Posts Tagged ‘ Power Metal ’

Album of the Week 15-2019: Catharsis – Imago


Although seen as a genre predominantly from northwestern Europe, some of this century’s most interesting power metal releases are actually from elsewhere and don’t always make it over to the west. Some bands try to make the transition by translating their songs to English, but ‘Imago’, the third full-length of Moscow-based Catharsis, is a rare example of the opposite. It was originally released in 2002 with lyrics entirely in English, just like their first two albums. The next year, a Russian version was released, which despite being musically identical somehow sounds superior. Certainly a must for fans of neoclasscially tinged power metal.

Oleg Zhilyakov’s vocals are an important part of what makes this release so good. That can be said about any Catharsis album, because Zhilyakov has incomparable range, power and drama in his voice, but judging from his performance here, he feels slightly more comfortable singing in his native tongue. Fortunately, the language fits his passionate, semi-operatic delivery perfectly. While Zhilyakov is amazing, a great singer does not necessarily make a great band. Catharsis’ compositions are excellent though. They’re generally uptempo, but not as upbeat as most similarly styled German or Swedish bands. There is always a darkness brooding underneath Catharsis’ songs and the occasional progressive leanings bring Symphony X to mind.

What stands out immediately about ‘Imago’ is how theatrical the songs sound with relatively minimal embellishments. Sure, Julia Red’s keyboards add some layers that the guitars cannot, but even she is not trying to emulate a full orchestra. Catharsis’ music immediately transports you to the darkest chapter of a fairytale. The guitar riffs are melodic and powerful, but not too heavy and the climactic choruses often feature Zhilyakov sounding like he is begging for his life to be spared, which is goosebumps-inducing more than once. Catharsis has a power that many bands in the genre strive for, but only few manage to achieve.

Stylistically, most of the songs on ‘Imago’ are similar, but there are little clever compositional touches that make them stand out. ‘Voin Sveta’ has a more aggressive midtempo grind, the fiery ‘Izbranny Nebom’ has what is probably the most awesome riff on the album, ‘Vzorvi Moi Sny’ has a mind-blowingly exciting build up towards its chorus and ‘Tantsui V Ogne’ has a surprisingly danceable rhythm. Both ‘Zvezdopad’ and ‘Izbranny Nebom’ have a couple of unconventional twists in their amazing choruses as well. There are tracks that deviate from the norm though, most notably the multi-faceted doomy crawler ‘Rassvetny Zver’ and the surprisingly good ballad ‘Dalshe – Tishina…’.

‘Imago’ is not a perfect album – instrumental track ‘Tarantul’ has a lot of interesting ideas, but sounds like it should have been a full band composition rather than a piano instrumental – but it is the perfect album for anyone who wants a slightly different take on their power metal without moving away from the genre’s essence too far. Catharsis is full of great musicians, they know how to set a perfect mood or atmosphere for their music and – I can’t stress this enough – Oleg Zhilyakov is one of the best power metal singers in the world.

Recommended tracks: ‘Izbranny Nebom’, ‘Rassvetny Zver’, ‘Zvorvi Moi Sny’, ‘Zvezdopad’

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Album of the Week 14-2019: Jupiter – Zeus ~Legends Never Die~


Multiple times over the last few years, I had feared that Jupiter would disband. There have been several line-up changes and I thought the final nail in the coffin would be the reformation of Versailles, the hugely popular, but slightly inferior band that almost the entire original line-up came from. These developments alone would be enough reason to be happy with the release of their third album ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. But it’s also really, really good. New kid and former Concerto Moon singer Atsushi Kuze fits the band amazingly well and the album is probably Jupiter’s most consistent to date.

Jupiter does not suddenly sound different on ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’. The music is still high octane symphonic power metal with prominent influences from progressive metal and melodic death metal, as well as plenty of room for the impressive dexterity of guitarists Hizaki and Teru. In fact, some might argue that the inclusion of two tracks from the spectacular single ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and two that were previously recorded with former singer Zin further diminishes the surprise impact of the album. Kuze’s somewhat husky hardrock voice further broadens the appeal of Jupiter outside of the visual kei scene, however, and the impact his voice had on Hizaki’s songwriting is significant.

Now, Hizaki has a way of making singers better. He managed to make Kamijo sound semi-acceptable in Versailles, Juka’s best vocal performance was on his ‘Dignity Of Crest’ album and he transformed Zin into one of the best singers in the visual kei scene. Anticipating what would happen if he worked with Kuze’s already impressive set of pipes was half the fun of waiting for ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ to be released. And to be brief: the album contains Kuze’s best vocals to date. He does not do anything radically different from what he did in Concerto Moon and Screaming Symphony, but he’s like a fish in the water with the bombastic, theatrical material that Hizaki wrote for the album.

With Kuze being a hardrock singer first and foremost, it is notable that the songwriting plays to these strengths. ‘Drastic Night’ has a seventies hardrock vibe due to the simple, but brutally effective main riff and the inclusion of a Hammond organ, but manages to sound contemporary power metal enough to make perfect sense on the record. More dramatic tracks, like the highly dynamic ‘No Cry No More’ and the absolutely sensational ‘Straight Into The Fire’ could not have been written for any other singer. The most powerful choruses, such as the ones for ‘Theory Of Evolution’ and the long closing epic title track really profit from having a singer with significantly more power than the average visual kei frontman.

To those who were afraid that Zin’s departure would result in Jupiter shunning their melodic death metal songs: rest assured. In ‘Tempest’ and the previously released ‘Angel’s Wings’, the album contains two tracks that feature prominent melodeath influences. The former sounds a little like a mash-up of Galneryus’ neoclassical abandon and Jupiter’s own ‘Allegory Cave’, while the latter has a mind-blowing final chorus. Both rely heavily on aggressive, borderline thrash metal riffing. Kuze does not yet have the versatility in his growls that Zin had, but there is almost a hardcore-like quality to their blunt aggression. Something which also works surprisingly well on the last section of the lone Teru composition ‘Show Must Go On’, a powerful modern hardrock track.

Out of the songs that had already been recorded with Zin, ‘The Spirit Within Me’ really takes the cake. Not only does it have what is possibly the best riff of the album, the song fits Kuze’s voice so perfectly that it’s hard to imagine it had not orignally been written for him. It is kind of ironic that one works so well, as ‘Tears Of The Sun’ underwent a more significant change, being transposed to a different key. Relatively new drummer Daisuke played on the original versions of both of these tracks, but his contributions to ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ should not be overlooked, as his playing is incredible. He has all the skills that his predecessor Yuki also had, but he appears to be a little more understated and serviceable, which does sound a little weird, given the fact that a track like ‘Theory Of Evolution’ is basically fifty percent blazing fills and ‘The Spirit Within Me’ has some of the most impressive double bass rolling I have heard in recent years.

As a whole, ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’ could be the start of a new era for Jupiter. People who liked their music before should have no issue with the record, but the inclusion of a singer with the type of voice that usually is not associated with visual kei really opens them up for people who generally stay away from the scene. In addition, every single song on the album is worth hearing. ‘Memories Of You’ goes on a bit long near the end, but the darker first half of the song is the best ballad-esque bit Hizaki has written to date. Everything else is a perfect blend of power metal, hardrock, progressive metal and melodeath. If that sounds right up your alley, you can’t go wrong with ‘Zeus ~Legends Never Die~’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Spirit Within Me’, ‘Straight Into The Fire’, ‘No Cry No More’, ‘Theory Of Evolution’

Album of the Week 12-2019: Anthem – Nucleus


Some European label – Nuclear Blast, no less – finally has the balls to release Anthem’s music outside of Japan. Sure, the band needed a set of songs with English lyrics to accomplish an international record deal, but apart from the lyrics, Anthem was always easily one of the more European sounding of all Japanese metal bands. Their first international release ‘Nucleus’ is a collection of re-recorded songs from the last ten albums of the band. As a compilation and an introduction to the band, ‘Nucleus’ works remarkably well and even the transition to English feels suprisingly natural.

For those who don’t know: Anthem is one of the oldest heavy metal bands in Japan and still one of the best. Unlike many contemporary Japanese bands, Anthem does not dazzle you with displays of virtuosity, instead opting for ballsy, riffy metal that is actually heavy and uptempo, but not too fast. This band truly belongs alongside the likes of Accept and Judas Priest in any serious heavy metal collection. The spirited performances and excellent songwriting of the band make Anthem more than just a nostalgia act though. The fact that almost all of these songs have originally been recorded in the 21st century says enough.

Apart from the English lyrics and having Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals instead of original lead singer Eizo Sakamoto on some of these tracks, they really are not that much different from their original versions. I am quite happy that the keyboards have been pushed a little more to the background on tracks like ‘Black Empire’ and the goosebumps-inducing closer ‘Unbroken Sign’, allowing Akio Shimizu’s rhythm guitar to give the songs just a little more force. Producer and engineer Jens Bogren also makes the best out of Isamu Tamaru’s drums, which end up sounding modern, but not triggered to hell and back.

The song selection on ‘Nucleus’ is commendable as well. Sure, with a collection like this one, everyone misses a favorite, but Anthem really did a good job picking the songs that fit Morikawa’s voice best. There’s a few instances where I think Sakamoto did it better, but ‘Ghost In The Flame’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Eternal Warrior’ and the aforementioned ‘Unbroken Sign’ almost appear to be written for Morikawa, while he wasn’t even in the band when they were originally released. The sequencing is done really well, as the album flows like a new studio record rather than a loose collection of songs.

It is good to see Anthem try their hand at conquering the European market almost four decades after bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata started the band. Everyone who enjoyed Accept’s post-reunion material will undoubtedly like ‘Nucleus’ as well, but in fact, every fan of traditional heavy metal should give the band a chance. High import prices are no excuse anymore. Anthem has more good riffs and memorable choruses than the average young power metal band and the rhythms are never less than extremely powerful. Hopefully this will not be their last European release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Unbroken Sign’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’

Album of the Week 10-2019: Kipelov – Zhit Vopreki


Valery Kipelov’s name will forever be inextricably linked to the legendary Russian heavy metal band Aria, which he fronted until 2002. His current band, simply named Kipelov, is more than just a continuation of the Aria sound, however. In fact, Kipelov is much more in line with contemporary power metal, adding to the relevance of the band. Of the three studio albums the band has released so far, sophomore album ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is their best. There are many powerful riffs to be heard here and several German power metal bands could learn a songwriting lesson or two from the Russian quintet.

On ‘Zhit Vopreki’, Kipelov profits from having a well-oiled band. Predecessor ‘Reki Vremën’ was released six years earlier, but the band played a lot of live shows in the meantime and it is obvious that all the band members are on the same wavelength musically. Guitarists Andrey Golovanov and Vyacheslav Molchanov in particular are tight, sounding like a massive wall of guitars despite not being tuned too low or having an unusual amount of bass in their sound. Vocally, Valery Kipelov does not give the impression of being in his mid-fifties here, sounding as passionate and powerful as he ever has.

After a slightly theatrical intro, the title track shows the album’s mission statement and does it well. The song has a defiant, almost heroic atmosphere that should be synonymous with heavy metal. Uptempo, but not too fast is a common pace for Kipelov and really contributes to the power of the song, maximizing the impact of its incredible chorus. That tempo accounts for some of the album’s highlights, as evidence by the following two tracks: the powerfully stomping ‘Blast Ognya’ and the catchy ‘Glamurnaya Ptitsa’. The lone truly fast track, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’, almost pushes the band into speed metal territory surprisingly effectively.

However, what truly makes ‘Zhit Vopreki’ the best Kipelov album is the quality of its slower tracks. When the band slows down to an almost doomy, midtempo groove, the results are simply stunning here. ‘Bezumiye’ has a brooding, almost evil feel, but ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’ is a true highlight here. The riff work is relatively straightforward, but that is exactly what allows the song to be so atmospheric. In addition, the vocal arrangements are incredible; the dual harmonies are vaguely reminiscent of Alice In Chains, while the extra layer in the chorus is really powerful.  ‘Na Grani’ and especially the largely acoustic, profoundly dark ‘Dikhaniye Posledney Lyubvi’ are surprisingly excellent ballads as well.

Kipelov’s departure from Aria may have been a shock to the fan base when it happened, but in the long run, it all turned out for the best. Aria is still making great records with the fantastic Mikhail Zhitnyakov and Valery Kipelov is recording great albums in a style he, if ‘Zhit Vopreki’ is any proof, apparently feels more comfortable with. In addition, ‘Zhit Vopreki’ has aged very well. Nothing sounds dated, which can in part be accredited to the ballsy production, but in the end, it’s the songs that make it one of the best post-2010 power metal albums worldwide. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys the likes of Morgana Lefay.

Recommended tracks: ‘Chërnaya Zvezda’, ‘Zhit Vopreki’, ‘Etsë Povoyuyem’

Massive thanks to Ruslania for helping me purchase the album.

Album of the Week 06-2019: Aria – Feniks


‘Feniks’ was a return to form for Russia’s Aria. Not entirely like the titular character, because bassist Vitaly Dubinin never really lost his special songwriting touch, but ‘Feniks’ is definitely the first Aria album since ‘Krov Za Krov’ two decades earlier that is pretty much excellent from start to finish. Maybe it was the addition of the fantastic new singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov, who debuts here, that gave the band some fresh impulses. But whatever the reason, everything that makes traditional heavy metal worthwhile is present in these songs, with just enough contemporary aggression to justify the band’s existence in this century.

Previous singer Artur Berkut often gets the blame for the somewhat less enthusiastic reception of the two albums before ‘Feniks’. However, he is a decent singer and really, the albums suffer from the same issue as the last three albums with Valery Kipelov: the highlights are nothing short of amazing, but all other songs are forgettable. Picking highlights is a lot more difficult on ‘Feniks’, because it is a consistently excellent set of songs and the same can be said about the performances and the production. None of the songs is worth skipping and the sound is clear and convinving.

Opening with ‘Chorny Kvadrat’ was a wise choice. The song combines the band’s strong Iron Maiden influence with a slightly more modern power metal approach, which truly allows newcomer Zhitnyakov to shine. His voice has all the passion of Kipelov’s, with a slightly larger range and an unprecedented degree of theatricality to boot. Comparable in approach is the powerful ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, which has a similarly subtle degree of melancholy in its triumphant traditional metal sound. Both of these tracks alone would already have been worth whatever you pay for the album, as they are among the best Aria songs to date.

Luckily, there is more. Aria always manages to pump out a couple of engaging epics and this time around, the splendidly constructed ‘Chornaya Legenda’ is the best one. The entire song has an atmosphere of imminent danger and the way the intro riff comes back in a different key after the acoustic middle section is pure brilliance. ‘Attila’ and ‘Istoria Odnogo Ubiyci’ are slightly less dense riffing-wise, instead opting to give the song some room to unfold. The calmly symphonic ‘Rekviyem’ is a pretty unique ballad in Aria’s discography and really shows off Zhitnyakov’s abilities. The title track shows the band at its most Maiden-esque, while ‘Dalniy Svet’ and ‘Ravnovesiye Sil’ are powerful midtempo hardrockers with really cool vocal harmonies in their choruses.

While it is tempting to blame Aria’s return to form on the arrival of Zhitnyakov, that would be too easy. For one, there are recordings of the band demoing ‘Boi Bez Pravil’ with Berkut floating around on YouTube and I cannot imagine that being the only one, since he left the group only months before te release of ‘Feniks’. Instead, something else must have sparked the inspiration of the band. We may never know to whom or what we should be thankful, but ‘Feniks’ rates among the best albums Aria has released to date. In fact, it is one of the greatest traditional heavy metal albums of the 21st century.

Recommeded tracks: ‘Chorny Kvadrat’, ‘Boi Bez Pravil’, ‘Chornaya Legenda’

Album of the Week 02-2019: Gargoyle – Gaia


For some reason, ‘Gaia’ often gets ignored when people discuss the greatest works of Gargoyle. Up until last year’s unfortunate dissolution of the band, the songs on ‘Gaia’ did not even appear on their live sets all that much. Maybe that is a result of the material on the album making optimal use of the two guitar line-up, since Gargoyle would continue with just one guitarist after Yotaro left. It would really be a pity to let ‘Gaia’ go by unnoticed though, because there is simply too much good music on the album. It is in fact one of Gargoyle’s finest efforts.

‘Gaia’ is probably the second most experimental album Gargoyle released to date, surpassed only by its predecessor ‘Natural’. Unlike the latter, however, ‘Gaia’ feels pretty coherent stylistically and does not have as many sudden shifts, save for maybe the odd, but successful percussion and Spanish guitar exercise that is ‘Hako’ and the hyperactive funk rock of ‘Baby Cat’, one of Gargoyle’s better funky tracks. Everything else consists of variations on the trusted Gargoyle formula. Some songs have a cleaner guitar approach and more swing rhythmically (‘Unkown ~Annon~’) or a more exotic overall sound (‘Yagate Hikaru’), but but the thrash riffs and heavy metal melodies are everywhere.

Opening track ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’ does a pretty good job of preparing its listeners for the general sound of ‘Gaia’. The rhythm guitar work and Katsuji’s rolling double bass thunder still is as deeply rooted in thrash as the band always was, but the overall approach is a little more melodic. Frontman Kiba even shows a surprising amount of restraint in its uncharacteristically melodic vocal lines, but it all works remarkably well. ‘Sora Wa Ao’ is another track that manages to successfully blend a wild, propulsive bottom end with a melodic, almost rocky top layer.

That does not mean ‘Gaia’ cannot thrash your face off. The stomping ‘Meditation’ and the vaguely OverKill-ish ‘Who Are You?’ are both excellent energetic thrashers in the best Gargoyle tradition, while especially the speed monster ‘Kamikaze’ is absolutely annihilating. Truly one of the highlights of the band’s career. If ‘Gaia’ proves anything, however, it is that Gargoyle does not have to do that to sound amazing. ‘Sanbika’, for instance, is one of the most powerful tracks on here and it has an almost doom metal vibe, with Kentaro’s and Yotaro’s riffs not containing any more notes than they have to and Toshi laying down some of his best melodic bass lines. Definitely one of the best of their more atmospheric tracks.

My only complaints about ‘Gaia’ are aimed at its production. The guitar sound is not as powerful and pulsating as it should be and I have no idea why Kiba’s vocals on ‘Sayonara Jibun’, otherwise a very pleasant melodic thrasher, had to be so trebly, borderline unlistenably distorted. But apart from that, ‘Gaia’ is one of the best albums the Japanese experimental thrash machine has ever released. It may even have been the most consistent set of songs they have ever recorded, save for the near-perfection of ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sanbika’, ‘Kamikaze’, ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’, ‘Who Are You?’

Album of the Week 51-2018: Warlock – Hellbound


Sometimes it is remarkable how much better bands can get in surprisingly little time. There was only slightly over a year between the recordings of Warlock’s debut album ‘Burning The Witches’ and its follow-up ‘Hellbound’, but the German quintet made immense progress in that period. Where the former is an enjoyable heavy metal record with the occasional noteworthy song, ‘Hellbound’ is one of the greatest metal records of the mid-eighties. ‘Hellbound’ sees Warlock enhancing their NWOBHM leanings, which lends the album a classy edge without ending up sounding too polished. In fact, ‘Hellbound’ is highly energetic. At times even aggressive.

Back when ‘Burning The Witches’ was released, Warlock gained some attention for having a female singer. Quite understandably; female metal musicians were rare at the time and Doro Pesch’s voice was in deed what lifted the album above mediocrity. Her extremely passionate performance is still one of the highlights on ‘Hellbound’, but the album is full of fantastic guitar work by both Peter Szigeti and Rudy Graf. The band’s biggest improvement is certainly made in the guitar department; while the riffs and solos are not that much different in character than before, one can hear that more thought went into the arrangements.

Probably the best example of that growth is the incredibly elegant ‘Out Of Control’. In essence a beautiful melodic heavy metal track with likely Pesch’s best performance on the record, but its acoustic intro and some strategically placed bright overtones throughout the song give it even more sheen than it would have had without those subtle touches. Definitely one of the best European power metal songs of the eighties. ‘Wrathchild’ also is a hidden gem, with its melancholic dramaticism and climactic time feel changes truly enhancing the raw power of the simple, yet effective riff work.

It’s not all sophistication characterizing ‘Hellbound’ though. ‘Earthshaker Rock’ and the awesome title track are uncomplicated uptempo rockers that were obviously designed for the live situation. ‘Time To Die’ is as aggressive as pre-thrash NWOBHM gets, with Pesch’s sounding at her angriest at least until ‘A Touch Of Evil’ would be recorded. The title ‘Shout It Out’ suggests a simple sing-along anthem, but it is in fact relatively epic and a masterclass in building towards a climax; the whole song seems to imply some subdued anger or rebellion that culminates in a fantastic “prepare for battle” type feel in the final minute.

‘Hellbound’ was, in a way, the pinnacle of Warlock’s original line-up. Graf left the band not long after its release and by the time Pesch’s magnum opus ‘Triumph And Agony’ was released, Szigeti and bassist Frank Rittel had left as well. Many of these songs are still played at Doro live shows to this day and it is not hard to understand why. Even though ‘Hellbound’ is clearly a product of the mid-eighties, the songs themselves are timeless. That is why over half of these songs still give yours truly goosebumps after knowing them for so long. ‘Hellbound’ is simply a near-flawless slab of European heavy metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Out Of Control’, ‘Shout It Out’, ‘Wrathchild’

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