ALBUM REVIEW: Ensiferum – Thalassic – Metal Blade Records

Concentrating on a specific thematic concept for the first time, Thalassic (Metal Blade), the eighth full-length release by Finnish folk metallers Ensiferum, finds the band obsessing over – as the Greek translation suggests – the subject of things related to the sea. Continue reading

Helloween Announces The First Pumpkin United Tour Dates

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Helloween recently announced that they will be rejoined by vocalist Michael Kiske and guitarist Kai Hansen for a world tour in 2017 and 2018. Continue reading

Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman

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Elephants in the room exposed, monkeys off their backs with legal issues cast aside and now sole owners of the rights to the name and catalogue of Queensrÿche, the band who produced the greatest album to originate from Seattle can now leave their manure-filled zoo of shite behind. With Todd La Torre firmly ensconced in their ranks, and contributing fully to the writing of the bands fifteenth album, Condition Hüman (Century Media), the opportunity is there for the real Queensrÿche to stand back up.

Having promised a return to their more progressive metal-tinged leanings, an introductory dual guitar lick references their early traditional metal outputs before we embark on album that displays every element of trademark Queensrÿche that you could wish for.  Condition Hüman is a mature album, at times reminiscent of Parallels (Metal Blade) from former tour buddies Fates Warning, happy to reference the foibles and distinctive nodes of yesteryear while still firmly holding its place in where the band is now. There are the expected gallops, ‘All There Was’ and ‘Guardian’ could be out-takes from the Operation Mindcrime (EMI) sessions, but in the main, here lies a series of intelligent rock/metal songs proudly reflecting a band that is once again able to produce the music that people expect from them and are more than happy to oblige.

That’s not to say this is an album without heaviness – ‘Hourglass’ builds from a dark, stabbed beginning to a spiralling (reference intended) epic, while ‘Eye9’ could be the rÿche polish applied to a long-lost jam session for the new Tool album – but it’s used sparingly, intelligently, with progressive and cerebral rock the order of the day. La Torre is the ideal frontman, sounding effortlessly like the ousted Geoff Tate, with hints of Michael Kiske, a flawless voice that is indisputably Queensrÿche, adopting some of the idiosyncrasies of his predecessor for that added touch.

Condition Hüman fits seamlessly into the Queensrÿche canon, a natural evolution from, and improvement on, its’ self-titled predecessor, almost as if their discography actually runs Empire (EMI) to Queensrÿche to Condition Hüman and the intervening twenty-three years be damned. Ignore side-show circuses, ignore the flaccid projects of “formerly of…” members, and ignore the memory of experiments and failures; Condition Hüman is a confident and telling step forward in restoring the legacy of a once great band.

The Queen of the Rÿche has seen off the usurper, and now proudly surveys her domain once more.

 

8.0/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

Kiske/Somerville – City of Heroes

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Some elements of life naturally appeal to our various senses; like the aroma of bacon in our nostrils or like a striking sunset in our vision, so Michael Kiske’s warm, velvety optimistic tones are an aural hot chocolate to our ears. It’s hard to hear his voice, whether it be over a racing Metal speedster or a lush acoustic ballad, and not feel some kind of affirming action has taken place. If Kiske and Devin Townsend were to record together, negativity as we know it would be evacuated from this ball of rock.

Kiske/Somerville is a bit of an unusual but oh-so-grin inducing proposition that is rock, Jim, but not as we know it, with its origins almost Simon Cowellesque. Basically Frontier Records have employed Mat Sinner (Sinner, natch, and Primal Fear) to write a bunch of songs for two people who are quite capable of writing their own, and who have been paired up to record together for the second time (Sinner also penning the self-titled debut of 2010).

Since his banishment from Helloween Kiske, the greatest and most distinctive voice in Euro Metal, has nomadically wandered from project to project, including various solo albums, a reoccurring lead cast role in the theatre of Avantasia and (finally) his own heavier project Unisonic.  Meanwhile Amanda Somerville has appeared with the glitterati of the Power Metal world in Kamelot, Edguy, Avantasia, and After Forever.

And, perhaps due to the oddity of the nature of its creation, in the main, it works. Most enjoyably, too. While the majority of the music beneath is uptempo Hard Rock (of the tinged by Power and Classic Metal variety), above the surface soar unconstrained, with unrefined joy clearly displayed, the twin voices of our protagonists, usually by means of call and answer; a verse for he, a verse for she, and a chorus where they meet to continue their tales of love.

While the backing music may, like the dodgiest of petrol gauges, swing from average to bloody good, and it all sits very comfortably in the type of garden we are well acquainted with, surprises are, well, nil. City Of Heroes, though, does what too few albums do and, like boobs in the hands, makes us feel good about ourselves.

 

7.0/10

Kiske / Somerville on Facebook

Michael Kiske on Facebook

Amanda Somerville on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

System of a Down, Slipknot, Faith No More Confirmed For Rock In Rio 2015

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The Brazilian edition of Rock In Rio has updated its schedule of confirmed acts to perform. The event is held September 18-27, 2015 at The New City of Rock in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. A partial schedule of the heavier acts have been confirmed.

September 18, 2015

Palco Mundo:

Queen
One Republic
The Script
(more bands to be confirmed)

September 19, 2015

Palco Mundo:

Metallica
Motley Crue
Royal Blood
Gojira

Palco Sunset:

Korn
Ministry + Burton C Bell (of Fear Factory)
Angra + Doro Pesch + Dee Snider
Nocterall + Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween)

September 24, 2015

Palco Sunset:

System of a Down
Queens of the Stone Age
Hollywood Vampires (featuring Alice Cooper, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Paul McCartney and Johnny Depp)
CPM 22

Palco Sunset:

Deftones
Lamb of God
Halestorm + Convidado
Project 46 + John Wayne

September 25, 2015

Palco Sunset:

Slipknot
Faith No More
Mastodon
De La Tierra

Palco Sunset:

Steve Vai + Camerata Florianopolis
Nightwish + Jukka Nevalainen
Moonspell + Derrick Green
Classicos Do Terror

Serious Black – As Daylight Breaks

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Well, that’s shut me well and truly the fuck up

(You wish…)

It’s apt to begin a commentary on a release from one ex-Helloween guitarist (Roland Grapow) with reference to the man he succeeded in the pumpkin-obsessed kings of Power Metal, one Kai Hansen, who titled the third Gamma Ray album Insanity & Genius (Noise) and referenced in the lyrics how thin the line between the two is. Well, the line between generic and uninteresting pap and Power Metal Glory is even thinner, perhaps as thin as the hair-line on Herr Hansen’s fivehead these days. But with As Daylight Breaks (Nuclear Blast) Serious Black (contenders for best new band name – certainly best Harry Potter themed one) have released a debut that is so far over the line on the side of quality, the line is a dot to them (answers on a postcard if you get that reference).

Having written off Power Metal in my mind as a genre that, no matter how well its composite parts could be put together, was done, creatively redundant and in the type of artistic morass that Death Metal found itself in for twenty years, nevertheless, like the child poking the disembowelled frog with a stick and hoping for some twitch or reaction, with morbid curiosity I find myself drawn to it. See, when Power Metal is on it, there’s very little better for invigorating the mind and soul. And Grapow’s latest offering slapped me round the chops, leaving me with a fiendish grin, a rediscovered  enthusiasm for the genre and a frog named Lazarus.

The brainchild of Grapow and former Visions of Atlantis bassist Mario Lochert, with the rhythm section rounded out by former Blind Guardian tub thumper Thomen Stauch, Serious Black absolutely nail everything that is joyous about Power Metal infused hard rock, from the driving opening pair of ‘I Seek No Other Life’ and the simply massive ‘High And Low’ through to the theatre-y and slightly camp closing ‘Older and Wiser’.

The band is led by the underrated and under-celebrated vocal talents of former Tad Morose pipes, Urban breed who avoids being one of a million Kiske-clean wannabes by injecting power and tone; at times channelling Jon Oliva, particularly on the keys led title-track, at others Mike Howe (Metal Church), and able to carry a faster verse alongside the ubiquitous sizeable choruses.

Musically, you can bandy about names such as Kamelot (‘Akhenation’), Within Temptation (the uptempo rock romp of ‘Trail of Murder’), Savatage, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica if you like; there definite elements of Blind Guardian and Helloween,  and that’s absolutely fine, as Serious Black sit as a kind of summation of all that “is” from the polished end of Power Metal.

As Daylight Breaks benefits from a great, full, vibrant production and above all exudes the sensation of a band really enjoying their work. As they rightly should. I once incorrectly tagged Grapow as a Janick Gers figure who had ruined one of my favourite bands. He well and truly proved me wrong – I even quite like Pink Bubbles Go Ape now, and I’m one of the few people on the planet who love Chameleon (both EMI) – and with Serious Black he’s done it again, proving as Edguy did with last years’ Space Police (Nuclear Blast) that, when done well, Power Metal can be fulfilling rompy-pompy.

 

7.5/10

Serious Black on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Viathyn – Cynosure

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I think it says something about me that the phrase “Progressive Power Metal” ranks considerably higher up the list of music I’m interested in than “mates band” does – though let’s face it, mates bands are usually shit. I’m not quite sure what it is that it says (other than “shit taste, nobber”), but it’s always with enthusiasm that the triangle of play is hit on an album of that ilk. It also says something about Progressive Power Metal that it is quite possibly the uncoolest of uncool subgenres to date. So uncool it hasn’t even become cool through its uncoolness.

If you consider that insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results (Wikipedia can’t make its’ mind up if Einstein or Franklin should be attributed the source quote – it was probably neither) then the white coat is being sized up for me right about now, because by now that wave of enthusiasm should really be a cynical mistrust. Because it’s rare. Rarer than a 20 year old buxom beauty queen genuinely loving a rich octogenarian with a dodgy ticker that the potential and promise of Progressive Power Metal actually delivers.

There are two traps Progressive Power Metal bands fall into – being overly prog but without fully understanding the dynamics and nuances of the genre and end up boringly noodling with some helium-vocalled loon in a flowered shirt thinking he’s the reincarnation of Michael Kiske. Alberta, Canada’s Viathyn avoid that trap with consummate ease. Phew. But don’t wipe that brow just yet, because, no, they dive headfirst into the other trap… That they’re actually a Power Metal-lite band who love a bit of twee, and the prog bit is a misnomer. Have they never seen Spinal Tap? Those “folky” bits…? Stonehenge more like it.

With one metallic bear-trap having wrenched their first leg off, they’re soon left without a leg to stand on, as the jaws of trap two snap down thigh high (obviously catching the nadgers too, cos this is fucking testicle-less) as there is very little that’s vaguely memorable. Part of it is because Tomislav Crncovik is a vocalist as unremarkable and indistinct as the music he writes, but in the main because the album is a loop of double bass drums and inane leads  interspersed with underwhelming vocals and less dynamic movement than a dead fish. Though ‘Countess of Discordia’ and ‘Three Sheets To The Wind’ at least have choruses that differentiate from the verses.

Look, Viathyn can clearly play blah blah blah… Who cares? Their album is boring and uneventful. And I like this sort of stuff. Get A Sound Of Thunder‘s latest instead. Also, if you’re self-releasing an album through Bandcamp at least put some fucking band/album details on there, will you?

 

4.0/10

Viathyn on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

DragonForce – Neonfly: Live at Colchester Arts Centre, UK

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More bands should take the same “back to basics” approach that DragonForce are applying to the UK leg of the Maximum Overload world tour. Rather than taking in the usual 5 shows in the same 5 major cities, this time around the sextet are taking in  20 smaller venues in 20 towns that don’t get to see many non-local bands.

And the people of Colchester, saved the £30 fare and hour journey to London to take in a show, have responded enthusiastically. The Arts Centre, a converted church that is actually a rather fine venue, is absolutely rammed, and the opening band aren’t even on.

Neonfly, a badly named band who thus far have flown under the radar, take to the stage and are greeted enthusiastically and respond as if they’ve just strolled out as a festival headliner. And it’s lapped up as they run through a selection of AOR influenced widdly Power Metal that veers between Sonata Arctica and UFO. They have all the poses (including some classic Priest choreography), all the solos and in Willy Norton, all the voice with his excellent Michael Kiske meets Tony Martin delivery, and a stage patter that’s part children’s entertainer and part Danny Bowes on happy pills. It’s 1988 again, and no one is complaining as single ‘Gift To Remember’ is met by a healthy number of hands in the air to its rocking riff and massive chorus. While closer ‘Morning Star’ may be a slightly disappointing end to a very enjoyable set, no damage is done as Neonfly have made a lot of new friends tonight, as songs aired from their upcoming new album Strangers In Paradise (Inner Wound) touch on Avantasia. And they have a guitarist called Fred Thunder.

DragonForce have quite the mixed live reputation, but since the arrival of vocalist Marc Hudson they seem to be a different beast these days. Hudson’s first album with the band, The Power Within (Essential/Roadrunner) was their best since debut Valley Of The Damned (Noise/Sanctuary) and the strength and reputation of their live show has grown since his arrival. Heading out on the road with a new album, Maximum Overload (earMUSIC), that picks up where Power… left off, could they continue the upward live curve?

Absolutely. In spades. From the rapid fire power metal, to the guitar duelling of Sam Totman and Hermann Li, who both make the fastest and most complex of guitar techniques seem effortless, to bassist Frédéric Leclercq’s facial comedy show and underpinning rumble and Hudson’s near flawless vocal performance, the ‘Force are on it.

Everything about DragonForce on this tour elicits grins and a feeling of joy, and it’s clear this comes from the stage, aided by Totman’s understated self-deprecation and ongoing banter with Leclercq, the two of them mocking Li, each other, the lyrics (the sword motions in ‘Black Winter Night’ were childishly brilliant), the crowd and themselves throughout while still delivering. It’s great to see. Li, on the other hand, is pulling every Guitar-God shape, including pick-sliding with his tongue, while in between Hudson, the bastard love-child of Chris Jericho and Sebastian Bach, has learnt the master of ceremonies role, padding and filling well in the longer than usual gaps between songs caused by technical issues to Vadim Pruzhanov’s keytar.

Highlights are hard to choose, but a mid-set ‘Seasons’ goes down a storm, a thrashy ‘The Game’ opens up a pit, and ‘Three Hammers’ is a colossal slice of One Direction meets ManOweeN, before all too soon it’s time for the bands best song, ‘Cry Thunder’ which concludes the set proper to rapturous cheers.

Immediate a holler rises for an encore, and the band oblige, camping through their dreadful version of ‘Ring of Fire’, before a vibrant ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ (I’m sure some guy near me was actual air Guitar Hero-ing) and a triumphant ‘Valley Of The Damned’ wrap things up to send a happy crowd spilling out, talking nearly as quickly as the flurrying fingers of Totman and Li about how much they enjoyed the show.

This is what a Power Metal gig should be about, a packed crowd singing along to hymns of cheese and metal with a band turning in a great performance, all creating a symbiotic exuberance. Simply great fun.

And I was sober…

 

DragonForce Set list

Defenders

Fury Of The Storm

Three Hammers

Black Winter Night

Seasons

Tomorrow’s Kings

Symphony Of The Night

The Game

Heroes Of Our Time

Cry Thunder

 

Ring Of Fire

Through The Fire And The Flames

Valley Of The Damned

 

DragonForce on Facebook

STEVE TOVEY