Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Review: Miles Beyond - Miles Beyond (2004)

Miles Beyond [ MySpace ]
Miles Beyond

Miles Beyond  is a young traditional power metal band from Flint, Michigan. Playing a style of power metal that blends the dual-guitar harmonies influenced by Iron Maiden with the aggressive melodies of bands like Iced Earth, the band's self-titled debut is a refreshing indicator that quality metal is alive and well in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Miles Beyond caught my attention from the first listen, and even after a dozen or more spins I find the 12 tracks to be just as enjoyable as the first time around. I'll say it right here at the front of the review, Miles Beyond play heavy metal the way heavy metal was meant to be played. Though the band has been together for just over 2 years, these guys sound like they've been playing together for a decade. The most prominent feature of the band's sound is the tandem guitar leads of Tim Moody and Paul Owsinski. These guys are in sync every step of the way, giving each song a distinctive feel with a multitude of unique riffs and licks. The solos are nearly epic in length, but never stray from the overall vibe of the song or detract in any way. I could provide example upon example of the skills put on display by these two axeslingers, but there is so much more to Miles Beyond - a remarkably multi-dimensional band.

In the vocal department, for example, Tim Moody manages to kick out the riffs while delivering the lyrics in a voice that exemplifies the classic metal sound. Most often resembling the distinctive voice of Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), I can also hear similarities to Sean Peck (Cage) in Tim's style. His vocal execution is flawless, expelling the lyrics not only with passion and power but with conviction and creativeness. The rhythm section of Larry Moody (bass) and Tod Fisher (drums) also contributes significantly to the band's sound. The bass lines are often complex, and at times (such as the openings of the title track and "Vlad the Impaler") are at the forefront of the songs. The same can be said for Tod's skinwork, particularly on "Crazy Horse" and "Take Me Back Home".

I had a very difficult time with this review because there is simply so much on the album to write about. Each and every song contains something that is an integral component of the overall quality of the disc. While the majority of the tracks are over the 5-minute mark, not a single one feels as if it's dragging or plodding. The album flows very smoothly, which is quite an accomplishment given the band's short history. There is one final aspect that I'd like to touch on before wrapping this up, and that is the songwriting itself. Tim Moody and Paul Owsinski are the primary composers and they have done a fantastic job. The lyrics are well-written and frequently, in the tradition of Iron Maiden, deal with a variety of historical subject matters ("Vlad the Impaler" and "Crazy Horse", for example) in a way that is both informative and creative.

To sum up - Miles Beyond is an album that all fans of true heavy metal will eagerly devour. If you long for NWOBHM-influenced power metal, then these guys are what you're looking for as well. I confidently rank this as one of my personal Top Ten albums of 2004.

Track Listing
1 Out of Control 4:52
2 Tales of Old 3:36
3 Miles Beyond 5:20
4 Take Me Back Home 5:07
5 Vlad the Impaler 7:56
6 Still Strong 5:32
7 The Spaniard 6:54
8 Hail to the King 5:56
9 Rock Revolution 5:47
10 Stowaway 5:38
11 Crazy Horse 6:40
12 A Call to Odin 5:50

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Interview: Supervillain

NYC's Supervillain has been causing heads to turn (and roll) with their latest release Earthquake Machine (read our review). Taking time out from their tireless promotional campaign, drummer Lou Gasparro and vocalist Morgan Adams sat down to answer a few questions for Harvest Moon Music.

[HMM] So what have you and Supervillain been up to since the release of Earthquake Machine?
[Lou] We've been playing shows and sending out the record to people like yourself, trying to get it to the next level in terms of a manager, booking agent, label, etc. Between all of that business end stuff we've been writing new material for our second full length album. So far completed songs are "Dreaming Gods", "Inside My Armor", "Sky Is Falling", "Cosmic Casualty", "Outland Messiah", and a few untitled compositions and floating ideas as well.

I see that Mike has left the band and was replaced by a guy named Rocket. How did you find him and what's his background?
[Lou] Yes, Mike Mirabella left in April and we jumped on Rocket. Rocket is a friend of Supervillain vocalist Morgan Adams. He's a NYC dude who's been around playing in bands like After Party and The Toilet Boys. Rocket is a heavy guitarist with great enthusiasm for this band and is also a great artist.

With a new album in the works, is Rocket a part of the writing process or has most of the music already been penned?
[Lou] Some of them were already penned, but Rocket has without a doubt put his stamp on those songs and has added his input as to how his parts are played. His style and ideas are being put to use in this new writing stage we've entered.

How does Supervillain write their songs? Does each member have a part to play, or is there a main lyrical/music contributor?
[Lou] Each member of Supervillain has a big part in how the songs sound and are arranged. Myself and J. Nicholas have been the main musical contributors in the past with Morgan taking care of the lyrics. Blue Wilding has made big contributions since joining the band and has also injected his style into our music. We usually have riffs that we bring in and arrange them together with Morgan's lyrics. But it's usually riffs, then vocals, then arrangement. Lots of sweat and deafness..Ha!

In my reviews, I've mentioned bands like Black Sabbath, Kyuss, and Monster Magnet as influencing your sound. Where do you guys draw your musical influences from?
[Lou] Well Sabbath has been a huge influence, y'know. Sabbath has had an obvious influence on everybody that plays heavy music, I'd say. Kyuss and Monster Magnet probably cite Sabbath as an influence also, so that's where I think the comparisons come from. We've heard both bands' music, but not enough to say they've influenced us. I played in Blitzspeer with Phil Caivano, who was in Monster Magnet for a while. I'd say our musical influences come from all the greats...Zep, Sabbath, Bad Brains, Priest, Rush, Metallica, Thin Lizzy, Pantera. You know, all the stuff we've grown up listening to and absorbing.

And how about the lyrics? What inspires you?
[Morgan] It depends. The songs on our ep and Earthquake Machine were inspired by real life situations, things I wanted to comment on or things that I had experienced. For the new record I took a different approach because I wanted to challenge myself and the band, so after the first two songs were written I stumbled upon the idea of a concept record. Since I am writing a continuous thread throughout the new material (which is a sci-fi/war story), it is a totally different process. It is refreshing and interesting to write fiction as opposed to the harsh reality I was dealing with before, although, metaphorically speaking there are some real life issues buried in the subtext of the new lyrics.

Supervillain is a down to earth, blue-collar kind of band that would be a hit here in Detroit. What do you guys do to earn the bread when not playing, rehearsing, and recording?
[Lou] We'd love to play in Detroit. Rock City, that it is! So many great sounds in music history have come out of there and I'm sure our brand of heaviness would come across and be related to in a positive way. We all pretty much have day jobs that supplement our income. We basically work the days to pay for the nights.

I really enjoyed Earthquake Machine. How has the album been received there locally?
[Lou] Thanks, we're all glad to hear that you dug the record. People have responded really well to Earthquake Machine and we pride ourselves on playing the slammingest live shows possible. We're a band that glories in the live setting, so when you hear the record you're hearing us as we are live, and vice versa, but you're actually seeing us play it. For me, that's the whole thing. That's what makes it exciting for us and for fans.

You're getting a ton of press, both here in the US and internationally, and you're doing it all on your own. Are you surprised at how far word of Supervillain has spread?
[Lou] It hasn't been easy, to say the least. You put so much time and effort into getting things done and it's a waiting game. Like the album has been out since January 2005 and we're recently getting reviews and emails on it now, so it's a process and you have to be very patient. How ever far our word has spread hasn't really come as a surprise though. We're pushing it and working hard bro, and we try to get things done. It's a lot of work for a band on their own.

[Morgan] It's nice to have whatever recognition we have up to now, but it is nowhere near the amount we would like to eventually enjoy. It is very difficult to get any real gauge of your audience when you live and play in NYC, there is so much competition and a lot of people prefer style over substance. So we don't want to stop until we can support ourselves as working musicians and quit our day jobs. That means getting out there and playing cities where people are actually enthusiastic and want to see a real live kickass heavy rock band like us.

With the glut of commercialized "rock" owning the airwaves these days, have you had any success getting some of your tunes on the radio there in NYC, or anywhere else for that matter?
[Lou] Yes it has been difficult to get on the radio. Some college stations and internet radio across the world have been helping, but mainstream American radio - no dice. You gotta have some money behind you on that one without a doubt. Radio in NYC is pretty bad. Satellite radio is the move for the future but commerciality will probably wreck that soon too. It's basically a financial costs. To do a nationwide promo campaign is expensive, so we do things like trying to get on CD Comps, which we just came out on a Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles "Knuckletracks" comp #89. The song "Drowning" off of Earthquake Machine is sandwiched between bands like Still Remains and Nile. Things like that really help, y'know.

With radio essentially controlled by corporate conglomerates, do you think that radio airplay is a necessary requirement for success anymore?
[Lou] I think radio helps to get a band's name and sound heard by many people very quickly, but conglomerates don't really care about artists and their music. It's about numbers to them. They care about sponsors and the art of making money, that's it.

Your new album is tentatively titled Dreaming Gods. What's the significance of that name and does it depart from the sound of Earthquake Machine?
[Lou] The sound is still Supervillain, but it reaches another level. As we've grown and performed together more, a natural evolution occurs in that progression cannot be avoided. We're taking things further, adding flavors, different ideas and overall we are totally pysched about this new stuff. The combination of our material from the ep, Earthquake Machine, and Dreaming Gods is going to be a blistering live set. We feel great about what we do and write to please ourselves. Like I've said before, we are students of heavy music and we write what we'd want to hear a band play. Quality songs, quality production, quality performance - everything after that is up to the listener.

[Morgan] We also have to take into account that there are two new minds involved in the writing process, who have their own tastes and influences, which affect our new sound. Which, I feel, is the best we have sounded to date. Heavier and harder than before.

When are you hoping to have the writing process completed and enter the studio?
[Lou] Hopefully late this summer, early autumn, we'd like to start pre-production and basic tracks.

I want to thank you for taking time out to answer my questions. To wrap things up, is there a question that you wish an interviewer would ask, but never has?
[Lou] Thank you Dave for being interested in Supervillain and supporting underground music. A question that interviewers never ask is if people thought Tony Iommi wrote better riffs with a mustache or without...ha!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Review: Lochinvar - Fire Eyes (2005)

Fire Eyes

Taking their name from the daring Scottish knight in Sir Walter Scott's poem of the same name, not the Rod Stewart song, Lochinvar is the duo of singer Paula Blade and guitarist/bass player/drummer/keyboardist John Walker. They play '80s-styled hard rock that we're all familiar with, similar to bands such as Dokken, Whitesnake, and Heart, providing fans of this genre (of which I am one) a fresh source of melody, rhythm, and guitar/vocal skill. Originating as a five-piece in the mid-'80s near Dallas, Texas, Lochinvar was moderately successful on the local scene, releasing a couple of demos and garnering some radio airplay, before falling dormant in 1993 (yet another victim of Pearl Jam). Back together again as a duo in the new millennium, Lochinvar present their second full-length album Fire Eyes.

As one would expect from an album of this particular style of hard rock, melodic guitar riffs punctuated by electric licks and distinctive solos permeate each and every track. John Walker must surely be a student of the George Lynch school of guitar wizardry, as there is a distinctive Dokken feel to the majority of the tracks. His status as a veteran six-stringer is evident, for he churns out a solid performance from start to finish and has a knack for knowing just where to let a solo fly and where to restrain the riffs a bit. "Heart Of Stone", the leadoff track, has a very expansive solo that illustrates my point quite well. The Dokken influences I think are most evident on the title track, giving the song an air of familiarity while still bringing a good degree of distinctiveness. The lyrics of "Fire Eyes" present a lot of Wiccan imagery, with Paula doing a fantastic job of infusing them with emotion.

As a singer, Paula has a voice that is both warm and edgy - quite appropriate for this style of music. Whether she's kicking out the raucous lyrics of the heavy "Amazon", or filling the words of the ballad "Beyond The Stars" with unfeigned emotion, Paula adds a depth to Lochinvar that is genuine. In this respect the comparisons to Heart are most appropriate. Besides her work with Lochinvar, Paula has released a couple of solo CDs in which she expresses herself through a more pop/dance, slightly Gothic sound. Her versatility can also be heard on Fire Eyes in the form of "A Poet, A Dreamer". More Celtic folk ballad than blistering metal onslaught, this track is a favorite of mine because of the real, heartfelt emotion Paula puts in to the lyrics. An introspective piece, we catch a glimpse of who Paula is as a person through her interactions with her family and the pride she holds for her son. Ok, kind of sappy for a metal review but anyone with a true appreciation for music will hear what I am saying.

To finish this review in a "metal mood", I'll mention the track that I most enjoyed - "Sahara". Clocking in at over 7 minutes, it's the most epic of the album but flows quickly and is over before you know it. Majestic keyboards give the song a Middle Eastern atmosphere, enhanced by Paula's vocal melodies. A story of two lovers given only one night of heated passion, the lustful encounter is conveyed quite effectively through John's allusive leads and Paula's emotional narration. Of course, what would it be without a couple of John's soulful solos thrown in for good measure. Another highlight is the sultry "Enchanted Moon", with an overtly Great White-meets-Alannah Myles feel to it. A heavy, bluesy bass intro sets the stage for Paula to lay down some sensuous passages.

Overall, Fire Eyes is a solid album of melodic, guitar-driven, and (dare I say it) sexy '80s-styled hard rock. Paula is a welcome addition to the legion of Metal Queens who have delivered some passionate music to ravenous metal fans over the years. While John is a master at his multifaceted craft, I would love to see the two expand their ranks so that they may take the show on the road and bring their music to the live stage. The one negative moment on Fire Eyes that I feel I should mention, though it is insignificant in the greater scheme of things, is the closing of the track "Amazon". Paula lets loose with a warbling battle cry that, I'm sorry to say, was almost embarrassing to listen to. I think Paula knows where I'm coming from, because if you listen closely a couple of seconds into the following silence you can hear her let out a bit of a giggle. Aside from that moment, I recommend this album to all fans of melodic hard rock.

Track Listing
1 Heart Of Stone 4:39
2 Fire Eyes 4:44
3 Amazon 4:25
4 Closer To The Web 4:53
5 Beyond The Stars 4:42
6 Lasher 3:37
7 Enchanted Moon 4:15
8 Sahara 7:02
9 Midnight Woman 5:06
10 A Poet, A Dreamer 4:22

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Review: Supervillain - Earthquake Machine (2005)

Supervillain [ MySpace ]
Earthquake Machine

When I reviewed Supervillain's self-titled debut EP last year (read the review here), I was impressed with their gritty, no frills, from-the-streets rock sound that blended influences from such diverse bands as AC/DC, Kyuss, and Soundgarden. Veterans of the New York hardcore scene, the guys of Supervillain  had deftly switched gears and put together an in-your-face rock album. Less than a year later, the band has released their first full-length album Earthquake Machine and hit the mark yet again.

A significant component of Supervillain's sound on the EP was the raw vocals of Morgan Adams. I had compared him to Jackyl's Jesse James Dupree, and I think the comparison is still valid, but he's modified his style on Earthquake Machine. No longer sustained up at the highest mark of his range, Morgan drops his tone but keeps that same raw, aggressive, sometimes slightly off-key delivery that couldn't be a better compliment to the music. There are even moments where he delves into a a clean style, as on "You Ain't Got A Prayer" and "Altar Ego".

Musically, Supervillain is still firmly entrenched in the dirty, sludgy rock akin to bands such as Monster Magnet and Alabama Thunderpussy. Fuzzy guitars and distorted riffs abound, serving as a foundation for some fantastic solos and leads. Strengthening that foundation is the superb skill of drummer Lou Gasparro. Together with Jay Nicholas on bass, the rhythm section is tighter than a, well, I'm sure you get where I'm going with that. The bass lines on "Altar Ego" stand out to me as a fine example of what Nicholas brings to the mix, but in reality his presence is palpable on each and every track. You can't pin Lou down to one or two moments of skinpounding skill, 'cause he simply delivers the beats with style again and again throughout the disc. Where everything comes together best, in my opinion, is the track "Drowning". Clearly a Black Sabbath-inspired tune, the spacey opening riff and plodding rhythm screams old-school doom. The twin guitar theme riffs enhance the atmosphere and reinforce the feeling of a smoke-filled '70s jam. Morgan goes through each of his styles on the track, spending most of the song in a clean voice before moving on to his regular style and on up to his high-pitched shouts. The solos (from either Blue Wilding, Mike Mirabella, or both - not really sure here) are as punchy as they are poignant. The pace is, as you would expect, slow. That doesn't keep Lou from excelling behind the kit, however, as he mixes up the beat patterns a bit to add a layer of subtle complexity. In my opinion, this is the best track of the album. "Low Life" comes in at a close second, though, expanding on the fuzzy riffs and distortion by quickening the pace, adding a bit of a funky groove, and giving more prominence to Jay's bass.

While the aforementioned tracks stand out from the rest of Earthquake Machine, that is not to say that the rest of the album is any less good. The other eight songs are high quality rock that is, above all else, real. Supervillain is a band that knows just who they are and what they are about, which is all reflected in the music they create. That's the significance of Earthquake Machine. In a scene where so many bands are trying to be the next <insert major band name here>, Supervillain is just trying to put out the best rock music that they can, and remain true to themselves. They've succeeded in both endeavors.

Track Listing
1 Show Em All 3:36
2 Nevermore 5:05
3 Line On You 2:38
4 You Ain't Got A Prayer 4:37
5 Altar Ego 4:08
6 Drowning 5:38
7 Vicious Cycle 3:24
8 Prey To Me 3:43
9 Low Life 4:00
10 Hit The Road 3:34

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Saturday, March 5, 2005

Review: TimeMage - Shadow Realm (2004)

TimeMage [ MySpace ]
Shadow Realm

Germany's TimeMage is not so much a band as it is the project of one man - Stefan Schenkel. A student of music, Stefan's influences range from film scores to progressive metal to jazz, much of which can be heard in his compositions. Working with an ever-changing lineup of session musicians, Stefan has released six albums of symphonic prog metal since he began writing in 1996. Shadow Realm is the latest album, a concept work exploring death, loss, and revenge. The album tells the story of a man who's wife was brutally murdered, and then finds himself in a position to seek out his wife's killer after he himself perishes in an accident. Faced with the choice of being reunited with his wife, or taking revenge upon her killer, what will he choose? Shadow Realm unfolds the story over twelve tracks of sometimes interesting, sometimes tedious, melodic metal.

Fans who enjoy their metal saturated with keyboard passages, prepare to salivate. Stefan composes his songs entirely on the keyboards, adapting the other instrumentation later in the process. Therefore, every track on this album relies heavily on the keyboards for sense of atmosphere and melody. Their presence isn't distracting like some neo-classical symphonic metal bands can be, but their impact cannot be mistaken. Besides being the main songwriter and keyboard player for TimeMage, Stefan also contributes the drum tracks (yes, a drum machine is used) and harsh vocals throughout the album. Though I've mentioned how significant keyboards are to this album, the guitar pieces are in fact a highlight. Several guitarists contributed to Shadow Realm, with Tobias Bradneck being the primary rhythm guitarist and Thomas Gaddum providing the majority of the leads and solos. Besides Stefan's harsh vocals, Daniel Ott provides a clean vocal contrast on a handful of tracks while Anne Bradneck and Anja K├╝tter each make a lead female vocal appearance. As I'm sure you've surmised by now, Shadow Realm is a complex album with many twists and turns. For the most part, Stefan manages to keep the disc from getting lost in the labyrinth he's created and succeeds in providing an entertaining CD.

The songs themselves run such a wide gamut of styles that there never is a sense of stagnation or repetitiveness. That being said, I found a couple of tracks to be less impressive than the rest. The title track, for example, is the first to feature Stefan's harsh vocalization. Though the song features some good, crunchy riffs and the keyboards dance in sync with the guitars, the choruses feel awkward and do more to break up the pace of the song than compliment it. Other tracks feel less inspired than the majority of the album, but there's not enough of that to bring down the overall quality of the listen.

On the positive side of the coin, I found the clean vocals of Daniel Ott to be particularly fitting for the mood of the songs that he appears on. "Still Alive" provides a good showcase of Daniel's range as Stefan provides some backing growls. Another highlight is the lead guitar work of Thomas Gaddum. I found his solos and leads on "Fly" to be particularly reminiscent of the classic rock of the late '70s, bringing a complimentary contrast to Stefan's galloping keys. Perhaps the most emotionally engaging track is "Drowned In Blood", featuring the pleasant voice of Anne Bradneck. Opening with a rather spacey keyboard passage and another Gaddum solo, this track is among the slower of the album but can't quite be considered a ballad. Anne's voice lends an ethereal quality, particularly since her tracks have received some work in the production booth. Even so, the otherworldly atmosphere that Stefan was striving to achieve is successfully conveyed thanks mostly to Anne. For those who like their music on the harsher side, "She's So Neat" features Stefan's harsh vocals atop blistering riffs (and a crazed solo) from Tobias. Very much a symphonic black metal sound on this track.

Shadow Realm is an ambitious power/prog album that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of both styles. Symphonic metal fans who aren't impressed by the bombast of bands like Stratovarius and Rhapsody will also likely find this album to be an interesting listen.

Track Listing
1 Deadly Accident 1:59
2 Still Alive 4:48
3 Shadow Realm 4:48
4 Fly 5:53
5 Beyond The Stars 5:26
6 Drowned In Blood 4:54
7 She's So Neat 5:58
8 My Call 6:11
9 I'll Take Revenge 4:28
10 Our Souls Will Unite 5:46
11 Burn In Hell 4:37
12 Forgive Me 4:49

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