Sunday, March 30, 2014

Moonsorrow - Suden Uni

Moonsorrow are probably my favorite band of the new millennium era of metal bands. These guys play a folk metal/black metal/pagan metal. It's kinda hard to nail them down....I like to call them heathen/nature metal due to their lyrics. And speaking of lyrics, thankfully they translate all of their lyrics because they sing in Finnish, their native tongue. They have six full lengths, four demos and an EP to date. This is Suden Uni, their debut full length released in February of 2001. I first heard this band some time right after their third full length was released in 2003 and I immediately became a fan. This band is epic as fuck and the talent that is displayed by these guys is undeniable. Their mix of  folk and metal is stunning and this album is a fine example of the best of this sub genre of metal that seemed to grow very large during the previous decade.

The album kicks off with "Ukkosenjumalan Poika" ("Son of the God of Thunder" if your Finnish is rusty) and the riffs begin with bombastic drums and epic keys. The songwriting here is just amazing with the keyboards providing a symphonic atmosphere that can take you away but without overpowering the guitars. The guitars are done with riffs and huge chords to pummel you. The vocals are of a black metal nature that sound painful and maybe angry at times but full of emotion. This is the quintessential album opener that leads right into the opening riff of the second song, "Köyliönjärven jäällä (Pakanavedet II") ("On the Ice of Köyliönjärvi (Pagan Waters II"). Along with the epic riffs of this song the keys are right in there...then what the fuck? Accordion? Yes, it is and this is one of those things that make this band so special. But along with accordions and even mouth harps is this massive wall of guitars, electric and acoustic, giving this song even more depth. There are some clean vocals here and there that sound like male choirs.

This band writes long songs and on this album the longer songs range between six and eleven minutes in length with two instrumentals that are not as long. Given their length, these songs never get boring or get cumbersome. They flow along and keep you interested...because they can write good songs. The songs are intricate without becoming pretentious. "Kuin ikuinen" ("As Eternal") is a fine example with many tempo changes and riff changes that keep you listening, even the sound of an epic battle is included. How can you not love this band? Once again, the keys give this even more depth and an epic feeling. "Tuulen koti, aaltojen koti" ("Home of the Wind, Home of the Waves") is an absolute beautiful instrumental that starts with the sound of the ocean and acoustic guitars for the intro going into bombastic guitars and keyboards making you feel like you are there. There's a faint flute playing in there as well. The song builds with guitars (acoustic and electric), keys, accordions and that faint flute. That shit gives me goose bumps! More proof that this is one of the finest bands in metal and above that, something very special.

Now "1065: Aika" ("1065: Time") has to be given mention just due to it's complexity and epic sound. This is the longest song on the album clocking in at eleven minutes. It begins with the sound of wind, some keyboards and some far off acoustic guitars very softly slowly getting louder that builds up to these massive guitar riffs and vocal screams. Then this builds up with epic guitars and keys with some clean vocals as well as some black metal screams all leading to a crescendo of clean vocal choirs. Here's them goddamn goosebumps again! Look, if you don't get goosebumps from this, check your pulse because you may be DEAD! No other band has made me feel this way about their music. Pop the CD on, get your headphones on, lay back and go on a journey that takes you to the forest, then to epic battle scenes, and then to the sea. There is no other band like this, anywhere!


King Diamond - Conspiracy

At the end of King Diamond's most successful album to date, 1988's "Them", we hear what could be synonymous to a "to be continued" in the track "Coming Home." Once again, King Diamond does not let another year end without releasing the follow up, Conspiracy, which just happened to be the sequel to "Them." So four consecutive album in four years. And not just albums but masterpieces in their own rite. Conceptually, Conspiracy picks up where "Them" left off with King returning to the old house and to '"Them."' The album is just more of the same for King Diamond, an absolute perfect album full of killer riffs, quality solos and epic songwriting. The revolving door that King seemed to be experiencing has spun around again as Mikkey Dee left to join Don Dokken's band and then ultimately land in Motorhead. However, he did appear as a guest on the album so we get to hear Mikkey's flawless drumming with King one last time.

The opener, "At The Graves" is just an absolute epic song that starts with King singing along with some eerie synthesizer "music box" sounds apparently speaking to the spirit if his little sister, "Missy." Then the guitars kick in leading to the riffs. The production on this one is a bit different than the previous three. The guitars are more up front as well as King's vocals seem to have less effects. This takes away from that special atmosphere the previous albums had but not enough to make this any less perfect. The song is long, 8:56 in length but not overlong. The solos are as expected, pure magic and precision. Since the guitars are more up front in this mix, the solos are mixed much clearer and you can really here the musicianship of these two guitarists. Andy La Rocque and Pete Blakk compliment each other as they trade off solos. "Sleepless Nights" follows and is probably the second most notable song by King due to some air play for the video to this song on MTV. This is a straight ahead metal rocker with huge riffs and solos....killer never ending solos. This album should be considered essential to any guitar shredder out there...metal or not.

Once again, King Diamond has created an album that defines heavy metal, once again raising the bar for the rest of the genre. This album goes in a more traditional direction with just crushing riff work as shown on songs like "Lies, '"Amon" Belongs to "Them",' and "Victimized." As for King's vocals, he never sounded better. As I said before, his voice sounds better due to the mix. I remember an interview I read when this album first came out that King purposely did a more straight forward mix on his voice this time around. "What you hear is more of my voice," he had said. You also have epic songs like "A Visit from the Dead," and "The Wedding Dream." The former starting with some clean guitars and King's softer falsetto then leading into epic riffs, soaring vocals and massive solos. The latter starting out with some church organ sounding keys leading to some of King's best non falsetto vocals. This song is huge as well as being epic.  "Something Weird" is probably the only interlude song I still listen to. It's eerie and hypnotizing. The closer is mostly instrumental and is a fitting end to another amazing album.

How does King do this and, more importantly, why aren't their more people recognizing the pure talent in this band? Not only being more prolific than many bands of his time but creating perfect albums, not just contract obligations. The number one thing I hear when there are any King Diamond detractors out there is his vocals, more accurately, the falsettos. Rob Halford was doing it, what was it about King that turned so many off? Isn't his vocals the epitome of heavy metal? And King wasn't done because in a little over a year later King releases the follow up to this be continued....


Friday, March 28, 2014

Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead

So here we are in 2014, with Gamma Ray having been in existence for a quarter century, they have released their eleventh full length album, Empire of the Undead. Strange title with even stranger artwork, but the proof should be in the music, right? Anyone who is a metal head should know this band's history and it's roots. Guitarist and vocalist Kai Hansen left Helloween at the peak of their career to form his own group. There are two eras of this band, the Ralf Scheepers era and the good era! lol Anyway, this is another of the highly anticipated albums of 2014 and after the somewhat of a let down album, To The Metal, can Gamma Ray release an album that will put them back on the power metal throne? A year ago we were treated to a taste of the new album with the EP Master of Confusion. That was actually a good EP and the two new songs on it were promising. And, of course their was the fire at the band's studio that reportedly destroyed everything. Even with that obstacle they persevered and now we have the new album...and it appears that the band is not slowing down anytime soon.

The opener is the nine minute opus, "Avalon." It appears that they were going for a "Rebellion in Dreamland" type of song and though it's not as good as that classic, "Avalon" is a great song it it's own right. It begins slow with clean guitars and and Kai's vocals. Then the riffs kick in and the main riff seems to have an almost eastern feel to it. The song is epic and melodic with keys in the background to set the atmosphere but not to overwhelm. The songs picks up the pace in the middle with some nice riffs and a melodic verse. Then the leads kick in. First we have dual harmony leads that go into trade off solos and are they fucking huge. Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter are masters of their craft and it shows that they are still on top of their game. This is an epic metal song that is to be expected by a band of this caliper. This gives me hope that this is the album I expected it to be.

And man, was I right. "Hellbent" was a teaser that was released so we all know what it sounds like but I love hearing it over and over. It's fast, full of riffs and is massive! The lyrics are cheesy "metal" lyrics but when a song kicks your ass like this the lyrics fit the song perfectly. Once again, the solos are the star of the show here. You will be paying air guitar to these solos and headbanging to this song...if you don't then you are not a metal head and need to leave the hall! And it doesn't stop there. "Born to Fly" has a cool groove at the beginning and speeds up to a typical speedy melodic Gamma Ray song. Cool riffs, nice hooks, and a decent groove makes for a most enjoyable song. And, once again, the solos. I can't say this enough, Kai and Henjo are masters.

We know "Master of Confusion" and the title track from the EP. These are your typical Gamma Ray rockers. They may not offer anything new or innovative, they just rock. The title track is the more speedy of the two and just kicks your ass. Cool traditional metal riffs with melodic hooks and godly solos...what more could you want? "Demonseed" is a heavier song that is not as speedy but pounds you into submission. It has cool riffs and a catchy chorus and a blasting solos. "Seven" and the closer, "I Will Return" are speedy and riff laden songs that are catchy and full of hooks. This album is already favorite of mine and has surpassed it's predecessor by leaps and bounds.

This would be a perfect album except for "Pale Rider" which is just meh and nothing special as well as a terrible ballad, "Time for Deliverance." What's wrong with these bands? Why can't they write a decent metal ballad anymore? Anyway, this is still an overall very enjoyable slab of metal that will get plenty of playing time. This album shows that Kai and the boys are still capable of doing what they have always been known for, creating good power metal.


Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child

Well the hype that was leading up to this album was immense. They went back to their old logo. The teaser songs they released sounded almost like a return to the power metal days of first three Sonata Arctica albums...and when I say almost I mean that some of the elements were there but not enough to fan boy jizz over them like some people did. As with the Queensryche "return" it seems that people were listening to different songs than what I was listening to. Anyway, it seemed that after three very disappointing albums from our beloved Finns the new album, titled Pariah's Child, would see a return to the direction that really worked for this band. I'm not asking for another version of Ecliptica since their first three (and most of Reckoning Night) were good power metal albums without being repeats of Ecliptica. I want the riffs, the speed, the solos, and that melodic magic that made me love this band immediately. Sadly, the return of the logo did not bring the music with it.

So we have the opening bars of the first song, "The Wolves Die Young." Sounds like old Sonata...but then the verse comes in and where's the riffs? Single note chugging over double bass drums does not make it power metal. There's a good melody and a catchy chorus but a serious lack of riffs. The solo is decent but since it's a dual solo with the keyboards it gets kinda buried. Tony's vocals sound good in most places so he hasn't lost his abilities. This is one of the teasers that was released and the reaction was like this was the true successor to Winterheart's Guild. I was wondering what the fuck they were listening to? "Running Lights" follows up the opener and at least we have some riffs here, though they seem to be a bit poppy. It's melodic and a bit catchy but some of the vocals sounds like Tony's playing around. Not sure what to make of this. It's a decent song and better than the opener but I'm still not buying it.

It really never gets going here. "Take One Breath" is another chug fest with no riffing. It starts off sounding really poppy with piano and harps then going into this down tuned chug that seems to go nowhere. The melodies are here but there's no magic here. Tony sounds like he's struggling on this one. The piano and harps come back to the bridge in the middle then being mixed with chugs. Not working for me, sorry. The second teaser "Cloud Factory" was a better song and I guess I could see why people got all excited over this album. But what the fuck is up with the song "X Marks the Spot" with the annoying voice over through the song like some rock and roll evangelist? Makes what would be a really decent song by the band annoying as fuck! The lyrics are just stupid but the song's really good but with that annoying voice over I can't listen to it.

It's a shame because buried in between this tripe are a few decent songs like "Half a Marathon Man." This is a strange song that's fast and bouncy with some decent riffs...yep there's some riffs on this album! The keys sound like old school rock organ and give the song a nice feel. It's catchy and full of hooks. So it appears that they are capable of writing good songs. "Blood" is an epic song that starts off a bit eerie that leads to a nice hook in the verse and a good guitar sound. This song isn't really a riff fest either but it works better because it doesn't rely on chugs. There's some power metal riffs here and there and the chorus is really good. This is definitely my favorite song in the album. "What Did You Do in the War, Dad?" is actually another really good song that could be the sequel to "Replica." It's pretty much a slower ballad type of song in places. It has a catchy chorus and has that typical Sonata Arctica melody.

The last two songs on the album are just forgettable. "Love" is just a ballad that's so cheesy bordering on pukey! It's slow and is mostly piano though some guitars (electric and acoustic) comes into the chorus. I can barely get through it. I like metal ballads but this is really bad. Which leads me to the final song, "Larger Than Life." This is ten minutes of going nowhere. It starts out slow with orchestral parts and piano as the song makes you think it will build up to something epic but just goes nowhere. It's directionless and I'm not sure what Tony is going for in the vocals but he sounds like he's singing a show tune in places. Thew chorus is decent but he seems to be playing around with his voice, as I mentioned before. This is a ten minute snooze fest.

So here we have one of the most anticipated albums of the year and it just doesn't live up to the hype. It's not a return to form. It's not even a good album. There are a couple really good songs mixed in with songs that are trying to be something but fail miserably. As I said, I'm not asking for a re-run of Ecliptica, I'm just asking for good songs. I know they are capable of much better than this, why are they not doing it? There's no magic here and it seems they are just going through the motions. Keep your finger near the skip button, folks. Your going to need it.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Noble Beast - Noble Beast

I just want to get this out of the way, I fuckin' love Bandcamp. I remember back in the day when all we had was the tape trading scene. Then the internet came and we had another way of getting bands exposure that they would not have otherwise had. So we are here at 2014, Myspace blows; Facebook is not really good for musicians; and Reverbnation is meh. Bandcamp is where I have found so many metal gems as of late and this includes this St. Paul, Minnesota quartet, Noble Beast. These guys play a traditional/power metal that reminds me of old Iron Savior and a bit of Falconer. Weird mix, you say? Yep, it sure is but they fuckin' rock! Their self titled debut is a nice slab of heavy metal that has a slight twist on the genre, the vocalist is a baritone that can also wail. With the right exposure, this band could go far.

Okay, so some would say that the power metal fantasy lyrics have been overdone. Yep, it has. But some bands can pull it off if their music is up to the task. These guys are the real deal. The opener, "Iron Clad Angels" sets the mood with an ass kicking speed metal song that relies on massive riffs and guitar melodies and even tremolos that are melodic and full of hooks. The choruses are catchy and you will find yourself singing along to them. The vocalist is a baritone almost opera type that can go up into a Piet Sielck sounding tenor as well as also hitting some high note screams that's typical of the genre. He's quite unique and his baritone actually reminds me a lot of Menhir's Heiko Gerull's clean vocals.The solos on this song are excellent and well done without being pretentious. They also have some melodies that remind me of Falconer's early work. Yeah the lyrics and song titles are power metal cheesy but the songs kick your ass!

The rest of the album is more of the same, heavy metal at it's finest. Songs like "Behold the Face of Your Enemy," and the title track are speedy numbers with catchy riffs, melodic hooks and sing along choruses. Again the guitars shine here with twin harmonies as well as killer solos. "Mast of Depravity" has a great main riff that's ballsy that will have you headbanging in no time. It's a galloping metal tune that's powerful and melodic. These guys know how to write a song. "The Dragon Reborn" has a main riffs that is harmonized twin guitars that reek of Falconer. If any song reminds me of them, this is it. There's also the eight plus minute "We Burn" that is epic and complex without being over long or losing steam. And we have another epic anthem "On Wings of Steel" that has a chorus that you HAVE to sing along with. Same with the album closer, "Nothing to Repent." Epic and melodic anthems that could stand up to a lot of the classics of the genre.

Honestly, there is not a bad song on this album...not even a skipper or filler. Each song is well written and played with the quality of veteran bands. If I didn't know better, I would swear this band has been around for decades. These guys are young and have a HUGE future ahead of them. I really can't wait to see what these guys do next.


Dread Sovereign - All Hell's Martyrs

When it comes to doom metal, I tend to be a bit picky. I love the classic bands like Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, old Trouble, and of course, Sabbath but some of it seems to just drone on and bore the fuck outta me. So now we have veteran metal frontman Alan Averill's newest band Dread Sovereign and their debut full length, All Hell's Martyrs. This guy seems to be working overtime lately with his main band, Primordial, still going strong as well as fronting all star trad metal band Twilight of the Gods. While the former band is a classic in the celtic folk/black metal genre the, latter seemed to be a little too average for the talent that's involved. What we have here is vastly different than those bands as this is epic doom metal.

After an intro we have the first proper song called "Thirteen Clergy." This song is epic doom metal at it's finest. The riffs are crushing and the drums, provided by Primordial drummer, Simon O'Laoghair, are just insane. This is the doom metal that I like. Alan Averill's vocals are eerie and evil sounding fitting the music perfectly. At this point it seems that this album will be promising. Going into the next song I was rather disappointed. "Cthulhu Opiate Haze" is a long one, 10:29 in length, and it seems to be a bit too long as it tends to plod along in places. There are some great doom riffs in this song but it just seems to go nowhere. There's a brief psychedelic part in the middle of the song that seems out of place then picks up right after then just plods to an end. I'm sure a lot of doom fans will love this, but it's just too slow and I lose interest after a while.

It seems that this album bounces back and forth between the shorter songs and the longer songs with a couple of interludes thrown in. The shorter songs are the best, IMO. One of these shorter songs, "Pray to the Devil in Man," is the same as the opener, crushing riffs and evil vocals but does not seem to drone on and keeps my attention. It's not longer than it should be. "Scourging Iron" and "Cathars to Their Doom" are the same way, hammering doom riffs with that are epic as fuck without being too long and Mr. Averill's eerie vocals fit the songs perfectly. Then songs like "We Wield the Spear of Longinus" and the closer, "All Hell's Martyrs, Transmissions from the Devil Star" just seem to just plod along in places although the latter does not seem to make me lose interest as fast. I'm not sure why they chose to make these longer songs so much slower but I guess it's just a matter of taste. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against long epic songs but they need to keep me interested.

There is major talent on this album but it just seems a bit inconsistent to me. It's not a bad album by any means. I guess some of these songs go into the category of doom that I just can't get into. I'm sure this album will appeal to your die hard doom fan as the musicianship is top notch. I guess you'll have to pick it up and judge for yourself.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

King Diamond - "Them"

After the monumental Fatal Portrait and the beautiful Abigail, King Diamond brings us his third album in three years, 1988's "Them". Now one would think that writing that many albums in that short of time in between touring, etc would cause a band to go stale. Well, King Diamond is not just any other band nor is King any other songwriter. Since the recording of Abigail, former Mercyful Fate guitarist Michael Denner was first replaced by Michael Moon for the Abigail tour. After the tour, Michael Moon was sacked and Pete Blakk brought in for the recording of the new album. Also gone was Timi Hansen who was replaced by Hal Patino. The addition of the new members actually added a new dimension to the band and the result is another album that is nothing short of perfect. How does King do it?

"Them" is another concept album where King puts himself in the first person as a boy dealing with ghosts ("Them"), an evil Grandma who controls "Them" as well as possesses his mother with "special" Tea, and an evil doctor who was supposed to help him. Once again, another elaborate and eerie story by a master story teller. After the intro "Out from the Asylum", we go right into probably the most well known King Diamond song, "Welcome Home". A video was made for this song that received a good share of airplay on MTV as well as being used decades later in the comedy Clerks II. That aside, the song is the perfect opener and King used that song for many years as the opener of his shows. From the beginning drum rolls going into the massive riff of the song what you have is a straight ahead heavy metal song showing that the new additions to the band were more than competent to handle King's demands. The riffs are plenty and the solos are absolutely amazing. Pete Black, while I wouldn't say he's better than Michael Denner, has a different approach to his playing and is actually more in the same style as Andy La Rocque giving the songs a more powerful and technical modern power metal sound.

Now this is personally my favorite King Diamond album and I think it's due to the consistency of the album. Songs like "The Invisible Guests" and "Mother's Getting Weaker" are just power metal crushers that are fast and loaded with hooks, riffs, and melodies. The choruses are catchy and, of course, the solos are just godly. King's voice on this album is a mix of his (mostly) falsettos and his eerie lower register. He even sings in his melodic lower "Mercyful Fate" register that was missing on the two previous albums. These songs are complex and technical without being pretentious. Then you have songs like "Bye, Bye Missy", "A Broken Spell", and "The Accusation Chair" that are you straight ahead metal rockers but with hooks and a complexity that makes them more than ordinary. Drummer Mikkey Dee also shows his skill on these songs, showing that he's just not a double bass and no fills player. He is technical and a mater of his craft. He's one of the best to ever grace the genre.

"Tea" is actually one of my favorite songs by King Diamond. Part "ballady" and part galloping rocker it just has this heavy main riff that trades off with a beautiful clean guitar riff for the catchy as fuck chorus. Then in the middle it speeds up a bit for the massive solos that trade off between the two guitarists. King's voice is in top form for this one as well. Then after the beautiful acoustic title track you have the epic "Twilight Symphony". This song, though not quite on par with "The Black Horsemen" from Abigail, it's damn close. The riffs are huge and the chorus is epic and melodic with King's falsetto voice layered in harmonies that sound like choirs. This song is the last proper song on the album going into the outro "Coming Home" which gives you the sense that this concept will be continued (as it was on the follow up, Conspiracy).

While many will say that Abigail is King's best solo album and even I feel like "The Black Horsemen" from that album is the best metal song of all time, this songs on "Them" go together so well making this album my favorite over Abigail. This album also defines heavy metal as did the previous album making King one of the most prolific artists in heavy metal. The ability to write thee albums in a row, three years in a row is not something just anyone can do. This trio of albums are part of what made me love heavy metal to this day and is also the reason why King Diamond is my all time favorite metal artist. There are no other albums that can touch this, period!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Iskald - Nedom og Nord

This Norwegian band is one of my more recent discoveries starting with this, their 2014 release Nedom og Nord. I guess to categorize this band you would call them epic melodic black metal. This band actually reminds me a bit of Vreid though not as much black and roll. I acquired their entire discography and have since become a fan of this band. This, their fourth full length, is their "coldest" album by far and with just 6 songs clocking in at over 48 minutes this seems to be an album where they are branching out and making the longer songs part of the norm. They always had longer songs mixed in with the shorter ones but this time there are no songs under 7 minutes. Are they over reaching or have they finally found their formula? I think they are far from over reaching. I think their take on black metal is modern and fresh but staying true to the genre.

The first song is a seven minute opus entitled "A Fading Horizon" and the riffs start right off kicking your ass. The song is fast with some blasts and some really nice sounding tremolo riffs. The vocals are harsh and angry and take the song to another level....these guys are no joke. This song is complex but not pretentious and, being as long as it is, does not drag out nor become stale. The production on this album shines as well with the guitars right up front in the mix which is what a band like this should sound like. These guys are all about the riffs. The second song in, "Underworldly" is also loaded with great sounding riffs and is more complex even bordering on progressive. There are time changes and even some odd parts but more or less this song blasts you with it's speed and aggression. This is another 7+ minute song but, as with the previous song, does not drag on. This is a band that can get away with making long songs.

Then there is the track named after the band, "Iskald". This song actually steps into the epic territory with even more time changes and even starts off on a slower sound with clean guitars building up to a speedy tempo and massive tremolo riffing. Once again the vocals are cold as fuck and it appears, by this point, that the main theme on this album is the cold...the frozen north lands. Some might say this has been done to death in the (especially Norwegian) black metal scene and that may be true but these guys also have great songwriting to back it up. Some of the riffs on this album like on the song "The Silence", would not seem out of place on one of Enslaved's more recent material. These guys write huge songs that work!

This album is one that I have been revisiting since I got it and I seem to hear something new each time I listen to it. This is not an album of rehashed Norwegian black metal cliches but an original and epic take on the genre. I'm interested to hear what these guys can come up with next.


Falkenbach - Asa

I've been a huge fan of Falkenbach since first hearing their 2003 opus, Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty when it was released. To me, that album was an album that defined a genre, being heavy but seriously melodic I instantly became a fan. I immediately acquired the remainder of what was their discography up to that time. I have since picked up all subsequent releases as well. Heralding - The Fireblade was good but not as good as their previous releases and Tiurida slipped even more. They were not bad albums in any way as I believe that Vratyas Vakyas in incapable of releasing anything that's truly bad. These albums just did not live up to the band's former glory.

In April of 2013 we were given a teaser of the new album in the single titled "Eweroun". I knew at that point we were in for something special from Vratyas Vakyas and his hired guns. On November 1, 2013 Asa was unleashed upon the world (a day before my birthday so happy birthday to me!) and to my wondrous ears it appeared that the Falkenbach I knew and loved were back. All was right with the world. The album kicks off with "Vaer Stjernar Vaerdan" which is your typical Falkenbach song with flowing melodies and acoustic and electric guitars playing together. This album already reminded me of Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty in the way it sounded. The song had Vratyas singing his hypnotic clean vocals in a language that I'm not quite sure of but appears to be an extinct Germanic language. There's even some lead guitar there adding melody and atmosphere to the song.

Then to my surprise the second track, "Wulfarweijd", kicks in and this is an ass kicker from start to finish. It's speedy with double bass and Vratyas doing harsh vocals throughout taking me even further back into this band's discography. This was a welcoming sign because I thought that maybe Vratyas was running out of new ideas. However, this album seemed like he had finally found his niche and was able to combine the aggressiveness of his earlier releases with the melodies of Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty. I was right because this album is the combination of everything that is Falkenbach...aggression, melody and his odes to the Gods of old! Songs like "Mijn Laezt Wourd", "Eweroun", and "Ufirstanan Folk" are your melodic Falkenbach songs with the acoustic guitars just slightly back in the mix over the electrics and Vratyas' clean vocals singing just making beautiful music.

Then you have songs like "Bronzen Embrace" (the only song sung in English), and "I Nattens Stilta" being your more aggressive songs. The songs are catchy and melodic even though they are faster and Vratyas uses only his harsh vocals on these songs. His harsh vocals are really good too as not to overpower the music or sound like he's trying to hard to be grim. Once again, the musicianship on these songs is really good and the songs are catchy as well. There's even "Bluot Fuër Bluot" that combines the two styles that takes me back to ...En Their Medh Riki Fara...

This album takes everything that makes Falkenbach what it is and molds it together to make this the best release from Falkenbach in over a decade. I thoroughly enjoy this album and gets played regularly. I do love this type of folk metal and no one does it better than this band. If you were a fan of this band but were not impressed with their last two releases then get won't be disappointed.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult - Nocturnal March

So what's in a name? When one thinks of black metal more than likely they think Bathory, Norway, second wave, etc and while there have been some good German black metal bands, one in particular stands out for me...and not just because of the name! Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult are probably my favorite black metal band right now. This band plays a raw black metal but with a better sound quality and, in my opinion, a bit more style and class....they're fuckin' killer! And not only are they a great band, they are unique in that their guitarist and vocalist is a female...and she can hold her own up against any male black metal vocalist out there. But it's not just that fact that makes this band stands out, it's the songs.

Nocturnal March is their second full length released in July of 2004 and from the very start this album is relentless. The opener is a track called "Wicher Za Gamori" and is sung in Polish, the guitarist and frontwoman Onielar's native tongue. This is a raw black metal song with massive riffs and fast as lightening tempo. The guitars here are right up front on this wonderfully produced album and if I were to make any comparison here it would be Tsjuder, though I think this band is slightly better. There is a cool little acoustic interlude in the middle of the song that, in other songs, might seem out of place but seems to work here. This song just kicks your ass all over the place and it doesn't stop there. This only sets you up for the rest of the album.

The remainder of the songs are in English and are just as fast and with as much riffing as the opener. Songs like "Chronicler of Chaos", "The Dead Hate the Living", and "Scaffold Salvation" are fast as Hel with blasts and tremolo riffs but also with some classic metal riffing thrown in to show that there is variety to this band. I think that is why this band stands out. There are many dimensions to these songs and it makes this album all the more enjoyable. You also have a song like "Spectral Runlets of Tulwod" that is fast but not just blasting throwing a bit of melody into the mix. The drummer here is sick as he just pummels you with his blasts and double bass drumming while keeping the rest of the band tight. The vocals are actually very good and it's not too often that you have a female doing black metal vocals this well. Once you hear these songs you can see why this band is my favorite black metal band.

There are a couple of interlude tracks here that maybe could have been left off the album but all in all this is black metal done right. The title track is the final song on the album and is more of the same...relentless, pummeling back metal. The song is slightly more epic than the rest clocking in at 7:13 it also includes some timpani and even some marching! All in all, this album is full of riffs and blasts but with a touch of melody too. I just found this band about six months ago and I am glad I did. This is an album that is essential for any black metal fan.


King Diamond - Abigail

So after the debut, Fatal Portrait, which was nothing less than perfect in it's execution, King Diamond is faced with the task of making another album that is just as good if not better. Released in October, 1986 we have the follow up, Abigail. Abigail was the first in a long line of concept albums that King came to be known for. This one is an eerie tale about the spirit of Abigail La Vey who was still born 68 years prior to the events of the album. The spirit of the still born child takes over the body of Miriam Natias who happens to be the wife of Jonathan La Vey, a descendant of the man who killed Abigail's pregnant mother thereby killing her. So not only is King creating a concept here, but a rather elaborate one at that. But what is more important is the music. King took what he accomplished on Fatal Portrait and expanded on it. How can you perfect perfection?

The album begins with a brief but eerie intro, "Funeral", with some keys and some spookie sounding spoken words. The intro goes right into "Arrival" and from the start of the song you can tell that you are in for something truly groundbreaking and special. The production is much better than the debut with the guitars further up front in the mix and the keys mixed just right to set the atmosphere. Where King mostly used his falsetto on Fatal Portrait, he begins to use his voice here to create the characters. He has not abandoned his falsetto but there is more of a balance in his voice on Abigail. The song is riff laden and complex with tempo changes and many facets to it. Once again, we have the same line-up as the debut so the guitar work is outstanding.

The remainder of the album is more of the same, absolute genius. This is the album that set the bar for all heavy metal albums to follow. Songs like "A Mansion in Darkness", "The 7th Day of July 1777", and "The Possession" being the true precursor to what would be considered to be power metal today. These songs are speedy and powerful complex songs with fast riffing and huge melodies. Of course the soloing is just godly with Andy La Rocque and Michael Denner showing their prowess once again. Of course, songs like these also rely heavily on the rhythm section and Mikkey Dee and his ridiculously good drumming and Timi Hansen on the bass get the job done perfectly. Then you have straight up metal riff fests like "The Family Ghost". "Omens", and "Abigail" that just grab you by the throat and do not let you go. And if you think this album is perfect at this point, the best is yet to come.

The album closer is without a doubt the best heavy metal song in existence, "The Black Horsemen". This song is so epic I don't even know where to begin to give a proper description. It begins with a beautiful acoustic passage and after about a minute some eerie sounding voices come in along with King's beautiful falsettos harmonized. Then come the riffs and this huge sound with guitars, acoustic guitars and symphonic keys just creating music as such I've never heard before. This is classical music, just plugged in. It's heavy, beautiful, complex and melodic all at once. As I said, any heavy metal song made after this has this song as it's standard. Them some heavy shoes to fill!!

As the song says, "That's the end of another lullaby...." and by the time this album is done you find yourself in amazement as to what you just heard. I got to see King play these songs live when he was touring for this album and atmosphere and feeling were the same as if I was part of the album. Abigail is an album that comes along once in a lifetime. It will never be topped nor has there been an equal. If there is any album you must have in your lifetime, this is it.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Behemoth - The Satanist

This veteran Polish band have been around for about 23 years and in that time I have not really been real familiar with this band. I have their first full length, Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic), as well as their previous, Evangelion, but I never jumped on their bandwagon. They began playing black metal and now have a blackened death metal sound to them. The buzz leading up to the release of this album was huge and when it was finally released, I decided to acquire this album to see what all the fuss was about. Good thing I did because I found this album to be a very enjoyable slab of metal that may well just make me go back and look deeper into their previous work. This is a very powerful and emotional album that you can feel when you listen to it. These guys have really pulled something off here and will probably be a contender for album of the year (yeah I know it's kinda early for that).

The album kicks off with the highly powerful first single, "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel". This song is as epic as you can get with huge doomy riffs that go into some balls to the wall blasts. Nergal's vocals are angry as fuck as he growls not at you but through you. This guy means what he says...period! The leads are far back in the mix on this one but that only adds to the atmosphere of this song. This is a really powerful song and sets the mood for the rest of the album. Songs like "Furor Divinus", "Messe Noire" and "Amen" just keep the momentum going by just being these HUGE fucking songs that you can feel. There are plenty of riffs here from doomy death riffs to some black tremolos as well. The guitar work is done extremely well and the songs are well written.

I need to make special mention of two amazing songs, one of them is "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer". This song if fucking GODLY. It's fast and epic with killer riffs, some great leads and great hooks. Midway through it gets really epic with actual horns, not keyboards but actual trombones, french horns, etc. These guys really went all out to create a memorable song here. The other song is "O Father O Satan O Sun!". Holy shit is this song epic. Great riffs with Nergal's angry growls over some great cleans that just pull you into the atmosphere. There's a lead on this album that could have been on any 70s hard rock album and gives this song even more dynamic. At this point I can not be called a big fan of this band because of my lack of familiarity but this is probably one of the best metal songs I've heard in a really long time. As I said, these guys pulled out all the stops.

So here we have an album that is very close to perfect. It does have a very small cheese factor with the word "of" spelled "ov" in the lyrics throughout this album but it's not enough to take away from the overall epic sound of this album. This is an album that I like more and more with each listen. It's essential!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

King Diamond - Fatal Portrait

My love of King Diamond goes back to the early Mercyful Fate days and I have been a massive King fanboy since I first heard his shrieking falsettos and evil lyrics in 1983. I've run a King Diamond fan site since 1997 and was even a guest in King's home in April of 1999. I do seem to prefer King Diamond's solo material just a bit over the Mercyful Fate material so I think it seems proper for me to now revisit the early days of his solo band and review the albums that so many have enjoyed for decades. I begin with the first full length album Fatal Portrait. Released on February 17, 1986 we see King leaning in a more epic heavy metal direction with a shift in the lyrics from the overtly Satanic to more of a horror story telling direction.

Right from the beginning of this album you can tell that this is a new and fresh King Diamond. Mercyful Fate was a heavy metal band that drew influences from a more earlier generation like Deep Purple or Uriah Heep. With this new band we see King helping to create and define heavy metal as a distinct genre. You can even hear the beginnings of power metal and even symphonic metal with King being one of the first to incorporate keyboards (especially harpsichord) into heavy metal music to create more atmosphere. "The Candle" starts things off with it's eerie intro with it's evil spoken voices and pipe organ sounds. From there it bursts into the riffs and double bass galloping that would have been called power metal if released in the 90s. Although King would go on to create complete concept albums, this album is only a partial concept album and this is the first of five songs that make up a story. Kings uses mostly falsettos on this album and it is here that I think King truly perfected his style.

King brought bassist Timi Hansen and guitarist Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate and with the addition of guitarist Andy La Rocque and drummer Mikkey Dee we see that King will always surround himself with top notch musicians. We all knew Michael Denner's abilities as a melodic soloist but with Andy La Rocque we see a virtuoso in every respect. The two guitarists contrast with each other to create a variety of solos that create another aspect to the music. Drummer Mikkey Dee is one of the best drummers to ever pick up the sticks and with Timi Hansen rounding out the rhythm section what we wind up with what is probably the best line up in heavy metal.

The songs on this album are epic in every way with massive riffs and godly solos that seem to go on forever. Along with "The Candle" we have four more in the "Portrait" story, "The Jonah", "The Portrait", "Dressed in White" and, with a few songs not being part of the story in between, the last song on the album "Haunted". These are the best songs on the album with no shortage of catchy hooks and melodies. Of the songs not part of this story we have "Charon" which is probably the song on here most like something Mercyful Fate would have written. We also have, of course, King's homage to the holiday that is most fitting to King and his image, "Halloween". This is a mid paced rocker that is also a bit reminiscent of Mercyful Fate and is a fitting song for King to memorialize the ghoulish holiday.

This is the beginning of a band that would define heavy metal for generations. Love him or hate him, King Diamond's influence cannot be debated. With this album we see the creation of epic heavy metal. King Diamond made heavy metal music that could not be lumped into the just mindless noise that the parents of my generation thought it was. Instead he made it an art form and he was, and still is, a master of his art. This album is essential for any metal head. If you don't own this album, what the fuck are you waiting for?


Savage Messiah - The Fateful Dark

I just became familiar with this London based band upon my acquisition of this album and I must say I'm interested in hearing their other material. These guys play a melodic thrash that reminds me of USPM (United States Power Metal) on occasions. Founded in 2007 by guitarist/vocalist Dave Silver after the break up of his previous band Headless Cross. Hey, with a band name like that you kinda know where this guy's influences lie, right? Anyway, this is their fourth full length album and I must say I'm happy I picked this up. This is nothing innovative or new here, just a very entertaining slice of metal.

Upon first hearing the opening track "Iconocaust", I'm hearing a nice melodic intro that segues right into some good  thrash riffing. This mixture of melody and thrash riffing is done really well here. The vocalist reminds me of a lot of people, but mostly Jonny Lindqvist from Nocturnal Rites. The song is a rocking mid paced thrasher with riffs that reminds me of Practice What Your Preach era Testament in parts with a catchy chorus and some killer lead solos. And it doesn't stop there. Songs like "Minority of One", "Hellblazer", "Scavengers of Mercy", and "The Cursed Earth" are thrashy but with enough melody to really make me think this was a USPM band. Not balls out thrash but speedy and crunchy with massive solos.

Then you have songs like "Cross of Babylon" and "Hammered Down" that just kick you in the teeth with full on thrash and aggressive that once again remind me of Testament. The guitar work, again, is the shining star here on this album with blazing solos that are done right without too much flash but with technical brilliance. The band does slow it down for a ballad of sorts called "Live as One Already Dead" that isn't that bad but nothing special. As for metal ballads, there have been better. Then there are songs like the title track and "Zero Hour" that are traditional metal songs with riff heavy and even some galloping rhythms mixed in with catchy choruses and godly solos.

So in the end, this is a band that can make an album with a variety of songs and do it with style and talent. I'm instantly a fan of this band and of this album. If their previous releases are this good, I will be very happy to have found this band. These guys are really good and this album is an enjoyable listen.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Freedom Call - Beyond

I first heard Freedom Call back in the early part of the previous decade when I was on a huge power metal kick with their 2002 album Eternity. This German band is known for having been founded by former Gamma Ray and Iron Savior drummer Dan Zimmermann and current Helloween guitarist Sascha Gerstner. They play your typical Euro power metal a la Helloween, Gamma Ray, Rhapsody, etc. but with less symphonics than the latter. After their 2002 album Eternity they seemed to have had a crisis in songwriting and just couldn't get their shit together to release a memorable album. They seemed to have redeemed themselves with their 2012 album Land of the Crimson Dawn. So now we have their eighth full length, Beyond. Were they able to keep the momentum going? Actually they were but the burning question is whether or not they were able to equal or top Eternity and the answer is....almost.

The album starts off really strong with the opener "Union of the Strong." This is your typical song of the genre with fast double bass, melodic verses and catchy choruses. Listening to this song you get the feeling that they have actually topped the album that actually set the bar for them. The song has great hooks and is catchy. The guitar work is top notch, which is to be expected of the genre. There really isn't a proper solo on this song but some harmonized classical scales but that doesn't take away from the song. As you go further into the album you feel that this will be their best album to date. Songs like "Knights of Taragon" and "Heart of a Warrior" keep it going with some really good power metal with emphasis on the power. But this a double edged sword because immediately following is the first major chunk of cheese, "Come on Home". I'm not sure if they were going for some sort of  a "Rise and Fall" thing with overly happy melody but it just doesn't work. And the cheesy "metal" lyrics make it even more absurd. Some may like this song but I think that it seriously took away from the flow of the album. There are two more songs that just don't belong, "Rhythm of Light" and "Dance Off the Devil". Some may like these poppy songs but I think they detract from the flow of this otherwise killer metal album with the latter being not as bad but is still one that I will forever skip. Luckily songs like the title track, "Among the Shadows", "Edge of the Ocean", "Journey Into Wonderland", and the closer "Beyond Eternity" redeem the album with good catchy metal songs.

So the final result is that this album falls short of being as good as Eternity but better than Land of the Crimson Dawn. It's a shame that they seem to not be able to write a consistent album because when these guys are on, they are fucking ON! This is not a bad album but they can, and have done, much better. Hopefully this is just another step for this band to match the quality of their previous offerings.


Iron Savior - Rise of the Hero

Iron Savior have returned with their eighth full length album entitled Rise of the Hero. In my opinion, these guys are one of the most consistent bands in heavy metal. They have managed to put out good if not great albums with each release. Some have said that their last outing, The Landing, was a step back for the band but I truly found that album to be one of my favorites. On January 28, the band released a teaser video for the song "Burning Heart" and it really got me excited about the release of this album. Well let me say that it was very much worth the wait. Once again, Piet Sielck and company have proven that they can still release quality material after an impressive 18 year existence. Some might say that Iron Savior are a one trick pony and they may be right, but there is nothing wrong with that. Many bands are because they know a good formula and they stick with it. There is nothing new or innovative here...just 50+ minutes of straight up heavy metal done the Iron Savior way.

Now let me get this out of the way now...Iron Savior has actually recorded their first stinker ever. They recorded a cover of a song by the indie/pop rock band Mando Diao titled "Dance With Somebody." Why they did this I have no idea because the original blows and these guys really didn't make it any better. Okay, now that's out of the way on to the metal! There is a short intro that leads right into the first proper song on the album, "Last Hero." This song sets the mood for the entire album. Piet's vocals are in top form and the song has all the ingredients...great riffs, perfect melody in the verses, the typical catchy chorus, and classy soloing including some dual harmonized leads. Piet did the production on the album and of course it has a great sound without sounding too polished or overproduced.

The rest of the album is more of the same with songs like "Revenge of the Bride", "From Far Beyond Time", "Thunder from the Mountains", and "Firestorm" being your classic Iron Savior speedy metal songs done with class and just pure talent. Of course the choruses on these songs are catchy as ever and will have you singing along in no time. This band has always been able to write songs like these that don't don't sound tired or dated. Then you have mid paced rockers like "Burning Heart" that will have you headbanging the second it starts. I'm a fan of killer guitar soloing...especially in this genre and the guitar work on this album is perfect with the solos being well done without being overdone. There is some really good dual harmonized leads that are just godly.

The version I am reviewing has bonus re-recordings of two classic Iron Savior songs, "I've Been to Hell" from Dark Assault and "Mind Over Matter" from Unification. He started this on The Landing and I actually like the idea. These re-recordings are very well done with not too much deviation from the originals but instead giving this line up's take of these classic Iron Savior songs. This album (with the exception of the aforementioned cover) is another Iron Savior album that will be a classic. I am a huge fan of this band and this album has solidified my fanboyism even more. This album is essential!