Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Review: Grimind - Escaped From Life (2004)

Grimind [ MySpace | Facebook ]
Escaped From Life

Like Italian symphonic power metal, atmospheric Gothic metal/rock has spawned innumerable bands over the past couple of years. For fans of this style of metal, of which I myself am one, such an influx of talent is nothing less than a boon. It is true that a certain degree of dilution comes with such a concentration of bands vying to contribute to the genre, but there are those who rise above the tide and further the genre through some unique adaptation or prowess. Switzerland's Grimind possess the aptitude to be one of those who rise above, a capability I found to be clearly evident on their third demo Escaped From Life.

Grimind's music can be most accurately described as atmospheric Goth rock with a heavy degree of melancholy, both in the melodies and lyrical content. Mainman David Agócs sings in a clean voice, full of longing, infusing a sense of sadness into the songs. Besides his vocal duties, David applies an equal amount of talent to the rhythm and bass guitars. A prominent component of the band's sound is the keyboard element, played masterfully by drummer (and main songwriter) Matthieu Cachemaille. He grasps the concept of using the keys sparingly enough to not overwhelm the composition, yet create a lush atmosphere that is wholly complimentary to the voice of Agócs and the guitar melodies of Arnaud Nicod-Clément. The appropriately titled first track is devoted entirely to the ethereal mood that Matthieu is capable of weaving.

I found "Pain and Emotion" to be the track on which the band displays their full potential. Matthieu's piano passages offer a glimpse of sadness, further enhanced by David's vocals, that is carried to a higher level by a crunchy theme riff from Arnaud. From this point, aside from expressive guitar leads and continued keyboard experimentation (particularly on "Deliverance"), Grimind settle into a pattern of predictability that tends to overshadow their wealth of ability. This is not to say that Escaped From Life is a subpar album, however. On the contrary, this MCD is fully worthy of taking a place aside the releases of the leaders of the genre. In order to excel and to extend their reach beyond the multitude of bands offering similar material, Grimind will have to continue leveraging their atmospheric abilities while also giving added weight to their six-string power. To this end, Matthieu shows that he is already well on his way to creating exquisite piano/keyboard accompaniments, an element that few bands master.

Before wrapping up this review, I think it appropriate to mention that the final track on Escaped From Life is a cover of "In Your Room" from Depeche Mode, indicating to the casual listener from where Grimind draws influence. Quite true to the original, particularly where the vocals are concerned, Grimind add just enough of their own identity to give the song quite a new lease on life.

So in the end, Escaped From Life is a quality MCD of atmospheric Goth rock, perhaps quite radio-friendly as well, that marks Grimind as a band that fans of the genre should seek out and be on the watch for.

Track Listing
1 Atmospheric Sensation (Intro) 2:02
2 Pain and Emotion 3:43
3 Silence Still Remains 3:37
4 Deliverance 3:49
5 Limbus 3:47
6 In Your Room 4:08

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Review: Septer - Transgressor (2003)

Septer [ Website | MySpace ]
Pulse Records

Septer's debut album Transgressor is a superb example of American power metal, similar to bands such as Cage and Jag Panzer, infused with a traditional '80s metal sound. Originally forming in the mid-'90s, the band's creative output would not see the light of day until this 2003 release. From start to finish, Septer reach for the jugular and never let go.

The two aspects which make Septer a true contender in the world of metal are the killer vocals of Kevin Truell and the twin guitar fretwork of Orest "Hawk" Dziatyk and Paul Dailey. Kevin's growling style reminds me a lot of Biff Byford (Saxon) at times, though he also possesses an unwavering ability to reach the highest wails in a very Halford-esque manner. His execution of the chorus on "Blood and Dishonor" is flawless, giving that track staying power as one of the highlights of Transgressor. While Kevin adds depth with his range and ability, Hawk and Dailey put together some fantastic leads and solos to give every track on the album a uniqueness that keeps the listening experience from ever going stale. Again, I point to "Blood and Dishonor" to illustrate the skill of both guitarists with the solo. Lightning quick, yet expressive.

While the majority of the album flies in your face with speed and aggression, Septer doesn't fail to calm the torrent - if but only briefly. "You Better Believe" follows the assault of "Blood and Dishonor" with passionate vocals from Kevin, a steady grooving riff, and yet another emotional solo from Hawk. To further add to the atmosphere, there is a Spanish element to the final guitar solo that occurs immediately following a bit of a keyboard interlude.

Transgressor is an album of highlights, to be sure. Besides the skills already mentioned, drummer Jeff Kmiec does an excellent job behind the kit as he weaves together both simple beats and complex rhythm patterns. To complete the package, the production is excellent and the artwork top-notch. Having sung praise thus far, I must point out two specific instances where I found the band to be at their weakest. The first finds Kevin as being uncharacteristically weak on "Slipping Away", sounding forced and very uncomfortable. The final quip I have with Transgressor actually comes on the lead-off track "Die By The Axe". For the most part an excellent track, there are a few attempts at introducing progressive elements to the song which serve only to give the impression of being disjointed and out-of-place.

As the band readies their sophomore album, Kevin has been replaced by Dane McCartney. Not having heard Dane, I can only wonder what impact he will have on the sound of Septer.

Track Listing
1Die By the Axe4:27
3Blood and Dishonor5:33
4You Better Believe5:33
7Slipping Away4:01
8Last Days3:27

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Review: WithoutEnd - WithoutEnd (2004)

Lone Wolf Music

To be quite honest, I'm not a very big fan of prog metal. I feel that music should be listened to, felt, and experienced - not deciphered. While progressive elements most often add a touch of depth to many sub-genres of heavy metal when used responsibly, I find the over-the-top complexities some bands strive for to be more than tedious. So it was with a certain degree of skepticism that I approached Australian WithoutEnd's debut, self-titled album.

Formed in 2001 by drummer/singer Nick Georgakopoulus and guitarist Michael Totta in Melbourne, the duo soon added bass player Sam Schepis and headed off to the studio to record this album with the help of renowned jazz/fusion guitarist Endel Rivers. The Rivers touch is more than evident throughout the album, as the production is precise and well balanced. The resulting 9-track disc transcends my predetermined definition of prog metal, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience while maintaining the technical complexities expected of the genre. Key to my satisfaction with WithoutEnd is the dark mood of the album, as every song takes on a somber atmosphere through introspective lyrics and the uncommon, for prog metal, voice of Nick Georgakopoulus. He sings in a lower range, almost Gothic or Dark Wave style and occasionally incorporates a bit of a Middle Eastern waver to his delivery. I think of Peter Murphy or David Gahan, with a bit of Geoff Tate thrown in for good measure. Nick is in no way mimicking any of these singers, but has a very distinctive and emotive voice that expresses in words the passion that can be heard in Totta's talented fretwork.

While just about every track is enjoyable, I found "Analyze" to be the strongest song on WithoutEnd, with Nick delivering his most powerful performance and Totta displaying his variegated talent. As is to be expected from a prog outfit, WithoutEnd provides plenty of time changes and elaborate rhythms here and elsewhere on the album, but they never sacrifice melody for showmanship (major points in my book!). "Analyze" is also the first song on the album in which Nicoletta Kardas makes an appearance. A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, her operatic presence is utilized as backing instrumentation and adds yet another dimension to WithoutEnd's sound.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard on WithoutEnd. The keyboards, so often overemphasized by prog outfits, are integral to WithoutEnd's sound but are used in moderation and blend very well without taking center stage to Totta's guitar. This band is one to watch for both prog fans and those who enjoy dark, somber metal.

Track Listing
1 Again 6:40
2 In Transit 4:58
3 Analyse 5:30
4 I Still Remember 8:01
5 Searching for Meaning 4:30
6 Descend 4:35
7 Comfort Zone 3:17
8 Compulsion 5:17
9 The Third Day 3:08

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Friday, October 29, 2004

Review: Of Infinity - The Essence of Inifinity (2004)

Of Infinity [ Website | MySpace ]
The Essence of Infinity

The San Antonio, Texas, metal outfit Of Infinity is going to succeed. Talented as many underground bands are, for whatever reason they never quite catch the attention of the right people. Success in the music industry is a magic formula with talent, self-promotion, and determination being the main ingredients. Judging from what Of Infinity delivers on their three-song EP The Essence Of Infinity, they have all three in abundance.

Their press kit is, quite honestly, the slickest I've received in quite a long while. Neatly organized information about the band is packaged very smartly with a full-color, glossy slipsleeve containing the CD. Why am I spending my time, and yours, to mention the band's press kit? Because that is the first thing those industry types at the record labels will see as they're pouring through thousands of demos and inquiries. Catching their attention is the name of the game, so consider this a public service message to all of those up-and-coming bands out there. Being organized and professional does not mean that you're any less metal.

Ok, my soapbox has been kicked from under me so I'll get on to what the majority of us care about - Of Infinity's music. The members of the band (Alessandra Zinicola - vocals/piano/keys, Nazareth Sando - guitars/percussion, and Kurtis Kyllo - bass) have been playing together for less than two years, though Alessandra and Nazareth got together in 1999 to begin the project. What they've done in that short amount of time, however, says much for their songwriting ability and depth of talent.

The Essence Of Infinity begins with "The Voice Without", a pretty straightforward Gothic doom metal piece full of lush keys, somber guitar passages, and Alessandra's beautiful voice. As powerful as it is beautiful, her voice is strongest in the lower ranges and does tend to lose an edge as she reaches into her upper ranges, but overall she meshes seamlessly with the music. The next track, "Shadow Of A Lie", reminds me of something from Celestial Season's Solar Lovers album, with very Gothic violin passages from Emily Hesterman. Once again, the piano and keyboards make a strong presence and combine with Nazareth's dark riffs to provide the perfect atmosphere for Alessandra to work her magic. She's not as wistful on this track, which plays right into her strengths. While being significantly stronger than the first track, "Shadow Of A Lie" is eclipsed by the album's final track. "It's Only For Forever" shows the band take a giant leap with their melodic construction. Right away you're grabbed by Alessandra's piano intro as Nazareth lays into a pretty emotive solo. The vocal hooks are outstanding and perfectly laid. This is Of Infinity at their strongest, and as the final track it leaves the listener craving for more.

The three songs of The Essence Of Infinity are well crafted, well executed examples of Gothic metal that is beautiful, true to the genre, and accessible. The band has recently added a full time drummer to the fold, Carlos Teller, so with a complete lineup and there no longer being a need to rely on drum programming, I hope for much more to come along in the near future.

Track Listing
1The Voice Without5:33
2Shadow Of A Lie6:37
3It's Only For Forever4:50

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Monday, October 11, 2004

Review: Vagh - Into The Future Zone (2004)

Into The Future Zone

For some, the hard rock of the 1980s hold a very special place in their memories. The imagery of Tawny Kitean gyrating on the hood of a car to the sounds of lush keyboard riffs and restrained guitar licks is indeed both familiar and memorable. Fans of Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and Journey listen up - the Swedish rockers Vagh share your love for this unforgettable era of rock and have dedicated themselves to bringing it back in exacting fashion. Founded by guitarist and keyboard player Robin Vagh as an expression of his love for AOR and melodic hard rock, the band released Into The Future Zone, their second album of '80s-style rock, earlier this year.

The album starts out on fire with the catchy "To Hell And Back Again". Robin lays down some searing riffs while guest guitarist David Persson kicks out quality leads and a stylish solo. Up-tempo and chock full of hooks, the lead-off track is by far the best song on the disc. Vocalist Jonas Blum has a somewhat gritty voice that generally fits, though at times he struggles and sounds at odds with the music. On the first two tracks he bears a slight similarity to Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe), but on tracks like "Calling On You" he sounds so out of place as to be distracting. Perhaps it's this inconsistency that prompted Robin Vagh to enlist the aid of John Marshall Gibbs and Noomi Strågefors to guest on two tracks each. Gibbs' first appearance, on "I Wanna Feel Love", has him performing his best David Coverdale impersonation but he ultimately falls short of the mark. On "Show Me Heaven Tonight", however, Gibbs shines as he emulates the grit and confidence of Jon Bon Jovi. For her part, Noomi displays promise in her tough girl, Pat Benatar sort of way. She struggles to remain on key when sustaining a note, but her potential is evident.

Vocal variety aside, apart from the lead-off track Into The Future Zone is a predictable album sticking to a tried and true formula. Though lacking in spontaneity, this album delivers everything you should expect from the genre - loads of hooks, catchy choruses, just the right amount of keyboard atmosphere, and a dash of guitar fire. Fans of the era, and melodic hard rock in general, will enjoy Vagh's new album.

Track Listing
1 To Hell And Back Again 4:17
2 Can't Reach You 3:34
3 I Wanna Feel Love 4:38
4 Love Touch 3:06
5 Show Me Heaven Tonight 4:30
6 Calling On You 3:33
7 Moment Of A Touch 4:39
8 Rebecca 3:55
9 Invincible 4:24
10 Don't Turn Away 4:31
11 This Feeling Inside 4:43
12 Future Zone 5:56

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Friday, October 1, 2004

Review: Dawn - Veil of Sorrow (2003)

Dawn [ MySpace ]
Veil of Sorrow

When I first stumbled across Dawn I was more than a little intrigued. Here was a band from Northern Ireland, heavily influenced by doom metal, with a female vocalist. I of course began to draw mental comparisons to The Gathering, Theatre of Tragedy, and the like without even having heard audio samples from the band. When I received a copy of Dawn's debut EP, Veil of Sorrow, my preconceived notions of what this band would sound like were quite frankly blown away. Drawing heavily on the somber doom atmosphere of bands like the aforementioned, this particular quintet takes their sound a step further by incorporating elements from several styles of metal. Lead guitarist Ian Harper belts out both traditionally styled solos and the frantic fretwork often found on black metal releases, not to mention exceptionally catchy hooks which are prevalent throughout. As if the remarkable quality of the musicianship wasn't enough, Dawn sets themselves apart because of the sensational voice of Amy Robinson. Possessing a unique tone among female metal vocalists, Amy contrasts the guitar heaviness with an innocent lilt that simply has to be heard.

With only four tracks, Veil of Sorrow still manages to traverse a wide range of style and emotion. The lead-off, and title, track sets Ian's skills on the table immediately. A haunting riff backed by the ominous bass of Robert Bramford gives the song a ponderous quality, but Amy's voice soars as she hooks into you and forces you to sing along - particularly after downing a few Strongbows ;) Amy's voice does have a bit of a childlike quality, and I imagine some may find her to be a tad shrill at times, but for me she is altogether captivating. "No Forgiveness" is my favorite track on Veil of Sorrow. Here Bramford's bass branches out to deliver some quality lines, Ian delivers a handful of leads as expressive as they are stellar, and the extremely infectious choruses bring it all together. The twin guitar opening to "Lifetime Addiction" is more than a slight nod to the great NWOBHM bands, while the rumbling skinwork of Thomas Mullan hints at what he's capable of. Closing out Veil of Sorrow is "Priceless Gift", and here the band reaches into the realm of extreme metal to add yet another dimension to their sound. Ian delivers some excessively rabid leads while Mullen brings the double-kick to bear. Heavy on the bass, the final track of Veil of Sorrow wraps up with significant doom overtones.

Dawn's EP can best be surmised as hook-laden traditionally-inspired doom metal with captivating female vocals - a formula for success rarely heard and sure to catapult this young Irish band into the global metal spotlight. Watch for their full-length debut on Lone Wolf Music in February.

Track Listing
1 Veil of Sorrow 6:00
2 No Forgiveness 6:09
3 Lifetime Addiction 5:37
4 Priceless Gift 5:58

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Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Review: Wolfram - No Redemption (2004)

Wolfram [ Website | MySpace ]
No Redemption
Leviathan Records

Technical thrashers Wolfram have been tearing up the Czech metal scene for over 20 years, beginning as a cover band slamming out tunes by Dio, Priest, and Saxon. Over time the band, led by guitarmeister Roman Krokus Kríz, forged out their own identity encompassing the distinctive aggression of the Bay Area thrash scene. An admirer of Megadeth's Marty Friedman, Roman has developed a style that is both crushing and progressive, giving Wolfram a highly technical sound without sacrificing pure headbanging fury. No Redemption is the band's fourth album and most technically diverse.

Overall, this album rumbles forward with distinctly crunchy guitars and catchy melodies. Singer Petr Doldy Dolének has a gritty voice that gives the music an extra dose of in your face aggression. Highlights abound throughout No Redemption, though Roman can be a bit too ambitious at times with his progressive flair. That doesn't happen often, however. What does happen often are songs like "Waiting", with lightning licks dancing atop purposeful riffs as drummer Petr Sanda keeps time with complex elegance. Sanda is as skilled on the kit as Roman is with the guitar, resulting in mindblowing beat patterns on each and every track. His prominent double-bass dominates again on "Flood" while Roman delivers an inspired solo and some interestingly scratchy licks. My favorite track of No Redemption is "King". The theme riff is catchy as hell, plain and simple. Throw in a few vocal hooks and the result is an infectious song perfect for a little recreational headbanging, complete with another roller-coaster solo from Roman.

Wolfram is a surprisingly skilled band that's put together quite a heavy thrash album in No Redemption. While nearly every track has staying power, there are some ("Better Life" in particular) where I felt the band was simply trying to do too much. The occasionally excessive use of prog metal elements creates a sense of disarray that detracts from the listenability of the album. Prog fans will undoubtedly disagree, of course. In any case, No Redemption is a solid, meaty album worth investigating.

Track Listing
1 Kama 0:30
2 Sutra 3:42
3 No Redemption 4:09
4 Flight 5:41
5 Waiting 5:57
6 Flood 5:39
7 King 4:10
8 Bitter Life 1:02
9 Better Life 5:22
10 Give Me Meat 5:29
11 Turn To The Shadows 6:59

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Saturday, June 12, 2004

Review: Elvenking - Wyrd (2004)

Elvenking [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]

Not your typical Italian metal band, Elvenking falls firmly in the Skyclad school of folk metal - folk melodies and instrumentation combined with elements of thrash and power metal. Having formed in 1997, the band's debut release Heathenreel was an excellent contribution to the folk metal genre by paying homage to Skyclad while at the same time remaining fresh and identifiably Elvenking. Martin Walkyier furthered the Skyclad connection by appearing on stage with Elvenking at several European festivals. The continued association with the founding fathers of pagan folk metal raised my hopes for the new album, which I had hoped would carry on where Heathenreel left off. Instead, Wyrd shows increased power metal elements more typically associated with "folksy" power metal bands such as Dark Moor and Falconer. The melodies are still present in abundance, and the band fully incorporates the violin and flute into the mix, but the symphonic and uplifting qualities found in today's Euro metal are just as prevalent. While this is a moderate turn-off for me, those who hunger for well-played, unique power metal will undoubtedly find plenty to salivate over on this album. What irritates me most about Wyrd  is nothing that is found on the album, however, but has to do with how the music has been described in the media. Celtic influences are referred to in nearly every description of the band and their album, but in reality there is little to do with Celtic melodies on Wyrd. Instead, the folk elements are clearly Mediterranean in origin and tend to encompass Renaissance melodies more so than Celtic ones.

Now that I've got my rant out of the way, I'll get on to addressing some of the highlights of the album. Unlike Heathenreel, the songs on Wyrd don't reach me on a level deeper than being simply enjoyable to listen to. The majority of the tracks, while well-played and technically flawless, tend to float past anonymously and generate only a moderate spark of interest. There are exceptions to this, of course, the first of which is "Disappearing Sands". Listed as a bonus track on the limited edition release, this track is perhaps the strongest on the album. Very little about this song has anything to do with folk metal, excepting the occasional violin and guitar interplay. Instead, Elvenking treats the listener to a rapid paced, galloping barrage of addictive riffs punctuated by operatic female vocals during the choruses. Adding to the vocal variety is guitarist Jarpen who, like he did on Heathenreel, drops the occasional deathish growl to lend a sense of brutality to the composition. Jargen's harsh vocals are used sparingly and are buried in the mix, much like on Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life", but even still they provide a noticeable contrast to Kleid's clean power metal style. The biggest change for Elvenking since Heathenreel is the addition of vocalist Kleid, replacing Damnagoras who left the band due to ill health. Kleid is an archetypal power metal singer, maintaining a mid- to upper-range style with an ability to occasionally soar. Damnogoras, on the other hand, had a limited range and a bit more grit to his voice. With the band's musical direction steering more into the power metal genre, Kleid is well-suited to the style.

The song that I feel best exemplifies Elvenking's style of metal is "Moonchariot". Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, the song is a mix of just about all that the band has to offer. Opening with an acoustic Mediterranean melody, the riff is carried over with meaty guitars and Elyghen's violin - all with pounding double-bass from Zender. Heavy bass from Gorlan provides a backdrop for Kleid's enchanted vocals. Jarpen chimes in occasionally with his growls, while the choruses have an anthemic quality. The song switches tempos frequently without flaw and manages to avoid coming across as sounding disjointed. The final track on the album, "A Poem For The Firmament", has essentially the same qualities as "Moonchariot" but is nearly twice as long - resulting in a loss of interest.

While Heathenreel remains Elvenking's best album to date, Wyrd still has enough uniqueness to set it as a solid, if uninspired, album for fans of folk-influenced power metal.

Track Listing
1 The Loser's Ball 1:49
2 Pathfinders 5:22
3 Jigsaw Puzzle 4:17
4 The Silk Dilemma 4:19
5 Disappearing Sands 4:41
6 Moonchariot 6:49
7 The Perpetual Knot 3:03
8 Another Haven 5:06
9 A Fiery Stride 4:59
10 Midnight Circus 5:04
11 A Poem For The Firmament 12:09

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Review: Sinocence - Acceptable Level of Violence (2004)

Sinocence [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Acceptable Level of Violence

Hailing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, Sinocence is a young modern thrash band who've already churned out three demos in their short history, Acceptable Level Of Violence being their latest. A quality effort that highlights the band's talent and their knack for composing and executing interesting songs, the 5 tracks on Acceptable Level Of Violence show the band capable of a multi-tiered approach to their style of metal.

The first track, "Makin A Monster", is pretty unambiguous metal incorporating elements of late Bay Area thrash. Frontman Moro sings in a gravelly voice well-suited to the music, as it mixes easily with the aggressive riffs and thundering bass. What struck me as noteworthy about this first song is the multi-layered vocals during the chorus, which has become something of a lost art in today's metal. Subtleties such as this permeate Acceptable Level Of Violence, hinting at the potential Sinocence has to break out and become something big. My favorite track on the album is "Six Second Stare", with it's dual-guitar attack and big classic metal sound. Moro and Anto team up for some beefy riffs, accentuated by Anto's meaningful leads and Caxxx's conspicuous bass.

It's at this point that the band switches gears and pursues a more modern thrash direction, incorporating many aspects from the '90s and current metal scenes. Obtrusive bass, down-tuned riffs, and vocals with distinct emotional range are to be found in abundance on the three remaining tracks. Interestingly enough, it's in this environment that Anto really lets loose with extensive soloing. None of that virtuoso wankery, just soulful guitar playing that fits well with the overall song structures. The highlight of this group of songs would have to be "Inside", with its distinct Soundgarden texture. While the influence is obvious, be it intentional or purely coincidence, the song still stands on its own merits. Moro proves yet again that he's the real deal behind the microphone. Not bothering to concern himself with vocal acrobatics, he just gets down to business and relays his message in a raw, gritty style that is unequivocally his own.

Acceptable Level Of Violence won't take the world by storm, but as a vehicle designed to draw attention to a young metal band with the skill, talent, and balls to eventually make a mark on the scene this demo does its job. At the time of this review, the band is in the process of writing material for their fourth demo and is tearing up the gig scene in their home country and England. Stop by their website, lay out a few bucks for their demo, and help these guys get the attention they deserve.

Track Listing
1 Makin A Monster 4:27
2 Six Second Stare 5:01
3 Anything For The Next Escape 5:20
4 Inside 4:10
5 Shedding Skin 5:29

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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Review: Tiamat - Prey (2003)

Tiamat [ Website | MySpace ]

Since the 1994 release of their groundbreaking album Wildhoney, Tiamat  has been counted among those at the forefront of the Gothic metal genre. The problem that arises after a band has released a genre-defining album like Wildhoney is the immense pressure placed upon them, most often by fans and critics, to continue producing album after album at the same level of innovation. Rarely can a band achieve such a lofty goal, with many succumbing to the pressure and fading into memory. While Tiamat has not again reached the pinnacle that is Wildhoney, they've consistently delivered magical Gothic metal albums that have the power to wash over you and envelope you in emotion. Unlike recent genre leaders like Entwine, To/Die/For, and Beseech whose style of Goth metal/rock tends to be up-tempo and poppish, Tiamat  works in the realm of true sorrow and melancholy. Slow-paced, but not dirge-like, the majority of the band's compositions impart a deep sadness - but comfortingly so. They provide a soundtrack for saddened souls looking to wrap themselves in music, to feel their cares lifted as they connect on a deep level with the emotions flowing from the speakers.

And so it is with Prey, Tiamat's 8th studio album. The band's two previous albums, Skeleton Skeletron and Judas Christ, tended to be more like those bands mentioned above in their slightly upbeat, somewhat poppy tunes. Prey signals a minor shift in direction for Tiamat, as mainman Johan Edlund continues to incorporate memorable choruses and hooks but increases the somber quality of his songs. While always having been influenced by Pink Floyd in his songwriting (which shows most clearly on this album in the form of "The Pentagram", the lyrics of which were written by Aleister Crowley), elements of Depeche Mode and The Cure are also significant on this disc. As on previous albums, Edlund sings in a smooth baritone similar to Pete Steele and Erik Molarin. Keyboards again factor substantially in setting the mood and atmosphere, but never rise to the point of becoming a distraction. The riffs are deep, dark and crunching as is to be expected in the Gothic genre, and work intimately with the other instrumentation to create an album that is as much about feeling as it is about listening.

As the disc begins we are presented with birdsong, much in the same way that Wildhoney opened. But there the comparison ends, as the doleful riffs of "Cain" sound out. Combined with the sorrowful sound of an occasional church bell and the longing voice of Edlund, "Cain" is an excellent track to have been chosen to represent Prey as the first single released. Following the first song is "Ten Thousand Tentacles", one of three short instrumental tracks on the album. Essentially soundscape extensions of the songs adjacent to them, the three tracks ("Ten Thousand Tentacles", "Triple Cross", and "The Garden Of Heathen") don't stand on their own and are not designed to, yet they work well to enhance the emotional impact of their parent songs. "Love In Chains" is the next standout track for me. A song of love yet to be realized, it is one of the more upbeat tunes on Prey and feels akin to the songs on Tiamat's previous two albums. The simplistic riffs are catchy, as always, and the keyboards make a larger contribution to the song in the form of overall atmosphere and the occasional hook. The song also contains one of the rare guitar solos to be found on the album. Moderately distorted, the solos are brief and integrate well into songs that normally don't tolerate such elements very well - yet another example of Edlund's masterful understanding of song craft. Turning up the pace another notch is "Light In Extension". The chugging riffs provide the momentum as the keys float just below the surface, tying together the rhythm with Johan's filtered vocals - giving everything a bit of The Cure feel. Not just a standout track, but one of my favorites of the album is "Clovenhoof". The keyboard melodies give it an X-Files ambiance (similar to the show's theme song) and the chorus is memorable and infectious. The guitar leads are crisp and haunting as they blend together with the other instrumentation, and Edlund's voice, to create one of the most magical songs of Prey. My absolute favorite track is "Carry Your Cross And I'll Carry Mine". Similar to the majority of the album in tempo and emotion, what sets this song apart is the lead vocals - not performed by Johan, but by an uncredited female friend of his. Her thin, wispy voice is a perfect fit with the dark riffs and sorrowful piano and would be a significant enhancement to the core sound of Tiamat were she incorporated more often. She does appear with Edlund in a supporting role on "Divided", but I would like to see her involved in a more substantial way. As Lotta Hoglin helps define the success of Beseech, so could this unknown woman contribute to Tiamat's somber style.

Prey proves yet again that Tiamat, and Johan in particular, are experts in the field of Gothic metal. Drifting away from the upbeat, almost saccharine Goth rock recently released by bands such as Evanescence, Lullacry, and To/Die/For, Tiamat has delivered an album that is both melancholic and comforting - accessible to all fans of the darker side of music.

Track Listing
1 Cain 5:25
2 Ten Thousand Tentacles 1:34
3 Wings Of Heaven 4:31
4 Love In Chains 4:24
5 Divided 5:18
6 Carry Your Cross And I'll Carry Mine 4:37
7 Triple Cross 1:21
8 Light In Extension 4:47
9 Prey 3:32
10 The Garden Of Heathen 1:25
11 Clovenhoof 4:55
12 Nihil 6:10
13 The Pentagram 7:21

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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Review: Soulkeep - Chant of the Vipers (2002)

Chant of the Vipers

Soulkeep is a young band from Madison, WI that delivers a substantial punch in the form of traditionally inspired modern thrash. Citing influences like Black Sabbath and Megadeth, the band incorporates plenty of classic metal riffs and leads into their debut EP Chant Of The Vipers. They also embrace many of the modern thrash elements perfected by bands such as Nevermore and Shadows Fall, keeping their sound fresh.

The two tracks that stand out above the rest on Chant Of The Vipers are "Forevermore" and "Rage". The opening riffs of "Forevermore" are pure classic thrash, backed up by singer Dean Gehrmann sounding a bit like Dave Mustaine. Rob Parkinson belts out fiery licks along with the driving riffs and delivers a mighty fine solo. Toby Hull thunders behind the kit while the bass of Matt Nagel is just right in the mix. "Rage" mixes in a few sound bites from the film The Prophecy among the heaviest riffs on the disc. Gehrmann again sounds a bit like Mustaine, but spews the choruses in a raw snarl that befits the title of the song. The leads from Parkinson are outstanding in their complexity.

Being that this is Soulkeep's first recording, it's not surprising to find the band to be a bit loose. They experiment with melody and frequent time changes, and with a bit more work in the studio I'm sure they'll discover what fits best for them. The musicians have the talent, Gehrmann has the vocal ability, and they all have the passion to succeed. Chant Of The Vipers is just the first step on what I'm sure will be an accomplished journey.

Track Listing
1 Forevermore 4:57
2 Script Of A Thousand Lies 6:25
3 Rage 4:22
4 Ex Obliveone 7:20
5 Abandoned 5:44

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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Review: Entwine - DiEversity (2004)

Entwine [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Spikefarm Records

Blending catchy melodies with thick, punchy riffs, Finns Entwine have risen to be counted among the leaders of Goth metal in their home country and are steadily moving up in the ranks worldwide. DiEversity is the band's fourth studio album and essentially carries on where their previous album left off. If, like me, you're not familiar with any of Entwine's earlier work, their sound can be compared to that of fellow Finns Poisonblack, H.I.M., and recent Sentenced. The songs on DiEversity offer up a bit more commercial appeal than the aforementioned bands, and at first I was dismayed by the clear aim at mainstream popularity. After a short time, however, DiEversity grew on me and I now consider it to be one of the best Goth rock albums released in the past couple of years (right up there with TON's October Rust, Beseech's Souls Highway, and Amorphis' Tuonela).

After a very short intro, the first single from the album - "Bittersweet" - kicks in. There can be no doubt that this song was crafted specifically for the radio. Clocking in at just over two and a half minutes, the tune has the deep bass & guitar riffs that are so popular among modern rock artists. The keys of Riita Heikkonen, however, serve to add a dark atmosphere and set Entwine apart from the many radio clones. Mika Tauriainen's voice is clear and powerful, always having just a hint of sorrow and regret. Shying away from the whining commonly heard among mainstream acts, Mika tends to sound a bit more like Juha-Pekka Leppäloutu from Charon and Pasi Koskinen from Amorphis.

The guitar sound from Tom Mikkola and Jaani Kähköon is primarily held to meaty riffs that enhance the infectious quality of each song on the album. Tom belts out a quality solo on a couple of occasions, but for the most part the six-stringers are reserved. Despite this, the wall of sound delivered by Entwine is guitar heavy and washes over you completely, enveloping you in the mood of the music. Grounding the heavy riffs is the rock-solid rhythm section of bass player Joni Miettinen and drummer Aksu Hanttu. Aksu's beats are never complex, but Joni's bass lines tend to be intricate when not adding punch to the riffs.

Besides the two balladic tunes ("Bleeding For The Cure" and "Everything For You"), every song on DiEversity is top-notch Goth rock. Having to narrow the field for this review, my favorite of the bunch is "Still Remains". The song begins with a somewhat Euro power metal keyboard intro giving way to the heaviest riffs on the album. Uptempo and heavy on the bass, "Still Remains" has a catchy chorus and highly atmospheric keys - the two common ingredients found throughout the album. Turning up the pace a bit just makes this track more appealing to me than the others.

With the recent success of Evanescence, it seems to me that modern rock radio is ready to embrace an album like DiEversity. If you're a fan of this type of melodic, atmospheric Goth rock/metal then Entwine is a band you should not miss.

Track Listing
1 2|4|943 0:04
2 Bitter Sweet 2:40
3 Someone To Blame 3:11
4 Bleeding For The Cure 3:12
5 Still Remains 3:53
6 Frozen By The Sun 3:13
7 Six Feet Down Below 3:43
8 Refill My Soul 4:22
9 Everything For You 6:05
10 Nothing's Forver 4:11
11 Lost Within 8:23

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