Paragon – Controlled Demolition Review

cover-final_FULL-SIZEaParagon is a tank. This band doesn’t care about its surroundings, what’s going on outside of their window, what other bands are doing or what the trends of the times are; they are simply plowing through the metal scene with their inexorable mixture of heavy, speed and thrash metal which they have been firing at their fans’ ears since 1995 without much change. Be it their debut record World Of Sin or 2019’s Controlled Demolition, you are in for a ride without breaks in this tank of mass destruction called Paragon. Continue reading “Paragon – Controlled Demolition Review”

Marius Danielsen – Legend Of Valley Doom Part 2 Review

Marius_Dani22222elsen_LOVD_Part2I am anticipating this review to exceed the average number of mentions of “power metal”, but Norwegian singer, songwriter, guitarist and overall composing mastermind Marius Danielsen makes it hard to avoid that thanks to his metal opera featuring just about anyone famous in the genre. “Metal opera” is a positively tainted phrase coined by Mr. Tobias Sammet and his ground breaking two as such titled records from the early 2000s, which he since left behind and sometimes seems to wish to ignore. Good, good, then someone else can take up the flag where he left it. On paper, it looks like Marius Danielsen’s project is fit for the task; an epic fantasy story and about a billion guest singers and musicians, the prerequisites needed, are present in Legend Of Valley Doom Part 2. Continue reading “Marius Danielsen – Legend Of Valley Doom Part 2 Review”

Dynazty – Firesign Review

38614493_10155362015946504_3741389648413327360_nIn 2016, Dynazty released the best power metal album of the year. Titanic Mass was a massive titan of hit rate, with every song being amazing in its own right. This caught me by surprise as I’d never even heard of the band before. What, me, the power metal mastermind? That’s because Dynazty went through some major changes in their rather short history. Their first release Bring The Thunder in 2009 was deep, deep in sleaze rock/metal revival territory à la Reckless Love or H.E.A.T. The same holds true for the two follow-up records in 2011 and 2012, only with 2014’s Renatus shifting towards the… right direction. Titanic Mass saw the band at the top of their power metal evolution with an extremely modern high-energy sound in the vein of Amaranthe or Borealis. Continue reading “Dynazty – Firesign Review”

Beyond The Black – Heart Of The Hurricane Review

CoverEver since their debut, Beyond the Black made quite the impact on the symphonic scene, to the point in which they became one of the most attractive line-up additions to the bigger festivals. Having the energy-driven sound of Songs of Love and Death in their arsenal, that wasn’t surprising – the combination of metal with Celtic elements (albeit nothing new in the genre) mixed with Jennifer Haben’s crystal voice, put the record above the overall lacking in quality releases of 2015. Continue reading “Beyond The Black – Heart Of The Hurricane Review”

Pellek – Absolute Steel Review

PelleK Absolute SteelPer Fredrik Åsly, better known under his stage/youtube name Pellek, has been around in the world of power metal for quite a few years now, having amassed most of his fame on youtube with metal covers of pop songs, anime openings and his own renditions of metal tracks. His enormous fanbase both allowed and saw him release a bunch of solo albums, starting with Bag Of Tricks in 2012 to this year’s Absolute Steel, the latter crowdfunded and self-produced. With all of this as well as his involvement in several other bands like Damnation AngelsQantice, Dragonforce and ReinxeedPellek has proved his merits and love for power metal and music overall. Continue reading “Pellek – Absolute Steel Review”

Elvenstorm – The Conjuring Review

the conjuring artwork 3000Despite their corny generic-power-metal name, Elvenstorm are far from your ordinary Euro power band, and even frontwoman Laura Lombard F by no means places the French band amidst Nightwish clones. Quite the opposite, you won’t find a musically more down-to-earth troupe than Elvenstorm. No keyboards, only riffs and blasting drums for days. Contrary to their Manowar-like artwork and track titles from 2014’s Blood Leads To Glory, this year’s The Conjuring visually and lyrically sets foot in the horror metal genre. Still this does not imply any change to the band’s musical style, which is as established on their third release as it has been since their first record in 2011, Of Rage And War. Continue reading “Elvenstorm – The Conjuring Review”

Kardinal Sin – Victorious Review

Kardinal_Sin-Victorious_CD 300 dpi 3000x3000Another melodic power metal album? Well, if you actually think about it, the genre isn’t as overcrowded as it was in the early 2000s anymore. Most people still feel the overkill from back then, but actually most bands don’t dare to go bluntly melodic power metal anymore. Instead they feel the need to add some pseudo-sophisticated progressive elements for the sake of it where it makes no musical sense.

Sweden’s Kardinal Sin are a refreshing relief from the forced sounding European power metal releases of late as they make no compromises with their easy-going melodic metal. Their debut album Victorious is anything but, even though merchandised as such. The band actually formed in 2005 as Rough Diamond and went through a name change in 2014, thus Kardinal Sin arose. Moreover, Victorious was released in 2017 already digital-only (and in Sweden), with Massacre Records grabbing the band this year and giving the album a physical treatment as well.

As you may know, I have a soft spot for European power metal and as such Kardinal Sin convinced me quickly with the cheesy opening track “Patria (Fatherland)”. High-speed, double bass driven melodic metal with an immaculate, catchy power chorus? Sign me the fuck up! To be honest, at first glance I rolled my eyes a lot going through the album; each track is cheesy, melodramatic and lofty as we are used to from last decade’s pathos-laden melodic metal. Fortunately after a few more spins the melodies really cling to your memory as you expect from the genre and the eye-rolling is replaced with genuine delight about the catchy melodies and happy-go-lucky attitude.

2014 © Savage Photography - Photo: Tallee Savage

Many would stop reading now, and they would be right to do so. Kardinal Sin is a pleasure exclusive to melodic power metal fans. Anyone who can’t enjoy Rhapsody‘s dragons, can’t forgive Blind Guardian‘s ventures to middle-earth and does not enjoy a jester laughing into their face for an hour straight ought to disregard this release completely. No-holds-barred tacky melodic metal is a very singular interest, and not many will be enlightened by Kardinal Sin‘s debut.

Next to the repetitive, uninventive and generic songwriting Victorious suffers from a terrible production. For some reason, Kardinal Sin thought this album deserved an AOR production. Listening to Victorious, it feels like Journey trying their hand at power metal. The guitars are washed out and lacking any sort of punch, the supposed-to-be epic choir parts are devoid of any impact due to the tender mixing and everything sounds incredibly softened. Guys, this is power metal. Does this album have any guitars at all apart from the obvious guitar leads? Those might as well be keyboards. This is a terrible offense and has me enjoy the album way less than I could. POWER metal. Nope.

As I said, Victorious is an uncompromising recording of the most melodious of metal genres and as such a delight to true afficionados and a nightmare for everyone else. The songwriting is generic and miles away from Gamma RayHelloween or the one obvious role model for Kardinal SinEdguy. Still the melodies and grand choruses manage to captivate the listener start to finish on this easy listening melodic metal album. Don’t expect any masterpieces from this album, but as a devotee you will find yourself at least temporarily entertained. Disregard the tacky ballad “For The Heroes” please, one of the worst I have heard in a long time.

Chris, 04/20/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 7
Label: Massacre Records
Links: Facebook | kardinalsin.se
Release date: 04/27/2018

Kamelot – The Shadow Theory Review

1000x1000 (2)I used to be a huge Kamelot fan and I still consider their ’00s outputs as some of the best records released in the otherwise crowded progressive power metal genre. I love both Roy Khan and Tommy Karevik, the former being the iconic shaper of Kamelot‘s renown and the latter an adequate replacement, if at all possible. My enamorment with the band does not mean that I am listening to their albums with rose-colored earphones, on the contrary, I have noticed a steady degeneration in songwriting since 2010’s Poetry For The Poisoned. As always, this is probably highly subjective, but I’d like to deduce my final opinion on 2018’s The Shadow Theory with some more explanations.

I would love to start off writing something positive, but when the The Shadow Theory serves an opening instrumental as generic as “The Mission”, I have to mention it. The same is true for “The Mission” as for the closing instrumental, “Ministrium (Shadow Key)”. Soulless, bland, generic. With those two tracks you will discover pseudo-orchestral pieces consisting of mostly cheap samples commonly used in Hollywood film trailers by subpar componists in the stead of the yet unfinished soundtrack. All effect, no soul. With Kamelot‘s budget and production technology (Sascha Paeth!) you’d expect a more striking instrumental.

Fortunately the album is not composed only of electronic samples but also actual metal songs as well-displayed by high speed power metal hymn “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”, fittingly used as second single from the album after the following track “Ravenlight”. When I first heard “Phantom Divine”, I was extremely disappointed. By now I realized it is the second best song on the album, yet my opinion on the song itself did not change. It tells more about the rest of the album than the track, really. Kamelot used to be known as a groundbreaking, innovative and unique band, but with tracks like “Phantom Divine” they are undermining this image rigorously. Listen to “Phantom Divine” and any other Kamelot single since 2012 side by side, for example “Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)” from 2012’s Silverthorn. I break down the formula: Speedy double bass drumming, down-tuned guitar riffs without purpose and a more than unappealing keyboard “melody”. This followed by a rather calm verse, focusing on Tommy’s vocals until the heavy riffs are reintroduced to finally culminate in a European power metal style allegro chorus. Which Kamelot single was I just describing? Right, all of them.

If the track was good at least. But if you found the composition on some mediocre power metal band’s new album, sung by someone not as illustrious as Mr. Karevik, you’d wipe it away as generic and boring without hesitation. As I said, it is the second best song on the album and that is purely because it still is what it is – a mediocre, but powerful power metal song. No innovation, no soul.

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I talked sufficiently about the second best song, which one’s the best one? That would be “Burns To Embrace”, as expected by many from the youtube trailer displaying short fragments of each song. However, it is only marginally better than “Phantom Divine”. “Burns To Embrace” is another typical power metal track, but this one at least features a sweet melody and anthemic chorus. It’s all a bit more elaborate in its mid-tempo composition than the all-out “Phantom Divine”. Again, this song is nothing special. It is certainly not worth a Kamelot song and would just be a side note, if released by a less known power metal outfit.

“In Twilight Hours”, a ballad, starts off as promising as “Abandoned” but fails to deliver a hard-hitting, emotional refrain. This one features German pop singer Jennifer Haben of fake casting band Beyond The Black. Whatever happened to talented singers like Simone Simons? Well, there’s actually one on the album, Lauren Hart of Once Human who fills a similar role as Alissa White-Gluz on the previous Kamelot release, this time sweetening tracks “Phantom Divine” and “Mindfall Remedy” with both clear and growling vocals. Sadly, she is not granted much space in both composition and mixing, falling behind despite her otherwise excellent prowess.

The rest of the album is as mediocre; when spinning it again and again I was happy to listen to actually engaging songs like the two mentioned top tracks. There are a lot of boring down-tempo tracks lacking any energy or memorability, for example “Static” and “Stories Unheard”. In the past, those would feature great compositional and instrumental virtuosity as in “March Of Mephisto” (2005), but now they are barely a shadow of greater arrangements. Granted, there are good moments. The middle part of “The Proud And The Broken” for example, for the rest insignificant as well, features some interesting, unique structures. Sadly, Kamelot can not expand on their sporadically absorbing ideas and mostly churn out bore after bore.

 

The sound of the album is a standard 2018 fast food production. Fine, extremely compressed, but crystal clear sound. Nothing to rave about and certainly nothing I hope for to catch on in the future. The drumming especially sounds artificial at best. The Shadow Theory actually saw the departure of long time drummer Casey Grillo, the animal behind the battery, to be replaced by Firewind‘s Johan Nunez. Not relevant to the album, which could as well be featuring a drum computer with its lifeless sounds.

That is my final takeaway: Lifeless. Kamelot succumb to mediocre pre-formulated tracks instead of reinstating their former glory with unique, poignant and thrilling songwriting. A less critical thinking Kamelot fan could both enjoy this and hate on me for my honest opinion, it is a Kamelot album after all. It sounds like Kamelot, only lacking everything that made the band great. Let me press the comparison again; if this album was released by an unknown power metal band, no one would bat an eye. The only good thing here really are Tommy’s and Lauren’s vocals, the rest could have been recorded by a robot.

Chris, 04/04/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 7
Label: Napalm Records
LinksFacebook | kamelot.com
Release date: 04/06/2018

 

Runelord – A Message From The Past Review

ca8b7af6-d2e7-44d3-b1e9-a0f2e190dc45Fuck! Old school strikes back yet again. The cover art for Runelord‘s debut has me thinking of  an, except for the table, ill-lit basement with a bunch of dudes and girls going through an epic campaign of D&D while spinning this vinyl in their record player. In 1987. And indeed, the music does not disappoint in relation to band name and artwork. What you see is what you get. It should be mentioned that Runelord is another of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Cederick Forsberg’s bands and projects, who of course is the driving force behind Blazon Stone and Rocka Rollas, bands which brought us traditional-oriented metal masterpieces in the past.

In another crazy display of creative energy, all instruments are performed by Ced himself as is often the case with his releases. He teamed up with Bulgarian vocalist Georgy Peichev yet again after having worked with him on pirate metal style band Blazon Stone‘s 2015 album No Sign Of Glory. Unlike Blazon Stone‘s melodious power metal influences, Runelord allows Ced to let out his love for all things ’80s metal. Musically, Runelord deliver a traditional, speedy heavy metal album similar to Priest‘s or Accept‘s ’80s releases while adding a sometimes more, sometimes less subtle touch of epic metal and power metal which is also due to the lyrics. Written by Fredrik Holm, the words are pretty cheesy sword and sorcery style viking warrior tales. So exactly the kind of stuff this music needs.

The album opens with mid-tempo, gang shout filled “Bloodline Of The Berserk”. That is a weird choice compared to much faster kick-ass tracks you will find on this album, the chorus however will cling to your memory immediately. Right away, Georgy Peichev proves he is the right man for the job of steel-balled warrior metal front singer. His rough, yet in the higher registers soaring voice adds punch to the bold, riff-oriented songwriting.

Like I mentioned, there’s faster songs as well on the album and those are in general better than the stompy ones. The album’s two highlights, “Heathen Religion” and “Valkyries’ Eternal Winter” are of the sort. The former evokes heavy Stormwarrior remembrances with its epic power metal chorus, probably the best on the album. “Valkyries’ Eternal Winter” on the other hand edges on thrash metal territory with its speedy riffs and harsh refrain, something you will experience more than once while listening to A Message From The Past.

Not all songs of Runelord‘s debut are of as high quality as the mentioned pinnacles of energy, in fact most tracks are merely average to slightly above average. Yes, the album kicks your ass from start to finish and never takes a break from heavy riffs and aggressive vocals – it’s just most tracks are missing the certain magic that a track like “Heathen Religion” for example can provide.

What you are getting is a great mix of PriestAccept and Manowar, a piece of genuine old school metal. Most songs feel rather interchangeable, simply following the formula of quick riffage, some double bass, some gang chorus. Each track is still greatly enjoyable for what it is, energy-laden ’80s speed metal, but nothing revolutionary or especially challenging. There are times when you want more complex compositions and there are times when you just need to rock hard, ride free, and for the latter Runelord‘s debut is top-notch material, kicking ass just as well as the likes of Priest. If you enjoy anything between traditional heavy metal and power metal, Runelord‘s gon’ give it to ya.

Chris, 03/30/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 7
Label: Stormspell Records
LinksFacebook | Bandcamp
Release date: 03/31/2018

 

Ayreon – Ayreon Universe Review

1000x1000 (1)In 2017, the absolute madman Arjen Anthony Lucassen did the incredible and brought Ayreon to a live stage on three consecutive days. This display of musician- and craftsmanship featured 16 singers of Ayreon‘s past and eight instrumental virtuosos plus Mr. Lucassen himself, who only participated in two of the 28 tracks played. Fortunately for the remainder of the world population who were not part of the chosen few (9000) attendees, the concerts were filmed and recorded professionally in order for us to enjoy it via Blu-ray, DVD and/or audio. However, not all three shows are part of Ayreon Universe, instead the production team decided to create a Frankenstein’s monster by cutting together the best pieces to one concert for the release (this is my impression from listening to the audio and viewing the experience, I have no confirmed information on this). This has the obvious benefit of choosing the best-performed version of each track while cutting errors or singers who forget the lyrics (not calling out anyone in particular).

That’s right, 28 (twenty-eight) tracks. Plenty of room for each Ayreon enthusiast to get something out of this with their personal favorite tracks. While some may enjoy certain tracks less and go absolutely crazy about other choices, Ayreon Universe is subtitled Best Of Ayreon, a name it deserves. It is only misleading in the sense of not featuring every Ayreon track ever.

Arjen is an amazing composer, but compositions are nothing without the right executing crew. In an epic feat, he and fellow organizer Joost Van Den Broek (also on keyboards here) managed to gather most of Ayreon‘s most notable singers to perform their respective tracks. I’d feel lazy just filling this critique with all their names, but it certainly is admirable to have together on stage greats as Floor Jansen, Damian Wilson, Hansi Kürsch, Tommy Karevik, Anneke Van Giesbergen, Marco Hietala and all the other ones. Each of them is performing at their best in this document of Ayreon’s history. Be it heavier songs like “Dawn Of A Million Souls”, “Star Of Sirrah” or “Intergalactic Space Crusaders” to amazingly instrumented atmospheric tracks like “And The Druids Turned To Stone”, “Comatose” or the Floor-Anneke-Marcela triumvirate performed “Valley Of The Queens”, every song is an experience in itself. Damian Wilson never sounded better than on “And The Druids Turned To Stone”, Mike Mills of Toehider adds his staggering, unique voice like he did on The Source, Magali Luyten (the Belgian power voice who recently joined Nightmare) screams her voice dry – every piece of the puzzle fits together and results in an amazing live performance of everyone participating.

My only complaint is the mixing could have been done better. The fading in and out of the audience in between songs is a bit aggressive and sounds too artificial. The transition could have been smoother. The same is true for the blending of the songs. Instead of actually blending them together, be it from the same day performance or not, Ayreon Universe is suffering from the obnoxious flaw of fading out its tracks to absolute silence in between tracks a few times. There are long streaks of subsequent performance, but about four or five times where everything goes dead suddenly. That slightly ruins the immersion. But all of this is highly specific criticism. The sound production is amazing otherwise and some of the best I ever heard on a live record.

Great choice of tracks, great performances, great sound. There is no reason to not get this album if you are a fan of Arjen’s work, and even if you have not listened to Ayreon before I’d highly recommend this live record, if only for the virtuoso musicianship displayed.

Chris, 03/29/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 7
Label: Mascot Label Group
LinksFacebook | arjenlucassen.com
Release date: 03/30/2018