Metal Music Reviews from martindavey87

STATIC-X Machine

Album · 2001 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.14 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
2001 was the year nu metal fully conquered the world, pushing heavier music to the mainstream and reaching all new heights of popularity. Sadly though, it was a fad that wouldn't last, and any band looking to make an impact had to strike while the iron was hot. For every Disturbed, there was a dozen Spineshank's, for every Korn, there were multiple Adema's. With a cult following building since their 1999 debut, it was now-or-never for Static-X. Go hard or go home.

Which brings us to 'Machine'.

A huge step up from its predecessor, Wayne Static and his ragtag misfits are back with this crushingly brutal yet innocently simplistic assault on the senses. 14 year-old me had never heard anything so aggressive, and to this day, it still amazes me how an album so stripped bare can be so heavy. Sure, it's overproduced to hell and back, with various electronic tracks and effects giving the album such a massive and fat sound, but the compositions themselves are all very laid back, with basic arrangements, no overly complex passages, and barely more than three or four chords in any one song.

It's a classic case of "less is more". And in a case of great timing, the album was released during nu metal's heyday, ensuring it would appeal to a new generation of young metal fans that were introduced to the genre by bands such as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.

Overall, 'Machine' is an incredibly polished release, with a great sound and some infectious tracks. In particular, 'Otsego Undead', 'Structural Defect', '...In a Bag', 'Machine', and the two hit singles 'Cold' and 'Black and White', are all standout moments that helped firmly establish Static-X as one of the bands that would outlast the nu metal fad, and more importantly, one of the heaviest bands from my childhood.

MEGADETH Rust in Peace

Album · 1990 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 211 ratings
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Ushering in what would become Megadeth's "golden era", 1990's 'Rust in Peace' was the album where all the pieces fit together perfectly. Dave Mustaine was sober (again... for now...), a new line-up was in place that was superior to any that had come before (and probably after...), and the music was a perfect bookend to the thrash metal scene that was on its last legs (for the time being...).

1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!', with only a couple of notable songs and pretty rough production, was a bit of a disappointment, and with mainstream success on the horizon, it was time for the band to get their act together. With another new line-up change (their third over four albums), main man Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson were joined by drummer Nick Menza and guitar virtuoso Marty Friedman. And the difference is noticeable immediately.

'Rust in Peace' sees the band really step up the intensity and precision in their playing, with some of their most technical and relentless compositions. The chemistry between Mustaine and Friedman is incredible, with both men given ample time to shine, though it's Friedman's exotic guitar licks and ripping solos that truly raise the game for Megadeth. A much-improved production means that every note is crisp and clear, and with the 80's thrash boom coming to an end, this would at least ensure the subgenre would go out with a bang!

However, transcending the thrash genre and often cited as one of the best metal albums of all time, period, this is where I feel 'Rust...' tends to become slightly mired by hyperbole. Don't get me wrong, 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'Tornado of Souls' and 'Rust in Peace... Polaris' are all absolute classics. And that's an understatement. These are truly some of metals finest and most endearing pieces, having stood the test of time and still being as impactful today as they were in 1990. But let's be honest with ourselves here... 'Five Magics'... 'Poison Was the Cure', even 'Dawn Patrol', which serves as a breather from the barrage of headbanging mayhem, are all fairly average tracks, and while they're not awful, they're not all that memorable, either.

This doesn't take much away from 'Rust in Peace', though. It's status as a classic metal album is fully warranted, and while I may not rate it as highly as most others, there's no denying that this is Megadeth's best, most beloved and most innovative work.

MEGADETH So Far, So Good... So What!

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 100 ratings
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Young, brash, and pumped full of drugs, 1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!' saw Megadeth continue along the path they'd started upon with 1986's 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?". While it originally seemed like the band had cleaned up their act and become more driven and focused, the reality was that a bigger album budget just meant more money to spend on drugs and alcohol.

Unfortunately, 'So Far, So Good...' doesn't quite live up to the standards set by its predecessor. The production is arguably weaker and the writing has clearly taken a backseat to drug-taking, as, while there's a few hits here that belong on any Megadeth compilation release, the overall quality of the songs is definitely a step down than previously.

As before, the music is fast and intense, accompanying lyrics riddled with hatred and spite. Thrash metal was in full swing in 1988 and this album goes to show why Megadeth were one of the top bands of their time. Dave Mustaine's vocals are seething with bitterness and sincerity, though lack the polish that they had on 'Peace Sells'. But his signature "snarl" is in full effect, and gives the music the rawness it needs.

One notable significance of this release is that we see the first of many (and I mean many) major line-up changes. With guitarist Jeff Young and drummer Chuck Behler replacing Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson respectively. Both would be ejected from the band soon enough, with neither man having any particular impact.

While songs like 'In My Darkest Hour', 'Hook in Mouth', 'Set the World Afire' and a cover of the Sex Pistols classic 'Anarchy in the U.K.' prevent this album from being a complete loss, as a whole it just seems like a pretty passable release, especially when compared to the bulk of the bands later releases.

FOZZY Sin and Bones

Album · 2012 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
'Sin and Bones', released in 2012, was a huge breakthrough for American metal group Fozzy. While 2010's 'Chasing the Grail' came out to mostly rave reviews from critics, it flopped commercially, likely due to the fact that most people still couldn't take a band fronted by professional wrestler Chris Jericho seriously. However, relentless touring and an energetic live show helped the band endear to new fans, and so with 'Sin and Bones', an album brimming with anthems that were tailor-made for a live setting, did they really start to gain credibility as a legit band.

Either that, or they're like the annoying gnat of the rock world that just won't go away. But all that persistence was starting to pay off.

With a slick production and some of Rich Ward's most accessible guitar riffs (including one of the most killer tones in rock music today!), 'Sin and Bones' sees Fozzy ease up on the full-blown metal elements of their sound, and instead focus on the sleazy rock 'n' roll vibe. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it totally suits them, especially when compared to the overall image and showmanship of the band.

Vocalist Chris Jericho (THE Chris Jericho... you stupid idiot!), shows that he is more than just a professional wrestler, but indeed a kickass front man! His vocals are incredible, and while he may struggle with them a bit when performing live, he more than makes up for it in energy, enthusiasm and showmanship.

'Spider in My Mouth', 'Blood Happens', 'Inside My Head', 'She's My Addiction' and the hit single 'Sandpaper' are all Fozzy classics that show a band who are constantly evolving and changing, yet never straying too far from the very essence that makes them who they are.

Indeed, Fozzy are huge rock stars!

F5 A Drug for All Seasons

Album · 2005 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
F5 were one of many bands that popped up around that transitional period after the nu metal fad had died and everyone was trying to ditch the label and fit in with the "old school" approach that was back in fashion. Or simply put... nu metal bands were now calling themselves "alternative metal".

Still, this is an all-round good effort. They have the contemporary sound nailed perfectly, with enough melody and groove to appeal to fans of modern metal, yet with the guitar chops to please fans of older, riff-based bands. The melodic vocals suit the music perfectly, making for some catchy, inoffensive and totally unashamed metal listening.

While my interest in the band was somewhat piqued by vocalist Dale Steele, whom I was familiar with after his work on Sick Speed's 'The Way I Am' (I won't hold it against you if you've never heard of them), it was mainly bassist David Ellefson, a founding member of Megadeth, who gave this band instant credibility. However, his later return to the band he helped form would pretty much ensure that F5 would forever be nothing more than "that band Ellefson was in while he wasn't a member of Megadeth".

Standout tracks include 'Faded', 'Dissidence', 'Hold Me Down', 'Bleeding', 'Fall to Me', the title track 'A Drug For All Seasons', and an interesting cover of Eddie Brickell & New Bohemians' 'What I Am'. The album itself is fairly short, consisting of twelve tracks with a total duration of 36 minutes, leaving barely any time for any lapses in quality. It rocks from start to finish. Short, simple and effective.

CLAWFINGER Deaf Dumb Blind

Album · 1993 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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The early 90's saw an influx of bands that were blending rock and metal with hardcore and hip-hop influences. Rage Against the Machine were probably the most commercially successful, but there were a number of bands around the world that were also making contributions, such as Stuck Mojo and Body Count from the United States, H-Blockx from Germany, and one of the lesser known pioneers of what would come to be known as "rap metal", Sweden's Clawfinger.

While Clawfinger's music is fairly straightforward, it's the uncompromising attitude of the band, and in particular, the unsparing lyrics of vocalist Zak Tell, that makes them so endearing. The songs are energetic, with some simple yet infectious guitar riffs that aren't overly flashy but are enough to get heads banging. And Tell may not be a legit "rapper" by any stretch, but his hardcore-inspired style gives the music the exact grittiness and rawness it needs.

The lyrics are fairly cheesy at times, spouting out the usual anti-governmental hip-hop clichés that lambast war, racism, corruption, and society in general, but they're also sincere and catchy, and at times show a group that aren't afraid to be a little tongue-in-cheek. And in all fairness, the rapid-fire rhymes are actually fairly impressive when you consider that English isn't the groups first language.

'Deaf Dumb Blind' is a solid debut by Clawfinger, and while this type of music may not appeal to everyone, standout songs such as 'The Truth', 'Don't Get Me Wrong', 'Warfair', 'Rosegrave', 'I Need You' and the awkwardly titled 'Nigger' are all perfect examples of why rap metal shouldn't be so casually ignored.

7 MONTHS 7 Months

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.49 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
Fans of Enchant will be in for a treat here, as I find that 7 Months sound very similar to the progressive rock legends, so much so, that vocalist Joe Booe could probably pass as Ted Leonard. And that's certainly not a bad thing.

7 Months' self-titled debut album is a pretty decent effort by a band that hasn't been very active since forever. In fact, for a prog band that nobody has really heard of, this is a great little gem if you stumble across it! While there's nothing here that hasn't been done better by other bands, the songs are all very well written and easy to listen to. Joe Booe has an incredible voice (if you like Ted Leonard, that is), and the music perfectly compliments it.

The music at times sounds very AOR-ish and very melodic, making even the rocking moments sound blissful, and as a whole, while this album isn't anything incredible or amazing, I can't find any reason to knock it. If you needed a reason to check out this band, then the closing track 'Senorita Serenade' is definitely it. This song makes the entire record worthwhile, with melodic and epic elements, great guitar work and some fantastic keyboard melodies, this is a fantastic song that really brings it all together. And of course, the vocals on this track are some of the best I've ever heard.

A good album if you come across it. Especially for fans of Enchant.

SICK SPEED The Way I Am

Album · 2002 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
With Stuck Mojo falling apart and guitarist Rich Ward expressing his frustration with not having a singer, it seemed logical that the man known as "The Duke" would form a new band, set in a more traditional style of metal as opposed to Mojo's brand of rap metal.

The result; 'The Way I Am', an album that consists of "demos" that Rich decided to release anyway, even though the band never really got going. The quality of the music and the sound still puts most other bands to shame. Ward's unique tone and style are stamped firmly all over this, his riffs blending perfectly between old-school metal and the rising nu-metal scene, making this a great metal record for fans of either genre.

With a mixture of different musicians appearing on different songs, Ward is surrounded by all the regular faces that fans of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy would come to recognize. Drummer Frank Fontsere appears on everything the Duke puts out, along with guitarist Billy Grey and bassist Dan Dryden (both of Fozzy fame) making welcome additions. Then there's four different vocalists - three of which nobody has really heard of. Dale Steele? Eddie Gowan? Mike Schneider? Who?! (Rich himself being the forth). All of them do a good job however, with their vocals perfectly suiting the music.

Some of the compositions on this album have since been re-recorded by Wards other projects, including Fozzy and Walking With Kings, and a lot of Sick Speed demos (released on separate demo disks) went on to be used for Rich Wards solo release. But this album can still stand tall by its own merits. 'The Test', 'A Time and a Place', 'Can't See Straight' and 'Autumn Brings' are all perfect examples of why Rich Ward is one of the best metal guitarists out there.

KING CRIMSON Discipline

Album · 1981 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 23 ratings
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martindavey87
My introduction to King Crimson came through hearing the song ‘Red’ which I found incredibly boring and repetitive. Such a shame, that King Crimson, one of the most famous progressive rock bands of all time, would turn out to be such a letdown. Fast forward a few years and I'm at my local, trusty car-boot sale. We all love a bargain, and when I saw someone selling this CD for 50p, I knew it was time to jump in and give the band a proper chance.

Well, they won me over, because 'Discipline' turned out to be a pretty good record.

Consisting of musically intelligent and creative individuals, these guys know how to write some totally different and unique songs. My personal faves, 'Elephant Talk' and 'Thela Hun Ginjeet', both have lyrical themes that are certainly unlike any others I've heard before. Both interestingly show how musical inspiration can come from anywhere.

Despite these two highlights though, at times it feels like the rest of 'Discipline' just kind of plods along. The songs aren't terrible, in fact, each song by itself is good and very easy to listen to, but I find myself getting bored trying to listen to the whole album in one sitting. In that regard, whilst this release may have converted me into a fan, it's still not something I'm likely to rant and rave about any time soon.

I guess I'm all talk.

DOMINICI O3: A Trilogy, Part 3

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.51 | 11 ratings
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Dominici is back to finish what would be a daunting undertaking for the most accomplished of bands, with this, the third and final part of his 'O3' trilogy. And I sure hope you enjoyed the previous installment if you're listening to this, because this takes everything that was great with its predecessor and jacks it up with enough steroids to get a lifetime ban from playing sports! (Huh?)

Picking up where 'Part 2' left off, 'O3: A Trilogy Part 3' is practically identical in every way. The production sounds the same, the music sounds the same (although it's certainly a lot heavier and more intense this time around), the vocals and lyrical content for the most part is all the same, this really is just a continuation of the trilogy.

And it's a damn good one, at that.

Bringing a close to Dominici's trilogy, the storyline itself is somewhat over-the-top and almost convoluted. It makes sense, but it certainly takes a lot of twists and turns that steer it completely off-path from where the story started. Not that that's really a criticism or anything, as the music itself is still fantastic and will definitely please fans of the genre. A true highlight of this album is the guitar work of Brian Maillard (who?). This guy has some incredible chops and holds the distinction of playing some of the heaviest riffs known to man. 'King of Terror', 'Liquid Lightning', 'Hell on Earth' and 'Revelation' are relentlessly heavy assaults on the listeners senses, and a sure treat for fans of heavy music, progressive or not.

With songwriting and musicianship that seems a lot more polished, tighter and consistent than before, this is, in my opinion, the best chapter of the trilogy, and brings to a close a fine collection of albums that belongs in every progressive metal fans collection.

ANDROMEDA Manifest Tyranny

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 11 ratings
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martindavey87
'Manifest Tyranny', the fifth album by Swedish progressive metal band Andromeda, once again sees the group pushing themselves to try new things and evolve their sound. Taking a mixture of the all-out riffage displayed in 'The Immunity Zone' and the proggy atmosphere of 'Chimera', this is a band who sounds a lot more mature and "complete" than on previous releases, with the chemistry between them firmly showing in the intensity of the music.

This is also the album where Andromeda succumbed to the dreaded metal cliché that is the politcal album! Lyrically, this isn't much different than any other band who has politically-themed songs, lashing out at corrupt governments that favour the rich, keep secrets from the public and advocate wars. The usual. Musically however, the band are as tight and as coherent as ever.

As always, each member here really demonstrates abilities that puts them at the top of their chosen field. After the more stripped down approach of their previous album, 'The Immunity Zone', guitarist Johan Reinholdz is prepared to rip things up again, shredding to his hearts content with some mind-blowing guitar acrobatics, which are matched note-for-note by keyboardist Martin Hedin. The interplay between these two is phenominal, and puts them right up there with the other top musicians in the genre.

With such heavy hitters as 'Stay Unaware', 'Preemptive Strike', 'Antidote', 'Survival of the Richest' and 'Chosen by God', as well as the softer 'Go Back to Sleep', Andromeda have released an album that further solidifies them as one of progressive metal's finest bands, and a worthy successor to Dream Theater's throne.

MAGNUM Magnum II

Album · 1979 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.29 | 7 ratings
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martindavey87
Continuing exactly where 'Kingdom of Madness' left off, Magnum's second album, titled "Magnum II" (how original...), sticks to its tried-and-tested formula of 70's keyboard-based hard rock with progressive elements thrown in for good measure.

Magnum have never really been more than a small blip on my musical radar, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed their debut record. As it is, 'Magnum II' lacks the same energy and sense of fun that its predecessor has. There's some good songs on offer here, but there's also a few rather naff ones. And when you add in the cheesy lyrics and over-the-top vocal performances, as a whole there just isn't really anything of any major substance to inspire me to come back.

Brief highlights include 'Reborn', 'The Battle' and 'Great Adventure', though oddly enough, one of the more memorable songs is a bonus "acoustic" version of the song 'Foolish Heart', which is a jazzed up ballroom-style take on one of the albums more generic tracks. It features a brass section, a saxophone solo and an incredibly up-tempo rhythm that actually gets you quite pumped up. Why, oh why was this a bonus track?!

Overall, this isn't a terrible album, and Magnum have been able to at least grow on me a little, but this just doesn't have anything all that interesting going on. Listen to 'Kingdom of Madness' instead.

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA The Lost Christmas Eve

Album · 2004 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 5 ratings
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martindavey87
Forget Slade, forget Mariah Carey and forget Cliff Richards. When it comes to Christmas music you can’t get any better than Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Lead by producer Paul O'Neill, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings together musicians from all different genres, and namely members of the metal band Savatage, to bring us Christmas-themed rock operas. Brilliantly arranged, with fantastic musicianship and some emotionally powerful vocals, if you're a Scrooge like me, at least this will give you something to look forward to around the holiday season.

The great thing about this group is the diversity of styles utilized in the music. Most notable are the metal and rock influences, but there's elements of blues, jazz and classical music too, with singers coming from all kinds of musical backgrounds. With such a wide pallet of dynamics and styles at their disposal, the music constantly sounds fresh and exciting throughout.

Songs such as 'The Lost Christmas Eve', 'Wizards in Winter', 'Christmas Nights in Blue', 'What Child is This?' and 'Christmas Canon Rock' make this album a joy to listen to, and it's only bought down a notch by one or two fillers.

In fact, the only major detriment with this release is that you can only really listen to it during the Christmas period, without feeling like a complete knob, that is. But when December 25th comes around, light some candles, pour some wine, and put on some Trans-Siberian Orchestra as you open presents with your loved ones. It's a truly wonderful experience.

DREAMS OF SANITY The Game

Album · 2000 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
'The Game' was my introduction to Austrian symphonic/progressive metal band Dreams of Sanity, having snapped it up quickly after hearing some of their music online and loving it. Sadly, this, their third studio album, was also their last, as the group split up shortly after its 2000 release. Especially unfortunate as this is undoubtedly their strongest outing.

Falling under the subgenre of progressive, power, gothic or symphonic metal (pick one), Dreams of Sanity have that perfect blend of heavy, grooving guitar riffs with plenty of melodic keyboards and string sounds. The songs have complex structures with plenty of excellent interplay between all involved, but without the mindless shredding and endless soloing that the genre is sometimes (in)famous for.

The production is absolutely spot on here. While the band's debut 'Kömödia' was fairly average, it's follow-up, 'Masquerade' was a massive leap forward, and so building upon that, with 'The Game' the Austrian's have really nailed the rich, vibrant and clear sound that gives every instrument clarity and warmth.

With songs such as 'The Beginning That Lies', 'The Creature That You Came to See', 'And So (I Walk On)', 'We.II.Sea', 'The Empress', and... ah, you know what? Bugger it, they're all brilliant! Dreams of Sanity really hit their stride with this release, and it's an absolute travesty that the band fell apart shortly after. Still, I'm glad I stumbled across these guys, because this is an incredible album by a hugely underrated band.

ENCHANT Wounded

Album · 1996 · Metal Related
Cover art 2.90 | 8 ratings
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martindavey87
Enchant's debut, 'A Blueprint of the World', caused a bit of a stir in the prog world when it was released back in 1993. With a combination of good songwriting and solid musicianship, catchy hooks and a sound that would appeal to fans of old progressive rock or the rising progressive metal scene, expectations were high for its follow-up.

Sadly, they're expectations that I feel the band couldn't live up to.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Enchant, but 'Wounded' has always been that little hiccup in their discography where things just don't click for me. As before, the musicianship is impeccable and Ted Leonard's vocals are fantastic as always, but the songs just "aren't happening" as they were before.

There are a few highlights, though. Tracks like 'Below Zero', 'Pure', 'Hostile World' and 'Missing' are all good, and in fact, none of the songs are bad, but they're just not overly memorable either, especially when compared to the bands later material.

Enchant are one of my favourite groups, and it pains me to say this, but 'Wounded' is just an all-round forgettable release.

KAMELOT Siége Perilous

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.53 | 21 ratings
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With Kamelot's third studio album comes a major turning point in the bands history for two reasons. Number one being that with 'Siege Perilous', keyboards started to play a more pivotal role in the music, as opposed to previous releases where it was used sparingly in the background. And number two, of course, is the addition of former Conception frontman Roy Khan, a man who's distinct voice would go on to give Kamelot the identity they needed in order to stand out from the other power metal bands.

Unfortunately, these changes didn't instantly bring huge success upon the band, and while this is a good effort, it tends to feel more like a transitional period for the band as they begin to truly develop their own style.

Of course, that doesn't make this a bad album. Although there are a few rather forgettable tracks here, there are others that ooze of Kamelot's medieval-inspired charm. Songs like 'Providence', 'Parting Visions' and 'Irea' are all up there as some of the bands most memorable moments.

The addition of Khan and more prominent keyboards have laid down a path for where the band are headed in the future, but this still remains as nothing more than a good album. The symphonic elements are starting to materialize, though they're simplistic compared to future releases. Still, 'Siege Perilous' is a step in the right direction for Kamelot.

RUSH Grace Under Pressure

Album · 1984 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 33 ratings
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martindavey87
Following on from where 'Signals' left off, 1984's 'Grace Under Pressure' sees Rush fully embrace the 80's synthesizer era of music, with some of their most radio-friendly and keyboard-driven pieces yet, but without losing any integrity or sense of identity. It makes for some easy-listening progressive rock, which can appeal to fans of the genre and non-fans alike.

Surprisingly, a lot of people were put off by what they consider Rush's "pop era", though personally I find this to be some of the bands most accessible material. Admittedly the second half of the album is a little on the weak side, but the first half is absolutely stellar, and consists of some of my all-time favourite Rush tunes.

'Distant Early Warning', 'Afterimage', 'Red Sector A' and 'The Enemy Within' (check that bass line!) are all perfectly crafted songs. Each one remains true to the band's sound while adapting to that periods musical trends. They're fantastic songs, incredibly catchy, creative, and well performed. Although, as mentioned above, the second half of the album does get a little stale. They're not awful by any stretch, in fact, 'The Body Electric' and 'Between the Wheels' aren't too shabby, but they pale in comparison to the previous tracks.

Well-produced to truly emphasize that glorious 80's pop vibe, Rush's 'Grace Under Pressure' is a fantastic album that shows a band able to keep with the times and avoid stagnation while delivering a product that is undeniably their own. Despite the weaker second half, I still consider this one of their finest releases.

THE BLACK MAGES The Black Mages II: The Skies Above

Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.54 | 3 ratings
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Nobuo Uematsu and his dastardly clan of Black Mages are back with 'The Skies Above', a sequel to their self-titled debut which features progressive metal versions of music composed for the Final Fantasy video games (composed, I should add, by Uematsu himself).

Random nugget for you, but I've never played any of the Final Fantasy games.

Now, I'm not usually a big fan of instrumental albums. While I do enjoy the music, I find it tedious sitting through so much of it in one go, so it's surprising to me that 'The Black Mages', the bands first outing, is a personal favourite of mine, and was awarded as such, with five stars.

'The Black Mages' was heavily keyboard-driven, full of energy and overall a lot of fun. 'The Skies Above' just seems the complete opposite. The songs seem more guitar-oriented, and the fun and enthusiasm of the first seems to have been replaced by super seriousness. It's not bad, but this album just lacks that joyful energy.

There's two songs with vocals this time around. 'Otherworld' and 'The Skies Above'. Both are good songs, and the vocals do break up the monotony a little. On the instrumental side of things, tracks like 'Hunter's Chance', 'The Man With the Machine Gun' and 'Battle With the Four Fiends' are notable tracks that make this album a worthy purchase, but sadly none of them live up to what's come before.

'The Skies Above' is a bit of a mixed bag. There's some good songs and some bad ones. There's a lot of styles covered which keeps things somewhat interesting, and the musicianship is of a high standard, though sometimes wasted on uninteresting arrangements. Overall, it's a good album, but if it's your introduction to the band then you're better off going with their self-titled debut.

SHADOW GALLERY Room V

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 29 ratings
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martindavey87
We all love concept albums, right? If there was one cliché that firmly embodies the essence of progressive music it's concept albums. Records which use narratives to link all the songs together, they often encapsulate the peak of an artist's creativity and on most occasions, the peak of their commercial and critical success. However, if rock operas can be seen as "prog 101", then we all know what to expect somewhere down the line... the sequel!

And that brings us to 'Room V' (that's "Room Five"), Shadow Gallery's sequel to the excellent 'Tyranny' album. I'm not going to deny, the story is a bit challenging to follow, and certainly not something I can summarize in a way that makes sense. It involves government conspiracies, biological weapons, and umm... lots of amazing music!

Anyone familiar with Shadow Gallery will know what to expect from this band, and for those of you who aren't... well, they're a progressive metal band... come on! Full of incredibly mind-blowing musicianship, heartfelt and sincere vocals, and plenty of catchy chorus's that'll have you humming along to every word, there's plenty of twists and turns in the plot that keep the music engaging throughout. There's also an abundance of interludes and rather unnecessary musical passages that make the album feel slightly cluttered at times, and extends the duration to a staggering 75 minutes.

However, the band compensate for the duration of the album with arguably some of their strongest work, with highlights including 'The Archer of Ben Salem', 'Vow', 'The Andromeda Strain', 'Comfort Me' and the title track, 'Room V'. Each one makes all the segues and interludes tolerable.

Proving why Shadow Gallery are one of the most underrated bands the genre has to offer, 'Room V' is an incredible album, and a worthy sequel to 'Tyranny'.

IVORY TOWER Ivory Tower

Album · 1998 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.10 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
Here is a band who has a ton of potential but somehow just can't quite manage to channel it properly to create anything truly memorable. Whilst there are some good tunes coming from the German group Ivory Tower, most of the time this, their self-titled debut album, seems to just fall flat on it's face.

I'm trying not to be too critical as there are some good tracks here, but sadly most of the time you just feel that you've already heard the same songs played a thousand times better by another band. On a positive note though, 'Alive' is a pretty awesome, upbeat song, and 'She' has a nice steady beat to inspire some serious headbanging, and to compliment the heavier tracks we have the beautiful piano ballad 'Spring'.

But apart from these three songs, the others all have hit-or-miss moments, and instead of finding something new with each listen, you just feel more frustration at having to listen through a whole heap of uninspired boredom to get to the good stuff.

Overall this isn't a terrible album, but it's not something I can see myself coming back to very often. The musicianship is fine and the vocals aren't bad, although sometimes the lyrics can be pretty lame, but ultimately the problem with this album is that it just tends to be boring most of the time. I feel bad giving it two stars, but three would seem a bit too generous to be honest.

SYMPHONY X Prelude To The Millennium - Essentials Of Symphony -

Boxset / Compilation · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
As is always the problem with compilations, they quickly become dated, which is the case for 'Prelude to the Millennium', Symphony X's 1998 collection that nicely compiles material from their first four albums, which in retrospect, covers their mainly progressive/neoclassical phase (subsequent albums would go in a much heavier, power metal-inspired direction).

With that said, there is still plenty of excellent music here which can easily to used to convert new fans. Featuring some of the bands most ambitious and complex pieces, this will appeal to metal and prog fans alike, with a nice mixture of heavy, fast, quiet and epic songs. As is standard with the genre, the technical ability of everyone involved is top-notch, with particular praise going to the chemistry between guitarist Michael Romeo and keyboardist Michael Pinnella, and of course, to powerhouse vocalist Russell Allen.

Featuring some absolutely astonishing progressive metal hits such as 'Through the Looking Glass', 'Smoke and Mirrors' 'Of Sins and Shadows', 'The Damnation Game' and a re-recorded version of 'Masquerade' off of their debut album, the choice of songs here is (mostly) spot-on! And definitely highlights all of the bands strengths. However with that said, there is one problem...

'The Divine Wings of Tragedy'.

Now, the choice of songs is mostly killer here, and although there's one or two songs I'd have left off (this is always the case for compilation CD's), the real overkill is the inclusion of the 21-minute epic 'Divine Wings...'. It's a great song, but damn, it just takes up such a huge chunk here, and really, it just seems too much to hear the entire song! If it'd been up to me, 'The Accolade', 'Church of the Machine' or 'The Eyes of Medusa' are all much more accessible songs that could have taken its place. But never mind... can't win 'em all...

Symphony X are one of my all-time favourite bands, and I strongly encourage everyone to check them out. The music is incredibly well-written and will appeal to fans of both prog and metal. Despite only covering their first four albums, 'Prelude to the Millennium' is still a great starting point for anyone new to the band.

DREAM THEATER Live Scenes From New York

Live album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.30 | 49 ratings
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martindavey87
With the success of 'Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory' under their belts, Dream Theater were sitting firmly on the throne of the prog world, and so what's the next step? To take the entire concept album on tour, of course!

An absolute sonic tour-de-force of Dream Theater music, the band are relentless as they bombard a New York audience with over three hours of excellence. Besides playing 'Scenes from a Memory' in its entirety, with a few added bonuses thrown in, the band play various hits from their past records, including all three parts of the 'A Mind Beside Itself' trilogy from the 'Awake' album, 'Metropolis Pt. 1' and 'Learning to Live', both clocking in at ten and twelve minutes respectively, and if that wasn't enough, they then close with the 23-minute epic, 'A Change of Seasons'.

This is not for the faint-hearted.

As you'd expect from Dream Theater, the musicianship and chemistry is unparalleled by any other band. Each instrumentalist here has truly mastered their craft, with the only real weakness coming from vocalist James LaBrie. He tries his best, bless him, but having gone through some well-documented problems at the time (food poisoning led to him rupturing his vocal chords a few years prior), his voice can be pretty grating to listen to at times. However, he does redeem himself at the end when he jokingly says "sorry about the short set". Good job, sir!

All praises aside, I'm not the biggest lover of live albums, as I usually prefer the punch and clarity of a studio recording, and at times I feel the sound isn't as perfect as it could be, at least, not when compared to the 'Scenes from a Memory' record. But that just comes down to personal preference.

With that said, 'Live Scenes from New York' is a beast of a live album. A three-disc set that perfectly sums up Dream Theater's career to that point, and an all-out assault of progressive proportions. This is an essential addition to every fans collection.

ICYCORE Wetwired

Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Being intrigued by the front cover, I figured €1 was a risk worth taking when I checked out this album on eBay. It definitely was. Coming from Italy and released under the Limb Music Products label, Icycore stand out from the huge roster of progressive and power metal bands coming from Europe with a very futuristic-sounding approach. Keyboards are used effectively to give us a gloomy and bleak atmospheric vibe to this album. Imagine the Matrix or the Terminator movie series, a future taken over by machines. This is 'Wetwired'.

Musically, this band is very solid. There isn't any really over-the-top virtuoso displays usually associated with this genre, but the band have some pretty intense moments with the combination of crunchy guitars and keyboards playing off of each other really well, especially with the very talented vocalist Titta Tani singing on top of it all.

Highlights of this record include the epics 'A New Gestalt' and 'Eternal Unlife', the fast and hard-hitting tracks 'The Net' and 'Wetwired', and the beautiful piano ballad 'Inner Void'. Unfortunately this band doesn't seem to be the most active group around, which is a shame, because this seems to be a pretty unique and interesting album. I'm not sure if this is for everyone, but I think if you enjoy digging through the whole European metal scene looking for hidden gems, this is definitely an album worth checking out.

FATES WARNING Disconnected

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 39 ratings
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martindavey87
Well, 'A Pleasant Shade of Gray' appears to have been a hit with fans, so why not continue in that direction? With the single guitar/keyboard approach that incorporates more ambience, as well as a beefier production that gives the band a heavier sound, 'Disconnected' picks up right where its predecessor left off.

It seems odd for a progressive metal album to be considered "stripped down", but that's exactly what we have here. With the songwriting being the main focus, and not the performances of individuals, there is some solid music that lacks a lot of the shredding musical virtuosity associated with the genre. And it's a refreshing change.

That's not to say these guys are slouches! Guitarist Jim Matheos can write some very interesting guitar riffs, and drummer Mark Zonder is an absolute beast. Neither man afraid to stray away from standard 4/4 time signatures and go completely bonkers in some places, yet with riffs that don't come anywhere near to being too flashy or overbearing. When you include eerily compelling keyboard work by Kevin Moore (yes, THE Kevin Moore), it makes for an all-round solid package by one of prog metals pioneers.

Songs like 'One', 'So', 'Pieces of Me' and the absolute gem of the album, the 16-minute 'Still Remains', make this an essential progressive metal release, especially for fans who are growing weary of excessive soloing and musical indulgence.

ANDROMEDA The Immunity Zone

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.39 | 10 ratings
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martindavey87
Throughout their careers, most bands go through a stage where they alter their sound. Sometimes it's something drastically huge, and sometimes it's just subtle little changes. It could be a huge improvement or a complete disaster, and it could last for only one album, maybe a couple of years, or possibly even a permanent decision in which there is no turning back.

Which brings us to 'The Immunity Zone', the fourth album by Swedish prog metal group Andromeda. The songs are a lot more stripped down than previous efforts, and there seems to be an overall darker mood throughout. So what's the deal? Are they trying to reach out to a broader audience? Are they experimenting with different ideas? Has guitarist Johan Reinholdz just decided he can't be bothered with endless noodling?

Nobody knows the answer to these questions but the band members themselves, but despite the change in direction, this is still one kickass release. It's probably their weakest effort to date, but it has some truly remarkable songs on it regardless.

‘Slaves of the Plethora Season’, possibly Andromeda's least ambitious song, is a good representation of the change in sound. It has no solos, no ridiculous time signatures, and terribly cringe-worthy lyrics (“who can get an erection?”), but none-the-less it has some very catchy, heavy riffs, that put most modern metal bands to shame. And that is one thing this album is overflowing with; riffs!!!

As expected with this band, all performances are of the highest standard, so even with the more relaxed playing and stripped down arrangements, these guys still play their hearts out, sounding tighter than ever, and Reinholdz cooling down on the guitar has really helped all the other members shine, in particular, drummer Thomas Lejon, who's an absolute beast behind his kit, truly dominates on this album.

Of course the true centerpiece, and most probably one of Andromeda's greatest compositions, is the 19-minute ‘Veil of Illumination’. There are no words that can do justice to describe how insane this song is. Featuring absolutely breath-taking playing, well thought-out lyrics and arguably the craziest instrumental passages ever recorded (check out the middle section of this song right now), this is one of the most insane pieces of music you'll ever hear.

And that's not an exaggeration.

In summary, 'The Immunity Zone' is probably Andromeda's weakest release, yet features some of their strongest songs. It's a bit of a mixed bag when compared to their previous releases, but this by no means make it a bad album. Probably worth the money just for that 19-minute epic, to be fair.

IRON MAIDEN Edward The Great

Boxset / Compilation · 2002 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.21 | 9 ratings
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martindavey87
Released in 2002, 'Edward the Great' is a compilation album by Iron Maiden that focuses mainly on the bands singles and "hits", as opposed to songs that are generally favored by fans. As a result, while it's a decent enough selection, it's also very predictable.

Of course, the music itself is still great! I mean, come on, it's Iron freaking Maiden! 'Run to the Hills', 'The Trooper', 'Can I Play With Madness', '2 Minutes to Midnight' and 'The Number of the Beast'... these are all iconic metal classics! However, there's a lot of songs missing, even by 2002, there was an absolute wealth of material that should have been included on a release such as this, but wasn't due to time limitations.

Overall, you're better off going for 'Best of the Beast', especially if you're new to the band. Despite being released six years earlier, it has a more well-rounded track listing, and the packaging as a whole is a lot nicer, with more pictures and detailed information on the band. Leave 'Edward the Great' to collectors like me.

PRIMUS Tales From the Punchbowl

Album · 1995 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 19 ratings
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martindavey87
With their fourth album, 'Tales from the Punchbowl', Primus have finally managed to channel all their talent into something somewhat akin to a cohesive rock album. Taking their unusual style of offbeat, alternative funk rock and applying it in a more traditional rock setting, Primus have managed to produce a record that is more accessible to the mainstream public, without having to compromise their own distinct sound.

There's no other band that embodies the term "acquired taste" better than Primus, and even on a release that features some of the bands most radio-friendly material, there's plenty of their obscure (and somewhat self-indulgent) weirdness, that doesn't follow any type of traditional songwriting trait, and features an almost monotone spoken-word dialogue.

But yet, unlike previous albums, I seem to be able to tolerate it here. The odd music, the random, yet interesting lyrics, the humour... everything here just seems to work on some artistic level or another. It's like a car crash, an ugly mess but you just can't look away.

The highlights for me are 'Professor Nutbutters House of Treats', 'Mrs Blaileen', 'Southbound Pachyderm', 'Over the Electric Grapevine', and of course, the band's biggest hit, 'Wynona's Big Brown Beaver' (which is for me, like so many others, the song that introduced me to Primus). But the album flows so smoothly that even small, comedic, filler tracks such as 'Space Farm' and 'De Anza Jag' are infectious and notable in their own right.

As interesting as it is unique, Primus truly aren't to everyone's tastes (including my own), but 'Tales from the Punchbowl' is just a straight-up good album, and serves as a great starting point if you're new to the band.

DREAM THEATER Once in a LIVEtime

Live album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.40 | 32 ratings
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martindavey87
With four studio albums and one EP to their name, it's time for another Dream Theater live recording! Coming at a time when the band were towing the line between their underground progressive metal roots and record label pressure to be more mainstream, 'Once in a Livetime' came at a bit of a transitional period, when really, they were neither of these things.

The set is amazing, and features all the early Dream Theater classics. There's plenty of little tidbits, jams, and covers thrown in between and during songs, giving this a true "live" feeling, and the 20-minute epic 'A Change of Seasons' has been broken down into multiple segments, each serving as interludes amongst the other tracks, giving a nice sense of continuity throughout the show.

The sound is very good, the band are incredibly tight, and the audience add a great energy to it all (the cheering at the beginning of 'Metropolis' sends chills down my spine!). A lot of the lengthier songs have been cut down, for example, twelve-minute 'Learning to Live' is now down to a staggering four minutes, yet they manage to capture the main essence of each piece, making the whole set flow effortlessly.

The only legit detriment to this album is vocalist James LaBrie, who at this point was desperately struggling from a well-documented case of food poisoning that had ruptured his vocal chords (so well-documented, in fact, that people who have never even heard of Dream Theater know about it).

Otherwise, the only reason I never really listen to 'Once in a Livetime' any more is because it's been surpassed by later releases. 'Score', 'Live Scenes from New York', and especially 'Live at Budokan' are far superior live albums. Still, it wraps up "that period" of the bands career with keyboardist Derek Sherinian, who is an incredible musician, but always had a flamboyance about him that didn't really suit Dream Theater.

Good album to own if you're a collector, but they've done much better ones since.

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA Christmas Eve and Other Stories

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 9 ratings
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martindavey87
It's bad enough hearing the same Christmas songs non-stop on the radio between the 1st and 25th of December. What's even worse is that in this day and age of commercialism, most supermarkets (in the UK, at least), start playing these songs over the radio as early as the first week of November! Sounds crazy, right? So it's understandable that, between seven weeks of the same songs every year (which only seems to get more tedious as you get older), that heartwarming spark of nostalgia is replaced with utter contempt for the holiday season.

Or perhaps that's just me. I am borderline sociopathic, mind you...

Thankfully, here's the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to get us through the monotony of the Christmas period.

Sounding exactly like the metal band Savatage, but with an orchestra (which funnily enough, is exactly what this is, for lack of a better description), Trans-Siberian Orchestra ("TSO" for short) take all the classic Christmas carols that we've come to love, and gives them the full rock opera treatment, with styles ranging from rock, pop and jazz, and an assortment of vocalists, including a kids choir thrown in for good measure. There's a feeble attempt at a storyline in there somewhere, but I wouldn't bother digging too deep into it.

TSO are a great and certainly unique group, but this album as a whole just feels slightly lacking. The musicianship is incredible, and the music covers a lot of ground, from epically bombastic tracks to beautifully emotional ones. However, some of the tracks seem the complete opposite. Lifeless, dull, lacking any real emotion or depth.

Some of the highlights include 'A Mad Russians Christmas', 'First Snow', 'Promises to Keep', and the epic 'Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24', which is probably the true highlight of the album and interestingly enough was also used on Savatage's album 'Dead Winter Dead'.

Arranged by rock producer Paul O'Neill, Trans-Siberian Orchestra's debut album 'Christmas Eve & Other Stories' is an ambitious record that doesn't quite hold up as well as subsequent releases, but that's mostly due to the fact that their later output is just so damn good. It's a good album though, and still worth listening to if you're fed up with hearing the same, rehashed Christmas hits every year.

STRATOVARIUS II

Album · 1992 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.97 | 21 ratings
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martindavey87
After a fairly lackluster debut, Stratovarius are back!... with another fairly lackluster album.

Now, I like Stratovarius. I really, really like Stratovarius! They're a great band with some very catchy and memorable songs. But that doesn't really show in these early releases. Two major factors that are missing from these early days are prominent keyboards, which serve on 'Twilight Time' as nothing more than the odd sound effect or embellishment here and there, and powerhouse vocalist Timo Kotipelto. Because before that, we have guitarist, songwriter and band leader Timo Tolkki singing! And while he's alright, his voice does get a little grating after a while.

There are a couple of notable moments however. Opening track 'Break the Ice' is fairly good, and tracks like 'The Hands of Time' and 'The Hills Have Eyes' are tolerable, if you can see past the cheesy power metal melodies that they're built around. The music is fast and furious, with some very tight playing and nice, shred guitar solos, but overall, these songs are mostly forgettable, especially when compared to the bands later material.

'Twilight Time' has a few things going for it that stop it from getting a one-star rating, but it’s really best to leave this to the die-hard fans.

RUSH Moving Pictures

Album · 1981 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.44 | 148 ratings
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martindavey87
I remember back in 2006, at the age of 19, I was playing in a band with a drummer who wanted to do a cover of 'Tom Sawyer'. I'd heard of Rush and was well-aware of how they'd inspired countless others, but I'd yet to actually listen to them. Oddly enough, around the same time, another friend of mine (a bassist... poor fella), was digging the instrumental track 'YYZ'. I was blown away by both songs, and when I found out they appeared on the same album, the decision was made. And so 'Moving Pictures', coincidentally one of Rush's most beloved and renowned releases, also served as my introduction to the Canadian rockers.

Not a bad place to start.

Having started as a traditional hard rock outfit, by the time Rush reached 'Moving Pictures', their eighth studio release, they were firmly established as a progressive rock act, with their music full of the traits associated with the genre. While the band had used keyboards and synthesizers before, this album ushered the trio into the 80's, in which their music would become much more keyboard-driven, adapting to the musical trends of the time, whilst never compromising their own identity.

Containing fan favourites such as 'Tom Sawyer', 'YYZ', 'Limelight', 'Vital Signs' and 'Red Barchetta', 'Moving Pictures' features excellent performances by everyone involved, with no self-indulgent endless musical passages, every note on this record has true meaning behind it, and is wonderfully produced to ensure the band sound as majestic as ever.

Highly regarded amongst fans as Rush's greatest release, 'Moving Pictures' is a classic album that rightfully deserves it's place in every progressive rock collection.

ELEGY Lost

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.02 | 3 ratings
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martindavey87
The riffs just really aren’t that exciting, the production sounds "tinny", and the vocals are really annoying. I don't mind high-pitched singing, but this guys inaudible voice is just irritating.

On a positive note, there are a few reasonably catchy chorus’s, and although they help me find a bit of stability in a song that I'm probably not paying much attention to, it’s really not worth listening through a few minutes of generic riffs and uninspired songwriting for the sake of a chorus.

The sad thing is, I actually quite like Elegy. But this album is just so boring and bland. There's countless progressive power metal bands out there, and there's other boring and bland albums that are better than this one. An underrated band, but you wouldn't guess it from hearing 'Lost'.

DREAMS OF SANITY Masquerade

Album · 1999 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.98 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
After a fairly messy and raw debut, Dreams of Sanity are back with 'Masquerade', an album where the band really refined their sound, and while the songwriting would still be lacking in places, it certainly laid the blueprint for their next album, which would go on to be their best (and sadly, final) release.

Most noticeable with this album is the much-improved production, with a crisp and clear sound that really emphasizes every instrument. The musicianship is fantastic between the band members, with heavy and interesting guitar riffs that are perfectly complimented with some intricate keyboard melodies. The interplay between everyone involved is great, while never being overbearing or detracting from the flow of the music itself.

There are a few moments where things tend to lull, but for the most part, this is a solid effort. The songs fit together well, with lots of energetic performances that makes for a good listen. Some of the highlights involve parts one and two of the five-track piece 'Masquerade', 'Within (The Dragon)' and 'Lost Paradise '99'. Of particular note is 'Masquerade Act 2', which ends with a fantastic crescendo that builds up with more and more tension over a minute and a half, but never dips in momentum.

Overall, this is a good album by Dreams of Sanity. It's far from perfect, but it's a huge improvement upon their debut, and a precursor to what will become their finest work, with their next album.

PRIMUS Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Album · 1991 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 24 ratings
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martindavey87
Not these guys again...

There was a time in my youth when I'd have loved the quirkiness of a band like Primus. With their obscure sense of humour and their blend of rock and funk, there's truly no other band like them. But what makes them so unique is also what pretty much puts so many people off of them.

And to put it bluntly, it's mostly boring self-indulgence.

While the musicians themselves are all incredibly talented, and certainly adept at thinking outside the box, the music itself is very hard to follow, and definitely requires the listener to be equally open-minded. There's very little singing, with vocalist Les Claypool preferring more of a spoken-word type of vocal style, and a lot of the music itself tends to plod along with no real melodies sticking out. As a whole, it's just a complete mess.

If I had to pick out some highlights, it'd have to be 'Tommy the Cat' and 'Jerry Was a Race Car Driver', most probably because these are the notable singles from the album, and while they do have some infectious grooves in the music, as per usual with this band, the spoken babble that is the lyrics kind of ruins them.

I'm sure there was a time when I loved this band, especially as I seem to recall asking for some of their albums as Christmas and Birthday presents in my early twenties. But I listen to 'Sailing the Seas of Cheese' now and it bores the life out of me. Primus really are in a league all of their own when it comes to "keeping an open mind", sadly, it's just not a very good one.

FATES WARNING Inside Out

Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 34 ratings
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martindavey87
The follow-up to the highly successful 'Parallels', 'Inside Out' is almost identical in sound and style to its predecessor, so much so that it is often regarded as "Parallels Part 2", though I find it is an unfair assumption as this album does contain material of some merit, even going as far as to say it's some of the bands tightest and most consistent songwriting.

Musically, this album follows on where 'Parallels' left off, which a strong emphasis on duel-guitar melodies that allow both players to shine, Mark Zonder's incredible drumming that adds so much flavor to the music, without dominating or taking too much spotlight, and Ray Alder's vocals which truly peaked here, especially in terms of range and capability.

The production is neat and tidy, with no musician being given preference. It does a good job of being a metal album, while also emphasizing the melody of the band.

With songs like 'Outside Looking In', 'Monument', 'Pale Fire', 'The Strand' and 'Face the Fear', it's clear that 'Inside Out' is an underrated classic, which is often overshadowed by the strengths of what came before. It's got some of the bands strongest material and is definitely a worthy addition to the collections of metal and prog fans.

DALI'S DILEMMA Manifesto For Futurism

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 10 ratings
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martindavey87
After hearing and falling in love with the song 'Within a Stare', I was determined to find this album on CD. I had read other reviews for 'Manifesto' online, and the common opinion was that this album was a "bland, generic, Dream Theater clone". Nothing too much to get worried about then, since this seems to be the typical description for most prog metal bands these days.

I wouldn't go as far as to say this is bland and generic, but whilst the album starts off with some amazing tracks, about halfway through it tends to drop dead, and leaves you feeling like you've been listening to the same song on repeat.

That's not to say this is a bad album, in fact, there are some incredible compositions here that definitely make this a rare gem worth owning. The problem is that for every classic, there's a rather dull, lifeless filler song. Sadly, Dali's Dilemma never had the chance to rectify this with a follow-up album, as this was their only release. At least, at the time of writing this review the band have long-since split up. Still, as far as debut albums go, this one is still pretty decent, and shows a band that had a lot of potential.

With such highlights as 'Within a Stare', Miracles in Yesteryear', 'Despite the Waves', 'This Time Around' and the short-but-sweet piano ballad 'Whispers', this is still an album worth checking out, even if it isn't anything you've never heard before.

KAMELOT Dominion

Album · 1997 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.95 | 17 ratings
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martindavey87
The band’s debut 'Eternity', despite being nothing more than standard 90's power metal, had some pretty cool moments in there. Unfortunately their follow-up album, 'Dominion', is more-or-less the same thing, only with all-round weaker and less memorable songs.

However, with that said, there are two highlights for me, which is 'Song of Roland' and 'We Are Not Separate'. At this point both of these songs are stronger than anything else Kamelot recorded on this album or its predecessor. Sadly they're just not enough to save the whole album from being anything more than "good".

An all-round good power metal album, not really for anyone other than Kamelot diehards though. The best is yet to come.

DREAM THEATER The Majesty Demos 1985 - 1986

Demo · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.68 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
Definitely one for the collectors and die-hard fans, Dream Theater's official bootleg release of 'The Majesty Demos 1985-1986' is split into three sections;

The first part of the album consists of instrumental demos and covers. It's Dream Theater, so the playing is amazing, even at a young age. There's no keyboards or vocals, and as this was recorded by the band themselves on an 8-track tape recorder while at college, the quality is, quite understandably, naff.

The second section contains a number of brief, 20-second "songs", which are pretty much parodies of the band 'Stormtroopers of Death'. Mike Portnoy will shout a brief sentence, John Petrucci will shred out a quick guitar lick. Done. It's not cool, it's not funny, and it's not clever. A bit pointless having this on the disc, but whatever...

Then there's the section that really counts; The 'Majesty Demos' themselves. The sound quality is alright, considering the band recorded this themselves in the 80's, it's not terrible. The vocals are pretty cheesy though. Songs like 'Another Won', 'Your Majesty' and 'Two Far' are fairly decent, and it's a shame they were never officially recorded on a future studio release (although a few live appearances have popped up over the years), but the demo quality will deter me from ever coming back to them.

The musicianship and the tightness of the band is no doubt incredibly impressive, and perfectly reflects all the countless hours these guys spent jamming together while at college. Overall however, the bulk of this disc is just the core members, Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci and John Myung, jamming. And if it isn't all that interesting to me, a die-hard Dream Theater fan, then it definitely won't appeal to the more casual listener.

ANGUISH Symmetry

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.30 | 4 ratings
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martindavey87
Like a lot of German progressive metal bands, Anguish didn't stick around long enough to make much of an impact or to gain any kind of recognition. Which is a shame, because 'Symmetry', their second and last album is pretty decent.

While I'm under no illusions that a German prog metal group called "Anguish" were destined to become stadium headliners, I do think it's a shame this band didn't stick around, as the potential is evident on this record that this band could have come up with some pretty good stuff, given time to develop and mature, of course.

Typical with the genre, this album is full of complex compositions and odd time-signatures. However, I like that Anguish don't focus too much on virtuoso musicianship and have a more "song-heavy" style, with lots of emphasis on keyboards. Some great examples can be heard on tracks such as 'N.E.W.', 'Dreaming', 'Obsidian Lies' and the title track.

'Symmetry' may seem like another generic prog metal release, and in all fairness it mostly is, but that doesn't make it a bad album. If you can find it cheap, give it a chance, and discover for yourself that it's definitely a worthy addition to any collection.

ETERNITY X The Edge

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 9 ratings
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martindavey87
Eternity X are a band I have highly ridiculed and mocked in the past. Most notably for the fact that their previous albums, 'Zodiac' and 'Mind Games' take themselves way too seriously, which itself, wouldn't really be much of a problem, if the music wasn't so boring and uninspiring. Oddly however, while 'The Edge' isn't really any different stylistically or lyrically (other than a stronger presence of keyboards), it's an album I thoroughly enjoy.

Must be the keyboards, right?

Main songwriter and all-round focal point of the band, Keith Sudano, has clearly put his heart and soul into this record. The music is well composed, with plenty of ambitious tracks and intricate passages, as well as some very personal and emotional lyrics. The musicianship is tight, with the usual progressive metal traits all here in full force, such as long track durations, interesting guitar riffs, crazy time signatures and a vast use of different sounds. There's plenty of instrumental acrobatics allowing for everyone to shine ('The Edge Part 3' is an interesting example of this) and there's a strong symphonic element to the music too.

Some of the highlights from this album include 'Imaginarium', 'The Edge of Madness', 'The Confession', 'Baptized by Fire', and parts two, three and the "Legacy Reprise" section of 'The Edge'. The album is consistently strong from start to finish.

'The Edge' is an ambitious release that will certainly take some time to get into, but will be worth the effort. It's funny that I like it as much as I do, since it's nothing overly different than what had come before, but there's just something here that resonates with me. It's a shame that Eternity X would go on to disband and Keith Sudano would take a leave of absence from music, because for all the flack I've given this band for their previous releases, this really is a brilliant album, and could have led to great things if they'd continued down this path.

DREAM THEATER Live at the Marquee

Live album · 1993 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.73 | 42 ratings
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martindavey87
Hey kids! Remember Kevin Moore?! The guy played on Dream Theater's first three studio albums, buggered off, and has since more-or-less completely cut off all ties to the Dream Theater name, wanting nothing to do with the band. So if you wanted to hear what the progressive metal legends sounded like in their early days, playing live with a certain Mr. Moore, then this is likely to be the only chance you'll ever get.

Released shortly after the bands second album, 'Images and Words', 'Live at the Marquee' is a six-track EP which doesn't really do the group or their previous releases justice. It's a nice addition to the collection of any Dream Theater fan, but since most of their live records would go on to become three-disc sets, this one has become pretty obsolete and unnecessary.

With Dream Theater classics such as 'Metropolis', 'A Fortune in Lies' and 'Pull Me Under', there's no denying the tracks are stellar, and considering vocalist James LaBrie would go on to suffer from ruptured vocal chords which would affect his live performances for years to come, it's nice to hear these songs with the youthful energy that the band had at the time.

Overall this isn't a terrible release, but if you're after a true Dream Theater live experience then you're better off looking for 2004's 'Live at Budokan', 2005's 'Score' or 2000's 'Live Scenes from New York'. It's a nice little EP if you come across it, but not really worth the effort unless you must own everything.

CONCEPTION Parallel Minds

Album · 1993 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.66 | 15 ratings
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martindavey87
'Parallel Minds', Conceptions second album, vastly improves upon its predecessor. The songwriting seems more confident, with more interesting guitar riffs, a good use of keyboards and vocal melodies that seems more in sync with the music.

Sadly however, despite a few highlights, it's still a rather forgettable record.

Song's like 'Roll the Fire', 'And I Close My Eyes', 'Water Confines' and the title track are all decent enough, but the truth is, this is nothing more than generic progressive/power metal. There's countless other things out there that are so much better and memorable, that I never find myself coming back to this.

It's not a terrible release, and it does have its moments, but ultimately, let's face it, the only reason worth buying this today is if you're a fan of Roy Khan, who's post-Conception career would see him garner worldwide fame with the band Kamelot.

ETERNITY X Mind Games

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.05 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
Eternity X are back for round two, with 'Mind Games', the follow-up to their debut release, 'Zodiac'. It's a bit of an odd one really, because while certainly a step up from its mediocre and boring predecessor, which took itself way too seriously, 'Mind Games' itself, is also mediocre, boring, and takes itself way too seriously.

Musically and sonically, everything's pretty much the same here as before, though at least they didn't do another concept album based on the zodiac star signs (what the hell was any of that about anyway?). But sadly, 'Mind Games' itself, despite one or two brief moments of goodness, is a mostly lacklustre affair, with boring, introspective lyrics, and rather static guitar riffs, that just sound like they're trying to be complex for the sake of it.

Onto the positives... if they can be considered as such... 'Faith' is an alright track, though it has a God-awful intro, and bonus track 'Switchblade' isn't half-bad... though the fact that a "bonus track" is considered one of the better songs speaks volumes about this album.

It's a shame, because vocalist, band leader and songwriter Keith Sudano is clearly very passionate about what he's writing, evident especially in his vocal performances, but the music itself just isn't very interesting. And with lyrical nuggets of joy such as "Mr. Suicide - grab his hand he'll take you on the ultimate ride", it's clear that this is nothing more than a self-indulgent cheese-fest.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT Liquid Tension Experiment 2

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 37 ratings
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martindavey87
'Liquid Tension Experiment 2' picks up exactly where its predecessor left off, reuniting John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, with Tony Levin of King Crimson and Jordan Rudess, who would join Dream Theater shortly after the release of this album. Noticeable immediately is how much more complete and richer this record sounds when compared to the bands first outing. Not as self-indulgent, nor full of improvised jams, the songs sound a lot more structured, organized and consistent.

As you would expect, the musicianship between the four members is astounding, with everyone being given ample opportunities to show off their skills. "Often imitated, rarely duplicated". Few artists have this kind of connection with one another. These guys are all masters of their respective instruments.

While this album is overall a stronger release than their debut, there are still a few weak tracks. In fact, it's the last three songs that slow things down a lot, as the first half, in particular, 'Biaxident', 'Another Dimension', 'When the Water Breaks' and in my opinion the groups finest work, 'Acid Rain', are all instrumental classics that are rife with incredible technical playing.

Of the two Liquid Tension Experiment albums, this is definitely the better one. Less pretentious than the first, 'Liquid Tension Experiment 2' is a fine slab of instrumental progressive metal. Fans of Dream Theater will no doubt need this in their collection, but it's diverse enough that even casual prog fans will enjoy it.

IRON MAIDEN Best Of The Beast

Boxset / Compilation · 1996 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.90 | 12 ratings
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martindavey87
Iron Maiden's first major compilation album, released in 1996, may seem dated today, but it contains some of the bands strongest and most memorable material up until that point, and seeing as this was released after Bruce Dickinson initially left the band (he'd rejoin them in 2000), this perfectly summarizes what many consider to be the groups "golden era".

As is always the case with compilations, there's the argument for which songs should have been included and excluded, and in this regard 'The Best of the Beast' pretty much covers all the essentials. There's maybe one or two things I'd have preferred, perhaps at least one Paul Di'Anno-era song to be featured (there is one, but it's a live version sang by Dickinson), but that isn't too much of a detriment to the overall product.

Featuring all the classics such as 'Aces High', 'Run to the Hills', 'Can I Play With Madness', 'Be Quick or Be Dead', 'Fear of the Dark', 'The Number of the Beast' and 'The Trooper', this is a great starting point for newcomers to the band (and I say this from experience, as this was my first Maiden album).

There's some fantastic artwork used for the covers and inlays, with plenty of photos, lyrics and liner notes in the booklet, and seeing as it featured most of Maiden's early hits, this makes for a nice overall package for fans of the band. However dated it may seem today, it's still a worthy addition to the collections of die-hard fans.

ATOMIC ROOSTER Space Cowboy

Boxset / Compilation · 1994 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
I'd certainly never consider myself much of an Atomic Rooster fan, and only bought this album because it was £1 and I thought they'd be worth checking out. With that said, I'm actually surprised at how much I like some of the songs. Often associated with the progressive rock genre, I never figured that Atomic Rooster would sound so funky and jazzy. Very smooth indeed.

While these may not be progressive rock masterpieces, there are a few nice tunes in here which definitely make it worth the pound I spent on it. The main highlight for me being ‘Stand By Me’, a song which I liked immediately upon hearing it. I've also grown rather fond of ‘Don't Know What Went Wrong’, ‘Can't Find a Reason’ and ‘Take One Toke’.

With this being my first exposure to Atomic Rooster, I have no idea how well these tracks hold up as representations of the band, but it's a decent enough album for me.

OSI Office Of Strategic Influence

Album · 2003 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 17 ratings
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martindavey87
Now I love Dream Theater! And I love Fates Warning! And I kinda like Chroma Key too! So when Mike Portnoy, Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore banded together to form OSI and release their debut album 'Office of Strategic Influence', I knew it was an album I had to have!

OSI blends all the elements of each individuals respective bands perfectly. Jim Matheos' unique guitar riffs are as impressive as always, especially when backed by the insane drum skills of Mike Portnoy. And Kevin Moore's eerie keyboards add so much depth and ambience to the album, and whilst his vocals do, at times, seem to drone on, they do suit the music very well. It's a very experimental, at times electronic-sounding take on progressive metal, and it works well!

Highlights include 'The New Math (What He Said)', 'When You're Ready', 'Hello, Helicopter' and the haunting 'Shutdown'. It's evident in the songwriting that these guys all know each other well and have a great chemistry when it comes to working together.

But that's not all! If you own the special edition version which comes with a bonus disc, you're in for a treat! While bonus discs are usually nothing more than excuses to release various different versions of an album at higher prices, this one really is worth the price. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' and 'New Mama' are both nice little ambient pieces, but the real gem is 'The Thing that Never Was', a 17-minute instrumental track that comprises of all the best parts of the album. Doesn't sound like much, but it's actually a pretty decent little extra.

Overall this is a great album for fans who like their progressive metal to be a little more experimental, and if you're a fan of any of the individual members or their respective bands, you will not be disappointed.

SAVATAGE Poets And Madmen

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 22 ratings
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martindavey87
I remember this one so well. It was the Summer of 2003, and I was 16 years-old. I randomly picked up 'Handful of Rain', with no prior knowledge of the band Savatage. It was alright. Nothing amazing, but one or two catchy songs that stuck with me. Fast forward a few months and I was Christmas shopping with my sister. Having stumbled across a secondhand music shop, I had to have a quick look, and it was there that I picked up 'Poets and Madmen'.

And from here, Savatage would go on to become one of my all-time favourite bands.

'Poets and Madmen' sees Jon Oliva return to lead vocals, and Chris Caffery picks up the bulk of the guitar work after Al Pitrelli had left to join Megadeth. Though not strictly a rock opera like those the band were famous for doing, there is a loose concept behind the music, based upon real-life photographer Kevin Carter. It's not exactly an easy narrative to follow, though it doesn't disrupt the flow of the album either.

With Savatage slowly taking more and more of a backseat to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (a Savatage-related band that was having multiplatinum success), it's evident that a lot of the music here was influenced by the aforementioned group. Bigger and more grandiose than ever before, each of the songs here is a true gem in their own right, with each instrument working in complete synergy to produce some of the bands tightest and most cohesive compositions.

Highlights include 'Stay With Me Awhile', 'Commissar', 'There in the Silence', 'Surrender', 'Back to a Reason', and the centerpiece of the album, the ten-minute 'Morphine Child'. Each song really shows a band at the peak of their creativity, with plenty of crushing riffs, beautiful melodies, classical-inspired passages and the vocal counterpoint harmonies that the band had made their own.

A remarkable smorgasbord of every perfected nuance that had ever given this band their own unique sound, it's a shame that Savatage spent the majority of their career in the "underrated" category, because this album is an absolute masterpiece.

DREAMS OF SANITY Komödia

Album · 1997 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 2.02 | 2 ratings
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martindavey87
My introduction to Austrian metal band Dreams of Sanity came about with their 2000 release, 'The Game', which is an incredible album and certainly inspired to me to track down the rest of their discography. However, while seeing reviews online that seemed to praise their earlier work as superior, I found myself feeling slightly disappointed by their raw-sounding debut, 'Komödia'.

While I can understand the lyrical themes or imagery that might come with being labelled as "gothic", I've never quite considered gothic metal itself a subgenre. Perhaps I find it too pedantic or pretentious, but I just like to keep things simple. As a result, I consider Dreams of Sanity to be a power/progressive/possibly symphonic metal band. Long, intricate song structures with plenty of exotic musical passages, guitar and keyboard solos, odd time signatures, higher-ranged vocals and multiple songs that follow the same theme... it's all here.

It's just not very good.

The band are tight. They're all very good musicians, and the production is alright, though very raw and harsh compared to the bands later releases. But I just don't find anything really all too exciting in the music itself. The songs all drag on, with seemingly very few moments that actually stand out. Tracks like 'The Meeting' and 'The Ending' are alright, but even they tend to lag at times.

I can't really sum it up any better than this; I like this band, but I'm not a fan of this album. Check out 'The Game' instead.

ENCHANT A Blueprint Of The World

Album · 1995 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.43 | 11 ratings
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martindavey87
One of progressive rocks most beloved cult bands of the 90's, Enchant combine elements of progressive metal along with 80's neo-prog, to gain the perfect balance to appeal to fans of both subgenres. They're an awesome band. They have a very distinct sound, very melodic and easy on the ears, with enough crunch in their music to get heads banging, as well as vocalist Ted Leonard, who I consider one of my all-time favourite singers.

But here's the thing.

Damn, this album took me a long time to grasp. I mean, the first song 'The Thirst' had me hooked instantly, but for some reason the rest of 'em took loads (and I mean loads) of listens until they all finally clicked. And sure, I've come to like a lot of them, especially the first half of the record, but damn, it sure took some work.

The production is definitely of a mid-90's quality, and some of the tracks could do with a little cropping. But it's okay. They're a young band, this is their first album, and while there's definitely room for improvement, they've laid down some very solid foundations for which to build upon for future releases. Songs like 'The Thirst', 'Oasis', 'Catharsis', 'Acquaintance' and 'Nighttime Sky' are all memorable tracks that definitely make 'A Blueprint of the World' a worthy blueprint for this bands sound.

Included with my version is a bonus disc consisting of demos. Nothing special. Not really anything you'd listen to more than once. There is a pretty nifty little number titled 'The Calling' which didn't make the final cut. It's not a huge loss though, and overall this disc might be a great collectable for die-hard fans, but it doesn't really add or detract from the album.

In conclusion; despite featuring some of Enchants best songs, this is nothing more than a "good" debut. It helped establish the band and got their foot in the door, which, at a time when this sort of music was probably the least fashionable thing you could do, isn't such a bad achievement.

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