The throwback week continues with Blaze Bayley‘s new, trilogy-concluding The Redemption Of William Black (Infinite Entanglement Part III) after Evil Hunter‘s Maiden-esque self-titled debut. As proven with his recent endeavors, Mr. Bayley is still deeply infatuated with Iron Maiden and NWOBHM in general. The good news is that in comparison to other, sadder musicians he is not delving into the sinkhole of succumbing to being a mere shadow of the past but instead brings a new spin to his influences of old with both excellent songwriting and a modern sound partly due to his brilliant backing band Absolva.
His new album, challenger to the trophy for Longest Album Title 2018, concludes his Infinite Entanglement series, a trilogy of science fiction concept albums started in 2016 with Infinite Entanglement and continued with second part Endure And Survive in 2017. Yes, that makes three albums in three years which is an admirable feat and testament to Blaze’s creativity.
Sure, there hasn’t been any true creative development between the three albums, they pretty much all sound the same in the style of the music. But is that such a bad thing when the music is good? Blaze Bayley merely adheres to his talents, similar to bands like Maiden and Priest. Furthermore this steadiness gives rise to a consistency throughout all three albums which thusly are not only connected by story, but also by sound.
Part III‘s sound is even a bit clearer and more vivid as compared to the first part for example which was still slightly lacking in the production department. Like with Iron Maiden, the bass lines are mixed to have priority and deliver a good punch. The same is true for the lightning fast guitar riffs and solos of Chris Appleton. It is a delight being subjected to the extreme force of power metal edging tracks like “The Dark Side Of Black” which challenge Blaze to push the limits of his baritone. I personally always enjoyed his slightly nasal yet vigorous deliverance of the vocals. He may not be the most technical or most talented singer on earth, but his singing is genuine and vibrant.
Just like with Parts 1 and 2, Blaze Bayley and his band deliver an experience enjoyable throughout the album. The first two parts of the trilogy were a tad better, but that on a scale so small that it doesn’t really matter. As always, both musically and lyrically Blaze proves that he will not stand down and that he will keep fighting. Just like the main character in the science fiction concept of his albums, Blaze had some lows in his life, but never gave up. That gives the album a positive feel to it and generates excitement for what is still to come in his career after finishing this ambitious trilogy.
I gotta admit, I am always sceptical when it comes to new releases in the classic heavy metal scene due to the flooding of the style. A few years back, the new wave of traditional heavy metal trend started with more and more bands going back to the roots of heavy metal, similar to the new wave of british heavy metal. While the latter was sucked dry to the last coin in collectors’ pockets, the NWOTHM is still going strong, even though it is lacking the quality of some of the great NWOBHM artists. Granted, this is all very stereotyped thinking, but the increase of young bands playing traditional metal is palpable. Take this year’s Visigoth release for example. A fine piece of classic steel by some really young musicians.
Looking at the band photo, Spanish headbangers Evil Hunter surely aren’t as young but follow in the same vein of playing traditional heavy metal without any modern affectations. Such devotion is certainly admirable and earns the band some sympathy points in my book. In contrast to groups like Visigoth, Evil Hunter don’t go quite as hard on the denim-and-leather Manowar appeal, neither musically nor visually, and in turn provide a tamer, more hard rock influenced album.
Opener “Surf The Waves” and title track “Evil Hunter” neatly showcase Evil Hunter‘s musical range – fast songs and mid-tempo songs. Both songs feature an extremely melodic chorus that contrasts the heavy riffing and aggressive vocals of lead singer Damián Chicano. Not aggressive in the sense of death metal or hardcore, but each of his lines delivers a good punch with his lower register squealing, guttural singing. Partly because of that, Evil Hunter‘s music reminds me of the Portuguese Attick Demons. Which is not a bad place to be.
With their first album, Evil Hunter ride through all possible influences of classic heavy metal. Their dual guitars lend a certain Iron Maiden vibe, “Hot Leather” is a Saxon carbon copy and “By Your Side” has you relive those ’80s “I Want To Know What Love Is” moments. That’s all pretty nice and well-calculated, some songs really grip you and make you want more, but ultimately most of the tracks are just average. Singer Damián Chicano’s voice stands out and makes this release better than its compositions. I enjoy the concise length of 35 minutes and 8 fast-paced tracks (except the ballad), but probably will not listen to this album a lot more. The tracks are too average and don’t kick hard enough for a heavy metal release except for one or two. The sound is good, the songwriting seems versed, but sadly not very varied.
Evil Hunter deliver a gem for scene afficionados who crave new old school music. The same is true for many albums released through Fighter Records by the way, so anyone looking for some underground treasures should check out their catalog. The spaniards likely won’t make a huge impact internationally but their effort is valiant and a promise of greater things to come. I could imagine someone enamored with the music style to enjoy it way more than I did.
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 Priest, Iron 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).
“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.
I 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).
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.
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 Evergrey, Symphony 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.
Format reviewed: mp3 320 kBit/s | DR Value: 4 Label: AFM Records Links: Facebook Release date: 03/23/2018