Metal Music Reviews from martindavey87

STUCK MOJO Violated

EP · 1996 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
'Violated' is a six-song EP by rap metal band Stuck Mojo, released prior to the groups second album, 'Pigwalk', and originally intended only for European audiences.

The disc consists of four studio recordings, including early versions of 'Violated' and 'Back in the Saddle' (titled 'U.B.Otch' here), which would go on to appear on the 'Pigwalk' and 'Rising' albums respectively, (and much-improved, I might add). A Black Sabbath cover, and EP exclusive 'Pizza Man' are also included, and these are probably the only reasons to own this disc. Especially the latter, which is actually a really cool song, despite only being just over two minutes long!

Then there's two live tracks. Personally, I'm always sceptical about early rock releases like this with "live" songs. The quality is very raw, and the audience sound pretty fake, but either way, they're not really songs I'm bothered about.

Stuck Mojo are easily one of my all-time favourite bands, and guitarist Rich Ward is one of my absolute heroes as a musician, but overall, this release is one for the die-hard fans (and surely I'm not the only one!). The music is rough and gritty and the attitude and energy is easily apparent, but there's not really anything here that is either relevant or not improved-upon with later recordings.

MEGADETH Countdown to Extinction

Album · 1992 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 114 ratings
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Hot off the heels of one of thrash metals most revered albums, 1990's 'Rust in Peace', Megadeth slowly started to inch away from the subgenre that they helped to establish, and adapted a more stripped-down radio-friendly approach to their sound. Whether it was a step to ensure their survival amidst shifting musical trends, the next logical progression in the bands own evolution, or a shameless parallel to Dave Mustaine's former bandmates in Metallica, it was a change that ensured that Megadeth would remain one of the prominent names in heavy metal.

Changes aside, this is still instantly recognisable Megadeth, with Dave Mustaine's familiarly distinctive vocals, Marty Friedman's sleek and exotic guitar solos and the solid rhythm work of bassist David Ellefson and drummer Nick Menza. The compositions may have slowed down a notch in favour of more coherent songwriting and more traditional arrangements, but it still sounds like Megadeth through and through.

The only problem is that the songs themselves are not overly memorable.

Sure, there's some absolute Megadeth classics here, such as 'Skin o' My Teeth', 'Symphony of Destruction', 'Sweating Bullets' and 'Foreclosure of a Dream', and there's some underrated hidden gems such as 'Psychotron' and the title track, but there's also some fairly blatant filler material. Songs like 'High Speed Dirt', 'This Was My Life' and a few others do absolutely nothing for me.

'Countdown to Extinction' is regarded as a classic, and in fairness, despite my opinion of it, I won't argue the case. But for me, it's nothing more than a good album. It's got some Megadeth highlights, but its abundance of lacklustre material makes it tough for me to choose this over some of the bands other releases.

KAMELOT The Fourth Legacy

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 31 ratings
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martindavey87
Released in 2000, 'The Fourth Legacy' is the album which saw Kamelot rise to prominence as one of power metals most popular bands of the new millennium. Following on from 1998's 'Siege Perilous', which saw the debut of vocalist Roy Khan, the band's sound was starting to incorporate a heavy use of keyboards, which added some exotic and middle-eastern touches to the music.

The production has been massively improved upon as well, and it's this which has ushered in a new era for Kamelot. With a polished sound which does justice to the atmosphere and sense of storytelling the band are trying to set, 'The Fourth Legacy' is their best release to date. The musicianship is also much more confident than before. With faster, galloping riffs intertwined with some interesting keyboard melodies, the group are certainly headed in the right direction in all aspects but one...

Unfortunately, the compositions themselves are still a mixed bag. While there's some instant classics in the form of 'Until Kingdom Come', 'The Fourth Legacy', 'The Shadow of Uther' and 'The Inquisitor', the rest are fairly average at best. Certainly not anything overly memorable when compared to the bands later output.

'The Fourth Legacy' is a huge leap forward from the bands prior work, and while it still has its flaws, they're mostly overshadowed by the huge improvements in production and musicianship. At best, I could only say it's a decent album, but better things are definitely on the horizon.

SONATA ARCTICA Ecliptica - Revisited: 15th Anniversary Edition

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 8 ratings
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martindavey87
Sonata Arctica's debut, 'Ecliptica', was originally released in 1999, and came at just the right time to establish them as one of the top names amongst a new generation of power metal bands that implemented both progressive and symphonic elements. With its energetic guitar riffs, majestic keyboard melodies and impressive vocal performances, it was an incredible album that still holds up to this day.

So why did they decide to re-record it fifteen years later?

2014's 'Ecliptica - Revisited' hasn't really added anything new, and really doesn't serve any purpose. Other than some very slight alterations to the arrangements, the only real difference is that the songs have been detuned or the vocals have been changed to suit vocalist Tony Kakko's aging voice.

The songs are still good, don't get me wrong, but the original 'Ecliptica' had a youthful enthusiasm that this updated version lacks, and this also heralds the third studio recording of the track 'Replica', which we really didn't need. The original version remains not only one of my favourite Sonata Arctica songs, but one of my favourite songs period, and after a 2006 re-recording, we could have done without a 2014 update.

Still, I'll give this release credit for one thing, and that's an absolutely banging cover of the Genesis classic, 'I Can't Dance', which, in my probably controversial opinion, far surpasses the original. And I love Genesis! But this cover of it is just fantastic and is done with such zest and gusto that it's impossible not to enjoy it.

In conclusion, all things considered, 'Ecliptica - Revisited' isn't an awful release, it just isn't necessary and does nothing to improve upon the 1999 original, so stick with that instead.

RAMMSTEIN Reise, Reise

Album · 2004 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.09 | 39 ratings
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martindavey87
It's the same dilemma that countless bands and artists have suffered before; 2001's 'Mutter' was a monumental album that made German industrial metal band Rammstein international superstars. So what now? Having spawned five hit singles and firmly establishing themselves as the premier band of their specific genre, it would be hard for anyone to release a follow-up that would live up to expectations.

But 'Reise, Reise' is a damn good effort.

Cranking up the heaviness that worked so well on their previous release, 'Reise, Reise' has ditched all the dance and techno elements of the bands earlier work, and in its place is a thunderously heavy album with massive guitar riffs and plenty of haunting keyboards. The sound is slightly muddier and grungier than before, but it's still a well-crafted assortment, with plenty of headbanging anthems that are almost instantly recognizable as Rammstein.

Of course, the main attraction with a band like these lot is their live show, and these songs are tailor-made to be played in huge arenas with plenty of pyro, choreography and imagery.

With skull-crushingly heavy hits such as 'Mein Teil', 'Keine Lust', 'Morgenstein' and 'Stein um Stein', eerily melancholic ballads like 'Armour' and 'Ohne Dich', and all-out cheesy pop-inspired songs like 'Amerika' (one of the bands most famous hits) and 'Moskau' (with infectious female backing vocals), there's a wide diversity of songs on 'Reise, Reise', that ensures that even while it doesn't reach the same heights as its predecessor, Rammstein still sit firmly atop the throne as the kings of industrial music.

SLAYER Hell Awaits

Album · 1985 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 71 ratings
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martindavey87
In today's edition of Bash-a-Classic, I'm looking at 'Hell Awaits', album number two for Slayer, and I'm still struggling to see what made them stand out amongst all the other thrash metal bands of the 80's.

One of the notable differences between Slayer and the other members of the Big Four of thrash (Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax) is that Slayer's music is much less melody-based, focusing more on raw aggression and darker themes. Unfortunately, the lack of melody, in both the guitar riffs and the vocals, makes it harder for any songs to really stick in my head.

While bands like Metallica and Anthrax were already utilizing plenty of vocal hooks and memorable guitar lines, 'Hell Awaits' is a barrage of mind-numbingly boring riffs that fail to do anything other than show off Slayer's penchant for sheer speed and wailing guitar solos that go absolutely nowhere. Tom Araya's vocal style, a weird combination of angry talking and shouting, doesn't produce anything catchy, with literally every single song on this album sounding identical to the last.

Despite repeated listens, I just can't get into this album. I know Slayer are one of metals most beloved bands, and in fairness they will go on to produce some great material, but damn, these earlier releases are just brutal, and not in the good way.

METALLICA Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.53 | 30 ratings
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martindavey87
Now, don't get me wrong, I love Metallica. I didn't mind them going alternative rock. I didn't mind them playing with an orchestra. I didn't mind them using trash cans for snares. But the only thing I've considered a detriment to all their albums since the mid-90's is that they're all so bloody long! And that has never been more evident than with 'Hardwired... To Self Destruct'.

The thing is, eight-minute songs (and longer) worked for the band back in the day, but since the rise of Dream Theater and progressive metal since the early 90's, it really feels like a field in which Metallica can't compete anymore. And in fact, maybe they were better suited to the stadium anthem vibe of 1991's self-titled album, because every song having a ridiculously and unnecessarily long intro, or intricate musical passages that feel like the band are just going through the motions, is getting a bit tedious now.

Criticisms aside, 'Hardwired...' follows on from 2008's 'Death Magnetic', in which Metallica have readily accepted a return to being a (thrash?) metal band. The music is heavy and fast, with lots of tasty riffs and each member really trying to get the most out of their somewhat limited musical prowess. Highlights include 'Moth Into Flame', which is one kickass tune, 'Now That We're Dead', 'Atlas, Rise', 'Spit Out the Bone' and 'Halo On Fire'. All of which are decent tracks that have the makings of great songs, but suffer from the aforementioned duration issues.

Special editions of this album came with a third disc, but there isn't much to write home about here. A bonus track (which goes on for too long), a few covers from various tribute albums, none of them are overly inspirational, and nine live tracks of songs we've already heard countless live versions of, make this hardly worth the investment.

After all that, however, 'Hardwired...' isn't a terrible album. It does show a lot of promise at times, but it really gives off an impression that Metallica aren't fully engaged with what they're doing unless they're trying something new or challenging themselves. Going alternative rock, playing with orchestras, theatrical movies, collaborations... seems like anything that takes them out of their comfort zone is really where they're most comfortable. While 'Hardwired...', to Metallica anyway, is just another metal album.

SAVATAGE Return to Wacken

Boxset / Compilation · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
'Return to Wacken' is a very confusing and misleading compilation album that was released to coincide with Savatage's joint appearance with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the 2015 Wacken Festival in Germany.

The problem is that everything about this release made it seem like a live album, perhaps of one of the bands earlier Wacken appearances, which would have made the most sense. It even has "celebrating a return to the stage..." on the bloody cover! But instead, we get a compilation which is supposedly based upon and inspired by the set lists of Savatage's two previous performances at the prestigious event.

With that said, Savatage are one of my favourite bands, and the music here is still damn good. But as a compilation release, it's very underwhelming. With a wealth of material to choose from, reducing the bands best material down to a meagre eleven songs is near-impossible. Sure, we get 'Edge of Thorns', 'Chance', 'Hall of the Mountain King', 'Gutter Ballet' and 'The Wake of Magellan', not too shabby really, but there's still just so much missing, that it's pretty impossible to really care about this release at all.

Overall, 'Return to Wacken' is just a shameless cash-in on Savatage's return to the stage after a 14-year hiatus. It could make a good starting point for newcomers, but realistically there's better compilations or studio albums to choose from. The truly sad thing is that I knew all of this yet I bought it anyway because I'm such a huge fan and needed it in my collection.

KISS Kiss

Album · 1974 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.40 | 28 ratings
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martindavey87
It's crazy to believe that this uninspiring release would spawn one of the most iconic and legendary rock bands in history. Though, what Kiss would lack in memorable hits they certainly made up for in marketability. Admittedly, I've always had a soft spot for the band. In fact, it was their 'Destroyer' album that changed the life of 12 year-old me back in 1999 when it introduced me to rock music. So going back to the bands early albums has sadly failed to live up to expectations.

Not that there really were any expectations to begin with, mind you. Kiss have always had a penchant for dumb, womanizing, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll anthems, but their biggest trait has always been their image and their ability to sell products. Especially when their early albums were as lacklustre as this one.

Featuring ten tracks that top in at 35 minutes, 'Kiss' is a very raw release that is very straight forward and to the point. Songs about women, partying, drinking and more partying is the name of the game, but none of these songs are as noteworthy as the groups later material.

If I had to be generous, 'Strutter', 'Cold Gin' and 'Let Me Know' are alright, but pale in comparison to albums like 'Destroyer', 'Love Gun' and 'Creatures of the Night', and considering a lot of the other rock bands that were around in 1974, it's not hard to imagine where this band would be right now if not for their iconic face paint and stage shows.

Still, it's Kiss. How can you be mad at them?

ANTHRAX Fistful Of Metal

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
Cover art 3.37 | 36 ratings
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martindavey87
I like Anthrax. I really do. In fact, I feel somewhat bad for them, as they've always seemed like the ginger stepchild of what's known as the Big Four of thrash metal (including Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), but like so many early thrash bands, their debut album is fairly unremarkable, with a lack of finesse being evident in their naive and unpolished song writing.

And I know, this is thrash metal, right? What am I expecting? But like all their contemporaries, their later material shows a huge maturity and growth which their earliest releases lack. Such is the case with Anthrax's debut, 'Fistful of Metal'. Although the album starts off well, it quickly loses whatever charm is has as repetition and a lack of any real creativity sinks in.

While guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz have an immediate chemistry, and drummer Charlie Benante proves himself as one of metals most underrated stickmen, it's vocalist Neil Turbin who's performance fails the band. I find his vocals grating, mostly resorting to high pitched wailing that shows a good range, but something about it just annoys the hell out of me.

Still, songs like 'Deathrider', 'Metal Thrashing Mad' and a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen' salvage this record, and makes it my second favourite of the Big Four's debut albums (Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All' being the best of the bunch). But like so many bands from that era, their best material is yet to come, and earlier releases such as this will soon be left in the shadows.

SLAYER Show No Mercy

Album · 1983 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.44 | 67 ratings
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martindavey87
There was a time in my early teens when I was really into Slayer. I'd just gotten into rock and metal via Kiss, Metallica and Megadeth, and was craving anything heavy, and nothing was heavier to 15 year-old me than Slayer!

But that was in 2002, and while I quickly outgrew my foray into thrash metal, I remained loyal to a lot of the bands. Of what is known as the "big four", Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax stayed with me as my musical tastes evolved and ventured to pastures new. But there was one band that got left behind very easily, and it's time to become reacquainted with them; Slayer,

Released in 1983, 'Show No Mercy' is Slayer's debut album, and much like all the other early thrash releases, it's raw and aggressive, but very unpolished and lacking anything truly memorable other than it's penchant for playing fast. There's not really much going on save for a song or two, with the riffs being fairly bland, typical 80's thrash riffs and Tom Araya's vocals not really suiting the music either. A weird combination of shouting and talking that just sits there but doesn't really do anything for me.

The musicianship is fine. Nothing to celebrate or shout about, but the early makings of one of metal's most beloved bands is certainly there. Guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are certainly competent at keeping up with each other and all the other thrash metal bands of the day, and drummer Dave Lombardo is able to keep the tempo up throughout.

Admittedly, there is one song I like, and that's 'Tormentor'. It has a cool NWOBHM vibe to it, with some very nice riffs that are hindered by Araya's lacklustre vocal delivery. There's worse debuts out there, but I'm not a fan of 'Show No Mercy', and hearing it now, it makes me wonder how Slayer were ever considered a part of the big four to begin with.

ICED EARTH The Dark Saga

Album · 1996 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.74 | 33 ratings
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martindavey87
Iced Earth's fourth release, 'The Dark Saga', is a concept album based upon the story of comic book character Spawn. It's a bit of an odd release in the bands discography, as they stripped down their sound a quite a bit, and as a whole nothing here reaches the intensity, aggression or complexity of anything we'd heard before.

I'm probably one of the very few who didn't like previous release 'Burnt Offerings', which is held in high regard by fans, and while 'Dark Saga' is somewhat a step back in the right direction, it still fails to truly connect with me. I feel like the Spawn storyline is also a detriment to the music. As a huge fan of the character, it seems like halfway through the album the lyrics and music don't seem to relate to the source material anymore. Or perhaps I'm just struggling to pay attention.

Musically, it's standard power metal, but the band have slowed down a lot, with only a couple of songs reaching the same speed as past compositions, but there's still that unmistakeable Iced Earth sound to it. Mostly in part thanks to vocalist Matt Barlow, who, with this release, is the first singer to make it to their second album with the band. With that said, his vocals are fairly disappointing here. I'm not sure if it's the hackneyed songwriting or the uninspiring lyrics, but his delivery just doesn't seem to work.

Even the guitar solos on this album are unremarkable. Most of them just being slow, melodic lead breaks with the occasional harmony. I'm all for solos suiting the songs and not playing speed for speed's sake, but there's just nothing truly memorable happening here.

Complaints aside, there are a handful of moments that save this release from being a complete abomination. The title track, as well as 'I Died For You', 'The Hunter' and 'The Last Laugh' are all decent tracks. But none of them hold up well compared to Iced Earth's other (burnt) offerings, and while it's certainly not the worst album I own, it's probably not one I intend to go back to very often. If ever.

BEYOND TWILIGHT Section X

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 20 ratings
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Released four years after their debut, 'Section X' gives us a second dark and twisted glimpse into the mindscape of Danish prog metal group, Beyond Twilight. With another concept album based around themes of cloning, manipulation and perversion, it's a pretty bleak story, but it makes for some great music!

Beyond Twilight have a fairly unique and distinctive sound, with lots of dark passages that really conjure up images of perverted horror. Their sound is very gothic and gloomy, with powerful, multi-layered vocals and interplay between numerous guitars and keyboards. It's a very atmospheric release, which is surprisingly short for a concept album (at 45 minutes), but will still require a number of listens to really familiarize yourself with the music.

But that's nothing new to us prog fans, right?

Although there are very slight moments where the music tends to drag and feels self-indulgent, overall the album flows diligently. Highlights include 'The Path to Darkness', 'Section X', 'Shadow Self', and what is probably one of the bands finest pieces, 'Ecstasy Arise'. These songs alone make this album a notable addition to any prog metal fans collection, and help define Beyond Twilight as a truly underrated band that are worthy of your time.

AXEL RUDI PELL Wild Obsession

Album · 1989 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.34 | 7 ratings
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martindavey87
You know what? I've sat here for ages trying to think of how to open this review, and keep coming up blank. So I'm just going to waffle, and whatever I type will do. I wasn't expecting much from Axel Rudi Pell's 'Wild Obsession'. I got into the band (band?) with their 'Oceans of Time' and 'Shadow Zone' albums, and this, their (or his?) debut, didn't really do anything for me when I first heard it, years and years ago.

Note: do I refer to "Axel Rudi Pell" as a band, or as a person? So confusing! Onwards...

Listening to 'Wild Obsession' now, it's not actually that bad. Sure, it's nothing amazing or fancy, and it certainly has 80's rock stamped all over it, but a lot of the songs do have some fairly catchy moments. In fact, for all the 80's cheese and macho fist-pumping anthems, the biggest detriment is probably the guitar playing itself. All of Pell's solos sound the bloody same. Every single one of them. Just a fast flurry of mindless notes that add absolutely nothing to the song.

Still, if you can get past that, there's some alright songs here. 'Cold As Ice', 'Slave of Love', 'Call of the Wild Dogs' and 'Call Her Princess' are all cheese-riddled 80's anthems that are about as cliché as you'd expect. But they're catchy enough that I don't mind listening to them.

Overall, Axel Rudi Pell (the man, the band, whichever), will go on to release some stellar albums in the future, but for the most part, 'Wild Obsession' is a decent enough, though not overly essential, debut.

STUCK MOJO Violate This

Album · 2001 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Consisting of various demos, b-sides and other "rarities", Stuck Mojo's compilation album 'Violate This' works as a nice bookend to the first chapter of their career. With constant tension between the members, the band were falling apart, and while this line-up would eventually call it quits, it would be six years of periodic gigging as-and-when anyone was available, before the band would bounce back with a new vocalist and a new album.

With that said, 'Violate This' is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the demos are completed and mastered, or at the very least, of a high quality, while some of them are very primitive, and taken directly from cassette tapes. The better quality ones are the standout tracks by far. 'Ten Years', 'Revolution', and in particular, a re-recorded version of 'Not Promised Tomorrow' off of their debut album, are all fantastic offerings that make this a worthwhile purchase.

Most of the other songs are hit-or-miss though. There's demos from some of the bands most beloved tracks, though the raw sound and the differences to the arrangements make these far inferior to the finished products. There's a couple of covers which feature Devin Townsend on vocals, though the quality is so naff they're not very listenable. And there's a number of demos from the groups early days. While the rap/rock crossover was already apparent, there's a more funk and groove vibe than a metal one. The songs are alright, though nothing special, serving only to show how the Atlanta foursome have evolved from their humble beginnings.

Other than the aforementioned, 'Hate Must Be a Gift' and 'No Pride, No Respect' are also noteworthy songs. Though sadly, everything else is mostly forgettable, and will probably only appeal to die-hard fans (are there any others besides me?!). Overall, 'Violate This' isn't a bad release, and there's enough good material to justify owning it. And the booklet, which features a biography, liner notes and pictures, is a nice touch. But if you're new to Stuck Mojo, or just a casual fan, go with any of their studio albums instead.

FOZZY Judas

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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martindavey87
Who would have ever imagined when Fozzy released their debut album back in 2000, that they'd still be going strong in 2017? It's crazy, right? They're called "Fozzy", and the main attraction of the band is that they're fronted by professional wrestling legend Chris Jericho. But amazingly, not only have the band stood the test of time and persevered, but with 2017's 'Judas', their seventh studio release, they've continued to ride a wave of upwards momentum that shows no sign of slowing down.

Continuing where they left off with previous release 'Do You Wanna Start a War', 'Judas' is full of massive-sounding, stadium rock anthems. The band really started to find their niche when they strayed from their original, more metal-oriented sound, and focused on a more simplified rock-based style, which isn't lacking in huge, sing-along choruses and plenty of keyboard/electronic elements for an added touch.

Vocalist Chris Jericho (the greatest of all time, you stupid idiot!) has really come into his own, and his abilities as a singer, and especially as a performer, have really helped elevate Fozzy over the years. Even more so when backed by Rich Wards thunderous guitar riffs, which has one of the best tones in rock today! While the members of the band have certainly never been known for their virtuoso musical prowess, it's the more stripped down and simplified approach they've taken over the years that has accentuated their strengths as songwriters.

Standout songs include the title track (which has gone on to become one of Fozzy's biggest and highest-charting singles), 'Drinking With Jesus', 'Elevator', 'Three Days in Jail', and the incredibly catchy and infectious 'Burn Me Out', which perfectly encapsulates the essence of what Rich Ward jokingly referred to as "detuned dance music".

'Judas' is a fantastic album, and demonstrates a band who, like a fine wine, improve with age. The amazing thing is, Fozzy haven't even peaked yet.

ADEMA Adema

Album · 2001 · Nu Metal
Cover art 1.86 | 6 ratings
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martindavey87
2001 was the year that nu metal had truly peaked, and as quickly as the subgenre took over the world, it faded away to become nothing more than a footnote in music history. During that brief time period, countless bands appeared out of nowhere to minimal fanfare, and after one or two minor hits they'd disappear back into obscurity, only to one day be looked back upon as nostalgia acts.

And no band better represents this than Adema.

Formed in 2000, and releasing their debut album in 2001, Adema were more of a record-label attempt to jump on the nu metal bandwagon than an actual, polished and seasoned band of musicians. Their major selling point at the time, of which the labels were no doubt trying to capitalize on, was the fact that vocalist Mark Chavez was half-brother of Korn's Jonathan Davis, one of metals most prominent figures around the turn of the century.

I remember buying Adema's self-titled debut when it was released, and other than the singles 'Giving In' and 'The Way You Like It', the album didn't really seem to have much to offer. So, looking back on it now, it's a pleasant surprise to see that, while a good portion of the record is definitely filler material, the band do still have a penchant for catchy hooks and a few memorable tracks.

The music itself is quintessential nu metal. Heavy, detuned guitar riffs with plenty of overlapping effects, short songs with simple structures, a lack of guitar solos and lyrics focussing on depression, angst, suicide, alienation and all the usual things we listened to in our youths when we sulked around wearing our baggy trousers and band hoodies. (I was never actually cool enough to wear baggy trousers, although in retrospect that probably wasn't a bad thing).

Other than the aforementioned singles, songs like 'Close Friends', 'Do What You Want to Do' and 'Everyone' are all fairly decent pieces. None of them are going to alter the musical landscape by any means, but they're certainly not as bad as most people would say they are. And then there's 'Freaking Out', which is admittedly, absolutely amazing, and is truly an underrated gem of the genre. It's upbeat riffs and rap-style vocals work really well, and anyone willing to give this band a chance today might be in for a surprise.

Adema were never fully established or polished enough to become heavyweights of nu metal, and like so many bands of the day, they were easy to dismiss. But listening to 'Adema' today serves as more than just a trip down memory lane, as it's actually a well-produced album with some competent songwriting, and shows a band who could, given time, go on to better things. It's just a shame that by the time the bands second album came along, the subgenre and most of its artists were already irrelevant.

METALLICA Beyond Magnetic

EP · 2011 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.46 | 20 ratings
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Jokingly considered an apology to fans for the 'Lulu' album, which saw the band team up with Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed (to absolutely dismal reviews), 'Beyond Magnetic' is an EP consisting of leftovers from the 'Death Magnetic' recording sessions. Somewhat viewed by fans as the band trying to compensate for what was such a poorly-received release, sadly, 'Beyond Magnetic' isn't much better.

Everything about the four tracks featured seems so lifeless and "just there". It feels like the band are trying to be progressive, but the long, drawn out songs just don't favour them like they did in the 80's, and does more to emphasize their weaknesses as musicians than their strengths as songwriters. None of the riffs fit together and they all seem so disjointed, none of them flowing organically.

Three of the songs hit the seven-minute mark, while one of them staggers on to eight minutes, and it's just too much. They all drag with not enough interesting ideas to justify such long durations.

While 'Death Magnetic' is a great album, one of my major criticisms is the length, with each song in need of some serious cropping. However, it's all a moot point here, as no amount of cutting and editing could make these decent songs, and it's no surprise they weren't included on the record. If I had to be generous and find something positive to say, 'Just a Bullet Away' is a catchy track, though also suffers from jarring riff-changes and a tiresome duration.

Overall, this release is dirt cheap and easy to get hold of, but is only really worth the effort if you're a fan who needs to own everything.

MEGADETH Capitol Punishment: The Megadeth Years

Boxset / Compilation · 2000 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.15 | 8 ratings
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martindavey87
There's always going to be an issue for compilations that they quickly become outdated and nothing more than fodder to be snapped up by elitist fans that need to own everything (do these people still exist?). As far as such releases go, 2000's 'Capital Punishment', which was also the first "greatest hits" album Megadeth released, is a bit of a mess.

I mean, the bulk of the music is fine, and covers most of the bands major early hits, but at the time of its release, with 15 years and nine albums worth of material to choose from, it's certainly an underwhelming collection. Made even more bizarre by the backwards order of its track list. You know something's not right when you're listening to 'Use the Man' four songs into the bloody thing!

Regardless, it's probably dirt cheap these days, so could be an easy starting place for newcomers. It's got the bulk of the important songs, including 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'A Tour Le Monde', 'Peace Sells', 'Trust' and 'Crush 'Em', but overall, it's just an outdated release that is mostly irrelevant today, except for a weird montage hidden at the end of album in which a load of tracks are all mashed together to form a brief retrospective of the bands career. It's interesting, but nothing overly memorable, or listenable.

The album is also notable for two new songs, 'Kill the King' and 'Dread and the Fugitive Mind'. The former would appear on later compilations, while the latter would appear on the bands next studio album. Again, rendering this release obsolete.

'Capital Punishment' is an album I'll probably never listen to again, and the CD will spend the rest of its days collecting dust on the shelf (I'm one of those collectors, damn it), but still, back in the year 2000, at 13 years of age, this was my third Megadeth purchase, and the fact I'm still here today shows that the album did its job well.

MEGADETH Cryptic Writings

Album · 1997 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.11 | 68 ratings
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Having outlived the thrash era of the 80's and survived the grunge period of the 90's, it was evident that Megadeth were gradually going for a more radio-friendly sound with each album. While 1994's 'Youthanasia' still maintained a lot of the bands metal elements, 1997's 'Cryptic Writings' is where they really started to delve deep into "hard rock" territory.

Most fans probably scoffed at the thought, notoriously frowning upon any of their heroes for "selling out" to reach a wider audience and make more money. However, while this may not be the same thrash metal band that released such classics as 'Holy Wars', 'Hanger 18' and 'Peace Sells', the material here is still of a high quality, and the top-notch production really gives the band a very clear, vibrant, and contemporary sound. And it still holds up today.

'Cryptic Writings' is notable for being the final release featuring what many consider the "classic" Megadeth line-up, with drummer Nick Menza leaving the band after this album, and guitarist Marty Friedman leaving after the release of its successor, 'Risk'. Still, the members are as cohesive as ever here, and the lack of thrashy, speed metal riffs has given them more space to breathe, with a wider palette of ideas making for more colourful and varied compositions.

I was 12 years-old when I bought this on CD, and at the time it was heaviest thing I'd ever heard. In fact, this was my second Megadeth purchase after 1999's 'Risk', and so both albums have an endearing place in my heart. Hits such as 'Trust', 'Almost Honest', 'Mastermind' and 'A Secret Place' have stayed with me well into adulthood, and for the metal fans who crave for the Megadeth of old, there's songs like 'The Disintegrators', 'She-Wolf', 'Vortex' and 'FFF'.

Overall, 'Cryptic Writings' is a largely underrated album. It has an excellent sound, and consistently strong songs from start to finish, and if you can accept that the days of 80's thrash metal are dead and gone (and metal in general wasn't a hot prospect in 1997 either), then you'll find this to be one of the standout releases in Megadeth's discography.

ICED EARTH Burnt Offerings

Album · 1995 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 35 ratings
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After two strong releases and a firm standing as one of power metal's more prominent bands, 1995 saw Iced Earth unleash their third album, 'Burnt Offerings', which many fans consider a career highlight, thus making it all the more confusing that I just can't seem to get into it.

What makes this album notable is the debut of new vocalist (their third in three albums) Matthew Barlow, a man who would go on to become the voice of Iced Earth for years to come, and while his powerful, operatic vocals would certainly help define the band on later releases, here, they come across as rather uninspired, oftentimes feeling out of place or forced.

One of the biggest problems I have with this album is that there's so many time changes and riff transitions that just seem jarring. Like they're just thrown together with no real effort to make it feel organic. The musicianship itself is of a high quality, with incredibly tight guitar playing and atmospheric keyboards. But while 'Iced Earth' and 'Night of the Stormrider' are both fantastic records that have stood the test of time, 'Burnt Offerings' just feels so disjointed.

If I had to dig out any highlights, 'Last December' is a good song, and the title track has its moments, though it suffers from the aforementioned issues. It does have one hell of an intro though, arguably one of the bands heaviest songs. The rest of the album just doesn't work for me, though. The 15-minute 'Dante's Inferno', which is regarded by fans as one of the bands finest pieces, bores the hell out of me. Seriously... what am I missing???

Iced Earth are one of my favourite power metal bands, and while they've built up a solid discography over the years, countless attempts to get into this album have done nothing but made each listen more laborious. It's a shame, because the high reverence it gets from fans makes me feel like I'm missing out on something. But whatever that something is, I'm not hearing it.

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 4.47 | 212 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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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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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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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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'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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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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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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'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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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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martindavey87
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 3.92 | 20 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.

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