Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Secret Sphere - Portrait Of A Dying Heart (2012)

Ashamed. That is how I feel knowing that for fifteen years, a band known as Secret Sphere has been making album after album of symphonic metal without once crossing my wandering ears. From the city of Alessandria, Italy, guitarist Aldo Lonobile brought this project to life in 1997, long before power metal had ever come into my range of vision. Since then, six studio albums have come and gone unheard in my musical circle. But it is the seventh album, and first with former Vision Divine frontman Michele Luppi at the mic, that finally made it's way across the Atlantic, and into my speakers. Vased on the novel "She Complies With The Night," which was written by Costanza Colombo at the urging of Lonobile, the concept of dreams vs reality fleshes out in the form of a guitar heavy orchestral workshop known as "Portrait Of A Dying Heart."

Filling the role of the intro track, the long instrumental "Portrait Of A Dying Heart" is both ambitious and fulfilling. What stands out immediately is the ability of the guitar riffs and keys to carry the entire track without a vocal presence. Through a good number of tempo and tone changes, there is a melodic backbone hats plays perfectly off of a drum arrangement that is busy, in the best possible way. Instead of feeling crowded and claustrophobic, the track feels more wide open that you would expect, thanks in part to the more airy keyboard parts that linger and lurk in the background. The final minute takes a turn to the slower, more soothing piano style, showcasing some of the more subtle musicianship. With the added vocals on "X," you take a satisfying composition and elevate it into something altogether different. Singer Michele Luppi has a versatility to his voice that is often lost in traditional power metal. he can occupy the lower register, as he does in the opening verse, and the higher tones, as he does in the chorus. He also has just enough grit to give every lyric added punch. But with the vocal track taking the spotlight, you would assume the guitar would step back and resume a supporting role. Instead, Lonobile keeps his fingers moving, adding flourishes of melody and distortion every step of the way.

The orchestrations that lead into "Wish & Steadiness" are so rich with synthesizers and piano touches, alongside a choir of voices, that the track has lofty expectation thrust upon it. And with the first blast of double kicks and darting guitar notes, it does exactly as promised. Lonobile flashes some brilliant riffs, some dizzying and some flat out monstrous. This is where Luppi becomes key, as his voice becomes the glue that holds the whole instrumental together. With a drumming exhibition going on beneath it all, courtesy of an empowered Federico Pennazzato, there is a delicate, and noticeable balance to every segment. There is something unique in the way the band combines the heavy distorted riffs with keyboard and synthesizers on "Union," though it is hard to say whether it is by design or a beautiful coincidence. Despite being one of the more accessible tracks on the album, that combination of guitars and effects carries a lot of weight, even when packed into a short four minute framework. The power of Luppi's voice is never more evident than in the outro portion here, belting out his melodies with astonishing fervor. A few blazing harmonics fill the intro to "The Fall," set up to be one of the heavier tracks on the album. There is a tremendous amount of low end, provided by a series of kicks and toms and a consistent bass line, that drives the track forward. Throw in a pair of deep grunts, and you have a thrilling piece of symphonic metal. The outro alone is worth the price of admission, with guitars and keys trading blows.

Admittedly, the almost dance beat that peaks out on "Healing" was scary. But before it can latch on, the thunder returns, with a punishing gallop of drums cascading through your speakers. This may be one of Luppi's finest moments, as he lays down a vocal melody that is both catchy in sound and lyrical content. To say that the band possesses a sensibility in the writing process is an understatement, and tracks like this one are the evidence. There is a lot packed into four minutes, but never too much to handle. Even a lightning solo from Lonobile elicits a fist pump of approval. The shortest track on the album is also the most passionate. "Lie To Me" holds within its limits an emotional investment that is made by both the band and the listener. To call it a ballad wouldn't be fair, but it does embody a lot of the structural and lyrical tenets. It also provides a platform for Luppi to show off his range and vocal grace. To the opposite end, "Secrets Fear" is more of the bruiser, beating you back to your senses with a flurry of drums that could be described as "aggressive." The vocal harmony that inhabits the bridge and chorus is memorable in so many ways, and will go down as a highlight for many fans around the world. There is a beauty in the way vocal effects are used throughout the track, be it small bits of delay or otherwise, that adds a bit of depth to each line. If you only had two minute to spare, it would behoove you to listen to the final two minutes of this track.

Once again, the orchestral and piano elements take a starring role on "The Rising Of Love," a track that takes on the obvious subject matter. This is the most stripped down track on the album, but not in the way that you may fear. Instead, the guitars take a step back and delivering direct support as Luppi delivers unto you a powerful bit of vocal prowess, crafting a story that is both emotionally charged and easy to relate to. What you are left with is four minute of some of the smoothest instrumental and vocals in recent memory. Without the slightest bit of embarrassment, you will admit to swaying back and forth, both arms waving over your head. The way this song, in particular, plays out is a credit to the talent on display. And while it boasts a name that speaks volumes, "Eternity" does not last forever. But for a glorious six minutes, the entire story comes full circle and is tied in a neat little bow. Through the smallest pluck of a bass string, the building chorus of voices, and the airy use of synthesizers, you are being guided to a conclusion. It could be said that the final moments of an album stick with you long after it's over. And for this one, that means a single line, sung beautifully by Luppi, could echo in your mind: "We're not alone."

To take on the subject of dreams vs. reality in a symphonic metal album could be seen by some as overly ambitious, if not a tad insane. And for a lesser band, I would be inclined to agree. But Secret Sphere is just the band to rise to the occasion, taking the written word and making it leap out at you in a way that can't be described. Whether the album connects with you emotionally or mentally is not irrelevant, but it isn't the key to why "Portrait Of A Dying Heart" is such a tremendous success. Taken at face value, this is a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of metal music. If you go deeper than that, it is so much more. With every listen, small details present themselves and allow you to find not only a message to music; you may also find a piece of yourself.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Playlist 10/30/12: This one is just plain scary

October 30,2012

This week, we get in the mood for the season. And by that, of course, I mean we want to scare the living shit out of any children who may be knocking on our doors. Some of these are downright frightening, and others just get you seeing red. Enjoy, and be sure to follow our Spotify exploits.

Your tracklist:

Burzum - Fraverdenstreet
Opeth - Heir Apparent
Dethklok - Briefvcase Full O' Guts
Finntroll - I Tradens
Insomnium - Where The Last Wave Broke
Swallow The Sun - Don't Fall Asleep (Horror Pt. 2)
My Dying Bride - My Body, A Funeral
Agalloch - Into The Painted Grey
Mastodon - The Wolf Is Loose
Devin Townsend Project - Lucky Animals
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Monday, October 29, 2012

The Deadstation - Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss. (EP) (2012)

Influenced by some of the biggest names in grunge, prog, and metal, Boston based The Deadstation have a concept. Delivering their own unique take on progressive metal through a series of "episodes" on their dystopian television station, this three piece can be described by a myriad of words and phrases, but run of the mill isn't one of them. With keyboard passages that would make a Dream Theater fan drool, vocals that seem like they are right out of alt rock, and drumming that is bruising if nothing else, they have formed their an avant style all their own. In the first installment, "Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss," they take on the frightening thought of being swallowed whole, and do it with a memorable narrative.

As your broadcast begins, lonely, but eerily played notes ring out on "Hundred Foot Drop." The electronic elements that poke in are perfectly executed, leading into a guitar lead that has a blues feel to each string. But as you move from one track to the next, the explosive power of "Subsistence Defined" is enough to knock you backwards. You now have a completed mix, chock full of wailing guitar riffs, electronics, powerful drumming and synthesizers. To call the vocals versatile does not do them justice, ranging from high register clean singing to pitch perfect crooning. Lead singer Greg Murphy, who is also the driving force behind the drum kit, is sure to peak your interest through his signature vocal styles aplenty. But don't think for a minute that there is some gimmick at work here; to the contrary, the musicianship is anything but, laying down measure after measure of pulsing percussion and screeching guitar riffs. They manage to walk the fine line between theatrical and true metal prowess here, and walk it without a stumble.

And yes, the opening moments of "Drugs For The Pain Inside" may very well leave your head slightly cocked, trying to figure out exactly what could happen next. But the answer is not what you might expect. What develops is a rare mix of smooth bass, synthesizers and drumming, a soothing blend that erupts without warning into a devastating djent massacre. Somewhere beneath it all, delicate piano keys rise to the top, and launch a bizarre progressive metal piece. What springs from here is hard to describe, but remains completely riveting. Murphy's voice is unique, especially in the world of metal; something in his tone and delivery brings to mind Jared Leto of 30 Seconds To Mars, for better or worse. But the way he carries the load is what makes it all the more impressive, hitting the highs when needed, but never stretching outside his comfort zone.  Even the audio diary that makes up "August 4th - 3:21 AM" is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. What evolves from those early moments is a mix of Yes style keyboards and Dream Theater drum construction, with a single spoken voice, recounting being swallowed by the abyss. The storytelling is excellent, without ever singing one note.

Tying it all together, that same instrumental backing flows directly into "Anything But This, Anywhere But Here," where Murphy unleashes his singing voice again, over a battery of drums and synthesizers. In a combination of whispered text and clean vocals, he continues the storyline that the episode has laid out thus far. Then, once again, you are thrown for a loop. As "I Cannot Explain Myself Anymore" comes into view, softly played acoustic guitars are all you here, joined soon after by the lightest of bells. You are treated to something so soothing, a foundation as fragile as you could imagine. Yet, somehow, a keyboard and guitar led instrumental rises from these meager beginnings, and becomes something entirely new. That is, until the beat drops, and an aggressive guitar chugging kicks things into high gear. But it is from silence that "Slowly, But Surely, I'm Drowning" begins, and where it ends. The middle is a solemn affair, with softly played guitars and even softer spoken words.

There aren't a whole lot of words in the metal lexicon that can be used to describe what it is The Deadstation does. What subgenre could you assign to a band that seems to float between so many? Regardless, what you have here is an album that deserves to be heard. For those who think the creativity and thought has left the music business, this might be the shining star you have been waiting for. This effort is far from flawless, but with more episodes on the horizon, it would be a safe bet to think these three like minded individuals will return with yet another story, and even more catchy instrumentals. And just like the pilot of you favorite TV show, "Episode 01: Like Peering Into The Deepest Ocean Abyss" is enough to get you on board for the whole season.


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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weekly Rant 10/28/12: The Rise (Again) Of Vinyl

Ownership of vinyl seems to be easily categorized, breaking down into four different groups:

First, you have the old school vinyl owners. These are the people who own original pressings that they purchased, or inherited, for decades past. There is an appreciate among these people that seems to be disappearing; that notion that, at some point, this was the widely accepted format. Sure, it typically starts with the phrase "Back in my day," but that isn't entirely bad.

Second, come the hipsters. This group, which is the largest of the four, only keeps vinyl around just so they can say they have it. They own all of their favorite indie rock albums, classic rock notables, and a myriad of bands you've probably never heard of. It is this group that demeans the medium, but can be held largely responsible for the triumphant return.

Third, the artwork junkies. There are those fans who own a vinyl pressing of an album, simply because the artwork is bigger and easier to display. Justin, for instance, owns a small collection of records, but doesn't feel the need to listen to them. Instead, they are in frames, waiting to be hung for proud display of the different art styles. It would be short sighted to dismiss it, but far sighted to embrace buying music for art.

Last, the audiophiles. If you have ever had the opportunity to sit down and listen to an album on both CD and vinyl, you know exactly what is coming. While it isn't fair to say one is better than the other - they both have their merits in the audio world - the sound of a needles moving through the grooves of your favorite record is a sound that you will never forget. The entire experience is warmer, with every pop and crack woven into the music itself. Imperfections are gold, sometimes.

Regardless of which group you find yourself lumped into, the second wave of vinyl is good for everyone. And every time I see a band, big or small, offering their latest work on vinyl, it is hard to resist. If you are a fan of all things metal, listen to the latest Fister EP, "The Infernal Paramount" on your favorite turntable. Grab Baroness' "Yellow & Green" and let the deck spin. Maybe you will become a bigger fan of 45's or 33's than you ever imagined.

- Darrell
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Elvenking: The Interview

It isn't often you have a chance to sit down with a member, or members, of a legendary band. But tonight, we unveil our latest interview. Bassist Jakob sat down to answer all of our burning questions about the band, and the evolution from "Red Silent Tides" to "Era." There aren't enough thanks to be given for this opportunity.

First and foremost, we want to thank you for taking time out to sit down and answer some questions for us. It is an honor for us, in every way.

Hello guys, this is Jakob from Elvenking, thanks to you for the space you gave us and for
your interest in interviewing the band!

It seemed as though "Red Silent Tides," at release, had divided a lot of your fan base. Some loved the  evolution of the Elvenking sound, and some, like myself, were worried that it was a step in a dangerous direction. Looking back, is there anything you regret in the making of that album, or anything you think fans like myself just didn't understand?

Every member of the band is influenced by a wide range of music genres, from heavy metal to folk, hard rock, pop or classical music: therefore we always loved to experiment with our sound and we will never, ever, do the same album twice. I understand and I respect that some fans could have felt confused, but that already happened when the band introduced more extreme stuff in The Scythe album, or when they heard a totally acoustic work like Two Tragedy Poets. And if anybody thinks that Red Silent Tides was a “commercial” move, I can assure you that our music is way less “trendy” that most of the true-folk-death-viking stuff you hear nowadays.

When it came time to write the next album, did you already have an idea of where it would go? What were some of the major differences in the writing process from "Red Silent Tides" to "Era"?

We had a lot of interesting material, but we did not really plan to do a certain kind of album. Actually, during the songwriting and rehearsal process, it seemed like we were putting in this new effort all the music genres and experimentations that distinguished Elvenking in the past years. At the end, it sounded like a “back to the roots” album, where we reintroduced a lot of folk and acoustic elements, but also fast heavy metal uptempos and catchy refrains. Most of the songs and lyrics have been brought in the rehearsal room by Aydan and Damna, but also Lethien and Rafahel contributed with their stuff, while Symohn and me (the new entries!) had the difficult task to build up solid and technical rhythm sections.

There seemed to be a huge focus on heavier drum patterns throughout the album. Symohn really did some impressive work. Was there a decision made to go in the heavier direction, or did the songs just go that way on their own?

Symohn is one of the best Italian drummers, period. His drumming is astonishingly technical and his style extremely flexible from one song to another. I never played with a drummer like him and it is a daily challenge to follow his patterns with the bass! Clearly, in the fastest songs he had the chance to show his skills with no restrictions...and the songs went from “heavy” to “extreme”. Have a listen to “The Loser” or “Walking Dead”, for example.

Tell us a little about the instrumental track, "Ophale." It has so much beauty attached to it. Is there a deeper meaning to the music itself?

“Ophale” is arranged around an acoustic guitar composition brought by Rafahel; then, FolkStone multi-instrumentalist Maurizio Cardullo added flutes and whistles and that was the result. The idea was to have a restful and relaxing track to close the standard version of the album, opposed to the previous “Chronicle of a frozen Era”, which is instead one of the most technical and complicated songs Elvenking has ever written.

You have been referred to as the "godfathers of folk and power metal." But even more than that, you were a huge catalyst in the growing Italian metal scene. How have things changed for metal in Italy from the time your career got started, through now?

When Elvenking started writing their first material back in the late 90s, no one in Italy played that kind of music. Elvenking was then one of the very first Italian metal bands to gain international recognition and the scene has evolved a lot since. Now, even if we love our local fanbase and we would love to play much more in our country, there is too much offer and definetly less demand, the audience is getting lazier and lazier (fifteen years ago we travelled hundreds of KMs to see our favourite band play live – now that happens very seldom), and there are dozens of metal bands with a fiddler, haha!

How is your fan base growing or shrinking across the US, as opposed to throughout get noticed in America, or is Europe just a better metal continent?

I always felt like Europeans think that “to succeed you have to go to the US” and Americans think exactly the opposite! They are just two totally different areas and markets and only the best bands do great in both. Elvenking started having a very good response in the US since the ProgPower USA show back in 2008, and we are always thinking of our American fans. We are planning a radio promotion there and we really hope to cross the ocean for a tour as soon as possible!

Where do you think metal will be 10 years from now. Do you think it is still a growing genre, or has it reached its peak?

Hard to say. Heavy metal has always been a very successful music genre, surviving temporary trends and the opposition of most mass media, so I am sure there will be still a lot of metal to hear in the years to come! But I think that heavy metal, while sticking to its roots, has to evolve and introduce new elements and influences because we cannot play the same riff forever and ever.

How do you feel about downloading, and how do you think it has affected your sales and careers as musicians? And on the flip side of that, did you ever expect to become as successful as you have been in the music arena?

Yes, we also have to see how the internet/file sharing/social network thing evolves, because while it is a great promotion tool, it kills sales and reduces the number of professional bands. Success? Haha, what kind of success are we talking about? We are full of debts! Some of us are professional musicians, but others have day jobs. We are a medium-sized band, that means having a really tough schedule with big things to do like tours, festivals, interviews etc...but you don’t live out of it, and you have to manage a double-life!

Thank you again for giving us this opportunity, and congratulations on the success of "Era." It is well deserved.

Thanks to you guys! With the new album we are really starting a new ERA of the band and we
are looking at the future with optimism and enthusiasm. We look forward to meet you all on
the road!
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Seven Kingdoms - The Fire Is Mine (2012)

There is truth to the theory of evolution, and we have proof. Now, wait a second. Let's not get into a religious debate. Power metal has changed drastically over the years, and we are witnessing yet another shift happening before our eyes. The European dominance of the genre is slowly fading, and a new wave of young bands have big plans. Seven Kingdoms, a female fronted band from Florida, are architects of the new wave of power metal, infusing more thrash elements into the traditional soaring mix. It even impressed the legendary Blind Guardian, who hand picked them to open their 2010 North American tour. Now, with vocalist Sabrina Valentine at the helm, and a strong foothold to stand on, "The Fire Is Mine" could be the next big thing to hit power metal.

The howling wind that dominates "Beyond The Wall" may not seem like much, but it provides a fitting lead in to "After The Fall." Before Valentine has a chance to inject her dynamic vocal prowess, the band lays down a thick layer of punishing guitar riffs and explosive drums. Once her voice hits the mix, everything brightens, with each member and instrument playing off of one another. The instrumental has a heavier edge than traditional power metal tends to follow, but the same soaring vocal patterns remain. For a track like this to remain successful, production work has to be top notch, something that is clear in the massive bridge section. The lack of reprieve before launching in to "Forever Brave" seems an odd choice, based on the tempo of the album, but the band makes the most of it. The momentum builds to a rolling boil, with cymbals rattling throughout. Valentine has a way about her that commands a room, with her voice changing to fit the melodies of the song itself. The only downside here is that her voice has added effects, which seem wholly unnecessary. Break neck speeds on the drums continue to impress, as the accuracy mirrors the speed.

That same impressive musicianship extends well into "Flame Of Olympus" and beyond, with every snare, every guitar chord hitting just the right spot. And with that delicate balance comes the ability to change the tone at the drop of a hat, something they do repeatedly throughout, giving an added bit of darkness or light to the mix. Valentine fits perfectly here, leading the charge when the space allows, but letting the grinding guitars take over in the bridge and breakdown sections. A highlight in an of itself, "Symphony Of Stars" has some of the most creative and unique guitar work on the album. This is where the two layers of guitars provided by Camden Cruz and  Kevin Byrd come together as one entity, ducking and weaving in and out of each other. Valentine remains the constant, hitting the higher register with ease and grace whenever need, without ever overpowering her bandmates. And boasting a snare sound that would make even the miniature Lars Ulrich quake, drummer Keith Byrd is an ever present element. And with the title track, "The Fire Is Mine," giving you a memorable opening groove, the midway point of the album shines just as bright as the beginning, giving Valentine a suitable foundation to stand on. Even in the more down tempo moment, where her voice is layered in a soothing pattern, the cohesiveness between band and singer is remarkable.

The inevitable ballad comes in the form of "Kardia," but don't reach for the "next" button too soon. the early stages pairs Valentine with an acoustic guitar riff. But as the track progresses, a male voice emerges. First, he sounds out behind it all. But by tracks' end, they are in full duet mode, and the combination of their voices is one of the most dynamic power metal ballads since Avantasia's "What Kind Of Love." The reward comes in the form of the blistering "Fragile Minds Collide," which shows off so much of that thrash guitar work the band is built on. Darting, galloping riffs and pulsing drums are simply relentless, pushing the limits of the production work as far as they will go without breaking. The only misstep comes in the chorus, where those signature sounds are replaced with a more basic rock radio tempo. It is a short stumble, one that is corrected with a rattling bass line, courtesy of Aaron Sluss. What remains incredible is how many time signature changes and tempo shifts get packed into one flowing track without ever skipping a beat. And all of this couldn't be more evident than in the last minute of this track, rumbling, bumbling and stumbling through constant changes. Guitar solos lead into bass fret work, thundering drums, and back into the flow of the track.

Making the final push, "In The Twisted Twilight" sees the band trying something that hadn't been tested in the previously eight tracks. Valentine takes on a more soothing tone, an enchanting one that she executes to utter perfection. Continuing their mastery of the metal instrumental, Cruz and Byrd give you a healthy dose of shredding guitars, with some maneuvers that put them alongside some of the best in the business. The key is that they remain cohesive, furthering the track rather than just mindlessly playing. After the interlude conversation of "A Debt Paid In Steel," the album comes to a close with the epic "The King In The North." In the opening moments the guitars lock together in a dazzling display of skill and timing, one that may stand out with each passing listen. But what happens at the halfway mark is what will truly define the track, and perhaps the album. Things slow down, and the delicate structures the band has worked so hard to build come to fruition. Valentine lets her voice do the work, crooning in a profound way that heightens the entire experience. She sets the scene for a pair of solos, before the band erupts one last time.

The year 2012 is a great year to be a metalhead, as we witness not only the rise of new bands, but the evolution of the genre to new and exciting variations. Seven Kingdoms are not rewriting the Constitution for power metal, but they are certainly adding amendments. The boys club is over, thanks to efforts like this, as well as bands like Unleash the Archers. But even more than that, the American power metal movement is gaining strength, with a slew of new bands rising to meet the challenges of the ever changing tastes of their fans. I may not be able to find the missing link between apes and man, but if Darwin ever needed help finding the connection between the past and the future of metal, "The Fire Is Mine" might take you in the right direction.


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Artist Profile: The Massacre Cave

Sometimes the best way to discover new music is to have it fall into your lap, literally. When the little white envelope arrived at the headquarters from the island of Eigg...

Sorry, a quick timeout for a geography lesson. Eigg is a tiny island off the coast of Scotland. Measuring about 5.6 miles long by 3.1 miles wide, there isn't a whole lot of space to move around. A main attraction while visiting would be a trip to the Massacre Cave, the actual site of a 16th century slaughter.

But back to the band, formed by brothers Joe and Ben Cormack, they are combining a keen sense of melody with some of the raw elements of thrash. Rounding out by the outstanding rhythm section of Pete Colquhoun and Jodie Bremaneson, the debut EP "The Ninth Wave" was a revelation. Despite the challenges of living on a remote island, this four piece is working wonders and bringing validity to a Scottish metal scene that has made a great splash this side of the Atlantic. In a recent interview, they talked about not only the ways their home has impacted their music, but the story behind the name of the band and album.With new songs in the making, and a freshly edited and premiered video for "Winds Of Death," you would be best suited to keep your eyes peeled for what comes next.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wintersun - Time I (2012)

Since 2004, we have endured two Presidential terms, foreign wars, steroids scandals in sports, the Olympic games four times over, and a slew of other notable events. This all falls into the eight years since Finnish symphonic metallers Wintersun released their debut album. Charged with the task of not only making another album, but eclipsing their original work, they went to work on what would become their sophomore album. Featuring in their ranks Kai Hahto, who is also the current drummer for Swallow The Sun, this four piece suffered through a myriad of delays and tribulations before completing work earlier this year. The only question that remains is whether "Time I" is worth the wait, or if it will be the metal equivalent of "Chinese Democracy."

While most intros and interludes are short and sweet, "When Time Fades Away" is so much more. Majestic orchestrations fill the bulk of the four minute plus offering, beginning with a thick layer of strings. Somewhere in the middle of this piece, you are transported to another time and place, one of vibrant color. The imagery is fantastic, setting the scene for the epic "Sons Of Winter And Stars." It is here that Wintersun find their home and balance, teetering between the instrumental grace of power metal, and a grittier heavy metal vocal delivery. The guitar melodies are catchy, to say the least, flipping and fluttering through riff gymnastics. But as vocalist Jari Mäenpää enters, the full effect can finally be felt. On top of the symphonics and dynamic guitar work is a coarse blend of growls and and raspy chanting. And within each subsection is a different blend of styles, sometimes taking on a darker tone. What you get is a taste of all things metal, through the lyrics and varied delivery of Mäenpää, and the ever building and evolving instrumental below. And while there are clear break points between movements, the flow from one to the next is impeccable, never breaking stride along the way. This pacing becomes important as the track progresses, crossing the thirteen minute mark. Even as it takes on the more triumphant folk atmosphere, the balance of fragility and strength never waver.

While "Land Of Snow And Sorrow" may be a far more restrained effort than the track before, it is certainly no less powerful. Built on a guitar riff that has as much beauty as it does staying power, the track evolves with every drum beat. Mäenpää chooses to adopt a clean vocal pattern, showing off his range and strength, in addition to his penchant for the hard nosed screams. It is the orchestration, once again, that puts you over the top, especially when layered into a crystal clear rhythm section. The desire to sway back and forth that arises from the two minute long "Darkness And Frost" is normal, and you are encouraged to act on it. For it is that melody that forms the foundation of the closing track, "Time,"
 albeit with a harder edge. Mäenpää throws caution out the window and adopts a devastating blackneed scream, to complement his already soaring clean vocals. The true beauty, however, is in the cinematic climate this all creates, leaving you trapped in a different world all together. The guitar work is at its best in the bridge section here, running wild over the fretboard, flying up and down the neck of the guitar in a show of pure talent. What is amazing is the infusion of emotion that the track shows, an investment that is not only important, but necessary for an album of this scope and grandeur. This isn't limited to vocals, of course, as each members puts their own fingerprint on each and every note of the track, putting a piece of themselves in the fabric of the music. Even when the music begins to fade, you are treated to one last stunning outro, quiet, peaceful, and delicate.

For most bands, an eight year gap between albums is either a result of lack of interest, or a full scale breakup (see also, hiatus). But Wintersun, through all the trials and tribulations of the last eight years, kept their eyes on the proverbial prize and never lost sight of their vision. With the album fully realized, it would be easy to look back and say what could have been done differently to speed up the process. Instead, everyone involved should look at the here and now. On this piece of plastic with existential artwork, you have a masterpiece that, while nearly a decade in the making, was fully worth every second poured into it. Maybe it was the time itself that helped craft an album of this proportion. Or maybe these Finnish musicians are just that damn good. Either way, "Time I" would have been an album of the year contender in any year; especially 2012.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Playlist 10/23/12: The one are you looking for might actually be here

This week, we touch on some of the best tracks from the last week. Use this to hear a little taste of what we get to enjoy week in, and week out. Make sure to find us on Spotify, username SorrowEternal.

Here is the tracklist for the week...

Dethklok - The Galaxy
Wind Rose - Son Of A Thousand Night
Witch Mountain - Veil Of The Forgotten
Enslaved - Roots Of The Mountain
Wintersun - Beautiful Death
Down - Witchtripper
Snot - The Box
Seven Kingdoms - Forever Brave 
Syberia - Colosus Collapse
Katatonia - Buildings 
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Dethklok - Dethalbum III (2012)

There was a time when the promise of a third Dethalbum installment seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. It seemed as though the world's biggest death metal band had simply... ceased to be. But somewhere on a Twitter timeline, show creator and band main man Brendon Small set the gears in motion. One screen capture of a desktop, with a single folder marked "Dethalbum III" was all the world needed to see. Harvested from the episodes that have made up the four seasons of Metalocalypse, the twelve tracks presented are exactly what you would expect from the band you once pledged to die for. But can this last piece of the trilogy live up to the hype, and sales, of the first two?

In what became an internet sensation, "I Ejaculate Fire" serves as the opening track and first single. Musically, you get all of the Dethklok regulars. gene Hoglan's drum patterns are dizzying, with a constant thumping of kicks, snares, and toms. Small's guitar playing is key, though, as he variety of riffs and chord changes keeps the track balanced at all times. The vocals, a portrayal of frontman Nathan Explosion, have once again evolved slightly, losing more of that low growl in favor of a more blackened screech. An immediate highlight comes in the form of "Crush The Industry," a track that appeared almost in full on a Metalocalypse episode, and was quickly identified from the opening galloping drums and guitars. The darting notes in the verse are merely a build up to an explosive chorus, one that is almost too good for its own good. The rest of track, as good as it is - including a unique solo - can't measure up. But the all out blitz of "Andromeda" is the closest thing to pure death metal that you will get on the album, a three and a half minute pounding at the hands of rolling double kicks and rapid fire snares. Hoglan stars, punishing you at every twist and turn, while Small screams ahead on a gritty vocal track.

if there was one track that stood out from the rest, it would be "The Galaxy," a surprisingly melodic instrumental turned dynamic screamer. Reminiscent of the classic "Go Into The Water," it embodies so much of the Dethklok catalog, while removing the humor all together. But packed in to this five minute experience is a wealth of memorable riffs, but lead and rhythm, and what may be the best lyrical performance on the album. Provided in droves is the clip of Small growling, "This is the beginning," something that rings out long after the track is done. There is a heavier guitar groove on "Starved," though it takes a back seat to Bryan Beller's bass line. Following what is arguably the best track on the album does this one no favors, highlighting the more simplistic nature of it all. It isn't until the second half blast tat you get truly sucked in to what is happening around you. That isn't the case on the aptly titled "Killstardo Abominate," which is an absolute pummeling. Taken from the adventure of Pickles going to rehab, Hoglan does wonders in replacing the fabled drum machine, though executing the fabled hexikicks might be too much for even his legendary legs.

In the second half of the album, starting with "Ghostqueen," Small and company try to settle into to a more prolific, but balanced attack. Coming together is unison in flurry of stick swings, string slaps and picks, there is certainly a perfect opportunity to get your head moving here. You can hear the bass strings rumble and vibrate after every note is struck. But there are moments, specifically around the midway point, where the punk influence creeps through and takes things in a different direction. But somehow, Small manages to right the ship with what seems like a second tier solo, coming from a master of his caliber. When you name a song "Impeach God," you had better bring the fire. And with one of the best riffs on the album, the trio does exactly that. Even the echoing vocal effect used on the bridge growls is perfectly used and timed. And the lyrics, however tongue in cheek they may be, boast some of the best Dethklok writing to date. By the time you've gotten to "Biological Warfare," you have been treated to a myriad of styles and tempo changes. But this one throws things into a different gear, giving you a melodic lead riff, with a beautifully syncopated drum part that slows and speeds at will. And the bass work of Beller and guitar work of Small echoes that in every second.

The other standout track is "Skyhunter," also easily recognizable from the show itself. The track sees a more focused vocal track, layered atop catchy guitar riffs and a sea of kick drums that seems to go on forever. Small wastes no time unleashes flurry after flurry of guitar solos, culminating in a screaming bridge that shakes the walls around you. Much like the man he represents, Hoglan does wonders behind the drum kit. It would be hard to find the basis for "The Hammer," or what the intention of the track was. You find yourself in a more stripped down verse section, with more basic guitar parts behind crashing cymbals. Things ebb and flow along the course of four minutes, but there isn't that one moment where it all comes together in the way you expect. It wouldn't be a stretch to label this one as the weakest on the album. But the opening drum beat on "Rejoin" may immediately wash that away with memories of "Murmaider." And while this track is not a continuation of that saga, it does embody a lot of the darkness and evil. With no time left to hold back, the entire band gives their best shot, leaving you punch drunk from riffs, drums and a steady handed bass line. You end up with the perfect bookend for the album here, finishing on a strong point.

Fans of Dethklok, musically or otherwise, will find a lot to appreciate on this latest offering. The musicianship of the three men behind the curtain has met, if not exceeded, all expectation. But the one thing that is lacking is the presence of a signature track, one that will be mentioned by every listener as their favorite. It is missing a single song that embodies everything our favorite rascally goofballs have shown us over the years. There are highlights and, unlike its predecessors, "Dethalbum III" has some filler material that just doesn't live up to the name on the album cover. It isn't that any of those moments are bad, but they just don't pack that same brutal punch we have come to cherish. For a metal album, this is a gem. But for a Dethklok album, it is merely better than the acceptable.


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Weekly Rant 10/21/12: Sales Vs. Quality

Let's get something out of the way. There is absolutely no way to objectively review music. But even more than that, there is no way to quantify talent. Publications, like this one, crop together Top 10 lists on any number of subjects. But all those lists are really doing is listing the preferences of the writers themselves. There is nothing wrong with that, but it will always be a point of contention.

With that out of the way, the argument (or discussion) inevitably turns to a "Band X is better because Y," a practice that goes nowhere fast. And, unfortunately, that usually descends into the utter nadir of all music debate; the notion that somehow records sales can be substituted for band quality. That thought has become to go-to statistic for fans of all music, including our beloved metal, to justify their most personal opinions. It's as if people have to prove that the band that they like is measurably better than yours, and how many records they sold, digital downloads they have, or preorders they got is the evidence.

I'll take care of the easiest part first. Without using his name, for fear of this entire blog collapsing under the weight, a certain Canadian pop star sold 137,000 copies of his debut EP. This was before his name became synonymous with cookie cutter pop music. In comparison, Norwegian progressive black metal band Enslaved, an established band with some twenty years under their belts, sold a mere 2,300 copies of "RIITIIR," a masterpiece in it's own right in the first week of US sales. How many people, outside of the Beliebers themselves, would say that that settles the quality debate? If you are in the business of catering to the masses (read that as little girls), you are certain to see the numbers swing in your favor.

The second part of this is slightly harder to explain. It is the expectation. If you were to get in touch with the heads of Nuclear Blast, none of them would say they expect the new Wintersun album to dominate the American Billboard charts. They aren't looking at the possibility of selling 500,000 copies. This isn't to say they wouldn't LOVE it, but it just isn't practical. And you know what? They seem perfectly content with that. Metal labels, in general, seem to have better practices when it comes to controlling costs, maximizing profit (an entirely different rant all together), and maintain a better relationship with their talent. They aren't trying to force the next big thing down your throat, which shows as much respect for the fans as it does for the bands themselves. Poor sales, particularly in North America, aren't going to doom you to being cut and relegated to the pits of obscurity forever.

I admit that this argument is, itself, a subjective one. But before you turn to those weighty numbers to settle your friendly debates, remember this: Unless you are in the upper echelon of artists that have sold more than 300 million records to date (a list that includes the Beatles, Queen, and Michael Jackson), there are plenty of bands, singers and rappers that have sold more albums than your favorite artist. But you wouldn't admit that Madonna is better than Rush... would you?

- Darell
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Witch Mountain - Witch Mountain (EP) (2012)

Portland, Oregon is home to some of the best and brightest bands the American metal scene has to offer. But more importantly, they house some of the darkest. For 15 years, Witch Mountain has called Portland home. And throughout their career, they have chosen to do things their own way, which could easily by characterized as the "road less traveled." In doing so, the band has maintained control of their catalog, their touring, and their fan base, refusing to relinquish that for an easily signed, or easily regretted, record deal. With the addition of Uta Plotkin, a voice that Pitchfork called a "national treasure," in 2009, the now four piece classic doom band has all the pieces in place. With this new self titled EP, part of the free Scion A/V series, all of the decisions made along the way have paid off.

The opening riffs of "Bloodhound" are proof that evil isn't about being the heaviest band, or having the scariest artwork. The simple yet eerily effective chords are enough to send chills down your spine. The density of the guitar work is scary in and of itself, with a slow, plodding drum beat blasting through the background. With a rhythm section carrying the load, it allows guitarist Rob Wrong to have some freedom in his playing, adding subtle, twisting touches. But it is Plotkin's voice that seals the deal, adding a depth to the mix that classic and modern doom bands alike have worked a lifetime for. Her voice occupies the lower and middle register, delivering a perfect mix of haunting and sublime in every note. in the fashion of some of the greats, the second half explodes in a flurry of activity, with Wrong unleashing a wild solo that turns you around, flips you over, and throws you back.

The second track, the more groove laden "A Power Greater" is a sonic fire starter. The rhythm section of drummer Nathan Carson and bassist Neal Munson shine in the early going with a wealth of blast beats, cashing cymbals and rumbling bass lines. Plotkin enters, but her voice has taken on an entirely different sound here, embodying the blues elements that form the foundation of great doom metal. That frame work is echoed by Wrong, who delves into a dynamic solo that hits all the right notes along the way. Everything is played in the perfect combination, creating a dark, frightening atmosphere with nary a growl, scream, or gory reference to be had. Instead, they plug ahead with deliberate drum beats, the sizzle of cymbals coating a rousing thud of the kick drum. The feedback and double kicks that take up the better part of the outro are like the signature at the end of a letter, reminding you of who you are hearing, and why you started listening in the first place.

Witch Mountain make it all seem so easy, so simple. In two songs and a mere eleven minutes, these four musicians showcase everything they have to offer, while also reaffirming every decision they made along the way. They could have taken the highway, breezed through the last fifteen years with a record deal that would have been satisfying at first, but troubling soon after. But by holding on to the music, the true reason we are all here, they afford themselves the luxury of owning their blood, sweat and tears. With a formula now in place, and a bright future directly in their path, it is safe to say they not only did it their way; they did it the right way. And that has made all the difference.


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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Artist Profile: Blizzard At Sea

If you haven't yet heard any music by Blizzard At Sea, don't worry. You aren't "behind the times" or even "slow." It was only by pure chance that their debut EP fell into our laps in August of 2011. Knowing that they were from Iowa - Iowa City to be exact - my initial thought was that they would end up being a Slipknot clone or knockoff, something I wasn't prepared to waste my time on. I, myself, wasn't all that familiar with the metal subgenre known as sludge. But after listening to "Invariance," I knew it was something I needed to explore.

The EP was better than most. It had something intertwined in all the rumbling bass work that made me want more. An interview followed, with John, Steven, and Jesse being gracious enough to tolerate our sometimes nonsensical questions. Now we knew what made them tick. We learned about their influences, their style and their music itself. And hearing those three guys talk about what they do gave you the indication that this could be so much more than a hobby. They were featured on our Sorrow Eternal sampler disc later that year, with their track "Closed Universe" being one of the highlights of the disc. Then, it happened.

The trailer for their new EP, "Individuation," made the rounds. And, as you can hear, things had changed. John had been replaced behind the drum kit by Pat Took. And the music had evolved, changed into something even more eclectic and powerful. Melodies flooded the disc, matched with screams in a perfect fractured harmony. This was the breakthrough album they had been concocting.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter drive, the band raised $2000, enough to fund the pressing and packaging of "Individuation" for the masses. There were 55 donors to the project; 55 real people who believe in what this band says, and even more in what they do. With the album off being pressed, we need only wait to see the impact three driven individuals from Iowa can have on a changing music industry.

So, no, you aren't stupid for not hearing Blizzard At Sea yet. But now is the chance to get on board for one wild, bass heavy, ride.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Enslaved - RIITIIR (2012)

Some time ago, Italian black metal artist Ogen commented that he was a big fan of Enslaved, because he loved their take on modern black metal. It wasn't until we fully digested the catalog of this five piece that we truly understood what he meant. Over the course of twenty years, Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson have taken the tenets of the true Norwegian style, and added in strong doses of melody, resulting in something that few, if any, could duplicate. In the two years since 2010's "Aximoa Ethica Odini," it seemed as though the evolution of the sound may have slowed. But with the release of their new album, the eight track "RIITIIR," they prove that evolution stops for no man, and deliver yet another seminal album.

The aptly titled "Thoughts Like Hammers" opens the album, with a complete battery of noise. As things calm down and fall into line, the sound that has become synonymous with Enslaved emerges, with harsh gurgling vocals are flanked by sometimes beautiful clean ones. The band has evolved again, musically, going further down the road of progressive elements, something hat can be heard in the flowing chord changes and melodic passages. What sets this apart from some of their contemporaries is the way the drums are played, both in speed and tone. Rapid double kick segments tie together both sides of the coin; the clean and the filthy. Even in the ominously whispered and echoed speech just past the midway point, there is a wealth of memorable material. And somehow a track that towers over the nine minute mark ebbs and flows like on half the length. And rather than stop that momentum only to reignite it seconds later, it merges flawlessly with the next song, "Death In The Eyes Of Dawn." The combined bass and guitar riff is as catchy as you can imagine, but without losing any of the driving force. In every vocal harmony, every slide up the neck of the bass, Enslaved remind you how versatile they can be. Rather than resting on the black metal go-to tricks, they substitute their own take on all things metal, adding in a healthy dose of dazzling guitar work. The switch back and forth between pitch perfect clean vocals and the more frightening screech and growls is incredible, and the ease with which is works is even moreso.

And while the opening notes of "Veilburner" are sure to please, it is only as the track starts to change and evolve that you get the real feel for what is going on around you. A tremendous wealth of rolls, fills and crushing cymbals smashes drive the track forward. But somewhere amongst all that chaos is a perfect fusion and black and progressive metal. Abrasive vocals lines in the verse give way to a awe inspiring clean passage. But even more than the vocal prowess is the combination of musical styles that lies underneath. There is nothing smooth or reserved about the way each note is delivered, with guitar delivering distorted chord after distorted chord. They manage to remain hard edged without compromising weight for richness. And when the transition comes from the previous track to "Roots Of The Mountain," they spare no one. If there was a huge blast of pure blackened metal to be had on the album, it would be here and now. Machine gun snares and rapid fire guitar chords move you from one to the next, before giving way to a stunningly delicate voice. Just when you thought things were destined to settle down, a bone chilling death metal chunk reveals itself, only to be followed by a groove laden one. It's this constant changing of styles and tempos that sets things apart time and again, keeping you looking ahead to what comes next. It is impossible to predict what will come next, something that makes the track that much more enjoyable.

By the time you reach the title track, "RIITIIR," you are already more than thirty minutes deep in the album. Clocking in at a measly five and a half minutes, you have at hand a track that is a live hit waiting to happen. From the stomping kick drum beat to the chanting vocal style, it would be easy to see a crowd of thousands, fists up, growling along. While it may also play out as one of the most simplistic tracks on the album, it is not short on powerful riffs and percussion. The explosion comes in the outro portion, blasting away with fury and rage. Please, for the love of all things metal, don't mistake the opening drum beat of "Materal" for an 80's hair metal track. Layered vocals and ringing guitar chords will step in to remind you what you are hearing. There is a tendency here to lean towards more traditional structures, cutting back and forth from clean to distorted, airy to vile. This is not to say Enslaved abandon all that makes them unique, but they adopt a more clear path, if only for one track. Throw in the use of a blistering guitar solo, followed by a strong, thumping bridge section and what you have at the end of eight minutes is one of the more well rounded tracks on the album. By the time you reach the last two minutes, you have been treated to anything and everything, in perfect balance and weight.

It may seem to be a daunting task to digest two songs at the end of an album that span over twenty combined minutes. There is a unique sound in "Storm Of Memories," something that may take a while to identify at first listen. But the seemingly endless layers of sound can be pulled apart and reassembled minute by passing minute. Between the darting guitar, rolling bass, and assault of percussion, you would already have a mix that is full to bursting. But add in the soft background whispers and chanting, and you have, through your speakers, the storm brought to life. The thunder booms through with the subsequent black metal attack, complete with double kicks that shake you to your core. While there are more tender moments, this track is, by far, the most grating you will find. And while the storm may have ended, the thunder continues, literally, into the piano opening of "Forsaken." And while it is not wholly rare for the finale to be the most composed track on the album, things are taken to an entirely new level with this eleven minute monster. The first half takes the more heavy handed approach, blasting through with roll after roll of the drum kit, pounding you into the ground with reckless abandon. But around the half way mark, things change. A soft strum of a guitar and a solemn voice take over, and now you are transported into an entirely new direction.

A mere two years ago, Enslaved delivered what we thought would be their seminal album. But somewhere along the road, they managed to not only improve their sound, but continue their evolution into one of, if not THE most prolific progressive metal band in the world today. Because, unlike their contemporaries, they manage to change without changing, evolve without abandoning the past. And while that seems to be a daunting, if not impossible, task, "RIITIIR" proves that it can be done, to an incredible degree. On these eight tracks, which span more than an hour of music, you get a taste of everything that progressive metal has professed to be... until, of course, the new Enslaved album shows that it has only just begun to change.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Frozen Ocean - A Perfect Solitude (2012)

From the dark shadows of Moscow, Russia, comes a one man band by the name of Frozen Ocean. The solo musician behind the music goes by the name Vaarwel. He has recently released his brand new album, entitled "A Perfect Solitude." Its atmospheric sounds will send a cold chill down your spine. The album contains seven tracks total and as you roll through it you will see that it's a wild roller coaster ride and has many ups and downs.

Eerie synths and sound effects open the album in the minute and a half introduction, entitled "Broken Window." The haunting tones continue going into "Somewhere Clouds Debark." This slowly builds into catchy progressive riffs that contain gorgeous guitars layered on top of each other. Meanwhile thumping kick drums rumble heavily underneath while snares and cymbals are rapidly chopped up in the background. The verse finally kicks in with ominous clean singing vocals that are delivered in a very deep tone of voice. Later you'll become surrounded by ravishing keyboards as complex drum rolls come in with a groovy bass line in top of it. The detail of these instruments will definitely have you hooked.

Unfortunately, the album takes a disappointing dive with "A Sunflower On The Prison Backyard." If you look at the actually track listing and all of their times you'll notice that it runs for over 13 minutes long. It's gotta be an epic track right? Wrong, After listening to about a minute you will see that this is all the track is. It doesn't change at all. They throw some eerie sound effects over a dark synth for the 13 minutes straight. Interludes are one thing but to waste 13 minutes of your time with sounds that lead nowhere is a big let down. The only good that this track is for is maybe to be used in the opening score of a horror film. That's about it.

"Mare Imbrium" opens with similar effects as the last track which is probably gonna make you wanna skip it all together. But don't! Let this one play out. It's well worth it. After about two minutes into the track comes blaring distorted guitars and punchy kicks. This soon followed by full drum fills and haunting keyboards with gloomy and yet beautiful tones. It definitely paints a beauty and the beast type of picture. The seven and a half instrumental is relentless when it comes to addictive melodies. Between the angelic synths and keys and phenomenal guitar riffs, this track will leave you wanting to hit the repeat button again and again. And I suggest you do just that because the following track, "Camomiles," is nothing but more Halloween sound effects and synths for another three minutes and 42 seconds straight.

After re listening to "Mare Imbrium" multiple times (because it's that damn good) you'll run into "Unavailing Steps On Perpetual." This track is filled with monstrous guitar chugging and relentless double bass pedal drumming. You'll find yourself pumping your fist in the air in no time. The verses contain more haunting clean singing vocals. They also incorporate some brief black metal screaming towards the middle of the track. This is followed by catchy guitar melodies and magnificent drum fills. The double bass pedals will have you're blood pumping the entire time. You're also hit with some gorgeous keyboards towards the end of the track that carry some great tunes. The final track, entitled "Cleavage And Emission," is really just one long outro. It's filled with sound effects such as police sirens, children playing, and blends of other random eerie sounds.

With the album ending with such a boring track, "A Perfect Solitude" doesn't really leave any sort of impact on you what so ever. Out of the seven tracks on the album, only three of them are actually tracks. Frozen Ocean could have easily cut the tracks with nothing but sound effects down to a minimum and turned this album into a short demo or EP instead. By adding these long non interesting tracks it really becomes a drag and turns you away from the album as a whole. The good news is that the three tracks that I really got into describing earlier really make this album worth the listen. I would definitely take the time to at least check them out and keep an eye on where this band is headed.


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Monday, October 15, 2012

Maelstrom - Change Of Season (EP) (2012)

It seems to be an odd statement, but the most important quality that all musicians must possess is vision. Not the 20/20 kind that allows you to read off of a paper, or see the groupies flashing you from the front row. But an ability to see into the future, to plan your work and stay an album ahead of the curve. For     Ferdinando Valsecchi, vision is his most valued asset. His previous album, "The Passage," was merely the starting point for so many things to come for his Maelstrom project. Months later, he has already re-recorded the next curve in the arc. From the original 2011 demo, this four track EP, "Change Of Season," Valsecchi takes the quarterly weather patterns, and puts them on disc, in the form of a mind altering piece of post metal.

It would be foolish for "Summer Breeze" to begin with anything other than a light wind and the sound of waves on the shore. But the sound of gulls isn't the true beauty here; that lies in the syncopated drum beats, and guitar groove. As the waves of distortion enter, the balance is striking, creating an airy, atmospheric background. His spoken words, done in his native Italian language, are the only thing to break the instrumental. Despite elements that may register this in your mind as a variation of shoegaze, there is simply too much positivity to be had, leaving you with a feeling of joy as each stanza passes. Even as we move on to "Autumn Leaves," there is something in the music that is both refreshing and humbling. Crying gulls give way to thunderstorms, and the entire tone of the music changes. It's as if you can feel the temperature dropping into a brisk chill, with each degree on the thermometer felt in each strum of the guitar. His vocals come through this time around, not only as spoken words but as clean singing. The burst of background distortion in the outro brings to mind bands like dredg and Sigur Ros, taking on a life of its own through a battery of programmed, but realistic, drums.

The cold grip of "Winter Snow" continues the journey, this time through a stark contrast between beautifully strummed acoustic guitars, and the chilling blasts of drums that follow. Each pluck of the guitar string is well placed, and expertly delivered, which is what makes the explosion of cymbals and rolling kicks all the more impactful. Like the season itself, the track balances quiet and loud, somber and fierce in a way that only Valsecchi seems to understand. And clocking in well over eight minutes, he captures that seemingly endless feeling that the cold brings on, when life slows down and weighs on you like the blizzard. But this, too, shall pass. And "Waiting For The Spring" is a rebirth, a renewal of spirit and sound. It is a slow process, as the sun melts the remaining snow; so, too, must his light guitar riffs build and evolve. As time passes, they gain momentum, building from something so simple into a more passionate tempo. Once again, the drums are a bright spot, laying down a beat that you could march to, or wake up to. The bursts of guitar take the sun higher into the sky, warming the ground beneath your feet and giving way to a bounty of green grass and new life. Every bit of it, captured in the notes and chord changes of a guitar.

That vision, the one that allows a band or artist to see into their musical future, is the same vision that helps to create the stunning imagery that music of this nature carries with it. Valsecchi is an artist in every sense of the word, painting a picture in the minds of his listeners, while giving their ears something to echo and enjoy. Maelstrom is a project that is as much about those visuals as it is about music. And the true beauty of it all lies in the fact that everyone who hears this album will see something different. After a few listens, the tracks and the imagery will become inseparable, which is impressive in and of itself. It leaves you to wonder: now that Valsecchi has taken on the calendar on "Change Of Season," what could be next?


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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sorrow Eternal: The Bloopers, Volume 5

The arbitrary time has come, once again, to unveil the worst of the worst, the cream of the crap. We can't stress enough how many outtakes and bloopers exist from our slew of podcasts and interviews. In volume five, Darrell tells us the story of "The Hard One," and Justin stumbles over some of our pretentious interview questions. We show that we here at Sorrow Eternal are more human than human.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Darksun - Memento Mori (2012)

When you have power metal on the brain, as so many of us do so often, your mind takes a trip around the world in search of the greats, the up and comers, and the pretenders. But rarely does Spain come up on your map of symphonic destinations. Darksun, the veteran six piece from the city of Asturias, have been carrying the bulk of the load for the Spanish scene for the better part of ten years. Rather than toil in the second tier of their genre, they hope to take the next step, a giant leap into the upper echelon. On "Memento Mori," Dani Gonzalez and company reassert themselves as a band with a laundry list of strengths, and few weaknesses.

Pulsing with classical orchestrations, the title track is a short but powerful step into the world of these Spanish power metallers. Like the opening act of a play, it launches everything into motion, right into "Rompe el Hechizo." Hearing the rolling of the letter "r" is nothing new, but placed atop a distorted guitar and thumping drums, it is a new facet to enjoy. Beauty comes in the form of balance, not only between vocals and instrumental, but in every aspect of the track itself. Strings are used as accents throughout, heightening the experience of a crushing rhythm section. That same duo of bassist Adrián Huelga and drummer Miguel Pérez takes center stage in the opening moments of "Surcando el Tiempo" as well, packing a punch into beat. There is something in the flow of the music itself that may bring to mind Dream Theater at times, but without all of the frills and lace. Instead, you get a more straightforward approach, albeit it intricate and varied. In the chorus and bridge sections, drumming is key with a flurry of double kicks. But, not to be outdone, guitarists David Figuer and Tino Hevia produce a flash of virtuosic guitar that is both memorable and functional.

The start and stop dynamics in the first stage of "La Última Esperanza" is well conceived, giving the ideal rise to full speed. By now, vocalist Dani G. has given you plenty of evidence that he is a capable frontman, crafting melody after melody, hitting all of the soaring high notes his bandmates leave open for him. This track falls into the "basic" side of things, if not a little generic. Despite being well written and executed, it lacks a degree of originality to hammer it all home. Fortunately, it is followed closely by "De Metal," which boasts some of the more rich use of orchestration and synthesizers. Every crashing cymbal rings in your ears, crowded in with layer after layer of distortion. The issue here lies in the way the final mix was balanced, leaving the guitars a touch to loud, muffling the more subtle keys behind. The light ethnic touches of "El Templo de los Horrores" are a welcomed change of pace, even when they fall in, arguably the most stripped down track on the album. Basic chugging guitar chords make up the bulk of the verse, with low end horns blaring through at times. The bridge section, however, separates the men from the boys, with some blazing guitar work and composition.

The problem is that, by the time "Mil Vidas" begins, you think you have heard it all. Luckily, you couldn't be more wrong. A coarse scream opens the track, and sets something different into motion. It isn't a complete departure from the normal power metal structure, but rather a wrinkle. Those screams return here and there, giving a much needed bit of variation to things. It works wonders in separating this track from the others, and making it a stand out. The longest track on the album, "De Hielo y Fuego" also has some of the more "larger than life" production work. They step out of their comfort zone, if only slightly, and give you a song that delivers on all levels. The instrumental is one of their best, combining the most complete set of drum patterns, with screeching and wailing guitars. And for the first time since the opening minute of the album, the classical orchestrations get to share the spotlight, providing a wondrous bridge. A heavier edge comes back on "Nacido de la Oscuridad," but partnered with some clean passages that can only be described as fragile. Gang vocals enter here and there, for added depth, but they still rely on a darting and dazzling guitar solo to round things out. As if they knew something was lacking, "Escrito con Sangre" brings it all back around in thunderous fashion.

The closing trifecta of tracks all feature guest appearances. On "Dentro de Ti," Manuel Ramil joins for a stunning piano ballad. The delicate tickling of keys is accompanied by a single voice, light and airy. There isn't a clutter of instruments, fighting for position, but rather a completely stripped down and simple piece that is both beautiful and humbling. Even when a booming drum comes in, the tempo is set. To see Primal Fear vocalist Ralf Scheepers featured on "Fragile" wasn't a complete surprise, but a pleasant one. His signature voice fits perfectly into the dense instrumentation at play, adding a touch of class and grit to the track that may have otherwise good flat. The album is completed by a collaboration with now legendary bassist and vocalist of Rage, Peavy Wagner. It may be a stretch to call "Broken Dreams" the best track on the album, but it is sure to resonate with you long after the album is over. Something in the way Wagner presents himself musically, it collides with the Darksun sound in a impressive way.

While there are small problems scattered throughout the album, Darksun manages to, once again, show how strong their music can be. Time and again they prove their mettle, pushing out track after track of standard power metal. No, there isn't a whole lot of lateral movement to be had; they aren't reinventing the genre on "Memento Mori." But what you can be sure of is that you won't be disappointed with anything you find on this disc, or their others. Competing in a genre that is flooded with bands, big and small, from all over the world, Darksun would be the obvious choice to carry the flag of Spain into the arena. And with yet another well performed album under their belt, they won't be leaving any time soon.


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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daylight Dies - A Frail Becoming (2012)

After their 2008 "Lost To The Living" album, which had very positive feedback, the death doom metal band, Daylight Dies, has finally released a brand new studio album. "A Frail Becoming" is nine tracks that runs for  a total of 48 minutes and 50 seconds long. The band continues to deliver devilish growls and phenomenal song structure, including wild guitar melodies and exploding drum fills.

The album opens with "Infidel" which leads with a slow introduction of eerie guitar melodies with a light distortion. The volume slowly builds as monstrous growling vocals fall in along with violent chugging guitar riffs. The verse will send chills down your spine with its beastly vocals. The refrain contains a dark and yet catchy melody as the growling continues to pound you into the ground. You'll also run into some wild guitar solos in between verses as they drop melodic notes from all directions. "A Pale Approach" picks up with relentless snares and kicks forcing you to bob your head to the beat. heavily distorted guitars surround you with a groovy tune that will have you humming along in no time. Chugging riffs take over during the verses while the lead guitar plays a devilish melody on top. Lead vocalist, Nathan Ellis, does a terrific job with his consistent vocals. Definitely make sure you check out the lyrics to this monstrous track.

Towards the middle of the album you'll come across a track called "Dreaming Of Breathing." It opens with a mellow guitar riff and a soothing tempo. This is quickly disrupted by massive guitar riffs that begin to chug away with vicious chords. They are joined by hell raising growls as thunderous drum rolls rumble heavily in the background. All hell breaks lose until the middle of the track where all the instruments quickly fade except for the gloomy guitar riff from the beginning. More exploding drums reenter as a gorgeous guitar solo takes over. Monstrous drums reappear with mind blowing fills as cymbals constantly shatter in the background. As the track fades, you run into "A Final Vestige." This also has a softer opening as soothing string fill the background while a lead guitar riffs slows float on top with ravishing melodies. The vocals take a complete turn as they open the verse with gentle clean vocals that are delivered in a whispering tone of voice. Eventually the vocals switch back to overwhelming growls which echo across the track. They go back and forth between vocals throughout most of the track giving the album a real beauty and the beast type of feel. There is also a guitar solo towards the middle of the track which will absolutely take you breath away. Its soothing melodies shine above the soft drumming and bass lines. Of course vicious chugging guitars come rolling soon after as they destroy everything in their way. This track will have you at the edge of your seat the entire time.

The final track, entitled "An Heir To Emptiness," is an eight minute and 41 second powerhouse. It opens with haunting screams of wretched guitar riffs that lead right into monstrous chugging riffs and powerful kicks and snares. Cymbals are are relentless as they are constantly colliding in the background. The tempo is slow as it builds towards the verses. Demonic growls will have you shitting your pants as they come in with powerful tones. The lead guitar continues to float a devilish riff in the background as well, surrounding you with dark ambient tones. The heavy pounding of the snare drum will have you throwing your devil horns in the air throughout its entirety. As you get towards the middle of the track you'll notice a transition almost as if they changed songs completely. The drums fade out as a beautiful guitar riffs takes over. This builds for about a minute until you're finally greeted with more monstrous growls and heavy drum fills. The tempo continues to stay at a slow pace giving you just enough time to breath in between each explosive roll. This great thing about this track is that it keeps you hooked the entire time and when it's over it leaves you wanting more and more. This is the perfect way to end this incredible album.

"A Frail Becoming" is by far Daylight Die's best work of their career so far. They are one of those bands that just keep getting better and better with each and every album. It's not often that you find a really good death/doom metal band from the United States. These guys have definitely stepped up with this new album and are definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.


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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Down - Down IV Part 1, The Purple EP (2012)

If you have lived to this point without ever hearing a single song, or a single verse from New Orleans' own Down, it would be both a shock and a disappointment. Featuring former members of Pantera, Corrosion Of Conformity, Eyehategod, and Crowbar, this five piece may have the most impressive pedigree in metal today. But more than that, they have formed one collective mind, one that has a natural ease to songwriting; a certain bond that keeps the new music flowing, without compromising their sound or ideals. On "The Purple EP," the first of a string of planned EPs that form "Down IV," the pedal goes down to the floor, and you can either go for the ride, or get dragged behind.

When you embody that Southern metal groove, songs like "Levitation" are too easy. Building from silence, the volume grows with every second. The low thud of the kick drum stands out for the pack, but the true star is the bending, screeching guitar strings. This isn't a one dimensional chugging kid of band, but one that can infuse melody and progressive elements at will. As Phil Anselmo counts to three, he unleashes the voice so many metal fans grew up enjoying. His signature style has often been copied, but no one has been able to master the raspy tremolo that Anselmo has perfected. Resting on top of rolling drums and a sliding bass line, you would be hard pressed to find a better voice. Down are at their very best in songs like "Witchripper," where they take the restraints off and just blast ahead with reckless abandon. The guitars are dynamic, playing a blend of stoner riffs and thrashing chords. When they find themselves in the zone, they can do no wrong. Anselmo, for all of his quirks, continues to refine his craft, as is evident on the verse sections here. But the slamming bass work ties in knots around a blaring guitar solo, carrying you to an end.

There is definitely a focus on low end power on "Open Coffins," along with layered vocals in the verse sections. This is Southern metal in all its glory, bringing the roof down with groove after groove. It sounds redundant to say, but plays out so perfectly in audio form. With every fluttering piece of fretwork, your head moves a little more, a true sign of metal excellence. When your lead singer can half narrate your solo, as Anselmo does here ("That's what I'm talkin' about"), you must be doing something right. Taking a nearly six minute hazy guitar track, and making it feel like three minutes is another story entirely. By the time you've made it to "The Curse," you have probably already made your judgments on the band and the music they play. But don't deprive yourself of a masterpiece in the making. Everything falls into place for six flawless minutes. between the massive wall of guitars, a stripped down but effective drum pattern, and a rolling bass line, you would have the makings of a perfect slow instrumental. And in a raspy, crooning Anselmo, and what you have is something that is so much more than the pieces. The curse is, in fact, alive.

Don't let the name set you off, "This Work Is Timeless" isn't an ego massage for five stars of metal. The slapping of bass strings rings out over everything else, but in a well balanced mix. The bridge sees some more atmospheric and deft guitar work, letting the ringing distortion build and fade around you. Even the up and down sections, climbing and descending the scales in a slow, plodding manner, are smooth and flowing. but as you get the closing track, "Misfortune Teller,"there is a certain amount of intimidation at work. Seeing a track stack up at over nine minutes long is daunting, especially for a stoner paced band. What you get, if you are up to the task, is a song that is as epic as the length indicates. There are elements of Black Sabbath on display, with some of the darker riffs that Tony Iommi made so famous. There are times when you may finally be able to hear what the ill fated Iommi/Anselmo album of 2002 would have become. Syncopated drum beats only heighten the experience, with pounding kicks, and the sizzle of crashing cymbal after crashing cymbal. Just when you think it is only the halfway mark, the music slowly fades out. Keep your finger off the skip button. Just wait for it to fade back in. You won't be sorry.

This is a band with a mind of its own, making music that is both comfortable for all parties, but wholly worthy of your time. This isn't Phil Anselmo trying to revive Pantera with new members, or Pepper Keenan trying to recreate Corrosion Of Conformity. And in an era where bands release albums that barely top the 30 minute mark, Down bucks the trend and gives you an EP of 33 minutes, with more music hot on its heels. There is always a degree of skepticism when it comes to the idea of a "supergroup." And while they fill all of the criteria, based on pedigree, past work, names, etc, Down is anything but your run of the mill collaboration. But they remain as down to earth and "for the people" as any band in the world.


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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ishmael - Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here (2012)

If you're wondering what hell sounds like, Ishmael can describe that sound to you perfectly. Their new album, entitled "Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here," puts you right into it with its demonic riffs and hell raising distortion effects. The album blends doom and black metal elements together giving you a very harsh, raw sound.  It contains only three tracks but don't let that number fool you into thinking it's a short album. It runs for well over thirty minutes and gives you plenty to enjoy.

The album opens with "Buried With Fingers Crossed" which leads with the voice of a little girl singing "Jesus Loves Me." It's quickly covered with wicked female growls that will send chills down you spine. These growls and screams carry a very demonic tone with them. The lyrics are delivered in a very slow manor as blaring guitars drown you in uncomfortable distortion. Deep chugging riffs move the track in a slow tempo as monstrous bass lines rumble heavily beneath them. The drums play a huge role as well. Pay close attention to the detail of each fill as toms and snares come crashing down on you from all directions. Cymbals shatter violently behind them along with booming kick drums. This eleven minute beast has a great structure keeping you hooked the entire time. The screams just become more and more evil as well. You'll also come across a wild breakdown towards the end of the song where the drums go off on a rant as they roll double bass pedals at you along with relentless snares and cymbals. You'll be forced you bash your head to the rhythm. Meanwhile the growling is  accompanied by male growling which echoe each other back and forth. It definitely has a very explosive ending to the track.

Of course it doesn't stop there. The evilness continues with "Little Bones" which also runs for over eleven minutes long. The first two and a half minutes is all chugging guitars and stomping drum rolls. The distortion becomes almost unbearable and definitely has the potential to blow out your speakers. These dark riffs surround you with haunting tones while they slowly carry you to the vocals. This structure is similar to the first in that there is no basic verse chorus verse and everything just flows together perfectly. The ending does start to drag a little as the song gradually slows its tempo little by little. They probably could have ended this track four or five minutes early and it would have turned out just as good.

The final track, entitled "The Soul's Dirtied Windows," opens with a clip that sounds like it came from some horror movie. This plays for about a minute and a half before the wretched screams and monstrous guitar riffs come in. The drums continue to pound you into the ground with their complex fills and rapid combinations of toms and snares. The patterns you come across in this song is absolutely mind blowing. This track runs for 12 minutes and 49 seconds and is definitely worth every second of your time. It starts to pick up a little more towards the second half as massive guitar riffs blast there way though while the double bass pedals start to pick up. The guitars are full of muddy distortion and surround you with more dark tones. Meanwhile you get your head ripped off by the lead vocals as they completely shred you to pieces. This track doesn't give you any time recover what so ever.

There are definitely some parts of "Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here" that could have been done a little bit better as far a the mix and levels go. Sometimes the bass gets a little out of line compared to the guitars. And also the vocals could have been turned up a notch in certain areas as well. The poor quality still complimented the album overall giving it that dark devilish sound that it needed to really capture you. Definitely check out Ishmael if you haven't already.


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