Symphonic Metal

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Symphonic metal, sometimes known as operatic metal when referring to artists fronted by an (usually female) operatic singer, is a sub-genre of heavy metal music. Symphonic metal is heavily influenced by classical music, with bands creating symphonies to back a more traditional metal setup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums. The sound is most typically created with a synthesiser; however actual orchestration is often used as well, and choirs are also a commodity within the genre. Unlike other metal music styles, the keyboards generally have more of a leading role in an artist’s sound than the guitars.

Symphonic metal finds its roots in the Swedish band Therion, who originally played death metal. The 1996 album Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C by Finnish band Waltari is also considered to have been an important influence on the genre. Therion had dabbled in experimental ideas and classical influences, but with the release of their fifth album Theli in 1996 the band was producing what is now considered to be symphonic metal. Such releases provided the template for bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation, who both released their first albums in 1997, although each had elements of other genres in their sounds, those being power and folk metal on Nightwish’s Angel’s Fall First and gothic metal on Within Temptation’s Enter, which is actually best considered a gothic metal release, although the band would later become more symphonic based with the release of their second album, Mother Earth in 2000. Although the birth of symphonic metal as a genre is associated with the late 90s, metal artists had made use of symphonic elements long before that - for instance, Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion (1985) and Into the Pandemonium (1987) both contain tracks that feature symphonic elements, and in 1969, proto-metallers Deep Purple released Concerto for Group and Orchestra which features The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The term symphonic metal is sometimes used to describe any band that uses symphonic elements, particularly if those symphonic elements are greater than what is normal for the genre in question. There are a few notable and common hybrid symphonic metal styles; symphonic black metal, symphonic power metal and symphonic gothic metal, although there are some less common hybrids such as symphonic death metal, and with the emergence of artists like Across the Sun and Winds of Plague, symphonic metalcore. Each of these styles retains the elements of said style without the symphonic prefix however, which means that when considering symphonic metal as a standalone genre there are not as many artists that can be considered as such as there may initially appear. Even many of the most known artists of the style containing many elements of other metal styles, such as power metal in Nightwish and progressive metal in Epica. Therefore symphonic metal bands are best defined as such if they have a dominant classical influence to them. This is especially important where symphonic gothic metal acts are concerned, as there can be much overlap between the two styles.

While many symphonic metal bands feature a female lead singer, it is not a staple of the genre, although such bands tend to have been more commercial successful both within and without of the metal circles due to having more mainstream accessibility to their music. Many female vocalists in the genre sing in an operatic classical style, which works to effect with the classical inspired symphonic backing. It is this particular brand of symphonic metal that has been alternately labelled as operatic metal. Some artists such as Epica, After Forever, and the early work of Within Temptation combines the female vocals with death growls, in a style that is commonly referred to as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ vocals. This approach has also been utilised in some female fronted gothic metal artists.

Although symphonic metal is widely seen as one of the more commercial metal genres, there exists an extreme variant of the style. Taking more cues from extreme metal sub-genres than normal but retaining the dominant classical influence, the term is best used to describe bands that are influenced by black and death metal, but keeping their main focus on the classical influences. Such artists are less common however, and the term extreme symphonic metal has been used interchangeably with symphonic black metal.

- Written by adg211288 with the input of the Metal Music Archives Admin Team

Sub-genre collaborators:
  • adg211288
  • DippoMagoo

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symphonic metal Music Reviews

EPICA The Holographic Principle

Album · 2016 · Symphonic Metal
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Kev Rowland
I can’t put my finger on it, but there is definitely something that lifts this 2016 album to a higher plane than the one that came out just two years earlier. The intensity is still at the very high level, but Simone seems to be more in control on this one, as opposed to sometimes being swept away. It is bombastic, it is massively over the top, and the guitars have reined in just ever so slightly, although at times they still race off like bolting horses that have been given their heads. It is an overpowering aural assault on the senses, and I love it. The closest way I can think of describing it is like being at a version of Handel’s “Messiah” with full choir and orchestra, but with Slipknot also being involved!

I was playing these two albums back to back the other day, and even without looking I knew when this one had started as there is a definite lift, a step up in just about everything. Symphonic over the top progressive metal just doesn’t get any better than this. This is not something that can be played as background music, but rather demands full attention of the listener at all times, as this is all-consuming, and not for the fainthearted. I really do hope that the guys decided to come down to this part of the world for a show one day, as they must be incredible in concert. This is essential, nothing more, nothing less.

EPICA The Quantum Enigma

Album · 2014 · Symphonic Metal
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Kev Rowland
here is one word to describe this 2014 album that rises clearly above all others, “Intensity”. The production on this album seems to have brought everything together at the highest volume possible, so much so that the listener is quite drained by all of it. Singer Simone Simons has a quite stunning voice, but to be honest she is sometimes drained out by the choir and also by the rest of the band so that she actually loses some of the impact. This is a real shame, as the album as a whole is an incredible piece of work, much more metallic than the band to which they are most often compared, Nightwish, with the twin guitars locked in and riffing hard. They are also more downtuned and there is the feeling that this a guitar based-band first and foremost, as opposed to keyboard-based. Of course, Epica have a second singer in Mark Jansen who favours death growls as opposed to the ‘proper’ singing of Marco Hietala, so there is a very different feel between the two acts.

In many ways I actually prefer Epica, as the intensity is palpable: here is a band that are all firing on all cylinders, rushing to the end, taking no prisoners. Sure, I would have preferred to have Simone’s vocals higher in the mix, but perhaps I’m being just a little picky? This is a symphonic metal band who concentrate on the latter more than the former, and that’s just fine with me.Yes, they slow it down here and there, but it is when they are at full gallop with the band playing hard and the choir singing their hearts out, and Simone striving to rise above it all, that they are at their very best.

NIGHTWISH Imaginaerum

Album · 2011 · Symphonic Metal
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adg211288
Finland's Nightwish are probably one of metal's best known artists and certainly are a name that new metalheads will come across sooner rather than later. They've always been a pretty divisive band as well though, having popularised the soprano voiced symphonic metal sound that was a far cry from metal's roots. With Tarja Turunen fronting the band they gained quite the loyal following though, so when Tarja was fired Nightwish became even more divisive than ever. There weren't just fans and detractors any longer, but divisions within the fans themselves. With Tarja's distinctive voice gone many fans understandably felt that the band had lost one of its key elements, which was only further enforced when they announced that instead of doing what was expected of them and finding someone who could handle the material of the Tarja era, that they were instead bringing in one Anette Olzon of the AOR group Alyson Avenue to be their new lead singer.

Now, I think Anette Olzon gets a lot of unfair criticism for her performance in Nightwish. She's certainly no Tarja Turunen but she was never supposed to be. For what it's worth I think she gave it her all for her two albums with the band before she too found herself going the way of Tarja and was also fired. The first of her Nightwish albums was Dark Passion Play (2007) and though I personally quite liked it at the time I can't say it's weathered too well since. I think that album feels like the band were still in the same gear as they were with the final Tarja voiced album Once (2004) which would have been all well and good if Tarja had still been around to sing on it. Fast-forward a few more years though to Olzon's second and final studio album with Nightwish, which may just be their most divisive release all told. Imaginaerum (2011) is not an album I recall fans reacting too positively about at the time of its release and I can say that I for one hated it right at the start. But then it started to grow on me. This is actually not my first review of it as I reviewed it way back when to the best of my ability once it had opened up into a more positive experience, leaving my readers with words along the lines of 'I'm very sure that there’s a masterpiece hidden in Imaginaerum somewhere, only I haven't found it yet'.

Well guess what? Many years later, I do believe that I have now found what I have expected has always been here. It's been a long journey to take to get to where I am at now with the album, listening to it only very occasionally to see if my perspective had changed at all as I got more experienced with different types of metal music (and more importantly, other symphonic metal acts) and every time I couldn't say that I felt any different about the album, until the day that it suddenly clicked. I'm not sure exactly what changed to make everything about Imaginaerum suddenly fall into place, but it happened. I've left it a good while (over a year even) since then before doing this review re-write just to make sure it wasn't just me being in a specific mood for this album, but lo and behold it seems this is the real deal.

I've had to have a good think about why this could be and I think it may be because I've listened to a lot more symphonic metal bands since I first heard Imaginaerum and noticed that most artists playing the genre are pretty generic. There are a few variances in sound such power metal and folk influences creeping in and sometimes there's some progressive stuff or even outright pop leanings, but those things have become so common that they are now part of the generic symphonic metal formula. It's actually more unusual I think to hear a new symphonic metal release that doesn't use any of these little cliches. Then there's Imaginaerum. It has the folk influences (both in a metal context and not), and it has a little bit of power metal, but it also has a whole lot more besides. Track by track Nightwish do different things on this album, refusing to uphold any formula. Although it has taken me a long time to hear and appreciate it I think it may be the case that Imaginaerum is not only the most creative Nightwish album but also a contender for the most creative symphonic metal album in general. The amount of atypical elements along with the familiar in this album should be applauded. There's Celtic folk music, folk metal, jazz, power metal, progressive and even avant-garde metal, poetry recital, pure orchestral music; you could probably even make a case for it being a form of cabaret. Now tell me, what other symphonic metal album does all of that?

I, at least, can't name another. Of course it's all very well being inventive with your influences but what really matters in any album is whether the songs themselves work. I think that maybe my initial disappointment in the album may have been to do with it possible feeling disjointed. As I previously stated, the band do flit about with their style a lot more than normal on Imaginaerum. This is ultimately to the album's credit though. It's a difficult album to really summarise how it sounds because there's rarely a second song on it that is quite in the same frame as a previous one.

Taikatalvi opens the album and it's basically an intro track lasting for just over two and a half minutes. Male vocalist Marco Hietala sings it solo, in the band's native Finnish. Afterwards they proceed to Storytime, the lead single of the album. This is a fairly standard symphonic metal track that probably would have fit well enough on Dark Passion Play and seems to promise that Imaginaerum is going to be more of the same as its predecessor but then comes Ghost River and things start to get a bit more different, adding in some semi-harsh vocals from Marco.

The real curveball's start though with track four and the album's first full non-metal song, Slow, Love, Slow, as from out of nowhere Nightwish turn into a jazz band. Picture a dimly lit nightclub in times gone by (1930's) and Anette Olzon singing it up on the stage and you won't be far off what the album just dealt you. The song really shows off how good a vocalist she really is actually, as the music is quite minimal (this isn't the most lively kind of jazz). Though it's almost as long itself it forms a pretty great intro for I Want My Tears Back, which is when the genre of the album switches to folk metal. This is one of the tracks I've always liked the most. Then there's Scaretale, which takes things into some just plain weird, circus-like avant-garde kind of territory that seems totally at odds with the more structured I Want My Tears Back. Arabesque then serves as a short interlude, which includes some oriental folk elements.

When the second half of the album gets going the band have entered ballad territory with Turn Loose the Mermaids. There are probably too many instances of non-metal/balladry on Imaginaerum for the more traditional metalhead to stomach, but for me they actually also show the strength of the band as unlike most ballads in symphonic and/or power metal bands they aren't completely bland fare, this one being folksy. It's really quite a beautiful song. The Crow, the Owl and the Dove, just two tracks on from this, is quite similar in style but features some guest vocals delivered by Troy Donockley (who'd later join the band full-time). It's the closest the album comes to having two songs that are very alike though, along with Last Ride of the Day and the aforementioned Storytime. Between the two ballads though is Rest Calm, which plays well with both heavy and light elements to create an effective song. The slower plays and drawn out guitar in the heavy parts is even a bit of a nod to doom metal.

In the final stages of the album we get what promises to be an epic, Song of Myself, since it lasts for over thirteen minutes. This one was always a big shock to me because instead of being something on the level of Dark Passion Play's The Poet and the Pendulum, it's actually sort of half a fairly standard song and then everything is given over to a poem recital, inspired by (but not actually being) the piece of the same name by Walt Whitman. For a long time this has been my least favourite part of the album but I've come to appreciate it more of the years. It's actually quite a nice, gentle way to close the experience that has been Imaginaerum. But of course, there's still one track to go, the title track itself. It's actually a medley of the main themes from most of the previous tracks and sort of feels like the end credits of the whole production, which of course makes sense as the band also worked on a film of Imaginaerum (which I still haven't seen).

Imaginaerum is not the easiest of albums to understand but it is an album that I've really come to regard very highly. While my personal favourite of the band will likely always remain Oceanborn (1998), I think that objectively it's hard to argue that Imaginaerum is Nightwish's most interesting and inventive album; one that also has good songs. I expect some fans still listen to the Anette Olzon fronted Nightwish albums and expect to hear Tarja Turunen's soprano style over symphonic power metal as per the band's classic period and come away with a lower opinion of Imaginaerum because of it, but approach the album from a point of view other than it being a work by the same artist who made Oceanborn and Wishmaster (2000) and you may just come away surprised by it. For me, it's a masterpiece that I have finally unearthed and can now enjoy to its full extent.

XANDRIA Theater of Dimensions

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Metal
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DippoMagoo
Five years ago I heard an album that pulled off what I thought may have been impossible: Take the classic Nightwish sound and make slight tweaks to it, while also modernizing it just a bit, to create something even better and more exciting. That release was Neverworld’s End, by German band Xandria, and it ranks to this day as one of my absolute favorite symphonic power metal albums of all time. In between albums they made slight lineup changes, and the following album Sacrificium came across as a nice continuation, but it didn’t seem to add much new the way its predecessor did, so I was left wondering if the band would ever be able to approach the same level of brilliance again. Well, the band has retained the same lineup since Sacrificum and are now set to release their seventh full-length release Theater of Dimensions. Even though the previous album never hit me as hard as its predecessor, I still thought the current lineup had a lot of potential, and I was excited to see whether or not the band could release another masterpiece this time around and the answer is a definitive yes!

The biggest difference this time around is that while Sacrificium felt like a direct continuation of Neverworld’s End and seemed specifically focused on one aspect of the music, Theater of Dimensions retains many of the same elements but uses them in different ways at times, while also adding in some new elements and just overall being a much more varied and dynamic release. Stylistically, this album is much more grounded in symphonic metal specifically, with an ever increased focus on the orchestral elements and a heavy use of choir vocals, and compared to the previous release in particular, it feels like the band wanted to do as many different styles of songs as they could pull off while letting the symphonic elements lead the way, and so there’s a lot happening on this album. As a result, the power metal elements have been reduced a bit and aren’t as much of the main focus as before, though they still show up on quite a few tracks, most notably “Call of Destiny” and “Song for Sorrow and Woe”.

At the same time, while the symphonic elements dominate, there are a ton of other influences on display here, such as small traces of neoclassical metal on “Call of Destiny” (really, that track has a bit of a late 90’s Stratovarius sound to it with the guitar leads and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser) as well as an increased use of folk elements, most notably on the instrumental track “Céilí”. I also noticed some progressive elements, most notably on the monster length title track, which I will cover in more detail further into the review, but needless to say, it doesn’t disappoint. Perhaps most surprisingly, there’s also a more modern sound to the album, even sometimes hinting at extreme metal elements, with the guitars, in particular, having more of a harder edge than one would expect at times, and of course Soilwork vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid provides some growls on the track “We Are Murderers (We All)”. And of course, there’s some balladry as well, with some tracks having extended softer sections, and there’s one full ballad on the album, that being the outstanding “Dark Night of the Soul”. For all the album does, though, and for how varied the tracks are, the most impressive thing about it all is how consistently amazing everything is, and just how good a job the band does of making different sounding tracks that are equally amazing in different ways, and it’s in that area especially where the album manages to match Neverworld’s End.

A very important aspect of Xandria is their vocals, and they have one of the best singers in the genre in Dianne van Giersbergen. I was initially blown away by her performance on the Ex Libris album Medea, and while I thought she sounded very good on Sacrifium as well, I was left with the feeling the band hadn’t used her to voice to its full potential. This time around, that isn’t the case, though, as not only does Dianne still shine while delivering her smooth operatic vocals as before, this time around she gets to show her full range, sometimes singing very powerfully and more explosive, while other times using the more theatrical vocals she used a lot with Ex Libris, and the way she fluidly switch between styles is something I’ve always been impressed with, so it’s exciting to get to hear her do that on this album. Obviously, there are some excellent guest vocalists on this album as well, with the aforementioned “Speed” as well as current Firewind vocalist Henning Basse, Van Canto’s Ross Thompson and Myrath vocalist Zaher Zorgati, all of whom do an excellent job on their respective tracks.

Moving onto songwriting, and I already mentioned it as being a huge strong point, but let’s dig in a bit deeper. Opening track “Where the Heart is Home” begins with an extended orchestral opening, before the choirs join in and this serves as excellent intro to the album, until eventually, the crunchy, modern sounding guitars make their first appearance and the song turns into an epic, mid-tempo symphonic metal track with an outstanding chorus, great riffs and a really nice guitar solo in the middle. The track also serves as a great showcase for Dianne’s vocals, as she uses her huge operatic voice throughout the track, but the near end is a great softer section where she uses much calmer vocals and that section is an early highlight for sure.

Next up is “Death to the Holy”, an early album standout that has a slight folk feel with its guitar leads, and it’s a very upbeat, happy sounding track that moves along at a pretty fast pace, and is certainly one of more power metal based tracks on the album. It also has an extremely fun chorus, which is pretty much par for the course on this album. Other faster songs include the previously mentioned “Call of Destiny”, which feels like the band took a classic power metal track and gave it some modern touches, with some heavier guitars and using the orchestral elements and choir, and this results in an instant winner of a track that stands as one of my favorites. Along with that track, we also have “We Are Murderers (We All)” a track which gets very fast and explosive during the verses, though it’s hard to call it a full power metal track due to how heavy the guitars get at times and because of the chorus, which alternates between Dianne’s operatic vocals and the previously mentioned death growls. It’s quite the interesting track, for sure, and shows how the band has taken the sound they started on Neverworld’s End and evolved it to the point where they do some more unique tracks. Lastly, we have the more traditional symphonic power metal tracks “Song for Sorrow and Woe” and “Queen of Hearts Reborn”. The first of these is mostly fast paced and straightforward throughout, aside from one softer section in the middle where Dianne uses some of her more theatrical vocals, while the latter starts off with a nice softer section before speeding up for most of the track, and then Dianne does some great voice overs towards the end.

On the slower side, we have the more folk influenced track “Forsaken Love”, which starts off feeling like a folk ballad for a while, though it does get heavier as it goes along, and the choirs show up later into the track to help make it more epic. The last run through the chorus, in particular, is just stunning. Another folk influenced track is “Burn Me”, a nice mid-paced track which has an extremely fun and catchy chorus, while musically it’s folk elements at times remind me of Myrath, which isn’t a coincidence, because it also happens to be the track with Zaher Zorgati, who does an excellent job as always and adds his unique flavor to an already insanely addictive track. But the most folk influenced track is probably the instrumental track “Céilí”, a very upbeat sounding track which uses a ton of different folk instruments and it has some very nice melodies. In fact, it stands out as quite the unique track in Xandria’s discography, both because it’s an instrumental and also because it just sounds so different from anything else they’ve done, and is certainly another highlight.

Moving away from the folk elements but still sticking to slower tracks, we have “When the Walls Came Down (Heartache Was Born) and “Ship of Doom”. First up, “When the Walls Came Down” is a heavier track and has some excellent riffs as well as one of the strongest choruses on the album, and it also has an amazing explosive section towards the end where it speeds up and the guitars get even heavier. The second of these, ‘Ship of Doom”, is an interesting track in that the main riff is quite heavy and suggests a darker tone right from the start, but then the majority of the track sounds much lighter and there are some nice folk melodies during the verses, as well as some pretty cool guest vocals from Ross Thompson who also gives the track a bit of a folk feel, while the chorus is just beautiful as Dianne and the choirs sound amazing. Lastly, “Dark Night of the Soul” is an excellent piano driven ballad, that serves as an excellent showcase for Dianne’s vocals, and there’s also an excellent guitar solo in the second half.

In case the rest of the album wasn’t already impressive, the band saved their most ambitious track yet for last, that being the 14-minute title track. There is a whole lot of stuff happening on this track, though in many ways it feels to me like they took the kind of epic length track Nightwish has done in the past and gave it their own unique spin. It goes through all the twists and turns you’d expect, starting off feeling like a ballad, with some beautiful vocals from Dianne, before giving way to a huge, epic chorus where the choirs are in full force, and then this leads to a dramatic middle section, before the track eventually comes back to that epic chorus. Structurally, it reminds me a bit of something like “Ghost Love Score”, in how it starts calm, gets epic, calms down again, and then gets, even more, epic towards the end, but it’s that middle section where it manages to really surprise. The band brought in Henning Bass to do some guest vocals on this track and the middle section takes a surprisingly dramatic turn, at times feeling more like a musical than a metal track, and both Henning and Dianne alternate between voiceovers and some very theatrical singing, with Henning, in particular, sounding much different than anything I’d ever heard from him before, and this section is very epic and feels totally different from anything else I’ve ever heard on a metal album before. Then you add in those epic choirs and the beautiful ballad like passages from Dianne that bookend the track, and you have something truly special.

It’s still very early in the year, but I can say now I’ll be extremely surprised if I hear a better symphonic metal album this year than Theater of Dimensions. It takes what Xandria started on Neverworld’s End and expands on that sound, adding in new elements and exploring different styles, all while delivering the kind of epic symphonic metal the band has become known for on recent albums, and while still maintaining some of their power metal elements. The album is one of the most varied yet consistently entertaining albums I’ve heard in quite a while and I’d highly recommend it to all fans of symphonic metal, looking to hear the absolute best in the genre. I said last year I didn’t think Epica could possibly be matched, and while their track record speaks for itself, if anyone else in the genre can challenge them at this point, it’s Xandria.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/01/21/xandria-theater-dimensions-review/

XANDRIA Theater of Dimensions

Album · 2017 · Symphonic Metal
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adg211288
It's fair to say that the line-up of German symphonic metal band Xandria has been a bit unstable in the last decade, at least regarding their lead vocalist role. While they were fronted by Lisa Schaphaus-Middelhauve for their first four records, up until Salomé: The Seventh Veil (2007), the next two albums Neverworld's End (2012) and Sacrificium (2014) each featured a different vocalist. However their line-up seems to have finally settled down now as the band's seventh album Theater of Dimensions (2017) marks the first time in a decade that a new Xandria album features the same vocalist as the previous one, Dianne van Giersbergen. The album features a number of guest vocal appearances, from Björn "Speed" Strid (Soilwork), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Ross Thompson (Van Canto) and Henning Basse (Firewind, MaYaN).

Having performed a brand of symphonic power metal akin to that of Nightwish circa the albums Oceanborn (1998) and Wishmaster (2000) on the two previous albums, Theater of Dimensions sees Xandria diversifying their sound. Keeping their epic symphonic elements the main part of their music, they still have some pretty strong power metal in them as tracks like the excellent Death to the Holy demonstrate, but they also shake things up a lot with others influences. Both previous albums also used some Celtic folk influences and that's true here too, but there are also influences from genres such as progressive metal creeping in, especially during the finale epic A Theater of Dimensions. The guitar lead during Call of Destiny is additionally decidedly neoclassical. Björn "Speed" Strid adds his growl and thus an extreme touch to We Are Murderers (We All), which features such pretty heavy and fast guitar as well.

The album still feels like the Xandria who made their last couple of albums, but it shows a lot more growth as band than they did going from Neverworld's End to Sacrificium, where the latter felt like more of the same as the former, while not being quite as good (though it was still an excellent follow-up). Theater of Dimensions feels like a step up for the band. Producing a varied symphonic metal album isn't actually done that often, but I'd say Xandria have pulled it off here, as track after track they manage to change the tone and feel of their music, while keeping the album coherent and flowing. Considering that at 74:25 in total length it's a long release, pulling this off was doubly important.

I'd also say that Dianne van Giersbergen sounds more settled into her role as the band's lead singer here too, and outshines her previous performances with the band, which were great to begin with. In fact I dare say this is one of the best vocal performances on a symphonic metal album I've ever heard, right up there with the best performances of Tarja Turunen, Sharon den Adel, Simone Simons and Floor Jansen (who I tend to think of as the Big Four of all the female symphonic metal vocalists). It's just a very well done album all round, by all involved including the guest vocals who each add yet another different aspects to the songs they appear on. I especially enjoyed Henning Basse's parts on A Theater of Dimensions. I'd say that this is definitely one of the album's highlights, along with Death to the Holy, Call of Destiny, We Are Murderers (We All), Ship of Doom and Queen of Hearts Reborn.

Given that Epica delivered an album last year I can't see Theater of Dimensions being topped as the best symphonic metal album of 2017, despite it's January release date. I usually use Epica's work as the standard these days that all other symphonic metal bands have to beat but this album actually proves that I should stop doing that for Xandria as with their last three albums they've shown themselves to be of the same calibre as the Dutch band. Those who wish Epica wouldn't use so many growls will probably even like Xandria more. Highly recommended stuff.

symphonic metal movie reviews

NIGHTWISH Showtime, Storytime

Movie · 2013 · Symphonic Metal
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Pekka
You probably know the story. Anette Olzon, Tarja Turunen's replacement at the Nightwish mic was let go in the middle of the band's tour for Imaginaerum, and Floor Jansen was summoned to be her stand in at an extremely short notice, finally ending up as the permanent vocalist. At least for the time being, that is, knowing the band's tumultous history with their front women. While all this was happening they had the cameras rolling for a tour documentary they would probably have released anyway, but this turn of events naturally kicked the interest level up a notch or two.

The documentary starts at the turning point of the tour - the gig with the Kamelot singers while Anette was hospitalized and the heroic entry of Floor Jansen, and so naturally the viewer expects a dramatic back story of how they got to the low point. But no, the tour starts out great and everything goes smoothly and the touring machine is examined in great detail from many angles right down to Tuomas Holopainen's wine bottle stand under the keyboards. The tour continues to be a success and everyone is having fun, and suddenly they have insurmountable personnel strife that just can't be salvaged. Especially after reading the mercilessly honest and brutally detailed official band biography, it's very disappointing that the problems with Anette are in no way explained. They just couldn't continue being in the same band and that's that.

So the big potential is wasted, possibly due to Anette's refusal to be included in any form, and that may after all be a blessing in disguise, since the documentary was originally supposed to be a stand alone release. I'm only guessing here, but perhaps this bastardisation was the reason they chose to include the Wacken gig as well, and push the documentary to the second disc.

And holy hell are they on fire in the main feature! I get immense pleasure from the sense that this group that I started listening back in 1997 when I first heard The Carpenter on a metal compilation cassette (fuck yeah) made by a friend, and lost for some years after Once, has finally found the perfect line-up without a single hiccup. Tarja's voice was what made the band stand out in the beginning, but as a metal frontwoman she was always awkward, as was the pop-oriented Anette Olzon after her. Third time's the charm, and in Floor Jansen they have a true stunning metal goddess with lungs to handle any and every song from the band's catalogue while making them her own. And let's not underestimate the official addition of Troy Donockley, who brings important colour to their sound. I'll be excited to hear how the band utilises his rather metalless but extremely pleasant voice on the next album.

The band is captured touring my favourite Nightwish album, so the setlist leaves little to be desired, but it would've been nice to hear more than one track from their first three albums. And Scaretale from Imaginaerum, though that was such a perfect performance by Anette that I doubt Floor can top that. Nightwish as a musical unit is so much tied to the taped orchestrations these days that it leaves very little space for improvisation, which is why it's nice to hear a little additional keyboard solo in I Wish I Had An Angel, and which is also why it's easy to let the newly improved vocal department steal the show.

Put cameras on this show, and it's bound to be brilliant. The band were on top of their game on this tour after the personnel change, so it will be interesting to see how they make the new line-up work on record. For the first time since 2005 I'm eagerly awaiting the next Nightwish album.

Concert ***** Documentary **½

METALLICA S&M

Movie · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
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AtomicCrimsonRush
"Let's hear it for Michael Kamen yeah!" He was the only one who had the guts to do this. This is the ultimate exercise in excess, to marry Metallica with a Symphony orchestra. The DVD is a crystal clear well edited package onthe ultimate event of the year. It is great to watch the orchestra getting into the music and then to see Metallica banging along. The crowd are as raucous as any Metallicrowd and of course it is as heavy as it always is. There are some fantastic surprises such as Call Of Cthulu sounding very Gothic and powerful with the violins and brass. The concert shows in equal measure the band and orchestra trading off seamlessly. It has been done before of course with Deep Purple and other metal acts. It is almost becoming a cliche of late with many bands taking up the idea including Kiss, Within Temptation, Dream Theater and Therion, all of which are captured on DVD. Non metal acts have done it such as Camel, Yes and ELP. The weird thing about it is these orchestral and rock marriages always work for me. I love to hear that massive orchestral sound with the crunching distortion of guitars. To hear a violin sweep across when you expect a guitar solo is bliss to my ears.

There are so many highlights on this DVD including Master of Puppets, more dramatic than ever, the darkness of super heavy The Thing That Should Not Be, The Memory Remains, iconic with audience participation, Nothing Else Matters, a definitive highlight and the crowd are in raptures when this is played. For Whom the Bell Tolls sounds very Gothic with the sweeping violins, and the song One is a masterpiece with the orchestral accompaniment.

The footage is professionally shot and edited as you would expect and it is nice to see the orhestra mamebrs having fun with this. None of the songs are less heavy, they are augmented to majestic heights. Watching this concert live is the best experience which is perhaps a pinnacle of the group's existence. Soon after it all turned sour as we know, captured on the astonishing Some Kind of Monster doco, but it is so great to see Metallica at the height of their powers as we do in S & M. Check out this DVD to see metal at its grandest.

WITHIN TEMPTATION The Silent Force Tour

Movie · 2005 · Symphonic Metal
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adg211288
I find that music DVD’s can be a hit or miss thing’s with fans but this one is a definite hit. If you haven’t had the chance to see Within Temptation live then this DVD captures them at their flawless best; perfect renditions of many of their best songs, spanning all four studio releases that they had at the time, great stage sets and special guests. I’ve actually seen the band while they promoted the album that they released in 2007, The Heart of Everything and in that show they mainly only played songs from said album and The Silent Force, throwing in a couple of fan favourites from Mother Earth, so The Silent Force Tour DVD makes for a great chance to see early classics such as Candles and The Other Half (of me) performed.

Clearly the band have spared no expense to make their show one to rival that of band’s said to be the some of the greatest live performers of modern times. We see a torch light procession for Candles, huge blow up creeper things to represent the power of nature during Mother Earth and lead singer Sharon den Adel suspended above the stage in a cage for Caged. Some band’s will go out of stage and just play but not Within Temptation. This is not just music, this is a show.

But first and foremost in importance is the music. Within Temptation play without fault and Sharon den Adel never misses a single note. We even get to hear the vocals of guitarist Robert Westerholt on a couple of songs, giving fans who may have only heard The Silent Force or The Heart of Everything a chance to hear Within Temptation’s earlier ‘beauty and the beast’ style of vocal delivery. Song highlights are Deceiver of Fools, Angels, Caged, Mother Earth, Candles, The Other Half (of me), Jane Doe and It’s the Fear.

Extras wise there is three music videos for the singles that came from The Silent Force (Stand My Ground, Angels, Memories) and two shorter live appearances on the first of the two discs. The extra live shows only have songs that appear in the main show and one is the same songs as the three music videos but it’s the main concert that you should be buying this for. If you’re like me you won’t be bother by that fact after you’ve watched the main show.

On the second disc you’ll find backstage footage from various places; making of documentaries for The Silent Force album and the three music videos; some interviews; a photo gallery and a bloopers/credits section. It’s not stuff that you’d probably watch more than once but I’m giving this DVD it’s rating based on the main feature. All this extra stuff is just a bonus next to that. That in itself I feel is justification for the 100% score I’m giving this DVD. If you like this band, what are you waiting for? Go buy it.

(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)

METALLICA S&M

Movie · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
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Stooge
I had owned the CD version of S&M years ago, so it is good to revisit this with the visuals thrown in. Contrary to what I remembered from the CD, there really isn’t too much toestepping between what Metallica plays and what the orchestra plays. Most of the songs sound about as smooth as the originals. In fact, the only songs that I’m still not convinced worked effectively were “Until It Sleeps”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Sad But True”, and much of “Battery” (though I love the intro). Even “Enter Sandman” worked surprisingly well.

Most of the material in this concert comes from songs from the Black Album and later. I would have liked to see a bit more variety in their song selection as there are plenty of songs from their past that almost naturally lend themselves to orchestration. Even a tune off of Kill ‘Em All would have been an interesting attempt.

Just for fun, here are some songs I would have liked to see them attempt with the orchestra: “Fade To Black”, “Orion”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “…And Justice For All”, and “The Unforgiven”.

Although not the first rock/metal band to perform with an orchestra, Metallica often gets credit for starting a trend for rock bands to collaborate with an orchestra. However, much of the credit for the success of S&M should be given to conductor Michael Kamen. He was the one who spearheaded the project by taking an interest in Metallica’s music and proposing that they further collaborate (he did some arranging in 1991 on “Nothing Else Matters”). His arrangements on the two previously unreleased songs, “No Leaf Clover” and “- Human”, give both songs a strong identity. It would have been interesting to hear an entire album or an EP with all new material, because the collaboration certainly had potential.

As a whole, I’d say this is a good Metallica release. The performance by all involved is good and it’s shot well. However, it would be a stretch to call this essential Metal(lica).

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