Angra – Holy Land Review

Posted: July 26, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews, Prog Studio
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Angra - Holy Land

Angra – Holy Land

The Brazilian Heavy Metal band Angra’s debut album Angels Cry had sounded somewhere in the area of like a mixture between early Helloween and Queensryche. Three years later the band diversified their sound, with a sort of Dream Theater flair in places, a lot less Power Metal, and the introduction of what would come to define the band in the eyes of many… lots of Brazilian indigenous folk music influences, additional percussion and classical influences in there too for good measure.

Where the first album had a lot more speed, this album mixes it up. It’s a lot more rhythmic, based on interesting patterns. They upped the amount of keyboards, orchestral arrangements and percussion for sure, and there’s some sound effects here and there (boat and water sounds to fit with the theme), but the biggest difference is in how the songs flow and are structured.

Its also a concept album about their Brazilian homeland and its early history. Not your typical character-driven concept (usually about a fictional rockstar). It makes for interesting listening and adds an extra layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

The style has changed a little since the debut, but what hasn’t changed is the band’s talent. The vocals and lead guitar alone are phenomenal and then you have the really powerful rhythm section who shower this album full of impressive bass runs and tricky fills and manage all the tempo and time sig changes effortlessly making the complexity feel smooth and natural.

The superb production job by Power Metal producer-extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Hammerfall, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call etc.) is the icing on the cake that pulls together the spectacular songwriting and performances and makes you appreciate everything all the more.

Highlights include ‘Nothing To Say’ which is beyond catchy, ‘Carolina IV’ and perhaps my favourite of all, ‘Z.I.T.O’ which starts off in an Angel’s Cry mould and then goes off on one.

Overall, this is a really good album from a talented band. If you like your Prog Metal or your Power Metal then you need to check out Angra, and if you like Angra then Holy Land is pretty essential listening.

Stratovarius – Twilight Time Review

Posted: July 23, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Back in 1992, Timo Tolkki was in the process of transforming the underground Heavy Metal band Stratovarius into the world renowned Melodic Power Metal band known and loved today. This was before virtuoso singer Timo Kotipelto, drummer Jörg Michael and former Yngwie Malmsteen keyboard hero Jens Johansson joined the band.

Their second album called Twilight Time (or II) is one of those albums that there’s nothing wrong with, but you don’t feel excited about either. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about any track individually, but as an album its never going to be my favourite. Maybe it’s all a bit too midpaced, maybe the production is too reverby, or maybe I just miss Kotipelto, I don’t know, but this record just doesn’t get my excitement up all that much.

There are some interesting standout moments, such as the strong opener ‘Break The Ice’ which has a sort of ‘Mountain King era Savatage feel, and the rhythmic instrumental ‘Metal Frenzy’ (interestingly less frenzied than some of their later instrumentals, more controlled and mechanical if I’m being pedantic).

If you’re a Stratovarius fan then of course check it out, give it a chance, and give it enough listens to sink in, but in my opinion this is the definition of for-completests-only. I wouldn’t recommend anybody pick this up as an introduction to the band (who would go on to such greater things) and I don’t even think there is a hipster like-the-old-stuff contingent out there who’d like it just because it had a different line-up and didn’t receive much promotion.

Overall, its ok. As I’ve said, there’s nothing wrong with any track, there’s no poor tracks and nothing I’d call filler, its just… ok.

What I’m Enjoying These Days:

Posted: July 19, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in What I'm Enjoying These Days







Manowar – Hail To England Review

Posted: July 19, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Manowar - Hail To England

Manowar – Hail To England

In 1984, two years after their debut album Battle Hymns was released, and in the same year as their fourth full-length Sign Of The Hammer, the legendary American Heavy Metal band Manowar released their third studio album Hail To England… a record that pays tribute to the country in which they formed the band and found an early fanbase, as well as introduced to the public the affectionate nickname for their fans “The Immortals.”

Manowar’s debut had a bit of a ‘70s Hard Rock flavour to it in places, and their sophomore record Into Glory Ride was mostly a bit slower, doomier and more progressively inclined. By the time of Hail To England, Manowar had decided how to balance all of their various influences into one cohesive and uniquely Manowar whole. It contains all the sword and sorcery imagery, self-referentialism, vocal virtuosity, loud bass and OTT extravagance that make the band who they are. Just like all the early Manowar records it has complex awkward drum patterns and a unique sense of rhythm that makes for really interesting listening.

Opening with the now-classic ‘Blood Of My Enemies,’ ‘Each Dawn I Die’ and ‘Kill With Power’ (as covered-by Arch Enemy), the band make a really solid Side-A with no weak links, any song from which could fit well in a concert or hits collection. Try any of these tracks if you wonder if the album (or indeed the band) is right for you.

The three-minute bass solo “Black Arrows” sets the trend for future Manowar releases with their multiple solos (be it bass, guitar or drum solos). It also ends with the lengthier, slower, more progressively inclined ‘Bridge Of Death’ which is ambitious, bombastic and reminiscent of their direction on their previous record.

Overall; Hail To England is a strong record by the band, and contains some of their best material from the early days. This is quite a popular album for the fanbase. (Personally; I enjoy it a lot, although I feel the best was still to come from the band and enjoy the band’s later efforts like Kings Of Metal, Triumph Of Steel and Louder Than Hell even more. This for me is the band finding themselves, and those are the band perfecting it.) If you take it too seriously or use the word ‘cheesy’ a lot when describing music you dislike then maybe avoid, but if you’re in the mood for fun sweaty macho ’80s Heavy Metal then jump in with both feet.

Gamma Ray - Powerplant

Gamma Ray – Powerplant

Gamma Ray, the legendary German Melodic Power Metal band fronted by the immensely talented Kai Hansen (Founding member of Helloween, member of Iron Saviour & Unisonic, guest contributor to Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall, Avantasia and all around fingers-in-many-pies mainstay of the Power Metal scene) really came in to their own with their classic fourth studio album Land Of The Free. They had always been great, but something about that 1995 masterpiece really just elevated them even higher.

For me, the three albums that followed maintain that high standard. Most fans will be very familiar with Somewhere Out In Space and the popular No World Order albums. It seems that piggy-in-the-middle record, Powerplant is a bit more overlooked, or in other words underrated.

The album opens with ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ which is unquestionable, pure classic Gamma Ray. This sort of song is the reason people love this band. Elsewhere there is the fun tribute to Manowar ‘Heavy Metal Universe’ (filled with constant lyrical references, and musically based on ‘The Gods Made Heavy Metal’) which is great fun. There’s variety with a Pet Shop Boys cover (‘It’s a Sin’), a commercial sounding tune (‘Send Me A Sign’) and a lengthy progressively inclined number (‘Armageddon.’)

The production is a little flatter than the albums which surround it, and sonically it doesn’t perhaps pop out as much, but the songwriting and performances are spot on. ‘Wings Of Destiny,’ ‘Razorblade Sigh’ and the aforementioned gem ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’ are memorable, melodic ragers that would stand proud on any other Gamma Ray record.

Overall; this album sees Gamma Ray in the middle of a great run of high quality albums. It maybe doesn’t get talked about as much as some other albums but you’ll be damn grateful to have it in your collection once you’ve given it a chance.

Freedom Call - The Circle Of Life

Freedom Call – The Circle Of Life

After releasing three brilliant studio albums of pure, happy-sounding Melodic Power Metal between 1999-2002, the German band Freedom Call decided to spice things up a little bit. Consequently; their fourth studio album, 2005’s The Circle Of Life is something of a transitional affair, seeing the band keep one foot in the early sound that defined them, and stepping out towards their Hard Rock influenced sound of their later material.

The Circle Of Life features more keyboards and less guitars during verses for example. The keyboard sounds used are less piano-sounding and more artificial and ‘80s sounding. The tempos are frequently more midpaced than the focus on speed the band had previously. The production is that little bit slicker and more commercial. Every song sounds like a single.

It could be easy to call this album a sell-out or overproduced or something along those lines, if it weren’t for the fact that its brilliant. Yes, The Circle Of Life sees Freedom Call experimenting with new ideas rather than rehashing their beginnings, but doing so without compromising on quality. If you like Power Metal bands’ big singles more than the thrashier deep cuts then this is a perfect album for you.

I guess “new ideas” is a relative term though, as ‘The Gathering’ may sound like something off of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Works album and ‘Kings & Queens’ may blatantly steal the riff from Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon. Regardless, The Circle Of Life sees the band in fine form, delivering fine songs. Its shinier, more polished and more varied… but in a way that makes you think of the word “mature” rather than “mistake.”

Highlights include the stomping ‘Hero Nation’ which has a fun marching feel and some of Chris Bay’s most evocative vocals to date, as well as the fun album opener ‘Mother Earth’ which doesn’t sound like your average Freedom Call tune and the album-closing Title Track. Well, that could just as easily be anything in the second half… This albums got that thing that Eternity had, were it just gets better as it goes on!

Overall; The Circle Of Life is a damn strong, damn enjoyable album. It isn’t a clone of the seminal debut Stairway To Fairyland, but its equally worth your attention. Turns out the band are great at more than one style. Great band, Great album. Check it out.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 77: Bad Brains – Bad Brains

Hello, and welcome to my Blog. Why is it called KingcrimsonBlog, the official Blog of Kingcrimsonprog?. Good question; It is called that, because I am called Kingcrimsonprog (or Gentlegiantprog). Well, I’m not. I’m called Jimmy. But, I’m called either Kingcrimsonprog or Gentlegiantprog on most websites and forums. (You know, in the way you have to choose a name or “net-handle” when you register?).

Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.

I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.

I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Stephen King Novels or Vintage French Cinema, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the average fisherman’s knowledge of lures and lines. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or Fishing. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.

Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.

I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).

According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.

If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.

So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:

Today I’ll be listening to the self-titled debut album Bad Brains, by the US Hardcore Punk band Bad Brains. Its been almost a year since I last wrote about my discover-Hardcore-Punk plan spurred by watching the excellent documentary American Hardcore and finding the lyrics to D.O.A’s ‘Fucked Up Ronnie’ so enjoyable that I needed to find out more (which if I recall correctly was written about 2 years after seeing the actual documentary, actually, but hey, that’s how my brain rolls). You can read that here.

Overall; I’ve had a mixed relationship with Punk. I found Punk tempting since first seeing a red mowhak as a kid and wanting one. One of the first bands I ever owned more than one album by was Green Day. I then went away from Punk ideas towards more Metal ideas (with Biohazard happily slipping under the Metal-Curtain though). Since starting this blog I’ve weakened my defenses, helped along the way by bands like Gallows, Sick Of It All , Madball and Life Of Agony, my Punk fears were slowly lessened.

Then Grunge helped me a little. Sure I didn’t actually fall in love with Minor Threat last summer but it was a stepping sto-o-oooone. Most recently I’ve picked up a bunch of stuff by all the bands I wanted to buy as a tween like Rancid, The Offspring, NoFX, The Distillers. That stuff’s sunshine fun fits in with my Fu Manchu’s California Crossing love and provides not only a new way into Hardcore but also some more context. I’ve got the Metallic NYHC context, I’ve got the Grunge context, but I’ve also got the 90’s Pop Punk context too now. My brain likes music in context. Hell, I didn’t even like Motorhead til I’d first gotten into Judas Priest.

Anyway, what do I know about Bad Brains? Well, every Thrash band seemed to love them. Every Metalcore band seems to love them. T Shirts with this album’s artwork on it seem as popular as ones with Venom’s Black Metal artwork on it. I know they did reggae too and it inspired Soulfly in some way. I know they have a song called ‘Pay To Cum’ because I remember it being prominent in the aforementioned American Hardcore documentary. Admittedly, I can’t remember the song. Maybe that’s not a good start? I don’t know. I’ll give it a chance….

[Play]

Four Sticks Count-in. Then it kicks in. Its buzzy, my brain can’t focus. Is this going to be like Venom’s Black Metal where I have to ‘squint’ with my ears to hear it?

No. OK. the chorus comes in. Very melodic. This song is quite good. It is fast, punchy, energetic and exciting. Oh… nice guitar solo. Like, not ‘nice for Punk’ but actually nice. Then that chorus, yeah, that’s a good chorus, its got a shambolic charm. The ending of the song has a strangely peacful and serene sound that reminds me of the beach.

The next song kicks in, its pure power, noise and thrashing. It sounds like a mixture between Sodom and Minor Threat to my limited ears. Especially when the floor toms kick in. That reminds me of my favourite parts of Minor Threat. The buzzsaw guitar tone reminds me of Sodom’s first two albums.

Also I just noticed its the next song. The transition was subtle, felt like one song, not two.

The net song, ‘The Regulator’ starts up. Its clear that Gallows must like this one. Its got a menacing quality, it feels foreboding, like if it was used in a movie, it would be on in the scene just before it all goes wrong. It doesn’t sound anything like Clutch’s ‘The Regulator,’ though, that’s for damn sure. Ps. How good is Clutch’s ‘The Regulator’ !?

Then Slayer’s Alter Of Sacrifice starts. Oh wait no, its the famous ‘Banned In DC.’ Wow, so Slayer ripped that intro off pretty majorly eh? See this is why I love the whole discovery aspect of music. Its cool to learn. Side note, I like the clean singing parts, the vocals sound like no one else in my record collection, and wow, what an awesome guitar solo! That’s a pretty decent song right there!

Next comes some reggae, presumably an intro and the Punk will explode?
…..
….


…um. Nope. Its just a full real instrumental reggae song. Oh, wow. I didn’t know they did this on their first album. I thought it was something that happened later in their career. Ok, its not my cup of tea but I can appreciate it must’ve been pretty damn innovative at the time.

The next song comes in, ‘Supertouch/Shitfit.’ It is exactly what I expect Hardcore Punk to sound like. If you took this, D.O.A’s ‘Fucked Up Ronnie’ and Minor Threat’s ‘Out Of Step’ then you’d have my view of what Hardcore Punk is. There’s a cool hanging bit in the middle of the two bits that has a Black Sabbath sort of a feel. Oh, it comes back, with a nice guitar solo. Then it does a Motorhead’s Overkill and refuses to end.

Up next comes ‘Leaving Babylon’ which is just an actual, real, full, 3 minute reggae song. Not what I expected when I pressed play. I thought maybe this came in the 90s when they had an artistic shift (ie. like Metallica and Load. I don’t expect a ‘Momma Said’ on Kill ‘Em All neccesarily). I don’t know anything about reggae to know if its good, but its not making me switch it off, so that’s a good sign. I’ve got to admit, I don’t much love this area of music, when The Libertines or any one of their spin off bands go a bit in that direction, its always my least favourite song of theirs, but at the same time its not that I dislike it, just that its not Rock/Metal music like I really like.

The next song ‘Fearless Vampire Kills’ is basically like any song off that Minor Threat cd. In the style I now expect, but not necessarily super fun or memorable.

Ho ho hold up. What’s this… on ‘I’ it plays a bassline I’d swear to goodness I know already. Somebody’s ripped that off too. . Oh, this is driving me crazy. Anthrax, Overkill, Metallica, Slayer or someone like that completely copy this. This is driving me up the wall, I wish I could remember who it is that ripped this off so much. Its like when I first heard Saxon’s ‘Stand Up And Be Counted’ and couldn’t remember that it was the same riff as Motorhead’s ‘No Class.’ (Which are both just ZZ Top’s ‘Tush’ anyway…but I hadn’t heard that yet at the time)

Also, btw, the ending is soooooo Metallica. Like they do that sort of ending all the time. ‘Phantom Lord’ is a good example.

‘Big Take Over’ follows. Its more mid paced. It has a cool mid section where it feels like the music changes direction it does one part that feels ‘forwards’ and follows it with another art which feels ‘backward’ creating a whiplash effect. Its quite charming. The guitar solo is mixed waaaay too loud.

Next up is ‘Pay To Cum.’ I recognize it now from the documentary now. It was in my memory, just not easily accessible. Vulgar title for sure. Weird mumbly production. The drum beats during transitions are very Dave Lombardo even if the main thing is very punky. But the bit of that alternating quickly between cymbals and snare is a very Lombardo, the du-ba-do-ba-dodo thing.

‘Right Brigade’ is next. At first it doesn’t seem very special, but in the middle its got what I think Anthrax would call a Mosh Part, just before the guitar solo. It goes midpaced and menacing. That lasts all the way up to the ending.
It then ends with a 6 minute reggae song called ‘I love Jah’ which feels like a mix between the previous two, with the vocals and busier drumming of the second, and the slide guitar and echoey effects of the first one. As good a way to end the album as any I suppose. Probably really good cool-down music after the speed and Punky energy.

Well, I liked that album, and I can see a lot of how it applies to Thrash and Pop Punk. Its quite a nice gap filler in my musical knowledge. Will I like it in its own right or only as a learning experience? Time will tell. For now, I feel satisfied.

Oh well, now to go and listen to every Thrash song I own trying to figure out who ripped off ‘I.’