Amaranthe – Manifest Review

GenreMelodic Metal (Pop Metal)
Release Date2 October 2020
Record LabelNuclear Blast

Sweden’s melodic metal masters Amaranthe have continued to hold the pop metal standard high in their sixth album, Manifest. While I’ll never come back to half of the tracklist, the amount of sheer talent Amaranthe continues to display can’t be ignored; whether it’s the relentless, intricate grooving of drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen or the combined vocal talents of Elize Ryd, Nils Molin, or Henrik “GG6” Englund, there’s a ton to appreciate musically.

If there’s one thing that can be said about Manifest, it’s that it’s exactly consistent with what you’d expect an Amaranthe album to be: bright, hopeful choruses in between thunderous rhythm section syncopation, digital synths, and colossal growls. It leans further to the pop side, (like everything since The Nexus) but it contains enough powerful riffs and chugging that it still sits comfortably under the metal banner, although not under the power metal banner, as so many others seem to be convinced.

In all honesty, I was ready to call it quits on this album after my first listen. It seemed like they gave up on everything else and settled into being a metalcore version of late 2000s pop groups. However, being that I’ve been a huge fan of these guys for years (and also that I first spun it on my shitty Bluetooth speaker at work), I decided to give it another spin, for old time’s sake. And, fortunately, that led to a few more listens.

Sure, my initial reaction still holds up for the trainwrecks that are ‘Stronger’ (does someone wanna tell me how you can fuck up a song that features both Elize Ryd AND Noora Louhimo?), ‘Die and Wake Up’, ‘Make It Better’, and the poorly-named ‘Adrenaline’, but Manifest‘s best tracks live up to the band’s full capabilities.

For starters, ‘Fearless’ kicks the album off with all the shiny-yet-ferocious badassery Amaranthe is known for. The following tracks rotate between crap and good-but-not-great (and a full-out Dynazty song in ‘Do Or Die’) until the second half, where we get to some seriously killer tracks in ‘The Game’, ‘Archangel’, and my personal favourite, ‘Boom!’. Seriously, if you lost all hope in Amaranthe because of MAXIMALISM or Helix, ‘Boom!’ is probably the completely wrong song to recommend, but it’s such a shitshow that I have to. It’s the obligatory GG6 feature on the album, so you can expect some of the best growling/rapping metal has to offer, along with shameless self-awareness.

As a sidenote, I can’t say for sure (because I haven’t been bothered to check), but I would imagine that the differing factor between the tracks I like and dislike is how involved Elize Ryd is in the songwriting. In Helix, new male vocalist Nils Molin (Dynazty) didn’t get a proper introduction (in my own not-so-humble opinion), and there was way too much “Oo, look at me!” from Elize. Not that I think she’s a bad vocalist by any stretch; she’s actually one of my favourites. However, it seems like the band is all the better when she takes a step back from the songwriting and allows the music to be more of a team effort.

All in all, Manifest is about the best an album like this could be. It’s easily the best Amaranthe album since 2013 and it blows pretty much every other band in the space (think Metalite (or maybe protect yourself by NEVER thinking about Metalite), Scarleth, CyHra, In Flames kinda) out of the water.

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CyHra – No Halos In Hell Review

GenreMelodic Metal
Release Date15 November 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

As a longtime fan of Amaranthe, I was actually pretty psyched when its founder and vocalist, Jake E, announced he was leaving to form his own band back in 2016 (or was it 2017?). As Amaranthe continued to venture further and further away from the metal/pop hybrid it began as into an outright pop outfit with metal instruments, this new band, CyHra, held my hopes of bringing Jake E’s songwriting talents back into metal, where they belong. Fortunately, CyHra’s debut, Letters to Myself, was exactly what I expected: a super-electronic, riff-heavy, melodic modern metal album. It had sincerity, it had charisma, and it had the musical chops to stand as a notably-impressive debut.

So, you can imagine my fucking disappointment upon first finishing No Halos in Hell. Despite Letters to Myself being an incredibly synthetic album to begin with, No Halos in Hell basically feels like an artificial ripoff. Furthermore, it’s the type of album Jake E appeared to be avoiding by leaving Amaranthe. Most of the songs sound the same, it’s one-dimensional, and it floats along with limited-to-zero dynamic range and beats the shit out of you with the exact same fucking chorus like fifty times. Usually, I would provide specific examples, but I’ll be honest; even after four full listens, I still can’t tell half the fucking tracks apart, so, unless I were to make an elaborate chart of which-song-reuses-what, a general idea’s all you’re gonna get.

Aside from the painfully uninspired simplicity of the songwriting and melodies, there’s another major contributor to this album’s demise: the choruses. Following the monotony of the verses, there’s always a very blatant attempt at a build in the prechoruses that promises an emotional climax in the chorus. Unfortunately, it almost never comes because the vocals float by, the guitars go nowhere, and the drums are too busy doing absolutely nothing. There’s a constant 16th-note feel throughout the entire album, and it would be so easy to throw in some cool grooves to really make the choruses shine, but no, that’s apparently too much to ask for.

In short, this album is an example of how not to make a pop metal album. While each individual song is passable, and a couple songs are actually good (‘Out of My Life’, ‘Blood Brothers’), it’s a fucking chore to listen to more than two at a time. CyHra are a talented band that have already proven themselves to be musically capable, but they really jumped the gun by going hyper-commercial in No Halos in Hell.

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Melodic Metal: Amaranthe Sign Onto Nuclear Blast

Swedish modern metal heavyweights Amaranthe have signed onto Nuclear Blast. The band was formerly with Spinefarm Records, under which they released all five of their previous albums.

Amaranthe’s Olof Mörck:
“It feels amazing to unveil our cooperation with the giants at Nuclear Blast! Ever since we held our shiny new Nuclear Blast CD’s in our teenage hands back in the mid-90’s, they have been at the forefront of bringing the best of the best to the metal scene, and to have them as partners is a dream come true! They are not only massively experienced in the metal scene, but also wonderful people and it has been a pleasure getting to know them. We are already nailing down great plans for the future, and things are looking brighter and stronger for Amaranthe than ever! Keep your eyes open for our next leap forward together in the near future!”

Marcus Hammer, Managing Director of Nuclear Blast:
“We’re more than happy to welcome Amaranthe and Kult Management to the Nuclear Blast family. I’ve already been following the group for a while as they were touring with some of their new label mates. Being both great musicians and humans, that have a clear vision and are supported by an experienced team in the back, it was a no-brainer to try to win this outstanding band for our roster. Now we’re stoked to be the new partner at their side pursuing one goal: adding a successful next chapter to their already shiny career. The future looks bright for both, Amaranthe and Nuclear Blast.”

Amaranthe will release their next album some time in 2020. While no information has been released yet, the band has stated that they’ll begin recording after they finish their next round of tours, which include of a headline tour of Scandinavia followed by a tour with Sabaton and Apocalypta as support.

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Sonata Arctica – Talviyo Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date6 September 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

This was a tough one. Seriously. Aside from the fact that I just really dislike this album, it took me half a fucking hour to even come up with something to put in the “Genre” tab up top (and I’d sooner snap my laptop in half before I call Talviyo power metal). Honestly, it’s not even really a metal album. While it’s true that metal music is expansive and encompasses many different sounds, I can barely justify calling this metal. At this point, we should expect some genre-bending from Sonata Arctica, but this is a real stretch.

So, as a result of all that, I tried really hard to not judge Talviyo as a metal album, but as a contemporary work on its own. I just really want to emphasize that I don’t dislike this album due to its unmetalness. I dislike it because it’s boring, lacks any substance, and plays like a late assignment that was finished the night before a deadline.

The album begins at its highest point (but even then its not that high at all) and steadily gets worse as it continues; whether that’s because of my steady exhaustion or the quality of music is up for debate. Talviyo begins with ‘Message from the Sun’, which is a light, fluffy, straightforward song that carries more power metal air than any other song on the record. It’s not a terrible track, but between questionable vocals, sub-par production, and wonky songwriting, it’s satisfactory at best. After this, though, each song just kind of fades into the next, offering very few moments worth talking about. ‘Demon’s Cage’ and ‘Ismo’s Got Good Reactors’ show some moments of redemption, but they fade back into oblivion before any good idea can be fully materialized.

There are a few reasons for these shortcomings. The most prominent would be the hugely-inconsistent vocal delivery, which can be good one moment and ass-backwards the next. And then we get to the guitar tones, which are also rather inconsistent (and sometimes tinny), which is likely a symptom of the piss-poor production quality. However, the biggest contributor to Talviyo‘s downfall is the songwriting itself. It tries to be a bit experimental, and I can respect that, but it comes off only as amateurish and poorly-constructed.

Despite being such a trainwreck, I did manage to find some positives within Talviyo‘s frozen, lifeless form. To start, there’s a noticeable and consistent wintry atmosphere over the music, so bonus points there for an actual coherent musical idea. The bass playing is also great, especially in ‘Whirlwind’, and there are, as I said before, a few cool gems, if you’re patient enough to wait for their arrival.

If you like light, reflective, more acoustic music to throw on in the background, you might get something from Talviyo. But, for those of you who prefer a little bit more effort in your music, you’re not missing much. It’s truly a shame that Sonata Arctica have fallen down to such a level as this. After the overwhelmingly-negative reception of The Ninth Hour, they had two choices: shift back to something they know they could do well, or try the same thing again. Well, there’s no need to say which they chose, because this disaster speaks for itself.

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CyHra Sign Onto Nuclear Blast

After parting ways with Amaranthe in 2017, founder/vocalist Jake E started a new band, CyHra, along with Jesper Stromblad (who left In Flames around the same time).

CyHra released their debut, Letters to Myself, under Spinefarm. Now, the band have signed onto the mighty Nuclear Blast and will release their upcoming album, which has already been recorded, mixed and mastered.

While no news of the new album has been released yet, CyHra have also made public a European tour alongside Battle Beast and Brymir this November.

To hear their new single as soon as it’s out (which the band promises will be soon), go follow them on Facebook!

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Equilibrium – Renegades Review

GenreElectronic “Folk” Metal/Dance
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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Twilight Force – Dawn Of The Dragonstar Review

GenreSymphonic Power Metal
Release Date16 August 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

Gather round, children, to hear magical tales of fantastical whimsy! Now fronted by the famed Alessandro Conti, the mighty Twilight Force is back with their third opus, Dawn of the Dragonstar. After parting ways with their previous vocalist, Christian Eriksson (who recently just released his debut with his new brethren in NorthTale), the merry men have lost none of their vigour or valiance, yet again producing another glorious album that is as fresh as a new day!

As you can expect from Twilight Force, Dawn of the Dragonstar is full of unlimited, overblown, storybook energy. With the exception of maybe two moments, the album is consistently happy and heroic from the very first seconds of the galloping ‘Dawn of the Dragonstar’ into its final note. This hyper-melodic, smile-demanding work isn’t all sheen and shine, though; there’s an absolutely staggering degree of talent and proficiency to behold in every track.

The guitars, helmed by bandmates Aerendir and Lynd, produce intense riffs (when they aren’t busy with their fast chugging) and facemelting solos that would make even Herman Li a bit jealous. The drums don’t sit still literally ever, and the constantly-changing grooves add as much emotion to the music as the shining, Disney orchestrations. Along with the majestic, nearly-operatic vocals of Cont-er, should I say, Allyon, this force of the twilight is worth twice their weight in gold.

There’s also a ton of variety to enjoy, as many of the songs have certain musical themes attached to them; ‘Thundersword’ sounds like wild-west-meets-medieval-knights, ‘With the Light of a Thousand Suns’ brings the heat like the dry deserts of the Middle East (complete with a sick dumbek-driven instrumental section), and tracks like ‘Long Live the King’ and ‘Valley of the Vale’ bring a more familiar, choral, Western European vibe. But then we have the twelve-minute ‘Blade of Immortal Steel’, which is in a fucking realm of its own. Aside from the tastefully-integrated Chinese folk instruments, this is unmatched epic power metal, in all its major pentatonic glory. It’s dynamic, it’s larger-than-life, the long-ass solo section is simply ridiculous, and the chorus still gives me goosebumps. This track is easily my favourite on the entire album because it scratches every musical itch I have.

I did not expect to like this album as much as I do. While I did really like Heroes of Mighty Magic, Tales of Ancient Prophecies didn’t quite do it for me, so I was expecting something similarly hit-and-miss. But nope, this album fucking kills and it puts me in a happy mood almost instantly. Complete with four “bonus” tracks, Dawn of the Dragonstar is a truly sophisticated symphonic metal album. Twilight Force have outdone themselves this time!

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NorthTale – Welcome To Paradise Review

GenrePower Metal
Release Date2 August 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

Formed by legendary power metal vocalist Christian Eriksson (ex-Twilight Force), guitarist Bill Hudson (ex-U.D.O., ex-Power Quest), and drummer Patrick Johansson (ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen), the Swedish-American supergroup NorthTale is finally ready to be heard by the masses. Their debut record, the aptly-named Welcome to Paradise, is a paradise for all fans of late 90s/early 00s power metal.

To be completely honest, I was skeptical of Welcome to Paradise when it was announced. After all, it’s always a bit pretentious when a new project comes along claiming they’re going to “bring back the glory days”, but believe me when I say that NorthTale fucking deliver on this promise; the arrangements are fast, the solos are long, the soaring vocals are powerful, the mood is sickeningly sweet, and everything is wrapped up in a nice, fresh package that both oozes a golden-era-power-metal feel while also bringing something that’s new, exciting, and relistenable.

There are obviously a few straight, double-time power metal bangers on this record, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to hear. Some of the tracks, such as ‘Bring Down the Mountain’ and ‘Everyone’s a Star’, seem to be tributes to rock/metal greats (the former’s verses are almost too close to Judas Priest’s ‘All Guns Blazing’, and the latter’s chorus is very similar to a few of Bon Jovi’s hooks). There are also the obligatory slow tunes, ‘Way of the Light’ and ‘Even When’, which both offer beauty in different forms, and ‘Playing with Fire’ brings some darker, heavier elements to the show.

As far as my favourites go, I have a few. The first thing that comes to mind is the chorus of ‘Higher’, which might be the best fucking chorus I’ve heard all year, as well as some killer neoclassical licks in the solo section. I also absolutely love Christian’s vocals, as well as every other crazy, shredding guitar and key solo on the record, so, you know, there’s that. And, of course, I welcome all of the tongue-in-cheek lyrics that come every now and then.

I really tried to not give this album a 10. After all, it’s only August and I’ve already given out two others this year. However, it’s not my fault that so much good music has come out this year. In the case of this album, everything is perfect to me. The runtime is a bit longer than your typical metal album, but that’s a great thing when every song on an album is excellent. Plus, aside from everything else I mentioned before, the drumming is colourful and the bass even gets to shine a couple times, like in ‘Follow Me’. The whole band really couldn’t have played any better and the songwriting allows for power metal of the most elite form.

I find it amusing that Welcome to Paradise, despite the boundless positive energy and motivational messages it conveys, seems to be a big “fuck you” (in the nicest of ways, of course) from NorthTale to the power metal world, as if saying, “Step aside; we’re the kings now.” Needless to say, in my own humble opinion, I fully agree, because this record blew my fucking face off.

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Sabaton – The Great War Review

GenreHeavy/Power Metal
Release Date19 July 2019
Record LabelNuclear Blast

The time has finally come for Sabaton to unleash their ninth record: The Great War. Despite a lengthy career of two decades, the Swedish metal heroes are showing no sign of slowing down, and they prove that they’re here to stay by delivering their biggest, boldest, most bombastic blast of metal in years. Other than slamming the epic pedal to the fucking floor, The Great War separates itself from Sabaton’s prior works by hanging a darker atmosphere over the music, as well as putting more emphasis on classical scales, especially in its guitar solos.

That being said, it is still very much a Sabaton album; it’s commercially-viable, catchy, thumping heavy metal. There’s definitely a progression from previous albums, but the songs all either reuse (or are combinations of) the same structure, chord progressions, scales, tunes, or licks present in previous albums to maintain their trademark sound. While most of the songs on the album still manage to stand out as notably fucking awesome, tracks like ‘Devil Dogs’ and ’82nd All the Way’, are almost distractingly derivative of older material.

But, as I said, the rest of the album has some absolute gems. It begins with the ominous chorus of ‘The Future of Warfare’ before pounding out into some of the best drumwork in Sabaton history (I mean both in the song and the entire album. Seriously. Hannes Van Dal has no fucking chill and it really pays off). The two most experimental songs are probably ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ and ‘The End of the War to End All Wars’, which erupts into the record’s ultra-epic, operatic climax before closing with a beautiful rendition of ‘In Flanders Fields’.

As far as my own personal favourite goes, I have to give it to ‘A Ghost in the Trenches’. It’s a steady, blood-boiling onslaught of energy, and the extra bars of 3 at the end of the verses is a really cool touch. Other top contenders (other than the entirety of the album) are ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ and the aforementioned ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’; they play a bit more outside of the box and offer a bit more than your typical Sabaton experience.

Complete with a salvo of headbangable tunes and Joakim Broden‘s iconic vocals, The Great War is everything I wanted and more. It easily stands with Carolus Rex as the band’s best. The only reason I don’t score this album a ten (for myself, it is a ten) is because of the lack of originality in places. It’s not like anybody expects or even wants much originality from Sabaton, but it brings the score down nonetheless. Regardless, be wary when giving this record a spin, because you won’t want to turn it off.

Originally written for The Metal Observer

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New Singles From NorthTale, Elvenking, Korpiklaani

It’s been a big Friday! Check out these new singles from three big bands.

NorthTale – Shape Your Reality

NorthTale is a power metal project featuring former Twilight Force frontman Christian Eriksson and other prominent power metal musicians. ‘Shape Your Reality’ is taken from their upcoming album, Welcome to Paradise, which will be released on 2 August via Nuclear Blast.

Elvenking – Silverseal

The second single from the upcoming album of folk metal veterans Elvenking is ‘Silverseal’, which takes the band into slightly new territory. Reader of the Runes: Divination is set for release on 30 August under AFM.

Korpiklaani – Pivo Pivo

Folk metallers Korpiklaani have released a new version of the song ‘Beer Beer’ in Polish, from the Beer Beer CD of their latest album, Kulkija.

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