Reviews in this issue:
- Delight - The Last Tale Of Eternity [DVD]
- Orphaned Land - Mabool
- TOC - Loss Angeles
- Ion Vein - Reigning Memories
- Empty Tremor - The Alien Inside
- Dreamtone - Unforeseen Reflections
- Cans - Beyond The Gates
- Endusk - Point 0 One
- Prototype - Trinity
- Platitude - Nine
- VII Gates - Fire, Walk With Me
- Skylark - Wings
- After The Silence - Final Fantasy
- Dreamscape - End Of Silence
Delight - The Last Tale Of Eternity
Tracklist: The Hand, The Fading Tale, Spring Day, Last Temptation, Carving The Way, Stained Glass, Whale's Lungs, Backwards, Nymphea, The Sun, Sombre Wine, Careless Whisper, Wieczny Final, I Promise
Bonus Tracks: Video - Metalmania 2003: The Hand, Spring Day, The Fading Tale, Stained Glass, I Promise
Bonus Videoclips: Carving The Way, Stained Glass
Bonus Audio Tracks: My Girlfriend's Girlfriend (Type O Negative cover), Wasting Love (Iron Maiden cover), Forgive Me, Od Nowa
What a great little package. With the captivating voice of Paulina Maslanka, Gothic progmetallers Delight really caught my attention with the release of their Eternity album a year or so ago. Lying somewhere in between Lacuna Coil and Evanescence in the female fronted genre, the band is one of a number of acts on the Metal Mind label who are finally starting to get the attention they deserve outside of their own country.
Filmed last April, this is a great catalogue of the band's set in Krakow, in their Polish homeland. Playing before a large crowd in a Polish television studio, the set covers songs from all three albums and shows the band's progress since their debut Last Temptation appeared four years ago.
The sound quality isn't great, the vocals particularly low in the mix at times. And in often annoying contrast, there seems to be a microphone picking up the crowd noise that is way too high in the mix. This totally ruins a couple of the quieter numbers where the sound of people talking and shouting totally drowns out Paula's vocals. Talking of the good lady, she is a very watchable front woman with a captivating (non-operatic) voice. Being fussy, I think her stage-craft could still be improved with a wider range of moves and a bit of interaction with the crowd, both in-between and during the songs.
But it's the songs that are the band's strength. Combining great melodies with an ever-changing background of light and shade, numbers like The Hand, Last Temptation and Carving the Way ensure the two-hour set speeds by.
But it doesn't stop there, because Metal Mind should be congratulated for putting together a real value for money package here. There's also a five-song set from their appearance at Metalmania festival last year - where the sound is actually much crisper - there are two promo videos for Carving The Way and Stained Glass; there are four new audio tracks including covers of Iron Maiden (Wasting Love) and Type O Negative (My Girlfriend's Girlfriend); a Japanese bonus track and a brand new song Od Nowa. And there's even more - in a packed art gallery with album covers, posters, lots of pictures of Paula, desktop images, web links and a interview with Paula too. That's about as comprehensive as you can get on a single DVD!
The band is currently recording new material, due out this autumn. In the meantime, The Last Tale of Eternity is an absolute must for the band's growing number of fans and is a highly recommended introduction for anyone who likes female fronted metal.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Orphaned Land -
Mabool [The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven]
Tracklist: Birth Of The Three [The Unification] (6:57), Ocean Land [The Revelation] (4:43), The Kiss Of Babylon [The Sins] (7:23), A’salk (2:05), Halo Dies [The Wrath Of God] (7:29), A Call To Awake [The Quest] (6:10), Building The Ark (5:02), Norra El Norra [Entering The Ark] (4:24), The Calm Before The Flood (4:25), Mabool [The Flood] (6:59), The Storm Still Rages Inside (9:20), Rainbow [The Resurrection] (3:01)
*Mabool is available with a strictly Limited Edition Bonus CD - The Calm Before The Flood
Bonus Disc Tracklist: The Evil Urge (3:28), A Never Ending Way (3:14), Mercy (3:46), The Beloved’s Cry (6:42), The Orphaned’s Medley (9:33)
Its easy to take things for granted in the west – practically every album in existence is available to us, there is no particular restriction on what we can listen to, and chances are our favourite bands will be on tour in our locality at some point in our lifetime. If you are a metal fan or musician in Israel, then things are much more difficult – a volatile political and economic climate, a lack of access to a lot of rock music, both live and recorded, coupled with restrictions on personal freedom (every Israeli must serve time in the army from the age of 18) mean that you get the feeling that those bands that do make it must have real commitment and belief in the music they’re making. This certainly applies to Orphaned Land. Orphaned Land are not a new band, having released two albums previously on a smaller label, but the last one was released back in 1996 – the aforementioned ‘difficult’ conditions contributing to the seven-year gestation period of Mabool. But its been time well spent, as this varied, diverse concept album is a cracker.
Everything about this album screams ‘epic’. This starts with the concept. Based around the biblical tale of the great flood, this tells the tale of the three sons (the Snake, the Eagle and the Lion) each of whom represents a different religion (respectively, Judaism, Islam and Christianity), and their journey to warn humanity of the impending devastation (the flood) that awaits them if they do not repent their sins. Subject matter doesn’t get much more epic than this, and thankfully the music does it full justice.
Quite frankly, trying to categorise the music on Mabool is very difficult. A blanket description such as ‘middle eastern tinged metal with progressive elements’ is certainly relevant, but really doesn’t do it justice. Influence-wise, one can certainly hear similarities with bands such as Opeth (particularly the contrast between mellower, pastoral sections and full-on thrash), Paradise Lost (early 90’s model), Therion and Pain of Salvation. Much of the lead work from guitarists Yossi (‘Sassi’) Saharon and Matti Svatizki is reminiscent of traditional metal bands such as Iron Maiden and Iced Earth, and perhaps surprisingly this blending of ‘old school’ metal and more adventurous, experimental material works well. Orphaned Land are not afraid of broadening their palate to incorporate more traditional elements of progressive rock either – Sassi’s soaring solo towards the end of The Storm Still Rages Inside could have come from the guitar of Pendragon’s Nick Barratt, whilst the name of Dave Gilmour flickered in my mind when listening to various other passages. The guitar work throughout - be it on acoustic, electric or classical guitars (often all three combined!) - is exemplary, and never excessively flashy either, instead serving the needs of the songs. Keyboardist Eden Rabin’s work, meanwhile, is more subtle, but again adds colour to the music – I particularly like the piano flourishes that crop up here and there.
All this is diverse enough as it is, but as previously mentioned Orphaned Land also incorporate elements of traditional Middle Eastern music into their sound. Sometimes this is showcased on its own, although more often its combined with the metal and progressive elements (check out the wonderfully rocked-up version of the traditional song Norra El Norra, for example). In particular, many of the percussive rhythms found in Middle Eastern music are incorporated into the metal template, whilst Sassi plays a range of traditional instruments, such as Saz, Bouzouki and, in particular, the Oud, an instrument that looks (and to an extent sounds) a little like a Lute. All these elements, instead of sounding merely ‘tacked on’ to the band’s core sound, are an integral part of it, and really add to the dynamics and the mood of the album. In addition to all this, the band also utilise violin and cello (most prominently on the atmospheric – and foreboding – instrumental The Calm Before The Flood).
Mention should also be made of the vocals. Vocalist Kobi Farhi utilises the Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) patented tool of alternating between a clean, mellow delivery and the love it or hate it ‘cookie monster’ death grunt. It should be said though that the latter is used less often than in much of Opeth’s work, and Farhi’s version is less ferocious than Akerfeldt’s. In addition, Farhi also employs a more strident clean vocal at times, somewhat reminiscent of a latter day Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost). He also spends much of the record chanting (often in tandem with female vocalist Shlomit Levi) and even just narrating the lyrics, in order to move the story on. Levi also gets some moments in the spotlight, such as A’Salk which for much of its length just features her voice. Most of her lyrics are delivered in Hebrew, whilst four other ‘proper’ languages are used (English, Arabic, Yemen and Latin) with a few lyrics delivered in ‘invented’ language (i.e. gibberish) just for good measure. On top of all this, an ‘Oriental Choir’ is used quite extensively, pulling some tracks (such as the aforementioned The Storm Still Rages Inside) towards the territory operated in by the likes of After Forever and Epica.
Its almost impossible to pick out highlights from an album which really does need to be listened to in its entirety in order to be fully appreciated, but for a good introduction to the band’s sound you need look no further than opener Birth Of The Three [The Unification], which manages to combine all the elements discussed above into one cohesive, powerful whole. For a sheer adrenaline rush, meanwhile, I would pick out The Kiss Of Babylon [The Sins], a magnificent goth metal anthem which again incorporates some sublime Middle Eastern elements and features some superb vocal interplay between Kobi Farhi and Shlomit Levi.
My only real criticisms of the album is that, at almost 70 minutes of intense, dramatic music, its almost perhaps too much of a good thing, and I felt that the title track, presumably intended to be the climax of the album, doesn’t quite unleash the musical ‘flood’ that its title implies. Minor quibbles in the scheme of things, of course.
You should certainly make sure you get hold of the limited edition of Mabool, as it comes with a live bonus disc, with the band playing acoustic versions of songs from their previous two albums (plus a fine cover of Paradise Lost’s Mercy) in front of an enthusiastic home crowd in a Tel Aviv club. This ‘adds value’ to the disc in three ways: one, it introduces the listener to material from the previous albums; two, it shows that the band are just as effective when playing in this stripped down format, and three, the obvious adoration and high spirits of the crowd (particularly prominent on The Beloved’s Cry, where they bellow out every word along with Farhi) mean that the atmosphere and feel of the live show are perfectly captured.
Overall, Mabool ranks as one of the best metal releases, progressive or otherwise, that I’ve heard in quite a while. Blending such a diverse range of musical styles and influences together might be expected to result in an unsatisfying musical hotchpotch, but that’s far from the case here. Both accessible and experimental, musically adventurous yet never losing sight of the power of a good song, this is a release I’d strongly recommend to all open-minded metal fans.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
TOC - Loss Angeles
TOC is a band from Finland formerly known as Throne Of Chaos. It is said that this name change also announces a change in style. Unfortunately this is the first I hear of TOC so I cannot judge that.
Never before have I heard such a mix of styles and references on one album. Because of that I have been very busy trying to find out which reference would best describe the different tracks instead of actually listening to the music. So it took me some time to take a step back and judge this album on its own merits. But once I did this step back I suddenly realized this indeed is good music. The Window is one of the best tracks on the album, catchy, energetic, original. It sounds a bit like ACT on a power trip, the subject of the lyrics and the vocals enhance this idea. Mary Lou Is Dead is the obligatory ballad and it put me off for the first week of listening (chorus too much like The Scorpions , brr). Now it is one of my favourite tracks because of the superb vocals and melodic spherical music. Acid Highway starts of as a plain and simple trash metal piece but soon some Dream Theater influences upgrade it to much more. Another gem on this album Gothamburg. It has a distinct Anathema (at the time of Judgment) sound. It also is the first of the four tracks on this album that fit together best and are really awesome. Nice build up, nice vocals again, energetic guitars. Break-A-Neck might also be added but it is a bit more messy and powerful. The screaming vocals and the trashy guitars remind my of Metallica's battery very much.
Bite The Bullet could have been a track of Opeth's Damnation . Mellow, almost desperate sphere, half-way through it then suddenly changes to a quicker tempo, again a superb track. Smoke On The Water should have been a nice Deep Purple cover but it is not. The bonus track Night Crawler is a plain and simple trash metal track, with a touch of Nightwish, too simple for my taste, but technically nicely done.
I could conclude on this album in two ways:
Loss Angeles is not a coherent piece of work. All tracks stand alone (apart from textual references) and no two tracks can be mentioned to describe the style of TOC. Psychedelic Progressive Metal is the label TOC puts on themselves. If Psychedelic means: not made up their minds yet, this label work for me.
or I could say:
Loss Angeles is loaded with styles and references, it shows these guys are really good musicians that cannot be constrained to one musical style only. There are some low points on this album but these are easily disregarded because of all the highlights.
I think I will stick with to last one: I really enjoyed TOC: with Loss Angeles they have delivered a superb album. Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ion Vein - Reigning Memories
Tracklist: Awakening (0:54), Another Life (6:00), Spiral Maze (5:46), The Power of You (5:13), Faith and Majesty (4:57), Edge of Forever (5:55), Twilight Garden (4:35), Reigning Memories (8:38), Adrian's Ladder Trilogy: Part I - From Inside the Mirror (6:23), Part II - Timeless (1:34), Part III - Every time it Rains (5:09), The Future is Now (9:13)
Chicago's Ion Vein has been steadily building a reputation as one of the leading independent American ProgPower bands, ever since the release of their debut album Beyond Tomorrow, in 1999. Having played at the respected ProgPower and Powermad Festivals in the States, their profile was high enough for producer Neil Kernon (Queensryche, Priest) to agree to lend his experience for the recording of Reigning Memories.
Judging by some of the very average records that constantly get pushed onto the marketplace, I find it impossible to understand why this record hasn't landed the band a deal. Reigning Memories shows Ion Vein as a band will all the ingredients to go straight to the top of their genre.
There are heavy, technical songs like Awakening and Inside The Mirror and more mellow tracks like the saxophone-accompanied ballad Twilight Garden. Ion Vein are at their most catchy when the emphasis is on the power metal (Every Time It Rains). But for a Fates Warning progster like me, they're at their best with tracks like the multi-faceted title track.
They're talented musicians, especially the twin guitar assault of Chris Lotesto and John Malufka. If you like full-throttle guitar overload, then the instrumental sections with the pair trading riffs like the last moments of an E-bay auction, is reason enough for you to get hold of this album. Overall you get an aggressive mixture of Warning-era, Queensryche, Pagan's Mind, Savatage and Zero Hour.
Sure this is an independent release, so its a bit rough around the edges and their song writing still needs a few more melodic hooks to really stamp their mark on the listener. In terms of production, the bass is way too low in the mix and the drums too high, with an annoying overuse of the snare. Russ Klimczak has an excellent range and powerful voice, although again a bit more time in the studio would have given time to iron out the creases that appear with a sprinkling of bum notes. But overall there is more than enough here to reward fans of aggressively technical, yet easily accessible, Prog Metal.
Independent bands like Ion Vein deserve the support of fans to help them onto the next step. So zip on over to www.ionvein.com and reign in some memories.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Empty Tremor - The Alien Inside
Tracklist: The Alien Inside (9:37), I Found You (7:10), A New World (5:33), Who Really You Are (8:22), Don't Stop Me (9:35), Stay (4:20), The Love I've Never Had (8:46), The Alien Outside (6:27)
With it's solid reputation for melodic hard rock firmly established, it is certainly good see the Frontiers label starting to add some impressive new progressive bands to its roster. Last year the Italian-based label released a series of good albums from the likes of Royal Hunt, Green and Last Tribe. Now add to that, the slightly misleadingly-named Empty Tremor.
With a history dating back almost a decade The Alien Inside is the third album from these Italians. Yet, until it landed through my door, I'd never even heard a whisper of them before. Surprising, as this is a very mature musical creation that will appeal to anyone who enjoys music that really does cross the musical boundaries to great effect.
The opening title track is build on a great rolling riff and a melody that echoes Vanden Plas and Shadow Gallery. Then I Found You which follows, is almost neo prog in style with a heavy use of the keys. In stark contrast Who You Really Are has a great bluesy, hard rock vibe that compares favourably to a more progressive Cornerstone. Throw in some bombastic symphonic touches and an occasional helping of more laid back American rock and you really have an explosive audio landscape on which the band places some great melodies.
There's some explosive riffing from the twin attack of Marco Guerrini and Christian Tombetti, that compares favourably with Vanden Plas and some great keyboard embellishments from Danielle Liverani. However the icing on the cake is the band's newly-recruited vocalist Oliver Hartmann. The At Vance singer has impressive power and expressivity in his voice - his contribution alone, has the ability to raise this band towards the top of the league.
A couple of the songs do wander around a little too much and lose their focus and the horribly obvious chorus of Don't Stop Me followed by the horribly tame ballad Stay does bring things to a halt halfway through the album. Yet overall this is a very promising release.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Dreamtone - Unforeseen Reflections
Tracklist: Blind Man [inst] (1:20), Roots (4:02), War Of Worlds (3:20), Pre-arranged Overture (5:03), This Flickering Light (3:49), Thus It Ends In Misery (5:40), A Faith Collapsed (5:03), The Sacrifice (3:43), Circus of Circumstances (inst.) (4:31), The Last Breath (4:01), The Dawn (2:33)
Dreamtone is a progmetal band hailing from Turkey and although some rock music finds its way to the rest of europe, Turkish bands are not that common. Based on the impression this band makes, I hope more will follow in the future.
The band comprise of five members, ranging in age from 18 to 22 years old and describing their music as power-progressive metal with some old school heavy and trash metal influences. Specifically the trash metal influences are very audible but I don't really understand the power part, might be that my standard is somewhat heavier. Of the references mentioned by the band I only know Blind Guardian and I can hear the reason for this.
This is black CD, I mean the data side of this CD is coloured black (as used in Playstations for instance). It does not play at all on my computer, luckily it plays on my CD player and Discman but I had to type the track information as I could not use my computer to retrieve it form the internet. I don't know if it is a coincidence that it plays on my audio players perfectly, might also be a problem. fact is the black disc looks real cool.
This is very guitar oriented (duh..) progmetal, quick and melodic guitar loops form the basis to the tracks on this album. The rest of the band are not just innocent bystanders: superb speedy drums, spheric keyboards, very specific vocals. All tracks are very inventive but not too far fetched and the songs are catchy (subsequent spins made me discover more). I am not too keen on the vocals though and it took me some time to realize that it is not Oganalp's voice (which is pretty good and a bit out of the ordinary), but something else. In fact it is Oganalp's English pronunciation that needs some brushing up on, and this same criticism can be levelled at the production: the vocals need a much clearer sound. To be honest the production as a whole is not too good, but it is strange that the vocals suffer from it this much.
Would Dreamtone have been a well established band the (keyboard) violins on some of the tracks would have been played by real violins and this would have added much to the bombast and grandness of the compositions. I hope in the future a record label makes it possible for these guys to spend some money on that. Which also makes my opinion on this album clear. It is a demo slash album and it is best if these youngsters run into someone of a record label soon. Oganalp will then have started his opera education which I am sure will improve his singing. I must also add that I like singers with a bit of a particular voice, I even prefer it above a perfect, but one in a dozen voice. Anyway, I hope this is not the last we hear of this band, it might need some adjustment here on there but Dreamtone is surely a diamond in the rough.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Cans - Beyond The Gates
Tracklist: Fields Of Yesterday (4:40), Soul Collector (3:35), Red Light (4:35), Back To Hell (3:26), Beyond The Gates (5:16), The Key (4:45), Garden Of Evil (4:21), Merciless (3:15), Silent Cries (4:05), Dreams (4:15), Signs (4:20), Forever Ends (4:22)
Best known as the frontman for million-selling Swedish metal act Hammerfall, vocalist Joachim Cans has been in a bad mood. Alone in a hotel room in France with his band mates out celebrating another successful show, Joachim is having to save his voice and decides he is bored. 'In my next life I'm gonna be a bass player' he promises to himself. But stick with his current life he decides to find an outlet for his energies and spends a night completing the basic plans for what is to become is first solo album.
Back at home after the tour, he again finds himself under-occupied and brings out some musical ideas he has been longing to explore, but ones that would never work with his main band. Rather than just invite a bunch of guest musicians in for a session, Joachim decided he wanted to get a genuine band feeling to the album. Mat Sinner (Primal Fear), Mark Zonder (Fates Warning) Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford) and Hammerfall guitarist Stefan Elmgren make a very attractive line-up.
The result is a superb slice of very dark, very heavy, slightly progressive and very melodic metal that has come out under the simple banner of Cans. Now, I've never been attracted by Hammerfall at all - their choruses and melody lines are far too cheesy for my tastes. But let off the leash, Cans has produced a mature, dark album that has come as a huge but very pleasant surprise.
Cans has also brought in some big names to help with the songwriting. The title song comes from the pen of David T Chastain while the final track, the ballad Set The World On Fire comes from Jeff Waters (Annihilator). The combination of quality songwriting and quality musicians can therefore mean only one thing - a top quality album.
The opening salvo of Fields of Yesterday, Soul Collector and the first single, Red Light don't let up at all, with some brilliant melodies over pounding riffs. Back To Hell is a little derivative but it's back on target with the epic-in-miniature of the progressively dark title track and the fascinating female choir vocals that accompany The Key.
Metal Mike and Mat Sinner deliver some gloriously dark riffs and flowing solos and as you'd expect from the man who handles the beats for the legendary Fates Warning, Mark Zonder drives every track perfectly. Cans himself has a somewhat limited range but here he uses it to the max' - a sure sign of a very skilled singer.
I managed to see the band's debut live performance at the recent 2000 Decibel Festival in Sweden and with the energy and fire of the live performance, the songs came over even better. The album has just entered the Swedish charts at number 20 and more live dates and festival performances are being planned. Somehow I don't think this will be the last album to come out under the Cans banner.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Endusk - Point 0 One
Tracklist: 4 (5:16), Ecclesiasties (4:55), Moth (5:45), Omen (5:12), Hightide (4;53), Ink (7:51)
Coming to your stereo all the way from Sydney, Australia, Endusk delivers a liberating style of progressive rock music with alluring female vocals, driving guitars and almost tribal drumming that both pushes back a few musical boundaries and provides an enduring listen. Although labelled as an EP, Point 0 One has six songs that clock in at an enjoyable 33 minutes - so a mini-album may be a more generous description. And the first thing that hits you when you press 'play' is that this is a band with a very distinctive sound, due mainly to the indigenous background of its members. Singer Rachel hails from the Pacific Islands, while drummer Preston and Michael on percussion have aboriginal backgrounds. The sextet of tunes, all possess a rhythmic, emotional and dynamic sound, showing a young band not afraid to follow its instincts.
Opener 4 is a mid-paced moody rocker which begins by mixing heavily-distorted guitar with clean guitar to good effect. There's a nice change of mood in the middle with bongo drums and a jingly guitar, before it builds nicely back to the opening refrain. Ecclesiasties is built on a deep, bouncy guitar riff. Another change of pace mid-section, takes the listener into a cool U2 sort of direction. The Aboriginal percussion mixes with acoustic guitar to give a much lighter, even folkish feel to Moth. This time, the mid-section build upwards, when the guitars and drums kick-in to a great little solo from six stringer Adrian Leighton.
In a crowded marketplace, a band needs to carve out its own identity. And it is in the percussion and drumming that Endusk really could develop a unique and very appealing sound of its own. It's at the opening of Omen that the percussion is fully-exposed, launching what is probably the catchiest song on offer. It's also here that Rachel's voice impresses, as it adapts its tone and density to the mood of each song. With female vocalists currently in vogue, this has to be another plus point for the band.
This is obviously done on a limited budget, so comes with plenty of rough edges and the occasional missed note. And at times there is a feeling of 'work in progress' where the complex arrangements don't quite fit together or flow as well as they could. The album closes with Ink, which mixes some nice progressive elements with more of Rachels' breathy vocals. There's also some great vocal harmonies on this final track, which serves to both add an extra dimension and make you wonder why the band didn't use them before.
So overall, 'Point 0 One' is a very mature and exciting debut from a band that has huge potential, to develop a sound that will ensure the name Endusk stands out in a crowd.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Prototype - Trinity
Tracklist: Live A Lie (4:31), Pure (4:53), Utopia (2:42), Trinity (5:02), Shine (5:14), By Breeze (2:40), Dead Of Jericho (6:51), I Know You (2:23), Mind In Motion (4:50), Relativity (4:47)
Seven years between albums? Yep Prototype makes Def Leppard look prolific! The last mini-album from this LA combo came out in 1997 under the title Clone. The delay hasn't all been their fault. It was released last year in the US and South America, since when their management has struggled to find a label to release it in Europe (the first one went bust before even releasing an album for Christ's sake!)
So after the long wait - was it worth it! Well in a nutshell - yes! I did catch this band on their debut European gig at last year's Headway Festival in Holland and can't recall enjoying them as much on stage as I did through the headphones. Not a band to put an easy label on, Prototype shift fairly effortlessly between the aggression of 80's Thrash bands like Testament and Megadeth, up to the more elegant Prog Rock of Rush and down to the more simplified American Progpower Metal of say Steel Prophet.
Trinity has a few really memorable tracks, with the rest being memorably enjoyable. Of the memorable tracks By Breeze and Dead of Jericho hark back to the early days of Metallica; Pure has some lovely delicate interplay with acoustic guitars, and the title track is a brooding, sulking monster that really shows what this band is capable of. Let's hope album number three arrives sometime this decade.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Platitude - Nine
Tracklist: Dark Mind (3:25), Trust (3:05), 3. Oblivion (3:15), Halcyon Days (4:45), Catch 22 (3:42), Avalon Farewell (6:07), Skies Of Xenon (3:51), Falling (6:10), Aeronautica (3:37), Endless (3:35), Starlight (7:59)
This young Danish band fairly bounded onto the scene last year with the enjoyable Secrets Of Life disc that finally nestled just outside my Top Ten discs for the year. A European tour with fellow Danes Manticora followed, with a couple of dates in support of Threshold in Germany and a successful appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival. I was looking forward to this a lot.
Like the debut, the band has again recruited famed producer Tommy Hansen (Helloween, Pretty Maids) and again the seven-man line-up features both a twin guitar and a twin keyboard attack. However that's where the similarities end. Gone is the neo-classical and often hard rock leanings of the debut. In comes a more symphonic, melodic metal sound mixed with a clear progressive tendency.
There are some catchy choruses, some absolutely spellbinding instrumental sections and some memorable riffs. Dark Mind opens the album with a manic riff, some strong melodies and a clear impression that someone likes SymphonyX. On tracks like this, the use of two keyboard players really is the band's trump card. The way that Wachen and Andreas swap runs on tracks like Oblivion and also the way they interplay with the two guitars, can be spellbinding.
However, having stuck with this record for a couple of weeks, I am left feeling that the band is just trying too hard to cram a litre into a pint glass. There's a bit of bluesy hard rock on Oblivion; Trust is a slice of progressive AOR; Dark Mind is symphonic metal and Halycon Days is a slab of keyboard-driven melodic metal that wouldn't be out of place on the new Magnitude Nine album.
Attempting so many varying styles - often within the same song - a band must have a vocalist who has the range and style to adapt to the various moods. Unfortunately Erik Blomkvist isn't very well qualified. Thanks in part to a good use of harmonies, he gets through most tracks but too often he is the weakest link. On Oblivion his voice is just weak where it should be soulful and the low notes needed for the uptempo Catch 22 sees him totally out of his depth.
Nine does have its moments - those that sound like SymphonyX and Magnitude Nine in particular - and this is still a band with huge potential. However I think they desperately need to focus on their strengths - not try to blend so many styles - and maybe rethink the vocals. Not in the same class as the debut - therefore a step backwards. Very disappointing.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
VII Gates - Fire, Walk With Me
Tracklist: Bounded by Hate (5:30), The Saviour (3:17), Seconds Left To Live (4:03), Under the Crossed Bones (5:30), So Far Away (6:14), Tormented (4:38), Love Bullet (4:19), A Dark Room Of My Mind (7:13), Like A Rock (3:56), The Madman Inside (7:26)
It's taken three demo tapes and five years but finally Sweden's VII Gates has secured a record deal and the release of their debut album entitled Fire Walk With Me. Formed by guitarist JJ Rockford in 1999, the band is the latest to make it out of the burgeoning Swedish underground scene. Aggressive, progressive power metal, with the emphasis on the metal, is what these guys deliver with some conviction.
The band's greatest strength is in the guitar work of Rockford and his partner Robert Makek who produce a cacophony of ever-changing riffs. In terms of the songs, the focus is on short, sharp and to the point hooks. When the two elements fit together, the results can be impressive. Bounded By Hate, which opens the album, and Seconds Left To Live are great little songs. Vocalist Chris Blackburn delivers the more metallic numbers with plenty of bite, but lacks the variety of tone and style to raise the more predictable melodies to a higher level. His noticeable accent may be off-putting to some as well. There's a decent power ballad in So Far Away and there's some nice little touches here and there. The accordion used to support the riffing guitars on The Saviour is the sort of thing I feel the band really needs to develop more of in the future.
The album features guest appearances from Kee Marcello (Europe), Chris Arnott (Arch Enemy), Tommy Denander (Radioactive) and the choirs and backing vocals come courtesy of Stefan Ingelstrand and Apollo of Time Requiem and Meduza.
Overall, Fire Walk With Me doesn't really maintain the promise shown by the first few tracks but it's the best album I've yet to hear from the Sound Riot label and as such, provides a good platform from which this band can grow. However, the photo of bikini-clad ladies spread over the bonnet of a car on the back cover is just sad!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Skylark - Wings
Tracklist: Rainbow In The Dark (9:07), Summer Of 2001 (5:12), Another Reason To Believe (5:22), Belzebu 2 (9:33), Faded Fantasy (3:45), Last Ride (9:00), A Stupid Song (5:52), When Love And Hate Collide (4:30)
Skylark started in 1994 as a project by keyboard player Eddy Antonini to create a band where he could combine his favourite musical tastes - neoclassical and power metal. Using musicians from the northern Italian underground scene, his band has put out eight releases in the past nine years shifting a respectable number of copies across the world.
For the latest effort, it appears Eddy has quite literally taken to his wings for the band's most wide-ranging release to date. In his own words: 'This is our most dynamic and introspective album - full of elements of prog, hard rock and metal connected to our classical style.' The result is a very dynamic and adventurous collection of seven songs that will interest anyone with a taste for instrumental-dominated metal that refuses to stick to known formulas. Three of the tracks clock in at nine minutes plus - all of which have extensive instrumental sections dominated by the keyboard and orchestral arrangements of Eddy.
Hailed as the first stage of a two-part project, I don't have a lyric sheet, but from what I can make out, it appears to be some sort of fantasy tale involving devils and princesses based around the battle between good and evil. (Aren't they all?) There's some nice ideas and melodic lines floating around here. I especially like some of the unusual vocal harmonies that are used throughout the album. Fabio Dozzo meets the challenge with a fairly restrained but heavily accented vocal, supported on several songs by a new female singer, Kiara.
There's also a orchestral-piano cover version of the Def Leppard ballad When Love and Hate Collide where Kiara takes the spotlight but which isn't really a patch on the original.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
After The Silence - Final Fantasy
Tracklist: Final Fantasy (6:18), Weary Angels Heart (5:08), C’est la Vie (6:14), Resurrection (6:53)
After The Silence is a Dutch melodic hard rock band with a female singer. The band has some symphonic, classical and progressive rock influences and they make music since 2000. In 2003 they recorded some songs and these got a good response, although I must admit that this is the first time that I hear their music. In October 2003 they recorded this mini-cd called Final Fantasy and after listening to it for a few times my conclusion is, that this is not my cup of tea.
The sound of the band reminds me of “old” prog “heroes” like Tracy Hitchings and Blindsyde; rather boring and out of time. Especially the voice of Ingrid van den Hof does not appeal to me. Take for example the last track, which is a dull piano ballad, with rather annoying vocals and a terrible hollow sounding guitar solo. The “best” of the four tracks is the opener, which at least sounds a bit “fresh” and up-to-date because of the chunky guitar parts. C’est La Vie is a bit of a weird song with some jazzy and sometimes poppy musical structures. Well, at least I am glad that is this only a mini-album, so after 24 minutes it is over and I can listen to some real progressive music again. I really do not understand why this band got so many good reviews…. But maybe I am wrong, and I do not know how to appreciate this music in the right way???
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Dreamscape - End Of Silence
Tracklist: Clockwork (6:14), Short Time News (5:46), The End Of Light (20:49), All I Need (3:45), Silent Maze (7:33), Flow (7:12), More Than (6:22), Infected Ground (7:47), You Don't Know Me (7:02)
Has the Progressive Metal sub-genre finally run out of steam? Well, that's the question currently being discussed on the numerous web forums that cover band's who sit under such a banner. Dream Theater's desire to become Metallica was one signal. Magnitude Nine's decision to become melodic rockers another and I've just heard the 'we want to be Nickelback' single from Swedish ProgMetallers Mister Kite.
Personally I feel bands like Pain of Salvation and SymphonyX along with upcoming acts like Zero Hour, Textures and Power of Omens still have more ideas and song writing talent in their little plectrums than most of the mainstream metal acts doing the rounds. Yet albums such as this offering from German band Dreamscape, can only add fuel to the fire for those who want to dismiss ProgMetal to the land of re-issues.
Hailing from Munich, Dreamscape came onto the scene in 1997 with the release of Trance Like State, followed two years later by Very with Hubi Meisel on vocal duties. This is their major label debut, but sadly the band has managed to come up with nothing more than a Dream Theater rip-off.
I'm no great fan of reviewers who compare every progressive metal album to Labrie, Petrucci and co. In reality only a small fraction give more than a nod to the genre's flag bearers. However The End of Silence dips so freely into the 'pick and mix' bucket that holds the riffs and melodic lines from the DT back catalogues, that I really have no other option.
To add to the drudgery, Roland Stoll has a good voice, but I just don't like the way he sings. I get the feeling he is saying the lyrics but not really singing, really feeling them. Likewise, the musicianship is flawless but lacks any great sense of passion, drama or emotion. I've given it four plays and absolutely nothing has stuck in my musical memory at all. And with nine tracks dragged out over 72-plus minutes, a bit tighter editing would have been welcome.
I guess some will love this for its instrumental workouts and musical variation, and if you wish DT had never progressed from Edge of Infinity then this may be worth a listen. However, all I can say is that my bank statement arrived in the same post as this CD and to be honest it probably provided me with more entertainment. Dull! Dull! Dull!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10