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”

Powerwolf – The Sacrament Of Sin Review

907264Powerwolf return to bring sex to the church of power metal. So much sex! Was I too ignorant or too innocent to see this on their past albums? Sure, tracks like “Resurrection By Erection” from their 2009 masterpiece Bible Of The Beast were very much on the nose, but this time around the Germans conceal their innuendos in smart allegories which will bring the same dirty smirk to your face as the one probably found on this album’s “Stossgebet”‘s priest’s visage. Continue reading “Powerwolf – The Sacrament Of Sin Review”

Cryonic Temple – Deliverance Review

419434I was pretty hyped about Into The Glorious Battle in 2017, after all it was Cryonic Temple‘s first album after an absence of 9 years, and 12 years after their last good album. The Swedish power metal force has been around for a few years in the early ’00s, putting out three immaculate melodic power metal records back to back, ultimately failing in 2008 with a turn towards a modern sound and a change of vocalists. Into The Glorious Battle made this slip undone, featuring a whole lot of classic power metal tracks and the energy we were used to from classics such as 2005’s In Thy Power. In retrospect, the album surely could have been better in parts, and original vocalist Glen Metal’s voice still is sorely missed, but overall it was a way for Cryonic Temple of getting back on track. Continue reading “Cryonic Temple – Deliverance Review”

Derdian – DNA Review

derdian-dnaItaly’s Derdian are one of the few remaining bands of the ’00s European melodic power metal hype which spawned hundreds of bands aiming for an extremely melodic, symphonic and heroic sound in the vein of what Rhapsody started in the late 1990s. While some bands gave the formula a shot of their own ideas and influences, Derdian have been and still are honing the original idea of dramatic, melodic power metal refined by fellow Italians Rhapsody especially during their first three albums. There aren’t many of the initial masters of this style around anymore, with Rhapsody spread across two bands now, both deviating greatly from the band’s original sound, and even Kaledon, another Italian evangelist of heroic power metal, abandoning their trademark sounds for grittier experiments on their latest record. Continue reading “Derdian – DNA Review”

Iron Fire – Dawn of Creation (Twentieth Anniversary) Review

31946109_10157403443725558_5859436604178825216_nAlbums recollecting the history of a band, especially those released by bigger bands through huge labels, are usually a rather dull matter, as proven time and time again by record labels throwing out cheap collections of the respective bands’ most beloved tracks on a CD to make a quick buck. Sometimes those are complemented by a live recording or something of the sort to have the core fans grudgingly buy an album full of songs they already own on other releases just to complete the collection with the added bonus, which is usually not worth the money of the whole package. Continue reading “Iron Fire – Dawn of Creation (Twentieth Anniversary) 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.

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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

Temperance – Of Jupiter And Moons Review

685026Ever since its first steps about a decade ago, the so called modern metal was received with high hopes and expectations: means to help reduce the musical stagnation and attract those listeners, sick of tales of dragon slayers, warriors of the Antichrist and pathological amateurs. Sadly, one cliché was only inherited by another and a couple of years later, the young style was already soaking in commercialism and subdued by labels trying to cache in on its potential.

Temperance is one of the more interesting bands of the mentioned trend, despite their late and not-all-that-original debut. However, their fourth studio album leaves all genre stereotypes behind in favour of a straightforward and purposeful sound. Of Jupiter And Moons has an intriguing Sci-Fi concept, abundant memorable melodies and impressive duets. At the same time, the compositions are also diversified with quasi-progressive elements, increasing the replayability of the record.

The best thing here is the fact that Temperance finally managed to find their own niche instead of being a clone (albeit a good one) of Amaranthe. Without any significant changes compared to its predecessor The Earth Embraces Us All, the new Italian effort has a solid core of melodic sympho-power metal without any disco influences whatsoever, with an electronic side well under control. A big part of the songs’ character is due to the impressive new vocal duo Michele Guaitoli/Alessia Scolletti. While we are well acquainted with Michele’s work in other Italian bands like Overtures and Kaledon, until recently Alessia was shrouded in mystery. Even though her voice is not as dynamic and polished as ex-frontwoman Chiara Tricarico’s, she brings a highly emotional performance to the table, towards which one cannot stay indifferent for long.

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“The Last Hope in a World of Hopes” sets the mood with balanced guitars, keys and powerful choruses – a successful combination that lasts until the very end of the album. Additional praise goes to the explosive energy of “Broken Promises”, the title hit track (better yet, a HIT – you won’t find many captivating songs of this caliber, especially in the metal scene) and the overly epic ballad “Empires and Men”. The Hammond organ and some gospel vocals introduced in “The Art of Believing” are both unexpected and pleasantly surprising, while the closure “Daruma’s Eyes” is one of the band’s bravest achievements to date with its enigmatic orchestrations, complex riffs and multilayered arrangements. Such magnificence makes it almost inevitable for one or two tracks to sound more forgettable, but this can hardly ruin the overall impression.

Of Jupiter and Moons may not be a perfect album but it sounds fresh and honest, which cannot be said for most modern releases of late. Temperance can surely be proud of their newest opus and with it, the genre’s future seems a bit brighter.

Dilyana, 04/13/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 8
Label: Scarlet Records
Links: Facebook | temperanceband.com
Release date: 04/20/2018

Axel Rudi Pell – Knights Call Review

1000x1000 (1)I was dreading this review; it is hard to write an interesting piece about a boring album while staying objective and not bashing too hard. Axel Rudi Pell, guitarist of his eponymous band most notably featuring singer extraordinaire Johnny Gioeli and keyboard player Ferdy Doernberg, clearly is a legend. His time with Steeler and groundbreaking releases under his own name such as The Masquerade Ball (2000) or Black Moon Pyramid (1996) are testament to his status. Alas, being a legend is no prevention from releasing bad albums. Even bigger greats like Judas PriestIron Maiden and the likes are no strangers to this.

Anyone who knows ARP knows the band’s characterizing trait: no change, ever. So let me start this off with a funny one. You might have the feeling Mr. Pell’s music sounds the same every time, but it goes deeper than that. Let me get my tinfoil hat. Consistently since 1998, the band has been putting out studio albums with new material exactly every two years. 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018. That is a… feat? Moreover, all of those albums have exactly 10 songs. Is this a joke? Moreover, all 11 of those albums except one (Tales Of The Crown) start with an instrumental intro track between 1 and 2 minutes long. This convinces me that Axel Rudi Pell is playing some kind of long time practical joke on us. I don’t know the exact outcome of  this, but it surely manifests the evident stubborness of releasing the same album every two years.

ARP history can be divided in three ages. The glorious early years, the downfall and the end. The glory years ended with Kings And Queens, maybe including it, maybe not, continuing with the downfall until 2014’s Into The Storm (already part of the end times), followed by the end. The end not as end to the band who are clearly still eagerly releasing albums, but an end to musical quality. Yes, you can listen to The Masquerade Ball (2000) and then this new Knights Call and you will know it is the same band. The music still sounds the same. It just has been getting more and more stale. That is not because of repetition (even though that is not exactly great either); I’d be more than happy if Mr. Pell was releasing Masquerade Ball after Masquerade Ball, but the great compositions and energy of such records are fading with each subsequent release. Which leads us to 2018’s Knights Call (who are they calling? It is not Knight’s Call!) which is the bottom end of ARP routine (until the next one comes along).

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“The Medieval Overture” is the obligatory instrumental introduction featuring midi sounds stolen from Summoning mid 90s. What follows is a mediocre hard rock track with “The Wild And The Young”. Johnny Gioeli’s first line is “Sometimes I am dreaming of the past”. I understand. Accordingly, the track addresses the energy and carelessness of youth. Very meta of Mr. Pell who seems to be aware he is lacking this energy. Even Gioeli, one of my favorite singers, is lacking in his performance. Compare his singing even to recent examples like 2012’s album opener “Ghost In The Black”. Wow, the screaming, the ass kicking! Nothing of this to be found here. The riff is forgettable and the rhythm as thrilling as the glass of coke sitting on your desk from the other day. Stale, let’s pour it away.

This might come as no great surprise, but the other tracks on the album sound the same. Uninspired hard rock songs, not even edging on power metal anymore, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. There is an inexplicable almost-5-minute instrumental called “Truth And Lies” which you could delete right off the album (except it would break the holy sanctity of 10-track albums) and two songs longer than 8 minutes. This was great when those songs were called “The Masquerade Ball” but these days it is an experience as captivating as ironing.

I found myself having some of the choruses stuck in my head, being able to sing along, but that is more the type of begrudgingly stuck song similar to a famous pop song you’ve heard too many times on the radio or in public. The songs are as unremarkable as can be and since they, musically, sound just the same as earlier efforts of ARP you might as well ignore this new album and enjoy old masterpieces or visit a Pell show, the latter probably being great fun since Mr. Pell and his companions still seem to have the will and energy to play, but this does not translate to the once dashing power of his songwriting anymore. I feel Axel Rudi Pell enjoy playing live and just press out something every two years so the label doesn’t complain. So, get merch or go to shows, but definitely keep away from this album unless you like to self-castigate.

Chris, 03/19/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 8
Label: SPV
LinksFacebook | axel-rudi-pell.de
Release date: 03/23/2018

Sebastien – Act Of Creation Review

Act-Of-Creation-fullCzech melodic power metal band Sebastien is deceiving you with their new album. Short songs and catchy choruses make you believe you are dealing with just Another Average Album™ of the genre, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. While Sebastien has “only” been around since circa 2008, most of its members can bring more than 10 years of musical experience to the table. Internationally, however, Sebastien might be the most famous outlet among the various musical efforts of the band members. That is not to say that this is a wildly popular band, even in power metal circles the two previous outputs “Tears Of White Roses” and “Dark Chambers Of Déjà Vu” didn’t resonate too much. “Act Of Creation” (I wonder how long they will keep up the “X of Y” pattern) tries yet again to strengthen Sebastien‘s position in the scene and could actually succeed.

“Act Of Creation” fronts as a simple power metal album featuring upbeat refrains and fast-paced, energetic tracks backed up by George Rain’s colossally gravelly voice, comparable to Jo Amore, Jorn Lande and Nils Patrik Johansson. Maybe a bit softer in parts, but definitely able to belt out some aggressive tunes when necessary. Now, this recipe – unique, powerful voice over lively (power) metal songs – oftentimes passes for a good album, and that is that. There are many bands employing this method and delivering successfully each time, over and over again. Lucky for the listeners and good on Sebastien that the Czech band does not follow this stale program.

The opening track “Act Of Creation” displays the twofold natures of this album’s compositions. It took me about ten spins of the album to see this track for what it is: a really good Kamelot song. Listening to the album a few times, you will surely enjoy the memorable choruses and the overall kick of energy that streams through Act Of Creation’s veins akin to Sabaton‘s tunes, but only after having spent quite some time with the CD the progressive structures reveal themselves to you.

Of course, there are songs that are what they seem to be. “No Destination” for example is an amazing beater with some of the most powerful vocals on this album, “Amy” is your token rock-like single and “Winner” reminds of a more power metal-centered version of Amaranthe. Those songs are great, but where Sebastien really shine is at more flavorful, dynamic and diverse compositions. At first, the easy tracks will pull you in and impress you with their energy, but after a while you recognize the real masterpieces hiding in plain sight.

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“Heal My Soul” is an anthem that reminds of just another power ballad, but grows with every listening session. In the end you will come to realize that this song was actually ghostwritten by Dan Swanö and should have been released on a Nightingale album. Sebastien are really good at having you listen twice, hell, twenty times until you notice every aspect of a song. This is absolutely vital to interesting albums because it keeps you invested. Instead of going stale with simple compositions, “Act Of Creation” actually gets better every time you listen to it. Songs like “Die In Me”, “Full Moon Child” and “My Empire” all seem quite good and enjoyable at first but grow to be more interesting than the songs that made you go “Wow!” during your initial spin.

Sadly there are a few stinkers on “Act Of Creation” as well, namely the three (!) full-on ballads “Queen From The Stars”, “Hero” and “Promises”. Sebastien are not good at writing ballads like Kamelot are. And then there are some average tracks like “Evermore” and “Amy” which do not live up to the complexity and inspiration of the rest of the album. All that said, there is still a great deal of amazing compositions to be discovered on “Act Of Creation” which quickly makes you forget the mediocre pieces. At a running time of 61 minutes it is easy to forgive some fillers.

Describing “Act Of Creation” is hard due to its unique combination of extremely catchy ditties like “No Destination”, “Wake Up” or “Winner” and complex songs such as “Heal My Soul” or “Act Of Creation”. Various influences are spilled all over the album, there is some Kamelot, there is Evergrey, there is Sabaton and there is Nightingale. Overall this album offers a suprisingly enjoyable listening experience, able to be played twenty times in a row and still growing. Any fan of the aforementioned bands or progressive power metal should have a peep at this.

Chris, 02/28/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 7
Label: Pride & Joy Music
LinksFacebook | sebastienofficial.com
Release date: 02/23/2018

 

Angra – ØMNI Review

24796449_1931882986827641_8548198602963311541_nWhenever a new Angra album is released, you can expect a surprise. While Angra are at the forefront of Brazilian power metal and especially the international recognition of the local metal scene, they are anything but resting on their laurels or repeat the old recipe again and again.

From incorporating traditional Brazilian sounds in Melodic Power Metal on their first two albums “Angel’s Cry” and “Holy Land”, to catchier, European-sounding records in the 2000s to prog power albums post-2010, Angra not only demonstrate endurance but also innovation and inventiveness. Despite the constantly changing lineup, which initially saw Andre Matos, then Edu Falaschi and in between also half of the founding members (who then founded Shaman) rotating out of the band, the troupe with mastermind Rafael Bittencourt never lets down and continuously releases albums which blow up the cage of Power Metal.

The latest result of this unbridled creativity is the all-encompassing work “ØMNI”, which not only challenges my keyboard, but also the auditorium. Angra continue to follow the path pioneered by the first longplayer with Fabio Lione, “Secret Garden”, and diligently create their own niche between prog, power and folk sounds. On “ØMNI”, the audience should not expect linear melodies like “Carry On”, but instead a surprising turn with every new track.

In order not to push away fans who want a bit more shallow – and I mean more catchy – sounds, the Brazilians open with two quite simple Power Metal songs, of which the first, “Light Of Transcendence”, is from start to finish Classic-European-style Speed-Firecracker à la “Eagleheart”. “Travelers Of Time” presents a somewhat larger entry barrier with its progressive verses, but the overcoming of these is rewarded by a hymnic chorus and a solo reminiscent of the early 2000s.

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After these two soothing melodies (which, by the way, were the first two singles released …), Angra let the cat out of the bag. Oops, no Power Metal? No, but in that case: All the better. “Black Widow’s Web” opens with a spooky atmosphere and a short vocal part by the Brazilian pop singer Sandy, who is probably more well known to Brazilian listeners than international. Then it goes straight into the deepest prog realms with a 7/8 beat and thick Djent-like riffs. Anyone who turns their eyes at Angra and Djent in one sentence should, however, see for themselves how well that works. And do not think so narrow-minded. In addition, Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz enriches this extremely varied song with her death shouts. As a compromise, there is an ear flattering chorus that gets stuck right away. Certainly one of the band’s most daring tunes, but after the brilliant finale of it, a song remains that stands out and impresses.

Impressive as well is the opening of the following track “Insania”, which is brought by an extremely hymnic choral part in to a prog stanza, and then culminates again in a typical European melodic chorus. This recipe is also the only feature of Angra‘s that runs like a thread through the album. Challenging prog structures with 7/8 and 3/4 bars as in “War Horns”, “Caveman” and “Magic Mirror” are combined with catchy melodies. This leads to one of the album highlights in “Caveman”. Technically advanced Prog sounds, mixed with Brazilian folk influences, resulting in an euphoric chorus, which forms a striking contrast to the prog parts.

Traditional, gentler sounds are emphasized in the two ballads “The Bottom Of My Soul” and “Always More”, which can convince the listener after several rounds. Rafael Bittencourt is convincing as well with his rough, earthy vocals, of which I would have liked more in such a varied, daring album. Although Fabio Lione is a great vocalist, he is more in tune with his main melodic power metal bands, where his vocals soar like an eagle. The progressive, playful sides which Angra often show here call for a heavier singer in the direction of Russell Allen (Symphony X). Lione does a good job, but sometimes his slightly thin voice is inappropriate. In songs like “Silence Inside”, the final 8-minute show, he wants to scream out of the cage, but the music can not keep up. Here a down-to-earth voice like Rafael Bittencourt’s would be more fitting. However, Fabio Lione, for whom singing is routine in the face of thousands of bands and session vocals, does a great job as always.

Experienced, but varied and innovative Angra present themselves on “ØMNI”. The multi-faceted songs benefit from a dynamic Jens Bogren production, which increases the focus on contrast between loud and soft or virtuosic and anthemic. This contrast is the strength of the album. Angra do not make it easy and do not just press out a second “Angel’s Cry”, but continue to develop and dare real experiments. Personally, the predecessor “Secret Garden” had a lot more catchy tunes, but “ØMNI” persuades with its extreme longevity through the varying compositions, which provide many hours of listening pleasure and new discoveries. A fan of the first hour, but also listeners of other directions like Progressive Metal should enjoy this work. Angra do not show weakness and deliver a consistently sophisticated, always interesting album.

Chris, 02/07/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s
Label: earMUSIC
LinksFacebook | angra.net
Release date: 02/16/2018