Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lacuna Coil - Broken Crown Halo

Alternative Metal
Century Media

1. Nothing Stands In Our Way
2. Zombies
3. Hostage To The Light
4. Victims
5. Die & Rise
6. I Forgive (But I Won't Forget Your Name)
7. Cybersleep
8. Infection
9. I Burn In You
10. In The End I Feel Alive
11. One Cold Day

Lacuna Coil are a band that I've been listening to for quite awhile at this point. Really they were among the first few less mainstream bands I started picking up on in high school when I was still mostly listening to bigger names like Ozzy, Maiden, Pantera, etc, etc. As such they have sort of a special place with me. There's no doubt the band has picked up more of a mainstream/alt metal touch to their music over time, but I've still always liked their albums to some extent. Actually, lately, I find their newer sound has grown on me more. I'd rate their last album Dark Adrenaline higher now than I did when I first reviewed it. It's something that happens sometimes and it can work the other way as well. An album can either grow on you or grow tired. I guess when you get past some more chuggy riffs on some tracks and similar modern touches the band still does have some great melodies and catchy tunes. I find myself wanting to listen to the songs on Dark Adrenaline quite a lot so it's got a degree of staying power. With all the albums I own I don't always have time for everything so regular play speaks well for an album's quality. With all that in mind I was looking forward to hearing what Broken Crown Halo had to offer.

Well to be perfectly blunt it didn't take me long to decide this album isn't anywhere near as good as Dark Adrenaline. Listening to this one, the album didn't even really keep my attention until track 6 (I Forgive). Five throwaway tracks to start an 11 track album isn't too good to say the least.

Getting back to the start though, Nothing Stands In Our Way opens the album with a kind of (too) bouncy sounding rhythm and a very chuggy sound that did nothing to encourage me from the start. Also worth noting is Marco's vocals which occasionally get harsher and do nothing to add to my enjoyment of the material to say the least. Zombies follows that in a similar fashion as it is also a chugfest with even more harsher vocals from Marco which just aren't great. Moving along we have Hostage To The Light which is a bit softer, but just sounds too mainstream radio ready for me. Things get worse though as Victims is just plain bad as the band seems to want to go very aggro on us and not in any kind of good way. It seems at this point like the album just really wants to yell at the listener and the shoutiness just doesn't work for this band at all. Lacuna Coil's strength has always been in smooth melodies, atmosphere, catchiness, and powerful vocal deliveries and this really has none of those qualities. It's odd that with Cristina Scabbia's superior, soaring, and sometimes haunting voice that she gets kind of rappy and shouty on this song. Nothing I've really heard from her and nothing I ever want to hear again. Unfortunately, Die & Rise is much the same with it's angry shouting from Marco for most of the track building to a similar chorus which is probably the worst in any of their songs.

Beyond that we get back to I Forgive which is decent, but not much more than that. This song does at least has some flow and atmosphere to it, but this wouldn't even really qualify as a highlight on another Lacuna Coil album. It's just ok to listen to and doesn't actively annoy me like several other tracks. Cybersleep is a bit more subdued and melodic as well, but it starts off on the wrong foot with some autotune and then doesn't get much better than "doesn't suck". Infection also passes by as an average track that sounds just a tad too modern for me to really latch on to. I Burn In You is similar, but with some more particularly jarring/annoying shouting from both vocalists towards the end of the song that made me want to never listen to it again. By this point I was getting towards complete apathy with this thing, but I've gone this far with the track by track so I guess I might as well continue. I'm not sure why I'm punishing myself here, but I guess I just have a lot of complaints about these tracks. Moving on to In The End I Feel Alive, this one is is again too modern/chuggy for me to enjoy it much. The chorus is pretty decent, but it can't really save all the chugga chugga with Marco singing that bores me. One Cold Day closes the album in ballad fashion, but once again the melodies fail to grab me and this seems really half assed. There's just not enough passion or catchiness to sell this kind of a track here.

Well, after that breakdown of the tracks you can imagine my thoughts here I suppose. Broken Crown Halo varies between average to sucking with very little in the way of redeeming features. Cristina Scabbia is still a good singer, but she doesn't sell this album and leans away from her strengths, as does the whole band. This is not the kind of majestic and haunting melodies I want out of Lacuna Coil. It's mostly just some half assed modern/alternative metal album built to be easily digestible, but it doubly fails as it doesn't even have the catchiness to sell it as that. This is easily Lacuna Coil's worst album to date and it's not even really close. I can't really recommend this to much of anyone unless you for some reason enjoy the most generic female fronted rock the radio can throw at you. This isn't the worst album I've ever heard, but it is one of the more bland. I can gurantee that Broken Crown Halo doesn't have much room to grow on me. I'm not sure I'll even try listening to this more now that I'm done with this review.

Highlights: I Forgive

Rating - 1.5/5

Gamma Ray - Empire Of The Undead

Power Metal

1. Avalon
2. Hellbent
3. Pale Rider
4. Born To Fly
5. Master Of Confusion
6. Empire Of The Undead
7. Time For Deliverance
8. Demonseed
9. Seven
10. I Will Return

I can't really say I've ever been as huge on Gamma Ray as some people. I've liked them well enough, at times, but I've never put them on top of the power metal heap. Actually, I liked them considerably better and found them more adventurous and interesting on their Ralf Scheepers era material, but I guess I'm just an odd power metal fan like that. All that being said, I did think their last album was pretty good, if again, not the best power metal has to offer. I think it's been since New World Order that this band has actually excited me, but there are worse things to my ears than pretty decent power metal so I figured I'd give this a shot.

Well, it looks like we're in for a track by track ride again because I compiled a rather long list of notes/gripes listening to this one. From the start Avalon is alright, but isn't the kind of song I'd recommend to set the tone early as it is a bit too mid-paced and generic to start. It does pick up about halfway and it's not bad, but has little fire to make it jump out and I'd like to hear a bit more of that from Gamma Ray. Kai also doesn't really establish himself early as the vocals just lack the force to really sell this kind of a slow starter with softer moments mixed in early. If the music is going to be this low energy I'd at least like some passion in the vocal delivery to lift it up. Following that Hellbent is considerably higher energy and features some nice riffs, but is not without it's own problems. For one thing the lyrical unoriginality is kinda striking here. I'm pretty sure I've heard a band singing about being hellbent for something before. It's hard to avoid retreading familiar grounds sometimes, but this is pretty blatant. Hellbent for Metal is even the name of a Judas Priest tribute album. After that pretty good, but not so creative song we have Pale Rider which is kinda groove oriented and not half bad at it. I continue to be unimpressed with Kai though who sounds kinda raspy and unimpressive on the highs. Moving on to Born To Fly, this one reminds me a bit of something that could have appeared on another Judas Priest album, but this time it's Turbo. The music here has sort of a retro grooviness to it at times and at others has more of melodic flow. Comparing things to Turbo is rarely favorable and such is the case here regarding the quality of the track. The lyrics dip into the land of cliche again as well with lyrics about flying like an Eagle. I'm pretty sure I've heard something similar a time or two before to say the least. Master Of Confusion follows this with more of a melodic, but upbeat flow driven by the bass that kinda reminds me of Heaven or Hell. This is probably the most enjoyable track so far with it's catchy qualities, but it is a bit familiar as well.

Starting off the second half of the album, the title track opens up well with a decent wail and some faster guitar. It's a good start, but it quickly becomes apparent there's not a lot of variation in the music here and the riffs are a bit too familiar. The vocals are really starting to become a weak spot here as well as Kai tries to speedily talk along with the music before moving into some slightly gruffer vocals. Time For Deliverance then suddenly bottoms out on the heaviness scale with kind of a sappy sounding power metal ballad that would have been better off being left on the cutting room floor. Following this Demonseed has a very choppy sound and is another midpaced number. The stop/go sound of this wears on me quickly and it pretty much overstays it's welcome at 6:39.

On a legitimately positive note, Seven actually manages to wake me up as it comes in with a blazing riff, a nice melodic/catchy sound, and just a higher degree of memorability and energy than the rest of the album has mustered. This is one of those hidden gem sort of songs that just makes you wonder why the rest of the release couldn't have been like this. If more of Empires of the Undead was like this album would end up with a considerably higher rating than I had in mind after hearing all the songs it took to get here. Finally, closing out the album comes I Will Return which starts off with some happier sounding power metal before gaining a bit of edge to the guitar and picking up the speed. This one also has a pretty good energy level and is an above averge quick paced power metal song. Maybe not a new classic, but the album ends with a couple tracks that are easily better than the rest of the release.

Overall, listening to Empire of the Undead I heard a band that seems a bit tired. Not very much of this was particularly original or exciting and I think Kai's voice may be wearing down a bit with age. This is just not really a band anywhere near the top of their game. The songs that really distinguish themselves are too few and really only come after I was already getting kinda bored with the album. It just took listening to too many bland songs before the album really made an impression at all. I can't really see myself listening to this album through much. If anything I could see me randomly throwing on the last couple of tracks on occasion. At it's heart most of this album is pretty generic power metal and there's not enough out of the vocals or the riffs to fully sell it.

Highlights: Hellbent, I Will Return

Rating - 2.5/5

Delain - The Human Contradiction

Melodic/Symphonic Metal

1. Here Come The Vultures
2. Your Body Is A Battleground
3. Stardust
4. My Masquerade
5. Tell Me, Mechanist
6. Sing To Me
7. Army Of Dolls
8. Lullaby
9. The Tragedy Of The Commons

Delain are the sort of band I was hoping would rebound going into this release. I really enjoyed the bands first two albums of melodic metal with symphonic touches, but We Are The Others kinda dropped the ball. It just sounded too mainstream rock and lost a lot of the little symphonic nuances that made their sound. Really what I was hoping was the band would take a step back from the chuggy riffs and modern sound and get back to the sort of smooth, flowing, majestic music that made them good on the first couple of releases.

It seems in wondering if they'd go with more of a modern rock sound or a more atmospheric, majestic sound I missed another consideration. That is that Delain would just write a completely different album with an identity all it's own and come out sounding fresh and re-energized, but that is exactly what the band accomplishes here. The Human Contradiction is just a totally different Delain experience as the heaviness is really turned up and the music often sounds surprisingly dark. The sound is thick, but less in the chuggy alt way that the last album went with and more in the way a band like Epica dialed up the heaviness on Design Your Universe. This isn't as epic as that, but it's a comparable shift in terms Delain's own sound. This still has the melodic/atmospheric quality, but some of these riffs are thick in the way that a band like Nevermore managed to pull off. Reminders of Within Temptation's shift from their lighter melodic fare to something a bit more upbeat melodic also come to mind. When listening to this album I just have absolutely nothing to complain about. The vocals soar, the riffs sound thick and heavy, the atmospheric and symphonic nuances are there, the guest vocals from Marco Hietala make a reappearance, and the album is just loaded with memorable hooks. Hell in terms of the vocals I even like the death metal guest vocals from George Oosthoek and I am not exactly the world's biggest death metal fan. All the pieces here just fit together really well and form a hell of a soundscape. I never really thought of Delain as a band who could pull off this kind of heaviness and still keep their identity, but this is a most welcome expansion of their sound.

Song highlights include Stardust which has a great driving energy. If you don't get pumped listening to this one I'm not sure I understand you. Beyond that the front is loaded with some of the best songs which include the dark, haunting, yet majorly heavy Here Come The Vultures and the symphonic yet attacking ride that is Your Body Is A Battleground. Also well worth noting is Sing To Me which is made by a simple, but completely infectious chorus and the potent combo of an extremely catchy rhythm and piano touches that make the track Lullaby.

Simply put this is way, way better than I was expecting. Delain just managed to go from a band who's future I was uncertain about to a position as one of the more promising female fronted metal bands out there. Seriously, I never saw this album coming and it turned my perception of the band back around 180 degrees. I was really excited when I first heard April Rain and suddenly I remember why. This is far from being another April Rain though. It is better and more unique than that. Not to mention a hell of a lot of heavier. If you dig symphonic/atmospheric female fronted metal with some edge and a whole lot of catchiness then you want to hear this album. This is really top form and I richly enjoyed every song. At minimum this one is bound for album of the year consideration. Do more of this Delain. Please.

Highlights: Stardust, Here Come The Vultures, Sing To Me, Your Body Is A Battleground, Lullaby

Rating - 4.5/5

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stormwarrior - Thunder & Steele

Power Metal

1. Thunder & Steele
2. Metal Avenger
3. Sacred Blade
4. Ironborn
5. Steelcrusader
6. Fyres In The Nighte
7. Die By The Hammer
8. Child On Fyre
9. One Will Survive
10. Servants Of Metal

My first experience with the band Stormwarrior is a pretty ease one to remember. Back when going to ProgPower used to be a highlight for me I caught this band on the 2010 edition. I wasn't really familiar with them at the time, but I looked them up as they were on the bill with other bands I wanted to see. They seemed a little bit typical power metal to me, but I liked them well enough and they even had a song I loved in the track Heading Northe. They didn't quite blow me away, but they performed well live when I eventually saw them and the guys in the band seemed nice enough. Really this is the kind of album I give a shot when not a lot of bands I Love are releasing stuff and I feel like something new.

Well, one thing Thunder & Steele doesn't do is waste time as things start off extremely speedy from the start. There's only a short and quick paced drum intro before we dive right into maximum speed. From the start I'm reminded of Kai Hansen Helloween or particularly Gamma Ray as the vocals are similarly nasally and the music just blazes ahead in speed metal fashion. Hibria is another one that comes to mind with this not so subtle approach to power metal. The thing with the sound here is it's not at all varied. If you want nothing but a speed metal assault this is competent, but there's not really vocal range or enough creativity to keep my attention. Basically, this comes off as very middle of the road power metal without the songwriting ability, range, or vocal ability to propel it any kind of real recognition. When I say a band is typical power metal this is exactly the kind of band I think of, but since there's really no stand out songs at all the album falls even a little below that. The only thing that separates them is the one trick of never relenting and that only gets you so far. Of course, it's worth noting that the one really mid-paced track here, Child Of Fyre, is kind of boring so maybe that's why they try to sell themselves almost entirely on speed.

Basically, if you like your metal completely over the top speed than this might be worth a look, but I bet you've heard better in even that regard. Personally, I found the lack of variation grew a bit tiresome quickly. The band is talented enough and the they play with ferocity, but the predictability of these songs is very high. This is competent enough, but as songwriters I find the band to be totally average with only moments of something better and none of those moments really make it to this album. Almost all of the songs here sound like a slight variation of a very obvious idea.

Highlights: Not really. It's mostly a bunch of comparable, inside the box, speed metal.

Rating - 2.0/5

Iron Savior - Rise Of The Hero

Power Metal

1. Ascendance (Intro)
2. Last Hero
3. Revenge Of The Bride
4. From Beyond Time
5. Burning Heart
6. Thunder From Mountains
7. Iron Warrior
8. Dragon King
9. Dance With Somebody (Mando Diao Cover)
10. Firestorm
11. The Demon
12. Fistraiser

In a way Iron Savior is a great representation of the power metal scene as a whole. Maybe they're not the most technical/showy or the most varied band in the metal scene, but they're really great at sounding epic, powerful vocal deliveries, and energy that gets you pumped. I pretty much know what to expect from an Iron Savior album and that is to bang my head and want to sing along.  They're just great at what they do and an Iron Savior song is immediately recognizable as theirs. Really, how much I like an Iron Savior album tends to come in how infectious the songs are, how epic the choruses feel, and how driving the rhythms are so it all boils down to the songwriting session. The Landing certainly had it, but it's worth noting that the previous album Megatropolis' songs just didn't grab me as much. Going into this one I was hoping the band kept up the energy level from The Landing.

After listening to Rise Of The Hero I couldn't really remember one strikingly driving rhythm or super epic chorus so that pretty much tells you what you need to know. The sound is basically still the same with it's gruff-ish vocals building to soaring/layered choruses and thick chainsaw-like guitar charging ahead coupled with the feel of a sci-fi warrior movie's soundtrack, but there's something missing. This album is lacking that magical, so called it factor. Nothing here takes any big leaps in sound and this is familiar, pretty decent sounding stuff, but it never really seems to get past the familiar. As already stated, I don't expect Iron Savior to reinvent the wheel, but I do expect them to come up with a rhythm that stands out and sticks in my head or a chorus that just makes me want to sing along. That never really happens for me as the songs seem to lack that extra bit of passion or muscle and the choruses sometimes get a bit overly light and happy. The overall sound is still good, still Iron Savior, but that's about all that can really be said of this. Rise Of The Hero is basically more Megatropolis than The Landing. I just don't hear any new songs to really latch onto here that make for new live staples or that make me want to pick this album sometimes over another, better Iron Savior release.

These are my least favorite sort of reviews to write because the band didn't do anything particularly Wrong. There were no big changes, but they didn't do anything exceptionally right either. It's almost something you need to hear to understand. In that sense this is probably worth a listen for fans, but I certainly wouldn't recommend this for a new listener. If this was the first album I heard from Iron Savior I'd probably walk away thinking they had a nice sound, but were a little too typical to stand out in the genre. For a band with a pretty predictable sound you just need those sort of nifty little moments that make the songs jump out and this album doesn't really have them. The band simply doesn't come up with any new tricks here or get quite forceful or powerful enough in the deliveries to set the band/songs apart. Honestly, the highlights listed here wouldn't be highlights on an album like Condition Red or Unification. It's albums like this that I can't get excited about reviewing and they turn into a chore because I don't have anything to write about that I particularly loved or hated.

Highlights: Revenge Of The Bride, Burning Heart, Dragon King

Rating - 3.0/5

Grand Magus - Triumph And Power

Heavy Metal
Nuclear Blast

1. On Hooves Of Gold
2. Steel Versus Steel
3. Fight
4. Triumph And Power
5. Dominator
6. Arv (Interlude)
7. Holmgang
8. The Naked And The Dead
9. Ymer (Instrumental)
10. The Hammer Will Bite

At this stage in their career I'm not entirely sure what to make of Grand Magus. Their first two albums didn't do a lot for me, but they won me over with the direct heavy metal ass kicking of Wolf's Return. Then following that Iron Will didn't do a lot for me and I thought maybe it was a one off. After that Hammer Of The North came out and kicked ass again so I thought maybe the band had figured out they'd made a misstep and brought things back to the Wolf's Return style. Then just to confuse me more the band released The Hunt which seemed to have no energy at all. At this point I'd have to call the band incredibly uneven, but when they get it right they can be so fucking good. What this band is... is frustrating. When they just charge ahead and the vocalist wails out "We believe it's our legacccyyyy" they're good. When they plod along in a way that vaguely recalls their less inspired doom/stoner doom stuff they get boring quickly. I honestly had no idea which Grand Magus would show up for Triumph And Power.

Diving into this one, Triumph and Power gets off on the right foot for me immediately with the opener Hooves Of Gold. This is by no means a barn burner and it is pretty plodding in terms of pace really, but it doesn't Feel that way. What it feels like is a methodical, slow burn heaviness with vocals that chant along and then builds to a wailing chorus. It's not exactly speed that sells the band, but the rhythm has to seem to be marching forward and this one nails it. This is just good straight up heavy metal with some nice epic overtones and passion that sells it. Following that one comes Steel Versus Steel which has a nice hard rocking vibe to it and a little bit more of an upbeat pace. This is no speed demon, but it sounds like good music to accompany a biker gang cruising along. Basically, this is more of a Harley than a crotch rocket, but that is just fine by me. I'm kind of reminded of a track like Judas Priest's Grinder sung by a more mid-ranged stoner/doom vocalist. Basically, I was buying into this album by the time the first two tracks finished and that's a pretty good sign for this band. From here out it was up to the band to keep up the energy level and hooks as the sound certainly had established itself as something I wanted to hear more of.

From here out I won't go into total track by track, but I felt the first couple tracks were worthy of a write up of praise. From here things keep up the energy level and I enjoy the songs well enough, but they don't quite stand on their own as well as the first two monsters. Nothing here is even close to bad, but they just kind of settle into a groove of chugging along. These ones don't get my head banging as hard as the album started it going, but it definitely kept nodding along. A little more variation here could have just helped the songs and the album to the next level. Basically, the material is just a little too obvious and blunt in it's mid paced chuggy nature, but it still makes for a good warrior-esque soundtrack. There is still another strong highlight to be found in The Naked And The Dead however however which just has some nasty sounding, quicker paced guitar. This one rips and is well worth the wait. This is pretty much the end of the album for me though as neither the instrumental Ymer is just kind of there and the very plodding, somewhat subdued The Hammer Will Bite doesn't much for me.

Overall, Grand Magus turn in a pretty good listen here. It's not totally rock solid as the middle is more good than great and the end is a bit anticlimactic, but really I'm not going to complain too much about an album that's mostly good to great material. The last track is really the only one I didn't enjoy as I listened to it and that's not half bad. Maybe this isn't quite Hammer of the North or Wolf's Return, but it's not Monument either. I'll take it really. This album kept my interest and is praise worthy for some extremely good highlights. There are better albums that Grand Magus have released for an intro by a new listener, but this should do fine for fans. Really I'm just glad this is one of the albums where they were more on than off. It's the right sound for them and it's enjoyable.

Highlights: On Hooves Of Gold, Steel Versus Steel, The Naked And The Dead

Rating - 3.5/5

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Primal Fear - Delivering The Black

Power Metal

1. King For A Day
2. Rebel Faction
3. When Death Comes Knocking
4. Alive And On Fire
5. Delivering The Black
6. Road To Asylum
7. One Night In December
8. Never Pray For Justice
9. Born With A Broken Heart
10. Inseminoid

Going into this new one from Primal Fear I'm not sure I had much of an expectation. Their last album, Unbreakable, was pretty forgettable. It really just kind of robbed me of any excitement going into this one. On the other hand, Primal Fear have only released one other album I didn't like in Devil's Ground so I was hoping for a rebound here. The last one was so bland I just really hoped the band wasn't running low on steam.

The good news is this album has way more fire than the last one. From the start the riffs have a lot more edge to them and the album sounds more aggressive than the band has in quite awhile. I liked the more melodic approach of New Religion and Seven Seals, but it's also cool to see the band showing that it hasn't forgotten it's roots. This is very upbeat and attacking material the likes of which I haven't really heard consistently from the band since Black Sun. In fact both the riffs and the guitar sound recall Nuclear Fire and even a bit of the early, even more obvious Priest worship of the first album. This is a pretty drastic step back for the band, but I guess they must have been tired of the more melodic rock geared experimentation they'd adopted on the often melodic rock/metal based label Frontiers. It's a welcome change in that it seems to have breathed some life back into Primal Fear's song. Primal Fear really don't let their foot off the gas much on this one and it's a pretty heavy experience. I think my only real gripe is that the album comes off as a bit overproduced at times for the material. The obnoxiously up front cymbal crashes in King For A Day are one example of the production being a bit distracting and the backing chanting in Rebel Faction that follow seem a bit unnecessary. This problem is most evident on the bloated epic One Night In December though with it's pompous piano, strings, and bell intro. The song isn't even that bad, but I'm not sure it needed the symphonic treatment. It just tries a little too hard to be epic and the length of this track is also not really necessary. The ballad Born With A Broken Heart is another one with a heavy handed melodic/symphonic approach, but in fairness this seems a little more appropriate in ballad form. My favorite tracks though really tend to be the ones that are more direct and just kick some ass. There's nothing fancy about songs like Alive And On Fire, Never Pray For Justice, or Road To Asylum but they have a good attacking approach with a touch of groove.

I can't help but thinking the album could have benefited from sounding just a little rawer and that Frontiers is maybe not the best label to be handling this sort of material. Despite any flaws in the sound though the songs are far better than on Unbreakable though and this is a certain improvement. This isn't a flawless album, but the riffs are there and keep the head moving. Overall, this isn't a quite a home run but it's a definite step up compared to the last release and I'll take it.

Highlights: Alive And On Fire, Never Pray For Justice, Road To Asylum

Rating - 3.5/5