Critical Update #3 for 2004
If this is your first time reading my reviews you need to know that I am an opinionated old fart who generally only reviews stuff to his liking. The ratings below are based upon my general disposition after multiple hearings of the CD’s in question.
CELESTY “Legacy of Hate” (9 tracks). ARISE.
On the map of heavy metal land Celesty should be located at a point halfway between Stratovarius and Rhapsody. I was impressed with Reign of Elements, their debut. It was a solid album. But Legacy of Hate blows it away (no sophomore jinx here). For the most part, Legacy of Hate sounds like a less flamboyant version of Rhapsody, though Rhapsody’s influence is clearly there. The CD even comes with a map to go along with the album’s fantasy story! But like Stratovarius, Celesty knows how to create excellent melodies that make the listener want to sing along without all the overlay of Rhapsody’s bombast. The album ends with an excellent two-part, more than 20 minute epic, “Legacy of Hate” parts 1 and 2. In short, while Celesty are another fine example of Finnish classic metal, I think they have stepped beyond the stereotype a bit and created something with a broader appeal.
HIGHLORD “Medusa’s Coil” (12 tracks). ARISE.
I would describe Highlord as prog-metal with a lot of youthful charisma. They are talented and well-endowed musically, but occasionally sound overly anxious. The music is full-on power/prog, but it is the vocals which really make this album. I wouldn’t be surprised if some reviewers will compare them to Rhapsody, especially since they come from Italy, but that would be a false comparison. While Andrea Marchisio has some vocal similarity to Fabio Leone, his passionate delivery is more like an 80’s era vocalist, especially on “Where My Hero Lies”. Another important observation about this band is their youthful vigor. Some prog.-metal bands are too melodramatic for my taste; not these guys. They are all about metal. Overall it is a very good outing, but I would have to say that Marchisio needs to back off on the vocals a little here and there. Some times they are a bit over-the-top.
KHOLD “Morke Gravers Kammer” (10 tracks + video). CANDLELIGHT USA
If you are like me, your first response to Khold is to think of them as a slow version of Mayhem. But after repeated listens, I am inclined to think of Khold as a cold, black metal outfit with an emphasis on power rather than speed. This puts them in a category with other bands like Satyricon and Thorns. But even here, Khold plays on the slower side. For me this is a welcome point of diversity with the aforementioned bands. It gives you another great band to listen to without feeling like you are listening to a clone band. At times it’s kind of like listening to a modern day, Norwegian version of Celtic Frost. “MGK” is not a lot different from their previous album, but I liked that one too. Why tamper with a good thing? My only complaint is that for some reason my disc did not have the video track. Is this because it is a promo disc?
KROKUS “Fire and Gasoline” (2 discs. 20 tracks). REALITY ENTERTAINMENT.
One of the advantages of a band like Krokus making this comeback is that they can do a double-live album like this one and get better sound quality/production than they could have gotten during their heyday. But there is always the fear that after so many years a band may not be able to live up to their former glory. Well, put your fears to rest because Marc Storace and Fernando Von Arb have pulled off a highly convincing performance. Whether it is Geritol or Viagra, something has kept these guys from growing moldy with age. In short, if you are a Krokus fan from way back, you’d be a fool to miss out on this one. Two discs, twenty tracks, and about two hours of music; what else could you want? ‘Nuff said.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this band, Krokus is the 80’s metal band from America with the vocalist who sounds like Bon Scott. If you don’t know who Bon Scott is, go back to listening to Lincoln Park, poseur! Seriously, Krokus is like America’s version of AC/DC meets Accept with a little Quiet Riot mixed in.
MORIFADE “Domi-Nation” (14 tracks + video track). CANDLELIGHT USA.
A lighter, less aggressive band would be called prog-metal. A less progressive band would be called power metal. Morifade’s “Domi-Nation” rewrites the book on classic/power/prog epic metal. This is the kind of CD you play to silence the fools who say that metal is just a bunch of loud noise with cheesy lyrics. On the one hand it is thought-provoking, melodic, and highly nuanced, on the other, it just flat out rocks. Not surprising, considering the fact that Andy LaRoque produced it. Lyrically, “Domi-Nation” is a metallic epic through an Orwellian world where allegiance to the “state” borders on religion. In fact, credit is given in the liner notes to Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Musically and lyrically, it is a unity within diversity appropriate for fans of Saga, Royal Hunt, Gamma Ray, Iron Savior, and Into Eternity. It grasps your attention and does not let it go from open to close. Again, I cannot tell you about the video track since it does not exist on my promo disc.
The OUTPATIENCE “Anxious Disease” (tracks). REALITY ENTERTAINMENT.
“A prophet is without honor in his hometown” may be an apt biblical allusion for this band. Anxious Disease was released in Japan several years ago, and in Switzerland/Europe back in 1999, but only now has it found its way home to America. The shifting sands of our pop culture meant that there was no room at home for this band, but they haven’t given up on their own. And thanks to Reality Entertainment, they hope to realize their dreams of musical success at home. To me they sound like a close cousin to bands like Guns and Roses, Warrant, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, and Poison, but altogether have a lighter, more pop-oriented sound. And if that little bit of news gets you excited, then you will also be interested in knowing that Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, and Steve Stevens all make guest appearances on this album. In my opinion, they have taken the “Every Rose has Its Thorns,” and “I’m and Outlaw” formula and nuanced it various ways for a majority of the songs. But there are faster paced tunes like “Inbred” and “Black Eye” to provide a little balance. You can imagine, then, that the production is excellent and the 13 songs on this CD are carefully crafted for radio appeal, and vocalist Mike Shotton has the right combination of grit and sass to top it all off.
SKYFIRE “Spectral” (9 tracks). ARISE.
After releasing two albums on Hammerheart Records, Skyfire has now moved over to Arise Records. Arise is proud to have them and have made this album a matter of top priority. I cannot speak for their first album, but in my opinion Spectral is a notch above Timeless Departure. If you have never heard them before, just close your eyes and you might imagine you are listening to early, pre-electronic In Flames. This is, I think, a fair conclusion. All the elements are there: dual guitars, keyboards, shrill vocals, and thick, excellent production—definitely Swedish! But one could argue for conscious imitation here. So we have to ask ourselves a question: do we like a band for having successfully patterned themselves after another really good band, or decry their lack of originality? I guess you have to decide that for yourself.
SCEPTIC “Unbeliever’s Script” (9 tracks). CANDLELIGHT USA.
Though they are from Poland, they do not sound like the typical low-end brutal death metal Poland is known for. Rather, Sceptic takes the aggressive death/thrash route. Additionally, they don’t sound like a Gothenburg clone band either. Instead, what we have here is pure agro-thrash death metal, a.k.a., Carcass worship. In other words, tight, crunchy riffs, with Bill Steer like vocals. While they may not be breaking any new ground musically, they do what they do very well. A CD like this is always a welcome addition to the year’s metal releases. It is a solid, very listenable album. Put it in and crank the volume up to 11!
STATETROOPER “The Calling” (11 tracks). C.I.C. RECORDS/LAURA KAUFMAN PR.
Anyone who grew up in the 80’s and has watched The Wedding Singer will relate to the feeling of being simultaneously nostalgic and somewhat embarrassed at the same time. Back in the 80’s bands like Statetrooper popped up from everywhere like Britney Spears impersonators do today. Yes, those were the glory days of metal … days when every trip to the record store brought some new musical revelation. Back then we waded through a lot of mediocre releases to get to the real gems. This band was one of those bands that popped up in the 1980’s, but didn’t achieve their desired glory. Despite the changes in musical trends, though, Statetrooper never fully disappeared, and a loyal fan base has kept them alive. Now the band wants another shot at the big time. My recommendation is that all of you who are big into 80’s pop/glam/rock/metal check this band out. Fans of bands like Whitesnake and Night Ranger especially. Those who have moved on will not likely get into this band.
ST. MADNESS “We Make Evil Fun” (21 tracks). NASTY PRICK RECORDS.
The side of me that loves Spinal Tap and Army of Darkness is tempted to laugh this album off as a joke. It seems obvious to me that much of what St. Madness does is intended to amuse; thus it is referred to as “shock rock.” Even the title, “We Make Evil Fun,” is clearly tongue-in-cheek. My complaint is that bands like this do not seem to distinguish between what is parody and what is indecent. As an example, while bands like Kiss and Spinal Tap have songs about anal sex, “You’ve Got Nothing to Lose” (Kiss) and “Big Bottom” (Spinal Tap), St. Madness has songs that are graphic, overtly sexual. Bands like St. Madness may see what they are doing as in “good fun” or humorous, but in but I have to draw the line here.
SYBREED “Slave Design” (12 tracks). REALITY ENTERTAINMENT
This album was an automatic love fest for me. It is as heavy and brutal as Hell itself, yet beautiful and melodic at the same time. Fans of such diverse of bands as Nevermore, Iced Earth, Meshuggah, and Celldweller can all find common ground with Sybreed. The combination of brutal, bombastic riffs with electronics, and gruff vocals with melody make “Slave Design” the perfect marriage of extremes in sound. The playing is tight and the production is crisp. I guess you would classify them as extreme, electro-death metal. And let me tell you, In Flames never sounded this angry! Sissy nu-metal bands like Korn and Lincoln Park would wet themselves if they heard this! Look for Sybreed on the Harsh Reality tour this summer with Lyzanxia and Freakhouse. (I predict Sybreed will be the most popular band on that tour.)
Eldritch “Portrait of the Abyss Within” Limb Music Products.
Icycore “Wetwired” Limb Music Products.
Inner Wish “Silent Faces” Limb Music Products.
Magic Kingdom “Metallic Tragedy” Limb Music Products.