[Metal/Symphonic] Midnight Sorrow – Pick A Tale (80%)

After two long years of waiting, Midnight Sorrow (Strasbourg, France) finally released their first full length album. This French symphonic metal band fronted by Maureen had a good feedback on their first EP “At First”. Maureen voice is very interesting, because she is one of the few French metal singer that can put high notes without pushing, reaching the same tones than Tarja and Sharon.
It is a 13-track album, lasting about 63 minutes and including three remastered songs from their original EP. I will discuss more about them later.
We get into the album with “Prelude of the Night”, giving this kind of mysterious feeling, almost felt like watching the opening sequence of Dario’s Argento “Suspiria”.  The album quickly and seamlessly transition into “Glorious”, a soft introduction to the band. Its good, it is not overproduced but it is also maybe lacking a bit of a “bang” that would like when you listen a first song of an album. The third track, “Between Sun & Moon”, is a remastered version of their EP. I like it, it sounds better but in the same time not overproduced or arranged.

They keep it simple, refined but simple, with a touch of Celtic flute. “Lost for Eternity” brings on the heavier tones, surfing even into some power metal tunes.

“Black Snow” was okay but if I compare to other songs, I found it kind of weak. “Number 6” brings on the power melodics, showing the potential the band and Maureen, really make me to get out my chair and headband with my (almost) bald head :p.
We then continue with three “remixes” from songs taken from their EP, with “Crystal Drops”, “Waterfall” and “At First”. All three well arranged and really enjoyable to listen again with the new tone. “The Place” was nice to listen, mixing between the symphonic and the power melodic tones. “Phaze” is the acoustic metal ballad of the album, making you prompt to take out your lighter and slowly swing your arm. It is a very nice track. “Treasure of Your Life”, the 12th track of the album is also the longest totaling almost 12 minutes made of several acts, blending elements of symphonic and power metal. With catchy tunes and drums that make it engaging, this is my favorite of the whole album. Finally, the last track “A Last Ceremony” closes the album. It is fine, reserved but kind of left hungry.

Overall, Midnight Sorrow first album worth the discovery. In times where symphonic metal bands are fighting each others via “faster, louder and fluffier” arrangements, “Pick A Tale” comes as an elegant and delicate piece of symphonic metal album that is enjoyable without saturating your ears.
The major criticism is probably the album may have a certain bland taste, I was expecting something a bit more spicy, a bit more “piquante”, you know something to bang on.
If you have to pick an album this month and want to get out settled paths, give a try to the band.

[Metal/Gothic Metal] Within Temptation – Enter (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary release of the first album of the Dutch Gothic/Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation.
What I can tell is after all these years, this remains my most favorite album by the band. Why?
Probably this perfect blend of doom, gothic with a pinch of symphonic metal and of course Sharon Den Adel alias “Angel Voice”.  It may also because it was the heaviest album they had in their whole discography. The album is an 8-track album totaling 46 minutes.
It starts with “Restless”, a minimal but nicely starter allowing to appreciate Sharon’s voice. A classic of all WT song. The second track, “Enter”, brings on the heavy guitars, Robert Westerholt growls and Martijn Westerholt (Delain) on the keyboards. This gives this magic formula that makes “Enter” such a good song, giving this magical and gothic feel. The third track continues in distilling this magic “Pearls of Light” with Sharon taking the lead with the sounds of the harp. Listening to this song brings this soothing relief, followed by the lead guitars smashing the heavy tones into it and giving this bipolar tunes between the heavy from the guitars and the lightness of the keyboard.
“Deep Within”, the fourth track is in the continuation of the tone of the whole album. Nice but I always felt it was the weakest of all songs, considering the whole album standing strong like a rock. “Gatekeeper”, the fifth track of the album, is my favorite of all. Heavily gothic and influenced by elements of doom metal, it is dark and gloomy with a crescendo in the instrumentation slowly adding the heaviness and boldness. I lost my voice each time I try to keep on Sharon’s frequency notes.
“Grace” is another good song (Nº6 song), especially the second half of it as Sharon takes on the main part. It is also reflecting the heavy influence of Kate Bush on Sharon singing style, using the same song dynamics than the latter used to. “Blooded” is the instrumental track of the album, a finely arranged piece that really marked the band with their signature. “Candles”, the last track, is another jewel from the album by keeping the same flow of “Gatekeeper”. It is so beautiful to listen, with its melancholic tones and Sharon soothing voice all over, only to get shaken by the heavy guitars and Robert’s growl.
If I had to go to exile with only one album from my favorite bands, this is the album I would take from Within Temptation without an hesitation. This is where I found they had their best blend and musical style before they sailed into other directions that were not following my ears.
My only wish is as we mark the 20th anniversary of that release is that the band decide to rediscover this rich and engaging style that made them at the frontier of the symphonic metal scene.

[Symphonic Metal] Within Temptation – The Heart of Everything 10th Anniversary

Today marks the 10th release of “The Heart Of Everything”, the fourth album from the Dutch Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation. It is a 11-track album (with two extra tracks in the North American version) totaling over a bit more than 57 mins.
This album has a special place in my heart because it marks a turning point in the band discography by several aspects.
First, I found that Sharon Den Adel, aka “Angel Voice”, reached her full potential in her vocals making it a delight to listen to her soprano voice. That settles for me Sharon with one of the most gracious voice in female-fronted metal bands. Second, the band at this point have successfully transitioned into full symphonic metal and have done a remarkable sound engineering work with the orchestral arrangements and the melodics, making always a 100% hit in my cerebral hedonistic center. In other words, it gives me an acoustic orgasm, each time i hear this album. Third, the lyrics of several tracks are just resonating so well with the tumultuous of this century and still resonate very well ten years after its release.

Let’s go through the album quickly through the track. First, we get introduced to it with “The Howling”, setting up the symphonic gunnery upfront, setting the tone for the album with a well-designed combination between the gracious symphonic elements and the guitar bass shredding.

“What Have You Done Now”, the second track is in my opinion is a weak element but plays straight into the Evanescence playlist and can be considered as a gateway vector for an audience not accustomed to listening metal bands. “Frozen” is a beautiful song and surprisingly would have been a perfect match for the movie “Frozen”, giving it a much darker tone.
“Our Solemn Hour” is one my favorite, opening on with a radio announcement of Wilson Churchill on the declaration of war, decrying the folly and insanity of human mind to war and destruction. “The Heart of Everything”, “Hand of Sorrow” and “The Cross” continues on the magic formula giving us a very strong middle section in the album.
The album then enters into less enjoying tracks (in my opinion) such as “Final Destination”,  “All I Need”. Then came the final act of this serendipitous album with two major favorites: “Stand My Ground”, “The Truth Beneath The Rose” and “Forgiven” bringing on the magic formula once again.

However if I have to pick one song that would be “The Truth Beneath The Rose” nicely orchestrated and dynamic, that is very engaging. The lyrics are straight into fighting the religious zealotry and extremism, calling on rejecting those who praise on killing in the name of the religion as a key to Heaven.

In my personal discography, this is the pinnacle album in Within Temptation’s discography (excluding the Black Symphony that is the live orchestral performance of their discography up to this album). After this album, the band decided to engage into softer stance and into something more accessible for the lay audience. Despite I don’t find the same appeal in their following releases, the band still keep a special place in my heart by being in the front of the gothic/symphonic metal first wave, with the unique voice of Sharon Den Adel.

[Metal] A retrospective look to 2016 through my music library

2016 is wrapping up, with it a lot of moves in the metal scene. The classic cycle of life applied again to the metal scene: some bands were born, some bands artistically died but also some drama with the departure of front singers through a laconic note. What I can say that in my eyes, 2016 was a good year for music, a fair amount of good albums and  also avoided a couple of bad releases. Instead of going through a Top 10, I have decided to sort them by new artists, releases, anniversary albums and finally the albums that I avoided like plague this year.

1) The new kids in the block of 2016:
Arcadia (FRA): A new French FF symphonic metal band from my home region. I have reviewed their EP back in September.
https://youtu.be/PF3GO3DRaFk

Exalt the Throne (USA): That was the biggest surprise of 2016, as they were opening for Epica during their gig in Dallas last February. A great blend of soprano with engaging melodic death melodics. I reviewed their album “Long Live The King” back in June.
https://youtu.be/inQ1wuS5ZEs

Mercy Isle (USA): Who said that the USA was lacking FF metal bands? Mercy Isle dispel this misconception, offering a diverse and engaging first album “Undying Fire”. I reviewed this album back in November.
https://youtu.be/DSbGIf5kY4M

Midnight Eternal (USA): What would happen if symphonic metal and power metal have a offspring, with a drop of “manga” culture in it? Well it gives you Midnight Eternal and a very nice first album named “Midnight Eternal”. I reviewed this album back in November and you can check their sound here.
https://youtu.be/6zFRSctjyks

Rhenium (UK): Bands made by one person are rare, gothic metal bands made by a single person are even more these kind of rare birds. Yet that did not discovered Christina Rhenium to take the plunge and launch her first EP “Rise Above the Sea”. That gives some promising gothic metal ahead.
https://youtu.be/ZRSoN4F4A-Y

Santa Marta (USA): Technically, it is not a new band. But it is a new band formed by Mary Zimmer (ex-Luna Mortis (Ottoman Empire)/ex-White Empress). Mary brings on the primal rage, the nihilism and the sorrow that was her trademark in the previous band. Eager to see the rest coming.
https://youtu.be/YQbngOsvrHo

Thy Shade (USA): Let’s be honest, Symphonic is slowly and surely becoming a saturated genre, raising the bar higher and higher. Thy Shade is unique in her style, by taking a neoclassical approach to their style giving this majestic opera-style with guitar riffs. It got the album of the month in November and you can check the review.
https://youtu.be/3DMim1NLXUo

2) Bands that performed in town:
I have to be honest leaving in the Midwest means driving a good 2 to 5.5 hours for attending a metal concert. This was the case when I attended Epica, Nightwish and Ghost live performances. But sometimes, some small bands stop here and animate Yellow City with some good metal stuff. Two bands that caught my attention during their stop.

Scarlet Canary (CO): A small but nice rock/metal band fronted by Hannah, singing some covers and some of their songs. Bringing the fun in town, with a good dose of shot!
https://youtu.be/BSdQ97cWqqc

Singularity (AZ): They were part of a summer tour named “Make America Shred Again”, that was certainly the best band of the tour, playing some nice technical death metal and having a rad astrophysic tee 🙂


3) Bands that I discovered this year:
These are bands that have been hanging for a while but get introduced to either through some meta-projects or simply by being exposed to their material.

Ahab (GER): 2016 was certainly the year i digged into doom. But not all doom are equal, I am really in stuff that plays on the melodics. Among the band I have discovered, Ahab is just simply impressive. Melancholic and depressive. One of those albums you want to listen when life threw you lemon in a rainy and cold day, just grab them, slice them and squeeze one in your Jaegermeister to bring on the sufferance.
https://youtu.be/eK3ZlrH2ryY

Evig Natt (NOR): Evig Natt has been hanging for a while and I am still wonder how did I miss them. They are simply awesome gothic/doom metal bands that through Kirstin can percolate emotions. Their last album “Evig Natt” is a remarkable album. Want to bet how awesome they are? Listen to “Wildfire”
https://youtu.be/PfqEmgSCJtw

Gojira (FRA): You could not miss Gojira this year with their latest album “Magma”. A very nice and refined progressive death metal album, very nicely crafted that brings some variety in my library. Check them out.
https://youtu.be/iVvXB-Vwnco

Kalidia (ITA):  When I think Italy and metal, I have two bands that comes in my mind: Lacuna Coil and Rhapsody of Fire. This year, I added another band to my list: Kalidia. Fronted by Nicoletta Rossellini, they are delivering with their first album “Lies Device” delivering some nice melodics. Just check them out, you will not regret it.

My Dying Bride (UK):  My Dying Bride is surely known from any gothic metal enthusiasts, especially if you are familiar with Anathema and Paradise Lost. For some reasons that I am trying to understand, I never got proper introduced to this band until this year, although I have been listening to Anathema in their early years. I liked the early years of Anathema but then I dropped the ball as they went into a more alternative rock. In opposite, My Dying Bride maintained their gothic and doom metal influence, giving this nice melodics.
https://youtu.be/4e_c3XAPoUI

Nawather (TUN): Nawather is a Tunisian metal band that really marked my mind earlier this year with the release of their album “Wasted Years” by nicely blending their MENA  origins through the addition of the Qanun (this horizontal type of guitar played with a metallic finger tip) with metal and also by singing in Arabic.

Vivaldi Metal Project (INT): Vivaldi Metal Project was a neoclassical metal project that involved several metal artists in re-creating the Vivaldi “Four Seasons”albums that nicely blended the classical composition with a good kick of metal in it. I reviewed this album earlier this year
https://youtu.be/MRwRPYWK8XU

3) Albums that filled my disc library 

There are been several good albums that came out this year from established bands this year. I will not talk much about since they have been extensively reviewed in my blog and you go through.

Epica – The Holographic Principle: If I am correct, the best-rated album of the year. That was a damn good album, with Mark Jansen investing heavily in it making another masterpiece of my Epica library. So many good songs that I will be redundant to review them again. “Universal Death Squad” being one my favorite and you can listen to it below to assess by yourself the epic in Epica.
https://youtu.be/P_Ys_W7ySkM

Lacuna Coil – Delirium: It was certainly the best surprise of this year (with Metallica) as it was a long time since Lacuna Coil impressed me with an album (the last one that I found still enjoyable was Karmacode released…..in 2006). “House of Shame” is certainly the best track of the album, with an insane Andrea and a serendipidic Cristina, giving you this rollercoaster between euphoria and complete depression.
https://youtu.be/1o1MoG-cz9Q

Metallica – Hardwired….to Self-Destruct: 2016 was certainly the big return of Metallica after 8 years of hiatus in the production of their new album. A lot of expectations on this one as the band was split between two choices: renewing with the old fan base (thrash) or keeping on exploring new horizons (alternative metal) more accessible to the lay audience? Metallica with this album a compromise to conciliate the two camps. It was a good album, some great songs, some okay songs. The album is originally split on 2CDs, I felt it was a bit too much and could have fit in 1 CDs if the songs were kept below 5 mins each (you had the feeling that some songs were just stretched to fit over 5 mins). You can check my review on that one. One of my favorite? “Spit Out The Bone”, damn good ol’ thrash Metallica.
https://youtu.be/m46Z0-HXySo

The Agonist –  Five: Second album with Vicky Psarakis, replacing Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy). Good, solid album that reinforce Vicky’s credentials to sing cleans and growls,in the direct continuation of Eye of Providence.

4) Albums that celebrated their anniversary

2016 has been a good year to mark milestones on several bands in my disc library.

10th Anniversary: Delain – Lucidity (the best album in my opinion)

20th Anniversary: Arch Enemy – Black Earth (the first album by Michael Amott following his departure from Carcass); Anathema – Eternity (a pivotal album in their discography); Therion – Theli (the album that threw the framework for Symphonic Metal).

30th Anniversary: Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (the first album that set up the basis for Doom Metal); Metallica – Master of Puppets (the Metallica masterpiece by its transition from thrash into the powerful guitar solo of Kirk Hammett); Slayer – Reign In Blood (pushing the limits of speed metal and also one of the release that shook the suburban moms).

5) The good, the bad and the ugly: albums that were insipid and terrible
2016 have also seen some of the most terrible releases, insipid or completely senseless. Sirenia has certainly make the major mistake to dump Ailyn as a broken doll. Karma is a bitch and honestly “Dim Days of Dolor” sounds terribly bad.
Another disappointing album was from Sonata Arctica. It was been a while since the band produced a decent album and “The Ninth Hour” is certainly not the one that will bring back the former glory. Too bad.

[Metal/Symphonic] Dark Sarah – The Puzzle (80%)

2016 is ending, so does my last review for this year. To close this (not so great) year, I decided to give a review on “The Puzzle”, the second album from Heidi Parviainen solo project “Dark Sarah”.
Dark Sarah proved last year her ability to handle a successful solo career with “Behind the black Veil”, a well-designed symphonic metal album that has this strong Tim Burton influence by its dark tale and had also this musical touch remembering some of the best composition by Danny Elfman. How does her second album “The Puzzle” stands?
It stands pretty good, I would say it is more colorful and more like a fairy tale.
It is a 10-track album, totaling about 51 minutes.
It starts with  “Breath”, a 2-minutes introduction that gives this feel of adventure and sailing on new horizons. “Island In the Mist” brings on the heaviness and like its title means, follows on the sailing of “Breath”. Nice track but nothing fancy.
Then came “Little Men” that really scared me when Dark Sarah published it because it is colorful, even a bit psychedelic. But I guess it is part of the storytelling of the album. Yet it remains my least favorite track of the album. See and judge by yourself.

The album continues with “Ash Grove” a bit repetitive but get quickly eclipsed by “For The Birds” and “Deep and Deeper” giving this lightness and fairy-tale feeling to the album. “Dance With The Dragon” brings up the charm that was in Beyond the Black Veil, giving this darker and more melodramatic tone. The best track in my opinion of the album.

“Cliffhanger” is also a favorite, by this minimalism giving us to fully appreciate Heidi’s voice. The album ends up with two very nice songs. “Aquarium” featuring Charlotte Wessels (Delain) has the footprint of Delain infused in it giving this fast-paced and poppy sound giving a good kick in the album.

In contrast, “Rain” is much more calm, a very enjoyable ballad featuring Manuela Kraller (ex-Haggard, ex-Xandria). Overall, it is a good album, proving the ability of Heidi to hold on as a solo project. In my opinion, I preferred “Behind the Black Veil” by its much darker and more orchestral tone.

[Symphonic Metal] Midnight Eternal – Midnight Eternal

 

Another day, another metal album review. What I like about the metal genre is the versatility of styles you can find. You can find almost any flavors you are interested blended with metal.
Looking for epic stories? Heavy Metal. Want some rage of punk with a more constructed fashion? Thrash and Death Metal. Want classical music with some bass? Symphonic and Neoclassic Metal. More into vikings and Nordic mythology? Folk Metal!
Then you have some interesting bands that blur the taxonomy by their style and their interest. If you have a fond for video games and anime, you surely know Dragonforce (and the insane guitar riff speed from Hermann Li). Now imagine that Dragonforce (Power Melodic Metal) and Nightwish (Symphonic Metal) have a natural child: something that blends the fast-pace and video games lore of the former with the symphonic element of the later. Midnight Eternal maybe this one of this natural child, based on the continuous listening of their first album “Midnight Eternal”, a 12-songs album lasting 49 minutes.

3540411006_photo

Midnight Eternal is a symphonic metal band from New York City, New York fronted by Raine Hilai. The album is a blending of both symphonic and melodic metal songs, alternating between each titles. If you like power melodic metal you will like it, ditto if you like symphonic metal.
Things starts pretty conventionally for a symphonic metal band with “‘Till The Bitter End”. Nice tunes but nothing much different from other symphonic bands. However, things quickly take a different turn with “Repentance” kicking in the power melodics into, making a very engaging song. The shit gets real and becomes very interesting. It has these kind of anime and video games tunes that is really is a plus and makes it unique, I have yet to find another symphonic metal bands playing in this chord.
The third title of the album is “Signs of Fire”. I will not talk much about it since there is a video for it, but this one is more surfing in the symphonic style.

The rest of the album alternate between symphonic and power melodic metal, like a rollercoaster.  “Shadow Falls”, “Believe In Forever”, “Midnight Eternal”, “Like an Eternity” brings in the power melodics, whereas “The Lantern”, “When Love and Faith Collide”, “Pilgrim and The Last Voyage” and “First Time Thrill” brings the symphonic elements.
Interestingly “Silence” and “First Time Thrill” gives me this feeling of video games soundtrack, whereas the overall rhythmics of the album reminds me a lot of opening and ending credits of anime from the 80’s and 90’s, something I grew familiarized with some J-Rock bands like Make-Up (Saint Seiya) or Crystal King (Hokuto No Ken). In my knowledge there are two metal bands that are infused with such elements, one that I hate and one that I like: Baby-Metal and Dragonforce.
The band was recently touring with Queensryche and Armored Saint and unfortunately due to health reason I could not attend their concert in town. The consolation prize being for me their album. If you like video games, anime and metal give them a try. You will like it.

[Melodic Death Metal] The Ottoman Empire – Way of the Blade (10th anniversary)

2016 is entering its last segment and before it ends I want to be sure that I give a thumbs up to any albums of my collection that marks a anniversary year. Among of them is a precious jewel that is not well known, from a band named The Ottoman Empire (aka Luna Mortis) with a certain Mary Zimmer. If there is a female metal front singer that masters both the growls and the clean in the US metal scene, it is surely Mary.
What this album has a special place? Well for different reasons. First, it is a melodic death metal band and I like the complexity of guitar riffs coupled with the brutality of fast drums and bass shredding. The second reason is probably the geography shared between me and the band. The band is originated from Madison, Wisconsin. Two bands as I know are Badgers at heart: Garbage (alternative rock that got some success in the mid-1990s) and The Ottoman Empire. I lived few years in Madison as part of my scientific training and Madison still kept a special place in my heart for different reasons. If you survive its winter, then you truly enjoy the city.
So this is their seminal album “Way of The Blade” released on October 7, 2006. It is made of 10 songs lasting about 50 minutes. Most songs last a good 4 to 6 minutes, with “The Mercenary” lasting a 12 minute.
The album starts with “Anemic World” that quickly set the tone. An amazing opening guitar riff sequence, followed by fast-pace drumbeats and the entrance of Mary bringing her magic touch, alternating between growls and clean. All well played that gives on this frenzy and yet very elaborated rhythmic. My favorite.
It is followed by “Demon Twin”, keeping on the signature and by “The Ottoman Empire”. I like the “Ottoman Empire” by its slower and bit more languish pace allowing to enjoy the musical arrangement and the lyrics. This kind of quiet interlude is only distracting from the next track “Wrathshot” that brings on back the fast pace and Mary all in her rage and fury (that will be her signature with “The White Empress”). Washing away is “One If by Sea” that is almost melodic and melancholic ballad, only to shake you up with rage and furor by intermittent. “Strike” is another typical song of the album marking the Ottoman Empire musical style through this album and their two other album.
“The Mercenary” is my second favorite, Mary bringing her melancholic voice and the great guitar arrangement, to only break it down brutally. Another great song. “Vendetta”, the 8th track, brings on the rage and the furor back from “Anemic World” and “Wrathshot”. The album almost conclude by an “Interlude”, a guitar solo.If you like the sound of an electrical guitar simple tones, it is a great way to exit from the tumult of the album. Finally, the last track “Way of The Blade” concludes the album, surfing on the same musical frame than “Strike”.
It is interesting to retrospectively rediscover this album, as I got introduced to Mary with “The White Empress” almost two years ago. You can appreciate that her talent was already present from the very first album and only refined, crafted and mastered it. If you like Mary vocal performance from her recent work in Santa Marta, you should definitely get your hands on this album. A must-have.