Angels Cry 20th Anniversary Live is a 2013 concert Blu-ray by the Brazilian Progressive/Power Metal band Angra. It features the line-up with Italian singer Fabio Lione (ex-Labyrinth, Rhapsody of Fire) on vocals performing material from all eras of the discography passionately – with some interesting guest appearances including Tarja Turunen (ex- Nightwish), Uli Jon Roth (ex-Scorpions), Amilcar Christófaro (Torture Squad) and the Familia Lima string section.
This set has quite high production values. Visually; the thing is an absolute gem. Top notch image quality, great camera work with tasteful editing, and the actual stage show contains interesting video screens with eye catching imagery. Its all just great for the eyeballs, which is why you’re getting a video recording and not an audio recording anyway, right? Well this is totally worth every penny in the visual department.

Sonically, the recording is crystal clear. You can hear every single note, every different drum and cymbal. Its like a Rush concert or something – brilliant clarity and definition. The only thing that’s not absolutely perfect is that in the stereo mix, the rhythm guitar is not as heavy as some of the studio versions, but it is still a brilliant mix nonetheless.   Best of all; The performance is beyond stellar; Fabio nails it recreating the band’s different singers’ work well and injects some of his own flair into the proceedings. The guitar solos are out of this world and the tireless drumming of Ricardo Confessori sounds great. Listening to and watching the interesting music is an absolute joy.
Highlights include the fantastic renditions of ‘Evil Warning,’ ‘Nothing To Say’ and the fantastic set closer ‘Nova Era.’ The enthusiastic São Paulo audience seem really into it.
Overall; Its an absolutely great concert DVD on a technical level, and better still it’s a great concert in and of itself. The line-up is strong, the setlist is great and the guest musicians add an extra layer of interest. I highly recommend this to fans of the band, fans of this end of the musical spectrum, and fans of good quality concert recordings. It would be an unquestionable treat for existing fans but would also work really well as a first purchase for newcomers.

Magic Circle Festival Volume II is a concert DVD by the legendary Heavy Metal band Manowar. This set was to record the impressive endeavour Manowar had of performing their entire first six studio albums in full, during the 20th Anniversary for their seminal Kings Of Metal album in the summer of 2008 at the band’s own Magic Circle Festival. It was produced by the band’s own Joey DiMaio and released on Universal.

The setlist is comprised of highlights from this undertaking, from different venues in different countries such as Germany and Bulgaria. Interspersed between the live songs is documentary snippets firstly about the Magic Circle Festival and then about the making of those first six albums full of archive footage such as photos in the recording studio, handheld camera footage from early concerts and old music videos. Together it works really well (although my personal preference would’ve been to have a full documentary and a full concert but that’s just personal taste) and provides a lot for any fan to find entertaining. In addition, there’s also a second disc with music from the other bands at the festival (Cassock, Sixth Sense, Kobus, Titanium Black, Jack Starr’s Burning Starr, Metalforce and Holyhell) and bonus features.

The Manowar setlist is as follows:

Manowar, Fast Taker, Shell Shock, Death Tone, Hatred, Revelation (Death’s Angel), Black Arrows Of Doom (Bass Solo), Hail To England, Die With Honor, Warriors Of The World United, All Men Play On Ten, God Of Thunderpick (Solo), Animals, Blow Your Speakers, Violence And Bloodshed, Defender, Drums Of Doom And Destruction (Drum Solo), Blood Of The Kings, Pleasure Slave, Kingdom Come, The Crown And The Ring (Lament Of Kings), Bridge Of Death.
There’s also a bonus section of Mila Rodino and The Crown And The Ring (Lament Of Kings) on top of that. Sound is available in stereo and 5.1, picture is 16:9 anamorph, and region code is “All Regions.” It comes with a booklet with lots of photographs, tour information and liner notes.

Some of the tracks work really well in a live environment, whipping the crowd up and some may pull the pace back a little but overall the setlist is fairly strong. Eric Adams is a great performer and doesn’t perfectly emulate note for note the oldest material but gives it enough umph to compensate. The rest of the band are all generally enthusiastic, powerful and giving it their all – guitar leads smoke, drum fills are weighty and satisfying and Joey DiMaio lives up to the hype. The production values differ between the German and Bulgarian shows, with the German looking, sounding and being edited to a higher standard, but not enough for you to want to skip anything. The large international audience (filled with more flags than the Warriors Of The World album cover!) eat it all up and it all has that good live energy rather than feeling overdubbed and sterile.

For a band who pride themselves on their ludicrous over-the-top Metalness, they are very tasteful with the stage set, pyro and lighting. The only cringey bit (or awesome bit if you buy into the Manowar Hail True Metal way of thinking) is in the opening documentary bit, when there’s a big speech about Metalness (before the music has actually started). So if you want a Manowar DVD because you like Manowar’s awesome music rather than because you think they’re funny, then this is a very good option. With a huge setlist, a ton of bonus features and all that documentary footage and considering the visual, sound and audio quality of the German concert which makes up the majority of the main feature this DVD is really good value for money, and I’d really recommend it to those interested in the band. Even if you own Volume 1 already, the setlist is so different its totally worth picking up this too.

Angra – Angels Cry Review

Posted: April 30, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Angra – Angels Cry

What happens if you stick Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Operation Mindcrime in a blender? You waste two perfectly good cds of course! However, the metaphor was the first thing that came to my mind after listening to the first half on the Brazilian Power Metal/Progressive Metal band Angra’s classic 1992 debut album Angels Cry.

The album was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind and Sascha Paeth (what important Power Metal bands haven’t those legendary two worked with, between them?), and recorded in Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray’s studio in Germany. It also features guest musicianship from three Gamma Ray members across two tracks. That’s some serious Power Metal pedigree it has going for it.

In addition to bouncy European-sounding Melodic Power Metal however, the band also write incredibly Progressive minded music with odd rhythms, complex transitions and a lot of thought about texture and atmosphere (there’s at least two or three songs on here that seriously feel like missing tacks off of Rage For Order at times, before the choruses kick in), and on top of all that, dip into Neo-Classical territories as well. I could see how people might call it a rip-off of other band’s styles on paper, however there’s something original about it by virtue of the specific mix of influences, and of course the band’s own innate talents and distinctive musical (and singing) voices.

All that superb musicianship and songwriting skill is superbly topped off with some seriously phenomenal lead vocals from the beyond-talented Andre Matos. The range, power, melodic sensibilities and enthusiastic performances are something to behold.

The album feels really well balanced, it flows well, and despite having a Kate Bush cover and music by Vivaldi and Paganini, never feels cheesy or gimmicky. You could never tell it was recorded with line-up trouble before, during and after its creation either. Its just one of those extremely solid albums that just sounds and feels important.

Highlights include ‘Carry On’ which is a whole lot of fun, ‘Time’ which has a bit of a Queensryche feel and ‘Never Understand’ which has guest guitar from Kai Hansen, Dirk Schlächter and Sascha Paeth  (and despite all that doesn’t feel patchwork). The word highlights is hard to apply though, as its all so good and there’s not a lot that’s worth skipping or ignoring by any means. This is solid from beginning to end.

It may not be as progressive as their later albums, and doesn’t really highlight the Brazillian/World music angle as much as later albums, but it is still an absolute gem and I’d seriously advice people to get themselves a copy if they are into either Power Metal or Progressive Metal.

Manowar – Warriors Of The World Review

Posted: April 28, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Manowar – Warriors Of The World

Warriors Of The World, the American Metal band Manowar’s ninth full-length studio album, is something of a strange record. Its fair to say that it isn’t exactly the fan’s favourite album, and in my own opinion, it is easy to see why.

This is a bit of a bizarre album; the structure feels unbalanced and unnatural. Its more or less half Heavy Hard Metal songs, and half ballads and slow tracks. That’s not so terrible in and of itself, some of the band’s most popular albums like Kings Of Metal are full of ballads and slow songs. However, on this record they’re all bunched up together near the start of the record. Not even in a gradual rise from slowest to fastest and quietest to heaviest. It just feels like a very unnatural hodgepodge. Its almost as if no one put any thought into the order at all and it just flows weirdly. Of those aforementioned quiet songs, three are tributes: to Wagner, Pavarotti and Elvis. The album feels sort of overlong, and three tracks aren’t even Manowar originals. It might have served the album better if they had been bonus tracks, as regardless of how good they are, it is just too long and having three slow non-originals is a bit of a momentum killer.

Of the Hard, Heavy Metal songs on the record, some are mid-paced and some are blisteringly fast. On an intellectual level it is kind of feels annoying that the songs are repetition of previous Manowar tracks, there’s a sense of Deja Vue for sure.

On top of that, the lyrics feel like a repetition of previous stuff, taken almost up to a parody level. In fairness though, that’s been going on for years now and it didn’t spoil previous albums. I don’t listen to Manowar for thought provoking, soul searching lyrics anyway, I listen to them because they make good music and sometimes it’s a lot of fun.

So there we go; cheesy lyrics, repeating old glories, too many tracks, too many quiet tracks, weird track ordering. Sounds like a bit of a stinker, right? Well see, here’s the thing… I really like it. I have to say, I’ve personalized the running order in iTunes so it feels more balanced, and it is overlong but then again that’s extra value, if they’d been called bonus tracks people would accept it more easily. The songs are similar to old songs but hey, I loved those old songs and I’m glad to hear more.

Is this the best Manowar album? No. Should a newcomer get it as a first album? No. Its very much something I would recommend to fanatics and collectors only. It’s the kind of thing you’ll probably only listen to when you’re in the mood or only listen to highlights from. Can I call it a bad album though? Well, I can’t really bring myself to. ‘House Of Death,’ ‘Hand Of Doom,’ ‘Warriors Of The World Unite’ and even the ballad ‘Swords Of The Wind’ are all just too good to allow me to say that.

Stratovarius – Elements Part 2

2003’s Elements Pt. 2 record is the Finnish Melodic Power Metal band Stratovarius’ tenth full-length studio album. As the name suggests it is the second part of the Elements series and was preceded by Elements Pt.1 earlier the same year. Both the Elements records saw the band, who had taken a long break prior to their recording, rethinking the formula that they’d been mining for the last few records slightly, and head in an even more Progressive direction than before.

While Pt.1 balanced typical Stratovarius singles and instrumentals with lengthy, epic-in-scope material, Pt.2 balances the usual Stratovarius ballads with mostly slower mid-paced tracks. It feels something like the band’s equivalent to the Black Album in as much as the halving of speed and the focus on more groovy, restrained styles. Opener ‘Alpha & Omega’ says it all really, it’s a big, mean sounding groover.

Luckily while it is somewhat of a departure, it gives the band a chance to try things they haven’t done so much before… there’s a lot more toms than on other records, there’s more low-register vocals, they aren’t just repeating old glories. Also; While on the Destiny album you could pick up slight hints of Queensryche if you listened carefully, this one has a few Dream Theater whiffs that make you think you haven’t heard this stuff from Stratovarius before. Its up to you whether you enjoy the change in style of course, but for me it works well and sits happily beside other records in their discography in terms of quality. ‘Awaken The Giant’ is something I’m glad I have in my collection.

If you are skeptical of too much change however, there’s still a few big sing-along moments that would be a joy in any concert, such as the Alcoholics Anonymous themed ‘Know The Difference,’ the speedier ‘I’m Still Alive’ and the Electric-Eye-reminiscent hit single ‘I Walk To My Own Song.’ These should keep fans of the ‘90s material happy.

Of the two Elements albums, I feel this one is the stronger. There are less cheesy moments, for me it feels more like an album and flows better. There’s nothing I feel the overwhelming need to skip or fast-forward through. Overall; It isn’t typical Stratovarius fare, and I wouldn’t make it my first purchase as a newcomer, but I don’t think it should be ignored either – there’s plenty to enjoy and the slower moodier stuff is a welcome string to their bow.

Freedom Call - Crystal EmpireThe German Melodic Power Metal band Freedom Call’s second full-length studio album, 2001’s Crystal Empire, feels very much like a continuation of their seminal debut album Stairway To Fairyland. Its got the same thunderous double-kicks, the same joyous uplifting choruses and the same tasteful lead guitar lines. Once again it was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind, who has worked with almost every Power Metal great you’d care to name.
Mainman Chris Bay has a tremendous vocal skill with a huge range, a lot of power and a real ear for melody… and that’s on top of the already excellent musical skills. The effortless sounding guitar lines stick in your head, the occasional chunky riffs that break things up, these things really elevate the album from just another face in the crowd to something noteworthy.
If you are into bands like Stratovarius, Blind Guardian, Edguy, Hammerfall or especially Gamma Ray and Helloween (and this album does feature guitar from Helloween’s Sacha Gerstner and drums from Gamma Ray’s Dan Zimmermann) then Freedom Call are a band that are seriously worth checking out. They are talented, passionate and consistent. They deliver exactly what you want… happy sounding Power Metal full of melody, bombast and mythical lyrics. The band have been described before as the world’s happiest sounding Power Metal band so you can imagine a sort of ballpark sound from that description alone. Have you ever heard someone describe Power Metal bands as ‘Glorious Victorious’ ? Well that is the actual chorus to ‘Call To Fame.’

Compared to their debut, this is a pretty similar affair. Its slightly more polished, slightly less complex and more commercial, but more or less in the exact same style, which is good news as their debut was absolutely fantastic. Clear production, excellent musicianship, stellar vocals and a general consistency and lack of weak tracks make this an essential purchase for anyone interested in the band. Add to that some genuinely enjoyable songs and you’ve got a bit of a rager on your hands.

Overall; if you like the band, get this album. If you haven’t heard the band but might like to, try this album. Highlights include: The concert baiting ‘Farewell,’ as well as the hugely enjoyable trio of ‘Call Of Fame,’ ‘Ocean’ and ‘Palace Of Fantasy.’ Check these out if you want to hear what the album is like.

Stratovarius – Destiny

The Finnish Power Metal legends Stratovarius released their seventh full-length album, Destiny, on Noise Records in 1998. It was produced by the band’s own mastermind guitarist Timo Tolkki. The album feels a little overlooked within the band’s discography, wedged as it is comfortably between the much more famous Visions and Infinite albums from ’97 and 2000.

This album, stylistically is more or less exactly what you’d expect for an album wedged between those albums. You have things on here that bring to mind your ‘Black Diamond’s and things that bring to mind your ‘Hunting High And Low’s. If you can imagine a halfway point between those two albums this one is a pretty close resemblance to that halfway point. There is also quite a notable Queensryche influence on this one (on a few tracks), which isn’t there so much on other Stratovarius records, making Destiny stand out a bit.

If I was to describe the album, the immediate words that come to mind are ‘Toe-Tapping’ which might not exactly sound like what you want from a Heavy Metal album but I mean it in the most complimentary way possible (maybe the toe tapping is just air-drumming the kick pedals?) as the songs are so pleasant, catchy and enjoyable. They are the definition of smooth, easily digestible Melodic European Power Metal, delightfully topped with Jens Johansson’s distinctive keyboard skills. There are some progressive moments and inventive structures on there sure, but a large majority of the record is just that simple, clean, melodic and driving style of the best Stratovarius singles. It’s a remarkably consistent and high quality affair where no song is too obnoxious, there are no moments that feel too cheesy and nothing that feels like a ‘skip-button-magnet.’ (On other Stratovarius records, some rare things give me very itchy fingers, like the intro to ‘Pappillion’ for example).

Highlights here include the ten-minute Title Track, the catchy single ‘S.O.S’ and the very catchy bonus track ‘Dream With Me’ if you have it on your edition. If you want to have an idea of the album’s overall sound try those on for size before buying. Another very noteworthy track is the more sombre ‘4,000 Rainy Nights’ in which Timo Kotipelto does his best Empire-era Geoff Tate impression.

Overall; Stratovarius have more famous albums, they have albums with bigger highlights and from which more of the concert setlists are generated, but Destiny is one of their most solid, consistent and tasteful albums. It’s a great example of the band’s style and its full to the brim with catchy choruses, entertaining and flashy musicianship. If you like the band, don’t miss out on this excellent record.