Category: Album Reviews Written by: George Washburn
Neonfly – Outshine the Sun
“Outshine the Sun” is the first full-length album from London-based power metal band Neonfly. It was released last summer, but I am just getting my hands on it now. I tend to prefer my power metal a little darker and more reserved than overly bombastic and melodic, but something about Neonfly compels me to keep listening. They are certainly bright and…vibrant. The songs are pretty quick, and they are very happy and positive sounding, but they do not go overboard with too much keyboard fluff so I find myself still listening.
The music on “Outshine the Sun” is energizing; I could see myself at home with the windows open, tidying up my man cave and listening to this while I work. The production quality is quite good, and if you like catchy songs there is no shortage of that here. I think what keeps me hanging around is that there is a lot of cool guitar work that balances out the huge gang vocal choruses. Whatever it is about this album, I am enjoying it and it has had a positive impact on my outlook for the day. Check out the lead off track, “Broken Wings” (no, this is not Mr. Mister.)
Empires of Eden - Channeling the Infinite
Empires of Eden is another one of those power metal bands that features a rotating all-star cast of heavy metal singers. “Channeling the Infinite” is the third album from this Stu Marshall (ex-Dungeon) led metal troupe. The album includes the contributions of Rob Rock, Steve Grimmett, Mike Dimeo, Sean Peck, Ronny Munroe, Udo Dirkschneider and others.
I think it is pretty cool when a bunch of people from different bands get together for something like this, but in some ways it is also like listening to a compilation album when the singer changes for each track. The songs are tied with a common storyline, but they also lack the cohesion of a consistent cast. Plus I do not always like all the singers they recruit, in this case that would be Udo. I have never been a fan of Accept because I cannot stand his voice.
Overall, this is a pretty cool album. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any full tracks to post here, just a brief album teaser.
Rosa Infra – Смена Декораций
Rosa Infra is a gothic metal band from Moscow, Russia, and Смена Декораций (Change of Scenery) is their first album. The song titles and lyrics are all in Russian, so I have no idea what the songs are about. The songs tend to be mid-tempo heavy metal songs with mildly gothic keyboard and atmospheric elements. The vocals are mostly clean and somewhat deep, but there are the occasional harsh vocals as well. The sound quality is pretty good.
While I am always a bit perturbed by music when I cannot understand the lyrics, I enjoy the music enough to feel positive about this album. I like the guy’s voice a lot too, which makes not knowing the lyrics harder on me. If the vocals were very harsh I could gloss over it a little more, but since the vocals are clean and featured so prominently it makes me more curious about what he is saying. Ah well, what are you gonna do? These guys (and girl) vaguely remind me of End of Green, a band I hold in high regard. Check out this album sampler on YouTube.
Grenouer – Computer Crime
It is funny how certain styles or regions naturally group together on my review calendar. I say this because now I have another Russian band, Grenouer, from St. Petersburg. Grenouer have been around since the early 90s and have six albums in their catalog already. “Computer Crime” is their latest EP. Apparently the band has been through a number of stylistic and personnel changes over the years. They started out as a death/thrash metal band, moved on to Industrial metal, and now they seem to be trying out alternative/hard rock.
It is hard to imagine that the band on this EP used to play death metal. “Computer Crime” is commercial sounding enough that it almost did not make the cut to get on this site. Taken in the context of hard rock music with clean, melodic vocals this is an ok set of songs. The overall album mix seems a little quiet like it could use a boost, but otherwise the sound quality is pretty good. This is not really my style, but I am willing to put it out there in case someone else might enjoy it. Check out the video for “Fix Your Life.”
Last Updated on June 14, 2012
Category: Album Reviews Written by: George Washburn
Fates Warning – Inside Out (Remastered)
I have been an off and on fan of Fates Warning for a very long time. My favorite albums have always been the first three albums; the ones featuring John Arch on vocals. Due to my passion for those albums, when John was replaced by Ray Alder I was not terribly happy. I did eventually get on board with Ray, but the John Arch albums remain my favorites.
The Ray Alder era, for me, began what would come to be known as progressive metal. When John was in the band I just considered them heavy metal, but after Ray joined, and then Dream Theater came to prominence, a new sub-genre seemed to be taking shape.
My three favorite albums from the Alder era are “Perfect Symmetry”, “Parallels”, and “Inside Out.” Every couple years Metal Blade has been expanding and re-issuing another Fates Warning album, starting with the first album, “Night on Bröcken.” This year they have worked their way up to “Inside Out.” The ten songs on the album have been remastered and include twelve live and demo tracks. Also included is a DVD featuring live tracks and extra material. “Inside Out” was a great album when it first was released, and now it is even better. This is a great package for fans of the band.
Check out the lead track, “Outside Looking In.”
Mirrormaze – Walkabout
While we are on the topic of Fates Warning and prog metal, let’s talk about Mirrormaze. These guys are an Italian progressive metal band and “Walkabout” is their first album. Remember that Ray Alder guy I was just talking about? Well, guess what, he does guest vocals on this album, on the track “Deeper Signs.” How cool is that, you are putting out your first album and you get the singer from Fates Warning to guest on a track? Pretty awesome, I say.
Having Ray as a guest singer on the album makes perfect sense; Mirrormaze play progressive metal that is very much in the style of Fates Warning and Dream Theater. Sure, they wank around their instruments a bit, as prog bands are known to do, but like the aforementioned bands, the songwriting comes first and the acrobatics second. There is a lot more metal in this prog than the other way around, and I like that very much. This is an easy album to enjoy. Give these guys a listen.
Headspace – I Am Anonymous
Continuing our journey down Progressive Rock Lane, we have “I Am Anonymous”, the first album from Headspace. The band consists of keyboard player Adam Wakeman, vocalist Damian Wilson, guitarist Pete Rinaldi, bass player Lee Pomeroy and drummer Richard Brook. When I saw the name Wakeman and keyboard in the same sentence, I had to think, is this the son of uber-talented Yes keymaster Rick Wakeman? Why, yes, yes he is. This fact alone was enough to make me salivate just a little, as I am a fan of his father’s work. Adam is also the keyboard in Ozzy Osbourne’s band AND Black Sabbath. Now they really have my attention.
Influenced by Rush, Genesis, Dream Theater and Yes (duh), Headspace’s music has a fairly hard foundation, but it definitely leans more towards prog rock than prog metal a lot of the time. These guys are more prone to extended instrumental tangents than the previous two bands, but I am still really digging on what they are doing. The sound quality is pristine so enjoying all the nuances of the music is effortless. If you are into prog, I would highly recommend you check these guys out. Here is the track “Die With A Bullet.”
The Mercury Tree – Pterodactyls
Why quit now? Let’s bring out more prog. The Mercury Tree is an unsigned prog rock/experimental band from Portland, Oregon. “Pterodactyls” was released in 2011, and apparently they have a new album coming out this summer.
These guys delve deep into the hardcore prog rock. There are not any traces of metal on this album; this is rock through and through. At times the band progs out to the extent that I feel like I might be listening to ambient music. The songs on “Pterodactyls” are certainly technically proficient, but other than being a relaxing and chill listen at times, it goes a little over my head. If I was still a playing musician I might get into this album more, but since hanging up my axe I find that I require more intense stimulation to remain engaged with an album (thanks ADD.)
I am certainly not going to trash a talented band just because they are not my cup of tea. This is where I pass it along to you and let you decide for yourself.
Last Updated on June 13, 2012
Category: Album Reviews Written by: George Washburn
Vesperian Sorrow – Stormwinds of Ages
I am sure I am not the first one to say this, but damn, Vesperian Sorrow is from Austin, Texas? Who would expect such a cold and dark sounding band to hail from someplace so hot and bright? “Stormwinds of Ages”, the bands fourth album, also surprised me in that it is an amazing collection of symphonic black metal music. When I think of symphonic black metal, however, Dimmu Borgir is probably the first band to come to my mind. Well, this is not like Dimmu. Vesperian Sorrow sounds more like early 90s black metal, but with much better sound quality. The hyper-speed guitar picking and the atmosphere of the album in general reminds me of early Dissection, only cleaner. Dissection always seemed to split time between black metal and death metal and Vesperian Sorrow does the same.
The album features several guest appearances, the only one I am familiar with being Jason McMaster from Dangerous Toys. I was surprised to hear Jason on here, as Dangerous Toys was nowhere in the neighborhood of this style of music. I assume he was the clean vocals on the tracks which he appeared, and it sounded good, so kudos to him for a job well done.
"Stormwinds of Ages” was a very nice surprise to start the week. I was not really sure what to expect when I put it on, but almost immediately I became entranced by this music. This is a very formidable release and I hope it will gain the recognition it deserves. I recommend checking this band out. Start out by giving a listen to the album’s title track.
The Bunny The Bear – The Stomach For It
The Bunny The Bear are an experimental post-hardcore band from Buffalo, New York and “The Stomach For It” is their third album. The only band that I can think of that comes close to sounding like they are in the same class with The Bunny The Bear is Iwrestledabearonce. Both bands are weird as hell (hence experimental) and though they do not sound too much alike, they are bonded by the fact that they do not sound like anyone else either.
I can get behind Iwrestledabearonce because the music is interesting, if not exactly my style. The Bunny The Bear does not do much for me, however, as when they are not being exceedingly weird, they are often extremely pop-rock oriented. Rather than sounding like a metal band that takes bizarre turns, they sound like an indie rock band that adds metalcore elements for ironic affectation.
Check out the video for “Lonely, Lonely, Lonely.” It is a little more straight-forward than some of the other tracks.
Letters to Voltron – The Tonal Travel Legends of our Dripping Future
Now here is some fucked up shit that just refuses to go away and die quietly. That’s right; it is none other than the return of Letters to Voltron, those kooky bastards from the 10th Dimension who now make their lair in Houston, Texas. Like a stray dog that you feed once these guys just won’t go away, and now they are back to hump my leg again.
“The Tonal Travel Legends of our Dripping Future” is their latest EP of bizarre experimental musical amalgamations. The testosterone levels have not subsided, as they are still horn-dogging every chance they get. Guard your every orifice when listening to this EP.
Trying to describe their music is an exercise in futility on my part, so I will let their own words speak for them. Their brief bio explains: “Imagine a fruit grown by Meshuggah and Mr. Bungle, then picked from the loins of Frank Zappa by Sigue Sigue Sputnik. This is Letters to Voltron the three headed monster that's been let loose to unleash their special brand of 'difficult listening/pervert rock on the masses.” There you have it kids, straight from the mouths of…well, whatever they are.
To be honest, these guys are kind of growing on me. Based on the sound quality, they are working with much less of a budget than The Bunny The Bear, but I dig their quirky lo-fi songs so much more. A sense of humor is always nice, and as you can see in this promo for the EP, their tongue is planted firmly in cheek (and quite possibly other places too.)
Vortech – Devoid of Life
We now return you to a more normal listening experience. “Devoid of Life” is the fifth album from Finnish progressive, industrial death metal band Vortech. It looks like all five albums have been self-released; that shows a measure of dedication to be that prolific all on their own and I respect that in a band.
“Devoid of Life” is aggressive and heavy in a death metal way, yet precise and mechanical in an industrial style. The vocals are harsh in the style of death metal. Synth elements soften the heavy edge a little and provide atmosphere. The production quality is pretty good, especially considering they recorded this on their own without any label money.
I think “Devoid of Life” is an excellent effort for a band doing it all on their own. What they do, they do well. I would like to hear something in future recordings that helps them stand out of the crowd. I think they have it in them to do that. In the meantime, check out the track “Demon in the Circuitry.”
Last Updated on June 11, 2012
Category: Album Reviews Written by: George Washburn
Marduk – Serpent Sermon
This is the way the week ends. Not with a whimper, but with a bang.
I never really noticed how prolific Marduk has been over the last several decades. Sure, they put out albums regularly, like most bands, but damn, “Serpent Sermon” is their twelfth studio album. Add to that their six EPs , three live albums and a compilation, and that is a shit-ton of Marduk.
Marduk, of course, is old school Swedish black metal. Formed in 1990, they were around during the period that all the crazy shit happened in the Scandinavian black metal scene. There have been lineup changes over the years, but guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, a.k.a. “Evil”, is the foundation upon which the church of Marduk is built. I have been an off-and-on fan of the band since the 90s, I pick up most of their albums, but I have never been a hardcore fan.
“Serpent Sermon” stays fairly true to the typical Marduk sound, which is unabashed black metal fury. Do not come here looking for Dimmu Borgir-like symphonic metal, here there be no keyboards. Relentless guitar, bass and drums are topped off with the harsh, wicked vocals of Mortuus. The production is good, but not slick (which I expect is by design); it sounds good enough that you cannot complain, but raw enough to not sound overproduced.
This album turned out to be even better than I expected it to be. I was thinking it would be a pretty good album, but there seems to be more depth to some of these songs than I have heard in past efforts. My opinion of Marduk just went up a few notches. Get your evil on and check out the video for “Souls for Belial.”
Rise to Remain – City of Vultures
The apple has fallen far, far from the tree. I should not judge Rise to Remain on the fact that singer Austin Dickinson is the offspring of the sensational Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, and truth be told, I am not. I am judging them on the fact that I cannot stand the insipid mall-metalcore drivel they are trying to pass off as heavy metal. But I am disappointed that we did not get something better from Bruce’s kid. I am not saying the kid cannot sing, but what he chooses to do with his talent is depressing. To be the progeny of the singer from one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time, who influenced most of the bands to follow after them, and then choose to represent yourself with an album so horribly unoriginal and bland, why, it should be criminal.
One could complain that I should not even be bringing Bruce into this review, but you know what? If not for Bruce, this album would never have had the privilege to grace the pages of Rock Music Critic. There is nothing resembling originality or passion to be found on “City of Vultures.” It does serve as a good example of what an over-produced album sounds like. All the rough edges have been sanded away leaving an androgynous (ball-less) and sterile sounding collection of songs. I think the album art is an accurate depiction of where this album is headed. Stay way clear of this album. Listen below to hear what I mean. Or better yet, don’t. Next please!
Architects – Daybreaker
I just realized this is the third Century Media band in a row. Whoopsy, I generally try to spread things out more, but whatever. I am sorry to say that for a second there I thought I was still listening to Rise to Remain. Then, when I thought there might be some hope for them yet, I realized this was Architects. Awesome, I was hoping for more metalcore.
Metalcore is really just a combination of hardcore screaming (which I am not a big fan of to begin with) and sappy Emo clean vocals over a bed of heavy music that is probably wondering what it did to deserve this kind of treatment. This style of music grates on my nerves and has very little chance of getting a kind word from me. I will say, however, that “Daybreaker” sounds alright for what it is. It is a definite improvement over Rise to Remain. The production (over-clean though it may be) sounds pleasing and there is definitely talent in this band. I could listen to this album if I had to, but if given the choice I will move on to something else.
4 Arm – Submission for Liberty
Let’s get the weekend started on a high note. Last up we have 4 Arm, a thrash band from Melbourne, Australia and their third album, “Submission for Liberty.” The album was mixed by Matt Hyde (Machine Head, Slipknot, Trivium) and you can hear the quality of that worthwhile investment. I have not heard these thrashers from down under before, but I am seriously digging what I hear.
“Submission for Liberty” is straight-up thrash, which means relatively fast songs, double bass drums (but not blast beats), crisp and chunky guitars, and vocals which have an edge but are not difficult to understand. The beautiful mixing job makes for a tight, sharp sounding album that retains plenty of punch without becoming muddy. I absolutely adore albums that sound like this one.
Did I mention that these guys fucking seriously rock? “Submission for Liberty” is definitely mosh pit compatible. They might even want to put a warning label on the album that says “This album may wreck your neck.” Were I not currently in the presence of others I would be cranking this up to 11 and moshing my brains out. I certify this album as 100% Grade A thrash.
Check out the video for the title track, “Submission for Liberty“, and try not to wind up in traction.
Last Updated on June 08, 2012
Category: Album Reviews Written by: George Washburn
Hexen – Being and Nothingness
Ummm, wow. I was expecting some kind of second-rate death metal when I put on Hexen’s “Being and Nothingness”, and what I heard far exceeded those expectations. Hailing from L.A., Hexen is a thrash band (a pretty good one in my opinion) and this is their second album.
After listening, but before sitting down to write this, I did a little looking around online for info about these guys. Some people love this album, some people do not. This is pretty typical of any album. I saw this album lumped in with the retro thrash movement, and I scratched my head a little. Other than the fact that this is thrash, I do not hear anything on this album that sounds like it was recorded in the 80s. The production is far beyond that of any 80s thrash albums; you can generally tell an old thrash album by the thin sounding mix with very little bass. That is not an attribute that applies to “Being and Nothingness.” The vocals are a bit harsher than most of the early thrash bands too. I would dub this neo-thrashical a.k.a. The New Thrash.
The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. I highly recommend checking these guys out. You can start by giving them a listen below. Here is “Grave New World.”
Grand Magus – The Hunt
After enjoying the Hexen album I was in the mood to grant second chances, so I decided to give Grand Magus’ “The Hunt” another listen. You see, the first time through, I wrote a pretty scathing review of this album. I felt they were moving too far away from their doom roots and heading in a commercial direction that dilutes and pollutes their previously awesome sound. This opinion was largely based on the opening track “Starlight Slaughter” which just sounds ridiculous in my opinion. So this time around I skipped the first track and started with “Sword of the Ocean.”
Without “Starlight Slaughter” to taint my palette, I had an easier time of enjoying the album. It still sounds a little campy. They have all these songs like “Sword of the Ocean”, “Valhalla Rising” and “Storm King” yet they just sound a bit too happy about it all. If they were singing about dope and motorcycles I would get it, but Viking themed songs seem like they belong on an Amon Amarth album. I realize I am probably being a little too closed-minded about this, but my gut feeling says this album is a bit off. Keep in mind I loved all their previous albums, so there has to be something about this album causing me to hesitate in dealing out praise.
The sound quality is good, there are lots of cool riffs, and the songs are kind of catchy. In that sense I cannot complain. I am sure many people will think I am crazy and love this album, and if that is the case then good for you. Myself, I am still not convinced.
Sacred Blood – Alexandros
Who better to write about Alexander the Great than a metal band from Greece? “Alexandros” is the second album from Sacred Blood, and it is a power metal concept album about the legendary warrior king.
“Alexandros” is epic power metal, but it has a harder, more traditional edge to it rather than a lighter, symphonic sound. The guitar and drum foundation is supplemented with grand, sweeping keyboards and clean vocals that sometimes have a gruff edge. I tend to prefer my power metal vocals with some grit, so that works for me.
I do not want to give the impression that this is a mediocre offering, but I really cannot think of anything else to say about this album that would not just be filler. It is definitely worth a listen, and I like the subject matter, but my well of inspiration is running dry. I have no complaints about them and they do not remind me of anyone that I could compare them to, so all I have to say is that I think they are pretty good and you should give them a listen. Click below to hear them.
Nachtblut – Dogma
Last year I reviewed “Antik”, the last release from Nachtblut on Napalm Records. Well, the dark and gothic Germans are back with their third album, “Dogma.” They still sing all in German, so I continue to be in the dark about what they are saying.
I like everything else about “Dogma.” The songs all have a very basic metal foundation, which makes it easy to bob your head along, but there is also a symphonic element that gives the songs a feeling of large open spaces. Electronic elements also have a place at this table. The vocals are mostly split between screechy harsh (along the lines of Dani Filth, if Dani were singing in German) and cleanish vocals make me think of Rammstein (which I believe is what I said last time.) All the musical elements blend so well that nothing sounds like it gets buried in the mix, and even the vocals seem to have plenty of room to move around without bumping into anything.
Nachtlbut seem to have a knack for making metal music that both reminds the listener of other bands, and sounds refreshingly original. Yes, I can say Dani Filth this, and Rammstein that, but when it all gets bundled together they have a fairly distinct sound that is like a deep breath of fresh air for this listener.
The sound quality seems a little fuller this time around. It was pretty good on the last album too, but I think this one sounds like it has a little more low-end thump. My only complaint remains that I do not know what they are saying; I just wish they would do at least a few songs in English so I could join the party. Regardless, this is a great listen. Check out the track “Eiskönigin.”
Last Updated on June 07, 2012