Unless you keep one eye permanently fixed on the European power metal scene, the chances are you might not have heard of Swedish act Majestica. You’ll have probably have heard of ReinXeed though, and – no matter what your opinion of them might be – you’ll definitely have heard of Sabaton. The link between them all? Guitarist Tommy Johansson. Continue reading
Check out all of today’s new releases in the music world! Continue reading
Symphonic Power Metal band Serenity is back with a new album, Lionheart (Napalm), and they are strong as ever. As on previous album Codex Atlanticus, which explored the life and writings of Leonardo DaVinci, the band’s passion for history inspired the themes and lyrics of the album. Continue reading
In this exclusive album preview for Ghost Cult, Wintersun mastermind Jari Mäenpää discusses is his biggest musical influences. You can watch the video below. Continue reading
Finland’s Tuska open-air metal festival is celebrating their twentieth anniversary in a very cool way. Continue reading
It was unfortunate that the first thing I noticed after entering the impressive Genting Arena for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was a seriously poor collection of t-shirts at the merchandise stand. How difficult would it have been to produce a nice black shirt with the Rising cover on the front and the single NEC date splashed across the back for a smugness level of 11? Mind you, you did get a free Blackmore’s Night CD with every purchase, so there was that, I suppose.
Support act Mostly Autumn were up first, and shorn of a member or two, could realistically have been called Mostly Mostly Autumn for the evening. Hard rock with a celtic edge, singers Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn sounded fantastic, but you felt they would have been far better suited to a much smaller stage.
And so to the only reason people were in attendance. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Arriving on stage to a recording of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ the lengthy intro was completed by a sound clip of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz followed by Blackmore playing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ while accompanied by the loud and rapturous applause of everyone inside the sold out venue.
Opening properly with Deep Purple‘s ‘Highway Star’, it was lift-off inside the arena as everyone sang along with relatively unknown vocalist Ronnie Romero at the top of their voices. However, even at such an early stage in proceedings it was clear that Ritchie was not on top form. Well, how could he be? He’s 71 with the onset of arthritis and recovering from a recent operation on one of his fingers. This wasn’t Blackmore at the height of his pomp, this was an ageing Blackmore doing his very best his fingers would allow. His guitar sound wasn’t great, he stayed pretty much rooted to the spot, steadfastly refusing to move to the other side of the stage even for a couple of minutes, and he appeared to be playing everything a little slower and a lot more staccato than the studio material everyone knows so well. But he was there. It’s a distinct possibility that Black Sabbath won’t sound their absolute best when they play their final show here next year, but you know it’ll go down as a classic regardless of their performance, and it was the same for Rainbow last night. Blackmore might not be able to let his fingers fly like they used to, restricting his solos to bluesy licks and scales, occasionally throwing in short bursts of speed when needed, but he still gave it his all and the gig will still be talked about for a long time to come.
If it wasn’t for Blackmore, vocalist Ronnie Romero might well have stolen the show last night. I’d never heard of him or his band Lords of Black until very recently, but if there’s any justice in this world then he’ll have a big future ahead of him. He belted out Ronnie James Dio‘s Rainbow tracks with complete authority and his voice was nothing short of spectacular. He handled the Ian Gillan stuff incredibly well too, showing the right amount of power and emotion, with only ‘Child In Time’ being a bridge too far for his ability as he let the two female backing singers take the ridiculously high notes for him while he continued in a lower register. Keyboard player Jens Johannson, stolen for this brief run from Finnish Power Metallers Stratovarius excelled in his role as Ritchie’s foil, playing off the guitar parts and taking over when he needed to. His playing even turned a predictably tedious drum solo into something actually worth listening to.
Mixing just about the right amount of Purple and Rainbow material, Blackmore always had the audience on side, and God help me, I’m sure I even saw him crack a smile on a couple of occasions. ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’, ‘Spotlight Kid’, ‘Mistreated’, ‘Perfect Strangers’, and ‘Soldier of Fortune’ were brilliant. ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ turned into a massive sing along, and ‘Stargazer’ was phenomenal. However, ‘Black Night’ sounded a little twee, and you’d think the guy who wrote ‘Smoke on the Water’ would be able to play it in time. The few first bar was off by about half a beat and it took a few seconds to get back into it. ‘Since You Been Gone’ was another huge sing along and ‘Catch The Rainbow’ although played well, just wasn’t as good as when Opeth played it at Bloodstock Open Air shortly after Ronnie James Dio died. That version was a serious shivers down the spine moment, while last night it just lacked something special. Thankfully, the omission of the hugely overrated ‘I Surrender’ helped make up for this.
A massively enjoyable evening where everyone went home with daft grins, thoroughly happy that they’d seen someone called Ronnie sing Rainbow songs with Ritchie Fucking Blackmore on the stage.
Land of Hope and Glory/Over the Rainbow (intro)
Since You Been Gone
Man on the Silver Mountain
Soldier of Fortune
Difficult to Cure/Drum Solo
Catch the Rainbow
Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
Child in Time
Smoke on the Water
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Gloryhammer are a Swiss/Scottish five piece, founded by Alestorm‘s Christopher Bowes. Referring to themselves as “Heroic Fantasy Power Metal Warriors”, they write songs like ‘The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee’, they have a drummer called Ralathor, the Mysterious Hermit of Cowdenbeath, and are quite clearly madder than a sack of badgers.
Most importantly though, Gloryhammer are also ridiculously entertaining. If you somehow manage to listen to new album Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards (Napalm) without grinning like an idiot all the way through it, then quite simply, you’re getting Metal wrong.
Opening with ‘Infernus Ad Astra’, quite possibly the most Star Trek introduction ever, the story (of course there’s a story) begins in the distant future of 1992 and war, as always seems to be the case in science fiction, has returned to the galaxy. Apparently, it’s been 1000 years since Angus McFife defeated the evil Sorcerer Zargothrax in the battle of Dunfermline, but now a cult of unholy chaos wizards are planning to release Zargothrax and unleash him upon the universe again.
The absolute bastards.
The album kicks off properly with ‘Rise of the Chaos Wizards’, a song which not only pumps the purest Rhapsody of Fire blood furiously through its veins, but also happens to be better than anything either incarnation of that band have produced since going their separate ways. ‘Legend of the Astral Hammer’ follows with its fierce and manly True Metal chorus – stupidly simple and twice as catchy, you’ll be striding around your house, chest out and holding an invisible tankard of ale, singing it for days. The Rhapsody worship returns on the brilliant ‘Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy’, and ‘The Hollywood Hootsman’ has another one of those choruses which you’ll keep in your head far longer than is medically recommended. ‘Victorious Eagle Warfare’ sounds like Iron Maiden and Stratovarius went to a keyboard party at Judas Priest‘s house. ‘Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress!’ will make you sing its daft lyrics out loud and in public, and the fast, pulsing rhythm of ‘Universe on Fire’ will have you dancing in your seat like a deranged gibbon. ‘Heroes (of Dundee)’ is nice and straightforward, and the lengthy and melodramatic ‘Apocalypse 1992’ finishes the story off in the manner you’d wish for, with gravel-throated narration, jabbing and swirling keyboards, mighty riffs, and lines such as “like tears of a unicorn lost in the rain, chaos will triumph this day”. The album is rounded off by instrumental ‘Dundax Aeterna’ and the first thing you’ll want to do after it finishes is go back and to the beginning and start the whole thing up again.
If you want your Power Metal to be original or innovative, then you’re in the wrong place. Gloryhammer don’t just wear their influences on their sleeve, they have them emblazoned across battle armour, embroidered over wizards robes and branded onto unicorns arses.
Faster than a laser bullet indeed.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about The Poodles image that borders on hipster irony, and/or a touch of Steel Panther parody, though at the same time, it could just as well be a plain old “wacky” sense of humour. Either which way, the band have racked up ten Top 10 hits in their native Sweden, and swagger into album number six, Devil In The Details (Gain), on the back of a rising popularity that has continued to grow since their début Metal Will Stand Tall (Lionheart) in 2006.
While the album opens in the symphonic power rock vein of a less metal Kamelot with the dramatic ‘Before I Die’ and its bombastic chorus rising from a considered, dark verse, (‘Crack In The Wall’ has a similar feel), The Poodles true sound lies in a rockier, glammier sound, and sure enough ‘The Greatest’ is a hit single with a Bon Jovi meets 30 Seconds To Mars stamp all over it.
The Poodles are a Hard Rock band who are at home in the Power Metal market (indeed guitarist Pontus Norgren left to join Hammerfall), and, as such, aren’t afraid to incorporate a more epic bent to their music – ‘Need To Believe’ nods to Tony Martin era Black Sabbath – as well as some versatility ‘(What The Hell) Baby’ funks along (and actually has a chorus that it’s not unimaginable could have been written for Britney Spears). However, consistency is a bit of an issue, as is stamina as things dip towards the end, with final four ‘Stop’, ‘Creator and Breaker’ and ‘Borderline’ being bone fide plodders, while a ‘Life Without You’ is saved only by a great chorus that demands a fist up and a grin on the face all tacked onto a tepid toil.
While not the strongest release of the bands’ canon, there is no need to be negative, as there is plenty to appeal to their existing fans, plus those of acts like Europe and Stratovarius.
Finland’s #1 metal festival of summertime, Tuska 2015, has announced a slew of new acts to join the bill. Among the additions are Stormwarrior, Architects, Alfa Hanne, Dr. Living Dead!, Mokoma, Alfa Hanne, At The Hollow, Tryer, The Cold War, Adamantra and many more to come. The show takes place June 26th to June 28th in Suvilahti, Helsinki.
Single day tickets and passes are on sale now from the festival website, with VIP packages to be announced soon. The full bill will be announced later this spring with the line-up for each day so far
Friday June 26th
Sabaton, Lamb Of God, Architects, Exodus, Krokodil, Blues Pills, Ghost Brigade, Alfa Hanne, Enforcer, Foreseen, Death Toll 80k, Ape
Saturday, June 27th
In Flames, Amorphis, Loudness, Ne Obliviscaris, Bloodbath, The Sword, Einherjer, Bombus, Atomic Rotta, Morbid Evils, Tryer, Red Moon Architect, Adamantra, Dark Side Of The Mime
Sunday June 28th
Alice Cooper, Opeth, Stratovarius, Stormwarrior, The Sirens, Warmen, Dr. Living Dead !, At The Hollow, The Cold War
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.