Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts


It seems that being in one band just isn’t enough for some musicians these days. Especially within the European Power and Symphonic Metal scenes. Quite possibly two of the most (musically) incestuous genres of all, there seems to be an unwritten law that every band has to release an album featuring a bare minimum of one special guest, or contain at least two members who have performed, produced or written material for no fewer than three other bands. So it comes as no surprise to find that the first release from Phantasma, a collective effort from Charlotte Wessels (Delain), Georg Neuhauser (Serenity) and Oliver Philipps (Everon), contains performances from no less than six guest musicians. As enticing as that prospect may be to fans of the acts involved, it’s all too common for collaborations like this to end with mixed or disappointing results, and The Deviant Hearts (Napalm) is no exception.

Opening with a nice, but rather twee sounding duet from Wessels and Neuhauser, the piano played ‘Incomplete’ sounds like it would have been more at home at the end of the record rather than the beginning. Evergrey vocalist Tom Englund lends his voice to the powerful title track, and things continue in good form with ‘Runaway Gray’. Easily the best track on the album, it features a superb performance by Wessels, with more than a hint of James Bond theme song about the verses, and even a touch of Rush during the middle section.

Things take a hefty downward turn, however, with ‘Try’. A horribly overwrought ballad featuring Trans-Siberian Orchestra singer Chloe Lowery, who although clearly capable of belting out high notes with ease, seems unable to sing softly without her voice cracking on almost every line. ‘Enter Dreamscape’ is a substantial improvement on the previous track, but it’s still just standard fare which sounds like it could have been written for any band within the genre.

‘Miserable Me’ begins by slowing down and reworking the tune to ‘Money, Money, Money’ by Abba before plodding off to nowhere interesting. Duet ‘The Lotus and the Willow’ is an attempt at recreating the Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue classic ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ but falls miles short of the mark. An insipid and forgettable tune, the song only lifts off momentarily during its Top Gun-esque guitar solo. ‘Crimson Course’ is another nondescript song that sounds like it could have been written for anyone, and the only memorable thing about ‘Carry Me Home’ is the return of that Top Gun style guitar solo.

By now, everything has started to sound like music from movies and other bands, and ‘The Sound of Fear’ does nothing to change that by appearing to be several old songs at once. The upbeat ‘Novaturient’ rescues things a little until it tries to be Meat Loaf, and ‘Let It Die’ closes proceedings as best it can, but it’s essentially just another song with nothing more to offer than a reasonably strong chorus.

At its best, The Deviant Hearts is a good, listenable album with two or three memorable songs, a handful of strong choruses, and some excellent vocal performances by Wessels and Neuhauser. But for the most part, it’s just a collection of songs not strong enough to make it onto the albums of any of the bands involved.





Amberian Dawn – Innuendo


While it may be harsh to put it so bluntly, Finnish metal act Amberian Dawn, to all intents and purposes, spent the first four albums of their recorded lives fannying around with varying levels of success playing pretty generic symphonic metal with all the requisite frippery. Though competent, they walked in Nightwish’s long shadow.

Yet last year, seeds of individuality began to truly blossom, as, with the induction of new vocalist, pop artist Capri, their enchanting fifth album Magic Forest (Napalm) brought together the symphonic, the musicale and the downright ABBA. An endearing album, it serves as the power metal equivalent of the Disney film Enchanted, a mix of fairy tales and mild peril interwoven with upbeat earworms that saw Amberian Dawn begin to truly define themselves for the first time.

Facing that all too prevalent a dilemma, to stick or twist, to super-size the formula, or take a darker turn on it, Amberian Dawn have chosen to return to their previous, more “serious”, musical theatre roots; leaving the joyful jigs and uplifting arias behind, symbolized on the album cover by the moon overlapping the sun. As they embrace the more considered approach of the likes of Kamelot it’s hard not to feel a sense of disappointment as they dive back once again into a pool filled with similar fish, no longer mermaid or something a little sparkly or different; baby, or at least childish individuality, particularly during drab synth-overloaded ballad ‘Angelique’, pretty much discarded along with the bathwater.

Innuendo (Napalm) is, though, expertly constructed “serious” power metal, with Dark Passion Play (Spinefarm/Nuclear Blast/Roadrunner), a strong reference point.  But that sense of cheekiness, naïvety and fun has been replaced, like the child who acts much older than their years, by interring the one thing they should treasure most. The strong ABBA influences they’ve tried hard to bury are allowed only on track eight, ‘Knock Knock, Who’s There’, to escape the restraints of the rest of the albums cloying maturity to play freely.

Never growing up didn’t do Peter Pan any harm…






Dawn of a New Day – Mikko von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers



It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…


“It’s YOU, isn’t it?” A 30-something woman looks somewhat star struck, gazing at the man stood next to me. “You’re the SINGER aren’t you?” My tall, elegant companion is polite enough to acknowledge that, indeed, he is the singer and it is, after all, him. The singer in question is Mikko Von Hertzen, lead vocalist with Finland’s finest rock band, the Von Hertzen Brothers and this, dear readers, is what being a rock star is all about; meeting and greeting fans and generally being far too cool for school.

Mikko poses for photos, takes hugs that go on ever so slightly too long and then it’s down to the business of meeting the media. Well, in this case, your humble Ghost Cult scribe. It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and we are enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko, right at the start of the band’s UK tour in support of their latest and, perhaps, greatest record to date – the fresh and spiky New Day Rising (Spinefarm).

The seemingly inexorable rise of the Von Hertzen Brothers from hardworking studio grafters following in their father’s footsteps to feted cult progressives and now into internationally acclaimed rock band looks probably more swanlike to the outsider than the actually reality of matters for the band, but Mikko seems relaxed ahead of this leg of their European tour.


It’s 4 weeks to the day since New Day Rising came out. How have you felt about the reaction to it?

I feel good, man. Although it’s been out for only a month, we had the record ready since mid-November last year so, yeah, this is a case of living in your own shit for quite a while before you can get the record out!  When you’re doing international releases like this one you need a long lead time for all the teams to be ready, to do the planning of the release – the marketing and so on.

As artists, of course there were moments when we we’re thinking “Is this too far to the mainstream?” or “Is this too rock or too pop?”, but this last month it’s been very encouraging. Our fans love this record and it’s been pleasing because, in addition to that, we have been able to gain a lot of new territories, new audiences. There are people who are looking at us for the first time, taking an interest in what we are doing, wanting to review the album, interview us for the first time so, yeah, it’s been a good few weeks.

Personally, I was hesitant about the album around Christmas time but now I feel very confident about the album being good, and it’s been fun to work the last month with better crowds than we had for the Nine Lives (also Spinefarm) tour.

If truth be known, everything feels like we are riding a bit of a wave…..


How do you deal with the pressure of having all these expectations on you – the production teams, marketing, management and so on demanding new songs? Does that affect you at all?

It doesn’t affect me that much to be honest. When I am writing songs, I am only thinking about the songs and I don’t really think about whether people are going to like it, but I do put a huge pressure on myself to want to pull something out that is good, to find new ways of doing things, to bring out new ideas for songs. Of course, we then have the discussions about what songs should be the arrowhead for the new record, are we going to go with a rock song, a pop song, a prog song…

Because we do all of that…



Indeed they do. New Day Rising is striking for its diversity of styles yet, running through it all has also been a straightforward approach that has perhaps only been hinted at on previous releases. Our conversation moves on to the band’s musical diversity and its effect on their relationship with their dedicated and knowledgeable fan base. In particular, the UK prog scene has been a particular champion of the band’s work. I wondered whether there was a risk that they might alienate their following and, in effect, inadvertently end up biting the hand that fed them. Mikko is reflective:

I think that we might be going through a cycle, he explains. Let’s look back at where this band has come from. The first album was, if you will, a bud that we…. probably…. took too early: it wasn’t a flower in bloom. It was an idea. It wasn’t a fully formed idea but we just went with it, you know? The second and third records were the Prog records where we nailed it but, and I have said this before, I don’t just want to do an another Approach (Dynasty).

We want to find something new, do something different. The reality is we like different types of music. We’re not just prog heads who like just Dream Theater and Pink Floyd. We love Abba. We love Dire Straits.

This love of different things was ingrained in us from a very early age from the stuff that was played in the family home. In some ways, the new stuff is often a reaction to the older stuff so this album especially we have reached the point where we have become the most straightforward as we are likely to.

It’s all about simple structures, simple rock songs or pop songs. It might be that the reaction to that will be an out and out  prog record!


His smile is genuine and genuinely mischievous as he says it.


von Hertzen Brothers on Facebook




Amberian Dawn – Magic Forest



It would be fair to say Amberian Dawn is not necessarily the first, or possibly even the fifth or sixth name, you’d think of when throwing the term “Symphonic Power Metal” about (or powerful, melodic metal with classical female vocals, as the band prefer to be described). Their career has flown well and truly under the radar, releasing to date a solid if unspectacular back catalogue with former singer Heidi Parviainen, and the Finnish troupe have yet to have that breakthrough album, or step up in class. A shuffling of the pack has seen the band reunite with several of its former line-up, and bring in the classically trained Päivi “Capri” Virkkunen take over the vocals and lyric writing, and both moves have strengthened their hand significantly.


Magic Forest (Napalm) combines up-tempo guitar-driven melodic metal, a stage-musical bent with sweet, catchy, cherry-on-top choruses. Pulling out an unusual trio of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, particularly ‘Memorial’ replete with guest male opera vocals from Markus Nieminen, ABBA (‘Warning’ and ‘Cherish My Memory’) and Nightwish as core sounds, Amberian Dawn also combine classic Helloween and Metallica tinged riffs with a dramatic fantasy narrative feel to their songs.


Capri carries a strong, saccharine voice, reminiscent of Anette Olzen, and due to the Doctor Parnassus feel of some of their songs, the Nightwish comparisons that have plagued Amberian Dawn over the years are reinforced at times, both in excellent ‘Son of Rainbow’, and the title track with its dancing Labyrinth (the film) texture. Alongside this ‘Dance of Life’, with its memorable keyboard and guitar patterns, recalls Within Temptation.


Magic Forest in and of itself won’t catapult Amberian Dawn to stardom, but it should move them several rungs up the ladder to being a band worth paying some attention to what happens next. Now they’ve found a sound that combines Disney, Phantom of the Opera and symphonic power metal, they are finally finding their niche and developing the playful enchanted touches that give them a more distinctive and interesting sound. Push and develop their cinematic side and it might not be too late for Amberian Dawn to make a name for themselves.



Amberian Dawn on Facebook





Occult Ghosts And Other Ghouls – An Interview With Ghost

Swedish occult rock/doom formation Ghost is one of the fastest rising stars in the metal firmament. Recently the band released Infestissumam, an album that will undoubtedly cement the reputation of Papa Emeritus II and his Nameless Ghouls even further. On behalf of Ghost Cult Marcus J. West had a little chat with one of the Nameless Ghouls just before the band enters the stage… Continue reading

Ghost – Infestissumam

Ghost - InfestissumSince their Opus Eponymous debut dropped three years ago the nameless ghouls have enticed the greats of rock into their diabolical trap with a combination of a lavish stage show and the catchiest tunes Old Nick has given us in years. Yet by 2013 surely we’ve all gone back to our King Diamond and Blue Öyster Cult albums and cooled off. Not likely! Continue reading