Italy’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”
Per 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 Angels, Qantice, Dragonforce and Reinxeed, Pellek has proved his merits and love for power metal and music overall. Continue reading “Pellek – Absolute Steel Review”
I told myself I would not review this album, but upon further reflection (and listening) the return of the Priest impressed me to the degree that I felt I should add my own two cents. Initially I thought of a review as redundant because with acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the likes there won’t be great innovation and you basically get what you expect. Firepower makes no difference in this and my point stands that Priest will not disappoint old fans and won’t make new fans. I mean, whose first Priest album will ever be Firepower? Anyone looking to get into this legend, especially these days, will do a quick google search and start listening to stuff like Painkiller, Screaming For Vengeance or Defenders Of The Faith. I, personally, would not care for anyone’s opinion on Firepower because as a long time fan I will either buy it (and listen to it) or not.
All that said, I think Firepower deserves a few honest words because it is so much better than its two predecessors Nostradamus (don’t even start…) and Redeemer Of Souls. This is kind of continuing the upwards trend from Nostradamus to Redeemer. So I could imagine some Priest devotees in despair – should you get Firepower or not?
In short: Yes. Judas Priest get back to basics with this new release. It is only understandable that in their long career a band like Priest would experiment with epic symphonic releases like Nostradamus. Redeemer Of Souls kind of oversteered in the opposite direction, leading to a rather bland release. Firepower however presents the Metal Gods back in good shape. The story-telling escapades are lost and this new record can’t be called boring or average in the least.
The first two tracks on the album, “Firepower” and “Lightning Strike” serve as a kind of peace offering to fans of Priest‘s old sound. It comes as no surprise those were released as the first two singles. Nothing special here, but nice to see that Priest can still push out those ass-kicking tunes.
Real interesting it only gets after those two songs though. Judas Priest are showcasing diverse influences and styles they took on over the course of their almost 50-year career across the various tracks of Firepower. “Evil Never Dies” almost reminds of Mercyful Fate style songwriting, presenting Rob Halford at his best. It takes Priest 14 songs and 58 minutes for a wild ride from one end to the other of the Judas Priest cage. That cage is no bad thing in this instance, it merely means Priest are offering all the variance they have while staying true to the band name. Nostradamus for example absolutely broke out of this cage, disappointing a lot of fans. Firepower however features amazing tracks rich in variety such as “Necromancer”, “Rising From Ruins” and “Spectre” that all could have been released at different times of the Priest‘s discography, but probably not on one album together. That makes Firepower an intriguing album keeping you tied to the headphones to the end.
Between all the variance and ass-kicking there are a few tracks not quite living up to the excitement that stuff like “Evil Never Dies” has to offer. “Never The Heroes” reminds me too much of average, slow-rolling bores of Nostradamus and Redeemer, “Flame Thrower” is the other, less interesting, more bland side of the “Firepower”/”Lightning Strike” medal. You could as well cut off the last two songs of the album, “Lone Wolf” and “Sea Of Red” which would make a shorter, but more concise release. As it stands, those two tracks are adding nothing of quality to the album and just make the last few minutes insufferable. I am a advocate for long albums of 55+ minutes, but in Firepower‘s case it would have been smart to cut some of those slowpokes to get a more enjoyable experience with less skipping of tracks.
All in all Firepower is light years above Nostradamus and Redeemer Of Souls. There are a few great tracks, a few mediocre (Priest standard mediocre, mind you) and a few bad songs. The upside of all of this is that anyone who likes Judas Priest will like this album to some extent unlike the now often enough mentioned Nostradamus. As I stated in the beginning, the Priest fan will buy it, anyone who is not into the band (???) should not start with Firepower and most likely won’t.
Oh yes, albums like “Chasing The Sun” are exactly why I am doing what I am doing here. To pick a bone with people who absolutely deserve it. The pain I am feeling when listening to this album is almost mitigated by the joy of writing about it. How much does it say about an album when it is written about in the local newspaper (you know, this thick stack of papers old people receive in their analogue mail daily)? Let’s just say, in Mr. Bay’s case, it puts the album on equal footing with similarly heinous “music” outputs, of which the latter usually get played on the radio. I hope nothing of the sort for Chris Bay as he might feel endorsed in his endeavors.
Now, this is of course the Chris Bay of Freedom Call fame. A man who is known throughout the power metal scene and beyond. Within the scene famous for classic albums such as “Stairway To Fairyland”, “Eternity” and “Crystal Empire”, which could very well be on par with legendary albums released by Gamma Ray or Helloween. Outside the scene rather infamous than famous, Freedom Call and Mr. Bay are often mocked for their happy-go-lucky melodic metal. If you are one of the people who can’t take Freedom Call serious with their “childish” melodies, “Chasing The Sun” will make you puke rainbows – out of your ass. And that is not a compliment as I would give to Freedom Call being a huge fan of their music.
“Chasing The Sun” sports such intriguing song titles as “Light My Fire”, “Radio Starlight”, “Hollywood Dancer” and my favorite – “Bad Boyz”. Gee, watch out! Some particular notes: “Bad Boyz” is anything but, starting off with the kind of pretend-metal riff used in pop music to sham heaviness. Lady Gaga likes to use those. But hey, she’s a real metal fan, which can’t be said about Chris Bay after listening to the atrocities he is degrading himself and the music to. I think the biggest attack of second-hand embarrassment overwhelmed me when I listened to “Light My Fire”. It takes a special kind of cringe to open a song with “When I got my first kiss (…) / It was love, love, love, I remember the taste”.
The worst offenders (in an eleven-song pool of offenders) are probably “Radio Starlight” and “Hollywood Dancer”, which were coincidentally unleashed pre-album release as video singles. If you want to replicate the authentic goosebumpy feeling you get shortly before your head is hanging over the toilet, dare to head over to youtube and search the song titles (I’m not going to contaminate the site with this). Granted, it’s not half as bad only listening to the audio, but lines like “Oh-oh / I play a song / and the world can sing along / sing la-la-la / turn the radio on” still are worse than spending two hours stuck in an elevator. Of course you can force yourself to sing along, but that will result in mad grinning, foam at your mouth and a not-so-short visit to your next hospital. Alternatively, you can enjoy this piece of music when you are drunk enough to not be able to differentiate between standing up and lying on the floor.
You can tell me many things about this album, and I will laugh at them, but one thing you can’t tell me seriously is that this is a passion project. Songs like “Radio Starlight” and the accompanying music videos just showcase the disgusting desire for radio play. I feel bad calling Chris Bay a sellout because I really am a big Freedom Call supporter, but nothing about “Chasing The Sun” feels genuine or heartfelt. Much like Hollywood, it is a big game of pretend trying to hide the pile of shit behind all the fake. I couldn’t understand why a distinguished songwriter as Chris Bay would touch on such basic lyric concepts as being played on the radio and the other abominations you find on this album. It’s either about being famous or about love. Sure, the latter is a fine topic to write about, but the former is just terribly pretentious and plastic. So, my conclusion is, considering Chris Bay‘s age (49) and experience in both life and music, that this is his try at mainstream fame. No one as smart (I guess?) as Mr. Bay could pass songs like “Radio Starlight” off as anything else than cheap songs pandering to the mainstream. This whole album sounds like Max Martin wrote it. Predictable, complacent, smooth, clean, well-produced and above all boring.
The second long player of the Visigoths, who actually hail from Salt Lake City, USA, was released a few days ago and praised by the so-called trade press more or less, making Visigoth a bit less underground and meaning I am too late with this review. However, where I am only a few days late, the young band seems to be several decades late with their music. For what comes out of the speakers here could have come straight from the eighties except for the clean production and could have been recorded by Manilla Road or Manowar.
Like many by Kris Verwimp’s artwork enhanced records, be it black, heavy or thrash metal, “Conqueror’s Oath” is deeply oldschool. Both points has the album in common with its predecessor “The Revenant King”, with which Visigoth already made a name for themselves in the epic metal scene in 2015. In the metal mainstream, troops of this niche are rarely seen, and the success of Sweden’s Grand Magus has not changed anything in the past ten years. Nonetheless, in recent years, memories of ancient times seem to be increasing, as evidenced by US epicists such as Visigoth as well as European and, specifically, Southern European (Italy, Greece) ensembles. The fact that the guys from Visigoth are bound to true steel by passion far away from the mainstream is also showcased by the dedication of two band members, who more or less secretively with the aliases Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword released 2013 under the band name Caladan Brood a fine, among scene connoisseurs acclaimed black metal work tapping into the style of Summoning.
Visigoth, however, is dedicated visually, lyrically and musically to classic heavy metal with a generous dose of epic. The denim vest that bears the “Conqueror’s Oath” is adorned with patches by Manowar and Cirith Ungol, but also Hammerfall and Accept. The Salt Lake City collective offers its own kind of Epic Metal; one that is less playful, more straightforward and, above all, riddled with catchy refrains. Quiet guitar sounds, diversified structured tracks and abundant choirs provide the epic foundation, while fast riffs, double bass and catchy melodies lead to memorable songs that have the listener carried away at the first attempt. The best example of the union of the two genres is the longest track of the album, “Traitor’s Gate”, which starts slowly, but can not hold on to itself and explodes in a riff and drum inferno. The whole thing garnished with a thick chorus and finished is the Visigoth recipe.
If you want to experience the epic side of Visigoth in pure form, listen to the title track “The Conqueror’s Oath”, which borrows from Manilla Road; If you want to enjoy the rockiest and maybe best song of the album, you can convince yourself with “Warrior Queen”. The latter boasts fat riffs, eighties gang shouts and a thoughtful middle section, culminating in the last, highly memorable chorus.
In their compositions Visigoth are less complex and focus more on simple song material, which is quite an advantage on stage and on fast car rides, but after a few runs in the CD player, the uniform track tristesse spreads out. Mind you, after a few runs, which are rather more than less, because with “Conqueror’s Oath” Visigoth deliver a quite capable heavy metal work that easily surpasses the recent gushes of the old genre guard like Manowar and Virgin Steele. For the future, I wish for more variety or aspiration, often characterized by more progressiveness and a more dynamic production. In its present form “Conqueror’s Oath” suffers from a small dynamic range and loud tracks, which unfortunately does not stop at the compositionally good, acoustic passages. Here, the music demands less compression and more air to breathe for atmosphere that is important in the genre.
By now, word has gotten around in power metal circles that the Canadians Unleash The Archers have released “Apex”, a grandiose insider tip that probably flew under the radar of many average listeners. This is not a big surprise, considering the history of the band, but after closer inspection “Apex” is the result of that same history.
But one at a time: Despite three previous albums Unleash The Archers could not set foot in the scene, which was probably because on their first album “Behold The Devastation”, the band in 2009 performed a relatively uninspired Melodic Death brew, only to weave more and more Power Metal into the songs on the following two albums “Demons of the Astrowaste” in 2012 and “Time Stands Still” in 2015. So the style was unstable and the music mediocre. Even singer Brittney Slayes sounded (spoiler: In contrast to “Apex”) on the first three works amateurish, which was perhaps also due to the suboptimal productions.
This genre development of the Canadians culminated 2017 in the present power piece “Apex”. Power here refers both to the musical orientation as well as to the evaluation of the long player. Listening to the three previous releases and then “Apex,” you wouldn’t think it’s the same band. The Death Metal influences have faded away and now pure Power Metal is delivered. The terrific album artwork suggests Epic Metal, but “Apex” is amazingly fast and straight on. However, with epic you are not wrong, but this is more in the lyrics than in the music again.
“Apex” is a concept album. It tells the story of an immortal being who is summoned from his mount by the matriarch, a mighty figure, to destroy her offspring. So far, so fantasy. Musically there is, thank you, no Manowar chatter and, surprisingly, no keyboard tapestries.
The opener “Awakening” spells out where the journey is going: high speed riffs, sawing vocals, catchy guitar leads and crashing drums. Singer Brittney Slayes’ vocal acrobatics has improved by about an infinite percent compared to the predecessors, catapulting the charismatic Canadian into the premier league of metal vocalists.
Premier league, if not better, is also the sound on “Apex”. Mixed and mastered by Jacob Hansen, Unleash The Archers shows all other bands in the genre how an album should sound. Incredibly dynamic for such a hard-hitting work, which captivates first with its rich sound, but rewarding the multiple listener with accentuated and crystal-clear sounds.
The same applies to the music. Right from the start, each piece persuades right away, especially the seemingly simple power metal bangers like “Awakening”, “Shadow Guide” or “The Matriarch”, but with each further run, complex structures reveal themselves in the genre-unusual songs. It’s easy to build each track similar to the stanza-chorus-stanza-chorus-solo-chorus recipe and still deliver a decent album, but Unleash The Archers do not make life undeservedly easy and enriches each song with its own structure and such its own identity. This is the salient characteristic of “Apex”: Each song is a masterpiece in itself and draws you in from the beginning to the end, but fits just as well into the overall flow of the album.
Unleash The Archers‘ accomplishment is incredible: no less than publishing one of the highlights of 2017 out of nowhere. Anyone who has not had the joy of listening to the Canadian troupe should immediately listen to “Apex”. Here, modern, innovative Power Metal is designed, which comes along without fancy bits and impresses with grandiose compositions and the best sound of a metal album in a long time.