Posts Tagged ‘ Power Metal ’

Album of the Week 34-2017: Cloven Hoof – Who Mourns For The Morning Star


Ever since resuming activities early this century, Cloven Hoof went through so many lineup changes, that I was not very hopeful about the recent ones. Sure, bassist and band leader Lee Payne is very enthusiastic about George Call’s voice, but anyone would say that about their new singer, right? This time, it is justified. Call is one of the reasons why ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ is such a great album. He comes very close to Russ North as Cloven Hoof’s best singer. In addition, the record features some of the most spirited, enthusiastic heavy metal performances I have heard in a while.

Compositionally, the songs on ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ are a mixture between the NWOBHM approach that Cloven Hoof had in the early eighties and the USPM-leanings they had a couple of years later with North at the helm. If you are looking for a close reference in style, the recent Accept albums are not too far removed from this record in overall feel. Cloven Hoof just employs a greater deal of variation in the tempos. There are a few more than passing nods to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, the latter enforced by the fact that Call strongly resembles Bruce Dickinson in his higher registers.

Some people may complain about a few somewhat chaotic middle sections, but those are a staple of Cloven Hoof’s sound as much as the ballsy riffs – which, due to the spectacular production, grind more ferociously than ever – and anthemic choruses. While opening track ‘Star Rider’ may resemble ‘Astral Rider’, which opened the amazing ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’, in title, it is much more of a traditional heavy metal track with spectacular guitar work and Call showing off his clean, but rough vocal approach. It is the perfect way to introduce the album to unsuspecting listeners.

The rest of the album varies from straightforward heavy metal with a slight hardrock edge, such as ‘Neon Angels’, ‘Song Of Orpheus’ and the Motörhead-ish scorcher ‘Time To Burn’, and songs with a somewhat more progressive approach, such as ‘Song Of Orpheus’, ‘Morning Star’ and closing track ‘Bannockburn’. The latter is the least successful track here: while the main section – including the Maiden-est chorus on the record – is good enough, the rest of the composition sounds more like ideas pasted together rather than an actual song. ‘Mindmaster’ borrows a fragment from Halford’s ‘Locked And Loaded’ somewhat obviously, but since the – surprisingly modern – song is kind of cool, I will let that slide.

While I was somewhat reserved about Payne’s enthusiasm, ‘Who Mourns For The Morning Star’ proves that it was justified. Call is simply a revelation, young newcomer Luke Hatton really goes wild on some of the lead guitar parts and Danny White – Call’s bandmate in Aska – is easily the tightest drummer the band has had in the 21st century. But this album really shines because of how effortless and natural it sounds. It simply sounds like a band having fun playing the music they love rather than trying to adapt to any trend or forcing the magic of their heyday. And that is all I want from Cloven Hoof at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘Star Rider’, ‘Time To Burn’, ‘I Talk To The Dead’

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Album of the Week 32-2017: Anthem – Domestic Booty


Some of Anthem’s best records have something awkward to them that has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual music. ‘Immortal’ has its album cover, ‘Domestic Booty’ its title. And maybe the fact that the band broke up for about a decade in the aftermath of this album’s release. Changes in the musical trend department are often cited as the reason for that hiatus and anyone who has heard ‘Domestic Booty’ can safely conclude that the quartet was certainly not running out of inspiration. The record is full of blazing heavy metal songs, some of which are among the best of Anthem’s catalogue.

While ‘Domestic Booty’ isn’t the most consistent record of Anthem’s original run – that would probably be ‘Bound To Break’ – they do sound like a band rejuvenated on the album. Frontman Yukio Morikawa truly shines with his most aggressive and energetic vocal performance thus far, while newcomer Akio Shimizu, who is still the band’s guitarist these days, lends a subtle contemporary edge to the record without altering the powerful, not too complicated heavy metal compositions of bassist and band leader Naoto Shibata too much. It is truly difficult to believe that the band creating this music would split up less than a year later.

These days, opening track ‘Venom Strike’ is still on most Anthem live sets and its classic status is easy to understand. This borderline thrash metal song with rolling bass drums by Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ouchi is probably the most aggressive Anthem song to date and therefore begs to be played live. Even better, but not quite as popular, is the intense, moving heavy metal of ‘Renegade’, which has probably the best chorus the band recorded with Morikawa on vocals and really showcases the guitar talents of Shimizu. Sure, there is some awkward English going on, but that should not ruin the listening experience.

Since these two tracks open the record, it may seem a tad frontloaded, but there is plenty more to enjoy. ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’ is one of the darker Anthem tracks yet and as such, a very pleasant surprise. The euphoric ‘Cry In The Night’ and the brooding ‘Gold & Diamonds’ greatly profit from the subtle synth flourishes courtesy of current Deep Purple keyboard player Don Airey and the uptempo triplet frenzy of ‘Devil Inside’ is exactly what the album needs at that point. But even the less notable tracks, such as mid-tempo stomper ‘Mr. Genius’ and the semi-epic closing track ‘Silent Cross’, are very much worth hearing.

If Anthem would have definitively called it a day after the release of ‘Domestic Booty’, it would have been a great closing chapter to a strong career in heavy metal. Nowadays, it sort of gets lost in the shuffle, because Anthem has released seventeen albums to date and the record spawned only one live staple. If it was up to me, ‘Renegade’ would at least have been one as well. Farwell albums, even if the farewell eventually turns out to be temporary, often feel like a bit of an afterthough. ‘Domestic Booty’, however, is another excellent Anthem record. Not one of their best, but it’s pretty damn close.

Recommended tracks: ‘Renegade’, ‘Venom Strike’, ‘The Dice Of No Mercy’

Album of the Week 30-2017: Fatima Hill – Aion


Progressive metal is at its best when it is not a vehicle for virtuosity. The bands who favor atomosphere and interesting compositions instead of showing off their instrumental skills are relatively limited in number, but they exist. Fatima Hill from Japan was one of those bands. Compared to other prog bands, their songs are relatively relaxed and their riffs are relatively close to traditional heavy metal and early power metal in style, an approach that, in combination with the powerful alto of Yuko Hirose, results in quite an unusual and refreshing sound. Their sophomore album ‘Aion’ is a mystical, powerful work of art.

For those of you who have never heard of the band before: imagine the brooding heavy metal riffs of Mercyful Fate and the atmospheric blend of them being played high on the guitar neck and being backed by subtle keyboard flourishes like on Warlord’s early work. Throw in the compositional originality of early Fates Warning and Crimson Glory and you’ll get close to Fatima Hill’s core sound. The band has a tendency to throw a few curveballs at the unsuspecting listener, but they do so in a way that makes a surprising amount of sense within the context of the album.

Opening track ‘Ares Dragon’ does a pretty good job introducing that sound. The riff work is complex, but due to the relatively subdued rhythms, it never comes across as busy as many prog bands appear to be. Guitarist and main composer Anjue Yamashiro obviously wants the songs and the atmosphere to reign over the individual skills of the players and as such, ‘Aion’ is a very pleasant album to listen to. On the heavier tracks, the band sounds confident, but not overly so. The Middle-Eastern tinged ‘The Black Bat’, the dramatic ‘Ultimata’ and the relatively propulsive ‘Babel Dune’ all seamlessly blend somewhat traditional heavy metal riffing and ambitious, adventurous songwriting.

The aforementioned curveballs are ‘Other’, the almost title track ‘Aeon’ and the lengthy closer ‘The Song For Beatrice Part 3 (The Seven Songs)’. The latter sounds like it will turn into a big, bombastic prog epic, but remains rather low-key and somewhat folky throughout its nine minutes of playing time, even during its powerful finale, while featuring excellent work by Hayato Asano on the fretless bass and Yamashiro on the acoustic guitar. The folk factor is really dialled up for ‘Aeon’ by prominently featuring Yamashiro’s electric mandolin, making it sound like a mixture of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Battle Of Evermore’ and the title track from Crimson Glory’s ‘Transcendence’. ‘Other’ is a romantic sounding, almost poppy song in which the simple, yet effective lead guitar and Takamichi Koeda’s baroque keyboards form an excellent backdrop for Hirose’s vocals.

It may take some time to fully grasp the charm of Fatima Hill’s sophomore album. I’ll freely admit that I’m still getting used to Yuko Hirose’s voice, despite her being a fantastic singer. However, due to its exceptional songwriting and pleasant nineties production, ‘Aion’ is a true winner. You have probably noticed me mentioning atmosphere a lot and the only reason for that is that it is an indispensible part of the album’s charm. Yamashiro deserves all the praise he can get for setting all egos aside and letting the songs take center stage. Whenever he does choose to play a solo, it counts and adds something to the song. Fatima Hill may be a somewhat obscure band, but they deserve to find their way to a larger number of ears.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ares Dragon’, ‘Ultimata’, ‘The Song For Beatrice Part 3 (The Seven Songs)’

Víctor García (WarCry): “Language is no limitation on music”


The international world of heavy metal is dominated by bands who sing in English and while that is understandable, those who ignore bands who sing in other languages are really missing out on bands like WarCry from Spain. WarCry just released its ninth studio album ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’, an excellent piece of heavy/power metal with Spanish lyrics. I had the chance to speak with lead singer Víctor García about the past, present and future of WarCry.

‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ featured a return to the somewhat heavier sound of the band’s earliest work, but without forsaking the melodic and progressive touches of their other recent albums. “I don’t know if it was the right time for such an approach, but at the moment, this is exactly what we want to do“, says García. “People need to classify everything these days. For me it is all heavy metal, I don’t care if it’s fast or slow, hard or power metal… I don’t believe in styles. For me, a good band is about more than a certain style.

The band obviously took being a good band very seriously, as there was more than three years between ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió’ and its excellent predecessor ‘Inmortal’ (2013). “It’s not easy doing a record that is better than the last one every time“, García explains. “And now that we have recorded eight albums, it gets more difficult every time. We spent a lot of time working on the lyrics. I’m a storyteller. I share a piece of myself, the way I feel, my way of thinking, I express myself in every song. I tried to change this, to not talk about the same things or approach them in a different way, but this is what works.
Our lyrics always take a positive approach, even when dealing with subjects like death, pain or other things that hurt people: keep on fighting, always look for another chance and if you die giving your best, it is a good way to go. We like to sing about human emotions, history, love, anger, pain, death, fighting, victory and loss.

Professional
Speaking of the lyrics, while WarCry is now known and beloved for its Spanish language heavy metal, but on their 1997 demo, García still sung in English. “Since then, I’ve spent around four years playing in another Spanish band called Avalanch, singing in Spanish“, García explains. “That is when I realized that singing in Spanish perhaps is not really a limitation on music. It is my language and it is the best way to express my emotions and my music.
It certainly isn’t a limitation for the Spanish metal scene, among which WarCry is a highly popular band. “There are many bands in the Spanish metal scene, getting more and more professional day by day“, says García. “As for our position in that scene, perhaps I am not the ideal person to judge that. We are very popular in our own country and in Latin America. These days, there are even a few people who listen to us outside of the Spanish-speaking world, such as parts of Europe, North-America, Japan and even Australia. We are growing, step by step.

Speaking of people outside the Spanish-speaking world: for ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’, the band enlisted the help of Tim Palmer, who worked as a producer with the likes of U2, Pearl Jam and Robert Plant. “We contacted him to mix our album“, says García. “But he is also a creator and a great professional. He told our producer Dani Sevillano that he would record some ideas and that we could just remove them if we didn’t like them. He added some reverb, some filters and just some keyboard and guitar sounds. He did a great job.

Friendly
During their early years, WarCry’s lineup changed fairly frequently. However, their current line-up is about to reach its tenth anniversary in 2018. “We are not young boys anymore“, García states. “The band has been around for fifteen years now and all things are calm. We enjoy what we do. We are friends. We are having a very good time doing this and therefore, it is easy to do things right. We can talk when there are problems and we do the best we can. We are all in the same boat.
García himself is still the main songwriter of the band. “On some albums, there are a few songs that have been written by other members“, he says. “And all of them are arranged by the entire band. Their contribution as musicians is invaluable as well, of course.
Despite the fact that Spain has a metal scene, all of the band’s albums have been released on their own record label Jaus Records. “Our record label is our legal representation of the band“, García explains. “It’s like Napoleon said: if you need a friendly hand, it is more easy to find it at the end of your own arm.
Now that the Spanish-speaking world is familiar with WarCry’s material, the quintet is looking forward to presenting their music to the rest of the world. “Now is the time“, García states resolutely. “We have the experience, we have the sound, we have the music and we know what we want. We are passionate guys with a lot of energy on stage. We want to keep the band moving forward, so we are always looking to take the next step.

Album of the Week 24-2017: WarCry – Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…


While Spain loves its catchy power metal, not many of their own bands can even come close to the German, Scandinavian and American bands they enjoy. WarCry, however, have been pumping out excellent albums, especially since establishing their current line-up about a decade ago. Their new record ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ feels like a logical continuation of the excellent ‘Alfa’ (2o11) and ‘Inmortal’ (2013). The songs are carefully crafted to ensure that the essence of WarCry – memorable, uncomplicated riffs and anthemic choruses – is captured and as a result, the album feels a little heavier without forsaking the band’s melodic sophistication.

Though WarCry never went overboard with progressive touches and big arrangements, ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is not the first “back to basics” album they ever released. However, frontman Víctor García has really matured as a songwriter since ‘¿Dónde Está La Luz?’ (2005) and that is why it feels like the songs on this new album have been conceived a little more naturally and organically. There is a spontaneous energy to all of the new songs and therefore, the album is a very worthy successor of the last two albums, which were the best two albums WarCry released thus far. This one is equally great.

It is impressive how Víctor García has succeeded in writing a collection of songs that all have their own strong identity. Especially considering that the songwriting is relatively simple and concise. Sometimes it is a riff, sometimes a certain vocal melody in the chorus, but all of the songs have strong hooks that make them instantly recognizable. Therefore, it is not very difficult to imagine legions of Spanish metalheads singing along to catchy heavy metal tunes like the uptempo ‘Resistencia’, the mid-tempo stomper ‘Así Soy’ or the remarkably upbeat ‘Ya No Volverán’ at upcoming WarCry concerts.

However, the best moments of ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ appear toward the end of the record. ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’ is easily my favorite song of the record. How the song suddenly transforms from what appears to become a ballad into an epic heavy metal tune with an amazing chorus and a fantastic guitar solo by Pablo García causes me to have goosebumps. The riff-oriented ‘Luchar Y Avanzar’ is an excellent, more traditional heavy metal track, while the bombastic ‘Odio’ shows a somewhat darker side of the band and, again, a fantastic Pablo García guitar solo. ‘Muerte O Victoria’ has an amazing, dramatic vibe, while the melancholic closer ‘No Te Abandonaré’ is probably the best piano ballad the band ever recorded.

Everyone who enjoyed the last two WarCry albums can blindly acquire ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’. You will even be rewarded with an artwork and packaging that is simply stunning. But in the end, all that matters is that the songs are simply excellent. I am very happy that the band went for a slightly heavier approach without sacrificing any of the nice flourishes that keyboard player Santi Novoa adds to the sound. WarCry proves that you do not need a million riffs and dozens of unexpected tempo changes in order to write a fine heavy metal song. ‘Donde El Silencio Se Rompió…’ is full of them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Por Toda La Eternidad’, ‘Odio’, ‘Muerte O Victoria’

Album of the Week 23-2017: Iced Earth – Incorruptible


Lately, it seems like Iced Earth has been trying to make up for the bombast that characterized their sound during the first decade of this century by proving they are still first and foremost a heavy metal band. ‘Incorruptible’ follows this same general idea, as the guitars are front and center on the record. Sometimes it’s band leader Jon Schaffer’s instantly recognizable riff work, sometimes it’s the triumphant guitar harmonies reminiscent of traditional metal acts like Iron Maiden, but the guitars are always the defining factors of the songs. Combined with the ballsy production, this makes ‘Incorruptible’ one of Iced Earth’s more powerful releases.

The album’s direct predecessor ‘Plagues Of Babylon’ was also relatively guitar-oriented, but that album’s somewhat bland production and samey song ideas made it fall short of their excellent 2011 comeback record ‘Dystopia’. Schaffer made sure that the songs stand out more this time around by switching up atmospheres and melodies without losing track of the powerful foundation of the band. It helps that he has the amazing pipes of Stu Block at his disposal, as Block is perfectly capable of carrying out an anthemic chorus or a highly emotional passage without making it sound artificial.

Ironically, one of the highlights on ‘Incorruptible’ doesn’t even feature Block at all; it’s been a while since Iced Earth attempted an instrumental that wasn’t an intro or interlude, but ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is a well-constructed track which lets its triumphant twin guitar melodies tell the story instead of the lyrics. That does not mean there aren’t any stories here. In fact, Schaffer’s fascination with American history prompted him to write yet another epic – ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’ – this time about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Interestingly, even on this track, the guitars don’t yield for bombastic elements. There’s a few subtle keyboard flourishes, but it’s a riff-driven epic by nature.

While most of ‘Incorruptible’ feels pleasantly familiar, the best moments of the record show the band taking the slightest detour from their normal sound. ‘Brothers’ initially sounds like one of the band’s trademark power ballads, but quickly develops into a highly melodic heavy metal track with an amazing guitar solo by newcomer Jake Dreyer, while the following ‘Defiance’ does an amazing job alternating an angry, crushing verse with a refreshing melancholic chorus. ‘The Relic (Part One)’ has a brooding atmosphere, while the riff work is simple, yet brutally effective, which can also be said about Dreyer’s sparse, but amazing lead work. ‘The Veil’ has an amazing build-up and as a result, it is one of the band’s better power ballads yet.

Of course, that doesn’t meant that typical Iced Earth tracks like ‘Great Heathen Army’, ‘Black Flag’ and the dark, aggressive ‘Seven Headed Whore’ aren’t worth your attention. Those who have followed the band for a long time will definitely like those tracks, but the rest of the album might just convince a few people who have given up on the band around the turn of the century. ‘Incorruptible’ sounds like a deliberate attempt to confirm Iced Earth’s status as the kings of American heavy metal. As fas as I’m concerned, that’s the best decision they could have made at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Relic (Part One)’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’

Album of the Week 22-2017: Onmyo-za – Karyo-Binga


Released hot on the heels of the impressive diptych of ‘Fuujin Kaikou’ and ‘Raijin Sousei’, it is something of a miracle that Onmyo-za still had enough inspiration left to write another excellent album. In fact, it is even better than the latter. ‘Karyo-Binga’ sounds manages to sound familiar and fresh at the same time, as its combination of traditional heavy metal and hard rock riffs, J-rock melodicism, prog rock adventurism and subtle hints of Japanese folk is exactly what we have come to expect from Onmyo-za, whilst simultaneously updating the band’s sound, resulting in one of their best albums yet.

Of course, the update is minimal, as the sound of Onmyo-za is still strongly centered around the equally melodic voices of Kuroneko and band leader Matatabi, as well as the strong, but never busy riff work and passionate leads of Maneki and Karukan. However, it is quite obvious that the band was hungry to try out new things this time around, most notably downtuned guitars and a bigger emphasis on keyboards. That does not mean that we are dealing with a watered-down, pseudo-heavy version of Onmyo-za here though. Neither dominate the record and therefore, ‘Karyo-Binga’ feels like nothing more or less than a contemporary Onmyo-za record.

Like the other highlights in Onmyo-za’s discography, ‘Karyo-Binga’ has a very pleasant flow. This flow is somewhat reminiscent of its two predecessors, because ‘Karyo-Binga’ also starts with a relatively calm track which – despite its six minutes of length and song-oriented structure – feels like an overture (the title track) before moving into a powerful, but not too propulsive melodic heavy metal track (‘Ran’). The band is clever enough to keep itself from falling victim to an auto-pilot formula though, so among moments of familiarity, the band has strategically placed a few slightly surprising track to keep you attentive.

The relatively light, yet still powerfully rocking ‘Omae No Hitomi Ni Hajirai No Suna’ is one of them. Due to the subtle Hammond organ, the song has a bit of a seventies rock vibe, but Kuroneko – who, again, outdoes herself here – keeps it firmly within the Japanese rock realm. ‘Ningyo No Ori’ starts out sounding like it could be the big sweeping ballad of the album – which in fact ‘Jorougumo’ come closest to – before developing into a relatively concise epic with a dark, heavy middle section. ‘Susanoo’ and ‘Nijuunihikime Wa Dokuhami’ are the clearest examples of downtuned riffing without forsaking the melody and ‘Hyouga Ninpouchou’ is a passionate heavy metal track with amazing lead guitar work reminiscent of ‘Yue Ni Sono Toki Koto Kaze No Gotoku’ from ‘Fuujin Kaikou’.

Onmyo-za’s music is a melting pot of many different influences, as is the case with a large number of Japanese rock and metal bands. But where many Japanese bands end up sounding busy and at times disjointed, Onmyo-za found a way of combining all these influences into an irresistible, powerful sound that is remarkably pleasant to listen to. ‘Karyo-Binga’ is the latest and most contemporary sounding installment, but the consistency of the band’s discography is truly amazing. The record is well worth listening to if you are interested in any of the genres represented in the band’s sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hyouga Ninpouchou’, ‘Omae No Hitomi Ni Hajirai No Suna’, ‘Ran’, ‘Ningyo No Ori’