I write reviews for musical albums. My main genre is metal, but I will probably do some hard rock as well. Any reviews other than the two most recent are shown on the right hand side under the "Blog Archive" tab. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

After Forever- Decipher

Source: Wikipedia

Band:  After Forever

Album:  Decipher

Year: 2001

Score: 9.5/10

“Probably the Best Symphonic Metal Album Ever”

For me, symphonic metal has always been an iffy topic.  Some bands are incredible, but many are just plain mediocre.  One of the standout bands in the genre has always been After Forever.  Decipher is the band’s magnum opus- a challenging work that, for me, defines the symphonic metal genre.

The overall feel of the album is dark and elegant.  Layers of guitar are supported by deep orchestral backdrops… perhaps it could be described the other way around as the orchestra often provides the lead melodies for the songs (“Monolith of Doubt”, “Intrinsic”) even though the guitars are more powerful.  The songs are often brooding and complex.  The structures are experimental for the genre, and honestly the most experimental I’ve heard from the band.    Due to this, there is an element of progressiveness to the songs.  There is also a surprisingly good sense of dynamics.  Many songs contain soft passages weaved throughout the heavy riffs, making the songs more intriguing.  One of the only true downfalls is that the album gets a bit monotonous.  The songs are somewhat similar and often follow a similar pattern.  Given my high score it’s obviously not a huge part of the experience but, it does deserve to be noted.

The individual performers are good at what they do.  Obviously, the vocals are where the album shines the most.  Floor Jansen is easily one of my favorite vocalists, and Decipher contains some of her finest performances.  Her vocals are far more operatic on this album than on the later work of After Forever, and she uses this operatic style alongside an equally effective style more reminiscent of rock vocals.  The guitars are largely rhythmic, usually playing support to the orchestra.  They are highly precise and suit the music well.  The keys are similar to the guitars, that is, they play support to the orchestra.  They tend to be more atmospheric than the guitars and, thus, are not nearly as irritating as the keys of similar bands.  As mentioned previously, the orchestra (along with the vocals) provides the melodies for the songs.  These instruments are actually kind of low in the mix, which lends an atmospheric feel to the album- very tasteful.  The drums and bass guitar are solid for the genre, both being precise but not particularly flashy.  The only low point in performance is the harsh male vocals.  They’re way too polished, almost as if a robot was grunting into the microphone.  The high growls are particularly annoying.  Other than this, the harsh vocals are used well.  That is, they are well placed and suit the songs and Floor Jansen’s voice.  So, overall, they’re tolerable but not much more than that.

After the atmospheric introduction “Ex Cathedra”, the album truly begins with the steady rocker “Monolith of Doubt”.  It’s not my personal favorite but is, nevertheless, a very good opening song.  It’s followed by the more impressive “My Pledge of Allegiance #1”, a progressive tune with an Arabic influence in the melodies.  This is easily one of my favorites off of the album for many reasons, most notably the complexity of the song and the catchy melodies.  Floor Jansen has some very impressive vocal moments throughout this song, in particular.  Following this song is the very accessible “Emphasis” and the elaborate “Intrinsic”.  The former is the easiest song to listen to on the album, while the latter is a slow-building piece with a truly fantastic climax.  “Intrinsic” is, without a doubt, another favorite from the album.  The next piece, “Zenith”, isn’t exactly bad- I just do not like it as much as the previous songs.  Still, it’s an excellent piece and well worth a mention.

The next song is the incredible “Estranged (A Timeless Spell)”, another excellent piece where the vocals are complemented perfectly by the rhythmic guitars.  “Imperfect Tenses” comes next.  It’s a ballad and my least favorite from the album.  While it’s not awful, it does become cheesy and irritating after awhile.  This is the song I am most compelled to skip.  Luckily the second installment of “My Pledge of Allegiance” comes next.  It pretty much follows the trend of the first song and ends up being successful, though not quite as good as the other song in the saga.  “The Key” follows and features one of the best vocal performances from the band.  It was my first favorite, and is still my “go-to” song from the album.  The closing song is entitled “Forlorn Hope” and is a fitting way to end the album.  It’s intense, in the vein of the “My Pledge of Allegiance” saga and ends up being a favorite; a classy ending to a lovely album.  There’s also a bonus track called “For the Time Being” that is surprisingly good and worth checking out with the other songs.

Decipher will certainly be enjoyed by fans of symphonic metal and possibly even fans of gothic, progressive, and power metal.  It’s a diverse album filled with majestic twists and turns.  I’m skeptical to say that this will be a metal classic one day, but it might be.  It will certainly be a classic to those who are into the more melodic forms of heavy metal.  Therefore, I recommend it to such people; fans of heavier forms of metal should give songs like “The Key” and “My Pledge of Allegiance #1” a shot.  Decipher is a very impressive album, I highly recommend it.

Best songs:  “The Key”, “Emphasis”, “Intrinsic”, “Estranged (A Timeless Spell)”, both of the “My Pledge of Allegiance” songs, and “Forlorn Hope”.

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Epica- Consign to Oblivion

Band: Epica

Source: Wikipedia
Album: Consign to Oblivion

Year: 2005

Score: 8.1/10

“One of their Better Albums”

I’d be lying if I said I was the biggest Epica fan.  I enjoy everything they’ve done, yet I don’t feel that anything they have done is absolutely spectacular.  There are usually a few songs per album that I like, but never the final product.  Consign to Oblivion is one of two exceptions (the other being The Divine Conspiracy), where the finished product is a rather strong album with many standouts.

Consign to Oblivion has the most intriguing and the prettiest melodies of any Epica album.  The orchestration is brilliant, and most of the songs are more theatrical and epic than on any of their other albums.  One HUGE positive is that the death growls are largely reduced on Consign to Oblivion.  It’s not that I mind death growls (I like them in most bands), but most of Epica’s growls are very weak.  They are weak in execution and poor in placement.  I largely prefer the choirs and semi-operatic vocals of Simone Simons to the growls.   The main downfall of the album is that it is predictable and fairly simplistic where the metal aspect of the music is concerned.  The arrangements are also relatively simple, that is, the songs don’t venture far beyond the verse-chorus-verse format.  While this by itself isn’t bad, I would have liked to see more structural experimentation.  Especially since similar bands (early Nightwish, the Gathering, and even After Forever) have flirted with more complex structures and dynamics.  I honestly think that the musicians in Epica are very gifted and capable, but there needs to be a bit more variety within the songs.  I will say, however, that Epica has a good formula on this one.  For most of the songs, the simple combination of strong verses and powerful choruses works very well.

From an instrumental standpoint the album is decent.  As with most of Epica’s work, the blend of orchestral and metallic elements is what makes the album listenable.  The guitars are done well; the riffs are rhythmic and precise and, thus, end up being better than one would anticipate.  However, there aren’t any guitar solos; most of the lead melodies are delivered by the keys, orchestra, and vocals.  For a symphonic metal band, the bass is good.  Surprisingly audible at times, it’s a steady force in the songs.  Aside from that, there’s not much to say about it.  The bass did get better on Epica’s future work.  The drums are much like the guitars and bass; that is, they are precise but not terribly impressive.   Concerning the drums, there’s nothing to complain about but there’s nothing that stands out either.  The keyboards are done in a standard symphonic metal way.  They provide a lot of melody in some songs, but in others they are hardly noticeable amongst the symphonic elements.  The vocals in the album might be the best part.  While Simons has never been my favorite singer, she always does a good job.  One of her greatest strengths is the versatility in her voice.  She can go from a more operatic style to a lighter, poppier style.  Speaking of which, she uses her operatic voice a lot more on Consign to Oblivion than on Epica’s later albums.  Her vocals are also a lot better on Consign to Oblivion than on their debut.  The other most impressive aspect of the album is the orchestration.  The lush symphonic backdrops complement the guitars very well.  So far, Epica has been one of the only bands to utilize an orchestra that actually adds something worthwhile to the songs.  Consign to Oblivion is no exception to this trend; the symphonic elements are enjoyable in every single song.

As far as the individual songs go, Consign to Oblivion simply has the highest number of quality songs for any Epica album.  Nearly all of the songs are very memorable, something that I can’t say about the majority of Epica’s albums.  After a purely symphonic intro entitled “Hunab K’u” (it’s actually their best little intro song), the album kicks into gear with “Dance of Fate”.  Already, we have one of the standout songs- an ultra-melodic piece filled with big hooks and clever passages.  “The Last Crusade” follows; it’s not really as good as the previous song.  But it is a good listen and has some well performed shifts in dynamics.   Unfortunately, the album takes a downward turn with “Solitary Ground”.  It’s a ballad.  While it’s fairly emotive, it ultimately falls flat as there’s nothing unique about it.  Not even the arrival of heavy guitars in the middle of the song save it from being simply boring.  The intro of “Blank Infinity” leads the listener to believe that it will be like the previous song but, luckily, it is a solid symphonic metal piece with a good chorus.  It doesn’t quite reach the glory of “Dance of Fate”, but it is a fine listen anyway. 

The second half of the album begins with the surprisingly good “Force of the Shore”.  Contrary to what I’ve mentioned before, the growls are actually tolerable in this piece.  It’s one of the very best on the album, featuring grand melodies and catchy passages.  The singing, above all, is lovely and well accomplished.  “Quietus” is one of the famous songs, and actually one of my favorites.  I love the piano at the beginning; overall, it’s just an irresistible catchy song.  “Mother of Light”, regrettably, ends up falling flat.  It’s not bad, just not particularly memorable.  “Trois Vierges” is especially disappointing, for the sole reason that it’s another ballad.  It’s an important song, however, because Roy Khan (formerly of Kamelot) sings on it.  Both Khan and Simons give a great performance, but the song is simply weak (much like “Solitary Ground”).  It’s not quite as bad as that song, as it does have an interesting feel and atmosphere to it.  For the end of the album, things pick up in an excellent way.  The penultimate song on the album, “Another Me in Lack’ech”, is the absolute best of the album.  While I cannot definitively say it is my favorite from the band, it grows on me every time I listen to it.  This song, to me, is really what all Epica songs should sound like.  Everyone should listen to “Another Me in Lack’ech”, even if they don’t listen to the rest of the album.  The closing song of the album is, of course, the epic title track.  It honestly has the best orchestration of the whole album.  Ultimately, it ends up being one of the better tracks (though not as good as pieces like “Force of the Shore”, “Quietus and “Another Me in Lack’ech”).  It is also one of the band’s best epics, being far better than “The Divine Conspiracy” and “Kingdom of Heaven” from later albums.

Overall, Consign to Oblivion is one of the best (if not the absolute best) Epica albums.  It’s quite a good listen.  While it does fall flat in some areas, it is still an advisable listen.  This will certainly appeal to fans of the symphonic metal genre, and probably to fans of power metal too as long as they can tolerate a female voice.  There are many strong songs throughout the course of the album, perhaps more than any other Epica album. Consign to Oblivion is recommended, but not essential.  It’s a solid listen.

Best songs:  “Another Me in Lack’ech”, “Dance of Fate”, “Force of the Shore”, “Quietus”, “Blank Infinity”, and “Consign to Oblivion”.

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Amorphis- The Karelian Isthmus

Source: Wikipedia
Band:  Amorphis

Album:  The Karelian Isthmus

Year:  1992

Score: 9.6/10

“Fantastic Death Metal”

“The Karelian Isthmus” is a bit different from the rest of Amorphis’s discography, as it’s not nearly as progressive as anything that would follow.  Instead, it is a gritty and hypnotic piece of old-school Finnish death metal.  Bleak, atmospheric, and riff-heavy, “The Karelian Isthmus” rivals “Elegy” as the second-best work from Amorphis.  It’s an incredible listen, but the listener’s enjoyment of the album will likely stem from how tolerant of death metal they are.

The sound of the album is pretty unique.  It’s firmly rooted in old-school death metal, but there is a fair amount of melody to be found in the songs.  There’s also a strong doom metal influence in the songs, similar to the album that came afterwards.  This is mainly evident in the fact that there are some slower portions thrown about, and also in the general mid-tempo nature of the songs.  This stands in contrast to other death metal bands of the time, such as Carcass or Death, who derived more speed from thrash metal.  

Nevertheless there are some fast moments presented throughout “The Karelian Isthmus”, further adding to the uniqueness of the album.  There’s also a small progressive element to the album that is showcased in the song structures, as well as in the leads.  The album is quite melodic, though not in the sense of melodic death metal bands like In Flames or Dark Tranquillity.  This is much darker and far more enthralling than the familiar style of Gothenburg melodic death metal, which is why that title does not suit this at all.  The album is also surprisingly atmospheric.  While the atmosphere is not quite as vivid as on “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”, it is still fantastic.  The album conjures up visions of bleak battlefields and desolate landscapes (silly sounding, I know).   The songs themselves are not very catchy, and it sometimes takes a few listens to really absorb everything that is going on.  But it’s quite a worthwhile experience.

In terms of instrumentation, there is not anything too complex going on.  However, the songs do have challenging structures and are hardly ever straightforward.  Despite not being technically complex, the guitars are more than perfect.   They have a very warm and fuzzy tone (almost like a grunge album…), and every riff on the album is perfectly constructed.  In fact, the whole sound of the album is built on the guitar riffs.  When I say that the riffs are perfectly constructed, I am not exaggerating.  The opening riffs to “The Gathering” and “Misery Path” are incredibly memorable while the riffing in the middle of “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” is delicately atmospheric, yet still quite sinister.  There are catchy riffs, doomy riffs, incredible leads, and tremolo picked riffs.  The album has everything, except for abundant guitar solos- but they are hardly missed.  Other than the guitar, the instrumentation is still rather good.  The drums are good, presenting an excellent variety of beats and tempo changes.  There are some memorable drum pieces found amongst the songs.  The bass is audible, but it does not show off very much.  There are not any fun little bass solos, but it’s steady throughout the course of the album.  The vocals are actually great.  I have always been a fan of the original Amorphis vocalist; he has a good tone to his growls.  They complement the songs presented here very well, and end up being very enjoyable.

In terms of the individual songs, they are all rather good.  My favorite is probably “The Gathering”, for its interesting intro riff and doomy pace.  “Grail’s Mysteries” is also a masterpiece with several changes in riffing style presented throughout the song.  The centerpiece of the album “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu”   is another favorite, with an incredible atmospheric part in the middle of the song.  I love the contrast between slower and faster riffs in this particular song.  “Warrior’s Trial” has a very doomy opening riff.  In fact this song has some of the most memorable riffing on the entire album, as well as a cool part with some choir sounding stuff in the background (probably provided by a synthesizer).  “Misery Path” has another great opening riff, as well as some great tempo changes.  It’s certainly another favorite.  “Black Embrace” is another cool song with an odd part in the middle that is always worth listening to.  “The Sign from the North Side” is an incredible closer.  It’s got a fair share of melodic leads and hefty riffs.  Initially, this song was my favorite but I have since found that I prefer a few of the other songs.  Also notable is the beautiful acoustic intro, entitled “Karelia”.

“The Karelian Isthmus” is easily one of the greatest Amorphis albums.  While “Tales from the Thousand Lakes” will always be my favorite, this ties with “Elegy” as my second favorite.  The riffs are brilliant and the songs are crafted beautifully.  The atmosphere is bleak and foreboding, nearly as intense as the atmosphere on “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”.  I have probably said too much about the high quality and longevity of the guitar riffs, but this cannot be stressed enough.  The riffs alone are worth the price of the album.  Death metal fans with a tolerance for intriguing melodies should really enjoy this one; most Amorphis fans should like it too, but those who are expecting “Skyforger” or “Tuonela” should listen to this before buying.  It’s very far removed from their later work.

Thanks for reading, be sure to leave a comment!  (By the way, I've changed my rating scale to /10 instead of /100 as I think it's a more common formula and possibly easier to gauge the score of an album by.)

My review of "Elegy" also by Amorphis.
My review of "Black Winter Day" also by Amorphis.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eluveitie- Spirit

The artwork for "Spirit".
Source: Wikipedia

 Band:  Eluveitie

Album:  Spirit

Year: 2006

Score:  98/100

“Their Masterpiece”

Eluveitie have made several good albums since they were formed, but none of them are as good as “Spirit”.  It is simply their most diverse and (along with their “Ven” EP) their rawest and heaviest work.  “Spirit”, essentially, takes everything that was good about their aforementioned EP and expands on it.  There is hardly any filler to be found here, and most of the songs present a wonderful combination of folk and melodic death metal.

Instrumentally, “Spirit” is somewhat similar to most of Eluveitie’s albums.  The guitars generally play a rhythmic role in the songs.  They have a greater presence on “Spirit”, which really leads to my enjoyment of the album.  There are a few more lead guitar lines scattered throughout this release than on others by the band.   The only downfall to the guitars is that they are still fairly simplistic and they also sound a bit sloppy on this release.  Sometimes this is hardly noticeable, but it is evident enough on some of the songs to be mentioned.  Occasionally, the sloppiness plays to the album’s advantage and adds to the charm.  The bass is existent, but does not play an important role in the songs.  It’s not really needed, nor is it missed.  The drums are well done.  They are speedier on this one, more reminiscent of death metal.  I’ve always thought Eluveitie’s drummer is pretty good, and this album is no exception. The drumwork did improve later on, but it’s certainly not disappointing on “Spirit”.  Vocally, the album is very good also.  I’ve always been a fan of Chrigel’s growls; he has a good texture to his voice that sets him apart from other vocalists.  There are also some female vocals on some of the tracks.  These improved on their later albums with the addition of a new vocalist, but they are still well done here.  These vocals mostly serve the purpose of enhancing the diversity and authenticity of the album.  As usual with Eluveitie, the folk instruments are well done.  They are especially atmospheric on “Spirit”, and really add a lot to the songs.  The hooks and melodies to each of the songs are primarily done on the folk instruments.

In comparison to their later work, “Spirit” sounds more authentic.  The guitars are harder and the folk instrumentation provides a much greater sense of atmosphere.  In fact, “Spirit” is easily the most atmospheric of all Eluveitie releases.  Where the atmosphere on their later work was destroyed by a polished production job, the rawness of this album brings out the atmosphere in all of the compositions.  The songs can be mostly divided into two different styles- folk metal songs and interludes (there are only 3 of these, but still…).  Of the fully metal songs, some are more creative than others.  Songs such as “Siraxta” and “The Endless Knot” offer a different take on the style utilizing clean vocals and more complex structures, while others such as “Your Gaulish War” are fairly standard melodeath songs with added folk instrumentation that hint at Eluveitie’s future style.  The instrumentals are rather well done, perhaps better than on any other Eluveitie album.  The closing song, “Andro”, is my favorite of these as the melody is immensely catchy.  I have also noticed that there are cleaner, folkier parts within the metal songs than on later releases.  For example, several songs have clean intros to them.  This adds variety to the album, and sometimes helps the less impressive songs out.

On an individual basis, most of the songs have something unique to offer.  “Uis Elveti” is the first real song on the album, and it sets the stage for the rest of the album with a bang.  The vocal delivery is quite unique, with rhythmic growling during the verses and a chanted chorus.  Notable is the use of Gaulish lyrics in the song, something the band is famous for.  It remains one of my favorites from the band.  The next song, “Your Gaulish War”, sounds a lot like the songs on “Slania”.  This being said, it is very good but not as unique as the previous songs.  It’s as catchy as it can be, but the metal components of the song are not very exciting and the vocal structure and delivery is very predictable.  There’s some good guitar riffing a bit over halfway through the song, which leads into more of an atmospheric part complete with battle sounds.  “Of Fire, Wind and Wisdom” comes next, and this is easily one of my all time favorite Eluveitie songs.  The main melody of the song is absolutely infectious, and it has some of the best guitar riffing on the whole album.  The chorus, as well as the verse, is phenomenal.  Additionally, I love the spoken part at the beginning- right before the song fully kicks into gear.  “Aidu” follows, it’s an atmospheric folk piece with some female vocals added.  Personally, I think this particular song could have benefited if the vocals had not been included.   Essentially, it’s worth a listen but it’s definitely not one of the best on the whole album. 

The second half of the album begins with “The Song of Life”.  It’s more in the vein of “Your Gaulish War”, although the chorus is better than on that song.  It’s also got some very happy sounding folk melodies.  Not a bad song by any means.  “Tegernako” is another similar song, although it’s got a bit more diversity to it.  I particularly love the folk instruments in this one; they are well utilized and blend very well with each other and the guitars.  I think “Tegernako” is superior to “The Song of Life”.  Coming up next is “Siraxta”.  This one took a while to grow on me, but it turned out to be one of my favorites from the album.  This is a good example of the more creative and progressive style of the album.  The masterful combination of female vocals and death growls makes the song very good.  It also flirts more heavily with contrasting (soft to heavy) parts than any of the other songs on the album.  It turns into a full-fledged metal song near the end, just before concluding with a soft folk portion.  “The Dance of Victory” is closer to “Tegernako” and “Your Gaulish War” than anything else.  It is well performed, but not as memorable as songs like “Uis Elveti” and “Siraxta”.  Still, there are few complaints that I have with it.  “The Endless Knot” is the last non-instrumental song on the album.  This one might just be my favorite of the whole album.  It is more instrumentally driven than most of the songs on the album.  It also has some fantastic changes in pace.  The chorus combines male chanting and female vocals.  It is also one of the longest songs on the entire release, coming in at almost seven minutes (rather long for an Eluveitie song).  All in all it’s a beautiful piece, and a fitting end to the album.  The album closes with the instrumental, “Andro”.  It’s a great folk metal song with a good melody.

Overall, “Spirit” is a phenomenal folk metal album.  It is easily one of the best from its genre, as well as the best and most intriguing Eluveitie album.  It’s harsh and atmospheric with interesting and catchy songs.  In my eyes, it is the most unique thing Eluveitie has ever created.  It is really set apart from their other work.  Although I love many of their later albums, “Spirit” will always be my favorite.  I recommend it to fans of folk metal, though most will have heard it.  Finding a copy is very hard these days, but it is worth a thorough listen.  To anyone who likes this album the follow-up, “Slania”, is nearly as good.

Best songs:  “The Endless Knot”, “Of Fire, Wind and Wisdom”, “Uis Elveti”, “Siraxta”, “Tegernako”, “Your Gaulish War”, “The Dance of Victory”, “The Song of Life”, and “Andro”.

Thanks for reading, be sure to comment!

Read my other Eluveitie reviews:
Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion

Monday, April 30, 2012

Iron Maiden- Somewhere in Time

Album: Somewhere In Time
Source: Wikipedia

Artist:  Iron Maiden

Year: 1986

Score: 100/100

“How to Create a Masterpiece”

1986 was really a great year for metal music.  Not only were several thrash classics released that year, it also saw the release of Iron Maiden’s masterwork.  “Somewhere In Time”, in my eyes, is easily the best Iron Maiden album ever made.  For me, “Somewhere in Time” took everything that was already good about Iron Maiden and expanded it.  The excellent sound is still there, but there is an added atmosphere and the songs are even more intricate.  Perhaps it is an unpopular opinion to label this as the greatest of all Iron Maiden albums, but it truly is my favorite.  It is a magnificent output from a mature band in their prime.

Instrumentally, the album is brilliant. The melodies are enthralling, and the instruments are distributed into relatively equal portions.  The trademark dueling guitars are still there, playing perhaps the most important role in the entire album.  More than any other Iron Maiden album, this is the most melodic.  While the songs still have the trademark Iron Maiden galloping rhythm, it is not as prominent.  The band relies on other techniques to pull the listener in.  Much of this comes from the excellent guitars.  Some of the best Iron Maiden solos are found on “Somewhere in Time”; they often take up a large portion of the songs.  The riffs are also great; they are well constructed and well placed within the songs.  The bass is as fantastic as usual.  It serves as a perfect backbone to the songs, and is wonderfully high in the mix.  It’s hard not to love the bass in an Iron Maiden album, and “Somewhere in Time” is no exception.  The drums are also excellent.  There are many memorable moments scattered throughout the release.  Additionally, the drumbeats are not too similar in every song.  There is a pretty good variety of beats and fills found throughout.  Vocally, “Somewhere in Time” is amazing.  This is, hands down, Bruce Dickinson’s finest hour.  He handles the vocals with ease, going from a raspier voice to a smoother style of singing.  Something that set “Somewhere in Time” apart from previous Iron Maiden albums was the use of keyboards during the songs.  They are actually barely noticeable, but do play an instrumental role in the overall feel of the album.  The synths basically serve as a backdrop to the songs; they add a lot of mood and atmosphere, but not much in a technical sense.  The keyboards were done very well, especially given the year this album came out.

The songs themselves follow many different patterns.  There are long portions of instrumental display, as well as a variety of riffs.  Some of these riffs are very relaxing while others are quite rhythmic and metallic.  Other guitar portions are highly melodic, reminding me of power metal.  Most of the songs are midpaced to fast, though generally slower than what Iron Maiden had done before.  Even though the songs all have a clear verse and chorus; they are fairly complex from a structural standpoint.  They are also rather long with the shortest being nearly five minutes long.  In addition to all of these things, “Somewhere in Time” is rather atmospheric for an Iron Maiden album.  Part of this is due to the keys, but it also has to do with the frequent shifts in dynamics and tempo.  The atmosphere is one of the main reasons that I enjoy this album so much; it really adds to Iron Maiden’s sound.

As the individual songs go, they are all close to being perfect.  Each is like a small story, similar to the last yet distinctly different.  There are more grandiose moments, as well as catchier songs.  This diversity makes “Somewhere in Time” a unique listen.  The album opens up with “Caught Somewhere in Time”- one of the greatest songs the band would ever do.  From the very beginning, the song is dreamlike yet attention-grabbing.  The chorus is beautiful and anthemic; it begs for the listener to sing along.  Following this is the catchier, but not less impressive “Wasted Years”.  The guitar intro is classic and highly memorable.  It effectively blends the progressive tendencies of the opener into a more accessible tune.  The third song, “Sea of Madness”, is very close to being my favorite Iron Maiden song.  There’s a great contrast between soft and heavy, and it might just contain Bruce Dickinson’s finest vocal moment.  It’s got another powerful chorus similar to the opener, and the verses are surreal.  It’s also got some of the heaviest riffing in any Iron Maiden song.  “Heaven Can Wait” comes next with a very relaxed sounding chorus and more great guitars.  The verses in this song are quite interesting, though it does not stand out as much as the three that came before it (still a great tune, though!).  The fifth song, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, is another classic.  This one is long and winding, with a most impressive guitar solo in the middle.  It’s very melodically driven, perhaps more than anything else on the album.  I consider it to be a highly underrated song, and one of the best from the album.  “Stranger in a Strange Land” is another catchy song, more in the vein of “Wasted Years”.  It sounds great coming off of “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, as the contrast between the two songs helps keep the album diverse.  I particularly enjoy the bass intro to the song, as well as the added atmosphere during the verses.  “Déjà vu” is another standout.  The singing in this one is a bit different, less melodic or something.    It’s hard to believe that this song is not better known as it certainly lives up to the high standards of Iron Maiden’s hit songs.  Finally, the album closes with the grand epic “Alexander the Great”.  What a song!  It takes everything that is great about “Somewhere in Time” and fits it into a single song.  This track is somewhat similar to the opener.  The difference lies in the fact that it really brings the album full circle- to an effective ending.  It’s a masterpiece, a fitting finale to an impressive show.

“Somewhere in Time” is my favorite work from Iron Maiden for many reasons.  It’s one of the metal albums to judge other metal albums by.  I honestly recommend this one to anyone who likes rock or metal, as I feel that most people into this genre will surely like it.  Most fans of Iron Maiden will have heard this already, but those who have not should definitely listen to it.  Perhaps it’s not the album most representative of their sound, but it is their best.    For newer fans to the band I would recommend “Powerslave” as it is their signature release, and another flawless album.  “Somewhere in Time” is one of those fantastic albums that never ages, and remains as perfect as it was the first time I heard it.  Highly recommended!

Best songs:  All of them!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nightwish- Wishmaster

Source: Wikipedia
Album: Wishmaster

Artist: Nightwish

Year: 2000

Score: 96/100

“Another Triumphant Nightwish Album”

Nightwish is one of the more popular modern metal bands that don’t play nu metal or metalcore.  Sadly, they’ve been going downhill in my eyes with the added orchestrations and subdued guitars (just not my thing).  However, their first three albums were absolutely excellent.  “Wishmaster” was the last of these excellent releases, and my least favorite of their first three.  It’s a great release with only one song that isn’t incredible (it’s even worse that the song is terribly overrated). 

There’s quite a lot of poppiness found in the songwriting on this album, but it’s not done in an irritating way.  The songs are still undoubtedly metal, as showcased by the galloping guitars and surging vocals.  “Wishmaster” doesn’t contain as much atmosphere as their first two albums, probably due to a cleaner production job.  Nonetheless, the album does sound very good and surprisingly not too polished.  The only complaint I have is that the bass is a little too low, and the vocals are seemingly more dominant than on the previous albums.  Most of the songs are very triumphant and big sounding, and they are almost all in the power metal style.  There’s also a great happiness to the songs, and thus the album comes across sounding like Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius with a female vocalist.  It is in this that the album loses some of its uniqueness.  It’s hard to deny the fact that both “Angels Fall First” and “Oceanborn” were unique albums.  While the former’s genre is difficult to classify, the latter was a very dark and celestial sounding power metal album.  It wasn’t extremely aggressive or anything, but it wasn’t blatantly happy like so many power metal bands are.  With this being established, it’s easy to see why “Wishmaster” is a step down (although a small one).  It falls right into the power metal clichés, but it’s not a huge issue as indicated by my generous score.  It’s tough for me to look at “Wishmaster” (or even “Century Child”) as the beginning of the end for this band, but even at this point they had begun to adopt a simpler style.  In addition, the song structures are more straightforward and conventional than on their previous albums.

As the individual instruments go, I have no real complaints.  I’ve never thought Nightwish’s appeal was in extremely technical musicianship, but more in songwriting and atmosphere.  Perhaps the most notable trait on some of the songs is the dueling guitar and keyboards.  While these passages are not as neoclassical as other power metal bands, they do their job well and set the album apart.  Like all early Nightwish albums, the vocals are incredible.  Tarja gives one of her best performances on “Wishmaster”.  The only complaint I have about the vocals is indirect; they seem to be placed at the forefront of some of the songs instead of the guitars.  This wasn’t the case on their prior albums, and became even worse later.  The bass guitar is fine, but almost completely inaudible.  In fact, the only place I can remember hearing the bass without directly listening for it is during the verse of “Bare Grace Misery”.  The drums are actually pretty good, there are some good moments found throughout the album.  Finally, we have the keyboards.  They are used in the songs on “Wishmaster” more than they are on “Oceanborn”.  They are not incredibly overdone, but sometimes they get irritating.

Nearly all of the songs on “Wishmaster” are fantastic.  While the album did have a few hits, a lot of the songs are rather overlooked.  The most famous song is “Wishmaster”.  It’s an anthemic track with lyrics about fantasy series including Tolkien’s work.  The start stop chorus style is very effective in this particular song.  “The Kinslayer” is the other hit song.  It’s overrated, but not a bad song in and of itself.  It has one of the most memorable keyboard riffs I’ve ever heard.  “Wanderlust” is one of the highlights, with a triumphant chorus.  The sort of bridge at the end really makes the song stick out, as well as the dueling instruments.  “She is My Sin” is the opener, a strong power metal song.  There are some great galloping rhythms typical to the genre, and it’s got another winning chorus.  “Come Cover Me” is a very underrated song.  It’s very poppy, but there are some excellent riffs.  It also hosts one of my favorite vocal performances from Tarja Turunen.  “Crownless” must be one of the most underrated Nightwish songs in existence.  It’s also one of the best, maybe even my second favorite from the album.  It’s a fast number, and reminds me a lot of other power metal bands.  “FantasMic” is the epic of the album.  It’s over eight minutes long.  It’s easily my favorite track and contains some of the best riffs from Nightwish’s career.   Also, it is a very uplifting song.  “Wishmaster” also contains the best Nightwish ballad, the phenomenal “Deep Silent Complete”.  It’s a gorgeous song, seamlessly blending heavy guitars with ethereal vocal melodies.  “Two For Tragedy” is a decent ballad- I like the singing over the heavy guitars near the end of the song.  “Bare Grace Misery” is another poppy song, but I love it nonetheless.  The chorus is very addictive, and the short instrumental section is actually pretty good.  I’ve saved the worst song for last, and that is “Dead Boy’s Poem”.  What on earth is so special about this song, I’ll never know.  It’s not that bad really, aside from being boring throughout.  But the thing that really ruins it is the unnecessary narrations.  Nightwish got pretty tacky with the spoken narrations, especially later in their career.  I generally dislike narrations, especially when they dominate the song (like in this one).  Nevertheless, the ending of “Dead Boy’s Poem” is decent with some good drum work.

Even though I’ve pointed out some obvious flaws, I still love “Wishmaster” to death.  It’s a very solid album, and the last of the Nightwish ‘classics’.  Fans of Nightwish who haven’t heard it should begin listening immediately; it’s one of their most famous and most essential albums.  Fans of power metal might enjoy this, as might fans of symphonic/female-fronted metal.  For newbies to Nightwish, I would actually recommend this as it’s very accessible and was my own first favorite Nightwish album.  Despite how the band changed, the trio of “Angels Fall First”, “Oceanborn”, and “Wishmaster” will always be amongst my favorite albums of all time.

Best songs:  “FantasMic”, “Crownless”, “She is my Sin”, “Wishmaster”, “Bare Grace Misery”, “Wanderlust”, “Come Cover Me”, and “Deep Silent Complete”.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Amorphis- Elegy

Source: Wikipedia

Album:  Elegy

Artist: Amorphis

Year:  1996

Score: 96/100

“Very Unique”

Amorphis have changed remarkably over the years, starting off as a death metal band and morphing into more of a prog rock/metal band.  “Elegy” is their third release, and it’s their first to really experiment with progressive rock elements.  There’s still plenty of death metal to be found in the release, but clean vocalizations and ultra-melodic guitar portions are used to a much greater extent.  The first three Amorphis albums are their best, and “Elegy” is no exception to the trend of greatness.  It’s an enthralling album, finishing what was started on “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”.

A lot of the instrumentation in “Elegy” is reminiscent of progressive rock music.  There’s heavy keyboard use and prominent clean vocals.  The riffs are also highly melodic, kind of like taking your typical prog rock riffs and distorting them.  Speaking of the guitars, they are great.  Think bluesy leads mixed in with great metal riffing.  Oftentimes, the lead guitar will really stick out in the mix with a quick solo or riff.  There are also different effects used on the guitars, which wasn’t something Amorphis had experimented with at the time.  Clean guitar portions are used only a little, but they have a great effect.  Another notable thing about the guitars is that they often harmonize with each other or with the keys to make a great double effect.  They are very relaxed and loose sounding, which adds to the feeling of the music.  Vocally, this might be the strongest Amorphis album.  Their original vocalist (and rhythm guitarist), Tomi, is the best harsh vocalist the band had.  He splits vocals with Pasi, who was new at the time and performed clean vocals on several Amorphis albums.  He also does a variation of harsh vocals, and excels at both.  It is due to this combination that the vocals are so enjoyable on “Elegy”.  The bass is actually improved from their previous album, and makes several enjoyable appearances throughout the album.  The drums are similar, in that they’re very solid throughout with a few shining moments.  The keyboards play a much larger role in the music than on any prior Amorphis release, yet the guitars are still the dominant instrument.  The keys are not overbearing, nor do they dominate the mix.  They are tastefully added to enhance the melodies and atmosphere, very well done indeed.

“Elegy” is a much happier sounding album than “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”.  Instead of reminding me of winter like that album, “Elegy” conjures up visions of beautiful summer landscapes.  Such atmospheres are relatively uncommon in metal music, and Amorphis have done a very good job with this atmosphere.  The songs are so well crafted that it’s hard to believe.  Every component melds together, and it makes the album seem very natural- something that a lot of progressive bands can’t seem to do.  I’ve already mentioned the relaxed feeling in the guitars, but this is what really makes the album flow so well.  The album also sounds rather optimistic and upbeat, despite making use of death growls and heavy guitars.  I don’t know if this was the band’s intent, but that’s the way it comes across.  Most of the songs are somewhat similar, with powerful verses and great choruses.  There are many incredible instrumental passages found throughout, like in “The Orphan” and “Weeper on the Shore”.  I can honestly say that every melody is a standout.

There is not a bad song to be found on “Elegy”.  “My Kantele” is the hit song, with an opening riff that I just love.  In fact, I just love the whole song.  There’s an acoustic version at the end which is always interesting to hear, even if I prefer the heavy version.  The other hit is “Against Widows” and it’s one of my favorites from the whole album.  The riffs are so great, and the chorus is brilliant.  “On Rich and Poor” was an early favorite for me, and it’s another with a really good chorus.  I believe it was the first song I heard from the album.  “Cares” was also one of the first songs I heard from the album, and I still enjoy it like I did the first time I heard it.  The verse is wonderful, with some of the best growls on the whole album.  It also has some very relaxing clean parts.  “Weeper on the Shore” is one of my absolute favorites from the album.  There’s this great riff about halfway into it that just keeps building and the guitars are great throughout the song.  It’s up there as one of Amorphis’s best songs.  “Song of the Troubled One” is another brilliant song, with some keyboards that actually remind me a bit of Dream Theater.  “The Orphan” has a very relaxing vibe, especially at the beginning.  It’s the most ballad-like song on the whole release.  The guitar harmonies towards the end are simply gorgeous.  “Elegy” is a beautiful piece, with a notable piano intro.  It’s also the longest song on the album.  “Relief” is the instrumental of the album, with a notable addictive guitar melody.  It has some of the most fascinating keyboard work on the whole release.  “Better Unborn”, the opener, is also a really great tune.  There’s a distinct Egyptian feel to the intro, something that was carried over from “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”.

In all truth, I think that “Elegy” is a fine item for any CD collection.  I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed Amorphis before.  It’s similar to “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”, but lighter and more progressive.  It’s always an exciting listen, and it’s truly a unique album.  People who like both prog metal and death metal should eat this up.  This is how to make a progressive death metal album and tastefully combine both elements without drawing too much from one influence.  I don’t give it a full 100/100 because it just doesn’t measure up to certain albums that I would award that score to, and there’s not that much variation from song to song.  It’s still one of the high points of its genre, and an album that I will certainly listen to for a long time.  Highly recommended and probably the second best Amorphis release.

Best songs:  “Against Widows”, “On Rich and Poor”, “My Kantele”, “Cares”, “Song of the Troubled One”, “Weeper On the Shore”, “Elegy”, and “Relief”.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Agalloch- The Mantle

Source: Wikipedia
Album:  The Mantle

Artist:  Agalloch

Year:  2002

Score:  77/100

“Monotonous, Yet Pleasing”

Agalloch is a band I can tolerate in small to moderate doses.  Their style of atmospheric metal music is enjoyable, yet it doesn’t shift or change very much.  Their riffs, especially after their debut album, generally run and blur together.  Perhaps this is part of their appeal to most people, I don’t know.  Having already written a review for their first album, “Pale Folklore”, I decided to continue on with their discography.  “The Mantle” is Agalloch’s second release, and probably my second favorite of theirs.  There are many good songs, but also some misses.  When compared to the debut, this album is even more relaxing and less harsh.  Judging by my score, it’s easy to see that I don’t think this album is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  Nevertheless, there are gems worth listening to.

Instrumentally, “The Mantle” is very much like its predecessor.  There are many acoustic and clean passages, and lots of droning black metal-ish guitar riffs.   The main difference is that the softer parts are found in greater quantities, sometimes even dominating the songs.  It seems that both acoustic and clean electric guitars are used (mostly acoustic, though), which adds to the variation a little bit.  However, nearly all of the softer parts sound the same.  They even sound like the heavy portions of the album, which is not something I find enjoyable.  On “Pale Folklore”, there was much more distinction and contrast between soft and heavy which worked a lot better for the band.  I do, however, have to compliment the band on their guitar solos on “The Mantle”.  They suit the songs a lot better than the solos on “Pale Folklore”.  Even if they do sound awkward and disrupting at times, they flow so much better than on the past album.  The vocals are a mixture of black metal shrieks and clean singing.  The shrieks are good enough, but they’re more of the whispery variety of black metal vocals and lack some power.  To be truthful, I really dislike most of the clean singing done on “The Mantle”.  I suppose the vocals are intended to sound dreamy and atmospheric, but they don’t quite hit the mark for me.  There’s no power, and honestly the singer (can’t recall his name at the moment) sounds awkward and even strange at times.  Another weak spot is the drums.  They’re not outwardly bad, but there’s absolutely nothing interesting that happens with them.  Not even the drum intro to “I Am the Wooden Doors” is good.  The bass is almost nonexistent, but it doesn’t really detract from the listening experience.

I’ve basically spent the last paragraph talking about how the instrumentation on the album is rather bland.  While I stand by this, the layered and minimalistic style does work in some places.  Four of the nine tracks are instrumentals.  Two of these are excellent, but the two others come across as unnecessary.  The rest of the tracks are also fairly similar.  They almost all feature subtle shifts in dynamics, to the point where the listener almost doesn’t notice.  There are a few great guitar harmonies, particularly in the songs “Odal” and “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion”.  Additionally, most of the songs are long with two clocking in at over ten minutes.  The most standout aspect of the album is the atmosphere that is conjured.  It is very good, and much bleaker than “Pale Folklore”.

Speaking of the individual songs, I like most of them.  However, it’s more that I enjoy certain pieces of the songs instead of the full effect.  “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” is the first real track on the album, and it’s also the longest.  There are some great guitar harmonies to be found, but there are also some misses in the song such as the lackluster clean vocals.  It also runs for a little too long.  About ten minutes into the song, I often find myself wishing that it was over.  Not a good thing at all.  “I Am the Wooden Doors” is better, but it features the same weak clean vocals.  However, the harsh vocals in the song are actually pretty enjoyable.  It’s a beautiful piece and probably one of my top favorites from the album.  “Odal” is a beautiful instrumental with lots of hypnotic melodies.  It too, is one of my favorites from the album and even from the band in general.  “The Lodge” is honestly just a boring track, which only serves a purpose to me as background music.  There is a weird drum sound going on, but the basis for the song is just an acoustic guitar riff.  “You Were But A Ghost in My Arms” is my personal favorite from the album.  It’s a very beautiful song, and one of the best that the band has ever put forth.  I can honestly say that I wish the rest of the album was like this song.  Everything just works so well, especially the changes and transitions.  “The Hawthorne Passage” is a great instrumental (mostly instrumental), very hypnotic.  The acoustic parts are the best on the whole album, and the guitar soloing is actually good as well.  This is another example of a song that flows really well.  “…And the Great Cold Death of the Earth” has a gorgeous acoustic solo and is actually one of the few songs that doesn’t run for too long.  But like some of the other songs, it has absolutely boring acoustic guitar work and painfully executed clean vocals.  “A Desolation Song” is a boring number that seems overly praised to me.  It’s an appropriate closer to the album, but definitely not a highlight.

Overall, I recommend “The Mantle” to Agalloch fans and maybe those who like atmospheric metal.  It’s not what I would consider a great release, and it’s not as good as “Pale Folklore”.  “The Mantle” is simply a bleak, atmospheric work that is worthy of the band who made it.  I am not familiar with Agalloch’s latest album (“Marrow of the Spirit”), but this one is better than “Ashes Against the Grain”.  Having said this, “The Mantle” is my second favorite Agalloch release.  It’s quite enjoyable when in the right mood, but it gets tedious very quickly.

Best songs:  “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion”, “Odal”, “I Am the Wooden Doors”, “You Were But a Ghost in My Arms”, “The Hawthorne Passage”, and “...And the Great Cold Death of the Earth”.

Worst songs:  “The Lodge”, “A Celebration For the Death of Man”, “A Desolation Song”.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Eluveitie- Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion

Source: Wikipedia
Album:  “Evocation I:  The Arcane Dominion”

Artist:  Eluveitie

Year:  2009

Score:  80/100

“An Interesting Acoustic Folk Metal Release”

If I was pressured to summarize “Evocation I” in just a few words, I would say that it’s a poppy acoustic folk metal album.  I highlight the metal part of this description, because this is essentially a collection of brief folk metal songs played acoustically.  Songs like “Brictom” and “Omnos” would’ve been great on any other Eluveitie album, had they been enhanced with the usual electric guitars.  In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a metal version of “Omnos” that the band recorded.  With all of this being said, it is important to recognize that this is an acoustic album.  For this reason, I have scored it very objectively.  It is definitely a good album for what it is, but it’s not something I’ll listen to frequently because of its lack of metallic elements.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy it when I give it a listen.

There’s not much to speak of instrumentally.  The traditional folk instruments are the primary sounds that grace the album.  Because of this, the melodies are amongst the most enchanting the band has ever done.  The guitars, when used, are generally acoustic.  They are most often limited to strumming basic chords.  The main function of the guitars is seemingly to add a little extra punch to the music.  There’s a small acoustic solo at the end of “Voveso in Mori”, and it’s a very refreshing change from the folk instruments in the rest of the songs.

In terms of the actual songs, there are hits and misses.  Some of them are full length songs with clearly defined structures, while others are merely short instrumentals.  Ten of the fifteen songs are under four minutes, and five of these are under three minutes.  Most of the vocals are done by Anna Murphy, which is a strong departure from Eluveitie’s characteristic growls.  There are still a few grunts scattered about the songs, which is interesting considering the acoustic music.  Additionally, the female vocals are unconventional in some places which adds to the feeling of the music.  The lyrics are nearly entirely in Gaulish, a dead language.  I have always loved the Eluveitie songs done in Gaulish, as it is a beautiful sounding language.  One issue that is oftentimes present on Eluveitie albums is that the songs do blur together after a while.  On “Evocation I”, this is not too prominent; however, I still feel that it’s worth mentioning.

I can’t exactly pinpoint a favorite song, though I’d probably say “Brictom” if I was asked.  The song has many hypnotic folk melodies and some of the most prominent guitar portions on the album.  I also enjoy the layered vocals during the chorus.  It is quite simple and poppy, but it does its job very well.  If the band ever redid this as a metal song, I would be eager to hear it.  “Omnos” is the big hit of the album, and it’s much like “Brictom”.  However, it lacks the darker feel of that song and it’s much more mainstream sounding.  I believe “Omnos” was originally intended to be a metal song, and there’s a version in which the song has heavy guitars and a few growls.  “Carnutian Forest” is a beautiful instrumental piece (there’s singing towards the end, but it’s mostly instrumental).  There’s some whispering in the background of the song, which really adds to the mood.  It’s one of the better songs, for sure.  “Dessumiis Luge” is one of the most haunting songs on the album. The vocals are creepy as well as the aggressive nature of the music.  The opening song, “Sacrapos- At First Glance” has some of the strangest narrations I’ve ever heard in a song.  “The Arcane Dominion” is another notable song, as it features both harsh and clean vocals.  It’s also the longest on the album.  “The Cauldron of Renascence” is also very good for what it is.  It’s quite happy sounding, reminding me almost of a Korpiklaani instrumental.  “Voveso in Mori” is the song that oddly sounds most like a ballad.  The guitar solo is beautiful, though a little generic.  I think it’s one of the key songs of the album, though not necessarily one of the best.

Overall, “Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion” is a good release when one looks at what the purpose of the album was.  People expecting crushing guitars and growls will not enjoy this.  Structurally, many of the songs would have done well with guitars and other instrumentation but they do work well in acoustic form.  For these reasons I would only recommend “Evocation I” to die-hard Eluveitie fans.  My score of 80/100 is mainly objective, as the album is not the most enjoyable to me but I cannot deny that it is a solid release.  In terms of effort and songwriting, it sits right in the middle of Eluveitie’s discography.  It can get monotonous at times, but it listens fairly well throughout the course of the album.

Thanks for reading!  Comments are always appreciated!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nightwish- Oceanborn

Album: Oceanborn

Source: Wikipedia
 Artist: Nightwish

 Year: 1998

 Score: 100/100

 “One of My All Time Favorites

 Nightwish… most people either love or hate them. I’m really a huge fan of their first three releases, and I enjoy everything else up until the singer change (although my dislike for their more recent releases has little to do with the vocalist). “Oceanborn” is their masterpiece. In all seriousness, I believe this will be considered a metal classic one day. It’s not for everyone, and I’ve come across many people who hate this album. Nevertheless, “Oceanborn” deserves every word of praise I can give it.

 If I had to label the album with a genre, it would fit the best as a power metal album. However, it is much deeper and almost darker than other albums of that genre. There’s a great atmosphere to be found here; something I would describe as celestial and majestic. At the same time, “Oceanborn” is also a surprisingly relaxing album. The songs, while diverse, all fit together when the album is listened to in its entirety. This is exactly how I like my favorite albums. The songs do not all sound the same, but they are chained together by a similar feeling. “Oceanborn” is best experienced as a full album, but the songs are great by themselves.

Instrumentally, I have no complaints. Perhaps there could’ve been less keyboard solos (and more guitar solos) or a louder bass line, but I hardly notice this when listening to the album. This is not an album where one should expect complete technical mastery, and it’s not meant to be. The appeal is mostly in the songwriting and the atmosphere. Nevertheless, “Oceanborn” is the Nightwish album where the guitars shine the most. There are more solos and riffs thrown in than on their other work, and the guitars are also louder in the mix to counter the keyboards. Vocally, I believe this is Tarja Turunen’s best work. Her voice sounds both more youthful and heavy (more metal) than it would on later releases. I also enjoy the occasional harsh male vocals. They are not overused and they complement the female vocals very well. There are not many true symphonic elements to “Oceanborn”, as the songs get their dramatic feeling from the keys and guitars. Speaking of the keyboards, they are fairly enjoyable. They work best when dueling with the guitar (“Sacrament of Wilderness”) and when providing an atmospheric backdrop (“Passion and the Opera”). The drums are done well. There are some good fills and double bass passages found throughout the songs, but they are not very flashy. The bass is not exactly bad, but it is very low in the mix. Sadly, it does not play much of a role in the album.

Perhaps the most known non-ballad song on “Oceanborn” is “Sacrament of Wilderness”. It’s still performed live very often, and deserves its place as one of the best. I love the aforementioned dueling guitar and keyboard between the verses. Despite all of this, there are songs that I think are even better. “Stargazers” is the opening track and maybe the most reminiscent of conventional power metal. It’s a faster song, with a great middle section. Even though “Passion and the Opera” was released as a single, it is one of the lesser known Nightwish songs out there. There’s also the small detail that it’s my favorite Nightwish song of all time. In fact, there is little to justify this title. The song’s main riff reminds me a lot of 80s speed metal; it’s fairly aggressive for Nightwish standards. The vocal melodies are quite beautiful, and they give a great surreal feeling to the song. “Gethsemane” is one of the most melodic songs from the album. It’s a bit slower, and features a brilliant chorus. There’s a small keyboard part towards the middle that reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast” from Nightwish’s first album. “Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean” is the most aggressive track on the album. It features many great guitar riffs as well as good performances from both vocalists. In addition to being the most aggressive, “Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean” is one of the most dramatic tracks on the album. It fits quite a bit of structural shifts into a mere five minutes. “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion” is another dramatic song, with many brilliant individual pieces and two vocalists. It’s also structurally challenging, but it does have a chorus that repeats at the end of the song. “Moondance” is a cool instrumental that retains some of the folk influence found on the band’s debut. It’s both calming and upbeat at the same time. “The Riddler” is the ‘poppy’ song from the album, but it’s still very good. The chorus is beautiful. “Swanheart” is one of the best ballads from the band, and it’s the best of the three ballads presented on the release. “Sleeping Sun” is one of the weaker tracks, but it’s one of the most famous from the band. The original version found here is much better than the 2005 rerecorded version. “Walking in the Air” starts off slow, but builds into a great metal song. “Nightquest” is a bonus track found on the commonly sold reissue, and it is actually one of the best Nightwish songs out there. Even though it wasn’t on the original release, it still fits in well.

 The Nightwish fan in me recommends “Oceanborn” to everyone who has ears, but I realize that not everyone will enjoy this album. For those metalheads who can tolerate operatic female vocals, “Oceanborn” will surely be a worthwhile listen. However, I avoided Nightwish for too long because I'm honestly not too keen on opera singing. Give “Passion and the Opera” and “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion” a try, because they both deserve a listen. Power and speed metal fans with open minds should enjoy this, as well as anyone into the female-fronted metal genre. I am obviously a huge fan of “Oceanborn”, and it’s up there with “Tales From the Thousand Lakes” and “Somewhere in Time” as one of my all time favorite albums.

 Thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment, as it’s my favorite album that I’ve reviewed thus far!

Best songs: “Stargazers”, “Gethsemane”, “Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean”, “Sacrament of Wilderness”, “Passion and the Opera”, “Moondance”, “The Riddler”, “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion”, and “Nightquest”.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nightwish- Once

Source: Wikipedia

Album:  Once

Band:  Nightwish

Year:  2004

Score: 77/100

“Not Their Best by a Long Shot”

Nightwish are one of the more popular “true metal” bands of the last decade.  Despite being huge in Finland, they are not very well known in certain parts of the United States (I’ve never met anyone else who’s heard of them).  Perhaps they are most known for their symphonic metal sound, but I’ve always loved their first three albums where they hardly had any symphonic elements at all.  Prior to 2007, Nightwish were known as the metal band with the opera singer.  “Once” was their fifth album and the last to feature their famous classical singer, Tarja Turunen.  There are a lot of issues with the album, and yet I can’t help but be a raving fan and give it a good score.

Nightwish had used orchestrations in their previous album, “Century Child”, but they weren’t a prominent part of the music.  In “Once”, the orchestra is no longer a backup instrument, but a large part of the music.  It is still not as symphonic (thank God) as anything they would do afterwards, but the orchestra is still a big component of the music.  My feelings toward the use of orchestral instruments in metal music are mixed.  When executed properly, they can add to the epic feeling of an album; however they generally come across as cheesy and unnecessary.  In fact, I don’t really even like the only band to successfully combine an orchestra with metal music (Epica… they’re just too poppy for me even though I like a few of their songs).  Yes, this is me saying that Nightwish are better without the orchestra.  Nevertheless, I do find the symphonic portions of “Planet Hell” and “Ghost Love Score” to be somewhat enjoyable.

As for the other instruments, my opinion is mixed again.  The guitar riffs aren’t really memorable and the solos are weak.  I’ve never found Emppu Vourinen to be the greatest guitarist, but older Nightwish material generally had decent and enjoyable guitar work.  Here, the riffs are simple.  This simplicity was a blatant sign of what was to come later.  As usual with older Nightwish albums, the vocals are splendid.  I feel like Tarja did a better job on “Once” than on “Century Child”, though I still prefer the older style she had on the first three albums.  Her voice is clear and confident on the songs, and she doesn’t do a bad job anywhere.  There are also many male vocals to be found in the album.  I’ve never liked Marco Hietala’s vocals.  I seriously don’t understand the hype about this guy.  He’s less powerful than Tarja and sounds amateur when put next to her in a song.  There are so many male singers that could have done really well on the album, but Marco has just never been my cup of tea.  I heard some of his older work (with Tarot, I believe) and enjoyed his voice more there, but with Nightwish I’ve never liked him.  The bass, drums, and keyboards fall into the same predicament as the guitars.  Despite being the main songwriter, Tuomas Holopainen doesn’t shine instrumentally at all.  His keyboard solos are painfully boring and don’t really show a technical proficiency either.  The drums are standard for the genre… some good double bass work and a few neat fills.  The bass is generally audible, but not complex.  It’s actually quite basic.

Now that we’ve established the musicianship on the album, it’s time to talk about the songs.  I’ll start with the best to be found on the album.  “Ghost Love Score” is a majestic piece of music, with many contrasting parts.  The song is ten minutes long, and very easy to listen to despite the monstrous length.  Even though it might be my favorite from the album, it’s kind of overrated.  “Romanticide”, while sounding a little too modern, is one of my other favorites from the album.  I really wish the guitar work had been less reminiscent of metalcore (which I dislike), because the vocal melodies are beautiful.  It’s a good song.  “Dark Chest of Wonders” is my third favorite, and it’s probably the most similar to their older work.  It’s a wondrous song, but it gets ruined by a breakdown a little more than halfway through.  Why they had to throw that breakdown in, I don’t know.  On another note, “Nemo” isn’t nearly as bad as everyone says it is.  It’s not a masterpiece in any sense, but it’s a cool little Goth-pop song that doesn’t irritate me too badly.  “Dead Gardens” is at least decent, but not memorable.  The main riff should not be repeated so much.  “The Siren” is perhaps the most ridiculously overrated song in the band’s discography.  It’s seriously not good, though the middle-eastern vocals during a live performance are nice sounding.  “Planet Hell” is kind of cool, but the lyrics are typically preachy and irritating.  I like the chorus.  “Creek Mary’s Blood” is long and unnecessary, and another painfully overrated song.  “Higher than Hope” is emotional, yet boring throughout.  “Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan” is the worst ballad from the old era of Nightwish.  It’s hard to sit through.  “Higher than Hope” is a genuinely sad song, and it’s not awful.  It does take a while to pick up, though.  Most people buying this will also get two bonus tracks “Live to Tell the Tale” and “White Night Fantasy”.  The former is actually a really good song, while the latter is… odd.

Many reading this have probably noticed that I left off the most famous song (except for maybe “Nemo”) from my description of the individual tracks.  I’ve saved this little paragraph for a description of the second-worst song Nightwish ever made.  The song in question is deceptively titled “Wish I Had An Angel”.  This is a pop song, and not only is it a pop song it’s a terrible pop song.  The drums don’t even sound real, and the usually impressive female vocals sound processed like in radio hits.  It’s as gimmicky as songs come, with more “intense” vocals done by Marco during the chorus.  He sounds absolutely awful and very reminiscent of nu-metal (which I don’t like, but I guess some people do).  I also can’t stand the simplistic lyrics.  The only Nightwish song worse is “Bye Bye Beautiful” from the next album, and it’s basically a copy of this song with even worse vocals from both performers.

I would highly recommend checking out Nightwish’s older work prior to this, particularly for seasoned metalheads.  Newbies might like this one more, because there’s a huge pop tendency in most of the songs.  It is, however, still an enjoyable listen.  I feel like it’s an album that’s immensely enjoyable as its being listened to, yet it doesn’t beg for another listen.   Fans of Nightwish will enjoy this, particularly if they prefer the band’s newer work.  It’s truly better than anything that came afterwards, but it’s truly worse than everything that came before.  Give any of their first three albums a listen first.

Best songs:  “Dark Chest of Wonders”, “Ghost Love Score”, and “Romanticide”.

Worst songs:  “Dead Gardens”, “Nemo”, “The Siren”, “Creek Mary’s Blood”, “Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan”,   and the abominable “Wish I had an Angel”.

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nirvana- Nevermind

Source: Wikipedia

Album:  Nevermind

Artist:  Nirvana

Year: 1991

Score:  94/100

“A Classic, but Nirvana Can Do Better”

Nirvana… my guiltiest of guilty pleasure bands, the only pop band that I listen to consistently.  They are hated deeply by most other metalheads, and even some rockers.  Yet they’re considered legendary by the vast majority of rock fans and music critics.  No other Nirvana album is as recognized as “Nevermind”.  While I think that its praise is certainly justified, I do feel that the band has released much better material.

Instrumentally, the album is quite simplistic.  There are no true displays of technical prowess to be found.  The songs are quite easy to follow and they do have a structure very reminiscent of pop music.  
Nevertheless, the album is a shining gem in the songwriting department.  The riffs are generally quite memorable and nothing showcases this better than the hit song, “Smells like Teen Spirit”.  The song is a classic and even after hearing every Nirvana song out there, it’s one of my favorite up there with “Blew” and “Pen Cap Chew”.  I for one can’t understand the criticism the song gets, both from fans of the band and from people who hate Nirvana.  It’s just simply a great song; impossible for me not to like.  The songs have a certain charm about them that’s tough to explain.  It’s almost like there’s a happy vibe to the songs, which is ironic considering the history of the band and some of the lyrical content.

There’s a lot of pop sensibility in the songs, particularly in the latter half of the album.  These guys knew how to make a catchy song without sacrificing the hard rock edge that made “Bleach” one of my all time favorite albums.  Kurt Cobain’s unmistakable voice is easily the highlight of the individual performers, and the diversity of his vocals is actually pretty impressive.  He mumbles, screams, and sings his way through the twelve songs on the release.  Dave Grohl’s drums are decent, and they’ve always stood out to me.  He didn’t do anything impressive in a technical sense, but his drumwork is fantastic anyway.  Also notable is the soft/heavy/soft dynamic found in the songs.  Other bands invented it, but Nirvana perfected it.  This particular dynamic really adds diversity and strength to the album as a whole and to the songs themselves.

The negatives of the album lie in the ballads “Polly” and “Something in the Way”.  I’ve always found these songs to be unremarkable and boring (and completely overrated).  There is also a certain amount of poppiness to the album, which hinders the experience just a little bit.  The whole thing is actually quite smooth and tame sounding, with very little rawness.  As someone who is into much more intense forms of music, I generally enjoy a rawer production job and a little more structural variation.  The lack of complexity should also be noted, as instrumental skill is important but not always necessary to my enjoyment of an album.

I generally prefer the heavier, non ballad songs to the songs that are ballads.  I’ve already mentioned “Smells like Teen Spirit”, but I’ll say it again:  this is one of my favorite songs.  “In Bloom” is also notable, as it contains one of the best Nirvana choruses out there.  “Breed” is incredible too; it’s fuzzy and grungy throughout.  The bass is nice and loud during this one and its refreshing coming after “Come as You Are”.  Speaking of “Come as You Are”, it’s one of the better slow songs from Nirvana.  I particularly love the chorus effect on the guitar.  “Lithium” is also good, but it’s a little overrated.  I like the heavier part towards the middle of the song.  “Drain You” and “Territorial Pissings” are two more favorites.  The former cloaks its poppiness with heavy guitars, and the latter is a short burst of punky angst that always serves its purpose well.  “On a Plain” and “Lounge Act” are two of the most underrated songs on the album.  I personally prefer “Lounge Act”, and as I’m writing this I can’t think of why it’s a better song (they’re kind of similar songs, to be honest).

Is “Nevermind” a classic album?  Yes, it is.  I recommend a listen to anyone who is into rock.  Most people have already heard it, though.  I like both “Bleach” and “In Utero” more than this, though “In Utero” is only slightly better.  On a different not, I really enjoy the remastered version that came out in 2011.  It’s worth replacing an old copy of the CD, as it also comes with bonus tracks. Most of these bonus tracks are found on “With the Lights Out”, but the new live and demo performances of some of the songs make the new package worthwhile.  I actually like the demo version of “Lithium” more than the version on “Nevermind”, and it’s rare for me to say that.  All in all, “Nevermind” is a classic album well worth anyone’s time and money.  Fans of pop, rock, and even punk should find something to enjoy on “Nevermind”.  I certainly did, and I never thought I would ever like Nirvana.

Best songs:  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “In Bloom”, “Breed”, “Lithium”, “Territorial Pissings”, “Lounge Act”, and “Drain You”.

Thanks for reading, feel free to comment and share your opinion!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eluveitie- Slania

Source: Wikipedia

Album: Slania

Artist:  Eluveitie

Year: 2008

Score:  96/100

“An Excellent Folk Metal Album”

Eluveitie have always been one of my favorite folk metal bands.  While they’ve had some mediocre work over the years, I’ve found the bulk of their material to be very enjoyable.  Their blend of melodic death metal and folk music is generally impressive, though the metal part of their music is lacking on certain releases.  “Slania” is their third release, and their second full length album.  It’s about on par with “Spirit”, though maybe a little less inspired.  It certainly tops “Ven” and “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)”.  This being established, “Slania” is one of my favorite Eluveitie releases.

The majority of the songs on “Slania” are catchy and follow a similar formula.  Normally, this might hinder a release, but Eluveitie are just so good at what they do.  Despite the similar structure of the songs, there are little things that set them apart.  Compare the subdued chorus of “Gray Sublime Archon” to the harshness of “Bloodstained Ground” to the beauty of “Slanias Song” and it’s easy to see the diversity of the album.  This is something that I didn’t even pick up the first time I listened to it, but it’s much clearer after having listened to it over a period of time.  Surprisingly for this band, the instrumentals are placed rather well.  I enjoy both the beginning and the ending instrumental pieces (especially the ending one).  However, “Anagantios” goes on too long for its own good and “Giamonios” seems a little pointless.  Like I said though, they are placed well in the album and they don’t interrupt it too much.  Much of the appeal in the album is through the excellent songwriting.

Instrumentally, the album is at least decent.  The guitars, while generic, are certainly enjoyable.  They’re definitely better than on the release that follows, and there are a few good bits and pieces.  Most of the songs are driven by the folk melodies, something this band is generally good at.  I enjoy all of the folk instruments on the album; they mix them in perfectly with the guitars and growls.  Another thing that I’m particularly impressed by is the drums.  They’re actually quite good, and the subtle changes in the drum work really propel the songs forward.  As always, I love Chrigel Glanzmann’s growls.  He’s got a very unique harsh vocal style, and he goes from a lower voice to a higher growl with ease.  I also enjoy the female vocals on “Slanias Song”.  Anna Murphy sounds very good on this song, in particular.  She doesn’t try to do anything fancy with her voice, and thus the vocals sound very pure.  They suit this style of music very well.

Nearly all of the songs are enjoyable.  “Primordial Breath” is a standard Eluveitie song, and it’s quite good for what it is.  It’s a great introduction to the album, and one of my favorites.  “Primordial Breath” also features some furious riffing towards the beginning.  “Bloodstained Ground” is a highlight for sure, with one of the best Eluveitie choruses of all time.  During said chorus, the folk instruments are mixed perfectly with the vocals and guitars.  This particular song is very aggressive, especially during the verses.  There is some good double-bass work on the drums.  “Gray Sublime Archon” has some memorable guitar work, and a very relaxed sounding chorus.  It’s always been one of my favorites from the release.  “Slanias Song” might just be my absolute favorite from the album.  Even though it’s sung completely in Gaulish, it’s very catchy and memorable.  I’ve always enjoyed the riff under the harsh vocals in this one, it’s pretty good.  The majority of “Slanias Song” is sung by Anna, and the change in vocal style really makes it stand out from the rest of the songs.  Despite being the hit song, “Inis Mona” is nowhere near being the best song on the album.  It’s definitely catchy and entertaining, but it’s nothing special when compared to the rest of the work on the album.  “Calling the Rain” is another one of my personal favorites from “Slania”, it’s got some good folk instrumentation as well as one of the best Eluveitie choruses.  “Tarvos” and “The Somber Lay” are, again, standard Eluveitie songs.  Both of these are rather harsh songs, with great vocals.  The album bows out with the instrumental, “Elembivos”.  Although it’s six and a half minutes long, it doesn’t get boring.  The guitar solo during this song, while generic, is definitely a highlight of the album.

I would say that “Slania” is pretty essential for fans of the folk metal genre.  “Spirit” might be a little more unique, but it’s so hard to find these days that new listeners will probably want to go with this one instead.  “Slania” is so much better than “Everything Remains (As it never was)”, and I strongly advise new listeners to give this one a shot first.  “Slania” is a great album filled with outstanding vocals, and memorable melodies.  I’m glad to find that the new album, “Helvetios”, is nearly on par with this.

Best songs:  “Primordial Breath”, “Gray Sublime Archon”, “Bloodstained Ground”, “The Somber Lay”, “Slanias Song”, “Tarvos”, “Calling the Rain”, and “Elembivos”.

Negatives/Worst Songs:  “Anagantios” and “Giamonios”.