Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Grand Lux - Carved In Stone
Ulterium Records 2007
Formed 8 years ago Grand Lux released their debut album, Iron Will, in 2004. Apparently it got a great response, which surprises me as I think it is a pretty average album. Nonetheless, the band have forged on and now we have their sophomore effort 'Carved In Stone'. The press release that accompanied the album says "The result of this recording - the progression since "Iron Will" is overwhelming, the new album "Carved In Stone," is far superior than it's precursor." One of the few times a press release is actually on the money. The jump in quality both musically and sonically is huge. The 2 - 3 years between the 2 albums has been spent well as 'Carved In Stone' is a strong recording, bordering on American 80's hard rock and European melodic hard rock.
Influences stated by the band are Kiss, Dio, Judas Priest, but to be frank I hear quite a bit of Stryper. That comparison is mainly due to vocalist Phil Goode having more than passing resemblance to Michael Sweet when he hits notes in the upper register. The tracks 'Through Dirt' and 'Eye Of The Storm' are a clear example of this. As I said the music heads more in the hard rock direction than classic metal, but there are a couple of tracks that will make the listener think back to the early days, such as 'Escaping The Clouds', 'Love Reflection' and Priest-ish 'Eternity In Fire'. Other notable tracks are the bluesy Great White tinged 'Like Hall From Blue Sky', and 'Never Fall' with its Evidence One/Domain feel.
One of the areas that I judge an album in is whether the songs stay with you after only one or two plays. 'Carved In Stone' gets a high pass mark on that basis. Surprisingly for an album of this style there is not a single ballad, which may have helped the band in the value for money category as the cd clocks in at a low 40 minutes. Personally I think 45 minutes is a basic minimum, but you do get the video clip for 'Escaping The Clouds'. Grand Lux have certainly moved on from 2004 and have more than made up for, as I believed, an average effort on 'Iron Will'. The song writing has improved significantly, as has the production. Together they make Grand Lux and 'Carved In Stone' a welcome release in 2007.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Lions Share - Emotional Coma
AFM Records 2007
Lions Share roar (pun intended) back with their new album and a significant change in the vocalist department. Gone is Tony Niva, vocalist on the fantastic 'Entrance'. Stepping in is Patrick Johansson, whom some believe is the second coming of Ronnie James Dio, and singer on albums by Astral Doors, Wuthering Heights, Space Odyssey. Not the type of vocalist I would have thought would suit Lions Share's style, but then again that depends on whether they have kept to the style previously exhibited.
To a point they have. Opener 'Cult Of Denial' and 'Edge Of The Razor' both could literally be from the 'Two' album, the riffs and choruses being so recognisable. From there on in there is a mix of styles. On 'Bloodstained Soil' and 'Sorcerers there is a strong Sabbath/Dio influence, fueled by Johansson's distinctive vocals. European melodic metal gets a good going over on 'The Arsonist' and 'Hatred's My Fuel', each track exhibiting a great chorus. In the middle of this are a couple of thrashier, American metal tracks, the pick of the bunch being 'Soul Taker'. And when you thought the lines couldn't get any more blurred there is 'Clones Of Fate', a NWOBHM belter.
Despite the changing styles throughout the album 'Emotional Coma' is seemless in its delivery and a ton more entertaining than I was expecting. I was not a fan of 'Two' or 'Falling From Grace', but they nailed it on 'Entrance'. This new release is a nod towards Lions Share's past but not a complete regression. It incorporates the old sound along with the aforementioned classic metal influences, topped off by a wrecking ball heavy production. Once you get through the entire album it is clear that Patrick fits in perfectly with the material and this performance continues his rise as a highly respected vocalist. With 'Emotional Coma' the band stake their claim for kings of the metal jungle (yes, pun is intended again).
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Raintime - Flies And Lies
Replica Records 2007
Well, well, well. This is certainly a first for me. A band with as many growls as clean vocals and I'm reviewing it. Never thought I'd see the day. I loathe death metal, or extreme metal. Clean vocals for me all the way. Raintime, however, are so drenched in class and talent that I just could not stop listening to 'Flies and Lies'. Quite an extraordinary mix of melodic metal and prog metal, with a little goth and a smidgen of nu metal thrown in. Plus the death vocals. But, and this is a big but, the music and the clean vocals are so good that I can put up with the growls. After listening to this a few times I decided to check out some of the other big melodic death bands and Raintime must be an anomaly as I could not stand what I heard from those bands.
This is an album that imposes itself upon you. None of this 'it grows on you' crap. 'Flies And Lies' rampages from track to track leaving rubble in its wake. I'm particularly impressed by the amount of melody in each track. The death vocals are actually a very good counterpoint to the fantastic clean vocals and huge backing vocals. Vocalist Claudio Coassin is quite a find, especially considering the amount of really, really average Italian metal vocalists. There are perhaps a handful that make the grade and Claudio is certainly among those. Guitarists Michael Martina and Matteo Di Bon are more than capable of shredding or providing smooth and emotive lead breaks. I also really enjoyed the use of the keyboards on this album. Excellent work from Andrea Corona.
A number of tracks are quite outstanding, such as the title track, 'Rolling Chances' and 'Tears Of Sorrow', each blistering and exquisite. The guys put the Michael Jackson hit 'Beat It' through the metalizer and it is a pretty good job. Amongst the many jewels on offer there is one that grabbed my attention the most. 'Finally Me' is one of the best songs I've heard lately. A mid tempo pure melodic rock track with Claudio's superior vocals and well placed layered keyboards. And the only track without any growls. A truly great song.
'Flies and Lies' surprised the hell out of me. Not just because it is the first album I've really enjoyed that includes a fair amount of death vocals, but primarily due to the fantastic songwriting, melodies and musicianship. Simply a magnificent band and album.
At Vance - VII
AFM Records 2007
Olaf Lenk and At Vance are beginning to resemble Mr Malmsteen, not only in their Neo Classical style but also with the recent changes in singers. Though At Vance are nowhere near as prolific when it comes to rotating front men, they have had 3 different vocalists for their past 4 albums. Long serving Oliver Hartmann left to be replaced by Mats Leven. I've never been a fan of Leven, so I haven't given much time to 'The Evil In You' and 'Chained'. Along comes 2007 and Rick Altzi takes the mike. I had not heard Rick before so checked out his other band Treasure Land. That band plays excellent progressive melodic metal, and it was clear after listening to Treasure Land's 'Questions' that Rick is a talented vocalist. Since I had not listened to their 2 past albums, I gave them a listen and 'VII' is a continuation of the vibe on 'Chained' and 'The Evil In You' but with even bigger choruses and melodies.
At Vance have always had a ton of melody in their songs but this time around the songs sound massive. Rick Altzi is all over Olaf's material, his vocals a strong mix of Hartmann and Jorn Lande. And Rick has plenty of good stuff to work with. 'Breaking The Night' and 'Golden Leaves' are classic At Vance, full speed ahead neo-classical metal that would have fit right in on their 'Heart Of Steel' album. When seeing the song 'Cold As Ice' listed I was sure we would hear a cover of the Foreigner classic, but no. This is an At Vance original and a damn fine slice of Euro melodic hard rock. The pace is also varied by the brooding 'Friendly Fire' and simmering 'Answer Me'. The only ballad is an acoustic version of one of my favourite At Vance tracks, 'Lost In Your Love'. Unfortunately this pales in comparison to the original. I don't like the arrangement and though Rick is in fine voice on the rest of the album, he doesn't hit the mark here.
On 'VII' there is no variation of the tried and true At Vance formula. The addition of Rick Altzi is a very good move as he will fit all of the previous material as well. Olaf Lenk continues to keep At Vance in the upper echelons of the neo classical metal world and anyone attracted by this style of music will more than lap up this release. At Vance do what they do well and their seventh album is a prime example why.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Black Majesty's journey now includes 3 albums, the latest being 'Tomorrowland', which will be released shortly. A couple of years ago I spoke to Stevie Janesvski (guitars) about their debut and figured it was about time to catch up again. Being a very busy guy I appreciate Stevie taking time out to answer a few questions, especially with a major European festival tour coming up. And that is where the conversation started, with an insight from Stevie on why the band are mainly doing festivals, rather than club gigs. "We are playing one headline show in the Czech Republic at a place called Kain which went over really well back in 2005. But this time round we had a game plan to play more of the big Euro Festivals. Club gigs are great but they dont compare to festivals when youre playing alongside great packages/bills and to bigger numbers of people. People in Europe like to go and see a bunch of bands at festivals so were happy to be part of it. No complaints from us. Were really looking forward to playing Wacken, Masters of Rock and Metal Universe aswell as the other dates. Another bonus of playing metal festivals is that we get to see a lot of bands we like!"
I also enquired about Black Majesty playing with any big name acts coming to Aussie in the future. As Stevie points out, Black Majesty's main focus is the current tour and then they will look at touring locally once they get back to Australia. "Were playing with some huge bands in the coming months such as Stratovarius, Blind Guardian, Motorhead, Rage, Children of Bodom, Hammerfall, Sepultura, Masterplan, Iced Earth, Hammerfall etc. so in all honesty all of these are pretty mega! It would have been cool to be part of the upcoming Heaven & Hell Black Sabbath tour of Australia but we get back to Australia from Europe in the middle of the tour which makes it hard. Fortunately both Hanny and myself will be back to see this! I guess well concentrate on doing proper launches of the Tomorrowland album throughout the later part of the year and hopefully expand from there. Were keen to get over to New Zealand also so hopefully if theres enough support then well get over there also."
Although Europe is regarded as the centre of the universe when it comes to melodic metal, the USA and Japan are still have a strong fan base. As it turns out Black Majesty has sold well in both markets. "Sales in Japan and America have been great for the first two albums, which surprises us, especially since we signed to a German label and we play more of a Euro style of metal. There was talk of about playing both countries in the past but again things need to be done right. Otherwise its not fair to ourselves or our fans. We definitely hope we get the opportunity to promote Tomorrowland in the U.S and Japan. Fingers crossed!"
The band has had plenty of good press and reviews for 'Sands Of Time' and 'Silent Company', but that does not always translate into sales. Thankfully for Black Majesty that is not the case. As Stevie points out, for a band/business to grow you need to put something back in. "Sales for both albums have been very good. In all honesty we are very overwhelmed with the sales figures we have and we hope we can keep building on our fan basis. Its very good to hear that were ome of the best sellers on the Limb Music Products label. Yeah we've had royalty cheques but were happy to put money back into the band to build on spreading the word about the band. For instance a lot of the money weve made off the last album goes into help paying for our upcoming tour of Europe to help promote the new Tomorrowland album. Living in Oz is quite a way to Europe so things like flights, accommodation, basic living expenses need to be covered."
Getting back to the current album, how long did it take for it to get written and recorded? "It took about a year of on and off work between gigs etc. to write the follow up to Silent Company which is Tomorrowland. We started recording in February of 2007 and finished everything by the end of March 2007. Things went pretty smoothly as we already had an idea of what we wanted to put down we demoed all of the songs before hand." And what about the guitar parts? Is it a collaboration between yourself and Hanny? "Hanny and I pretty much split the things in half. We normally work on ideas alone but sometimes we'll come up with things together from time to time. After the initial skeleton idea is there we then work together to do what suits the song best. Weve pretty much worked like this in the past and were very easy going. Were happy to bounce ideas off each other and I believe thats the way it should be." Is there a particular key you prefer writing in? "A lot of our songs are in ‘E’. I know John likes singing in this key and it’s pretty fat sounding for guitars also. Then again the song Faces of War is in ‘F Sharp’and we also experimented with the key of ‘D’ and ‘A’ a bit also on this new one. Personally I like soloing in the key ‘A’. It’s very central on the neck and very comfortable to play in. I know Hanny likes soloing in the key of ‘E’. Most of the time Hanny and I will have solos worked out. For instance we’ll often copy what we played on our demos. But as I said earlier there were two songs that we jammed on this album which was something really cool and something we hadn’t really done before. The solos were Evil In Your Eyes and Kingdoms (which is only available on the digipack version as it is one of two bonus tracks)."
The band put in a lot of work before entering the studio, such as demoing the whole album. That does not mean, though, that spontaneity and improvisation are banished. Sometimes what works in the demo needs further work once the band gets into the studio. Stevie elaborates. "We demoed up all of the songs before hand and even left a few demos off the album to keep the quality level as high as we could. Most of the time we use the demo guide and stick to it but occasionally if we think we can better the ideas we’ll rework the ideas and at times improvise. Hanny and I did this with two solo leadbreaks which came up really well and have that special life about them which we like. Some tunes needed more work than others. For instance Forever Damned was rewritten a lot. We weren’t 100% on where the tune was going or how it was going to sound until the very end when we were recording it in the studio. We tried a bunch of things and for some reason it didn’t come together until the last moment. Evil In Your Eyes was another song we reworked in the studio. For some reason what we demoed up vocally/melody wise wasn’t transferring to how we wanted it to sound like in the studio. We tried a few alternatives and finally came up with something we liked."
Black Majesty have been working with producer Endel Rivers for a while now and even worked with Piet Sielck (Iron Savior) on 'Silent Company'. They would have liked to work with Piet again, but his schedule and the deadline for the album's completion worked against that idea. "Yeah Endel has done a great job on all three albums. We would love to work with Piet again in the future. Hes great! Unfortunately this time around we needed to have the album finished by a deadline and time didnt permit to work with guys such as Piet. All of those guys are busy so you need to book studio time well in advance. We just didnt have that kind of time. We needed the album all finished by March so it could be out for the European Summer to coincide with our tour."
Something else I wanted Stevie's input on is the imagery used on the 3 album covers, specifically the meaning behind the Knight and Lion characters. Here he explains their relevance. "The knight is the Black Majesty. I guess she has become the identifiable character on all of our albums. We like the idea of having the ongoing theme on all of our albums kind of Iron Maidens Eddie or all of the Dio covers. Pretty old school but thats what were into! Shes kind of the worlds saviour. As for the lion we again like the idea of the majestic element and the lion signifies that for us. Our artist Dirk Illing has continually come up with the goods and has outdone himself on each album."
Back when we last spoke I asked Stevie to comment on the healthy state of Australian melodic metal. At that time Black Majesty, Dungeon, Vanishing Point were the main purveyors of melodic metal Down Under. 2 years on nothing has really changed, with few newer bands coming through. Stevie addresses that issue. "There are a few young bands coming through. The tough thing for bands is that unless you are with a label its hard to generate interest and even then it can still be hard. Theres Anarion who have done pretty well and In Malices Wake but they are a bit more heavier and thrashier. But yeah there are definitely some new bands out there. Touring with DragonForce opened our eyes how successful playing our style of metal can be. Back in 2006 all dates we played with them were sold out around Australia. I think that shows that if labels and the media get behind a band playing melodic metal it can be a real success."
During our discussion Stevie and I touched on his new endorsement with Jackson guitars, specifically how that came about. "I was with my former company for years and Id been approached by companies such as Jackson that if I ever wanted to use a Jackson theyd be interested which was very cool. So when my former company went bankrupt thats exactly what I did. The other guitarist Hanny has played Jackson for years and I always liked his guitars, so the natural thing for me to do was to jump on board. Jackson has already been mega cool to me even at this early stage. Its awesome!" And the new album cover paint job done on his touring guitar looks amazing. Stevie agrees. "Definitely. Its really comfortable to play and has the art work of our new Tomorrowland album cover on it which looks fantastic."
My thoughts on how Black Majesty have progressed are outlined in my review for 'Tomorrowland', but I am always interested to hear what the band themselves think of the album and how it relates to their previous work. "I see Tomorrowland as a natural progression and in some ways has elements of Sands of Time and Silent Company within it. I think there’s a few progressive parts that we added on Tomorrowland kind of reminiscent of what we were doing on the first album and some straight ahead power metal stuff like what’s on Silent Company also. Then again we upped the pace on Tomorrowland too. This album has some of the fastest songs we’ve ever played and recorded. I also think it’s probably our most consistent album. We’re pretty pleased all up."
Just like his solo's on 'Tomorrowland', Stevie is right on the money with that comment. Thanks again to Stevie Janevski for giving me his time. If you are reading this and going to any of the Festivals that Black Majesty are playing, I have one thing to say........... You Lucky Bastards!!!!!
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Kamelot - Ghost Opera
This is a very difficult review for me to right. From the moment 'The Fourth Legacy' was released I have been an ardent Kamelot fan. Every album since then has more than rewarded my faith in their abilities. Then, in 2006, finally comes their first live DVD and my desire to see them on stage grows ten fold. I was actually quite surprised, pleasantly though, when I heard the 'Ghost Opera' would be released. I really wasn't expecting a new studio album so soon. Even if Kamelot put out an album every year I was sure I'd be happy. And that is why this review is hard for me to do. For the first time since i've been a Kamelot fan I am going to use the following word......disappointed.
When you read this review you will most likely have read a number of others that have put 'Ghost Opera' and Kamelot once again at the top of the melodic metal ladder. I'm not denying the Kamelot as a band are one of the best there is in the business, but I honestly do not believe this album is one of their best. Of the past 5 studio albums 'Ghost Opera' is by far the one I have enjoyed the least. 'The Black Halo' was monumental in every area - the songwriting, production, musicianship. As I've said, the band are still amazing musicians and I'm sure there are others who will lap 'Ghost Opera' up. I will not be one of them.
I guess I better state some reasons for my lack of enthusiasm. Things start off reasonably well with 'Rule The World', 'Ghost Opera' and 'The Human Stain', but after that there just isn't the spark or magic that I usually find. One of the most enjoyable elements of a Kamelot album is the variety in the songs, which 'Ghost Opera' does not have a lot of. The production on 'The Black Halo' really kicked my arse, but this time everything feels a little flat. Even stripped back, in a way. And there seems to be a lack of edge to Youngblood's guitar work.
I'm sure most Kamelot fans will think I've gone completely insane to even voice such a dissenting opinion. The fact remains that or this particular Kamelot devotee, 'The Ghost Opera' just doesn't get the juices flowing.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Black Majesty - Tomorrowland
Limb Music 2007
One of my most anticipated albums for 2007, Black Majesty's latest opus 'Tomorrowland' does not disappoint. The strong name they have made for themselves will be strengthened with their third album continuing on from the excellent 'Silent Company'. The progression shown from 'Sands Of Time' to 'Silent Company' is also evident with 'Tomorrowland'. You won't find any major differences in style throughout the 3 albums. Black Majesty are a speed driven melodic metal band with Queensryche and Iron Maiden tendencies, and nothing has changed in that respect. But I have found a couple of areas where the band have stepped up since 'Silent Company'.
Guitarists Stevie and Hanny are a formidable axe combo, but finally I think I'm actually hearing them 'shred'. Make no mistake, the work they did on their previous albums has been killer, it just seems to me that the soloing is more pronounced and aggressive. A big thumbs up in my book. Perhaps Endel Rivers, producer, should take some of the credit there as everything sounds crystal clear once again, allowing each instrument and member to shine through. One both 'Sands Of Time' and 'Silent Company', though the music is excellent, my focus was mainly drawn to the exceptional vocals of John Cavaliere.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, he is world class. And as a result sometimes Black Majesty sounded a little like John and and his band, rather than Black Majesty as a whole. On 'Tomorrowland' that is not the case. Whether it is the production or just the growth in maturity and experience of the band I don't know, but whatever it was has done the trick. If I was going to be overly critical it would be that there isn't one particular song, or songs, that stand out, unlike 'Silent Company' which had the incredible title track and the brilliant Jon English cover 'Six Ribbons'. The cover tune chosen this time around is Deep Purple's 'Soldier Of Fortune'. I've never heard the song before so have no reference point, and for me it is a slight let down, but not a major one.
Black Majesty continue to be one of a few consistently good melodic metal bands. Unlike many of the bands in this genre who tend to have the odd miss here and there, Black Majesty should feel proud that they have managed to release 3 excellent albums. Any fan of the band will be pleased with this release.