[Metal/Melodic Metal] Alwaid – The Machine and The Beast (90%)

alwaid___the_machine_and_the_beast__front_cover__by_zero_scarecrow13-dan7kjd

Sometimes, the post office can bring you a nice surprise in front of your doorstep. That surprise was coming from Alwaid (Lille, France) through the form of their second album “The Machine and The Beast” I have contributed in crowdfunding sometimes end of last year and beginning of this year. I completely forgot about it and I guess the French post office also probably forgot how to send it overseas, so it ended up last week in front of my door.
This second album is an 11-songs album spanned over 57 minutes. What I can tell is very dependent on if you have listened or not to their first album “Lacus Somniorum” because it is an almost 180 flip from this one. Let me explain. Their first album, it felt mostly ethereal having this atmospheric doom metal vibes backed by the high vocal ranges of Marie (the front singer). In this one, you get blown by the heaviness of the album. It is like trading the calm shores of the Sea of Black Tears and now facing the Guns of Navarone, the Stalin’s organs with the heavy riffs and fast-paced melodics leveling up everything in front of it. Even Marie traded her high vocals into much lower tones. Thats explains why I found it takes a 180 flip from “Lacus”.
Things starts with a symphonic opening “Enter the Other One Inside” giving this aspect of grandiose rapidly followed by the heavy tones of “Amphisbaena” reminding us something similar to “Hei! Aa-Shanta’nygh!” but also something different: Marie hitting the low octave for the first time in their discography. You are kind of confused if Marie is still in until she hits the higher notes as a reminder (yep, thats Marie!). Alwaid bringing up the big show, big time in their opening act! It is rapidly followed by “When Giants Wake” and “The Whale” bringing some melodic death tunes in it, keeping you riding afloat. “The Lord of Cities” reminds me a lot “The Scream That No One Heard”, my favorite on “Lacus”, feeling like a power metal ballad by its fast-paced drums, its heavy and melodics  and Marie high-vocal pitch. It is like riding a Rainbow Unicorn from Hell and slashing orcs and ghouls in the Valley of Death. “Monsters By Gaslight” have this kind of feeling that I would hear from Whyzdom (another of my favorite French metal band) and pumps you up enough to grab your mighty axe and slash some demons.
“Sang Noir” slows down the whole album but in a good manner, bringing this melodic ballad track with some familiar with “The Cypress Grove”.
“So The Song Went”, track 8 brings on this orchestral opening giving this feel I had with “Alghavil Altannin” from their previous album, slow and  languishing pain almost feeling like doom metal. “Idle Riddles And Rhymes” is certainly the most symphonic song of the all album, with this dark symphonic tones. “Fractalized” is the acoustic ballad track of the album, with an acoustic guitar that is a pleasing. “The Call of the Wild” is the one that I would say is the weakest track of the whole album. I don’t know why or to how to explain it but found it quite displeasing to my ears.
Alwaid perfectly renewed their winning formula of “Lacus…” and yet improving it by making it heavier, bolder, faster and darker. In a time where a lot of FFM bands water down their metal with post-processing or an overuse of keyboards putting the guitars in the back burner, Alwaid brings them upfront. The result? Something that makes you feel like riding in the Valley of Death on a Unicorn from Hell and slashing an army of orcs with your mighty axe. France, slowly but surely, is joining the elite club of FFM bands and Alwaid is certainly the challenger you want to keep an eye on. Rightfully, it merits the June “album of the month”.

[Videogames/Metal] Brutal Legend – XB360 (80%)

Sometimes you never know what you can find in a Gamestop “dumpster” (you know the $5 or less /$20 or less games holding on some cardobard shelves). One was Brutal Legend. I had my eyes on when I have played once the demo downloaded from Xbox Live. I really liked it for two reasons:
Firstly,  it was a game heavily influenced by metal and there are very few that come in mind. I still remember the attempt of Motley Crue to cash on Crueball on Genesis (a pinball-based game, also used by Kiss in one of these PC budget games), Motorhead on Amiga/Atari ST (a beat-them up developed by Ocean somewhere in 1992) or Iron Maiden Ed Hunter featuring Eddie in a kind of “Operation Wolf” game.
Secondly,  for what seemed a cool storyline. The story features Eddie Riggs, a “roadie” setting up the stage for a rock band called Kabbage Boy, lets say Eddie is rightfully not fond of his performance. As Eddie sets stage, a element of the stage falls on directly aiming one of the band member. Eddie jumps to his rescue only to get crushed by the scenery element. Eddie wakes up in a complete strange world, directly taken from some of the best heavy metal album artworks. Here Eddie becomes an anti-hero fighting demons with his mighty axe and his guitar riffs.
After playing back-and-forth with the game during the last month, I finally finished it up tonight. There are the good, the very good and the very annoying part of the game.
The good thing about the game is its very high fidelity of the game towards the material it got inspired by. It is heavy metal at its finest with the contribution of kings of the genre   appearing as cameos such as Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne,appearing as the guardian of metal, the shop to go to upgrade your weapons and your car), Rob Halford (Judas Priest, posing as the Fire Baron), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead, the bass-playing Kill Master), Lita Ford (presented as Lita, one leader of the human resistance)……
The second good thing (if you ignore the annoying part) is this semi-open space allowing you to drive through the heavy metal hell, ramming through the wildlife and allowing you to complete some side quests and unlock some uniqueness (monuments, dragons…..) that will buildup your combat skills.
Then comes the very good part: the storyline and the damn good playlist. The storyline is simply awesome as you end up fighting hordes of glam/hair metal villains, with the stereotype of the hair metal bands that flourished in the 80s, followed by a dive into the depressive doom and gloom of gothic/doom metal genre (with some of the best enemies to fight, straight out of a Tim Burton mind) and finally a quick insight into industrial metal (at the very end). For most of these, you have a remarkable playlists of metal bands that perfectly match the missions: fighting off glam metal troops with Motley Crue “Dr. Feelgood”, only to escape the crumbling White Lion palace through the soundtrack of of the UK powermetal band Drangonforce “Through the Fire and The Flames”. Just playing this part of the game in which you are slaloming between dragons breaking bridges and blocking roads with that blowing in the background music worth its amount of pesos. It is not one, but over 100 songs in that playlist that you can play through driving in the metal Hell, something very similar to a GTA game. Some of the best and most versatile metal playlist I have ever heard into a video game: Dragonforce, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Scorpions, Motley Crue, Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, Accept, Megadeath…..
Just for that the game worth the purchase.
Now comes the very annoying part of the game: the simile-RTS game sequence. At some point in the game, you will be asked to play a sort of real-time strategy game (you know the type of Dune II, Command & Conquer, Warcraft…), in a very primitive form, using the metal as a source: The stage being your main base/barracks; the march store towers being the source of energy to harvest and troops from the basic headbangers grunt to the juggernaut unit capable to blast off towers. The idea is great, the put into practice? Meh…….it felt more than a pain than anything else as you have to go back and forth to get to the units. The other thing that also made me quit the game halfway is that mission in which you have to capture wild feral cats (looking as KISS-like panthers) by circling them with a circle of fire. The controls were just terrible and makes you really want to give up. As a sidenote, the presence of redudant sidequest (ambush enemies, defend your tower, race against the same foe) felt like a lot of deja-vu. You have to do them to gain skill points to upgrade your character but felt more a curfew than anything else (especially at a certain point of the game you have so much skill points accumulated but nowhere to redeem the upgrades).
In conclusion, if you love heavy metal and looking for a good game really doing a service  to the genre, grab a copy and play it. The game is far from perfect, there are much better adventure games and real RTS games to quench your thirst than this one. But in my opinion, this was the PERFECT metal game ever I have been playing so far and really wish someone decides to renew this experience.

[Metal/Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Always (25th Anniversary Release)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of The Gathering first album “Always”, released in June , 1992. I retrospectively discovered this album after being introduced to the band through “Mandylion”. It was their only doom metal album, with Bart Smits in the growl, but man that was my gateway to doom/gothic metal. And even 25 years later, it still have the freshness. It is a 48 minutes album, spanning over 8 tracks, nicely blending the guitars and the keyboards.
We got into it “The Mirrors Waters”, that has this distinctive keyboard tunes opening the track and bringing on the heaviness cloak of doom, rapidly introducing Bart growls. The second track, “Subzero”, brings a higher speed tone but never sacrifice the heaviness. The third track, “In Sickness And Health”, continues into the doom with an heavy influence of the keyboards. It is a nice one, but kind of a weak one too. “King for A Day”, wipes it out from your mind pretty quickly, imposing itself as my favorite track. Its starts heavy and doom to slowly transition into a progressive track with the keyboards leading the way and giving Marieke Groot (the female supporting vocal) a full opportunity to display her vocal performance.  With Barts hitting the low cleans and Marieke hitting the high notes, it gives this magic atmosphere.
The rest of the album continues in the doom tunes with “Second Sunrise” and “Stonegarden”, two enjoyable tracks. “Always” breaks the mold as an instrumental mostly played on the keyboards with backing drums, feeling you sailing boat ashore. “Gaya’s Dream”, the last track, concludes the album with the same tunes that most of the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, that was the only album from the band that was close from doom as it can be. Their second album was honestly a disaster, a hodge podge, an UFO in their discography. By “Mandylion”, their third album, and the introduction of Anneke in the band, the sound was deeply settled into Gothic and lasted for their next two albums. There is a reason why Sam Dunn (BangerTV) had The Gathering placed in the Gothic Metal family tree, and they rightfully belongs to it. They set the tone for European metal bands in that genre and surely set the way for female-fronted gothic metal bands. I personally think the Gathering did a major public service to Dutch metal bands, as few years following their release and touring, Dutch metal bands flourished as tulips bringing some of the best metal to hear (Within Temptation, After Forever, Epica…)
There are two versions of the album: the original recording (see the featured image) and a re-engineered version dubbed “Downfall – The Early Years”. Avoid the latter one as the plague. The goal of a re-engineering is to improve the original master to a higher quality. Seems that the sound engineer behind that thought otherwise, resulting in a sort of washing machine sounds that in my opinion slash the original tracks.
Otherwise, if you want to hear some influential bands in the European Gothic Metal and like to explore some metal history, you should grab a copy and listen. A pleasurable experience to listen.

[Metal/Symphonic Metal] Nightwish – Century Child (15th Anniversary)

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Nightwish fourth album “Century Child”, released in May 25th 2002. It is a natural evolution of Nightwish from their first album “Angel Fall First”, slowly transitioning into a more evolved symphonic elements and foremost marked by the presence of Marco Hietala as a damn good backup vocalist (to be honest, Tuomas was not such a great vocal in “Angel Fall First”).
It is a 10-track album lasting a bit more than 57 minutes. I really liked this album as it was refining the symphonic metal genre with a nice keyboard arrangements coupled with the guitars.
It starts with “Bless The Child” that exists into two versions: the album edit and the video edit (that cut through the introduction). Its Nightwish, in the direct continuation of their work with “Oceanborn”  and “Wishmaster”, maybe relieving the heaviness and pushing on the softness. I strongly recommend to listen the album edit that has a much nicer introduction. Also note the “Imperial March” tunes at the last third of the song.
https://youtu.be/U52aAa9VkEk

“End of all hope” brings on the bang and the heavy of a “Wishmaster”, whereas “Dead to The World” is more reminiscent of Tuomas keyboard arrangement heard in “Oceanborn”. “Ever Dream”, one of the classic is a very common song ending in the playlist. It is also a very good benchmark to compare the vocal styles between Tarja, Anette and Floor. This is an example on how Floor made the best match to Tarja as vocals in my opinion. You can almost shred two live performances of it, blend them together and ask you to tell me who is singing.

“Slaying The Dreamer” and “Forever Yours” (both 5th and 6th songs of the album) are the meh songs in my opinion. They are okay, but I don’t get the vibes on them so they quickly get skipped on my playlist. “Ocean Soul” in the opposite is one of my favorite, bringing the Nightwish style, a very nice romantic ballad lead by Tarja in the vocals. One of my favorite with “Phantom of The Opera”.

“Feel for you” is my opinion another campy song that also end up skipped in my playlist. Then comes the piece of resistance. “The Phantom of The Opera”, the last song of the album. Lasting a good 10 minutes with this gothic romance inspired by the 1986 Broadway musical of the same name, inspired by the novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera (Garnier)” by Gaston Leroux (serialized in 1909-1910).
It starts with the classical church organs, followed by Empuu guitars and Jukaa drums kind of marking the dueling that will take place between Tarja and Marco. This is the best duet in a Nightwish song and one of these songs in which Tarja unleashed her soprano voice and showing her professional training.
This is a must-have in your collection, for two reasons. First, this is the album before “Once” that have Tarja fronting. Second it is a very good milestone in Nightwish artistic direction in which Tuomas became more confident and focused.

[Metal/Gothic] The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (20th Anniversary Review)

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Gathering fourth album “Nighttime Birds”. In my opinion this is the last best album from the album, right before they achieved their  transition into some more acoustic and trip-hop album. It has the vibes and the heaviness of “Mandylion” and yet also explored some new sounds. It is a 9-song album lasting 49 minutes.
If I had to go to a desert album and have to choose three albums of the band, this one will make it into the top 3 with “Always” and “Mandylion” (I guess by now you get the point that I am obsessed with the latter, no?)
We get introduced into it with “On Most Surfaces” directly a continuation of “Mandylion” with a lot of similarities with “Sand and Mercury”, in other words some musical delight. “Confusion” downplays the heaviness but still keep on the melodics we got accustomed to  in their previous album, allowing us to enjoy Anneke’s voice, having this kind of melancholic tone. Thats one of my favorite that’s acting as a tag when someone ask me “how The Gathering sounds like?”.
“The May Song” is already investing more into a more progressive sound, more trip-hop sounds clearly cueing us on how the band was envisioning themselves with their next albums. “The Earth Is My Witness” brings us the “Mandylion” feels, with Anneke’s lyrics and vocals making a prime example of the melodic style of this album: a transition from gothic metal into something more progressive. Another favorite.
“New Moon, Different Days” gives this chilling and relaxing feels, slowly swung by Anneke. Almost feels like a lullaby for a metalhead. “Third Chance” brings on the guitars and the gothic metal sounds, giving this extra kick, whereas “Kevin’s Telescope” brings us as a farewell note from “Mandylion” by its melodics and musical arrangement. “Nighttime Birds” indeed marks the blends of the past (“Mandylion”) and the upcoming future (“If Then Else”) artistic direction of the band, giving this surrealistic track, like a seal on a whole epoch.
Finally, the last title of the album “Shrink” a mostly acoustic (piano solo) with Anneke’s solo is just an amazing song to listen and enjoy. This was a time in which very few female voices were heard on the metal scene and really before the scene got populated by Tarja, Cristina and Sharon. I still remember this song, as it was part of the playlist of their gig in town, somewhere in 2003. Anneke performed it live with the lead singer of Pale Forest (the band that provided the opening act).
This album is in my opinion the epitaph of the band. This is where I felt the most comfortable with the band before moving away to other sounds. Other albums came such as “If Then Else”, “Souvenirs”, “How To Measure A Planet” but none of them had this attraction that I had with the previous ones. By then, the band sailed away into other shores.
If you are not a metalhead by heart and want to get introduced to the band, pick this one. It is a great primer and I would definitely recommend to swim upstream and explore their gothic/doom roots.

[Metal] Lacuna Coil – You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You (Official Video)

You have to stop what you are doing right now and watch this official video of Lacuna Coil “You Love Me ‘Cause I Hate You” from their album “Delirium”. It’s an amazing videoclip formatted as a short giallo.


Rarely a videoclip from a metal band looked so sleek and carefully crafted, with an amazing photography (it feels like straight from an Dario Argento movieset), a good acting from the band members and an interesting story plot to follow.

 

[Metal/Powermetal] Seven Kingdoms – Decennium (90%)

Getting my hand on Seven Kingdoms latest album “Decennium” was kind of the wanderlust on betting on a band you don’t know much about and give a small helping hand with crowdfunding. The album was teasing me for the last few months (to be honest since January) and what I can tell it worth all that wait.
Seven Kingdoms is a FF Power Metal band from Florida, USA. Little I knew that once I pressed the “play” button on my iPod Classic that it would take me into a full-speed roller coaster through 14 tracks and lasting 72 minutes.
It is fast-paced, heavy riffs, fully pumped on energy making you to want to ride over a battle cat (armed with eye-lasers of course) and slash some demons and dragons with a legendary Bat’leth. But lets get back to the essential and go through the album.
It is a 72 minutes of damn good of power metal fueled by lyrics heavily inspired by heroic fantasy.
It starts with “Stargazer”, an engaging power metal melodics, transitioning into “Undying” (one of my favorite) and “In The Walls” into a perfect suite, giving little space to breath into your legendary battle. “The Tale Of Deathface Ginny” brings into  some of the best time of heavy metal from the 80s with its storytelling. “Castles in the Snow” continues into the heroic-fantasy, a good one but kind of feel a bit setback. Then comes one of the piece de resistance. “Kingslayer”, bringing the cannons of Navaronne, the Stalin’s Organ. That stuff that makes you get up from your chair, take a sword and rush to the battle.

You think you are done? Wait the call for the battle is still going one with “The Faceless Hero”. Things starts slowly to settle down with “Never-ending” bringing on some good heavy metal vibe but kind of setting the fervor on the back burner, just for this song.  “Hollow” brings you back in the heart of action and finishes with “Awakened from Nothing”, slowing on the pace but keeping on the powerful melodic ballads.

The rest of the album provides an alternative version of “In The Walls” that I found have this small extra-punch and “Undying” bringing you an extra-dose of adrenaline rush. Finally, we have  a remaster of “The Bloody Meadow” and “Stormborn”. I don’t know these titles as they maybe from previous releases but enough to make me dig in deeper into the troll cave and discover the previous albums.

As they are releasing the album, so are they also starting their US tour, if you have a chance to, check them out, they surely blow on stage.
My final word? Buy this album! This is my album of the month without hesitation. Take your cloak and run get this album.