By Carl Begai
It has taken Stratovarius three albums since their 2008 split with guitarist/songwriter Timo Tolkki to find solid footing again. Not that their “comeback” record Polaris (’09) and follow-up Elysium (’11) were particularly bad; they simply felt too tentative, as if the band was being extra careful about not stepping outside the box. Nemesis, on the other hand, sees Stratovarius throwing out their own rulebook on what makes for a solid album. Guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen has fleshed out his role as Tolkki’s replacement, while frontman Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johnasson have come into their own as songwriters, making for an album loaded with hooks and double-take moments. And with the entrance of drummer Rolf Pilve in place of Joerg Micheal, Stratovarius is back to sounding fresh and stoked about their collective day job.
Put it this way; Stratovarius hasn’t sounded this good or this together since the Episode (’95), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) albums.
Off the top, gotta say it’s a huge pleasure having to wait 10 out of 11 tracks for the album’s lone ballad (‘If The Story Is Over’) to surface. Very un-power metal of them to make the move, and Nemesis is better for it. The band dishes out some out-of-character heavy on ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’ and ‘Stand My Ground’ – welcome Mr. Pilve – with ‘Halcyon Days’ marking Stratovarius’ most adventurous song to date thanks to some unexpected trance elements (that actually work). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
If you cut your teeth on ’80s Queensrÿche, be honest: you’ve been prepared to shitcan vocalist Geoff Tate’s new solo outing since word came down he was putting one together. Guilty as charged in this corner, especially considering the last 20 years of Tate-led ‘Rÿche sludge has barely made a dent in my grey matter. Hell knows many fans have given the band’s music post-Empire years more than a fair shake, but the hookless meandering metal of the last two decades castrated the band’s credibility beyond a nostalgia act in this office long ago. With all that in mind, it came as a surprise to discover Kings & Thieves is actually a decent listen in spite of some mid-album filler.
Unlike Tate’s 2002 solo debut – one man’s “experimental” is another man’s “directionless” – Kings & Thieves is a rock album. His vocals are gold, as expected, though he never hits that high-end metal register he’s known for (which would stick out like a nail in the eye here), and the wealth of hooks and memorable melodies is a welcome surprise. In fact, the album is very reminiscent of the softer shades on Empire like ‘Another Rainy Night’, ‘Hand On Heart’, ‘One And Only’ and ‘Jet City Woman’, making the whole experience oddly satisfying. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
German independent singer / guitarist / songwriter Florian Baessler – the original and only Wilderpilger – has earned himself a small but loyal following at home over the years both for his live cover act and his original music. The cover shows are always entertaining one-man-band displays of how far he can push (mostly) popular songs in directions one might not expect, while All The Things showcases Baessler as an artist capable of succeeding on his own merit. Big on country music influences (right down to a guitar twang) with a very slight dabbling of rock thrown into the soup, the album is a storyteller’s journey through everything from coping with that annoying person in the audience at any given show (‘All The Things’), the love / hate paradox of being a travelling musician (‘Really Like To Stay’), fatherhood (‘Your Love’, ‘Sleeping St. Salomon’), love (‘Mine’), fear (‘Breathe’), life ‘Down Down Down’)…. very down to earth. Musically it’s rock solid on a foundation of acoustic guitars and Baessler’s lush voice, backed by the organic warmth of piano, Hammond organ, upright bass and electric guitar as required. This can’t be stressed enough; All The Things sounds and acts like it was made by real people in a real studio, discussing and arguing and laughing with each other as the songs were brought to life.
It’s a bit of a surprise the album has the level of appeal that it does in my world given the noise I normally listen to on any given day. At this point I’m blaming it on the honesty of the music and the talent behind the songs. That and the fact many of the songs are catchy, pure and simple, and don’t sport that dreaded acoustic guitars = ballads stigma. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend has never been shy about his love for, as he puts it, the “big dumb rock record.” Trace his career back to the beginning and even when his tripwires n’ landmines Strapping Young Lad playground was his ground zero, Townsend was plenty capable of taking a lighter approach to getting his message(s) across. Hell, his first real foray outside the box with Punky Brüster in ‘96 put the “F.U.” in “fun” for all eternity. Songs like ‘Life’ (Ocean Machine), ‘Bad Devil’ (Infinity), ‘Slow Me Down’ (Accelerated Evolution), ‘Vampira’ (Synchestra), ‘Sunshine And Happiness’ (Synchestra) and ‘Bend It Like Bender’ (Addicted) are solid examples of his upbeat tendencies – at least as far as the music is concerned – all of which are worthy starters as a build up to Epicloud’s monstrous rock n’ soul delivery.
And there’s nothing dumb about it.
Call Epicloud the bigger, more emotional, deeper, curveball-throwing sibling to the stellar Addicted record. In what amounts to theater for the ears, Epicloud is an album of scene-by-song contrasts. For all the heavy – and there’s plenty of it – Townsend takes the all too common “You can’t do that in metal” mentality and chucks it out the locomotive window. Case in point with the gospel choir that kicks things off with ‘Effervescent!’ and sticks around for a good chunk of the record: symphonic metal be damned, you’ve never heard a choral group sing on a summer cruisin’ pseudo-punk tune with “bullshit!” as part of their score.
Anneke van Giersbergen makes a grand return as Townsend’s female counterpart, dishing out lead vocals and trading backing harmonies as required, up front no less than 50% of the time. Even half way through the album it’s hard to imagine what Epicloud would sound like without her. It certainly wouldn’t be as in-your-face as it is, and that’s without taking anything away from Townsend’s vocal performance, his band (Waddell / Van Poederooyen / Young) or wall of sound production values. Hard to pick where she shines brightest, though I was partial at press time to her performances on ‘True North’, the pop-ish ‘80s feelgood groove of ‘Save Our Now’ (reminiscent of her latest solo album Everything Is Changing), and the crushing metal assault of ‘More!’ in particular. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
As a 43-years-and-counting old-schooler, In This Moment rank as one the few acts amongst a crop of modern day metal bands to come across my desk that offer up quality material rather than disposable and often laughable kiddie aggression. Blood is album #4 – their third with producer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne) in the booth – and like their previous record A Star-Crossed Wasteland it’s an exercise in re-invention, with just enough repetition thrown in to keep the hard-nosed “Change bad!” fans happy.
Blood strikes a balance between Maria Brink’s banshee screech and rich clean voice – the focus of every In This Moment record – with the heavy bumped up a notch from A Star-Crossed Wasteland (read: meaty guitars every which way you turn). The band explores a new arsenal of dynamics once again, making good on their reputation for shaking things from album to album so that no two are completely alike. Lead-off track ‘Blood’ shares airspace with Marilyn Manson’s ‘This Is The New Shit’, while ‘Adrenalize’, ‘Scarlet’ and ‘From The Ashes’ are as close to “expected” as the band is gonna give you. Where In This Moment truly shine are the melody-laced in-your face anthems ‘Whore’ – channelling Eminem’s monster hit ‘Lose Yourself’ – and the crowd-rallying ‘Beast Within’. (continue reading…)
I was recently given an advance listen to vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva’s new three-track Malediction EP, due to be released via Listenable Records on May 28th. Following is a rundown of what the digital-only shot in the head has to offer…
Back when vinyl was king, it was common for bands to release 12” EPs featuring exclusive material to tide fans over while waiting for the artist’s next full length album. More often than not this material was top notch stuff rather than the uninspired cut / paste filler “bonus tracks” that often get tacked onto the end of present day releases. That said, it’s something of a pity that vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva’s new Malediction EP is a digital-only affair, because the three songs featured reflect that era; quality music created in the interest of giving the fans something special.
Malediction is short, sweet, and to the bloody point, boasting material as good as if not better than that featured on Sarah’s previous solo outing, The Corruption Of Mercy. Lead track ‘Lies Define Us’ is a gorgeous and memorable hook-laden piece standing head and shoulders above typical goth metal fluff, featuring Soilwork frontman Björn “Speed” Strid singing clean harmonies against Sarah’s leads and clocking in under four minutes for maximum impact. In contrast, ‘When “It” Catches Up With You’ is about the Sarah Jezebel Deva band as a whole rather than being a vocal showcase, officially smacking Angtoria off its pedestal as being the strongest band-oriented work Ms. Deva has ever done thanks to riff-heavy guitars, monster drums, with everyone involved getting a chance to shine.
The icing on the cake, however – or the thorn in the eye as he’d probably dub it himself – is Cradle Of Filth frontman Dani trading lead vocals with his former backing singer on ‘This Is My Curse’. And it’s a performance guaranteed to please any fan of the Nyphetamine and Thornography albums. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Call it a safe bet that a fair number of progressive metal fans feel slighted by having two giants of the genre – vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) – slamming down ton of bricks modern-edged metal with nary a 5/8 time signature or widdly keyboard flourish in sight. Nope, this is feelgood freight train mayhem minus the seatbelts done up old school, with the dynamic prog duo and guitarist Mike Orlando relying on musicality rather than gutteral aggression and the same old boring-ass downtuned chords to get their message across. Allen is a monster right out of the gate, his melodic bellow on lead-off tracks ‘Undaunted’ and ‘Psychosane’ laying the groundwork for some of the strongest material of his career (and wiping those damn Allen/Lande albums from memory). Orlando was either schooled in Stuck Mojo, or the band’s guitarist Rich Ward – who was in Adrenaline Mob for about 5 minutes – made a lasting impression on his songwriting. When it comes down to the groove crunch, and there’s plenty of it, Orlando’s shred is also an echo of Zakk Wylde, giving folks a welcome taste of Black Label Society. With Portnoy providing the backbone for the Allen/Orlando-penned tunes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Adrenaline Mob’s overall sound is far and away from your average balls-out 4/4 metal band.
By Carl Begai
When Halestorm surfaced in 2009 with their self-titled major league debut – after a decade in the trenches creating a buzz – they hit a home run with fans of modern day radio rock. The band was immediately lumped into the Nickelback / Shinedown section of the bus and rewarded with a legion of fans for their trouble. Safe, predictable and formulaic, they became a success through a mix of pushing the right commercial buttons, good looks, and touring their collective asses off on some big-name road trips. For all the accolades, however, Halestorm was considered by those listening from the sidelines as a solid act but not worth writing home about. The release of the ReAniMate covers EP in 2011 punched a king-sized hole in the “safe and predictable” tag-line, scaring the hell out of the naysayers (and some fans) with wonderfully obnoxious covers of anthems ‘Slave To The Grind’ (Skid Row) and ‘Out Ta Get Me’ (Guns N’ Roses), and a ballsy rendition of The Beatles’ classic ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’. The live shows around the release sent a clear message that in spite of popular fluff in their repertoire, Halestorm is a tooth and nail rock band capable of bringing the roof down around your ears.
For anyone that didn’t jump on board at the beginning of the Halestorm trip, new outing The Strange Case Of… is exactly that: strange. It kicks off with a tip of the hat to the fans of all things heavy with ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’, essentially daring rivet-heads everywhere not to get roped in by the up-tempo shred and vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale’s rant-tastic delivery. Second track ‘Mz. Hyde’ is just as much of a surprise thanks to a chugging Stray Cats groove (!), followed by the soaring crush of ‘I Miss The Misery’ and the too-Papa-Roach-for-its-own-good rocker, ‘Freak Like Me’. Only four songs in, it’s clear as to why Lzzy is considered to be one of, if not the best female vocalist on the scene today. Her delivery is classic Joan Jett attitude mixed with Corey Taylor intensity (as needed) and a young Sebastian Bach’s insane vocal range. Everything you hear has been and can be pulled off live, with interest. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
The long awaited Nightwish follow-up to Dark Passion Play from 2007, Imaginaerum, is a masterpiece. The greatest thing since the creation of fire. Grander the invention of the wheel. A tour de force that has pushed the power metal and classical music scenes to learn French and admit they have no clue what “bombastic” really means. A showcase of musical genius that has composer John Williams considering changing his last name to Holopainen. Better than half-drunk pre-marital sex. So awesome they had to make a movie about/for/with it. Blah blah fucking blah add nausea…
Yes indeed, the media hack hype machine has been puckering up and kissing ass ever since the album was made accessible to the press, likely upping the sales of Chapstick by 200%. Only thing is, Imaginaerum is a bloody masterpiece, particularly if you’re a Nightwish fan that’s been able to see beyond Tarja Turunen’s cleavage.
If not for potential accusations of plagiarism, Nightwish could have gotten away with calling the album Tuomas In Wonderland. Spawned and nurtured by keyboardist / songwriter / founder Tuomas Holopainen, Imaginaerum is his full blown journey into the depths of fairytales and fantasy, something that’s been a here-and-there part of the Nightwish formula from album to album since the band’s inception. It earns the title “epic” before things are even a third done, the majority of the songs being a clear cut and necessary step up and away from Dark Passion Play on almost every count. Just how far one is willing to be yanked down Holopainen’s personal rabbit hole depends on how much time you’re willing to invest in a new, insanely ambitious, and occasionally bizarre take on a traditional soundtrack. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
When a band releases an album for free, the knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss it as a collection of odds and bits that aren’t worthy of an official “real world” physical release. A Southern Revelation is available at no cost to friend and foe alike (details below), featuring brand new material written and recorded in the wake of a label-instigated shitsorm that would have ripped a lesser band to shreds. Call it nine shots of venom capped off with a chaser celebrating the good old days, served up as a middle finger dedicated to Tiefdruck Musik boss Daniel Heerdman following the botched release of My Ruin’s previous record, Ghosts And Good Stories.
A bloodletting rather than an exorcism, vocalist Tairrie B. Murphy tears down Heerdmann, false promises, industry politics and the posers it spawns, ever the elegant wordsmith whether she’s a raging scream or calculated spoken word. Always a treat to listen to – “listen” being the operative word – lyrical violence abounds, with Tairrie venting in her trademark no-bull fashion on ‘Walk Of Shame’, ‘Middle Finger’, ‘Seventh Sacrament’, ‘Deconsecrated’, and the killing blow, ‘The Soulless Beast’. And while certain folks may feel that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, being compared in song to the devil and stamped as “The Great Pretender” by name should be food for change of thought. (continue reading…)