Friday, December 30, 2005

Review: The Greatest Fear - The Coronation of the Locust Queen (2005)

The Greatest Fear [ Website | MySpace ]
The Coronation of the Locust Queen
(2005)
Red Room Records

Southern California's The Greatest Fear  is an intriguing outfit. Core members Brian Saunders (drums) and Jane Alisabeth Saunders (vocals, synth, flute) employ various session musicians for recording and touring duties, though a fully cohesive line up appears to be an ultimate goal for the duo. The Coronation of the Locust Queen is the band's debut long-player, featuring Gonny Shimura on guitar and Felix Nunez on bass (who remains with the band for touring purposes). All but two of the twelve tracks were penned solely by charismatic frontwoman Jane, giving the album quite a consistent thematic feel. Anger, malevolence, rebellion, spite - words that spring to mind when listening to Jane's poisoned lyrics. Lending the words absolute lethality is Jane's expressive, multi-layered vocals. Some may hate her style, others may be absorbed by it, but there's no denying her ability to fascinate the listener and no doubts as to her frame of mind when putting pen to paper. Her shrieks, shouts and whispers soar above the radio-friendly Gothic melodies served up by her bandmates, hinting at influences ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Marilyn Manson and Lacuna Coil.

Radio-friendly is an apt phrase when considering the music of The Greatest Fear. Hoping to hitch to the established success of bands like Evanescence, and perhaps even the introspective sounds of Creed, The Coronation of the Locust Queen is an assortment of accessible yet dark guitar melodies and haunting vocal harmonies, punctuated by a familiarity that will appeal to mainstream listeners without wholly alienating those brooding in the underground. While most tracks share a similar central sound, each is varied enough through riff patterns and Jane's vocalizations to keep the album from becoming stale and repetitive. The first track to stand above the rest is "Let It Go", with prominent bass riffs and Jane's expansive vocal delivery. The sorrowful, plucky bass of "New World Catastrophe" drives the mid-point of the album as Jane weaves a vocal tapestry of contempt and reprisal. Closing out the album is "Les Nuages", a track that departs from the main formula of all previous tracks and instead embarks on an ethereal, almost synth-pop journey. Having written the song as a lullaby for her husband Brian, Jane drops her signature enraged approach and takes on a coy, popish style that reminds me of Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. Not metal in the least, but a remarkably pleasing way to close out a solid debut album.

The intense vocals of Jane Saunders enables The Greatest Fear to rise above clone status, giving The Coronation of the Locust Queen credibility in a genre that is quickly becoming crowded with sub-par sound-alikes. Fans who like their music dark with a hint of an industrial edge should at the very least give the album a try, and may in fact find themselves pleasantly surprised by what these Californians have to offer.





Track Listing
1 God Is Not Love 2:36
2 Let It Go 2:30
3 Force Feed 3:54
4 Privilege 3:02
5 Prelude to the New World 0:47
6 New World Catastrophe 4:29
7 My Master 3:51
8 Opus Dei 4:44
9 Just For Today 4:34
10 Las Conversaciones Con El Diablo 3:51
11 The Suicide Table 5:14
12 Las Nuages 4:24



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Friday, December 16, 2005

Review: Beseech - Sunless Days (2005)

Beseech
Sunless Days
(2005)
Napalm Records

Sweden's Beseech have clawed their way into the ranks of such notable Gothic metal bands as Tiamat, H.I.M., and Lacuna Coil. Their 2002 album Souls Highway is a classic of the genre and with the Stateside success of H.I.M., Beseech is perhaps more than ever poised for a commercial breakthrough. In an attempt to capitalize on the trend slowly seeping into American radio, the band has released their fifth studio album Sunless Days. Still unable to reach the power and emotion of Souls Highway, the new album is nonetheless a quality Gothic metal/rock album sure to please loyal fans and could conceivably win some new ones.


Having already created a practically flawless album, measuring up to it on each subsequent release proves to be a difficult task. Drama, though good, fell short of expectations. More comparable to Drama than Souls Highway, Sunless Days does not hold a candle to the 2002 classic but is solid in its own right, embracing the expansion of vision first introduced by Drama. Once again, the most prominent difference is the voice of Erik Molarin. As on the previous release, he mostly eschews his deepest baritone for a softer delivery much more akin to Johan Edlund (Tiamat) and Valo Ville (H.I.M.). However, "Devil's Plaything" (a fantastic cover of the Danzig song) and "The Outpost" offer a return to the vocalizations that were so mesmerizing on Souls Highway. The vocal mix between Erik and Lotta Höglin remains an integral element of Beseech's sound, though Erik has hold of the majority of the vocal parts. Lotta does take the lead on occasion, with the ballad "Lost" being a welcome showcase for her to explore the power and range of her voice. Quite slow and accompanied only by piano, Lotta dips and soars along with the mournful melody.


The impact of the departure of guitarist Klas Bohlin was felt on Drama, and so Manne Engström joined the ranks of Beseech for the new album. The guitar sound is much thicker this time around, with some very deep riffs and solemn leads from Robert Vintervind. The plucky melody of "The Outpost" is a highlight, helping making that track one of my favorite on the album. The cover of "Devil's Plaything" beats them all to rank first on my list, however, with Erik at his best vocally and some truly crushing riffs from Vintervind and Engström. Beyond those two tracks and the fast-moving "Innerlane", I found the remainder of Sunless Days to be good but somewhat indistinct. The songs are pleasurable to listen to, but not compelling.


The limited edition comes with two bonus tracks. The first is a remake of "Manmade Dreams", a song that first appeared on the band's second album Black Emotions. The 2005 version trumps the original with a richer guitar sound and of course a superior vocal performance. Closing the album is the second bonus track, "Lost (emotional version)", which is a major disappointment. This version of Lotta's solo ballad would be more properly titled the "emotionless" version. Her performance on the album version, as well as the lush piano accompaniment make the bonus version feel bleak and sterile. If not for "Manmade Dreams", I would suggest saving a few pennies by steering clear of the limited edition.


Beseech have, with their last two albums, announced the creative direction in which they are taking their music. It is not to further explore the magical formula found on Souls Highway, but instead to chase the likes of H.I.M. and Evanescence to commercial success. Their music is still good, and worthy of any Goth metal fan's collection, but I fear their innovative days may be behind them.







Track Listing
1Innerlane4:07
2The Outpost5:18
3A Bittersweet Tragedy4:07
4Everytime I Die4:03
5Devil's Plaything4:49
6Lost5:38
7Last Obsession3:40
8Emotional Decay3:54
9Restless Dreams5:44
10Reversed Mind2:04
11Manmade Dreams [bonus]4:39
12Lost (emotional version) [bonus]3:49



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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Review: Heorot - Yö Jahti (2005)

Heorot [ MySpace ]
Yö Jahti
(2005)
self-released

The best part about this job is occasionally discovering that hidden gem of a band that blends originality, strong songwriting, and solid talent to create an album which is as fresh as it is exciting. I was very happily surprised to stumble across Finland's Heorot, whose demo Yö Jahti  is an outstanding example of atmospheric Viking/folk metal and gives a good indication that only the best is yet to come. Formed in 2002 by frontman Modsognir and drummer Mikko Mokelainen, the band's line-up solidified in 2003 and work began on what would ultimately become four songs inspired by the pre-Christian Norse heritage of the band members.

Yö Jahti opens with the majestic "Kansaansa vastaan". I've never visited the breathtaking fjords of Scandinavia, but having lived in Alaska for a time I'd like to think I can relate in some small way to the grandeur of it all. The lush, atmospheric piano intro from Jani Ambrusin evokes an image of still, almost glasslike waters flanked by mist enshrouded and snowcapped peaks. One can almost see the longships pulled up on the gravelly shore, the smoke from cook fires lazily rising to intermingle with the morning mist. Such magical, image-laden songwriting persists throughout the album and is what makes Heorot such a find. After a minute of Jani's mystical melodies, the rest of the band bursts forth with a thunderous beat from Mikko Nokelainen and grinding riffs from Raidokan and Timo Nokelainen, while frontman Modsognir unleashes an angered snarl and embarks on a gnarled delivery of the lyrics. Timo is the main contributor of traditional instrumentation on the album, and carries the opening melody through the song on the flute backed by Jani's keys. The song contains several breakdowns over its 7-minute length, involving cleanly-styled group choruses, classic metal riffs, and a heavy bass groove from Kimmo Intke. The song closes with an acoustic rendition of the opening melody, this time played by Timo on the acoustic guitar. A very fine way to close a spectacular song. "Kansaansa vastaan" is unquestionably my favorite track on the demo, though the rest are just as admirable in their own ways.

The title track again incorporates fine flute melodies from Timo, unpolished riffs, and barren drum beats. Modsognir snarls the lyrics without overreaching, instead essentially keeping his delivery to a low growl. The latter half of the song switches gears slightly, with the underlying melody remaining but instead the use of traditional percussion instruments take to the fore and the band begins a group chanting harmony, sometimes significantly off key, eventually reaching a point where I can't help but envision a musty Viking hall filled with the smells of meat and mead, and groups of grizzled warriors toasting heroic sagas of days past and joining one another in raucous drinking songs. Sure, my imagination is running rampant but Heorot possesses that precious ability to stir the imagination and leave the imprint of their music on your soul.

"Ragnarök" is a tale taken directly from the Edda, telling the Viking belief of the coming end of the world. Having a doomy, unhurried pace, the song is flavored by tense keyboard accompaniment and interesting choral hooks. The shouts of "Ragnarök!" during the refrain, combined with a quickened beat from Mikko, keep the gait from settling into routine. There are several time changes in fact, all arranged expertly to hold interest and impart the vast emotional range of the subject matter. The final track of the demo, "Sowelu" is a somewhat brief instrumental track showcasing a wide array of traditional instruments. Once again, Heorot manages to call to life the epic history of the Vikings through their clever use of traditional melodies and devotion to their ancestors' beliefs and way of life.

For a demo recording, Yö Jahti excels. Fans of Finntroll, Einherjer, and Falkenbach will find Heorot to be a band to keep their eye on. A new demo is soon to be released, and it is one that I am waiting for with much anticipation.


Track Listing
1 Kansaansa vastaan 7:08
2 Yö Jahti 4:04
3 Ragnarök 6:53
4 Sowelu 2:27



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Sunday, December 4, 2005

Review: HEAVENandHELL - HnH2004 (2004)

HEAVENandHELL
HnH2004
(2004)
self-released

Two years ago this month I reviewed a 3-song sampler from HEAVENandHELL (read the review here) and described their music as "bar rock", that universal sound that can be found in local live venues across the country. I now have in my hands HnH2004, the first full-length album from the band, containing re-recorded versions of all three songs from the sampler. The band has gone through an almost complete lineup-up change between the release of the two recordings, and now features Chris Huggins behind the drum kit and John Mills working the four-string. The charismatic Mia Kileen remains behind the mic, and the riffs are still mastered by Gregg Jones. Despite the line-up changes and the new recordings, the band continues to exude that "bar rock" sound I spoke of - which is not at all a bad thing.

Though just about all of the tracks on HnH2004 share a common sound, there are a few that stand above the rest. "Hate", which was a highlight of the sampler, opens with Mia providing a vocal harmonic to a building riff from Gregg and John. This is a change from the sampler version, and a very good one. John's bass dances effortlessly underneath Gregg's forceful riffs, showcasing his technical ability. The song is fairly slow paced, containing several breaks in the action and even an acoustic piece just before it ends, but is one of the more soulful tunes on the disc. Going back to "Suffocating", the lead-off track, the album starts with a bit of a jump as this is one of the most up-tempo tracks to be found in the collection. Gregg lays down a bit of a spacey riff while Chris proves his mettle behind the kit with some considerably complex beats. Mia, who has a strong voice similar to Pat Benatar and Patti Smyth, steps up to the plate as far as emotional delivery goes and gives a top-notch performance. Wrapping up the album is an untitled acoustic ballad with Mia giving perhaps her most heartfelt performance of the album.

HnH2004 is a consistent statement of HEAVENandHELL's sound, though at times it is a little too consistent - such as the opening riffs of "Suffocating" and "Without You". While not exactly the same, they are nevertheless close enough to be noticed. The band has subscribed to the local indie rock sound which is never unpopular, and will find much appeal among fans of classic, bluesy rock.







Track Listing
1 Suffocating 3:26
2 Believe 3:41
3 Hope? 3:44
4 One Day 3:25
5 Step 3:53
6 Hate 4:21
7 Cruel 4:33
8 Denial 3:59
9 Withdrawn 3:47
10 Without You 3:30
11 untitled 3:26



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Saturday, December 3, 2005

Review: Sinocence - Black Still Life Pose (2005)

Sinocence [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Black Still Life Pose
(2005)
self-released

It was more than a year ago that I reviewed Sinocence's third demo Acceptable Level of Violence (read the review here) and since then this Northern Ireland outfit has released another demo and Black Still Life Pose, their first full length. With Acceptable Level of Violence the band displayed two distinct sounds, one driven by melody and classic metal elements and the other a more modern, post-thrash sound that can be heard from the countless - and mostly faceless - bands clogging American radio airwaves. Black Still Life Pose actually contains only two new songs, the remaining 10 tracks having been culled from the band's previous two demos. While the demo tracks have been remastered, the two new songs ("Requiem" and "Psycho") find Sinocence emphasizing that modern metal sound I mentioned earlier.

Escaping a problem that plagues many young bands, Sinocence's lineup has remained intact since 2004 and the cohesion of tirelessly gigging together is evident on the two new tracks. Frontman Moro remains behind the microphone with his gruff, abusive vocal style. Although I can think of no clear comparison, Moro is somewhat of a conglomeration of late-era Phil Anselmo (Pantera), Corey Taylor (Slipknot), and Evan Seinfeld (Biohazard). The leadoff track, "Requiem", has a deep Pantera-like riff combined with a bit of Black metal fury to carry the song along through several time changes. Moro mixes in some pseudo-Death metal snarls and a hardcorish cadence to his style, while six-stringer Anto drops some quick introspective licks to lighten the atmosphere. I did catch an almost screamo quality to Moro's voice at times, particularly during the refrain, which is even more evident on "Psycho". The second of the new tracks features a more groove-oriented riff from Anto as its foundation and some fairly interesting beat patterns from Davy. Overall the song, due to an alternating tempo and anemic structure, sounds a tad loose and strung together. There are times when the band members deliver solid moments of headbanging fury, however. My biggest complaint with this track is that Moro opts for the unfortunate choice of a rapid-fire, rap-like vocal delivery at times. Simply not very flattering.

And so ends Sinocence's new material. If you're not familiar with the earlier demos from the band, you'll find a mix of melodic thrash, hardcore inspired modern metal, and classic guitar-driven burners. While Moro delivers a blistering performance when enraged, he makes several forays into a more melodic, expressive vocal style ("Beneath The Halo", "Shedding Skin", "Anything For The Next Escape") which doesn't fit him quite as well. His snarly grit just seems out of place with the emotions he conveys. "Drown The Noise", a moody 7+ minute track, is an exception to Moro's melodic struggles. Combined with a soft beat from Davy and thoughtful bass lines form Kaxxx, Moro is able to effectively transmit a sense of emotion fitting for the lyrics. As the song rumbles on, picking up the pace and deepening the riffs, Moro drops most of the ductile tones from his voice and returns to a comfortable roar. By far the most musing track on the album is the closer, "Scarred Human Voodoo Doll". More than eight minutes of mercurial piano melodies, heartfelt drum beats, and sullen riffs accompany Moro as he again proves that he can blanket the lyrics in a voice that more than does justice to the feelings they represent. This song is in quite sharp contrast to the remainder of Black Still Life Pose yet it serves as an excellent choice to wrap things up. Although the first half of the song is ballad-like, the last half ups the tempo with some excellent dual-guitar riffs and a wicked solo from Anto. With plenty to choose from, my favorite track of the album remains "Six Second Stare" (as it was on Acceptable Level of Violence) because of the traditionally inspired dual-guitar riffs and multi-layered choruses. Quite a fun little burner, this track will appeal to old-school thrash fans and fans of contemporary metal alike.

Sinocence continues to show they have the grit necessary to deliver a solid metal punch. The two new tracks on Black Still Life Pose show the band headed in a more contemporary direction, embracing the formula of bands like Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed, and Crossfade. Be that as it may, the older material on the album will appeal to fans of more traditional thrash.





Track Listing
1 Requiem 5:20
2 Psycho 3:50
3 Beneath The Halo 6:34
4 Makin A Monster 4:27
5 Six Second Stare 5:01
6 Drown The Noise 7:33
7 Shedding Skin 5:28
8 Anything For The Next Escape 5:20
9 Inside 4:11
10 Novocain 4:38
11 Soultied 6:58
12 Scarred Human Voodoo Machine 8:34



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Friday, December 2, 2005

Review: Vena Valley - Tanellis (2004)

Vena Valley [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Tanellis
(2004)
self-released

The well-deserved breakthrough of bands like Lacuna Coil, H.I.M. and Nightwish  has increased awareness of the multitude of bands offering a similar sound, thereby taking melodic Gothic metal several steps further out of the underground. As with other genres of metal that have experienced such a surge in popularity, the ranks become flooded with copy-cat bands and those that simply do not deserve to have their "music" recorded. Fortunately all hope is not lost, for there are always plenty of talented groups who soldier on and strive to bring credibility to their genre through competent songwriting and skilled musicianship. Poland's Vena Valley is just such a band, creating moving melodies that compliment impressive female vocals.

Tanellis is the second release from Vena Valley and features 5 tracks of atmospheric Gothic metal, two of which are sung in the band's native language. Frontwoman Justyna Krysiak compares well with Amy Lee of Evanescence and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, though her voice is not quite as polished as those two Gothic divas. Even still, she possesses a range and depth of emotion that has the power to draw you into the music and allow you to surrender yourself to the moods created by each song. While she handles the English lyrics quite capably, it's when she sings in Polish that her ability to enrapture fully comes into play. Those of us who do not understand the words cannot help but understand their meaning.

The first track on Tanellis, "Hollow", fits well within the mold of dark Gothic rock and is an excellent choice as a lead-off song. The keyboards of Edwin Hiller are used primarily in a backing role, creating lush passages which enhance the magic of Justyna's vocals. The familiar riffs from Sebastian Benduch, bolstered by the bass of Konrad Ciekot, are akin to those often considered staples of the genre and will please most fans. Sebastian offers a somewhat restrained solo, complimented by Edwin's keys, as the track picks up pace in its latter moments. While "Hollow" is my favorite track, "Sennosc" ranks a close second due to the interesting fretwork from Sebastian. Justyna serenades in her native tongue, adding to the mystique created by the rest of the band, while drummer Marcin Górecki displays a bit of creativity in his beats. Another pleasing track, "To Late For Love" is one of the faster paced songs on the EP and features the keyboards in an enhanced role, providing an integral riff throughout. Sebastian and Konrad again work well together to create some deep and intertwined riffs to keep the pace crisp. The remaining two tracks, "Salvation" and "Pokolenia", are also well-written and well-executed compositions that have a catchy groove to them but I found the former to be Justyna's weakest performance. While not bad by any means, she nevertheless seems uncomfortable and so loses a significant amount of force from her voice.

Vena Valley have captured the popular Gothic metal sound and clearly show a knack for molding the common elements to create a style that is unique unto them. While not quite yet reaching the level of becoming innovators, the band members show promise to do so and will at the very least be worthy contributors to the scene. Tanellis is definitely a recommended album for fans of female-fronted Gothic metal.


Track Listing
1 Hollow 4:06
2 Salvation 5:21
3 Sennosc 4:40
4 To Late For Love 3:26
5 Pokolenia 3:29



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