Sunday, January 22, 2006

Review: Antiquus - Ramayana (2005)

Antiquus [ Website | MySpace ]

From the western shores of Canada - Vancouver, to be precise - rises a new star in the North American power metal scene. Antiquus, formed in 2002, have unleashed an eyebrow-raising debut album that has made quite a global splash, earning them a record deal with Italian label Cruz Del Sur. A huge part of the band's success has to do with their style of unadulterated power metal, lashing together powerful bass lines and twin guitar harmonies with raw, "true" metal vocals and no-frills drum work.

Being a student of mythology, and having a familiarity with the Hindu epic Ramayana, I was mightily intrigued upon hearing of a band putting such a grandiose tale to a metal soundtrack. Often have The Eddas, The Odyssey, and other great Western myths been given a heavy metal makeover, but as far as I know this is the first example of Hindu mythology being given the treatment. The first four tracks on Ramayana in fact have nothing to due with the epic story, and are actually the weakest of the 10 songs on the album. "Empire Rising" and "Changeling" are fairly standard power metal in the style of Jag Panzer and Iced Earth, though they do serve as a decent introduction to the musical direction of Antiquus. Frontman Jesse White has a strong, raw voice with plenty of grit that I find to be similar to Harry Conklin's (Jag Panzer) with just a dash of Bruce Dickinson. While he can hit a decent high note, he stays away from the wailing and falsettos that permeate the power metal genre. Also key to Antiquus' sound is the twin guitar fury of Trevor Leonard and Geoff Way (both of whom have departed since the release of the album). Bolstered by Scott Unger's conspicuous bass, the two axemen lay down some very tight riffs throughout the album as well as offering up some intricate solos and well-placed hooks. "Tanlin Bridge" features a heavier style to the riffs, incorporating a bit of Slayer-influenced thrashiness into the mix, while "Battle of Eylau" embarks on an epic (that is, lengthy) account of the Napoleonic battle. The latter track opens with more than two minutes of battlefield sound effects set to subdued, slightly ominous riffs and bass lines. While I commend Scott and Jesse for attempting to create a sweeping tale of historic significance, the song ultimately comes across as tedious and tired.

While the first four tracks of Ramayana are good, but really only average in terms of the genre, the final six tracks find Antiquus at their best and make this an album worthwhile to metal fans looking for fresh blood in the scene. "Ayodha" is a short intro featuring the sitar to set the appropriate mood for the subject material that follows. The epic begins in earnest with "A Beautiful Stag", the track opening with an acoustic guitar passage that deftly conveys the tranquility of the Indian forests. Jesse, along with increasingly intense riffs, enhances the mystical significance of Sita's encounter with the magical stag. "The Hunt", one of my favorite tracks, follows with crushing riffs and complex leads. The pace is quickened on this weighty track as a fair amount of solos are unleashed. My favorite song is the simian-inspired "Hanuman". Here the band captures the spirit of the monkey hero perfectly through their use of groovy riffs and unrestrained leads. The remaining two tracks are on par with the rest of the band's retelling of the Ramayana, providing a satisfying ending to the album.

Ramayana is a good, aggressive power metal album. Without the final six tracks, however, this disc could easily have slipped into obscurity as one of many "good" debuts. The six-part epic is an ambitious undertaking for a young band, but Antiquus succeeds in creating an interesting listening experience that grows with each listen. Incorporating elements of power, thrash, and prog metal this album should appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Track Listing
1 Empire Rising 4:27
2 Changeling 5:34
3 Tanlin Bridge 5:30
4 Battle of Eylau 11:13
Ramayana - An Epic in Six Parts
5 Part I - Ayodha 1:06
6 Part II - A Beautiful Stag 6:02
7 Part III - The Hunt 4:08
8 Part IV - Hanuman 4:11
9 Part V - Sri Lanka 5:52
10 Part VI - He Who Makes the Universe Scream! 10:56

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Review: Fashion Bomb - Devils To Some, Angels To Others (2006)

Fashion Bomb [ Website ]
Devils To Some, Angels To Others

Let me start by explaining why Fashion Bomb's debut album Devils to Some, Angels to Others has been awarded my first-ever "no rating". I need to explain right away, here at the beginning of the review, to dispell any misunderstandings that may arise from looking no further than the score. The music is not the issue here. Plain and simple, it's a poor promotional campaign. To be able to review and rate an album, a reviewer needs the full album to do so. Fashion Bomb instead saw fit to send an excerpt of 4 songs and expected an album review based on those four songs. Doing so would be akin to writing a book review after reading only the first and last chapters, or reviewing a movie after seeing only the trailer. An album review based upon less than 30% of the material would be a sham and a disservice to those who read it. Guys, the samplers are great for generating label interest and seeking radio ariplay, but for album reviews you need to be completely forthcoming.

Alright, off the soap box and on to the music. Chicago's Fashion Bomb is an electro-industrial quintet possessing quite a number of similarities to Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, and Marilyn Manson. Lyrically inquisitive and anti-establishment, their music blends robust electronic ambiance with driving guitars and intense rhythms. Whereas "SS" is a pretty straightforward industrial metal track, "Low" comes across as my favorite selection because of the melodious chorus and the attention given to guitar solos and leads. A mid-tempo track, it still packs punch while maintaining accessiblity. Frontman Val contrasts more vocal melodies on "Christ Puncher" with enraged shouts and angered backing vocals from the rest of the band.

Based on what I've heard on this album sampler, I have to say that the songs presented are above average listens and that Fashion Bomb is skilled at putting together vocal and guitar hooks. What I can't say is whether or not the other 10 songs on Devils to Some, Angels to Others can compare. One final irritation: the album contains a cover of Mötley Crüe's "Looks That Kill" (one of my favorite Crüe tunes of all time) but it was, of course, left off the sampler. Bummer.

Track Listing
6God Drug
7The Line
8Ascend This Day
11Over It
12Christ Puncher
14Looks That Kill

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Review: Crimson Tears - Gothika (2005)

Crimson Tears [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

In 2003, Crimson Tears' founder Dave Miller set out to form a symphonic metal band that captured the commercial appeal of bands such as Nightwish and After Forever. The four tracks on Gothika, the band's debut demo, are solidly in the realm of the symphonic/Gothic metal genre and serve as proof that Dave's goal is well within his reach. Fans who devour all this particular genre has to offer will be more than happy to discover what Crimson Tears  has to offer, while those who expect every up-and-coming band to offer some sort of refinement or transformation of existing style will most likely find little to like.

For those familiar with the aforementioned bands, you know exactly what to expect on Gothika - atmospheric metal bolstered by symphonic arrangements with sweeping keyboards, thick guitar riffs, and of course semi-operatic female vocals. In the case of the latter element, vocal coach Gina Oldham was recruited for the role of frontwoman. While I intend no disrespect for Gina whatsoever, she is not of the same caliber as Tarja Turunen or Floor Jansen. She does, however, possess a strong voice with considerable range that adds a unique flavor to the music of Crimson Tears. Having said that, I found her to be strongest while being in mid-range and less effective at either end. At the low end, such as on the title track, she sounds a bit out of place with the music while on the high end her voice loses some impact and tends to sound too wispy and thin. In her middle range she delivers just the right combination of power and mystique to heighten the effect of the music. The majority of the first track features Gina in her comfort zone, and combined with the lush piano and keyboard atmosphere from Marcus Chapman as well as Miller's precise riffs and snappy leads the song is definitely a highlight of the demo.

The seconds track, "My Plea", doesn't measure up to what the band has already displayed with "Eternity". Gina's voice is thinned by too much time spent in her upper range, leaving the song without an effective vocal punch. Dave noodles out a decent solo, but the majority of the riffs are average and repetitious. The title track, on the other hand, sees Crimson Tears back at their best. Dave's main riff reminds me a lot of an '80s power ballad from bands like Skid Row and Warrant, but he backs it up with an occasional crunch that dispels any comparison to a hair metal anthem. Gina dips a bit too low now and then, but she's mostly right where she needs to be. Marcus' keys provide a huge backdrop for the rest of the band to lay down a very solid mid-paced composition. Wrapping up the demo is "Gardens of Sorrow", an expansive song that is primarily mid-paced with very a very strong guitar presence. While full effect is given to the keyboards, Miller delivers some fine alternating riffs and sparkling leads, including his best solo of the demo in the latter moments of the song. The band essentially pulls out all the stops on this track, displaying a clear aptitude for creating exactly the kind of metal they've set their sights upon.

Is Gothika another example of Nightwish worship? Yes, it is. Having said that, the band has never denied their wish to emulate their influences and capture the sound that has made bands like Nightwish so successful. Crimson Tears is seeking their goal openly and honestly, which is much more than can be said about some outfits. So for those of you who can't get enough of Gothic-inspired symphonic metal, this band is right up your alley.

Track Listing
1 Eternity 4:47
2 My Plea 4:54
3 Gothika 6:07
4 Gardens of Sorrow 6:10

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Saturday, January 7, 2006

Review: Scarecrown - 'Til The Last Breath (2005)

Scarecrown [ MySpace ]
'Til The Last Breath

A short distance north of Venice is the small Italian town of San Polo Di Piave, home to the band Scarecrown. Fronted by the engaging Antonella, a quick assumption would lead one to believe that Scarecrown is yet another Nightwish clone or possibly even one of the many Gothic metal acts to emerge from Europe lately. Neither comparison applies to this Italian foursome, however. Instead, the band opts for a modern metal sound on their debut demo 'Til The Last Breath that is similar to Godsmack or Sevendust, though with a slightly darker ambiance about their sound.

Antonella is a capable frontwoman for this band's style, with a seductive voice that she rarely takes to operatic ranges. When she does, particularly on occasion during the leadoff track "Pathos X", she's obviously leaving her comfort zone and struggles with the higher notes. This makes for only a minor complaint since the forays into her upper range are infrequent. Instead, Antonella delivers the lyrics in a powerful, mid-range voice that blends superbly with the heavy mood of the album. There are short bouts of harsh male vocals to compliment Antonella, with a bit of a Gothic croak on "Pathos X" and a few Deathish growls during the choruses of "Suddenly".

Co-founder Andrea "The Ogre" lays down a series of modern, mid-paced riffs throughout the album that are deep, chunky, and dark. Very much in the contemporary style that is a favorite of "rock radio" these days, they lend a familiar feel to the 5 tracks on 'Til The Last Breath. "Suddenly", my favorite track of the demo, marks a change in mood for the darker and sees Andrea increasing the weight and impact of his riffs. Lending extra doominess to the crushing, groove-infused riffs are the heavy bass lines from Simone. Taking a page from the heavy doom of bands like Candlemass and Cathedral, the strangely titled "Playin' With a Swindler" is also a gloomy highlight of the disc.

Scarecrown doesn't offer anything innovative on 'Til The Last Breath, but they show a skill for creating memorable music with big, catchy riffs and well-placed time changes. I feel that their best work comes with the last two songs on the album, rather than the contemporary sound they achieve on the first three. A talented band, whichever direction they choose to pursue.

Track Listing
1Pathos X3:49
2The Valley of Unrest2:41
3Witch's Heart Fable2:55
5Playin' With a Swindler4:17

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Monday, January 2, 2006

Review: Deep Purple - Rapture of the Deep (2005)

Deep Purple [ Website | MySpace ]
Rapture of the Deep

Deep Purple  need no introduction, having been an integral force in the formation of the hard rock scene of the '70s and oft cited as an influence of rock and metal bands ever since. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Deep Purple, wipe the snot from your nose and go listen to your Slipknot CDs 'cause you clearly don't have a true appreciation for heavy music.

Rapture Of The Deep is Deep Purple's 18th studio album to date and features a core lineup of Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), and Steve Morse on guitar. Paice has of course been with the band from the start, with Gillan and Glover coming aboard in 1970 and Steve Morse (formerly of Dixie Dregs and Kansas) joining in 1995. New to the ranks for this album is keyboardist Don Airey, who has had himself quite a storied career with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, and Rainbow (among others). Jon Lord's retirement opened the door for speculation to circulate regarding the future of Deep Purple's music, what with Lord's Hammond organ so thoroughly a part of the band's recognizable sound. I won't go so far as to say Airey makes Lord's departure a non-event, but Don has certainly filled the void and not only provides the organ we're all accustomed to, but adds a flair all his own and further enlivens the new album.

If you're a Deep Purple fan, you will love Rapture Of The Deep. The band makes no attempt to "update" their sound or venture into uncharted territory through pointless experimentation. Instead, Gillan & Co. rely their organ-heavy, hook-laden formula that has earned them success over the past two decades. Do not make the mistake of assuming the album sounds dated, however. While the 11 tracks of Rapture Of The Deep could have been at home in the late '70s or early '80s, they have a contemporary and mature undercurrent to them which reminds the listener that this is a legendary band making music that is, above all else, ageless. The album starts with the bluesy rocker "Money Talks", having a deep groove and a catchy chorus. Gillan is in top form, his distinctive voice soaring above the music in a carefree manner that seems at the same time both detached from the song and firmly rooted to the music. The first song to really grab my attention is "Girls Like That", with a hot little riff to begin the tune played over a building organ backdrop. The song is fast-paced, as far as Deep Purple songs go, with driving organ/bass breakdowns and an infectious chorus. Steve Morse's guitar is a strong force in making this song a highlight of the album, proving yet again that he's a more than capable replacement of Ritchie Blackmore.

Another highlight for me was the Eastern flavored title track, which features some spacey keyboard licks from Airey and deep, thumping bass lines from Mr. Glover. Steve's lengthy solo is one of the best on the album, as it dips and soars before being chased by a solo from Airey, only to return a verse later for another go. This mid-paced track has a quality to it that makes you want to just lay back and listen, giving yourself to the music and letting it enshroud you with a sonic weave. Definitely a favorite. The next track, the ballad "Clearly Quite Absurd", is just as moving as the title track though at a much slower pace. Steve's wistful licks and leads lend a dreamlike quality to the song, while Don's ethereal keys and piano passages provide a soft backdrop for Gillan's heartfelt delivery. The overall song structure is simple, but the subtleties make it as powerful as it is - the prize in the pudding, as it were. Following the ballad, "Don't Let Go" has a bit of that '70s funk to it along with memorable choruses and a fuzzy solo from Morse. Not having as much of an impact as the previous two songs, this track nevertheless has the appeal to make it on rock radio. Yet another interesting track is "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye", with a bit of a Swing beat from Paice that gives the song some get up and go. Morse lets go with another quality solo, once again followed up by a flourish from Airey. The album closes with the moody "Before Time Began". Morse strums the mellow licks as Gillan breathes the lyrics to a soft beat from Paice. While not as captivating as the other highlights of Rapture Of The Deep, the song nevertheless is one of the better tunes to be heard on the album.

Deep Purple fans, and fans of classic rock in general, will find Rapture Of The Deep to be an enjoyable album. The nostalgia is there, but the band refuses to succumb to the repetitiveness that has doomed many other outfits with similarly long histories.

Track Listing
1 Money Talks 5:32
2 Girls Like That 4:02
3 Wrong Man 4:53
4 Rapture Of The Deep 5:55
5 Clearly Quite Absurd 5:25
6 Don't Let Go 4:33
7 Back To Back 4:04
8 Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye 4:19
9 MTV 4:56
10 Junkyard Blues 5:33
11 Before Time Began 6:30

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