[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.

Advertisements

[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.

[Symphonic Metal] Epica concert @ Gas Monkey Grill & Bar, Dallas TX

IMG_1052

Last week, I was finally lucky to attend Epica live performance in the Lone Star State after a series of cancellation in the last two years for various reasons.
The band performed this year at the Gas Monkey Bar & Grill in Dallas, TX with the warmup by local bands including Exalt The Throne (Melodic Metal), Divine Retribution (Melodic Christian Metal) and Infidel Rising (Progressive Metal). Man, what I can say it was a blast and an eye opening for different reasons.
I purchased the VIP package and what I can say the tour organizer was fairly generous: a poster of the tour, a meet & greet with autograph session with poster and single photo session with the band and a T-shirt to mark the event.
The meet and greet was great with really having the band down to Earth and very friendly. After the VIP session, we were welcomed by the beginning of the show with Exalt the Throne. Surprisingly, the band was not listed up to late in the programming so it was surprising. But it worth that surprise. I was truly impressed by the band with very good guitar riffs, heavy bass and a nice vocal in the person of Courtney. It goes heavier than what you would expect in the Symphonic Metal, more lurking into the Melodic death metal without having the female growls you would expect from Alissa or Angela.
It was followed by Divine Retribution that was also very good and reminded me a sound very similar to the Ottoman Empire when Mary Zimmer was experimenting the alternance of growls and clean voices.
Finally we had Infidel Rising that was sounding like some old progressive metal, a blend of Kamelot with some lyrical ballads straight from the 80s, something you would have experienced from Ronny Dio or from Bruce Dickinson.
Living in a state in which the FM radio is balancing between Jesus and country and with the only radio station is recycling old rock music from the 80s and 90s, it was a great bubble of fresh air.
Then came Epica late that night (standing on my feet since 5PM is a bit tiring) but definitely came and blast the show. Starting with “Originem” bringing one by one all the member with the exception of Simone that comes in with “The Essence of Silence”. Man, it was loud, it was bold, it was fantastic to see Epica playing from their whole discography with tiles such as “Cry the Moon” to their latest songs from their latest album. The band was interacting and teasing with the audience, making this bound that I dont see often with other concerts.

 

[Metal] My top 2014 Symphonic (Death) Metal albums

2014 is taking its last breath and as usual it is time when folks bring their compilations and ranking of best cultural experiences of this year. I can tell that this year was very prolific, thanks to iTunes Radio that introduced to a lots of different metal bands and sub-genre. I thought to share some of the albums that marked my mind this year. All of them were published this year and evolve around metal/symphonic metal/death metal. There is no particular order and I listed them as alphabetical order. I also give my rating of the album “a la Metal-Archives”. Here we go….

(NOTE: I will progressively update the page, consider it as a 12 days of Christmas and come check it out on regular basis)

Arch Enemy – War Eternal (80%)

This is my introductory album to the group so I am maybe immune to the fight between Alissa White-Gluz and Angela Gossow. What I like about this band is  the presence of harmonics in their style, that strikes from other death metal band that are more frugal. The other surprise I had was to get introduced to female growls, especially when you have been raised in soprano voices of Tarja, Sharon or Simone. Thats was a bit of a shocker at the beginning but I quickly adapted to Alissa vocals. Overall, I liked it, even if it got some bad reps in Metal-Archives. It was a good experience and the band has a very good musical outcome. Two tracks brought my attention” “War Eternal” that is very dynamic and heavy, a great way to start a day and “Avalanche” that has very good melodic components. If you want to get introduced to death metal and wonders how a girl would growl, well this is a great introductory way to get into it.

Deathtiny – In Creep Clothing (80%)

Deathtiny……a band that appeared in my Facebook feed. And a good surprise. It is a very small symphonic gothic metal band from Germany, from the Black Forest area (Karlsruhe, Baden-Wurttenberg) so I consider them as neighbors in terms of my hometown. I consider them as the micro-brewers of metal. A small band, that is touring in the local scene and try to get a reputation. “In Creeps Clothing” is their second album, that can be purchased from iTunes (great if you are oversea but if you are in Europe you can directly buy their album from their Facebook page).

Delain – The Human Contradiction (85%)

Some followers asked about my thoughts on Delain for a couple of times and I thought this can be a quick take before I write a dedicated blog on the band (waiting for the 10th anniversary of their first album “Lucidity”.  Delain is one of this young generation band rising and after exploring their own style got what I think in this one their best shot and maybe are holding the magic formula. Its loud, its heavy (much heavier than their previous album) and an enjoying experience. Charlotte Wessels give this nice “candy” taste to the band style that is not bad. I really liked their first albums “Lucidity” and “April Rain” but got lost with the album “We Are The Others” (altought some of their songs had this 80’s new-wave flavor that was not bad at all). In her songs, Charlotte talks about deluded love, heartbreaks and how it hurts badly. Even any tough headbanger remains a child at heart and you really feel miserable when you set back on your feet after a too-long crush. I consider this album as the natural evolution of “April Rain” with a much more darker and engaged content. Just listen to “Your Body is A Battleground”, “My Masquerade” or “The Tragedy of The Commons”. It is also noteworthy to note the featuring artists in this album just as Marco from Nightwish or Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy. And what is make it a great album. The good news is Delain is coming to North America next year with Nightwish (with Floor as front singer!) and Sabaton. All three in the same concert venue? Thats a deal breaker.

Eluveitie – Origins (80%)

Ever heard about Celtic Metal? Never heard about….until I got my hands on Eluveitie “Origins”. That was a nice moment to listen, as the mix of celtic instruments with guitar riffs and growls as fusing so well. As a French, the closest region that comes to Celtic heritage is certainly Britain or “Breizh”. At the antipode of my hometown (I am from Elsass, at the eastern tip of France), “Breizh” has two meanings for me: my first love (I was a 4th grader, she was from Britain) and Cedric Labrousse, one of the best talented freelance chronicler on the Syrian conflict. The most surprising part was to learn that Eluveitie is far from being Celtic at its root. They are from Winterthur, Switzerland, the second most populous town in Zurich canton, just after Zurich-town. Nevertheless they are fairly amazing. I have not yet compared their latest album to the previous work but I really like this album with the exception of a couple of tracks that I would consider more aimed as “FM radio hooks”. If you are fond of folk-metal and are deep into the Celtic culture, I strongly recommend to discover this group.

Enemy of Reality – Rejected Gods (80%)

Another discovery of this year. Enemy of Reality is a Greek band, joining Elysion and Septicflesh in the few Greek metal bands I can cite. Their most recent album “Rejected Gods” is fairly unique as a symphonic metal as several of its tracks sounds like classical with a touch of metal, rather than having the classic metal riffs and drumbeats with a touch of classical. Iliana has a very powerful voice and deserve to gain some more public attention. I would give this band a software metal tone, almost a gothic aspect. If you need louder and faster pace albums, you may try to reach “Arch Enemy” or “The White Empress”. But if you are like nostalgic of the Nightwish “Oceanborn” era, then it can be a good tryout for this holidays. Favorite track: “Needle Bites” note the feature of Aylin from Sirenia in this track. “Sirenia” Veland and Aylin, looking for your next album!

Epica  – The Quantum Enigma (90%)

If there is a symphonic metal to be considered as a flagship one of the genre, it is certainly Epica. Simone Simons and Mark Jansen can be resumed into one sentence: a constant and great track record. 10 years, 5 albums, but always a consistent delivery of good albums (although the Requiem for Indifferent is the weakest link in my own opinion). Simone and Mark just keep refining their trademark and just ages as wine: just get better as it gets old. It is loud, powerful, the chorals are not too much abused and the symphonic arrangement is great. It certainly faster than their last album and maybe comparable to “Design Your Universe” in a faster pace. If you are looking for something stronger than Evanescence or Within Temptation, but not nihilist as death metal (because you appreciate classical music), this is the one. And if you like it, I strongly recommend to explore their discography.
I wanted to attend their concert in Dallas last fall, however a last minute cancellation from Children of Bodom vanished their USA tour. In the same time, it was heartbreaking that they came to my hometown (Strasbourg) last November with Dragonforce. So close….Really looking for their coming here in the Lone Star State.

Leaves Eyes – Symphony of The Night (85%)

 Leaves Eyes….A band that gives me some troubles because I find their music quality inconsistent to my ears or fails to make the chemistry. Its not because of Liv Kristin, she has a beautiful voice, its maybe the style that some qualify as “folk metal” or I would call it “Scandinavian metal” because it touches a lot of the Nordic mythology. The problem that I have with Leaves Eyes is that for most of their albums I would like a couple of their songs but despise the rest. For instance, “Njord” has a couple of songs that really trip me up like “Ragnarok”, “Northbound”, “The Holy Bond” or “Emerald Band” that have this magic in my brain. Maybe is their lack of heaviness int their sound that was missing. Their latest album seems to have solved that. It starts very loud with “Hell to The Heavens” with the pristine voice of Liv followed by heavy bass guitars and very aggressive growls. Its like Leaves Eyes went on steroids and thats good enough for me.

The only problem I have with this album is its cover. And the graphic designer in general. It seems that someone there has some “photoboobs” issues. I have nothing against generous breasts, i like big beautiful women indeed. Liv has surely a great set of vocal chords, but not a big pairs of boobs, even with a corset. And it seems such “boob job” just keep getting bigger with which new album. Want a proof look at “Njord” and “Symphonies of the Nights” cover albums. Guys, please stop that, it just getting ridiculous and not giving justice to Liv talent: her voice.

White Empress – Rise of The Empress (90%)

The White Empress is a brand new band, formed by ex-Cradle of Filth Paul Allender and ex-Ottoman Empire Mary Zimmer. It also has a special place in my heart as a good chance of the group is coming from the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and Madcity (Madison, Wisconsin). The style of the band is symphonic death metal, with Mary as the lead female growls. Their first album is very energetic, very aggressive and very cathartic for me when I have a bad day or when a band I liked just went “Gaga” with their latest release (Maria, do you hear me?). It has some rage that can be found in old punk bands and thats not bad. Just got infuriated the band played in Madison last Halloween, just wished they performed six months earlier when I was still there.

Whitin Temptation – Hydra (80%)

Within Temptation is the prototypical love-hate relationship you can have. Someone you liked for a long time and just decided to cut bonds for some artistic divergence. You have to know the discography of the band to feel the pain. I highly appreciate the “Heart of Everything” as their best album and of course “Black Symphony” that is the live version of it with a whole philarmonic orchestra. “Hydra” their latest album was for me feeling fighting a hydra. I severed my ties to the band a long time ago but seems one grew back enough to attract my attention. And in my personal, it is not bad, if you cut some non-sense duets. But it was a pleasure to hear a heavy sound, the energy of Sharon in several of their songs. There are songs with features such “Paradise” with Tarja, “Dangerous”, “Let it Burn”. They even were capable to make Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” that was some FM quality into something heavy and well designed.

My expectations for 2015?

A lot of expectations. Floor just joined Nightwish and I am seeing her as “the last hope” to bond again with the band. Annette Olzon is maybe a good singer but her vocals cannot sustain the soprano voice of Tarja. And Floor has the vocal range similar to Tarja that can really be a deal breaker. Floor reached artistic hell and came back, stronger than ever. Really looking for their concert in Dallas next May with Sabaton and Delain (one of the best lineup in one concert). The second is the new album from Sirenia. Aylin and Veland are on their way to finish their latest album and I hope they are leaving the abysmal depths of the Northern Sea. Up until today, “The Enigma of Life” still remains an enigmatic bust. For those who discovered Xandria with Manuella Kraller as front singer, I really wish her good luck in 2015 as a year for her to join a band. Manuella is extremely talented (at first I thought Tarja was singing, to give you an idea of her talent) and really she deserve to join a Symphonic Metal band and have her place among Simone, Sharon, Tarja, Liv and other metal divas. Viel Glueck Manuella! Finally it seems the French Symphonic metal band “Whyzdom” is on the way to release a new album in early 2015. Bonne chance les amis!

The other event I am looking for is seeing Serj getting back with SOAD for commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and thats for me some tragic events of my genome coming back to haunt.

And you? What was your discoveries and top albums? Feel free to leave your feedback.

My ode of love to Symphonic Metal

Symphonic-Metal-symphonic-metal-32503297-1024-768

Symphonic Metal. Sounds like an oxymoron no? On one hand we think about an opera singer with a classic orchestra. On the other hand, we think about long-haired men dressed in black and growling melancholic texts, that most of the time the “vulgate populus” that associate it with satanism or other occult misconception (yes you have a sub-genre within the Black Metal that has some satanist inspirations). This mix of melancholic romance and music is what we classify into the “Gothic” culture and hell no these folks are not heretic. The gothic scene is certainly where I found the friendliest band of folks, maybe feel bad for the teens that in their prime of existence are already into a state of depression.

But let’s get back to the Symphonic Metal. It surely arises from people that both get insipired by the melodics of classics and in the same time inspired by good guitar riffs and well cadenced drums. Traces of symphonic metal surely can be found in the 1970s during which the progressive rock genre came with groups such as “Pink Floyd”. He later muted into heavy metal bands such as “Iron Maiden” and “Manowar” in which heroic-fantasy and folkore tales where narrated with a stint of good guitar riffs. This is were a bifurcation occured between “Power Metal” and “Symphonic Metal”. The former marked by a heavy BPM rate and have great bands such as Kamelot, Dragonforce, Stratovarious or Sonata Artica. The latter is marked by the incorporation of classical elements (violin, brass instruments) and mostly driven by female vocal leads. Sometimes, in adddition to the vocal female lead, there is a growler or grunter giving a certain “Beauty and The Beast” that gives a certain masculinity found in the metal genre.
Mainstream, you may have heard symphonic metal in such as Amy Lee’s “Evanescence” that is very very diluted form of metal. If you wish to discover more this genre, I would recommend to try with “Within Temptation” Shannon Del Adel and “Nightwish” Tarja Turunen (in particular their album “Oceanborn”) that posed the founding blocks of the genre. In my personal opinion, Simone Simons “Epica” delivers one of the finest and most consistant quality to the genre.

Symphonic metal brought me the healing i was looking for to treat my schizophrenic love of classical music and metal music.
Want to listen some symphonic metal, try these following bands and albums.

* After Forever “After Forever” and subsequent Floor Jansen’s career as ReVamp.

* Epica “Design Your Universe” and “The Divine Conspiracy”

* Within Temptation “Black Symphony” (this is certainly their best album, a live with a real symphonic orchestra)

* Sirenia “Elixir for Existence” and “Perils of the Deep Sea”

* Nightwish “Oceanborn and Wishmaster” (my favorites are Gemunsthemane and Paraoh Sails to Orion). Special mention for “Phantom of Opera” Live 2013 in which both Tarja and Floor share the scene. A nice reconciliation between the old and the new Nightwish era!

There are just the tip of the iceberg and represents a non-exhaustive list of bands. Feel free to listen and discover but certainly a genre if you like the metal scene and were looking for classical inspiration in it.