Ivanhoe – Blood And Gold Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date20 March 2020
Record LabelMassacre

German prog veterans Ivanhoe have returned with another prog piece that hearkens back to the classic prog of the late 80s/early 90s. Blood and Gold is the band’s eighth full-length release in their thirty-five year career, but it holds true as one of their most essential releases ever. This compact, groove-driven style of prog will especially be a hit for fans of golden-age Queensryche and Fates Warning.

Blood and Gold does a lot of things right. First and foremost, the runtime is short and sweet (and the songs are all around the four-minute range); there’s no fat around the edges, it’s just no-bullshit prog with experimental, time-changey grooves and sick facemelters in a manageable space. As such, it’s perfect for prog fans who don’t have the attention span to be serious prog fans. Next in line are the drums, which are absolutely killer from the very first song, courtesy of the band’s brand new drummer, Bernd Heining. His fills are great and his beats are many, which is the crucial element in keeping the more laid-back tunes interesting (which is like two thirds of the album). It’s also worth mentioning that the mixing is perfect for an album like this. The guitars and drums sound closer to traditional metal than the colossal, crisp onslaught that most modern prog delivers. Don’t get me wrong, I live for clean and disgustingly heavy, but the softer, more lo-fi production quality has its place, too.

Outside of just comparing it to “early 90s prog”, the overall sound of the album is pretty melancholic, putting a greater emphasis on emotional hooks and guitar countermelodies than explosive riffs. There’s a serious level of technicality, though, most evident in the songs ‘Solace’ and ‘Perfect Tragedy’ (both of which are my favourite tracks), where the time changes are many and the rhythm section is on fucking point.

Between strong songwriting, great musicianship, and that classic feel, Blood and Gold is definitely worth checking out. Also, make sure to keep your ears open, because there’re a ton of little details in the album which I didn’t even touch on (like a sax solo in ‘Shadow Play’).

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Crystal Eyes – Starbourne Traveler Review

GenreMelodic Heavy Metal
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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Cathubodua – Continuum Review

GenreSymphonic Metal
Release Date25 October 2019
Record LabelMassacre

The time has come for Belgium’s female-fronted symphonic metal outfit Cathubodua to unleash their devastating debut album: Continuum. Featuring folk, symphonic, death, and power metal elements, Continuum wastes no time in displaying its melodic, balls-to-the-wall epic onslaught. After a short instrumental, we’re welcomed with an intense trifecta in ‘Abyss’, ‘Hero of Ages’, and ‘Hydra’ which start the album at its highest point.

It’s hard to pinpoint where Cathubodua’s sound lies because it’s so dynamic and fairly unique, too. At times they show some likeness to Elvenking, and it isn’t a huge similarity, but that’s really the closest comparison I can come up with. Not like any of that concerns me anyway because the sound is sick, the lead is sick, the drums are sick (see: ‘A Treacherous Maze’ and ‘Hero of Ages’), and everything else is, you guessed it, super cool. Numerous interlude tracks act as good transitional pieces, so the album also has a fair amount of fluidity going for it.

One thing (albeit a small thing) that gives Cathubodua an edge on a lot of other symphonic acts is that the operatic vocals are used pretty sparingly as a highlight rather than as the main vocal style. Like rough vocals, I think this more limited approach to operatics works way better than having them at the forefront all the time. It allows for more varied expression and really allows Sara Vanderheyden to attack with every vocal delivery she has, be it aggressive, tranquil, folky, operatic, powerful, or otherwise.

As with most albums, Continuum does have some things keeping it from being perfect. There’s a bit of excess that could be trimmed, namely the track ‘Deified’, which is pretty messy and a huge drop in quality compared to the rest of the album. And then there’s the way in which Cathubodua finish the album, which is with another instrumental. The second-to-last track, ‘Apotheosis’, would have ended the album perfectly, but the ending we get does the same thing ‘Apotheosis’ did but with a quarter of the impact.

But, as I may have hinted at, Continuum has a lion’s share of excellent tracks. My favourite, ‘Hydra’ has one of Vanderheyden‘s best performances on the album, showcasing both her ferocity and beauty, and the overall power from this track is great. There’re also some instrumental breaks that hearken to Elvenking’s ‘King of the Elves’ that are a nice touch. And then there’s ‘A Treacherous Maze’, which has an Eastern flavour, rough vocals, fucking crazy blast beats, killer instrumentals, and so much more going for it. Finally, while ‘Hydra’ is my favourite song, my favourite moment in the whole album is found in ‘Apotheosis’, where the melody from ‘Hero of Ages’ comes back to give you the ultimate, spinetingling goose-bumps experience.

I haven’t even touched on the great riffs or shredding solos, but hear me when I say that Continuum contains some of the best symphonic metal of the entire year. While it’s not without a few flaws, it’s a beast of a debut album (and an album in general). It’d be an understatement to say that I’m excited to see what Cathubodua come up with next, because this immensely talented group have limitless potential.

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Crystal Eyes Release Album Details

Long-running Swedish power metal outfit Crystal Eyes have released some more details for their eighth album, Starbourne Traveler, which will be out on 6 December under Massacre Records. While a single still has yet to rise, the cover art and tracklist have been revealed.

01. Gods of Disorder
02. Side By Side
03. Extreme Paranoia
04. Starbourne Traveler
05. Corridors of Time
06. Paradise Powerlord
07. Into the Fire
08. In the Empire of Saints
09. Midnight Radio
10. Rage on the Sea

While Starbourne Traveler is a new album, two of the tracks, ‘Extreme Paranoia’ and ‘Rage on the Sea’ are rerecordings of songs the band have already released.

Fittingly, as this will be Crystal Eyes’ first album in five years, there will be more than just new music to enjoy; this will be the first album to feature the band’s new guitarist and drummer, Jonatan Hallberg and Henrik Birgersson.

Follow Crystal Eyes on Facebook to see the first single of Starbourne Traveler when it arrives!

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Mystery Blue – 8RED Review

GenreHeavy Metal
Release Date20 September 2019
Record LabelMassacre

France’s long-running, female-fronted classic metal band Mystery Blue have released their eighth album after a seven-year break from their previous. 8RED (which I can only assume is a play on the word “hatred”, and also maybe on the “Blue” of the band name) was promised to be “a collection of unforgettable metal hymns and in-your-face rippers, alongside epic, original and melodic pieces”, but it falls short on all counts. There are no rippers. It’s all but epic, and, for anybody who’s been around heavy metal for any amount of time, it’s not original, either. It is, in a word, forgettable.

What we get instead is an album full of slower, darker songs. Which would be fine, except for the fact that they’re not great and that the band teased at just the opposite. There are a couple more upbeat tracks, like ‘Throwaway Society’, ‘Final Fight’, and ‘Vikings of Modern Times’, but 8RED begins and ends with too many laid back tunes. To make matters worse, most of the songs are longer than five minutes, and waiting for the next song to play gets painful at times. ‘Final Fight’ is probably the best song on the album (it’s actually really good), but every other track is plagued by at least as much bad as it has good.

8RED, to say it kindly, was hard to get through. And, unfortunately for my sorry ass, I got to do it three whole times! I may as well have not even bothered, though, because there’s nothing to be gained by listening to it any more than once. It’s straightforward and offers nothing new upon consecutive listens. No hidden background parts, nothing to really break down. It’s just bland.

However, there’s always (usually) a silver lining. One thing to like about this album are the guitar riffs. They’re nothing special, but they’re the strongest part of the album and they keep the energy flowing as much as they can. Some of the better guitarwork can be found in ‘Vikings of Modern Times’ and ‘Killing Innocence’. The drumming is also pretty good, but the one-dimensional songwriting and monotonous vocal lines prevent the rhythm section from elevating the music very high on its own.

The biggest problem with 8RED is that it sounds like an inexperienced highschool band. Now, this wouldn’t be as big of an issue as it is if the fucking band hadn’t been around for, oh, I don’t know, MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS. Yeah, there was a six year break in the 90s and they’ve gone through numerous lineup changes, but there’s no excuse for a band that’s run for this long to sound the way it does. It’s uninspired heavy metal with weak melodies, wonky vocals, and amateurish tropes.

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Ivory Tower – Stronger Review

GenreMelodic Progressive Metal
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Ivory Tower is no stranger to the prog scene. While they’ve only put out four albums since the late 90s, their sound has made plenty of changes, from power prog to nu metal. In their fifth album to date, Stronger, the band shows that the eight years since their previous album (which was, in all honesty, a fucking mess) have been dedicated to evolving their sound for the better. It’s full of super sick riffs, exciting songwriting, and vengeful melodies that often carry classic Queensryche vibes.

The choruses are one of the stronger aspects of the album; they’re emotive, memorable, and actually really creative. Like the album itself, they’re intense and aggressive, not often making it to upbeat or hopeful, unless it’s with a bittersweet overtone.

Driving the melodies is Dirk Meyer, who is offering his vocals to an Ivory Tower album for the first time. He’s not the only newcomer, though; Frank Fasold is the band’s new keyboardist, and there’s also returning drummer Thorsten Thrunke, who was absent from the previous two albums. This revitalized lineup delivers a strong performance and is probably mostly (if not entirely) the reason for how fresh Stronger sounds.

The weakest point of the album is ‘In Me’. The melodies whiny and uninspired, and the track almost seems like a leftover from IV. The solo is fucking awesome, though, so it isn’t entirely irredeemable. Fortunately, ‘In Me’ is far enough into the album that it doesn’t do much to damage any expectations but far enough from the end that, if it did give you a really bad taste in your mouth, there’s a lot to make up for it. Aside from that, the closer could be better, but it isn’t necessarily bad, and there are a couple other points in the album that carry on for just too long.

On the flip side, though, there are plenty of things to enjoy. As I mentioned before, there are the choruses and riffs. There’s also a ton of variety, with the heavy metal/hard rock banger ‘Life Will Fade’, which is one of my favourites on the record, the deeply-aggressive ‘Loser’, and even an acoustic interlude track that all help to make the album rounded and dynamic. Ivory Tower’s varying use of synths is damn-near perfect, and the expressive drumming never fails to impress. Needless to say, the guitar solos are equally as impressive.

Personally, next to ‘Life Will Fade’, ‘Slave’ and ‘The Wolves You’ve Let In’ stand as my favourite tracks. The former is driven by heavy synths and has a floating chorus. The latter is a seven-minute ballad with an absolutely killer climax and solo. I think it would have been a great end to the album, too, but I digress.

Stronger isn’t without its flaws, but everything else is so good that they don’t matter much in the grand scheme of the album. Clocking in at more than seventy-five minutes, it’s also a pretty long run, but there are enough gems within that it’s more than worth at least one listen. When all is considered, Ivory Tower’s latest effort is a damn-good comeback.

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Brocelian – Guardians of Brocéliande Review

GenreSymphonic Metal
Release Date19 July 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Arriving five years after their debut, Brocelian’s Guardians of Broceliande is finally here. The female-fronted symphonic outfit attempts to deliver a catchy, epic, melodic metal powerhouse but ends up entirely missing their target, landing instead in the desolate land where one uninspired melody reigns supreme as ultimate god and overlord, imposing itself over and over and over again upon its helpless inhabitants.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you look; nearly everything here is a musical crime at best. The most immediately-noticeable culprit is the passionless vocal performance, which is a one-dimensional one-way ticket to Snoozeville. As if it wasn’t enough to have such a monotonous focal point, the guitars and orchestrations are both rather weak, which begs the question: what in the hell do the members of Brocelian think ‘epic’ means?

Aside from the shoddy foundation the band lays, the songwriting is equally as uninspired. None of the songs are longer than four minutes (except for one, which is longer by five seconds, but whatever) and they all follow a simplistic and straightforward formula. That isn’t to say short songs are bad, but I don’t think it helps the case of “originality” when every song is structured in the same way.

There is a fair amount of variety in the feels of the songs, though, and that’s what gives Guardians of Broceliande their only, real, tiny shade of hope. The titular track is more of a high-fantasy-sounding folk tune, and there are a couple light, slow songs in ‘My Last Melody’ and ‘Summer Days’ (although they’re painful to get through). There’s also some really good drumming in ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, but the shaky male vocals quickly strangle the life out of whatever performance is underneath. Then we have the biggest attempt of bravado in the entire album, ‘The Signs’, but, rather than bringing an anthemic roof-breaker, the song further proves that Brocelian really suck at generating any sort of energy.

So, yeah, it’s always shitty to talk almost entirely about the bad aspects of an album, but Brocelian really haven’t given me many positives to work with. Guardians of Broceliande is a poor excuse for symphonic metal and it’s failed to produce anything entertaining, nonetheless unique.

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Stormhammer – Seven Seals Review

GenreHeavy Power Metal
Release Date24 May 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Stormhammer is here with a reinvented sound and new vocalist in their seventh album: Seven Seals. After six albums, you’d think that maybe it’s all downhill from here, but, as so many metal bands prove time and time again, metal gets even harder with age. Seven Seals is a riff-heavy mixup of different types of metal, which makes for a dynamic experience that has plenty to offer.

Although the musical influences of Seven Seals are vast, the overall sound of the album is harsher, grittier, and harder than your typical power metal album. This is mostly due to the lack of refinement and absence of any keyboards that are both so prevalent in the genre, so we’re left with a raw sound that’s more characteristic of thrash than anything else. Tracks like ‘Under the Spell’ and ‘Seven Seals’ are fairly straightforward power metal songs, but again, lacking those usual power elements, they’ve got a serious edge.

Venturing way out of the way, we get tracks like ‘Your Nemesis’, ‘Deal with the Dead’, and ‘Downfall’, which are nearly crumbling over the weight of their breakdowns and melodic death metal attributes, and, of course, the obligatory ballad of ‘Taken by the Devil’.

Now, before we get to the not-so-good aspects, let me just take a second to say how much better Matthias Kupka‘s vocal performance is than Stormhammer’s former voices. Each growl and rough-vocalled verse is fucking colossal and he commands an impressive amount of versatility with his voice. He carries the catchy melodies with authority and the vocal harmonies are done really well. There’s really no contest when comparing him to the numerous prior vocalists of Stormhammer.

But, as it usually goes, there are some setbacks that prevent Seven Seals from breaking into a score of eight. A few of the tracks, namely ‘Downfall’, ‘Keep Me Safe’, and ‘Old Coals’, are very straightforward and don’t really add anything to the album. Likewise, while most of the songs are really good, there’s only one which I’d call exceptional (which, by the way, is the aforementioned ‘Your Nemesis’).

This is a really cool album. The melodies are strong and the beefy riffs are many. Nothing jumps out as amazing here, but the musicianship is great and most of the songs offer something different. For a band called “Stormhammer”, this pretty much sounds exactly how you’d expect it to.

Stormhammer – Under the Spell (Massacre)

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Deep Sun – Das Erbe der Welt Review

GenreSymphonic Metal [Electronic]
Release Date26 Apr 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Breaking out of the indie pool after signing onto Massacre Records, Deep Sun have unveiled their sophomore album. Das Erbe der Welt manages to not fall entirely into the typical female-fronted melodic/symphonic sound that you’d find in bands like Delain, Within Temptation, and most other gothic bands by keeping the degree of power metal high enough that the music isn’t overtaken by the operatic vocals. The clean, balanced mixing allows every bandmate to be heard and the use of electronic sounds, while plentiful, are done very well and only add to the depth and technological theme of the album.

To further complement Das Erbe der Welt‘s futuristic concept, the songs vary greatly and advance in different directions all the time. The fifteen-minute track ‘The Raven’ begins with a dark, foreboding atmosphere, and expands into serious aggression and even jazzy grooves. And then there are tracks like ‘Super New World’ and ‘Abandon Cyberspace’ that have an epic, driving feel. Even the obligatory ballad ‘Das Erbe der Welt’ is a dramatic journey. There’s really no shortage of variety here so the entire album is very exciting to listen to.

As usual in bands like this, the rhythm section is fucking awesome. It hits hard and never fails to bring the best it possibly can to the music, whether it’s with heavy shots or solid grooves. Additionally, the balance with the keys is at a perfect point, allowing every part to ring through without interruption. Unfortunately, the guitar solos are fairly underwhelming, but they’re still decent. Finally, since we just covered the rest of the instruments, I’d damn well better mention Debora Lavagnolo’s vocal performance. She’s got quite the pipes, even for a genre that excels in strong female singers. She hits soft lows, powerful highs (especially in that last belt before the solo section in ‘Abandon Cyberspace’ (and also the soaring yells in the album’s closing)), and she carries the melodies with grace.

This is a bit of a step away from their debut album, but Deep Sun has something special in Das Erbe der Welt. They command a persistent energy throughout the entire album and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not listening to it.

Deep Sun – Worship the Warship (Massacre)

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Imperia – Flames of Eternity Review

GenreGothic Symphonic/Power Metal
Release Date22 Feb 2019
Record LabelMassacre

This album starts off with a fucking bang. The orchestrations are juicy, the rhythm parts pound away, and Helena Michaelsen’s voice leads your ear like a lighthouse in a storm. It’s dynamic, expressive, and easily takes its place even as one of Imperia’s best tracks ever. A flame is ignited in your heart as you anticipate what’s to come.

But then, it happens. You’re left wondering where the ‘The Scarred Soul”s promises of grandeur and hard-hitting symphonic metal have gone, as they’re replaced only by the disorienting flurry of conflicting instrumentals and a whirlwind of shattered dreams and betrayal until you’re left musically starved and stranded on the desert island that is uninspiration.

Ok, it’s not that bad, but it’s not great, either. I definitely expected way more from this record, especially from that first song, but it’s a really mediocre product from a band that has otherwise seemed to know what they were doing with their previous four albums. Each track continues the downward spiral of quality, with bits and pieces here and there that tease better things that never come to fruition. The progressions and melodies are extremely predictable, and the orchestrations and songwriting are sloppy at best.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot that I like about this album. The production quality is clean, but the symphonic elements are mixed way too loudly. Most of what keeps the album afloat are the guitar solos, which are pretty good and easily overshadow everything else, except maybe Helena’s beautiful vocals.

There’s no shortage of variety in Flames of Eternity as far as feel goes, but the underlying tone doesn’t vary much. There are some slow (albeit not super great) songs, such as ‘Book of Love’ and ‘Beauty Within’, as well as some fiery features like ‘Blinded’ (which, quite honestly, made me cringe a bit from Helena’s operatic vocals). However, variety is meaningless if the music lacks substance and quality.

Needless to say, this album lacks any sort of fire whatsoever. It’s not crap, but it’s not good, either. Grap? Crood, maybe? Anyway, I think a huge part of the problem is that Imperia is trying way to fucking hard with this one, especially considering the fact that the four core members have been together for fifteen years. It feels neither sincere nor heartfelt, which is especially crucial in a gothic symphonic band. Go ahead and check it out if you think I’m full of shit, though. Maybe the entire thing went over my head.

Imperia – Fear Is An Illusion (Massacre)

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