The Century Media Review Page!


criticaltom@juno.com

ANDROMEDA

“Extension of the Wish” (7 tracks. 44:18).

I’ll begin by saying that I am extremely impressed with this band. Andromeda are a Swedish band on the War Music label that Century Media has licensed to distribute here in the U.S. They sound like a heavy metal version of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”, though I imagine the proper classification would be Progressive Power Metal. Between the dazzling guitar work of Johan Reinholdz and the keyboard manipulations by Martin Hedin, Andromeda make for one cool ride down the path of freeform jazz improvisation. Look at the info above and notice that only seven track clock in at three-quarters of an hour. That means there is plenty of soloing going on. Though they sound nothing like them, the interplay between guitars and keyboards is not unlike Children of Bodom. And while the guitars and keyboards are shredding their way up and down the scales and arpeggios, they aren’t just trying to impress you, they sound good. Again, imagine what Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” would sound like if played by a Swedish Prog-Metal band and you get a good idea of what I’m talking about.

Vocalist David Fremberg was the original singer for Darkane (also on War Music), but here he sounds nothing like that growling singer. Here he demonstrates a superb singing voice with a fair amount of range and diversity. This is most noticeably displayed on the tune “Star Shooter Supreme”. And as a whole, the band has created a solid album that impresses those who are musically trained and entertains those who just like great music. It is really hard for a new band to come out and get the kind of recognition they deserve with so many veteran bands about, but if any new band deserves some serious attention, it really is Andremeda. They are definitely something special.

…and Oceans

“Allotropic/Metamorphic – Genesis of Dimorphism (A.M.G.O.D.) (9 tracks. 48:33).
This band’s music is just as odd as their name and the album title; but it is really cool. And Oceans is another band I’ve heard and read so much about and wondered if the hype could really be deserved. Well I think it is. I find this album to be one enthralling listen. I cannot be digested in one or two listenings, of course, but it seems that even with successive listenings it still floods the senses and the mind. Perhaps this is because they don’t focus on the usual Black Metal subject matter and image. Or maybe it is because of some of the twists and quirks that they’ve added to the style both musically and lyrically which just happens to put them in a category all to themselves. (Metaphor: if this band were a baseball team they would all be in left field!). The band sets the tone from the beginning with a song which will be forever ingrained on my mind, “Intelligence is Sexy”. This song features some bombastic Black Metal guitar riffing with the typical Swedish Death Metal production and some really quirky keyboards. Add the lyrics and you have one very unique album. The rest of the album continues to surprise and amaze in this same manner. “White Synthetic Noise”, for instance, grabs you and keeps you moving as does “Esprit de Corps”, “Of Devilish Tongues”and “Postfuturistika”. But perhaps the most profound song on this disc is “Tears Have No Name”. It is simply indescribable. You have to hear it to understand. I’m glad that …and Oceans are now on Century Media. This guarantees that their music is going to be easier to find. With the plethora of bands out there now, this one definitely deserves to be heard.

Interview with Killstar of

…And Oceans

CRITICALTOM: You must be pretty excited about working with Century Media. How has that worked out so far?

KILLSTAR: Everything has been just great coz we have been really satisfied with the professional work of Century Media; at least so far. Everything is all so damn organised and everything works out just splendid, so there's nothing to complain about on that sector, or on any other sector.

CRITICALTOM: Your band has achieved quite a reputation for being creative in the field of Black Metal. But would you describe it as such, or would you give it a different label?

KILLSTAR: I have never categorized us as a black metal band, even if we have a lot of black metal moments in our music, but we are mostly linked to black metal. Maybe the reason for this is the fact that we have more black metal basics in our music in contrary to some other musical genre. Whatever the case is, we will be categorized as black metal and that's appropriate for us coz the anti-Christian belief is a strong part of our personal lives, even if it isn't the issue in .and Oceans.

CRITICALTOM: What sort of insane things inspired you guys on this record? It is really out there.

KILLSTAR: We have kinda been seeking for the truth in ourselves with this new material by being honest to ourselves and reflecting certain moments in our constant floating in time and space. We have 6 members in the band with a couple of divisions within the field of personalities, but we all listen to different kinds of music and each member has a part of his soul in the music. That may be the reason for the tracks being so different from each other. The main inspiration source is the regular sterile form of art called life.

CRITICALTOM: Would you call ...and Oceans a Finnish version of Dark Tranquillity or In > Flames? What makes you different?

KILLSTAR: Definitely not would be the absolute answer. I can't find any similarities or relations, not musically or lyrically, with the bands you mentioned. Of course there are connectors and moments that can be reflected in our music coz most of the metal bands have a lot of similar elements. But that is the case in every genre. I think we have more electronic moments and black metal basics in our music than the particular bands in question, we also have more fluctuation from track to track which means our album has not that much coherence in it. Everything is in one way or the other connected to something; and that is not the case only in music.

CRITICALTOM: What lyrical themes are important on the new album? (Remember, I don't have the lyrics on my promo CD).

KILLSTAR: There is no specific or precise theme, but there are lots of connectors in every lyric that follows the concept. Lyrics are something I’d rather not discuss in detail coz otherwise people will get a different image of their own interpretation of the lyrics. One has to decide and construct a personal mind world of the lyrics. The 'am god' lyrics contain aphorisms and metaphors, timeless phrases, dark poetry and ironic lines; but the actual meaning is up to the reader to build up, only the mind is the limit. The lyrics could be referred to as a coin: there are two sides to every story. I write a lot, not only lyrics, and the biggest inspiration source is the cold reality and daily life, be it astral or substantial. All the shit you like or dislike is out there looking for you to find it. I convert all the repulsive factors in life as positive energy in myself.

CRITICALTOM: What sort of hopes do you have for the success of this album? (Touring, etc.)

KILLSTAR: Touring is the most essential part at the moment. Hopefully people will discover new dark moments when listening to the album coz the concrete I is unrecognisable after the first journey. You know it's really difficult to find the best edible mushrooms in the forest by walking there for a couple of hours.[?]

CRITICALTOM: Will there be any kind of tours, videos, etc.?

KILLSTAR: A tour is planned and the kick off for this tour should be the 20th of this month. The tour should be with Marduk, Dornenreich and Mystic Circle, and hopefully it will all turn out as planned. There seems to be some problems with the tour at the moment because Behemoth cancelled and I don't know if they have found a replacement for them. I'm looking forward on this tour so I really hope it will be fixed up. Anyway, we've been working on a short movie for a couple of years, but the person behind the cameras is too busy at the moment so this project is put on ice for the moment. Nevertheless, a friend of mine is studying to be a director and he is working on making a video for us this spring. There's a slight possibility that we will use some of the previous footage for this one, but I really don't know what it will turn out to be coz I gave him more or less free hands. Hopefully he'll get it finished till summer, but I can't say what the future holds for this video. Maybe it will be available on our website later on, we'll see.

CRITICALTOM: What would you like to say to fans in the United States?

KILLSTAR: Smile you're on candid camera. No seriously, hopefully we'll come on tour to United States and spread flowers over your nation coz sooner or later we'll all make the flowers grow.

CRITICALTOM: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?

KILLSTAR: Blurgh, that's a hard one. It depends on what kind of a person we are talking about coz if the person in question has never heard any metal music it would very difficult. And if this would be the case I'd say: "It's a collage of Andres Serrano's visual side and Charles Manson's mind". I really don't like categorizing any music, but sometimes it helps the dubious one along the path. But I'd say something like darkly orientated music with irregular moments of light, which would not describe it at all.

CRITICALTOM: What is the Metal Scene like in Finland these days?

KILLSTAR: It is like the weather in Finland, cold, dark and full of energy. Well, it's kinda the same as earlier, but it has grown bigger and drawn more attention to it. There are a lot of metal bands on the Finnish charts nowadays and seems like people are more open for metal music, which is good in a way, and the reason for this might be the increasing popularity of Finnish music; bands like Stratovarius, Nightwish, HIM, Children of Bodom, etc have drawn the media's attention, but the more extreme bands are also noticed even if this concept is more on a sub-cultural level.

CRITICALTOM: Thanks for your time and for a great new album!

KILLSTAR: thanks for the interview and for the flowers.

Angeldust

“Enlighten the Darkness” (11 tracks. 52:52)

Wow! Power Metal with a commercial appeal that doesn’t compromise. A rare feat, but that is exactly what this is. Angeldust very effectively makes use of powerful guitars, soothing keyboards, and passionate vocals for what may be one of the best releases of this year. “Enlighten the Darkness” might be described as a mixture of Helloween meets the Scorpions. But whereas those two bands have become rather bland, Angel Dust is very fresh and exciting. The opening tune, “Let Me Live” will echo through your mind for a long time. The song “Cross of Hatred” will get you singing (beware of doing this in your car as people will look at you funny). This song will also get you thinking. Even the ballad, “Beneath the Silence” is musically and aesthetically pleasing without being syrupy sweet. Additionally, with songs like “Still I’m Bleeding”, “I Need You” and “First in Line”, Angel Dust alternates between soft and heavy parts. They also alternate between acoustic guitar and piano. Over all, “Enlighten the Darkness” has a good sense of musicality, making use of dynamics and instrumentation effectively. “Enlighten the Darkness”, with 11 well-crafted songs, has the potential to open doors for this band to both metal fans and rock fans much like Scorpions did in the 80’s. The CD ends with “Oceans of Tomorrow” a beautiful ballad that leaves the listener yearning for the next release.

AVANTASIA

“The Metal Opera” (13 tracks. 59:10).

Metal operas seem to be the order of the day. This year has already seen the second installment of Virgin Steele’s metal epic The House of Atreus. Steamhammer has released Nikolo Kotzev’s Nostadamus, and Magna Carta has released Leonardo: The Absolute Man. So what does Avantasia bring to the concept of Metal opera? Well in reality Avantasia is something more like a Power Metal Who’s Who album. It is the brainchild of Edguy vocalist Tobias Sammet which involves guest vocalists and musicians from some of the most popular Power Metal bands out there. It features Henjo Richter of Gamma Ray and Jens Ludwig of Edguy on guitars, Markus Grosskopf of Helloween on bass, and Alex Holzwarth of Rhapsody on drums. Now if that doesn’t get your blood pumping, then maybe knowing that guest vocalists include Kai Hanson, Rob Rock, David DeFeis, Timo Tolkki, Andre Matos, and Sharon Den Adel will get you interested. If you don’t recognize any of these names, then go to www.lamebizkit.com, because you don’t know jack about Power Metal. Anyway, elements of each of the bands represented can be heard on this record due. From start to finish The Metal Opera is a work of class, skill, and finesse. The assortment of musicians and vocalists on this album lends a certain air of confidence in their performance, sort of like an all star team. For that reason I see no reason to say much more about it. It really speaks for itself.

BLIND GUARDIAN

“And Then There Was Silence” (2 tracks. 17:49).

I almost crapped my pants when I saw this because I thought it was the new full-length from Blind Guardian. Alas it is not, but it is the next best thing: it is a teaser! It contains the 14+ minute epic song, “And Then There Was Silence”, a shorter track “Harvest of Sorrow”, and a concert multi media track for your computer of “Imaginations from the Other Side”. Both of the new tracks are classic Blind Guardian songs. They demonstrate why this band takes such long periods between albums; that is, they do a first rate job. As they are one of the highest regarded classic metal bands in Europe, I assume that they only feel like they need to exceed themselves in excellence. Thus, if the rest of the album due out next year sounds along these lines, they may have truly exceeded Nightfall In Middle Earth. I wait impatiently for that CD to be released.

Blind Guardian

"Tales from the Twilight World"(10 tracks. 44:33).

I am obviously working backwards here . . . My first BG album was “Nightfall in Middle Earth”, their latest. My next one was “Somewhere Far Beyond”, which is their fourth. This one is their third and I got it the same time I got “Imaginations from the Other Side”. So, my observations may possibly have a different slant than some of those who’ve been listening to BG over the years. I am obviously a newer fan, but I am definitely a fan. I guess I am just hindered by being located in North America where BG have not gotten a fair break. Maybe that will change soon.

It seems to me to be a phenomenon that different scenes around the world create a sound or “vibe” that becomes associated with that region. Not surprisingly, each of those scenes have a pool of musicians that share duties in various bands and make mutual guest appearances. In Gothenburg Sweden you have the Dark Tranquility/In Flames/Hammerfall etc. connection. Well, Blind Guardian also has a similar brotherhood. I’m referring to the relationship they have with Kai Hanson (ex-Helloween, Gamma Ray, Iron Savior) and Piet Sielck (Iron Savior) just to name two. Those relations go back at least as far as this album. And it has continued on through to this day. Incidentally, if you get the first Iron Savior album you’ll notice that Hansi Kursch does vocals there—his finest work in my opinion.

Okay, so now you’ve read the long introduction. I mention Iron Savior and Gamma Ray because obviously there is a lot of similarity between these bands and Blind Guardian. The main differences are that Blind Guardian’s lyrics focus on fantasy themes, mostly from The Lord of the Rings and Iron Savior focuses on the story line by the same name. As expected, many of the songs on this CD are based on the Lord of the Rings, especially the song, “Lord of the Rings”. While “Somewhere Far Beyond” is my favorite by BG, and “Nightfall in Middle Earth” is their most lush offering, there is nothing here that will disappoint. From the opening notes of “Traveler in Time” this album charges out in a lightening attack of Power Metal whose hooks will sink into your flesh and not let go. The songs are memorable, especially “Welcome to Dying” and “Tommyknockers”. In “Lost in the Twilight Hall” BG diverges from their usual pattern to create a song that sounds like Nocturnal Rites with some Rob Halford screaches thrown in for good measure. The CD ends with a live version of “Run for the Night”.

To summarize, “Tales from the Twilight World” is perhaps the most aggressive album recorded by Blind Guardan.

Blind Guardian

“Somewhere Far Beyond” (13 tracks. 55:28)

Blind Guardian are kings among Classic Metal bands, and their recognition in the U.S. is well over due. Anyone who does not like BG have either not heard them or are musically “uneducated”. For about fifteen years now this band has been making some of the best metal in Europe and now Century Media is making that music available for purveyors of true metal here in the metallically starved U.S. They couldn’t have chosen a better band.

There are so many things to highlight about Blind Guardian’s music. First of all is the great guitar work. Much of what Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen play remind one of Iron Savior, Helloween, Gamma Ray, etc., i.e., high speed melodic Power Metal. But this is counterbalanced by a lot of acoustic guitar playing as well. For instance, the intro to track one, “Time What is Time” is a beautiful Spanish guitar piece which displays the exceptional talent of these two guitarists. Similar dazzling acoustic playing appears in places like the intro to “The Quest for Tanelorn” and “The Bards Song – In the Forest”.

Another highlight of this band is Hansi Kursch’s vocals. I think he is best described as a cross between opera singer and metal singer. To me—and you may think I’m crazy—Kursch is a Classic Metal version Meatloaf. He has a very unmistakable husky German voice and sings with a great deal of passion. Perhaps this is why Iron Savior had him sing vocals for them. Also, don’t miss his new side project with John Schaffar of Iced Earth called “Demons and Wizards”. Anyway, Kursch’s voice carries with it a real sense of urgency that catches the listener up in the fast parts and a softer side for the acoustic pieces.

A third feature worth noting about Blind Guardian is their use of melody and strong anthems. The best example on this CD is the song “The Quest for Tanelorn”. You’ll find yourself singing along when it is playing, and it’ll be echoing in your head when it isn’t playing. A fourth feature worth noting is that many of BG’s songs are directly or indirectly related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books. This is seen here on songs like “The Bard’s Song – The Hobbit” and the already twice mentioned “. . . Tanelorn” (do you get the impression I really like this song?). Finally, this re-issue features three bonus tracks: a cover tune called “Spread Your Wings”, “Trial by Fire”, and a different version of “Theatre of Pain”.

To finish off this lengthy review, let me say this, that Blind Guardian has quickly become a favorite band of mine. And this particular CD is getting a lot of play, though I have other CD’s to review. It comes heartily recommended.

Blind Guardian

"Imaginations from the Other Side"(9 tracks. 49:11).

This was BG’s most lavish production until they made “Nightfall in Middle Earth”. In my opinion it is much more commercially accessible than “Nightfall . . .” and a fine, fine album. Still very straight-ahead Power Metal, nonetheless, there are musical hints at what was to follow. The songs will have you singing along and pumping your fist in the air. Especially good are the title song as well as “The Script for My Requiem” and “Another Holy War”. The lyrical direction diverges on several songs on this album to address pseudo-religious themes, particularly “…Requiem” and “…Holy War”. Other fantasy/historical themes are addressed such as Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz in songs like “Imaginations From the Other Side”. Arthurian themes are addressed in “Mordred’s Song”. It is about King Arthur’s bastard son and nemesis, Mordred (duh!). This song is one of those “transitional” songs in my opinion which hint at “Nightfall . . .”. There are certainly other themes here but time will not allow me to flesh them all out in time for this review. But with more listens I will discover more of them. One thing is for sure, listening to this CD is more like looking through a kaleidoscope than a telescope. I may soon come to like this album more than “Somewhere Far Beyond”. It certainly deserves a place in the Heavy Metal Hall of Fame.

Blind Guardian

“Nightfall in Middle Earth” (22 tracks. 65:31 )

In this review I shall simply point out what makes “Nightfall in Middle Earth” different from “Somewhere Far Beyond” reviewed above. The main differences revolve around the story line. Whereas previous BG albums contain themes garnered from “The Lord of the Rings”, this CD focuses specifically on the tale in the “Silmarillion”, which was Tolkien’s fantasy version of the Creation and the fall of Satan. So, this album is much more a concept album than the others. Secondly, this album is less melodic and more straight ahead driving metal. Thirdly, nearly half of the 22 tracks are narration, excerpts from the book. Fourthly, one should notice the multi-tracking done by Flemming Rasmussen. Layer upon layer of sound pours out of the speakers and floods the listener’s ears. It will take several listens to take it all in. Finally, notice the catchiest song on this CD, “Nightfall”. It rules.

With this CD Blind Guardian has attempted quite successfully to surpass their previous works. It is another one that I believe belongs in the collection of all that claim to be followers of true metal.

BORKNAGAR

“Empiricism” (10 tracks. 50:08).

From their inception Borknagar have had some notable musicians in their line-up. But for me, each Borknagar album has been either hit or miss. Oystein Brun, the mastermind behind this band, strikes me as one of those restless musicians who alters the sound from album to album, and the revolving door of band members only seems to reinforce this opinion of mine—thought it might only mean something totally different. Borknagar is, in fact, a bit of a supergroup that shares members with such notable acts as Naglfar, Solefald, Spiral Architect, and of course, Vintersorg. Anyway, after many attempts to get into their previous album, Quintessence, I simply couldn’t. And I am probably the only person on this planet who couldn’t! Sorry, but that is simply the way it is. But anyway, this time around I was immediately into the album. Maybe the addition of Vintersorg on vocals did it for me--I am a fan of his other bands/projects (Vintersorg, Otyg, Havayoth), but actually, I think it is because of the music. I find it absolutely enjoyable. Instead of being heavy on the progressive side, Empiricism contains a little more of that primal, Norwegian feel that I think Quintessence lacked. But then again, Vintersorg’s vocals are just icing on the cake. For me, Empiricism is the album I’ve wanted to hear from this band last time around, so I am pleased to recommend it to you.

Borknagar

“Quintessence” (10 tracks. 43:23)

I purposely delayed reviewing this CD for a while because I did not trust my first impressions. (This does not happen often with me). I felt like I was probably wrong, but alas, I am stuck with my first impressions. This new album by Borknagar is excellent as far as Norwegian metal goes. In fact, it is a great album. But in my opinion it is not distinguishable from Emperor’s “IX Equilibrium” on most of its tracks. Songs like “Rivalry of Phantoms” and “Colossus” sound especially like the last Emperor CD, right down to the vocals. The only tracks that stand out from the Emperor shadow are the two instrumentals and the last track. Both have an introspective, moody feel. One is “Inner Landscape” (2:50), a keyboard instrumental, and “Embers” (1:25), a guitar instrumental. The last track, “Revolt” is quite interesting and hard to classify, except to say that it also has an introspective feel. One could also argue that “Icon Dreams” faintly resembles the more folkloric style of metal, like an Amorphis song perhaps. In the end, I think Borknagar will have to do things somewhat differently if they want to be distinguishable from Emperor.

Let’s talk about the musical quality of this recording. Vocally, I.C.S. Vortex sounds comfortable with his multiple vocal personalities, sometimes harsh, sometimes baritone. The guitars are solid and well done. They are occasionally melodic, but mostly playing the typical high speed chaos that the Norwegian bands are famous for. The drums, provided by Asgeir Mickelson of Spiral Architect, are really the highlight of this CD. And the keyboards are very present, adding atmosphere, but not really dazzling. Overall, as I’ve stated above, this CD is quite good musically, but hardly distinguishable from current Emperor; not that that is a bad thing. I feel like many will disagree with my review, but what can I say? This may well be one of those “musicians albums” that are more appreciated by the experts than by us fans.

CANDIRIA

“300 Percent Density” (11 tracks. 64:05).

Now that Candiria have made it on to Century Media I get to hear what this buzz band is all about. My evaluation, of course, comes from hearing this CD only, and not their other critically acclaimed ones. So keep that in mind. Anyway, the word that constantly comes to mind while listening to this is “synthesis”. A synthesis, as you probably already know, is a combination of various elements into a new whole. Other words that embody this concept might be “amalgam” and “eclectic”. So my preliminary evaluation of Candiria based on a cursory listen is that their music is a synthesis of various musical elements, an amalgam which results in a more eclectic style of metal (it’s getting deep isn’t it?!). This is exactly what I heard Candiria would be.

From a different angle I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoy listening to this disc. NYC hardcore is not a style of metal I usually go for; the exceptions being Diecast’s recent bombshell, “Day of Reckoning”, and an interesting new release from All Else Failed called “Archetype”. Anyway, 300 Percent Density is a boundary shattering album that combines above average hardcore riffing with occasional jazzy parts, an ambient track here and there, and a few rap/hip hop tunes (“Words from the Lexicon” is a standout). The end result is a diverse and entertaining album that does justice, in my opinion, to the ecstatic praises this band has garnered so far. So if you are in the mood for something different, something intelligent (even the hip hop parts!), I recommend it.

CARNAL FORGE

“Please . . . Die!” (12 tracks. ).

Century Media are quite proud of this band. All the press sheets I’ve received on them from the last album, Fire Demon, and this one speak very optimistically about this band’s potential for greatness. Now if you are a skeptical reader like I am, you know that press sheets are supposed to hype a band, therefore you are not impressed. Well, I agree. I am not easily impressed, and frankly, I’m getting bone weary of this particular brand of Swedish death metal. But wait a minute! Once I get past the first song an amazing transition takes place. You know what? Carnal Forge may just be a little more diverse than I recall. I hear some older Entombed and possibly even some older Sepultura death/thrash influence (i.e., pre-Roots era). And man is this heavy! Since three members of the band work at a mental hospital, I imagine they play in this band for their own therapeutic purposes!

Carnal Forge

“Firedemon” (12 tracks. 34:49).

Well as always Sweden is quite the hub of Metallic activity. 2000 has been an exceptional year in my opinion for that scene. It is getting to where the sound is a bit predictable, but I’m not complaining as I take a fancy to it. Carnal Forge is yet another Death Metal band with that characteristically Swedish—spell that, GOTHENBERG--sound. But let me point out that I’m not sure if they are actually from the Gothenberg area. Whatever the case, they certainly remind one of many of those bands. They also bring to mind that English band where their name doubtless came from, Carcass (remember “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork?).

Carnal Forge sound a lot like The Haunted with Carcass’ speed. Of course, The Haunted sound kind of like Carcass too. (Hey, did I mention At TheGates? Let’s throw them in here too). Anyway, Carnal Forge have that sound, but they play hyper fast and never—and I mean NEVER—let up. With song titles like “Firedemon”, “Too Much Hell Ain’t Enough For Me” and “A Revel in Violence”, you know that this album is a non-stop blitzkrieg of Metallic fury. You must be brave to buy this album for, after hearing it once, you may need to lay down.

Cryptopsy

“And Then You’ll Beg” (9 tracks. 39:01).

I will once again confess to being the rookie. I remember all the raves about Cryptopsy’s previous album, Whisper Supremacy, but have never heard it nor their earlier work. So, my review of this album may not satisfy all of you who’ve been listening to Cryptopsy for a while. However, I will do my best to do justice to this new album, a veritable roller coaster ride through the bowels of Hell!

I like everything about Cryptopsy pretty well except the vocals. Actually, I don’t hate the vocals, they just don’t stand out as being different. They are the typical deep-throated (oops!) vocals that bark out the lyrics. But musically—man, these guys play fast! But speed isn’t everything, and I think everyone can agree on that. Fortunately there’s more to this album than just speed. It’s all about riffs and variety, a rare combination in Death Metal. Maybe that’s why I get bored with the traditional Death Metal coming from here in North America, it tends to be one long droning noise with blast beats. Here, the riffs take you by surprise and I suspect there is something of a thrash band hiding just below the surface of those gutteral howls. For this reason I’m certainly more interested in Cryptopsy than most of the Death Metal bands from around here. Now you, the reader, take what I’ve said and relate it to your own personal taste and then judge for yourself if this is the kind of CD you are interested in. But if you are a big time Death Metal fan, I have no doubt this one will become a favorite of yours.

Dark Tranquility

“:.::haven” (11 tracks. 43:05).

Here’s another candidate for Metal album of 2000 from Gothenburg: the other being In Flames’ “Clay Man”. It seems that the Gothenburg sound has evolved a bit with these two groups. That’s not surprising, but what I am amazed by is how they seem to be moving towards a sound that is reminiscent of Paradise Lost’s “Icon” album. Nothing wrong with that, “Icon” was my pick for best Metal album of 1993. Of course, that is the only truly great album that Paradise Lost ever did, but let’s hope for better things from the Gothenburg groups. Of these two, Dark Tranquility’s “:.::haven” has much more of a PL vibe than does In Flames.
“:.::haven” begins with a very moving song called “The Wonders at Your Feet” which sets the tone for the whole CD both lyrically and musically. A sense of melancholy and pessimism seems to pervade this album. Disappointment, frustration, and other such emotions ooze from each song. At times the music is powerful, other times it is subdued. Once again, the parallels to “Icon” are uncanny, just compare “Ego Drama” or “Feast of Burden” to PL’s “Forging Sympathy”, “Colossal Rains”, or “Weeping Words”. I should hasten to mention that Dark Tranquility’s latest doesn’t sound like an attempt to emulate any band, PL included. If anything, I’d say that both bands had the same emotions or inspiration in the production of these two seminal works. Paradise Lost is definitely more based on melody, while Dark Tranquility plays very tight rhythms. Of course, PL has tight rhythms and DT have melody, but these elements are not wholly identical in both bands. Another thing, Dark Tranquility have simply put out more great albums than Paradise Lost.
I shouldn’t finish without mentioning the “electronics” provided by newcomer Martin Brandstrom. His work totally embellishes the overall sound of this album. It is obvious that the band found the right guy to plug into this spot. So from start to finish, this album is really strong. It will be interesting to see if I’m right about either this one or In Flames’ “Clay Man” getting high rankings in the voting for Metal album of the year. Viva la Gothenburg!

EBONY TEARS

“Evil as Hell” (8 tracks. 40:11).

Short, sweet, and to the point—well, short, but not to the point, and definitely not sweet at all! Not this ascerbic platter of acidic metal! Ebony Tears sound like a cross between At the Gates, And Justice for All era Metallica, and a little doomy touch a la recent Entombed or perhaps even Cathedral from whom their name is probably taken. Their music bears the markings of the heavy duty, kick ass Swedish brand of Death Metal from outside the Gothenburg loop. As can be expected, the riffs are crushing and the production is powerful. But be warned, the lyrics are intended to be offensive and likely to cause “politically correct” types to crap themselves. I don’t think they could have chosen a more appropriate title! Finally, this CD comes to us from War Music via Century Media.

Emperor

“Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk” (11 Tracks. 54:12.)

This CD is probably going to go down in history as the definitive Norwegian Metal album. Already it has sold a phenomenal number of units and Emperor have begun to receive attention in guitar magazines—when was the last time a true heavy metal band received attention in a guitar mag?
In one word, this disc is powerful. The arrangements are fast, symphonic, aggressive, polished, etc. At times the music is pure metal aggression, at others, like the intro "Al avartr”, there is a fanfare/classical feel. Keyboards soar throughout adding an ethereal element (keyboards are what make a lot of black metal so full). Though the styles are somewhat different, I’d say this disc is to Norwegian Metal what Tiamat’s Clouds album is to Swedish Metal. Like Emperor or not, you cannot deny that this is a classic.
One other thing, at the end of this CD is Video data track.

ENTWINE

“Gone” (8 tracks. 41:12).

Once again Century Media releases domestically a CD that would otherwise be a Spikefarm import. Entwine are, by my standards, a rock band, but their music is doubtless to be identified as Gothic. They are, of course, heavier than a lot of rock groups, but that melodic, keyboard enhanced style is a bit more commercial than, say, Crematory. In fact, Mika Tauriainan has a voice that could be heard on popular radio. It has a passionate quality which is usually lacking in a Metal band. All this is good in my opinion, because the usual gothic type band is getting really boring, really fast. They could legitimately be placed alongside Lacuna Coil or the Gathering. Underneath this commercial exterior is a sense of power, like In Flames making a pop album. But in reality, Entwine’s music is just good and categorizations like “gothic” or “metal” or “whatever” should be disregarded. It is very emotional, clean, clear; heavier than pop, more commercial than Gothenburg. In other words, a welcome breath of fresh, emotional air.

EYEHATEGOD

“Confederacy of Ruined Lives” (10 tracks).

EYEHATETHEIRSTUPIDNAME! Somehow I feel this is all some sort of joke, some sort of Spinal Tap or Hellhammer kind of joke. From the name of this, their latest disc, to the song titles (e.g., “Jack Ass in the Will of God”, “Inferior and Full of Anxiety”), to the member descriptions (e.g., “Jim Bower – paranoid disorientation and off-balance motor disturbance), and so on, it all seems like these guys are just a bunch of Louisiana rubarbs playing Doom flavored, dissonant, feedback filled, punk influenced sludge Metal. But then again, I could be wrong. Maybe they do hate God and they are the losers they claim to be. In any event, EYEHATETHEIRSTUPIDNAME. I’m just trying to understand if this is a philosophical statement, or just a name which will draw attention to themselves. Whatever the case, it hardly seems to describe the music they make.

Actually, I was kind of looking forward to this one because I love Doom Metal. The track from the Identity 6 sampler seemed very promising. Musically I really dig about half of this CD. The first 6 tracks sound like the guys in the band are Trouble fans with a punk rock singer. The music is swingin’ and groovin’ and trippin’, occasionally slipping from the early Trouble sound into a more early Cathedral style groove; but then with track seven the tunes get really redundant redundant and the feedback annoying. I realize the Louisiana scene has a tendency to be heavy and sludge-oriented, but these guys borderline on a very slow paced Hardcore from time to time, and that’s a bit more than I can take.

Well, I’m not God, but I’m sure he wishes they had chosen a better name. EYEHATETHEIRSTUPIDNAME

FINNTROLL

”Jaktens Tid” (13 tracks. 45:22).

I think one of the best things Century Media has done this year is license the releases coming from Spinefarm/Spikefarm in Finland. Somehow the people all over Lapland seem to either be blessed with exceptional musical talent, or they have such a sense of competition that they are driven to greatness. If Sweden has become known for a variety of quality musical styles (e.g., Gothenburg, Classical Metal, etc.), Norway has been known for only one, the extreme style of black metal. And while Finland has never been silent, it seems that now that land has begun a musical explosion of its own. In terms of musical styles, it seems that the Fins more resemble their Swedish brothers in terms of variety. But in the case of Finntrolz, I would have to say they have added their own unique slant on what is otherwise known as, Norwegian Black Metal.

Imagine what atmospheric, folk-oriented black metal would sound like if it incorporated the syncopated, upbeat style of European folk music. Think Dimmu Borgir playing polka, or a Finnish version of Morgenstern. Or better yet, Nokturnal Mortum without the extremist leanings. Actually, though, the music isn’t all that different. The upbeat, folkish, polka style is does not represent all the music on this disc, it is only what makes it distinctive from other such bands. Like some of the aforementioned bands, Finntroll also make use of a choir and various non-metal instruments such as the banjo. Jaktens Tid is a very strong album, in my opinion, and it represents Finland well to the Black Metal community. So while the Norwegian bands are beginning to mimic each other too much, Finntrolz offer their own brand of black metal.

The Forsaken

“Manifest of Hate” (10 tracks.).

Though small in population—and the insistence by the natives of a tiny Metal scene!—Sweden continues to be the source of much powerful Heavy Metal. The Forsaken, a new find for Century Media as well as the rest of the world, take the route of Swedish Death Metal. With that statement, of course, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. First off, The Forsaken sound like a blending of At the Gates (Slaughter of the Soul especially) mixed with a little Testament and Morbid Angel. The At the Gates comparison isn’t surprising to anyone anymore as they are/were the “standard” for Swedish Death Metal. But the mixture of Testament and Morbid Angel provides somewhat of a “breath of fresh air” in a genre where imitation is getting a little tiring. What more can I say? Crisp production, catchy riffs, and plenty of kick-ass attitude. I can’t imagine any big time fan of Swedish Death Metal not hyperventilating over this band.

The Gathering

“if_then_else” (11 tracks. 52:47).

It’s no secret that theGathering is more a rock band than Metal band. But what’s important about this band is not their heaviness but their appropriateness. The Gathering is a band that exemplify the “Heavy Metal Mindset” even though their music has strayed from that course. That mindset is simply this: to create music that satisfies the artistic compulsions of the band regardless of what is popular or trendy. The fact is, their music could be easily passed off as alternative and played on radio stations, but their music doesn’t really sound like much of today’s trendy alternative music, though one could reasonably put Anneke in a category with Sarah McLachlan, only with more intense music. It even seems possible that the Gathering could be placed alongside some of the acclaimed rock bands of Europe like U2 or the Eurythmics. Only the Gathering aren’t that commercial.

Call me a monkey, but I can’t help thinking of the Eurythmics as I listen to this CD. I suppose Metal purists will find this revelation revolting, but a purist of that sort wouldn’t listen to the Gathering anyway. Of course, the Eurythmics are more dance oriented and rely heavily on keyboards, but the spirit of some of their more ethereal music can be felt in songs like “Amity” and “Analog Park”; especially “Amity”. The overall mood of this CD is dreamy, but the tone is serious. There are some very clever political statements—both over and covert—in songs like “Shot to Pieces”, “Colorado Incident” and so on. There are some upbeat tunes on this CD. The first is the opener, “Rollercoaster.” Other songs, like “Herbal Movement”, are intense but understated. The CD closes out with the beautiful lullabye “Morphia’s Walz”, and then the ambient track, “Pathfinder”.

The Gathering are the only group of their kind on Century Media. In terms of pure talent, the Gathering are a great band. They deserve to be heard. They certainly fit under the “musically correct” category. I’ll also admit to liking the Eurythmics and especially U2. Variety is the spice of life. And though I am dedicated to Metal first and foremost, I really enjoy a musical diversion such as the Gathering. If you have a bad impression of rock/alternative because of the crap that gets played on the radio—great music seldom gets airplay—then you need to hear some good stuff. This is it.

HASTE

“When Reason Sleeps” (11 tracks. 38:15).

Cool title. If the constant evolution and melding of Metal styles were ever to lead to a sort of Progressive Hardcore, this would be it. No doubt Haste belong in the hardcore category, but it is also true that their music contains elements of progression absent from many of the “hey, let’s scream our lungs out like idiots and dress like wannabe hip hop stars” kind of hardcore bands. Add to that thought provoking lyrics and song titles, some post-modern art on the cover, and you have an innovative new sound. Personally I would prefer Haste to lean closer to the Death Metal side of hardcore than they do, but they certainly don’t sound like the tired old bands that bore me to tears. Occasionally they even incorporate some alternative sounds. Honestly this isn’t my cup of tea, but rather than disparage something simply because of my own personal taste, I recognize the originality contained herein and recommend it to those who are inclined to embrace it.

GOD FORBID

“Determination” (11 tracks ).

Century Media is right to be heavily promoting this band. They are exceptional, a great find. But I don’t want the potential buyer to get the idea that God Forbid are strictly a hardcore band. If they were I doubt I would have paid them much attention. Listening to this disc quickly draws comparisons to such diverse bands as Shadow’s Fall, Testament, Ethereal Scource (anyone remember them?), and perhaps Earth Crisis. While songs like “Determination pt. I” have a definite hardcore feel, their sound is really based on some chunky thrash rhythms and accented by some very impressive lead guitar work by Dallas and Doc Coyle who are simply unbelievable. Few hardcore bands possess that kind of talent! Speaking of chunky rhythms, these guys have laid down some of the best riffage North America has seen in a long, long time. Drummer Corey Pierce holds it all together with a steady diet of blast beats and syncopated pounding. He is certainly no newcomer to the field. And of course, don’t leave the bassist out. John Outcalt is compared on the slipcase to Geezer Butler and Cliff Burton. This comparison seems justified. Outcalt’s bass work is not obscured in the mix, nor is it a copy of the guitar riffs, but it is the work of someone who understands the role of bass and does it well. If you think I’m just gushing over this band you simply have not heard them. In two weeks I’m going to see them open for Nevermore and Opeth and I believe that God Forbid may well steal the show. Believe me or not, there’s just one way to find out: listen for yourself. It’s going to be a candidate for top ten albums of the year. I guarantee it.

ICED EARTH

“Horror Show” (11 tracks. 60:35).

Iced Earth will never be guilty of making a bad record in my opinion, they are just too good. Alive in Athens was like icing on the cake. But I must say that the build up over this record—endless buzz from the label which made the wait seem short—has left me a little deflated. I guess the problem is with my expectations, but as a fan I’m sure my expectations count for something. So as I analyze this album I must also analyze my own reasons for not going wild over it like I thought I would.

First, the music sounds a little too familiar. By now the formulas are pretty standard: galloping thrash tunes with the occasional melancholy ballad. I guess I expected the change in subject matter to be reflected in some musical experimentation. You know, the subject of monsters accented by creepy music: a pipe organ intro here, some shrieks there, a ghoulish laugh maybe. Not so. It just sounds like another Iced Earth album. And like I said, by now the formulas are pretty standard.

Secondly, as a fan of horror, I guess I’m subject to a bit of “knitpickyness” (if there is such a word). But that is a personal problem I’ll have to deal with!

I don’t mean to disparage this album. I think it has some high points. Those high points are the first, second, and fourth songs. First is the tune “Wolf”. While it is a “case in point” typical Iced Earth song, it is the one song on this CD where the typical Iced Earth format seems to fit the lyrics. “Damien” is second. It is the one song on this disc that seems to take a different musical direction for the band. I think it is the second best song here. Fourth is the best song of all—and one of Iced Earth’s best ever—“Ghost of Freedom”. It is the one song I can’t seem to link with a movie, but it is about a second generation patriot, a boy whose father died fighting for liberty. The father lingers on in the form of a ghost that only the son can see. The boy wants to tell others of the sacrifice his father made for liberty. What is cool about this song is that while on the surface it has the makings of a ghost story, it is really a reminder to Americans of the sacrifices made by our forefathers. It is a reminder that some people died for the belief in freedom. And I believe this is a song which could get the band some notoriety outside of their usual fan base; that is, if people can accept the fact that it appears on an album entitled “Horror Show”. This is a song which could have a video similar to Metallica’s “One”. I guess the burden would be to convince both Century Media and MTV/VH-1 that it is a great idea. Anyway, I really like this song a lot and like I said, it is a bright spot on what is otherwise a hum drum album.

Iced Earth

“Alive In Athens” (Disc One: 10 tracks. 65:44) (Disc Two: 12 tracks. 64:47)

America’s answer to Iron Maiden proves here that they are just as tight in concert as they are in the studio. It is utterly amazing to me that two guitar players can play the kind of music Iced Earth plays in synch with each other. The tight, semi-thrash rhythms would not be so well executed by just any combination of guitarists. Frankly, a lot of bands have only one guitarist because of the difficulty of playing together. But here Schaffer and Tarnowski play like the seasoned pros they are. Just check out tunes like “Travel in Stygian”, “Vengeance is Mine”, and “Stormrider” and tell me I’m wrong. On the other end of the musical spectrum, the more mellow tracks like “I Died for You” and “Last December” sound just as smooth as on the studio albums. In short, the musicianship in this band is quite exceptional as this CD demonstrates.

The crowd is really into the band too. You can feel the excitement of that Greek audience as you listen to “Alive in Athens.” Listen as they chant out the song titles and sing along. On songs like “Melancholy” and “A Question of Heaven” the crowd sounds almost like a choir in the background as they sing back up. Very impressive. Matt Barlow’s vocals are not weakened or raw as some vocalists sound in a concert. Instead he comes through strong in the more than 2 hours of music here. And speaking of which, 2 hours of music from two sold-out shows of 5,000+, a STRONG performance, and a single CD price means you’d be a fool not to get this CD. If you are a fan of Savatage, Jag Panzer, or any of the few but very good American Classic Metal bands, you should try Iced Earth out with this CD—it could easily have been called, “Best of Iced Earth Recorded in Front of a Maniacal Crowd!”. It will delight and amaze you..

IDENTITY SEVEN

(19 tracks. 79:51).

Century Media’s yearly compilation is always highly recommended. For one thing, they have great bands. Secondly, because they are a first rate company (I am basing this statement on my personal experience in dealing with labels). Thirdly, the compilation is only $3.98 and saves you from spending a lot of money on CD’s you will not like. Fourth, you may just discover a new favorite band. This time around includes: Iced Earth, Krisiun, God Forbid, Haste, Cryptopsy, Candiria, Skinlab, Stuck Mojo, Jag Panzer, Onward, Lacuna Coil, Tad Morose, Nevermore, …And Oceans, Sigh, Scar Culture, The Forsaken, Carnal Forge, Eyehategod. So if you’ve been wondering about any of these bands but have been afraid of forking over the dough, here’s your chance.

IMPIOUS

“Terror Succeeds” (10 tracks. ).

Finally, a Swedish Death Metal band that doesn’t sound like Gothenburg or Stockholm. Mind you, I do like a number of Gothenburg and Stockholm bands, but every new band that comes along in one of those categories sound too much alike. But this band . . . you may not even realize they are from Sweden by the sound of their music. Impious play an ultra-heavy, semi-thrash, riff-friendly style of Death Metal which has a bit of the 80’s preference for riffs and the 90’s preference for brutality. While Impious is as technical as In Flames or Arch Enemy, they don’t play melodic solos. I’m not saying they are better because they are different, I’m only saying that it IS better that they are different. And in terms of Death Metal, Impious sound something like a cross between Extol (NOR) and Quo Vadis (CAN). Terror Succeeds is licensed by Century Media from Black Sun Records in Sweden.

IN THY DREAMS

“Highest Beauty” (10 tracks. 31:59).

Can you say “At the Gates?” In Thy Dreams are, after all, a Swedish death metal outfit. And from start to finish it is obvious who their main influence is. You could disagree and say I am wrong, of course, but you would have a tough time convincing me of that. Either way, I am debating whether to be critical of another band copying that well-attested sound, or congratulate In Thy Dreams for being one of the few bands to rise to the same level as At the Gates. I guess for me the negative side is that this kind of Swedish death metal is getting to be so common that it takes the joy out of it. In Thy Dreams is actually probably better than a lot of the other Swedish death metal CD’s I’ve gotten this year, but I’m so burned out on it I’m not sure I can honestly give them a fair review. Suffice it to say that In Thy Dreams, whose name also has three syllables like At/the/Gates, are an obviously talented band with a real familiar vibe on War Music, the label who brought us Arch Enemy and In Flames, and licensed in America to Century Media.

Jag Panzer

“Thane to the Throne” (17 tracks. 64:35).

Were someone to ask me what makes a really good Heavy Metal album, I would describe something like this one. I love epics. I really get into bands that can carry a story through an album and make interesting music. That must explain why I like bands like King Diamond, Virgin Steele, and others. This album also makes me proud. As an American, groups like Jag Panzer take away the embarrassment many of us feel at the lack of good metal from our country. You could probably count on two hands the number of really good classic metal bands from the U.S. (Jag Panzer, Virgin Steele, Iced Earth, Kamelot). Like I said, bands like this one allow me to raise my head.

Many know that Jag Panzer have been around for a while and are also aquainted with their style of music. Basically, they play the classic twin guitar metal which is very beefy. The vocalist, Harry Conklin, has a very dramatic flair, kind of like Paul Stanley doing a Bruce Dickenson imitation. But Jag Panzer do have their quiet moments too. Take “Banquo’s Final Rest”, “The Prophecies (Fugue in D minor)”, “Requiem for Lady MacBeth”, and “The Downward Fall”. Of these four mentioned, the two middle ones feature lots of violins, as do some of the heavy songs; and the last one, “The Downward Fall”, is an incredible Flamenco style acoustic guitar piece. Very impressive.

Finally, this CD is a metal milestone in that it is the first—to my knowledge—heavy metal adaptation of Shakespeare, being a concept album retelling the story of MacBeth. With heavy metal’s interest in swords and knights and other medieval themes, MacBeth makes the perfect choice for adaptation. Kudos to the metal veterans of Colorado.

KALMAH

”Swamplord” (8 tracks. 36:14).

Here’s another Spikefarm release licensed to Century Media for American distribution. Once again, we are the winners due to this alliance. Kalmah hails from Finland and plays a brutal form of melodic metal that is comparable to Children of Bodom mixed with Swedish death metal. In fact, I’d say their music is a perfect balance between the two. And if the comparison I just made is any indication of their style, then you can believe that Kalmah’s musical abilities are commensurate with the aforementioned bands. From open to close, Swamplord is a barrage of heavy duty riffs and melodic solos. There is also some supportive keyboard work throughout, but it is subservient to the guitars. If you choose to purchase this release you can expect to be pummeled, abused, and entertained all at once. Not bad for a debut album.

KRISIUN

“Ageless Venemous” (10 tracks. ).

Ageless Venemous? How about Kickus Assus? So the Brazilian Death/Speed monsters with the inhuman drummer greet the new millennium (as of 01,01, 01) return with another tight, aggressive album that is the Heavy Metal equivalent to throwing gasoline on a fire. Obviously they decided this time to turn the amps up to 11! I’ve never seen these guys in concert, but it must be insane watching them, because it is mind-boggling just to hear their music. This latest release of theirs once again demonstrates what the combination of blinding speed, catchy riffs, and insane blast beats can do with extreme Death Metal. And what a refreshing sound it is in light of the barrage of Swedish Death bands we’ve been inundated with. Not only so, but to create a more unique sound, the band even recorded this time in their home country of Brazil. The result: a fresh sounding, aggressive Death Metal album that takes Krisiun’s characteristic sound to an even more confident level of proficiency. The one draw back about this album is that the blast beats are so fast and so continuous as to be almost monotonous. That is, if it weren’t so impressive that a human could actually do that!

LACUNA COIL

“Unleashed Memories” (15 tracks. 70:24).

In my opinion Lacuna Coil are the top band of an emerging style of music that seems to cross the boundary between Metal and alternative. What to call it? I don’t know. But it is beautiful and dreamy. Another band that fits into this nameless genre is the Gathering. Both bands are quite good and highly acclaimed. But Lacuna Coil is definitely my personal fav.

Unleashed Memories is as strong an album as one could hope for. It contains powerful melodies—melodies that were not just patched together, but melodies which subtly attach themselves to your subconscious. Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, while the combination of sweet female and baritone male vocals is not unusual these days, seem to transcend the expectations of what that combination sounds like in other Metal bands. Translation: they have distinct voices that just sound good both together and individually. As to the music, while it is very present, it seems to work more as a unity than a collection of instruments. My old band director in middle school told us that a great band doesn’t sound like a collection of instruments all playing at the same time, it sounds like one instrument. This describes Lacuna Coil well and it explains why they are so highly acclaimed. The total package, then, is a very musically satisfying disc.

Two more things: One, the lyrics are touching because they are not written in order to impress anyone with their “metal attitude”. Instead, they are just mature, grown up lyrics that reflect on life. Perhaps LC and the Gathering are the Metal version of “Adult Contemporary”. Secondly, though the sleeve lists only 10 songs, my disc has 15. I found out that these are the tracks to Lacuna Coil’s “Half Life” E.P. which was never released in the U.S..

LULLACRY

“Be My God” (11 tracks. 43:05).

In as late as the final quarter of 2001, it still seems that this new millennium is a golden time for all types of Metal. It also seems to me that some of the forms of metal are taking on a more mature sound. That being said, a name like Lullacry and a title like “Be My God” may not exactly sound like “Adult Contemporary”, yet musically the band does sound very mature. I like Lullacry to a 21st Century metallic version of Pat Benetar or Lita Ford. Vocalist Tonya Nolastnamegiven, while she looks like a blonde version of Kim Goss, sounds like a newer incarnation of either Benetar or Ford—or both! With the current surge of interest in midstream (as in, not mainstream) metal, it is now time for a few female vocalists to emerge as the metal babes. And barring the return of Pat or Lita, Tonya will definitely fit the bill.

Tonya is backed up by a polished band. The rest of Lullacry is made up of the usual metallic entourage, i.e., two guitars, bass, and drums. But their music is also accented with keyboards and piano. Musically, they sound like Dokken minus the anthems. With the female vocals and the more serious approach, I feel that Lullacry represent a “growing up” of commercial heavy metal. And for that reason, I find that they have a lot to offer the fan of serious music.

MARDUK

“La Grande Danse Macabre” (10 tracks ).

I finally get to hear the evilest of the evil, Marduk. I’ve been really curious to hear this band as until now it is been nearly impossible to get their music here in the U.S. But that has changed due to a deal with Century Media. First off, they don’t sound like the raw, primitive band that I expected. Perhaps used to sound that way. But on this album their music is very calculated and features variable tempos—some blizzard fast, some slow and triumphant. They certainly have a good sense of song structure and the musicianship is very professional. But then again, they aren’t going after the Queensryche crowd, so don’t expect finesse! Characteristic of most Swedish Black Metal bands, Marduk have at least one foot planted firmly in the realm of Death Metal. Translation: this is Swedish Black Death Metal. And like practically all Swedish bands, they are very good.

I feel compelled here to comment on the subject matter. If you happen to see my collection, or just look at the reviews on this site, you’ll notice that I have a pretty good grasp on Black Metal. There are very few of the big Black Metal bands that I don’t have recordings from, and I also have quite a few of the smaller ones as well. Most of these bands level some pretty well-deserved criticisms against oppressive religious and politicals agencies. And occasionally what they consider blasphemous, or their critics consider blasphemous, would not offend someone like myself. Of course, it’s hard to take these bands too seriously. But in the case of Marduk it is different. It has been their point from the beginning to be utterly blasphemous. While I can appreciate the lyrical standpoints of several Dimmu Borgir and Mayhem songs, I cannot approve of songs like “Jesus Christ Sodomized”. Whether this is done “tongue-in-cheek” (no pun intended) or seriously, it is repulsive, especially to myself. Blasphemy has at least two forms: one is directed at Christians who are morons and the other is directed at God or Christ. Bands like Marduk and Cradle of Filth practice the second type of blasphemy, and that is just too far across the line. If you, the reader, find that laughable, so be it (or, “so mote it be!”). But I’m probably the only guy you know of who preaches every Sunday morning that has ever owned a Marduk album!

Interview with LEGION of

MARDUK

06/11/01

I have tried here to reproduce the conversation as closely as possible. Unfortunately, my recording equipment was not working, so I had to talk, think, and type all at once. I was further hindered by the fact that my familiarity with Marduk’s work is limited to the new album. The result is that this typed up review is much shorter than the actual conversation: Nevertheless, here it is: CRITICALTOM: Aren’t you guys from Sweden? I know so little about you because your previous work has not been available here.

LEGION: Yes. Osmose never got us started over there. Osmose is now suing [name deleted] because they realized she wasn’t doing shit . . . We found out we could take care of the business for ourselves.

CRITICALTOM: Here you are now with a licensing deal. LEGION: Yeah, we knew Metal Blade and Century Media were the best choices. We signed with Century Media.

CRITICALTOM: Your sound—at least on the new album—sounds more like Swedish Death Metal to me than the Norwegian Black Metal.

LEGION: It doesn’t really matter what people call it. Marduk will be Marduk. That’s pretty much what we will be. Black Metal is basically extreme music with satanic lyrics.

CRITICALTOM: Is this the sound you have on your earlier albums, or is La Grande Danse Macabre different?

LEGION: The previous album was full speed ahead. It was called Panzer Division Marduk. On that album we had only one drum pace-—like blast beating. In the past we have been doing all kinds of things. The new album is a combination of the different styles of the past. We altered the course so people wouldn’t say we had just become a grind band . . . Up here the style was getting to be kind of goth, so we decided to do something like Slayer did in the 80’s with Reign in Blood that just kicked ass. We wound up selling more copies of that album than our previous albums. CRITICALTOM: The press sheet says that you set out to produce the most blasphemous music ever experienced. I assume that refers to your lyrics more than the sound. I don’t consider any style of music particularly blasphemous.

LEGION: Yeah, exactly. That’s really funny with Christian Death Metal bands. That’s over my head. I don’t know how they can express their feelings with that kind of music. A message should go with a music.

CRITICALTOM: Well what is your opinion of In Flames or Dark Tranquility?

LEGION: I don’t really care about them. I met John of DT . . . Gothenburg has too much melody. To me they are almost Christian . . . I’m more interested in bands like Slayer, Possessed.

CRITICALTOM: What is/are the theme(s) of the new album?

LEGION: the new album has a concept: Death. Every song relates to death in some way.

CRITICALTOM: Do you have a vendetta? OR is it just the subject matter appropriate to the music.

LEGION: It feels very uplifting to say whatever we want to

CRITICALTOM: I assume you aren’t really the kind to sacrifice children or be drinking blood in the graveyard at midnight?

LEGION: No. To put it like this if the Devil would like to have somebody working for him, he rather have Donald Trump working for him than us or a few fifteen year olds.

CRITICALTOM: I just assuming you’ve been demonized by people because of your image.

LEGION: We’ve had trouble with Christians in Italy and Spain. Last time in Croatia it was crazy. We were on the front covers of several newspapers. In southern Germany we were asked to sign a contract not to play certain songs.

CRITICALTOM: You chose the king of the Sumerian gods for your name. Was that simply because it was a pagan deity, because Tiamat had already been taken (ha, ha), or do you take an interest in Sumerian mythology?

LEGION: We were all like into that. It is very hard to compare Sumerian mythology Marduk would be God. Also, Marduk is the guardian of Babylon.

CRITICALTOM: Would you explain a couple songs for me?

LEGION: “Bonds of Unholy Matrimony” is mocking Christianity, the downfall of the saints. “Jesus Christ”, and “Jesus Christ Sodomized” – that’s only one song. There was a mistake on the cover. “Obedience Unto Death” Something you believe in so much you would be willing to die for. It’s a strategy. We wrote that from a soldier’s perspective.

CRITICALTOM: I thought you had drawn the phrase “obedience unto death” out of Scripture. That’s where it comes from

At this point I must end. Legion and I had a very enjoyable conversation despite the fact that it was a little uncomfortable. My lack of knowledge of their material made me feel unable to ask too many meaningful questions. Secondly, I wanted to understand the mindset of a guy who is willing to blaspheme Jesus Christ directly when so many other bands will simply aim their vitriol at the hypocritical church. While I am all to willing to allow for criticisms of the church—something I do quite well myself!—I am very uneasy with a band that can have song/album titles like “Fuck Me Jesus” and “Jesus Christ Sodomized”. Despite this fact, we both spoke candidly and the tone was always friendly in my opinion.

Mayhem

“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” ( 8 tracks. 48:58).

Mayhem, in my opinion, are a lot like Microsoft: they put out their product before they worked out all the bugs. The sound is something like Hellhammer (pre-Celtic Frost) without the tongue placed in cheek. (Uh, ironic that the drummer calls himself “Hellhammer”, isn’t it?). For these “long-time” Black Metallers whose careers date back to the middle 80’s, it seems ironic that it wasn’t until the end of the 90’s that they were able to record with a consistent line-up. This particular cd only contains two of the legitimate Mayhem members, Euronymous and Hellhammer. The vocals are handled by Attilla of Tormentor and Aborym. Frankly, I like him better with Tormentor than Mayhem. But there is a spark of Black Metal talent on this album, but it is raw. The obvious talent is Hellhammer. Euronymous is another story. What he had going for him was the image he conveyed. He conveyed the violence, the evil, the misanthropy of the most extreme arm of the Black Metal movement. And he met his end by the most extreme member of that arm, Varg Vikernes. Anyway, occasionally Euro will hit on a great crushing riff, but typically his playing is just rhythm or the single note “melodies” typical of Black Metal. What makes it entertaining is that the production is great and the guitar tone awesome. But if he were still alive today and playing in the band, it is likely that Mayhem would not enjoy the fame that they have been able to achieve because of his brutal death. Also, Blasphemer can play circles around Euronymous! All this said, the unholy, evil Black Metal purists prefer this incarnation of Mayhem to the new Mayhem. This is also aggravated by Hellhammer’s participation in various other projects like The Kovenant. Be that as it may, I occasionally play this cd for the nostalgia involved, as well as the pure, unadulterated assault of Black Metal.

Mental Home


"Upon the Seas of Inner Shores" (8 tracks. 37:24).
I had never heard Mental Home previous to this album. Since this is their fourth album, I think, it is even harder to judge which of the comments I've read or heard about them apply to older material, and which apply to this album. Oh, well . . .
To begin with, to say that this CD is atmospheric, moody, powerful, and aggressive is very accurate. It is all these things. I can readily hear why Century Media wants to get the word out. On the other hand, some of the other words, like "doomy" for instance, seem to mislabel the band. Of course, this is only my opinion, but frankly, I don't hear anything remotely doomy here. What I heard is a band that is leaning towards Progressive Metal in the vein of Voivod's "Angelrat" album. This is especially noticeable on songs like, "Eternal Moan" and "Against My Will". Once again, this is my opinion and you may think I'm crazy. Oh, well . . .
Musically, this band is very tight. They play extremely well together. The drummer, Igor Dmitriev, plays to accurately that at times he sounds almost like a drum machine. The keyboards really accent but also counterbalance the guitars, giving a very full feel and sound to the compositions.
To summarize, these guys play like they are all on the same page. I foresee that they will rise in popularity as long as they remain together and focused. Not everyone will "dig" this album, but it is definitely for those who like cerebral metal.

MOONSPELL

“Darkness and Hope” (11 tracks. 49:35).

You may lose whatever amount of respect you may have for me as a reviewer/critic when I say that Moonspell doesn’t move me. I’ve got nothing against them. They seem to be fine musicians. But their music just doesn’t move me. So the main purpose for this review is to let you the consumer know that Moonspell has a new album out. It is one of their most commercially accessible albums to date. And if you are a fan of Moonspell, then I predict you’ll really love this album. For me there is one bright spot to this CD. It is the cover of Ozzy’s “Mr. Crowley”.

NAGLFAR

“Ex Inferis” (5 tracks. 27:33).

I’ve heard great things about Naglfar and now I get to hear them for myself thanks to Century Media’s licensing of this release for North America. Take some of Norway’s coldest, fastest, and grimmest black metal and move it across the border into Sweden. Beef up the sound with a Swedish death metal production and voila, you have Naglfar. Around the edges you can add some keyboards in the background, and top it off with some Gothenburg like dual leadwork and you have an awesome sounding band. This E.P. contains two songs from their previous 7” “When Autumn Storms Come”, one is a cover of Massacre’s “Dawn of Eternity”, and two new tracks, “Of Gorgons Spawned through Witchcraft” and “Emerging from Her Weepings.” All I can say is that it is too short and I want more.

Nevermore

“Dead Heart in a Dead World” (11 tracks. 56:30). Interview below.

Yeah, I feel like that sometimes too. The title says a lot, doesn’t it? I was told that this album is something special and I have to heartily agree. Nevermore’s music is very passionate. Passionate, political, polemical—you name the adjective and it probably fits. This album played 2 times through before I even decided to take a break. It has taken many more spins since then and I have been truly moved.

You know, some bands piece four or five riffs together and call it a song; not so here. Musically, “Dead Heart in a Dead World” has a lot in common with Bruce Dickenson’s “Chemical Wedding.” Well, there are no William Blake references or paintings, but the musical style is of the same style and quality of that classic album (why can’t Maiden sound that good?---oops! Blasphemy!). I can just hear Bruce singing “Narcosynthesis”. Like the band behind Bruce, Nevermore have a way of playing dazzling HEAVY DUTY riffs while pulling off some beautiful melodies. They also have a knack for constructing passionate tunes where lyric and music compliment each other . Warrel’s vocals stir your heart as he sings such painful lyrics as “dissolve into gray as we disintergrate, are we ever free, or slaves to technology.” If existential angst was ever put into Heavy Metal, it is done here.

You know, it seems that there are some bands that just do better with one guitarist. And while it goes against my usual way of thinking, and I have no bones with the previous albums, Nevermore seems very organic and tight with Loomis handling all the guitar parts. Add producer Andy Sneap’s heavy handed production and you’ve got a tight guitar sound that you’ll remember after the CD has stopped playing.

Interview with Jim Sheppard of Nevermore.

Nightwish

“Wishmaster” (11 tracks).

Like Tad Morose, Nightwish has been notoriously hard to find in the U.S. It just so happens that Nightwish is one of those bands that would eventually have landed a U.S. deal of some sort anyway. Well, they certainly couldn’t have done any better than this. Also, it is great to see more females involved in Metal these days. Their soprano singing further elevates the greatness of what IS true Metal. Nightwish singer/soprano Tarja Turunen is a professionally trained singer as is obvious once you hear her rapturous voice. Her singing along with the excellent Classic Metal style of the music sounds a lot like a combination of Rain Fell Within and Sinergy, or perhaps Rhapsody with a full-time female singer. What more could I say than that? Nightwish is a top-notch Classic/Power Metal band with awesome production, great music, and inspiring vocals. It is beyond me how anyone could hear this and not be totally drawn in. Let me tell you, there is a reason all your friends have been telling you about this group: they kill. Now be smart and don’t let it pass you by.

Nocturnal Rites

“Afterlife” (10 tracks. 40:43)

Let’s create a little scale here: on one side is polished Classic Metal of the Swedish persuasion, on the other is gritty Power Metal, usually of a German persuasion. Previous to “Afterlife” I would say that Nocturnal Rites belonged with groups like Hammerfall and Stratovarius on the polished Classic Metal side. With this new release NR move to the right of the middle (no political implications here), closer to the Iron Savior/Angel Dust side. Whereas “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” and “The Sacred Talisman” were very polished, “musically correct” albums with a heavy emphasis on melody, “Afterlife” goes to the other end of the spectrum with a gritty, riff-heavy approach that allows them to do something successfully where very few bands succeed: reinvent themselves without really leaving their genre. New vocalist Jonny Lindkvist has a very clear but raspy voice—certainly sounds German! But I imagine that he can sing the old songs very comfortably. Guitarist Nils Norberg gets real sassy on this album displaying a great deal of confidence. Again, the emphasis shifts from playing catchy melodies to belting out some heavy duty riffs. The lead work shows a totally different side to Norberg, one that is equally impressive. The change from previous albums to here is comparable in my opinion to Trouble’s move from “Run to the Light” to “Trouble”. They were still technically Doom Metal, they were still awesome, but they were noticebly different. Same here. “Afterlife” is an excellent Power Metal album and will no doubt find its way into my CD players as often as the previous two. Now might be an excellent time for NR to do a live album combining material from this album with previous albums to solidify their sound in the minds of fans. Hey, here’s an idea: Nocturnal Rites and Blind Guardian on tour. Hey, I like it. What about a double concert CD featuring both groups? It would be an excellent combination. Anyone interested?

Nocturnal Rites


"Tales of Mystery and Imagination". (12 Tracks. 52:08). Exceptional Classic Metal from Sweden!!!

When I heard the song "Pentegram" on the ID4 Sampler (reviewed below) I knew I had to get this CD. Now that I have it and am listening to it I am totally satisfied. It should suffice for me to say that this is an incredible album and everyone should buy it but I guess you would like a little more info . . . Even for Century Media who has really talented bands this band is exceptional.
Nocturnal Rites play a highly polished, high speed, dual lead, neo-classical style of Metal with Operatic vocals, clean production, epic lyrics, solid rhythm, soaring melodies, anthemic style of music. These twelve cuts reveal one of the best Classic Metal bands to emerge in the resurgence of Classic Metal. What else can I say? If you could hear me raving . . . Oh well, it is from Sweden and that should tell you what a great CD it is. For fans of Savatage, Hammerfall, Lordian Guard, Lightmare, Seventh Avenue, etc.

Old Man’s Child


”Ill-Natured Spiritual Invasion” (8 Tracks. 35:19). NORWAY.

If you’ve read my review on OMC’s previous album “The Pagan Prosperity” I could almost say ditto here. Frankly, it isn’t very often that a band—or person in this case—follows up a strong album with another equally strong album. But that is what Thomas Rune (a.k.a., Galder) has done. What is most interesting about this is the fact that while the other two albums were performed by a band, this one is only performed by Galder and a session drummer. The main differences with this disc and the last one are two. One difference is that there are none of the baritone sections. Although I liked them on the last album I can’t say that this one suffers in any way. The second difference is an improvement in that Galder’s keyboard parts have more of a classical feel like you hear on Dimmu Borgir’s “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. Other than these two differences there is no compromising, weakening, or politically “correcting” in the music. In other words, this disc kicks serious butt! Now it is up to the Black Metal buying crowd to validate my opinion by buying this one.

Old Man’s Child

”The Pagan Prosperity” (8 Tracks. 36:32). NORWAY.

OMC exploded on the metal scene when Century Media re-released their debut “Born of the Flickering” (which I don’t have). This album has truly established them as a serious Black Metal contender (i.e., a band that can follow up a strong release with another strong one). The music on this disc is, in my opinion, at the head of the line of the evolving sound of Black Metal. Though bands like Emperor and Dimmu Borgir are getting the noteriety, OMC is probably a superior band. Unlike the earlier Black Metal bands like Dark Throne and Burzum which were rather bland sounding, OMC has a sound which is more of a hybrid sound that is both chaotic and classical. The crunching guitars are accenting in places by keyboards, powerful drums and singing which brings to mind At The Gates. Actually, At The Gates and Dimmu Borgir would be good bands to compare OMC to. One three of the songs there are some guest baritone vocals done by a J. Lohngrin Cremonese which really add a neat, majestic effect. They certainly sound much better than the vocalist for Moonspell in my opinion. No wimpy songs or ballads here, and not a moment of boredom.

Old Man’s Child

“Born of the Flickering” (10 tracks. 51:15).

I bought “Pagan Prosperity” and then got “Ill Natured Spiritual Invasion” as a promo and really became a fan of OMC. Those two CD’s are clearly Norwegian Metal that fits snugly between Emperor and Dimmu Borgir—of course, those in the know are aware of the fact that Galder is now a member of Dimmu Borgir. Anyway, I knew I just had to get this their first CD. The first thing to say is that there is no let down here even though I am working backwards. The other thing to say is that it is noticeably different from the aforementioned CD’s (I do not have their latest yet and am not able to relate it here). What is important for the sake of this review is that you know what makes this CD different from what OMC sounds like now. First off, the sound here is much more hybrid, a cross between Death Metal, Classical, and Black Metal. This is likely because of another difference, “Born of the Flickering” is more of a collaboration between Galder, then known as Grusom, and two other people. On tracks 1 and 5 Galder collaborates with Jarder on the music. Track 5, “Wounds from the Night of Magic”, is a beautiful classical guitar instrumental. And therein lies a third difference, the non-distorted classical guitar instrumental. This is partly handled by a guest guitarist. A similar instrumental appears unexpectedly as a tag onto track 8. The other collaborator is a person named Aldrahn. To my recollection Galder has handled all lyrics since. (But maybe I’ll go upstairs and look up the other two CD’s and find that I’m mistaken!). There are also female vocals in a couple of spots on this disc, another difference. So, in summary, this CD does resemble the OMC I am more familiar with, but it also has some clear differences. This is in no way a bad thing. I certainly give this CD high marks.

Onward

“Evermoving” (8 tracks. 38:02).

As 2001 is the year that Century Media is bringing some of Europe’s best acts to American shores, they continue to usher in a new Golden Age of Power Metal by also bringing some of America’s quality Power Metal acts as well. One’s first reaction is to notice how much Onward sounds like a German Power Metal band, but on subsequent listens I think it is reasonable to draw comparisons to mid-80’s Ozzy, especially the work done by Jake E. Lee. “The Kindness of Strangers” opens this album with a high speed Power Metal assault which conjures up images of “Bark at the Moon” to me. You might miss this since Ozzy isn’t singing and the subject matter doesn’t revolve around werewolves, nevertheless, one hears that same guitar style. At the same time, this song—and the others—are more mature works musically than what Ozzy does, and it also has a protracted, very slow ending. The next tune comes on and automatically one thinks of Blind Guardian. Anyway, my purpose here is not to tell you what each song reminds me of. It is only to give the potential buyer an idea of what to expect. This is hard to do with any originality considering all the Classic/Power Metal releases coming out these days. If all I say is that this is a Power Metal CD with killer riffs, screaming solos, tight production, and excellent vocals, you could easily say that I was describing 20 new CD’s (i.e., Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray, Iron Savior, Tad Morose, Elegy, Kamelot, Custard, and so on). One other comparison is appropriate. Remember Impelliteri? Guitarist Toby Knapp plays a really high speed guitar style which brings Impelliteri to mind. The promo sheet for this CD says that Knapp was interviewed in Guitar World Magazine when he was 18 as a “guitar virtuoso”. I’m not sure how long ago that was, but it is clear that he is certainly an incredible talent. Believe me, if you are into Classic/Power Metal with all the characteristic elements, Onward is definitely for you.

Rotting Christ

“Khronos” (12 tracks. )

It’s just me, I know it is just me, but I just don’t get it. And this isn’t my first attempt to hear this band. Unlike other reviewers, I refuse to say that something is no good simply because I don’t like it or don’t “get” it. So, let me just end by saying that this band’s new album will be available August 29 for anyone who is interested and will contain a video track for “After Dark I Feel”.

ROYAL HUNT

“The Mission” (13 tracks. 51:55).

In my opinion there are two kinds of progressive rock/metal band: awesome and boring. They are either feast or famine. In the case of Royal Hunt, it is definitely a feast, and I assume that Century Media intends to dine well on this band as they have signed them to a multi-album agreement through their native label, Majestic Music. I can’t speak for their five previous releases, but this one simply blew me away. Not at first so much as with every successive listen. There are a lot of bands with the chops to get signed to a label, but a band like Royal Hunt has the prowess to distinguish themselves as uniquely gifted among the plethora of mediocre bands. Honestly, not all the music on this album fits in the category of “metal”, but every song deserves to be called cool, catchy, and downright enjoyable. The only band that I think comes close to sounding like Royal Hunt are a Swedish CCM band from the 80’s/90’s called Leviticus (particularly their “Knights of Heaven” album). To conclude, RH are not an attitude band, nor are they a hair band. They simply rock!

Samael

“Eternal” (12 tracks. )

Is this the same band that produced “Blood Ritual” and “Ceremony of Opposites”? My how things have changed. But I must say that even though they have changed so much, I’ll be the goofball that actually likes the new music. One reason for this is that I’ve always liked the kind of cosmic techno-industrial music that Samael now seems to be playing—at least this isn’t death metal. The drums are programmed, the keyboards are very theatrical and totally immerse everything, and the guitars are mostly rhythmic. On top of all this, the vocals (Vorph?) are highly processed for a sort of spacey/gothic sound. The music on this album seems a hybrid of Circle of Dust mixed with Type O Negative and I don’t know what else. Again, it is very theatrical and, I think, cool. But I’m sure the Death Metal purists disagree. The 3-D fractal art on the cover seems to complement the music perfectly as do the lyrics. Song titles include “Year Zero”, “Supra Karma”, “Nautilus & Zeppelin”, “Infra Galaxia” and “Radient Star”. Certainly this CD would make a great soundtrack to a space movie. It is certainly internally consistent from art to song titles to lyrics to music.

SCAR CULTURE

“Inscribe” 13 tracks.

I think I heard them when they were called “Scrape”, but I don’t remember where or when. Nevertheless, I do detect a familiar note in their sound. While hailing from NYC, Scar Culture are clearly a brutal Death Metal band, not hardcore. Their non-stop, very abrasive metallic delivery makes them the American equivalent of Krisiun. I confess to having put this off because I thought it was hardcore. But as I have eventually started listening to it, I am really enjoying the brutal riffing. It is not another blurry Death Metal album where one song is indistinguishable from the others, it is a clearly discernable record. If you listen to this at home you won’t be able to sit still. If you listen to it in your car, you are likely to run over a pedestrian. So you’ve been warned. After all, it was produced by Billy Milano.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY INTERVIEW WITH SIGH

SIGH

“Imaginary Sonicscape” (10 tracks. 63:37).

There is no simple way to describe this music. It is no longer adequate to refer to it as Black Metal, for it paints too broad a canvas. At the same time, there are a couple other bands loosely labeled as Black Metal that also seem to have this sort of creative flair. I’m referring to …And Oceans and Korovakill. Whereas we don’t get to hear many Japanese Metal imports these days, one might get the impression that Japan doesn’t have much to offer in that area. Such an impression would be false, for if there were no other band in Japan than Sigh, Sigh would be more than enough.

Now the reader will understand that I do not have the earlier Sigh material. I was of the impression that they were a violent Black Metal band. Perhaps they were, but that is not evident here. On Imaginary Sonicscape Sigh have such a broad range of musical influences that the only adequate word to describe it is “eclectic”. These guys have taken some Black Metal influence and blended it with some 70’s pop sounds, free-form jazz, classical, and a touch of Gothenburg Death Metal (especially on “Dreamsphere”). But as a result of careful listening, I’ve come to the conclusion that this version of Sigh has to be a band of trained musicians, and not a group of adolescents who bought instruments in order to start a band. Nowhere on this disc is this fact more clear than on track five, “Impromptu (Allegro Maestoso)”. It is a piano piece that I suspect is a composition Mirai Kawashima may have written for a college class, though I do not know this as a fact. Anyway, Sigh are highly original, highly creative, and even inspiring. And yet having said all this, it still comes down to me having to say that you must hear it to believe it. Imaginary Sonicscape is going on my short list along with Korovakill’s Waterhells for album of the year.

SOLEFALD

“Pills Against the Ageless Ills” (9 tracks. 46:16).

Here’s another band that has made quite a buzz in Europe while remaining rather obscure in the U.S. Like many of you, I’ve read about them in magazines and wondered just how strange and different this band is. To begin with, while some black metal bands take the “evil” approach, Solefald waxes philosophic. Of course, with a name like that and album titles like Neonism and Pills Against Ageless Ills, one cannot escape such an obvious conclusion.

When I first put the CD in I found my self a little turned off—but only for a moment. To be sure, Solefald’s music is rather confusing and difficult to follow at first. But once you are accustomed to it, it is quite engaging. And while they are rightfully categorized in the black metal genre, I think it not inappropriate to draw some comparisons to Nevermore and Sigh. Both Cornelius and Lazare sing, so I’m not sure which is which, but one of them sounds a lot like Warrel Dane of Nevermore. Musically, the odd structures, coupled with the use of keyboards and slower, more melodic passages brings to mind the innovativeness of Sigh, but the philosophic bent and the vocals bring the Nevermore comparisons to mind. This is about as close as I think I can come in describing their music for you. I hope it helps.

Finally, there is a story to this record. It brings the imaginative, but rather pessimistic viewpoint of Nietzsche to mind. A cursory glance at the lyrics brings Thus Spake Zarathustra to mind, or perhaps Candide by Voltaire. Either way, you can expect to be challenged intellectually if you intend to familiarize yourself with the words. One would question the prudence of writing a song entitled, “The USA Don’t Exist” at a time like this. Aside from the grammatical mistake (it should say, “doesn’t”), whatever the message of this song, it is likely to be misunderstood. While the line, “today the Americans try to recreate Rome” is surely true, the sentiment of this song seems to condemn America’s fast food culture in preference to Europe’s nihilistic culture. I’m not sure that Old World elitism is justified in light of American pragmatism (hey guys, check out C.S. Pierce and John Dewey when reading philosophy, okay?). Further, without the help of the U.S., Norway would now be a Nazi state. That may seem like a dream to some black metal fanatics, but black metal is not the sort of thing Hitler would have approved of anyway. I am not just ranting because of this one song, nor am I simply riding on a wave of newfound American patriotism; I simply believe that artists should be called to account for what they write. And here, I disagree strongly enough to say something about it. America isn't perfect, but I think the tendency among leftwing fanatics to condemn all things American reveals nothing honorable about themselves. In fact, it would seem rather hypocritical for them to hope for any success here in the United States!

SONATA ARCTICA

“Silence” (13 tracks. 62:02).

This review can be relatively short. Simply put, Sonata Arctica create a similar mood and feel as the legendary Swedish band Europe, and fellow Finns, Stratovarius. For the fan of those two seminal bands no further recommendation is needed. But to those of you who are unfamiliar, Sonata Arctica play melodic classic metal with a very dramatic flair. This album in particular, has the sound and feel of a Shakespearean story set to classic metal. I liken it to Stratovarius’ “Destiny” album from just a few years ago. From the opening dialogue, spoken by one who sounds like Patrick Stewert of Star Trek, to the closing epic, “Power of One”, you feel like you are listening to the more proper, refined form of metal. You can expect balanced songwriting, impressive solos, tight musicianship, and awesome vocals, sung not screamed. Finally, Sonata Arctica, after making a name for themselves in Europe and touring with the likes of Rhapsody and Stratovarius, are available here in the United States for all fans of metallic perfection.

Stuck Mojo

“Declaration of a Headhunter” (14 Tracks. 43:04 )

I have to say in all sincerity that Stuck Mojo isn’t my “cup of tea.” That being said, I was intrigued as I read about this CD and listened to it as well. Stuck Mojo is a band that plays a style of music that borders on trendy, but surpasses the trendsetters in originality and skill. And certainly, the play circles around the competition.

What I find interesting about Stuck Mojo is their message. There is nothing politically correct about this CD! Such can be plainly understood in such tracks as, “A Lesson in Insensitivity,” “Hatebreed,” “Raise the Deadman,” “The Ward is My Shepherd,” and especially songs like “Give War a Chance” and “An Open Letter,” aimed directly at Jessie Jackson. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, but I am certainly more in agreement than disagreement. The world we live in—especially American society—has become so blinded to truth. We need albums like this one to challenge the status quo and give people a much needed KICK IN THE ASS. Now, as I said, SM are not my musical “cup of tea,” nor do I totally agree with everything they say, but I find them intriguing nonetheless.

Of course, fans of rap-core and heavy groove metal will love this album. The production is great and the guitars are very diverse. Also, there is the added element of bassist Dan Dryden’s clean vocals to provide counterpoint to Bonz’s gruff vocals.

Ulver

“Nattens Madrigal” ( 8 tracks. 43:57).
Though Ulver belong to a musical category that is rightfully called “an acquired taste”, Ulver are an even more acquired taste than the usual Primitive Black Metal band. “Nattens Madrigal” or “Madrigal of the Night” is about the weirdest and perhaps most avant garde of all Black Metal CD’s. Everyone should hear it at least once, but only for the reason that there has never been nor will likely ever be another CD like it. Not even Celtic Frost in their most bizarre incarnation, the “Cold Lake” album, could come near it. You know these guys are intelligent from the lyrics and notes found throughout this CD. The lyrics, like the title, are printed both in Norwegian and Olde English (uh . . kind of). They are dark and poetic and like the name of the band, make numerous references to the Wolf (Ulf and Ulver being Scandinavian variations on the word). You also know they are accomplished musicians, not from the violent, hyperspeed treble oriented electric guitar, but from the beautiful and complex acoustic passages that often interrupt. What else can I say? If your curiosity has been pricked I recommend you check it out. But I warn you, it IS an acquired taste!

Winter’s Bane

“Heart of a Killer” (Disc one: 10 tracks. 49:13) (Disc two: 12 tracks. 60:31)

Whoa—where was I in 1993 when this release first came out?! I am quite floored by how much I like this CD. A killer story (tracks 1-6), a killer guitarist, killer songs, and one fine vocalist (Tim “Ripper” Owens, now vocalist for Judas Priest). If that isn’t enough to impress someone, Century Media has re-issued this CD along with another disc containing a full concert based on the killer story and 3 demo tracks. That comes to a total of 22 tracks: 10 studio, 9 live, 3 demo.

Fans of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden will swoon for this CD. It is obvious from listening to this CD that when Judas Priest hired Owens they were looking for more than just a Halford imitation. I believe they chose him for his song writing talent and vocal flair. On the concert disc we hear a very seasoned sounding Owens, one that could fill Halford’s shoes well. Equal to the task was Lou St. Paul who is a fine guitar player. He and Owens made a great combination. The axework on this CD is very impressive and fits well into the Priest/Maiden genre.

The first six tracks on “Heart of a Killer” are a concept story that would make King Diamond envious. It is about a judge who sentences a serial killer to be executed, and then unknowingly receives the criminal’s heart in a transplant operation. The judge then begins to feel the murderous impulses of the dead man. Sounds like a 1960’s Hammer Film, huh? The cool thing about the live CD is that they used film clips between songs to tell the story in the concert. I’m sure it was something to witness. The live CD also contains one track called “Fear of Death” which is not on the studio album, and the three demo tracks are also not on the studio album. So, the combination of story, music, VOCALS, and almost two hours of music, both studio and live, makes this CD a great deal.

Various

“A Tribute to Judas Priest part 2: Delivering the Goods” (13 tracks. 68:46).

Everyone has their opinion of tribute albums. Usually I take no interest in them because the idea of brutal Death Metal bands playing King Diamond material seems rather asinine to me. However, when we approach the concept of a Judas Priest tribute with some respected bands in the same genre, I take notice. First off, there are several bands on this disc which either have or deserve to have their own tribute albums. So that in itself lends credibility to this release. I could describe every song on this CD but I think the best way to review it is to describe its highlights. First is Blind Guardian’s emotional version of “Beyond the Realms of Death” which renders the tune in a very “Imaginations from the Other Side” or “Nightfall in Middle Earth” sound. The song, of course, is still recognizable, but definitely with the Blind Guardian touch. And that is what makes a tribute album special. In a similar vein, Stratovarius adds their touch to “Bloodstone”; Virgin Steele has David Defeis’ unique voice doing “Screaming for Vengeance” which sounds like it could have been an unreleased track from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell pt. 2”; Iron Savior does “Desert Plains”; and two tracks appear from Gamma Ray, “Exciter” featuring Ralf Scheepers, and “Victim of Changes”. Each of these qroups add their characteristic sound to these Judas Priest classics without butchering them as many Death Metal bands would do. But the highlight of the disc is when U.D.O. sings “Metal Gods”. Udo makes that song sound like Accept from the “Restless and Wild” era. Of course, I always thought of Accept as a mixture of Judas Priest and AC/DC. In any event, if you like GOOD tribute albums, and you are a Priest fan, you will enjoy this release and its predecessor.

VARIOUS

”Identity 6” (18 tracks. 70:12)

First off let me list some basic reasons to buy this CD sampler. One, it is dirt-cheap. Two, it has 18 tracks of metal covering a broad range of styles. Perhaps you’ve not heard some of these bands or styles. Why not live a little and check ‘em out? Three, if you ever have a conversation with someone who really KNOWS metal, you can say, “oh, yeah, I’ve heard them.” Four, uh . . . I guess three is enough. The bottom line is, a CD sampler is a good idea for all involved. The label gets people to hear their bands, and you can hear stuff without paying $15-$18 for a CD you might not like (I guess there is a fourth reason!). The styles on this CD are as follow (these are how I classify them, perhaps you disagree): Groovy Rap-core Metal: Stuck Mojo. This song, “Hatebreed” will convince you that they are not in the same category as Korn or Lame Biscuit. Death Metal: Skinlab, Krisiun (maybe this one goes in Black Metal?), Samael, Soilwork, Arch Enemy. Black Metal: Dark Tranquility, Old Man’s Child. Classic and Progressive Metal: Moonspell, Sentenced, Jag Panzer, Tiamat, Winter’s Bane, Mental Home, Merauder. Thrash/Death Metal: Shadows Fall (newcomers). And finally, Stoner Metal: Eyehategod (dumb name, music sounds like Cathedral).

VARIOUS

“Sepulchral Feast: A Tribute to Sepultura” (15 tracks. 63:00 ).

Sweden’s Black Sun Records have joined the group of smaller European labels that are being marketed in the U.S. by Century Media. This is their first offering through this deal and it features some fairly well known acts paying tribute to South America’s biggest Metal export: Sepultura. It features Sacramentum “The Curse/Antichrist”, Deathwitch “Necromancer”, Mystifier “Warriors of Death”, Swordmaster also doing “Warriors of Death”, Dimension Zero “Troops of Doom”, Lord Belial “Crucifixion”, Defleshed “Beneath the Remains”, Impious “Inner Self”, Children of Bodom “Mass Hypnosis”, The Crown “Arise”, Exhumation “Territory”, Gooseflesh “Slave New World”, Slavestate “Roots, Bloody Roots”, Gardenian “Cut Throat”, and Denial doing “Ratamahatta”. I will not attempt to deceive the reader into thinking of me as a Sepultura fan. The only album of theirs I’ve ever bothered to keep was Chaos A.D. The rest I can live without. But it is nice hear to hear the interpretations done by bands I do like such as Children of Bodom, The Crown and Gardenian. I might add that the production is excellent. Otherwise you don’t need the hype. You’ll buy this CD if you are a Sepultura fan or a fan of the bands on this CD, right? So now you know of it’s existence and who is on it. I’ve done my part.

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