Posts Tagged ‘ Heavy Metal ’

Album of the Week 41-2019: Despair – Beyond All Reason


Some bands are known as a springboard for their band members’ further succes rather than for their own music. Germany’s Despair is one of those bands. Original vocalist Robert Kampf would go on to start Century Media Records, guitarist Waldemar Sorychta is a renowned producer and known for Grip Inc. rather than Despair, while drummer Markus Freiwald recently played with Sodom. It is unfortunate that Despair is a forgotten name, because their third and thus far final album ‘Beyond All Despair’ in particular is an incredible work of progressive thrash metal. It strikes the perfect balance between melody, aggression and complexity.

Debut album ‘History Of Hate’ was a great example of music that has the unbridled aggression of thrash metal with a greater emphasis on compositorical intricacy. The production and the vocals occasionally were more primitive than necessary, but the material on the album showed great promise. When Kampf departed the band to focus on his record label, the arrival of Andreas Henschel allowed the band to go in a somewhat more melodic direction, as even his barks have a somewhat melodic slant. And where second album ‘Decay Of Humanity’ suffers from monotony, its follow-up does almost everything right.

One notable thing about ‘Beyond All Reason’ is how much it sounds like ‘Nosferatu’-era Helstar at times. ‘Imported Love’ and ‘Son Of The Wild’ in particular would fit that album. The riffs consist of lots of notes and are almost neoclassical in approach, but at the same time, they have a dark, eerie atmosphere that really makes ‘Beyond All Reason’ stand out among Despair’s discography. The semi-ballad ‘In The Deep’ has a more than passing resemblance to ‘The Curse Has Passed Away’, though with a much more engaging second half. It would not be fair to accuse Despair of copying Helstar here, but the influence can clearly be heard.

It is worth noting that despite the more atmospheric and progressive approach – at times enhanced by Sorychta’s tasteful keyboard work – Despair still shows its thrash metal roots here. The riff work in ‘Rage In The Eyes’, for instance, is every bit as classy as on the rest of the album, but a bit more aggressive than on other tracks. The following ‘Burnt Out Souls’ is very aggressive in its rhythms as well. ‘Deaf And Blind’, on the other hand, has the more proggy side of the band on full display without feeling like a disorienting opening track. The dense ‘The Day Of Desperation’ is somewhat slower, but no less complex and inspired.

While ‘History Of Hate’ is often seen as the ultimate Despair album, ‘Beyond All Reason’ is the record where the quality of everyone involved shines through. The compositions are great, the production is a perfect fit for the progressive thrash style on the record and Sorychta and Marek Greschek – interestingly both born in Poland – are an incredible guitar team. There are great riffs and solos from both all over the record and in that regard, instrumental closer ‘Crossed In Sorrow’ is a perfect showpiece for them. Anyone looking for progressive or technical thrash metal with a little something special should look no further.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Day Of Desperation’, ‘Deaf And Blind’, ‘Burnt Out Souls’

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Release of the Week Extra 41-2019: Aria – Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney


Bands whose songs are inspired by movies or works of literature are often inspired to do theatrical concerts at some point. Aria did this already with ‘Plyaska Ada’ back in 2007, but ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ has them armed with a more consistent set of songs and a better singer. As a result of this set-up, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ focuses on Aria’s more theatrical songs, but those tend to be their best anyway. It even has a very pleasant flow if you just listen to the audio portion, however, which makes this a must-have for fans of traditional heavy metal.

‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is Aria’s third live release in three years, which may seem like too much, but all of these were special occasions. ‘Klassicheskaya Aria’ had the band playing with an orchestra and ’30 Let! Yubileyniy Kontsert’ was an anniversary show. Despite the theatrical themes, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is the most “normal” of the three in the sense that it’s just the band playing some of their best material without having to take orchestral arrangements or appearances from former members into account. Combine that with the band’s tight, yet energetic playing and you’ve got one of Aria’s best live sets to date.

As good as the band’s compositions and musicianship are, an important part of why this set-up works is current singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov. He is easily the best Aria singer to date. His dramatic vocals really fit the material on this record and his visual performance makes me wonder if he has a background in musical theater. From the moment the band blasts out of the gate with the incredible ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, he grabs the audience by the throat and while I’m not necessarily a fan of singers changing clothes a lot, he really embodies the characters he acts out. Hear him sing ‘Antichrist’ – a song I thought no one could do better than Valery Kipelov, but I’ve been proven wrong – and you’ll hear what I mean. His fantastic entrance helps, but his amazing vocal performance gives it lasting value.

Sonically, there is very little to complain about. All the instruments are crisp, clear and lively and I have the idea there hasn’t been a lot of post-productional polishing going on, especially since the concert was recorded in late April and is out already. Vitaly Dubinin really proves the value of having a bassist who does more than blindly following the guitars, as his playing is melodically richer than that of Steve Harris, who appears to be his main influence. Sergey Popov and Vladimir Holstinin are an incredible guitar duo, with Popov being the slightly more aggressive player, sounding as an unshakable guitar wall when playing in unison. Maxim Udalov is the ultimate serviceable drummer who knows what the music needs at all times.

Of course, the visual appeal of the show will be the major talking point for the DVD portion of ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’. Some of it is a really nice addition too and certainly better executed than Iron Maiden’s half-assed attempts on ‘Death On The Road’. A good thing is that the theatrical elements are sometimes quite subtle, such as the denim jackets for ‘Geroy Asfalta’ or the red muleta in Zhitnyakov’s pocket during ‘Torero’, which allows the bands to play these classics without them feeling like too much of a departure from the rest of the show. It’s even better because this is probably the best version of ‘Torero’ that is currently available on any Aria live recording. The breastplate on Zhitnyakov’s armor saying “ARIA” instead of “SPQR” during the incredible ‘Kolizey’ is a nice touch.

However, even without the DVD portion, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is worth hearing. Ultimately, that is what makes it a successful release. Aria managed to put on what looks like a music theater show without it getting in the way of their fantastic songs. There are six songs from last year’s ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ on the release, but it isn’t as focused on that record as one might think. Also, with excellent performances of classics like ‘Shtil’, ‘Kreshcheniye Ognëm’, ‘Noch Koroche Dnya’, ‘Obman’ and the anthemic ‘Ulitsa Roz’ in addition to all the aforementioned tracks, it would be a great introductory release for anyone who wants to get acquainted with the band. If you aren’t sure whether you want to order the album or not, make sure you check it out on one of the bigger streaming platforms, as it is internationally available.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Antichrist’, ‘Kolizey’, ‘Torero’

Album of the Week 38-2019: Tankard – One Foot In The Grave


When one looks beyond Tankard’s reputation as that punky thrash metal band with all the drinking anthems, a wealth of interesting material can be found. The band has always tried to strike a balance between alcohol-related content and socially aware lyrics. ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a strong focus on the latter. And while the lyrics here are hardly the most nuanced or cleverly written observations of social wrongdoings, the atmosphere is more serious than one might expect from Tankard. And more importantly: the subject matter has apparently inspired one of their most consistent sets of songs to date.

Overall, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a somewhat melancholic atmosphere that really makes the album stand out in Tankard’s discography. Even the lone beer song (‘Secret Order 1516’) is a rather ambitious epic rather than the party vibe that the band is known for. The presence of guitarist Andreas Gutjahr makes such an approach possible, as his more melodic background has enriched Tankard’s traditional teutonic thrash sound with an almost melodeath feel in the riffing department, but the band as a whole never sounded as confidently melodic as on ‘One Foot In The Grave’, all the while retaining their aggressvie intensity.

The first thing that stands out about ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is how memorable the songs are. Tankard always had a handful of tracks with replay value on their records, but the ones that were not often had a tendency to blend together. This time, every track has a recognizable hook or – more often – a riff that will refuse to leave your head. There are some cool traditional thrashers, such as ‘Don’t Bullshit Us!’ and closing track ‘Sole Grinder’, but overall, the greater degree of dynamics really does wonders for the flow ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has.

Among the other tracks, ‘Syrian Nightmare’ is a highlight. The lyrics, written from the perspective of a Syrian boy, are actually surprisingly sensitive, but what is more important is that the music is really good. More intense than the lyrical idea might suggest, the triplet rhythms keep pushing the song forward, while Gutjahr adds some tasteful lead guitar parts here and there. The preceding title track is the best example of the album’s melodic sadness and has a bunch of fantastic guitar harmonies. ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’ is a true gem as well, finding middle ground between Tankard thrash and epic heavy metal quite marvellously.

For those who would like to hear more of the melodic thrash that Tankard occasionally impressed with on albums like ‘The Beauty And The Beer’ or ‘A Girl Named Cerveza’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is likely the ultimate Tankard album thus far. Don’t get me wrong, the elements that make Tankard the band they are can be found all over the album, right down to Andreas ‘Gerre’ Geremia’s aggressive vocals, which have been left almost untouched by time. There are just more of those melodic touches that make latter day Tankard superior to their classic material for me on ‘One Foot in The Grave’. I hope they will continue this approach on the next album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’, ‘Syrian Nightmare’, ‘Secret Order 1516’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’

Album of the Week 37-2019: Capilla Ardiente – The Siege


Not too long ago, in a review about Capilla Ardiente’s debut album ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, I voiced the hope that the sophomore album the Chilean doomsters were working on at the time would be as good. ‘The Siege’ is now available and it is good. Very good even. The band continues its epic doom metal sound with slight hints of doom/death riffing for extra despair, though the latter are slightly less pronounced than on its predecessor. ‘The Siege’ really elevates Capilla Ardiente above their status as promising, making them quite possibly the greatest doom metal band currently in existence.

As a whole, ‘The Siege’ has a slightly more epic heavy metal vibe than ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, though never so much that one would confuse them with Procession, the other band of bassist Claudio Botarro Neira and singer Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. The overall tempo feels slightly higher as well, although there are still plenty of riffs that are close to dirge-like tempos. Not unlike the debut, Botarro Neira’s multi-faceted compositions steal the show here. And that is quite an achievement, considering that Plaza Kutzbach’s passionate, mournful and powerful vocal delivery is once again highly impressive.

Botarro Neira’s compositions kind of feel like multi-part suites with a greater deal of coherence than is usual with those kinds of compositions. Despite all the dynamics and – relatively subtle – tempo changes, the parts of all the songs feel like they belong together in one track rather than being haphazardly thrown together. And because of that, a song like thirteen plus minute opener ‘The Open Arms, The Open Wounds’ can move through several atmospheres and tempos without sounding disjointed. It is slightly more riff-driven and less reliant on atmosphere than previous opener ‘Nothing Here For Me’, but every bit as good.

Those who have heard ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ know what to expect. There are some small surprises, such as the almost gothic-sounding bass and vocals only section right before the finale of ‘The Crimson Fortress’, and the excellent guitar solos courtesy of Julio Bórquez, including an acoustic one near the end of closing track ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’. There are a lot of twin guitar harmonies this time around, the beginning of the album’s most traditional doom metal-sounding track ‘The Spell Of Concealment’ in particular is loaded with them.

Keeping things interesting throughout four tracks that are all over nine and a half minutes is not an easy task. Many bands in the genre just resort to endlessly repeating a bunch of crushing riffs, but Capilla Ardiente obviously is not content with doing that. As I was hoping, ‘The Siege’ is another record full of great doom riffs, excellent melodies and the odd virtuosic moment by either Bórquez or Botarro Neira. And let’s not forget that voice! The production is slightly less explosive than on ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, but you hardly notice that after the second playthrough. I could not recommend this more.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Crimson Fortress’, ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’

Album of the Week 35-2019: Them – Manor Of The Se7en Gables


On the surface, Them seems like another one of those King Diamond and Mercyful Fate-inspired bands that seemed to pop up everywhere especially around Northern Europe about a decade ago. They even have the aesthetic down better than, say, Attic and Portrait. In fact, Them began existence as a King Diamond tribute band, but it’s almost ironic how little Them actually sounds like the Danish horror metal master. The inspiration is undeniably there – of course a concept album driven by a B-grade horror story is inspired by him – but Them took those influences and turned them into their own thing.

Upon first listen, you can almost hear what was going on in the heads of singer Troy Norr and guitarist Markus Ullrich. They heard King Diamond and thought: you know what this needs? Vocals that are consistently on pitch and more thrashy riffing.  Norr doesn’t even sound that much like King Diamond unless he’s speaking or using his falsetto. A closer comparison would be Winters Bane’s ‘Heart Of A Killer’. While not quite as technical, ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ does feature a similarly theatrical heavy metal sound. Also, Norr sounds fairly similar to Tim Owens on that record, with maybe some ‘Nosferatu’-era James Rivera thrown in.

More importantly, the music on ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is simply really good. In all honesty, I could do wihtout the narrative disrupting the music, but fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often. What remains is some excellent, mildly technical contemporary heavy metal full of engaging borderline thrash riffs and climactic progessions. Ullrich and Markus Johansson have arranged their guitar parts effectively around each other’s strengths and Them is one of the few metal bands with a keyboard player (Richie Seibel) who doesn’t constantly push himself to the forefront, opting to enhance the horror atmosphere of the music instead.

Although ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ is full of great uptempo tracks like the relatively thrashy ‘Refuge In The Manor’, the particularly aggressive ‘Seven Gables To Ash’ and the climactic ‘The Secret Stairs’, what really makes it superior to debut album ‘Sweet Hollow’ is the quality of its slower material. The mid-tempo tracks on that record weren’t bad by any means, but not nearly as memorable as the bombastic ‘As The Sage Burns’ or the melancholic ‘Witchfinder’. ‘Punishment By Fire’ rounds out the album nicely by tying all the stylistic elements together, resulting in an excellent slightly progressive metal track.

Them is at constant risk of being misunderstood. The band is no cheap King Diamond clone and I actually prefer both ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ and ‘Sweet Hollow’ to anything King Diamond ever did. The conceptual approach gives the band direction, but in all honesty, this material would have impressed regardless, including the interludes. Any fan of eighties heavy metal who complains that no one makes anything like that anymore should certainly give ‘Manor Of The Se7en Gables’ a spin. It might be a more contemporary take on the classic stuff, but that only adds to the relevance of Them.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Secret Stairs’, ‘Witchfinder’, ‘Refuge In The Manor’

Album of the Week 34-2019: Helloween – 7 Sinners


After the departure of guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kusch, Helloween was adrift for a while. ‘Rabbit Don’t Come Easy’ was a confused mess and ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’ an overlong double album that tried too hard. ‘Gambling With The Devil’ was a welcome return to form for the Germans. The album’s highlights – the brilliant ‘Paint A New World’ in particular – are still among the band’s best material, but the album did have its consistency issues. ‘7 Sinners’ fixes these with a collection of powerful, melodic power metal anthems that will refuse to leave your head any time soon.

In the years preceding ‘7 Sinners’, Helloween had gone from a leader in the power metal field to a band forcing themselves into formula they had devised themselves two decades prior. ‘7 Sinners’, on the other hand, sounds like the band wasn’t trying to be anything. The album is filled to the brim with generally well-written songs that are often catchy, sometimes a bit silly and usually quite bombastic. Unlike ‘Gambling With The Devil’, ‘7 Sinners’ doesn’t really feature any skipworthy songs, though ‘The Smile Of The Sun’ isn’t exactly one of the stronger ballads the band has to offer.

Bassist Markus Grosskopf stated that ‘Where The Sinners Go’ and ‘Are You Metal?’ were the first two songs written for the album and they are the opening tracks of the record, as kind of a mission statement. The former is a midtempo stomper with an above average amount of aggression, while the latter proves that on a good day, Helloween knows perfectly well how to inject a little silliness into the music without sacrificing any of the melodic and catchy qualities they possess. The anthemic flute solo showcase ‘Raise The Noise’ and the excellent semi-epic ‘If A Mountain Could Talk’ are other prime examples of that craft.

Despite those moments, ‘7 Sinners’ is one of the darker Helloween albums in overall tone. And it’s there where the album truly shines. ‘World Of Fantasy’ is a tale of escapism wrapped in a fantastic power metal tune of which the melodies are full of hopeful melancholy, while the odd theatricality of the proggy ‘My Sacrifice’ accounts for one of the album’s most pleasant surprises. ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’ reprises the main melody of ‘Perfect Gentleman’ in what is furthermore a delightfully defiant power metal tune with an incredible chorus. ‘Long Live The King’ and the amazingly epic diptych of ‘Not Yet Today’ and ‘Far In The Future’ display a degree of dark aggression I thought was lost after ‘The Dark Ride’.

Helloween sometimes loses direction and needs someone to put them back on track every once in a while. Whoever it was this time – the writing credits would suggest their expressive singer Andi Deris – it really worked. ‘7 Sinners’ is the most consistent Helloween album since ‘Better Than Raw’ and certainly the crowning achievement of the line-up with guitarist Sascha Gerstner and drummer Dani Löble. The only minor complaint is that Charlie Bauerfeind’s ultra-bombastic production sometimes makes Helloween sound more like former Helloween-worshippers Blind Guardian than themselves, but it just works for this material. For what it’s worth, I prefer this to the original two ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys’ albums.

Also, bonus points for bringing back the little pumpkin illustrations depicting each song. Especially because Marcos Moura’s comic style is much more fun to look at than the dull computer art of the pumpkins in ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’. His style also feels like a tribute to the cool illustrations Frederick Moulaert did for the classic Helloween stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘World Of Fantasy’, ‘My Sacrifice’, ‘Far In The Future’, ‘Who Is Mr. Madman?’

Interview: Mardelas singer Marina Hebiishi: Back to basics


Mardelas is a Japanese super group. All the members of the band have won their spurs in other bands, but appear to have found their ultimate collaboration in Mardelas. The band’s new EP ‘Ground Zero’ was released recently. A perfect moment to catch up with singer Marina Hebiishi.

Hebiishi used to be the front woman of Destrose, possibly the band that spawned the largest number of spin-off groups in Japanese history. Contrary to many other former members of all-female bands, however, Hebiishi only works together with men in Mardelas. Guitarist Kikyo Oikawa and bassist Hisayuki Motoishi played together in Screaming Symphony (with current Jupiter singer Atsushi Kuze) and drummer Hideaki Yumida – Yumi for those close to him – used to be Light Bringer’s drummer.

The music of the quartet has its foundation in the hardrock and heavy metal that Screaming Symphony, for instance, plays as well. Yet, there is plenty of room for other influences. In the past, the band experimented with funky rhythms, J-pop melodies and other unexpected twists and turns. All of the three albums and five singles the band released in the years leading up to ‘Ground Zero’ therefore sound different from each other.

Basics

For ‘Ground Zero’, Mardelas notably turned to its hardrock and heavy metal roots more prominently than before, as the singer confirms. “On Mardelas I, II en III, you can see us grow as artists“, says Hebiishi. “Certain songs have influences from various other geres. After every release, new ideas come up from touring. And just growing as an artist.

‘Mardelas III’ was our most diverse album. And it also had the deepest concept. After the tour for the album we felt the passion to go back to basics with ‘Ground Zero’, but adding another element with our special guest keyboardist Mao (ex-Light Bringer). The songs for ‘Ground Zero’ were already composed prior to Mao coming on as a guest. He did, however, write the intro ‘Time Of Tribulation’. I would say he has been influential on the song arrangements. As artists, we write what we feel, so to us, it’s never really a challenge, but our way of life and how we feel like expressing ourselves.

Freedom

Kikyo and I are the main composers in Mardelas, with Kikyo arranging how it eventually sounds. When I start writing a song, I play chord progressions, which I eventually fit to the vocal melody I have in mind. After that, the band comes together and find other ways to arrange what is already written if necessary.

Most of my lyrical writing is about the reality of life. Pain, anger, but also happiness. Feelings that all of us have to live with and somehow overcome. I try not to sugarcoat anything in my lyrics and am pretty straightforward. My lyrics are in some ways a book of my life, but other times, I also try to put myself in someone else’s emotional position.

The main thing in Mardelas is the songwriting freedom that we have. What is great about this band is that although everyone is very technical and has amazing talent as a musician, they choose not to overshadow the main melodies of the songs. Everyone has the same opinion about the song being the most important thing, not showing off how great a guitarist or musician everyone is.

That freedom does not only exist in the compositions, but also in the way they are played. Hebiishi mentions the moment that Hisayuki Motoishi was brought in to replace former bassist hibiki (Saber Tiger, Alhambra, ex-Light Bringer and Silex) as an example. “Motoishi and hibiki are two completely different types of players“, says the singer. “We didn’t want to change Mo’s playing style. So instead of trying to copy hibiki’s style, we gave him the freedom to play the older songs his own way.

Natural

On Mardelas’ studio recordings, the band often goes for layered guitar arrangements. Something which seems difficult to replicate in the live setting, with only Kikyo Oikawa on stage. Hebiishi assures us not to worry: “Kikyo is such a talented guitarist, but he is also great at building his own sound equipment. Therefore, it is not so difficult for him to translate the sound we have in the studio to the stage. It is something which comes natural to him.

Although there are currently no touring plans outside of Japan – though Hebiishi resolutely states: “I wouldn’t say no” – the band has already had a taste of playing abroad. Mardelas played the Connichi anime convention in Germany two years ago and will be playing at Metal Matsuri in London on October 4th.

Chemistry

Historically speaking, super groups are not the most stable bands. Commercial interests are too big or the approaches the band members adapt just don’t fit together. Mardelas is a different story, Hebiishi assures us: “Kikyo and I were in the same band circle back in school. We built a chemistry early on. Our bass player Hisayuki Motoishi plays with Kikyo in his band Screaming Symphony. Yumi was introduced to us by our previous bass player hibiki. When we all played together in the studio, it just felt right.

As a result, it seems like Mardelas has quite the future ahead of itself. “Many cool thinks are being talked about right now“, Hebiishi promises. “Unfortunately, it is too soon to share anything about that. Please check our social media and websites often for upcoming news.

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