Posts Tagged ‘ traditional Heavy Metal ’

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’

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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’

Album of the Week 48-2018: Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality


Since Lovebites’ debut album ‘Awakening From Abyss’ was a serious contender for my album of the year last year – it was basically a coin toss between that one and Firewind’s ‘Immortals’ – and their EP ‘Battle Against Damnation’ also seriously impressed me earlier this year, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ was an album I anticipated eagerly. Fortunately, it is another quality record that finds the middle ground between traditional heavy metal and contemporary European power metal. Due to its slightly more streamlined production, the immediate impact is not as strong as with ‘Awakening From Abyss’, but the many excellent songs reveal themselves soon enough.

To get my criticism out of the way first: most of the songs on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ are paired stylistically and I’m not sure if that is beneficial to the flow of the album. It starts out with two strongly European-tinged power metal tracks, which are followed by two lighter, melodic tracks, the two most aggressive tracks on the album and two songs with distinct melodic hardrock elements. I think ‘Clockwork Immortality’ could have been more balanced if the songs were spread out more evenly over the album. It’s only a minor problem though, as the songwriting and performances are top-notch here.

As I said before, some of the songs need a little time. First video ‘Rising’ did not make the best first impression, but makes perfect sense within the context of the album. My initial thoughts about the following ‘Empty Daydream’ were that the track was only saved by its futuristic prog middle section, but though I still think it is somewhat overlong, the melodies and Asami’s vocal performance are excellent. However, the more metallic material, like the powerful uptempo guitar feast ‘Addicted’, the the vaguely Loudness-ish borderline thrash metal of ‘M.D.O.’ and the equally melodic as intense ‘Pledge Of The Savior’ definitely had more immediate appeal.

Quite surprisingly, my favorite track on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is ‘The Final Collision’. That is surprising, because it was the power metal that drew me towards Lovebites in the first place and the song has more in common with minor key late eighties hardrock. Asami gets to show different sides of her incredible voice and the climactic chorus is the single finest moment on ‘Clockwork Immortality’. The guitar arrangements are impeccable as well, but the same can be said about the entire album. Midori and Miyako are all over the album, though they appear to be less focused on soloing and more on strong harmonies and layering contrasting parts this time around.

While ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is not quite as good as ‘Awakening From Abyss’ and ‘Battle Against Damnation’ were, it is about as close as it gets. Lovebites is experimenting on a few tracks and rather successfully on most of them. The entire band is on fire, with especially Asami and Haruna having massively improved their skills. Funnily enough, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ shows that Lovebites has the European power metal sound down better than a lot of actual European power metal bands. If that is your thing, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is well worth your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Final Collision’, ‘Addicted’, ‘M.D.O.’, ‘Pledge Of The Savior’

Album of the Week 46-2018: Aria – Proklyatiye Morey


Aria was Russia’s first big heavy metal band and still the country’s best. In fact, the band has been experiencing a second youth in recent years, despite a majority of its members being around sixty years old. Bassist Vitaly Dubinin and founding guitarist Vladimir Holstinin have never stopped writing excellent material and with the best Aria singer to date in the shape of Mikhail Zhitnyakov at their disposal, their exciting, often dramatic heavy metal songs are pushed as close to perfection as it gets. ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is no different, though it does feature Aria treading surprisingly progressive waters at times.

First things first: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ is probably the best opening track on any 2018 heavy metal release. With eighties heavy metal oozing out of every pore of the song, from its gorgeous twin guitar intro riff to its uplifting chorus carried by Zhitnyakov’s powerful tenor, the song sends chills down my spine I have not felt since Accept’s ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ six and a half years ago. Sure, Aria has a history of fantastic openers, but ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ certainly compares favorably to earlier masterpieces like ‘Proshay, Norfolk!’ and ‘Cherny Kvadrat’. Simply the perfect way to open the album.

The rest of the album follows a pattern similar to Iron Maiden’s latter day works. There’s a few shorter, punchy songs alternated with some longer, more progressive tracks. Aria’s songwriting is more consistent, however, and ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ definitely has a better sense of dynamics. Despite lasting an hour and fifteen minutes, the record hardly ever feels that long, because the band never forgets to insert memorable hooks into even the longest songs. In addition, the more concise songs like ‘Era Lucifera’ and the excellent ‘Vsho Nachinaetsya Tam, Gde Konchaetsya Noch’ bristle with strong, catchy melodies and spirited performances.

Picking highlights is difficult, but the nine minute ‘Zhivoy’ is amazing. It starts out like an epic, somewhat hopeful ballad, but then moves through a darker tranquil passage before turning into a defiant heavy metal song. ‘Baryag’ also is epic heavy metal at its finest, bringing to mind the better moments of Maiden’s ‘Brave New World’. ‘Ubit Drakona’, on the other hand, has a more seventies hardrock feel, underlined by some subtle Hammond organ underneath the simple, but brutally effective riff work. ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’ is another delightfully uncomplicated headbanger with a surprisingly aggressive vocal line by Zhinyakov in its chorus.

While it is tempting to call an album this long overlong, the songs speak for themselves. The semi-ballad ‘Dim Bez Ognya’ is slightly longer that it should be, but too good to be dismissed entirely. The title track is even the longest Aria song to date, but is a pretty convincing, doomy Maiden-esque track. What counts is that Aria continues its line of consistent heavy metal albums and plays with the energy of a band half their age. Heavy metal albums this good are pretty hard to come by this day and age and therefore, it is good that Aria is as reliable as ever. Even when they’re taking a few proggy detours that are as surprising as they are enjoyable.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’, ‘Zhivoy’

Album of the Week 30-2018: Volcano – Darker Than Black


‘Darker Than Black’ is Volcano’s fourth original studio album since mid-July 2015. While that may seem a bit excessive, it is also remarkably good. Volcano was always the perfect band for anyone who could not choose between the vicious aggression of thrash metal and the melodic appeal of traditional heavy metal and ‘Darker Than Black’ is no different, though the melodic death metal influences that were prominent a few albums ago have been dialed back considerably. ‘Darker Than Black’ is one of Volcano’s more interesting albums compositionally, though it is just as capable of thrashing your face off when it needs to.

One thing that immediately stands out is that a lot of attention has been given to making the songs instantly recognizable. Every previous Volcano album has its fair share of powerful songs and catchy moments, but at times, some of the non-highlights had a tendency to sound a little too similar. However, no two songs sound alike on ‘Darker Than Black’. This is admirable, because thrash metal can be quite the limiting genre. By subtle changes in tempo, atmosphere and melodic content, the Japanese quartet managed to give each song its own face while retaining their thrashing intensity.

Speaking of atmosphere, two of the album’s most atmospheric moments have surprisingly been composed by bassist Akira. The propulsive ‘Jailbreak Vampire’ has a middle section that would not have sounded out of place on a mid-nineties Scandinavian melodeath album, while closing track ‘Guardian Deity’ immediately becomes one of the album highlights through its heroic melodicism. Guitarist She-ja wrote the rest of the material, with ‘Flight To The World’ possibly being the best opening track Volcano ever released. Classic twin guitar melodies, punishing drum work by the incredible Shun and biting thrash riffs constantly keep each other in perfect balance. And good luck getting that chorus out of your head.

Furthermore, Volcano explores the entire spectrum of heavy metal here. At the most melodic end, there are songs like the classic midtempo heavy metal of ‘Scatter Toxins’ and the relatively open ‘When You Are’, which has a gorgeous, almost bluesy guitar solo. The latter is also true for ‘Arena’, which is the perfect breather for an otherwise rather chaotic song. ‘Horror’ is a very cool riff-driven thrasher closest to the eighties Bay Area tradition, while ‘Great Crisis’ similtaneously houses some of the album’s most extreme as well as some of its most melodic sections. It should not work and yet, it does.

In fact, the entire album works. The only issue have with it is that the mastering job is a nightmare. It isn’t disruptive in every single song, but during some intense double bass sessions, the music distorts. With the songwriting generally being on par with – at times even slightly better than – the better moments of ‘Melt’, that should only be a minor complaint though. Though nothing on ‘Darker Than Black’ may be as instantly catchy as ‘Tokyo Panic’, it feels like this 53-minute collection of carefree thrashing will leave more of a lasting impact, quite likely making it the second best Volcano album after 2001’s incomparable ‘Davi’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Flight To The World’, ‘Guardian Deity’, ‘Horror’

Album of the Week 26-2018: Iced Earth – Night Of The Stormrider


‘Night Of The Stormrider’ is often mentioned as a favorite by those who followed Iced Earth from the very beginning and it is easy to hear why. The song material is notably more complex than the songs that would make the band a big name less than a decade after its original release in 1991, though there is more of a polish than on the self-titled debut. The fact that it’s a concept album certainly helps its continuity as well. Whatever happened in the intervening year, it helped. Most of the songs would remain live staples for many years to come.

Whether or not ‘Night Of The Stormrider’ would be your favorite Iced Earth album depends on what you want to hear from them. If you want the hooky choruses and dramatic vocals that are currently synonymous with them, the album may come off disappointing. Jon Schaffer’s trademark aggressive, hyperspeed palm-muted riffs are all over the record though. And there’s certainly a higher riff density than usual. Verse-chorus structures are broken up by extensive middle sections full of tempo and atmosphere changes, while the overall tone of the album is notably darker than most of the band’s other output.

Compositionally, the album contains some of Iced Earth’s finest work. Especially when the band combines fierce aggression and the first traces of theatricality, as is the case in the massive opener ‘Angels Holocaust’, Iced Earth proves they were easily among the best metal bands of the early nineties. Closing epic ‘Travel In Stygian’ manages to wrap up all the elements of Iced Earth’s style as well, with fierce semi-thrash riffs, balladesque sections and a particularly climactic chorus following each other seemlessly, though it could have used a shorter middle section. ‘Stormrider’ and the more melodic, oft-forgotten ‘Mystical End’ are more concise, but no less impressive.

Another song that doesn’t always get the praise it deserves is ‘Desert Rain’. It is easily the darkest moment on the album musically, with the rage and confusion of the lyrics perfectly illustrated by the juxtaposition of forceful metal and more desperate tranquil sections. Its chorus is one of the band’s first experiments with vocal harmonies and it is quite tasteful. If you’re splitting hairs, you could argue that the song is more a collection of riffs or segments than a composition, but that is the case for ‘Pure Evil’ as well and that one is still a fan favorite to this day.

The album is not without its flaws. First and foremost, John Greely is merely adequate, though significantly better than his predecessor Gene Adam. His cleans have a pleasant tone and his rawer work sounds delightfully aggressive, but his high-pitched screams lack character and his range is quite limited. The acoustic interludes ‘Before The Vision’ and ‘Reaching The End’ don’t add much musically and some sections (most notably the parts before the final verses of ‘The Path I Choose’ and ‘Pure Evil’) sound too similar. The pros outweigh the cons though. Unlike Schaffer, I think the bottom-heavy production benefits the music and there is a simple reason why a majority of these songs are considered Iced Earth classics: they’re very good.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Desert Rain’, ‘Stormrider’

Album of the Week 23-2018: Onmyo-za – Hado Myoo


Heavy, dark, but without forsaking their trademark streamlined melodicism. How they do it is a mystery to me, but Onmyo-za manages to upgrade the formula of their already impressive latter day sound on ‘Hado Myoo’ without the help of a potentially alienating stylistic shift. Despite its fairly heavy use of seven string guitars, its predecessor ‘Karyo-Binga’ had its lighter moments. ‘Hado Myoo’ has not, except for maybe the relatively accessible first single ‘Oka Ninpocho’. And that is a great thing, as this powerful, relatively riff-driven monster of an album truly confirms Onmyo-za’s relevance in the year before its twentieth anniversary.

Being quite a short album by Onmyo-za standards, ‘Hado Myoo’ wastes no time setting the scene and drags the listener into an unsettling, yokai-infested underworld by means of its massive opening track ‘Hao’. The song truly plays to all of the band’s strengths, with especially the contrast between the crushing sections sung by bassist and bandleader Matatabi and the more melancholic introspection of the parts lead by his wife Kuroneko being nothing short of genius. ‘Hao’ is more than a mind-blowing opener though. It is a warning that ‘Hado Myoo’ is not going to be for the faint of heart and it delivers on that promise.

‘Shimobe’ follows a similar structure, albeit on a higher tempo, with its fierce riffing unveiling a distinct melodic death metal influence. The 7/8 intro is vicious and it is quite remarkable how many new things happen in the latter three minutes of the song. Easily the heaviest Onmyo-za song in quite some time. But while the aforementioned songs are peaks in intensity, ‘Hado Myoo’ does not let go until it is over. The songs vary in heaviness – ‘Haja no Fuin’ brings some of that delicious NWOBHM-inspired twin riffing to the fore, while ‘Ippondara’ is a grinding midtempo stomper with a cool bass solo – but none of them will be relegated to background music. Fortunately.

Elsewhere, ‘Tesso No Aza’ teaches many European and American bands a lesson or two on how to do epic heavy metal and ‘Oka Ninpocho’ and ‘Fushoko No O’ feature some tasteful Japanese folk elements as part of their arrangements. ‘Izuna Otoshi’ and ‘Itsumade’ are the typical melodic heavy metal we have come to expect from Onmyo-za, though the latter does feature some borderline thrash riffs. Even the closing track is very powerful. Onmyo-za usually reserves that spot for lighter, upbeat rock tracks, but while ‘Bureiko’ does have a more “rocky” feel than the rest of the album, it is still very much rooted in pounding riff work.

As far as my expectations for ‘Hado Myoo’ went, this was not what I was expecting. Not many metal bands can say that their fourteenth album is one of their heaviest thus far, but Onmyo-za can proudly declare that. It never sounds forced, however. ‘Hado Myoo’ is clearly the work of a band doing something they feel comfortable doing. It is a sonic triumph as well, with the guitars of Maneki and Karukan having the perfect amount of grit and Matatabi’s bass rumbling underneath slightly more prominently than usual. Yours truly for one was stunned and unless you listen to Onmyo-za for their ballads – there aren’t any – most of their fans will too.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shimobe’, ‘Hao’, ‘Haja No Fuin’, ‘Tesso No Aza’

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