Archive for the ‘Metal – Studio’ Category

Iron Savior – Dark Assault Review

Posted: October 3, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

220px-Dark_AssaultIron Savior are the cult favourite German Power Metal band named after a sentient spacecraft that initially spawned as a collaboration between Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray fame and former Gamma Ray producer Piet Sielck. Their third studio album, Dark Assault, was released on Noise Records in 2001 and was their final album with Kai in the band before they forged more of their own unique identity and step out of Gamma Ray’s shadow.

Of their three Kai-era albums, Dark Assault is in my opinion the finest and most accomplished, and has some of the most memorable material and definitely the best production job. I’d also argue it has the least filler and works the best as a single journey all the way through. The style of music on here is very much in the Melodic European Power Metal theme, but without as many tinges of neoclassical or folk or progressive or indeed symphonic influences as some of their peers. It has more of the sort of biker feel as say, the first two Running Wild records (before they went Pirate themed) rather than Symphony Of Enchanted Lands or something. The track ‘Solar Wings’ has Kai on lead vocals instead of Piet, which makes it feel a little bit like Gamma Ray (but in general the band sound distinct by the very different vocals when Piet sings and the Andreas Kück keyboards. Its also got less Queen influence and less Thrash influence. Its a bit more of a simple pounding NWOBHM influence).

Highlights include the very catchy ‘Never Say Die’ and the bad ass ‘Predators’ as the mid-paced ‘Made Of Metal.’ There’s also a neat Judas Priest cover at the end, which suits the style of the album very well.

When you consider their lower pitched vocal style, Sci-Fi themes, and less over-the-top style than some bands in the genre, Iron Savior may be a lot more palatable to new-comers of Power Metal than say a Rhapsody or Freedom Call and sit in that same sort of bold, pure Judas Priest meets Accept metal that Primal Fear deal in. If you are into Saxon and Priest and bands like that, but are slightly afraid of Power Metal’s reputation, this album would be a great dip-your-toe-in-the-water album. It also goes without saying that I’d recommend it to fans of Gamma Ray (as long as you understand that they aren’t just a carbon copy).

Bullet-For-My-Valentine-Live-From-Brixton-Chapter-TwoLive From Brixton: Chapter Two is a 2017 crowd-funded live album from the Welsh Heavy Metal band Bullet For My Valentine. Its their second live album filmed at the venue, hence the title (as they had released one way back at the start of their career about a decade earlier). It is available in many formats and combinations but my review will concentrate on the single disc Blu Ray version.

The release captures the band live in London in December 2016, towards the end of their touring cycle for the underated Venom album (my favourite BFMV album personally in case you were wondering) and consists of two full concerts. Firstly there is a normal set in support of the Venom album with a nice mix of material throughout their career and an extra focus on Venom. The second concert is a special performance where the band play their popular debut album The Poison in its entirety (with an encore of four extra songs to close out the evening). Its great that they filmed both of these because either one on their own would make a stunning live album and its great not to have to sacrifice one for the existence of the other. There are a few tracks in both sets but overall they are very different and the crossover is minimal. The track listing is as follows:

Night One:

1. V (Intro) 2. No Way Out. 3. Skin. 4. Your Betrayal. 5. Scream, Aim, Fire. 6. Venom. 7. Four Words To Choke Upon. 8. You Want A Battle? Here’s A War. 9. The Last Fight. 10. Hears Burst Into Fire. 11. Alone. 12. Worthless. 13. Hand Of Blood. 14. Don’t Need You. 15. Tears Don’t Fall. 16. Waking The Demon.

Night Two:

1. Intro. 2. Her Voice Resides. 3. Four Words (To Choke Upon) 4. Tears Don’t Fall. 5. Suffocating Under Words Of Sorrow (What Can I Do) 6. Hit The Floor. 7. All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me) 8. Room 409. 9. The Poison. 10. Ten Years Today 11. Cries In Vain 12. Spit You Out 13. The End. 14. V (Intro) 15. No Way Out. 16. Your Betrayal. 17. Waking The Demon. 18. Don’t Need You.

Already, value for money is excellent with two entire full-length headline concerts in one package adding up to a 161-minute runtime. And that’s primarily made up of songs by the way, not wasted on indulgent piano solos or annoying onstage rants. But hey, that’s all well and good from a marketing perspective. How good are the concerts themselves? How good is the concert film? How good is the sound of this live album? These are what really matter at the end of the day. The answer to all of which is ‘utterly fantastic.’

I was at the Manchester set from this tour so saw how good the performance was first hand (and am smug enough to report I caught Mike’s drumstick at the end!). Just like my experiences in person in the north of England, down in London things were equally electric by the look of it. The band just seem so into it; Guitarist Padge and drummer Michael Thomas always seem like they are having such fun. The childlike glee on their faces when they nail a difficult part or lay into a crunchy groove just comes across perfectly. Its great to see a band who are so enthusiastic and entertained by what they do. (Which is almost odd considering the reputation they have among Metal elitists who call this cynical corporate kiddie music. …Oh well, their loss!). Matt Tuck can deliver that clean singing really well live too, that is not easy to pull off! Do you know the best thing too? It all sounds so much rawer, heavier and more energetic live than on record. Maybe its their overly slick production jobs on some of those albums that put fans of heavier music off, but live this stuff sounds ferocious. If you doubt me, listen to ‘Scream, Aim, Fire’ live. Its like a fucking Testament song! (Hardly cynical kiddie music!).

First thing outside of the band’s performance to discuss is how this looks. The sheer amount and variety of lasers and lights is ridiculous. Its like a competition to see how elaborate a lightshow can get. During the intro to night two you’d almost be forgiven for thinking you accidentally put on a Pink Floyd concert…that’s how much effort they put into the light show! There’s also a big BMFV backdrop (which the camera personnel use to great effect for framing). There’s pyro. The band are all sharply dressed in suave gentlemen’s suits. Visually its just stunning. Captured in High Definition it looks wonderful. The camera work is great. A real beautiful looking concert film. The editing is tasteful and well paced too. Its not overly stylized or choppy million-shots-a-minute stuff so you can’t even concentrate on the musicians playing their instruments. No; Its really well filmed and put together and a delight to watch.

The sound and mix can be tricky for live releases. Luckily this one strikes the perfect balance of feeling live, and sounding big and polished. The drums are nice and loud in the mix and the timbre of the toms and kicks on this recording really bring out the live vibe. The balance between the three string instruments is pretty perfect with no one either sounding too loud or inaudiable either. As I said it all comes across as a lot more savage than the album versions of the tracks.

In terms of specs, there’s the choice of either 5.1 DTS HD Master audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital stereo. Its region code 0. It comes with a booklet filled with pictures as well as a set of liner notes from singer/guitarist Matt Tuck and a set from guitarist Padge.

Overall; this a very good value for money, absolutely beautiful-looking and excellent-sounding concert film capturing two absolutely blistering and enthusiastic, fun performances. It looks an absolute treat and it sounds so much more raw and human than their studio output. Anyone who’s on the fence about this band should seriously check this release out as I can imagine it converting a lot of people. Anyone who is already a fan is going to absolutely fucking love it. Highly, highly recommended.

Killswitch Engage – Incarnate

Posted: September 29, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

Incarnate2016Incarnate is the Massachusetts Metalcore band Killswitch Engage’s seventh full-length studio album (or sixth if you count the 2000 self-titled one as a demo, which some people do) and their second since original singer Jesse Leach returned to the band after a three-album absence. It was released in early 2016 and had the very unenviable task of following up their critically acclaimed (and in my opinion amazing) Disarm The Descent album from three years prior.

As with most of the band’s work it was produced by guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and released on Roadrunner Records; with the same line-up of musicians since their debut (Justin, Joel, Mike and Adam), and the music is a continuation of the same musical formula they’ve been working from more or less since the beginning. At this point, its safe to say you can kind of guess what the album will sound like, at least broadly.

Some fans, reviewers, publications and podcasts that I respect didn’t give this album the strongest reception at the time. A lot of the criticism was either ‘heard it all before’ or else ‘not as good as Disarm The Descent.’ For me, I never find the ‘heard it all before’ issue a problem, if its good its good as far as I am concerned, and this album is definitely good. I am not the harshest critic of music in the world. I won’t just lap up any old crap but I won’t throw a band I love under the bus just for repeating a formula or having one album be especially good doesn’t ruin everything else for me.

There is some variety on the disc and there are occasional riffs and moments that definitely haven’t been heard before from this band. The almost Djenty rhythm on ‘Strength Of The Mind’ doesn’t sound like anything on The End Of Heartache at all, for example. If they vastly changed their sound too far, people would cry ‘sell out’ instantly, so this slow and very gradual evolution while staying within the boundaries of sounding like themselves is for me the best way to go. Its like Motorhead. Nothing on Ace Of Spades sounds like On Parole anymore and there’s plenty on March Or Die sounds nothing like Ace Of Spades anymore either and yet we all know that (say it with me now) ‘every Motorhead album sounds the same!’

Sure; there will always be a few Melodeath influenced riffs, a few Groove Metal and Hardcore influenced breakdowns, a light/heavy change up dynamic, a pinch harmonic here, some very sparingly-used blast beats hidden there. At least one slow track. A clean arpeggio style intro here, a sparingly used death growl backing-vocal there. But hey, that’s what we love about the band to begin with, right? This album is chocked full of great memorable moments. There’s absolutely tonnes of individual parts that catch your attention and make you pull a satisfied face as they slam into that riff or that groove or as that tasty drum fill sneaks in etc. They may have been doing this formula for years but that also means they’ve had a lot of practice getting it right!

Highlights include for sure the three most famous tracks ‘Hate By Design,’ ‘Strength Of The Mind’ and ‘Cut Me Loose’ as well as the very strong ‘Until The Day’ and the opener ‘Alone I Stand.’ If it were just these tracks it would be an absolutely astounding album. I guess there may be a little filler, but overall it is a pretty strong album.

Placing it in the band’s discography, I would agree with the majority of people that it isn’t as strong as Disarm The Decent which is actually my number one favourite album by the band, and it may not be strong enough to count as my second favourite either sure, but it is far from their worst album and far far from any sort of disappointment. Material from this album live is absolutely crushing. Tracks from this album in best-of playlists sit well beside any of the previous material. When anything from this album comes on on shuffle or random it makes me sit up and smile.

Another thing to point out for praise here are the lyrics. I’ve spent the past five years in a really depressing environment, (and especially the past two), watching people die almost every few days, watching people get told they have HIV, watching people in the grips of diseases and cancers that have damaged their brain so much they don’t recognize their own husband’s face, seeing the ravages of addiction on the body and mind and all the horrible health complications from it they don’t tell you about. Just a real swirling vortex of constant human misery. When I bought this album it quickly became my walking to work album for its amazing, positive, uplifting lyrical content. ‘Who can raise you from the fall and save you? Only you. Who can take the pain away and change you? Only you. Gather all your pain and suffering: Turn them into strength and weaponry to overcome the enemy that’s in you, that’s in you!’ – Hard to argue with that! Its great how this album makes you feel inside yourself, as a person. ‘Inspirational‘ is a very cheesy and overblown word to use in a review for a Metalcore album but here it almost seems fitting.

Overall; as long as you aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this album if you are an existing fan. If you are a new fan and haven’t heard everything already and so again aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this. In terms of ranking and being an amateur critic sure, I can see albums to say it isn’t as good as, but on its own merit it is a really strong, really enjoyable record and a very worthy addition to any fan’s collection. Some of those riffs, some of those breakdowns, some of those choruses will stick with me forever and if like me, you were a bit too put off  initially by any of the negative reviews out there to try it right away, rest assured this album is absolutely worth checking out and a really respectable entry in the band’s discography.

Sonata Arctica – Ecliptica Review

Posted: September 28, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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220px-SonataArctica_EclipticaSonata Arctica are a Finnish Power Metal band, starting their career in the late ’90s, and Ecliptica is their now-classic self-produced debut album from 1999. This is back before they started getting orchestras and turning progressive, before their concept albums. This is the band dealing purely with the basic, glistening, unaltered, raw and pure perfect formula without experimentation.

In terms of musical direction the material is very much in the style of their fellow countrymen Stratovarius. Very melodic, speedy European-style Power Metal with plenty of doublekicks, keyboards and sweet falsetto vocals. The band have toured with Stratovarius and covered their material so its very much influences on sleeves here. However, just like Airbourne and AC/DC’s sonic relationship, just because they are very similar to someone else’s style doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a damn good job at it. On this album they do that pounding speed metal with keyboard solos and gorgeous melodies thing as well as any of the originators of the scene. The band have such joy, enthusiasm and energy that just sparks off every chorus and solo. Its very pleasant listening. Its like somebody captured smiles and sunshine in audio form. There’s a reason cynics call Power Metal ‘Happy Metal’ and bands like Sonata Arctica play a big part in that.

The songs here are some of the finest examples of the formula in the history of the genre. ‘Blank File,’ ‘Destruction Preventer,’ ‘Kingdom For A Heart’ and the lead single ‘UnOpened’ are all particularly strong. The bouncy powerballd ‘Letter To Dana’ is memorable. (Also the bonus track ‘Mary-Lou’ if you get that version, is very enjoyable). The album is really strong and consistent without much filler and nothing you would want to skip immediately. It is succinct, memorable, flows well and works well as a whole. You can play it from start to end and stay entertained the whole time.

If you scoff at ‘Flower Metal’ and all its cheese, then maybe this will confirm all your worst fears (apart from maybe songs about wizards and dragons and fairies). But if you are a fan of Freedom Call and Stratovarius its hard to see how you wouldn’t love this band and this album.

Tony Kakko has such a strong voice and his contributions on keys add great colour to the material. He conveys such emotion. If you don’t usually like this type of music you may find him a bit too flowery but if you are into this music there are only a handful of singers on the planet who do it as well.

Its almost amazing that the band started off with such a strong debut right away. A lot of bands took a while to get their style down, especially in Power Metal where a lot of bands started off as Thrash or Heavy Metal bands and took a few albums to get where they were going. I guess having other bands already blaze the trial beforehand helped. But much like Hammerfall; even though they didn’t start off in the ’80s like Blind Guardian or Helloween or Running Wild, they just arrived seemingly out of nowhere and dropped a rock-solid gem of a debut, coming out of the gate already formed. The band would go on to very different things with complex concept albums and musical exploration, but this debut finds them focused into the absolute perfect basic speedy melodic Power Metal formula and doing it as well as any of their peers or indeed any of their idols.

Overall; this is an absolute banger of an album. The speed, the melody, the sentimental ballads are all exactly what you want from a Power Metal group and Sonata Arctica have absolutely mastered the form. If anyone were to sling any criticism at the album it could only be that it sounds a lot like Stratovarius, but that can equally be praise because its a difficult thing to achieve, and they do it so well, so consistently and very memorably indeed.

Stratovarius – Episode Review

Posted: September 28, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Episode_(album)_coverThis is where things just start to go right for Finnish Power Metal legends Stratovarius. Some bands just take a while to really get it right. They formed all the way back in 1984 and gradually mutated with experience and line-up changes from being a solid but forgettable underground Heavy Metal band that didn’t even tour to one of the world’s premier Power Metal bands. Their first three albums were respectable efforts with main guitarist Timo Tolkki on vocals and stylistically lacking much of the melodic Euro flavour or symphonic pomp of their more famous material. Their fourth album saw them add a new lead vocalist in the iconic Timo Kotipelto and start gearing up to become the band they always had the potential to be.

In 1996 the band exploded in terms of quality, memorability, confidence and power. They released the Episode album, their fifth studio long-player, and the first to feature the ‘classic line up’ with the aforementioned Kotipelto and Tolkki (and not forgetting bassist Jari Kainulainen) now joined by the new additions of German Jörg Michael (of Rage fame!) on drums and Swedish Jens Johannson (of Yngwie Malmsteen fame!) on keyboards. This line-up just all compliment each other’s styles really well and bring the best out of each other.

The thundering double kicks of Jörg perfectly suit Tolkki’s Priest-meets-Scorpions-meets-early-Queensryche style riffs. The guitar and keyboard trade-off solos between Tolkki and Johannson are some of the best in the genre and take what Blackmore and Lord were doing in the ’70s and both modernize and metalize it. Kotipelto’s soaring vocals are finely accentuated by background keys from Johannson and are given the room to breathe by the long ringing chords that Tolkki drops over that perfectly-synced rhythm section. This is perfect musical harmony exemplified.

The album contains some of the band’s absolute finest work, such as ‘Father Time,’ ‘Tommorow,’ ‘Will The Sun Rise?’ ‘Speed Of Light’ and the furious instrumental ‘Stratosphere.’ How many bands has this stuff influenced over the years?! You can hear it absolutely dripping down through history to bands like Sonata Arctica and Dragonforce and so, so many others. Hell, even the ballad is great. Sometime I get a bit sick of Power Metal bands doing ballads but ‘Forever’ on this album is absolutely beautiful, so simple and sweetly and perfect.

There’s a bit of variety too, on the slow and pounding numbers like the ominous and threatening sounding ‘Uncertainty’ which sounds like if someone took Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and Queensryche’s ‘Roads To Madness’ and mixed them together. There’s the eastern tinged ‘Babylon’ and the almost eight minute long multi-part, multi-tempo, mutli-mood ‘Night Time Eclipse’ which would foreshadow the band’s slow transition into progressive territories. ‘Season Of Change’ sees the band work with a full orchestra and gives them a symphonic feel similar to Italy’s Rhapsody.

Overall this album was a real triumph for the band, it is a diverse and entertaining journey of an album full of depth and character and indeed some absolutely off the chain virtuosic (yet perfectly balanced) musicianship. It was the beginning of a solid run of really great records with the so called classic line-up and a record that no fan of either the band nor the genre should overlook. Visions might be the first Stratovarius album new fans should check out, but Episode should swiftly follow!

Vain_glory_operaWow, what a change! For German Power Metal luminaries Edguy, the third time was a charm and every other cliché you can throw. The band started off at a really young age, their previous two albums were Maiden, Priest and Helloween worship with very demo-esque production jobs and not so confident performances. You could tell it was good but it didn’t grab your shoulders and shake you.

The third album they unleashed (y’know if you count 1995 version of Savage Poetry) changed that in a big way. Vainglory Opera, from 1998 is a whole other level of professional and inspired. Maybe its partially due to the much greater production job making things sound much more mature and slick, maybe its partially due to the songs themselves being a bit more stripped down, or maybe its just a sheer undeniable spike in confidence and talent…but this album just has that ‘x factor’ that elevates it high. The vocals, man, the vocals! Tobias Samet has such a majestic and gigantic voice. The guitar solos! They siiiiing. Its not even that flashy but its so sweet-spot memorable, y’know?

Then there’s the songs. Ok, there’s two ballads (an orchestral one and a powerballad), there’s a cover song (an almost unrecognizable reworking of an old Ultravox tune jammed through a sort of Stratovarius filter) and there’s an obligatory intro. There’s the title-track which serves as the album’s high point and is a semi-epic that most bands would use as an album closer. To me, it sounds like ‘Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter’ and ‘Mother Russia’ by Iron Maiden had a baby that then got stuck in the machine from the movie The Fly with Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s ‘Trilogy’ and the background music from a documentary on the Christian Church’s history. Its spiced up even further by the guest appearance from Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian.

The main bulk of the rest of the material is a mix of two themes; songs with fast double-kick drums that sound like what Helloween would’ve come up with if they had tried to replicate the style of Metallica’s The Black Album in their own unique way, and slower stomping songs reminiscent of Hammerfall when they go mid-paced, but with huge religious-sounding choruses (something they’d explore even more on their next record). The best two for my money being ‘Until We Rise Again’ and ‘No More Foolin.’ Also worth mentioning is ‘Out Of Control’ which features guest guitar work from Stratovarius virtuoso Timo Tolkki.

Its certainly a unique album. Within the genre and within the band’s discography. There aren’t a million other Vainglory Operas out there. Nobody else sounds like this. I don’t think anybody else would either be able to pull it off or be fool enough to try. In the first half of the band’s career when they were still unashamedly Power Metal without the hard rock tinges and before they started adding in all the humour, Vainglory Opera is the band’s attempt at doing the classy grown up mature album. Its real nice to hear the band exploring this ground.

On their next album, the fan favourite classic, Theater Of Salvation, the band would unleash their golden album of absolute pure Power Metal perfection. This album was a perfect stepping stone from their humble youthful beginnings to their zenith, along a not repeated path, but man, while they were here, they nailed it!

Edguy – Hellfire Club Review

Posted: September 26, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Rock, Rock Studio

220px-Edguy_Hellfire_Club_coverEdguy are a Power Metal band from Germany, headed up by Tobias Samet (also known for Avantasia), and Hellfire Club is their sixth album. The 2004 effort is one of their best in terms of enjoyability and quality, and is interesting in their discography looking back, as it serves as a bridge between their Power Metal early days and their Hard Rock tinged later days, and also sees the band’s silly side come a bit more to the fore.

There are some very fine Power Metal moments on here, and there are some very fine Hard Rock-ifed moments. There are also some tracks that balance them both, in a mature and semi-progressive way similar to their previous album, 2001’s Mandrake, most notably the ten-minute ‘The Piper Never Dies.’ Its sort of a great midpoint between their various different styles and ambitions without being too far in any one direction and therefor it is very originally Edguy without any influences hanging obviously off sleeves.

The production job on the album is very big and radio ready, matching the stadium-focused choruses that have started to find their way in to the music. A huge memorable chorus like that of single ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ (a song about ‘the mile high club’ with a comic lyrical style) sounds gigantic on this record. Its a far cry from the thin and wirey dueling guitars of classics from Theater Of Salvation (a production style perfect in its own right, but for very different music). The band are fleshed out by a guest orchestra which gives things a bit of extra depth and bombast.

Highlights include ‘Down To The Devil’ which has a fiendishly catchy chorus, as well as the foot-to-the-floor ‘We Don’t Need A Hero’ which is one of the better tunes on here and the guitar work is noteworthy. Lastly, the cheesily-titled ‘The Rise Of The Morning Glory’ which I feel is the exact mid point of every thing going on here and the go-to tester track you should listen to if you want to get an idea of whether or not you’d enjoy this.

Overall; this is definitely one of the band’s better albums in terms of sheer song quality, riffs, memorable choruses and big hooks. Its not their most traditionally Power Metal release ever but isn’t so far away from the formula that it would be off-putting either like some of their albums **Cough**Tinnitus Sanctus**Cough** (and what it lacks in that department it makes up for in creativity and fun). The orchestral addition adds a lot, and the production is humongous.

Ps. If you can, try and get the version with bonus tracks so you can hear Kreator’s Mille Petroza join in on ‘Mysteria’ as well as the bonus track ‘Children Of Steel’ which is one of the most traditional Heavy Metal songs the band have written to date.