Friday, December 30, 2011

Introducing Harvest Moon Radio

A goal that I've had since starting Harvest Moon Music 10 years ago was to one day take to the airwaves, delivering a variety of obscure, classic, and contemporary heavy metal and hard rock tunes for your enjoyment. I suppose the time is nigh to begin such a venture, though my goal has been scaled back a little to encompass a weekly hour-long podcast rather than a streaming broadcast. Despite the slight alteration of the overall vision, you'll still hear a wide variety of metal and hard rock that you definitely won't hear on the radio and maybe (hopefully) get turned on to an artist that otherwise may have flown under your radar.  So click the link below to launch Episode 1 of Harvest Moon Radio!

Harvest Moon Radio Episode 1

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Metal Art Gallery: White Wizzard - Flying Tigers

White Wizzard - Flying Tigers
The work of UK artist Matt Dixon has graced a number of popular franchises within the video gaming world, from Harry Potter to World of Warcraft. His freelance illustrations, however, are quite remarkable and many would be perfect for heavy metal album covers. Los Angeles traditional metallers White Wizzard obviously think so too, having chosen Dixon to provide the cover for their latest release Flying Tigers. Heavy metal and weapons of war have always gone hand in hand, for apparent reasons, thus this simple representation of the album's namesake - albeit with a slight Iron Maiden touch that reinforces the band's old-school image.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Rising - To Solemn Ash (2012)

Rising [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
To Solemn Ash
Exile on Mainstream

Rising - To Solemn Ash
Anyone familiar with the Exile on Mainstream label knows that their artist roster typically includes some rather avant-garde and sludgy doom types. If such a repertoire is not your style, with more traditional metal and doom bands in line with your tastes, don't let the label steer you away from Rising's full-length debut To Solemn Ash. A refreshing blend of inspirations ranging from Black Sabbath to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and High on Fire, To Solemn Ash is gritty, catchy, and a promising start to a new year of heavy metal.

Denmark's Rising - a trio comprised of Henrik Hald on bass and behind the mic, Jacob Krogholt on guitar, and Jacob Johansen behind the kit - formed in 2008 and in a relatively short time has skillfully cultivated a sound that draws heavily from classic metal sources yet is equally reliant upon the distinctive atmosphere heard in contemporary sludge. Chugging, fuzzy riffs are driven by crushing beats enveloped in crash and hi-hat while Hald's gravelly vocals are simultaneously insistent and forlorn. The inclusion of Maiden and Priest-like harmonized riffs heightens the accessibility of Rising's sound and results in To Solemn Ash being a groovy, thunderous, and melodic experience. Even Hald's singing is engaging in a Pandemonium-era Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke) sort of way, his overall gruffness softened by tuneful expression and occasional harmonious refrains.

"Mausoleum" gives To Solemn Ash a robust start with dark, scratchy riffs and driving beats - two core components that are common to every song on the album. Krogholt hints at his fret ability on the opener with a brief solo, but really expresses himself on tracks like "Cohorts Rise" and "Passage". Paced somewhat slower than the majority of the mid-tempo tracks on To Solemn Ash, "Cohorts Rise" is no less engaging due to its swirling riffs, mellow beats, and a bit of a post-metal atmosphere. Traditional doom enthusiasts will be pleased by "Seven Riders", a song with familiar plodding riffs and abundant gang choruses, while "Heir To Flames" finds Rising briefly exhibiting a bit of a progressive flair with some intricate riffing. "Hunter's Crown", with its classic twin-guitar leads and a darkly psychedelic solo also introduces some tremolo riffing and fleeting deathish growls to Rising's style.

I hesitate to go so far as to pronounce To Solemn Ash a groundbreaking album, but I will confidently declare it to be an excellent work of metal that ably combines many of the genre's styles into an interesting, enjoyable and memorable experience. What better way to start the new year than with an album that will appeal to such a wide spectrum of heavy metal enthusiasts?

Track Listing
2Sea of Basalt4:49
3The Vault4:08
4Cohorts Rise6:14
5Hunter's Crown4:50
6Through The Eyes of Catalysis4:04
7Under Callous Wings5:29
9Heir To Flames5:22
10Seven Riders5:57
Total Runtime50:14

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: Essenza - Devil's Breath (2009)

Essenza [Website | MySpace]
Devil's Breath
Bigmud Records

Essenza - Devils Breath
From the tip of Italy's boot heel region comes Essenza, a three-piece whose latest album Devil's Breath marks a significant shift in style for the band. Comprised of brothers Carlo G. and Alessandro S. Rizzello (guitar/vocals and bass, respectively) and drummer Paolo Colazzo, Essenza emerged in 1993 as a melodic rock outfit. After two demos, a full-length and a live recording, the band chose to add weight to their sound and adopt English lyrics. The result is Devil's Breath, a brief eight-song album that finds the band blending traditional metal sensibilities with a touch of modern thrash.

For a trio, Essenza delivers a rather robust sound through intricate riffs and copious amounts of multi-tracking. The old-school production, whether intentionally raw or not, adds retro charm without overly muffling the instruments or interfering with Carlo's distinctive vocals. The complex yet melodic riffs, particularly those of the title track and "Edge of Collapsed World", are rooted in the classic metal style pioneered by bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. In fact, the swirling lead that closes out "Deep Into Your Eyes" conjures up memories of Maiden's "Wasted Years". Carlo definitely knows his way around his guitar, leaving Devil's Breath overflowing with interesting leads and flashy solos.

The rhythm section is equally involved in the Essenza sound, with Alessandro's bass slapping time with Carlo's leads. Whether adding depth to Carlo's riffs or flashing a bit of bottom-end groove, such as on "Fighting The Wind", the bass is an ever-present and welcome layer. Paolo throws out some nice double-kick to start off the thrashy "(Universe) In A Box" and adds plenty of crash to the already-mentioned album highlight "Edge of Collapsed World".

Vocally, Carlo does a decent job delivering the lyrics in his distinctive sneering, nasal style. While he reminds me a bit of Dave Mustaine's early days, his voice isn't nearly as polished or steady. "Dance of Liars", a song conforming to traditional European power metal standards, finds Carlo stumbling a bit when hitting sustained high notes. He struggles the most, however, with the cheesy lyrics of "Rock 'n' Roll Blood". The song is a decent blue-oriented hard rock track, but Carlos and the questionable lyrics team up to submarine the mood. Thankfully this low point is followed up by a nice atmospheric guitar tone on "Fighting The Wind", and Essenza regains momentum to close out Devil's Breath in strong fashion with the classic rock highlight "Flying Acrobats".

Devil's Breath is a solid transitional album as Essenza moves from their earlier AOR sound to a heavier, traditionally-inspired heavy metal style. While a few modern metal touches can be heard here and there, Devil's Breath will appeal to fans looking to keep an eye on a band headed for old-school metal success.

Track Listing
1Devil's Breath3:32
2Deep Into Your Eyes4:46
3(Universe) In A Box3:30
4Edge of Collapsed World3:35
5Dance of Liars5:19
6Rock 'n' Roll Blood3:52
7Fighting the Wind4:32
8Flying Acrobats3:50
Total Runtime32:56

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: The New Jacobin Club - This Treason (2010)

The New Jacobin Club [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
This Treason

The New Jacobin Club - This Treason
Canada's The New Jacobin Club may be the best-kept secret of the theatrical Gothic scene. The Saskatoon-based outfit has been lighting the stages of Western Canada on fire (quite literally) for more than fifteen years now, during which time they've also released a handful of albums that run the gamut from punk to industrial metal. The constant, however, is the dark visuals that comprise the ensemble's outrageous live performances. Besides the core members' ghoulish costumery, a performance troupe known as The Angry Teeth Freakshow take The New Jacobin Club's stage presence to titillating heights of debauchery. Theatrics aside, though, the band's latest effort This Treason stands solidly on its own merits as an entertaining conceptual blend of horror punk and Gothic metal, having an intriguing historical event as the source of the lyrical content.

Rarely does fiction outdo reality when it comes to collusion, mystery, and immorality. Frontman Xerxes Praetorius Horde (The Horde, for short) turned to the 14th-century and Isabella of France's traitorous invasion of England for This Treason's lyrical inspiration, effectively mining the court intrigue and shifting alliances that ruled the day. The band's website has a very detailed narrative to accompany the album, adding a level of depth to the listening experience that few bands make the effort to provide. As a history buff with a particular interest in medieval Europe, that scores points with me.

The New Jacobin Club
Photo: Kathryn Trembach
The root of The New Jacobin Club's sound, as I mentioned, lies somewhere between psychobilly and straightforward metal. The Horde's vocal style is, predominantly, straight out of the Glenn Danzig (Misfits era) tradition - though much more engaging than Danzig ever was. Most of the punk vibe is derived from this style, and at times The Horde branches off into a more metallic delivery ranging from blackened shrieks to gurgling growls. "The Fall", however, finds him squarely in the screamo camp which makes that particular track a low point for me despite a strong bass presence, a noodling solo, and the overall excellent use of tension.

The bass on This Treason is quite extraordinary, with The Swarm's grumbling lines nearly always wrecking havoc near the top of the mix. Although never fancy, The Swarm's presence ably weighs down the capable riffs put forth by The Horde and fellow axeman The Fury. Wielding the lead guitar role, The Fury does an admirable job laying down some extended solos and sizzling leads (particularly on "Countess Scorned" and the instrumental "Kronos Devours His Children") and often joins with The Horde for some blues-based, foot-tapping riffs. Songs such as "Like Dogs" and "Private Hell" manage to implant themselves in memory thanks to some groovy riffs courtesy of The New Jacobin Club's two six-stringers.

The Luminous of The New Jacobin Club
Photo: Kathryn Trembach
The Gothic elements of This Treason are derived mostly from Vitruvius' keyboards and The Luminous' electric cello. The lengthy "All Mourning Long", one of This Treason's standout tracks, benefits from a well-arranged synth atmosphere that nicely compliments the grim vocals and menacing riffs. The mournful strings on "Breath Like Wine" work well with the folkish cadence and melodic riffs, making this mid-paced track another album highlight.

With all that This Treason has to offer, some aspects do more to distract and irritate than enhance what is certainly an enjoyable album. The band chooses to inject the theremin (played by Poison Candy) into the mix on several occasions, resulting an a sort of UFO-ish tone that annoyingly detracts from everything else going on during those moments. This Treason closes out with a hidden track that is essentially an '80s synth-pop remix of "Breath Like Wine", which is a fun listen, but the five minutes of silence preceding the song is a bothersome gimmick.

Nicely packaged with a bonus DVD containing concert footage, videos and interviews, This Treason is an album that fans of theatrical shock rock/metal should further investigate. If you ever wondered what Gwar's interpretation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show might be like, The New Jacobin Club has your answer.

Track Listing
1This Treason5:01
2Private Hell4:10
3Countess Scorned4:50
4Breath Like Wine3:36
5Like Dogs5:23
6The Fall6:15
7Kronos Devours His Children3:05
8All Mourning Long13:33
9The Bishop And The Executioner8:03
10Penance At The End Of Days4:43
11Breath Like Wine Remix8:46
Total Runtime1:07:25

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: Arrayan Path - Ira Imperium (2011)

Arrayan Path [Facebook | MySpace]
Ira Imperium

Arrayan Path - Ira Imperium
Cyprus outfit Arrayan Path (formerly Arryan Path) emerged onto the European power metal scene in 1999 after mainman Nicholas Leptos (Diptheria, Prodigal Earth) returned to his home country having finished his studies in America. Since then, Leptos' band has delivered two demos and two-full length albums of Iron Maiden-inspired heavy metal that have all met with predominantly positive reviews. Arrayan Path's third long player, Ira Imperium, comes only a year after the release of their sophomore effort and is a quality album that fans of crunchy power metal ala U.D.O. and Jag Panzer will want to investigate.

Though I've not had a lot of first-hand experience with Arrayan Path, I did have an opportunity to review To Wait For Fire, the debut album from Leptos' primary band Diptheria. The traditional metal riffage heard on that album also dominates Ira Imperium, with guitarists Alexis Kleidaras and Socrates Leptos (Nicholas' brother) looping together some finely crafted melodies and noteworthy solos to go along with the touches of symphonic orchestration that keyboardist George Kallis injects into the Arrayan Path sound. Although the synth elements are never far from the surface, they do take a back seat to the six-string mechanizations, making Ira Imperium an album for those who find the typical European power metal flair a bit too saccharine. Instead, the riffs (together with the strong beats of drummer Stefan Dittrich) propel the tracks along at a decent clip without losing a bit of weight. "Gnosis of Prometheus" provides a good illustration of the Arrayan Path style, with a basic chugging riff augmented by some swirling leads and a noodling solo. Here, as on just about every Ira Imperium track, there is plenty of well-coordinated variation to the riff patterns that keeps each song from stagnating.

Arrayan Path
In true Iron Maiden style, the lyrical content of Ira Imperium focuses mostly on historical and mythological subjects. From ancient Greek battles to medieval European monarchs, the subject matter is enhanced through the use of appropriate melodies and mood. "Kiss of Kali", for example, delivers some strong sub-continent melodies through the use of synthesized sitars and relevant twin-guitar leads. The menacing riffs and dark leads heard on "Katherine of Aragon" underscore the fateful story of Henry VIII's first wife, while Middle Eastern melodies highlight the story of Algerian Emir 'Abd al-Qādir's struggle against French colonialism on "Emir of the Faithful". For metalheads who like a bit of historical context to go along with galloping riffs and gang choruses, Ira Imperium has much to offer.

Another gritty element of the Arrayan Path sound is Nicholas Leptos' vocal style. Though he can, and does, nail the high notes from time to time, he spends the majority of his performance in the middle part of his range with frequent drops into lower octaves. This gives Ira Imperium added weight, and his use of a more typical power metal cadence on "Gnosis of Prometheus", the complimentary female vocals on "Katherine of Aragon" (courtesy of Natalie Kyprianou), and Middle Eastern harmonies on "Hollow eyes of Nefertiti" all work together to make the album an engaging listen from end to end. Lending a bit of old-school street cred to Ira Imperium is former Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin, who lends his pipes to Arrayan Path on the album's title track.

With keyboards being an integral component of the European power metal formula, they are omnipresent on Ira Imperium but in a mostly subdued fashion. The majestic early moments of the album's lead track benefit from a lush symphonic orchestration, and "The Fall of Mardonius" is an album highlight due in part to Kallis' epic arrangements, but for the most part his keyboard activities are restricted to providing appropriate accents and catchy undertones. Fans of Rhapsody may be left unsatisfied by the lack of bombast, but those of us who want their power metal to punch rather than ruffle will find Ira Imperium to have just the right amount of keyboard presence.

Arrayan Path's third album is definitely a strong contribution to the power metal sub-genre and will appeal to a wide array of metal fans. It's solid, well-executed, intelligently written and skillfully arranged. Despite all that it is, Ira Imperium is not groundbreaking...but it doesn't need to be. If you like powerful power metal, you will like Ira Imperium.

Track Listing
1Dies Irae4:47
2Gnosis of Prometheus4:01
3Ira Imperium (The Damned)4:25
4Kiss of Kali4:14
5Katherine of Aragon6:36
677 Days til Doomsday4:31
7Emir of the Faithful5:45
8Hollow Eyes of Nefertiti6:05
10Lost Ithaca5:43
11I Sail Across the Seven Seas5:06
12The Fall of Mardonius6:40
13The Poet Aftermath4:24
Total Runtime1:05:59

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Manifest - Written In Blood (2010)

Manifest [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Written In Blood

Manifest - Written In Blood
Norway's Manifest is a modern thrash outfit that delivers quite an energetic performance on Written In Blood, their third full-length release since forming in 2005. With a sound more comparable to early Mudvayne than Anthrax, Manifest fits together modern metal aggression with a bit of traditional thrash melody for an album that will likely be of interest to a wide variety of extreme music lovers.

The core of the Manifest sound is comprised of pummeling beats, angry riffs, and gurgling growls. Frontman Stian Leknes sticks primarily with a style that hovers somewhere between blackened shrieks and deathish barks. This approach is certainly not remarkable, but Leknes takes a few risks here and there that end up being some of the brighter spots on Written In Blood. Emerging on "They'll Have To Carry Me Home" is a style reminiscent of Zakk Wylde's gravelly drawl, which Leknes fully adopts on "Pitch Black Inside". Along with his vocals, the plodding, doomy riffs punctuated by some nifty leads and strong bass lines - as well as a bit of an epic atmosphere during the latter moments of the track - propel this song to the best of the pack. Elsewhere on Written In Blood, Leknes experiments with clean vocals. "Letter From The Grave" is a stripped down piece with nice acoustic leads over which Leknes cleanly croons, but his struggles to hit the upper reaches of his range hint at this type of singing being a tad outside of his comfort zone. Although handling the vast majority of the singing himself, Leknes is joined by the band a couple of times on tracks "The Worst Is Yet To Come" and the title track for some gang choruses that lend the album a bit of old-school thrash appeal.

Photo: Siri Hovland Kaldal
The riffs and leads are proficiently delivered by Ole Marius Larmerud, whose dominant style is the swirling, downtuned groove that came to prominence in the late '90s. There are some staccato moments to be heard, particularly on "Tonnie von Adelaine" and "A .45 To Pay The Rent", but Larmerud ably injects some nice melody to keep the album from stagnating. Besides the aforementioned "Pitch Black Inside", the groove comes through clearly on "They'll Have To Carry Me Home" and "Irreversible", that latter track also featuring one of Larmerud's most frantic solos. While his axework is far from flashy, he does exhibit enough progressive tendencies on "Savage" to hint at his versatility.

The rhythm section, comprised of Griffin bandmates Johnny Wangberg (bass) and Alessandro Elide (drums), is responsible for the lion's share of Written In Blood's punch. Elide really works the kit to provide ceaseless fills and pummeling beats, often accentuated by just the right amount of crash and hi-hat. Wangberg's presence is a bit more pronounced than the bass usually is in this style of metal, not only adding depth to Larmerud's riffs but rising to the top of the mix in several spots with some nicely intricate lines.

On first listen it's easy to categorize Written In Blood as a predominantly modern thrash release with sometimes overly harsh vocals, and for the majority of the album's run time that is an appropriate summation. Subsequent spins, however, bring Manifest's intricacies to the surface and expand the band's appeal to fans of both modern and traditional thrash.

Track Listing
1Tonnie von Adelaine4:04
2They'll Have To Carry Me Home4:15
3Food For Flies2:32
4The Worst Is Yet To Come3:59
5Pitch Black Inside5:52
6A .45 To Pay The Rent3:40
7Lullaby (Bedtime for Bastards)2:56
8Letter From The Grave2:45
11Written In Blood4:15
Total Runtime42:25

Monday, December 5, 2011

Metal Art Gallery: Saxon - Crusader

Crusader - Crusader
I first heard Saxon way back in 1984 when, while browsing through the local hole-in-the-wall record store, I stumbled upon the captivating album cover for the band's sixth full-length Crusader. I'm sure I was just but one of a countless number of DnD-playing teens who were mesmerized by this mighty scene portrayed by now-legendary artist Paul Raymond Gregory, but the chance purchase led to Saxon becoming one of my favorite metal bands of all time.

While many covers reflect the contents of an album in an abstract sense at best, Gregory's Crusader cover (which, incidentally, was his very first album cover) provides a strong visual representation of the album's title track. He would of course go on to provide artwork for many, many great names in the metal world as well as the Bloodstock Festival - the largest heavy metal gathering in the United Kingdom.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: Isole - Born from Shadows (2011)

Isole [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Born from Shadows

Isole - Born from Shadows
For the better part of a decade, Sweden's Isole has released albums of consistently epic doom that fully embrace the standards set by fellow countrymen Candlemass, though never drifting too close to their influences to be considered a clone outfit. While their sound, particularly on their latest release Born from Shadows, is stirringly grandiose, the band dabbles with just enough progressive and extreme elements to set themselves apart from the mighty forces of doom that have previously impacted the metal world.

The most engaging component of Isole's sound is the truly forlorn vocal performance by Daniel Bryntse. The atmosphere of hopelessness and despair crafted by the monumental riffs and pulsating bass is amplified by Bryntse's flawless voice which sometimes flirts with an operatic tone, but always fits the mood perfectly. One way in which Isole breaks the mold of traditional epic doom is through the use of vocal variation, courtesy of bassist Henka (Henrik Lindenmo). At various points throughout Born from Shadows, such as the title track and album opener track "The Lake", Henka adds some harsh vocals to the band's sound. His blackened shrieks and gurgling growls bring to mind the doom/death sound pioneered by the likes of My Dying Bride and Katatonia, adding yet another dimension to Isole's style.

The proficiency of the guitar work by Bryntse and Crister Olsson is the glue that holds Born from Shadows together, with riffs that are most often grandly depressive but do occasionally venture into a nicely uptempo groove (such as on "Come To Me"). The dark, ominous tone that permeates the album isn't without flash, however. "Black Hours" opens with a crazy Blackmore-esque solo, while the title track showcases dummer Jonas Lindström's notable skill behind the kit.

The lush production, polished musicianship, and interesting enhancements to the core sound employed by Isole keep the album engaging throughout its nearly 60-minute run time, making Born from Shadows a solid album of traditionally inspired epic doom that fans of the style will certainly enjoy.

Track Listing
1The Lake7:14
2Black Hours7:12
3Born from Shadows9:29
4Come To Me6:50
5My Angel10:33
7When All Is Black5:28
Total Runtime55:37