Amberian Dawn – Looking For You Review

Score9.5/10
GenreMelodic Metal (80s Synthpop)
CountryFinland
Runtime42:38
Release Date31 January 2020
Record LabelNapalm

If kicking off the year with a super cheesy 80s metal album becomes a regular occurrence in my life, I would have nothing left to ask for. Last year, February serenaded us with the ferocious Beast in Black’s From Hell with Love, which blasted its way into my Number One Metal Record spot. And now, former symphonic metal troupe Amberian Dawn have also made the shift into 80s synthpop revival with their ninth record, Looking for You. While most of the songs follow a steady bass-snare beat, the album is gloriously addictive.

Drenched in synth and vocal layers, there’s never a dull moment. The band has coined the term ABBA-metal to describe their music, and that couldn’t be more accurate. Every track rings with glowing positivity and spits out some of the catchiest melodies I’ve ever heard. The “metal” aspects of the album are definitely secondary to the synthpop but, hey, it’s fun and it’s still metal enough for me.

One of the album’s high points can be found in the song ‘Symphony Nr. 1 Part 3 – Awakening’ (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), which is the third part to the Symphony that began in 2015’s album Innuendo. The track features some mad double kicks that are perfectly executed, as well as the vocal talents of the mighty Fabio Lione (ex-Rhapsody, Angra, Turilli/Lione Rhapsody) alongside Amberian Dawn’s Capri. Additionally, there’s a sick solo tucked away in ‘Eternal Fire Burning’ and some beefy basslines in ‘Butterfly’, as well as some great cymbal work scattered throughout.

Amberian Dawn have always been an adaptive outfit. Since their shifts from power metal then symphonic metal, they’ve always been able to create a commercially-available sound while remaining musically interesting. If you’re looking for huge riffs and aggression, you’re in the wrong place. But, if you want some fun shit to nod your head to, spin at the gym, or crank at a party, look no further than Looking for You.

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Crystal Eyes – Starbourne Traveler Review

Score9/10
GenreMelodic Heavy Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime44:20
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Of all the “crystal” bands to release an album this year (Crystal Sky, Crystal Viper, Crystal Ball, I think that’s it?), Sweden’s Crystal Eyes have topped the competition. Starbourne Traveler sees the melodic heavy metallers perform a wide array of styles in ten super-melodic tracks of anthemic true metal. With influences including Judas Priest, Accept, U.D.O., and Running Wild, you can expect one hell of a ride.

The album begins with its grittiest foot forward in metal-worshipping ‘Gods of Disorder’ and continues to expand from there. There are a few tracks that are primarily hard rock, such as ‘Paradise Powerlord’ and ‘Corridors of Time’, which tread closely to classic Van Halen in terms of riffage and melody. There’s also a hefty serving of catchy, 80s hair metal to enjoy, as well as some power metal drivers in ‘Extreme Paranoia’ and the piratey closer, ‘Rage on the Sea’. In terms of variety, Crystal Eyes have held nothing back, which is impressive considering that they retain a solid core sound throughout Starbourne Traveler‘s entirety.

If you’re looking for highlights, the axemanship is easily my favourite aspect of the album. The non-stop riffs, chugging rhythms, and tasteful solos are enough on their own to suck you into the album. Fortunately, everything else is pretty fucking solid, so there’s no need to cherry pick. Well, everything except for the ballad, ‘Empire of Saints’, which is kinda mopey and boring, but hey, the rest of the album is excellent.

Starbourne Traveler has no trouble in bringing the classic Crystal Eyes sound (in fact, the songs ‘Extreme Paranoia’ and ‘Rage on the Sea’ are rerecordings from the band’s debut, World of Black and Silver) with the clarity and weight of modern heavy metal. There’s something here for fans of old-school rock and metal as well as newer metalheads, so don’t miss the shiniest “crystal” of the year!

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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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Signum Regis – The Seal Of A New World Review

Score9/10
GenrePower Metal
CountrySlovakia
Runtime1:00:32
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelBeyond the Storm

After more than a decade of metal mastery, it seems like Slovakia’s Signum Regis are incapable of making a bad album. The mighty power metallers never fail to deliver an exciting, heroic adventure that swings the sword of sick riffs and their six album, The Seal of a New World, sees the band return to familiar lands. Between ultra-catchy melodies and jumpy energy, you won’t know what’s gonna be thrown at you next.

A large part Signum Regis’ success comes from their mostly-steady lineup, but the band’s new vocalist, Jota Fortinho, has quickly found a comfortable place within the band. His high, deliberate voice is the perfect match to the Signum Regis sound, and he adds a fair amount of expression to the arrangements, which are already pretty dynamic.

While the vocals are on fucking point and the songwriting is unsurprisingly excellent, the real power behind the album comes from axeman Filip Kolus. Between his eccentric riffs and incredible facemelters of power metal fury, there’s no holding this guy back. The drums and bass (which actually holds a prominent place in the mixing, which is more than I can say about 80% of power metal bands) hold the sound solid around him, but he elevates the music to another level.

If I were to name favourite songs, I’d end up picking at least half the tracklist, so I won’t bother doing that (although, the best chorus would have to go to ‘Phantasmagoria’). But, you can rest assured that there is a surplus of variety and skill so, no matter which song you decide to explore first, you’ll be diving right into the rest.

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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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Merging Flare – Revolt Regime Review

Score8.5/10
GenreHeavy Power Metal
CountryFinland
Runtime47:41
Release Date14 June 2019
Record LabelRam it Down

Kicking off the summer in a blazing inferno are Finland’s melodic metal masterminds Merging Flare in their second album, Revolt Regime. It’s hot, heavy, and hard as steel, but still maintains that beautiful, cocaine-fueled sense of fun that made 80s heavy metal so fucking awesome.

It’s been eight years since Merging Flare’s debut, which is understandable, considering how many other projects the bandmembers have had on the go in recent years. Axeman Kasperi Heikkinen was still playing for the symphonic outfit Amberian Dawn upon Merging Flare’s debut, and shortly after he was the guitarist for U.D.O. until joining Anton Kabanen’s Beast in Black. On top of that, vocalist Matias Palm and bass player Harri Leinonen have also been involved in numerous bands alongside Merging Flare.

But, the wait has definitely paid off, because Revolt Regime kicks some serious ass. Supporting its 80s metal foundation are absolutely killer riffs and solos, raspy but powerful vocals, and a pounding rhythm section. There’s so much energy coming out of every song that you might want to keep a fire extinguisher handy for when your speakers fucking explode.

Revolt Regime‘s song selection definitely has something for every metal fan. There are some straightforward bangers and double-time power metal drivers, as well as synth-laden choruses from time to time. And, finishing off the album (if you happen to have the bonus track on your copy) is a heartfelt, vocal-rich cover of Laura Branigan’s ‘The Lucky One’. However, the true gems of the album are the victorius ‘Clarion Call’ and shred-crazy ‘War Within’. Both tracks stand above the rest and deliver their own special taste of badassery.

While there’s not a whole lot to complain about, there is one small issue that picks at me from time to time. The mixing in the album makes for some really messy moments, namely in parts of ‘Alliance in Defiance’ and ‘Devastator’. It’s not lost on me that the finish isn’t supposed to be pristine here, but when the bass is nearly absent in sections, a bit more clarity wouldn’t hurt.

With all of its huge melodies and nostalgic riffage, Revolt Regime is a must-listen for fans of Accept, Van Halen, Gamma Ray, Running Wild, and Judas Priest (which, yes, is every fucking one of you).

Merging Flare – Clarion Call (Ram it Down)

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Majestica – Above The Sky Review

Score9/10
GenrePower Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime55:34
Release Date7 June 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

After six years of hiatus, power metal cheeseballs Majestica (formerly ReinXeed) are back with their seventh album, Above the Sky. Aside from a drastic name change, Majestica’s sound has grown more mature, despite their lyrical content becoming more juvenile than ever. Of course, these are perfect qualities to have in a power metal album: bullshit, nonsensical lyrics over technically impressive music.

On the songwriting side of things we have vastly dynamic neoclassical arrangements full of countless keyboard layers. The formatting in many of the songs doesn’t always follow conventional guidelines, so, while the core of each track has the same light, energetic power, there’s plenty to keep the album from being monotonous. The musicianship is phenomenal, with bandleader Tommy Johansson (Sabaton) delivering fantastical performances on both the guitar and vocals.

On the lyrical side of things, there’s no shortage of entertainment; comedy is around every corner. The 80s-themed ‘Night Call Girl’ shines bright in this respect, delivering a graphic (and kind of creepy) ode to, well, a night call girl. However, no track in Above the Sky holds a candle to the ridiculousness that is ‘Father Time’.

What. A. Shitshow. If you only listen to one track on this record, make sure it’s this one. Aside from the Christmas/New Year theme that holds the whole thing together, the song structure is, to say it modestly, super fucking wacky. We have some slow, pulled back portions, rampant power beats, and even the can-can. Yes, you read that right, the fucking can-can. The changes in ‘Father Time’ are so jarring that it easily takes a place as an instant holiday classic. What’s more, the lyrics are so ludicrously out-of-this-world that you won’t even know what to do with yourself. “Father Time with a rifle in his hand,”? Yes please.

Needless to say, Above the Sky scratches every power metal itch I have. Whether it’s the oozing cheese or sickeningly sweet, upbeat feel throughout, there’s not a doubt in my mind that this will be a top album of the year for every power metal fan.

Majestica – Night Call Girl (Nuclear Blast)

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Majestica Release New Single

Swedish power outfit Majestica (formerly ReinXeed) announced that they had a new album on the way about a month ago. Upon the announcement, they revealed the first single, ‘Rising Tide’, which is about as true as power metal gets.

Today, the band dropped their second single, which does things a bit differently.

Majestica – Night Call Girl (Nuclear Blast)

‘Night Call Girl’ is an 80s tribute song from some of the bandmates’ favourite artists of the era, such as Gary Moore, Rick Springfield, Europe, and Journey. And, as is the way of these influences, this track is super fucking cheesy.

Make sure to catch Majestica’s Above the Sky when it comes out 7 June!
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