Grimgotts – Tales Review

Score8/10
GenreSymphonic Power Metal
CountryEngland
Runtime20:04
Release Date1 May 2020
Record LabelIndependent

England’s best adventure metallers have returned from across the sea, bringing with them all the noble majesty of the dragons of old. The mighty Grimgotts have been hard at work to deliver a new EP, having released their sophomore album, Dragons of the Ages, just last year. Entitled Tales, it contains four imaginative tracks that, while sounding a bit more touched-up, stay true to the nautical/storybook/power metal combo of Grimgotts sound.

Like their previous works, each of Tales‘ four tracks rings with bombastic optimism, cheese, and keyboard insanity (ok, maybe not insanity, but they’re soooo fucking good). Additionally, the guitars, drums, and keyboards all keep things exciting, rarely settling into a single lick for too long, and frontman Andy Barton continues to lead the way with his deliberate mid-range pipes. One of the first differences I noticed about these songs, though, is the vocal layering in the choruses. On top of that, this album also comes off as more symphonic than Dragons of the Ages did, and the backing tracks sound more refined, but, hey, maybe that’s just me.

(Think THAT’s hot? You should hear their music!)

The most impressive aspect of Tales is its variety. The songs, all close to the five-minute mark, have multiple sections and a there’s good degree of dynamism, especially between songs. As far as specific songs go, it’s tough to pull favourites from such a short tracklist, but ‘The Dawnbringer’ slightly wins it for me. The keyboards are extra cheesy and the guitarwork is a notch above the other songs. But then, the solo section in ‘Fight ’til the End’ is pretty fucking sweet. Honestly, it doesn’t take much for me to be happy with an album; just throw in some flying synth solo cheese and a couple facemelters and we’re good. (Just kidding, it takes more than that (Except not really (?).).)

Anyway, if you were already a fan of Grimgotts, you’ll love Tales. Conversely, if you aren’t a fan of Grimgotts, maybe you should get your ass in gear and check them out, especially if you dig the likes of Atlas Pain, ShadowStrike, Freedom Call, or Power Quest. AND, if you REALLY like Grimgotts, you can look forward to two more EPs by the end of the year. Yeah. How’s THAT for modern music consumerism?

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Power Theory – Force Of Will Review

Score8/10
GenreHeavy Power Metal
CountryUSA (Pennsylvania)
Runtime56:52
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelPure Steel

Brace for impact because US powerforce Power Theory have returned with their massive Force of Will. With backbreaking riffs and mighty vocals, this is the perfect album to piss off your neighbours with. Force of Will is the band’s fourth album, but it welcomes the destructive axemanship of Carlos Alvarez and Jim Rutherford‘s titanium pipes to the show for the first time.

The general tone here is darker than your usual US power metal, and the beefy, bass-heavy mixing is largely responsible. However, the energy level is consistent and high throughout most of the album, so it’s more of an aggressive darkness that fills the atmosphere rather than a dooming darkness. For reference, think along the lines of Iron Fire or a more refined Saxon. Most of the choruses are fairly victorious, though, and a lot of the solos are uplifting, so there’s a pretty good amount of contrast.

The album tends to lag a bit due to lack of variety after the absolutely killer ballad that is ‘Albion’, but if you’re listening more for the sick riffs and heaviness and less for the whole “album experience”, that isn’t a huge issue. The biggest single issue is in the closer, ‘The Hill I Die On’, which doesn’t really offer anything worthwhile, despite having a runtime of seven minutes. Regardless, Force of Will pulls no punches.

For straight, true, colossal heavy metal, Power Theory have your back. Force of Will lives up to the band’s already-high standards and is best listened to on your most thunderous speakers. If bands like Iron Fire and Accept are to your liking, you’ll love this.

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Celesti Alliance – Hybrid Generation Review

Score8/10
GenreMelodic Heavy Metal
CountryFinland
Runtime43:46
Release Date29 November 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Finland’s latest melodic heavy metal addition comes from the brand new Celesti Alliance. After two EPs, these cultivators of classic steel are finally ready to smash onto the scene with their full-length debut. Pulling from a range of influences from late-80s heavy/power metal (Accept, Judas Priest) and modern heavy metal, Hybrid Generation is a super catchy album that’s generous with the riffs and heavy on the solos.

I think the most accurate way to describe Celesti Alliance’s sound is as a slightly more exciting version of HammerFall. The vocals of Valtteri Heiskanen are pretty similar to Joacim Cans in terms of sound and style, and the songs are built in much the same way (especially ‘Louder Power’). Where things get a bit more colourful, though, is in the prevalent use of keyboards and vocal layers, as well as a dynamism that HammerFall always comes close to achieving but rarely does. As a result, Celesti Alliance end up with an album full of solid bangers while still delivering enough variability to stay exciting.

The only thing holding Hybrid Generation back is the fact that it more-or-less lacks any wowness. There’s some great soloing, with ‘Incomplete’ having my favourite, as well as some memorable riffs, but the album coasts along with the same level of power and proficiency the entire way through. It doesn’t make the album bad, especially when you combine the straight riffage with super beefy mixing, but it does keep the band from reaching their full potential.

But, if you dig the whole neo-80s style, you’ll dig Celesti Alliance. Hybrid Generation lays down enough steady drivers to please more oldschool fans and it explores enough highs and lows to round itself out. You won’t want to miss this killer offering of heavy metal worship.

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Magic Kingdom – MetAlmighty Review

Score8/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryBelgium
Runtime1:01:20
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelAFM

As a rule of thumb, I never make any early judgments about an album until I’m at least two songs in (well, three if we’re counting the typical two-minute-orchestration first track that pollutes power metal). It gives me a chance to get away from any sort of propulsion the band hoped to gain with the first song and into what is usually a more accurate representation of the album as a whole. In the case of Magic Kingdom’s MetAlmighty, this proved to be a good precaution on my part, because, if I took that first track too seriously, I would have lost all interest. It has a strong intro, as well as a few worthwhile moments, but in the grand scheme of the album, it’s disorganized and the chorus is weak.

But, get passed ‘Unleash the Dragon’ and the real dragon appears! Sick riffs, headbangable beats, powerful melodies, and absolutely insane solos await you in a fiery keep. Your journey is led by the famed Michael Vescera (Obsession, ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen), who is lending his vocals to Magic Kingdom for the first time. Also joining you on this epic quest for mighty metal are axeman/band founder Dushan Petrossi, bassist Vassili Moltchanov (both of Iron Mask), and Ark Ascent drummer Michael Brush. Together, they unleash eleven dynamic tracks that are sure to satiate even the pickier power metalhead.

Now, before we get to the rest of the good stuff, let’s finish off the not-so-good. As I mentioned before, the album starts at a low point. Unfortunately, MetAlmighty finishes on a similar note in ‘King Without a Crown’. It’s a decent track and I especially love the chorus, but it’s an underwhelming farewell to an otherwise hard-hitting album. Additionally, the production quality is. . . iffy at times, but it’s not an issue too often.

Other than that, though, this album kicks all sorts of fantasy ass. It rides forth with cheesy lyrics in a wide variety of dynamic tracks. The overall sound is grittier than a lot of modern power metal, which helps separate Magic Kingdom from the crowd (despite having one of the most unoriginal names in metal history). MetAlmighty may not be the best that Magic Kingdom’s ever put out, but it’s certainly worth giving a spin.

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Grendel’s Sÿster – Myrtle Wreath Review

Score8/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime50:34 (25:17 per language)
Release Date1 October 2019
Record LabelIndependent

One of Germany’s more unique metal bands, the female-fronted Grendel’s Syster, have released their second EP. Myrtle Wreath includes both an English and German version, which allows for a slightly different experience depending on which you listen to. But, at twenty-five minutes per version, the album is is short, sweet, and easily manageable in one sitting.

The most impressive aspect of Myrtle Wreath (and Grendel’s Syster in general) is its individuality. The medieval sound is steeped in a doomy atmosphere and topped off with folk influences. Apparent inspirations that come to mind include Tanith and Wytch Hazel, and even a hint of early Manowar. All of these different elements are combined into a strong, almost epic feel, but with a slightly foreboding air over it.

Another cool touch is the vocal and guitar layering. Incanted vocal lines paint visions of covens singing old folk tunes while the guitars float between slow, deliberate riffs and countermelodies. They fill out the sound without driving it too far away from its rawness the way keyboards or super refined production quality would.

In a word, Myrtle Wreath is different, and that alone makes it worth checking out. Fortunately, it has plenty more than just individuality going for it, so your curiosity will be well-founded and well-rewarded.

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Secret Chapter – Chapter One Review

Score8.5/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryNorway
Runtime43:15
Release Date18 October 2019
Record LabelCrime

Sit down and strap the fuck in because Secret Chapter are going to take you on a nostalgic ride back to the 80s with their hyper-melodic, solo-rific debut, Chapter One. While the title isn’t all that creative, you can be damn sure that the music will impress. The vocals are high and full of layers, the rhythm section is tight, and the album offers an array of songs from glam to power metal.

While Chapter One treads a similar sound he likes of Skid Row, TNT, Europe, and 80s hair metal in general, it keeps things interesting by maintaining a modern heavy metal undertone. The production, layered instrumentation, and driving riffs combined with undoubtedly 80s choruses allow for the best of both worlds, and there’s no shortage of passion or aggression. A lot of 80s metal bands just sound like refined metal from the era (if that), but Secret Chapter manage to maintain individuality by putting their own musical spin on things.

And don’t even get me started on the solos because guitarist Jon Aarseth and keymaster Magnus Johansen lay down some serious facemelters. ‘Human Centipede’ (weird theme for a song, right?) delivers synth excellence, and notable guitar solos can be found in ‘Baptized in Ecstasy’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘One Night Aint Enough’. That being said, there’s not a solo on the album that doesn’t get my blood flowing.

The only thing preventing Chapter One from scoring higher is the fact that there are a couple tracks that seem like filler. ‘Sin City’ and the ballad, ‘Heavy Metal Love Affair’, while still good songs, don’t carry the same charm and flare that the rest of the tracks do. Their foundations are solid, but they’re considerably weaker than the rest.

Seeing as Secret Chapter shove 80s heavy metal in your face as shamelessly hard as possible, it’d be safe to assume that I harbour a deep love them. Not only that, but the sheer skill every bandmate possesses plays a key part in the unique sound they’ve achieved with Chapter One. Hopefully, there will be more chapters to enjoy in the near future.

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Dawn Of Destiny – The Beast Inside Review

Score8/10
GenreMelodic/Power Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime56:26
Release Date4 October 2019
Record LabelRam It Down

These days, it’s incredibly difficult to carve out your own distinct space in the metal world. Among the billion or so new bands that come out by the year, it’s simply a numbers game at this point; no matter what your sound is, chances are it’s been done before. Usually, anyway. So, when a band like Dawn of Destiny comes around with a new album, it’s enough to ignite my curiosity. To say that The Beast Inside is unique would be a bit of an understatement. Seriously. It’s so unique that I can’t directly compare its sound to another band or album. Not that I’ve heard every metal record ever (because, obviously, I haven’t), but I’ve listened to my fair share of melodic and power metal, so that should say something.

However, that doesn’t make their sound indescribable or anything of the sort. Most simply, The Beast Inside is a mashup of gothic, progressive, symphonic, and power metal. This fundamental mix is hardly groundbreaking, but the way in which Dawn of Destiny differs from any band I can think of is the way it twists this combination into unconventional songwriting and interesting melodies. The first track, ‘The Beast Inside a Beauty’ is a great example of this. Starting with a light music box melody, it brings the attitude of gothic and symphonic metal together with the driving energy of power metal. It’s also the perfect preview to the album’s overall sound and (although the next two tracks aren’t quite as good) it starts the album off on a high note.

So, yeah, it’s got a unique sound, but what about the musicians? I’m glad you asked! In short, this is a fucking talented group. Jen Faber brings a big, beefy guitar tone to his chugging riffs and, on drums, Philipp Bock goes beyond your basic time-keeping by keeping the grooves dynamic. And those guitar solos? Holy fuck. There are some serious gems, especially in ‘It’s My Fate’. The highlight, though, is Jeanette Scherff‘s strong vocal style. She sings far lower and with way more bravado than you usually hear in this kind of music, making the already-solid choruses even more memorable. Her voice is actually very similar to original Battle Beast and current Burning Point vocalist Nitte Valo. Tying the whole thing together are the keyboards, courtesy of Dirk Raczkiewicz, which fill out the background nicely.

Despite all the praise I have for The Beast Inside, it isn’t perfect. ‘Peace of Mind’ is pretty weak to the point where the album could easily do without it. But, other than the odd awkward verse melody and section, this is pretty much it for shortcomings, which isn’t bad at all, if you ask me.

All things considered, The Beast Inside is an awesome album. The songs range from energetic power metal to heavier, darker metal to unconventional-yet-melodic metal. Some songs are definitely stronger than others, with ‘Signs in the Sky’ and ‘If We Close Our Eyes’ being my favourites, but every track offers something different from the last, so make sure to give the whole album a spin!

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Storchi – Outside Review

Score8/10
GenreProgressive Metal/Fusion
CountryIsrael
Runtime44:51
Release Date10 October 2019
Record LabelDutch Music Works

I don’t know what’s in the water over there, but Israel has pumped out some seriously good prog albums this year. The unforgettable Lotus Graveyard by Tillian is just one example, and I still listen to that record on a regular basis. The latest addition to this effort is the debut album of Storchi, entitled Outside. It brings an interesting combination of prog metal, fusion, and club jazz, finished off with a deep-rooted Middle Eastern feel. If you want to listen to something with its very own distinct sound, look no further.

Aside from the raw skill its musicians display (more on that in a minute), Storchi’s best quality is its blatant uniqueness. While, at times, Outside beckons to a sound similar to Mahavishnu Orchestra and 70s/80s fusion in general, the sound it ends up with can’t be compared too closely to these because it is simply very individual. The music is driven by the flute, courtesy of Danielle Sassi, which carries all of the melodies over top of the guitars, bass, and drums, which constantly transition between intense metal riffage and light grooves.

There’s a good ratio of metal to jazz here, with most of the songs leaning more one way than the other. For example, ‘Surroundings’, ‘Hidden Truth’, and ‘Lights Out’ are far more metal, whereas ‘Paracosm’ (after the first third of the song, anyway) and ‘Midnight’ are almost entirely ethnic jazz tunes. It becomes evident in the album’s first minutes that Outside will be a dynamic experience, but that’s a bit of an understatement.

And now we get to the musicians themselves who, strikingly, are all teenagers, which blows the shit out of my mind because I can’t play anything half as good as these guys. The guitarwork is great, with some notable soloing in ‘Paracosm’ and ‘Hidden Truth’, and the bassplaying follows in like fashion. The flute, of course, is excellent throughout the album’s entirety, but my favourite part of Outside is that fucking drumming. Noam Arbel proves himself to be quite the beast behind the kit, and he bangs the shit out of the highs and patters away on the lows with tasteful precision. Right off the get go I was impressed with this guy, but on the fifth track, ‘Midnight’, I was fucking blown away. Seriously. The five-minute drum solo constantly reminded me of drummers like Joe Morello and (to a lesser extent) Buddy Rich. Damn. Not too bad, if you ask me.

There are also a handful of guest musicians lending support on piano and string instruments, but the core of Outside‘s energy comes from its main quartet. While a couple of the arrangements could do with some trimming and touching up, this album is an all-around blast and I’m damn excited to listen to what Storchi lays down next.

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Ivory Tower – Stronger Review

Score8/10
GenreMelodic Progressive Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime1:16:10
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Ivory Tower is no stranger to the prog scene. While they’ve only put out four albums since the late 90s, their sound has made plenty of changes, from power prog to nu metal. In their fifth album to date, Stronger, the band shows that the eight years since their previous album (which was, in all honesty, a fucking mess) have been dedicated to evolving their sound for the better. It’s full of super sick riffs, exciting songwriting, and vengeful melodies that often carry classic Queensryche vibes.

The choruses are one of the stronger aspects of the album; they’re emotive, memorable, and actually really creative. Like the album itself, they’re intense and aggressive, not often making it to upbeat or hopeful, unless it’s with a bittersweet overtone.

Driving the melodies is Dirk Meyer, who is offering his vocals to an Ivory Tower album for the first time. He’s not the only newcomer, though; Frank Fasold is the band’s new keyboardist, and there’s also returning drummer Thorsten Thrunke, who was absent from the previous two albums. This revitalized lineup delivers a strong performance and is probably mostly (if not entirely) the reason for how fresh Stronger sounds.

The weakest point of the album is ‘In Me’. The melodies whiny and uninspired, and the track almost seems like a leftover from IV. The solo is fucking awesome, though, so it isn’t entirely irredeemable. Fortunately, ‘In Me’ is far enough into the album that it doesn’t do much to damage any expectations but far enough from the end that, if it did give you a really bad taste in your mouth, there’s a lot to make up for it. Aside from that, the closer could be better, but it isn’t necessarily bad, and there are a couple other points in the album that carry on for just too long.

On the flip side, though, there are plenty of things to enjoy. As I mentioned before, there are the choruses and riffs. There’s also a ton of variety, with the heavy metal/hard rock banger ‘Life Will Fade’, which is one of my favourites on the record, the deeply-aggressive ‘Loser’, and even an acoustic interlude track that all help to make the album rounded and dynamic. Ivory Tower’s varying use of synths is damn-near perfect, and the expressive drumming never fails to impress. Needless to say, the guitar solos are equally as impressive.

Personally, next to ‘Life Will Fade’, ‘Slave’ and ‘The Wolves You’ve Let In’ stand as my favourite tracks. The former is driven by heavy synths and has a floating chorus. The latter is a seven-minute ballad with an absolutely killer climax and solo. I think it would have been a great end to the album, too, but I digress.

Stronger isn’t without its flaws, but everything else is so good that they don’t matter much in the grand scheme of the album. Clocking in at more than seventy-five minutes, it’s also a pretty long run, but there are enough gems within that it’s more than worth at least one listen. When all is considered, Ivory Tower’s latest effort is a damn-good comeback.

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Scimitar – Shadows Of Man Review

Score8/10
GenrePagan Metal
CountryCanada
Runtime48:57
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Canadian pagan metal warriors Scimitar have been around for just over a decade. Early on in their career, they released their debut album, Black Waters, but the band took a bit of a break soon after. Now, nine years later, the band have finally unleashed their sophomore album. Shadows of Man is gritty, furious, and packs way more variety into it than I would have ever expected. With a sound that’s in the realm of Ensiferum and Vanir (although far less refined, production-wise), Scimitar’s combination of death, black, and folk elements will be welcome with any fan of the dark side of folk metal.

Scimitar’s strength lies in their ability to craft a massive sound as a whole. The band mostly moves together in one direction at a time, which allows for a lot of power to be propelled at once. Additionally, melody is far down on the list of priorities, and what melody there is is driven only by the lead guitar, which is responsible for most of the emotion that comes out of whatever atmosphere the rest of the band is holding.

Shadows of Man begins with a dynamic instrumental (which, by the way, is an actual song, and not just minute-long bullshittery) before changing pace with ‘Knights Collapse’, which is pretty laid back. The growled vocals are almost rapped, which is cool, and the overall feel in this one is distinctly different from everything else the album offers. As the album progresses there are plenty of changes but its raw, rhythmic, aggressive energy remains fully consistent.

One thing you’ll notice about Shadows of Man is that it gets heavier as it goes on. While the earlier tracks are lighter and more melodic in comparison, the album ramps the intensity way the fuck up upon entering ‘Shadows of Man II: Cataclysm’: a melodic death metal landscape where dissonant chords and harshness take dominance.

There isn’t much that I don’t like about this album, but there are a few favourites for me. The solos are great, with the solo section in ‘Imperium’ being my favourite. Also, while the whole album is very dynamic, this reaches a peak in ‘Where Ancient Spectres Lie’, where we’re bombarded with time changes and feel changes, from its immensely depressive intro to the brighter end section. My favourite aspect about Shadows of Man, however, is the bass; you can hear it well and the lines are awesome. That probably seems like a weird favourite to pick in a record like this, but, fuck it. I love it.

In a departure from their original sound, Shadows of Man elevates Scimitar to a higher, more mature level. Back with their first effort (and a solid effort it is!) in years, Scimitar have sliced their way back onto the scene.

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