If you are a fan of the much loved and missed Savatage, you get precious few chances to hear their music anymore outside of your car, headphones or old record collection. Sanctuary and Witherfall singer Joseph Michael has assembled a collection of peers to pay tribute to the band with a cover of ‘Chance’! Along with Michael the all-star group includes Van Williams (ex-Nevermore, Ghost Ship Octavious), Anthony Crawford (Witherfall, Chon), Joey Concepcion (Sanctuary, Jasta), Alex Nasla (Witherfall) and Will Wallner (White Wizzard). The song is available for purchase and streaming right now, so do it! Michael is currently on tour fronting Sanctuary on the “Refuge Denied” Tour, with Ghost Ship Octavious opening. We saw the show in Brooklyn, and it ruled. 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 Hunt have 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.
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.
Well, that’s shut me well and truly the fuck up
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.
Wacken Open Air 2015 has started announcing bands who will be taking part on their event, happening July 30 and August 1, 2015 in Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany.
The confirmed acts so far include:
Amorphis (Special Tales From The Thousand Lakes set)
At The Gates
Black Label Society
Subway To Sally
Tears for Beers
U.D.O. with Bundeswehr Musikkorps