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BAL SAGOTH

“Atlantis Ascendant” (10 tracks. 48:59).

I’ve been lamenting the fact that when I got on Nuclear Blast’s promo list that it was after the release of Bal Sagoth’s last album, The Power Cosmic, and I missed it. Having heard some of their music I was greatly disappointed in missing it. But what a surprise, here I have their latest and it is exactly what I was hoping for. Sometimes good things happen to those who wait! Anyway, if this review reads like it was written by a rookie, it is because everyone else has heard their earlier stuff except for me (and yes, I know this is their 5th album!).

So since we are starting off from the beginning, allow me to be impressed. Bal Sagoth certainly draw quick comparisons to bands like Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, and Cradle of Filth. This is largely due to the fact that their music is a blend of crunch-heavy guitars and triumphant keyboard. There is a constant sense of movement in practically every song. But it would be wrong to simply lump Bal Sagoth in the “sounds just like . . .” mode for several reasons. One is that they don’t “sound just like so and so…”. They have a very melodic underpinning for every song. I can’t say for sure whether the melodies are all original or if some of them are borrowed, but I can say that at times the melodies give Bal Sagoth’s music a classical, baroque, and even Celtic sound. This is an element surely missing from both Emperor and Dimmu. Secondly, of course, is their mixture of history and fantasy, an element I wholly agree with. I am particularly fond of “In Search of the Lost Cities of Antartica”. In that song they mention Pangea existing before the breaking up of the nine continents, a belief that creationists like myself see as very tenable. After all, if ancient man was so primitive and dumb as some suggest, then who built the pyramids and ziggurats in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Mexico? What about the monoliths on Easter Island? Stonehenge? To this day these and many other mysteries are inexplicable to skeptics who see ancient man as primitive and ape-like. Therefore, I wholly agree with the “fantasy” element in Bal Sagoth’s songs. Further, their use of storytelling and narration throughout this disc gives it yet another mark of distinction. One feels like one is hearing a great fantasy epic the likes of which Homer might have sung if he had known metal! Okay, enough of my raving.

Finally, the artwork for Atlantis Ascendant is tops. It is the icing on the cake. I highly recommend any serious, non-pretentious metal lover to buy this CD. The music is on a par with the aforementioned bands and the imagery/storytelling gives them a unique twist. On top of this, the production is first rate. You won’t be sorry.

BEAUTY IN DARKNESS VOLUME 5

(18 tracks. 77:59).

Well I’ve already written reviews for practically all the Nuclear Blast and Century Media releases represented here. So you can read those reviews on this page or on the Century Media page. But as long as you have interest in other forms of music besides metal, namely gothic and electronic, there are a few other points of interest here. First is a cover tune from Therion which I do not have otherwise. It is “Summer in the City”, originally by Abba. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But actually the song sounds like a Therion song the way they do it. The other Nuclear Blast bands represented are: Dimmu Borgir, Theatre of Tragedy (French version of “Image”), Crematory, and To/Die/For. Other familiar bands represented are: Lucifire (Johann Edlund of Tiamat), Amorphis, Nevermore, Entwine, Lacuna Coil, Love Like Blood, and Within Temptation. But what makes compilation CD’s great for me are the tracks from bands I’ve never heard. Right off is The 69 Eyes with “The Chair”. This is a goth band from Finland with some Type O Negative influence and a vampiric vocalist with a deep voice. L’ame Immortelle is like a Euro-dance version of Madonna. Project Pitchfork are a promising band represented, though by this time their reputation is already growing. Their sound is vaguely reminiscent of Circle of Dust. Silke Bichoff are practically synthpop, though I guess the mood is dark. Mandragora Scream are another band with a female vocalist going for the Lacuna Coil/The Gathering sound. Tapping the Vein could be No Doubt in disguise . . . Anyway, as mentioned, there are a broad range of styles from Metal to Gothic to Electronic. The main unifying factor is the dark or moody atmosphere.

The Black League

“Ichor” (13 tracks. 58:28).

I have been eagerly waiting to hear this CD since I first read about it. Released by Finland’s Spinefarm and licensed to Nuclear Blast for the rest of the world, “Ichor” is bound to be one of 2000’s buzz albums. By now many of you know that this is basically the band started by former Sentenced vocalist Taneli Jarva, but don’t expect a new version of Sentenced. To begin with, while the production and sonics may remind one of Sentenced, The Black League sound more like Cathedral playing Danzig tunes. In other words, “Ichor” is basically an album with atmospheric, mood drenched, rock songs. Don’t let the Cathedral comparison throw you off, there is no Doom and no Disco on this album. But I challenge anyone to tell me that Jarva doesn’t sing like Lee Dorrian. Just listen to “Avalon” and you might think you were hearing Cathedral playing a non-Doom song. Most of the songs are basically structured like good old rock ’n roll songs, but they are way too heavy and dark sounding to be “radio-friendly” here in the consumer conscious United States. Yes, there is an air of Sentenced here, but I don’t think anyone would say that there is any mimicry on the part of the Black League, though songs like “Deep Waters” and “The Everlasting Part II” might come close.

I mentioned that the mood of this album is dark. Well, I don’t mean depressive. I also do not mean Satanic. It is just a very gritty, intense, album with affinities to rock ‘n roll updated for the new century. Bands like Entombed (SWE) and Deuteronomium (FIN) have been cultivating a sound known as “Death ‘n roll”, and Tormentor has been cultivating “Black ‘n roll”, I guess The Black League have been cultivating “Mood ‘n Roll”!? Well, ultimately it will be up do you to decide. But with the neat Greek artwork, the gritty sound, and the references to Shelley (“Ozymandeas” and Nietzsche (“Ecce Homo” – behold the man), this album will engage you both emotionally and mentally.

Children of Bodom

“Follow the Reaper” (10 tracks. 41:16).

There’s always a band that you’ve not heard that everyone raves about. In my case that band was Children of Bodom until now. As it is, I’ve found another band that I HAVE to go back and get their earlier material. If the previous two albums are half this good, I’m going to love them. The only problem I have here is that it is impossible for me to tell those of you who have their previous albums how this one compares. But maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe the hype was well deserved and Follow the Reaper is just another fine chapter in an epic masterpiece of fantasy. I suspect that it is.

Children of Bodom sound to me like a band who listens to a lot of Carcass and Rhapsody. Perhaps that is too simple a comparison, but it is clear that while they play some awesome Classic Melodic Metal, they also have a hard edge with some aggressive vocals. The combination is awesome and it distinguishes them from a lot of other bands whose similarity lends themselves to cliché-isms. In short, I love this album. It provides me with two opposite but complimentary elements: aggressiveness and finesse. I couldn’t have asked for a better combination.

Crematory

“Believe” (12 tracks. 54:32).

Where groups like Anathema and Tiamat and Paradise Lost have gone wrong—and to me those groups have become boring—Crematory have gone right. Though Crematory are rightly regarded as a Gothic Metal act, they have not settled into the mediocrity nor the borish Pink Floyd mode that the aforementioned bands have settled into. Crematory possess a strong sense of “musical correctness” with their use of melody and clean vocals, but they have equally preserved an element of brutality in the guitar department. The result is a very catchy but heavy Gothic Metal album which more appropriately bridges the gap between the two genres. Yes, keyboards abound and are a noticeable factor in the production of the melodic side of this band, yet they are not overpowering, nor are they the focus of the music. While the same might be said of the guitars, it is also true that the guitars are very present, not subdued. Along with Love Like Blood’s latest, “Enslaved & Condemned”, “Believe” makes for one of the more satisfying CD’s in this genre this year. Especially good are “The Fallen” and “Redemption of Faith”. Two of the lighter tunes that stick out are “Caroline”, which could be a big hit, and “Perils of the Wind”. I don’t normally care for this kind of music, but I certainly take exception here!

DEATH

“Live in L.A.: (Death & Raw)” (14 tracks. 72:07).

I was just a pimply-faced teenager when Death first came out with Scream Bloody Gore. I remember listening to it in my cousin’s car; we knew that we were listening to something new and extreme. That album was to mark a watershed in metal history: the birth of Death Metal, appropriately carrying the name of the band that started it all. Now, ironically, death itself is an impending force that Chuck Schuldiner seems to be staring in the face. The future for this pioneer and his band seems rather bleak. What, then, could be more appropriate than for Nuclear Blast to release this live album? It features a great cross-section of the bands material and has extremely good production. It is the soundboard recording from a show at the Whisky A Go Go in. So this album serves as a fitting “best of” album and “live” album simultaneously. It is also the first official live release for Death, unfortunately it will likely be the last. And while we would hope for Chuck to be around to create more of his distinct brand of metal, Live in L.A. certainly seems a fitting conclusion to a band and a life that has influenced an entire generation and an entire genre of heavy metal.

Destruction

“All Hell Breaks Loose” (12 tracks. 48:53)

They should have called this album “Back With A Vengeance”!!!! The truth is, Destruction have never sounded so heavy. Take the Swedish production skills of Peter Tatgren (Hypocrisy, Pain, Abyss), add a new and better drummer, and you have Destruction reborn. Reborn into an even more extreme metallic band than they were in the past. Reborn into something that more resembles Kreator [only better] than the Thrash of their past. If I hadn’t known this was Destruction when I first heard it, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it was them. But don’t be mistaken, I wasn’t disappointed because this CD is flat out killer. And, I believe it is clear that Destruction is a band that is not only back, but also confident of what they want to do.

As far as musicianship goes, Mike’s guitar skill is as sharp as ever, though now he mixes up the style a little. While songs like “Tears of Blood,” “Visual Prostitution,” “The Butcher Strikes Back,” and “World Domination of Pain” remind you of the old Thrashy Mike, songs like “X-treme Measures,” “All Hell Breaks Loose,” and “Devastation of Your Soul” show a much more groove/death oriented Mike than anything he’s played before. Schmier’s bass is mixed better on this CD than on earlier ones. But it is his vocals that happen to be one of the major departures on this album. In the past he sounded like a lunatic escaped from an asylum. Now he sounds like someone who is really pissed off! These vocals contribute to the Death Metal sound—not the boring American Death Metal sound, but the more polished Swedish Death Metal sound. This especially true on the song “Visual Prostitution” where Schmier seems to do a Chuck Billy vocal imitation. My only disappointment is that the low end production blurs the guitars a little whereas the older Destruction albums have a more clear guitar sound due to the high end production. Lyrically Destruction continues to rail on injustice and stupidity in society as well as singing their tough-guy songs. Of special interest is the song, “The Butcher Strikes Back” which is a bow to the fans and incorporates older song and album titles into the lyrics. Another thing, the artwork is great. Inside is a killer collage of Destruction pictures old and new. And then there’s a great surprise, the hidden track of Destruction playing Metallica’s “Whiplash”. Let me tell you, Metallica only wishes they were this good! On a scale of 1-10, I give this CD a 9.

Interview with Schmier of Destruction (June 2000)

Dimmu Borgir

“Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” (12 tracks. 53:04).

In the past Dimmu Borgir has achieved such great heights in Black Metal excellence that it is hard to think they could improve. But at the same time, if they had produced another record in Abyss Studios with that heavy production they might have run the risk here of becoming a bit too repetitive. But as it is, it seems that Dimmu Borgir have put a lot of thought and effort into not sounding repetitive. Several things work to their advantage. First, the addition of ICS Vortex on bass has been a real boon; not for his playing so much as for his singing. There are some highly charged emotional parts on this album where he comes in crooning with his powerful, evocative voice. Example: “King of the Carnival Creation”. Another great addition, which really goes without saying, is the addition of Galder to replace Astennu on guitars. Galder obviously brings experience and talent from his own incredible project, Old Man’s Child. Also, Nick Barker (ex-Cradle of Filth) joins on drums. He plays like a cross between Dave Lombardo and Hellhammer (Mayhem). All this is added to the already solid line-up of Silenoz on guitar, Shagrath with his demonic Popeye vocals, and Mustis on the twisted carnival keys. But there is more. The one thing that makes it all worthwhile to me is the relocation to Studio Fredman. This change in studios and producers (Fredrik Nordstrom) has created a much more satisfying Dimmu Borgir sound. I love it and appreciate the change.

Along with this awesome new release Nuclear Blast has produced some lavish, but intentionally offensive artwork. I know you’re thinking, “so what’s new?” Well, aside from a few Marduk and Cradle of Filth covers there really isn’t much out there this extreme. Some of the inner portraits are quite funny, actually. I think the picture of Shagrath hole a big knife in one hand and his head in the other is quite funny. The picture of Mustis with snakeskin cool, and Vortex with the head coming out his stomach is killer. But many of the others are pretty extreme in comparison. Don’t show this cover or the picture with Galder to your mother, girlfriend, or wife. Some Roman Catholics will take offense at Silenoz with the stigmata. Oh, well. Finally, one must wonder at the picture of Christ on the back. Is this meant to be blasphemous? I see nothing particularly offensive about it, though to some the association is offensive. No doubt that is their intention. We’ll see as I’ll soon be interviewing Silenoz.

So, after that brief bit of art criticism what have we learned? Well, we have learned that after two years Dimmu Borgir have returned fully charged with some kick-ass Metal and a new found fervor for being offensive. Prediction: this album will turn a lot of heads in a lot of different circles. It is March now, don’t be surprised if we are still talking about it in December.

Dismal Euphony

“Python Zero” (8 tracks. 48:11).
I’m not sure how much these Norwegians know about American baseball, but they are definitely out in left field. Of course, that’s never been a problem for me. I like it weird. But the problem with reviewing a CD like this one is trying to find a way to categorize it. As you know, every musician hates to have his/her music categorized, but it cannot be helped. So whatever I say about this album needs to be understood as my best attempt to critique it for my readers.

First off, the Marquis de Sade and Dracula and Countess Bathory would all find the subject matter contained in the lyrics here to their taste. You will notice smatterings of lyrics in this disc where the word cruel and its cognates occur quite frequently. Blood also appears frequently. This subject matter, then, is consistent with the Gothic Metal image that some have of Dismal Euphony. The video captures on the inside of the insert from the “Lady Ablaze” video also capture that image. But all this is offset by album title and cover art. “Python Zero”? I’m kind of ignorant about reptiles, so I don’t know if the python family includes creatures with legs, but the cover shows a frilled neck lizard. Is that a python too? I was expecting a snake. Whatever the case may be, this is one of the most unexpected album covers ever. All this imagery in lyric and in picture is confusing to me, surreal to the extreme. I don’t know what to make of it.

The music is much the same. It is hard to pigeon-hole. Sometimes it is heavy sometimes it is not. Is it Black Metal or Gothic, or just plain Metal? I prefer to just call it Metal as it seems to be heavier than Gothic but not really like Black Metal, Norwegian Metal, or Viking Metal. Interestingly, there are some affinities with this release and the debut release of Trail of Tears on Dismal Eupony’s former label, Napalm. Both of these bands feature the gruff male and pleasant female vocals. The females in both bands, though, do not sing any kind of opera soprano style, but go for a more Pat Benetar approach. Both bands occasionally hint at a much heavier version of Lacuna Coil or Gathering, but the similarities are mostly in the vocal department. One of the main differences between Dismal Euphony and Trail of Tears is that DE seem to rely less on keyboards. Both are from Norway. Again, it is confusing and I don’t know what to make of it.

Finally, I believe I’m going to be returning to this disc. “Confusing” and “indescribable” do not mean unlistenable to me. In fact, it is quite listenable. It just sounds like the band put a list of opposing musical descriptions in a hat and pulled out 3 or 4 of them and said, “let’s see what this sounds like.” It is obvious that they are attempting to explore new territory by synthesizing various sounds—I am not referring to keyboards! The result is this amalgam which is called “Python Zero”.

Gardenian

“Sindustries” (10 tracks. 62:59).

The first thing you notice about this CD is that its cover resembles the cover for Dark Tranquility’s latest, “Haven”. Both have this Post-modern sculpture look to them. The post-modern art is very impressive if you have a taste for it. And of course, the similarities do not end here. Firmly rooted in the ultra-fine Swedish Death Metal tradition, Gardenian’s latest release sounds like a balanced mixture of In Flames and “Heartwork” era Carcass—and yes, I know that Carcass was an English band, but they did have a Swedish guitarist in Mike Amott! Track two, “Doom & Gloom” is a fine example of what I’m talking about. Add to that Jim Kjell’s diverse vocals and you have yet another contender for “album-of-the-year” from Sweden. Kjell sings, growls, harmonizes—he does it all so well. One element that he adds that many of the other Swedish bands don’t have is the harmony vocals I mentioned. They do remind one of the style of harmony vocals bands like Emperor, Enslaved, and Forlorn have made use of. On songs like “Long Snap to Zero” he makes the switch from the At the Gates type vocals to the Enslaved vocals quite easily. Finally, the production is right on. No surprise as it is handled by Peter Tagtgren. I applaud him for not giving Gardenian the Florida style bass heavy production that he has given other bands like Destruction. I personally prefer the Swedish style with a good mixture of high end and low end. Plus, as with so many Swedish bands, Gardenian is mega-heavy, but have a very commercial song structure. Of course, the songs are longer than pop songs, averaging around 6 minutes or so. The first 3 songs alone equal over 21 minutes. I regret not hearing their first two albums, because this one has got me stoked!

Gorgoroth

“Incipit Satan” (8 tracks. 36:46).

Because of their corpse paint and the fact that they are from NORWAY, Gorgoroth are considered to be a Black Metal band. But certainly they have Death Metal influences. Of course there is a lot of Bathory influence here, especially on “Litany til Satan”. And the atmospheric “An Excert of X” has a very Viking Metal sound, including the narration—well, it does remind of Vintersorg. But when the CD opens with “Incipit Satan”, you might think you were hearing a Death Metal band both musically and vocally. Also, the CD is under 37 minutes long, a fact that is more typical of Death Metal albums than Black Metal albums. “A World to Win” and “Eim ein av blod og helvetsild” are just totally chaotic tracks, similar to early Bathory and some of the more violent Black Metal bands. The latter track, “Ein eim av blod og helvetsild” breaks into a thrash sequence at the end. “Will to Power” is a muddy Industrial piece, totally programmed with no guitar that I can distinguish. Musically it is in the same category as “A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun” on Mayhem’s “Grand Declaration of War” album, only less structured. I find that the bands who make use of Nietzschian philosophy in their lyrics also tend to use Industrial influences to accent it (e.g., The Kovenant’s “Animatronic”). The CD ends with “When Love Rages Wild in My Heart”, which sounds like a Norwegian band playing Danzig. The deep vocals certainly remind one of Glen.

I will say that I’m left a little uncertain about my review. Not about how I’ve described the CD, but how I’ve represented the band. Gorgoroth has at least 3 earlier albums, but this one is my first. Perhaps if I were able to hear the earlier ones I would be better prepared for this one. In any event, it is an enjoyable album and despite the violent image, I imagine these guys are probably just “good ol’ boys” having a good time!

Hammerfall

“Renegade” (10 tracks. 46:38).

I’ll make no secret as to being the newcomer here. Actually, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for almost a year to find the previous Hammerfall releases locally. The best I’ve been able to come up with is a pricey import of “Glory to the Brave” for $27. Sorry, I don’t enjoy looking at Japanese enough to pay double! Also, I found the “I Want Out” E.P. which is a very enjoyable CD. Unfortunately, it is an E.P. of cover tunes. I mean, the music is great and the guest appearances by Kai Hanson and Udo Dirkschneider are cool, but it doesn’t give me a real frame-of-reference for reviewing this one. The only original tune on that CD is the CD-R video track of “Home of the Brave”. That song won my heart and since then I’ve wanted to get my hands on the full-lengths. (I know, I know, I should mail order them! True. Maybe when I get caught up on my promo reviews I’ll do just that!)

Well, my concept of Hammerfall was something like Nocturnal Rites before the new “Afterlife” album. While this seems basically true from a cursory listen to “Renegade”, it is clear that Hammerfall plays less melody, and are much more commercial. I expect the fact that they chose to record this album in NashVegas with Michael Wagner (Metallica, Accept, White Lion) is a sign that they intend to reach a much larger audience with this new album. I’ve got no problem with that as long as the music is good. Interestingly, there is some very Classic Metal guitar here and also some fast tempo Power Metal too. So if there is some higher level of commercial success, Hammerfall will do it with the vocals and the song structures, not with the dumbing down of the guitar playing. My impression of Hammerfall is that they are not setting out to explore new territory musically, but to create an album in a great tradition of albums. Certainly, listening to this album takes me back to the 1980’s and many of the commercial Metal bands of those days. Those were the bands that sought to exemplify perfect song structure and musical skill. I see Hammerfall in that same light. Speaking of which, vocally, Joacim Cans sounds occasionally like a Classic Metal Peter Cetera (Chicago). No doubt he has a voice that can sell records if they can get some solid airplay in the States.

I cannot say what the more established fans of Hammerfall will say about this album, but I can say that it is a great commercial album. I believe it is firmly rooted in the 80’s tradition of Heavy Metal (i.e., fast guitars, screaming solos, melodic vocals, anthemic lyrics). The production skills of Michael Wagner, by the way, lend a somewhat German sound to this Swedish band. You can hear a faint resemblance to Accept or maybe Iron Savior. The year 2000 has been a great year for Metal and this album is one of the contributors to that.

Hypocrisy

“Into the Abyss” (10 tracks. 42:00).

One of Heavy Metal’s greatest fans and contributors returns with another slab of thunderous, adrenaline charged metal. I’m referring to Peter Tagtgren and Hypocrisy, of course; a man and a band that needs no other introduction. After transporting a bit of the Florida Death Metal scene back to Sweden, Tagtgren tempered it with his Swedish metallic sensibilities and has created some of the best in HEAVY Heavy Metal. At this point the reader doesn’t need a description of the band’s sound, only an idea if this album will please the fans or disappoint. I’m proud to say that this album continues their tradition without even a hint of disappointing. There are no throwaway songs and no shiny, happy moments. Just some heavy duty Metal. Listening to this album is like getting run over by a freight train and loving every moment of it!

If I can say anything about this album at all, I need to say that while I consider most Death Metal to be one-dimensional and boring, Hypocrisy are very interesting. One reason for this is that the Swedish have never seemed to make Death Metal into that “wall of sound” that much of North American Death Metal is. The Swedes have always maintained a sense of melody and have also made good use of diversity. So, instead of ten tracks of straight blast beats and growling, “Into the Abyss” features some real diversity and memorable moments. Some other influences seem to creep in as well. “Unleash the Beast” and “Unfold the Sorrow” certainly hint at some Black Metal influence. The former is especially one of my favorites. Songs like “Blinded” make me pause and ask myself if that is really Tagtgren playing guitar, or is it Mike of Destruction. It certainly sounds like it could have been on the new Destruction album (produced by Tagtgren in case you didn’t know). And then there are songs like “Legions Descend” and “Sodomized” which definitely sound reminiscent of the Florida sound a la Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal. Finally, the CD ends with “Deathrow (No Regrets)” which is a slow, dirge-like piece. It is beautiful in an extreme way, but definitely not a ballad in the traditional sense. A few more listens and I may put this on my list of considerations for album of the year.

In Flames

“Clayman” (11 tracks. 43:39)

It’s CDs like this one that makes me want to use a rating system for albums. Normally I avoid rating them because I think most systems are too faulty. But in this case I’d give In Flames a perfect 10. From the musicianship to the vocals to the lyrics/subject matter and the production, I feel they have reached perfection. Anyone who had reservations about this album coming out so soon after “Colony” should relax. Apparently, ten months are enough time for In Flames to produce another master work. Fans will notice too that the band has avoided repeating themselves.

“Clayman” seems to be a concept album. It is hard to be sure without the lyrics, but it seems that the predominant theme is the frailty of mankind. At least, song titles like “Only for the Weak,” “Clay Man,” and “Brush the Dust Away” seem to suggest such themes. Other titles like “Bullet Ride” and “Another Day in Quicksand” could possibly hint at such themes. And still other titles like “Pinball Map,” “Satellites and Astronauts,” and “Suburban Me” hint at a departure from the usual Metal themes, if nothing else.

Musically “Clayman” is quite a mixture of sounds. But it is also a unity. On previous In Flames albums their sound could be described as Swedish Death Metal (the Gothenburg sound) with a touch of Classic Metal dual guitar harmony (the NWOBHM influence). With this this album In Flames stretch their musical muscles without really straying far from that sound. It is best described by saying that the familiar In Flames sound is at center with minor divergences on each song. For example, on songs like “Bullet Ride” and “Only for the Weak,” Anders Friden expands his vocal range to something like the singer from Type O Negative (I forgot his name). Other divergences include some smatterings of industrial effects, not much on the keyboards mind you, just little sound effects and such. They also make use of clean guitar, with both rhythm (“Bullet Ride”) and melody (“Square Nothing”). The heavy guitar sound remains intact as does the harmony lead work. This all may sound weird, or it may sound like In Flames are trying to be more commercial, but neither is the case. And in the final analysis, In Flames have created an album with some very memorable songs. My personal favorites: “Only for the Weak” which will remind of Paradise Lost’s “Icon” album (before they became boring) and “Satellites and Atronauts,” a really intense song. But these are just my favorites, there isn’t a bad song on this album. I don’t say this lightly. Take my word for it, “Clay Man” may well be a pick for album of the year.

Interview with In Flames coming in about a week (around 07/04).

Kataklysm

"The Prophecy: Stigmata of the Immaculate" (9 tracks. 40:00)

I must confess I was pessimistic about hearing and reviewing this CD because I have grown bored with Death Metal. After the hearing “Manifestation”, and “Stormland” the second and third tracks, I began to feel more optimistic. Frankly, this CD is the best Death Metal I’ve heard since either Carcass’ “Heartwork” or Living Sacrifice’s “Inhabit”. What really makes this band for me is the drummer, Max Duhamel. That guy cannot be fat the way he plays those drums! Blast beats galore. He sounds almost like a drum machine. Anyway, the guitar work is tight and constantly moving with that characteristic Death Metal chainsaw crunch sound. Above it all floats the vocals of Maurizio Iacono which, quite frankly, sound like every other Death Metal vocalist, but at least you know what to expect and it won’t suck. Other interesting tracks include “Machievellian”. This song basically talks about some of Niccolo Machievelli’s (not Tupac!) most commonly known thoughts on politics--how appropriate in the world of Heavy Metal. And of course, the other songs speak on occultic and sci-fi/fantasy themes. Bottom line, this is a text book Death Metal album that rises above the mediocrity of most releases out today. There’s no doubt that Death Metal fans will dig it, but perhaps Kataklysm has some crossover appeal too.

LACRIMOSA

“Fassade” (8 tracks).

Nuclear Blast continues to dive into the Gothic scene, here licensing the latest Lacrimosa album from Hall of Sermon. While practically obscure to American audiences, Lacrimosa is a veteran of the European Gothic scene. And now I am glad to get the opportunity to hear them. Of all the Gothic bands I’ve heard lately, I think Lacrimosa is by far the most interesting. If any one word describes them, it must be the word “emotion”. The artwork, which shows a modeling runway where women stroll in their underwear as if they were wearing the latest dresses, is suggestive of the mood of the music; that is, the music bears an aura of exposure or of laying bare. And now that I think about it, the album is called “Fassade” which is what we would call “façade”, from the French. The heart wrenching sound of this music along with the vocals (deep male, plaintiff female), seem to cry out for genuineness in a world of deceptions. But then again, since it is all in German I may just be misinterpreting. Regardless, I find the music very enjoyable in a moody way. The only complaint I have is that Nuclear Blast has started this ghetto practice of sending promos with faded songs to prevent “pirating”. This annoys the crap out of me since I am supposed to tell you, the reader, what a fine album this is but I cannot speak for the ENTIRE album. In fact, I cannot even give you an accurate playing time for it since my CD player only gives a reading for the faded CD. Even so, Fassade is a great new musical discovery for me. I am moved by their sound. So if you are in the mood for something dark, moody, powerful, but not overbearing, this is the perfect choice.

MESHUGGAH

“Rare Tra” (10 tracks. 55:07. Mpeg clips).

Fans of Meshuggah’s merciless aural assaults have much here to satisfy their musical bloodlust until a new album is released. As the label sticker says, it contains old recordings, including their “Psykist testbild” mini-LP from 1989. It also contains some demo recordings, .mpeg video clips, etc. Not being overly familiar with their material, I cannot say much more except that the sound quality is first rate, and not demo sounding at all, though you can tell a difference in “recording era” by the production. The older material has the same Thrash sound and feel of Metallica’s “Kill’em All” and Bathory’s “Octagon” and “Requiem” era, while the newer material is faster, heavier, and more insane; think Sepultura. For me this was a good introduction to the band. So I assume it will be for all you who are not familiar with Meshuggah.

Metal Dreams 2

Various Artists (16 tracks)

This compilation CD, like its predecessor, are built on the idea that the realm of Heavy Metal produces some aesthetically pleasing music. It features ballads and power-ballads from some really well known bands, and some aspiring bands. Classic and Power Metal bands contributing to the compilation are: Stratovarius, Iced Earth, Sinner, Helloween, Blind Guardian, Steel Prophet, and Sonata Arctica. A few Pop Metal bands are included: Skid Row, Gotthard, Bonfire, and Mr. Big. The remainder of tunes come from bands which loosely fit under the umbrella of Gothic or any other atmospheric hard music: Nightwish, Lacrimosa, To Die For, Love Like Blood, and Macbeth. These bands were unfamiliar to me but I found each of them to be very intriguing. I aim to hear more of their music. There is a great deal of musical variety on this CD, but the music stays close to the more commercial side—obviously! Can you imagine Kataklysm or Destruction doing a ballad?! The real value in this CD is that it lumps 16 loosely similar bands together and gives the listener an opportunity to become familiar with band they’ve not heard before.

Narnia

“Desert Land” (9 tracks. 60:00).

Just like the Fox News Channel, Nuclear Blast has a very “fair and balanced” approach to what they do. So while Nuclear Blast has bands with an overtly sinister image and a cursory--if only for “pretend”--allegiance to Satan, they also have bands like Narnia. Desert Land is their third album. I’ve heard one of their earlier albums once, but really can’t remember it. So I must treat this album basically as a first-timer.

I am at once impressed with a “something old, something new” approach to Swedish Classic Metal. At times Narnia sound like more recent bands like Nocturnal Rites, and at other times more like Europe or Dio (yeah, I know, Dio isn’t Swedish!). Songs like “Walking the Wire”, for instance, have this new Swedish sound, whereas songs like “The Witch and the Lion” carry a very Dio-ish sound. Speaking of Dio and other former Black Sabbath vocalists, “Revolution of Mother Earth” seems like a not-so-subtle play on Ozzy’s “Revelation Mother Earth”; but with a different message, of course. Carljohan Grimmark lives up to his reputation as a young virtuoso. He plays rhythms and leads like a skilled axeman for sure. His finesse is especially noticeable on the two instrumentals: “The Light at the End of the Tunnel” and especially the lovely, “Misty Morning”. But what really tells me that this is a great album besides all that is that I think about the songs when I’m not listening to the album. Now I’m going to have to go back and get those older records! C. S. Lewis would be proud.

Opprobrium

“Discerning Forces” (10 tracks. 36:04).
Slowly and surely there seems to be a resurging interest in true Metal. This theory partially explains why some bands are “coming out of retirement”. Among those is Opprobrium, though this is the first release under that name. As many of you will already know, this band was originally called INCUBUS but could not use that name anymore because of the fairly well known pop band of the same name. So, rather than get into the potential hassles, the true INCUBUS have changed their name to OPPROBRIUM. Now you know.
I have a cousin who has the original Incubus album. I remember listening to it at his house and liking it a lot, so when I received this disc I expected it to be good. Actually, it is quite good. Opprobrium might be labeled Classic Thrash/Death Metal. Riff-wise, they a hint old Destruction mixed with older Sepultura (I wonder if they mind the Sepultura comparison since Francis and Moyses Howard are originally from Brasil?). If you can imagine those two bands collaborating, you can imagine this music: perhaps not as fast as Destruction, but constantly moving; not as centered on rhythm as Sepultura, but having cool riffs. It is really a hybrid of the two. Their first album, under the name Incubus, came out in the early 90’s before Death Metal was influenced by Grindcore and transformed into something blurry and boring. Death Metal then had clear, chainsaw guitar production with great riffs. That’s why getting this new Opprobrium album is so satisfying: it is a return to real Death Metal. The only real criticism I have of this CD, and it’s not a big one, is that it is too short. But this is not too unusual for this particular style of album. To summarize, Opprobrium return from a nearly 10 year vacation with 10 new tracks of cool Death Metal from the “old school”. It’s very satisfying.

Orphanage

“Inside” (12 tracks. 54:53).

I had no idea what to expect from this CD. Now I’m struggling to find the right words to describe it. I could never have sat down and planned something like this. The variety of elements that make up Orphanage’s music are so diverse that a mere description might confuse the reader. But one thing is for sure, I have really enjoyed listening to this CD, it has captured my imagination and I am delightfully surprised by what I am hearing.

Imagine a band that’s a cross between Celestial Season and Stuck Mojo with a little Crowbar and old Cathedral thrown in. Sounds weird, huh? Gruff male vocals which sound like early Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride with pulsing guitar riffs as the foundation. On top of this are smooth keyboard melodies and beautiful female vocals. Lots of vocal layering. And then sometimes there are clean male vocals, also layered. A sense of mosh pit rhythm and ethereal melody. The clean male and female vocals and keyboards all soar while the guitars crush and pound. This is all topped off with with lyrics that touch on social and spiritual issues. Sounds bizarre? Not really. It really sounds cool. But you really have to hear it for yourself.

Power From The North

“Sweden Rocks the World” (15 tracks. 64:43) Various Artists.

The Swedes are very proud of their musical ability. They should be. Sweden is the home of some of the best metal bands past, present, and probably future. I have long been an admirer of Swedish bands from Jerusalem to Candlemass to Veni Domine to Bathory and on and on and on. It seems that there is something special about that particular geographical location when it comes to loud distorted guitars, pounding drums, and wailing vocals. This CD, then, is a testimony to the pride that the Swedes have in their craftsmanship—both past and present.

First off, with names like In Flames, Entombed, Hammerfall, The Crown, and Meshuggah, can there be any doubt as to the quality of music here? The concept is to have some of Sweden’s best bands today cover songs from some of Sweden’s best bands in the past. It starts out with In Flames covering “World of Promises” by Treat, an anthemic tune which is very catchy. It ends with Mushuggah performing Whimzy’s “Attacked by a Shark” live. So, the CD begins and ends with a heavy bang. In between there is an almost even mix of Swedish Classic Metal bands like Lion’s Share (“Ready to Believe”), Glory (“You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”) and Hammerfall (“Run With The Devil”) and others. The Swedish Death Bands featured are groups like Entombed (“Albino Flogged in Black”), Transport League (“Crazy Sioux”), The Crown (“Burning Leather”), Gooseflesh (“Boogie Woogie Man”). All these tracks are good and are done well. But for me, the highlight of the CD is The Haunted’s version of Candlemass’ “Well of Souls”. I would never have thought that “Well of Souls” would translate so well into Death Metal, but it does.

Not every nation on this planet could venture to put out a CD with this concept in mind. But Sweden can because of the incredible number of great bands there. (Perhaps this could be done in Germany too).

SAVATAGE

“Poets and Madmen” (12 tracks. 66:28).

Oh yeah, baby! This is just what the doctor ordered. After months of hype and rumors I finally have it and I must say I am most pleased. Savatage’s newest sounds both like the Savatage of old and something like a King Diamond crossed with Kansas album. Despite the departure of guitarist Al Pitrelli and vocalist Zachary Stevens, Savatage sound young and vibrant like a band that has rediscovered its youth. And frankly, it is just great to hear Jon Oliva singing again. Poets and Madmen is a crisp and spunky album for sure. Especially good is the song “Morphine Child” which is bound to become a major crowd pleaser. It should become the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of the 21st Century. In contrast is the plaintive, impreccatory “The Rumor (Jesus)”. Other songs bound for greatness “Drive”, “I Seek Power”, and “There in the Silence”. Truly, this is a great album.

Some bands thrive on originality, others on musicianship, and still others on mood. Here Savatage successfully, in my opinion, manage to do all three with an album that is both entertaining and compelling. It is suffused with a dark and heavy mood that you cannot easily shake. Poets and Madmen—even the title makes me think of King Diamond—as the cover art suggests, is a dark story with a deeply sinister undertone. Without the lyrics I am only able to guess what the story is all about, but I can tell you that the mood is definitely sinister. It also sounds like the album you’ll want to get out again and again when you want to hear something exceptionally good. I predict it will make almost everyone’s top ten list for the year.

Savatage

"Ghost in the Ruins: A Tribute to Criss Oliva" (13 tracks. 62:49)

Seldom does a live album sound so much like a studio album. On this CD, however, we have a great mix of the band without editing the crowd out; the crowd is very prevalent in the mix. I know that the venues have a lot to do with this, and the venues where these tracks were recorded were chosen well. If there is any criticism for this CD at all—and I don’t think it matters—it might be that this is a collage of concerts as opposed to a complete Savatage concert from beginning to end. Again, I don’t think it matters as these tracks blend so smoothly you can’t tell that they have been mixed and matched. In short, the quality of this CD is superb! One might even think of “Ghost in the Ruins” as a best of Savatage album as it contains so many of their great tunes, including: “Sirens”, “Hall of the Mountain King”, and “City Beneath the Surface”. Further, it includes the classic concert track, “When the Crowds are Gone” and a beautiful acoustic piece at the end called, “Post Script”, making this a very worthy release. And, it is a great CD to buy if you’ve never heard them before.

Fans of Savatage are aware that founding guitarist Criss Oliva was killed by a drunk driver in the early 1990’s. Such a shame, as is demonstrated on this album. Criss was such a phenomenal guitarist. God only knows how many more classics he would have brought us were he still alive. But, as a fitting tribute, the band has continued on in his tradition. And now they release this superb offering as a memoriam.

SINERGY

“Suicide By My Side” (10 tracks. 38:15).

Kimberly Goss sounds angrier than ever on this her third album. It starts out with a tune called “I Spit on Your Grave” which captures the feeling of revenge you get from the classic B movie that undoubtedly inspired this song. Much of her singing on the rest of this album also reflects an “angry as hell” attitude, the one exception being the piano instrumental “Remembrance” at the end of the album (duh, no vocals!). Otherwise, despite another round of line-up changes, Suicide by My Side carries the trademark Sinergy sound focused on the excellent guitar work of Alex Laihi (also in Children of Bodom). It rocks, it shreds, and it has some serious kick ass vocals from heavy metal’s most aggressive female vocalist. If you enjoyed the two previous albums, you will welcome this one too. In terms of mean aggressive power metal with great solos, you can’t do any better.

Sinergy

“To Hell and Back” (9 tracks.)
This was my first exposure to Sinergy and I must say that without knowing anything else, I’m already a fan. As I try to come up with some sort of way to describe this CD, one comparison keeps popping into my head: this sounds like a female version of King Diamond. From the story lines in the songs to the musical structure of the songs, Kim Goss and band play a very commercial but very heavy style of Power Metal on a par with Mercyful Fate (or maybe some German Power Metal bands like Iron Savior). “To Hell and Back” starts off with a bang with “The Bitch is Back” and pounds through “Midnight Madness” and “Lead Us to War” before soothing us with the beautiful ballad, “Laid to Rest.” Then it pounds through “Gallowmere,” “Return to the Fourth World,” “Last Escape,” and “Wake Up in Hell”. Then, after a pause, comes “Hanging On the Telephone”. I’m not, but I think this is a cover.

Kim Goss is an excellent singer and I think she could be described as Blondie with a Metal Attitude. Imagine a Heavy Metal version of “Rapture” or “Heart of Glass”. But in attitude, Kim is more like the Heavy Metal Pat Benetar. In any event, She sings very confidently and very well. The song “Lead Us to War” has been echoing endlessly in my mind, for example. Goss has also assembled a very tight band and their creativity and talent shine on all 9 of these tracks. The hooks and the solos sound like a “best of” Hank Sherman meets Andy LaRoque. Quite good and quite amazing. There is not a throw-away song on this album. It comes heartily recommended to those who like fast Classic Metal with great solos, great vocals, and lots of attitude.

S.O.D.

“Kill Yourself: the Movie” (90 minutes. VHS/DVD).

People from New York City are a breed of their own. They are very outspoken and very confident. Translate that little nugget of information into a band and you have the nefarious S.O.D.! This video from start to finish is all about attitude, just like the band! For the most part it is very humorous. While there is a lot of concert footage from shows in various parts of the world--but mostly in Chicago—the real thrust of the video is to show the antics of the band offstage. There are a number of “testimonials” which include appearances from people like Kirk Hammett, Dimebag Darrell, and a whole host of others. There’s even an appearance by a member of Marilyn Moron. All that said, the highlight of this video is the “Ode to . . .” concert set where the band pays “tribute” to a number of dead musicians. Each ode lasts only a few seconds, consisting of a riff from the dead musician. They all have the same words: “your dead!” This is quite funny. I also like the part where Scott Ian burns an Immortal poster. And of course, no video would be complete without a “tribute” to “Celtic Frosted Flakes!” No doubt someone will be offended by this video, which is exactly what the band had in mind. Like I said, people from New York City are very outspoken. The only thing I found particularly troubling about this video was the depiction of drug use and the profanity was so profuse I had to watch this when my children were not home.

STEEL PROPHET

“Book of the Dead” (12 tracks. 40:52).

Though this is my first time to hear them I know that Steel Prophet’s success has been a long time coming. And now with a deal on Nuclear Blast, they are finally able to produce albums on a more regular basis—and I’ll be able to hear them! Endurance sometimes pays off. While showing signs of modern progressive—or is that just what we think when a band creates ten or so new songs?—Steel Prophet remain a Classic Metal band showing signs of NWOBHM influence. Case in point, “When Six Was Nine”. The clever lyrics and the solid music make this a real gem. “Phobia” is also a favorite. But Steel Prophet also treat us to a couple of great instrumentals. First is the Spanish influenced “Soleares” and later is the dreamy “Ruby Dreams (Faith and Hope). I must confess that at first I wasn’t wowed by their music. But what I found is that with repeated listens this band has grown and grown on me. Now I’m singing these tunes in my head during the day. It makes me think of bands like Iron Maiden and Barren Cross. For sure, this is just the sort of album I’d expect to hear from a band who have endured for over a decade. I’m going to have to investigate further, and so should you.

STRATOVARIUS

“Intermission” (15 songs. 67:26).

The bad news is that there will not be a new full-length from Stratovarius until around 2003. The good news is that we have four new tracks here, two Rainbow covers, “Kill the King” and “I Surrender”, and one Judas Priest cover, “Bloodstone”, which was featured on Century Media’s Delivering the Goods II: A tribute to Judas Priest. It has two live tracks, the previously mentioned “I Surrender” and “Hunting High and Low”. It features six tracks that were only included as bonus tracks for Japan and/or France (I despise the Japanese for demanding bonus tracks that we North Americans don’t get, now the laugh is on them because we get another whole CD!). And best of all, we get four new studio tracks. This clocks in well over an hour and is one of the best buying opportunities for those investing their funds in precious metal.

Now let me comment on the new songs. If this CD only had the opening song on it I’d want it. “Will My Soul Ever Rest in Peace?” is one of the best songs Stratovarius has ever done. Like “Destiny, this song’s reflective lyrics and beautiful music draw the listener back for repeated listens. Having past the thirty-year-old mark some time ago, I particularly appreciate how this song relates to real life and the concerns it entails. A concern no doubt shared by the band as this CD marks a two-year hiatus from recording and touring. Certainly they deserve a moment of reflection. This unbelievable track is followed by “Falling into Fantasy”, a song with a similar theme. It paints a picture of someone sitting on a dock by a lake with their bare feet in the water. The person let’s his mind wander off into fantasy for a while. It is followed by “The Curtains are Falling” and “Requiem”, both recognizably Stratovarius songs. What more can I say about it? If you are a fan you’ll definitely want the new tracks, the bonus tracks, and the live versions. If you’ve never heard Stratovarius before, you will find plenty here to whet your appetite.

SUSPERIA

“Predominance” (10 tracks. 45:18).

Containing members past, present, and possibly future (?) of such groups as Dimmu Borgir, Old Man’s Child, etc., Susperia present no challenge to the imagination as to what they sound like. But that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned since you know what calibre of musicians these guys are. Take Dimmu and OMC, strip them of their keyboards and clean vocals, and you have Susperia: aggressive, tight, powerful. And with this stripping away of the theatrical elements Susperia comes across as a Death Metal band with a specifically Norwegian sound. I find that refreshing. Basically, “Predominance” is a CD with ten aggressive, crisply produced tunes. It makes a great companion to the new Dimmu Borgir album without sounding redundant. A great way to start off the New Year.

Theatre of Tragedy

“Musique” (12 tracks. 48:32).

With each new album Theatre of Tragedy have taken the “we like to surprise our listeners” philosophy to a new extreme. As I’ve said in other places, this doesn’t bother me so long as the music is good. But there are at least two things that will make this album a shock to the unsuspecting listener. First, it is not Metal and it is not really Goth. Those who know Theatre of Tragedy from previous albums or only by reputation may expect a Metal or Goth album and will be totally blindsided by “Musique”. The second thing is that this CD is on Nuclear Blast, a label known for some pummeling Metal acts (e.g., Hypocrisy, Kataklysm, Destruction). But Nuclear Blast is now extending the boundaries of their label with releases like this one and the new Crematory. All this said, let’s talk about “Musique”.

Well, the only other ToT release I have is “Aegis” and it is definitely Goth. The vocals on that CD, as I recall, are harsh male and soaring female. Here, the vocals are robot male and pop female. So, with “Musique” ToT make the transition from Goth to Industrial Synth-pop. Actually, aside from a slightly different genre defining sound, ToT, on this new album, sound like they are following in the footsteps of The Gathering. What makes them different from The Gathering is a more electronic sound and the male vocals. For those who are not familiar with ToT, the vocals are shared pretty much equally between Raymond Rohonniy and Live Espenaes, but Liv could be mistaken for Anneke of The Gathering on this CD. All this said, the guitar is still there, but in most cases it plays more of a support role and the electronics get an equal or greater mix. The one exception is the song, “crash/concrete” which is pretty cool. No doubt this CD is an effort on ToT’s part to get commercial recognition, and doubtless they will, for it is a solid album. Just don’t expect it to sound like any other Nuclear Blast release you’ve heard!

THERION discography page

THERION

“The Secret of the Runes” (11 tracks).

I have been a dedicated fan of Therion since I discovered Theli. I have enjoyed every successive release despite the lightening of the approach. And I have also enjoyed discovering their older, heavier, more death metal oriented material. Regardless of the format, I found that all of Christofer Johnnson’s work to be enjoyable. And yet while I seem easy to please in regards to this band, it is difficult to understand why so many have been critical of recent works like Deggial. Granted, there are occasional moments where the melody line sounds faintly like other Therion melody lines. Granted, there was a lightening of the sound over the years, though not necessarily in terms of commercialism. So now I wonder what will be the overall reaction to this new epic masterpiece.

Well, at least as far as I am concerned, The Secret of the Runes is another great Therion album. But I am also happy to report that I also regard it as the strongest album they’ve done since Theli, the album that started it all for me. For one thing, while the orchestrations and choirs more resemble Vovin or Deggial in terms of form and structure, the guitars and production sound far more like Theli. There is a sense of energy here that was toned down with Vovin and Deggial. But it would be wrong to simply paint a picture of Therion revisiting or combining older elements on this album. There are some new elements here as well. For example, instead of the lyrics focusing on magical motifs from Middle Eastern mysticism, the whole album is an epic based on Scandinavian mythology. From the opener, “Ginnungagap”, to the closer, “Secret of the Runes” this album is sure to please Vikings, myth-lovers, and Tolkien fans everywhere. And to add to the air of authenticity, Johnnson sings it all in his native tongue, the native tongue of the story, Swedish. It seems that this pride in his own ancestry is the spark that has infused new life into this fully developed band. Anyone who listens to this album and is not astounded had better check their pulse.

TIDFALL

“Instinct Gate” (8 songs. 42:09).

When I hear some bands for the first time I am tempted to write “sounds like so and so.” At other times I am tempted to write “sounds JUST like so and so.” The difference is that in the first case a certain band fits in the same category as the band I compare it to. In the second instance, the band sounds like it is copying a specific band. There are just some genres and sub-genres where copying another band is acceptable, and others where copying is not acceptable. What is the difference? I don’t know. But while listening to Tidfall, I struggle to determine whether they simply fit into the general category of Norwegian metal, or should I suspect them of copying specific bands. For instance, the opening track on this CD, “Children of Man”, will remind practically everyone of “Curse Ye All Men” from Emperor’s IX Equilibrium right down to the drumming and keyboard work. On the other hand, it doesn’t have that non-stop lead guitar work that Ihsahn does. But in terms of rhythm and structure, I challenge anyone to tell me it doesn’t sound very much like it. Also, on track 5, “Mindraper”, one would be very tempted to draw comparisons to Dimmu Borgir, especially with the “carnival” keyboard. Anyway, one must make a judgment as to whether imitation is the highest form of flattery, or whether the band is just cashing in on their success. But aside from the Emperor sound of the first song and the Dimmu comparison on the fifth song, I think it is more appropriate to generally classify Tidfall as a Norwegian death metal band in the same vein as Susperia, Cadaver Inc., and maybe even Zyklon. I feel that these bands and Tidfall, while generally characterized as “black” metal, represent a subtle shift toward death metal—a Norwegian death metal, if you will; complete with keyboards. Their music isn’t quite as pompous as Emperor after all, but represents a much more straight-forward approach to the Norwegian sound. In terms of musicianship and execution, production and packaging, Tidfall are very professional. It just remains for the metal consumers to judge as to whether or not they are strong enough to survive. As for me, I will suspend judgment until I hear their next album. Then I will know for sure where I stand.

TO DIE FOR

“Epilogue” (10 tracks. 74:02).

I have been hearing about this band for a long time. It is my understanding that they are quite big in Europe. I assume it is because they sound like a classic metal meets gothic version of Tears for Fears. There are a lot of synth-pop bands that sound just like this, only without guitars and real drums. But while it may sound like I’m being critical, I must say that To Die For are a very enjoyable band to listen to. They are obviously very skilled musicians. And the production brings out a crisp edge to guitars and drums that you might not expect from such a commercial band. On the other hand, there are occasional ballads and electronic elements, but the bands’ sound is most definitely geared towards classic metal—even more than gothic. So while it IS dark with gothic undertones, music buyers should keep several things in mind. First, it has a very classic metal style about it. Second, the vocalist sounds like the singer for Tears for Fears. Third, it is very commercial.

WAYNE

“Metal Church” (10 tracks. 39:06).

Yeah Baby! I imagine that some of the veteran Metal stars like David Wayne feel like they need to “teach these young punks a thing or two about real metal!” And believe me, you are in for one tough “Sunday School” lesson. Obviously named so to remind you of his past band (also Reverend), Metal Church is an awesome combination of 80’s Power/Thrash and 21st century production quality. This is the kind of fist-pumping, mosh-inducing, air guitar inspiring music that made metal great in the first place. Not to be confused with being another Metal Church (the band) release, it has the feel of Accept meets Mercyful Fate. Also, fans of Ultimatum and Empyria will dig them. I know I do!

White Skull

“Public Glory, Secret Agony” (11 tracks. 56:47).

If Classic Metal and Power Metal are experiencing a “renaissance”, then it seems appropriate that much of this “renaissance” is coming right out of the home of the original Renaissance, Italy. White Skull, now with enough albums to their credit to be more than just a fly-by-night band, comes forth with a strong concept album. The story is about the Romans and the Egyptians. I find this one particularly interesting since I teach world history. Certainly, along with Jag Panzer’s latest, “Thane to the Throne”, it has been a good year for World History teaching Metal heads! White Skull exhibit an honest and clear sense of history as is evidenced by the title of this CD, “Public Glory, Secret Agony”. Charles Dickens’ words about the French Revolution seem also appropriate for the age that was Rome, “it was the best of time, it was the worst of times . . .”

You know what’s really good about this album? Well, yes, Frederica De Boni’s vocals are fabulous. She sounds Metal and feminine at the same time. Well, okay, yes, here vocals are what makes this a great album. I concede. It is nice hearing a Classic/Power Metal band with female vocals. But what I was really talking about was that while the musicianship is incredible, and while they play some dazzling riffs and solos, the music is never pompous or overblown. White Skull seems to have a real sense of how to create solid music that is unified and not designed to glorify one instrument to the exclusion of the others—not that I mind the pompous overblown music from Rhapsody! But the bottom line is that White Skull are a tight unit. And let me say it again, Frederica De Boni’s vocals are absolutely fabulous. What a pleasant surprise!

I guess a fitting description of White Skull’s sound would include comparisons to Stratovarius, Nocturnal Rites, and perhaps a little of the Power Metal sound commonly heard in German bands. Perhaps, without being too strict in our interpretation, it would be appropriate to call White Skull the Italian answer to Blind Guardian. Certainly there are some affinities here with BG’s earlier sound. If White Skull doesn’t increase in popularity in the Metal world after this release, well, there is just no justice in this world.

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