Sunday, August 31, 2014

Halcyon Way - Conquer (2014)

The video game Rock Band has helped me discover tons of bands, one of those bands being the Atlanta group Halcyon Way. Their song "Desecration Day" got me interested in the band and the album which said song was in, "Building The Towers", was just as good as I hoped it would be. The band is playing an interesting style of progressive metal that has some hints of both thrash and melodic death, but the music itself is still very catchy and easily digested. The band is one of a kind, and since the last full length album was released back in 2010, I have waited a long time for this release to see the light of day.

Unfortunately,  I do not think that the wait was worth it for this release. "Conquer" is album number 3 for the band and I hoped that they would take what they did in "Building The Towers" and further develop it. Sadly, they just kept a template and then ran it through the copy machine just enough time to make an album out of it.

The songs are catchy, I will give it that, but since all songs has a length between 3:50 and 4:50 and they all have the same or similar structure, I still cannot remember most of them. This also makes it very hard to sit through the album in one sitting, since it feels like you are listening to the same song over and over again. So you have to search through the details to find tracks that stands out, like the slamming drums in "Home" or the grand keyboards on "Web of Lies".

However, "Conquer" has one strong point, and it is that it is very even in its performance. Besides from the weak "The Poisoned Apple", the album does not contain any particularly bad songs. It is an album that is filled with okay songs, songs that may have gotten more recognition if they had been in a more diverse album. But just to give some reference, take an extra look at the songs "Conquer", "Every Second Counts", "Home" and "Eviscerate The Morning Sun", and you will have experienced some of the best sides of "Conquer".

"Conquer" is ultimately far from an impressive record. It clearly shows Halcyon Way's unique style, but it does it in a not so unique way. If the band would have taken some more time to create more diverse songs, then this album would not feel so suffocated. Halcyon Way will still be a band that is worthy of having an eye on, but I surely hope that they show a lot more variety in their next album. They came, they saw, but they did not conquer.

Songs worthy of recognition: Home, Web of Lies, Eviscerate The Morning Sun

Rating: 6/10 Militants

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Slipknot will be fine without Joey

I am a little surprised that so many Slipknot fans has acted like their whole world fell apart when the news about Joey Jordison's departure came through. Sure, he was one of the founding members of the band and one of the main song writers, but he is an overrated drummer. He certainly knows how to pound the pig skin, but there is enough talented drummers in the world that can take his place.

The only thing about this situation that could disturb Slipknot is the fact that there was much uncertainty about the departure. Did Joey leave the band himself or was he sacked? I am afraid that this drama will take up too much attention from the album itself. The Joey lovers will most likely despise the album without even listening to it, especially since the album mostly acts like a tribute to their bassist Paul Gray, who died from an overdose of morphine and fentanyl in 2010. Nothing wrong with that, but some people could take it like "Slipknot never really cared for Joey, screw them", which is just stupid to think like that.

The band is about to release their 5th album and so far, 2 songs has been released. The first song was "The Negative One", a chaotic track that represents the typical Slipknot sound and anger. The other song however, is more laid towards being commercially attractive. "The Devil In I" sounds like a mix of Korn and Papa Roach that is weird, but works out without any embarrassing mistakes. The one thing these two tracks have in common is that the drum work is fine, not extraordinary. However, I do not think that Joey would have made the songs any better if he was behind the kit

My expectations for the album that has gotten the title ".5: The Gray Chapter", named of course after their deceased band mate Paul Gray, are not that high. All I hope for is that Corey Taylor and Jim Root learned from the mistakes in "All Hope Is Gone" and separate Stone Sour and Slipknot from each other. If they do that, then the album will be a very interesting listen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Accept - Blind Rage (2014)

The second era of the German heavy metal band Accept has now reached its third album, and if you expected something else from the band than what they showed in both "Blood of The Nations" and "Stalingrad", think again. "Blind Rage" is another album filled with heavy riffs, catchy melodies and a Mark Tornillo that still sounds frighteningly similar to Udo Dirkenschier.

I highly enjoyed both "Blood of The Nations" and "Stalingrad", so I was not worried at all over "Blind Rage" being a bad album, but I had some concerns over this album being a bad copy of its predecessors. And even if my concerns did not fully come true, "Blind Rage" is still a weaker album. But it still packs quite a punch with several songs that keeps this era of Accept going strong.

The single "Stampede" is a typical steam roller that opens the album in a furious tempo, a tempo that I thought would be more present with the album title in mind, but only a few tracks has some speed in them, like the earlier mentioned "Stampede", "Final Journey" and "Trail of Tears". Instead of relying on pure speed and force, Accept focuses on creating good riffs and making songs that fits those riffs, which is ultimately what Accept does best. Two songs that I think can become future fan favourites are the heavy and groovy "Dying Breed", and the slow, but sing a long friendly "Fall of The Empire". Just two of the songs to listen extra carefully on in "Blind Rage".

The biggest strength with this Accept era has been the amazingly high low point on the records, a low point that unfortunately has been lowered on this record. Besides from the plaintive "The Curse", there is no song that is actually bad, but there are more songs in this album that just feels bland. Songs like "Wanna Be Free" and "From The Ashes We Rise" just swipes through without me noticing them. Sure, it is more or less impossible for a band to go through a career without putting out some fillers, so I am not surprised that they came on this album.

Despite being a slightly worse album than its two predecessors, "Blind Rage" makes sure that Accept keeps their status as one of the hottest old bands out there today. Hoffman and co. does another great job with delivering true heavy metal to the people and doing it with such style and confidence. You simply do not have to be blind to see that this album is another fine quality piece from the experienced Germans.

Songs worthy of recognition: Dying Breed, Stampede, Fall of The Empire

Rating: 7,5/10 Bloodbath Masterminds

Thursday, August 21, 2014

DragonForce - Maximum Overload (2014)

Haters, prepare yourselves, DragonForce is back with another album. The over the top power metal band that made themselves a name thanks to their furious tempo and ultra long and crazy guitar solos are back again with their 6th full length album entitled "Maximum Overload".

So is this album a continuation of "The Power Within", a album that actually sounded "normal" thanks to the fact that the band did not use the same song over and over again? well, sort of. "Maximum Overload" is definitely not the same song over and over again, but the typical DragonForce insanity is still obvious. Some time it works perfectly fine, like in the powerful "No More" and the heavy "Defenders", or it just gets plain silly and stupid, like the solo in "The Game". The variation is not as big as it was in "The Power Within", but that is mostly because there is no "Cry Thunder" or "Seasons" to help the album change tempo. The closest we come to similar songs are "Three Hammers" and "The Sun Is Dead", and they both really stands out because it does not contain a velocity that matches the light, which makes it a very welcome break in all this insanity.

But the overall quality is very unstable, balancing on the edge between being cool and being cheesy. For example, "Symphony of The Night" is classic cheesy power metal, DragonForce style, which means it has several neo-classical elements that goes by even faster than normal. And then we have "Extraction Zone" that just feels weird, especially with Marc Hudson's limited range. Marc is just to bland for me to really make an impact in a band like this, definitely preferred ZP Theart's vocals more.

There is however some really good details in the album. The guitar work is, as usual, top notch and it feels like the band keeps trying to evolve their music, even if the jump was not as big here as it was between the previous two albums. It is definitely a good sign for the band and the future of their career.

The album ends highly interesting with a cover of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire". As soon as this was announced, I immediately started imagine how the band would approach the song, and I think I came pretty close to the end result. It may at first listen feel weird to hear this version, but after a while you will understand that the band did a good job with it. The song feels like a DragonForce production, but you can still acknowledge the classic riff in it and the solo that the band has added feels well composed and fitting with the song. Not bad for a first try.

Ultimately, the only reason to why DragonForce still has this popularity is that there is no other band like them. There is no band that is willing to go full speed throughout an entire album and do it with songs that could reach upwards 8 minutes. "Maximum Overload" is far from DragonForce's craziest album, but it still has a momentum that outmatches most of its competition. I still prefer the predecessor "The Power Within" over this album, but I will give this my approval.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Sun Is Dead, No More, Defenders

Rating: 7/10 Cities of Gold

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book review: Legenden Om HammerFall

Disclaimer: This book has only been released in Sweden and in Swedish. The name of the book is translated as "The Legend of HammerFall". But I am still making this review in English so you guys outside the borders of Sweden won't have to use Google Translate.

I have read several music biographies in my day, but I think this is the first one I have encountered where there are no professional authors involved. Oscar Dronjak is not only one of the guitarist of the Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall, he is the founder of this band, which makes it optimal that he does the story telling of HammerFall's history. And it also comes at an optimal time since this book was released last fall, in the middle of HammerFall's break from music.

"Legenden Om HammerFall" takes up the whole story of not only HammerFall, but also of how Oscar grew up in the outskirts of Gothenburg with a Serbian heritage, how he discovered metal and of his first band, Ceremonial Oath. Besides from his own memories and own experiences, Oscar has also interviewed current and past band members and other folks that has had some sort of important impact of HammerFall's career (band managers, press and other musicians, such as Tobias Sammet from Edguy) so that we could see the same stories from different eyes.

There are a lot of crazy stories in this book about the lifestyle the band lived both on tour and in the studio. Sure, HammerFall is no Mötley Crüe, but it seems like the band have had some crazy times, especially the tales of the drummer Anders Johansson and his "you can destroy anything as long as you sweep away the evidence" motto is some of the most fun parts of the book. It also documents some things HammerFall did outside of the "normal" metal life, like their appearances in the famous Swedish game show "Fångarna På Fortet" (the Swedish version of "Fort Boyard", a game show where teams try to gather keys and clues in a old fort outside of France) or when they did music videos for both the Swedish women curling team and the Swedish athletic team. However, I find it odd that Oscar did not mention when they appeared in a Swedish children's program and showed their video to "Natural High" in it. Maybe because he did not want to discuss over the controversy that came with the appearance or he just simply forgot about it.

Oscar does a good job in telling all of the stories and mediate the emotions pretty well, but the book is very linear in its approach. It is mostly going like now they are on tour, and now they are in the studio, and oh, they are on tour again, and so on. I also find Oscar repeating himself a couple of times, which also gets kind of annoying, but I guess it is a good thing if you don't read the book that often and you have a bad memory. So I would not have mind if Oscar had some help from a real author that would give him tips on capturing the reader, but on the other side, everything more or less comes out in this book still, so Oscar did do a nice job writing it.

Besides from the stories, we also get several pages of different pictures that either document the band's career or Oscar in his early years. We also get a complete documentation of all of HammerFall's band members, line-ups and every concert and tour they have ever done. Some pretty nice extra information for the hardcore fans.

Right now it seems like there will not be any translated versions of this book in the future, which is a shame for the band's fans outside of Sweden. It is definitely an interesting 500 pages long book that thoroughly documents the band's journey from being a band that played music everyone thought was outdated to one of the biggest Swedish acts today. A good warm up before the long awaited comeback album "(r)Evolution" that will be released at the end of this month.

Rating: 7,5/10

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Alestorm - Sunset On The Golden Age (2014)

During the start of the 21st century, the movie series Pirates of The Caribbean brought the pirate trend up and going. And around the same time, two metal bands merged into one called Battleheart, a band that based it music around the pirate culture. Coincidence? Probably, but I could not care less about it. Anyway, Battleheart later changed name to Alestorm and released its debut album, "Captain Morgan's Revenge" in 2008, and so, an exciting foray began with bringing the finest of metal music as the goal.

"Sunset On The Golden Age" is album number 4 by the band and just as always, it is filled with heavy music about pirates and pirate related stuff. In this album, we learn how to walk the plank, the difficulties that comes with having one (and two) wooden leg and how to hunt for both ships and mead. So if you have listened to at least one of the 3 earlier Alestorm albums, then you probably know what to expect from "Sunset On The Golden Age".

But even if this album is much alike its predecessors, it is still a lot of fun to listen to this album. The track "Drink" is a perfect song for a party before going out to the town to ravage and songs like "Wooden Leg!" and "Mead From Hell" will give you a good chuckle. However, the most impressing thing with "Sunset On The Golden Age" is that Alestorm is trying to evolve themselves in the song writing with writing more serious songs. Both "Magnetic North" and "1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)" are more mature songs that builds up a story. Two songs that really spices up the album in a positive way.

The title track is also interesting, since it is the longest song the band has ever released. With a length of 11 minutes and 26 seconds, "Sunset On The Golden Age" closes the album in a epic fashion. I am a sucker for long songs when they are well made, and unfortunately, this song is not. There is nothing really wrong with the song, it just feels like the band could have made it shorter and there by more efficient. Like the ending is totally unnecessary and could have been shortened without any problem. Good first try though on making a 10+ minute song.

Alestorm has also been known for doing interesting covers, like "Wolves of The Sea" and "In The Navy". This time, they take on a recent dance club hit made by Taio Cruz called "Hangover". I understand why they chose to cover this song, but I think it is a little too similar to the original. But still, it works and fits the band pretty nicely.

In the end, it is no denying that Alestorm has once again looted their way towards success. "Sunset On The Golden Age" is both the most diverse and even album in the band's career, which ultimately makes it their best album so far. My concern is still how far the band can go with the pirate theme without constantly repeating themselves, but since they haven't done that just yet, I will just mind my own business for now. So open up the rum and enjoy this musical booty that is called "Sunset On The Golden Age".

Songs worthy of recognition: Mead From Hell, 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena), Wooden Leg!

Rating: 8/10 Hangovers

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unisonic - Light of Dawn (2014)

Many power metal fans went more or less complete crazy when the news came out that Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen, two of the brains behind the "Keeper of The Seven Keys" albums, would once again unite, but this time in a new project called Unisonic. Their self titled debut album from 2012 was, according to me, nothing exceptionally special. It had some good intentions, but it was almost a disappointment with the expectations that had been created. But I had a feeling that if the band got some time to tighten up the screws in their machinery, then I knew they would come back with an excellent sophomore album.

And it seems like I was right, since "Light of Dawn" is a improvement from "Unisonic". The overall sound is much more cohesive and the band feels tighter in their cooperation and their performance. Kiske is the obvious stand out thanks to his unique vocal style, which sounds like it have not aged at all since the Helloween days. Hansen however seems to have taken a step back in the hierarchy, because the riffs are not as prominent as they were in "Unisonic". But still, he does a good job overall and the solos fits well with the songs.

The overall song quality is also more even in this album than on its predecessor. There might not be any song here that really stands out on its own, but there are not any song that feels misplaced or substandard. It is an overall good feeling to know that Unisonic has found their sound, which is more melodic hard rock with a hint of classic power metal. Maybe not the most unique sound, but it works.

"For The Kingdom" was released earlier in a EP together with some live songs and it is still one of my favourite songs from Unisonic. The track has a good hard rock beat with an interesting riff and a easy and memorable chorus. But there are two songs that trumps "For The Kingdom" on "Light of Dawn". The opener "Your Time Has Come" just breaths classic power metal and the amount of epicness in the track is overwhelming. Then we also have "Throne of The Dawn" that impress me with its straight forward attitude and simplicity. Be sure to also check out "Night of The Long Knives" and "Exceptional" since these two tracks helps giving the album some more variety.

So is there anything negative that I should bring up about this album? Well, the two ballads, "Blood" and "You And I", are far from interesting and I still feel like the band could use some more originality to really lift their music even higher. The more annoying thing is that it feels like Unisonic still does not have its highest gear on. They are under way to becoming a project to be counted with, but they still have some way to go before reaching the same levels as Helloween and Gamma Ray. This is however only the second album by the band, so they still have some time to prove themselves.

If you liked "Unisonic", then I am sure that you will love "Light of Dawn". This album has helped getting the band towards the next level, and if Unisonic's career keeps on going in this direction, then I am sure that the band will get a good amount of recognition. This may not be my favourite power metal release this year (if you can call this a power metal album), but it certainly did put a smile on my face whenever I listened to it.

Songs worthy of recognition: Your Time Has Come, For The Kingdom, Throne of The Dawn

Rating: 7,5/10 Manhunters

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Black Sabbath - Seventh Star (1986)

You might be thinking for yourself while gazing at the at the cover for "Seventh Star", "why does it say featuring Tony Iommi? Isn't he a member of the band?". Yes he is, in fact, he was the only original member left in the band around this time. "Seventh Star" was actually supposed to be Tony's first solo release, but thanks to the record company and band manager, it became a Black Sabbath album instead. The reason to that decision? Milking out more money out of the Black Sabbath name! Damn those money loving bastards.

To no ones surprise, that ultimately was a bad decision since the music in "Seventh Star" was way different from the normal Black Sabbath sound. This album is not metal, it is just 80's rock that more resemble Whitesnake and Deep Purple than Black Sabbath. Speaking of Deep Purple, former member of the band Glenn Hughes helped with the vocals on this album. Other players were Geoff Nicholls on keyboard, Dave Spitz on bass, Eric Singer on drums (Singer later became the drummer of KISS), and of course, Tony Iommi on guitar.

There are a couple of songs that are fine and could fit in with another Black Sabbath album. The title track is long and has an overall nice groove to it while "Danger Zone" works with its catchiness (despite the Van Halen riff), and "In For The Kill" does its job well and Iommi does his best performance here. A small shout out also to the excellent "Turn To Stone". With a little fine tuning here and there, all of those songs could easily fit in any other Sabbath record.

But now, we come to the rest of the pack, songs that I understand why Tony would release them in a solo record, but does not in any circumstance fit in a Black Sabbath one. The track that causes the most sickness for me is "No Stranger To Love". It is a typical 80's rock ballad that is more than likely to bore the crap out of you. Seriously, these kinds of songs were outdated even before they became popular. Then we have "Heart Like A Wheel", a blues song that is the longest track in this album. I can see if some fans of the band would enjoy this song, but I cannot. It has the same effect on me like a sleeping pill. The two final songs, "Angry Heart" and "In Memory", are just bland. They have more or less nothing that could change my mind over this album. A very disappointing ending to "Seventh Star".

I do not think my view on this album would have changed if "Seventh Star" was a solo record. I do understand that Tony wanted to test his musical writing beyond his band and that this album had potential of becoming something interesting outside of his normal sound. No, the blame for "Seventh Star" goes instead to Warner Bros. and Don Arden, who persuaded Tony of making this under the Black Sabbath name. If they really wanted the best for the band, they would know that this could not be a Black Sabbath album. I can only imagine all those fans who bought the album on release day and heard it. Oh, the disappointment.

Let this be a lesson to record companies, big and small. Don't do this to band that you have under a contract, ever. Got it? Probably not.

Songs worthy of recognition: Seventh Star, In For The Kill, Turn To Stone

Rating: 3,5/10 Danger Zones