Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Review: BlackSky - Of Sins and Shadows (2005)

BlackSky MySpace ]
...Of Sins and Shadows

From the wilds of western Canada (Calgary, to be exact) comes a remarkable atmospheric metal band called BlackSky. Though the band has only been in existence a short while, the majority of the members have cut their teeth among the Calgary extreme metal scene in bands such as Thorazine, Verbal Deception, and Caveat. Thus their first demo, ...Of Sins and Shadows, is quite a polished 4-song example of atmospheric doom/Gothic metal. Founded by members of the death metal band Thorazine as a means to explore a more progressive outlet for their creativity, BlackSky does indeed offer up a wide range of metal influences in a well-rounded, cohesive package.

The death and black metal influences are most evident on the lead-off track (and coincidentally my least favorite of the demo), "Five Nights Waiting", which explodes with pummelling double-bass and hellish snarls from guitarist Greg Musgrave. Segmenting the brutal riffs are quieter passages in which frontwoman Kristen Martel sings in a clean, distinct contrast to the growls of the heavier parts. Kristen cites Tarja of Nightwish as an influence, and is in fact a classically trained singer herself, but she is much less operatic than Tarja. Nevertheless, Kristen has a more than adequate range to fully convey the power of the lyrics and compliment the varied moods of the music. Moving into the second track, "Redemption" is one of my two favorite tracks on ...Of Sins and Shadows. More emphasis is placed on creating guitar harmonies and keyboard atmospheres that reflect the Gothic and melodic elements to be found on the demo. Guitarist and co-founder Joe Sikorski lets loose with an exciting solo that blends magnificently with the rhythm patterns laid down by Casey Rogers and Lance Davis. This track also has one of the more memorable guitar/keyboard interplays to be found, enhancing the overall atmosphere of the song. Above the rest, my favorite track on ...Of Sins and Shadows is "Illumination & Shadow". Technically speaking, this track is actually the combination of "Illumination" and the instrumental "Shadow", but the transition is seamless and one feels integral to the other. Kristen puts in her best performance of the demo, reaching deep to extend her range and passionately deliver the lyrics. The song is filled with quality licks and riffs from the dual guitarists, bleeding over into the instrumental final moments of the track and bringing to mind similar guitar atmospherics from bands such as Amorphis and Sentenced.

...Of Sins and Shadows is actually a teaser for the soon to be released full-length album of the same name. As of this review, a release date has not been set. Based on the glimpse afforded me by this demo, I anticipate the album to have a significant impact on the atmospheric metal scene. Fans of bands like In Flames, Tristania, and Theatre of Tragedy should do themselves a favor and keep an eye out for BlackSky.

Track Listing
1Five Nights Waiting5:26
3The Road Unwinds5:02
4Illumination & Shadows7:53

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Review: Bel O Kan - Ant Symphonia (2003)

Bel O Kan [ Website | MySpace ]
Ant Symphonia

Bel O Kan  is a very young symphonic power metal band from the Rhône region of eastern France. Originally founded in 2001 by Lionel Pedrini (drums), Eric Jasserand (guitar), Cyril (bass) and Ricardo( guitar), the band lasted only a few months before splitting apart. Renewed interest in 2002 sparked a reunification, this time with Maryline Welsch behind the mic and Chrÿs Ferrari as a second guitarist. Cyril eventually left to focus on jazz, and was replaced by Denis Nicolo. With the eventual addition of Stéphane Soulier on keyboards, Bel O Kan was complete.

Ant Symphonia is the band's first recording, and the production is absolutely horrid. As harsh as that statement may seem, it cannot be closer to the truth. The task, therefore, is to reach beyond the surface imperfections and listen closely to what the band is trying to do with their music. The vocals are, of course, always a potential pitfall for many young metal bands. Maryline's voice has a certain enchanting quality, but she strikes me as being very hesitant in her delivery and thus sounds quite restrained. Were she to coax a little more emotion from her singing, I think she would excel behind the mic. We may never know, however, since she has decided to step away from the band and has been replaced by the raven-haired Kleim Antyne. I've not heard any clips featuring Bel O Kan's new femme fatale, so the jury will have to remain out regarding the impact she will have on the band. While Maryline dominates the vocals on the album, drummer Lionel does add an occasional spoken-word passage (with an overuse of reverb). I find the music more impressionable without him.

Musically, Bel O Kan relies heavily on the keyboards of Stéphane Soulier to create their symphonic sound. His work is the strength of the band, as he graces each track with varying degrees of orchestral imitation and just the right amount of background. Be it flute, harp, or harpsichord, his elements are effective and well placed. The guitars suffer most from the production, often sounding muted or tinny. There are times where the riffs blend perfectly with Lionel's skinwork to create some serious headbanging moments, but for the most part the songs are slow to mid paced and only the solos garner attention.

Bel O Kan is a band striving to establish their sound and identity, with Ant Symphonia being just their first attempt. I certainly could have lowered my score by at least half a star, but in all fairness these musicians show promise and the potential to contribute to the European power metal genre. For these reasons I look past the blemishes of this demo and await with interest the new songs that the band is currently working on.

Track Listing
1 Back to Concerto's 0:54
2 Alone 4:10
3 Power Of The Throne 6:27
4 Rose In The Night 6:39
5 The Lord Of The Rings 6:33
6 Cristal Ball [live] 3:51

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Review: Nocturne - Guide to Extinction (2005)

Nocturne [ MySpace ]
Guide to Extinction
Triple X Records

Comprised of the duo of red-tressed vixen Lacey Conner and her former romantic interest Chris Telkes, Nocturne heralds their latest offering, Guide to Extinction, as an Industrial-Goth hybrid that incorporates a metallic edge - thus making the album a must-have for quite a large audience. Lacey's fantastic body and seductive eyes aside, the band does indeed have a certain appeal that caters to the metal community. Formed in Dallas in 1999, Nocturne has shared the stage with such industrial/metal stalwarts as Ministry, King Diamond, and Entombed. Where their previous two studio albums have stayed primarily in the Industro-Goth realm, Guide to Extinction at times wanders towards the metal genre and incorporates sounds reminiscent of the aforementioned Ministry, as well as Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.

Yeah, you say, but is it any good? Taken as the sum of its parts, sure. Any fan of Industrial metal will immediately identify with the 13 tracks presented here, all lyrically crisscrossing subjects dealing with politics, sex, and self-examination. Lacey is a frontwoman that can sing, and indeed has plausible talent behind the mic whether she's screaming the lyrics or delivering them in a mellow, sugary-sweet coo (as on "Walk Away" - a highlight of the album). Specifically because of her ability to enunciate the lyrics in a genre that often synthesizes them to death, Nocturne distances themselves from their contemporaries and becomes an appealing entity. Chris fills the role of guitarist and programmer, and it is here that Nocturne suffers most. The riffs are indeed abrasive and draw heavily on modern metal influences (Mudvayne, Slipknot, etc.) for effect, but they are primarily simple and lacking ingenuity. Add to that the fact that they're overprocessed and there becomes the potential to lose metal fans. The drums are so elementary as to not even warrant mention, though there is an abundance of synth elements to make any Industrial fan blissfully full of hate.

Even with such distinctive pros and cons, Guide to Extinction remains an album that is catchy and primarily a good listen. Highlights for me include the leadoff track "Shallow", which is tailor-made for mainstream radio airplay. Also the most "metallic" of the songs on the album, the bottom-tuned riffs of "Shallow" are reminiscent of many songs heard on "rock radio" these days. My favorite part of the disc is the theme riff to "I Lie". It's groovy, catchy, and is the kind of thing Nocturne needs to continue to do in order to reach the next level of success. Relying more on guitar innovation and less on synth soundscapes will reel the metal fans in by the fistful.

Track Listing
2I Lie3:51
5Walk Away5:19
7Class War4:04
9Dirty Sanchez2:56
10No Way Out4:22
11Dead Man4:33
12Cocaine Sex4:51
13They'll Never Find Your Body2:57

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Review: Angel Of Pain - Take a Free Look (2004)

Angel Of Pain [ Website ]
Take a Free Look...

Angel of Pain, or AOP  for short, is a melodic thrash outfit from eastern France. Formed in 1998 by drummer Roger "K-Jo" and bass player Guillaume Benoit, the band released two demos and contributed to a compilation CD prior to releasing Take A Free Look..., their debut full-length. I am intrigued by this album because, though unpolished, the songs reflect not only a group of talented musicians but also their ability to put together complex and aggressive compositions that are both melodic and listenable. For a young band like Angel of Pain, that's cause to take notice.

Most strikingly is the influence the Bay Area thrash scene has had on the music presented on Take A Free Look.... Intentional or not, there is an underlying resemblance to the material put forth by bands such as Metallica, Testament, and Slayer during the early to mid-1980s. The twin-guitar battery of Xavier Moutrille and JB Baumont lays down riff after biting riff, with Xavier's solos being well-executed and exciting. The crushing guitars being at the core of AOP's sound, the skinwork of K-Jo is no less admirable. He's able to lay down extended double-kick and can just as easily switch beat patterns to give some of the songs more interest.

Riding atop this tried and true metal formula is the voice of Baumont. For much of the album he snarls the lyrics in a pseudo-death metal style, at times heavily synthesized, and occasionally out of tune (but hey, that just adds character!). While perfectly fitting for the songs, there are specific moments where both he and the band as a whole rises above to show what they are truly capable of. I refer first to the third track, "The Empty Fool", to illustrate my point. Baumont's vocals are cleanly sung, though processed, and contribute significantly to the overall melodic feel of the song. Enhancing that melodic quality during the choruses is the accompanying voice of a woman credited only as Sophie. This is without question my favorite track on the album.

Other highlights include "Another Game To Lose" with its furious, headbanging pace. It is during this track, though, that Baumont attempts to add some melody to his thrashy style which only results in him being comically out of tune. Aside from that, the buzzsaw riffs and distorted solos keep the song interesting and enjoyable. "Wicked Inside" is another melodic track like "The Empty Fool", though not quite as catchy. The chorus is memorable, with Sophie making yet another contribution, and the guitars are as crunchy as ever. The remainder of Take A Free Look... is as close to pure old-school thrash as I've heard in some time.

Since the release of the album, K-Jo and Guillaume have departed the band. Replacing them are Elize and Jean Baptiste Chalmandrier, respectively. Though all of the original members have left Angel of Pain, I suspect that the band's musical direction will not undergo any significant detours. Fans of early, aggressive thrash who like that extra bit of melody tossed in should keep an eye on these guys.

Track Listing
1 Back to the Real Life 4:45
2 Left (H)overs 5:18
3 The Empty Fool 4:27
4 Another Game to Lose 7:30
5 Wicked Inside 5:18
6 Guardian of Stones 4:54
7 Wounds of the Past 6:08
8 The Pain This Gives To Me 5:03

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Review: Tumulus - Winter Wood (2004)

Tumulus [ MySpace ]
Winter Wood
Wroth Emitter

Tumulus, like many of the bands reviewed here at Harvest Moon Music, is a band that you've most likely never heard of. And just like most of the bands reviewed here, Tumulus is a band worthy of your attention. Based northeast of Moscow, this Russian five-piece was formed when members of the Viking metal band Scald vowed to carry on after the death of their vocalist. Opting for a change in musical direction, the founders of Tumulus turned to the Slavic musical and pagan traditions of their homeland to create a sound they call "art progressive folk metal". Don't let the "art" turn you away, however, because unlike albums from most art-prog outfits Tumulus' Winter Wood keeps the music tight and the melodies flowing while still creating unique and heady atmospheres.

Much of the atmosphere is keyboard-induced, thanks to the magical soundscapes from Vigdis. Her work, while at the forefront of the band's sound, is never overpowering and achieves maximum effect without sacrificing the contributions of the other instruments. To that end, frontman Kuchma adds the enchanting ambiance of the flute (particularly on "Tam, gde zhili sviristeli" and "Odolen'Trava"), while guitarist Igreny incorporates the traditional balalaika into the string section.

As I'm sure you've surmised by now from the song titles, Winter Wood is sung almost entirely in Russian. With lyrical subjects rooted in Slavic paganism and naturalism, perhaps it's best to express the meanings in the native tongue of the region rather than lose something in the translation. In my opinion, the music is only the better for the non-English vocals. Two songs are, however, sung in English. "The Thread" features Vigdis and bass player Velingor sharing the lead vocal duties, and is one of the most "artsy" tracks on the album due to the ample use of sound effects and vocal distortions. The title track is a much more straightforward prog metal song featuring riffs from both Vigdis and Igreny, but with few folk influences. On the remainder of the tracks, vocalist Kuchma sticks primarily with a clean vocal style that is fitting for the music but does lack a certain degree of power at times. Due more to the production than to Kuchma's talent, his vocals are at times buried beneath the instrumentation. On a final note relating to the vocals on Winter Wood, Russian folk singer Marina Sokolova guests as lead vocalist on "Yavir" and "Resnoti Sont'...". Sounding a bit like Stevie Nicks after a hit of helium, she nevertheless adds a bit of mysticism to the songs - especially on "Yavir", which is the most "folksy" on the album.

Winter Wood is an album that will not appeal to everyone, and I don't believe Tumulus intended it to. Fans of folk metal, prog metal, and metalheads who are just looking for something unique will enjoy what the band has to offer.

Track Listing
1 Stin' 2:02
2 Odolen'Trava 5:15
3 Yavir 4:45
4 Morok uzrev 3:45
5 Krada 4:47
6 The Thread 5:59
7 Tam, gde zhili sviristeli 4:57
8 Vo Luzeh (Omutkovo Lyadi) 4:42
9 Resnoti Sont'... 4:39
10 Winter Wood 5:27
11 Obereg 4:40

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