Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
If I’m honest, when I saw this release nestled within my promo pile, I didn’t have high expectations for it. I’d never heard of Ironflame before, and the questionable and dated cover artwork did nothing to whet my appetite when I first laid eyes on it. I’ve leaned to trust my instincts though, and as we are at a point in the year when there are slightly fewer albums released, I had the time to try out those instincts once again.
The album in question is ‘Where Madness Dwells’, the fourth album from Ohio-based Ironflame, and it has taken me more than a little by surprise – in a good way. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Andrew D’Cagna, Ironflame was conceived back in 2016 as a one-off to honour a friend that passed away. But when you do things well, people always want more. And so here we are some six years later, with album number four, a remarkable feat in a number of ways. Not only is D’Cagna still active in other bands such as Icarus Witch and Brimstone Coven, he has essentially, once again, created the music on this latest Ironflame album himself. He is joined by guitarists Quinn Lukas and Jesse Scott, bassist James Babcock, and drummer Noah Skiba, but these guys are his live band. In the studio though, only the solos were outsourced to Lukas and Scott; the rest is all D’Cagna.
Having heard nothing of the past three albums, I cannot offer a comparison for those more familiar with Ironflame. However, what I can say is that ‘Where Madness Dwells’ is a cracking album. Deeply rooted in the ‘classic’ metal genre with plenty of NWOBHM-isms, this music will appeal to anyone who likes their metal on the more traditional end of the spectrum. Naturally therefore, the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest spring to mind, the latter far more forcefully though, with songs like the title track bordering on an homage to East London’s finest, after an intro that’s early Metallica through and through, in a good way.
It’s also interesting to note that D’Cagna references the likes of Savatage, Helloween, and even 90s Swedish death metal as influences. Whilst the latter references aren’t overly obvious, once you know this, you can definitely hear some vague hints within the songs, particularly the guitar playing. Overall, it means that there’s as much of a European flavour as a US one.
But above and beyond all else, ‘Where Madness Dwells’ delivers forth a collection of ten highly enjoyable, catchy, and quality heavy metal songs which you’d have to be deaf or devoid of music taste not to quickly latch on to and take great pleasure from listening.
“Famine, pestilence, war, disease, and death. They rule this world.”
This quote from the 1964 film, ‘The Masque Of The Red Death’ opens the album, as the intro to ‘Everlasting Fire’, but within seconds my mind is consumed by the riff that ensues, which is an energetic, up-tempo, and catchy affair. The vocals of D’Cagna do sound similar to those of Bruce Dickinson, whilst the central riff echoes Maiden. But when it all comes together this powerfully and with such a brazen swagger, who am I to criticise? Especially when Maiden seem to be concentrating on countless epics rather than their shorter, punchier material these days. ‘Everlasting Fire’, with its hooks, immediate chorus, and rip-roaring solos is a tonic for my ears.
But are we in the presence of a one-song wonder though? Don’t you believe it, not even for one second. No sooner has the opener disappeared, it is replaced by ‘Under The Spell’, which increases tempo even more and brings with it some slight thrashy overtones, especially in the brisk riffs and rhythm section where the drums in particular are pretty relentless. However, again, the song is memorable thanks to some great hooks, especially in the central harmony licks and riffs that emerge after the halfway point. I have to remind myself frequently that this is, aside from the lead guitar solos, the work of just one man, albeit an incredibly talented man.
I’m going to be absolutely fair here and say that, in a couple of places, the songs don’t grab me as strongly as others, but that’s not a comment on the quality of the material. Moreso, it’s a question of personal taste I would say. But the positives far outweigh the negatives as far as I’m concerned, with several songs delivering some wonderfully powerful heavy metal.
One of these high points arrives in the form of the slower, more brooding, ‘A Funeral Within’. The pace lends an old school doom atmospheric to the song, a little Sorcerer-esque, aided by some of the most prominent bass to be heard on the album. But it remains an endearing and catchy composition with ballad-like overtones to it also, as well as the ubiquitous lead breaks.
I really enjoy the thunderous intensity of the up-tempo ‘The Phantom Flame’ with its infectious lead guitar lines and punishing drumming. The melodies within ‘A Curse Upon Mankind’ get quickly and firmly lodged in my brain too.
But quite possibly my favourite of them all is ‘Infernal Angels’ thanks to the most irresistible chorus that gets better and better with every passing listen. Oh, and how can I forget the classic ‘oh, oh, oh’ passage that you can imagine getting sung with gusto at live shows the world over? It’s a wonderful song, and I have taken it to my heart in the same way that I have taken the entire album to my heart. I love it when I’m taken off guard and sideswiped by a previously unknown entity, and Ironflame have done just that to me. I can see ‘Where Madness Dwells’ getting very regular rotation in the Mansion Of Much Metal over the coming months, because it’s one of those albums that plants a great big smile on your face and reminds you of why you got into heavy metal in the first place all those years ago. If NWOBHM or classic/trad metal floats your boat, then ‘Where Madness Dwells’ by Ironflame requires your immediate attention.
On paper, this album should be a home run. I’m a massive fan of Austrian melodic metal band Serenity, in particular the vocal stylings of Georg Neuhauser which are always out of the top drawer. I also found ‘Viridian’, the 2020-released fifth full-length from Temperance to be a strong record within broadly the same genre. Therefore, putting Neuhauser and Temperance guitarist Marco Pastorino together should be a great idea.
As we all know though, these kind of bands or projects don’t always succeed and I’m afraid that I can only conclude that this is also the case here with Fallen Sanctuary’s debut release, ‘Terranova’. I had high hopes for it, but despite giving it a more than fair crack of the whip, I am very disappointed by it. I hate coming to conclusions like this; it pains me to write reviews that are less than positive. But you’re entitled to read honest reviews, so here we are.
I fully expect that there will be a large number of metalheads that will fundamentally disagree with my opinion here, so I expect ‘Terranova’, which features bassist Gabriele Gozzi, and drummer Alfonso Mocerino, will achieve a certain amount of success regardless. But if you’re on the fence, or just mildly interested in this record, hopefully this will be a helpful exercise for you.
‘Terranova’ contains just about everything you want and expect from a European melodic metal record; it is packed full of saccharine-drenched ear candy, and there’s nothing wrong with big choruses, sing-along lyrics, and hooks aplenty. There’s even a place for a few large slices of cheese too. But, here’s the problem for me: I have listened to the eleven tracks on ‘Terranova’ several times through, and nothing really sticks in my mind. I even took it out on my bicycle ride this evening and listened to it twice through. Just me, the road, my bike, and the music. But it was the same story. A couple of the songs hinted at good things and something to remember, but overall, I found the experience depressingly bland. The music is undeniably melodic, there are choruses aplenty, solos litter the album, the pace is often quick and energetic, and Neuhauser is as proficient a you’d expect with mic in hand. There’s even a foray into melodic hard rock and even acoustic territory. But…
…as far as I’m concerned, the melodies are not catchy enough, the hooks aren’t strong enough, and the whole thing feels a little run-of-the-mill. It’s perfectly decent as far as it goes, but that’s not what I want. I want to be fully entertained, my attention grabbed and not allowed to wander. But wander my mind does, and it’s so frustrating. I’d never suggest that artists of the calibre of Pastorino or Neuhauser are going through the motions here, but that’s how it feels because the album lacks the ‘wow’ factor.
Tracks like the acoustic-led ‘I Can’t Say’ show some semblance of an X-Factor, but it’s all down to the performance of Neuhauser as far as I can tell, rather than a top band performance altogether. The lead solo within ‘Trail Of Destruction’ is also noteworthy within a song that’s perhaps a little more interesting than others but beyond that, I’m struggling.
I mentioned the cheese quota earlier, and the prime example it the opening title track. The press release talks of Fallen Sanctuary’s debut being ‘socio-critical’ and that’s a great thing if done properly, and definitely a change of pace from Neuhauser’s normal historical lyrical content. Admittedly, the song sets a blistering pace with fast riffing and intense drumming, but the closing stages are ruined by a spoken word section about drug abuse. ‘Who is there to help them? Are You?’ It doesn’t sound too bad when written like this, but when it appears in the song, it’s just a little more toe-curling than I’m prepared to accept.
For once, I’m going to shut up and end the review here, rather than ramble on for another 300 words just for the sake of it. I’m fully prepared to lose a few readers as a result of this review, but it’s my honest opinion. ‘Terranova’, the debut album from Fallen Sanctuary was a good idea on paper, but the reality has delivered one of the biggest disappointments for me in 2022 so far. One for devotees of European melodic power metal only.
For a few years now, I’ve been meaning to check out the band Seven Kingdoms but something has always got in the way. I’ve heard a smattering of songs here and there, but that’s about it. However, finally, in 2022, I have found the opportunity with the Floridian’s latest offering, ‘Zenith’. Somewhat shamefully, I was unaware just how long the band have been going, having started their journey back in 2007. In that time, the American band have released four full-length albums, with ‘Zenith’ being their fifth and first in five years.
Following the departure of John Tyler McDaniel from the apparently cursed bass position earlier this year, Seven Kingdoms took the decision to continue as a quartet. As such, the band is now comprised of a tight-knit, long-standing group of musicians, featuring guitarists Camden Cruz and Kevin Byrd, drummer Keith Byrd, and vocalist Sabrina Cruz. ‘Zenith’ sees the light of day following a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, but I’m convinced that this brings with it some serious pressure as fans have put their hands in their pockets and given money to the band to create a new record. I know I’d feel the pressure at any rate.
Not so much the Seven Kingdom guys though, if the end result is anything to go by. ‘Zenith’ features ten new cuts, alongside a cover of ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’ by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, and I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed listening to this record. To give you a small inkling, I listened to the album front to back for the first time and immediately pressed play for a second time. What makes this even more impressive, is that the first spin began late at night. I was very bleary-eyed the next morning, but it was worth it.
Having now spent several days in its company, I can say with some certainty that the biggest strength of ‘Zenith’ is the variety found within it. Broadly speaking, Seven Kingdoms are a power metal band but in addition, I hear thrash metal, classic heavy metal, NWOBHM, and hard rock. There is plenty of melody and atmosphere too, not to mention a bit of welcome attitude that adds some swagger here and there. Everything comes together cohesively too, with the band’s identity remaining intact throughout. It all adds up to be a highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.
‘Zenith’ begins in powerful fashion too, courtesy of ‘Diamond Handed’. It’s an enthusiastic rocker of a song with a variety of paces from full throttle to a pounding mid-tempo that gets the head nodding appreciatively. There’s even a modern Evergrey-esque chugging riff at one point. Wailing solos, hooks galore, and a strong, memorable chorus are all present and it’s led by the impressive powerhouse vocalist Sabrina Cruz; she gives her all and she has a formidable set of lungs.
With my attention fully captured, Seven Kingdoms don’t waste it, following up the excellent opener with another catchy track in the form of ‘A Silent Remedy’. The power metal influences come to the fore here, whilst the ghost of the NWOBHM genre looms nicely over the proceedings, manifested in the guitar riffs and the harmonies, for which I have a real soft spot.
In a slight change of pace, ‘Love Dagger’ breaks out the full 80s melodic hard rock influences, with a hint of warm AOR aesthetics for good measure. It’s a fabulous track that’s great fun as well as catchy as hell, an irresistible hit of feel-good guitar-driven music that never gets old, especially the chorus, galloping rhythms, and effervescent solos.
The best news of all is that the quality that’s exhibited within the first three songs is not diluted as the album continues. In fact, ‘Zenith’ offers impressive quality and consistency throughout. I can’t think of a single track that I want to skip, or that I like less than the others. ‘Chasing The Mirage’ has a moody, but killer chorus, not to mention more NWOBHM-inspired dual guitar histrionics, galloping power, and over-the-top flamboyance.
Speaking of moody though, none of the tracks are as dark, moody, and atmospheric as the beguiling ‘Valonqar’. It opens in really brooding fashion, and continues in a similar vein throughout. Never exploding into metallic aggression as you might be expecting, instead it acts as an intriguing and magnetic vehicle to showcase Sabrina Cruz’s vocal prowess, albeit accented by a couple of lead guitar solos, a gorgeous rumbling, pulsing bass, and simple but commanding drumbeats.
‘Empty Eyes’ sees the band experimenting with some bold electronic sounds, whilst ‘Magic In The Mist’ opens with blood-and-thunder speedy power metal exuberance which largely continues throughout the song. Incidentally, it’s a great song to listen to whilst cycling uphill – trust me on that one!
The thrash influences that I mentioned earlier within the review are most keenly felt within songs such as ‘Universal Terrestrial’ which incidentally benefits from one of mu favourite choruses on this album. The thrash element continues at the outset of ‘The Water Dance’ which later segues seamlessly into a more grandiose power metal anthem thanks to the huge choral-accented section that appears later in the piece. But overall, this is easily the most varied of the songs on ‘Zenith’, meaning that it is probably my favourite of the lot.
I can take or leave the Joan Jett cover, but this aside, I really cannot fault Seven Kingdom’s new album at all. It’s catchy, fun, well-crafted, professionally executed, and highly entertaining from start to finish. And that will do me very nicely indeed. Be sure to check out ‘Zenith’ if intelligently written melodic power metal is your kind of music, because this should perfectly satisfy any cravings you have in this direction. Nicely done Seven Kingdoms, nicely done indeed.
I have taken a listen to this mainly because I was asked to by a loyal and supportive reader of manofmuchmetal.com. If it hadn’t been for this request, it’s quite likely that I would have let this album drift past me without a second thought. I do enjoy power metal, an assertion that can be proved by checking out some of the reviews on this very site. I also enjoy a certain silliness that the genre can bring. However, ‘Dwarven power metal’ felt like a step too far, and I moved on before coming back to it – unlike politicians, I like to listen to others and will try my best to accommodate as many requests as I can.
So here I am with a review of ‘Warfront’, the latest album from an Italian band comprised of five fully grown human dwarves. I’ll let this pass because the biggest surprise for me was discovering that this is the fifth album from Wind Rose. I thought it was the first or second release from Messrs Francesco Cavalieri (Vocals), Claudio Falconcini (Guitars), Federico Meranda (Keyboards), Cristiano Bertocchi (Bass), and Federico Gatti (Drums). But I am wrong, as the band have been in existence since 2010. Upon further research, I stumbled upon the fact that the band recorded a cover of the Minecraft-themed ‘Diggy Diggy Hole’ which would explain the cartoon-like cover art with a definite Minecraft feel to it.
On my first spin through, I initially pondered on whether the world really needed another band of this ilk, namely fantasy-inspired power metal hymns that have a strong folk element and a simpler Sabaton-like up-tempo battle hardened ‘call to arms’ or ‘rallying cry’ approach. And, if truth be told, I’m still thinking along the same lines sometime later. My thoughts have mellowed a little, but I have yet to be fully won over by Wind Rose.
One of the key factors in my reticence is that ‘Warfront’ feels a little overblown and unnecessarily drawn out. I understand the desire to create music that has an epic feel to it, but this isn’t always achieved by making some tracks last six or seven minutes when they would be much more impactful with a minute or two shaved off here and there. Of the ten tracks, half of them are between six and seven-and-a-half minutes long, but I’d suggest that only a couple of them fully justify this length. It results in a 55-minute record or thereabouts which is a touch too long for this kind of fare.
I have to concede though, for all my misgivings, that when Wind Rose get it right, they can make a very decent noise indeed. The opening instrumental is a rousing, cinematic affair with a strong central melody and as such, is more than just a throw away intro like so many albums these days are burdened with. And I do like the way that this rousing piece segues so seamlessly into the opening metallic number, ‘Army Of Stone’. In actual fact, this happens to be one of the most powerful of all the compositions on ‘Warfront’ thanks to a blend of driving metal and catchy songwriting, underpinned by well positioned orchestration that gives the song a majestic edge. It’s a similar story for the follow-up, ‘Tales Of War’, which is a grower that benefits from being a shorter, sharper composition with deceptively sharp hooks.
My other favourite appears later on the album, the penultimate track in fact. Entitled ‘I Am The Mountain’, it is a gloriously grandiose composition with a wistful, almost whimsical air to it. But it’s the strength of the melodies that elevates it so highly, alongside the way in which the song successfully walks the tightrope between heavy and bombastic, and something more elegant and poignant. One minute we’re presented with blastbeats and muscular riffs, the next it’s a bittersweet but irresistible melodic refrain, and the whole thing just works.
It’s hard not to fall for the acoustic-led folk infused charms of the closer ‘Tomorrow Has Come’ too, as it is another great composition that builds to a resounding conclusion whilst cleverly reprising the melodies heard within the opening track.
If the remainder of the album was of a similar standard and as engaging, I’d be singing its praises from the rooftops. But, despite the bombast and bluster, much of the remaining content falls a little short. It’s not that the music is bad, not by a long way, it’s just the the folk-laden melodies don’t resonate as strongly, or the mid-tempo stomping metal fare meanders a little too close to derivative territory, thus offering little that’s distinctive or far enough removed from others within this genre. I’m probably being a little unkind, but it feels like I’ve heard it all before, elsewhere.
But don’t let my thoughts put you off from giving Wind Rose a listen, because I’m sure many of you will enjoy the output an awful lot more than I do. I fully expect that I’m being a bit of a scrooge, with my views bucking the general consensus, but this is how I personally feel, and I have to stick to my guns. So, if the thought of dwarven power metal stirs something within you, I encourage you to dive in and enjoy the experience that greets you, regardless of how I feel towards it.
I’m delighted to be able to bring you a review today of a debut album that has managed to catch my ear for plenty of positive reasons. The artist in question goes by the name of Remains Of Destruction, and their first full length offering is entitled ‘New Dawn’. A Finnish sextet, the band came into being in 2019, at the hands of vocalist Jesse Yrjölä, who wanted to create a vehicle to unleash his musical ideas. The band grew steadily, with guitarist/backing vocalist Timo Pelkonen the first to sign up, followed by guitarist/backing vocalist Saalas Ruokangas, drummer Janne Ollikainen, Jaakko Saloranta, and keyboardist Osmo Lassila. With orchestration duties shared between Yrjölä and Ruokangas, Remains Of Destruction was deemed complete and since, have worked hard to bring us ‘New Dawn’.
Whilst the title of the debut is well-placed for the band themselves, in that it offers the musicians a new musical outlet, it is less well-named from the point of view of the final output. I say this because Remains Of Destruction will not blow you away with music that is overly original – this venture does not offer a new dawn musically, so to speak. That said, this band have hugely impressed me nonetheless, because ‘New Dawn’ features a brand of symphonic power metal that ticks many of my required boxes. And, unless I’ve completely lost my touch when it comes to quality control, I believe it’ll tick many others’ boxes too.
It may only last for 37 minutes or thereabouts, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining affair from start to finish. There is little space for excess fat, so the music comes in hard and maintains the energy throughout. I like the way in which the songs are both heavy and symphonic, without either element getting overshadowed along the way. The production is commendable too, allowing both aspects of the music to flourish. I did, however, have an initial concern over the vocals of Yrjölä. Not in terms of his abilities, because he has a perfectly strong voice with good range to sit at the heart of this kind of music. It was more to do with the mix of the album and the way that his voice seems quite loud and high up in the mix. It still raises a question mark in my mind during the first song or two, but I am much more used to it now and I am reasonably content that it doesn’t overly detract from my enjoyment.
What is more important though, is the more I have listened to ‘New Dawn’, the more powerful and memorable it has become. The scene is well set by the barnstorming opening track, ‘Blood Moon’. It opens with a theatrical, symphonic intro with a vague Middle Eastern flavour, before the metallic main body of the song kicks in. When it does, it arrives with a real confidence, the riffs substantial, the rhythm section robust, and the melodies enjoyable, particularly in the hook laden chorus that begs to be sung along to. A flamboyant lead guitar solo, layered, textured keys, and a dash of groove round out an impressive opening, signalling Remains Of Destruction’s arrival on the scene in forceful fashion.
The bass work within the slightly darker and more thunderous title track is really ear catching, whilst the chorus is arguably the absolute best thing to be heard anywhere on this album. It blends the orchestral flamboyance with metallic power, and an almost ballad-like anthemic quality that’s irresistible. Again, I love the fact that the band aren’t afraid to let the solos rip through the songs, and this song is no exception. It is also the song that convinced me about Yrjölä’s vocals, as he gives one hell of a performance here, full of passion and gravitas.
There’s an unmistakeable neo-classical element that shines through ‘Final Light’, not to mention a Kamelot-esque galloping rhythm and keyboard solo. Normally, I baulk at such things, but this solo is delivered with a fair amount of panache and restraint, meaning that it fits the song nicely. The great material keeps coming, with the intro to ‘Mastermind’ a powerhouse of drama and melody, with plenty of orchestral bombast. The foundation of the composition is another great chorus that’s a bit of a grower compared to others on the album, topped off with choral effects for extra gravitas, as well as a brief foray into extreme metal territory complete with deep growled vocals which of course I welcome with open arms.
It may not be my favourite song on the album, but the variety within ‘Mankind’s Bequest’ is impressive, especially given the song’s brevity. In under four minutes, we get a cinematic introduction of huge proportions, modern electronic embellishments, a progressive metal sheen, and some bulldozing classic heavy metal.
The muscular guitar tone found within the majestic ‘Northern Stars’ is great, as is the sheer power that’s nicely juxtaposed with moments of quieter whimsy and atmosphere. And ‘Silvery Fields’ is equally as enjoyable, albeit in a more immediate manner thanks to the strong melodic thread that runs through it, much like many of the songs on this album.
Come to think of it, there are very few moments on ‘New Dawn’ that fail to hit the mark in one way or another. For that, Remains Of Destruction must be warmly commended as such feats are becoming ever more rare these days it seems. ‘New Dawn’ could be longer, and it could have been a little more original at times, but it is hard to argue with a record that delivers this kind of entertainment with such consistency. Sometimes, that’s enough, and in the case of Remains Of Destruction, their brand of melodic symphonic power metal is more than enough to keep my head nodding and an appreciative smile on my face. Don’t dawdle, get on it and check these Finns out as soon as possible.
As you’re all fully aware, symphonic metal isn’t generally ago-to style of metal for me, but I’m always keen to be proven wrong, so I will always check out new albums within the genre to see if my general opinion can be changed. The latest band to try their hand at impressing me are Visions Of Atlantis, an entity with which I am familiar of course, but whose output has not yet found its way into my ever-increasing CD collection. Streaming? What’s that?
Anyway, I’m sure you already know all this, but the Austrian symphonic metal band have been through a number of changes over the past few years which has seen many musicians come and go, leaving only one original member standing, namely the drummer, Thomas Caser. Into the ranks has come female vocalist Clémentine Delauney, although she has been present for the better part of a decade now, featuring on the last three records. Caser and Delauney have been more recently joined by guitarist Christian Douscha, bassist Herbert Glos, and male vocalist Michele Guaitoli (Temperance).
I may not be as familiar as others who are reading this review, but it feels to me that ‘Pirates’ marks a bit of a change for the band. For a start, if Visions Of Atlantis had delivered an album of this quality previously, I’d have definitely remembered it; I’m actually very pleasantly surprised by the music that I hear on this new record. Then there’s the press release that had me raising an eyebrow when first I read it. Delauney is quoted as saying:
“We embrace who we are and we can state it in the eyes of everyone that we are Pirates now – we have always been, but now we are confident in our identity and we want to show it to the world”
Ok. Pirates? Really? The thing is, much as I feared for the material at the outset bearing this quote in mind, the end product is not a gimmick. It is not music that can only be enjoyed at a festival whilst hideously drunk with your mates and discarded at all other times – there are other bands for that, and we know who they are. Instead, the music on ‘Pirates’ might have a lyrical context that explores themes around the album’s title, but the music is deadly serious and is actually of a high standard overall.
Naturally, where symphonic metal with a female singer is concerned, there will be immediate comparisons drawn to Nightwish, arguably the most well-known and most revered of them all within the genre. And yes, there are some similarities to be heard; it’s a little inevitable in some respects. However, equally important are the echoes of bands like Kamelot, and Amaranthe, and even the likes of Serenity. The latter is hardly surprising given Delauney’s links to another Austrian powerhouse of the metal scene. What all this shows though, is that Visions Of Atlantis have not just decided to become a clone; instead, they have taken inspiration from a reasonably wide range of music within the metal sphere in order to create something that they feel is the right fit for them. The end result was never going to have me shouting about absolute originality, but the music is certainly entertaining and sufficiently interesting to pique my interest.
That wasn’t my first impression though, as an initial spin had me thinking that it was all rather bland. But, as I have invested more time with it, my opinion has slowly changed. At nearly an hour in length and featuring twelve individual tracks, there are a couple of occasions where things go a little off the boil, which isn’t overly surprising I suppose. For the most part though, the charm and quality of the music has begun to make inroads.
The opener, ‘Pirates Will Return’ begins with a dark, brooding intro that fittingly emerges from the depths, and begs the question of who is responsible for the synths and keys, because no-one is apparently credited for it in the promo material as far as I can see. This conundrum aside, the song soon settles into an up-tempo, hard-rocking affair, Delauney immediately making her mark with an assured performance that begins with a clean, attitude-laden ‘rock’ delivery, quickly switching into a more operatic style to change things up. When Michele Guaitoli, the track then takes on a greater power metal feel with strong, fast-paced drumming driving the song along. The chorus is a little whimsical, complete with choral vocals, but eventually it starts to get stuck in my head. However, it is the quieter, darker instrumental sections that work best for me as they provide some nice drama along the way.
By contrast, ‘Melancholy Angel’ is a much shorter, punchier track that features some very welcoming and catchy melodies, designed to have maximum impact right from the word ‘go’. Guest musician Ben Metzner makes his presence known at the outset of ‘Master The Hurricane’ with a flute-led introduction, before we’re led on a full-on symphonic metal tour-de-force, the likes of which both Nightwish and Epica would likely be proud of. The light and shade is compelling, from delicate, introspective moments, right through to outrageous bombast, creating one of the best cuts on the album and delivering one of the most arresting choruses for my personal tastes in the process. If you’re like me, you’ll be singing along with gusto by the third spin, maybe sooner.
And therein lies one of the strengths of ‘Pirates’, namely the variety. Too often, I find symphonic metal, for all its over-the-top grandiosity, can end up feeling one-dimensional due to a lack of variety. That’s not generally the case here at all, with a good mix of approaches to keep the attention of listeners throughout.
‘Clocks’ is the Amaranthe-inspired instant hit of saccharine modern melodic metal, but with the compelling duo of Delauney and Guaitoli at the helm instead, doing a fabulous job together. Then there’s ‘Wild Elysium’ that I adore as it does a fantastic job of resurrecting the very best Khan-era Kamelot material, albeit with both female and male vocals as wel as even more prominent orchestration.
I’m less keen overall about the ballads that appear in the form of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Heal The Scars’ because they are a bit too gentle and twee for me, but the more energetic compositions in between redress the balance, such as the surprisingly muscular and heavy ‘Legion Of The Seas’, or the poignant and rousing ‘I Will Be Gone’ with bagpipes and flute embellishments from Metzner. Rather than sound gimmicky, the flutes and bagpipes instead add a sense of authenticity to the material that I never thought would be the case if I’m being totally honest – it just shows that when handled correctly, just about anything can work within a metallic framework…almost.
All-in-all, I can’t be anything other than positive towards ‘Pirates’, the eighth record of Vision Of Atlantis’ career. It’s not completely perfect, but it is a much more impressive affair than I anticipated when I decided to check it out for the first time. Kudos for this has to go to Clémentine Delauney and Michele Guaitoli who, alongside producer Felix Heldt were instrumental in the writing of this record. But all of the band deserve credit because ‘Pirates’ is an assured, powerful, and slick album that provides some genuinely entertaining and enjoyable symphonic metal. It’s not often I utter these words, that’s for sure, so Visions Of Atlantis should take a well-earned bow for forcing me to say such positive things.
As other reviews have proved, I’m willing to try anything in 2022, so when I received a promo for an album described as ‘an epic metallic space synth soundtrack’, I shrugged, thought ‘what the hell’, and took a listen. The album in question is entitled ‘A Pledge To Darkness’ and it’s by an Italian band by the name of LionSoul. It is their third full-length since forming around 2009, but their first for their new label, Rockshots Records. It also happens to be my first encounter with the quintet.
As it turns out, the reason for LionSoul’s promo description is most likely because no-one could work out exactly what kind of music it is they play. The core is probably power metal, but there’s so much more going on across the album that it’s quite difficult to properly place the music. Elements of prog, thrash, melodic death metal, classic rock, 80s synth-wave, cyberpunk, and lots more creep into the 50-minute album. On paper, it sounds an intriguing mix, especially when you throw in a concept story as well.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems that emerge as I listen to ‘A Pledge To Darkness’, meaning that it might not be the home-run I was hoping for. To begin with, the band have tried to blend so many different styles into their music that they succeed only in robbing themselves of a clear identity. I’m all for originality, but sometimes less really is more. And that’s something that LionSoul have not taken on board with this record.
Next is the production. It isn’t terrible, but it is way too trebly and, when things get more aggressive or speedy, the whole thing feels very muddy and indistinct. At times, when wearing headphones, the experience is a little uncomfortable too. It doesn’t help that vocalist Ivan Castelli has a very high vocal delivery for the most part and so his voice cuts through the music and accentuates the treble-heavy sound quite a bit. And whilst he has a perfectly adequate voice, I find it hard to warm to his performance. I think much of the problem is linked with the concept story that dominates this album. Quoting the band themselves:
“Imagine your planet at the end of its life and you have the burden to preserve the knowledge so you take a spaceship for a trip to L A in 2049 meanwhile you pass through a portal between 1953 to 1986 and also you change your skin to save the human race from a virus.“
Yup, you read that correctly – sci-fi space themes, time travel, and a pandemic threatening the human race. In anyone’s language, that’s a lot of material, and it leads to a convoluted story that’s difficult to follow. But, in order to get through the narrative, it feels like Castelli is always singing, straining to get the words to fit within the eleven tracks. Oh, and then there’s the intro itself which features two voices talking and setting the scene for the concept; it is toe-curlingly cheesy, I’m sorry to say.
But nothing is as bad as the ninth track. Entitled ‘Red Flame’, it is a gentler quasi-ballad that sounds like it was written for a Western film. But this isn’t an Ennio Morricone piece, and neither is it even a Jon Bon Jovi affair; it may fit the narrative of the concept, but it sticks out like a sore thumb within the rest of the music on the album.
I appreciate that it seems as if I’m tearing this record apart, and to an extent, I am, because I have to be honest. But in the spirit of balance, it would be wrong of me if I didn’t make reference to a few occasions where LionSoul do get it right and threaten to change my opinion on ‘A Pledge To Darkness’.
On that score, I’ll start with ‘Exile To Arise’, for it is a thunderously heavy and brisk slab of melodic power metal. There are a few clunky vocal lines, referring back to the over-abundant lyrical content, as well as an unnecessary but mercifully brief spoken-word sample. But, for the most part, the riffs of Aurelio Parise and Francesco Pedrini are muscular and urgent, whilst the drumming of Luca Mazzucconi is very impressive. And the song benefits from a strong, synth-laden, melodic chorus which I do enjoy a lot.
‘Amber Of Illusion’ is a slower composition allowing space for the rumbling bass of Guiseppe Lombardo to make some kind of impact. I’m not sold on the gang vocals that appear in the chorus, but the surrounding melody does have a certain charm to it.
I also have to say that the growls, when they appear within the likes of ‘Wailing In Red’ or ‘Skin 2’ are robust and appealing to the ear, definitely not an afterthought or half-baked addition to the material. The album is also littered with some flamboyant lead guitar work that’s always a winning ingredient as far as I’m concerned, adding some panache and extra vibrancy to the music.
It’s such a shame, because there are some strong hints within ‘A Pledge To Darkness’ that suggests that LionSoul are far better than this album portrays them to be. The musicianship is very strong, with each member bringing some quality performances to bear. And, when they get it right, the songs can be enjoyable. I just happen to think that next time, care needs to be taken to ensure that they don’t just throw anything and everything into the melting pot in the hope that it will all gel. In my humble opinion, it hasn’t worked out too well here, so avoidance of these issues will be key next time around if they are to knock my socks off.
It seems quite inconceivable, but it’s a fact that ‘Shadowland’, the ninth studio album from Swedish metal band Wolf is the first that I have ever reviewed. For more than 25 years, theirs is a name that has been familiar with fans of classic heavy metal and old school power metal. I have heard their music, of course, but I’ve never felt compelled enough to delve into one of their records and give it the time and attention that I offer to many other bands out there. Given that 2022 is a year where I’m throwing myself into the deep end all over the place, I felt that now was the time to dive in properly and hear what I’ve been largely missing over the years.
By and large, I find myself quite impressed actually, the quartet hitting a nostalgic sweet spot that blends the metal of the likes of Dio, with Judas Priest, a touch of Mercyful Fate theatrics, and a dose of Euro power metal, albeit not from the more over-the-top Helloween-style end of the playbook. The music is a lot of fun as a result, but you also have to have a reasonable tolerance to a bit of cheese, because Wolf’s music is smothered in it. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing of course, just an observation and a warning if you’re allergic to such things.
When I first listened to ‘Shadowland’, I was in a foul mood. I was late for an appointment, I kept getting stuck behind slow-moving cars and tractors on the small, winding country roads along which I was driving and, on the return journey I hit a pothole, causing me to have to stop off and have two new tyres fitted to my car. It was not a good day, and I did not like what I was hearing from ‘Shadowland’ either. I nearly gave up and abandon any thoughts of a review, but something made me return for a second run through. I’m glad I did because a) it proved beyond doubt that your mood can easily affect your opinion of music, and b) it has led to a greater understanding and appreciation for what Wolf have created here.
Once the hooks and melodies start to have an effect, this album takes on a whole new meaning. Just take the opening track, ‘Dust’ as a prime example. It did nothing for me on a first listen, but when I listen for the umpteenth time, I can’t understand why it didn’t immediately resonate with me. The riffs are vibrant and on the attack from the start, whilst it skips along at a nice pace led by Johan Koleberg’s forceful drumming, with Niklas Stålvind’s vocals full of energy too. And the melodies are so strong, with hooks so sharp, you’ll be singing it in your sleep.
The pace is maintained with ‘Visions For The Blind’ which features a gloriously infectious chorus to juxtapose the driving riffing from guitarists Stålvind and Simon Johansson that features within the verses. Even the bass of Pontus Egberg makes the necessary impact within an overall production that, whilst clear and strong, has a retro feel about it, ideal for the music that Wolf create here.
If I had a criticism or two, they both feature within ‘The Time Machine’. An otherwise great, brooding track is undermined slightly by its length which, at over six minutes, makes it feel a little bloated. It also highlights the rather toe-curling nature of the lyrics that can emerge on the album. The chorus is fab, but the lyrics are a little ham-fisted and cheesy. It isn’t a negative that plagues every song, and neither is the issue with track lengths. Both feature, but it isn’t an epidemic, more an occasional outbreak that can largely be forgiven.
Back to the highlights, and the ultra-melodic NWoBHM flavour of ‘Evil Lives’ is definitely one of them. It’s a shorter, snappier composition and it’s a wonderful three-and-a-half minutes of classic metal excess. I also happen to rather enjoy the title track thanks mainly to some muscular guitar riffs, and a chorus that I find myself singing incessantly, long after the album has finished playing. Then there’s the more dramatic, theatrical ‘The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake’ that benefits from yet more heavy riffing, dark atmosphere, and a slightly more progressive edge, caused by the frequent shifts in direction within the song, not to mention a stand-out performance from bassist Egberg. You’ve got to love the cheesiness of a track like ‘Rasputin’ to, especially with the pronunciation delivered by Stålvind within the catchy chorus.
The more I listen to Shadowland, the more I find myself liking it. There is definitely something very endearing about this music, as well as being catchy and memorable. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic element of the record, or perhaps it’s because these four Swedes have become incredibly proficient at penning great heavy metal songs. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a combination of both of these elements that have come together on ‘Shadowland’ to create such a proficient record. Whatever the reason, I’m confident that existing fans will not be left disappointed, and that the Wolf name will remain strong for the foreseeable future.
There comes a time in every reviewer’s life when your integrity is tested. In 2018, I reviewed ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 1’, the first solo album by the Symphony X guitar maestro Michael Romeo for many years. And now, four years later, here I am presented with ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 2’, the companion album to Romeo’s last. It would be incredibly simple for me to take the vast majority of that review, cut and paste it here and claim it’s brand new and original work. That’s because to a greater or lesser extent, it’s more of the same, meaning that if you liked ‘Part 1’, you will almost certainly like ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 2’.
Based on the opening paragraph, you might be expecting a negative review of ‘Part 2’, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong. On a scale of wrongness (sic) you’d be at about eleven. That’s because this is a monster of a record, a beast that fills me with that rarest of emotions these days – joy. Here is an album filled with just about everything I like in my heavy metal, and I love listening to it. So what if it is more of the same? Who cares? ‘Part 1’ was great, so to be able to say the same about ‘Part 2’ is an unbridled delight. I mean, who buys a favourite chocolate bar, or meat pie in my case, and moans because it tastes just like the last one? That’s just silly. I’m all for progression, but when something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
The biggest change this time around is in the vocal department. For ‘Part 2’, Dino Jelusick takes up the mantle, replacing Rick Castellano. He therefore joins Romeo, bassist John ‘JD’ DeServio and drummer John Macaluso, and he does a fantastic job here to put it mildly. His voice is powerful, melodious, and dramatic. There are occasions when he might even push the mighty ‘Sir’ Russell Allen such is his performance here, which fits the music perfectly.
As I mused in my review of ‘Part 1’, this record does contain echoes of Symphony X within it; some might argue that there’s more than an echo, and perhaps they’d be correct. But such a resemblance is hardly a shock when Romeo is in charge of the guitars, the keys, and the orchestrations, not to mention the bulk of the songwriting too. Rather than worry about this, just sit back, relax and let me explain why ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’ is so good.
I love the cinematic nature of ‘Part 2’ to begin with. The opening composition sees Romeo channelling his inner film-score composer skills to wonderful effect. This isn’t an unnecessary, throw-away intro piece, this has drama, gravitas and, with the embellishment of his guitar work alongside the orchestration, it’s a grandiose and inviting start to this record, something that’s later built upon via ‘Hunted’ and ‘Brave New World (Outro)’.
‘Divide And Conquer’ is the first ‘standard’ metal track, but there’s precious little standard about it. It thunders out of the speakers with heavy riffs and deft lead embellishments to get the blood pumping. The neo-classical style that Romeo favours is present, but it’s the enormous, anthemic chorus that is the most devastating aspect of this track. For all the clever instrumentation, of which there is much, and the further cinematic orchestration, when the voice of Jelusick soars over the melodic and immediate chorus, something in my heart awakens. The drumming is slick, the bass is commanding, and the lead solos touch warp speed at times; this is a cracking opening statement, proving that Romeo has some serious skills as a musician and as a guitarist. Well duh!
As the album continues, so too does the quality. Much like the name might imply, ‘Destroyer’ is a heavy and uncompromising track. The riffs remind me of recent Evergrey a little, with its chunky, down tuned presence, laced with a certain amount of darkness. It carries a sense of the dystopian with it, in keeping with the album’s concept, and there’s a touch of Middle Eastern mystique to add further flavour. And, whilst the chorus isn’t as immediate as its predecessor, it’s a genuine grower as well as something to really test out those neck muscles.
It would be very easy for me to descend into a track-by-track run through of ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’, but then you’d not have much of a surprise when you eventually hit play for the first time. Instead, I’ll undertake the unenviable task of picking a few favourites.
‘Metamorphosis’ dials back the all-out intensity just a touch, allowing Jelusick to stand further out within the verses and within a quieter, more atmospheric passage in the centre of the song. But the chorus is another thing of quality, making an immediate impact, whilst I love the lead guitar melodies that Romeo delivers at the outset and then at further points within the song. Even the ubiquitous ballad, ‘Just Before The Dawn’ provides five minutes of full enjoyment, thanks to some delightful melodies, a committed vocal performance, and a very strong chorus. I haven’t even mentioned the closing sequence to ‘Hybrids’ either, which rises out of the muscular composition in stunning, rousing fashion, just like the closing, triumphant piece might at the end of the score to a Hollywood blockbuster when the aliens or monsters have been sent packing. Goosebumps. Every. Single. Time.
Then there’s ‘Maschinenmemsch’ is a nine-minute tour-de-force that displays a more varied, progressive feel overall, complete with longer instrumental passages, tempo changes, variations in intensity, and a chorus that’s every bit as epic and special as this monstrous song deserves. With a gun to my head, I might just declare this as my favourite track on ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’. I love the instrumentalism from every corner of the band, but the drums and throbbing bass stand out wonderfully in the quieter, more contemplative sections. I love the cinematic orchestration within the song, and Jelusick absolutely nails the vocals in the chorus, giving me chills in the process. Oh and the emotional and dextrous extended lead solo by Romeo is pure class.
In fact, ‘class’ is what ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’ is. From beginning to end, it sparkles and fizzes, delivering track after track of powerful, memorably melodic progressive heavy metal with style and panache. It sounds great too, blessed with a strong, clear production, thus enhancing the music considerably. It may have been delayed by the global pandemic having been nearly fully written several years ago, but the time has given Michael Romeo and Co. the opportunity to fine tune, hone, and polish the material that features of this record, making it the perfect follow-up to ‘Part 1’. In fact, I think it’s probably even better. Those who have high expectations are very unlikely to be disappointed one iota.