[Metal/Melodic Death] Arch Enemy – Will to Power (90%)

Finally, after a week in waiting….got my Arch Enemy pre-order by mail including a tee and a digital version of the album (including a poster and three stickers, yikes!).
So how does Arch Enemy’s latest album hold? How does Jeff Loomis brings in the band? Interesting to do this review a week ahead on the 10th anniversary of their album “Rise of The Tyrant”.
Well you have the choice: the short or the long comment. The short one? A damn good AE album! The long one? Gonna have to read it through. This is an album made of 13 tracks totaling 54 minutes.
We got introduced by “Set Flame To The Night”, an instrumental opener that for AE fans reminds us the intro of “Khaos Legion” album. “The Race” brings on the big guns and set the tone of the album: its gonna loud, fast and furious. You know something from the good old times when Angie was fronting, that stuff that raises your adrenaline serum levels and gives you to jump into a mosh.
“Blood In The Water” slows down a bit, bringing the classical Michael Amott melodics riffs backed by Jeff Loomis, some classic AE style as I love it :). The “World Is Yours” marks this blend of the old and the new (brought with “War Eternal”). The tunes are catchy, certainly a great one as flagship song for promotion but I am not much impressed. That can be a great primer to the band if you have not listened to the band before. Listen by yourself and judge:

The fifth track, “The Eagle Flies Alone” is slower in pace but it is like the melodic power ballad with Michael and Jeff bringing on the riffs. Thats what I like about AE, powerful melodic riffs with fast-paced brutality. AFE!

“Reason To Believe” is the one posing as a power ballad, imagine stretching the Michael’s interlude into half a song with Alissa bringing on her experience on clean voices from the Agonist on that one, distilled inside this song. Turn on your lighters on that one. Oh yeah!
The seventh track “Murder Scene” brings back the brutal AE, good stuff but not too impressive. That compared to the eight track, “First Day In Hell”, starting like “We Are A Goodless Entity” only to bring it the heavy, hammering tough lyrics.
“Saturnine”, the the 9th track is this very nice instrumental interlude that Michael used to serve to each album. Short but sweet gothic one. “Dreams of Retribution” starts with Michael melodics a la Yngwie Malmsteen only to bring us the power melodic riffs surfing on some tunes we grew accustomed in “War Eternal”. Damn good track! “My Shadow And I” is nice but yeah not really talking to me much. “A Fight I Must Win” is a nice one to listen, straight outta AE playbook. The last song is “City Baby Attacked By Rats” is a very nice cover of the original punk song from GBH. I am not into punk music, but the cover is pretty rad. The original below.

So here we are at the end of the album. What can I say? I got introduced to AE via “War Eternal” and went into their discography retrospectively. Paradoxically, listening to “War Eternal” sounded one of the weakest link of their album. But, there is a big but here. I consider “War Eternal” as a transition and may explain this weakness. “Will To Power” brings the good old AE, Alissa settled into the continuation of Angie but in the same type pushing the band to foray into new avenues like “Reason to Believe”, there is also this idea of reaching out by Michael, maybe as his experience in pushing his Spiritual Beggars project, with the cover of “City Baby…”.
Arch Enemy brings on the big guns, followed by the engaging melodic riffs, bringing you in this state of frenzy prime for some memorable moments in the mosh! Thats some AFE album you handle here!

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[Metal/Symphonic Metal] Epica – The Solace System (EP)

September is coming. Back to school! Back to album reviews! A lot of albums are pointing their nose for this month: Paradise Lost, Arch Enemy…..
Epica just released their 6-track EP “The Solace System”, coinciding with the release of “The Holographic Principle” a year ago. As usual, Mark Jansen master craft almost every single Epica album, spoiling us like we would get spoiled on a Rembrandt painting.
The EP starts with “The Solace System”, straight outta of their previous album. Not much blabbering, just watch their official video:

We keep on the pace with “Fight Your Demons”, a track that feel so “The Holographic Principle” that for some reasons did not make the cut in the final iteration of the album. The third track “Architect Of Light”, in my opinion brings on the good old “The Quantum Enigma” in mind. The fourth track, “Wheel of Destiny” brings back on the nervous and fast-paced tunes. “Immortal Melancholy” comes in abruptly by its much more softening vibes. Purely acoustic, it is also worth to read the story behind this song (http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/epica-releases-video-for-immortal-melancholy/). Listen to it here below:

Finally, “Decoded Poetry” is the last track of the EP. Nice but not really my favorite. If you really liked “The Holographic Principle”, you should get this EP it is a kind of a nice addition to it. I wish however that such songs were included de facto in their previous album, in place of their acoustic cover that was in iTunes.

[Music/Gothic Metal] Seven Spires – Solveig (80%)

Fresh from the press, a band that came out of nowhere in my disc library: Seven Spires, a FFM band from Boston, Massachusetts. Their first album “Solveig” was released this Friday and of course it ends up being reviewed by me. I have been listening several times, interrupted by the livestream of “Wacken Open Air 2017” (thats very nice from the organizers to have a livestream of the main line-up).
This is a 15-track album, lasting 75 minutes. iTunes classified it as death metal/black metal and fairly I disagree with it. Because this album does not fit in one category. It is definitely metal but explores different facets with some gothic, some symphonic, some even sounding like some black symphonic a la “Dimmu Borgir”. So yes, it is a very schizophrenic album but it also a kind of a good showcase for Adrienne Cowan, allowing her to hear her vocal range from clean to growls.
We get into “The Siren” an introduction that really sounds like a Danny Elfman track, you know something like straight from a gothic ambience of a “Nightmare Before Christmas”. It seamlessly brings to “Encounter” blending this Elfman tunes with heavy riffs. Good stuff, really gives you a good grip on the ride. Some fresh air, it has a been a while we did not hear a good gothic metal band and Seven Spires is kind of baiting with that appeal. Then we move to “The Siren (Reprise)” that rather sounds like a revisited opening sequence for “Encounter”. I found it odd to have right in the third track, I would have put as a bonus track. The fourth “Cabaret of Dreams”, sounds a bit more rock giving this kind of abruptness in the ride. Certainly not my favorite. “Choices” sets the train back on its track, brining on some symphonic elements with a heavier tone. A very engaging song that should have been in my opinion right after “Encounter”. “Closure” continues into this very enjoying emotional riding experience, with a slower tone supported by orchestral arrangements and maybe an annoying presence of the bass guitar. Thats one thing I noted, the presence of the bass was too much accentuated in this album. I know the bass player has bad rep but the bass is part of the background unless you are Iron Maiden or Lemmy Kilmister. “100 days” is this nice melodic ballad giving a nice interlude in the album, right in the middle of the album. “Stay” brings us a power melodic tone that is very engaging, a good one. “The Paradox” brings us for the first time Adrienne on the growls into this track that brings on the excitement of a symphonic black metal straight out of a good “Dimmu Borgir” album. You know this kind of track that put your auditive and limbic cortices into fritz, with this rush of dopamine that wants to mosh into your living room by this brutal riffs blended with awesome melodics. Oh yeah! Thats my favorite! This is kind of a title that tells you this band with the right direction that breaks some charts. “Serenity” is falling into more conventional genres, even sounding like metal core. “Depths” brings us back to calmer tracks, a nice one, something similar to the chords of Alissa or Vicky style encountered in “The Agonist”. “Distant Lights” brings on the melodic power metal. Nice but nothing that impressed me. “Burn”, brings on back this “Dimmu Borgir” feels with a good spoon of power metal, sending again into a rollercoaster ride from Hell.  “Ashes” brings on this what I call “anime metal”. Dont ask me why, but this is the kind of metal that would match very well with a opening sequence of an anime. Nice! “Reflections” brings back the orchestral sounding like a ending sequence.
The overall album is good, pretty good. But it kind of misses the overall excitement that some other albums have sparked in the previous months. Maybe it is this mix of different styles and some questionable tracks. Sometimes, lesser is better.
However, this album is a great showcase of Adrienne’s vocal range and ability to sing both in clean and growls. The band also have shown its comfort in playing in different styles with ease. But lets be honest, Seven Spires enters a market highly competitive, especially if they think to take the Symphonic metal direction. Right now, melodic death and power metal are very good niches for entering FFMs. Really, their black symphonic metal composition of “The Paradox” and “Burn” really felt taking a rollercoaster from Hell, giving the thrills and chills of an adrenaline rush only to kick in the endorphins at the end of the ride, sending you in this musical euphoria.

[Metal/Melodic Death] Exalt The Throne Last Show @ Dallas, TX (O’Rileys Bar – 07/29/2017)

We are born, we live and we die. Some people call it the circle of life. I don’t, i prefer the allusion of the thread of life metaphorized by the Ancient Greek through as the Moirai (or Fates) Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. We exist as a thread with our beginning and our end. We cease to exist with the continuum but we remains as part of the fabric (history).
Same applies for our intellectual endeavors, scientific and artistic alike.
I have seen bands being born bringing the joy and the excitement with their innocence and novelty. I have bands that have been following me through my life, becoming a sort of travel companions through my own journey. Sadly, I also have seen bands giving their last breath and close their eyes.
The announcement of a band going into hiatus or disbanding is always a sad news to hear because you know that you will not experience anymore that auditory and visual stimuli that made them listen and like their work, over and over.
One of the band that lately gave their final curtain, their “barroud d’honneur” was Exalt The Throne (Dallas, TX). I discovered the band very recently as their supported Epica second leg North American Tour following the release of “The Quantum Enigma”. It was love at first sight because of this very interesting blend of melodic death (with high-paced guitars of Charles, Tim and Kanyon and drums) with symphonic metal (clean female vocals performed by Courtney). It was neither the former nor the latter. It was its own blend that made them unique. When the band announced their final show a month ago, it was unexpected and a very sad moment to experience.
However, I decided to drive all the way to attend their final show and have a chance to collect a last souvenir from the band. The gig was short but oh boy you could feel how the band matured over the last 18 months, refining their performance.  The band played three of their songs present in their album “Long Live the King” (“Long Live The King”; “Perpetual Agony” and “Rampant Idolatry”) and one cover from Amon Amarth (I ain’t fan of folk metal but if someone can help identify the song, I would be more than happy to update this post).

If I have to find a silver lining into this final show, I would definitely cite the first law of thermodynamics that stipulates “energy is not created nor destroyed in a closed system, it is only transformed and transferred”. Same applies to the artistic energy. It is only transformed and transferred. I wish to the band members all the best and success in their endeavors and in their personal and professional careers. The king is dead! Long live the king!

 

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

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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”.

[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.