Posts Tagged ‘power metal’

220px-Blind_guardian_follow_the_blindFollow The Blind is the second full-length studio album by the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1989 and sees the band in a bit of a transition period, much more advanced than their debut but not yet fully developed into the full on Power Metal style they would become famous for on the next half-dozen albums.

It also sees the band leaning more into a Thrash Metal direction than at any point in their career, with notable Bay Area Thrash influences in particular. If you like Exodus, Testament and Forbidden’s debuts, and you also like Power Metal then this album is a delightful middle ground. Its harder and more aggressive than future Blind Guardian records, and has also yet to develop the more progressive tendencies of their later period. What it lacks in scope however, it makes up for in sheer fury. I think this album would be a great introduction to the band and indeed to the subgenre for fans of Thrash who are maybe afraid of Power Metal due to its reputation as being a bit flowery and wimpy compared to other Metal styles.

On the downside however, for Power Metal fans especially, all that Thrash influence leaves less room for catchiness, melodies and variety as compared to their other work. That is not to say it is devoid of those qualities, just that it is a smaller percentage of the music than usual. Listen to ‘Fast To Madness’ for example… a brilliant Metal song, but you wouldn’t generate as big a sing-along as say ‘Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill.’ The title track does experiment with different tempos and balancing heavy and clean styles, but more in a …And Justice For All/The Years Of Decay way than in an Imaginations From The Other Side way. Both fine ways to be sure, just depends what mood you are in and what expectations you had when you bought the album in the first place.

In terms of songwriting quality, I think Blind Guardian’s albums sort of just got better and better up until about Nightfall In Middle Earth, and so I think this album is better than their debut but not yet as good as Tales From The Twilight World, or the classic Somewhere Far Beyond. That is of course not to say its poor, just that it isn’t as good as the really good stuff. In terms of production, its a bit noisy and harsh on the ears, and works better in small chunks than as a whole. Not unlike fellow Power Metal Pioneers Helloween’s Thrashy Walls Of Jericho album in that regard.

Speaking of Helloween, Kai Hansen makes some guest appearances on this album, both on guitar on ‘Hall Of The King’ and on Guitar and Vocals on ‘Valhalla.’ These for me are two of the best songs on the album anyway, and are made even better by Kai’s presence. The other main highlight is the excellent instrumental ‘Beyond The Ice’ which is one of the best songs on the album for me, very pummeling, quite diverse and with astounding guitar work… it really shows off what a force the band are musically with its bouncy toms and double kicks and the excellent range of riffs and solos.

Overall; Follow The Blind is an experimental album that sees the band trying to find their sound. It is arguably the hardest, fastest and heaviest of their records and arguably the least melodic and catchy. It is however a very decent album that no Blind Guardian fan should miss out on (how could you be a fan and deprive yourself of ‘Banished From Sanctuary’ or ‘Valhalla’?) and that would be a good starting point for fans of heavier music trying Blind Guardian out.

*Ps. The Remastered edition has two cover songs and four early demos to add some value for money. None worth upgrading over in and of themselves, but very welcome if you are getting em for free anyway. *

Iced Earth - The Dark Saga1996’s conceptual The Dark Saga is the fourth studio album by American Power Metal/Heavy Metal band Iced Earth; it was their second album with Matt Barlow singing. It was produced by Jim Morris of Morrisound fame and released on Century Media.

The lyrics are based on the story from the Image comic “Spawn,’” (a lot of character exploration and melancholy – just like the early issue of the book) and so is the artwork. To be honest though, blink and you’d miss it… lyrically it still sounds like most Iced Earth albums anyway and the artwork could easily match their other releases anyway. Its not as if it’s a concept album about The Smurfs or something.

The music on the album is a sort of average of the band’s influences, one part NWOBHM, one part Thrash, one part Power Metal, without being any one overly more than the other… its not their fastest, nor their most bombastic, nor their most “Heavy Metal.” It moved away from the sound of their earlier records and set the tone more or less for their next three or four albums.

If you’ve never heard the band before, image Queensryche’s The Warning mixed with Testament’s Practice What You Preach and Saxon’s Denim & Leather played mostly in a mid-tempo. There’s evocative wide ranging vocals that communicate a lot, there’s a certain rock-meets metal balance and there’s a substantial chug and some double kicks and a bit of a Thrashy edge… only without ever breaking out into a blistering speed.

The standout moments include ‘I Died For You,’ ‘The Last Laugh’ and the seven-minute closer ‘A Question Of Heaven.’ To be honest its all pretty equal though, not much in the way of filler, all of the similar high standard.

If I was going to level any criticism at this record, I could maybe use the ‘formulaic’ card, as its not the most diverse or eclectic release in the world, but that is balanced by how solid and reliable it is. I could play the ‘wearing their influences on their sleeve’ card but their mixture of influences is at least resultant in something that is unmistakably Iced Earth. I don’t feel either is particularly warranted however, this for me is a really decent album from a really decent band… for a brand new listener I’d recommend trying Something Wicked first, but otherwise this is a fine addition to your Iced Earth collection and yet another strong record from the consistent and dependable act.

Here are some songs that are totally floating my boat at the minute, check em out, find a new song to love and support the band accordingly if you do.

Blind Guardian – Imaginations From The Other Side

Imaginations From The Otherside is the seminal and genre-defining fifth full-length studio album from the legendary German Power Metal band, Blind Guardian. It was released in 1995, and produced by the famous Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen (Rainbow, Metallica, Morbid Angel, Ensiferum) and it caught the band in an unstoppable run of classic album after classic album, with high public will at the time and historical importance nowadays.

The album sees the band in a bit more of a progressive mood; with less difference between the fast, the slow and the acoustic songs in favour of complex tunes that merge all three. It’s a far cry from the Thrashy roots of Battalions Of Fear but still unmistakably Blind Guardian sounding at the same time. The band do a good job at writing more complex and sophisticated songs without making them feel pompous or disjointed… everything flows logically and you don’t really feel as if you’ve sat there listening to the same song for six or seven minutes. It whizzes by as you think about Peter Pan and Narnia etc. enjoying some of the genre’s less-cheesy vocal melodies and some hard hitting Metallic music.

The standard of musicianship is immense, not just in terms of flashy virtuosity but also in more subtle ways and in terms of the actual performance captured here… this sounds like a masterpiece. You know when you get an album for the first time and just think “this sounds important” …this is such an album. Understandably it is now considered a classic of the genre and is justly recommended routinely to anyone interested in the band or this type of music in general and I would easily feel comfortable throwing out another voice in the crowd telling you to get your hands on a copy.

Album highlights for me are the opener, which is also the album’s Title Track, and the more melodic single ‘Bright Eyes’ as well as the brief ballad ‘A Past And Future Secret’ which I feel is the strongest moment on the record. Its all of a pretty similarly high standard though, and arguably best listened to as a single continuous journey rather than as separate tracks.

As strong and enjoyable as the album is, there’s not really that much to say about it other than it is essential listening for fans, its is a good first album for new fans, and that I highly recommend it. It doesn’t have any guest stars, special talking point or singular narrative concept. Its Blind Guardian doing what they do best, to perfection…which is a pretty damn strong recommendation in and of itself really!

Helloween – My God-Given Right

Its 2015, the German Power Metal legends Helloween have released their 15th full-length studio album proper, not counting EPs or compilations or the symphonic Unarmed album. It is their fifth consecutive release with the same stable line-up (a big deal for a band who’ve had such a turnover of musicians in their time), and their tenth overall with Andi Deris fronting the band (making that now twice as many Helloween albums with him as without him).

It was produced by Power Metal producer extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Freedom Call, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Primal Fear, Hammerfall) and released through Nuclear Blast. The version I got came in a 3D lenticular box with bonus tracks although there are many versions available.

My God-Given Right very much picks up where the last couple of Helloween albums left off. Sometimes Helloween make a change-up to their sound for about half-an album, like on The Dark Ride or 7 Sinners being heavier, or Rabbit Don’t Come Easy being more experimental, but this isn’t one of those times. This is the core Helloween sound through and through. It wouldn’t be too mean spirited to say “you’ve heard most of these songs before” because it just lets you know that you are getting what you want: fun, melodic, cheesy, commercial Power Metal with a bit of a sense of humour.

There are moments where they throw in piano, synths or mess around with progressive structures – but mostly its driving, fun Power Metal in a mix of tempos. You get the more Hard Rock flavoured single, the slower more ballady track, the balls-out fast paced track, and the rest of it is what I’d call the medium Deris Helloween sound (which is exactly what I wanted, expected and appreciate having). If you are a fan of any album since Master Of The Rings, and the albums since Keeper’ The Legacy in particular, you’re going to love it!

The highlights for me are ‘Russian Roule,’ ‘Living On The Edge’ (which I always feel like its called ‘Carry On’ since that’s the main chant in the chorus) and the very fun, and very very cheesy ‘If God Loves Rock And Roll’ which has the best chorus on the album, and a deliciously silly breakdown in the centre which I should hate but absolutely love for some reason. The bonus tracks too are very good, being a bit more experimental and in a slightly different mood to the rest of the record, making a nice little contrast at the end.

The band have been on a roll for the last few albums, each one in turn could be called a career highlight or have the “…the best album since” tag applied to it, and this is no different. This is a perfect Helloween album. No filler, no messing about, nothing worth skipping, just an album chocked full of giving the people what they want and somehow not feeling tired or like they’re repeating themselves, something this band have a real knack for. I’m biased, I know, but I highly recommend checking out this album, and have nothing negative to say about it whatsoever – get yourself a copy and enjoy the pumpkin-y goodness.

Hammerfall – Renegade Review

Posted: September 17, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews
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Hammerfall – Renegade

The Swedish Power Metal band Hammerfall had a great public and critical reaction to their seminal debut album, Glory To The Brave, and lit the Metal world on fire so to speak. The followed it up soon after with the equally strong and incredibly similar follow-up Legacy Of Kings. The first two albums sounding very much like a perfect pair.

With their third full-length studio album, 2000’s Gold-certified Renegade album, the band changed the formula slightly. It is still unmistakably Hammerfall, but with a different fell, focus and attitude than the two that preceded it – it’s a bit more stripped back and straightforward, with a sort of earthy quality to it.

Perhaps it is something to do with Michael Wagener (Dokken, Extreme, Skid Row, White Lion) handling the production here instead of Fredrik Nordström, although interestingly Nordström did co-write some of the material here). Then again; Perhaps it is Anders Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force) joining the band on the drums, or perhaps it is just the core line-up not wanting to repeat themselves. Regardless of why it sounds a bit different, it does.

Still, if you want a description of how the album sounds, it’ll sound like a description of any Hammerfall record: Its NWOBHM-focused Melodic European Power Metal with plenty of dual guitars, lots of ”woah-ah-oh’s” to sing along to, and a plethora of sword/combat themed lyrical content (the album’s motorcycle themed Title Track being a curious exception). If you like Maiden, Saxon and Priest you’ll be in good hands, let’s just put it that way. As always, Hammerfall invest a lot of time in big hooks, catchy choruses and impressive guitar solos… if you like Power Metal you probably can’t help but enjoy choruses like the one in ‘The Way Of The Warrior’ and that’s Hammerfall’s bread and butter.

There’s no intros, no covers and nothing I’d call filler. Its all consistent, all enjoyable and it flows well from beginning to end. Highlight’s include the superb ‘Living In Victory,’ the brief instrumental ‘Raise The Hammer’ or the beyond-catchy ‘Destined For Glory.’ The ballad, ‘Always Will Be’ is pretty darn strong too, cheese be damned.

If you’re into the band, no question, you’ll enjoy this release. This is a good Hammerfall album and I’d recommend checking it out, and although I wouldn’t personally rate it as their best ever its certainly close. If its going to be your first outing with the band I’d maybe choose another album first instead, perhaps Glory To The Brave or Legacy Of Kings but other than that, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Renegade.

Angra – Holy Land Review

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

Angra – Holy Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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