Monday, September 12, 2016

Neurotech-In Remission

Keeping with the one-man band theme from yesterday, the country of Slovenia gets in on the act, as Neurotech has emerged. The brainchild of Wulf since 2012, he has had four albums under his belt under the Neurtoech name that plays symphonic industrial metal. His latest album In Remission becomes album number five.

In Remission is 35 minutes of ambient industrial metal that isn't going to necessarily blow you away, but provides enough in the way of atmosphere to keep your attention. While most of the music is predominantly programming, there is the standard guitar, bass, vocals, and drums combo that many bands have, and they all seem to work in concert with one another. Vocals-wise, they're clean with a small amount of distortion thrown in periodically and rarely rise above the music. While atmosphere is created fairly well and the music is rather straightforward, it also happens to be a problem, as the limitations of incorporating programming into the music often leave little to the imagination, as many of the tracks tend to sound the same. Only the last track "Alleviate" truly stands out, and it also happens to be one of the slower songs on the album that also gets time to develop. Other than the last song, the rest of the album is just there, as it doesn't jump out in any way, good or bad.

Neurotech has an interesting approach when it comes to industrial metal, and while there is potential for greatness, far too often on In Remission, it just settles for a middle ground. It's not terrible, but one gets the feeling that so much more was expected. It's good for a curiosity listen, but anything more than a couple of spins may be pushing it for enjoyment factor.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Assignment-Closing the Circle

Sometimes, it is better late than never when it comes to bands getting their act together. Such is the case with Germany's Assignment, who began in 1994 as a thrash/death metal outfit, but later changed their sound to progressive power metal. Their debut album Progressive Changes wasn't released until 2003, nine years and two demos after they formed. Seemingly on an album every five years deal, their latest album Closing the Circle, their first on Massacre Records, breaks that spell in a major way.

The opening track "Evolution" begins with about a minute of sound samples before the actual music hits, and while it doesn't blow the listener away, Diego Valdez's vocals adds something to it, as one gets the feeling that he took cues from Ronnie James Dio. The title track and "Presence of Death" show more of what Assignment is capable of, as musically, they match Valdez's energy and vocal range with musicianship that is top notch. On the subject of vocal range, Valdez expands it on "Genetic Slavery," as he begins with what many would describe as the normal singing voice, alternating between it and the power metal vocals during the song. The intro to "Crimson Poison," as well as the brief guitar wails during the opening of "Chemical Healing," shows that the music is more than just straight ahead power. "Chemical Healing" is also where the first pronounced solos appear, as prior to that, they didn't stand out from the rest of the music on the album. "Variaxis" has what sounds like flamenco guitar opening the song, as well as a guest vocal appearance from Maria Jose Pot. It is also the closest thing to a ballad, as it is not quite as strong in terms of overall power, but both sets of vocals work well together, particularly since there is full range in all facets of the music. "Entering the Universe" and "Between Parallel Worlds" are concept songs that are broken into three parts each, and given the time of each, it's not surprising that they're also the best songs on Closing the Circle, as the music is given time to develop. The only drawback on the album is that the solos could have been a little more pronounced, as musically, in terms of ability and storytelling, it's excellent, and the vocals are what make it memorable.

For as long as they've been around, Assignment hasn't found that special spark that would get them more recognized. With Closing the Circle, they may have found that spark, as it has the ability to be remembered as a special album. If you're looking for something worthwhile in the progressive power metal genre, Assignment has the album for you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Scarification-Scarification

There seems to be something in the New Mexico sun that causes people to form black metal projects, as there has been a few of them coming out in recent years. The one man band that calls itself Scarification and is made up of a man known only as Rott. The self-titled effort is the second album from the project, and the results are interesting, at the very least.

Many of the ten tracks on the album fall under the four minute mark, with just two of them going over that mark (the self-titled track and "Fortress of the Dark"), so it would stand that Scarification would put their best within the time confines that it sets upon itself. Heavily influenced by bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, and early-era Darkthrone, it is obvious from the the opening track "Spirit of the North" that it goes for a raw black metal sound complete with production values that recreate that sound from the time period. The lo-fi effect makes for an album that has to be turned up to hear everything that the album has to offer. The overall speed of the music is also similar, as it doesn't go fast, instead stretching out notes to  prolong the aural agony that it wishes to inflict on the listener.
The atmosphere, particularly on the self-titled track, has a nighttime in the forest in the winter feel to it, something that is pulled off with surprising efficiency given that it's coming from a band from the predominantly desert land of New Mexico. At times, the low production values work against Scarification, as even with the sound turned up, it's still somewhat difficult to pick up what is being put out there. What does work though is the disjointed nature in which the songs are presented, something that at times, hides the fact that the songs have mostly the same consistency in terms of delivery and tempo.

Scarification is definitely a product of the bands that it looks up to, and while it doesn't break any new ground, it does pay homage to bands such as Mayhem and Burzum well. While the low production values do add to the sound, it also overdoes it a little, as even with the sound turned all the way up, it's still somewhat inaudible. Scarification is worth a listen or two if raw black metal is your preference.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Subrosa-For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Salt Lake City may be one of the least likely places to find good metal music, but much like the city itself these days, it's growing, and at the forefront of the metal music movement there is Subrosa. Considered one of the best bands that few have heard of, that label is in danger of being shed as they gain more recognition, so pressure to produce another great album is naturally on for them. Their latest album For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is quite possibly their most complete album yet.

With six tracks clocking in at just over an hour, Subrosa sets the tone with one of the deepest songs on the album in "Despair is a Siren." As the title says, despair is the main theme, and the music portrays it perfectly, with violins providing the feeling alongside the pained vocals of Rebecca Vernon, the measured guitar riffs, and a rhythm section that ensures things don't get out of hand. The bass lines that begin "Wound of the Warden" give way to an equally beautiful composition that shows a slightly darker, angrier side to the album. Vocal range is on display for "Black Majesty," and like the rest of the album, it doesn't disappoint when it comes to atmosphere or musical composition. There is a small break on the album with "Il Cappio," which is the only track that is under seven minutes by a lot, as it is only a minute and a half long. Even that isn't allowed to go to waste, as between the singing in Italian and the use of a lyre, it provides a nice bridge to the next song in "Killing Rapture." The closing track "Troubled Cells" begins with guitar strains that eventually serve as an underlying layer to the vocals that remain as hauntingly beautiful then as it was when the album began. The consistency on For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is remarkable, even as the previous albums have been works of art unto themselves, but it is taken to a new level, as the elements of their music truly come together.

If you were to put together an album that served as a soundtrack to the possible end of humanity, Subrosa's For This We Fought the Battle of Ages would be it. Naturally, it figures that the inspiration for the album is taken from a near 100-year old dystopian novel entitled We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Subrosa's work already stands out on its own, but with the increasing recognition they're getting within the doom metal scene, it is great that they're not letting up when it comes to creating compositions worthy of an art museum. For This We Fought the Battle of Ages is a must have for doom metal fans, and even if you aren't a fan of doom metal in general, it is still an album to own.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Roman Khrustalev-Our New Sun

In the never-ending search to find metal music in all corners of the world, another spin of the Metal Archives random band generator brings us to the country of Kazakhstan. The band, or artist, in this instance, in question is a guy by the name of Roman Khrustalev, an instrumentalist who handles everything on his albums, and with a new album out in Our New Sun, it's an exploration for the ears.

For all of the songs except the opener "The Halls of Extinsion," which is basically rhythmic chants, it is purely instrumental, so any and all commentary is musicianship and just how well it all comes together. Since Khrustalev's music is generally classified as progressive power metal, one would expect powerful solos and precise musicianship that is thorough in its approach. Given the album title, one would expect a little science fiction element to creep into the sound, as is done on songs such as "Voyager." Another aspect to note is that other than "The Halls of Extinsion" and "Last Night on Earth," the songs do run long, with each one running over the five minute mark. The longest songs on the album ("Cold Roots of Earth," "World's Heart Bleeding," and "When the Sun Fades Away") are also ones that top the 10-minute mark, and not coincidentally, they're the ones that are given the most time to develop in terms of total music ability. The album as a whole isn't just one long guitar solo, as so many instrumentals before it have shown. In fact, the synths tend to get as much air time as the guitars, and there's even room for bass and drums to get in on the act on their own.

Roman Khrustalev is an immensely talented musician that can handle any instrument that he gets his hands on well. Our New Sun is a testament to not only how well he can play the instruments, but also put together compositions that create stories that listeners can put together in their own minds. Done correctly, instrumental albums can be just as great as albums with vocals, and Roman Khrustalev proves this point with Our New Sun.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Untimely Demise-Black Widow

When one thinks of metal music in Canada, it's usually Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, with a band or two popping out of Calgary or Edmonton. Left out in the cold (no pun intended) are the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Not since Into Eternity broke out in the early 2000's has a band from Saskatchewan emerged with even a moderate amount of success. The Saskatoon thrash trio known as Untimely Demise is looking to make a name for themselves, and as they release the all-important third album in their discography, titled Black Widow, it is where they will be made or broken.

The heart of Untimely Demise is brothers Matt and Murray Cuthbertson, and with what can be best described as a revolving door of second guitarists and drummers (they're currently operating without a second guitarist and are on their third drummer in Bryan Newbury), getting the sound the band wants has certainly been a challenge.

Black Widow begins with "Forgotten in Time," and while it is a decent opener, the track length is what works against it, as it seemingly takes forever to get to the point. "Enslaver" does a better job of getting the point across, and compared to the previous track, is the more well-rounded track, as it shows more speed to go with its thrash, and also features more in the way of vocal range. The title track is a grittier song that shows Untimely Demise and their ability to get dirty when needed, as well as a guitar solo that shows their musical ability. "Calling Me Back from the Light" ranks up with "Enslaver" as one of the best songs on Black Widow, as it shows everything that Untimely Demise is capable of musically. Vocal range is somewhat a weakness with most thrash bands, and Untimely Demise is no different. However, they do make an effort on improving it, as "Sickening Repression" proves. Certainly, Untimely Demise is going all out to make Black Widow their best album yet, as they recruited Shawn Drover (ex-Megadeth, Act of Defiance) and Tim Roth (Into Eternity) for guest appearances, Justin Bender (Into Eternity, Third Ion) to produce the album, and renowned thrash cover artist Ed Repka to contribute to their album.

Knowing that the third album is usually a make or break album, Untimely Demise pulls out all the stops to ensure that they mean business. Black Widow is one of the more pleasant surprises of the year, standing out in what is often an over-saturated thrash metal market. Sure, there are a few blemishes on the album, but those are often correctable in time, but there is considerable potential with the band, and there is much to like about the album. A dark horse for the year-end list.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Delain-Moonbathers

This year marks ten years since Delain formed, and with a number of albums and tours under their belts, the growth has been noticeable. From being just a studio project of Martijn Westerholt, who had been forced out of Within Temptation due to health issues at the time, to becoming one of the bigger names to come out of the Netherlands, they've accomplished much in a relatively short amount of time. This year, on the heels of opening for Sonata Arctica and Nightwish, their latest album is ready to go in Moonbathers.

Moonbathers opens with "Hands of Gold," which is a fairly good opener, but even with the appearance on Alissa White-Gluz as guest vocalist, one gets the feeling the album will be closer to the level of We Are the Others, one of their lesser efforts. While "The Glory and the Scum" and "Suckerpunch" offer some push to the band's sound, the album gets dragged down by two ballads in a row in "The Hurricane" and Chrysalis - The Last Breath." Thankfully, "Fire with Fire" comes in and puts things back in order with Delain's hardest effort yet. Things do get better with "Pendulum," which proves to be just as guitar driven as the previous song. The ritual chant-like opening to "Danse Macabre" gives way to perhaps vocalist Charlotte Wessels' most complete performance yet, as the range finally shows itself. Further pushing their limits, it's the guitar's turn to do so, as heard on "Scandal," and in many ways, having the full-time second guitarist allows for a little more freedom. Of course, it also gets pushed by Wessels' vocals on the song to step up their game along with the rest of the music. A slower song follows in "Turn the Lights Out," which allows for the listener to catch their breath a little while the closer "The Monarch" is mostly an instrumental that puts nice bow on the proceedings. Musically, the talent has always been there, but the songwriting sometimes left the listener wanting more. While it takes time to get into Moonbathers, the rewards are worth it.

In an often crowded female fronted metal scene, especially in their home country of the Netherlands, Delain has managed to not only stand out, but also become of the premiere bands to emerge from that country. Moonbathers is an appropriate name for their latest album, as it goes through phases, from pretty good to slow and uneventful to fast and powerful to calm and sleepy. Yes, the album is a mixed bag, but the good tends to outweigh the bad here, and is at least worth a few listens.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Eight Bells-Landless

Since the time that Subarachnoid Space disbanded at the turn of this decade, there had been a void in the Portland music scene. Fast forward to 2011, and the then-newly formed Eight Bells, which included ex-Subarachnoid Space members Melynda Jackson and Christopher Van Huffel and was rounded out by Haley Westeiner. Having worked their way back up through the ranks, they released their first album in 2013 called The Captain's Daughter to critical acclaim. A lineup change later, thanks to health related issues, saw the band welcome in Rae Amitay to the fold as drummer, with Van Huffel contributing where possible, in time for Landless. It's safe to say that Eight Bells is finding their own way and is taking the listeners along for the ride.

Whereas The Captain's Daughter was about establishing the band's sound, Landless is about leaving an imprint on the listener's brain. The title track is haunting in its delivery, with the vocals providing atmosphere almost in the absence of music. The repetition of the vocal lines only serves to emphasize this, all against a backdrop of music reminiscent of 70's progressive rock. Shades of Subarachnoid Space even gets invoked at the beginning of "Hold My Breath," an indication that Eight Bells knows how to incorporate what they know to make something sound not only innovative, but also pleasing to the ears. While Landless isn't as metal as The Captain's Daughter, it more than makes up for it by providing music that truly touches a nerve. With the amount of time afforded to each song (only "The Mortal's Suite" is under the four minute mark), Eight Bells takes advantage by creating songs that are sure to remain stuck in the minds of listeners long after the album ends. All of this is aided by the ever-present production values of Billy Anderson, who has been at the helm for some of the more renowned albums such as Primordial's The Gathering Wilderness, Ludicra's Another Great Love Song, and all of the Witch Mountain albums.

With the disbandment of notable Portland band Agalloch, the title of best current band to emerge from there is a tight one between both Eight Bells and Witch Mountain. Both are great, but while there is still an unknown factor with Witch Mountain in-studio, as their next album will be their first with current vocalist Kayla Dixon, Eight Bells is firmly establishing themselves both in-studio and in a live setting. Landless is quite possibly the best atmospheric album that you will come across this year, and it's not even close. A sure-fire top ten album for the year end list.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Novembre-URSA

The Italian Gothic/doom metal band Novembre has been around for a while, mainly with brothers Giuseppe and Carmelo Orlando as the core of the band. However, they took a hiatus in 2008, and when the band decided to reform last year, Giuseppe decided that he wasn't returning with the band, as he joined fellow Italian doom metal band The Foreshadowing in 2013, leaving Carmelo and another longtime member Massimiliano Pagliuso (member since 1997) as the sole remaining members of the band. Nonetheless, Novembre soldiers on with a new album out this year in URSA, and it is a candidate for album of the year.

The opening track "Australis" sees Novembre play their style of music like they live in it, as everything flows smoothly, from the vocals to the guitars. Nothing is forced, not even the harsh vocals, which make their first appearance on "The Rose," as it intertwines with everything. "Umana" is a more somber offering that is more balanced, though the mellower rhythms tend to soften the vocals a little. The title track has a harsher start, with the vocals coming out with more vigor before the clean vocals and rich guitar melodies enter the mix. The entire album is like this, and while the clean vocals offer little variation, it is more subtle, and it is the guitar melodies that truly steal the show. There is even a saxaphone solo on "Annoluce," one of the better songs on the album. There are random stops and starts on URSA, which provides a little element of surprise, and while it does create a little confusion if you're not looking at track listings and times, it is something different. "Bremen" is an instrumental that showcases the harsher side of their sound more. The only issue with the album is that the drumming sounds a little buried beneath the rest of the music, thanks to production values that emphasize the guitars. However, it's only a minor issue, as it is an enjoyable, if not mellow album.

Novembre used the much needed time away to come up with possibly their best album since the 2001 release Novembrine Waltz, and while URSA is heavily dependent on guitars and vocals to carry the day, it does so in a way that few other albums could. There is much to like here, and with songs that just work musically, many of the songs on the album can be considered worth listening to multiple times. Novembre has returned with a masterpiece and a contender for album of the year.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hellevate-Weapons Against Their WIll

America's Heartland in terms of metal music has usually been confined to Chicago, as seemingly, few other cities in the region get any respect. Kansas City aims to change that, and with power metal band Vanlade already getting their foot through the door, another band is looking to join them in Hellevate. Originally starting out as a death/thrash hybrid, they have refined their sound to be more traditional heavy metal, with elements of power and speed metal being mixed in with their ever-present thrash influences. With a self-titled debut already out, they are ready to take the next step with a new album out in Weapons Against Their Will.

In the time since their self-titled debut and Weapons Against Their Will, Hellevate changed vocalists and one of their guitarists, leaving brothers Dan and RJ Whitmer, as well as bassist Zack Burke as the holdovers from the first album. Stepping into the fold is guitarist Joshua Cole and vocalist Andy Lufkin. Musically, things are actually improved, as evidenced on "Blasphemer Deceiver," where the music has not only gotten better, but it comes together to create one of the more complete songs on the album. Lufkin's vocals are generally harsh, but also have the range to stay with the music. Group vocals make an appearance for the first time on "The First Flame," which adds an element of old-school to the proceedings. Production values aren't clean, which works to their advantage, as it's the type of music that isn't supposed to sound sterile. The dual guitars of Joshua Cole and Dan Whitmer are powerful and are complimented by the rhythm section of Zack Burke on bass and RJ Whitmer on drums. That musicianship is on full display on "The Iconoclasm," which is also where Lufkin's vocals are given time to shine. While Weapons Against Their Will isn't necessarily going to be considered a great album (more above average), it is clear that Hellevate has an eye towards the live setting, and that is where the songs will be at their best.

In the grand scheme of things, trying to reinvent the wheel in metal music is something that few bands these days can do. However, paying tribute to those that came before you is something that many try to do, with mixed results. In the case of Hellevate, they do a pretty good job of invoking memories of 80's thrash while working speed and power metal into their sound. Weapons Against Their Will is at worst, a solid album, and at best, an album that merits quite a few spins and if you get the chance, experience in a live setting.

The album is available on their bandcamp page.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Victim's Foretaste-Incarnation

In the infant stages of this blog you are reading, it has reached a milestone of 666 views. Naturally, I had to capture the moment, and when any band takes notice, with a little digging into what they do, it's a good idea to give them some press. In this case, the review will go to a band out of Russia called Victim's Foretaste and their debut album Incarnation.

Before getting into the album review, some background information about Victim's Foretaste. They formed in 2008 and were originally called Everlasting Rain and were originally planning to play music along the lines of Charon and Eternal Tears of Sorrow. However, once they settled on a style of music, they had to change their name to reflect the style better, hence Victim's Foretaste. Having been under their current moniker since last year, that doesn't necessarily give the listener enough time to figure out what they can offer. Given that they've been working at it since 2008, it should be no surprise that they were seeing what fits best for them. Their lyrical themes are inspired by the likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series.

Now, for the album Victim's Foretaste put out, which is Incarnation. Looking at the album cover, it is clear that the inspiration for their lyrical themes are on display. As for the music, while the music isn't exactly treading any new ground, as it does wear their influences on their sleeve, which would be along the lines of Sonic Syndicate and Amaranthe, since like those two bands, Victim's Foretaste utilizes both male and female vocalists (Stanislav Suchkov and Johanna Ergwath). On the opening track "Destination," it does try to establish an atmosphere, as it doesn't go full bore on the speedometer. Bands with more musical talent can pull this off, but given the relative inexperience of Victim's Foretaste, it is something worth noting, as they are willing to work to stand out in a crowded melodic metal scene. The atmosphere building continues on "An Hour," which seems to be reliant on a balanced attack of keyboards and guitars, with the keyboards not being too overpowering to the point of drowning out the rest of the music. Musically, it becomes more of a group effort, and it shows on "A New Day," one of the better songs on the album. Like the contrasting vocals, the keyboards provide the flash to the substance of the guitars with the rhythm section holding it all together. In fact, the supporting music is actually one of the brighter points on the album, as it stands out for not only showing off its ability, but also in a controlled manner that won't get away if the speed gets turned up high. The vocals aren't especially strong, a byproduct of the fact that the individual vocals sound like they're pigeonholed into the typical sections for both harsh male and clean female vocals. The songs themselves will likely take a few listens to memorize, as there isn't a true defining factor that separates each song, although "The Mist" comes awfully close. Mostly, it just feels like Victim's Foretaste is going through the motions and are just learning to get comfortable with what they want to be in terms of sound.

It took some time before the band that would become Victim's Foretaste figured out what they wanted to do in terms of sound. With the release of Incarnation, they get to see and hear what works well for them (overall musical cohesion) and what needs work (vocals and overall confidence in their sound). While it isn't a perfect way to start, there is a decent foundation on which they can build upon, and perhaps just getting the debut album out was a way to show that they want to go through with it. Hopefully, with album number two, they can relax a little and just play without thinking too much about it.

You can listen to the Victim's Foretaste Incarnation at their bandcamp.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Heaven Grey-Manuscriptum

When one thinks of the country of Latvia in music, the first band that usually comes up is Skyforger. Given the relative dearth of bands from that country compared to their neighbors in Russia, Finland, etc., it isn't much of a surprise. However, there is a band from there that is looking to make a name for themselves in Heaven Grey. Having originally formed in 1993, they barely got off the ground, releasing one full album before disbanding in 1999. They would reform in 2007, but would undergo major lineup changes after the 2010 album Falling Mist. Their latest in the long line of stops and starts with their current lineup is Manuscriptum.

Manuscriptum begins with "Insomnia," which has a traditional Gothic music entrance before mixing with doom metal. Initially, it has a rather grand sound, complete with violin, but once the vocals kick in, it becomes something of a mixed bag, as while the clean vocals are distinct and well done, the growls have a harder time establishing itself. Musically, it's fairly well done except for the end, where it just ends abruptly. "Drown in My Shade" clearly shows that going with the throaty clean vocals are the way to go, as they prove to be strong on the album. However, the growls begin to gain an identity, as they appear to be done so with more assertion. "The intro to "Theatre of Shadows" starts off well, but it becomes a mess almost as soon as the vocals kick in, as the growls just simply don't push themselves above the music. The idea of strong starts with disappointing endings becomes a recurring theme on Manuscriptum almost to the point that one begins to expect it for the entire album. In many ways, it's a wasted opportunity to truly show the musical talent that the band has, as the vocals are decent and the music is generally above average when all the elements are in play. The problem lies in the songwriting ability, as it comes off as a jumbled mess at times.

Heaven Grey is a fairly good band when they are focused. However, as evidenced on Manuscriptum, that is not always the case, as despite the above average music ability, the songs don't come together often enough and the general inability to end songs on a smoother note make it something of a chore to get through the album. You can do worse than Manuscriptum, but you can also do better.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Thunderstone-Apocalypse Again

Power metal in Finland to most people consists of Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica. For a time, Thunderstone was as close to their level during their peak years. However, lineup changes and a brief disbandment put any momentum they had to a halt a few years ago. Having been a band once again just three years ago, and with original vocalist Pasi Rantanen back in the fold, Thunderstone aims to reclaim what they had going for them in the mid-2000's. Apocalypse Again is their first album since 2009, and also their first with Rantanen since Evolution 4.0 was released in 2007.

Apoocalypse Again begins with "Veterans of the Apocalypse," which gets off to a blazing start, as the vocals kick in a few seconds after the music starts. It's a fairly good start, but that is to be expected of a Thunderstone album. "The Path" is a stronger track that shows more of what Thunderstone was and is still capable of while the follow-up track "Fire and Ice" shows more range overall, complete with keyboard and guitar solos that the band seemingly doesn't ever let loose often enough for the last two or three albums. "Through the Pain" somewhat qualifies as a ballad, as it is one of the slower songs on the album that doesn't get too fast. The Dario Argento style intro to "Walk Away Free" leads into a slow portion that could be be a ballad, but leads into a faster part. It alternates between the two, with one of the better guitar/keyboard solo exchanges being featured on any song. The rather quiet ending to the song does dampen things a little, but overall, it's one of the more balanced songs on the album. The progressive leanings of Thunderstone show on "Higher," with the keyboards taking a more prominent role in the song. The speed picks back up on "Wounds," and though the lack of speed variation does hurt the song on some regard, the solos benefit greatly as a result. "Days of Our Lives" is the weakest song on the album, as the slow pace takes the solos down a little, but on a album with solid offerings, it's still a worthwhile song that proves that the band is doing their best to improve where they are at their worst. The album closes with "Barren Land," which is the longest track on the album. It features spoken word in the middle of the song, and despite being a slower song, is actually one of the better songs complete with another strong solo exchange. For the most part, speed isn't necessarily something Thunderstone shoots for on Apocalypse Again, but given the long layoff, it fits in comfortably with the rest of the discography.

While Apocalypse Again isn't as strong as the first two Thunderstone albums nor features the best songs of Evolution 4.0, it is a solid enough offering overall that any fan will happily take. Speed isn't a priority on the album; however, the range is good enough that it doesn't get monotonous after a few listens. The rust may show at times, particularly given the time between albums, but the musicianship is still strong after all this time.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Funeral Moth-Transience

Japan has had a fairly strong history when it comes to metal music of varying degrees, with thrash, traditional heavy metal, and black metal being at the forefront. However, that doesn't mean Japan doesn't produce their fair share of bands outside of those genres, with Boris being the chameleon when it comes to genres, as they seamlessly change genres with every album. For the funeral doom metal entry, Funeral Moth has decided to take that step forward to become Japan's representative into the sub-genre. With an album out already, they are approaching the important second step with their latest album Transience.

Transience begins with the title track's tranquil guitar notes that will remind listeners of current time Earth material. The guitar notes continue even as the distorted guitar strums and the rhythm section kicks in two minutes into the song. Vocals, while sparse throughout the album, are reminiscent of a person struggling to get out the words as they are on their death bed. Sustained guitar notes mixed in with the music further add to the long, agonizing struggle to tranquility. With a running time of over 21 minutes, the title track is a lot to take in, but given that the music offers little but an emptiness that one will eventually accept, it's a song that overthinking it would diminish the intended message here. "Lost" begins with guitar notes that drive home the feeling of loneliness for the listener, with a hint of low-end chanting in the band's native tongue thrown in for good measure. As a whole, there isn't much to Funeral Moth on the album unless you delve deep into the subtle changes within their sound, as well as the painstaking measures in which they play each note. In many ways, they're practically a simplified version of Earth.

Funeral Moth has been around for a decade, but have only gotten their act together to release albums in the last three years or so. The wait has been worth it so far, as they have come out with one of the more emotionally straining albums of 2016 in Transience. While the music may sound simple over the near 40 minutes it occupies, they have mastered the subtle changes that make the best funeral doom metal albums. Your full attention to detail is a must for maximum enjoyment, and it is available for your listening at their bandcamp site.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Malicious Birth-Asylum

In a never-ending effort to catch up on this year's releases, plus the desire to search the globe for metal music in the least likely places, the album review this time brings us to the city of Quezon City, Philippines, and the sludge/doom metal duo known as Malicious Birth. Little is known about the band beyond what is mentioned here, but they did release a demo called Paralysis Sessions last year, and with that bit of a confidence boost, they took the leap and released their first album in Asylum.

Asylum is a four track album that takes up about 36 minutes, with the longest track being "Dictator" at just under 13 minutes while around five and a half minutes is what makes up the shortest track "Mind Collapse." The opening track "Mind Collapse" lays the heaviness on with just a sampled track followed by vocals breaking the monotony around the 3:30 mark of the song. "Dictator" is a little more timely when it comes to vocals kicking in, as it begins earlier, though coming up with 13 minutes of material and mostly limited music and vocal range means that Malicious Birth has to be on top of their game. The changes in tempo are rather subtle, as the first half of the song shows, going from slow to slower to slowest, and with vocals rather sparse, it is up to the music to carry the day. The second half of the song sees the guitar taking charge on some level, driving the music up a tick. The drumming, mostly serving as a complimentary piece, starts the charge on "Samsara," a song that offers an ever-so slight change in music style. The closing track "Pointless" has a decent bass intro that leads into the band's usual sound, with vocals showing something other than low-fi screams, as they get upgraded to a higher level of sorts. Guitar strains dominate the proceedings halfway through the song before things pick back up again. While Malicious Birth doesn't break any new ground, they do show that they can play sludge doom metal competently and with some degree of tempo change, something most bands of their genre tend to forget to do. Vocals could afford to stand out more, but getting comfortable with the style is one of the things that will happen over time.

Malicious Birth draws from their surroundings for inspiration, and it shows on Asylum. Despite not breaking any new ground on the sludge doom metal scene as a whole, they do establish themselves as a band to watch. Like most bands, they do have room for improvement, but they have something to work with. For your purposes, you may check out the album on the Malicious Birth bandcamp website.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Silent Elegy-Gone with the Wind

The Metal Archives random album generator is at it again, and this time, China gets to be the country of origin, as they produce a symphonic metal band called Silent Elegy. Having just been around for three years, there isn't a lot to go on other than what is posted on the band's facebook page plus Metal Archives. However, here is what is known, as written via their facebook page: their lyrical themes are about love and redemption, and their musical style can be best described along the lines of Epica, After Forever, and Nightwish, which read correctly, is symphonic female fronted metal. Of course, there is also the guttural male vocals included in the mix, so comparing them to Sirenia isn't a major stretch. Without any previous albums of any kind to go off of, Silent Elegy goes head first into the foray with their debut Gone with the Wind.

Silent Elegy isn't the first symphonic metal band in existence, but they are the first to use it in the purest sense, meaning it isn't combined with another sub-genre such as death or black metal. Gone with the Wind begins with an instrumental in "Baptism," which is utilized as a means to build up the suspense to what is to come on the album. "Reborn" opens with chiming bells that immediately leads into standard symphonic metal that places a heavy emphasis on operatics, particularly on both the usage of synthesizers and the with the vocals of 李晓宇. One of their first singles "Valkyrie" is next, and it has a habit of reminding the listener of Tarja-era Nightwish, as the music tends to be grand in overall sound while the vocals provide their own air of grandiosity. The guttural male vocals make an appearance for the first time on the album with "Indelible Memory," a song that begins with a piano intro that would fit in on some of the better symphonic metal songs out there. While it isn't strong enough on the song to offset the female vocals, it does break a sense of monotony that threatened to overtake the album. A brief piano interlude in the song provides some of the best moments on the song, as it takes over and provides much of the atmosphere there. "Never Meet Again" is the longest track on the album and is also the only one that clocks in over the five minute mark. It is here that the vocals get tested, particularly towards the end, where she has to hit the high notes, to some success. The other single from the album "Furthest Distance" has one of the better uses of symphonics, but it becomes clear that Silent Elegy has work to do to get better. Vocal range can always be improved, but variation in the tempo of the music would greatly serve Silent Elegy well, as it seems that the songs tend to sound the same after a few listens. It isn't until "In My Dreams" that the variation that had been sought finally comes to light, as the band slows things down a little, though the bombast factor does surface towards the middle of the song. Included on the album is a symphony version of "Redemption," something that could undoubtedly improve the band's overall repertoire with a little more use.

Silent Elegy is still new to the metal scene, and given that they are one of the first Chinese symphonic metal bands, there is bound to be room for improvement. On Gone with the Wind, they show considerable talent that will serve as a foundation for future work. The things they need to work on, such as vocal range and more song tempo variations, are all things that can be fixed in time. For now, they are on to something, and Gone with the Wind should serve as a jumping off point to what should hopefully be a record deal in the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Yossi Sassi Band-Roots and Roads

The Metal Archives wheel was spun again, and this time, the album that comes up is one that will be familiar to fans of Orphaned Land. Ex-Orphaned Land member Yossi Sassi has had his own project since 2011, when he was still in Orphaned Land, but now it is a full-time project. The latest album Roots and Roads continues what he started, as it is more on the progressive side with Middle Eastern folk elements. If you're expecting a carbon copy of Orphaned Land, you will be disappointed, so get those expectations out of the way.

For Roots and Roads, the Yossi Sassi Band sets the tone by interweaving traditional Middle Eastern folk with the more relaxed progressive sound. While Sassi performs much of the guitar and Middle Eastern instruments, there is a backing band and the instrumentals are evenly placed along with the tracks with vocals, as provided by various musicians including Sapir Fox, Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Diana Golbi, and Sassi himself. There are other guest musicians on the album, most notably Bob Katsionis (Firewind) and Bumblefoot (ex-Guns N' Roses). As for how to look at the album, the vocal tracks are more progressive rock while the instrumentals tend to showcase the traditional folk side of the Yossi Sassi Band, and the split personality of the album is actually at its best when both elements come together, as evidenced on tracks such as "Winter," "Root Out," and "Road Less Traveled." Sure, there are lulls on the album that do pull the album down a little, such as "Thundercloud," which is rather airy in its approach, particularly with Sassi's vocals, as they aren't nearly as strong as former band mate Kobi Farhi's. Overall, however, there are more positives from Roots and Roads than there are negatives. As for best tracks, "Road Less Traveled" and "The Religion of Music" are good starts.

While there will always be comparisons between Yossi Sassi's current band and the band he used to be in, it is clear that with his current band, he gets his chance to explore more in the way of his musical creativeness. Despite not being as great as one would have liked, Roots and Roads is a nice album that should give the listener insight as to what he can do musically. If you're looking for something a little different, then Yossi Sassi has something for you in Roots and Roads.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hordak-Padre

When trying to catch up on what's been released this year, it's never always a good idea to hit the random band link on Metal Archives unless you narrow the search some. Thanks to Metal Archives, however, I stumbled upon this gem for review, and one that will get me one step closer to being caught up on this year's album releases.

The Madrid, Spain band Hordak has been around for almost 14 years and has released four albums to date. Their general themes center around Celtic Paganism and Celtiberian (a cross of emigrated Celts and native Iberians) history with Pagan metal serving as a backdrop. Earlier this year, they released their fourth album in Padre, and while it may take time to get acclimated to the band, as they seemingly release an album every five years, the end results prove to be worth it, mostly.

Padre begins with "Ekleipsis - Devourer of Gods," and while it isn't a monumental start, it does start the album on the right foot. Things get diversified with "Soaring," as the acoustic guitar/flute intro really adds to Hordak's sound, complete with a guitar solo that is becoming a lost art in today's music.  The bridge between the two songs "Bloodline of the Wolves" is a good transition between the two while delivering on its own thanks to clean vocals from guest Wulfstan of Forefather. "Sol Sister" also features a solid guitar intro that leads into one of the better overall songs on the album, as things are fairly straightforward, including the vocals of Autumn. The instrumental track "Sol" is acoustic guitar with xylophone mixed in, and while it breaks the consistency of the tempo that is created, it also doesn't add much to the overall picture. "A Leader in Times of War" starts with an intro clip from the movie Spartacus, which leads into more of the sound that Hordak does fairly well. However, as the album goes along, the lack of tempo variety begins to show, and being able to tell the songs apart does become a challenge. What does work in Padre's favor is that the album is 50 minutes long, and only two songs have a running time over the six-minute mark, so consistency proves to be a double-edged sword here. If there is a highlight on the second half of the album, it is "Father Sun - Father Dragon," which features harsher vocals from Uruksoth (Gathering Crisis, CrystalMoors).

Hordak produces another solid album with Padre, though there are moments where you wonder which song you are listening to, given the consistent nature of the tempo of the album. An instrumental that is just simply there doesn't help too much, but overall musicianship on the album is actually above average. A solid album overall, but could have been better.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Visions of Atlantis-Old Routes - New Waters

Since their formation in 2000, Visions of Atlantis has undergone several lineup changes, with the only constant in all of it being drummer Thomas Caser. Now, with most of the original lineup back together except for the vocalists, the band is hitting the reset button with an EP called Old Routes - New Waters, which is songs from the first three albums as sung by current vocalists Clementine Delauney and Siegfried Samer. The results are mixed.

For the album, the songs are taken from Eternal Endless Infinity ("Lovebearing Storm"), Cast Away ("Lost," "Winternight," and "Last Shut of Your Eyes") and Trinity ("Seven Seas"). To say there is a major difference between the male and female vocalists, at least when it comes to just how well they fit with the songs compared to the original, would be an understatement, and the compatibility changes with each song. For instance, on the opening track "Lovebearing Storm," there just isn't the same power behind the vocals as in the original, particularly when it comes to the male vocals. Of course, comparing the re-done version as a whole to the original, it just doesn't stack up, and the band knows it, as they just go with what works in the now. The newer version of "Lost" actually is more of an improvement on the original, as both vocalists carry their parts well. "Winternight" strikes the same emotional chord with the listener on this version as it did with the original, so it works well on the album. "Seven Seas" is alright on the album, but it isn't a major improvement on the original, but "Last Shut of Your Eyes" is where things look better. Musically, Visions of Atlantis is trying to get a feel for what brought them to the dance, and it shows at times, as the energy that permeated the originals is not as evident on the remade versions at times.

Old Routes - New Waters is an okay EP that serves its purpose of getting the listener re-acclimated to the band's original sound while working in the new vocalists. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it's also not terrible, either. It's only recommended if you're looking to either complete your Visions of Atlantis discography or if you're like me and hold out hope that they will have that breakthrough album.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nightwish show review 3/16/16

Nightwish and Sonata Arctica have been at the forefront of the Finnish power metal scene, with each band having been around about 40 years combined. Only once though, had both bands toured North America at the same time (in 2005), so it was a pleasant surprise when both bands were announced as touring together on Nightwish’s second run through of North America in support of their most recent album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Along with Dutch melodic/symphonic metallers Delain, the bands set forth to put their brand of metal across the continent, making a stop on March 16 in Kansas City, MO.


Prior to the stop in Kansas City, the tour had some bumps in the road, most notably a flu that had been floating around the Nightwish camp that forced a cancellation in Boise, ID the week prior. Seemingly, with the show going off without a hitch for the most part, things were back to normal (more on this later). Delain kicked things off with a 30-minute set, and despite the time constraints, they showed a great deal of energy and a highlighted mic stand. It should also be noted that they were without a bass player for the duration of the tour, as Otto Schimmelpennick van der Oije was back in The Netherlands to be with his wife, who was expecting during the tour. The set list kicked off with “Suckerpunch,” which showed the importance of having a frontwoman that can get a crowd into it, as Charlotte Wessels proved here and throughout their set. The set list was surprisingly heavy on songs from We are the Others, as half of the list was devoted to the album, but it also showed off songs from their latest EP Lunar Prelude, as well as a song from The Human Contradiction (“Army of Dolls”). By the time they finished their set with “Not Enough,” Delain gained fans that may not have heard their material before and existing fans were satisfied.


















Sonata Arctica was next to hit the stage, and despite just a 45-minute set, everything that made their live set enjoyable was present, from vocalist Tony Kakko’s in-between humorous banter with the fans to the equally energetic set of songs. With several albums under their belt, picking seven songs, intro not included, was not an easy task, but Sonata Arctica did well to at least pick a song from most of the albums, with only their debut Ecliptica having more than one song on the list. Beginning from their latest album Pariah’s Child and the song “The Wolves Die Young,” Sonata Arctica dived into what is becoming a regular occurrence of lively music, strong stage presence, and a great sense of humor during the in-between banter. Going into older favorites “My Land,” which featured banter about the band’s home land, and “Fullmoon,” the songs almost sound as though it never aged thanks to the overall energy in which the band play. They slowed things down halfway through the set with a combination of “Tallulah” and “Last Drop Falls” before delving into “I Have a Right.” Sonata Arctica closed out strong with “The Cage” and “Don’t Say a Word,” but not before banter in-between the songs got so long that Tony encouraged the crowd to shout, “Shut the **** up, Tony!” If people didn’t love Sonata Arctica before this live set, it might be a good idea to check your pulse.


















Nightwish was the last to take the stage, but midway through the opening song “Shudder Before the Beautiful,” bassist Marco Hietala went off the stage and was notably absent for much of the second song “Yours is an Empty Hope.” Prior to “Ever Dream,” vocalist Floor Jansen kept the crowd’s attention with a little fun banter while Hietala’s technical difficulties were being fixed. Hietala would soon appear and apologize for an outburst, as problems with his bass flustered him and he stormed off the stage during the opening song. Once the problems were solved, Nightwish were able to put on their best show, with Jansen proving to be one of the best live vocalists and a perfect fit for Nightwish. Going through their latest album Endless Forms Most Beautiful for the majority of their set list, it proves to be better in a live setting than in studio. There were also instances in which Nightwish delved into their extensive discography, as all except for Angels Fall First were mined for songs, with “Stargazers” and “Wishmaster” from Oceanborn and Wishmaster, respectively. Overall, what started out rather disastrous was ultimately saved, as Nightwish put on a great performance in spite of earlier problems in the set.













Friday, July 15, 2016

Delain-Lunar Prelude EP

Whereas The Gathering led the way for female-fronted metal bands almost 20 years ago, there is almost a lineage that continues today from the Netherlands, as Within Temptation is practically in the middle, which leads to Delain as the torchbearer of the current era. It should figure, as Martijn Westerholt was originally in Within Temptation, but had to step aside prior to the band’s rise to success. Almost 10 years to the day Delain released their first full-length in Lucidity, the band is experiencing major success of their own.

Currently riding on the success of their last full-length in The Human Contradiction, Delain has released an EP in Lunar Prelude that should tide over fans until their next full-length. While it doesn’t offer much in the way of what they plan to do, it should at least provide enough of a glimpse of what is to come.

To figure out the track list, Lunar Prelude is two new songs, a song (“Don’t Let Go”) that was previously released on the bonus disc of The Human Contradiction, four live tracks, and an orchestral version of one of the new songs on the album. On to the new songs, they are “Suckerpunch” and “Turn the Lights Out,” and both are a fair study in contrast, as the former is more in your face while the latter is lighter, yet almost angelic in delivery. “Suckerpunch” is the obvious hook for listeners, as it features all the trademarks Delain is known for, from driving guitars to bombastic symphonics. As for “Turn the Lights Out,” it’s more subtle in its approach, as there is no obvious hook, but as with the case of any Delain song, is driven by Charlotte Wessel’s vocals. “Don’t Let Go” can be considered a new track if one didn’t pick up a special edition of The Human Contradiction, but otherwise, it just happens to be there. The live tracks are all songs from The Human Contradiction album, which should figure, as the album still has momentum for fans. While expecting completely new material isn’t necessarily something that an EP should do, Delain does a decent, in unspectacular enough job in offering a different look.


Lunar Prelude isn’t likely to win over new fans for Delain, but it won’t lose their existing fans, either. It’s what one would expect out of an EP for the most part, which is to say that die hard Delain fans will most likely be picking up the album as opposed to the casual listener. 

Nechochwen-The Heart of Akamon

Before I get to the album review, I'd like to say that this blog is a chance to keep years of album reviews and interviewing experience going. Even though the last two years have been kind of rough, given the burn out that I've felt, combined with various things outside of my control contributing to the demise of Metal Psalter (thanks for eight wonderful years), I feel like this blog is a chance to get a fresh start and see what brought me to this point in the first place. Sentimental stuff out of the way, let's go to the review.

Nechochwen is a duo from West Virginia that consists of Nechochwen (Aaron Carey) and Pohonasin (Andrew Della Cagna) and they play black/folk metal whose themes are heavily influenced by Native American culture and history. Since the first release Algonkian Mythos in 2008, the band has gotten progressively more comfortable with the metal elements, as the debut was predominantly acoustic guitar. With a new album out in Heart of Akamon, the results of a band exploring their horizons are realized.

The main theme of Heart of Akamon centers around a battle, one that is accurately depicted on the album cover, which is a painting of General Braddock's Defeat. The harsh opening track "The Serpent Tradition" leads into a short acoustic instrumental "The Impending Winter," which showcases a parallel between the harsh realities of war and the quiet, yet somber aftermath of the war. "October 6, 1813" and "Traversing the Shades of Death" are a welcome link to the band's past, as they employ the atmospheric elements that they've been known for while incorporating metal elements when needed. While picking one stand out song on this album is a difficult task, as the superior musicianship and subject matter make it an entire album worth listening to, a song like "Traversing the Shades of Death" encompasses everything that Nechochwen is about, from hauntingly beautiful atmospheric passages to metal influences. The vocals also do their part to make the Heart of Akamon an album worthy of your attention, as they pull off both clean and harsh vocals effectively.

Overall, Nechochwen does well with Heart of Akamon, particularly since it's allowed to stand out on its own while showing a level of improvement over previous albums. Growth is something that should be encouraged in music, and Nechochwen has shown this to be true over the course of their discography. If' you're looking for something refreshing, look no further than Heart of Akamon.