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Reviews in this issue:
- Crimson Glory - Crimson Glory
- Crimson Glory - Transcendence
- To-Mera - Delusions
- Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs)
- Dominici - 03 A Trilogy ~ Part 3
- Moonlight Agony - Silent Waters
- Metro Society – A Journey In Paris
- Asrai - Pearls In Dirt
- André Matos - Time To Be Free
- Mörglbl - Grötesk
- Ebony Ark - When The City Is Quiet
- Sacrum - Cognition
- Royal Hunt - Collision Course
- By Blood Alone - Seas Of Blood
- Resistance - Patents Of Control
Crimson Glory - Crimson Glory
Tracklist: Valhalla (3:46), Dragon Lady (4:21), Heart Of Steel (6:07), Azrael (5:42), Mayday (2:59), Queen Of The Masquerade (5:27), Angels Of War (5:23), Lost Reflection (4:43) Bonus: Dream Dancer
Crimson Glory was a band from Florida, that alongside Queensrÿche and Fates Warning started off as pure purveyors of heavy metal. They ignored the flourishing death and hair metal scenes, and instead helped to pioneer progressive metal. Their vocalist dubbed himself Midnight. The band insisted on wearing silver masks - even during signing sessions, and their songs had titles like Where Dragon’s Rule and Angels of War. Had they not been so damn talented, those factors alone would be sufficient reason for us to never mention Crimson Glory ever again.
This, the band’s self-titled debut, bears huge similarities to the first Queensrÿche EP and the Jon Arch-led albums of Fates Warning. All take their cue from the fast-emerging NWOBH bands, especially Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, with a respectful nod to the by-then already legendary Black Sabbath and Rainbow. It’s mostly mid-paced material with some nice twin-guitar work from Drenning and Jackson. However, even through the muddy production, it is clear that Midnight is the band’s trump card. An amazing talent, he can hit the high notes like King Diamond, but with a strength and power that few have ever been able to match. In his heyday he was one of the few singers who could matchGeoff Tate. Across this album and the one that follows, it is Midnight who moves the songs far more than the instruments do.
There are a few highlights on this debut album, and a few hints of the progressive sounds that were to quickly follow, however, musically it is no more than an average heavy metal album of the period. Its interest lies chiefly for existing fans to see where the Crimson Glory roots are based.
Valhalla and Dragon Lady are decent power metal anthems. Heart of Steel goes from a soft opening to an epic song that wouldn't sound out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Azrael offers a big hint that there was something special about this band. The ghostly opening, evolves into something not unlike Queensryche’s Queen Of The Ryche. Mayday is where Midnight shows how many octaves his voice can reach. Queen Of The Masquerade has a nice, dirty swagger. Angels Of War is the dullest track.
It wasn't until revisiting these albums together, that I fully-appreciated how far and how quickly they developed, to be able to produce the ground-breaking album which followed. You have to wait to the closing track Lost Reflection, to see the band fully open a door to their future. Midnight's composition is a haunting song that grows from an eerie intro.
By their nature, the songs do sound rather dated now. If you are curious, and don’t expect anything progressive, then this stands as a decent debut album. By no means is it a classic. This album and its successor are the latest in a long line of 80s releases from the Roadrunner label, to be fully remastered and released in a limited edition under-licence by Poland’s Metal Minds. Both have been long-available in the CD format, and I do feel an opportunity has been missed here.
I won’t delve into the trials and tribulations of the band’s recent history, but what was originally announced, was a disc called 'Lost Reflections'. That would feature new artwork, new and previously unseen band photos, lyrics and new liner notes and the previously unreleased song Love Me - Kill Me. There was also talk of a new video for the song Lost Refection and a band interview about the first CD, shedding light on its creation.
This version comes with just a single bonus track, "Dream Dancer" which was originally only found on the Par cassette release of the album. There are some new sleeve notes which offer little fresh insight and are practically the same on both albums. No new songs or video, no new pictures or artwork. Not really much added value.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Crimson Glory - Transcendence
Tracklist: Lady Of Winter (4:00), Red Sharks (4:52), Painted Skies (5:10), Masque Of The Red Death (4:15), In Dark Places (7:03), Where Dragons Rule (5:07), Lonely (5:18), Burning Bridges (6:32), Eternal World (3:54), Transcendence (4:34) Bonus: Lonely - [single remix]
In one respect, I’ve always found it strange that Crimson Glory is so frequently cited as one of the most influential bands in both power and progressive metal circles. Using the widest definition of the term, of the four albums released by the band, Transcendence is the only one that can be regarded as 'progressive'. Yet when you listen to this beautiful creation, you can appreciate why so many see it as a landmark album. If you also appreciate it in the musical context that existed when it was released in 1988, then its seminal role in the evolution of ProgMetal is without doubt.
Pre-dating this website by almost a decade, Transcendence has never received a DPRP review. Come to mention it, none of their albums have! Therefore, please allow me to indulge in a severe bout of fanboy worship as I hold in my hands the limited edition re-issue of this album. My excuse is simple, for me, Transcendence is a record by which all progressive power metal discs should be judged.
The second album from Florida’s masked quintet, this hit the streets around the same time as Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime. The pairing generated much media interested at the time, especially for the way in which both bands had taken the traditional heavy metal blueprint, and re-shaped it with a fresh complexity to create a sound all of their own. The fact that both bands possessed premier league, high octane singers, added to the sense of a fresh genre developing before our ears.
I was lucky enough to witness both bands in their prime on UK tours (and have the signed albums to prove it!). Queensrÿche’s first solo show in London still stands as my all-time favourite concerts (and I still have the t-shirt to prove it!!). Crimson Glory were the newer kids on the block, playing smaller venues yet amazing crowds with their ability to replicate the delicate details of their album in a live setting – and yes, Midnight really could hit those high notes!
Basically, the music of Crimson Glory is a power and progressive metal hybrid. The time changes and classical influences are minimal, as is the presence of any keyboards. But you will find some of the vocal stylings commonly associated with the genre. There is also the carefull crafting of dynamics, the mixture of light and shade, found on Rage For Order.
Midnight sounds like the little brother of Geoff Tate, whose voice never broke. Listen carefully and there are lots of similarities, without sounding like clones. There’s not quite the depth to his main tone that Tate utilised to such great effect in his prime. Yet, when Midnight hits the top of the feasible range, there is no noticeable dip in the power and grace – no strained falsetto here. Throughout he manages to be more melodic than just about any of the metal larynxes since.
Jon Drenning and Ben Jackson make good use of the options that twin guitars provide. Drenning is clearly the musician who carries and drives every song. Their work is sharp and incisive, but I’d use the term 'inventive', rather than 'progressive'.
From listening to Transcendence afresh on this remastered CD, what has really hit home is just how good the production of this album was. For the first time, I can also appreciate what a key role bassist Jeff Lords plays. Take the opening track, Lady Of Winter, where his deep bass grooves really define the sound.
The drumming of Dan Burnell is probably the weakest link. When I think of my favourite ProgMetal bands, (Fates Warning, Ark, Threshold), they’ve all had drummers who are able to add a distinct character and groove, thus enhancing and defining the band’s sound. Burnell is good, but you're not going to hear much more than a strict keeping of the beat.
So that’s the band reviewed. What about the songs?
Well, as I’ve admitted to being an utter fanboy of this album, I’d like you to join me on a tour through the delights of each and every track. To get you agreeing or otherwise, I’ll even give each song an individual mark out of 10!!
Lady Of Winter: This features a nice, groovy bass and twin staccato guitar. The high-pitched Midnight vocals utilise delicate harmonies in the graceful and catchy chorus. Midway through, we are faced with a darker, Sabbathesque riff and a clever guitar solo. A refined opening. (Track rating: 9/10 points)
Red Sharks: The heaviest song on the record. It deals with Communism and the Soviet Union as seen through the Iron Curtain from the American side – generally, the lyrics are not the album’s strongest point. There’s a huge, anthemic chorus and riff, making this one of those songs it is impossible not to headbang to. The opening riffs are fabulous. The song manages to tread a middle ground between Thrash Metal and the heavier-end of metal circa King Diamond. (10/10)
Painted Skies: A big contrast to Red Sharks. This mirrors the progressive elements brought to metal by Queensrÿche on Rage For Order/The Warning. The first segment in particular, covers similar ground to the beautiful No Sanctuary. The production here really allows the song to thrive, and Midnight’s voice is at its absolute best. An extremely emotive and melodic piece of music. The beautiful guitar solo in the bridge adds a different pace and texture. Across this album, the solos are rarely hidden in a flurry of notes and time signatures. Yet there is always enough imagination, to bring depth and variety to the song. (10/10)
Masque Of The Red Death: The guitar work here is mesmerizing, especially the massive, inventive opening riff. A sort of up-tempo Savatage, this song has an almost thrashy rhythm to it. Impossible is the norm for the vocals. Quite how Midnight retains the tone and passion up there, is beyond me. The track slows in the bridge, and changes direction with a superb solo. A remarkably melodic track. (10/10 points)
In Dark Places: One of the best songs on the disc. The riffs are again very etched and refined, and the vocals are exquisite. It takes the basic, brooding riff ingredients of Sabbath, Dio and Rainbow and turns them into the ProgPower Metal template that bands still utilize today. A mini masterpiece. (10/10)
Where Dragons Rule: Memorable but rather plodding. A formulaic Dio-esque slab of metal, which in contrast to its predecessor, adds little to the original idea. My least favorite track on the album. Maybe it is just poorly placed, as it is very similar to In Dark Places, but not as good. A speedier song would have offered better contrast. (8/10 points)
Lonely: One of the best uptempo-ballads you will ever hear. The acoustic guitar work is stunning and the vocals give the song its important character. I feel Midnight does this type of song better than Geoff Tate. The song is an up-tempo Silent Lucidity, carried by a super bass groove. The way the instruments gently turn up the intensity in each refain, has never been done better. (10/10)
Burning Bridges: Another great ballad, this one is all about the mellow textures. A brooding verse, makes way for an up-tempo chorus. A more modern feel and the rare use of keyboards gives a taste of what Queensrÿche was to perfect on Empire. A mellow calm before the closing storm. Midnight again manages to pack so much drama into the verses. The orchestral metal ending lays the foundation stone for SymphonyX. (10/10)
Eternal World: Pure majestic metal. The closest song to the music found on the band’s debut. It contains some complex breaks and riffing, which is always powerful and brilliantly played. After three minutes, there comes a very heavy instrumental part. This is just the type of widdly soloing that ProgMetal bands have since developed across a whole album. This track should have been swapped with When Dragons Rule, to offer a better flow to the middle of the album. (9/10).
Transcendence: The title track provides the grand finale, with a magical atmosphere, superb melodies and the great voice of Midnight. He sings here like Robert Plant in some parts, which is a great thing and shows what a superb singer he was. The extended, progressive ending, meant that originally this was my least favourite song. Looking back, I can better appreciate what the band was trying to achieve. It brings the album to a well-rounded conclusion. (9/10)
In my review of the re-issue of the band's debut album, I said that the packaging was a missed opportunity. The same applies here. The sole bonus track, the single remix of Lonely, is really just an after-thought. However where the debut really does need a few extras to warrant dipping into your pocket, Transcendence stands on its own two feet. The revamped production really does allow previously unheard elements to jump out of the speakers.
The release is strictly limited to just 2,000 copies. I’ve got number 0002 and it's staying in my collection. So place your order quickly if you want one of the remaining 1,999.
This record was one of the key albums from the late 80s, and has stood the test of time remarkably well. It is one of those rare albums that really does deserve the accolade of being referred to as 'seminal'.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
To-Mera - Delusions
Tracklist: The Lie (7:29), Mirage (7:11), The Glory Of A New Day (8:23), Inside The Hourglass (8:18), A Sorrow To Kill (8:02), Asylum (5:40), Fallen From Grace (8:18), Temptation (8:39)
If ever there’s an album which makes me glad that we at DPRP tend to listen in depth to an album before putting down our thoughts, it’s the new effort from one of the UK’s brightest prospects on the progressive metal scene. To-Mera made a positive impression with their debut album Transcendental, which arrived like a much needed breath of fresh air in the rather stagnant progressive and femme metal scenes in which the band usually get lumped in. In fact, the only common ground with the likes of Nightwish and Within Temptation were really the sultry vocals of ex-Without Face chanteuse Julie Kiss; musically, Transcendental took most of its cues from technical prog metal a’la Dream Theater and Symphony X, not to mention a variety of other genres, ranging from jazz to extreme metal. With the follow up, Delusions, To-Mera have eschewed the easy option of going for a more straightforward approach and instead the technicality and genre hopping has increased, to an initially bewildering degree. When I first heard the new material, when the band supported Fates Warning at a recent London show, I wasn’t particularly impressed, with some of the songs sounding like cut and paste jobs, and in all honesty coming across as a bit of a mess. I wasn’t convinced of the quality of the newer material on the first couple of listens to Delusions either. In fact, it was only as the listens of the album in its entirety got towards double figures that it finally clicked…
Even the more approachable material throws some curve balls to the listener. Take lead-off track The Lie – with powerful riffs, walls of symphonic keys and an anthemic chorus, all topped off by Kiss’ soothing tones, this would seem like heaven for femme metal fans – until you come to the blast beats, the sudden segue into hazy lounge jazz and the furious John Petrucci-on-acid shredding of guitarist Tom MacLean! Somehow familiarity makes the transitions between extremities feel much smoother, and allow the listener to focus more on some of the sublime melodies and the bombastic pomp rock that form the backbone of the song.
Mirage shows the band’s love of Meshuggah and jazz-metal pioneers such as Atheist come to the fore, as well as weaving in some electronica passages and some sublime soloing from MacLean which takes its cue from Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny – although he does get a bit too carried away towards the end of the song. The Glory Of A New Day opens with a grinding Pantera-meets-Meshuggah riff, before exploring some middle-eastern pastures. Julie Kiss’s delicate voice struggles a little to make an impression during some of the more aggressive passages, but come into their own on the breezy jazz pop section which brings to mind none other than 80’s British pop-soul chanteuse Sadé! This is another example of a segue that initially seemed jarring, but begins to make (a bit) more sense further down the line.
Inside The Hourglass is probably the song which is closest in style and mood to the Transcendental material, with the catchy main riff and smooth chorus coming off as almost poppy by the band’s normal standards, although as usual there’s a lot more going on than that – I particularly like the dark atmospheric jazz-inflected undertones of much of the material, where Lee Barrett’s bass playing comes to the fore. Hugo Sheppard’s rag-time style keyboard solo seems clearly influenced by Jordan Rudess’ show-boating turn on Dream Theater’s The Dance Of Eternity and is one of the few examples of the band leaning a little too closely to their influences.
A Sorrow To Kill initially melds sedate piano balladry with some doomy power chords, before more jagged, jigsaw-like riffing from MacLean takes the song into altogether more technically demanding areas. As its title suggests, Asylum is probably the most out-there song on the disc, with Sheppard having fun coming out with some Wurlitzer-style organ stabs, whilst the band manage to cram in blues, jazz and even what sounds like a saxophone solo amongst the staccato riffing.
Fallen From Grace is another of the album’s standouts, with the gentle yet ominous build-up vaguely bringing to mind Metallica’s Welcome Home…Sanitarium. The band skilfully offer a teaser of the main chorus in sketch form before gradually building up to the main event, one which allows Kiss’ voice to really soar. MacLean’s impressive solo work again seems influenced by Holdsworth, albeit Holdsworth seen through a metallic lens. Closing the album, Temptation initially seems more like a jazzy piano ballad in a Joni Mitchell vein, before all sorts of chaotic sound effects barge in and we’re off into technical metallic territory again. The Dream Theater influence once again looms large over the solo sections, before To-Mera tie everything together for a satisfyingly powerful ending.
So to conclude, what initially came across as something of an impenetrable album, lacking in cohesion, reveals itself on subsequent listens as a satisfyingly complex and adventurous work, where the band haven’t forgotten the art of including a strong melody and anthemic chorus, but don’t just hand these to the listener on a plate. The advantage of such an approach is that you’ll still be finding new elements to appreciate and enjoy on each new listen. The obvious disadvantage, in today’s society full of people with short attention spans in need of an instant fix, is that not enough people will have the patience to allow this record’s strengths to gradually reveal themselves. Certainly recommended to all adventurous progressive metal fans; just remember when listening to the samples on MySpace, however, that more than a cursory listen is advised…
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs)
Disc 1 [79:44] Pull Me Under [2007 Remix] (8:13), Take The Time [2007 Remix] (8:22), Lie  (5:01), Peruvian Skies (6:42), Home  (5:38), Misunderstood (5:14), The Test That Stumped Them All (5:00), As I Am (7:14), Endless Sacrifice (11:23), The Root Of All Evil (7:16), Sacrificed Sons (9:41)
Disc 2 [58:32] Another Day [2007 Remix] (0:00), To Live Forever (4:56), Lifting Shadows Off A Dream (6:09), The Silent Man (3:47), Hollow Years (5:55), Through Her Eyes [Alternate mix] (6:03), The Spirit Carries On (6:03), Solitary Shell  (4:10), I Walk Beside You (4:28), The Answer Lies Within (5:15), Disappear (6:45)
When a band leaves a label it is very customary that the label releases a compilation album as a send-off. As Dream Theater left Warner/Atlantic/Elektra/Atco last year for Road Runner, so expectedly the Warner stable comes with a compilation of the American prog metallers. A bit surprising is that this is the first officially released compilation in the band's 9-album discography.
It is quite well-known that drummer Mike Portnoy wants to control every single move that the band makes, so it is no surprise that he was heavily involved in the making of this compilation. And that is a good thing, because it didn't end up as an easy cash-in for the label. Portnoy handpicked the tracks for the album, made sure there was something of interest for the die-hard fans included, and came up with the killer title (a pun on the fact that throughout their career they only ever had one proper 'hit', that received radio and MTV airplay: Pull Me Under).
The tracks are divided into two sections, showing the two sides of Dream Theater: "The Dark Side" i.e. the heavy stuff, and "The Light Side" i.e. the slower, more melodic side of the band. The compilation comes in a luxury three-fold digipack with new artwork by Huge Syme, and liner notes by Mike Portnoy and Rich Wilson (writer of the new Dream Theater biography Lifting Shadows).
The most interesting tracks for the die-hard fans are the three new mixes off Images & Words: Pull Me Under, Take The Time and Another Day. Portnoy has always been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the production of Images & Words, so these new mixes are a way to re-appreciate some of the details that were lost in the original mix. Another nice rarity is the Lie B-side To Live Forever
As always with compilation albums it is easier to discuss what is NOT on the album than what is. And despite the involvement of Mike Portnoy there are some glaring omissions. First of all, the studio/live mini-album A Change Of Seasons is ignored completely, which in my opinion is simply inexcusable. There is room enough left on the second disc for the entire 22 minute track, so surely an edit would have been possible. Furthermore, Dream Theater is all about live performances, so a live recording of one of their songs would not have been out of place on this compilation. Especially not if they had taken a track off their first album, which due to contractual reasons could not be used for this compilation. Also, there is quite an emphasis on the last album with Warner, Octavarium, though I find it strange that nothing of their latest album is included. Sure, the new album is on Roadrunner, but Roadrunner has just been added to the Warner stable as well, so technically they are still under the same record label. And licensing one track from a related label wouldn't have been so difficult, and it would have made the compilation more complete.
Altogether it is a nice and fairly complete overview of the music of Dream Theater, and therefore an excellent starting point if you are new to their music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dominici - 03 A Trilogy ~ Part 3
Tracklist: King Of Terror (7:52), March Into Hell (5:58), So Help Me God (4:24), Liquid Lightning (5:23), Enemies Of God (10:07), Revelation (6:57), Hell On Earth (5:11), Genesis (10:50)
After being the singer on the album which launched the career of ProgMetal legends Dream Theater, Charlie Dominici disappeared from the music scene overnight. Most thought he had gone for good, until he emerged with a new band and a highly impressive ‘comeback’ album last year.
The second part of his 03 Trilogy was a massive slab of adrenaline-charged, progressive riff-mongery. It won the prodigal son warm praise from critics across the globe and ended up as one of my favourite albums of 2007.
There was of course a Part 1 to the trilogy, but this was a self-produced effort boasting just Charlie and his guitar, which only raised half an eyebrow among diehard fans. Now, the story is brought to a finale with the third, and according to Charlie, ‘definitely final’ part of the tale.
Charlie’s technically brilliant band remains unchanged, made up of members of Italian ProgMetallers (and former Dream Theater tribute band) Solid Vision. Musically Part3 is a noticeably heavier and more power metal-influenced collection of songs. A description of Dream Theater-meets-UDO isn’t too far from reality.
The riffmongery of Brian Maillard is again the album’s highlight. Charlie sticks to the lower range vocals which served him so well last time around. His attempt to display an angrier tone, to match the music, doesn’t totally convince.
I won’t spoil the story, but as with the last album, it is well done. The in-between-song voice inserts keep the tale going, without detracting from the flow of the music. Having played this constantly over the past week, I’ll admit that for some reason it hasn’t clicked with me like its predecessor. The keyboards are much lower in the mix, and aren’t given as much melodic freedom to balance the down-tuned riffing. On a couple of tracks, the instrumental work-outs wander a little too freely, for a little too long. But I think the main problem for me,is that the melodic hooks are just too obvious and just pass me by.
This is in no way a bad record – just not as good as its predecessor. It is unlikely that Dominici will be name to feature in my Top 10 for 2008. However, if you enjoy pure, guitar-led ProgMetal from the heavier end of the spectrum, add another point or two to my score, and place your order now.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Moonlight Agony – Silent Waters
Tracklist: Leaving Solitude (4:12); You Betrayed Me (4:23); Soulless (4:13); Through The Desert Storm (4:21); The Dark Era (4:53); I’m Alive (4:18); Room 101 (3:29); Different Stories (5:50); The Blood Red Sails (3:59); Solemn Waters (5:05)
The promo blurb from Dockyard1 describes Moonlight Agony as a band who mix elements of power and progressive metal to ‘create their own unique sound’. This is partly true, but it often seems more the case that on Silent Waters (their second release) the Swedes can’t really decide if they want to play galloping, swords-in-the-air euro-metal of the Hammerfall/Stratovarius style, or darker, more modern sounding, progressive-hued fare reminiscent of latter day Evergrey. Certainly the opener Leaving Solitude has elements of both styles, and (certainly on initial listens) leaves the listener a little confused as a result.
However, thanks to the band’s handy knack of being able to come up with some winning melodies and strong choruses, this is far from the unlistenable dogs dinner it could have been. The speedy yet dark-tinged You Betrayed Me is an early standout, with some impressive keyboard work from Martin Mellström and some well-used group vocals, whilst the equally dark Room 101 shows their Evergrey influences to the full. The anthemic The Dark Era has some strong riffs and a good momentum throughout, along with strong keyboard and guitar solo work which is straight out of the Symphony X songbook. Even some of the more generic, Valhalla-bound songs such as Through The Desert Storm and The Blood Red Sails, which mine plenty of elements from the currently in vogue ‘battle metal’ style have enough about them to make them at least bearable – the latter helped by the inclusion of some punishing, razor-sharp riffs. The fact that vocalist David Akesson’s voice is a little more aggressive and rough-round-the–edges than the genre norm doesn’t hurt matters either, as it helps add some bite to the material. The powerful, epic-sounding closer Solemn Waters also benefits from some fine female vocals from guest Sara Kvist
Overall, whilst hardly a classic, Moonlight Agony have, by either accident or design come up with what I must admit has proved a surprisingly enjoyable album here – the individual elements themselves are hardly original, but the way the band combine them, along with stronger than average songwriting and a powerful, punchy production job means that this album is worth checking out for fans of the progressive power scene.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Metro Society – A Journey In Paris
Tracklist: A King In His Own World (9:26), Voices Inside Of Me (6:05), Welcome Hope (7:42), Hills Will Roll (9:57), Within A Moment (6:08), Torment (3:40), Metro (5:31), Purgatory (5:46), Lost In Paris [Acts I - III] (18:31)
Concept albums are of course so common in progressive rock that a new band will feel obliged to release one sooner or later – too often, sooner, before they’re really lyrically or musically prepared for the effort. I kind of hate to say it, but that seems to me to be the case with Metro Society’s A Journey In Paris. It’s not at all a bad album, and there are really good bits on it, but one gets the sense that they might be biting off more than they can chew, to use a cliché I hate and never use. I’ll admit that it might just be me, but I think I hear the band straining at times to put music to this hour-and-a-quarter story, a story that, while kind of neat as a concept, might not really be deserving of such extensive treatment, or treatment in this genre and form.
The band describes itself as a “melodic progressive rock/metal project group,” and the name of the group is the same as that of the “society” eventually described in the story told by the lyrics. I won’t say much about those lyrics, for a couple of reasons that I’ll mention, but I will say that they get, and, frankly, require, the extremely long explanation provided on the group’s website. I don’t want to talk much about them because I don’t want to give away, for the interested reader who might buy this album, the twists and turns (and final twist and turn) of the plot; and I also would rather say little about the lyrics because, well, they’re perhaps a little overwrought and overreaching. The story concerns, in its bare outlines, the adventures of a man named Michael, a woman named Anna, and, eventually, some very special people who live, sort of, in the Paris Metro. I’ll stop there; if you check the band’s site, you can get the whole story explained to you in exquisite detail.
But now I’ll concentrate on the music. It serves throughout as support and background for they lyrics, of which there are a lot – that is, the point of the album seems more to be the lyrics and story than the music. Nonetheless, some of the music is pretty neat. I especially like the spirited opening track, A King In His Own World, which is more of an overture than anything and which features nice, clear-but-fuzzed-out guitar work by Chris Mangold (who also co-wrote the album) and some cool synthesizer lines from his co-writer Ian Ringler. Also good is Hills Will Roll, featuring interesting, inventive percussion by Bill Mangold. In fact, there isn’t a track here that doesn’t have merit, and, though I remain unenthusiastic about the lyrics and the story they tell, I can say that the band has done a pretty good job of suiting the music to the words, creating the appropriate atmosphere for each of the twists and turns of the story.
That said, I don’t myself think that the album is a success as a whole, and I can give a few reasons for that assessment. I’ve already made clear, or clear enough, what I think about the story and lyrics. The music, though it succeeds well enough on its own terms, isn’t interesting enough to sustain the listener’s attention through the length of this album, I think; and, while the band, not without warrant, uses the adjective “progressive” in its description of itself, it’s mostly the fact that this is a concept album that allows them to use that word; the music itself is, for the most part, decent hard rock with some nice tempo changes now and again and, variously, impressive or kind of loopy synthesizer embellishments. Then there’s the mix, which, to my ears, puts the drums way too far up – it really is fortunate that Bill Mangold is such an inventive drummer, because we hear, I think too clearly, every touch on the drums and cymbals.
Finally, after many listenings to the album, I’ve had my initial impression confirmed: while singer Corey Brown has a strong, clear voice, by the end of the album, I’ve heard perhaps too much of him. That is, he has so much to sing on this album – the band was so eager to tell their story at length that every song is simply packed with lyrics – that his voice wears on the listener, or at least on this listener. I’m well aware that one’s preference of singing styles is very much a personal thing, and I don’t want to be unfair; I’ll just say that, each time I came to the end of this very long album, I was a bit reluctant to start it again, and my reluctance was due in no small part to Brown’s voice.
I wanted to like this album – I have a soft spot for concept albums in general, and, despite my reservations, I have to say that the initial idea for this one is pretty original. But for the reasons I’ve given, I can’t really say that this group of talented musicians has succeeded in realizing their ambitions. I keep thinking that if this same band made just a straight-ahead rock album, it would be pretty darned good – and while that might sound like an insult, it’s meant quite otherwise. When the band is cooking, they’re clearly an estimable hard-rock outfit; I just get the feeling that the burden of this convoluted, lengthy story weighs them down. I’ll be interested to see what they do next.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Asrai - Pearls In Dirt
Tracklist: Delilah's Lie (3:54), Your Hands So Cold (3:55), Stay With Me (4:56), Go (3:03), Lost (4:47), Something I Said (5:36), Awaken (3:38), Sour Ground (3:58), Roses (4:05), Chain Me (5:12), Sour Ground - radio edit (3:22)
Asrai is a gothic metal band from The Netherlands that with Pearls in Dirt releases it's third album. The band appears in leather completed with piercings and tattoos and a Marilyn Manson-like bunch you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. This time we didn't have to wait seven years but only two and a half for a new album to be released. During this time the band signed a record deal at "Season Of Mist". In the music of Asrai you will not find orchestral arrangements and complex song structures common to bands like Epica and Within Temptation but more similarity can be found with popular bands like Lacuna Coil and Evanescence. The vocals of Margriet are very good and powerful and her voice sounds very natural.
Pearls In Dirt can be compared to their previous album Touch In The dark. On this new album Asrai choose for the direction of even more accessible songs that appeal on first spin. Songs like Your Hands So Cold, Go and Sour Ground have a very high sing-a-long level, even at first spin. Asrai also provides some slow heavy gothic ballads. Stay With Me, Lost and Something I Said fall into that category. The song Awaken is the heaviest song on the album which is at times fast and heavy with intense vocals from Margriet. As a bonus track a radio edit from their single Sour Ground is included.
With this new album Asrai will not cause a shock in the world of music, however, on the other hand Pearls in Dirt is a very good album, which is very comparable to their previous album Touch In The Dark. My conclusions are exactly the same as my reviewing colleagues made about that album that the album sounds very good but doesn't hold anything new. Instant likable songs in the style of Lacuna Coil and Evanescence that is recommended to fans of gothic music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
André Matos - Time To Be Free
Tracklist: Menuett (0:47), Letting Go (5:59), Rio (5:58), Remember Why (5:54), How Long (4:48), Looking Back (4:54), Face The End (5:10), Time To Be Free (8:32), Rescue (5:55), A New Moonlight (8:54), Endeavour (7:01)
André Matos has been a member of the Brazilian hard rock outfit Viper, and for many years he fronted the renowned progressive metal band Angra. Until two years ago, he has been lead vocalist/keyboardist for Shaaman, but after two studio-albums he thought the time was right to take full control himself. Except for drummer Riccardo Confessori he managed to enlist all other members of Shaaman and together they are the André Matos Band. André handles all the lead vocals and part of the keyboard duties, Hugo Mariutti plays guitar, his brother Luis the bass, Fabio Ribeiro (also well known for his work with Blezoi Zatsas, played many shows with both Angra and Shaaman) on the keyboards, André Hernandez is the second guitarist (he was a member of the first incarnation of Angra) and the extremely young (16 years of age!) but equally talented Eloy Casagrande plays the drums.
To whom Angra and Shaaman are familiar names, this album is not exceedingly shocking. Most of the tracks have been penned by the band and Matos was responsible for the lyrics. Bombastic melodic metal, here and there with a progressive twist because of the characteristics of the orchestrations and the multiple different tempo’s within some of tracks. Striking phenomenon is the sometimes really classical approach to the music. Especially in the opening Menuett there’s a clear link to André’s classical training: the members of the orchestra are tuning their instruments and when they’re finished a really nice little classical piece of music as an overture to the up-tempo catchy riffs in Letting Go. Matos’ recognizable vocal soars and many times he tries to reach the limits of his high pitched voice. Near the end of the track we hear a couple of stunning guitar solo’s and a distinctive contribution by the orchestra.
The next track is Rio, like Letting Go a powerful heavy metal song, although in Rio we recognize some folkloristic influences. The bagpipes at the beginning of Remember Why provide a melancholic atmosphere and André sings really softly and in a low tone. Then the double bass-drums return, though mixed quite modestly, and the song transcends into melodic metal. The twin guitars by Hugo and André play an important role and Fabio’s organ provides a somewhat ‘vintage’ contrast. The guitars in How Long could have been played by Tony Iommi, so there is a marked resemblance with Black Sabbath’s riffs but the melodies are more like Edguy although probably Tobias Sammet has listened to Angra a lot when he was young and not vice versa; however, it gives the reader an idea what kind of melodies to expect! In Looking Back things are not that different, but there are nice interludes with acoustic guitars and strings. A subtle piano and some strings open Face The End, a more slow and sensitive track with very nice orchestrations (by Miro Rodenberg at the Gate Studios in Wolfsburg, Germany) and magnificent changes in key. In the title-track you’ll find lots of changes in atmosphere and tempo and the music varies between very sweet and rather heavy. The composition has a structure worthy of someone with Matos’ kind of education. All kinds of influences are there and we can even distinguish a little bit of Pink Floyd’s On The Turning Away.
The song Rescue starts off with ethnic/world music, followed by a wah-wah guitar, eventually evolving into a piece of power metal but it has a more quiet interlude with divine guitars. A New Moonlight has been released before (many years ago) with Viper but the track has been rearranged and is barely recognisable. An awesome challenging piece of music, combining ambient music, a rock-ballad, vocals and piano inspired by Beethoven’s Moonlight Serenade, orchestral metal and guitars plus choirs with the sound of Queen. Matos proves that he’s able to sing in more classical way too. In the last track more of the ‘old fashioned’ neo-classical metal with a certain Rainbow-feel and a bombastic orchestral finale.
In conclusion Time To Be Free is a solid metal album, but definitely linking to classical music. Producers Roy Z and Sascha Paeth did a good job and beyond a shadow of a doubt it is living proof of the impressive talents of both André Matos as well as his band-mates. Some information can be obtained via André’s website (link above) and some sound-clips via the Samples link above and at SPV, the distributor for Europe.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mörglbl - Grötesk
Tracklist: Tapas Nocturne (4:52), L' Ami Deglingo (5:19), Buffet Froid (6:49), Le Project Pied De Biche (6:33), Lieutenant Colombin (6:39), Les Petits Nous (4:34), The Toy Maker (4:31), Haute Voltige en Haute-Volta (4:28), Février Afghan (5:17), Totale Bricole (6:03), Il Bello Di Note [Bonus Track] (5:36), Studio Délirium [Bonus Track] (3:42) Tapas Nocturne Bonus Track / Multimedia Track
French trio with an unpronounceable name who left a very good impression with me when I caught them at last year’s Headway Festival in Holland. Grötesk is their third album, and once again they’ve managed to leave a big smile of pleasure.
I’m not generally a fan of instrumental albums but this is something else. Some great little tunes, oodles of varying textures, some monumental playing, and above all else, a great sense of fun.
But first there’s a bit of a history lesson to deliver. Mörglbl was born in 1996 after noted guitarist Christophe Godin decided to form an instrumental fusion rock band. After meeting Jean Pierre Frelezeau (drums) and Ivan Rougny (bass), they decided to work together on the project. A year later, the band’s debut album was released with the title Ze Mörglbl Trio!! Two years later and Bienvenue a Mörglbl Land became their second offering. A year later and Mörglbl was no more. Christophe went on to release a CD with metal band GNO and became a worldwide in-demand clinician. Ivan toured with fusion guitarist Cyril Achard and Y. Malmsteen’s drummer Mike Terrana, as well as rai star Cheb Bilal.
Then in 2004, the three re-united under the banner of Metal Kartoon, and released another imaginatively entitled disc - Christophe Godin’s Metal Kartoon. After hitting the road regularly, the band morphed back into Mörglbl and started working on new material. The results have been stretched across the 10 tracks on offer here.
Overall there is an equal mix of beefy chords, odd-ball eccentricity (think Mattias IA Eklundh), and textures taken from numerous progressive rock and fusion artists. An up-tempo groove is maintained through most of the tracks.
The combination is perfected, on the ever-changing musical landscape that is Lieutenant Colombin. In sharp contrast, Les Petits Nous which follows, is the sort of mellow fusion that you can sit down to, with a late night glass of wine, and reflect on times past and times not yet arrived.
What sets Grötesk apart, is the great sense of humour and fun which pervades this disc. The opening song Tapas Nocturne and the later Février Afghan are both based around some crazy effect and vocal sounds which instantly bring a grin to one’s visage. My 11-year-old son has these two tracks on constant rotation – he says they’re “cool”.
With the release of Grötesk, Mörglbl has created an album with cross-genre appeal. Fans of shred and fusion Gods like Allan Holdsworth, Steve Vai or Freak Kitchen’s Mattias IA Eklundh will find much to sink their teeth into. Equally though, if you’re the sort of music fan who just occasionally enjoys putting on a bit of instrumental music which is able to mix heaviness with plenty of light and shade, whilst not disappearing up its own derriere, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ebony Ark - When The City Is Quiet
Tracklist: If Only.. ; Ecstasy; So Close, So far; Endless Road; Sincerely; True Friendship Never Dies; we're Here Now; Redemption; For You; Enough is Enough; Out In The Cold; When the City Is Quiet; A Merced de la Iluvia
It’s extremely self-satisfying to be proved right when you review an album from an unknown band and suggest they deserve to be signed up by any self-respecting label. Having blurted out a gut-full of glowing adjectives to describe Decoder, the debut album from this Spanish band last year, I am happy to say that my prediction of an impending record deal came true - not just once, but twice!!
Originally entitled “Decoder 2.0”, the second album was set for worldwide release by the Transmission label last year – just as it went bust. However, fast-rising, UK-based Ascendence Records quickly threw the band a lifebelt. With the slightly more original title of When The City is Quiet, the next chapter in the story can now be told.
For anyone who enjoys female-fronted power metal with gothic, operatic and progressive undercurrents, then this is definitely one to check out. Star of the show again is undoubtedly vocalist Beatriz Albert. As before, she displays an amazing diversity to her voice; everything from the operatics of Nightwish, the swagger of Lacuna Coil and the bite of Doro. It’s all wrapped in the dark intensity that characterised the early-period Evergrey.
And if you want hooks, then you won't find too many more in your local angling shop. The opening trio of If Only, Ecstasy and So Close, So Far stamps out the band's intentions with power and passion a-plenty. A growly male voice appears only once, to add a bit of variety halfway through. There's plenty of time and mood changes in each song. There’s a smattering of great keyboard and guitar solos, but they never linger long.
This is a more direct musical beast than the debut album. For me it does loose something by that. The constant changes in pace and mood, the huge variety in vocal tone and style, the more symphonic use of keyboards and vocal harmonies, and the odd progressive touches, gave the debut album a fantastic sense of daring. Something which still keeps me going back for more. It also served to set the band apart from the plethora of female-fronted bands out there.
Although there’s no doubting the quality of the music, things do get a little repetitive on this album. I’d have dropped a couple of tracks. The pedestrian ballad Sincerely and the odd-vocal key that detracts on Out In The Cold could have gone missing, to leave a leaner, meaner beast. However, those are minor points for future reference. Overall, When The City Is Quiet is sure to be one of the best albums of its kind this year. Another veritable feast, from a band that should get a lot of attention in 2008.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sacrum - Cognition
Tracklist: Translation (4:53), The Dream Prisoner (5:21), Stay (6:04), In Memory (6:22), Made As One (5:00), Sacrum (6:15), Innerself (5:21), Cognition (7:51), No Turning Back (2:34)
I think I’ve explored most of the South American continent by now, but Sacrum is the first Argentinean band I’ve come across. They’ve put out a pretty good debut album in the shape of Cognition.
There’s a bit of Dream Theater worship going on throughout the nine tracks, and no individual song has got me searching for the unusual adjectives saved for describing something fresh and exciting. If you're looking for other reference points, then the phrasing and the constant use of little musical details brings to mind Hungarian band Stonehenge. The guitar riffing is very much in the mould of Nick Van Dyke of Redemption. The heavier sections with keyboards added, have a certain similarity to Vanden Plas.
The first three songs are very enjoyable with strong melodies and riffs and just enough variation of pace and texture to draw me in. In Memory is instantly forgettable, with some horrible shouted voiceovers, rambling solos and repetitive riffing. This song also signals a slight change in approach, with the last four songs drawing in a wider range of influences. The growly vocals and native tongue lyrics on Sacrum don't quite work, but it’s a good idea. The higher tempo of Innerself refreshes the ear, whilst the laid back refrain of the opening number that forms the basis of the closing track is a good touch. However it is the title track which offers the highlight for me.
Most Sacrum songs last little more than six minutes. The extra space given here, really allows the band to stretch out in the limelight. There’s still a fair bit of the Dream Theater/Redemption fanboy stuff going on, but the fusion groove and the modern rock energy, guides the song perfectly.
Vocalist Estanislao Silveyra sticks to the mid range. He has a noticeable hint of an accent in his intonation and phrasing that may grate with the translation police. I was more troubled by the lack of range and passion, something I always find lifts a disc in my estimation.
The balance of the instruments is clearly tipped towards guitars. The keyboards play more of a supporting role, whilst adding a bit of warmth to the fire. As a package it is well presented in a digipak with good artwork and layout. The production is excellent.
This is a good, not great album that will appeal to those who enjoy riff-based progressive metal that manages to stay direct and honest. If the band can stamp a bit more of their own identity next time around, whilst maintaining the concise song writing, then Sacrum will be a name to watch.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Royal Hunt - Collision Course
Tracklist: Principles Of Paradox (5:43), The First Rock (4:47), Exit Wound (6:30), Divide and Reign (5:25), High Noon At The Battlefield (3:58), The Clan (4:39), Blood In Blood Out (6:05), Tears Of The Sun (6:00), Hostile Breed (5:07), Chaos A.C (3:25)
I was first introduced to Royal Hunt when I bought the limited edition version of their 1998 album Paradox. Boxed with an impressive live recording of the full album (entitled Closing The Chapter), I was quickly won over by the mix that included elements of progressive rock and metal, with heavy lashings of symphonics, and some instant hard rock melodies.
At that time, few had tried this combination. No-one had done so with such a successful outcome. I equally enjoyed Fear, the album which followed. The Mission and a couple of EPs had a more limited shelf-life, but Eyewitness still gets the odd spin, due to its willingness to take a few risks. The band’s last album, Paper Blood, seemed little more than an exercise in going through the motions; an impression which seemed justified when vocalist John West left shortly afterwards.
To introduce West’s replacement, ex-Yngwie and Ring of Fire vocalist Mark Boals, band leader Andre Andersen has decided to step back in time, by unveiling the sequel to the classic Paradox.
It appears that no expense has been spared. Six months of recording, includes a bunch of good friends, of which Doogie White and Ian Parry are the best known. Some female voices and a host of classical orchestration is thrown in for good measure. The lyrical concept is as controversial as the original Paradox. This time it concentrates on a “collision course” of modern Western and Eastern religious movements.
I’m not going to attempt a more detailed review, because the record label has insisted on fading out every track of this promo with a voiceover telling me that I’m listening to a promo! If you want a full review, send reviewers the full album!
I can hear enough to tell me that Paradox II takes an awful lot of ideas and stylings from its predecessor. The reason why Paradox was such a success first time around, was that it offered something fresh and exciting. Ten years later, a lot of musical water has gone under the bridge, and these tunes are in danger of sounding too recycled.
Whether a different singer and the modern production values make enough difference, will be down to individual taste. Personally, this album is more likely to be on a collision course with my local second hand record shop, than my IPod.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
By Blood Alone – Seas Of Blood
Tracklist: Serpentarius (7:30), Wants Me Dead (4:20), Undead Friend (6:16), Nidhogg (7:11), Lovely Lies (8:04), Seas Of Blood (7:13), Deny Yourself (7:10), Little Lady Lillit (2:35)
I was predisposed to like this album, having specifically requested it for review based on the description of the band and the music. I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for female-fronted goth or metal or progressive-metal bands, and By Blood Alone is indeed a female-fronted goth-progressive-metal band. However, my fondness for this kind of band and music and my consequent familiarity with the genre makes me a bit picky at this moment in the history and evolution of the genre. And though I quite like this album, have listened to it many times, and will continue to listen to it, at this point (just their debut!), By Blood Alone don’t have much that’s new to offer the listener who’s a fan of, say, Leaves Eyes, Nightwish, or even Evanescence. What I’ll do here, though, is concentrate mostly on what the band does have to offer.
But first to dispense with one criticism that’s neither terribly important nor entirely insignificant, and that’s a criticism of the album’s production. I’ve played it in several different stereos, fiddled with equalizers, cranked it to eleven – and, well, it’s just flat. Music like this obviously needs depth and power in the way it’s presented as well as in the way it’s performed, and, while I can imagine (and as some of the promotional materials attest) that By Blood Alone sounds very impressive live, this CD doesn’t capture much in the way of power. That’s okay for a debut, but, if this band wants to play in the big leagues, it’s going to need to capture a much bigger sound on disc from here on in.
As for the songs themselves: well, apart from the unlistenable half-sung half-chanted nursery-rhyme-like final track Little Lady Lillit (truly awful, I think), they’re pretty good. Most are longish – again, leaving aside that last one, the shortest song is four minutes, the others between six and eight minutes – and they allow the band to stretch out. There isn’t a great deal of innovation in the music, most tracks depending on power-chording guitar, nice propulsive (though boxy-sounding, because of the production) percussion, and usually quite effective keyboard embellishments. The best song is probably the title track, which is also the one most reminiscent of Evanescence, with its early and repeated emphasis on piano, its soft-loud dynamics, and its “epic” feel; by the end of the song, the listener’s been taken on an interesting ride. Album opener Serpentarius is pretty cool, too; beginning like an Iron Maiden song, with a driving guitar riff, it shows off a beguiling melody both in the instruments and in the vocal line and features a nice breakdown section three-quarters of the way through, the band experimenting with textures and dynamics before the Maiden-ish riff comes back to blast the song to a close.
But quality of the songs aside, such a band as this depends more heavily than most others on the strength and quality of its singer’s voice. Lead singer Cruella (surely her full real name, right?) is, I suspect, served worse than any of the instruments by the disappointing production, because her voice, while similar in timbre to that of, say, Anneke van Giersbergen, really doesn’t command the attention it should in this kind of music. It’s not bad, no, far from it, though by the end of the album I found that I’d had more than enough for the time being and waited a day or two to re-listen. There’s something a bit grating about it at times, and while her range is respectable, I get the sense that (perhaps because she, like the band, is new to the studio) she’s restraining herself sometimes when she should be giving it all she’s got.
I guess what I’ve said about the voice, the songs, and the production is essentially the same thing. This is a pretty good debut album, and I mean precisely that, not adding the adjective “pretty” only to be damning with faint praise. In a world flooded with mediocre and downright awful music, “pretty good” is meant as praise indeed. I’m sure that the band hasn’t reached the standard, on this first album, that it would hope to attain, and I’ll bet that with another year or so of touring and writing – and with better production, and with an awareness of the lessons learned in making this more than respectable debut album – By Blood Alone has a good chance of making it to those big leagues in another album or two.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Resistance – Patents Of Control
Tracklist: Inhumanation (4:42), End Of Today (3:32), Ashes Of Tomorrow (4:22), One Nation Under G.O.D. (4:51), Confession Of The Blackheart (5:39), Paternal Shift (5:37), Cerebral Screams (3:52), Technochrist (4:29), The Cleansing (3:39), The Alpha & The Omega (4:10), Mirrors Black (5:56)
Whatever else you might say about US metallers Resistance’s second album, its certainly got a unique lyrical concept running through it – imagining a world where human thought and behaviour is controlled by the use of devices which have United States patents, and the idea of a world illumaniti using this information to create a new world order.
Sadly, the music is not of the calibre to bring this intriguing idea to life. Something of a hybrid of power metal and thrash, coloured with progressive touches, the main influences would appear to be fellow US metallers Iced Earth (in their early nineties incarnation) and the eighties outfit Sanctuary (the band from whose ashes Nevermore were formed). Pummelling riffs, squealing guitar solos and anthemic fists in the air choruses are the order of the day, and the playing has plenty of enthusiasm and power; the problem is that the songs are, in the main, not really strong enough to maintain interest, and it soon becomes difficult to distinguish between one song and another. The strongest track here is undoubtedly Paternal Shift, which moves smoothly between Fade To Black style balladry to sub-death metal, has a strong chorus and even manages to shoehorn in a clear reference to Rush’s Xanadu. If only the other tracks were this adventurous, the album would probably be getting a more favourable review. On the flip-side, both Ashes Of Tomorrow and Confessions Of The Blackheart are ruined by wretched and out of place ‘woah-oh-oh’ lighters-in-the-air choruses which sound more suited to an eighties hair metal record.
The individual performances are good – guitarists Dan Luna and Dave Watson carve out some meaty riffs and get to indulge in plenty of dual lead work, whilst vocalist Robbie Hett’s controlled yet aggressive delivery suits the music well. The production is also fine, not that surprising given that the mix is handled by veteran US producer Neil Kernon, known for his work with the likes of Queensrÿche and Nevermore, amongst others.
Ultimately Resistance clearly have the chops, but need to write much stronger material than this if they want to make any headway in an overcrowded market.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10