Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Silent Force - Rising from the Ashes (2013)

Years after “Walk the Earth” released, it seemed that Silent Force was staying quiet. “Walk the Earth” was a great album and a great successor to “Worlds Apart.” Now after a long six years; they return with a new vocalist and release the aptly titled “Rising from Ashes.” The new album sees the band going in a much different, albeit more generic approach. It sounds like a mash-up of Bon Jovi and Motley Crüe instead of balls out power metal. I’m not knocking the band, I think they’re fantastic, it’s just the new direction makes me scratch my head. “Worlds Apart” is by far my favorite album from them and I don’t expect them to sound exactly the same on that album; but I feel like they’ve lost their signature sound.

“Caught in Their Wicked Game” kicks off the album and it has passion and great musicianship, it just falls very flat as a Silent Force song. “There Ain’t No Justice” and “Circle of Trust” are two of the tracks that have that Bon Jovi/Motley Crüe sound I mentioned earlier. The choruses in both songs can easily be on “Slippery When Wet.” The tracks “Living to Die” and “Before You Run” sound like they’re straight out of the eighties and they feel a little uninspired. The lyrics in “Before You Run” are particularly corny. “You Gotta Kick It” and “Turn Me Loose” are songs that have great guitar solos but everything else is on a plateau. There aren’t any dynamics on these songs and they’re just “there.” The choruses are very repetitive and very cheesy. The words “you gotta kick it” do not belong in songs in this day and age; it sounds like the name of a Mark Farner comeback album. “Born to Be a Fighter” has an intro that sounds like a Nintendo game and it also happens to be my personal favorite on the album. This song has an eighties sound, but it’s done with a certain panache and the guitar work is pretty awesome. “Anytime Anywhere” has a catchy chorus that actually does the rest of the song justice; I just wish it didn’t repeat so much. “Kiss of Death” closes the album and it’s one of the worst songs on the album and it actually makes the album more forgettable than it already is. It’s probably the blandest song on the album in a spot where it should be the grand finale song. Closing an album is just as important as opening one, there has to be some sort of thought process to make it feel complete. This album just feels like a collection of songs thrown together on a disc.

I really hate myself for bashing “Rising from Ashes,” but I just can’t bring myself to like or recommend it. Silent Force is a fantastic band with amazing albums; this just isn’t one of them. The vocals are great, the instruments are great and the production is great. How did it end up so bland and generic? I think I sound like a nut when I basically say that it’s good but it’s not. The lyrics definitely aren’t the best and the album feels like it has no flow. With all of its faults, it does have some good parts too. The guitar work and solos are just awesome. I know the die-hard Silent Force fans are going to eat this up because it’s the first album in six years, but it really isn’t worth the listen. I was trying to let it grow on me after multiple listens, but I only grew more and more inattentive. As for newcomers, go listen to “Worlds Apart” and  “Walk the Earth,” stay clear from “Rising from Ashes.”


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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Armory - Empyrean Realms (2013)

When one thinks of power metal, very rarely do they think of American bands. I’m not saying that there aren’t any good ones; I’m just saying that Europe gets all of the credit. Every once in a while an American power metal band emerges that is impossible to resist. The irresistible band this time is Armory. They don’t redefine music or the genre whatsoever, but they’re just so damned good. On their second album “, Empyrean Realms,” they sound like true masters of the art. They have a much bigger and broader sound than that on “The Dawn of Enlightenment.” Right from looking at the album artwork, it’s evident that “Empyrean Realms” is one hell of a journey. Armory pulls out all of the stops on their new album and they never slow down.

“Eternal Mind” is an instant classic. It’s a great way to kick off the album and an excellent song to show off everyone’s talent in the band. “Dreamstate” showcases some very impressive guitar work and an epic chorus. “Beyond the Horizon” is a fantastic journey across the stars and it’s the album artwork in song form. It’s easily one of the best tracks on the album for the simple fact that the world it creates is accessible and thought provoking. I really can’t praise this track enough. “Reflection Divine” picks up the speed and intensity a bit with the killer intro. Like the rest of the songs on this album, the guitar work is out of this world. “Horologium” is a good instrumental track that expands on the “spacey” sound the band was going for on this album. “Elements of Creation” is a good track that doesn’t do anything new from the rest of the album and it also gets drowned out by the stellar track after it. “Inner Sanctum” takes the band in a more progressive direction and is one of the best songs on “Empyrean Realms.” The eighth track, “Fate Seeker,” is my absolute favorite on the album. Everything comes together and creates a perfect package. The melody, the songwriting and the epic chorus all make the perfect recipe for a power metal song. The album closes with “Quest for the Fleece” which is a great way to end the album. The keyboard outro is absolutely beautiful and closes out “Empyrean Realms” on the highest note possible.

Bands don’t need to revolutionize a genre to be good. On “Empyrean Realms,” Armory takes influences from other bands and turns them into their own power metal concoction. Every instrument and every vocal line is played with complete mastery and precision. The six year gap between albums gave the band time to grow and unite into something special. Armory may have just opened the door for what American based power metal bands can do. As I’ve said before, “Empyrean Realms” might not be the most original album to come out but Armory adds enough of their own flair to make it worthwhile for power metal fans. “Empyrean Realms” is a fantastic space journey that absolutely cannot be missed. Listen to this now.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Human Fortress - Raided Land (2013)

I was never a huge fan of Human Fortress; I liked them but they were never top tier for me.  “Defenders of the Crown” was an excellent album and I actually really enjoyed “Eternal Empire.” Sure “Eternal Empire” tried different things, but it was a good experiment. After that album it left the band in an odd state. Where would they go from here musically? Continuing the current sound wasn’t a bad choice and going back to the older sound wasn’t bad either. On “Raided Land” it seems like they found a happy medium that should please longtime fans and new comers. Is it the most groundbreaking album? No. Does it redefine who they are as musicians? No. Is “Raided Land” completely enjoyable and does it have some kick ass riffs? Absolutely. What Human Fortress has created on the new album is a pretty awesome listen. For the fans that were jaded by “Eternal Empire,” give this one a spin.

With “Raided Land” and “Child of War” it’s evident that they brought the sound back to the “Defenders of the Crown” days. They sound like they belong on that album and that is perfectly acceptable. “Wasted Years” is an oddball of a song. It takes the band in a weird direction, but the weirdest thing of all is that it works. It’s so vastly different than the majority of their songs but it’s still a keeper. “The Chosen One” and “Shelter” have some killer guitar solos. “Gladiator of Rome pt. II” is a continuation of the song with the same name from “Defenders of the Crown.” This is a track where the new vocalist, Gus Monsanto, really shines. His vocals bring a much more epic sound to the music. The chorus is just incredible on this song.
  “Dark Knight” is a decent track with a good riff. The whole of the song doesn’t do anything the other tracks haven’t done and it really isn’t that memorable. ‘Pray for Salvation” is another song that would be forgettable if it wasn’t for the outstanding last half. From the middle of the song and on it just gets fantastic. The keyboard is the real highlight here with some mind-blowing melodies. “Evil Curse” is another track that doesn’t really add to the album and can be skipped. “Restless Souls” is much better than the previous track and has a great solo section. “Under Siege” is a balls to the wall power metal song through and through; it’s also one of the fastest and best tracks on the album. “Guard the Blind” closes the album and it doesn’t really do a good job. It’s not a bad track; it’s just not the great bookend that this album deserves.

“Raided Land” is one of those albums that don’t do anything new but it’s just so damned good. Human Fortress is back and they sound better than ever. The guitar sand drums are tighter, the production is better, the keyboards are magnificent and the Gus Monsanto does a great job as the new front man. There were a couple of down parts on this album, but the good far outweighs the bad. “Gladiator of Rome” and ‘The Chosen One” are amazing songs. For any longtime fans of Human Fortress, I assure you that they are back full throttle and they’re here to stay. I don’t want to jump the gun but I’m going to anyway; this might be their best album yet. Go out and listen to this now.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Dark Lake - Tenebris Icon (EP) (2013)

Scour the internet for minutes, hours, even days. Without the aid of a translator (Sorry Bing and Google, we need a real translator here), there is virtually no information to be found on the mysterious My Dark Lake, a band from Ukraine that seems to specialize in avant ambient music, and symphonic inspired doom metal. That is as far as the trail goes. The web label hosted their latest work, an EP titled "Tenebris Icon," offers little more.But where their is curiosity, there must also be discovery. So armed with next to nothing, you hit play on what would be an experience, if nothing else, into the current state of metal in Ukraine. But what you have, hidden behind a purple tinged album cover and a bizarre mix of fonts is something that will, at minimum, make you tilt your head slightly sideways, squint your eyes and let out an intrigued "Huh." The three tracks that make up "Tenebris Icon" might not change the world today, but they might provide the framework for something far bigger in the very near future.

The album's title track, positioned right at the top, is an exercise in ambient drone, with very few real ties to the metal community. It accomplishes it's goal, though, through the use of haunting tones and sounds, providing what would be a chilling soundtrack to a haunted house or graveyard scene. It brings with it a gust of cold air, raising the goosebumps on your arm. But it is the second track, "Fantasia No. 1 In E Minor" that opens a door to what could be. The sweeping orchestral melody is beautifully orchestrated. When joined by a thick layer of drum and distortion, it is breathtaking. For as short as the track is, falling just short of three minutes, it is larger than life. It is one key element away from being a conversation piece. But the lack of that puzzle piece does not take away from what you have in front of you, nor does it distract from the final track, the funeral doom version of "Cold Slumber," a track that appeared on a previous album of the same name. With the tempo down to a crawl, and the ambient energy turned up to high, the execution here is marvelous. It strikes a familiar chord, the one that connects intensity and beauty at the hand. The production work, clear as can be, only adds to that union, allowing each piece to breathe while still finding symbiosis.

There will be those of you who would scoff at the notion that this album is truly metal. My own cohorts might be included in that. But while it might not be a full on metal album, doom or otherwise, there are glimpses of genius that give hope for the future. With the addition of a strong vocal presence to these three tracks, be it a growling male or soaring female, you would have a trio of songs that border on greatness. Simplistic as they seem, their symphonic roots take them well beyond the structure of most doom metal. And their layering and depth push them beyond the limits of ambient drone metal. So why not push it further? Why not take that giant leap into something outside their comfort zone, and put all of those pieces together? The result could be one of the most cold, spine shaking mergers of styles we've heard in quite some time. Get word out to Ukraine; My Dark Lake needs to take the leap, make a splash, and start the defining of a new wave of symphonic doom. 


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