Saturday, 27 February 2010

Iron Maiden - The X Factor (1995)

1. Sign of the Cross
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Man on the Edge
4. Fortunes of War
5. Look for the Truth
6. The Aftermath
7. Judgement of Heaven
8. Blood on the World's Hands
9. The Edge of Darkness
10. 2 AM
11. The Unbeliever

A Blaze of Glory – 9,5/10

The 90s sure were a hard time for metal bands. With the rise of grunge and nu-metal the old bands were cast aside. The old metal was somehow fading away and most 80s bands tried different styles, and so did Iron Maiden. Besides their vocalist replacement, which probably needs no further explanation, they obtained a very dark sound for this album. I hear complaining about the production, though I think it was done on purpose since it really fits the dark atmosphere the album contains, and so does new vocalist Blaze Bayley’s voice.

We are here at the beginning of this Iron Maiden album, listening to the very silent intro of “Sign of the Cross”. After some Gregorian chanting we have the bass guitar playing a gentle intro, as we are used to on the more recent Iron Maiden releases, accompanied by Blaze’s almost whispering vocals. When finally after a minute or so the band kicks in it becomes clear that the band have tried something different from the past. It’s still true trademark Maiden, but then with a different and darker touch. The rest of the opening song continues to be very epic, and the long interlude might seem confusing at first, but evolves into something very enjoyable at second. I first wondered why the hell this mid-paced long song would be the album opener, but then I realized this song was the definition of The X Factor. Lots of songs on this album feature a silent bass guitar intro, Blaze’s whispers during the intro and the epic vocal melodies when the band kicks in. Most songs are very dragging and mid-paced as well, such as “The Aftermath” or the first part of “Fortunes of War”. Apart from that, “Sign of the Cross” is just a great way to open the album, also to tell the listener that he should stop expecting “The Trooper”-kind of songs on here, because they’ve done something new. The lyrics are mostly about war and related themes, but instead of concentrating on the battlefield, they tell the tale about what war does to the soldier. Their lyrics are really striking and show them it’s not very much fun to be in a war. Not that we didn’t already know that, but we don’t realize what our boys are sacrificing for us on that battlefield, and that is very unique.

Let’s get into the album highlights a bit more. Songs like “Fortunes of War” and “The Edge of Darkness” start off with the trademark bass intro, then kick into a mid-paced epic full band part, and then go off fast into the trademark Maiden galloping rhythms with the guitar solos and their trademark legato guitar themes. These two songs, especially the latter, are truly two of the best songs off the album, leaving me struck not only by the epic music, but also by the great lyrics. The latter was based on one of the best movies I ever saw, Apocalypse Now. Another highlight of the album would be the up-tempo “Man on the Edge”, which really stands alone on here, since it’s the only continuously fast song on this release. It deals with suicide, and besides from that it’s got a true killer riff, killer drums, killer vocals and killer chorus. It’s a real killer song, so to say. It’s full of energy, and that’s what this album could use at some moments. Also worth mentioning would be “Lord of the Flies”. Though starting off with a weird sort of riff complemented with very stylish bass guitar and drums, it evolves soon enough into a relatively fast mid-paced song, with Blaze singing as great as he’s always done and the epic chorus. I this song is truly magnificent and certainly one of the best. I do not wish to describe each song on here separately, but they’re truly all great. Some tend to bore sometimes (“Judgement of Heaven”), but all the others are very beautiful and well-composed. There is, however, one oddity I’d like to discuss. “The Unbeliever” is closing the album with a very weird progressive 8-minute piece. This song is to this day still a one-of-a-kind Maiden song. It starts off with a nice riff, and then changes to a guitar melody consisting of natural harmonics. Before you know it Blaze is rapping, and then after a sudden speed change we get an atmospheric chorus, which gets repeated a little faster later. The intermezzo is really epic, and at the end we have the previous mentioned parts repeated a few times.

I think the album opens a new chapter to the Iron Maiden era, and then I’m not just speaking of the Blaze Bayley chapter, but also of the progressive chapter. Not that Iron Maiden are progressive, but they certainly try to be in their most recent albums. The songs are longer, have more content and tend to be more complex. The X Factor marks the beginning of that era by having two 8-minute plus songs and a majority of 5-minute plus songs.

Having said all these things, I think The X Factor is a very good effort by metal legends Iron Maiden. Though often looked at as a failure, I think it is their finest release to date. I would definitely recommend this album to anyone, whether they are familiar with Iron Maiden or not.

Strongest tracks: “Lord of the Flies”, “Man on the Edge” and “The Edge of Darkness”.

Scorpions - Eye II Eye (1999)

1. Mysterious
2. To Be No.1
3. Obsession
4. 10 Light Years Away
5. Mind like a Tree
6. Eye to Eye
7. What U Give U Get Back
8. Skywriter
9. Yellow Butterfly
10. Freshly Squeezed
11. Priscilla
12. Du Bist So Schmutzig
13. Aleyah
14. A Moment in a Million Years

The Incidental Masterpiece – 10/10

Eye II Eye is the black sheep of all Scorpions albums. The band itself even stated in an interview that they did not like this album. It is so different from everything they ever released before that nobody really dared to actually listen to the album, although there is a small group of big Eye II Eye fans scattered across the world, which I will gladly represent in this review.

As soon as opening track “Mysterious” begins to play, we are immediately shocked by what happens. First we have an overdriven guitar to play a very short riff-ish something, and then some laid back drumbeat kicks in, only to be accompanied by an immensely laid back guitar riff, and a moaning Meine on the background. What the hell? Where are those typical Scorpions hard rock driven riffs with solid drums and catchy lyrics? Instead, we get to hear some insanely relaxing shit which only gets better when you’re a bit used to it. Vocalist Klaus Meine sings with a dirty low pimp-ish voice on the verses of many songs, sounding a bit hoarsely, but in the choruses he mostly shows off his clear voice, as we’re used to. The opening track evolves into an offbeat chorus and then back into the relaxing rhythms with the after-chorus. This song sets the tone for the rest of the album and is followed by the equally laid back single “To Be No.1”, obviously repulsive to many with its techno-ish beep in between. But also this one is nothing but a diamond! Just because it is so different from all the other Scorps-tunes it stands out! The relaxing ambience continues throughout the entire album, with heavy riffing occurring on various songs like “Mind like a Tree” or “Yellow Butterfly” and sometimes even classic Scorpions riffing like on “Aleyah” and “Priscilla”.

I will discuss some of the highlights of this album, to give a better overview. There is a gem in title track “Eye to Eye”, which is very gentle, almost poppy, but so very touching a ballad. It is about the deaths of the fathers of guitarist Rudolf Schenker and vocalist Klaus Meine, and the lyrics are so beautiful and Meine’s voice is so full of emotion, though hoarse, and the ambience through the entire song... indescribable. Then there is “Skywriter”. Though its verses might not be very catchy at first, the chorus will most likely get your attention. Not to mention the great bass tune underneath. Come to think of it, that bass player, Ralph Rieckermann, is truly a star on this album. On numerous songs his colourful bass playing really stands out, for example on “Mysterious”, “Yellow Butterfly”, “10 Light Years Away” and , of course, “Skywriter”. It’s really a pity this was his latest studio album with the Scorpions. An often disliked song would also be “Freshly Squeezed”, another one of my favorites. It sounds so damn wrong in the verses that it’s actually very cool. It sounds like some attempt at being modern, cool and hip with its fast and catchy verses and the offbeat rhythm throughout the song. They probably failed at being hip or modern, but they certainly made a cool song here. Another standout would be Priscilla, with a more recognizable Scorpions touch. As you hear Klaus Meine sing about Priscilla eating all his food and him planning to kill her, it was truly funny to hear that Priscilla seemed to be a cockroach! Didn’t see that one coming.

Classic Scorpions riffing on “Aleyah” must’ve satisfied all the naysayers of this album, if they would still be listening to this album and not be turned down by its weird ambience. There is just typical 80s riffing here and the chorus is so epic, especially at the end when the normal riff is placed underneath it and the epic solo comes through. The album is closed by the piano ballad “A Moment in a Million Years”, which is an emotional thank you to the fans. A great way to close the album, and I think most fans would appreciate the thanks after the ‘torture’ of this album. Only some fans, like me, will notice that the end song is just speaking up for what the entire album is.

As usual in my reviews of black sheep and hidden gems, here’s to the naysayers. Eye II Eye is not the typical 80s hair metal you are used to on albums like Love at First Sting, Blackout or Crazy World. This album is unique in its own way, and you can only see it if you manage to let go of what you wish. You can’t love this album if you hate it for what it isn’t, but you will if you can see it for what it is: the best Scorpions album ever recorded.

Strongest tracks: “Mysterious”, “Eye to Eye”, “Freshly Squeezed” and “Aleyah”.
Weakest tracks or fillers: NONE!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Scorpions - The Good Die Young [Single] (2010)

1. The Good Die Young (radio edit)
2. The Good Die Young (album version)

Preview of the Sting – 7,5/10

The Scorpions have decided to release “The Good Die Young” as the first promotional single from their upcoming farewell album. A single usually is to promote the album it is from. The question is: does this single do its job well?

The song is a power ballad. It sounds like trademark Scorpions, and at the same time it doesn’t. It starts off with gentle arpeggiated chords, accompanied with some guitar leads. Then the drums kick in to form a steady rhythm on which the verse flows. It seems the lyrics of this song are about war and about young soldiers needing to come back. Then the chorus kicks in and there is the recognizable Scorps sound. It’s a heavy chorus with some solid riffing and some epic melodies. It’s closed by some more guitar leads, and then goes back to the arpeggiated chords of the beginning. This repeats itself three times before the song comes to a close after five minutes. The radio edit that’s also present just removes a repeat.

I must say vocalist Klaus Meine sounds like himself on the choruses, but tends to sound like Axl Rose or Serj Tankian in the verses. He uses his lower range and goes through the lyrics rapidly, leaving a nu-metal-ish impression. And there at the background of the verses we have guest vocalist Tarja Turunen making some opera-esque harmonies. Surely, she adds something great to the song, but nothing that would not have been possible to be replaced by keyboards. It probably would’ve been a better cooperation with a full duet between her and Klaus. Overall, I think the song does a good job. It has energy, a mid-paced groove and a very memorable chorus. The only thing that it lacks is a good guitar solo. What happened there? The Scorpions were always known for their striking solos, but nowadays they seem to be lacking. Ah well, apart from that, it’s a good song.

In the end, I think this single does the job. It might not be the classic Scorpions sound, but it certainly is a good song, and the boys did a good job. I’m looking forward to Sting in the Tail even more now I know there’s at least one good song on it. Hopefully the other songs do have solos though, it really adds a lot.

Coldplay - LeftRightLeftRightLeft (2009)

1. Glass of Water
2. 42
3. Clocks
4. Strawberry Swing
5. The Hardest Part
6. Viva la Vida
7. Death Will Never Conquer
8. Fix You
9. Death and all his Friends

A Gift from the Gods – 9/10

British pop legends Coldplay decided to release a free live album consisting of live material from their Viva La Vida tour as a thanks to their fans. Everybody was able to download the soundfiles for free, and all concertgoers had the opportunity of actually holding the original CD in their hands. My first thought was quite negative. How much good can it be when it’s been given away for free to billions of fans? After a few spins it became clear that Coldplay were really thanking their fans and were not joking. This live album is, though short, excellent in many ways.

First, there is the sound. The production is excellent. This collection of high quality live recordings truly is the best gift ever. We can separate all the instruments, including the vocals, very easily, which is a great thing. The fans are very audible as well, which adds a whole lot to the live atmosphere. Second, there is the performance of the band. Coldplay is truly a live band. Were they not already great in studio, they take the songs to a whole new level on stage. The interaction with the crowd is also very good. It’s just great to hear those thousands of fans sing along with the best of Coldplay songs. Furthermore, Chris Martin is the true show man here, adapting the lyrics of classic hits like “Fix You” to fit the concert, and holding a long note on the end of “42”. True highlight is their biggest hit of their latest album, the notable “Viva la Vida”. The crowd totally goes insane here, and at the end we still have those fans sing the melody on and on. A bit odd, but a pleasant surprise is the inclusion of b-side “Death Will Never Conquer”. Though the studio version is piano-only, the live version is played with the whole band minus drummer, who sings instead of Martin. It becomes a nice short country-styled song in between, and drummer Will Champion has a great singing voice. We’ll be expecting his solo CD someday. Last of the truly notable songs is album opener “Glass of Water”. This is probably the recording of the very first time it’s played live, said to have been somewhere in November.

Looking at the tracklist, we see that Coldplay has included mostly songs from their latest effort, Viva la Vida. The band stated this was what they sounded like at this moment. Fair is fair, if this is what they sound like right now, then I would gladly want to go to a Coldplay show. This is truly a great gift and gives a very good impression about this band and what they have done in the most recent years.

Highlights: entire album.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Amon Amarth - Twilight of the Thunder God (2008)

1. Twilight of the Thunder God
2. Free Will Sacrifice
3. Guardians of Asgaard
4. Where Is Your God?
5. Varyags of Miklagaard
6. Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags
7. No Fear For the Setting Sun
8. The Hero
9. Live For The Kill
10. Embrace of the Endless Ocean

Prepare to Sacrifice your Free Will – 8,5/10

Amon Amarth... I never actually heard of them when I listened to this album. I checked a few pictures of them... it seems they are bearded hairy men who look like they live in the dark ages. Apparently they can make music too, and they’re not just your average death metal band either. And they seem quite popular, and when I hear the music I totally understand. I guess this is what people call ‘Viking metal’; melodic death metal with some folky tunes every now and then, complemented with lyrics about ancient gods like Odin and Thor. The whole lot surprised me a little bit, since I actually was expected the average death metal band I despise. Instead, I got to hear an album by a band with talent and a unique sound.

These guys have a very heavy sound created by two guitars and a bass, one that’s really fat and juicy. Complemented with the heavy drums of Fredrik Andersson and the deep growls of bearded vocalist Johan Hegg, you’ve got the main ingredients for a melodic death band. The songs are catchy and melodic but still very heavy, which makes them attractive. Mostly they have some good lead guitar melodies during the chorus, making it epic and memorable, like on “The Hero”. I guess it’s a part of the Viking-attribute to have lead guitars play a folky melody to add some catchiness. Also, these guys are not extreme. They create heavy death metal, but there are no blastbeats, aggressive screams and/or other wild things. This is purely creating good songs with enough variation, purely for the music. I can’t actually say the same about other bands in their genre, though there are always exceptions. There are fast anthems on here such as the title track, “Where Is Your God?” and “Live for the Kill”, also mid-paced little epics such as “Free Will Sacrifice” and “Guardians of Asgaard”, which are two of the best tracks on the album, and there is an epic album closer in the shape of “Embrace of the Endless Ocean”, which does not only have a catchy title, but is truly epic in its own way. There is not one weak song on here.

It’s time to have a look at the highlights of this album, and thereby describing some more details. Title track “Twilight of the Thunder God” features some real catchy guitar melodies as the main riff, and after about four times the theme the speedy drums kick in with a double bass. The deep growls are really one of the best I have ever heard. There’s also some notable guitar soloing here. “Free Will Sacrifice” features some weird-ish riff, which easily became one of my favorites after a few listens. And again it is the melodic lead guitar at the chorus which adds the finishing touch to the album. As if the first two songs were not good enough, in comes “Guardians of Asgaard”, with a bombarding riff, so powerful I was just blown away. Then the song goes into a true Viking-melody that sounds like a child’s song when played on the piano, but like a true metal anthem when played on a down tuned guitar like here. The bombarding riff returns a few times at the chorus, which is one of the highlights of the album. Then comes the very fast “Where Is Your God?”, which actually has a quite funny lyric and some very speedy double bass drumming. I think the highlight of this song is when the song drops dead for a second and you hear the vocalist take a breath for the last chorus. The other songs of the album all feature a steady riff with memorable Viking-melodies and deep growling, but they are not as memorable as the first four songs. Last but not least I want to praise the drummer. Fredrik Andersson is no beginner behind his drums, damn! His drumming is very appropriate on every song and just so inventive and so much variation.

So, this album is very good. Not much more I can say about it. If you’re into the genre or into Amon Amarth, this album is a must-have. If you are new to the genre, this album will be the one that gets you into it.

Strongest tracks: “Twilight of the Thunder God”, “Free Will Sacrifice” and “Guardians of Asgaard”.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Coldplay - Parachutes (2000)

1. Don't Panic
2. Shiver
3. Spies
4. Sparks
5. Yellow
6. Trouble
7. Parachutes
8. High Speed
9. We Never Change
10. Everything's Not Lost

Solid Debut with Necessary Flaws – 7/10

Here we have the first album by Britain's new pop-legends Coldplay, entitled Parachutes. As a very first album, it is very clear that the sound Coldplay have here needs heavy polishing. Although this album features some of the better Coldplay material, it is countered with downright boring material, which features mostly on b-sides nowadays. But what this album truly needs to be praised for is its unique Coldplay signature sound.

First, let’s analyze this band. What do they sound like? Vocalist Chris Martin seems to have an awkward yet unique voice, and requires getting used to. His frequent use of falsetto gives a slightly wimpy sound to the music, and that’s where he fails sometimes. On the more gentle songs like “Sparks” or “We Never Change” on the other hand he really tends to sound like singing a lullaby, making you fall asleep. Apart from that he does have a very decent vocal range. At the drums we have Will Champion, who is really stealing the show on this album with his extensive drumming. What disturbs me mostly with pop music is, despite the lack of solo’s, the lack of originality in either melody or rhythms, but Champion makes the rhythm department worth listening too. On the bass guitar we have Guy Berryman, who is not notable on the album. What he does, he does properly, but that’s it. Oh and on guitars we have Jon Buckland, who is very influenced by The Edge of U2, judging on his playing style. Again, this guy is good at what he’s doing, but I’d like to hear more. A solo or anything like that. But I guess I mustn’t judge these guys on what they’re not, so let’s get a bit more into what they have produced.

Parachutes opens with a very mellow, atmospheric song, known as “Don’t Panic”. Notable is the upbeat drums combined with slide guitar leads by Buckland and Martin’s mid-ranged vocals. This opener sets the perfect ambience for the rest of the album, and therefore makes a powerful impression, despite its short length. Then comes the wilder “Shiver”, which is a true feast for the drummer, since he is forced to play subtly on all the other songs, but on here he can smash on the crash cymbals for once. The main riff is a very notable guitar piece, but then the verses ease down a bit and feature a very catchy piece of lead guitar, subtly reminding of U2. This trend continues through “Spies”, but is spoiled by the ballad “Sparks”. This song is the first of the few that are lullaby-ish, and downright boring. There’s very gentle clean guitar doing the rhythms, possibly sopped in a chorus effect, combined with very soft drums. Furthermore we have Chris Martin singing so damn monotone on a low register, which just takes away all the fun. Then he repeats that boring line “I saw sparks” so many times at the end, with the backing instruments never seeming to change the dynamics. Other songs that feature this description are “High Speed” and “We Never Change”. This kind of songs is what brings Parachutes’ rating down a lot. Fortunately, the majority consists of great compositions.

To pass on as if nothing ever happened we have the explosive “Yellow”, with relatively heavy rhythm guitars opening up, only to fade away again at the verses. This song is a real relief after the sleepy “Sparks”, especially to hear Martin sing fully again. But Coldplay do know how to write ballads without creating lullabies! Next track “Trouble” is a great example of a good Coldplay ballad. It starts with a simple but catchy piano tune, and after a while the band jumps in, with the guitar playing some gently arpeggiated chords and the drums playing a subtle and gentle rhythm. The only thing that can get better here would be a guitar solo, but instead we get to hear “They spun a web for me” a thousand times repeated, which is very unfortunate. As an intro to “High Speed”, which I’m not going to describe” we have the very short title track “Parachutes”. I don’t understand what’s the point of this track? It lasts just a few seconds longer than a minute, and is nothing really exceptionally good. Just some more low ranged vocals and some staccato acoustic guitar. I’m glad to see that the album is closed with style. “Everything’s Not Lost” is a good song to close the album with. It’s building its strength all the way to the middle when Martin is jumping up and down of joy and singing happily “Come On yeah, ooh ooh yeah, and everything’s not lost”. This was awkward at first, but quite acceptable now. It’s a bit of a prototype for “Amsterdam” or “Twisted Logic”, both ending songs of later Coldplay albums.

To make this long story short, Parachutes is a good debut album. It has its flaws, it has its strengths. I would recommend this album to every Coldplay fan, though if you are new with the band, you might want to check out their later albums first. They do not contain lullabies.

Strongest songs: “Don’t Panic”, “Shiver” and “Yellow”.
Weaker songs: “Sparks”, “High Speed” and “We Never Change”.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Queensrÿche - The Warning (1984)

1. Warning
2. En Force
3. Deliverance
4. No Sanctuary
5. N M 156
6. Take Hold of the Flame
7. Before the Storm
8. Child of Fire
9. Roads to Madness

One Hell of a Debut - 7,5/10

The Warning was the album with which Queensrÿche introduced themselves to the metal scene. Being a typical debut compared to their later work, it’s obvious that this album contains many influences from popular bands at that time such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, yet Queensrÿche manages to distinct themselves from those bands at the same time. Given that this album is probably the one that resembles the standard 80s metal the most of all Rÿche releases, this doesn’t make it one of the best, but certainly one worth checking out.

So, as a very first album, what does Queensrÿche sound like? A bit music like Iron Maiden and vocals like Rob Halford, but then they give their own twist to both, which is probably what made this album so notable. Geoff Tate indeed resembles Halford in vocal range, but has an entirely unique way of singing. His wailing voice contains so much emotion, especially in his younger years, and every time I hear it I get struck by it again. On this album he sometimes goes sky high and still keeps his voice balanced, like on “Roads to Madness” for example. Tate is truly the highlight of this album, with only one downside: he almost never uses his lower range vocals, which doesn’t have to be a downside, but sometimes I get the feeling he swallowed helium or so. He sounds like a siren at times. The other band members work great together as well, although it sometimes seems as if there is a strong reverb added to the music as a whole, and sometimes they tend to sound uninspired, like in the unnoted “Child of Fire”.

The music sounds a bit Maiden-influenced, as said before, but also on this area Queensrÿche manages to differ from the Brits. Where Maiden would go into galloping rhythms, Queensrÿche chooses an alternative, such as the staccato rhythms on “N M 156” or the powerchord-based accompaniment on “Deliverance”. Where Queensrÿche goes totally into their own sound, is for example on “En Force”. Both guitars are playing some licks on the background, which forms the unique riff, the drummer is playing wild with his double bass drums and the combination of this with Tate’s voice creates the early trademark Rÿche sound: energetic metal that is not very catchy at first, but it grows on you. Another difference you’ll find with early Iron Maiden is the appearance of power ballads on the album. “No Sanctuary” and the epic “Roads to Madness” for example both begin with arpeggiated chords as the intro and the verses, but explode into a powerful chorus, full of emotional vocals and epic riffs. “No Sanctuary” also features a gentle interlude instead of a solo, which adds a lot more to the suddenly returning chorus. The other, “Roads to Madness” will feature a very spectacular guitar solo, with the whole song speeding up at the end as a last treat. Furthermore, although the band is Maiden-influenced, it totally has its own sound. The arrangements, the way the drums accompany the riffs, the structure of the riffs, it’s all less catchy then Maiden, but after a few listens it easily beats Maiden riffs. That’s what Queensrÿche is all about, the band is a grower.

So, in fact we have a pretty good debut album here. With singer Geoff Tate as the primary attraction and good songwriting as a good backup, The Warning is well worth your money. Although there are a few steps in the wrong direction here and there, it’s very pleasing for your hearing. The REAL treat, however, starts on their next album Rage for Order, where they have really adopted their own sounds. Still I’d highly recommend this to any fan of 80s metal or Queensrÿche.

Strongest tracks: “No Sanctuary”, “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Roads to Madness”.
Fillers: “Child of Fire” and “Before the Storm”.

Scorpions - Love at First Sting (1984)

1. Bad Boys Running Wild
2. Rock You Like A Hurricane
3. I'm Leaving You
4. Coming Home
5. The Same Thrill
6. Big City Nights
7. As Soon As The Good Times Roll
8. Crossfire
9. Still Loving You

Love at First Sting, Hate at Second – 4/10

If there is one thing I can’t understand, then it’s why the hell the commercial albums by metal bands often are the most praised among the fans. It was like that with Queensrÿche’s Empire, Judas Priest’s British Steel and, even though it’s not metal, Kayak’s Phantom of the Night. Love at First Sting is no different from all those. Cheap, commercial, uninteresting, but still very praised among the majority of the Scorpions’ fans. This I totally can’t get to. Honestly, I don’t care what genre a band plays. They can go progressive, they can go grunge, or they can go commercial, as long as the songs are good and original. I’m not sure that is the case with this album.

With the raw sound the Scorpions adopted in the 70s already dismissed on 1982’s Blackout, Love at First Sting sounds overpolished at times, and very uninspired. Apparently the masses don’t care for good songwriting, since I’ve rarely come across a commercial album with solely good songs. Anyhow, we are welcomed into the album by a shrieking guitar dubbed in a nasty 80s chorus effect. The rest of the song “Bad Boys Running Wild” consists of a few average riffs with an average vocal melody over the verses. The chorus is where the song gets a little more interesting... IT’S ABOMINABLE! They shout the title of the song with a choir and then ramble on about “and you better get out of the way”. Well, if this song is accompanying these “Bad Boys” then I’ll sure stay out of their way. Ah well, the second song makes it all right. “Rock you like a Hurricane”, a true live-track with a catchy riff, but nothing really memorable. I guess this is one of the better tracks off the album, and that says something. We proceed with what the opening track tried to tell us in “I’m Leaving You”. Again, a bunch of average riffs with an average vocal melody and you’ve got it. The bridge is quite catchy though.

The REAL music starts with “Coming Home”. On the Blackout album we already saw the Scorpions could make 80s metal with a good result, and this song would’ve fit better on that album. It starts off like a ballad, with some arpeggiated chords as an intro, but then kicks off into a speedy rocker full of energy. And THIS is riffing; THIS is what the Scorpions can do so well. Not all that commercial crap the rest of the album is filled with. Such a shame. But as soon as they’ve recorded a masterpiece like this, they think they can take on the world and give birth to another fast song called “The Same Thrill”. Nothing is as bad as this song. Was there an election for the worst Scorpions song ever? I’ll pick this one. How low can we go? The entire verse-chorus-verse-chorus is the same chord, with singer Klaus Meine just shouting the lyrics over it. The bridge is a little different, but nothing worthwhile, and then we get that same chord again for the solo. Wasn’t that fun? No it wasn’t.

Remember track two? “Rock You Like A Hurricane”? Meet his twinbrother, “Big City Nights”. Since BCN was born two minutes earlier, it beats its younger brother by far. This time, we have a real catchy riff instead of just using every chord on the e-minor pentatonic scale, and this time the melody is way better. This is Blackout quality. But beware of its end! For there’s another piece of sheer boredom following this one. “As Soon As the Good Times Roll” is a song that can pass by and never be noticed. Or at least the verses. But I assure you the chorus is just more of the “Same Thrill”-quality. Next song is “Crossfire”. A song with political character that doesn’t seem to vary its drum-rhythms, but still manages to be so catchy and epic to keep me listening to it over and over again. Last song off the album is the big hit “Still Loving You”. I can’t say anything bad about this one. This is truly a classic Scorpions song through and through. A really good power ballad with an epic chorus and epic ending.

Well I think I gave you a pretty good impression of Love at First Sting. It’s commercial through and through, with some elements of the good side of the Scorpions showing up, especially near the end of the album. With a few good songs, a few really bad songs and a few average ones, I don’t think this release deserves the praise it gets. I wouldn’t recommend this album to anyone, unless you get horny by the cover. Only then you might enjoy this CD.

Strongest tracks: “Coming Home”, “Big City Nights” and “Crossfire”.
Weakest tracks: “Bad Boys Running Wild”, “The Same Thrill” and “As Soon As the Good Times Roll”.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Sonata Arctica - The Days of Grays (2009)

1. Everything Fades to Grey (instr)
2. Deathaura
3. The Last Amazing Grays
4. Flag in the Ground
5. Breathing
6. Zeroes
7. The Dead Skin
8. Juliet
9. No Dream Can Heal A Broken Heart
10. As If The World Wasn't Ending
11. The Truth Is Out There
12. Everything Fades to Grey (full)
13. In The Dark (bonus)

Their Days of Grace - 9,5/10

What have we here? A new album by Sonata Arctica, entitled The Days of Grays, depressingly misspelling Grace as Grays. Well, that does sum up the themes of the lyrics, they are pretty depressing. Yet the music would fit better with the correctly spelled version of that word. For we have once more a great album by Sonata Arctica and it’s the follow-up to the progressive Unia. What should we expect here? I expected a Unia II, but instead we got something a bit more worthwhile.

So, what do we have here? In sound, The Days of Grays is still very progressive, like Unia, but it’s much more in touch with their power metal past. In fact, this album even contains a traditional Sonata Arctica power metal song “Flag in the Ground”, which is easily one of the best songs from the album! Perhaps they were born to make power metal after all... hmm? Anyway, there’s been a slight change in the Sonata line-up on the guitar part: Jani Liimatainen out, in comes Elias Viljanen. I don’t notice any decent changes in playing style, probably because Tony Kakko still writes all the songs. The guitar sound did change however, they now have turned down all the bass on the amp, it seems. It’s a downright ugly sound, but luckily the guitar is never the main instrument in Sonata, so the album can (and will) still be saved! The album has a very dark sound overall, and this is not a bad thing. Winterheart’s Guild also was a bit darker than their previous releases, and is second to this one my favorite Sonata album. Luckily depressing lyrics are mostly compensated by great music with these guys.

The album opens with a progressive piece “Deathaura”, showing off a balanced mix between progressive and power metal. The changes in mood, key and bar still occur like on Unia, but the speed has been turned up like on Silence. The first single “The Last Amazing Grace” on the other hand is a song that wouldn’t have appeared on any of those albums; it’s really a typical song for this current album. It’s progressive in a way, but without all the key, bar and mood changes. This time it’s a real song, with true sing-along choruses and bridges like we are used to on albums like Reckoning Night, yet this time it’s not accompanied by the fast double bass rhythms. The good best part of this album must be the set of songs right after “Breathing”, a quite unnoted ballad. Especially “Zeroes” gets my full praise! It’s so swinging with its offbeat drums and its ‘so-wrong-it’s-cool’ vocals. Not to mention it is followed directly by “The Dead Skin”, another highlight. This one shines mostly in the progressive part. There’s a very heavy instrumental piece in the middle of this song, and it’s just great to bang your head to that. Apart from that, the chorus is very catchy. Some say the melodies on here are almost poppy, but I assure you that it’s no poppier than on previous albums. As if we are not already on a highlight there is “Juliet”, again a progressive piece with many themes full of melodies, telling Shakespeare’s tale about Romeo and Juliet in from a different perspective. We are still not out of highlights, but I can go and describe the next few tracks as detailed as I would like, it would not come over as such.

In short: I think this album is their best yet. I see almost no flaws, and they have achieved the perfect balance between Unia and Winterheart’s Guild on this album, with the Unia-part still being the most dominant. This album is a true grower, and I truly run out of words when I’m trying to describe its greatness. I would highly recommend this album to anyone who likes progressive metal and Sonata Arctica.

Strongest tracks: “Flag in the Ground”, “Zeroes”, “The Dead Skin”, “No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart” and “The Truth Is Out There”.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Sonata Arctica - Unia (2007)

1. In Black and White
2. Paid in Full
3. For the Sake of Revenge
4. It Won't Fade
5. Under Your Tree
6. Caleb
7. The Vice
8. My Dream's But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare
9. The Harvest
10. To Create a Warlike Feel (bonustrack)
11. The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden
12. Fly With The Black Swan
13. Good Enough is Good Enough

A Band's Tale: From Power to Progressive - 8,3/10

After four albums with each one containing increased progressive influences, the time is finally here: a true progressive album. Having almost totally abandoned their trademark sound of power metal, Unia is much heavier and more mid-paced. Velocities of old will not be told, not even hinted at, and there are some changes in the overall sound. Are these changes for the good or for the bad? I think it’s for both. But first let me tell you this, if you plan to listen to Unia, plan to let go of the good old power metal. You will only like this album if you can take it for what it is, instead for hating it for what it isn’t. Having said that, let’s have a close look at the album.

As soon as the album begins we are already confronted with the heavy guitar, displaying a simple riff, serving as an aggressive intro in combination with Tony Kakko’s vocals. And there the song “In Black and White” kicks off! No more power metal, but a mid-tempo song full of keyboards. Though the guitar sound is way heavier than on previous albums, the songs are not necessarily heavier. “For the Sake of Revenge” for example almost doesn’t feature any guitar, but instead has a very annoying low keys-tone during the verses. Keyboards truly are the most dominant on this album, with the guitars merely as a companion, and the vocals as guidelines. And believe me, there are a lot of vocals on this album. Multi-voicing, singing contradicting melodies in between, and the normal melody.

The biggest change of this album has not really been mentioned. It’s progressive! Key, bar, and mood changes occur all the time. Sonata’s vision of progressive metal sounds very enthusiastically at times, pretty chaotic, at times even weird or awkward, but also playful. It seems now that they’ve decided to go progressive, they intend to make sure they aren’t mistaken for playing something else. A song like “To Create a Warlike Feel” for example, though merely a bonus track, can’t hold steady for a few bars or there it changes again. At times it sounds a bit chaotic, but it actually has its charms. It does take quite some time to get used to, but that only increases the fun of it all, right?

Done analyzing, let’s start the rating. Did this change of sound turn out for the good? Partly, but I can assure you that the good part overshadows the bad part by far. First the bad part: the album might drag a little. I almost never have the urge to listen to Unia, simply because it’s way too complex. I’d rather listen to Winterheart’s Guild or Reckoning Night, simply because they are more energetic and catchier. Now, the good side of this album is the quality. The songwriting is really topnotch. Tony Kakko knew what he was doing, so it seems. From no. 1 hit “Paid in Full” to a complex epic like “My Dream’s But a Drop of Fuel for a Nightmare” it sounds very professional. It also sounds a bit crowded like on “The Harvest” or “The Vice”. But there’s also just a beautiful ballad like “The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden” or “Good Enough is Good Enough”. When listening the album all the songs sound great, whether they are crowded, complex, ballad or aggressive. Long song titles though.

In the end, Unia is a pretty good album. Though it has its flaws and it needs getting used to, the quality of the songs is no less than on previous albums; it’s just no longer that power metal they used to make. I would like to recommend this album to all progressive metal fans and to open-minded Sonata Arctica fans.

Stronger tracks: “Caleb”, “My Dream’s But a Drop...”, “Fly with the Black Swan”, “To Create a Warlike Feel” and “The Worlds Forgotten, The Words Forbidden”.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Sonata Arctica - Reckoning Night (2004)

1. Misplaced
2. Blinded No More
3. Ain't Your Fairytale
4. Reckoning Day, Reckoning Night
5. Don't Say A Word
6. The Boy who wanted to be a Real Puppet
7. My Selene
8. Wildfire
9. White Pearl, Black Oceans
10. Shamandalie
11. Wrecking the Sphere (Japanese bonus)
12. Jam (Hidden track)

Last of the Power Metal - 8,2/10

After an adventure of polishing their sound and balancing their albums, Sonata Arctica seems to have discovered the secret of their genre and is now experimenting a little with it, trying to push the borders. While still pleasing the fans of their older albums they have changed a few things in their performance, and I believe we need to look back at this album from this day to be able to understand what they did.

So here we are, the final power metal album by Sonata Arctica, the Finnish band, or legend by now, that seemed to have conquered the hearts of many melodic metal fans. What come to attention immediately are the rawer guitars and vocals. Was Sonata getting tired of their overpolished speedy sound? I believe so. Not only does the album feel terribly uninspired at times, it also feels like they are a bit bored with making the same old power metal over and over again. Seeing what they did in 2007, I believe I’m not totally wrong by stating these things. They wanted a change for sure, and this album is still power metal, with subtle hints to their 2007 album Unia.

Not only the heavier guitar and vocal sounds are a cry for a change, but also the vocal melodies. They are mostly still the sing-along anthems we are used to, but now vocalist Tony Kakko tends to step out of line and do a weird melody in between more often. He also sings more with multiple voices, something that would feature a lot more on later albums. I said sometimes they even sound like they were uninspired, or tired. That is very audible on the beginnings of “Don’t Say a Word” and “Wrecking the Sphere”. It sounds like ‘oh, we have to make it fast again, of course’. The songs turn out to be real nice ones in the end, but still.

Enough moaning about changes, is the album good? Well, yes, the album is very good. The balance is still present, nicely varying fast from slow, or mid-tempo. It contains good fast songs like “Misplaced”, “Ain’t Your Fairytale” and “Wildfire”, there is a very beautiful ballad in the shape of “Shamandalie”, and there are a few epics like “The Boy Who Wanted To Be A Real Puppet”, which has clear progressive influences, and “White Pearl, Black Oceans”, an 8-minute lasting story about a ghost ship, as I understood. The last mentioned is a true fan favorite, but I believe it’s severely overrated. Sure, the song is good, but it’s way too long and slightly overdone. Especially near the end, when they reach for the chorus one more time and throw a double bass drum underneath it. I’m glad they’ve stopped doing those things nowadays. Furthermore there is a black sheep in the shape of “Blinded No More”, which is a mid-tempo song with a progressive hue to it. It doesn’t sound like any of the other songs on the album, and hints heavily to the forthcoming album Unia in 2007, though the overall ambience is still the ‘old’ Sonata.

To get a little into details, I will describe the album highlights. Since I feel the quality in songs is very equally spread among the songs, it’s pretty hard to find highlights. Nevertheless I’ll begin with “Ain’t Your Fairytale”. Seemingly just another fast power metal song, but contains an immensely cool guitar riff just after the chorus. The song itself is about a pack of wolves attacking a village, but getting caught. If this one deserves a mention, then surely does “Don’t Say a Word”. It’s the sequel to Silence’s “The End of This Chapter”, and therefore continues the story about the pathetic stalker, this time in the shape of a fast song. Having no typical intro to give you time to orient, it starts right away. The song itself doesn’t really become interesting until the chorus, which is one their finest to date. Then there is “Wildfire”. It starts off with a cheesy conversation which concludes they’re going to set something on fire. Then the bomb explodes with a heavy and aggressive theme accompanied by a deep Hammond organ. Although this kind of organ also appears on “Misplaced”, I think it’s much cooler on this song. Last of the highlights is Japan-only track “Wrecking the Sphere”. It starts off with a keyboard intro, and then kicks off with the familiar double bass. A little forced at first, but then when the bridges and the solo’s begin you’ll be sold. The epic keyboard solo at the end adds the finishing touch to the last song off the album, and closes to power metal chapter to the Sonata Arctica career with style.

To make a relatively long story short, Reckoning Night is Sonata Arctica’s last power metal effort. It’s obviously trademark Sonata, but hints subtly towards their next album Unia. Still, if you like Sonata Arctica or just power metal as a whole, you would like this album.

Stronger songs: “Ain’t Your Fairytale”, “Wildfire”, “Shamandalie” and “Wrecking the Sphere”.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Queensrÿche - Tribe (2003)

1. Open
2. Losing Myself
3. Desert Dance
4. Falling Behind
5. The Great Divide
6. Rhythm of Hope
7. Tribe
8. Blood
9. The Art of Life
10. Doin' Fine

The Answer to the Mystery - 9,5/10

I’ve heard lots of people say the following about Queensrÿche: “what the hell are they doing?” This question is probably a consequence of the mediocre Q2k release and the different style they seem to be pursuing. Well, fortunately their 2003 release Tribe will give us the answer to the mystery. Where Q2k, I’ll quote Geoff Tate himself, “was an album by a band trying to redefine who they were”, Tribe is an album with a band that is done redefining and is ready to play some kickass laidback rock music, with subtle progressive influences. Sure, it is no longer the progmetal that we all heard from these guys in earlier years, but time goes on, and bands renew themselves, which is very good. Bands must always challenge themselves and seek to renew themselves, and yet stay the same. Fans on the other hand, especially metal fans (I speak out of experience here), often have trouble with a band that tries out something different and new.

Now, enough talk about bands renewing themselves... how did it work out for Queensrÿche? What is Tribe? Well, Tribe is a very impressive and relaxing effort. Though I hear people often complaining that this is not metal, there are very relaxing heavy guitar riffs throughout the album. I might say relaxed here, but energy ís flowing throughout various songs in the album. The heavy “Open” for example is a relaxing song, yet it fills you with energy unknown. What I really like about the album is the exotic feel to it. The exotic use of the tom-tom drums in “Losing Myself” and “Tribe” and the eastern feel to “Desert Dance” are so refreshing, they really add things to the album. Furthermore, I’d like to praise “Rhythm of Hope” for being the best ballad on the album.

Does this album have downsides? The way I write it all, it might seem that this album is paradise. Well, there is a reason that I gave this album only a 9,5, and not the full 10. The last two songs are not weak, but they tend to be less strong than the others. “The Art of Life” is a mid-tempo rocker with spoken verses, that don’t really get to me, though the chorus is very satisfying. “Doin’ Fine” is a very relaxing album closer, though I can’t really figure out why they choose that song to close the album. It just has a feel to it that doesn’t do it for me. It is perhaps the song that reminds the most of Tribe’s predecessor Q2k. But in the end, the downsides of the album totally disappear compared to the overall Tribe album.

Here’s to naysayers of this album. Accept that Queensrÿche is no longer making the progmetal they made in the eighties. Accept that they try to renew themselves and that they wish to challenge themselves. If you plan to buy Tribe, then plan to “open your mind”, as the title track already suggests. Give this a chance, even though it is not your beloved metal. This album is a jewel, if only you want it to. It will be your new favorite album, if you’d give it a chance to.

To make this long story short, Tribe is amazing. From beginning to end, stunning. From head to toe, complete variation. I give this absolute recommendation if you are prepared to open your mind. This album belongs to my Queensrÿche favorites. And believe me, I set the bar high.

Strongest tracks: Losing Myself, Desert Dance, The Great Divide, Rhythm of Hope, and Tribe.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild (2003)

1. Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited
2. Gravenimage
3. The Cage
4. Silver Tongue
5. The Misery
6. Victoria's Secret
7. Champagne Bath
8. Broken
9. The Rest of the Sun Belongs to Me (Japanese bonustrack)
10. The Ruins of My Life
11. Draw Me

Perfected, purified, a peak - 8,9/10

With their third studio album, Sonata Arctica has shown us they can not only assemble a set of very melodic songs on high speed, but also let the songs together form a unity, an album. What was missing a little on albums like Ecliptica and Silence was the unity as an album. Where Ecliptica sounded mostly unpolished and repetitive and Silence was more polished yet unbalanced musically, Winterheart’s Guild is more perfected and purified. A true peak in the Sonata Arctica career.

Although the overall sound of the band has not been changed a lot since 2001’s Silence, it sounds less half-baked. Not only is there a restored balance on the album, nicely varying the fast songs with the slower ones, but it has been totally purified of fillers. Yes, that’s right; this is the first Sonata Arctica album of which I can say that I actually enjoy each song. Not that the previous albums had any repulsive songs, but some could just pass by without you noticing them. That’s a bad thing. So, now we’ve sorted out the differences compared to the other albums in their discography, let’s get into the music a bit more.

Basically, this is still the very melodic fast power metal as we know. Tracks like “Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited”, “The Cage” and “Victoria’s Secret” are unmistakably trademark SA power metal songs with epic choruses and fast drums. What makes this album more different from its predecessors is also a bunch of subtle hints to Sonata Arctica’s future career: progressive influences! They are not dominant however, we wouldn’t notice if we didn’t already live in the future. I’m not speaking of longer songs like the epic “Gravenimage”, for they have done that on Silence with “The Power of One” already. No, the progressive part is present very clearly in “The Ruins of My Life” and the Japanese bonus track “The Rest of the Sun Belongs to Me”. Cut-off bars, a swift change of themes like we are used on 2009’s The Days of Grays and weird, yet fitting, vocals to interrupt the basic melody that is sung. With solely the last mentioned being present on their last power metal album in 2004, I’d say this is pretty unique for Winterheart’s Guild.

Furthermore, Sonata Arctica introduces a new type of song on this album, that would feature on later albums as well, and it’s actually a new type of power ballad. “The Misery” and “Draw Me” both belong to this new type of songs. Even though Sonata has made power ballads on Silence and Ecliptica, this new type are more simple in structure and sound, yet a lot more effective. Who said a song needs to be complicated to be good? Now Sonata has found out that, we shall be looking forward to their ballads a lot more. Both “The Misery” and “Draw Me” have an extremely catchy chorus and main theme and they gain more power towards the end, as the distortion guitar joins in halfway. It really adds to the epicness.

Apart from the extreme ballad makeover, the power metal songs have also been given some extras. “Champagne Bath” starts of with a guitar solo with classical influences, which reminded me instantly of Yngwie Malmsteen with much more distortion. There’s also some very nice dueling between the guitars and the keyboards in this song. Also songs like “Victoria’s Secret” show signs of changes in the guitar department. The accompaniment consists more of chords than riffs and it’s overall a bit more keyboard-based, another subtle hint of what we can expect on later releases. A good example is the keys-solo on the intro of “The Cage”, and the keyboard-themes on “Victoria’s Secret” and “Abandoned, Pleased...”.

To come to a conclusion, Winterheart’s Guild was Sonata’s first peak. The entire way of songwriting has been revised and now the songs form a strong unity, a real album. This is the definition of Sonata Arctica’s power metal era. I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who is interested in Sonata Arctica or power metal. You will not be disappointed.

Stronger songs: “Victoria’s Secret”, “The Ruins of my Life” and “Draw Me”.
Weak songs: none.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Sonata Arctica - Silence (2001)

1. ...Of Silence
2. Weballergy
3. False News Travels Fast
4. The End of This Chapter
5. Black Sheep
6. Land of the Free
7. Last Drop Falls
8. San Sebastian (revisited)
9. Sing in Silence
10. Revontulet
11. Tallulah
12. Wolf & Raven
13. Respect the Wilderness (Japanese bonustrack)
14. The Power of One

Polished, coloured, yet unbalanced - 7,4/10

Sonata Arctica’s second album, considered the best by some, really showed their own take on power metal, having worked away most of the borrowed Stratovarius sound. Although their songs are still mostly fast, the repetitivity on the album has been severely reduced. Sonata Arctica presents us with Silence another album containing true epics, instant classics and some of the best sing along anthems of all times.

Where predecessor Ecliptica started off straight away with a firm double bass rhythm, Silence uses a mysterious intro “...of Silence” before the bomb explodes with “Weballergy”, which is as fast as songs from Ecliptica, yet a lot different in sound. It has more colours to it and sets the right ambience for the rest of the album with its playful melodies. It’s really songs like this one that give Silence its own identity. Together with “San Sebastian (Revisited)” and “Land of the Free” we have three-of-a-kind. All three have these true sing-along choruses, accompanied by a firm double bass rhythm underneath, and very melodic verses, expressed by a fresh voice of Tony Kakko, whose voice has increased a lot in quality since Ecliptica. I will shortly describe a few highlights of the album.

First highlight you’ll come across will be “The End of This Chapter”. It’s a story about a man stalking a woman, to say it very bluntly. The song itself is mid-paced, starting off quite gently and getting slightly heavier towards the end. In combination with the increasingly epic chorus this makes one hell of a track. Then there is “Black Sheep”. Though obviously power metal, it’s a bit slower than a song like “Weballergy”, and therefore concentrates its power on the musical arrangements and the melody instead of the speed, which results in one of my all-time Sonata Arctica favorites. Last of the highlights would be “Wolf and Raven”. Seemingly just another fast song without identity, it is very different from the rest. It’s very aggressive in sound, also in the Tony Kakko’s vocals, which really seem to cry in despair during the chorus. It’s the first song by this band that I ever heard, and it’s still one of my favorites.

Where does this album go wrong? The balance on the album still isn’t to my liking. Though the tempo balance seems all right, there is a slight quality balance lacking. Songs like “Tallulah” and “Sing in Silence” for example are totally blown away by what’s before and after them, respectively “San Sebastian” and “Wolf and Raven”, that they are shot into oblivion. Then there is “False News Travels Fast” and “Land of the Free”, two seemingly okay songs, but so forgettable compared to the good part of the album. Compared to Ecliptica, the good songs are better, but the fillers have a stronger presence. The problem with these fillers is not that they’re bad songs by themselves, but only compared to the rest of the album. But since I’m reviewing the album as a whole, I will count this as a downside.

My conclusion is, surprise surprise, that Silence is a good follow-up to the average Ecliptica, but I’m sure they could’ve done better. It’s better than Ecliptica at many points, including more variety among the songs and more colours within them, but still lacking the quality-balance. I would definitely recommend this album if you’re eager to listen to Sonata Arctica for the first time ever.

Strongest tracks: “The End of this Chapter”, “Black Sheep”, “San Sebastian (Revisited)” and “Wolf and Raven”.
Weakest: “False News Travels Fast”, “Land of the Free” and “Tallulah”.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Sonata Arctica - Ecliptica (1999)

1. Blank File
2. My Land
3. 8th Commandment
4. Replica
5. Kingdom for a Heart
6. FullMoon
7. Letter to Dana
8. UnOpened
9. Picturing the Past
10. Destruction Preventer
11. Mary-Lou (Japanese bonus track)

Fresh, energetic, repetitive - 6,6/10

Ecliptica shows us an album full of speedy, energetic, melodic power metal, in its earliest form. Sonata Arctica presented us with their debut album back in 1999, and compared to their later albums I think I can say Ecliptica was the raw essence of Sonata, that would be polished on later releases. Think of the lack of balance on the album, the overall oversmoothness, and the overwhelming of melodies. Tony Kakko sings literally sky-high on this release, but his voice sounds more controlled on later albums. All these things make a debut album very fun, since it’s mostly a copy of a band’s biggest influence, in this case a combination of Yngwie Malmsteen and Stratovarius.

When we put the CD in the player, and the first song “Blank File” begins to play, we are immediately blown away by the high tempo and the very melodic power metal. Though this opener isn’t quite the catchy Sonata Arctica as you can hear on later albums, the album does contain true SA classics. Songs like “Replica”, “8th Commandment” and “FullMoon” are songs that truly are the basis and the essence of the Sonata Arctica power metal sound. Although “Replica” quite easily bores me a little, the other two are easily candidates for the album’s best songs. Complemented by epic “Letter to Dana”, I think we have assembled Ecliptica’s holy trinity. Apart from that, the opener song sets the right ambience for the album, but the melodies are not really that catchy yet, and it’s not a convincing album overall.

The good side of this album is that it contains “Letter to Dana”. Being the only real ballad on the album makes it really stand out. It’s a story about a girl who fled from home and derailed a little, and it’s told through letters. The cohesion of all the instruments here is admirable, and the striking guitar solo really adds power to the song, turning it into an epic. Also worth listening to is FullMoon, a tale about a man becoming a werewolf while his wife is about to be eaten by himself. It starts of real gently, and then kind of explodes into the power metal anthem, with a true catchy sing-along chorus. Unfortunately there’s also less worthy stuff on the album, as I mentioned before. “UnOpened”, although it was the first single, really doesn’t say anything at all. It’s a simple song consisting of an average melody, standard song structure and continuous double bass drums, telling a story about getting a letter but not daring to open it. In the same line is “Picturing the Past”, which does not really have anything that comes to mind except for the notable guitar theme in the intro. I can’t really mention anything more about it simply because it has no hooks and can’t stay in my mind. We do have a worthy album closer though, in the shape of “Destruction Preventer”. Though it tends to believe you that it’s an epic due to the long silent intro, it’s just another power metal song, with some weird themes thrown in, nowadays immediately labeled as ‘hints towards their far future’ in 2007’s progressive Unia. Apart from that it has a catchy chorus, but repulsive themes just after the second verse. I guess this was a little too early for them to go progressive.

I mentioned earlier that this album sounds a little unpolished. Best examples for this are songs like “Kingdom for a Heart”, “Picturing the Past” and “My Land”. The idea of these songs is nice, but they grab those double bass drums way too easily, which gives little variety in the songs, since most of them have the same tempo. Even the Japanese bonus track “Mary-Lou” sounds as if they were in haste when making it, the acoustic version on “Orientation” offers a much more satisfactory tempo, giving the listener some time to get struck by the lyrics. Too give an even better view of the lack of variety on this album, there are but three songs that are not fast. The guitar sounds way too monotonous here, mostly just riffing along with the double bass drums on the background.

Having given a short overview of this album, I will conclude that this album is good, not great. It’s Sonata Arctica in their earliest form, making power metal with subtle hints of where they are going to in later albums, but also with little variety in the tempo’s, making it a bit repetitive to listen to. Overall, this is one album worth checking out, if you are a fan of Sonata Arctica. If not, you should check out Silence or Winterheart’s Guild first.

Strongest Tracks: “8th Commandment”, “FullMoon” and “Letter to Dana”.
Weakest: “UnOpened”, “Picturing the Past” and “Kingdom for a Heart”.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Queensrÿche - Q2K (1999)

1. Falling Down
2. Sacred Ground
3. One Life
4. When the Rain Comes
5. How Could I?
6. Beside You
7. Liquid Sky
8. Breakdown
9. Burning Man
10. Wot Kinda Man
11. Right Side of My Mind

The End of a Fanbase - 6/10

Q2k is an album most people instantly throw in the trashcan after hearing it. Why? Queensrÿche is pursuing a different style, once again. While fans want nothing but progressive metal, the band tends to give them less and less of that genre. Now, what is this new genre and what is the result of this experimenting with new genres? It seems there are more alternative rock influences here than before. If you thought Q2k’s predecessor was clean of metal, then you should definitely check this one out. A total departure from anything they did before. About the result, I have mixed feelings.

It sure was a hard time for Queensrÿche back then in 1999. Their record company EMI America went bankrupt, Chris DeGarmo left the band and it sure weren’t the best days for their kind of music. I can imagine they wanted to do something totally new, something that would get them back in the picture. As I read in the booklet of the 2006 re-master, they were practically broke at that time. I can imagine their choice to try and pursue a style that is a bit more mainstream, hence the alternative rock style. And so Q2k was born. Personally, I don’t really mind bands trying something new. Mostly I like that a lot, such as the Scorpions’ Eye II Eye effort from 1999, and Sonata Arctica’s Unia from 2007. However, I’m not very sure about this release. Let’s go into the music a bit more.

That Queensrÿche pursued a different style here, we know. But did they pass the test? I am no expert at alternative rock, but I can judge the songs on what they are. About fifty percent of the songs suck and fifty percent doesn’t. Yet there are no standout tracks and there is no overall attractiveness. Although some songs get to hook themselves somewhere in the back of your mind, there are no instantly catchy anthems like on previous albums. This is one very difficult release, sometimes I really hate it and need to stop myself from throwing it away, but at other times I think I can appreciate it. At this moment, I can appreciate it, so I’ll keep this review nice, except when I really shouldn’t.

Stronger tracks on the album. “Falling Down” immediately comes to mind with the uplifting drum beat and the refreshing entrance by Geoff Tate. Even the guitar duel between Michael Wilton and newbie Kelly Gray has something you might like. Then “Sacred Ground” comes. A quite relaxing upbeat song. Dirty lyrics though. “One Life” is also enjoyable, perhaps one of the better songs of this album. Other stronger songs here are “When the Rain Comes”, “How Could I”, “Beside You”, “Liquid Sky” and “The Right Side of My Mind”. But please remember what I said, none of these songs are even comparable to stuff that features on Rage for Order or Promised Land.

Weak tracks. “Breakdown” would immediately be qualified for the worst song of the year. No, scratch that. It’s the worst song of the century. That guitar riff sounds so unbelievably uninspired. I could make that up in two seconds and I would never like it. Not liking metal, fine. Not wanting to make metal anymore, fine. But there is no excuse for an abomination as “Breakdown”. Then we have “Burning Man”. Ethically, this song is a scandal. This is just not a song you may write as a progmetal band, yet it has some kind of swinging vibe that makes you like it at some occasions. At other occasions, this might as well be one of the worst songs of the album. “Wot Kinda Man” is shamelessly misspelled with the means of being popular, which makes you hate the song instantly without having heard it. Now, I must say I hated the song for a long time. But actually it’s quite relaxing and laidback, and has variation throughout the verses, making it a decent song after all. It took some time before I realized that though.
Album closer “Right Side of my Mind” is one that would remind to earlier Rÿche releases like Promised Land. A worthy closer, even though it’s still in the Q2k style.

After lots of thinking and revising and drinking and sleeping, I may as well come to a conclusion. My problem is, however, that I still don’t know whether to like or to dislike this album. At times I can enjoy it, but at other times I really despise it. There are good songs on it, but the overall feeling of Q2k is a bit mellow and clumsy. I would almost go for a rating of 5, yet there is one thing that tells me to add 1 point. The bonus tracks of the re-mastered edition! Indeed, those tracks were left off the original album, and that is really remarkable, since they are easily better songs than half of the others. Yeah, the bonustracks are great, except for the “Breakdown” radio edit of course, the only thing that makes this version thrive over the original is the reduced length, the sooner that song is finished the better.

To cut this long story short, Q2k is an album you will hate. Still I like it at times. They chose to pursue an entirely different style than before, and you will hate that. But this album has an entirely different purpose than the others, it’s more somewhat of a relaxing album. Now, I will not recommend it to you, unless you like alternative rock or are an open-minded Rÿche fan.

Strongest tracks (no re-master): Sacred Ground, One Life, and The Right Side of My Mind. And if you have the re-master, the bonus tracks of course.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)

1. Freiheit Ouvertüre
2. Convict
3. I'm American
4. One Foot in Hell
5. Hostage
6. The Hands
7. Speed of Light
8. Signs Say Go
9. Re-Arrange You
10. The Chase
11. A Murderer?
12. Circles
13. If I Could Change it All
14. An Intentional Confrontation
15. A Junkie's Blues
16. Fear City Slide
17. All the Promises

Twice the risk, double the fall - 3,5/10

Operation: Mindcrime II, the “long-awaited” sequel to their 1988 masterpiece. Being a band that just no longer has the quality they used to have; this task is very risky, and possibly very unwise. Albums like Hear in the Now Frontier and Q2k, and even Tribe (although I really like that one) were not quite received with loud cheers, and using an old title to gain more attention from already declined fans is certainly not a bad thing. What is bad is that it’s needed for them to do such a thing. Furthermore, those “regained” fans probably regretted being “regained” after listening to this sequel. Tate and the boys should have known that taking such a title would quadruple the expectations.

Although Queensrÿche has done quite a good job at recreating the proper Mindcrime ambience, they quality of the songs, especially after track 10 “The Chase”, is not nearly as good as on the first Operation: Mindcrime. Songs like “The Hands” and “Re-arrange You” really make you think the band is back to making quality music, but unfortunately abominations like “I’m American” and “Murderer?” make you think otherwise. The story does continue, but is a little predictable, and very annoying after the death of Dr X. Basically, from track 11 to 17 you get to hear how the main character is struggling with himself over and over again until he decides to commit suicide. Those tracks sound really depressing, which from a certain point of view is very good, because the music is representing the tone of the lyrics very well, but on the other hand it is not at all nice to listen to.

Having said that, I can say the first half of the album is pretty enjoyable, though far from great. After hearing the nice intro tune “Freiheit Ouvertüre” you get to hear the opening song “I’m American”. First of all, the lyrics are disgusting, even though I think he means them sarcastically. Furthermore, it is not a very bad song, but Queensrÿche hasn’t created fast songs since 1988, and that’s very audible here. It sounds very forced. It also has a terrible theme after the 2nd chorus, and a terrible guitarsolo. The solo's on this album are all terrible, by the way.
Then there come three nice songs with memorable choruses, with “The Hands” as a highlight. “Speed of Light” tends to belong to that “nice-list” as well, if only it didn’t have that terrible “inner confrontation” at the end. Then we have another forced up-tempo song that drags along in the shape of “Signs Say Go”.

Highlight of the album would really be “The Chase”, the duet between Geoff Tate and Ronnie James Dio. No other song can compete with these melodies and these vocal qualities. Although Pamela Moore’s singing from “If I Could Change It All” comes close.
After the first half comes the second, depressing half, with only “If I Could Change It All” and “A Junkie’s Blues” worth to be mentioned. The rest is forgettable, but very experimental. If you like experimental, you might like it, but I’ll pass. What I do not like about this second half is the so called “inner confrontations” from the main character that feature in almost every song here. Furthermore, sometimes the vocal melodies remind me of a musical, or an Ayreon rock opera. But it definitely does not fit Queensrÿche.

To make a long story short, this attempt at a sequel to Operation: Mindcrime is not a complete failure, nor is it their new triumph. Most of its content is forgettable, and the part that is not is not very memorable either. This is not the comeback many fans have waited for. No, that title I would like to give to 2009’s American Soldier, although there are many who would disagree with me on that point. The songs I recommend: “Hostage”, “The Hands”, “Re-Arrange You”, “The Chase” and “If I Could Change It All”.
Furthermore, I do not recommend this album to anyone but to completists. Don’t let the title misguide you.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Queensrÿche - Empire (1990)

1. Best I Can
2. The Thin Line
3. Jet City Woman
4. Della Brown
5. Another Rainy Night (Without You)
6. Empire
7. Resistance
8. Silent Lucidity
9. Hand on Heart
10. One and Only
11. Anybody's Listening...?

Warning: Commercial Content Ahead - 2/10

Empire, according to a lot of Queensrÿche fans one of the best albums in their career. “One of the best metal albums ever.” I guess they have a different Empire than I have. The music on this album is more commercial pop-rock than progressive metal, or anything decent. Happy glam synthesizers, typical poppy choir vocals, cheesy ‘goodwill’ lyrics, Empire has got it all! Luckily, there is also good stuff on this album. This was my second Queensrÿche album, the first was Operation: Mindcrime, and after hearing Empire, I almost gave up on buying more Rÿche music. I was glad that I didn’t, since other albums are all better.

As we are welcomed into the album by a happy piano-tune, followed by a decent guitar riff, spoiled by the awful synths, we take a quick look at the track list, which tells us we are listening to “Best I Can”. Apparently, the lyrics are about a boy who is in a wheelchair and still tries the best he can. How touching. That indeed will sell and crawl up the charts. The song is decent, but nothing more. “The Thin Line” has an okay-ish guitar riff, again spoiled by the arrangements. This time the rest of the song is quite a nuisance as well. “Jet City Woman” is more of the same, yet is a lot more pleasant to hear, although it’s still just a pop song with wannabe-metal arrangements. The seven minute abomination “Della Brown” will make you fall asleep. The stupid poppy beat that continues along all the song with the lame chorus contains some of the worst nineties pop tunes ever. The only good thing about that song is the inspiring guitar solo.

Getting tired of my negativity? I am. Therefore, it’s time to look at a brighter side of the album. “Another Rainy Night” and “Empire” are two amazing tracks. Trademark Queensrÿche as we all love it. The first of the two might sound a little bit poppy as well, but has stunning guitar-oriented arrangements, while the latter has the best guitar riff on the album.

Then I will skip all the other terrible songs, for the sake of the Rÿche. “Silent Lucidity” will come to your attention immediately. The mellow acoustic guitars playing a poppy, catchy tune combined with the lower register of Tate’s vocals does not actually sound bad, yet the song totally does not fit on the album. We all know that around this time Tate’s voice is starting to change, and that results in weird contrast among the songs. Especially in “Silent Lucidity”, which apparently is the bands biggest hit. Well, the song is okay, but certainly not that great.
*skip* *skip*
Ah... “Anybody’s Listening?” is the album closer, and is definitely worth a listen. You might say it’s “the classic Rÿche closing ballad”. This power ballad starts out very gentle, but bit by bit it gains more “weight”, in terms of speaking. This is the song that reminds you that you were listening to Queensrÿche, and not some half-assed Bon Jovi wannabes, which gives the bad part of the album an even worse title.

To come to the conclusion, Empire pretty well sucks. At least, if you don’t like a metal band going commercial, like me. With only three songs worth listening, I might as well say this album is the worst in the Queensrÿche history. Yes, even worse than Q2k.
I will never recommend this album to anyone. It almost made me abandon Queensrÿche, and that would be the most foolish thing to do. They have made better stuff than this.
A waste of money.

Strongest... I mean, the only strong songs: Another Rainy Night, Empire and Anybody’s Listening?

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.

Queensrÿche - American Soldier (2009)

1. Sliver
2. Unafraid
3. Hundred Mile Stare
4. At 30,000 Ft.
5. A Dead Man's Words
6. The Killer
7. Middle of Hell
8. If I Were King
9. Man Down!
10. Remember Me
11. Home Again
12. The Voice

A Great Recovery - 8/10

Queensrÿche, the band that seems to surprise everyone with every new album they make, especially after the commercial success of Empire. Where Promised Land showed us a dark progressive metal, Hear in the Now Frontier gave us a bit of grunge, and Q2K gave us something... totally different. And then Tribe, and then Operation: Mindcrime II! Who would know what to expect from their latest effort: American Soldier?

Overall, the concept of war and soldiers is not very original, yet the way Rÿche does it sounds very unique. With the addition of fragments of soldier’s interviews, the music comes more to life. Very different from their previous works, as usual, but still unmistakably Queensrÿche! Exactly the way an album should follow up a predecessor, in my opinion. Refreshing, yet still a trademark album. In fact, this album is more trademark than any of it’s predecessors after 1994’s Promised Land.

The way the album opens, however, is very awkward, yet original, and experimental. Some kind of drill sergeant shouts “on your feet!” followed by a haunting guitar riff. They instantly get you in army atmosphere. The rest of the opening track “Sliver” is quite boring, with a strange, a little too experimental chorus, having the sergeant shouting “welcome to the show”, which clearly states that this is merely an opening track. Yet, the good part of the album begins at the third track, “Hundred Miles Stare”, with a very catchy chorus, which is typically Queensrÿche, and at the same time it totally isn’t.

The songs are not based on heaviness. Heavy fragments do occur, such as the splendid “Man Down!” and the chorus of the single “If I Were King”. Somehow, I never saw Queensrÿche as a real metal band anyway, but I know most people do. The songs are not fast either, which I consider to be trademark Rÿche (“I’m American” on Mindcrime II was their first fast song since 1988), and it does not make the album a dragging or slow one, due to enough variation. Let me take out some highlights.

One of the best songs off the album would be “A Dead Man’s Words”, an epic song about a soldier being lost in the desert, struggling for survival. The riff and the entire theme are so dragging and dry; they make it seem as if I am the soldier in the desert. I can not describe the feeling this song gives me, but I totally feel like I am that soldier. One thing Geoff Tate can do very well is to sing as if he is tired, lost and confused. He is not singing awful at all, don’t get me wrong. It gives an effect to the song that makes it complete.

Another highlight would be the ballad “Home Again”, featuring Tate’s eleven year old daughter Emily on vocals, together with her dad. They perform a soldier and his child that are separated, because the soldier is on duty, but he’ll be home again. The singing of his daughter is not technically a feast, but the emotion coming off her voice... wow! Of course, she’d really mean the words she sings, since she and her dad are departed for most of the year as well, since Tate’s touring with Queensrÿche. Last word about this song: it’s just epic.

My conclusion about this album is that it’s a very good one. With a weak start, it gets stronger after the second track, and it finishes with style. It’s not metal, it’s not catchy at times, but it’s definitely trademark Queensrÿche and it’s worth a listen or five (I needed a couple of listens myself). But to see the beauty, one must accept that Queensrÿche is no longer the same as with Chris DeGarmo. Great album, absolute recommendation.

Originally posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum.