Illdisposed: With The Lost Souls On Our Side
Written by Steve Wass    Friday, 29 August 2014 10:46    PDF Print E-mail

Illdisposed's latest, "With The Lost Souls On Our Side," is OK. The Danish death metal band’s sound is a cross between the crunchy, grooving riffs of Six Feet Under and the aggressiveness of a band like Devildriver. The production is solid, but the songs just kind of run by. There are a few driving riffs ("The Way We Choose," “Light in the Dark"), and the generous portions of solos that are peppered throughout the album bring each song to life for a short burst. My top track was "The Way..." with its frantic energy that makes one want to move. The songs seem more about the journey of the music than the indecipherable lyrical content (I’d be interested in reading what they are actually growling about), which makes the vocals seem like an afterthought. The riffs take you on a headbanging path, and then you pass by some transient brutal vocals on the way to groove city. I can see this working well in a live setting, but nothing grabbed me to say, "Now THIS is Illdisposed!" Overall, it's serviceable and worth a few spins, but there's nothing really memorable.

Heliosaga: Towers In The Distance
Written by Milla Lindqvist    Sunday, 24 August 2014 13:26    PDF Print E-mail

Racing power metal guitars, swirling keyboard melodies, operatic female vocals wafting over it all. The latest new band from Europe? Nope, it’s Heliosaga, based in Minnesota but bringing the sort of thrilling melodic guitar work and classical vocals you’d expect from the top bands across of the pond. They come charging out of the gate with their debut album, “Towers in the Distance.” Having cut my teeth on Nightwish, I have a fairly high standard for operatic vocals in metal, and Heliosaga’s singer Chelsea Knaack is one of the few metal vocalists I’ve heard who can hold a candle to Tarja Turunen. (It should come as no surprise that Tarja-era Nightwish is one of the band’s primary influences.) Chelsea’s vocals have more of a clear beauty rather than the tragic darkness of Tarja’s vocals, though. Unfortunately the loveliness of Chelsea’s soprano is dulled through oversaturation – she sings in the same high, clear register for the whole album, leading her lovely voice to begin sounding a bit bland. Some lower interludes, maybe even harsh vocals, would keep things fresh and amp up the impressiveness and beauty of the soprano vocals.

As a whole, the band sets the bar for the album very high with the opening track, “A Tower So Tall,” with its charging guitars and aggressive drumming contrasting with Chelsea’s flowing vocals. The energy subsides a bit after the first song, though, with slower songs dominated by Chelsea’s graceful vocals taking up much of the album. Short but sweet guitar solos perk up most of the songs, though, as do the blazing guitars in “Lost,” and the hard-hitting “To Heal All Wounds,” with its gothic keyboards and choir and windmill-worthy guitaring.  Overall, “Towers in the Distance” is an impressive debut crafted by a talented trio. With vocal and guitar chops like these, Heliosaga has real promise for bringing more European melodic goodness to U.S. power and gothic-symphonic metal fans.

Evergrey: Hymns For The Broken
Written by Milla Lindqvist    Sunday, 24 August 2014 13:24    PDF Print E-mail

After a gap of four years since the last album and a time on the brink of disbanding entirely, Sweden’s moody melodic metal masters Evergrey have returned. Not triumphantly, as such is not their style, but packing an emotional punch that summons one’s deepest anxieties and hurts and wraps them in beauty and grandeur. From the album single “King of Errors,” with its alternation of chugging guitars and soaring synth, of soft sorrowful verses and distraught choruses, to the last track, “Aftermath,” with its gently despairing vocals and beautiful piano melody over a backdrop of mournful synth and guitar, the album documents the painful path of self-discovery. Vocalist Tom Englund explains, “It's an album about finding out you're not the person you thought you were, which is something that can be scary and terrifying and rewarding.” As it happened, this album appeared in my inbox during a time of intense personal turmoil for me as well, as I was grappling daily with questions of who I really am and how to live my life. Many of us have faced similar questions at one time or another and have felt like the whole world is against us, keeping us down, shutting us out. “Hymns for the Broken” speaks directly to that embattled, beaten down soul, not so much to encourage as to empathize, offering a hand of solidarity rather than a hand up. “You are not alone. You will never walk this path alone. There are thousands of people just like you who will never let you walk this path alone,” a voice intones during the song “Archaic Rage.” Hopeful moments like this are what keep the album from slipping into self-pity – the path to self-discovery may not be easy, but in the end it’s better than living your life wrong, as a “king of errors.” It’s still an introspective and moody album, though; hard-hitting guitar riffs are few, most of the songs being composed of cinematic sweeps of synth and melancholy piano melodies. For instance, even though “Wake a Change” does declare "we'll conquer anything, defeat this world" and calls on us to “wake a change," its slow pace and mournful melody make it more of a commentary on the sad state of the world than a rousing call to arms. There are some heavier moments, such as the distorted, industrial-sounding intro to “Barricades,” but the intensity fades as the song goes on, and Tom Englund laments, “We have been fighting for much too long. We're getting tired.” Still, it’s not a dragging or depressing album – the grand crescendos of synth and Tom Englund’s emotion-torn vocals elevate our personal struggles to an epic scale, lending them a beauty that’s not found in the harsh realities of life. I don’t mind so much the agony of seeking myself with this as the soundtrack.

A Sound Of Thunder: The Lesser Key Of Solomon
Written by Stephen Wass    Friday, 15 August 2014 14:36    PDF Print E-mail

"The Lesser Key of Solomon," the highly anticipated and quickly successful Kickstarter-funded (over $23,000 raised) project from classic/power metallers A Sound of Thunder (ASOT), is an oddity. I was underwhelmed that after an eerie intro and excellent energetic classic metal track of "Udoroth," there is not a lot of excitement. "Fortuneteller," "Boy...," and most of "Elijah" (with the unexpected chilling King Diamondy screeches) were all slow to mid-tempo and pretty unremarkable. I felt that these songs lack the sheer straightforward energy that ASOT has exhibited before. There’s a hint of that goodness with the Iommi riffs in the almost-Dio (although slow) "Master of Pain." The last four songs, beginning with fittingly plodding “…Mummy,” go by without much fanfare and are somber and even bluesy at times. These bland songs meander to end the album with a whimper rather than a thunderclap. I must rave that the production is excellent and the performances, especially those fueled by the always-powerful lungs of vocalist Nina, are compelling. But, the decidedly slower and more laid back-sounding songs are very different from their more varied (and enjoyable) "Time's Arrow." Super-fans may still enjoy this, as it is by no means horrible, but I’m disappointed.

Starset: Transmissions
Written by Johnnie Vrana    Thursday, 14 August 2014 09:30    PDF Print E-mail

“Transmissions” is the debut album from avant-garde artists Starset. “Transmissions” plays like a science fiction soundtrack, with sweeping electronics and dramatic shifts in pace and tone on top of the more typical rock sound. Vocalist Dustin Bates blends his singing in perfectly with the ever-changing sonic landscape, drawing the listener into the drama, just as a top actor would. “My Demons” is one of the top 10 singles of the year and a fine example of the entire album. Let yourself go and take a journey across the universe with Starset.

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