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.
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.
Am I the only one to get excited when a band returns from an extended hiatus? It is especially exciting when the hiatus began to feel like it might be more of a complete end, with hopes of a return fading with each and every passing year. Having been familiar with Finnish epic symphonic metal band Battlelore since the beginning of their career at the turn of the Millennium, I am delighted to see the band return with a new album some eleven years since their last outing, 2011’s ‘Doombound’. Admittedly the group reformed back in 2016 and have been beavering away since, but still, you never know whether something will materialise until the official announcement is made.
Entitled ‘The Return Of The Shadow’, Battlelore return us to the world of Tolkein in the only way that they know how. This record is actually named after the original title that Tolkein considered giving to the novel that eventually became ‘Fellowship Of The Ring’; this alone should underline the affection and attention to detail that the band demonstrate when it comes to one of the most celebrated fantasy stories of all time.
Somewhat remarkably, especially given that Battlelore is a septet, the same protagonists that featured on their last album are all present and correct this time around too. It means that vocalists Tomi Mykkänen and Kaisa Jouhki are joined by guitarists Jyri Vahvanen and Jussi Rautio, keyboardist/flautist Maria Honkanen, drummer Henri Vahvanen, and bassist Timo Honkanen.
With a line-up that is unchanged, it will cause very little surprise when I confirm that the musical output on ‘The Return of The Shadow’ will be familiar to anyone who has crossed paths, or swords, with Battlelore before. These guys have their modus operandi, and they are sticking to it. Previous albums have varied in terms of their quality and my overall enjoyment has also therefore varied. If I had to pick favourites, I’d suggest that 2003’s ‘Sword’s Song’ and 2008’s ‘The Last Alliance’ would feature. However, I am delighted to confirm that ‘The Return Of The Shadow’ can be added to this list.
What I personally like about Battlelore is, perhaps perversely, what others won’t enjoy quite as much. And that’s the way that the music is heavy and aggressive but also strangely smooth sounding and incredibly inviting. The music is full of growls, muscular riffs, and a strong rhythm section underpins everything, but the keys, ethereal female vocals, and generally mid-tempo pace of the songs creates a warmth and welcoming feel. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or not, but it is something that I find very endearing. I don’t mean to damn the music with faint praise either, because whilst I will often want to be smacked around the head by the music I listen to, I genuinely like the approach that Battlelore take. It’s bombastic and majestic but at the same time not overly cluttered or over-the-top. The fact that there are some wonderfully catchy and engaging melodies littered throughout the songs only adds to my enjoyment and raises this album above others within this genre that seek to over complicate matters without injecting enough memorability.
I didn’t realise that I had been missing Battlelore but, on this evidence, clearly I had.
I had hoped to mix things up a little bit by starting my deeper analysis of this album with a song buried somewhere within its heart. However, Battlelore have other ideas, because they produce a killer song right out of the blocks in the form of opener, ‘Minas Morgul’. The riffs at the start are really nice, and I love the chosen tone. The bass guitar is ever present, whilst the drums deliver fills and a little extravagance around the riffs. When the song opens up, we’re hit with some catchy synths, majestic orchestration, and a nice groove before clean male and female vocals duet over a quieter verse, giving them the space to take centre stage. The chorus is different however, complete with a faster tempo complimented by double pedal drumming and bolder orchestration. Growls appear later on to emphasise the heavier side of the band’s music, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is one catchy, anthemic track. Welcome back, Battlelore.
‘Chambers Of Fire’ is a chunkier beast and is likely to be a hit at summer festivals given its immediacy and no-nonsense, more aggressive attitude, underlined by a much more liberal use of deep growled vocals alongside Kaisa Jouhki’s soft approach. It has more of a folk-influenced melodic core, and I love the way that the second half is a much more delicate affair than the first until the final moments when the opening fist pumping chants return alongside the strong riffing.
I definitely feel that Battlelore are at their finest when they up the atmospheric and melodic quota within their compositions, and happily, there are several occasions on ‘The Return Of The Shadow’ when they duly oblige, starting with the delectable ‘Orcrist’ that features ethereal, synth-drenched passages led by Jouhki at her delicate best. The melodies are gorgeous, and even when we’re ‘treated’ to a spoken-word section that features the words ‘Goblin cleaver’ (I kid you not), I don’t turn my back in revulsion. It’s a bit cheesy and ham-fisted, but there remains a charm to it, mainly because the chorus is so damn irresistible.
Speaking of catchy, the slightly more up-tempo ‘Homecoming’ also fits the bill, with another strong, memorable chorus. The heavy, chugging riffing within ‘Elvenking’ is marvellous, but it’s accompanied by some simple yet fully effective bass lines from Timo Honkanen that rumble with real authority whilst Maria Honkanen’s flute adds delicate whimsy in clever counterpoint. ‘Mirrormere’ is another great song, featuring some prominent lead guitar lines early on before building a bittersweet feeling thanks to some sombre yet elegant melodies within the chorus. It also benefits from some of the boldest riffing and thunderous drumming by Henri Vahvanen in the mid-section.
For all that though, the star of the show for me sits at the very end of the album. ‘Shadow Of The East’ is simply stunning for a number of reasons. Firstly, I adore the guitars of Jyri Vahvanen and Jussi Rautio – the tone, assisted by the bass, is wonderful, especially when used as sparingly as it is within what is the slowest track of them all. Then there are the melodies that permeate from every pore, delightfully arresting throughout, culminating in a truly epic closing sequence, complete with orchestration, gently building metallic instrumentation, insidious growls, and muscular percussion. I could listen to this quasi ballad over and over again…and I have if truth be told.
You can be the fastest, the most overblown and pompous, the most dextrous, or the loudest. But what Battlelore more than ably demonstrate with this glorious return from the wilderness, is that none of that matters if the songs themselves aren’t engaging and memorable. At times, Battlelore can be loud, they can be fast, and they can be overblown and pompous. However, this is never at the expense of the songs themselves, which are almost entirely positive and thoroughly enjoyable. As I said earlier, some will criticise the band for not being edgy enough, or extreme enough. That’s their prerogative. Me though, I really like this album and I’m delighted to hear new material from Battlelore. Factor in the absolutely fabulous cover artwork and a bonus three-track EP entitled ‘Lost Lands’ as a bonus disc, and I’m making it ever more difficult for you to ignore this release. So don’t.
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.
Album Title: A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 20 May 2022
I have thought long and hard about how I should approach this review. I take pride in the fact that I give my reviews 100% honesty, and score albums accordingly. I would hope that everyone who reads my reviews will acknowledge this, because integrity is very important to me. Without integrity, we are nothing. Without honesty, we are nothing. And yet, my impartiality has been called into question when it comes to Evergrey. Most of it is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, but other readers have suggested that I am biased when it comes to my reviews for Evergrey, because I have given the band perfect 100% scores for their past few records. Well, you know what? Sod them. I rarely say things like this, but I feel that it is required on this occasion in order to get over to everyone the strength of my feeling on this matter.
Let me now explain in more measured terms why I feel so angry about these accusations. If you’ve read a number of my reviews at manofmuchmetal.com over the past few years, you’ll know that I have had a number of personal issues that have affected me. I’m no different to many of you reading this in that respect. I stress that I am clearly not the only person to suffer personal problems, and many of you will have suffered far worse. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment; it is merely important context.
Since I started writing music reviews over 17 years ago, I have lost my younger brother, I have had to face not having my children with me in my home 100% of the time due to a relationship break-up. I have suffered further heartbreak since, by losing my ‘forever’ person, something that has pushed me very close to the edge. But I am still here. Why? Because I have wonderful family, and I have some good friends, even if I do my best to push them away all the time. And then, there’s music. Music provides me with strength, comfort, and company when I am alone. We all have our favourite bands, and mine is Evergrey.
The Swedish band have been an integral part of my life for over two decades, providing the soundtrack to accompany many of my best and worst moments in life. I owe this band a debt bigger than they’ll ever know, because I always turn to their music when I’m at my worst and need to be reminded of the beauty in life, and when I need to be reminded of the strength of the human spirit. Many of Evergrey’s songs touch on matters so close to my heart, and they explore these subjects in a way that no other band does. The power, the melodies, the darkness, the light, the honesty; they touch me like no other band does, allowing me to tap deep into my own feelings in a truly cathartic manner.
So, naturally, when I am presented with new material by this band, I listen. I listen carefully, closely, and with an open mind and heart. Over their career, I’ve not loved everything blindly. There are songs that I like better than others, and there are albums that I like better than others. That’s to be entirely expected. The problem for me though, as a reviewer, is that Evergrey have been on one of the longest purple patches ever. Every one of their albums since the release of ‘Hymns For The Broken’ in 2014 has brought with it, in my opinion, a touch of magic. I can honestly say that there is not one single song that they have recorded since the release of that album that I have disliked. Not one. And when the subject matter has spoken so eloquently to me throughout this period, and accompanied various significant highs and lows in my life, it makes the experience all the more powerful.
And that’s why I’m angry. Because Evergrey NEVER let me down and given the enjoyment, strength and sheer joy their music provides, how could I possibly give them a score of less than 100%? It’s not because I have blinkers on, it isn’t because of a misplaced loyalty. It is because, as far as my subjective opinion is concerned, their music deserves it. Simple. Of course, you may disagree, but hey, music is subjective, and we’re all allowed to have different opinions. But don’t you dare tell me that I’m being biased, because if they were to release another ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ or their own equivalent of ‘St. Anger’, I’d call them out. But they haven’t, and with ‘The Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’, the thirteenth full-length album of their career, they’ve done it again and released another masterpiece.
For once in my life, I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow, song-by-song description of the album, because I want to focus on a handful of the songs in a little more detail. But suffice to say that from the opening moments of the call-to-arms, anthemic ‘Save Us’, complete with the inclusion of fans voices for extra gravitas, to the final gentle acoustic guitar and bass notes of ‘Wildfires’, there is not one single thing I would want to change on ‘A Heartless Portrait’; to me, it is another slice of dark, melodic, progressive metal perfection.
However, the only place to start for me, is the gargantuan ‘Ominous’, which sits at position number three on this album. It starts slowly, with muffled guitars getting louder in the mix, eventually joined by Tom Englund’s instantly recognisable voice. And if you thought the guy couldn’t get any better with his vocal delivery, just take a listen to the first minute or so of this monster. The emotion, the control, the purity, the resonance; it sends shivers down my spine every single time I hear it. As he rings out, in come the ubiquitous heavy guitar notes, made all the more muscular by Johan Neimann’s magnificent bass and some deft, masterful drumming from Jonas Ekdahl. You want epic wailing guitars? Well, you get them also in what is one of the most dramatic, and dark intros from Evergrey in a while. I have goosebumps on goosebumps as the guitars cry to the heavens.
As the song continues, in come some interesting and prominent synth tones from Rikard Zander that continue into the gargantuan, emotional, and scintillating chorus. What I also love about this song is the way that it feels more overtly progressive; I’m sure that the expert musicians in the room may say it’s deceptively straightforward, but to me, a layman, it shifts about so much both in terms of pace and intensity, that it just feels wonderfully progressive. Extended guitar solos, moments of quieter synth-led darkness, and yet more insanely evocative and poignant lyrical content and vocal delivery from Mr Englund – it all culminates in one of Evergrey’s greatest ever songs, rubbing shoulders easily with the likes of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, ‘Recreation Day’, ‘King Of Errors’, and ‘All I Have’.
A delicate synth intro that has a children’s lullaby quality to it ushers in ‘Call Out The Dark’, another killer composition. The intro is obliterated by a huge explosion of sound, albeit continuing the melody brilliantly. The verse quietens things down well, with Niemann’s bass rumbling at its heart, but the intensity grows into a lively bridge, before the initial melody returns to sit at the heart of an utterly monstrous chorus. This is the kind of chorus that Evergrey can deliver, the sing-along anthem that would get an entire festival crowd joining in with full gusto. I love the way the second verse is heavier, with irresistible dampened chugging guitar notes, just to add to the strength of the song. As always, you can count on Tom Englund and his six-string partner-in-crime Henrik Danhage for some brilliant lead solos, something I’ll never tire of quite frankly. It might only last a little over four minutes, but in that time, it creates a massive impact.
‘The Great Unwashed’ is another of my absolute favourites on ‘A Heartless Portrait’, beginning with a fantastically dramatic descanting intro led by the lead guitars, but ably assisted by all corners of the band. From there, the verses are a gloriously chugging, mid-tempo affair that then segue into yes, you’ve guessed it, another scintillating, spine-tingling chorus full of hooks and strong melody. The second verse features some bold synths from Zander that carry with them a slight 70s vibe, but again, when the chorus invades for a second time, I am a gibbering mess; music that speaks so strongly to my soul can have that effect and here, it’s like Englund and Co. have looked into my soul and created a chorus that fits perfectly. At the midway point, we get a reprise of the intro, followed by a quiet, introspective section featuring just Englund’s vocals and Zander’s synths, before a soulful and gorgeous lead guitar solo enters to provide further spine tingles. They’re not done though, because as the intensity grows, via the introduction of Ekdahl’s drums, the solo gets faster, leading to a stunning crescendo, accented by the synths. The guitar solos continue for a while more before we’re back into the chorus and I’m transported to God knows where. But my feet are not on the ground anymore, and for a few brief moments, the guys help me to forget all of my worries and fears. I’m getting emotional just writing this, but then I have the song in the background as I type, so I’m flooded with intense emotions of the very best kind. This music is just pure entertainment, pure genius, pure magic.
Even though I have focused on these songs, I’ll say again that there isn’t a weak track to be heard anywhere on ‘A Heartless Portrait’. You’ll no doubt have heard the bulldozing, muscular ‘Blindfolded’ by now, or the final advance single, ‘Midwinter Calls’ with its equally muscular riffs, choral vocals, great synth and vocal sections, and ridiculously catchy chorus. Naturally, I love both, but then you’d have to be dead not to. And I’m definitely not dead yet.
I also love the song ‘The Orphean Testament’. Beginning in classic ‘recent’ Evergrey style, it takes no prisoners, and Tom Englund sounds properly angry in the opening stages. The chorus is a brooding monster, with added synth embellishment, and within a couple of spins it’s lodged in there for keeps, with the vocal hooks hitting you when you least expect it. It’s another longer song, one of three that stretches over six minutes, meaning that Evergrey can take their time to explore avenues of their choosing. In this case, it is a cool synth solo from Rikard Zander, as well as slow, thunderous riffs that hit hard.
I really don’t know if I need to say any more at this point. ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’. With Evergrey continually releasing music of this quality, not everything on Earth is bad, and the realisation that this is the case only further enhances my enjoyment of the album. For one final time, say what you want about the score I have given ‘A Heatless Portrait’, but say it in the knowledge that I simply don’t care, and I never will. Evergrey have delivered once again and delivered beyond my stratospheric expectations.
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.
Do not adjust your Internet settings, I really am writing a review for a more modern hard rock album. It’s a rarity I’ll grant you, but every now and then, I’ll dip my toe in the water and see what’s going on in this particular niche. At the heart of this review is ‘Revelation’, the latest album from a band I knew literally nothing about a couple of weeks ago. The fact that they are from the UK gives me an extra incentive to check out Stone Broken too, as the quartet hail from the metropolis that’s Walsall. To be fair, it’s not a million miles away from the birthplaces of bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so flippant, especially as I call Suffolk home.
Enough of that, though, because you’re here to find out a little more about the music that finds itself on Stone Broken’s third album in a career that’s so far lasted a good decade. Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Rich Moss, guitarist Chris Davis, bassist Kieron Conroy, and drummer Robyn Haycock, ‘Revelation’ is the fruit of several years of work, made longer and more arduous by the pandemic which struck at just the wrong time. As the accompanying press release states, though, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the band are happier with the final results than they thought possible.
I’ll leave it to your own judgement as to whether it’s a good or bad thing, but when listening to ‘Revelation’, I have a hard job to believe that the music comes from an English band. The music, right from the first vocals and guitar notes of ‘Black Sunrise’, has an undeniable North American sheen to it. This album is most definitely slick and polished, something that producer Dan Weller (ex-SikTh guitarist) can claim some credit for alongside the band themselves.
I can almost hear my soul shriek in despair at me, but I must admit that there are a fair few tracks on this album that I like, as well as a few others that I have grown to really like in spite of myself. So much of ‘Revelation’ could easily be heard on commercial radio, it’s that ‘mainstream’. But as I always say, ‘good music is good music’…ok, I’ve rarely said that, even though I should. But here is that classic test for me, because it is hard to deride Stone Broken too much because they have penned some quality material that I keep coming back to like a guilty pleasure. I may not always gravitate towards music like this, but I see the appeal and ‘Revelation’ is a thoroughly entertaining beast for large periods.
It all kicks off with the aforementioned ‘Black Sunrise’ and I find myself unexpectedly hooked thanks to a powerful combination that sees a cocksure hard rock swagger paired with some catchy melodies especially within the hook-laden chorus. It may have a whiff of commercialism to it, but at the same time, the guitars carry enough of a punch alongside the beefy rhythm section to ensure that Stone Broken don’t descend into what I’d refer to as ‘bland’ territory.
If you thought that the opener was catchy, just wait until you hear the immediate follow-up, ‘The Devil You Know’. It doesn’t feel quite as heavy as the opener, demonstrating more of a modern hard rock vibe with more overt electronics, but the chorus is another instant shot in the arm, impossible to ignore. The modern trappings come even more to the fore within the title track and it’s at this point that I should lose total interest, especially with the shouted ‘gang’ vocals to add to the horror. But I still quite like the song which sees the first vocal contribution from drummer Robyn Haycock, thanks to the catchy, slick songwriting. What Is happening to me?
The quality material just keeps on coming, beginning with ‘Make It Out Alive’, a song that starts as if it might be a ballad, but then offers some of the heaviest material so far with forceful, driving riffs at its heart. The verses are quieter though, more introspective affairs, and there is a ballad-like vibe to one of the most stunning choruses on the record, so my initial thoughts weren’t far off the mark. But if you want a full-on ballad, it arrives in the shape of ‘Me Without You’. I love and hate this song in equal measure because, on the one hand, it is a gorgeous piece of music complete with piano, acoustic guitars, and sensitive electronics for atmosphere. On the other hand, the central lyrics of ‘what’s the point of me without you?’ just drive a knife into my heart because they give voice to my feelings and my painful reality. Anathema, Evergrey, Katatonia…bands that I expect to reduce me to tears. But a relatively commercial-sounding hard rock band from the Midlands? I did not see that coming.
If I had one criticism at all about ‘Revelation’, it’d be that the latter stages of the album run out of steam a touch after such a tremendous start. That’s not to say that the music isn’t entertaining or poor because that’s definitely not the case. I just feel that there’s a little less magic in the second half as opposed to the electric first half. Songs like ‘Over The Line’ with its increased electronic element, or part-acoustic ‘Stronger’ are perfectly decent, but don’t light my fire in quite the same way. The latter comes too dangerously close to the dreaded Nickelback for my comfort.
However, Stone Broken are not quite done and ‘So Damn Easy’ catches my ears in all the right ways thanks to the interesting riffs, rhythms, the way it ebbs and flows effortlessly, and the duetted vocals of Moss and Haycock, the latter thoroughly impressing me whenever she appears thanks to her incredibly soft, smooth, almost ethereal delivery.
So there you have it. I have been seduced by an album that should never have crossed my path had I let my prejudices get in the way. As it is, there are a good handful of songs that have made a huge impact here, several better-than-decent songs, and one that has made a cynical, missile-aged, grown man cry. Kudos for that feat alone. All that’s left to say then, is that it doesn’t matter what kind of heavy music you consider to be your ‘thing’, you’d be foolish not to take time out of your listening schedule to give melodic hard rock band Stone Broken a chance. I did, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.
Sometimes, I feel the need to take a step back from the more vicious forms of extreme metal and mix things up with something altogether more melodic. Today, I’m doing just that with Radiant and their second full-length album entitled ‘Written By Life’. As the name suggests, this record has been inspired by the band members themselves, turning their own personal tragedies, milestones, and adventures into the songs that feature here. Each of quintet was involved, making this a truly collaborative affair. And that’s how it feels, despite Radiant being headed up by Herbie Langhans, the powerful and distinctive vocalist whose personal discography covers everyone from Firewind to Voodoo Circle, from Beyond The Bridge to Sinbreed and Seventh Avenue.
Not only did he sing on this record, but Langhans also produced and mastered ‘Written By Life’, with the mastering undertaken by the equally well-known Sasha Paeth at Gate Studio. Unsurprisingly, the music sounds strong, pulling every last ounce of strength out of the performances of guitarists Carsten Stepanowicz and Flo Gottsleben, bassist Markus Beck, and drummer Manni Spalka, not to mention himself.
Your personal perspective is likely to strongly determine your overall thoughts on this sophomore Radiant album because, if you’re looking for a solid album of well-performed, energetic melodic heavy metal with a touch of hard rock swagger at points, as well as some well-placed Euro cheese, then ‘Written By Life’ is likely to score highly with you. If you’re looking for something a little different, or off the beaten track, then you might end up being a little disappointed. Me, I’m going to get splinters because I’m sitting on the fence somewhere between the two camps. On the one hand, there’s a lot to like, but on the other, it doesn’t fully set my world alight and demand that I listen again and again. When I press play and listen, I enjoy what I hear, but I’m not compelled by the record to immediately return to the start and begin again.
If I’m honest, I’m seduced a little by the opening track, ‘Nightshift’, after which the same level of magic rarely returns within the remaining ten subsequent tracks. On it’s own, ‘Nightshift’ is glorious, a true 80s-influenced anthem of infectious up-beat intensity, with powerful melodies that lead to a hard rock/AOR-infused sing-along chorus. It is the kind of music that can turn a frown upside-down and make you smile. Complete with melodic lead guitar solos that call to mind the best harmonies of the NWOBHM movement, as well as a few flamboyant drum fills and galloping bass, it offers a bit of everything. I can’t sing the praises of this opening track highly enough.
I may be being a little harsh when I then suggest that this magic rarely makes a return appearance, certainly not to the same intensity at any rate. ‘Don’t Stop The Daydream’ is a thunderous follow-up, keeping the momentum going thanks to powerhouse rhythms and chunky riffs. However, the chorus doesn’t carry with it the same ‘stop everything’ vibe of its predecessor.
I don’t want to appear unduly unfair, so in order to focus on the positives, I’d pick out a few songs within the eleven that offer something genuinely positive. On that score, I’d have to begin with ‘Live The Adventure’ thanks mainly to the darker, more serious vibe, aside from the slightly unnecessary spoken word samples later in the song and at the very end. But regardless, the chorus is also one of the most pleasing and enjoyable for my tastes, a definite stand-out moment for sure.
Then there’s ‘Life Contagioned’ which provides a lovely hard-rocking groove and swagger that then segues into a moody bluesy verse. The chorus is the real highlight though, a real lighter-in-the-air style affair that delivers one of Langhans’ best vocal performances on the album. Here, his gravelly tones briefly disappear as he soars to the sky.
I’m not sure whether I’m hearing things, but as ‘Written By Life’ nears the end, the 70s classic rock influences appear to grow and dominate a couple of the later tracks. Whilst it’s not normally my ‘thing’, it’s hard not to grow fond of the strangely infectious chorus within ‘Twice A Week’, a song that begins intriguingly with bold string-led orchestration before acoustic guitars strum warmly.
And despite taking my time to warm to it, there’s a definite charm to the closing composition, ‘Hang Around With Friends’. The actual music itself may not light a fire under me, by lyrically, I connect to the song that’s clearly been written about these guys’ childhoods when friendship and camaraderie were the only things that mattered. Speaking as a battered and bruised adult, I love the sentiment of this song and its carefree vibe, as I think back to a similar time in my life with rose-tinted glasses. Sentimentality aside, I will concede that the chorus does eventually burrow its way in and ends the record on a genuinely fun and infectious note.
Overall, there is a lot to like about ‘Written By Life’, especially if melodic hard rock/metal is something you instinctively gravitate towards. A definite handful of songs hit the mark with me one way or the other, meaning that I derive enjoyment from listening to it. I’m just left a little frustrated with the consistency and the direction of travel here; after the first song, I was all in, excited to hear the rest of the album. But the same magic never quite returns for me, despite the best efforts of all concerned here. You may think very differently however, so I urge you to listen for yourself before passing judgement. Who knows, I’m probably in a tiny minority.
I have mentioned it before, but I am always scouting around, looking for great melodic metal bands because this genre can, when done properly, offer a shot of saccharine goodness that’s hard to ignore. When I find myself listening to more and more extreme metal releases, it’s good to have a change every now and then; as they say, a change is as good as a rest. Plus, in any case, I’ve always had a soft spot for heavy music that’s big on melody. I don’t always see melody as a diluter of heaviness and aggression – in the right circumstances, it can enhance the power and impact of the music. I can think of many examples where this rings true, across the various genres of heavy metal. The latest melodic metal album to hit my radar, is this, ‘Antares’ by Angel Nation.
I decided to check this record out, mainly because it finds itself on the Inner Wound Recordings roster, a label that has released some cool albums in the past. That and the fact that it’s released soon and I’m in the zone where I want to check out as much new music as humanly possible at the moment. Oh, and the singer for Angel Nation is Elina Siirala who is also part of Leave’s Eyes. It all added up to a situation where curiosity got the better of me.
According to the old saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and unfortunately my curiosity has led me close to a similar fate here. Ok, I’m being incredibly sensationalist, but it is fair to say that ‘Antares’, the third full-length album from Angel Nation, has left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed and disappointed.
The band’s line-up sees the classically trained Siirala joined by guitarist George ‘GT’ Stergiou, bassist Julia B Cadau, and drummer Lucas Williamson. Together, they deliver forty-one or so minutes of glossy melodic metal with a symphonic element spread across ten individual tracks. I’ve been bitten before by making a snap decision on a first spin, only to find that my first impression was way too harsh; in fact, it happens more often than not, meaning that I will never, ever review a release after just one or two spins. In the case of ‘Antares’, I am sad to report that subsequent listens have not appreciably altered my opinion of this record. For all the gloss and polish, I find the whole thing quite dull and unmemorable. I have heard a thousand bands of this ilk over the years, and there is literally nothing here that is either unique or edgy.
With so much music and so many bands ploughing the melodic metal furrow, I want something that is going to wow me. I want the musical equivalent of the car you drew when you were eight years old; the car that came complete with guns, wings, and luminous paintwork. What Angel Nation give us is more like a beige 1980’s Volvo I’m afraid. Or at least, that’s my opinion anyway, because given the popularity of bands like this, Angel Nation will probably draw a significant audience to make me look completely out of step with public opinion. Not for the first time, it must be said.
Credit where it’s due though, and it’s fair to say that the production of ‘Antares’ is strong and seeks to get the very best out of the material on offer. For example, the heavy, imposing guitar sound that appears within the opener ‘Seraph’ has me pricking my ears, hopeful that what’s to follow will be suitably entertaining. It isn’t a bad song all round, with an up-tempo drive, a bit of muscle, and Siirala’s smooth vocal tones. Unfortunately, the chorus is only ok, thus failing to propel the opener into the stratosphere, despite a spirited lead guitar solo by Stergiou.
‘We Are Fire’ kicks off at a fair lick, the Euro power metal overtones clear for all to hear. The verses are bathed in rich synths, whilst the chorus sees the rhythm section galloping nicely, alongside arguably one of the strongest choruses on the album it has to be said. The over-the-top power metal excess also makes an appearance elsewhere, most notably at the beginning of ‘Face To Face With The Merciless’. Frustratingly, the early promise recedes as the song instead heads off in a mid-tempo stomping direction that lacks a killer punch.
However, tracks like ‘Life Is A War’ are where I lose almost all of my interest. Admittedly, the guitars sound nicely aggressive, but the increased drama and theatrical nature only serves to turn the song into a muddled mess. The odd flute sounds and attempt at a more progressive approach just strikes me as clunky, almost discordant. Not even bursts of double pedal drumming can resurrect a song that I just cannot warm to whatsoever.
Albums like this will always have a softer ballad and, if done correctly, can add another welcome dimension. ‘Way Back Home’ is Angel Nation’s gratuitous ballad and it’s just as you’d expect. Siirala’s classical tones croon above a rich, cinematic soundscape that’s part Disney, part West End Musical. With a killer hook, irresistible melody, or something magical, it could have been so good. But as nice as it is, that’s it – it’s just ‘nice’.
I have given ‘Antares’ by Angel Nation a mote than fair crack of the whip, but I just don’t gel with it. It feels so generic, that it could be the work of just about anyone within this genre of music. As I stated earlier, I’m fully prepared to be in the minority. But I have to be honest and say that this record simply leaves me cold and rather bored. I can’t like everything, after all.