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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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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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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Burning Shadows – Beneath The Ruins Review

Score7.5/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryUSA (Maryland)
Runtime16:08
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelRafchild

Marylandian (Marylandish? Marylandite? Fuck it, whatever.) heavy metal vets Burning Shadows have released four EPs and three full-lengths since their beginning in 2000. Their sound has been built on a beefy power-laden foundation and adorned with epic vocals and choruses. However, their latest effort, Beneath the Ruins, sees a change from their previous material, trading a lot of the power metal elements for more of a thrashy approach. Nevertheless, the riffs are still huge and crunchy and the band is solid, so the change of pace isn’t bad at all.

The most prominent way in which Beneath the Ruins separates itself from most other US heavy metal albums is with its production quality. Where bands like Visigoth and Haunt keep things “authentically” lo-fi, this album is full of contrast and sharpness, retaining a heavy metal feel musically rather than relying on poor mastering.

The EP begins with a strong-and-steady banger in ‘Blacken the Sky’. The energy level picks up more for ‘The Grey Company (Paths of the Dead)’, which also has the best chorus, and continues to rise into the final two tracks. The driving force behind these four tracks is the imposing massiveness of the rhythm section, but the solos and smaller details, such as some growled sections and other background guitar parts, keep the whole thing fresh and exciting. There are also three bonus tracks to enjoy (if you decide to purchase the album), of which two are live versions. The actual new bonus track, ‘The Shadow from the Steeple’, is my favourite on the entire EP. It’s dynamic and hearkens a to a more classic sound, and it’s an all-around blast.

If there’s one area Beneath the Ruins suffers, it’s in the vocal melodies. Tom Davy‘s throaty, bellowing vocals are great, but there’s not a whole lot of variability in the way the melodies are structured. In a live setting, for this king of music, that isn’t really a big deal, but it’s things like that that usually pull people in to listen to again regularly.

Beneath the Ruins is a worthwhile listen for anyone who likes darker, aggressive heavy metal. It has that pounding, chugging drive that Burning Shadows does so well and, despite not having the ammunition to blow any minds, you can still crank it to blow down the fucking walls.

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Rhodium – Sea Of The Dead Review

Score9/10
GenreHeavy/Power Metal
CountryGreece
Runtime44:08
Release Date3 December 2019
Record LabelSliptrick

Greek heavy/power warriors Rhodium released their debut just last year, but they’ve already thundered down with a new album. Fueled with all-new members (with the exception of guitarist/founder Loukas Antoniou) and a new record deal with Sliptrick Records, Sea of the Dead unleashes nine energetic, riff-heavy tracks that hide a few progressive surprises.

Sea of the Dead aligns stylistically with other Greek power metal bands such as Firewind and Diviner. It’s grittier, rawer, and more heavy metal-influenced than your usual Euro-power and it packs some seriously ferocious solos. However, one of the forces behind Rhodium’s individuality is the piercing and charismatic vocals of Mike Lee, who can fire everything from relentless power to careful emotion from his mighty pipes (peak performances coming in ‘Sisters of Fate’ and ‘Tapestry of Time’). In fact, the vocals are so versatile that they could be compared to bands like Running Wild and Iron Maiden at times.

As for the album itself, everything is fucking fantastic. It starts with a hard drive and sees its first change of pace in the third song, ‘First Light of Day’. After this, the album continues to diversify, delivering some more badass heavy metal hymns and dark moments, as well as two dynamic tracks that sit above the six-minute mark, and a ballad. However, the most unusual track by far is ‘Sisters of Fate’. It utilizes a lot of female choral vocals, which are unheard of in the rest of the album, and its chorus is like a mid-80s pump up anthem. It’s weird, it’s shrill, and it’s the best god damn song Sea of the Dead has to offer.

As far as favourites go, I covered some of it already. But, aside from the powerful vocals, elite guitarwork, and being blindsided by ‘Sisters of Fate’, I really enjoy the drum groves in ‘Tapestry in Time’, as well as the entirety of ‘Fight Back’, which is a no-bullshit banger with the single best solo on the album.

Front to back, Sea of the Dead is a killer ride. It’s always a gamble to release an album with a lineup that hasn’t made music together before, but Rhodium have defied the odds by releasing a record that’s fun, fresh, and ferociously addicting.

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