Album Reviews + Napster

January 28th, 2001

I ordered 7 CDs from The End Records last Wednesday, got them on Friday.
They were out of stock on one of them (Dusk), but as usual their service
was top-notch. 6 CDs for $60. I imagine you could pay that much for
only three CDs at a mall store, with the only difference being the mall
store CDs wouldn’t be nearly as cool.

Misanthrope – Immortal Misanthrope: Yeah! With their fifth album,
it seems like Misanthrope has continued with their streak of improving
with every album. And no, their first album doesn’t suck. Anyway, it
continues pretty much where their last album (Libertine Humiliations)
left off: Avant-garde melodic death metal, albeit less avant-garde than
in their early days but still very unique. Think Dark Tranquillity’s
“Haven” with twice the speed, twice the intensity, four times the synths,
and a bit more showmanship. Would have most likely been near the top
of my “best of 2000” list if I had gotten it in 2000.

Odes of Ecstasy – Deceitful Melody: Somewhat different than what I was
expecting, since dweeb kept describing it as “festive”. Thus I was thinking
it would be something pretty happy, but it’s really mostly in line
with their first album, just maybe a bit more developed. Basically it’s
beauty & the beast metal, with a good emphasis on “metal” rather than
“goth”, which is how I like it. I also like how they sneak in a creepy
song near the end of the album like they did on their first one.

Love History – Anasazi: A Czech band, which, as far as I can tell,
automatically makes them good. They have the characteristic sound that
all Czech bands I’ve heard seem to have; it’s very hard to describe,
but I really like it. All types of singing (male, female, growls),
a solid metal base, and things just seem to be written and played more
creatively than most bands. But it’s not creativity just to be different,
it seems like their natural way of writing music. Cross Root’s The
Book
with Forgotten Silence’s Senyaan, and you’ll get something
pretty close to Anasazi.

Enid – Abschiedsreigen: From The End’s description and the sound clip,
I was expecting something similar to Angizia: piano/keyboard-led classically
influenced music with a Germanic touch. It’s that, but more. Unlike
Angizia, it gets both fast and heavy, sometimes sounding something like
a cross between Haggard and Dimmu Borgir (ok, maybe that’s a stretch).
Very interesting.

Let Me Dream – Greyscales: The End called them “Uptempo death rock with
growly and clean vocals” which sounded good to me, and Dark Symphonies
saying the album was a must for Vintersorg/Havayoth fans sealed it for
me. It doesn’t really sound like Vintersorg or Havayoth; rather, it falls
somewhere in between. It’s covered with Havayoth-like synths, has a
mix of black, rough-sung, and Viking-style vocals, and pretty much a
solid metal base. It does sound Finnish, since it’s Finnish.

Dawnbringer – Catharsis Instinct: American band playing melodic death
metal, perhaps with the goal of sounding Swedish, but thankfully since
they aren’t Swedish, they’re unsuccessful at that. If they had a clean
singer they might be called an American power metal band (like Iced Earth,
Nevermore), but their growler, even though he’s very low in the mix,
takes them out of that category. I think all of the interesting and
creative riffs will help this one stand out from the pack a bit.

==========

Now, the CDs I got from Napster. I figured it out how to get it running
at work this week, so it was my first time actually trying it out. I
downloaded 3 albums, and I fully intend to buy at least two of them.
Since my players at home and work can read CD-RWs, it makes it pretty
nice because I can just burn a temporary copy until I buy the real thing,
or just erase it if I don’t like it. The only reason I bothered to
get these albums is because it’s easier than it is to get a hold of the
real versions. Since I don’t have golden ears, I can’t really tell the
difference between high-quality mp3s burned to CD and real CDs, and thus, I
would gladly just pay the record companies to download the songs from them.
Unfortunately, there’s no one ready to accept my money yet, so I’ll have
to eventually pay them the old-fashioned way. Obviously I realize not
everyone feels the same way as I do, which is why Napster is such a big
problem. Anyway, it was interesting to actually try out Napster finally.
Here’s what I got:

Skyclad – Folkemon: This one grabbed me immediately, unlike the last two
Skyclad albums (which have never completely grabbed me). At first I
thought it must be a whole lot different than Vintage Whine, but upon
going back to VW, I realized it’s pretty similar. The difference
seems to be in the energy, which is just bursting out of Folkemon. I’d
say it combines the style and heaviness of Silent Whales… with the
attitude and vibe of Oui Avant Garde a Chance. It might become
one of my favorite Skyclad albums.

Helloween – The Dark Ride: Yet another winner from Helloween. As usual,
they make steps forward and do something different, while still hanging
on to bits of what they’ve done before. Cool atmosphere, and it’s
Deris’s least-annoying performance yet, as he uses a lot of his lower
range and does a lot of cool whispering.

Opeth – Blackwater Park: Ok, I’ve only listened to it once, which is a
stupid time to say anything about an Opeth album, but I’ll say something
anyway. So far it’s pretty much what I expected. Which is something not
too exciting, and something that sounds very familiar. Sure, it’s well
played and well produced, but I don’t really hear anything significantly
different than what they’ve done on their last two albums. The change
between Morningrise and My Arms, Your Hearse was huge, but since then
it seems like they’ve just been doing the same thing. What I would love
to hear is where Opeth would go next if they were to make another stylistic
change similar in magnitude to their first one. But the band seems happy
treading water, or maybe that’s just what happens when you quickly churn out
album after album. I guess if you loved Still Life, you’ll love this too.
Me, I’ll give it plenty more chances to grow on me, but I think at its best
it can only stand as the most refined variation on a theme rather than an
outright masterpiece like Morningrise.

2000 Music Year in Review

December 21st, 2000

Top Ten albums:

o Mayhem – Grand Declaration of War
The world’s most notorious black metal band has historically also been the most overhyped, since their musical output has never been as big of a draw as their non-musical affairs. Apparently Mayhem was sick of this situation, so they decided to do the impossible: create an album that would instantly make everyone forget about their past and say “Holy crap, these guys can play!” It’s still black metal, but taken in an entirely new direction (quite a difficult task in today’s crowded post-black metal scene). Production is perfectly clear and powerful, but still cold and grim. Riffs and rhythms are insanely complex and precise, but still create a feeling of chaos. Drums are incessantly creative and intricate, but still blast away with blackened fury. Vocals are sung and spoken, but still the tortured screams remain. Lyrics are intelligent and even form a concept, but still present black metal ideals. Simply one of the most progressive (in both senses of the word) and surprising releases this year. Too bad not enough people understood this achievement.

o Iron Maiden – Brave New World
Even through the much-maligned Blaze years (which produced some of my favorite Maiden material), Iron Maiden always knew how to write songs that would catch my interest. Things are no different with this one. Not every song is pure genius, but it never is with a Maiden album, and it doesn’t have to be. The return of Bruce and Adrian was fairly inconsequential for me from a musical standpoint; they’re plenty good but I don’t feel anything was lacking without them. This is still Steve Harris’s band, and he’s still doing things the way he wants them done. “The Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is easily my favorite song of the year.

o Einherjer – Norwegian Native Art
Many Einherjer fans didn’t much like their second album “Odin Owns Ye All” (which I loved) because it was “too happy” or not heavy enough. Well, Einherjer must have listened, since they made their most aggressive and in-your-face album yet. It’s still epic Viking metal at the core; the biggest changes are more due to the production than the songwriting. The drums are heavier, faster, and more complex. The guitars have much more bite, but are also now playing some pretty proggy riffs. Vocals are also darker, and a range of styles is present, from black rasps to clean singing; however, the majority of the vocals are halfway between the two. The keyboards are pretty unique and play an important role in creating melodies. The cover features the band looking all wet, dirty, and really pissed, and that sets the tone for the album perfectly. Unfortunately this didn’t see wide distribution, so not nearly enough people have heard it.

o Primordial – Spirit the Earth Aflame
I didn’t much like the last Primordial album (“A Journey’s End”), as it was a bit too dreary and depressing for my tastes. Apparently Primordial didn’t like it all that much either, since they returned with a mighty and epic slab of burning and smoldering metal. Everything about this album suggests “power”, and when listening to it it’s hard not to become suffused with that power. I don’t mean the kind of power that makes you want to jump around; rather, it’s a power that makes you stand and raise your arms spread wide in a defiant challenge to anyone who may oppose you (like your mother telling you to turn your stereo down, for example). I’ve always found this band somewhat similar to Borknagar, with the pseudo-black riffing style, mix of vocal styles, and their ability to give a slight folk-ish flavor to things without going overboard or using non-standard instruments. On this album, all that exists, but these Irishmen have also managed to capture a glowing fire that’s quite a contrast to the iciness of their Scandinavian counterparts.

o Ayreon – The Dream Sequencer
In my estimation, people I know (especially those into more extreme metal) have greatly preferred this half of the “Universal Migrator” 2-CD set. That was a bit unexpected as it’s the other one that’s supposed to be “metal”, and “metal” is what’s supposed to be good. Well, this proves that a lot of people find songs more important than musical style and big names, which is pretty nice to know. Anyway, there are just some fantastic songs on here. “My House on Mars” with Johan Edlund is the highlight for me, but there’s plenty of other great ones (“One Small Step”, “Dragon on the Sea”, “And the Druids Turn to Stone”) to keep my interest high for the whole thing. In contrast to the “metal” CD, I think the songs here just have a lot more room to breathe, and thus to show off their melodies as well as the skill and character of their vocalists. And while the lyrics/story may be cheesy as all hell, listening to the songs makes me want to read the lyrics, which is very rare for me these days.

o Source of Tide – Ruins of Beauty
This one is hard to describe. Since it comes from Norway and has some instances of grim vocals, I tend to associate it with black metal, but it’s really not. It’s basically symphonic heavy metal, with a lot of creative songwriting and originality to it. I originally called it “gay beauty and the beast metal”, since it’s somewhat similar to a band like Tristania, but uses theatrical, operatic male vocals to carry the majority of the melodies instead of the now-expected female vocalist. Anyway, the point is, it’s good enough to be in my top 10 of 2000, and it would make a good starting point for someone starting to get into more extreme and darker music.

o In the Woods… – Three Times Seven on a Pilgrimage
This is a strange CD to have in a top 10 list since it’s not an album of new material. It’s a collection of ITW…’s three 7-inches (3×7, get it?), which were recorded over the course of their soon-to-be-ended career. “Omnio”, their second release, remains their masterpiece, but since this release culls material from all portions of their history, it has plenty of moments of brilliance on its own. Three of the songs are covers, but I wouldn’t know it if I didn’t read the liner notes, since everything fits so well together as an album. At this point, I suppose they pretty much play psychadelic prog-rock, but given their black metal background, I always hear it as something more than that.

o Borknagar – Quintessence
Once promoted as a black metal “supergroup”, Borknagar has proven over the course of four albums that they’re much more than just a flash-in-the-pan thrown together by a greedy record company. Of course, they’re still a supergroup of sorts (not really black metal), although the members are almost completely different. This is their finest release yet. The characteristic Borknagar guitar sound still exists, but by now they’ve completely abandoned the folky influences of “The Olden Domain”, and have gone for a more dense and somewhat futuristic vibe. The impassable wall of guitars on this CD may take some getting used to, but in the meantime you can focus on the amazingly creative multi-multi-tracked (clean and grim) vocals of ICS Vortex, and the Solefald-ian keyboards brought in by Lazare.

o Enslaved – Mardraum
I’ve never been able to develop an interest in Enslaved before this album, mostly due to their frequent use of extended blast beats. On this album they toned the blast beats down a bit, but in all other respects, unleashed a monster. This is more death or heavy metal than it is black metal, although it’s still quite epic, and contains a lot of excellent clean vocal passages. There is also a lot of psychadelic guitar noodling and soloing effortlessly interspersed with jackhammer riffs. In a day when a lot of metal songwriting consists more of rearranging old riffs than creating new ones, there are a surprising number of times on this album where I say “where’d they come up with THAT?!?” This one could easily move up in the list, but I’ve only gotten it recently so I don’t want to rate it too high just yet.

o Nightingale – I
Dan Swano’s dark rock project returns once again with an album significantly different than the previous one. The songs here are much more direct and focused than they were on the darker “The Closing Chronicles”. In some ways, that’s a disappointment, but some of the songs are so good that the disappointment is easily forgotten. Excellent vocals throughout, and excellent melodies. And that’s about all there is to say about an album like this.

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Iron Maiden Ramblings

July 26th, 2000

No, this post isn’t really about loving or hating Iron Maiden, it’s just gonna be a long Maiden-related post, and that song is going to be featured. Sumeet asked about my opinion of Brave New World a few days ago, so here it is, along with a bunch of other stuff. If you’re not Sumeet, you may just find this a bit boring, believe it or not.

Basically, I think BNW might be my favorite Iron Maiden album. The common line people have been using (so much that it’s become cliched) is “It’s their best since Seventh Son!” For me, sure, maybe it is. But in that case, it’s also the best since their first album, as I think The X Factor is better than Seventh Son, or any of their previous albums. By the way, is Seventh Son EVERYONE’s favorite Maiden album? If so, that would be one of the strongest general agreements ever in the metal community; if not, it seems like I would have heard someone say “It’s their best since Number of the Beast” or something like that.

So at the moment, the crown of “Neil’s favorite Maiden album” is being tossed between The X Factor and Brave New World right now. Only time will tell the victor of that battle, as I recognize that right now BNW has a host of environmental factors in it’s favor. First is the season. I wonder if record companies ever decide to release albums at a particular time of the year, and I don’t mean just so they match up with other releases or something like that. I mean do they match albums to the weather and climate? Because BNW appeared at the beginning of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), and if there’s a better album to crank up on a sunny day while cruising down the highway with the top down, then damn, I’d like to hear it. By contrast, something like The X Factor would clash with the season; that album does it’s best magic in the darkness and cold. The second environmental factor is my purchase and first impressions. I bought the album while on vacation in Venice, Italy, and the first couple times I listened to it was while sitting outside on a bench in a classic Venetian campiello. Wonderfully, BNW and Venice are now inextricably linked in my mind. Finally, three days after purchasing the album, I saw Iron Maiden perform live on one of their first shows of the “Metal 2000” tour in Monza, Italy. Seeing the songs so soon in such a fantastic live setting is also obviously going to change my impressions. Anyway, none of this really has too much with Iron Maiden specifically, but I’m always curious of other people consider these kinds of things when reviewing albums. There’s plenty of people around here who seem to post their thoughts on an album after listening to it one time, and I find opinions like that to be completely worthless. For me, there’s a whole lot more involved in figuring out what I’ll think of an album in the long term.

Now, how about the album itself? It’s definitely met or surpassed my expectations, which were admittedly a bit low. Since The X Factor was my favorite Maiden album previously, and I’ve never been as enamored of Bruce as most, I was a bit afraid that they’d go and wreck all the things that I’d grown to love about them. Thankfully, the music didn’t go retro; it pretty much continued along the path Maiden has been going on. And Bruce sounds fantastic. I find the production to be perfect, nice and clear but not squeaky-clean, and not as punchy as more modern bands. I like Bruce’s harmonies, how the higher line is pushed really far back in the mix. The drumming totally rules, and anytime I specifically listen to that part of the band, a grin spreads across my face as I can see Nicko bouncing in his chair, constantly making faces with each flourish. Here’s a quick runthrough of the songs, where as usual, my opinions seem to differ a fair bit from the standard.

The Wicker Man: I couldn’t imagine a better first track for this album. Perfect leadoff, and the ending rules.
Ghost of the Navigator: One of the highlights of the album. In addition to the whole song being unique stuff, some of Bruce’s vocal melodies must have come from somewhere no one has looked before.
Brave New World: Another strong one to keep the pace going.
Blood Brothers: I read a pre-release interview saying how great the orchestration in this song was, so maybe that’s why I’m a bit disappointed with it. Still, a good song.
The Mercenary: Not bad, but it seems pretty much like a filler song to me.
Dream of Mirrors: This one seems to be a favorite of a lot of people, but it fits somewhere in the middle of the pack for me. I love long intros and repetition, but Maiden’s done it better before.
The Fallen Angel: A good bit better than The Mercenary, but still behind Wickerman, amongst the three “standard” songs.
The Nomad: Another general favorite that I’m not as crazy about. The rhythms are great and the mellow section in the middle is awesome, but all the “NOOOOMAD!!!!” gets to be a bit much for me sometimes. It’s the same reason I’m not too crazy about “The CLAAAANSMAN!!!”
Out of the Silent Planet: One of my favorites; great groove, great pace, great melodies.
The Thin Line Between Love & Hate: Finally, the track that has me completely baffled. In nearly every review I’ve read of this album, opinions of this song have ranged from “forgettable” to “terrible”. For me, it’s the best song on the album by far, and possibly my favorite Maiden song ever, right up there with Hallowed Be Thy Name and Afraid to Shoot Strangers. The song has great variation, cool use of the three-guitar attack, an awesome change near the end with some beautiful leads, and when Bruce soars “I will hope / My soul will fly / And I will live forever”, I swear it nearly brings a tear to my eye. What more could you ask for in a song? I’m beginning to think I must have a different version on my CD that everyone else does.

Incidentally, doesn’t it say a lot about Maiden that they get so many song-by-song reviews? I don’t see that so much with too many other bands. For those disappointed with the album, I don’t find that all that surprising, since this is a prog-metal board, and Maiden isn’t all that much of a prog-metal band. As I’ve said to people for their last few albums, if you don’t like the new Maiden stuff, go back and listen to the old Maiden stuff, and you may discover you don’t care for that too much anymore either. I maintain that Iron Maiden hasn’t changed nearly as much as some of their listeners have.

Ok, and a couple more pseudo-related topics, then I’ll finish this book. First, Maiden live at Gods of Metal in Italy. The 3 bands that played before Maiden were Sentenced (great), Dark Tranquillity (they completely blew me away, amazing performance), and Demons & Wizards (great, but the crowd was starting to murder me at this point). Since I was up front and dying for those three bands, we needed to take a break and go back up into the stands while Maiden set up. I naively thought maybe we could just stay up their for their whole set, it was a pretty good view after all. But as has happened to me before, as soon as Maiden started playing, I had to get down there with the crowd. It was amazing to see the crowd of people down on the field who were previously milling around the t-shirt booths and food stands be instantly drawn into a tight pack before the stage like iron filings to a magnet. As usual, the band was pure energy, and the sound was absolutely perfect. Bruce sounded unbelieveable, literally. I found myself trying to look closely to make sure he wasn’t lip-synching. They opened with the first four off BNW, and the transition from Blood Brothers into Wrathchild (“And now for something completely different!”) kicked my ass. Other highlights were Sign of the Cross with Bruce appearing tied to a cross rising above the stage, and Fear of the Dark with the moon appearing with perfect timing in a break in the clouds. It was the first outdoor metal show I’ve ever seen, and the first real big stage show from Maiden, and my first time seeing a concert in Italy, so all in all it was pretty unbeatable. I have tickets for their upcoming show in Chicago, and I’m sure it will be cool, but I fear it will end up being a bit of a letdown.

Finally, I picked of the new Blaze album, Silicon Messiah, and it seems rather cool. Although there’s one song that’s vocally very similar to Man on the Edge, there really isn’t a whole lot of Maiden similarities, even with the singing (although it’s obvious who is behind the mic). There’s actually one song where they ripped of Helloween. The band seems really good, the drummer is a real ditch-digger. And Blaze’s vocal melodies are both complex and memorable. The production is real nice and heavy, it’s good to hear that they didn’t go retro. Overall, it really seems to me like the type of metal someone like Ralf would like; it doesn’t seem all that different than something like Lefay to me. And it keeps growing on me more and more too. By the way, did anyone else notice Blaze looks really skinny in the photos? You think Maiden would have given him at least enough money to feed himself.

Ok, I’m done (for now). It’s a bit more disjointed than I planned, and longer, but hey, I warned you!

Final thoughts on Brave New World, as it just finished playing: I don’t know if I can claim yet that it’s my favorite album of the year, but I can say that I’ve been playing it more than anything else I’ve gotten.

LotFP Compilation-Tape Review

April 25th, 2000

Compilation produced by Jim Raggi at Lamentations of the Flame Princess

First, Jim did a very nice job putting together these two tapes, I’m sure it was pretty challenging to find stuff that would be interesting to everyone, knowing that his audience knows quite a bit about metal. He was also nice enough to include LotFP #5, and as usual the interviews are the highlight, and I think the reviews should just be scrapped. 🙂

Anyway, some statistics to start out with. If I counted correctly, there are 31 songs on these two tapes. Here’s some broken-down information about where all the songs fit in for me:

I own the actual song on the tape: 11
I own something by the band but not the song on the tape: 6
I’ve heard something from the band before, but don’t own it: 2
Bands and songs that were totally new to me: 12

Ok, I’ve gone through these tapes three times now, so I figure that’s good enough for me to throw out my thoughts. After the first couple songs the first time through, I thought it would be interesting to abandon the nicely provided notes so that I’d be listening to each song without any preconceived notions. That made things kinda interesting.

Oh, also, I know Jim is going to whine and moan about this, but I don’t really give a crap about lyrics. Well, I do, if I have time to read them, and yes, they can definitely add or subtract from my opinion of the band, but that’s only after I’ve formed the majority of my opinion off the music alone. So maybe I’ll read these lyrics sometime, but I just haven’t had the chance yet.

Ebony Lake
‘Author of the Burning Flock’
from Upon the Eve of the Grimly Inventive

Hmm, some kind of grindcore-ish stuff, but with cool keyboards and other stuff. Whoa, it stopped. Now it’s horror-film music. Well, apparently this is one of those bands that is all over the place. I can dig that. Although I could do without the grindcore side. Interesting. It’s going to be hard for me to keep this band separate from Ebony Tears and Lake of Tears.

Kari Rueslatten
‘The Homecoming Song’
from her demo

I’ve heard this CD a couple times before, and like then, yeah, this chick has a nice voice, but it doesn’t really do that much for me. I guess I might be interested in hearing actual Third and the Mortal stuff, because I’m guessing that has a little more “music” to it than this does. The keyboards are pretty cheesy, but I guess it could be nice when I’m in the right mood. I don’t think I’ll ever have a huge boner over this chick like some people do though (and yes, I know what she looks like).

Ten
‘Red’
from Spellbound

From reading the song list earlier, I thought this was Cathedral. So when it came on, I was like, “huh, I never expected Cathedral to be so poppy like this,” and figured they were probably just being goofy. Well, it’s obviously not Cathedral. Anyway, there’s nothing bad about it, it has nice little melodies that make my head bob happily from side to side, it just isn’t really up my alley. At least now I know what “AOR” sounds like. Sounds like 70’s prog-rock to me (which I’m not a huge fan of either), except a little more poppy. There’s almost a “country” feel on this track. This has nothing to do with what I think of as “metal”.

Katatonia
‘Nowhere’
from Sounds of Decay

Ok, so NOW came the Cathedral song. Hmm, Katatonia must have really ripped off Cathedral. Oh, wait, this IS Katatonia! I own Brave Murder Day, and it’s ok, but not one of my favorites. I really love October Tide’s Grey Dawn though, and I think this song sounds a lot more like that album, so it’s pretty cool. For you non-goat slingers, the interesting thing to note about this song is that it’s the same guy singing here as is singing on the Opeth song later on (right, Jim?) Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that!

Cathedral
‘Voyage of the Homeless Sapien’
from Statik Majik

Finally, the REAL Cathedral! And boy, is it pretty bad! It’s slow, slow, slow, boring, boring, boring. It’s obvious no one in the band has any sense of melody, and I’m pretty sure they aren’t doing it on purpose. Terrible vocals, and for 20 minutes the song just goes nowhere. Occasionally they try something interesting, but it seems to never work out. It’s not really heavy at all, I get zero emotions off of it, it has no groove, no melodies, no technical skill. I just can’t grasp the point. God, this makes me feel so bad for Jim. If he loves this, imagine the things that he heard at this time that he DIDN’T like!

Abwhore
‘The Suffering Has Only Begun’
from their s/t demo

Badass goth-y intro, and then a quick dive into black-vocalled death-ish metal. Decent, not terribly melodic riffs. Cool use of clean vocals, kind of like Darkane. Nice grooves and breaks. Pretty interesting for a demo band, but not quite at the level where it’s driving me crazy. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for them though.

Nightingale
‘Still in the Dark’
from I

Ahh, Swano! I love “The Closing Chronicles”, so “I” is a much-anticipated album for me. And from this track it sounds like it won’t be a disappointment. Probably one of the most “metal” tracks I’ve heard from Nightingale, very nice and upbeat, much moreso than most of the dark and atmospheric “The Closing Chronicles”, yet still a step below the over-the-top “hit single” of that album, “Steal the Moon”.

Therion
‘Evocation of Vovin’
from Lepaca Kliffoth

I’ve had this album for a long time, so I’m quite familiar with this song. “Theli” is still my favorite Therion album, but I’m pretty sure this is my favorite Therion song of all-time (ok, “Siren of the Woods” might have it beaten). I simply love the guitar leads. It’s not a terribly long song, but it has lots of different little sections, and any fan of “Theli” will easily see the connection. And I love the little fake ending before they do the super-sugary real ending.

Arcturus
‘Of Nails and Sinners’
from La Masquerade Infernale

One of the best albums ever made, I did a review of this at PM a long time ago comparing it to Dream Theater’s “Awake”, and I still think it has a hell of a lot of similarities. Listen to the drumming, the keyboards, the bass. Sure, the vocals are quite a bit different than LaBrie, but they’re fantastic (and perfectly clean!) The music is complex, dark, melodic, atmospheric, twisted, and perfectly executed. What more could you want?

Sculptured
‘Iron Maiden’
from Maiden America

Whoa, the mix of distorted and acoustic guitars at the beginning made me think this band sounded totally like some other band I know. Then the singing started, and I was like “oh yeah, it’s Sculptured”. The beginning is very unlike the original song, but then it’s very much like it when they hit the chorus. It’s quite amazing, because the song sounds exactly like Maiden and no one else, but it also sounds exactly like Sculptured and no one else. A mark of a great cover, if you ask me. Fantastic trumpet-led jazz breakdown in the middle. Great mix of clean and death vocals. Probably one of the best Maiden covers I’ve ever heard.

Pharoah
‘Solar Flight’
from Maiden America

When this started, I almost thought it sounded like more Sculptured, but it quickly got too fast to be Sculptured. Pretty cool power metal, and there’s not much of this style of music that impresses me all that much these days. I had a fear that I’d find Tim Aymar really annoying, and that kept me from getting Control Denied for a while, but like on that album, he sounds pretty cool here as well.

Cea Serin
‘Holy Mother’
from Chiaroscuro

Whoa, is this Godgory? No, it’s not, but the intro is very similar. Very similar tight tight-as-fuck riffing style and drumming. As I love Godgory, this is very good. The more aggressive parts make it un-Godgory-like, but that’s not a bad thing at all, as they kick a ton of ass. Excellent vocals both on clean and growled side. Cool vocal melodies. Damn, and top-notch instrumental sections, great guitars, keyboards, unique song structure. Of course the production isn’t the world’s greatest, but I’m not LarryD, so that doesn’t really bother me. Ah, I see that it’s Cea Serin. I’ve listened to some clips before, but never thought too much beyond that. I think this is something I need to check out. This is the big winner of the two tapes for me.

Lilitu
‘Seventh Aeon’
from The Earth Gods

Nice intro. Hmm, when the band kicks in, it sounds a fair bit like Crematory or one of those other heavy-death-pop-goth bands. Cool death vocals, but beyond that there’s nothing that really grabs me about it besides the nice guitar solo. It’s decent, but no better than other bands like this that I don’t really care about. A few years ago it would have been really something. Well, interesting, of the two Atlanta bands, I expected to like Lilitu more than Abwhore, but it turns out it’s the opposite.

Brutal Truth
‘Wish You Were Here’
from some sampler somewhere…

Hmm, some nice laid-back rock music. Oh, now they’re singing Pink Floyd, that explains it. Weird vocals though, so I’m guessing it’s a cover. Whoa, the Tasmainian Devil apparently broke into the recording studio, everything is going completely nuts. Obviously not something intended to be “serious music”. Would probably be pretty cool if the “nuts” section went on for about 20 seconds instead of the eternity that it drags for. Good humor, terrible timing.

Iron Maiden
‘The Clansman’
from an OAN boot

Ah, good ol’ Iron Maiden. I probably like the last two Maiden albums more than just about anyone (except maybe Sumeet), they’re my two favorite Maiden albums. But I’ve never liked this song quite as much as everyone else seemed to. It’s definitely cool, but I prefer most of the other songs on Virtual XI over this. When I saw them live with Bruce, I didn’t think that Bruce did nearly as good of a job as Blaze did on the Blaze material, and this song doesn’t change my belief at all. Bruce just doesn’t have
that low-end power that Blaze does. Still, a really cool song with nice crowd participation. It reminds me that I’m gonna go fucking nuts when I see Maiden at Gods of Metal in Italy! 🙂

Napalm Death
‘Walls’
from Peel Sessions

Ah, good, grindcore, my favorite. The only way music like this can really interest me is if it’s all technical and crazy like Cryptopsy or something. And, well, this isn’t. At least like most shitty grindcore, it’s over almost before you know it. Poor Jim, not knowing that there was metal out there to listen to in the mid-90’s that was actually good!

Ulver
‘some Norwegian word’
from Kveldssanger

The second track with Garm singing, the man is a freakin’ genius. This is another album I’ve had for a long time, and what a badass piece of non-metal it is. Relaxed, atmospheric, and dark as fuck. Pure acoustic beauty.

Paradise Lost
‘As I Die’
from Shades of God

Heheh, when this one started, I thought it was Misanthrope. That’s because the only Paradise Lost I own is their “Reflections” compilation, and the Holy Records tribute album. Actually it’s Argile that does this song on that tribute, but they’re very Misanthrope-related. Sadly, I smashed that CD in my car when lowering the convertible top. 🙁 Any Paradise Lost fan should seek it out though, it’s a great tribute CD, and a great introduction to Holy Records bands. I think I prefer Draconian Times or One Second-era PL to this slightly more doom-oriented style, but this song is ok.

Paul Chain
‘Living Today’
from Alkahest

Maybe it’s just because I have Holy Records on the brain, but this sounds a hell of a lot like Serenity, one of the only Holy Records bands that I have no interest in. It’s mainly the vocals, and the going-nowhere-in-particular doomy riffs. There’s music that I can just ignore, but this seems like it’s actively trying to bore me. The “lyrics” are a pain in the ass too.

OTYG
‘Villevandring’
from Sagovindars Boning

I have both Otyg albums and all the Vintersorg releases, and I think I prefer the Vintersorg as a whole. Otyg is cool from time to time, but it’s never blown me away or anything. I’m sure some people looking for cool folk stuff would love it. I think my favorite Otyg song is their Holy Diver cover. I guess I’d like to hear an Otyg song sung in English, and see if that made me think it was better or worse.

Narcolepsy
‘MC Hammersmashed Face’
from the Jesus Fuck demo

Ok, um, this is shitty, with a production to match! That’s about all I can say about it. Sounds like something from a Milwaukee Metalfest compilation CD. Completely forgettable. Ah, I see, Narcolepsy, MC Hammersmashed Face, Jesus Fuck. I guess this was our little taste to learn what it’s like being a ‘zine writer. Ah, I see, it’s a rap medley, that’s why it sounded a little familiar. Cool idea, still sounds like shit though. VIP in full effect!

Benighted Leams
‘Wood Nymph of Summer Twilight’
from Caliginous Romantic Myth

This is extremely fucked up. I recognize the song, but the crazy distant echoing vocals totally throw it into another dimension. It’s almost sounding like “Kill the Wabbit!” Whoa, now it’s going completely nuts. Oh, I see, this is Benighted Leams, one of the gayest band names ever. Hmm, now I have to try and figure out what song I thought they were covering (any ideas?). A nice mix between relaxed, clean-vocalled sections and harsh black metal. Somewhat interesting, I may have to investigate further.

Orphaned Land
‘Thee by the Father I Pray’
from El Norra Alila

Ah yes, another track from one of the best albums ever made. And this is also the track that I use to show people how cool Orphaned Land is. Not that the other tracks don’t measure up to it, but it’s a pretty good compression of the whole album into one song. Fantastic oriental instrumentation, rhythms and melodies. Plus some very good metal. I’m constantly on a search for more bands like this.

Opeth
‘To Bid You Farewell’
from Morningrise

Excellent, continuing on with songs from some of the best albums ever made. And no, I don’t say that about everything, Jim and I just happen to have pretty similar tastes. Morningrise has been my favorite album for a few years now. This song isn’t exactly representative of the entire album (except in the undeniable quality level), but if this song doesn’t touch you, well, that’s weird. I can’t imagine anyone listening to this song and not immediately running out and buying the album. Listening to this dub through a somewhat crappy tape player is kind of interesting too, it adds an extra “dustiness” to it, which is kinda cool. It would be cool to hear this song on vinyl.

Ebony Tears
‘Opacity’
from Tortura Insomniae

Nice transition continuing on the acoustics. Yet another CD that I own an love. I think this is one of the best (and most unknown) “melodic death metal” CDs. It has every one of the “cliches” of this style that bands use to set themselves apart from the crowd: acoustic guitars, female vocals, clean male vocals, and violin. But they’re all done so well and so uniquely that they don’t sound cliched at all, which I think is sorta what Jim was getting at when including this track. Very aggressive and very melodic at the same time. They even get pretty proggy at times on this album too. Their second album is totally different and far less original, but still pretty kickass.

Amorphis
‘Weeper on the Shore’
from Elegy

Hot damn, this guy is finishing up this tape strong! Another song started with acoustics, and another song from one of my favorite albums. I don’t really know what this means, but if I was forced to choose one album that defines metal in the 90’s, this would be it. It’s the old combined with the new, on multiple levels. God, what great melodies, and the fantastically simple bass. And the roars, dammit, the roars, they’re so beautiful!

Borknagar
‘Dawn of the End’
from Olden Domain

Hmm, when this one started, I thought “It sounds a little familiar, it’s some sort of melodic black/deathish band, but nothing terribly interesting.” Then it hit me that it was Borknagar. This song is very strange, because the first half is pretty generic, and probably one of the least interesting parts of this album, but the second half is about the 2 coolest minutes of music ever created. It gives me chills, it’s just pure atmosphere. I was pretty happy they did this song when I saw them. Oh, and guess who’s singing here? That’s right, it’s Garm, it’s his third track on this thing. I think that should tell you something about how much ass he kicks.

Sundown
‘Synergy’
from Design 19

I’ve heard this album before, and it’s pretty cool groovy-gothy-dancy-sorta-metal stuff. I think I remember hearing songs that sounded a little better than this one before. The fact that Jim likes this (I’m assuming), but hates the Kovenant shows that he’s quite a clown!

Gathering
‘In Power We Entrust the Love Advocated’
from the Kevin’s Telescope single

I own 4 Gathering albums, but haven’t been crazy enough to get a single. This is a pretty decent track, nice and heavy and doomy. Anneke is actually sounding a bit like Kari Rueslatten instead of her usual self (or maybe like the DCD chick, but I wouldn’t really know). Too bad I can’t listen to DCD without thinking that they ripped of Tiamat (yeah, I know it was the other way around).

Arch Enemy
‘Cosmic Retribution’
from Black Earth

This is the one Arch Enemy album I don’t have because I’m not a lucky bastard who finds it for $4 like Ralf Walter, and I’m not quite willing to pay $1/minute for it. Anyway, “Burning Bridges” was right at the top of my list from last year, and this definitely kicks ass. Melodic death metal done both deathy and melodic like no one else. Of course the vocals are still pretty lame at this point, and it’s not as sharp as BB, but that doesn’t hurt it too much. The classical guitar stuff is a surprise, they haven’t had any of that on their subsequent releases.

Helloween
‘Heavy Metal is the Law’
from Walls of Jericho

Helloween was the second band I ever got into (after Queensryche). I remember thinking that Kai Hansen must be the worst vocalist ever born. Hmm, does that mean tastes can change over time? Whaddaya know! Anyway, this is one of Helloween’s best albums (no, actually all their albums are really great), and this is one of my favorite songs off it. Great speed, great melodies, and damn, that’s some kickass bass playing. Of course the fake crowd just tops it off. I’m sure Jim takes these lyrics to heart, but to me they’re just really silly. “Heavy!” “HEAVY!!!” “Met-uhl!” “MET-UHL!!!”

Ok, that’s it! It was a cool little exercise, and although it kind of confirmed that I’m already pretty aware of everything out there that I might be interested in, there are a couple things I can keep an eye out for now.

So thanks Jim!

maudlin of the Well – my Fruit PsychoBells… a seed combustible

March 15th, 2000

The band is called maudlin of the Well (I think the capitalization is important), and “my Fruit PsychoBells… a seed combustible” is their first album of what they call astral/metal. On their website, for their influences they list TIAMAT, dISEMBOWELMENT, Faith No More, Tangerine Dream, Oxiplegatz, Jane’s Addiction, The Tea Party, My Dying Bride, the Gathering, Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Esoteric, Entombed, and Gorguts. Of course, they don’t really sound anything like any of these bands. The closest thing I can compare them to is Solefald. They don’t really sound like Solefald (although there’s an occasional similarity), but both bands throw a whole lot of influences in a big pot and mix them together like mad scientists.

maudlin’s most notable feature is their jazziness. I don’t really know what that means, since all I really know about music is metal, metal, and more metal, but I hear things that sound similar to Opeth parts that people call “jazzy”. In fact, some of the mellow sections on the latest Opeth album are pretty similar to trippy, atmospheric sections here, except that there’s less use of acoustic guitar. Some of it reminds me of In the Woods… as well. There’s heavy parts, mellow parts, upbeat parts, doomy parts, all sorts of vocal styles, and generally a bunch of cool things going on. Anyway, since I can’t really describe the music any better than that, I’ll just go ahead and describe the 7 songs on the album for those who like to read a lot.

First, the lineup listed in the album:

Jason Byron – voice
Maria-Stella Fountoulakis – voice
Greg Massi – lead guitar
Tobias D. – guitar, bass, keyboards, voice, clarinet
Jason Bitner – trumpet
D – drums

I don’t think I’m smart enough to tell the difference between a clarinet and a trumpet, so I’ll probably call both things “trumpet” below. The trumpet parts are very well done, they aren’t nearly as in-your-face as the trumpet parts in Sculptured. As for the production, it’s good, but nothing mind-blowing (I also don’t think a mind-blowing amount of money was spent on it). All of the sounds have a nice rough and natural feel to them, there’s nothing slick or processed about the album. The lyrics are the type where they’re probably really cool if you know what the writer is talking about, but in my case, it’s mostly like “huh, sounds cool, I wonder what the hell they’re talking about?” Oh, the booklet also has a really cool pictoral story running through it. Anyway, here goes.

Ferocious Weights (7:30): Searching guitar lines echo their way in from the far reaches of the galaxy until they find their quarry: majestic, epic doom metal, filled out with a tastefully placed trumpet. A female voice opens things up, and as things begin getting really discordant, a male voice takes over and the discord is taken to almost painful levels. Then the speed suddenly picks up and frantic soloing guitars attack each other mercilessly over a heavy groove. A quick stop brings an atmospheric keyboard section with dreamy female vocals. After a minute the majestic doom joins her voice shortly before the song ends.

a Conception Pathetic (7:01): Opens with a ferocious blast beat and a black-metallish roar, but then quickly slides into disjointed, bottom heavy death metal with keyboards (trumpet?) backing it up. Then comes a mellow section with nearly-whispered male vocals and slippery guitars. It continues to groove out for a while, escalating into a guitar solo which slides it back to the death metal and the growls. The song then winds up with only drums and piano.

Undine and Underwater Flowers (8:45): This one starts out very mellow, with a wandering bass line which is soon overlayed with quiet clean guitar. Eventually they join together in a melody, and are joined by an interesting sound which could be either a keyboard, a male voice, or a female voice. Some laid back drumming starts along with some far-away clean male vocals. Various keyboards and trumpet adds to the jazzy feel, and the song ends with several minutes of cool guitar noodling as the rhythm section gradually picks up the intensity and then fades away. A very atmospheric song that somehow reminds me of the songs played during the segments on Sesame Street, like when a kid is talking about how he works on the farm (and that’s a good thing!)

The Ocean, the Kingdom, and the Temptation (11:18): Clean, echoey guitar comes from far away, and is joined by other instruments and a speaking voice. The relaxed rhythm soon picks up intensity, reaches a plateau where someone noodles on guitar from inside a cave. Then come some more heavy riffs and growled vocals. There is a shift back to the mellow part from the beginning, but this time the heavy riffs are coupled with it. Then it’s back to pure laid-back jamming, with layered talking and singing. Then come some more heavy riffs with an extended frantic trumpet solo, which leads into a quiet part with strange sounds making a simple rhythm while piercing keyboard notes drop in from the distance.

Pondering a Wall (6:17): A lone male voice quietly starts things off, but then quickly erupts into a yell as the low, distorted guitars bull their way in. There’s a fair bit of discord, and it almost has a bit of a nu-metal feel to it. Unlike the doomier stuff earlier, there’s some fast and heavy guitarwork here, but it’s also broken up by the usual mellow sections with clean guitar. Some female vocals make their way in too.

Catharsis of Sea Sleep and Dreaming Shrines (9:30): Clean guitar and bass start this one off again, building into a catchy melody with lots of layers. In a rare and really cool occurance, the growls go over this non-distored music for a while, although they are eventually joined by the normal heavy music. Low clean vocals and distorted guitars meander together for a while, until the clean melody from the beginning returns, this time with some dreamy male vocals. Finally there’s some trumpet dancing with some minimal guitar and drums, which drop into heavy doom-death to complete the song.

Blight of River Systems (5:44): This is the second completely un-metal track of the album, and possibly my favorite. It starts of with a jaunty little piano melody, and relaxed male and female vocals groove together along some upbeat jazzy stuff. Eventually comes a great section with more up-front but perfectly at-ease female vocals dancing around the guitar melodies. Finally the song ends with a couple minutes of excellent Santana-inspired guitar soloing.

1999 Music Year in Review

November 23rd, 1999

Ordered list of CDs purchased, best to worst:

Rage – Ghosts
Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory
The Kovenant – Animatronic
Samael – Eternal
Dark Tranquillity – Projector
Arch Enemy – Burning Bridges
Immortal – At the Heart of Winter
Solefald – Neonism
Heavens Gate – Menergy
Dismal Euphony – All Little Devils

In Flames – Colony
Nevermore – Dreaming Neon Black
Iced Earth – Alive in Athens
Godgory – Resurrection
Angel Dust – Bleed
Agalloch – Pale Folklore
October Tide – Grey Dawn
Evereve – Regret
Dodheimsgard – 666 International
Crematory – Act Seven
Otyg – Sagonvindars Boning
Grave Digger – Excalibur
Grey Skies Fallen – The Fate of Angels
Darkane – Rusted Angel
Liquid Tension Experiment – 2
Dimmu Borgir – Spiritual Black Dimensions
Skyclad – Vintage Whine
Withering Surface – The Nude Ballet
Anathema – Judgement
Kreator – Endorama
Nightfall – Diva Futura
Mithotyn – Gathered Around the Oaken Table
Children of Bodom – Hatebreeder
In the Woods – Strange in Stereo
Nokturnal Mortum – To the Gates of Blasphemous Fire
Amorphis – Tuonela
Peccatum – Strangling From Within
Emperor – IX Equilibrium
Morgion – Solinari
Helloween – Metal Jukebox
Iron Savior – Unification
Ebony Tears – A Handful of Nothing
Seventh Omen – Polarized
The Gathering – How To Measure a Planet?
Diabolique – The Black Flower
Steel Prophet – Dark Hallucinations
Gamma Ray – Powerplant
Iced Earth – Melancholy EP
Gandalf – Deadly Fairytales
Type O Negative – World Coming Down
Arcturus and the Deception Circus – Disguised Masters
Roland Grapow – Kaleidoscope
Shock Machine – Shock Machine
Vond – Slipp Sorgen Los
Various – The Holy Bible Vol. II-III
Various – A Call to Irons 2

1998 Music Year In Review

December 17th, 1998

I’ll post my best-of-1998 list. Oh, ok, it’s actually my “all-of-1998? list, since it’s more fun that way. I have these arranged somewhat in order, (with my favorites at the top), but it’s definitely not exact. I’d say everything could move at least five places in eitherd irection and still fit right.

Overall, it was a very interesting year. There was a huge amount of releases, and many from my favorite bands, but it seems like few of the ones that I was expecting to blow me away succeeded in that task. Instead, newer and unknown bands took some of the top spots.

So, with no further ado, here they are:

Covenant – Nexus Polaris:
They aren’t black metal, and that’s why it’s so good. This is what I’ve always wanted black metal to sound like. Great songs, great keys, great drums, and I even really like the vocals, Popeye and all.

Amon Amarth – Once Sent From the Golden Hall:
The anti-Blind Guardian. Yeah, of course they sound nothing like Blind Guardian, but this album proves that all you need is two guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and eight tracks to make an epic masterpiece. I was totally surprised at how much I liked this one.

Sentenced – Frozen:
Probably ended up with the best (expectation) x (actual quality) product of any album I got this year. With a string of excellent albums behind them, of course I expected another great one. I think I like it more than Down now. It might not be as heavy, but it’s got tons of punch. Ville quickly rocketed up as one of my favorite singers.

Night In Gales – Thunderbeast:
Night in Gales grows up. I enjoyed their first album, but they actually sound like professionals on this one. It’s got a great, powerful sound, and Bjorn’s highly varied vocals really stand out. And I love the crazy non-sensical lyrics too, they add some weird mystical tone to the album for me.

Cryhavoc – Sweetbriers:
If you mourn over the post-Amok softening of Sentenced, dry your tears and get this album. It’s totally shameless Sentenced-worship, somewhere around the Amok/Love and Death era. The cool thing is, since it’s such a pure ripoff, it’s just as excellent as the real thing.

Evereve – Stormbirds:
This one did some serious growing on me, over a period of at least 6 months. It just keeps getting better and better. It’s pretty original gothic/death/black metal, with all sorts of different songs. The singing is extremely varied, as are the lyrics which come in three different lanugages.

Iron Maiden – Virtual XI:
(ducking). I’m always completely baffled at how people like Hammerfall so much, and I guess this is where the tables are probably turned….you all think, “what kind of idiot is that guy?” Well, simply put, this album rules. My favorite Maiden album, along with The X Factor (ducking again). I still can’t figure out what people can’t stand about this album, if they like any other Maiden albums.

Rage – XIII:
Rage maintains their hold as my favorite band with this one. Another change, another great album. There’s an orchestra on every song, but they never hit you over the head with it. It just serves as a background and creates an extremely lush texture for the whole album. Peavy just rules.

Iced Earth – Something Wicked This Way Comes:
This one is a little hard for me to judge for some reason. Maybe it’s because I listened to a pre-release tape of it constantly for a month. Anyway, I think I really like it, it’s definitely better than the Dark Saga, but due to my early saturation, I don’t find myself listening to it all that much. Every time I do though, it kicks ass.

Einherjer – Odin Owns Ye All:
Hooray for Viking metal! The cool thing about this album is that that’s as much classification as you can give it. The style is very unique, it’s pretty much just “metal”, but it has some very creative song structures and crazy rhythms going constantly. Couple that with the melodies and the epic moods, and you’ve got a kickass album.

Grave Digger – Knights of the Cross:
I call these guys Blind Guardian Junior now. That might not be the best name, since it implies the BG is the master and they’re the student. What I really mean is that they do everything that BG does, but to a lesser extreme. Which can make it better, since it sticks more to pure, simple metal. I’m looking forward to the third album in this concept-album series.

Therion – Vovin:
I can find a lot more similarities between Lepaca Kliffoth and Theli than I can between Theli and this one. I don’t know what that means, I’m just letting people know. So it’s a lot different than Theli, but I think I like it about the same. It’s great chillin’ music (except for that Scheepers character).

Waylander – Reawakening Pride Once Lost:
This is some really cool Irish folk death/black metal. Sort of like Skyclad, except with black vocals, and a flute in place of the fiddle. It gets really fast and thrashy at times, while maintaining great melodies. This is one of those rare Century Media discs that’s only available as an import.

Helloween – Better Than Raw:
This one looks like a masterpiece on paper. Really damn heavy, fresh, and original, it should have it all. But somehow it hasn’t hit me quite as well as I thought it would. Maybe I’m looking for a little more melody. Like all Helloween albums, the songs vary a lot, so you get some really incredible ones, and then some throwaways.

Angra – Fireworks:
Well, it’s no Holy Land, but it’s still some really good power metal. Andre Matos is still a big wuss, but that’s ok. The guitars just control this album. They’re everywhere and they’re very nice.

Arch Enemy – Stigmata:
This is one of those rare ones my brother got before me. Of course, he neglected to tell me that it was any good. Maybe that was because of the vocalist, who a lot of people don’t like, but I don’t have much of a problem with. A good solid melodic-death metal album that didn’t get completely molded into the Studio Fredman form. Not as good as Armageddon though.

Opeth – My Arms, Your Hearse:
Yep, here’s Opeth, all the way down here. Like JP, Morningrise is probably my favorite album ever, and, well, this one just hasn’t done it for me. The fact that it says Opeth on the cover probably makes it even worse for me. I know that’s stupid, but hey, that’s just how it is. It’s got some really excellent stuff, but it just hasn’t hit me as an album yet (and it’s getting a little late now).

Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth:
Another heavy hitter finds the middle of the pack. If they would have gotten rid of all the odd-numbered tracks, and a few of the even ones as well, they’d have really had something. As some have said, the album is amazing if you devote your entire attention to it, but I just don’t have time for that anymore. Maybe I’ll like it more when I’m retired.

Savatage – The Wake of Magellan:
Yeah, I guess this came out this year? Nice and heavy, so that’s cool, but I don’t like all of the songs like I did on DWD. It starts and finsihes excellently, but the middle gets a little tiresome for me. Savatage was one of the best shows I saw this year though.

Children of Bodom – Something Wild:
This seems pretty good, but for some reason, I’ve hardly listened to it, and can’t really say too much about it.

Dan Swano – Moontower:
Dan Swano’s cool, but I don’t think I’m into his stuff quite as much as some other people. It’s definitely an interesting piece of work, and it keeps getting better.

Fear Factory – Obsolete:
Probably not as good as Demanufacture, but still a darn good album. Burton C. Bell just rules, and he actually sings HIGH on this album. The three “laid back” songs on this one are amazing, but I don’t know if I like them because they’re more laid back, or just because they’re better songs.

Samael – Exodus:
Pretty much continues in the vein of the excellent Passage, to tide us over ’til the next one. And at like 35 minutes, it’s pretty good for tiding over. They’re definitely a unique band right now.

Death – The Sound of Perseverance:
Cool disc. Death has always been at the edge of the cusp for me, and they kind of remain there with this album. Intellectually, they seem excellent, but they never quite “hit” me.

Silent Scream – Bow Down and Pray:
A German band produced by Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer. They’re pretty much AJFA-era Metallica, with a bit more power metal. Maybe I like this so much because I don’t own any Metallica.

Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment:
I’m pretty surprised how much I like this one. Maybe because it’s not wussy like I expected it to be. I mean, there’s some crappy parts, but overall, the cool parts win the battle. Screw vocals!

Anathema – Alternative 4:
I got this one on a whim after I heard JP and some other people were talking about it, and I felt like I needed something different. And it turned out to be pretty good. Not really metal, and no, it’s not alternative, but it’s got good melodies and a great atmosphere.

Dimmu Borgir – Godless Savage Garden:
I was a bit underwhelmed by this one. I got it soon after finally recognizing how cool ETD is, but this isn’t quite as cool. I only really like the second of the new songs. The Accept cover is cool, but the live tracks are nothing special, except for the talking between them. (“I pour this chalice of blood for you!”)

Kamelot – Siege Perilous:
I don’t like this as much as the first two Kamelot’s, but that could change, as Kamelot has always had a way of sneaking up on me. It’s a real top-heavy album, the first half is great, but the second half sorta drags.

Riot – Inishmore:
I was pretty surprised to see this one in a listening station, and it sounded good, so I got it. It’s not nearly as wussy as I expected, and it’s got all sorts of nice dual lead work.

Primal Fear – Primal Fear:
I love Gamma Ray, and don’t care much for Judas Priest. Thus, I really like the Gamma Ray ripoff songs on this album, and could do without the Priest ripoff tracks. It also hurts when I go back and listen to Insanity & Genius – Ralf’s vocals were so much darker and more angry than they are on this.

Agathodaimon – Blacken the Angel:
I got this pretty recently, so it hasn’t had much time to grow. It seems to be well-produced, non-annoying black metal. They’ve got a 15 minute song, so that might be worth something.

Evergrey – The Dark Discovery:
This one hasn’t quite convinced me yet. The music seems great, and what’s cool about it is that they somehow found a niche in the overcrowed power/prog metal world that hadn’t yet been filled. I think my main hangup is the hard-rockish vocalist.

Symphony X – Twilight In Olympus:
It’s no Divine Wings of Tragedy, that’s for sure.

Winterkill – Freedom:
A local band that plays an interesting mix of power, thrash, and regular heavy metal. I could do without the cheesy Braveheart intro and songs like “You Anger Me, Bitch”, but it’s got a couple gems hidden in it.

Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding:
Heheh, yep, here’s Bruce way down here. I’m not quite sure what my problem with this one is, I just know that I like AoB a LOT more. I just haven’t gotten into the feeling of it at all, and on top of that, Bruce’s repetitive yelling somehow really bothers me. Heaviness is nice, but it seems like the style needs more melody than it ha.s.

Old Man’s Child – Ill Natured Spiritual Invasion:
Nice sellout black metal to listen to quickly, but it doesn’t seem to have too much depth to it.

Nocturnal Rites – Tales of Mystery and Imagination:
Power metal version of Old Man’s Child.

Primordial – A Journey’s End:
My brother tricked me into getting this one after a glowing review in Metal Maniacs. I dunno, I can’t really find anything wrong with it, but it’s sorta boring. It has some limited Celtic influence to liven things up, and overall it reminds me somewhat of Ulver’s Bergtatt, which is a good thing, but this album just doesn’t work for me.

Mundanus Imperium – The Spectral Spheres Coronation:
Ok, so it’s Dimmu Borgir with clean vocals, huh? Well, no one saw fit to tell me that the vocals are super-cheesy sounding hard-rock vocals (at least to my ears). The music sounds pretty good (if not quite dark enough to be like Dimmu Borgir), so we’ll see if this one gets better.

Whew, that’s a lot. Comments, inquiries, and ass-kickings are always welcome.

Arcturus – La Masquerade Infernale

August 29th, 1998

For months I’d been reading about this disc, Arcturus’s La Masquerade Infernale. It had picked up more ’10?s and perfect scores than any album I could remember, so I obviously bought it as soon as I saw a copy. As it turns out, it’s a progressive metal masterpiece, so I figured I’d review it here. I haven’t written a review in a while, I just sorta feel like writing one, and I think I’m going to try my best to ape the LarryD format.

The style-

Hrmm…well, here’s the hardest part right at the beginning. As I said, it’s progressive metal. 🙂 Of course, some people think of progressive metal as metal with operatic singing, complex songs, intricate playing, keyboards, and all that other stuff, as exemplified by bands like Dream Theater. Then there’s other people who think that it’s music to which few comparisons can be drawn, music that is at the cutting edge of the metal genre, like Amorphis or Opeth. La Masquerade Infernale is one of those rare albums that fits both definitions equally well. The band describes the style as “Faust Rock”, and that’s as good as any term I could come up with. But while the style is completely unique, there are parts with amazing similarities to Dream Theater’s Awake…it has some low guitar/bass parts very much like in “Mirror/Lie”, and keyboards that could easily appear in “Scarred” or “Space Dye Vest”. Anyway, to give some concrete terms to the style, it’s mostly metal, with lots of edgy melody. But then it’s all mixed up with a whole lot of “weirdness”. That “weirdness” comes in the form of complex song structures, quick time/mood changes, and interesting sounds and effects. It ends up being something majestic, powerful, and above all, frighteningly dark.

The production-

Someone made a post about this album a couple days ago (which partially induced me to post this now) and said that the production was a bit muddy. I dunno, maybe I’ve just been listening to too much crappy black metal, but to my ears, it sounds great. Overall it has a very warm, glossy sound to it. And the whole album seems to have about a thousand layers. In addition to the usual instruments, a string quartet, a flute, and a cornet are used from time to time, and they all mesh right into the flow of things. There’s also quite a bit of effects thrown in from that “weirdness” bin, like strange percussive noises and short backwards sounds. Once you get an idea of what they were going for, it doesn’t seem a bit overdone…everything works together to create this amazing mood.

The singer-

The vocals are clearly a focal point of this album. The majority are provided by G. Wolf (aka Garm, who has also sung in Ulver and Borknagar), in a style that could only be called “theatrical”. Basically, you get the feeling that the guy should be up on stage in an opera. Most of the stuff that he sings is on the low end (which is what makes it so unique), although he does vary his range a good bit. And unlike his previous work, there isn’t a single example of harsh black metal vocals on this album. In fact, his voice is crystal clear the whole way, LarryD should love it. Lead vocals on one song and backups elsewhere are provided by Simen Hestnaes. Like Garm, his vocals are also very theatrical (and clean), but in the higher range, and much more frantic sounding. The effect is incredible when they sing together. I don’t think a singing style can be called “unique” too often, but it definitely is in this case.

The band-

Besides the vocals, a clear standout in this band is the keyboards. Played by Steinar Sverd Johnsen (also in Covenant, which also has great keyboards), the keys are an integral part to the whole sound, but they never try to be a second guitar, which is nice. There’s plenty of piano stuff, orchestral-type sounds, and then, all kinds of “weird” things. The guitar is cool, most of the time not getting in the way of everything else, but sometimes stepping forward for very flowing solos. Bass is nice, nothing I notice too much, but it forms another layer in there. And finally, the drums are provided by Jan Axel Von Blomberg, aka the legendary Hellhammer. I recently saw him play with Mayhem at the Milwaukee Metalfest, and he’s amazing. Surprisingly, there are a few seconds of Mayhem-style blast beat on this album, but the majority of it is just very tasteful, well played drumming. There is a good bit of double-bass work, but it’s usually rather subdued. Two of the tracks are mostly instrumentals, and they make you see that the vocals aren’t the only thing that’s great about this album.

The comments-

Basically, I’m really curious what other people around here might think of this album. I’ve tried to hide this fact a little bit so people wouldn’t be prejudiced, but Arcturus’s first album was mostly a black metal album. Actually, like many “black metal” albums, the music wasn’t black metal at all, just the vocals. Anyway, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got this album, beyond “weird”, but the more I listen to it, the more I think that it’s something that people at Perpetual Motion should be going nuts over. The background of the band is the only reason I can think of that this album isn’t being hailed as one of the top progressive metal albums of all time. Oh, it also seems really hard to find for some reason, which sucks, because everyone should hear this album.