Archive for March, 2013

Album of the Week 13-2013: Soilwork – The Living Infinite

To me, Soilwork has always been a band that had a great formula, but it only worked for a few minutes. They wrote some brilliant songs throughout the years and ‘Natural Born Chaos’ was a fairly good album, but they never released anything that could hold my attention for the entire release. So since the regular albums already sound like some fat could be trimmed, a double album sounded like a bad idea. I was wrong. ‘The Living Infinite’ is the most consistent and dynamic piece of work the Swedish band – with Belgian drummer and French guitarist these days – has released thus far.

Quite a lot of people were uncertain of Soilwork’s future material, since founding guitarist Peter Wichers left the band for the second time. Wichers contributed greatly to the band’s songwriting in the past, but the band harldy suffers here. Vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid wrote or co-wrote a suprisingly large amount of songs on this record and he has apparently held quality control in high regard. New guitarist David Andersson also did quite a lot of writing and keyboard player Sven Karlsson provided a few of the album’s most brilliant moments, so figuring the overall quality of the music, Wichers’ departure seems a bloodletting rather than a disappointment.

When viewing the two records as separate entities, I’d say that the second is somewhat superior over the first in terms of conceptual continuity. While the first contains the more accessible and brutal moments of ‘The Living Infinite’, the second record is really adventurous and quite ambitious by Soilwork’s measures. It covers a range of dynamics previously unheard of in Soilwork’s music in a coupe of stunning songs. Also, Strid’s clean vocals work better than on the first disc here; during some songs on the latter half of the first record, you can basically predict when he’s switching from harsh to clean. I haven’t gotten into the lyrics yet, but I have the feeling disc two is a concept record.

As for the songs, there are more brilliant ones on here than on two other Soilwork albums combined. Musically, it’s as varied as contemporary melodic Death Metal gets. From brutal (‘Leech’, ‘Let The First Wave Rise’) to supermelodic (‘This Momentary Bliss’) and from fast and short (‘Spectrum Of Eternity’) to surprisingly progressive (the amazing diptych of ‘Entering Aeons’ and ‘Long Live The Misanthrope’ that opens the second disc). What you like most will depend on your taste, but the undeniable highlights of the record are the two-part title track that is divided over the two discs – especially the brilliantly structured first part is mindblowing – and the breathtaking, dark masterpiece ‘Owls Predict: Oracles Stand Guard’ that closes the entire thing. ‘Parasite Blues’ opens with the album’s most memorable riff.

Performance-wise, Soilwork is better than ever. Of course they have Dirk Verbeuren, who is possibly the best drummer Metal has to offer at the moment. But Andersson and Verbeuren’s Scarve colleague Sylvain Courdret are without any doubt the best guitar duo the band has ever had. The way they complement each other bring both of these gentlemen to a higher level and the solos, while limited in number, are all impressive.

With ‘The Living Infinite’, Soilwork has finally fully utilized the potential they’ve had for many years. It seems like they’ve finally challenged all of their talents and it paid off. ‘The Living Infinite’ is a highlight in contemporary Metal and is worth a shot for any open minded fan of extreme Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Owls Predict: Oracles Stand Guard’, ‘The Living Infinite I’, ‘Long Live The Misanthrope’, ‘Spectrum Of Eternity’

Album of the Week 12-2012: Gotthard – Domino Effect

Out of all the tragic deaths of musicians of the last few years, Steve Lee’s is most likely the one that hit me hardest. An exceptional vocal talent with a charisma many frontmen wouldn’t even dare to dream of, passed away at the much too early age of 47 in 2010. His penultimate effort with Switzerland’s number one Hardrock band Gotthard, ‘Domino Effect’, is his finest hour and one of the albums that gets the most spins overall at the Kevy Metal residence. This is one of those rare albums where every song strikes gold. And the vocals are a testament to Lee’s greatness.

For those unfamiliar with Gotthard’s music, their albums are generally a mixture of eighties Hardrock – the larger than life choruses and general atmosphere – and a seventies edge – the bluesy lead guitar, Lee’s powerful voice – which sounds surprisingly contemporary. ‘Domino Effect’ is arguably their hardest rocking album. Leo Leoni and Freddy Scherer’s riffs are quite heavy and their sound is huge and the songs just rock. Even the ballads. Every song on the album is extremely well-written, focusing on strong, catchy melodies and dynamics that give every song an identity of their own.

Every song therefore claims its position on this album and this is also the reason why Gotthard can put back-to-back ballads on this record without getting on my nerves. These ballads aren’t nearly as predictable as usual in this genre and all of them sound totally different. My favorites are ‘The Call’ (that clean guitar melody in the beginning is goosebumps-inducing, great sound too!), ‘Letter To A Friend’ (which has Lee showing every side of his voice) and the somewhat poppy closer ‘Where Is Love When It’s Gone’. The Rock songs are even better; ‘Master Of Illusion’ is the perfect opener with its stomping riff and brooding atmosphere,’Come Alive’ swings delightfully and has Lee pulling out all of his registers, ‘Th Oscar Goes To…’ has a distinct eighties vibe with its keyboard melody and incredible chorus and ‘Gone Too Far’ combines a Heavy Metal riff with fantastic singing and an exuberant atmosphere. But really, all the songs are worth hearing.

Production-wise, this is also one of the best post-1990 Hardrock outputs. Gotthard’s albums have always sounded good and their tasteful vocal harmonies and servicable keyboards have always been executed really well, but to these ears, ‘Domino Effect’ is basically the moment where it all comes together and really shines. The sound truly enhances the songs and makes this album truly a record for the 21st century, rather than an eighties nostalgia thing.

Anyone who thinks Hardrock went extinct after the eighties should give this record a chance. ‘Domino Effect’ combines all the elements that made the genre so amazing in the early days in a bunch of incredibly well-written songs. That’s what makes this band better than so many revivalists: they have the songs to back them up. Sadly, Steve Lee is no longer with us to share the experience with us, but luckily for us, at least our planet has been graced with such an incredible singer. Steve, you will be missed.

Recommended tracks: ‘Master Of Illusion’, ‘The Oscar Goes To…’, ‘Gone Too Far’, ‘The Call’

Album of the Week 11-2013: Pinnick Gales Pridgen – Pinnick Gales Pridgen

My apologies for being a day late with last week’s album, but my internet provider decided to cut me off completely yesterday. Naturally, there is an album of the week and it’s a brand new debut album this time. As a big fan of King’s X and Doug Pinnick’s soulful gospel trained voice in particular, I tend to check out every project he takes part in – does anyone remember Reb Beach’s The Mob? – so naturally, when I heard about the project he started with former The Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen and guitar prodigy Eric Gales, I needed to hear it. This may very well be Pinnick’s best non-King’s X release yet.

Former Shrapnel label boss Mike Varney apparently arranged this project and an often heard comparison is Hendrix’ ‘Band Of Gypsys’ record. While I doubt if this comparison had been made if at least one of the musicians was not African American, the comparison is very fitting for the way the songs are built up. Like on ‘Band Of Gypsys’, the songs on ‘Pinnick Gales Pridgen’ are fairly simple in structure, but often turn out quite long because of the inspired jamming that follows the verses and choruses. In that sense, this album is definitely not aimed at being the next bestseller, but this is truly great music for music’s sake.

However, the riffs on the album are much heavier than anything on ‘Band Of Gypsys’. All the riffs are heavy and groove-based and with Pinnick and Gales sharing lead vocals, this may sound a bit like the King’s X formula, but these guys are definitely something else. Much more Bluesrock and Soul based than the groovy progressive Hardrock of King’s X, Pinnick, Gales and Pridgen just rock their hearts out. There’s something very spontaneous about this record, which gives the whole thing a very vibrant atmosphere.

Although all the songs on the album are fantastic, the standout tracks are ‘Hang On, Big Brother’, which is lead by a very swinging riff courtesy of Gales and a pre-chorus brilliantly sung by Pinnick, the stomping groove and extended jam that make up ‘Wishing Well’ and the slow, incredibly heavy Blues that is ‘Black Jeans’. ‘ Collateral Damage’ is a catchy opener and Cream cover ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is a bit unnecessary – it’s been done so many times – but executed well nonetheless.

Musically, these guys are amazing. Gales has never sounded as inspired, probably aided by having a great songwriter around in Pinnick and Pridgen has hardly ever tried his hand at such simple compositions, but lays down incredibly powerful rhythms and impressive fills. Pinnick is the way he always is: soulful and passionate. These guys are a musical match made in heaven. The production emphasizes that: it focuses on these guys playing their instruments, rather than weird trickery.

So if you like music for music’s sake, checking out ‘Pinnick Gales Pridgen’ would be a pretty safe bet. These songs almost sound like they have written themselves while they were being recorded. Having that feel on a record is one of the greatest merits a Rock record can ever ask for. Let’s just hope this isn’t one of these one time deals: I’d love to review a ‘Pinnick Gales Pridgen II’ anytime soon.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wishing Well’, ‘Hang On, Big Brother’, ‘Black Jeans’

Best of 2012: The DVD’s

Granted, this list is a bit overdue, but I blame being extremely busy for it. Also, making a list of my favorite DVD’s (or BluRays…maybe I should change it to “concert recordings” next year?) prove to be not quite as easy as with the albums for 2012, though my number one was carved in stone from the day it was released onward. Here’s a great list to make your boring Sunday afternoons interesting. I usually work on my articles, but this works as well. Enjoy!

1. Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day

What else than the best band ever and their only true new release during my lifetime? ‘Celebration Day’ shows Led Zeppelin’s one night only reunion gig at the O2 Arena in London and it’s nothing short of magical. The late John Bonham is replaced by his son Jason, who does an impressive job of playing like his father – check out ‘Kashmir’! –  and the eternal Rock classic that is ‘Stairway To Heaven’ gets a whole new vibe here. Most of the songs are tuned half a step down to better facilitate Robert Plant’s current range, but he sings like the Rock god he is. Jimmy Page plays a bit sloppy, but that’s always been what made his playing so alive and vibrant. Any Rock fan who doesn’t own this has an incomplete collection.

Recommended tracks: ‘No Quarter’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’

2. The Tea Party – Live From Australia

Another reunion release. However, The Tea Party apparently intents on staying around a little longer. I’d say they are welcome to, because the performances on ‘Live From Australia’ are nothing short of amazing. The ten-minute rendition of ‘The River’ that opens the show is the first of many impressive goosebumps moments. The band really is on fire here and Jim Martin is still an amazing singer and frontman. It’s kind of weird that ‘Temptation’, one of my favorite songs, gets a somewhat lackluster performance here, but that is more than made up for by the best version I have ever heard of the dark, acoustic Bluesrocker ‘Sun Going Down’. ‘Live From Australia’ is another dark, atmospheric masterpiece and let’s just hope there will be many more now that the band is back.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sun Going Down’, ‘Sister Awake’, ‘Halcyon Days’, ‘Save Me’

3. Devin Townsend Project – By A Thread

DVD or monster box set? Either way, this is an impressive documentation of Canadian madman Devin Townsend performing the first four albums of his project in their entirity in London. He gathered as many of the original musicians around him as possible, but many of the people standing in deliver amazing renditions of the songs as well. This box contains all of Townsend’s key elements: the huge productions, the contrasts between hooky and melodic on one side and brutal and aggressive on the other and his infectious and morbidly sarcastic sense of humor. The DVD covering the amazing ‘Addicted’ album with Anneke van Giersbergen sharing lead vocal dutes is the one I play most, because of the joie de vivre it displays and the amazing songs. The encores covering all of Townsend’s carreer (including three Punky Brüster songs on ‘Deconstruction’) are the cherry on the pie. Amazing material. An obligated view and listen.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hyperdrive!’, ‘Life’, ‘Deep Peace’, ‘Supercrush!’, ‘Ki’, ‘Juular’, ‘Ain’t Never Gonna Win’

4. Alter Bridge – Live At Wembley

Frequent readers of this site probably know that I worship Myles Kennedy. His wide range and impressive power make him the best Rock singer since the generation of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell. By far. I’m glad he’s getting more exposure fronting Slash’s solo band, but it’s his own band Alter Bridge that made me fall in love with his voice. ‘Live At Wembley’ shows the band promoting ‘AB III’, their best album yet, and features great renditions of their best material. Most songs are executed quite fast, but that is hardly a complaint. This band walks the tread between Rock and Metal, covering the best sides of either (the catchy songs and Mark Tremonti’s killer riffs respectively) and this was definitely one of their great shows. And I’m sorry people, but I have to emphasize this again: Myles Kennedy is divine!

Recommended tracks: ‘Slip To The Void’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Coeur d’Alene’, ‘Come To Life’, ‘Isolation’

5. Amy Winehouse – At The BBC

When Amy Winehouse died, many of the news bulletins showed footage of her last Belgrade show, unable to perform due to substance abuse. This infuriated me at the time, knowing how much amazing footage there is available of Amy, who was able to sing just about anything when somewhat sober. ‘At The BBC’ has 3 DVD’s and a CD full of fantastic footage. Better than on the 2007 release ‘I Told You I Was Trouble: Live In London’ even. Especially the performance in front of a small crowd at a chapel on the Irish Dingle peninsula, only backed by bass and guitar, is breathtaking. That performance of ‘Back To Black’, with closeups of Amy’s face in repressed anger, is one of the most beautiful performances I’ve ever seen. The Jools Holland tribute features great footage of a young, focused Amy (with a guitar and her hair down: instant sexy) and the Porchester Hall show just oozes with an old school Soul atmosphere. A bittersweet experience maybe, considering that nothing new like this will ever be released ever again, but then again: this is what music is all about.

Recommended tracks: ‘Back To Black’ (Dingle), ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ (Porchester), ‘You Know I’m No Good’ (Porchester), ‘Tenderly’ (Jools Holland tribute)

6. Iron Maiden – En Vivo!

Opinions on ‘The Final Frontier’ were heavily divided. Despite a few songs I didn’t really care for, I thought the album was quite good. Much better than the snoozefest that was ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’. So naturally, I was looking forward to ‘En Vivo!’. This show in Chile is exactly what one can expect from Iron Maiden: an impeccable production, a huge stage show and especially the great, good old Heavy Metal that Iron Maiden is known for. Bruce Dickinson is twice my age, but has an energy I can’t even dream of. His voice is still in great shape as well. Sadly, the worst song on ‘The Final Frontier’ (‘Where The Wild Wind Blows’) is also on, but the wide array of great songs makes up for that. Iron Maiden is on the verge of releasing too many live recordings, with close to one of each world tour, but as long as the quality is similar to what is displayed on ‘En Vivo!’, you won’t hear me complain.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Talisman’, ‘Fear Of The Dark’, ‘2 Mintues To Midnight’, ‘El Dorado’

7. Peter Frampton: FCA!35: An Evening With Peter Frampton

‘Frampton Comes Alive’ was of course a legendary album and performing a live album in its entirity sounds like a bad idea – I know it did to me – but it works surprisingly well here. Part of that is the fact that Frampton’s voice has aged surprisingly well and his guitar playing qualities have never gotten any less. What makes the DVD even more of a pleasant experience is the endless joy that Frampton’s face shows. And he should be, because he had just gotten one of his beloved Les Pauls back prior to the show. His sense of humor during the announcements is awesome as well. Besides the entire ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ set, Frampton and his band – featuring original ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ bassist Stanley Sheldon – plays a complete additional set, including a couple of songs with his son. If you enjoyed this the first time around, you most likely will this time as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Show Me The Way’, ‘Something’s Happening’, ‘Road To The Sun’, ‘Four Day Creep’

8. Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy – Live From The Artist’s Den

Robert Plant’s solo output is of consitently high quality. He explores many different styles, some of which are more of my liking than others, but it’s all quality stuff. I liked his World Music inspired former backing band The Strange Sensation more than the rootsy Americana of the Band Of Joy, but this performance is nothing short of inspired. Always fun: the Led Zeppelin tunes sound radically different than their original versions and that’s always the case with Plant solo. Buddy Miller’s guitar work is simple, but brutally effective and Marco Giovino’s rhythms are especially what this type of music needs. And what can I say about Robert Plant’s voice that I haven’t said before? Oh, that’s right! Nothing! The only major point of criticism would be the absence of ‘Monkey’, the psychedelic masterpiece that is the highlight of the Band Of Joy album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down’, ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘Down To The Sea’, ‘Ramble On’

9. Stratovarius – Under Flaming Winter Skies

A few years of drifting and eventually replacing both bassist Jari Kainulainen and guitarist and chief songwriter Timo Tolkki didn’t exactly feed my interest in the originators of the Finnish Metal scene, but accidentally seeing a scene from ‘Under Flaming Winter Skies’ made me curious. And it’s actually quite good. Timo Kotipelto’s voice, while still good, is fading a bit, but that’s an age thing. New guitarist Matias Kupiainen is in fact really good and the band seems to be comfortable around each other again. The two covers (Deep Purple’s ‘Burn’ and The Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’) and solo spots – though Lauri Porra’s bass solo is surprisingly entertaining – must have been more fun for the band than for the listener, but their own stuff is executed surprisingly well and the very crisp and clear image quality does the rest. This is a worthy goodbye for drummer Jörg Michael.

Recommended tracks: ‘Visions (Southern Cross)’, ‘Black Diamond’, ‘Deep Unknown’, ‘The Kiss Of Judas’

10. Gamma Ray – Live Skeletons & Majesties

As much of a fan of Kai Hansen’s work I am, the cons kind of balance out the pros on this release. To start out with the cons – don’t forget I’m Dutch – ‘Rebellion In Dreamland’ and ‘Send Me A Sign’ need to be electric and not acoustic, Kai Hansen’s voice has been better and is way too high in the mix and the show is a little too heavy on ballads. The set contains a lot of surprises, ‘Men, Martians And Machines’, ‘Wings Of Destiny’ and ‘Time To Break Free’ being the most pleasant ones. The latter and two others feature Hansen’s former Helloween bandmate Michael Kiske, who still has a great voice but second to no stage presence, therefore getting across better on the CD than on the DVD. On the good moments, this is an amazing DVD, but in the end, it has a little too many tracks worthy of skipping.

Recommended tracks: ‘Anywhere In The Galaxy’, ‘Men, Martians And Machines’, ‘Time To Break Free’, ‘Wings Of Destiny’, ‘Hold Your Ground’

Album of the Week 10-2013: Morgana Lefay – Grand Materia

While things have been a bit too quiet around the Swedes for the last few years, Morgana Lefay’s ‘Grand Materia’ still receives many a spin in my household. Where many European Power Metal bands fail to actually deliver in terms of power, Morgana Lefay strays from the generic Iron Maiden and Judas Priest cloning, instead delivering a contemporary form of Heavy Metal without resorting to Hip Hop rhythms or Death Metal tendencies. And this concept album is their crowning achievement. A dynamic, passionate and exciting work of art.

‘Grand Materia’ was the first album Morgana Lefay released under their original name after legal trouble forced them to operate as Lefay for a couple of years. And it seems they felt they had to prove something as such. The album is simply the most dynamic and versatile album they have done so far and the concept lends the record a certain continuity. With riffing sometimes closer in spirit to the modern Metal of Machine Head – the C tuning may help – this stuff is heavy first and foremost. But contrasting these riffs with clean bits, semi-ballads and melodic leads gives them a lot more punch. Simply brilliant.

But the most amazing attraction for ‘Grand Materia’ is the same as all of the other Morgana Lefay albums: Charles Rytkönen. Not a typical Power Metal singer, Rytkönen’s raw, passionate howl always knows how to wring the exactly correct amount of emotion out of every note. Plus, the only other person who has come this close to portraying a descent into insanity this convincingly is Savatage’s Jon Oliva. Rytkönen’s range is impressive. In addition, when it blends with the backing vocals of guitarist Peter Grehn and bassist Fredrik Lundgren, a brutal choir is born.

All aspects of Morgana Lefay’s sound are covered quite impressively here. ‘The Operation Of The Sun’ is sure to please the Power Metal crowd with its upbeat guitar harmonies and brilliant chorus, ‘Angel’s Deceit’ falls somewhere nicely in between Thrash and Power Metal with the riffing of the former and the melodies of the latter, the title track sounds like a slightly more progressive take on what Nevermore did at the time, ‘Blind’ and ‘Emotional Sanctuary’ are fueled by modern Metal riffing and ‘Only Endless Time Remains’ is an epic ballad.

Two songs stand out. ‘Hollow’ quickly became one of the band’s most popular songs and it’s not hard to hear why; Rytkönen goes from super clean to insanely vicious, the punishing midtempo riffs of Tommy Eriksson and Peter Grehn provide an obligation to headbang and the desolate chorus hits very hard. ‘I Roam’ is a bit faster and has quite modern riffs in its verses, leading to one of the best choruses on the album. You try and not sing along to that one!

Icing on the cake is the record’s production. The guitar tone has all the body a guitar needs and Robin Engström’s drums sound like actual skins being hit by a human, contrary to the triggered samplse of many modern production. All of this creates the perfect contemporary Heavy Metal record. It’s hard to label this with a subgenre, since it’s too heavy for Power Metal, too melodic for Thrash Metal and too simple for Prog Metal, but that’s exactly where this album succeeds: a collection of strong songs without any care of what mold it fits or what crowd it pleases. That often leads to the best results. ‘Grand Materia’ is living proof of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hollow’, ‘I Roam’, ‘Grand Materia’, ‘Angel’s Deceit’, ‘The Operation of The Sun’

Recording analog with DeWolff frontman and more in Gitarist and Interface

Recently, I visited the Electrosaurus Southern Sound Studio, owned by Pablo van de Poel, singer and guitarist of DeWolff. He was recording fully analog there with his side project Catawba River Fox. I shot some pictures and talked with Pablo about the studio. Both Gitarist and Interface have published stories about this visit and they’re in stores as we speak.

Gitarist has also published my interview with Limp Bizkit and Black Light Burns guitarist Wes Borland, which includes a big photo taken by yours truly. The photo was the result of my first ever portrait shoot and as such, I am actually kind of proud of it. Also included are my reviews on the new albums by Amazing Stroopwafels guitarist Arie van der Graaf, Blues- and AOR guitarist Jente Hummel and Rock duo Death Letters. Be sure to check out the interview and workshop with Steve Lukather and the semi-acoustic guitar special as well.

Both magazines have extensive features on the NAMM 2013 show. Gear freaks know what to buy. Or at least where to look in order to know what to buy.

Album of the Week 09-2013: Iced Earth – Dystopia

When yours truly was 13 years old, he worshipped Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth’s ‘Alive In Athens’ was his gospel. But new Iced Earth albums have been somewhat of a bittersweet experience for me in the past decade. After a few years with Tim Owens, a good singer, but not the right man for the job, the return and subsequent second departure of ultimate Iced Earth singer Matthew Barlow and a couple of albums that seemed to have a stronger focus on bombast than coherent songwriting, ‘Dystopia’ is the first fantastic Iced Earth album since 2001’s ‘Horror Show’. A new masterpiece in American Power Metal.

At the microphone, there is “new kid” Stu Block, formerly of Canadian Prog Metallers Into Eternity. Although I was a bit wary at first, thinking his voice would be too “light” for Iced Earth, Block is actually one of the redeeming factors of ‘Dystopia’, possessing a versatile set of pipes with Barlow’s passion, Owens’ Halfordian screams and gruff territory formerly hardly explored. Also, Jon Schaffer has abandoned most of the pompous bombast of the former albums and has just written a bunch of powerful, American Heavy Metal tunes with all of his trademark high speed palm mute riffs and anthemic choruses.

The album’s opening track was the first song that surfaced and it immediately made me hopeful; Block sounded better than I could ever imagine him, the song was Heavy Metal to the bone and the melodies were strong. Luckily, that line was continued throughout the album. There’s catchy Power Metal anthems (‘V’, funny enough the fifth track on the album, and closer ‘Tragedy And Triumph’, which took some time to sink in, but quickly became one of my favorites), strong power ballads (‘Anguish Of Youth’ and especially ‘End Of Innocence’), obvious Iron Maiden references (‘Equilibrium’ and the epic album highlight ‘Dark City’) and even two scorching Thrashers (‘Boiling Point’, ‘Days Of Rage’). The bombast still isn’t gone (the album’s weakest track ‘Anthem’ lodges quite a bit of it), but the center of attention is Heavy Metal here.

Getting the limited edition of ‘Dystopia’ would be the only way to fully experience the album’s brilliance. Besides a redundant extra version of ‘Anthem’, there are two extra tracks, which are easily among the album’s best. In fact, ‘Iron Will’, is the second best track on the album, second only to ‘Dark City’. It’s a passionate, melodic and distinctly American Heavy Metal track. As such, a required listen.

Starting with ‘Dystopia’, Iced Earth seems a band again. A collective, contrary to the almost megalomanic Schaffer-led Rock operas of the past decade. Stretching out the brilliant ‘Something Wicked’ trilogy over two long albums was a bad idea, whereas ‘Dystopia’ is full of great ideas. This is what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like and we can only hope that this lineup can be held together – although bassist Freddie Vidales has since left te band – to create many more masterpieces like this one. I for one welcome Schaffer back to the place where he belongs: the Olympus of American Heavy Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dark City’, ‘Iron Will’, ‘Dystopia’, ‘Tragedy And Triumph’