King Diamond – Songs For The Dead Live CD/DVD Review

Songs For The Dead Live is the new live album/DVD by classic Danish heavy metal band, King Diamond. It features live footage from two different shows in 2016, one indoor show and one festival show from Philadelphia and Graspop Metal Meeting respectively.

The lengthy and value-for-money setlist features the classic Abigail album from 1987 played in its entirety, plus a selection of songs from the debut, Them, Conspiracy and The Eye as well as a couple of Mercyful Fate covers (King Diamond himself’s other band). Basically if you are interested in early King Diamond material, this is the record for you.

The show is quite theatrical, with actors, an elaborate stage setup with steps and stained glass and upside-down crosses and pentagrams. There are even a fake babies and grandma to match the stories in the lyrics.

Most importantly of all, for a concert DVD, the performance of the concert from the band is excellent, and the audio-visual quality of the DVD is brilliant. King Diamond has always been a guitar fan’s paradise and watching Andy La Roque blast through the superb solos is wonderful. King himself does a great job of replicating his bizarre and unique vocals live and the rest of the band hammer it home perfectly. It feels ‘live’ and not too clinical, but at the same time very faithfully replicate the album tracks.  The seamless editing, sound and camera work are well balanced and everything just looks and sounds right.

If like me, you are a casual fan of the band, with a few of the early records but don’t know every twist and turn of his lengthy discography, this would be a fine starting point (just be aware it might take a while to get used to the vocal style).

Helloween – United Alive Blu Ray Review

Imagine a Judas Priest show with both Tim Ripper Owens and Rob Halford singing together. No wait… Imagine a Sepultura show with both Max Cavelera and Derick Green singing. No wait, that’s not even it. I’ve got it… Imagine an Iron Maiden show with Paul Dianno, Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bailey all singing. Well, maybe, if Dickinson had left after four albums and Blaze had been there ever since. Ok, Now swap out the zombie mascot for some comedy pumpkins and you’re approaching the situation here. Helloween, one of Germany’s biggest and most important bands, one of the most iconic Power Metal bands in history, with one of the most impressive family trees (Gamma Ray, Masterplan, Freedom Call, Unisonic, Iron Savior etc) make one of the most anticipated decisions in the history of the genre.

Who is your favourite Helloween singer? Is it Kai Hansen, the heaviest singer and the original? Is it Michael Kiske, the most technically accomplished and the one from their most iconic record? Or is it Andi Deris, their best frontman and the singer on the most albums? – Turns out, now you don’t have to choose. United Alive, the live video from the Pumpkins United tour sees all three join the stage together, cracking out a career spanning mixture of material from the earliest thrashiest material to the modern gems, with all the iconic genre defining masterpieces from the peerless Keepers’ era sprinkled in too. 

There are over 20 tracks here (some are intros and solos, and some are medleys/combinations, but still…) that’s a lot of Helloween. All three singers take it turns to sing. Sometimes not even a song each, but rather dividing it up section by section inside each song, or all at once. It is very welcome to hear them back on some of their own tracks like ‘Heavy Metal Is The Law’ after not hearing it on the other live videos, or ‘Dr. Stein’ after having heard only Deri’s take on it previously. Conversely it is very interesting to see Kai or Kiske sing on some of the big commercial ‘90s/’00s hits like ‘Perfect Gentleman’ or ‘If I Could Fly.’

There are often 7 members on stage at the one time (or 8 if you count the keyboardist, Eddy Wrapiprou). There’s Weikath and Grosskopft on guitar and bass as always. Sascha Gerstner and Daniel Löble on guitar and drums like the last several albums. And the three aforementioned singers (with Kai also playing guitar).

There’s a mix of footage, ranging from headline shows in Madrid, Spain to festival appearances at Wacken and in Brazil.  Sort of like they did already on their previous ‘Legacy World Tour 2005/2006 DVD.

Normally I really prefer a concert DVD to come from one single show, rather than complied from a series of different dates in different places with different lighting, sound and camera work, but given that the band itself is now a compilation of past and present members and some of the songs included are medleys, I don’t know why but it just works here.

The band put on a great show. There’s a lot going on. There’s video screens, a big pumpkin stage set piece around the drum kit (which has 4 kickdrums for some reason, just to add to the over-the-top feel of it all), a light show, and a few cheesy moments like members coming out dressed in a top hat and cane, or raining pumpkin balloons.

Deris, ever the consummate front man is great at revving up the crowd, and then the different members get spotlights for certain tunes and join up on others, there’s prolonged solo segments, a tribute to late drummer Ingo Schichtenberg, its all very diverse and entertaining. They even do a stripped-down bare bones version of the ballad ‘Forever And One’ straight after a super heavy Walls Of Jericho/EP medley, which pretty much shows both polar opposites of the band’s varied discography.

There’s multiple different ways you can buy it. DVD, Blu Ray, combinations thereof. Versions with CDs. The version I got it two Blu Rays. One with the concert and one with a load of extra footage. There’s a few extra songs (Including the underrated ‘Kids Of The Century’ from the oft maligned Pink Bubbles Go Ape album). There’s a bunch of behind the scenes footage looking at various aspects of the tour and production. It comes in a nice shiny digi-book with some brief liner notes and a glossy photo booklet. You know, just as if it wasn’t value for money enough already with an almost three-hour concert of a Helloween fan’s wildest fantasy line-up.

As a concept you really have to hand it to them; its quite a clever move to reuinite with past members without losing current members as some fans never got over Kiske leaving the band or only ever even tried the Keepers albums. Some fans really love the Kai era and you never get to see Helloween play much material from it anymore (you only really get the chance if he chucks one in to a Gamma Ray show some time). Its a great idea to reel them back in and show them how great the Deris era can be too. Come for ‘Halloween’ and ‘Future World’ but stay for ‘Sole Survivor’ and ‘Power’ then learn to love the Deris era if you don’t already.

Thankfully though, its not just the concept that’s good. The whole package is good. The sound, footage, editing and bonus material. Most importantly though, the performance. It doesn’t come across as a novelty cash grab, it really feels like a jubilant celebration. As they say in the opening track ‘Halloween’ ”There’s magic in the air.” This may be cheesy to say (but hey, if you like Helloween, you better be used to cheesy) but it really is a heavy metal dream come true. Buy it!

Volbeat – Let’s Boogie: Live At Telia Parken Blu Ray Review

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With their live album/film Let’s Boogie: Live At Telia Parken, the Danish band Volbeat have really decided to go big. Big sound, big songs, big stage show.

Its probably the biggest show of the career at the time of writing, showing them back on the native Danish soil in front of a gigantic audience, with impressive guest stars and a career spanning set-list in all manner of tempos and timbres, show casing their heavy metal, hard rock, and country tinges all together.

There are electric moments, acoustic moments, solo moments, group moments, originals and covers. The set-list is really great, with all the major hits and even some deep moments, not overlooking any era. They even play the heavy as balls groove metal stomper B-side ‘Slaytan,’ which although only two minutes long is one of the band’s best tunes and really welcome live.

There’s pyro, videos, lasers and a replica boxing ring prop. Never a dull moment. The visuals are superb quality with really great quality camera work and really high production values. Compared to their earliest DVDs its whole next-level stuff. The editing too is tasteful and well paced without excessive ADHD-cuting, or any distracting syncing issues. The sounds is decent, well mixed for such a large venue and the do a good job of making it feel live and rowdy rather than sterile and pristine.

The packaging and booklet are really well put together and the whole thing just looks and feels really substantial.

Highlights include Rob Cagginao (ex-Anthrax)’s guitar solo in the gigantic sounding ‘Lola Montez’ as well as Lars Ulrich getting on stage and both doing a Volbeat song with them then playing while they do a Metallica song. There’s even a crowd surfing competition where they tell the audience they can win a guitar for being the best crowd surfer and lock into a nice fat stoner rock jam while they do it.

Volbeat are one of the most entertaining modern bands going anyway, with their diverse material that can swing from sounding like Pantera to Social Distortion to Johnny Cash in one song, and just when you think you understand what they’re about, the next song is completely different again, or has an unexpected guest, like Thrash Metal legend Mille Petrozza from Kreator or Grindcore nice guy Barney Greenway.

Overall, this is an absolute gem of a release. It looks, sounds and feels great, with a heck of a lot going on too on top of that, all adding to the replay value. A phenomenal band, at the peak of their powers, delivering an absolute definitive statement. This would make a real excellent first step into the band as a new fan, being essentially the greatest hits but so much more, with lots of guest moments, and showing off all the different sides of the band from the heaviest to the catchiest to the moments most atypical of other bands. I just finished watching it and had a grin on my face the whole time. Highly, highly recommended.

Volbeat – 8PM Tonight Live 2007 Sold Out – DVD review

volbeat-live-sold-out The Danish band Volbeat released this 2007 DVD collection based around the time of their second studio album Rock The Rebel/Metal The Devil. It is a mixture of documentary feature, live performances from various separate shows and music videos.

As someone who really likes a lot of concert videos and music documentaries, and who has recently gotten into Volbeat I couldn’t resist this.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a brilliant product. It has all the hallmarks of a great product, the packaging is great, the amount of content is great, the band are great. Only problem is the work of the filmmakers and editors. That and the overall choices made.

This is all subjective and a matter of personal taste; but I really prefer when a concert DVD runs through a concert in order rather than jumps between different shows back and forth. I also really hate when it happens within a single song, you hear a live track and see what is basically a music video with footage from different shows. Its just not my thing. This release covers a broad range of indoor and outdoor shows, and mixes it up between them, and then breaks that up with mixed footage tracks. I also feel like a lot of the band’s best material comes from later in their career so this  obviously comes before a lot of that material. It is a good way to cover a lot of ground and displays variety, but it isn’t for me. Luckily the band have other video releases available. With more on the horizon (Lets Boogie Live From Telia Parken looks pretty amazing…I know what I want for Chirstmas!).

With regards to the documentary; I really like the idea of a Volbeat documentary, but the camera work, pacing, and editing are a bit lacking. It feels a bit aimless and jumbled and doesn’t really go anywhere or flow very well. There is information to be had and opinions to be heard but its all a bit slow and informal and lacking excitement. It doesn’t really look good or sound good and there are a lot of better documentaries out there for other bands.

There are also the music videos, but that’s more of a nice extra than a reason to buy a DVD (Side note: I’ve never really understood DVDs of only music videos).

Overall; this DVD comes from a great band and has a lot of content to offer. It isn’t terrible or anything, but it is a bit for-fans-only and I wouldn’t make it your first Volbeat product.

Sepultura – Live In Sao Paulo DVD review

220px-Cover_LiveinSPSepultura have a good few options if you are into live material. There is the Chaos DVD with the Under Siege video on it with the band touring Arise and playing all their Thrash era songs. There is the Under A Pale Grey Sky cd with the last ever gig of the Max Cavelera line-up on it, playing a lot of material off of Roots and Chaos AD. There is the newer Rock In Rio DVD with the Les Tambors Du Bronx percussion group augmenting them. There’s also plenty of live material on bonus tracks and compilations.

Best of all however, is Sepultura Live In Sao Paulo. It was the first video album with the Derick Green line-up, the first time you got to see and not just hear live versions of material from Roots and Chaos AD and its the only place to hear straight up unaltered versions of material off the Derick Green albums. It was released in 2005 when they were touring Roorback, back when they were still a Gold-selling band.

You get to hear an amazing blend (21 songs!) of material all the way from their earliest EPs and albums with early material like ‘Necromancer’ and ‘Troops Of Doom’ beside the mega-hits from the ’90s like ‘Territory’ and ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ mixed in with more modern gems like ‘Choke’ and what has to be one of the band’s best ever songs in ‘Sepulnation.’ (For me, its in the top 5 songs they ever recorded, any era).

Visually, the album is great. Its really well shot and edited, with no fancy distracting weird camera angels or lenses and no too-fast music video style choppy cuts. The stage set up and tasteful circle of lighting around their tribal ‘S’ logo banner looks really great, and the soundjob and mix are perfect. Sometimes the guitars or the vocals can be too quiet in a live recording, or some times the drums have way too much reverb, or sometimes you can’t hear the crowd’s energy; but here everything is perfectly balanced hear and it all sounds thick and chunky.

The band’s performances are excellent and it really shows off what great musicians they are. I never ‘got’ how good a drummer Igor is until I saw this! I didn’t much care for Derrick Green as a frontman before I saw this an it utterly changed my mind.

It looks great, it sounds great, the tracklist is great and the band play great. What more could you possibly want? Oh well, if you still do want more there is an absolute tonne of extras, with music videos, more live songs, a short making of documentary and biography, a bigger documentary about the band from 1998–2005 and other stuff as well (photogalleries etc.)

Overall; this is a damn strong release from a very important band, and there’s so much on it its great value for money. If like me you were skeptical on them without Max in the band, go on youtube and check out live versions of tracks like ‘Chaos AD’ and especially ‘Sepulnation’ off of this and just try not to be converted! If you are new to the band altogether this is a great starting point blending the best parts of all the eras together.

Slipknot – Day Of The Gusano Blu-Ray Review

gusano).jpg***This review is regarding the single disc, UK Blu-Ray version only. Which contains the full uninterrupted concert only, with no special features or documentary footage.***

Now, you might be thinking ‘I’ve already got three Slipknot videos with concert footage on them’ if you already own Disasterpeices live in London from the Iowa touring cycle, (Sic)nesses live at Download festival 2009 on their first headline performance there during the All Hope Is Gone touring cycle, and the 2nd disc of the documentary release Voliminal Inside The Nine which had a smattering of live tracks from different dates and locations during the Vol. 3 touring cycle.

So what has Day Of The Gusano got to separate it from the others and make it worth buying as well? Well; first off, it is their first official concert video with the new rhythm section of Jay and Alex on drums and bass. Its their first ever show in Mexico City and the fans are energetic and grateful. Its their first video of a Knotfest performance and features all the associated spectacle and backdrops. It has songs from the .5 The Gray Chapter album, which obviously none of the previous videos will have had.

Comparing it to their other DVDs, there are 11 songs here that aren’t on Disaterpieces, including the rarely played ‘Metabolic’ off of Iowa, and ‘Me Inside’ & ‘Prosthetics’ off of the debut. There are 6 songs here that aren’t on (Sic)nesses at Download ’09. Compared to Voliminal‘s concert section, well, its a full length concert in a single location not just 9 random tracks from various locations, and none of it is in black & white.

So, onto ‘Gusano itself. (If you didn’t know already or bother to google that, its Spanish for ‘Maggots’ by the way, which makes sense, since y’know, they call their fans ‘Maggots’ and its filmed in Mexico). The audio visual quality of the release is really high. The picture quality, camera work, variety of shots, editing and general watching experience of the concert are the best that Slipknot have had to date. It is beautiful to look at, and there’s nothing distracting or interrupting about the editing. The performance visually has lots of pyro and fireworks and big backdrops and set pieces, fancy lighting. There’s  generally lots going on up there on stage… its big and flashy and never boring.

The mix and production are very good. The only niggle is that Corey’s vocals are a bit lower in the mix than any previous live efforts from the band, but that’s real nitpicking. Otherwise, the instruments are really clear and well balanced, you can make the kick drum out clearly in all situations, and its even easier to hear Craig and Sid’s stuff than usual too which helps you notice them a bit better. If there’s a key riff or drum fill or whatever its given priority and generally its all beefy, heavy and just plain well put together.

The band themselves’ performance will always make or break a concert though. All the audio visual quality in the world, with the most expensive fireworks and lighting can’t hide a crappy performance. Slipknot have been through different phases in that regard. Old bootlegs off of the first album cycle show them as a sort of messy raw jumble. On Iowa they were a tight well-oiled million dollar perfect live-band (I remember seeing them live in Belfast on that cycle and its still one of my favourite ever concert experiences all these years later). On Volume 3 they flipped between the two but generally they were let down by Corey’s vocals (both times I saw them on that cycle and indeed both their 9.0 Live album and Voliminal DVD from that cycle all suffered from Corey’s vocals not being as great as usual). On All Hope‘ however, they came back blazing and were incredible and put in career defining performances and Corey sounded like one of the world’s greatest ever frontmen.

Luckily, here, the band are really on top form. This is a fiery, energetic, fun performance that everybody seems into. There are no complaints about the new line up and they do a great job of trying to fill some pretty massive, childhood-defining, shoes. (Heck, Jay arguably plays ‘Vermilion’ better live here than on any of the other three officially released versions of it). The veteran members are all super practiced, tight and precise. Corey is really strong here, arguably the second-best that he’s ever been on an official release next to Download ’09. (There are some minor questions about that on ‘Sarcastrophe’ and ‘Prosthetics’ maybe, which are a bit sketchy perhaps, but for the majority of it he really, really nails it). Its also nice to see him making an effort to speak Spanish which he does rather a lot and appears really humble and grateful.

The one bit where all Slipknot concerts drag is during ‘Spit It Out’ when the band get all the audience to squat down so they can all jump (the fuck) up at the same key moment. The actual process of cajoling them all to squat down can be a bit boring to watch or listen to if you aren’t actually there yourself sometimes, but luckily here it really doesn’t drag on too long and they payoff is great; the image of the gigantic Mexican crowd all bouncing in unison is really rather impressive.

So just to go through the list: It looks great. It sounds great. The band play great. The setlist is different enough from previous live releases to be worth it. That setlist itself is also pretty great, doing a good job of pleasing fans with the songs they’d expect to hear (Old fans could never see a set without ‘(sic)’ or ‘Surfacing’ and newer fans would never accept a set without ‘Duality’ and ‘Psychosocial’ for example) with pleasing them by spicing things up a bit and not just repeating themselves every time. On a personal note as well, its just so damn nice that they played ‘Metabolic’ live. I’ve been banging on for years about it and how its my favourite Slipknot song and they’ve finally put it out on something. I’m very pleased about that. Underrated song!

Anyway, that’s just personal preference. Everyone has their pros and cons to any setlist by any band. I’m sure some people are gutted ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Left Behind’ are missing considering they were big singles. I myself am kind of surprised ‘Skeptic’ is missing. With its catchy-ass chorus its absolutely built for big audience sing-alongs. I’d have thought that would be in every live set ever following Paul’s death, but I guess maybe its too personal for them lyrically or something like that.

Overall; this is a damn fine release from the band and not one to miss out on. Not even if you’ve already got a lot of live material by them already, as discussed at the beginning. Its probably their best video album on purely video terms, and its really worthy of inclusion in your collection in the other aspects like tracklisting and performance. If you are desperate to see the documentary, don’t get this version, but if you, like me, only really want the concert then this is the perfect version (at the lowest price).

Manowar – Magic Circle Festival Volume II DVD Review

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.