Reviews in this issue:
- Mind's Eye - A Gentleman's Hurricane (Duo Review)
- Nightwish – Dark Passion Play (Duo Review)
- Epica - The Divine Conspiracy
- Queensrÿche - Sign Of The Times ~ Best Of 2CD Collectors Edition
- Dimension X – Implications Of A Genetic Defense
- Baroness – The Red Album
- Torman Maxt – The Problem Of Pain Part 1 (Duo Review)
- Circus Maximus - Isolate
- Mekong Delta - Lurking Fear
- Souldrainer - Reborn
Mind's Eye - A Gentleman's Hurricane
Tracklist: Praying For Confession (4:26), Seven Days (6:23), AssassiNation (5:55), Chaos Unleashed (4:53), Hells Invitation (5:34), Feed My Revolver (5:19), Ashes To Ashes (6:03), The Hour Of Need (2:29), Red Winter Sirens (7:30), Skin Crawl (4:41), Graveyard Hands (5:19), Say Goodnight (5:09), Pandora's Box (10:57)
Andy Read's Review
Every so often, an album comes along, and from the very first listen you know that a band has found the end of its musical rainbow. Sweden's Mind's Eye has always produced quality records, each release showing a steady improvement as the trio honed its sound and style. Although generally given the ProgMetal label, the band has always leant more to a progressive AOR/melodic rock style. For me their sound was just a little too lightweight, lacking that all-important 'Wow' factor.
Last year's Walking On H2O received lavish praise, and whilst not totally winning me over, it did hint that the band would start to receive the attention it deserves. On A Gentleman's Hurricane, that potential has been realised - and then some.
The first thing to say, is that whilst the signature Mind's Eye sound and identity is maintained, there is a far heavier approach throughout this album, something that I think will greatly broaden the band's appeal. Whilst the music takes in a lot more progressive and hard rock influences, the album as a whole bears more than a passing resemblance to Queensrÿche's Operation Mindcrime. Central to this, is the storyline concept, through which 53-year-old assassin Adam Evangelista comes to terms with his guilt after meeting a retired priest, who has his own demons to face. There are just seven days for Adam to pour his heart out before his very last job. His 12 murders are covered across the 12 (main) songs.
The performances are simply spectacular. Andreas Novak is no metal screamer, his voice having all the qualities of a hard rock singer but with a stunning amount of variety, which allows him to perfectly capture the mood of individual songs, yet with an innate sense of how to deliver the perfect melody. Therion bassist/guitarist Johan Niemann also excels. There are some insane bass lines here, whilst his riff-mongery on tracks likes Feed My Revolver and Red Winter Sirens is up there with that found on the recent Redemption records. Meanwhile drummer, keyboardist and producer Daniel Flores ably displays why he is one of Sweden's most hired musicians.
Highlights can be found all over the place. Personal favourites are the songs Seven Days, AssassiNation and The Hour Of Need. The latter boasts an effective duet with Crucified Barbara singer Mia Coldheart. Although a more concise song, any comparisons with Suite Sister Mary are perfectly valid. Enjoyable in a totally different way are the Peter Gabriel-esque proggy stylings of Ashes To Ashes and the Magnum-goes-Irish vibe to Graveyard Hands.
The absolute gem though, is the hard-hitting Feed My Revolver, which boasts a heavy riff and a hard rock hook to kill for. But don't take my word for it, try the inventive promo video on the band's MySpace site.
It really is the sheer depth, the wealth of riches throughout the album that takes it to another level. The grandiose compositions; the amazing attention to compositional detail; the dark, mysterious, yet beautifully melodic feel that this album possesses throughout; the musicianship and fantastic vocals; the cleverly subtle way in which the story unfolds; the crisply powerful production; and of course the artwork. The whole thing has an engrossing atmosphere - 'cinematic progressive metal', if you need a concise description.
In my opinion this disc has all the right ingredients to become a classic. If the band can now get out on the road and give this album the promotion it deserves, then A Gentleman's Hurricane really could become a modern-day Operation Mindcrime. At this point, I'll just call it a masterpiece of sophisticatedly delicious music. Buy and enjoy.
Martien Koolen's Review
Mind’s Eye is a Swedish ProgMetal band that started back in 1992 and their music is a traditional musical mix of bands like Queensrÿche, Yes, ELO and A.C.T. A Gentleman’s Hurricane is their seventh album and it is a concept album. It is the first triple pack release with a comic book to illustrate the concept storyline and a DVD on which you can see how the album was made. It gives the fans the right to get inside the albums concept and gain an insight into how the band works in the studio.
This new album is probably their heaviest so far and it is also their most bombastic one. The playing time is more than seventy minutes and in my humble opinion that is a bit too much for this rather dramatic, bombastic prog metal music.
The album starts with Praying For Confession featuring soundscapes, a narrative voice, orchestral parts, piano, strings, a choir, some vocals and piano, making this almost a classical overture; which is of course not really very original. The four first real songs are all prog metal related with clear references to a band like Poverty’s No Crime. The first musical highlight is a song called Ashes To Ashes, being a really heavy, almost trashy prog metal gem. Followed by a rather sweet ballad with piano and female vocals as well. However after this rather mediocre song the band really starts kicking some serious prog metal ass.
Red Winter Sirens features a ballad-like intro followed by great guitar solos and melodies and some tricky heavy prog metal passages. Skin Crawl is a Queensrÿche-like melodic song with an amazing eastern sounding guitar solo. Graveyard Hands – my favourite song – is an Ayreon-like track filled with Celtic and folk influences, a really addictive chorus, flute, orchestral parts and a breathtaking solo. This is in fact Mind’s Eye at its best!!
The album ends with the epic song Pandora’s Musical Box, which kinds of reminds me of Enchant; however the vocals tend to dominate this long song too much in the end. The last 3.5 minutes are filled with piano, voices, a choir and some talking and mumbling, leaving the listener with a rather strange and unsatisfied feeling as these last minutes tend to bore the s*** out of me.
As I said before I think that this album is at least fifteen minutes too long and it really takes time to hear what Mind’s Eye is capable of as the really good music starts with track 6... However there is lots of prog metal music to enjoy here as tracks 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are all musical gems. If you liked their previous albums – like yours truly – then you can buy this CD without hesitating, however you might be a bit disappointed with the first half of the album. Listening tip: Graveyard Hands!!
Nightwish – Dark Passion Play
Tracklist: The Poet And The Pendulum (13:55), Bye Bye Beautiful (4:15), Amaranth (3:51), Cadence Of Her Last Breath (4:15), Master Passion Greed (6:03), Eva (4:26), Sahara (5:47), Whoever Brings The Night (4:18), For The Heart I Once Had (3:56), The Islander (5:06), Last Of The Wilds (5:41), 7 Days Of The Wolves (7:04), Meadows Of Heaven (7:10)
Tom De Val's Review
Surely even those for whom the term ‘femme metal’ sends them into palpitations must be aware of the travails that Finland’s scene leaders Nightwish have been through in the last few years. Having achieved worldwide commercial breakthrough with 2004’s Once, and completed a year-long world-wide tour, singer Tarja Turinen – to many the face of Nightwish – was very publicly fired via an ‘open letter’ from band leader Tuomas Holopainen. Faced with what many saw as unfillable shoes to, well, fill, the band went through a massive audition process, during which time pretty much any female singer vaguely associated with the metal genre was touted on the net as a possible replacement.
In the event, Holopainen has plumped for relative unknown Anette Olzon, and on balance she was probably a good choice. Not possessing the operatic range boasted by Turinen, she instead has a straightforward but pleasant style slightly reminiscent of Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel. If her voice occasionally sounds a little thin, in the main its fine, and in any case the vocal side of things are bolstered by the increased use of the more than capable bassist Marco Hietala – whose deep, aggressive tone treads a delicate line between the ‘beast’ type vocals that are the genre norm and a more standard hard rock vocal – whilst the Metro Voices Choir ably fill in any Turinen-shaped gaps.
Music-wise, its perhaps no surprise (given that Holopainen, not Turinen, has always been the main songwriter) that Dark Passion Play seems to take the over-the-top, bombastic and symphonic blueprint developed on Once and, well, embellishes it. If that seems difficult to believe, take a listen to fourteen minute opener The Poet And The Pendulum – it makes Once’s orchestral epic Ghost Love Score seem like a simple nursery rhyme by comparison. Obviously keen to make a big impression on his return to actually making music, Holopainen throws everything but the kitchen sink in here – a fifty-odd strong orchestra, five ‘movements’ – ranging from a mid-tempo near-thrash section to widescreen balladeering – and enough massed choirs to fill Canterbury Cathedral. Nightwish detractors – the type that label this sort of thing ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber metal’ – will have a field day here, but even they would surely admit that Nightwish do this thing better (and with more conviction and professionalism) than most, and its an undeniably impressive (and impressively overblown!) way to start the album.
Following this monumental blow-out, the band wisely deliver four shorter and leaner (in relative terms!) up-tempo cuts, that rank amongst the best of the album. Bye Bye Beautiful has obvious lyrical allusions to Turinen’s departure – perhaps tactfully, its Hietala rather than Olzon who delivers the stinging chorus. The song romps along convincingly, in a manner relatively similar to Once favourite Wish I Had An Angel. Amaranth was the second single to be released from the album, and its not hard to see why – more like a heavy pop song than a bona fide metal anthem (and one that practically defines the epithet ‘bouncy’) it does boast an irresistibly catchy chorus and is bound to go down a storm live.
Cadence Of Her Last Breath comes in on a vaguely menacing electronic synth riff, and has an altogether darker tone, at least in the verse, before the song explodes into another extremely catchy chorus. There’s some good riffing and soloing from guitarist Emppu Vuorinen on this one. Master Passion Greed again has bitter lyrics centring around the last days of the Tarja Turinen era (this time focusing on her husband and manager, apparently the cause of the conflict in the band) and is as heavy a song as Nightwish have penned, with its buzzsaw riffs, pounding snare drums and aggressive Marco Hietala vocal. Of course there are plenty of orchestral trimmings to keep it palatable for those in the fan-base less enamoured of the heavier stuff.
Sadly, having built something of a head of steam, the band now take their foot off the gas, and the remainder of the album doesn’t quite maintain the consistency that has been on show thus far. Eva is one of the worst offenders; an extremely bland and rather sappy ballad, I don’t think this was really the best choice as either the album’s the first single or as the song to introduce Anette Olzon to the world. You’d have thought that with a song titled Sahara, the band would have great fun with Middle-Eastern flavoured orchestration, but they are relatively restrained on this one; the song itself is a reasonable mid-tempo effort, although not particularly memorable.
Emppu Vuorinen composed Whoever Brings The Night, and proves he’s no slouch in the song writing department with this solid track which moves along very nimbly indeed, and is unsurprisingly full of Vuorinen’s sparky axework, although the focus is on strong melodies and a catchy chorus. Sadly, The Heart I Once Had is another clunker, with the band at their sappiest and most Celine Dion-esque – doubtless it will be a huge hit. The Marco Hietela-penned (and sung) The Islander is thankfully a lot less mawkish, and is at least an interesting departure, a Scandinavian folk influenced, relatively downbeat piece that, although rather clichéd in parts, is well composed and clearly heartfelt. Hietela, singing in a muted voice rather than at the top of his lungs for a change, even sounds a bit like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on this one! Whether it really fits with the rest of the album is a moot point.
Last Of The Wilds is the albums sole instrumental, a fiddle-led up-tempo instrumental that avoids the rather annoying ‘oompah metal’ route and lets the fiddle embellish the heavy guitars rather than take over, although at nearly six minutes the song does run out of steam. It takes 7 Days To The Wolves to remind the listener of the quality apparent in the earlier tracks, a thundering mid-tempo stormer with a powerful, anthemic chorus that makes good use of the dual vocals of Hietala and Olzon. Sadly the album ends on a bit of a whimper with Meadows Of Heaven, another rather nondescript, syrupy ballad that tries in vein to build up a head of steam, but instead just feels rather empty and vapid.
Overall, Nightwish have come up with a good album here – as I’ve detailed in the review, it is inconsistent, and there are a fair few weaker tracks, but when the band are on top of their game there’s few in the genre who really come close. Its certainly not the failure that many die-hard Tarja fans seemed to will it to be, and there’s more than enough here to suggest the band have a bright post-Tarja future, even when the still-buoyant femme metal craze has died down.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
After three years of silence, a major line-up change with the departure of Tarja Turunen’s soon after the End Of An Era release and what proved a very difficult search to find her replacement, finally Finnish Symphonic Power Metal band Nightwish are back and starting a very interesting new era in their musical career.
A lot of expectations now have been cleared - Annete Olzon is the new Nightwish main female vocalist. Coming from Swedish rock act Alyson Avenue and chosen from about 2,000 applicants of which 10 made it to prove their place in front of the band, her identity was kept secret until 24 May 2007 when the internet single Eva was released, the day after she was announced as a singer. She is not only one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen in my entire life, she also has a very clean, powerful and beautiful voice that makes a contrast to the academic vocal style of Turunen.
The band has also cooperating again with the London Session Orchestra and the Metro Voices Choir as they did for their previous release Once. Musically, the band maintains that powerful musical style mixed with huge orchestral arrangements, but this time they've combined it with softer songs almost in the same proportion. The work done by Tuomas Holopainen in the writing of this album is very impressive because now he is totally free to express his ideas without Turunen’s attitude and her behaviour towards the band.
The Poet And The Pendulum is a fourteen minute epic song, which for me is the perfect starting point for this album. Olzon’s vocal skills combined with a beautifully arranged Orchestra make this song an ideal track for an epic or fantasy movie soundtrack. After a prelude, Emppu’s guitars take on the main role combined with the orchestra and choir - a beautiful cello solo combined with Anette’s voice gives to this song a kind of "Lord Of The Rings" aura - then on to a powerful vocal response from Marco and a very beautiful finale. Awesome song!
Bye Bye Beautiful is a powerful song in which we have the first keyboard arrangements from Tuomas and the first vocal interaction between Anette and Marco, a genuine Nightwish song. Amaranth is for me one of the best songs from this album, probably not linked musically with the style of the band but also arranged amazingly, in which Anette’s performing can blow your mind easily, you also can watch the video and get crushed with the beauty of this woman and her spontaneity. Cadence Of Her Last Breath is an average song, with a powerful guitar riff and some vocals arrangements in the chorus sections. Now we get the first of Emppu’s guitar solo's which is reminiscent of Over The Hills And Far Away. In Master Passion Greed Emppu again starts the song with a riff that reminds me of Tool. After that it is Julius who takes the main rhythmical role with his powerful drumming, giving Marco his first opportunity to take the main vocal role in this power-based track with huge guitar playing. Eva is the softer song from this album, a beautiful ballad that was released as the first single in which Anette sings wonderfully again. Another average song comes with Sahara, in which the power metal influences are combined with some Oriental elements in the background, rhythmical changes and a middle-section headed by the orchestra and the chorus mixed with Tuomas playing. After that the musical guidelines are the same with Whoever Brings The Night from which there is nothing more to say. For The Heart Once I Had is a power ballad and is more of a commercial song with piano and guitar and very intense lyrics. The Islander comes with Marco in the vocals, with acoustic guitars arrangements and some Celtic-Nordic influence, a perfect song to break in some way with the monotony accidentally caused by previous songs and to sail away, beautifully arranged and played by the orchestra. Last of the Wilds is an instrumental song that maintains this Celtic influence but merged into a much stronger composition, where the strings arrangements and pipes have the main role here, another surprise. If this song did not have such a different middle section, where the orchestral arrangements combine with drums to give another dimension, I would have said that 7 Days of the Wolves would just have been an average song. The closing tune for this album is an orchestral ballad called Meadows Of Heaven in which Anette’s voice combines with a memorable chorus gives a beautiful ending to the album.
Nightwish have maintained their style and surpassed the Tarja era - certainly the band chose wisely when they picked the clean, fresh and beautiful voice of Anette as their front figure. And for now they have lived up to expectations (or at least mine), although there are flaws in the strength of the material, which at times bordered on the monotonous. However they deserve this new opportunity to keep their status as one of the most amazing musical acts that I’ve heard during the last years and hopefully work hard on their material. So, best wishes in the beginning of this new era!
Epica - The Divine Conspiracy
Tracklist: Indige ~ Prologue (2:05), The Obsessive Devotion (7:13), Menace Of Vanity (4:13), Chasing The Dragon (7:40), Never Enough (4:47), La'Petach Chatat Rovetz ~ The Final Embrace (1:46), Death Of A Dream ~ The Embrace That Smothers Part VII (6:03), Living A Lie ~ The Embrace That Smothers Part VIII (4:57), Fools Of Damnation ~ The Embrace That Smothers Part IX (8:41), Beyond Belief (5:25), Safeguard To Paradise (3:45), Saneta Terra (4:58), The Divine Cospiracy (13:57)
The Divine Conspiracy is Epica's third studio album, not counting The Score as an official Epica release. Their previous release Consign To Oblivion was well received but for die hard fans a bit on the soft side. The ingredients for the sound of Epica stayed the same, film score metal with use of grunts and mezzo-soprano female vocals. Instrumental parts are mainly orchestral arrangements and no guitar solos can be spotted. The Divine Conspiracy is a lot heavier than its predecessor, this time we don't have to wait for song number 6 before the grunting starts. The song compositions have improved a lot, nicely blending slow and heavy parts. Also a lot more large compositions, taking this album over 1 hour and 15 minutes. Epica is still without a drummer and Ariën van Weesenbeek (God dethroned) was hired, not joining Epica as a full member.
The Divine Conspiracy is a concept album dealing with the contemporary problem of clashing religions. Will people stick to their own and frown upon other religions or seek similarities between them. The grunts in contrast to the female vocals nicely expresses the contrast in conception. This album sees the continuation of The Embrace That Smothers. It's a collection of songs written by Mark Jansen that deals with the dangers of organized religion. The first three parts can be found on After Forever's debut album Prison Of Desire and the next three parts on Epica's debut album The Phantom Agony.
Indige ~ Prologue is the intro and common to Epica it shows much resemblance to a film score. Fortunately this time it does not give me the annoying idea I am about to watch Rambo or Pirates of the Caribbean. The Obsessive Devotion opens furiously and immediately shows that the sound of Epica has improved. It contains more melody and less mindless speed. The lyrics are very dark and the contrast between the female vocals and the grunts really comes alive. Lot's of aspects of Epica pass in the varied song. Menace Of Vanity opens with threatening keyboards and quickly speeds up to a compact fast song. In general this album switches between large epic compositions and shorter songs thus creating a perfect balance.
Chasing The Dragon is the highlight of the album for me, starting very fragile with acoustic guitar and soulful singing by Simone, very beautiful. The center-piece is more a theatrical power ballet building up to a heavy full speed metal explosion. Ending as fragile as the beginning this song clearly shows Epica has evolved in songwriting, nicely gluing speed and soulful theatrical parts in one song. Never enough is a nice song with a very poppy feel to it. This is very suitable material for a single. La'Petach Chatat Rovetz is an instrumental bridge to the three songs belonging to the third part of The Embrace That Smothers.
The beginning of Dead Of A Dream is a slap in the face. It immediately takes of at high speed and reaches full speed when the grunts step in. Nice eastern influences during the mellow center but still very heavy during high speed sections making this one of the heavy songs. This song also features some grunting contributions by Sander Gommans (After Forever). Living A Lie is in the same league as Never Enough. Not really complex and again a nice intermission between the larger bombastic compositions.
Fools Of Damnation bears even more eastern influences and starts very mellow but is more speedy on the catchy chorus. When the grunts kick in it's over for the mellowness. This song also bears something that vaguely resembles a guitar solo, but it doesn't get much more exciting than some time changing riffs. Beyond Belief starts very gentle with lot's of female vocals. Halfway through the song the paste goes down and heavy guitar riffs create a doom metal feeling. When played live this will guarantee some headbanging action. Safeguard To Paradise is the only ballad on this album. On Consign To Oblivion there were too much of these fragile songs but on this album it's the only calm spot to be found. Saneta Terra has the kind of galloping sound you usually hear on Iron Maiden albums. The vocal lines would fit Bruce Dickinson like a glove, stunning. During this song the one hour line is crossed and it still successfully maintained my attention.
On every Epica album the title track is the closing song of the album and the longest. The Divine Conspiracy is not the most interesting track on the album. It would be perfect if it stopped after six minutes and a handful of seconds. At that point there is a nice break but unfortunately the song continues. Not very interesting film score music and some power jamming work it's way to a repeated chorus to really fade away in some more film score orchestral nonsense. My tip: after six minutes, and a handful of seconds, press stop and then press play again.
Epica has again delivered a very good album that surpasses their previous album. The Divine Conspiracy is a lot heavier and more balanced. Compact heavy songs are perfectly alternated with epic composition that themselves nicely blend heavy and slow parts. Highly recommended to people interested in symphonic metal.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Queensrÿche - Sign Of The Times
CD 1: Queen Of The Reich, Warning, Walk In The Shadows, Take Hold Of The Flame, The Lady Wore Black, I Don't Believe In Love, Eyes of a Stranger, Silent Lucidity, Bridge, Jet City Woman, Another Rainy Night, Sign of the Times, I Am I, Real World, Some People Fly, Until There Was You, All The Promises
CD 2: Take Hold Of The Flame, Walk In The Shadows, Before The Storm, Waiting For The Kill, No Sanctuary; Prophecy, I Dream In Infrared, Dirty Lil Secret, Last Time In Paris, Scarborough Fair, Della Brown, Someone Else, Silent Lucidity, Chasing Blue Sky, Justified
In a career spanning the best part of a quarter of a century, Queensrÿche's fifteen albums have shifted more than 20 million copies. Prime candidates therefore for a bit of cashing-in by their label, with this 'Collector's Edition' that features almost a carbon copy of a previously released 'Greatest Hits' package, plus a few select items from the band's archives.
The first part of this double CD is the "Best of .." part of the package. It pretty much does what it says on the tin, and to that extent I can't really see the point of including here (other than to increase the price a bit). There is already an EMI Best of .. compilation on the market with an almost identical track listing to this one. Furthermore, anyone who compiles such a Queensrÿche collection, and decides to include three tracks from Hear In The Now Frontier and Q2K plus Real World from the Last Action Hero soundtrack, yet only one from the all-time classic Rage For Order opus, needs an urgent visit to the taste police!
For any fan of the band, the second disc will hold a lot more interest, especially the octet of previously unreleased tracks from the early days. There are three demo recordings by Myth, singer Geoff Tate's band before Queensrÿche, and three fascinating early demo recordings from The Warning. There's also a bunch of bonus tracks from various albums, including a great acoustic remix of I Dream In Infrared. However again any collector will already have most of these as they are available as bonus tracks on the remastered series of early Queensrÿche albums.
Of greatest interest will be what is being billed as a 'new track recorded with original guitarist Chris De Garmo'. I'm not sure how new, 'new' is, but to these ears Justified sounds like a left-over idea from the God-awful Tribe album. Being easily the dullest track on either disc, I hope it's not a taste of things to come.
Being a 'Collector's Edition', the packaging sounds rather good, with a 16-page booklet featuring custom artwork and track notes from Mr Tate himself. However, as the label is 'cashing-in', I've only got two CDRs to work from, so I am unable to tell you if this is actually as good as it sounds.
In short, providing you don't mind splashing out again for the 'Best of' album that you already own, for diehard fans the presence of eight previously-unreleased tracks, and especially the older stuff, will make this a no-brainer purchase. However, for the mildly curious, I'd suggest EMI's existing "Best-of" album (released in 2000) is a far better starting point, and will almost certainly cost a lot less.
For anyone with an ethical dimension to their record buying, then please avoid this faceless cashing-in job and go buy a record from an up and coming new band, and/or from a small label that really needs your support/cash!
Conclusion: Not Rated
Dimension X – Implications Of A Genetic Defense
Tracklist: Serial (2:41), The World News (1:49), Justification (13:11), Silver Spoon (1:00), Heartbeat (3:18), Cordwood (7:51), Hazelnut (0:51), A Fifth Of Madness (5:22), Epithany’s Flight (0:58), Lamentation (3:37), The Hospital (0:53), Retribution (5:01), Watercolor (6:57)
US prog metallers Dimension X, hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, received a good review from this site for their 2005 debut album, So... This Is Earth. For their second album, the band have chosen to plunge down the concept route, telling a less-than-happy tale of a serial killer who uses defects in his genetic make-up to justify his killing sprees. With a sinister Doctor lurking in the background, its fair to say there are some echoes of Queensrÿche’s classic Operation: Mindcrime here, although to be honest Dimension X aren’t really in that league as yet. In addition to the Seattle prog metal pioneers, Dimension X list a large number of bands as influences on their MySpace site, including Dream Theater, Symphony X, King Crimson, Tool, ELP, Opeth and Evergrey. Implications Of A Genetic Defense is certainly a varied musical pot-pourri, and all the above are referenced in some way – what’s less clear is whether the band have managed to transcend these influences and produce a definitive sound of their own.
Rather than ease the listener in, Dimension X instead slam straight into the hard riffing Serial, with its opening line “Pay attention to me” establishing authority immediately. Dave Hoover II’s vocals are low pitched and quite authoritative; guitarist Troy Stetina, even on this short track, manages to weigh in with a technical solo that establishes him as a student at the same school as the likes of Michael Romeo and John Petrucci.
Unfortunately any momentum is immediately snuffed out by a rather amateurish ‘news flash’ intermission; these short tracks are interspersed throughout the album, and disrupt the flow from my point of view, even if the band may justify them as needed to serve the story. I know that modern technology allows one to program out these tracks, but they are still unnecessary as far as I’m concerned.
Next up is the album’s epic, Justification. The first few minutes are certainly atypical for prog metal – with loping bass lines, Hoover crooning the lyrics in a rather dark, foreboding manner and some ‘oriental’ flavoured keyboard work, the first name that came into my head was 80’s neo-romantics Japan. The track gradually becomes darker and heavier, vaguely entering the same territory as IQ did on Dark Matter - a comparison made closer by Jeff Konkol’s Martin Orford-like keyboard solo. The song gradually becomes heavier and more guitar orientated, with Stetina conjuring up another heavy and memorable guitar riff, and both instrumentalists trade solos which seem to get more over the top as the song progresses – modern-day Symphony X comes to mind here. I felt this song goes on a few minutes too long (especially as its placed near the start of the album), and the over-use of the main riff means things get a bit repetitive, but overall this is quite an impressive effort.
The next ‘proper’ track, Heartbeat, is based (surprise surprise) on a heartbeat-like rhythm, whilst a variety of unsettling sounds, sinister semi-spoken vocals and industrial-tinged riffs create a dark and oppressive atmosphere.
Cordwood has heavy echoes of Symphony X – perhaps minus the symphonic bit. Intensive twisting riffs lead the song towards a strong chorus, and there’s a real sense of purpose to the rhythm section, which drives things on. The lengthy instrumental section definitely has hints of Dream Theater (Metropolis comes to mind) with both Stetina and Konkol getting their share of time in the limelight. Like DT, the solo spots do go along a tad too long and threaten to derail the actual song, but they are undeniably quite impressive.
From hereon in however, I felt my attention begin to waver. Fifth Of Madness is an instrumental that is a bit all over the place, travelling from vaudeville to the furthest reaches of ELP land and stopping at all points in between. Lamentations is the almost inevitable ballad; its well enough handled but hardly very exciting. Retribution has some dark twisted riffs and a convincing hint of desperation in Hoover’s vocals, but Watercolor is a rather weak unfocussed piece and ends the album on a rather anti-climactic note.
Overall, Implications Of A Genetic Defense is certainly a musically and lyrically ambitious affair, and features some strong moments and good shows of instrumental flair, but ultimately feels a little unfocussed, both in terms of song-writing and in the incorporation of a variety of musical styles and influences. Next time around it would be good to see the band going for a less elaborate concept and just concentrate on writing strong songs and defining their own sound.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Baroness – The Red Album
Tracklist: Rays On Pinion (7:35), The Birthing (5:03), Isak (4:22), Wailing Wintry Wind (5:54), Wanderlust (1:50), Cockroach En Fleur (4:29), Aleph (4:21), Teeth Of A Cogwheel (2:16), Grad (2:36), O’appalachia (5:54), Untitled (12:11)
In the constantly moving world of modern music, where trends come and go in the blink of an eye and there seems to be some new MySpace-created phenomenon popping up every five minutes, its somehow refreshing when a band still comes to prominence the classic way; by building up a following by playing hundreds of gigs a year in the crummiest of venues. Such is the case for Baroness. Hailing from the somewhat unlikely surroundings of Savannah in the deep south of Georgia, these post-metallers have built up their image the old way, through endless touring and creating a buzz via a couple of EP’s and some split albums, to the extent that The Red Album has become one of the most awaited debuts in the modern metal world – hype that is thankfully, for the most part, deserved.
Whilst its difficult to say that Baroness are especially original, they do have their own take on what is becoming a pretty popular style. Armed with a powerful sound pitched roughly halfway between the progressive metalcore of Mastodon and the expansive, intense soundscapes of Isis, Baroness are also capable, like Chicago’s Pelican and Canada’s Godspeed You Black Emperor, of stripping things back and letting the mellower side of their musical personalities get a look-in.
Opener Rays On Pinion is a great introduction to both the band’s signature sound and the variety thereon in. Starting with some chilled out, ambient synthesizer drones, jangling guitar and heavily brushed cymbals fade in and out of the speakers before gradually a chiming guitar motif is picked up and a rhythmic force is set in motion behind it; even at this stage of proceedings the band’s willingness to bring their southern origins to the fore are readily apparent, as there’s a distinct, bluesy feel to the guitar work that recalls the likes of The Allman Brothers, and certainly adds a distinctness to their sound. The song gradually morphs into a pummelling Mastodon-esque workout, all muscular riffs, shouted vocals and dextrous yet melodic solo guitar work.
Whilst there’s certainly plenty for the metal-heads to get into – the hard grooving The Birthing and the good shouty hardcore fun of Grad being two prime examples – there’s plenty here for those who like their rock more cerebral. Wailing Whistling Wind has the feel of a psychedelic spaced-out jam in places, with a tight rhythm section keeping the spiralling guitar work and wind effects grounded; there’s even some Floydian guitar work on show. Wanderlust is a gentle, almost classical-flavoured solo acoustic piece, whilst O’appalachia is possibly the album’s standout track, evoking perfectly the mountain range from which it takes its name with its anthemic riffs and soaring guitar work. The only disappointment is that final track Untitled isn’t a 12 minute closing epic, but ten and a half minutes of silence before a throwaway, jokey song ends the album on something of an anticlimactic note...
Overall, Baroness have certainly come up with the goods on their debut full-length. If the album didn’t have quite the impact on me that the likes of Mastodon’s Leviathan and Isis’s Panopticon did, well that’s probably because those albums really were offering something new, whereas Baroness are patently not going to sound as unique. That said, the band do have a refreshingly unique take on the genre (helped by the aforementioned southern, bluesy feel that really does help define their sound), and both in terms of musicianship and song-writing there’s little to fault here. The icing on this particular cake is the fine artwork, drawn by the band’s own guitarist, John Baizley - clearly a very talented guy. If you’re at all into the world of post-rock or post-metal, this is an album you should definitely check out.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Torman Maxt – The Problem Of Pain Part 1
Tracklist: Chapter One: Prologue: Overture (3:53), Job’s Song (3:36); Chapter Two: Job’s First Test: The Angel’s First Song (3:43), Satan’s First Song (4:17); Chapter Three: Job’s First Response: Job’s Initial Shock (1:56), Job’s Resolve (3:50), Job’s Commitment (2:25); Chapter Four: Job’s Second Test: The Angel’s Second Song (3:03), Satan’s Second Song (2:05); Chapter Five: Job’s Second Response: Job’s Contemplation (1:19), Job’s Second Response (2:57), Job’s Wife (4:10), A Great Silence (4:47)
Gerald Wandio's Review
I’m indebted to Nigel Camilleri, who reviewed Torman Maxt’s previous album for DPRP back in 2001, because I just did not know how to begin talking about this unique album until I discovered from Nigel’s review that it’s not unique. This is the band’s third album; and, like the previous two, it has a Christian subject and theme. But this one is their most ambitious yet, and in fact what we have here is only the first part of a projected two-disc set dedicated to retelling (interpreting or just paraphrasing? – I’ll get to that in a bit) the Book of Job from the Old Testament. Yes, that’s what I thought, too – what a weird subject for a progressive-metal album! In fact, I really wish I could rate the music and the lyrics separately, but, since I can’t do that, I’ll at least discuss them separately, and you the reader will have to decide whether the combination works for you.
Let me begin with the band’s own words about the music: this album was “inspired by the albums: Rush: 2112 and Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime.” Really, though, they didn’t have to tell us that. Like both those progressive-metal touchstones, The Problem Of Pain tells a story in many parts; and, like both, the music varies in tone, style, and dynamics. There are even what I assume to be allusions or even quotations (musical, I mean) to those and other progressive-rock bands scattered here and there – to give one example, the one that actually made me sit up and say “Hey!”, check out the heavy section in the second half of both Satan’s First Song and Satan’s Second Song. If that doesn’t remind you immediately of the fast part at the end of Rush’s Cygnus X-1 from A Farewell To Kings, well, you haven’t been studying your classic prog-metal. However, that’s not at all to say that the bulk of this album’s music is derivative, because it isn’t, though of course it owes a great deal to the thirty years of progressive metal that have preceded it. The Massaro brothers (the band, a power trio, consists of three brothers, Dominic, Vincent, and Tony) have soaked up the melodic and technical lessons not only of Rush and Queensrÿche but also of, I’d say, Symphony X (whose latest album, Paradise Lost, coincidentally also deals at least partly with Old Testament subjects), and echoes of all the other usual progressive-metal suspects can be heard here and there on the album. But aside from the quotations, allusions, and echoes, which are momentary for the most part, the music is original, energetic, fresh. Even the instrumental tracks (such as the inevitable, for such an album, Overture and the gorgeous Job’s Contemplation) are interesting, not bogged down in virtuosic self-indulgence.
It’s even hard to pick out highlights, because, impressively for this kind of project (and we’ll have to wait to see whether the band can sustain this achievement over the second disc, scheduled to be released next year), all the tracks are strong. I ought to mention that (again, in the spirit of 2112 and Hemispheres) the brothers have given a great deal of thought to the construction of the suite, carefully establishing and repeating themes and melodies for the main characters (here, Job, Satan, and the Angel) that are repeated and embellished whenever each of those characters “reappears.” I think, to my taste, the best tracks are the fast ones – Satan’s two songs, which I mentioned earlier, and the Overture pre-eminently. But the slower songs (notably the Angel’s two songs) are lovely and provide tasteful counterpoint and dynamic variation, too. I guess what I’m saying is that, musically, this album is pretty much ace.
My reservations are reserved for the singing, the production, and especially the lyrics, so I’ll take those three in that ascending order of seriousness. First, I have to say that I personally don’t care much for Tony Massaro’s voice. It’s by no means bad, and in many places it fairly well suits the music, but it’s neither compelling nor powerful enough, in my opinion, to hold up its end of this ambitious project. It’s hard for me to find an adequate comparison, since the voice is unique, but I guess more than anyone else’s Dennis DeYoung’s voice comes to mind – though Massaro’s is neither so powerful nor so quavery as DeYoung’s, so there’s the bad and the good. As for the production, almost everything comes through pretty well except the percussion, specifically the snare drum and the cymbals (although more power and depth in the bass drum would power the songs as they really need to be powered). The snare has a bit of that dreaded tunk-tunk shoebox sound, and the cymbals crash with a bit too much biting brittleness, calling too much attention to themselves rather than just punctuating.
But it’s the lyrics I have to take issue with, and please believe that this is not a matter of religious faith or lack of faith on my part. It’s more a matter of literary tact. Now, I’m a huge fan of concept albums, and I prefer the overreaching to the underreaching – much better a failed overblown idea and lyric than another “You did me wrong, baby.” But is it possible that there are some subjects that are trivialized rather than illuminated by being treated musically? I think it is possible, and I just don’t think that even my beloved genre of progressive metal has the heft to add anything to one of the great literary masterpieces of the Western world (leaving aside entirely the matter of belief). The Massaro brothers don’t do a particularly awful job of paraphrasing the Book of Job, and I suppose (given what must be at least a partly evangelicizing intention) that they may with this album draw some readers to the Bible. But reducing Job’s “initial shock,” as the song’s title has it, to such doggerel verse as “I sing this suffering song/I see all that I have is gone/ But cursing god is wrong” (and that’s to take only one example of many) seems to me to demean the original and to undercut the band’s praiseworthily ambitious enterprise. Rather than adding weight to the Biblical story they retell, they reduce it, in my opinion, oversimplify it, make it small.
What then am I saying about this album as a whole? I’m saying that, musically, the album is likely to appeal to most if not all fans of progressive metal, despite my own stated reservations about the singing and the production. Therefore I have to give it a DPRP recommended rating. But in my judgement, lyrically the project is misguided and thus not really a success. Aware, though, that many will disagree with me, and giving full credit to the magnitude of what the band has achieved, I have to admit that I look forward to hearing the end of the story on Part 2, which, as I’ve said, ought to be released next year.
Jeffrey Terwilliger's Review
With the release of The Problem Of Pain Part 1, this band signals an energetic desire to break out in the Progressive Metal genre. The buzz is pretty good, their website does a great job setting out just what they are all about without being an overly complex A/V production that only loads in about 25 PCs in the whole world. The CD package is good too, visually conveying the nature of the inside stuff. Great job, guys!
The three brothers Massaro are also ambitious and forthright about their artistic plans: Back-to-back concept albums about Christian philosophy. This is not in itself a bad thing, it seems to be where Prog is heading. And to me, the most moving music of the genre has for decades been inspired, overtly or covertly, by religious faith, and any way you cut it it beats the heck out of "get laid & party" or "I hate myself" lyical content of the vast majority of pop music.
These guys are pretty good. I think they have a lot of energy and potential - their live shows might become the stuff of underground legend someday, who knows (I don't). So don't get me wrong here, but this CD just doesn't live up to it's awestruck buildup. I hear a lot more Highland Power Rock than I do Progressive Metal in here. There are some interesting riffs & themes, and I can hear influences from Rush, along with a whole spectrum of 70's & 80's power-pop stuff ranging from Uriah Heep (um, without the keyboards) to Big Country. Their sound and music style can be compared to Tiles and Big Wreck from more recent times. However I have to say I like both those bands better in every aspect.
Since so much in this industry depends on the product's polish, I have to say a little about that. The mix is dominated by layered guitars, which fill up the sonic space with everything from strumming like mandolins to wailing like bagpipes. Contrary to the thick heavy sound they probably were going for, the result reinforces the "70's power pop" impression especially since there are a lot of bends. Vincent's drums are pretty dull in the mix, although what peeps through is quite energetic and exciting. The bass is just...kind of there, humming along the bottom...with frequent string slap which makes me wonder if Dominic is in the habit of playing too hard in the studio because he can't hear himself on stage. As for Tony's singing, well he certainly has an identifiable voice, and that's a good thing. But it needs help too because the sound makes me think of Geddy Lee in high school.
In short, Torman Maxt sounds like they need more development. The band is tight, but not tight enough. The themes are good, but too repetitive & teflon-like (i.e. they don't stick). The playing and singing is respectable, but not ass-kicking. The production is adequate, but not excellent... you get the picture. A band that brands itself Progressive Metal has to have something big going on, because in the Prog-Metal arena there are a lot of Symphony X's and Lacuna Coils and, well, Arenas roaming around that will just eat them for lunch.
Circus Maximus - Isolate
Tracklist: A Darkened Mind (5.35), Abyss (5.02), Wither (4.48), Sane No More (3.56), Arrival Of Love (4,12), Zero (4.40), Mouth Of Madness (12.35), From Childhood's Hour (4.25), Ultimate Sacrifice (8.10)
Sometimes it is good to go back and revisit some of the albums that one has reviewed, and see whether one's comments have stood the test of time. The arrival of the second album from Norway's promising Circus Maximus, prompted me to do just that. Having dug out their debut album to refresh my memory a little, I then dipped into the DPRP archives to see what I wrote at the time. Thankfully, what I wrote then, still perfectly sums up my thoughts about The 1st Chapter.
In essence, I concluded that: 'In places I think this is absolutely superb. The opening two tracks, the melodic chorus of Why Am I Here and the sheer ambition of the title-track, provide an astonishingly addictive listen. However, I'm not quite sure why, but this is not an album that I come back to in its entirety. Maybe it is just too diverse for its own good.' With that in mind, having spent several weeks with the band's second album, Isolate, I'm getting a real sense of déjà vu.
Again, the best songs are the opening pair. A Darkened Mind is built on great riff, some driving rhythms and a decent melody. As the name suggests, Abyss starts off as a far heavier and darker tune thanks to another great, brooding riff, above which Eriksen's voice soars. The song then considerably lightens towards a very poppy chorus. A good song, if maybe too lightweight for some tastes.
Wither is a bit hit and miss. The beginning holds plenty of promise. There's a solid AOR chorus that brings to mind Journey, and a pompy romp in the middle, which brings to mind Styx. However the complex instrumental work is too busy for the simple melody. The two opposites just don't attract. What flow the band has built up, is brought to a thumping halt by a horrible instrumental, which features with some horribly overdone drumming. The track goes on for around three and half minutes too long.
Arrival Of Love is a classic melodic rock song, which is spoilt by being too rushed, and by a guitar lacking the meaty riff needed to carry such a song. Again the instruments, and especially the drums, are way too busy for such a simple melody. We come to another halt with Zero. A going-nowhere-slowly ballad, it does absolutely nothing for me, and the 'aah aah' choral vocals at the end are horrible.
Until now most of the songs have only just passed the five minute mark. As with the band's debut album, the fivesome has an wee epic up its sleeves. The very slow opening of Mouth Of Madness, builds nicely into a ProgMetal workout that mixes Dream Theater, Savatage and Andromeda to superb effect. However, like the epic track on the first album, the song writing isn't good enough and there is not enough depth to the instrumental sections to last the distance. The grungy/doomy riffing and voice-overs in the mid section is just noise. The Symphony X power metal mixed with Evergrey choral darkness which follows, is predictable, and the neo-prog meets AOR of the closing section is dreary. The ending is poorly executed.
From Children's Hour is another AOR ballad - nuff said - and we close with the take-it or leave-it melody and drawn out ending of Ultimate Sacrifice.
This hasn't been an easy album to review. Circus Maximus is a band with such potential. Their mix of easy to listen to melodic rock and progressive metal is an interesting proposition. However, overall, I feel that Circus Maximus has taken a step back with this album. The promise that was shown on the debut, has not been built on at all. Like its predecessor, this has a few great moments but overall the song writing and composition just isn't good enough to get me excited.
The band is signed to ProgMetal specialist Sensory in the USA, and with melodic rock specialist Frontiers in Europe. That pretty much sums up the band's dilemma. The whole basis of melodic rock/AOR is the simplicity and thus accessibility of the central melody and riff. When you add to that simplicity, some complex instrumental work, with constant mood and time changes, the end result is sonic confusion.
On Isolate the band certainly veers more towards the Frontiers market. Yet as shown by the two ballads, they find it hard to deliver simple catchy melodies. It may just be my personal tastes, but for me, the best moments are when they go towards the Sensory market, delivering some tasty melodic ProgMetal. Whenever the band tries to combine the two, it just doesn't work. Michael Eriksen is a stunning vocalist and Mats Haugen contributes some good solos and riffing. That maybe enough for some listeners and I'm sure this album will have its fans. Sadly, if I put my hand on my heart, I am not one of them.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Mekong Delta - Lurking Fear
Tracklist: Society In Dissolution (4:58), Purification (5:06), Immortal Hate [accepting prayers of supremacy] (5:16), Allegro Furioso [taken from 'Five fragments for group & orchestra] (3:07), Rules Of Corruption (5:27), Ratters [among the dead] (5:04), Moderato [taken from 'Five fragments for group & orchestra] (3:52), Defenders Of The Faith (7:02), Symphony Of Agony (5:08), Allegro [out of 'Symphony nr. 10' by Dimitri Schostakowitsch] (4:16)
11 years and Mekong Delta have been missing for all this time. For those of you not familiar with the back catalogue of this German prog/thrash band, they released some very heavy and technical albums in the end of the 80's and beginning of the 90's that actually gave the band a cult status and a very high esteem in the domains of progressive metal. An element that made their sound unique was the fact that they always managed to insert here and there in their repertoire covers of classical pieces or even classical compositions of the man behind the band: bassist and occasionally guitarist Ralf Hubert. Their 1992 release Kaleidoscope featured a cover of Dance On A Volcano (Genesis) and clear signs of a conscious turn to progressive music. Indeed, in 1994 came one of the masterpieces (at least for me, but trust me I'm not the only one claiming that...) of experimental progressive metal: Visions Fugitives which included a set of twisted, haunted and brilliant compositions that went far beyond any type of comparisons in the field. Think of Voivod's Nothingface, Psychotic Waltz's Into The Everflow, Fates Warning...
The last time we heard from Mekong Delta was in 1996, when they covered Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition as ELP did decades ago. And what a fantastic revisiting of the classic that was...
So was it worth the wait? NO! Mekong Delta rediscover their old thrash-oriented self and throw to the waste most progressive elements in their music: mostly concerning the originality, sense of surprise, progress and overall philosophy behind the compositions, but also in the music itself. Imagine Fates Warning releasing a new album repeating the material of The Spectre Within. That wouldn't be very interesting, would it? Lurking Fear features ten tracks, which could have easily belonged to the albums they were releasing around 1990 - mainly Dances Of Death [And Other Walking Shadows]. The music is extremely aggressive and technical, featuring very heavy and fast riffs, incredibly complex arrangements, constant, non-stop changes. Think of a less lyrical Nevermore to get the picture. The drumming is really stormy and solid, the interplay between bass and guitar perfect and smart. Just like 15-20 years ago. Still, there is a notable difference: this vocalist is worse than all the previous ones who've passed through the band. High-pitched, anti-esthetical voice that, combined with the production bringing the 80's so much in mind (on purpose I guess anyway...), makes the product tiring to the ears. Without "teasing" or provoking the listener. Actually, the two-three riffs that constitute the album backbone (in Purification and Immortal Hate for example) are riffs that appeared in the Dances Of Death album and are taken from there intact. This is how similar to the past releases this one is. Moreover, as in all their albums, there are also classical pieces here (guess the titles yourselves, not too hard, is it?). Interesting for sure, but again, they remind me so much of the covers of other classical themes the band has worked on in the past, that they do not surprise me. The only track where I identified some interesting elements is Defenders Of The Faith: a bit the flamenco guitar, a bit the strange twisted rhythm in the beginning: "among the blind the one-eyed is king".
This album is suffering from a lack of imagination that is inexplicable when one is familiar with the history of the band who had as past trademarks adventure, experimentation and inspiration. This album holds the first place among the list of candidates for the biggest disappointment of 2007. I don't see the reason why it was done: it offers nothing and it lacks in inspiration and fresh ideas compared to their past catalogue. Hubert chooses the path of least resistance, avoids taking any risks and aims at a purely metal audience. Looks like he repeats himself only to give another try to an audience that never really gave the band the appreciation they deserved. Maybe fans of technical metal that are new to the band will fancy Lurking Fear. But then I strongly recommend to them to look for the releases of the 90's, because what we have here can at best be described as "an album that should have been b-sides and outtakes of the past". All in all, the moral of the story is not new. Playing uncountable themes in a song and switching between riffs at the speed of light doesn't mean much when the band doesn't look forward and miss ideas. Rush said "Changes aren't permanent, but change is". They were wrong in this case: it's the other way around - permanent changes, but no change. Pity...
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Souldrainer - Reborn
Tracklist: First Row In Hell (4;14), Internal Suicide (3;57), The Others (4;55), To The Promised Land (3;36), Daemon To Daemon (4:46), Reborn (3;22), Everyday Hero (5;50), Black Thirteen (6:17), They All Die (4:02), Angel Song (5;55)
Souldrainer was found back in 1998 and they recorded their first material in the year 2000. The musical foundation was death metal with additional strings and huge choirs. The year 2003 was a turning point for the band as two additional musicians joined the band and took Souldrainer to a new existence and their first official release; a three track mini CD called First Row In Hell.
Their first full length album Reborn was recorded at the end of 2005 and in 2006 the band got a deal with Mascot Records. I must say that I really did not know that these guys play death metal, otherwise I would not have reviewed this CD in the first place.
Musically I like what Souldrainer does, great melodies, bombastic parts, excellent guitar riffs, sparkling choir parts, but as soon as the singer “Johan Klitkou” enters the scene, it is over for me, as his grunting and shouting is unbearable to my ears. He grunts his way through every song, so for there is nothing to enjoy musically unless Klitkou shuts up for a short time.
So, if you like grunting and amazing melodic death metal then Souldrainer could do well for you, if you hate grunting like I do, keep your hands, or better ears, from this album.
Conclusion: Not Rated