Celtic Frost have never sounded so good as on this re-issue. With some parts re-recorded and/or re-mastered, “To Mega Therion” (pronounced “ta mega ther-i-on” in Greek for, “the great beast”) is a must buy. I can say this because I bought it, it wasn’t given to me. For those of you who’ve only heard of this band, come listen why Frost has been the inspiration for so many bands of the 90’s.
Musically, Elegy plays some high speed, high quality Power Metal like Iron Savior or Gamma Ray. Elegy, though, are from Holland and vocalist Ian Parry doesn’t have that thick German sounding voice most Power Metal vocalists have. It is his voice that actually gives Elegy a mark of distinction in an ever-expanding genre. Despite all their line up changes over the years, with “Forbidden Fruit” Elegy sounds like a band that’s got it together and they’ve managed to create a really solid album. But then again, most Power Metal bands today ARE solid, it’s the nature of that style. Lyrically this album metaphysics with technology and emotion, an intriguing combination. Instead of the usual 10 Power Metal anthems about glory and war we are treated with 10 songs about life and existence.
I think Kai Hanson and Gamma Ray are like a great German wine (preferably a white Rhine wine), they get better with age. You know, some people are around for a while and they seem to get stale and just linger. Not so here. Gamma Ray sounds as fresh and exciting on this latest offering of theirs as they have ever sounded. In fact, I’m not sure if Helloween in their heyday even sounded this good. Just think of the guy who brought you great songs like “I Want Out” and “Future World” and imagine that he could write more songs of that quality, even improving with age and experience. That’s what you have here. Songs like “The Heart of the Unicorn”, “New World Order”, and “Fire Below”, just to name a few, certainly rise to those standards. But of course, Gamma Ray’s greatness doesn’t just rest on Kai Hanson. Drummer Daniel Zimmerman has written two awesome tracks for this album: “Dethrone Tyranny” and “Damn the Machine”. Also, guitarist/keyboardist Henjo Richter also contributes two well-crafted tunes: “Follow Me” and the touching conclusion to the CD, “Lake of Tears”. Like I said, Gamma Ray has never sounded better.
Interestingly, as Kai Hanson has relinquished his supportive role in Iron Savior in order to dedicate all his energy to Gamma Ray, this latest album brings Iron Savior to mind in its story line. No World Order is about a/the conspiracy theory of Mark Brauneis that secret societies control the world. So it is a bit of a concept album from start to finish. Even so, the continuity of the story in no way diminishes the individuality of each song. They can be taken individually or as a whole. And let me say it again, they have never sounded better. No World Order is a very contagious album and its melodies will sink their hooks into your flesh. You can expect to get very attached to this album if you should decide to purchase it.
I have been a fan of Heavy Metal in some form since I was in third grade. That was in the mid-1970s! My first band was KISS, and though many wouldn’t consider them Metal today, I can at least say that was my beginning. Despite my 20+ years in Heavy Metal I have not heard all nor seen all. Gamma Ray is one of those bands that I’ve only recently gotten into. One thing I can say in my own defense, though, is that it has not been easy finding Gamma Ray material in my neck of the woods until fairly recently. My interest in Gamma Ray came via Helloween, Iron Savior, and Blind Guardian. Most of you know that Kai Hanson, the founder and leader of Gamma Ray, was a foundational member of Helloween, and is still an active member of Iron Savior—at least as far as I know. Anyway, the bands just mentioned seem to me to be an inner circle of musicians in Germany who work together much like the Gothenburg bands of Sweden or the Helvete bands of Norway work together. This sound, coming forth from Germany is very commercial but very Metal too. The song structures for these bands are basically like that of pop songs, only heavier and faster, the singers wail away. What is especially good about “Blast from the Past” is that Kai Hanson did not simply compile a few songs from each of the Gamma Ray studio albums for a “best of” moneymaker. Instead, he and the current lineup of the band—one which he feels is very solid—and recorded new versions of songs chosen by the fans. Now that’s classy! The end result is over 2 hours of great commercial German Power Metal. For a newcomer like me, this just makes it better. But the best thing of all is the price. How often can you get a double CD with over 2 hours of music for $14? You’d be a fool to pass it up.
I can think of nearly a dozen bands, mostly German, Heavenly reminds me of. This extremely commercial Classic/Power Metal CD has producer Piet Sielck’s fingerprints all over it, so naturally one hears a lot of Iron Savior in it. It also has that Iron Savior vibe because Piet does a bit of singing on the album, and both Piet and Kai Hanson do some guitar playing. Check out the song “Riding Through Hell” and you might think you are listening to an Iron Savior album. Overall the sound is very commercial—more so than Iron Savior, in my opinion—but the songs are very strong and I believe that this group has a chance at great commercial success. One can also hear the influence of groups like Blind Guardian and Queen, especially on the song “Time Machine”. Man, this song is both cool and beautiful. What’s funny is that to us Americans it is like this band just dropped out of the sky. At least, I don’t remember hearing about them. This is one of those things I like about Noise and their affiliates, they know how to surprise us with something totally “out of the blue” (pun intended) that dazzles; remember Iron Fire? The only drawback to this disc is that we only know the first names of the band members because they have a “thank you” section. There is no listing of who does what and we don’t know anything about them. Also, no lyrics are included and we don’t know who wrote the songs. Besides that, this is a great album for fans of Classic/Power/Commercial Metal. Final analysis: Nocturnal Rites before “Afterlife” meets Iron Savior/Gamma Ray.
I personally was very curious to hear how Iron Fire could follow up on their debut, Thunderstorm. Originality is not, and has not been, the key word with this band. But their debut was impressive nonetheless as it showed that a band “living in the past” can create viable music. This was proven when Iron Fire received the most votes in Noise’s internet competition for the next band to sign. In their case fans ruled over critics. But the litmus test of a band’s greatness is not their initial success but their ability to repeat that success. I’m happy to report that once again I side with the fans. The twelve tunes on this album fall nowhere near the originality category, but neither do they fall into the mundane category. These youngsters have truly captured the spirit of 1980’s classic metal, the speed of bands like Helloween and Iron Savior (is there an “iron” parallel here?), and the commercial appeal of Motley Crue (especially vocalist Martin Steene), and an occasional Rainbow/Deep Purple keyboard intro (“Wanted Man”). So, if they wear their influences on their sleeves what does it matter, especially if they do it extremely well? They do it better than Hammerfall. But you didn’t hear that from me!
Maybe I’m more of a fan of metal than a critic. I do not try to be self-important in my evaluation of a band. Maybe that’s why I can disagree with many who reviewed this CD earlier. Frankly, I love it. Maybe it is a little predictable from the titles and the artwork, but isn’t that what draws you to buy an album anyway? Iron Fire just so happens to be the winners of Noise Record’s “Be Your Own Label Boss” contest. Fans know more than critics. The fans have chosen well. Yes, I think I’d rather be called a fan than a critic.
Iron Fire’s music, though it harkens back to an 80’s style of metal, a la Helloween meets Hammerfall, it is also reminiscent of some of the more radio friendly glam metal of the 80’s. I challenge anyone to hear vocalist Martin Steene and say he doesn’t sing like Vince Neil or the singer from Poison (I forgot the name) from time to time. This observation of mine is reinforced by the song “Angel of Light”, which is a ballad. But of course, those American bands never had the cool Viking image. And for the most part, the music here is high speed classic metal with great dual lead guitars. So, please don’t get the wrong impression. Needless to say, the musicianship is top notch and is both fresh and exciting. It’s like these guys have made a study of the great bands and have incorporated all the best elements into this fine release. I predict it will be a classic. If these youngsters are putting out this kind of quality music, I know the world has hope.
This time around I feel like Iron Savior has taken a more aggressive approach to their song writing. Again and again, while listening to this album, I hear echoes of old Accept: you know, that old Restless and Wild and Balls to the Wall sound. This is most noticeable on the song “Solar Wings” sung by Kai Hanson. He even sounds like Udo. But also notice the intro to “Predators”. Whether conscious or not, the Accept influence is undeniable.
One thing that continually strikes me about any Power/Classic Metal album from Germany is the combination of speed, aggression, and melody. These songs would be radio friendly in the U.S. were it not for the aggression. But then again, the American radio is such a joke that Iron Savior is probably too good for them. Anyway, as far as speed, aggression, and melody go, Iron Savior are the kings and that is only confirmed here on their best album to date. There is no need to do a run down of all the songs here, they’re all worth hearing. Though if I were to point out a favorite, it might be “I’ve been to Hell”. And while I have drawn comparisons to old Accept, Iron Savior move beyond that comparison with their slick production, thick guitar sound, and excellent keyboards. Oh, yeah, don’t forget about the vocal attack of Piet Seilck, Kai Hanson, and the unified background vocals of the rest of the band. As of mid-February, 2001 has already revealed itself to be the year of Classic/Power Metal. I can’t help but feel that by year’s end this one will stand out as one of the best.
This band doesn’t need much introduction. With names like Piet Sielck, Kai Hanson (Helloween, Gamma Ray), and Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian, Demons and Wizards), what other introduction would they need. The Germans are tops when it comes to speed/power metal and this CD is a prime example. Fans of the above mentioned bands and others like Accept will love this great offering. Also, the thread that holds all these songs together is the story line, a futuristic space story. Hmmm . . . sci-fi power metal. Sounds great!
Smooth and confidant are two words that immediately come to mind while listening to Kamelot’s latest. One wonders: is it the result of all their years of experience, or is it a boost of confidence from their successful world tour? Maybe it is a combination of both. Either way, Karma is a great album, the sort you come to expect from Kamelot, and certainly one that rises to the hype of Noise’s PR machine. While the influence of Sasha Paeth and Miro are obvious, a great deal of credit should be given to the group for simply approaching the songwriting with the right ideas. And there is something for everyone here. On the one hand you have the expected Kamelot anthems, “Forever”, “Temples of Gold”, etc. On the other hand, you have a personal ballad, “Don’t You Cry”, written for Thomas Youngblood’s deceased father. And totally surprising—at least to me!—is the trilogy of songs based on the life of the notorius Countess Elizabeth Bathory. While the evil Countess is no stranger to heavy metal, it is not everyday that she is the subject of a Classic/Power Metal band’s songwriting (normally you think of Black or Death Metal). So while the sound and style are clearly recognizable, Kamelot manage to play in familiar territory for one set of fans (i.e., the ones that want more of the same), and branch out a little for the others. I expect Karma to be a real breakthrough album for Kamelot.
Kamelot, a fine Classic/Power Metal band from the U.S., treat us with this excellent, very well produced Live CD. Immediately my mind compares this live CD with Iced Earth’s “Alive In Athens” CD and find that the band’s professionalism and the crowd’s enthusiasm are similar. Well, what do you expect? With a producer like Sasha Paeth and a band like Kamelot you can count on getting your money’s worth.
I could stop there. But I won’t. The sound on “The Expedition” is so good you might fool yourself into thinking you are listening to a studio album instead of a live one. But of course, it is live, and the chemistry between band and audience is electrifying. Khan is especially good at whipping the audience into a frenzy, especially when he does the “let’s get ready to RUMBLE” bit. You actually feel yourself getting caught up into the concert, though you are only listening to a CD. I think two of these songs, “Expedition” and “Millenium”, are new, but I’m not sure. But the real treat is the 3 bonus tracks at the end. Two of these tracks were recorded in 1998 in Florida at Morrisound, “We Three Kings” and “One Day”. “We Three Kings” is the Christmas hymn. For some strange reason I was expecting something other. But it is really cool to listen to, and I may just have to play it all December long. “One Day” is the bonus track from the Japanese release of “Siege Perilous”. You know, those Japs have to get an extra song no one else gets or they won’t buy a CD. This is another example of the New Japanese Imperialism, a passive but defiant form of Imperialism saying that they have to be given special treatment. But now we get the bonus track too! (You may wonder why I am so critical and feel so strongly about this. Well, while the Germans are not allowed to forget about the Holocaust, the Japs are not required to even admit that they raped and pillaged their way across Asia for the first half of the 20th century! Now the younger generations have no clue that it ever happened. That pisses me off! Many Koreans, like my wife’s parents and grandparents, were treated very badly—I could go on forever. Okay, back to Metal). The other song, “We Are Not Separate” was recorded this year in Germany under the production skills of Sasha Paeth. It is very much a departure from all the other material I’ve heard from Kamelot. Instead of talking about legends or fantasy, it addresses the issues of our day: environmentalism, racism, religion, etc. No doubt it was included here because it wouldn’t really fit on a studio album.
Man, this is just one great, inspirational CD. I heartily recommend you listen to one of America’s best Metal bands.
Close your eyes while listening to this CD and you’ll see a movie unfold in your mind’s eye. There are 12 mini-movies on this album, and they are all worth “seeing.” Some of the ”movies “ refer to Arthurian themes, like “The Shadow of Uther.” Others, like “Knights of Arabia,” “Alexandria,” and “The Inquisitor” build on semi-historical themes. The other songs speak of “Glory” and so on. There are two instrumentals, “New Allegiance,” which is an awesome tune adapted from “Eclipse” by Rene Dupere, and “Desert Reign” which has an Eastern sound and bleeds into “Nights of Arabia.” The overall sound is a somewhat commercial but very highly executed Classic Metal.
Kamelot could rightly be lumped in a category between Nocturnal Rites and Veni Domine. One thing that makes this CD excel beyond those groups lies in their choice of producer Sascha Paeth. Paeth is well known for his band Heaven’s Gate and is now getting a lot of praise for his work with Rhapsody and Luca Turilli’s solo projects. Paeth, himself a great musician, draws on a lot of the same elements that have dazzled us with the Rhapsody/Turilli work; namely, choirs, orchestras, and classical soloists. Among the guest musicians is Miro, keyboardist for Heaven’s Gate and session musician on the Turilli CD. These elements combine to create a Classic Metal album par excellence. It should also be stated that none of this could be pulled off without a skilled band. Thomas Youngblood on guitar, Casey Grillo on drums, and Glenn Barry on bass are all from Florida. Vocalist Khan is from Norway. Lyrically the songs are more introspective and philosophical—at least on songs like “Lunar Sanctum”—than the Dungeons and Dragons type lyrics (but nothing is wrong with those). Kamelot’s “The Fourth Legacy” is a strong Classic Metal release.
I had heard these guys a few years ago when they were known as Morgana LaFey. Unfortunately then, their music was hard to get because their label is not distributed well (in my part of the country, at least). Now they are on Noise Records, who seems to have captured this overall improvement with the motto, “new label, progressed sound.”
When I heard Lefay before, I was impressed. This time I am even more impressed. Despite the title, which sounds a little too cliché, this is a great metal album. Musically it should be categorized as Classic Metal. But wait, there are some really great Thrash sections here. Song two, “Cimmerian Dream” and song nine “The Quest for Reality”, for example, are a great blend of Classic and Thrash a la Master of Puppets and And Justice for All. Also, for Classic Metal this stuff is pretty heavy. Though the musicianship is as good as, say, Hammerfall or Nocturnal Rites, most of the music here is not of the polished opera sort. One exception to this is the song “Epicideum”. It starts out pretty mello like some older Queensryche stuff. However, it is a great song.
There is a theme that runs throughout this CD. It appears in practically every song with the possible exception of “When Gargoyles Fly.” That theme is summed up in the title song, “Save Our Souls”. It is also obvious in other song titles like, “Help Me Out of Here” and “The Choice”. The lyrics for almost all these songs have a foreboding and surreal character. They are personal as well. They paint a picture of people struggling to break free of oppression of some sort. So, these lyrics are driven with a lot of passion, as is the music. All in all, I have to say that I really like this album and find it very intriguing. I find nothing offensive in the lyrics, though the artwork might be construed by some as blasphemous. Despite that fact, I think a lot of people will find themselves relating to the content of this album.
Like Pantera, I think of Pissing Razors as Texas Attitude Metal. You know, those Texicans are very proud of themselves, and PR definitely have a Texas-sized attitude about their Metal. Well first of all, with a name like “Pissing Razors”, you know they are brutal. Yes, very brutal, but they also have some killer syncopated rhythms which makes their overall sound like a cross between Pantera and Sepultura, only more interesting. In other words, Pissing Razors aren’t nearly so repetitive as Sepultura. Certainly they have the KRUNCH that Pantera has, and a real groovin’ rhythm section that is chunkier than that soup “you eat with a fork.” But aside from all this, Pissing Razors are basically a very heavy American style Death Metal band. What makes them different is their very interesting song and album titles. Unfortunately, many of the lyrics seem either to have some personal meaning to the writer which is lost on us, or, they are just open ended enough to allow for your own interpretation. Either way, I can’t seem to make heads or tails of most of them. The real strength of this album is the tight, chunky riffs and the crisp, clear production. Fans of Pantera and Sepultura will certainly find a superior product here.
This Italian band pounds your senses like a bludgeon. While other forms of metal take the award for being “extreme” (black metal), whatever you call this is definitely the winner of “heavy”. Since I have not listened to a lot of stuff along this line all I can say is that Sisthema reminds me of early Korn—what I can remember of it, anyway—without the sissy whining, something of Sepultura’s later tribal sound, and perhaps Pissing Razors (also on Noise), or maybe even Stuck Mojo. Either way, this is one heavy slab of groove oriented metal from Italy. The production is crisp and well done. The songs are interesting though not to my taste. And most of all, while they may fall into a category with some recent come along bands, they don’t sound quite so trendy.
It seems to me that some record labels are empires. These labels exist in order to promote a specific brand of metal, or perhaps a particular scene. This particular compilation represents the Noise/T & T empire of classic European classic, power, and speed metal. It serves to reintroduce a few bands like Celtic Frost and Running Wild as well as keeping perennial favorites like Virgin Steele, Gamma Ray, and Iron Savior before us. Thirdly, while Stratovarius and Kreator have moved on to other labels, we are here reminded that they once belonged to this illustrious empire, and that most of their back catalog is still available. Though this CD is new, there is nothing on it more recent than 1999. So whether you’ve never heard some of these bands before, or whether you just haven’t heard some of their older material, either way you can benefit from this CD. My guess is that practically everyone will find something on it they really like.
I HAVE AN ENTIRE PAGE DEDICATED TO VIRGIN STEELE
To the uninitiated, Virgin Steele presents a very unified, but diverse, musical passage. Seldom do you hear a band whose chief composer is a keyboardist with such a dominant guitar sound. This is one thing that makes VS a classic metal band, and not progressive rock. This being said, it is obvious from listening to this CD that David Defeis is a formally trained musician. I learned in my interview that he has a degree in music. The other musicians, Guitarist Edward Pursino and drummer Frank Gilchriest, are also quite good and worthy band mates for Defeis.
The music on this CD must be taken as a whole, as they are all part of the story. The album comes to a roaring start with “Kingdom of the Fearless” and blazes through 8 solid tracks of classic war metal. With track 9, “Narcissus,” and throughout the middle section of this CD, the music becomes more piano/keyboard focused. Most impressive, and VERY different, is the song, “A Song of Prophecy”, which can only be described, as I understand it, as modern. It sounds like music from a Windham Hill tape. Here Defeis shows his mastery of both keys and composition. I suppose the average power metal connoisseur would find this a little out of place, but I think the music fits because it fits the story line. Some of these tracks are piano compositions, as mentioned above, and some are ballads. Though Defeis’ voice is very commanding on the heavy songs, on the ballads he reminds me of Steve Perry from Journey. After we pass through the middle part of this CD, the music picks up again and rocks from track 15, “Great Sword of Flame” through track 21, “Gate of Kings.” Tracks 16 and 17, “The Gift of Tantalos” and “Iphigenia in Hades” sound somewhat like King Diamond songs that could have appeared on his “The Graveyard” album. Then the CD finishes out with another instrumental called “Via Sacred.” You see, this album is dripping with diversity.
As a history teacher I am very much interested in this release because it is based in history. “The House of Atreus Act I” is an epic based on the Iliad, by Homer. For some bands, the subject matter is not as important as the music. Not so here. The story is a vital part of the music. (I wonder which came first to David Defeis’ mind, the lyrics or the music?). In any event, the story of the Iliad is told quite well here. It’ll be interesting to see how Act II develops. Will this be a traditional three act Greek tragedy?
It is also epic in length at almost 74 minutes!
Interview with David Defeis of Virgin Steele - May 2000
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