Remastering albums is a tricky business. For every perceived mistake or fault which gets cleaned up, smoothed over, or completely erased; for every tweak or alteration to the mix, there will always be listeners who prefer the original, no matter what. Trying to improve a recording can often lead to losing the charm of the original, and so as much as record label Nuclear Blast have given a significant portion of Blind Guardian‘s discography a deserved facelift here, the results will lie purely in the eye (or in this case, the ear) of the beholder.Continue reading
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
Arjen Lucassen will be releasing his new Ayreon album, The Source, on April 27th via Mascot Label Group, and as promised, this record features a ton of guest appearances from some of the biggest names in heavy metal. Continue reading
Arjen Lucassen recently announced that the new Ayreon album, The Source, will be hitting stores on April 27th via Mascot Label Group. Continue reading
Latest of the new wave of stoner/revival/heavy metal bands, Mirror have an impressive and diverse collective CV of work behind them. A Face on the Doom scene, bassist Tas Danazoglou (erstwhile of Electric Wizard and Great Coven) is the main driver behind this band, along with drummer Jaime Gomez Arellano (Blutvial and Septic Tank). The band is very upfront with what to expect from Mirror (Metal Blade), their debut album: “The recording boasts strong melodic ideas with classic, heavy riffs inspired by the sounds of Scorpions, UFO, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and the like.”
The album’s opener – ‘Mirror’ – is so ridiculously Maiden that it’s almost a surprise as the vocals start that it’s not Ol’ Foghorn himself making a guest appearance. Instead, Jimmy Mavromatis turns in a performance far more reminiscent of Blind Guardian‘s Hansi Kürsch. The song doesn’t suffer from it though – it’s the best of the bunch. ‘Curse of the Gypsy’ is a grandiose affair which reminds strongly of Ghost. The foot comes off the throttle for the stargazing ‘Year of the Red Moon’, where the inevitable Hammond organ makes its appearance and settles in for the remainder of the ride and ‘Heavy King’ is a fine track in the Deep Purple vein with a strong backbone and some lovely breaks from each band member. ‘Madness and Magic’ brings the (classic rock flavoured) doom and ‘Galleon’ brings us back to Killers-era Maiden, while ‘Cloak of a Thousand Secrets’ turns up the heat again for a boisterous hybrid of Blind Guardian and UFO. ‘Orion’s Sword’ servers an extended acoustic(y) intro to the closing track – ‘Elysian’ – which pretty much shoehorns everything from the rest of the album into one song.
As I’ve said before, revival bands often struggle to find their own sense of identity, but I don’t think this is true of Mirror. They’re honest about what they’re aiming for, they’ve delivered as promised and the end result does stand on its own whilst paying authentic homage to the giants of 70s metal. What lets Mirror down is the killer/filler track list (‘Mirror’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Heavy King’ and ‘Secrets’ being the killers), and the dry production. Now, I fully appreciate that this sound is a central part of the feel the band are going for with this album, but it detracts from almost all the tracks, robbing them of the punch and depth that a richer sound would yield.
Nevertheless, a decent debut, and if you’re into the likes of Purson, Ghost or The Sword, you’ll probably get on with Mirror.
Blessed & Possessed (Napalm) the sixth studio album by German band Powerwolf opens with a majestically bombastic title-track that is everything you could hope for in a Powerwolfalbum as the choral vocals just add that extra classical touch to the power metal onslaught. And yes, the melodies are super catchy, like the genre requires. But Powerwolf is not all symphonic bombast; ‘Army of the Night’ really sounds like Sabaton’s combat style, reminding of ‘Ghost Division’, but with far better vocals than Joakim Brodén was then capable of. It is effective in raising both spirits and your heartrate!
On ‘Armata Strigoi’ the riffs are incredibly tight, the melodies have just enough cheese to make this incredibly enjoyable to listen to, and the guitar solo is effective and varied. ‘We are the Wild’ is a Power Metal anthem, as the chorus is perfectly suited to chanting along from the audience. It also features a really nice orchestral break before the solo.
‘Higher than Heaven’ is an up-tempo and highly energetic piece – I couldn’t help but grin madly during this song as the contrast between the fast-paced singing, smooth vocal melody, and pacey music is just immensely pleasing – the slower break does not lose any of the power, but gathers it for the final chorus.
The vocal talents of Attila Dorn are well showcased, in the more battle-oriented songs they sound like a cross between Joakim Brodén and Hansi Kursch, in others, like ‘Let There Be Night’, his voice takes on a very classical quality, with great clarity and vibrato. However, the best parts are the combination of rough and classical, which lends great power to the music and the lyrics.
In case you hadn’t realised yet from the other songs, ‘Christ & Combat’ should make it abundantly clear what the theme of the album is: religion and war, and the lyrics seem to describe some sort of Christian Valhalla. It also has features some excellent bass lines.
While I really love ‘Sanctus Dominus’ for its choral bombast with Latin lyrics and the customary clipped pronunciation, by the time I get to ‘Sacramental Sister’ the religious themes become tiresome with an entire album on the subject hard to swallow
However, the music is fun, the sound is good, and I heartily recommend it to people who love cheesy power metal and have no aversion to the glorification of holy wars and religiousness.
“Impact” is a difficult concept to define in terms of music, but an extremely important one. The effect that a given piece of music has on any listener is always going to be extremely personal and subjective, of course, but to some extent it is possible to measure how much impact an album is able to make to its listeners through its emotional accessibility – the extent to which it is prepared to “let us in” to its world.
Blind Guardian are one of the founders of what we now call Symphonic Power Metal, and still one of its principle exponents. As you’d expect from a band who’ve been putting out albums for over twenty-five years now, their recorded output is not without its ups and downs, but across ten studio albums and numerous singles and live recordings they’ve maintained an admirable consistency in professionalism and power.
Beyond The Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast) is a technically flawless album, there’s absolutely no denying that, and at times genuinely beautiful. “Symphonic” is a much-abused word and concept in Heavy Metal, often translating to “our riffs are boring so we’re covering them in keyboards” or “I secretly wish I was Enya”, but Blind Guardian have always been one of the few exceptions to that rule, and age has seemingly broadened their skill with the symphonic elements of their sound. Likewise, they have always been masters of the catchy chorus and soaring hook, and there’s plenty of evidence for both of those things throughout BTRM.
Given the unreserved praise so far, you might be wondering why the mark at the end of this review isn’t higher – and I’m sure there are Blind Guardian fans out there sharpening their internet knives right now – but the answer comes back to that thorny quality “impact”. BTRM is beautiful like a painting, or a landscape observed through a window – intricate, masterful and distant. There’s no attempt to communicate with the audience, no invitation to join the band in their world, and as a result the experience seems cold and clinical, more a soundtrack than a Heavy Metal album.
Let there be no doubt – Beyond The Red Mirror is a beautiful, technically flawless album full of masterful song-writing and symphonic arrangements, and if that’s all you want from the band you won’t be disappointed. Those of us who miss the times when Blind Guardian found space for real blood and thunder in their music, however, will likely find it a cold and somewhat uninviting proposition.