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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Wilderun – Veil Of Imagination Review

Score9.5/10
GenreProgressive Folk Metal
CountryUSA (Boston)
Runtime01:06:12
Release Date1 November 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Not many bands can pull off an exceptional atmospheric album so, when one does, it always gets me excited about it. One of the few (and latest) this year to accomplish such a feat are Boston’s Wilderun with their third album, Veil of Imagination. It expertly conjures deep feelings like wonder, determination, aggression, hate, fear, reflection, and everything in between. With rich orchestrations supporting it, Veil of Imagination is as colourful as its album cover would have you believe.

One of the amazing things about Veils of Imagination is how it hangs between so many genres yet doesn’t quite fit definitively into any of them. This album has been the topic of a few of my conversations lately, and everyone I talk to has a different take on what they’d consider it as. Personally, I think it fits well enough under the banner of “progressive folk”, but friends of mine have fought me on this, instead calling it things like “epic progressive death”, “progressive symphonic”, or even “atmospheric death”. The thing I find fascinating isn’t the label itself (I hardly ever get hung up on metal subgenres because they’re not absolute), it’s the fact that everyone I’ve talked to seems to have had a different experience with the album, driving them to pick out different defining characteristics about it.

The truth is, there is no right and wrong, especially when it comes to Veils of Imagination. It’ll be flowing with a light, carefree melody over bright orchestrations or acoustic guitar one second then it’ll explode into insanely harsh blast beats and gutteral vocals the next. There’s a steady, haunting undertone to the album, but it’s more apparent at some times than others.

If there’s one downside to the album, it’s that it only really works if you listen to it all at once. Each song is dynamic and holds it own, sure, but to get that special, full impact, listening to the entire thing is a necessity.

So, if you want to hear one of the best metal albums of the entire year, make damn sure to give Veil of Imagination a spin. This is my first experience with Wilderun but, after this, I’m ready to dive into their previous work.

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Noveria – Aequilibrium Review

Score9.5/10
GenreProgressive Power Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime01:01:08
Release Date25 October 2019
Record LabelScarlet

Rising above the ocean of Italian progressive power metal are Noveria in their third full-length, Aequilibrium. Where other bands shy away with uninspired riffs and lazy songwriting, Noveria unleash hell with their strongest, heaviest foot forward. The grooves? Vigourous. The riffs? Insane. The solos? Ho. Ly. Fuck.

These guys don’t fuck around when it comes to metal. As soon as it starts, Aequilibrium explodes into high-intensity with a death metal atmosphere and epic choirs. Through the rest of the album, we encounter sick riff after sick riff (not the least of which can be found in ‘Awakening’ and ‘Broken’) in all their beefy, syncopated glory, as well as beautiful interludes and pulled back sections. Another aspect that makes Aequilibrium stand out is the fact that, while there’s a dark tone to most of the album, it’s never depressing and it’s always energetic.

To match the weight of their sound, Noveria have also built an emotional concept over their album; Aequilibrium tells of a psychological journey after a massive earthquake strikes, and it does so without coming off as pretentious or jaded. While the guitars, drums, bass, and keys all perform how you’d expect a high-level prog band to, the biggest reason behind the album’s emotionality are the versatile vocals of Francesco Corigliano, who can project powerfully with the might of the gods as well as craft a masterful light melody.

Despite my excitement for this album, there is one track that it could probably do without. ‘Losing You’ would probably do just fine on its own, but, since it’s tucked toward the end of the album, it ends up being pretty forgettable compared to the raw badassery that ensues in the songs around it.

But there are so many good songs here. One of my favourites is ‘Darkest Days’, which is super dynamic. It’s also the perfect way to end the album, if you ask me. My second (and most) favourite track, though, is the spine-splitting speed demon ‘Broken’, which throws aggression, a killer chorus, and a stupid ridiculous solo section at you with limitless power. I’m serious; this track is fucking awesome. And the neoclassical part of the solo is extra awesome.

It should be pretty clear why this is a must-listen album. It’s got all the fancy virtuoso playing you could want and the production is crystal clear (courtesy of Simone Mularoni, who never seems to not be involved with an Italian power metal project). In Aequilibrium, Noveria deliver a sound similar to DGM, Dream Theater, and a bit of Firewind, but it’s way heavier and darker. If you aren’t amped to check this album out, then you probably hate metal and fun in general.

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Wind Rose – Wintersaga Review

Score9.5/10
GenrePower/Folk Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime49:59
Release Date27 September 2019
Record LabelNapalm Records

Well, summer’s over. That means the time for beaches, bimbos, and barbecues is at it’s end, being instead replaced by the dark, wind, and cold. However, this is the perfect season for a dwarf! And what better way to explore your potential dwarfhood than cranking out the meanest, mightiest of man-metal? Enter Wind Rose, Italy’s finest dwarf metal army, and their fourth album, Wintersaga. As the band’s most impressive album to date, it’s as if it was smithed in the forges of Khazad-dum itself. If its epic chants and upbeat hymns aren’t enough to get you into the season, they’ll at least get your blood flowing hard enough to keep you warm.

As usual, the Tolkein themes are strong in Wintersaga, as is evident in half of the song titles. Additionally, the album is split into two sections; the first contains the fun, catchy party tunes, and the second, which encompasses the final three songs, features a more power prog approach that hearkens to the band’s earlier works.

However, the core sound of Wind Rose has shifted as a whole from their progressive power metal roots to settle upon a more bombastic, anthemic sound in Wintersaga. Traces of their past are still present in the form of dynamic songs with multiple sections, especially in the nine-minute epic, ‘We Were Warriors’. There’s a heavy reliance on choirs and orchestrations to maintain an imposing atmosphere, but the heavy guitars and insane drumming give the album a mountainous foothold. On top of that, for such an in-your-face approach to metal, the transition between every section is seamless.

But the real power behind Wintersaga is the onslaught of chanted, mead-fueled folk melodies which would give even Alestorm a run for their money. Songs like ‘Drunken Dwarves’ and ‘The Art of War’ are sure to get all sorts of bottoms up. Even the heavier, more rugged refrains of ‘Diggy Diggy Hole’ and ‘Mine Mine Mine!’ will invoke a similar sense of merrymaking. The vocals are the lifeblood of this album, and they weld all the different pieces together.

Dwarf metal. How has such a simple idea never taken off as well as it has here? Besides running with a concept that simply makes sense for this kind of sound, the memorable arrangements and musicianship are as solid as can be, which makes Wintersaga amusing as well as a serious work of music.

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Paladin – Ascension Review

Review Written by Musicgirl

Score9.5/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryUSA
Runtime49:28
Release Date17 May 2019
Record LabelProsthetic

If all power metal bands were as strong and intense as Galneryus, the late Three Inches of Blood, or Paladin here, the genre would be a lot better off. A release like Ascension sadly drops far too infrequently.  Occasionally some curds need to be skimmed off, but Ascension keeps you on the edge of your seat for fifty glorious minutes.

The album opens with a blast. A torrent of Yngwie-style fretwork just mows you down. I suppose there is nothing terribly groundbreaking here, but few albums can match the energy. Then the vocals kick in, and you immediately notice the cadence and uplift of classic 90s power metal. One is really in for a treat when the vocals thrash out on the opener ‘Awakening’ and on a number of other tracks here. This is serious innovation and about time! I don’t think I am the only one turned off by the sickly sweet tendencies on the refrain of your usual power metal vocal number. The better power bands like Stratovarius, while no less happy and Ionian than the genre’s typical fodder, always manage to move you beyond words with their pacing, intensity, and force. They, of course, are not thrashy at all, tending toward very clean vocals. Paladin show that rougher vocals in spots is just another vehicle to build tension toward the refrain and create an incredible adrenaline rush. It certainly doesn’t hurt that lead singer Taylor Washington’s clean voice, once it comes on, is so rich and beautiful, absolutely one of the best out there today. 

Paladin could stand to be just slightly more selective on the insertion of  thrash vocals. They somewhat interrupt the profundity of ‘Vagrant.’ This excellent track starts out folksy and mysterious, a mood maintained when the vocals (cleaner) commence. This time addition of thrash vocals a little later shatters the depths and seems trite, though the uncleans work fine even later in the song.  

Paladin has great success when thrash influences the entire writing of a song and is not just an afterthought. ‘Call of the Night’ is such a thrashier number. Structure is slightly looser and more ambient. This makes the song contrast well to others on the album. ‘Call of the Night”s catchy, cleanly sung refrain is more intense due to the thrash vocals on the verse. Thankfully this refrain is also kept brief as not to detract from the dark mood. Additional clean vocals are saved for the Medieval-like bridge.     

Songs on Ascension tend to have longer-than-usual guitar solos. This is far from wankery. Lead axe wielder Parra is a completely commanding spinner of engrossing tales with his instrument. There is never a dull or overindulgent moment when he takes center stage. Part of the reason is that he knows to vary the style, while still retaining his distinct technique. For example, on ‘Dawn of Rebirth’, Parra gets classical at one point and highly dissonant at another; these are ideas not reiterated in other songs.

One of my favorite songs on Ascension, ‘Call of the Night’, is very guitar oriented. The solo is vaguely Medieval, even borrowing some genuine patterns from early music. The absorbing guitar outro shows off Alex Parra’s high skill level on a variety of technique including rapid arpeggios.

Besides the already mentioned songs and passages, I have two more favorites on Ascension. One is ‘Shoot for the Sun’. The intro is simple and focused, pulling one right along into a mean, old-school hard rock melody.   Why is that not in the slightest bit tired, just the opposite, really? It’s probably because of the speed and the generous, varied guitar riffing underneath.   

With ‘Divine Providence’, we get a damn catchy, well-crafted earth shaker with mainly thrash or even pseudo black/death vocals. The guitar in the background cycles through broken chord inversions, a potent attention grabber and counterpoint to the vocal fire. Then enters some high-register overdubbing of dark, diminished patterns on the guitar, providing additional substance.  Rarely do you get these many ideas coming together in one song. The latter songs of the album seem to have a solemn sense of purpose. The listener can feel being tunneled into some higher calling of the band. The last track ‘Genesis’ radiates definiteness and hope. This is because Paladin is a theistic ensemble lyrically. There is a tight feeling of redemption here. Yet, non-theistic rationalists like myself never get the sense that they’re being missionized. Ascension is absolutely an album for every power and NWOTHM fan. If one rigidly shuns it due to lyrics, one only does a very big disservice to oneself.

Review Written by Musicgirl

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Control the Storm – Forevermore Review

Score9.5/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryUnited Kingdom
Runtime54:41
Release Date25 July 2019
Record LabelIndependent

With the end of the month approaching, I found myself (as usual) skimming around for July albums I might have missed a few days ago. My search yielded generally good results, but, just as I was going over my picks for July’s Top Ten Albums, I chanced upon Forevermore, the sophomore album of the female-fronted British power metal outfit, Control the Storm.

And ho. Ly. Fuck. I hardly expected to find something this awesome with the end of the month so close, nevertheless something I had never even heard of before! Control the Storm displays an absolutely deadly amount of power metal skill, individuality, and vision. Between the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Firouzeh Razavi and the fuzzy synth lines that flood the background, my attention was torn from all places at once into a bunch of wonderful places.

Now, that isn’t to say I don’t have a couple issues with this album. And, as usual, I’m gonna get through those first, because I have so much praise for this record that you won’t even remember the bad stuff by the time you go check it out for yourself. My first issue comes in the form of disappointment in the album’s first minutes. ‘Darkest Fantasy’, the opener, begins with a fucking explosion of epic orchestrations, riding riffs, and destructive drumming that promise musical ascension, but all-too-quickly we’re greeted with the weakest melody on the entire album, rather than a kickass verse of glorious, shiny metal destiny. The song picks back up in the chorus, which is super strong, but it’s a shame that the verses are so forgettable. My second (and pretty much only other) issue is also with an uninspired melody, which arrives in verses of ‘Curse of the Voiceless’.

But that’s it. Aside from these, the melodies in Forevermore are absolutely killer. The deliberate vocals of Razavi manage to convey every emotion she shoots for, from aggression to longing, with relative ease and, as I mentioned before, the floating vocal harmonies add a really nice, almost neoclassical touch. The harmonies are especially cool in the Middle Eastern-tinged ‘New Era’, where they take on a more mystical air.

Following suit with the vocals is, honestly, everything else. Axeman Rich Shillitoe is a solo berserker, and Iliyan Vasilev beats the piss out of the drums in the best of ways. Additionally, the colourful orchestrations and keyboards, crafted by Raedon Mac, build immense atmospheres around the already-lively instrumentation without disrupting the band’s balance. And I suppose I can’t leave out the other driving force under the band, Paul O’Shea, who brings some juicy basslines, especially in ‘Hidden Wonder’, where he really shines. All of this raw energy is directed into massive, dynamic arrangements. Oh, and, the song intros are fantastic.

As far as favourites go for me, I have a few. ‘Follow Me’ is basically a cheesy 80s pump up tune, so, by the ultimate laws of the universe, I have to love it (but seriously. that fucking synthwork!). Then there’s the ballad ‘In the Night’, which begins with a beautiful piano/vocal feature before building into an awe-inducing climax. I also really like the closer, ‘Forevermore’. Aside from the cascading crescendo of the outro, it packs nearly as much variety in its thirteen minutes as the entire rest of the album, containing elements like folk, symphonic metal (think Amberian Dawn), and even a blurb of Tchaikovsky thrown in for good measure.

I’m sure I could go on about more favourites for another four paragraphs, but you get the idea. Forevermore is a sick work of metal, and Control the Storm have effortlessly thundered their way into being one of my favourite power metal bands. I’m excited to see what their debut was like, and I’m even more excited to see what they bust out next!

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Moonlight Haze – De Rerum Natura Review

Score9.5/10
GenreSymphonic Power Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime49:07
Release Date21 June 2019
Record LabelScarlet

Sick of having the same shitty female fronted metal experience over and over and over and over (and over) again? Me too. And, this year has had no shortage of them. Hell, this month alone has thrown six of them at me already. Don’t let it ruin your summer, though, because Moonlight Haze deliver a fucking killer debut.

Formed by ex-Temperance members Chiara Tricarico and Giulio Capone 2018, Moonlight Haze is a symphonic metal project that combines the talents of musicians from Elvenking, Sound Storm, and Epica to create a melodic, emotionally dynamic, technically-pleasing work of female fronted metal that stands high above your typical Delain or Nightwish ripoff.

Right off the get go we’re greeted with chugging riffs, driving orchestrations, and climbing synth lines to let you know exactly what De Rerum Natura is about. Every arrangement is a ton of fun, and it manages to combine elements of folk, jazz, techno, and various vocal styles to create its own, unique brand of symphonic power metal. I’m painfully aware of how many bands claim to have their own “unique brand of symphonic power metal”, but this is on a whole other level.

One of the better examples of this experimental approach is ‘Dark Corners of Myself’; it begins with epic string and keyboards and has some thoughtful pulled back sections, straight heavy metal verses, choirs, clean and operatic female vocals, a furious neoclassical guitar solo, Chinese folk instruments, and even a Latin bossa interlude. But, despite all of these different pieces, there’s not a moment when it sounds messy and it flows as smoothly as the tamer songs on the album.

As far as favourites go for me, it’s im-fucking-possible for me to narrow it down, because there are so many things I love about this album. Chiara’s vocal performance is incredible, with the highlight being in ‘Ad Astra’ where she unleashes absolute hellfire in the prechorus. Right beside her is the talented Giulio, who takes over both the keyboards and drums. As far as the songs themselves, one of my many favourites is the closer, ‘Goddess’, which sounds a bit like something from Dark Moor’s Elisa Martin days, but minus the head-splitting virtuoso power.

So, yeah. This is probably my favourite symphonic album of the year so far. There’s not a thing I dislike about it and, even though I’m not nearly done with this record, I’ll be happy to see what they come up with next!

Moonlight Haze – Ad Astra (Scarlet)

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Amulet – The Inevitable War Review

Score9.5/10
GenreTraditional Heavy Metal
CountryBritain
Runtime40:19
Release Date17 May 2019
Record LabelDissonance

If anybody tells you that heavy metal is dead, smack them in their god damn face and tell them to actually take a look at the scene. Not even counting the phenomenal albums we had earlier this year from the likes of Twisted Tower Dire, Stonecast, and Warrior Path (and so many others), this month alone is producing some of the best classic metal albums I’ve heard all year. And, taking its place at the top of this list is The Inevitable War: Amulet’s second album to date. This riff-heavy honcho simply demands headbanging from its rambling opening drum fills to the final soaring solo in the closer.

This is Amulet’s first album with their new lineup, and it was written with the intent to prove just how refined their metal is. It’d be an understatement to say that they deliver, because they fucking deliver. The mixing couldn’t be better, so we can hear every juicy bassline, but the whole thing is still mastered like a traditional album, which allows them to retain their raw edge while still keeping the band tight and coordinated. Each anthemic chorus hits with a similar impact as classic Manowar, and the galloping rhythm section chugs away with the likeness of Iron Maiden.

The entire lineup is excellent but the guitarwork stands slightly higher than the rest. There’s not a single riff that isn’t awesome (no, I can’t pick any favourites) and the solos are true old-school facemelters (I can pick a few favourites: ‘The Satanist’ and ‘Gateway to Hell’). Marek “Heathen” Steven and Nippy “Nip” Blackford immediately make it known that they’re worthy to fight among the mightiest of axemen as they ride upon the backs of their bodacious bandmates into battle.

Now, I bet you’re thinking that all these guys can do is play heavy. And don’t worry; so did I. But, you’ll quickly find that that’s a load of bullshit because the tasty acoustic interlude ‘La Noche de las Graviotas’ gives them a minute to say, “Hey, look, we can be gentle, too!” They also take it easier on the final epic, ‘Roundhead’, which puts a little less emphasis on impact and a little more emphasis on emotion.

Now, despite all of the praise I have for this album, there is one issue. There are a couple lazy melodies, like the ones in ‘Siege Machine’ and ‘Poison Chalice’. This a pretty minor shortcoming when everything else blasting from those songs is fucking sweet, but it’s a shortcoming nonetheless.

Yeah, some issue, right? As if every heavy metal band doesn’t reuse melodies. What a deal breaker. Fuck it. This album is near-perfect. Don’t miss it.

Amulet – Burning Hammer (Dissonance)

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Tillian – Lotus Graveyard Review

Score9.5/10
GenreProgressive Rock/Metal
CountryIsrael
Runtime50:27
Release Date20 Apr 2019
Record LabelIndependent

I’ve listened to a lot of great progressive metal this month (well, I think prog rock would be more accurate for this, but it fits just fine into both genres), but Tillian’s dramatic, dynamic debut album, Lotus Graveyard, is a god damn piece of work. There were a couple times when I thought I had these guys figured out, but then I’d be blindsided by some wacky vocal fill or fucked up riff that threw me back into ignorance. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not; one of the best aspects of great music is the ability to keep you in the dark and continuously open your eyes to something wonderfully imaginative. That’s basically the entire point of prog, isn’t it?

Even though they’re relatively new on the scene, Tillian have proven that they’re a force to be reckoned. Their instrumentation ranges from heavily distorted guitars and pounding drums to soft acoustic piano and cello parts, all supported by various backing keyboards. On top of that, the songwriting is crazy good. Throughout Lotus Graveyard’s expansive landscape, there are soft songs like ‘Touched’ and ‘Earth Walker’, that pack powerful emotion despite their tenderness, and heavier metal in tracks such as ‘Love or Heaven’. Many of the songs also have a prominent Eastern influence, with ‘Moonlight Dancer’ being the most obvious example.

While all of the parts and players are virtually flawless, I do have a few favourites to pick with Lotus Graveyard. My top-favourite thing within the record is Leah Marcu’s insanely versatile voice. She’s got it all: beauty, power, rampant vibrato, agility, dynamics. The command she has over her voice is on par with the command Jackie Chan has over his body and it’s just fucking ridiculous. My other favourite piece of the album is ‘Black Holes’, which combines all of the album’s elements (not to mention the sick drumming) into one killer track that’s all over the place in the best of ways.

It’s near fucking impossible to find any issues with this album. The only thing that comes close to being a “problem” is that many sections of the album, especially Marcu’s vocal style, sound strikingly similar to Muse. This is almost distractingly apparent in ‘Frozen Sun’ and ‘Monster’, which sound like they could have been taken straight from the album Showbiz. Honestly, though, this isn’t an issue because it’s not derivation as much as it is using a couple melodies and scales that they also happened to have used.

This fresh, skilled septet has begun with such a phenomenal album that it’s pretty tough to see how they could ever top it. Fans of technical prog that’s fluid to the core will get a lot out of this record.

Tillian – Black Holes

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