Archive for March, 2014

Album of the Week 12-2014: Fates Warning – Awaken The Guardian

Back when being a Prog Metal band didn’t automatically mean that you tried to sound as close to Dream Theater as possible, the scene was incredibly interesting. Bands like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory and Psychotic Waltz combined the riffs and twin guitars of Iron Maiden and US Power Metal and mixed them with the ambition of Rush. Early in their carreer, with their original singer John Arch still at the helm, Fates Warning released two fantastic records in ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’. I love both albums equally and which one I prefer doesn’t depend on anything else than my mood.

‘Awaken The Guardian’ is distinguished by its twin guitar melodies, NWOBHM and Power Metal influenced riffs courtesy of Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti, dreamy atmosphere and Arch’s lead vocals. While this may not quite be progressive enough for today’s Proghead – with the main progressive elements being the odd meters that sometimes pop up as well as the greater amount of complexity than was common at the time in the songwriting department – this is a mighty fine Metal record still to this day.  And its influence is perennial. Even bands from outside of the Prog Metal spectrum – think of US Power Metal band Steel Prophet and epic Doom Metallers While Heaven Wept – owe a great debt to this record.

Part of what makes this record more interesting than the average Prog record to me is the fact that the songs are so well-written. Many bands in the genre these days write stuff that is much more complex and technically demanding than this, but they can’t write a good hook to save their lives. ‘Awaken The Guardian’ is full of good choruses and hooks. Even if they’re wordless; the chorus part of the celestial ‘Fata Morgana’ has no lyrics, but a fantastic vocal melody by Arch that is bound to cause sheer euphoria with those who hear it.

Naming highlights would be pointless, given the fact that the album – like many albums in the genre – is best listened to in its entirity. Some of the albums that stood out for me personally are the aforementioned ‘Fata Morgana’, the relatively Thrashy ‘Valley Of The Dolls’ with its awesome Jim Matheos riffs, the dreamy ‘Guardian’ and the monstrous closing epic ‘Exodus’. Opening track ‘The Sorceress’ is probably the most progressive track on the record with its fairly large number of odd metres and is amazing as such.

Following ‘Awaken The Guardian’, Arch left the band and with Ray Alder fronting, Fates Warning gradually moved to a more contemporary Prog Metal sound. These early classics still sound fresh and awesomely Metal today. It would take Jim Matheos and Jon Arch until the new century to reunite with two fantastic releases under their own names and Fates Warning is still around, making good records with Alder. They even came close to this fantastic record recently with ‘Darkness In A Different Light’. ‘The Spectre Within’ and ‘Awaken The Guardian’, however, still stand as the band’s highlights for yours truly. Obligated for fans of early Prog.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fata Morgana’, ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Guardian’

Album of the Week 11-2014: WarCry – Inmortal

Although Spain is full of decent Power Metal bands, many of them fail to make any impact internationally because they’re singing in Spanish. Tierra Santa’s records are relatively easy to come by, but in order to obtain a record by the vastly superior WarCry, some effort is required. And that’s too bad, because these Asturians are perfectly capable of putting together a bunch of catchy, melodic and powerful Heavy Metal tunes. Nothing too complex, but their latest album ‘Inmortal’ is a guarantee for repeated listens. An addictive collection of fantastic riffs and melodies.

What originally got me hooked on ‘Inmortal’ was the perfect opening track and first single ‘Quiero Oírte’. With its irresistible sense of hopeful melancholy and a breathtaking chorus to boot, the song got a hold of me and didn’t let me go, despite the fact that I only understand fragments of its lyrics. Like many of WarCry’s songs, the structure of ‘Quiero Oírte’ is relatively simple, but it stays interesting regardlessly, which is impressive in itself. Structure-wise and melodically, the song has sort of a Hardrock vibe, but Pablo García’s riffing and high-speed soloing keeps it firmly within the Metal realm.

Listening to ‘Inmortal’ a couple of times made me realize the album is divided into two distinct halves. The first half consists of simpler, yet brutally effective Power Metal anthems such as the awesome ‘La Maldición Del Templario’ with its larger than life chorus and the aforementioned ‘Quiero Oírte’. A full album of those, however, would get boring at some point. Singer and chief songwriter Víctor García must have foreseen that; starting with the fantastically dark and brooding ‘Si Te Vas’, the more epic second half starts, resulting in awesome highlights such as the aggressive ‘La Elección’, the atmospheric closer ‘Mi Tierra’ and the surprisingly progressive ‘Keops’, which works its way through multiple climaxes through many unexpected twists and fantastic riffs. That chorus is bound to send chills down your spine.

Individually, not one band member outshines the actual compositions. Pablo García delivers a couple of blazing leads and Víctor García’s gruff, yet melodic vocal style is an important part of what lifts this band above the international Heavy/Power Metal standard, but the songs are the true stars here. Especially keyboard player Santi Novoa seems to understand his role better than many colleagues in the genre; when he’s allowed to shine, its quite obvious that he’s among the genre’s best, but he does just as well providing background atmospherics.

Though WarCry started as a spinoff for the popular Asturian band Avalanch – Víctor García, original drummer Alberto Adines and current bassist Roberto García were part of that band – it’s sort of a blessing that Victor García was asked to leave this band; WarCry is definitely one of the better Power Metal bands around these days. And with these strong melodies and riffs, let’s just hope there will be plenty more to enjoy. Don’t let the language barrier keep you from hearing this.

Recommended tracks: ‘Quiero Oírte’, ‘Keops’, ‘La Maldición Del Templario’, ‘Si Te Vas’, ‘Mi Tierra’

Album of the Week 10-2014: Warrior Soul – Salutations From The Ghetto Nation

While debut album ‘Last Decade Dead Century’ is generally considered the definitive album for New York’s Warrior Soul, I have personally always seen their third record ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’ as the band’s crowning achievement. It’s on this release that the unlikely, but surprisingly successful combination of huge Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin inspired riffs, eighties Glam Metal sleaze, Post-Punk bleakness, Guns ‘n’ Roses-ish grooves, the primal energy of the Punk movement and Kory Clarke’s left-wing political lyrics works best.

In a way, this 1992 release sounds like a celebration of the decadence and excess of the preceding decade as much as a parody of it. The influence of the eighties LA scene is pretty apparent in the enormous riffs and the beefy production of the album, while Clarke’s lyrics leave no doubt that he wasn’t at all content with the Republican-led America of the era. Look no further than the harsh irony of ‘The Party’ for proof. Clarke’s vision and assertiveness is a big part of what makes ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’ what it is; the fact that he has something to say makes for a lot of the aggression and effectiveness of the record.

Even though ‘Last Decade Dead Century’ had more – and better selling – singles than ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’, the latter obviously has the better. Opening track ‘Love Destruction’, with its big riff, stomping rhythm and powerful build-up, is probably the best single the band has yet released, while the somewhat lighter ‘Shine Like It’ should have been the single that made them big, but I’m sure that the tensions between the band and Geffen Records significantly decreased their chances to make any commercial impact at the time. The quality of the material is undeniable though.

Many of these songs are supported by the power of John Ricco’s riffs. ‘Trip Rider’ has one that brings Black Sabbath’s ‘A National Acrobat’ to mind – not to mention a fantastic guitar solo – and ‘Blown’ has a fantastic midtempo headbanger to build upon. However, even when the band settles for a Rock ‘n’ Roll groove and slightly less heavily relies on the politics, it works. ‘Ass-Kickin’ is pretty self-explanatory in that matter, but the sheer Stooges-inspired Protopunk madness of the awesome ‘Punk And Belligerent’ – which reminded me strongly of The Stooges’ essential classic ‘Search And Destroy’ – probably makes for the album’s most powerful and brutally effective moment.

Following ‘Salutations From The Ghetto Nation’, the band’s ongoing conflicts with Geffen and the dissolution of the original band basically killed all of the momentum that the band had built up and because of that, this album is sadly sometimes unrightfully seen as the beginning of the end for the band. In reality, it’s their artistic peak and although I have tremendous respect for Clarke for soldiering on for so long, this is the album he might never be able to top anymore. Then again, some musicians would kill for something this good. Only friends of governments everywhere should stay clear of this. All Rock, Metal and Punk fans should find something of their liking here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Punk And Belligerent’, ‘Shine Like It’, ‘Love Destruction’

Album of the Week 09-2014: While Heaven Wept – Vast Oceans Lachrymose

Originally a Doom Metal band, While Heaven Wept evolved into a powerful, epic Heavy Metal band with a slightly progressive touch in recent years. Though ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’ had a bumpy road – not one, but two record labels that went out of business – in order to get released, when it did see the light of day in 2009, it immediately prove to be a crowning achievement for not only the Virginia based band, but for Heavy Metal as a whole. ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’ is a work of art of epic proportions. One of the very few triumphs for traditional Heavy Metal in an otherwise disappointing decade for the genre.

Though the material is still mainly midtempo at fastest, While Heaven Wept is no longer one of the better Candlemass soundalikes on this album. It seems likely that the lineup changes that took place in the process of making this album have made quite an impact. Band leader and guitarist Tom Phillips had a decent singing voice, but the addition of Rain Irving’s power and range gives a whole new depth to the band’s compositions, as do the keyboard duties of Michelle Schrotz. Still, the slightly more progressive take on his songwriting duties and the massive production seem to be Phillips’ own evolution.

Epic Doom Metal or not, 16 minute opening track ‘The Furthest Shore’ is the finest song While Heaven Wept – or in deed any band associated with Doom Metal – has ever recorded. A monstrous monument of a track, taking the listener on an odyssey through multiple movements where you can almost feel the waves crashing to the ship displayed in the John Martin painting on the album cover. Massive riffs, fantastic vocals by Irving and goosebumps caused by the majestic melodies together form something so beautiful that it has to be heard to be believed. And the best thing is: not one moment does it feel like you’re spending over a quarter of an hour listening to the song.

However, that’s not where the fun – yes, after seeing the ‘Triumph:Tragedy:Transcendence’ dvd, I dare to use that term with this Doom band – stops. ‘To Wander The Void’ is Phillips’ tribute to Fates Warning and though easily recognizable as While Heaven Wept through its huge riffs, the influence of the Progmetal giants is audible. ‘Vessel’ has a recognizable, almost accessible chorus in which Irving and Schrotz weave a majestic, passionate harmony. Also, its opening riff reminds me of King Diamond’s ‘Welcome Home’. The title track is a colossal instrumental with almost dream-like melodies and ‘Living Sepulchre’ is possibly the band’s fastest track thus far, with Trevor Schrotz’ outstanding double bass work highlighting.

Maybe traditionalist Doomsters will be put off by the greater deal of variation in both the tempos and riff work heard on ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’, but the truth is that the album is an artistic masterpiece of the same proportions as Martin’s art that graces the cover. If I ever had to name a reason why I started listening to Heavy Metal, the riffs, melodies and unexpected twists in the songwriting department on this record would come very close to providing a satisfying explanation. The band is currently working on a 40-minute track slated for release later this year, until then, there’s more brilliance than on any average Metal album to be heard on ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Furthest Shore’, ‘Vast Oceans Lachrymose’, ‘To Wander The Void’