Metal Music Reviews from dtguitarfan

TRANSCEND The Mind

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 5 ratings
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Transcend are a Progressive Metal band formed in the suburbs of Montreal, who describe themselves on their website as having "a raging passion to abolish formulaic and simplified popular music of all genres". The Mind is their debut album, released after 5 years of the band's existence, and shows a wealth of potential. It is a concept album, built around the concept of following the growth of the mind of a child, starting with simple and immature reality, moving through the lessons of life, and finally ending as a free and open mind. Musically, there are some obvious influences coming from Dream Theater, Symphony X, Pain of Salvation, and Devin Townsend, but Transcend manages to put their own spin on Progressive Metal with some spacey sections (a la Pink Floyd, perhaps), the occasional addition of the Greek Bouzouki, male and female vocal duets, and of course some heavy riffs on top of odd time signatures. As one would expect from the goal described by the band above, the compositions do not follow a predictable patter with verse, chorus and the occasional bridge, but rather take the listener on a musical journey of exploration. The album ends in a massive 44 minute long multi-part epic which will surely give many listeners great amounts of satisfaction. This is a fantastic debut, and exceeds many expectations, leaving me wondering where this band will go next!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

KAMELOT Silverthorn

Album · 2012 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 18 ratings
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Kamelot began in 1991 in Tampa, FL. During the history that followed, they have had a few lineup changes, but through it all have carved out a special niche in the metal world and gained a steady following of fans. Their strongest trait may be that their style is not easily grouped with just one sub-genre, but bridges the gaps between various like-minded styles, borrowing elements of Progressive, Power, and even a little doom or gothic metal, also integrating stylistic elements of classical and cinematic music. The overall effect of this combination of elements is a sophisticated, refined style of metal. Silverthorn finds Kamelot entering a new stage of their career, following the announcement of the departure of former vocalist Roy Kahn on April 21st of 2011. After all was said and done, Kamelot introduced Tommy Karevik, also the vocalist for Progressive Metal band Seventh Wonder, as their new singer.

Now I'm going to stop right here before telling my readers specifically about the new album to make a little confession: I have previously not considered myself a fan of Kamelot. I was more of a casual onlooker – occasionally checking out what they were up to, and then moving on to other music I was more interested in. I will also freely admit that not only is Seventh Wonder one of my all-time favorite bands, but I also consider Tommy Karevik to be one of my all-time favorite singers. He has a ridiculously silky-smooth, strong voice with an incredible range and a great sense of melody with on-the-money, perfect pitch. So of course when I heard he was the new Kamelot singer, I thought "well, I guess I'm going to have to check out the new album for sure then." Well let me tell you…I think this album has made a fan of me. It is really something special. For the Seventh Wonder fans, I will say that Kamelot utilize Tommy's voice in a completely different way, giving him a chance to explore his musical and emotional range in unique ways. For Kamelot fans, I think you will be pleased to hear that this album still sounds undoubtedly like Kamelot, as Tommy seems to channel, at times, former Kamelot singers, while still giving it a bit of his own spin – his style suits the band quite well, while still giving them new life in a sense.

Silverthorn is a concept album – according to guitarist Thomas Youngblood: "It's the story of a young girl who dies in the arms of her two twin brothers, taking the three siblings' big secret to her grave. The songs on Silverthorn talk about despair, a sense of guilt and the pursuit of truth. In this context, the silver thorn in the album title has a mysterious meaning, but it's up to the listener to unveil this secret."

Keeping this in mind, it's no surprise that the album has a strong dramatic, cinematic, and Progressive feel to it. There is a strong sense of story throughout the album, and not just in the lyrics but there is a journey-like feeling to the music as well. Also adding to this cinematic, story-telling feeling were the appearances of guest musicians: the band was supported at the studio by Elize Ryd, Eklipse, Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist), Amanda Somerville, and others. One of the things I found to be a strong indication of quality here was the sense that the melodies in the album were very memorable, and ended up replaying themselves in my head hours after hearing the album. And as a big fan of Progressive Metal, I'd like to point out to others like myself that I noticed plenty of changes in the music as well as little classically inspired instrumental interludes that added to the sense of being taken along on a journey. I will say that personally, I felt this may be Kamelot's most progressive album yet, though there is still a strong Power Metal presence and a sense of accessibility, resulting in a blend that I think will appeal strongly to fans of multiple sub-genres. There is some very strong interplay between keyboards, guitars and vocals throughout the album, resulting in a rich, multi-layered feeling to the music. All said, I feel Kamelot has made a strong case both to fans and former onlookers such as myself that they are back with a vengeance, and the result is that they have produced one of the most exciting albums of the year.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

GERMÁN PASCUAL A New Beginning

Album · 2012 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 5 ratings
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Germán Pascual was born in Uruguay, raised in Brazil, and has lived in Stockholm, Sweden, since his early teens. He was the voice for Progressive Metal band Narnia and Divinefire. His voice has that manly rasp, that tough quality to it and can be compared to metal vocalists Jorn Lande, Ronny James Dio, and Russell Allen. His debut solo album, A New Beginning, shows a maturity in the song writing and production that can only be a result in his years of work with bands Narnia and Divinefire. There is a catchiness to the tunes that does not become simplistic, a multi-layered aspect to the instrumental backgrounds, and a good flow to the songs that keeps the listener engaged. One of the first things you might notice is the driving heavy force behind the songs, and the second observations I made was the nice use of electronic synthesizer – not just for playing fancy solos, but adding to the layered sound with electronica and orchestral sounds. The album doesn't come off in the way you'd expect a solo album to sound, but has more of the feeling that you might expect from something that was composed by a band as a group effort. The tunes are very melodic, and had a memorable, accessible quality it seemed. All this adds up to a very mature effort, and an enjoyable album with Classic, Power, and Progressive Metal elements.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

SEVEN KINGDOMS The Fire Is Mine

Album · 2012 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.32 | 10 ratings
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Seven Kingdoms are a female fronted Power Metal band from Deland, Florida. The band was formed in 2007 by guitarist Camden Cruz and vocalist Bryan Edwards, but shifted lineups since then and now includes vocalist Sabrina Valentine, guitarist Camden Cruz, guitarist Kevin Byrd, drummer Keith Byrd, and bassist Aaron Sluss. In 2010, shortly after Seven Kingdoms played the opening party at Prog Power USA, Blind Guardian asked them to be the opener for their North American tour. Seven Kingdoms went on from this fantastic opportunity to play several one-offs and smaller tours in 2011, ending with the "Uniting the Powers of Metal Tour".

Now, Power Metal is a genre that, depending on your viewpoint, is either suffering or reveling in the fact that the genre is growing by the droves. The unfortunate effect of this phenomenon is that new Power Metal bands must fight hard to carve out their own niche and establish that they have a unique style. So one thing Seven Kingdoms has got going for them is the voice of the band – Sabrina Valentine. She is not your typical operatic soprano voice you'd hear in a band like this – she has more of a powerful feel to her voice, stemming from her lower, Alto range. Now this fact may both attract and deter some new listeners, but it does give them a unique element for their sound. Unfortunately for me, I felt that this was where their uniqueness ended. I know for a fact that some seasoned Power Metal fans already disagree with me here, but I didn't hear much else on the album that would separate them from the hordes of other recent additions to the genre, and I personally would have liked to have heard them mix in the sound of other metal sub-genres here and there in order to make it more interesting. But this is where my critique ends, because otherwise, Seven Kingdoms have delivered a very energetic, polished, and professional album with all the speedy riffs and nimbly-executed rhythms you might expect. And while I was looking for something to separate this group from other Melodic Power Metal bands, I do know that those who just want some Power Metal are going to be (and some already are) very pleased with this release – it is a solid effort showing musical proficiency and the love of their craft. So in conclusion – if you are a Power Metal fan who just can't get enough of the genre, this is highly recommended, but for me this was an enjoyable release: just not in the way that will make me want to come back to the album again and again and again.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

ANGRA Temple of Shadows

Album · 2004 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 55 ratings
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Angra is not only one of the icons of Power Metal, but they are also one of those bands that tread the lines between Power and Prog, enough that they have been accepted as Progressive Metal in some circles. And if I were to pick one album from their collection to say "this is why", Temple of Shadows would be the one I'd pick as evidence. This is a very well rounded album, with a very good dynamic range between acoustic and electric, loud moments and quiet moments, time given to breathe and plenty of "rock out" moments. For myself, I consider this a candidate for Angra's magnum opus - it's a tough choice between this album and "Rebirth", but this is where I feel Angra were at their peak both creatively and as far as showing their musical ability.

EPICA Requiem for the Indifferent

Album · 2012 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 29 ratings
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If you're a fan of female fronted metal, or even if you're not but you're a fan of metal, there are probably two names that you first associate with the phrase "female fronted metal" - Nightwish and Epica. Epica have steadily risen from relative obscurity to being pretty definitive in the modern world of metal, and what's more: they have yet to release a weak album. If you are unfamiliar with their style, I will tell you that Epica masterfully blend sublime operatic soprano vocals, orchestration, choral work, heavy (not just in categorization) guitar and drum work, and just the right amount of growls (and I'm not usually a fan of growls) together to create what is often referred to as "Beauty and the Beast Metal." If you are familiar with their work, I will tell you that I think Epica have stepped it up a notch and gotten a bit, dare I say, more Progressive in this album, both in their compositions, and they have also began to throw in some fancy guitar solos. When asked what my favorite Epica album was, I have also thought "The Divine Conspiracy" was an easy choice, but with this release I find it hard to pick just one....

WHYZDOM Blind?

Album · 2012 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 4 ratings
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Whyzdom is a French Symphonic Power Metal band with some Progressive influences, formed in 2007 by guitarist/composer Vynce Leff. Whyzdom takes orchestral arrangements and a choir, and combines classically styled melodies with Power Metal riffs. For this release, their second full length album, singer Elvyne Lorient replaces former lead vocalist Telya Melane. At times during the album, Elvyne's vocals reminded me of Amy Lee from Evanescence.

Whyzdom's strength seems to be rooted in Vynce's ability to combine the orchestra and choir as members of the band, blending their sounds with the distorted guitars and synths seamlessly. Often, melodies are repeated back and forth by different parts of the band in a call/answer style, or played by one instrument and then expounded upon by another, which adds to this effect of seamless integration.

With the combination of Power and Symphonic Metal and a female singer, it's hard not to compare Whyzdom to Nightwish, and these days it seems there is a surge of female-fronted metal bands appearing on the scenes fighting to distinguish themselves. For me, though I felt that the album has a solid package to offer, I didn't feel like it stood out from the crowd enough to earn higher marks, but I am sure there are Symphonic and Power Metal experts who would disagree with me on that point. But even with my hesitance to praise highly, I would recommend this to fans of Female-fronted Power and Symphonic Metal, and I did find the album to be an enjoyable release – a good use of 80 minutes.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

BEARDFISH The Void

Album · 2012 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.61 | 9 ratings
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Note: I have changed my rating to a 4 star for the purpose of MMA, as I just do not see it as appropriate to give the album a 5 star on a website that is intended to represent Metal. Normally, I would not let that change my rating, but for this album I just didn't feel right giving it a 5 on this website. This concludes my preface, and now we return to our regularly scheduled broadcast:

The Void is the seventh studio album for Progressive Rock act Beardfish, and as I listened to this album again the other day I had a bit of a catharsis. On my first listen, I would not have given it 5 stars – I did actually enjoy the album quite a bit, but I was not ready to give it 5 stars at this point. But I made some connections this time, and found new understanding of the album. Now, I'd like to get on a soapbox a bit and talk about reviewing albums, why I started reviewing albums, and some peeves I have about reviews. This may seem to have nothing to do with The Void by Beardfish, but stick with me here and I am going to try to make a connection between the album and this thought process.

So I have listened to and been a fan of Progressive Rock for a long time and have listened to many, many albums. But I only recently began to review albums, and while I had thought about giving it a shot many times before, I always thought I didn't really have anything new to say. But what eventually pushed me into writing my first review was when I saw a horrible review of an album I loved, and it was the only review on the site for this album. The reviewer's only reason for giving a very low rating of this album and trash talking it seemed to be that he felt the band wasn't truly "Progressive" because they had some, in his opinion, obvious influences and thus were not doing anything new. Now, this is a huge peeve of mine, because I think this is a misunderstanding of what the "Progressive" genre is truly about. You see, I don't believe the genre, or any musical genre, can be defined by such an ambiguous idea as being "new" or having never been done before. It's music – nothing is new! Every piece of music is influenced by some other pieces of music going back all the way to the time when the caveman Ugh Nok Ok picked up a seashell and blew into it, playing the very first notes. If your music has notes, it was influenced by this event! You think King Crimson was "new"? You think Yes was doing something that had never been done before? No! They were influenced by classical composers as well as the rock music of their time and they were just combining influences! So it is a peeve of mine when I see reviewers defining the Progressive genre by this ambiguous idea of possessing "newness" and taking this concept to the conclusion that anything that does not possess this indefinable and immeasurable idea must not be good. No, what makes an album "good" is indefinable as well, and different from person to person, but usually has to do with a certain level of musical skill, and creating a combination of sounds that is pleasing in some way to the listener as well as presenting an idea to the listener in a way that makes a connection with that listener. And so, as I have pondered how to go about defining my ratings of albums in my reviews, I have realized that I cannot pretend to be presenting the true measurement of an album's worth but can only represent my own enjoyment of an album, nothing more.

Now, what does this have to do with Beardfish's album, The Void? Well, let's start exploring this question by taking a look at the first track of the album, the Intro, in which Andy Tillison states:

"The magician looked into the future and saw nothing but the past, repeating itself. With caution he turned his eyes to the present and found himself staring into a void. He disappeared in the dark. Time passed, and one day he returned, with a vision. Once he talked to the first stranger he met it was clear that in his absence nothing had changed, but him…"

Now right away, we have a very powerful and mysterious statement. But as the album progresses, I believe the band explores this concept through their music. Now, I have always been intrigued by Beardfish – they have a unique style that incorporates a very retro sound that seems to be influenced by Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis, incorporating progressive musical structures, quick fingered riffs, changing time signatures, sometimes odd crashing jangles, and a quirky sophistication. But when this album first came out I heard rumblings that seemed to frighten some away while only drawing me in: "Psst! Beardfish is going metal! Run away!" This is the warning it seemed some were giving out. So of course I had to check it out. And as I listened I thought that I could hear where these people were coming from, but it seemed clear to me that this was not a release that nicely and neatly fit right in to the "Metal" categorization in any way. Yes, the guitars have a bit more distorted crunch to them, there is some riffing that is more aggressive in previous Beardfish albums, and there are the occasional growly vocals present. But it is clear that the retro sound we're used to hearing from Beardfish is still present as well as plenty of jazz influences. But as I listened to this album again later on I felt that I began to understand the musical statement as I realized there seemed to be many, many musical influences present in this album. By incorporating and representing musical influences from many genres and time periods, I believe Beardfish is musically presenting the statement put forth by King Solomon thousands of years ago: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time."

As I realized the presence of Classic Prog, Progressive Metal, Sludge, Math-Rock, Jazz, Classic Rock, Blues, and Classical influences (and possibly many more) that were present in this release, and thought about the statement made in the intro, I began to realize how beautifully and profoundly they were presenting this idea of the future merely repeating the past, and the spiritual and philosophical quandary that we are faced with as we ponder this and what it means for our lives. And as I began to understand this statement, I began to truly enjoy this album as it touched me and affected my perspective. And that is what this album is all about, I believe: the mystery of life in which there is nothing new and that as we deal with loss, love, life and death and struggle to heal from emotional wounds, the illusion of change, and how the only thing which truly changes in time is our own perspective.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

PASTORE The End Of Our Flames

Album · 2012 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.40 | 6 ratings
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The End Of Our Flames is the sophomore release of Brazilian band Pastore, formed in 2007 by Mario Pastore (Acid Storm, Delpht, Soulspell) and Raphael Gazal, and is set to be released on October 12th of 2012. Now, I'd like to start things off by telling you what this album is not. It is not a musical enigma of an album that bends genres and cannot be compared to anything that came before it. There are definite classic heavy metal musical influences here which the typical metal connoisseur will have no trouble pointing to. That being said…what this album does, it does extremely well. This is hard-edged, gritty, classic sounding metal with timeless-sounding melodies and a testosterone infused sound that can be traced back to some of the classics such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. As soon as Pastore's vocals came in, I immediately thought to myself that he sounded like a cross between Ronny James Dio and Bruce Dickenson, and it felt comfortable and familiar, fitting oh so well with the music. And throughout the album, I felt the tunes had this catchy, memorable quality to them that made them feel timeless. This is not to say that the tunes are simplistic – they may be more simple than some of the modern metal in other sub-genres, but they have an ageless quality to them that immediately made me think that if I had heard them without knowing this was a 2012 release, I most likely would not have been able to correctly guess what year the album was released. Is this "Metal reinvented"? No, but what is wrong with that? I would highly recommend this to fans of classic heavy metal such as any of the names I have previously mentioned in this review, as well as fans of some of the more current "Classic Metal" names, such as Jorn.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

VENTURIA Dawn of a New Era

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 3 ratings
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Dawn of a New Era is the third album by the female-fronted French Progressive/Melodic Metal band Venturia, and finds them returning after a couple personnel changes. In 2009, the band parted with singer Mark Ferreira for personal reasons, with their guitarist, Charly Sahona, taking on the role of the lead male vocalist. Then in 2010, Venturia lost former drummer Diego Rapacchietti and replaced him with Frederic Marchal, a long-term friend of the band. In this album, Venturia have also developed their style less towards complicated arrangements and more towards the melodies. There are still elements of the previous albums with the multi-layered vocals, technical playing, and synth-y keyboard sound, and there are still subtle uses of compound time signatures, but they have really toned down on the complicated instrumentals and compound rhythms. For this reason I am sure some will complain that the band is leaning more towards a commercial sound, with others praising them for being more accessible. In any case, I will say that Venturia are not your typical female-fronted metal band. They combine hooky-melodies with technical playing and a progressive background, trading off between female and male vocals as well as full vocal harmonies, technical heavy guitars, and a rich, atmospheric keyboard background.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

ASHENT Inheritance

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 5 ratings
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Ashent, an Italian Progressive Metal band, return in 2012 with their third release, Inheritance. This being a milestone for any band, it also sees Ashent returning after a period of change, with changes in the band's lineup. After the 2009 release of Deconstructive, Ashent announced three new members would be filling in: Titta Tani (Goblin,Daemonia, ex-Necrophagia, ex-DGM) on lead vocals, Gilles Boscolo on keyboards and Alessandro Cossu on second guitar. And so, with lineup changes like these, it comes as no surprise that Ashent are redefining themselves a bit. Inheritance finds Ashent taking a very unique stance on Progressive Metal, melding together various styles and sounds to create a somewhat unusual blend. Along with what might be considered the "typical" combination of Progressive Metal instruments with heavy guitars and synths, Ashent mixes in some Mellotron, Hammond, and Saxophone. This gives their sound an almost Neo Prog take on Progressive Metal. And dynamically, Ashent swings between more atmospheric and mellow sections to some louder, chaotic blends. Ashent has a way of using chord progressions where they fill every chord out to the point of almost bursting, adding dissonant tones to the more conventional structures. This is not only achieved with the instrumentation (often combining atmospheric keyboards that are reminiscent of Devin Townsend with some heavy, rhythmic guitars) but also with some very full harmonies in the vocals. Add to this a very dynamic rhythm section, and the music can at times be a little overwhelming. And Ashent deploys many different textures throughout the album, with modern synths, orchestral parts, sequencers, choirs, and even some fusion, making for a very dynamic experience. All this combined also gives them a sound that has a very new, crisp and modern feel to it. This is definitely an album that breaks the mold, and as such will leave some scratching their heads, while others will praise it highly.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

ODDLAND The Treachery of Senses

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 4 ratings
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Oddland's 2012 debut, The Treachery Of Senses, is an album that took me completely by surprise. Oddland is a Finnish Progressive Metal quartet who first entered the spotlight by winning the 2011 Suomi Metal Star contest, which then earned them a deal with Century Media. One of the first things I noticed which listening to their debut is that it is difficult to compare them to other Progressive Metal groups – a reflection which may be attributable to the fact that Oddland did not originally start as a Progressive Metal band, but as a rock-oriented band with leanings toward grunge. It wasn't until vocalist/guitarist Sakari Ojanen returned to the band in 2008 after a year-long trip to Spain that the group began to travel in this direction. This album is not only an album that shows a unique style, but it is also one that starts strong and finishes strong without a single weak track – right from track one I found myself banging my head involuntarily as if a metal Pied Piper had come to visit. One of the things that I feel makes Oddland a unique and enjoyable experience is the contrast, at times, between the textures of the band's sound and the singer's voice. I might compare Sakari Ojanen's vocals to a mixture of Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation, Daniel Estrin of Voyager, and Mariusz Duda of Riverside. Sakari has a strong baritone voice which can be very soothing and smooth at times, but then at other times he shows an ability to hit hard with straining emotions and force. And, as I was saying, what really makes the music fascinating to me is how Oddland at times employs a technique of combining Sakari's soothing tones with a chaotic, crashing, dissonant texture with the guitars and drums. But they show a maturity in their songwriting in that multiple musical textures are employed, trading off between softer, more soothing tones and heavy hitting dissonances. Oddland also employs the technique of evolving musical textures, whereby they will build a texture and then add to it or change it slightly rather than merely repeat the same pattern over and over. Their textures are almost Djent-like in this way, but never quite get to the point of being so rhythmically based or crashingly dissonant as to qualify them for entry into this sub-genre. Indeed, it is their ability to contrast between mellow and aggressive, dissonant and soothing that makes this album an entertaining and interesting experience all the way through. This is one of those albums that I was not able to form or articulate an opinion on until I had given it a few listens in order to digest, and really wrap my head around the music. The masterful usage of textures caused the album to grow on me over a number of returns, and actually gave me the desire to come back to it again and again. At this point I feel it is one of the best Progressive Metal albums, and perhaps the best Progressive Metal debut, of the year 2012.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

TARJA Act I

Live album · 2012 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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For those of you unfamiliar with the name Tarja Turunen, she is a Finnish, operatic, lyric soprano singer/songwriter who is most well known for being the former lead vocalist of the Symphonic/Power Metal band Nightwish. Now, for those of you who are Tarja fans, I'm going to start this review off by making a confession: I had never listened to any of Tarja's solo material before this, despite having followed Nightwish since the late 90's and being disappointed when she and Nightwish parted ways. This was never a conscious decision, more like one of those things I just didn't get around to. So, keep this perspective in mind for this review.

Act 1 has all the ingredients that make a good live album – it has good performances by the musicians, a healthy level of crowd noise that adds to the experience of the recording but isn't so present as to distract from the music, good solos, and even a few cover songs. There is even a couple Nightwish covers thrown in. But Tarja focuses on her own solo material, rather than dwelling on her past with Nightwish. As a newbie to her material, I like that she seems to display her own style rather than sounding like "the former Nightwish singer doing more Nightwish-y stuff." Her band has a bit more edge to them than Nightwish – more crunch to the guitars and a heavier beat. Tarja's material also has more of a "Classic Metal" feel to it, but she juxtaposes her classical, operatic style of singing with this heaviness quite well. In fact, she features this juxtaposition quite well by switching back and forth in the opening song between an almost baroque sound with harpsichord and some choral arrangements and the heavy grinding metal sound. One thing I found to be very nice about Tarja's music is that for me it had this sort of déjà-vu-like feeling to it – many of the songs felt familiar to me even though I had never heard them before.

There are two things I felt this album did very well: 1) it made me want to see the DVD, and 2) it made me decide that I REALLY need to get on to the task of listening to Tarja's solo albums. I do feel, however, that I need to point out two things that did bother me about this live album. First off, for every song on the album, the crowd noise fades in at the beginning and fades out at the end. For me, this kind of destroys the illusion, or the feeling that I'm "almost present" at the live event, and it was a little annoying to be honest. The second thing that bothered me was the Whitesnake cover, "Still of the Night" – now, my opinion of this one might be discolored a bit by the fact that I LOVE the original. But to me, I felt that Tarja's style of singing just didn't work well with this song – and I think Tarja has a gorgeous voice that I feel usually works well within a metal context. But that being said, this is still an excellent live Metal release, and I'm sure the concert was quite an experience!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

THE GREAT GAMBLE Book 1

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 3 ratings
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I'd like to start this review by saying that I am a big fan of the genre of Progressive Metal. You might even say I'm an addict. As a fan/addict of the genre, it probably comes as no surprise that two of my top 10 favorite bands are Dream Theater and Symphony X – both bands I am proud to say came from my home country of America. But one of the things I love about Progressive Metal as a genre is the diversity – I love that it spans the globe and these days it seems Progressive Metal bands are springing up in every continent, and bringing new perspective as they meld their cultural styles with the "typical" stylistic elements of Progressive Metal. But I've also noticed (with some disappointment) over the years that it seems that America has been lagging: it seems that there is not a very good ratio of American Progressive Metal acts, compared to some other countries around the globe.

Enter the scene: The Great Gamble, a Progressive Metal group originally formed in Scranton, PA. Right away, I was impressed by the quality of the work presented in this, as of yet, unsigned band. Their debut album, Book 1, not only shows great skill in both the playing and compositions (with all but two tracks spanning over 10 minutes long), but the quality of the recording is also remarkably good, considering that they are not backed by a record label. But what makes this group special is how they demonstrate some of the diversity I have mentioned in my opening. First off, the most easily noticeable distinction of the group is the fact that they are made up entirely of people of African American heritage. In a genre almost entirely populated by musicians of some form of European heritage, this is an immediately apparent unique factor. I believe this also helps to give them a unique sound as the vocals have a particularly strong and powerful feel to them. The group also builds some very nice, full vocal harmonies, utilizing the vocal skills of three of the band members to build them. Another unique addition to their sound is the violin playing of band member Matt Weaver (who also plays keyboards on the album). Added to the somewhat "classic" Progressive Metal sound of the rest of the group, this addition gives them a unique flavor. But perhaps one of the rarest qualities of this group is the fact that they openly portray themselves through the biographies on their various web sites as being a band made up of members of the Christian faith. Their album, Book 1, portrays this in a way that is perhaps subtle, but tasteful, without being "in your face" about it in a way that will discourage people who do not share their faith from listening. Book 1 is a concept album, the story centering around a protagonist who is on a journey to redemption and fulfillment, caught in the midst of a war between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The story is metaphorical, to the effect that the protagonist could be anyone, with battles representing real life struggles, and inspired by warrior stories from the Bible.

This album has all the right ingredients to appeal to the Progressive Metal connoisseur – long compositions, an epic story line, great musicianship, instrumental sections, compound time signatures – and I found myself comparing the album to some of "the greats" in my collection. What amazes me is that there is very little that separates this group from "the greats" of Progressive Metal, in my opinion, even at this very early stage of their career and with no recording label backing them. This band is definitely one to keep your eye on as they may very well become one of the next big names on the scene for Progressive Metal!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

TO-MERA Exile

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 13 ratings
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To-Mera was born in 2004 out of the meeting of current vocalist Julie Kiss, formerly of the Hungarian Progressive Metal band Without Face, and former bassist Lee Barret, who previously had played for Extreme Noise Terror, Disgust, and Mussolini Headkick. They have gone through a few personnel changes since their first album, and Exile is now their third full studio album since their inception. I first heard of To-Mera when I heard a song of theirs from their 2008 release, Delusions, played on a streaming internet radio station. Sometime later, they caught my attention again when I heard that a favorite of mine, Haken, was formed by To-Mera keyboardist and guitarist Richard Henshall. So I picked up a copy of Delusions and listened to the whole thing – I liked it quite a bit, thought it had a very original and interesting sound, but also thought it could use a little…"polish", at least as far as the production went. Now, if you shared this same opinion, you may have become excited just from seeing the album cover for their new album, Exile – comparing it to the album cover for Delusions, it certainly does look like they may have received some polish, as it is a very bright and shiny looking album cover. And the album is a concept album of sorts, where the Protagonist is dealing with tragedy, loss and hardship, and has plunged herself into a self-imposed state of "exile" in order to protect herself from further harm. But the consequences of this are that she has thrown away much of what is meaningful in life.

So now I find myself listening to the album for the first time, putting the "new polish" theory to the test. Well, the first track - an introduction of sorts (being all instrumental and the shortest track on the album) – did catch my attention. The track starts out with a low hum that builds up volume, and then the band kicks in with an Arabic, dessert feel to the music, coming from the rhythm and drums, as well as the harmonics, but they mix this with what sounds like a Didgeridoo (interesting choice, and a very cool sound), and then add some piano to this. I think the combination of the Arabic feel with the Didgeridoo makes an interesting musical statement that goes along with the theme of the Protagonist having exiled herself to strange and faraway lands, and this musical theme reappears a number of times throughout the album. This atmosphere builds up a very nice suspense, and then BAM! The band hits home hard with crunching metal guitars and a very full sounding keyboard section and I find myself banging my head in sincere enjoyment. Throughout the album they continue to provide some very nice atmospheric contrasts between cinematic tranquility and crashing into driving metal rhythms. The vocals of Julie Kiss add a very interesting ingredient to the mix – her voice comes across in a way that almost sounds like a mythical creature from fantasy realms. One thing that I find quite unique is the way this group can switch so quickly from a Progressive Metal texture to a very Jazzy atmosphere, at times even sounding like Smooth Jazz, and then BAM, they are right back to the heavy hitting metal crunch with full, cinematic keyboards. The band members never really take too much of the spotlight but all seem to work together very well to create a very full, rich sound, with each of the members taking turns adding flourish to this. However I do think that perhaps the standout element of this album is Mr. Henshall, as his keyboard work on this album provides a fantastic atmosphere – I was impressed by how quite often throughout the album he seemed to be using different sounds for each hand, and piano and organ sounds are featured very nicely, mixed in with some very rich synth sounds. Indeed, the usage of many different sounds and textures seems to be something this band has mastered as they switch between acoustic, orchestral, Metal and Jazz atmospheres quite regularly throughout the pieces. This usage of multiple musical textures and atmospheres is, I believe, what earns them the description of being "genre busters", a phrase I have seen used to describe them in various places on the web. With this album, To-Mera has proven to me that, not only is this album quite a polished piece of work, but also that, in my mind, this is one of the best Progressive Metal albums of the year for 2012!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

NORTHWINDS Winter

Album · 2012 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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Winter is the fourth album by French band Northwinds, who have been classified in both the Doom Metal and Progressive Rock categories on various sites. Northwinds began as R.I.P. in 1990. After some of the original members left the band, in 1995 the first demo was released, which shows influence from '70s era Heavy and Progressive Rock, NWOBHM and Doom Metal. Also, at this time the band changed their name to Northwinds. Following this, the bands' sound changed and began to include keyboards and flute and some folk influence, giving Northwinds a more signature sound.

The immediate impression I got from the first track that stuck with me throughout the whole album can be summed up as: neo vintage. Right away, during the first track, I felt like I was listening to music that might have come from an old horror movie - it was kind of campy, but in an endearing sort of way. And then as the second track started, I was immediately reminded of old seventies era Black Sabbath by the sound and style of the guitars and drums. All throughout the album, the influences of hard rock and proto-metal bands from the seventies shine through, giving the album a classic rock/metal sound that is mixed with doom and folk influences. The band mixes in some interesting elements with synthesizers, organ, synthesized choir sounds (these last two often adds to the "old horror movie" feel), chimes, flute, and samples. These elements all come together to create a more rich, full atmosphere, and the various influences give the band a unique sound, and often result in creating a fantasy type of atmosphere. Perhaps the highlight of the album is the 22 minute long epic length title track, in which the band explores more of their progressive side as well. All in all, I believe this album would find appeal in fans of various genres, including doom, progressive, classic rock, and classic metal.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

BLIND STARE The Dividing Line

Album · 2012 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Blind Stare began in 1999 as an instrumental metal band, started by Anders Öström (current guitarist), Heikki Raisio, and Henry Valkonen, and joined soon after by Tuomas Kant on bass. In 2001, this lineup was fleshed out by Eino Tuominen on vocals. The band went through some changeups since their beginning, and Henry, Heikki, and Tuomas have left the band, with Jaako Lehtinen (Lead Guitars/lead clean vocals), Timo Palokankare (drums), Tuomas Riihimaki (Keyboards) and Ossi Elonen (Bass Guitar) completing the current lineup.

The Dividing Line is the second release by this group, and shows some impressive musicianship by the band. The band describes themselves on their website as "Melodic/Symphonic/Death Metal", which is a pretty good fit for their style, however one could also add, based on various tracks, the Progressive and Power Metal tags to this as well. Now, just the mere mention of the combination of the terms "Melodic" and "Death" has probably got some readers thinking "these are not the droids I am looking for." However, before you stop reading, you should take into account that I myself am not normally a Melodic Death Metal type of guy – I like my growly death vocals to be used sparingly, mixed in with more vocals of other styles. So it is a testament to this band's worth that a person like me would find their album very enjoyable despite my predisposition against their vocal style. The main reason I don't find myself turned away by the vocals would be the instrumentals – this band builds a lush, rich atmosphere behind the vocals, and fills this in with skillful riffs. I would say that the fact that the group started as an instrumental band shows in the way the tracks are composed: the band does a great job of building up a nice groove off of a good riff, but then they don't ever stay in that groove for too long, but move on before the listener gets bored. And there is plenty of ear candy in the way of speedy riffs as well as softer sections that transition into the heavy and aggressive side. So I would definitely say that this group is not your typical Melodic Death Metal group, but has created a unique blend of styles, creating a signature sound all their own.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

WIND ROSE Shadows Over Lothadruin

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 4 ratings
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Wind Rose is an Italian Prog Metal band that started in 2007 as a Dream Theater, Symphony X, and Blind Guardian cover band. Along with these influences, the band also sites Turisas, Angra, Avantasia, Ensiferum, Adagio, Howard Shore, Fairyland, and Opeth as main influences.

Shadows Over Lothadruin is the first full length album (the band released a Demo EP in 2010) and is a concept album set in the fantasy land of Lothadruin. The album plays almost like a musical or rock opera, with narrative scenes in between many of the tracks, to aid the listener in understanding the story. The plot revolves around a young man named Meador, the son of a king named Hagan, who lives in the secret court of Gyalon. Their citadel is threatened by the shadow enemy, who is working to spread his shadow empire throughout the land. The king's brother, Garosh, had given the enemy information on a way into the hidden citadel of Gyalon, and the hero Meador saves himself and a few others, going on to raise an army to defeat the enemy and avenge his homeland.

Musically speaking, the album is a somewhat enigmatic combination of Symphonic, Power, and Progressive Metal, in a way that makes it hard to figure out which of the three this band would fit best in. Vocal harmonies, almost choral sounding, are prominent in the style. There is a cheese factor present that is somewhat typical of the three genres I mentioned above, but to me it seemed that this was presented in a way that made it endearing rather than off-putting – although I would critique (a small critique that seems minor to me) that the narrative cut scenes could've used better acting as I felt a little unconvinced in that area. Though the band did not list them as an influence, the combination of the music and story, and the way they were presented, reminded me of some of the Rhapsody (later to be renamed Rhapsody of Fire) concept albums. But the Progressive influences of Symphony X seem to be heavily present as well, especially in songs like "Majesty." This band has a very good sound, with a rich layer of the guitars and keyboards combined with the heavily harmonized vocals. And it seems there is great crossover appeal present with the Symphonic, Power, and Progressive elements that are scattered throughout the album, as well as some Celtic elements in some places. This is a wonderful debut that leaves me excited to see what this group will do next. And I cannot close out this review without at least mentioning the cover art – what a fantastically rich album cover that gives fuel to the imagination, complimenting the story told throughout the album quite well!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

DISTRICT 97 Trouble With Machines

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 7 ratings
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District 97, from Chicago, was formed in the fall of 2006 by drummer Jonathan Schang, keyboardist Rob Clearfield, bassist Patrick Mulcahy, and guitarist Sam Krahn (who was eventually replaced by the current guitarist Jim Tashijian). This foursome started out playing instrumental rock, which was heavily inspired by Liquid Tension Experiment. Eventually, the band decided they needed a vocalist who would complement their style and sound, and 2007 American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt was chosen. Yes – I said American Idol. I bet you never thought you'd read about an American Idol in a Progressive Rock band, did you?

In any case, Trouble With Machines is District 97's sophomore release, and I feel that - while their debut, "Hybrid Child", was a wonderful and unique album - this album shows maturity and development in style and sound from the previous release. And it is no surprise that the band has earned praise from some big names in the Prog world such as Bill Bruford, John Wetton, and Carl Palmer, as well as chart topping fan support. It is actually quite difficult, in my mind, to place this band into any particular sub-genre, as it presents a unique blending of styles with some Neo Prog, melodic rock, symphonic impressions, hard rock, and even some Progressive Metal style guitar riffs. One of the songs, Perfect Young Man, even feels to my ears sort of like a Prog Rock infused version of a Broadway show tune, especially with the story telling aspect of this song. This melding of styles is complimented extremely well by Leslie Hunt's heavily Jazz-influenced style of singing. Some words and phrases I would use to describe the music of this particular album would be: eclectic, enigmatic, difficult to categorize, playful, clever, exploratory, sassy, and a whole lot of fun. The compositions are wonderfully well thought out, and present many twists and turns, good grooves, complex and playful rhythms, and some excellent musicianship. They even throw some twists at the listener with the choice of instruments, as they feature cello playing (which at one point strangely enough seemed to be played in a similar style to Flamenco guitar playing) and even a short Banjo section. This is truly an inspired piece of work, and an enjoyable and unique release and I highly recommend keeping an eye on this band, as I will be doing.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

KETTLESPIDER Avadante

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 3 ratings
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Hailing from the land down under in Melbourne, Australia, comes Heavy Prog/Prog Metal band Kettlespider. Kettlespider was formed in 2011, and released their instrumental debut, Avadante, in 2012. This album adds a light touch to the Progressive Metal riffs, giving it an almost Neo Prog feel, and as a result has (in my opinion) a lot of crossover appeal for fans of both the lighter and heavier forms of Prog. I would describe the style to be a bit like Liquid Tension Experiment but with the "riffage" factor turned down, which may disappoint those who are fans of insanely fast and tight riffs, but attract others who are turned off by the "over-complicated-ness" of bands like LTE. There is a sense of accessibility to this album, without being simplistic ? I think it boils down to being a sort of subtle complexity. One of the things I loved about this album was how the band showed off more than one side of themselves, artistically speaking: the first few tracks were a bit heavier, more on the side of what you might expect from an instrumental band labeled by some as Progressive Metal, and then they turned it way down for "Comatose". This track was more ambient and peaceful, with the piano playing a big role. Mixing this track in with the others in this way added to the overall beauty of the album in a big way. Each of the instrumentalists shows skill and competency, and the arrangements show maturity ? with good contrasts between light and heavy, good timing, good buildups to climactic moments, and enough technicality to keep the listener interested and engaged. My one critique would be that I do feel like the band could use a more present melodic element, whether that be coming from a singer, or perhaps the addition of another instrument, say a flute, violin, or saxophone (to name a few possibilities). But the band has shown an excellent sense of compositional structure and thoughtfulness in this album, and I look forward to seeing what they produce next.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

DRAGONY Legends

Album · 2011 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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In 2007, Daniel Stockinger (guitars), Andreas Poppernitsch (guitars) and Siegfried Samer (vocals), former members of the split-up Austrian Power Metal bands Omega Effect and Eleftheria, formed The Dragonslayer Project. The original intention was to be a studio project with a focus on a conceptual story behind the album with the assistance of great musicians. However, as additional musicians were brought in, they became permanently integrated and the project became a band. The work of recording their debut album, Legends, took until the end of 2011, but this had partly to do with the fact that the band brought in some guest musicians for the recording, such as Tom Tieber of Ecliptica, Katie Joanne of Siren's Cry and Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear.

Musically speaking, the album stays true to the Power Metal genre it is unmistakably a member of, bearing many of the trademarks and (dare I say) cliché's of the genre. But, while one might complain about a lack of originality, the tunes are well developed, and the band proves they are competent and capable musicians with a professional feel that is lacking in many debut efforts. On the official facebook page, the band lists Helloween, Avantasia, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Kamelot, and Sonata Arctica (among others) as interests, and the influence of these acts are evident in their music, and is sure to strike a chord in many power metal fans' hearts. My only complaint would be that I would like to hear the band distinguish themselves a bit from the rest of the bands in their genre. But I must follow up this critique by praising the level of skill and the careful attention to detail that was given in creating this album.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 54 ratings
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Name of the Examinee: maudlin of the Well - Bath

Date of Report: 7/16/2012

Examiner: Dr. Prog

Referral Question/Reason For Testing: Maudlin of the Well was referred to me by many of his friends after I had written a diagnosis of depression for him based on his work, Part the Second. His friends insisted I had misdiagnosed him, and if I would just give an evaluation based on his work in Bath, I would see why.

Examinee Background Information: Maudlin's works deal primarily with astral projection - he describes his approach to music as trying to "find" it rather than "compose" it. He actively practices the techniques of astral projection and lucid dreams, from which he claims to be able to "bring back" pre-existing music from the astral plane.

Notes from the Doctor's Examination: Maudlin came into my office, and he was quite calm at first. As we chatted, I was struck by an immediate sense of what an incredibly pleasant, calm, well-adjusted person he was, and after 7 or so minutes, I began to wonder if I had, indeed, misdiagnosed him, or perhaps he had undergone treatment and was cured. Then he began to describe to me some ideas of his that seemed a little out of the ordinary, though still coherent. However, his ideas began to make less and less sense, and then he abruptly underwent a dramatic personality change and became very agitated - his words flowing quickly in an angry tone. Over the course of the next few minutes, I began to feel as if I were talking to a completely different person than the one who had walked through my door a few minutes before. The ideas he expressed and the reasons for his anger seemed logical, but it was such a sudden transformation that I felt as one who had walked out of a movie to visit the loo during a quiet scene and returned to chaos, bewildered and confused as to what had occurred during my absence. As quickly as this started, it stopped, and he became unnervingly peaceful and calm again. He began speaking lovingly and peacefully to what seemed to be a child, much as a loving father would do. No sooner had this finished, than his character transformed once again into what I can only describe as the mythical creature: the faun. He pranced around the office as if he were dancing in a meadow for a few minutes...and then he stopped and his eyebrow raised in a somewhat sinister expression. Over the course of the next few minutes one of the strangest things I have beheld in my office occurred: it seemed I was witnessing two personalities manifesting themselves in the same person at the same time, both speaking simultaneously. Once again, he was instantly calm and collected. He spoke in a very normal, quiet tone, and the effect was eerie, after having witnessed the mood changes from moments before. But nothing could prepare me for what happened next - quite suddenly Maudlin screamed in quite a painful and frightening shriek, and then his voice took on a gutteral tone. It did not sound at all like I was speaking to the same person any more - at times his voice sounded like multiple voices at once, some screaming in pain, some growling in hatred, some quite sinister and others quite frightened out of their minds. I was quite frightened -frozen in place, unable to move or react. I wondered if I were witnessing a man possessed by another entity...or an even more horrifying idea: many entities. As suddenly as this had begun, Maudlin's personality once again changed quite suddenly and he resembled a sane, coherent, normal person. These dramatic changes convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was at the very least speaking to a very unstable man, one who was a danger to himself and to others. But this idea was not what had me frightened for my life, as I have seen many unstable patients before. What had me scared witless was what I had witnessed moments before - the only way I can describe what had transpired was that it seemed that Maudlin had been taken over and controlled for a few moments by a tortured, hateful creature whose only desire was to see all it came into contact with undergo the same pain and torture it had undergone. A being of pure spite and evil who had no logic or reason, but only wanted to see harm come to me. These events put me in a state of frozen panic, and I broke out in a cold sweat and began to tremble. I stopped the exam short, made up a very flimsy sounding excuse I'm sure, and rushed home in quite a state of shock.

Nightmares haunted me in my sleep, and I woke many times throughout the night. The next day, however, I told myself that I was a professional and could handle this. I convinced myself there was a scientific explanation for what I had witnessed, and determined to finish my examination of the patient. I scheduled a second appointment with Maudlin. This time, he entered the room and as he spoke to me, he had an accent I had not noticed before...it sounded like...hillbilly. Then, suddenly, the accent disappeared, and he spoke quite lazily, almost listlessly. But his tone began to take on more tension and intensity. But he calmed again, and then as he spoke to me, it was as if he was talking to me from very far away, or as if we were talking on the telephone with a bad connection. He seemed as one who was not actually present in the room, almost like a hologram of himself. He stopped speaking, and the strangest thing occurred...he began to dance, wordlessly, in an ethnic fashion. This continued for a few minutes, and then he stopped and raised an eyebrow, turning to me with an expression on his face that was filled with hate and intention of harm. Quite suddenly he began to leap about the room, smashing things and throwing them about as an animal, screaming in a guttural fashion. His strength was inhuman - I, of course, had immediately called in the orderlies, but we were not able to restrain him: he was able to cast us off as a fully grown adult casts off small children clinging to him. The group of us were barely able to restrain him, and his tortured screams were the stuff of nightmare. But in the space of seconds he changed his tone to one that sounded...playful. This was only the more frightening as the sinister personality we had just witnessed was still shining through the playful tones, and then once again he shrieked in an other-worldly voice at us in pure spite and hatred, threatening all kinds of unspeakable evil. One of the orderlies, of course, drugged him, and after the drugs seemingly took affect he drifted off peacefully, or so we thought. We began to drag him towards a holding cell, but he suddenly leapt out of our arms with inhuman strength, shrieking and growling once again with seemingly multiple voices of hate and tortured pain and fright. As he did, the lights in the hallway began to flicker on and off as if a catastrophic thunderstorm were affecting the electrical work...and Maudlin then began to sing in the voice of...a woman, and as he did so, he began to float up into the air, and a wind blew through the hallways, smashing the doors open and shut with its strength. We all cowered on the floor as this occurred around us, quite frightened for our lives, and as the fury intensified, we closed our eyes in fright. The wind stopped, but we heard many voices around us speaking menacingly. They were not coming from a singular location, but were all around us, speaking in a language none of us could understand, and they did not resemble any known languages either - it was as if we were hearing the voices from another plane of existence. The voices faded away, and as some of us dared to open our eyes, we saw that Maudlin was nowhere in sight. It was as if the strange events from moments before had never even occurred: the hallway lights were on, and there was no mess to clean in my office. Maudlin has since not been seen by any of us - it was as if all we had witnessed had been merely a dream. But this cannot erase the fearful images I have witnessed, and I hope and pray I shall never come into contact with Maudlin ever again.

Back to reality: Being (somewhat) serious now - I found this album to be quite unsettling, especially after I researched it and found out the ideas behind the music and how it was “discovered.” Before I had done my research, I thought the music was quite strange, and afterwards I felt it was quite frightening. So as you can see, my meeting with Maudlin of the Well was a very unnerving experience for me, and one I do not wish to repeat, but there is no telling how he reacts in front of other people in other settings, so others may have a completely different experience.

Originally written for http://www.seaoftranquility.org

DISTORTED HARMONY Utopia

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 24 ratings
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I've been told that the best things in life are free…and I didn't realize they were talking about this album until I heard it. Distorted Harmony are a Progressive Metal band from Israel, and Utopia is their debut album which can be downloaded on the band's website for free, and you may make a donation on the same website if you like.

Musically, this band is an enigma – their style obviously pulls from many different influences, and it's very difficult to nail down anything specific. But I will give it a shot – their music is symphonic, I might even say cinematic, sometimes heavy and complex in the Progressive Metal vein, mixed with a Classic Symphonic Prog sound, and often sounds very influenced by American alternative rock. There are many lush atmospheres created with the mixture of orchestra and piano, and these often transition effortlessly into an intricate pattern with electric, heavier sounds of guitar and synths playing quick-tempo, tricky passages with changing rhythm schemes. The band never gets stuck in one sound, but is constantly shifting and showing they have a palette that has many colors. The production is pristine, the instrumentalists show great skill and mastery of their instruments, and the vocals are beautiful – at times the vocalist reminded me of Chris Martin from Coldplay. Perhaps the greatest thing about this album is its crossover appeal – I believe it would appeal to fans of both Progressive Metal and lighter, more classic sounding Prog. As I listened to each song on this album I kept thinking to myself "how is it possible that something so wonderful is free?"

In conclusion, this album has it all – complex, flowing compositions that artfully weave a tale for the audience, instrumental wizardry, electric and symphonic soundscapes, great vocals, and good production. It is nothing short of a masterpiece, and easily one of the best albums of the year.

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org: http://www.seaoftranquility.org/reviews.php?op=showcontent&id=12911

JUDAS PRIEST Nostradamus

Album · 2008 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.26 | 67 ratings
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"Ahhiiiieeeee am NOSTRADAMUS!!!" What a way to start an album off with a bang! This album seems to have had a lackluster reception from the fans, and I've never understood why. Perhaps the reason I adore this and can't understand why so many of their fans don't is because I did not grow up listening to Judas Priest, but instead had only heard their hits, and worked my way backwards through their catalog after this album came out. Or perhaps one of the reasons this is the album that "got me into" Judas Priest is the fact that I was coming at it with the perspective of a Progressive Metal fan. But whatever the reasons, I simply adore this album because it is truly a Metal Opera. Not just in the sense that the entire album tells a story, but as I listen to the music I can tell that the writing was influenced by classical music in a lot of ways. The style of singing is pure metal, but the melodies are very similar to something you'd hear from an opera. This album tells the story of Nostradamus and his visions quite well, and the dramatic dark harmonies of the band compliment the subject material quite nicely. I would encourage new listeners to go into the album with no preconceptions of it being the next classic Judas Priest album, but rather take it for what it is - they had an idea to go in a somewhat new direction, and went for it.

A.C.T Last Epic

Album · 2003 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.68 | 10 ratings
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This album holds very high status in my collection. If I were to introduce someone to the Progressive Rock genre by handing them a stack of 10 albums, this would be one of them. And the band has this knack for creating intricate, yet incredibly catchy tunes. Whenever I pull this album out to listen to it, for days afterwards I find myself humming or whistling sections of the album. I sometimes find myself remembering and humming or whistling sections of this album even after months of not listening to it. This is an incredibly unique album. The best way I can think to describe this album is with Peter Pan's words: "Oh the cleverness of me!" I pick this phrase not only because "clever" is the best word to describe the album, but also because of the playfulness of the band - like a musical Peter Pan. The album is a concept album that introduces different residents of an apartment building as musical characters. In one of the songs, titled "Wake Up ? Apartment 122", I believe the apartment itself is made into a character. The music of this song itself is very playful, and has a Progressive Reggae feel to it. But the lyrics are especially playful - here is a section:

All these weird things that I am seeing, Glad I'm not like a human being, Losing temper, and problems with PMS?

This album is a masterpiece, and you should listen to it. I promise you it will be a fun experience, at the very least. The only reason I'm giving this 4 stars and not 5 is due to the feel of the album being less heavy than what I think most people on this site would look for, but the music itself is incredible.

THE DEADSTATION Episode 01- Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss

EP · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.40 | 2 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This decade, there seems to have been an explosion of Progressive Metal. While this is exciting for fans of the genre like myself, it can often be difficult for a new Progressive Metal band to distinguish themselves – to bring something new to the table. This album was a very pleasant surprise for me: I almost immediately knew that this band was unique and special, and each track I heard only reinforced this ultimate conclusion. According to the press release for this album, the band's name, "The Deadstation", is meant to represent a fictional dystopian TV channel, and the albums are meant to be episodes from this station with each song being a new scene. The music represents this idea very well, with changes of moods between the tracks that do flow like scenes in a show. This particular "episode" is meant to represent putting everything on the line and failing, but being completely aware of that failure as it progresses and being unable to stop it. And the music accomplishes the feelings of this concept quite well, going through feelings of anguish, frustration, fear, and ending with an ultimate feeling of surrender in the last track. One thing I found very unique about the music was during some of the earlier tracks, I thought I heard definite influences from Meshuggah in the drumming and guitar work, with thick, heavy, lightning fast poly-rhythms coming from the drums. But the most interesting thing was that during these aggressive, crushingly heavy arrangements from the guitars and drums, the keyboardist seemed almost like he was in another world - he would be playing these atmospheric keyboard textures on top of these sounds, almost like he had brought the wrong sheet music to the studio. And I do not say this to criticize either - it was incredibly fascinating to me, like a spicy ethnic food dish that contained bits of sweet juicy fruit, creating an interesting juxtaposition between the elements that seemed to be in opposition but ultimately created quite a pleasing texture. And these aggressive textures were not the only trick up this band's sleeve either, but there were sections of tranquility, giving the album a very dynamic feel. This album kept me engaged and interested all the way through, and I wanted to listen again and again even though I had a list of other favorites waiting for me in my queue. I sincerely hope to hear from this band again in the very near future.

Originally written for seaoftranquility: http://www.seaoftranquility.org/reviews.php?op=showcontent&id=12838

JORN Lonely Are the Brave

Album · 2008 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.59 | 9 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Lonley are the Brave is the fifth studio album by Jorn Lande's solo project, Jorn, and, I believe, one of his crowning achievements. Jorn is no stranger to the music industry, and if you look him up you'll find that, along with his solo albums, he has sung with countless other bands and projects. With his solo band, he has always surrounded himself with excellent musicians. Notable on this album is the presence of Pagan's Mind guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad, who co-wrote many of the songs on the album with Jorn Lande. This album is excellent proof of Jorn Lande's uncanny knack of producing a very classic Metal sound, while still having a groundbreaking quality. The songwriting on this album is excellent, and Jorn shines as a Metal storyteller throughout. Jorn sings like a Metal Warrior/Poet on this album - his voice has a tough, raspy quality to it that give it a sharp edge, very similar to the style of Ronny James Dio or Bruce Dickinson. And the guitar work is excellent - the band really jams during the instrumental sections. This album has a great "no gimmicks, just metal" vibe to it that I love. Some of the highlights for me:

Shadow People - I imagine this being a great concert opener, with a little intro that gets you thinking something is coming, and then BAM!

Soul of the Wind - This one starts off quiet and mysterious, and then slams you with darkness!

Man of the Dark - I am amazed at how much this reminds me of classic metal, while still sounding new - this is like the anthem of a heavy metal artist.

Promises - Maybe my favorite song on the album - I still get chills sometimes from the anger and pain in this song.

Hellfire - what a fitting title for this one - this has a darkly epic, apocalyptic, futuristic feel to it.

JORN Bring Heavy Rock To The Land

Album · 2012 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 2.98 | 4 ratings
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dtguitarfan
I've struggled with how to write this review as I have some mixed feelings on this album. Jorn Lande is one my favorite singers, and I feel his voice embodies Metal perfectly. He has this tough, raspy quality to his voice that sounds like pure testosterone - a voice that fans of classic metal singers like Ronny James Dio can appreciate. And he is no stranger to the scene - this is his 7th studio album with his solo act, but if you take the time to look him up you'll find he has sung with countless bands and projects over the years. And with his solo band, Jorn has always surrounded himself with excellent musicians. And he somehow has this quality to his music that feels classic, yet groundbreaking at the same time. Yet I struggled with how exactly to write this review, mainly because as I listened to this album I felt that it would not be the first album I'd recommend to someone who's never heard any of his music. Take the title track for example: it screams cliche. Now after a few listens I decided this is not such a bad thing - it's kind of like a Steven Seagal movie. Is it full of cliche? Yes, but this is often what people love about his movies. But I still felt that overall, this was not Jorn's greatest work. To me, the high point in this album was the track "The World I See." This was one of those tracks where I heard what I feel Jorn is all about - classic metal sound with well developed song structures played by polished, accomplished musicians. I was even quite surprised with this song as it starts with Jorn singing very gently (a little unusual for him), and almost has a Bryan Adams feel to it. But then it builds to the classic, dark-toned heavy metal sound you'd expect and has some killer guitar work within. This is what I've come to love in Jorn's work - a story-telling aspect to a classic metal sound. So, once again, I don't think this is his best album, but if you're a Jorn fan I'm sure you'll find songs you love. And if you're not already a Jorn fan, I'd suggest checking out "Lonely Are the Brave" first.

HEADSPACE I Am Anonymous

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 23 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This album was one of those albums that I went in to having no idea what to expect, and came out feeling very pleasantly surprised. If you've heard of this band, you've probably heard the name Adam Wakeman. Yes - THAT Wakeman family, he's the son of Rick Wakeman. But the name you may not have heard in connection to this project, but should have, is Damian Wilson - the vocalist for Threshold and one of the vocalists of Arjen Lucassen's Star One. Damian adds his stamp to this album in a big way. Having heard the name of Adam Wakeman in reference to this band, I was not prepared for the big, heavy sound that came forth. And then when Damian started singing I immediately thought "why did I not hear that he was in this band as well?" His voice is well complimented by the sound of the band, and his singing comes across with intense power. I've always been impressed with Wilson's singing as being one of the few tenors I've ever heard that I would describe as sounding powerful, and the heaviness of this album enhances that effect. There is a maturity to this release that you would not expect from the first full album of a band, with no one member of the band taking the spotlight but each member playing his part in creating a lush soundscape. The overall tone of the album is darkly epic, with peacefully serene sections only reinforcing this effect. Each time I listened to the album, I found myself thinking I needed to rate the album a little higher than I had originally thought, until I got to a point where I decided that this album is quite near to perfection, and is most definitely in my top 5 Progressive Metal albums of the year.

BLACK SABBATH Black Sabbath

Album · 1970 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.25 | 153 ratings
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dtguitarfan
As I contemplated how to review this album, I began listening to it to refresh the songs in my mind. I had to do this one justice as it is very probably the most historically significant album of all times for the history of Metal. So I'm listening to the opening track, and my wife says, from the kitchen "what's that wailing...noise?!" I laughed, and said "it's Ozzy! *pause* You know, Ozzy Osbourne?" I told her this was the debut album from Black Sabbath, and began telling her how it was legendary as the first Metal album ever. I told her the story of Tony Iommi, how he had suffered a machinist accident while working in a sheet metal factory, losing the tips of two fingers on his right hand. Being a left-handed guitarist, this was a crippling injury for him. But the story doesn't end there - inspired by the story of Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who also lost the use of two fingers, Tony came up with two very innovative ideas. First, he crafted custom thimble like devices out of metal with leather coverings - fake fingers. He also down-tuned his guitar to ease the tension on his fingers. The down-tuning gave his playing a very distinct, dark tone, and the "thimble" finger tips gave his playing a sharper, heavier feel, and metal was born. I told my wife, in conclusion, that Tony Iommi was often credited as the father of all Metal music! My wife said, in a subtly sarcastic way, "oh, lucky for us!" And I laughed to myself quietly, reveling in this wonderful piece of history.

SYMPHONY X The Odyssey

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 76 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Symphony X is the Progressive Metal band I have been following the 2nd longest, next to Dream Theater. To add to this, The Odyssey is probably my favorite album by them, though it is very difficult for me to pick one album by them that I like better than all the others (this is a common difficulty with favorite bands I guess). So, to honor this, I am going to go track by track on this album:

1. Inferno (Unleash The Fire) - This is a great way to open an album - right away they prove their chops. This is the kind of song you just HAVE to practice your air guitar on as Michael Romeo proves he is a force to be reckoned with. And the keyboards add to this way in an almost conversational way - answering back the guitars note for note during the intro. Russel Allen shows of his versatility on this one, switching back and forth between an angry growl and clean, anthemic singing.

2. Wicked - This is a nice dark and heavy piece. Backing the dark, heavy riffs of the guitar and bass, the keyboards add an air of mystery. And Symphony X throw in some nice, subtle compound rhythms just when you think they're going to stick with common time.

3. Incantations Of The Apprentice - This one builds up very nicely - starting out with an orchestral sound, adding the heavy guitars, then some almost electronica sounding keyboards and tops it off with some heavy riffing. And they keep switching up the beat on this one, but somehow I find I can keep a good head-banging going. The song tells a great fantasy based, dark magic tale and the music complements this quite nicely. Once again, Russell Allen shows just how versatile he is, switching back and forth between growls and pure tones.

4. Accolade II - Perfect example of why this is one of my favorite bands. This is an incredibly dynamic song, and the band weaves a complex tapestry, piling different rhythms on top of each other to form tightly woven poly-rhythms. I love the usage of the keyboards as well, switching from symphonic sounds to piano and back. Again, the lyrics are deeply rooted in fantasy, and the music tells the tale so very well. There are dark, sad, mysterious, and triumphant moments in this song, and some killer instrumentals to boot. What a ride this one takes the listener on, and I am completely enveloped in the tale it tells.

5. King Of Terrors - The way this one starts out kind of reminds me of the way some of the better Metallica songs start out, but then they underlay the metal riffing with Arabic sounding orchestral keyboards, and the occasional keyboard "choir sound" (I love when Michael Pinella uses that particular sound). All throughout this song, Pinella shines, adding very interesting elements to the classic metal sound of the guitars. Man, this band is so good at telling stories with their music, and there are parts of this song where I can just imagine being in a dark graveyard with dark creatures and lightning bursts. I can't describe this in a way that does the music justice, but listening to this song I feel like a dark wizard has sent me on a frightening ride.

6. The Turning - Again the band starts things off with a bang and Michael Romeo shows off his dark neo-baroque style of riffage. The chorus has an arabic sound again, and Russell abruptly switched to a very aggressive growl. Again, I get this "evil magic" type of feel listening to this song.

7. Awakenings - This is one of my favorite pieces by the band, and oh does Pinella shine on this one. The keyboards are so incredibly versatile, switching through so many sounds - Pinella is like a master composer, and the band backs him perfectly all throughout the piece. Sir Allen shows off his softer side to start off this track, and once again you know right away the band is going to tell an epic tale. Just as you get the sense that they are building to something bigger - BAM! They hit you with some awesome metal riffage, and here's where Michael Romeo shows what a perfect coupling this band has between keyboards and guitar. To top it all off, this song has one of the most fantastic, dizzying instrumentals, featuring Michael Pinella's keyboards in a big way - it's like he wanted to show off just how many sound settings he's got. It's so easy to take for granted what an amazing keyboardist he is because Michael Romeo shines so brightly as the guitarist, but in this piece Pinella proves he is up there in the rankings of the top Progressive Metal keyboardists.

8. The Odyssey - What can I say about this one? Words simply cannot do it justice. This has long been my absolute favorite Progressive epic. The band invites you to come along with them as they take you on a journey, telling the tale of Homer's Odyssey in a way only they can. The song starts out with an intro that sounds like a movie soundtrack, marrying orchestral sounds with metal guitars in a way only this band can accomplish. Then Russell Allen sings brilliantly in a metal ballad style during the first section of the tale, as the hero prepares his tale. I'm not going to go through the entire epic and talk about every section, but this one is absolutely phenomenal - it's like a Metal Action/Fantasy/Epic movie. This is what Progressive Metal is all about - music telling a story, with complexity, dynamic energy, and thrilling virtuoso musicianship.

9. Masquerade - This is like a dark baroque metal opera. The operatic vocal harmonies, and harpsichord sounds of the keyboards give the metal riffing such an interesting flavor, and the instrumental section is like Bach went on a crazy murderous rampage. Brilliant end to a brilliant album.

SUN CAGED The Lotus Effect

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 9 ratings
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dtguitarfan
I have been following Sun Caged for a while now, and before this album always thought they were a band that had a lot of potential, but that's as far as I would have taken it. Well, I'm happy to say that when I heard this album, I was convinced that this was potential realized. This is a fantastic example of what Progressive Metal is all about - the stop/start rhythms, the instrumental sections that show off the technicality of the band, the vocal harmonies, the changing dynamics of the music. There really isn't a weak track on the album either - each track is an opportunity for the band to explore, and they do so very well. And of course, the album has something that makes a Prog Metal fan like myself drool - a nice multi-part epic suite. This album is in my top 10 for the year 2011. I hope to hear from this band again very soon!

FACTORY OF DREAMS Melotronical

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 13 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Well, this album was a complete surprise to me - I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it before. Quickest way to describe this band - Bizarro is to Superman what Factory of Dreams is to Nightwish. In a good way. There are a lot of sound related similarities to Nightwish I hear in this album, such as the style of keyboards and how they are mixed with the other metal elements, the singer often sounds like Tarja Tarunen. But the composition is what is surprising in this album. Vocal harmonies play a big role, and this band often will add in some odd dissonances on top of standard vocal harmonies. Another technique they use is to underlay a somewhat common sounding melody with rapid-fire kick drumming and rhythm guitars that often feature changing time signatures. These techniques take something that could be merely another female fronted symphonic metal act in the vein of Nightwish, and make the music incredibly interesting. This is going on my shortlist of albums to listen to again very soon.

MEGADETH Countdown to Extinction

Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 112 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Oh, do I have fond memories of this one. This was, for me, the quintessential "album I did not want my mother to know I had." I have fond memories of blasting this one on the stereo system while my parents were gone, and practicing my air guitar and growly vocals. There really is not a weak track on this album, but every one seems to characterize what this band, and even really what Metal in this time period, was all about. Another thing I love about this album, and this could merely be a result of the sheer number of times I've listened to it, is the fact that it flows well: each track follows the previous very well, almost like they were part of a single composition. Obviously the track order was planned very well. The dueling guitar solos appear all throughout this album, the tunes are fantastic, and Dave Mustaine's growls, as always, are so unique and characteristic of the darkness of this Metal masterpiece. As I often do, I would like to highlight some of my favorite tracks on this album:

Symhony of Desctruction - of course, the importance of this song is undeniable, being one of the most well known Metal tunes of all time. The ONLY weakness of this track is the countless number of times I've heard it by now. [;)]]

This Was My Life - this song makes you angry with the band. It is filled with this simmering rage, the kind of rage that only comes out in under the breath mutters the party you are mad at can't hear, and in screams behind their back. You will be pounding your fist in the air with the chant at the end: "THIS....WAS....MY....LIFE!!!!"

Captive Honour - this has long been one of my all time favorite songs by Megadeth. It's almost like a Prog epic, in terms of song structure, the music telling a story along with the lyrics of a man committing a crime, being sentenced to jail, and the hell he endures there. The guitar solos near the end are among my all-time favorite metal guitar solos.

I've always considered myself more of a Metallica fan than a Megadeth fan (ducks)...but I will say that I have probably listened to this particular Megadeth album more than any Metallica album. This is absolutely a necessary piece of any Metal connoisseur's collection.

CIRCUS MAXIMUS Nine

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 20 ratings
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dtguitarfan
First off, I'd like to thank Frontiers for giving me the honor of being the first reviewer of this fine album by allowing me to listen to this album before the release date.

Five years. That's how long I have anticipated this album. I'll get this out of the way and give the readers the disclaimer that I am a fan of this band - having seen them live twice has convinced me that they are a stellar band and no one can convince me otherwise. HOWEVER, and PLEASE continue reading...five years of anticipation did not prepare me for what was to come. As I eagerly began the album in my car, I was completely blown away as I turned my stereo DOWN...something that rarely happens in my car. I thought "wow...I didn't know my speakers were capable of this...what IS that sound?" Let me just summarize here by telling you that the production on this album is stellar - Circus Maximus has obviously earned enough respect that Frontiers Records is putting more money into mixing and such than Sensory records were willing/able to spend on them. And it shows, because the album sound is top notch. So back to my story - I had just turned my stereo down and I'm thinking "what IS that sound?" I immediately realized something, and it is a conclusion that did not change throughout the album - 5 years between albums showed. If you have picked up one or both of Circus Maximus' other albums and thought they were ok, but weren't crazy about them, you might want to think about picking this album up anyways, because it is a totally different experience. This isn't to say that CM fans will be disappointed - no, the sound is still recognizable. But they sound all grown up. They aren't trying to prove anything anymore - they're comfortable with the fact that they've already proven themselves. Yes, you will still hear impressive riffs and instrumental wizardry. But they hang back at times and build suspense, so that when they come crashing in with their thunderous heavy metal chords, it sounds all the more heavy. And let me tell you, because of the production I mentioned before, the pounding bass and drums, the otherworldly keyboard sounds, and the crashing electric guitar are going to reach out of your speakers and slap you right in the face. But the really exciting thing to me is how much they've changed since the last album - don't get me wrong, I LOVED both of their earlier works. But this album, while being fully recognizable as Circus Maximus, has sections that I am sure I could play for a CM fan without telling them who it was, and as long as they didn't hear the familiar tone of Michael Eriksen's singing, I'm willing to bet they would not recognize the band. With this album, Circus Maximus builds off of the foundation they've built in the first two albums and explores new territory, and it is a very exciting thing to hear. So I'm going to do something I have not done before in a review and go through this album track by track:

Forging - this is a 76 second instrumental intro, so there is not much to say about it, although it serves it's purpose by building suspense with some dark keyboards, like walking through a heavy fog.

Architect of Fortune - well, they definitely start things off with a bang on this 10 minute plus epic. The piece starts off with a sound that will leave CM fans thinking "did I put the right CD in my player? Is this Circus Maximus?" An eerie whine, like a far off siren warning of danger, is backed by unbelievably thunderous bass and drums, and then the guitar comes crashing in and you know "yes, this is Circus Maximus." But what makes this epic so special is the fact that musically speaking, it is all over the place while still feeling seamless. It is unmistakeably one piece, and yet so very diverse in tone, tempo, and volume. It's like being taken for a ride, and not realizing how far you've come until the end when you look back and see just how far away the starting point is. This song will leave you shaking your head in disbelief after the journey is over.

Namaste - ok, now that we've told you a nice long thrilling musical tale, let's pound your face for a while - hear us roar! That's what I imagine them saying at a concert if they played this song immediately after the previous. This song demands respect from their heavy metal fans. And yet they still manage to throw in some musical curveballs, while keeping it somewhat subtle.

Game of Life - ah, now here's that melodic metal sound CM fans are used to. This is where CM show how they can throw hooks like anybody, and yet still have the chops to shred your face off. Michael Eriksen is going to show his amazing range, while never hanging out in the stratosphere for too long (as is an unfortunately all too common habit of too many metal acts, in my opinion) but just enough for you to know he can hit those notes like nobody's business. And Mats Haugen is going to build a guitar solo that will show you he can shred your face off with the best of them.

Reach Within - this song has the very interesting quality of feeling heavy and soft at the same time. While Michael Eriksen gently sings the verse, the bass line pounds beneath, and creates an interesting contrast. This song has a "single", radio-friendly feel to it, and yet there are subtle progressive undertones. Once again, Mats Haugen throws in a souring guitar solo, though this one I find reminiscent of Joe Satriani.

I Am - The opening of the song tricks you into thinking this is going to be a pop-oriented, single-worthy type of song, but then they throw in time-signature changes and stop/start rhythms. There are some very nice keyboard parts to this song that give it a lot of character. And of course, they throw in a nice guitar solo with some guitar and keyboard unison soli. All in all a joyful/triumphant prog romp.

Used - This track is a nice change of pace, as they show off their headbanger side. This is a rough and tumble heavy metal romp. But don't be fooled by the opening 4/4 time signature - they're going to throw off your headbanging with their masterful quick time signature changes. It's so easy to think you know exactly where this band is going with a tune, and then to be completely thrown off guard and I love it!

The One - The opening to this song tricks you into thinking it's an "I'm sorry" type of song, but it abbruptly changes to a more stern/angry tone that will have you banging your head in agreement. Again, Lasse Finbraten's keyboards add some great atmosphere to the song that is the difference between good and excellent.

Burn After Reading - So, at this point, you might be thinking "hey, out of all the songs on this album I've heard so far, only one is more than five minutes long - where are all the epics?" Never fear, for CM has saved two very, very special treats for you at the end of the album. I think this may be my favorite track, though it's hard to decide. The piece starts off with some very nice acoustic guitar parts, that have an upbeat tempo that tells you something bigger is coming - you just know it. But CM masterfully builds the suspense in this piece - just as you think things are going to get loud, they pull back again, teasing their listeners. I found the vocals in some of the quieter parts to be very interesting as they reminded me of Muse, or Freddy Mercury - once again I found myself asking (in a good way) "who IS this band?!" In a rare turn of events, I found myself paying a lot of attention to the lyrics of this one - they are a lament over the mistakes made over the course of life resulting in lost relationships, and the chorus is a real tearjerker: Every shimmering rock I've collected Kept weighing me down Pulling me to the ground All that I have left of us is a memory A picture of you and me

The song builds up to an instrumental section that is just the kind of monstrous prog hurricane you would expect from this band, the trading off and unison section between Mats Haugen on guitars and Lasse Finbraten on keyboards, and the twisting and turning changing key signatures are astounding. And then they throw the listener for a loop when this instrumental section stops instantly, leaving you stunned as Michael once again sings oh so softly, gently, in a section that once again reminds me of Muse. But they don't stay here, but crank it up before fading away in the end. Brilliant epic piece by the Circus.

Last Goodbye - Another brilliant epic. The song starts off with some keyboard sounds that are a very, very unusual sound for this band - I can only describe it as a spacey-80's sound. Of course they don't stay there, but build up from there. As the song's title suggests, this song is a last goodbye to an old friend. But it is a real tear jerker for me as, instead of coming off as mournful, it is more of a joyful celebration of the times shared together - at times coming off as...triumphant. This makes the gentle sadness over the departure all the more emotional, and it is a wonderful finish to the album, leaving me thrilled and spent after the roller coaster of this album.

AFFECTOR Harmagedon

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 9 ratings
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dtguitarfan
I have struggled to find the words with which to properly review this album. I could tell you all about the all star crew that makes up the band: Daniel Fries, along with drummer Collin Leijenaar (Neal Morse/Dilemma), bass player Mike Lepond (Symphony X), and vocalist Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard/Enchant/Thought Chamber). Plus they have four special guests on keyboards: Jordan Rudess, Derek Sherinian, Neal Morse, and Alex Argento. I could also talk about their masterful blending of their metal instrumentation with the symphonic arrangements pulled off by the Polish orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus. Or I could tell you about the concept of this album, dealing with the end times in a very unique way (for this musical genre) and inspired by the fears of the world ending in 2012 based on the Mayan calendar. But I wanted to make this personal, and so I decided to write the following as a letter to the band - perhaps by some chance one of them will read it:

Thank you. Thank you for having the courage, the integrity, the diligence, and the drive to create an album like this, and doing so with such power. You don't know how long I've waited for someone to create an album with this level of technical musicality, in this style of music, with this level of quality, and with this kind of lyrical concept, treated with such a high level of integrity and respect. You may never know how much you've inspired me, or how uplifting this was to me. The lyrical concepts of this album were presented in such a beautiful way, with dark passages that made the highs of the album all the more beautiful, that as I listened to this, I was filled with indescribable joy, driving me to the point of tears, and I pondered things which I really ought to ponder more often. From a brother in Metal, and, I believe, in many other ways: rock on!

MESHUGGAH I

EP · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 39 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This was an experience I'll never forget. Being a huge fan of Animals as Leaders, I had heard that this was a similar band, and I was interested. So, being a big ol' Progressive Metal fan, as I scanned through their albums trying to decide where to start, I saw this one had one track clocking in at 21 minutes long, and I thought "that's the one!" Well...I can't say it's my usual cup of tea, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the complex drumming, and the absolute ruthlessness of this album. I remember thinking, as I listened to this in my car, "I hope someone tries to carjack me. Because I will totally rip that person apart. I don't care how big they are, I can take them!"

SUSPYRE Suspyre

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 6 ratings
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dtguitarfan
What an incredibly interesting, incredibly diverse album! Do you want to really hear the potential of Progressive Metal? Listen to this album! I will say that I believe one reason I can be certain that this album is a masterpiece is due to the fact that I have previously not been a huge fan of Suspyre. I always liked their music, but found it a bit too experimental and eccentric, to the point of being incoherent. In this album, they have kept their experimental and eccentric side, but have found a coherence that makes the music amazing. My favorite track on the album was Tranquility and Stress, which perfectly paints the picture of the emotional transition from Tranquility to Stress. I also loved The Whispers Never Written (especially the clever reference to Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca - does anybody remember Hunt the Wumpus?), and The Man Made of Stone. I was completely blown away by this album when I didn't even expect much from it, and listened to it four times in a two week period.

SYMPHONY X Iconoclast

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 75 ratings
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dtguitarfan
While this may not be my favorite Symphony X album, I think it might be the first I'd recommend to Metal fans of other sub-genre's, though the jury is still out between Iconoclast and Paradise Lost. As a fan of all things Progressive, my favorite tracks on the album are the title track, and When All Is Lost. While Symphony X does still show off their Progressive creds in those two tracks, the album as a whole is possibly their darkest to date, and has more Power Metal elements, with an often mechanical feel (to go along with the subject matter of the lyrics). As such, this may be their most widely appealing album, and would be one I'd be proud to recommend to a fan of other Metal sub-genres. The opening track, Iconoclast, is a great introduction to the band for anyone who hasn't heard them - kind of summing up everything they're about. It opens with a bang, with some very heavy, speedy, dark, complicated riffs. This complex/heavy feel dominates the 11 minute epic, and is sure to appeal to both fans of their dark side and fans of their complex, progressive side. And the album (or the first CD, if you bought the 2 disc version) finishes with another epic - When All Is Lost. This one has a much lighter feel to start out, but builds to a fantastic crescendo, and contains some impressive instrumental sections where SX shows off their technique of layering instruments with different rhythm patters on top of each other. Throughout the disc, Russel Allen's vocals shine - his vocals are always pure man, and I've always considered him to be one of the top Metal vocalists.

SONATA ARCTICA Stones Grow Her Name

Album · 2012 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.56 | 13 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This band holds a special place in my heart as one of the crossover bands that gave this Progressive Metal lover an appreciation for Power Metal. From the masterful instrumental playing to the voice of Tony Kakko, one of the few male voices I would actually call "beautiful" (though extremely versatile, employing growly angry vocals at times as well), this band rocks my world. Over the last couple ofalbums, Unia and Days of Grays, they have really experimented, to the thrill of some and the sorrow of others. I believe this album shows some of the results of that experimentation - I believe they take some of the lessons learned from this experimenting and apply them to the old, comfortable groove. I won't give a track by track analysis of this, but here are some of the highlights, to me:

Shitload of Money - I had to laugh as I listened to this one. This is raunchy, don't care, "I'm gonna say whatever the *$^#! I want because I have the mic and you don't" Metal and it put a big ol' grin on my face.

Losing My Insanity - I think this is the kind of song fans expect of SA - kind of the classic, "Silence" sound.

I Have a Right - This song reminds me for some reason of "Broken" from Winterheart's Guild. It has the atmospheric, peaceful, keyboard-based sound that they underlay with Elias' heavy rhythm guitars which keeps changing patterns.

The Day - Beautiful. Not sure what else to say about this one, but it's like seeing rays of sunshine streaming through clouds.

Cinderblock - Well, this one is the one everyone will be (and already are) talking about. Like it or hate it, this is the one everyone will have an opinion on. When you hear those banjos, you're going to think "what the...?!" But they fuse styles together to create...um...Hillbilly Metal? No matter what anyone says, it's interesting! I personally love it.

Wildfire, Parts II and III - Now here is where SA really show off their Progressive side. Here's where you're going to hear some tricky, changing rhythms, and a song structure that goes way beyond verse/chorus. I absolutely LOVE these two tracks.

All in all, a great album - I enjoyed it thoroughly and hope you do too!

ARCH / MATHEOS Sympathetic Resonance

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 48 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Sympathetic Resonance is an album that was rumored to be the next Fates Warning album. I'm actually quite pleased it was not, though I do happen to be a Fates Warning fan. Featuring the vocals of former Fates Warning vocalist John Arch and Fates Warning’s guitarist Jim Matheos, there were of course many high expectations for this album. What I find unique about this album is the complete absence of keyboards, a common piece of a Progressive Metal band. Despite this absence, the band has a HUGE sound. And while it is most definitely a Progressive Metal album, it would be very accessible to fans of other Metal sub-genres. Sounding like a cross between Queensryche and Rush at times, with bombastic heavy guitar riffs and Led Zeppelin-esque vocals, this album will rock your socks off!

SUBSIGNAL Touchstones

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 5 ratings
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dtguitarfan
I find it fascinating that there was a lot of buzz about this album in Progressive Metal circles, and yet it is on Prog Archives being classified as Neo Prog. To me, the fact that this band seems to transcend genre classification is a mark of greatness. This is an extremely polished, well-engineered, and carefully composed album. And it's no surprise as the band was originally intended to be the side project of seasoned Prog artists Arno Menses (Vocals) and Markus Steffen (Guitars) formerly of Sieges Even. I've heard people compare this band to Yes, The Police, Dream Theater - all very different styles, and it's clear that while there may be influences from these and other bands, this band has their own style to offer. And while I don't often even notice lyrics, I couldn't help but notice how amazingly descriptive the lyrics of this album are - filled with metaphorical descriptions. I think with this album, Subsignal has created a unique and interesting work of art.

PAGAN'S MIND Celestial Entrance

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.11 | 22 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Celestial Entrance is the 2nd studio album by Pagan's Mind, and in this album we see potential realized. It is perhaps the most musically interesting of their albums, containing possibly the most interesting song structures, time signature changes, and technical wizardry. Some highlights include the dizzying instrumental "Back to the Magic of Childhood, Part 2: Exploring Life", the frightening metal sounds of "...Of Epic Questions", the spookiness of "The Prophecy of Pleiades", and the fist pumping "Aegean Shores". This is a perfect album for someone who loves Power Metal, and wants to experience Progressive Metal without diving in headfirst, and conversely would be a great album for any Progressive Metal lover who wants to try out some Power Metal.

PAGAN'S MIND God's Equation

Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 12 ratings
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dtguitarfan
God's Equation is the fourth studio album of this band, and while in many ways they sound much more polished, I personally felt like I was starting to see their decline, a conclusion that was re-inforced for me with their fifth album: Heavenly Ecstasy. I say this because I noticed in this album a decline in the interesting time-signature changes and technical playing I had heard in the previous two albums. This being said, God's Equation is a stellar album - the sound production is improved from the last album, and some of my favorite songs by the band are actually on this album, including the epic Osiris' Triumphant Return, the otherworldly Painted Skies, spacey sounding Spirit Starcruiser, and heavy monsters Evolution Exceed and Alien Kamikaze.

PAGAN'S MIND Heavenly Ecstasy

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 17 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Oh, Pagan's Mind, how you broke my heart with this album. I expected so much from you, based on your previous works. But with this album you commited the cardinal sin for me and released an album full of repetitious songs devoid of the previous mastery of time signature changes I had heard from you in the past, lacking in interesting song structure, and featuring less of the overall technical wizardry I had come to expect of you. I don't know if the switch to blue-based album covers to a red-based album cover somehow subconsciously did this to you, or if you picked a red-based album cover because you subconsciously realized you had sold out to the masses, but I was so sad as I listened to this album. I am hoping this is merely a phase - we shall see. To the readers - if you want to listen to Pagan's Mind at their best, go listen to Enigmatic: Calling, Celestial Entrance, or God's Equation.

REDEMPTION Snowfall On Judgment Day

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 27 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This is the album that finally convinced me that I loved Redemption. After this album, I went back to their older albums and discovered I loved them too, but before this album I used to tell a good friend of mine who was a big Redemption fan that I felt like the band was 5 instrumentalists soloing at the same time. When I heard this album, I felt like I was hearing how the band had matured and cohered. I remember also that it seemed like every time I listened to this album, my favorite song on the album changed as I discovered I loved another song on the album. It is still hard to pick a favorite, though I would like to mention the song, Keep Breathing. This song was written by one of the two guitarists, Nick Van Dyk, about his daughter Parker, who has a degenerative disease causing her to lose her eyesight. The lyrics explain how as a father he can't stand to see his daughter in pain, but at the same time is amazed at her strength and bravery and tells her that it inspires him to go on. As a Progressive Metal fan, this doesn't happen to me very often, but the first time I heard this song I had to pull over as the tears began to flow. The whole album is powerful, and don't be surprised if your speedometer begins to climb as you listen to this album.

LED ZEPPELIN Led Zeppelin IV

Album · 1971 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.40 | 135 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Well, what can I say? This is obviously an important album, based on the fact that it is one of the most well known albums of all time. Not only is it a milestone of Classic Rock, but it is one of the origin albums for Metal and Progressive Metal alike. As a Progressive Metal fan, I speak to my fellow Progressive Metal fans when I say: if you want to understand where the genre came from, you need to listen to this album, especially paying attention to "Black Dog" and "Stairway to Heaven". This band defined a genre, and inspired many and will continue to inspire many who follow them.

EPICA The Divine Conspiracy

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 34 ratings
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dtguitarfan
I remember discovering this album and laughing with joy as I listened to it the first time. I absolutely LOVED the theatrical orchestral arrangements layered underneath heavy metal guitars and drums, the operatic soprano of Simone Simmons juxtaposed with the growling death-metal vocals. I will be honest here - I have never been a huge fan of death-metal growling. It has turned me away from some bands - some that I later decided to give a fair trial and was able to enjoy despite the growls, and some I never could get into. I like to compare death-metal growling to hot sauce - different people have different tolerance levels of it, but there's almost always a point at which it's too much, and another point at which it's just right and makes a dish oh so interesting. Epica, I believe, is one of those bands that uses just the right amount of growling - juxtaposed with the operatic soprano vocals, it makes things oh so interesting, and this particular album of theirs has become one of the most frequently played in my collection.

DARKWATER Calling the Earth to Witness

Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 19 ratings
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dtguitarfan
This is one of those bands that became a favorite of mine almost right away. I actually wasn't sure about it the first time I listened to their debut, but after each listen I loved them more and more. While some people compare them to Dream Theater, and I do hear the resemblence, they also have a style their own - a little more laid back, relying less on lightning fast riffs, and building more on the compound rhythms. This is quite possibly one of my top 10 most played albums in my collection - one I keep coming back to after periods away, and I would recommend it to anyone.

DREAM THEATER Images and Words

Album · 1992 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.29 | 201 ratings
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dtguitarfan
Another milestone album, both for Metal and Progressive music. This album is quite possibly the most important album in the history of Progressive Metal - kind of a game changer, genre-defining album. For me, this is a personal milestone as I feel I began to truly understand what Progressive music was all about through this album. I had already started getting into Dream Theater, and had a couple of their other albums when I started listening to this one. I remember HATING Metropolis Pt. 1 - absolutely loathed it. I don't remember why, but I did. But a funny thing happened - part of the instrumental section got lodged within my brain and I could not shake it loose. It would repeat over and over again. So I decided to listen to the song again. I loathed it a little less, and this time I thought "hmm, there's something interesting going on there, but I don't know what." I had to listen to this song again now, and did so a few more times and then I had an epiphany. I began to understand how the band was switching time signatures (compound time), and though I didn't understand fully, thought they might even be layering different time signatures on top of each other. This is when I began to truly appreciate and understand what Progressive music was about, and also probably the point at which Dream Theater became my favorite band.

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