Dark Forest – Oak, Ash, & Thorn Review

Score9/10
GenreEpic Heavy Metal
CountryBritain
Runtime52:45
Release Date24 April 2020
Record LabelCruz del Sur

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is the fifth offering of medieval power metal from England’s Dark Forest. These veteran warriors have lost none of their lustre with time and, even though they’ve been around nearly twenty years, this is one of their best albums to date.

As far as the overall sound goes, you can expect epic metal with aspects of Skyclad, Iron Maiden, and a tiny bit of classic Rhapsody thrown in. The mixing is a bit more lo-fi, which is perfect for creating that nostalgic, traditional feel. On a sidenote, Oak, Ash, & Thorn plays like the opposite of albums from Grendel’s Syster; where Grendel’s Syster plays a slow, steady, doomy epic metal, Dark Forest drives on with a questing spirit that’s worthy of any power metal band.

Needless to say, this album is killer. I can’t even pick favourite songs, because each one offers something completely different. Whether it’s in the gallop of ‘The Midnight Folk’, the dynamism of the eleven-minute title track, or the bombast of the instrumental finisher, ‘Heart of the Rose’, the vocals are strong, the drums are expressive, and the guitarwork is incredible.

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is excellent from start to finish. There’re plenty of highs, lows, and details (be it fills, countermelodies, or harmonies) so you can expect to get a hell of a lot out of it with consecutive listens. Showing nothing but endless variety and skill, Dark Forest continue to prove they’re worthy of knighthood.

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Legendry – The Wizard And The Tower Keep Review

Score6/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryUSA
Runtime47:12
Release Date1 November 2019
Record LabelHigh Roller

Springing forth with their third album are Pennsylvania’s heavy metal outfit Legendry. In The Wizard and the Tower Keep, they offer a unique heavy metal experience that’s drenched in late 70s/early 80s prog (think RUSH). Alongside this are other elements, too, such as speed metal (in ‘Behind the Summoner’s Seal’, for example), bands like Manowar, and classic thrash. While it doesn’t live up to the epicness it promises, the album is very different from what you’d hear from a metal band in 2019.

Contributing to this notable sound are the guitar solos, which are straight out of the 70s (and also the best part of the album). ‘Earthwarrior’ uses some funky guitar fx, and ‘The Lost Road’ has some sick classic shredding that’s worth pointing out. As far as the rhythm sections goes, everything is really laid back, and the mixing and easy vocals only pull on the music harder. This doesn’t make the music sound bad, but, for a band that want to call themselves “epic metal”, they’re basically shooting themselves in the foot.

Which leads us to the most crucial problem of The Wizard and the Tower Keep: its label. As I’ve said, Legendry refer to their style as “epic metal”, but this album, unfortunately, lacks the heroism that they’re so clearly trying to capture. Sure, epic metal can mean a thousand different things, with some heavy metal bands earning the title through all-out energy, or attitude, intense choruses, or through a beefy, powerful sound. However, this album lacks pretty much all of that and, while it’s not a bad album, it’s bad for what it’s intended to be.

On the other side of things, The Wizard and the Tower Keep excels in one aspect more than any other: sincerity. There’s no effort here to try to be something they’re not. They wrote an album, put their hearts into it, and, while it misses its mark, it’d be impossible not to appreciate this. There’s no bullshit here, no pandering or falsification. Just an honest heavy metal album with a lot of progressive nuances and long-ass songs.

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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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Numenor – Chronicles From The Realms Beyond Review

Score8.5/10
GenreEpic Black/Power Metal
CountrySerbia
Runtime34:35
Release Date5 September 2017
Record LabelStormspell

It’s not often that I’ll review an album that’s older than a couple months. Between the constant flow of material sent to me and my ever-decreasing amount of free time, I’m usually struggling just to keep up with current releases. But, once in a while, I’ll receive something that especially catches my ear, and I’ll check it out happily, regardless of when the album came out. The latest of these special exceptions is the third album from Serbia’s Númenor, Chronicles from the Realms Beyond, which is a unique take on Tolkien-themed metal (which, at this point, isn’t all that unique a topic anymore, is it?).

To get the best idea of what to expect from this album, think something along the lines of “man metal”. It’s rugged and intense, but brings together the musical forces of light and darkness to fight side-by-side against the true evil: boring music. It completes itself with diverse arrangements and an epic overtone that is easily noticeable but not overbearing. The most epic, power-metally songs (and, unsurprisingly, my favourites) are the opener and closer, ‘Heart of Steel’ and ‘The Last of the Dragon Lords’. But, as you venture into the guts of this deceivingly-ominous record, you’ll be suprised at what you find.

The most interesting thing about Chronicles is how skillfully it combines elements of black metal and power metal. While a couple of the songs have a majority lean toward one or the other, most of them have a pretty even balance of the two. The result of such a combination is blood-boiling ferocity surrounded by an ever-present sense of darkness. This is usually achieved by mixing dark atmospheres, harsh growls, stoic melodic sections, and a driving rhythm section into a cauldron of badassery, as is evident in tracks like ‘Moria’, ‘Over the Mountains Cold’, and ‘Witching Hour’. Along with male clean and rough vocals, there are also female vocals, which add yet another interesting layer into an album that already pushes boundaries.

My only real complaint with Chronicles is regarding the production quality. I wouldn’t quite call it “lo-fi”, but it is fairly gritty and a bit muffled. I’m not sure whether it’s like this because of studio limitations or as an artistic choice due to black metal roots, and, mind you, it could be much worse. But, even some extra oomph from the drums and guitars would go a long way. It’s not so much an issue with clarity for me as it is an issue with highlighting certain parts to deliver that kick that can take an epic metal album from awesome to exceptional.

However, the album is good enough that the production quality doesn’t suffer it too badly. Every song offers something completely different from the one before and, despite runtimes that rarely exceed four minutes, they pack a hell of a lot into their mighty bellies. Huge atmospheres? Heavy beats? Sword-raising choruses? Excellent musicians? It’s all here. Chronicles from the Realms Beyond is a killer album, and offers plenty for those who enjoy the darker side of power metal.

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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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Induction Announce Debut

New progressive power metal outfit Induction have finally announced their debut album. The band was formed by guitarist Martin Beck and features Tim Hansen, son of the famed Kai Hansen (who is/has been guitarist/vocalist of Gamma Ray, Helloween, and Iron Savior).

Induction will be released on 18 October. No single has been revealed yet, but we can expect something epic, symphonic, and energetic.

01. A Message in Sand
02. By the Time
03. Pay the Price
04. The Outwitted Consecration (re-release)
05. Hiraeth
06. Mirror Make Believe (My Enemy) feat Kai Hansen
07. At the Bottom
08. The Riddle
09. A Nightmare’s Dream
10. My Verdict
11 Sorrow’s Lullaby

To accompany the album’s release, Induction will also be touring their new album in support of Armored Dawn.
12.11. München / Kranhalle
13.11. Milano / Legend
16.11. Essen / Zeche Carl
18.11. Köln / MTC
19.11. Hamburg / Logo
21.11. Aschaffenburg / Colos-Saal

Follow Induction on Facebook!

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Equilibrium – Renegades Review

Score3.5
GenreElectronic “Folk” Metal/Dance
CountryGermany
Runtime46:40
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

Imagine yourself in a simpler time. A time, perhaps, where you’re me. June is almost over, and one of your favourite folk metal bands, Equilibrium, just released a new single to their upcoming album. ‘Renegades – A Lost Generation’ is super poppy, sure, but its sick riffage combined with its heavy electronic booming is enough to get me excited. A lot of fans are furious at such a preview, but not you. You dig bombast with a side of catchy. So, naturally, you spend the next two months eagerly anticipating Renegades in all its thumping, dancing, metal glory.

But then it comes. It knocks on the door of your heart as you download it and press play for the first time. Your friend, ‘A Lost Generation’ greets you, but he’s brought his friends this time. Except, these aren’t the kind of guys you want to hang out and party with. No, they’re not. They’re some sketchy fuckers, and not the type you’d expect ‘A Lost Generation’ to hang around, either. As they enter, they beat the living piss out of you. One by one. Every minute or so, one of them puts on a different face: a caring face, asking you if you need anything. But, before you can respond, they change right back, smacking whatever hopeful expression you had on your dumb, unfortunate, betrayed face, and continue pounding your stupid ass. Toward the end of this slaughter, though, another walks in. ‘Hype Train’ enters, wipes you off, kisses your forehead, and tells you it’s there for you. Just as you put your faith in her hands, though, it’s stripped off again by the final douchebag of the evening, who spits on your motionless body, leaving you sad and alone.

Fun ride, huh? That’s pretty well how I felt listening to it. Needless to say, Equilibrium have invoked all of my fury and then some, because this is some serious bullshit. I’m not gonna sit here and bitch about how Equilibrium aren’t folk metal anymore, because everybody was expecting it after their previous album especially. Renegades features almost no folk elements, save for some synth interludes or intros/outros, but even those are probably just coincidental, because they follow the same lines as a lot of popular EDM does. But, whatever. I’m over it. What I’m not over, however, is the fact that, despite such a capable lineup and clear ease of executing a solid mix of electronic/pop/heavy metal, Renegades manages to pump out almost nothing but uninspired garbage, except for two songs (which I mentioned before).

Let me break it down a bit. Rather than making something cool and catchy, Equilibrium have just put together an album full of EDM and radio pop tropes that are masked behind bombast and massively heavy guitars and vocals in an effort to hide their overdone, simplistic faces. But that won’t work on me. I see you, mediocrity. I fucking see you, and no amount of flare or weight can hide you. ‘Tornado’ and ‘Himmel und Feuer’ are fine examples of this, where, if you stripped off the thin metal exterior, you’d be left with nothing but some sorry kid on Soundcloud trying to be discovered.

But not all of the songs follow this formula. No, some of the songs are just outright lost causes. Take ‘Path of Destiny’ for example. Who in the god damn brought this Luke-Bryan-makes-an-Apple-commercial idea to the show? Not gonna fly here, no sir. Surprisingly, the best part is actually the rapping in the bridge, which I could handle if the rest of the song wasn’t nu country ass. ‘Johnny B’ also brings its fair share of disappointment in the vein of Owl City (remember them? People listened to them in 2012 for some reason). But these two don’t even hold a candle to ‘Kawaarki’. This reject from the emo/metalcore scene of the late 00s is so unworldly irritating that it actually burned all of the fingers off every pair of gloves in my house. Get this “rawr XD’ shit out of my house. It’s 2019 for Christ’s sake.

Now, in an effort to try to end this review on a more positive note, Renegades does have a few good things to offer. If I went to a party and it was playing, I could handle it. Also, like I mentioned, ‘A Lost Generation’ and ‘Hype Train’ kick all sorts of ass, and, if the rest of the album were more on that side of things, it’d’ve been everything I wanted it to be. Additionally, there are a few cool drum fills and riffs scattered throughout, but for the lengths you have to travel to find them, it’s just not worth it. Honestly, you should still check this album out. It’s unique, to say the least, and there’s such a variety of tracks that you’ll probably like something.

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Visigoth Release New Single

Acclaimed heavy metal outfit Visigoth have unleashed a new single, ‘Fireseeker’, in anticipation of their upcoming EP. It’s exactly what’s to be expected of them: no-frills, badass heavy metal!

Visigoth took the metal world by storm last year with Conqueror’s Oath. Many critics praised it as one of the best (if not the best) metal albums of the year, which begs the question: will their upcoming Bells of Awakening live up to expectations? Check it out on 24 May and decide for yourself!

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Atlas Pain – Tales Of A Pathfinder Review

Score7.5/10
GenrePower/Folk Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime48:49
Release Date19 April 2019
Record LabelScarlet

Set a course for fantastical, over-the-top brilliance, because Italian folk metallers Atlas Pain have prepared a world-capturing journey in their sophomore record, Tales of a Pathfinder. Like their first record, it contains a combination of folk melodies and themes on top of relentlessly energetic power metal beats. Additionally, the quartet remains unchanged from What the Oak Left, which allows for a more refined sound.

There is one word that describes this album perfectly: epic. (So why am I writing a whole fucking review, then? Oh well.) It’s flooded with strings, synths, choirs, and sickeningly upbeat choruses. Topped off with chugging riffs and rough vocals, it’s quite the blood rusher. It is very straightforward, but if you’re looking for wondrous motivation, this is definitely for you.

Tales of a Pathfinder has a wide range of different cultural influences but their core power metal underbelly is never far away. On this heroic expedition we meet ‘Baba Jaga’, venture all the way to Japan in ‘Hagakure’s Way’, and we even get a badass Maori throwdown in ‘Kia Kaha’ (you know, if the Maori made some of the cheesiest fucking music in existence). The folk elements are often overpowered by the surrounding orchestrations and galloping drum beats, but they don’t go unnoticed.

While I wouldn’t go as far to say that all the songs sound the same, there’s no variance to the uplifting and positive tone, which limits the possibility of much variety. And, like most power metal, it’s very much a team effort. None of the musicians are extraordinary (despite the extraordinary themes). However, they’re undoubtedly great together and achieve exactly what they set out to: an adventurous, entertaining experience that is as lively as it is intense.

Atlas Pain – The Moving Empire (Scarlet)

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