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, 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”.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Iron Maiden- Powerslave

Album: Powerslave

Artist: Iron Maiden

Year:  1984

Score: 100/100

“Iron Maiden’s Signature Album”

When I think of consistent bands, Iron Maiden is the first that always comes to mind.  For the number of albums they’ve made, they’re probably the most consistently good band I’ve ever listened to.  Three of their albums I would give a perfect score and this album is certainly one of them.  “Powerslave” isn’t even my favorite release from Iron Maiden, and yet it sits amongst my all time favorite albums by any band.  It’s a flawless album; each song is perfectly crafted.  “Powerslave” definitely needs to be heard by every metalhead.

Of all the Iron Maiden albums, “Powerslave” most represents their signature sound.  In terms of sound it continues the trend of the two previous albums, “The Number of the Beast” and “Piece of Mind”, by utilizing the galloping guitar riffs and prominent bass that made those previous albums so incredible.  The difference is that everything is much more memorable, and maybe a bit more complex.  Additionally, there are more melodic guitar portions sprinkled throughout “Powerslave”.  There’s also no filler, which I felt was something that plagued those other two albums. 

The bass might be a bit more audible than usual, which is always a huge plus for me.  In fact, one of the first things that drew me to this album was the sound of the bass.  Upon hearing “Powerslave” for the first time I was so surprised at the consistent nature of the bass work; how it was a big part of the sound but it wasn’t flashy and it didn’t interrupt the flow of the songs.  I’ve always been a huge Bruce Dickinson fan, and he doesn’t disappoint on this album.  The vocals are outstanding throughout the whole album, and it is my second favorite vocal album from Iron Maiden (behind “Somewhere in Time”).  The drums are also great; they do their job perfectly.  They’re never too flashy or too dull, which makes them perfect for this kind of straightforward heavy metal album.  The guitars are brilliant as well.  They retain the sound found on previous albums, but do seem to be a tad more melodic.  This is particularly noticeable during songs like “Flash of the Blade” and “The Duellists”.  I’ve always loved dueling guitars, and this is one of the greatest albums to use the technique.  Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are one of the greatest guitar duos in the history of music.

I’m going to state this flat out; there is not a bad song on the whole entire album.  It opens strong and finishes strong, as well.  “Aces High” is one of the greatest songs the band ever made.  Of their hit songs, it’s probably the one I favor the most.  “Two Minutes to Midnight” is a little overrated, but it’s still good.  I believe this was the most popular song from the album, and it kind of makes sense.  It’s probably the most accessible off this release.  “Powerslave” might just be in my top three Iron Maiden songs; it’s a perfect song with one of the best choruses the band has ever done.  It’s the hidden gem of the release; I have no idea why more people don’t love this song.  I’m always one for Egyptian sounding metal tunes, and “Powerslave” is the definition of this particular sound.  Even more underrated is “Back in the Village”.  The verses are absolutely great on this song, and I love the guitar riff during the chorus.  “Flash of the Blade” is yet another highlight, with a powerful chorus and some great guitar work.  The vocals are outstanding in “Flash of the Blade”, with Bruce giving one of his finest performances.  “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is Iron Maiden’s signature epic piece.  It was the first song over ten minutes that I ever listened to, and therefore it is always going to be one of my favorite songs.  It may even be the epic that I judge other epics by.  It’s almost pointless to mention the rest of the songs, because they’re all incredible.  Bands like this just don’t exist anymore.

“Powerslave” is, perhaps, the best example of what Iron Maiden is good at.  The songs are perfectly heavy and catchy at the same time.  If a person asked me what heavy metal is, I would hand them this album.  “Powerslave” is recommended for anyone who likes anything about music, and it is a mandatory listen for anyone into rock or metal.  The album defined what traditional heavy metal was during the 80s.  It’s actually shocking how old it is, because it’s still very fresh sounding to this day.  “Powerslave” is simply essential listening.  It is absolutely great, and one of the best albums that I’ve ever heard.

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to comment!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Korpiklaani- Spirit of the Forest

The artwork for Spirit of the Forest
Source:  Wikipedia
Artist:  Korpiklaani

Album:  Spirit of the Forest

Year:  2003

Score:  85/100

“A Good Folk Metal Album”

Korpiklaani have always been one of those bands that are generally loved for their fun music and good songwriting.  They do have a layer of depth, however, mainly because of the excellent musicianship and cool atmosphere on their albums.  If you’ve read my review for “Voice of the Wilderness”, then you know how much I liked that one.  “Spirit of the Forest” is the band’s debut album, and seems to be widely regarded as one of their better releases.  It’s moderately long, with 14 individual songs across the span of the album.

Instrumentally, the album is good.  It’s not technical or anything, but the guitars are prominent and driving.  Something that I was particularly surprised about was that there were several guitar solos, and good riffs as well.  Even though the songs are comprised around the folk elements (which are very good, despite being a little cliché), the guitars are still a powerful and prominent part of the music.  The songs themselves don’t rely on good folk melodies.  Many would still be fine with just guitars.  Speaking of the folk portions, they’re very good.  At times, the melodies do come across as lacking or unoriginal but this is not a huge problem.  The individual instruments are not as audible (from a production standpoint) as on the release that would follow and they do seem blurred at times.  Nevertheless, they’re an integral and enjoyable part of “Spirit of the Forest”.  There’s not much to say about the bass and drums, because neither is flashy or extremely impressive.  I can’t, however, detract this from the music in general.  Maybe if they had been stronger I would have given this a higher score, but they’re just fine as they are.  Like on many of Korpiklaani’s releases, the vocals are really good.  They rest on the line between a true harsh vocal and a true clean voice.  I can’t really complain about the vocals at all.  There are some awkward sounding vocal passages on the album, but it doesn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the release overall.

The atmosphere of the album isn’t nearly as impressive as the one that came afterwards.  Despite the less clear production, the album doesn’t give off much of a mood at all.  It doesn’t feel wild or raw or anything that I’d expect from Korpiklaani.  It’s generally a happy sounding album, but many of the songs simply lack a great emotional mood.  Luckily, this issue was corrected with the second album.  The only song that really conjures up a good atmosphere is “With Trees”.

The songs don’t feel extremely diverse.  Most of them are moderately fast and feature similar types of guitar riffing.  Though this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, I can’t help but feel that the album would have benefitted from a more diverse collection of faster and slower songs.  Diversity was what impressed me about “Voice of the Wilderness”, and I’m pretty disappointed to find that it wasn’t nearly as present on this debut album.

Something else notable about the album is that there is an abundance of instrumental tracks.  I think instrumental tracks can really mar a lot of folk metal albums (cough…cough…Eluveitie), but Korpiklaani’s instrumentals are generally quite enjoyable. There are five on the whole album, and all of them are at least decent.  I do, however, think it’s odd that the band placed two instrumentals back to back in the middle of the album.  It’s almost like listening to one song.  Despite this, I do really like “Pixies Dance” which is the first song in the pair.  Additionally, the closing instrumental “Mother Earth” goes on for far too long.

“Wooden Pints” is easily a folk metal classic.  The lyrics are quite dumb, but the song is just so catchy!  It’s an example of a great folk metal song.  “Before the Morning Sun” is a more aggressive track, and it’s excellent as well.  The guitars at the beginning are fantastic.  “With Trees” is one of the most serious songs that the band has ever made.  The folk instruments in this one sound great.  It’s almost a ballad at some points, though I still find it really enjoyable.  “With Trees” is also one of the greatest from the album, and one of the most creative and interesting from the band in general.  “God of Wind” is decent, but the chorus is very repetitive and makes the song stand out less than some of the others on the album.  It is a faster sort of track, which is always good to hear from Korpiklaani.  Their fast tracks are always good in some regard.  “Man Can Go Even through the Gray Stone” is ridiculous.  I’ve always found the vocals on the song to be irritating; they ruin the song as a whole.  It’s rather disappointing, because the guitars and folk instruments are great.  I do like the drums in it.  “Pixies Dance” is my favorite of the instrumental tracks.  It never fails to put a smile on my face, and I can’t complain about that at all.  The rest of the songs are really quite mediocre.  I don’t mind “Crows Bring the Spring” or “Shaman Drum”, but they don’t really stay with me either.  “Mother Earth” is an instrumental that drags on for way too long.

Upon completion of the album, I can’t help but feel that the band has left something out here.  It seems that so many of the songs are pointless and lacking a little substance.  I still say that “Spirit of the Forest” is a good release, but I’m a little disappointed since I had high hopes from listening to “Voice of the Wilderness”.  The album gets an 85/100 because it’s definitely a great one, but it lacks in some areas.  There are many pointless short tracks like “Hengettomilta Hengilta” and “Man Can Go Even through the Gray Stone”.  There are also a few too many instrumentals.  Some of these are really good, and yet others are either boring or too short.  I think folk metal fans will find something to like on this release.  There’s some good stuff to be found.  I would recommend listening to “Wooden Pints” for people who don’t want to go for listening to the whole thing.  It’s one of the best and most famous folk metal songs out there.

Best songs:  “Wooden Pints”, “Before the Morning Sun”, “With Trees”, “Pixies Dance”.

Worst songs:  “Man Can Go Even through the Gray Stone”, “Hengettomilta Hengilta”,  and “Mother Earth”.

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ensiferum- Victory Songs

Album:  Victory Songs

Artist:  Ensiferum

Year: 2007

Score:  94/100

“Another Great Release from Ensiferum”

Ensiferum have always been my favorite folk metal band, ever since hearing their debut (which was my first full folk metal album and one of my favorite metal albums in general).  They have never released a bad album and are one of the most consistent modern metal acts. “Victory Songs” is certainly not an exception to their trend of greatness.  It’s furious and everything an Ensiferum fan should want.  The album is a huge improvement over the EP (“Dragonheads”) that came before it, and that wasn’t a bad release in any sense of the word.  I’m not sure that I enjoy it as much as their other full lengths, but “Victory Songs” doesn’t disappoint in any way.  It’s essential for an Ensiferum fan.

The instruments are more reminiscent of straightforward melodic death metal on “Victory Songs” than they are on the debut or on “Iron”.  This is not a bad thing by any means, but they’ve lost a little bit of their uniqueness.  Something that has improved, however, is the acoustic/folk guitar work.  On earlier releases, their clean guitars weren’t very memorable.  This is vastly improved on “Victory Songs”.  Maybe it’s because they incorporate it a lot more here, or maybe they’ve just gotten better with age.  Either way it’s a noticeable improvement.  The guitar riffs are a lot better than on “Dragonheads”; they are much more memorable and better written.  There are also tons of great guitar solos to be found on the release, some of the best they’ve done.  Overall, I’m very impressed with the guitars on this album.

Petri’s vocals sound great, as well.  He is an absolute beast on this album, a huge improvement from the EP which was his first release with the band.  The dual harsh vocals on “Ahti” really stand out, as the bassist is a good harsh vocalist himself.  He and Petri mix very well together, I’m glad that they made a song like this.  The clean vocals are definitely better than on “Dragonheads”, perhaps because they’re used more sparingly here.  They’re still not at the level of Jari’s vocals, but I enjoy them a lot more than on “Dragonheads”.  These clean vocalizations sound very good mixed in with the harsh vocals. 

The bass work is really good, too.  I love the little bass/guitar bit during “Deathbringer from the Sky”.  It’s audible enough, but not super loud in every song.  Since this is a folk metal album, I’m especially glad that the bass pokes its head out from time to time… so many folk metal band forget the bass in favor of keyboards or traditional instruments.  The drums are respectable, but don’t exactly stand out to me in particular.  They’re moderately technical, and I recall a few interesting parts on the album.  The keyboards provide the melodies and backdrops needed, but they aren’t too flashy.  I’m not always one for super prominent keys, so this is a good thing.  Overall, the instrumental work is great though not as technical as on their previous full-lengths.  Also notable is the great production.  It’s not too polished sounding, which is great (especially for a modern album).  The instrumentation is very audible.  The vocals and guitars, in particular, sound very good.

The songs are also generally much faster than what was shown on the EP, though some of them keep the relaxed vibe showcased there.  This is something that I really respect about “Victory Songs”; none of the songs sound the same.  They are linked together by that folk metal catchiness that Ensiferum have always been good at.  There’s also no messing around on this album (which I love, of course).  The songs race out of the starting gates, and know just what they’re doing.  They aren’t muddled in boring riffs or generic intros.  It’s a very well written album.

Now we should definitely talk about the individual songs themselves.  The intro, “Ad Victoriam”, works really well with the true opener “Blood is the Price of Glory”.  It is an excellent song, and one of the most furious on the release.  “Deathbringer from the Sky” is one of the more popular songs, and for good reason.  I’ve already mentioned the cool part with the bass guitar, but that’s the best part of the whole song.  The chorus is really good, with a combination of clean and harsh vocalizations.  “Ahti” features a harsh vocal duet.  I like it a lot, and it stands as one of the most unique tracks on the album.  “Wanderer” is another unique song.  Most of the singing is clean, and there is a lot of acoustic/clean guitar work.  “One More Magic Potion” is another great one; the lyrics are absolutely ridiculous.  Nevertheless, it’s a great song.  I love the folky intro.  “Victory Song” is the grand epic of the release, and it’s a good one for sure.  The two songs I didn’t mention, “Raised by the Sword” and “The New Dawn”, are both excellent as well.  None of the songs are even close to being bad.

Overall, “Victory Songs” is an excellent release in the folk metal genre.  For a newcomer to Ensiferum, I would recommend their debut or “Iron” over this one.  They’re both better releases to me, but I’ve seen several people who prefer this album.  Therefore, it’s not really a bad place to start.  Instrumentally, it’s more of a traditional melodic death metal album than their earlier work (excluding the EP). The clean guitar work is absolutely incredible, much better than on any of their older albums.  Folk metal fans will probably really enjoy this one.  It’s a great album, and one of the best in the genre.  I’ve given it a great score of 94/100.  It’s not really as good as the full-lengths that came before, but it’s still great.  I’d probably rank “Victory Songs” about equally to “From Afar” (the album that came afterwards).  I hope they continue their trend of greatness, and I’m anticipating their next album (crossing my fingers that it comes out this year!).

Best songs:  “Blood is the Price of Glory”, “Deathbringer from the Sky”, “Ahti”, “One More Magic Potion”, and “Victory Song”.  The others are good, too.

There aren’t any real negatives.

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to comment!

Eluveitie- Ven EP

Artist:  Eluveitie

Album: Ven (EP)

Year:  2003

Score:  75/100

“A More Aggressive Eluveitie”

Of all the Eluveitie releases out there, it seems that this one gets the most hate.  I honestly can’t understand this viewpoint at all.  No, it’s not really the most creative thing out there; yet it’s still solid, especially for a debut release.  There are several problems I have with it, but it’s still something I find enjoyable from time to time. 

“Ven” is the most raw and aggressive of everything Eluveitie has made.  Even compared to “Spirit” this is very untamed and heavy sounding.  It’s also much faster than some of their other work.  This aggressiveness really captures the spirit of Eluveitie’s music in some of the songs, but in others it seems unnecessary.  The guitars, vocals, and drums are particularly aggressive, compared to the rest of the band’s work.  The drums are more in the traditional death metal style, as they are much faster and blast beats are used throughout the course of the EP.  Sometimes, this does get in the way of the rest of the music.  I also feel that they are a little too loud in the mix.  The guitars also have a pretty bad sound to them; to the point where they blur and turn into a wall of sound (and not in a good way).  I can overlook this to a degree, but I think the album would have been better if they had used a similar guitar sound to that of their later albums.  Perhaps the band didn’t have the money for a good production job, or maybe they just applied too much overdrive on their guitars.  Either way, they sound pretty bad.  Despite this sound, the guitar riffs are louder and more driving than on any other Eluveitie release.  Chrigel Glanzmann’s vocals are a lot deeper on “Ven” than on the releases that came afterwards.  I actually enjoy this lower vocal style, as it suits the songs well.  There are also many choir type vocals that grace the songs of the album.  While these are cheesy at some points, I feel that they do generally work well with the songs.  “Druid” is a notable one, as it utilizes these vocals towards the end of the song.

The folk instruments have the same muddy sound as the guitars.  They are also not nearly as interesting as on future releases, but they do their job.  Additionally, the folk instruments sound a lot less diverse, meaning that it sounds like there are fewer different instruments playing.  Some of the melodies provided by these instruments are good and interesting, but most of the time they do fall short of my expectations for this band.  There is a bit of atmosphere within the songs, but it’s doesn’t do much for the album; I notice it particularly in the songs “Druid” and “Lament”.

The songs themselves work really well in short bursts, but they overwhelm the listener if played repeatedly for a long time.  My personal favorite is “Druid”, and I would put it up there with some of the band’s best work.  Chrigel is a monster on this song, as his vocal performance is aggressive and menacing.  The intro and outro to the EP are both really annoying pieces, and the narration during the intro is particularly bad.  I generally hate Eluveitie’s instrumentals, especially the folk ones.  “Oro” is no exception to this rule.  It’s even worse because the folk melodies are not good at all, they’re even worse than in the metal songs from this EP.  Luckily, “Lament” is good song.  It has a cool dynamic to it, though the folk parts are not very respectable.  “Uis Elveti” later appeared on the “Spirit” album; it’s a harsh song, for sure.  The later version is a lot more refined and probably more pleasing to most listeners.  I still like them both, though I favor the “Spirit” version myself.

So, overall, this is still an alright release.  It gets awfully annoying at times and, yet, I still can’t bring myself to give it a bad score.  Given the context and format of the EP, it’s really not that bad.  I wouldn’t recommend this to any newbies to the folk metal genre, or even to newbies of the band.  In fact, I only recommend this to people who are already familiar with the bulk of Eluveitie’s discography.  While the release has some great songs and a nice atmosphere, the production is terrible and the sound of the instruments is abrasive and irritating.  A better sound job might have made this one of my favorites from the band.  I guess it kind of is already, but I like “Spirit”, “Helvetios” (the new one) and “Slania” much better.
Best songs:  “Uis Elveti”, “Lament”, “Druid”.

Worst songs/negatives:  “D’veritu Agage D’Bitu”, “Oro”, and “Jezaig”; the individual instruments sound terrible.

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to leave a comment!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Korpiklaani- Voice of the Wilderness

The artwork for Voice of the Wilderness
Source:  Wikipedia

Album:  Voice of the Wilderness

Artist:  Korpiklaani

Year:  2005

Score:  9.4/10

“Too Fun Not to Love”

Finding a band that you love mostly because they’re fun isn’t a hard thing to do.  This is the way I feel about a lot of folk metal bands.  None of them wear the fun tag like Korpiklaani do.  Nearly everything about this band is fun; the metal parts are on the happier side of the spectrum, and the folk parts are merry and exotic sounding.  However, there is more to this release than just a fun album to listen to when there’s nothing else to do.  Though I have yet to hear their complete discography, I think that “Voice of the Wilderness” will end up as one of my favorites from the band.

One of the things the immediate stand outs about Korpiklaani is the vocals; Jonne Jarvela is one of the most unique folk metal vocalists.  His voice is very rough sounding, but not what I would consider harsh.  Had the vocals been any harsher, the mood of this particular album would have been ruined.  It would have lost the wild, carefree atmosphere that most of the songs portray.  Luckily, the vocals are as they are and the album keeps that carefree and untamed feeling.  The only time I thought the vocals were a little iffy was on the intro to “Spirit of the Forest”.  I believe some people like this style of vocalization, but it’s just not for me.
Something that really impressed me about “Voice of the Wilderness” is the diversity between the songs.  They are all quite distinguishable from one another.  There are faster songs and there are slower songs, which really helps the album out.  I also absolutely adore the instrumentals.  Even though the vocals are a signature part of Korpiklaani’s sound, their instrumentals are great (not just on this release, but on all of them).  “Pine Woods” is a brilliant song, with an excellent guitar solo.

The overall sound of “Voice of the Wilderness” is powerful and charging.  It’s not bombastic or over the top, but it’s powerful nonetheless.  Another great thing is that most of the songs get to the point rather quickly.  There’s no hiding behind meandering guitar riffs or boring intros (not all intros are boring, though); the songs know exactly what they’re about.  I’m also really impressed with the folk instrumentation.  The melodies presented are quite compelling and don’t turn me away from the song.  The metal parts of the album are also really good.  Some folk metal bands tend to sacrifice the metal riffs for the folk melodies on their albums.  Thankfully, Korpiklaani have avoided this.  The guitars sound very good and there are many stand out guitar parts.  The drums are also done well on “Voice of the Wilderness”, I love the intro to “Journey Man”; it’s one of the best moments on the album.  The bass is not really loud but, it’s given a respectable place in the mix.  With so many other instruments, there is nothing wrong with this.  Speaking of the many other instruments, they’re all remarkably audible.  The folk instruments are not all one giant blur, each one stands out.

Ok, now onto the actual songs.  “Cottages and Saunas”, the opener, was an early favorite for me.  It’s got a great chorus, and a cool little intro.  “Journey Man” also got me hooked on the first listen; it’s a wonderful song that displays the best the album has to offer.  I’ve already mentioned that it has a great drum intro, but it’s also one of the faster songs on the album.  I’m always one for speedy songs, and this is no exception.  “Pine Woods” is a great instrumental.  Even being an instrumental, it’s one of the greatest songs on the whole album.  It’s dynamic and has many changes throughout its duration.  “Fields in Flames” is a great piece of folk metal, everything in this song is very well done.  “Ryyppajaiset” is the other fantastic instrumental.  The folk instruments provide the main melody for this song, and it’s an addictive melody.  “Old Tale” is a song that starts out entirely with folk instruments, but it builds into a metal song.  It’s also very good, like the most others.  “Kadet Siipina” is the only slower, ballad type song on the album.  It’s solid, showing the band doing something a little different.  Truthfully, it feels more like an outro than anything else (a very good outro).  “Spirit of the Forest” has one of the oddest and most unique choruses that I’ve ever heard.  I like it less than some of the others, but it’s notable for being slower and for that awesome chorus.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good album.  I would suggest a listen for anyone who is into folk metal.  It’s an essential album for anyone who is already a fan of Korpiklaani to listen to.  The first four songs are nearly flawless.  Though the second half is lacking, there are still many gems to be found.  No song is outright bad, and every single one is worth a good listen.  The folk instruments are outstanding, as well as the metal instrumentation.  The vocals are unique and epic.  The tone of the album is wild and carefree, and the songs are very well composed.  Only people with no room for fun in their lives won’t find something enjoyable here.  A great release that I overlooked for much too long!

Best songs:  “Cottages and Saunas”, “Journey Man”, “Fields in Flames”, “Pine Woods”, and “Hunting Song”.

Negatives/Worst songs:  The second half drags a little bit.  The vocals at the beginning of “Spirit of the Forest” sound really strange to my ears, though I’ve heard a lot of praise for this vocal style.

Thanks for reading!  Comment and tell me what you think of this great release!

Ensiferum- Dragonheads (EP)

Album:  Dragonheads (EP)

Artist:  Ensiferum

Year:  2006

Score:  87/100

“Show Us Your Power, Show Us Your Might”

Ensiferum are probably my favorite folk metal band.  The reason being is that they never seem to sacrifice the metal for the folk aspect of their music.  They generally write great songs that would be equally strong without the folk elements.  Perhaps this is because said folk elements are generally provided through the keyboards, or maybe it’s because Ensiferum are just a great band.  I can genuinely say that I love all of their releases.  This EP is no exception, though it is my least favorite of the material that they have released.

The musicianship on “Dragonheads” seems to be a little downgraded from previous releases.  I would guess that this is due to the absence of Jari Maenpaa.  The riffs and instrumental parts are not as complex as their first two albums, but I can’t complain because most of the songs get the job done like they’re supposed to.  In fact, the lack of complexity allows another side of the band to shine.  The songs aren’t long, and yet they have that drawn out feeling to them.  They are more relaxed sounding than a lot of the stuff that came before.  This is a little surprising considering that a good bit of the songs were written and recorded on a demo before Ensiferum ever released an album.  The songs are also generally of a slower tempo than most Ensiferum songs.  They are not very diverse, and usually follow a similar pattern. 

The vocals on “Dragonheads” are definitely weaker than on previous releases.  Petri is a good vocalist, and he’s not really the problem here.  Yes, Jari is a stronger vocalist.  He’s more vicious and I always loved his midrange growl more than what Petri does.  My real disappointment with the vocals lies in the clean vocals.  I believe that Markus and Sami are the clean vocalists on this EP.  They’re not really bad, but they lack a lot of the power that Jari had.  Some of the clean vocals are almost comical as opposed to suiting the music.  It doesn’t really get in the way that much, but it’s a noticeable difference.

The EP consists of six songs, four of which are very good.  “White Storm” is easily one of my favorites, not just from the EP but from the band in general.  It’s filled to the brim with melodic guitar riffs; I particularly love the intro to the song.  The structure and progression of the song feels very triumphant like any good Ensiferum song.  Additionally, “White Storm” was originally found on one of their demos.  “Dragonheads” is the new song recorded for the album.  It’s got everything an Ensiferum fan could want in a mid-tempo type song.  The melody is quite catchy.  “Dragonheads” sounds most reminiscent of what would come on the “Victory Songs” album.  “Warrior’s Quest” is another re-recorded version of a song that was originally released on their demo.  Something that surprised me about this song is the great bass in it, as well as the good chorus.  Also worth mentioning is the cover of Amorphis’s incredible song, “Into Hiding”.  The song was already excellent, and Ensiferum do it justice.  They give it a folkier sound as opposed to the Egyptian sound that the original had.  Petri’s best vocals are found on the cover song, I’ve never heard him go so deep with his vocals… he’s pretty good at it (and he should use this technique more often).  “Kalevala Melody”, the instrumental, is decent but it’s quite short.  It’s over before it really even begins.  I actually think it should’ve been the intro at the beginning of the EP.  I’m not sure why it’s stuck in the middle like it is.  “Finnish Medley” is worth a mention because it features female vocals.  It doesn’t really sound like Ensiferum at all, and it’s also kind of boring despite its uniqueness compared to the other songs.

The EP gets a lower score, because several of the songs are lacking.  I can’t give it a truly low score, because it’s only an EP and all of the good songs are excellent.  “Dragonheads” is easily recommended for fans of Ensiferum.  This is especially true for fans that are more into the “Victory Songs” and “From Afar” albums.  It sounds more like those two than the others, especially “Victory Songs”.  However, I wouldn’t recommend this to people who are just getting into the band or into folk metal in general.  Its main appeal is for people who are already well established fans of the band.  I would check out any of their other work, because everything else is fantastic and worth a listen for any metalhead.  “White Storm” is worth listening to, because it’s one of the band’s best and most fun songs.  So basically “Dragonheads” is a good listen, but not as good as their other stuff.  Some of this is expected because it’s just an EP, but it’s not what I would consider a truly great release.

Best songs:  “Dragonheads”, “White Storm”, “Warrior’s Quest”, and “Into Hiding”.

Negatives/Worst Songs:  “Finnish Medley”, “Kalevala Melody”, weak clean vocals and subpar harsh vocals, and the guitar riffs aren’t as good as on their other releases.

Thank you for reading!  Feel free to comment!

Opeth- Orchid

Artist:  Opeth

Album:  Orchid

Year:  1995

Score:  90/100

“A Surprisingly Good Album”

I feel that I must preface this review by saying that I’m not much of an Opeth fan.  I can handle most of their work in small doses, but usually I find them tedious and overdone.  Their second and third albums are alright, but sound generally watered down.  Their songs are also extremely overlong and meandering for me.  This masterpiece, however, is a BIG exception.  It’s got almost everything that that I appreciate in a metal album.  Many of the riffs are reminiscent of melancholic melodic death metal.  They are actually rather memorable, particularly for Opeth.  As opposed to many of their later works, this album conjures images of forests and such things (I’m sure that most understand this).  Where “Morningrise” is like walking through a bleak city, “Orchid” is like looking at snowcapped peaks and evergreen woods.

The songs in and of themselves, are quite pretty.  Everything just seems to flow together, like pieces of a puzzle.  The songwriting is much better here than what can be found on their later releases.  The compositions don’t drag on forever, and I hardly feel the need to skip them halfway through (a problem that plagues their later releases).  This fact is particularly surprising given that all of the non-interlude songs on the album are 8 minute plus epics.  I really have to give these guys credit for being able to craft long songs that don’t get irritating after a while.  The song order is decent too, with short interludes between every two songs.  It’s not too much to handle at one time.

 Particularly notable are the vocals; Mikael Akerfeldt sounds great on this album.   Both his clean and harsh vocals are quite impressive.  I have absolutely no complaints in the vocal department.  The guitar work on this album is very memorable, and it’s some of the best from the band’s discography.  The guitar solos on this album actually fit the mood quite nicely.  They don’t interrupt the flow of the songs like guitar solos seem to do on so many atmospheric albums.  As mentioned previously, the riffs are very memorable and melodic.  Most of them are quite good, though the full effects of the songs might make them less memorable than they would be in a different setting.

 The contrast between soft and heavy guitars is very well done.  Instead of becoming boring like most of their later work, all the parts are entertaining and atmospheric.  The clean guitars are some of the best I’ve heard in the genre.  They are also more inspired than on Opeth’s later works, where the clean guitar portions are generally mind-numbingly boring.  “Orchid” really gets the element of flow down.  Instead of heavy guitars being interrupted by clean guitars (and vice versa), the parts lead into one another.  It’s not like hitting a brick wall with sudden changes of pace; the dynamic shifts fit together like it was all meant to happen.  It all just works on this one. 

The bass is mostly audible throughout the album, and it does a good job where it is needed.  There are a few places on the album where the bass comes in as a sort of lead instrument and I find these parts to be immensely good.  I’m glad the band was able to throw in a few little bass treats without ruining the overall feel of the album.  The drums are also well done, but not particularly technical.  There are some good fills; I particularly enjoy when the clean guitars start up but the drums keep playing in the heavier style.  It lends more power to the melodic parts of the songs.

As the individual songs go, “Forest of October” is my favorite.  It was the song that got me interested in listening to the album, and giving Opeth another chance.  It’s got some of the best clean riffing and I love the heavy intro.  It’s quite a beautiful song, showcasing the absolute best the album has to offer.  “Under the Weeping Moon” has some of the most beautiful clean parts on the entire album.  It’s got a great mood, and it’s also notable as being the shortest of the longer songs on the album (the short songs are just interludes).  It has a long middle section that is comprised of a long, clean guitar riff.  “In Mist She Was Standing” is one of the more aggressive tunes, and it’s a great one as well.  There’s some good bass work to be found in this track.  “Silhouette”, while being only an interlude, has some impressive piano work.  It’s not what I would consider a highlight, but it shows that the band members are quite capable making different sorts of music.  “The Twilight is My Robe” is another more aggressive song; but one of the few that follows a pattern of sorts.  It starts with an excellent galloping type riff that’s not unlike what you would hear on an Iron Maiden album.  Many of the melodies in this one are quite haunting, especially during the first slow section.  Additionally, Mikael puts forth his best harsh vocal performance during this one.   His clean vocals are also great on this song in particular.  There is more great bass in this song, as well.  “Requiem” is a beauty of an acoustic interlude.  It’s very well done.  “The Apostle in Triumph” is great, as well.  However, I like it less than the other long songs.  It’s one of the mellower ones, as well.

Overall, this is easily and definitively my favorite Opeth album.  I was extremely surprised by the fact that I actually enjoy this release.  It’s beautiful and atmospheric.  The songs are memorable and, while they are long, they don’t drag on for all eternity.  Some listeners may find this release aimless and boring; I can respect this notion.  It’s really not all that different from the two releases that came afterwards, except that it feels more inspired… like they put more effort forth or something.  I am warming up to “Morningrise” and “My Arms, Your Hearse”, but “Orchid” still remains my absolute favorite from the band.  If you’re into death metal and like some progressive elements in your music, then I would recommend this.  If you’re an Opeth fan and haven’t heard this, then you definitely should.    If you loathe Opeth, then give the song “Forest of October” a shot.  Who knows, you may like it.  “Orchid” is a great release that is a fresh take on the progressive death metal genre.  I would definitely recommend a listen or two!

Best songs:  “Forest of October” “In Mist She Was Standing”, “Under The Weeping Moon”, “The Twilight is My Robe”, and “The Apostle in Triumph”.

Negatives:  Some of parts do go on for a little too long, but it shouldn’t hinder the listening experience too much.

Thank you for reading!  Feel free to comment!

Judas Priest- Sad Wings of Destiny

Artist:  Judas Priest

Album:  Sad Wings of Destiny

Year:  1976

Score:  94/100

“The Best Judas Priest Album and a Metal Classic”

My title up there pretty much says it all.  “Sad Wings of Destiny” is the finest Judas Priest album, and one of the best metal releases of all time.  Now, I’m someone who’s always found Judas Priest to be just a little overrated.  They had a good run of classics and are a consistent band, but I’ve always found some of their albums to be either boring or not nearly as good as people claim they are.  But this release is simply amazing.  “Sad Wings of Destiny” is a triumphant metal album that really defined the metal sound in the late 70s.  This work, along with Black Sabbath’s releases, defined the meaning of heavy metal. 

One of the reasons that this is my favorite release from Judas Priest is because of the great guitar riffs.  They’re lean and mean and gritty, as opposed to the polished sound that would be found on later releases.  “Victim of Changes” is a good example of this, as it is filled with classy riffs all the way through.  The guitar work has just enough melody for this kind of older metal album, but it doesn’t go overboard with it.  I also love the audibility of the bass on the album.  It’s clearly present on all songs, and adds to the heaviness of the entire release.   I also like the vocals on this release more than any others from the band.  Rob Halford switches from a low, smooth voice to a high-pitched wail.  He’s quite an impressive vocalist, and “Sad Wings of Destiny” shows him in his prime.

The overall sound of “Sad Wings of Destiny” is heavier than everything they would do after (though “Sin after Sin” gives it a run for its money).  It has that great old school sound to it. The songs are very well written; many of them are rather short, as well.  The choruses are catchy, but not in a pop way.  I’m not one for the slower songs here, but they really do show the band’s talent at creating different styles.  They also fit in well with the rest of the tracks.  Speaking of this, there are different versions of the track listing.  I’m only familiar with the one that begins with “Victim of Changes”, but I can’t imagine that the songs could be any worse in a different order.  That’s how strong they are individually.

All of the songs except the ballads are standouts.  “Victim of Changes” is brilliant, it’s nearly an epic.  The thing is chock full of incredible guitar work, with a loud bass line.  The vocals are also incredible.  This song is one of Halford’s best vocal performances.  I’ve always loved “The Ripper”; it’s a quick burst of pure heavy metal.  The guitar work is very melodic and the vocals during the verses are menacing.  It was my first favorite off of the album, though the title of absolute favorite has been replaced by “Victim of Changes”.  “Tyrant” was another standout for me when I first heard this one.  It’s a little faster with a smooth chorus that is outstanding.  “Tyrant” is still one of my favorites from the band, as it is among their most aggressive and powerful songs.  “Deceiver” has a building riff during the verses that sounds like a prototype for countless metal riffs that would one day follow.  “Island of Domination” has a lot of good dynamic changes throughout the course of the song.  It too is one of the best.  I’m not a big fan of ballads (don’t know why, but it’s always been like this for me), so I can’t honestly say that any of the three ballads are highlights for me.  I can say, however, that they’re nice for what they are.  “Dreamer Deceiver” is probably my favorite of these slower songs, a lot of the guitar work is very hypnotic.  It’s almost psychedelic sounding, and it’s great coming right before “Deceiver”.

“Sad Wings of Destiny” is a true classic of metal.  I am of the opinion that every metalhead should hear this album at least once.  They will almost certainly want to listen to it again.  It’s what I would consider one of the most influential albums ever recorded.  The influence it had on such distinctive genres as melodic death metal and thrash metal is incredible.  When listened to closely, it is easy to hear nearly every major metal genre that would follow in this album.  Not only this, but all of the songs are great.  I absolutely love it, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has any kind of interest in music.
Best songs:  “Victim of Changes”, “The Ripper”, “Tyrant”, “Deceiver”, “Genocide”, and “Island of Domination”.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Candlemass- Nightfall

Artist:  Candlemass

Album:  Nightfall

Year:  1987

Score:  92/100


Truthfully, I’m not the most experienced doom metal fan.  I know the big names of the genre and I enjoy their work, I’ve just never gone much further.  Unless you include the gothic stuff, Candlemass is my favorite doom metal band.  “Nightfall” is almost a contradiction to traditional doom metal.  It’s epic and extravagant, and definitely beautiful.  Every song is filled with apocalyptic guitar riffs and climactic vocals.  Who would have thought that slow music could be so powerful?  Every time I hear this, I am reminded of why it is an album representative of its genre; and a metal classic in its own right.

The songs are incredibly well written, and they’re placed in a great order.  The album opens strong and it closes strong, as well.  The use of brief instrumental interludes adds to the grandeur of the album.  While some listeners might find them to be an interruption to the flow, I think they help the album move along.  The interludes link each song together, and they continue the epic sort of feeling the album gives off.  Another feeling I get from these short pieces is that they keep an already grandiose album from being too over the top.  They give the listener a chance to digest the atmosphere and gigantic riffs.  I realize that what I’ve written about the interludes sounds like a contradiction, but it makes sense when you hear the album in its entirety.  They basically keep a leash on the cheesy, grand feeling while continuing it in a subdued way.  The way the tracks are linked together is brilliant.

None of the main songs of the album are filler.  If you exclude the interludes, then you’re left with six seriously strong songs.  The members of Candlemass have a great feel for when to lay on the grander songwriting, and they also know when to pull back a little.  I’ve mentioned it previously, but the riffs on this album are gigantic.  They’re a little reminiscent of old school Black Sabbath, but they’re bigger and have a sweeping feeling to them.  Each one creeps up on the listener, before immersing him or her into the song at hand. The solos are fantastic as well.  The contrast between a speedier guitar solo and the massive riffs allows for a great dynamic within the songs. 

The bass is audible and adds to the crushing heaviness of the whole release.   There’s a great part in the middle of “A Mourner’s Lament” where the bass is the only instrument audible; the effect is enhanced by a whisper of “rest in peace”.   The drums are nearly perfect for this type of album, they’re slow and heavy.  They pick up the pace where they need to, and they let the songs flow when it’s necessary.  The bass and drums work together in a very strong way.  They complement each other very well, serving as a flawless base under the colossal riffs.  I always love the little drum piece at the beginning of “Samarithan”.

Perhaps, the most praised aspect of this album is the vocals.  The vocals are great.  Yes, they are really over the top.  Truthfully, I would probably get sick of listening to the singing if I spent hours doing it; yet I still feel that Marcolin is a really talented singer.  His range is unbelievable, and he has just the sort of voice to be doing this kind of music.  The integral reason that this album is so majestic is the vocals.  They just propel the songs to different heights.  I enjoy Marcolin’s lower and middle range voices more than his higher voice.  They suit the songs better than a higher voice; though he’s good at everything he does here.

I know I’ve said about a thousand times that this album is grand and majestic.  It is, but that doesn’t mean that the album isn’t dark or gloomy.  When listening to “Nightfall” I always get a gloomy, sad vibe.  Most of the lyrics are about death and losing loved ones.  I generally don’t put too much stock in lyrics, but these suit the songs so well.  Candlemass have done something really unique here.  They’ve taken topics that should be better expressed in a minimalistic style, and given them a magnificent musical backdrop while still maintaining the dark emotion.  The songs are, really, quite emotional sounding.  Most of this is due to the exaggerated vocal lines which really convey the mood of the music more than anything else.  This emotion may be most evident in songs like “A Mourner’s Lament”, and “Dark Are the Veils of Death”.  I would be lying if I said the over the top nature of the songs didn’t get in the way of the enjoyment, because they do.  But this is all part of the fun. 

Aside from being overdone at times, the songs are still strongly written.  They’ve got catchy parts and are generally memorable.  “At the Gallows End” was the song that initially made an impression on me.  The distinction between the slower pieces in the song and the heavier portions makes it particularly memorable.  The first verse sounds great, with doomy riffs over clean guitar picking.  The faster riff that follows is one of the best on the whole album.  The song is a dramatic piece that accurately showcases the feeling of the album.  “The Well of Souls” is another standout, though it’s not as dynamic as “At the Gallows End”.  However, it makes up for this by containing several crushing riffs and one of the best vocal performances on the album.  I also find myself enjoying “Dark are the Veils of Death” and “Samarithan”.  The former has an ultra dramatic chorus, while the latter has extremely haunting vocals during its verse.  Just listen to where he sings:  “I gave him hospitality” in “Samarithan”, it’s chilling.  “Bewitched” is the album’s hit, but I’ve always preferred the other songs.

“Nightfall” is one of the most essential doom metal albums ever recorded.  I would recommend it to any metalhead out there, regardless of their genre preference.  It’s simply an album that you cannot say is bad. I’m sure that I like it less than most people and, yet, I cannot bring myself to find many flaws at all.  It does get a little cheesy after awhile, but this doesn’t detract from the strength of the album. 

Best songs:  “The Well of Souls”, “At the Gallows End”, “Samarithan”, “Dark are the Veils of Death”.

Theatre of Tragedy- Aegis

Artist:  Theatre of Tragedy

Album:  Aegis

Year:  1998

Score:  89/100


Theatre of Tragedy is a band I really like.  Their first album is one of my all time favorites, and I consider it the greatest work of gothic metal music.  They began as a death doom style band with the added female vocals.  “Aegis” is their third album, and it marks the transition from the harsher style of their first two releases to a more mellow style (and eventually horrid future-pop music).  “Aegis” still has a lot of metal elements to it and its atmosphere feels pretty metal, yet it has a lot of pop and rock influence.   This influence is, truthfully, not a bad thing at all.  It serves to show that Theatre of Tragedy are quite good at creating a lighter album, in contrast to their previous works.  The only thing that this album retains from some of their previous releases is a great atmosphere.  It’s still quite a dark album, but not nearly as bleak as their work before.

The mood of the album is very subtle and is mainly expressed through subdued guitar lines and tinkling keyboard melodies.  “Aegis” is not an album that rips your face off the first time you hear it, nor is it an album that is tough to get into.  The songs are very easy to love; they have addictive melodies and stand out choruses.  Most of the lead guitar work is clean, with the heavier riffs being more rhythmic.  Generally, the main riffs in the songs consist of picking the strings under a clean tone.  This, in particular, lends a hand to the darkly relaxing atmosphere of the album.  Like the guitars, the drums aren’t too flashy and mostly stick to playing fairly slow and basic sounding rhythm lines.  I’ve listened to this album many, many times and have never really noticed the bass very much.  It makes a brief appearance in the song “Aoede”, but I can’t recall another instance in which it is a prominent part of the music.  I’m always one for a louder bass, but lack of bass doesn’t necessarily ruin albums for me.

 The vocals are decent; the whispery male vocals can become annoying after awhile.  The female vocals are good, but they don’t hold much power.  Because the male vocals are no longer harsh, some of the contrast that made Theatre of Tragedy so great is gone.  Obviously, this doesn’t make the album bad; yet I can’t help but imagine what this would’ve sounded like with either a great clean male voice or death growls. 
The brooding piano lines that graced Theatre of Tragedy’s older work seem to have been replaced by ultra melodic synthesizers.  There are a few lines that are reminiscent of a true piano, but most of the songs have been given an electronic edge.  This change suits the other changes made to this album.  The keyboards are a highlight in a few of the songs, and they generally work to establish the melodies of the songs.  The album, in general, sounds more polished than their previous work.  None of the instruments are nearly as rough.  There’s a good bit of ambience on a few of the songs, “Siren” in particular stands out for this reason.  I’m impressed that the band could achieve this with such a smooth production job.

So, let’s talk about the songs themselves.  The two hits, “Siren” and “Venus”, are both good songs.  The former runs on to the point of being just shy of an epic; and the latter is a poppier song with a hypnotic keyboard riff and verses sung in Latin.  “Lorelei” is my personal favorite, due to the unique contrast of having poppy verses and a doomy chorus.  It’s a very addictive song, and it’s one of the songs that’s actually built on a distorted guitar riff.  “Aoede” is also a heavier song and it’s notable for having a cool start-stop chorus.  It’s also the only song with a prominent bass line.  “Bacchante” is an oddity, with hypnotic chanting during the chorus.  It also culminates in a hair-raising ending that is one of the highlights of the album.  I’ve never heard anything like the end of “Bacchante” before.  “Poppaea” is one of the best, as well… it features some of the most memorable clean guitar work.  The main clean riff to “Cassandra” also sticks with me after listening; the song also features a good keyboard and guitar portion during the chorus.

Essentially, “Aegis” is a very light sounding metal album with a phenomenal atmosphere.  It is very gothic sounding which, to me, is a good thing.  If you’re someone who doesn’t like gothic metal and can’t handle a healthy dose of pop then you probably won’t like this one too much.  It’s a very solid album, and every song is at least decent.  The beauty in this release is quite subtle; it kind of creeps up on you after listening to it for a while.   It surpasses everything the band did afterwards, but not really what came before it.  Their debut remains my solid favorite from the group; if you’re expecting the something along those lines, you will be disappointed.  If you’re open minded and enjoy new sounds, then you just might enjoy this.  If you’re a Theatre of Tragedy fan and haven’t heard this, then you ought to.  It’s one of their most essential albums and their most known.

Best songs:  “Lorelei”, “Aoede”, “Siren”, “Venus”, “Poppaea”, “Bacchante”, “Cassandra”.  That’s all the songs aside from one… and “Angelique” is not bad, just not as good as the rest.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Amorphis- Black Winter Day (EP)

Title:  Black Winter Day (EP)

Artist:  Amorphis

Year:  1995

Score:  90/100

“Like a Dark Night in Autumn…  A Black Winter Day!”

"Black Winter Day" is the EP that followed the release of the legendary "Tales from the Thousand Lakes" album.  The opening track, “Black Winter Day”, had already appeared on the aforementioned album.  It is an excellent song, and one of my favorites from Amorphis.  It’s ultra melodic, yet very heavy and muddy sounding (in a good way).  The keyboard and guitar riffs are very memorable, and they interplay with each other nicely.  The shift between harsh and clean vocals works very well in this particular song, despite the clean vocals being rather weak.

“Folk of the North” is a short instrumental piece that is mainly driven by pianos.  Eventually, the heavy guitars kick in but they play a rhythmic role in this song.  Also notable is the use of what I think is a clean guitar with a wah effect on it.  This clean guitar, in particular, gives this interlude a happier vibe than the rest of the songs on the EP.  “Moon and Sun” follows, and it is another great song.  The opening riff has a lingering quality to it, and it is pretty memorable.  There are also little bits with atmospheric sounding synthesizer parts.  There’s a bit of a doom metal feel here, and the song is more straightforward and less melodic than “Black Winter Day”.  Additionally, it does not feature the clean singing.

“Moon and Sun, Part 2” opens with a synthesizer, which is then followed by the guitars.  The synthesizers at the beginnings seem to have a neat little echo effect on them, which gives a nice little atmosphere.  In addition, the opening guitar riff is lovely and one of most memorable and catchy from this point in the band’s career.  The vocal delivery is also catchier than in the previous song.  A few piano interludes under the vocals give this song a unique character.  In fact, it is probably better than the first “Moon and Sun” song.  The riffs are much more memorable, and the beginning sticks with me much longer.  The pianos at the end remind me a bit of “Black Winter Day”.  Perhaps, this was intentional.  “Moon and Sun, Part 2” is a more than fitting close to the EP.

I find this to be a wonderful release, yet not really worth seeking out.  The good news is that that the three songs unique to the EP are included on the reissue of "Tales from the Thousand Lakes" (along with a cover of “Light My Fire” by The Doors).  The two (excluding the instrumental) new songs are excellent and hold their own along with the rest of the preceding album.   A great EP!

Best songs:  All of them!

Kamelot- The Fourth Legacy

Artist: Kamelot

Album:  The Fourth Legacy

Year:  1999

Rating:  91/100

“A Surprisingly Diverse Power Metal Album”

Kamelot are a band that I can’t say I’m a huge fan of.  Most of their work is solid, but there’s usually something that keeps me from calling them one of my favorite bands.  Nevertheless, there are some albums that I really enjoy from Kamelot; this one being the best and also the most underrated.  In fact, it’s one of the most underrated power metal albums of all time.  It’s the hidden gem of Kamelot’s catalogue. 

“The Fourth Legacy” has everything that anyone could want in a power metal album.  Songs are perfectly catchy, without becoming overly poppy.  The choruses are big and powerful, just like any respectable power metal (or really metal in general) chorus should be.  The riffs are actually quite nice, and more memorable than most of their stuff.  They range from being more traditional power metal riffs, to groovier type riffs (“Silent Goddess”, for example).   The solos are very nice.  Each one fits its song well.   The drums are pretty standard; however, this does not take away from the album at all.  They are quite interesting in the instrumental, “Desert Reign”.   Both the bass and the keyboards are like the drums, though the keys have a prominent role in some places.   The vocals are absolutely fantastic.  Khan is one of my all time favorite metal singers.  He can go from a rougher style of singing, to a smooth high pitched voice.  I have absolutely no complaints as far as the vocals go.

Another stunning attribute of “The Fourth Legacy” is the diversity presented in the songs.  They do not all blur together like on some other power metal releases.  Such songs as “Lunar Sanctum” and “A Sailorman’s Hymn” show a different and equally talented sign of Kamelot.  The Middle Eastern style instrumental “Desert Reign” is a little cheesy, but it leads perfectly into “Nights of Arabia”.  “Nights…” contains some of the most memorable verses on the whole album and a great slow section.  Following this, “The Shadow of Uther” is more conventional but a better song overall.  It might be my favorite from the album; I can’t get over the epic chorus.  Additionally, “The Shadow…” has a fantastic guitar solo and is filled with nice riffs.  “Glory” is a tastefully done ballad that has some good folk influence to contrast the rest of the album.  Overall, the songs are very well written.  The band knows where to keep it heavy and where to put softer parts and solos into the songs.  The songwriting is, perhaps, what makes this album so great.  It’s all just so memorable.

So basically this is a great power metal album.  There’s less neoclassical influence than normally found in power metal, and that’s pretty refreshing.  The songs are very diverse for such an album, ranging from oceanic ballads to Middle Eastern rockers.  The use of dynamics within the songs is done very well.  There is really nothing bad here at all, every song is executed in just the right way.  My score being lower than 98-100% is because I’m not the hugest Kamelot fan (and some parts of the songs do fall into the unnecessarily cheesy power metal cliché).  This is their masterpiece.  If you’re a Kamelot fan who hasn’t heard this album, it’s mandatory listening for you.  Additionally, as a power metal fan, I would recommend it to other fans of the genre.  The Fourth Legacy is a really well done and underrated masterwork.

Best songs:  “The Shadow of Uther”, “Desert Reign/Nights of Arabia”, “Alexandria”, “Lunar Sanctum”, “The Fourth Legacy”.