Asgard – Ragnarøkkr Review

GenreProgressive Folk Metal
Release Date15 May 2020
Record LabelPride & Joy

I was previously unfamiliar with Italy’s progressive folk metal group, Asgard. The band released five albums between 1991 and 2000, so it’d be unsurprising if they’ve flown under a few other radars, too. But, for reasons that’re unknown to me, they’ve chosen 2020 as the year they release their comeback album! Entitled Ragnarøkkr, if this is anything to judge Asgard off, I really wasn’t missing much by never hearing them.

Ragnarøkkr‘s overall sound can be compared to a cheery, wannabe folk Blind Guardian. Aside from the simple highland melodies, the production quality and rawness are similar, and it tries to be dynamic and emotive (plus it’s clear that the vocals strive for a Hansi Kursch approach). Unfortunately, it fails time and time again. Every time a decent musical idea pops up, it changes direction for no real reason other than to change direction, with no effort at all on transition or musicality. The fucked up thing is, though, that there’s no real technicality going on to explain all of these transitions, either, so you can’t even dismiss it as a prog band doing prog things. It’s more like a bunch of amateur musicians just discovered that songs could have multiple sections and went, “Hey guys, what if instead of writing a cohesive song we crammed fifty clashing feels together, back-to-back, with no warning?” Yeah, great fucking idea, right?

Anyway, if the bad songwriting wasn’t enough, the melodies are all really weak, the vocals are uninspired, the guitarwork is subpar, and the organs are. . . good enough, I guess. If I had to pick a specific least favourite part of the album, it would have to be the end of the final track, ‘Ragnarøkkr’; the song is about to end when, as if culminating every shitty transition the album features, it fades out while at the same time the chorus fades in again. I mean, seriously. What the fuck is that? As if the album wasn’t already messy enough, they just had to go and basically say, “Yeah, we KNOW it’s messy, so let us just leave you with this sour taste in your mouth,”.

One almost-redeeming quality in Ragnarøkkr is the use of a recurring melody, which is introduced in ‘Kali Yuga’ and returns in the closer. It’s kind of a shit melody, but hey, at least they tried. Some of the drumwork is good, too, so it’s not entirely a lost cause. Aside from that, there are a couple decent solo sections, like in ‘Visions’, but there’s a really jarring halftime cut in that one that throws off the entire thing.

Like I said, before Ragnarøkkr, I had never heard of Asgard, and, in all honesty, I’d be better off if I never did. This is one album you can judge by its cover: messy, confusing, and kinda crap.

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Ravenword – Transcendence Review

GenreSymphonic Metal
Release Date31 January 2020
Record LabelRockshots

I think, at this point, we can expect Italy to never, ever, ever stop producing symphonic metal. Seriously. There’s no end to it. I’m not complaining, but holy fuck. They must be pulling close to Germany’s heavy metal numbers by now. Anyway, supporting this cause of symphonic saturation are the female-fronted Ravenword in their one-shot debut album, Transcendence. While the band was around shortly in the late 00s, they went on hiatus and reformed in 2016 with a new lineup. Among the bandmembers is the beautifully versatile Chiara Tricarico, who was featured in another new symphonic metal project Moonlight Haze last year and also sings for Sound Storm.

At times, Transcendence plays like your typical, melodic/symphonic/gothic album (such as in the ballad ‘Lullaby of the Last Petal’ and ‘Rain of Stars’). It’s sparkly, the vocals are often operatic, and the overall atmosphere is typically mystical and flowwy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes for a lot of filler. As such, at more than an hour’s runtime, it could go for a serious trim. However, Transcendence‘s good songs are really fucking good, so it’s worth giving the whole record a spin or two to find the worthwhile ones.

The album starts strong in ‘Blue Roses’. It has good energy, a killer hook, a key solo. Hell, it even has a key change. Talk about overachiever. Overall, it’s one of my favourite tracks, and it there couldn’t be a better choice for the opener. Immediately after, we see Tricarico’s versatility start to show a bit more in ‘Life Is in Your Hands’, where she displays a bit more of her attitude and power. After this, though, we’re met with a lot of subpar efforts that all kind of sound the same, but there are still a few gems (‘The Swansong’ and ‘Crimson Lake’ especially), as well as a pile of ridiculously sweet guitar solos.

While it’s not something I ever do, you would probably be safe in judging this album by its cover; for the most part, it’s super generic for the genre, but there’s enough going on to keep things exciting. As I said, it’s well worth sifting through Transcendence (even if a good portion of it is forgettable), because it has its moments of genius.

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Ancient Knights – Camelot Review

GenreNeoclassical Power Metal
Release DateJanuary 2020
Record LabelDiamonds Productions

One thing that’s missing from modern power metal is a strong neoclassical outfit. Most bands either go the super-clean, super-fast route a la DragonForce, towards catchy commercialism, or symphonic metal. Now, this is no problem for me, because I eat, sleep, and breathe power metal, but the days of good neoclassical metal seem to have died out by the mid-00s. Bands like Narnia and Dark Moor have long since moved away from their glory days, and new bands either lack the quality or the skill necessary to actually make an imprint.

However, Italy’s latest effort of neoclassical metal makes quite the statement. Formed in 2018, Ancient Knights deliver a sound that’s actually very similar to pre-Dark Moor Dark Moor, minus a few bpm. Their first album, Camelot, is a seven-track (five, if you disregard the orchestral intro/outro), but also comes with three bonus tracks, which are alternate language versions. As the title suggests, you can expect to be serenaded with cheery, magical King Arthury tales of wonder and mystery, highlighted by tasteful orchestrations.

Fortunately, the music holds up. Despite the main portion of the album only consisting of five songs, there’s a good amount of variety. All of the songs are snappy and exciting, so there’s no need to skip anything. Additionally, while the guitarwork isn’t quite on the level of an elite virtuoso band, it’s still damn impressive. Both the rhythm stuff and soloing are excellent, with some of the best of both coming in ‘Usurper’ and ‘Prophecy of the Magic Kingdom’. Likewise, the drumming is fucking killer. The beats are intricate and dynamic and keep the music exciting, despite having a slower tempo than you might expect from this style of music.

And then we get to the vocals. While they don’t outshine the other instruments, there are some huge names here that should be enough to get you excited about the album. Included in this massive list of guest vocalists are the mighty Fabio Lione (Rhapsody), Elisa Martin (Dark Moor), Chiara Tricarico (Moonlight Haze), Gabriel Tuxen (Seven Thorns), and Roberto Tiranti (Odyssea). As you might have guessed, a lot of Camelot‘s sound rides on nostalgia, but that’s not a bad thing at all. These vocalists, combined with Ancient Knight’s own Matt Siddi, provide the best possible face over already-masterful arrangements.

My favourite track has to be ‘Prophecy of the Magic Kingdom’. Aside from the incredible guitars and rampant drums, it also features Elisa, who happens to be one of my favourite vocalists. Combine this with the best solo section on the album and an energetic double-time beat and you get the best Dark Moor song since 2002.

My only complaint with this album is how short it is. In all honesty, I don’t know why the fuck the band doesn’t consider this an EP, but I suppose it’s long enough if you count the three alternate tracks. I really hope that Ancient Knights don’t end up just being a one-release band, because the potential here is limitless. Any fan of old school power metal should be eager for this one.

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Melodic Metal: Temperance Announce Album For 2020

Italian melodic metal outfit Temperance are a bit of a breath of fresh air in their space. Fronted by the talents of three vocalists, the band offers a brand of melodic metal that has a unique melodic delivery over symphonic and electronic elements.

Having released four albums since their founding in 2013, the band have a fifth, Viridian, set for 24 January 2020. The album will be released through Napalm Records.

01. Mission Impossible
02. I Am The Fire
03. Start Another Round
04. My Demons Can’t Sleep
05. Viridian
06. Let It Beat
07. Scent of Dye
08. The Cult Of Mystery
09. Nanook
10. Gaia
11. Catch The Dream

Vocalist Marco Pastorino on Viridian:
“We’re beyond stoked to announce that our new album and first through Napalm Records Viridian is scheduled for worldwide release on January 24th, 2020! Finally, the time has come: Viridian is ready to see the light of the day! We’ve worked hard during the last year to write our best songs ever. This is our heaviest album so far, yet with a lot of melodies, vocal harmonies and epic modern metal hymns! The recording process was super fun and we really enjoyed finding new, different ways to express ourselves with our music. We really can’t wait to spread Viridian all over the world on the next tours – stay tuned for more exciting news!”

Want to hear the first single as soon as it comes out? Follow Temperance on Facebook!

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Noveria – Aequilibrium Review

GenreProgressive Power Metal
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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Heavy Metal: Nanowar Of Steel Sign Onto Napalm Records

The most famous parody metal outfit Nanowar of Steel have signed an inteworldwide record deal with Napalm Records.

Nanowar of Steel on the signing:
“We are proud to show the world that we are not just a bunch of uneducated clowns, but a bunch of uneducated clowns with writing and reading skills, as the reading and signing of an actual music contract shows.
For the first time in our 15-year career, this record deal will allow us to show the world that our idiocy truly has no boundaries. Thanks, Napalm, for believing in us and in our special brand of genre-fluid metal!”

Nanowar of Steel, originally called just Nanowar, have been parodying true metal since 2003 and have since released four full-length albums, as well as countless videos on YouTube.

Follow Nanowar of Steel on Facebook!

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Noveria Release New Single

Italy’s power prog outfit Noveria have released an energetic new track, ‘Broken’, taken from their upcoming third album.

Based on how sick the solo section is, I’m super excited to listen to the album! Aequilibrium will be released on 25 October under Scarlet Records.

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Soul Of Steel – Rebirth Review

GenreProgressive Power Metal
Release Date20 September 2019
Record LabelRevalve

Italian power metallers Soul of Steel have made a six-year comeback in their aptly-named third album, Rebirth. The band’s previous releases met mixed reception from critics and listeners on the grounds of sounding generic or forgettable and, after such a long break, you’d expect them to have spent some serious time in the forge smithing a stronger metal, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong about that.

Soul of Steel have recruited two new axemen, Nicolas Coppola and Salvo Destratis, and the songs have a bit more to them this time around. However, the end result is still pretty close to your run-of-the-mill Italian melodic metal (plus or minus a few sections), and there’s not a whole lot here that’ll have you coming back for seconds.

Like its predecessors, Rebirth lies on the progressive side of power metal. It’s definitely more power than it is prog, but there’s a lot of dynamism that secures it tightly in the power prog arena. The overall sound is pretty light, despite the guitars having a fair bit of crunch to them, and electronic sounds are found in the background most of the time. Speaking of, this album reminds me of Annette Olzon‘s The Dark Element debut in the sense that it’s full of great ideas but they never quite come into fruition. Even just a few ‘wow’ moments would go a long way, but, aside from some solos, they never come.

The biggest problem with Rebirth is that everything is just so straightforward. It has straight beats, straight melodies, straight chords. There’s not a lot that separates it from any of the bands in the space. There’s also a lack of oomph that could be partially rectified if the guitars and drums were a bit punchier, but it’s mostly an issue of songwriting, too.

Strangely enough, one of my favourite songs on the album is the cover of Lady Gaga’s ‘Perfect Illusion’. It suits Soul of Steel’s sound perfectly and it has the best solo on the entire album. Following close behind, though, is the eight-minuter, ‘Trail of Death’, which is an overall excellent song, featuring killer guitar and synth solos, memorable melodies, and pulling off some really great pulled-back sections. If the rest of the album was as alive as this song, it’d be album of the month material for sure.

In light of a few issues, Soul of Steel’s efforts have paid off, because Rebirth is a good album. It’s got ups, downs, solid musicianship, and it gets the job done. It needs more heart, sure, but any fan of melodic metal should dive into this record.

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Elvenking – Reader Of The Runes – Divination Review

GenreFolk Metal
Release Date30 August 2019
Record LabelAFM

It’s not very often that a band that’s been around for more than five albums maintains a steady level of greatness in every release. I’m not just talking about a solid discography with album or two being considered “passable”, but rather a track record in which every album is, at the very least, great. It’s not unheard of by any means, and it’s ultimately contingent on whom you ask, but there are certainly some bands that are widely-regarded to just be really fucking good.

For us in the metal community, names like Iron Fire, Blind Guardian, Zeppelin, or Queen might make the cut. However, for myself, I would put Elvenking at the top of my no-less-than-great list. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re my favourite band of all time (although, they are close), but it means that I think that they’re a band that is almost incapable of putting out something even close to bad; they haven’t yet.

So, it should come as no surprise that the folk masters’ tenth album, Reader of the Runes – Divination, kicks all sort of ass, pagan-style. Fans will be pleased that Divination still retains the core Elvenking sound: a primarily-pop/punk vocal style, folk melodies, proggy song structure, and a power metal energy. Conversely, though, the album is as much a breath of fresh air as it is an Elvenking album, as it takes the band in two directions that they haven’t really explored in depth before; the road of Divination is generally darker and heavier than their previous material, and it also brings a whole concept that tells of a journey into a mystical world of runes and magic.

Aside from the songwriting and atmosphere, the instrumentation (obviously) is what mainly contributes to the difference in sound that you’ll find here compared to every album prior. There are huge choirs, such as in ‘Reader of the Runes – Book I’, and plentiful vocal tracks that seem to substitute what used to be rampant folk instruments. Additionally, the guitars have stepped up from the background right into the forefront as the driving force of the songs, even more so than the violin, acoustic guitar, string tracks, or drums combined. Speaking of the drums, Lancs‘ style is a lot steadier and heavier than the band’s previous patter-style drummer, Symohn, who parted ways with the band in 2017. This difference was obviously also present in Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, but it’s even more apparent next to the guitar’s new-found presence. Finally, the folk influences are dialed down quite a bit here, too, so the result of all of this is a heavier, more intense, more metal album.

In case you didn’t already assume, Divination has a bit of a variety to offer. Just kidding, it’s all over the fucking map. There are more typical tracks like ‘Heathen Divine’ (which is very Pagan Manifesto) and the laid back ‘Eternal Eleanor’, but there are also songs that stretch the boundaries a bit more, due to all the stuff in that big paragraph above. Most notably, however, we have ‘Malefica Doctrine’, which is drenched in melodeath and stands as the heaviest song in Elvenking’s twenty-plus-year career.

While I wouldn’t call this one Elvenking’s best (because that title would go to Pagan Manifesto), it’s still a killer album. The concept fits, it’s super dynamic, and it has a high headbangability factor. If you were hoping for a very folky album, you won’t get it here. However, I think that old fans will enjoy the hell out of Divination and newcomers will get hooked on it, too.

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Astralium – Land Of Eternal Dreams Review

GenreSymphonic Power Metal
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelRockshots

Formed in 2014 by frontwoman Roberta Pappalardo and bass player Giuseppe Pappalardo, Astralium are fresh out of Italy: the land of symphonic metal. Land of Eternal Dreams is the band’s debut album, marking their official entrance onto the metal scene. Completing the band’s regular lineup are guitarist Emanuele Alessandro and Metatrone drummer Salvo Grasso, but there are also a handful of guest musicians, such as the ever-busy Tommy Johansson (Sabaton, Majestica), Andrea Martongelli (Arthemis), Jo Lombardo, Stefano “Ghigas” Calvagno, and Davide Bruno (who are/were all fellow Metatrone members alongside Grasso).

Needless to say, Astralium aren’t your typical, generic symphonic metal band. They manage to produce a bright, unique sound and, while some of their influences are vividly apparent at times (Nightwish, Amberian Dawn, and even Hans Zimmer), they do a great job at maintaining originality. The orchestrations are broad and epic, but they don’t overbear the guitars or vocals, which is a common mistake in the genre.

The strongest aspect of Land of Eternal Dreams is the songwriting. Each song is dynamic, expressive, and offers something new. Additionally, a variety of moods and time signatures are explored. We have ‘Whisper in the Silence’, which brings heavy intensity, a soft ballad in ‘Breath of My Soul’, the blast-beat aggression of ‘Seven Seas, Seven Winds’, and there’s even the cool vocal feature ‘Ethereal Voices from the Forest’, which sounds like, well, a bunch of ethereal voices from the forest. Although, while all of these tracks have a noticeable theme, they all feature a variety of different moods.

I do have a few clear favourites in Land of Eternal Dreams. ‘Whisper of the Silence’ has some awesome riffing and the drumming, which is fucking killer, doesn’t sit still for more than twenty seconds. The pulled back first verse is another great touch. I also really like the end section of ‘Seven Seas, Seven Winds’, which is like the soundtrack to an epic, bloody battle on the high seas. Finally, the closer, ‘Hidden Conspiracy’ sums up the entire album nicely. It’s an all-around sick track, covering every emotion that the rest of the album features with a surprising amount of detail for a song that isn’t even seven minutes long.

I really don’t have any issues with this album. It’s diverse, the playing is exquisite, and the arrangements are colourful. In a sea of forgettable symphonic metal acts, Land of Eternal Dreams rises as a stellar debut and keeps Astralium afloat.

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