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.