[Metal/Pop] Within Temptation – Resist (70%)

After five years of fairly blackout period from the band, following a lot of introspection and need to solve private issues, Within Temptation finally released their new album “Resist” on February 1st. A lot of mystery was on, a lot of speculation too as Sharon launched about a year ago a solo pop album “My Indigo”. How would the album sound? Will they go back to their roots? Will they continue in the direction taken with their previous album “Hydra”? Well, the release of “The Reckoning” kind of gave a flavor and honestly failed to impress me. However, I wanted to give my respect to the band and bought the album (standard edition, the $5 extra for the instrumental tracks and radio edit are in my opinion overpriced). Well, I am gonna tell you, this has been the most divisive album I have to listen because it is not an easy thing to downgrade a band you have been cherished all these years. Imagine you have admiration for what you think is certainly one of the best band you have ever heard, only to realize now that band have been setting the quality bar so low that it is basically feels like any soup served on the FM station (I only listen to the FM radio when I take my wife car, because I forget most of the time my iPod classic in my car. Seldomly taking my wife car).
Thats how I feel and somehow translated in some interviews by the band. You feel the band is exhausted, is running out of juice. Yet, the band is trying to reformulate itself as a new image, a kind of futuristic sci-fi that I honestly don’t dislike, if the music was better. WT has been betting high on taking full sail on the pop-electronica scene, leaving the original fans pretty dry and bitter. I would be honest, I can gut half of the album and not even regret it. But in the same time, there are some tracks that although being really watered down when it comes to metal (maybe the drums are the only thing left) that have still catchy songs. And Sharon shows us again how talented she is. I can guarantee to you she will eat any of the pop singers addicted to auto-tunes with a swift snap. In the realms of meow-meow pop singers, Sharon is the queen. This is an album holding 10 songs, totaling about 48 minutes.
Lets first get rid of the annoying tracks. They failed to impress me and sounded really what I would listen to a FM radio. Basically an auditory torture. “The Reckoning”, “Holy Ground”, “In Vain”, “Firelight” and “Mercy Mirror”, you are out. About more than half of the album made of fillers.
Now lets focus on the interesting tracks. Let’s start with “Endless War”. At first, it sounds like the opening sequence of an Arabic “mussalssal” which is for me a torture for my ears, but it gets better with Sharon kicking in. And it’s good to hear Sharon singing, with some echoes of the past with some musical arrangements reminding of their previous albums mixed with electronic tunes. “Raise Your Banner”, the third track, is okay and maybe of the few that sounds like Symphonic Metal to my ears. “Supernova”, the fourth track is certainly my favorite, the one that grew up on me over listening. Sharon shows us that she can kick, even with the use of electronica and make some catchy tunes.  Listen to it, and tell me you are not captivated by the catchy tunes:

“Mad World” is the next favorite, with a nice mix of both metallic and electronic giving this industrial vibe. Another one in which Sharon is excelling into giving us catchy tunes. “Mercy Mirror” is a fine one, with some metal elements, sounding more familiar to what we expect from the band. “Trophy Hunter” is the third favorite one of the album, by its industrial tunes and the catchy tunes.
Conclusion? Well I will be honest. Sharon has been talking about how the band was exhausted, tired, bored. The mean half of me would say “time to pull the plug and let go” and let members of the band grow and expand their own musical garden. The nice half of me would say “well the band is rebranding themselves with a new look, new logo more palatable to millennials”. By entering the realms of rock/electronic pop, they surely come with a added bonus and advantage because they were at some point a AAA band in the scene and would eat any meow-meow bands out there as my son eats his cereals for breakfast.
Yet, I feel bad and disappointed to have been served such a half-baked cookie after 5 years. Yes, there are some chunks in it that are yummy but the rest of the cookie tasted bland and lacked originality. Not even mentioning the anemic US tour that is basically ignoring the whole southern half of the US (the closest I can get is Denver, which is a whooping 7 hours drive), which adds an extra layer of salt on the wound. The disappointment left by the album makes me really reconsider investing into a trip to Denver. At least, they could have added Dallas to the tour (14 gigs only in the whole North America, including Canada). I guess this the time what I will let their boat sail, me on the docking pier, while swiping my tissue.

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[Metal/Symphonic] Whyzdom – As Time Turns To Dust (85%)

Whyzdom (probably the best French Symphonic Metal band IMO), after three years of waiting, released their fourth album “As Time Turns To Dust”. So, how does this album stands and compare to their previous releases? I would say unique and similar at the same time (for some reasons it reminded at times of their second album “Blind?”, propelled by Vince Leff at the helm and by Marie McLeod at the front.
We have in hand a 9-tracks song with 58 minutes of pure enchantment Whyzdom-style. It all starts with “Armour of Dust”, introducing us in a Hans Zimmer’s style “a la Dark Knight” followed by some classic Whyzdom. The second track, “Armageddon” is surprisingly not really my favorite despite being heavy. I don’t know why I dont really click on that one. “Fly Away”, is a good track but still missing something to make me all excited about. “The Page” is probably my favorite starting with a guitar solo and Marie, going crescendo and becoming more and more complex until you reach a paroxysmal euphoria. Thats the kind of auditive cues that make you limbic system overstimulated. “Follow Your Heart”, the 5th track of the album, has this Epica feeling that is making it very attractive. “Angel of Tears” is a good one, starting with the Celtic vibes and very dynamic. “Free As a Bird” is for some reasons reminding me of “Cassandra”. “The Mistchild” has this feeling of proximity of “Blind?”.  The last track, “Dust We Are”, is good but I have experienced more enjoyment in tracks of their previous album.
Overall the album is good, but I feel there was something missing. I really worked hard on this album by listening at least five times before writing my critique. I did not feel the shock and awe that I have with “Tears of a Hopeless God”, I don’t why. The album is good, but it was not giving me the thrills that would make it “an amazing experience”. Maybe it is just me becoming an old schmuck.
Anyway, the album is a good one and if you are looking for some new sounds in the Symphonic that is not from the four Valkyries of the Symphonic Metal, you should definitely try Whyzdom and feel what the French touch sounds like when they tamper with Symphonic Metal, something unique.

[Metal/Symphonic] Whyzdom – Armaggedon (Official Video)

Whyzdom, in my opinion the best French symphonic metal band as of today, is slowly but surely bringing their fourth album “As Times Turns To Dust” is teasing us with their first title named “Armageddon”. The album is expected to hit record stores on April 6th.

[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.

[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.