Grimgotts – Tales Review

Score8/10
GenreSymphonic Power Metal
CountryEngland
Runtime20:04
Release Date1 May 2020
Record LabelIndependent

England’s best adventure metallers have returned from across the sea, bringing with them all the noble majesty of the dragons of old. The mighty Grimgotts have been hard at work to deliver a new EP, having released their sophomore album, Dragons of the Ages, just last year. Entitled Tales, it contains four imaginative tracks that, while sounding a bit more touched-up, stay true to the nautical/storybook/power metal combo of Grimgotts sound.

Like their previous works, each of Tales‘ four tracks rings with bombastic optimism, cheese, and keyboard insanity (ok, maybe not insanity, but they’re soooo fucking good). Additionally, the guitars, drums, and keyboards all keep things exciting, rarely settling into a single lick for too long, and frontman Andy Barton continues to lead the way with his deliberate mid-range pipes. One of the first differences I noticed about these songs, though, is the vocal layering in the choruses. On top of that, this album also comes off as more symphonic than Dragons of the Ages did, and the backing tracks sound more refined, but, hey, maybe that’s just me.

(Think THAT’s hot? You should hear their music!)

The most impressive aspect of Tales is its variety. The songs, all close to the five-minute mark, have multiple sections and a there’s good degree of dynamism, especially between songs. As far as specific songs go, it’s tough to pull favourites from such a short tracklist, but ‘The Dawnbringer’ slightly wins it for me. The keyboards are extra cheesy and the guitarwork is a notch above the other songs. But then, the solo section in ‘Fight ’til the End’ is pretty fucking sweet. Honestly, it doesn’t take much for me to be happy with an album; just throw in some flying synth solo cheese and a couple facemelters and we’re good. (Just kidding, it takes more than that (Except not really (?).).)

Anyway, if you were already a fan of Grimgotts, you’ll love Tales. Conversely, if you aren’t a fan of Grimgotts, maybe you should get your ass in gear and check them out, especially if you dig the likes of Atlas Pain, ShadowStrike, Freedom Call, or Power Quest. AND, if you REALLY like Grimgotts, you can look forward to two more EPs by the end of the year. Yeah. How’s THAT for modern music consumerism?

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Victorius – Space Ninjas From Hell Review

Score7/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime45:37
Release Date17 January 2020
Record LabelNapalm

Everyone’s favourite DragonForce that isn’t DragonForce is back once more! Following the ridicularity (is that a word?) that was 2018’s Dinosaur Warfare – Legend of the Power Saurus, Victorius continue with their parody approach to shining power metal in Space Ninjas from Hell. Some will be quick to disregard the album as a Gloryhammer ripoff, but that isn’t really fair. Just because Gloryhammer are the best at being nonsensical doesn’t mean other bands can’t try!

For me, Space Ninjas from Hell doesn’t hold a flame to, say, Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards. I don’t hate this album by any stretch, but, ultimately, it’s lyrically underwhelming. It should go without saying, but the thing about parody music, and especially power metal, is that lyrics are very important (well, kind of the most important). The genre demands that the cheese be dialed up to a fucking million, shamelessly holding nothing back. It’s such an easy genre to turn ridiculous, because it’s more-or-less already there. All you have to do is come up with some loosely clever lyrics and create fun melodies and, boom, you’re in. What Victorius have done here, though (and Dinosaur Warfare suffered from this, too) is try too hard to be random in some instances. There are definitely some excellent moments, as well as a lot of the song titles, but a good portion of the songs seem forced. Additionally, the melodies get old really quick, and they haven’t really changed at all in the band’s history, which doesn’t help when your music relies on a charismatic vocal delivery.

All this being said, the metal aspects are stronger than Victorius have ever been. There’s a good variety of dynamic tracks, solid riffage, and the solos are great. Plus, the whole Japanese theme works perfectly with the Victorius sound, too. As far as tracks go, my favourites include the entirety of ‘Cosmic Space Commando Base’ (which is also my favourite song title) and parts of ‘Evil Wizard Wushu Master’, but the guitars are on point for the whole fucking album. Oh, and that cheesy synthwork in ‘Shuriken Showdown’ really works for me, too.

All in all, this album is enjoyable. Dedicated Victorius fans will adore this album, and cheeselovers such as myself will get something out of a few spins. If Victorius do decide to continue down this path of humour, their success will rely on a little less effort and a little more melodism.

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Ironflame – Blood Red Victory Review

Score9/10
GenreHeavy Power Metal
CountryUSA (Ohio)
Runtime39:47
Release Date7 February 2020
Record LabelDivebomb

US power metal warriors Ironflame have thundered forth with their third album in four years, Blood Red Victory. Within, you will find eight testosterone-fueled metal hymns of epic aggression. The album is grittier than their previous two works, but it retains that same centurion spirit which Ironflame command so easily.

On a side note, I think I’m throwing around the word “them” a bit too much, because Ironflame’s studio lineup is a one-man show. It’s the product of the mutitalented Andrew D’Cagna, who has proven himself to be a true metal man, through-and-through. Personally, I’m not usually a fan of one-man albums because they just seem to be lacking something (Devin Townsend would be a perfect example of this), but Blood Red Victory is such a fucking banger that I don’t even care. As far as I’m considered, D’Cagna is actually just a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude. (Tropic Thunder anyone?)

Anyway, back to the album. This is exactly what I picture when I hear the term “US power metal”. It’s got that classic metal aesthetic combined with modern power metal energy and, well, it’s fucking powerful. There’s a great mix of tracks, from fast drivers to slower, more foreboding tracks like ‘Blood Red Cross’. One of the best things about Blood Red Victory, though, if the fact that you could start with literally any track and get hooked on the album right away. Each song is fucking sick. Simple as that.

And then we get to those fucking guitars. Every track goes from sick riff to sick riff. Seriously. From the first seconds of the opener to the album’s demise, it’s a shitshow of a riffshow. And I barely need to mention how killer the solos are.

On top of the relentless shredding of the guitars, the melodies are simplistic yet memorable, which gives a bit of that Iron Maiden treatment to the songs, where you know full well the isn’t much to the melody yet you’ll happily find yourself wanting to belt them out (in my own not-so-humble opinion, these are the best types of melody). While some of my favourites are in ‘Seekers of the Blade’ and ‘On Ashen Wings’, every song is irresistibly catchy. And, the vocal layering only adds to this.

So, yeah. If you want a lion’s share of traditional metal and power metal all in one, this is as close as you’re gonna get. D’Cagna is a fucking metal genius and I pray to the gods that he won’t be finished any time soon.

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Serious Black – Suite 226 Review

Score8.5/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryInternational
Runtime46:50
Release Date31 January 2020
Record LabelAFM

European power metal supergroup Serious Black have returned with their fifth full-length album, Suite 226. While there’s noticeable foundation of 90s power at the forefront, the album also brings elements of hair metal as well as a modern heaviness that turns out to actually be really refreshing. With the crisp vocal talents of ex-Bloodbound vocalist Urban breed belting out intense melodies and a band that spits out nothing but energy, you can be damn sure that this is a must-listen.

Suite 226‘s sound is a bit like early/mid Sonata Arctica, but with a bit more variety. It has everything from lively double-time tracks to slower, mournful tunes like ‘Come Home’. The eight-minute finisher, ‘Suite 226’, is also very well done and wraps everything up by re-exploring the album’s many moods. Additionally, there’re a ton of interesting keyboards and retro sfx, which peak in ‘Way Back Home’ and ‘Fate of All Humanity’.

One of my favourite things about the album is how well it flows. Among so many ups and downs, each song leads into the next without any choppiness. As far as songs go, my favourites would have to be ‘We Still Stand Tall’ and ‘When the Stars Are Right’. Both have fucking KILLER choruses and exciting arrangements, which, unsurprisingly, is right up my alley.

This melody-driven, guitar-chugging asskicker of an album is perfect for fans of 80s metal and late 90s/early 00s power metal. It has spirit, heart, and a healthy dose of not-so-in-your-face cheese.

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07 retro sfx
08 sick PM drive. Some orchestrations. Killer chorus.
09 ballad, retro sfx

Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga Review

Score10/10
GenrePower Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime55:06
Release Date10 January 2020
Record LabelAFM Records

Brothers of Metal are one of power metal’s most promising up-and-comers. The charismatic Norsemen achieved instant fame with their 2017 debut, Prophecy of Ragnarok, which was a catchy, epic, bass-cranked extravaganza. It was true warrior music for the true warrior (or, you know, us wannabe warriors). Obviously, this album was easily one of my favourites of the year, and while most of its songs follow a fairly simple structure, the band more than made up for it with their relentless viking energy, beefy riffage, and unique vocal approach.

So, it should come as no surprise that their sophomore album, Emblas Saga, is my first perfect score of 2020. It takes everything that Prophecy of Ragnarok did well, crams it into more dynamic, advanced arrangements, and injects obscene amounts of steroids into the mix. There’re also more orchestral elements thrown in for good measure. If Prophecy of Ragnarok got your blood flowing, Emblas Saga will make your veins burst.

Its biggest difference from its predecessor is that the folk influences are way more prominent here. Enough so that I would personally call it folk power metal, like I would call Elvenking or Wind Rose, but the band doesn’t, so whatever. Anyway, the instrumentation and melodies delve further into folk influence, enriching a sound that was already full.

The album begins with a short introductory track before the real album commences in ‘Powersnake’, kicking the album off with a fucking banger. Immediately after, the atmosphere quickly gets dark as it enters ‘Hel’, and the feel consistently changes throughout the entire rest of the album. Within Emblas Saga‘s hour-long runtime there are a happy songs, epic songs, dark songs, colossal songs, and a couple ballads, so you can be sure you’ll be satisfied by the time it ends.

Among the anthemic choruses and thundering guitars, I have a few favourites to pick. First and foremost, the contrast of the throaty warcries and soft female vocals have an incredible effect. They both play different roles and add an extra dimension to every song. As far as songs go, ‘Theft of the Hammer’ tops it for me; there aren’t a lot of songs that deliver this kind of sheer, pump-up intensity, and that shit is right up my alley. The epic, ‘Emblas Saga’, is a close second, and packs a hell of a lot into its seven minutes. It’s expressive, jarring, and is also an excellent way of remembering some of your Norse mythology genealogy.

2020 has just started and it’s already off with a fucking bang. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emblas Saga is still my favourite album of the year by December because it’s going to take an impossibly-great album to dethrone this one. Brothers of Metal have fought their way to the top, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere any time soon.

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Ancient Knights – Camelot Review

Score8.5/10
GenreNeoclassical Power Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime27:37
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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Rhodium – Sea Of The Dead Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Magic Kingdom – MetAlmighty Review

Score8/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryBelgium
Runtime1:01:20
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelAFM

As a rule of thumb, I never make any early judgments about an album until I’m at least two songs in (well, three if we’re counting the typical two-minute-orchestration first track that pollutes power metal). It gives me a chance to get away from any sort of propulsion the band hoped to gain with the first song and into what is usually a more accurate representation of the album as a whole. In the case of Magic Kingdom’s MetAlmighty, this proved to be a good precaution on my part, because, if I took that first track too seriously, I would have lost all interest. It has a strong intro, as well as a few worthwhile moments, but in the grand scheme of the album, it’s disorganized and the chorus is weak.

But, get passed ‘Unleash the Dragon’ and the real dragon appears! Sick riffs, headbangable beats, powerful melodies, and absolutely insane solos await you in a fiery keep. Your journey is led by the famed Michael Vescera (Obsession, ex-Yngwie J. Malmsteen), who is lending his vocals to Magic Kingdom for the first time. Also joining you on this epic quest for mighty metal are axeman/band founder Dushan Petrossi, bassist Vassili Moltchanov (both of Iron Mask), and Ark Ascent drummer Michael Brush. Together, they unleash eleven dynamic tracks that are sure to satiate even the pickier power metalhead.

Now, before we get to the rest of the good stuff, let’s finish off the not-so-good. As I mentioned before, the album starts at a low point. Unfortunately, MetAlmighty finishes on a similar note in ‘King Without a Crown’. It’s a decent track and I especially love the chorus, but it’s an underwhelming farewell to an otherwise hard-hitting album. Additionally, the production quality is. . . iffy at times, but it’s not an issue too often.

Other than that, though, this album kicks all sorts of fantasy ass. It rides forth with cheesy lyrics in a wide variety of dynamic tracks. The overall sound is grittier than a lot of modern power metal, which helps separate Magic Kingdom from the crowd (despite having one of the most unoriginal names in metal history). MetAlmighty may not be the best that Magic Kingdom’s ever put out, but it’s certainly worth giving a spin.

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Galneryus – Into The Purgatory Review

Score9.5/10
GenreNeoclassical Power Metal
CountryJapan
Runtime58:27
Release Date23 October 2019
Record LabelWarner Music Japan

The finest neoclassical power metal band east of the Silk Road have unleashed yet another album of facemelting ferocity. Into the Purgatory is the twelfth album to come from the mighty Galneryus and, despite such a long career, it lives up to the band’s glory, and then some. A slice of Galneryus’ neoclassical edge has been swapped for a bit more of a progressive influence this time around so, while you can still expect a hyper-melodic work of shred insanity, it’s different enough from their other albums to keep things feeling new.

The band begins with a super Dream Theatery instrumental and a floating melody that feeds directly into the second track, with a similar melody occurring in the closer. As if the all-out enthusiasm and energy of the album weren’t enough for me, I have a soft spot for wraparound melodies. They’re such a nice touch. Anyway, the rest of the album offers plenty of ups, downs, time changes, fast 16-note runs, and aggressive keyboard runs to keep you on your toes. Oh, plus, it’s also relentlessly fast, but you knew that already, right?

As usual, though, Galneryus’ highlight in Into the Purgatory is the unmatched guitarwork of Syu (who also released a solo album earlier this year in February, which was just as fucking crazy as this one). Between breakneck shredding, unstoppable riffage (‘The Followers’), and soloing that’s in a class of its own, Syu delivers nothing but gold for the albums entirety. Some of my favourite solos can be found in ‘Fighting of Eternity’ and ‘The End of the Line’, but they’re all just ridiculous.

In short, Into the Purgatory is just another excellent album from a band that’s never given anything less. Despite a consistent melodic structure, there’s enough variety to keep the entire album exciting, and the sheer skill the band has at their disposal is, frankly, staggering. Be sure give this one a listen because it’s sure to make a few Album of the Year lists.

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Dawn Of Destiny – The Beast Inside Review

Score8/10
GenreMelodic/Power Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime56:26
Release Date4 October 2019
Record LabelRam It Down

These days, it’s incredibly difficult to carve out your own distinct space in the metal world. Among the billion or so new bands that come out by the year, it’s simply a numbers game at this point; no matter what your sound is, chances are it’s been done before. Usually, anyway. So, when a band like Dawn of Destiny comes around with a new album, it’s enough to ignite my curiosity. To say that The Beast Inside is unique would be a bit of an understatement. Seriously. It’s so unique that I can’t directly compare its sound to another band or album. Not that I’ve heard every metal record ever (because, obviously, I haven’t), but I’ve listened to my fair share of melodic and power metal, so that should say something.

However, that doesn’t make their sound indescribable or anything of the sort. Most simply, The Beast Inside is a mashup of gothic, progressive, symphonic, and power metal. This fundamental mix is hardly groundbreaking, but the way in which Dawn of Destiny differs from any band I can think of is the way it twists this combination into unconventional songwriting and interesting melodies. The first track, ‘The Beast Inside a Beauty’ is a great example of this. Starting with a light music box melody, it brings the attitude of gothic and symphonic metal together with the driving energy of power metal. It’s also the perfect preview to the album’s overall sound and (although the next two tracks aren’t quite as good) it starts the album off on a high note.

So, yeah, it’s got a unique sound, but what about the musicians? I’m glad you asked! In short, this is a fucking talented group. Jen Faber brings a big, beefy guitar tone to his chugging riffs and, on drums, Philipp Bock goes beyond your basic time-keeping by keeping the grooves dynamic. And those guitar solos? Holy fuck. There are some serious gems, especially in ‘It’s My Fate’. The highlight, though, is Jeanette Scherff‘s strong vocal style. She sings far lower and with way more bravado than you usually hear in this kind of music, making the already-solid choruses even more memorable. Her voice is actually very similar to original Battle Beast and current Burning Point vocalist Nitte Valo. Tying the whole thing together are the keyboards, courtesy of Dirk Raczkiewicz, which fill out the background nicely.

Despite all the praise I have for The Beast Inside, it isn’t perfect. ‘Peace of Mind’ is pretty weak to the point where the album could easily do without it. But, other than the odd awkward verse melody and section, this is pretty much it for shortcomings, which isn’t bad at all, if you ask me.

All things considered, The Beast Inside is an awesome album. The songs range from energetic power metal to heavier, darker metal to unconventional-yet-melodic metal. Some songs are definitely stronger than others, with ‘Signs in the Sky’ and ‘If We Close Our Eyes’ being my favourites, but every track offers something different from the last, so make sure to give the whole album a spin!

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