STEAMHAMMER/SPV REVIEW PAGE

ANGRA

“Rebirth” (10 tracks. 52:53).

When their previous vocalist, drummer, and bassist all quit at the same time, many worried that Angra’s glorious days of classic power metal might be over. Not so. Guitarists Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro have done more than persevere through this hardship. They have come back very strong, some may even say, better than ever. No doubt they felt like with new band members they had something to prove, but they have done more than that, that have outdone themselves. Rebirth is an album that surges with confidence. New vocalist, Edu Falaschi, is as great a power metal vocalist as any of his European counterparts. In fact, he was actually considered by Iron Maiden as a replacement for Bruce Dickenson a few years back. His range perfectly fits the aggressive parts and the soothing parts equally well. The group is rounded out by new bassist Felipe Andreoli and drummer, Aquiles Priester; both obviously rise to the high standards necessary to play in this band. Otherwise, you know what to expect: highly polished, very professionally played classic metal with Malmsteen-ish solos, etc. Angra remains Brazil’s answer to the likes of Stratovarius and Rhapsody.

BLACKMORE’S NIGHT

“Shadow of the Moon” (16 tracks. 65:26)
“Under a Violet Moon” (16 tracks. 58:50)
“Fires at Midnight” (16 tracks. 67:45)

In the liner notes of the promo for Blackmore’s Night’s latest album, Fires at Midnight, Richie Blackmore explains that he and partner Candice Night don’t think about evolution, “we just play songs”. True as that undoubtedly is, there is a marked difference between each of these releases, which means that they are not overly repetitive. The first of these three fine albums, “Shadow of the Moon” is an esoteric piece filled with a variety of ballads, fine instrumentals, and all the atmosphere of a renaissance festival—the renaissance festivals are inappropriately named so; they should be called medieval festivals! Anyone familiar with Lordian Guard, the most recent project by William Tsamis (former Warlord), will truly know how to appreciate these albums. Anyway, between Blackmore’s masterful playing and Candice Nights sweet voice, this album presents the listener with an aural escape from reality. The next album, “Under a Violet Moon”, is a little more focused but still captures the medieval mood of the previous album. But with “Fires at Midnight”, Blackmore’s Night puts on a more aggressive mantle and plays a more electric version of their trademark style. The atmosphere is the same, but the instrumentation is more rock oriented and focuses more on the electric guitar. If variety is the spice of life, Blackmore has managed to add variety without really changing the product. And this is why Blackmore’s Night has three albums with a total of 42 tracks, over three hours of play time, and never bores you once.

The photos of Richie Blackmore do not seem to show his age, and in a similar vein, the music he makes here is also timeless. (I realize of course, that there is always the chance he is using Grecian formula on his hair and plastic surgury elsewhere!). Anyway, while his reputation from Deep Purple and Rainbow is legendary, I cannot help but feel that this is his finest work. Now upon the imminent release of the third Blackmore’s Night, SPV is now pushing to promote this body of work in the U.S. You can find them just about anywhere that carries a wide selection of music (Tower, Media Play, etc.).

Various

“Blessed By the Night” (disc one: 14 tracks. 69:05) (disc two: 14 tracks. 73:10).
This disc, distributed by SPV, is on Angelstar, a division of Zoomiga. I haven’t heard of either, but I’m impressed with their choice of selections here. Of course, I’m assuming that this compilation CD is an effort to raise the necessary capital for signing bands and releasing new albums. At any rate, there is an awful lot of great, dark music on this CD reminiscent of Nuclear Blast’s “Beauty In Darkness” series. Like that compilation series, this compilation focuses on various forms of dark music from Electro-Goth to Black Metal. Many bands on this two disc set are readily recognized: Tiamat, Therion, Tristania, Lacuna Coil, Mayhem, The Gathering—ah, heck! You already know most of these. They come largely from Century Media, Nuclear Blast, and Napalm Records; three of the most notable labels in our genre. The only band which is missing—and this is painfully obvious—is Emperor. Many of the tracks feature keyboards and female vocals of some sort along with the expected guitars, drums, and male vocals. Still, there are some bands here I’ve never heard of that I really like: Aesma Daaeva, Samsas Traum, Umbra et Imago, and Third Moon. Perhaps these bands are from the Angelstar label and this compilation is a way to get them noticed. Either way, they are certainly worth getting to know as are the other bands on this disc if you haven’t heard them. I must say that whoever put this whole set together has good taste as there is not one bad song. Definitely worth checking out.

Diesel Machine

“Torture Test” (11 tracks. 45:15).
This is one sick slab of heavy duty hardcore. If you take all the pent-up aggressiveness of adolescence and distill it into some chunky guitar riffs and some raspy screaming, you’ll come up with something like this. For fans of hardcore this is a perfect album. It has all the elements there. Unfortunately, it is not my cup of tea and I find just listening to it a “torture test”. But for those who might be interested, the production is killer. It is also worth noting that guitarist Pat Lachman also plays for Rob Halford.

EDENBRIDGE

“Sunrise in Eden” (9 tracks. 52:45).

Edenbridge is not just another metal band with a female singer. They are an exceptionally good band with a great female vocalist. Their music is simply breathtaking, her singing angelic. Sabine Edelsbacher definitely has one of the most heavenly voices of all the female singers in metal, very well-trained. She puts Edenbridge up there with the very best female fronted bands (Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, etc.). The combination of her exceptional singing and the great compositions/excellent musicianship makes Sunrise in Eden a real gem. Imagine Rhapsody with a female lead singer and a more straightforward Classic Metal style, neo-classical solos, and almost pop-like structures. Admittedly, this album is more commercial than a lot of Classic Metal releases, but for this band it works very, very well. I popped this CD into the player and knew instantly that I was going to love this album. When the CD was over I want to hear it again and again.

Freedom Call

“Crystal Empire” (11 tracks. 49:17).
Freedom Call have a sound which is somewhere between Blind Guardian and Rhapsody with a touch of Gamma Ray. Like Rhapsody they create an album based around a fantasy story with heroes, kings, and demons. Also like Rhapsody, they play some beautiful melodic lines; lines that were undoubtedly written to be remembered. Just listen to “Farewell” and “The Wanderer” and you’ll see what I mean. But like Blind Guardian, Freedom Call also have a flair for drama with gritty male vocals and all male choir bgv’s. This is most noticeable on songs like “Rise Up”. Like Gamma Ray, they seem to be gearing their sound for some middle ground between rock and Metal. A fine piece of this crossover music can be found in the song “The Quest” which is over seven minutes long. It is a beautiful song.

Freedom Call sound like a veteran band despite the fact that this is only their second release. It embodies all that we’ve come to expect from German Classic/Power Metal bands. The result is an incredibly fine release; one that stays with you and beckons you to come back for another listen. Believe me, I keep digging it out despite a stack of promos demanding a review!

LUCYFIRE

“This Dollar Saved My Life at Whitehorse” (11 tracks. 45:27).

To read Johann Edlund’s comments about the songwriting on this album you might expect to hear something like Kiss or ZZ Top, but it actually sounds like Euro-gothic along the lines of Love Like Blood. Lucyfire, you see, is the work of Tiamat’s founder and only permanent member, the aforementioned Edlund. While this particular disc bears a different moniker, it is not seen by him so much as a side project as a different style of song writing. Personally I have to agree. The music doesn’t sound terribly different from his recent work. Like I said earlier, it is definitely gothic, but only with a rock mentality. Instead of the sombre themes of his Tiamat lyrics, Lucyfire’s lyrics are more carnal and down to earth. With songs like “Baby Come On”, “Mistress of the Night”, “You Can Have All My Love Tonight” and a cover of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”, you can get an idea of what’s on his mind. But there is a lot of understated humor here too, especially in the title that comes from Scrooge McDuck of Disney cartoon fame. All this explains why he chose an alternate name while maintaining a fairly recognizable sound. Like his Tiamat stuff you’ll find Lucyfire extremely compelling. Only this time we get to enjoy the music a little more without our brains hurting too much.

Nikolo Kotzev’s

NOSTRADAMUS

(disc one: 13 tracks. 59:56) (disc two: 8 tracks. 41:33).

After you’ve been in the music reviewing “business” for a while, you can get tired of listening to new stuff. You get new stuff and it is good--you know it is good--you’re just tired. And then something like this comes along and you actually get excited about it. I must say that for all the releases that have come out in 2001 described as rock/metal operas, this one is exceptional. For some fans it only needs to be stated that Alannah Miles, Glenn Hughes, Loe Lynn Turner, and other well known singers have parts. For others, the fact that it is historical and based on such a person as Nostradamus is a real boon. And for others, the music is important. For me, all three elements come together to create a really great opera that really functions as an opera, libretto and all! I could rave on about it, but you should just buy it. I think it is that good. It couldn’t have been done better.

Rose Tattoo

“25 to Life” (disc one: 9 tracks. 43:24) (disc two: 8 tracks. 43:08).

I’m sorry that I missed out on this band in the years past. I admit that I don’t remember hearing of them. Perhaps they never got real big here in the USA. What I don’t understand it why not? Their music is a blend of blues-tinged, gritty hard rock which sounds at once like the more radio friendly AC/DC tunes with a vocalist, Angry Anderson, who sounds like a combination of Bonn Scott and Rob Halford and occasionally like John Fogarty. Interesting combination. This happens to be a double live CD of a concert in Wacken, Germany in 1999, their first concert in Germany in 20 years. With the current climate of Classic Metal and Hard Rock making a comeback in the States, now is an excellent time for Rose Tattoo to get some exposure. Fans of classic rock radio stations, call them up and ask them to get out their promo copy of this CD and ask them to play some tunes. Just about any song on these two discs will do.

Uli Jon Roth

“Transcendental Sky Guitar” (disc one: 12 tracks. 50:22) (disc two: 13 tracks. 70:40).

I was ecstatic when I found this CD waiting for me in the mailbox. I have long admired Uli Jon Roth. He deserves a lot more recognition than what he has received here in the U.S. First of all, all you who think Satriani and Vai and Malmsteen are the best pay attention: Roth could take them all to school. For well over 20 years now he has dazzled and amazed those of us fortunate enough to have heard him. Of course, if you’ve never heard any of his stuff whether it be called Uli Jon Roth or Electric Gypsy, all you need do is hear some really old Scorpions. Anyway, what he does here, as he as done since leaving the Scorpions, is to transcend several musical barriers. As the first disc starts out it is mentioned that the night’s performance recorded there includes five centuries of music. This first disc contains a few original works by Roth intermingled with some classics by Mozart (Rondo Alla Turca), Chopin (Sehnsucht), and “Baba-Yaga” by Mussorgskij. Other composers represented include Paganini, Massenet, and the highlight is when he plays a really cool version of “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven. One who is not familiar with the classics played here may not be able to distinguish them from the original compositions written by Roth himself. But what is important here in my opinion is that Roth doesn’t simply play these pieces on an electric guitar, he embellishes them. When he does his version of Mendellson’s violin concerto which he has retitled “Fairy Dance”, he is able to enhance the music with guitar techniques such as string bending and tremelo which cannot be done on violin. As simplistic as that may sound I feel compelled to note that my wife who hates Metal was genuinely impressed. Why does that matter? Because she has a degree in music performance herself and can appreciate what so many take for granted. (I myself play two instruments and have a clue).

The second CD is equally interesting and impressive. This disc is based totally on Modern and Post-Modern composition styles as well as rock and jazz. Here Roth interweaves his own contemporary sounding pieces with “souped up” versions of Jimmy Hendrix tunes like “Voodoo Child”. But in the end he tops it all off with a return to the Baroque period, playing the “Air de Bach”. It is appropriate to note that like so many of the great Classical composers, Uli Jon Roth is a German by birth. It appears that the mind of genius continues to run through their blood.

One other note. Roth is the developer of the “sky guitar”. If you’ve ever seen a picture of it you will notice the odd shape of it. A guitarist will note carefully that the body allows easy access to the frets closest to the pick-ups, allowing for some incredibly high notes. This guitar is one of the smoothest sounding guitars ever and is used so well by this genius. I’ve loved every minute of this cd. I only wish I could afford one of those sky guitars!

SAGA

“House of Cards” (11 tracks. 49:56).

The complaint “they just don’t make music like they used to” does not apply here. Saga have been around for a long time. Their brand of progressive rock is what bands on labels like Inside Out and Magna Carta aspire to. While bands like Kansas, Toto, Asia, and the like, have enjoyed peaks and valleys in their existence, Saga has remained a sort of outsider to the American scene. Now would be a great time for people in the U.S. to pay attention as they deliver a stunning prog-rock concept piece of a sort of modernized version of the “Prodigal Son”. You’ll be dazzled by the song craft and you’ll get caught up in the story. Excellent musicianship, superb production, and the confidence of veteran musicians makes House of Cards a great find in this genre.

SAXON

“Killing Ground” (11 tracks. 49:51).

Last year’s Metalhead was the sort of album you expect from a long-term heavy metal band such as Saxon. It was musically correct and balanced, but this was due more to the band’s experience and longevity than to their creativity. This year I think Saxon have released something better. For one thing, while there are songs with the “we are metal, pump your fist in the air” attitude, there are also songs with a more reflective mood. Notable among these more thought-provoking songs are “Court of the Crimson King,” “Killing Ground,” and “Shadows on the Wall”. Notable on the fist pumping side are “Coming Home,” “Hell Freezes Over,” and “Running For the Border.” Without making much more ado, I simply conclude this review by saying that this latest album from Saxon shows the unity and diversity of this band’s musical ability, and it captures the listener far better than last years effort. Those who know Saxon will immediately relate to what I am saying. Those who don’t know Saxon will have to hear for themselves. To all of you I say, if you like NWOBHM—though how new wave could it be if the band is over 20 years old!—you will definitely dig Killing Ground.

Saxon

“Metalhead” (11 tracks. 50:29).

The band Saxon is one of the unsung heroes of Heavy Metal. Throughout the years they have been just visible enough for me to be able to find their CD’s at local music stores, but have not enjoyed the popularity or success of many of the other bands of their calibre from their genre. They have their faithful following, but the same people who buy Judas Priest and Iron Maiden albums haven’t all embraced Saxon. Perhaps this is because Saxon are a bit more commercial. This new album, for instance, with it’s retro sounding title, is quite at home in the Metal scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It fits more appropriately in a category with Whitesnake, Ratt, and those kinds of bands. At the same time, they sound very current with songs like, “Watching You”, a song which has the same theme as the movie, Enemy of the State—you figure it out. What is especially important is that they have endured the passing of time without caving in to the trends, but have been faithful to their metallic vision. Metalhead has great production and some very tight playing. After 20+ years these guys still have some riffs in them, and it doesn’t seem to me that they have run out of musical creativity. Now, I’m sure that some will feel differently, some people won’t like it if a band stays with their sound, and probably wouldn’t like it if they changed it. It’s “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Lyrically Metalhead is a hodge podge of topics, some of these songs are just “attitude songs”, others are “jeremiads” against various wrongs in this world. Most notable of these is “Song of Evil”. The title itself is kind of funny sounding. I’m not sure who it is about, but you can tell that Biff isn’t too happy with them. Bottom line: this album has a lot of commercial appeal while maintaining a 1980’s Classic/Power Metal vibe with a 21st Century production.

MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP

“Be Aware of Scorpions” (13 songs. 57:06 ).

My earliest memory of the Michael Schenker Group is from the mid-1980’s when this former Scorpion guitarist was going through a revolving door of vocalists. I remember one night watching Nightflight on the USA Network—you know, they played heavy metal videos and B movies. Anyway, one night on that show they mentioned that MSG was looking for a new vocalist and that anyone could apply. I’m not sure how that turned out, but I can’t say I remember much else about MSG than that. But here we are 15 or so years later and this disc arrives in my mailbox. I admit to being a little out of the loop.

This album reminds me of much of the rock and commercial metal of those teenage years referred to above. Whatever MSG has been in the past, this incarnation is something Foreigner’s harder moments and Whitesnake. Of course, as a guitarist, Schenker shreds and his dexterity on the fretboard is everywhere present. The rest of the band is up to par with Schenker, and the vocalist, Chris Logan could pass himself off as David Coverdale. In sum, Be Aware of Scorpions is a well-written, well-executed thirteen songs of classic rock/metal played by one of rock music’s legendary guitarists. Now I think I’ve lost out on 20 years of good music. Finally, I am very intrigued by how Schenker and Logan begin their “thank yous” in the liner notes. Schenker thanks “the Creator and his creation” which can be generic enough, but Logan says thanks to “my Lord Jesus”. I applaud these men for not being shy about expressing faith in a field where it is easier to be cynical or even blasphemous. And to have such a fine band made up men willing to make such statements is a credit to the viewpoints they put forth in their music.

Venom

“Resurrection” (14 tracks. 55:22)

Many don’t need an introduction to Venom. But chances are, many of my readers will. Briefly, Venom began around 1979 and are considered the grandfathers of black metal. This is because their album, “Black Metal”, has been an inspiration for some of the second generation metal bands; and also because that album title has become the name of that genre. Ironically, most black metal bands bear no resemblance to Venom at all, though most can be compared to Bathory in one way, shape, form, or another.

This new album, in my opinion, is the best Venom have ever done musically. About 90% of today’s black metal band’s need to go back to school and learn from this band. Their main focus would be to study this album. (Who would be “The Teacher’s Pet”? Ha, ha. Pun for those in the know!). The guitars on this album simply kicked my ass. Spell that “K-R-U-N-C-H!” Mantas has never sounded this good. Cronos sounds just as raspy as ever—I’ve always thought he sounds like Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost. And new drummer, Annton rounds out this very tight unit. Like I said, Venom has never sounded this good, very tight. This is especially notable on songs like “Resurrection”, “Vengeance”, “Pain”, “Loaded” and others. When I say tight, I mean “Ride the Lightening” tight. And the guitar tone is phenomenal. Old time metal fans will bask in that nostalgic sound. Even though they are from England, Venom sound very German like Destruction or Coroner. If you happen to listen to this in your car, you’d better set your cruise control because your adrenaline is going to kick in big time!

When it comes to subject matter, Venom has never changed. Whether they mean what they say or are just catering to the genre is hard to say. Needless to say, those who are sensitive to the occultic and satanic nature of Venom’s lyrics had best look elsewhere for entertainment. The one noticeable exception to the typical Venomic lyrical style is the song, “All There Is Fear”, which sounds like something Lee Dorrian would have written for a Cathedral album. In the end, after 21 years of metal, Venom reemerge as masters of their craft, not progressing, just improving.

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