Iron Kingdom – Ride for Glory (2015)

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Sounding like an Iron Maiden with the annoying voice from Queensryche’s vocalist from back in the day, Iron Kingdom make melodic heavy metal with the flexibility and propriety of conscious progressive rock. A very clear image of the character, lyrical theme and direction of the music arises through discrete but carefully-considered decisions to express the next clause with a literal musical change to match its change in words.

While the music could be described as progressive upon first impression, the result is closer to an extended and twisted pop-song format in which the pieces and functions are maintained but considerable variety is introduced. While some would object to this description, this is precisely what a progressive music arising from verse-chorus-bridge music should sound like: music that evolves to underpin the lyrical events taking place in the story being told. The vocals are kept within the framework of the music in a unified way through a composition of the melody line that strictly adheres to the moving harmony under it, rather than flying around in opera-like expression that takes a slow-moving support harmony as licence and liberty to stand out on its own. In here, the voice is a melodic instrument working in between the guitars and riding them (see Ozzy Obourne), not jumping on them as if they were trampolines (see Bruce Dickinson, Ronny James Dio).

Succeeding over the grandpa metal with progressive pretensions of post-2000 Iron Maiden by injecting a dose of proper progressive music with the influence of Queensryche, Iron Kingdom give us songs that actually progress and not just long, over-drawn affairs with over-extended bridge sections. While Ride for Glory is undeniably a song collection, the amount of content, its purpose within each song and their consistency track after track in all aspects while giving a distinctive-enough identity to each song give the album a chapters-in-a-story-like feeling of succession that while not altogether literal, can be felt from the music. Obviously an experienced band, Iron Kingdom know exactly what they are doing and more importantly the music is full with purpose, giving Ride for Glory a strong feeling of meaningfulness.

https://www.facebook.com/ironkingdom

Atreides –Cosmos (2015)

Atreides - Cosmos (Front)

So, Atreides, another power metal band. Why review a mediocre power metal band? To warn the newbies and upcoming artists against possible blunders. To show in which these blunders are built, how they are constituted and why is it that they suck so much. Playing according to a tradition in any subgenre of metal is not a sin itself, it is blind copying of ideas without any noticeable voice to set you apart what represents an insult to metal.

Atreides embodies everything that is wrong with most metal from Spain and Latin America: self referential music that is more concerned with appearances than with musical development.  This is not limited to heavy and power metal, although these are the two most violated subgenres in those countries, but can even be applied to death and black metal from the same areas as well. The songs end up being paper-thin collections of tropes belonging to the subgenres they claim to adhere to. Despite their almost transparent epic metal guise, Atreides’ Cosmos has more in common with glam metal than it does with Candlemass or Iron Maiden.

Warbringer announce 2015 South American tour and 2016 North American tour

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Speed-power metal band Warbringer have announced their North American tour with Enforcer and South American tour with Nervo Chaos and Hateful Murder.

Frontman John Kevill said this about their 2016 North American tour:

We are excited to announce the return of Warbringer to the road across North America. It looks to be a completely excellent lineup, with heavy metal warriors Enforcer and Cauldron, and longtime friends/total shredders Exmortus. Looking forward to firing up the engines again and getting back out there on the warpath, hell, it’s about time!

North American tour dates

  • 1/5/16 – Gramercy Theatre – New York, NY
  • 1/6/16 – Championship – Trenton, NJ
  • 1/7/16 – Trickshots – Clifton Park, NY
  • 1/8/16 – Webster Theatre – Hartford, CT
  • 1/9/16 – Palladium – Worcester, MA
  • 1/10/16 – Foufounes – Montreal, QU
  • 1/11/16 – Salle Multi – Quebec City, QU
  • 1/12/16 – Ritual – Ottawa, ON
  • 1/13/16 – Hard Luck – Toronto, ON
  • 1/14/16 – The Apk – London, ON
  • 1/15/16 – Montage Music Hall – Rochester, NY
  • 1/16/16 – Agora – Cleveland, OH
  • 1/17/16 – Altar Bar – Pittsburgh, PA
  • 1/18/16 – Ace of Cups – Columbus, OH
  • 1/20/16 – Token Lounge – Westland, MI
  • 1/21/16 – Fubar – St. Louis, MO
  • 1/22/16 – Mojoes – Joliet, IL
  • 1/23/16 – The Metal Grill – Cudahy, WI
  • 1/24/16 – Triple Rock – Minneapolis, MN
  • 1/25/16 – Zoo Cabaret – Winnipeg, MB
  • 1/27/16 – Nite Owl – Calgary, AL
  • 1/28/16 – Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AL
  • 1/30/16 – Rickshaw – Vancouver, BC
  • 1/31/16 – Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
  • 2/1/16 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR
  • 2/2/16 – Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
  • 2/3/16 – Whisky – W. Hollywood, CA
  • 2/4/16 – Brick By Brick – San Diego, CA
  • 2/5/16 – Club Red – Tempe, AZ
  • 2/6/16 – LVCS – Las Vegas, NV
  • 2/8/16 – In the Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
  • 2/9/16 – Bluebird Theatre – Denver, CO
  • 2/10/16 – Aftershock – Merrriam, KS
  • 2/11/16 – Red 7 – Austin, TX
  • 2/12/16 – 210 Kapones – San Antonio, TX
  • 2/13/16 – Scout Bar – Houston, TX
  • 2/14/16 – Trees – Dallas, TX
  • 2/15/16 – Siberia – New Orleans, LA
  • 2/16/16 – Orpheum – Tampa, FL
  • 2/17/16 – Haven – Orlando, FL
  • 2/18/16 – Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
  • 2/19/16 – Expo Five – Louisville, KY
  • 2/20/16 – Canal Club – Richmond, VA

Regarding their upcoming South American tour, Kevill said:

We are excited to venture forth on our first-ever full South American tour. We are covering a lot of new ground here, and we can’t wait to go down there and wreck some people. Let’s see which country can mosh the hardest! Cheers!

South American tour dates

  • 7/16/15 – Mistika – Lima, Peru
  • 7/17/15 – Monolith Festival – La Paz, Bolivia
  • 7/18/15 – tba – Bogota, Colombia
  • 7/19/15 – Cuerdas de Acero Open Air – Cali, Colombia
  • 7/22/15 – Encuentro Gutural – Quito, Ecuador
  • 7/23/15 – tba – Santiago, Chile
  • 7/24/15 – Asbury Club – Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 7/25/15 – Circle of Infinity Fest 3 – Limeira, Brazil
  • 7/26/15 – Circulo Operario do Cruzeiro – Brasilia, Brazil
  • 7/27/15 – Aristos Pub – Caxias do Sul, Brazil
  • 7/30/15 – Let’s Go Rock Pub – Forteleza, Brazil
  • 7/31/15 – Estelita – Recife, Brazil
  • 8/1/15 – Che Pesticaria- Areceju, Brazil
  • 8/2/15 – Baba da Amizade – Paulo Afonso, Brazil

Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody reveals first single

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After parting ways with Rhapsody of Fire, legendary mastermind Luca Turilli started his own project officially called “Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody”. The style of this new Rhapsody echoed the style that Turilli was recognized for in his own solo projects.

 

The project saw its first release in 2012 with Ascending to Infinity. Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody is now set to release a second album on June 19th.

 

https://www.facebook.com/ltrhapsody?fref=ts

 

Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)

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Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres.  As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.

 

Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.

 

As for the highlights,  the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”.  But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.

 

The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.

Encyrcle to release new album

encyrcleDanish Power-Speed Metal band Encyrcle will be releasing their new album on June 2. You can listen to a preview of the album on Soundcloud.

While the label and the media would have you believe the band is playing some innovative form of mixture of genres, this is a laughable marketing attempt at disguising what is just a band playing a refined and expertly played Speed Metal in the vein of Epic Power Metal full of hooks.

 

 

Mistweaver – Nocturnal Bloodshed

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Labeled under the very loose term melodic death metal, Spanish band Mistweaver write a versatile power metal with mainstream sensibilities and growling vocals. An experienced band sharing the stage with many prominent acts such as Suffocation, Enslaved, Exodus, Grave and Sodom, Mistweaver is onto their 5th full-length album.

The versatility in style mentioned earlier refers to a range in riffing that oscillates between straight up heavy metal to heavy-doom to acoustic passages that come out of nowhere topped with typical folk melodies ala Wintersun. But these guys are more accessible than the black-touched Wintersun, making heavier use of headbanging chugs and simple melodies. The use of keyboards is similar to the role given to them in In the Nightside Eclipse. Some sections touch on the more opera rock – oriented brand of power metal, the so-called symphonic power metal.

Mistweaver is the sort of band that has stayed on top of their game by doing everything that is expected of them. They have been active and playing with big names, they have put out an average of one album every three years (long enough for the judicious fan not to fall for a fast and cheap album, but not so long so that said fan does not conclude that the band has gone rusty), and their music has every single trait a fan of the general power metal and related genres might wish to find in an album of this kind.

A Comment on Bardic Tradition in metal

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The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.

Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.

A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.

In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.

Satan’s Host – Pre-Dating God

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Satan’s Host create power metal with death metal influences like a hybrid of Kreator and Blind Guardian creating music in an Iron Maiden mold. Slight death metal influences intrude on riff construction in some of the songs but the majority are good old-fashioned heavy metal with speed metal technique periodically sparkled with some more extreme expressions here and there.

This two-disc set shows wide variety within those influences. Vocal delivery varies between resembling Kreator, especially on the early songs on both discs, and emulating Nevermore while sometimes adding quasi-operatic vocals in the style of Blind Guardian. The latter presents a fairly typical attempt at a democratized concept of this vocal style, which is both clueless to the subtlety in the original and what makes it challenging to compose as music.

This double-disc album displays three types of songs which are distributed evenly, as in a mirror, on both discs. The first group occurs during the earliest two or three songs on either disc and these songs resemble Kreator and in that spirit display an inclination towards riff-oriented writing with little concern to where the narrative of those riffs leads. The second group of songs comprise tracks three and four on both discs as well as track five on the first. These leave the Kreator vibe a bit in order to favor a more typically Iron Maiden feel. Here we can most appreciate the juxtaposition of the speed metal riff with the monolithic heavy metal chorus. This is not a fusion of the two, but a copy-paste of either style to fill in different functions of the same song. The third group of either disc is found on the last two or three tracks and resembles what is commonly called “progressive” heavy metal, most closely approximating post-Powerslave Iron Maiden.

The progressive heavy metal tracks may be where this release loses the most points. Slow intro, blocks of verse-chorus, then soloing-develoment section followed by incessant hammering of one idea with little creativity (like this harmless turd from Iron Maiden). Following this same Steve Harris brand of prog-heavy-metal trend we see a lot of pointless repetition with sing-along chorus (cornholish) abuse (e.g. “We’re blood brothers”). Unlike Iron Maiden who are functioning within one music style, Satan’s Host has a hard time shaping this into something with anything remotely sounding like a build up or a development that encompasses the whole song because they seem to be too busy juggling around with the show-off speed metal riffs and over-the-top Heavy Metal choruses. While riffs and are often developed and moved forward and transitions are always fluid and seldom abrupt there is always a lack of convincing development. It is present, it is just not credible and sounds tired. Songs often sound like they just continue but do not necessarily reach any objective or make a statement of what it all meant.

While the mixture of styles is both comforting and challenge, it does not quite “gel” in the way it would need to for a first-rate metal album. The Blind Guardian influence brings a penchant for incessant high vocals and accompanying guitar leads which double the intensity of screeching sounds. This can be found throughout the whole album alongside a feeling of everything being cranked up to eleven most of the time, which is precisely what I find unbearable about Blind Guardian (who at least try to introduce unconvincing melodramatic acoustic interludes which only drip with cheap cheese). This is coming from a fan of old Rhapsody (of Fire) and debut-album Pagan’s Mind, bands who knew how to handle cheese with a delicacy which invests a feeling of care and purpose (especially the former at their peak) to the melodramatic work in question. Similarly, many of the “progressive” metal parts fail for the same reason that Iron Maiden has had trouble elongated NWOBHM into epic song structures: the characteristics of the heavy metal genre are assembled to support choruses, the telling of a story and accommodate climaxing solos. When you repeat them ad mortem they lose the impact they are supposed to have because the listener gets exposed to them beyond their utility. And adding a soloing section in the middle which is harmonically stagnant, as per the requirements of the genre, only increments the dreadful sense of sickening bloating. It is thus that the NWOBHM in Satan’s Host fails. This in turn makes the speed metal riff-driven music lose its impact and drive. Finally, the death metal component is not used prominently except to spice up and add to the intensity.

Each music piece must and should be judged on the basis of what it is trying to accomplish. To be more specific, on two different points: first its goal, second its means to that goal. The goal must be distinguishable. A point must be made that genres, as compromises regarding form as reflection of deeper intentions, have natural and intrinsic limitations. Following this train of thought, it seems to me like the main reason for the pointlessness and mendacity of this music lies in the mixing of NWOBHM, speed metal and small amounts of death metal flavor. There is a reason why these are different genres and it isn’t just because “some people like to box and tag everything” like the ignorant rabble who do not understand the concept of form and its purpose would like everybody to believe. These failings leave Satan’s Host short of finding an artistic voice to express what obviously are passionate ideas, causing this listening experience to fall apart half-way and not motivate the hearer to pick up the pieces and try again.