Credit where credit is due. It’s not often that genuine contenders rear their heads once their career is already up and running… the anointed have usually been identified and lauded from early whether in sports, art, music, whatever, it is rare for a band to be established and then to suddenly stick their head above the parapet seemingly as if from out of nowhere as one of the best there is. With Gunmen (AFM), though, Orden Ogan have done just that, the Germans producing one of this years’ best Power/Heavy Metal offerings. Continue reading
It is hard to be distinctive in the frilly-shirted, leather waist-coated, hair-billowing-majestically-in-the-wind world of Power Metal. Yet, make your mark and you’ll find a dedicated, passionate and devoted audience willing to support you, smile benevolently at any missteps and devour anything approaching a return to form. Over the course of their twenty six year career, Denmark’s top exponent of the art Royal Hunthave witnessed all of the above, and with XIII: Devil’s Dozen (Frontiers) have rewarded once more their loyal subjects.
The return to the fold of DC Cooper in 2012 has ensured that the Royal Hunt continues to ride strong into the latter part of their career like a fine wine, as album thirteen rivals Paradox (Magna Carta) as their crowning moment.
Energized by the powerful pigskin pounding of Narnia’s Andreas Johansson, ‘So Right, So Wrong’ announces the commencement of the album in spectacular fashion, with a dramatic and rousing symphonic introduction that bursts out into rocking, roaring guitars. Cooper’s vocals add to the theatrical, Broadway feel before delivering the first, and biggest, of several big choruses.
While Cooper is an obvious and deserving focal point, once again it is Andre Andersen who is the conductor of majesties from behind the ivories (or whatever the keys of a synth are made of…), his songwriting exuding a joie de vivre that is infectious, with each track larger than life. ‘May You Never (Walk Alone)’ hosts everything that works about Royal Hunt, starting life as a piano ballad before exploding in a thunder of drums, power chords, bass runs and synth stabs, racing down the aortic valves fuelling the body.
A bombastic, ambitious, joyful, layered and uplifting album, Andersen knows how to switch it up; ‘Riches To Rags’ introduces a ridiculously catchy piped motif and a folk jiggery-pokery to proceedings, ‘Until The Day’ is over the top symphonic hard rock semi-balladic majesty while ‘Heart On A Platter’ bounces in with thick bass swagger and jazzy keys embellishments, that builds up to a Kamelot-meets-Whitesnake slip of the tongue.
We’ve all witnessed many an album of this ilk that descends into sterile, flaccid by-numbers staid song-writing. Despite each track touching the six minute mark, XIII never outstays its welcome. With flashes of Dokken and Stratovarius, Royal Hunt show, a quarter of a century into their career, how the marriage of power metal with symphonic and hard rock should be done.
On The Seventh Life Path (Napalm), their seventh studio album, Norwegians Sirenia pull out all the stops to set themselves apart from others in the Symphonic Metal field. It’s refreshing to hear pure synth sounds, as in the intro to ‘Once My Light’, rather than merely a synth-orchestra, though the orchestra is in full force throughout and delivers all the bombast that Symphonic Metal fans could hope for. And from the very first song on the album it is already clear that the choir arrangements are equally dramatic as the orchestrals, with ‘Elixir’ featuring some particularly remarkable choral work.
There is a very pleasant contradiction between the low male vocals and high female lines. This contrast is even stronger because it is generally followed by grunts. Other great choir parts can be found in ‘Insania’, again contrasting with the grunts of Morten Veland, and in ‘Sons of the North’ where the male choral intro is quite unlike any of the other lines on this album. Unfortunately this song had a weird little thing going on with the drums in the verse that made it appear as if the song was skipping. This, however, was soon forgotten owing to the overall quality of the music, especially the disturbing piano solo.
Besides the choir, vocals are provided by Ailyn, who has the soft and sweet voice that is common in this particular genre, although she does sometimes hint at a more powerful voice. Some of the backing vocals on the beautiful ‘Tragedienne’ have a ballsiness to them that I really would love to hear in the main lines. As it is now, I am glad to have the grunts and choirs alongside the softer singing. There is one major exception though: ‘Contemptuous Quietus’ has a very deep classical sound very much like the voice of Simone Simons of Epica. This power really suits the music very well.
This album has a great amount of bombast on a bed of surprisingly heavy metal guitar, drums, and bass, with a layer of catchy licks and synths and a variety of vocals. It has a distinct character that will definitely appeal to fans of symphonic metal.
Ensiferum’s last album, 2012’s Unsung Heroes (Spinefarm), was met with pretty harsh reviews when it came out, though the Finnish quintet look to be back on track and making things right with their sixth effort, One Man Army (Metal Blade). While the band – Markus Toivonen (Guitars), Sami Hinkka (Bass), Petri Lindroos (Guitars & Vocals), Janne Parviainen (Drums) and Emmi Silvennoinen (keyboards) – haven’t drastically changed their sound, the usual combination of Viking-themed folk, bombast and thrash is present, it is simply that the quality has just been improved.
Intro track ‘March of War’ sets the tone; there’s chanting, pipes, and a real sense of preparation as if for some unnamed medieval battle, before segueing straight into the furious ‘Axe of Judgement’ – it’s a furious combination of shredding guitars, epic synths and Lindroo’s rasping vocals where you can perceptively hear the urgency, all captured in analogue warmth by award winning producer Anssi Kippo (Children of Bodom). ‘Heathen Horde’ is a stomping mid-paced sing-along anthem, while title track is almost pure melo-death bar the huge operatic chorus, before ‘Burden of the Fallen’ provides another medieval interlude for respite. There’s plenty of rousing chant-along moments that will have live audiences eating from the palms of their hands, big moments that are cleverly worked into what are often out-and-out thrash songs complete with some blistering solos, and are a sizeable part of what makes this such an enjoyable listen. It’s hard to remember the last time an album made me want to see a band live the way One Man Army does.
‘Two of Spades’ is a bit of a wildcard and sees a polka/disco sound sneak in – Turisas’ cover of Boney M.’s ‘Rasputin’ is the nearest comparison. The second half of the record then sees the band delve into more progressive territory, containing both the seven minute ‘Cry for the Earth Bounds’ and eleven minute epic ‘Descendants, Defiance, Domination’; the former a slow epic featuring clean female vocals, while the latter is more upbeat and even hints at 70s prog and boasts spoken word segments. With clean female vocals and country guitar, closer ‘Neito Pohjolan’ barely sounds like the same band.
On top of a great main album, the bonus disc is worth hunting down purely for the Ensiferum’s take on the classic Rawhide theme tune, while their cover of Barathrum’s ‘Warmetal’ is addictive. Overall, One Man Army is a very enjoyable experience, combining heavy with epic bombast and folk touches. Best of all, though, this is damn fun.
A definite return to form.
Ensiferum on Facebook