Beast In Black – From Hell With Love

Since leaving Battle Beast in rather acrimonious circumstances in 2015, Beast In Black guitarist and songwriter Anton Kabanen has done everything possible to challenge his former, more established bandmates, and with 2017s debut album Berserker (Nuclear Blast), he succeeded in no uncertain terms. With the two acts releasing stellar albums within a few months of each other, it would appear that Helsinki is definitely big enough for both bands, and that any bad blood that may remain between them is at least being channeled competitively into something creative and positive. Continue reading

Russkaja – Kosmopoliturbo

As a semi-renowned gobshite par excellence, it’s genuinely not often I’m confused, but the levels of confusion upon first listening to Russkaja’s latest droppings Kosmopoliturbo (Napalm) caused existential crisis levels of befuddlement. Continue reading

Kamelot – Haven

1962624_10152842137823003_3775260628118057293_n

Haven (Napalm), American Power Metal band Kamelot’s eleventh studio album and second since the departure of Roy Khan, is an album that sounds like a musical at heart, like it was fastidiously crafted to be performed on Broadway. Its stylings and symphonic groundings and Tommy Karevik’s leading man performance all point to it, and so effective is their dramatic voice, perhaps taking their work to the theatrical stage is the next step they need to take to fully realize a legacy that has been consolidated by consistency.

Historically, the Floridians have always been walked on safe, and not the wild, side. A touch of fantasy, a host of symphonics, with soaring, immaculate vocals on top, they have always delivered and always sounded utmost in their professionalism and musicianship, but never truly excited; a band that, while most definitely best in class (though perhaps by default), are at times too slick and lack the insanity/genius of a great.

The heady mix of Savatage, Dream Theater and Queensrÿche coupled with effective symphonics and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical theatrics is near-perfected in opening duo ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’, up there with the best tracks of the bands’ career, but it is with ‘Under Grey Skies’ and the addition of Charlotte Wessels’ (Delain) dreamy vocals and Troy Donockley (Nightwish)’s tin whistle that matters bloom and the full epic musical scale of the vision for the album begins to be realized. It sails close to the Eurovision ballad wind, but it’s a beautiful song fully suited to a soundtrack or a musical. Elsewhere, downtuned staccato rhythms underpin grandiose unveilings and Karevik dispels any notions that the band can’t succeed without Khan with an assured performance; actor, narrator, singer, frontman and further proof that the line between Kamelot’s albums and musical theatre is a thin one.

All the previous criticisms can apply: this is a slick, professional band, but on Haven Kamelot have once again verified they are best in class, and have found an emotional connection. No longer cold to the touch, they are bringing to life their vision most effectively and with genuine zest. While retaining all the expected hallmarks, it is most definitely meticulously put together (if the devil is in the detail, then Haven is positively Satanic) but there is something more to it; something exuberant bubbling through. You would expect a band entering their third decade to have the requisite chops, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be injecting such vitality and vigour into the mix.

 

7.5/10

Kamelot on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Von Hertzen Brothers – New Day Rising

original

I suppose that fifteen years is quite a long time but, for your average music fan, the Von Hertzen Brothers represent something of a “new” thing. Certainly, the band’s recent success is testimony to the benefit of hard work; it’s also testimony to the fact that as they have honed their art so it has become increasingly accessible. New Day Rising (Spinefarm) is unquestionably their most accessible record to date and will, as sure as night follows day, ensure a wider audience and even greater success for this most agreeable of Finnish bands. It’s a record packed to the rafters with ideas; if truth be known, probably a few too many.

Matters get off to what can only be described as a rip roaring start with the title track throwing down the gauntlet: it’s sprightly and full of chutzpah, an energetic tour de force. You get the impression of a band comfortable in their skin and ready to take us on new musical adventures with gusto. ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ lightens the frenetic pace somewhat but the straightforward rock style is maintained in earnest. ‘Trouble’ is initially disingenuous with its soft opening, soon breaking out into an expansive number and a clear progression from the album’s opening two cuts. So far, so very agreeable.

The brakes come on for the melancholy of ‘Black Rain’, which has a nice gentle melody that supports the mood of reflection and introspection.  ‘Hold Me Up’ is, make no mistake, Coldplay through a Helsinki misty rain, and is as arch and contrived as that sounds. It’s a self-consciously “big” ballad and I’m not sure it works: if someone said it was Finland’s Eurovision entry, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I don’t actively dislike it but it jars the overall tenor of the record.

One of the interesting things about Von Hertzen Brothers has been their fearlessness in trying something new and different, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes and demanding your undivided attention. Despite the relatively straightforward nature of New Day Rising, the quirky nature of ‘Dreams’ demonstrates that this sense of gentle provocation remains firmly in place. It’s quirky and fun, lightweight and unassuming.

‘Sunday Child’ is much more serious stuff, and whilst the Coldplay echoes and sense of impending drama remain leitmotifs there’s also a whiff of Biffy Clyro invading the melody giving it a sense of defiance in its melancholic timbre. ‘The Destitute’ is much more traditional Von Hertzen fare, with a glitzy bassline that recalls U2’s Berlin period. Again, like much of the record it dashes and dances through pace and time signatures as all Prog records tend to but, despite what appears to be wilful exuberance, the core song holds its own. The album coda, ‘Hibernating Heart’ brings the pace and mood down again: an archetypal reflection of times past, of mistakes made, it’s a heartfelt and impassioned ballad and a more than decent sign off.

New Day Rising is an album of progress and advance from the Von Hertzen Brothers: there are some brilliant new songs that build on a growing reputation. However, it’s a record that also has a few jarring moments and, weirdly, too many ideas for its own good. What we’re left with is a very good record but not a nailed on classic. Greatness though is surely round the corner. As it stands, less would, in this instance, have probably been more.

 

7.5/10

von Hertzen Brothers on Facebook

 

MAT DAVIES

Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology

10616009_10152928006336703_7223298217591791030_n

With the departure of long-time vocalist and fan favourite Thebon in 2013 as well as the inevitable backlash from the trve kvlt brigade after flirtations with that most Satanic of institutions Eurovision; the future was not looking bright for Keep of Kalessin. The gap was widening since previous album Reptilian in 2010 and many thought the band had blown it, a depressing development after their successful rebirth in 2003. However, founding member Obsidian Claw refused to admit defeat and after assuming vocal duties has released sixth full-length Epistemology (both Indie Recordings) along with seasoned veterans Vyl and Wizziac along for the ride. It’s a decision that looks set to pay off for the trio, for they have recorded one absolute belter of an album.

For those who would rather cut off their own nuts then listen to another turgid Darkthrone rip-off with an artificially engineered ‘raw’ production job or who refuse to accept that only one-man losers who have never got past copy-and-paste Burzum worship have a monopoly on black metal, Keep of Kalessin are the band for you. Firmly rooted in the melodic side of the genre, although crucially leaving the dual-lead guitars to the Dissection fan boys, the band knows how to pen relatively straightforward compositions that deftly merge brutality and bombast. In short, they are the band that Dimmu Borgir should have become after Death Cult Armageddon (Nuclear Blast). Factor in a high quality, widescreen production job that makes the bass-drum sound like a jack hammer and gives the wailing leads a truly grandiose feel, and you have all the ingredients for a stone-cold classic.

With pretty much all tracks, from the soaring clean vocals and brutal guitar lines of nine-minute opener ‘The Spiritual Relief’ to the choppy melo-death workout of the closing title, following the same expertly written path of pomp and bludgeon, Epistemology may appall traditionalists but will delight those who like to look to the stars as well as into the pits of hell. Thanks for sticking around, guys.

 

8.0/10

Keep of Kalessin on Facebook

 

JAMES CONWAY

 

Atrocity – Okkult

ATROCITY_OKKULT_CoverYep, that’s occult spelt with two k’s. I know. They’re evil. They must be. And face it, Atrocity need to prove their mettle after producing not one but two shitty albums of pop covers. Those songs were bad enough already without some death metal band with a keyboard and a drummer that’s evidently bored by the songs (watch the video to their cover of ‘The Sun Never Shines On TV’; they could have sat a mannequin behind the kit and nobody would have known) inexplicably prolonging their life. At least Six feet Under choose metal songs to disgrace themselves with. 2010’s After The Storm did little to restore the band to former glories. Okay, so they’re a band with ambition, but it’s been a while since it’s been achieved. Continue reading