Critical Update #2, 2004

 

Critical Update #2, 2004

I don’t mask it with rhetoric:  these reviews are all about my personal taste in music.  I would like to be objective, but frankly, it all comes down to if I like it or not.  Of course, if it is complete CRAP, I probably won’t review it, so the stuff below is what “pleased me” and the ratings have something to do with my mood!  Let me apologize in advance to my Scandinavian friends for not doing the diacritical markings in their names, etc.

 

CRYONIC TEMPLE  “Blood, Guts & Glory” (10 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:      7.

       This young band demonstrates an awareness of Germany’s power metal tradition.  The music is a combination of Accept and Iron Savior and a touch of the Scorpions—especially the vocalist!   They have made a solid record here with some enjoyable songs that are full of metal attitude as well as the prototypical subject matter (i.e., “The Story of the Sword”).  Nevertheless, they do not exhibit a lot of originality.  For instance, how many other bands have a song entitled, “Thunder and Lightning”?  But what they do is play classic power metal in the proud Teutonic tradition.  A good first outing.  Note especially “Swords and Diamonds.”

 

FINNTROLL  “Nattfodd”  (10 tracks).  CENTURY MEDIA.

Rating:  8.5.

       Finntroll are the majestic black metal band with a twist.  They rank in a category with bands like Dimmu Borgir, Old Man’s Child, and Mystic Circle, but with a particularly ethnic vibe.  Those who have heard this band before will know what I mean when I refer to their sinister version of the upbeat “humppa” sound.  “Humppa” is the label’s descriptive term, I call it “polka from Hell.”  Of course, I am not sure if it is proper to speak of Finnish music as polka or not, so we’ll just stick with “humppa.”  Or if you like, we can think of it as Metal for Oktoberfest!  Better still, evil Tetris music!  Either way, if you can imagine a dark, cold forest at night with a band of orcs dancing frantically around a bonfire, then you have just experienced the mental picture I get while listening to this music.  If a band ever sounded like their name, it would be this one. 

       I thought Jaktens Tid was a good album, but Nattfodd is flat out cool.  It blows JT away.  Song after song the band finds ways to meld their native Finnish sound to the brutal death/black metal which is also indigenous to Scandinavian soil.  Most notably, while the keyboards provide the songs with a sense of melodic identity, the guitars are way more powerful and much more interesting than on Jaktens Tid.  Nattfold should be the album to bring this band from the margins closer to the spotlight.

 

GOTHIC KNIGHTS  “Up from the Ashes” (11 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  9.

       I didn’t get a promo sheet with this CD, but I’d wager that this band is from America.   My first reaction to this CD was rather mixed, but as I listened to the album a couple more times it “revealed itself to me.”    The interesting thing about this band to me is how they are clearly a power metal band, but they make me think of some pop metal bands of the 1980s.  They have this clean vibe about them which is very commercial, but also heavy.  Songs like “Warrior of Faith”, for instance, reminds me a lot of early Stryper.  But Gothic Knights will also appeal to the Narnia, Hammerfall, Nocturnal Rites fanbase.  You get the picture, right?  Clean vocals, dual lead guitars, lots of double bass, and melody.  In short, they sound positivie, uplifting, but also powerful.  You will find yourself singing along.  Note especially “Up From the Ashes” which appears on the Louder than the Dragon compilation (see below).

 

KATATONIA  “Brave Yester Days” (Two discs.  23 tracks).  CENTURY MEDIA.

Rating:  9.

       Even though Opeth is the buzz band right now, no one can afford to ignore their near cousins Katatonia.  And considering the relationship of founders Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renkse to Michael Akerfeldt and Dan Swano, it is no surprise that Katatonia are so special.  I confess, however, that when I first heard this band several years ago, I didn’t know what to make of them.  But once I began to understand their music I went out and bought all of their albums I could find.  Needless to say, when I discovered recently that Century Media was releasing this double CD treasure, I lobbied to be one of the privileged few Americans to get to review it.

       First, let me tell you what you get with this CD.  You get two choice cuts from Katatonia’s earliest full-lengths, Dance of December Souls and Brave Murder Day; only two since they are and have been readily available domestically.  But the real bonus is the inclusion of the entire Jhva Elohim Meth demo (as a grad student in Hebrew Bible I have to point out that Jhva should be YHWH, sic.), the two rare tracks “Black Erotica” and “Love of the Swan” from the WAR Compilation, the entire For Funerals to Come mini-disc, and the entire Sounds of Decay and Saw You Drown mini-discs featuring Michael Akerfeldt on vocals.  It comes in digi-pack format with a 16-page booklet.  Let’s just say that it is a sweet deal.

       Though initially lumped under the black metal banner, Katatonia really began their career with a sound more akin to early Therion, Celtic Frost, early Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride.  From the dark Jhva Elohim Meth demo to the bleak Vive Emptiness, Katatonia have taken us on a strange but enthralling ride.  Dark, depressive, poetic, powerful, and evocative are adjectives that readily come to mind.  No other band sounds like them now, and it is all chronicled here on this two CD set.  It is actually quite breathtaking to take all in at once.  The bottom line is that I am pleased with the excellent production, choice of songs, and the making of the import stuff available domestically.  It has to be one of the best music deals of the year.  Like I said in sentence #1 above:  you cannot afford to ignore Katatonia.

 

LOUDER THAN THE DRAGON “Essential Limb Music Products” (Two discs.  28 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

I already have almost every album that is featured on this compilation, so I can boast for the products this fine label has released over the last five or so years.  Chances are if you are already a fan of power, classic, or prog. metal, you probably own something featured here as well.  If not, you may question your own power metal manliness (or womanliness!).  But seriously … you cannot go wrong buying this comp.  And I testify that the tracks listed here are good representations of the bands on LMP.  Bands included are:  Rhapsody and Luca Turilli of course, Human Fortress (a personal favorite), Gun Barrell, Midnight Sun, Mob Rules, Oratory, and a host of other fine bands.  Also included, are tracks from upcoming releases by Gothic Knights, Revoltons, and Cryonic Temple.  So you can get a taste of their music as well.

 

REVOLTONS  “Night Visions” (10 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  8.5.

       The Revoltons are a great mixture of progressive and classic power metal.  Fans of Dark Moor and Wolverine will like this band I suspect.  On this album, great riffs and thoughtful lyrics combine to create some really intriguing songs.  The first one that caught my attention was “Reality Met Childhood,” a title that speaks for itself.  And then “Malcom’s Drama,” which is, I think, based on The Sixth Sense.  This song sounds a lot like Iced Earth’s “When the Eagle Cries,” btw.  But there are also some typical sounding titles as well:  “Eternal Pain,” etc.  Altogether it is a good combination of sounds and ideas.  It may actually be a concept album, but without lyrics or a promo sheet, it is hard to tell. 

 

Odds and Ends (i.e., News, Announcements, etc.).

English selections from the Hungarian online zine, Shock Magazine, can be view at www.shockmagazin.hu

 

SKULL SESSION is a state of the art metal band who have a cutting, sharp sound reminiscent of earlier metal acts, but with a contemporary, relevant aggressiveness.  http://www.skullsession.com

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