Sunday, May 19, 2019

Arch/Matheos - Winter Ethereal (2019)

There is something intriguing about these duo collaborations that we see from time to time, an opportunity to see if two heads truly are better than one, and to see two different artist merge together to create something special. Projects like Allen/Lande, Kiske/Somerville, and Lindemann all have something interesting to offer, bringing together fan bases from two bands into one. This duo project however, works a little differently. Vocalist John Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos are long time friends who are two of five original members of legendary prog metal group Fates Warning, with Matheos still remaining with that band, and Arch leaving 1987, only three years after its inception. So with both of them working together again, can we expect more Fates Warning type music? Not necessarily, but add to the fact that the remaining members of the current rendition of Fates Warning helps out in this record, you should probably see this as Fates Warning 2.0.

So "Winter Ethereal" is album number two from the duo, released eight years after the debut "Sympathetic Resonance", and the differences are fairly slim between the two records, with both obviously featuring Arch's soaring vocals and Matheos' precise guitar work. The debut record was more experimental in its approach, going for fewer and longer songs, while "Winter Ethereal" is more straight forward, with only one track eclipsing the 10 minute mark and the overall sound being more classic prog metal. It might make some things more predictable, but the quality is not lost because of it.

There is a ton to unpack from this 1 hour and 8 minute monster, a lot of technical goodies that will take you a lot of time to discover. "Winter Ethereal" is definitely one of these albums where you keep finding new little bits and pieces to enjoy, and most of this is thanks to Matheos who is making some amazing intricate work with his guitar. Some of the solos and riffs in here are some of the most imaginative ones you will hear all year, and he never steps over the line to be a full on guitar wanker, spewing you with all his talent. No, he does this the right way, he lets the music do its work instead of showing off, both in the fast, heavy parts, and also on the slower, more delicate parts.

Arch also deserves credit of course, and while I am not fully on board on his extremely high vocal style, he does fit the music quite well, delivering lots of passionate moments that lifts the music even higher. There are still some parts where Arch is trying way too hard, where he definitely would have benefited by lowering the volume on his vocal chords, but for a guy who is over 50 and is not that much active as his companion, he still hangs around well enough.

So as a prog metal fan, there is no doubt that you should at least check out this album, because it features two immensely talented people making some great, innovative music together. The run time might be a little too long, and some songs are easily lost in the shuffle, but "Winter Ethereal" is still a fun ride through the twists and turns of what could have been a Fates Warning record, but is only in spirit.

Songs worthy of recognition: Wrath of The Universe, Vermilion Moons, Tethered, Never In Your Hands

Rating: 8/10 Solitary Men

Sunday, May 12, 2019

From Worst To First: Helloween

Another discography completed here at FaTG, so it is once again time to summarize what we have learned during the journey. Well, we learned that while the Kiske/Hansen era of Helloween was important, it lasted for only a short time, and that the Weikath/Deris era has lasted far longer. We also got to know a band that has become heavier over the years, which is kind of the opposite direction most bands take, and also that they are not afraid to get a little silly, referring to themselves as hamsters, or calling you an asshole. Anyway, Helloween is still a fun and exciting band over 40 years later since their inception, and they have created a lot of quality power metal over those years. The question remains though, which of the 15 full length records is the best, and which are the rest. Time to rank them, and as always, this is my list, and my opinion, which means that I am not right or wrong. Let us get to the list now.

15. Chameleon

This placement was a no brainer, for several reasons. It is the album that ultimately ended Kiske's tenure with the band, and it did so by being as much 80's as possible, despite being released in 1993, while also having very little metal in it. "Chameleon" is an experimental effort made by a band that was as divided as one could be, which led to several weird choices, from progressive influences, to Bon Jovi rip offs. I am all for bands trying to be creative, trying something new, but this particular attempt was a failure from the get go, it never had a chance to be a cohesive, interesting record that would expand the minds of their fan base. Just do like the animal, and disappear in your surroundings, thank you very much.

14. Better Than Raw

I am not exactly sure if this album is what it says, but "Better Than Raw" is certainly not a tasty treat. This album is a full on stew with tons of ingredients that makes a disjointed soup, with very few songs sounding like they were made for Helloween, and more for other bands. We got hair metal, neo classical power metal, and more. I give it some credit that it has a pretty good start with both "Push" and "Falling Higher", but everything after is either bland, or confounding. It was obvious that the band tried some new things, throwing them all at a wall to see if anything stuck to it, but it ultimately ended up with a big mush of mediocre metal. At least the witch on the cover is hot (and technically the cauldron too I guess).

13. My God-Given Right

The band's latest entry is also their most forgettable one. While the previous two albums are worse, they at least had some personality to them that made them stand out (not in a good way, but still). This one however is as bland as you will ever see the band, and with a play time of 1 hour and 13 minutes, it becomes a big slog of a record. A couple of tracks are fairly decent, like the title track and the fun ride that is "Lost In America", but they cannot help "My God-Given Right" to any greater heights. Do not bother with this one, go off plunder some sky mall instead and wait for the band to finish off their "Pumpkins United" tour so they can get to the next record.

12. Pink Bubbles Go Ape

This is a bonkers album on so many levels, from the songs, to that mind boggling cover. Seriously, I still cannot get over the fact that this was made, that everyone involved in this cover looked at each other with straight faces and say "Yes, this is good". What about the music though? It was certainly better than I expected from the first album without Hansen, having a lot of fun really in several tracks. In the end though, it did not have enough staying power to it, and it certainly did not help that the band got away from the epic, medieval themes that made the "Keeper..." albums so successful. An interesting album for sure, but one that is overshadowed by a woman seducing a fish,

11. Gambling With The Devil

There is no other Helloween record that has made me so mad as "Gambling With The Devil" did. Not that it is a bad record, but more for it being an inconsistent record that had a ton of wasted potential. Several songs in here could have been great tracks that would have been fantastic additions to the band's legacy, but they screw it up with songs that are too similar to classics, have lame pay offs, or are just extremely hard to remember. It is still a decent record though, and you can get through it without any problem, but it would be far from the first choice if you had to chose a Helloween album to listen to. This gamble just did not pay off.

10. Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy

Is this album unnecessary? Absolutely, but it still manages to entertain quite a bunch, and some how bring back some of the magic from its predecessors. It is a bloated double record that certainly needed some cutting done, but it does pull you back in to it from time to time with excellent song writing, and even better performances. The band took on this effort as a challenge, to show people that they could still write compelling concept records. "Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy" has its flaws, and the run time keeps me from coming back to it, but it does deserve respect for not dragging the whole series down in the mud, while also delivering some cool moments along the way

9. Master of The Rings

The first Andi Deris record was a return to form for the band, going back to their bread and butter, and make some epic songs out of that. It is an inconsistent record, but maybe that was to be expected for a constellation that was new, that had not really settled down yet in their roles. There is a harmony to "Master of The Rings" that just feels nice, an aura going through this record that just makes you satisfied, and while its life span was not as long as I hoped, it still brings enough enjoyment to go around. With that said, I am still confused over "Take Me Home". Seriously, how can this song NOT be a Van Halen track, it just screams it in both the song structure and the guitar tone. Still a fun as hell track though.

8. Rabbit Don't Come Easy

Just like the rabbit refused to come out of the hat, this album was not easy to put in this list. In one hand, it has a great bunch of tracks that are some of the band's best, but on the other hand it has some real duds, keeping the album from being truly spectacular. I ultimately ended with this place just to be sure that the duo of "Listen To The Flies" and "Nothing To Say" does not influence me all too much. This album is still a great listen, pulling off a lot of cool metal magic tricks that is worthy of an applause. Bet even the rabbit enjoys this one.

7. Walls of Jericho

"Walls of Jericho" is not only the album that kicked off the career of Helloween, it kicked off the power metal genre in general really. It has everything that we associate the genre with, an extremely fast pace, soaring vocals, epic melodies, and some parmesan cheese sprinkled on the top. There is still some more heavy metal elements to this album, so it showed that the sound was not fully completed yet, but as far as a debut get, it did leave an immediate impact that is almost as effective today as it was back then. With Kai Hansen on the vocal duties, it could also be seen as the original Gamma Ray record to, or at least an early look at what the future would hold. No matter how you look at "Walls of Jericho" it is still a nice metal record that delivers a lot of great punches (although I am not sure if those are strong enough to tear down a castle wall, like in the cover).

6. 7 Sinners

Everything is metal about "7 Sinners". The sound is metal, the band is metal, the cover is metal, even the god damn pumpkin in the logo is metal. It takes everything that the band had built up to during the 21st century, and just added another layer of metal coating to it, officially creating the closest to a thrash metal record that Helloween will ever reach. It is simply a solid record that makes sure that the band does not lose its edge after so many years on the scene, showing all of these young guns that they still have a challenge to get past these tough Germans. But despite all of this manly as hell metal that this album offers, it is a god damn flute that steals the show, and I still love it.

5. The Time of The Oath

While the "Keeper..." series is the most famous concept by the band, you should definitely not sleep on what they did with "The Time of The Oath", an album that tries to look into the future and see what it holds for mankind. The fun levels are through the roof here, with some really creative music being displayed throughout the record, and while the momentum does take a few hits here and there, it does not take long for the band to get back on track to amaze us again. If not for anything else, it is at the very least the best concept record about Nostradamus (sorry Judas Priest).

4. Straight Out of Hell

This might be more personal for me since this is the first Helloween album I truly dived into, but I think "Straight Out of Hell" still holds up more than well. This album is just filled with solid as hell songs that makes you scream your lungs out. "Nabataea", "Far From The Stars", "Burning Sun", the title track, "Make Fire Catch The Fly", and "Asshole" are just some of the goodies from this record, helping out to make it one of the most solid releases by the band. Sure, there are a couple of fillers here too, but there is enough quality in here to warrant its full run time, certainly not an album that was originally spawned from hell, more likely that it fell from the heavens.

3. The Dark Ride

Looking back at my review of this album, I might have exaggerated the whole darkness part of the record. Sure, the black on this record is deeper than on its predecessors, but it is still Helloween to the core, so there was not that massive of a difference. Still, "The Dark Ride" did kick off a whole new era of Helloween, an era that saw a heavier sound and less fantasy elements. This strategy ultimately paid off, ending with a record that gave a lot of new juice to a band that was in need of it. It is a rock solid effort with tons of devastating fire power, setting up the band for the new millennium in the best way possible.

2. Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1

So to no one's surprise, the top two records are the original "Keeper of The Seven Keys" records, but how do you determine which is the better part? With a decision like this, you ultimately have to go with your gut feeling, and while I do believe that Part 1 have the top two songs ("Twilight of The Gods" and "Halloween"), it also has some of the weaker tracks as well. Still, this album is a thrilling experience that gave us the first taste of what Hansen's magnificent song  writing could be now that Kiske backed him up with his vocals. Man, this is pure power metal bliss, and it certainly feels wrong to put this only at the number two spot, until you realize who is number one...

1. Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2

Yes, the younger brother wins this hard fought fight, basically because it has a better song average. It also wrapped up the story in such a marvelous way with the title track that you just cannot go away from it without a lot of satisfaction. This is metal history at its finest, an album that defined its genre and spawned a thousand bands to a path they might not have taken without its emergence. There is just a hell of a lot of things to appreciate over this album, from the high soaring screams on "Eagle Fly Free", the grandness of "March of Time", and of course that iconic guitar riff and chorus combination of "I Want Out". It is a brilliant record from start to finish, and it still stands as one of the strongest power metal records in existence, one that every other album in the genre has to measure up against.

And as always, I am also gonna list my 10 favourite tracks from the band, in alphabetical order

Eagle Fly Free
Cannot turn down this classic, just as epic as ever.

13 brilliant minutes of haunting metal mastery.

I Want Out
Cannot turn down this classic ever, just as catchy as ever.

Listen To The Flies
Ha, and you thought I would fill this with only "Keeper..." songs. Nah man, the flies cannot be ignored.

One of the most versatile Helloween tracks, you do not know where it is going at first listen.

Nothing To Say
Putting the reggae element aside, that ending makes it a riser, for sure.

Ride The Sky
Early power metal at its finest, all speed, all confidence.

Shade In The Shadow
A legacy song that actually matches up with its predecessors.

The Departed
I would catch the bullet that was meant for this song every time.

Twilight of The Gods
The guitar wizardy here is real, pure Hansen magic.

So how would you rank this discography? Hit me up on the comment section or on twitter @ForsakenGates, and give your thoughts. Next up, we are taking a trip to France, to see if we can find a big lizard that has a habit of destroying both cities and other monsters.

Stay metal!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Amon Amarth - Berserker (2019)

Okay, Amon Amarth may not be well known for their album covers, with most of them being totally fine, featuring some dude ready to attack something, but this one? Gah, it sticks out like a sore thumb, making the guy on "The Crusher" look handsome in comparison. Then again, the ugly nature of "Berserker" might reflect the main topic of the record, about men who are more beast than human, who is not afraid to get a little dirt (or blood) under their nails. So yeah, when thinking about it, the cover is quite fitting, yet still ugly as all hell.

So with an album title like "Berserker", you would think that the Swedes would unleash all hell, go completely berserk through your eardrums, right? Well, while we still get their trademarked style of melodic death metal, it is more of a watered down approach, not the black metal blend we experienced in the band's early days, nor the brutal speedy type we saw during their golden era. There is more of classic heavy metal in this album than I initially expected, there are even parts in here that straight out reminds me of HammerFall. Nothing against HammerFall, I love that band, but it is so odd to hear Amon Amarth doing their type of music.

Here is the thing though, this new direction does bring something we have not seen from the band before, and it certainly helps in making "Berserker" not another "paint by numbers" Amon Amarth record. The switch ups are not that many, but they are noticable, like the acoustic guitar in the opener "Fafner's Gold", Johan Hegg singing clean (ish) vocals on "Ironside", the close to doomy approach in "The Berserker At Stamford Bridge", and the piano in the marvelous closer "Into The Dark". It is little touches like that that makes this album unique, and while not all of these experiments work, it is still showing that Amon Amarth is trying to evolve, even 11 albums into their career.

The band still knows though what the fans what, catchy and heavy tunes that you can drunkenly shout to in a live show, and they deliver just that several times throughout "Berserker". "Shield Wall" is sure to be a fan favourite, having this infectiously groovy beat that transitions into this brilliant chorus, and the singles "Crack The Sky" and "Raven's Flight" are in the same wheel house, making sure that the live shows will be as loud as ever.

The familiarity is certainly a strength for the band, but it also acts as a weakness, just knowing that there are similar songs from their catalog that are simply better. The lyrical content is also really familiar, and at times it feels like the band is repeating themselves, which they actually do in this very record. The chorus for "Crack The Sky" goes "Thor, let your hammer fly, let the lightning crack that blackened skies", and it is a great chorus for sure, but the very next song is called "Mjolner, Hammer of Thor", giving you more thunder god than necessary. I know that Thor is an important character in Norse mythology, but put at least one song in between that is not about him, just so we can get some space. Also, I am a little disappointed that they did not try their hand at another original cohesive story going through the record, like in "Jomsviking", but maybe next time perhaps.

In the end, this is still an Amon Amarth record, and the band delivers yet another great piece of brutal and catchy viking metal. While the core of their sound is still the same, they do show growth, which makes me hopeful that any of the upcoming albums could become a future classic. "Berserker" is ultimately a serviceable record with a lot of good quality metal in it, just as you would expect from these barbaric Swedes. So raise your glass of mead, and give a cheer for another successful outing for our favourite viking overlords.

Songs worthy of recognition: Shield Wall, Fafner's Gold, Crack The Sky, Into The Dark

Rating: 8/10 Wings of Eagles

More reviews of Amon Amarth
Once Sent From The Golden Hall
The Avenger
The Crusher
Versus The World
Fate of Norns
With Oden On Our Side
Twilight of The Thundergod
Surtur Rising
Deceiver of The Gods

Friday, May 3, 2019

Helloween - 7 Sinners (2010)

The peak of the heavier Helloween era is the 2010 release "7 Sinners", an album that capped of 10 full years of Helloween embracing their tougher side, giving their fans something different to what they had been used to from the band's early career. Still, "7 Sinners" took the band's mind set, and kicked it into an even higher gear, ultimately giving us something that could have easily been a thrash metal record, if it was not for the classic power metal elements that Helloween always brings to the table. Question is though, is this album a sinner, or a winner?

The two opening tracks sets the stage instantly, with "Where The Sinners Go" kicking it off by out right stealing the main riff from Dream Theater's "A Rite of Passage", and a heavier tone to it, and then creates a kick ass song around it, with a cool solo and all. Then we have "Are You Metal?" (what a silly question, of course I am), which just goes full force at you with aggressive keyboards, a mad Andi Deris pushing his vocal chords, and an even sweeter guitar solo than the last one. It is a start you will not forget in the nearest future, putting quite a significant mark on the listener.

While the rest of the record never reaches those levels of face melting heaviness, there is still enough in here to keep the personality of "7 Sinners" solid. "Long Live The King" has a main melody ripped straight out of Testament's book of thrash metal, while "Far In The Future" goes more for a apocalyptic theme, to foreshadow the impending doom of the record (it is the last song). Do not expect though to see Helloween going full thrash metal though, because this is a power metal through and through, acting on most of the same strategies that Helloween have used over the years.

Even if the heavier tracks take over, there is still a lot of great quality in this just under an hour record. The energy is surging in a steady pace throughout the record, pumping your adrenaline in a constant flow, save from the slower "The Smile of The Sun". This album is simply packed with memorable and catchy tunes, such as "Who Is Mr. Madman?", "The Sage, The Fool, The Sinner", and "World of Fantasy". Then there is "Raise The Noise" that take it to a whole new level, not with the 80's styled chorus that is easy to scream out. No, this song is memorable simply because it has a flute solo. That's right, a god damn flute takes over and starts showing off, completely out staging the guitars, and I freaking love every second of it.

"7 Sinners" does have a couple of dips, like "You Stupid Mankind" and "My Sacrifice", but this album is all and all a really solid release by a band that took a swing, and while it would not have hurt if they had amped up the heavy bits even more, it still does the job. Most of the songs in here are still of good quality, making "7 Sinners" one of the more pleasant experiences in the Helloween catalog. This is certainly no fool, nor a sinner, it is a full fledged sage that puts a marvelous spell on its listener.

Songs worthy of recognition: "The Sage, The Fool, The Sinner", Are You Metal?, Raise The Noise, Long Live The King

Rating: 8/10 Worlds of Fantasy

More reviews of Helloween
Walls of Jericho
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2
Pink Bubbles Go Ape
Master of The Rings
The Time of The Oath
Better Than Raw
The Dark Ride
Rabbit Don't Come Easy
Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy
Gambling With The Devil
Straight Out of Hell
My God-Given Right

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Rapid Fire Reviews: Episode 3

Rapid Fire Reviews is a series where I give some quick takes on some albums I recently listened to and did not have enough thoughts on to make a full scale review, but still garnered enough interest from me to give them acknowledgment. In today's episode, we take a look at something weird, something heavy, and a double dose of Switzerland.

A New Revenge - Enemies & Lovers

In the last episode, we looked into Spirits of Fire, a band that was fronted by former Judas Priest and Iced Earth singer Tim "Ripper" Owens. Well, guess what, we have another band that Tim fronts here in A New Revenge, a more hard rock oriented group that shows a good knack of crafting catchy tunes, unfortunately with varying results. There are definitely several songs in this debut record that has some good staying power, where both Tim and the guitarist Keri Kelli flexes their muscles ("The Distance Between", "The Way", and "Scars" are just some highlights), but there is also a good amount of bland fillers in here that ruins the flow of the record, which is quite impressive considering "Enemies & Lovers" is only 36 minutes long. There is some hope to be found in A New Revenge, but if you are gonna listen to one Tim Owens album this year, let it be the self titled one by Spirits of Fire.

Rating: 6,5/10 Scars

Cellar Darling - The Spell

When I listened to the debut record of Cellar Darling two years ago, entitled "This Is The Sound", I was intrigued by their doom like version of symphonic metal, but there were still a lot to be desired. With the sophomore effort "The Spell", the band continues to solidify their sound into something original, creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere that is easy to take to heart, which is no real surprise since the band features former Eluveitie member Anna Murphy. The band still has a problem though that the song writing is not strong enough to stay put inside your mind, and it rarely goes out of its comfort zone too, even if Anna is trying her hardest to put some emotions into the music. It is still solid work though, and any metal album that includes an instrument called hurdy gurdy is a winner in my book.

Rating: 7/10 Insomnias

Eluveitie - Ategnatos

So we segway from a former Eluveitie member and her new band to her old group, a band that has always made solid contributions to the folk metal genre, and while their 8th full length effort "Ategnatos" does not deviate too far from what they normally do, it does feel more cohesive. The quality of the songs are consistently at an high level, which is really important since there are a lot of them (16 to be exact). The meaty nature of this record might be a little too much to swallow in consistent, frequent doses, but there is enough top notch craft in here that will make you come back to it again and again. Easily my favourite Eluveitie release in recent memory.

Rating: 8,5/10 Deathwalkers

Nightrage - Wolf To Man

Nightrage have consistently put out some excellent melodic death metal for several albums now, creating a formula that  obviously works. The band has yet to blow me away though through an entire record, and while their 9th studio offering "Wolf To Man" tries its absolute hardest to impress me, it still makes the same decisions as its predecessors. It is still a good record with a lot of great, thrashy guitar work, and the song writing is as solid as you could expect, but there is no edge to the music, nothing that stands out or blows your mind. Just like one of the tracks are demanding, I am fully willing to embrace Nightrage and give them a big bear hug, but I guess a simple handshake will do to acknowledge another solid presentation.

Rating: 7/10 Starless Nights

Waste of Space Orchestra - Syntheosis

I know this might sound like a bold statement, knowing that we have not even reached the half way point of 2019, but believe me when I say that the debut record of Waste of Space Orchestra is gonna be the most unique and strange album you will hear all year. This extremely super secretive band (seriously, they make Ghost look like Instagram models) just comes in here, drops "Syntheosis" on the table, possibly together with some LSD, and say "Let's ride". What follows is a mysterious acid trip through eerie sounds, heavy bass lines, and mad unforgiving drums, executing a sensation that just cannot be defined by words. It is simply fantastic... until Linda Blair from "The Exorcist" comes and vomits all over the place with the vocals. The vocals will divide, but be sure that this orchestra is not just a waste of space, they have something extra ordinary to offer, and is an experience worthy of at least checking out.

Rating: 7,5/10 Vacuum Heads

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Periphery - Periphery IV: Hail Stan (2019)

As a prog lover, Periphery should be right at my wheel house, but it is something with their complicated djenty style that just does not sit well with me. The guys are talented and all, but the connection between them and me have never fully clicked, probably because they have been so odd in their behaviour. Just look at this album title for example, despite it being called "Periphery IV: Hail Stan", this is actually album number 6 for the band, so they are not that great at counting. Also, who the hell is this Stan they are hailing? Is it the late Stan Lee? The even later Stanley Kubrick? Or perhaps it is that weird little puff ball hat wearing kid from Colorado, Stan Marsh? Who knows, who cares.

Anyway, the band starts off with a real knockout punch in "Reptile", as in half of the people who listen to this record are gonna fall off because Periphery starts with a close to 17 minute monster. It is a bold start that sort of acts as a microcosm of what the band is, putting in everything from heavy breakdowns, melodic singing, technical passages, and U-turn tempo switches. It is a tough barrier to get through with tons of information to take in, but it is one worth busting your head over and over for.

The rest of the tracks (except the final one "Satellites") range between a more comfortable 4-6 minutes, but be sure that you brain and ears will not get much rest for that. "Blood Eagle" has this great Gojira vibe to it, chugging along like a melodic jackhammer, while "CHVRCH BVRNER" (a pretty metal song title if I say so myself) is a bundle of chaos, much like the kind that The Dillinger Escape Plan used to cook up when they were active. We also got the more leaner side of the band in a bunch of other songs, making "...Hail Stan" a fairly versatile record with both salt and sweet tastes in it.

The album does lose some momentum somewhere in the middle though, where the song writing is not coming to fruition. "It's Only Smiles" has that ominous feeling of being a cheesy teenage ballad, which is not exactly a good sign for a metal band. Even singer Spencer Sotelo (who is otherwise excellent in this record) seems juvenile here. Then we have "Crush" that uses a lot of electronical sounds, and it takes away all of the focus from the track. To put it lightly, it is an experiment that just fizzled out. The down period ends with "Sentient Glow", who tries to pick up some speed again, but does so with some really questionable vocal lines, thereby ending up half stalling.

The end of the record is saved though with "Satellites", a nice, soothing ending that ultimately leaves me with mostly the same feelings as I usually have with a Periphery record. "...Hail Stan" obviously has a lot of technical qualities, and some of the music in here is great and imaginative, but the consistency is still not there, having tracks that fumbles when the band is seemingly charging down the field. I still highly enjoy "... Hail Stan" as a fun brain exercise, the band surely knows how to keep the interest of the listener while showing their skills without shoving it to your face. I would give this album a higher rating, but I will not, because each time the record reaches its end, it tells me to suck its balls. So rude.

Songs worthy of recognition: Reptile, CHVRCH BVRNER, Satellites

Rating: 7,5/10 Sentient Glows

More reviews of Periphery
Periphery III: Select Difficulty

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Helloween - Gambling With The Devil (2007)

After making such a massive concept record in "Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy", Helloween decided to go back to basic with their 12th offering, an album that did not have an over arching theme or story, just a CD with kick ass Helloween music. It is definitely a sensible approach, a way for the band to let off a bit of steam from their pressure cooker. It is a gamble though, because if they let out too much, then the album will suffer dearly, so the title does make a lot of sense in that regard.

Despite its title, "Gambling With The Devil" is pretty standard stuff from the Germans, at least from what they have been doing up to this point during the 21st century. It is heavier power metal that leans on being catchy and epic, and also has some humour to it hopefully. The band has created this solid formula that works for most times, and while I do not think it is broken here, it just does not have the same impact this time around. Could be that I have heard similar, but better, songs previously made by the band, but there is something off with this record.

One explanation could be that this is one of the lighter records in recent memory. Sure, we still get our dose of bone crushing metal, like the insanely aggressive "Kill It" and the chugging "Paint A New World", but there are more songs in here that either lowers the tempo, or has a softer touch to it, and it would be nothing wrong in doing such songs as long as they hold a reasonably good standard, which they unfortunately do not. The first single "As Long As I Fall" is not only ridiculous in its meaning (trust me guys, you will hit the ground eventually), but it is one of the lamest Helloween songs I have heard, not offering anything of substance. Then we have "Heaven Tells No Lies", which is just all out forgettable, which is not good normally, but it is even worse since this is the track that ends the album. A disappointing way to close things up. I do think though that "Fallen To Pieces" is proof that the band can do more light types of tracks, because this is one of the more epic ones of the record with its orchestral incorporation and a varied solo that takes some unexpected turns.

The biggest problem with the record though is that it just is not memorable. I have listened to it a whole bunch, but there are just a few songs that sticks with me. Not saying that the songs are not catchy, but you forget about them as soon as they are over, which just shows that they do not have that impact that you would want from a Helloween tune. "The Saints" is a pretty good example of this, it is a catchy song that has all the tools to become a great track, but it fails at punching it in, mostly thanks to that it is a carbon copy of what Helloween has previously done. This is also why more original songs like "I.M.E." and "Can Do It" stands out more, they do not remind us of any previously made song.

This is a surprisingly frustrating record, because there is quality in here for sure, but it is quality we already knew the band possessed, so it does not have that lasting impact. "Gambling With The Devil" is definitely a record you can take for a spin now and again, fully enjoying the experience every time, so it honestly does not do much wrong. It is however a more laid back version of Helloween we get, which keeps it from reaching those high levels. It seemed like a safe bet from the start, setting up for a sure fire jackpot, but I guess good old Beelzebub has tricked us once again, leaving us with a decent, but forgettable, record.

Songs worthy of recognition: Fallen To Pieces, Kill It, Paint A New World

Rating: 6,5/10 Saints

More reviews of Helloween
Walls of Jericho
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2
Pink Bubbles Go Ape
Master of The Rings
The Time of The Oath
Better Than Raw
The Dark Ride
Rabbit Don't Come Easy
Keeper of The Seven Keys: The Legacy
7 Sinners
Straight Out of Hell
My God-Given Right

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings (2019)

If there is one thing that I think a lot of bands do way too much of today, it is referencing the 80's. Sure, it was during this period when metal was at its peak, both in quality and commercially, but the amount of bands that tribute this era through their music makes me pretty sick to be honest. Well, now we can add Battle Beast to that group as well, a Finnish group that started out as a pretty exciting power metal power house who has gradually added more of the synth-like 80's influences for each album.

Now, I know that I said in my "Bringer of Pain" review that the added 80's influence was an advantage for the band, so why is it a problem in "No More Hollywood Endings"? Simple, what was once an added flavour is now the entire main course. Battle Beast has turned into a 80's pop metal band, and while there is still some power in there, it is far from the impactful force that the band produced in their early days. Every song in here is a nod to that decade and its colorful neon lights, so the cheese factor in here is insanely high, and not in an entertaining way.

An example, "Endless Summer" is more or less a Whitesnake song that borrowed some lines from Kid Rock's "All Summer Long". I do not know if it is a tribute or what, but by god is it ever a slog, something my younger self could not imagine that this band might do. It is only one of several softer tracks in here, really enhancing the pop elements to a maximum, and it mostly ends in boring fluff such as "I Wish" and "Bent And Broken". Then there are tracks that are just odd, like the Bon Jovi flirting "Unfairy Tales", and "My Last Dream" that is going everywhere at the same time.

I do have to admit though that there are moments when the 80's vibe does hit the spot just right. "The Hero" obviously steals the main riff from "Maniac", but this is a track that uses the echoing drums, the synthesizers, and the glossy flair in a nice, epic fashion. Guitarists Juuso Soinio and Joona Björkroth steals the show here with two really nice solos, especially that last one is goosebump inducing. Epic rock ending for the win! We also get a nice part of the album where more of the classic Battle Beast appears with the trio of "Raise Your Fists", "The Golden Horde", and "World On Fire" unleashes hell upon us, showing that there is still some power in this band. I do have to question the ending of "The Golden Horde" though, where Wilhelm comes on and does his usual scream. Makes me laugh every god damn time.

Well, there is ultimately not much battle in this beast anymore, they are just acting tougher than what their music implies. "No More Hollywood Endings" is a confusing pop power mess that never seems to get a footing, slipping and sliding in the mud of its confidence. There are still some nice highlights in here, but just like you do not watch a movie for a specific scene or two, you do not listen to an album for just a couple of songs, it is the entire experience that is the most important thing. Now that the credits have rolled, let us move on to the next album.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Hero, Raise Your Fists, The Golden Horde

Rating: 5/10 Unfairy Tales

More reviews of Battle Beast
Unholy Savior
Bringer of Pain

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Devin Townsend - Empath (2019)

After an incredible run with the DTP, renowned musical mad man Devin Townsend felt that the group had run its course, disbanding it to search for new ways to express himself. It sucks since it felt like Devin and the rest of the group was doing great, but the ways of the Canadian is strange to say the least, a man that is seemingly easily bored if he stays in the same spot for too long. So, after a lot of soul searching in these last three years between records (which is almost a life time for fans eagerly awaiting new music from the Dev), "Empath" has finally emerged, so let us dive head first into what might be the most dense Devin album yet.

Knowing the career Devin has had up until this point, you know that he has ventured into a ton of musical spectres, and yet, they all seem to intertwine on this record in a way that should not be possible without it sounding like crap. Seemingly every part of Devin's career is represented in here, minus the "Punky Brüster..." punk album, acting as sort of a retrospective of what the man has accomplished. We have the earthly tones of "Terria", the soothing calmness of both "Ghost" and "Casualties of Cool", the epic cheese of "Epicloud", the brain shattering brutality of his Strapping Young Lad days, and of course, we also got some Ziltoid in here (and in the album artwork as well, why wasn't that featured on the cover instead of that white background?). It is a goody bag of sounds that mix surprisingly well.

Speaking of mixes, the production on this record is out right phenomenal. It is as loud and vibrant as you could expect from a Devin record, but he somehow turned it up another notch, making every single little noise crystal clear for our ears, and the sound design shines as well with these small clips here and there. Even if Devin did much of this on his own, he did still get a lot of help from his friends, with a guest list that Devin fans should mostly recognize. We got Steve Vai, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Ché Aimee Dorval, Ryan Dahle, Morgan Ågren, Chad Kroeger... wait, Chad Kroeger? From Nickelback? Well I'll be damned, that is a surprise, and he is on the heaviest track too ("Hear Me")!

To say the least, this is an emotional record that is gonna take you on one hell of a ride, starting off slowly with the intro "Castaway", then flinging you into orbit with "Genesis", a truly chaotic song with a cheesy sing along chorus and disco beats, and I love every second of it. "Spirits Will Collide" follows after with tons of cheesy power pop that is on the verge of being too much, but the album transitions early enough to "Evermore", a neat little catchy tune that just makes you smile and nod your head sideways o the beat, just like the cartoon astronaut cat in the music video. Then we have "Sprite" that opens up with some Dr. Seuss, just to roll with some Spring feelings, a very fitting tactic considering the current season.

After that, Devin wonders if we can hear him in "Hear Me", and yeah, we do. This is complete madness in a can, borrowing both from SYL and "Deconstruction", while also throwing in Anneke and Chad into the mix, creating an unholy mix of epic emotions and insanity, which of course ends up being amazing. Then we get transported into a Disney musical with "Why?", which is beautiful for sure, but so odd still. "Borderlands" is next, and it is one of the more memorable tracks with its steady and catchy main riff. Add in some casual cool into it all, and we get a laid back 11 minute track that goes by in a flash.

The interlude "Requiem" prepares us for the final stage of "Empath", the insane 23 and a half minute monster "Singularity", a six-piece track that is the epic finish to end epic finishes. At first, I had a rough time getting into this beast, and it did not help that we had already been given 50 minutes of music prior, but trust me, this is a grower. Every time you listen to this monstrosity, you find new angles and parts that speaks to you, making you wanna come back to it time and time again. I also found it stunning that all six bits of "Singularity" where unique in its own right, being really different from each other, yet they all come together so perfectly that the transitions are hard to notice. It is still not my favourite track on "Empath", but "Singularity" is a track that deserves respect.

At the end of the day, "Empath" is ultimately Devin in a nutshell, an album that is so insanely expansive that it is hard to get a grip on, but still so accessible that you cannot get enough of it. It is obvious that Devin has released all of his restraints, going all in on this record with everything that he got. It acts as the perfect summary of the man's career, while also showing that there is still a ton of material left in that shiny head of his. This is an insane record, one that has tons of emotions, one that no other musician can make. It is effervescent quality through and through, just a brilliant effort from a brilliant mind.

Songs worthy of recognition: Hear Me, Genesis, Evermore, Borderlands, Singularity

Rating: 9,5/10 Sprites

More reviews of Devin Townsend (solo work)
Punky Brüster - Cooked On Phonics
Ocean Machine: Biomech
The Hummer
Ziltoid The Omniscient

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Rapid Fire Reviews: Episode 2

Rapid Fire Reviews is a series where I give some quick takes on some albums I recently listened to and did not have enough thoughts on to make a full scale review. Today's episode takes us through a double album, a sophomore effort, a trip to the underworld of Norse mythology, and more. Enjoy your reading, and stay metal.

Demon Hunter - Peace
Demon Hunter - War

Demon Hunter is a great band who have carved out a nice little career, but they have never seemed to pull off an entire album, so obviously they go with the double now to double up the disappointment. Both "Peace" and "War" are exactly what you would expect from the band, with "Peace" showing their more mellow side, and "War" their heavier. In terms of quality, both albums are pretty even, not pulling away from one another in a drag race, but the consistency is a whole different story. "Peace" is much more consistent in its sound, but the true highlights are few, while "War" has some great songs like "Grey Matter" and "The Negative", but there are moments in here that would fit in with "Peace", making this concept a little weaker than it should be. It is as it always is with Demon Hunter, you get a bunch of cool songs you can add to your playlist, but the albums leave little to no impact.

Rating: 6/10 Lesser Gods

Oh, and if you were wondering, "Peace" is to me the slightly better record, thanks to its consistency.

Mark Morton - Anesthetic

Spotify has this thing called "Metal Talks", where metal bands get to talk about their new album and their career so far. It is always interesting to listen to these sound clips because you get more insight on both the band and especially their new material. Mark Morton is in the latest episode, talking for instance about how he got in touch with several of the guest artists that contributed for his first solo record (Chester Bennington, Jacoby Shaddix, Myles Kennedy, just to name a few). Unfortunately, it did not really change my view of "Anesthetic", which I think is sort of the same as Slash's first solo record. It is diverse for sure, but it does not have a red line that ties it all together, not even Mark's famous groovy riff style appears on all songs. There are hits, and there are misses, making "Anesthetic" an interesting, but also a pretty rocky experience. Those who liked him in Lamb of God should give this one a try, just do not expect much metal from it.

Rating: 6,5/10 Blurs

Spirits of Fire - S/T

Oh Tim "Ripper" Owens, you never seem to find your place in the metal world. The former Judas Priest and Iced Earth singer has been searching for a main stay band for quite some time now, and in 2018 he just went for broke, starting up three different projects in hopes to see if anything sticks. Spirits of Fire is one of these three bands, a US power metal group containing Chris Caffrey from Savatage, Steve DiGiorgio from Testament, and former Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder. It is a good group of veterans that is creating some nice melodic heavy metal that is reminiscent of Dio, Iced Earth, and also Fight. Chris' guitar work is especially splendid, coming with some great riffs and solos. It is not something that is gonna blow your mind though, but it is consistent enough to give a fair shot. It is certainly better than The Three Tremors (not an impressive achievement exactly).

Rating: 7/10 Temples of The Soul

The Raven Age - Conspiracy

I reviewed the debut of The Raven Age about two years ago, stating that the band definitely have some talent, but needs to restrain themselves, not rushing things so that they have time to create more dynamic music. Well, here we are with their sophomore effort "Conspiracy", and it is more versatile alright, but also much more inconsistent. The band have become a little more alternative in their metal style, losing most of the dark, eerie sound they established in "Darkness Will Rise", which is a shame since I think they could have taken that to more interesting places. "Conspiracy" does show some promise still, having a nice variety to it and all, but the overall picture is kind of bleak, not standing out at all as something that will be long lasting. At best, "Conspiracy" is a bland record with some small high points in its song writing, but it is never a good thing when the album cover is the best part of the record.

Rating: 5,5/10 Surrogates

Týr - Hel

The viking kings of The Faroe Islands are back at their own shores after their largest quest yet, and their newest offering "Hel" is showing a band hungry for new music. If you have heard these guys before, you know mostly what you are gonna get, great power metal about Norse mythology while also throwing in some lessons in the Faroe language. It is a fun time from first second to last, and for fans who have been waiting a long time for these guys to once again appear will rejoice. I do think though that "Hel" is a little too meaty for its own good, clocking in at 1 hour and 9 minutes. Týr could have easily cut away some songs to give this record more of an impact, maybe save a couple of them for the next album. Oh well, this album ended up feeling more like Valhalla than Hel anyway, so why complain.

Rating: 7,5/10 Sunset Shores