[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.

[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.

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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.

[Symphonic Metal] Thy Shade – The Last Goodbye (85%)

November ended and I was felt something was missing. There were some good releases: Mercy Isle, Metallica, The Agonist……They were good but still i did not found something that would break the chart to gain the album of the month.
I guessed at the 11th hour came an unexpected album, thanks to “Femmes du Metal” for bringing me this album.
This is the first album of Thy Shade, a US Symphonic Metal band from Denver, Colorado. Having a US Symphonic Metal band is always welcome as they are some rare birds. But also having a Symphonic Metal band that dont fall in the trap of the over-production and over-processing is rare nowadays.
This is the strength of this album, indeed flowing in the same than the Vivaldi Metal project by brining back the Symphonic to its root: the classic with a touch of metal. This is why I give this album the title “Album of the Month” for November.
It is a 11-tracks, 45 minutes album nicely done for a first album.
It first starts with a “Prelude” that sets the done of the album: very simple musical arrangement with guitar riffs a la Yngwie Malmsteen. It starts with “Change”, straight into symphonic metal tone yet not too much loaded. Something simple but not fluffy, allowing us to discover Diana Shade, a soprano singer. Nothing exceptional but starting slowly and crescendo. It is followed by “The Last Goodbye” a melancholic song that raises the bar in a higher level and let us appreciate Diana vocal range, making one of my favorite song of the album.
“Fantasy” is one of the few tracks that brings on the power-melodic, sounding much more metal than the previous title. A nice one but there are better songs awaiting. The masterpiece is certainly Adagio, inspired by “Adagio in G Minor” from Tomaso Albinioni,  having this feeling of the very classic Yngwie Malmsteen “Icarus Dream” to it. Simply majestic and really bringing the symphonic to the symphonic metal. Diane is sublime in this song. Note also the participation of  a tenor, a rare fact that need to be underlined.

“Final Chapter” brings back the power-metal into it, that is pleasant and engaging. Things slowdown again with “O Divine Redeemer”, another track surfing on the melancholic tones and allowing us to fully enjoy Diana’s vocals. “Dies Irae” is one the heaviest and surprisingly one song that disappointed because I was expecting to hear “Dies Irae” from Mozart as a main inspiration?
Finally the album concludes with “Bring Back The Light” that sounds just right for the holidays season, followed by “Innegiamo” and “Pie Jesu” giving the classical with a touch of metal.
In times where the symphonic metal genre is becoming oversaturated with sound-alike bands that bet on over-arragnemnt and production, Thy Shade “The Last Goodbye” is like a bowl of fresh air that brings the classical to the symphonic metal. What makes the symphonic so great is the perfect alloy of the beauty of the classical music blended with the heavy and roughness of the metal. If the US was looking for her national Tarja, Diana is certainly the perfect fit for that position. Simply majestic!

[Metal] The Agonist – Five (80%)

img_0399November is ending and I just realized I missed to review one album that came out during this month. This album that I almost missed is “Five” from the Agonist. The second album with Vicky Psarakis fronting, replacing Alissa White-Gluz (now front singer of Arch Enemy).
With her second album with the band, how does Vicky vocal performance stands? Good, very good indeed. Louder, stronger, better. Let’s go through the album, a 14-track album totaling 58 minutes.
It all starts with “The Moment”, simple but loud and heavy, nicely alternating Vicky’s cleans and growls. We are still in the range of the Agonist but I felt the sound and melodic tone have matured in a good manner. This feeling is present all along the album.

Then comes the second track “The Chain”, bringing on the fast-pace that were acclimated with the Agonist, again a nice track if you like the Agonist when they speed up their tunes. We keep in the same tunes with “The Anchor and The Sail”,  “The Game”, “The Ocean”, “The Hunt”.

Some safe placement but also nothing that I found exceptional, except the latter that I really like from all four. Then comes “The Raven Eyes” like an interlude in the middle, mostly acoustic almost with this pleasing jazz-feeling, in which Vicky’s voice nicely matches. Following “The Raven Eyes” comes “The Wake”, a mostly instrumental track playing on the symphonic tunes.
This relaxing feeling is indeed a trick from the band, as “The Resurrection” brings back the death metal on the table, like a sudden wakeup. Nice but nothing out of the ordinary. In contrast, “The Villain” shakes up much more with Vicky unleashing her growls in it, all in her rage and furor. My second favorite one. The album continues with “The Pursuit of Emptiness”, another track falling in the classic Agonist sounds. What comes from the ordinary is the 12th track, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Slow, dark and sensual track going out of the ordinary. Another in my favorite list. The album concludes with “The Trial”, following the same step than the previous one, with Vicky’s performance mostly clean but a higher level of heaviness.
The final track of the album is indeed a cover of Hozier “Take Me To Church” that received the 2014 Grammy rock song of the year, giving a much more punchy and heavy tone to the song making it more enjoyable.
In conclusion, this album proves the potential of Vicky. She has matured and progressed. Same can be told for the band. It is a nice album but still a dramatic release that would shake my library. Still it is a nice album to get your hands on,  give a try on iTunes and see if you like it.

[Metal] Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (80%)

Metallica just released their tenth album “Hardwired…To Self-Destruct”. Depending on how you got into Metallica, it was a eight year hiatus since “Death Magnetic”….or 25 years since “Metallica” (aka the black album). If you grew up listening to Metallica, you surely have in mind  “Master of Puppets”, “Ride The Lightning” or “Kill’Em All”. You also have some rancor when the band decided to explore novel artistic directions after their black album, enough to classify Metallica as “before” or “after” such album.
I will be sincere: “Load”, “Reload”, “St.Anger” (certainly one of the most hated album) or “Death Magnetic” are simply not in my Metallica discography. The question you may ask if you have growing with the Metallica of the 90s is “why so much hate?”
For me, it is simple. Metallica sound had its own trademark that set the sound of the US metal back in the early 80s. Back in the days, UK metal bands were acting like a tsunami on every single continent with what we call the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) with bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or Ronnie James Dio. These bands were great by bringing  melodics (using two lead guitars and a bass) and the tell-tale lyrics from charismatic front singers (like Bruce Dickinson, Dio or Rob Halford. It was a clear distinctive sound, much more complex and captivating than the punk from the Sex Pistols or The Clash.
In the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, some bands were fueled by the rebellious attitude of punk but also considered the melodics are an important part. However, neither the punk nor the NWOBHM could fit their style. This is how bands like Motorhead, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax blended into two genres: speed and thrash metal.
The distinctive feature of these bands is their fast drums pace, the aggressive guitar riffs and the incendiary lyrics. This was the staple of such bands with albums such as “Whiplash” or “Reign in Blood”. Listening to them would provide you with superpowers, fully pumped on adrenaline rush.
But Metallica was also something else, capable of remarkable guitar ballads thanks to the work of Kirk Hammett and late Cliff Burton. Listen to “One”, “Sanitarium”, “Orion” but also to complex songs such as “One”, “Master of Puppets” or “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
By the time the band released “Metallica/the Black Album”, you could already hear the transition the band was but really was obvious with “Load”, as Lars drum sets were pitched to higher frequency and to different tempo pattern. Metallica soften up their style and by the same time infuriated their hardcore fans. This was also the time I kind of dropped from Metallica asI grew up from my teenage years. It was 1995. Grunge was dead with the suicide of Kurt Cobain and had an heavy toll on the classic heavy metal.
Now you either secluded into something more brutal (with bands such as Pantera setting up the death metal genre with “Vulgar Display of Power”) or more melancholic and slow-paced with the appearance of gothic and doom metal (with the pioneering work of Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride). As I grew up from my teenage rebellious mind and entered college, I also transitioned from Metallica to gothic and doom.
So, after 20 years of waiting and several disappoint albums, the arrival of their last album was setting high expectations on Metallica: Will they purse on their post-black direction or will they re-discover their pre-black composition?
Luckily for me, Metallica being Metallica (they still sell 5000 copies of the black album each month!), I could grab their album as a physical copy (the 2CD version) straight from the nearest Best Buy. A bliss considering the anemic metal section in my local Best Buy.
What I can tell? It’s good, honestly. Sure it is not a natural child of a “Master of Puppets” but you are still faring way better that anything post-black. There are some very good songs and some okay songs.
Lets go through the 12-track album, note the average song is lasting 6-7 minutes. Sometimes it was a pleasure to keep listening, sometimes it was “okay now it is sounding repetitive”. A special for this review, Metallica has a video for EVERY SINGLE songs of the album on Youtube. An interesting twist considering the outrage of Lars Ulrich that costed Napster its final blow and created the P2P file sharing system.

First track: “Hardwired”. It sets the tone. We are in the thrash metal, baby! A very good primer for the rest of the album reminiscent of “Kill’Em All” and “Ride The Lightning”

The second track is “Atlas, Rise!”, that is less aggressive than “Hardwired” but reminiscent of something from “Metallica”. Nice track but I have heard better.

The third track is “Now That We’re Dead” that sounds okay but a bit hollow. Again, as “Atlas, Rise!”, sounds a soften Metallica.

As you feel a bit asleep with track 3 and 4, here comes “Moth Into Flames” that comes and raise up the bar, a damn good song with fast-paced drums and good guitars that is certainly a song you would not mind hearing in a  rock FM radio.

Then comes track number 5 “Dream No More”, thats is also okay, feeling something a bit something you would hear in any post-black album.

Track 6, last track of Disc 1: “Halo On Fire”. The metal song! My favorite of this disc, with nice guitar solos and slow-paced. Not thrash but sounds damn good.

There comes the Disc 2, that in my opinion contains the meat of the whole album and really excited much.
Here comes track 7, that starts with an air of “Mars, The Bringer of War” brining some good old metal sound (almost feel like in the tunes of Ghost) and discussing about post-traumatic stress disorder. The videoclip is awesome.

In track 8, Metallica is taking up a “black metal” paint on their clip but kind of in dissonance in the song. I would have appreciated something much heavier.

The track 9, named “Here Comes Revenge” is my most favorite track of the album by its song and by its videoclip. The video is simply insane.

Track 10, “Am I Savage” is nice, starting with Kirk Hamett solo guitar and getting crescendo.

Track 11, “Murder One”, is a special track. A whole hommage to Lemmy, in particular the video was absolutely fantastic.

Finally the album concludes on “Spit Out The Bone”, the “plat de resistance” and one favorite of the album. A fast-paced song straight from a “Kill’Em All” coupled with a damn gore video. This is the Metallica that I know: brutal!

My take? Dang it is good to listen to Metallica that not something that I have been picking from a pre-black album. 35 years later and Metallica show they can still kick some ass. Sure, we are not having another “Master of Puppets”, but for me it completely reset anything for the past 25 years.

[Metal] Mercy Isle – Undying Fire (80%)

In all its Hell of the course teaching/grants & manuscript writing/scientific meetings that blew on me from September until now, I have been caught away to review some metal albums that were released during this time.
One of them is Mercy Isle “Undying Fire”, the first full-album from the band. The band is by itself original as it is a combination of Dutch and US members, fronted by Kassandra Novell. You can almost feel it in the notes the Batavian influence. You know that there should be something good about the band, as they made the cut and performed at the latest Metal Female Voice Fest (last October). So I gave the album a commuting test and here is my review on the album.
The album is composed by 10-track and has for those that has previously purchased their first EP “Storm” a feeling of deja-vu because some of the tracks are also inside this album. Just you get warned about, so you dont get disappointed.
First, I like that the album is not trying to surf on the “Symphonic Metal” wave that I found right now over-saturated by too many bands. It swings between gothic and progressive metal, giving it a degree of artistic freedom.
It starts with “Wake Up”, an easy and simple introduction to the album that sounds an easy shot for a promotion into a mainstream audience. Its fine for me but not enough to impress. In the opposite, “Storm” was more convincing and more enjoyable to listen, giving a better composition and space to Kassandra voice. We keep on the same quality by transitioning with “Stop, Kiss Me” that is also pretty good to listen. “If I could” could be the power ballad song of the album. Here we can appreciate Kassandra talent and potential talent. It gives a nice and relaxing interlude. “Uncaged” is another track from the EP, so it may seem as deja vu but also brings a heavier tone than the first track. I feel things are getting serious here. “No One Will Save You” is also coming from the EP, so I will not discuss more about it. “I Am” has this feeling of Lacuna Coilesque from their previous work on Karmacode. “Saying Goodbye” is certainly the best track of the album, reminding me of Nightwish by its musical arrangement. “Come to Me” comes and shake up all and bring the heavy-o-meter into 2 scales up making it also enjoyable. Finally, “The Ghost” closes this chapter with the same heaviness.
If you like something similar to Lacuna Coil, but have been on saturation mode with “same old, same old” of certain bands, you should give a try to Mercy Isle. They have here a decent first album that is really accessible to share. Just a reminder, dont purchase the EP as you will have a redundancy in your playlist.

[Metal] Metallica – Confusion

The clock is ticking on the release of the next Metallica “Hardwired”, as excerpts of it with “Atlas Rise” or “Moth in Flames” really pumped me up, bringing the hallmark of what made Metallica great: the brutal of the thrash and the inflammatory lyrics.
One of their latest video that came in the tube last night is “Confusion” depicting PTSD in soldier veterans. It furiously reminds me of “One” by the thematic and depict as the latter a disenchanted yet realistic vision of war and its toll on soldiers and veterans. It is greatly filmed and sounds damn good. I am calling on our veterans and get their thoughts on how realistic this video in depicting PTSD? Feedback is welcome.