[Metal/Gothic] Beyond Forgiveness – The Great Wall (80%)

US metal bands playing Gothic Metal or Symphonic Metal are fairly rare birds, in contrast to Europe in which I found the market on the verge to precipitate. Beyond Forgiveness (Colorado Springs, CO) is one of these band that attracted me attention with their EP “The Ferryman’s Shore” and released a couple of weeks ago their first album “The Great Wall”.
How does it fare for a first album? It fares very well, navigating into the current of gothic, symphonic and folk metal keeping upmost of the musical composition “hand-crafted” (in others not over-relying on the keyboards and the studio processing). The result is very pleasant, maybe lacking some ambitious songs that hook you on, but a very nice escaping album that result me in calling the band some metal “troubadours” telling tales, fables and fiends straight out of the middle ages.
This is an album spanning over 10 tracks spanning over 58 minutes. The good point is all the stuff inside are all original materials, no rearrangement of existing materials from their previous EP and singles.
We get into it by the “End of Times”, their first track. It is setting the tones: some good classic metal tones, from the early days of gothic and symphonic metal. Personally, I like that especially considering that a lot of new comers playing the “symphonic” card abuse and overuse the keyboards and post-processing. We quickly transition into the second track and third tracks “The Great Wall” and “Sanctuary”. Good stuff so far. “Imprisoned” fare into more the symphonic metal than the previous track.
“Interlude”, an instrumental melodic ballad track gives the rest of the wandering bard, very nice interlude allowing to appreciate the guitar plays from Richard and Greg. This interlude track also announce a transition in the album, towards a more symphonic type of tone. Whereas “Moment of Truth” sounds more like the first half of the album, “Never Before” has this kind of old-style Nightwish style into it that is not bad. “Dream Before I sleep” is what I call an acoustic track with the voice of Talia accompanied mainly by a piano solo. Good. “I will fight Till The End” brings back the heaviness, just for this track as the last track “Every Breath” brings it more a folk feeling to the music.
Overall the album is quite good but I failed to find something to hook me on. Usually I have one or two “must-listen” song in an album but not this time. The album is very homogenous, maybe a bit too much. Something is still missing to make it a great, I don’t know something bold.
Nevertheless, it is a good starter, give a try and if you like your metal seasoned into some old school gothic and symphonic, give these guys a try, their album is available on Bandcamp and iTunes.

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[Metal/Symphonic] Nightwish – Angels Fall First (20th Anniversary)

Today marks the 20th of the release of the Finnish Symphonic Metal band Nightwish “Angels Fall First”. It is interesting to think that for some reason Tuomas does not consider it as their first album. Sure, it had a limited release, mostly in Finland, but I still consider as their first album.
It is interesting to listen back to this album in its retrospection. It is an 11-track album, lasting a 67 minutes. Coming back from that day, the first thing that comes into the attention is the use of keyboards elements wrapping the guitar riffs. But foremost, it is Tarja that brings on the attention. In my knowledge (and I maybe wrong on this one), this is the first instance of the presence of a trained of a professionally trained mezzo-soprano. Sure, femal-fronted metal bands were already here including in gothic metal bands like The Gathering.
It starts with “The Elvenpath” setting the tone, with excerpt quotes from the 1978 cartoon movie “The Lord of The Rings”. The second track, “Beauty & The Beast” somehow sounds like more Nightwish as we know it today, in which Tuomas keyboards lead the charge. A 10:22 track of some awesomeness in the blend of the instrumental symphonic elements with the guitars melodics played by Empuu. Thats it, the prototypical symphonic metal track that surely inspired many to also experiment the same in their studio. You can take anyone in a blind test, ask him or her the band behind the song and get “Nightwish” cited most of the time. I discovered this album much later than the release, but I can imagine the reaction folks had back then. “The Carpenter”, third track of the album is more in line with gothic metal elements, sounding more familiar. It is also the first track of the album featuring Tuomas in the vocals. I guess there is a reason Tuomas hates this album and also why he does not sing in the other albums :p. It’s okay but yeah kind of a let down from “Beauty & The Beast”. Just listen here.
https://youtu.be/Z4A5HwMOfW8

“Astral Romance” brings up the album to a higher level, that is another favorite in my playlist, some good old Nightwish here (I somehow prefer these kind of outdated tunes from their most recent albums). “Angel Fall First”, the fifth track, is somehow introducing us to the powerful keyboard ballads that Tuomas will produce later in his career. Again, Tarja’s voice is magnificent even in her beginning career. “Tutankhamen” brings the metal kick back in, making it very enjoyable. Again, I could serve it into a blind playlist and someone would swear this track is part of their later album. “Nymphomaniac Fantasia” is a nice one too, but maybe a bit “cheap” in my opinion. “Know Why The Nightingale” is another good one from the album.

“Lappi (Lappland)” is the only Finnish song but oh boy, I can guarantee a lots of headbangers rushed to a Suomi dictionary to understand the lyrics. But who cares? You don’t need to understand it to feel the beautiful in this song. Again, it hints us about the whiz inside Tuomas in handling the keyboards, much more at ease than singing. Some damn good old Nightwish!

The album concludes with “Return To The Sea” inspired by gothic elements and finally “Once Upon A Troubadour”, that is honestly not much my favorite. Blame it on Tuomas or not, I don’t know just not that fond.

[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.

[Metal] Headbang local! Some hometown local metal albums I bought

Following my attendance of the scientific meeting in Paris, I headed back to my hometown (Strasbourg, France) for 48 hours before heading back in the US, taking advantage of an upcoming weekend to see my family.
I also took advantage for some shopping (in addition of the traditional gift shopping and souvenirs) to support the local record store (l’okaz de l’uncle Tom), one of the oldest and most favorite record store in town (that was my first experience going downtown with my brother when I was 10-11, bought my first AC/DC and ZZtop tapes from them). One of the niceties of the store is their decent selection of metal albums but what I really liked was their shelf dedicated for the local and national metal scene.
If you are a stoner, you may have heard about “Bull Terrier” that is a local stoner doom band. Not really much into stoner so I skipped it. But I found some interesting nuggets in my disc hunting.
The first was “Darkest Hours” from Khaelys, a local symphonic metal band original fronted by Kenza Rafi. This was their first of their two albums, released in 2009. I really liked it, probably because of the gothic atmosphere and the very simple but enjoying sound, not drowned over keyboards and studio processing. Although Kenza’s vocals were not the level of a mezzo-soprano, her voice remembered me a lot of the one from Jamie-Lee Smit (Azylya). Sad to also discover that the band disbanded in 2015, according to their Facebook page.

pochette_darkest_hours

The second album I purchased was “Unleash Your Wrath” by Bloody Pride, a melodic death metal band. I am not a big fan of death metal, but I enjoy some good melodic death metal from time to time. Nice album, nice tunes. The band has apparently a Bandcamp site, you should give them a try if you are looking for good French melodic death bands.
a0691128043_10

Finally, the last album was rather a compilation playing on the word “Elsass” (the name of the region as cited in the local German dialect) morphed into “Hell’s Ass”. It’s an old compilation (2005), so I assume most of the bands have likely disbanded or went into a hiatus. It is a bit of a hodge-podge of different artists and different genres, a sort of melting pot that give you a glimpse on how the local scene was vibrant back then. I wonder how the scene stands right now.

 

[Music/Metal] Happy 4th of July!

As living in the US, it is for me now part of the tradition to celebrate the 4th of July. Happy 4th of July! Time for me to share my favorite US metal bands that are in my disc library. This is my very personal list, so please don’t comment asking why I have not have a certain band in my list. There are likely two reasons: either they went under my radar or they simply did not click with me in terms of my musical taste. I have been running this redundant post for two years now, so I will spare you the blabla and let you jump to the list :). Here we go, sorted by alphabetical list:
* Aria Flame (ex-Dendura, MI) – Gothic Metal: https://www.facebook.com/ariaflameworld/
* Beyond Forgiveness (CO) – Gothic/Folk Metal. If you are looking for a US minstrels and troubadours having the vibes of medieval folk metal (something like a Blind Guardian or Haggard), this is your inn to stop on your journey: https://www.facebook.com/beyondforgivenessmetal/
* Destiny Beard (MI, PA) – Gothic Metal:https://www.facebook.com/Destinibeardmusic/
* The Ditch & The Delta (UT) – Sludge Metal: https://www.facebook.com/theditchandthedeltaslc/
* Evanescence (AR) – Gothic Rock: https://www.facebook.com/Evanescence/
* Exalt The Throne (TX) – Melodic Death, they are having their final gig on July 29th, I gonna miss them :(. https://www.facebook.com/exaltthethroneofficial/
* Faytree (GA, OH) – Melodic Death: https://www.facebook.com/faytreeband/
* In This Moment (CA) – Metalcore. Check their old stuff (first three albums), that was some promising band that unfortunately lost their vibe for few years now: https://www.facebook.com/officialinthismoment/
* Kamelot (FL) – Power Melodic Metal. Come on, should I introduce Kamelot? https://www.facebook.com/kamelotofficial/
* Mercy Isle (MI) – Gothic Metal. A very interesting US-Dutch collaboration, making them a sort of spinning free electron: https://www.facebook.com/MercyIsle/
* Metallica (CA) – Thrash Metal. Because who does not have a Metallica album in their disc library. 35 years and still running! https://www.facebook.com/Metallica/
* Midnight Eternal (NY) – Power Melodic Metal. What if Dragonforce and Nightwish had a child? Midnight Eternal would be its name: https://www.facebook.com/MidnightEternal/
* Red Beard Wall (TX) Sludge Metal. Ever wondered how doom metal would sound with a flavor of Southern music, with elements of punk and death metal? It has a name: sludge metal and my first exposure was through Red Beard Wall. It came out of nowhere like a meteor and crashed into the local metal scene in Yellow City. If you are living in the High Plains or South Plains, check them out: https://www.facebook.com/redbeardwall/
* Rozamov (MA) Sludge/Doom Metal. That was some of the best surprise this spring, allowing me to discover this sub-genre of doom metal blended with Southern tunes, punk and death metal. https://www.facebook.com/Rozamov/
* Santa Marta (UT) – Gothic Metal. The next project of Mary Zimmer (ex-Ottoman Empire/Luna Mortis, ex-The White Empress). Check it out and keep eye on it. https://www.facebook.com/SantaMartaBand/
* Scarlet Canary (CO) – Metal/Rock: https://www.facebook.com/ScarletCanary/
* Seven Kingdoms (FL) – Melodic Power Metal. There is something running in Florida water but it makes their Melodic Power Metal
* Slayer (CA) – Thrash Metal. Slayer still slaying, not even an ounce of their brutal tempo was left over the years. This is where I had to disagree on Floor Jansen, nothing beats a mosh pit or an album from Slayer as a catharsis vector. If you don’t know what to expect from Slayer, go attend one of their gigs with Lamb of God and Behemoth. Not for the choir singer though: https://www.facebook.com/slayer/
* Thyshade (CO) – Symphonic Metal. One of my discovery last winter and one of the best US soprano vocals: https://www.facebook.com/thyshadeofficial/

 

[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/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.