Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: Seven Kingdoms - Brothers of the Night (2007)

Seven Kingdoms [ Website | MySpace ]
Brothers of the Night

Daytona, Florida's Seven Kingdoms immediately caught my attention because of the emphasis they place on the works of George R.R. Martin as a source of their lyrical inspiration. Aside from Winterfell, Seven Kingdoms is the only metal outfit I know of that draws so heavily from one of my favorite authors. Formed by lead guitarist Camden Cruz and frontman Bryan Edwards after their previous band, This Solemn Vow, dissolved, Seven Kingdoms eventually grew to a six-piece before entering Morrisound Studios in 2007 to record their debut album Brothers of the Night.

Musically, Seven Kingdoms is carving out a niche through the accomplished blending of elements from varied styles of metal - primarily power, death, and thrash. There is an overall Blind Guardian meets Dark Tranquility feel to the album, but never does the music sound rehashed or copied. The strengths of the album are, by far, the remarkable talent of Cruz and Bryan's distinctive vocals. Cruz is a master of the six-string, evidenced by his intricate solos and razor-sharp licks. Flashy but not overbearing, Cruz knows not only when to unleash his creativity but also when to maintain a restrained groove. Partnered with rhythm guitarist Kevin Byrd, the twin-guitar onslaught is irresistible.

While Cruz lends a majestic air to Brothers of the Night, Edwards delivers a vocal performance that sets the album apart. The band opens the disc with "Eyes of Summer", a fairly straightforward power metal track that features cleanly-sung vocals. Bryan gives a decent performance, though he seems a bit restrained and could afford to reach a little deeper to give a really forceful performance. The next track, however, displays an entirely different vocal approach and demonstrates how it is that the members of Seven Kingdoms set themselves apart from the power metal pack. To open the song, Bryan compliments drummer Keith Byrd's inhuman blastbeats with a hellish growl that portends the strength of what is to come. Melodic choruses, an element that Seven Kingdoms has clearly gained mastery of, contrast sharply with Bryan's shredded growls. This Deathish approach may turn off some power metal purists, but I believe it's what makes this band such an intriguing entity and worthy of keeping an eye on. The remaining tracks continue to blend clean and harsh vocals, with Bryan even venturing into falsetto range - which he does admirably on "We Do Not Sow..." but not so well on "The Bloody Meadow".

In spite of a couple of vocal stumbles, the magnum opus of Brothers of the Night is the epic "The Bloody Meadow". Atmospheric guitar and keyboard passages lead to a whirlwind keyboard solo from John Zambrotto before Bryan takes up the lead. Clean, confident vocals lead to soaring anthemic choruses, backed all the while by excellent riffing from Cruz and Byrd. Deep into the track Cruz finally unleashes a powerful, emotive and lengthy solo that shows exactly why he has caught the attention of many in the industry. As good as "The Bloody Meadow" is, it is not alone. The album is bursting with nearly an hour of molten metal highlights. The memorable chorus of "Blackwater Rush", the uplifting brothers-in-arms feel to "Watchers on the Wall", and Cruz's ever-present ferocity are just a few examples of why Brothers of the Night is such a solid debut album.

Seven Kingdoms is, even for all the outstanding work on this album, a young band with some areas that can be improved. Bryan's clean vocals come to mind, as does "Winter Comes" - the final track of the album. Cruz is clearly off on this song, which might have been a good candidate to re-record for another release. Such improvements are perhaps already in the minds of Cruz and Edwards as they approach their next release. Zambrotto has been released, and a female vocalist - Sabrina Valentine - has been added. As good as Brothers of the Night is, I am eager to hear what direction the band will now take. As a debut, this is highly recommended for fans who like some real power in their power metal.

Track Listing
1Eyes of Summer4:27
3We Do Not Sow (The Legacy of Black Harren, Part I)5:21
4Blackwater Rush7:10
5The Bloody Meadow7:49
7The Long Night4:05
8Watchers on the Wall6:08
9Towers of Hubris (The Legacy of Black Harren, Part II)6:08
10Winter Comes7:07
Total Runtime57:30

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Review: El Soter - Appletree of Discord (2008)

El Soter [ Website | MySpace ]
Appletree of Discord

Appletree of Discord is the debut solo release from El Soter (aka Blaž Erzetič), a member and the mastermind of the Slovenian electro-pop duo Amateur God. While the Amateur God  project has released three albums that have been described as "metallic", "droning", and "mellow", Blaž felt that the material written for Appletree of Discord was such a far cry from his previous work that an entirely new project had to be formed. Not being very familiar with his previous work, I found this album to be almost exactly as the music of Amateur God has been described.

The idea that keeps coming to mind as I listen to the album is that the title couldn't be more appropriate. For the most part, discordance abounds. The first several tracks combine feelings of melancholy, anger, and euphoria in such a way that projects emotional confusion. Electronic dance beats are punctuated by NIN-like grind, while a haunting ambiance seeps through the cracks to project a not-so-subtle dread. The lyrics are dispensed in a minimal, monotone delivery that takes a backseat to the synthesized atmosphere. While I suspect that the creative approach of Appletree of Discord may be appealing to the disillusioned, self-effacing electro-Goth crowd, the majority of the album is too disjointed for the average listener to absorb. Perhaps it's simply a matter of raw emotion flowing directly from El Soter, with very little filtering or manipulation, but as honest as it may be there's a limited appeal that will find most listeners left unfulfilled.

The album is not entirely comprised of complex arrangements, however. The fifth track of the disc, "Not Coming Back", provides a glimpse into a more straightforward approach. A curious, spacey synth riff carries the song along, sparking an interest that had been subdued by the droning of the preceding tracks. The addition of backing vocals from Metka Rogelja lends feminine comfort that offsets the impersonal, filtered voice of Blaž. The track that speaks loudest to me is "Girl in Pink, For Example". An acoustic guitar opens this serene instrumental, which combines a fairly traditional rock structure with El Soter's trademark introspective ambiance. While the name may seem odd, the song itself is a perfect vehicle with which to examine ones own emotions. "Chaos Based Directions" soon follows with a slightly more up-tempo pace than can be found on the rest of Appletree of Discord. Once again the song flows with a traditional structure and melody, but there's no mistaking the somberness that lies just under the surface. Another point worth noting is that the album is opened and closed by Helen Filipčič reciting some of Emily Dickinson's poetry.

While Appletree of Discord has some intriguing moments, the overall sense of minimalism and haunting self-analysis leaves the album open only to the most disenchanted among us. Those with a fragile psyche proceed at their own risk.

Track Listing
1 Pre-Initiation 1:23
2 Initiation 5:09
3 The Hail 5:19
4 Freak Show 5:06
5 Not Coming Back 5:39
6 Sum 4:47
7 Blaming the Moon 5:13
8 Girl in Pink, For Example 3:56
9 Chaos Based Directions 4:31
10 To the North 5:06
11 Post-End 1:46
Total Runtime 47:55

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Review: F5 - The Reckoning (2008)

F5 [ Website | MySpace ]
The Reckoning
OarFin Records

F5 - a category of tornado that is among the most destructive forces in Nature. It's also a fitting name for a heavy metal supergroup, of sorts, that includes bassist Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies), and frontman Dale Steele (Sickspeed). Rounding out the formidable line-up are axemen John Davis and Steve Conley. Put together in 2004, the band released their first album - A Drug for All Seasons - a year later to positive reviews. This summer F5 will unleash their followup album, The Reckoning.

As expected, Ellefson's bass lines are first-rate and DeGrasso is flawless behind the kit. The Reckoning has an overall sound that can be compared to Disturbed, primarily due to the thunderous rhythm section. As heavy as the beats are, Steele's raspy vocal style is remarkably similar to Matthew Sanders (M. Shadows) of Avenged Sevenfold. Bundled all together, F5 delivers a very Disturbed-meets-A7X sound due to Steele's distinct style, the pounding beats from DeGrasso and Ellefson, and crunching riffs from Davis and Conely.

The Reckoning has highlights aplenty, among them the title track with its infectious chorus and razor-sharp leads. My favorite track on the album is "Rank and File". A bit loose in the first thirty seconds, the massive riffs soon break the song open with a driving groove. Again, Steele offers up a gruff yet melodious vocal performance that is punctuated by several concise solos from Davis and Conely. As the album proceeds into the later tracks, it tends to begin sounding a bit stale. The consistency from track to track is commendable and does result in a cohesive package of songs, but many elements appear again and again to leave the album feeling a little too constant. Having said that, The Reckoning remains a solid work of melodic thrash that modern metal enthusiasts should sample.

Track Listing
1No Excuse4:03
2I Am The Taker4:30
3The Reckoning3:23
4Rank and File3:42
5Love Is Dead3:51
6Through Hell3:05
7Wake Up3:08
8Cause For Concern3:38
9My End3:25
11Final Hour4:20
Total Runtime41:14

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