Moonlight Haze – De Rerum Natura Review

020913Expectations rarely have been as high for a debut record as for De Rerum Natura, Italy’s Moonlight Haze‘s first album after forming in 2018. The cause of that are the names of those involved with members and ex-members of high-class Italian metal bands such as TemperanceElvenking and Sound Storm. The most exciting inclusion among Moonlight Haze‘s ranks is probably Chiara Tricarico who left Temperance in 2017 and recorded a bunch of great melodic metal records with the band thanks to her voice suitable for international competition. Continue reading “Moonlight Haze – De Rerum Natura Review”

Dire Peril – The Extraterrestrial Compendium Review

a2543568764_10As per usual with John Yelland releases I am late to the party. Dire Peril‘s first full record The Extraterrestrial Compendium was released a few weeks ago, so you could go check it out right now. Look, I don’t mean to demean Jason Ashcraft, Yelland’s partner for the two man project Dire Peril, but somehow John Yelland is the link between now two of this year’s great (US) power metal records. Earlier this year, Judicator, singer Yelland’s main band, if you want to call it that, impressed me greatly with their Blind Guardian inspired take on American power metal. Dire Peril‘s “debut” on the other hand was written by Helion Prime‘s Ashcraft, but stylistically T.E.C. is real close to Judicator. Continue reading “Dire Peril – The Extraterrestrial Compendium Review”

Seventh Wonder – Tiara Review

CoverYeah, any Tiara review’s opening will use the 8 years time span between Seventh Wonder‘s last record, The Great Escape, 2010, and Tiara. Is it more or less tacky to go meta? Anyway, eight years! That builds expectation. Especially as the Swedes have never disappointed with their albums, putting out prog metal opus one after another. Granted, after the epochal Mercy Falls from 2008, there is little left to be said. The band could have stopped right then and there with one of the greatest prog metal albums of all times in their catalogue. Fortunately for us, we are still getting new stuff, even though at a relatively slower rate than in the ’00s. Part of that is surely singer Tommy Karevik’s engagement in Kamelot, which seems to have left little time for his true home. Let’s shed no tears here though and get instead rejoice that we get another Seventh Wonder record after all with the band in peak form and Tommy exercising the whole range of his prowess. Continue reading “Seventh Wonder – Tiara 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”

Mob Rules – Beast Reborn Review

305540Beast Reborn? German heavy metal outfit Mob Rules surely hasn’t been gone long enough to warrant a whole relaunch; as such the new album’s title is more of a reinforcement than a comeback promise. After all, the band’s previous album was released in 2016 and received phenomenally by both press and fans. Rightly so, as Mob Rules evolved and matured their sound greatly over their now 20+ years career. With their first few albums the Germans started out as a rather traditional power metal constellation in the vein of Helloween with melodious guitar leads and heavy keyboard influences. Continue reading “Mob Rules – Beast Reborn 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”

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”

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

 

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

Borealis – The Offering Review

1000x1000I have to start off the review with the elephant in the room (which is not an elephant to you unless you already scrolled down to check the rating and DR value of this album). There is a great many things to say about this album, but within seconds of listening to any of the tracks you will notice the overcompressed nature of The Offering‘s sound. Even overcompressed is an understatement compared to already heavily compressed albums with dynamic range values of 5 or 6. This one’s sporting a value of 4. I haven’t seen heard this in my time yet. And yes, you can absolutely hear it. Listening to this album feels like taking off in an airplane in an infinite loop and having the desire to pop your ears. So, there is that. Usually, I dismiss records pretty quickly when they sound like this. But I also point out that sometimes there are corner cases where the music actually requires a production like this (and the respective records typically are not one of those).

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Is The Offering by Canadian prog power band Borealis an exception to the rule or is The Offering unlistenable trash? The conclusion might surprise you! I will spoiler it here and tell you that I listened to this album a lot, probably about 10 to 15 spins already. With earphones! And no, I am not deaf yet. Maybe a bit, but that’s due to concerts, not this album. The Offering is far from unlistenable.

Borealis have been around since 2005, starting out female-fronted with a change to male singer Matt Marinelli with their first album World Of Silence in 2008. Mr. Marinelli is still on board and improved his singing greatly over the years to which The Offering is a testament. Throughtout their lifetime, Borealis have been honing the art of streamlined prog power metal, with about 60% power metal and 40% prog metal. Imagine Evergrey-light.

Oh, and Evergrey they are giving to us with the opening track of The Offering, “The Fire Between Us”. I am pretty sure they broke in Tom Englung’s bedroom to steal his notes for the next Evergrey single. The execution is slightly different from what the swedes would sound like. As I prefaced, The Offering‘s sound is crazy compressed. While Evergrey do have a rather modern sound, this album comes from the future compared to that. I sure hope not all albums sound like this in a few years, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if Borealis had some kind of sci-fi lyrics. They don’t. The compression is doing great work on the guitars though, those riffs are punching as much as a drum beat. Djent, anyone? I have to admit that with their production Borealis found the right way to convey their compositions. It is easy to slap this kind of compression on any album for easy listening even though it does not match the music at all, but with The Offering the thought process of which production this album deserves could sensibly yield the result I am listening to.

The opening track was a fine kick-off to the album with its drum walls and guitar breaks but merely a preview of what is to come. Borealis honestly outdid themselves with this newest effort. For once, the two previously released single tracks (“Sign Of No Return” and “River”) are among the five-out-of-five tracks on the album. Sandwiched between them you find the title track “The Offering”, a decent piece of catchy US-flavored power metal. One shortcoming I noticed, for example on “Sign Of No Return” and “The Offering” is that the band is going the lazy way out of tracks by just fading them out instead of ending with a good punch. This is weird and hard to comprehend when the whole album’s theme is punch as can be. But lazy fading out is one of my pet peeves, so maybe others won’t mind.

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The biggest higlight is “Scarlet Angel”. This monster of a track starts off Evergrey-like, calm and slow, only to explode in a huge chorus. The second verse adds some heavy riffage and in the end we even get female vocals for maximum theatralic effect. Usually I would never vote a midtempo track as best track on the album, but this one is really impressive with its sound walls and dramatic chorus. The ultimate track “The Ghosts Of Innocence” takes the same line with almost nine minutes of great instrumentation, singing and orchestration. Sure, it’s all canned orchestra, but it is effective nontheless alongside the heavy double bass drumming.

Not all songs on The Offering are as good as the mentioned four absolute highlights. “The Devil’s Hand” is a sluggish ballad, “The Path” a two-minute instrumental (why???) and tracks like “Into The Light” and “Forever Lost” are just average prog power compositions.

As I mentioned before, singer Matt Marinelli’s vocals really came a long way. His voice is varied and capable, usually attending the lower registers comparable to Russell Allen. The higher notes on the other hand remind of softer, more emotional prog singing like Kamelot‘s Tommy Karevik’s (or Roy Khan’s, but that’s a sacrilege and can’t be spoken of). This leads to a diverse brew of influences on The Offering. Throw in EvergreySymphony X and Seventh Wonder and you get Borealis.

The Canadians sadly are lacking the consistent songwriting quality of those prog masterminds but can get in some great hits on par with them. Matt Marinelli’s voice really carries the album a long way and I hope future albums will impress more with great songwriting than with their sound walls. To put an end to the discussion: yes, the compressed sound is alright with The Offering‘s compositions. Could it have been a more dynamic mix? Sure, but dynamic is not a virtue in itself when the music does not benefit from it. In The Offering‘s case both approaches would have been fine, so you can’t judge one purely based on abstract concepts while praising the other one. It still is a bit overkill to the ears to listen to The Offering for more than one or two hours at a time. But the same can be said for live concerts and we all enjoy those.

Chris, 03/18/2018

Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 4
Label: AFM Records
LinksFacebook
Release date: 03/23/2018