Tarja – Act II

In 2016 Tarja Turunen set off on yet another epic touring adventure that would last for eighteen months, taking in forty countries and seeing the chanteuse perform to over a million people, fully cementing her status as a solo artist of some solo. To celebrate this monumental achievement, as she had done in 2012 with Act I, Tarja is releasing a multi-DVD / 2 CD documentation of a couple of the highlights of the tour; an intimate London show at the Metropolis Studios to a handful of fans recorded prior to the release of The Shadow Self, and a full concert experience from the Teatro della Luna, Milan, titled Act II (all earMUSIC). Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Auri Discusses Making Their New Album

Auri, the incredible side project of Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish is bringing forth their new opus; the self-titled album Auri tomorrow, March 23rd via Nuclear Blast. Holopainen is joined by his Nightwish bandmate Troy Donockley, as well as incredible Finnish singer Johanna Kurkela. Together they unite to create a mind-blowing dreamscape of compositions, full of all the depth and texture you would expect from this talented trio. In this exclusive video, watch the members of Auri discuss mixing the album at Real World Studios. Continue reading

Royal Hunt – XIII: Devil’s Dozen

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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.

 

8.0/10

 

STEVE TOVEY

The Poodles – Devil In The Details

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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.

 

6.0/10

The Poodles on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Kaipa – Sattyg

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Despite not being one of Prog’s most celebrated acts, Kaipa have magnificent legacy that spans near 40 years (18 years of which spent on a hiatus in fairness, but still not to be taken lightly) with a branch of prog that encompasses symphonic music, Swedish traditional folk and explorative, tangent minded melodies. Since their reunion in 2000 there has been a plethora of rich additions to their history, with Sattyg (InsideOut/Century Media) the band’s latest.

Their tendency for colouful, fantasy based atmosphere remains present on Sattyg, and musically it doesn’t venture from their previous sound, which in itself is a cauldron of diverse influences, and here even including hints of medieval-like instrumentation married with an overall classic prog warmth, all producing an eclectic sound that transmits an impression that is neither dated nor current, with slight shades of a metallic feel in part.

One of Sattyg’s real strengths is the vocal combinations of Patrik Lundstrom and Aleena Gibson, both in their own displays, Gibson in particular a unique and vocally free spirit, who excel as a combined force who wed their harmonies and interplay together, proving as adventurous at times as the accompanying musical shifts.

An aural swirl that indulges the senses for nigh on 70 minutes across 7 reflective, meditative and eccentric musical passages, the sextet casually unfurl their folky and progressive indulgences, unhurried and unpressured, allowing each track to expand and develop as if in its’ own microcosm.  Yes, it may sit too much on the side of whimsy, for some but most will find an album with a multitude of layers, styles and nuances drawn from a palette of rich colours.

One of Progressive music’s underrated gems have added another jewel to their underplayed legacy.

 

8.0/10

Kaipa on Facebook

 

CHRIS TIPPELL

Battle Beast – Unholy Saviour

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Ever since Hammerfall brought Glory To The Brave (via Nuclear Blast) by damn near single-handedly re-establishing traditional metal as a valid concern some 18 years ago, the traditional types of metal have existed in a vacuum. While even the most conservative of genres, thrash, updated itself in several directions via the urbanization and gangsterization of a Machine Head, or branched out into progressive and technical fields of your Voivod’s and Heathen’s, traditional metal (a sub-genre incorporating “HM”, Speed and Power Metal) seems happy to regurgitate the same tropes and styles ad infinitum.

I guess the clue is in the tag “traditional”…

Finland’s Battle Beast on their third album Unholy Saviour (Nuclear Blast) tick many boxes of the Speed Power Metal sub-genre confidently, continuing exactly where their second, self-titled album, finished; post-Stratovarius hard-rocking refrains punctuated with pacy Accept-influenced riffing, and peppered with rapid bursts of Pyry Vikki’s double-bass drum hurtle. Added to those ingredients are Noora Louhimo’s vocals, not a million miles away from Sister Sin’s Liv Jagrell (a band that Battle Beast share several aural similarities with) pitching from punchy mid-range to a powerful throaty higher register that give the band their quasi-distinctiveness and a USP.

As the album unfolds, it’s clear Battle Beast have three song types, the Symphonic Hard Rocker, such as opener ‘Lion Heart’, the ‘Freewheel Burning’ Speed Metal anthem of a ‘Speed And Danger’ and the softer, more delicate power ballad, of which ‘Sea of Dreams’ displays subtlety and grace and a softer tone to Noora’s voice, in a track that, while obvious in its dynamic climb, works despite its’ genericises.

With sprinkles of keyboards and dual guitars driving duelling descants, make no mistake the term derivate isn’t always a negative thing as Battle Beast do exactly what they set out to do, and this is a collection of well-crafted Hard Rocking Power Metal songs. The fact that there is nothing novel or innovative doesn’t have to put you off, it’s just a matter of whether you have room in your collection for an album that does exactly what you expect it to, that will share characteristics with several of its bed-fellows and is, ultimately, the very definition of “if you liked this band before, you’ll like this, if you didn’t there’s nothing on here that’ll change your mind”.

 

7.0 / 10

Battle Beast on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

Liv Kristine – Vervain

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Now apparently, this latest effort from Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine has been sold to us as ‘Ambient doom’. I can safely say that no version of doom has been anywhere near Vervain (Napalm) but within is a sound of some melancholy, despite adding only a touch of gravity to the more expected symphonic template.

Opening track ‘My Wilderness’ houses a sense of despair, lush keys creating a stirring atmosphere while Liv’s heavenly tones are accompanied by haunting backing vocals. The ensuing ‘Love Decay’ features dramatic 80s goth vocals from End of Green‘s Michelle Darkness, adding to the dark pop-rock feel which is given further piquancy by an spiky riff and crashing drums. The title track’s strange synths and gentle but driving beat underpin a gorgeous vocal which is Tori Amos-like at its height: indeed the quirky Goddess is evinced on a number of tracks here, not least in the roughed-up dub of ‘Creeper’ and closer ‘Oblivious’, both full of sparing leads and woolly key fills in the worst traditions of 80s AOR.

It’s a plaintive sound, that largely gothic instrumentation and dark, icicle-drop keys giving the style expected to the Benatar-ish ‘Stronghold of Angels’, which is given a harder edge by a wonderful contribution from Doro Pesch and some heady harmonies. Though devoid of extremity, even weaker moments such as the occasionally feeble ‘Hunters’ are given a little oomph by Kristine’s soaring, crystal-clear voice, full of emotion; the layered backing vocals; and those ‘riff and rhythm’-laden choruses. There’s a hint of Kate Bush also on the edgy ballad ‘Lotus’, evincing a bitter coffee in a lonely Parisian cafe.

There’s an unmistakable air of European rock about it all, even when that riff kicks in, yet it’s emotive despite the clinical over-production and delicious for devotees of heartfelt operatic rock. Liv’s honeyed notes are effortless, even aching on the mournful ‘Two and a Heart’, and overall it’s fairly pleasant though not the sort for rough old me. Catchy, sweet, and choc-full of darkness and melody, it’s Gothic Symphonia with an even softer heart.

6.5/10

Liv Kristine on Facebook

 

PAUL QUINN