REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Jon Oliva's Pain - Global Warning
Tracklist: Global Warning (4:45), Look At The World (2:54), Adding The Cost (3:49), Before I Hang (3:59), Firefly (7:07), Master (3:58), The Ride (5:55), O To G (1:44), Walk Upon The Water (5:40), Stories (4:37), Open Up Your Eyes (4:45), You Never Know (3:15), Someone / Souls (7:08)
Global Warning is the third album from Jon Oliva's Pain, the current band of the mastermind of Savatage. Jon Oliva was the founder of Savatage which evolved
into a highly respected progressive heavy metal band. When vocalist Zachary Stevens left Savatage fans feared the decline of the band and their latest album Poets And Madman sadly proved that point. Jon Oliva also participates in the more theatrical symphonic project, Trans Siberian Orchestra who hopefully soon will deliver a new masterpiece? Whilst working on the first album of that project JO formed Jon Oliva's Pain to continue the metal music in the style of Savatage. Since the return of Savatage is not very probable, fans of this legendary band will have to turn to either JOP or to Zachary Stevens' band Circle II Circle, who also recently released an album Delusions Of Grandeur - featured in this update.
The title Global Warning implies an environmental statement about climate change and indeed some songs directly link to that subject, however Oliva is in no way preaching here and Global Warning is not a concept album.
Global Warning has a long bombastic and changing intro, and when the vocals kick in, the voice of Oliva surprises, it's as powerful as ever but not as over the top, thick and heavy layered. Look At The World is more bluesy and the basics of the song were written even before the times of Savatage. Adding The Costs turns the album towards the heavy metal so familiar to Jon Oliva's work. Before I Hang is by far the most powerful song on the album, with a lot of aggression manifested and Oliva really screaming his heart out on this song - one that was evidently written as a possible song for the Savatage album Streets: A Rock Opera.
Firefly is a ballad about soldiers fighting and firing bullets like fireflies - a very good song with strong lyrics, but a song that needs to be played more than once to be fully understood. For Master the voice of Oliva has been changed to make it sound like a computer voice and in this song he spills his guts about his aversion towards computers. The Ride is for Oliva a very experimental song, and holds a Led Zeppelin like atmosphere, with nice input from the hammered
dulcimer. O To G stands for Ode to Greg Marchak, the producer and engineer who passed away two weeks before the recording of this album. A beautiful tribute with an excellent vocal performance by Jon Oliva - goose-bumps. The transition to Walk Upon The Water is very nice - a very Savatage song just like next song Stories -
and two songs that will appeal to any old fashioned Savatage fan. Open Up Your Eyes is a ballad with a stunning performance by Matt Laporte on guitar, and again a very stunning and moving vocal performance by Jon Oliva. The music for You Never Know originates from the Gutter Ballet era and that clearly shows. The comparison with that recording is not really fair but it eminently shows the production quality of Global Warning. The last track on the album features two songs. Someone is a powerful bluesy song and is followed by a short acoustic bonus called Souls.
When talking about an album by Jon Oliva comparisons to Savatage will always be made. They produced many groundbreaking progressive heavy metal albums and it is almost impossible to compete with it's legendary history. When writing this review it was clear that this album is spinning round and round and sadly my Savatage collection is gathering dust.
Global Warning is the best heavy metal album I have heard in a long time and at this point I cannot tell anymore which track is my favourite from this album
- too many excellent songs and each one has it's own strength. As mentioned several times during this review a special remark has to be made about the vocals on this album. Oliva's voice is as powerful as ever but on this album it sounds even better than before, mixed in perfectly. Heavy metal fans should already have this album, or if not, immediately run to the store and get it.
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Expedition Delta - Expedition Delta
Tracklist: Asunder Hearts (3:49), Fading Images (5:28), Self Abstract (5:28), Into The Halls Of Eternity (3:03), Flight With The Mind (4:44), The Awakening (3:26), Move On (4:10), Planets (2:50), Not Too Late (4:19), Reach For The Light (7:05), It Needs A Happy End (6:56)
An album for those who like their progressive music with a heavy overtone of melodic hard rock. Expedition Delta is a project by Srdjan Brankovic, one of the founders of Alogia – apparently the biggest selling ProgMetal band in Serbia. I'm not sure how big an achievement that is (!), but two successful albums and opening slots for big names such as Whitesnake and Savatage will have given them a good profile in their home nation.
From the evidence on this album, I may have to track down something from Alogia, as Srdjan is clearly a composer, and in particular a guitarist of some note.
That is obviously a view shared by many others as the line-up for this album features some of the biggest names in progressive/power metal. Just check out the cast-list: Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery, Amaran's Plight), Sabine Edelsbacher (Edenbridge); Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane); Vladimir Djedovic (Alogia); Richard Andersson (Time Requiem, Space Odyssey); Andrea De Paoli (Labyrinth); Joost van den Broek (After Forever); Santiago Dobles (Aghora); Alex Argento; Torsten Roehre (Silent Force); Rene Merkelbach (Ayreon); Borislav Mitic, Vivien Lalu (Lalu); Miroslav Brankovic (Alogia); Ivan Vasic (Alogia); Irina Kapetanovic (Irina & Storm); Mikkel Henderson (Evil Masquerade, Circusmind); Alexandra Jankovic
The whole album is sung by Alogia frontman Nikola Mijic with the exception of three songs that include the appearance of Sabine Edelsbacher, Irina Kapetanovic and Aleksandra Jankovic in a duet with Nikola.
This album just hums with the sort of catchy melodies which graced the classic heard rock albums of the 80s. However what sets this apart is the ability of Srdjan to compose songs which have that added depth, combining to good effect the better elements of prog, metal and AOR. Think Journey-meets-Ayreon-meets-Redemption on a blind date with Heart and you’ll be heading in the right musical direction.
Brankovic is a stunning, inventive and clever player. His solos can be melodic yet technical. He relishes the intense shredding duals with the many keyboard players assembled for the album, yet never treads into the land of self-indulgence. Everything fits carefully into the song.
Move On has a chorus that would have been a hit back in the 80s; the appropriately named Planets is a spacey little number thanks to Norlander's Moog; the riff-hungry ProgMetal of Reach For The Light shows the album’s heavier side, whilst the symphonic It Needs A Happy End, ensures the album has exactly that.
If I’m being critical, then I do find the use of so many different musicians gives the album a slightly disjointedly artificial collage effect. The hard rock choruses can be a little too obvious and formulaic, and whilst he has a good voice, Mijic isn’t quite the top drawer vocalist needed to take this album to another level.
However as a guitarist and composer Srdjan Brankovic is an undoubted talent and I hope he has a lot more like this up his sleeve. If you like classic hard rock within a ProgMetal framework, and/or some superb guitar and keyboard shredding, then this is an expedition well worthy of your attention.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Atrox - Binocular
Tracklist: Retroglazed (3:37), No Coil For Tesla (4:19), Traces (4:13), Headrush Helmet (5:15), Filthmonger (3:22), Orgone (5:15), Tight Tie (5:11), Binocular (6:03), Castle For Clowns (5:18), Transportal (4:14)
The very definition of a ‘cult’ band, self-styled ‘schizo’ metallers Atrox are best known - if at all - for former vocalist Monica Edvardsen’s, erm, distinctive delivery; her part Middle-Eastern diva, part scream queen act certainly gave the band a unique selling point, but perhaps detracted a little from the actual music. Now, five years after their last release, the band’s fifth album, Binocular, has appeared, complete with a radical line-up overhaul which sees them retaining just two members from their last incarnation. Edvardsen is out, replaced by male vocalist Rune Folgerø. Whilst his voice is hardly what you’d call run of the mill, its certainly less distracting (and a significant departure) from Edvardsen’s, and allows much more focus to fall upon the rest of the band.
In (very) broad terms, the music on Binocular could be likened to a mash-up of Faith No More (particularly the darker more claustrophobic style they adopted from 1992’s seminal Angel Dust onwards) and fellow Norwegian’s Arcturus, perhaps with a smattering of American mad-caps Dog Fashion Disco thrown in for good measure. Stuttering, industrial flavoured riffs, stop-start rhythms, a constant background (and sometimes foreground) buzz of beeping electronica and dislocated voices and various gothic, slightly sinister organ-led soundscapes are the order of the day, all topped off by Folgerø’s confident delivery. The vocals merely seem to emphasise the comparisons made at the start of the paragraph, bearing a passing resemblance to both Mike Patton and former Arcturus/ current Ulver vocalist Krystoffer ‘Garm’ Rygg.
Even within the strictures of the band’s fairly unique sound there is quite a bit of variety on show here. The likes of Retroglazed and No Coil For Tesla have a real momentum and sense of urgency; Traces is a slow burner which rolls along on an almost Massive Attack-esque dub groove, as does the closing Transportal, the latter successfully building a real head of steam as it reaches its conclusion. Filthmonger has some appropriately dirty-sounding riffs and shows a rawer edge, whilst Headrush Helmet sounds like the aural equivalent of a ride on a fairground ghost train under the influence of something stronger than tea… or something! The latter part of the album is generally of a slower pace, and the likes of Tight Tie and the title track perhaps come over as a little too discordant and disjointed for their own good, leading to a bit of a lapse in momentum, but even on these tracks the band’s sense of adventure and sonic experimentation means there’s always something worth listening out for. To top it all off, the lyrics are quirky and enigmatic – which I guess you might have guessed from some of the song titles!
All told, Atrox have delivered a pretty strong and varied album with Binocular; it may not be ‘progressive metal’ in the conventional understanding of the term, but this is an album where the boundaries are certainly being pushed, and lovers of adventurous modern rock music would be well advised to investigate further.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Souljourners - Mind Control
Tracklist: Permanent Scars (7:19), Crazy Times (7:11), Fall (6:16), I’ve Waited (5:24), Sapphire World (4:57), Lost Vision (3:14), Medicated Memories (8:39), Half Life (6:19), Mind Control (8:50), Tangent Universe (7:27), Predestination (1:40), The Avenger (6:31)
So far this has been a non-entity of a year for traditional ProgMetal. Apart from the ever reliable Zero Hour, and newcomers Myrath, little else would get a ‘recommended’ score by even the most generous of reviewers. The musical famine has prompted me to search out some new places and genres for my audio pleasure. The most fruitful of these has been the discovery of CDBaby, from where I ‘discovered’ this promising Californian quintet
Over the past year or so I’ve been increasingly tempted by bands such as Karnivool, Fair To Midland, Three, Dead Air Radio and Pedestrians of Blue who deliverer modern melodic heavy rock/metal with inventive progressive arrangements. Souljourners comfortably fits into that collection.
Souljourners is a heavy progressive rock band, consisting of four guys who, as recently as 2006 were voted Best High School Band by the Southern California Music Awards. Mind Control is an opening statement which defies their age and experience. Fronted by Michael Couts who delivers both the vocals and lead guitar, the line-up is completed by David Brockenborough on bass, Paul Ellingson on keyboards and Chandler Taylor on the drums.
The arrangements of most of the songs take a very similar approach to Dead Air Radio but with heavier, down-tuned guitar riffage. Souljourners deliver some great verses and refrains but then interject frenetic jazz or classically influenced instrumental passages.
Three of the songs are absolute monsters. Opener Permanent Scars is pure brilliance, with some well-crafted instrumental sections and a hook that I just can not get out of my head. Crazy Times follows at a slower pace but with another great hook and energy. Def Leppard’s Phil Collen has been drafted in to add a couple of guitar solos. Tangent Universe has a fabulous riff, hook and groove and recaptures the attention at the end of the album after a couple of fillers.
Another four tracks have nice hooks and riffage but with instrumental sections which lack focus. Two instrumental tracks sit well within the main songs. Two fillers and a dull piano ballad make up the numbers.
Couts’ young voice tips a big hat to Chad Kroeger (Nickelback) with an aggressive James Hetfield (Metallica) tone used at times. He will need to develop a few of his own stylings as his voice grows with the band. The band’s biggest asset is keyboardist Paul Ellingson whose work really gives the band’s sound its unique character. Many bands I’ve listened too lately, the keys either stand out too much or are relegated to the role of bit-part players, merely adding a bit of warmth or occasional solo. Ellingson's parts are `well written and well placed. Dominant, yet never overbearing. He adds some great colour to almost every song and some shares some great shred solos with Couts.
Souljourners is not yet the finished article. A more consistent standard of songwriting, the discipline to stay a little closer to the melodic core if a song requires it, a few more musical influences and a little more light to balance the heavy is needed to take them to the next level. The production does suffer from a poor low-end too.
However, the potential for a long and successful career is clear. For any fan of heavy, progressive music this is your chance to say you were there at the beginning.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Appearance Of Nothing - Wasted Time
Tracklist: Man In The Mirror (5:31), The Gambler (4:58), Drifting Away (4:47), Wasted Time (6:54), Wrapped In Silence (2:25), Lies Of A Memory (4:27), The Science Of Light [I. Out Of The Dark; II. Into The Light; III. Reprise] (14:37), The Last Song (2:56)
With the decision of the InsideOut label to veer away from the more metallic side of progressive music, there has been a sad shortage of a one-stop shop for all things ProgMetal. The band’s are still out there, but a) they are spread thinly around dozens of labels, making it hard to keep up with releases, and b) there is no single, specialist label with the ability to reliably seek out and develop new talent.
So is England’s Escape Music label, best known as a specialist in all things AOR/melodic rock, exploring a potential niche in the market with this album? I loved the progressive-tinged melodic rock of Myon (Slideshow) and Grand Illusion (View From The Top) which the label released a few years ago. However much of their back catalogue is way too pink and fluffy for my tastes. Thankfully this debut album from unknown Swiss band Appearance Of Nothing is far from pink and fluffy.
Wasted Time offers eight tracks of riff-based ProgMetal with some keen melodies and an ability to get straight down to business. Each song has a certain complexity, with an ability to change tac at any moment. However nothing is extended past its sell-by-date. The twin vocal approach offers lots of possibilities, with both singers staying in a comfortable mid-range. The guitar work is fantastic with some very inventive riffs. The keyboards add a real warmth to the sound.
Other than the three-part, 14-minutes of the Science Of Light, most of the tracks weigh in around the five minute mark. Overall it’s a very good combination of melodic rock songwriting and melodies, with progressive metal instrumentation. The whole thing bursts out of the speakers thanks to an excellent production by Markus Teske (Vanden Plas, Symphony X, Saga). If ever testimony is needed for a new band using an established producer, then this album is it.
There really is a desperate need for a specialist label that is willing and able to give some exposure to the many excellent progressive metal bands that are out there. Let’s hope this album gets the success it deserves, so the label may tip its toe into the genre again.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Circle II Circle – Delusions Of Grandeur
Tracklist: Fatal Warning (3:54), Dead Of Dawn (4:07), Forever (5:16), Echoes (5:20), Waiting (3:35), Soul Breaker (3:29), Seclusion (5:02), So Many Reasons (3:39), Chase The Lie (3:13), Every Last Thing (7:22)
Circle II Circle are a band best known for the fact that their vocalist Zachary Stevens was the vocalist for the mighty Savatage for much of the nineties, fronting well-regarded albums such as Edge Of Thorns, Dead Winter Dead and Wake Of Magellan. After taking a sabbatical from the music business for a few years, Stevens returned to the fray in 2003 with Circle II Circle’s debut album Watching In Silence. Still retaining some elements of Savatage’s bombastic, rock opera-esque approach but with more of a power metal edge, it’s the latter style that dominates on Delusions Of Grandeur, the band’s fourth effort.
Maybe he’s feeling ground down after years of toiling with little success, but Stevens and his workaday band sound is extremely tired and stale on Delusions… Whilst Stevens’ voice is undoubtedly rich and powerful, sticking it way out in the front of the mix perhaps wasn’t the best idea, especially when the lyrics are as clichéd as they are here. Another problem is that his voice hardly sounds at its best here, and is produced in such a way that it almost sounds flat and borderline out-of-tune on cuts such as the standard galloping euro-influenced power metal romp Dead Of Dawn and the dull power ballad Echoes.
There is the odd sign of life here and there; opener Fatal Warning has some good aggressive riffs and melodic guitar solo’s (although but even here the chorus is found wanting), whilst the closing duo of the muscular and melodic Chase The Lie and the slow-burning Every Last Thing hints at the erm, grandeur, of Savatage. It is however rather a damning indictment of the album that once its finished spinning, I’m at a loss to recall a single chorus or riff – it’s a totally forgettable piece of work.
On the evidence of Delusions Of Grandeur, Stevens sorely needs a new vehicle for his undoubted talents, and to team up with a song-writer of the calibre of Jon Oliva (or even Oliva himself?!) in order to come up with something that will really catch the ear of an increasingly jaded and overloaded public.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Allen ~ Lande - The Revenge
Tracklist: The Revenge (5:51), Obsessed (4:46), Victory (5:02), Master Of Sorrow (5:54), Will You Follow (5:16), Just A Dream (5:39), Her Spell (4:46), Gone Too Far (4:48), Wake Up Call (4:47), Under The Waves (5:31), Who Can You Trust (4:55), When Time Doesn't Heal (6:13)
The Revenge shows the second coming of the collaboration between two major league vocalists, Russell Allen and Jørn Lande. It's the successor of The Battle which was released two years ago and, though not renewing, is a superb melodic metal album. Russell Allen is probably best known as the vocalist for Symphony X, but has also appeared on several projects by Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon and Star One). Whilst Jørn Lande is the former vocalist for Masterplan and Ark and he also appears on numerous rock/metal projects, amongst them are Avantasia and again Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon projects. With those two names
portrayed on the front sleeve of the album, you might not guess that all the credits go to Magnus Karlsson, who is writer, composer, producer (and he plays bass, guitar and keyboards) here on The Revenge. Karlsson of course is currently the guitar player for Primal Fear and he has also worked with Magnum's Bob Catley. Finally the drums are played by Jaime Salazar.
The music on The Revenge is melodic metal in it's purest form, Magnus Karlsson does not try to cross musical boundaries. The style is somewhat in the line of bands like House Of Lords, Slamer and Jørn Lande's solo albums. Also the structures of the songs are not complex compared to the music of Symphony X, but whenever Sir Russell Allen is singing the similarity is noticeable. On the album the vocal performances are divided exactly in half with both singers having three songs
each to themselves and six songs are duets. And it is especially those songs with the both of them which are phenomenal - during the choruses their voices sound perfect together, almost magical. Magnus Karlsson is a genius for putting those two great voices together.
All I can say is that Magnus Karlsson has done it again. On The Battle all was written with instant likeness in mind and that feeling did not creep up on during the The Revenge. The compositions have matured and though both albums are to some extent comparable, I think The Revenge is preferable over it's predecessor.
Surely this release must establish Magnus Karlsson as a force to reckoned with and high time the man received the plaudits he richly deserves for his work. The music
maybe very conservative, but the fantastic performance of these two master vocalists makes you forget about this. The Revenge therefore is a melodic metal album of very high quality and is highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Android Soul - Disappointing Paradise
Tracklist: Ad Vitam Paramus, Pride, The Butterfly Effect, The Company, So Hard To Let You Go, Yesterday’s Sunset, A Serpent’s Sarcasm, Sacrifice Or Waste, Probably Not Enough, Glory Dies Anyway, The Infidel, Conquest, Flowers Of Seduction, Candlelight And Pain
A new label aimed a promoting up and coming Dutch bands has to be a very welcome addition. Android Soul is a new female-fronted metal band based in the Rotterdam area and Disappointing Paradise is the first release from the ambitious new PMM Records.
Three musicians who enjoyed a 10-year collaboration with Wastelands (Dennis Graafland, Cees van Ooijen and Robert van der Poel) have teamed up again for a fresh start.
This time the rough voice of the old days is replaced by a mezzo-soprano, Linda Aarts (Icaros). Jeroen Lankhuizen (Orphean, Funeral Winds and Liar
Of Golgotha) completes the line-up behind the drum kit.
Their debut album is a solid start for the new label, especially for fans of gutsy, female-fronted metal bands and those who enjoy ProgPower Metal with symphonic overtones. Also of interest is the involvement of Arno Menses, singer for Sieges Even, who features heavily on two tracks.
Obviously done on a limited budget, the production is a little raw, although the digi-pack packaging is better than many major label releases.
Style-wise it is a pretty mixed platter. The opening song, Pride, is my favourite. It dabbles in some heavy neo prog with an effective combination of riffs and melodies, a good hook, and some delicate instrumental sections. The other standout track is Probably Not Enough. At times the raw production does Linda no favours. Despite taking lessons from Floor Jansen, her voice sounds rather thin at times,
but on this lovely duet with Arno Menses there is a depth to her voice which shows what she is capable of with the right song.
The Butterfly Effect is symphonic power metal in the vein of Kamelot and Nightwish, whilst Yesterday’s Sunset goes from a bluesy opening, to straight
power metal, before evolving into a solid slice on folky neo prog. Elsewhere Android Soul at different times sounds like fellow Dutch bands Autumn, Kingfisher Sky and Edenbridge. At other times Hammerfall, Kamelot, Nightwish, Pallas and Epica. As I said a mixed bag.
Fans of the above bands will all find something of interest here and full marks to PMM for giving this band a wider audience.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Leech - Tram-O-Gram
|Country of Origin:||Estonia|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Jinn (5:12), Tram-O-Gram (5:44), Solar Kid (5:34), Five Frag Combo (6:23), Monkeysphere (??:00), Powerfields (5:16), Populous (3:55), Aftermath (2:42), Dark Horse (8:54), Timetravel (6:47)
Tram-o-Gram is my first ever album from an Estonian band, and it has provided me with a pretty decent listen.
Leech operates in a land where prog-meets-grunge, a land in which I would
not generally choose to spend too much listening time, but there is a sense of energy and something slightly different here that I like.
The foursome of Magnus, Ivo, Erik and Rainer have been going for around six years. After some 50 live shows and two singles,
Disconnected (2003), and Powerfields (2007), Tram-O-Gram, is their debut album.
Most of the songs have their fingers in many a musical pie – stoner, alt rock, metal and grunge. The band label themselves as 'progressive metal'. The slightly strange combination of styles, and the extended instrumental sections which are a key element of the songwriting, certainly allow a ‘progressive' tag. But this is far removed from what most people would call 'ProgMetal'.
Bands like Soundgarden, Masters Of Reality and latter-day KingsX, come to mind most often, although there’s an occasional nod to bands such as Rush. The singer is fine. There’s no hint of an accent but he’s definitely more alt rock than metal.
All ten songs and the design of the CD create a concept apparently based on...
‘observations and ironic notes of a bystander about a mankind, who wait for a mystical saviour, while doing nothing to stop the demise they have brought on themselves’
... so putting the lyrics in the album booklet may have been a good idea then?
Overall I’d file this under 'interesting' rather than 'recommended'. Despite repeated plays over several weeks, I can’t say that many melodies have really sunk in. I’m also not sure that this combination of styles really has a ready audience. A heavy reliance on grungy/stoner guitars isn't likely to appeal to many fans of progressive music?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
VVerevvolf Grehv – Zombie Aesthetics
Tracklist: Emancipation Of Dissonance (4:31), Eureka Ghost (3:25), Audio Processor (4:45), Year Zero (4:08), Over Active Appreciation (2:51), Specimen Well (1:31), Zombie Aesthetics (7:25), Voodoo Pantheon (3:06), Linking Life To Death In A Continuous Experience (1:25), Psychotronic (4:16), Thinking And Feeling (5:02)
VVerevvolf Grehv is the not-exactly-catchy moniker of one Dapose, guitarist in new-wave punk band The Faint. Zombie Aesthetics sees him indulging in some wilfully abstract experimentation, the end result being a disorientating cacophony of electronic blips and bleeps, some distorted riffing from the extreme end of the metal spectrum, harsh, sinister vocals and various weird and wonderful noises and found sounds. Probably most akin to some of Mike Patton’s more obscure and out-there projects, this is occasionally interesting, but to be honest it’s a bit of a mess, and Genghis Tron’s recent Board Up The House release melded electronica and metal in a more satisfying and certainly more listenable way.
This rather hard-going effort is really only going to appeal to those whose music tastes veer towards the most adventurous, extreme end of the musical spectrum.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
TOM DE VAL