Thursday, 25 March 2010

Coldplay - X&Y Bonus CD (2006)

1. Things I Don't Understand
2. Proof
3. The World Turned Upside Down
4. Pour Me
5. Sleeping Sun
6. Gravity

This is a thing that I don’t understand – 8/10

This bonus CD that accompanied special editions of X&Y contains the b-sides from this period. I take it that b-sides are songs that didn’t make it to the album. Having this in mind, there’s a thing I don’t understand. Some of these songs are true b-sides, funny, goofy or only just not good enough, but others are easily better than some songs on the main album. Why turn those into b-sides?

We are dealing with six songs that didn’t make it to X&Y. Therefore, we have the same atmospheric space pop as on the main album, which is absent on a few songs. “Proof” for example, is a great piano ballad that sounds more like it could’ve been on A Rush of Blood rather than on X&Y. “Gravity” was said to be written in 2002, and I totally believe that, for it also sounds more like A Rush of Blood as well. These beautiful ballads are more relying on piano and vocals rather than on spacey synths and guitars, like X&Y. “Sleeping Sun” is an oddity. It shows the more experimental side of Coldplay and sounds pretty swinging with its percussion. The acoustic rhythm guitars are also pretty odd for Coldplay, yet it does sound like the band. “Pour Me” is recorded live and sounds like an obvious b-side, but it’s still good. With this song the spacey atmosphere has returned and it sounds like a slow rock song with Guy Berryman’s bass playing being pretty notable. In the end Martin really screams it out, which sounds pretty funny. “Things I Don’t Understand” and “The World Turned Upside Down” are two songs that should’ve been on the actual album, replacing “Speed of Sound” and “Low”. The spacey atmosphere has returned again and these songs sound really original, great and a lot better than the X&Y’s weakest. I think these would even be candidates for the best few songs of the entire X&Y sessions.

Having said that, I don’t understand why some of these songs are mere b-sides. The majority however is understandably not on the actual album, not because they’re bad songs, but because they wouldn’t fit on the album. In essence, this is a great bonus CD to have with your already great X&Y album and I highly recommend anyone who can get hold of this limited special edition to do so.

Strongest tracks: “Things I Don’t Understand” and “The World Turned Upside Down”.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Scorpions - Sting in the Tail (2010)

1. Raised on Rock
2. Sting in the Tail
3. Slave Me
4. The Good Die Young
5. No Limit
6. Rock Zone
7. Lorelei
8. Turn You On
9. Let's Rock
10. SLY
11. Spirit of Rock
12. The Best is Yet to Come

I Fail to Get Stung – 6/10

The sooner the release date approached, the better the album was promised to be. First we are told this album is going to sound like the Scorpions did in the early 80s. Second we are told that this album is very good, on par with the classic albums Blackout and Love at First Sting, in the opinions of the band members. Last we are surprised with this being the final studio album the Scorpions will ever make together and they want to end their career on a high note, making this their swan song. If all these things were true, the Scorps would be making on hell of a farewell album. Unfortunately, the Scorpions seemed to have set the bar extremely low or they have just no more inspiration. I don’t mean to say the entire album is bad, but it sounds uninspired nonetheless.

Oh yes, this album sounds 80s alright, but it’s nowhere near Blackout. Actually, the sound reminds me more of Crazy World and Unbreakable, with a dash of new. This new element is the will to party, and party they did. Choruses like “Let’s Rock” and “Turn You On” are really happy and celebrating, unique to Sting in the Tail. The quality of the songs is however a bit less. I already said it was a little like Crazy World, and I think that one is a bit of a dull album. Well, this album is actually quite the same, but in a different way. Where Crazy World just didn’t have enough hooks and heartbreaking melodies, SitT does have hooks, but they don’t last for very long. They kept this album very simple, very happy and thus making it sound uninspired. The band’s performance is very tight, but the arrangements are dull. Best example of that is the title track with its one-chord verses and chorus. There’s just no challenge for the listeners on this album, although I have to admit the guitar solos are great again, after a short absence from previous albums.

This doesn’t mean the album doesn’t have its moments. “Raised on Rock” is a classic opener with very tight “Hurricane”-ish riffs and real good vocals. Vocalist Klaus Meine is really shining on the album, hitting high notes on his old day. “Lorelei” is a truly great ballad, slightly borrowing arrangements in the main theme from Crazy World’s “Send Me An Angel”. “Let’s Rock” is my favorite track with it’s relaxing heavy riff and very melodic partying chorus, but unfortunately not all CD releases feature this song. “The Best Is Yet to Come” is as a final ballad also worth a positive mention with its more modern sound and very catchy melodies. It’s obviously an upcoming live track with the stadium chants of ‘heyaheyo’. Having mentioned these four good songs, this is where the notable work stops.

The rest of the album is filled with okay but not great tracks. “Sting in the Tail” and “Rock Zone” for example are two very uninspired rock songs that don’t feature anything really stunning or notable. Same with rockers as “No Limit” or “Spirit of Rock”. These songs are not necessarily bad: they have considerably good riffs, great vocals and good choruses, but they are far from memorable. It’s okay, but not great. The ballad “SLY” on the other hand is quite a bad song. They not only copied the opening chords from “Send Me An Angel” again, but the rest of the track doesn’t go anywhere. That’s the whole problem with this album: most songs don’t go anywhere, they just go. That’s what makes this album pretty dull. European single “The Good Die Young” is in itself not a bad song, but doesn’t add anything to the album but an okay track without a solo. And then we have Tarja Turunen doing some backing vocals here, but it’s nothing that can’t be replaced by keyboards. It’s really a pity the Scorpions decide to end their career with this.

In short, Sting in the Tail is not the great farewell album they promised it to be. There are some fine songs on it, but the rest doesn’t matter. They’re not bad songs, but not at all great, and thus they make this a very dull album. I would recommend this only to collectors of the Scorpions’ music.

Strongest tracks: “Let’s Rock”, “Lorelei” and “Raised on Rock”.
Weakest tracks: “Sting in the Tail”, “Rock Zone” and “SLY”.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Coldplay - X&Y (2005)

1. Square One
2. What If
3. White Shadows
4. Fix You
5. Talk
6. X&Y
7. Speed of Sound
8. A Message
9. Low
10. The Hardest Part
11. Swallowed in the Sea
12. Twisted Logic
13. Til Kingdom Come (hidden)

Atmospheric Space Pop – 7,5/10

Coldplay decided that their sound needed a change. And that’s basically the first thing you’ll notice about X&Y. The fun part of Coldplay is that they change their sound every album. Parachutes had this somewhat raw and unpolished sound, A Rush of Blood to the Head featured an overpolished and commercial pop sound, and X&Y again sounds entirely different and considerably catchier. This album also features a few great hits, making it another very successful album by the lords of pop. Before this album came out, Coldplay were teasing us with phrases like ‘we are trying to make the best thing that anyone has ever heard’*. I must say I was quite a bit surprised to hear this coming from a band I always regarded as cheap, commercial and plain back then. I have to say this album did kind of change that image.

The immediate discovery you’ll make is the strong and dominant presence of synthesizers and string ensembles. The synth sound used is mostly an atmospheric spacey sound and makes you feel you’re in space, especially when it’s only Chris Martin and the synths you hear. There’s a slight reverb effect added to the guitars to add even more to the space theme. Apart from the mysterious space feel in the music, there’s also some great mysterious nature in the lyrics. They seem to deal moments of things that are uncertain and unreal. Some of these lyrics are quite high quality, such as “Talk” or “White Shadows”, but there’s also some quite cheesy and downright stupid tripe in “What If”. Overall, the lyrics fit the music. Also a more relative change is the increased amount of guitar melodies and guitar themes in the songs. Though they are more backed up by synths or string ensembles on the background, the foreground relies more on guitar than piano now.

Let me take you on a journey through the highlights and abominations of this album. The first track you’ll come across is “Square One”. An atmospheric synthesizer intro and some vocal lines later we have Will Champion giving one of his greatest drum rhythms ever. It doesn’t take that long for the full band to join in and the guitar is the main accompanying instrument. There’s an echo attached to Martin’s voice as well. The song is further carried on by the backing synths and the accompanying guitars. Overall this is a great opener. “What If” tries to build on to this atmosphere that is created, but just fails at the beginning. They not only began with pianos, the first lyrical phrase is ‘What if there was no life?’. Can you come up with anything cheesier? The song evolves in a gentle pop song with a nice guitar melody towering high above the other instruments and soon enough we’ll be back into the great synth-guitar accompaniment duo. Absolute highlight is found in “White Shadows”. The great accompaniment remains here and the verses feature solid drums by Champion and then it goes back to the main theme with its great towering guitar melody by Jonny Buckland. The second verse features at least three guitar tracks, which adds a lot to the song. As the beautiful chorus finally arrives we have Martin giving a great falsetto voice with an epic synth-guitar duo. The great line continues with the two big hits “Fix You” and “Talk”, which are both very catchy and are respectively a ballad and a rocker. I would never have thought Coldplay would make a rock song, but with “Talk” they made a good rock song, albeit they bought the main guitar melody from Kraftwerk.

This is where the album weakens a little. With the title track “X&Y” we have a clear case of string ensemble overload. While the song itself is not that bad, it is slightly spoiled by the very dominant string ensemble. “Speed of Sound” is very similar to big hit “Clocks”, which just sounds lame and uninspired. Although it is a different song and, surprise surprise, another hit single, we have a similar theme and similar melodies. “A Message” begins with the classic Coldplay guitar intro we often hear on the first two albums, but later somewhat explodes into a bombastic synth part that is supposed to be the chorus, yet lacks one thing: aren’t choruses supposed to be catchy? Though I must admit I like the verses of this song, I really despise the choruses. “Low” has to be the lowest quality on this album. The verses really sound like a cheap copy of “White Shadows” and the chorus is just an enormous letdown and actually doesn’t do anything. It leads nowhere and the enormously dominant synthesizers are not funny at all here, combined with Buckland merely slamming the appropriate chord as many times as he can in the chorus.

After this dive we come back to the surface and meet more quality songs. “The Hardest Part” and “Swallowed by the Sea” both have a very catchy and a somewhat sing-along theme, and it really surprised me that the latter was not released as a single and “What If” was. In contrast to the previous few songs, the good synth-guitar accompaniment balance has been restored here and makes these songs memorable. “Twisted Logic” somewhat takes this new Coldplay sound we’ve been surprised with and adds it to a classic Coldplay song. In other words, it is your favorite epic closing song you find on earlier albums, but now converted for X&Y sound. The track is great and at the chorus all the good things of this album return: the high falsetto voice of Chris Martin, the great synthesizer-guitar accompaniment, the epic feeling and the powerful drumming of Will Champion. The hidden track “Til Kingdom Come” is a nice acoustic song that sounds like it was recorded by Chris Martin in his bedroom.

In short, X&Y is a very different Coldplay sound, mostly due to the powerful new sound of the synthesizers and the more present guitars. Although the album weakens a little in the middle the good songs are great and hint subtly at the following studio release Viva la Vida or Death and All his Friends. This album I recommend to every pop fan alive, since modern pop music rarely sounds like this. X&Y is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Strongest tracks: “White Shadows”, “Swallowed by the Sea” and “Twisted Logic”.
Weakest tracks: “Low”, “A Message” and “Speed of Sound”.

* = Source

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Keane - Perfect Symmetry (2008)

1. Spiralling
2. The Lovers are Losing
3. Better than This
4. You Haven't Told Me Anything
5. Perfect Symmetry
6. You Don't See Me
7. Again and Again
8. Playing Along
9. Pretend That You're Alone
10. Black Burning Heart
11. Love is the End

The Perfect Symmetry – 8/10

As soon as I heard that piano rock band Keane added guitars for the first time ever, this album could not escape my attention. For the first time in my life I was listening to a Keane album, and I was quite pleasantly surprised. The lads from Great Britain make strong piano-driven pop music with catchy vocals, yet they are not your everyday band. Keane has, like Coldplay, that one thing that makes them different from your average pop band: a unique sound. The band is unique in almost every way. The fact that they are very piano-based is one, but Tom Chaplin’s vocals are really one-of-a-kind. He sings with a clear, present voice, has a great vocal range and often uses cool metrics in his lyrics like on “The Lovers Are Losing”. He can be a bit annoying when he sings gently though. Combine that with Tim Rice-Oxley’s unique piano arrangements and Richard Hughes’ energetic drums and you’ve got a cool trio with a unique sound. What did the addition of guitars result in?

Keane is quite a synthesizer-based band and the addition of guitars did not change that very attribute. Where some might have expected a major change in sound, it’s not really showing here. The guitars mostly are clean and just play the chords like on opening track “Spiralling”. There are certainly songs where they are a bit more audible and more adding to the song like “Pretend That You’re Alone” and eventually we have one song with a sole guitar on a light distortion carrying the main theme in “You Haven’t Told Me Anything”. As said earlier, the main instruments are still the piano and the synths. I don’t believe that this is a shortcoming at all, for this is the proper way to accompany Tom Chaplin’s vocals in these happy songs with their great melodies. For I think that is the strength of Keane and Perfect Symmetry: vocal melodies and their lyrics. Chaplin’s lyrics often consist of very catchy and memorable phrases with great metaphors within them and they’re sung on this melody that just fits the music behind it like a piece fits in the puzzle. Often he finds the words that not only fit the metric of the verse or chorus but also sound very catchy. A more guitar oriented accompaniment wouldn’t do enough justice to this unique way of singing.

Having described the overall music, let me get a bit into the details and the highlights. The highlight of this album is hard to point at. From the very first track to the very last one the album is solid and hardly gets weaker. There’s energy throughout, mostly due to the drums of Mr. Hughes. The album begins with the jungle sounds of “Spiralling”, just before it explodes into a bombastic pop song with a slightly upbeat theme. The synths rise high above all other instruments and when Chaplin arrives in the verses the piano takes over from the synths and all the attention is drawn to the great vocal melodies and metrics. The second track “The Lovers are Losing” is my absolute favorite. While it also begins with a heavy synth-overload, this one really shines in the chorus. The verses, accompanied with a soft guitar plucking at the background, feature already catchy lyrics, but when the chorus begins Chaplin has his finest hour with these great metrics and the lyrics fitting so well within them. “Better than This” continues in the same vein and features some energetic drums and some clapping on the beats. Again we have the guitar playing clean chords without changing the Keane-sound too much. The chorus is just more of the great melodies. We have a more guitar oriented theme on “You Haven’t Told Me Anything”, which adds a little variation to the album. The tone is also a bit less cheerful here but nonetheless gives Chaplin enough space for some more great metrics. The title track features the recognizable Keane piano theme, but also sounds a bit more sad and emotional than the first few songs, which creates a more epic chorus, where Chaplin really adds lots of emotion.

We have our first ballad in the shape of “You Don’t See Me”. This also features the trademark use of pianos and the clear vocals. A real highlight here is the bridge where Chaplin sings high and thus adding a lot more to the song. Where “Again and Again” is a more cheerful song in the vein of the first few tracks, an attempt at an epic is being found in “Playing Along”. This one is quite gentle in sound and starts off with a Coldplay-ish theme, which is being Keanified as soon as Chaplin starts to sing. This track pretends to be just a ballad when you hear the relaxing chorus and verses until you get to the ‘turn up the volume’-part. At first it replaces a chorus and remains quite unnoticed, but later it comes back with much more powerful arrangements, featuring our dearest Richard Hughes who is having a good time slamming the drums. “Pretend That You’re Alone” and “Black Burning Heart” are two happy pop songs with the great metrics and lyrics as we know from the first few tracks. Last and least of the album comes “Love Is the End”, which is quite a nice ballad in itself, but is the only song on the album where Chaplin sounds very tedious and annoying. I must add, it doesn’t always annoy me.

All in all, I must conclude Perfect Symmetry to be a great album. There’s a very cheerful atmosphere all over the album, with a few exceptions here and there, and there are great lyrics with great metrics. If you are a bit sad, just listen to this release by Keane and you’ll be cheery again. I would like to recommend this to fans of the pop genre, though I wouldn’t recommend listening to this if you got a headache.

Strongest tracks: “The Lovers are Losing”, “Perfect Symmetry”, “Again and Again” and “Pretend That You’re Alone”.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Queensrÿche - Promised Land (1994)

1. 9-28 AM
2. I Am I
3. Damaged
4. Out of Mind
5. Bridge
6. Promised Land
7. Dis Con Nec Ted
8. Lady Jane
9. My Global Mind
10. One More Time
11. Someone Else?

One Last Return to Form – 9,5/10

For some people Queensrÿche’s downwards spiral began with this album, Promised Land. I however think that this album is actually the last album of the ‘classic’ albums and it is also quite a lot better than its predecessor, the commercial and overrated Empire. They took quite some time to come up with a new album after Empire and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this album did not chart as well as they had hoped. The second reason for that is one that counts for almost all 80s metalbands in the 90s; Nirvana was ruling the show now. Metal was out. Frankly, I’m quite sure that reason had a big influence on the sales and reviews of this release, since it actually is so typically Queensrÿche, but then just slightly darker. Perhaps if it was released in 1987 for example, it would’ve been received a lot better.

Though Promised Land brings us dark progressive metal, I can not deny that there are traces of Empire across the album. The funny thing is that this time the commercial aspect is well written and a lot more original than “Silent Lucidity”. And apart from that this album sounds far from uninspired; every bandmember is in top form. Geoff Tate’s voice has become a little lower and thicker, but he still sings full of emotion and still has his trademark wailing sound. Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton still come up with the best of riffs and chord progressions and their solos are really inventive and inspiring. Scott Rockenfield still sounds as powerful as ever, which is going to change after this album. Eddie Jackson also sounds clear and cool with his bass. Together they sound great. Promised Land is the last time the band sounds like this. The songwriting department also did a great job. There’s a great amount of variation among the songs; where one song is dark and haunting, the next is gentle and touching, then we have one swinging and groovy, and there we have a poppy track. I’ll be discussing a few of the highlights.

The first highlight you’ll come across is the opening of the album. After a weird intro “9-28 AM” we quickly go to “I Am I”. After what seems a musical chaos it evolves into a dark and haunting riff with a creepy wailing entry by Tate. The entire song stays within this dark atmosphere and it flows over into “Damaged”; a slightly more down-to-earth song with also a very dark and cool riff. After its mid-paced verses we get a more up-tempo chorus. These two great opening songs really set the right atmosphere for Promised Land with their dark tone. The darkness continues on title track “Promised Land”; a real dragging track with weird yet very cool riffs. Absolute star here is Geoff Tate with his clear desperation in his voice as he screams ‘why am I?’. Furthermore the time reserved for this song, almost 8-minutes, also really adds to the epicness and to the despair. Queensrÿche wanted to try something completely new with “Dis Con Nec Ted” and it probably was written during a jam session. The whole song is based around this groovy and swinging bass line by Jackson, then Rockenfield comes in with appropriate rhythms and before you know it DeGarmo and Wilton add their riffs to the whole. The chorus is sung by an almost robotic voice and Tate only talks in the verses. This is the first time in Queensrÿche’s career that we see such an experimental type of song with spoken verses, but not the last time as we see it return on 2003’s “The Art of Life” and 2009’s “Unafraid” songs.

On to the more ballad-ish side of the album. “Bridge” is one that almost immediately comes to your attention. It has not been released as a single without a reason, for this is the catchiest song Rÿche have ever written. The lyrics are really great, they’re about a father and son who have grown to dislike each other and blame each other for blowing up the bridge between them. Was this a mirror to DeGarmo, who wrote this song? This track builds up steadily with a somewhat poppy clean guitar in the beginning and the full band joining after. Another ballad that is very hard not to notice is “Someone Else?”. There’s this sad piano accompaniment that lasts the entire song to guide Geoff Tate on his lament about his girl having an affair with someone else. Normally such a lyric would come out cheesy, but the sad and dark tone combined with Tate’s emotional vocals really makes the story credible. This is a great way to close the album as well. It’s what I’d call ‘the classic Rÿche closing ballad’.

In short, Promised Land is really part of the best Rÿche albums but sounds a bit darker and even heavier than its predecessors. It’s trademark Queensrÿche as we all love it; atmospheric, original and with emotional vocals. I’d recommend this album to every Queensrÿche fan and to people who are new with the band.

Strongest tracks: “I Am I”, “Damaged”, “Bridge”, “Promised Land” and “Someone Else?”.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sonata Arctica - The Last Amazing Grays [Single] (2009)

1. The Last Amazing Grays (single edit)
2. Flag in the Ground (video edit)
3. The Last Amazing Grays (orchestral)

Collectors Only – 7/10

A small month before the release of my favorite Sonata Arctica album The Days of Grays, the lads from Finland released “The Last Amazing Grays” as a maxi single. There’s no doubt that this is a good choice for a single. This release features the single edit and an orchestral version of the title track and a video edit for “Flag in the Ground”. To be honest the extras could’ve been juicier if there had been a new song as a b-side instead of these edited album tracks.

The single edit of the title track begins with a short piano intro and then instantly begins with the verse. The rest of the song is almost the same as the original with a few cuts here and there, but it’s almost unnoticeable. I honestly don’t know the difference between the video edit for “Flag in the Ground” and the real song. Sure, this is probably the version that is to be heard on the music video, but it doesn’t really differ from the album version. Last and least we have the orchestral version of “The Last Amazing Grays”. I have nothing against orchestral versions of songs, and the orchestral bonus CD that accompanied the limited edition of The Days of Grays was exactly what it was: some extras. So is this. Don’t expect to be listening to this like you would listen to the albums, it’s just something as a bonus; quite nice but quite forgettable since you will never listen to it.

In short, this single contains good material, but nothing really worthwhile if you own the album The Days of Grays. I’d say this is only for those who would like to complete their Sonata Arctica collection.

Scorpions - Wind of Change (Russian) [Single] (1991)

1. Veter Peremen
2. Wind of Change [single edit]
3. Vientos de Cambio

This wind needs a change – 6/10

“Wind of Change” is still the biggest hit to date by the Scorpions and it’s a bit of a symbol of the downfall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet regime. Therefore this song is close to the hearts of many Russians and the Scorpions decided to translate the song in Russian so they could understand the song too. Quite understandable, isn’t it? Furthermore this single contains the normal English single edit and a Spanish version. Why the hell they would translate this song to Spanish is beyond me. I guess a totally new song would’ve done better.

So actually, we have three times the same song on here but in different languages. It starts with the familiar whistle and then the clean rhythm guitars join in. Klaus Meine starts to sing and Matthias Jabs gives us some great fills and eventually a great guitar solo. The chorus is still one of the best to date, being catchy in every language. What more explanation does this song need? The weird part of this single is the inclusion of three times this song. The Russian and English versions are single edits, while the Spanish version is the album version (with a different language of course). Sure, the song is great, but after hearing it three times in a row we don’t need any more of the same. We need some change here. Why not include a rocker from the album of that time, Crazy World? Just a little variation is all we need.

In the end, I think this single is more of a collectors item than something you’d want to give a spin over and over again. If you are Russian or Spanish I could understand you’d want your own version, but if you are not then this is not worth a lot of money. I would recommend this to collectors only.

Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

1. Politik
2. In My Place
3. God Put a Smile upon Your Face
4. The Scientist
5. Clocks
6. Daylight
7. Green Eyes
8. Warning Sign
9. A Whisper
10. A Rush of Blood to the Head
11. Amsterdam

A Rush of Hits to the Charts – 7,3/10

After the promising yet unpolished debut album Parachutes, Coldplay returned two years later with a brand new album that would mark their big breakthrough. With at least four big hits they conquered the hearts of many fans of pop music. Nowadays no one can think of a Coldplay without “Clocks” or “The Scientist”. A Rush of Blood to the Head became an instant classic album and opened the world for the band, which still only had their record deal for three years. Where most similar bands like Snow Patrol or OneRepublic are battling for a place in the charts but still don’t manage to become immensely popular, Coldplay manage to release only two albums and already become one of the most popular bands in the world. Are they overrated? Partly. But there actually is a very good reason for this album to have been such a breakthrough for them. Let me guide you through the album to give you a good idea of it.

Hits. Every band that chooses to write pop music needs them. Hits are supposed to be catchy songs and preferably very beautiful as well. Originality is not required, said with a quick glimpse at today’s charts. Our beloved Coldplay, however, plays the game differently. Because they have a sound that’s more unique than most of their fellow popbands, they can do more than just have a temporal hit. Their music remains standing even eight years after it was brought out. With Chris Martins unique voice and use of falsetto and with the cohesion of the band they are the only group that sounds like this. While some believe this album was the last of the ‘old’ Coldplay albums, I believe there is no such thing as ‘old’ Coldplay and this was just the album that accessed them to what they would release in later years. This album is for example already a lot different from Parachutes in sound and in songwriting. We are no longer bored by silent songs but face true energetic songs like the smashing “Politik” and the simplistic “Clocks” and there is rhythm guitar like only Coldplay do it on “God Put a Smile upon Your Face”. This album is variation throughout, with a few weak spots here and there, which I’ll fully describe in detail. The main downside is still the compactness of the songs and the lack of truly stunning instrumental parts, but apparently Coldplay is too much pop to even consider solos or anything of the kind.

Where Parachutes had a bit of a mellow, atmospheric opening song, ARoBttH goes straight to the point with the smashing opener “Politik”. Half a minute later the powerful intro falls silent into the verse, but returns once more at the chorus, thus leaving a bombastic impression to the listener. The song has a bit of a political character in lyrics, a little obvious seeing the title, and this is also the first Coldplay album to support the Make Trade Fair campaign. We continue the album with a row of hits. “In My Place” reminds heavily of U2 with its Edgy lead guitars in the main theme. It’s a slow-paced catchy track with great vocals. “God Put a Smile upon Your Face” sounds very unique with its odd plucking rhythm guitars and has a bit of a marching feel to it, mostly due to the monotonous rhythm of the drums. “The Scientist” is a beautiful ballad, starting solely with pianos and eventually becoming a full band song. Chris Martin really makes this song live with his melodies, but in the supposed interplay he starts singing ‘ooh’ with his falsetto voice a little too much, which is a shame since that should’ve been a guitar solo instead. The song was just crying for one. Last of the singles is “Clocks”, a fast-paced piano driven song with quite heavy drums for pop music. The main theme consists of three unoriginal chords that are somehow catchy in the ear, thus creating the bands biggest hit to date. Frankly, I don’t really like the song. It’s cheap, unoriginal and blunt.

Now we’re past all the hits we enter the album side. “Daylight” is an atmospheric song with a great slide guitar main theme and a really cool bass line underneath. With Martin singing ‘slowly breaking through the daylight’ at the end this is a truly awesome song but unfortunately without a solo. “Green Eyes” is a good song, but a bit of a weird one. It’s swinging, acoustic and thus totally doesn’t fit on the album. Is it a leftover from the Parachutes recordings? Martin’s vocals sound quite fragile here too. We have another gentle song with “Warning Sign”, which is quite enjoyable, but nothing more. It doesn’t stand out or anything and is actually quite a bore at times. A song of b-side quality is found in “A Whisper”, which wants to sound like a rocker, but Coldplay can’t make rock music. So what did they do? A guitar with very light distortion plays one chord all the time in the main theme and another in the verses. Meanwhile the vocals just randomly say ‘whisper, whisper’. Then the chorus is not much good either. What did Coldplay try to do here? I don’t know, but the message didn’t come across. When we finally crawl out of this depression we are surprised with two epics. The title track is a powerful song that builds up its volume steadily. “Amsterdam” also builds up the power gradually, but this one tends to be more piano-driven, while “A Rush of Blood...” is more guitar-driven. This is a very satisfying way to close the album.

In short, A Rush of Blood to the Head mostly stands because of its singles. The normal album songs are good at best, but terrible at worst, with the exception of the two songs near the end. The main downside is the compactness of the songs and the lack of really interesting instrumental parts such as improvisations or solos. The sound has become a lot more commercial, yet still very unique. This album is truly a must-have if you even know Coldplay, but for me the fun starts on later releases.

Strongest tracks: “The Scientist”, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and “Amsterdam”.
Weakest tracks: “Clocks”, “Warning Sign” and “A Whisper”.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Scorpions - Savage Amusement (1988)

1. Don't Stop at the Top
2. Rhythm of Love
3. Passion Rules the Game
4. Media Overkill
5. Walking on the Edge
6. We Let it Rock, You Let it Roll
7. Every Minute, Every Day
8. Love on the Run
9. Believe in Love

I’m amused alright – 8,7/10

So often do I come across an album by a band that’s severely underrated by the fans and, of course, loved by me and a few others. Though this is the follow-up to the overrated and commercial Love at First Sting, they did make a huge change in their music. There were four years between these albums and though bands can pull that sort of thing off in the here and now, it was certainly something rare back in the 80s. The Scorpions have spent those four years well I’d say. They found a way to still be commercial, like on Love at First Sting, but also write GOOD songs in the process, something that was forgotten back in 1984. On Savage Amusement, the Scorpions show the world they can be commercial without being lame and unoriginal, and that’s what matters most to me.

This album is not heavy at all. Can you even consider it metal? It’s hair metal at best. Maybe Love at First Sting is even heavier than this, yet this all doesn’t matter. For who cares what style they pursue, the main question will always be: are the songs original, well-written and good? Well, yes, the songs on here are very good. It’s really classic Scorpions of the likes of which you would hear on Blackout or Lovedrive, but then reissued in a commercial jacket. Vocalist Klaus Meine is in excellent shape, as is the lead-work of Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker. Drummer Herman Rarebell does his job typically 80s style but with some cool unexpected moves. This album contains melodic rockers like “Don’t Stop at the Top” and “We Let It Rock, You Let It Roll”, some great (power) ballads like “Walking on the Edge” and “Believe in Love”, and there is a piece of speed metal found here in the shape of “Love on the Run”. Together the songs form a strong album with a great overall ambience throughout. Let’s get a bit into the details.

The album opens with the hesitating guitar intro to “Don’t Stop at the Top”. As soon as the band joins in we are surprised by Rarebell making an unexpected move by not hitting his snare in one bar. The song then evolves into a melodic theme with great lead guitars and the verses totally change the mood of the chorus, which is a great contrast. “Rhythm of Love” was the biggest hit off this album and therefore is one of the lesser songs on here, which still isn’t that bad. It starts the same as the previous song in structure, giving a hesitating start at first and then evolving into the catchy theme. It’s melodic and catchy as hell, two standard ingredients for a hit, and it works. The catchiness and somewhat poppiness continues with “Passion Rules the Game” and “Media Overkill”, and they’re really good songs with cool riffs and good melodies. Especially “Media Overkill” has the necessary 80s pop influences in the beginning but it has a really groovy bass line throughout the verses to give it its unique sound. Then we come to power ballad “Walking on the Edge”. It starts off really quiet with a soft guitar playing gentle chords. Carefully Meine joins in to sing some lines and then at the verses the power starts coming in gradually and at the chorus it bursts out! It’s a little aggressive in sound then and it’s a really cool journey from gentle to wilder.

“We Let It Rock, You Let It Roll” has, besides one hell of a cheesy title, the best riff on this album. The lead guitars at the beginning really reminded me of Children of Bodom a little, mostly due to the pinch harmonics. The song is really aggressive and adrenaline pumping. This is my absolute favorite of Savage Amusement. The verses and chorus really carry lots of energy and the guitar solos are very inspiring. We continue on a high note with “Every Minute, Every Day”. This one starts off like the first two songs: hesitating at first, but then bursting into the catchy theme. This one features odd keyboards at the theme. The rest of the song sounds great again and continues in the same vein as the other great songs here. “Love on the Run” is a fast speed metal-ish song to give the album some more energy and power. This one does not meet the greatness of the other tracks here, but a good fast song is always welcome. The album is closed by “Believe in Love”, one of the finest ballads the Scorpions have ever recorded. It’s gentle, romantic, melodic and catchy. What more does a good ballad need, besides members of the Scorpions to play the instruments and to sing?

My writing skills tend to fail me in describing the greatness of some albums, and this is one of those albums. The melodies are many and the originality is high. This is what the Scorpions should be remembered for, not predecessor Love at First Sting. This is the proper way of a metalband going commercial, such a shame that so many fans fail to see it. I recommend this album to every Scorpions fan.

Strongest tracks: “We Let It Rock, You Let It Roll”, “Media Overkill” and “Believe in Love”.

Deep Purple - Bananas (2003)

1. House of Pain
2. Sun Goes Down
3. Haunted
4. Razzle Dazzle
5. Silver Tongue
6. Walk On
7. Picture of Innocence
8. I've Got Your Number
9. Never a Word
10. Bananas
11. Doing It Tonight
12. Contact Lost

Deep Purple has gone bananas – 7,4/10

I remember I used to buy Bananas in the store because I thought the front cover was funny. The cover is a perfect definition of the album itself: it’s a funny record. I doubt Deep Purple were in a serious mood when they wrote these songs (with the exception of some). There’s an overall relaxing atmosphere and songs with an uplifting mood. Especially when you take a look in the booklet and see Ian Gillan having to restrain himself from bursting out in laughs, Steve Morse looking very funny in the camera and the whole band having dressed themselves as tourists in a warm land, you can see the light atmosphere on the album reflecting in the bands attitude.

Where Abandon was a record that had an uninspiring balance between hard rockers and blues rockers or ballads, Bananas is one record full of the bluesy stuff. Though the riffs are not the most original and vocals are not what they used to be, the songs sound very spontaneous and relaxing. There is no “Child in Time” or “Hush” on here to make this album become a masterpiece, but this release does not aim to become the next masterpiece, and I think Deep Purple have chosen this more relaxing style on purpose on their journey to retirement. They no longer try to surpass albums like Machine Head, Perfect Strangers or Stormbringer. This is a vacation CD, recorded by a band that likes going on vacation. There are songs that make you believe you’re walking on an island full of banana trees like “House of Pain” and “Razzle Dazzle”, there are very inspiring ballads with at times even gospel influences like “Haunted” and “Never a Word” and there are songs with a more serious approach like “Sun Goes Down” and “Silver Tongue”. Overall, I don’t think there are abominations on this album are anything like a weak song. This album is built with all the songs as necessary bricks. Let’s go a bit more into details.

The album opens with the light “House of Pain”. The relaxing riff we hear is not the most original one, but gets us in the perfect Banana-mood. We also have Ian Gillan give a high scream at the beginning, giving us a false idea about his voice still being good. On the rest of the album he does not pretend to sing high, like on Abandon, but stays within his safe range where he sounds good. The rest of the opening song is quite funny actually, hearing the backing vocals echo Gillans ‘back to the house of pain’. “Sun Goes Down” begins slightly more serious, with a great Hammond intro by Don Airey, and then results into a more serious riff. Highlight of this song is the verse just after the interplay when only Gillan and drummer Ian Paice are playing. Gillans vocals really shine there. Next we have a beautiful ballad with gospel-esque backing vocals in the shape of “Haunted”. It’s really something new for Deep Purple to have a song like this, but the theme is beautiful and Gillan performs well. One of my favorite songs from this album is “Razzle Dazzle”. Despite the somewhat odd title it does contain a great relaxing blues rock tune, making you feel surrounded by bananas. Also this riff is not very original, but I really like the outcome of it. We continue on a more serious note on the rhythmic “Silver Tongue” and on the slow bluesy “Walk On”. When the guitar intro to “Picture of Innocence” begins we are back to the relaxing part of the album. This guitar intro solo is really great and the song that follows after it also has this laid back feel to it. Especially the chorus is notable with its raving vocals and lyrics.

As we hear the somewhat troublesome intro to “I Got Your Number” we are surprised to hear a riff that heavily reminds me of the music in the old pc game Blake Stone. Probably and hopefully just coincidence though. The chorus of this song is of the same level of the intro and somewhat hard to grasp, but the bridge and the solos totally makes up for it. The gentle ballad “Never a Word” takes the level of seriousness slightly upwards with a very relaxingly gentle instrumental first half. The second half of the song features Gillans falsetto voice and he does a great job there. Then there’s the title track “Bananas”. By the time you’ve reached this song you’ll be totally convinced that Deep Purple have actually gone bananas. The main riff is happy, just like on “Razzle Dazzle” and “House of Pain”, and the verses feature some rock ‘n roll influences and a harmonica playing fills. They implemented an odd time signature though and that’s probably what attracts your attention first. As far as I understood the lyrics are about nothing. Then there’s highlight “Doing It Tonight”. I think most will discard this song as being ‘unoriginal’ or ‘not Deep Purple’. The riff is indeed not the most original riff ever created, but the outcome of the song is delicious. The verses, the solo and the main theme... I love it. All seriousness has faded from this album and one more glimpse at Ian Gillans picture in the booklet will make us realize what Bananas really is: a record by a band that is making music solely for fun. The album is nicely closed by instrumental “Contact Lost”, featuring a beautiful gentle guitar solo by Steve Morse.

So this album is relaxing, fun and light. It’s a great album to just play while you’re doing something. It creates such a light atmosphere that you just get totally happy after listening to it. For the full experience a legal copy of the CD is recommended, since you’ll have the pictures and the funny front cover. If you can accept all that I said in this review, then I’ll recommend this album to you.

Strongest songs: “Haunted”, “Razzle Dazzle” and “Doing It Tonight”.

Halford - Resurrection (2000)

1. Resurrection
2. Made in Hell
3. Locked and Loaded
4. Night Fall
5. Silent Screams
6. The One You Love to Hate
7. Cyberworld
8. Slow Down
9. Twist
10. Temptation
11. Drive
12. Saviour

Resurrected... and left for dead again – 4,5/10

After a few adventures with relatively unknown bands like Fight and Two, Rob Halford returns to his roots with his new band Halford, or so they say. If you listen to Resurrection I do hope you don’t hear Halfords roots, for that would mean opera, something Rocka Rolla-ish or whatever Judas Priest was doing in the 70s. I don’t hear anything of that sort on this album. With this album, Halford did get back into the picture with a mixture of oldschool metal and a modern touch. The most important aspect of all is whether this combination works for Halford.

This release features some very heavy metal, distortion in every corner of every song. Apart from the heavy guitars, Halfords voice is rawer than ever before or after and at times even too raw for its own good. And furthermore we have the drummer adding his own definition to the word ‘heaviness’. Bobby Jarzombek uses his double bass drums wherever he thinks it’s necessary. I do think the band had a little too much faith in their vocalist and therefore were a bit sloppy on the songwriting department. While this album certainly has its moments, there are some terrible songs on here and most of it is pretty forgettable as well. Songs like “Night Fall”, “Twist” and “Temptation” have a nice theme overall and perhaps a nice riff or two, but don’t have enough content to keep me listening. The forced epic “Silent Screams” has its moments but it’s very poorly written and sung at some moments, especially the heavy part. On the other hand, this album does contain “Resurrection” and “Made in Hell”, which are two kickass powerful songs with good riffs and great vocals. To gain a better view of the album, we will go a bit into details.

The album opens with the title track, which is just a damn good song. It starts off mysteriously, with suddenly Halfords shrieking vocals screaming and then the riffs come in and the drums. A great way to open the album and the chorus is very powerful, with Halford continuously singing with his high-pitched voice, the only time Halford does that throughout the entire song. Then there’s “Made in Hell”, another great powerful song. This one is more oldschool in sound but still kickass nonetheless. Here we are already given a sign that our dearest Rob likes to sing with the rawest voice ever and that is one of the reasons this album will start to irritate. “Locked and Loaded” is terrible. The way the song begins, with Halford singing ‘I’ve got no sympathy’ like he is Mr. Cool Guy, is really awful and the awful riff doesn’t add anything either. Then there’s “Night Fall”, it's not a bad song per say, but it doesn’t have ‘it’. I guess the chorus is semi-catchy, but it doesn’t do it. “Silent Screams” is, as mentioned before, a forced epic. It starts off with arpeggiated chords, like all wannabe epics do, and the whole band joins in on the slow chorus. It’s actually not that bad a ballad so far, but Halford wants more and they add a fast aggressive part in it where Halford sings with the rawest voice ever and that just sucks! This really ruined an otherwise okay song. Though the return to the slow chorus is really great, this song will not reach the status it could’ve had. A notable but unmemorable collaboration with Bruce Dickinson on “The One You Love to Hate” is extremely heavy but in the end not so very spectacular. With “Cyberworld” as a quite enjoyable song mostly due to its fast-paced drums and cool outro, we are entering the more balanced second part of the album.

Though this side is more balanced, it doesn’t mean it’s more enjoyable. There're just no more outbursts of coolness and sadness (with one exception which we’ll get to later on). We have a few songs ahead of us that mostly all have a nice chorus but are quite basic in structure and very stripped down. “Slow Down”, “Twist”, “Temptation” and “Saviour” all fall under this category. It’s meaningless to discuss them all separately, since there’s nothing more to say about these songs. They’re okay, fine, but I would count them as filler material. One thing is worth a mention though: on “Temptation” on the bridge we have a clear hint towards Priests “A Touch of Evil”, for using the exact same melody and way of singing there. Then we get to the final abomination of this album... “Drive”. Though bands have sung about sex before, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a lyric so damn dirty before. As this one uses the comparison to driving a car, ‘I got you under my wheels now baby’, this is really awful. Not to mention the music is awful too, with Halford singing with full distortion on his voice again and the riff being terrible as well. This is terrible and too low a quality for a man with the reputation of Metal God.

In short, this album is very forgettable and there’s nothing spectacular about it. Get the first two tracks somehow and perhaps listen the other tracks once, but that’s it. The rawness of Halfords voice ruins most of the songs and with the majority of the songs being very basic in structure and filler material this album is not worth your money. Go check out some other Halford albums instead, like Crucible or Winter Songs. This is collectors only.

Strongest tracks: “Resurrection” and “Made in Hell”.
Weakest tracks: “Locked and Loaded” and “Drive”.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Delain - April Rain (2009)

1. April Rain
2. Stay Forever
3. Invidia
4. Control the Storm
5. On the Other Side
6. Virtue and Vice
7. Go Away
8. Start Swimming
9. Lost
10. I'll Reach You
11. Nothing Left

Brilliantly executed pop metal – 8,5/10

Delain... the band that conquered many hearts with their strong debut album Lucidity is now back in the game. With April Rain they perfected their sound and presented us yet another set of great songs. Despite what others say, Delain has a lot of pop influences. This is not necessarily a bad thing and Delain are the living proof of that very fact. But whether you want to call this album heavy metal, gothic metal, pop metal or jazz, the most important thing of all is that the album rocks! And this album certainly does.

We are still being embraced by the bombastic keyboard-driven songs by songwriter/keyboardist Martijn Westerholt like on Lucidity, but there’s something drastically different. Where Lucidity had a more atmospheric ambience overall, April Rain sounds more epic and massive. The keyboards are really the most dominant and sometimes even overwhelmingly present, but we still don’t have synth-solos. The guitars are still heavy and downtuned playing a few powerchords each song but nothing truly stunning, the guitar solos are still a bit few and not relying on technical abilities but on sheer melody. That’s what Delain is all about. Each song contains so many melodies. They are mostly voiced by their great vocalist Charlotte Wessels, who really shines on this album. She has a great voice and she lets us know on each and every song. But also she does not rely on her technical abilities like vocal range; the whole band keeps it simple and effective. The album contains powerful fast-paced songs like “April Rain” and “Virtue and Vice”, ballad-ish pop songs like “On the Other Side” and “Start Swimming” and instant epics like “Control the Storm” and “I’ll Reach You”. There is much variation to be found here with lots of pop melodies.

We start off with the title track. Like we know from Lucidity, it begins with a piano-tune and then the bombastic riff jumps in. It’s more aggressive than the likes of which we heard on the predecessor and faster. When the verse starts we calm down a little bit and give Wessels some space for her vocals but not much later we reach the chorus and the power comes in again. This is a great way to open the album and to get in the April Rain mood. The power continues with “Stay Forever”, another heavy aggressive riff with high evil keyboards above them. The verses are almost quiet here, but the more bombastic the chorus is the more it stands out. Wessels’ melodies sound very original and she sings full of emotion. The guitar solos on both of the mentioned songs are very simple in nature but very catchy. “Invidia” continues in the same mood and then we have the absolute epic “Control the Storm”. This one begins with the trademark piano-tune which explodes into the riff. But then the verses sound very odd and yet catchy at the same time. Charlotte sings a weird melody which is partly in some kind of effect and the drums play a tom-tom rhythm, but this disappears when the bridge and the epic chorus begin. Guest musician Marko Hietala from Nightwish is once more present, just like on Lucidity, and takes over the chorus from Wessels. He really sings powerful and that’s just what this chorus would need. It is followed by “On the Other Side” and this one actually sounds quite poppy, having dismissed the distortion guitar almost entirely and still not wanting to be a ballad. We have the keys playing some pizzicato piece with the sound of violins at first until the drums come in to guide Charlotte at her beautiful melodies. It’s really a relaxing song and quite refreshing to hear in the middle of all that bombastic metalized pop.

I’ll be discussing a few more highlights then. “Virtue and Vice” starts with the familiar piano-tune and the explosion after just before the aggressive tone of the riffs begin again. Needless to say, this song is catchy as hell again, just like all the other tracks here, but what stands out is the return of grunt vocals here. Just after the chorus we have the growler giving his take on the song and it actually really fits there and adds a lot to the somewhat poppy atmosphere. After the fast-paced “Go Away” we have another softer song in the shape of “Start Swimming” and this one again really stands out. Pure clean guitars and piano combined with Charlotte’s beautiful voice, with the drum ‘n bass joining in later. Later on we get to hear “I’ll Reach You”. It starts with a cool riff and then some piano verses, and they’re very beautiful, but we all know Delain mostly shines on the choruses. And that’s exactly the case again here. The chorus is downright epic. As if the album wasn’t on a high note already we have “Nothing Left” to close the album. This one sounds a bit like it could’ve been on Lucidity at first, due to the atmospheric riffs, but really doesn’t misfit on this album. Marko Hietala returns once more on the chorus ‘to bring shivers to the bone’. An epic, simple but effective guitar solo tops it off and as the song fades out I realize this was a great album.

In short, April Rain is a great follow-up to Lucidity. It relies mostly on melodies that are simple but effective and is slightly more aggressive than its predecessor. The sound is still very bombastic and keyboard-driven, yet a bit poppy. This is a great album. I definitely recommend it to fans of Delain and the genre alike.

Strongest tracks: “April Rain”, “Control the Storm”, “Nothing Left” and “I’ll Reach You”.

Scorpions - Humanity Hour I (2007)

1. Hour I
2. The Game of Life
3. We Were Born to Fly
4. The Future Never Dies
5. You're Loving Me To Death
6. 321
7. Love Will Keep Us Alive
8. We Will Rise Again
9. Your Last Song
10. Love is War
11. The Cross
12. Humanity

Scorpions... this is Scorpions, right? – 6,5/10

This is exactly what one would say when hearing this album. After the splendid Unbreakable the Scorpions really seemed back to rock the world once more, but now in a more modern way. Its follow-up, which is this album, Humanity Hour I has nothing in common with Unbreakable except for the more modern sound, but then this release is even more modernized. Actually this whole album does not sound like they are the Scorpions. It is modernized in every way and the trademark Scorps sound is gone. Mostly such a change would make me love the album, but Humanity Hour I actually doesn’t do that.

So the Scorpions adopted a modern sound, what do I actually mean? There are traces of downtuned guitars on some songs, the tracks are mostly short and don’t even contain solos and of course there’s this concept. Yes, this is a concept album by the Scorpions. Apparently this concept was the idea of songwriter/producer Desmond Child, who we’ll discuss later on. This concept is about how evil and bad mankind is right now and this is just hour one to our insanity. They believe the worst is yet to come. Well, that’s pretty optimistic, don’t you think? And that’s all made up by a man with vision, this Desmond Child guy, whose fingerprints are on all of the songs. Which brings us to the why and how of the soundchange. The songs are mostly credited for a whole bunch of people and only one bandmember. If the Scorps have stopped writing their own songs, then how can we expect to hear the trademark Scorpions sound? Seriously, this was a sad move.

On to the songs. Even though the overall feel is very modern and not Scorpions-like, it’s not an awful album. The whole army of songwriters did know how to write songs, so it seems. As soon as opener “Hour I” begins we have a bit of a nu-metal feel through our veins. It starts off with a bombarding drum intro, soon accompanied with a heavy drop C guitar riff and a shrieking lead guitar trying to imitate sirens. We are alarmed now and when Klaus comes in to preach of our downfall we finally recognize the band we listen to. Have the Scorpions ever been this heavy before? No way! It’s a cool song, that’s for sure, but it really doesn’t fit the Scorpions. We have a slightly more Scorpionized riff at “The Game of Life”, but the rest of the song continues in the modern feel. Then there are these heavy riffs on “We Were Born to Fly” and “We Will Rise Again”. In a way these songs are great. They are well-composed with good and nice riffs, vocal melodies and arrangements, but unfortunately something is missing. If it’s not the solo that’s missing it’s either something else. There are some radio-friendly modern ballads or pop songs on this album such as “Love Will Keep Us Alive”, “Your Last Song” and “Love is War”. As the titles might suggest, they are about love, but not with the cheesy ‘I want you tonight’ lyrics we are used from the Scorpions. Again, these songs are really nice and they are good songs, but there’s something missing in them. I can’t believe I would ever complain in a review about a band not having its trademark sound, but Humanity Hour I is just not a Scorpions album.

I might be complaining a lot about the lack of Scorpions sound here, but there are a few songs with typical Scorpions lyrics, only a new kind of music as an accompaniment. “You’re Loving Me to Death” for example has lyrics in the vein of 1990’s “Don’t Believe Her” and the terribly cheesy “321” has the well-known ‘I wanna rock’ type of lyrics, which really looks odd compared to the rest of the album. Perhaps it was included to give a short break after all that optimism about humanity? There are two more great songs to discuss and discuss them I will before coming to a close. “The Future Never Dies” is a very catchy powerballad with a hidden hint to the Scorps sound. It comes to your attention immediately when listening because it’s actually very full of heroic melodies and is slightly epic. If only it had a solo... Album closer and second title track “Humanity” is also quite a blast. It begins really gently with some plucking on the strings, then Klaus joins in with his everlasting optimism and from there it bursts into a melodic epic song. Again, all what’s missing is a convincing guitar solo. There’s one big star on this album besides the splendid performance of vocalist Klaus Meine and that is James Kottak on the drums! We get to hear a lot of drumming from him with his bass drums, like on “Hour I” and “Humanity”. He drums very varied and stylish and that’s what I like about drummers.

To come to a close, Humanity Hour I is not a bad album, but it’s not a Scorpions album. They hardly wrote the songs themselves and their fingerprints are missing everywhere. Furthermore there are mostly shorter songs and fewer solos. I guess we have to deal with that and take this album for what it is. Therefore I will not recommend this album to anyone but a die-hard Scorpions fan who likes modern touches.

Strongest tracks: “The Future Never Dies”, “Love is War” and “Humanity”.
Weakest tracks: “321”.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Halford - Winter Songs (2009)

1. Get Into The Spirit
2. We Three Kings
3. Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel
4. Winter Song
5. What Child Is This
6. Christmas for Everyone
7. I Don't Care
8. Light of the World
9. Oh Holy Night
10. Oh Come All Ye Faithful

Metal and Christmas combined properly – 8/10

When I first heard that our dearest Metal God Rob Halford had some plans to release a Christmas album with the Halford band, I really gave up on the man. Every time I seem convinced the man has lost his voice, and when you see his live performances I am totally right, but somehow in the studio he manages to sing decently. Then there’s the choice of Christmas songs; despite three new songs he chose seven Christmas classics we all know but that almost never are done on other metal Christmas albums. How come? I’m very glad he did not choose to cover the most commercial songs like “We Wish You a Merry X-mas” or “Jingle Bells”. Instead, the man chose Christmas tunes with truly beautiful melodies that are fit for metal versions than those happy commercial ones. But how did the Halford band deliver those songs and is the album any good?

Opening track “Get into the Spirit” is not a Christmas classic, but a brand new Halford track through and through. We have the typical Halford heaviness and riffs and the band is doing great. Rob Halford however can no longer reach the “Painkiller”-heights here, but he does try to sing high-pitched again. This results in a Mickey Mouse parody. He swallowed helium to get this weird voice, and no matter what people say, this is not even comparable to what Halford does on “Betrayal” or “Resurrection”. He tries to do what he no longer can. And frankly, the Mickey Mouse Halford is actually quite funny in the end, leaving this song as okay. It’s really saved by Halfords backing band. Other self-written tracks on here are “I Don’t Care” and “Christmas for Everyone” and they are the weakest of the songs present on this release. The first sounds like some cliché 80s metal song with the cheesy Christmas ambience you’d expect metal to deliver and the second is a very wrong and awkward piece of... music? It’s fucking abominable! Cheesy bells ringing, horrible vocals and terrible arrangements. Didn’t they listen to it before they got it out as a single for Christ’s sake? Ah well, luckily we have a few traditional Christmas songs that always sound good, even when Rob Halford puts his fingerprints on them.

And damn right that is! First Christmas tune we’ll come across is “We Three Kings”, and boy this song sounds powerful! There is this terrific guitar riff added to the song and a firm double bass rhythm to accompany, not to mention the great solo. The only weak thing on this song is Halfords vocals, which are very low. I know his range is decreasing rapidly, but he could’ve at least sung as if he enjoyed himself? Then there is “Oh Come O Come Emmanuel”, another one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time and this one they can be proud of. This time we don’t have a Halford spoiling the vocals-department and we have a really successful conversion. One of my favorite songs on this album must be “Winter Song”. Even though this song is more pop-oriented in arrangements, this is by far Halfords best vocal performance and it is such a great ballad! We still have a few Christmas songs converted to metal left to discuss, but I’ll cut it short. The other songs are beautiful. They might not be total metal arrangements, but the band plays it so well and Rob Halford sings real well on his normal voice. Especially “Oh Holy Night” deserves a mention and so does well-chosen album closer “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. There’s really a powerful ambience on this album and the entire band performs great.

In short, the Halford band created a great Christmas album. Even though it goes wrong on a few songs, the others make up for them. This release is one of the more gentle Halford releases ever and shows a whole different side of the band. And although the man sounds weak at some points, Rob Halford convinced me that he can still sing beautifully and full of emotion. This is my new favorite Christmas album and I highly recommend this to those who are interested.

Strongest tracks: “Winter Song”, “Oh Holy Night”, “Oh Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”.
Weakest tracks: “Christmas for Everyone” and “I Don’t Care”.

Rob Halford - Silent Night (2009)

1. Silent Night

Holy shit and what the hell?! – 8/10

Now Rob Halford has got himself into the Christmas spirit with his recent “Winter Songs” album, he has been searching his archives for an old 1992 recording of the classic Christmas song “Silent Night” and released it as a single. What I was expecting from this song was a release in the same style as “Winter Songs”, or at least something in the vein of rock music, but this song is not that. I must say it was a rather pleasant surprise.

When the song started to play I was like ‘what the hell?’ Could this really be Rob Halford? I thought he was a metal addict? No really, this is Rob Halford. What we have is actually only Halfords singing and some very modest backing instruments that are hardly heard in the beginning. This is a really peaceful performance with Halford holding the notes long and vibrated and sings with full emotion like he could in 1992. On the background we have cute little Christmas bells ringing which gives the proper ambience and on the foreground we have our dearest Metal God chanting enchantingly beautiful in a way that I’ve never heard from the man before. As we reach the end of the recording Halford starts to record more tracks, containing backing vocals to be substitute to the lack of instruments, which gives the most splendid effect.

In short, Rob Halford really recorded himself a Christmas song in a Christmas spirit. We get to hear a whole different side of the Metal God here and I like it. This I was not expecting, but it’s a pleasant surprise indeed.

Deep Purple - Abandon (1998)

1. Any Fule Kno That
2. Almost Human
3. Don't Make Me Happy
4. Seventh Heaven
5. Watching the Sky
6. Fingers to the Bone
7. Jack Ruby
8. She Was
9. Whatsername
10. '69
11. Evil Louie
12. Bludsucker

Not bad, but not good enough – 6,9/10

After a lot of drama and the departure of original guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple managed to deliver a quite successful album in 1996 known as Purpendicular with their new guitarist Steve Morse. Whether its follow-up is a good album is hard to say. Abandon is a bit of a transition record, with still elements of hard rock to be found here, but with the laid back blues rock gaining the upper hand a little. I say a little here because it’s not as dominant as on 2003’s Bananas yet. This makes Abandon a good record, but quite far from memorable.

The whole band does seem to be in shape. Ian Paice’s drums sound very clear and powerful, Jon Lords Hammond sounds very clear, Roger Glovers bass sounds very solid and Steve Morse’s sound is really cool and his solos do impress me. It is Ian Gillan however who sometimes is to blame for a song to fail. Ever since the reunion of Deep Purple in 1984 his voice has been declining. Although at times he sounds clear and cool, on songs like “Almost Human” he really sounds hoarse and tired. His high notes are also not what they used to be and that really should encourage the man not to try and hit them anymore, like he does on Bananas. His vocal performance however is not so terrible that it ruins the entire album. The album starts with a very strong vocal performance, which decreases its strength halfway through though. “Any Fule Kno That” is a really cool opener with a powerful guitar riff and a powerful rap by our beloved Gillan, which he does quite cool. There are solos by both Lord and Morse and they really fit the song. This is a great and unique way to open the album. The fine line is continued for the next five songs. “Almost Human” will be noticed for its catchy chorus and “Don’t Make Me Happy” begins as a cliché blues song that reminds slightly of 70s Deep Purple, mainly due to Gillans vocals in the verses. In the chorus things will get back to the 90s and the whole results in some quality bluesy power ballad. This song is a very good one and definitely stands out, especially the solo. Then there is “Seventh Heaven” with its heavy riff featuring a pinch harmonic which is very unlike Deep Purple. This is one of the more rocking songs on this release but doesn’t really stand out, except for the solo which is being played on a very bluesy interpretation of the hard rock riff.

Then we are suddenly welcomed into “Watching the Sky” with a doomy Dio-esque intro, soon resolving into another bluesy hard rock riff. The verses are being reduced to a gentle ballad-ish part where Gillan uses his falsetto voice a little, and then they explode to the riff again to form the chorus. It doesn’t really stand out, just like “Seventh Heaven”, but it has got its moments, such as the “fury and madness”-part. Last of the enjoyable tracks on a row is “Fingers to the Bone” with a great guitar theme throughout combined with one of Gillans better performances on the album. This song almost has an epic feel to it; the themes on the verses and the chorus are so cool, and the piano solo adds the finishing touch. Now we’re at the end of the row we have a row of three songs before us that just radiate pure boredom with all of them being unoriginal, uninspiring and downright boring. They all have a laid back rhythm throughout, terrible vocals and such lameness. Those songs probably would’ve fit better on Bananas but I’m glad they’re not on there either since Bananas’ songs are still better than this. This is cliché blues to the bone without effort being put into them. It seems they needed some filler material; else this album would’ve been quite good. The titles are also so very uninspiring: “Jack Ruby”, “She Was” and “Whatsername”. Especially the last mentioned title seems really uninspired. I guess it’s songs like these that restrain newer Deep Purple albums from getting high rates nowadays. I mean, if you really want to create music like this then just do it right at once and create an entire album like this, like 2003’s Bananas.

The album ends quite stylish actually. “’69” is a fast-paced hard rocker with really good drumming and a powerful driving force throughout the song. It also has a really inventive solo part. Gillans voice is not too good on here, but at least not disturbing. Then there's “Evil Louie”. This song evidently fits with the three uninspired ones in style, but hey, this one actually has beauty! It starts off in the laid back rhythm like “Jack Ruby”, but somehow this one sounds much better. A good but simple riff, and just before the chorus we have a beautiful instrumental part with the guitar playing beautiful arpeggios. Then the chorus turns out much more powerful than something like “Whatsername”. It seems Deep Purple CAN still do it, but just don’t always have the inspiration. As a last treat Purple decided to re-record the classic song “Bloodsucker”, now entitled “Bludsucker”. This version sounds good and fits well on the album, but the original is a lot better for two reasons. The first is the most obvious: Gillans voice. He takes good care of the lower register part, but the “Oh no no no!” sounds just... not good. I must admit that he does still sound powerful here on his lower register though. The last verse is a bit spoiled, since he tried to imitate the original version where he goes sky high. The second reason is Steve Morse. I think it is very good that he plays his own solo and does not copy Blackmore’s solo, but in the end people want to compare. Where Morse is mostly showing his technical abilities here, shredding like hell, Blackmore used to rely more on his feel in the music rather than his technical abilities. Of course, it also differs on the type of guitarist, but my preference goes to Blackmore’s solo.

After this detailed look upon the album, I conclude that Abandon is a good album, but definitely not good enough. There are some nice songs, some songs sound even great, but there’s nothing truly magnificent. Nothing of the quality they used to have. There is also a disturbing amount of fillers on this album that drastically reduces my rating for Abandon, and makes me abandon this release. Overall, this album is good, but definitely not memorable, and perhaps even forgettable. I recommend this to Deep Purple fans, but if you are new with the band you should check out their Mark II stuff first.

Strongest tracks: “Don’t Make Me Happy”, “Fingers to the Bone” and “Evil Louie”.
Weakest tracks: “Jack Ruby” and “She Was”.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Iron Maiden - Virtual XI (1998)

1. Futureal
2. The Angel and the Gambler
3. Lightning Strikes Twice
4. The Clansman
5. When Two Worlds Collide
6. The Educated Fool
7. Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger
8. Como Estais Amigos

Fresh, varied and underrated – 9,5/10

Though I tried not to plea for The X Factor in my review of that album, I can’t stop myself this time, because this is truly looked at as Maiden’s worst album, and I strongly disagree there. I just don’t understand why people can’t really get into this album and dismiss it as utter crap. There are a few changes in Maiden’s sound here and there, like every 80s metalband used to have in the 90s, but nothing so terrible so everyone would hate it. The introduction of truly long songs and more dominant keyboards are a few, but they’re quite nice actually. Another reason this album is often turned down is our beloved Blaze Bayley, but the man actually performs very good on this album and I can’t find any weaknesses in his voice on here. Instead of trying to defend this album from its haters any further, I will now explain why I love it so much.

The ambience is a lot lighter than on The X Factor, which was masterful, but at times you just need to kick some ass, and that’s where Virtual XI comes in. “Futureal” is the first of a bunch of adrenaline pumping fast-paced tracks. It’s got everything a classic Maiden opener got, except for Bruce Dickinson, and I don’t think that’s a big loss on here. Second song on the album is a bit of a dragger and could be weary at times. “The Angel and the Gambler” is an 8-minute long song with heavy pop influences and an overlong interplay. The synths are added very cheesily on here and it gives a bit of an 80s pop feel. Apart from that, the sentence “don’t you think I’m a saviour” and the rest of it gets repeated more than 20 times. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? It’s far from a highlight, but I think in the end I can swallow it; it can pass by on the album without notice. Adrenaline pumper #2 is “Lightning Strikes Twice”. It starts with a gentle guitar intro, and then Blaze’s splendid vocals enter and BOOM the song speeds up all of sudden. The guitar solo’s are really inspiring here and kick major ass. To stay in the pattern of fast-long, we now should have another long one, and yes. It’s even an epic! “The Clansman” qualifies for the best song of the album, and it’s quite hard to determine such a thing, for there are so much more great songs on here, as we will soon notice. This one starts off with the by now classic Maiden bass intro and then goes into the unbeatable “freedom!” chorus, already in an upbeat part. It then goes on for another 8 minutes with a cool diversity of verses and choruses, with a silent bridge in between with cool solo’s thereafter. The heroic legato melodies on here are also superb.

And then we have “When Two Worlds Collide”; another song in the style of “Lightning Strikes Twice”. It also starts of slow, this time with some arpeggiated chords, and then explodes. We are already out of lyrics when the interplay starts, just like on the aforementioned song, and we again have a killer solo to fill it up. Though it’s similar in style it’s by no means boring and still kicks some butts. Then comes the severely underrated “The Educated Fool”. It also begins with a gentle intro. The chorus however is immensely catchy and energetic. The “time will flow”-part needs a bit getting used to, but in the end it’s just part of the great song. The lyrics are also brilliant. There is some heavy ass kicking in the interplay of this song, shifting from the legato-themes to a staccato-theme to a great solo and all the way back! One of the best songs of Iron Maiden ever, and I can’t believe that people discard this one. When we go on we have “Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger”. Another 8-minute song and this time not an epic, not a pop song with overlong parts, but a stretched out rocker. Though you will be fooled by the intro, this song is fast and heavy and... long. Perhaps a bit too long, or perhaps not. They could’ve cut down the “don’t look to, don’t look to” part just before the interplay, but actually the whole instrumental part is a true feast for your ears. Nicko is having the time of his life on the drums, Dave and Janick switch leads most successfully and Steve probably had a good time composing it. The band is very coherent here.

This album has been on a very high note and Iron Maiden want to close it at the same quality. “Como Estais Amigos” is a beautiful ballad dedicated to the victims of the Falklands War. Iron Maiden never succeeded to bring tears to my eyes with Di’Anno or Dickinson on vocals, but with Blaze it just happens. He managed to do that a few times on The X Factor, but also on this album closer he succeeds again. It's so very touching a song and so much emotion inside his voice. This is what makes Blaze Bayley one of my favorite singers; it’s a feeling only he can give me. Apart from his performance, the band is at their best as well: incredibly well-composed interlude it has with maintaining the touching ambience of the verses and chorus within the legato-theme and the solo’s. The best part of this song is the construction. It starts off very gentle, subtly adding an element after each verse until finally the full band kicks in and Blaze sings at full volume “No More Tears”. And how dare people say the synthesizers were added improperly? Without them this song could not have been as great as it was.

Need I say more? I love this album! I can’t understand how other people hate this. There are well-crafted songs, amazing guitar leads and stunning vocals. I wish Iron Maiden would have kept Blaze and made some more Virtual XI-esque albums. Unfortunately nobody agrees with what I just stated and the band was forced to take Bruce back. Alas, we will never know what their future could’ve been with Blaze... Anyway, I highly recommend this album, as long as you can forget about Bruce. This exceeds Bruce and a lot of Maiden’s earlier material by far.

Strongest tracks: “The Clansman”, “The Educated Fool” and “Como Estais Amigos”.
Weakest track: “The Angel and the Gambler”.

Muse - The Resistance (2009)

1. Uprising
2. Resistance
3. Undisclosed Desires
4. United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)
5. Guiding Light
6. Unnatural Selection
7. MK Ultra
8. I Belong To You/Mon Coeur S'Ouvre a Ta Voix
9. Exogenesis Pt1 - Overture
10. Exogenesis Pt2 - Cross-Pollination
11. Exogenesis Pt3 - Redemption

Irresistible – 8/10

I still remember the first time I heard Muse. I was very thrilled by their sense for catchiness and rudeness at the same time, something rarely heard in music that enters the charts. The Resistance really brought back that feeling of discovering Muse for the first time. It’s still obviously Muse, but they seemed to have gone in a new direction, and I like it. The album has a bit of a futuristic feel to it, not only in means of music but also in lyrics and overall theme. Look at the song titles and you will know what I mean. It’s really a refreshing new album in many ways, so let’s analyze!

As I said, there is still trademark Muse on here. Great examples of that are the distortion effect on the bass guitar on “Uprising”, the catchy piano melodies like on “Resistance” and the classical outro to “United States of Eurasia”. Actually all the songs totally have a Muse-feel to them. The whole album does have a different feel than predecessors of The Resistance though. Where Absolution and Black Holes would use a mysterious instant epic to open the album, here we have “Uprising”. A laid back upbeat song with a relaxing drum rhythm throughout the song. With this the album is being entered in a more relaxed ambience than on Absolution for example. The more traditional commercial side of Muse returns on “Resistance”, with an intro consisting of a firm tom-tom-drum rhythm and a catchy piano tune, reminding slightly of Black Holes’ “Starlight”. With the song exploding a bit near the chorus we have an instant Muse classic. The relaxing ambience created by “Uprising” is being continued by “Undisclosed Desires”, having a laid back rhythm all through the song, nicely accompanied by some stylish bass guitar during the chorus. Having shortly discussed the album’s three singles, I think it’s time to go and discuss the real deal. Because, in contrary to other commercial bands that I like such as Coldplay, with Muse it’s not the singles that are best, but the true album songs. That’s where they get progressive.

What comes to notice immediately on “United States of Eurasia” is the borrowed Queen sound at the song’s explosion. It really sounds like Queen and that’s actually quite original and nice, since we haven’t heard that sound since 1995’s Made in Heaven. The song ends with a borrowed piece of classical music by Chopin, and the whole fits perfectly well together, being Musified. “Guiding Light” is actually one of my favorite songs of this album, not only because it is entirely epic in feel, but also because this is the only Muse song ever to feature a guitar solo that actually sounds very good. The rest of the song has a bit of a hymn kind of feel to it, with an original beat throughout. “Unnatural Selection” really sounds like it could have been on 2001’s Origin of Symmetry, mainly for the heavy guitar riff that quite reminds me of “New Born”. It’s certainly as catchy as “New Born” and this one features Bellamy’s vocals with an Origin-like effect on them. Apart from that, the whole cohesion of the music is typically Origin.

The true highlight of this album and the most inventive piece of music Muse have ever written is the “Exogenesis Symphony”. Though consisting of three parts, respectively “Overture”, “Cross-Pollination” and “Redemption”, it really sounds as a unity. It also starts of like a classical symphony, with a string ensemble playing some nice melodies. The drums come flowing in a bit later and we can enjoy the falsetto voice of Matthew Bellamy as we are used to. The first part reminds me a little of “Blackout” of 2003’s Absolution and is an atmospheric instrumental part, which is very beautiful. I say instrumental here, because I don’t think Bellamy is singing any words here. Part two tends to take it where the first part left it, and so we begin with some piano tunes in classical style. This time we do have Bellamy’s voice singing actual words and so the second part starts off as a true Muse ballad. When part two is almost halfway we suddenly have the song exploding into an epic theme and this is what makes the “Exogenesis Symphony” such a success, with some notable guitar playing here. “Cross-Pollination” ends the way it started, with a classical-like piano part. The final part of this symphony is “Redemption”, and this one also begins with heavy classical influences. This time not only the piano or only the string ensemble, but both come in to please your ears. As soon as the drums roll in about halfway, we are gently swinging along with this classic Muse closing epic. The melodies are so great! It ends as it began.

In short, The Resistance is a refreshing new direction Muse has chosen. With the usual set of commercial and progressive songs present, but in a new way, this album managed to reach even a higher state than ever before, mostly thanks to the very inventive “Exogenesis Symphony”. Classical influences have made their way to Muse’s music here and that combination results in an original way of making commercial progressive rock music. Thumbs up for Muse!

Strongest tracks: “Unnatural Selection”, “Guiding Light” and the “Exogenesis Symphony”.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Halford - Crucible (2002)

1. Park Manor
2. Crucible
3. One Will
4. Betrayal
5. Handing out Bullets
6. Hearts of Darkness
7. Crystal
8. Heretic
9. Golgotha
10. Wrath of God
11. Weaving Sorrow
12. Sun
13. Trail of Tears
14. She (bonus-track)
15. Fugitive (bonus-track)
16. Rock the World Forever (Japan-only)
17. In The Morning (Japan-only)

Halford’s voice for the last time – 7,5/10

Crucible is, besides being the second album of the band Halford, unique in many many ways. Not only is it the heaviest album Rob Halford ever recorded, but it’s also the last album with Halford’s trademark high screams at decent quality. Face it, on the Priest albums following this one he rarely gives us a high scream that even sounds good. He is getting old and this is his last optimal performance. Apart from that, this album received remarkably less applause than its predecessor Resurrection, and when looking at both albums, that surprises me quite a lot.

This release tends to follow the same path Resurrection did, but then with a whole new dimension. Where I thought that the previous album had way too many filler material and was too cheesy for words at times, Crucible shows us a collection of strong songs with a flashback to the 80s at some (“Rock the World Forever”) but with an overall powerful ambience. In short this album contains more of the good side of Halford: heaviness, great riffs, more high-pitched screams and a great piece of songwriting. And above all this album has a great ballad, which is either “She” or “In the Morning”, depending whether you bought the European or Japanese edition respectively. There is a “Resurrection”-esque song in the shape of the enormously catchy and aggressive “Betrayal”, a few mid-paced songs with ongoing flow like “Hearts of Darkness” and “Heretic”, a few slower songs like “Golgotha” and “Crystal” but also some downright speedy and killer anthems like “Handing out Bullets” and “Wrath of God”. After the intro “Park Manor”, which sets a good ambience for the rest of the album, we are immediately faced by the title track. “Crucible” starts off with a bass intro, which quickly evolves into a mid-paced song with a killing riff, with traditional Halford vocals on the main. The highlight of this song might well be the epic theme just after the chorus, with keyboards highlighting the evil melody. Halfway the song speeds up into a heavier part, which reminds a little of “Silent Screams”, the epic that featured on Crucible’s predecessor. Apart from “Crucible”, “Golgotha”, which is a slow melodic song, also contains this speeding up in the middle.

There often are pretty monotonous verses with the melody bursting out in the chorus, like on “One Will”. The riff of this song is not the most original one, but what save the song is the chorus and the instrumental pre-chorus. Absolute highlight of the album is “Betrayal”. As mentioned before, this song is immensely catchy and aggressive. It’s fast, furious and very raw in sound, with the main riff almost randomly dropping a few low e-string picks, with the bass drums joining each pick, hence creating the best riff off this album. Not to mention the very high pitched vocals by Rob Halford. This is the last song ever recorded by the man that features this kind of vocals, which actually is very sad. The guitar solo is also very notable here, with very catchy backing chords. “Handing out Bullets” features one of the most heavy drums of all time, and it’s standing out for the two Halfords singing here, one in a high-pitched voice, one in a normal voice. That creates a great effect. I always thought this song was part of a duo together with “Wrath of God”, which is also extremely heavy in drums, although the latter does not feature the two Halfords.

Another song that needs mentioning is “Weaving Sorrow”, and with that song we come to the bad side of this album. I’d prefer to compare this song to “Locked and Loaded” from the Resurrection album, it’s very similar in style. The riff sounds less original and more brutal, and it has a more 80s sound overall. Halford sings like he is Mr. Tough Guy, which he actually is, but not if he sings like it. It just doesn’t work, and the uninspired chorus isn’t really helping either. To get back to the more positive side of the album there are pretty odd surprises near the end of the album. “Sun” has an odd riff and very odd singing melodies in the verses, but somehow it works. Especially the great guitar leads right after the verses really add things. Album closer “Trail of Tears” is quite epic, and the chorus is so beautiful, leaving a trail of tears on my face when realizing that his voice is gone after this album. The bonus-tracks you might gain on this album are great, no matter what version you have. The European and Japanese versions both have one great ballad, “She” and “In the Morning” respectively, and one average rocker, “Fugitive” and “Rock the World Forever”. Although my preference goes to the ballad “She”, mostly because Rob’s voice there reminds me of good ol’ times, the other is also really worth listening to.

One last subject I’d like to focus on is Halford’s vocals. Since this is one of his solo albums, he should be the main attraction. On this album his voice is already in his old days, like on Resurrection, but he can still do everything with his voice. He can still go sky high like on 1990’s Painkiller album and, although not as much as before, he can reach quite the notes on his normal voice. He’s raw and clean, aggressive and sensitive. I’d say it’s a very good vocal performance. This is the last album of which I can truly say that.

Strongest tracks: “Betrayal”, “She” and “Sun”.
Weakest tracks: “Weaving Sorrow” and “Crystal”.