncopated bass and drum intro to “The Purging” is really tight, this leads into mid-tempo, crunchy metal verse riff. Waters reminds me a bit of David Wayne here with his delivery and his raspy tone. The intense, syncopated riffing on the bridge is great! The music on the rest of the disc is similar in style and quality. Just a good metal band playing good metal.

The lyrics are of a blatantly christian viewpoint, and at times can be a little cheesy (like mentioning MTV in the socially conscious title track, and lines like “…who says you can’t mix aggression with a message of faith…” on “Violence & Bloodshed”), but are no more a detriment to the band’s sound than it is to all the equally cheesy satanic bands out there.

ULTIMATUM Into the Pit

Album · 2007 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.57 | 2 ratings
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Mighty New Mexico thrasher’s Ultimatum return with their first album in 6 years titled Into The Pit. Not only is this album a long time coming, it also very well may be the best music Ultimatum has ever produced in their 14 year existence.

Best described as a blend of Classic and Thrash Metal, Ultimatum’s sound is pure, simple and true. Loads of double kick drums, ripping guitar solos & riffs galore! Guitarist Robert Gutierrez absolutely shreds all the way through this album. Vocally, Scott Waters displays a growly, Death Metal influenced vocal style similar to that of early Vengeance Rising and Celtic Frost. Song to song, the band are relentless in their presentation and execution pouring themselves completely into their performances. The energy really comes across on this recording. Some of the best numbers include “Blood Covenant”, “One For All”, “Exonerate”, “Blind Faith” and a spirited rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild”.

All in all, Ultimatum has produced one of the year’s top Thrash Metal albums along with 2007 releases from Hirax, Evile, Fueled By Fire and Dekapitator. In other words, it’s easily a Top 10 Thrash release. If you like your Metal straight to the point and thrashy, dig into this.

UFOMAMMUT Idolum

Album · 2008 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.04 | 3 ratings
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Taking cues from legendary acts such as Neurosis and Electric Wizard, Italian Sludge-merchants Ufomammut release Idolum, their fifth full-length album, upon an unsuspecting world. With the raw aggression of a rabid wooly mammoth coupled with the psychedelic shadings of early Pink Floyd, Ufomammut’s sound churns and swells like an ocean of Post Metal muck, lapping at the jagged shoreline of despair and sheer, raw emotion.

The songs, however long, seem to have simple, repetitive arrangements carrying the aural tonnage along the 66 minutes and 4 second running time. This does not, however, bring boredom while listening to, I mean being beaten about the ears and soul by, Idolum. The parts, swirling in and out of each other, move and crescendo until the very blood in one’s vein’s starts to bubble and steam. One can feel the rage and desperation rising ever so slowly inside them as the music flows from one track to the next.

“Stigma” is a beast of an opening track, crushing everything it encounters. The mix is noticed early on as being almost bigger than any speakers can handle. “Ammonia” is sheer, psychedelic hypnotica, complete with female vocal layers giving the track a more haunting element. “Void…Elephantom”, all 27 minutes of it, imprisons the listener in its bottomless depths and holds them there until it subsides. It rumbles along from ungodly heavy riffs into droning atmospheres and back again and, as cliché as it sounds, is like a journey into the void. I would not be surprised by the need for some to scream in primal release once it’s all over.

All in all, this is an album not to be missed. To say its heavy would be a gross understatement of the facts. It’s an album that has to be taken in and processed, not simply listened to. I suggest headphones in the dark, that’s what I did. Most times I felt like I was being carried along by something much bigger than myself and, as I sit here writing this, I’m ready to go again.

TRAIL OF TEARS Profoundemonium

Album · 2000 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 2 ratings
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It may seem somewhat trendy, but I really dig this “goth metal” genre. I love the blending of the ambient keyboards with the heavy guitars. I also dig the combination of deathy vocal growls and operatic female vocals. One reason I find myself being drawn to this style, is that the music produced by such bands is very dramatic, passionate and melodic. Norway’s Trail of Tears is no exception. They fuse dark melodies and morbid ambience with metallic intensity.

Male vocalist Ronny Thorsen has a deep, guttural delivery akin to Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. His growls are ominous, yet clear and decipherable at the same time. Helena Iren Michaelsen has a beautiful soprano and adds a layer of chilling beauty to the music (note: Helena is no longer in the band and has been replaced by Catherine Paulsen). The remaining band members cannot be divided or singled out in any way. They each use their instruments as part of the entire presentation, with no special attention given to guitar or keyboard solos, drum pyrotechnics, or vain, overindulgent playing.

The focus of Profoundemonium is, without a doubt, placed squarely on the songs themselves. Runar Hansen (lead and acoustic guitars), Terje Heiseldal (guitars), Kjell Rune Hagen (bass), Frank Roald Hagen (synths) and Jonathan Perez (drums) all work together as different colors on the same canvas creating a captivating combination of rage and solace, madness and melody, skill and emotion. The music here treads ground somewhere between Opeth and Theatre of Tragedy. Melancholic melodies, sweeping synth textures, and emotional vocals all built upon a solid metal foundation. “Driven Through the Ruins” begins as a powerful, symphonic metal epic before dropping in Thorsen’s rich growl. Michaelsen’s haunting voice is showcased in the breakdown, which is stripped down to a piano, her voice, and a desolate synth texture. When the songs kicks back in, another verse takes us to some great vocal layering. Thorsen delivers his lines, while Michaelsen offers a stunning countermelody, all underscored by a choir.

“Sign of the Shameless” has a melodic guitar theme on the intro, which is played almost like a violin part - smooth and flowing, reminding me of Saviour Machine. The clean guitar breakdown once again highlights Michealsen’s excellent voice. “In Frustration’s Web” begins in bombastic fashion with some good double kick drum work by Perez, accented by F. Hagen’s dramatic synths before sneaking in a little distorted bass run, then dives into a tight metal groove. This song’s prelude, “In Frustration’s Preludium,” is a short little instrumental consisting of a piano/synth melody colored by a little bit of accordion, then slithers into a bleak atmosphere accented by what sounds like plucking violin strings.

The moods and textures created by the band are quite moving. This is an album to listen to through headphones, in bed, with the lights out. Lyrically, the band weaves somewhat poetic tales of loss, tragedy and desperation. Without going into detail about each and every song, overall I can say I am really pleased with Profoundemonium.

TIERRA SANTA Sangre De Reyes

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 3 ratings
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This one came out of nowhere. I had never before heard of Tierra Santa when I got Sangre De Reyes. After spinning the record many times now, I am not sure whether I am sorry for that or not. I mean, these guys can play! That goes without saying. This record is brimming with top-notch musicianship and very well played metal. There is a lot of melodic guitar work, galloping drums and big vocal melodies. Pretty much everything (except for the all Spanish vocals) is as it should be for a melodic power metal album.

There are only two things that keep me from really digging it. Number one, the music. Is it done skillfully? Yes, very. The quality level of musicianship is all there. Does it rock? Oh yeah! There are plenty of headbanging moments on Sangre De Reyes. “Pegaso” is a quickly paced burner with excellent guitar work and a sweeping, epic feel. “La Armada Invencible” is another scorcher. “El Laberinto Del Minotauro” has a strong, mid-tempo theme melody similar to one of Yngwie’s more commercial moments like “Fire” from Trilogy.

The keyboards here are a nice touch. Overall though, it’s all a little too familiar. The bio says “…evoke the classic feel of bands like Iron Maiden.” Well, what is should say “…evokes the classic feel of Iron Maiden a little too well.” A lot of the music here could easily be lifted from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son or Powerslave. It’s that similar. Not to any particular Maiden tune, but in feel. The super melodic riffs, the galloping, driving tempos, the excellent twin guitars and the soaring melodies are all very reminiscent of classic Iron Maiden. Listen to “Mi Tierra,” “Juana De Arco,” the aforementioned “Pegaso” or the title track and try and avoid the term “rip off.” I dare you.

The albums single moment of all out cheese appeal comes in track nine “El Amor De Mi Vida.” The music is and the lyrics are I’m sure, super-ultra-mega-sappy (complete with “sentimental piano guy” intro) and would almost make Stryper cringe. This is one point where I am glad I can’t understand the lyrics.

That brings up strike number two; the vocals. The guy’s a good singer, but the fact that the lyrics are all in Spanish makes for limited ability to relate to what’s going on past the guitars. I applaud them for sticking to their roots, but for me, if I can’t sing along I don’t bother.

Ok, I am well aware of the fact that I am nitpicking here, but this is my review after all. I think the music is really good, even in spite of the obvious overindulgence in Maiden-isms. And, for many of you, it’s “music first, lyrics second.” So, if you’re after another good power metal record for your already too large collection, pick it up. Man, I wish I was fluent in Spanish.

THRESHOLD Hypothetical

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 29 ratings
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Kudos to Inside Out for snatching these guys up because they are very good! I say this without the benefit of hearing the band’s past albums (obviously), but this CD definitely makes me want to hear the others.

I truly enjoy this disc. It’s chock full of heavy guitars, textured keyboards, intricate changes, and memorable melodies. Guitarists Karl Groom and Nick Midson have thick, heavy rhythm tones. The leads are not credited, but they are top-notch with melodic bends, competent shredding, and smooth tones. Keymeister Richard West pulls a few hat tricks of his own in the lead department, while also adding a full, omnipresent feel to the songs. The rhythm section, comprised of Jon Jeary (bass) and Johanne James (drums) are on top of their game as well and it shows in the deep grooves and airtight changes. Vocalist Mac has a high register tone, but resists overloading the ears with pointless wails. He sounds as if he could sing for a progressive rock band as well and a progressive metal band. His tone is hard to pinpoint in terms of comparisons, so suffice it to say he does his job well with strong presence and good melody lines.

The melodic approach of the songs on Hypothetical is more in the modernized vein, as opposed to having any power metal influences, which will no doubt bring instant comparisons to Dream Theater. While this is not entirely untrue, quick assumptions like that could sell this band short. Threshold draws from prog influences old and new here. “Turn On Tune In” has a great chorus, almost reminiscent of a heavier Yes, or Spock’s Beard. This song also sports a killer, syncopated groove with nice keyboard swells on the intro. “Sheltering Sky” has a haunting clean guitar and ambient vocal melody on the verse. It’s broken up with a nice piano/acoustic guitar lick. The dramatic chorus here is a grabber as well spiced up by emotional guitar lead work. “Narcissus”, at just over 11 minutes, is the longest tune on the disc and it’s a killer! It’s full of great melody, impressive lead work, and excellent mood shifts going from heavy crunch to moody clean tones effortlessly. It’s also home to another epic, dramatic chorus with cool harmonies and a killer Yes meets Queen feel on the bridge.

“Keep My Head” is a bit of a puzzler, as it has this 70s ballad feel to it. Very different from the rest of the album, but still quite good. Also of quick note is the instrumental break in “Light and Space”, which is outstanding! Oh, and I can’t forget yet another great chorus, this time layered with acoustic guitar strumming and superb vocal harmonies! The lyrics here are well written and clever, like in “Turn On Tune In”, which speaks of being brainwashed by the television media, “…buy into the merchandise and then it becomes real, palpable and plastic packaged neatly on the reel…” While not exactly innovative or breathtakingly original, there is a lot to like about this record. Prog metal fans everywhere should find this to be a worthy purchase.

THE OCEAN Heliocentric

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 11 ratings
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For over half a decade now, Germany’s The Ocean has been churching out some of the most forward thinking, textured, aurally massive sounds in metal. Following the path of the truly progressive, each of The Ocean‘s successive releases finds the band adding more layers, more tangible space and more shifting dynamics. Having had nearly 40 different band members come in and out of the band (which was originally called The Ocean Collective) may have something to do with that. These members help founding guitarist/songwriter Robin Staps’ musical vision take ever-shifting shapes.

Heliocentric, the follow up to 2007′s Precambrian, finds the band with a new vocalist, Loic Rossetti, and a fresh dose of inspiration adding large doses of melody (including very well sung, yes, SUNG, vocals). The songs find themselves somewhere between the crushing weight of Neurosis and the atmospheric strains of Ulver. The band shifts from rich death growls over two-ton guitars to piano & strings with clean, capable singing. Regardless of the dynamic, the mood throughout the album is one of serious thought, intense conviction and passionate belief. The album is actually the first half of a 2-album concept which takes a philosophical position in critiquing Christianity, tracing it from its origins as a movement 2 millennia ago to more current schools of thought along the lines of Darwin and Dawkins. It’s not a hateful, “let’s bash all the stupid Christians” free-for-all… it’s a much more subdued, honest critique which, honestly, is quite refreshing. Songs like “The Origin Of The Species” (one of the albums longer, more prog-like cuts), “Metaphysics Of The Hangman”, “Ptolemy Was Wrong” (with it’s Wagner-esque brooding heaviness of mood) and “Swallowed By The Earth” showcase the band’s undeniable strength, musical dexterity and ability to create massive tonal waves that will wash over the listener.

Fans of any of the band’s previous efforts, the aforementioned Ulver & Neurosis, as well as Isis, mid-era The Gathering, even Opeth will find something of great value here, methinks.

RUSSIAN CIRCLES Enter

Album · 2006 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.11 | 27 ratings
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Forsaking vocalists, a lot of bands these days are opting to stick to instrumental creativity to construct vivid, emotional sonic tapestries. An entire genre & scene has in turn been constructed. Bands such as Red Sparowes, Pelican, Canvas Solaris, Explosions In The Sky & others have built substantial followings over the last few years by simply defying convention, musical or otherwise.

Enter Russian Circles. Their 2006 release Enter would fall under the ever-broadening definition of what this genre is becoming. The term “Post Rock” is almost becoming too confining. Russian Circles combine jagged ambience with dashes of Prog Metal, creating loud, brash peaks & melancholy, cavernous depths on this 6 track release.

The trick in this genre is to not bore the listener. What with no vocals to latch onto, there is the problem of keeping people’s attention. Russian Circles deliver their music with a great amount of energy & conviction, literally leaving you waiting for what comes next. In the midst of taking in the current movement, you can’t help but wonder where they’ll go from that point. A stellar effort.

RATT Infestation

Album · 2010 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 11 ratings
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In the 11 years since Ratt‘s last (and quite poor) album, the band has had several up’s and down’s. Lead singer Steven Pearcy has been in and out with Jizzy Pearl taking his seat in his absence(s), a few guitarists have attempted to take Robbin Crosby’s place (may he rest in peace) including ex-Motley Crue singer John Corabi, and the band has waffled through tours and reunion rumors to little fanfare. So, when news came that that they were again going to go into the studio for a new album, and that Steven Pearcy has returned once again, even the crickets yawned. But they had no idea, and neither did I, what was about to hit them.

Infestation sees a renewed Ratt line-up including Pearcy, original members Bobby Blotzer (drums) and Warren DeMartini (guitar), long-time bassist Robbie Crane and the newly tapped Carlos Cavazo (Quiet Riot) taking the second guitar position delivering some of the best music of the band’s long career. Seriously, I had no idea that the album would be this good. Now, it could be that I was expecting it to be so bad that anything above “OK” sounds awesome, but I have spun this album a couple dozen times now and it hasn’t waned.

Opening cut “Eat Me Up Alive” sounds like classic Judas Priest (minus Halford’s wail) with his chopping riff and headbanging tempo. Initial single “Best Of Me” has a fantastic chorus hook remniscent of the band’s later albums like Detonator and Reach For The Sky. Other tracks like “A Little Too Much”, “Look Out Below”, “Lost Weekend” and “Don’t Let Go” sound like vintage Ratt…any of these songs could have been on the follow up to Invasion Of Your Privacy. Others like “As Good As It Gets”, “Garden Of Eden” & “Take A Big Bite” find the Ratt boys updating a tiny bit, but absolutely not in a ‘Ratt-trying-to-be-Nickelback’ way. The guitar work is energetic and impressive (DeMartini & Cavazo…come on), the songs are refreshing and hard hitting and the overall vibe of the record is tried and true Ratt-N-Roll.

I never saw it coming, but Ratt have put out one of the best records of their career. It surpasses their later original run output and renders the ’99 album completely unmentionable. I doubt there is a Ratt fan alive that would not dig this record. It’s the sound of a band who knows who they are. It’s not “hair metal”, it’s not nostalgia, it’s not trendy…it just rocks. Get it.

RAGING SPEEDHORN Before the Sea Was Built

Album · 2007 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Since their last album, 2005’s How The Great Have Fallen, Raging Speedhorn has gone through a bit of a change. They added two new members, Bloody Kev (vocals) and Dave Thompson (bass), and apparently suffered some deep psychological trauma. That would be the only thing that could explain the vibe on the latest album Before The Sea Was Built.

To oversimplify, this album sounds like Pelican & Neurosis having a jam session with a hardcore vocalist. Of course, there are more layers to discover as the seconds tick on the counter, but that is the basic idea of it. The band employs an atmospheric overtone throughout the record…to great effect, I might add. Bloody Kev’s defiant hardcore strains blend, surprisingly, very well with the raw, loud delivery of the music. The ambience sucks you in, the energy fires you up, and the vibe angers & depresses the hell out of you.

Overall, this is a strong release from Raging Speedhorn. Before The Sea Was Built is an excellent progression along their musical path and will no doubt broaden their appeal…but not in a Metallica/Bob Rock kind of way. This album solidifies Raging Speedhorn as a major force in the underground scene…as if they needed solidifying.

PENTACLE Under the Black Cross

Album · 2005 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Despite the band’s seventeen year existence, I’ve not had the pleasure of hearing any of Pentacle’s old-school styled Death Metal before now. Best described as Classic Death Metal in the vein of early Celtic Frost & Possessed, ‘Under The Black Cross’ is rough, raw & relentless.

A concept album based on a WWII Naval battle, what we have here is 9 songs worth of pummeling, authentic Metal. Everything from the instrument tones to the song arrangements literally scream “old school”, but most definitely not contrived. This is the real deal. Every song, including the Necrovore cover, is a ripper.

Pentacle is a band not interested in redefining the genre, but rather reminding us what real Death Metal sounds like. They do not waver, they do not falter, they do not fail. ‘Under The Black Cross’ should be on every Metal fan’s want list.

OSI Office Of Strategic Influence

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 17 ratings
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Ex-Dream Theater keyboardist reunited in 2003 with his old drummer Mike Portnoy (who himself is also ex-Dream Theater now) as well as Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos to form a project called OSI. Many who felt that Moore’s influence was something Dream Theater were sorely lacking after his departure were elated as this reunion of sorts, myself included. Kevin was Dream Theater‘s left-of-center influence. His obscure, abstract lyrics and the way he blended atmospheric textures into Dream Theater‘s shred-fests left such a mark on the three albums he was a part of that not only have the fans longed for his return, but the band has, arguably, never been the same.

After a couple of albums on his own under the moniker Chroma Key, as well as being sideman for Matheos’ Fates Warning, OSI emerged to rabid, drooling prog fans the world over with Office Of Strategic Influence. Add in a guest spots from Cynic‘s Sean Malone and Porcupine Tree‘s Steven Wilson and many fans had to pick themselves up off the ground to be able to get to the store and buy the CD. Now, don’t take this as a sign of mundane predictability, but given the musicians, this sounds pretty much like an educated fan would expect it to. It’s prog metal (later Fates Warning) with a strong electronic & keyboard texture (Chroma Key) being drummed by Mike Portnoy.

And honestly, it rules! As un-scholarly as that sounds, it’s just the truth. There is no overabundance of shred (unless you count Portnoy’s busy style), no wailing vocals (Moore is a very subdued, simple singer), and no “look how awesome I am” moments from any of the individual musicans. What we’re presented with is a strong, song-oriented album (which only means that they focus on composition more than musicianship) with tons of atmosphere and personality. Moore’s vocals and overall presence musically gives the material a bit of a Pink Floyd-vibe (the “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” Floyd, not the “Learning To Fly” Floyd) which is perfect seeing as how Disc 2 on this collection has a brilliant cover of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. Tracks like “Hello, Helicopter”, “Dirt From A Holy Place”, “Horseshoes & B-52′s” and “OSI” are simply stunning.

Now I had the 2-disc special edition of this album the first time around and I can’t find anything on this issue that wasn’t on the first. Two CDs, all the same bonus tracks, the enhanced video clips (including a concept video directed and edited by Kevin Moore for the track “Horsehoes and B-52s”), etc. But don’t let that stop you from grabbing it if you missed it the first time, as it all plays into the overall package of OSI the band. Having been a fan of the two albums since this one, Free and Blood, returning to Office Of Strategic Influence after these many years has been an enjoyable experience. Fans of any band mentioned here should definitely give this one a listen.

MUNICIPAL WASTE The Art of Partying

Album · 2007 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.15 | 5 ratings
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Ok dudes, grab your beer bongs because Municipal Waste is here to ensure they get plenty of use! Unloading like a mutated hybrid of DRI, Exodus & Andrew WK, Municipal Waste bring the Thrash Party complete with shouted gang choruses, plenty of fast tempos and riff-tastic guitars all in a cloud of stale sweat & puke!

Was that PR enough? Seriously, Municipal Waste knows what Punk-tinged Thrash Metal is supposed to sound like and The Art Of Partying plays like a how-to manual on the genre. No underlying political musings, no threat of anyone taking themselves too seriously, no pretense. This record is wall to wall, good (un)clean fun! The sonics are fantastic, the riffs induce instant neck-thrashing, & the tempos are wild enough to cause a pit in the front seat of your car (though not recommended)!

This is no throwback, this is the real deal! If the album cover & song titles were not enough to give it away (I mean, come on, “The Inebriator”, “Born To Party”, “Beer Pressure” & “Headbanger Face Rip”…pretty much on the sleeve there), you can’t be taught. For the rest of you (who all probably have this pre-ordered), you and your buddies are ensured a night of alcohol, bruises & energy…and one wicked hangover the next day! Thrash on!

MAR DE GRISES Draining the Waterheart

Album · 2008 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 3.14 | 3 ratings
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Chilean Gothic Doom Metal. This is the simplest, most concise description of Mar De Grises’ (Sea Of Gray) music. All the requisite elements are present to warrant this description as well. Within the 64 minute release, we find plenty of slow tempos, sad, depressing melodies, Death Metal vocals & an overall darkly romantic vibe.

Now, depending on your taste this is the kind of album that will either bore one to tears or drive them there with its passion & conviction. Some purveyors of the genre will love this album for its pure rendition of the style, others will hate it for being more of the same when they crave something new. I’ll say that if you are one of the latter then you’d best be on your way. Draining The Waterheart stays true to its chosen genre and does a fine job and flying said flag. 2 of the 8 tracks here are sung in Spanish which, with these vocals, is nearly impossible to decipher let alone recognize. But, follow along with the lyric sheet and improve your bilingual skills. There are plenty of free online translators to help. The English lyrics are the usual poetic fare and fit the vibe of the music nicely.

Some bands seek to innovate while some bands just want to make the best music they can in the genre of their choosing. Mar De Grises plays good, strong, heavy music and fans of the style will find more to love inside this band’s dark embrace. Fans of Shape Of Despair, Draconian, My Dying Bride & the like take note.

KING'S X XV

Album · 2008 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.92 | 9 ratings
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King’s X is a band that has lived a tumultuous life. They’ve found themselves on the edge of mass success, all the while watching other bands of arguably lesser talent cross that edge into worldwide stardom. They’ve had people on both sides of the Christian rock debate give them hell over their lyrics (ie too Christian for some, not bold enough for others). They’ve been counted among the Top 100 Greatest Artists Of Hard Rock (VH1) while remaining relatively obscure. All the while, they’ve stayed true to themselves, making only the music they wanted to make at any given time. XV, their latest Michael Wager produced effort, is certainly no exception.One thing King’s X does not do, generally, is offer consecutive albums that are too similar to each other. For all intents & purposes, XV is unlike the last few records, yet still very, very King’s X. The dense, bass-heavy grooves are in full force. The stark, poetic lyrics & passionate vocals (not only from bassist Dug Pinnick, but also guitarist Ty Tabor and, for the first time since 1996′s Ear Candy, drummer Jerry Gaskill) are abundant. Much of the record has a rollicking, live energy. But a few things have changed…again.

Let’s talk vocally, first. The harmonies this time around seem a little more “gang chorus” style than meticulously layered. This doesn’t sound bad at all, mind you. Especially on one of Ty’s turns at the mic, “Repeating Myself”. The backing vocals in this one truly soar. Where as in opening track “Pray”, they sound like a live sing-along. While we’re on the subject of Tabor, where are the solos? The man is a genius guitarist and certainly has every right to lay off the noodling if he so chooses. But, come on…some of these tunes are just begging for some great lead work. There are little licks in “Julie” (Gaskill’s vocal song), and some nice melodic layering in “Blue”, but if you’re waiting on the heartfelt yet technical leads of past records, they’ve simply been left off of this one. Just the mood they were in I suppose.

But, what is the true heart of a King’s X album? That’s right boys and girls…the songs. The songs tell the tale and on XV, the songs are there. From the hand-clapping, head-banging groove of “Pray” & “Go Tell Somebody”, to the up-tempo jam of “Alright” (one of those “please solo!” moments), we have plenty of candidates for some stirring concert moments. Melancholy songs like “I Just Want To Live”, “I Don‘t Know” & the aforementioned “Repeating Myself” all benefit from meaningful vocal performances from Ty. The first of these listed offers one of the only true guitar solos on the album, which makes it stand out all the more. The song “Move” sounds like the band are channeling one of their very early influences, Irish megastars U2. Other songs, like “Rocket Ship”, “Stuck” & “Broke” don’t stray too far from the King’s X sound of the last ten years or so.

Taking left turns can be dangerous. While longtime fans come to expect it, the changes from record to record can still be a bit startling. But I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again, good songwriters write good songs, regardless of style. In that context, XV is yet another in a long line of quality releases from a truly great American Rock band.

KEKAL The Habit of Fire

Album · 2007 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 3 ratings
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Few times in my life have I come across a band as fresh & unique as transcontinental Prog Metal band Kekal. Hailing from Indonesia & Canada simultaneously, this is a band that is definitely not afraid of blending genres. Musically speaking, the band is comprised of uber-musicians, more than deftly skilled at their chosen instrument. The combination of tones, atmospheres, rhythms & execution is simply stunning.

It’s nearly impossible to break this music down to lowest-common-denominator terms. The music is dark, compelling, heavy, enthralling and bold. Song to song, the band shows great depth & variety. “The Gathering Of Ants” starts things off with a high-energy riff & a healthy dose of musical dexterity, adding industrial overtones before dropping into a strong, Pain Of Salvation-esque verse. “Isolated I” comes off very melodically at its start, even adding an electric piano layer (ala ‘70s Rock) over some cool double-bass drumming. By the time the vocals kick in, the Black Metal influence shows up with some distorted growls behind some cool electronic framework. “Our Urban Industry Runs Monotonously” begins in with an atmospheric, piano laden delivery that Kevin Moore himself would envy, while continuing into a musical landscape of Steve Wilson-like proportions.

Each & every song on this album is an awe inspiring piece of work. They don’t sound like any one band, or any one genre. Rather, the members take all of their varied influences and combine them into a grand, musical tapestry. Fans of Porcupine Tree, Chroma Key, Tool, Dead Soul Tribe & Devin Townsend have a new record to track down. In a musical world where the word “progressive” is used all too loosely, Kekal is the real deal.

JORN Dio

Album · 2010 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.09 | 9 ratings
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On May 16th of 2010, the heavy metal community was dealt a crushing blow with the passing of one of its true living legends, Ronnie James Dio. As the vocalist for Rainbow, Black Sabbath/Heaven And Hell and his own band Dio, he was an integral part of some bonafide classic albums. The man was, and is, considered THE voice of heavy metal by countless fans across the globe. His like will never been seen again. Since his untimely death, an outpouring of emotion and sadness came from artists throughout the genre; tribute concerts were announced, shout-outs from the stage by bands on current tours, blurbs permeating every heavy metal news outlet on the internet. One thing about Jorn‘s newest release, Dio, that sets it apart is that it was nearly finished before Ronnie’s passing. It was a tribute to the man while he was still with us and, to me, that speaks volumes about Jorn‘s sincerity.

Listening to this album, it’s starkly obvious that he loved the music of Ronnie James Dio. His performances are heartfelt and full of passion. I think one reason for that is that he already loved the songs. They are part of his musical DNA. When Jorn first began to make waves in the scene, everyone touted his similarities to David Coverdale. While there is some truth to that, Dio’s influence could be heard in his phrasing and aggression. Listening to his rendition of “Invisible”, the first Dio song on the album, it sounds like he’s waited his whole life to make this album. Dio’s voice and presence will never be duplicated, but Jorn‘s fire cannot be denied. The songs included, which cover Rainbow, Sabbath & Dio (the band), range from the obvious (“Kill The King” and “Stand Up And Shout”) to fan favorites (“Don’t Talk To Strangers”, Straight Through The Heart” and “Sacred Heart”) to less expected inclusions (“Sunset Superman”, “Push” and “Lord Of The Last Day”). There’s not a moment on the record that should not be there. The Black Sabbath medley of “Lonely Is The Word/Letters From Earth”, recently included on Jorn‘s own Unlocking The Past album, is chill inducing. “Shame On The Night” is a personal favorite on this collection as Jorn himself is lost in the song and it just fires me up when I hear it.

The inclusion of “A Song For Ronnie James”, written by Jorn as a musical salute to his idol, is more than fitting. The song is fantastic with it’s slow groove and soulful vocal. Having the lyrics comprised largely of Dio‘s song titles and phrases would come off cheesy any other time, but here its perfect. The best thing about this album is the way Jorn walks the line of staying true to the songs while still injecting his own personality into them. That said, there are no drastic re-workings, no acoustic versions; Jorn is a fan and it shows. He’s not trying to capitalize on his hero’s death. He’s showing his hero how much he loves him and what the music means to him.

Kudos to Jorn for releasing what I predict will be the only Dio tribute worth owning.

HAND TO HAND Design The End - Follow The Horizon

Album · 2009 · Metalcore
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Ok, there is something to be said for band’s who play this sort of Melodic Screamo music. The musicians can play, the vocalist (when he’s not enducing his own anyerism) can carry a tune and the musical arrangements take chops. So, I don’t want to sound like I can’t at least appreciate what they’re trying to do. It’s just that, overall, this kind of music is beginning to show the same kind of stagnation and monotony that the Hair Metal scene was showing in the late 80s/early 90s. Many of the bands became interchangable and now, seeing as we have the internet, these kinds of young bands are absolutely everywhere (I’m sure the Hair Metal band were too…we just didn’t have an internet to show them in their mass quantities).

Again, the guys in Hand To Hand can play. Drummers in this genre always impress me for their chops and stamina if nothing else. Vocally, I’m not a fan of the “scream until a blood vessel pops in your forehead” style and even when the singer begins to actually sing there is a sort of unappealing, juvenille air to the melodies…it’s melodic enough, it’s just also annoying. Many of the songs here are indistinguishable, at least to my ears, and if it weren’t for occasional bits of silence I would not know a new song was starting. They all carry the same “dig our chops” high-flying with screaming, dropping into a melodic chorus hook, breakdown, and back again…lather, rinse, repeat. I will say, though, that the last song, the 10-minute instrumental track “Let’s End This Album With A Party” was pretty cool…nice energy and, thankfully, no vocals…good showcase for the band showing off their obvious talent.

I can understand why younger kids could be into this. I can hear that the musicians in the band can play very well. But for all of it’s attempts at sticking melodic hooks amidst the overwrought note-storms and irritating screaming, it’s just boring. Oh, and they also lose points for the “15 minutes of silence before something stupid” at the end of the last track. That got old 15 years ago.

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