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!

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!

Thanks for reading, and be sure to comment!

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”.

Thanks for reading, be sure to comment!

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”.

Thanks for reading, be sure to leave a comment!