Sunday, January 27, 2008

Review: Armory - The Dawn of Enlightenment (2007)

Armory [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
The Dawn of Enlightenment

Armory  hails from a town northwest of Boston, but delivers a melodic power metal sound that is very European in style. Containing 70 minutes of soaring vocals, galloping beats and furious riffs, The Dawn of Enlightenment  is the debut album from this talented six-piece and offers all you'd expect from the genre. Originally recorded in 2004, the album was re-released in late 2007 after a meticulous makeover that included live keyboards, professional production, and fantastic artwork from Texas-based artist Steve Goad.

While Armory's sound is firmly rooted in Euro-style power metal, they are a far cry from the disgustingly saccharin prancing of bands like Rhapsody. I'm not particularly fond of such "happy" metal, so it is the decidedly American edge to Armory's music that appeals to me. Calling to mind Kamelot and Nevermore, the fantastical elements of The Dawn of Enlightenment are tempered by both an aggressive undertone and a subdued flair that lends a significant punch to the band's technicality. While the first proper song on the album, "Faith In Steel", falls wholly in the cheesy realm of Hammerfall-esque metal, "Riding The Cosmic Winds" is one of the strongest tracks on the disc. A darker guitar tone, combined with In Flames-style drumwork, paves the way for more of what Armory does best - relentless riffs, searing guitar solos, acrobatic keyboard passages, and distinctive vocals. Frontman Adam Kurland is a rarity - an American vocalist who can expertly meet the demands of this style of heavy metal. He possesses remarkable range and a slight vibrato that reminds me more than a bit of Bruce Dickinson. The album comes with a bonus cover of Iron Maiden's "Flight Of Icarus", which Adam and the band perform admirably.

The aforementioned "Riding The Cosmic Winds" is followed by "Forever Triumphant", a power ballad with a sing-along chorus, anthemic keys, and a classic metal solo from Chad Fisher. Sharing six-string duties with Adam's brother Joe, Chad's work stands out time and again. Whether part of a blazing twin-guitar harmony or capturing the listener's attention with a flashy lead, Chad consistently delivers big. Having said that, Armory's momentum wouldn't be what it is without Joe's driving contributions - particularly in a live setting.

The remainder of The Dawn of Enlightenment continues to deliver all that is required of a good power metal album, with some more edgy tunes ("Heart Of Dreams"), a progressively-inspired instrumental track ("Forged In Dragon Flames"), well-executed Euro-style metal ("The Eyes Of Time", "Mystic Star") and the epic 13-minute title track. In addition to the Maiden cover, Armory dishes up a cover of a Nintendo tune in "Dr. Wily".

With The Dawn of Enlightenment, these Massachusetts lads have, like Kamelot and Jag Panzer before them, proven that Europe has not cornered the market on epic power metal. Fans of the genre, whether preferring their power metal edgy or flowery, will find this album appealing and well worth adding to their collection.

Track Listing
1 The Tempest 1:57
2 Faith In Steel 5:54
3 Riding The Cosmic Winds 7:33
4 Forever Triumphant 5:13
5 Heart Of Dreams 7:53
6 Warrior Forlorn 5:08
7 Forged In Dragon Flames 4:22
8 The Eyes Of Time 6:37
9 Mystic Star 5:27
10 The Dawn Of Enlightenment 13:46
11 Flight Of Icarus 3:50
12 Dr. Wily 1:54
Total Runtime 1:09:34

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Review: Lightless Moor - Renewal (2006)

Lightless Moor [ MySpace ]

Renewal is the debut EP from Italian Gothic Metal outfit Lightless Moor. Formed in 2001 in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, the band is heavily influenced by the "Beauty and the Beast" style of metal made popular by bands like Theatre of Tragedy and The Gathering. The influences are so apparent, in fact, that it's easy to categorize Lightless Moor as little more than a copycat band. A close listen, however, reveals subtle differences that could work to separate the Italians from their predecessors as Lightless Moor continues to evolve. For example, Ilaria Falchi's operatic vocals dominate each song, with guitarist Frederico Mura's growls used in more of a supporting role. Additionally, Giovanni Mancosu frequently works in some progressively styled keyboard passages to compliment the traditional piano melodies and eerie orchestrations.

The differences from and similarities to more notable Gothic Doom/Death acts aside, the members of Lightless Moor display a solid understanding of the sound they're after. All of the tracks on Renewal are relatively mid-paced, with aptly placed tempo shifts and mood swings. The production is so-so, which can be forgiven in light of the band's indie status and lack of recording history. The unfortunate side effect is that many subtleties are buried beneath the muck. Toward the end of the first track, for instance, Falchi engages in a duet with Mura as he cleanly sings his part, but his voice is barely discernible. Roberto Mura's bass pops in on occasion, but for the most part lies unheard deep beneath the surface. The real tragedy, however, is the effect the weak production has on Matteo Rampi's performance behind the kit. The snare sounds absolutely flat, and frequently so too does the crash, but the double bass is the worst, sounding as if he's strapped pillows to the mallets.

Given the emphasis placed on Falchi's vocals, I was disappointed in her overall performance. She's certainly a second tier metal singer, but still struggles in the higher end of her range - sometimes overreaching a bit more than she should. That being said, her style is not overly operatic nor is it too coarse, but is a good fit for this genre. One of her better performances is on the ballad "Renewal" as she sings with a bit of a classical, almost medieval cadence. With a bit more work, I can see her rising up to be counted among some of the more elite Gothic Metal vocalists.

Nothing about Renewal really stands out, other than the potential for Lightless Moor to develop into a stronger Gothic Metal outfit. To do so they'll have to continue to break away from the comfort of regurgitating the work of earlier bands and risk a bit of originality and experimentation. Gothic Metal completists will probably want to get their hands on this EP, but casual fans should wait to see where Lightless Moor goes next.

Track Listing
1 Lightless Moor 7:20
2 Be My Key 5:29
3 Castaway of Changing 6:42
4 L'Anima e il Cantro (The Ballad of the Lost Lover) 6:34
5 Renewal 1:53
Total Runtime 27:58

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Review: Vestiges of Ecstasy - HEAVENandHELL (2007)

Vestiges of Ecstasy [ MySpace ]

Angry. If I had to use just one word to describe HEAVENandHELL, the new album from Indiana's Vestiges of Ecstasy, it would be that one. Each track oozes a loathing for the male species that is at times beyond palpable. Before I delve too deeply into my review, though, let me take a step back and provide a bit of background on the band. Vestiges of Ecstasy is not a new band, but has existed since January of 2003 under the moniker HEAVENandHELL (you can read my reviews of their previous two releases here and here). With the rise of Dio's Heaven and Hell project, founders Gregg Jones and Mia Kileen opted for a name change and thus Vestiges of Ecstasy  was born. Though their name has changed and the line-up features three new members (Chad Jackson on guitar, Jeremy McQueary on bass, and Derek Felix behind the kit), the band's core sound remains intact and still features a familiar style of bluesy rock.

Now, about that anger... Lyrically, the majority of HEAVENandHELL comes across as a sort of anger management exercise for frontwoman Mial Kileen. Most of the songs deal with dysfunctional and broken relationships, involving themes of infidelity (which also happens to be the title of the first song), self-absorption, egos, and disrespect. I have compared Mia's vocal style to Pat Benetar, and oftentimes while listening to HEAVENandHELL I wonder if this is what it would sound like if Pat covered an Alanis Morrisette album. That being said, Mia has grown as a vocalist since the previous releases. Rarely does she sound forced, and always she sings with true emotion. The one track where the vocals just don't do it for me is "Liar in the Shadow of a Cheat", though the reason has very little to do with Mia. The song features her in a duet with Sahar Montalvo (singer of another Indianapolis band called Dystalis), and while Sahar has a powerful voice the two conflict with each other more than they compliment. Elsewhere, Mia expands her style to include whispers, shouts (particularly on "Outcry"), and multi-layered vocal effects.

The area where Vestiges of Ecstasy has experienced the most growth is musically. At the core they retain that bluesy "bar rock" sound that defined their previous albums, but on HEAVENandHELL there are times where the riffs are just a little more urgent, the groove is slightly heavier, and the solos a bit less restrained. Bands like Evanescence come to mind as these moments appear throughout the album. The overall songwriting style remains the same, so each track still features tempo breaks, but where the action is heaviest there seems to be a lot more meat than in the past. My favorite track, "In the Key of B", keeps the breaks to a minimum and features a fairly intricate performance from McQueary and a catchy guitar riff. A rather heavy breakdown leads into an extended solo from Gregg, keeping the overall tempo of the track up while still providing a noticeable change of pace.

Vestiges of Ecstasy have not only changed their name, but they've released a solid album in HEAVENandHELL that shows a definite maturity not only in songwriting but also in Mia's vocal performance. I still recommend this band to those with an ear for straightforward hard rock.

Track Listing
1 Intro 0:40
2 Infidelity 3:50
3 Outro 0:24
4 Darkness 3:00
5 Throwing Stones 3:57
6 While The Sparrow Sings 2:29
7 In The Key Of B 4:11
8 Liar In The Shadow Of A Cheat 4:37
9 BF Intro 0:30
10 Beyond Forgiveness 3:14
11 Pergatory 0:45
12 Secret 3:55
13 Outcry 3:59
14 The Ultimate Answer 0:16
Total Runtime 35:47

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Review: Altar of Oblivion - The Shadow Era (2007)

Altar of Oblivion [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
The Shadow Era

Altar of Oblivion, hailing from northern Denmark, is an interesting young doom metal band. Their debut EP, The Shadow Era, provides a glimpse into the remarkable potential possessed by this quartet - potential that has already earned them a deal with Shadow Kingdom Records.

Founded by guitarist Martin Mendelssohn, Altar of Oblivion is comprised of Allan Larsen behind the kit, Vuml on the four-string, all fronted by former opera singer Mik Mentor. The music presented on The Shadow Era oozes desolate, distorted riffs, mournful solos, and deliberate beats. The band doesn't quite reach the ponderous death march tempo of many in the genre, but there is a discernible Cathedral / St. Vitus influence to their sound. After the intro, "Through the Night" presents the band in full force. Mid-paced for doom metal, the track imparts a sense of melancholy and despair. Mik has an interesting vocal style, as his operatic flair is quite evident. Although powerful, his voice sometimes gets away from him at both the upper and lower ranges. If there were one element I could point to for improvement, it would be a bit more vocal control.

"Wrapped in Ruins" is the track that appeals to me most, with very traditional doom riffs and distinctive leads. Mik also sounds much more passionate and energetic on this track, which works well with the music to lend an appropriate sense of urgency and desperation to the lyrics. While touching on the lyrics, The Shadow Era is a concept album dealing with the World War II Battle of Stalingrad - subject matter well suited to the menacing, sinister atmosphere that is doom metal.

The Shadow Era closes with "Line of Ejection", a song which begins with a somber keyboard passage courtesy of Mr. Mendelssohn. A chugging riff and complex beats follow, breaking into the band's signature sound. As far as mid-paced doom goes, Altar of Oblivion has a solid grasp of what makes for a good listen and delivers a good slice of music. The production is a little murky, but given the style of music and the concept behind the album I think it does more to enhance the atmosphere than detract from it. With a label behind them, I expect more good things to come our way.

Track Listing
1 Prologue a mezza Voce 1:50
2 Through the Night 7:00
3 Wrapped in Ruins 6:12
4 Threshold to Oblivion (My Wrecked Mind) 6:16
5 Line of Ejection 6:48
Total Runtime 28:06

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