Issue 2005-032: Prog Metal Special
Reviews in this issue:
- Shadow Gallery - Room V (Duo Review)
- Iced Earth - Gettysburg (1863) [DVD] (Duo Review)
- Evergrey - A Night To Remember [DVD]
- Beyond Twilight - Section X
- Wingdom - Reality
- Pantommind - Shade Of Fate
- At War With Self - Torn Between Dimensions
- Demons & Wizards – Touched By The Crimson King
- Balance Of Power - Heathenology
- Ephemeral Sun – Broken Door
- Biomechanical - The Empires Of The Worlds
- Azazello - Seventh Heaven
- Albert Mamsto Trio - Strange Fruits
- SceneS - Call Me On The Number You Provide
- Frantic Bleep – The Sense Apparatus
- Order Of Nine - Seasons of Reign
- Lalu - Oniric Metal
- Tears - Falling Certainty [EP]
Shadow Gallery - Room V
ACT III: Manhunt (2:07), Comfort Me (6:49), The Andromeda Strain (6:44), Vow (8:25), Birth of a Daughter (2:38), Death of a Mother (2:13), Lamentia (1:02)
ACT IV: Seven Years (3:35), Dark (1:01), Torn (8:21), The Archer of Ben Salem (7:26), Encrypted (7:59), Room V (7:42), Rain (8:59)
In the ProgMetal hierarchy Shadow Gallery are generally regarded among the more successful and innovative bands around. In terms of sales, not in the same league as Dream Theater, Fates Warning or Queensrÿche, nor quite as successful as the likes of Symphony X or Pain of Salvation. However their five albums in 13 years have been of a consistently high standard to have won a solid fan base across the world.
The fact that there’s an average three years between albums shows that a lot of care and artistic detail goes into their work and this, their first release for the Inside Out label, is clearly sticking to the tried and tested formula.
Room V thematically and musically continues on from 1998’s concept album Tyranny, which dealt with a story of two humans in search of a new identity. The story of Room V begins eight hours on from the end of Tyranny, dealing with the already familiar characters and their lives. Both are planning to finish with their past, but they realise that with everything they want to leave behind; there is the beginning of something new.
Act I and Act II from Tyranny are now followed with 14 individual chapters that form Acts III and IV; in which the band explore the complete spectrum of progressive rock/metal from hard edged rock through to softer, more atmospheric sounds. Mastered by Jeff Glixman, (Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Kansas and Cinderella) the sound is one of the strongest points with a balanced mix of striking heaviness and atmospheric depth.
Now I’m not a great fan of track-by-track album reviews but every so often an album comes along where I feel it’s the only way to convey what can be found within. Last year, I think Pain Of Salvation’s 12:5 was the only album that I felt needed such treatment. Now it’s the turn of Shadow Gallery – and just for a change, I’ve also given each track/section an individual mark as well.
Manhunt: Serves as a short introductory instrumental but also as a good musical summary for the album as a whole, in the way it mixes the light and shade. It opens in a quite furious way with guitars to the fore, only to slow down with a great combination of light guitar and piano. (7)
Comfort: The first proper song is a really enjoyable, mid-paced, rock ballad where Mike Baker repeats a duet with Laura Jaeger (heard previously on the Tyranny album). We open with acoustic guitar, flute and piano. The only heavy element is a blistering guitar solo two thirds of the way in. The two voices work the gentle melody superbly. My only reservation is for any listeners new to the band, it would surely be better to have set it’s stall out with the normal members first, before introducing a guest for what is her only appearance. (9)
The Andromeda Strain: The first heavy song of the album and another highlight. A deep, thumpy riff opens things up in quite a modern hard rock vein. There’s a more catchy, immediate hook and some extended workouts involving guitars, keyboards and bass – plus that piano again. Very reminiscent of the up-tempo Tyranny numbers. (9)
Vow: Get your cigarette lighters out for this one folks. Baker’s voice soars effortlessly through what is in effect a classic AOR ballad. The drums and guitar don’t even feature until a third of the way in. Some may find it a little too formulaic in the way it builds gently before fading towards the end. Not the first time I’ll say this – but it seems to go on for about a minute too long. (6)
Birth Of A Daughter/Death Of A Mother/Lamentia: Listed as three separate tracks on the sleeve but really this is just one instrumental dramatic theme covering three incidents which are described perfectly by the titles. The first part is the sort of music that television producers use when they have pictures of springtime with lots of flowers opening into bloom. It then shifts suddenly into a flurry of keys and guitars – the best bit so far for lovers of pure progressive metal. The second part is equally as heavy - verging on Scandie Speed Metal at times – but doesn’t really have any coherent theme to it. The final section is a short piano and acoustic piece with the vocal refrain of the chorus from Vow. The magnificent voice of Baker shines out again here. (7)
Seven Years: Now this is where things begin to falter for me. It’s been more than 10 minutes of listening since any thing happened song wise. I appreciate the need for dramatic effect but I really feel a bit more could have been done in the pacing of the album to give it a better flow. This again features the flute and has rather a folky appeal but is really just killing more time. (5)
Dark: Glass smashes, electronic generated atmosphere – another minute passes by. It does manage to put you ready for what is about to happen. (-)
Torn: A plucked electric guitar intro and a real bluesy lilt to Baker’s voice brings to mind the 80s hard rock of say Y&T. The lush, layered vocal harmonies verge on a cappella at times, bringing to mind classic AOR again. Then, just as the song builds and you feel it is about to let loose with the guitars…….in comes the flute! Frustrating and clever in equal measures. The best and most immediate melody on the album is found here, as is one of the best guitar solos. Again it’s strung out for about two minutes longer than necessary though and fades to its close. (8)
The Archer of Ben Salem: Quite a change in style. The song kicks in quite heavy but with an almost Celtic rhythm. The Hammond organ gives it a different feel too. Overall, probably the heaviest song in the album with a lengthy yet superb, textbook ProgMetal riffing orgy bringing the second half of the song (and the album) to life. They do this sort of thing so well, I just wish it featured more often. (8)
Encrypted: An atmospheric slice of progressive AOR in the mould of Cannata. There’s a nice melody but it’s a bit one-paced and again it doesn’t stray too far from the basic idea. Another good, bluesy guitar solo at the end.
Room V: The absolute album highlight. A really heavy song built upon a great metallic swagger in the guitar refrains. The catchy vocal lines work great in a more heavy rock chorus, while those layered harmonies give the verses that AOR vibe to hold things back. Although a manic bass, guitar and keyboard section occupies much of the time, this is the catchiest song on the disk. (10)
Rain: With a lengthy instrumental start (roughly two minutes) this again drifts between progressive hard rock and AOR with many similarities to Enchant and Fates Warning. It’s the only time that I’m not totally convinced of the vocals – is the key and/or range best suited to Mike Baker? The guitar work however keeps up the impeccable standard it has maintained throughout. Also, is a long, faded outro the best way to end such an album? A bitter-sweet ending both in terms of the style and substance. (6)
So overall, listening to this album is a mixture of jumping off the highest diving board and treading water in the shallow end. For existing fans of the band and lovers of the lighter, more atmospheric and instrumental brand of progressive metal, then this will probably be a contender for album of the year. However, I’m not convinced that it covers enough new ground to extend the bands fan base too much and personally it is just a bit too inconsistent (and drawn out) to warrant too many repeated listens. A good but not a great album.
PS: As is traditional with Inside Out, this album will be released as both a standard single CD and a special edition double CD with slipcase, extended booklet, bonus tracks and video segment.
The sextet of Shadow Gallery returns some four years after their last effort, Legacy, with Room V, another prog-metal epic. Room V is intended to be a continuation of their 1998 album Tyranny's concept, providing Acts III and IV. Accordingly, its style is not a huge step away from that album's sound; indeed, Shadow Gallery's formidable multiple-guitar and keyboard attack remains intact.
From the moment the album opens with Manhunt, you know this album is going to offer few compromises to those who dislike "metal". This track, as a kind of overture, contains several musical references to Tyranny. Mike Baker's return on Comfort Me reveals that his voice has not suffered in the last four years - or indeed since 1992. The album develops in a similar vein, alternating heavier pieces like The Andromeda Strain, featuring the characteristic triple-guitar harmony set-pieces, majestic melodies on Vow, and softer acoustic guitar/piano on Lamentia. Highlights include the jazz-swing technicality of the title track, the sweet instrumentation of Seven Years, including a wonderful slide-harmony solo, and the dramatic power of Death of a Mother.
If there is to be a criticism of this album, it must lie in the immediacy of the songs - there's nothing here as instantly memorable as I Believe on Tyranny, for example (although Torn comes close). There are a lot of short songs in the first half of the album; I appreciate their dramatic necessity, but from a purely musical viewpoint, the balance could perhaps have been improved. Viewing this as act 3 of Tyranny helps a lot, but as a standalone album it seems a little weak.
This album is unlikely to win them new fans, but existing Shadow Gallery fans will find this album as powerful as any of their prior albums. It rewards repeated listens, and those who enjoyed the heaver Ayreon will discover much to like about Room V. I, for one, will be picking this one up on release. Beginners to Shadow Gallery should, however, start at Tyranny and Legacy.
Iced Earth - Gettysburg (1863)
DVD 1: The Devil To Pay – Hold At All Costs – High Water Mark – Gettysburg Battlefield Tour – Spirit of ’76 – Photo Gallery – Trailer
DVD 2: Video: When The Eagle Cries – Video: The Reckoning – Jon Schaffer interview
The CD The Glorious Burden is a very good metal record with as absolute highlight the second part being the Gettysburg song. Last year Iced Earth played at the Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium and there they performed that 24 minute epic metal hymn, leaving the crowd in almost utter confusion… Now the band releases their first DVD ever and it mainly deals with the Gettysburg drama. This DVD was made for the USA, after so much interest in the album and the song from media and young metal fans, Jon Schaffer decided to try to get younger American metal fans into history and its ramifications. The release of this DVD in Europe is in a way secondary to the intention of it in the USA. But because Jon Schaffer counts on his European fan base and does not want to let them out the DVD will be available in limited numbers in Europe as well.
The first DVD starts with an epic video in 3 chapters featuring the complete Gettysburg track and as I already wrote in my review of the CD that is a super metal epic track with lots of great melodies, guitar riffs, dramatic vocals, orchestral parts and also an interesting topic. Along side the excellent music you can watch pictures and images of the Gettysburg battle and this makes the music even more interesting. Choose the 5.1 metal mix, blend in the original lyrics and you will be amazed. After that excellent piece of metal music you can see Jon Schaffer at the actual battleground in Gettysburg together with guide Ted Gajweski, who explains the different stages of the battle, which is only interesting for a couple of minutes actually….. The Spirit Of ’76 features Jon giving a tour in his art gallery and shop, which he recently opened in Columbus.
DVD 2 features 2 videos, the first one being an acoustic version of the song When The Eagle Cries, which deals with the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Jon and Tim “Ripper” are the only two Iced Earth members in that video, while the entire band is featured in the second video The Reckoning. The DVD ends with a 50 minutes interview with Jon Schaffer. It is really hard to “judge” these DVDs, but I actually like the first DVD with the music of the Gettysburg song and the pictures that tell you an additional story; the rest of the first DVD is only interesting for real die-hards. The 2 videos on DVD 2 are rather “weak”; especially the acoustic version of When The Eagle Cries and the interview is something that you watch once in a lifetime. However the package really looks beautiful and for Iced Earth fans it is certainly worthwhile to check out…..
The stand out track from their 2004 release The Glorious Burden, Gettysburg (1863) is a 30-odd minute symphonic epic which, as well as being one of the most musically accomplished pieces of Iced Earth’s career to date, was also notable for the thoroughness of the concept – a retelling of one of the key battles of the American Civil War. Iced Earth mainman Jon Schaffer is clearly passionate about this subject, and this showed through both through the elaborate construction of the piece itself and also in the well written liner notes, which clearly showed what each section was illustrating and the moods and atmosphere that were being captured.
With this 2 DVD set Schaffer has gone one stage further. As clearly stated in the promotional material this is not really intended for mass consumption, but is instead aimed at informing younger American metal fans about events in their history. This is obviously commendable, and is clearly a labour of love for Schaffer, but I have my doubts as to whether he will really achieve his aim with this effort.
The centrepiece is a video accompaniment to Gettysburg (1863) itself. This basically consists of panned shots of the locations, photo-montages of the key characters and maps of the battle sites, and some rather low-budget effects shots (cannon’s firing and that sort of thing). It is not, it must be said, the most visually arresting film I’ve seen, and unfortunately the visuals really do come off as quite amateurish at times. I’d have my doubts about whether the intended audience, weaned as they have been on state-of-the-art computer games and blockbuster films, will be either particularly impressed with the visuals here, or in fact have the attention span to last the whole 30 minutes – I was struggling myself, I must admit. The song is available in an ‘orchestral’ or a ‘metal’ mix, but such bells and whistles can’t disguise the fact that Schaffer had done a good enough job with the music and original liner notes on the CD album version – this comes across as unnecessary.
Elsewhere on the first DVD is a section where Schaffer, assisted by a tour guide, talks further about the battle – again there’s no doubting Schaffer’s knowledge and enthusiasm, but personally if I wanted to know more about the events I’d rather read about a book about them. There’s also a piece on Schaffer’s ‘Spirit of 76’ shop, which specialises in military miniatures – basically a bit of a promo piece.
The second DVD is marginally more interesting for the typical Iced Earth fan. The centrepiece here is a lengthy interview with Schaffer, covering a wide range of topics. Although the questioning is hardly particularly challenging, Schaffer does have some interesting things to say, and isn’t afraid of shying away from more awkward topics, such as the oft-mentioned rumour that he’s difficult to work with. Unfortunately Schaffer tends to ramble on at length rather than get to the point, and once again I found my attention wandering – at one point I found myself more interested in watching Schaffer’s dog messing around in the foreground (the interview is filmed at his home) than what its owner was saying! Basically with some judicious editing this would make a good 2 or 3 page magazine article, but stretched for about 50 minutes of straight-to-the-camera chat its way too long. Rounding off the DVD are a couple of promo videos from The Glorious Burden album. The Reckoning is basically a simple ‘band in a room performing the song’ type affair, and again comes across as very low budget – I know Iced Earth aren’t millionaires, but would have thought they could have produced something more professional looking than this. When The Eagle Cries, which is about the events of 9/11, has Schaffer and vocalist Tim Owens performing the song set against a mock up of the Twin Towers – to be honest I found this rather mawkish, although I guess its effect depends on your stomach for this sort of thing.
Overall then, I must admit that this definitely comes under the ‘for dedicated fans only’ banner. Gettysburg (1863) is undoubtedly a great track, but the video really doesn’t add much value, and the rest of the material on offer is of the ‘one watch only’ variety at best. A disappointing package from a usually very reliable band.
Evergrey - A Night To Remember
DVD 1: Intro (1:38), Blinded (4:45), End Of Your Days (4:38), More Than Ever (5:17), She Speaks To The Dead (4:16), Rulers Of The Mind (5:33), Blackened Dawn (4:04), Waking Up Blind (4:05), As I Lie Here Bleeding (4:42), Mislead (7:24), Mark Of The Triangle (6:57), When The Walls Go Down (5:28), Harmless Wishes (4:38), Essence Of Conviction (6:07), Solitude Within (5:47), Nosferatu (5:41), Recreation Day (7:24), For Every Tear That Falls (5:22), Touch Of Blessing (7:18), The Masterplan (11:13)
DVD 2 [Backstage]: The Dark Discoveries, The Solitude Episodes, European Adventures 2001, In Search Of Truth, The Recreation Days, North American Fairytales, The Shocking Truth, North America 2004, Inside The Inner Circle, Interviews: In Bed With Evergrey, In Bed With Tom, In Bed With Michael, In Bed With Henrik, In Bed With Rikard, In Bed With Jonas, Geartalk: with Tom, Jonas, Henrik, Michael, Arnold's Mixing School, E-TV Cribs: A Tour Of The Evergrey's Headquarters, Videos: For Every Tear That Falls, The Masterplan, Blinded, I'm Sorry, More Than Ever, A Touch Of Blessing.
A Night to Remember is the registration of the Evergrey concert in Gothenburg. Earlier a CD was released and now (finally) the DVD has been released. This is the first Evergrey DVD ever and in it they have embraced the medium fully. The Box contains 2 DVD's: the first one contains the complete registration of the concert the second one contains the extras.
Contrary to the CD the sound of this live registration is superb! It has the same live feel as the CD but with a stunning sound quality. The DTS mix really does the music justice, it's a uplifting sensation when this music flows out of all the speakers loudly! Of course there's audience sounds on the rear channels but with music mixed in.
Starting with footage of a venue packed with cheering an clapping people, Evergrey appear on stage. On the dark stage the intro changes into the first loops of Blinded. And from that point onward you have embarked on a highly energetic ride. Track after track you see the band having fun and this infects the audience which in turn infects the band to do even better. There is not much talking in between the tracks, the music should speak for itself. Only the tracks Waking Up Blind and For Every Tear That Falls give you some time to rest but the first is embedded between Blackened Dawn and As I Lie Here Bleeding and the second between Recreation Day and A Touch Of Blessing all four of them energetic tracks. Because of the CD it was already known that this concert includes the sequencer filled track When the Walls Go Down. It is not an obvious choice but the way it is presented here makes it awesome. The audience does not get much time to ponder over it because this highlight is followed directly by Harmless Wishes.
Unfortunately this concert does not have the intimate interaction Evergrey normally have with their fans. There is a large interaction but contrary to what happens at smaller Evergrey concerts no blinks or waves when one of the band members suddenly recognizes someone in the audience. Probably this is too big of a venue for that. But still there is a very noticeable connection between band and audience. Imagine being there and having fun is not hard at all, so it really is a night to remember.
Numerous camera's have been used to record this video. Band shots are from almost every angle and now and again a camera floats above the heads of the audience and zooms in on the band. Here and there the video has some graininess, probably added afterwards for extra effect, because other parts of the video are crystal clear. A lot of shots have been made from different camera view points, it is a pity that these were not used to create multi-angle tracks. But because the concert has been edited this good, this is only a small remark.
And then there's the DVD with the extra's and they are amazing! If you have been at a concert you know these guys show genuine interest in their fans. I think this second DVD full of extra's is again proof of that: what we have her is six and a half hours (!) of interviews, gear talk, videos and on the road home videos. Where some bands do it the easy way: slap some left over footage on DVD these guys actually sat down and did over 2 hours of interviews and gear talk. The questions in these interviews have been sent in by fans after an request on the Evergrey web site. This means that most of the questions bring up things you always wanted to know about Evergrey. These interviews are taken by no other than our own Andy Read (he's on screen for about 20 seconds at the end of the interview). And what's also fun: he gets to ask one of the questions I sent in. So one might say there is a 'large' DPRP input especially if you know that one of our former team members, Mattias Noren did the artwork for the cover. The one on one interviews are cut with old footage of the band member in question, some of them looked really goofy back then! The on tour footage sometimes is a bit silly, often very interesting but most of all very hilarious. It shows a band having fun. Unfortunately the Evergrey music videos do not get aired on MTV very often so for most of us this is a first chance to see them.
This 2 DVD set contains an excellent registration of a live concert. The extra's make it even more valuable and I wish more bands would do stuff like this for their fans. Of course the main attraction should be the concert itself, and it is, but 6.5 hours really is a lot! So mainly because of the concert but also a bit because of the these extra's but mainly this DVD comes DPRP recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Beyond Twilight - Section X
Tracklist: Be Carefull It's My Head Too (1:02), The Path Of Darkness (6:35), Shadow Self (6:51), Sleeping Beauty (7:24), The Dark Side (4:07), Portrait F In Dark Waters (2:35), Ecstasy Arise (7:01), SectionX (9:07)
Band mastermind Finn Zierler certainly ventured into new territory in the way he approached the writing of this, his band's third album. It was composed in three different locations: the first, in total solitude locked in his attic; the second, submerged under water in a cold lake and the third stage was written living on the dark streets of London.
With all that suffering, it would be rather cruel if I had to say that this is a total waste of space. Thankfully it's the total opposite - this album has had me totally captured from the beginning to the end. I'm always keen to search for bands willing to visit new horizons and create a sound that is fresh and unique and that is what the offspring of Zieler's suffering really is - a compellingly absorbing slab of original ProgPower metal.
Zierler likes to use the term 'Cinematic' metal for his creation. There's certainly an epic dimension to this album but I feel such a description gives the impression of something that's more of a soundtrack as opposed to the more direct musical muscle we have here. Indeed, in very many respects, this album reminds me of Ark - not totally surprising in a way, as Jorn Lande was the vocalist on the band's previous release. If you think of Ark's spellbinding mix of styles, brilliant musicianship, massive doses of power and an innate sense of melody and just replace guitars with the keyboards of Finn Zieler, then that's about as close a comparison as I can muster.
After a sound-trackish intro, The Path Of Darkness slowly winds its way into a paranoid and haunting world where a brilliant hook offers a sharp contrast to a very gloomy mood - think Savatage. Almost as impressive, we find Shadow Self as another compelling song packed to the rafters with progressive twists and turns. The Ark comparison is most compelling in Sleeping Beauty where a light art-rock approach (cool piano) is interwoven with more aggressive passages. Weird in a Pain Of Salvation sorta way.
The journey reaches its depths with The Dark Side. Intense, scary vocal parts mixed with heavy riffs and a complex rhythm section makes for an almost depressing listen. However underneath lie a myriad of little details that unveil themselves slowly on repeated listens. Portrait F In Dark Waters is a short piano driven track and provides a fine musical interlude while proving that Zierler knows how to handle his instrument. The epic Ecstasy Arise has many delights and as such is my favourite track here - due mainly to a killer chorus that keeps popping its head above the eccentric keyboard and guitar wizardry.
To round things off we have Section X. A very dramatic, moody opening has a unsettlingly hypnotic rhythm that opens out into an almost AOR chorus. There's some lovely flowing guitar solos from the impressive twin guitar attack, before we are launched into a more bombastic guitar/keyboard duel that draws the album to a close. Together it provides a suitably scary ending to the album's story about a man who unfolds the mysteries of the human brain, engages in cloning and becomes mad in the process of taking over other peoples minds and bodies.
With too many bands now trying to use up every last nano-second of a CDrom's capacity - another great thing about this record, is that it's been closely edited to last just 44 minutes. There's still plenty to discover but thankfully it doesn't become overwhelming - other ProgMetal bands take note!
Other than Zieler's wizardry, the most striking contribution comes from new vocal find Kelly Sundown Carpenter. His name may be more at home in Nashville, but the American is a real tour de force. He's got a much harsher edge to his voice which really suits the dark nature of the music here, but he more than gives his predecessor a run for his money - and that no mean achievement.
As you'd expect, the rest of the band are spot on as well and although the music is generally dark and dense, the production, courtesy of Tommy Hansen's renowned Jailhouse Studio, allows all the elements to shine though.
For fans who like dramatic, dark, musically ambitious yet melodic, progressive metal with great vocals, prominent keyboards and a uniquely original sound, this will be compelling stuff. Probably the record of the year so far for me!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Wingdom - Reality
Tracklist: Time (5:14), Where Do We Go (4:35), Marionette (3:47), A Sigh Of Despair (5:14), The Essence (5:32), Everyday (5:01), Never Stop (5:37), Tomorrow (4:23), Lighthouse (6:17), Lighthouse Pt2 (12:31)
It's taken seven years for this project to get off the ground but the debut offering from these Finnish newcomers is a refreshing surprise. Despite the odd-sounding name, Wingdom could turn out to be one of the best bands the Finnish domestic scene has produced in years.
Signed to the High And Loud label at home - run by Stratovarius vocalist Timo Kotipelto - and the new A Label in the UK, the band was put together in 1998 by former Sonata Arctica members Jukka Ruotsalainen and Mikko Harkin (also ex-KenZiner). The rest of the band is made up of musicians who've played at various times with the likes of Rhapsody and Derek Sherinian.
Reality, manages to be both an instantly accessible listen and a thought-provoking release that touches on power metal, hard rock and AOR but with a healthy does of ingredients to keep even the most demanding progressive music fan happy.
Fronted by the richly resonating voice of Sami Asp, the Wingdom sound has plenty of heavy riffs, catchy choruses and subtle time changes, yet manages to combine it all into a sound that isn't really derivative of anyone else.
In terms of the performances, then it's a winner all around. I love Asp's style of powerful singing and the flowing but never over-long guitar work is equally impressive. However it is the ever-changing rhythm-making of drummer Markus Niemispelto and some delicate keyboard melodies from Mikko Harkin that really gives this record an extra dimension. The sparing use of female backing vocals also works well.
In terms of the songs, then it's variety all the way, with the opening quartet especially impressive. Time is a solid Progpower song with some nice keyboard touches; Marionette opens with a slight Dream Theater rhythm before coasting into a hook-laden melody, and Where Do We Go slows things down to a more hard rock pace. The album's trump card is the superb sing-along winner that is A Sigh Of Despair. Opening as a classy slice of Progressive AOR, Asps' voice really shines with the occasional female backing vocals. But it's when the band steps up a gear and goes for it in the metallic chorus, that the song really sticks in the memory.
The Essence is built on a great, jiggly rhythm that reminds me of fellow Scandinavian Tommy Denander's work - especially his Prisoner project, as does the more AOR strains of Tomorrow.
The ballad Everyday is a little too formulaic (piano, moody keys and strings!) while the slightly off-kilter Never Stop is one of the album's more experimental tracks. Reality closes with the two-part Lighthouse. Clocking in at over 18 minutes it mixes all the ingredients found on the album together in what is certainly the most progressive part of the disc - but as ever retaining that innate ability to pen a good melody.
Not all the tracks quite have that killer punch, but with six real quality progpower songs, some great performances and nothing that really fails, then this is well worth your attention. A very assured debut album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Pantommind - Shade Of Fate
Tracklist: Shade of Fate (5:14), Follow Me (4:34), Closer To You (6:17), Trace To Find (2:00), Spectastral (2:31), The Final Line (7:29), Why (6.45), Mindtrip (3:14) Knocking On My Door (4:08), After Rain (5:05), Orpheus Whisper (2:39)
"Bulgaria doesn't immediately come to mind as a hot-bed of musical activity but that is where the latest discovery from the respected American label, Lasers Edge, has come from. In 2000, Pantommind created their calling card to the progressive metal world - a demo that was well received in the underground press. After a series of line-up changes, the band set about recording their debut Shade of Fate".
When they hit the mark, Pantommind is a veritable tour de force of progressive metal, of the sort that will especially appeal to fans of Vanden Plas and Andromeda. From the very first chords of the title track opener, you can tell this is a band that has the ability to write a decent ProgMetal tune. There are duelling twin guitars, swathes of keyboards and in Tony Ivan they have a very promising vocalist. His phrasing is very similar to Vanden Plas' Andy Kuntz but he has a much crisper tone, without a trace of accent.
He is especially strong in the upper registers as shown on The Final Line - one of the two other standout tracks on this album. Vanden Plas again springs to mind but this track shows the band in it's most progressive vein, with one section that takes a heavy hint from 90125-era Yes and a very expressive mid-section which really shows the band's potential to create its own identity.
A similar approach reaps equal success on the following track. Why takes a more aggressive tone at the beginning and end but in between is a great neo-prog section and a wonderfully catchy chorus.
Follow Me could have been another slice of quality, as it mixes some intricate passages with direct, crunchy guitars and some more great melodies. However in stark contrast to the opening track the production is awful. The drums are way too low in the mix, as are the vocals. It may have been the intention to give a different, very distant feel to the music. But if so, the second track into a debut album is too early and anyway it fails badly, coming across as just under-produced.
Likewise the vocals are too far down in the mix on the third track. This also suffers from a rather plodding riff and doesn't really go anywhere. Add to this, three short instrumentals, an okay ballad and two other tracks which don't really develop from the initial theme, it really gives the impression of a work in progress as opposed to the finished article.
I may be being a bit harsh, and for fans of the aforementioned bands this album clearly has enough merit to warrant your time. However the lack of consistency just strikes me as a big shame, because from the three memorable tracks, Pantommind is clearly a band with huge potential.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
At War With Self - Torn Between Dimensions
Tracklist: The God Interface (4:04), Torn Between Dimensions (5:57), A Gap in the Stream of Mind Part One (4:11), Grasping at Nothing (5:22), Coming Home (5:30), The Event Horizon (5:18), A Gap in the Stream of the Mind Part 2 (7:45), Run (3:04), A Gap in the Stream of the Mind Part Three (1:37), At War With Self (7:17)
Sounding more like a mental disorder than a band, At War With Self is a new Power Prog instrumental trio formed by guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Snelwar. The band's debut album, on the new sub-label of America's Prog Metal specialist Lasers Edge, also features Michael Manring on fretless bass and e-bow and ex-Fates Warning sticksman Mark Zonder on drums and percussion.
The band serves up intense emotional pieces that cover a wide variety of styles covering such bases as King Crimson, Pink Floyd and even Metallica along with classical composers, bluegrass and jazz. This is undeniably progressive and original but has enough accessibility to appeal to both fans of instrumental albums but Prog and Metal lovers too.
Of the album Snelwar says: "I wanted to create a collection of songs where each would stand on its own, but exist as part of a greater whole. I strived to create something that would impact the listener and incorporate many stylistic influences." And that's exactly what he has achieved. An enjoyable musical journey.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Demons & Wizards – Touched By The Crimson King
Tracklist: Crimson King (5:47), Beneath These Waves (5:11), Terror Train (4:45), Seize the Day (5:22), The Gunslinger (5:13), Love’s Tragedy Asunder (5:26), Wicked Witch (3:32), Dorian (6:35), Down Where I Am (4:54), Immigrant Song (2:28)
Demons and Wizards is effectively a hobby project for two of modern power metal’s most respected figures – guitarist Jon Schaffer of American band Iced Earth, and singer Hansi Kursh of the bombastic German outfit Blind Guardian. The two issued a self titled debut back in 1999, which was well-received, and followed it with a short tour. The two apparently get along very well (not something that always seems to be the case with the notoriously ‘difficult’ Schaffer) but commitments to their day jobs has prevented a follow-up until now.
Given that Schaffer and Kursh are the main driving forces behind their respective bands, you’d expect a high quality release, and as the opening bombastic keyboard intro to Crimson King strikes up its soon apparent that this is going to be the case. This is an almost quintessential power metal track – the galloping riffs recall early Iced Earth, whilst the anthemic chorus is the sort that would get some of the more devoted fans of the genre waving plastic swords and battle axes in the air if played in concert.
Whilst this track is exactly the sort you might expect from a Schaffer-Kursh composition, the remainder of the album is surprisingly diverse. Beneath These Waves is a solid mid-tempo chugger which again features a strong chorus, with Kursh’s commanding vocals at their best. The song ends with slightly surprising but welcome atmospheric coda, featuring violin and a vocal effect that recalls that used on Black Sabbath’s Supertzar. Terror Train ups the tempo, an aggressive fast-paced sub-thrash number which features some good Maiden-esque solos from Schaffer, whilst Seize The Day is a power ballad somewhat in the vein of Iced Earth’s own When The Eagle Cries, but much stronger and less sentimental. The Gunslinger is a dramatic epic featuring lots of tempo changes and a nicely controlled mood of trepidation leading up to the big chorus. Love’s Tragedy Asunder is another mid-paced tune which recalls some of the better 80’s American ‘hair metal’ bands such as Dokken – although as you’d expect it does retain a harder edge.
There’s a little time to pause for breath with the gentle ballad Wicked Witch, before we come to what I consider to be the strongest track on the album, Dorian. Presumably based on Oscar Wilde’s book A Picture Of Dorian Gray, this is a grand symphonic epic in the tradition of both Iced Earth and Blind Guardian’s latter-day work. Particularly of note is the unconventional mid section of the song, where the melody see-saws between an interesting drum rhythm – difficult to describe, but trust me, it works well.
After this, the last two tracks are somewhat anti-climactic – Down Where I Am starts out a rather uninteresting ballad - it picks up when the drums and bass kick in, but doesn’t stay in the memory long. Immigrant Song, meanwhile, is a workmanlike but unnecessary cover of the Led Zeppelin classic which doesn’t add anything to the original and should therefore have probably been better left in the rehearsal rooms.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, well crafted album which should press all the right buttons, both for fans of the protagonists main bands and in fact for all fans of melodic but riff-heavy power metal. The symphonic sweep of tracks such as The Gunslinger and Dorian should mean that prog metal fans have something to get their teeth in to as well. I’m not sure that the (no doubt purposeful) rather raw production particularly suits the songs, but this aside this is a strong genre release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Balance Of Power - Heathenology
Disc One: Prisoner Of Pride, Fire Dance, Stranger Days, Higher Than The Sun, Seven Days Into Nevermore, The Pleasure Room, Other Side Of Paradise, Blind Man, Book Of Secrets, Savage Tears, Do You Dream Of Angels, One Voice, Against The Odds
Disc Two: Rising, Heathen Machine, Chemical Imbalance, Shelter Me, Searching For The Truth, Ten More Tales, Grand Illusion, No Place Like Home, Guitar Solo, Walking On Top Of The World, Wake Up Call, Day Breaker, Sins Of The World
Disc Three [DVD]: Features the full length concert [same set list as CD], The Story So Far Documentary, Photo Gallery, Bootleg Material
This has got to be one of the best value DVD packages you could possibly put together. Despite releasing five top quality albums and building a solid fanbase across the world, this British four-piece have never seemed to get the profile that they have so deserved. Sadly this is even more so in their home country where their total of concerts can be counted on one hand!
Their three albums with American singer Lance King - and in particular the aptly named masterpiece Perfect Balance - stand as some of the most sublime pieces of melodic progressive metal ever to be made. Last year's Heathen Machine saw King replaced by Biomechanical screamer JonK and a drift into a heavier direction. It's this release which forms the basis for Heathenology - their first live recording and DVD.
The joy of this package, is that in addition to a DVD with an above-average collection of extras, there's also the full live set on normal audio CD... PLUS a 17-track 'best of' collection covering their career to date. Overall that's a total of 25 different tracks. Value for money indeed!
Disc one (Archives of Power), stands as a perfect introduction to the band for those who have yet to come across them. It makes a pretty good stab at compiling the favourites from the four albums of the pre-Heathen Machine era and serves as a reminder of just how many great songs BoP has created.
In doing so, it ably displays the huge range of styles and moods this band is able to encompass. In many ways reminiscent of early Queensrÿche yet heavily cross-pollinated with heavy melodic metal of bands like TNT, the pure melodies of AOR bands like Journey and the pomp of Kansas and Styx. The trio of Higher Than The Sun, Book of Secrets and One Voice perfectly showcases this musical journey.
There is just one rarity on this disc, being the Japanese-only cut from Perfect Balance titled The Other Side Of Paradise - a track which this takes its cue from the lighter side of the band's repertoire but is certainly no mere afterthought.
The second disc (Heathenology Live 2004), was recorded on last year's Heathen Machine tour and documents a tight performance with a heavy emphasis on the new album along with classics and live favourites such as Ten More Tales.., Shelter Me and the powerful anthem, Day Breaker.
The trophy-winning feature though is the DVD. Besides featuring the full-length concert it also boasts a lengthy and interesting documentary with candid interviews with members of the band (conducted by Malcolm Dome).
This is split into four parts - the main one being The Story So Far and then smaller sections covering the band's image, inspiration and recording. All are interspersed with bootleg live videos and music tracks - although occasionally the music levels mean you have to strain to hear what the members are saying in the interviews.
There's also an extensive chunk of bootleg material including longer clips from their ProgPower USA and Bloodstock UK performances as well as some amusing behind the scenes footage from the band. This heavily features the shows with Lance King and provides an interesting comparison of styles and performance with the JonK material. The few clips that include rhythm guitarist Bill Yates suggest there may be a case for returning to a five-piece for live shows as the extra member adds an extra depth to both the sound and the visuals.
As for the main live DVD, it's not a big budget production (around five cameras) and the club show setting means limited lights and minimal stage set. However the performances are spot on, especially the vocal harmonies, Pete Southern's guitar work and Lionel Hicks' drumming. Tony Ritchie is the more visual member, although I'd have liked his bass to be much, much higher in the mix and could have done without the dubbed crowd noises which simply fall hopelessly flat in trying to multiply the actual crowd many times over.
While JonK can nail the notes with aplomb and at times really conveys some great emotion (the quiet section on No Place Like Home) he's not yet developed the stage presence or charisma to really whip up a crowd or convey the music in a visual form. The in-between song banter is minimal and at times he just looks a bit clumsy. A bit more footage of the crowd would have added a bit more variety and atmosphere too.
Anyhow, if you've yet to give BoP a go, then this is the perfect way to see what you've been missing. For existing fans, the live DVD and extras alone make it an essential addition. As I write this, the band has announced on its website that Jon K has decided to leave the band to concentrate on Biomechanical. As such, this also serves as a tidy way to end the first episode of the band's career. Next year is their tenth anniversary - I await the next instalment with great interest.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Ephemeral Sun – Broken Door
Tracklist: Discovery (8:11), Hands of Fire (7:53), A Blanket of Darkness (2:04), Fall Betrays the Earth . . . (2:29), . . . Winter Has No Mercy (7:53), Broken Door (1:22), Walking with Frightened Angels (5:15), The Dance (6:03), Interlude (0:43), Rats (5:29), Approaching Acheron (6:59), A Song for Twilight (17:12)
In five years, I want you all to look back and remember that you read it here first. I’m about to outline the three directions that mainstream heavy metal is going to take in the second half of this decade. By “mainstream,” I simply mean to exclude the underground scene, which will, I hope, continue to develop in wonky, unpredictable, delightful ways. I’m thinking here of the bands that might conceivably be invited to play Ozzfest – on the second stage, at least, if not on the main stage.
The main trend I see is towards a genuine new metal – not the “nü-metal” unwittingly inaugurated by Anthrax and best represented by Korn and Limp Bizkit and the like, the kind that has, thankfully, pretty much died out. The real new-metal sound is what we hear in such bands as Drowning Pool, Soil, and – R.I.P. – Damageplan. It’s essentially very heavy rock with half-shouted, aggressive vocals. We’re going to hear a lot more of that sound, and that’s fine with me. The second most obvious trend is going to be the one we hear now most clearly in the highly touted new band Mastodon. This trend, a very interesting one, incorporates elements of Nü-metal, traditional metal, progressive metal (a lá Rush, especially) – and, surprisingly, new punk, hardcore, and what seems to be getting called “screamo.” Listen to songs like Blood and Thunder and Island on Mastodon’s Leviathan for an example of this sound; Blood and Thunder even begins with tick-tock rhythm guitar of the sort one hears in many new-punk songs. Some new punk bands are getting in on that sound from their own angle, incidentally: Canada’s Sum 41, themselves avowed fans of thrash metal, have on their latest album, Chuck, turned to a sound almost more Megadeth than Sex Pistols.
And finally – and here’s the reason I’m throwing out these ideas in this review – we’re going to hear a lot more of what’s being called “atmospheric metal.” We either owe or blame The Gathering for this sound. Your verb will depend on whether you like or dislike it. I like it and am mostly glad that The Gathering pioneered this sound in their dramatic shift in direction from the death metal of their early albums to the subtle, nuanced, quiet progressive metal we hear on such albums as Mandylion and How to Measure a Planet?. Atmospheric metal, “trip-rock” (The Gathering’s drummer’s term) – whatever you want to call it, this decidedly non-metallic moody music, played by bands generally fronted by angelic-sounding female singers, is gaining ascendance and will, I predict (especially when driven by such multi-platinum bands as Evanescence, although I wouldn’t call them an ideal example of the genre), become one of the three Next Big Things in mainstream metal.
And here in the forefront is Ephemeral Sun. In the last few months, I’ve reviewed work by Trance of Mine and Dream Aria, both of whose debut albums spin excellent variations on what The Gathering has been doing for the last half-dozen years. Ephemeral Sun is more inventive, more varied than those other two groups (though perhaps not more so than The Gathering themselves), and yet I’m confident that they belong in the same category. But this album – a bit too long, perhaps overly ambitious – shows the band capable of sounds that Trance of Mine and Dream Aria haven’t thought of. Not yet, anyway.
The album opens with a couple of tracks that, to my ears, could almost have come straight off The Gathering’s How to Measure a Planet? Both are eight-minute suites, leisurely in pace and varied in parts, and all the elements of atmospheric metal are there: lovely guitar leads, soaring female vocals, inventive and intricate drumming – and even the Eastern tinges in the vocal melodies so beloved of these bands. The third song, A Blanket of Darkness, though, is a weird, meandering (and thankfully brief) ambient piece; and the fourth, Fall Betrays the Earth, is a mournful piano-accompanied ballad that really serves (as the ellipses in the songs’ titles suggest) as a prelude to . . . Winter Has No Mercy, a heavy-Floydian strident mid-tempo rock song that (availing itself of its perhaps excessive length) allows the band to display, as they do on many songs here, their varied styles, even including a synthesizer solo that could have been played by Eddie Jobson during his tenure with UK – think Caesar’s Palace Blues, for example, or Carrying No Cross. Then – well, damn me if there isn’t a Spanish-guitar solo stuck in there, too! This band is not boring. A bit scattered, a bit overambitious, but not boring.
You want more variety? The Dance is, coincidentally since I mentioned them in a different context earlier, reminiscent of Mastodon in places, throwing around changes of tempo and chunky, heavy riffing. Rats has a mid-section whose loping rhythm and synthesizer hooks will remind all older fans of progressive rock more than distantly of Rush’s Tom Sawyer. And – as if to show that they’ve done their homework, though I don’t mean to suggest that anything on this album is meant simply to show off – Approaching Acheron takes five rather dull, ambient minutes to build to a killer guitar riff that would make Tony Iommi smile, so Sabbathian is it.
Sure, the album is a bit scattered; sure, each song (the short ones excepted) meanders a bit, seldom finding a melodic centre. But this is a very fine, ambitious, interesting album – and one that’s fun to listen to. It’s not a genre exercise, and it’s not, or not merely, a showcase for all the ideas the band has come up with to this point in their existence: it’s an announcement of a creative band that will, I hope, in the next few years help to prove my prediction about at least one of the emerging directions of metal to be true.
NB: Many thanks to my friend Bob: I owe most of what I say about the second most obvious trend in metal to his perceptive observations.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Biomechanical – The Empires Of The Worlds
Tracklist: Enemy Within (4:54), The Empires Of The Worlds (4:08), Assaulter (4:09), Relinquished Destiny (4:08), Long Time Dead (4:59), Regenerated (3:39), DNA Metastasis (3:29), Survival (3:39), Existenz (4:55), Truth Denied (3:27), Awakenings – Part 1 Final Offence (3:22), Part 2 From The Abyss (0:37), Part3 Absolution (3:49), Part 4 Disintegration (4:46)
UK outfit Biomechanical are the brainchild of one John K (formerly vocalist with Balance Of Power) and have been hovering on the fringes of the metal scene for a while now. Their first CD, Eight Moons, was released in 2003 but only had fairly limited distribution. 2005 sees them signed to the renowned Earache label, who certainly seem to be giving The Empires Of The World a big marketing push - a deserved one too, I might add, as this is a fine release.
First of all I ought to state that Biomechanical are an extremely heavy proposition – those who thought Dream Theater’s Train of Thought release was a bit loud will not, I imagine, take to the music presented on The Empires Of The Worlds. The band have clearly absorbed a variety of influences ranging from classic British metal (Judas Priest circa 1990’s Painkiller album being one that’s particularly evident) and American thrash (Pantera, Metallica et al) through to progressive metal pioneers Queensryche.
The guitars buzz away menacingly for much of the time, and the riffs come thick and fast – as do the enjoyably OTT solos. Plenty of twists and turns here – think Dream Theater crossed with Meshuggah and you might have an idea of where guitarists Chris Webb and Jamie Hunt are coming from. Add in a state of the art production, helped by a crisp, sharp mix from renowned producer Andy Sneap, that brings the sound close at times to other Sneap-linked acts such as Nevermor and Arch Enemy, and you have a heady mix indeed – one that is even complemented by strings and orchestral overtures on several occasions. Topping it all is John K’s vocals – this man has a very strong set of pipes indeed, and switches vocal styles with some regularity – one minute growling like Phil Anselsmo, the next screaming at the top of his lungs a’la Rob Halford, before delivering some more controlled emoting in the vein of Geoff Tate. One thing he perhaps doesn’t have at present is a distinctive style of his own, but he certainly makes an impact.
This is not an album that you could call instantly accessible – sure, some tracks (such as the raging power metal of Regenerated, and Assaulter, with its chugging, insistent riffs) make an instant impression, but songs such as the opening Enemy Within and DNA Metastasis take longer to get a grip on - the time changes and sudden shifts in the music can be bewildering at first, and the melodies, whilst undoubtedly there, take their time to implant themselves in your head. After a few listens it all starts to make much more of an impression, however, and thankfully for the most part a very positive one. Biomechanical impress by managing to create a distinctive style despite all their influences, and within the obviously heavy framework there is quite a wide variety on display here – from the metallic, anthemic semi-balladry of Long Time Dead to the aggressive speed metal of Survival and Truth Denied, through to perhaps the crowning glory, the four part prog-metal epic Awakenings, where the band chuck everything but the kitchen sink into the mix, and thankfully come up with some appetising results.
There is the odd moment when Biomechanical perhaps get a bit too carried away, trying to cram too many ideas into one song, when perhaps a bit more control over proceedings should have been exercised. Its’ also quite a demanding listen from beginning to end – easier to take in smaller chunks. However the bands energy and obvious enthusiasm for the material carries them through even the weaker moments, and overall this is a pleasingly strong effort which will hopefully give the UK metal scene the kick up the backside it desperately needs.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Azazello - Seventh Heaven
Tracklist: The Very Beginning [intro] (2:14), Microcosm of Macrocosm [part 1] (11:52), Microcosm [part 2] Dream Within A Dream (10:50), The Mystery (8:17), The Restless Rest (10:48), The Seventh Heaven (8:52), Blessing [outro] (9:56)
It is not often that I keep the outer sleeves that are sometimes used to make a CD more noticeable at the record store. This time this outer sleeve is a necessity: instead of the Cyrillic titles of the jewel case it shows the English translations of the song titles. So those are the titles that you see in the tracklist above . The titles in Russian would have been more genuine but also not really understandable for most of our readers.
So Azazello is a four piece band originating from Russia. Named after a character from a Bulgakov novel this band evolved from another band (Morg) who where mainly into trash metal. In 1995 a live performance marks the start of Azazello. This band is trying to create a mix of Jazz, psycho elements, hard and very melodious progressive metal.
When I am listening to progressive rock or progressive metal my wife tells me all the time: please stop playing that music it makes me nervous (sometimes replacing nervous by nauseous). Most of the time she is referring to music that I really like but this time I can understand her sentiments. Azazello is doing it's utmost to be original and 'not boring' and although that is a good challenge to take on there is no need to show you can manage that every single second of the music. There are certainly a large number of nice riffs and ideas but the fact that they all happen over and over again every other minute does not let this music go down easy. It's like King Crimson sticking all the ideas of their first 5 albums in a couple of Prog Metal songs.
It must be said that Azazello is certainly able to keep up with the turmoil they are creating: despite all the tempo changes and nervous riffs the music is never sloppy or messy they master their instruments really well. And because of that and the astonishing amount of riffs and ideas there must be some interesting pieces of music to be found on this album and there are. But this album could have been much better had they sat down and decide which ideas to keep and which ideas to trash (or use for the next album). There is one song that is actually pretty nice because it sticks to one idea only but that track , strange enough, suffers from the complete opposite: it is too long and too uneventful. This song, The Mystery, is a folk drinking song, with flute and all, sounding a bit like Ennio Morricone here and there. Although the lyrics are in Russian, like the rest of the album. the pleasant voice of Alexander Kulak makes up for not understanding.
This album is not one I am overly enthusiastic about. There is too much stuff going on at the same time. On top of that the production is a bit hollow here and there. Still I think there is great potential in this band, if they only learn to cool it down a little. Action packed may beat uneventful but it does not beat well-dosed. If you are into complicated not too heavy Progressive (with a capital P) metal, Azazello is worth trying out. For most of us it's probably just too much.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Albert Mamsto Trio - Strange Fruits
Tracklist: Satch Boogie (3:36), The Crying Machine (4:09), Hand On Heart (5:20), Derailleur Gears (4:59), Party-Ski-Bone (5:42), Jiboooooooooom (6:56), Sorry (4:00), ParadigMania (9:16) + Multi-Media-Bonus
In Strange Fruits The Albert Mamsto Trio offer a "tribute" to some of rock and progressive rock's finest guitarists. The album consists of tracks or medleys of tracks from the repertoire of five guitarists. Albert Ibrahimaj (not sure where the Mamsto comes from - apparently as I'm later informed the nickname for Albert) tackles these giants with confidence and aided and abetted by only bass and drums does a fairly good representation of the tracks. This standard rock trio format wade their way through some tricky material, not only in the lead lines, but also from a rhythmic and arrangement stance.
Albert, as you may have guessed, is a guitarist and this reflected in the artists he has selected and the tunes chosen for Strange Fruits. Not wanting to make life simple for himself Albert has selected from some of the finest exponents of the electric guitar - Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse, Steve Lukather and John Petrucci. Then in a brave move the three musicians then undertake to play the tracks pretty much as I would expect them to be able to reproduce live. Therefore there seems little in the way of studio magic and what you hear is what these guys are capable of producing. I was most impressed with the "rawer" section taken from Metropolis [part1]. Nice little outro to top it off.
The trio work well together with bassist Frank Heim and drummer Holger Schmaltz proving more than capable of the task in front of them. Their playing is tight, grasping the original arrangements and embellishing the tracks whilst mindful of the written structure. There are numerous examples on the album Derailleur Gears, Party-Ski-Bone and Jiboooooooooom. The second and third of these tracks are in fact medleys Party-Ski-Bone is three Lukather/Toto tracks (Party In Simon's Pants, Dave's Gone Skiing and Jack To The Bone), whilst Jiboooooooooom links Via and Dream Theater (Jibboom, Ytse Jam and Metropolis [part1]).
Of the tracks on the album I would only like to comment on one, and this is the bands own composition Sorry. Firstly it is completely different to the other tracks, Holger Schmaltz is given a rest, so the track is lightweight, with a jazzy feel from both guitar and bass. The track fits well within the album and acts as a resting point in-between the flurry of notes and beats that surround it.
The version of the album I received was a CDR, although the front fold-over cover and tray in-lay card were professionally printed - not sure if the purchasable album from the band will also be a CDR - may be worth checking.
(NB - since the writing of this article I've spoken to the band who tell me that all the CDs are pressed commercial versions and not Cdr's).
As it stands this CD displays well the collective talents of these three musicians, with the tracks played accurately and with just enough variation so as to stamp their own individuality on the proceedings. However with the exception of Sorry the album is a collection of tracks or medleys written and recorded by other artists. So somewhat difficult to evaluate as it stands. I'm not going to knock this effort by AMT, because it does not warrant this. So I will reserve any judgement on AMT until DPRP receives an album of original material from these talented guys.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
SceneS - Call Me On The Number You Provide
Tracklist: So (Father), You Walk Away, My Own Life, Start Again, Deep Inside My Heart, I Will Stay, Save The Light, Such A Shame, Nothing Left To Say (Unforgiven)
A new five-piece from Germany, SceneS was actually formed in 1998. However recent years have seen a roller coaster ride of fortunes thanks to the German version of Pop Idol.
As the band was in the studio recording this, its first release, original front man Nektarios Bamiatzis entered German Idol - otherwise known as 'Deutschland Sucht Den Superstar'. He managed to reach the last eight and with fame and fortune beckoning, as the doors to a solo career opened before him, off he went. A replacement was found in the shape of Alex Koch (ex Spiral Tower/Powergod) and the record was finished.
The record has the obvious reference points of Dream Theater, with the more Germanic influences of Vanden Plas and Angel Dust. However there's a more direct metal/rock drive to the songs than some of the more widdly versions of Progmetal bands can muster.
The opening pair match melody with aggression and some intricate musicianship and the epic Nothing Left To Say has plenty of diversity. Elsewhere, the cover of Talk Talk's It's a Shame at least manages to do something different with the original version, but the ten minutes of Start Again seems to do just that, over and over again, and the pointlessly short ballad Deep Inside My Heart should have just remained there.
The main problem with this album, is that for some reason (maybe for some easy publicity) the band has kept three of the songs recorded with their wanna-be Pop Idol. Nektarios still has a very raw voice but you can hear how his softer, melodic tones could be a real talent in a pop/rock environment. Far more traditional in style, Alex Koch's vocals aren't really up there with the best and the more critical listeners may find his style a little hard to generate much enthusiasm for.
Whatever the merits of each, with its debut album, a band really has to stamp its own identity on the listening public. Drifting between the two voices really has the opposite effect. Overall, an interesting offering from a band with potential but with plenty of room for improvement.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Frantic Bleep – The Sense Apparatus
Tracklist: A Survey (1:19), The Expulsion (5:02), Sins Of Omission (5:11), …But A Memory (3:52), Mausolos (4:37), Curtainraiser (5:47), Mandaughter (5:46), Nebulous Termini (6:22), Cone (3:24)
Mention ‘Norway’ and ‘Metal’ in the same sentence to many people and visions of corpse painted characters playing extremely fast and primitive music and spending their free time playing with matches near churches may spring to mind. However in recent years many of the bands instrumental in getting the black metal genre on the map, such as Emperor and Enslaved, have developed their sound into far more symphonic and dynamic pastures, whilst various musicians from the scene have taken the opportunity to form new bands and incorporate aspects of the genre into a new sound which is distinctly avant garde and genuinely progressive – the likes of Arcturus and Green Carnation spring immediately to mind, and its into the (fairly broad) territory occupied by these bands that Frantic Bleep step into with their debut offering The Sense Apparatus.
It should be noted that, although containing certain elements in their sound which help pin them to the Norwegian ‘scene’, Frantic Bleep are a young band who have clearly absorbed influences from many other groups operating in a variety of different genres. This is soon evident after even a cursory listen to the first few numbers on this fairly ambitious and somewhat po-faced concept album. The songs are generally complex in construction, with the combination of industrial-sounding synths and tight, clipped riffs which twist and turn at every opportunity recalling US ‘math metal’ kings Tool, whilst the more ‘conventional’ tracks such as ...But A Memory nod towards Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle. This comparison is intensified by vocalist Paul Mozart Bjorke’s voice having certain similarities to Keenan’s – it also recalls, at various times, Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt in his mellower guise. The dark, gothic nature of the music also nods in the direction of Swedish outfit Katatonia, and a constant bleak and sombre atmosphere is maintained throughout. The band aren’t afraid of experimenting with their ‘core’ sound either – the middle of the album sees plenty of contrast, with the slower Mausolos - which sees the band go for a mellow but avant-garde-ish feel, coming off somewhere between Damnation-mode Opeth and Laughing Stock era Talk Talk – followed by the raging Curtainraiser, which has plenty of growled vocals, some fast and hard riffs which could have come from the pen of an eighties thrash metal guitarist, and some slower, doom-laden sections which bear the influence of early Black Sabbath.
Pleasingly the band have managed to absorb these varying influences and created a fairly unique sound. Despite numerous tricksy time changes, the songs in general flow well, although perhaps inevitably things get a little messy at times, and there are occasions where you think that the band are being ‘avant garde’ for the sake of itself rather than for the sake of the song. These moments are relatively few, however, and the overall impression left is of an exciting new prospect in the world of metal, who, given their relatively young age, have plenty of potential to produce some high quality work in years to come. As it is, this is a pretty impressive debut.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Order Of Nine - Seasons of Reign
Tracklist: Learn The Way (2:32), Some Sort Of God (4:34), Bloodline (4:31), The End (3:47), Moment of Weakness (5:14), Vow of Silence (4:14), Bull Run (3:47), Matter Of Pride (3:04), Somnia Requiem (4:09), Betrayal (6:31), Nameless (4:59)
Loitering around the US scene for around six years now, with the 10 tracks on this their third album, Order of Nine offers a pretty even mix of progressive-tinged power metal and more direct heavy metal.
Vocalist Michael DeGrena has a pretty decent Geoff Tate-style upper range which gives certain tracks a strong, old-school Queensrÿche feel - although with a heavy bottom end on the rhythm section and not too much in terms of adventurous musical interplay, it can't really be classified as Progressive Metal.
As I said, the rest of the album consists of more in-yer-face metal that for me makes an uncomfortable bed-fellow with the other songs. Bull Run is a pretty good stab at Accept-ish speed metal, Bloodline has a good broody dark vibe and The End is a convincing stab at mixing the power of Manowar and Savatage.
It's all pretty well done, but there are just too many loose ends to make this a compulsive purchase. The horrible flurries of out-of-time drum fills totally ruin the more progressive Some Sort of God; the growly vocals on Moments of Weakness are exactly that, while the 'lets speed this up as fast as we can' ending on Bloodline is just plain daft.
Order of Nine has a decent enough eye for a good hook and strong riff but if they want to take their music to a higher level, I feel they really have to decide whether to jump into the progressive or heavy metal camp - and then stay there.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Lalu - Oniric Metal
Tracklist: Yesterdayman (5:39), Wolven Eyes (5:01), Windy (3:53), Night In Poenari (4:58), Moonstruck [The Soulish Element] (4:46), Moonstop (10:16), StarWatcher (4:11), Potboy: The Final Fantasy (8:13)
Anyone who heard last year's Hubi Meisel album Emocean, should be aware of Vivien Lalu, who wrote much of music for it. The band Lalu is the French musician's stop-gap enterprise before the completion of his Shadrane super-project due for release later this year.
With Arabesque guitarist Joop Walters, Ryan van Poederooyen of the Devin Townsend Band on drums and x-Annihilator bassist Russell Bergquist, this is a pretty varied disk that touches a whole realm of metal reference points. The opening pair of tracks wouldn't have been out of place on Emocean, the ballad which follows acts as a showcase for Walters' delicate guitar runs, the next track mixes classical opera with crunchy riffs and the next comes straight from the Masterplan book of 'How To Write a Melodic Metal Song'. As I said, there's plenty of variety here!
Martin LeMar handles the vocals in a consistent manner and there is plenty of depth in the arrangements. Clearly Lalu has put a great deal of passion into the making of this album but it's just spread across too many moods for my tastes. As a result it all just leaves me rather cold.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Tears - Falling Certainty [EP]
Tracklist: Things Imaginary (5:02), Self Destruction Part I (0:42), Self Destruction Part II (5:44), Self Destruction Part III (4:45), Time Master (4:37), A Beginning After Each End (0:58)
Yannis Matagos, guitarist with Tears contacted DPRP to see if we would be interested in reviewing their new EP, Falling Certainty. A quick look on the band's website and the musician's names suggested they might be from Greece, so when the CD arrived the next day I was most impressed. Further investigation revealed that Constantinos Corkidas , Deligiannis Tassos, George Politis and Yannis Matagos all reside in Southampton (UK). Does any of this matter I hear you ask - no not a bit.
Musically we are in the area of emotional ProgMetal, which is not only reflected in the music but also the band's name and album cover. Surprisingly though the EP opens with a piano driven ballad, with gentle classical guitar and a light atmosphere. Tears have enlisted guest vocalist Mylonas Panagiotis to sing on the tracks, to which he adds his emotional and at times pained vocal timbres. It's one of those voices that you are going to either love or hate - but in general I quite liked it. Things Imaginary is the most complete of the tracks if not a little misleading at the beginning of the CD.
Part I is a spoken intro, accompanied by a somewhat strange Gothic vocal arrangement, all of which leads us to the more metal workouts that follow. Part II sees the band in more familiar ProgMetal territory, tempo changes, driving drums and numerous keyboard and guitar trade-offs. In fact the keyboards are used to good effect and play an important part within the music, whilst Matagos Yannis' fluid, if not a little suspect at times, lead lines complete the melodic instrumental structure. The rhythm section however is less convincing, certainly to my ears. Part III is a dark moody track with the Gothic voices from Part I returning - nice idea but once again not overly convincing. The track moves at stately pace and the band mercifully refrain from any unnecessary tempo changes.
Time Master follows in similar fashion to Part II although the tempo is pushed on a pace, moving into early Dream Theater territory. I can imagine that this is one of the band's favourites, but for me it is the track that most exposes the band's compositional downfalls. It is overly complex, isn't convincingly played and the vocals just drive you insane - Panagiotis' voice reaches much greater emotional heights here - but ends up sounding like Geddy Lee on helium. The album concludes with a gentle instrumental ditty - very good.
There are two major drawbacks of this EP, the first is that it has a distinct "demo" sound to it. I think with greater detail to the production values, the music and ideas laid down on Falling Certainty could well make Tears a band to look out for. As it stands the production doesn't do the music any favours at all - its not poor, just not polished. More importantly though the arrangements in the complex sections of the songs are clumsy and forced. This seems to originate mainly from the drums, which for me are just over busy (especially evident in Time Master) and certainly need to be worked on in depth.
I'm not trying to knock Tears, but in the hugely competitive area of ProgMetal they will certainly need to raise the stakes if they are to follow this EP with a full length album. Looking at the seemingly endless releases in this particular area of prog/metal, and with resources (for some) allowing the inclusion of full orchestras and choirs, a new band like Tears really do need something special in their music to compete. On a positive note it is good to see the band taking their own promotion seriously - offering this EP for a modest fee of £2 (3.5 Euros) which includes P&P. I can only wish these guys every success for the future and will reserve a numerical judgement for the full length album.