Serious Black – Suite 226 Review

Score8.5/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryInternational
Runtime46:50
Release Date31 January 2020
Record LabelAFM

European power metal supergroup Serious Black have returned with their fifth full-length album, Suite 226. While there’s noticeable foundation of 90s power at the forefront, the album also brings elements of hair metal as well as a modern heaviness that turns out to actually be really refreshing. With the crisp vocal talents of ex-Bloodbound vocalist Urban breed belting out intense melodies and a band that spits out nothing but energy, you can be damn sure that this is a must-listen.

Suite 226‘s sound is a bit like early/mid Sonata Arctica, but with a bit more variety. It has everything from lively double-time tracks to slower, mournful tunes like ‘Come Home’. The eight-minute finisher, ‘Suite 226’, is also very well done and wraps everything up by re-exploring the album’s many moods. Additionally, there’re a ton of interesting keyboards and retro sfx, which peak in ‘Way Back Home’ and ‘Fate of All Humanity’.

One of my favourite things about the album is how well it flows. Among so many ups and downs, each song leads into the next without any choppiness. As far as songs go, my favourites would have to be ‘We Still Stand Tall’ and ‘When the Stars Are Right’. Both have fucking KILLER choruses and exciting arrangements, which, unsurprisingly, is right up my alley.

This melody-driven, guitar-chugging asskicker of an album is perfect for fans of 80s metal and late 90s/early 00s power metal. It has spirit, heart, and a healthy dose of not-so-in-your-face cheese.

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07 retro sfx
08 sick PM drive. Some orchestrations. Killer chorus.
09 ballad, retro sfx

Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga Review

Score10/10
GenrePower Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime55:06
Release Date10 January 2020
Record LabelAFM Records

Brothers of Metal are one of power metal’s most promising up-and-comers. The charismatic Norsemen achieved instant fame with their 2017 debut, Prophecy of Ragnarok, which was a catchy, epic, bass-cranked extravaganza. It was true warrior music for the true warrior (or, you know, us wannabe warriors). Obviously, this album was easily one of my favourites of the year, and while most of its songs follow a fairly simple structure, the band more than made up for it with their relentless viking energy, beefy riffage, and unique vocal approach.

So, it should come as no surprise that their sophomore album, Emblas Saga, is my first perfect score of 2020. It takes everything that Prophecy of Ragnarok did well, crams it into more dynamic, advanced arrangements, and injects obscene amounts of steroids into the mix. There’re also more orchestral elements thrown in for good measure. If Prophecy of Ragnarok got your blood flowing, Emblas Saga will make your veins burst.

Its biggest difference from its predecessor is that the folk influences are way more prominent here. Enough so that I would personally call it folk power metal, like I would call Elvenking or Wind Rose, but the band doesn’t, so whatever. Anyway, the instrumentation and melodies delve further into folk influence, enriching a sound that was already full.

The album begins with a short introductory track before the real album commences in ‘Powersnake’, kicking the album off with a fucking banger. Immediately after, the atmosphere quickly gets dark as it enters ‘Hel’, and the feel consistently changes throughout the entire rest of the album. Within Emblas Saga‘s hour-long runtime there are a happy songs, epic songs, dark songs, colossal songs, and a couple ballads, so you can be sure you’ll be satisfied by the time it ends.

Among the anthemic choruses and thundering guitars, I have a few favourites to pick. First and foremost, the contrast of the throaty warcries and soft female vocals have an incredible effect. They both play different roles and add an extra dimension to every song. As far as songs go, ‘Theft of the Hammer’ tops it for me; there aren’t a lot of songs that deliver this kind of sheer, pump-up intensity, and that shit is right up my alley. The epic, ‘Emblas Saga’, is a close second, and packs a hell of a lot into its seven minutes. It’s expressive, jarring, and is also an excellent way of remembering some of your Norse mythology genealogy.

2020 has just started and it’s already off with a fucking bang. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emblas Saga is still my favourite album of the year by December because it’s going to take an impossibly-great album to dethrone this one. Brothers of Metal have fought their way to the top, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere any time soon.

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Leaves’ Eyes – Black Butterfly Review

Score3/10
GenreSymphonic Metal
CountryInternational (Germany, Norway)
Runtime15:40
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelAFM

International symphonic metallers Leaves’ Eyes have released seven records since their founding in 2003. The band was formed by vocalist Liv Kristine and the enigmatic metal band Atrocity, but, after Liv parted ways in 2016, Elina Siirala of Angel Nation has been its frontwoman. For the most part, their sound has been pretty generic as far as female-fronted symphonic metal goes: melancholic, operatic vocals, a bit of rough vocals, gothic overtones, that sort of thing. Despite being their second release with their new vocalist, as well as the first to feature guitarist Micki Richter, Leaves’ Eyes’ latest EP Black Butterfly offers absolutely nothing new except for a mopey vocal feature of ‘Stille Nacht’ (‘Silent Night’) because, you know, it’s Christmastime.

Actually, I shouldn’t have said that the EP offers nothing new. Let me correct myself; Black Butterfly actually offers, well, nothing at all. The sound is bland, the arrangements and songwriting is bland, the musicianship is bland. It’s actually kind of fucked up how a band consisting of five people could sound so consistently boring. I mean, no single aspect here is necessarily bad, but they’re so plain that it’s painful.

I really wish I had more to say about this one, but I don’t, so let me offer an anecdote. A few years ago, I saw these guys open for Sabaton in Vancouver. As my first show (and considering that Battle Beast were also playing support), I was primed and fucking ready when Leaves’ Eyes took the stage. But, to my dismay (and pretty much everyone else’s in the venue), my excitement had all but evaporated about three minutes into their set. If killing a crowd that isn’t even alive yet doesn’t give you an idea of how monotonous this band is, then I suppose you’re just going to have to dive into their material and see for yourself, although I don’t recommend it.

So, yeah. Especially considering the obvious amount of effort that went into making and mixing this album to sound clean and modern, it’s not worth anybody’s time. The playing isn’t bad, and the songwriting isn’t bad, but it’s about as one-dimensional as you could possibly make a symphonic metal album. However, if you want to listen to the equivalent of staring at a featureless white wall for fifteen minutes, then Black Butterfly will be right up your alley.

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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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Crystal Viper – Tales Of Fire And Ice Review

Score5/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryPoland
Runtime42:01
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelAFM

Crystal Viper is one of the few bands that I think have never released an album that was less than great. From The Curse of the Crystal Viper to Queen of the Witches, all they’ve ever given is the best that classic metal has to offer, from more occult heavy metal to the regular, driving stuff. It’s been a non-stop onslaught of destructive riffs and traditional excellence with one of the best women in metal, Marta Gabriel, at its center.

Or, well, it was, anyway. Unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, Tales of Fire and Ice breaks this chain of greatness in an uninspired, commercial mess. Sure, it’s easy to understand why a band would want to try to replicate the recent success of bands like Battle Beast, who have also made this stylistic shift, but the trick to that is retaining what makes your music good while exchanging other elements to make your music more accessible, both of which Crystal Viper have failed miserably at.

Also, what’s not so easy to understand is the fact that, even though Crystal Viper have proven themselves to be one of the best classic metal bands in the business, they would want to abandon this and almost entirely change their sound. It’s not like it could never work, but I’m not so sure that they’re self aware enough to know what made them so fucking great in the first place. Where did the sick riffs go? Where’s the heaviness? Not here, that’s for damn sure.

So, what exactly am I bitching about, anyway? How is their style so underwhelming and different? Well, let’s start with the obvious; there’s no oomph anymore. That’s the root of the problem, really. Crystal Viper used to be in-your-face and shameless, but Tales of Fire and Ice lacks any sort of attitude. It’s no secret that Marta is a total badass, because she’s been showing it for the past fifteen years. However, she’s all but abandoned the aggression and authority that made her voice so iconic, and the rest of the band has followed suit. Aside from this, the songwriting has gone downhill, the melodies are substantially weaker, and (but this is actually a plus-side) the production quality is cleaner.

The closest Tales of Fire and Ice gets to having actual Crystal Viper songs are ‘Still Alive’ and ‘Bright Lights’. The former begins with a promising, thumping drive, but ultimately falls short due to its simplicity. On the flip side, ‘Bright Lights’ is actually awesome from beginning to end. It proves that the band is more than capable of recovering from this hiccup of an album. Most of the solos are still really good, too, so there’s that.

Between the piss-poor ballad ‘Tears of Arizona’ and the blatant monotony of Tales of Fire and Ice, you really won’t be missing much if you leave this one by the wayside. If you’re a hardcore Crystal Viper fan like me, I’d still check it out, otherwise, November has dropped so much excellence that you shouldn’t feel bad for skipping it.

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Metalite – Biomechanicals Review

Score4/10
GenreMelodic Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime48:51
Release Date25 October 2019
Record LabelAFM

Sweden’s up-and-coming female fronted melodic metal troupe Metalite have returned (and with a new vocalist) with their sophomore album, Biomechanicals. As the title alludes to, you can expect a melodic metal sound that’s drenched in electronic elements, layered vocals, and digital synths all over the place. And usually, that shit gets me pumped. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case here, because I have a bit of a bone to pick with this album.

But, to conserve a bit of my sanity, we’ll hit the positives first. The most obvious plus about Biomechanicals is that it outdoes Heroes in Time in every aspect. The production quality, songwriting, diversity, and musicianship is all better. Metalite have also proven once again that they know how to lay down an album full of catchy melodies, and the electronic arrangements are excellent. Additionally, there are some pretty good tracks on the album, namely ‘World on Fire’ and ‘Eye of the Storm’ (which has a sick solo), as well as a handful of other cool sections.

However, despite the good parts, Biomechanicals is outweighed by its negatives. The biggest contributor to these is the fact that Metalite, as they did in their debut, are trying way too hard to become Amaranthe. Seriously, I fully expect to hear three vocalists in their next album. Despite such a strong effort to hijack their sound, Biomechanicals is missing nearly every thing that makes Amaranthe so likable; the vocals are one-dimensional, the rhythms are basic, and there’s none of that metal punch that’s necessary to take the music from being just a pop metal album to a kickass metal album with a pop sound (because there is a huge difference, and it’s a very important difference).

I know you’re probably thinking, “Hey, man, you can’t just knock Metalite for not being as good as Amaranthe; they’re two different bands,” and that’s absolutely right. I usually don’t make that the point of my comparisons. However, this comparison becomes necessary once you hear a track like ‘Breakaway’, which is literally a blatant ripoff of Amaranthe’s ‘Infinity’ from The Nexus (see: the chorus and solo (and everything else)). Metalite have crossed the line from influence into straight-up copy-and-pasting and I think that warrants a bit of collation. So, yeah, maybe I’m being unfair, but are you fucking kidding me?

While it occasionally shines, Metalite’s Biomechanicals is all flash and no flare. Behind the album’s sparkly exterior is a dull foundation that can barely stand under the force of scrutiny. If they focused more on embracing their own path and strengths, Metalite could probably make an album that I’d be all over. But, until then, I’ll just be left with a persistent, metallic taste in my mouth.

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Power Metal: Magic Kingdom Reveal New Single

Belgian power metallers Magic Kingdom are son to release their first album in five years. MetAlmighty will be the band’s fifth album, as well as the first album to feature Michael Vescera on vocals.

‘Fear My Fury’ is the second single to be released for the new album, which is due on 22 November through AFM Records.

Go follow Magic Kingdom on Facebook!

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Brothers Of Metal Delay Album Release Date

Heavy metal warriors Brothers of Metal have had to delay the release of their upcoming album, Emblas Saga, buy about a month.

The album was originally announced for 6 December of this year, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, that date has been pushed back to 10 January of 2020.

On the bright side, the Brothers have released the official tracklist for Emblas Saga:

01 Brood Of The Trickster
02 POWERSNAKE
03 Hel
04 Chain Breaker
05 Kaunaz Dagaz
06 Theft Of The Hammer
07 Weaver Of Fate
08 Njord
09 Emblas Saga
10 Brothers Unite
11 One
12 Ride Of The Valkyries
13 To The Skies And Beyond

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New Single From Crystal Viper

If you’re like me and can hardly wait for Crystal Viper’s new album on 22 November, you’re in luck, because they just released the first single of the album. It’s far more modern and melodic than their former work, but it’s still, in my humble opinion, a fucking banger.

For those of you who don’t know who Crystal Viper are, I’m happy to be the one to introduce you to them. Crystal Viper are a traditional heavy metal band (the finest, if you ask me) out of Poland. Led by the raspy, powerful vocals of Marta Gabriel, (who has a vocal range of four octaves, by the way), the band was founded in 2003 and has since released six albums.

Tales of Fire and Ice will be their seventh, and is set to be released on 22 November under AFM Records.

*Something else I think is worth mentioning is the fact that, due to their fans’ incessant bitching online, Crystal Viper withdrew their old album artwork and swapped it with the one above. Below is a picture of the original artwork, which, as you can immediately see, is quite different. I far prefer the mysterious, painted, unique art of the original to whatever generic gothic garbage that new picture is but, hey, what do I know?

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Human Fortress Announce Album For December

German epic power metal outfit Human Fortress have announced the release date for their fifth album. This will be the band’s third album since their 2013 comeback Raided Land, which was met with mixed reception from critics.

Reign of Gold will be released on 6 December under AFM Records. As of now, the cover, tracklist, and first single have yet to be released.

If you want to see new information as soon as they release it, follow Human Fortress on Facebook!

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