Neopera – Destined Ways

December 10, 2014 –

neopera-destined_ways

I’ll let you in on a dark secret from music reviewers: sometimes we write about stuff that is fun to write about even if it will quickly slip under the foamy surf of history. Neopera is one of these bands which is proficient in a terrible cheesy style but whose presence evokes so many observations on metal and society that it cannot be passed up. It is not an easy bash like the phenomenally boring Abysmal Lord, nor a making fun of chronic idiots like a Pantera or Meshuggah review would be, but an insight into human thinking about the uses for music and what it says about us.

To get it out of the way, let it be said that these musicians clearly know what they’re about. These players could have made an album in any style, but deliberately chose one that allowed them to target a power metal audience that wants male and female vocals with extensive harmonization and a positive outlook to the music as a whole. What emerges as a result is basically “princess metal” in that it has more in common with Disney theme songs and inspirational (Christian) rock than anything else, adorned in some folk-metal trappings but in that sweetened overly-romanticized way that works in children’s movies but not so well with red-blooded stout-hearted metal. Excessive sentimental and lush in its use of keyboards and vocals in a swell that relegates guitars to a constant background texture and primary rhythmic instrument, with drums shadowing that role, Destined Ways overflows with the kind of soaring choruses and heavy use of theme that Hollywood soundtracks made famous. The descriptions of this album mention “classical music,” but the closest it comes to that is the instrumentation and moments that sound like Andre Rieu covering Tchaikovsky with Trans-Siberian Orchestra overseeing.

Songs follow the Iron Maiden formula of a compelling intro, a descent into theme through paired contrasting motifs, and then a deepening with verse and chorus repeated in layers as melodic adornments expand the vocal, then a triumphant return and fade out in a variation on the theme. Far more organized than the average metal composers, Neopera show the promise of their name: a kind of melodramatic adaptation of the vocal forms of European music but applied through the pop formula for satisfaction with underlying metal. Fortunately, the metal they use tends to be consistent with the better half of speed metal, but it cannot take away from the perception that this music is essentially a saccharine play set to words with guitars going in the background.

Call for submissions to Folk-Metal: Critical Essays on Identity, Myth and Culture

September 7, 2014 –

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A forthcoming journal on folk-metal, mostly in the pagan metal and viking metal sub-genres, requests that those with essays on the topic submit them for publication next year. The journal focuses on metal bands who use traditional musical instruments, lyrical references to customs and mythology, allusions to traditional culture, or displaying of cultural imagery in performer attire and artwork.

Folk-metal refers to the style of music that arose in the 1990s in Europe which consisted of “fusing traditional or folk music with heavy metal music forms.” The journal lists a number of bands from the power metal, black metal and death metal genres who qualify under this style:

Skyclad (England), Cruachan (Ireland), Finntroll (Finland), Skyforger (Latvia), Amon Amarth (Sweden), Amorphis (Finland), Falkenbach (Germany), Waylander (Ireland), Svartsot (Denmark), Metsatöll (Estonia), Empyrium (Germany), Mägo de Oz (Spain), Silent Stream of Godless Elegy (Czech Republic), Korpiklaani (Finland), Mael Mórdha (Ireland), Alkonost (Russia), Balkandji (Bulgaria), Dalriada (Hungary), Lumsk (Norway), Týr (Faroe Islands), Ensiferum (Finland), Celtachor (Ireland), Eluveitie (Switzerland), Elvenking (Italy), Primordial (Ireland).

Interested writers must submit a 300-word abstract and short biography of 50-100 words to to the editor, Dr Jenny Butler at j.butler@ucc.ie and cc. to butler.Jennifer@gmail.com by November 10, 2014. The final essays must be 4,000-7,000 words and will be due by June 1, 2015.

The journal suggests the following themes as a topical starting point:

  • Folklore, song lyrics, and cultural identity
  • Neo-pagan worldview of the bands
  • History of the genre, participants and events
  • Indigenous religion and mythology
  • Political and/or nationalistic agendas
  • The concept of homeland
  • The representation of deities and mythological beings in songs
  • Heroic elements
  • Fantasy literature
  • Nature, landscape and sacred sites

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

August 16, 2014 –

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Judas Priest contributed much to the science of metal riffing. Where Black Sabbath strung together power chords into long phrases, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden re-introduced lead picking to this role as well with guitars that harmonized each other; Iron Maiden focused more on melody, where Judas Priest narrowed its exploration to the use of structure in riffs to get around the predictable patterns and rhythms still inherited from rock music. The band straddled the line between rock, hard rock and heavy metal.

Over the years, the band has unlike any other metal band explored any influences it could make meaningful. In the 1980s, Judas Priest explored electronic sounds and applied them to a type of hard rock/metal tinged with industrial and synthpop influences. In the early 1990s, the band took on Slayer and death metal with perhaps its highest musical point, Painkiller. Two decades later, the band both returns to its roots and attempts to find new directions for an artform which has lost sense of its urgency.

Redeemer of Souls begins with a pure hard rock track that shows off bluesy guitars and familiar rhythms and riff forms from 1970s-1980s radio hard rock. Perhaps the idea is to start the album slowly, or to have some track that can make it onto radio, but this track probably turned off most actual music fans because it is the metal equivalent of a cliché. After that, the band launches into more ambitious fare that quotes from the past styles of Judas Priest but tries to work in the rock appeal that marked its earliest albums. Hints of Ram it Down merge with a mainstay of pulsing rhythms from the Painkiller and Jugulator years slowed down to fit within the more sedate pacing of early Judas Priest.

Occasional citations can be heard to diverse metal bands including Metallica and at least one riff that sounds like later Iron Maiden. The band experiments with a number of variants on the theme citing mostly from rock favorites, such as the ballad and classic country, as well as working in a number of rock tropes in lead guitar and rhythm. Halford’s vocals take on a more restrained and sentimental approach. Tipton’s influence emerges through a style that fits classic Priest with a leaning toward the bluesy over the progressive or more metallic structured solos of the past. Where more intensive metal riffing emerges, it tends to lead not to an expansion on the same, but to a more vocal-centric and slower-paced take.

Redeemer of Souls like many later albums from groundbreaking bands revisits many successes of the past and mixes them in with known crowd pleasers, but seems focused more than Judas Priest in recent memory on fusing rock and metal to escape the sterile and eclectic but unfocused material of the jazz-lite fusion years of recent metal. While Redeemer of Souls has moments of power, its focus on breadth and variety leaves it feeling less like an album and more like a collection of singles, and experienced Priest fans may find it both approximates past releases too much and fails to leap to their level of intensity.

Marquis Marky leaving Coroner at end of February

February 12, 2014 –

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Coroner occupy a unique place in metal history. Coming from the speed metal camp, they injected their music with technicality and a high art sense that placed them alongside Voivod and Prong as some of the 1980s oddities.

As power metal grew popular in the 2000s, Coroner came back into focus because so much of what they did presaged what power metal would become. As a result, the band re-united and began to play live again.

However, today drummer Marquis Marky announced on Facebook that he will be leaving the band at the end of February:

I think we have played more than enough reunion shows and now it’s time to either stop doing reunion shows or to move on with a new album. For me it was clear from the start that I didn’t want to record another album. I love the sound of Coroner but for me it’s the moment to explore new sounds without the weight of the past on my shoulders.

Ron, Tommy and I agreed that Coroner should continue with another drummer.

As with many situations, strength is also weakness. To be in Coroner is to be weighted down by Coroner, and to thus long for the green grass on the other side of that fence. Thus his departure is understandable; it has been 30 years since Coroner started out, and presumably a musician might change world-outlook and thus musical style during that time.

Argus – Beyond the Martyrs

December 3, 2013 –

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Inhabiting the terrain that is now labeled power metal, Argus originate in what is perhaps the newest wave in metal: fan-produced bands of any of the numerous true metal varieties. These tend to avoid current trends and focus on idiosyncratic interpretations of the past.

On Beyond the Martyrs, Argus applies its own personality to its influences. These are: Iron Maiden, for fast melodic riffs; Candlemass, for sense of tempo and type of melody; Manowar, for influence on chordal riffs and atmosphere, and a smattering of other NWOBHM and related acts rolled into one. This is a NWBOHM band that composes melodies as if it were a doom metal band.

Vocals alternate between the higher Queensryche-styled ranges and a more masculine, slower and more pronounced voice that’s reminiscent of what speed metal bands did to give their vocals more aggression. Instrumental prowess is demonstrated but not flashily so, and although there’s tremendous similarity between the guitar solos, each manages to stand on its own.

Throughout Beyond the Martyrs, you will hear three- and four-note groups which are familiar from classic metal such as the abovementioned influences and other well-known acts like Judas Priest. This is one of the ways this band stays in tradition without simply aping the past, as each of these melodic fragments is re-contextualized in a new riff or melody.

While Argus may not be for those who wish a “contemporary” sound, they are deliberately carving out a space for people who like the sounds of true metal genres but don’t want clones. This band wear their influences on their sleeves, seem nerdy and unabashed in their pursuit of heavy metal glory, and are probably going to keep doing it for the joy and thrills even if you absolutely refuse to consider buying this album.

Manowar – The Lord of Steel Live

August 7, 2013 –

manowar-the_lord_of_steel_liveWhen snide ironism takes over music, authentic spirit and power are forgotten and ignored. That is, if you read the music media and listen to the music hipsters. However, back in everyday life people love it because it does what music does best: affirm life and urge us on to greater heights. It inspires.

Manowar joins superbands like Metallica and Iron Maiden in pleasing crowds with a kinder, gentler and non-dark version of heavy metal. The perfectly adjusted mix of power metal, speed metal, glam metal, hard rock and classic heavy metal, the music of Manowar is focused on the vocals and on chanted cadences that build up to foot-stomping, fist-swinging, chanting explosions of emotion.

It’s not unlike a church service or political rally. These songs usually start out slow with melody, and then build up the pace at which muted E chords shoot past. Over that, vocalist Eric Adams chants and sings, weaving melody in with a compelling rhythm to outline the rhythmic hook of the chorus. Suddenly it bursts out fully formed, a virus ready to take over your brain. You join the collective motion.

And yet with Manowar, there’s an honesty other styles of music don’t have. It isn’t about projecting yourself into the love story of two idealized people, which like porn makes you feel like you’re living out someone else’s life. This is fantasy on a grand scale, with wars and wizards and lone gunslingers, into which you want to join. But it isn’t about you. It’s about the thing you’d join.

This at least is what I hear seizing these crowds and propelling them to ecstatic emotion. Recorded throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, The Lord of Steel Live revisits classic Manowar hymns mostly from The Lord of Steel with a couple from other works and slows them down, focuses on the vocals, and creates a gospel of metal.

The slick blackened underground crowd will disagree of course. This isn’t metal like Necrocorpsemolestor, which is made in a band down by the river and accessible to only 500 die-hard fanatics worldwide. This is metal like Ozzy charming 100,000 people at a live festival, or Iron Maiden taking over Donnington, or even Metallica drawing out three generations of people in the tens of thousands. It’s music for the masses to discover music again.

The Lord of Steel Live is an EP with only six tracks. These are fairly lengthy, which puts this at a long EP or a short album, and creates the perfect escapism to drop out of life for twenty-seven minutes and indulge in some fantasy. Suddenly the living room has evaporated, and you’re shirtless and wearing viking armor as you assault the non-believers. You fight, you bleed, you struggle, you win, and then you come back to life to be another kind of hero. Perhaps the kind that fixes the leaky faucet, heals a kid’s wound and reconfigures the Wi-Fi.

While Manowar have not gotten enough attention from the media in the last few rounds, it’s clear their presence inspires many and those fans show no sign of waning. In fact, as underground metal has been swallowed up by hardcore and the true metal fanatics have shifted to power metal, the audience for metal has come closer to Manowar than any time in the past twenty years. It’s good to see this celebration of their work ready to inspire a new generation.

We come from different countries
With metal and with might
We drink a lot of beers
And play our metal loud at night
Fly the flag of metal
Brothers all the same
Born to live for metal
It ain’t no game

Manowar – Warriors of the World re-issue

July 7, 2013 –

manowar-warriors_of_the_world_tenth_anniversary_remasterMost people are ruled by a fear of what other people think. If they don’t end up looking cool to their friend group, they fear they have become invalidated and are worthless. As a result, people have difficulty accepting anything which is not ironic, contrived and vague.

On the other hand, there’s Manowar.

If you need a good dose of healthy fighting spirit, and a sense of both power and beauty in life, and like the thought of of no longer caring what the in-crowd thinks, Manowar can be liberation. There is no doubting that this music is bombastic and emotionally transparent and direct, which some might call “cheesy.”

However, it’s completely ludicrous to assume that this is any more cheesy than your average metal or rock band. What makes it stand out is that it isn’t neurotic. It embraces a pure heavy metal spirit that affirms bravery, strength, power and a desire for life to be more than “practical” and dollars and cents. You might find it awakening the part of you we might even call… a soul.

That being said, Manowar create in the hazy area between classic heavy metal, glam or stadium metal, and speed metal. They use a lot of speed metal technique to give some backbone to songs which are not afraid to explore melody, mood and atmosphere. What seems like a straightforward heavy metal album has a number of surprises.

You think the intellectuals would like it. What other heavy metal album busts out a Puccini aria from Turandot on the third track, complete with cascading power chord riffs backing up vocalist Eric Adams as he entirely competently belts out this song? Further, despite its many side-steps and quirks, this album is a concept work. How many bands dedicate an album not to war, but those who fight? And make it interesting throughout?

True, there’s a ton of balladry here. There’s a reason that glam metal is included in the list of Manowar influences. These guys took the effete ballads to cheesy women that made glam bands both rich and annoying, and have injected them with instead with a sense of masculine power and the satisfaction of putting things to right when they are disordered. How else to explain the relentlessly patriotic “The Fight for Freedom” two songs away from a tribute to Odin that sounds like a more radio-friendly Bathory? Warriors of the World provides metal fans with a way to connect to emotion without giving in to the weakness of self-doubt and displacement.

The reason we listen to Manowar is that it is just solidly great heavy metal. Like a good opera, each song builds up until there’s energy ready to explode and then it unleashes its momentum into a new direction that becomes as anthemic, foot-tapping and lighter-waving as the best from rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. At these moments, the listener feels like a wave of power bursting free from its containment and raging across a world ripe for destruction. It’s hard to deny the essential appeal of “Warriors of the World,” which is both catchy and elegant.

If you liked Def Leppard in high school, or find the more aggressive moments of Led Zeppelin make you want to punch out your boss and ask out your unspoken high school crush even though she lives three states away, you will immediately pick up on the appeal of this record. The additional technique just makes this more powerful. It’s harder to spot the Queen and Jethro Tull influences, but they are as much part of this album as the Metallica-inspired E-chord rhythm noodling.

Warriors of the World now sounds better than ever thanks to a remaster which didn’t just turn up the volume with the help of compression. It is louder, but dynamics are preserved, and some things that were quieter in the mix the first time have come back with strength. This is especially important with the many vocal tracks and complex interweaving of guitars, vocals and chorus on this album. What makes the album appreciated is its timeless heavy metal quality.

This seems to have been the intent all along. Having conquered basic heavy metal moods, Manowar opted for an ambitious offering with their ninth studio album, and time has been kind to it as it rises above the limited imagination of others. Don’t worry about what the people you think are your friends “think.” Enjoy this for the ambitious musical offering of pure heavy metal spirit that it is.

Manowar celebrates ten years of Warriors of the World

June 28, 2013 –

manowar-warriors_of_the_world_tenth_anniversary_remasterAlmost every metalhead, no matter how hardcore or marginalized, perks up when Manowar hits the radio or jukebox. That’s because Manowar embodies the spirit of metal, which is a desire to fight for what’s true and deny what’s popular, because we as metalheads know our own spirits and don’t care about the herd.

Thus even though Manowar is classic heavy metal or at its most extreme some form of power metal, it’s still something death metallers celebrate along with other bands that live the “spirit of metal” like Slayer and Bathory. Expect those metalheads to be paying attention to the latest Manowar development, which is a tenth anniversary commemorative re-release of Warriors of the World.

The Warriors Of The World 10th Anniversary Remastered Edition contains all 11 tracks from the original release, completely remastered, plus a live recording of “House Of Death” put to tape during the Battle Hymns MMXI Tour at O2 Academy in Birmingham, England, MANOWAR’s triumphant return to the land of tea and scones after 16 years.

“I remastered the entire album in our own studios with our in-house engineer Dirk Kloiber,” said bassist and songwrite Joey DeMaio. “It is very liberating when you have the opportunity to bring your music to life exactly the way you envision it.”

Further, the band have recorded selected songs from live sets in cities across Europe and near Asia which will be compiled into a new live EP, The Lord of Steel Live. It will be available through Manowar’s official merchandise outlet.

Tracklist:

1. Call to Arms
2. The Fight for Freedom
3. Nessun Dorma
4. Valhalla
5. Swords in the Wind
6. An American Trilogy
7. The March
8. Warriors of the World United
9. Hand of Doom
10. House of Death
11. Fight Until We Die
Bonus:
12. House Of Death (Live)

Former Fates Warning guitarist launches new band Freedom’s Reign

May 1, 2013 –

freedoms-reign-freedoms-reignOn the 29th anniversary of Fates Warning’s classic debut album, Night on Bröcken, original guitarist and founding member Victor Arduini releases the debut of his new band, Freedoms Reign.

Known for intricate arrangements and the type of speed metal, progressive metal, American heavy metal and power metal mixture that has delighted audiences around the globe and continues to be the mainstay of most bands that make it big, regardless of surface genre or marketing names. This style provides maximum musicality with enough speed thrills to keep people engaged, but without allowing songwriting to be absorbed in technique or intensity.

Freedoms Reign retains Arduini’s “original, charismatic and unmistakable” style of playing guitar and injects into American style high-energy heavy metal a classic Ozzy/Black Sabbath flavor. If it is consistent with his work in Fates Warning, expect an underlying melodic basis to the music much as in Mercyful Fate, but this will be understyled and emerge in either vocals or guitar but not aim for the harmonic effects of European bands as frequently.

Besides Arduini (guitar/vocals) , FREEDOM’S REIGN also consists of Tommy Vumback (Guitars), Michael Jones (Bass) and Chris Judge (Drums). Freedoms Reign was recorded in Dexters Lab Recording in Milford, Connecticut with Nick Belmore (TOXIC HOLOCAUST) and will be released on iconic heavy metal label Cruz Del Sur Records.

The label is taking pre-orders now at this location.

After Death – Retronomicon

April 28, 2013 –

after_death-retronomiconRetronomicon compiles the demos and EP of After Death, the band Mike Browning formed as a replacement for Nocturnus as Nocturnus A.D., and then renamed to avoid confusion with the other version of Nocturnus that resurrected itself briefly in the 2000s.

While the roots of After Death are in death metal, the majority of this music is epic heavy metal or what would be called power metal at this point. It uses heavy metal riffs, has a melodic sense similar to that of later Budgie, and has a theatrical atmosphere like more recent Therion.

Most importantly, the rhythms and the way riffs fit together are not in the death metal style, but sort of like a “dinner theatre” version of heavy metal. These riffs are closer to leitmotifs than motifs, meaning that they reflect characters or themes of a developing drama directly, rather than conveying changes in overall mood as they do in regular death metal. Add to this groove and bouncy rhythms and what comes out is radio-friendly heavy metal with some death riffs and an occult vibe.

Retronomicon features odd vocals of wide-ranging sounds, some seemingly demonic processed voices, others like children or wailing women, and some in the death growl. This and the tendency to make very theatrical combinations of riffs give this music an otherworldly feel. Add to that the active keyboards that highlight riffs and also provide contrary motions and textures, and the result is the kind of subversively imaginative and esoteric musical pathway that Marilyn Manson and others could barely dream of.

It’s unfortunate radio metal did not go in this way rather than the more mundane ways that it did, but if After Death want to go mainstream, they’ll have to be a bit more consistently intense and emotional. People like simple because they’re generally distracted when listening. This music may be a bit beyond most because it requires an attention span, but it’s strikingly beautiful and multifaceted. The Nocturnus influence can clearly be heard in temp changes and the decision points before the conclusions of songs.

This will not be for everyone. Most death metal fans will be turned off by the aesthetics; Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Ministry, Therion, et al. fans may be turned off by how rough and ambiguous much of this is. However, both groups should attend to this interesting musical pathway that could well be the most subversive and occult thing ever to visit radio.