Blog Keeps A Rollin’

Posted: April 17, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized

I just got this notification:

ACHIEVEMENT

  1. 5 Year Anniversary Achievement
    Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!
    You registered on WordPress.com 5 years ago!
    Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!

    That’s 5 years of KCP blogging people. Doesn’t feel that long at all. Here’s to five more!

Freedom Call – Stairway To Fairyland

If you are at all interested in Melodic European Power Metal, then you seriously have to give Germany’s Freedom Call some attention. For anyone who’s bought Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Land Of The Free, Visions and Somewhere Far Beyond and is now wondering “Where Next?” I personally feel the answer is Stairway To Fairyland.

Stairway To Fairyland, as if you couldn’t already tell purely by that name, is the kind of super uplifting, happy sounding, positive, major key Power Metal that puts a smile on the listener’s face. The kind of thing that scowling naysayers would call Flower Metal. The kind of music that influenced the likes of Dragonforce. If any of that sounds good to you then you should get up on this album immediately.

The thunderous drums by Gamma Ray’s Dan Zimmermann, the tasteful pleasant guitar leads from Helloween’s Sascha Gerstner and the crystal clear production job from Power Metal Producer extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (who’s worked with Angra, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Rage, HammerFall, Helloween and Gamma Ray) will have Power Metal enthusiast’s ears twitching with recognition and pleasure straight away. Add to that main-man Chris Bay’s immense vocal talents and brilliant attention to detail and you’ve got a serious recipe for success. The talent levels are through the ceiling.

What also makes this album great is that it isn’t just style over substance. The structuring and changes are so well thought out and the album really feels studied and brewed to perfection. There’s a feeling of craftsmanship and a better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation going on in a major way. There aren’t weak tracks, there aren’t weak sections and the band seem to be going for some sort of world record for most exciting choruses on a single album. Whether they achieve it is up to you, but it definitely seems like they’re doing their hardest to try.

Highlights include “Fairyland,” “We Are One” and the smile-guarantee that is the opener “Over The Rainbow.” If you wonder whether you should pick this album up, give one of those tracks a shot.

Overall; Look at the album artwork, look at the title for goodness sakes, then look at the pedigree of the creative team. If all of that is sending positive signals to your brain then dive in with both feet! If someone asked me to point them towards the happiest Metal album I’d ever heard I’d steer them in this direction. Stairway To Fairyland is a fun, satisfying, happy little fifty-five minutes of pure entertainment. It is remarkably consistent, extremely well-constructed and masterfully delivered. It flows perfectly. I fully and enthusiastically recommend anyone who is into even one of the other bands mentioned above to give this album a priority listen.

Fear Factory – Archetype Review

Posted: April 8, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Fear Factory - Archetype

Fear Factory – Archetype

This is my favourite Fear Factory album. I know music is subjective and deeply personal, and that everyone gets something different from hearing the same original stimuli, but it really surprised me to find out that this wasn’t a fan favourite album.

I remember when it first came out reviews were saying “best album since Demanufacture” (my next favourite Fear Factory album), my peer group was saying “best album since Demanufacture” and I was saying “even better than Demanufacture.” I lost touch with music magazines, moved away from my peer group across country borders and stopped following Metal news and reviews for a few years. I never stopped liking this album though. It came as a big surprise that when I started paying attention to the band’s reviews and interviews and fan’s opinions again that this had fallen from favour. I thought everyone loved this (and justifiably so).

2004’s Archetype is the Los Angeles Metal band’s fifth official full length studio album (if you discount compilations, remix albums, and the 1991 Concrete album). It featured long time bassist Christian Olde Wolbers moving from bass to guitar, replacing long time guitarist Dino Cazerez, and introduced Byron Stroud to the band as the new bassist (even if Christian actually did the bass too in the studio). It was self-produced by the band and longtime contributor Rhys Fulber.

The album contains the ferociously catchy singles “Cyber Waste” and “Archetype” as well as the famous “Bite The Hand That Bleeds” which many people of a certain age will remember from its SAW soundtrack inclusion and SAW themed music video.

I really, really enjoy this album. The first six tracks alone are all individually one of my favourite ever Fear Factory songs. “Slave Labour” and “Corporate Cloning” really summed up the mood of the time, both musically and lyrically. The album is heavy and aggressive like the band’s fan favourite material, but all songs are easily-digestible, memorable, and catchy. They all have a distinct identity, and it is much less samey than the albums that would be released when Dino was back in the band and Christian was thrown out.

It’s a Fear Factory record, so naturally highlights include Raymond Herrera’s incredible drumming and Burton C Bell’s distinctive vocal talents. Its worth listening to for those alone, never mind the fact that its chocked full of fun patterns, excellent choruses, great riffs, and generally red hot song writing. The material here still stands up today, over a decade since its release, as do the performances.

I urge anyone who has ignored this album just because Dino is not on it, or who hasn’t heard it yet to give it a try. Don’t miss out on it just because the fickle court public have swept it under the carpet nowadays. This is some seriously good Metal music. Equal to if not better than the best of rest of their discography in my own opinion. If you are a fan who hasn’t listened to it in a while, I’d just like to remind you about it and about how good it is.

Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy

In 2005; 18 years after they changed the world of Power Metal forever by releasing their landmark album Keeper Of The Seven Keys Prt 1, the legendary German band Helloween released Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy… a lengthy double album which pays homage to that classic and its 1988 follow up.

It’s a bit of a strange move however. When people think of Keeper Of The Seven Keys 1 & 2, they usually (rightly or wrongly) think of the unique guitar work of Kai Hansen, the thunderous and unique drumming of Ingo Schwichenberg, and the unique (sensing a theme here?) vocal talents of Michael Kiske. Something about the strange alchemy of the mix of those people’s talents and their coming of age resulted in two of the genre’s most memorable ever releases.

It would make sense, sort of, that after some media people and grumpy long term fans accused the band of losing their way with the down tuned The Dark Ride and the very diverse Rabbit Don’t Come Easy albums, which weren’t to everyone’s taste no matter how good they actually were, that the band might want to recapture that magic and channel something that harkens back to those early albums which everyone enjoys. However; first of all, three fifths of the line-up were out of the picture (arguably the most memorable three members, rightly or wrongly), and secondly the band had done well finding their own sound and style ever since Andi Deris joined the band and reinvigorated them after a short identity crisis.  Surely the band hadn’t spent the last decade proving themselves, and making themselves modern and credible as more than just a nostalgia act, to all of a sudden remind everyone of the Keepr era and invite more comparisons, ignite more reunion demands, and generally play down all the good work they’d been doing since Master Of The Rings?

Well; that’s the choice that the band made. So the band, with Andi Deris on vocals, Sascha Gerstner of guitars and now debuting new drummer Daniel Loeb for the first time, attempted to make Keepers music in a new millennium with a new line-up. But wait, weren’t there two Keepers albums? No problem, make it a double album. Oh, wasn’t there a lengthy semi-epic on both those albums? No problem, put one on both discs of this new double album. Wasn’t it not actually a concept album and so difficult to make a sequel to? Well… make a lyrical sequel to the title-track then…and make a the album artwork look like a sequel and its close enough.

Yes, you can see how it looks like a sequel to those records and therefore why it would make fans who’ve been ignoring the band since those glory days check them out once more. I think this was a mistake though. All you’re going to do is make people who think modern Helloween is rubbish come out of the woodwork to say “Modern Helloween is Rubbish! And this isn’t as good as the Keepers albums.” Here’s why: You can do all you want to make it look like a sequel, but it doesn’t actually sound like a sequel. Why not let those people who already jumped ship just stay away, and instead concentrate on all the people who appreciate what you’re doing now and have the album be judged on its own musical merits instead of how it feels compared to an almost two decade old masterpiece made by mostly different people?

You see the frustrating thing about it all is that the worst thing about this album is that very fact. This album is a poor sequel to the Keepers. Its not a Keepers album. Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album is about the closest thing anyone has done to the Keepers since (incidentally it was written by Kai Hansesn and had guest vocals from Michael Kiske), and even that was a one-off. It might be unfair to overlook the contributions of Markus Grosskofp and Michael Weikath on the origionals but realistically, it was always the other three guys people talked about the most (again I’ll say, “rightly or wrongly”).

The main reason you’ll read so many negative reviews about this album is down to that fact… it more or less says it is Keepers 3, and it doesn’t sound like Keepers 3, so automatically people will say it has failed, and will more than likely say they don’t like it too.

The thing of it is though…. Keeper Of The Seven Keys The Legacy is a damn good album. It’s a damn good modern Power Metal album with Progressive Metal leanings (like fellow Power Metal heroes Blind Guardian and Stratovarius were already doing at the time). It’s a damn fine Deris era Helloween album. It may not be a good follow-up to Keeper 1 & 2 but it is an excellent follow up to Master Of The Rings and Time Of The Oath.

The album sees the band mixing their happy, pleasant, commercial Power Metal stylings of the recent decade with pianos/choirs/strings/Theremin sounds (all made by a keyboard though), as well as samples, and guest female vocals from Candice Night.

Both discs open up with an ambitious multipart track that’s length runs past 10 minutes, and the rest of the songs are a mixture of everything the band have been doing in the last decade mixed together. You’ll find some riffs that would be at home on Better Than Raw, some solos that sound straight off Master Of The Rings, song structures reminiscent of Rabbit Don’t Come Easy and even the odd beefy mid paced bit here and there that wouldn’t be too out of place on The Dark Ride. This album is really more of a culmination of everything good about the first decade with Deris in the band, rather than a throwback to the 1980s.

Its long, dense, complex and not all that easily digestible on first listen. It might take a bit of persistence to “get” but it is a really rewarding “grower” of an album that rewards repeat listens and has plenty of variety to keep your interest going. Its an album that sounds better a month after you bought it. It sounds better six months after that.

Highlights include the bright and breezy ‘Get It Up,’ the sing-along fun of ‘Silent Rain,’ as well as the fine balance of Prog and straight ahead Melodic Power Metal that is ‘The Invisible Man.’ ‘King For 1000 Years’ is probably the biggest, most interesting and most memorable moment of the record, its chocked full of excellent parts and tells a great little story lyrically.

Overall; if you come to this album expecting anything that sounds like Keeper Of The Seven Keys then prepare to be disappointed, and really, it was a bit of a daft idea for the band to set themselves up in that situation. However, in its own right, on its own merits, judged for what it is and who made it rather than against a peerless classic, ‘The Legacy is a fine collection of catchy, memorable, well-written modern songs that grow on you more with each listen. Basically the only flaws it has are to do with the length making it difficult to get into at first, and the aforementioned sonic difference between it and the Keepers being needlessly highlighted at a point of their career where it should no longer have been an issue.

If you like Deris era Helloween, pick up a copy. If you don’t, stay away. If you are new to the band and have a fresh copy of Keepers part 1 and 2 in your hands and don’t know where to go next… in all honesty I’d say avoid this for at least a year and pick up either Walls Of Jericho, Time Of The Oath or Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free instead.

Raven – All For One Review

Posted: April 7, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Raven – All For One

Are you in the mood for some NWOBHM? Why not try Raven’s 1983 record All For One. This was the noisy Newcastle band’s third studio album and was produced by none other than Accept’s singer Udo Dirkschneider.

The sound is earthy, workingman’s Heavy Metal with rumbly bass, steady drumming and midrange vocals that would sound at home on a Thrash album. It has a very pure and honest sound, with hints of Motorhead and Saxon; it toes the line between amped-up rock n roll shuffle and proto-Thrash, often within the same song. Think of Angel Witch playing faster or Diamond Head if they didn’t listen to Progressive Rock.

Its not as heavy as fellow Geordie NWOBHM band Venom, but its definitely raw and energetic, with more emphasis on attitude and energy than excessive virtuosity or structural complexity. They’ll still bust out a solo when necessary, but there’s a certain punky attitude.

When you listen to John Gallagher’s vocals here, it would be easy to imagine this is the sort of thing that influenced the likes of Paul Baloff or Randy Rampage. There’s even a certain closeness to Anvil if you squint your ears.

Owing to Udo’s fine production job, this record is cleaner and more professional sounding than the albums and EPs which preceded it, but musically the band were still in their early excited phase, so it isn’t commercial like their major label releases. Its got charm, raw power and enthusiastic performances, but you can clearly make out every note, so it’s a real best of both worlds situation. People often call this one of the band’s best albums and its easy to see why.

If you’re interested in exploring the band, who took Metallica and Anthrax out on early tours, and the album which was produced by Accept’s singer, then I’d recommend checking out the songs “Hung, Drawn & Quartered,” “Seek & Destroy” and album closer “Athletic Rock” (titled after the band’s proposed name for the style of music they play) as the tester songs you use to see if its something you want to buy.

If you get it nowadays, you’ll usually get bonus tracks, two of which feature guest singing from Udo, including a cover of Steppenwolfe’s famous “Born To Be Wild.” It adds some extra value to the record, and gives you an extra incentive to check it out. For me, the bonus track “The Power And The Glory” is one of the best tracks on the disc.

Overall; All For One is a strong album and if you are in the mood for some early Metal then its definitely something you should consider trying out. There’s some great tunes, a good attitude and a sense of consistency that makes the whole thing flow.

Stone Temple Pilots – Tiny Music Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop

Tiny Music Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop was the third full length studio album by San Diego Grunge band Stone Temple Pilots. It was released in 1996 and produced by Brendan O’Brian. This third album continues their trend of not having two albums in a row sound much like each other. The first album was a weighty, almost Metallic mixture of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam’s styles, blended together. Their second was a moody, mid-paced, thoughtful record that embraced “Alternative” more than Grunge specifically. This third album is a breezy, summery album, with pleasant melodies, jangly psychedelic moments and a bit more speed than Purple had.

The album is almost in two halves, firstly of enjoyable, slightly heavy Rock songs with enough bite to satisfy but simple and easily digestible enough to be memorable and entertaining, and the rest is more laid back, mildly trippy music that evokes Gentle Giant’s less complex moments, or indeed The Beatles. It’s a very good mixture that balances well together and makes for a strong record overall. Experimental enough to sound fresh but grounded enough to give you what you want.

Highlights include ‘Tumble In The Rough,’ ‘Lady Picture Show’ and the famous ‘Trippin On A Hole In A Paper Heart’ …three tracks equally as strong and memorable as anything off the excellent debut Core, and as separate from the styles of other bands as anything on Purple. These sit alongside the likes of ‘Dead And Bloated’ and ‘Sex Type Thing’ as some of the most fun songs the band have released, but without losing the artsy identity the band found for themselves with tracks like ‘Silvergun Superman.’ A best of both worlds, if no stylistically then at least in terms of quality.

Overall; Tiny Music has all the benefits of pleasant disposable summery fun music, but with the talent and backing to make it last. If you like this band, or this sort of music, its an absolute must. Its probably the band’s most fun and easily accessible album and its absolutely worth your time. Don’t let the headlines or anything put you off. Don’t miss out!

Helloween – Pink Bubbles Go Ape

Helloween’s 1991 album Pink Bubbles Go Ape is a difficult album to judge. It has a strange place in the band’s discography and people have very different views on it.

In one way, it is a superbly produced slick melodic Hard Rock album. It features the absolutely phenomenal vocals and drums of Michael Kiske and Ingo Schwitchenberg, two of the genre’s finest ever musicians, both of whom are full of confidence, charisma and personality. It’s a different style than the fan’s wanted or expected, but made by damn talented guys.

On the other hand, it followed up the much beloved Keeper Of The Seven Keys albums and doesn’t live up to the insanely high standards set by those one-of-a-kind (ironic, since there’s two of ‘em) gems. Its good, but its not extra special good, and how can you call it equal without that extra magic?

Then some people complain about the strange titles like “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” and “Heavy Metal Hamsters.” Or the odd album art. Honestly though, the art is by one of the most loved and recognized artist in music-related history, who’ve worked with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd; and the music of those two songs is pretty damn good. “Heavy Metal Hamsters” in particular is an album highlight, it’s a fun Power Metal tune almost reminiscent of Gamma Ray’s “Rich And Famous.”

With all that going on, its hard to really judge. It’s a good album, but is it the album people wanted? No. It’s a good album but is it anywhere near as good as what came before? No. Its got elements that people find off-putting, even if I don’t care should I recommend it when I know it annoys so many people? Hmmm…

The difficult thing about this album is that I want to love it on an underdog level (I do have a bit of an over-fondness for the albums in the classic run that are the least popular, like Deep Purple’s Who Do We Think We Are? or Black Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy) so I worry that’s clouding my objectivity. Are the songs good enough or not? The tracks ‘Kids Of The Century’ ‘Back On The Streets’ and ‘Goin Home’ are all fine melodic Metal songs that have great verses. I’ve already stated ‘Heavy Metal Hamsters’ is great even if the word Hamsters annoys some people. ‘The Chance’ has some great parts too (even if its better on their Live album), even if the synths are a bit too much.

On top of that, for me personally, some of the best material from this era are the B-sides. The version of the album with bonus tracks is rewarding, because tracks like the heavier “Run With The Back” and the very summery and melodic “Shit And Lobster” are pretty great. The oddly named, slow, “Le Hamborgious Walkways” is not what you’d expect from the band who wrote “I’m Alive” and “Ride The Sky” but man, it is a seriously impressive guitar exercise. I think if these were on the original album, and if they were sequenced so the most Keepers-esque material was first, then fans and critics would’ve been a lot more forgiving.

Overall; I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation either way. I think this album has a lot to offer. I don’t know if it offers the right things though. After this, the band would go even further away from the music fans wanted (Chamelon) and then come back with some of the finest albums of their whole career (Time Of The Oath, Straight Out Of Hell), so fan’s fears that the band would go too far were both founded and unfounded. As I say, this is a tough one to judge, did it signal the end of a great era, or was it a necessary transition so we’d have both Time Of The Oath AND Land Of The Free to enjoy?