Amaranthe – Manifest Review

Score7/10
GenreMelodic Metal (Pop Metal)
CountrySweden
Runtime40:20
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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Dexter Ward – III Review

Score8.5/10
GenreHeavy Metal (Traditional)
CountryGreece
Runtime45:58
Release Date13 March 2020
Record LabelNo Remorse

Greek heavy metal force Dexter Ward have returned after four years with a third album of classic anthems and colossal riffage. This epic, gritty onslaught of medieval glory easily stands among the mightiest of axe-wielding metal knights. Within are eight tracks forged of metal worship and mighty tales.

Overall, III treads closely to the root Dexter Ward sound, kind of a combination of bands like Visigoth and Iron Maiden, with a touch of Running Wild. Along the same lines, the sound stays true to classic metal through the use of memorable riffs and a fair deal of facemelting. The vocals, while nothing to scoff at, are more dialed down than the usual belting of modern metal bands, instead taking a more Manowar (or to a lesser extent, Dio) approach to things.

For me, the highlight of III is the guitarwork. I could go into detail or pick songs (maybe ‘The Dragon of the Mist’ is on the upper end?) but I’d just end up saying the same shit over and over so I’ll just leave it and say the guitars are fucking killer, inside and out. The classic-inspired anthems of the choruses also take a stand as a high point, and the drums are far busier than in your usual classic metal band.

But, the real reason III kicks so much ass is its variety. The songs are all dynamic, with sick solo sections in some and chugging grooves in others. Fitting in with the whole sword-and-sorcery theme, a lot of the album is based around up-tempo gallops and 6/8, but there’s a good mix of musical feels, so playing the record front to back is no problem.

Fans of Greek power metal and classics like Iron Maiden and the aforementioned bands should definitely give III a spin (and the rest of Dexter Ward’s stuff). It’s one of the stronger albums in the genre I’ve heard in the past months, and I’m finding it hard to get sick of.

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Fallen Arise – Enigma Review

Score4/10
GenreGothic Symphonic Metal
CountryGreece
Runtime46:36
Release Date10 April 2020
Record LabelRock of Angels (ROAR!)

Winning the award for the dullest album I’ve heard in 2020 is Fallen Arise in their latest album, Enigma. While it doesn’t quite make the cut as bad (and fans of really boring gothic metal might actually like it), Enigma managed to make me yawn more than 90% of the chick flicks I’ve seen.

Fallen Arise are foremost plagued with an bland frontwoman; the vocals are boring at the best of times, and annoying at the worst. It goes without saying that this is really a crucial aspect in a modern symphonic band, and, well, any band, but generic vocals are what send symphonic metal bands to get shot on the outskirts of town, naked and alone. Not good naked, but, like, gross naked. Anyway, that isn’t to say that the album would be great if the vocals are better, because everything is pretty uninspired, but it would definitely be better.

Enigma‘s greatest downfall is its simplicity. The band has based their music around whiney melodies, clumsy grooves, and repetition, repetition, repetition. Seriously, I fail to see how dragging a shitty chorus out five times makes it any less shitty but, hey, it’s not my album.

There’s really nothing substantial I like in Enigma. As I said before, it isn’t necessarily bad, but it annoys me and I’m glad I don’t have to listen to it a fourth time.

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Asgard – Ragnarøkkr Review

Score3/10
GenreProgressive Folk Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime
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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Bioplan – Epipath & Ocular Review

Score9/10
GenreProgressive Metal (Synthwave Fusion)
CountrySweden
Runtime49:20
Release Date29 May 2020
Record LabelLayered Reality

The ever-busy multi-instrumentalist Andi Kravljaca (Aeon Zen, Thaurorod, Nibiru Ordeal) is back with another dose of nostalgia-laden shred madness in the second installment of Bioplan. Epipath & Ocular is functionally a double EP, featuring the previous EP’s (Ocular’s) tracklist, as well as five new tracks in the Epipath section. If you’re coming in never having heard of Bioplan before, expect to hear chunky djent and intense, glowing synthwave in equal measure. You can also expect to be blown away, because this shit is destructive.

I’m only gonna cover the new portion of the album, because I already wrote a review for Ocular last year, which you can read here if you’re so inclined. The biggest difference Epipath has from its predecessor is that it is way more synthy. There’s a lot more emphasis on atmosphere this time around, but there’s still no shortage to relentless neoclassical shredding or flying guitar melodies. Furthermore, the numerous background synth harmonies, melodies, and syncopated drumming are as on point as ever, so the album is an all-around blast.

The album begins with a very Flash Arnold opener in ‘Ingress’, which leans very far onto the more atmospheric side of things. There’s still a fair amount of shredding, but it’s nice to get something different right off the top. However, staying true to the core of Bioplan, the album continues into ‘Perspex Cassidy’, which offers more of that familiar Jeff-Beck-meets-Joe-Satriani-meets-modern-prog experience.

While the entire album features truly masterful guitarwork, highlights can be found in the entirety of ‘He’s a Transporter’ and my personal favourite song on the record, ‘Atomic Era Cocktails’ (which also has a mean fucking synth solo by Harri Koskela, a cool dubsteppy section, and a super trippy fade into the outro).

Another thing I noticed is the fact that the naming conventions for songs is entirely different this time around. Where Ocular had pretty generic modern prog titles like ‘Inclement’ and ‘Refractive’, Epipath has a little more fun with things (most of which I’ve already mentioned).

Anyway, fans of cheesy 80s synthwave, technical prog, or instrumental fusion with undoubtedly love Epipath & Ocular. It’s got all the flair, skill, and facemelting fuckery you could want, all wrapped up in a retro-yet-crystal-clear package.

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Dynazty – The Dark Delight Review

Score9/10
GenreMelodic Metal
CountrySweden
Runtime52:17
Release Date3 April 2020
Record LabelAFM

Where a lot of bands would suffer severe burnout after releasing a new album every two years for more than a decade, Dynazty are sounding fresher than ever in their seventh record, The Dark Delight. Full of electronic elements and powerful melodies, there’s far more between the lines than just modern flare. The Swedish melodic metallers have struck gold with an album that bursts with commercial accessibility and badass heavy metal in equal measure.

The uniqueness this album contains is surprising, considering frontman Nils Molin has also been busy as the new male vocalist of the Swedish pop metal group Amaranthe. Despite a similar core sound (colossal drums and guitars, bouncy synth melodies), The Dark Delight retains its individuality, even when compared to Dynazty’s own previous stuff.

Most of the tracks have identical styles, staying heavy and darker for the verses then lightening up a bit on the chorus. Although, Dynazty do an excellent job at keeping every song sounding unique while working around this idea. The melodies are strong and catchy and the beats carry serious headbangability, so it’s easy to see why The Dark Delight holds its own with other modern metal bands like Amaranthe, Delain, or The Dark Element.

The highlight for me isn’t the catchiness, or the electronic elements, or the massive guitars, or the colourful drumming. No, for me, the highlight is undoubtedly the soloing. Seriously. These guys lay down some serious shreds.

Even if you aren’t a fan of this style, The Dark Delight is commendable enough to warrant a listen. It’s not often a poppy metal album is full of so much detail, so if killer vocals, guitars, and drums aren’t good enough for you, maybe they will be.

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Dark Forest – Oak, Ash, & Thorn Review

Score9/10
GenreEpic Heavy Metal
CountryBritain
Runtime52:45
Release Date24 April 2020
Record LabelCruz del Sur

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is the fifth offering of medieval power metal from England’s Dark Forest. These veteran warriors have lost none of their lustre with time and, even though they’ve been around nearly twenty years, this is one of their best albums to date.

As far as the overall sound goes, you can expect epic metal with aspects of Skyclad, Iron Maiden, and a tiny bit of classic Rhapsody thrown in. The mixing is a bit more lo-fi, which is perfect for creating that nostalgic, traditional feel. On a sidenote, Oak, Ash, & Thorn plays like the opposite of albums from Grendel’s Syster; where Grendel’s Syster plays a slow, steady, doomy epic metal, Dark Forest drives on with a questing spirit that’s worthy of any power metal band.

Needless to say, this album is killer. I can’t even pick favourite songs, because each one offers something completely different. Whether it’s in the gallop of ‘The Midnight Folk’, the dynamism of the eleven-minute title track, or the bombast of the instrumental finisher, ‘Heart of the Rose’, the vocals are strong, the drums are expressive, and the guitarwork is incredible.

Oak, Ash, & Thorn is excellent from start to finish. There’re plenty of highs, lows, and details (be it fills, countermelodies, or harmonies) so you can expect to get a hell of a lot out of it with consecutive listens. Showing nothing but endless variety and skill, Dark Forest continue to prove they’re worthy of knighthood.

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Ivanhoe – Blood And Gold Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime38:33
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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Winter Haven – Lanre Review

Score7.5/10
GenrePower Metal
CountryMexico
Runtime43:34
Release Date21 February 2020
Record LabelIndependent

Current and former members of the power metal bands Azeroth, Anna Fiori, and Aceria (fuck, that’s a lot of A’s) have returned after eight years to deliver the sophomore work of Winter Haven: Lanre. This anthemic, genre-bending beast holds nothing back as it attacks with a dangerously cold bite.

The mix of influences in Lanre is interesting in and of itself. The foundation is more-or-less power metal, but alt/metalcore elements run rampant in the form of mixed vocals, heavy breakdowns, and just the general tone of the vocals in general, which are pretty far from soaring, bellowing, rough, or powerful (you know, the usual traits of power metal vocalists). The lyrical content also aligns a lot more with metalcore, which doesn’t matter so much, but the overtones that come along with these themes makes it worth mentioning. There are also death and black metal elements at play, plus some electro stuff, but to a lesser extent.

‘Sunlight Dethroned’ is probably the most typically-power metal track on the album. It’s got cheesy harpsichords and strings, it’s a driving 6/8, and it’s a bit more uplifting that the rest of Lanre‘s tracklist. Unsurprisingly, this is one of my favourite tracks (I’m fucking biased. Who knew?!), but the darker ‘The Sleeper’ is a killer tune, too. I also love ‘When They Come’, which is also pretty mixed in its influences. The low point of the album is the acoustic ballad, ‘Endless’, which is overall pretty wonky, but the rest of the tracks are solid.

If I were in middle school, I would have eaten this fucking album alive. It’s energetic and edgy with great guitars, which is pretty much all I cared about back then. That isn’t to trash Winter Haven, though, because they’ve done a damn fine job here. Lanre is a really cool album and is well worth the listen for fans of fast-paced, aggressive, and slightly angsty metal (I forgot to mention, too, there are some serious Frozen Crown vibes).

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Навьяра – Призыв Велеса Review

Score9/10
GenreFolk Metal
CountryBelarus
Runtime32:04
Release Date10 February 2020
Record LabelKryrart

Belarus’ brand new folk metallers, Navyara (sorry, I’m not gonna copy and paste “Навьяра” every single time) have started their metal career on a high note. As their first offering of forest steel, Призыв Велеса is captivating, light, and expressive. Plus, unlike 90% of other new bands, there’s no filler material, but there’s still more than enough variety to keep you hooked.

While the album isn’t dreary, it’s a lot more somber than what you might expect (except the closer, which is pretty cheery). This is partially due to its groove-driven nature, as opposed to many folk metal bands who rely more on upbeat melodies. Additionally, Navyara’s black metal influences are immediately noticeable, especially in the guitar tremolo that occupies much of the album, which further adds to Призыв Велеса‘s more mystical energy.

As far as instrumentation goes, everything is pretty fucking great. The guitars are killer right from the opener and do a fantastic job at laying the foundation of the atmospheres with climbing riffs and steady chugging. Oh, and the solos are sick, especially for this style of folk metal. On the other hand, the violin, flute, and female vocal melodies effortlessly pull the music forward.

One of my favourite tracks is ‘Поруганное капище’ because it’s really just the whole album crammed into one song. It’s mostly uptempo, but the feel is constantly changing. On top of that, the flowing of the melody/countermelody over the rapid chugging of the rhythm section makes for a cool effect (although the same could be said about most of the album).

All in all, Призыв Велеса is an excellent kickoff for an excellent band. Fans of bands like Kernunna, Velesar, Tuatha de Danann, or just clean folk metal that isn’t too in-your-face will thoroughly enjoy Navyara’s pagan offerings.

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