Archive for June, 2015

Album of the Week 26-2015: Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus

Three years ago, Luca Turilli released – much to my immense surprise – the best album he’s been involved with since Rhapsody’s breathtaking ‘Symphony Of Enchanted Lands’. His spin-off of Rhapsody proved to bring the focus back to the orchestral side of the band, which Turilli understandably dubbed “cinematic Metal”. Let’s just call this symphonic Power Metal though, as there are enough ridiculous Metal subgenres already. Sophomore record ‘Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus’ is finally there and although it’s not quite the overwhelming experience ‘Ascending To Infinity’ was, it’s another quality symphonic Metal record on which the orchestral “backing” is quite upfront.

Less than ever, Turilli uses his band as a vehicle for his guitar qualities. If he wants to show off, it’s probably his compositional skills rather than his riffwork or sweeping guitar leads. Of course, the latter are still there, but the guitar often takes back seat to the orchestra, choir and piano. That’s where much of the album’s bombast comes from anyway. Also, there are a few experiments with electronic elements here. None too overpowering, but some of them are featured quite promintently in the progressive ‘Il Tempo Degli Dei’ and overture ‘Nova Genesis’.

What makes ‘Prometheus’ slightly less overwhelming than its predecessor is the fact that the songs are a little less urgent this time around. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any standout moments here though. Especially the latter half of the record features a few diamonds, like the massive epic ‘Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis’ that closes the record, the bombastic title track and the surprisingly catchy ‘Yggdrasil’. Closer to the beginning of the album, ‘Anahata’ builds from a very cinematic intro (think ‘The Never Ending Story’) towards an amazing orchestral “riff” that turns into a fantastic progressive Power Metal track. Truly impressive.

Drummer Alex Landenburg makes his first appearance with the band here and as could be expected based on his unbelievable work on Mekong Delta’s last two albums, he’s amazing. He doesn’t quite get the space to be as creative as he was with Delta, but his playing is fluent and tight. Alessandro Conti is once again a revelation: his powerful voice, enormous range and versatile approach blew me away when I heard ‘Ascending To Infinity’ for the first time and things haven’t changed here. In fact, the increased use of Italian lyrics seems to work in his favor, especially when he goes into full opera mode on ‘Notturno’.

Metal purists will undeniably cringe when they hear the guitars being pushed to the background by all these orchestras and choirs – presumably especially on the “cinematic version” of Riot’s ‘Thundersteel’ – but the fact is that this is a professional release with well-written songs and meticulous arrangements. The songwriting is slightly less consistent than it was on its predecessor, but this is again a bombastic, thrilling ride through several filmic landscapes. If you’re looking for that instead of another predictable Power Metal record: this one is for you.

Recommended tracks: ‘Anahata’, ‘Yggdrasil’, ‘Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis’, ‘Prometheus’

Album of the Week 25-2015: Masterplan – Masterplan

When drummer Uli Kusch and guitarist Roland Grapow were simultaneously fired from Helloween, they wasted no time and started Masterplan. Since their shared tenure in Helloween is my favorite period in the German Power Metal giants’ history, I was eagerly awaiting this debut release at the time. It wasn’t quite as Helloween-like as I expected, but the blend of progressive Hard Rock and Power Metal that is on their self-titled album is nothing less than impressive. A rare instance where the songs lead the album despite the involvement of a number of high-profile musicians.

My first impression upon hearing debut single ‘Enlighten Me’ – and opening track ‘Spirit Never Die’ – was that the song structures sounded a bit messy, but eventually, it starts to make sense and what’s left is respect for the fact that the band has managed to combine so many elements into relatively streamlined songs. Especially because they still leave a lot of room for the powerful vocals of Jørn Lande, who was pretty much the rising star of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal scene at the time. Kusch, Grapow and Lande somehow managed to combine memorability, versatility and brief displays of virtuosity in an irresistible cocktail.

Despite the presence of something like a common sound – heavy, ultra-melodic and anthemic – the band swings back and forth between those extremes quite effortlessly. ‘Enlighten Me’, ‘King Hearted Light’ and ‘Sail On’ are somewhat poppy Hard Rock songs, there are ballads in the shape of the Zepplin-esque ‘Into The Light’ and the ridiculously Whitesnake-like, but nonetheless fantastic ‘When Love Comes Close’. ‘Crawling From Hell’ shows a heavier side of the band, while the dramatic and bombastic ‘Soulburn’ is as progressive as it gets here. The catchy Power Metal of ‘Heroes’ is most Helloween-like, which seems appropriate, given Michael Kiske’s cameo.

Sometimes, the band gets it just a little more right than the rest of this immensely enjoyable record. ‘Crystal Night’ is a winner with its heavy, stomping midtempo riff, anti-racism lyrics and downright beautiful chorus. ‘Bleeding Eyes’ is another one that kicks down the tempo a little, which fits the atmosphere of Eastern mysticism perfectly. The riffs of the song are incredibly heavy, Lande’s vocal performance is the best on the entire album and Grapow’s noisy guitar solo is easily the craziest shit I’ve ever heard him do. And ‘Spirit Never Die’ is simply the perfect moodsetter here because of its perfect build-up and upbeat message.

It’s too bad that Masterplan never quite reached the heights of their amazing debut album again. The lack of stability in the line-up may be a factor in this, but it’s only natural that a band doesn’t hit this much of a peak in terms of songwriting too often in its career. It’s not often that a record completely transcends the division between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, but this is one of those records and it should have equal appeal to fans of both genres. Unless you don’t like a well-written and ditto performed song, of course.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bleeding Eyes’, ‘Crystal Night’, ‘Soulburn’

Album of the Week 24-2014: Şebnem Ferah – Can Kırıkları

Turkey’s Rock scene has quite a number of great female singers. Two of the most influential have once played together in an all-female band called Volvox. But while Özlem Tekin has been all over the map stylistically on her solo releases, Şebnem Ferah’s work has always rocked. However poppy it sometimes gets. Especially since she started working with producer – and Pentagram bassist – Tarkan Gözübüyük, who seems to realize that even though Ferah is proficient at all the subtleties of Pop music, her powerhouse vocals work best when she has to push her way to the foreground through loud guitars and string backings.

If it’s Gözübüyük’s influence or just the fact that Ferah wrote heavier songs this time around, I truly can’t tell, but it’s a fact that ‘Can Kırıkları’ has the heaviest guitar work on any Şebnem Ferah album so far. One doesn’t need to look any further than the dark, brooding opening track ‘Okyanus’ to hear that direction in full effect; the unpredictably timed chords by Metin Türkcan – another Pentagram member – add an almost Dream Theater-like feel to the verses and the riff in the middle section is extremely Metal, but Ferah’s keen ear for melody keeps this accessible. That’s why the album works for fans of both Pop and Rock. Possibly even Metal fans.

‘Can Kırıkları’ isn’t chock full of Metal though. Ferah is quite likely the best power ballad singer in Turkey and there’s quite a lot of those here. Some are a little heavier (the title track, with its heavy chorus and awesome orchestration) and some are a little more subdued (closing track ‘Hoşçakal’, although Ferah herself really lets it rip there) and there’s even an acoustic-based Rock song in the shape of the awesome ‘Çakıl Taşları’. Ultimately, it’s those changes in dynamics that make the album enjoyable all the way through.

My favorite Şebnem Ferah song – not just on this album – is ‘Delgeç’. That song alone is a lesson in dynamics; it starts out with a mighty Power Metal melody, turns into Pop Rock for the verses in which Ferah occasionally harmonizes with herself amazingly and then gets back to all the heavy riffing in the chorus, which has a lot of tension and drama to it. Though Ferah wrote a number of amazing songs after this one, it’s still the one I’ll play people to show what she’s about. It’s quite illustrative of how many sides there are to her voice and songwriting.

As with many Turkish releases – especially the ones with Turkish lyrics – it’s quite difficult to find this one outside of Turkey, but I would urge everyone with any interest in good Rock music or powerful female vocals to try and pick ‘Can Kırıkları’ up. If you want to get your money’s worth for shipping, get Ferah’s latest effort ‘Od’ as well. This is an example to all western producers of female Rock singers that you don’t have to castrate the music to make your singer stand out. It’s also a testament to Şebnem Ferah’s unbelievable skills as a singer and a songwriter.

Recommended tracks: ‘Delgeç’, ‘Can Kırıkları’, ‘Çakıl Taşları’, ‘Okyanus’

Album of the Week 23-2015: The Allman Brothers Band – Shades Of Two Worlds

In the history of The Allman Brothers Band, there’s two eras that I truly love. First, there was the raw Blues era when Duane Allman – to this day one of the most incredible talents ever to touch a guitar – was still alive and then, there’s the period that Warren Haynes dialed the Rock factor back up for the band. No disrespect to the legacy of guitarist Dickey Betts and singer/organist Gregg Allman, but the latter was when the band got its songwriting focus back and the extended jams regained their fire. ‘Shades Of Two Worlds’ shows the band’s fearless multi-genre approach as well as their most passionate studio playing since ‘Idlewild South’.

Part of the album’s live energy is due to the fact that the seven-piece band likes to record everything as live as possible. It shows, because the interaction between Haynes and Betts, as well as the shared swing of drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe and percussionist Marc Quiñones is at its absolute best. The glossy early nineties production has a bit too much sheen for the raw sound of the band, but that hardly is a disturbing factor here, because the songwriting is absolutely stunning.

While I would blame Betts’ greater involvement after Allman’s tragic early demise for the “countrying down” of the band’s music – remember ‘Ramblin’ Man’? – he does show what a truly great Bluesrock writer he is here. The absolute highlight here, ‘Nobody Knows’, is from his hand completely and contains the greatest riffs of the album as well as an utterly amazing vocal melody and long, spirited jams with fantastic climaxes. His compositions with Haynes are highlights as well: ‘Kind Of Bird’ finally brings back the Jazz influence of ‘At Fillmore East’, ‘Bad Rain’ has an unbelievable swing and ‘Midnight Man’ has this irresistible swampy feel and ditto riffwork.

Gregg Allman, however, did contribute two great songs to this record. Most typical for him is the slow, passionate Blues of ‘Get On With Your Life’. No white man can sing the Blues like Allman does, look no further than here for proof. Opening track ‘End Of The Line’, which he co-wrote, is another masterpiece. A journeyman lyric typical of the Southern Rock tradition – although I would categorize the Allman Brothers Band as Bluesrock rather than Southern Rock – supported by muscular Rock riffs, brilliant vocal work by Allman and passionate solo trade-offs by Haynes and Betts and as such, a true winner.

During the aforementioned eras, The Allman Brothers Band never really released an album that was any less than very good, but ‘Shades Of Two Worlds’ is one of those moments when all the stars are aligned just right. The septet gained their reputation as a live band and it is the stage where their music comes most alive, but as far as collections of songs go, none of them is better than this unusually inspired album. Where many jam bands forget to write an actual song and many normal Rock bands just aren’t good enough to keep a jam entertaining, this album really brings the best of the two worlds it may refer to in its title.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘End Of The Line’, ‘Kind Of Bird’, ‘Midnight Man’