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, May 30, 2012

Epica- Consign to Oblivion

Band: Epica

Source: Wikipedia
Album: Consign to Oblivion

Year: 2005

Score: 8.1/10

“One of their Better Albums”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!  Be sure to comment!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Amorphis- The Karelian Isthmus

Source: Wikipedia
Band:  Amorphis

Album:  The Karelian Isthmus

Year:  1992

Score: 9.6/10

“Fantastic Death Metal”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eluveitie- Spirit

The artwork for "Spirit".
Source: Wikipedia

 Band:  Eluveitie

Album:  Spirit

Year: 2006

Score:  98/100

“Their Masterpiece”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, be sure to comment!

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