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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Floating Worlds – Battleship Oceania Review

GenreSymphonic Progressive Metal (Rock Opera)
Release Date17 May 2019
Record LabelPride & Joy

Rock operas are a massive endeavour. Aside from being able to construct a coherent story without breaking the lyrical flow of the songs, the project needs to strike a balance between this storytelling and quality songwriting without pushing the lyrical agenda too forcefully. Floating World’s Battleship Oceania nails a lot of things, but falls short in a few other major aspects.

The album kicks off on a high note with ‘Oceania’ and sets the perfect mood for the rest of the album. It also shows a bit of what the band are capable of as musicians and the orchestrations aren’t overdone. If the rest of the album followed suit with its beginning, this would undoubtedly have scored at least a nine. Conversely, though, the second track breaks way the hell off into the other direction and drones on for far too long, with the rest of the album continuing this yo-yo of great song/bad song until its end. So, let’s get the rest of the bad stuff out in the open first, because I’d prefer to end my criticism on a higher note.

Battleship Oceania‘s biggest issue is one that is all too prevalent. So many of the songs carry on for way too long, which makes the album quickly wear out its welcome. Most of the songs have at least one section that suffers from this, but notable examples would be pretty much the entirety of ‘Island of Dreams’, most of ‘The Last Goodbye’, and ‘Sailing in History’. Additionally, while the entire album is larger-than-life, some of the orchestrations get out of hand and there’s simply too much in the forefront at once.

It’s a shame that these flaws are so prevalent because the good parts of this album are really good. The grand story of the crew of a legendary ship, vanity, corruption, and self-sacrifice is told entertainingly and coherently. Some of the lyrics in the verses don’t flow too well, but we’ll give them a pass on this, because they’re mostly well done and they’re not even native English speakers for fuck’s sake. Some tracks are fucking killer all the way through, like the exciting ‘New Mission’, the dark, dooming ‘The Curse’, and ‘Oceania’, but every song has an impressively solid core. There’s a huge amount of variety on the album, from the heavy bangers to the impending danger of songs like ‘Retribution’ to soft, nurturing tones in the semi-electronic ‘Divine Love’, and each different feel is executed well. And, as I mentioned before, the musicianship is altogether excellent. Jon Soti’s vocals are fantastic and powerful, the rhythm section is super tight, the solos are cool (that fucking bass solo in ‘Eternal Sleep’!), and the sparing use of female vocals and choirs is a really nice touch.

All things considered, Battleship Oceania still makes the cut as a great effort. If two or three minutes were cut from most of the songs it’d definitely be all the better for it, but it’s still a very enjoyable album. The main problem, I think, is that the band got just a bit too ambitious with this project, but a bit of restraint and streamlining is all their next record needs to be as awesomely mighty as most of this one is.

Floating Worlds – Retribution (Pride & Joy)

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Qantice – The Anastoria Review

GenreSymphonic Power Metal
Release Date26 April 2019
Record LabelPride & Joy

If you’re looking for a power metal album to reawaken your childlike sense of whimsy and wonder, Qantice’s The Anastoria is for you. Its sci-fi-themed storytelling is full, rich, and sickeningly sweet. Needless to say, I love it. The orchestrations are expertly composed and lively, which makes for an immense and powerful sound.

This first track* starts with such fucking vigour that I listened to it probably six times before I even thought about the rest of the album. The furious gallops in the first verse gave me goosebumps and David Akesson’s vocals instantly stole my attention. With Alexandra Laya’s climbing violin lines and the bountiful orchestrations to finish it off, I was (to say it conservatively) very excited to hear what else The Anastoria had to offer.

This is Qantice’s first album with their new lineup, now featuring the aforementioned David Åkesson on vocals and Alexandra Laya on violin. Additionally, as with their previous albums, there are a slew of session musicians on various woodwind instruments and piano throughout the album (which makes me extra happy; the fewer MIDI tracks, the better).

While the rhythm and solo guitars are strong and the drums beat ridiculously fast through the entire record, Laya’s violin playing has to be the most metal part of the record. She plays that god damn thing so fiercely, especially in ‘Gone Astray’ and ‘Rivers Can’t Fly’, that I wouldn’t be surprised if she had to replace her bow after each song she recorded. Plus, her soloing in ‘Mad Clowns’ holds its ground to the masterful guitar solo.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about the sheer speed in this album, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all these guys can do. In fact, their skillset and songwriting encompasses a vast array of musical space, from the light, peaceful reflection of ‘Cosmic Sway’ to the bouncy swing of ‘Krooner’ to the dynamic, fantastical atmosphere created in ‘Timeline Tragedy’. No one song on this album sounds like another (or even derivative of another) which allows for a uniquely variable product.

The impact this record produces can be felt from the outer reaches of the galaxy. There’s so much to be heard within that it’ll take numerous playthroughs until you stop hearing new things, like that tasty trumpet lick toward the end of ‘Timeline Tragedy’. This album is an absolute must-listen. I guarantee that it’ll impress you. And, if you aren’t impressed by it, I will give you nothing.

*I don’t consider the minute-long instrumentals as the first track, partially because every power metal album has one and it gets redundant mentioning them and partially because I hate them with a burning passion because 90% of the time they’re a waste of space.

Qantice – Without a Hero (Pride & Joy)

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