Saturday, May 17, 2008

Burning Black - Prisoners of Steel

Classic power metal in the most respectable sense. Well played and overall well recorded, Prisoners of Steel, the Italian bands first full-length after forming in 2004, holds high the values and traditions of true metal in the truest trueness possible. That said, some of the vocal lines don’t seem to work; or at least I can imagine them being done better. The only other problem I can foresee is the California band with the same name. For fans of Judas Priest, Manowar and Accept. On Sweet Poison Records.

Hammerfall - Threshold (Nuclear Blast)

Another fine release from the epic Swedes, but that is all this is: fine. Otherwords I would use to describe it are: decent, good, enjoyable, pleasant and dandy. The crux of the matter with this release is that it fails to showcase the band in all their powermetal glory. Untypically lacking in the ripping enthusiasm of their first four albums, it seems they’ve checkmated themselves with songwriting that sits on the ‘threshold’ of achieving it’s desired punch. That said, the songwriting and arrangements all work - a testament to their fantastic musicianship, yet this album just doesn’t generate the energy their earlier work has. Still worth headbanging to though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Seasons of the Wolf - Once in a Blue Moon

With Seasons of the Wolf it is always the season to bark at the moon; and with this release, even blue ones. Always mysterious, always defiant, always there to lead you to a place of cosmic aural rapture; SOTW once again channel eiree gothic tones of what could possibly be previously unknown frequencies; which may explain why it is so hard to pinpoint their influences. Sounding refreshingly different than anything you may have heard, no matter how obscure, SOTW gallop with darkness, danger and old unmentionable terrors; enlightening your musical senses with an ethereal darkness and psychadelic edge surely meant to take you to realms unheard - and keep you there. Not to say you won’t find kindness with this group, “Snaggletooth” was featured on the Steve Rolbiecki cancer benefit compilation. Once bitten, twice persuaded.

Schizopathic - Grain of Sanity (Self-financed)

First of all, for those who don’t know, I’m a bit too close to this album to be truly objective. I am good friends with these guys not to mention that I was present for some of the recording; even managing to use some of their Pachyderm studio time for my own nefarious purposes. That said, let the review begin.

“All Rise” kicks off the album and sets the mood; and it’s a mood that demands headbanging and fists-in-the-air throughout. Only softening their attack in the arpeggiated ‘acoustic’ sections of the heavy titletrack “Grain of Sanity” as well as in “Sessions,” a song which could be considered a ballad if only it wasn’t so pissed-off angry. In fact, anger seems to be the predominant theme here as best exemplified by “Beat You to Death.” As I’m sure you can imagine, the song is both angry and heavy.

Overall, most of this fumming riff ‘n’ roll portfolio dwells in the mid-tempo range. However, “Psycho Trip” steps up the speed a bit complete with a really cool skate/surf vibe. Definitely one of my favorite tracks. Though the crowd favorite by far is “Schizoholic;” certainly destined to become a classic party song and will probably remain the defining song of the band much the same way “Ace of Spades” defines Motorhead. “Me, Myself and I” is another popular live track, strangely appealing in it’s straitforward self-centered advance.

To characterize Shizopathic's sound a bit more: Think Pantera mixed with Suicidal Tendencies and latter day Anthrax. Heavy, catchy, and riffy with gang chant back up vox. Charismatic backup vocals provided care of Cole (drums) and Scott (guitar).

As far as the production goes, it is not quite what you’ll get with the major label bands I’ve just mentioned; however, it is much better than what you would normally expect from a self-financed release. Meaning Grain of Sanity doesn’t get tiresome after repeated listens despite EQ abuse (in my opinion) and that says a lot. If you have the opportunity to see Schizopathic live, expect to hear quite a few songs not currently available.

A final word. Wes House, a musician friend of ours who recently died from Progressive Multiple Sclerosis really dug this album giving it a thumbs up (the MS took away his ability to speak) when I asked him what he thought of it not long before he died.

Syrens Call - Against Wind and Tide MCD (Brennus Music)

Hailing (or perhaps I should say sailing?) from the shores of France, Syrens Call have arrived with a melodic rain-shower of proggish edged metalistic wonder. Overall, the five songs on this multi-media mini-cd are somewhat moody, but in a pleasant introspective rainy day kind of way. Swirling keyboards and guitars lift you up and take you away with mid-tempo melodies that occasionally climax into a frenzy of notes as well as diving down into the balladish. The instrumental whirlpool of “Aquatic Coma” was previously released on their first album Fantasea; and it sounds as if it has been re-recorded here. New singer Soraya Hostens smooth passionate voice blends into to the melodic multi-colored metal seashell that is Syren’s Call effortlessly; her voice remarkably similar to their last singer. The production however, could use a little more oomph. Nevertheless, the songs float quite well and swim even better. There is also a video, slide show, lyrics and wallpapers. No life preserver needed.

Avian - From the Depths of Time

Reverblicious melodic power metal fortified with creative hooks, conceptual lyrics and subtle progressive maneuvers that pull you along with the genius of their execution. Top this off with the soaring vocals of Lance King you get an album that stands out as exceptional in the crowded field of metallic prog releases.
However, with guest musicians used on the cd and in live performance you get the impression that this is a side project. Opening for Gamma Ray, Mike Simonds filled in Dave Ellefsons vacant bass slot and Steve Soderstrom played drums (David Small played all the drums on the album). Jonah Weingarten played keyboards on the cd and live. Also playing on the cd and live is guitarist Roger Moore who is listed on the album as a guest musician. (??)
Despite the lack of a stable line-up this high-class affair from the mind of guitarist and band founder Yan Leviathan is the perfect album to lead young ones astray from the ravages of mainstream staleness. My favorite track is “The Depths of Time” followed by “As the World Burns” and “Blinding Force.” On Nightmare Records.

Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage (Roadrunner)

Inhuman shredding. Inhuman vocal majesty. Inhuman keyboard runs. Inhuman bass bashing. Inhuman drumming. Inhuman melodic explosionisms. Inhuman songwriting. Inhuman hooks. Inhuman passion. Inhuman enthusiasm. Inhuman charisma. Inhuman thunder. So yeah. INHUMAN RAMPAGE you metal maniacs! Photo-review of Minneapolis show.

Dream Evil - The Book Of Heavy Metal

On one hand this is some great rip-roaring power metal and on the other hand it is just way too paint-by-numbers. Very much the same dilemma Primal Fear have been struggling through. I see younger power metal fans getting into this a lot more than those of us who have heard these riffs and song ideas thousands upon thousands of times before over the last 20 years. Don’t get me wrong, this is still good rifftastic stuff for furious headbanging - they just don’t pull it off as convincingly as Dragonforce and Hammerfall. On Century Media Records.

Edguy - Rocket Ride (Nuclear Blast)

Shooting off in the usual Edguy progmetal stylistic pomp Rocket Ride eventually crashes into the Hard Rock Cafe for the Musically Disorientated. Now there’s nothing wrong with open-minded musical mayhem but something about this release just doesn’t work. Instead of coming across as diverse, it comes off as disjointed and patchy. This isn’t helped out by the odd injection of still-trying-to-figure-it-out humor. Strangely I get the impression that I’ll probably like this album better 10 years from now, when it should, by means unknown, pick up some respect.

Jasmine Cain - The Inside (Self-Financed)

Steeped in traditional 70's hard rock influence, and highlighted with the warmth of Jasmine's charismatic voice, The Inside rocks with a spirited grace and melodic allure that makes repeated listens a non-stop pleasure. The songwriting is as natural as you can get. Most of the tracks charging along at a mid-tempo trot, though there are a couple of slower numbers that are as soothing as they are soulful. Now if you want to get nit-picky, the guitars could have been recorded "hotter" (or maybe just EQ'd to sound hotter) and the 'studio speak' intro to "Getting' High" could have been left off. Nevertheless, the mix is about good as you can expect for a self-financed effort. Live, they play the bar scene which means lots of covers; covering everything from King's X to a more metal version of the Georgia Satellite's "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" complete with horns in the air.

Kamelot - The Black Halo (SPV)

The Black Halo is the latest melodic chapter in the progressive power metal career of Kamelot continuing the Faust saga begun on 2003’s Epica. The album features quite the assemblage of guest musicians including vocalist Simone Simons from Epica, Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir and famed keyboardist Jens Johansson. There’s not a whole lot more to say that hasn’t been said already. If the previous Kamelot albums The Fourth Legacy, Karma and Epica were to your liking, you will absolutely love Black Halo. For those that haven’t listened to Kamelot before, expect passionate and intelligent compositions that are profound and mature in every melodic depth. Their sage use of melody and harmony is perfection incarnate - possibly even better than perfect. The bottom line is that once again Kamelot have put out an album of supremely majestic melodic power metal.

Pyramaze - Legend of the Bone Carver (Nightmare Records)

Lush with Lord of the Rings like epic elements including an introductory Rhapsody like spoken narration, the Legend of the Bone Carver, Pyramaze’s 2nd album born of the mind of guitarist Michael Kammeyer, thunders along with mountains and valleys of passionate riffs and melodies. Keys, guitars and vocals together emotionalizing something greater than the sum of their individual parts. This is the album I’ve been waiting to hear for years. Hell, I would have written and recorded this album myself if I had the necessary musical skills to create such a masterpiece of conceptual song craft.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Theocracy (Metal Age Records)

First of all, mega thanks to Jason from Seastorm Entertainment for getting me this exceptional cd. Upon initial listen I recognized the song “Mountain” from the Prog Power IV compilation, and I have to say it was one of the better tracks on the dual disc comp. I also recognized some of the classical melodies as having been used by Savatage and Virgin Steele before. That’s not to say this is copycat material. It isn’t, but it doesn’t stray from the progressive power metal realms either; which I don’t feel is anything to fuss about. All my requirements require is that the music in question sounds good, holds my attention and causes my emotional reactor to spin, power up or explode. This CD does all that. So I was surprised to read in the booklet that this is a one man band. Matt Smith does everything: lead and choir vocals, guitars and bass, keys, orchestration and drums via machine (not terribly noticeable unless you’ve focused your attention on the timing which is very definitely too perfect). In conclusion: passionate, powerful and absolutely worth your time.