:: PART II ::
Pagan's Mind - Enigmatic : Calling
Tracklist: The Celestine Prophecy (7:36), Enigmatic Mission (5:16), Supremacy, Our Kind (5:59), Entrance to Infinity (7:48), Coming Home [Instrumetal] (2:36), Celestial Calling (7:00), Taken (7:35), Ressurection [Back in Time] (6:36), Appearance [Instrumental] (1:52), Search for Life (5:00), New World Order (8:11), MPEG Video Clip: Enigmatic Mission (5:23) *Not included in total running time
Dave B's Review
I’d had this CD for about two months and had been listening to it fairly regularly in the car and on my iPod at work. After each listen I vaguely remembered liking it a lot but couldn’t seriously tell you which bits or even whistle a tune from the album. For the purposes of contracting this review I had an intense headphone session at some volume whilst taking notes and it became obvious, I’m suffering from ear saturation… No, I’m not talking about any nasty ailments here, rather aural fatigue brought on by a constant barrage of exhausting and intense sound. Whether this can be considered a good or a bad thing is somewhat subjective based on the listener, perhaps a dissection of the music may reveal more.
This is the third CD from the Norwegian quintet and the first following the departure in 2003 of founding member and rhythm guitarist Thornstein Aaby. Guitar lovers fear not, by himself Jörn Viggo Lofstad more than
compensates, adorning the CD throughout with some of the most astonishing fretwork I have heard in many years. Stian Kristoffersen on drums is equally impressive and plays very much in modern progressive metal style, a-la Mike Portnoy. Tasteful keyboards are by Ronny Tegner tending towards atmosphere rather than wild leads and bass is supplied by Steinar Krokmo but is often lost in the mix or follows the guitars and drums too much to stand out. Finally we have Nils K Rue supplying his very distinctive vocals and also the very nice cover-art of the CD.
While we’re there a word about the singing – for sure there’s no doubt Nils has what it takes but I sometimes wonder if he’s not overdoing it too often. There are several passages throughout that would benefit from a milder approach rather than belting it out all the time. Furthermore a distinctive voice can sometimes be a hindrance when breaking into a new band, many times over the years I’ve heard people say how much they dislike Yes, Rush or Dream Theater because of “The Singer”. OK, Nils maybe isn’t out there with Geddy and Jon but his voice has a lot of character and it takes some getting used to, but persevere and after a while you’ll notice a lot of quality in his tone and some interesting phrasings. There’s also the occasional death-metal growl and scream to admire.
As for the music, I have read that Pagan’s Mind are a Dream Theater clone and this is absolutely not the case. If I was reminded of any other band I am familiar with then it was Pain of Salvation. However, neither are they plagiarising their cousins across the water as Pagan’s Mind have totally their own sound and style without totally losing sight of their influences.
The album opens very strongly with The Celestine Prophecy and to be honest it pretty much sets the stage for the next 66 minutes or so. Crunching, driving, heavy guitar work dominates throughout underpinned by frenetic, tight drumming and carefully placed keys. There are many changes of pace ranging from “in your face” to “light speed”, if you’re expecting any soulful ballads here the please move on… Nils is singing his guts out as if it’s going out of fashion – impressive stuff.
During the first guitar break I’m very much reminded of Daniel Gildenlöw’s playing style but it’s only a glimpse before returning to the pure intensity and the first of many incendiary guitar solos assaults the listener. Maybe not the most technical you may have heard but full of life and creativity, really a delight to hear. A reference to Dream Theater does pop-up despite what I said above and you’d swear John Petrucci was guesting on the album. The track ends nicely with some warms keys and you have some short moments to take breath before the very fast riff to Enigmatic Calling starts fading in…
And then we have to go through it all again – another frighteningly intense track chock full of musical changes but this time with a more obvious melody on the vocals. Another astonishing guitar solo and the track ends with a guest session from Steve Vai, well not really, it’s Jörn Viggo again showing his influences. Supremacy, Our Kind follows and it’s another quality track but doesn’t bring a lot more to the table from what we’ve already heard.
Next up is perhaps the stand-out track of the album, Entrance To Infinity which does have more of a softer pace at least for a short while. There’s more emphasis on the vocals but I find them possibly too aggressive for the piece which is demanding more ‘feel’ than ‘force’. All of a sudden we’re back into the rolling double-bass drums and crunchy guitar before an very unexpected and delightful passage that sounds, I swear, like It Bites circa 1989, I kid you not! There’s more with a nice piano break and the main theme returning with the vocals keeping the original pace while instruments underneath the pick up the tempo – a very nice touch, these guys certainly know how to play.
Now I’ll take a pause, in fact I’ll stop – I could continue to describe every track on the CD or, to save us all time you could cut and paste the above four paragraphs, change the track titles appropriately and you’d be pretty much there or there abouts. In a nutshell, not enough texture throughout the album for me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it gets boring but rather it blends into a wall of noise after a while.
Does all this mean I think it’s bad, absolutely not, I’m quite taken with Pagan’s Mind and will be purchasing the previous two CD’s in due time, I just want to see them mix it up a little more – this is one lesson they could take from some of their peers, especially Pain of Salvation. Interestingly though they do not mention PoS as one of their influences.
This explains my feelings at the beginning of the review – taken individually each track could be considered a masterpiece, but they always say too much of a good thing is bad, well I’m not fully convinced by that but in this case I’ll cling to it for dear life because I just can’t listen to the whole CD in one sitting and enjoy it. The paradox is that I think it’s a superb album at the same time, weird or what? Maybe with more time I’ll break the PM barrier and be able to take it like a real man but in the meantime I’d like a wimpy, girly song thrown in from time to time please…
There have been very high hopes among Prog Metal fans for this, the follow-up to the Norwegian’s phenomenal 2002 release Celestial Entrance. That album is widely accepted to have been one of the finest progressive power metal discs of recent years, mixing technical mastery, monster riffing, great hooks and soaring vocals, within a stupendously heavy framework. It still gets regular spins from me and still sounds thrilling.
It’s been a strangely long wait for its successor, which if anything has heightened anticipation about its arrival. So the question is: has it lived up to these expectations. The answer? Well, not really.
Lyrically there’s little change from before, with the concept of this album again dealing in spiritual, pagan and science fact/fiction philosophy around questions such as: “Was modern mankind created by an alien intelligence thousands of years ago?” and “Are we the result of genetic experiments?” Don’t look for answers though, as the band just hopes to get you thinking.
Musically, it starts off very promising, with four solid tracks clocking in around the six-minute mark that encompass all the band’s trademark sounds. There are plenty of great melodies, moods and rhythms on show, especially on the catchy ‘enigmatic mission’. And while the band is technically proficient - I’m a big, big fan of guitarist Jörn Viggo Lofstad - the soundscape they produce, is never overdone.
It’s certainly heavier than its’ predecessor and the production, by Fredrick Nordstrom, provides a solid foundation. But after a while, it starts to sound very samey. The hooks to hang the songs on, just aren’t there and the vocals in particular become rather one-dimensional and over-produced. It’s almost as if you’re listening to one very long song!
We have to give a DPRP score for every album, something I view as a necessary, but rather arbitrary, device. Therefore, take the score below with the following provisos.
If you are a total fan of the band and love everything they do without question, then add at least two points, as this is serving up exactly what you want. If you haven’t listened to the band before, then add at least one point, as in its own right, this is a very well executed metal album. If however, you were expecting the band to progress and take the elements found within their last album, onto a higher level, then knock off a point. While you will enjoy a few of the tracks, the album as a whole will disappoint. Myself, I’m giving credit for the four songs that really are world class, and comparing it with other albums that I’ve heard this year, it deserves…..
DAVE BAIRD : 8.5 out of 10
ANDY READ : 7 out of 10
Stream Of Passion - Embrace The Storm
Tracklist: Spellbound (3:35), Passion (5:21), Deceiver (5:09), I'll Keep On Dreaming (3:45), Haunted (4:32), Wherever You Are (5:08), Open Your Eyes (5:14), Embrace The Storm (4:13), Breathing Again (3:38), Out In The Real World (4:32), Nostalgia (3:09), Calliopeia (5:39)
Those who have read my previous reviews on both Elfonía and Ayreon know that I have a soft spot for both of them. So imagine my anxiety waiting for Embrace The Storm to arrive. Arjen Lucassen teaming up with Marcela Bovio again. Marcela, the best new voice in progressive rock of the last decade. Arjen the creator of The Human Equation, a real masterpiece.
Another Elfonía member is also cooperating on this album: Alejandro Millán, he met Arjen when he accompanied Marcela on her trip to The Netherlands during the recording of The Human Equation. Because Arjen and Marcela really connected during those recordings Stream of Passion was formed. The same can be said of Arjen and Alejandro, so when Stream of Passion was formed he seemed the logical choice. Lori Linstruth and Davy Mickers played on the Actual Fantasy revisited bonus disc. Not much is known of Johan van Stratum, except that together with Davy he forms a rock steady rhythm section on this album.
The fact that Stream Of Passion signed a deal with Sony BMG for the Benelux (and Inside Out for the rest of the world) shows there are high expectations for this new band. If this means that my kind of music is noted by more people I am all for it. I am sure this will not be the last time we here of Arjen Lucassen but I also think there's a bright future in store for Marcela Bovio: someone this talented can not go unnoticed. Hopefully Stream Of Passion launches her into this future, but I would suggest you also take note of her work with Elfonía as it shows this woman's versatility.
Strange thing is that this album has both very distinct Ayreon, but also very distinct Elfonía features, and some songs are a mix of both. Strange, because Arjen Lucassen was the composer of all the tracks. Although some of the harmonies resemble the sound of The Human Equation most of the music takes us back to The Dream Sequencer.
Spellbound is one of those very much in the Elfonía vein, this is of course mainly attributed to Marcela's voice, but also the bass adds to that opinion. Passion on the other hand has those typical Lucassen guitars, with Marcela showing she is also capable of handling the lower pitched vocals. The violins add to the dramatic effect, as the song builds up from subdued to clearly present. Small guitar loops here and there are the icing on the cake.
Deceiver is a gothic style track, the vocals are like The Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen. The guitar riffs in this track are tasty and get heavier towards the end, while the violin at the refrains make it unique in it's own way. I'll Keep On Dreaming has a very intimate start with cello and all, slowly building to a very Floydian guitar solo, with Marcela's voice is becoming addictive. Alejandro shows he has a feel for a very "different" keyboard style. The start of Haunted sounds like Vangelis' Conquest of Paradise. It is indeed a track with a haunting feel. Wherever You Are is a very catchy song and can be grouped together with Deceiver. If these two will be the singles some people will be in for a surprise when they buy the album. Open Your Eyes is really the odd one out: it cannot be accounted to either Elfonía or Ayreon. It is however still possible to hear the sound of Mr Lucassen, although not even the solo is a typical Lucassen one. Maybe this is to be the band's own sound?
Embrace The Storm again is a typical Ayreon track, it is closest to the work of The Human Equation. Even the harmonies sound the same. I Knew You is one of those tracks that Marcela carries almost all by herself. The music is very good but merely there to support all the vocal exercises Marcela is doing. If ever anyone wants to convince you that Stream Of Passion is just another female fronted gothic band: smack them in the head and play this track for them, loudly. Out In The Real World is another one of the Ayreon tracks although the Porcupine Tree like keyboards towards the end throw of the comparison. Nostalgia is a keyboard and vocals only track with Spanish lyrics, again real intimate. Calliopeia then ends the album with
Ayreon-esque guitars and violins once again.
It is hard to determine which is the best track of this album, not one specifically is better than the others. The tracks are all of an evenly high quality. If I had to choose my favourite tracks would be Embrace The Storm and Passion although those are closest to Arjen's previous work. The guitar solo waiting to happen and the pumping rhythm of Deceiver also make that one tasty.
I have used the term "sounds a lot like Ayreon" several times, and to me that is one of the best compliments one can give music wise. Because the perfectionist approach Arjen Lucassen takes to music always produces good stuff. The musician's he has asked to join him are again of high standard. And although Stream Of Passion's Embrace The Storm is no match for The Human Equation (in my opinion not many records are), it is a very enjoyable album that will appeal to both prog metal and progressive rock lovers alike. In fact a welcome addition to everyone's collection!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Epica – The Score
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Vengeance Is Mine (1:54), Unholy Trinity (3:09), The Valley (2:09), Caught In A Web (4:27), Insomnia (2:08), Under The Aegis (2:49), Trois Vierges (Solo Version) (4:42), Mystica (2:48), Valley Of Sins (5:41), Empty Gaze (2:10), The Alleged Paradigm (2:26), Supremacy (3:22), Beyond The Depth (1:58), Epitome (1:19), Inevitable Embrace (3:52), Angel Of Death (3:30), The Ultimate Return (4:50), Trois Vierge [Reprise] (2:07), Solitary Ground [Single Version] (4:08), Quietus [Score Version] (3:55)
Just before the start of their set at Progpower Europe I had the opportunity for a quick interview with Epica's Simone Simons, and some parts of that interview have been added to this review. Simone was a bit surprised when I asked her for the interview as The Score is the work of Mark Janssen, Yves Huts and Coen Janssen. (I have put some of Simone's comments in quotation marks.)
"The Score is not an Epica album as such, it is something created by three of it's members. Epica consists of female vocals, male vocals, choirs, orchestrations, guitars and drums. The Score is only orchestrations, but there is part of Epica in it. It is an Epica offspring without drums and guitars"
So what we have here is like the previous Epica album stripped of all the metal guitars, Simone's vocals and drums. It is very clear why they have named this album "The Score" of course parts are used in the film Joyride but even without that knowledge I would have compared this new Epica album to a soundtrack.
A word of warning should be given: this is NOT an Epica album in the normal sense and it is only added to this Prog Metal Feature because of Epica's reputation. If you are thinking of it to be the next Epica studio album, you're wrong.
"In any case it is music you can listen to and let your mind wonder off"
And that it so true. It is music that needs to be accompanied by images. I haven't seen the movie some of the music was created for, and there is no movie connection for the rest of the music, so I had to make up for the rest by indeed fantasizing.
Some of the tracks on this album are created for the movie Joyride.
"Mark had written music for the movie and only a part of that is used. It was our record company's idea to release this as an album. Also some music was written especially for The Score".
It is a pity that this movie was not an instant hit as it would have been nice if the name of Epica was connected to a movie like that.
"It is a movie with a certain audience in mind (12 to 18 year old girls) that is probably why 50 year old movie critics don't really like the movie. It is clearly visible that this is a Dutch movie. It is a road movie so not a real new concept"
Still it would have been nice for the movie to be an hit.
"That's true, well at least our album is a hit (laughs)"
Much of The Score sounds very familiar because tracks from Consign To Oblivion and The Phantom Agony are to be found here in a different version. Some even not too different from their 'originals'. And then their are some tracks that sound familiar because of other reasons: Mystica for instance sounds very much like a Batman theme, Empty Gaze sounds very much like a track of Mike Oldfield's Killing Fields soundtrack, while The Valley is certainly inspired by James Horner. And although I cannot name or pinpoint every track on this album it is hard to shake of the feeling that most of it I have heard before. Which is of course true for the Consign To Oblivion / Phantom Agony tracks, but it is also true for a number of others.
Because a soundtrack is supposed to support a movie some of it might sound a little incoherent. Music like that only makes sense if you also see the images that the music was created for. The Alleged Paradigm and Supremacy suffer from this. Other tracks also sound a bit fragmentary but like other soundtracks in between the fragments something good can be found.
I enjoyed listening to this album but all in all I am not overly enthusiastic about it and that is not because I don't like soundtracks, on the contrary I very much appreciate the work of people like James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin and John Barry. Artists of which I like the studio albums have also created pretty cool soundtracks: Peter Gabriel (Last Temptation Of Christ, Rabbit Proof Fence, Birdie), Mike Oldfield (The Killing Fields). But this Epica album leans too much towards re-doing the old stuff in another way. While the actual new movie scores are too little coherent to make good music tracks, which might be perfect for that movie but not for the music stand alone.
It is also confusing that the name Epica is on the cover of this album. It is the same band members but with very different intent. It is almost like a showcase for the people that need a score for their upcoming movie. Very impressive but not if you are waiting for the next Epica album.
"I have had to explain it more often. It has been made by 3 band members under the Epica name but it is only our orchestration. There is still three tracks with my vocals so you still get the chance to here my sing some (laughs)"
Those are indeed the tracks that impress me most: the tracks that Simone is singing. Her voice very much suits this music and even without lyrics it would have been easy to include her on more tracks. It is a pity that they did not do that.
As to be expected this music is very suitable for an Super Audio CD mix. The sound quality is excellent and the channels are mixed in a very balanced way. Played in multi-channel mode I will listen to this album more often, but in the background to get a nice atmosphere and not to listen to the music intensely. So if I want to hear the music of Epica I will play Consign To Oblivion, but if I want "atmosphere" I will play The Score - in that respect it is very well done.
First off, before fans start wondering ‘how come Epica followed up Consign To Oblivion so quickly?’, it should be explained that The Score is not a ‘normal’ Epica release. It is in fact a soundtrack composed for the Dutch film "Joyride". From what I understand, little of the soundtrack has ended up being used in the film, and the film itself has been widely panned, so in effect this will probably end up being something of a curio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite having the familiar symphonic elements, this is far removed from the ‘usual’ Epica material. Mark Jansen himself rather cryptically states that this is “typically Epica – only without the singing, without the guitars, no bass and no drums”. Well, yes – but aren’t these elements (particularly the singing and the guitars) key parts of the band’s sound? Take these away and what you have is effectively orchestral work, accompanied by walls of synths, and whilst the tracks are composed by Epica band members, I think this might have been better had it come out under another name. Obviously I can see why it hasn’t been (brand names being as important in music circles as they are in others) but there is a likelihood that fans purchasing this expecting symphonic metal are going to be disappointed.
I should state that this isn’t that bad an album per se, but it is obviously composed with a view to being heard in tandem with action on a cinema screen, so suffers (as do many soundtrack albums) in being heard alone. Coupled with this is the fact that the pieces are generally short, and therefore there is never any real chance for them to really develop in interesting directions. Whilst the music is pleasant enough, and as well arranged and orchestrated as you’d expect, it’s not wildly dynamic, and I found my attention wandering quite a bit. You could almost think of the typical one or two minute intro that acts as a preface to the opening track ‘proper’ on many symphonic metal band’s albums, times this by twenty, and you have The Score in a nutshell.
Perhaps sensing that they needed to put at least some of the key elements of the Epica sound on to the album, the band have relented from Jansen’s promise of no singing, and include three re-worked versions of tracks from Consign To Oblivion – Trois Verges (sung by Simone alone – Roy Kahn of Kamelot guests on the original), Solitary Ground and Quietus. In general I thought these stripped down versions worked well enough, but they come over as rather unnecessary. The fact that these tracks are probably the highlight of the album as far as I’m concerned should tell you something of my thoughts on The Score as a whole.
Overall then, not a particularly bad release but, I feel, hardly a necessary one. Epica are a great band, but really need to watch that they don’t tarnish their image by releasing too many superfluous efforts – first we had the seemingly endless stream of singles from The Phantom Agony, then We Will Take You With Us and now this. My overall mark reflects not just the material itself (which would, I guess, merit a mark or two more if you are a particular fan of orchestrated soundtracks) but also the fact that, with such an abundance of material within the symphonic metal spectrum already available, it would be hard to recommend people to part with their hard earned cash for this.
DRIES DOKTER : 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 4 out of 10
Dark Suns - Existence
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Catalogue #:||PRO 073|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Zero (2:08), A Slumbering Portrait (2:32), The Euphoric Sense (5:54), Her And The Element (6:39), Daydream (4:40), Anemone (6:27), You, A Phantom Still (11:16), Gently Bleeding (7:18), Abiding Space (7:09), Patterns Of Oblivion (10:49), One Endless Childish Day (12:58)
I first came across Germany’s Dark Suns following a fine (if visually rather static) performance as support act on Pain of Salvation’s recent tour. A quick trawl of the web reveals that Existence is actually their second release; their debut, Swanlike, seems to have been widely dismissed as something of an Opeth soundalike; if this was the case (I haven’t heard it) then the band have clearly widened their pool of influences for their sophomore offering.
Its’ rare that I feel a record company’s promo material gives a completely accurate picture of a band’s sound, but in this case the sticker that Prophecy have plastered on Existence, recommending the album to fans of Anathema, Opeth, Pain of Salvation and Porcupine Tree, is pretty much spot-on, as these are the four bands who immediately spring to mind if asked to give a guide to what Dark Suns sound like. The lengthy tracks which make up existence are chock full of weighty guitar riffs, emotive solos and symphonic keys, flowing easily from sparse, melancholic sections to more
pacey, complex pieces. The music has a warm and emotional feel to it, matched by vocalist (also drummer) Niko Knappe, whose clean, exactingly-pronounced voice has similarities to both Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlow and Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh. (It’s worth pointing out that, whilst Knappe occasionally employs Mikael Akerfeldt-esque death grunts live, these are absent from Existence).
Existence is a concept, taking us from birth and the optimism of childhood to death, and in keeping with this its quite difficult to pick out highlights, as the album works as a piece. Of the longer numbers, You, A Phantom Still stands out, building well from a lengthy orchestral intro to a strong main theme, maintaining a good balance between lighter and darker sections, and (appropriately given the title!) the song has something of an ethereal feel to it. Daydream showcases the lighter, more balladic side of the band, and features some excellent solo guitar work; Anemone has a slightly more modern, alternative feel to it, similar to the style A Perfect Circle adopted on their Thirteenth Step album, whilst Abiding Space is an atmospheric piece, evoking both Pink Floyd at their most ‘spacey’ and Anathema circa A Fine Day To Exit.
At seventy seven minutes, this is a very long album, especially when you don’t have quite the variety in your sonic palette as the likes of the aforementioned Pain of Salvation, and particularly during the last two (lengthy) epics I found my attention wandering quite a bit; some judicious editing would definitely have helped here. In addition, whilst Dark Suns have gone some way to establishing their own sound, there is still some way to go on that score with their influences showing through clearly – whilst this is hardly unheard of in the modern ‘progressive’ scene, and is not always a problem, it would be nice to see the band emerge with a greater sense of their own identity next time.
Overall though, considering that this is a young band, they have come up with a mature and enjoyable album here which I still find myself coming back to regularly two or three months after purchasing, and if you are a fan of the bands mentioned earlier in the review, I’d certainly recommend checking Existence out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Zero Hour – A Fragile Mind
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Intro (0:06), There For Me (4:37), Destiny Is Sorrow (8:00), Brain Surgery (3:12), Losing Control (3:45), Twice The Pain (4:20), Somnecrophobia (3:09), A Fragile Mind (11:33), Intrinsic (5:23)
In the shape of the mesmerising Metamorphosis and the more technically intense Tower Of Avarice, the America band Zero Hour produced two of my all time favourite albums. Period.
After excellent reviews for their first two albums, two performances at the Progpower USA in Atlanta and a successful European tour, it was hoped that this would be the album that would break the American four-piece into a wider audience. Therefore, it's not easy for me to write this, but A Fragile Mind can only be described as a big step backwards.
The first four tracks are fine slabs of technical ProgPower metal. There For Me in particular is a real grower. However it's far removed from the pure progressive metal that I've loved on their two albums to date.
Certainly, they've tried to answer some of the criticism aimed at Towers.. along the lines that it was a rather too technical and cold album. There's is a minimal use of keyboards here, but it's not as warm as Metamorphosis. However the layered guitars and vocal harmonies do work to soften the heaviness, while the more simplistic song structures, make it a far easier listen.
There's an abundance in technical playing from the Tipton brothers and drummer Mike Guy, but the songs tend not to stray too far from the basic idea. There's certainly none of the interwoven melodies and musical ideas that I loved before, and dynamically this is all just too one-dimensional.
However, four decent tracks do not an album make, and elsewhere we have - well nothing much. Clocking in at just six seconds, I can only surmise that the Intro exists in name only, to add another title to the track listing. A similar thing could be said of the two instrumentals. Neither really develop from an initial riff or idea and I'm sure Intrinsic is merely a rehash of a segment from something off Towers...
Of the six real songs (yes - just six!), only the title track and Destiny Is Sorrow much-exceed the four-minute mark. And the title track, is little more than a few ideas, drawn out much longer than held my interest. I've often accused bands of merely adding songs onto albums to use up all the space - but in reality, this has about 22 minutes of what I'd term 'original music'. And that really is taking the piss.
The reason for the long delay in the release of this album - Towers... came out in 2001 - has been an ongoing problem with former singer Erik Rosvold. Despite the band's admirable patience, personal problems constantly stood in the way of him laying down his vocals. Eventually band, and most importantly label, lost patience and new vocalist Fred Marshall was brought onboard to finish the job.
Now there's nothing wrong with Fred, who puts in a solid performance, that would more than do for almost any top-flight power metal band. But whatever his personal problems, Eric Rosvold was an absolutely stunning singer, who added a sophistication, originality and depth to Zero Hour's music that is fatally missing here.
In terms of points, our rating system states that a '6' should go to an 'enjoyable album - not all brilliant but with good moments' and a '5' should be awarded to 'a mediocre album which is interesting in parts but not consistent throughout'. Well, this isn't really 'enjoyable' but neither is it quite 'mediocre'. Likewise it has good moments, it is interesting in parts, but it is far from consistent. So somewhere between '5' and '6' is about right.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Leaves’ Eyes – Vinland Saga
Tracklist: Vinland Saga (3:12), Farewell Proud Men (4:04), Elegy (5:07), Solemn Sea (3:44), Leaves' Eyes (3:59), The Thorn (4:05), Misseri/Turn Green Meadows Into Grey (3:50), Amhran/Song Of The Winds (2:48), New Found Land (3:28), Mourning Tree (4:03), Twilight Sun (3:22), Ankomst (6:27)
Female-fronted symphonic/progressive metal bands are becoming more and more popular, and Leaves’ Eyes stands far ahead of their contenders. While the roots of the movement – The Gathering, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish – will always hold a place in the hearts of their fans, anyone looking for something new, beautiful, ethereal, need look no farther than Leaves’ Eyes.
Liv Kristine of Theatre of Tragedy fronts this amazing musical machine, supported by her husband Alexander Krull’s band Atrocity to provide a solid, yet subdued, backing for her shimmering vocals. For their second album, Vinland Saga, Liv chose to tell the tale of Leif Erikson’s journey to Greenland, a journey you won’t soon forget as you soar across the frozen North Atlantic on Liv’s voice and the dream of a new world.
Vinland Saga begins with the title track, a swelling symphonic piece featuring several layers of Liv Kristine’s angelic voice. The mood is set for the next 45 minutes, and everything except visions of the sun shining over a frozen land disappears.
Throughout the album Liv’s voice is pulled to the front, leaving the backing band to do just that: back Liv up. Not once are the vocals fighting a meandering guitar or thundering drum for centre stage. The first big taste of this comes with Farewell Proud Men, the second track and the first to show that aside from being history buffs Leaves’ Eyes know how to get an adrenaline rush going. The perfect contrast to the opening track, Farewell Proud Men is the kind of anthemic powerhouse that got this entire genre on the map.
The entire spectrum having been covered – or at least tasted, sampled, like a sweet tease you’ll have to wait to enjoy – the album moves on with Elegy, the first single and a ballad you’ll be singing for weeks. This song pretty much defines what Leaves’ Eyes is, a wall of aural bliss heightened by the driving guitars and drums holding it up.
Solemn Sea introduces Alexander Krull’s vocals for the first time, and fans of growlers may not be terribly impressed. For his part, he keeps the growling from becoming too menacing, and it doesn’t actually upset the mood of the album too much. Alexander and Liv share vocal duties, providing a contrast that actually requires the growls to work properly. As you may imagine this song is a little heavier, a musical portrait of crossing the frozen sea as a storm breaks.
Leaves’ Eyes shows the acoustic side of the band, almost a folk song, flowing seamlessly between the verses and the anthemic chorus. The Thorn opens like a Celtic New-Age counterpart to Leaves’ Eyes, then turns into the most straightforward song on the album. The two complement each other well, along with Misseri (an Elegy-esque power ballad, an ode to winter’s cold and loneliness), to form the centre section of the album.
The second half of the disc truly starts with Amhran (Song of the Winds), a song which conjures images of anything but winds. The steady drone of the strings behind Liv’s airy voice brings to mind an absolutely still morning on open waters (and, coincidentally, the next page in the liner notes is graced with just such a photograph). Variety and contrast being among Leaves’ Eyes’ specialties, the next song again picks up the pace, this time with a Kamelot-esque feel and drive. New Found Land is a rather uplifting and powerful song in light of the sighting of new land, bringing the concept of the album back into full focus.
Mourning Tree again returns to the softer, almost Celtic/folk feel, lending an image of a bard’s love song. By this point the listener should be more than aware that this is no traditional metal band, nor are Leaves’ Eyes afraid of using epic themes to develop their musical ideas – lyrically or compositionally. The tease the opening tracks presented has been fully developed, and a feeling of completion is begging to surface.
Twilight Sun brings back the power-ballad form, building and building into a climax that could have ended the album on its own. However, the band included the beautiful closer Ankomst (translated: “Arrival”), complete with Norwegian lyrics and pleading strings drawing the listener in for one last moment before the journey ends.
For anyone who enjoys epics, concept-based albums, or ethereal female vocals, this album is for you. If you’ve ever listened to Nightwish and wished the band would back off the powermetal for ten seconds, or wished Tarja’s voice was less operatic and more angelic, this album is your dream come true. Enough genres are covered to keep almost any listener interested without getting irritated, and the vocals stand out in the mix enough to keep the focus from leaving Liv. The theme, the orchestrations, and Liv’s vocals (which could honestly do it on their own merit) earn this album a solid 9.
Leaves’ Eyes arrived on the female-fronted symphonic metal scene with quite a splash last year with the release of their debut offering Lovelorn. Marking the welcome return of vocalist Liv Kristine following her departure from Theatre Of Tragedy some years earlier, I thought the album, although I wouldn’t have rated it 10/10 myself, was certainly one of the strongest in the genre in 2004.
Given that the genre seems to be reaching a crescendo in terms of popularity, its perhaps no surprise that Leaves’ Eyes have followed up their debut so quickly with Vinland Saga. Once again taking the sea as a major source of inspiration, this is a typically epic saga of Vikings, longships and finding new lands – perfect lyrical fodder for this type of music, in other words. Bands of this ilk tend to have certain quirks that separate them out from the crowd – with Within Temptation it was (at least at the time of Mother Earth) a slight Celtic influence; with Leaves’ Eyes its Norse mythology and the integration of elements of the sea shanty into their music. Whilst this sounded fresh and interesting on the first album, it is beginning to sound a little stale now, and that’s something of the problem with the record as a whole.
Simply put, the short time scale shows – the album sounds rather hurried, with many of the tracks passing through one ear and out of the other without making much of an impact. There also seems to be a concerted attempt to move into ground occupied by Within Temptation and Nightwish – the sound of the former is all over (the admittedly quite strong) Farewell Proud Men, whilst Liv’s voice seems to be stretched to Tarja-like lengths on Twilight Sun – not necessarily a range her voice fits comfortably in. Elsewhere Mourning Tree has a slightly dour melody and whimsical chorus but is rather forgettable, as is the ‘traditional’ sounding Amhran; Misseri, meanwhile, has a leading keyboard melody that’s (rather disconcertingly) a dead ringer for Tears For Fears’ Head Over Heels, and the big chorus sounds rather half-hearted.
Its not all bad news however – Elegy is a fine track that flows well, has a rather nifty ‘jig’ motif going on and is topped off by a massive-sounding chorus – no surprise this was chosen as the lead-off single. Twilight Sun incorporates some fiddle into the main riffs, and has echoes of cult 90’s UK folk-metallers Skyclad; The Thorn is the song which best incorporates the (sparsely used) death grunt vocals of Alexander Krull, and it has some razor-sharp riffs as well, whilst New Found Land has an epic sweep and a pleasing
Celtic feel, whilst Krull’s roars of ‘yeaaaah!’ on the chorus do bring a smile to the face. The whole album sounds very good, moreover, whilst Liv’s wonderful voice can’t help but bring even the most mundane material to life.
Ultimately however I feel that this album is something of a missed opportunity – pleasant enough whilst playing, there simply isn’t enough that leaves a lasting impression, and I feel the band will have to up the ante (which I’m sure they’re capable of doing) on their next offering in order to really move up to the next level.
CHRISTOPHER DANE FRICK : 9 out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 6 out of 10
Anubis Gate - A Perfect Forever
Tracklist: Sanctified (6:36), Kingdom Come (3:58), Future Without Past (6:15), Curfew (4:59), Children of the Pauper King (6:42), Approaching Inner Circle (5:37), The Wanton Blades Of Lust (5:32), Epitome of Delusion (6:41), Endless Grief (0:46), A Perfect Forever (12:31)
A couple of listens was all I could be bothered to give Purification, the debut album from these Danish ProgPower metallers. 'Very average', was all I could really muster in a response. So hopes weren't too high, for this follow-up with its rather clichéd title. However, they'd landed a last-minute replacement slot at the ProgPower Europe Festival last month, and as I would have to spend an hour listening to them, and as the rail journey from the UK was due to take a bit of my time, I grabbed hold of a copy, to see whether they'd managed to improve.
And surprise, surprise, this is a very respectable slice of Progressive Power Metal - indeed, one of the best of its kind this year. The band has clearly expanded its song writing and musical horizons and what we have here, is an album with catchy melodies, plenty of changes in tempo and, most importantly for me, a pleasing depth to the songs, where little details emerge upon repeated plays.
It's not progressive in the Dream Theater or Redemption way, but there are enough progressive elements to take this beyond the more standard metal/power metal fare. Think Lanfear, Pyramaze, Eldritch, Section A, DGM, Steel Prophet and Cans. In terms of the overall sound, the melodic lines, and level of heaviness, Tad Morose would be the closest bedfellow.
Singer Torben Askholm is clear and forceful, and the twin guitar attack of Kim Olesen and Jesper Jensen, provides plenty of precision power, with enough variety to keep the listener interested. It's not going to change the world of music as we know it, but with songs of the quality of Sanctified and Future Without Past, this will be provide plenty of enjoyable listens to any fan of the genre.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mattsson - War
|Country of Origin:||Finland|
|Record Label:||Lion Music|
|Catalogue #:||JZ CD-002|
|Year of Release:||2005|
|Info:||Lars E Mattsson|
Tracklist: Libertango (2:49), Burning Hope (3:58), Daybreak (6:08), The Shade Of The Hill (6:19), Les Mysteres Du Chateau Hante (9:16), Illusion Meets Reality (3:21), Abitta Funky (3:17), Discophobia (3:06), Opposite Symmetry (4:39)
Another month, another bunch of musicians brought together by email, to produce another 'supergroup' project album for the Lion stable. It may just be the wrong time of the month for me (just before pay day!) but doesn't anyone else think that these projects really are getting a bit predictable and also missing the point.
The whole beauty of a band making an album, is in mixing the chemistry, the influences, the musical talents and the egos, to create something with a bit of passion; of self-belief; something unique; something where the individual members put their hearts and soul into trying to create a great record.
War is a non-fictional rock opera about the state of the planet, written and arranged by Finnish guitarist and record label-owner Lars Eric Mattson. To help him out, Lars has brought in the likes of Mark Boals, Lance King, Irene Jansen and Vitalij Kuprij to add a few names to the line-up and play the parts that don't include the guitar.
As I've mentioned the guitar, the other thing I need to get off my chest (it's definitely that time of the month!) is why, oh why, does every song have to have a widdly guitar solo thrown into the middle. You could orgasm at the technical skill involved, but they've got absolutely no relationship to the song at all.
You can image the song writing discussion. 'Oh it's three minutes already, time for the guitar solo' - widdle widdle widdle (four minutes gone) - 'Oh this is a ProgMetal super group' - widdle widdle (some more) - 'Ah well, better get back to the song again'. Utterly, utterly pointless!
I could go on and on about why this isn't a proper rock opera, why an album about the state of the planet is a hideous cliché and why two female singers do not a choir make - but you're hopefully getting the point.
And it's all such a shame, because within all these disparate parts, there are actually some good songs and some good musicians. Lance King does the business on the bruising Your Dream,
Irene Jansen has a good time with the speed metally Where's Our Chance, and high-pitched Andre Vuurboom (Sun Caged) does a ProgMetal run through on Smoke and Mirrors. If you like this sort of thing and can remain blinkered as to its clichés and lack of honesty, then it's a great album. But if you're looking for anything original or inspiring, then steer well clear.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Delphian - Oracle
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands|
|Record Label:||Lion Music|
|Year of Release:||2004/2005|
Tracklist: My Confession (3:56), Fall (4.20), Never Willing (6:04), Still Fulfilling (6:04), Sylvester's Dust (6:44), Moments (7:07), Salvation (6:05), The Unknown (3:08), On Sale (4:25), Wrong Turn (4:33), Door To Reality (7:30)
This is the latest female fronted metal band with a progressive edge to come out of The Netherlands, to join an increasingly crowded marketplace headed by the likes of Nightwish, Within Temptation and After Forever. Not that any of these three have much in common with Delphian, who avoid the ball dresses, tough leather clothes, fake choirs and operatics, to bring what they believe is a more honest, gimmick-free brand of metal to the awaiting masses.
Certainly there's an element of the beauty and the beast approach, but here it's done in a different, more direct way. The beast is provided by plenty of heavy guitars and some musically-ambitious strands of progressive metal. The use of two guitarists certainly gives the band a very heavy, and sometimes dark, vibe. The beauty comes in the shape of some great melodies delivered by Aniek Janssen's tender voice. However after giving this a good few spins, I feel the band should consider getting rid of even more of the 'gimmicks'.
Where this album really works, for me, is on the tracks where the progressive elements are kept to a minimum. And there are some great songs here. The opener, My Confession, really hits home. A great hook and Aniek's slightly sweet tone, blend perfectly with the heavy rhythms. The mellow midsection, just adds that little bit of interest, as does the twin guitar solo.
Likewise, Salvation is probably the best track, where the simple, female-fronted metal with strong melodies works a treat. Again, a down-tempo mid-section provides a great contrast. Wrong Turn also has a good melodic chorus, while Sylvester's Dusk boasts a lovely, flowing riff and a clever use of harmonies, which bring a bit of variety to the vocal sound. On these tracks the impressive Swedish band Amaran would be a good comparison.
Where the album doesn't work, for me, is when the band tries to complicate matters. Fall is just a bit messy - all down-tuned guitars with riffs, solos and rhythms all over the place. Aniek's melodies are just overwhelmed. Moments isn't as bad, but again it just doesn't have the melodies to tie it all together. The rather muggy production doesn't help.
And in other parts, the pieces of the jigsaw just don't fit. Never Willing.. opens in acoustic mode, with vocals over tightly-strummed guitar and light drums giving a pleasant poppy feel. However just as the track builds into something interesting, a bucket of Thrash metal guitars arrive on the scene unannounced. It's just too big a contrast and none of the melodies or rhythms have any relation to what went before. The opening melody does return at the end, but this time with a deep Sabbath-esque riff to accompany it!
Likewise, the flute played by Aniek on Sylvester's Dusk, doesn't really fit in with the direct and rather good melodic metal that precedes it. If this track stopped at 4:30, it would be more than enough. Several other songs have examples where, less really would have been more.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of fillers. On Sale is just rather predictable, The Unknown is just nice and Wrong Turn is just about saved by a good chorus.
As a result of all of this, I just find Oracle a rather frustrating listen. There's certainly plenty of promise on show here and for about half of this album, Delphian pull it off. But in a crowded marketplace, is half of a stall good enough?
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Space Nelson - Don't Panic
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Out Of Chances (4:02), Here Before (3:38), Tilt (2:49), Into The Sun (5:19), Mars (4:43), Control (3:51), Days On End (4:00), 2 Minutes (3:38)
Yes-like keyboards followed up by Rush-like guitars best describe the first measures of Space Nelson's album Don't Panic. The Yes reference is not really obvious but the Rush reference stays there throughout the album, Not the epic Rush compositions of more than ten minutes Space Nelson does not quite have the drive Rush does. It is like Rush without the rough edge, Space Nelson makes nice and sympathetic tunes. And sympathetic is a good description for this train of guitar and vocals with some keyboard interludes. Very catchy and with a kind of alternative rock and roll band icing.
Space Nelson does not seem to have the time for long stretched notes or dreamy keyboards, they keep far from that and at the same time keep far from straight forward rock and roll by intertwining different tunes and loops in each track. All that without making it sound overfilled and overly complex.
So it is all very clever and sometimes even catchy but Space Nelson is not able to keep my attention more than four tracks. At a certain point you kind of understand the trick and once you do the next track is like more of the previous. The breaks to be found here are just too short to take the music to the next level and the constant tone of the vocals do not take away that idea either.
Space Nelson is not bad. And if you look at the price of this album ($12 including shipping) it is not too much. But I don't want to give it more praise than that: Space Nelson do not break new ground and is not the next progressive rock promise. Or at least that would have been my story if not for two tracks: Into The Sun and Mars completely save the album. They have just the quality that the other tracks lack: the variation and
pizzazz needed to keep ones attention. Two good tracks is maybe - a bit too little for an whole album but it is a start. Space Nelson, not bad.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10
Timeline - Timeline
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Mirror In The Sky (4:46), Redemption (4:40), Vertigo (5:12), The Burn (5:09), Rampage (3:44), Journey's End (6:09), Heart Of The Storm (5:24), Karocell (4:38), Borrowed Time (5:54), When I Look Into Your Eyes (4:09)
Sometimes an album cover brings certain expectations. Look at the cover now, form your opinion and then... forget all about it. Because Timeline are not a long haired, tight trousered slick metal band (that is the vibe I get from this cover), but fall much more into the "progressive rock band" field than a metal field.
Starting of the album in a classic progressive (metal) manor, the first few bars of Timeline sounded promising, with the music being an interesting
up-tempo mix of IQ-like progrock and 70s/80s style hard rock (not too heavy though). This mix of progrock, rock and metal could appeal to me, but in this case it can also be described as neither meat nor fish, leaning heavily on very familiar tunes and styles. Some excerpts have kept me wondering for days were I had heard them before. Some of it is easy: there is no shortage of early Genesis, Rush and Marillion references on this album. In many respects it is a bit like old Marillion (Market Square Heroes/Garden Party style) with the jumpy melodies of old IQ (Tales from the Lush Attic) and some heavy basses added to that.
Unfortunately the sound quality of this recording is not really good, with the hollow sound making the vocals suffer most, but also appreciating the musical diversity is also very difficult because of this. Speaking of the vocals: I do not really like them, as they are a bit of a high pitched squeal. Not out of tune and very distinguishable, but those are good things. They are also very monotonous and a bit annoying after some time and those are not so good things.
This band does now how to make keyboard and guitars an integral part of a song without asking too much attention and without jumping at your throat all the time. At the same time: not every composition on this album is brilliant. Some are just too incoherent to make sense Heart Of The Storm, KaroCell are good examples of this, they just go on and on without going anywhere. And while tracks like Borrowed Time and Journey's End show there is more to this band than the aforementioned tracks they are also not the best I have ever heard.
In the end there are those that you recommend and those that you do not. This is one of the latter group. Although Timeline did make an effort, it is not something I will keep playing in the future.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10