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2006 : VOLUME 49

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Seventh Wonder - Waiting In The Wings
Seventh Wonder - Waiting In The Wings
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC185
Year of Release:2006
Time:55:59
Info:Seventh Wonder
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Star Of David (5:13), Taint The Sky (6:24), Waiting In The Wings (9:18), Banish The Wicked (5:36), Not An Angel (6:44), Devil's Inc. (7:14), Walking Tall (4:20), The Edge Of My Blade (6:32), Pieces (4:27)

Andy Read's Review

Wow! Where the hell did this come from? Judging from their very ordinary debut album Become last year, I wouldn't have even bothered to give the second disk from this Scandinavian band a listen, if it hadn't dropped through my door with a pile of promos. That would have been my biggest loss of the year as Waiting In The Wings is in a totally different class. This must stand as one of the best heavy rock/progressive metal crossover albums ever.

Apart from a major improvement in the song-writing department, the reason for the immeasurable improvement, is the arrival from nowhere of singer Tommy Karevik. This guy is an extraordinary talent - able to hit a huge range of notes on the head every time. For some reason, Tommy opens up the disk with a very thick accent which leaves you thinking: 'Oh not again'. But then he loses it immediately and you hardly ever hear it again. He reminds me in many ways of the singer from Circus Maximus and must surely be a name to watch in the future.

The first three songs on this album are killer progressive metal, with fabulous melodies and extended but not over-indulgent instrumental passages. But then something unexpected happens. As the album progresses, the songs take an increasingly heavy rock approach. The choruses lighten, the heaviness is eroded and it all begins to sound like Europe with a progressive fetish.

Yet, it still manages to hold my attention - partly due to the vocals, but also because the songs are just so damn well written and technically well-performed. Equal credit must go to the guitarist Johan Liefvendahl, who delivers some real whizzy, yet melodic, solos and some fabulous interplay with the keyboards.

There's a consistent high quality to the songs and some great hooks on tracks such as Taint The Sky and Not An Angel, but with enough depth to the music to keep you coming back to this disc time and time again. In a similar way to the Circus Maximus debut last year, Seventh Wonder has managed to create the ideal hybrid of these two genres - perfectly combining the most accessible elements of heavy rock and progressive metal, whilst leaving the more cheesy and excessive ones behind.

Mixed by the acclaimed Tommy Hansen and engineered by the prolific Daniel Flores (Minds Eye) the sound of the album is superb. Add to that an eye-catching cover and you've got what must be one of the best albums to ever come out of the Lion Music stable.

With this release, Seventh Wonder has gone from non-leaguers to Premiership contenders. Recommended - and some!

Gerald Wandio's Review

I both love this album and think it excellent, I’ll just say that at the outset. Why be coy? The album’s not without its faults, though they’re minor ones, and it might not appeal similarly to everybody, but I can’t imagine that fans of melodic progressive metal won’t eat this one up. I’ll try here both to acknowledge the album’s faults and to justify nevertheless my high opinion of and fondness for the album. Neither task will be difficult, because the faults are few and slight, and there’s a lot of evidence I can adduce for the album’s excellence.

Waiting In The Wings appears to be the band’s second full-length album, though its first with singer Tommy Karevik. I’ve no idea what the previous singer sounded like, but Karevik is utterly perfect for Seventh Wonder’s music. The band writes and plays soaring, ambitious, propulsive, melodic progressive metal, and Karevik’s voice rides above the instruments clearly, sounding a bit (though these comparisons are inexact and meant only to suggest his voice’s timbre) like Michael Sadler, a bit like James LaBrie, even occasionally a bit like Nick D’Virgilio, though to my ear better than any of those nonetheless fine singers. That is, Karevik’s voice is clear, powerful, frequently utterly gorgeous.

And what about the music he’s contributing to? Well, I’ll begin by acknowledging the faults I mentioned, of which there are two. The songs are not staggeringly original – nothing here will surprise anyone who’s long been a fan of progressive metal. And yet, at the same time, Seventh Wonder (it seems to me) also tries a bit too hard to achieve originality, or perhaps just to demonstrate their undeniably superb musicianship. The songs could have done with a few fewer changes of time signature, perhaps, a few fewer dynamic shifts. I suspect what we’re hearing is the enthusiasm of fine young musicians turned loose in a studio, unable to restrain themselves from unleashing all their chops at once. On future albums, of which I hope there’ll be many, they’ll probably learn to sacrifice the display of their skills to the demands of the songs, as all great bands eventually do.

But I can’t find it in me to complain too much about the displays of virtuosity or the lack of a completely distinctive sound, since what we do get on Waiting In The Wings is just so delightful to listen to. I’ll begin by praising founding member and bassist Andreas Blomqvist. Put on the CD, skip to track 2, fast forward to the 5:17 mark, and make sure there’s a pillow on the floor to catch your dropping jaw. While the album provides plenty of other examples of Blomqvist’s skill, the nineteen-second bass solo he plays here is one of the most astonishing instrumental performances of any kind I’ve ever heard. And yet that’s only nineteen seconds out of fifty-one-minute album that’s simply crammed with superb musicianship from the whole band. Drummer Johnny Sandin, keyboardist Andreas Söderin, and guitarist Johan Liefvendahl are all first-rate players, all of them Blomqvist’s peers, and they work together beautifully, creating exciting, exquisite progressive metal.

There isn’t a weak track on the album, but I might point out a few highlights (aside from that bass solo!) further to support my claim for this album’s quality. For my money, the CD’s final track, The Edge Of My Blade, is the best, if only because it eschews too-frequent tempo changes (though there are some!) in favour of a propulsive shred-paced romp, showcasing Liefvendahl’s excellent tone and technique and some of Karevik’s most emotive singing. Also very fine is Not An Angel, which begins with phased drumming and a beguiling keyboard hook before settling into a powerful groove (if, again, one that changes up more than a few times). But really, the album is uniform in its quality; your favourite track will depend mostly on which instrument you focus on or which tempo – sorry, tempi – you typically prefer.

Why go on? I made clear from the outset what I thought of this album. Waiting In The Wings is one of the three or four best albums I’ve had the privilege of reviewing this year, and it’s going to remain in heavy rotation in my CD player for a good long time to come. Get it, please.

Conclusions:

ANDY READ - 9.5 out of 10
GERALD WANDIO - 9 out of 10



Tears Of Anger - In The Shadows
Tears Of Anger - In The Shadows
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC169
Year of Release:2006
Time:61:17
Info:Tears Of Anger
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: In The Shadows (3:56), Spirit Running Free (3:48), Tears In My Eyes (3:39), I Hate You (3:46), Sell My Soul (4:41), Live These Dreams (3:36), Scene Of The Crime (4:27), Light Up My Fuse (4:10), How Will I Live (3:44), Full Of Lies (2:59), Close To The Fire (4:57), I'm Coming Home (3:27)

I don't know what they've been putting in the water on Sweden's Aland Islands, but there's certainly been a major improvement in the quality of the product coming out from one of the island's best-known companies.

Initially regarded merely as the source for a seemingly endless stream of guitar albums, around five years ago Lion Records tried to broaden its market, initially by signing some, lets be honest, pretty average and sometimes pretty dire, Scandie rock and metal bands.

In the past couple of years however it has cast its net further a field and towards a more ProgMetal stable, with some outstanding results. Along with the Sensory label, Lion is currently my favourite hunting ground for new releases in this genre. This year alone has seen some great albums from SectionA, Venturia and the amazing Seventh Wonder. Now, you can add to that list a serious contender to make my top ten for 2006 - Tears Of Anger.

I never managed to catch this band's debut release, Still Alive, but with their sophomore release, brothers Benny and Björn Jansson have been joined by promiscuous drummer Daniel Flores (Mind's Eye et al) and bassist Johan Niemann (Mind's Eye, Therion). The result is In The Shadows - a truly excellent darkly powerful, yet melodic, progressive metal opus that deserves a much bigger buzz than it seems to have been getting.

The first big plus point for me, is that Björn Jansson has a voice that is a deadringer for Jorn Lande (Masterplan, ARK). Secondly, the guitar interplay between Benny and Bjorn (no ABBA references necessary) is meaty, explosive and very progressive. Their vocal harmonies are fantastic too.

Mixed with the aggressive drumming of Flores and the bass antics of Niemann, comparisons to ARK abound, especially in the first half of this album. The first three tracks are where you could actually be forgiven for thinking you were listening to ARK - with a gentle nod to Andromeda. The highlight is In The Shadows. The song opens with a good, beefy crunch to the guitar, followed by an off-beat verse that flows into the keen melody of the chorus and back again. The keys add occasional touches, amid short blasts of soloing guitar.

I Hate You changes things to a lighter mood, with its almost Alice Cooper chorus. Full Of Lies again brings Alice Cooper to mind, whilst its fast pace, the off-beat grove and the great out-of-nowhere guitar solo, keeps the progressive elements to the fore.

Other favourites are Close To The Fire, with its very Whitesnake-meets-ARK song structure and I'm Coming Home, which is more akin to Foreigner-meets-ARK.

The criticisms are minor. The progressive touches are so damn good that I just wished a few of the tracks were allowed to stretch themselves out a bit more. Nothing on this album lasts longer than five minutes, which means many of the songs wave goodbye before you've really got tired of them. Although, I guess keeping the listener wanting more, is always a good move.

The quality does dip a little in the middle with Sell My Soul and Live These Dreams, and I do feel the band could add another string to its bow by adding some more keyboards into the mix.

For me this is a superbly-performed album that traverses two of my favourite musical styles, with songs that just make me keep coming back for more. If you enjoy a mix of the progressive metal (ARK), and a healthy slab of classic heavy rock (Whitesnake or Alice Cooper), then this is an essential purchase.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror Of Creation 2 ~ Genesis II
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror Of Creation 2 ~ Genesis II
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC186
Year of Release:2006
Time:68:46
Info:Tomorrow’s Eve
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Man Without A Name (0:46), Amnesia (6:33), Pain (3:25), The Eve Suite (9:00), The Market Of Umbra (4:48), Not From This World (4:14), Eye For An Eye (0:59), Irreversible (4:56), Distant Murmurs (5:31), Rebirth (5:44), Human Device (5:45), The Trials Of Man (17:00)

Three years after Mirror Of Creation (reviewed by colleague Andy Read), the German prog rock band Tomorrow’s Eve continue their concept with this new album. Musically and lyrically there are obvious ties to the first album and a few questions that were left open by the Mirror Of Creation album are answered on this new release. For readers who do not know this band, they play true classical progressive metal with obvious musical links to bands like Evergrey, POS, Poverty’s No Crime and Queensrÿche, in short: very heavy at times, very melodic but also very accessible. Since the first two albums the line-up of the band has changed, leaving only Rainer Grund (guitar) and Oliver Schwickert (keys) as original members. Later on Tom Diener (drums) and Chris Doerr (bass guitar) joined the band until Martin LeMar (vocals) finally completed the new Tomorrow’s Eve in 2004. Two years later the band found in Lion Music a new label and so they are back with an impressive concept album.

The CD kicks off with a typical prog metal track filled with staccato riffs, melodic vocals, piano parts and lots of musically interesting solos, clearly stating the band’s influences, like POS, Vanden Plas, Symphony X and Ivory Tower. The first memorable song is called The Eve Suite, a track with a rather spooky musical atmosphere, lots of rhythm changes and this is also the first song where singer Le Mar reminds me of Geoff Tate, the lead vocalist of Queensrÿche. The two tracks that follow also sound like that famous Seattle band, mainly due to the female voice in a song Not From This World.

Eye For An Eye is a piano and vocal intermezzo before the band continues with its rather familiar prog metal sound. Especially a song like Irreversible brings back memories of the fantastic Promised Land album. Sometimes the band goes over the top, as in Human Device, a song that really makes your head spin around and around… After five songs the music of Tomorrow’s Eve is getting a bit too familiar and the musical diversity starts to fade away. But the band saves the best for last as they end this CD with the epic (17 minute) The Trials Of Man. A piano intro is followed by lots of heavy guitar riffs and shreds, before the vocal parts come in and make this song really bombastic and dramatic. Of course you can also enjoy some really good guitar and keyboard solos during this song, but after 11 minutes the music fades away, leaving the listener with 5 minutes of bloody silence at the end. How original, please give me a break here, why end this rather good prog metal album in such a boring and also predictable way????

As it is a concept album I will give you all a short summary of the story, which kind of reminds me of an Ayreon story… A man wakes up in a dirty alley with no clue who he is, and where he is. He is badly hurt and he is taken to hospital. Nobody seems to be missing him and after a while everyone had given up on trying to find more about his identity. A certain doctor however takes him in and tries to help him to remember. However the more he remembers the less he wants to. As certain fragments finally return to him he understands that he was no ordinary man. He grew up as part of an experiment which he brought to a bloody end by himself. The doctor who takes care of him, may also have been involved, so how is this going to end…..

Enjoy the story but most of all enjoy the music as this CD is a must for prog metal lovers!

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

MARTIEN KOOLEN



Secrets Of The Moon - Antithesis
Secrets Of The Moon - Antithesis
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Lupus Lounge
Catalogue #:wolf015
Year of Release:2006
Time:58:43
Info:Secrets Of The Moon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Nowhere (2:59); Versus (6:24); Ordinance (7:43); Confessions (7:09); Metamorpheses (6:28); Ghost (8:21); Seraphim Is Dead (7:44); Lucifer Speaks (8:38); Exity (2:58)

I first stumbled across Secrets Of The Moon when I heard the track Lucifer Speak on a sampler CD with a UK metal magazine. A strong, slow burning dark metal epic with a real sense of dramatic tension, I was so struck by the high quality of this track that following several repeated plays, I immediately ordered the album. Initially, however, I was a little disappointed as the aforementioned song seemed head and shoulders above the rest of the album. As happens so many times however, repeated listens meant that the other songs soon started to make their presence felt, and whilst I wouldn’t say that Antithesis is a classic, it is an encouraging entry into the increasingly large cannon of adventurous extreme metal releases.

This German band clearly have their roots firmly in the black metal movement, and on Antithesis, their third full-length album, these roots certainly still show – witness the opening of first track proper Versus, with its tolling bells, furious blast beats, sinewy, eerie guitar lines and menacing growled vocals. However, as with many bands working within the genre in recent years, Secrets Of The Moon have basically taken the tools of the trade and twisted it into more exciting realms, as is shown as the song develops, regularly altering the pace, style and mood. Comparisons can be made with the likes of latter day Emperor and Enslaved – whilst Secrets Of The Moon can hardly be said to sound particularly like these bands (although there are sections that remind me of the latter band’s recent releases Isa and Ruun in some respects) they take a similar approach in attempting to progress extreme metal into new areas (and yes, the pun is intended!).

Elsewhere, the band frequently slow the riffing down to an almost funeral pace, with songs such as Confessions owing something of a debt to veteran UK doomsters My Dying Bride. The likes of Ordinance and Seraphim Is Dead, meanwhile, feature the kind of soaring symphonic crescendos that Opeth are rightly lauded for.

It's clear throughout that the band’s label have lavished plenty of money on them, and its been well spent - Antithesis features a pristine and expansive production job that both allows every note to be heard clearly and gives real weight behind the more bombastic sections, making sure they have the requisite impact. Plenty of time has also obviously been invested in both the music and the lyrics; the latter do tackle the familiar black metal subjects of death and Satanism, but take a far more considered, thoughtful view than the usual ‘praise Satan!’ rhetoric heard in the genre, and ultimately many of the words are relatively oblique, and there to serve the music rather than force home any particular message.

Ultimately, its difficult to unconditionally recommend Antithesis to the ‘average’ Progressive Metal fan – it is undoubtedly very dark and heavy, and not the most of accessible of releases to those unfamiliar with this genre of metal, and in addition there are several tracks which drag somewhat, blunting the edge of the album overall. However, for those who have fallen under the spell of the likes of Opeth, Enslaved and Arcturus, I’d certainly advise checking the samples out as this is certainly a worthy entry into the dark metal genre.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Wastefall - Self Exile
Wastefall - Self Exile
Country of Origin:Greece
Format:CD
Record Label:Sensory Records
Catalogue #:SR3031
Year of Release:2006
Time:51:03
Info:Wastefall
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Intro (1:05), Willow Man (4:05), The Muzzle Affection (5:27), Dance Of The Descent (3:36), Another Empty Haven (5:55), Strife For Definition (4:49), Sleepwalk (4:37), Eye (4:44), Utopia Fragmentea (6:43), Minutes to Abandon (3:55), Provoke The Divine (6:14)

First thing to say about this, the third album from Greek band Wastefall, is that it sees two big changes in direction from their highly-acclaimed second release Soulrain 21.

The first big change is in the line-up. A new bassist and drummer have come in and the violin player has left and not been replaced. The second big change - and it’s mainly a natural result of the first – is in the band’s sound.

The thing that really appealed to me about Soulrain 21 was the fantastic and unusual groove that all the songs possessed. In part funky, in part based on traditional Greek and Mediterranean music, and in part utilizing some adventurous arrangements that owed a heavy debt to Pain Of Salvation, it gave the band a really fresh and unique sound.

Self Exile has none of that, employing a direct and aggressive guitar-based sound that brings to mind more of Pantera, Nevermore and Communic, than Pain of Salvation. I’ve not detected a trace of the violin.

Although most of the songs clock in at around the four-and-a-half minute mark, the album is not without its progressive elements and certainly has some very strong songs. Muzzle Affection benefits from a cool, jazzy vibe, some lovely guitar and piano touches, and the addition of a female singer. Dance Of The Descent retains a clear Pain Of Salvation influence and Utopia Fragmentea is the closest the band gets to its sound on the last album. There are plenty of good hooks to hang the songs on as well, especially in Willow Man, Sleepwalk and the balladic Minutes To Abandon.

What I don’t enjoy is the constant drone of the grinding, down-tuned guitars that do little more than drive the songs along. Eye for example is just a constant blur of thuddy chords, as is the second half of Strife For Definition where the hammering guitars, drums and bass merely create a lot of indistinguishable, repetitive noise. The drums in particular I find off-putting. Kostis Papaleksopoulos’ determination to use as many off-tempo beats as possible makes certain sections very hard to enjoy.

At times it all just sounds a bit confused. The band seemingly knowing where it is supposed to get to, but not quite sure how to get there and whether it really wants to!

Overall, this is a strong release for sure, but one that is more likely to please fans of aggressive, progressive-tinged metal than those who enjoyed the last Wastefall album. Listen to the two albums back-to-back and it's hard to believe that it's the same band. As someone who really got into Soulrain 21, I have to be honest and say that this is rather a disappointment.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Divided Sky - The Subtle Art Of Failure
Divided Sky - The Subtle Art Of Failure
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2006
Time:69:49
Info:Divided Sky
MySpace
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Impermanence (4:38), Farther (7:23), Sheep And Kings (3:13), Failure (9:75), Bridge (1:30), Tremors (2:20), No Earthquakes, No Displacements (6:10), Memory And Desire (7:28), Kaironomaea: The Welkin Eye (2:39), Patterns (3:57), All We're Made Of (5:12), Cycles (6:04), Figure 8 (5:26), Coda (3:47)

I’ve found this an incredibly difficult album to review. Having raved over Divided Sky’s self-released debut album, Spectral, I naturally jumped at the opportunity to see how the band has developed in the past three years.

I’ve had this on and off my player for the past two months, and I still can’t come to a conclusion as to whether The Subtle Art Of Failure is genius or just confused.

What I have no doubt about, is that Divided Sky is a band with huge - nay massive - potential. In a similar way to Pain Of Salvation, when the Swedes first appeared on the scene, this four-some from Philadelphia is really pushing the boundaries of progressive metal into a distinctive and ground-breaking new territory.

That this album will take many - and I mean many - listens to fully sink in, should be taken for granted by anyone who grabs a copy. The Subtle Art Of Failure is an attempt to fuse a smorgasbord of genres, moods and emotions, in order to create a unique sound. Experimental and innovative in equal measure, there’s a heavy use of improvisation across the 14 tracks contained within.

The music is generally strong on melody and groove, but it is also filled with sudden shifts of dynamics, moving from frenetic double bass drums and grinding guitars, to slower, P-o-S-like acoustic arrangements – and usually back and forth between the two extremes in just one song!

In a similar way to Kings-X, when they first hit the scene many a moon ago, African/American vocalist Sean Crisden, has a voice that immediately stands out from the crowd. His unconventional melody and phrasing, mixed with the Pain of Salvation-like discordant harmonies, fits in with the music perfectly. As on the debut, he reminds me at times of the Novact vocalist.

His vocals are blended with a wide range of guitar styles – from highly-aggressive metal riffage to mellow acoustics – as well as a huge variety in the style of the bass and drums, plus occasional, atmospheric synth elements. The lyrics meanwhile are poetically evocative and add an important dimension to the music.

There are times when the band gets the blend just right, creating a perfect vintage that warrants the conclusion of 'genius'. Father, for example, is a beautiful song where the band maintains a steady groove even though they mix-up their lighter and heavier approaches. It is a very complicated and multi-faceted song, but everything somehow fits together to make a coherent piece. Similarly, on Memory And Desire, where a clean guitar sound creates a superb instrumental section with bass and drums.

Unfortunately, as frequently as the band gets it right, they get it wrong - delivering an equal number of songs where the 'confused' label comes in. The opening track has a great central melody and lyric, but is torn apart by drums, bass and guitars going off in different directions. Sometimes less really is more.

I remember commenting that on the debut the production was rather poor and sadly things haven’t improved. It’s on the tracks where the guitars and bass are in full grind mode that it all becomes a bit of a muddle. The opening track suffers the most, where Crisden’s voice really struggles to maintain its authority.

I guess what I’m really saying is that there is just too much to absorb on this album. There’s such a wealth of ideas and creativeness here, but rather like a kid being let loose in a sweet shop at Christmas, one comes out very bloated at the end. To aid the digestion, I often take this album in phases of three or four songs. But perhaps if the band could just stick closer to 40 minutes, rather than 70, that would reduce the risk of over-doing it.

I may be being over-critical here, as I know some people will no doubt go for the chaotic approach to musical art. But as I said at the start, I can’t help but feel that Divided Sky has the potential to do something really special that will have a much wider appeal. After two albums they should be able to decide what works and what doesn’t. If they make the correct choices and get into a decent studio with an outside producer who can impose a bit of discipline and direction, then the third album will be immense.

But maybe I’m missing the point, and the band will decide that this freeform-style of music is how they want to express themselves. Ah well, life is all a matter of choices.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Jon Oliva's Pain - Maniacal Renderings
Jon Oliva's Pain - Maniacal Renderings
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:AFM Records
Catalogue #:LMC166
Year of Release:2006
Time:45:35
Info:Jon Oliva's Pain
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Through The Eyes Of The King, Maniacal Renderings, The Evil Beside You, Time To Die, The Answer, Push It To The Limit, Playing God, Timeless Flight, Holes, End Times, Still I Pray For You Now, Reality's Fool [bonus track], Only You [bonus track]

Music reviewers are all crooks and totally dishonest! As soon as we receive a promo CD from a record label, we run to our computers and load the tracks onto at least five file-sharing, peer-to-peer websites so that anyone, anywhere in the world can burn their own copies of an album, weeks before it is officially released.

Actually we're not. In reality we spend hundreds of hours every year in our own unpaid time listening to albums and writing reviews, travelling thousands of miles to review shows and to interview the bands, in order to promote the music that we love.

However AFM Records obviously think that we are all the former. At least that’s the only explanation that I can find to explain why the promo CD they have sent me in order to promote their new album from Savatage mainman Jon Oliva, only has one full track on it! The rest all have around 40 seconds removed at the beginning, the end, or both.

What next. Book reviewers will be asked to review new novels with the last five pages of each chapter missing? Film reviewers will have the beginning and the ends of the movies removed? Art critics can only see photos of a painting? Utter crap!

If the leaking of promo CDs before release is such a big problem – and personally I’m not convinced that it is – then there are far better ways to tackle the problem than this. All this is guaranteed to achieve, is that the artists will never receive a full and proper review of their work – and thus the promotion and sales of it will surely suffer.

As a result of this stupid idea, there’s not much of any value I can tell you about this album, as all the tracks fade in and out of each other. I don’t know how some start and how others finish; I don't' know whether the flow of the album is any good; what some of the solos are like (they fade too) or even how long the damn album is.

What’s more, the track listing on the promo bears absolutely no resemblance to the tracks as they play on my system (deliberate or cock-up?). So if I were to say that Time To Die is a glorious piece of operatic metal, then I could actually be referring to End Times! They don’t even provide me a with a copy of the album cover. So I can’t tell you if that’s any good either!

When I enjoy an album that I get to review, I’ll always go out and buy the real thing – I’m sad like that, but I also think it important to support the bands direct by buying the product. But as I can’t really say if this is any good or not, then (a) I won’t be buying a copy and (b) I won’t be recommending that you buy one either. Come to think of it, I won’t be wasting my time in reviewing any more AFM albums until they change this ridiculous policy. I hope other reviewers will do the same. Nuff said.

Conclusion: Who Knows?

ANDY READ



Silentivm - Seducia
Silentium - Seducia
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Dynamic Arts
Records
Catalogue #:DYN012
Year of Release:2006
Time:48:55
Info:Silentivm
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hangman's Lullaby (6:29), Serpentized (7:03), Dead Silent (4:44), Unbroken (5:14), Frostnight (4:18), Children Of Chaos (4:39), Empress Of The Dark (6:14), Seducia (10:19)

This Gothic Metal band from Finland hasn't really garnered much of a profile outside of their home country. From the evidence on this, their fourth album, that's a real shame. The temptingly-titled Seducia has some absolute gems contained within the eight tracks on offer.

The band was actually the first-ever signed to the Finnish Spikefarm label, with Infinita Plango Vulnera hitting the stores in 1999. Two years later Altum and a mini-CD appeared before the band and Spikefarm parted ways. In 2005 Silentivm signed to the Finnish Dynamic Arts Records and this is the first result of the new partnership.

From the evidence contained within Seducia, the band's take on the Gothic Metal genre pays heavy regard to atmospherics given by heavy orchestration and regular use of the cello, played by Elias Kahila. The guitars are in constant evidence but really play second fiddle to the strings. There are some good progressive elements to the arrangements and of course the use of male/female vocals gives a certain weight to the rockier moments.

The absolute highlight is the gorgeous opening track Hangman's Lullaby. It opens with a music box before the piano, then cello and then guitars are added. But it's the voice of Riina Rinkinen and her vocal melody that is simply just to die for. One of the best pieces of music you will hear all year. Similarly, the band's first single, Frostnight, is another highlight. More uptempo, with a great bouncy beat and heavy orchestration, it's the closet the band gets to Lacuna Coil.

The Nordic vibe to Serpentized brings to mind a stripped down Leaves Eyes, with an early-period Evergrey in the dark atmosphere given by the piano. Dead Silent again has echoes of Lacuna Coil, whilst on the beautiful ballad Unbroken you can almost hear the candles flickering in the background.

The weak points are the male, semi-growly vocals of bassist Matti Aikio, which I simply don't like. For her part, Riina's voice is lush on the higher registers but she struggles with the lower, more aggressive sections. As a result Children Of Chaos is just horrible. The dweeby Euro metal guitars and discordant orchestration, jarring horribly with out-of-tune vocals and flat drumming. Similarly, when the pair try to harmonise the lower ranges, on the closing title track, it isn't a pleasant experience.

Ditch the male vocals or use them very sparingly; ditch the Euro metal guitars; and allow Riina to concentrate on her higher range, and Seducia would be faultless. Of course it's all a matter of taste and opinion, but in my book, thanks to the two standout tracks, four other quality songs and the invention of the 'skip' button, this just about gets a firm recommendation.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Section A - Parallel Lives
Section A - Parallel Lives
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC166
Year of Release:2006
Time:45:35
Info:Section A
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hunted, The Gift, Awakening, Dark Alliance, Moment Of Truth, Hoping For A Miracle, Changing The Past, Beginning Of The End

It must be a couple of years now, since Section A grabbed the attention of myself, and many other fans of melodic Prog/Power Metal, with the release of their debut album, The Seventh Sign. Combining the guitar talents of Torben Enevoldsen, with the superb, yet mysteriously under-rated vocal talent that is Andy Engberg, the band managed to capture some great melodies, within songs that were adventures and technically-arranged, but not too complicated.

For their second album, two ex-members of Lions Share have been brought into to replace the pairing of Vanden Plas drummer and keyboardist Gunter Werno and Andreas Lill. Musically, and especially as Andy Engberg also made his name in Lions Share, there is more than a passing resemblance to the music contained on that Swedish band’s first three albums.

As with the debut, Parallel Lives features frequent time changes, but most of the songs are relatively simple - relative that is to say Dream Theater, Suncaged or Pain Of Salvation! However, it’s in the instrumental passages that the musicians get to show off their skills.

Torben isn’t from the Formula One racing school of guitar playing. His emphasis is on emotion and feel, as much as speed. Every note counts. But there are still enough twists and turns to keep fans of the progressive genre happy.

There’s a good mix of dynamics across the eight songs here. Awakening opens with Spanish guitar before developing into a catchy power ballad along the lines of Hardline. The track is given an extra edge thanks to some great female vocals. The Gift has a real bluesy opening and a more reflective verse. This is in sharp contrast to its driving chorus that brings to mind Vanden Plas in terms of weight and mood.

Dark Alliance is the longest and most progressive track, featuring an extended instrumental workout. However the best track for me is Moment Of Truth, which takes the Magnitude Nine approach of placing melody at the centre of an up-temp beat. There is some exceptional guitar playing on this track.

The one song that doesn’t really work is Hoping For A Miracle, where neither the off-beat guitar or the different vocal tone work for me at all. The other negative is the storyline. Yep, this is another concept album dealing with a sci-fi type tale about a boy who finds himself being hunted down by those trying to capture his exceptional skills. It’s such a re-hashed storyline and is pretty-clumsily told. The lyrics and the short inserts which carry the story between the songs, really do detract from the music itself. There’s also a certain feeling that a lot of this record is rather formulaic and despite the band’s clear abilities, they are going for a rather safe, end product.

Overall though, the quality of the songs and the playing make this a ‘recommended’ buy, to those who enjoy a mix of melodic heavy rock and progressive power metal that is superbly performed. Thanks to the work of Enevoldsen, there should also be plenty here to entertain the guitar players amongst you.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Leaves' Eyes - Legend Land
Leaves' Eyes - Legend Land
Country of Origin:Norway/Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Napalm Records
Catalogue #:NPR188EP
Year of Release:2006
Time:21:07
Info:White Willow
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Legend Land (3:42), Skraelings (3:34), Viking's World (3:35), The Crossing (3:18), Lyset (2:15), Legend Land [Extended Version] (4:43)

A gothic metal band which seems to have a pretty wide appeal, we’ve positively reviewed two of their previous albums on this site, and there's no reason to break the pattern with this – a five track EP, that must be seen as a worthwhile attempt to keep the band in the public eye.

The voice of Liv Kristine would have been enough to have warranted the interest that is shown in Leaves Eyes but the band adds to the mix some great, catchy song-writing and a wicked helping of bombast and symphonics. Together, all the ingredients create a very tasty and distinct product.

If you believe what you read on the web, then Legend Land was originally pencilled-in as a single for Vinland Saga, but it was eventually decided that it was good enough to serve as basis for a new release with new tracks added. One of the best – if not the best - compositions from the band to date, it’s a fabulously crunchy and bouncy gothic metal track with beauty and the beast vocals, a superb verse and chorus and all the other elements that you’d expect from the band.

Almost as good is Skraelings. Another great hook to the melodies, this is far more delicate in terms of the vocal and arrangement.

Equally restrained is the introduction to Vikings World, before the beast vocals are introduced along with some clear Viking-metal elements. The Viking vibe also features on the more anthemic The Crossing. The final new song, Lyset, ghosts similarities to the more traditional Norwegian folk atmosphere found across many of the tracks on Vinland Saga - a left-over from the album sessions? The extended version of the title track closes the album. As with all such exercises, it doesn’t add any fresh ideas to the original but it’s such a good song, you won’t mind hearing it again.

Whether one brilliant track, one good track and three B-sides is enough to persuade fans to splash out for this, is questionable. I guess it all depends on the price.

Unlike many such EPs - which are too often little more than plugging a gap and/or trying to milk a few extra Euros from the fan base – this does stand as a valid release. And the title track alone is well worth adding to any collection.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Manticora - The Black Circus Part 1 ~ Letters
Manticora - The Black Circus Part 1 - Letters
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Massacre Records
Catalogue #:Mas Pc0526
Year of Release:2006
Time:47:28
Info:Manticora
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Enter The Carnival (2:06), The Black Circus (5:24), Intunerie I (0:31), Enchanted Mind (5:26), Intunerie II (1:02), Forever Carousel (5:52), Freakshow (4:51), Gypsies Dance Pt I (6:25), Intunerie III (0:36), Wisdom (6:43), Intunerie IV (1:57), Disciplies Of The Entities (5:43)

As the tile suggests, the fifth full-length album from Danish band Manticora is the first of a two-album concept piece dealing with the horror story of a travelling circus in 19th century New England. Inspired by a H.P. Lovecraft story it tells the tale in the form of letters from one character to another.

The format therefore changes little from their previous two albums which also followed the concept format. However this time around I feel the band has upped its games considerably. The story is cleverly interwoven with the music - the device of unfolding the tale through letters and the use of short interludes to carry the tale along, works extremely well.

The song-writing too has matured. The band's sound is still based around its established power metal, twin guitar attack but on The Black Circus they've added a dark, progressive touch that I feel will broaden their appeal.

Vocalist Lars Larsen isn't really my sort of singer - a bit too shouty and rough around the edges - and there certainly isn't enough musical variety to interest the hardcore ProgMetal fan. The other criticism is that a few of the songs lack a strong-enough melody to stick in the memory. But for those who like plenty of power and aggression, wrapped inside a good but dark storyline, that is very well told, then Manticora will have you eagerly awaiting the second instalment which is due for release in 2007.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Journey Into The Fourth Dimension - Same
Journey Into The Fourth Dimension - Journey Into The Fourth Dimension
Country of Origin:Chile
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC1709
Year of Release:2006
Time:58:45
Info:Lion Music Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Introduction (1:04), Phantom Shadows (4:40), Battlefields Of Glory (6:48), Oriental Fantasy (4:03), Through The Darkness (3:04), Dreams Of Wisdom & Prophecy (3:16), "Epic Dramatic" For Electric Guitar & Keyboards (9:20), Psychophony (4:07), Journey Into The Fourth Dimension (12:10), Nel Mezzo Del Cammir (2:51), Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules (6:24), Flight Of The Bumblebee [bonus track] (0:52)

Well all I can say is, if the journey into the fourth dimension was undertaken at the speed all the instruments are played at on this album, then the journey would be over in the blink of an eye. However if this album had to be played on that journey, then it would seem like a lifetime. In fact I only managed to listen to Journey Into The Fourth Dimension twice and I felt life slipping rapidly away.

OK so you may have gathered that Journey Into The Fourth Dimension may not have gone down too well with me - well cards on the table - I didn't like it one iota! It is excessive beyond belief, absolutely pointless and as a piece of music, about as subtle (and welcome) as serving a pork-pie at a Bar Mitzah. Regular readers to the DPRP reviews pages will probably be aware of my penchant for the guitar instrumental, and certainly in the right hands this type of album has provided me with many an hour of listening pleasure. However never have I experienced such a wanton display of musical masturbation as displayed here by Journey Into The Fourth Dimension. It is devoid of any musical integrity - the pieces being solely for the purpose of showing how fast these guys can play.

So who are the perpetrators of this warp speed drivel. Chilean shredder José del Río heads up the cast with keyboardist Vitalij Kupuprij ably keeping up with the pace. Drums are supplied by Marco Cerda, who plays with all the passion of a drum machine. The only other musicians credited on the album are members of Teatro Municipal and the operatic Soprano Pilar Aguilera - and even their one contribution to this album is murdered by guitar excesses.

Why is it so bad? Well bearing in mind that this is only my opinion, some may well see this as "an album destined to become a classic within the neoclassical/progressive shred/fusion style". I beg to differ. Journey Into The Fourth Dimension suffers mainly from the tempo which everything is played at - so fast the notes merely become a blur. In fact so excessive is the speed that I really felt that the album had been mastered at the wrong BPM. The keyboards suffered most, taking on a tinny timbre and thus making them unpleasant to listen to.

Are there any saving graces? The brief Baroque section that opens Battlefields Of Glory is not without its charm. Dreams Of Wisdom & Prophecy is a pleasant enough classical guitar piece, although it suffers from sounding like a collection of guitar exercises. The last of the classical tinged offerings Psychophony gives us another resting point.

It is obvious that all the musicians have invested a great deal of time learning to play their respective instruments - as far as I can see they now need to learn how to apply that knowledge - and just slow down! Rather than spend time trying to explain the music from Journey Into The Fourth Dimension I invite you to click the Samples link above and click on two of Guitar 9's MP3s. The first would be Phantom Shadows and the second Rimsky-Korsakov's the Flight Of The Bumblebee - if you like what you hear then buy this album and ignore my comments.

Conclusion: 1 out of 10

BOB MULVEY




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