Sunday, May 25, 2003

Review: Acero - Pasado y Presente (2002)

Acero [ Website ]
Pasado y Presente

The Latin American world has been known for producing a fair number of extreme metal bands such as Sepultura and Cenotaph, but there exists in these countries a thriving power/traditional metal scene made up of many talented bands carrying on the tradition of "true" metal. Acero (whose name is Spanish for Steel) is one of these bands, but also has the distinction of being one of the very few metal bands from the small country of Costa Rica.

Acero actually has a long history stretching back to 1985 when they formed, becoming the first heavy metal band in their country. Obviously, the local scene at the time was difficult to work in and so after 6 years, numerous line-up changes, and one demo the band split up. Five years later, two of the original members - Jorge Molina and Francisco Pujol - reunited with former member Francisco Alvarado to resurrect Acero. This time around they were able to enter the studio and record their debut full-length, Pasado y Presente. As the title implies ("Past and Present"), this album contains material composed over the bands 17-year history.

First off, the entire album is in Spanish - including the liner notes and lyrics. So if you're like me and have difficulty ordering lunch at Taco Bell, don't count on understanding much about the lyrics. But if you're interested in a tight classic metal sound, then by all means read on. The first track on the album, "Pasa La Raya", is a straight-up riff-driven '80s metal trip built on the powerfull voice of Adrian Moya, great solo work by Jorge Molina, and the strong bass presence of Francisco Pujol. Judas Priest is mentioned several times as an influence, so it's not surprising that many similarities can be heard on the first few songs of Pasado y Presente. "El Rey Del Rock n Roll" ("The King of Rock n Roll") was written in memory of Jose Capmany, a musician and friend of the band who passed away in 2001. The sound on this track is more in the vein of Under Lock And Key-era Dokken with a great underlying riff interspersed with a few lightning licks. Although Dio is not listed as an influence, I was immediately struck by the fact that "Dos Lunas Negras" could very well be a slower paced "Holy Diver". The basic riff is quite similar, but the twin-guitar bridges and sprinkling of keyboards work to give the tune its own identity. However, it's at the end of this song that one of Acero's weaknesses is brought to attention. While Adrian Moya certainly has a good voice for this style of metal, he occasionally ventures into Bruce Dickenson-like moments that are really a tad out of his range. Next up is "Pendulo", a guitar-driven instrumental that, while showcasing the talent of Jorge Molina, still manages to display how tight Acero is as a band - not to mention serves as a great bridge between the bands earlier work and their more recent songs. The aptly titled "Reencarnacion" introduces the listener to Acero's latest direction with a great Iron Maiden inspired opening and chugging riffs reminiscent of Saxon.

Acero is certainly a talented outfit, delivering tight and true-to-form '80s-style metal with efficiency. It's their adherence to the common elements of the genre without infusing a lot of originality, however, that gives this album an overall middle-of-the-road feel. Pasado y Presente is a great glimpse into the career of these Costa Rican metalheads, though, and shows a promise of good things to come. The CD is available from the band at their website.

Track Listing
1Pasa La Raya
3El Rey Del Rock n Roll
4Dos Lunas Negras
7Reina De La Noche
8Luces En El Cielo
Total Runtime

Friday, May 16, 2003

Review: Celesty - Reign of Elements (2002)

Celesty [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Reign of Elements
Arise Records

Finland has been producing quite a fair number of metal bands these days, some of which have established themselves as leaders of their respective genres - Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Amorphis, Children of Bodom, and many others. In terms of symphonic power metal, the Finns seem to have cornered the market. Unlike the Italians, who've recently been churning out band after band of uninspired power metal, those from the Frozen North seem to possess something a little unique that sets them apart and brings a bit of freshness into a saturated field.

Celesty joins the crowd with their debut album Reign Of Elements, a very solid display of thundering metal with many similarities to Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius. With just one listen it's clear that the masterful keyboard work of Juha Mäenpää is what lends Celesty their distinctiveness. Very much a part of every song, the outstanding melodies are at the forefront and tend to stick with you. The band as a whole is tight, explosive, and technically remarkable, with singer Kimmo Perämäki performing well within the expectations of this genre.

"Revenge" and "Sword of Salvation" are two highlights of Reign Of Elements, with Jani Liimatainen of Sonata Arctica guesting with a solo on the former track. Both of these songs have wonderful keyboard melodies - not the neo-classical swooping kind that one normally associates with the genre, but more subdued and memorable. The only real weak point I could find on the album was the voice-acting in the title track and "Sword of Salvation". The songs are not enhanced in the least bit, but thankfully the frantic tickling of the keys by Juha and the blistering guitar runs of J-P Alanen and Tapani Kangas keep these songs from descending into mediocrity.

Fans of the European symphonic metal being churned out in superb form by the Scandinavians would do well to get their hands on Reign Of Elements as it is a worthy addition to any collection. Indeed, even those wishing to experience a well-played introduction to the genre would be satisfied with this album.

Track Listing
1 Intro
2 Charge
3 Revenge
4 Sword of Salvation
5 Reign of Elements
6 Lost in Deliverance
7 The Sword and the Shield
8 Battle of Oblivion
9 Kingdom

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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Review: Qwestion - y (2002)

Qwestion [ Website | MySpace ]

Planting themselves firmly in the art/experimental metal ring with their self-financed, self-produced debut y, Qwestion delivers nearly an hour of twisting, complex music. John Hall delivers crunchy riffs throughout the album, creating some great guitar-driven ethereal moments. Though the album sounds more like an open jam session between John and bass player (slash producer, manager, art designer, etc.) Mike Griffith, the abundant use of effects and complex off-time drumming works to make y come together as a very interesting prog-metal journey.

"Chaos Theory" sticks out as a great track mainly because of the heavy riffs laid down by John. The name of the tune is quite appropriate when taking into consideration the intricate drumming (programmed on this album, I believe, since the CD booklet refers to their drummer being TBD). "Freeprov" makes use of the turntable talents of one Jimmy Rad, mixing trip-hop and rap elements into the Zappa-inspired experimentation. One thing noticeably absent from y are vocals of any sort. There are some samples in the aforementioned "Freeprov", and some dude singing a capella while showering, but those hardly qualify as vocals. Honestly, I don't think that the introduction of a singer would benefit the music at all, and in fact could detract from the free ride enjoyed by both musicians. Being a bass player myself, I'm drawn to the sixth track "Muse". This song has Mike going at it solo backed by some awesome otherworldly effects. A perfect tune to chill to, and my personal favorite on the album.

The album y is a quality example of technical metal experimentation, but it's because of this that it will turn off the average metalhead. For those who like their metal complex more so than melodic or harsh, Qwestion delivers.

Track Listing
1The Mask
3Chaos Theory
4A Little Swim Before The Walk
5Forest of the Norm

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Monday, May 12, 2003

Review: Byfist - Adrenalin (2000)

Byfist [ MySpace ]

Byfist  is certainly not new to the metal scene, having been formed in the suburbs of San Antonio back in 1987. The band cut two demos before fading away, but a decade later they returned to issue Adrenalin. Sounding straight out of the late 80's heyday of metal, the four songs on this demo encompass all the trademarks of bands such as Helstar, Judas Priest, and Angel Witch  - heavy riffing, blistering solos, and the frequent falsetto screeching of frontman Vikk Real. A lot of the credit goes to David Wayne (of Metal Church), who produced the demo. As an 80's metal icon, he knows the sound and it shows on this disc. The second track, "Meltdown", is powered by excellent buzzsaw guitars and frantic skin-pounding by Jess Vara and is the highlight here.

Taken as a whole, this four-tracker certainly sounds dated by today's metal standards, but to metal purists and fans of the period, Byfist is a band worth keeping an eye on. Since the recording of Adrenalin, singer Vikk Real and bassist Rey Gone left the band and were replaced by Rob Steele and former Reverand bassist Jay Wegener. Byfist appears to have plans to release a full-length some time in the future, but no specific dates have been announced.

Track Listing
1 Eternal Damnation
2 Meltdown
3 Left To Die
4 Mary Celeste

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Sunday, May 11, 2003

Interview: Keith Fay of Cruachan

It was my privilege to have the opportunity to interview Keith Fay of the Irish Celtic-metal band Cruachan. Soon to enter the studio to record the follow-up to Folk-Lore, Keith was gracious enough to take time out to discuss the new album and recent changes in the band.

[HMM] I'd like to start off by talking a little bit about the new album. You're entering the studio at the end of March to begin recording. Has a title or release date been set yet?
[Keith] No and no! Sorry about the lack of info, but it is the truth. We have a few titles in our heads, we are going for a slight concept album although the concept is very broad. It explores the last 1000 years of Ireland's history, covering the two main invaders of the time, the Vikings and the English. It wont be provocative though, what has been done by the English is history now and as you know both countries relations are normal. Anyway, most English citizens are not entirely proud of their countries historical attempts at world domination.

What most excites you about the new album?
A lot excites me about it. It is the best work we have done to date....though all bands say that about their new stuff anyway. The songs are a complex mix of old style and new style. We have a couple of really aggressive fast parts, blast beats and stuff and we also have huge atmospheric'll see!!!

Keith Fay
Ed Gilbert has recently joined the band. What is his musical background?
He has been playing in rock bands for the last ten years, mainly covers bands doing Metallica, Slayer, etc. He is a huge Pink Floyd fan for his sins! We have been playing with him for over a year now when he was our guest musician so it was only natural that he joined the band in a full time role.

What prompted John O'Fathaigh's departure from Cruachan?
A lot of things. Mainly he could not commit 100% of the time required for Cruachan and would miss rehearsals etc. Touring was also a problem so it was best for him to leave. He is still involved with the band and will be involved with the new album on flute and tin whistle as well as artwork so he has not fully left the band.

Are you or any other members of the band involved in any side projects?
No, Cruachan is our only musical involvement. Most of us have full time jobs so it would be hard to commit time to another band.

The Middle Kingdom was a very drastic shift from the Black Metal of your debut Tuatha Na Gael. What was the catalyst for such a change?
I suppose the biggest factor was time. There is a 5 year gap between writing the songs for "tuatha" and the songs for "kingdom". During this time we listened to different music, developed new tastes etc. and this is all reflected in the music. It was not an intentional change, it just happened.

Folk-Lore expanded on the sound you displayed on The Middle Kingdom and included a guest appearance by Shane Mac Gowan of The Pogues. How did this relationship come about?
At the time of Folk-Lore we were managed by Peader Gaffney. He worked with Shane for many years as a roadie with "the pogues". He let Shane have a listen to The Middle Kingdom and he was impressed so naturally the next thing to do was lure him into the studio to work with us....which luckily he agreed to straight away!

On your web site you've hinted at another guest for your upcoming album. Any more clues as to their identity?
It won't be anyone famous! You'll see soon enough.

One of the aspects that make Cruachan truly unique is your stage production. Have there been any thoughts of capturing one of your performances for a video?
When we played Holland and Belgium last December there was actually talk of a live dvd being produced but it fell through at the last minute. It does mean though that it is definitely something that Hammerheart want to do so it will happen!

What is your take on today's metal scene in Ireland?
Very very healthy, the best I have seen it in years. Obviously it is the recent interest in nu-metal that is drawing the kids but if only a couple percent of those kids start listening to proper metal it will be good for the scene. As far as bands over here, that situation is also improving, there are now more signed Irish metal bands than I can ever remember in the past.

If there was one thing you think could improve the scene, what would it be?
One of our bands going to the next level in Ireland. Cruachan and Primordial are probably the biggest Irish bands but if we could become that little bit bigger, and draw more attention to Ireland it would help immensely.

Do you foresee any festival appearances or tours of the US?
I hope so but it is up to booking agents or our label to arrange them so.....

I'd like to thank you for your taking time out for an interview. I'm very much looking forward to the new album and wish you all the best during the recording process. Are there any last words for our readers?
Stay metal and keep the pagan faith!!!

Thanks again Keith!

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Review: Area 54 - Beckoning of the End (2003)

Area 54 [ Website | MySpace ]
Beckoning of the End

Frontman and guitarist Lakis Kyriacou formed Area 54 in 1997 with the goal of creating melodic metal true to his influences (Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses, and Megadeth  to name a few) while keeping the power and aggressive elements of today's modern metal. Rounding out the line-up with lead/rhythm guitarist Steve Martin, drummer Rob Hillman, and bass player (and one of metal's new breed of hotties) Laura Salmon, Area 54's debut No Visible Scars on Dream Catcher Records certainly delivered a true testament to the metal lords of old, but was lacking in uniqueness to really propel the band forward to the next level.

Fast-forward three years and we now have Beckoning Of The End, a sophomore effort that at times grabs you by the collar and bitch-slaps you with ferocious intensity while at the same time serving up a feast of pure guitar melodies. There's plenty of quality guitar solos, galloping double-bass, and exceptional bass lines throughout this disc. Lakis's vocals are delivered gritty, raw, and emotional - complimenting the dazzling musicianship perfectly. The formula he had in mind when beginning the metal joyride that is Area 54 has definitely been discovered.

The first track of the album, "Living A Lie", is my favorite and has what it takes to propel this band into the spotlight. Rob's complex drumming, along with Laura's vicious bass, is mind-blowing and when combined with the dual guitar attack of Steve and Lakis - well, be prepared for some serious headbanging. Even though the tune clocks in at just over 5 minutes, it ends all too quickly and I find myself wanting more after each listen. Another standout on Beckoning Of The End is "Personal Gain", which begins with a great riff and relies heavily on the vocal harmonies of Lakis for success. "Cancer Of The Mind" combines aggressive riffing with some nice hooks to come across as one of the more powerful songs on the album. Of course, guest vocals by former At The Gates vocalist Tomas Lindberg lend quite a bit to the extreme nature of the tune. It's great to hear Tomas on this album, but the result is that "Cancer Of The Mind" becomes a bit out of place among the rest of the tracks.

The one thing about that Beckoning Of The End I would like to see changed on Area 54's follow-up is the number of ballads. "Scarred Earth" is really more of a power-ballad, turning up the aggressiveness about halfway through its 6-minute run, but "Another Life" and the closing track "This Is The End Of Everything" are really two ballads too many and only serve to interrupt the pace of the album. They're good songs and Lakis does an excellent job, but the overall flow and feeling of the album is hurt.

I really like what Area 54 has hit upon with Beckoning Of The End and I look forward to seeing where Lakis and Co. can take their sound. As of this review, the album is quite hard to find in The States but I'm hoping a distribution deal is in the works to bring this great slab of metal to the American masses.

Track Listing
1 Living A Lie
2 Beckoning of the End
3 Beyond a Pale Existence
4 To Conform is to Suffer
5 Scarred Earth
6 In My Blood
7 Another Life
8 Personal Gain
9 Cancer of the Mind
10 This is the End of Everything
Total Runtime

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Friday, May 2, 2003

Review: Agonizer - Cain (2003)

Agonizer [ Website | MySpace ]

Cain is the fourth demo from the Finnish power metal outfit Agonizer. Formed in 1998, the band incorporates the usual elements of the genre into their songcraft - magnificant shredding from J-P Perälä and Joni Laine, Toni Qvick's pounding double-bass, and symphonic keyboards accompaniment by Mika Heinonen. What sets them apart, however, is Pasi Kärkkäinen's vocal delivery. Unlike the screechers and wailers one usual expects to find fronting bands of this sort, Pasi possesses a raspy, throaty voice that brings to mind fellow Finn Ville Laihiala of Sentenced.

The three songs on Cain show an improvement from the band's previous work. The arrangements are tighter and Pasi has clearly strived to develop his ability and range. He hits the rare high notes with authority, adding just one more dimension to this already talented outfit. "Cain The Slayer" is Agonizer's showcase song on this demo, displaying each member's skill both as individuals and as a concrete wall of sound. The only element with which I was disappointed was the keyboard solos in "Mask" and "Cain The Slayer". This is not a knock against Mika's talent at all, but simply that such an aspect does not fit well within the song and tends to come across as displaced.

Agonizer deliver a breath of fresh air to the much over-crowded Scandanavian power metal scene. Although Century Media passed on signing the band, I anticipate a label will be snatching these guys up soon enough.

Track Listing
3Cain the Slayer
Total Runtime