FOURTH CRITICAL UPDATE 2004

Let me ask in advance for everyone’s tolerance and patience for any errors I may have made this time.  Like last time (Third 2004 Update), I am heavily involved in a master’s degree program and sometimes do not have the time to check everything.  This is not because I am sloppy, unconcerned, or stupid.  It is because I am swamped with work.  Why do I do this website then, you ask?  Well, it’s because I love doing it and it is great therapy.

 

Second, this issue is dedicated to the passing of Quorthon.  I’m not sure that there is another figure in the world of metal that has loomed any larger than this mystagogue.  Critical Metal salutes his legacy!  Favorite album:  Twilight of the Gods.

 

Finally, remember that I do not claim the most scientific methods to my reviews.  My rating is based on how much I FREEKIN’ LIKE the music or NOT!  This time around, you will notice that there are a lot of high ratings (I usually don’t include anything below a 6).  I was very happy.

 

AFTER FOREVER  “Invisible Circles”  (12 tracks).  TRANSMISSION/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  9.5.

Watch out Tristania and Sins of Thy Beloved—Oh my goodness!  This CD exploded in my stereo from the very beginning and was one intense musical experience from beginning to end.  After Forever are a full-on symphonic metal sextet complimented with all sorts of stringed instruments.  They already have a full resume, and now their dynamic music has been made available in the U.S. thanks to a distribution deal between their label, Transmission Records, and The End Records.  Thank you! 

 

Invisible Circles is, as you may have guessed, a metal opera.  It has all the expected parts: story, gruff male and soprano female vocals (Floor Jansen is an outstanding soprano), orchestra, heavy duty parts and light parts, and dialogue.  The diary entries in the CD booklet are also a nice touch.  Obviously a lot of careful thought went into the story.  It is a soap opera about the struggles in a family where careers, personal interests, and an unexpected child come into conflict.  That child is the focus of this story.  Like many operas, it is somewhat tragic—in the Greek sense.  That’s all I will say, except that the story may “hit home” for some listeners.  One gets the impression that it was written well before the band even went in to the studio.  

 

The promo sheet compares After Forever to Dream Theater, The Gathering, Nightwish, and In Flames.  I pretty much agree with the first three, but don’t get the last one.  However, I think the best comparison for After Forever would be Tristania and Sins of Thy Beloved primarily, Wolverine, Morifade, and Eldritch (see below) on a secondary level.  In terms of storyline but not music, think Green Carnation.  Be sure and check out their MP3’s and videos at www.theendrecords.com and www.afterforever.com.

 

ASRAI  “Touch in the Dark”  (tracks).  TRANSMISSION/THE END RECORDS.

Rating:  7.5.

Asrai is a band from The Netherlands also on Transmission like After Forever (see above).  Their style is more properly called gothic metal.  Their music conjures up images of Susperia, and darker versions of Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and The Gathering.  Surprisingly, this band was formed in 1988.  Vocalist Margriet Mol reminds me of Sabine from Eden Bridge.  A fine album for sure, but not extraordinary in my view.

 

BORKNAGAR  “Epic”  (12 tracks).  CENTURY MEDIA.

Rating:  9.5.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for this band.  In my mind, many Norwegian bands have become cliché, but not Borknagar.  They ooze atmosphere as well as professionalism.  Over the years, the departure of members such as Garm (Ulver, Arcturus, etc.) and I.C.S. Vortex (Dimmu Borgir) has never diminished the band’s quality or sense of identity.  And since the addition of Sweden’s Vintersorg on vocals back in 2001, the band has never been better. 

 

For those who don’t know the band, the current members of the band are themselves a virtual “Who’s Who” of Scandinavian folk/pagan/black metal:  keyboardist Lars A. Nedland is in another highly respectable band, Solefald.  Drummer/bassist Asgeir Mickelson also has an impressive resume, doing time in other acts such as Spiral Architect, Vintersorg, and Testament.  Each of these members add their own distinctive touch to the band.  But of course, the bedrock of the band is the steadfast Oystein G. Brun.  If Borknagar were his only claim to fame, it will be more than enough.  He deserves credit for Borknagar’s incredible 6 album career thus far.  If you have never heard them, they are a progressive Norwegian metal band that sounds somewhat like Arcturus.

 

I was taken by surprise when I realized that Epic is the first album Borknagar has done in three years.  Has it really been that long?  And of course, members of the band did other things.  Vintersorg put out Visions from the Spiral Generator, and Solefald did In Harmonium Universali; two very fine albums.  Needless to say, these guys are “keeping it fresh”.  I almost always like it when a band takes an extended break between albums anyway.  They typically make better albums that way.  This is definitely true for Epic.  I loved Empiricism when it came out, it was my favorite Borknagar album.  But this new one is an equally satisfying sequel.  There is no doubt in my mind that they took their time in order to guarantee the quality of this release. 

 

For those who have followed this band for a while, you will that notice the cover art (done by bassist/drummer Asgeir Mickelson) looks familiar.  It is a collage of previous cover art, implying that this new album is an amalgam of Borknagar’s past work.  From the majestic opening sounds of “Future Reminiscence” and the Vintersorgian flavored “Traveller” (misspelled on the promo copy) and “Origin”, to the lovely strains of “The Weight of Wind”, to the furious “Resonance” and so on, Epic delivers the essence of Borknagar in undiluted form.  (Notice, too, that there is even a song called, “Quintessence.”) Believe me, Epic is not just “12 new songs by Borknagar,” it is a carefully constructed masterpiece.  One of this year’s highlights.

 

ELDRITCH  “Portrait of the Abyss Within”  (11 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  8.

If are into bands like Wolverine or Dan Swano’s Nightingale, you will dig this band.  Also, in my last update (Third 2004), I reviewed Morifade (Candlelight), and in the previous update (Second 2004), I reviewed the Revoltons (Arise); well, Eldritch strikes me as one of these kinds of bands.  Very aggressive prog.-power metal with psychological themes and interesting lyrics.  After all, just look at the title, Portraits of the Abyss Within.  In one hyphenated word:  thought-provoking.  And, they have one of the meanest sounding guitar tones of any prog-metal band I have heard.  Also, see After Forever above.

 

GOATSNAKE  “Trampled Under Hoof” (5 tracks).  SOUTHERN LORD.

Rating:  7.

To me they are one part old Trouble (Psalm 9 era) mixed with Lynerd Skynerd.  They are pure southern doom (also, think Eyehategod and Sofa King Killer).  It makes sense, then, that the last two songs on this CD are cover tunes, one from St. Vitus (“Burial at Sea”), the other from Black Oak Arkansas (“Hot Rod”).  The first three songs are totally new with guest vocalist by Pete Stahl formerly of Scream and Wool (whom I have never heard).  To me he has a voice like the singer for The Cult, but it fits the music quite well.  The three new songs, “Portraits of Pain,” “Black Cat Bone,” and “Junior’s Jam” are doomy, sometimes groovy, and occasionally funny.  “Junior’s Jam,” for instance, begins with some ominous chanting, like what you might hear in a 1970’s satanic movie (think “Devil’s Rain” here), and ends with—well, let me not spoil the surprise.  But it is quite funny to me.  The only reservations I have about this album are the drug references at the beginning of “Hot Rod”. 

 

ICYCORE  “Wetwired”  (12 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  6.5.

Hmmm… it seems promising, but is a little hard to get into.  Icycore make me think of prog-metal bands like Veni Domine on the one hand, and a lighter version of Forlorn on the other.  I guess you could call them “cybermetal” based on their lyrics and image, but they are not as heavy as you may expect.  In a sense they are very traditional.  They have clean vocals and strong keyboards, along with the heavy guitar.  Nice vocalist, reminds me of Ulf Christiansen, if any of you readers know who the lead singer of Jerusalem was.  In the end, it is still hard for me to find the right words to describe them.  Suffice it to say that there aren’t a lot of groups out there to compare them to.

 

INNER WISH  “Silent Faces”  (10 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  9.5.

Okay, so I practically never write a negative review for bands on LMP.  Just about everything that comes out on this label is excellent.  Even so, there are from time to time releases that leave the others in the dust.  Over the years, bands like Human Fortress, Vanishing Point, and Gothik Knights have stood out as exceptionally good in my opinion.  Now add Inner Wish to that list.  This album has slowed down the reviewing process for me because I have listened to it so much.

 

There are so many things to say about this CD that I hardly know where to begin.  First of all, this band knows how to relish a cool riff.  One of my favorite songs, “If I Could Turn Back Time” starts off with a killer crunchy riff that makes me want to get up and start kicking the furniture over.  Secondly, the guitarists do a combination of dual lead solos with some good old-fashioned showing off on the fretboard.  Most important for me, as far as the music goes, is the way they have created a particular sound that, when analyzed, can lead one to compare them to a broad variety of influences.  “Hold On”, another killer tune, may cause the listener to recall some Hank Sherman like riffs (Mercyful Fate) mixed with something from Cage’s “Darker than Black”, while the chorus is very singable, almost like early Stryper.  As weird as that description may seem, it sounds really good.  Other songs, like “Silent Faces,” will remind the seasoned metal fan of some of Dokken’s heavier moments.  But from the overall style, especially the fast-paced, double-bass drumming, my hunch is that this band is from Scandinavia (I have no promo sheet for this band).

 

There isn’t a bad or even mediocre song on this disc; any one of them could get airplay.  “Hold Me Tight” was included on the recent LMP sampler CD, Sounds of the Dragon.  But in my opinion, the song “Realms of Tomorrow” is the absolute best song.  If anyone ever makes a movie about my life—like that’s going to happen!—I want this song to be the movie theme.  Whoever the vocalist is, (I have no biographical information) he has a very manly sounding tenor voice.  It’s not high-pitched or whinny sounding, but very musical, very memorable sounding voice.  It would not surprise me in the least to find out that he has had some vocal training.  I feel confident that this disc is going to make my Top Ten of 2004 list.

 

KROKUS  “Fire and Gasoline” (2 discs. 20 tracks).  REALITY ENTERTAINMENT.

Rating: 8.5.

[due to some mistakes* I made last time, continued listening, and the arrival of the studio album, I thought it appropriate to rewrite this review].

 

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 in their earlier career.  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.  If you are a Krokus fan from way back, you’d be a fool to miss out on this one.  If you are not, I recommend giving them a listen. 

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this band, Krokus is the 80’s metal band from *SWITZERLAND with the vocalist who sounds a lot like Bon Scott.  Krokus is like *SWITZERLAND’s version of AC/DC meets Accept with a little Quiet Riot and Van Halen (David Lee Roth era) mixed in.  In their day they were metal, today we would call them hard rock.  This two disc, more than two hour CD set contains many of their well-known hits from the late 80’s and several of the awesome new songs from the new album (see below).  I will have to say that I have gained a new respect for this band because of these two discs, and especially the new album.  This band helped pioneer the 80’s metal sound, which included a stronger sense of musicality than some of their successors.  It’s heavy, it rocks, and it could be played on your local hard rock station. 

 

KROKUS      “Rock the Block” (14 tracks).  REALITY ENTERTAINMENT.

Rating:  9.

As I indicated in my review of Fire and Gasoline Live, Krokus do not sound like a band making a grab at their glory days, they sound like prime Krokus.  The reunion of Marc Storace and Fernando Von Arb is a real boon for crotchety old metalheads like myself who lived through 80’s metal.  Today we would simply call this music hard rock.  But there is still something to be said for a good chorus and an occasional power anthem.  There are a number of songs on this album that, were it released in 1987, would have made big hits on MTV. 

 

As I finally set about to write this review, I realize that I have probably heard this entire album at least 25 times.  Rarely these days do I become so familiar with a CD that I can remember what any of its songs sounds like simply by reading the titles—too many CD’s to review—but with this album, I can probably sing most of them (of course, it would sound like Alfalfa singing them!).  There are party songs like “Go My Way” and “Rock the Block,” socially aware songs like “Mad World,” “Looking to America,” anthems like “I Want it All” and the sober “We’ll Rise,” etc.  My only real criticism is that occasionally the lyrics can be cliché.  I realize that this is part of the 80’s rock lyrical mentality, but sometimes couplets of clichés gets a little tiresome.  This is not a big criticism, just a minor gripe.  But as you may have already figured out, it hasn’t kept me from enjoying this album.

 

MAGIC KINGDOM  “Metallic Tragedy”  (10 tracks).  LIMB MUSIC PRODUCTS.

Rating:  8.

You can imagine what this band sounds like from their name and album title.  Magic Kingdom sounds to me like a mixture of the guitar style of Narnia and keyboard style Warmen (as in Jan Warmen of Children of Bodom.  He has an incredible solo album called, “Beyond Abilities”.  This is what I am referring to).  It is really an enjoyable combination, but beyond that, it is not necessarily innovative or different.  The lyrics are exactly what you would expect, and for the most part, if you are into early Nocturnal Rites, you will love this.  The real surprise on this album comes at the end.  This last song on this CD is worth the price of the album alone.  It is a long epic—the title track—which catches you off guard as they morph seamlessly from classic metal to black metal and back utilizing about three vocalists to handle the transitions:  clean male, soprano female, and black metal shriek. 

 

NEWS, LINKS, ETC.

1.        Soul Shroud at www.soulshroud.com are very eager to be heard.  They have sent me about 1,000 e-mails asking me to give them a link, which I did.  Check’em out.

2.       Check out Sagitta, a melodic power metal band from Brazil, at www.sagittametal.com.

3.       Speaking of metal bands with long careers, check out the latest on Vicious Rumors at www.solmusic-productions.com.  They will soon have a DVD available, and a new album deal has been signed with Holland’s Mascot Records at www.mascotrecords.com.

4.       Check out Faust at www.deathmetal.it.

5.       UTOPIA BANISHED from Queens, New York play melodic death metal in the vein of At the Gates, Amon Amarth, Dissection.  They have MP3’s at www.utopiabanished.com.

 

 

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