Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I have read several music biographies in my day, but I think this is the first one I have encountered where there are no professional authors involved. Oscar Dronjak is not only one of the guitarist of the Swedish heavy metal band HammerFall, he is the founder of this band, which makes it optimal that he does the story telling of HammerFall's history. And it also comes at an optimal time since this book was released last fall, in the middle of HammerFall's break from music.
"Legenden Om HammerFall" takes up the whole story of not only HammerFall, but also of how Oscar grew up in the outskirts of Gothenburg with a Serbian heritage, how he discovered metal and of his first band, Ceremonial Oath. Besides from his own memories and own experiences, Oscar has also interviewed current and past band members and other folks that has had some sort of important impact of HammerFall's career (band managers, press and other musicians, such as Tobias Sammet from Edguy) so that we could see the same stories from different eyes.
There are a lot of crazy stories in this book about the lifestyle the band lived both on tour and in the studio. Sure, HammerFall is no Mötley Crüe, but it seems like the band have had some crazy times, especially the tales of the drummer Anders Johansson and his "you can destroy anything as long as you sweep away the evidence" motto is some of the most fun parts of the book. It also documents some things HammerFall did outside of the "normal" metal life, like their appearances in the famous Swedish game show "Fångarna På Fortet" (the Swedish version of "Fort Boyard", a game show where teams try to gather keys and clues in a old fort outside of France) or when they did music videos for both the Swedish women curling team and the Swedish athletic team. However, I find it odd that Oscar did not mention when they appeared in a Swedish children's program and showed their video to "Natural High" in it. Maybe because he did not want to discuss over the controversy that came with the appearance or he just simply forgot about it.
Oscar does a good job in telling all of the stories and mediate the emotions pretty well, but the book is very linear in its approach. It is mostly going like now they are on tour, and now they are in the studio, and oh, they are on tour again, and so on. I also find Oscar repeating himself a couple of times, which also gets kind of annoying, but I guess it is a good thing if you don't read the book that often and you have a bad memory. So I would not have mind if Oscar had some help from a real author that would give him tips on capturing the reader, but on the other side, everything more or less comes out in this book still, so Oscar did do a nice job writing it.
Besides from the stories, we also get several pages of different pictures that either document the band's career or Oscar in his early years. We also get a complete documentation of all of HammerFall's band members, line-ups and every concert and tour they have ever done. Some pretty nice extra information for the hardcore fans.
Right now it seems like there will not be any translated versions of this book in the future, which is a shame for the band's fans outside of Sweden. It is definitely an interesting 500 pages long book that thoroughly documents the band's journey from being a band that played music everyone thought was outdated to one of the biggest Swedish acts today. A good warm up before the long awaited comeback album "(r)Evolution" that will be released at the end of this month.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
"Sunset On The Golden Age" is album number 4 by the band and just as always, it is filled with heavy music about pirates and pirate related stuff. In this album, we learn how to walk the plank, the difficulties that comes with having one (and two) wooden leg and how to hunt for both ships and mead. So if you have listened to at least one of the 3 earlier Alestorm albums, then you probably know what to expect from "Sunset On The Golden Age".
But even if this album is much alike its predecessors, it is still a lot of fun to listen to this album. The track "Drink" is a perfect song for a party before going out to the town to ravage and songs like "Wooden Leg!" and "Mead From Hell" will give you a good chuckle. However, the most impressing thing with "Sunset On The Golden Age" is that Alestorm is trying to evolve themselves in the song writing with writing more serious songs. Both "Magnetic North" and "1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)" are more mature songs that builds up a story. Two songs that really spices up the album in a positive way.
The title track is also interesting, since it is the longest song the band has ever released. With a length of 11 minutes and 26 seconds, "Sunset On The Golden Age" closes the album in a epic fashion. I am a sucker for long songs when they are well made, and unfortunately, this song is not. There is nothing really wrong with the song, it just feels like the band could have made it shorter and there by more efficient. Like the ending is totally unnecessary and could have been shortened without any problem. Good first try though on making a 10+ minute song.
Alestorm has also been known for doing interesting covers, like "Wolves of The Sea" and "In The Navy". This time, they take on a recent dance club hit made by Taio Cruz called "Hangover". I understand why they chose to cover this song, but I think it is a little too similar to the original. But still, it works and fits the band pretty nicely.
In the end, it is no denying that Alestorm has once again looted their way towards success. "Sunset On The Golden Age" is both the most diverse and even album in the band's career, which ultimately makes it their best album so far. My concern is still how far the band can go with the pirate theme without constantly repeating themselves, but since they haven't done that just yet, I will just mind my own business for now. So open up the rum and enjoy this musical booty that is called "Sunset On The Golden Age".
Songs worthy of recognition: Mead From Hell, 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena), Wooden Leg!
Rating: 8/10 Hangovers
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
And it seems like I was right, since "Light of Dawn" is a improvement from "Unisonic". The overall sound is much more cohesive and the band feels tighter in their cooperation and their performance. Kiske is the obvious stand out thanks to his unique vocal style, which sounds like it have not aged at all since the Helloween days. Hansen however seems to have taken a step back in the hierarchy, because the riffs are not as prominent as they were in "Unisonic". But still, he does a good job overall and the solos fits well with the songs.
The overall song quality is also more even in this album than on its predecessor. There might not be any song here that really stands out on its own, but there are not any song that feels misplaced or substandard. It is an overall good feeling to know that Unisonic has found their sound, which is more melodic hard rock with a hint of classic power metal. Maybe not the most unique sound, but it works.
"For The Kingdom" was released earlier in a EP together with some live songs and it is still one of my favourite songs from Unisonic. The track has a good hard rock beat with an interesting riff and a easy and memorable chorus. But there are two songs that trumps "For The Kingdom" on "Light of Dawn". The opener "Your Time Has Come" just breaths classic power metal and the amount of epicness in the track is overwhelming. Then we also have "Throne of The Dawn" that impress me with its straight forward attitude and simplicity. Be sure to also check out "Night of The Long Knives" and "Exceptional" since these two tracks helps giving the album some more variety.
So is there anything negative that I should bring up about this album? Well, the two ballads, "Blood" and "You And I", are far from interesting and I still feel like the band could use some more originality to really lift their music even higher. The more annoying thing is that it feels like Unisonic still does not have its highest gear on. They are under way to becoming a project to be counted with, but they still have some way to go before reaching the same levels as Helloween and Gamma Ray. This is however only the second album by the band, so they still have some time to prove themselves.
If you liked "Unisonic", then I am sure that you will love "Light of Dawn". This album has helped getting the band towards the next level, and if Unisonic's career keeps on going in this direction, then I am sure that the band will get a good amount of recognition. This may not be my favourite power metal release this year (if you can call this a power metal album), but it certainly did put a smile on my face whenever I listened to it.
Songs worthy of recognition: Your Time Has Come, For The Kingdom, Throne of The Dawn
Rating: 7,5/10 Manhunters
Sunday, August 3, 2014
To no ones surprise, that ultimately was a bad decision since the music in "Seventh Star" was way different from the normal Black Sabbath sound. This album is not metal, it is just 80's rock that more resemble Whitesnake and Deep Purple than Black Sabbath. Speaking of Deep Purple, former member of the band Glenn Hughes helped with the vocals on this album. Other players were Geoff Nicholls on keyboard, Dave Spitz on bass, Eric Singer on drums (Singer later became the drummer of KISS), and of course, Tony Iommi on guitar.
There are a couple of songs that are fine and could fit in with another Black Sabbath album. The title track is long and has an overall nice groove to it while "Danger Zone" works with its catchiness (despite the Van Halen riff), and "In For The Kill" does its job well and Iommi does his best performance here. A small shout out also to the excellent "Turn To Stone". With a little fine tuning here and there, all of those songs could easily fit in any other Sabbath record.
But now, we come to the rest of the pack, songs that I understand why Tony would release them in a solo record, but does not in any circumstance fit in a Black Sabbath one. The track that causes the most sickness for me is "No Stranger To Love". It is a typical 80's rock ballad that is more than likely to bore the crap out of you. Seriously, these kinds of songs were outdated even before they became popular. Then we have "Heart Like A Wheel", a blues song that is the longest track in this album. I can see if some fans of the band would enjoy this song, but I cannot. It has the same effect on me like a sleeping pill. The two final songs, "Angry Heart" and "In Memory", are just bland. They have more or less nothing that could change my mind over this album. A very disappointing ending to "Seventh Star".
I do not think my view on this album would have changed if "Seventh Star" was a solo record. I do understand that Tony wanted to test his musical writing beyond his band and that this album had potential of becoming something interesting outside of his normal sound. No, the blame for "Seventh Star" goes instead to Warner Bros. and Don Arden, who persuaded Tony of making this under the Black Sabbath name. If they really wanted the best for the band, they would know that this could not be a Black Sabbath album. I can only imagine all those fans who bought the album on release day and heard it. Oh, the disappointment.
Let this be a lesson to record companies, big and small. Don't do this to band that you have under a contract, ever. Got it? Probably not.
Songs worthy of recognition: Seventh Star, In For The Kill, Turn To Stone
Rating: 3,5/10 Danger Zones
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Nothing is severely different here from earlier albums, except that this album does not have a cohesive theme like its predecessor "Clash of The Gods". And it starts off in a furious tempo after the calm title track that opens up the album. "Hell Funeral" blasts off in classic Grave Digger fashion and it is sure to be a powerful piece that pumps up the crowd at a concert. The following track "War God" is maybe not as fast, but it packs a great amount of punch with its straight forward chorus. And then we have "Tattooed Rider" that is a good epic track that is the track that stands out the most in the album.
But there is something happening with the album after that track, and it is not for the better. The song quality drops for every songs and it just seems like the album does not know where to go in which direction. The songs are not necessarily bad, they are just lackluster. Some songs in the later half like "Resurrection Day" and "Death Smiles At All of Us" saves some of the band's honor, but it is not enough to save the album.
One thing that comes up for me is that the band is trying to reinvent themselves, not only in the music, but also in the lyrics. "Grave Desecrator" does what it suggest, it has dug up famous Grave Digger lines like last supper and bagpipers play tunes of sorrow. It is still a great song, but the lyrics bug me. And when the band tries to be innovative, they fail miserably. The ballad "Nothing To Believe" is the perfect example, a boring track that ends the album in a sleepy mood. I could have sworn that I nodded of to this song at one of the listening sessions I had.
This review may come out as a very negative one and that I think this album sucks, which is not the case. "Return of The Reaper" is a decent album that is typical Grave Digger, but the problem is that the set list is not very strong and that the band can do a lot better. With over 30 years of experience, you would think that these Germans would know how to make a solid album. Oh well, some songs entertain and the cover art is fantastic, it will have to do until next time.
Songs worthy of recognition: Hell Funeral, Tattooed Rider, Grave Desecrator
Rating: 6/10 War Gods
Monday, July 28, 2014
Since the last two album made by the band was fantastic, my expectations was high for this album, and sure enough, I got what I expected. Pure heavy thrash with screaming vocals and well crafted riffs to back it up. Overkill is more or less the Motörhead of thrash. You know what you are gonna get with every new release and you would not have it any other way. It is all here. The slamming beats, the heavy riffs, and the amazing and unique vocals of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth.
The overall song quality is good in "White Devil Armory", even though you have heard most of the songs in some other way earlier in the band's discography. But no matter what, it is still kicking ass and it is hard to not get into the music. The first half of the album is were most of the highlights hang out, like the high octane opener "Armorist" and the skull pounding "PIG", but to say that the other half only consisted of fillers would be a complete lie. "White Devil Armory" has a solid amount of songs and none of them seems boring nor out of place. However, coming after two records that had several amazing songs, it is not hard to understand that "White Devil Armory" does not have the same number of knockout punches in its artillery, but it is still enough to get one pumped up.
What really surprised me with this release was that it was growing on me, an attribute that is not very common when it comes to thrash records. Songs like "Down To The Bone" and "Where There's Smoke" went past me pretty quickly on the first couple of listens, but has now developed into some of my favourites of the album. This was definitely a plus since I grew tired of several songs on "The Electric Age" quickly, but here, the average life span was improved thanks to a more even set list.
It definitely seems like Overkill keeps on riding that success wave perfectly safe. "White Devil Armory" may not completely live up to the standards that "Ironbound" and "The Electric Age" set up, but it is no doubt that it is a great thrash record that gets the job done very well. So no matter how long you have been into the band, I will guarantee you that you will not be disappointed by this record. It is thrash down to the bone.
Songs worthy of recognition: Where There's Smoke, Armorist, PIG
Rating: 8/10 Bitter Pills
Thursday, July 17, 2014
"Redeemer of Souls" is the follow up album to the 6 year old predecessor "Nostradamus", and if that album was a wild experimentation, this album is the complete opposite. "Redeemer of Souls" is more or less a beginners guide to Judas Priest. It is pure heavy metal that takes you back to several of the band's master pieces, especially the amazing "Painkiller" is represented a lot in this album. It actually would have been a perfect follow up album to the excellent "comeback" record "Angel of Retribution" if "Nostradamus" was not squeezed in between.
Lot of the talk around this album has been about K. K. Downing's departure, and even if his replacement Richie Faulkner does a good job, he just does not have the same connection to Tipton that Downing had. But still, the guitarists does a swell job in this album despite a very poor production where the guitars sounds flat and dull. Then there is also the fact that The Metal God's voice is not what it used to be, which is clearly evident on the higher notes, but remember that Rob Halford is 63 years old, and to still pack quite a punch in the voice at that age is surely impressive.
Most of the songs on "Redeemer of Souls" are pretty decent, but they can easily be compared to several classic Judas tunes, like the opener "Dragonaut" sounds like "Leather Rebel" and the title track is a lot like "Judas Rising". So there is no song in this album that can really match the band's best work, but that does not bother me since it is still a good quality of music in here. My current favourite is "Halls of Valhalla" that slams down with a grand sound, a catchy chorus and a Rob Halford that gives his all in the song. Probably the best song they have made since Rob's return to the band.
But if this song does not get you going, there are plenty of other songs to chose from. "Redeemer of Souls" contain 13 songs, and another 5 if you have the deluxe edition at your disposal, which makes this a very meaty Priest album (not as meaty as "Nostradamus" though, thank god). Some other highlights in this album is the passionate "Sword of Damocles", the epic and strong "Battle Cry" and the beautiful rock ballad "Beginning of The End". However, since there are so many songs in this record there are bound to be some fillers in there, like the boring "March of The Damned", the sluggish "Crossfire" and all of the bonus songs. Fortunately, there is enough quality in this album to get past these fillers.
I am glad that Judas Priest's discography did not end with "Nostradamus" since it didn't feel like it had the soul of the band. "Redeemer of Souls" has this soul, although it is slightly damaged thanks to a bad production and aging members. But no matter what, this is pure heavy metal, and if this happen to be the last we will ever hear from the band, then I think this is a worthy ending for one of the most inspirational heavy metal bands of all time. Thank you Judas Priest for giving us over 4 decades of great metal music.
Songs worthy of recognition: Halls of Valhalla, Redeemer of Souls, Sword of Damocles, Battle Cry
Rating: 7,5/10 Metalizers
Sunday, July 13, 2014
And sure enough, it is a new Black Sabbath that enters in "Born Again", but it is not necessarily a better band that emerges. Just like with Dio, Gillian was heavily involved in the songwriting process, and it is noticeable. It may sound a lot like Sabbath, but there are hints of Deep Purple in the music that makes it easier for Gillian to fit in, which is totally fine since it sounds more like a Black Sabbath album than a Deep Purple album. But it was a problem in the end, because since Gillian came from a different musical background, he had trouble in adapting to the band's early works, which is also why "Born Again" became the first and only Black Sabbath album featuring Gillian.
As for the music itself, it is a mixed bag for me. Some songs like the dark and heavy "Disturbing The Priest" and the epic self titled ballad feels like they belong in this album and is a good continuation of the band's sound. But they are getting mixed up with songs that just throws the album off course. Despite its cool, long solo, "Zero The Hero" is one of those songs with its sluggish tempo and boring structure. And while "Digital Bitch" turns up the heat, it just feels a little too much like a Deep Purple song.
The overall experience of "Born Again" is that it could have been a really sweet album if some of the dents had been smoothed out. Because the main problem with the album is that it has a lot of cool ideas, especially in the solo department, but the final product is just sloppy and poorly made. The production is shaky, the album cover is horrible and the whole band chemistry was just not there. It definitely goes to show that just because you got a great singer with lots of talent at your disposal, it does not mean that you will automatically connect with this dude on a musical level.
This has been the hardest Black Sabbath album to rate so far, and that is all thanks to the uneven quality in the songs. Some songs were good, others were bad. This is without a doubt the most uneven Black Sabbath album up to date and it is not surprising that the record's line up only lasted one album. Ultimately, it is the negative sides that sticks out of "Born Again", which is why I cannot give this album any higher rating than this.
Songs worthy of recognition: Disturbing The Priest, Born Again
Rating: 4,5/10 Digital Bitches
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Checking around in some various metal sites and such, I get the feeling like the fans are a little hesitant about the new singer and that most of them wants Heidi back. Even though Capri is a good singer, I can actually agree with these fans, but mostly because it is hard to accumulate from one style of singing to another. We already got some heads up with the best of album "Re-Evolution" where Capri sings on some old Amberian Dawn classics, and she did a pretty decent job, but it was pretty clear that it was not at the same class as the original versions.
Anyway, how is Capri doing in "Magic Forest", the band's 5th studio effort? Well, she is doing a good job and it is clear that the band has succeeded in writing songs that fits Capri's voice while still maintaining the typical Amberian Dawn sound. I still miss Heidi though, but that does not take away that Capri is a great replacement for the band.
The music itself is nothing surprising, solid and melodic power metal at its finest. However, I do miss some of the craziness that the band usually brings in the guitar department, especially in the solos. Sure you can do a great solo without shredding until your fingers bleed, but it was one of the trademarks of Amberian Dawn in their early career and one of the things that made me a fan of the band. There are however very little in the music I can complain about, even if most of the songs in "Magic Forest" has been done before in any other of the band's albums. I also feel that the album starts of good with strong songs like "Cherish My Memory" and "Magic Forest", but it becomes weaker and more anonymous the longer it goes.
But in the end, "Magic Forest" is just another solid album by the band, and it is definitely a step forward from the lackluster effort known as "Circus Black". The band has made it as easy as possible for Capri to fit in the Amberian Dawn formula, and she is doing a wonderful job fitting in. So do not mourn over Heidi's departure, be happy over that Amberian Dawn still creates highly enjoyable melodic power metal.
Songs worthy of recognition: Magic Forest, Cherish My Memory, Sons of The Rainbow
Rating: 7,5/10 Warnings
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
"Once More 'round The Sun" is album number 6 from the band, and at first, it seems to be a continuation on what the band started in their last album, "The Hunter". A straight forward album that puts its focus on heavy riffs and memorable songs. But the more you listen to the album, the more progressive it seems. And that is what makes "Once More 'round The Sun" so special, progressive and high soaring melodies are mixed with simple memorable choruses. The first single "High Road" is a perfect example of that. The main riff is simple, but effective, and it does not take much effort to learn the chorus, but then we have the solo part that takes the song to a totally different level. It is controlled madness at its best.
The crazy thing is that even if I love "High Road", it is actually one of the weaker songs in the album. Because just like almost every other Mastodon album, the biggest strength with "Once More 'round The Sun" is that all of the songs have a ridiculously high standard. And most of the credit for that goes to the amazing instrumentation by the band, especially the drumming (and some of the singing) by Brann Dailor is exceptionally awesome.
Another strong point with the album is that it shows a big variety in songs, but it still has a red line that makes the album feel like one cohesive piece. "The Motherload" is a very simple, but highly addictive song that could be a potential live favourite, while the title track sounds like a classic Mastodon track mixed with some Rush melodies. Then we have "Chimes At Midnight" that shows the classic Mastodon madness with a main riff that will haunt me for weeks, which I do not mind at all. I also enjoy the nice groove attack that "Halloween" brings, the rapid fire attack from "Tread Lightly" and the calmer moments in "Asleep In The Deep".
Is "Once More 'round The Sun" Mastodon's strongest album up to date? No, it is not, but it is hard to deny that it is another fantastic high quality piece from the band. It may be the band's most commercial album up to date, but that does not mean that the band has sold out themselves. "Once More 'round The Sun" is still Mastodon to the bone and it is a fantastic roller coaster ride for both old and new fans of the band. This album (and its crazy cover art) will definitely be one of the top contenders of "Album of the year" when I summarize 2014 in December.
Songs worthy of recognition: Chimes At Midnight, The Motherload, Once More 'round The Sun, Asleep In The Deep, Halloween
Rating: 9,5/10 High Roads