[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.

[Metal/Gothic Metal] Within Temptation – Enter (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary release of the first album of the Dutch Gothic/Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation.
What I can tell is after all these years, this remains my most favorite album by the band. Why?
Probably this perfect blend of doom, gothic with a pinch of symphonic metal and of course Sharon Den Adel alias “Angel Voice”.  It may also because it was the heaviest album they had in their whole discography. The album is an 8-track album totaling 46 minutes.
It starts with “Restless”, a minimal but nicely starter allowing to appreciate Sharon’s voice. A classic of all WT song. The second track, “Enter”, brings on the heavy guitars, Robert Westerholt growls and Martijn Westerholt (Delain) on the keyboards. This gives this magic formula that makes “Enter” such a good song, giving this magical and gothic feel. The third track continues in distilling this magic “Pearls of Light” with Sharon taking the lead with the sounds of the harp. Listening to this song brings this soothing relief, followed by the lead guitars smashing the heavy tones into it and giving this bipolar tunes between the heavy from the guitars and the lightness of the keyboard.
“Deep Within”, the fourth track is in the continuation of the tone of the whole album. Nice but I always felt it was the weakest of all songs, considering the whole album standing strong like a rock. “Gatekeeper”, the fifth track of the album, is my favorite of all. Heavily gothic and influenced by elements of doom metal, it is dark and gloomy with a crescendo in the instrumentation slowly adding the heaviness and boldness. I lost my voice each time I try to keep on Sharon’s frequency notes.
“Grace” is another good song (Nº6 song), especially the second half of it as Sharon takes on the main part. It is also reflecting the heavy influence of Kate Bush on Sharon singing style, using the same song dynamics than the latter used to. “Blooded” is the instrumental track of the album, a finely arranged piece that really marked the band with their signature. “Candles”, the last track, is another jewel from the album by keeping the same flow of “Gatekeeper”. It is so beautiful to listen, with its melancholic tones and Sharon soothing voice all over, only to get shaken by the heavy guitars and Robert’s growl.
If I had to go to exile with only one album from my favorite bands, this is the album I would take from Within Temptation without an hesitation. This is where I found they had their best blend and musical style before they sailed into other directions that were not following my ears.
My only wish is as we mark the 20th anniversary of that release is that the band decide to rediscover this rich and engaging style that made them at the frontier of the symphonic metal scene.

[Symphonic Metal] Within Temptation – The Heart of Everything 10th Anniversary

Today marks the 10th release of “The Heart Of Everything”, the fourth album from the Dutch Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation. It is a 11-track album (with two extra tracks in the North American version) totaling over a bit more than 57 mins.
This album has a special place in my heart because it marks a turning point in the band discography by several aspects.
First, I found that Sharon Den Adel, aka “Angel Voice”, reached her full potential in her vocals making it a delight to listen to her soprano voice. That settles for me Sharon with one of the most gracious voice in female-fronted metal bands. Second, the band at this point have successfully transitioned into full symphonic metal and have done a remarkable sound engineering work with the orchestral arrangements and the melodics, making always a 100% hit in my cerebral hedonistic center. In other words, it gives me an acoustic orgasm, each time i hear this album. Third, the lyrics of several tracks are just resonating so well with the tumultuous of this century and still resonate very well ten years after its release.

Let’s go through the album quickly through the track. First, we get introduced to it with “The Howling”, setting up the symphonic gunnery upfront, setting the tone for the album with a well-designed combination between the gracious symphonic elements and the guitar bass shredding.

“What Have You Done Now”, the second track is in my opinion is a weak element but plays straight into the Evanescence playlist and can be considered as a gateway vector for an audience not accustomed to listening metal bands. “Frozen” is a beautiful song and surprisingly would have been a perfect match for the movie “Frozen”, giving it a much darker tone.
“Our Solemn Hour” is one my favorite, opening on with a radio announcement of Wilson Churchill on the declaration of war, decrying the folly and insanity of human mind to war and destruction. “The Heart of Everything”, “Hand of Sorrow” and “The Cross” continues on the magic formula giving us a very strong middle section in the album.
The album then enters into less enjoying tracks (in my opinion) such as “Final Destination”,  “All I Need”. Then came the final act of this serendipitous album with two major favorites: “Stand My Ground”, “The Truth Beneath The Rose” and “Forgiven” bringing on the magic formula once again.

However if I have to pick one song that would be “The Truth Beneath The Rose” nicely orchestrated and dynamic, that is very engaging. The lyrics are straight into fighting the religious zealotry and extremism, calling on rejecting those who praise on killing in the name of the religion as a key to Heaven.

In my personal discography, this is the pinnacle album in Within Temptation’s discography (excluding the Black Symphony that is the live orchestral performance of their discography up to this album). After this album, the band decided to engage into softer stance and into something more accessible for the lay audience. Despite I don’t find the same appeal in their following releases, the band still keep a special place in my heart by being in the front of the gothic/symphonic metal first wave, with the unique voice of Sharon Den Adel.

[Symphonic Metal] Xandria – Theater of Dimensions (92%)

It has been a while since I did not posted a review on a metal album. Xandria nicely reminded me that it was long due by releasing their latest album “Theater of Dimensions”. Well, what I can tell about Xandria. I really liked their album “Neverworld’s End” fronted by Manuella Kraller. The release of “Sacrificium” and the change in line-up with Dianne Von Giersbergen (ex-Libris) now fronting was letting me skeptical. Don’t take me wrong on this one. Dianne with her prog metal band is simply awesome but I found her a bit in retreat and soft in “Sacrificium”.
I purchased the digital album containing 13 tracks for 75 minutes of some awesomess. There is a deluxe version with four acoustic if you have the extra $$$ for it. I have been running in a loop for the last 72 hours. What I can tell, we have the perfect blend of Xandria taking the best of “Neverworld’s End” and “Sacrificium”. That gives a detonating mixture.
We start with “Where The Heart is Home” bringing the bang and the bombastic symphonics with the metal, with Dianne perfect as ever unleashing her voice into this engaging first track. We rapidly follow with “Death To The Holy” that infuse Celtic influence. This is the main influence of the album, a certain Celtic feeling but also feeling like a Pirate song. Very engaging song and one of my favorites of the album.
“Forsaken Love” dig further into the Celtic influence, nice and very enjoyable ballad to listen. “Call of Destiny” brings on the same tempo than “Nightfall” and “Sacrificium”, fast-paced and heavy. “We Are Murderers” push aside the symphonic elements and put own the heaviness. “Dark Night of the Soul” brings on the enjoyment of the ballad, swinged by Dianne powerful voice. “When The Walls Came Down” brings on the heavy riffs back and the kick that make the Symphonic Metal powerful.
“Ship of Doom” was nice if you are in the mood of some pirates song, arghhh!  If you really like the Celtic tones, jump on “Ceili” blending it with metal and let chill your spine. Very engaging and refreshing to listen to it. “Song For Sorrow and Woe” was okay but not more than that in my opinion. Same as “Burn Me”. “Queen of Hearts Reborn” brings on the Xandria signature: a very delicate dosage of choirs, symphonic and heaviness with Dianne flying high pitches with a grace and an elegance.
Finally, the last track “A Theater of Dimensions”, the piece of resistance (14:24). A very nice song in three acts starting as an acoustic ballad, raising the tone with the heavy elements and riffs and adding the symphonic and getting into the same tones than Dark Sarah, giving this kind of Tim Burtonesque feel to it. A damn good song, that rides like a rollercoaster.
Xandria is back with a bang. Nicely crafting powerful melodics, choirs, heavy riffs and soprano vocals. This album settles Dianne as the perfect singer for the band, only unleashing her impressive voice. If you have never listen to Dianne singing, you have never listen to Symphonic metal. Xandria rightfully earned the title “album of the month” and makes a bang into 2017.

[Metal/Symphonic] Dark Sarah – The Puzzle (80%)

2016 is ending, so does my last review for this year. To close this (not so great) year, I decided to give a review on “The Puzzle”, the second album from Heidi Parviainen solo project “Dark Sarah”.
Dark Sarah proved last year her ability to handle a successful solo career with “Behind the black Veil”, a well-designed symphonic metal album that has this strong Tim Burton influence by its dark tale and had also this musical touch remembering some of the best composition by Danny Elfman. How does her second album “The Puzzle” stands?
It stands pretty good, I would say it is more colorful and more like a fairy tale.
It is a 10-track album, totaling about 51 minutes.
It starts with  “Breath”, a 2-minutes introduction that gives this feel of adventure and sailing on new horizons. “Island In the Mist” brings on the heaviness and like its title means, follows on the sailing of “Breath”. Nice track but nothing fancy.
Then came “Little Men” that really scared me when Dark Sarah published it because it is colorful, even a bit psychedelic. But I guess it is part of the storytelling of the album. Yet it remains my least favorite track of the album. See and judge by yourself.

The album continues with “Ash Grove” a bit repetitive but get quickly eclipsed by “For The Birds” and “Deep and Deeper” giving this lightness and fairy-tale feeling to the album. “Dance With The Dragon” brings up the charm that was in Beyond the Black Veil, giving this darker and more melodramatic tone. The best track in my opinion of the album.

“Cliffhanger” is also a favorite, by this minimalism giving us to fully appreciate Heidi’s voice. The album ends up with two very nice songs. “Aquarium” featuring Charlotte Wessels (Delain) has the footprint of Delain infused in it giving this fast-paced and poppy sound giving a good kick in the album.

In contrast, “Rain” is much more calm, a very enjoyable ballad featuring Manuela Kraller (ex-Haggard, ex-Xandria). Overall, it is a good album, proving the ability of Heidi to hold on as a solo project. In my opinion, I preferred “Behind the Black Veil” by its much darker and more orchestral tone.