Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Review: Beseech - Drama (2004)

Napalm Records

The Swedish Gothic Metal icons Beseech have returned in early 2004 with Drama, their highly anticipated follow-up to the classic Souls Highway. The latter album had simply blown me away and, as a result, was awarded the first ever 5-star rating here at Harvest Moon Music. Would Drama be able to hold up against such a powerful predecessor? As seemingly simple a question as that may be, the answer cannot be confined to a simple yes or no response. No, Drama does not match the pure power and emotion of Souls Highway so those expecting Souls Highway Part 2 will be disappointed. However, Beseech  (more specifically main songwriter Robert Vintervind) has reached out and embraced new elements and subtly incorporated them into the bands core sound, thus expanding upon the winning formula of their previous album. In comparison to Souls Highway, the music of Drama is softer, not as heavy, and relies less upon guitar melodies and more on the keyboards and vocals for atmosphere. The departure of lead guitarist Klas Bohlin has indeed affected the overall sound of Beseech, with the guitar being less in the forefront and with a slight change in overall guitar tone, but the difference is not detrimental.

The majority of the songs on Drama are noteworthy, but there were a couple that for me stood a tad above the rest. The first is "Higher Level", a mid-paced song of lust and Gothic sexuality (the subject matter having much to do with why it's my favorite track on the album). Heavy on the bass with a decent driving riff, Erik Molarin's baritone during the chorus makes it one of the most memorable tunes on the disc. The comparisons to Type O Negative have come often, and aren't unwarranted, though Beseech possesses a sound distinctly different from the Brooklyn-based Godfathers of Goth - that is, until "Voices". This track could have come straight off of Life Is Killing Me or October Rust with its melancholic piano, fuzzy atmospherics and crushing, distorted riffs. Erik even adopts a softer baritone that mimics Pete Steele quite remarkably. You'd almost think it was a guest appearance. The striking similarities aside, the song is a wonderful Gothic composition in its own right. While the first half of the album is a bit slow compared to Souls Highway, "Bitch" revs up the pace with considerably distorted riffs and a heavy bass drive. The wall of guitar sound is punctuated by Mikael Back's piano and great vocal interplay between Erik and Lotta Hoglin. "Addicted" shows somewhat of a departure of style for the band. Incorporating Industrial synth elements and groove, the song comes off sounding very much like Marilyn Manson. Again with heavy bass, but this time with a more aggressive drive to the riffs, the band pulls off the switch. Closing out Drama is "Friend Emptiness", somewhat of a power ballad featuring the alluring voice of Lotta. While she figures prominently in most of Beseech's songs, to me it seemed as if she was holding something back. Clearly she was! On this track her voice simply soars, reaching new heights of power and emotion. At times sounding a bit like Shirley Manson (Garbage), Lotta delivers big and makes a marginal ballad one of the most powerful songs on the album.

For me the weak spot of Drama was "Forever Falling", with an opening guitar sound that belongs on a Chris Isaak album instead of here. The slow pace of the song didn't do much for me either. Besides that one complaint, and the fact that the album is far too short, Drama is a solid follow-up to its classic forerunner and is an all-around well-executed Gothic Metal album. Fans of the band will be satisfied, but those looking to try Beseech for the first time should instead start with Souls Highway.

Track Listing
1 Drama
2 Higher Level
3 Voice
4 Forever Falling
5 Bitch
6 Addicted
7 Come On In
8 Friend Emptiness

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Review: Iced Earth - The Glorious Burden (2004)

Iced Earth [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
The Glorious Burden

The first month of 2004 witnessed the release of one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Iced Earth's The Glorious Burden. Iced Earth  has become, over the past decade, a leader of the American metal scene and so it came as a shock last year when singer Matt Barlow announced his departure from the band to concentrate on his studies. Since joining the band for their third album, Matt had come to symbolize Iced Earth  through his distinctive voice and stage presence. Mainman Jon Schaffer wasted little time in finding a replacement - Tim "Ripper" Owens, formerly of Judas Priest. I wasn't very impressed with Owens' performance while he fronted Priest, so it was with nervous excitement that I received my copy of The Glorious Burden - hyped as Iced Earth's most ambitious album to date.

Before getting too far into the review, I want to say that a vast majority of the lyrical themes on The Glorious Burden are patriotic in nature, dealing with events in American history as well as the current state of affairs. If this puts you off, then do everyone a favor and skip this album instead of throwing your hat into the ring to bitch about the overabundance of patriotism. I have read works from several reviewers (American, Canadian, and European) who focus less on the music and instead devote most of their efforts to bashing Jon Schaffer for writing about American history and, in particular, the events of 9/11. Passion is the source of inspiration, and it's well known that Jon is a history buff so why is it so surprising that he writes about what he loves? What's worse is these same reviewers slam bands for writing about "lame" subjects like swords and dragons, lamenting on the lack of substance in the lyrics. I guess for some it's just all too easy to be hypocritical. Ok, my ranting is done - for now.

As I first mentioned, the foremost concern I had prior to listening to The Glorious Burden was with the vocals. Although he can never "replace" Matt Barlow, could Tim carry his own weight and not disappoint - like with Priest? After one listen my concern was alleviated, as Tim kicks some serious ass on every track. From the softer vocals of "Hollow Man" to his ball-crushing wails on "Green Face", Tim hits the notes with emotion and ease. Matt has left his mark on Iced Earth, but the band has definitely not suffered for his departure.

Ralph Santolla is also a newcomer to the band, replacing Larry Tarnowski on lead guitar. Clearly a student of the George Lynch school, Ralph delivers in a big way. Handling the majority of the leads and solos, his axework is first-rate. Gaining experience with bands such as Monarch and Eyewitness, not to mention a solo career, Ralph shows his professionalism throughout the album.

One could say, and it has been said, that much of The Glorious Burden can be heard on Iced Earth's previous albums (particularly Horror Show). To a degree this is true, as much as it can also be said of Iron Maiden's career. There is simply a sound that defines Iced Earth which is ever-present here, and that is not at all a bad thing. Jon's riffs are heavy and punishing, while Richard Christy's furious and complex drumming is stellar. While the core sound is intact, The Glorious Burden far surpasses what was offered on Horror Show, where the writing and execution seemed sterile and lacking in emotional magnitude. The majority of the songs on The Glorious Burden are filled with genuine emotion, from the songwriting to the vocals to the outstanding solos from Ralph. Having said that, this album is far from a rehash and offers a substantial number of standout tracks.

Topping the list is the Gettysburg Trilogy which comprises the last three songs on the album ("The Devil To Pay", "Hold At All Costs", and "High Water Mark"). Integrating the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for a full-blown metal symphony, Jon has created one of the best metal-orchestral compositions I have heard. The depth of sound is awesome, effectively capturing the ebb and flow of the battle. I've listened to this trilogy repeatedly and have yet to tire of it. Words honestly cannot do this justice; it is a work that must be experienced to be appreciated. Another highlight of the album is "Green Face", a tribute to the Navy SEALs. Jon's locomotive riffs drive this song, and Richard's drumming is fantastic. This song has my vote to replace Godsmack's "Awake" as the official Navy recruiting anthem. Released as a single last year, "The Reckoning (Don't Tread On Me)" has a very catchy chorus and jackhammer riffs that just don't let up. Tim's vocals are at their grittiest here, contrasting with the operatic chorus.

There are a couple of weak spots on the album, namely the tired-sounding "Red Baron/Blue Max" and the ballad "Hollow Man", but they don't tarnish what the remaining songs achieve. Packaged with a superb booklet filled with awesome artwork by Leo Hao, The Glorious Burden is a classic album and a kick-ass way to start off 2004. Fans of Iced Earth must own this disc, and those unfamiliar with the band should most definitely start here.

Track Listing
1 Star Spangled Banner
2 Declaration Day
3 When The Eagle Cries
4 The Reckoning (Don't Tread On Me)
5 Green Face
6 Valley Forge
7 Attila
8 Hollow Man
9 Red Baron / Blue Max
10 The Devil To Pay
11 Hold At All Costs
12 High Water Mark

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Sunday, March 7, 2004

Review: Eternal Sorrow - Legacy (2003)

Eternal Sorrow [ MySpace ]

Hailing from Brazil, Eternal Sorrow is a Doom/Death band incorporating elements of early Anathema, My Dying Bride, and Moonspell into their second full-length album Legacy. For the most part, the music is oppressively slow with molasses riffs and frequent use of keyboard atmospherics. Vocalist Julio, who also provides the keys, sings primarily in a raspy Death-ish style but often ventures into a clean, Gothic baritone. This latter style fails to impress me, as he seems to struggle and strain to sustain his notes.

While I'm not a fan of such slow-paced metal, I found Legacy to be more enjoyable than most due to the well-executed keys (particularly on "And The Waters Took My Soul") and the deep riffs from Anderson and Gustavo. Another noteworthy point is how Eternal Sorrow fills the transition points between songs on the album with sound effects of, from what I could tell, a man struggling through the elements to complete some sort of journey. This is certainly something not often heard, and is done quite well for a band only on their second album. Such a technique serves to set the band just a bit apart from others in their genre, which is a good thing.

Although most of the songs tend to follow a common formula of slow-paced Doom, melding together to form an unremarkable listening experience, there were a couple of tracks that stood out and I looked forward to hearing on each spin. The aforementioned "And The Waters Took My Soul" not only contains some deep keyboard moods from Julio, but also an expansive guitar solo that is quite powerful in terms of emotional release. Slow and mournful, it works perfectly to impart the emotion of the song to the listener. The very next track, "Night Veils", introduces a female singer who takes over the lead from Julio and delivers a memorable performance. Unfortunately, I do not have any information as to who she is, but her voice blends enchantingly with the distorted riffs and lush keys.

The downside to Legacy is, for me, the sameness of the majority of songs. The between-song fills aside, there's just not much to distinguish one track from another except in the examples I mentioned earlier. However, if you're a fan of music that inspires a lapse into total despair then Eternal Sorrow has created an atmosphere conducive to your desires. Additionally, Julio has a difficult time with the clean vox and should remain in the more extreme territory that he's comfortable with. Incorporating the female vocals more would also serve to increase variety. All in all, the band is talented and has a ton of potential which they should use it to forge their own musical identity.

Track Listing
1 Ashes
2 To Perpetuate My Distance
3 Dunes
4 And The Waters Took My Soul
5 Night Veils
6 Worry
7 Ammanda Thase
8 Shroud
9 The Last Rain

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